This is part of my Finding Family crossover AU where Chris Larabee and Blair Sandburg learn they are father and son. The series starts with Finding Family, continues with Family and Strangers by Susan M. M., Family Business by MistyC, and Tribal Guardians again written by me. The stories written by Susan and Misty can both be found in my 'Favorite Stories' tab. While I highly recommend Susan and Misty's stories this can be read as a stand alone. This is the first time I'm posting this to an open site so your reviews would be greatly appreciated.
Jim entered the apartment, quickly shedding his damp jacket, to find Blair sitting at the kitchen table. His attention was so absorbed by the thick photo albums before him, that Blair didn't even acknowledge Jim's arrival. Remembering the special delivery that Blair had been expecting, Jim snagged two beers from the refrigerator. Joining Blair at the table, Jim set one of the bottles right next to Blair so that the cold glass chilled the back of his hand.
Startled eyes jerked up. "Jim. Wow, I'm sorry man, I didn't even notice you come in."
"It's not a problem," Jim assured as he sat beside his friend. "Are these the photo albums Chris sent you?"
"They're really more scrapbooks than photo albums," clarified Blair. "Sarah put most of the pages together." Blair's fingers traced over the papers and images reverently. "It's still hard to wrap my head around the idea that I had a stepmother I never met." Blair's voice drifted off, as his gaze was drawn to another photo; Chris Larabee kneeling beside a dark haired child of three or four between them a fishing line with a respectable sized bass hooked on the end. "A little brother I never knew," Blair continued so quietly that only Jim's Sentinel hearing enabled him to pick up the meaning of Blair's words.
Jim had just concluded that he was intruding, and was trying to think of the best way to subtly extract himself when Blair again remembered his presence and invited, "I've already finished with the other book if you wanted to take a look through it." Though the offer was made with a smile, Jim heard the uncertainty in the words. Despite the strong connection Blair had formed with his new found father, there were still moments, like now, when the situation seemed to leave Blair off balance.
Recalling the times Blair had determinedly pushed through the minefield that was Jim's family, all in the name of helping a friend, Jim decided that looking through old photos was almost too easy a way to repay the debt. The almost unheard sigh and minute relaxing of Blair's shoulders told Jim, he'd made the right choice.
Jim grabbed the album that Blair had indicated and flipped it open to the first page. On the left was a solemn faced Chris in full naval dress uniform. To the right was the smiling red head, Jim knew to be Sarah, decked out in a graduation cap and gown, holding her masters diploma for education. The next page held the title "Our first date" with pictures of quaint beach front restaurant and Chris and Sarah walking arm in arm near the surf. A pressed flower was secured to the bottom of the page. Several more panels chronicled their courtship with photos dedicated to hiking and a naval base tour. One page was dominated by a picture of Chris, Buck Wilmington and half a dozen other men in fatigues, which Jim identified as members of Chris' SEAL team. The page across from it held a picture of Sarah surrounded by a group of rather rough looking high school students, many of whom bore gang tattoos, set in a rundown class room. Jim remembered that Blair had mentioned Sarah's participation in a government program that paid her college student loans in exchange for at least two years of teaching in an underserved inner city school. Sarah had stayed at school long after her requirement had expired, leaving only when Chris' new job in law enforcement required a cross country move. But what Jim thought was most telling were the looks of respect and affection on the faces of those street hardened gang members. It took a particular type of teacher to reach teens that the rest of society had already written off as a lost cause. Jim had no doubt that Sarah had been just as tough as Chris in her own way.
Turning the page, Jim was caught off guard by black background and garish red lettering that declared, "The Bachelor Party!" Several faces from the SEAL team photo made a return visit. Most notably Buck sitting on a barstool with not one, but two strippers perched on his lap even as he leaned back to kiss another beauty as she walked by. Other pictures showed the expected toasting of the 'condemned' man and the drinking of numerous shots. But Jim favorite image was Chris on the receiving end of a lap dance, clearly torn between enjoying himself and yelling at the photographer not to take the picture. Obviously Sarah was a more tolerant woman than most of Jim's experience, to have immortalized Chris' last hurrah for all to see. Then Jim noticed the small delicate scrawl in the bottom corner, "What's good for the goose . . ." Turning the page Jim found himself laughing out loud to read, "Is great for the gander!" followed by photos of Sarah's bachelorette party, including one of a very embarrassed but determined Sarah tucking a twenty into the G-string of a well endowed male stripper.
