Title: Seven Swans A-Swimming
Author: Shatterpath
Feedback address: shatterpath@shatterstorm.net
Date in Calendar: 20 December 2007
Fandom: Bad Girls / CSI
Pairing: Nikki/Helen, Catherine/Sara/Dace
Rating: PG
Word Count: 6698
Summary: On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven swans a-swimming.
Advertisement: Part of the FSAC:DW07


Note: 20 (Friday): The Vegas and Colorado crews comes into NY for Christmas. The Vegas contingent includes Sara, Olivia, Alex C, Anastasia and Tessa. That leaves Steph and Jason in charge and Monica and Dana have been delayed. The meeting between Dace and Nikki is tense and their opposite Guides find themselves holding them back. The Colorado crew is later in the day, where Emily and the twins jump on Nikki and Helen in fascination.

Seven in the Vegas party! Flying in over the Hudson River.

Beta: mrswoman

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,seven swans a-swimming.

++ Dace ++


"Pair of nines," Sara crows and the rest of us groan and toss our now useless cards into a pile. My sweet Sunshine has been beating the collective pants off the whole lot of us and she is positively aglow with the childlike pleasure of it all. Playing Texas Shoot Out had been Tessa's idea to pass the flight and we've been cracking up the entire time. Luckily for us, the Queen of Hearts seems to have sets of poker chips stashed everywhere, including the company plane. Right now, Sara has already forced out Catherine and Anastasia by taking all their chips and I'm getting pretty close to bankruptcy myself.

Abruptly, the plane drops sickeningly and I grab Tessa, who's the only one not in a chair. She clings to me as the plane shudders alarmingly before settling. The chips are scattered everywhere, but all of our faces indicate that no one is upset by the game being so abruptly terminated by turbulence.

"That's okay," Alex says with forced calm. "Sara was fleecing the hell out of us anyway."

Amused and outraged, Sara splutters, but the fearful moment is broken. With a light shove and a slap on the ass, I send Tessa across the aisle to sit with Anastasia and Catherine. "Go buckle up."

Right on cue, the pilot informs us that the storm over Illinois has worsened and the turbulence may be plaguing us for some time.

"Oh goodie," Olivia sneers even as the plane shimmies again. Sara presses herself into my arm, not enjoying this at all. Freaked out myself, I share a reassuring look with Cath even as I wrap my arm around Sara's shoulders and pull her close.

Over the next hour, the plane bucks and drops like a pissed off bronco, once actually slamming Sara's skull into my chin and making the lights flicker alarmingly. Rubbing my jaw, I chuckle, "good thing you don't skimp on the quality of your toys, My Lady."

++ Anastasia ++

Habitually irreverent, my King has managed to relax the whole lot of us with her quip. Fortunately for our collective sanity, the storm is moving west and New York City is in the clear. All seven of us press to the windows as best we can to admire the sharp winter sunshine glitter off of the snaking line of the Hudson and the endless expanse of the Atlantic. It's a lovely, dramatic sight.

Sara is fussing over Dace's reddened jaw, mournful that the head butt will probably leave a bruise. Dace merely laughs that it will only add to her strikingly dramatic appearance. She's dressed in more of the electric blue silk that is so spectacular on her, whispering over her body that has finally taken on some healthy curves.

Since being so brutally damaged by Snake-Eyes all those months ago, she has worried all of us with the thin and often unhealthy appearance that she seemed unable to shake completely. Pregnancy has finally cured it and she glows with health and vibrancy.

"She does look great, doesn't she," Catherine sighs adoringly beside me and I startle a bit at my obvious transparency. "I feared she'd never recover completely."

"Well, this time I think we're all happy that we were all wrong about that!"

"Amen to that."

We're forced to circle for an extra half hour while ground crews de-ice the runways, but eventually we touch down onto terra firma.

All seven of us breathe a sigh of relief.

It had taken some haranguing for Michael not to send out the Spades welcome wagon, but this is a family vacation and not business. However, I did agree to the stretch limousine and accompanying luggage van which are waiting inside of the enclosed hanger. To our combined delight, it is Ben and Ian that are our drivers and I mock them about not wanting formality. Ian smiles and placates me with charm.

