This is a sequel to Errand of Mercy. There were a couple of loose ends I wanted to clear up from that story. Jamie Lin doesn't get to say anything in this one because we never see her alone with the guys, but for those of you who liked the Adept, she will return. I deliberately avoided the actual christening scene because each religion/denomination/church does it differently and I didn't want to get into that issue.
Also, I know there are other "Family" stories that were on the list before this one, but for some reason, these stories wish to be written in chronological order (at least for the moment). So if it continues like this, Adam's Date should be the next Family tale, followed by the long-awaited Moral Dilemma.
Hope you enjoy!
"Done," Blair Sandburg mumbled as he graded the last of the essays turned in by his summer school students. "Now I have the whole weekend to play with Jamie Lin," he said to his companion on the private jet that was winging its way from Cascade, Washington to Virginia.
"So you're going to ignore the rest of the Family?" Jim Ellison inquired dryly, although he too was focused more on seeing three-month-old Jamie Lin than the others. But it had been his suggestion that Jamie Lin's christening be combined with a Family reunion, something that had never been held before. Sure, the core of the Family had met on occasion for "board" meetings, but this was different. Everyone in the Family, from Elder to janitor, from scientist to security was invited to Virginia for a celebration. Jim thought it was the right time to strengthen Family ties and reaffirm their commitment to safe science. And since Jim was the Elder, his suggestions were never ignored.
"Oh, I plan to tease Arielle, torture Adam, and get to know Father and Raleigh a little better since they are important to you," Blair said, smiling. "But the others... I can't forget what went on before."
Jim nodded, understanding his partner's reluctance to have anything to do with the rest of the Family. Blair's single meeting with the main members of the Family had occurred when someone had tried to kill Father. Jim would have liked to been able to tell his friend that it was the stress of the situation which had caused his siblings to act as they had, but that would have been a lie. The group could be vicious on occasion, part of what made them effective in their work but also made them quite obnoxious on a personal level. Also, there were some problems with personalities that would eventually have to be dealt with-- but hopefully at a later date.
"But there are going to be a lot of people there, Chief, more than the usual suspects you ran into last time. I think you're going to have a better time than you think," he said, mentally crossing his fingers as the plane began its descent.
"How many are you expecting?"
Jim shrugged. "A thousand or so."
Blair's jaw hit the floor of the plane. "Where are you planning on putting all these people?" The farmhouse the Family called home was big, but...
"We rented a nearby hotel."
"The whole hotel, Chief. All thirty-two floors." Blair continued to stare at him. "We invited everyone, Chief. That's seven continents of people. I guess it's a good thing everyone's not coming."
Blair shut his mouth, literally. He was beginning to realize that Jim had a mental block when it came to the sheer scope of the Family. He didn't think it was mindboggling that every continent had at least one Family facility, including the U.S. with one or more in every state. He didn't find it oddly terrifying that ninety percent of the family had been trained to kill and the other ten percent were scientists and researchers whose work could be considered detrimental to human life, hence their "recruitment" into a Family lab. Nor did Jim consider it peculiar that all these people relied on him for leadership.
"Hey, Chief?" Blair looked up to find Jim grinning at him. "We have a surprise waiting on the ground."
"Yeah? What is it?" Blair asked as he felt the slight jolt of the wheels hitting the runway.
"What part of surprise don't you understand?" Jim asked sarcastically.
"It's no longer a surprise to you," his partner charged.
"I didn't write the Sentinel handbook, Chief." Blair muttered something particularly vile and Jim looked at him sternly. "None of that with a child present."
"A child?" A grin spread across Blair's face. "Jamie Lin is here?"
Jim's eyes became unfocused as he trained his senses. "She and Arielle are waiting for us."
Blair practically flew out of the plane as soon as the attendant opened the door, Jim following more sedately as the Elder thanked the crew. So it was that Jamie Lin was firmly ensconced in Blair's arms by the time Jim reached the trio standing next to the waiting limo. "Arielle," Jim called, enveloping his sister in a big hug. "What a great surprise! You haven't been waiting long, have you?"
Arielle shook her head. "As soon as our international flight landed, I spied William heading toward the private plane lounge. Seeing William meant that either you were here or pretty close by, so I asked him which. He said your plane was due in about thirty minutes. Jamie Lin and I figured that wasn't too long."
"Where's Bjorn and Mommie Dearest?" Jim asked. His senses told him they weren't inside the limo.
Arielle wrinkled her nose in disgust at the mention of her husband and his mother. "She didn't want to wait. She was tired from the flight and needed to rest. So I told her that she and her son could do what they wanted to but my daughter and I were waiting. They took the other limo and left. So presumably, they're already at the farm."
Jim draped his arm around her shoulders sympathetically. "I told you, sprite-- say the word and she lives in Sweden from now on."
"Don't tempt me, James," Arielle scolded. "Now that I have a child of my own, I'm trying to be more understanding of the mother/child bond."