Blair met Jim's grin across the table. "I liked those pages, too," Blair admitted. "Sarah had a pretty cool sense of humor." Despite the smile on Blair's face Jim could hear the whisper of pain in his voice.
Deciding it was time to take the bull by the horns, Jim blurted, "I don't get it, Chief. So I'm going to just ask. Why is it so important to you to learn about your dead stepmother and half-brother?"
Caught off guard by the question, Blair took a moment to answer, "I guess part of it is trying to make a personal connection with Chris, to understand him better by learning more about his history."
"But, Chief, you get along great with Chris. Certainly a hell of a lot better than I do with my father," Jim protested.
"I don't know," admitted Blair with far less certainty. "Sometimes we're together and it feels like we've known each other forever. I mean, how cool is it that he's a guide too, with his own sentinel; Vin. Sure we're both cops, but honestly his professional style is more similar to yours than mine. Sometimes I look at him and can't help but think, 'Who is this blonde Fed that I'm calling Dad?' I thought, maybe learning more about Sarah might help me know Chris as a person instead of Chris the ATF agent or the guide or even the father."
"And the rest?" asked Jim after a moment of silence. When Blair just raised his brows in query, Jim prompted, "You said the personal connection was part of it."
Looking again at the scrap book, this time a photo of little Adam in a soccer uniform, Blair confessed, "I always wanted to be a big brother. I spent the better part of the summer between fourth and fifth grade trying to convince Naomi it was time for her to have another baby. I told her I'd prefer a brother but was willing to accept a sister if that was the best she could do." A smile ghosted across Blair's face at the memory. "I actually planned out how to be the best big brother possible. What I would teach him; how I would protect him, but in the end I didn't get to be any sort of brother at all." Shaking his head Blair wondered, "How can I feel survivor's guilt over a kid I never even met?"
"I don't think logic has a lot to do with those kinds of feelings," reasoned Jim. "When you have a connection to the victim you're going to feel things like guilt."
"Not just guilt," countered Blair, "but total bafflement. Why them and not us? Why would Ella Gaines befriend Naomi, but kill Sarah? Why let one of Chris' sons live while having the other brutally murdered?"
"From what I gleaned from Buck and Vin, Ella's obsession with your father doesn't much follow any rhyme or reason," Jim said. "But I will point out that Sarah was a threat to Ella in a way that Naomi never could be. Naomi thought Chris was dead, and it was relatively easy for Ella to ensure that Naomi kept on thinking that, despite the truth. But Chris didn't just fall in love; he married Sarah; built a home and raised a family with her. Things that couldn't have happened if Ella and Chris were the soul mates Ella proclaimed. Ella's fantasy of a perfect love simply couldn't tolerate Sarah's existence. Adam's death was likely just collateral damage." Jim cringed as soon as the last words were out of his mouth. They sounded far harsher than he'd intended, but there was no way to unsay them. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize," Blair harshly commanded. "I'd rather think that, than believe that someone I thought I knew could intentionally plan the burning death of a four year old child."
Jim kept silent, thankful for Blair's automatic forgiveness, but unable to think of how to help his friend. Blair turned another page in the scrapbook then paled; his heart literally skipped a beat before racing at suddenly break-neck speed. Jim moved to see what had caused the change; bile rose in his throat when he read the delicate pink scrawl that announced, "It's a Girl!" followed by black and white ultrasound pictures including one of the baby's head and chest, a hand raised as if waving. It shouldn't have made Sarah's death worse knowing that she was pregnant yet somehow it did.