"Not business, My Lady. We wanted to see you and ensure that all goes to your expectations."

++ Helen ++

The last few days have not been as relaxing as I would have liked, but the girls are such good company that I find I don't mind. Even now, they're playing a version of 'tag' that's beginning to get too rambunctious for the mostly empty restaurant. I've declined on the roughhousing, content to soak up the thin winter sunshine that bathes our home away from home and makes the city sparkle.

But my relaxed mood is stirred by a strange sensation, something almost dangerous. It's not unlike someone staring intently, but a glance around confirms that is not the cause. What could it be? It's strong, like smelling something and a taste appearing in your mouth. Puzzled, I climb to my feet, looking about for an explanation for the strange energies thrumming through me.

A boisterous group of people, mostly women, stumble in from the outdoors, happy voices carrying through the quiet.

Time seems to slow like film as these next few crucial seconds play out, already drawing me irresistibly in.

Lindsey squeals happily for her mother and a small figure breaks from the group to scoop the girl up in a hug. But there is another there, tall and strikingly fair amidst the others. There is something about the way she stands and the lines of her slender body that grab me by instincts I barely understand and propel me into action.

There is threat here and I know that I must intervene.

Even as the fair woman tenses like a wild animal, I have invaded her space. I never get this close to strangers, really, I never do, but here I am, with the soft and firm of her belly and lower ribs hot against my hands and I don't hesitate even an instant to push my whole small weight against her.

Startled, pale eyes drop to mine and I am struck dumb. In her gaze, pale blue swirled with sunshine gold; is the very thing that Lindsey tried so very hard to explain to me.

"'Kinnell," I breathe the expletive softly, completely gobsmacked with this complete stranger.

++ Catherine ++

It happens fast, the way things around Sentinels do. One must keep her wits about her in my role as Guide. So, even as Lindsey twists in my hold, I notice the almost familiar body language in the tall, dark stranger standing close to my daughter.

I'll bet every well-honed instinct who this is.

Luckily, she seems completely at a loss of what to do and I can set Lindsey aside to respond to my alarmed Guide instincts. Tension flows from the woman to my bold hands, down my arms to my wildly pounding heart. Startled, almost feral eyes, rich and earthy like Sara's, jerk down to meet mine. She is a striking looker, particularly stark and wild like this, but I like that in a person, obviously.

"Nikki," I say quietly, pressing my hands just a bit more firmly to her belly and ribs, holding her captive with that gentle touch and the power of my will alone. Bewildered, she is frozen here, torn at how to react. Dace's echoing confusion reaches me clearly, but the threat of what might have played out as some kind of confrontation has passed. "Hi," I say inanely, trying to bring Nikki back to herself. "I'm Catherine Willows, Lindsey's mother."

Her mouth moves, but only a confused animal sound comes out. Gently, I reach up and press two fingers to her lips.

"Shh. It's okay. Nothing happened, everyone's fine. Come, sit down and I'll introduce you properly to Dace." Once a shaken Nikki has done as I say, I pin Lindsey and Jamie, who look unnerved, with my most serious 'mom' look. "Stay with her. If she moves, sit on her."

That leaves me to contend with what must be the Guide, Helen. She still has small hands pressed to Dace's torso and they watch each other in open curiosity, but jump when I step into their dance space. Forcibly, but still gentle, I pull Dace's chin around until her gaze is pinned by mine. Irresistible, my will calls to her, chasing away the zone-out. Long moments pass as I soothe away the gold currents in her azure eyes and the beast within.

Once Dace sags, her head resting on my shoulder, I look to this new Guide, fascinated myself, though not as much as my Sentinel!

++ Nikki ++

I am shaken to my core.

Trembling, I accept the glass of beer that one of the newcomers presses into my hand, not caring that the noon hour hasn't even arrived yet. All I can see in my mind's eyes is a replay of the strength of my reaction to these strangers.

All I can remember is the last time I reacted so strongly.

He was a big man and his beefy hands made Trish look helpless where he gripped her throat, tore her shirt... In a blind rage, me, smashing a half-empty bottle over his head.

