Author's Notes: The fourth 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

Disclaimers: As before, not mine. Just borrowed.

Relatives Story Four: Family Fair Joining Days, Part II

By Jayed

EMAIL: Jayed

When Blair awoke on that all important morning of the Family Fair, he was as happy as he ever remembered being as a child on his birthday, maybe, probably, more so. Today, today he would do something he'd dreamed of his entire life; he would Walk a Family Fair. Although he'd discovered (over and over again) as a child that real life wasn't usually as good as his dreams, this time he knew that it would be different. It was already better than any dream he'd ever had because he was walking the Fair not alone, but as a Guide in a Bonded Pair.

The Guide House had provided him with new robes. His white robes were taken away; he'd never need them again, and maybe they would bring good luck to another new Guide. He had happily exchanged them for the silvery-gray robe of a Bonded Guide. Carefully, he put his half-Mechanic/half-Artist badge in place, surrounding it with the lesser insignia, and then he looked expectantly at his Sentinel. Jim was carefully putting on his own new robes, still tan, but a deeper, richer color, and without the black banded arm. His own orange badge and insignia were already in place.

Smiling at the excited younger man, Jim led the way out of the cabin. Other Sentinel-Guide Pairs were emerging from cabins nearby, clearly also heading toward the same destination. Other Sentinels still sat in their cabin doorways, a few, with Guides beside them, clearly still working out new Bonds or in negotiations. Of course, Bonds were also still setting behind many of the closed cabin doors.

Other Sentinels sat alone, hopeful still. It was not unusual for Bonds to form even after the Sentinel-Guide Week as new folks appeared or decisions were made. In fact, just as Jim and Blair reached the center of the Sentinel cabins, an excited shout was heard, and then Blair's Guide House acquaintance, Gwynn, went running past him and threw herself into the arms of another young woman about her own age. Excited squeals came from both of them as they locked arms and all but ran into a cabin three up from the end.

Jim smiled broadly at Blair in acknowledgement of the formation of another true Bond in the making. Blair smiled back, happy for the two young women and wondering briefly about Gideon. Then, his exuberance needing an outlet, he gave his Sentinel a quick hug and spun them around. Indulgent grins were directed at him from every Sentinel in view (and probably a few hidden away) as Jim grabbed hold of him to keep them from overbalancing. Then the Sentinel did something he almost never did; he put back his head and laughed a great, full-throated laugh.

Moments later, the two moved on, reaching the Gate between the two Fairs with smiles still stretched across their faces. This was it.

Jim had spoken to Blair at length about Simon and Simon's plans and their preliminary discussions. Blair knew that Jim expected them to meet with Simon, and he had no real objections, but he wanted them to Walk the Fair a bit first. They had agreed that they would be open-minded, and Jim realized that this Fair was the culmination of Blair's hopes. He couldn't, wouldn't, force him to choose too quickly without a chance to see what there was to see. He admitted to himself that if his Guide would be happier with another choice, then he would probably be quite open to that, too.

Since it was the several days in, the Family Fair was going strong and lively. The paths, broad though they were, were filled with people of all ages, singly, in pairs and occasionally Pairs, and in groups, friends, birth- or blood-Family, spouses and out-spouses, and Joined Family alike. Rich scents of the foods provided by the various Families and by the Fair organizers filled the air, and the noises constantly shifted in volume and tone, here laughter, there a half-serious argument of some kind, further along a Music Family sang in glorious multi-part harmony.

Some of this had been apparent, of course, to the Sentinel before they crossed the line between Fairs, but there was a great difference between hearing it at a remove and being right in the middle of it. Recognizing the possibilities for overload, Blair put out a hand and grasped Jim's.

Handholding, for all the jokes it had once upon a time engendered, was the preferred method for Guides keeping their Sentinels grounded. Sensory information flew between the sensitive fingertips of both partners, working as a kind of biofeedback to give the Guide a view of the Sentinel's emotional state and to let the Sentinel keep track-not only aurally, but physically-of his or her Guide. No zoneouts, under even the most extreme provocation, had ever been recorded while a Sentinel held the hand of his or her Bonded Guide.

Little silences fell and wavered as the Pair moved through the Fair. Approximately one hundred and fifty Pairs had already formed at the Fair, and, although some of those were between members of established Families and between Pairs who wanted to avoid (even if only for a short time) wider Family entanglements, there were still over a hundred Pairs who planned to walk the Fair. Literally thousands of Families would form at this, the largest Family Fair, and many, probably most, of those Families would be happy to number a Pair as members.

They didn't stop to talk to anyone on any of the Matts in the first few rows they passed. Here a Bank Force was forming next to a small Fishing Family. A Hospital Corp took up almost a whole row by itself. They paused for a moment, silent witnesses, as cheers went up and sparkling new Family signs were put on the collars of a pair of green-badged Spouses who had chosen to Join an Herbal Farm Family. Blair, witnessing his first Joining, was pensive and wide-eyed.

