Author's notes: A big thanks to all the people who emailed me and said how much they enjoyed this series. I've enjoyed it too. I'll be immigrating to England on the 14th and I've asked Starfox to take my links off the net, but not the stories. Once I get organized I'll have my new address sent to Starfox. The series isn't over - but I'm going to jump in time for the next one you see will be in the future! Take care everyone, and I'll see you all soon! Best wishes for the season and the New Year…
Ah, Saturday morning in Cascade. A day of sunshine - for a change - a day for peace and quiet and family. Blair sighed and wished he were with them. Jim was running errands and Tommy was on a play date at Miki's, leaving Blair and Clare alone in the loft. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but the phone had rung…
Blair ignored the pull on his trousers as Clare Ellison used him as a stepladder to pull herself upright. The little girl was becoming more and more confident in her explorations of the world around her since their return from Peru.
"Yes, Mr. Milton, I understand that you're concerned about Tommy and want to see him, but it would be better if you came to Cascade. I realize that it's difficult for her to travel. No, I'm not denying you your rights as a Grandfather. We've got a heavy court load coming up; it will be at least five weeks before I can…No. I will not send him alone…"
Blair felt the tug that was Clare let go as the front door opened and glanced over to see his brother and soul mate in the doorway. A glance at the frown told him that the Sentinel had caught the tone of his voice during a routine sweep of the loft and its inhabitants - something Jim did almost unconsciously. His arms were empty - that meant he'd left any groceries in the truck in order to get upstairs to his family quicker.
"Look," Blair's voice sharpened to outright disapproval, "It's not doable at the moment…Omigod! Jim! She's walking!"
Blair dropped the phone to the counter in excitement as Clare - wanting a hug from her daddy and unable to reach - let go of the cupboard she was leaning against and wobbled over unsteadily, her arms in the air.
"Daddy!" she cried and Jim unfroze, putting his arms out to his baby as she took her first steps towards him, a huge smile lighting her face.
"Come here honey!" he crooned and Clare stumbled into his arms as the camera Blair had located in the kitchen drawer flashed, immortalizing the moment for them all.
"Clever girl!" Jim praised, "What a clever little girl you are!"
Clare laughed and patted his face - her own version of Sentinel touch that she'd inherited from her father. Jim kissed her soundly as Blair took another picture and then put her back on her feet.
"Go to Uncle Blair," the Sentinel urged and her uncle dropped to one knee, holding out a hand and calling encouragement. Clare toddled over - a bit steadier this time and Blair took two quick photos before tossing the camera up on the bench and sweeping his niece up for a hug and kiss.
By the time he remembered the phone, Mr. Milton had hung up. Blair shrugged and switched the cordless off, passing his niece to her father and grabbing the crate they kept on hand to load groceries into. It saved trips, and Jim had persuaded his friend that it was also better for the environment because it could be reused over and over again. It also saved the worry of having the bottom drop out and spilling your groceries down three flights of stairs - because the elevator wasn't working again.
"I'll grab the stuff - you start unpacking. Then we'll pick up Tommy and celebrate," Blair's voice floated behind him as he hurried out the door and down the corridor without pause. Jim bounced his daughter on his hip and pulled a face at her.
"What was that all about, honey?" he asked. Naturally, Clare did not reply. Neither did Blair when he returned with the first load, piling the groceries out of the crate and onto the counter before handing the crate to Jim for the next load.
"Later," Blair smiled for his friend, "Let's not worry about it right now."
The Sentinel was forced to accept that answer as Blair started stacking shelves in Jim's kitchen with quick efficiency. Clare was reluctantly put down and Jim hurried to the truck and back with his last load, leaving the full crate on the counter while he sat on the floor with Clare. She climbed between his legs as she had in the Chopec village and then decided to visit with her uncle, tottering unsteadily for a few paces before falling over with a thump. She blinked in surprise, but before Jim could rush to see if she was all right she was crawling rapidly on all fours to the kitchen.
"Don't fuss if she falls Jim, it's all part of the learning process," Blair murmured at Sentinel level and then smiled at the baby who was again using him as a step ladder, "Isn't it, precious?"
"Chief, don't call her that," Jim groaned, getting up as Blair picked Clare up.
"Precious snuggle bunny, honey muffin, snookums," Blair cooed at her and she blew raspberrys at him while her father eyed her uncle in outrage. Jim grinned when his friend glanced at him from under his lashes and sighed. This joke between them had begun when a stranger had cooed nonsense names at Clare in the park and Jim confessed how much he hated that sort of thing. Blair only did it to tease when Tommy wasn't around - the boy wouldn't realize it was a game.
"I'll finish putting the groceries away," he gave up the battle, knowing that if he retaliated Blair would escalate. Blair grinned in triumph and turned to help with his free hand, bouncing lightly as he did, to Clare's amusement.
"What time do we get Tommy?" Jim asked when he'd closed the fridge. Blair put his niece on her feet and she toddled the short distance to her father, giggling madly.
"Twelve thirty," Blair smiled at the happy baby and proud father, "I've got a file to review - I'll be next door if you need me."
Jim sighed and watched his partner leave. Blair didn't hide from them often, but when he did, there was a good reason. Given that he'd just been speaking to the Miltons…
Jim snatched Clare up and strode next door, his heart beating loudly.
"Are they trying to gain custody?" he blurted when Blair looked up from the scuffed case he kept police files in on the rare occasion he brought work home. Both men were very conscious to lock away disturbing material from young eyes now.
"What?" Blair looked confused and then his face cleared, "No! We're safe, Jim. Calm down. Why don't you put Clare in her pen for a moment and we'll talk."
As he spoke he was stuffing the report back in the case and locking it - now the problem had been broached Jim wouldn't rest until he knew all. They walked back into Jim's loft and he placed his daughter in the corner that he'd built a rail across. It encompassed part of the glass wall that led to the balcony, so she had sunlight to play in, and was large enough for Tommy to play in too. As he straightened there was a knock at the door and Blair opened it on William Ellison.
"Dad!" Jim beamed, picking his daughter up again, "Look what Clare can do!"
He steadied her on her feet as William walked around the couch. She shouted in welcome when she caught sight of Poppy and wobbled on over, falling just as she got to his feet. She giggled up at her Poppy and put her arms up for a hug.
"You brilliant thing!" William exclaimed, tossing her up in the air a little to make her squeal and blowing raspberries on her tummy; "When did you learn to walk?"
"Just this morning," Jim beamed proudly, "She wanted a hug and couldn't reach me where I was."
William sat on the couch and made a fuss of his granddaughter while Blair boiled water for coffee and brewed up. Father and son played happily, reciting the teddy bear rhyme on her little hand and tickling gently amid much squeals and laughter. Blair distributed coasters and then coffee and Jim put Clare back in her pen with the blue toy bear her grandfather 'found' in his pocket.
"Dad, I don't want to seem rude, but Blair and I were going to have a talk…" Jim felt much more comfortable telling his father this than he would have years ago. It was not a rejection and William knew it.
"Do you want me to go?" William offered, "I just stopped by to see what you were all doing for lunch."