He laughed, those hands pawing Trish's powerless body.

Red washing over my senses, rage driving away my human social boundaries, the vengeful thrust of the weapon in my hand...

... the heat of his life's blood on my hands, thick, sticky, the smell making me nauseous and strangely powerful.

By the time rational thought reappeared, it was too late. Dead, the monster in the guise of what we should trust lay dead, his eyes still mocking.

I hadn't lied to the detective inspectors who took me into custody, still in shock. There was no regret, not at that time. The regret came later, when I could actually process what happened, when I was locked away from society, from those who hate me now.

Jerked back to the present by small, gentle hands, I stare into the concerned gazes of these American children who I already love like family...

... and cannot stop the tears.

++ Dace ++

Once again, it is the Coyote that calls me home. Like an affectionate lick to the muzzle, the friendly and loving whine of mates in greeting, she soothes me into calm. "Catherine," I breathe, collapsing into her strength, completely belied by her small stature.

"I'm here," she whispers, her head turning for a moment, her tone changing. "She needs you, Helen."

The new one moves away abruptly, called by the brittle emotional pain I can sense like a lightning storm. As my rational mind reasserts itself, memories of what Lindsey and Jamie told us about this new pair return to me. It had completely shocked me that this new hero of theirs, this European Sentinel, was an ex-con.

That she killed a police officer.

Part of me still bristles, remembering all those long years I wore the badge, walked the thin blue line. Even with the victim being a crooked, raping bastard, there is part of me that still bristles. But I also hear the broken sobs and know that this is no cold-blooded killer.

And I understand all too well that she can be driven to that extreme.

I have felt it myself.

Suddenly, I realize that I am shaking like a leaf and practically collapse into a nearby booth, where Anastasia and the others watch me with silent concern. They have long since learned that only Catherine can get through to me when things go this weird.

It's not until I covetously eye the glasses of wine and beer on the table that isolation of silence is broken. "Was it like that with Jim?" Anastasia's voice is soft, as is her elegant hand on my bicep. My humorless laugh is not the reaction she expects and her mercurial eyes reflect that.

"No," I force past my tight throat, returning my gaze to Nikki and Helen, clinging still. "This somehow seems much, much worse."

++ Helen ++

Appalled at my wandering eye, I do my damnedest to ignore the stranger behind me, her intensity like a hot fire, almost close enough to burn. Trapped between that and Nikki's raging emotional storm front, I have to wonder if the ensuing hurricane might not tear me apart.

Yet, somehow I am truly starting to comprehend my role as the Guide for the first time. When Nikki calls me her rock, her home, her heart, it truly goes deeper than any ordinary love. She needs me. Not just as her lover and friend, but something deeper. We cling together, losing track of where I leave off and she begins. The coveted thick inky dark hair is substantial in my fingers, against my mouth and cheeks, her slender, strong body solid against me.

"Nikki, oh Sweet'art, come back to me, I'm right here," I murmur all of that and wordless nonsense, her name whispered again and again her anchor back to me. Time passes unnoticed as the storm in my dearest passes.

"There were days," Nikki's unexpected words crack alarmingly and she clears her throat roughly, raising her face, teary eyes still closed. "That I felt something like this in Larkhall. Before you, it was a burden I bore because I had no choice. After you, it was like a gaping wound, making me bleed to death on the inside. Oh Helen..."

Now I ache too. All of the times I hurt her with my callousness and my aloofness. Does it matter now that I had the best of reasons? The way Nikki trembles in my arms, I know the answer.

But the past has passed and I am here now, never to leave her again, not while I live and breathe. "I will never leave you again," I swear, low and hoarse, my brogue thick even to my own ears. Only then, slowly, does Nikki start to relax, her breath easing its strangled tension.

"Love you," she breathes, nuzzling at my throat and ear, seeking reassurance in my body and touch. Still stroking her lovingly, I kiss her crown and squeeze her head and shoulders to my chest.

"I love you too. I always will."

++ Catherine ++

They are fascinatingly different, but I can feel the familiar in them too. After reassuring Lindsey and Jamie, I drag them over to Dace and the others to be fussed over. Like Helen, I plant myself in the lap of my Sentinel to reassure her with the power of my physical presence. "It's going to be okay," I reassure Dace, pressing kisses to the wild sun-bleached platinum waves of her hair. "You'll see."

