- Family, Always
- Character Bashing
- Death - Child
- Death - Major Character
- Discussion - Child Abuse
- Discussion - Domestic Violence
- Discussion - Murder
- Alternate Universe
- Challenge Response
- Established Relationship
Guide Antony Buckley formerly Anthony DiNozzo was on his way back to the firehouse that he and his Sentinel husband Russell Buckley worked out of in Philadelphia, PA. The two of them had been with Philly FD for almost two years including their time at the academy, and had been out of their probationary period for a little over six months. Tony spent an extra year in college finishing up his Civil Engineering degree that he’d added on after he and Russell had rescued two kids from a home fire when they were Juniors. Russell had spent that year helping his father with the family construction company.
The fire had been life changing for them both Tony and Russ in many ways. Prior to that the two of them had been in a somewhat secret relationship because neither were online and therefore didn’t know for sure if they would be compatible or not once that changed. While both knew that Russell’s family was understanding, neither wanted the lectures they would get as a result from well-meaning friends who thought one-night stands were the better way to go if you didn’t know who your bond mate was.
There was a very strong attraction and connection between the two of them, and Russell’s parents, Dorothy and Emerson, were the parents Tony had always wanted. Eventually though they’d decided that there was enough certainty that they decided to risk the criticism and ridicule from their closest friends because the relationship between them felt more permanent than temporary even before they were online. Still, everyone else would be kept in the dark until their latent statuses changed.
Dot and Sonny had been together since they were teenagers when Emerson saved Dorothy from some bullying that had gone way too far. They weren’t bonded Sentinel and Guide. A combination of issues with Dorothy’s family and how she’d been treated by them on top of an illness that her family refused to have treated forced her to go dormant. In current times such an action would be considered abusive, but at the time the laws hadn’t quite caught up enough to protect children, especially child Guides who at the time were considered weaker and thus inferior, the way they did now.
Emerson, who went by Sonny, hadn’t cared a bit about his Dot being a dormant Guide though and declared her the most beautiful, intelligent, and enigmatic women he’d ever met and therefore had no interest in anyone else. The fact that it had meant giving up that Sentinel and Guide bond and eventually going dormant himself had been something Dot had struggled to get over. Eventually, Sonny convinced her that she was worth it though, and the two had been together for over fifty years.
The pair had two sons Phillip and Russell, but there was a large gap between the two boys, and as a result the two boys had never been close. In fact, Phillip was estranged from his family as a whole insisting that he was glad he’d never come online. He despised his Sentinel and Guide genetics so much that he, in fact, had lied to his wife about being dormant, and instead simply said he was not a Sentinel or Guide. Margaret, who was genuinely neither Sentinel or Guide, had been pleased by this. She often bragged to those within her social group at their so-called church, which more resembled a cult than anything else, how pure the both of them and their children were. This church wasn’t well thought of by those outside its congregation because among other disgusting intolerances they looked down on not just sentinels and guides but even those simply considered sensitives.
When Tony and Russell came upon the fire in college while on their way back from football practice, they immediately ran inside when they’d seen a child banging on an upstairs window. It was believed that it was a combination of the danger of the fire and the threat each perceived the other to be under that drew them both online. It turned out fortunate that the two of them were together, because otherwise there would have been no way only one of them would have been able to save the brother and sister.
In the aftermath, as the two recovered in a bonding suite at the Philadelphia Dept of Sentinel and Guide Affairs Center, they’d come to the realization that being able to save two vulnerable children had felt like a calling to them both. Running into the fire should have felt scary and overwhelming, even had they been online beforehand, but instead had felt natural and as if they were doing what they had always been meant to do. So, while they’d been isolated, they mapped out their lives going forward. Tony decided to drop his Physical Education degree and picked up Fire Science and Civil Engineering degrees in its place. Russell had picked up Fire Technology along with Emergency Medical Technology he’d already been studying for.
By the time they came out of their isolation, they had detailed plans to lay out for Russell’s parents. The two parents while nervous about the danger their sons would be in on a daily basis, said they were proud and understood the importance of following something as important as a calling. Tony for his part had very little contact at that point with his own family, and getting Dot and Sonny’s approval was all that he needed.
By the time Tony and Russell were walking across the stage at graduation from Ohio State, they both had places waiting for them for the next training class at Philadelphia Fire Department Academy, who were thrilled to have drawn the interest of such a young and powerful Sentinel and Guide pair.
Going to Philly hadn’t been a given. The two had been accepted at New York and Chicago as well, but neither had felt either city was quite right, and decided to stay closer to Russell’s parents until they could decide where they were being drawn to. As the ladder truck they were riding in pulled into the garage and Tony noticed not only their station Captain waiting, but also their Battalion Chief. After pointing this out to Russell Tony couldn’t help but wonder quietly if they were finally getting the answers to whatever had been bothering him all day.
Since they’d woken up to get ready to come in for their shift, Tony had felt a sense of impending doom. Because of his ADD, which Dot and Sonny had encouraged him to get diagnosed officially not long after Tony and Russ started dating as freshmen, Tony had a habit of fidgeting and feeling somewhat restless, at times more than others. This though felt different, and he’d been online as a Guide long enough by that time to know the difference between being restless because of his ADD and being restless because the spirit plane was trying to warn him about something.
“Roosevelt, can you let us out?” Russ called from next to Tony, laying a hand on Tony’s knee and squeezing gently in an attempt to console his Guide. “I have a feeling that the BC is here for us.”
“Whatever it is, we have your back,” Lt. Avery Singh, who was in charge of the truck that Tony and Russ were most commonly assigned to, called back to them from her spot in the spotter’s seat at the front.
“Have someone call us if you need anything,” Charles Gates echoed as he eased the truck to a stop. Charlie was Tony’s mentor and the current Head Engineer for their shift. The veteran firefighter had 15 years under his belt with the same station, and Tony liked the older man a lot.
“We’ll call and let you know. Hopefully it isn’t anything serious, but I have my doubts. Tony isn’t the only one who has been on edge today.” Russell offered softly before throwing open the door and hopping out with Tony following close behind him.
“Firefighters Buckley,” Captain Sampson greeted as the two hurried toward them. Tony tried his best to keep the empathy that came with his Guide gifts contained but couldn’t help but thin his shields enough to get a reading for whatever his Captain and Bat. Chief were letting out. The weight of their concern and anger was thick in the air and easily read well before he’d thinned his shields enough to read something they were attempting to hide. While they didn’t have a lot of experience around the Bat. Chief, they were familiar enough with their Captain to know that it was highly unusual for him to let emotions leak through his normally steady and strong shields.
“Let’s go to my office. Bat. Chief Dickerson has some news for you both.” Quickly they followed the two men through the station, past the apparatuses and to the captain’s office located at the back of the building on the first floor. The captain’s office was located at the back so that it overlook the pond and the large backyard area behind the station that led to a small wooded area. The back area was one of the perks of this particular station, and quite often you could find people hanging out back during downtimes after their chores were done.
Once they were settled in the captain’s office, their was a pause long enough that Tony started to get restless. He wasn’t sure if it was Russell feeding off Tony’s agitation or his own impatience, but it wasn’t long before his Sentinel decided to get things moving.
“With all due respect sirs, if you could let us know what is going on, we’d appreciate it. Tony’s been on edge all day. So, we’ve been aware that something was coming. We just don’t know what or how bad it is.”
