Author's Note: Apologies for re-uploading chapters 40-47. Fanfiction would not let me correct a big error in chapter 40, so I deleted it only to discover I could not then reupload the chapter in the correct order without deleting all the following chapters and reuploading the entire set in the correct order.
Chapter 47: Getting the Boot
Later, Helen sat outside on a bench waiting for John's return as he went off to put her numerous purchases in the car. A large rumble shook her stomach and she gave a chuckle as she patted her bulge. "Alright, darling, hang on. Your father will be back in a minute and then we'll get you something to eat. Craving anything in particular, are you?" she quietly spoke to her little one, who, judging by the motions Helen was feeling, was getting restless waiting for her next meal. Moving her hand in a circular motion, she wondered when she would finally start feeling the baby kicking. Ashley had given her first firm kick in her fifth month of development but then again that was Ashley for you. She was nothing if not prone to swift action Helen recalled affectionately of her eldest child and sighed as longing for her daughter hit her. My sweet baby, Helen sighed again mournfully. I miss you so.
"Why the long face?" a man's voice asked and Helen looked up to find John standing beside her. In his new change of clothing and with his trimmed hair, John presented a very striking figure, one that did not go unnoticed by other women who had passed them today. Holding her hand out to him, she replied, "Just thinking of what I want to eat. The baby seems indecisive at the moment."
John noted that the further along Helen was in her pregnancy the more she began to refer to the baby as a separate, aware entity. He himself was starting to do it. Helping her up, he tucked her arm into his as they headed off to the food court. "Well, that's not like our little bundle of joy. I expect she'll let you know soon enough what she wants." And she did. Stomach rumbling loudly as she surveyed the food court, the starving mommy to be pointed to several stands as she gave John instructions on what she wanted. Setting off in search of a clean table, she stopped along the way to purchase two large strawberry lemonades and hummed happily to herself as she sipped on one as she waited for him to join her.
She had just finished off the first one when John arrived with several plates full of delicious smelling food. "I see you've taken care of the drinks," he remarked as arranged the plates before her. "Actually," she answered with a meek smile as she picked up the second cup, "they're both for me. The baby's craving lemonade again."
Shaking his head at her blatant use of the baby card, John wandered off to get his own drink and was surprised to find Lucy seated at the table when he returned. "Got tired of waiting for us?" he greeted as he sat down.
"Got a craving for pizza, actually," she answered with a grin and soon she too was tucking into a meal and chatting away with the pair. Helen found herself easily taking to the girl, who was a year younger than Ashley. Pleased to hear Lucy was enrolled in her first year of graduate school in Library Science, John asked her why she wanted to be a librarian and beamed as she passionately talked about her love of old and rare texts, something he himself could relate to. She also shared that she was working part-time at the college's rare books repository and could read Latin, French, Greek and Old Irish.
"I'm beginning to understand why James is so taken with you," Helen remarked approvingly. "He's very fond of old texts and reading."
Smiling softly, Lucy said, "James was a God send. I don't know what Nick and I would have done without him. He literally saved us from a life of…" she trailed off abruptly and her face titled down to avoid their eyes. "Well, let's just say he changed our lives for the better."
Helen and John exchanged glances. James had privately told them about the pair he had quietly taken in as youngsters, though both strongly suspected that he had withheld some of the details of the Cutter children's past. He had selected them specifically to help with the Avalon project and thus had kept them separated from the Sanctuary Network though the siblings seemed quite aware of what it was and James and Helen's involvement with it. Indeed, neither had seemed alarmed at John's teleporting abilities which in itself suggested they had been in the presence of abnormals at some point.
Helen herself had not known about the Cutters until two days ago when John had teleported them to the country home James had purchased near the mountain chain within which the ancient city of Avalon was hidden. As per Helen's instructions, James had slowly and secretly purchased thousands of acres of land around the mountain range under various psydnomyns. The lands furthest from the mountains he leased out as farming lots managed by a few leasing firms that they themselves didn't know the true identity of their client. Several layers of individuals and companies prevented any transparency between connecting the dots from the lands and their real owner. The value of the lands had increased substantially over the years, making James even wealthier than in his youth. He could easily make millions by selling off sections of his properties, not that he had any intention of doing that. Money had afforded him great freedom in his life but it was not a priority of his. It was a means, not an end.
