Another lovely song from Within Temptation called "Our Farewell" at the start of this chapter and "The Hand of Sorrow" further down. Don't own, make no money, just love to listen to them.

Part 34

John sank into the chair with his daughter cradled across his legs. He used one arm to hold her securely to his chest while the other reached over to grab a blanket folded up at the end of the bed. Wrapping it carefully around the slender teen, he held her close and slowly rocked them back and forth. After a few minutes, he felt her begin to relax against him; just a bit, but it was something, so he started to hum quietly.

He'd never been much for singing. Oh he could appreciate someone with a beautiful voice and even had songs that he listened to regularly, but John didn't consider himself a singer. His child disagreed and sometimes could get him to sing along to something on the radio, but only when he was alone with her did he unbend enough.

In my hand a legacy of memories

And I can hear you say my name

I can almost see your smile

Feel the warmth of your embrace

But there is nothing but silence now

Around the one I loved

Is this our farewell?

Sweet darling, you worry too much, my child

See the sadness in your eyes

You are not alone in life

Although you might think that you are

Never thought this day would come so soon

We had no time today goodbye

How can the world just carry on?

I feel so lost when you are not at my side

But there is nothing but silence now

Around the one I loved

Is this our farewell?

Sweet darling, you worry too much, my child

See the sadness in your eyes

You are not alone in life

Although you might think that you are

So sorry your world is tumbling down

I will watch you through these nights

Rest your head and go to sleep

Because my child, this is not our farewell

This is not our farewell.

By the time he finished the song, Ashlyn was shaking with tears and clinging to him desperately. He popped open the recliner and braced his feet against it so she was completely surrounded by his strong embrace, safe and snug against his torso. She just let the tears fall as she lay weakly against the big man. The girl still felt sick and fragile from the illness that had sapped her normal vitality and her heart was aching from the days of separation from the father she adored. The pain of their last encounter beat at her and she didn't know how to get it out, make it stop.

"I love you, sweetheart. I love you so much. When I found out you left after our fight, I was devastated and terrified that something would happen to you. I shouldn't have talked to you the way I did and for that I'm sorry. Knowing that you'd walked home in the dark after school upset me too much and instead of taking the time to calm down and go for a walk, I blew up at you and then at Harold. The things I said I didn't mean. I would never lock you away, nor would I abandon the numbers like I said. I just want you to be safe and I don't know how to do that; and that scares me more than I can say." John buried his face in the girl's thick hair, "Please, baby, please don't ever run from me like that again. I can't do this without you anymore. When you disappeared I realized that the only reason I'm still alive right now is because of you. If I don't have you in my life, it isn't worth living. Not anymore."

The teen was shocked. Her father was the strongest person she knew and had done so many things for others. She'd known how close he'd come to dying when he found out her mother had been killed; John had buried himself in a bottle and had no plans to ever come out until Harold Finch had given him a purpose. But even that purpose, even his solid bond of friendship with the billionaire, wasn't enough to heal him from the pain and grief of losing a piece of his soul. He took so many chances when protecting people because he didn't have anything to truly live for. At least he didn't until a certain fifteen year old child came into his life and gave him a reason.

Ashlyn hadn't realized just how much her father had come to depend on her presence since coming to live with him. She was the reason he came home, she was the reason he had a home. He was truly alive again, in ways he hadn't been since the day he walked away from Jessica, and he couldn't go back to the unrelenting darkness. And neither could she.

"I'm sorry, dad; I shouldn't have taken off like that. I was so scared that you were going to keep me holed up in the house and I just couldn't live like that again. I should have known you'd never actually do that. I was upset and felt like you didn't trust me. I hate it when you're disappointed or angry with me because I want to make you proud of me and not think you made a mistake when you found me. I love you!"

As she buried her face in his chest and sobbed, John ran a soothing hand up and down her back and whispered reassurances in that quiet husky voice. He held her close and let his own tears fall unheeded, cleansing him of his pain and fear just as hers did. Hearing soft sounds from the other room Reese shifted slightly, "I think we're going to need to go back out before the doctor comes looking for us and Harold starts fussing at me for dragging you out of the living room against your will."