"And you're always right," Dace teases sweetly, pressing her larger torso tight to mine, her mouth to that spot below my ear that I like nuzzled.

"Damn Skippy."

Some minutes pass with quiet conversations flowing around us, forcing a sense of normalcy to a very strange situation. Lindsey remains huddled beneath Jamie's encircling arm, their attention clearly with these new women in their lives. Is it wrong that I feel a very real sense of jealousy? Ironically, that switches the roles between Dace and me, her grip becoming comforting.

"You knew that the time would come that she needed her independence," my mate murmurs very quietly at my ear.

"She's barely nine," I can't stop the whine in my voice at seeing this maturity in my only child. It began the day that she met my Sentinel and her own cougar awoke in her soul. But the transformation was unstoppable when she came to Jamie and was completed in a way I understand better than anyone. Now, there are new adult mentors for my child and I think that may unnerve me more than anything.

Their gazes are very nearly a physical sensation across my back and skull, like feathers drawn over skin. Not an obtrusive, threatening stare, but an irresistible and respectful curiosity. Giving Dace a squeeze, both of us look over to experience a face off of a very different kind than the initial one.

Calm now, we all stare across the space between we four. Mirrored in pose, in intensity, in curiosity and fear, we are still and wary but calm. It is a moving experience, similar and utterly different from Blair and Jim. Dark and intense, Nikki shields and is shielded by Helen's smaller body, wrapped around the lanky frame. In Helen I sense a kindred spirit, nurturing and yet fierce, both of us dedicated to the strange roles fate has decided for us.

++ Nikki ++

They warned me. There's no arguing that point. But how the hell was I to know just how powerful of a reaction this would be?

Fear and fascination mix like tea and milk, the resulting nervous energy translating from myself to Helen and back again. I cannot tear my gaze away from the matching sets of blue eyes, all of my own emotions reflected there so very clearly.

It is, ironically and perhaps appropriately, the children that save us from ourselves.

"Oh fer cryin' out loud!" Jamie finally exclaims in disgust and gently shoves Lindsey to stand with her mother before stalking over. "Are you four done?"

Her outrage at us is so authentic and so strangely welcome that I cannot hold in the laughter, strangled and mildly hysterical as it might be. Tugging at our hands, Jamie has us on our feet, Lindsey doing the same to our pale counterparts across the chasm between us.

Dace is tall, possibly taller than myself. She is of similar build, narrower a bit at hip and chest. The sun-bleached blonde hair matches the golden honey cast of her skin and the intense blue of her eyes. There is a silver piercing at her temple, enhancing the scar above her temple. More noticeable than any of that though, is the way she moves. I'm beginning to see how she is distinctly different than I. Like a wild cat, she is sinuous and graceful in a way that no mere human can match.

Where Catherine mimics Helen's pose, I see a reflection of my lover, of myself and my pale compatriot. Catherine too has the feral edge I now recognize, but it is milder, more focused. Like my Helen, she is a solid presence, a rock of calm and safety. Jamie and Lindsey are gawky adolescent echoes of all of us.

I have learned more about myself and this small slice of humanity to which I belong in these few minutes than I have in a lifetime.

"Can hardly wait to meet the male," I growl with heavy sarcasm, earning startled laughter from all of them.

++ Lindsey ++

It was way scarier than I thought it would be, but I still think that Dace and Nikki wouldn't have hurt each other. They were just... I can't think of the word... posturing, that's it. They were posturing, like animals do. Animals don't want to fight, they only do it when they hafta, when threats don't work anymore.

Sentinels are territorial and both Nikki and Dace don't belong here. Mom might not get it yet, but this will be my city one day. I can feel it.

It's afternoon now and we're all tired. Me, I'm worn out 'cause the adults are all emotional, and the adults are mostly active at night. So the apartments above Rosa-Jo's are all full of bodies sleeping. Tired, but unable to sleep, I'm sprawled out between Jamie and Mom, just thinking. It's nothing new, just the same stuff about missing Jamie when we're not together, bein' afraid about being away from Mom, wondering if Dad'll ever grow out of being a jerk, stuff like that.

