Family Fair Joining Days, Part I
Authors Notes: The third part of a series of stories about a Sentinel and Guide Pair in a world that accepts them and celebrates them as Partners.
Warnings: AU, SIP (Series in Progress), Xover [Very little J and B in this episode]
Disclaimers: As before, not mine. Just borrowed.
Relatives : Story Three
On the morning of the Opening Day of the main Family Fair, Simon settled the large Matt his family had given him into the space allotted him by the Fair Wardens. He already had his Second and Weaponsmith, an old friend, Joel Taggart, and Joel was currently finalizing some last minute details at the hostel that Simon had contracted for his Family during the days of the Fair. He was planning too large a Family, about thirty members, a full Force, for it to make any sense to keep the members constantly on the Matt. They would only be in his and each others way.
Of course, he wouldnt object to any of them spending time on the Matt, taking the time to get to know him and Joel and his own blood-son, Daryl. He had booked not only bedrooms, but a large common room, at the Hostel, for the same purpose. If all the Members got along with him, but not each other that would not suffice. Yes, Families were partially businesses, but they *were* also families, and good relationships between family members were vital and necessary.
Daryl was hovering close by, and that was a comfort to Simon and to Daryl. The teen had also suffered at the loss of his First Family, but he was young and resilient, and, more importantly, he still had his tall, stalwart father and the hope of a new Family. Daryl hoped that other Members would be bringing in children. He didnt want to be the only one.
Shortly after the Gates opened, a young couple strolled up, hand-in-hand. Matching silver bracelets on their left wrists showed them to be Spouses. In her free hand, the young woman held the leashes of two large chocolate-colored Labrador retrievers . Her badge was Orange, and she had the insignias for Search & Rescue and Dog Handling. Simon hadnt really considered that set of skills when he and Joel had contemplated their Family, but he was immediately interested. There was some room to maneuver left in their plans for just this type of eventuality. The young man with her wore a Red badge surrounded by every insignia for Clothing that Simon had ever seen, everything from Weaving to Leatherworking, Sewing to Cleaning; the man was that rarity: a true Master of his Trade, and the youngest one Simon had ever met. Recognizing a very useful pair, Simon set himself to be charming in hopes of attracting them into staying.
Just as Simon was stepping forward, Joel appeared at the edge of the Matt, back from his errand at the hostel. The young woman handed the leashes to her companion and flung herself at him. "Uncle!" she said in delight, "I found you!"
Grinning back, just as happily, Joel answered her enthusiasm, "Megan, my dear, have you come to join me?"
She turned to wave her companion forward. "Yes, Uncle. This is Rafe, and weve come to Join you." Blushing, she turned to Simon, "Well, if your Head says so."
Joel laughed, reaching one hand around the young woman to shake her Mates hand. "Anyone Megan vouches for is okay with me." He turned to Simon. "Simon, this is Megan, a birth-niece. Shes been off, Training with a Search & Rescue Family for a while, but weve kept in touch. I got good reports from her Trainers." He turned to Megan and grinned, "I see youve got your dogs. Good for you!"
The young man reached into a shoulder bag and pulled out a sheaf of papers, offering them silently to Simon. The papers showed his qualifications and Megans for their respective jobs. Looking up, he caught the eye of the boy at the edge of the Matt. "Come say hello to Dingo and Fox," he offered.
Daryl stepped forward happily. "Cool. But, hey, I thought you had to treat police dogs differently."
"These arent police dogs. Theyre Search & Rescue dogs. We treat them pretty much as pets most of the time, unless theyre working. When theyre working, they wear vests. Putting on the vests lets them know its time to go to work."
"Cool," the teen said again, letting the two sniff him over and patting each one happily on the head. Okay, no kids, but dogs were good.
Simon had been giving the papers a quick, but thorough overview. Training Certificates, Recommendation Letters, and Insignia Certificates were all in order. He nodded slightly at Joel, smiling.
As Second, Joel had the same right as Simon to offer places to potential Family, and they both knew if would mean a lot to him to make this particular offer. He pulled himself to attention and looked at the two, smiling broadly, despite the serious tone in which he spoke. "Do you come to Join?"
As they were coming to the Family as Spouses and not Singles, they spoke their reply in unison, "We ask to Join."
Smiling even more broadly, Joel continued, "This Family offers you the following: Home. Companionship. Occupation. Obligation. Sustenance. Support. Purpose." He paused, and then continued the ritual more solemnly, "Will you give this Family your Allegiance?"
"Will you give this Family your Skills?"
"Will you give this Family your Trust and Joy, your Sorrow and Hope?"
