Coming Home

Dirk Stevens

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Hiking a bag up on his shoulder, Jessie took the piece of paper from his pocket and checked the address again. Then he looked up at the house and then back down at the piece of paper. Dove had come pretty far, and this brought a brief smile to his mouth. A smile that didn't quite reach his eyes.

He approached the house, his thick parka seeming overly large for his usually thin frame. The tennis shoes made no noise as the snow had mostly melted away. And, up onto the porch. Lifting his hand, he knocked twice, then stepped back. His hand went back to his stomach, or what appeared to be his stomach. A pot belly. But it squirmed a bit. "Shhh," he murmured and bounced a bit.

It had been a long time since Jessie had been to see his surrogate sister and her little family. He'd chosen a time when Ben was at work, but sadly, there was no such thing as getting Dove on her own these days. As the knock sounded on the door, a loud yell of overly enthusiastic delight made itself known, followed by the sound of small feet thumping against the floor toward the door. Those small feet were followed by slightly bigger feet, and just before they reached the other side of the front door, both stopped. A tiny voice let out a shriek of laughter that mingled with the warmer, quieter laughter Jessie knew belonged to Dove, before the door drew open.

There was his surrogate little sister, still tiny, looking a good deal healthier these days, her eyes bright and smiling. And there on her hip was a tinier version of her - blonde hair, blue eyes, wide, welcoming smile. Dove's daughter really was a mini-Dove.

It took a moment for Dove to realise who she was looking at, but her smile deepened as the information sank in. "Jessie! Oh my god, Jessie, it's you!" With little Olivia still on her hip, she lunged forward to wrap her free arm about his waist, hugging him in welcome.

Jessie could only imagine what was going on behind the door when he heard the shrieks, the tiny and tinier feet slapping against the floor. And when the door opened wide, Jessie smiled widely and reached over his belly, over the baby girl on Dove's hip, to give her a right proper brotherly hug and kiss to her cheek. But the baby wasn't going to be left out of the equation, oh no. He released Dove with one arm to bring her into the fold, and a kiss to her cheek, too.

"It's really me," he laughed and stepped back a bit. He kept one hand on Dove's shoulder and curled the opposite palm to the curve of Olivia's neck. "God, she's so big, Dove." He couldn't help but admire the little girl on Dove's hip. "Has it really been that long?"

Jessie's parka twitched and his hand left Olivia to curl around the curve under the parka. "How're you and Ben? Olivia looks amazing." He was waiting to go inside, but the two little ladies were kind of blocking the way.

"She'll be four in August," Dove told him with a proud smile, stepping back out of the way to welcome him inside. It had been far too long since she had seen him, and Olivia barely knew him as more than the mysterious Uncle Jessie who popped in and out on occasion. The tiny girl watched him with big curious eyes from the safety of her mother's shoulder, a shy smile playing on her cheeky face. "Ben and I are fine," Dove went on, closing the front door behind them and leading the way into the kitchen. She'd obviously taken well to being a mom, setting Olivia down to go and play by herself as the adults reconnected. "I even got a smile out of his mother over Christmas. How are you? It has been far too long since we last saw you!"

Jessie followed her inside and ruffled Olivia's hair as she darted past to go play in her room. "Jesus, four. I can't believe it." Jessie settled onto a kitchen table, putting the light blue bag with little bears on it onto the table. "A smile out of her? Wow. I didn't think you two would ever get along."

Jessie sat back and unzipped his parka, revealing the source of the twitch. He had no pot belly. A sling was wrapped across his chest, full of a now awake and squirming baby girl. "It has been too long," he looked up at her, with a little bit of fear mingled with longing. "Meet your niece, Amelia." The baby was all of a month old and obviously ready for the changing/feeding/burping that was about to commence.

"Oh, my goodness ... Jessie, when did you have a baby?" To say Dove was astonished was putting it mildly. She hadn't even realised her brother was in a relationship, much less with a woman, and the obvious fact of a baby girl was truly amazing to behold. As much as Dove wanted to reach out and hold the teeny Amelia, however, she recognised the look on the little one's face, turning toward the bag. "Do you have formula in here? I'll warm a bottle while you change her."

Well, so far, so good. Dove wasn't angry, and truly Jessie didn't know why he had expected as much. He glanced over at the baby bag and nodded. "Bottles are in there, yes." He stood up then and opened up the bag to pull one of the bottles out and hold it out to Dove.

"He knew a doctor that could do something, so we did it and now she's here. But the doctor said that he lied about it. Used my genes and somebody else's. Hell, she could have been concieved with a female egg, who knows? But she's here and nobody's taking her from me."

There was a conviction to his voice, but his movements when picking the baby up were tender and he smiled at her. "Now, now," he shushed her and straighted out a changing pad before laying her on it. "I know, you don't like being naked," he soothed as he undressed the baby.

"Of course no one's taking her away from you," Dove agreed fiercely, switching the kettle to boil so she could warm the bottle in a jug of hot water for him. She couldn't pretend to have understood a word of what Jessie had said about how it had happened, but what mattered now was that he had a little girl to love. "Doesn't there have to be an egg for there to be a baby, though? I mean ... yes, Rhy'Din is a magical place, but surely some things can't be played with."

Jessie made a face when the diaper was opened. "Oh, you little stinker," he blew a raspberry at Amelia who seemed oblivious to the little stench she'd made. Jessie quickly cleaned her up, and rolled the wet naps into the diaper before placing a clean one on and then dressing her once again. He left her little pink jacket on the table, but the white tights, pink and white pinafore and little white patent leather shoes remained on. "There's my Princess," he cooed and brought her up for a kiss to her cheek.

Keeping Amelia to his shoulder, Jessie tossed the dirty diaper into a garbage can. "It's complicated, but this doctor said that he could take two men's semen and create a baby. And she looks too much like him to not be his. I can't help but wonder who was lying."

He sat back down, gently rocking the squawking Amelia. "Doesn't matter, he says that she's not his and that it's over. He wants nothing to do with either of us. I don't want anything to do with him, either. So we're both content, I guess."

"And this isn't Jacob, is it?" she asked gently. Whatever had been going on, she was saddened to hear that Jessie had become a single father, though her appreciation for him had risen, knowing what she knew about the first year of being a parent. Sure hands set the bottle to warm in the jug of water, pulling bread and various bits and pieces out of the cupboards to create lunch of a kind. "Jessie, what happened?" she asked him, the big eyes he was so familiar with gentle but needing to know.
 

Dirk Stevens

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"No, not Jacob's baby," he shook his head and then craned his head to look at the baby on his shoulder. "After the fool I made of myself at the art auction at Jacob's father's house, he and I started to drift apart. I've not seen him in over two years," he sighed and kissed Amelia's cheek.

Jessie was quiet for a long time before he looked up at Dove and spoke. He knew that look in her eyes, and knew that he could hide nothing from those eyes. And Jessie didn't even want to try. They'd never hidden anything from each other before. "I guess it's just disillusionment. He and I both had something fantastic together, but it ended back then. We spent years apart, remembering and fantasizing about how great it was. So when he showed back up? It was like we were both given a second chance to relive that glorious past." He huffed a laugh then and repositioned Amelia so that she was ready when the bottle was. "But we ended back then for a reason, and we're ending now, too. Nothing is as great or perfect as you let yourself believe."

"I'm sorry." There it was, just a kind, simple expression of sympathy for what he had lost without expecting any response from him. She shook the bottle as she took it out of the jug, drying it off and testing the heat on her inner wrist before handing it over. "Perfection isn't worth the trouble of chasing," she offered, her own little store of wisdom having grown over the past years. Her gaze flickered to the tiny girl tucked in Jessie's arm, and she smiled. "As I'm sure you already know. Babies are wonderful, but they're far from perfect."

"When did you get so philosophical?" he teased her as he took the bottle and put the nipple to the baby's mouth. He sighed as she latched on and he looked back up at Dove. "Babies aren't perfect, but I think that you and I have the closest things to it."

It was easy to keep up a positive attitude; the wounds were so fresh that they really hadn't been able to start hurting yet. "So, here I am. I checked into a small hostel and wrote Jacob a letter. Not sure if he'll respond," he shrugged. "But I have a lot of amends to make. You included. I've neglected you and Ben and little Olivia for far too long."

"Around about the time Olivia decided she was going to have colic for a full six months," she answered the question with a small giggle, her busy hands constructing a plate of sandwiches to go with the carrot sticks and hummus that appeared from the fridge. "You should come and stay with us," she told Jessie firmly. "We have room, and you're family. More than that, if you stay here, you stand a chance of sleeping for more than two hours a day because someone else will be around to keep an eye on her."

