Chapter 25

Hoping Joan hadn't taken offence as he walked away, that she possibly understood he was becoming overwhelmed by the contrasts of past and present, churning emotions and whispering memories Ben found a quiet area away from them all and stood still. Starting to glance round the garden to register where exactly he and the others were, he heard indistinct quiet comments from Casey, Sara and Benjy near the washroom and was pleased the boy was accepting them so well. Finding it all too much he bowed his head so all he could see was the grass immediately in front of him. Guessed as Meg hadn't called out or joined him she was talking to her parents, her choice or theirs didn't matter she/they needed it … so much had happened … was happening and would happen in the future. And closed his eyes while trying to slow his breath in an attempt to calm his emotions and memories as well as, for the first time acknowledge the fact … it was over. All that fear and loneliness of the last four months were at an end and the truth and future could be faced now.

As he started to steady down he noticed the every day sounds of the local neighbourhood and being away from the gazebo could feel the gentle cool winter breeze take the edge off the sun's warmth. Instead of moving to find shelter he stayed put and wanting to renew that feeling of the outdoors being around him, keeping his eyes closed, raised his head turning his face to catch the sun and breeze and enjoyed it for a moment or two. Then answering the need to prove all this wasn't just his desperate imagination working overtime once again, he opened his eyes and after they'd adjusted to the daylight started to study the tops of the trees and sky.

Watching the some small white clouds fly across the blue sky he spotted and traced the vapour trail of a plane off to other parts and realised he could do that in the future. And shuddered violently as several deep shivers ran through him. Instinctively knew they weren't caused by the chill air and felt as if he was shedding the tight constraints of captivity, the basement, the past. Really realising …Yes, he was actually standing in the garden … free and safe …

After that lot sunk in and started to settle he felt ready to slowly look round the garden he'd not been in since Meg had left him earlier that year and cope with whatever memories it kicked back at him. To register and accept the changes of the seasons … and suddenly realised the holidaymakers he'd seen on the beach weren't the summer swimmers they were winter surfers and then clicked back to seeing the garden around him.

Saw some trees and bushes had shed their leaves, some plants had been pruned and others were at their best, as well as bare patches of soil waiting for the spring bulbs to poke through next year. Spotting some plants recently put in and thinking about the new swing seat Bear sat on, his mind did a flip on him again. Started to compare his own unsettled feelings and loss of roots due to all the turmoil he'd been through and was causing as he returned, with the changes he just noted in the garden. Reaffirmed that like this garden he did have foundations that had not changed … dented perhaps … but would come back again because he was alive and had his inner soul or beliefs. That he just needed to give it time and he would settle and adapt to his new surroundings … would find those roots again and face whatever the future threw at him as he always had done.

As these slender threads of security about himself started to mix with the earlier thoughts he knew his emotions and whispered memories were evolving as they settled and knew he was ready to face what had been his silent underlying fear that morning. His acceptance by Meg's family and Casey now they'd slept on matter, and how their reaction to him would ripple on through the town … his home...

He'd had no fear about Meg and Benjy … Meg was deeply loved by her family and close friend so they would accept her wishes and standby her rather than cast her off. Benjy was the innocent child in all this mess and knowing Hank and Joan had cared for Tim knew they wouldn't hold the past against the boy. As for him … Well, he wasn't an innocent child or adult in this matter … he could be held as one of the instigators … and now his past was known and it showed he'd lied for years … had built friendships on those lies so had broken trust … and his actions showed a need for vengeance. Was here because Meg wanted to stay married to him … would they believe it was out of love and not infatuation or guilt or spell he'd woven so he and Benjy would not be alone anymore. And by staying with her he was overnight bringing that turbulent history into their lives forever ... There would be no forgetting it through him or Benjy, was depriving Meg of that special just married time or of a quiet marriage and stability they had expected or wanted for her … that she had expect … or he had come to that.

Because of all this he was expecting to be greeted by Meg's family and Casey with forced tolerance and coldness when alone with him. And he would accept it from them without retaliation and would keep it from Meg and Benjy for their sakes and hope that somehow he would be able to prove himself to them in the future. To prove to them all he could be trusted, that there could be grounds for friendship and that his love for Meg was real, strong and stable.

With those fears locked away he'd walked into the Shock Wave and saw her family's and Casey's immediate and genuine reactions, knew he'd been right Meg and Benjy were accepted with genuine love and support. Then as he took his first step to find out if Casey would accept him, the hold on his new life disintegrated into the horror of mixed up memories of his past in that café. Was held there totally paralyzed till Hank's voice and Casey's touch broke through and kicked him back into the present and gave him the strength to carry on. To realise there wouldn't be any forced tolerance in either of them, that there was real renewal of close friendship with Casey and real genuine acceptance from Hank. Acceptance that could … would grow deeper in the future and with that knowledge joining with his own respect for the man he was able to come back here to Hank's family home as requested.

Walking though the house he'd felt that friendly atmosphere of home it always had and sitting at the table for the meal and hearing Hank's genuine words accepting Derek into their family had not only amazed him but brought back memories of other times and meals with them. Of the first one at their farm in Kansas when he'd turned up unexpectedly and could have been turned away because of the rift that had driven Meg home. The one they'd had straight after the traumas of the cabin, the fall down the cliff and the first kidnapping. The first Thanksgiving meal he'd shared with a family in years, and other ordinary meals taken together because they wanted to … until the troubles finally split them up completely. Any troubled times were acknowledged and put to one side, at all of them they came together to give each other trust, family love and support for the future. As they had done everyday on the farm in the past and would continue to do so when they met in the future … had done so today.