"Hear that, Jamie Lin?" Jim called to the infant. "You've given your mommy enlightenment. Will wonders never cease?"
"Close your eyes, Jamie Lin. Mommy has to hurt Uncle James." The baby screeched. "Mommy was just kidding," Arielle said quickly and Jamie Lin immediately quieted. "Well, it doesn't take a genius to figure out her loyalties, does it?"
Jim gently urged Arielle's chin up in order to look directly into her dark eyes. "You okay, sprite?" he asked anxiously, remembering how an overwhelmed Arielle had called and told him the baby hated her and she wanted to kill her mother-in-law. The call had sent him and Blair scrambling to England to restore peace in the household.
Arielle reached up and pulled his head down so she could kiss his cheek. "I'm fine, James. My daughter has been tolerating me very well since your visit, but I think that will change if I keep you away from her one minute longer."
"You need to learn to share, lass," Jim said as he reached for the infant whose arms flailed happily in his direction. "Of course I'm happy to see you. It's your weekend, remember? Mine too. Before the whole Family, I'm going to declare that you belong to me." A tiny fist slugged him in the mouth. "Okay. I'll warn them that it goes both ways."
"Elder?" William waited until Jim acknowledged him. "Your luggage has been loaded into the trunk. We can leave when you're ready."
Jim smiled. "Sounds like a cue to me. Thank you, William. Come on, guys. We're making security nervous standing out here in the open." It was common knowledge that the Family had enemies and that the Elder was the prime target.
"So Blair, how goes grad school?" Arielle asked as Blair followed her into the limo. Jim grinned as he realized his sister had said the magic words. Now he would have Jamie Lin to himself the entire trip.
"Well, Jamie Lin, what do you think?" Jim asked thirty minutes later, holding the baby up so she could see the lush Virginia farm that was the Family's headquarters. "Pretty, isn't it? I'll take you to see the horses a little later, but first, there are some people you need to meet. Coming toward us, that goofy-looking guy? That's your uncle Adam."
"Corrupting this beautiful doll already, James? Are you sure I can't convince you to let me be the godfather, Arielle?" Adam asked as he greeted his sister and reached out to take a friendly swat at Blair.
"Gee, Adam, let me think about that for a second." She blinked. "In a word, no. A godfather guides a child morally and spiritually. You possess neither morals nor a spirit, brother dear."
"Don't listen to your mother, little girl. Just because she's blind to my charms, doesn't mean you have to be so hindered," he said as he tried to pluck the baby from Jim. His brother merely sidestepped him and headed toward the porch.
Arielle grinned evilly. "You're out of luck, Adam. Jamie doesn't listen to thing I say, but she hangs on to James' every word."
"The poor little thing is doomed, isn't she?" Adam said, shaking his head sadly. "That's what you get for naming her after him."
Jim ignored the bantering behind him and ascended the stairs to stand in front of two men he deeply admired. "Father, Raleigh, I'd like to introduce you to Jamie Lin. Jamie Lin, this is Father. He's the head of our Family and a very wise man."
Jamie Lin looked at the white-haired man and cooed warmly. "She has our eyes, James," Father said excitedly.
Adam rolled his eyes. Only those two would say Jamie had their eyes, forgetting her biological father also had blue eyes. Speaking of... "Hey, Arielle, two vagabonds showed up a little while ago claiming to belong to you. I was prepared to toss them out, but Raleigh showed them to their rooms instead."
"Pity he's always spoiling your fun, Adam," she commented. "Next time, act a little quicker and maybe you won't get caught."
"Sounds as if you wouldn't have cared if we found them rooms or not," Adam noted and Arielle shrugged.
"Is there a problem?" Father asked, staring directly at Jim.
"It's Arielle's call," he replied, indicating he was aware of the situation and was prepared to act.
"Pride goeth before a fall," Father gently scolded his daughter.
"It's under control, Father." She looked to James, pleading for him to get her out of this.
"Jamie Lin, this is Raleigh. He takes care of all of us. And just so you know, he's the real power in the Family," Jim said quickly, bringing the focus back to the baby. "He's tamed us all, except for Uncle Adam. He's a lost cause, you know."
"This child is completely ruined," Adam said with a sigh. "How about we take you up to the nursery Raleigh decorated for you, Jamie Lin?"
Arielle muttered a curse no one but Jim heard. "What's wrong, sis?" he asked.
"We forgot to bring Jamie's panther and she can't sleep without the damn thing," she grumbled. "She goes to sleep with it in the crib with her and if it's not there..." Arielle winced at the idea of the whole farm kept awake by her screaming child.
Jim shrugged. "Not a problem. Raleigh, the idea of a nursery was great, but you're going to have to move the stuff into my room."
"James, are you sure?" Arielle asked.
"Trust me, sprite," he said, winking at the child in his arms. "Jamie Lin won't miss her panther at all."
"Should I change the room back to a guest room?" Raleigh asked.