Jessie had read about colic and prayed that it didn't happen to Amelia. He looked down at her and placed a kiss to her forehead before looking up at Dove fixing lunch. "Oh, I don't know, Dove. I don't want to be a burden. I'm not even working. I was going to try to get my job at the garage back." Jessie glanced out the window at the bright sunlight that belied the freezing temperatures outside. "Are you sure it'll be alright with Ben?" Truly he didn't want to put anybody out or cause any more drama. He'd had enough of drama for a lifetime.

"I'm sure it will be all right," she promised him fervently, pouring juice into two glasses and a sippy cup as she assured her brother. "He keeps asking about you, and I know he won't mind. Look, I'm not working right now myself. I did the Christmas season, and I'll do two months in the summer, but that is more than enough money to support us, and you, even without Ben's paycheck. And frankly, I would rather go without a couple of treats than know that my big brother is struggling with his brand new baby girl when he doesn't have to."

"Well, when you put it that way," Jessie ducked his head and picked the bottle from Amelia's mouth. A rag was thrown onto his shoulder and he patted her back. "Then I accept. But I will be working, soon. I quit the garage when I moved in with him and when Amelia came along, I quit working for him, too. I told him I'd be a stay at home dad."

Amelia let out a belch that would make a drunken sot proud and Jessie laughed. "I will help to support all of us, Dove. So, if you're alright with that, then I'll happily accept your offer." He brought Amelia back down to finish her meal.

"Then that is settled," Dove nodded firmly. "I'll talk to Ben about it, but I really can't see him saying no. We're a family." And as though to underline that fact, she called out to the living room. "Livvie, come and eat lunch!"

A small voice declared itself to be coming, and Olivia appeared in the doorway, moving over to be swung up onto her booster seat and provided with a plate to start eating from. The little girl waited until she had a mouthful of PB & J before pointing at Amelia. "Wha's dat?"

"Thank you," Jessie smiled and gazed down at Amelia. The love for the little girl was more than evident in his amber eyes. And then Olivia was up in her booster seat. He lifted his head when he was addressed and offered the little girl a smile. "This is your baby cousin, Amelia," he announced proudly and held her up a bit more so Olivia could get a good look.

Platinium and diamonds glinted from his left ring finger as he moved but Jessie paid it no mind. "We're going to be living here for a while, what do you think of that?" He then looked up at Dove and the first shimmer of tears welled up in his eyes as he smiled at her. "We're family."

The toddler examined baby Amelia closely for a long time, during which her mother held Jessie's smile with her own, confirming that they were a family without the need for words. It was a world away from the first time Dove and Jessie had met, and they had both been through too much not to have earned a little peace by now. But, of course, any peaceful moment was going to be interrupted by the three-year-old munching away beside them. "She looks like a grump."

Dove laughed inadvertantly, setting her glass down before she could splutter all over the table. "Livvie, all babies look like that for the first few months," she explained. "You looked like that when you were that small."

Olivia grimaced disbelievingly, and turned her blue eyes to Jessie. "Does she has a tummy hurt?"

Jessie was grateful for Olivia's little observation. It kept him from falling apart. He, too, laughed and took the bottle and placed it onto the table. "Her tummy is full and might hurt a little. But watch this little magic trick."

It really was no trick - he put Amelia back up to his shoulder and patted gently. She belched loudly, smacked her lips and then settled in to rest against her father's shoulder. "Now she's all better, see?" He smiled for Olivia and couldn't help but notice how much like Dove Olivia looked. He hoped that she'd never have to face the horrors that they'd faced as young children. "So, when is Ben due home?"

No sooner were the words out of Jessie's mouth and the front door swung open and in waltzed Ben, literally, with a gush of cold wind. He kicked the door shut and whirled into the kitchen to take Dove in his arms and kiss her as passionately as the first time he'd ever kissed her. But the kiss was short lived when he realized that they had company.
 

Dirk Stevens

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The belch was enough to set Olivia to giggling - she was only three, after all. Burps, farts - they were all the funniest thing in the world to her right now. "She did a big bup!"

Dove had just opened her mouth to answer Jessie's query about the absent Ben when the man himself was blown in through the front door in a rush of icy wind that made his daughter squeal in protest. Caught up in a kiss that made her toes curl, she laughed as it was curtailed hurriedly, gently smoothing Ben's hair out of his face. "Look who's back."

Jessie smiled proudly and even laughed when Olivia did. "Indeed," he nodded. "Big bup." He winked at his niece and then looked up when the cold breeze blew in none other than his brother in law. There had been a time, briefly, that there had been a little contention between them. But Ben married his sister, of course there was going to be! But that was the past and he smiled wryly. "Hey Ben."

Ben kept Dove close and his grin turned wide with recognition. "Jessie, and company?" He pressed a kiss to his lovely wife then went over to snatch Olivia off her chair and proceed to kiss all over her peanut butter and jelly covered face. Ben was obviously deeply in love with both of the women in his life. "So, what's going on?" He set Olivia back into her chair so she could finish her lunch.

Released from her husband's arms, Dove dropped back down into her seat as Olivia swarmed up into Ben's embrace and matched him, kiss for kiss, smearing peanut butter, jelly, and hummus all over him with gleeful affection. She jerked her head toward father and daughter, grinning at Jessie. "You've got that to look forward to."

"Can't wait," he chuckled dryly. And a part of Jessie really couldn't wait. Seeing Ben with Olivia made him hold Amelia closer to his chest. He hoped that, someday, he could be a good father to Amelia.

"Daddy, Unc'a Jessie bought us a baby an' she's got a hurty tummy an' she bups like you!" Olivia informed her father as she was put back down, reaching for her sippy cup with a little help from her mother.

Dove chuckled softly. "Close, but no cigar, lovely," she told the little girl, looking to Ben. "Jessie needs somewhere to stay - I offered our spare bedroom. He can't stay in a hostel, not with a baby, and who would look after her while he was at work?"

Ben wiped the mess from his face with a paper towel. Listening to both versions of the tale, he nodded and tossed the paper towel away. "You're right, babe. He's going to stay here." And that was it. Ben had already made up his mind, no need to try to sell it. Ben walked back to Dove and rested his hands upon her shoulders. "No arguing about it either, Mister."

Jessie held up one hand in protest. "No arguing," he smiled and then lowered his hand to take Dove's. "I really can't say how much I appreciate this."

Dove beamed across the table at Jessie, unable to keep the faint hint of smugness from her expression for this perfect example of how well she knew her husband. She raised a hand to touch Ben's gently. "There's plenty of lunch here, if you're hungry," she told him, absentmindedly rescuing Olivia's juice from having a carrot stick rammed into the sip lip. She met Jessie's smile as her fingers squeezed his. "You don't have to say anything. You just have to, you know, stay."

"Thanks, babe," Ben bent to kiss the top of her head before turning to fix himself a snack. He returned to the table, plopping into a chair as he munched on a carrot stick. A hand reached out, snatched a paper towel and attacked Olivia's messy face. "She's right, you know. You're always welcome here, and so is she," he gave Jessie and the baby a pointed look. "So, what's my niece's name and how old is she?"

Jessie squeezed Dove's hand and marvelled at the familial bliss that she and Ben had created. "I'll stay," he promised. "Her name is Amelia and she's a month old," he informed Ben. Really, Jessie was overwhelmed by the outpouring of caring from people that he'd very nearly turned his back on.

"And we're going to have to clear a shelf in the fridge for formula," Dove added, glancing up as Olivia made a face at being wiped clean when she hadn't even finished her lunch yet. "Daddy's such a fusspot, isn't he?" she teased cheekily, laughing when their daughter agreed wholeheartedly. "Maybe we should make him do bathtime tonight, what do you think?"

At this, the toddler objected. "Nooo," she insisted. "You said you'd do barf time, 'cos you said you was gonna show me how to scrub my hairs, an' Daddy doesn't have lots of hairs like us, an' he won't know how."

"Hey, I'll have you know, little miss, that I graduated from shampoo school with honors," Ben nodded for emphasis with that crooked grin of his. "But, I think your mommy should wash you up tonight. You're a messy, messy little girl!" he lunged out of his chair, pulled Olivia into his arms and began to pretend to gnaw on her shoulder. "Yum yum! I love messy little girls!"

"I'm not a messy -" Olivia let out a loud squeal as she was swept off her chair, flailing with a hummus covered carrot stick in Ben's general direction as she squirmed in his arms, giggling all over again. Poor Ben was likely to end up with hummus everywhere because of his playful antics, but frankly, he deserved it.

Jessie sat back, relaxing for the first time in hours. This had a calming affect on Amelia who sighed and settled into the deep, restful slumber only an infant could know. The antics of the three were a refreshing balm on his soul. "Umm, where can I lay her down?" He was already fishing in the overstuffed diaper bag for the baby monitors.

As Amelia settled down, Dove leaned out of the way of her shrieking, giggling daughter and the over-excited daddy who had started it all. Laughing herself, she rose from the table, gesturing for Jessie to come with her. "Let me get the Moses basket and the sheets down from the attic," she told him. "I'll make up your bed while I'm at it, too."