And sitting with them he'd felt the stark contrasts in his life and whispers of his own family meals when they had come together in love and support till his parents sudden death had stopped them. Felt his failure at being unable to continue those meals with his twin, and how he'd buried it and his hurt finding his future abroad. Had found that family feeling to a different degree when he met and married Maria. Only to have it suddenly crushed again because of the storm, her betrayal and the family's break up. Had silently longed … craved … hoped for it sometime in the future if there was one … in the loneliness of the basement.

Having conversation to concentrate on, food to eat and Benjy to keep an eye on had stopped all this from overwhelming him, but when they finished and Joan came to him in her quiet manner it all washed over him. And he knew if he stayed and accepted that longed for mother to son in law hug … she wanted to give him and he so desperately needed. He would have collapsed in an uncontrollable emotional heap in front of everyone and so he walked away to find a quiet space and come to terms with it all. Now as those thoughts caught up with him and settled with the earlier ones … he knew that not only did he have a family … he was in a family again ... A special one.

Yes, there would be differences between them and hard times ahead but like his own family used to and this one still did … they could and would come together round the meal table and reaffirm love and support for the future. And realised just like Casey, Meg and Benjy, he was home.…. And perhaps one day in the future his twin might join him…

Sara, Casey and Benjy's laughter brought him back to what was actually happening around him and glancing in their direction watched them playing catch, and noticed Benjy was better than he'd been at the end of August. That thought brought back vivid memories of that last time they'd played ball on the beach … the terse conversation with Casey … the trip to Seattle. And instead of those memories tormenting him as they had done for the last four months he put them to the back of his mind with peace and understanding.

Then feeling really settled and hoping Meg was happy and free to spend time with him he looked round for his wife and soulmate … and enjoyed thinking those two words knew they would always be special for him. Seeing her happily tucked into her father's side while chatting he gave a slow smile knowing it would show his feelings and would silently reassure and call her to him. And was happy to wait for her knowing that just as Casey was accepted into this family on his own merits, he and Benjy were as well.

oxoxo

Walking towards Ben feeling totally happy Meg could see his smile deepen with love, openness and contentment, which she wasn't sure she'd really seen before and realized she wouldn't have, he'd had secrets to keep. And felt her own love and smile rise to his as well as a kick of excitement ripple through her and stopped it from becoming a shout of her affections for him. Knew that shout would come later when they were together and ready for it.

Getting just within touching distance noting how tired he was, and knowing the answer by his bright happy eyes gently asked. "All right?"

Instead of answering right away Ben reached out to her and silently gathered her in for a light and gentle kiss, which gave her an answer and reaffirmed both their feelings for each other as well as promises for later.

As it naturally ended Meg immediately tucked into his side with his arm around her shoulders feeling totally content but was mindful she was tucked into his badly bruised side and heard his gentle answer. "Fine, I know I'm home and you."

Amazed he felt that way and hearing the truth and so much more in his tone Meg replied softly. "Like you fine. And I'm glad you feel that because Dad really means it this time. They've offered to come over and stay the night if we want them to, and to call even if its during the night. They'll use the rooms in the other apartment if needs be."

Glad she as okay and knowing tonight could be stressful in fact any night could be stressful for the three of them Ben said. "I know he means it, and we might take them up on their offer. I don't want you worn out having to cope with both of us in distress as well as anything you are feeling. We've all been on the same roller coaster ride. Must admit I'm hoping seeing the street decorations lit up and knowing he's shopping for his father tomorrow will be enough to knock Benjy out till the early hours.

Don't really want Hank and Joan hanging around for a call from us, but discussing it now might be difficult with Benjy around. I don't want him worried about what we think might happen and he'll pick up on us if we try to discuss it on the side or over his head. Will consciously or unconsciously think we are like the others planning bad stories as he calls them and not trust any of us. In fact we'll have to remember that in the future and be prepared to be very open with him. This morning has proved he can take it.

How about we'll phone them once we get back from seeing the lights, we'll have spent the afternoon with him and will possibly know more about his moods. Possibly ask him if he wants them over for the night if we get the feeling he's getting a bit edgy and that way he won't have the shock of them turning up in the night should thing escalate through me having a bad session at the same time as he did."

Hoping that wouldn't happen Meg was glad he was willing to accept help from her parents so readily and remembering their original plans for the evening said. "That's fine they weren't going out tonight anyway and I agree we need to be open with Benjy..."

Seeing what was happening with the other group Ben butted in on a lighter note. "Think we've got a couple of child-sitters if needs be so we might manage the odd evening out sometime in the future."

Considering the group's antics Meg couldn't help commenting with a slight laugh in her voice. "Not sure which one is the child at the moment though."

Ben chuckled at her apt comment.

The group had stumbled over the new surprise and were now opening it up and exploring new toys and possibilities with high spirits.

As the group knelt or sat down and started playing with the new toys Ben silently hoped this would reassure Benjy it wasn't a one off visit, that he would be returning here to play. And also hoped the boy wouldn't go over the top or make it difficult to leave as they would have to go soon. Knew there would be a natural break when Sara and Casey left to get their engagement ring and whatever else they needed to do and felt a deeper tiredness creep over him. Knew it could not be ignored as the earlier one in the drive from the Shock Wave had and carried on watching the group.

Smiling as she watched her sister and the others enjoying themselves Meg wondered softly. "Do you think Benjy minds it's a lot smaller than his other sandpit?"

With a small shake of his head at the memories it was invoking Ben managed to say lightly. "No, it might have been the largest sandpit ever for him and washed by sea but he had to share it with all those strangers. Always insisted his castles were flattened before he left them so no one else would do it. Also he had to wait for an adult to be with him while he played outside. Couldn't just run out and play when the mood took him or just sit and look out the window at the view. We'll make sure he can do that in his new home if that's all right with you."

