Author's Notes: The fifth 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 Five: Family Fair Joining Days, Part III
Even though it was pretty clear to both Jim and Blair that they would Join Simon's Force, Blair still wanted to travel the whole of the Family Fair before they made the final decision. He was excited to see all that there was to see, especially since he was not, as he once feared, walking the Fair alone. Simon would have liked to have held the Ceremony before the Pair continued their tour, but he didn't push it. He had to trust that his friendship with Jim, however new, and the surprising connection between the young Guide and his new Family Financier would prevail.
Ezra was pretty stunned, for his part, by the turn of events. He was sorry to hear that the pretty woman he'd met all those years ago was dead, not the least because she would now share no more new songs with the world. However, he was, quite obvious to his brethren, elated to have found her son again after all these years. He was also quite touched to know that the little boy remembered him. That fact this surprising turn of events seemed to be helping his new Family to attract a Pair was only the icing on the cake.
As the Pair moved through the Fair, Blair was excitedly filling Jim in on his connection to the other man. Jim, for his part, was suitably amused by the tales of the adventures Blair remembered sharing with his "foster brother/nanny." Although only a boy himself, and untrained, Ezra had apparently been a fond and concerned Guardian for his young charge. Jim made a mental note to thank him for looking after his Guide for him, for all that it had been done years before he knew his Guide was his.
As the Pair turned the corner and headed toward the final row at the back of the Fairgrounds, it was clear to see that each side of the row was taken up by a single Corp. On one side was a Hospital Corp; the other side was taken up by some sort of Financial concern. Both sets of Families eyed the Pair speculatively. The Hospital saw a diagnostician and a counselor. The Financial folk were always willing to look at competent security personnel.
Suddenly, a shout of surprise was heard, followed by "Jim?" Turning in shock, Jim saw his younger blood-brother, Stephen, someone he hadn't seen or heard from (or about) in just about six years.
"Stephen? What are you doing here? Where's Dad? Aren't you taking over Ellison's Corp?"
Stephen was a bit taken aback. This was not how he imagined reconnecting with his older brother. Of course, he was not sure he'd ever really thought about reconnecting with him. He was especially surprised to see him in the deep tan robes of a Sentinel, holding the hand of a bouncing younger man in Guide robes.
"Hi," the younger man said, holding out his free hand. "I'm Blair, Jim's Guide." Fully aware of the tension, he clung tightly to Jim's hand and tried to break it up a little with the normality and formality of introductions.
"I'm Stephen, Second to Cullen's Corp, a Banking and Insurance Concern."
"Why'd you leave Dad?" Jim asked again. Stephen had always been their father's "golden boy," and not just because of his blonde hair.
"This is just temporary," Stephen began. "Dad thought I should have some experience working with others, acting as one of a Family's Heads, as further training before I am expected to step up."
Blair, for his part, was stunned. How could this man be so casually talking about leaving this Family? Didn't he understand that taking Oath and serving as Second bound him to Cullen's? What kind of Family was this?
Blair's unease at Stephen's words only confirmed Jim's own distaste at Stephen's cavalier attitude toward what was supposed to be his new Family. Did the others know how thin his seeming commitment was? He knew Financial Families were often ruthless, but not usually within their own boundaries.
When they left Stephen, unbeknownst to him, Cullen's Security Chief, Harris, decided to investigate the Pair a little further. He'd never been around a Pair before, and he knew little about them. This was surprising in a Security Chief, but he had not gotten his job in the usual way. Cullen had actually sought him out because of he had been able to prove a minor criminal background. The Head of this Family had heard the stories about how reformed thieves made the best guards, and he believed them.
Late that afternoon, Jim settled down to chat with Simon while Blair went with Daryl and Emily to investigate a rumor that a Bakery Family, Sara's, was offering a Party of Treats to celebrate the completion of its Bonds and full formation as a Family. Blair offered to carry a few treats back for both Jim and Simon.
