Author's Note: This story is part of the More Than Friends universe. It takes place about 6-8 months after "How Could I Have Forgotten?"
Clay entered the empty kitchen of his home. Emma's SUV wasn't parked in the driveway, and the quiet of the house confirmed she and Lanie weren't there. Glad he had arrived back from his training mission while his family was out, he headed upstairs to his daughter's room to put the present he brought for her on her bed.
Emma told him he shouldn't always bring gifts home for Lanie, and his little girl didn't need them to be happy her Daddy had returned. He knew Emma worried he would spoil their daughter, and while he understood her concern, he wanted Lanie to know he was thinking of her no matter how far away he was.
Once in his daughter's room, he placed the little, stuffed rabbit on her pillow. As he turned from his task, his gaze landed on the fishbowl on the bedside table. In the bowl was Lanie's goldfish, Clarence, floating belly up.
His heart sank as he realized what he was seeing. His daughter adored that goldfish.
She had brought it home from the birthday party of a nursery school friend. Emma had muttered some choice words at the time about mothers who thought it appropriate to hand out live fish as a part of the goody bags at a party for four-year-olds.
After an emergency trip to the fish store for food, a bowl, some pink gravel, and to talk Lanie out of the giant sandcastle she thought was 'bee-yoo-tiful,' Clarence became a member of their family. On numerous occasions, both Clay and Emma had to stop their daughter from sticking her hand in the bowl, explaining that fish didn't want to be held.
Picking up the fishbowl, Clay tried giving the fish a poke. Maybe he was just sleeping? No dice. Clarence continued to float.
Hearing a quiet gasp, Clay looked up. Emma stood in the bedroom door with their sleeping daughter in her arms. Eyes wide as she took in the fish's condition, she shifted Lanie to a more comfortable position.
"Clay!" Her whisper sounded accusatory.
He gulped. "In my defense, he was already dead when I got here."
Entering the room, Emma moved to place their still sleeping daughter on the bed. Once Lanie was settled, Emma spread a blanket over the little girl. Cerberus hopped up and curled around her feet. The dog looked at Clay and Emma with serious eyes, as if he knew exactly how much trouble they were in.
Emma grabbed Clay's arm and tugged him out of the room. "Bring the fish!"
Releasing his arm once they entered their bedroom, she turned to Clay. "Is it really dead?"
"Yeah, he's really dead."
She pressed her fingers to her temples for a moment. "Shit! Lanie's going to be devastated."
They stood frozen, looking at each other as they considered their daughter's reaction to finding out Clarence was dead. Clay knew Emma was right. His little girl would be heartbroken.
"I could run to the fish store and get another before she wakes up."
Emma looked tempted to take him up on his offer, but before she could reply they heard a cry from down the hall.
"What's wrong, baby girl?"
"My fishy gone. Where my fishy?"
They exchanged horrified looks, then the sound of little feet heading their way came from the hall.
"Hide it!" Emma waved her hands frantically at him.
Clay had no idea where to put the bowl. He scanned the room wildly trying to find a possible hiding place. Nothing jumped out at him. Then it was too late. Lanie came into the room, and Clay tried to slide the bowl behind his back surreptitiously.
Lanie walked towards him. "My fishy!"
She held her hands up to him to take the bowl. Giving Emma an agonized glance, he knelt down in front of Lanie. Holding the bowl out to give his daughter a good view, he took a deep breath. "Baby, Clarence isn't too well."
"He not swimming, Daddy. Why?" Lanie rested her hand on the side of the bowl.
"Um, he's…" Clay swallowed hard. He couldn't do this. He couldn't break his baby's heart. Glancing up at Emma, he gave her an imploring look.
His wife mouthed the word coward at him and knelt down on Lanie's other side. "Baby, Clarence was sick, and he died."
Lanie gave her mother a confused look. "Died? No, he come back."
Emma rested her hand on Lanie's back. "No, he's gone to heaven, and he can't come back."