"Of course it will." Meg said softly she'd already ticked the secure garden box in her mind seeing how Benjy had enjoyed Sara showing off the garden… the ducking in and out of the bushes by all of them, as well as remembering Benjy eyeing and chuckles as Ben had set Bear swinging on the seat. Knew it would be a quieter patterned seat and a child swing somewhere as well as a downstairs window or two to gaze through…

oxoxo

Still giving the couple space Joan and Hank joined them and hearing Ben's words Hank could well imagine the pain he was feeling as everything around him was and would throw up mixed memories and hoping talking would help in someway commented softly. "Over breakfast we decided it would be nice to have something for Benjy to play with on visits and stopovers so rang Steven to order it thinking we would pick up or get it delivered tomorrow. Was told to expect it in half an hour and no arguments accepted and the swing and slide first delivery on the 26th as they had sold out yesterday. We thought we would set those up so they can be seen from the kitchen window that way he can have some safe freedom. When the sandpit came we decided to add the label and bow so he knows it's for him and wasn't something that just happened to be hanging around. I know he won't want to be left with us yet but when the time comes we'll be happy to have him, for the odd hour or two or even overnight so you'll get at least a day and night to yourselves. No pressure though."

Ben looked across at his in-laws and with that new closeness in mind saying. "Thank you. I know he trusts both of you as I do and being here has helped me feel I'm finally home. We'll give it a few more minutes then head back to apartment, I think we'll both need to rest and readjust, and we might have to take you up on your kind offer of stop-over tonight. The officers are acting as taxi so we can see the lights before Benjy goes to bed and if its all right with you we'll ring you after that. Might actually ask him if he would like you over rather than waiting for an episode from either of us to happen. We need to be open with him as he's sensitive to people talking about him or telling him bad stories as he calls lies."

Seeing the final stages of the sandcastles being achieved Hank nodded and knowing this was the opening he wanted started. "I know Sara and Casey have to go now but you can stay …

And was interrupted because Benjy having got up full of excitement and happiness, was turning to get their attention and calling out. "Dadd…" knew that was wrong and came out with "Auntie Ben! … horrified tried again "Unc…" and stopped mid word as sobs took the place of laughter and happiness and tears started to run down his face. And his body shook as his world crumbled into utter shattering mind blowing confusion and all his emotions engulfed him. One second he'd been totally happy then next he was in this black hole… and looked at one man …wide eyed and terrified …. Till the tears and sobs took over completely…

Everyone in the garden stayed perfectly still feeling and seeing the child's pain … could feel their own pain … knew he wanted a cuddle and wanted to cuddle him to take away that pain and mend his world … But all knew the right person to give it wasn't there … and the caring identical twin might be forcefully rejected ... or send the boy totally over the edge. And it was more than likely mummies wouldn't work either after they'd betrayed him. … Not even the new adopted one who'd been trusted with the big white teddy bear that was sitting on the swing seat on the other side of the garden. And certainly not the other two aunties … one an old hand at calming scared children or the other one who was more than slightly scared at what she was witnessing... They were too new for him to trust…

Feeling cut in two by the boy's pain, and with the memories of the apartment as well as knowing Meg wouldn't be able to help just yet Ben released her saying softly. "He might run again and I'll be careful not to get hit this time." And remembering the boy's earlier reaction to Hank he looked at him and quickly added. "I can't give him that hug he needs, but I might be able to talk to him and hope that will be enough to calm him."

Then without waiting for a comment or to explaining that his side was aching so badly he couldn't risk getting down or trying to pick the boy up, if he thought it wise or would be accepted. Ben moved towards the stricken boy trusting his instincts and saying softly. "Benjy it's a beautiful castle and its all right. Remember what the Judge said about mistakes and it all being new for us."

Through his sobs Benjy gulped for air and gave a small nod realising his half daddy wasn't angry… his tone was loving and gentle … but his world was still broken around him and he didn't know how to pick up the pieces… his daddy wasn't here…. Didn't want a mummy… So sobbed some more

Seeing the small nod and continued sobs Ben hoped though he was like Derek in everyway he could perhaps ground him rather than making things worse and continued getting closer as he carried on talking. "Guess he didn't think of that one though. And he's right mistakes don't matter, we are family here so any name you are comfortable with is fine … Ben and Meg or just start saying what you want to as you look at us. A tap on the hand or leg of the person you want if you are close enough is also good. We all know it's very confusing for you and I know you miss him, want him and I don't mind if Daddy slips out. We both know you understand the difference between us and we both love you that's why he gave you to me this morning. And I'm sorry I can't give you the cuddle you need at the moment."

Sort of feeling tiny bit settled hearing those gentle tones, that were soo like his daddy reassure him he'd not made a total mess and messes were okay … normal … not one of the things that were frowned upon by his Nanny. Shied away from those thoughts and knew he was still in a huge tangle about cuddles …. He wanted them but didn't … all at the same time and it hurt … And he didn't know how to get rid of that hurt or the loneliness he was feeling deep inside him.

And gave a hiccuppy sniff, with more tears falling but smaller sobs and started to raise a sandy hand to his face to wipe his tears away or his runny nose… he really wasn't sure which…perhaps both…

Realizing what Ben meant and guessing they'd had a running hysterical child in the apartment earlier, which couldn't have been a good thing, Hank quietly joined them. Seeing what Benjy was about to do wasn't good hoped their earlier trust in each other would come through and said softly. "Don't Benjy you'll get sand in your eyes and make them hurt."

Turning to the new voice and knowing and trusting it … he'd given him nice food and never told him bad stories or given him hugs that were hurting him now … Benjy put his shaking hands back down and automatically started to brush them against his shirt while gulping for air again in an effort to stop the tears and little sobs that way…. But they still came as did the hurt and tangle….

Watching the boy's actions Hank carried on gently. "You've never had a Grandpa cuddle have you?"