“My apologies,” Bat. Chief Dickerson offered gently, and while Tony appreciated the man’s attempt to be kind, he thought that it might just be making Tony’s unease and anxiety worse. “My office got a call about an incident that happened yesterday. It took Philly PD a bit to figure out who to notify, and then it seems that Russell’s parents wanted to make sure they had the correct people before we notified you. Unfortunately, I was trying to get to you before you got called out again, but I just missed you by the time I got here.”
When Dickerson paused again, Tony wanted to growl, but instead turned his attention toward trying to keep Russell calm. It wouldn’t do for his Sentinel to start yelling at either their Captain or the Battalion Chief. Eventually, Dickerson seemed to get over whatever was holding him back and he continued on. “I regret to inform you both that Russell’s niece Maddie Buckley was killed yesterday by her mother Margaret. Philly PD has authorized me to fill you in on the basics because Margaret has mostly confessed to what she’d done. We have called in a pair of replacements to cover the remainder of your shift.”
Tony felt like a hand was squeezing his heart as he thought about the little girl that he’d only ever been able to see in pictures. Because of the estrangement between Phillip and the rest of his family, not even Dot and Sonny had ever met their grandchildren. The best they got were pictures that seemed to be sent at Christmas time, and Tony had always been surprised that they even got that. The one time he’d mentioned his surprise to Dot, she surmised that most likely Margaret did it out of some sense of social obligation or expectation.
“In addition to Maddie’s death, their youngest child Evan, is in the hospital after Margaret tried to smother him. The middle child Daniel was already in the children’s wing at the St Luke Memorial Hospital, where he’s been for several months, although I apologize that I am not sure why, but I do know that they made sure Evan was put in the same hospital as his brother.”
At this point, Captain Sampson took over and Tony felt some odd battle within himself between the numbness of shock and the anger that this woman had attacked not just two children or even her own children, which would have been bad enough, but she attacked two young members of Tony and Russell’s personal pride, even if they were members they had no real connection to.
“I’m going to have Gates and Singh take the two of you to the hospital to be with your family. Philly PD has said that Dot and Sonny are requesting you both join them. Either Gates or Singh can drive you in the Captain’s vehicle while the other follows in whichever car the two of you drove in today. The pair I pulled in are long term floaters as I expect that you two will need some extended time off, if for no other reason than to deal with what happened to young Maddie. Boys, if you need anything, I expect you to call me.”
“Yes sir,” Tony promised hearing the unspoken dismissal at the end, and rushed to keep up with his Sentinel, who was hurrying toward the locker rooms to get changed. Russell was far enough in front of Tony that by the time Tony reached the locker room, Russ was already standing in front of his locker shoving the clothes that he’d worn in into the duffel that the two of them shared to keep spare clothes in. “Russ,” Tony started, but didn’t get much past that before his Sentinel growled and slammed his open palm into the locker next to his letting out a growl of anger. When Waylon, Russell’s snow leopard appeared next to Russ, his furry white tail twitching back and forth in agitation as he let out a series of long and low growls, Tony wasn’t surprised in the least.
“Russ,” Tony repeated stepping up behind his Sentinel and husband, wrapping his arms around his Sentinel’s shoulders and rested his cheek against the back of his head. “I’m so sorry.”
“That fucking bitch!” Russell growled angrily slamming his palm against the locker again. Reaching out, Tony wrapped a hand around his wrist to prevent him from doing it again.
“I know,” Tony whispered, swallowing his own anger and forcing all his attention on soothing his Sentinel. “We need to get to the hospital though, and find out about Evan and Daniel. Whatever else comes of this, Phillip won’t be able to keep the children separated from us any longer. You and I will do our best to make sure that Evan and Daniel are protected from here forward. If we have to we’ll contact the Fairchild Foundation and get them involved. It doesn’t matter that we’ve never met them, I’ve always considered those kids part of our personal pride. If we have to, we’ll go to court to make sure we have access to those boys.”
Russell let loose an ugly snort and Tony could feel the derision behind the sound. “Fifty bucks says that Phillip abandons his sons. You know I was shocked that they had one kid let alone three. I know you remember the scene at their wedding just like I do and Margaret’s Great Aunt getting drunk and telling everyone how much Margaret loathes children. Phillip isn’t better. Honestly, I think the only reason they had kids was because Mabel as good as challenged them to do it. Why the hell they had three though I have no clue, but I am telling you right now that those boys are not staying with my fucking brother. He has the empathy of a turnip and the backbone of a slug. I’ll steal those fuckin’ kids if I have to. No way am I risking Phillip allowing two more of his kids to die.”
“I don’t think any better of your brother than you do, Russ, but we don’t know what happened,” Tony cautioned, even though his heart wasn’t in it. When Russell started moving enough to signal that he wanted let free, Tony pressed another kiss to the back of his head before he moved to his own locker. Quickly he opened the doors and pulled out the keys to his Charger and barely remembered to shove his spare clothes in the open duffel before remembering to take off his radio and then slammed the door shut.
“I am telling you right now, Tones, that fuckin’ brother of mine is somehow guilty of at least neglect. I know kids were supposed to be in the future but…”
“If those boys need a home, then we’ll make one for them,” Tony assured as he turned to look at his husband. “Your parents would take them if they had to, but frankly they’re too old to be chasing after two children of unknown age. We have the room and more importantly we have the love for those boys. If we decide that they’ll be better off with us, you know I back you, babe. I know what it’s like to grow up in a neglectful and abusive household. I wouldn’t wish someone like Senior on any child.”
Russell let out another low growl before pressing a quick and hard kiss to Tony’s lips before he turned and took off out the door. Tony allowed himself a quick breath to try to calm himself down before chasing after him. While he didn’t know exactly what was coming, he knew the next few hours and probably even days were not going to be easy. Russell had always had his back though even through the early dark days at OSU when Tony was struggling with loneliness and feeling unworthy of the love and affection Russell offered him. There was no way that Tony wouldn’t stand behind his husband and Sentinel’s side now when he needed him the most.
Less than half an hour later, Tony was following Russ through the hallways of the hospital towards the room that they’d been advised they could find Dot and Sunny in. He hadn’t seen the Buckley parents yet when he heard Russell call out Ma and pick up his pace. Immediately, Tony quickened his own steps and soon found himself stopping in the hallway outside a room watching as Russell pulled his mother into a hug. When he felt a pat on his shoulder, Tony turned and opened his arms for Sonny. Tony could see the grief and worry on the man’s face even if he had his Guide abilities tightly locked down.
“Tony, thank you so much for coming. I’m sorry we had to pull you boys off shift, but there are some complications.”
“Sonny, please,” Tony shook his head as he frowned at the older man. “I’d be pissed if you didn’t call us. I can’t believe this. Do we know for sure Margaret killed Maddie?”
“Oh, she did it alright,” Dot snapped as she moved out of Russ’s arms only to demand a hug from Tony. “Let’s move back into Evan’s room. They just took him to run some tests and we were going to go down to the cafeteria to take a break.”
“If you need something…” Tony started but Sonny shook his head and started to herd them towards the open doorway.
“We’ll go after we explain everything to you both. Now that you are here, it will be easier to watch over both boys and to take a break. Although, Aggie and Lizzie have been helping with Daniel. So, that has made things a lot easier.”
“Aggie and Lizzie,” Tony parroted trying to figure out why the names sounded familiar as he followed Russell towards a sitting area motioning to his Sentinel to take the chair, choosing to lean against the wall next to it while Dot and Sonny settled on a couch that looked like it would pull out into a bed. “Those names sound familiar.”