"It's ok - there's no dire secret involved here," Blair vetoed the idea before Jim could even reply, "Jim walked in on a phone call and he's concerned."
"You're sure, son?" William asked Blair, who flushed in pleasure at the name and nodded. He still couldn't get over William's acceptance of him - though he couldn't bring himself to call the older man 'dad' like Jim did.
"Yeah," he smiled happily and then sobered, "Ok, Mr. Milton called me this morning. He's got a lawyer in Cascade who keeps track of Tommy for him."
"What?" this was the first Jim had heard of it, and William frowned in disapproval. Blair shrugged. In a way it made sense to him - that two emotionally closed off people would choose to use a buffer in keeping track of their only daughter's child. It was sad, but at least they had made that much of an effort.
"I thought there was no contact except the money they sent for birthdays and Christmas," William leaned over to retrieve his coffee and Jim nodded vigorously. While he was disappointed the Miltons hadn't made more effort to stay in touch, he was also perversely happy that they had so little to do with the boy they'd tried to turn into a robot.
"Yeah, that's right. I guess the guy would have just kept an eye on the news and gossip columns if I hadn't figured it out. I send him a monthly report and photos…and before you explode Jim, I didn't tell you because it wasn't a big issue for me, and I do it because I want them to know he's happy."
"And let them know that their spy was spotted," William chuckled while his first born fumed, "Very shrewd, Blair."
"Hmmm," Blair took a non-committal sip and eyed his brother. When he was sure Jim had calmed down he told the rest of the tale.
"They heard about the kidnapping of course, and our return to Cascade. They want a visit with Tommy, to make sure he's all right. Mrs. Milton had a minor stroke just after Christmas - she's lost some mobility and stamina apparently. She's not able to journey here, and my workload at the moment is too heavy to take Tommy there for longer than a weekend - and that's so short it's not really worth the effort, he should spend a week with them at least. Clare took her first steps halfway through the argument and I dropped the phone. Mr. Milton hung up."
"Are you sure you want Tommy to visit for such a long time?" Jim frowned, "He doesn't like them very much."
"He's come a long way since Amelia died, Jim. He should get to know her parents. And they should get to see him - especially after Peru," Blair replied evenly. He was not going to argue the point. At least one set of blood relatives should get to know their grandson. Naomi had disappeared completely - leaving Blair wondering if his mother even knew about Peru. Surely she didn't hate him so much that she'd abandon her grandson?
"Is this the Charles Milton from New York who runs the import company?" William spoke up, and Blair nodded, relieved to have his thoughts interrupted.
"I know him, then. We've met several times at various conferences and dinners," William frowned, "Your Tommy is a member of that family? Thank God he takes after you!"
Jim laughed at that and Blair grinned wryly. William smiled and put his coffee cup down.
"Why don't I take Tommy to New York? He can visit the Miltons and we'll sight see. Maybe we can take his grandfather with us," William offered, and held up a hand before Blair could refuse, "Seriously, I'd love to take him. Consider it, ok? We don't have to settle anything today."
Blair promised to think it over.
Simon grinned over at his son's startled face. He'd been pleased when Jim and Blair had first approached him about asking Daryl to baby-sit again. That the Sentinel and Guide trusted his son after the last attempt to baby-sit meant a lot to their Captain. The look on his child's face was priceless - Simon wished he'd brought his camera along to capture it.
"You want me to baby-sit?" Daryl spluttered, and Jim nodded, his face impassive. They were seated side by side at a booth in Planet Burger - a theme family restaurant that catered to young children. Tommy was in the ball pit, shrieking and romping about and Clare was in her high chair next to Jim. Blair was sitting sideways to watch his son, but he grinned over at Daryl in support. He knew that Daryl had blamed himself and been seriously depressed over the whole abduction mess.
"If you're busy tonight…" Jim trailed off. He wasn't going to push the teenager into doing something that he wasn't ready for, "Or if you're uncomfortable with it, we understand. Dad could probably sit for us instead."
"No!" Daryl protested, sitting bolt upright in his urgency, "I want to do it! I just thought that after last time…"
Last time, when the children had been stolen and he'd been drugged and helpless before one of his father's enemies…Daryl repressed the shiver that wanted to travel through his frame. He wasn't going to let this pull him down.
"That was not your fault, Daryl, and it certainly won't happen again," Blair replied firmly, not taking his eyes from his son, "The people who did it are in no shape to try that again - I promise you."
For some reason that factual and dry statement bolstered Daryl's morale more than any longwinded and flowery speech ever could.
"What time do you want me to be there?" Daryl grinned finally, relaxing back against the booth.
"I'll drop you off at seven," Simon told his son, pride radiating from every pore.
They had chosen to go to Simon's house for their Peru debrief - not exactly neutral territory, but a lot closer to the loft in case things went wrong. Neither man wanted to tempt fate. The weather was still warm enough for Simon to fire up the grill and all three sat out on his patio to eat.
Once the detritus from the meal had been cleared away, Simon handed out the final beer of the evening and then fixed his friends with a no nonsense glare.
"I'll deny I ever said this in the light of day, but I want to know exactly what happened to you guys out in Peru," he began, "The whole nine yards - Sentinel stuff as well."
Jim took a sip from his bottle and nodded. Blair's eyes gleamed in the darkness at his boss and he chuckled, a low sound. Simon stared, mesmerized, as his friend and subordinate became someone else entirely in the starlight. There was an aura to the young man that Simon had never seen before.
"You asked for it," Blair warned and gestured to Jim. The Sentinel sighed and leaned forward.
"We reached the Chopec after four days of hiking. They welcomed us and Pasha named Blair kin - called him Andarko. He told us that the village had two shamen - one from a neighboring tribe and one… beginner. It was the outsider that had taken the children…he wanted Andarko…to control the magic."
Simon leaned back in his chair and listened as the incredible tale unfolded. The history of the magic their rival sought to control, the desperate rush through the forest to find his lair and then the heartbreaking agony of the Sentinel being forced, by ancient promises, to choose between his Guide and their children.
There was a moment of silence and Simon shifted a little, breaking the spell.
"What happened next?" he asked, seeing the tremors that wracked Jim's body and the fine stress in Blair's face. In reply Blair stripped to the waist, revealing the howling wolf carved into his chest. The scar gleamed in the light coming from Simon's house, seeming to ripple with a movement all of its own.
"I got my witch doctorate," he said simply, surprising an unhappy bark of laughter from his partner that eventually gave way to genuine mirth. Simon watched the curly haired man soothe his partner back into serenity.
"Pity it doesn't translate for the Chopec," Jim mused, "I'm glad we won't have to deal with the Eldest again. Hey, I even avoided that talk he threatened me with."
"You really don't like him, do you?" Blair regarded his soul mate in astonishment, "What's wrong, 'Ri?"
The Chopec nickname seemed to breach a wall that Enqueri had built around his memories. He leapt up from his chair to pace frenetically across the patio.
"When you…your trial…fuck it!" The swear word sounded so out of place that Blair blinked. The Sentinel took a deep breath and ordered his thoughts, then sat down with his knees touching that of his Guide. Taking a deep breath he recounted everything he did and felt from the time Andarko placed Clare in his arms to the Shaman Guide's return to Pasha's hut.