Tearfully wondering what a Grandpa was Benjy shook his head.

Glad he got the boy's attention Hank explained gently. "As you know I'm Meg's daddy and when you let Meg adopt you, I became your adopted Grandpa but we leave the adopted bit out and you can call me Grandpa. Okay" and slowly got a clean hanky out ready to give to the boy in a moment, when he was sure the boy would accept something from him.

Still shaking and sobbing Benjy gave a tearful nod.

"Well, as a Grandpa I can give you cuddles or hugs when others can't or you don't want them to because you don't feel their's would help you. We all know that when you feel less tangled about things and Ben is well enough you and he will have hugs or cuddles. But if you wish I can give you one now and it will help make you feel safe and less lonely, let you know there is someone else you can turn to at anytime, not just for now."

As Benjy listened flashes of that morning in the apartment rushed through him as did ripples of that flight and fear impulse he'd had but it was now clashing with more tears and his real need for a hug or cuddle. That brought back the feeling of Sam's safe hug … knew he wasn't here nor was Father Tony and his hug. And while trying to control this war and confusion within him he somehow managed to nod and instinctively started to raise both hands towards his Grandpa in what would have been understood as that well known silent child 'pick me up please' message but he also blurted out in his tearful distress two things that were going through his mind. ""I hurt half daddy when I hit him … Sam stopped me running out the door into the sky.."

Recognising the huge battle going on in the child and guessing the picture those few words painted Hank immediately took a step forward and gently put his hanky into a shaking little hand saying softly. "First wipe your eyes with this then I'll pick you Benjy."

Feeling the hanky in his hand and hearing that gentle command and promise the rising hysteria that would have exploded on being scooped up into a loving hug immediately started to die and Benjy very shakily began to wipe his wet face and tears from his eyes.

Knowing he'd just stopped one crisis Hank knew he couldn't ignore that heartbreaking tone or words, nor could he ask what actually happened in the apartment earlier and in his gentle but firm tone took a guess saying. "I think the man who stopped your half daddy from coming home hurt him more than you did this morning. Your half daddy is standing here and talking to you so he is alright and what happened earlier and you can feel now is a memory, one which will fade in time. And you don't have to worry about hurting me. I'm used to picking up big sacks of potatoes nearly your size and bales of hay, I've also carried young animals that kick out with four legs and sharp hooves. Don't think you've got those, and we both know you really need that Grandpa cuddle I want to give you."

Shaking slightly less Benjy sniffed and nodded, it sounded good and if he stayed still he might not hurt him… he could trust him… couldn't he. Tearfully he glanced at his half daddy and saw him nod and a look that told him it was all right. And then as he really really wanted this new cuddle he screwed up the damp hanky in one hand and then raised them both to his Grandpa and silently tearfully waited. He wasn't willing to say this new name just yet, … though Grandpa sounded nice … just in case it was a bad story… and adults were all the same …

Ready for anything that might happen; Hank instantly moved in and gently expertly scooped the boy up into a Grandpa hug. Felt Benjy's legs anchor round his waist and two arms round his neck and shoulders, then the boy's head come to rest on his shoulder accompanied by some more tearful sobs. Sobs that sounded rather like hiccupy sighs of relief rather than deep distressed ones a trapped terrified child. Then keeping one arm wrapped round the boy at waist level Hank gently rubbed Benjy's back in soothing circular motions while reassuring him softly. "All safe now, and no one is cross with you. As for Auntie and uncle getting in a tangle I always used to do it to mine and they weren't worried by it either. You just use whatever names you want to any of us no one here will push you on that point."

Then as the boy seemed to steady down to just resting and breathing easily … possibly might start to nod off through exhaustion Hank stayed silent and watched Casey and Sara quietly come over knowing they felt responsible for starting this off … which they weren't …

Casey was still quietly consoling Sara as they joined the group, he'd seen over excited kids crash out on the beach knew the boy was in good hands and reckoned she hadn't and it had scared her.

Silently watching them Ben was relieved it had gone so well and when the couple were close enough to talk said. "Not your fault Sara, he's just confused and I know he enjoyed playing with both of you and will want to do it again another day."

Feeling Sara shiver, knowing she wasn't emotionally steady to answer Casey nodded and said to the boy's back. "We can play again Benjy." and then added to the others in the same casual tone. "We must go, I've got a ring to buy and Sara's got the shop to look after. I'm thinking of taking her to the new Spanish restaurant on the east side of town tonight to celebrate so we'll see you in morning at Sunset Sisters."

Sara immediately brightened up enough to manage a smile.

And Meg started to make her way over to her to give her a quick sisterly hug to get over the shock of it together, and then chat about the shop while they walked to collect their bags. Getting hers she would phone the officers out front warn them they were getting ready to come out with a sleepy-uptight child. Or possibly have her parents join them if Benjy wouldn't let Grandpa go… that sounded so good and brought back flash memories of her own Grandpas and their unique love and support...

But Meg only got as far as tucking into a hug with her sister and a couple of reassuring words, when Hank who had other ideas looked at Ben and was stunned to see that look of deep trust he'd seen at the Shockwave and had seen a whisper of it in Benjy's very tear filled eyes as he picked him up. Knew by rights these two shouldn't trust anyone ever again considering who had betrayed them and said with genuine gentle firmness. "Stay with us till you find your new home. We have three spare rooms, two all ready made up."