Ashlyn gave a watery laugh even as she continued to cling to the powerful frame. John pushed the chair back into a closed position and rose with her clasped in his arms. When he reached the door, she let go long enough to turn the knob and tug so he could hook it with a foot and open it the rest of the way. The two men waiting for them gave sighs of relief when they came out.

Once the teen had been placed back on the couch, Harold came over and allowed her to draw him down for a careful hug as she whispered apologies to him for the heartache and anguish she'd caused. When she let go, the doctor approached to check her over again for any ill effects, and was pleased to find none. He gave her another injection of medication to prevent nausea and announced she was doing much better.

Finch had John bring in some food tables so everyone could sit in the living room and relax while they ate. The doctor had okayed some soup for Ashlyn and a bit of plain white rice which she ate slowly, fearful of it making a second appearance despite the injection. She was able to eat about a dozen bites of rice and drank a third of her soup before she was full and apologized for not being able to stuff in more.

"Certainly not," the doctor announced. "I would have been surprised if you'd been able to eat more. You did very well with what you did get into yourself and should be able to eat a little more each day."

"We'll get you back up to where you were, little one, but we'll do it slowly and carefully so you don't get sick again," Reese assured quietly. He was making up for days of eating almost nothing and knew he'd regret it later, but right now he was too hungry to care.

She leaned over and placed her containers on the coffee table before reclining back against her pillows, turning her head so she could observe her father. He kept an eye on her while he ate and as soon as he was full, John gathered up his containers and hers, took them to the kitchen, washed his hands, and hurried back to the girl. Now that she didn't have food near her, both dogs edged over, hoping for her attention.

Holding out her hands to the animals, she called them over and instantly had Bear burrowing into her while Dakota tried to climb up the cushions to snuggle with her. Reese scooped the youngest up and placed him carefully across the girl's legs so she could reach him. The Belgian shifted so he was sitting with his side pressed against the couch and his mistress's arm wrapped around his chest as she pet him.

Scooting his chair closer to the corner of the sofa, John indulged himself in some paternal coddling by leaning against the couch and stroking one hand over Ashlyn's black hair tenderly. His other hand rubbed the ears of the big dog seated before him and he grinned when Bear's eyes half closed in delight over having his Alpha's attention. His smile softened when his daughter's breathing gradually evened out as her green eyes drifted shut when sleep overtook her.

"Rest is the best thing for her right now; her body is recovering still, but she's doing very well considering," Terrence stated as he did one more check of her vitals. "Temp is normal, pulse, blood pressure, oxygen levels all good, and the nausea seems to have passed."

Harold pushed himself to his feet, "In that case, Dr. Harvey, I will return you to your home with our thanks for everything you've done for Ashlyn. It was greatly appreciated."

"If there's ever anything you need, Doctor, you have only to ask," John rose and extended his hand. "I'm in your debt for the care you've given my daughter."

"The pleasure was mine, and I'm delighted she's recovering. If something does come up, don't hesitate to send Mr. Wren after me again," he winked at his patron knowing the billionaire wouldn't pause for even a moment if he was needed.

The two men left and John was again alone with his daughter. Bear had retreated to his bed now that things had settled back down and was dozing so the military man lifted the sleeping Dakota from the girl's legs and placed him beside his big brother. Ashlyn stirred slightly but quieted under her father's reassuring touch as he carefully lifted her dangling arm back to the couch and pulled the blanket up under her chin. Rising, the man stretched until he heard various joints pop, biting back a grunt of pain when one or another hurt more than normal.

John went to stand by the windows and looked out on the now darkened city, enjoying the fact that he had his only child safely under his protection again and hopeful that nothing like this would ever happen again. He heard a soft sound of distress and turned to see the girl shifting restlessly in her sleep. Going back to her, he sat at the edge of the sofa and caressed her cheek lightly while whispering her name.

She twitched suddenly and opened her eyes, foggy with the remnants of sleep, "Dad?"

"I'm right here, little one, it's alright, you're safe."

