Title: Three Times
Author: Serena

Summary: In the end, when push comes to shove, all we have is each other. AU.

Ships: mainly Don/Jess, a little Danny/Lindsay

Rating: T for a few sexual references, nothing explicit, and a few bits of language, some mentions of violence, mature situations.

AN1: Sorry for no updates in this fandom for a while. My muse has been canoodling with other things. But this idea popped into my head while I was driving to a friend's cabin and wouldn't leave me alone. And so, here it is. This is pretty AU, so keep that in mind as you read. This is super informal and unbeta'd so let me know if you spot anything I missed.

AN2: The timeline might be a bit fuzzy, but I do not mean to misrepresent the military in any way, shape, or form. If you see something that you need changed, please let me know in a PM or review.

AN3: I don't own or am affiliated with CSI:NY or CBS. Sadly. If I did, I promise every show would be so much better ;)


We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.
~~Luciano de Crescenzo

001.

The terminal is crowded, but NYPD homicide detective Jessica Angell doesn't notice a single other soul. There's been a perimeter set up for the returning soldiers, so she's only standing by the other family members. Her best friend is at her side; Lindsay Monroe-Messer, whose husband is in the same unit as Jess's boyfriend, reaches for the detective's hand. Jess clutches it tightly, as if it is a lifeline.

They watch as the Marine Corps jet touches down. Jess's heart picks up in rhythm, her breathing suddenly shallow. He's almost home. He won't be home until she knows for sure that he's whole and alive and warm in her arms.

She feels Lindsay squeeze her hand tighter, and she knows that the Montana native is thinking the same thing that Jess is.

The minutes that pass seem to take a millennium. The knowledge that he's on that jet makes it seem as though it's crawling across the tarmac towards the airport where they would unload.

Jess can hear murmurs of the media behind her, and she grumbles slightly at their intrusion on this moment. The return of this platoon was well-publicized, what was hoped to be a bit of a fluff piece to raise public spirits about the goddamned war.

Don's unit had suffered major casualties when they were caught by an insurgency cell just inside Afghanistan's borders, and in a hail of bombs and bullets, she almost lost him. She remembers the day she heard about it nearly three weeks ago, and her subsequent poisoning panic.

"Lindsay, have you seen it?" Jess asks frantically over the cell phone, "On the news, they're saying nearly the whole squadron was decimated-"

The images on the screen are horrific. The day before, a terrorist cell had launched a sneak attack against Don and Danny's camp, and according to CNN, half the soldiers housed within were now dead. She knows it will be horrible when the anchor informs the viewers that the following images are considered very horrific, and that viewer discretion is advised. The air is shot through with billowing, dark smoke that reaches upward like death's own fingers, looking like cracks in the sky. The sand is painted with blood. Blood and ash and death. Military tents hang off their abutments in tatters, bunks reduced to crumbling black relics.

Some of the soldiers are reduced to nothing but charred bones and splattered organs.

And that's what terrifies Jess the most.

"I've seen it," Lindsay interrupts flatly. If Jess didn't know her friend so well, she would not have heard the slight tremor in her voice that immediately tells Jess that Lindsay is crying.

Jess wrenches herself from the television in the bullpen, and she can feel the eyes of her colleagues following her as she sits at her desk."Do you... Do you know..." Jess couldn't get the words out. Her tongue feels like a dry rubber slab in her mouth. Her eyes burn, but remain dry.

"I don't know. I haven't heard anything yet," Lindsay says, obviously not wanting Jess to finish her sentence either. A beep sounds. "Shit, I've got another call."

Jess doesn't need to know Lindsay to hear the plain panic in her voice. Jess quickly seeks to calm her friend, saying, "Linds, you don't know who it is, or what it's even about, okay? I'm sure... I'm sure they're fine." Jess herself didn't even buy it.

"Can I call you after this?"

"You know it." Before Lindsay hangs up, Jess hears a faint Our Father, who art in heav- before Lindsay hangs up. Jess thinks that she's got the right idea.