Responding to the emotional warmth in the words Ben immediately said. "Thank you. But I'll need to check with the police officers first." He knew this was far better than taking Hank and Joan back to the apartment. Especially as he wasn't too sure he could cope with the lift or stairs, or wanted a return of that unnerving hint of feeling he'd not been able to pin down, put a name to or get rid of till they'd got out of the lift and left the building that morning. And that wasn't adding Benjy's reactions to returning or him seeing in his mind Benjy actually falling off the balcony if he looked out the right window or saw that door onto the balcony again…

Coming out of her sister's hug hearing her father words Meg looked at him in amazement not only at the offer but at the fatherly depth of feeling in the tone. Immediately glancing at her mother to check it was right she saw her warm smile and realised they had wanted to give that offer before the outburst and that it had had to come from them and not through her. Looked back at her husband as he spoke and could see deep trust and a hint of relief in him and couldn't stop her own smile as she looked around them seeing her parents accept his words knowing she was relieved … they would have space and company…

All thoughts of acceptance were promptly broken by a very stubborn if shaky exclamation of "Can't!"

Though surprised by it Hank immediately asked softly. "Why not Benjy."

Not wanting to come out of this nice Grandpa hug Benjy lifted his head slightly and said. "Won't know when Daddy will call Christmas day or when to see him. Judge was going to tell us at the apartment. So we have to be there!" and tightened his hold expecting to be told off or dropped and sent away…. Felt tears starting to come again

Hank accepted the tightening hold, with his free hand started to rub the boy's back again and silently waited as Ben gently answered the boy's fears. "We can check with Andrew to see if there is a message already and if not tell the Judge where are. Daddy can phone here on Christmas day. Would you like us to stay here with Grandpa and Joan?" He'd been going to ask Benjy just as the outburst came knowing it was important that he felt included in the decision.

Guessing that would be all right if the Judge knew where they were another worry flitted across Benjy's tired mind making him ask on the edge of those tears. "Will we still see the lights tonight?"

Ben couldn't help his gentle laugh and added. "Yes and there is room in people carrier for Grandpa and Joan if they wish to come or we can go and you can tell them all about it afterwards just before bed."

With real warmth Hank said. "We've not seen the streets lit up so we'd love to come." And it was true they'd always taken the short cut home so missed the town in the evening.

Suddenly cottoning on she might miss out on something Sara exclaimed. "Room fo..."

With half a smile Casey immediately butted in. "We are going out tonight. If you want we can walk that way. Talk about it in the morning when we see them."

Sara conceded the point with a sigh and smile saying. "Okay. We'll see you at the shop in the morning. Night Benjy." And linked her arm in Casey's and they started to walk over to the table to collect her bag and then go... get that all important ring.

As Benjy had promptly snuggled back into his shoulder and as he didn't want the boy to actually fall asleep there and then wake up in a strange place as he wasn't going to be a standing bed for him Hank said quietly. "Do you want to see your room and sleep on the bed? Bear can go with you and guard you and daddy's paper." Knew the small black and white toy dog waiting up there could be introduced later, even if it would make an easier cuddle toy for boy than Bear … they would take one step at a time…

Feeling secure and way too comfy, certainly didn't want strange places Benjy shook his head saying. "Garden in a hug near half daddy."

Hearing a hint of tired stubbornness in the tone and not really blaming the boy Hank worked out a comprise, and started to slowly walk over to it saying. "We'll sit on that brightly coloured swing seat with Bear then. Meg can make the phone calls while your half daddy rests on one of the sun-beds as he's feeling sleepy like you are." And glanced over at Ben with a slight smile seeing the man had got the heavy handed hint. Then looking back to where he was going he saw Joan had as well because she was putting the lock on the swing seat so he wouldn't end up in a heap on the floor with Benjy as they tried to sit on it.

Knowing his voice would help the boy settle and wanting to make sure his grandson understood what the choices were added. "Grandpas can read night time stories too. Can come to you if you wake from tangled dreams or just forget where you are or need the bathroom, and it won't matter if any of them happens more than once in the night either."

As he listened Benjy knew that sounded nice and had a thought and said. "Meg can help half daddy if he gets tangled."

With a smile at certain wayward thoughts he shouldn't have Hank said softly. "Yes Meg can. And Joan can help us all, you're not alone in all this." And realised this little lad was really very bright and reckoned that half daddy was a good way of describing Ben. Especially after the DNA of identical twins came into play and love he'd shown the boy so far. And in view of the tangle regarding who exactly was Ben considering there'd been two of them at Ocean Drive it was a nice way of keeping them separate. No doubt it would be dropped when the boy felt secure in that knowledge and he'd heard it used properly in this family..

As the next step was sitting on the swing seat Hank dropped those thoughts and said gently. "Okay, as I sit down you wriggle so your legs don't get squashed and then get comfortable on my lap, I'll make sure I won't drop you. Bear is off to your left if you want to snuggle near him or hold his paw. He's too big to join you on my lap." And knew he would spend his quiet time sitting here getting used to the changes in the last twenty four hours. … Decided to leave the challenge of Derek for the future, for now he would get used to the idea that Ben was Ben and was his son-in-law who'd been to hell and back. That Meg was actually married and not looking for a husband in the future.

As for Casey and Sara getting engaged well he'd been expecting it sometime over this holiday as all the signs were there and had already contemplated a wedding sometime next year … and was glad the inspiration of the Shock Wave had come when it did. Then of course the possibility of the patter of tiny feet sometime in the future and that usually came with six months warning at least…. So plenty of time to get used to becoming a Grandpa, and then seeing the crying bundle become a laughing talking child that would call him Grandpa … Yeah a year or so certainly not today. After all he'd always been called Uncle Hank by the two women when Benjy was around … but Grandpa did sound better.

Putting his arms over his grandson's body just to make sure one wriggle wasn't going to be one too many and off the swing seat, he let the Grandpa idea grow saying softly. "You know we can enjoy good things together as well, like building sandcastles, colouring, and reading books even playing with toys on the floor. And there will be a slide and swing coming after Christmas to go with your sandpit.