"He was right, you have spoken of this," Blair reflected for a moment, "All I can tell you is that the jaguar was there to help me…and when we were free it led the wolf and I back to the village…the whole trial is fading 'Ri. I can barely remember what I said to get the children away from him, I certainly don't remember him carving this into my chest."
Andarko cupped the wolf with his hand and looked Enqueri in the eye. They spoke in English out of habit, but Simon felt as if they didn't even remember his existence.
"I don't want to remember. I don't want to feel it all again. What little I do remember is a nightmare that lurks in the corner of my mind when I sleep. And unless it comes back full force I'm going to let it go, 'Ri. Some things just aren't meant to be remembered."
Enqueri leaned forward until their foreheads were touching lightly.
"I'm here, 'Ko. That's all I can give you."
"Believe me - that is enough."
There was a length of silence then Jim straightened up and Blair got dressed again, shooting an embarrassed look at Simon, who did his best to look as if this kind of thing happened to him all the time. Blair grinned a little - Pasha had worn the same look. He finished his beer and let them regain their composure.
"So, once you'd both recovered you found that plane load of kids," Simon prompted them, not willing to ask questions about something that was obviously a painful and private experience. Jim nodded and sighed.
"Yeah, we sure did," he agreed, "And they were full of questions about everything. Typical anthropologists if you ask me."
"Not that we did," Blair grinned over at his friend, "They were especially disapproving of the way we'd gone native, and the girls were both outraged that we'd dragged our children along with us."
"They kept asking how we could trust our data," Jim shook his head at the memory of that particular argument, "We're all standing in the middle of the village, arms waving, voices raised when Pasha comes up and frowns at us."
"He tells the kids not to be so disrespectful, then he tells Jim the hunting party is waiting for him and would I mind going to Tayca's hut because one of the village women has been bitten by something and is wailing loud enough to wake the dead? So Jim and I split up and take off and Pasha kind of nods to the kids and heads off to the men's hut," Blair shook his head, "Later on we managed to explain that neither of us was there to publish a paper - we were just visiting family. That kind of puts a lid on it for a while."
"Of course, the fact that the kids don't speak Quechua at all and we have to translate for them kind of helps. They picked up enough of the language by the end of the third week to make themselves understood," Jim mused and then shook his head; "It took us a week to get back. The kids weren't too strong yet and Tommy and Clare had to be carried every step of the way."
Simon bit his lip and looked over at Blair. Such a journey would have exhausted the young man - who had seemed fragile to Simon in the aftermath of the plane crash and surgery he'd undergone.
"That's another thing," he decided to breach the topic while they were in a confiding mood, "Before all this started, Sandburg, you…weren't as…bouncy as before."
"Yeah, I was tired," Blair nodded, "But it's ok, Simon. Since the trial and our stay in the village I've been better at balancing my duties and responsibilities."
"And I'm more aware of what he needs now - my senses are trained pretty firmly on him," Jim confessed, "If he's tiring I can make him rest. We weren't really taking care of each other properly before. It's another thing we learnt in the village. The village grandmother gave us lots and lots of advice and instructions and rules. Lots and lots and lots."
"Sentinel care," Blair put in cheekily. Simon laughed and toasted the young man with his empty beer bottle. Jim frowned at them both.
"Guide care," Jim corrected, "You already had Sentinel care down to a fine art."
There was a little silence at that and then Blair stirred in his chair.
"We should get going," the young Shaman pretended that comment had never been made, "We promised Daryl we'd be home early."
He stood and collected the empty bottles, and Simon stood as well. Jim looked up at them and let it go. It was enough that Blair knew how he felt about the care his soul mate lavished on him.
William Ellison got out of the cab and turned, putting out a hand for Tommy to take. His grandson looked around curiously while William closed the cab door and then pointed at the doorman. The child was clutching a bouquet of tea roses for his Grandmother that they had purchased on the way.
"Is that Grandfather's front door?" Tommy looked up and William smiled. Blair had spent a week talking to Tommy about the visit to New York and all the things Poppy and Grandfather would do with him, in an effort to reduce the stress the visit was sure to cause. Tommy hadn't been too keen to go until Blair had explained that Grandmother wasn't well and couldn't come all this way to see him. The little boy's kind heart had given in straight away.
The fact that he was going on expedition with Poppy was another selling point and William had brought a lot of tourist material around for them to plan their itinerary together. He'd also come to help with the packing, amused at the way Tommy inspected the clothes carefully until Jim took him aside and explained about the suits.
Blair had been very adamant that his son would not wear anything he didn't want to - suits especially. William had promised not to let Tommy be pressured into anything and Jim had eventually stepped in, murmuring in his brother's ear and listening to the silent replies.
"It is," William answered Tommy's question, "Are you ready to visit?"
"Yes," Tommy nodded and smiled at the doorman as he opened the door. His cheerful 'thank you' earned a wide smile and William led the way to the security-come-reception desk.
"Tommy Sandburg and William Ellison to see Charles Milton," William announced and they were ushered to the appropriate lift. Tommy shifted closer and looked carefully at his roses before smiling up at William.
"Grandmother will feel better once she sees these - I remember she always had them on her table," he said confidently. William reached down to rub his hand over the curly head. Tommy had gone for a haircut before the expedition, and insisted that William have one too.
"I'm sure she will kiddo," William agreed as the lift stopped and the doors opened. The foyer was unchanged and Tommy led the way confidently to the Milton's front door. It opened just before he reached it and Charles Milton stood there. He was dressed in his customary three-piece suit, watch chain at his waist and a dour look upon his face.
"Hello Grandfather!" Tommy exclaimed and hurried forward. Milton's face got even dourer.
"Good morning Thomas," his voice was cool and Tommy hesitated, looking over at William for a moment. Then he shrugged, walked to his Grandfather, and ignored the hand that was stretched out for a handshake to give the frowning man a hug, careful not to crush his grandmother's flowers. When Milton stood still, Tommy tipped his head back to make eye contact.
"In this family, we hug back when someone says hello," the boy's voice was reproachful and expectant. William willed himself not to smile or laugh as Milton's scowl failed to put Tommy in his place. The older man's hand patted at Tommy's back reluctantly and Tommy let go, stepping back to stand next to William. His Da had given Tommy an important job to do when he first met his grandparents and Tommy reached up a hand to tug William forward now.
"Grandfather, this is my Poppy, William. Poppy, this is my grandfather," Tommy recited and William smiled down at him proudly.
"William Ellison," William stressed the name a little and saw recognition light in Milton's eyes, "I was sorry for your loss."
"Thank you, William. Charles Milton. Didn't we meet last year at the Euro Conference?" Milton was back on familiar ground now, and William felt a shock of recognition. This was him four years ago, before he'd met his son again and then finally managed to repair the damage he'd done to his family with the help of his adopted child Blair.
"Yes we did," William nodded, "I was surprised when Blair told me of Tommy's connection to you. I never realized you'd met my youngest."