“Agatha Addams, who goes by Aggie, is a Sentinel and Margaret’s aunt while Lizzie is her Guide and her partner. They are a low level bonded pair, and live in New York City. They actually beat us here just because they are fairly well known because of the Fairchild Foundation.”
“Wait, Lizzie is one of those Fairchilds?” Russell asked surprised leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. “I didn’t know that. Although I guess the only time that I would have met Margaret’s family is at the wedding. I don’t… remember them being there.”
“They wouldn’t have,” Sonny offered with a sigh. “It seems that all of Margaret’s family hates Agatha and considers her an embarrassment for not only being a Sentinel but also a lesbian. She’s the only person to come online in their family in generations from what I understand at least until Daniel.”
“Daniel is online?” Tony asked surprised not realizing he’d pushed away from the wall.
“Let’s start with what we know about what happened,” Sonny suggested as he seemed to squeeze Dot’s hand.
“But to first answer your question, yes. We have met with both Daniel and Evan’s doctors. While we haven’t seen him, apparently Phillip was here briefly and gave approval for them to not just release information to us, but said that he wants you, Russell, to be in charge of making decisions for the boys. Supposedly his lawyer will be sending over documents to that effect. It’s probably the first decision he’s made that we’ve agreed with in I don’t know how long.
“What? Me?” Russell asked surprised but Sonny just held up his hand in a stop gesture before beginning his story.
“As you know, Phillip lied to Margaret and told her that he had no Sentinel or Guide genetics before they got married. So, Margaret has always believed that there was no way any of her children could be a Sentinel or Guide, even though such things happen all the time. It seems that Daniel was diagnosed with Leukemia a few years ago. They tried everything they could, but the cancer wouldn’t go into remission. The only chance that Daniel had was a bone marrow transplant, but they couldn’t find an “acceptable” match. Margaret seems to have found out about a new procedure through one of their… church friends and suggested to their doctor that they try creating a match through in vitro fertilization.”
Tony heard an angry, wounded sound and it took him a few minutes to realize that the sound was coming from him. It wasn’t until Russell pulled him down to sit on his lap that Tony settled down. Desperation he understood, and Tony could honestly say he didn’t know what he would do if he were in their position, but the word acceptable stood out to him because it was obvious that they had limited their options despite their claims of being desperate. After all, no one had contacted either Russell or himself, and most likely hadn’t informed Dot or Sonny either because if they had all of them would have been tested or reached out to friends if they were not eligible due to a sentinel and guide / mundane genetic mismatch.
“The doctors were hopeful, and thought it would work, but apparently took Margaret at her word about her claims that their children were “pure” and had none of the, in their words, defective sentinel and guide genetics. So, they limited their bone marrow donors to those without those because of known issues when trying to match mundanes with sentinels or guides. They were forced to wait for Evan was a year old before they could try for the transplant, and yesterday was the day. Unfortunately, it seems that their children weren’t as pure as they thought. We aren’t sure what happened, although Lizzie has an idea, which because of all the work her family has done for the community through their foundation, I would put more weight into her idea than most.”
Tony nodded, familiar with the Fairchild Foundation from his childhood on Long Island, and the foundation’s worldwide headquarters being based in New York City. Then there was his familiarity with Aggie andLizzie themselves from his boarding school years.
The Fairchild Foundation was created by what would have been Lizzie’s grandfather in response to her treatment after she was forced into a marriage with a man who claimed to be a latent sentinel. When the marriage ended up in disaster with Lizzie near death’s door after her husband, whom they found out was dormant most likely because of his abusive nature and not latent, her Grandfather started a non-profit foundation to help in situations where the government run Department of Sentinel and Guide Affairs couldn’t or wouldn’t.
“The day of the procedure Daniel had been more restless than normal, and while they say he is normally a good-natured kid, was grumpy and sometimes outright angry, but couldn’t explain what was wrong. As they got closer to the time for the procedure the worse things got with Daniel’s mood. Suddenly he started asking why they were just letting Evan be upset and why no one was helping him. The problem was that Evan wasn’t in the room or anywhere near Daniel’s room at the time. He was in fact in a room getting ready to begin the bone marrow harvesting, but was unhappy and had been crying for a while.
“I don’t know exactly what happened after that, but at some point they realized that Daniel had come online as a Guide and was feeling his brother’s distress, which meant that because Evan couldn’t even be tested until he was 5 that they couldn’t use Evan as a donor for his brother at that time. To say that Margaret didn’t take it well was apparently an understatement. Why she was allowed to leave the hospital with Evan when she was apparently so unhappy, I don’t know. I am guessing that they were counting on Phillip’s presence to do… something, but confrontation has never been your brother’s strong point.
“Again, things are a little hazy from there. What we do know is because of a neighbor who is an online Sentinel and just happened to be home along with what Margaret told the police while in their custody. It seems that once they got home with Evan, Phillip left almost immediately leaving Margaret home alone with Evan and Maddie. At some point after this the Sentinel neighbor came home, but turned on his white noise machine inside his home and thus didn’t hear Margaret right away. About an hour after he got home, he went out into the backyard with his dog and heard Margaret yelling. He says he heard Evan’s name followed by enough ugliness that it put him on alert.
“Margaret confessed that she was scolding Evan for infecting Daniel with his defective genetics. How he would have done that no one knows, but it doesn’t sound like she’s all there mentally. So, I doubt her reasoning is all that rational. The neighbor says that he heard Maddie’s voice screaming that Margaret was hurting Evan and to leave him alone, and he started running towards their house. He says before he could even reach their yard though he heard what sounded like someone being hit and a thud like they’d hit something. On his way towards the front door he yelled for another neighbor who had come out of their house to call the cops, then he broke down the front door because at this point his instincts were driving him.
“When he finally got inside and found them, Maddie was laying on the floor in a puddle of blood. They think she hit her head on the corner of a low dresser in Evan’s room. Margaret wasn’t doing anything for her though because she was trying to smother Evan with a pillow. By the time the cops got there, the neighbor was worked up enough that they had to call for a Guide to come and try to calm him down because he wouldn’t let anyone near himself or Evan.
“Once they were able to get inside the room, they found Maddie dead and Margaret was knocked out cold against a wall where the Sentinel thinks he threw her. By the time we were notified, Phillip had made a statement with the Philly PD and then gone to the hospital. He seems to have an alibi as he was at the country club playing golf with some friends. They had to pull him off of the 9th hole. We know he stayed at the hospital only long enough to tell them that he wanted nothing to do with Daniel now that he knew the boy was defective or with the brat that was responsible for his beloved Margaret’s death and give approval for you to make decisions.”
“The son of a bitch is blaming Evan for that hell heifer’s actions?” Tony asked astonished, and he was pretty sure that it was only his presence on Russell’s lap that was keeping his mate seated.
“Yes,” Dot confirmed from where she was seated leaning against Sonny.
“Detective Williams let us know that Phillip had already let them know he had no intention of ever seeing either son again, and if none of us wanted them that the state could just have them. They’re still investigating of course, but Phillip has told them that he would appreciate them letting him know the second they’re done because he intends to leave Pennsylvania and never return. When we discussed the situation with Aggie and Lizzie they thought that the two of you would be the best ones to take the boys, if you’re willing. Not only are all of us too old, but the two of you are a High Level pair, and they say that in their opinions, Daniel is at least High Level. Lizzie also suspects that once he’s old enough to be tested that they’ll discover Evan is also either a Sentinel or a Guide, although they have no way of knowing now which one he will be.”