In the fourth row they turned down, Blair spotted a familiar face in the middle of a Factory Force Matt. "Miguel," he called eagerly. "Come meet Jim, my Sentinel."

Miguel looked up in surprise from his discussions with two new Family members. He caught the face of one of his former fellow Apprentices and grinned happily, moving to shake Blair's free hand and give the quick nodded head bow that was the proper and polite acknowledgement for a Sentinel. "Hey, you did it; you found your dream, man. Congratulations!"

The two young men let loose a torrent of excited words, sharing stories of other acquaintances and filling each other in on what they'd done since they'd last met. Miguel, wearing a pure brown badge and the insignia for heavy machinery as well as trucks and cars, had joined this Family as a member of their Shipping team.

"Blair, come meet my new Head, Jackie," he enthused. He stopped and looked thoughtful. "We can always use a good Mechanic, Blair, and we're still looking for Security folks…" The hint was broad and obvious.

Jim gave in with good grace, accepting that while neither of them had any plans for this kind of Family, it would now be churlish not to stay and drink one or two of the many cups of tea they had to look forward to for the next few days while they met and talked with the various Heads and Families.

Jackie, realizing that the chance of attracting a Pair was slim, was nevertheless impressed with her new Shipping driver. She hadn't known when she'd signed him up- impressed by his enthusiasm and references, as well as the encouragement of her teen-aged blood-daughter-that he had this kind of influence. Even if it didn't work out, the Family was attracting some good notice because of the presence of the Pair on the Matt, and that was all to the good. And, who knew? Perhaps if the Guide was willing to take a chance with his old Apprentice-Mate, the Sentinel would agree to stay to keep him happy…

The two spent a pleasant hour, talking to Miguel and listening to Jackie's half-jesting, half-serious invitation and encouragement, before they moved on, hands once again clasped. They passed by several rows in succession, the only Family of any interest to either of them had already signed on a Pair, although even Blair could tell that this Pair didn't have the same Bond that he shared with Jim, or that he'd felt between Gwynn and the other girl. Still, Jim and Blair shared the Pair to Pair greeting with them and wished them well in their new Family.

Even as they moved on, Blair looked back, curiosity lively. He wondered what had made this particular Pair choose this particular Family. It looked like the Family was setting up to run a Campground. Then he saw it. The Head and Second were clearly related, probably blood-siblings, and the Guide looked just like them. The heart of this new Family was a set of three true blood-brothers. The Sentinel had probably agreed to stay to make her Guide happy, and she would, no doubt, find herself useful in keeping track of missing folks and working with what Search & Rescue personnel shared their area.

Blair clutched Jim's hand a little tighter as they walked on by. If he hadn't found his Sentinel, the envy he would have felt at seeing this Family might have made him sad. However, the little squeeze he gave and received back kept his spirits high. With a light-hearted grin, he swung their hands up and back before settling back down and trying to walk with Jim's calm dignity. Nothing could spoil this day.

Simon's Family, for so early in the Fair, was attracting some good attention and better members. He had indeed signed on the men who had once belonged to the Denver Corp. Joel and Chris were working out the details of how they might use Chris, Buck, Christine, and Marybeth as Investigators, rather than simply Patrollers, although they could take shifts doing that as well as needed. It would be useful to have members of the Family who were pre-designated to step up and lead, whether the search was for clues to a crime, probably Marybeth and Christine, or to a missing or lost person, probably Chris and Buck. A trio of middle-aged birth-sisters, Inez, Sally, and Nettie, looked to Join as Family Nutritionist, Housekeeper, and Nanny, respectively. The latter would not have much to do at first with only Daryl and Emily, but, in a large Family, with no reason not to want children, there would, hopefully, be a need eventually. The three had stayed with one another all their lives, most of it with their original birth-family and then a short stint with a Gardening Family that broke up during several years of bad weather and worse management, something they could not influence from their positions in the Family.

Rafe, who would have to work closely with them, had been given the most say, and he had gone off with them for the day to see if they could get along when it was just the four of them. It would be a bit tricky for them to work with a young man in place of the birth-sister who had died not long before. Megan had considered spending the day with them, but finally left the four to think it out themselves.

Additionally, Simon had thought that he would serve as Family Manager with Joel's help, but he had been convinced by a young woman named Rhonda that he couldn't be Head and Apprentice Master and have time for keeping track of phone calls, mail, schedules, and all the minutiae of day to day life and work. Of course, Joel, as Second and Weaponsmith, wouldn't have much time either. Ezra, the half-yellow badged former Denverite, was sitting on a corner of the Matt with her, drinking the ubiquitous tea. He would be the one she spent the most time with besides the Head and Second because he would be the Family Financier, responsible for keeping track of accounts and investments. As with Rafe, Simon was making sure those already Chosen had a say in those who Joined, however shortly, after they did. They had the Family Signs, and these new folks did not…yet.

