TITLE: THE ONE CONSTANT

AUTHOR: MINN

DISCLAIMER: I don't own nothin' - mores the pity - just playing. No character was really harmed during the typing of this nonsense. The creators of Third Watch are, of course, gods

CHEERS! to all the kind folks who said such nice things about my maiden outing "Grace", and about the follow-up-story-that-isn't-really, "The Replacement".

EXPLAINATION: This here tale gets into the nuts and bolts of how Gracie came to be. If you have no idea who Gracie is, it might pay you to have a wee looksee at my other stories "Grace" and "The Replacement", which basically lead up to this here offering.

FORGIVE ME!: Everything I write I can guarantee is the work of my own sick and twisted little mind - but if anything I write does resemble something that's gone before I can assure you it's pure coincidence - (hangs head in shame) because I don't actually READ much fic (sorry to all the wonderful authors on this site!) But have had occasion to catch up with a few stories recommended by others and have enjoyed them immensely. (Can I stop greasing now?) Also, if you see a phrase or a word that seems a bit odd it's because I'M FOREIGN! New Zealand English is a WHOLE different animal - but I've tried to be careful.

SOMETHING ELSE TO NOTE: Season Four of Third Watch hasn't started screening in New Zealand yet so I haven't actually seen the 'new improved' Fr*d or The Anti Cruz. I promise I will do rewrites the MINUTE I do get the opportunity to see them, but in the meantime I beg your collective indulgence on this - if these two characters sound a little "off" in this fic, don't worry - I'll fix the blighters eventually! And so on with the show...

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THE ONE CONSTANT

Part 3

Leaning back against the door of the room, Faith listened as the latch clicked into place. Before her lay the sum total of her world: a strange room in a stranger's home.

Faith let her eyes survey her new surroundings. It wasn't a large space, but like the rest of the apartment it was tastefully decorated and spotless. There was a dresser, a small closet, a small double bed, a bedside table with a lamp and the crib in which her daughter lay asleep. A suitcase containing the belongings she had managed to gather together that morning sat beside her just inside the door.

Pushing herself wearily from the door she covered the few steps it took to reach the bed and sat down. In the pool of golden light cast by the lamp her daughter slept peacefully, her face a picture of undisturbed repose.

Faith watched the gentle rise and fall of her chest and gazed fondly at the angelic sweetness of the little girl. Like any child her age Gracie could be hard work, but her generally pleasant temperament more than made up for the moments she was not so placid and easygoing.

In a life that in the last year and a half had taken some sudden, surprising and sometimes not so pleasant turns, Faith felt she had made some spectacularly bad choices. Going ahead with the pregnancy was not one of them. Grace Eve had turned out to be the one truly positive thing to come of it all. Even when it became clear that Gracie was undoubtedly a product of one of her poorer life decisions, Faith could not bring herself to feel anything but the keenest sense of delight that the little girl was now part of her existence.

But as she watched her daughter her mind began to fill with thoughts of the man who had loved the little girl as his own. His voice echoed in her head, drowning out a thousand other voices and memories that battled for her attention.

"'To every thing there is a season," she heard him say, "and a time to every purpose under the heaven.'"

Her tears came swiftly.

-

On the wall behind the dining table was a collection of photographs, precious moments forever suspended in time and lovingly framed.

Faith's tired eyes ranged over the assembly of memories, misery niggling at her as thoughts of her own collection of photos came to mind. Behind her she could hear Gracie happily chuckling to herself, as she always seemed inclined to do whenever she was in her carry cot. For whatever reason it was Gracie's happy place.

With rare exceptions the photos on Isabelle's wall were exquisite and had a professional quality about them. Isabelle herself featured in several, but by and large seemed mostly absent. Invariably though, when she did appear in a portrait she was the one whose smile shone the brightest, or the one others were hugging with the greatest vigour.

Over the four days Faith and Gracie had been her guests, Isabelle had proven herself to be a warm and compassionate host, a great cook, and incorrigible teller of witty stories. It was Isabelle who had comforted Faith when Charlie refused to take his mother's calls, when Emily had abused her roundly, and when her father had hung up on her without allowing her to speak to her mother.