"Hey, kiddo," Jo's voice startles me awake and I blink up at her. Guess I finally fell asleep after all and I'm alone in the bed. "Finally managed to get some sleep, huh?" Confused, I can't answer for a minute, but I like that she gives me a quick little kiss on the forehead. Jo always makes it easier to be away from Mom when I'm here. "Jamie's out in the living room working on her book assignment. She wanted to make sure that you were up to say hello to the Colorado part of the family."

"Is it that late?"

"It's about four o'clock. You have about an hour if you need time for anything. Oh, and your mom is down in the restaurant being social."

Yawning, I sit up and surprise Jo by giving her a hug around the waist as she stands up. "Thank you. May I use your shower?"

"Of course you can. Mi casa, tu casa," she teases after giving me a squeeze and leaves me be. So I clean up and find some of my pretty clothes for what will obviously turn into a party, even if we're not going to Michael's Renaissance Faire until tomorrow.

Now I just gotta make sure that Dace and Nikki behave. Hey, it's a dirty job, but who else is gonna do it?

++ Darya ++

All in all, the flight wasn't as bad as it could have been. Somehow, Karen tracked down a semi-private flight that cost about the same amount as a regular flight. We had our own section of cabin, which kept the chaos of seven small children confined. There were even a few naps in there, so we're all feeling pretty decent, actually. Having Zo and Kerry here helped greatly, giving us adults strength in numbers!

Trisha does not like descent and has been fussing since above ten thousand feet, just as she did when we left the tarmac back in Colorado Springs. Fortunately, she's whining more than crying and the others remain calm. It's never pretty when all four infants are upset in sync.

Landing is accomplished with a rough jostle that has all of us, including Emily and the elder twins exchanging slightly alarmed looks, but nothing more happens. Engines wailing in reverse, we slow down and taxi thorough the slurries of snow to a slip.

Once we seven adults and Cassie manage to wrestle kids and crap together, we disembark at last.

"Greetings family!" The shout is unexpected as Karen explicitly told the New York family to not pick us up, since we're such a huge group. It's Gabe, waving happily where he lounges with arrogant ease with two other men.

"Gabe!" Karen calls back and leads our crew over to him. "Ben, Ian, how are all of you? I thought I told you not to pick us up."

"Not here for you, luv," Gabe grins and the confused look on Karen's face makes me chuckle. "Got a mate coming in from London. We four go way back."

"Way back," the slender man beside him adds wryly. A hand is offered to me and I accept it without hesitating, balancing Trisha's weight in my left arm. "Ben Tate."

"Darya Farazell. You're one of the Archangels, aren't you?"

"Yes. You may call me Uriel if it pleases you," he smiles a secretive smile and nods before gesturing to his more open-faced companion. "My partner, Ian Andrews, or Rafael."

++ Gabe ++

While my pals acquaint themselves with the women from Colorado, I stand a bit aside and catch up with Karen. "Which one you got there?"


"Hasn't Emily graced him with some silly nickname?" The little girl in question has decided that introductions to strangers aren't as interesting as jumping on me to squeal hello and I kneel to take the charge. The Goldston twins add their weight into the dogpile and I grunt melodramatically at the jostling. "Goodness! You've all gotten so big since I saw you in summer!"

They chatter excitedly at me and I decide that I really like this Uncle Gabe business. Emily finally manages to explain that little Jesse's nickname is Dobby, "after the squidgy-faced house elf in Harry Potter!"

My laughter is not at all feigned. Finally, Karen herds off her group and I watch them go almost wistfully.

"That bird of Bane's can't hardly keep her eyes off you," Ben notes wryly and I grin salaciously.

"What can I say?" I drawl arrogantly and we all laugh before heading back to the international terminal. We came in early to check in with Karen and company, and now settle in to play cards for awhile and wait for our pal.

Shockingly, the plane stays on time, despite the encroaching storm and we've not long to wait after all. My trip to London in August reminded me how much I missed Nikki and Trish and this is my gift to the latter. Unfortunately, by the thunderous look on her face, I've obviously misjudged how much my gesture is appreciated. Then, the blonde spots the three of us and her expression lights up like a Christmas tree.