"Be Welcome. Be Members of Simons Force. Be known by these tokens hence." Here, proudly, Daryl stepped up and pinned the Family Signs of the new Family to the collars of both new Members shirts. The signs Simon and Joel had finally agreed upon were pins made of bright amber and gold. They shone brightly in the sun, blazing the orange of Emergency Services. Amber was common for Emergency Services, but it was usually paired with another stone. Simon and Joel had agreed on amber alone.
Others who had come into the Fairgrounds had stopped to watch the Ceremony, some wistfully, others speculatively. It was not yet an hour into the Fair and this set of Spouses had already found a Home. Suddenly, the mood of the Ceremony changed to laughter. Daryl was busily putting the Family Sign on the collars of both Dingo and Fox.
Despite the auspicious beginning, and despite lots of conversations, including not only Simon and Joel, but Daryl, Megan, and Rafe, no others joined that First Day. Megan enjoyed the chance to catch up on stories of her Birthfamily and to introduce her Mate more fully to her Uncle. Simon enjoyed the insights into the lives of his three new Family members, learning more about Rafe and Megan, but also about his old friend. Daryl spent most of his day with the dogs, walking the Fair, and, in typical fourteen year old fashion, developing a small crush on the seventeen year old girl on the next Matt where her blood-parents were putting together a new Family to start an apple orchard. Once upon a time, Families seeking similar Members had been set up together at the Fair. It had led to fights and ill-will. Now, the Matts were set up in a much less orderly fashion. It encouraged more Walking and Talking, good for the Fair and for Families.
As night fell, Simon sent the others to the Hostel and broke out a sleeping bag. The weather was mild, and most of the other Heads were doing the same. It was not unusual for some Members to Join at night, shyly avoiding the crowds and scrutiny of daylight. The third day of the Fair would see the Gates open between the Main Fair and the Sentinel-Guide Fair. It was too noisy and disruptive to new Bonds to try to let everyone in the first day. Simon knew, from experience and discussion, that many Sentinels and Guides came to Join their Families at night, taking advantage of the shadows to avoid the importuning that might otherwise be directed at them if they walked the Fair during the day. Of course, his interested was personal, and he found himself drifting off to sleep with hopes that Jim, "his" Sentinel, had found a Guide.
Early the next morning, when Simon was just returning to his Matt after a quick hygiene and breakfast run to the hostel, he was approached by three black-clad men.
The seven men thought of themselves as brothers, even though they were not officially brothers by either Birth or Blood. They had been Members of a Law Enforcement Family, a full Corp, in the metropolis of Denver until fairly recently. However, that "Family" had numbered almost three hundred members, and the seven had come to the realization that they wanted, needed, a smaller Family, a Group with more of a Family feel. The Denver Family, Orrins Corp, was, by necessity, more a business than a Family.
Looking at them, one wouldnt have though that they belonged together. Their insignia were different as were their ages, races, and temperaments. However, they were a solid set, playing off each others strengths and weaknesses, backing each other up, having served as a Team within Orrins Corp. Over time, the seven had begun to discuss the possibility of joining a small town force, becoming "Peacekeepers" in a town where the Force really would be small enough to be Family. After some serious soul-searching, they removed the garnet and amethyst pins that were the Family signs of Orrins Corp, and they headed toward the Cascade Family Fair with hope and anticipation. It was the biggest Fair, and they hoped to find what they were looking for there.
If they didnt, Orrin had offered to let them return and contract for another year or so while they looked. Orrin was a mighty fair man, and he knew that not everyone was suited to the kind of Corp he ran. As Head, it was his responsibility to know something about all his Family, and though it saddened him, he had been expecting this move. He was happy that they had found each other, become brothers of a kind, within the confines of the larger group. Chris had even found a Mate, a young woman who served the Family with a Yellow badge, and had had a blood-son, but the two had died, killed in a traffic accident while Chris was on the job, and this had contributed greatly to his desire to leave. He had never really recovered. Orrin hated to see the seven men leave, but the Corp was large enough that none of them had irreplaceable skills, and some of his people had Out-Spouses that they wanted to bring into Joined Family officially as true Spouses. Some of those people had the skills that the seven were taking away.
Of the seven, despite his occasional depression, Chris, an orange-badged Investigator, was the "unofficial leader." (Orrin sometimes had wondered why Chris had never gone for a silver badge himself.) Two others, Buck and Vin, wore the orange of security forces as well. Nathan and Josiah wore orange, but their insignia showed they were medical, not security, a physician and a counselor, respectively. JD wore the brown of a technician, a man completely at home with technology, and Ezra, a surprising split badge, yellow for his work as Family Financier, and purple for his almost ludicrously astonishing tenor and his gift of storytelling.