Finally, as the day drew to the close, the various seekers and Family members agreed to meet up again the next day. Folks drifted off to their various hostels and campsites. Simon sent his Family to their booked rooms with Joel to keep track and answer questions. The three women happily agreed to return the next day to continue their discussions with Rafe. It had been another productive day.

As Joel moved his charges, with Fox and Dingo helping to keep herd, into the darkness, Simon prepared to spend another night on the Matt. His seven newest Family members, loathe to sleep indoors when the chance for sleeping under the stars was there, asked him if he minded if they remained. He nodded his easy acceptance, of course, and then things began to look a little more lively. Ezra's cherished guitar had been left at the hostel earlier in the day, but he had his mandolin with him, and JD brought out a small drum.

Soon the air was filled with the song as Josiah and Nathan joined Ezra and JD in singing a series of old favorites. Simon even joined in when he realized that he knew one or two of the selections. Then, Chris asked Ezra to sing his favorite, and the other men settled in eagerly to listen. Simon, seeing their enthusiasm, joined them in looking expectantly at this surprising new member of his Family.

JD set up a slow-paced rhythm and Ezra's nimble figures played a sweet melody on the little stringed instrument. As he came around the second time, he began to sing a beautiful little song, full of melancholy and wistfulness and hope. They were so wrapped up in their appreciation of the song's beauty that it took them all a few moments to realize that a second voice had joined in, singing a harmony as sweet as the original. As the song concluded, a sigh went up for the men on the Matt as well as from nearby listeners on other Matts and walking the late pathway.

Simon and the seven other men on his Matt stood to see who had been singing with them when a tear-filled voice spoke out of the darkness, "That's one of my mother's songs. I'm glad to hear it…and sing it…again."

Stepping into the light, Simon was pleased to see Jim in his deep tan robes. With him, the singer, was his Guide, a young man with long curls and large, tear-filled eyes. "Simon," Jim called. "This is Blair, my Guide."

Overwhelmingly pleased, Simon stepped forward to clasp Jim's arm in acknowledgment of their friendship. He put out a hand to the younger man and received a firm handshake in return. "Blair, welcome. Thank you for coming to …" He was about to say Join us when he realized that he didn't know if that was true. Sure, he and Jim had talked, but the young man didn't know him. He made himself step back from presumption. Smoothly, he changed the course of his greeting "meet with us and to sing with Ezra and us all."

"Ezra?" Blair cocked his head to the side for a moment and then an enormous grin shone forth on his face. "Ezra!" He turned and ran to the seated mandolin player. "Ezra? Did you live with a Financial Family somewhere near Sedona Township? About fifteen years ago?"

Ezra looked up, startled. He handed the mandolin to Josiah as he stood up, looking the younger man over carefully. "Blair? Naomi's son? I've…wondered about you. This is Chris's favorite song and whenever he asks me to sing it I always wonder, just a bit, about you. And her."

A shadow crossed the Guide's face for a moment. "She died, Ezra. About two years ago."

While the two singers were talking and reacquainting themselves, Simon was trying to access his chances. Suddenly an unfortunate thought occurred to him. He hadn't actually seen Blair's badge, but most Guides wore Red. So much for the three sisters. He only hoped Blair didn't specialize in Clothing. A Family like this didn't need multi-Red badges in any of the four main fields, and, of course, Rafe was a Master and already Joined. Even for a Sentinel and Guide he couldn't, wouldn't, displace him. No Family members would ever trust a Head who could do such a thing, and Joel would almost certainly move to form a new Family, himself as Head, if he tried. Simon could hardly believe that he hadn't thought of this ahead of time.

He turned a slightly grim face toward his Sentinel friend. "What badge does Blair wear?" The question was a bit of a non-sequitur, but Jim didn't skip a beat. He burst into laughter.

"You won't hardly believe it." He grinned at Simon's confused silence. "Blair didn't know he was a Guide until relatively recently. His badge is half-Purple, for his Mother's art, and half-Brown, for the Family that took him and Apprenticed him when she died. He's a Pilot-Driver Mechanic Singing Scholarly Guide." Jim paused and grinned at seeing Simon looking startled and…hopeful? "Or, maybe he's a Singing Guide with Mechanical Tendencies?" Reaching into his shoulder bag, Jim pulled out his and Blair's papers, their recommendations and certifications. "Have a peek."

As Simon started looking through the documents, standing close to the lights marking the path for nightwalkers, he began to smile. The smile was partly relief and partly pleasure. Yes, there was definitely a place for this young man, for both Sentinel and Guide, in Simon's Force.

Jim moved toward Blair and his new acquaintances. All of Ezra's friends were now clustered around them, enjoying the story of their long ago first meeting. Jim was happy to sense that Blair had found a happy part of his past. He caught the hand that Blair held out to him and allowed himself to be pulled into the excited group.

END