Jessie ducked as hummus went flying across the kitchen. He got up when Dove did, following her out into the living room. He'd leave Ben and Olivia to their play time with a laughing smile. "I can make up the bed, Dove. Single, not an invalid," he reminded her with a chuckle. Single - he'd have to get used to it, he supposed. "Which room is mine?" he asked, tucking Amelia back into her sling. He loved having her close to him. In the weeks since she'd been born, they'd been nearly inseparable.

"Family, not alone," she countered warmly, leading him up the stairs. One hand pointed toward the second door that opened off the landing to the right. "You'll be in there - in between Livvie and the bathroom. Bed clothes are in the airing cupboard right there." She tapped on the appropriate door and jumped to grab hold of the string for the attic steps, getting a grip on it on her second attempt.
 

Dirk Stevens

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Jessie could have easily reached the cord, but Dove had gotten to it first. He peeked into the room indicated, and then looked back at Dove. "Never alone," he smiled and reached to embrace her, even with Amelia between them. "That was always the promise, wasn't it? We'd never be alone, no matter who came in and out of our lives. We'd always have each other."

Jessie pulled from the embrace and smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Right, sheets and stuff in the cupboard," he turned to go find a set and placed Amelia onto the floor, in the sling, before he began to make the bed.

"Always," Dove promised him fervently, squeezing tight before he stepped back. Concern touched her huge eyes as she noted how little of his face that smile animated, how his eyes didn't seem to reflect the expression on his lips. He would have to tell her sometime, but she wouldn't push. Not today.

Scrambling up into the attic, it was a matter of moments before she returned with the promised basket and a huge bag of baby things she had never gotten around to passing on to anyone else. "Here," she dropped the bag onto the floor, opening it up to extract a bottom sheet for the basket, as well as a soft blanket. "Livvie grew out of all of those before she hit six months but you're very welcome to them."

The bottom sheet had already been placed on the bed and he was starting the second sheet when Dove returned with the Moses basket and a bag of baby clothes. His lips twisted into a wry smile. He would have died knowing that their daughter was wearing hand me downs. Well, f*ck him, Jessie thought bitterly.

"I'm sure she'll love them," Jessie let the sheet settle onto the bed before letting go of it. Now that the basket was near, he wanted Amelia off of the floor as soon as possible and went to pick her up. "Are you and Ben thinking of having more?"

"Well, we haven't really talked about it," Dove admitted quietly, the basket ready to go within minutes. She nudged it toward Jessie as he lifted his baby girl off the floor. "It's not like Livvie was planned, after all, but ... I don't know. It would be nice to give her a little brother or sister, especially now she's old enough to amuse herself. And I don't want her to be spoiled by being the only child." Rising onto her feet again, she moved to complete the bed, tucking corners neatly and with a speed she could only have learned through daily practice.

As if no time had passed between them, already Jessie and Dove were working in tandem to complete a job. Jessie set Amelia down into the basket and covered her with the light blanket. "Sleep sweetly, Princess," he whispered as he leaned to kiss her tiny forehead. He smoothed her dark hair back and then stood up with his hands on the small of his back.

He sat down on the bed and reached for Dove's hand. "There's something you might want to know," he murmured as he gazed into her baby blue eyes. "Something that I kept hidden for years."

Caught by the hand, Dove swallowed her protest that she had just made the bed in favor of sitting down beside her big brother, folding his hand between both of her own. She knew he had secrets; she also knew that he had kept them as a way of keeping her safe, but that excuse was long since gone now. She no longer needed to be babied and coddled, no longer at the mercy of a broken mind. He didn't need to lie to protect her anymore. "You can tell me anything, Jessie," she promised him. "Nothing will change what you are to me."

Jessie could see the protest in her eyes and he offered a slight smile of apology. He knew that Dove was in a good place and could handle his little secrets with the aplomb of a healthy adult that she was. He squeezed her hands and twisted to look into her face.

"I don't know how to say this, so I'm just going to say it. I'm a lycan. He is, too. And he brought it out when we were together. It's been there for a long, long time. But I kept it hidden, resisted it until I only felt it's pull when the moon was full. I didn't want to hurt you, scare you, or anybody else. But now that I've accepted it, I have learned control over it so that there's no fear of it bursting out in a hungry rage." He took in a deep breath and then continued. "Amelia is, too."

She listened, absorbing all this carefully, deliberately refusing to let herself just react. Jessie deserved more than an ignorant reaction from her. "What does that mean, in practice?" she asked him quietly. "Will she change at the full moon? Will it be dangerous for her to be around Olivia?"

Jessie was relieved when she didn't pull away and start screaming her head off. He breathed out the sigh of relief and continued. Nothing but the truth. "I'm told when she's about six months old, she'll start to change at the full moon. During the week of the full moon, she and I will be as far from here as I can go. But, between then and now, it should be perfectly safe." He glanced over at Amelia with a soft smile. "I would never put you, Ben, or Olivia into harm's way. I promise that all of you will be safe."

Dove nodded slowly, her fingers squeezing Jessie's gently as she smiled. "Thank you for telling me, Jessie-bean," she said softly, extracting one hand from his to wrap her arm about his shoulders. "And before you say it, no, this doesn't mean you're moving back to your hostel. If you say you have it all under control, both you and Amelia, then that's all the assurance I need."

Jessie leaned against her when her arm was around him and his shoulders sagged. He did cry, just a little bit, and sniffled before straightening back up and turning his smile back onto her. "I missed you so much, Dovey," he released her hands to pull her into a hug. "You've come so far and I'm so proud of you."

Ben chose just that moment to come into the room, carrying Olivia upside down. "Did somebody lose an Olivia? I found it just laying about and think we can get a lot of money for such a cute little thing, don't you?"

"I couldn't have done it without you, Jessie-bean," she whispered into his ear, feeling a part of herself slot back into place as he finally hugged her properly. "You're always going to be a big part of me. Don't ever disappear again." She kissed his cheek, her hand gently stroking her fingertips against the curve of his cheekbone as she smiled at him, interrupted by the entrance of her husband and daughter.

Olivia beamed at her mother and uncle from her precarious position, arms swaying as she wiggled her fingers at them. "I'm upside-diddly!" she declared cheerfully, waving at Jessie. "I was only layin' down 'cos Daddy droppeded me onna sofa!"

Jessie had no intentions of ever disappearing again, regardless of who was in his life, or in Dove's. He pressed his forehead to hers and smiled widely. That is, until they were interrupted. "They have so much energy," he murmured with a laugh and waved back at Olivia.
 

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Ben released one of her legs to grab an arm and turn his daughter right side up. He rearranged her so that she was sitting on his folded arms, legs from the knees down dangling in front of them. "How do you think we get her to sleep at night? We wear her out, she wears us out and we all sleep like..." His eyes widened when he realized that Amelia was sleeping soundly nearby. He cupped his hand over Olivia's mouth and then backed out of the room. "Sorry, forgot," he apologized before taking Olivia to her own room to play.

Dove laughed again as Ben retreated with Olivia protesting loudly behind his hand, rolling her eyes at the silly sight they presented. "He's right, you know," she told Jessie fondly, glancing down at Amelia to make sure the tiny girl was still sleeping. "Make the most of the sleeping, that's my advice. When she gets to Livvie's age, even afternoon naptime disappears."

Jessie shook his head and laughed out loud at Ben and Olivia. There was a fondness in his eyes and he glanced over at Amelia, already knowing that she could sleep through anything. She'd slept in their room for the first few weeks of her life, so she could sleep through anything!

"Oh, I know it. She's on a pretty regular routine, every four hours now. It used to be every two. I thought I was going to drop dead from exhaustion." Jessie was still holding onto Dove, enjoying the closeness and reconnecting.

"I bet you're an amazing father," Dove praised him, pressing a gentle kiss to his cheek once again. "You know you're welcome to live here as long as you like. We've missed having you around. And Olivia should get to know her amazing uncle."

"I'm learning," Jessie assured her. He was far from perfect but he was trying his best to be the best dad he could be. "And I want to get to know the amazing Olivia. She's something else," he chuckled.

"So ..." He sighed and sat back a bit. "After Jacob and I were over, I never expected to have anyone in my life again. And then he came back into my life. It was like a whirlwind and no time had passed. We picked up where we left off and everything was great, at first. We fought a little bit, but..." He shrugged. "We got married in the Carribean, on a little boat. He wined and dined me, it was so terribly romantic." He sighed. The memories were painful to relive.

"But then it was like we both saw beneath the masks and neither of us were as perfect as the other thought. I was too effeminate, he was a brute. It just fell apart. And when the doctor said he lied? That was it. He said that he wasn't really happy and he left. I couldn't stay at that penthouse." And what a penthouse it was! "Too many memories. He said it was mine. I am going to sell it."

