Unedited, subject to revision, etc. ****Don't read this if you haven't read A is for Alpha Male****
The weight of his tanned, callused hand on my shoulder was the only thing anchoring me to that moment.
A police station. Fluorescent lights humming in time with my heartbeat. The pulsing weight of my grief pounding in my ears. A feeling of complete abandonment—other than the single palm on my shoulder.
Noticing these details was second nature, but they only manifested themselves with the intensity of background information.
Insignificant. Inconsequential. White noise overpowered by a completely unrecognized, grief-sodden heart.
A more substantial, if only ethereal, part of me was back in my family home, reliving the cowardice I displayed while my family suffered.
I was young, only eight years old, but not so young that I didn’t know mere moments could make a lifetime of difference. Old enough to know that my hiding had no effect on my family. I was only eight. I couldn’t have saved them.
But the implications of my actions for myself were vast. I saved myself from immediate suffering, but I had also guaranteed myself a lifetime of torment and loneliness.
Several people, all officials of some capacity, had asked me what happened. Despite having all the answers they sought, I kept my lips pressed firmly together and my voice box stagnant.
“Wade,” I heard a man wearing an FBI jacket call as he addressed the man connected to me. “Are you sure you’re up for this?”
I was pretty sure I was the “this”.
“He doesn’t have any family, Ray,” Wade answered, confirming me as the topic of conversation, but gave my shoulder a squeeze in an attempt to comfort.
As of yesterday night, I no longer had any family. Both of my parents were only children, somewhat of a rarity for their generation, and then both lost their parents to disease at too early of an age.
“Doesn’t mean you have to fill the void,” Ray countered, his face sympathetic but his words self serving.
I felt my body swing around as Wade dropped into a relaxed squat in front of me. He met my eyes with his, brown and shiny with an unknown emotion. Both of his hands settled into the crease of my neck, and it seemed as though we were the only two people in existence, Ray all but gone and forgotten despite his position a few feet away.
Speaking directly to me, his eyes never once flitting away or questioning, he said, “I don’t have any family either, Ryan. But today, that’s going to change. You and me are going to take care of each other.” Pausing just briefly he let me digest his words, swallowing them right along with the lump in my throat. “Deal?”
I didn’t say anything in either agreement or denial, but I held his eyes like I thought a man would. Like my father would have wanted me to. Like he was holding mine.
Wade was an unknown, but the lesser of two evils. I knew the stories that followed orphans around like shadows. I knew that my life could be bad with Wade, but it would be bad if I chose the alternative.
I didn’t think I could take care of anyone, even myself, but with one short nod, I agreed to try.
From that moment forward, Wade did nothing short of jump through hoops. Evaluations and visits, background checks and personal questionnaires.
As nice as it is for someone to offer to take in a recently orphaned kid, the process of getting it approved, especially for a single male like Wade, really takes some doing.
But he never faltered, meeting every evaluation head on and doing his best to fast track the cutting of every last ribbon of red tape. Thankfully, as the investigation of my family’s murders was ongoing and my safety was considered a liability, I was relegated to police custody rather than pushed off to a group home.
I wouldn’t say it was an experience worth repeating, but again, I felt strongly that I had been dealt the better of two crappy hands.
Six months later, a birthday had passed, turning my eight years into nine, and the State of Tennessee had finally decided to write me off, granting full custody to Wade Reddington. I was a tough case, a victim of a trauma with a need for anonymity, so after extensive research into his background, the necessary authorities finally decided to hand me over to the man who’d been fighting so hard for me.
And he had fought. To this day, I’m not entirely certain why, but I’m endlessly thankful. Sometimes it just takes one person. One person to fight for you, try for you---be the filler to every last void in your life. One person to make you want to keep living.
Wade was that for me.
And I had a sneaking suspicion, that I was that person for him.
Two years later, I started to feel the full weight of everything Wade had done for me. I was a very manly eleven years old, and no longer a Parker. Instead, I was Dan Smith.
At first, the name change had felt like a betrayal to my family. Another layer of unworthiness as far as I was concerned. But now, I saw it as something different. Something that nourished both myself and Wade, giving us both a connection we had been missing. Because not only did my name change, but Wade’s did as well. We assumed the roles of Uncle and nephew, both with the family name of Smith.
Until then, I hadn’t bothered to ask Wade anything about himself. I didn’t socialize, I didn’t thank him for what he had done, and I didn’t do anything to pull my weight. But Wade had the patience of a saint, letting me soak in my pond of despondence and self-centeredness.
But when I realized the error of my ways, it only took one question to understand the depth of Wade’s own sadness.
I had approached him in the living room in our house in Southern California as he perused through one of his case files. He had looked up briefly, and then quickly reverted his eyes to the file, no doubt expecting my normal silence.
“Wade,” I murmured tentatively, wringing my hands behind my back in the hopes that he wouldn’t see how nervous I was.
He immediately looked up and met my eyes, dropping the file to the coffee table in front of him and questioning, “Yeah, buddy?” with genuine interest.
I cleared my throat and chewed on my lip briefly before diving in. “I was wondering about your family. Where they are, I mean.”
He paused long enough that I began to question myself, stammering, “It’s okay. You don’t have to answer.”
Just as I turned to leave the room, Wade stopped me in my tracks. “I didn’t have any, buddy. At least, not until you.”
“But everybody’s got to have parents,” I argued using my knowledge of minimal biology.
“Come take a seat,” he instructed.
I did as I was told, parking myself on the worn-in cushion of the love seat that sat catty cornered from Wade’s spot on the couch.
“Biologically, I have parents, yes. But I grew up without any family. My parents gave me up for adoption about six months in, and from what I’m told, it’s good that they did. I was malnourished,” he explained, and then paused, checking to see if I understood. “Do you know what malnourished means?”
“They weren’t feeding you?” I answered with the inflection of a question.
“Yep,” he confirmed on a nod. “They weren’t feeding me enough. But I went into the system, and unfortunately, never found a home in any of my foster families or through permanent adoption.”
Wade had fought both sides of the system. Both from the inside, while he lived it, and from the outside, while he worked to give me a different outcome than his own.
“What about when you grew up?” I questioned. “You didn’t wanna start your own family with some lady?”
Wade’s light chuckle echoed through the mostly empty space, and my eyes flitted down to my jean covered legs thanks to my anxiety.
“Yeah, Danny. I did want to start a family with some lady,” he said through his still present laugh. “And I did. For a few wonderful years, Melly and I had a family in each other.”
I looked up at him then, curious as to what had happened to the woman, Melly. Lifting his weight slowly off the of the sofa, he moved effortlessly to the love seat and settled right next to me, resting his elbows on his knees and letting the weight of his head hang forward from the support of his shoulders.
“Melly passed away just three short years before you and I met, buddy. Cancer.”
I felt the heavy comfort of his palm settle onto the back of my neck just before he continued, “See? That’s why I need you just as much as you need me, Danny.” With a squeeze of his long fingers, he finished, “You’re my family too.”
“I haven’t been a very good family, have I?” I asked as I tossed my longish hair out of my eyes, bringing his hand up with the motion of my head.
The sheen of his eyes met mine, and one corner of his mouth curved upwards just slightly. “You’ve been perfect, Danny. With me, all you ever have to be is you.”
I can't wait to share the rest of it with you! <3