++ Trish ++

As a small child, I could have never foreseen myself here. These three men, my brothers in heart, doted and picked on me as we grew up. Thirty-six years later, here I am, meeting them in their home of New York to spend Christmas holiday with them. The irony of Nikki being here as well has not escaped me.

"Fuckin' hell am I glad to see you blokes," I gush sincerely at them, wrapping my arms around their necks as best I can.

"I was worried there for a jot by the stroppy look on your face coming off that ramp," Ben can't resist teasing and I lean back to roll my eyes expressively.

"Bloody, sodding screws in Heathrow parked me in the wrong security queue and I damn near missed my flight." The boys make the appropriately sympathetic sounds and I find myself smiling wryly at using Nikki's inmate slang for Her Majesty's prison guards. No, the wannabe coppers at the airport weren't as bad as the 'screws,' but they still made my embark a slice of hell. Shaking it off, I let my happiness wash over me. "Thank you so much for that business class ticket, Gabe. It saved my sanity."

"My pleasure, darlin', figured a holiday away from Chix is just what you needed."

"You've no idea," I breathe, allowing Ian to take my laptop bag and carry-on. "Thanks for coming to fetch me. I haven't been to New York in years."

"Are you ready to meet the crowd?" Ben asks me, his native accent starting to bleed through all of his years of careful vocal training. Hard as he tries, we can still peel all of the secretive layers away to reveal the gawky boy we remember.

"Can't be any worse than you lot," I laugh and take an arm of both Gabe and Ben to lead them off.

++ Zo ++

With Kerry tucked up against my ribs and her hand on my thigh, we admire the City that Never Sleeps as it unfolds around us. "I've only been here as business trips with the painting," I note idly and enjoy the soft press of my lover's kiss on my throat. "It's nice to just visit." Then I grin wryly at her. "I'll just have to be careful of ice, hmm?"

A wry, slightly annoyed look is Kerry's only reaction before she kisses me for real, once again reassuring me. Since that fall on the ice near County back in Chicago, I have never been entirely the same person. Something in my brain has never recovered from those long seconds of unconsciousness after I smacked my head into the sidewalk. It's little things that we have all adapted to with time. I still can't eat peppers and certain smells bother me, but I can paint the same and my adoration for my lover and family and friends has never wavered. Really, what else do I need?

The rental bus gets to our destination fairly quickly and we take over the suite and nearby double that Karen has booked for the trip. Thankfully, Kerry and I get our own room, so we get a break from the gaggle of kids and the chaos that comes with them.

Blowing out a gust of tension, Kerry collapses to our bed, dropping the crutch to the comforter to stretch luxuriously. "Between the flight and the cold, I'm wiped out," she murmurs, smiling when I come over to kneel over her.

"My poor baby," I tease affectionately, sharing sweet, long kisses with this singular woman, really wishing that I could blow off the rest of the day and stay in this nice bed.

"Later," Kerry chuckles throatily, knowing where my mind and hormones have gone.

Scrambling suddenly from the bed, I give a look to stay put and pop off to the nearby suite, a few doors away. When Art answers, I give her a quick grin that has a bit of apology to it. "Can we get an extra 20 odd minutes? The inactivity and cold has Kerry sore. I need a bit of time to rub it out." It amuses me greatly that Art looks pitifully grateful to me.

"Yeah, yeah, of course. Could you give Anastasia a call and let her know?"

"Consider it done."

++ Karen ++

This has been a frazzling day. The truth is, I'm completely wiped out and there is still the get together with all of the others to survive. Groaning to myself, I collapse to the edge of the bed and bury my face in my hands. Of course, I've forgotten that there's simply no room to have any real privacy in this suite, sprawling as it is, and I'm immediately caught in my defeated pose.

"What's wrong, Kryn?" Emily's sweet little voice asks me, her small body draping over my shoulders in a hug. Of course, I am unable to resist her and uncoil to turn it into a real hug.

"Oh, just tired, Monkey. I'll be okay. You look lovely."

