The party was in full swing when Shane followed Kim through the door of the Brady house. His arms loaded with presents collected from the car, Shane tried to look past the family members swarming around him to locate his children. Andrew was racing around the room with Shawn-Douglas, Eric, and Max, while Sami and Eve were entertaining Jeannie and Stephanie on the living room floor in front of the Christmas tree.
A moment later, Kayla nearly squealed. "Kimmie!" Shane looked over and saw that Kayla had Kim's hand and was pointing at the new ring. Kim blushed.
"Daddy asked Mommy to marry him," Andrew said, taking a break from his cousins to announce the obvious. Then he added, "I gave Mommy the ring."
As everyone broke into laughter and then another round of hugs, Shane found himself face-to-face with Shawn. The elder Brady gave Shane an appraising look and then grinned, "I know I was hard on you, lad, but you're a hard one to make come to your senses. You're stubborn enough to be a Brady." He narrowed his eyes and asked, "You sure you don't have any Irish blood hiding in that limey family tree of yours."
Shane began to respond, but stopped when he heard Steve call for everyone's attention. Turning from Shawn, Shane saw that Steve and Kayla were standing together. Steve had an arm circled around Kayla's waist.
"Well, since this seems to be the right time for important announcements, we've got something to say," Steve started. He looked at Kayla and grinned. "It looks like Stephanie's going to be getting a little brother or sister in a few months."
The room erupted once more. Everyone began congratulating Steve and Kayla, with Caroline demanding to know how long they had known. Shawn was suitably chuffed at the thought of becoming a grandfather again that he did not seem to mind the delay in being told.
Shane hung back until the Bradys had finished fussing over the couple and then approached Steve. "I can't say I'm just finding out," he said, "but I am happy for the two of you."
"Well you'd better be," Steve replied. "I've got plans for you."
Shane had no idea what that meant, but Kayla quickly explained. She had walked up with Kim by her side. "What Steve means is that we've talked about it, and we can't think of anyone we want more to be the baby's godparents than the two of you."
Unable to contain his surprise, Shane looked at Kim. It was hard to forget that just a few months ago, Steve and he had nearly come to blows over Shane holding Stephanie.
"Are . . . are you sure?" Shane stammered.
Steve rolled his eyes. "Yes, we're sure. We'll even talk about getting that pony when the time comes."
"I don't care about a pony," Kim said. "Absolutely." She enveloped Steve in an embrace. Then she grabbed Kayla and pulled her away to talk about the baby.
Still stunned, Shane had to shake his head in wonder. So much has changed. Finally, he said, "I'm honored, Steve."
"Yeah, well. . . . I know there's nobody we can trust more than you and Kim," Steve said. He laughed sardonically. "Can you believe I just said that, after everything that happened the last couple months?"
Shane knew what Steve meant. "It is amazing."
"A hell of a couple of months, it's been," Steve said, turning to look at Kayla and Kim, who were now talking excitedly with Caroline as they readied Christmas dinner. Steve glanced at Shane sidelong and said, "So what are you plans now? I mean now that you're done with the ISA. Or are you?"
For a moment, Shane wanted to laugh at Steve's attempt to be subtle. "Funny question, coming today," Shane replied. "Kim didn't happen to mention a job offer to Kayla did she?"
Steve shook his head and then, not doing a good job of feigning ignorance, asked, "What kind of job offer?"
"It seems like there is an opening at the ISA."
"Really?" Steve said. "So they'd send you back out in the field?"
Nope, subtlety is not one of Steve Johnson's more developed skills, Shane thought, before saying, "It's not a field agent job - but then I suspect you knew that. It seems the agency is looking to replace Tarrington."
"Woah." Steve's words did not actually match his tone, despite his attempt to act surprised.
"Yes," Shane explained. "You see . . . some members of the Congressional committee that oversees the ISA, plus some important people in the White House, received a very interesting audio recording." Shane watched Steve for a reaction. "Apparently, they were quite unhappy with Tarrington's willingness to . . . what were the words of the man from the CIA . . . 'trample on the civil liberties of ordinary citizens.'"
This time, Steve did not bother to fake any surprise. "You don't say."
Shane chuckled. "Oh, yes . . . so the Chief has been given a nice retirement package and sent off quietly to live by the seaside."
"Couldn't happen to a nicer guy," Steve muttered. "Hope they have sharks."
Shane grew serious. "I appreciate it, Steve."
"What does this have to do with me?" Steve asked, again trying to feign ignorance.
"Peachy spotted you in DC the other day," Shane said. "With the charges against me dropped, she got pulled from her deep cover. She was at ISA Headquarters when you left your package for Tarrington."
Steve shrugged and dropped his facade. "I should've let him be blindsided, but I thought he might go more quietly if he knew what was coming." Looking carefully at Shane, he asked, "So are you going to take the job?"
