Title: The Breath You Take
Rating: PG
Warnings: off-screen violence, angst undertones beneath the bitter sweetly fluffy exterior
Characters/Pairings: Sheridan/Luis, very brief mention of Theresa, original characters
Summary: prompt: sigh. "…I am your personal Dragon Slayer, am I not?"

"I want you to go to your room," Luis's voice was stern, low and tightly controlled to keep from waking the sleeping boy slumped over his shoulder as he fumbled with the jangling set of keys in his free hand, his dark brows angry slashes in the ghostly pall of the lurking moon. "I want you to think about what you're going to say to Jordan when you apologize tomorrow," he told the brooding little brunette pointedly staring straight ahead as he stabbed at the lock in frustration with the wrong key. He swatted at the faux, gauzy cobwebs that fluttered in the night breeze in agitation and snapped his eyes down to the glowering little sprite. "Maddie, are you listening to me?"

Finally, Sheridan placed a cooler, calmer hand over his own, relieved her husband of the ring of keys, and soon, they were spilling into the darkened living room, Siah's jack-o-lantern offering them an awkwardly out of place, flickering grin in welcome. "She hears you, Luis," Sheridan answered for her stepdaughter, "and she's going to go to her room, aren't you, Maddie?"

Small arms crossed defiantly across her chest, Maddie tromped toward her room in response to Sheridan's question, her fairy wings crooked and torn and her Tinkerbell slippers worn and dirty and, thankfully, almost completely silent against the hardwood.

"And make it good, Maddie," Luis warned just seconds before Maddie's door slammed behind her, with enough force to rattle the various picture frames that littered the hallway's walls. "Madeline Elizabeth," he bit out when Siah's blond head snapped upright, his green hat with its jaunty red feather fluttering to the floor at Luis's feet.

"Don't be mad," the little boy croaked, rubbing tiredly at his gritty eyes with his small fists. "Mommy," Siah reached for Sheridan with his short arms, twined himself around her like a little monkey on a vine when Luis handed him over, glanced back at Luis over his skinny shoulder with green eyes that fairly glowed with unease. "Tell Luis not to be mad at Maddie," he pouted.

Sheridan feathered careful fingers through the sweaty gold strands of her son's hair, murmured against his sleep-warm brow and marveled at his fierce need to always protect those he loved, "Luis isn't mad, Siah."

Luis's irate expression softened considerably under his stepson's suspicious gaze, and he made a sighing admission, "I'm not mad, Siah. I'm disappointed. You understand the difference, don't you?" He waited for the small boy to nod his head before he continued, eased a calming hand through his hair, and tugged absently at the too-tight collar of his royal costume (Prince Phillip had been Theresa's choice for him, Sleeping Beauty for Sheridan…he'd been uncomfortable the whole night, but he'd indulged his sister's latest flight of fancy without too much complaint, and Sheridan loved him all the more for it). "Maddie knows better. Whatever Jordan said to her wasn't worth fighting over. A bloody nose is bad enough, but Jordan could have been even more seriously hurt, Siah. Do you have any idea what he said to upset Maddie?"

Sheridan winced as Siah's small arms tightened around her neck in a virtual vice. She adjusted the boy in her arms, met and held Luis's dark gaze in concern when Siah's nose found the night-cooled crook of her neck, and he hid his face from them in seeming shame, his small back racked with fine tremors of anxiety. "Do you know why Maddie and Jordan were fighting, Siah?" she gently prodded as she stroked her palm soothingly up and down her son's velvet covered back.

Siah's fingers twisted fretfully into the low neckline of her pink gown in response, and he whimpered when she prompted him again for an answer.

"Josiah Crane."

"It's okay, Siah," Luis urged quietly. "You can tell us."

"I don't want to," Siah whined, pushing from Sheridan's protective embrace and scrambling across the room to the relative safe haven of the sofa so that he could hide himself from their watchful eyes, their probing questions. Pillows scattered to the floor in his wake, and his beloved furry friend with them.

Luis stooped to gather Milo in hand, regarded the wise button eyes for several seconds before he joined Siah on the sofa, stretched out his long legs. He sighed, low and tired, began slowly loosening the long row of buttons on his shirt. When he was halfway done, he stopped, and reached a long arm out to snag a couple of pieces of candy from the decorative bowl resting on the coffee table between Siah's jack-o-lantern and the spoils of Maddie's latest art project. Removing the orange wrapper, Luis bit into the peanut butter cup, chewed thoughtfully before he offered one to Siah when he noticed he had recaptured the little boy's attention. "It's Reese's. Your favorite."

Hesitantly, a little hand extended, and Siah scooted closer to accept the gift of chocolate, his green eyes still wary and drowsy. He pulled his feet underneath him, made himself into as small a ball as possible, and made a whispered admission. "Maddie and Jordan were fighting because Jordan's mean. He says ugly things."