Her entire department is gathered around the television. Flack used to be a detective, after all, and they support their own. Plus, everyone knows that Jess and he are together.

Jess refuses to watch. Staying seated, she has a white knuckled grip on the edge of her desk to keep her hands from shaking, and she barely notices when her partner wanders over to her. "Hey, Angell," Detective Kaile Maka prods lightly, "You okay?"

Normally, she'd brush it off, say she's fine, make an aloof joke. But not now. "No. No, I'm not."

Kaile stares her down, the older detective's arms cross over her chest. "He'll be fine. If there's one thing I know about Flack, it's that he's a fighter. He's too stubborn to leave you, and you know it."

"It's hard to be stubborn when your brains have been emulsified by an IED, now isn't it Kaile?" Angell hisses, and she feels tears gather in her eyes, but they're not falling yet. A breathy sob rips from her throat, something sounding not entirely sane before she snaps her mouth shut and tries to breathe normally.

Kaile sighs, crouches beside her partner's chair, says quietly, "You've just gotta have faith, honey. And breathing helps. Hyperventilation isn't helpful right now."

At that moment her cell rings. She assumes it's Lindsay and doesn't check the caller ID. The department freezes, looking to her for news. "Lindsay, what's going on?"

"Hey, Jess."

Her jaw falls, and she nearly drops the phone. His voice sounds haggard, tired, but by God, that's him.

He's alive.

The relief she feels is so potent, she can't restrain the strangled breath that escapes her before she says, "Don?"

"Yeah, I'm sorry I couldn't call you earlier. Things have been... hectic."

Her elbow falls to her desk, her head rests on her hand, her eyes in her palm as she lets the tears go. She's not conscious of the entire homicide squad slowly convening around her desk, but still giving her some much needed space. "Are you okay?" She's very aware of her choked up voice.

"I'm fine, Jess. Please don't cry, babe. I'm okay," he reassures, and more than anything in this moment she wants him next to her so he can tell her to her face that he's unharmed. And then she wants to throttle him for scaring her. And, knowing that she'll want specifics, says, "Just a few gashes. A lot of the guys... weren't so lucky."

She sniffs heavily, so unladylike she can't even believe it and wipes her eyes futilely. She chokes on her next words, "Stop scaring me like that, you bastard."

It's his turn to laugh, except his is golden and wonderful and makes Jess want to cry all over again because he's thousands and thousands of miles away. "I'll do my best." She loves him so much for being strong for her.

"You better, or I'll have to kick your ass myself." She remembers Lindsay's panic. "Is Danny okay?"

"Yeah, he's fine. He's just a bit shook up. He was a bit closer to the blasts than I was, and scraped by with just a mild concussion."

"Thank god. Lindsay was worried." Understatement.

"Yeah I think Danny's calling her now... You know, there's a bright side to this, if even saying bright side could apply right now."

Her heart jumps into her throat. "Yeah?"

"I've got leave for at least 4 months. Maybe more."

Happiness blossoms inside her, the prospect of seeing him again drying her tears. She smiles brightly, but her words are completely serious, no ounce of giddiness, "I can't wait to see you."

"Me neither. I miss you so much, Jess." The wistfulness in his voice is plain.

"I miss you more. When are you coming home?"

"A few weeks at the most."

The excitement and adrenaline fade away, and she asks because she knows him so well, "How are you?" She could sense the answer already, so she tacks on, "Really." She knows he's trying to hold it together for her, but she needs all of him.

She hears him sigh, can picture him with perfect clarity in her mind running a hand through his cropped dark hair, those beautiful blue eyes squeezing shut, calloused palm scrubbing his face. God, she misses him. "I don't... I want to talk about it face to face. I don't think I can do this over the phone."

She wants to wrap him up in her arms, never let another piece of this war touch him ever again. "I understand."

She hears a muffled command from his commanding officer, "Jess, I've gotta go. I'll call you as soon as I can."

"Okay." She pauses, "Don, I love you. Get home safely."

"I will. I love you too."