"Hmmm," she murmured as she snuggled back into her pillows and blanket, "always safe when you're with me. My guardian angel."

He chuckled softly, "I don't know that anyone has ever called me an angel before."

"My guardian," came the whisper as slumber pulled her back under and into peaceful dreams.


When Harold returned from dropping off the doctor, he found a note on the counter telling him that his bed had been stripped and remade, the dogs had been fed and taken out, and would he please get some sleep. The computer genius smirked at the final comment; his partner had gotten little sleep as well and he hoped that Reese planned to take his own advice.

Limping into the living room, he leaned down stiffly to pat both dogs when they raised their heads to greet him. A light had been left on near the couch and he found his friend stretched out on the sofa with his daughter safely tucked between his own powerful form and the back cushions to protect her from being too close to the edge. Even in sleep, he watched over her. Finch shook his head slightly when he caught the faint metallic sheen under the couch and realized it was John's gun placed close at hand should it be needed.

"The guardian and his child," Harold said quietly before hobbling off to his room to sleep himself out.


April 19th found John and Ashlyn landing in Ireland in preparation for the concert he'd gotten tickets for. They had made arrangements to have a private tour of Ancient Ireland and were staying at the best hotels, planning to see as many sites as they possibly could, eating at numerous restaurants, and ending their trip seeing Within Temptation perform. The teenager was over the moon in delight at getting to see her favorite band live and could hardly wait for it, though her father was able to divert her with all the tourist attractions.

Their first day was spent in Kerry visiting the Killarney National Forest, Muckross House and Gardens, and a couple of the pubs that played traditional music and welcomed families. Day two was a visit to Cork where they saw Blarney Castle, watched people contort themselves to reach and kiss the Blarney Stone (neither had an interest in doing so themselves), walked around the gardens and saw Rock Close, then made their way to the whiskey distillery where John took a brief taste but not much since he had his daughter to watch over.

Then it was off to Waterford where they saw beautiful Waterford Crystal being made and toured Kilkenny Castle and the medieval city it stood vigil over. Their fourth day was spent at Wicklow where they were treated to the sight of magnificent waterfalls and bought some stunning blankets and sweaters from the Avoca Handweavers before being swept off to Dublin to see museums, shops, and the beautiful Christchurch Cathedral.

Day five was a Midland driving tour where they saw Mullingar Market Town, Newgrange, Tullamore Dew, and Belvedere House and Gardens. Galway was next where Galway Crystal was on display and stopped in at Kylemore Abbey. Their final day of the tour was spent at Clare seeing Bunratty Castle, the cliffs of Moher, an old smokehouse, and an evening at Doolin listening to the wonderful sounds of traditional Irish music.

Finally, the time had come for the concert, which happened to coincide with her 16th birthday, and Ashlyn was ecstatic at getting to see the live performance. At their hotel, the teen dressed in black jeans, a pale green silk shirt that brought out the color of her eyes, and wore her long black hair loose. Her father also had on black jeans and decided to forego his usual matching shirt and instead put on one of gunmetal grey. As they went to dinner that evening, he was the center of attention as numerous women openly ogled the ruggedly handsome warrior in the prime of his life.

They arrived early at the concert and walked through the many little kiosks selling music, shirts, posters, and a dozen other Within Temptation items and John had the girl pick out whatever caught her attention. Knowing her father's penchant for buying her way too much, Ashlyn wisely kept it to a minimum and only got a couple of shirts and some new CDs.

They had a private box in the theatre which had a perfect view of the stage and excellent acoustics without having to fight the crowds (John really didn't want to dismember someone on his daughter's birthday). Ashlyn spent most of her time on her feet cheering and singing along with the music while her father relaxed in the chair next to her and kept her from hurdling over the railing of the box when she really got going. When it was over, she happily collapsed into the seat next to him and leaned against his shoulder while they waited for the hordes of people to thin out.

"I take it you enjoyed the concert, sweetheart?"

"It was the best, dad, and thank you so much for this trip. It was definitely the greatest birthday ever and I love you," she snuggled closer with a contented sigh.

Wrapping his arm around her slender shoulders, John pressed a kiss to her head, "I love you, too, little one, and you're welcome."