"Why don't you leave it as a nursery?" Blair suggested. "There will be other babies here this weekend and it'll be a place where they can nap or get their diapers changed."
Father and Raleigh looked at each other. "Human Relations?" Father asked and Raleigh nodded. "Good idea, Blair. And by the way, welcome home."
Blair felt so pleased at the welcome that he dismissed the strange exchange. Jim didn't, however, and exchanged his own glances with the two men. They were up to something. But since he was reasonably sure they would eventually discuss their plans with him, he too let it pass. After all, he was home with Jamie Lin, Blair, and the rest of his Family. Nothing was going to get to him this weekend.
Father leaned back in the rocker and looked over at his friend Raleigh who had just sat down to occupy an identical rocker on the other side of the table which held a big pitcher of lemonade. "This was a good idea," he said.
"James' idea," Raleigh said tersely as if that said it all.
From the wide porch of the Virginia farmhouse, they could see most of the activities occurring on the large estate. The smaller kids were chasing each other around a tree. A group of almost teenagers were over by the fence looking at the horses. The teens were sunning themselves around the pool and those well over their teens looked as if they were organizing a football game. "A Family reunion kicked off by Jamie Lin's christening. Wonder why we never had one before?"
Raleigh sipped his lemonade. "Maybe because we never had a year like this one."
Father quieted. Raleigh was referring to what had happened with Juliette. She had been his error; an almost fatal one. Extremely intelligent, Dr. Juliette Saunders, had been one of his hand-chosen vice presidents. He had met her through James, known she had been intimate with his son, yet he had slept with her anyway. His guilt had allowed her to control him for years and was probably one of the reasons he hadn't noticed her growing obsession with James. Earlier in the year, everything had exploded. Juliette had tried to kill him so that James would have to take his place and when the plot was discovered, she had kidnapped Blair and eventually committed suicide.
"He's forgiven you, Father," Raleigh said. "I think that's what this Family reunion is about."
Father nodded abruptly, wondering if he would ever forgive himself. "So where have you been?"
"Rescuing Blair from the caterer."
Father looked at him sharply. "What are talking about?" John Gold had been catering for them for years and they had never had a problem with him. "You did pass on the list of the things that James is allergic to? Blair faxed it to us two weeks ago."
"Yeah, I did. But Blair wanted to check it out himself. He spoils our boy rotten, you know? I saw him checking the sheets last night, making sure they had been washed in Ivory Snow like he asked."
"They had been, hadn't they?"
Raleigh scowled. "What the hell do you think?"
Father smiled. "So what happened between Blair and John? John didn't use any of the items on the list, did he?"
Raleigh shook his head. "It wasn't the food causing the problem; it was John's daughter. Seems she's home for the summer and is working for him. Likes men with ponytails, she does."
Father burst out laughing. "Blair's a keeper, isn't he? I think he's going to be good for all of us."
"He's already given us our James back," Raleigh said as he spotted James in the crowd, Jamie Lin in one hand as he greeted new arrivals with the other. "Shouldn't you be the one out there glad-handing our people, old man? Maybe have them bow over that damn ring of yours?" he asked his somewhat younger friend.
"Everyone knows I'm just a pretender to the throne." He glanced at the ring on his finger that symbolized his power. "I only took the ring back because he wasn't ready for it yet. But every day, he's drawn back deeper and deeper into the Family. It's only a matter of time now," Father said, his voice dripping with satisfaction. He looked up as the screen door opened and Beatrice Sorensen stepped out onto the porch. He tapped Raleigh and they started to stand.
"Thank you, gentlemen, but it is unnecessary," Beatrice said as she approached them. "Would you mind if I joined you?"
"Of course not, Mrs. Sorensen," Father said and pretended to dust off one of the rockers. "Are you enjoying yourself?"
"Well," she said hesitantly. Actually, she had been quite impressed with Arielle's family. Because of the refurbished castle and the amount of help and security, she had assumed her daughter-in-law was wealthy but she had no idea of just how much. Apparently Father (even she had to call him by the ridiculous name) was the source of the money. After having met the rest of Arielle's siblings, she figured the man must have adopted most of his children; even several marriages or affairs couldn't fully account for the differences in his supposed progeny. Of course, there was that James person. He could belong to Father. That would most likely explain why he was the Elder and so heavily indulged. Speaking of... "I must admit I'm used to having my granddaughter around a bit more. Her uncle James seems to monopolize her time when he's around."
"They were made for each other," Raleigh agreed heartily. "That was a happy child in that crib last night."
"She should have been," Beatrice complimented, eager to impress the elderly men. She had quickly discerned that Raleigh was more than mere hired help. "That is a beautiful nursery. It was pointed out to me by one of your staff when I arrived yesterday."
"Yeah, it's a pretty room but little Jamie is in the Elder's room now," Raleigh explained.
"Why?" she asked in a frosty tone.
