Take Me or Leave Me

A.N. You guys…rock. Seriously.

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"What have we got, Flack?"

Don turned at the sound of the approaching voice, and he nodded at Mac as he and Stella ducked under the yellow crime scene tape and headed his way. "Autumn Summers." He nodded when both of the CSI's arched their eyebrows at him in question. "Yeah." He smiled, turning to point to the middle-aged woman who lied lifelessly in the center of the living room. "35, single. Neighbors say she usually keeps to herself, but has an impeccable schedule that she follows to a T. When she didn't head down to get her mail this morning, they got worried, called the super, who opened the door to find this." He waved his hands to indicate the disheveled crime scene.

"Forced entry?" Mac inquired, setting his silver crime scene case on the floor as he knelt slowly to examine the body.

"Not that I could see. Doorjamb wasn't messed with, windows locked tight. My guess is she knew the perp, let him walk right in." He sighed, letting his eyes travel around the room. "This woman was a hermit from what the other residents say. Spooked real easily by people she wasn't too familiar with."

"So, odds are we're looking for someone close to her, or at least someone familiar enough with her routine and lifestyle," Stella set, resting her gloved hands on her hips as her eyes watched Mac inspect the scene. "None of her neighbors saw anything?"

"Nah," Don said, pursing his lips as he glanced over at her. "That would make the job too easy."

Stella laughed, shaking her head of curls as she reached into her kit and withdrew her camera.

"Blunt force trauma," Mac stated as he rose to his feet and fell back to stand next to Flack as Stella raised the camera to her eye. "Sid would have to definitively classify it, but from the looks of it, that'd be my best guess."

"A lot of rage," Don said, his eyes traveling from Autumn's wide open eyes to the pool of blood that had now soaked fully into the carpet underneath her. "I'm gonna canvass the floors, see if anyone remembers seeing somebody entering or leaving the apartment in the last 24 hours or so." He turned to leave, pulling his memo pad from his pocket.

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"Why are you so nervous?"

Brooke rolled her eyes as she peered at Millicent from across her desk, shaking her head as she stirred her pasta salad with her fork. "It's not that I'm nervous necessarily. It's just that it has been a LONG time since I've met anyone's parents, let alone someone as important as Don."

Millie shrugged as she lifted a forkful of macaroni to her mouth. "You meet parents all the time at Jamie's school."

"Okay, that is totally different," Brooke replied, smiling as she glared at her friend. "This is like…make or break here, Millie. I mean, if Don's parents don't like me, it could seriously change everything. I mean…he's a third generation cop. Both his dad and his grandpa married cop wives." She saw Millie laugh and sighed. "Okay, so they weren't really cop wives until after they were cop's wives, but from what Don says, his mom is like June Cleaver. And, as we both know from Jamie's first few weeks with me, I can't cook to save my life. I mean, what if they think I'm all wrong for him?"

Millicent couldn't help but smile as she watched her friend. It had been a long time since she'd seen Brooke so involved in a man that wasn't Jamie. Since Nathan and Haley's accident, the only things that ever seemed to occupy her full attention was the company and the little boy she adored more than anything. Though Brooke would never admit it, Millie knew she was lonely. Gone were the days she dated a different guy every week for the headlines, replaced with Cartoon Network marathons and ice cream sundaes on Saturday nights.

She'd been happy when she heard Brooke had gone on a date with someone. And then she became ecstatic when that one date turned into several, and before too long, Brooke Davis was wearing a smile she'd never seen on her face before.

In the course of a little over a month, Detective Don Flack had swept Brooke off her feet. And he'd won Jamie over as well, if the boy's excited chatter over Aunt Brooke's new boyfriend was any indication.

"I really don't think it's possible for anyone to think you're wrong for Don, Brooke," Millie said, smiling when Brooke looked at her uncertainly. "Really, you guys just…click. As corny as that may sound." She laughed, watching the silly smile spread across her employer's face. "Really, Brooke. I think you're panicking over nothing. And besides, Jamie will be there. It's impossible to not love him."

Brooke laughed. "That's exactly what Don said." She sighed, shaking her head. "I know I'm probably overreacting. I just…really want them to like me, you know?"

Millie nodded. "I know…and they will. So please…stop freaking out."