"His name is Sandburg, not Ellison," the surprise got them past the front door and into the hallway. William smiled, enjoying the confusion on the other man's face. From what Jimmy had told him the Miltons were very hostile to their grandson's father. That and the fact that they'd hired someone to spy on his grandson, rather than taking an active interest in the child wiped any sympathy William might have felt for the estranged grandparents.
"His mother's name," William nodded, and made a dismissive gesture. He was relieved when Milton let the matter drop. He didn't wish to lie outright - Blair was his son in the ways that mattered. An outright lie would lead to an argument - the last thing Tommy needed to see.
Milton led the way down the expensively decorated hall to the lounge room where Mrs. Milton sat in a wing armchair. William remembered her name was Amelia too - their daughter had been named after her. Tommy smiled when he saw her, apparently not noticing the slight droop to one corner of her mouth, the pale cashmere rug across her knees or the cane that leaned against her chair.
"Hello Grandmother!" Tommy trotted over, avoiding the antique furniture easily; "I brought you some flowers!"
He placed the flowers in her lap and then leaned over for a hug. Her hand petted his back for a moment and then Tommy pulled away, standing back so she could look over the flowers. Her smile was a bit crooked.
"Thank you Thomas," she said in a low voice and Tommy bounced lightly on his toes.
"Da says you've been sick. Are you all better now?" he asked with the genuine concern that marked his dealings with everyone. Mrs. Milton looked up at her husband for a moment and then nodded gently.
"This is my Poppy, William," Tommy turned, waving William over, "He came with me because Da couldn't. He knows Grandfather from a Euro."
William smiled at the informal introduction and took her hand in his lightly, straightening the information out and inquiring after her health gently. She evaded the question with grace and then held the flowers out to her husband.
"Would you call Sue?" she asked and he took the flowers tenderly, turning to call the maid for a vase. Tommy took off, and then fished around in the miniature backpack that Jim had bought for his first solo expedition, producing a small photo album.
"Da said you'd want to see some photos, Grandmother," Tommy put the pack on the floor and pushed it carefully under a table so it would be out of the way, "Do you want to look?"
"That would be nice," Mrs. Milton nodded, "You may sit on the stool there."
Tommy looked at the indicated stool and then put the album on top of it, pushing it closer to the armchair and turning to face his grandfather. The older man was placing the roses on a table near his wife, where she could see them clearly and their faint scent would reach her.
"Do you want to look too, Grandfather?" he asked Milton, who nodded and moved as if to stand behind the stool. Tommy stopped him with a touch, tugging until the older man sat on the stool and then handing the album to his grandmother.
"Help me up," Tommy ordered and William bit down on a smile. Two years of steady love and gentle encouragement had made his grandson confident. The two cold adults that had once frightened him were no match for the Sandburg genes. Tommy was perched gingerly on one knee, but would have none of it, squirming back until he was firmly in his grandfather's lap.
"Poppy?" Tommy looked up and William grinned at him, moving to stand on Mrs. Milton's other side. She opened the first page and Tommy began to talk, explaining who was in the photo, how they fit into his family and what they were doing when the photo was taken.
Just like his father, Tommy's hands gestured and waved, and his voice rose and fell in soothing cadence as he lectured his audience. Milton spent more time looking at his grandson than the photos in his wife's hands.
William added his voice to the tales when appealed to, but otherwise watched the bundle of energy that was Tommy Sandburg initiate the cold Miltons into the 'family way of doing things'. Uncle Simon and Auntie Megan were firmly introduced and accepted without so much as a twitch. Baby Clare was boasted over and Miki Solange was laughed about. A rare shot of Pasha, Kabuti and Suddarto - courtesy of the rescued grad students - was examined closely. Da featured in most of the stories: what he'd said or done when the photo was taken or shown to him for the first time.
It did not take a Sentinel to see that Da was the light of this little boy's world. The sun rose and set in him, and the moon and stars too. Da taught him to read and write his name, to tie his sneakers and to balance along the big log in the park. Uncle Jim was mentioned frequently, especially in the fishing stories from Peru and back in Cascade.
When the photos were done and Tommy had given them to his grandmother with a smile he leaned back to look at his grandfather.
"Poppy and I are going star gazing tomorrow. Would you like to come too?" the innocent invitation was accompanied by a hopeful touch and a big grin. Milton nodded stiffly and nearly flinched back from the hug before gingerly returning it.
"Grandmother? Will you be well enough to come too?" Tommy asked hopefully and she shook her head slowly. Tommy's face fell, and then he patted her hand.
"That's ok," he consoled her, "We'll bring you a present and Poppy has a camera so we'll take lots of photos too. Then you won't miss out."
The generous offer made William's eyes sting for a moment and Milton cleared his throat while Tommy wriggled down from his knee to give her a proper hug - one that was returned this time.
Simon grinned at the tired face on the other side of the door and stepped in when Jim moved away. Blair had called and asked his boss to check on his detective after Jim lost his temper with the noise coming from across the hall. Blair had taken his niece and son to the park for the day, but hadn't wanted to leave his Sentinel entirely alone.
"It seems quiet enough now," Simon gestured to the door of apartment 306, which was closed. Jim pulled a face and sank onto his couch.
"It is, now," he grumbled, "Now that I'm not trying to sleep through the day so I can take night shift."
"C'mon Jim," Simon chided, "How much noise can a couple of removalist men make?"
"It's not the removalists, it's the electricians and the phone company and whoever was installing the speakers for the sound system - and let me tell you they were huge, not to mention the smaller one that seems to have been wired up right next to the front door. Blair took the kids and got the hell out when they started testing them because I was about to blow a gasket," Jim grumbled, "I tell you, the first time they fire that up I'll be over there with my badge."
"Good thing the night shift is over," Simon commiserated, "Have you met the new neighbors?"
Jim shook his head and slumped further. He really did look exhausted, unshaven and in rumpled sweats. Simon nodded and got up off the loveseat. He pushed his detective over onto his side and lifted his feet onto the couch. The very fact that Jim simply sighed and closed his eyes spoke for itself. Simon grinned and left his best detective to sleep in peace, letting himself out of the loft.
He bumped into the woman standing in the hall as he eased back from the door. She wore jeans and a long sleeved T-shirt. Her long brown hair was tucked back behind her ears and her feet were bare. She was built like a runner - slender and graceful, yet sturdy. Simon felt a pang of attraction.
"Hi," he smiled, "I'm Simon Banks, a friend of Jim and Blair's. You must be the new neighbor."
She smiled at him hesitantly and stepped around him to slide the note under the door. Simon frowned - he hated to be ignored - but she reached out a hand and tugged him over to her own door. Reaching in, she pulled out an infra red keyboard and tapped a few keys quickly. A speaker hummed to life.
"Hi, I'm Moira. I can not hear you or speak to you," it said in a cold voice. Simon managed not to gape in astonishment.
"Nice system," Simon said almost at random, and she shrugged, tapping at the keyboard again.
"Necessary if I want to communicate with callers. Nice to meet you Simon."
She smiled and stepped inside, closing the door gently.
"It must have taken a lot of courage to do that," Blair puffed as he pushed the swing Tommy was sitting on. Simon had joined them in the park after meeting the new neighbor. Now he stood next to his consultant and pushed Clare Ellison in her swing while Tommy giggled and shrieked in his.