"James is a very good man," Helen remarked with obvious affection in her voice.
"He is," Lucy agreed with a light flush to her pale complexion that brought out the contrast of her little sprinkling of freckles stronger in her heart shaped face. Helen and John exchanged glances again. She was thinking the young girl had deep affection for Watson while John was wondering if James had any romantic interest in the lass. She was young enough to be his great granddaughter twice over.
Following the meal, both ladies excused themselves to go to the restroom and came back to find John waiting for them with a sack. "Carmel popcorn, cheese popcorn and dried fruit… for midnight cravings," he answered as Helen raised an eyebrow in question. "Oh, I may have to keep you," she purred and rested her head on his shoulder as they strolled away from the food court. "I earn my keep, my lady," he replied and gave her a kiss to the temple. He could tell from the look on her face that she was beginning to tire and wrapped an arm around her for support as they leisurely walked on.
Lucy shot a sidelong glance at the pair and suppressed an "awe" at their public display. James's hints that the Bickersons should be lightly supervised seemed unwarranted. It was apparent that one of the pair wore the pants in the relationship and that she firmly had the other wrapped around her finger. Whether he realized that or not was irrelevant and should he get out of line Lucy had no doubt that a swift rapt on his knuckles would put him back in his place. She didn't know Helen Magnus well but she had heard of her and could judge her character enough to know the older woman was not someone to tangle with.
At Helen's insistence on one final stop, Lucy led them down to shoe department of Macy's on the ground floor. John sorted through the large options in the men's section while Helen went straight for the women's boots. Biting the bottom of her lip, she scrutinized several pairs, trying to make up her mind what would be a practical number of shoes to purchase. Her swelling feet were painfully crushed in her current pair and she knew from experience that her feet would shrink back to her regular size with months after delivering the child. She finally settled upon three pairs, each one in different lengths and colors, one of which was a sturdy pair that could serve as work boots, and sent the attendant off to pull her required size as she moved on to selecting a two pairs of high heels. Just because she was pregnant didn't mean she couldn't be properly shoed. At the last minute she tossed in a pair of house slippers to ward off the cold floors of their temporary home in the fast approaching winter season.
Resting in a wide chair, she tiredly sighed and rested her hands on her stomach. The attendant had brought the shoes and they fit well enough. Seeing the tired look on Helen's face, Lucy ushered her into the nearest chair and take the shoes and money up at the register. Grateful for the rest, Helen sat back and observed the girl, who seemed taken with a pair of boots on a nearby podium. Though she was nicely dressed Helen doubted a part-time librarian position could afford the type of shoes available in the Macy shoe department. As a way of thanking her for her kindness, Helen offered to purchase the pair Lucy had been admiring when the girl returned with the bags.
"That's most kind of you," Lucy thanked her politely, "but I have a closet full of designer shoes. I'd have to toss a pair out to fit another in my flat." At the dubious look that flitted across Helen's face, Lucy sat down next to her and said, "I know. You're wondering how anyone could afford all of that on a librarian's salary, which is admittedly is not very much. When my brother went into James's employment as an adult, Watson set up a stipend for me to live on upon my turning 18. A very generous one, I might add. Before that, he had footed the bill for both our private schooling and boarding. I wasn't exaggerating when I said earlier that he changed our lives for the better. I only work at the library because I love reading the texts and wanted the work experience for my resume. Technically, I never have to work a day in my life if I don't want to."
"Really?" Helen and John, who had came to stand beside Helen's chair just as Lucy began talking, said in shocked unison. That was one major tidbit James had left out on his recap of the Cutter sibling history.
"Really," Lucy giggled. "I'm a very fortunate girl. And a most grateful one at that."