The walkway extends to meet the body of the jet, and Jess feels as if her throat is knotting up. Her abdomen tenses. Her hand is going numb from Lindsay's vice-like grasp.

He's the first one off the plane. He doesn't look too worse for wear to the media and the substantial crowd that has gathered. He looks like a relieved soldier as he lays eyes on his girlfriend. The cameras flash, news anchors smile like ignorant darlings, the casual observers look on with adoration in their eyes.

But to Jess, he looks tired and worn. Dark half-moons hang underneath his eyes, those playful blue eyes darkened with something unnamed and terrifying that she can tell is trying vehemently to suffocate the man she loves. There's an indiscernible line right beside his right eye. She knows that it means he's been doing a lot of worrying lately. And not sleeping. That is plainly obvious.

The Marine camo is pristine (probably for the cameras) and she can't help but feel so proud of her handsome man. They'd met a few years back after he'd left the department after a bomb had killed a close friend of his and former Marine, Mac Taylor. The bomb had been from an al Qaeda branch off group in New York, and after the bomb that had left him with only minor wounds, he was compelled to do something to avenge the death of his friend. He left the NYPD and enlisted in the Marines at age twenty-five after Jess was brought on.

Jess had joined the department as Flack's replacement. She was a fresh faced officer at age twenty-three, and she was one of the youngest to ever make detective. Some of the more senior uniforms resented her for it, but she quickly proved herself a capable detective, even a great detective. They met at the precinct on her first day, and they hit it off immediately. It only took him a week and three days to ask her out.

It had been a bit rough, what with him in the Marines, but they'd stuck it out. Their connection was so strong, especially for such a new and young couple.

Before his most recent eight month tour of Duty in Afghanistan, they'd dated for ten months. They were now headed steadfastly for two years, despite their trying separation wherein they were apart almost as long as they'd been together.

And she feels like she can finally breathe, finally see again now that he is home.

She bolts away from Lindsay, tearing across the tiled floor towards his tall form. He drops his bags, that wide grin she loves splits his face.

Jess is only marginally aware of camera bulbs flashing, or applause as she essentially attacks him, her arms clinging to his neck, her legs wrapping unashamedly around his waist. She revels in the closeness, in the relief that he's okay. She only wanted him to come back alive. And he's done that, and she's on top of the world.

She doesn't realize she's crying into his neck until he gently pries her face from where it was stationed on his neck, and drags her face to his. Their lips meet frantically, and she's still crying, and he's laughing and it's not neat or pretty, but she just wants to be as close to him as she possibly can so she really can't bring herself to care.

They finally come up for air, and Don's arms are under her thighs, supporting her perch. That goofy, giddy smile crosses both of their faces, and their foreheads are touching. "Hey there, Marine."

"Hey there, Detective."


Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.
~~Aristotle

002.

She doesn't know he's coming home today. She's not expecting him until next month, but he came home early from a five month beat under the Iraqi sun. He is going to propose to Jess. The concept terrifies him, even though he knows that she'll say yes. In the months before his second deployment, they'd begun to discuss marriage at a length, what they wanted from the rest of their lives, their plans for the future. They both found that neither of them had a 'Plan B' after each other. And, Don knows he loves that woman more than life itself.

He is currently headed to his mother's home, located in one of the nicer neighborhoods on Staten Island. She lives a little ways off of Richmond Parkway on the southern tip of the island.

He was closer to his mother than most sons, and tried to either talk to her or visit her once a week. And she absolutely adored Jess. Francine Flack had worried for years about her son's rather loose stance regarding women, and she has great respect for the woman who finally tamed Don's player spirit.

He walks into the house, calling out, "Ma? You home?"

Pictures of the Flack family adorn the walls, his sister, Sam, his brother, Howard, his recently deceased father, the senior Don Flack who'd finally lost his lengthy battle with lung and liver cancer. Don hated to say it, but he wasn't surprised when his father was diagnosed. He was a heavy drinker, and often smoked more than a pack of cigarettes a day. Jess had never met his father, and he isn't sure if he is glad about it or not. His father had always been notorious for never being satisfied with anything his kids did. His children had all dealt with the pressure differently. Both Don and Howard handled it by running themselves into the ground trying to earn their father's approval, while Sam went the more self-destructive route with drinking and partying, and essentially not giving two fucks what anyone thought.