"I don't know," Shane said, though he suspected he did. "Kim thinks I should; I'm just not sure I want to deal with that. . . .
"Deal with what?" Steve pursed his lips. "The bad guys? That's what you're good at."
Shane shook his head and kept his voice low. He didn't want Kim to overhear. "What it might do to me." When Steve looked back with a blank expression, Shane tried to explain, "Look at the last ISA Chiefs we've had - Tarrington, Vaughn, Nickerson. . . . Look at how they let the job corrupt them. I don't know . . . maybe that's just how you need to be to run the ISA. Whatever it is, that's not me."
"And they're not you," Steve said, a bit sharply. "You're not Tarrington or Vaughn. You don't play god with people's lives. Just look at what you did with those charges. You could have done a lot of things to save your skin, but you wouldn't because you wouldn't compromise what you believed was right. You wouldn't reveal ISA secrets and you wouldn't call Nowicki or Deakins to testify. . . . You think Tarrington would have thought twice about Deakins' family if it meant saving his own skin?"
Shane had to concede Steve had a point.
"You're what the ISA needs," Steve added. "I can't believe I'm saying that, but you can do a lot of good, and you could fix a lot of things that are wrong there. That's what I told those dudes in Washington."
Falling silent for a minute, Shane thought about Steve's words. "If I take the job," but from the way he said that, Steve had to know the "if" really meant "when." "If I take the job," Shane repeated. "There would be a place for you. We could use you."
"Not a chance, Donovan," Steve said. "If you hadn't figured out, I don't exactly do things by the book."
"Maybe . . . just maybe the ISA could use a little instruction from the Steve Johnson school of throwing away the book." Shane chuckled again, then grew serious. "We may not see eye to eye on everything and it may not be the way I approach things, but it seems to work for you."
Steve laughed in response. "Funny, but I've been thinking the same thing about you." He punched Shane in the shoulder lightly. "Nah, the ISA's your gig. I've got to find my own thing." He glanced across the room to where Roman and Bo were talking. "Speaking of which, Roman wanted to talk to me about the Torres gang. Seems Rafi Torres is making noise about taking over for his dad." Steve started to walk away, but stopped and looked back at Shane. "Take the job, Donovan. It's the right thing to do."
"Hey, wait . . . Steve. . . ." Shane waited for Steve to finish acting exasperated. Then Shane said, "Thank you. Thank you for everything."
Steve laughed loudly. "As a guy I know once said, 'That's what family's for.' And you know what? He's a pretty smart dude." He turned and headed toward Roman.
That left Shane to mull things over in his mind. He could do it. He could remake the ISA without being corrupted like the chiefs before him. And he would make it work at home; he would not sacrifice his family.
He took a moment to look around the room, first at Andrew, who was playing with some toy lightsabers with Shawn-Douglas. His son looked great. Not only had Andrew fully recovered from his ordeal in the woods, but, with Shane going free, all of the fear and stress seemed to have left him. He was a happy little boy once more.
Shane turned his attention to Eve, who was picking Jeannie off the floor. His gaze came to rest on Jeannie. It was so strange that, a few months earlier, he had struggled to even look at his darling daughter. Now he felt as strong a bond to her as to either of his other children. He had come so close to never knowing she was his little girl, and now he wouldn't hesitate to give his life for her.
Kim's voice jarred him out of his thoughts and he looked down at her and smiled.
"Food's ready," Kim said. "Or were you too lost in your thoughts to hear Mama sounding the alarm?"
"Sorry," Shane said. "I was just thinking - about our family, and how lucky we are."
Caroline's call to dinner must have interrupted Steve's plan to talk to Roman, because Steve and Kayla passed by on their way to the table. Shane saw the way she looked at Steve and the bright, excitement in her eyes. She gave Steve a soft smile and he crouched, put a hand over her abdomen, and broke into a grin, probably at the feel of the baby kicking. Then, over Steve's shoulder, Kayla looked up and realized Shane was watching them. Her eyes were filled with a peace and happiness that had not been there when Steve was gone, and Shane felt a surge of joy at what he saw. That had been what he had wanted for her all along - to be happy - and it was obvious that Kayla and Steve were deeply in love and deliriously happy.
Kayla continued to smile, and gave Shane a quick nod, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking. Then Steve rose, blocking Kayla from Shane's view, and the two of them headed for the table.
Next to him, Kim took his hand. Shane looked at her and could see almost the same look Kayla had given Steve. The depth of love that reflected back at him was unlike anything he had ever seen or experienced.
Shane squeezed her hand as she looked into his eyes and asked, "Are you okay?"
The answer came immediately and simply as he wrapped an arm around hers and led her toward the already-crowded table.
"I couldn't be happier."
- Finis -