Once there, Daryl met some old friends, and the three settled in happily to chat and indulge and, well, overindulge on brownies, cakes, pies, and the most heavenly fudge any of them had ever tried. Emily, having promised her mother to look in and return, accepted the small box of treats for Simon and Jim, and headed back across the Fair as sunset slowly crawled forth across the sky. She was greeted with happy teasing as the box was emptied by Jim, Simon, and others still sitting about on the Matt. Tenaciously, she managed to avoid the grasping hands and saved her mother the large fruit muffin she'd brought just for her.
It was late when Daryl and Blair left the Bakery Matt. Neither of them even considered that they'd have any trouble along the route back to Simon's Matt because Family Fairs were universally known, and proven, to be the safest places in the world. Additionally, they knew that Jim was now always "listening."
When Harris, the Security Chief from Cullen's Force, approached them as they turned a dark corner, neither was particularly concerned. The fact that he was a Security Head actually made them feel even safer, for what Guide and child would expect trouble from someone in that position? Then, suddenly, four other members of Cullen's Security Team surrounded them, not exactly threatening them, but not letting them pass either. Finance Families were known to be ruthless, yes, but this was rank stupidity.
Before Blair was even aware that he was becoming alarmed, the Security team had him separated from Daryl. Daryl took the opportunity to run back toward help, toward his father and Jim and the rest of the patrollers Joined to his Family. He didn't understand what was going on or why, but he knew that he needed help and where it was to be found. Of course, he could have just yelled for help, and everyone nearby would have responded, but that didn't occur to him in his momentary panic.
Blair, for his part, didn't understand why these men were acting as they were. In actuality, most of them didn't either. They were following the orders of their new Security Chief, but they didn't understand why accosting a Guide at the Family Fair was a reasonable thing to be doing. And not just a Guide, a Bonded Guide, in the Grey robes that showed this was a new Bond. Surely Harris knew what he was doing, but what?
Confused, Blair did, at first, confirm his own name and Jim's and that they had met Stephen that day. Then, however, he decided he'd had enough. He moved to get away from the men encircling him. This is where the Corp men made their real mistake. They could have sidestepped their actions to this point, but now Harris and his first recruit, a fool of a young man called Edwynn, grabbed hold of Blair's arms. "You'll leave when I'm done with you," Harris snarled.
It was all over rather quickly. Daryl had been met on his way back to his Family's Matt by Jim and every member of his new Family. The distant from Simon's Matt to Sara's Matt was nothing for a Sentinel keeping a partially jealous watch over his true Bonded Guide. His alarm brought Simon and the whole of Family together as one, and they followed Jim as he ran unerringly toward his threatened Guide. Family Fair patrollers and other Pairs picked up the trouble as well.
Harris lay flat on the ground, knocked out by one ferocious punch. He'd have an incredible headache and a crooked nose when he awoke. Simon grabbed Edwynn and hurled him at Joel and Megan. "Hold him." He didn't trust himself to do it without breaking the younger man's arm. He was just taking a breath to ask the other Cullen Security Force men what the hell was going on when the Family Fair officials stepped in and took over.
Jim had taken out Harris and then gathered Blair to his side all in one smooth movement. Blair, held tightly to Jim's chest, was murmuring softly to him, trying to calm him, "We're fine. I'm with you. There's no danger here. There's no danger. The Family is here. We're fine, my Sentinel. We're fine."
An honor guard of other Pairs surrounded Jim and Blair as Jim retreated with him to the Sentinel-Guide cabins on the other side of the Fair gates. Instinctively looking for a safe haven, Jim took Blair to the little Cabin he had claimed as his own, and which had become theirs. Shutting the door, he made a nest out of the cots and blankets and pulled Blair into it with him. Whispering soft reassurances to one another, they fell asleep, Blair assured by the presence of his Sentinel, and the Sentinel by the guarding presence of his fellow Sentinels all around them.