They returned to the hotel where they changed for bed, pulled out what they would be wearing on the flight home, and finished packing the last of their things. As Ashlyn came out of the bathroom and started for her bed, John held out his phone, set on speaker, to her, "Someone wants to talk to you."

Surprised, she accepted it, "Hello?"

"I hope that you have enjoyed an exceptional birthday vacation and that the concert met with your expectations," came a familiar dry voice that brought a smile to her face.

"Uncle Harold! It was amazing; the whole thing has just been like a dream. You won't believe some of the pictures we got of the scenery here, everything was just beautiful," she gushed enthusiastically.

"I'm very pleased that things went well."

"How are you doing, Uncle Harold? And are the dogs okay?"

There was a smile in his voice as he responded, "The weather is cooperating nicely so I'm able to walk daily with your pets and enjoy some much needed sunshine. However, I will be very grateful to have both of you home again. For some reason, the numbers seem to go a little easier when your father is handling them than when either of the detectives takes over."

"Carter and Fusco just aren't as intimidating as dad," she stated with a smirk in the big man's direction and John just smiled back.

"A very accurate understatement," Finch chuckled. "In truth, I have missed having the pair of you floating around. I've adjusted to your presence in my life and am at a bit of a loss when you're not immediately available."

Reese moved closer, "We'll be home before you know it, Harold. Do try to stay out of trouble until then, please."

"Very amusing, Mr. Reese. I'm not generally the one who find trouble, that's normally your forte."

"Hmmm, I seem to recall an evening that you were high on a particular drug…"

A squawk was heard from the speaker followed by, "That incident with ecstasy was in no way my fault, Mr. Reese, and…"

Seeing the grin lurking in her dad's eyes, and missing the teasing that usually accompanied the two men, Ashlyn joined in, "Really, Uncle Harold? You tried ecstasy?"

"NO!" was his indigent response. "I was drugged against my will by someone I thought was in danger and then the madwoman left me to die. Detective Fusco had to assist in removing me from danger," he seemed more put out by that than being drugged and threatened with death.

Father and daughter both laughed, picturing the older man perched in his chair at the computer puffed up with outrage. Knowing he was being teased and that he'd risen far too easily to their bait made him reconsider his comments, "On second thought, the pair of you can extend your stay in Ireland indefinitely!" He lowered his voice so that they could just hear him over the tapping of the keyboard, "Let's see how far you get with your passports flagged."

"Sorry, Uncle Harold, but you just left yourself wide open for that," Ashlyn, ever the peacemaker, soothed.

"Humpf," he groused before giving in, "what time am I to meet you at the airport?"

"We're due to land around 6 pm and we expect you to wait for us at passenger pickup, not the terminal," John stressed. "There's no reason for you to be trying to walk the entire airport only to turn around and have to walk back again."

"Yes, dad," Finch snarked, knowing his friend was being overprotective once again.

The other man just smiled into the phone, "Good, then we'll see you when we're back on American soil."

"I'll see you then. Good night, John, Ashlyn, and happy birthday, child."

"Night, Uncle Harold, and thank you." She ended the call and handed the cell back to her father who tucked it in a pocket while she pulled down the blankets and sheet to the bed and climbed in for the night.

John seated himself next to her and tugged the covers up to her shoulders, stroking one hand over her hair, "I'm glad you enjoyed the trip, sweetheart, and the concert; though I think my ears are still ringing from some of those songs."

Laying on her side so she could look up at him, the teen chuckled, "I know, but some of their music is so poignant and heartrending, like Forgiven and The Hand of Sorrow. It really speaks to me in ways other songs don't."

"I know, baby, I could feel it, too, at times. You get some sleep, morning's going to come all too soon and then we have a long flight ahead of us." He brought his phone back out and tapped a few buttons and the youngster smiled when it began playing some of the songs they'd heard that night. "Happy birthday, little one, I love you."

"Thank you, dad; love you, too," her voice faded slowly as sleep claimed her.