Faith tried to be understanding, but while she couldn't blame any of them for their feelings, it hurt so deeply to be cast out from those closest to her. Compounding the hurt was the knowledge that it was she and she alone who had brought the situation upon herself.

Isabelle found her staring at the photo that took central pride of place on the wall, that of Isabelle and her husband on their wedding day.

"How long were you married?" Faith asked her quietly.

"Almost 45 years," Isabelle replied.

Faith nodded sadly.

"It wasn't all crystals and rainbows, Faith, let me assure you," she said, heading for the kitchen to make coffee. Faith followed. "Bill, as much as I loved him, could be the biggest pain in the ass known to man."

A small smile tugged at the corners of Faith's mouth.

"Well he was!" Isabelle declared. "Excellent provider, great lover, I have to say. But a woman's place, as far as he was concerned, was under a man's thumb. The battle we had over my wanting to work." She shook her head.

"But you won."

Isabelle looked up and gazed out of the window above the sink. "No. I just got my own way. Sometimes it's no victory - trust me on that."

With the coffee and cups arranged snugly on a beautiful wooden tray, they headed for the couch. Gracie watched them approach from her perch atop the coffee table, and giggled.

"I sometimes think," said Isabelle, placing the tray next to Gracie, "that if I'd been more of a doormat, Bill wouldn't have screwed around so much."

Faith looked at her in surprise.

"I realise now of course that that was just the kind of man Bill was. He'd have had mistresses regardless."

"Mistresses?"

"Four that I know of."

Faith's eyebrows shot upwards. "At the same time?"

"No, no. He was a dog, but he wasn't superman," Isabelle chuckled. "One after the other over the years. I actually met two of them, and I have to say, Bill had excellent taste in women."

Faith couldn't begin to hide the look of amazement on her face.

"I thought he'd be one of those men who met his Maker while caught in a compromising position," Isabelle mused as she poured the coffee. "Turns out an aneurism got there first."

"I'm sorry," Faith murmured.

"Don't be. He had a long life and a good life."

Isabelle handed Faith her cup and Gracie watched, fascinated.

"Faith, I would like you to tell me what happened between you and Fred and Gracie's father."

Faith stared at her and Isabelle returned the look calmly.

"I know it's none of my damn business," Isabelle said, sipping her coffee. "But let me tell you this. When Bill died I wrapped myself up in my own little world and I wouldn't come out. I'd never told a soul about Bill's dalliances and it was killing me. My sister, who knows me well enough to know when I'm holding something in, sat me down one day and told me she wasn't going to leave till I'd 'fessed up to what was bothering me."

"Confession good for the soul," Faith said softly.

"Something like that," Isabelle smiled. "But in my case it was just that I needed to have my burden shared with someone willing to listen - someone who wouldn't judge me."

Faith looked away.

"You've been through hell, Faith. I can see that. What I'm offering you is a shoulder to cry on and a willing ear for your troubles. I can do no more."

"You've done enough already," Faith said.

"Like what? Assuaged my own loneliness by taking in someone who needed a bit of help?" She shook her head dismissively. "If my children and grandchildren had the decency to live closer I'd be happier. They don't, and I'm not. I'm just a nosy old woman trying to fill her empty life. So consider yourself unofficially adopted my dear. Now," she said getting comfortable where she sat. "Spill."

"I don't know where to start," Faith said quietly.

"Well, does your lover have a name or did his mother have the incredible foresight to christen him Gracie's Father?"

Faith bit her bottom lip. She didn't feel comfortable hearing him described as her 'lover'. "Bosco," she murmured.

"Bosco?"

"Short for Boscorelli - Maurice Boscorelli. Bos."

"OK," Isabelle crooned. "And if you were to describe Bos in 3 words, what would they be...?"

Faith let her mind drift back in time...

TBC - NOW we're getting to the meat and 'taters - kiwi expression for 'the good stuff'. Hang on tight - this is a crystals and rainbows free zone...well, almost...