To say the least, Flack's issues with his father created deep fissures in their relationship before his death at age 65, especially his near-disowning of Sam a few years back. Those fissures would remain, as Don had no intention of healing his crappy relationship with his deceased father. In a morbid sort of way, he is almost glad his father is dead. Sam has been doing a lot better.

"In the kitchen, Donnie," he hears her call. He rolls his eyes at the nickname he never seems to grow out of.

He tromps to the kitchen and finds his mother stirring a small pot of bow tie pasta that he's sure she's going to turn into something amazing. Francine's culinary exploits are a point of great pride for the older woman. She smiles at the visage of her eldest son, clad in his Marine navy and white, waltzing into her kitchen. "What brings you by today, dear?" Her blasé words belie her excitement to see her son, who had just returned to the States that day. She doesn't allow her supposed nonchalance suppress the exuberant hug she throws around her son, marveling again how tall he is, a sentiment she'd felt since his teenage years.

"Well, Ma, I'm... I'm gonna propose to Jess."

Francine drops her arms from around her son, hands clapping over her mouth in delighted shock. As soon as she'd met Miss Angell, she knew she was meeting her future daughter-in-law. She knew her son was coming home early in order to surprise his beloved on her birthday in two days, but she'd had no idea he was intending on proposing.

Don continues, "And I have no idea what to do about rings or whatever so-"

Francine places a patient hand on his lips, silencing him as she removes a necklace from around her neck. "I haven't worn my ring since your father died. We always wanted to give it to one of our kids, and we always wanted it to be you. We were going to offer them to Howard when he and Lila got married, but he already had rings from her side of the family. Plus, they deserve to be with a couple who loves each other, not around the neck of a dried up old lady," she finishes wryly.

"You're not old, Ma." Never let it be said that Don Flack was not the dutiful son.

"Charmer," Francine mutters quietly. She slides three rings off the chain. Don recognized them instantly. His parents wedding rings and his mom's engagement ring. He was about to protest taking them, but Francine saw it coming, "No, Don, these are heirlooms in the Flack family. Your grandparents brought these over from Ireland when they first immigrated here. They've been in the family for three generations. They belong to you now."

She drops them in his open palm, and he examines them up close, not for the first time ever, but the first time thinking about them being worn on his and Jess's fingers for the rest of their lives.

Despite being as old as they were, the rings are in good repair, and glitter like little pocket-sized stars in his hand. They are classical claddagh rings. The engagement ring is flashier than the wedding rings, with a beautiful faceted emerald making up the heart held between two golden hands.

The wedding ring that would be worn on Jess's ring finger is more subtle, obviously meant to be worn in tandem with the engagement ring, and the band of gold has tiny emeralds set into the face.

His ring is also gold, engraved with the hands and the heart, and the rest is made up of the carved continual Norse Knot.

He feels a knot in his throat, "Ma..."

She waves a hand at him, "There's no need to thank me, dear. Just thank me by loving that girl of yours the best you can, 'cause that one's a keeper."

She sees that dazed smile on his face, the smile of a man head-over-heels in love. She's so happy he's finally found someone who completes him. His previous lifestyle was not to her liking, and the few girlfriends she'd had the misfortune of meeting were complete airheads. Jessica was different. "I know, Ma, and I will."

Two Days Later

Jess is absolutely touched by the thoughtfulness of her friends. Lindsay had teamed up with Sam Flack to plan a birthday barbecue in Jess's backyard, and she normally would not enjoy the fanfare all centered around her, but without Don around, she got lonely. Her entire family is here, all her brothers, her mother and father, and many of her friends and extended family. Even Flack's family has come out, and she was excited to see Flack's brother and wife, whom she hadn't seen since Christmas Day of last year and whomshe'd hit it off with right away. Even half of Homicide has turned out for her, and she is so thankful she has such a wonderful network of people behind her.