“Of course, we’ll take them, ma,” Russell assured, and Tony nodded his agreement. His mind whirling with all the things that needed to be done. “Tony and I already talked about it at the station. There’s no way that we’d let those boys go back to Phillip. If I have my way, that fucker will never see either of those boys again. He’s never cared about anyone but himself until he met that hell beast he married and then nothing mattered but what she wanted. I’ve never been so disgusted by someone in my life, and the fact that I share DNA with him makes me sick to my stomach. I can’t… those boys.”
“We’ll do whatever we have to, to make sure those boys know how loved they are,” Tony promised as he leaned back against Russell glad for the feel of his husband’s arms around him.
“We need to talk to the doctors to see what we all need to do to get tested as potential donors for Daniel. Then we’re all going to make sure Daniel and Evan know how very much we all love them. I assume they have Daniel in isolation?”
Dot nodded and gave a watery sigh as Sonny rubbed on of her arms. “On top of everything else, Daniel has become ill. They say a fever started not long after he came online, and they aren’t sure if it’s the stress of what happened, or if he is sick. I just don’t understand where we went wrong with Phillip. How one of our children could care so little about another human being let alone one of their own kids, is disheartening.”
“It’s not your fault, ma,” Russell assured quietly and Tony heard his head hit the wall behind them with a quiet thud. “It seems like something happened when Phillip got ill, because since he recovered he’s just been… almost emotionless. I’m not even sure he loves Margaret so much as he is obsessed with her. Do we know what’s going on with the bitch?”
Sonny snorted at Russell’s favorite nickname for Margaret, giving a nod before answering. “For now she’s on a 72 hour hold as the evaluate her mentally. I just hope they keep her there, because I just…” Sonny broke off, shaking his head, and Tony looked between him and Dot who had lowered her gaze to the floor.
“If they ever let her out, I don’t think that we’ll ever see her again. Aggie says that she has always wondered if Margaret really has no sentinel or genetics or if she was…. artificially helped to be that way. She says that she wouldn’t doubt that her sister had Margaret drugged with the suppressant as a baby to make sure she wouldn’t come online. Apparently, it was quite common in their family, even though by the time Margaret had been born it had been illegal for almost 50 years. She said that the doctors at the Fairchild Foundation think that Agatha herself was drugged because her Sentinel genetics are much stronger than her levels ever reached. They say that she and Lizzie both should have been Primes. They know Lizzie was damaged by that horrible man she was married to, but they have no explanation for Aggie unless she was given the suppressant drug. It seems in the case of Primes it only dulls their levels, but does not suppress them altogether.”
“And the circle continues,” Tony said softly pulling out of Russell’s arms as he began to pace as much as he could within the small room, unable to stay in one place any longer. “The things people do to each other. I’m glad I became a firefighter not a cop. I considered it, ya know? But I can’t imagine having to deal with people like that every day. I think it would kill something inside of me. Does anyone need anything? I need to move and this room is too small. I thought I’d go to get something to drink.”
“Dot and I are going to go to the café down the road now that you two are here,” Sonny declined with a smile. “But you go and get something for yourself and Russ. The nurses have both of your names and we’ll let them know you’ll be in the room when Evan returns. We’ll all get through this, and make sure that the abuse those boys suffered stops here. I just pray that Margaret doesn’t get out. That’s my greatest fear.”
“All we can do now is hope and trust the system,” Tony offered in agreement and glanced at Russ to see if he wanted to come along but wasn’t surprised that he was staying. Giving his mate a nod, Tony turned and left giving the doorjamb a pat on his way out. The Buckley’s needed some time just the three of them, and Tony needed a few minutes alone to put the demons of his childhood back in their box. Shit had gotten too real there for a second. As he headed towards the cafeteria to get himself and Russ some drinks and maybe some snacks, he swore that he’d be everything Senior wasn’t as a father. Daniel and Evan deserved better, and they’d get it.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Tony left the room intending to head straight toward the cafeteria but found himself pulled in another direction. Normally, Tony wouldn’t fight the impulses that he described to people as nudges from the plane, signals or wants from the energy that made up the spirit plane. Sometimes these signals came gently as nudges or impulses toward a specific thing and other times they came directly from his Spirit Guide Bagheera. At that time though, Tony had a full plate, and maybe wasn’t paying as much attention to the things around him as he typically would. Not to mention he had himself and his abilities locked down against the chaos and all of the heavy angst, despair, anger, hopelessness that could be found in a hospital.
However, eventually, when it seemed he’d ignored what the spirit plane was wanting from him, Bagheera, who presented as a larger than normal black jaguar, popped into the hall intersection and stared at Tony with a clear look of judgment. Huffing Tony ran a hand through his hair and stared back at his Spirit Guide. “I really don’t have the spoons for this right now.”
Unimpressed, Bagheera offered a raspy grunt and ignoring the uneasy people around them, whom Tony was doing his best to ignore. While sure it wasn’t every day you saw a black jaguar in a hospital in Pennsylvania, it always struck him as odd that with how long Sentinels and Guides along with their Spirit Guides have been around, that some people still freaked out when a Spirit Guide made itself visible. It wasn’t like normal jaguars could make themselves see through. So, why the hell would a rational person think that a see through black jaguar grunting moodily in a hallway intersection in a hospital was anything other than a Spirit Guide.
Regardless, with the unease around him growing, Tony finally gave in, even if it was somewhat gracelessly and headed in the direction Bagheera seemed to want him to go. Occasionally, the black jaguar would nudge him to take a specific turn or get into an elevator, but for the most part, he paced Tony through the hospital. Eventually, Tony came to realize that they seemed to be heading towards the Sentinel and Guide wing, and aimed a glare at Bagheera who seemed unmoved.
“Is this really the time for this?” Tony asked but before Bagheera could do much more than offer another annoyed grunt he heard a voice that while he hadn’t heard in years, he was pretty sure that he’d never forget.
“Young Anthony?” He heard and stopping looked down the hallway where two women were coming his direction. While it had been years, Tony would recognize Agatha Addams, who went by Aggie, and Elizabeth Fairchild, who went by Lizzie, anywhere. There had been a period in his life after Senior forgot Tony in Maui when Aggie and Lizzie had helped to get Tony into a place where he would be safe and at least around adults who were competent and willing to see to his wellbeing.
Things between Tony and Senior had always been rough. Even before Tony’s mother died, Senior had been more hands off with his only child and only interested in him when his son could be useful to him. However, once Claire died, things between Tony and his father became even harder when the now single parent had no interest in stepping up to see to his child’s needs and instead for the most part left Tony to see to himself unless, like always, there was something he needed from him. Most often, that thing being his presence to help seal some deal or project that he was trying to close.
Prior to Maui, Anthony Senior had been able to easily buy himself out of whatever trouble he found himself in. However, after Tony had been abandoned, Senior hadn’t been able to as easily buy himself out of the situation. For a brief time, the State of Hawaii was responsible for Tony, that was until they ran the tests to determine if Tony had any latent Sentinel or Guide abilities as required by Hawaiian law. Tests that prior to this Senior had always made sure Tony hadn’t taken. Once his latent Guide abilities were discovered however, Tony care and wellbeing were transferred to the federal Department of Sentinel and Guide Affairs, and from there the Fairchild Foundation, who at the time were the primary party responsible for child sentinels or guides in Tony’s situation in the New York and the New England region.
