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Thread: Always (sequel to Unforgettable)

  1. #1
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    Oct 2000
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    Post Always (sequel to Unforgettable)

    Pairings: Sheridan/Luis, Gwen/Hank, Kay/Miguel, more

    Enjoy!



    Chapter 1



    "Which one is Uncle Luis's new baby?" Jake asked. Peering curiously through the window at all the newborns. "Look Ali," he exclaimed, "I think I see the baby. See?" He pointed to a squalling infant with absolutely no hair. "That one's got big feet just like your dad."

    "Jake!" Gwen scolded. Hank laughed. "He does have a point, Babe. Luis does." "Put a sock in it, Bennett." "Whoa!" he said. Holding his hands out in front of him. "A little testy lately. What's eating you?" Gwen didn't have time to answer because Eve walked up behind them at that precise moment.

    "Miss Ali," she smiled at the excited youngster in front of her. "The new baby is with your mommy and daddy, and they can't wait to see you. Are you ready?" she asked. Extending her hand to the child. Ali nodded her golden head and slipped her tiny hand into Eve's. Blue eyes sparkling.

    "They want you ALL to come," she said with a smile in Hank and Gwen's direction. Jake bounded ahead of them once he spotted the rest of the family in the waiting room. Ali hung back nervously as Eve pushed the door to her mommy's hospital room open.

    "AliCat," her daddy said happily. "Come inside. Your mommy and I have someone very special we want you to meet," he finished with an impossibly big grin. Sweeping her up into his arms and carrying her over to the bed's edge.

    "Hi, sweetie," her mommy said tiredly. Smiling up at her. She smiled back, but her attention was drawn to the little blue bundle in her mommy's arms. Her blue eyes widened comically when a tiny hand appeared. Then another tiny hand. And the soft blue blanket slipped away some more.

    She reached a tentative hand down to the baby's downy head. "He looks like Daddy," she whispered in awe. Not noticing the looks passing between her parents. The special smile her mommy gave her daddy. "Yes, he does, baby," her mommy agreed. Patting the bed beside her.

    Ali cuddled into her mother's warm embrace. Never taking her eyes off the tiny being in her arms. The baby blinked at her. "What's his name?" she said softly. Giggling as the baby's hand latched on to her pinky.

    "He doesn't have one yet, AliCat," her daddy laughed. "Your mommy and I just can't come up with a name that fits this little guy," he said. Rubbing the baby's head. "But Mommy," Ali said. Her big blue eyes serious. "He has to have a name. They won't let us take him home."

    Her mommy just laughed. "Sweetie, we'll steal him if we have to. Won't we, Luis?" She drew in a shocked breath when her daddy agreed. "We'll run away." She twirled a strand of her long blond hair nervously and leaned down close to her little brother. Kissing his fuzzy head with a sigh and muttering to herself. "Jake said you were going be nothing but trouble. BUT I love you anyway."



    Chapter 2



    "I can't believe you haven't named this angel yet," Gwen laughed. Cooing at the newest member of the Lo-Fitz family. "Oh, Sheridan," she said. Tearing up. "He's so beautiful. When I think of all that you and Luis went through to get to this point." Sheridan watched in horror as Gwen began sobbing. She gently laid her newborn son in his basinet and sat on the sofa beside her friend. Tucking her feet up under her and leaning her chin on Gwen's shoulder. "Gwen," she ventured. "That's all over now," she said. Rubbing Gwen's back. "I'm home, and I couldn't be happier," she smiled. Her blue eyes sparkling with so much happiness, Gwen burst into a fresh set of tears. Feeling completely and utterly ridiculous.

    "I don't know what's wrong with me," she mumbled into Sheridan's shoulder. Then pulling back and dabbing the kleenex Sheridan offered her at her red- rimmed eyes. "I NEVER cry. You know me. But lately.lately I'm in tears at the drop of a hat. Although," she said sarcastically, "Mother could have something to do with that. She's making my life a living hell. What am I saying?" she said. Throwing her hands up and getting up from the sofa. Walking over to the window. And watching Luis and Hank and the kids outside. Pelting each other with snowballs. "That can't be the reason. I've survived 30-odd years with her. Why should now be any different?"