"Imagine it, not being able to communicate with another person without a synthesizer or a translator," Blair shook his head, "My deaf students always had to work that little bit harder, you know?"
"Do you speak sign language?" Simon asked, "I mean, sign it. I know Jim does - he translated for this deaf victim once, said he'd learnt it for his bachelors in college."
"Yeah, I do. I used to make extra money by translating on campus, especially during the oral exams," Blair nodded, "And my classes used to attract hearing impaired students because I could sign and lecture at the same time. Anthropology was one of those courses that fit into a lot of other study requirements, you know?"
"It's not like that would be hard, you talk with your hands anyway," Simon grinned and Blair laughed.
"Stop Da!" Tommy called and Blair slowed and then stopped the swing. Tommy got off and grinned at his father.
"Your turn!" he announced and Blair shook his head. They were at the smaller swing set, designed with seat belts for babies to ride in safely. Tommy still fit into them, which was why Blair had chosen this park.
"I won't fit on this one, sweetie!" he laughed, "These are special swings for kids only. How about an ice-cream instead?"
"Yeah!" Tommy clapped and waited until Simon had stopped Clare's swing and lifted her out, "Ice cream Clare!"
Simon put Clare down and Tommy took her by the hand, leading her off towards the vendor with Blair and Simon walking behind. Simon grinned at the proprietary interest Tommy showed in Clare - talking to her and guiding her along the path gently.
"Could you teach me to sign?" Simon glanced over at the proud father beside him; "It's a skill I should probably have learnt ages ago."
"Sure Simon," Blair smiled and wondered what the new neighbor looked like, "We can start whenever you like."
They bought the ice cream and sat on the grass to eat it, enjoying the last of summer. Tommy told Simon all about sending an email to his Grandfather in New York - how he'd typed it himself with Da's help and then sent it.
"Has Grandfather written back?" Simon asked, glancing at Blair's anxious face. If this effort to reach out went unacknowledged it would undo all the good foundation work the visit to New York with William had laid. None of the 'Cascade family' was too impressed with the Miltons so far and any rejection would be taken seriously.
"Not yet, but he will," Tommy seemed unconcerned and Simon smiled for him. Clare managed to smear ice-cream all over her uncle, making everyone laugh and Blair wiped up as best he could with the tissues from his pocket.
"C'mon guys," he sighed, "I'll have to go home to clean up. If we're super quiet Jim won't even know we were there."
Tommy left the park reluctantly, shooting a cross look at Clare, who was babbling merrily in Simon's arms. Blair swung his son up for a piggyback ride and rolled his eyes at Simon. The occasional flash of jealousy was to be expected, and was thankfully a rare occurrence.
"We can visit our new neighbor!" Tommy suggested as they walked along the corridor to 305. The little boy had been fascinated by all the comings and goings, sitting in the open doorway to watch until Jim had come home exhausted.
"Maybe later," Blair whispered, "Shhh now."
They tiptoed into Blair's half of the loft and the father hurried into the bathroom for a moment, emerging damp and shirtless. He tossed a wash cloth to Simon who quickly tidied up Clare and Tommy while Blair jogged lightly upstairs and grabbed a fresh shirt before trotting back down and ushering everyone out. Tommy handed the note that he'd found under their door to Blair, who flipped it open and scanned briefly. Simon recognized it as a copy of the one slipped under Jim's door.
Blair smiled, stuck the note in his pocket and looked down at Tommy.
"Do you still want to say hello?" he asked his son, who nodded eagerly. Blair nodded back and hunkered down to be at eye level, "Our neighbor is a little different, Tommy. She can't speak to us, and she can't hear us. She talks by using her hands to make words. Da and Uncle Jim can talk that way too, and I'll have to tell you what she says until you've learnt to sign too, ok?"
"Ok," Tommy nodded, accepting the idea with an open mind. Simon grinned, nothing seemed to phase the little boy who already spoke at least four different languages - Latin included.
"I'm going to learn too, Tommy," Simon spoke up, "Your Da is going to teach me as well."
That earned him a delighted smile and a hug from the little boy while Blair straightened up and rang the doorbell that had been installed by the electricians. There was no noise inside the apartment and Tommy frowned.
"It didn't work," he told his father who grinned.
"It probably makes a light flash inside. Our new neighbor can't hear us, remember?"
Before Tommy could respond to that the door opened and Moira looked out at them. Blair grinned and held up his hands.
//Hi// he spoke and signed at the same time //I'm Blair Sandburg, your neighbor in 305//
Moira's face lit up as she smiled back at them. Simon grinned in sympathy. Being cut off from the world like that must make meeting new people for the first time very hard, though she'd shown no embarrassment at using the synthesizer earlier to talk to him.
//I'm Moira Hill, pleased to meet you// she replied, Blair's voice speaking as her hands moved //I met your friend when I was putting the notes under the door to 307//
//That's Jim Ellison's apartment - my brother. This is his daughter Clare and my son Tommy. Simon is our boss at the PD//
"Hi," Tommy piped up and she grinned, reaching out a hand for a low five, which the little boy slapped happily.
//You're cops// she asked curiously and Simon nodded at her.
"We work Major Crimes," he confirmed, "Jim and Sandburg are my best team. You'll probably see a lot of us, we're in and out all the time."
//You live here too// Moira grinned at Simon who laughed.
"Might as well," he shook his head, "The amount of time I spend babysitting."
"Daryl's my babysitter, Uncle Simon," Tommy protested and Simon grinned down at his nephew.
"Yep," he agreed, "But I was talking about baby sitting your Da."
That got him a laugh from Tommy and a grin from Moira.
//Shhh, Uncle Jim's trying to sleep// Blair cautioned, choosing to ignore the slur for now. Revenge was a dish best served cold.
//Oh man, I knew we were too noisy// Moira sighed, //Sorry about that. We had to rewire so the fire and smoke alarms would be audible as well as visual, not to mention changing over a lot of other things//
"Why would they need to be audible?" Simon asked without thinking and then blushed. Moira grinned over at him. Her hands sketched the reply easily.
//If I'm not home my neighbors need the warning//
"Sorry," Simon apologized and Moira dismissed it with a wave of her hand.
//Don't be. It's not something most people think about. How often have you had to consider safety precautions for the deaf? //
"Good point," Simon smiled and she smiled back. The door to 307 opened and a rumpled Jim emerged. Three hours of sleep had made him a bit more human and less likely to growl.
"What's going on?" he asked, scrubbing a hand across his face. Blair introduced Moira and Jim signed his hello before taking an insistent Clare from Simon.
The reception area of the school was crowded with parents. Blair spotted Hugh Solange and hurried over, choosing not to try and elbow his way through to the front desk and demand to see the principal as five other parents were doing. The big Scotsman acknowledged him with a tense nod. Tommy and Miki were in kindergarten together and very proud to be learning new things every day.
"Hugh?" Blair's voice was as tense as his body; "Do you know what's going on?"
"Just what you do - it looks like they've called in the parents of the entire class," Hugh gestured around, "They haven't said anything else and Principal Schnieder hasn't come out of her office yet - if she's even in there."