"What kinds of ugly things?" Sheridan frowned as she took a step closer, her mind whirling with questions that went unspoken, the worst being too painful to bear further thought (had Jordan somehow stumbled upon the truth about Siah and attacked him and Maddie with it in a child's uniquely careless, cruel way?).

Her son answered her in the vaguest sense possible, with an uncomfortable shrug of his small shoulders and a wary glance in the direction of Maddie's bedroom. "Just things."

Sheridan opened her mouth to question Siah further, but Luis dissuaded her with a subtle shake of his head. She suppressed a sigh of disappointment and joined her two guys on the sofa, settling against the remaining pillows in a whisper of billowing fabric. She felt her heart flutter almost painfully beneath her ribs when Siah's small hand tiptoed across the small space separating them to reverently stroke her silky skirt.

"I think you're the prettiest Sleeping Beauty there ever was," Siah told her, the truth of his heart shining back at her in his large green eyes. "My favorite princess."

"He's right," Luis agreed, meeting and holding her stare for what seemed like an infinite moment. "Way prettier than the Sleeping Beauty I remember."

Her cheeks burning, Sheridan grabbed Siah's small hand in her own and brought it up to her lips, pressed a thankful kiss to the sticky little palm before winking at the boy and offering her husband a wicked smile. "You don't look like any prince I remember. In fact, I think Luis looks more like a dark and dangerous pirate. Wouldn't you agree, Siah?"

"Like Captain Hook," Siah giggled tiredly as he cuddled close, rest his sandy head against her breast.

"If Luis is Captain Hook and Maddie is Tinkerbell, what does that make me, my dear little Peter?" Sheridan teased softly. "Wendy?"

Siah's brow furrowed in sluggish contemplation. After a moment, he had it all sorted out. "You can't be Wendy if you're already Sleeping Beauty, and Luis can't be Captain Hook because he's your prince. He has to fight the scary dragons," he insisted with a helpless yawn, the evening's excitement rapidly overtaking him again.

"Yeah," Luis joked, his black eyes dancing with humor. "Siah's absolutely right. I am your personal Dragon Slayer, am I not?"

There was more truth in his teasing question than he perhaps realized, and Sheridan answered him with tears suddenly threatening, and the light moment took on a much heavier, thoughtful weight as she held her little lost boy close. "You are. You always have been."

"I always will be," Luis vowed as he delivered Milo into Siah's sleepy possession and stood. He bent to place a lingering kiss upon her lips, tenderly cradled her face in his large, warm palm, then smiled fondly at Siah before folding the boy into his capable embrace.

"You don't have to," Sheridan protested.

"I know," Luis answered her, "but Maddie needs some more time to cool down, and this one's not exactly a lightweight anymore."

"He's growing so fast," Sheridan marveled wistfully. "Soon, he won't be so little. He won't be…"

Luis cut her off before her thoughts could lead her further astray, kissed her once more, this time on the forehead. "Soon isn't now," he reminded her. "Check in on Maddie for me? I'm not her favorite person right now."

Sheridan's good humor was restored by his somewhat ridiculous statement. "That I find hard to believe. You're her favorite person always."

Luis gifted her with a disbelieving smile. His smile grew more genuine when she captured his hand with her own smaller hand, leaned forward to brush a feather-light kiss to his knuckles. "Check in on her?"

"I will," Sheridan promised. She watched him disappear down the hall with her son in his arms, swallowed down the swell of emotion the sight inspired in her as she climbed to her feet, straightened up around the living room. She picked up Siah's green hat, smiled at the cheerful red feather before placing the hat on the coffee table with the children's loot from the party, and dimmed the lights in her wake as she followed Luis's example. With little more than a few steps, Sheridan was in front of Maddie's door, her hand poised to knock. She decided, instead, to let herself in, knowing from past experience that the element of surprise was her better bet where the little girl was concerned. "Maddie," she softly called as the door creaked open. "You still awake?"

Maddie's brown head disappeared from view in a flurry of blankets and sniffling tears as soon as the door to her bedroom was opened. "No." Her voice was muffled but unmistakably wobbly as she ordered, "Go away."

Sheridan suppressed her smile as she approached the child, gently tugged the blankets back as she eased onto the foot of the small twin bed, only to have Maddie flop dramatically onto her other side, hauling the blankets with her (her fairy wings were still on, Sheridan noticed, crooked and a little smudged, but stubborn and defiant, just like the little girl who wore them). "I'm not here to lecture you, Maddie." Sheridan kept her voice soft, her tone gentle. "I'm just here to make sure you're okay. Are you okay, Maddie?"

