Finding time to talk with a house full of children and animals was no small feat. The conversation looming over Steve and Lucy had to wait until late at night, when the rest of their house was asleep, the children bedded down and peaceful. Lucy put the kettle on, taking her time to brew the tea before bringing the cups to where Steve was waiting. She handed him one, easing down into a seat close by.
"So ... where do we start?"
Steve had been quiet all day, but not so quiet that the children noticed any difference in their father. He'd been just as attentive, just as caring and loving as always. It was likely only Lucy had noticed the difference in him, the quiet thoughtfulness as if he had something important on his mind. Despite his exceptional endurance, he was starting to show signs of weariness, though it was hard to say if that was due to a physical or emotional toll.
"Hmm?" he murmured absently, as Lucy's voice drew him out of his thoughts. "Oh, thanks," he said, gratefully taking a sip from the cup of tea she'd just handed him.
She watched him for a moment, her own expression grave. "We need to talk about this, Steve," she said quietly. "I just ... don't know where to begin."
"Neither do I," Steve said, with an uncertain frown on his face. "Bottom line, Lara needs her mother, and Nat is the closest thing she has to that." That was a very simplistic synopsis of what had happened, but it was also the truth.
"I think you made the right decision," Lucy told him gently. "But I also know that it cost an awful lot to make it. You don't have to put on a brave face for me, Steve."
"I'm fine, Luce," Steve assured her, and he was, for the most part anyway. "I'm more worried about Lara and how she'll adjust more than anything else." That much was true, too, but it was a little more complicated than that.
"And a little resentful that Colin will be the one she calls father?" she suggested as gently as she could. "I have no doubt that she will settle in and be loved, be a part of our family as a whole without problems. It's you I'm worried about, Steve. Talk to me."
"But I'm not her father, Luce. Not really. I mean ... Nat and I ... We're not, you know. How is it any different from Martin and Lianne? They're not our kids biologically, but they're still part of our family. The same could be said for Lara. She's not really my daughter. She's the daughter of some other Steve and some other Nat. I'll always be part of her life, but Colin is her father now, and that's okay," Steve said, but was he trying to convince Lucy or himself?
"It's not different from Martin and Lianne on paper, not at all," she said. "But it is different to us. Because ... because she is your daughter, biologically. And she's Nat's daughter, too. And that is ... uncomfortable, for me."
Steve's frown deepened. This was exactly what he'd been worried about. What was he supposed to say or do to make her feel better about the situation? It was what it was. "Do you think we made the wrong choice in bringing her here?" he asked, though he'd already discussed this with her before that decision had been made, albeit over the phone.
She shook her head, her smile obviously regretting having said anything in the first place. "No, I don't," she assured him. "And I will get over it, Steve. What matters is Lara; her safety, and her happiness, and I think you've done exactly what was needed. But don't keep it all locked up inside, please. I need to know how you feel about it all."
Steve furrowed his brows, as if he was trying to read between the lines of what she was telling him. It seemed she was more upset by all this than she'd let on, too.
"The same goes for you, Luce. I need to know how you feel about it, too. I mean, as far as everyone else is concerned, no one needs to know the truth. You, me, Nat, Colin, Tony, Alyona, and Sam. That's it. Those are the only people who have to know. I don't know what Nat wants to tell people, but Lara looks just like her. She's only three years old, Luce. She's too young to understand what's happened. She hasn't just lost her parents, but her whole world. We're all she has left."
"I would have taken her on in a heartbeat," Lucy said quietly. "But you're right. She looks like Nat, she needs Nat. We'll still be close. This isn't going to change the way our family works, Steve." She hesitated, but continued on anyway. "I've always been a little jealous of your friendship with Nat. You understand each other so well. It's galling to know that if we had never met, you would probably have married her."
Steve's brows shot upwards, surprised to hear his admit her jealousy for a woman he thought of as a sister. "Married Nat?" he echoed, looking stunned at such a suggestion. "Lucy, Nat is like a sister to me. Sleeping with her would be like you sleeping with ..." He trailed off, the rest of that thought unsaid. She had slept with Johnny, after all. "Like you sleeping with Tony," he said, correcting himself.
"I know what you were going to say," she said. "And you're right. I have no right to think that, or to feel this way. Knowing that doesn't stop me from feeling it. But I am an adult, and a rational one at that. I know there's nothing in it. Steve, we're supposed to be talking about you, how you feel about all this. Don't make me drag it out of you piecemeal."
Steve studied her face while she spoke - her lovely face - and the dark eyes that never lied. He hadn't fallen in love with her the first moment he'd met her. It had taken a little time, but in all truth, it was the fact that he'd loved Peggy first that had made all the difference. She didn't look like Peggy exactly, but she was strong and smart and beautiful and caring, just like her great-aunt had been, and he'd fallen in love with her without even knowing they were related. He set his cup of tea aside to free his hands, one hand reaching to brush his fingers against her cheek.
"You know how much I love you," he said, as if to assure her further that she had nothing and no one to be jealous of. "I only ever felt that way about one other woman and she loved you, too." That didn't really answer her question, but he was getting to it.
He drew a slow breath before continuing. "The truth is I'm not sure how I feel. It's a bit of a shock, even to me. I thought I'd seen it all, but I guess not. All I know is that she's just a little girl, and she's innocent in all this. She's lost her parents, and we're all she has left. Do I wish we could raise her?" He shrugged. "Maybe, but we have six kids of our own already, and Nat is lucky to have had one. She belongs with her mother, and that's that. Alyona fixed it so that ..." He trailed off a moment as another thought came to mind, but one that was so absurd he almost immediately dismissed it.
"That's the problem, isn't it?" Lucy guessed softly. "Knowing you share blood with her, and that she will never know that, for her own sake. You haven't abandoned your child, Steve. You've given her what she needs."