Dove frowned as Jessie related what he had experienced since the last time they had been together, gently stroking her fingertips through his hair as he spoke. It seemed strange, to be the one who was doing the looking after, but she was perfectly placed for it now. She was a mom, and she knew her Jessie better than anyone. She might not know who he was, but that didn't matter. "You don't have to sell it, sweetheart," she suggested softly. "You could rent it out, make it a regular source of income for you and Amelia. That way, you won't have to worry about working while she's small. You'll be able to stay at home with her and watch her grow."

Jessie lifted a brow. Renting out the penthouse hadn't even crossed his mind. It was worth giving a thought to. "You're right," he nodded slowly. And for what he could charge in rent, they'd be set for quite some time. "I think I'll do that." Another nod and he smiled. It was a change of roles for them, Dove taking care of him. It wasn't lost on Jessie, not a bit.

"I was thinking of selling this, too." He held up his hand and displayed the platinum and diamond ring. Of course, there was nothing plain about it. Jessie's soon to be ex had to have the best of everything.

"Don't," she advised softly, without even glancing at the ring. "It was given and received in love, no matter how things eventually turned out. And someday you'll be able to give it to Amelia. Maybe she will give it to her husband or wife. That's how family heirlooms begin."

Jessie was surprised at her response, initially, and it shone clearly on his face. But he listened to her reasoning. He really listened. It had been given in love, and with a sigh Jessie closed his hand and put it in his lap. "You're right," he said again. They had been like two kids, discovering each other, the world and how different it was painted when they were in love. "I'm sorry," he sniffed and looked up into her eyes with his own watery. "I promised myself that I would always be strong for you. And now, here you are, being so strong for me. I must seem like a pathetic school girl."

"I'll tell you a secret," she murmured, her gentle smile just beginning to show signs of the playful imp that was her daughter as she leaned in close. "I've been a mom for three years. I learned how to take care of people. If I can handle scraped knees and tantrums over sweeties in the store, I can handle this." She hugged him affectionately. "Besides, you can't always be the strong one. Even you need to lean on someone sometimes."

Jessie huffed a laugh as they embraced once again. It was true, he couldn't be strong all of the time. Just most of the time. He squeezed her tightly and kissed her cheek. "Enough of this maudlin sh*t." Yes, he'd picked up swearing during their seperation. But not to an extreme. "Let's get some ice cream and spoil Olivia rotten."

"Good plan," Dove agreed, pushing up onto her feet. She automatically checked the batteries in the monitors Jessie had produced from his bag, tucking the one into the basket with Amelia before stepping back. "Force of habit, sorry."

Jessie got off the bed and was about to grab the monitor when Dove did. He laughed and shook his head. "It's alright. Someday it'll be an old habit for me, too." He stooped then and kissed Amelia's tiny head, and adjusted the blanket before standing upright again. "She is beautiful, isn't she?"

"She is," his little sister promised him, indulging in the opportunity to praise another little girl while her own was downstairs, no doubt beating up her father in the name of rough-housing. Dove's fingers crept into Jessie's. "Come downstairs. She'll be perfectly safe up here. This is your home now, remember?"

"Hmm," he smiled as he gazed down at his daughter and he squeezed Dove's hand when she put hers into his. "Thanks, again. Get used to me saying that." He huffed another laugh and then led her out of the stairs. "You've got quite a house," he was finally looking around and when they got downstairs, he stopped in the middle of the living room. "No, that's not right," he turned and smiled. This time it lit up his eyes. "You've quite the home."

And there was her Jessie, smiling out through his own eyes, feeling everything he felt in the moment he felt it and sharing it with her without trying to hide something behind a smile that just wasn't quite right. Dove beamed, pressing herself into his arms as she hugged him once again, rewarding her closest friend for the courage it took to start letting go of some of the darkness he had been hiding from her. "I love you, Jessie-bean."
 

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"I love you." He held her close and breathed out a relieved sigh. He was starting to feel at home. Dove was a big part of that: she was home, to him. He squeezed her tightly and then let go. There was a bit of a sparkle in his eyes that wasn't mischief. The light from the fixture was glinting off of something in his eyes that wasn't tears. "So, where's the ice cream and the kid?"

She smiled as she drew back, giggling a little at the query. "Well, I know the ice cream is in the kitchen," she offered, looking around the living room. Her eyes spied a tuft of blonde hair sticking out of the toy chest, and she smothered a laugh, pointing to it. "And I think Ben and Olivia might be playing hide and seek."

"Ah," Jessie looked to where Dove had pointed and he chuckled. "More ice cream for us!" he said loudly, and waited for a reaction like an explosion from the toybox.

But it was Ben who bounded from the linen closet. Seemed they were hiding from each other. "Ice cream?" he grinned and wrapped an arm around his wife's shoulders. "Did I mention that I love ice cream?"

There was a thump from the toy box as Olivia tried to explode out, but the lid was just a little bit too heavy for her to lift. Dove rolled her eyes as she pinched her husband's nose fondly. "Did you put her in there?" she asked, slipping out from beneath his arm as panic started to rise from inside the chest. Lifting the lid, she wasn't surprised when Olivia immediately climbed up into her arms and refused to let go, chuckling softly. "This is why Mummy doesn't let you sit in the toy box, sweetie."

"It was open when I put her in it," Ben admitted, a bit shamed by his daughter being trapped in the toybox. "I'm sorry, baby." He went straight to Dove and Olivia, kissing them both on the cheek. "Are you alright?" He gently petted Olivia's hair as he gave her a worried look.

Jessie took in the family picture and pain lanced his heart. This was supposed to be how his happily ever after looked, too. He bit his lips and turned to walk into the kitchen. The fridge was right there, and when the freezer was opened, so was the ice cream. He pulled it from the freezer and turned to find bowls, spoons and a scooper.

The little girl nodded, calming down now she was out of the box enough to stick her tongue out at her father cheekily. Dove snorted with laughter, bending to set Olivia down, whispering into her ear what Uncle Jessie was doing in the kitchen. Promised ice cream to soothe all ills, Olivia took off at a run, barrelling into the kitchen to throw her arms around Jessie's knees and hug him into agreeing to give her more ice cream than anyone else.

Dove was either very smart, or very brave. Jessie decided that she was a brave genius, sending Olivia into the kitchen. "Ooof!" Jessie laughed as his knees nearly buckled when they were hugged. "Easy, easy!" He laughed and picked up a spoon to scoop some ice cream from the carton and offer it to the little girl.

"Well, Miss Olivia, it's time we really met. I am Jessie, and your uncle. Your mom is my sister, and my best friend. It's very nice to meet you, young lady."

Mouth full of the sweet treat, Olivia grinned her adorable, but sticky, grin up at her Uncle Jessie. "Mummy says you used to look after her like she looks after me, an' she loves you, an' you're da best," she informed Jessie cheerfully, somehow managing to manuver him into a chair so she could sit on his lap. "Why is ice cream cold?"

Jessie was wrangled into a chair, but not before snatching up the small box of wet-naps. It was pulled close and popped open as Olivia crawled into his lap. He didn't dispute the claim that he'd taken care of Dove, but he didn't encourage that line of thought. Some things were best left in the past, especially with a precocious four year old sitting in your lap.

"That's a very good question," he admired her, and took her tiny hand gently between his, a wet-nap hidden between his palm to clean her stickiness away. "When it gets very cold outside, because Father Winter is breathing and blowing that cold air around, the cows that get stuck outside begin to freeze. And their milk comes out as ice cream." By this time the wet-nap had traveled to her other sticky hand.

"Now." He lifted his hands from her hand and brought the wipe up to gently glide along one soft, rounded cheek. "You can tell me why you're so little!" He smiled and reached to tickle her tummy.

The tiny girl listened closely as he presented her with an appalling explanation to answer one of the interminable whys that kept slipping out of her mouth, seemingly unaware that she was being cleaned up at the same time. The explosion of protesting laughter, however, was deafening. "That's 'cos Mummy's lickle, an' Daddy says I'll always be lickle, an' that makes me puffek!"

Leaning in the doorway, Dove smiled as she watched Jessie interacting with her daughter. This was what had been missing for the last three years, this sense of having everyone where they should be, and she hoped it wasn't going to go away again.

"You are perfect, just the way you are," he agreed and pressed a kiss to her cheek before sitting back. He felt eyes on him and turned his head to see Dove standing in the doorway. He smiled, a slight nod of his head agreeing with her. Dove, Ben and Olivia were family, as much as Amelia. And that had been missing in his life.

"OK." Jessie eased Olivia from his lap, and then stood up. "Go pick out your favorite toy and show me?" He pat the top of her head, then crouched to smack her bottom to send the girl on her way. Jessie had more news to share with Dove.

Olivia let out a squawk as her bottom was patted, hesitant to leave the kitchen. Her eyes lingered on the bowls and the ice cream, torn between doing what she wanted to do, and doing what she was told. Dove laughed at the tortured indecision on her daughter's face. "The ice cream will still be here when you come back," she promised the little girl. "Go and get Daddy to help you find Mrs Crumbles."