Feeling secure, finding that comfy spot and snuggling into it while listening to those nice ideas, a sudden worry hit Benjy and there came a sleepy snuffly. "Santa Claus might miss me Grandpa."

With a warm feeling of pride that the boy felt safe enough to use that Grandpa word so soon Hank answered gently. "No he won't. He'll find you no matter where you are." Yeah he was going to enjoy being a Grandpa after all …..and it wasn't going to make him feel old either

oxoxo

After acknowledging Hank's broad hint or fatherly order Ben walked over to Casey knowing this would be the only time to talk to him and asked. "Will you be going back to work this afternoon?"

Sara was chatting to Meg as they picked up their bags and not really thinking immediately commented. "No he's lazing around watching the workmen deal with the main lock and patio door…" and stopped realizing she'd more than likely just put her foot in it.

"Because of my visit." Ben said, knowing there had to be a stigma left no matter what they said.

Not wanting Ben to feel any more guilt but also not wanting lie Casey didn't hesitate as he answered. "Yes and no. It brought home the fact that anyone might find the hidden spare key and use it. Locking up last night I remembered the patio door hadn't been locking properly that just a hard pull could open it and so the two jobs could be done together. And we've got new tenants coming in over Christmas so it seemed the right time to change it to a keypad lock. Both of you will have the combination.

Then he dropped his tone to one of close friendship adding. "Ben, I'm going to tell the new tenants you might drop in when we are not there and that's okay with us. We both know you might need a refuge if flashbacks or whatever hits you when you are on your own in town. Surf Central is a safe haven for you so I want you to use it anytime." then carried on with a smile. "As for that top you owe me, we'll sort it out later I've got a spare that will do fine." then turned serious and checked. "Why did you want know."

Ben nodded, taking on board the trust given to him and knew if they were out and he used Surf Central he would contact them or get someone to, and started to say. "I need a favour …" and then stopped not sure how to continue without imposing on his friend, the last thing he wanted was to force Casey to do something he didn't want to or couldn't do…

With that unusual hesitation from Ben, Casey knew just how insecure he was still feeling and immediately said. "Go on. I'll say no if I can't do it. You know me."

Ben sighed as those words and reassuring friendly tone broke his uncertainty and then carried on. "Derek hid some Christmas presents for Benjy at Ocean Drive…

"Oh thank goodness for that" Meg exclaimed with relief and seeing the others immediately look at her added. "Tess didn't buy anything for Benjy claiming she would have done it today but being in jail stopped her. So its our fault not hers, not that Benjy wants anything from her, nor does he trust the word mummy in any form. So Mum will be Joan and I'll be Meg."

Over Sara's hiss of cross disbelief Casey said. "I'll get them for you later this afternoon as soon as the doors are done. Where are they?"

Knowing Casey knew the house well Ben said. "In the downstairs closet behind the box of Christmas decorations. You'll have to check with the police officers before you go in. They are searching the house and grounds and might want to unwrap the presents to check …"

Seeing how deeply tired his friend was Casey butted in. "Don't explain now. If they need a verbal okay from you I'll ring. Otherwise I'll pop them in a bag with your name on and leave it on the back shelf in garage. I've got a spare key so no one has to stay around for me, just warn the others what's going on." Then resting his hand on his friend's shoulder said. "You rest and we'll see you in the morning and talk then or later on in the day." Then knowing he had to leave added. "Come on Sara." hoping she would take the hint and not start talking to Meg again.

Looking at his friend and knowing they had time now Ben said. "Thank you. Meg and her parents are the ones with phones so use one of those numbers."

Casey nodded and felt a kick of happiness and contentment … he was engaged to the woman he loved, accepted by her family as an equal and his close friend was tucked into that family as well so would get all the support and friendship he needed.

Then as he linked his arm in Sara's and walk away from them he started to wonder if he could buy his friend the phone but then immediately decided no. It might look like a heavy handed hint to stay in contact at all times so he could keep tabs on the man …well, he did in a way didn't he. … And guessed the others would feel the same as well. So perhaps Meg should buy him it and she could do it with a smile. Perhaps some CDs to start his new collection and make sure he's in one place to listen to them. Perhaps not there was so much mixed history to music as far as Ben was concerned … a token so he could chose his own was a bit of a copout. Then remembered that new book he'd scanned through the other day knowing it was just what Ben would like and had then put it back as though it was red hot as the realisation hit him. He wasn't going to give his friend a present this year as their friendship was broken. Well it wasn't now and he was sure….

His thoughts were interrupted by Sara's sudden bubbly comment. "So as they can't hear us, do we buy him a joint present or one from each of us so he's got more than the clothes he's wearing and the couple at the apartment. The phone is out as that's Meg's or Mum's and Dad's if they are feeling wicked so where do we start…

Opening the garden gate for her and getting the Rescue Truck key's out Casey chuckled at her obvious delight and said. "Funny you should say that….

Oxoxo

Walking slowly back across the garden to the sun-beds enjoying the fact they were there and hand in hand, Ben and Meg couldn't help smiling seeing Hank and Benjy on the swing seat. Hank was looking down on the child with his arm across the boy's body to make sure he didn't roll off. And it reminded Meg of just how gentle and protective her father was over them as youngsters and the young animals on the farm. Remembered that gentle but strong reassuring hug Benjy must have felt just now and how it always reassured her or her sister in troubled moments. And back on the farm as youngsters they would end up on the sofa by the fire with either him or their mother beside them till they were settled or a sleep and then he would carry them upstairs for the rest of the night. And knew seeing the way Benjy trusted him things would be all right to night and in the future.

And heard Ben's gentle contented comment "They look good together."