Blair looked at the yelling adults and worried faces and chewed on his lip. He'd been in a meeting with Robbery when the call came through from the school. Blair had driven at top speed, worried despite the secretary's assurances that Tommy was unhurt. Now his imagination raced, wondering what could be so bad that everyone's parents had been called in.
"Principal Schnieder!" someone shouted and the matronly woman was surrounded in seconds, as anxious parents demanded an answer to their questions.
"Please!" she raised her voice and her hands, "Calm down! No one is hurt, but we do have a problem! If you'll all just settle down and come into the staff room we can discuss this!"
The parents moved swiftly, settling into chairs and leaning against the walls and counters in the small staff room. This school offered an excellent extension program for gifted and talented children, which was why Tommy was here. Blair was beginning to wonder if he shouldn't have gone with a more exclusive place - he certainly had the funds for it. Tommy would have made new friends, though he'd be disappointed to be separated from Miki. In the end his son's happiness and the school's atmosphere won out. Blair hoped he hadn't made a huge mistake.
"All right now," Schnieder stood at the top of the staff room and looked around, "I want to emphasize that no one has been hurt, and no criminal activity has taken place. Your children are quite safe. However, there was an incident at lunchtime that has us all a little…concerned."
"Quit covering your ass and just tell us," someone growled and Blair glared around.
"Hey!" he said sharply, "There's no need for abuse. Just settle down!"
There was a chastised silence - that tone could pull forty erring freshmen into line at the drop of a hat. Schnieder nodded her thanks to Blair and took a deep breath.
"It seems that during lunch your children took it upon themselves to show solidarity for little Sally West. As you know, Sally is recovering from the chemotherapy that is being used to combat her leukemia," Schnieder saw understanding dawn on one or two faces and was relieved when Blair Sandburg chuckled in amusement.
"They've cut their hair?" he guessed and she nodded in reply. There was a storm of groans and sighs as the various parents caught up with Blair. Sally had lost all her hair due to the chemo. and her classmates had held a hat party for her - everyone wore a hat to show that it was ok for her to be different.
"Why on earth would they do that?" someone groaned.
"They didn't just cut it off," Schnieder confessed, "They somehow managed to get their hands on a varied collection of disposable razors - I suggest you check at home - and shaved their heads. No one was hurt, they didn't even nick themselves."
"What do the wee bairns say? Why did they do it?" Hugh rumbled and Blair waited eagerly for the answer.
"Apparently, some of the older children teased Sally about her baldness. We were working on the problem, but not fast enough I guess," the harassed woman sighed, "If you'll come with me, we can go to their classroom now."
Blair grinned at the anxious faces and sea of bald heads that greeted the parents as they entered the brightly decorated classroom. He walked to his son and pulled Tommy up onto his hip, cuddling him close. His newly shaven son wrapped his arms and legs around him and buried his face in Blair's neck.
"I'm sorry Da," Tommy mumbled into his neck, "Don't be mad."
"I'm not mad, but why didn't you let your teachers deal with the problem?" Blair kissed the nude skull and made a note to buy some sunscreen for his son on the way home.
"Because the big kids said they'd just pick on us too if we told again. So I thought if we all looked the same they wouldn't be able to pick on us, and Miki agreed. Susan thought of the scissors from here and some of the other kids brought in razors to shave like you do in the shower. We were really careful, I promise!"
Blair could see that - there wasn't a shaving cut among them, even though they'd probably never held a razor before.
"We didn't make anyone do it - it was just going to be a few of us, but then everyone said they'd do it," a few tears soaked Blair's collar and he rubbed soothing circles on his son's back. Miki was in Hugh's lap and the other man met Blair's eyes with pride.
Their children had stuck up for a classmate who couldn't help being different. They'd stood up against an injustice as peacefully as they knew how.
"Next time," Blair raised his voice so all the kids could hear him, "Next time you need to tell us first, ok? We might have a better way than shaving your heads."
"I promise, Da," Tommy nodded, without taking his head from Blair's neck. Blair heard the affirmative responses from the other children and sighed.
It was decided that the kindergarten class would be dismissed for the day. Blair loaded his son into the Subaru and headed back to the PD. He'd promised to let the team from Robbery know what was happening and by now Major Crimes would also have heard about the summons.
Tommy held tight to his father's hand, but held his head high as they walked through the car park and into the lift. One or two of the cops stared, but no one said anything. If they laughed, neither Blair nor his son could hear it.
The men and women in Robbery also stared, but didn't say anything as Blair led Tommy into the captain's office to collect the files he'd need to catch up on the rest of the meeting he'd left.
The men and women of Major Crimes weren't half as restrained. Jim swooped on his nephew, exclaiming in horror and cuddling him close. From the tightness of his jaw, the detective was about to go postal on whoever had allowed this to happen and the person who'd actually done it too.
"He's all right," Blair's voice overrode the exclamations, "Tommy's whole class decided to shave their heads at lunch today. One of his classmates has lost her hair to chemo and they wanted to stop her from being teased about it."
There was a stunned silence and then Jim started to laugh. Sandburg's Activist Genes were apparently hereditary too. And there was no mistaking the pride in Blair's voice.
Simon smiled at the beautiful woman on his arm and led her down the staircase to the ballroom. In the months since Moira had moved into the apartment across the hall from Jim and Blair they had formed a close attachment.
Moira was a runner and Blair had started taking his morning run with her after he'd noticed her treadmill by the window. The young athlete was uncomfortable running by herself - her deafness left her too vulnerable to muggers and stupid motorists. Simon had joined them when he was complaining about how crowded his gym was becoming - using the time saved at the gym to learn more sign language so he could talk to Moira.
The two of them had become closer when the PD contracted Moira to revamp their entire IT system - which was what she did for a living, programming and designing software and security for various clients. Simon had volunteered his unit for the trial runs. Late night meetings had adjourned to restaurants or strolls through some of Cascades finer tourist attractions.
Moira had proven herself to be funny and smart. She also got along with Daryl well - to the point that the teen had pulled his father aside and advised him to 'go for it'. Simon had realized that his son had finally given up the wistful dream that his parents would one day reunite. The child was rapidly becoming a man.
The advent of the annual Police Ball had given Simon an excuse to dress up, hire a limo and take his lady out in style. He towered over her in height and build, but her personality and determination negated the difference easily. She'd chosen a simple midnight blue slip gown made of heavy velvet that swirled around her long legs as she walked and a silver shawl to combat the winter chill. Simon looked sharp in his tux with a cummerbund to match her dress and a button cap in place of a tie.
//Would you like to dance// Simon asked as they reached the edge of the dance floor. She smiled up at him, a faint glimmer of mischief in her eyes.
//I can't hear the music// she reminded him, //I guess if you hum along though, I can press myself to your chest and feel the vibrations//
//Sounds like a plan to me// Simon liked the way her mind worked. She slipped into his arms and they swayed out onto the floor. A tap on his chest reminded him he wasn't living up to the bargain and Simon hummed along to the waltz obligingly. Moira snuggled closer and sighed happily, following where Simon led easily.
Jim and Blair grinned at their neighbor and friend as the two swayed past, wrapped in their own world.