Given an assurance that the promised treat wasn't about to be taken away, the little girl nodded and scurried from the room, yelling for her father at the top of her lungs, as Dove moved into the kitchen.

Once Olivia scampered out of the room, Jessie reached for Dove's hands to lead her to the chair he'd just vacated. He hoped that the last bit of news would give her as much closer as it had given him. He crouched before her, her hands still held in his own.

"I killed him," he whispered, gazing into Dove's eyes. "Tony and his friends are gone, Dove. The kids he had are now safe and sound. Nobody has to go through that again."

It might have seemed, to an observer, that Dove barely reacted at all to this news. While it was true that she no longer remembered the horrors they'd both been subjected to, she knew from the scars on her skin and the occasional unwanted reaction to an innocent motion from friends or family that it had been terrible. Her hands folded Jessie's between them, squeezing hard, harder than she should have been able to, as myriad emotions swept across her gaze. Anger, fear, distress, relief, gratitude, and finally ... just calm resignation. It was over. "Good," she whispered in answer.

Jessie watched her expression as he delivered the news, the light reflecting off of the tiny shards of glass still embedded in his eyes. And when she settled on calm resignation, he smiled and nodded. It was over, their past laid to rest. He breathed out a sigh, let go of her hands and folded his arms around her to embrace her gently.

"Now we can really get on with our lives," he murmured against her ear. His eyes closed and he relaxed into the knowledge that he was home.

She curled into his arms, a last little tremble of the old, broken Dove there for him to feel as she clung to him, pressing a kiss to his cheek. "Together," she whispered back to him. "No more running away."

Jessie's grip on her tightened when she trembled and he smiled at her words. Gently, he drew back and smiled even more warmly when he gazed into her big, blue eyes.

Ben, with Olivia on his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, stepped into the kitchen and flipped Olivia from his shoulder as he sat in a chair, placing his daughter on his lap. "We found Mrs. Crumbles," he announced. Knowing that Jessie and Dove had a past that he really didn't want to know about, he didn't ask about what they'd been doing.

Gently brushing Jessie's hair from his eyes, Dove smiled for her brother and best friend, looking up as Ben reappeared with a giggling Olivia over his shoulder. The tension that had filled the kitchen for a few short moments eased away, replaced with the warmth of family as Mrs Crumbles was introduced ... a small, battered stuffed rabbit that had once belonged to Dove herself. Olivia swarmed into Jessie's arms where he crouched on the floor to tell him all about her favorite cuddly, while Dove and Ben watched. A family once again, for the first time in years. And this time, they were going to stay that way.

((Thanks so much to Dove's & Olivia's player! Good to be home!))
 

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"Jacob wrote a note back," Jessie couldn't really call a piece of paper with just one word and a signature as a letter. "I'm going to see him, find out if he can get me my job back. After what I did to him, it just doesn't seem right to expect or ask for anything else."

Taking advantage of the sunny weather and cool breeze, the decision was made to get Olivia out of the house and let her spend all of that pent up energy on the local playground. The walk had been short, and Jessie had Amelia strapped to his front in the sling that he loved to keep her in. His hands remained around the curve in the sling, giving gentle pats and caresses if the baby began to twitch or fuss. Already she had her daddy wrapped around her little finger.

"One step at a time, Jessie," Dove counseled softly, one eye on her hyperactive daughter who was clambering up a frame to reach the top of the slide she'd decided she wanted to whizz down. She enjoyed the playground - it was a chance to sit down and enjoy the weather without being constantly pestered by Olivia. All she had to do was keep an eye in case of accidents. "So long as you don't expect too much, you won't be disappointed."


Jessie had chosen to stand, and his hand rested upon his sister's shoulder lightly. He gave a gentle squeeze to her words of wisdom and then huffed a soft laugh. "I'm not expecting anything, really. I wrote to him before I went to visit with you. So I think he might have agreed to help because of the situation that I was in, then." He smiled and waved to Olivia as she went whizzing down the slide. "Good girl!" he called out to her.

His attention went back to Dove and he finally did sit down beside her. Pulling Amelia from the sling, he held her out for Dove. It was the first time since he'd moved in that he'd relaxed enough to let anyone else hold her.


Urged on by the waving praise from her Uncle Jessie, and the round of applause from her mother, Olivia beamed and immediately scrambled around to climb again, wanting to repeat her success. Dove chuckled softly, glancing at Jessie as he sat down. "Whatever happened between you, Jacob's a good man," she said quietly. "You shared a lot. It would take something terrible to make him completely turn his back on you, Jessiebean." She blinked then, a little startled to find herself presented with the baby girl her brother was so precious with, but natural instincts are difficult to ignore. She took Amelia with the ease of practice, and settled the baby girl on her lap, facing the playground, leaning back against Dove's chest with hands secure to keep her from sliding. No mess, no fuss, and no big deal made out of something Jessie had obviously never done before.


Jessie watched as the ever energetic Olivia was scrambling back up the tower to slide back down. He maintained his smile and called out more encouragement for her. But the moment that Dove began to ask questions, his smile faded and he folded his hands in front of himself. "He's not a public display of affection kind of guy," he started with a sigh. "So when he finally did ask me out on a date to a fund raising auction that his father was holding, I was very excited."

He took in a deep breath, and then let it out slowly. "We got there and his father tried to humiliate us both, but Jacob fixed that. We mingled around and a priest, Jacob and his father's priest, kind of got in our face. He wasn't mean or obnoxious, but I could tell that Jacob wasn't comfortable. So I put on my biggest smile and told the priest that we were looking at his church for our wedding." He sighed then and shook his head. "Jacob hadn't even asked to marry me, and the priest got all flustered and left. I think Jacob was disappointed or something because he really didn't talk to me the rest of the night. And then we just saw less and less of each other. I hadn't seen him in over a month when Gage showed up." He shrugged and spread his hands then, she knew the rest.

"Oh dear, Jessie." Dove's smile was fond, but just a little bit pained, at this relating of what had led to the downfall of her brother's relationship with Jacob. She loved him, but he did have a tendency to speak before he thought sometimes. "I don't think he was disappointed. I think, perhaps, you embarrassed him. I know you, I know you didn't mean to, but Jacob is a very private man, and a very cautious one. Announcing an engagement that doesn't exist to his family, or a family friend, even if it was just to annoy one religious bigot ... that's a very big mistake to make." She reached out with one hand, gently stroking Jessie's hair back from his face as Amelia gurgled on her lap. "I think you've had your run of three, though. Everything should be good from here on in."


"It was a huge mistake," Jessie sighed, agreeing with her. He grew quiet then, relishing the comfort of his sister's touch and watching as Olivia tackled yet another jungle gym. Amelia's gurgling brought a bit of his smile back and Amber eyes glanced down at her happily sitting in Aunt Dove's lap. Reaching over, he gently slid the back of his index finger along the curve of her cheek.

"Run of three?" He hadn't heard anything like that before. But if it meant that his luck was about to change? Jessie was all about wanting to know what it meant.


"Bad luck comes in threes," she clarified with a faint smile, making no comment on the touch he offered to his daughter, nestled on her lap. She remembered the first time she'd handed Olivia to someone who wasn't Ben - she'd hovered and worried until she had her daughter back in her own arms. By contrast, Jessie was coping very well indeed. It was the first step toward him leaving Amelia with them while he went out to enjoy himself for once. Movement caught her eye, and she raised her voice, her head turning toward Olivia only after the little girl's name had been called. "Olivia! Not that one, if you please - something smaller!"


"Oh," Jessie had heard that before, just like deaths come in threes. He nodded and moved his hand so that his finger was in Amelia's palm. The smile when she gripped his finger tightly was genuinely proud. "Something smaller, Livvie and Uncle Jessie will buy you a sweetie on the way home!" That should do the trick!

As long as he had some kind of tactile contact with Amelia, Jessie was alright. It's not that he didn't trust Dove; if there was anybody he could trust it was her. But Amelia was his blood, his baby, his world. She kept him grounded and he was fiercely protective. As any new parent would be.

"He's probably found someone new," Jessie murmured. "It's been almost six months or so since we last really talked so, it's only fair to think that, right?"


There was a grumble from the jungle gym. Dove's brow rose in that formidable expression she had learned over the past few years. "Don't make me come over there," she threatened Olivia, who abruptly shut up and went to play on the smaller slide once again. With the three-year-old better matched with her choice of arena, Dove turned her attention back to Jessie with a faint smile. "Whether he's with someone or not shouldn't matter," she pointed out to her brother. "This little woman right here is the center of your world now. You need to make friends, Jessie, friends that you can call on if you need them, and who know they can do the same to you. Believe me, the greater your circle of support is, the more capable you will feel. You're too bruised in heart to even consider anything more."
 