As they stalked onto the Cascade Fairgrounds, and stalked was the only appropriate term, they split into three pre-determined groups. Chris and Vin headed towards the rows on the left, Buck, JD, and Ezra went toward those on the right, and Josiah and Nate went to circle through the Matts on the Fairs edges. They would spend the day chatting with Families that caught their attention and meet up in the campgrounds outside the Fair at dusk for dinner and an exchange of information. The next day, they would revisit the Families that looked the most promising.
Long before noon, Chris and Vin had already chatted, however briefly, with the Heads of a couple of Families. They had first chatted with a couple of men who had signed on with a Head named Dobey. They had gone to talk to him, but hadnt lingered despite the recommendation and the good they could see in the man. His Matt showed that he was setting up a Corp, and they wanted a Force. It wouldnt make any sense to leave Orrin for Dobey, even if Dobey was looking for a Corp only about half the size of Orrins.
The second man they talked to seriously was the Second of a Finance Force. All of the seven would have found positions within the structure, but neither Nate nor Josiah would have found the work particularly fulfilling or intriguing. The laughter on the Matt had just captured Vins attention. He didnt laugh aloud himself that often, but he liked the idea of a happy, laugh-filled Family.
Josiah and Nate found themselves distracted by the possibilities of Hospital Families, despite the fact that those families tended more toward Corp than Force. The idea of working closely with others in the medical field was intriguing. However, they knew that their brethren were looking for something more in the lines of security and law enforcement, and the lure of medicine was not enough of a lure to make them break up the seven and go their own way. In any law Family, theres be more than enough work for a doctor and a therapist.
JD spent some time talking to a pair of Spouses, Head and Second, planning to set up a small electronics firm. The couple was highly interested in the JD and his companions, Buck and Ezra, declaring that they could very definitely fit the three into their Family. However, JD was forced to confess that they were not a trio, but a set of seven, and that the others wouldnt have places in this particular set-up. With great reluctance, the couple admitted that, while they might find room for someone who could handle security, they really had no need in their Force for two men with the medical training of the trios companions.
The first Head that the three spoke with was Simon. Before long, they were all silently acknowledging that this was a likely set-up. Banks clearly knew his field, and he asked several shrewd and careful questions about their decision to leave their previous Family. Surprisingly, the three found this comforting. Their status was not being taken lightly, as some of the other Heads had seemed to do. It was perfectly reasonable for a new Head to find out why previously Family status had changed. The three also asked serious questions about the loss of Simons previous Family, Joels Familys break-up, and the possibilities and dangers inherent in a new Family taking up in the place where Simons Family had died.
The four men spent two long and careful hours, occasionally joined by Joel and Rafe, sometimes by Daryl, intrigued by the young looking JD, or Megan, and sometimes by other seekers. Dingo came and made himself at home at Bucks feet for much of the discussion. Megan took Dingos approval as a good thing, signaling that approval to both Simon and Joel. The three men had passed the "dog test."
So, the weary men met back at the campgrounds as the sky grew dark. The first ones back, Josiah and Nathan, had dinner cooking over their campfire, a good, hearty stew, healthy and filling. By mutual agreement, they decided to wait to talk about their discoveries and conversations until dinner was finished. Good food deserved to be savored, and the men needed some time to mull over what theyd learned.
Then, the dinner dishes washed, and coffee all around, Chris spoke first. He and Vin had two slight possibilities, but they hadnt found anything that really called to them. Josiah and Nathan had three possibilities to discuss. The first, a small, rural Emergency Center, looking for Deputies for its Head, a Sheriff, and members who could serve in the capacity of Emergency Medicine. The Family would need someone who could handle both computers and its daily affairs. Their second possibility was with a Family looking to set up a Camping/Hunting Park. The skills of the seven men could be useful, if not exactly as they had been using them. Their third possibility was a law enforcement Family that would serve in tangent with several other Families, doing the job of a Corp without actually becoming one. Each Family Force would work independently for the most part, but the Families would share information and expertise as necessary.
Buck took up the discussion next, introducing the other four verbally to Simons Force and all they had discovered about the man and his plan. He stressed the fact that all of the seven would have good positions and that he, JD, and Ezra had spent some serious time in discussion already. Hearing that the Family already included a Clothing Master, Nathan couldnt help teasing Ezra that he was only looking for someone to keep him in fancy duds. Ezra, used to this line of teasing, ignored him blithely. None of the other Families the three had talked to seemed to merit a second visit.