She's having a conversation with Kaile about the latest shenanigans of her nephew. "No way, the entire thing of peanut butter?"

Kaile laughs, "Oh yeah. Half of it was on the dog, a bunch was on the wall, and about five percent of it actually ended up in his mouth. Kevin nearly murdered me when I came home, but he and I both know that kid is like Houdini reincarnated."

"Oh my god, that reminds me of when I first babysat for Ryan and Lana-" she is cut off by a light tap to her shoulder, and she almost shakes it off, but, not wanting to be rude, she turns to face the guest.

And gasps with hands smacked over her mouth.

Don Flack, in full navy and white Marine regalia (he knows that she loves how he looks in it.) is standing behind her with the most brilliant smile on his face and she thinks he's the most beautiful thing she's ever laid eyes on.

The shock only lasts a second as it gives way to blinding white happiness.

A giddy laugh tears out of her throat and she throws her arms around his neck, pulling their chests as flush as they can be when she's so much shorter than he, but she just wants to feel him. "Hey there, Detective."

She pulls back, all smiles and he thinks she's just gorgeous when her eyes get all wide like that, "Hey there, Marine." She pulls him down to kiss her, no tongue or teeth, just a sweet peck of reunion. He can tell she wants more, but he pulls back. We've got all the time in our lives for that, he thinks, conspiratorial grin gracing his lips.

"I thought you weren't coming home until-"

She almost thinks she's swallowed her tongue when he grasps her left hand, and drops to the grass on one knee. The next words out of her mouth aren't at all storybook perfect, and a hoarse, quiet, "Holy shit," is her only response.

He chuckles at this, and she sees his right hand disappear into his pocket, and reappear a moment later, a small velvet box in his gloved palm. The moment she sees that box is when it truly hits her what's happening, and she feels her tear ducts throb.

"I've been wanting to do this for a while," he says, his deep voice taking on that shy, nervous note she rarely hears but loves anyway. "But I couldn't wait."

He opens it, and she feels the tears flow as she recognizes Francine's ring. The gold hands ensconcing an emerald heart, and she wants it on her finger now. "Jessica Evangeline Angell," he began and her stomach tightens. "Will you marry me?"

She's nodding before he even finishes the big question, and the moment he's done speaking, she replies, "Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes." He's laughing as he slips the ring on her finger, marvels at how perfect it looks, and stands.

Jess isn't taking any nonsense chaste kiss, and attacks his lips with a passionate fury of a woman in love. Her fingers thread through his hair, doing everything in her power to get as close to him as possible without ripping his clothes off in front of their guests, which she's halfway forgotten about at this point, despite her brothers' loud wolf whistles in the background.

They pull away, slowly and reluctantly, and she whispers with the most blinding smile on her face, "What took you so long?"


Family is the most important thing in the world.
~~Princess Diana

He's lying back on his bunk, a sonogram photo in his hands. There's his kid, right there. He can actually see that it's a baby, the shadows on the ultrasound making it a little cloudy, but it's clear as day. When he left, Jess was just starting to show at four months

Jess refused to learn the sex until the baby was born. She loved surprises, and with them not knowing the sex, the inevitable 'boy-girl' debate sprung up between them before he'd left. Jess was convinced it was a boy, and Don was convinced it was a girl. He really hoped she would be just a little copy of her mother- with dark hair and even darker eyes, the mischievous smile and sassy snark, the innate stubbornness and tireless humor. Ofcourse, if she was just like Jess, he'd have to chase off boys until she was forty-five. He'd always wanted to be the father who 'just so happens' to be cleaning his shotgun when a boy comes to take his daughter out.

"She's beautiful, Jess."

He hears her laugh over the long-distance line, "He's an active little guy, too. Has a lot of fun playing trampoline on my bladder all day."

"I don't expect anything less from your daughter, Jessica." The fluffy smile is plastered on his face.