"Because that's the way James wanted it," Father replied warily. He hadn't forgotten the vibes he had picked up from Arielle.
"And does he always get what he wants?"
Father sat up straighter in the chair, losing his "I'm just an old man demeanor" and revealing what had made him Father in the first place. "If it's possible, yes. You have a problem with the way I've raised my son, Mrs. Sorensen?"
She paled, realizing she may have made a mistake. "No, not at all. He seems to be a fine man, much like my son, Bjorn."
Father muttered something under his breath but remained silent until she left. "That one bears watching," he said to his companion.
"James has her number," Raleigh reminded him.
"Yeah, but when is he going to dial it?"
Adam looked up from the sofa when Blair entered the living room. His eyes dropped back to the paper he was reading, then rose to meet Blair's again. "I didn't think you did the solo thing. No baby in your arms, no James at your side. What gives?"
"Gee, Adam, I'd forgotten how observant you are," Blair said dryly. "Too bad you didn't observe Jim and Arielle leaving to take Jamie Lin to visit her grandmother's grave. They only left five minutes ago."
"Bjorn with them?"
Blair shook his head. "He and a few of the other scientists are in the labs, something about a research relay... Wait a minute. Something going on in the Family labs and you, Mr. Head-of-North American Operations, don't know anything about it?"
Adam shrugged and went back to reading. "I've been busy. Besides, I'm sure the Elder is on top of it."
"Of course he is. They told him about it last night, just after you mysteriously disappeared."
"I had a phone call to make." He turned to the next page.
"Business?" Blair inquired as he thought he glimpsed a sparkle in Adam's eye.
Blair rolled his eyes and began chanting, "Adam's got a girlfriend, Adam's got a girlfriend, Adam's got a--" His singsong lilt was cut off abruptly by a high velocity pillow. Damn. He really needed to check the sofas for throwable objects before teasing someone, he thought to himself as he dropped down next to Adam. "So who is she? What's she like? Why does she like you?"
"Shut up, brat. Your bodyguard isn't here to protect you, remember?" Adam threatened.
Blair caught the smile he was hiding and wondered just what kind of woman had that effect on the cool and lethal Adam. "But I can't keep my mouth shut, remember? I'll just have to spill my guts to Jim and we all know what will happen then, don't we? You have to wear a suit to the christening tomorrow and I just bet bruises and a tie don't go well together," he said sweetly. Jim always went for Adam's throat. It was basically a given in their relationship.
"Keep it up and it may be worth the pain," Adam growled.
"James warned me not to leave the two of you alone," Raleigh said as he came into the room and put the pillow back into place. "Play nice, Adam, or I'll have the cook make beets every night next week."
Adam carefully folded his paper and stood towering over the older man. "You blackmailing me, Raleigh?"
"Two weeks of beets, mister," Raleigh said, casually upping the ante. Adam hated beets, couldn't even stand the smell of them cooking. Father thought it was probably related to some trauma in Adam's childhood and at times Raleigh felt bad about exploiting the situation. But it was an effective deterrent and Adam didn't seem to suffer any nasty consequences from the threats.
"Even you're not worth that, brat," Adam said, caving in with a shudder. "I think I'll go sulk in the library. Alone," he added when Blair pretended to move in the same direction.
"Thanks, Raleigh," Blair said, grinning at the man. Beets, huh? More information against Adam. Cool.
The Family retainer shrugged. "Hey, we sidekicks have to stick together. By the way, there's a young lady looking for you in the kitchen."
"Yeah?" A totally new smile grew on Blair's face.
"Yeah. I guess I can distract her father for a little while if you want me to," he said with a fake sigh. "The things I do for you children..."
Blair impulsively threw his arm around the shorter man. "You're a gem, Raleigh."
"Uh huh, a real diamond in the rough. Let's go, kid."
"Thanks for coming with us, James," Arielle said as they walked away from the grave whose headstone simply read Lin Yamachi, Wife and Mother. "I think Mama would have been pleased with Jamie Lin."
"And with you," Jim said as he reached out to stroke the tiny body settled in her arms.
"I don't know about--" She stopped as she recognized the three men approaching. Jim recognized them too and put his arm protectively at her waist.
Akura Yamachi had aged well, Jim thought distractedly as his piercing eyes swept across the man and his two sons. Too bad. The businessman and his sons had hurt Arielle badly years ago. Akura, giving the man his due, had loved his wife and out of respect for her he had "tolerated" his disobedient daughter. But as soon as Lin had died, he has disowned Arielle and forbidden her to step foot in his house again. Her brothers, eager for their father's wealth, had turned their backs on her too. By this time Arielle was firmly entrenched in the Family and she had pretended it hadn't mattered, but Jim was all too aware of what losing contact with blood relatives felt like. He had wanted to make the Yamachis pay, but Arielle had insisted on following her father's orders one last time and left her birth family alone.