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Jessie couldn't help but laugh softly at the grumble and pout coming from Olivia. Even the way she stomped over to the slide was funny. At least, to Jessie it was. He turned his attention back to Dove and the conversation. "I know, Dove. I'm not expecting anything from Jacob, really. It's going to be strange and awkward if he does have his boyfriend over, though." And the imagination is a horrible thing. He wiped his eyes with his hand to get the image of Jacob with another guy out of his head. It wasn't fair to either of them to be jealous of something he had no right to be jealous about.

"Friends, like you and Ben and Roan." He'd missed the companionship that he'd built with his co-worker. He'd missed a lot.


When he looked back at Dove, she was smiling knowingly, understanding where his mind had gone in those moments when he had covered his eyes. "Well, if he does have company, just promise me you'll think before you speak," she said gently. "The last thing you want is to upset Jacob, or any partner he might currently have. Take Amelia with you - babies are a good distraction."


Jessie flushed and averted his eyes back to Amelia when Dove looked at him like that. "I won't say anything to him about it, or to his partner. If he has a partner." It really all was just a guessing and waiting game from this point on. "I intended to take Amelia, I love you and Ben, and trust you more than any other person I've met. But I don't think I'm ready to be away from her, just yet."


"I'm not expecting you to let go anytime soon, Jessie, but you will have to get used to leaving her with people you trust sometimes. You'll go crazy otherwise." Motherhood had certainly given Dove insight into the way certain minds worked, a wisdom that should have been beyond her years but seemed to sit very comfortably behind the angelic face that smiled back at her brother. "I'm not going to push. Not yet. But if it goes too far, I will make Ben take you out drinking and I'll look after the girls for the evening. And trust me, Ben will not let you come home until you're legless."


There were times that Jessie already thought that he was going out of his mind, and that smile and bow of his head told that story. "Not sure that's a good idea," he laughed and then nudged her gently with his shoulder. "Ben just might succumb to my charms." It was a tease and it felt good to laugh with Dove as they shared the moment. "Besides, alcohol doesn't affect me anymore. The whole healing thing that goes with what I am now. I feel tipsy for a few seconds and then it's gone. Kind of sucks."


"All right, he won't let you come home until he's legless," she adjusted the scenario for him with a grin. "And I'll be relying on you to get him home safely, so you'll have to stay out until he's ready to be dragged back. So there." She stuck her tongue out at him impishly.


Jessie reached up and tapped her tongue with his calloused finger. "Your face will get stuck that way." The jostling got a small grunt from Amelia, though it easily could have been gas, and Jessie lifted her from Dove's arms to place upon his own shoulder. He pats and rubbed her back and smiled for his sister. "I can't stop wanting to hold her and touch her. It's like she's this amazing little person, you know?"


"Beware the terrible twos and the arsehole threes," was all Dove had to say to that, though her grin was getting wider at the thought of Jessie having to deal with a three-year-old. As lovely as Olivia was most of the time, she had her moments, and they'd gotten a lot worse since she'd turned three. And speaking of Olivia ... There was a wail from the playground, and Dove was already moving before she'd even looked around, recognizing her own little girl's voice easily. Olivia was on her hands and knees on the woodchips at the bottom of a slide, and had apparently had quite a robust landing.


Jessie couldn't imagine his little princess ever being an arsehole. But then Dove was up and running and Jessie watched with concern and a bit of astonishment. He'd never seen her move so fast! Getting up, he walked over with Amelia still at his shoulder. "Is she ok?" He didn't see anything really amiss. The scent of blood was faint, just a couple of scrapes. Amelia stirred, grunted again and then lay back on his shoulder.


It was only a matter of seconds before Olivia was back on her feet, cradle close between Dove's knees as Mummy inspected the little injury and soothed away the shock of the fall. The scrapes were minor, but they were sore, needing a swipe with baby wipes to clean off and magical Mummy kisses to make them all better. With the tears dried, Olivia snuggled close for a moment, and then took off again, choosing this time to play on the swings. Dove rose back onto her feet with a wry smile. "I swear that girl finds a way to hurt herself doing anything."


Jessie watched with utter fascination as Dove so expertly soothed and cared for Olivia. And there was no small part of him that couldn't imagine him in the same situation without falling apart. And even when Olivia was back up and running off, Dove's cool and calm demeanor gave Jessie a whole new respect for his sister. He gazed at her in awe, even as she spoke. "It's her daddy in her," he murmured. "How'd you do that? I would have been in pieces."


"No, you wouldn't." Dove grinned up at him, watching Olivia a moment longer before moving to return to the bench and sit down once again. "It's called being a parent, Jessiebean. You can't fall to pieces, because it makes it worse. If I panic when she hurts herself, she panics, because she has complete faith that Mummy or Daddy, or Uncle Jessie, can fix anything and make it right again. As soon as she thinks that we can't, she gets scared." She shrugged, shaking her head. "Believe me, by the time Amelia is getting into scrapes like that, you'll be an expert."


Jessie eyed her skeptically. Though she was Dove's child, Jessie could handle it if something happened to her. If something were to happen to Amelia? He clutched her more tightly and placed her into the sling. A blanket was tucked tight around her and he smiled when she did. "I don't know. Can we put them in bubble wrap or something?" It seemed far easier than dealing with scrapes, bruises and bumps.


"Only if you want them to be useless adults," Dove nodded cheerfully, thumping down onto the bench comfortably. "It's all a part of learning how to behave. If I make a fuss of Livvie every time she gets hurt, she'll learn to make a fuss of everything, no matter how small it is. Surely you've met adults like that. They're the most annoying people on the planet."


Jessie laughed ruefully as he sat carefully onto the bench beside Dove. He could think of one person, in particular, who always made a fuss over things no matter how tiny the significance. "You're right, they're not only annoying, and they’re hurtful and selfish." Hmm, that sounded a bit bitter.


Her hand patted his thigh gently, but her smile was teasing as she spoke. "Ben's not so bad once you get to know him," she said impishly, daring Jessie to correct when she knew perfectly well who he was talking about. She looked down at Amelia, and on impulse, bopped the little button nose with a fingertip. "Your daddy's a worry pot."


Jessie opened his mouth to protest, but stopped. She was right, Jessie needed to stop thinking about Gage. It would do no good and just upset himself further. He glanced down when Dove bopped Amelia on the nose and it took a great amount of control to keep himself from wrapping Amelia in his arms and turning his back to Dove. Jessie was most definitely a worry pot and he had to take a few breaths to calm himself down. But Amelia? She crossed her eyes and her mouth popped open for a toothless, gummy, drooling grin. When Jessie saw that, he relaxed visibly. "Sorry," he looked to Dove and exhaled again. "Just, not used to.. .you know. It'll get better, I promise."


Chuckling at Amelia's happy reaction to being played with, even a little, Dove met Jessie's eyes with a raised brow. "You can't protect them forever," she told him quietly, completely serious for one short moment before her smile resumed its place on her face. "Besides, how would you cope if I got pregnant again and didn't let you do more than watch? We're family, Jessie. You can trust us."


"I know, I know," he reached to give Dove a hug and a press of a kiss to her cheek. "You're all the family I have and I do trust you. It's just hard right now, you know? We lived in a bubble, and even before we broke up, I was the only one around her for the first month of her life. It's just now that bubble is gone and the world is so big and she's so very tiny. I know I can trust you, please don't think that I don't. It's just going to take a tiny bit of time."


She hugged into him fondly, smirking into his shoulder as the familiar patter of footsteps announced Olivia was on her way. Luckily for Jessie - and more importantly, Amelia - Dove caught her wayward toddler before she could launch herself into the middle of the hug, settling Livvie on her lap so they could all hug each other without squashing the baby.


"Hello, you," Jessie included Livvie in the hug and kissed her cheek, too. He leaned back then and rested his arm over the back of the bench, his other wrapped around the curve of the sling. "I think its lunchtime and I did promise some sweeties. What do you say we walk over to the hot dog cart and pig out?" He smiled at the ladies in his life, glad to have them there.


Hopeful blue eyes looked up at Dove, who knew when she was cornered. She chuckled, rolling her eyes at her daughter. "All right," she conceded, "but no arguing about eating your veggies at dinner tonight. Deal?" A flicker of rebellion showed itself in Olivia's gaze, but she was smart enough to pick her battles, this one. "M'kay," she agreed reluctantly, slithering down to find her feet again as she tugged at her Mummy's hand. "Oh, and Uncle Jessie is paying," Dove added with a grin.
 

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Jessie laughed as things got settled and he got up from the bench to take Olivia's other hand. "I am most definitely paying," he agreed. Though the Black Card had been shredded, Jessie kept his money liquid and always carried some cash with him, just in case. And when they got to the cart, Jessie ordered two plain hot dogs for himself and a glass of lemonade before standing back and waiting for Olivia and Dove to place their orders. "Anything you want, really," he encouraged. And the hot dog guy had a lot to offer. There were drinks and candy, ice cream and sodas. "But only one of anything," he looked down at Olivia with the rule.