    Sheridan joined her at the window. Laughing softly as she watched Ali and Jake sneak up behind Hank and clobber him. Hank Bennett wasn't Hank Bennett anymore. Just plug him in a carrot nose and call him Frosty. "How is she getting along with Hank?" she asked. Waving at her daughter. "Oh, Ali! Watch out!" she yelled. Knowing she couldn't hear her. But still.she felt the need to protect her. Covering her eyes. Unable to watch. Gwen's mouth hung open. "That's my son for you," she smirked. "Never fights fair. Guess who he learned THAT from?"

    "Oh, Mother and Hank are getting along swimmingly," she said with a smile. "Did I tell you what Hank got her for Christmas?" she asked. Cheeks burning crimson. Sheridan grinned at her. Knowing Hank it had to be good. "A wonder bra," Gwen said. "As if Mother.Sheridan, have you met anyone else so insane in your life?" she laughed helplessly. Sheridan could only shake her head no. And shake with laughter herself. "Father nearly had a heart attack. You should have seen Jake. I've never seen someone's eyes get so big without popping out. He's crazy," she said. Going back to the window to stare at him some more. "But I love the jerk," she smiled. "God help me.I love him. But I bite his head off all the time now. Oh god!" she exclaimed. Raising a hand to her mouth in horror. "Sheridan! I'm turning into my mother."

    "Gwen," Sheridan sputtered. "That's impossible. Rebecca Hotchkiss is one of a kind." Thank you God, she thought to herself. She sometimes had nightmares about doctors somehow cloning the shrieking woman as an experiment. She shuddered just thinking about it. "It's not that," she assured her. "What else is going on? Are you stressed out about Jake being in school this year? Is that it?" "No, no," Gwen said. "It's rather odd, though. His teacher calls him a little angel. I find that hard to believe. She must have a whole class full of little demons if she thinks my lovable little monster is an angel," she laughed goodnaturedly.

    "Working too hard lately?" she asked. Feeling an odd sense of deja-vu wash over her as Gwen answered. "Oh goodness, no. I'm lucky if I get in a couple of hours at the office before I go home and curl up on the sofa and fall asleep for a few hours. Daddy told me I sure was lucky. Being the boss's daughter. For the amount of work I've done lately. Or he'd have my butt fired," she said. "Working hard?" she scoffed. "I don't even know what work is lately," she said. Plopping back down on the sofa with a sigh.

    Sheridan racked her brain for the answer she knew was just out of arm's reach. She almost had it, too. But then Jake burst through the door. "Look Mom! Dad's the Abominal...the Abdominal...ugh!...he's the giant silly snowman!" Sheridan laughed as Jake stumbled over the words. Squealing when Luis grabbed her close. Kissing her. "Luis! You're freezing!" "What'd you think that kiss was for? I needed some warming up." "Luis, Buddy," Hank said. Slapping him on the back. "Stick to Police Talk. You're just too corny for words. It doesn't suit you, Man."

    "Mommy," Ali shivered. Teeth chattering. "I-I-I'm-m-m...f-f-f-r-r-e-e-z-z-i- i-n-n-g." "Oh, Sweetie," she said. Rubbing Ali's pink cheeks with her warm hands. "Why don't you get Daddy to help you out of those wet clothes while I go make us all some hot chocolate? Sound good?" she asked. Kissing the tip of Ali's frozen nose. "Uh huh," she nodded. Reaching for Luis. Luis lifted her easily into his arms. "Come on, Jake. I think we got a change of clothes here for you, too. Let's get you all warm and toasty again, little buddy. Hank? You want me to grab you something?" Luis called over his shoulder. "No, Man. That's okay. I have to heading out again soon. But not before I have some of your wife's fantastic hot chocolate," he said. Pouring on the charm. "Hank," Sheridan laughed. "Flattery will get you everywhere in this house." "Don't I know it," Luis smirked. Barely dodging the pillow Sheridan launched his way. "Hey now! I'm carrying precious cargo here. And that isn't the way to treat the father of your children. You know you love me," he said. His laughter echoing in the halls. "Face it, Sheridan," Gwen laughed. "He's got you right where he wants you." "Yes, he does," she said softly as they walked to the kitchen. He sure did. And she wasn't looking to change anything anytime soon.



