Disclaimer: Sadly, the characters are still not mine
Notes: Thank you to everyone who took the time to review last chapter; I really appreciate it and please continue to do so! Many thanks to Ballettmaus for all her help with this chapter and thanks to Suallenparker for helpful discussions about it :)
Danny drew Lindsay to him, comforting her as best he could. "Hey, hey, honey, it's okay," he murmured as she clung to him, crying, her head buried in the crook of his neck, while Don stood by, feeling helpless all over again
"I'm-I'm sorry," Lindsay managed to choke out finally as she raised her head, "It all just - just got to me... everything that's happened today and - and then the baby coming so unexpectedly, and we were all so worried, and... and..."
A fresh wave of sobs threatened to overwhelm her, but Danny soothed her, holding her to him until she regained her composure. Dabbing at her eyes with a scruffy handkerchief her husband had rooted out for her, she began to apologise again until both Don and Danny put a stop to it.
"Hey, I'd probably be crying, too, if I'd been in there with all that going on." Danny kissed the top of her head as Lindsay managed a watery giggle.
"You wouldn't have been allowed. Mac was only allowed to stay because Stella told Dr Hammerback she wasn't going to have the baby without him there."
Danny sniggered and Don chuckled wryly, well able to imagine that.
"So Stella and the baby are really okay?" he asked and Lindsay nodded, sniffing and wiping away the last of her tears.
"Yes, the baby just took her time. Stella's exhausted but otherwise she's okay, really," she assured him and Don smiled, the burden of worry lifting from him at last. "It's no wonder she's been so tired the last few days, with the backache she's had being the first signs of labour," Lindsay continued with a faint smile, her own weariness evident. "She did admit she'd wondered if it might have been the baby coming but when nothing else happened, she didn't say any more about it."
"I'm picturing Mac's face when she owned up to that," Danny said with a smirk and Don grinned, having been doing the same thing.
"I think he's probably forgotten about that already," Lindsay said, a softness in her eyes. "Going by the look on his face, and Stella's, the moment the baby cried, they forgot about everything else in the world but her."
Her gaze returned to Danny and Don felt the slightest twinge of wistfulness again as his friends shared a memory and an emotion he had never been privy to.
Eager to rid himself of the feeling, he asked, "So, when do we get to see little Miss Taylor?"
Lindsay looked up at him, blinking. "I don't know..."
All three of them glanced towards the Taylors' room; Don half hoping the door might open and they would be beckoned in.
"How about you boys wait here and I'll go find out," Lindsay told them, looking almost her normal self again as she smoothed down her hair and wiped the last traces of tears off her cheeks. She then hurried away down the landing, tapped on the door, and slipped through the small gap that appeared before it closed again.
Unsure what to say now, Don sagged a little against a bookcase and Danny released a heavy sigh. They caught each other's eye and grinned self-consciously.
"Quite a day, huh?" Danny remarked and Flack crossed his arms over his chest, nodding.
Danny pushed his spectacles further up the bridge of his nose. "But it's all turned out okay." He gave Don an appraising look. "We got to thank you for a big part of that."
"I don't think so..."
"Come on, Flack, don't be modest, man: you helped find Lucy, you drove through a storm to fetch the doc for Stella."
"It wasn't anything special," Don said hastily and Danny shrugged.
"You helped out a lot of people today."
Deciding modesty wasn't going to get him far, Don grinned suddenly. "All in a day's work."
Danny smirked. "Flack to the rescue, huh?"
"You got it."
The two of them grinned at each other and a thought crossed Flack's mind. "Lucy's going to be in for a surprise when she wakes up; who's going to answer when she asks how the baby got here?" He snickered as Danny groaned and pressed his hand to his face.
"Her ma can answer any difficult questions..." Don gave him a sceptical look. "What? She's a woman; she knows the answers. And if she doesn't, I'll tell Lucy to go ask her Uncle Don," he added slyly and Don glowered.
"You do and I'm sending her back with a few questions 'Uncle Don' needs answering," he retorted just as the Taylors' room opened and Lindsay came out, hurrying over to them with a smile on her face.