"He really loves her," Jim said quietly, "I've never seen him click so quickly with another person."
"She's a real special lady, Jim. Intelligent, independent and a match for Simon's wit any day," Blair agreed. He and his brother had come to the ball stag, neither one of them was dating at the moment. Joel and his wife danced by, and Henri and his lady were standing by the edge of the dance floor too. Megan and Brian had arrived together, sparking wild speculation amongst the rest of Major Crimes and a few other departments besides.
"So are you going to find a lady to dance with?" Blair grinned up at his friend, "Or would you like to check out the buffet?"
"Buffet," the Sentinel grinned, "I can smell it from here and it smells good."
Daryl smiled hesitantly at Naomi Sandburg and stepped aside to let her in. Dressed like her son in layers of flannel and jeans, the petite redhead was an unexpected visitor to the loft.
"I'm Daryl," he introduced himself and she offered him a dazzling smile. Unsure of what Blair would want in this situation, Daryl fidgeted nervously.
"Captain Banks' son," she nodded, "I take it that Blair isn't here?"
"He went out for a couple of hours," Daryl closed the door, "He'll be back soon."
"Is Tommy still up?" Naomi looked around at her son's darkened apartment and then over at Daryl. He nodded and indicated the corridor to Jim's apartment. Tommy and Daryl had been watching a movie together while Clare slept. Naomi smiled again and walked through. Tommy was just hanging up the phone when she stepped into view and he put his hands at his side. His very short hair gave her a moments pause, but she chose not to say anything.
"Hello, Tommy," Naomi walked over and gave him a hug, which Tommy returned politely. He had never gotten to know Nana because she was always away. Hugs were the traditional greeting in his family and therefore Nana got one.
"Who were you on the phone to?" Naomi asked, taking her grandson by the hand and walking them both over to the couch to sit down. Daryl shadowed them and plunked down on the loveseat, his hands fisted in his pockets.
"Da," Tommy replied honestly, "He's on his way home, Nana. He wants to see you."
"That's nice, sweetie. I want to see him too," Naomi looked at the muted television, "Were you watching a movie?"
"Yep," Tommy nodded, "Toy Story. Did you know they made it on a computer? Auntie Moira makes things on computers too. She's deaf and can't talk so we talk to her with our hands."
Unwilling to make the same mistake twice, Naomi didn't challenge her grandson's ownership of Auntie Moira.
"Shall we finish the movie while we wait for your daddy?" Naomi suggested and Tommy frowned.
"Uncle Jim's not coming, Nana, just Da," he corrected her, "Daryl, can we finish it?"
"Sure, Tommy," Daryl leaned forward for the remote.
"Just a minute," Naomi said sharply, "Why did you think I was talking about Uncle Jim, Tommy?"
Tommy looked puzzled for a moment, then his face cleared. Nana had been away when Clare was born.
"Oh! You don't know about Clare! She's my cousin. Uncle Jim is her Daddy. She's just a baby, so that's why we have to sit in here - in case she wakes up. Do you want a peek?" he was up off the couch and tugging Naomi's hand before she could reply, leading the way to Blair's former room. Clare slept in her cot, curled up in a little ball. Naomi's face softened at the sight and she let Tommy pull her away again quietly.
They sat on the couch to watch the rest of the video. Blair arrived just at the end and scooped his son up to sit on the couch too and watch the toys listen to the presents being opened. Daryl relaxed - with Blair home he didn't have to worry that Naomi would try something that he couldn't handle.
With the end of the video, Blair announced that it was bedtime for Tommy. The little boy put the video away and then hugged Daryl goodnight. Naomi watched her son pick up his child and smiled politely at Daryl before following father and son next door.
Jim snuck into his own house and grinned at the sleeping teen on his couch. Daryl was spending the night with them, to be picked up by Simon in the morning when his boss dropped Moira home.
A Sentinel sweep of the loft revealed that Naomi was asleep in Blair's room next door and his Guide was on the couch. Clare was also sleeping peacefully in her cot, though Jim checked her visually as well, stroking her soft hair and smiling at her when she sighed in her sleep.
Blair had insisted that he stay at the dance - as much to allow mother and son some privacy as to let Daryl feel that his services were still needed. Jim stood at the opening of the corridor and extended his senses deliberately, fixing them firmly on his Guide. At first he just wallowed in the sensation of the other man's living, breathing presence, then he paid attention to what his senses were telling him. Blair was awake, though he was lying still. Jim reached back and turned the light on, dialing his sight down quickly to avoid being blinded by the light.
After a few minutes Blair emerged into the light and grinned at his friend.
"Everything ok?" Jim asked, though he knew that Blair wouldn't be grinning like that if there was a problem. Blair nodded and gestured to the couch. Both men chose the love seat; Blair perched on the arm with his feet pressed against Jim's thigh. The Sentinel loosened his tie and leaned his head against the back of the couch to peer at his friend.
"Well?" he prompted with a smile.
"She says that she's not prepared to be excluded from her own family and will therefore…tolerate Tommy's adoption of the rest of you," Blair shook his head in frustration; "I argued that I had adopted you all as well and you guys had adopted me, but she couldn't get into that without raising her voice. Saw it as a criticism of her parenting style. She'll be here for a little while to spend time with Tommy and then go back to her travels."
"Are you ok with that?" Jim asked curiously, vigorously repressing his reaction to Naomi's willful blindness. Blair shrugged and sighed. His voice was a bare thread of sound to avoid waking Clare - whose Sentinel hearing had kicked in with a vengeance at the same time as her first tooth. Jim's voice was perforce a little louder.
"She's my mom," Blair sighed, "I love her, and I want my son to know her. I'll have a chance to do this if I can…overlook her tendency to be so damn territorial."
"Where does that come from, do you think?" Jim mused, and Blair's toes massaged his thigh unconsciously.
"She was a part of a very large family. They're a little scattered, so they were very…intense when they got together. I remember getting told off by my uncle one time for playing with kids outside the family instead of my cousins," Blair chuckled, "I told him that if he'd get them to stop teasing me I'd play with them. You should have heard the row!"
"So family is very close knit for Naomi," Jim mused, "And Tommy too - look at the way he went off when she tried to tell him I wasn't his uncle!"
"That's a little different Jim. He'd just had his mother taken away and I took away his Grandparents. He was in a strange town and still very dependent on the both of us. A year wasn't long enough to overcome all that trauma. He's better now - though I warned her not to try to pull us apart."
"Hmm," Jim sighed, "So what's on the plan for tomorrow? Still coming to the recovery barbecue?"
"Sure we are," Blair got up, "We promised the uncles and aunts and cousins we'd be there. And Tommy is dying to show Joel how he can throw a football."
"Yeah," Jim got up too and Blair pulled him in for a brief hug before waving goodnight and heading back to his couch.
Still got some issues, huh Chief, Jim mused and went up to bed, determined to help out as much as he could in the coming days.
Tommy opened his eyes and peered at the watch that had been a birthday present from Da. Da had explained that it was a special watch - designed especially for people who were learning to tell the time. Tommy had already learnt o'clock and half past. It was half past five now - morning already.