But now she was reconsidering that. "Father," Arielle said softly, when he moved as if to go around them. Akura stopped, but stared stoically straight ahead. "I brought my daughter to meet her grandmother." Silence. "I'm no longer in Antarctica. I live in London now." More silence. Turning Jamie Lin around so he could get a good look at her, she tried one more time to mend the breach, for her daughter's sake as well as for the memory of her mother. "Have you nothing to say to your granddaughter?"
The gray-haired man did not even blink. "As I have only two sons and they have no children, I could not possibly be anyone's grandfather." Jamie Lin yowled disapprovingly and Jim reached out to take her. "Are you the father of this child?" Akura asked, finally breaking his horrible silence when he recognized the man beside Arielle. He had been the one who had accompanied her to her mother's funeral. He had also been the one she had called when he had tossed her and her belongings out of his home.
"Then at least the child is not totally unfit. Come along, boys, your mother is waiting." With that he swerved to one side and walked past them.
Arielle closed her eyes and willed the tears to disappear. She sensed James wanted to pursue and continue the confrontation, but she reached out and put a hand on his arm. "It's okay, James. I just thought... I should try for Jamie Lin, you know? But they are the losers, not me. I have you and Father and Adam and Blair and--"
Jim reached out and drew her into a hug, cutting her off. "You have each and every one of us and if you need more, just tell me, okay?"
She laughed. "What if I said I needed a thousand more brothers?"
"Do you want an equal amount of sisters? Maybe more children?"
She looked at him in mock horror. "Bite your tongue, brother dear. Jamie Lin is enough for this poor woman. Aren't you, sweetie?" She smoothed her hand across the child's silken hair.
"I would do anything for either of you. You know that, don't you?" Jim asked very seriously.
"I know, James. I count on it every day of my life." She rested her head against his broad and welcoming chest for a moment, savoring the steadiness of the heartbeat that would always be there for her. "Now, a little birdie tells me that that one thousand member plus Family you promised me is waiting at the farm. So let's go home, okay?" He nodded and they continued on to the car.
Although Arielle looked forward to being surrounded by the Family, she was still shaken by the encounter with her father so when they arrived at the farm, Jim told he to go on inside while he extracted the sleeping Jamie Lin from the carseat. A minute later, he felt a familiar presence walk up to the limo.
"Guess what, Jim?" Blair said excitedly and was quickly shushed by his partner who pointed at the baby. "Oh, sorry," he said much quieter. "Guess what, Jim?"
"What, Chief?" he asked, knowing he wouldn't get any peace until he replied.
"Adam has a girlfriend."
Jim grinned, wondering how much badgering Blair had done to get that information from Adam. Adam believed his private life was just that. "Good work, Chief. Did you get any details?"
"No. Raleigh came in and Adam slinked off to the library. Then I sort of got distracted."
"The same beautiful distraction that almost had us eating at Wonder Burger all weekend?" He propped Jamie Lin up against his shoulder and the baby quickly settled into a comfortable position.
"Can I help it if her dad... Jim?" The Guide quickly noticed the Sentinel slip into listening mode.
"Take her, Chief," he said, quickly shifting Jamie Lin to his partner's arms before disappearing into the crowd.
"It is shameful for a married woman to go off with another man!" Beatrice hissed at Arielle, having cornered her on the porch. "But it is doubly shameful for you to make your newborn daughter part of this behavior."
"Beatrice, I have had a trying day. Don't start," Arielle warned in a whisper, wondering why she hadn't asked James to take her away instead of taking her home.
"Where is Jamie Lin, anyway? You didn't get caught up in your passions and forget you took her with you, did you?"
James, I need you. "She's with her uncle."
Beatrice rolled her eyes. "He's no more her uncle than James is your brother. Or is adultery not your worst sin?"
Arielle didn't remember moving but suddenly she had Beatrice pressed up against the side of the house, her forearm lightly across her throat. "Talk about me all you want, you bitch, but you leave James out of it, or I swear I will--"
"Let her go, sprite."
"Too many witnesses. You know the rules," Jim said calmly. Because he was worried about her, he had monitored Arielle as she walked away and had heard Beatrice confront her. Normally, he would have left the matter alone, trusting that Arielle could handle her mother-in-law with ease. But she was still in pain from the meeting with her own family. She didn't need Bjorn's family on her case too. By the time he made it through the crowd, Arielle already had Beatrice up against the house and there was a circle of gawkers in place. However, since Arielle was one of the siblings, none interfered.
"I'm tired of her, James, and my father and everyone else who have judged me, who make comments about a life they know nothing about," Arielle said, not releasing the woman. "Can't you make them all go away?"
"Is that what you want me to do, sprite?"
She nodded and backed away from her captive. "Yes, please," she said plaintively.
Jim turned around to face his people. Finally, he was able to do something. "William, get a female member of security and escort Mrs. Sorensen to her quarters. Blair, I want you to take Arielle and Jamie Lin to my room. Adam, you're with me. The rest of you, enjoy yourselves." The porch emptied.