"Dr Hammerback's allowing you a few minutes to visit," she said. "Stella wants to show her daughter off to her uncles and I've been sent to invite you both, although I think it might be best if you went one at a time so as not to crowd them."
Danny gave his wife an affectionate grin. "Good thing we've got you to keep us in check."
A slight blush in her cheeks, Lindsay justified herself, "Stella wouldn't mind, but Mac..."
"Is in full protective mode?" Don arched an eyebrow and Lindsay gave him a wry smile.
"So how is the new father?" Danny asked.
Lindsay's smile broadened. "Proud doesn't even begin to describe him – I think it's just starting to sink in now."
Don felt a grin spread over his face. "I can imagine. Okay, so, what are we waiting for? We need to go greet the new arrival."
He was about to walk towards the room when Danny took a step forwards.
"You mind if I go first?" he asked. "Only, we want to get back to Lucy."
Swallowing his impatience, Don gestured him onwards. "Sure. Go right ahead."
The couple made their way along the landing hand in hand and Don sighed, leaning back against the bookcase. But, even though his shoulders were sagging and his body was weary, elation danced inside him: Mac and Stella had their long-awaited miracle, safe in their arms at last, and he was happy for them, more than happy.
With a smile light on his face, he strode back to his room, unwilling to spend any more time waiting inactively, and collected up the mugs and plates he and Danny had used before carrying them down to the kitchen, where he noted with raised eyebrows that it was now almost 3am.
He had just reached the top of the stairs on his return, when the door to Mac and Stella's room opened and the Messers came out.
Danny smirked and jerked his thumb behind him. "They're waiting for you in there."
"You off to bed now?" Don asked and Lindsay nodded, smothering a yawn with difficulty as she did so.
With a grin, he told them, "I'll see you later this morning, maybe not so bright and early."
"With Lucy, mornings are always early, even if they're not bright. She'll be awake before 7 o'clock, and if we're not, she'll soon make sure we are." Danny rolled his eyes, suggesting his long suffering and Don chuckled, before embracing Lindsay, clapping Danny on the shoulder and wishing them good morning.
After watching them down the stairs, he turned to enter his friends' room as Doctor Hammerback and Jennifer came out.
The doctor peered over his spectacles at Don. "I'm pleased to see you warm and dry again, Mr Flack. You had quite the journey to fetch me. It was an admirable action on your part."
"It was no trouble." Don lifted his shoulders, hoping he wouldn't have to go through more unnecessary praise of his actions.
Hammerback patted his arm. "Well then, let me simply say that you did a very good deed today." His eyes twinkled at both Don and Jennifer. "You know, my dears, it's an occasion like this which makes all the trials and tribulations of a doctor's life worthwhile. Seeing Mr and Mrs Taylor as happy as they are with their baby girl, I could ask for nothing better as an outcome."
"Me neither," Don said emphatically, glancing, in what he hoped was an obvious manner towards the door. It was noted by Jennifer, who gave him a sympathetic look, but the doctor seemed oblivious.
"I have to say that Mrs Taylor is a quite determined and strong woman," Hammerback continued, musing. "Quite determined. Not every woman would have got through this as well as she did. It was not an easy birth, especially after one of the longest times in labour I've ever known." He shook his head in wonder. "Three days, I calculated it to have been."
At that, Don had to grin, despite his impatience. "Stell doesn't like to do things by halves. And, if there's anyone more determined than her, I've yet to meet them. Unless it's Mac when he's determined to make sure she's safe."
"Mr Taylor's devotion to his wife is plain," Hammerback said, and seemed about to say more, but Jennifer touched his arm.
"Doctor Hammerback, if it's okay with Don, how about we go down to the kitchen and I'll make us some coffee?"
Don gave her a broad smile, communicating his thankfulness with a brief lift of his eyebrows. "It's fine by me. You two go make yourselves at home, get something to eat and drink. I'll come join you when I've seen Mac and Stell. Just make sure you leave something for me." He smirked and Jennifer gave him a laughing look.
"I'll rustle you something up, don't worry."
"That would be agreeable," Hammerback said, adding a little wistfully, "I miss Martha's cooking when she's away."