Cullen's Corp was disbanded the next day. A Head who had so little control over his Family was no Head at all. Stephen, as Second, was offered the Matt, but he didn't want it. His lack of loyalty to his new Family was just as telling as Harris's actions in proving Cullen's unsuitability to lead. How could he have given such important places to men like Harris, and Stephen?
Fair officials were mortified and flabbergasted by this turn of events. It was not a common occurrence for anyone to be accosted at a Family Fair and for a Guide to be attacked was particularly embarrassing. This type of news could lead to Sentinels and Guides avoiding their Fair in the future, changing the whole dynamic of the Family Fairs. Too much depended upon the Fair for them to allow that to happen.
The Heads of the Sentinel and Guide Councils were alerted, and the situation garnered a great deal of attention in the media. The new members of Cullen's, those without any direct knowledge or involvement in the situation were nevertheless feeling guilty and distressed. Other Fair officials showed up to see what kinds of advantages they could find for their own smaller Fairs. The whole of the Fair was buzzing.
For his part, Simon tried not to think the worst. He was furious and disturbed, not only because his son had been made a part of the whole mess, but also because Jim and Blair had not actually taken their Family Oaths before this "incident." He feared that Jim was too angry to come back to the Family Fair.
Jim was furious, but he was also solicitous. One minute he burned with rage that anyone should lay forceful hands on his Guide and try to coerce him to do what he didn't want to do. That his blood-brother was involved, however peripherally, just made things worse. Yet, he didn't want Blair to think that any of the anger was directed at him. So, he kept the world at bay behind the closed doors of the little cabin, and he kept in almost constant physical contact with his Guide, assuring himself that his Guide was with him and uninjured. Other Sentinels were easily enlisted by the Councils to bring food and other necessities to be left outside their door and retrieved when the deliverers were gone. Comfort foods made up most of their meals.
Blair, for his part, was mostly bewildered by all the fuss. He didn't understand what Harris thought he was doing. He was a bit overwhelmed by Jim's actions, although his Guide instincts kicked in, allowing him to willing accept Jim's need to be overprotective for a bit. He allowed Jim to dictate their sleeping arrangements and meals, and he slowly worked at bringing Jim back to calm, lighting soothing candles, speaking and singing softly, letting his worried Sentinel see that he was, indeed, there and well. Of course, as the bewilderment began to ease, he found he quite enjoyed being at the center of Jim's world. He'd never had that, even with is mother. Already a true Bonded Pair, this mini-crisis allowed them to grow even closer.
Knowing that the Sentinel had been in partial panic mode, the other Sentinels had broken into their privacy to monitor them, on and off. Usual protocols would not have allowed for this kind of intrusion, but it was carried out by senior Pairs, the same sets who also worked with the younger and newer Seekers. Jim accepted the monitoring with good will because it was extra protection for his threatened Guide.
Well over a day later, as the sun reached mid-morning, Jim relented enough to open the cabin door. He and Blair sat on the steps in the sun, drinking a fantasy blend of coffee and eating the best buttermilk donuts Jim had ever had. They had been sent over by Sara's Family, upset to think that Blair had been hurt on his way home from them. On a normal morning, Blair would certainly have stopped Jim at two; today he merely looked on indulgently as Jim reached for a fourth. Comfort foods indeed.
Now that the door was open, literally as well as figuratively, Blair gave a statement to the Family Fair officials and to the Heads of the Sentinel and Guide Houses, Jim plastered to his side the whole time. In reality, the incident was quite minor, but any violence at a Family Fair, whosoever it was directed against, was going to be treated more harshly and seriously than a similar event in the world-at-large. It was so unexpected, appalling, and stupid.
Harris and Cullen were held at the Sentinel House, Harris for minor assault and Cullen as an accessory until it was proven he had not exactly known what his Security Chief was up to. Of course, when it came out that Harris was a previously convicted criminal, and that Cullen had known it, he was thoroughly berated as a fool.