His little girl's brokenhearted wail tore into Clay as he watched her throw herself into her mother's arms. Emma rubbed Lanie's back and comforted her. Clay reached up and placed the fishbowl on the bureau then turned back to his daughter and wife.
Emma's cell phone began ringing from her pocket. Pulling it out while still trying to soothe their daughter, she glanced at the screen and handed it to Clay. "It's my Dad. Answer it."
Clay spoke up over Lanie's sobs. "Hey, Jason. What's up?"
"Clay, where's Emma? What's going on there? It doesn't sound good."
Moving to the hallway to hear better, Clay explained the situation to Jason. "Lanie's fish died, and she's pretty upset about it."
"The goldfish she got at that birthday party?" Jason snorted. "Boy, did that piss Emma off."
"Yeah, that's the fish."
"I could stop by the pet store and get another, if you think it would help."
Clay considered Jason's offer, but he wasn't sure it was the best solution. "I appreciate it, but I think we'll pass. I don't want to be in this same situation six months from now."
"Okay, let me know if you change your mind. I was calling to check in with Emma about dinner tonight. I was planning on coming by to grill some steaks with her and Lanie."
Lanie's cries had become quieter, and Clay stepped back into the bedroom to see what was happening. "Hold on, Jason."
Emma sat on the end of their bed with Lanie cradled in her arms. No longer sobbing, his little girl's face was still tear-stained.
"Em, your Dad is calling about dinner tonight. He's coming over to grill?"
"Oh yeah, tell him I got the corn on the cob and the other food, but I think we're out of the beer he likes." As she spoke, Emma continued to rock Lanie in her arms.
"Emma says she has all the other food, but she thinks we're out of the beer you like."
"Okay, I'll pick some up on my way there," Jason said. "I'll be there around six, depending on traffic."
"See you then."
They ended the call, and Clay sat down on the bed beside Emma and Lanie. Reaching over, he squeezed his little girl's leg.
"My fishy go away, Daddy." Lanie held her arms out to him, asking to be held.
He gathered her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. "I'm sorry, baby, but now Clarence is in heaven swimming with lots of other fish."
Lanie nodded and sat quietly in his lap for a moment. "Ava at school have her doggie in a box at her house when he go to heaven."
Clay and Emma's eyes met over Lanie's head. "In a box?" He whispered in confusion.
Emma looked as mystified by that as he was, but then an expression of comprehension dawned on her face. "They must have had the dog cremated and kept the ashes."
"I am not cremating a fish!" Clay's whisper was louder, attracting Lanie's attention.
"What cremating, Daddy?"
Dismayed at realizing his daughter heard his comment, he looked to Emma for help.
"Smooth," she said with a smirk. "This one is all you."
He had no idea how to explain cremating to a four-year-old. "Um, it's a way to say goodbye, like when Great-grandma Grace passed away."
Lanie nodded, her expression serious. "A funeral."
Clay rubbed his beard. How did his four-year-old, who couldn't use all her verbs in a complete sentence know what funeral meant? He decided to go with it. "Yes, a funeral."
In an exact imitation of her mother, his little girl looked up at him with the big eyes. "Can we do funeral for Clarence?"
He found it difficult to say no to Emma when she used the big eyes. When Lanie did it, he found it impossible.
"Yes Clay, can we?" A teasing grin flashed across Emma's face.
He shot her an exasperated glare, then looked down at Lanie. "We can do one if you want, baby girl."
"Yes, Daddy." Her expression much happier, Lanie wrapped her arms around Clay's neck for a hug.
Holding Lanie close, he stood with her in his arms and turned to Emma. "Maybe Mommy can find a box for us to put Clarence in while we go outside and find a spot to bury him, okay?"
"I think I have something that will work." Emma disappeared into the closet.
Clay headed downstairs and into the yard with Lanie in his arms. Cerberus followed them out as Clay walked towards the back corner of their property. "How about right here under the tree by these bushes that have pretty flowers in the spring? I think Clarence would like that."
Lanie nodded and leaned her head on Clay's shoulder. "Yes," she whispered.