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"So how bad is the fashionista freaking out?" Danny asked with a grin, walking next to Don down the hallway of the Crime Lab. He watched his friend roll his eyes and laughed. "Hey, I'm just going on what you told me, buddy. So? She a nervous wreck or what?"

"I think 'wreck' is a bit extreme," Don said, shaking his head.

"But she's nervous?"

"Yeah, she's nervous," he replied. "No clue why though. Ma and Pop are gonna be nuts about her, not to mention Jamie."

"Well, I can vouch for Brooke, considering Lindsay hasn't stopped raving about her since we had dinner with you guys three weeks ago. You know they talk on the phone more than she talks to her mother?" He shook his head when Don laughed. "And Jamie…hell, the kid is cuter than the Gerber baby. Your folks have a problem with him, you might wanna call your priest to make sure their souls are still intact." He grinned, turning the corner into his office and holding his arms out at his sides. "Seriously, man. She's got nothing to worry about. The only thing she could be concerned about is giving your old man a heart attack with that smile of hers. Man, it's blinding."

Don grinned, bracing his hands on the back of the visitor chair as he leaned down. "Tell me about it."

Danny nodded, shaking his head as he smiled at his friend. It was good to see Don happy. Hell, Don's mood the last few weeks could be bordering on euphoric. But he wouldn't change it. It'd been a long time since he'd seen his friend smile the way he'd been smiling lately. Each day since Angell's shooting, he'd seen Don getting better. Seen him smile more, shave more often, laugh a time or two. He'd seen him eat complete meals that didn't revolve around pizza and beer.

The one thing he hadn't seen was Don trying to get back in the game, per say. Not necessarily casual sex or one-night stands, but he had been starting to worry his friend would never be able to fully move on from his late partner.

Then Brooke Davis traipsed through their crime scene…

"What's going on there, Messer? You have bad Thai the other night or something?"

Danny snapped out his thoughts, raising his eyes to see Don's teasing face, and shook his head. "Nah, man. Just…thinking that it's good to see you happy again, you know?"

Don cringed, pulling away from the chair and straightening to his full height. "Come on, man, we getting all sentimental here?" he joked. "I think I'd prefer it if you had food poisoning."

"Hey, just cause you're not comfortable getting in touch with your inner Oprah," Danny joked, crossing his arms over his chest as he rocked back on his heels. "Seriously, man…it's good to see you like this again. It's been a long time coming."

Don nodded, running a hand through his hair. "Yeah…you know…if you'd asked me this time six months ago that I'd be getting ready to take a girl and a kid to meet my folks…hell, I would have laughed my ass off. But now…I don't know, Mess…I don't think I could see myself without them."

Danny grinned. "Whatever you say there, Oprah."

"Cute, Messer. Way to ruin a moment."

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"Does your daddy carry a gun and badge too, Uncle Don?"

Flack couldn't have stopped the grin from spreading across his face at Jamie's words from the backseat if you'd paid him to. The kid had started calling him Uncle Don two weeks ago, and it was a sentiment that he couldn't deny he loved. Looking to the passenger seat of his SUV, he saw a similar smile spread across Brooke's face as well. "He used to," he answered, glancing at Jamie in the rearview mirror. "He doesn't work for the police department anymore, but I bet he still has his badge lying around somewhere."

Jamie nodded contently, his hands absentmindedly fiddling with the latch to his booster seat as he stared at the passing scenery out the window.

Flack shook his head before glancing again at Brooke. She looked beautiful tonight. Her long dark hair was pulled back in a twist at the base of her neck. Her black dress was formfitting, hugging her curves in a way that was discreet but obvious at the same time. The cap sleeves and striking split square neck cut left her collarbone bare, revealing her pale, flawless skin.

She'd taken his breath away the second she opened the door.

"You still freaking out over there?" he asked teasingly, maneuvering his car up the road that he'd grown up on. He heard her laugh, and he couldn't help but smile.

"Pretty much," she said, looking over at him with a smile.

"Babe, you run a multimillion dollar clothing empire. You meet strangers all the time and give speeches and presentations. And yet you're nervous about meeting a couple of old New Yorkers in Queens. Explain that to me."

