Lucas laughed, tickling his rambunctious six year old daughter, before pulling the light summer quilt over her.
"Bed time, Miss Dori, now what story would you like tonight?" Lucas asked her.
"Tell me about Daddy Joe," Dori said, looking to the picture beside her bed.
"Joe huh... well what do you want to know?" Lucas asked.
"How... how did he go to heaven? Was he sick?" Dori asked quietly.
Lucas nodded, he knew this question would come eventually. "Yeah... he was."
"I'm sorry Daddy," Dori said and Lucas frowned, realising he had tears running down his cheeks.
"Oh, no baby it's okay. It just makes me sad because I still really miss him. But you know you can always ask me anything about him or your mom," Lucas said, pulling her into a hug, kissing her head softly.
"You look a lot like your Dad, you have his eyes..." Lucas said, brushing her hair back. Actually most of her features were Joe's, there were days it was easy to forget Jane was ever a part of his life and Dori had inherited nothing from her, at least that he could tell.
"What about my mom? She wasn't sick was she?" Dori asked.
Lucas frowned. "No. No she wasn't. But remember how we talked about how sometimes, when you love a person a lot, you have to let them go. Well your mom loved you, but she knew she couldn't take care of you, so she left you with me."
"Because Daddy Joe asked you too look after me," Dori said.
"Yes," Lucas agreed.
"Tell me what he was like," Dori asked. She'd asked this before, but he started talking anyway, she liked to hear him tell her, even if he repeated the same things over, but there were always new stories to tell, one's he'd forgotten before.
"Joe was a musician, like Uncle Berko, except he played the drums. He was good too; I use to love to watch him. And he was a great boss, almost like a father figure to some of his employees," Lucas told her. It was true; Joe had been like a father figure to most of them, even Lucas at one stage, before Lucas had grown up and fallen in love with him anyway.
"Was he smart?" Dori asked.
"Yeah. He played dumb sometimes, but he was really smart. He use to help me with my school work, he was a lot smarter than he let on," Lucas said.
"And he owned Empire," Dori added.
"Yes. He bought Empire and then he left it to me and you to look after," Lucas said. He always told her Empire was her store too. Some of the newer employees even called her 'the little boss lady'.
"Do you think you'll ever find anyone else to love like Daddy Joe?" Dori asked, looking away again.
"Dori... honey look at me. I don't know if I can answer that. I loved Joe with all my heart, just like I love you and no one could ever replace him. Even if I ever fell in love with anyone else, they'd never replace Joe, or you," Lucas promised.
"I love you Daddy," Dori said, throwing her arms around him.
"I love you too baby, now, sleep... I'll be in my office if you need anything," Lucas told her, tucking her in tightly and kissing her goodnight, leaving the nightlight on even though she insisted she was too big for it now.
When Lucas went down stairs, he poured himself a shot of whiskey. He didn't really like the taste, but needed something to stop the shaking in his hands. He tried not to think about Joe, at least not at the end of his life. He did everything he could to preserve the good times, to make sure Dori knew Joe had been a good man, but thinking about the last few months Joe had been alive was too painful.
He hadn't known, not until it was too late. Joe hadn't told him, hadn't told him he was dying until he collapsed one day at the store. They'd been together officially as a couple for only two months. Lucas' world was shattered.
After Joe bought the store, he and Jane had gone out a few times and Lucas had really tried hard to be happy for them. When Joe had told him they were over, Lucas was at once happy for himself, but sad for Joe, especially when Joe told him, Jane was pregnant.
Lucas had been torn. He knew Joe loved kids and he was scared for him, that Jane would move away and take their kid, but Joe told him that wasn’t going to happen. Jane would have the baby, but she wanted to go off and see the world, not be tied down. Joe would raise his child alone.
It actually seemed like a pretty perfect plan, especially when Joe told Lucas he wanted him as a part of his plans too... when Joe had kissed him, he didn't care that they were in Joe's office at the store, or that the others were just out front, he hadn't been able to let go and they'd made love right there on the sofa in his office.
It was heaven. Two months of heaven... Jane was getting closer to her due date; she was only six weeks out, they didn't really see much of her once the papers were signed, but Lucas and Joe were so damn happy that it really didn't matter. Joe went with her too her check ups but otherwise, she stayed away.
And then Joe had collapsed. He'd been talking to Gina beside the registers and he'd just collapsed. The tests showed cancer that was too far advanced to treat. They could make him comfortable, but that was all.
Lucas had walked around in a daze while Joe handled everything very matter of factually. He updated his will, talked to Jane, did everything as Lucas fell apart... and then Joe kept giving, putting Lucas back together again.
He told Lucas he wanted him to raise his daughter. Lucas was... he didn't know what to think, except that the man he loved more than life itself was asking him to do this one last thing for him, to look after his store and his child and how could Lucas say no.
Those last few days were the worst. Jane was due and Lucas knew Joe was holding onto life with everything he had just so he could see his little girl. It was the middle of the night when Dori was born and Lucas had begged and pleaded with the doctors and nurses to let Joe see her.
Joe had tears in his eyes when he held her, kissing her brow softly and telling her how much he loved her, how sorry he was he couldn't stay.
Dori had been born at 0217. Joe had died at 0406, while Lucas held his hand and whispered how much he loved him.
Lucas didn't know how he'd gotten through those first days. Joe's funeral, dealing with the store and a new born baby. The gang had pulled around him tight and Jane had even hung around a while. Dori was a month old when she left and although they got the odd postcard, they hadn't seen her since.
Some day's it was hard even to remember that life. It seemed so far away. Everything moved on and people came and went, Gina had gone off to sing in her band. Corey and AJ hadn't worked out as a couple, but were still best friends. AJ had gone of to Europe and Corey was a lawyer in New York. Debs had gone off too, last he heard she was in Paris, which was ironic, because that's where he'd heard AJ was, but well, that was none of his business. Only Mark was left now and Warren, both of whom are God sends. They'd both grown up a lot over the years. And there were a lot of new faces all the time.
He still missed Joe every day and he'd give almost anything to have him back, but in a way, he still had him. Dori reminded him more of Joe every day of her life, it made him miss him a little less most days, to see her, smiling the same smile he'd seen on Joe's face so many times, her eyes, so like Joe's, even down to the same sparkle of mischief Joe had sometimes.
Sitting down at his desk, because it was hard to run the store and keep up with a six year old and *not* have to bring work home, Lucas picked up the picture of Joe he kept there.
It had been taken just after Joe bought the store, after all the paperwork was signed and it was official, Joe had taken them all out to celebrate. It was before they got together, but it was still one of the happiest memories of Joe that Lucas had. One day he'd have to tell Dori about it. And tell her a million other stories he hadn't yet. He wanted her to know everything about the special man that Joe was. How Lucas had loved him and how even losing Joe, he'd gained a great gift in raising *their* little girl.
He'd told Dori the truth earlier, no one could ever replace Joe in his heart or in his life, but she filled a big part of the hole he left behind and that was enough most days.