The couple exchanged pointed looks. Helen was now convinced there was far more to the story than James had revealed to them, and John couldn't decide whether he was bothered by the fact that James was probably keeping the girl as a future, or possibly current mistress, or repelled by the fact that she was about the same age as Ashley. He decided he wasn't going to dwell on it. Who was he to judge anyone's behavior when it came to women given his own dark, violent past.
Abruptly, the two bags dropped from his hands to the carpeted floor by Helen's feet and, as if in a trance, John shuffled behind the seated women.
Helen turned sideways in her chair the best she could and her mouth dropped open at the sight that greeted her. Two feet from her chair, John's tall form was bent over at the waist and his broad face was transfixed in a dazed expression as he stared at a multi-tiered shoe display. Gingerly, one hand reached out and picked up one of the items in the center of the display and placed it in the palm of his other hand.
"John?" Helen called out softly. "Are you alright?" The dumbfounded look he wore concerned her. It wasn't a look she was accustomed to seeing on his face.
"These are the smallest boot I have ever seen," he quietly uttered in an awe laced voice as he stared down at the tiny right shoe resting in his large palm.
"Well… yes," Helen replied in a gentle voice. "Babies are small."
"This small?" he squeaked as he poked his index finger in the shoe, flipped it upside down and held it up to the light.
Reaching out her hand, she grabbed him at the pocket of his pants and tugged him to her. His feet moved willingly back to her but his face retained its dumbfounded look. "This small?" he squeaked again as he retained his focus on the item covering his finger.
Her hand then reached up and pulled his finger down to slip the shoe into her palm. It was a tiny, black suede boot that was lined with pink fur with the same pink fur circling the opening. A thin band of flower embroidered ribbon was delicately placed underneath the circle of fur. It was the sweetest little boot Helen had ever laid her eyes on.
"That is the cutest thing I have ever seen," Lucy gushed as she leaned forward to get a better look. "The baby that wears that would have the world at her feet."
"She would," Helen agreed with a small laugh then let out a loud, surprised gasp. Her eyes flew open and her other hand moved quickly to the top of her stomach. Was that what she thought it was?
"How can any human being wear such a small boot?" John asked, still lost in his fog of awe over the small item. "Two of my fingers fit snuggly in it."
At his saying of the word "boot," Helen felt another kick against her hand. It was definitely a kick she had felt. "Say it again," she ordered breathlessly as her hand pressed against her bulge.
"Two of my fingers fit snuggly in it," he blankly repeated.
"Not that!" she huffed, "the other part. Repeat the other part." Her face scrunch up in a frown as her hand moved around in the hopes of feeling it again. So far nothing.
This time it was his turn to scrunch up his face. "What?"
"Say the other part!" she demanded angrily. "Now!"
"How can any human being wear such a small boot?" he repeated in confusion. "I don't understand…"
Helen let out a little squeal as she felt another kick. This one was the strongest so far. "Boot!" she excitedly babbled and squealed again as her daughter communicated with her once more. "Oh my God," she whispered loudly as tears began to fill her eyes. "I can feel you."
"Helen, what's wrong?" John said in alarm at the sight of her tears and quickly kneeled down next to her. "Is there something wrong with the baby? Are you alright?"
"Say the name of this shoe," she ordered as she held up the boot in her left hand while grabbing hold of his hand, positioning it on her stomach and pressing it down underneath her right hand.
"What?" John asked with a confused shake of his head.
"Helen, are you alright?" Lucy asked wearily to Helen's right.
"Say it!" Helen hissed at him. She desperately wanted to feel her daughter's touch again.
"Boot!" he said quickly and then let out a strangled cry. His other hand flew up to point at their layered hands. "What was that?" he croaked excitedly.
Giving him a big, dimpled grin, the expectant mom merely instructed him, "Again," as she interlaced their hands together.
"Boot" he repeated reverently as if saying a magic word and the corners of his eyes crinkled up in joy as he felt another bump against his hand.