Brooke scoffed, turning slightly in her seat to look at him. "Okay, first off, I am so telling your parents that you called them old," she said, ignoring the way he rolled his eyes. "Secondly, Clothes Over Bros. staff meetings and sales pitches are completely different from meeting your boyfriend's parents. I at least know what I'm doing there. We are venturing into uncharted territory here."

Don laughed, shaking his head. "You're completely crazy, you know that, right?"

She smiled, kicking her eyebrow at him. "So I've been told." She sighed, throwing her hands up slightly as she shook her head. "I'm sorry. I know I'm being totally irrational and overreacting. I just really want tonight to go well, you know?" She looked at him. "I really want them to like me."

Don nodded as he pulled into the driveway of his childhood home. He killed the engine and unfastened his seatbelt in one smooth motion, turning to lean over and press a quick, soft kiss against Brooke's lips. He pulled away after a moment, reaching up and brushing a stray piece of hair away from her face. "They're gonna love you…alright? Trust me, doll. You don't have anything to worry about." He winked when she smiled at him softly, and he kissed her again before glancing in the backseat. "What do you say, champ? Ready to get this show on the road?"

Jamie grinned, his small frame nearly bouncing at his excitement. "Yeah! Yeah let's do this!"

The adults laughed at his excited outburst, and Brooke leaned forward to press one more kiss against Don's lips before they piled out of the car. Jamie was leading the way, his youthful face glancing back now and then to make sure they were walking fast enough, as they made their way to the front door of the two story house before them. Brooke felt Don's hand close around her own, and she squeezed his fingers as her eyes took in the house. It was a beautiful blue home with white shutters, almost picturesque in her opinion. The garden encircling the house was a splash of color. She wasn't sure she'd ever seen so many different flowers before, and it was obvious someone in the house kept very good care of the garden.

"Ma's got a green thumb if you can't tell," Don said, noticing the way her eyes lingered on the plants.

Brooke nodded as they came to a stop at the front door, and as Don reached out to rap on the door with his fist before reaching for the doorknob, she took a deep breath, settling her hand on Jamie's shoulder as her young godson looked up at her in encouragement.

Once the door pushed open, the smell of slow roasted turkey assaulted their senses, and Brooke couldn't' help but smile at the fond grin that was on Don's face. He pulled her inside the house by her hand, pulling her into his side as he shut the door behind them. "Hello?" he called out, leaning around the corner to shoot a glance down the hallway.

"Donnie?"

They turned at the sound of a woman's voice, and Don's face broke into a grin when his mother came into view.

Christine Flack, still young—in Don's opinion—at 63, was the epitome of the term "homemaker." Her long dark hair, streaked gracefully with wisps of gray, was pinned up in a neat French twist, a strand of white pearls—an anniversary gift from her husband—hanging from her neck. Her maroon dress flattered her still slim figure, but in a manner that could only be described as motherly.

Her face broke into a grin at the sight of the new arrivals, her blue eyes lighting up when they caught sight of Don's arms wrapped around Brooke's waist and Jamie's shoulder.

"There you are," she said, striding towards them with a smile and reaching out to pull her son into an embrace. She sighed contently when his lips brushed against her cheek, and she pulled away to pat the side of his face affectionately. "I was starting to worry your father and I would be eating leftovers for the next month."

Don grinned. "Come on, Ma. Like I'd miss out on turkey dinner."

Christine laughed, shaking her head, before she leaned around his towering frame, her face smiling when she met Brooke's gaze. "You must be Brooke," she said pleasantly, reaching out her hand in greeting. She shook her head when Brooke returned the greeting. "You are much prettier than Donnie said you were."

She was surprised to see a faint blush spread across the young girl's face. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Flack," she said, her voice much deeper and raspier than one would expect from such a young, attractive girl. But Christine decided she liked it—it gave her character.

"Oh, please, it's Christine, dear. Believe me, there is little use for formalities in this household." She smiled as she switched her attention to the small boy that stood at Brooke's side. His bright blue eyes were peering up at her with a mixture of shyness and curiosity, and his small hand was wrapped tightly in the grip of his godmother. "And you must be Jamie, am I right?" she asked, crouching down so she was eye-level with the young boy.

Jamie nodded, reaching out his tiny hand to shake hers. "James Lucas Scott," he said proudly, his small face smiling as she shook his hand.