After a little bargaining, Olivia was rewarded with a whole hotdog to herself, with ketchup, and a glass of juice, while Dove had the works on her hotdog, indulging herself with something ridiculously bad for her for once. Ben was going to be a little jealous of the outing, no doubt, but he could be rewarded in other ways for being the man of the house. By the time they sat down, Olivia already had a ketchup mustache, not even attempting to make conversation as she chewed happily. Dove chuckled. "Uncle Jessie, I think you just became her favorite person ever."


Jessie sat down across from Olivia and nibbled at his own hot dog as he watched her eat. "Well, see, that's the trick. I can spoil her, because I can send her packing back to you and Ben when she's all hyped up." It didn't occur to him that two can play at that game. And, he was merely teasing. "This is nice, though. Being the favorite person in the world, that is," he grinned and pushed his hot dog around on the paper plate. "Won't Ben be disappointed, though?"


"Not while you're living with us, you can't," Dove pointed out with a grin. "You will suffer for the consequences with us." She paused to take a bite of her hotdog, negotiating a long slice of onion in the process, and batted her lashes at Amelia as she chewed, not wanting the tiny girl to feel left out while she was awake. "Daddy's the bestest persum inna worl'," Olivia informed Jessie around her own mouthful, confirming that with a confident nod.


Jessie's grin got wider and he gained a "watch me" look in his eyes. Yes, he was going to attempt it! Someday. But, for now, he'd behave. Besides, it was getting near time to feed Amelia. He couldn't misbehave when he had that to consider. And when Olivia spoke, Jessie turned his head to nod in agreement. "He has to be, look at who his baby girl is," he smiled and then reached for the baby bag to pull a bottle from its depths. He tucked the bottle in between himself and Amelia to warm up. Their combined body temperatures were a bit warmer than most.


"M'not a baby," the toddler objected grumpily, subsiding under a glance from her mother. "Well, m'not." Dove watched until Olivia went back to her meal, and flashed Jessie a grin. "We should be going home after lunch, anyway," she said, more to keep the conversation flowing than anything. "Little Miss Smarty Pants needs a nap after last night's adventures."


Jessie held up his hands and grinned. "I do beg your pardon, I should have said look who his beautiful young lady daughter is," he chuckled and when he brought his hands down, that bottle was plucked up and offered to Amelia. Not a moment too soon, as she looked like she was about to wail. "She has to recharge her batteries," Jessie agreed with a nod. "I think I need to recharge mine, too. Just watching Olivia run about makes me exhausted," he teased.


Dove snickered as she finished her hotdog. Poor Jessie ... he really did have no idea just what it took to keep on top of this parenting thing. Right now she was doing Amelia's laundry, bottling sterilizing, and making sure there was enough formula made up in the fridge, mostly because she could fit it in with all the other little bits and pieces that went with having a toddler. Her brother had it easy, and he didn't even realize. "Poor babies, so sleepy."


Actually, Jessie did know. Prior to living with Dove and Ben it had been his sole responsibility to care for Amelia. That included feeding, bathing and when she was napping making sure the laundry was done, bottles sterilized and formula mixed up and ready. So when Dove took over that bit of the work load, Jessie wasn't going to argue with her. He smiled back at her and then it was his turn to stick out his tongue. "Sleep when she does, remember?" He waggled his brow and then glanced down with a fond smile for his daughter. Amelia was happily draining that bottle with a few smacks to her tiny lips.


"Within reason," his sister countered laughingly, shaking her head. Absentmindedly, she reached over to wipe Olivia's mouth and hands clean before the little girl could start leaving tomatoey handprints everywhere, puckering up with a fish face to make her daughter giggle before planting a smacker of a kiss on the little cheek. "Your choice, little miss," she told the toddler. "Candy now, or ice cream after dinner tonight?" This was given some serious thought, Olivia's little face screwed up in concentration before she came up with her answer. "Ice cream."


Jessie winked playfully and sat back to watch mother and daughter interact as he fed his own daughter. He could tell that he'd have a great teacher of parenting in his sister. She was great with Olivia and Amelia, too. "Ice cream!" Jessie raised one hand in victory. "I love mint chip, what's your favorite, Olivia?" Jessie's smile for Dove was soft, gentle and loving as he turned his gaze onto her. Amelia had finished the bottle and Jessie brought her up to his shoulder to pat her back and rock her a bit.


"What's min-shit?" From the mouths of babes. Olivia's mispronunciation was allowed to slide for a moment as Dove fought not to laugh, biting her lips from the inside to suppress the urge to giggle before she corrected the little girl. "Mint chip," she told her daughter, each word clear and crisp for the toddler's benefit. "Mint chip," was repeated back to her clearly and precisely, and then Jessie got the full force of that curious gaze. "What is it?"


Jessie had to do a double take, not believing his ears at first. And then he slapped one hand over his mouth to keep from laughing out loud.. And thank God Dove kept her composure because Jessie would have completely lost it. So as the conversation between mother and daughter continued, he was able to take a deep breath and then let it out. Composure regained just in time. "Its minty, like toothpaste with chocolate chips in it. I love it."


"I doesn't ever has that," Olivia continued to mangle the language in her attempt to hold up her end of the conversation, and this time Dove let it slide. If she corrected everything that came out of Livvie's mouth, the girl would never speak again. "Maybe we could pick some up at the store on the way home," she suggested, both to Jessie and Olivia. "If you're both very good."
 

Dirk Stevens

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Well if Dove wasn't going to correct her, then neither would Jessie. He simply smiled and then nodded in agreement that they should, indeed, pick up some on the way home. "I'll be vewwy, vewwy good, Mommy," he promised with a bit of a snicker. To which Amelia replied with a loud belch. "Very good, Amelia," Jessie said proudly as he kissed her little cheek before laying her back into the sling. "I think she needs a change, too. So we should get going."


"You know there's a changing station right over there," Dove pointed to a small hut that stood back from the playground. "You don't need to leave her in her mess until we get home." She glanced down at her daughter. "We need to finish our drinks anyway, don't we?"


Jessie turned his head to look over to the changing station and then back to Dove. "I don't know," he replied dubiously. "What if it's got nasty stuff, from other babies? I don't want..." and then he realized that he was doing it again. "You're absolutely right. I'm not going to make her sit in her mess," Jessie smiled and then lifted from where he was sitting, shouldering the baby bag. "If you ladies will pardon me for a moment?" He bowed then and turned to walk to the hut. His plate had hardly been touched.


"Well done." Dove smiled, proud of him for not giving in to the psychotic mommy phase everyone went through on occasion. She glanced down at his food and frowned faintly, making a mental note to get at least a sandwich into him before he went for his nap when they got home.


Before laying Amelia out onto the fold down table, Jessie scrubbed it with a baby wipe, and then wrapped it in a fresh bag before placing the changing mat onto the table. Satisfied that Amelia was safe, he placed her carefully onto the mat. And then presto, chango! Amelia was clean, dry and well fed. She was ready for a nap, herself. Jessie put her back into the sling, disposed of the bag and the diaper, and made his way back, rubbing antibacterial gel between his hands. "Ok! So, what's next, hmm?"


By the time he got back to them, Dove had Olivia by the hand, both mother and daughter making gruesomely silly faces at each other to pass the time. "We goin' home, Unc'a Smelly," Livvie informed him in a superior tone, and again, Dove didn't correct her. The name game was Jessie's fight.


Jessie glanced from mother to daughter and back in confusion. Lifting his arm, he twisted his head down to sniff his armpit. He didn't smell! His attention back to Olivia. "That's not very nice," he shook his head and then looked back up at Dove. "So, store and then home? Amelia'll be knocked out by then."


Ah, so Uncle Jessie was going to lose the name game, then. Dove chuckled, nodding in answer to his query. "Yes, it shouldn't take long," she assured him. "We're not far from home, and the store is on the way. And you, little miss, shouldn't be calling anyone smelly when I know for a fact that you're wearing a shirt that's two days old." Olivia pouted. "But I like it!" she complained loudly as they set off. Dove smirked down at her. "I know you like it, but I am going to put it in the washing tonight, and no amount of tantrum will change my mind."


Oh yes, Jessie was going to lose that one, big time. Eventually, he'll learn, but for now he considered it a small victory. Poor deluded Jessie. He started off, reaching for Olivia's other hand as they strolled towards the store. He listened to the little verbal battle going on and couldn't help but chuckle. "Might want to listen to Mommy, Olivia. She could make nothing but brussell sprouts and liver for a whole week!" Oh he was teasing and he winked conspiratorially to Dove.