In Tony’s case, eventually, it was agreed that Tony’s Uncle Clive would take over seeing that Tony’s welfare was seen to, even if that meant mostly putting Tony in an exclusive school for sentinel and guide children that was based in Rhode Island. Fortunately, in current times, things would have been handled differently. There was more known about the effects abandonment and neglect had on child sentinels and guides, but at the time, most of the studies that had led to changes were not complete. Therefore, Uncle Clive, while a good man still had mixed feelings about his deceased sister and in connection her only son, was deemed to be an acceptable guardian when his plans for year around schooling for his nephew was laid out.
In the 6 years that Tony spent at the Rhode Island Sentinel and Guide Institute, Aggie and Lizzie were infrequent visitors as they knew what the law hadn’t caught up to yet and understood the damage that could be done in neglecting these children. “Lizzie, Aggie,” Tony greeted with an easy smile as he moved toward the two women giving first Lizzie a kiss on her cheek followed by a hug and then offering Aggie a handshake and a smile. “It’s ironic actually. It seems that we’re related now, although I’ve only just found that out. It’s Buckley these days actually, not DiNozzo. I married Russell Buckley about a year ago.”
“Oh,” Lizzie breathed and offered a soft huff as she nodded glancing down toward where Bagheera sat welcoming Aggie’s wolf Guide Mercedes and Lizzie’s grey fox Lulabelle. “That would be why Mercedes and Belle got so restless and insisted that we leave the lounge near Daniel’s room.”
Upon hearing the boy’s name, Tony felt that cold chill feeling move up his spine, and given the boy’s illness refused to think the whole goose walking over his grave thing that one of the Hall Mother’s at RISGI used for such feelings. “Daniel, of course, fuck,” Tony muttered and ran a hand over his face before offering Bagheera a look of apology.
“Sorry Bags,” Tony muttered softly tilting his head back slightly and rotating it hearing his neck crackle as he tried to clear his chaotic mind. “I was headed toward the cafeteria to get some drinks and maybe snacks for Russ and myself. The higher ups just passed along what happened and pulled us off shift.”
“I think Sonny said that his son and his husband were first responders?” Aggie asked and Tony nodded smiling as he moved to lean against a nearby wall to get out of the way, Aggie and Lizzie following him as the Spirit Guides disappeared to go back to the spirit plane now that their idiot humans had caught a few clues.
“Firefighters at Philly FD Station 47. We actually just finished up our probationary year. Eventually, we planned to go out west, I think California and maybe LA specifically, but it didn’t feel like it was time yet. How’s Daniel? Evan was off getting tests when we arrived. So, we haven’t seen even him yet, but Dot or Sonny did mention the two of you were here.”
“He’s struggling,” Lizzie offered obviously worried, and Tony wasn’t surprised to see Aggie put a hand on her Guide’s back rubbing up and down in an attempt to comfort her.
“He’s been pretty reluctant to let anyone close, which I can understand. The problem is that he isn’t even open to finding a conservator that can help him, and that’s slowing down his adjustment time. Knowing that niece of mine, I can only imagine the things that she’s put him through. I can’t imagine how he’s going to react when he finds out about poor little Maddie. The two of them were close from what little we’ve seen of them.”
“So, he doesn’t even know his sister has died?” Tony asked before crossing his arms over his chest and wished that Russell was there with him. When he felt a ping of concern come through his bond with his Sentinel and husband, Tony did his best to send back reassurance that he was ok. He doubted that Russ bought it completely but guessed that while he’d monitor Tony a little closer until he returned, that he’d let him be for the moment. The interaction with his Sentinel brought back the conversation they’d had earlier, and the restlessness that the two of them had felt for the last 24 hours or more.
“I think maybe I need to talk to Daniel,” Tony said carefully as he considered everything he knew and the things he suspected just from the way that Dot and Sonny had talked about their oldest son and his wife over the years that they’d known them. “I feel like…”
Tony trailed off as his mind continued to make connections and was glad that because of their familiarity with him the two ladies didn’t jump in but let his mind process the information it was putting together. Once he was sure of himself, Tony continued his through, straightening his shoulders and back.
“This is going to sound crazy, but I think Daniel has been waiting on us, even though he’s never met us. Russ and I both have always considered those children part of our personal pride even though because of The Great Douche and his Douchess that we’ve never met them. When I am on the plane though, there’s always been these… shadows I guess you would call them of Spirit Guides that we’ve not ever been able to get near but felt like they belonged to us. I’ve always thought those shadows were Phillip’s kids, but since I couldn’t get near them, I had no way of verifying it.”
Taking a deep breath, Tony sent another ping of reassurance to Russ and knew if he didn’t get his shit together, his Sentinel would come looking for him. “I know there’s a whole process that we’re going to have to go through. Hell, technically, The Great Douche and his Douchess are still Daniel and Evan’s parents, but those kids already feel like they’re ours. We already said we’d do whatever we can to make sure those two asses never see those kids again. It breaks my heart that we’re too late to save little Maddie, but I’ll be damned if we don’t save Daniel and Evan from suffering more than they already have. Do you think that the doctors would let me in to see Daniel? I am ranked high enough that I should be able to work with him until he’s willing to trust us finding a conservator to work with him.”
“Let’s find out, kiddo,” Aggie offered with a shrug of her shoulders and Lizzie offered a hopeful smile before the two ladies turned and led him back down the hallway. Eventually, they stopped at a nurses station that Aggie explained was near to Daniel’s room. As Lizzie explained the situation to the nurses, Aggie led Tony toward a mirrored glass window on a wall that looked like something you’d find separating an interrogation room from the observation room in a movie.
Stopping in front of the mirrored glass, Tony looked through to see a boy he guessed must be Daniel sitting on a hospital bed with his knees pulled up to his chest with his arms wrapped around his legs and his chin resting on his knees. The boy looked frail and weak as Tony would expect from a child who was suffering from leukemia. Given the wing they were in, Tony knew the room would be a combination hospital room and isolation suite. Because of Daniel’s illness and how severe his leukemia was, they wouldn’t have put him into a normal isolation suite. On top of all that there was his age to consider too, and he knew that it was rare that children as young as Daniel came online. So, when it happened it was traumatic and often there were physical symptoms involved that they wouldn’t see in an older Sentinel or Guide when they came online.
As he watched, Tony’s heart went out to the boy, and he couldn’t help but see something of the child he’d been in Daniel. It was easy to see how lonely and angry the boy was, which were both things that had been common in Tony’s childhood. Meeting Russell when the two of them pledged Alpha Chi Delta had been a life changer for Tony, and being introduced to two parents as loving and attentive to Russell as Dot and Sonny were, was an eye opener. Honestly, Tony had thought of them as parents long before he and Russ got married. The longer that he stood there and watched Daniel, the more his dislike of Phillip and Margaret Buckley grew.
While he shouldn’t have been, he was surprised when Russell appeared at the same time that Lizzie appeared with a strange woman that Tony guessed to be a doctor from her outfit and the stethoscope stuffed in a pocket. “I’m sorry,” He said in greeting to his Sentinel, even as he leaned into his touch.
“Shut it,” Russ muttered softly as he wrapped an arm around Tony’s waist before pressing a kiss against his forehead. “I should have gone with you from the start. Waylon was not happy when you left without me. Mom and Pops are fine to wait for a little bit longer. So, what’s going on.”
Quickly, Tony explained what happened after he left and then turned his attention to Lizzie, hoping that they would be able to get into the room. “Tony and Russell, this is Dr. Guide Amelia Zaki and she is coordinating the team overseeing young Daniel’s care at the moment. I’ve run by her the situation and my preferences that you and Russell be allowed in to see young Daniel.”