Christine's laughter was joined by both Don and Brooke, and she knew at that very moment that this little boy had stolen her heart. "Well, James Lucas Scott, it is a pleasure to finally meet you. Don has been talking about you a lot. I feel like I know you already." She was rewarded with another smile, and she grinned, straightening to her full height as she met Brooke's gaze again. "I'm so glad you two could join us tonight. Donnie really has been raving about the two of you."

"I don't know about raving," Don said sarcastically as he sidled up to Brooke, wrapping an arm around her waist. He smirked at her as she rolled her eyes.

Christine watched their interaction with a wide smile, unable to hide her delight at seeing her son so carefree. Laughing, she turned towards the kitchen, settling her hands on her hips. "Skipper? Your offspring is here! Might you grace use with your presence?"

The man that emerged from the hallway in front of them was the spitting image of Don, Brooke was surprised to see. Of course, children often looked like their parents, but Don Flack Sr. was nearly identical to his son. Same bright blue eyes, same all-American smile, same head of dark hair, though the elder's was sprinkled with gray. The only wrinkles on his face seemed to be around his eyes, an effect of his long-time profession, she was sure. She also noticed that he walked with a slight limp, and she remembered Don mentioning once that his father had retired after an on-the-job incident.

Don Sr.'s face was smiling as he approached them, and Don moved forwards to receive his father's embrace. "Hey, Pop," he said, pulling away to wrap his arm back tightly around Brooke's waist. "You look good."

"You look better, Donnie," his father replied, his eyes twinkling as they traveled to his son's companions. "You must be Brooke."

Brooke smiled, nodding as she reached out her hand. "Brooke Davis. It's nice to finally meet you, Mr. Flack."

"Oh, come on, now honey. Mr. Flack makes me sound much older than what I am," he laughed. "Call me Skipper, everyone does."

"Skipper is the guy off of Gilligan's Island," Jamie sounded off next to them.

Skipper let out a bark of laughter, nodding his head as he looked down at the boy. "That he is," he said, smiling. "You must be Jamie, huh?" Jamie nodded, smiling. "Well, Jamie, my friends call me Skipper, too. Hopefully that's okay with you."

"It's cool," Jamie enthused, his young face grinning from ear to ear. "He's always been my favorite. Way cooler than Gilligan."

"Ah, that's the spirit, kid," Skipper said, smiling as he reached his hand out to the boy. "Donnie tells me you like basketball?" Jamie nodded as he took the older man's hand without hesitation. "There's a special going on about season highlights. How about you and I head in and maybe you can teach me a thing or two, huh?"

Christine sighed as she watched the two disappear down the hallway. "Oh, Lord. We'll be lucky if they even make it to dinner now." She smiled when she caught Brooke nodding in understand, and she laughed. "Alright then. Come on in to the kitchen, you two. Brooke, I would love to hear about this wonderful company of yours."

Brooke nodded as she and Don made their way to follow his mother, and she grinned when she felt Don's breath against her ear. "Told ya. Slam dunk, doll."

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To Brooke's relief, dinner went amazingly well. Her first bout of nerves quickly dissipated after Don Sr. told the story of how he got the nickname "Skipper"—a rather funny tale of his first few weeks as a beat cop with a sergeant that liked to have his recruits believing false police procedures when dealing with false alarm 911 calls—, but she certainly attributed a lot of it to Don's reassuring grip on her hand under the table. Soon enough, she found herself relaxing around the dinner table, laughing at the obvious fondness that the Flack family shared, and feeling very happy when they seemed to include her and Jamie effortlessly into that.

She stood at the kitchen sink now, one of Christine's old aprons tied tightly around her waist. She hadn't listened to the woman's insistence that she didn't need to help with the evening clean-up, instead choosing to rinse and help load the dishwasher.

"This must all be very new for you."

She looked over when Christine spoke, her eyebrows raised in question as she ran a dishrag over the plate in her hands.

"Motherhood," Christine said, smiling sweetly as she took the plate from Brooke's hands. "Donnie told me about Jamie's parents…I can't even imagine." She sighed, tilting her head as she took her in. "I don't know how much it counts coming from someone you just met, but you're doing a wonderful job with Jamie. He's a very lucky boy."