"What do you want me to do, Elder?" Adam asked as he walked with his brother to the library.
"I know it's a Saturday, but get the accountants on the phone. Tell them by Monday morning, I want the Family to have controlling interest in everything belonging to the Yamachis. Then I want all of it dismantled piece by piece."
"Want the remains set up as a trust for Jamie Lin?"
Jim grinned at his brother. "That would be a nice gesture. And I want Yamachi to know who is doing this."
"Of course. Anything else?"
Jim shook his head. "I'll personally see to the arrangements for Beatrice."
Beatrice walked stiffly into the library, flanked on either side by a security officer. Jim motioned for her to sit and dismissed the guards.
"I prefer to die on my feet," Beatrice said proudly as she continued to stand before the arrogant young man. She had briefly hoped she would be facing Father instead of the upstart James but she wouldn't back down before either man.
Jim laughed. "You think I'm going to kill you? Hell, if that was the plan, I would have let Arielle do it on the porch. Do you know how easily she could have done it? One move of her arm and your windpipe would have been crushed."
"But there were too many witnesses, so you said," Beatrice pointed out. She really didn't expect to be killed but she wanted to let him know she couldn't be intimidated.
"Oh, I lied about that," he said apologetically. "If Arielle had lost control, no one on the porch or the entire farm would have seen anything."
"Because you would command it?" she sneered.
"Because I would command it," Jim agreed. "But as I said, you are not going to be killed. After all, you are Jamie Lin's grandmother."
"Meaning?" Jim's tone dropped from conversational to icy.
"Meaning it's obvious that Arielle is your whore. Perhaps she is merely passing off the child as Bjorn's."
"If that were the case, I would have no reason not to kill you," he said simply and for at least a second, toyed with the idea. Too bad it wasn't his style. "I'm only telling you this because it will make the future that much harder to bear, Beatrice: I am not Jamie Lin's father. If I were, I would not hide it. You have my word on that. She carries Bjorn's blood, as well as yours. Remember that as you think of her, as you wonder what she looks like as the years pass."
Instinctively Beatrice knew James was telling the truth. A person as amoral as he was wouldn't bother to lie about a bastard child. That meant Jamie Lin was her grandchild. "What are you talking about? Why will I have to wonder what she looks like?"
"Because you will never see her again." He reached into a drawer and pulled out a plane ticket. "You are going home to Sweden. You will have enough money to live comfortably but there will be no more gambling. And you will have no contact with your granddaughter."
"You can't keep me away from my family."
Jim slid the ticket toward her. "I can and I will. Abuse comes in all forms, Beatrice, and yours is one of the most insidious. Jamie Lin will be spared it. If at age eighteen she wants to meet her grandmother, and you survive that long, I won't stand in her way. But until then..."
"My son may have something to say about this," she charged.
Jim reached into the drawer again. "The only say your son has is in whether he joins you or not," he said, presenting her with a second ticket.
Beatrice stared at him and suddenly she understood she had underestimated him. This man's power was definitely more than just surface deep. She sat in the chair he had offered. "May I stay until after the christening at least?"
"No." He pressed a button and the security guards returned. "Your things have been packed and there is a car waiting out front to take you to the airport. Goodbye, Beatrice."
"You are a heartless man, James Ellison."
"I've been accused of being worse. Your son is waiting in the limo. I hope your talk is productive."
"You would take a child away from her father?"
Beatrice allowed herself to be escorted to the door, but she turned around before leaving. "I would ask God to have mercy on your soul, but I don't think you have one." The security guard closed the door behind her.
"She's wrong, you know," Adam said softly, entering the library through the elevator that led to the labs."If you didn't have a soul, you wouldn't be having second thoughts."
"You think I'm having second thoughts?"
"I know you are. But if it's a second opinion you're looking for, you've got it, brother. What you did was mild compared to what I would have done and your control is exceptional, as always." Adam placed his hand on James' shoulder. "I'm not sure the old bag would have been walking out of here under her own steam if it were left up to me. I guess that's why you're the Elder and I'm just one of your loyal subjects."
Jim looked up at the man who stood on his right. "That sounds faintly like brown-nosing, Adam. What is it you want?"
Adam sighed. If he knew James well, the reverse was also true. "Can I deal with the Yamachis personally? Please, Elder?"
Jim remembered the man's cold stare, the way he had casually dismissed his daughter and granddaughter. "Will you be mean, merciless, and condescending?"
Adam shrugged. "I will be me."
Jim grinned. "Go for it, bro."
"We should have bought stock in Kleenex," Father said to Raleigh as his friend joined him in the limo. There hadn't been a dry eye during the christening, except maybe for Jamie Lin. The baby had babbled enthusiastically during the entire ceremony, never once crying.
"We already have it," Raleigh reported, stuffing his own wet tissue into a pocket. "Dang. A man ain't got no business feeling as proud as I am right now."