"You're responsible for half of this little one, too."

The fluffy smile fades. "Don't I know it."

Jess hears the change of tone, and knows exactly what's on his mind as he descends into silence. "Don, you'll be here. Quit being so morose. The kicked puppy look isn't good on you."

God, was he that transparent, even over the phone, to her? "Jess, you and I both know that it's not a guarantee that I'll be there. Hell, we don't even know if I'll liv-"

"Don't. Don, just don't." She sounds angry, panicked and, more than anything, terrified.

He's in a downward spiral now. "What? I'm just trying to be realistic-"

He can almost hear her grinding her teeth over the line. Can see her closing her eyes and counting backwards from 5 to calm herself before she says curtly, "Stop. Please stop or I'm going to start crying because of these hormones and I know you hate it when I cry."

He sighs, coming back into himself. "I'm sorry. I'm just..." The terror. The despair and depression when he thinks that he might not live long enough to see her again. The fear when he thinks that his child might never know him.

"You don't need to explain. I just don't even want to think about the possibilities, so just humor me."

"Can do, sweetheart."

"And you'll be here. You don't need to make a single promise because I just know you will be."

He almost crashes through the clear glass doors because they don't open fast enough. The hospital staff is assailed by the visage of a very flustered Marine skidding through the Emergency room doors. He half-gallops up to the nurse behind the receiving desk, and with a set look of determination on his flushed face, asks, "I'm looking for my wife? Jessica Flack?" The nurse hadn't begun to type, a baffled look on her face, so he continues, "She checked in a couple of hours ago, she's in labor and I have to..." he trailed off, but the nurse smiled in understanding.

"Yes sir, it says here she's in room D55 in the maternity ward." And then he's gone.

He flies through the hallways, regardless of the orderlies yelling at him to SLOW DOWN, YOU'RE GOING TO RUN INTO SOMETHING! and THIS IS A HOSPITAL! (he really wants to turn around and tell those orderlies 'Get out of here, really? Dude, I thought I was in the fucking library. My bad.' But now isn't the time or the place.); and regardless of the fact that he almost knocked over a bunch of nurses taking their break and subsequently tripped over a (thankfully empty) gurney, he ignored the panicky orderlies and careened into the maternity ward.

The maternity ward waiting room is filled with family, and an air of hopefulness permeates the whole floor. There are husbands who are taking a break from probably screaming wives, or getting ice chips, or whatever the hell they do for the woman who's currently shoving a watermelon-sized kid out a hole the size of a quarter. There are excited family members, expectant grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and siblings who all wait with anticipation and clasping hands and pink and blue balloons and flowers and dozens of other gifts he can't even begin to count in his haste.

He screeches to a halt when he sees Cliff Angell waiting with his two youngest sons, Shawn (whom Jess has dubbed 'an absolute pain in the ass') and Jacob (whom Jess has decided is 'wasting his potential...' oh, everyone has one of those siblings. Speaking of which...) and there's Sam, chatting amicably with Jess's brothers, and Francine is standing proudly, beaming like the sun standing next to Mr. Angell.

Their cumulative relief is palpable as they see him. "Donnie!" comes the jubilant cry of his younger sister, but she doesn't throw herself into a massive tackle that vaguely resembles a hug that she normally does when he comes home; she paces up to him, grasps his face between her hands, and says, serious as a heart attack, "Your wife has the grip of Superman. I swear, my knuckles are literally shattered-"

"Sam, I need to go," he says impatiently.

"Yeah you do," she agrees vehemently. "Your lovely lady is right down that way."

"I haven't missed it?" he asks, and Sam wants to melt because her brother, the gruffest, toughest guy around, looks like a kid in a freaking candy shop when he asks that.

"Not a thing. Although you might want to get in there. Chérie has been in there for a while, and if Jess's grip hasn't changed, her hand is broken."

The grin that splits his face makes all the worry about him flee from Sam's mind and he kisses her cheek and says, "Thanks... Aunt Sam." A conspiratorial wink, and quick nods and waves to his extended family and his mother who's bursting at the seams with pride, and he heads off in the direction his sister had pointed him in.