Dove snorted with laughter. "Oh, no, I wouldn't," she was quick to head that one off. "I share a bed with a man who only has to look at beans to get gassy." Beside her, Livvie stumbled, kept upright only by the firm grip she had on the little girl's hand. "Hey, you, stay awake. You're too big to carry."


Jessie laughed out loud, and shook his head. "That's far more information that is required," he chuckled. And when Olivia stumbled, Jessie grasped her hand a bit tighter to keep her upright. But then Dove told the girl to stay awake and Jessie thought she might just be falling asleep on her feet. Even with Amelia strapped to his front, Olivia weighed next to nothing. So he bent at the knee and scooped her up to sit Olivia on his hip. "There, you can sleep on Uncle Jessie's shoulder and I'll save some ice cream for you when you wake up."


"Ice cream happens after dinner, Uncle Jessie," Dove reminded him, but her smile was grateful as she gently stroked her daughter's hair. Livvie really had run herself ragged, going limp in Jessie's arms within seconds. "Poor love, she never seems to realise she's going to have to walk home, too."


Jessie was going to have to get used to schedules and what was eaten when. "Right, after dinner," he nodded and placed a soft kiss to Olivia's cheek as she settled in and fell asleep. "She's a good girl, Dove," he smiled for his sister as they walked along at a comfortable pace. Anyone looking in their direction would think husband and wife with two kids. "I think she's going to be a fighter, just like her mom, but with her father's dramatics," he chuckled.


"She is a good girl," Dove murmured softly, smiling at his prediction for her daughter's future. "Drives me up the wall sometimes, but she's growing out of it. I just have to get through the rest of the horrible threes without losing my cool, and apparently the little bitch will go away and leave the sweet little girl with us until she hits twelve."


It shocked Jessie to hear Dove refer to Olivia, or even a part of her, as a little bitch and his eyebrows shot up. But, Dove was still speaking and he didn't question it. Until, the very end. And then he was curious, not surprised. "What happens at 12?"


She caught the shock on his face and laughed softly. "Oh, trust me, you'll have days when you feel exactly like that," she assured him. "It doesn't mean you won't still love her, but she'll drive you nutty." She paused, rubbing her hand through her hair as he queried what happened next. "Oh, apparently when girls hit their tweens, they turn in a walking multiple personality nightmare."
 

Dirk Stevens

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If Jessie could, he'd scratch his head at all of this parenting advice and education. "It makes you wonder why people do it," he murmured, perplexed. And as he glanced down at his own sleeping bundle of joy, he couldn't imagine, for the life of him, any of those things happening to his baby girl. He smiled then and looked up at Dove. "We'll do our best to persevere and push through it." He leaned to peck her cheek and then continued on. The store was no more than a few feet away. "How about I just stay here while you go in. I'm not going to be much help in there," he chuckled.


"That we will," she agreed with a nod, tweaking the end of his nose between thumb and forefinger. "I won't be long. Ten minutes, tops." With a last check of her daughter, she slipped into the store, walking with speedy purpose to accomplish her intent and get back home as soon as possible.


Jessie stood his post, keeping the sleeping Olivia on one shoulder as best he could while Amelia rested peacefully within the confines of the sling. Several times little old ladies passed him by with a pat to his arm and "How sweet," murmured in his direction. Jessie just kept on smiling and standing there. What else could he do? But when a well built guy with dark hair and blue eyes and a bubble butt walked by, he couldn't help but turn and watch. And then he sighed. Some things of beauty just had to be looked at.


As promised, Dove wasn't long, skipping back to his side in time to catch him enjoying the view as it walked away from him. She pinched his butt with a snicker. "C'mon, Randy, let's go home."


Well the pinch was a surprise and he jumped a little when she spoke. "Hey, I can look," he grinned and turned to walk away from the store. "Got everything?" He strengthened his grip on Olivia and bounced just a bit to get her back into place on his shoulder.


She nodded. "If I need anything else, I can run out and leave you to keep an eye on the girls, can't I?" she added with a smile, ignoring the faint protest from Olivia as she was rearranged on Jessie's shoulder. "Not long now, and you can collapse while they nap."


"Of course," Jessie was proud of the fact that Dove could leave Olivia in his care. "I'd be happy to keep an eye on her for you, Dove." He gently calmed Olivia with a hand to the back of her head that eased her back to his shoulder. "Never thought we'd be doing this," he said quietly. "Grown up, with children of our own. It's amazing how far we've come."


"And how much further we'll go," she promised him quietly, rubbing her hand against his back as they walked along, the grocery bag rustling in the curl of her other arm. "This isn't it, Jessie. There's a lot more to come, and it will all be brilliant. Just you wait and see."


"It will be," he assured her with a smile. The small hand rubbing his back felt good. He hadn't realized that a sore spot was starting. And then he stepped onto the front porch of the house and he moved to the side to make room for her to open up the door. "Do you ever get excited, thinking about what she's going to be like, or what she's going to do when she gets older?"


"Sometimes," Dove admitted, getting the door open and stepping aside to let him in first. Her bags were left by the door as she reached to take Olivia from him, cuddling her little lump of cuteness close for a moment or two. "Life's too short to make plans for her when she's so small. I just want to enjoy her as she is, before she starts growing up and making plans of her own."


Jessie stepped inside and relinquished his hold on Olivia easily. "Yeah, but it's nice to day dream about the woman she'll become. Of course, she'll never get married," he grinned widely and moved through the room towards the stairs. "Let me get her down and I'll be down to help with the groceries.


Snorting with laughter at Jessie's insistence that he could control his daughter's libido and heart, Dove hiked Olivia a little higher and moved to follow him, needing to put her little one down as well. There was a side trip to the bathroom, however - the last thing she wanted to deal with was a wet bed just because Livvie had fallen asleep before getting into it.


Jessie placed Amelia into the crib that had been brought over from the penthouse. It was in his bedroom, and that's the way he liked it. Humming a soft lullaby, he rubbed her back until she settled once again. Then the monitors were checked and he pocketed his end before leaving the room with the door open, just a crack. Seeing that Dove was still busy with Olivia, Jessie traveled outside to gather the groceries and then bring them inside. He nudged the door shut with his foot as he made his way into the kitchen.


A few minutes later, Dove reappeared downstairs with Livvie's shoes in her hand, dropping them into the basket in the hallway before making her own way into the kitchen. She offered Jessie a tired smile, glancing at the washing machine with a faint grimace. She really did hate doing the laundry, but it had to be done. "Sleeping peacefully?" she asked as she moved to switch over the loads, crouching by the machine.


"Like a baby," he grinned over his shoulders as he put the last of the groceries into the cabinet. "Let me do that, Dove. You take seat and relax for a bit." Jessie didn't mind, really, and went over to the washer to nudge her out of the way. "I didn't let him spoil me to the point where I didn't do my own laundry. I think it frustrated him because I insisted. You should have seen the fight just to get me to move out of our old apartment." He shook his head with a chuckle.


She smiled, letting him take over the chore gratefully. "I don't mean to imply that you're spoiled, Jessiebean," she told him quietly, sinking into a chair with a quiet sigh. "But you have Amelia waking up every four hours, at least. I get a full night's sleep, I shouldn't be feeling this tired." She chuckled softly, shaking her head. "Perhaps I didn't sleep as well as I thought I did last night."


Jessie finished loading the dryer and then popped a dryer sheet into the machine before closing it. It wasn't much of a reach to push the button to get it started. He turned then, and leaned against the dryer as Dove spoke, and Jessie folded his arms across the chest. "Is something wrong, Dove?" He canted his head and spoke softly. Dropping his arms to his sides, he pushed off of the dryer and went to take a seat beside her.


"Not that I know," she assured him with a warm smile. "I'm just tired today, that's all. Thank God for the good weather, or I think Livvie might have run me into the ground rather than herself. Ben can deal with the evening madness tonight."


"You're not pregnant, are you?" Jessie took her hand and squeezed it gently between his own. He remembered her first pregnancy and he still worried over her as if no time had passed between now and then. "I might have to kill Ben, if you are," but it was a gentle tease.


She laughed at that, letting him take her hand as she leaned against him. "If I am, I don't know it yet," she grinned, shaking her head. "Besides, you didn't kill Ben last time, and we weren't married then. You've got even less of an excuse this time."


"Hey, getting my sister pregnant is always a good reason," he chuckled and then pulled her into a warm embrace. "Love you, Dove," he whispered, placing his chin atop her head. "No matter what happens tomorrow or ten years down the road, I'll always be here for you."


Laughing, Dove cuddled into Jessie's embrace, breathing out a long contented sigh as she closed her eyes. "I know you will, Jessiebean," she promised him softly. "Just like I'll be here for you. We're family."


"Always," he bent his head and kissed the top of hers before releasing her. "Now, let's get some ice cream before it's all gone," he chuckled and sat back in his chair. It really was beginning to feel like he was right at home.


(Thanks again to Dove and Olivia's player! ::hugs:: )
 
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