"Wasn't she a sight in that long white dress and she just smiled at the minister, not frightened at all," Father said. "And our James, standing there so tall and taking responsibility for her, promising in front of God and man to always take care of her, body and soul. Then when he called us up there..." He fumbled for another tissue.
James had invited him, Raleigh, Blair, Adam, and the other siblings to come stand at the altar with Bjorn, Arielle, Jamie Lin and himself, saying that it took more than parents and godparents to raise a child correctly-- that it took an entire Family and the combined strength that stemmed from the love which flowed from member to member. Although he was proof positive that it didn't make a difference when that love came into your life, he wanted Jamie Lin to have it from the beginning. Then he turned to the entire congregation and said that at the same time he was accepting Jamie Lin as his own, the Elder was also giving her to the Family and making them responsible for her as well.
"Don't tell me the two of you are still crying?" Blair called as he joined them in the car.
"And what if we are?" Raleigh challenged.
"Then I'm in the right place," Blair said with a grin. "Jim and the others will be along in a minute, They keep getting stopped by well-wishers."
"This has been quite a weekend, hasn't it?" Father commented as they waited. A feast was set up at the farm and later buses had been chartered to ferry whoever wanted to go to King's Dominion, a nearby theme park. "If it hadn't been for that nasty business with Beatrice..."
"It's sad that she wasn't here to see her grandchild christened," Blair said.
"You think the Elder was wrong?" Father asked, still unsure of this person he considered his newest child.
"Nah, man. Beatrice had been warned. I mean, I had even warned her myself. But it's still sad."
"James did what he had to do," Raleigh agreed.
Blair frowned. "Now that's the part I don't get," he said. "Why did he have to do it? I mean, from the beginning it was obvious that you all assumed it was Jim's responsibility to take care of Arielle's problems. No wonder he was confused when I resisted his efforts to settle my messes when we first became partners."
"He is the Elder," Raleigh said, as if that explained all.
"So that means he's everyone's keeper?"
Father shrugged. "When James first came to us, he needed to be needed. He was never needed in William Ellison's home. If he helped his brother, either or both suffered. If he tried to help someone else, his dad disapproved and interfered. You know, Adam says he doesn't understand why the Elder had never retaliated against Arielle's people before now, but I understand it... because it took all my love for James not to destroy William Ellison."
"An old enemy of Jim's kidnapped his dad and the two of them are communicating again," Blair said uncomfortably. "But believe me, there is no danger of him taking your place, Father."
Father smiled. "No, my biggest competition in that area is sitting before me."
"Not really," Blair said honestly. "James is your creation, your child. And unlike what he feels for his biological father, he doesn't resent what you molded him into being. True, he rejected it for a while, but that was because he had to find himself again. It had nothing to do with his feelings for you personally."
"You know him well."
"I know Jim well. I'm still learning about James," Blair admitted softly. "You were explaining to me why he is everyone's keeper?"
"As I said, he needed to be needed so we let him take care of the problems. Soon it became a habit and I guess it still is today. You thinks it hurts him, that it's too much to bear?" Father asked anxiously. He realized James had other responsibilities now, as a cop and as... "I know that there is a secret you share with him, Blair, and with that secret are responsibilities I couldn't possibly dream of. Just say the word and I'll let it be known that we are each on our own."
"No, don't," Blair said quickly. Jim seemed to handle the responsibilities of the Family more easily than those of other parts of his life. Maybe because he knew his decisions would automatically be supported, that some annoying Guide wouldn't fight him... Which brought him back to something else Father had said. "You know Jim's secret?"
Father shook his head. "I know of its existence but not its content. And I do not want to know more. It drew you to him and with that came a peace James has never known. Whatever else can stay between the two of you."
Blair figured that kind of trust deserved to be rewarded. "When Adam first showed up at the loft, I was prepared to hate each and every one of you. When I learned what the Family did, the arrogance of your work, I was prepared to despise you. What I wasn't prepared to do was love you and so far, that seems to be the lasting emotion."
The door opened and Jim called out a laughing comment to someone before slipping inside with Jamie Lin. He saw their somber faces and tensed. "Everything okay here?"
Blair smiled and he relaxed. "Gee, Jim, can't a guy spend some time alone with his Family without getting the third degree?"
Jim looked at the three men with a puzzled expression on his face but before he could comment, Arielle and Bjorn joined them and all he could do was extend his senses enough to realize that whatever had been said in his absence, had created a bond between the people he loved. A perfect exclamation point to a perfect day.
"This quietness is going to take some getting used to," Father said as he looked around the farm that was nearly back to its normal human capacity. Even Jamie Lin and her parents were on their return flight to London. He watched his horses play for a few minutes, then glanced at the tall son standing next to him.
"Don't give me that sad look, old man," Jim said teasingly. "You and I both know you and Raleigh can't wait to get back to your regular evening chess games."