"I believe there might be some of her apple pie left in the pantry." Jennifer raised her eyebrows at the doctor and his eyes lit up.
Slipping her arm through the doctor's, Jennifer led him downstairs, turning back to give Don another smile.
The door to his friends' room stood ajar, light slanting through the gap and after tapping softly, Don pushed it open as soon as he heard Mac's voice bid him enter.
Joy flooded through him when he saw the newly extended Taylor family. Mac perched on the edge of the bed at the side of Stella, who lay propped up by pillows while the baby slept in her arms. True to Lindsay's word, Stella looked exhausted – her hair damp with perspiration, dark smudges under her eyes. Mac also looked drained, making Don realise how much of an ordeal both his friends had gone through. Overpowering it all, however, was the look of bliss mingled with awe on their faces which he saw as they looked up at his entrance.
"Hey," he said softly. "Not disturbing you am I?"
"Not at all," Mac answered, smiling at him. "It's good to see you. We owe you our thanks, Don."
"You don't owe me anything," Don said as he walked over before bending down to kiss Stella's cheek and then leaning over to shake Mac's hand vigorously. "On the contrary, I owe you both congratulations. How you doing?"
"Good," Stella told him, sitting herself up carefully with Mac's assistance and smiling tiredly at him, before adjusting the baby who had woken and begun to snuffle. "Very good. Doctor Hammerback's going to call and see us again in the morning, but he's happy with both of us."
Her daughter's head rested on her shoulder while she rubbed her back gently and Mac stroked the top of her head with one finger.
"I'm glad to hear that." His words were heartfelt and Stella touched his hand.
"At the very least, you got to accept our thanks," she said.
"That, I can do." He grinned and satisfied, she nodded, before sharing another eloquent glance with her husband.
Mac's face remained serious. "And we'd be honoured if you'll accept our request to be our daughter's godfather," he asked.
Don found his mouth dropping open. "Me?" he sputtered. "Are you sure? I mean, godfather, geez..." His gaze stuck to Mac's as he remembered his own earlier comments about fatherhood. "That's kind of a responsible position..."
"Which we think you'll be suited to perfectly," Mac told him with a hint of a smile playing round his mouth. Stella's smile was full-blown as she gave her husband a bright-eyed look and turned back to Don, waiting for his answer; an answer he realised he couldn't give her as he remained staring at the couple.
"So, you'll accept?" Stella asked, just a trace of doubt and hopefulness in her voice and Don opened his mouth, closed it again and swallowed.
"I... I... Heck, Stell, Mac, I..." In agitation, he looked between the two of them, who now looked uncertain. "I don't know what to say," he admitted, his face heating, his hands seeming to shove themselves into his pockets. "Not that I'm not honoured, and-and delighted to be asked, 'cause I am... It's just... I don't know if I'm the best guy to ask for that. I mean, even reading Lucy a bedtime story proved kind of challenging for me... You know I'm just a carefree bachelor..." But even as he heard himself say those last words, he realised they were a hollow excuse. He rubbed his jaw in a quick, jerky movement before folding his arms across his chest.
Again, Mac and Stella shared a look before Mac fixed his gaze on him, studying him. "Don," he began, pausing to lay his hand over Stella's, "If we didn't think you were capable or responsible enough, we wouldn't have asked you. Our child..." He broke off, his hand tightening round Stella's. "Our child is too important for that. We both trust you with our lives, and... and should the need ever arise for you to take care of her life, we know you would."
Speech was impossible for Don. Awash with emotions; humility that his friends thought so much of him; pride and honour at the trust they had in him; fear at the possibility of having to take on so much and leave behind some of the easiness of his life.
Both Mac and Stella were watching him and at the hope in their eyes, he knew he could not disappoint them, and would endeavour to live up to the responsibility they had bestowed on him.
"Don?" Stella asked softly. "You will say yes, won't you?"
There was no other answer he could give.
"I'd be honoured to," he said with utmost sincerity.
Mac's face broke into a smile and he stood up, taking hold of Don's hand and shaking it with vigour.
"Thank you. That means a lot to us."
"And to me," he told them, feeling almost light-headed as Mac released his hand and he bent down again to embrace Stella, mindful of the baby.
