In the end, it wasn’t that hard – Jerry was all over the news for days. It was easy enough to pin Dan’s mysterious injuries on Jerry’s stalker-like behavior and a falsified story of threats against the rest of his family.
It was far from the real truth, but it was enough that Theresa now saw him as something more noble and self-sacrificing than she considered him previously.
(She still, Jack mentioned, thought he was insane, but it was a start. At least she was willing to not disown him as an uncle once the baby came. )
He was going to need therapy for his hand. Jerry hadn’t been as careful as his dad. The doctors were optimistic, though, and Dan was willing to take that as a win.
(Hugh still wasn’t willing to transcribe his article ideas, so he started with Zack. It was good for handwriting and spelling practice. The system worked until Katie caught him describing a bank robbery. Then it was back to the one-handed typing.)
There were still nights he woke up sweating and tangled in blankets and feeling every limb, his jaw, his throat for the wounds. Those nights, Katie held him close (but never held his hands, never at night) and whispered calm things, soothing things, and sometimes the closeness became more. She was always strong at night.
She was strong at night, but during the day…
(During the day, Dan got used to phone calls at all hours, got used to staying home in the evenings, and got used to Katie checking to make sure he was still where he was supposed to be. Zack got used to board-games and video-games and not so much running around. The peewee soccer team got used to Zack staying home; the school – and then the daycare when school ended - got used to Katie picking Zack up, and only Katie.)
And then, one day, it wasn’t Katie.
“Who’s picking up Zack?” Dan asked as Katie met him on the porch after work. She gave him a cat-like smile, somewhat sly, somewhat pleased, and he frowned, puzzled by the change in routine. “It can’t be Jack, he just called me from work…”
“Not Jack, no,” Katie confirmed as she took his good hand, pulled him over to sit on the steps.
Not Jack. Not…
“Not Theresa?” He ventured.
Katie shook her head again, giving him a fond look that, nevertheless, seemed to convey that she thought he was displaying a remarkable lack of intelligence. “Not with the new baby, no. You know how germy that daycare is, doctor or no doctor, she shouldn’t be near them.”
“I don’t…someone new?”
“I don’t understand,” Dan said. “You…you’ve spent the last three months…”
“Pushing everything outside, I know.” Her fingers traced the scars on Dan’s wrist gingerly. “I…had a good talk the other day with this someone new.”
“Oh? Did they walk away with all their limbs intact?” Dan teased, leaning against his wife, pushing her sideways until she poked him in the ribs with her elbow.
“Yes. She just…she pointed out that…well. What…what Kaplan did to you wasn’t healthy…but what I was doing to you two, what I was doing to myself, wasn’t healthy either.” Her eyes went faraway for a moment. “I just thought…maybe if I kept you inside, everything else would stay outside.”
“And,” Dan said, deadpan, rather than thinking about Kaplan, “that worked out so well.” Three months and seven journeys lay between him and the knives. He was ready to forget it now.
“Shush, you,” Katie snapped back, but her tone was playful. “We just…we talked about how…how I can’t protect you from everything, all the time, as long as I make sure to protect you from the big things.”
Dan could hear voices now, Zack’s cheerful, mile-a-minute patter floating up the block. He started to stand, and Katie stopped him with a hand on his elbow. “I’ll protect you here and now. She’ll protect you there and then. And maybe between the two of us, we’ll be able to protect you in the times that aren’t either.”
“…you don’t mean…” Zack and Livia both grinned at him when he turned around. “How…?” He just stared at Livia, who gave him a little shrug.
“What can I say?” She asked, lightly, as Zack let go of her hand and ran to give Katie a bear-hug. “I was in the area.”
She looked at Katie, expression questioning. Katie gave her a nod, and Livia’s grin brightened.
“See you round, Zack!” Zack was too busy jumping on Dan’s back to answer, so Livia turned her gaze to Dan’s. “He’s a good kid. Keep him that way!”
“We’ll try,” Dan replied, raising a hand. Livia just laughed as she started to walk back down the block.
“Don’t bother saying goodbye to me, Dan,” she called back, her voice carrying on the breeze. “I’ll see you soon enough.”
He wasn’t sure if he stopped being able to see her because she rounded the corner, or because she wasn’t there anymore. He just shook his head, and looked askance at Katie.
“She called ten minutes before Zack was supposed to leave daycare. I don’t think it will be a regular occurrence. But…it was nice to talk to her again.”
Yeah, but what’s that mean for my future sanity? He shook the thought off, prying Zack off his shoulders and setting him down on the porch. Zack started to head for the door, but paused on the threshold, looking at his parents.
“Does this mean I can go play now?”
Dan met Katie’s eyes over Zack’s head, a question in his gaze. Katie watched him for a second before she finally gave a little nod, a little smile.
“Sure thing. I think that would be a good idea.” He flexed his fingers, his palm still aching, but his heart lighter than it had been for ages. “I think from now on it’d be a good idea for all of us to just….go outside.”