Father laughed and leaned against the white railing that marked the boundaries of the pasture. "Ah, James. It's been good having you home. You handled things well this weekend."
Jim shrugged as he matched Father's pose. "I did what had to be done. Nothing extraordinary about that."
Father disagreed but refused to argue. "Blair says you don't resent me."
Jim looked confused. "Why would I resent you?"
"Why wouldn't you?"
Jim sighed. "Are we back to Juliette? Let it go, Father. As far as I'm concerned, everything about Juliette is buried in the grave with her."
"What about being the Elder? Being responsible for the Family I created?"
Jim shook his head and eyed the older man suspiciously. "Where are you getting these crazy thoughts from? Have I done something or said something this weekend to give you the impression that I'm unhappy with any part of my life?"
"No, James," Father said hurriedly. "I guess just seeing the size of my creation made me wonder if I was being fair to you. You have your own life to live."
Jim smiled and threw his arm companionably around Father's shoulders. "And I'm living it. Maybe it's unconventional...Hell, it's definitely unconventional. But it works for me and for those I love."
Father thought the heat of the sun was cool compared to the warmth he felt hearing those words. "I'm going to miss you, son."
"I don't know why. Cascade is only a plane ride away. I'm sure you and Raleigh are up to the flight."
Father's head jerked around. "Is that an invitation?"
"Sounded like one to me." Jim looked up expectantly just as Blair exited the house and started in their direction. "Hey, Blair, I just invited Father and Raleigh to visit us in Cascade."
"Cool," his partner replied with a grin. "I'll even cook. There are a couple of recipes I've been wanting to try out on company."
"Heaven help us," Jim muttered and feinted to the left as Blair threw a punch in his direction.
Father stared at him. "Are you sure, James?"
"Everyone has already met Adam and in their own way, accept him as my brother. My having another father probably won't faze them."
"I think once they accepted me as a part of Jim's life, they just aren't surprised by anything anymore," Blair explained, laughing at himself.
"Yeah, once you get a Sandburg in your life, everything else pales in comparison," Jim said with a grin.
"I'm going to accept that as a compliment, man," Blair said amicably. "Although, I'm not sure you meant it to be."
"Oh, ye of little faith," Jim said, giving his friend's ponytail a sharp tug before he could pull away. "You ready to go, Chief? Simon expects us in the office bright and early tomorrow."
"I know. It's just--" he stopped as a car sped down the drive-- "that I have one more goodbye to say." He hurried away to greet the leggy brunette who got out of the vehicle.
Jim shook his head at the familiar scene, then turned to Father. "By the way, Blair says Adam has a new girlfriend. Any clues to her identity? He was so eager to get on the Yamachi acquisitions, I didn't get a chance to pry."
Father shrugged. "You know your brother. Besides, I've stopped getting my hopes up. It seems my sons are destined to be bachelors."
"But it's definitely not due to lack of trying," Jim said, grinning in Blair's direction.
"I think I see your point, son."
"Well, Jim, you were right," Blair said, folding into a lotus position as the plane leveled off and the Fasten Seatbelt light winked out.
"Of course I was," his partner replied distractedly as he went through some files Adam had left for him. "But if you want to give me the particulars of my usual brilliance, I would appreciate it."
Blair smiled. "I had a better time than I thought I would."
"The lovely Ms. Gold have anything to do with that?"
Blair felt his cheeks redden but ignored it. "Yeah, but so did the Family. Maybe they aren't as bad as I thought."
Jim glanced up from the papers in his hand. "Watch it, Sandburg, or people are going to think you like us."
Us? So Jim was still in James mode or maybe the two were starting to mesh. "It was never about you as people, but about what you do. And I'm still opposed to that."
"I'm not going to try to dissuade you, Chief. I believe in what we do and you don't, not yet anyway. Let's just agree to disagree for now, alright? I'm still too happy about seeing Jamie Lin to spoil the mood."
"I'll second that. Now that Father and Raleigh are coming to visit, you think Jamie Lin and Arielle could come too?"
"What are you suggesting, Chief? That the next Family reunion be held in Cascade?"
Blair opened his mouth to quickly negate the notion, then shut it slowly as an idea came to mind. "Only if I get to choose the caterer," he said slyly.
Jim burst out laughing and Blair joined in. They finally quieted and Jim went back to his files while Blair pulled out his laptop for some last minute revisions to his fall syllabus. But he couldn't concentrate on it and instead let his mind run through the memories of the weekend. "Thank you," he said softly.
Jim glanced up in surprise, wondering if his partner was talking to his computer again. But Blair's eyes were firmly on him. "For what, Chief?"
"Whether this plane is heading east or west, I have a home and a family waiting for me. Thank you, Jim."
Jim nodded, knowing exactly what Blair was feeling. It wasn't just about having somewhere to hang your hat, but to rest your heart. Maybe Webster's should add that to its definition of home. He smiled at his roommate... and heartmate. "You're welcome, Chief."