    Chapter 3




    "Stop it," Ali giggled as Luis blew raspberries on her tummy. "It tickles," she squealed. Luis ignored her. And continued his torture. Sheridan smiled. Before turning her gaze back to the tiny child cradled in her arms. "Your daddy and big sister are sooo silly," she laughed. Running a finger gently across her son's beloved face. "Mommy," Ali squealed breathlessly. "Make him stop. Please!" she giggled. "Should we rescue your big sister?" The baby gurgled in response, and she hugged him close to her body as she rose from the couch and loomed over her husband and daughter. "Thank you, Mommy," Ali said as Luis released her. Hugging her mother's legs.

    Sheridan ran a hand over Ali's long blond hair lovingly. "Can I hold him, Mommy? Please? I promise to be real careful," Ali pleaded. Her big blue eyes hopeful. Sheridan placed her son in Luis's outstretched arms and settled against the cushions on the floor. Pulling Ali into her lap. "In a minute, Baby. I want to hold you for a little while first," she whispered. Threading her fingers through Ali's hair. "You're getting so big," she smiled. "Mommy, I AM four years old," Ali said seriously. Luis chuckled under his breath. And Ali shot him a funny look. She still hated being laughed at. "I'll be five soon."

    "Yes, you will," Sheridan said. Her voice heavy with emotion. Her life was perfect right now. But she still felt pangs of sadness every time she thought of all the time she had missed with her baby girl. "It's okay, Mommy," Ali said. Snuggling deeper into Sheridan's arms. Laying her golden head against her chest. Her tiny fingers playing with the rings her mother wore. Sheridan buried her nose in Ali's soft hair and inhaled her sweet scent. Grasping the hand that Luis held out and flashing a watery smile his way.

    Luis scooted closer. The baby nestled in one arm and held out the other for his two girls. "Come here," he whispered. Admiring the way the firelight flickered across their features. Sighing in pleasure as his wife rested her chin atop his shoulder, and his daughter curled up against him. 'I love you', he thought. Not saying a word. Because it wasn't necessary. Ali gazed up at him adoringly, and he ruffled her blond hair affectionately. "You have to put your hand behind his head like this," he demonstrated. "And hold him close. He likes being close," he said. His brown eyes staring into his daughter's intently. "You ready, AliCat?"

    Ali nodded her head. Opening her arms. A giant smile of awe taking over her entire face as Luis gently placed her brother in them. "Oh," she breathed. "He's so little," she whispered. Kissing his dark head sweetly. "You're not trouble like Jake said. You're the sweetest little brother in the world." Sheridan smiled blissfully at the picture they made. Her family. "Jake didn't know what he was talking about, did he Daddy?" Luis laughed. "Little brothers and sisters aren't always the sweetest things in the world," he said. Repeating her earlier words. "But they're worth all the trouble they get you into. Jake will find that out. If he ever has a little brother or sister."

    Oh my goodness, Sheridan thought. That's it. I don't know why I didn't think of it before, she thought in embarrassment. Gwen's pregnant! "Oh he'll find out alright," she laughed. Smiling at Luis's curious look. Her mouth dropping open in shock as Ali said, "I want lots of brothers and sisters." Luis grinned at her reaction. "I think we can work on that." Chuckling as she smacked him weakly. "Luis? Ali, sweetie? Don't you think you're getting a little bit ahead of yourselves?" she asked. Shooting Luis a warning look. "I don't think so," Luis teased. "Wouldn't that make a great birthday present, AliCat?" "Luis!" she laughed helplessly as he pulled her close. Attacking her with kisses. Ali giggled at her parents. Whispering to her brother. "They're ALWAYS kissing." The baby waved his arms at her. Grabbing her pinky. Ali shrugged her shoulders and smiled. "I know. But you get used to it."



    Chapter 4



    "Gwen, I can't believe you didn't think about it sooner. I mean, you realized I was pregnant before I did." She shook her head in embarrassment. Playing with the wedding band on her finger nervously as she waited in Eve's office. For the results. She groaned as she realized how clueless she had been. Then laughed. She and Sheridan were quite a pair. A woman should be able to tell she was pregnant, shouldn't she? She smiled sheepishly at the nurse that peeked through the door and told her Eve was on her way. A baby. Another baby, she thought with a smile. Another mini-Hank, she grinned as she pictured a small boy that could be Jake's twin. Aiding and abetting his father and brother in all their various crimes. She buried her face in her hands at the thought. Laughing helplessly. She was putting in a word with God about giving her a calm, sweet little girl. Three Hank clones around the house would be TOO much.