Tony turned his attention to the doctor who offered a reassuring smile as her eyes seemed to travel between Tony and Russell before coming back to rest on Tony. “At this point, our first priority is to find someone that Daniel will trust. Even the nurses cause distress when they go into see him and his senses have been fluctuating long enough that we’re growing concerned about it causing long term damage. We’ve not given up hope that we can find a donor for him, especially now that we’ve discovered that we have a whole new section of donors that we can search to try and find a match. The last thing we want is for him to survive the leukemia only to end up dormant or worse pass away from sensory collapse.”
“Well, you have four new potential donors already, Doc,” Russell said immediately and firmly as his arm tightened around Tony’s waste briefly.
“Not just Tony and I but my parents also are more than willing to be tested. Then there’s Philly FD. Once our station finds out, I have no doubt that they’ll get tested. We already went through something similar not long after Tony and I got out of the academy when one of the guys at another station needed some rare blood type donations before a risky surgery for his niece. We’re going to make sure all other avenues are checked before we expect a damned toddler to undergo what feels like torture to me, no offense, Doc.”
“None taken,” Doctor Zaki offered quietly and while she hid her feelings quickly, there was a slip in her mask long enough that Tony could see her displeasure in something Russell had said. “Frankly speaking, I would never have allowed a toddler to undergo such a procedure even if there wasn’t the possible mismatch between them when it comes to whether or not Even is a possible sentinel or guide. The doctor who was previously in charge of Daniel’s case has been removed and will have to answer some serious questions by the board over what happened and how Daniel’s case was handled. Honestly, he should have immediately been tested for sentinel or guide genetics before what should have been a last case scenario was attempted. I try not to judge the parents of my child patients, but I definitely have thoughts I will be expressing when it comes time for me to give my opinion on the situation.”
Tony nodded and took a deep breath turning part way so that he could look back at Daniel, still watching the boy when he replied. “I know you can’t take this as fact, Doc, but my instincts are screaming at me that either Russell or his father will be a match. I can’t explain why or anything but I just… I have this sense that it’s going to be ok. What about Phillip? Can’t he protest all of this?”
“I will pray that your words are true,” Dr. Zaki breathed drawing his attention again. However, it was Aggie who went on answer the question about Phillip.
“As to, how did you put it, Tony? The Great Douche? The federal DSGA and the Fairchild Foundation are already moving to have at least Daniel, and potentially little Evan as well, removed from Mr. and Mrs. Buckley’s care and sever their parental rights all together. As it is, with the severity of the situation and considering Maddie’s death, we requested that either the two of us or Dot and Sonny be granted emergency guardianship over the remaining two children. We were actually on our way down to Evan’s room to let Dot and Sonny know that the courts have granted the four of us shzared emergency guardianship.”
“How likely is it that we’ll be able to get the assholes’ rights severed?” Russ asked as Tony once more turned back to watch Daniel.
“Considering Margaret confessed to killing Maddie and placed the full blame for the situation on her one-year-old for raising a fuss as she tried to smother him. On top of it, she did this while her husband played golf because he quote “didn’t want to deal with his wife’s fuss”, I’d say that it’s quite good. Tony indicated that you and young Anthony are willing to take in the boys as your own? If that’s the case that would honestly be a best-case situation because there will be some question as to not only Lizzie and I’s ages but even Dot and Sonny’s considering there is a toddler involved here.”
“Antony,” Russell corrected gently, and Tony turned back around offering a quiet sorry for his split attention before Russ continued on.
“Tony changed his name when we got married to Antony Dominic Buckley. But yes, Tony and I are more than willing to take in both boys. Honestly, the more times I say it the more it feels like we’re meant to have those boys. As to Phillip, well… He may be my brother, but I hope he rots in jail. In my opinion, he’s as responsible for the situation as Margaret is. But, as to the current situation, I’m glad to hear that we can get the boys some help without having to deal with that douche I am unfortunately related to.”
“I am ok with the two of you going in to see Daniel. What we’ve tried thus far hasn’t helped, and it’s clear to me that there is something pulling Tony here toward the young Guide. I’ve been doing this job long enough to know that only fools ignore the spirit plane when it involves itself in our realm.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Tony said quickly before turning to go into the room, trusting Aggie and Lizzie to still be there when they came out. He heard Russell getting permission to fill Daniel in on what happened before he followed Tony into the room.
The second that he opened the door, Daniel’s eyes focused on him and then drifted to Russell as his Sentinel followed him into the room. Carefully, Russ closed the door as Tony crossed to a chair sitting next to the bed.
“Hi, Daniel. My name is Tony, and this is my Sentinel Russell. Russ is actually your dad’s brother. We hear that you’re having a rough road right now.”
“I have an uncle?” Daniel asked softly, and Tony could sense the high stress that the boy was under. He guessed that Russell did as well because quickly after confirming that he was indeed Daniel’s uncle, Russ gently walked Daniel through how to manage his senses.
“I know it’s hard. It was hard for me and I was in my early twenties when I had to deal with this stuff. So, we’ll keep working on it, but if you’d like, Tony here can help buffer you while we work on it.”
“What’s the point?” Daniel asked moodily as he slouched again, resting his chin on his knees once more from where he’d straightened momentarily when Tony and Russell came in. “According to mom, I’m just gonna die anyway. I don’t get what Evan has to do with it, but she made it pretty clear that I’m defective now and that I don’t deserve to get better.”
“Let’s start with all of that being bullshit,” Russell said frankly, and Tony found himself smiling at the look of surprise on Daniel’s face. Russell was pretty blunt most of the time, and while he knew from dealing with the kids of friends and co-workers how to temper his honesty and bluntness around them, he still leaned that way more than most.
“You sure as shit don’t deserve to die and there’s nothing defective about you, Daniel. As to that… As to your mother, let’s just agree that anything she told you isn’t to be believed, and if you aren’t sure ask either Tony or myself, your Grams Dot or Gramps Sonny, or your… I’m not sure what to call Agatha or Elizabeth.”
“Aunt Aggie and Auntie Lizzie,” Tony offered with a smile when he drew Daniel’s wide-eyed attention. “That’s what us kids all called them when they visited RISGI. Russ is right, Daniel. I’m guessing that your mother is wrong about more than just what you’ve told us.”
Then, when a thought occurred to him, Tony huffed and mentally slapped himself. “I’m sorry, kiddo. We should have asked you what you like to be called and not just assume that you want to go by Daniel. So, what name do you go by?”
“Margaret hates nicknames,” Daniel answered automatically, and Tony just lifted an eyebrow as Russell huffed.
“Not what I asked,” Tony pointed out gently. “Margaret isn’t here, and her opinion on what you want to be called doesn’t really matter to either of us. What name you go by is up to you. I mean, you could tell me that you want to go by Jellybelly Dragonslayer and it would be your right. A little unique, but if that’s what you want, we’d go with it.”
When the boy giggled, Tony counted it as a win offering a wink and waited as Daniel seemed to be considering his options. “I always wanted to be called Danny. I roomed with someone last year who called me that, but the first time Margaret… I mean mom, heard it she raised such a fuss that they moved him and I never saw him again. I heard the parents even moved hospitals.”
“Then Danny it is,” Russell agreed as he moved to sit on the end of Danny’s bed on the other side from where Tony was seated. “As to the whole mom thing, as far as I am concerned you can call her whatever you want. Now, if you start calling her curse words in public all the time it might raise some questions, but I’d say calling her Margaret is understandable. Same thing goes for Phillip. If they don’t feel like mom and dad neither of us are going to make you use those names for them.”