By design, the seven first went to speak with each of the three Families introduced by Josiah and Nathan the night before. Personality conflicts between Chris and the Sheriff made that Family untenable. The Camping Family had somehow overnight filled the spots that would have been Ezras and JDs. The last Family remained a possibility, but none of the seven felt any special "draw." Then the seven stepped onto Simons Matt.
Simon had been impressed with the three men hed met the day before, and he was anxiously looking forward to meeting their companions. It would be a wonderful way to fill several position all at once, but he needed to be sure that they were willing to accept him as Head and not to form a faction within the larger group.
The seven arrived just as Simon was finishing up the Rituals accepting three female patrollers into the Family: Christine, Marybeth, and Faith. Faith had also brought her eleven year old blood-daughter, Emily. As the seven men watched, Daryl stepped forward to once again pin the Family sign on new relations. He grinned happily at Emily. Okay, so hed really wanted a brother about his own age, but two dogs and a little sister were better than nothing.
The next several hours, through a cookout lunch, saw six of the men involved in discussions with Simon and Joel as well as the other Family members. Ezra, for his part, was content to let his brethren choose. This was a far cry from the man hed been when hed joined Orrins Corp. Hed purposely chosen a Corp so that hed have room to hide, to avoid the ties hed avoided, or been denied, most of his life. A slow friendship with the youthful JD had led him to the rest of the men he now considered the only real Family hed ever known. His bloodmother had abandoned him with her Joined family, despite their stated no children rule, and hed been tolerated, but not loved or appreciated. They had, at least, kept him from the Orphanage.
When he turned twelve, the earliest possible age, hed Apprenticed with a Finance Family, and never gone back. The Financiers had no children either and all of their other apprentices had been significantly older than usual. He had been treated like an outsider, an employee, rather than accepted as Family (as was common with long term apprentices), kept at a distance from not only the Family but the other apprentices. No one was cruel, but it was a repeat of his Birth-Family, and no one was really attentive or kind, except for the Familys Housekeeper. He, however, had also been the Family Nutritionist and too overworked to make time for the young teen. Ezra spent some time volunteering in the kitchen, listening to his stories of his own youth and the loves of his life. It gave Ezra the idea that there was something more and that he should want it.
In many ways his life was changed the winter he was thirteen. A visiting Single spent several months as the out-spouse of the Familys Second. She had brought with her a three year old boy, her son. Rather than being annoyed when he was tapped to be the boys unofficial caretaker in the absence of a Family Nanny, Ezra had learned to appreciate the toddlers unceasing and enthusiastic attention. To the tot, Ezra was grown-up, knowledgeable, and fascinating. It was good for Ezras ego and his sense of responsibility, and, though he would probably have never admitted it, it was enormous fun.
When the Spring came, the mother gathered her child and wandered off to her next adventure. Ezra was terribly lonely without the boy, something he had, perhaps, been for much of his life, but hed never actually realized before. The toddlers open nature had awakened something in his own, something that allowed him to appreciate JDs overtures all those years later, and to work with Orrins purple badged members on his own skills in storytelling and singing. Hed had affection once, hed found it again, and this time he had the choice to stay with it, with those who offered it, freely and openly.
Ezra had often wished that the little boy had been older, old enough to correspond with him. Although very bright for his age, and already able to read and to sing his way through much of his mothers repertoire of songs, he was just a little too young to write or to keep up a correspondence with a boy, who however friendly theyd been for a time, was essentially a stranger. Yet, over the years, hed occasionally wondered what had happened to Blair and his slightly flaky Single mother.
That night the seven gathered once more around their own campfire, but they knew it was for the last time. They had found their new Family. They would Join the next day and be there to meet the others who would Join. Chris looked forward to discussing more with Simon the idea that some of the Patrollers should be designated Investigators and considering Simons thoughts about taking on the role of Lead Patroller and Family Third. Vin was especially happy about Simons hopes for a Sentinel and Guide. He had enhanced eyesight, and he knew that the Pair would be able to help him with his gift. JD, only twenty himself, had already made a friend of Daryl. Buck had spent part of the day flirting outrageously with Christine, Marybeth, and Faith, and they had all flirted just as outrageously back at him. Josiah had found a fellow Believer in Joel. Nathan had taken heart at the fact that Simon intended to sign on a full Emergency Medical Team, including several doctors and a paramedic/nurses. Ezra, Ezra had just enjoyed the fact that his brothers were happy and that he was with them.
In the little cabin in the middle of the second-to-last row of the Sentinels, Jim and Blair spent the day discussing the possibilities of Family, Simons in particular. Their Bond was set. Their baselines known. Blair cooked. Jim kept some semblance of order in their belongings. They smiled a lot.
Tomorrow, they would Walk the main Family Fair.