The cute little party frock is adorable on the five-year old and reminds me that I better get my ass ready to go.

Since the bus is paid up until 7 pm, the driver has stuck around to transport us all to Rosa-Jo's. None of us are prepared for the cold and we're all grateful to be dropped off right at the doors, our driver ignoring the irritated horns and cursing around him. I've already spotted familiar faces through the glass, so I wrangle the three older children inside and leave the babies to the others. A great cry of welcome goes up, making me smile and the kids pause for just a moment.

It takes a moment to notice that Emily has gone feral.

She doesn't do it much, so I note when it happens. Weird... What is she reacting to? In a flash, she's off, her little girl awkwardness gone as her little pudgy lion spirit takes over. Of course, Fawn and Cubby are hot on her heels, the former calling shrilly.

It's only then than I remember Lindsey's new Sentinel and give myself a mental slap. Sure enough, Emily is staring up at a striking woman with rich, sallow skin and black hair, standing with a smaller woman with paler coloring, just as rich. Both of them are a bit startled by the trio of youngsters, but are unthreatening and smiling warmly.

"Well, hello there," says the smaller woman in a gorgeous Scottish accent and she crouches just a bit to bring herself closer to the kid's eyelevel. "You must be Emily, Fawn and Cubby. Lindsey's told us all about you. I'm Helen and this is Nikki."

"You are like us!" Fawn squeals in delight, Emily nodding distractedly along.

"We are!"

++ Nikki ++

Meeting these Sentinels has been a rollercoaster of reactions; Lindsey's shock all those months ago, the confrontation with Dace, these little one's delight. The child who stares at me, Emily, is a striking youngster with her ginger curls and obvious intelligence. The twins with her are just as stunning, dark and alert and curious. In fact, the girl child, Fawn, has already gone to Helen, who crouches carefully in her good clothes to allow the girl to touch her face and hair.

"You are pretty," Fawn comments softly, her expression intent and I have to grin in agreement, also kneeling to meet the kids close up. "And you talk funny. Pretty, but funny."

A grin is shared briefly between my lover and I. "I'm from a country called Scotland, Fawn. Did you see that big ocean when your plane was close to landing?"

"Yes. It went forever!"

"Nikki and I live on the other side of that ocean; it takes six hours on a plane to get from there to here. It's a big island called the United Kingdom."

While Helen charms the twins, as the boy has sidled over to her as well, I focus on Emily with a small smile. "Hi," is all I say at first, understanding now that we communicate on a level much more subtle than language. I even accept sensing Lindsey drawing near, her hands on my shoulders as she crouches beside me to welcome her little friend.

"Hi Emily, I see you've met Nikki." Shy, Emily moves to tuck herself against the older girl's side, but never takes her blue eyes off of me. Then a stronger presence approaches and Emily lights up in delight, racing past me.

"Unca Dace!" She squeals and I stand with Lindsey and place my hands on her shoulders. Growling and purring like an enormous cat, Dace has swept Emily into a bear hug, getting squeezed suffocating tight about the neck in turn. Still clinging, the child looks back to me and I am struck by this meeting of we four.

++ Darya ++

In an instant my frazzled nerves, the weight of Jesse's baby carrier in my hand, the cold, the press of our family and friends so close by, is utterly forgotten.

Dace, Emily, Lindsey... and the new one I have completely forgotten about and have currently blanked utterly on her name. What a striking pack of predators they make, standing there amidst the mere humans. Jamie is nearby with the twins and a petite woman who has a palatable bond with the raven-haired Sentinel.

Dark eyes are like a physical caress even from this distance and I jerk my gaze away as someone takes Jesse's weight from me. It's Jo, smiling in gentle understanding. "I've got your kid, go say hi. You'll like her, my kid has good taste in friends."

Then I can sense Zo close behind me, almost intimately so, both of our sensitivities tuned into the pack of hunters like a moth to flame. "C'mon Dare," she mumbles and her hands on my back press me forward, both of us equally eager and reluctant.