Sitting himself down on the end of the bed, opposite Mac with his back resting against the bedstead, Don asked a question that had been buzzing in his mind as he watched the tiny girl curl and uncurl her fists, "So what's her name going to be? You two have been awfully quiet about that." He grinned widely at the dry look Mac gave him as he tore his gaze away from his daughter. "Seriously though," Don continued, "what are you going to call her?"
"She's going to be Iris Rose Taylor," Stella told him, star-filled eyes gazing in adoration at the little girl who splayed her fingers against her neck.
"Iris Rose Taylor... it's pretty," Don decided.
Stella smiled. "Come and have a closer look at your goddaughter," she offered, shifting with care so she could hold Iris facing towards him and Don scooted nearer. Staring, he marvelled at the miniature scale of her, enthralled by the tiny life in his friend's arms.
The baby, her face pink and new-born crumpled, was like a rose bud. As delicately as if she really was made of petals, Don stroked her cheek with his fingertip. "She's beautiful," he breathed, entranced by the exquisite and tiny fingernails, the eyelashes that feathered her eyes and the downy dark hair over her head. Mac and Stella just smiled as they watched him and Iris.
"Hey," he said softly. "I'm your Uncle Don and I'm very, very pleased to meet you, baby Iris. I guess you're going to get used to this face 'cause your Ma and Pa are good friends of mine and I'm going to be seeing a lot of you."
"We certainly hope so." Mac said and Stella agreed.
"Godfathers get extra visiting privileges," she said and Don shot her a grin.
The baby yawned and clenched her fists and Don chuckled, glancing at Mac and Stella. "She's a honey," he told them in low tones. "I'm thrilled for you guys."
Wriggling, Iris wrinkled her nose and blinked, her bright blue eyes seeming to look right into his. Don held out his little finger to her and broke into a laugh, startled, when she seized it.
"That's quite the grip she's got already," he said and then smirked at Mac. "But unless I'm very much mistaken, her papa is going to be wrapped right around her little finger in no time at all."
Stella laughed softly and Mac smiled wryly, though didn't deny the charge, before Don, conscious of how long he had been there already, got to his feet.
"I'm going to leave you three to get to know each other some more," he said, shaking his head when they both urged him to stay a little longer, noting the weariness Stella was failing to conceal. "No, I've intruded long enough and you guys ought to try and get a few hours' sleep."
"It has been a long and eventful day," Mac said, his eyes again on his wife and new daughter as he rubbed the back of his neck, the worry he'd suffered apparent in the creases in his face.
Sinking back into the pillows, Stella raised one hand to her husband's cheek, her thumb brushing his skin.
"A long day with a very happy ending," she said, her voice tired but contented.
Don smiled, and felt a pang of, not jealousy now, but wistfulness tinged with longing.
"I'll see you guys in the morning," he said in a lowered voice.
"Thank you." Mac looked up for only an instant and Stella gave no answer though she smiled faintly. A moment later, her eyes closed and Mac turned back to her, smoothing a few stray curls from her forehead.
As he left the room, Don stole one final look back at the family, a smile flitting over his lips at the sight of Mac lifting Iris from her mother's arms with tremendous care and holding her to him, murmuring to her.
After he had closed the door with a soft click, Don stood for a moment on the landing a small smile on his face before he tucked his hands in his pockets and trudged down the stairs.
In the kitchen he found Jennifer and the doctor sitting at the kitchen table, a plate with the sparse remains of apple pie on it in front of them along with a jug of coffee.
"Save anything for me?" He greeted them both with insouciance and they turned towards him, an almost guilty look on both their faces.
"My dear Mr Flack, I'm afraid there's very little apple pie left to speak of," Hammerback said and Don feigned hurt and shock.
"What? Not even the pie crust?"
Jennifer grinned. "Not even that. However, I did find a tin full of cookies in one of the cupboards which I held back for you."
"My saviour." Don sat down with a contented sigh and rooted in the tin that Jennifer placed in front of him. A thought struck him then and leaving the cookies alone, he stood up and went over to one of the cupboards, pulling out a bottle of brandy in triumph after a moment's rummaging. Finding three glasses after a little more rummaging, he set them out and poured a measure of brandy for all of them. "A toast," he said in answer to his companions' questioning looks. "To the Taylor family."