Lucy took in a sharp breath as she realized what was going on. Obviously it was the first time the parents to be had experienced their child's kicking. A male clerk, having observed the couple's animated actions, husseled over to ask if everything was okay.
"I just felt my daughter's first kick," John proclaimed loudly as his face radiated with pride. "Her first kick!" Rather than correct his error, Helen gave him a sweet kiss on the lips. Murmurs of "awe!" and "that's so sweet!" surrounded the couple as those within hearing distance remarked on their special moment.
"A moment like this should be remembered," Lucy declared. "Let me buy the boots as a memento."
"No!" John blurted out and leapt to his feet. "I am her father and I will be the one to purchase her first gift." At the startled look on the women's faces, he adjusted his tone to softly say, "But I thank you for your offer, Lucy. It is most kind."
She responded with an incline of her head and a soft smile. The giant of a man was so going to be wrapped around the tiny finger of that little girl once she entered this world. The bigger the man, the harder they fall she mused.
Flipping the boot over, Helen saw the price of the shoe and frowned. Good grief. That much for what amounted to just enough fabric to cover two adult fingers? It was ridiculous.
The clerk noticed her frown and apologetically said, "They're limited edition by a local designer."
"Even better," John rumbled and motioned wildly to the shoe. "Only the best for our preciously little bundle. We'll take the boots."
"We'll take these in size 9-12 months," Helen corrected, cutting him off as he started to argue. "Newborns have no use for shoes. We want a larger size that will be practical to wear. There's no point in buying them if she never wears them."
"Fine, whatever," the tizzy father to be agreed with a flailing of his hand. "We want the shoes. Ring them up, please," he commanded.
Half an hour later, the happy couple was nested into the back of Lucy's car. John had insisted that they ride together in the back and had one arm wrapped tightly around her shoulder with his other palm resting firmly on her stomach. The front passenger seat and the trunk were piled to down with bags. It was a good thing her car was so roomy Lucy thought as she carefully turned left and maneuvered the vehicle into the center lane. Loud plops of rain punctuated the darkness to splatter against the windows and the additional noise the wiper blades rhythmatically bouncing back and forth soon began to lull Helen into sleep.
"Boot," John whispered again in his continued attempt to get his daughter to respond. He'd been doing it for the last three minutes.
"John," a groggy Helen growled lowly in warning.
"Come on, pet," he whispered as he gently rubbed Helen's stomach around the area he had felt the amazing motion earlier. "Kick for daddy."
One eye squinted open to glare at him. "Stop it," she ordered as she gave his chest a smack.
"Just once more," he pleaded. "I just want to feel her once more and then I'll leave you alone for the night."
"Lucky me," she grumbled with a loud yawn.
"Boot," he whispered again and laughed as he felt the faint little kick.
"Great. Just great!" Helen groaned, giving him another smack before shifting away from him and sitting up straighter. "Now I have to go to the bathroom. You just couldn't let her sleep in peace, could you?"
Laughter drifted back from the front seat. "There's a McDonald half a block ahead. I'll pull in there."
A little smile tugged up at the corner of Helen's mouth. "Ummm, McDonald's French fries," she murmured in delight. "Yum."
Feeling guilty, John apologized and promised to get her some fries while she went to the loo.
"And a small strawberry milkshake," she demanded as Lucy pulled in to park. "And when we get back into the car you can stay on your side of the vehicle, Mr. Boot Boot," she grumpily ordered as she reached for the door handle to exit.
Another burst of giggles escaped from the front seat as Lucy observed the big pout on his face reflected in the rear view mirror.
"I said I was sorry," John grumbled as he climbed out of his side of the car to follow in her wake. "I just wanted to bond with our offspring," he justified. "You get to do that with her all the time."
"Oh, shut up!" was her only reply as she stomped into the restaurant and let the door slam in his face.
"This is better than a sitcom," Lucy giggled again as she picked up her cell phone to text James that they were on their way home. "Now I know why James mentioned not letting her anyway near a weapon. Daddy dearest wouldn't live to see the tomorrow at this rate."