Brooke smiled, shrugging her shoulders. "I'm pretty sure I'm the lucky one. When Nathan and Haley died…well, let's just say I didn't handle it well. I sure didn't think giving custody of Jamie to me was a good idea, but…I think they knew that I would need him just as much as he needed me." She smiled. "Not that there aren't still a ton of screw ups nowadays."

Christine laughed, placing a hand on her shoulder in a motherly fashion that Brooke was completely unfamiliar with, but cherished all the same. "Oh, trust me, sweetie. That's a constant struggle. It never changes, not even when your kids are old enough to go off on their own." Her smile was wistful as she looked over her shoulder into the living room, where Don and her husband were seated around a smiling Jamie, their laughter drifting into the room as they played some card game. "You know…I started to worry about him after Detective Angell passed away."

Brooke stopped rinsing the plate as she heard the woman's words.

"I guess it's second nature to me now, worrying about my kids. But Donnie…he's like his father. Always very collected when it comes to his personal feelings, never really letting anybody know just what was going on in his head. But anybody could see how much pain he was in after Jessica. I really started to worry that I wasn't going to get my son back." She turned back to Brooke then, smiling. "And then you come along."

Brooke smiled softly.

"You're special, Brooke. I think Donnie could tell that about you right away. I could certainly tell from the second you walked into the house. And that little boy in there is evidence enough." She smiled, leaning forward and pressing a quick kiss to her cheek. "Promise you'll stick around for a bit?"

Brooke laughed, fighting back the tears she could feel welling in her eyes. "I promise."

They both laughed and turned when they heard light, shuffling footsteps headed into the kitchen.

Jamie sighed as she came to a stop in front of them, his blue eyes peering up at his aunt. "They told me I can't play poker with them anymore."

The two women laughed, and Brooke crouched down so she could talk to her godson face to face. "They did, huh?"

Jamie nodded. "Yeah. Uncle Don owes me 500 big ones, so I'm counting on you to help me collect, Aunt Brooke."

"Oh, dear," Christine said over Brooke' laughter, smiling as she pulled a chair over the kitchen counter and patted its seat. "Well, you best take a seat, Jamie. We've gotta work out a payment schedule of some kind. Donnie still owes me from his back allowances when he was 13."

Brooke couldn't help but smile as Jamie climbed his way onto the chair, his youthful face smiling happily at the older woman standing next to him. Shaking her head, she rose to her full height, her hazel eyes traveling to the living room to connect with Don's blue gaze. His handsome face was stretched out in a smile, and she couldn't help but return it with a wink as she turned her attention back to the dishes.

In the living room, Skipper was watching his eldest son with a content expression. Don hadn't been able to take his eyes off Brooke Davis since the evening began. When she spoke, he was all ears. When she laughed, his attention was only on her. When she would grow quiet, he would rub her shoulder and push a strand of hair out her face. The whole evening, he only had eyes for her.

Even during his relationship with Jessica, Don had never been this invested.

"You know, it takes a lot of guts to take on everything Brooke has."

Don tore his eyes away from the woman in the kitchen to look over at his father, and he nodded, smiling softly. "She's tough, Pops. A lot tougher than people give her credit for."

"She's a spitfire for sure. So is that's little boy. You realize that if I follow through on my bets, he's gonna suck away my whole pension?" Don laughed, nodding as he took a sip of his beer. "I haven't seen poker moves like that since I worked with Wellington in Warrants back in '79. If that's any indication, you better keep a close eye on that boy."

"Oh, trust me, I have every intention. He's gonna take after Brooke, I'm sure, which means we're all in trouble."

Skipper chuckled, running a hand over his jean-clad leg as he shook his head. "You happy, Donnie?"

Don looked at him, his face contemplative before he turned to look once again into the kitchen, and a small smile spread across his face. "Yeah, Pops…I'm happy."

His father nodded, smiling softly. "Good," he said, patting his son on the back as he leaned further into the couch cushion. He followed his son's gaze and focused on the sight of his wife in the kitchen, her still beautiful face lit up with a smile as she showed young Jamie how do set the dishwater settings, his delighted giggle at pouring in the suds bringing a smile to his face.

"Good."

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Yay! Hope you guys liked it! Let me know what you think.