"To the Taylor family!" They raised their glasses, chinking them together before taking a sip of the dark amber liquid.
"Whew." Don gave an involuntary shudder as it drenched his insides with heat. "Strong stuff. Never did like the taste of it, but it was all I had... Mom told me to bring it for my chest," he explained and the doctor peered over his glasses at him, a glimmer in his eyes.
"Your Mom is quite the wise woman, Mr Flack."
He grinned remembering Stella's words of the previous night. "She sure is. Still, this is a much better use of the stuff."
The doctor smiled and set down his half-full glass of brandy before rising from his seat. "Well my dears, I'm sure you'd both benefit from some sleep. I'll call to see Mrs Taylor and Iris later this morning, but I'm satisfied they're in good hands here, especially with Miss Lannis around." He smiled at Jennifer. "I was delighted to have your help, as I know Mrs Taylor was, too."
"I'm happy to have been able to help," she said, fiddling with the chain of her pendant and un-tucking it from the front of her dress, the light glancing off the silver piece of jewellery round her neck as she did so.
The expression on the Doctor's face changed in an instant; the colour vanishing from it and his jaw slackening.
"Doctor Hammerback?" Don stepped forward, alarmed, but the doctor's eyes remained on Jennifer.
"Miss... Lannis." His voice was a husk of its usual sound. "Where did you get that necklace?"
Jennifer's eyes darted to Don, her hand creeping round the pendant. "Why do you want to know?" she asked.
"Call it... call it an old man's curiosity," the doctor replied, his gaze intent on her.
After a moment's hesitation, Jennifer answered. "I've had it all my life. My parents told me I had it when they adopted me."
The doctor did not remove his gaze from Jennifer; his eyes seemed to be elsewhere though and Don felt a prickle of unease, stepping closer to the young woman as he did so. "What's going on?" he asked, but the doctor was speaking as if he hadn't even heeded his voice.
"If it's not an impertinent question, my dear, may I ask how old you were when you were adopted and how long ago that was?"
Confusion increasing in her features, Jennifer frowned before she replied, "I was... I was two, only just two, and it was 27 years ago."
Her hand remained resting on the back of the chair and Don moved his over hers.
Hammerback sighed and pushed a lock of his greying hair away from his forehead. "I wonder," he muttered, half to himself. "Yes, I wonder... Please, humour me, my dear," he addressed Jennifer again. "I have just one more question." His smile was kindly, with a suppressed excitement hidden behind it. Don tightened his grip on Jennifer's hand and she sent him a quick, grateful look.
"Sure," she answered the doctor and he patted her other hand.
"This may seem a little intrusive." He paused to glance at Don also, whose curiosity had roused now, greater than his suspicion, "But do you have on your left shoulder, just above your collarbone, a small birthmark that is, in shape, rather similar to a butterfly?"
Jennifer tensed, Don feeling the rigidity in her hand. "How do you know that?" she said in a half-whisper, her gaze locked on the older man.
"May I see?" he asked gently. "Just to be sure?"
In silence, Jennifer slid her hand from Don's and pulled aside the strap of her dress, revealing a small light brown birthmark, distinctly shaped like a butterfly.
"Oh my..." Hammerback sat back down on his chair, picked up the glass of brandy and drained it in one gulp.
"Hammerback, what the heck's going on here?" Don demanded, the sight of Jennifer still staring at the doctor in bewilderment making his voice harder than he intended it to be. This time it was Jennifer's hand that curled round his, calming him.
Hammerback looked between the two of them, with a smile that quivered on his mouth. "I think, Mr Flack, that I have just solved a 27 year old mystery." His eyes deep with compassion, he clasped Jennifer's hands. "My dear child; my dear child, I know this will be no small shock to you, but I have very good reason to believe that you are the little girl lost from here 27 years ago. Jessica Angell, found at last."
Thank you for reading :) Please spare a minute to leave a review - I'd really love to know what you think of this chapter! Lily x