John rose carefully so he didn't disturb her slumber and let the music continue playing as he placed the final few items in bags for the next day's run for the airport. He drifted over to the balcony with a lovely view of the landscape illuminated by the bright moon and stepped out into the quiet night, still holding the cell as it played softly. One of the songs Ashlyn had mentioned earlier started to play and he listened to it more closely, feeling some of the lyrics describe his own life in places.

The child without a name grew up to be The Hand

To watch you, to shield you, or kill on demand

He'd had a name as a child, but over the years he'd lost it to so many different aliases he couldn't keep up with them all. It was only when Ashlyn came into his life that he reclaimed it.

He's torn between his honor and the true love of his life

He prayed for both but was denied

Well, he certainly had been torn between serving his country and staying with Jessica; in hindsight, he wished he'd made a different decision.

So many dreams were broken and so much was sacrificed

Was it worth the ones we loved and had to leave behind?

So many years have passed, who are the noble and the wise?

Will all our sins be justified?

Too many dreams, too much sacrifice, and oh the sins he was guilty of! He hoped that the work he did now and the love he lavished on his daughter would negate some of it.

His soul was tortured by love and by pain

He surely would flee but the oath made him stay

Please forgive me for the sorrow, for leaving you in tears

For the dreams we had to silence

That's all they'll ever be

Still I'll be The Hand that serves you

Though you'll not see that it is me

So many dreams were broken and so much was sacrificed

Was it worth the ones we loved and had to leave behind?

So many years have passed, who are the noble and the wise?

Will all our sins be justified?

And serve, he would. To make up for the suffering and pain he'd caused others unintentionally, for abandoning the love of his life and his only child to hell, he would battle any demon to keep Ashlyn safe and to protect others now. He let the music fade into silence and shut the phone down, returning to the room to place it on a charger before settling in his own bed.


Pushing the luggage cart along, the pair made their way from baggage claim to passenger pickup and immediately spotted the black Denali Harold had brought to retrieve them. The billionaire was standing beside the hulking vehicle with a big smile as they approached and almost eagerly accepted the hug from his honorary niece. John was always both amazed and pleased with the girl's influence on them in such a relatively short amount of time; Finch had been a very touch-me-not recluse who lived and breathed paranoia at all times, refusing to allow anyone within his private sanctum. Reese himself was not a very hands-on person, unless it was in a fight or the lightest brush of his hand to guide someone in the direction he wanted them to go. Until Ashlyn came into their lives and turned both of them to mush with her love and light.

"We missed you, Uncle Harold, and I'm so glad to finally be home," the teen leaned into the thin man's embrace cautiously, always aware of his physical limitations.

"I missed both of you as well and am very pleased to have you back," Finch lightly stroked one hand over the long black hair as he smiled over her head at his friend and associate and held out the other, "Welcome home, John."

"Thanks, Harold, and thank you for coming to pick us up and staying with the car instead of traversing the airport."

"I do aim to please, Mr. Reese; at least on occasion."

"If only your 'occasions' would occur with more frequency, Harold; then I wouldn't have to worry so much about where you are and what mischief you're up to."

"Less mischief than yourself, Mr. Reese."

Shaking her head at their by-play, the girl released the computer genius and popped the back of the Denali open so she could start tossing her luggage in. Inquiring after the numbers, detectives, Harold's overall health, and any problems, her father gently nudged her aside to lift the heavier bags in. Once the cart was cleared, the teen rolled it back inside the airport and placed it where it belonged, then hurried back to her little family so they could go home.


A short stop to pick up food and they were soon pulling into the driveway of their home. Diving out of the car, Ashlyn raced for the door, unlocked it, pushed it open and held out her arms. The first to reach her was Bear who had heard the car and was already waiting. Burying his head in her stomach, he whined and rubbed eagerly against her while his tail waved madly in happiness at his mistress's return. When he saw John, however, she was nearly bowled over in his eagerness to get to his Alpha. Dakota quickly took his place in her arms, fussing at her for leaving him for so long and demanding her undivided attention to his vocal conversation.