Which was immediately followed by Joan's soft sigh of mischief "Oh this is way too good to miss." as she joined them, taking several quick photos of her husband. And waving happily back at him as he possibly sensing he was being watched looked over at them with a slight smile … possibly a resigned smile seeing what was going on … before going back to looking after their grandson and deep thoughts. Joan knew having a grandson took some getting used to … the whole situation took some getting used to and fully accepted she would stay Joan for a while yet. And then added to the couple beside her. "I'm glad you are staying. I made the rooms up this morning just in case and the other small room just needs tidying so Benjy can put his larger toys in it and play up there on his own if he wants to. We will all need our own space some of the time and we will make sure you have yours as well. Also I just caught the officer from the carrier coming in to use the washroom and told him you were staying here. He didn't think it would be a problem and I said if there was we as a family would stay where ever they thought it was safe. He's going to inform base and tell us any security arrangements when he sees us later, as he went on his way he muttered it solved the paperwork problem."

Knowing they were staying and he was accepted Ben felt better though his side was aching he laughed and said. "Yes they were going to split security duties when we were back at the apartment. One would stay in the foyer and the other would go back and catch up on the paperwork till change of shift or the trip. But they couldn't work out which one would do what or how to decide it as neither wanted to do the paperwork."

Really feeling that tiredness again as well as more complications seemed to be lining up to be dealt with to day or tomorrow he sighed and couldn't stop his worries slipping out. "They won't be our taxi drivers for long so I'll have to buy something to replace my car in the next day or so. I'm guessing Meg's explained why we've got keep in a group for a while so it will have to be a family carrier. That will be fine for longer trips later on as well, but not for the smaller in town trips when Meg needs hers. I'm assuming I've got work to go to at Liberty Corp or projects to run but can't bank on that so it might be something new as well as picking up Benjy from school.

Considering what's happened and I've not got The Deep, Java Web or Liberty Corp as back up and its the banks who are shutting me down while they sort out the mess. I seriously doubt anyone will stand me surety or accept my risk factor. The bank manager has opened an emergency account for me but I doubt that will run to family carrier and day to day living, though I might be able to run to a down payment do it that way and hope everything is sorted before the next one is due. Back to hand and mouth living I guess."

Joan smiled in sympathy understanding the full weight of feeling behind that sigh and words. It had been daunting enough for them closing down their old life in Kansas and coming here for their new start. Reckoned that break had helped them find their feet and knew being connected to Ben in the early stages had helped them immensely. He was doing the same thing in a way but was staying and facing the people it affected and reassured him gently. "Hank will stand surety for you when ever you need it and any of us can drive till you feel safe enough and Dr Robinson clears you."

With that last though she shifted her attention to her daughter adding. "Thinking of Tyus Meg, you should ring him and tell him the change of plans he's bound to want to check on Ben sometime soon."

Then she turned back to her son-in-law as she hadn't missed how much pain he was in or how tired he was and gently laying her hand on his arm said. "You are trusted and wanted Ben so don't worry about future work or surety. You need to rest like Benjy's doing to recover and then readjust in your own time, you are welcome here for as long as it takes. I'll bring cups of tea out when you wake up, which I reckon will be in about an hour as I doubt Benjy will stay down any longer than that and might not like the idea of being in house and you out here sleeping. I'll just go and grab a light blanket for you so you don't get a chill as you are not used to being outdoors." And winced at her words. Then smiled seeing Ben was okay with it and knew there would be many slip ups in days to come and left them with the gentle comment. "I know it refers to babies but they do say you sleep when they sleep so I think we will all rest now."

Meg and Ben laughed and looked at each other not needing words, both reckoning Benjy would be a ball of energy and questions once his batteries were recharged and there would be their rooms and things to sort out … and hand in hand carried on to their goal.

oxoxo

Getting there Ben eyed the sun-bed feeling if he managed to get down he'd never get up laying flat out on the thing. Decided to raise the top part so he would be half and half be like last night and hoped that would give him the edge he needed … getting down and getting up. Then carefully he eased himself on it trying not to wince too much and turned on his side to ease and protect his aching side and watched Meg sort herself out. Reckoned she would be feeling tired after all trauma she'd been coping with so far and a thought rippled through his mind and knew he needed to voice it now so said. "How about Venice in Spring school holiday with the whole family … I know it won't be the honeymoon you dreamed of…

While surreptitiously keeping an eye on Ben in case he got into trouble and needed her help Meg sorted out her sun-bed and moved it next to his then sat down on it. Hearing his voice she looked at him surprised considering how tired he was thinking such a gorgeous thought and hearing the hint of guilt in his voice interrupted him gently. "It's a lovely idea, they will enjoy it and we will have private time together so it will be our honeymoon.

And if Derek doesn't like Benjy going then he can stay with Mum and Dad and we can go by ourselves. I've no doubt the Judge will have the measure of your twin by then or Derek will have come round to the idea its better to stop playing games. And he will understand it's the Judge who holds the cards not you or him."

Loving her clear thinking Ben gave a gentle snort of a laugh and sighed. "Some hope."

She smiled at that comment about his twin and said truthfully. "Whatever happens I have you and that's fine by me."

Knowing he needed his rest she stretched out on her sun-bed and finding her phone dialled the hotel number. Then gently put her free hand on Ben's which was resting lightly on her thigh, loved the two way reassurance it gave them and that he needed it as he drifted off to sleep and said softly. "It's okay I'll be here when you wake and stop the nightmares if they start to trouble you."

As the sudden rush of sleepiness threatened to engulf him Ben managed "Thank you, need to get one some when."

For a split second Meg wondered what on earth he was on about then chuckled and said. "A phone." Then as Ben sleepily nodded she added into hers. "It's Meg Evans, Ben's wife can I speak to Andrew please." and felt a rush of pure pleasure really realising it was her name now and heard a gentle. "Sounds good." From her husband and saw his sleepy smile and wondered how long he would manage to stay awake… seconds most likely.