Cullen was furious. He was furious with himself, with Harris, with Stephen, with that overreacting Sentinel, and with the Fair at large. Mostly, however with himself. Stephen, his Second, the coward, had apparently left the Family Fair. He'd probably gone back to his Birth Family as was clear now he'd meant to do all along. Cullen felt fifty times a fool. Now, he'd never have the chance to Stand forth on a Matt. He'd have to put himself back out there as a simple Family member. At least he still had his incredible mathematical skills.
Other members of the broken Family were at loose ends. They thought they'd found a new Family, home, and purpose, and it had all been snatched away. The other Security personnel who'd assisted Cullen in "detaining" the young Guide had their credentials stripped. They had proven that there were not, in fact, worthy of their colors or insignia. If they wished them back, they'd need to re-Apprentice. Pink undecided badges were handed to each of them, Edwynn's with the warning that he could have been up on charges with Harris.
In one of those fabulous "truth is stranger than fiction" turnabouts, two of the members of Cullen's Security forces, Olivia and Elliot, who had not taken part in the incident, and who would have stopped Harris if they'd known about it, stopped to apologize to Simon and Daryl for what their seeming Family had done. They had actually trained as Patrollers, but had Joined Cullen's because they had known him when they were children and had a Birth Sibling who had already Joined him as Family Housekeeper.
Simon graciously pointed out that they were not to blame and invited them to sit and chat when it became clear that they had Trained with some of the same folks who had Trained Faith and Christine, but in different years. Happy reminiscences took over for sorrowful regrets. Several hours later, after hopeful looks from Christine, Faith, and Marybeth, and after seeing Joel's questioning raised eyebrow, Simon offered the two a place in his Patrol.
Overwhelmed by this turn of events, Olivia looked near to tears and Elliot not too far away himself. They had gone from Seekers to Family Members to Seekers again too quickly to accept another invitation so fast. Additionally, there were Spouses of some years, having stayed on to help Train in the Family in which they had Apprenticed, but now they had hoped to find a Home and Family because Olivia was expecting. They were overwhelmed.
Nettie, overhearing, pulled her sisters along and moved toward the distraught younger woman. This much upheaval wasn't good for any pregnant woman, especially one in the first trimester of her first pregnancy. The three older women pulled the younger one, and her Spouse, along with them back to Simon's rooms at the Hostel for a good rest. They were almost Family, and that was good enough for now. Simon and Joel smiled in approval. The three sisters were proving themselves worthy to be called The Three Mothers, a nickname first bestowed upon them by Daryl in some jest, but which now seemed to be sticking.
As true dark fell that night, Blair convinced Jim to return to the Family Fair so that the two could take Oath and Join Simon's Force as they had intended. Jim knew that in the long run they'd be better off with a Family. They couldn't live forever in the little Cabin, and a Family was the better option to remaining an otherwise unaffiliated Pair.
As the Pair stepped onto the Matt, Simon looked up hopefully. Jim nodded, quickly, once, and Blair more emphatically beside him. Simon, grinning broadly and in some relief, spoke the words, "Do you come to Join?"
As they were coming to the Family as a Pair and not as Singles, they spoke their reply in unison as did Spouses, "We ask to Join."
Simon continued, hoping that his smile wouldn't crack his face, "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?"
One more line, especially for Pairs, "Will Allow this Family to guard your Bond?"
"Be Welcome. Be Members of Simon's Force. Be known by these tokens hence." As Daryl was sleeping in the Hostel, Simon himself stepped forward to pin the Family signs on the two newest members of his Family. Unable to help himself, Blair pulled the much larger man into a quick hug. Sparing a quick glance for the grinning Sentinel, Simon returned the hug with one of his own.
Blair laughed aloud. He had achieved a lifelong dream. He was a Member of a Family. And, if that wasn't enough, he had Jim, his Sentinel. Turning, he flung himself into an embrace of that man, spinning him as he had on the day they set out for the Family Fair. And, as he had then, Jim put back his head and laughed aloud with his Guide.