As he approaches D55, for the first time since stepping off the plane, he willingly stops in his tracks, hand inches from the door.

He's about to become a father. Holy shit. The enormity of fatherhood had hit him when Jess had first showed him that pregnancy test with the two blue lines, and now it hits him with full force how unprepared he is. And how suddenly it is going to happen. It had all seemed so distant back then, when she was just a few months along and they were poring over the baby books and signing up for Lamaze classes (what are those anyway? Don was never able to actually attend one...) and when the inevitable boy/girl debate had sprung up. It sounded all so distant now, what with his wife in labor on the other side of the door.

His introspect was interrupted by a scream from inside the room. That snapped him out of his inner thoughts pretty quickly. Screw fear. He's going to be at his wife's side when their kid is born.

On the other side of the door is organized chaos, but the only thing he sees is his beautiful wife, sweaty and screaming on the bed. He doesn't think she's even seen him come in until he's at her side and the last contraction is over. Of course, the doctors are flipping out at him about contaminants, but one look from Jess hushes their protests. Don't screw with an angry Mama Bear.

Chérie is obviously relieved to see him- obviously the whole family was worried that he wouldn't be here. How glad he is that they were wrong. He takes the unoccupied side of the bed, takes her empty hand into his left hand and uses his right to tenderly brush her bangs from her glistening forehead. Her tired brown eyes flicker to him, and a grin lights up her features. "Don," she says, very breathless and very relieved.

He knows he's grinning like an idiot, and his hand smooths over her face, "Hey, Jess."

"You- you came."

He manages a strained chuckle, "There's no place else for me to be."

She's about to say something, but its interrupted by another intense contraction, and her eyes are squeezed shut and her teeth are gritted, and a pained groan forces its way out of her throat.

Chérie departs with a few encouraging words to the expectant parents, and Jess smiles gratefully at her mother as she leaves. She turns back to Don, and says, "After this (pant) you are never (pant) touching me (pant) again."

He laughs, a little breathlessly, his forehead falling briefly against her shoulder before he meets her eyes. She's tired, he knows she's been in labor for at least 12 hours now, and he remembers his sister's panicked call to the satellite phone while he was flying back to the US, telling him that Jess's water had broken and she was on the way to the hospital. It scared the living hell out of him, terrified that he would still be on a C-17 over the middle of the Atlantic when their child met the world for the first time.

"Of course, dear," he indulges with a small grin. The doctor is telling her to push, that the baby is crowing, and just a few more contractions and she'll be done, but it's all a low-level buzz for him, as he watches Jess's trademark determination set in, her lips take on a tight line as she feels another contraction approach. Her teeth clench, and she does all she can to keep from screaming, managing to only reduce it to a yelling-moan. Her torso curls up from the bed, straining and pushing.

She falls back when the contraction passes, heavy breathing scraping through her throat.

"So... Tired..."

"Come on, Jess, just a little more."

Another contraction passes, and Don's gaze doesn't stray from her face. Even sweaty and exhausted with matted hair in a shapeless hospital gown, she is more beautiful than anything he has ever seen.

The next contraction is the biggest, and a huge scream erupts from her, and he thinks how strange it is that someone her size can be that loud, but unless he had a death wish, he would never say the like around his wife. Her entire body is coiled so tightly, using every scrap of energy she has left to just push.

Then she goes lax on the bed, and relieved sigh blowing through her lips, and that's when he hears it. A cry, more of a whimper, starting out soft, and growing in volume.

"Congratulations," says the doctor, "It's a healthy baby boy." The words sound so plain next to the reality.

A son. I have a son. The words sound foreign, and the love that comes with it is one of the most incredibly overwhelming feelings he's ever experienced. Jess feels the same way, looking upon her little boy for the first time, and they place him on the skin of her chest, and she can only raise a shaking hand to stroke his little head. It's already covered in dark hair, and she's sure that once he opens those little eyes, she'll see her husband's baby blues staring right back at her. The cry is beautiful to her, because she knows that it means his lungs are perfect. His fingers and hands wriggle without purpose, eventually finding a lock of her hair and he grasps it. She's in disbelief that she can be in such wonder of such a simple act as a tiny hand gripping her hair.