"Sister?" Blair voice took on a brittle tone. "Sarah was carrying my sister?" Blair seemed to be seeking a denial, but Jim could offer none. The right page again drove home the tragedy; the stark white background forever unfinished. A single lopsided photo tucked beneath the clear protective cover; Sarah, with Adam beside her, one hand resting on her son's shoulder while the other sat on the gentle swell of her abdomen which cradled her unborn girl. The digital time stamp confirmed the photo had been taken just two days before their deaths.
"Chief," Jim wondered how many more emotional blows Blair could absorb before it became too much.
"That bitch!" Blair's outburst was almost as startling as his actions; his arm swept out violently, clearing the table of scrapbooks and beer alike. "Ella had no right to murder them! I mean, why would she do that? Just because Sarah didn't fit into some pathetic fantasy she'd created around Chris. That's not a good enough reason!" ranted Blair, angrier than he'd ever felt before. Angrier than he'd even thought it was possible to feel.
Jim watched in helpless fascination as the understandable mix of pain, anger, regret and confusion that often accompanied grief morphed into a raw, unfiltered rage. Blair's eye's glittered; the muscles of his face were taunt with tension. Even his scent changed, becoming suddenly more dangerous. Jim reached out to rest a hand on Blair's shoulder to calm and maybe comfort. But it was shoved away as Blair sprung to his feet, knocking his chair back in the process.
"I never got it before; actually wanting to kill someone," Blair's philosophical tone was at odds with his furious appearance. "But I get it now. If Ella were here, I wouldn't have any problems killing her. In fact, I think I'd enjoy making it as slow and painful as possible." Blair began pacing franticly. "I mean, it's only fair that she should suffer just as much as they did." Blair turned to Jim asking, "Did you know that burning to death is considered to be one of the most painful and horrific ways to die? I bet Ella knew, but that didn't stop her from hiring assassins to kill a pregnant woman and a four year-old-child in exactly that way." Pain once again reasserted itself in Blair's voice, "My four-year-old brother and unborn sister. MY FAMILY!" The last two words were shouted as Blair once again struck out this time shoving a rack of glasses across the kitchen counter and down to the floor.
Jim winced at the shattering crash. The glasses could be replaced with minimal expense but Jim wasn't so sure about the clay tribal figurine now broken amongst the transparent shards. When Blair's rant had started, Jim had hoped it would help Blair to get all of the anger out of his system; now he was reconsidering. He'd never seen Blair so violent and the rage just seemed to keep escalating. "Blair," Jim didn't know what to say.
"You haven't heard the best part," Blair continued through Jim's uncertainty. "Guess where I was while Adam was choking on smoke and Sarah was curling vainly around her son trying to protect him from the flames," demanded Blair, pacing before the bookcases. He answered his own question before Jim could speak. "I was at an off-campus bar sharing drinks with Naomi and Ella."
"Chief," The situation was worse than Jim had first thought.
"That's right! While Sarah, Adam and my baby sister were burning to death, I was tossing back beers with the woman who'd paid to have them murdered."
"You couldn't have known, Chief," Jim insisted.
"But I should have," countered Blair with a white knuckled grip on the end bookshelf. "I should have known!" With Blair's shout the bookshelf became his latest casualty.
Jim leapt forward even as Blair stumbled back, barely avoiding the contents of the shelves that thundered down. When Jim steadied his friend, Blair's surprise at his own actions seemed to have finally pulled him out of the rage induced fog he'd been in. "It's all right, Blair. We can clean this up together." Left unsaid was that Jim had no idea how to help Blair with his emotional wreckage.
Blair swallowed convulsively, "Not . . . I can't . . . need."
It pained Jim to hear his normally verbose roommate reduced to inarticulate stammers. Finally, Blair shook his head in frustration and stalked out to the balcony. Jim let Blair go without a word, hoping that the fresh air would clear his head and cool his temper. Picking up the scrapbooks and mopping up beer gave Jim something to focus on beyond Blair's emotional turmoil. Though Jim wished he could clean up Blair's troubles as easily as he cleaned up the broken glass; life simply didn't work that way. But maybe with a little superglue he could at least fix Blair's tribal figurine.