He leaned over and set Lanie down. "You wait here with Cerberus while I get something to dig a hole with."
She wrapped an arm around the dog's neck and leaned into him while she watched Clay walk over to the shed. As she waited, Cerb licked her damp cheek.
Searching through all the junk in the shed, which Clay thought he should really clean out sometime, he found a little spade that would work perfectly to dig a small hole for the fish's grave. Spade in hand, he stepped out of the shed and met Emma coming across the grass. In her hand she held a small pink box.
"You owe me, Spenser. I picked up that dead fish and put him into this box. I touched a dead fish." Her nose wrinkled in disgust as she told him.
He grinned at her and leaned close to whisper in her ear. "I'll make it up to you tonight. I promise." He glanced down at the box she was holding. "You had a little pink box sitting around waiting for this moment?"
"I'm prepared like that." She chuckled at his impressed expression. "It held the favor I got at a wedding shower. I thought it would be good to reuse sometime. This is not what I expected that time to be, but whatever works." She paused a moment and gave him a seductive look. "And I'll be holding you to that tonight."
They smiled at each other as they walked back to their daughter, who was waiting patiently with Cerberus by the chosen burial spot. Clay started digging the hole while Emma knelt beside Lanie and showed her the box.
"Ooh, pretty, Mommy." Lanie stroked the pink satin of the lid.
Clay finished digging and went to put the spade aside, but Emma stopped him. "Dig it a little deeper, please." In a quieter voice for only Clay's ears, she added, "I don't want to come across Clarence when I plant bulbs in this bed come Fall."
Nodding, Clay made the hole a little deeper. Things would not go well for him if Emma came across a dead fish when she was gardening. "How's that?"
"Perfect." Emma turned to their daughter. "Lanie, do you want to put the box in?"
The little girl nodded and carefully took the box from her mother. Leaning down, she placed it in the bottom of the hole and patted the top. "Goodbye fishy. I love you."
Emma slipped her arm around Lanie's waist and gave her a squeeze and a kiss on the top of her head while Clay started gently covering the box with dirt. Lanie leaned closer into Emma's side as she watched the box disappear.
"Mommy, he need a prayer." Lanie looked up at Emma.
"Okay, baby. Why don't you say one?"
Lanie squeezed her eyes shut for a minute, then put her hands together. "Dear God, please take care of my fishy, Clarence, in heaven. He good fishy. Thank you. Amen."
Putting aside the spade now that the hole was filled, Clay knelt on his little girl's other side and pressed a kiss to her blond curls. "That was very nice, Lanie." He could feel her let out a big sigh as she continued to look down at the spot where they buried Clarence.
"Okay, I think it's time to go in the house and wash our hands, so we can start getting dinner ready." Emma's voice broke the silence.
Lanie nodded and turned to her mother.
Once she had her daughter's attention, Emma continued. "Grandpa is coming for dinner. We could make some brownies for our dessert."
Clay smiled at Lanie as he stood and took her hand. "Mmm, I love brownies."
"Me too, Daddy." She slipped her other hand into Emma's. "Mommy, when Grandpa coming?"
Emma squeezed Lanie's hand. "He should be here any time now. He's bringing some steaks for our dinner."
Smiling, Lanie became noticeably cheerier. "Good. Grandpa fun."
Snorting quietly, Clay caught Emma's eye above Lanie's head. "I know a lot of SEALs who would be very surprised to hear Jason Hayes called fun."
With Lanie between Clay and Emma, holding their hands, the three of them began walking across the lawn towards the house. As they approached the deck, Clay realized he had left the spade by Clarence's resting place.
"You two go ahead. I need to put the shovel away." He turned and headed back to Clarence's grave while Emma and Lanie went into the house.
Once he returned the spade to the shed, Clay started over to the deck. He heard the side gate opening, and he detoured to see who it was. Jason entered the yard, juggling some grocery bags and a twelve pack of beer.
Rushing forward to help his father-in-law, Clay caught the beer before it hit the ground. "Hey Jason. You should have texted, and I would have come out to help you."