Danny sniffed and wiped his sleeve covered arm over his face before accepting a tissue from Tony and blowing his nose. “That’s all fine and good until I gotta go home or they come visit and mom tears me a new one for embarrassing her.”
Tony looked toward Russell and let loose a long breath before he took the reins of the conversation. “I wouldn’t worry about that, Danny. Something has happened that you don’t know about, and unfortunately there’s no good way to say this.”
Standing, Tony put down the rail on the side of Daniel’s bed so that he could perch next to Danny and took the young boy’s hand in his own. “Something happened at your house after Margaret and Phillip went home yesterday with Evan and Maddie. Margaret must have been sick mentally because she tried to hurt your brother and sister. You have a neighbor who is a Sentinel who tried to get there and help. He did manage to save Evan, but unfortunately, your sister was too hurt and passed away. I’m so sorry, kiddo.”
There was a long pause where Daniel seemed to be searching his face as if looking for the truth, but eventually his face crumbled, and tears started to run down his face. “Is that… I’ve been trying to figure out why I can’t feel her. I feel Evan, but I can’t feel her, and I asked them why but no one would answer me and I just got so mad that I told them all to go away. I… are you sure? Maddie’s really gone? She can’t be gone. I’m the one who’s sick! I’m the one who was gonna die. It can’t be Maddie!”
“I’m so sorry, Danny,” Tony repeated and gently pulled the sick, young boy into his lap and held him as he sobbed. His small, frail hands clenching Tony’s Philly FD t-shirt as he cried. Russell quickly scooted up onto the bed to sit so that he could wrap his arms around Daniel from behind so that little boy was cradled between them.
Eventually, Danny calmed down and for a bit Tony just sat there listening to his snuffle as he tried to send out as much love and care to him as he could. While he did that, he listened to Russell whispering softly to Danny, comforting him and making promises that they’d do everything they could to keep him and Evan safe going forward. Of the two of them, Russell was the one who always connected best with kids of all ages. Despite the grumpy old soul vibe that Russell put off towards adults, when it came to kids he turned into a total marshmallow and most children seemed to know it.
“I’m never calling her anything but Margaret again, and I’d rather not even have to call her that. I know you guys aren’t going to tell me what she did. Adults never want to tell kids anything, and especially not me because you all think I’m fragile or some shit, but it sounds like she killed my best friend no matter why. So, I will hate her forever and I never want to call her anything ever again. She will be my very own Voldemort. She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Where was… Phillip? No wait, I bet he was at his country club playing golf, right?”
“I take it that happens a lot?” Russell asked as he moved to sit on the bed next to Tony sitting close enough to touch shoulders as Danny continued to snuggle on Tony’s lap. Danny’s head was still resting against Tony’s chest when he nodded.
“He’s there lots. Maddie said that He and She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named got into a big fight a couple months ago because he came home smelling flowery and… Margaret never wears perfume. So she threw a fit. What’s going to happen to me and Evan? You swear he’s ok? I don’t think I could handle losing Ev, too.”
“Evan is just fine,” Russell promised as he ran his fingers through Danny’s shaggy hair. Your Grams and Gramps told me that they’re just running some tests at this point to make sure, but they expect that he’ll be let out of the hospital tomorrow. As to what will happen with you and Evan, what do you think about you two coming to live with Tony and I?”
“You mean it?” Danny asked, pulling away just enough that he could look up at Russell. “You’re sure… Phillip won’t be able to stop it?”
“I promise you kiddo that not just Tony and I but your Gramps and Grams Buckley and your Aunt Aggie and Auntie Lizzie will do everything we can to make sure you and Evan never live with my brother again. That means that they’re gonna want to place you with someone new, and they’ll try family first. Your Uncle Tony and I are gonna be the best choices. So, we’ll do whatever we have to do to get them to let us take you both. And I promise that Tony and I will do everything we can to keep you safe and we’ll love you with all our hearts.”
“That would be nice,” Danny said slowly, and Tony guessed that the little boy was falling asleep after his emotional upheaval. “Sometimes it seems like the only people who really love me are Maddie and Evan, and now one of them is gone. I’ll get to say goodbye to Maddie right? You won’t let them put her in the ground without me there, right?”
“We will do our best, kiddo,” Tony replied and as he looked at his Sentinel, he could tell that it was a fight his Sentinel was willing to take on.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
It took a couple of days, but eventually they were able to get Danny stable enough and willing to trust people who weren’t Tony and Russell that the two of them could meet with the others and get an update on what was going on. So, with the nurses keeping an eye on Danny while a family friend babysat Evan, Tony and Russ left the hospital and headed home to take a shower, eat and get some real sleep. Over the last couple of days, they’d been sleeping on the pull-out sofa in Danny’s room while Dot and Sonny took turns with Aggie and Lizzie staying with Evan.
The plan was for the other two couples to meet at Tony and Russ’ with Dot and Sonny bringing over the hot portions of dinner. There had been some discussion of going out to eat somewhere that had a private dining room, but after two days of eating three meals a day out of a hospital cafeteria, Tony and Russ both begged for some home cooked food. Thus, Dot was making a couple of chuck roasts, her loaded mashed potatoes, and her smashed parmesan brussel sprouts.
Aggie and Lizzie were bringing the stuff to make a cauliflower salad that Aggie had basically invented and a dessert of some kind that they’d pick up at the store while getting the salad makings. Tony had never had cauliflower, feta cheese and dried cherries mixed together let alone in a salad, but it sounded interesting, and he was excited to try it.
It was a nice spring day outside with the temperature in the mid-70s and only a few clouds in the sky. So, Tony and Russ had decided that they could have dinner out on the back porch. Their patio table was on the larger side because they liked being able to have multiple people over. The huge back deck was one of the selling points of the house when they’d only really been looking for a townhouse. They’d been getting ready to attend the Philly FD Academy and didn’t know how much time they’d have to do yard work. Fortunately, with 24 hour shifts, they only really worked a few days a week, and Sonny pointed out that in the worst case they could hire a landscaper that did lawn mowing and such.
By the time the others arrived, Tony had the table cloth on the patio table along with a small planter that Sampson’s wife had made into an outdoor table setting as an open house gift. Russell meanwhile had the cooler out and filled with ice and drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic along with the bug zappers going and the candles waiting to be lit if everyone was there that long.
It felt odd to Tony to be having such a social event with Danny still in the hospital and leaving Evan with a babysitter. Dot and Lizzie had teamed up though to point out that it was important that Danny got used to being without them all the time. They’d finally found a temporary conservator that Danny was willing to try, and as the ladies pointed out they’d never know if the two could bond if they weren’t given some privacy. It helped that the man had come in wearing the jersey of Danny’s favorite football player Rod Woodson. As Tony and Russ left Danny and Alex were discussing all the reasons in their minds why Woodson was better than Deion Sanders. The promise that someone would call if Danny needed them helped their nerves some.
Once their guests had arrived, their kitchen was overtaken as the ladies worked together to get both smashed parmesan brussel sprouts in the oven and the cauliflower salad made. While doing that, the crockpots holding the roasts and the mashed potatoes were plugged in to keep the dishes warm and the mixed berry tart purchased from the bakery was put in the fridge to stay cold. Once all of that was done, the group settled around the table outside with their drink of choice to get the hard conversations out of the way.