Spotting the bullet approaching him at a high rate of speed, Reese braced himself for impact as he dropped to one knee and caught the Belgian who crashed into his chest and pawed wildly at him. Harold watched the reunions with a grin, knowing how much the animals had missed their owners despite being content to stay with him. Every day, Bear had gone through the library with the Sheltie trailing him closely as he checked every room in case the family had returned. When he didn't find them, the shepherd would collapse onto his doggy bed and stare at Finch with soulful eyes and flattened ears.

After the pup greeted John as well, they unpacked the Denali and dragged everything into the house. The majority of the clothes were tossed in the laundry room to be done later while the gifts purchased for themselves and Harold were retrieved and set out. The trio made themselves comfortable out on the patio so the dogs could run and showed their purchases to the older man who was suitably impressed with the variety of objects. He was surprised at the myriad items they'd picked out for him, most with a depth of understanding into his personality that almost made him uncomfortable. John had come to know him too well and Ashlyn usually had an innate sense about people so the gifts were well thought out and appropriate.

Except for the black t-shirt of a certain gothic rock band that the teen handed him with a big, innocent smile.

He had to chuckle when he saw it, knowing it was the girl's favorite group and that she mainly picked it out because she wanted to tease him; kind of like the horrendous Christmas tie with the garish colors and blinking lights. It wasn't something he would wear out into public (unless he had no choice) but he could unbend enough to wear it around the house on occasion if it made her happy.

Other gifts for Finch included some lovely prints of landscapes for his room at the house or somewhere in the library, several rare books they stumbled across by accident, a couple of handmade sweaters, some Waterford and Galway crystal figures, three DVDs of various sites they thought he would find interesting, and a stunning hand-woven blanket for him to use on cool evenings when he was chilled or wanted to sit outside on the patio. He was very touched at the thoughtfulness of each item and made mental notes of where he would place everything.

By ten, the teen was drooping with jet lag and nearly asleep where she was leaning against her father's warm side with his arm around her. John kissed the top of her head, "I think it's time you went in to bed, sweetheart; you won't make it much longer."

She yawned hugely and stretched, "Who would have thought sitting on a plane forever would tire you out so much, but you're right, I'm ready to crash." Ashlyn gave him a hug and peck on the cheek before rising and doing the same with her uncle. She patted the contented Bear who was sprawled in front of his master, not wanting to let the man out of his sight and led Dakota into the house. He certainly wasn't going to let her leave him alone any time soon and while she got ready for bed, he happily curled up in his own so he could keep watch over her.

The two men sat outside for another hour before John finally admitted fatigue. Harold agreed and retired to his own room while the younger man, trailed by his faithful Belgian, went through the house to make sure everything was properly locked and set the alarm. His daughter's door was halfway open, that way the dogs could come and go as they pleased, and he eased it the rest of the way and went in to check on her. She was already sound asleep, as he figured she would be, curled up on her side with one hand tucked under her cheek.

Sitting on the side of the bed, John lightly carded his fingers through Ashlyn's thick black hair and smiled tenderly down at her. They had come so far since finding one another and despite the various ordeals they'd gone through, they were still together and things were going well. He was still astounded that he had somehow managed to help create this perfect (in his eyes) child with his beloved Jessica. He deeply regretted the years he lost with her but at the same time he was eager to see how she would grow from this point under his guidance.

Leaning over, he kissed her forehead and whispered, "I love you, baby; sleep tight."

She stirred slightly, eyes cracking open to meet dark blue as she smiled faintly, "Love you, too, dad."

With one final stroke to her hair, he rose and started for the door as she drifted back to sleep. John paused to pat Dakota as he passed and as he slipped out of the room murmured, "I still haven't picked out an actual sweet 16 present yet. I wonder if I can get a Ferrari or Lamborghini in hot pink."

Ice green eyes snapped open at his musings and John chuckled softly as he retreated to his own room, followed by the yelp of, "DAD!"


Author's note:

And there it is, finally done!

Thank you all so much for following us along on this journey and for your encouragement to continue. The many reviews and PMs we've received helped us develop the story in various ways and for that we are most grateful! We hope to continue this storyline at some point and see how things go for our happy little family.

Until next time, happy reading!