"No problem. I got it all in." Jason set the bags down on the table on the deck. "Where are Emma and Lanie?"
Cerberus trotted up on the deck to greet Jason, who leaned down and started scratching the faithful dog behind the ears.
"We just had a funeral for Lanie's fish. They went in the house to wash their hands."
Jason grinned. "You buried it in the yard? We're Navy. Why didn't you have a burial at sea?"
"Do you really think we could have convinced Lanie to flush her fish down the toilet?" Clay shook his head at Jason.
Laughing, Jason pulled out one of the beers. "No, I guess not. She was pretty attached to that fish."
The door to the house opened, and Lanie came barreling out. "Grandpa! Grandpa!"
Jason caught her before she slammed into his legs. Placing his beer down on the table, he lifted her up in his arms. "Here's my girl. Can you give Grandpa a kiss?"
Twining her arms around Jason's neck, Lanie gave him a smacking kiss on the cheek. Finished saying hello, Lanie's expression became serious. "Grandpa, my fishy died today."
Jason sat down in one of the chairs by the table with his granddaughter on his lap. "I heard. I'm very sorry that happened."
Before Lanie could answer, Emma joined them. "Hi Dad." She leaned down and gave him a kiss as well.
"Hey Emma. I hear you had some excitement today."
She shook her head. "You could call it that."
Smiling, Jason reached over into one of the grocery bags. "I have something that might help." He pulled out a stuffed orange fish. "Lanie, I brought you a toy fish to help you remember yours."
"It Clarence!" Lanie took the stuffed fish in her arms and cuddled it close. "Look, Mommy. I love him."
Emma looked at Jason in exasperation. "Dad, you shouldn't always be bringing her presents."
Accepting another kiss from his granddaughter, Jason flashed his daughter an unrepentant smile. "Today's different. Lanie lost her fish."
"Right." Emma's skeptical tone was obvious to Clay, as he guiltily thought about the stuffed bunny, forgotten in the drama of Clarence's death, waiting on Lanie's pillow.
"Lanie, did you say thank you to Grandpa?"
"I give him a kiss." She barely looked up from her new toy.
"Lanie." Clay recognized Emma's mom is not playing with you voice, and so did his daughter.
"Thank you, Grandpa."
"You're welcome, baby. Now you need to let Grandpa get to work. I told your Mom I would grill these steaks." Jason lifted Lanie off his lap and set her down on the deck.
"I can do the grilling, Jase." Clay moved to take the cover off their grill.
"No, no, I said I would. You coming home early doesn't let me out of it." Jason pulled out his containers of seasoned meat.
While the two men bickered over who would do the grilling, Lanie showed her mother the new stuffed fish. Emma was surprised her father was able to find a goldfish stuffed animal. Turning the toy over in her hands, she noticed the tag. 'Do not let dog use unsupervised,' she read on the label.
"Dad!" Emma's disbelieving voice cut through the men's congenial squabbling. "You bought my daughter a dog toy."
"Hey, I was at the grocery store. There weren't a lot of options." Jason shrugged. "Lanie won't mind, and Cerb is too well-trained to play with it if you don't give it to him."
Emma started to laugh. Clay thought it sounded a little hysterical.
Jason turned to his granddaughter. "You don't mind that it's a dog toy, do you, baby?"
"No, Grandpa. I like fishy." Lanie walked over to show the toy to her father. "See, Daddy. Clarence."
"He's very nice."
Jason watched her hug the fish. "If you like, Lanie, when it's your birthday Grandpa will get you a new fish. How about that?"
"No thank you, Grandpa." Lanie's response was immediate.
"You don't want another fish?" Confused, Jason rubbed his chin.
Lanie looked up him and her parents, then smiled. "I want a kitty."
Clay and Emma's eyes met in horror over their daughter's head. They were not going through this again with a cat.
AN 2: This is my last story for SEAL Team Week, as I don't have anything for tomorrow's prompt. Thanks for reading?