Out on the balcony, Blair's mind was still spinning with a hurricane of emotions, none of them pleasant. He knew he owed Jim a huge apology for tearing up the loft. He also acknowledged that at the moment he wasn't in the proper frame of mind to apologize to anyone about anything. Truthfully, Blair barely remembered creating his path of destruction. Far more vivid were his twisted imaginings of Sarah and Adam trapped in a burning vehicle. As soon as his mind wondered back to death of his unmet family, the rage started surging again. Blair's attempts to stifle the wave proved ineffective, perhaps because he'd never been forced to deal with such overwhelming fury before. Sure there had been times when he'd been justifiably angry over some political or social wrong. But that shared no comparison with the dark pit of hatred that currently swirled within him. Blair's tried and true meditation techniques felt about as effective as treading water with leg cramps. He now knew that "Seeing red" was more than just a euphemism; and it certainly bore no resemblance to looking at the world through rose colored glasses. Probably the strangest part of the whole situation was that for a short while Blair had welcomed the rage as a quick escape from the grief and pain. For a few moments it had felt good to completely cut loose and vent his fury. Those good feelings had quickly ebbed away once Blair had literally stumbled out of his red haze; leaving a wake of confusion and shame regarding his reckless actions.
Blair was hesitant to answer the sudden ring of his cell phone, until he recognized the ringtone and felt compelled to pick up. "Hello, Chris."
"Blair, are you alright?" Larabee was typically to the point.
"What makes you ask?" countered Blair as he tried to cover the stress in his voice.
"The sudden feeling that it was vital that I reach you," admitted Chris. When he was hit with a feeling this strong Chris always went with his gut and made no apologies for doing so.
A mirthless chuckle escaped Blair's lips, "I thought I was supposed to be the Shaman/Guide of the family."
"Maybe this has nothing to do with being a shaman or a guide and everything to do with being a father," said Chris. When Blair's only response was a tired sigh, Chris persisted, "What's going on?"
"Sarah . . . Sarah was pregnant when they died?" Blair knew the answer to his question despite his hope that he was wrong.
"Yeah," said Chris in a subdued voice. "Yeah, Sarah was pregnant. She was more than four months along but we'd kept it pretty quiet. Sarah had had a third trimester miscarriage two years before. We were walking on eggshells; scared history would repeat itself. After the fire I was so overwhelmed with the loss of Sarah and Adam, I couldn't even think about the could-have-beens with the baby. Guess I just buried it; put it out of my mind." After a moment Chris added, "I wasn't trying to keep anything from you."
"No, I didn't think you were," assured Blair. "I thought I was dealing with everything involved in learning I'd had a family that was already gone, but when I saw those ultrasound pictures. . . I don't know. Suddenly I was screaming and throwing things; knocking over furniture. I've never been like that when I got angry before. It was like I needed to destroy everything within reach to keep the pain at bay."
"Rage can be a hard thing to control once it wells up inside you," observed Chris from years of personal experience. "I think it's worse for you in some ways. I've noticed how deeply you feel things and this situation leaves you pretty screwed."
"What?" asked Blair in surprise. "I'm not the guy who lost his wife, son and unborn daughter."
"No, but I had eight years with Sarah and almost five with Adam. Good years that built a lot of good memories," explained Chris. "You've got all of the pain and anger of losing them; the regret of what should have been, without a single memory to balance things out. It's a recipe for disaster. I wish I had a way to erase that rage for you, but I don't"
Blair was silent; wondering what to do next. He didn't want to feel these violent emotions, especially when he thought of Adam. Yet it wasn't as though he could magically go back in time to meet them to balance things out, as Chris had said. Or could he? "Dad, what was it like when Adam was born?"
"I was actually driving home from work when Sarah called to tell me her water broke, not because she was having contractions, but because she happened to sneeze," chuckled Chris.
Blair leaned back against the glass of the doors and soaked up Chris' remembrances; adopting them as his own.