She finally rips her tearing gaze to her husband, the only other creature to remotely rival the beauty of her son. He's smiling, eyes in disbelief, shining with unshed tears. She takes her free hand, placing it on the back of Don's head, and she begins to stroke through his hair out of habit. "Look at him," she says, very breathlessly, and very excited. "Look at your son."

He's in disbelief, "Our son, Jess. Ours." He leans downs, kisses her very gently, careful not to crush the newborn between them. He's quieted now to soft whimpers as Don pulls away, his eyes revealed, and, true to Jess's prediction, they're perfect copies of Don's. Perfectly, crystalline blue.

The doctors take him away after their first few moments, Jess gives him up reluctantly. The inseparable bond between mother and child was already formed, and she has no intention of not basking in the presence of her baby. She is sure the thrill of new parenthood would inevitably fade in the wake of sleepless nights, endless feeding and changing, but now, in this moment, she is in bliss.

She turns to her husband, whose expression matches hers, and her hand moves to caress his cheek, and Don mirrors her motions, gently bushing her hair aside so he cna see her whole face properly. They sit in silence, no words needed between the two. They are together and that is all that matters.

Their son is returned to them, clean and pink and perfect, wrapped up tightly in a blue blanket."You make amazing children," Don whispers in her ear, a blinding smile on his face. "He's perfect."

True, she is sore beyond belief, tired and exhausted in ways she never knew possible, and a bit overwhelmed because she is now Mom and a tiny life is completely and utterly dependent on her and her husband, but none of it matters now because her husband's love for her and their family seems to literally lift them above everything else. "You had a hand in this little guy too, you know." Jess wants to cuddle him into her chest some more, feel his ribcage expanding and contracting against her, his fluttery heartbeat, but she knows Don has as much of a right to him as she does. "Want to hold him?"

His eyes widen and he seems to want to speak, but not quite sure what to say. He seems to think for a moment, and Jess thinks of the soldier within him, only days, hours, removed from the violent conflict and bloody trauma of war. From that lifestyle to this one would be a strange adjustment, but she knows without a doubt that he will do it.

"I want to hold him," Don states without a hint of doubt, albeit a bit apprehensively, "I just don't want to drop him or anything."

A chuckle escapes her, "Such a typical male response." He makes no moves yet, so she says, "Dear, I'm so tired right now, and you're going to have to take him at some point. May as well be now before we're inundated with family members."

Then, as carefully as she has seen him do anything, he gently brings his son from her chest into his arms. Tears sting Jess's eyes as she watches her two boys. She sees their connection immediately, that age-old bond, an unbreakable thread, that has always joined fathers and sons. Don can't take his eyes off his face. He can see bits of he and Jess in him, and Don can't wait to see him as he grows older. Can't wait to see what his personality will be. What kind of man he will become. Just as tenderly as he picked him up a few moments earlier, he places a delicate kiss on his son's brow. "I've seen a lot in my life, son. War and death and tragedy and things your mother and I hope you never see. I've seen beauty on an unimaginable scale," he says, looking pointedly at his wife, who caught his look and smiles despite being on the cusp of falling asleep. "Nothing can truly compare to you, to looking at you with my own two eyes." Jess hears his beautiful words, and the tears begin to threaten once more. "I love your mother more than anything in the world, more than my own life, and that's the same way that I love you, and that will never change."

So this story came out of nowhere, but this kind of just wrote itself and I hope you enjoyed it. I haven't written for Don and Jess for a while, and I missed them.

Quick update for anyone wondering where J/D have run off to in my world: I'm struggling to reach into their little well of inspiration and 'Warmness' and 'Capsize' are at a standstill. Sorry for the disappointment, but my muse is on other things right now.

Please leave a review :)