Maddie sniffled again, loudly, when Sheridan's hand settled on her skinny shoulder, but she didn't look at her, gazed obstinately ahead. She inhaled a shaky breath when she felt the cool, motherly touch of Sheridan's fingertips on her cheek, turned her head to stare at her stepmother with damp brown eyes. "Jordan is a big fat jerk!"

"Siah told us," Sheridan murmured, calmly collecting Maddie's tears as they continued to fall. She inwardly winced when the girl shrank from her touch with her revelation, spit out a disappointed accusation.

"He wasn't supposed to tell. He promised."

"Siah didn't break his promise to you, Maddie," Sheridan assured her. "He told us only that Jordan was mean, that he said ugly things that upset you. What kind of ugly things, Maddie?"

Maddie stared at her for a long moment, then turned her face into her pillow, mumbled her reply as her narrow shoulders shrugged. "Just things. Anyway. I set him straight. He won't say them again."

Sheridan sighed, let her hands linger as she tugged the blankets back up to Maddie's mulishly set chin. She tucked the little girl's short brown hair behind one ear and stood to leave. "Next time, Maddie, you come get Luis or me before deciding fighting is the best answer, okay? Okay?" she repeated.

"Okay," Maddie grudgingly agreed. A beat later, she asked in a tiny voice before Sheridan could go far, "Is Luis mad at me?"

"He's not mad at you, Sweetheart," Sheridan reassured her. But she didn't mince any words. "You let him down. But he's not angry. He just wanted to give you time to think about what you did and why you did it, and you two will talk it out in the morning."

"He still loves me?"

Sheridan felt her heart melt with Maddie's insecurity-laced question, and she quickly retraced her steps to kneel at the little girl's bedside as she gathered her in her arms, hugged her as tightly as she dared as salty tears dampened her skin. "Are you kidding? Luis loves you all the way to the moon and back. I love you too." And it was true. Somewhere along the line, acceptance of Maddie had turned into love, and she had managed to look past the thorns of this difficult little rose of a child to the beauty underneath.

"You do?" Maddie sniffled, lifted her stubborn chin and stared up at Sheridan in disbelief.

"I do," Sheridan smiled as she smoothed back Maddie's rumpled hair, lowered her hand to trace the tattered edges of her fairy's wings before helping her take them off.

Maddie's hopeful expression crumpled with the first sight of them. "He ruined them. They'll never be the same."

"Maybe not, but they're not beyond repair," Sheridan told her. "I'll help you put them back together." Just like Luis did me, she thought to herself as her mouth brushed against the fine brown strands.

Maddie loosened her hold, sank back against her pillows, and rubbed tiredly at her teary eyes. "Tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow when you get home from school," Sheridan pledged. "Now," she rose slowly from the bed, smoothed the wrinkles from her full pink skirt, "get some sleep." She smiled down at Maddie.

"Sheridan?" Maddie shyly smiled back. "You were very pretty tonight."

Happiness took flight like furious butterflies flitting along Sheridan's veins as she paused in the open doorway, felt her smile stretch wide. "Thank you, Maddie. You were too."

Have I really not updated this story since December?

Time, more and more lately, is just getting away from me.


Tom, I hope this chapter doesn't have you missing my writing still (lol). I finally managed to write something I wasn't completely unhappy with and posted it; I hope you enjoy it.

Guest (sorry, you did not leave a name and I don't want to make any assumptions), first let me say thank you for your feedback. I appreciate every piece of feedback I get, even if it's feedback like yours. Truly. Secondly, I want to tell you that I respect your stance. You are, indeed, on base with the conclusions that you've drawn from previous chapters. I didn't originally set out to write this particular story this way, but it's largely written itself to this point. I guess it all stemmed from my desire to write something a little different than my norm, stretch myself a little bit. It's difficult subject matter, I know, and I'm not trying to step on any toes or turn anybody off. I'm just trying to tell a story that wouldn't let me go until I posted the prologue, and it's really dug its heels in now. So, while I hate to lose you as a reader to this particular story (hope not any others of mine that you may be reading), I completely understand as I've backed away for far less serious reasons (although...murder of the English language is pretty serious, IMO...not saying I'm perfect, either). Thanks for giving this story a shot this far.

Anybody else reading this story and not commenting...thank you, too, for reading.

I appreciate you, even if I am disappointed that you don't sometimes speak up, tell me that you're reading and enjoying the story (or reading and not enjoying the story). Feedback is something I dearly miss from the good old days of Passions heyday, and I adore it. I won't quit writing without it, and I will never hold chapters hostage waiting for it, but I won't lie and say I wouldn't love some.

Feedback, as I've often said, is love, love, love!

Thanks so much for reading!

Until next time...