“Before we get into the heavy shit, is it possible that Russ and I can at least meet Evan soon? I know Danny has needed us more, so that’s why we’ve been giving him our attention, but I feel like if we can take time off for this then we need to start giving Evan some of our attention. Plus, I know Russ and I are both starting to get restless at having not started bonding with him yet. I don’t know what’s going on with Phillip, and while we’ll talk about that, if something happened and he got his hands on Evan and took off, we’d never be able to find him because we haven’t even met Evan yet.”
“Well, firstly, I don’t think you need to worry about Phillip wanting Evan enough to kidnap him because it seems he’s flown the coop, but personally, I think that yes, it’s time that you and Russell meet Evan. We’ve all been tested as possible matches for Danny, but it’ll take probably a couple weeks to find the results there, and in the meantime, I agree that it’s time we start splitting time with both boys. Not only do you need to meet Evan, but I think the rest of us would like to try and spend more time with Danny. What did Dr. Zaki tell you all today about how much longer they’ll keep Danny?”
“If this works out with Alex then no more than a couple of days. If not, then no more than another week. Technically, he doesn’t need a conservator to get out since Tony and I are on a minimum of 8 week leave with as much as 12 weeks available. Tony is more than strong enough to buffer him. With the added complication of Danny’s leukemia and the trauma of his sister’s death and the Douche and Douchess’ actions though they’re being extra cautious with him. Do you both have room for the boys and Alex here too?”
Russ nodded quickly but didn’t answer until he’d swallowed the sentinel safe beer he’d chosen for the evening. “Honestly, this whole thing has reinforced the whole trusting your instincts thing because while at first this house felt way too big for just the two of us with four bedrooms upstairs and a suite in the basement, it’s the perfect size now. Each of the boys will have their own room, and Alex can choose between the other room upstairs or the suite in the basement depending on what he thinks Danny needs. How long until we know if we get the boys?”
It was Lizzie who answered the question as Aggie was more often the quieter of the two unless someone needed cursed out for not treating Lizzie the way Aggie felt she deserved to be treated. “They need to do a home study, but that’s it and they’re just waiting on things to settle at the hospital to schedule the home study. They aren’t telling Aggie and I much since we’re directly involved, but they did mention that the case worker was very pleased with not just how highly rated you both are as a bonded couple, but also with your interview as prospective parents in general. It also helps that Phillip agreed to give up his parental rights without a fight. Honestly, he was a little too agreeable to the notion if you ask me, but then I think Tony’s nickname for him is perfect.”
“What’s going on there?” Tony asked holding his bottle of orange cream soda in one hand as he rested his free hand on Russ’ knee. “With both him and the Douchess, I mean.”
“Well, I don’t see Margaret getting out of the mental institution anytime soon. Things there will have to go in front of a judge, but from what I have been told of the situation, I don’t see her being deemed mentally competent, and the doctors don’t see that changing. They aren’t sure what happened, but the Guides they have on staff say that something has permanently broken in her mind, and they don’t see it as being fixable.”
“And Phillip?” Russ prodded with a frown when the explanation didn’t continue to include his brother. When Dot and Sonny exchanged glances with Sonny’s hand covering Dots on the tabletop before he answered, Tony found himself getting uneasy and was glad when Russ put an arm around his shoulders.
“Phillip has disappeared. The police were still determining what they could charge him with, if anything. So, they didn’t have him in custody. They’ve been trying to get in contact with him to interview him again though and hadn’t been able to reach him. Then the parents of one of the young women who works at the country club came into one of the PD stations near their home and reported her missing. She’s in her mid-20s and didn’t live with them, but apparently, they got a message from her on their voicemail about going away with her boyfriend. She said that she was sorry, but she loved him and didn’t care that they wouldn’t approve.”
“Holy shit,” Tony breathed and scooted closer to his husband when he began to growl softly. “I mean, he’s still married. Does she not know that?”
“Oh, she knows,” Aggie drawled finally speaking up, and her contempt was easy to hear without Tony even needing his Guide gifts to read her. “She’s the daughter of one of Phillip’s friends in their little social circle there at the club. Apparently, there’s been a rift between Phillip and her parents over the affair, and it seems they even tried to tell Margaret in hopes she would do something. From what we’ve been told though all she said was that if Phillip was fucking his latest slut then he wasn’t expecting her to put out. So, she could care less. I hink the only thing that upset her was that other people found out what was happening.
“As much as the police sympathized, the daughter’s an adult and there isn’t much they can do about the situation. She isn’t in an at-risk category outside of the age difference and when they made a call to her at the parent’s insistence, she reinforced that she’d left of her own free will. As they pointed out, she was an adult and therefore was allowed to make her own decisions, even if they were bad ones.”
“Just when I thought I couldn’t be more disgusted by his actions,” Russell muttered under the hand covering his mouth and there was a moment of silence as the others seemed to be giving Russ and Tony a moment to process the new information.
“Fuck them,” Russ finally threw out after draining his beer. “Frankly, the boys will be better off without either Phillip or Margaret. Danny has made it clear he wants nothing to do with either of them. We’ll have to make sure to get him a therapist to work through his anger there, but otherwise, I see no reason to try and change his mind. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that the system does what we want and gives us custody of Danny and Evan both. Then, the six of us will love those two boys so much that they’ll never question they’re cared for.”
“Fuck ‘em,” Lizzie echoed, and Tony couldn’t help but grin and laugh at the words coming out of his very proper Auntie’s mouth.
“Fuck ‘em,” Tony tacked on, and the words were repeated around the table. With the hard shit out of the way, the conversation was shifted to what would need to be done to get the house ready for the boys and all the stuff that came with taking custody of a 9 year old and a 1 year old. It wasn’t going to be easy, but they were going to do their best for both both boys.
The next day, Tony was sitting on the front porch steps waiting for Dot and Sonny to arrive with Evan. They’d gone out that morning to get some basics for his room, including a playpen for him to sleep in until the furniture for his room had been picked out and arrived. When Sonny’s car pulled into the driveway, Tony was up and off the steps before the car even came to a stop. He could feel his Sentinel’s amusement following him, but Tony didn’t care. He couldn’t wait to meet the toddler.
With barely contained excitement, he waited for Dot to get Evan out of the car, and by the time she had, Russell was there waiting by his side. “Evan baby, I’d like you to meet your Uncle Tony and your Uncle Russell. They’re going to be taking care of you now.”
Despite his excitement, Tony 100% expected Evan to reach for Russell. It’s what all kids did. Except for this time, because when Evan reached out taking his fist out of his mouth to do so, it wasn’t in Russell’s direction, but Tony’s. Pleased with this new experience of being the preferred one for once, Tony took the toddler, resting the little boy against his chest.
Tony wasn’t sure how long they stood there studying each other, but after his quiet contemplation seemed to be done, Evan patted a moist hand against Tony’s cheek. “Pop pop,” he offered Tony before shifting until he was settled on one of Tony’s hips with his head laying on Tony’s shoulder. Tony knew no one would ever believe that anything could render him speechless, but in that moment, he couldn’t have uttered a word to even save his own life.
Instead, he shifted his arms until one hand could cup the back of Evan’s head as he placed a kiss to the top of his head. “I think I’m in love,” Tony murmured softly once he was able to force words past the lump of love in his throat.
“Yeah,” Russell offered in agreement before coming closer so that he could wrap his arms around Tony and Evan both. “You aren’t alone, Tones. This is gonna work. You, me, Danny, and Evan along with my parents and Aunt Aggie and Auntie Lizzie. From here forward it will be the eight of us. Family, always.”
“Family, always,” Tony agreed and finally accepted that for the first time in his life, he really had that thing he’d been searching for since he was old enough to understand his family wasn’t like everyone else’s.