Then she chuckled softly hearing Andrew's "Good Afternoon Mrs Meg Evans, how can I help you." Especially as she could hear he was smiling and those words sounded soo good and answered in a serious tone "I hope you won't take this the wrong way but we are not coming back to the apartment."

"You've found a house already?" Andrew exclaimed quickly, hoping it wasn't a really bad reason. He remembered the serious group exiting the lift that morning and Ben hadn't looked too good then, so things could have got worse and he collapsed or Benjy had or .. ..

And stopped his tumbling thoughts of bad reasons hearing Meg's reassuring. "Not a permanent one. We are staying at Mum and Dad's till we find something."

Totally relieved Andrew said. "I'm glad for the three of you I know they will take care of you all. I'll pack your things up and bring them over."

"Ben doesn't have a case or much." she commented realising it couldn't be squashed into her bags.

Andrew chuckled remembering how little Ben had and reassured her. "We've got a spare travelling case he can have that, not that it will fill it by any means. Would you like the partner to the nightdress and robe you wore last night?"

With disbelief Meg said. "Could I?" She knew they were expensive but also gorgeous.

"Our Christmas present to you and I'll chuck in the other pyjamas for Ben's so he won't feel jealous. How is he by the way?"

Meg smiled hearing the genuine warmth behind the words and glancing at her husband said into the phone. "He'll love that thank you. We are in the garden and he's just gone to sleep on the sun-bed next to me. Mum's gone in to get a blanket so he won't catch a chill." Over Andrew's gentle chuckle she asked. "Have you heard from the Judge he was meant to call about Benjy having contact with Derek Christmas Day as well as sending over our legal papers and others things to look through."

Andrew glanced at the special tray he'd put under the counter saw it had not been added to since his last check and answered seriously. "Nothing yet." then lightened his tone saying. "But, we've had two bosses bringing large envelopes full of information about houses for sale. So that idea about apartment number and hotel email address not giving you away didn't work. Also had one with a cryptic message on the outside about red wine and clothes not mixing, unfortunately I wasn't on hand to get that story, but it was a boss rather than messenger. So, I'm looking forward to being filled in sometime. I'll bring them and other messages over round about half three or would a later time be better so he'll get more beauty sleep."

Meg giggled and said. "About that time would fine thank you. Did the house bosses come in together."

"Close but not quite, they met at the desk but they did leave together each claiming their houses and services were the best. They did very quietly so no one else could hear insist Ben or you should contact them personally and at anytime for visits or just a talk etc." then added with a soft chuckle. "Don't think midnight would be a good time though."

Hearing the tempting tease Meg laughed and knowing he and her parents were friends said. "You might want to picture Dad sitting on a brightly coloured swing seat with Benjy asleep half curled across his lap so his head is partly resting on Dad's chest and Bear the big white Teddy Bear." then couldn't resist adding. "And its Grandpa not Uncle Hank by the way."

Andrew roared with laughter and then getting a breath said with a hint of hope "Photo please Benjy's not going to sleep that long." before dissolving into laughter again.

"Mum couldn't resist taking some."

Andrew's "Good. See you later." was said with a huge tone of satisfaction and still a hint of a laugh.

As she took her freehand away from resting on Ben's so she could disconnect the call and set up the next one she was surprised by the gentle "Perhaps Bette aught to have one for her newspaper column." comment from beside her.

That set her giggle button off and then she leant over and kissed him on his forehead as he'd not opened is eyes. But had to retreat quickly to her sun-bed as she felt the threat of being tipped up. The last thing she wanted was a heap with him under her and then laughed again at the thought … because that was what she wanted but not here and doubted if it would be tonight ... perhaps tomorrow if his side was alright…

Glancing to check Ben hadn't been disturbed by her action she saw he was looking at her and as he smiled she felt her heart flip head over heals, and hoping to stop her mind getting any deeper into the gutter about tangling with him she said. "Going to phone the Judge and leave a message there if he's not available, then Tyus so he doesn't have an extra trip. Mum's right he'll want to see you before this evening, and Andrew will be over about half three with our bags and house leaflets as well as a chat so go to sleep." and was surprised how sensibly that came out.

Feeling her light kiss and quick retreat he'd opened his eyes and wondered what was behind her expression and soft voice they were both so full of promises and said softly. "Yes Mrs Evans."

Meg sighed at his tone and felt as though she was in 'love heaven', wasn't going to resist the feeling this time and carefully balancing herself on the sun-bed as she leant across to her husband. Seeing her action he eased towards her so they met without any threat of tipping and this time they kissed properly.

Both felt the full depth of their love and what it meant to them as well as hints of those darker loving promises of the future.

And when they parted they looked at each other with brightness and love, and then Ben eased himself back to lie on his side to watch her and rested his hand lightly on her thigh again. Then with a gentle sigh he closed his eyes and let sleep take him without any fear at all. … She was there for him …and with him in his soul … always would be…

Back on her sun-bed with her heart racing, emotions churning yet settling Meg watched her husband and soulmate close his eyes. Then with a smile she found the phone number for the Judge's secretary and as she started to dial it really realised her dream was reality and she was living it. Yes it was totally different from the one she imagined, but way better because she knew what that deep everyday love she'd seen in her parents really felt like. Knew like them they would weather the storms and enjoy the happy times together. And hearing her mother come closer and still waiting for the phone to be answered she watched her soulmate and husband settle into a deeper sleep … and knew that sight and the feeling deep within her would never get old ….

The End.

oxoxo

Thank you for reading and as you've come this far I hope you have enjoyed the ride.

As always I would love to know what you think of it so please review and for those who have thank you, they have meant a lot to me.