Tommy scooted out of bed and put on his slippers and robe before sneaking into the corridor and next door to Clare's room. A peep at the tree in the corner revealed a lot of bright packages. Clare sat up the moment the door opened and her face lit up in a welcoming grin. Tommy held a finger up to caution her to silence and then unlatched the side of the crib. With the side down, she climbed over the edge eagerly, with Tommy struggling to balance her safely to the ground. She landed with a thump and they both froze, looking up at the ceiling cautiously.
There was no sound from above and after a moment Clare turned her head to smile at Tommy. The boy smiled back and fetched her robe and slippers, putting them on her and then leading her back to his own kitchen.
They couldn't stay in Uncle Jim's kitchen because his hearing was better than Clare's was. Da would at least sleep through a little noise.
Tommy glanced at the menorah in the window and grinned. Da and Uncle Jim had decided to decorate Uncle Jim's half of the house this year and Tommy and Da's half next year. He had to agree that it was fair that they take turns, although he wasn't certain that making him arm wrestle Uncle Jim to decide who goes first was fair at all.
At the time Da had been laughing too hard to help.
In a whisper, Tommy cautioned Clare against turning anything on without him and then started setting the table. The baby was able to walk back and forth from the kitchen with single items. Tommy tried to choose things for her to carry that wouldn't break if they were dropped, because he loved her too much to risk seeing her hurt.
Once the table was set Tommy helped Clare to stand on his stool and together they started making toast. Tommy whispered all the cautions his father used to his assistant, much to her amusement. Clare was allowed to hold Tommy's hand on the knife as he expertly buttered the toast. She could barely see over the counter, but was insistent that she contribute, and Tommy knew that an argument would wake Da. Better to just give in and let her help as much as she could than risk spoiling the surprise.
When he figured they had enough toast for everyone Tommy carried - with Clare's 'assistance' - the plate to the table and put it up on top. Someone clapped and both children jumped, whirling to face the sound.
Uncle Jim stood in the corridor with a video camera - Da's birthday present to him this year - and clapped with one hand while the other pointed the camera at the children. He was wearing the robe Tommy had picked for his birthday as a joint present from him and Clare and the dinosaur feet slippers that Tommy's uncles at the PD had given him.
"But Clare didn't hear you!" Tommy protested and Uncle Jim grinned. He put the camera down and picked both children up for a good morning hug.
"I had the sleep noise on in her room last night," Uncle Jim told the nascent Guide, "She can't hear past that. We didn't want Santa to wake her up!"
Tommy knew the sleep noise was necessary if Clare was to get to sleep. When her teeth were coming in she heard things from all over. Da called it by a funny name, but basically it meant that Clare wouldn't be bothered by outside noises. Uncle Jim had to learn to hear around it - because it affected his hearing too. When Clare was grown up they'd teach her how to do that too.
"Do I smell breakfast?" Da called from the top of his stairs. Tommy wriggled like an eel to get down and hurried to meet him, snuggling into his Da's neck like always and luxuriating in the loving contact.
"Merry Christmas sweetie," Blair nuzzled into the riotous curls and accepted a kiss with grave aplomb.
"Merry Christmas Da," Tommy replied and Da walked over to Uncle Jim. Clare got a kiss too, then the family made a 'kiddy sandwich' hug before settling down to the toast on the table. At the adult's insistence they all ate some scrambled eggs and bacon rashers as well to supplement the toast, which Uncle Jim made while Da read a story about a Grinch.
Tommy and Clare watched as the adults cleaned up the kitchen and then everyone went next door to look at the tree. It had been exciting to put the tree together. First they'd had to go down to storage to pull it out and then Da and Uncle Jim had put the plastic tree together. Then they'd opened the box of ornaments and Tommy and Clare had chosen which ornaments went where on the tree. Uncle Jim had added lights over the ornaments while Tommy and Da made a string of popcorn and Clare had napped on the rug. Once the popcorn had been added to the tree they'd had dinner and then Uncle Jim had turned the tree lights on. Both children had laughed and clapped in excitement at the pretty sight.
Uncle Jim and Da both sat on the floor and plunked their children down between their legs in the Chopec fashion. Tommy and Clare snuggled back happily, enjoying the sense of security they got from sitting in their fathers' embrace.
"Shall we open our presents?" Blair nuzzled into Tommy's hair and his son turned shining eyes on him. The novelty of giving someone a present hadn't dimmed for the little boy - his generous nature delighted in making someone else happy.
"Yes please!" Tommy bounced. Blair laughed and looked over at Jim.
"Pass Clare over then, Jim, and get to it," he instructed, his eyes sparkling with mischief. Jim immediately protested.
"Why me? Pass Tommy over Chief, and get to it!" he replied and watched his brother shake his head solemnly.
"You're the host," he was told firmly, "You can't weasel out of it now. The person who has the tree hands out the presents."
"It's a house rule," Tommy added firmly and Jim caved, laughing and passing Clare over to Blair who settled her next to Tommy, reflecting that daily meditation and yoga had been worth it as he split his legs further apart to accommodate her.
Then all thoughts ceased as the presents were given and unwrapped amid laughter and hugs.
Simon took a deep breath and glanced nervously at Moira and Daryl.
//You can't be scared// Moira jeered at him, the look in her eyes softening the words.
//Are you kidding? In that apartment are the weirdest people I know// Simon replied with a grin and Daryl rolled his eyes before reaching around his father to knock.
//All things considered that doesn't say much// Daryl told his father with a cheeky grin and ducked as Simon growled and cuffed his shoulder lightly. Moira was laughing in her silent fashion as the door opened and Blair let them in.
//I sense abuse// Blair grinned and hugged her happily //Merry Christmas everyone. Did you score large Daryl?//
//Best year ever// Daryl said eagerly and Blair looked over Simon and Moira carefully. He caught sight of the ring straight away.
//Simon! You proposed?// Blair blurted //Moira, you accepted?//
//Yes// Moira replied and was pulled in for another hug. Simon was next, then Daryl as the Ellison clan was told the good news and congratulations were offered.
//I'm going to be best man// Daryl boasted to Jim, who grinned and put a hand on the teens shoulder for a moment.
//Who better to do it than you Daryl// the Sentinel praised before being summoned to the kitchen to help find drinks for everyone.
Glancing out at the noisy people in his loft Jim reflected how far he'd come the last few years. From a lonely man terrified he was going insane to a family man, celebrating his friends' engagement. His father and brother were again a part of his life, and they were friends as well as family. He had a baby girl that just got more special with each day. And her natural abilities would be nurtured and cherished by the people around her, not suppressed and feared.
Jim took a deep breath and looked over at the man who had led him so far and smiled. His soul mate's hands were flying as he spoke to the father who had adopted him into his family. Whatever they were discussing, William was fascinated, his face alight with curiosity and humor.
Blair glanced up, his eyes finding Jim's unerringly. The special smile that was reserved for the Sentinel lit up his entire face and Jim nodded solemnly, acknowledging the promise of forever he saw in those deep blue eyes.
Not really the end…to be continued in 2002…
I shall return <trailing laughter as she crosses the Pacific>
Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Shedoc.
Back to Shedoc's page.