The dark woman is overpowering, just as stunning as the power Dace holds over me, the potential of it in my daughter and Lindsey both. Will it always be like this? Every one of these extraordinary human beings and their power of personality rattling me to my core? A quirk of a smile on the woman's face softens the intensity, her deep, earthy-colored eyes flickering from mine to where Zo hovers close to my back.

"Emily," she says to me, her cultured English accent obvious even on the one word. "Fawn and Cubby," she adds to Zo, who breaks the moment with a rush of delighted laughter.

"Close! Yes, Emily's this one's, but the twins are my niece and nephew. You are Nikki, obviously."

Thank whatever deities are watching over me that Zo has recovered enough to be coherent, because I'm still too rattled by this charismatic stranger. Doesn't she just know it too? The smile has gone teasing and almost hesitantly seductive, as though she's unaware that she's doing it. When a more familiar and just as powerful presence steps in close to my side, I'm pathetically grateful for the distraction and jerk my eyes up to meet the lovingly amused gaze of my play Daddy.

++ Dace ++

Looks like I'm not the only one that has this effect on Dare! Interesting. Better make sure she never meets Jim or her head might explode! Zo looks just as affected, but more accepting of the strangeness of it all, just as I expected of her. During the mundane introductions of names, Darya remains quiet, barely audible as she murmurs something polite to the two new women. What an interesting group we make, we eight females and Cubby trailing after Emily and his sister. I still feel the almost bristly sensation towards Nikki, but the children and the two empaths have deadened it down to virtually nothing.

Helen and Catherine have helped as well.

After the Colorado crew, with Zo and Kerry, make the rounds, smaller conversations and games break the room up. My mate and the Scottish hottie are talking animatedly with Zo and Darya while Linds and Jamie are monopolizing Nikki. It's a sweet bond that the tall Brit has with the girls and they make me smile. She's kind with them, but has stared them both down twice, which is good. We Sentinels are so overbearing that we need to be slapped down sometimes. That Nikki does it with class and sensitivity soothes the human part of me, even if the cat is still bristly.

"So, it's not just you," Karen's voice says unexpectedly at my shoulder and I look up with a grin. In the noisy room, I didn't hear her. Echoing my joyful expression, she settles in beside me with a happily intent look in her eye.

"You mean Miss Wade and your lovely wife? It was pretty funny, watching the look on her face. Luckily, Helen's made friends," on cue, the Guides and empaths burst into gales of laughter over something, "and that should alleviate any potential embarrassment."

"Fair enough. Has anyone told you that you look great?"

The loving grin is not at all feigned and some subconscious urge manifests in my scarred hand coming to rest on my still-flat belly. "It's still a foreign concept, being knocked up like this; so little has changed except that I'm somehow more... aware, for lack of a better word, of my life as a whole."


"My senses are sharper, but gentler, not so jarring. And I can eat normally again, and with gusto I might add. My emotions are calmer and I'm just more aware of myself as a physical and emotional whole. I like it."

++ Karen ++

Dace has always been smarter than she likes to let on, always playing the role of the jester or the badass. I like this new facet of her, this gentler side and the vibrant glow that is palpable on her. "I'll have to meet this Jim of yours."

Laughing delightedly, Dace smacks my shoulder and grins at Catherine when she glances over with a smile. "Oh, I doubt you'd think there's anything special about him. He and Blair are nice enough people, but I got what I really needed out of them. Strange, strange experience meeting Jim."

"So you've let on in bits and pieces."

The look of amusement on my heart-sib's face is heartwarming. "Are you asking for details, Karen?"


Our combined laughter equals the nearby gaggles of family and friends. It brings over Emily and the Goldston twins to investigate with all of their usual curiosity. "Unca Dace!" Fawn complains stridently. "You do not look like you are having a baby!"

"Well, not yet," Dace agrees placidly, scooping the girl up for a cuddle. "It takes time for the baby to grow. By the time we see each other again, I'll be showing."

They like that, and start babbling on about how their moms and Dea were pregnant and all the things that go with it. Dace seems equal parts fascinated and horrified. The kids don't understand why I laugh so hard, giving me their expressive looks that translates roughly to 'wacky grownups'.

Others join us over the course of the noisy, happy evening and I adore this chance to catch up with old friends and make some new ones.