    "Gwen," Eve said. Opening the door and walking over to sit on the edge of her desk. "The test results are in." "So." Gwen asked with trepidation. Well.one half trepidation. Another half hope. Eve smiled at her and said, "Pink or blue?" "What?" Gwen asked in a fog. Eve laughed softly. "Do you want a boy or a girl this time?" "Oh my god," Gwen whispered. Bringing a hand up to her mouth. Shock on her features. "It's true. I'm pregnant?" she asked. Eve nodded her head. "Jake's going to have a little brother or sister in a few short months' time. Congratulations," she said. Hugging Gwen as the shock started to wear off and a beautiful smile lit up her face. "Thank you," Gwen answered dazedly. "Hank," she gasped. "I have to tell Hank. He's going to be so surprised," she said. Walking out the door Eve held open for her. Eve just smiled to herself. Somehow, she wasn't so sure.

    Gwen drove straight home. Not bothering to go the office at all. Daddy would understand. He'd be ecstatic when he learned the news. She couldn't wait to tell him. But first.first she had to tell Hank. She slipped the key in the lock and turned the knob. Picking up the picture of her, Hank, and Jake that Sheridan had taken just a few weeks ago. She held it close to her heart and eased down against the sofa's soft cushions. Picking up the phone and dialing a familiar number. "Hi Grace," she said. "It's me. Gwen. Listen. Is Hank around? No. No. You don't have to go get him. Just tell him when he comes in to come home. Okay? I have something important to talk to him about. Thanks Grace. Bye." She hung up the phone with a sigh.

    Not even fifteen minutes later, Hank burst through the front door. Panic written on his boyish features. "What happened? It's not Jake, is it?" He heaved a huge sigh of relief when she shook her head. "Is it your father? Did he have another heart attack? Is it Becs? I jerk her around a lot, but I'm actually quite fond of the mother-in-law. Who would I have to torture if she bit the dust?" he asked with a questioning half-smile when he saw a smile blossom on her lips. "Well, Babe. Aren't you going to tell me your important news? I'm dying here. Just imagining all the possibilities. Wait. I know. Ethan saw how great I have it, and he came back begging. Trying to steal you away from me. Tell the little rich boy to stuff it. You're mine," he grinned.

    "Hank," Gwen laughed. "I swear. It's going to be like having three kids in the house instead of two." "I do my best, Babe. It's not as easy as it looks.Whoa! Wait a minute. Did you say three?" he asked. Cupping her face in his hands. All traces of fun and games gone from his face. "Three? Did I hear you right?" he asked seriously. Gwen bit her lip. She couldn't tell if he was pleased with the possibility or not. "Three," she said. Holding up three fingers. "Hank? You aren't saying anything," she said in a tight voice as he removed his hands and started walking around the room. Mumbling under his voice. "Hank? You don't want another baby," she said forlornly. Rising from her seat and turning her back on him. Of all the things.she was certain he'd be thrilled at the prospect. Damn, she thought as tears sprung to her eyes. She had at least seven to eight more months of this emotional torture.

    She ignored the tear that trailed down her cheek. Not wanting him to know she was crying. Her body stiff when he wrapped his arms around her from behind. "Gwen," he whispered in her ear. "I love you," he said. Hauling her more firmly against him. "I love you. And of course, I want another baby. I've had my suspicions for a while now, but I didn't want to say anything," he said with a smile as she turned around in his arms. He wiped away her tears. Nodding his head as she asked, "You knew? And you didn't say anything? Ugh!" she groaned. Shoving him in frustration. He laughed and kissed her lips. "I was just waiting for my wife to get a clue of her own. Let me guess. You found out from Sheridan." Gwen blushed in embarrassment. "Real genius we're going to have." She buried her face in his chest. Shaking with laughter.

    "You really want another baby?" she asked. Searching his brown eyes. For the truth of his words. And she knew everything was going to be alright when Hank grinned broadly at her. "Hell yeah. This is so cool," he said. "I'm going to be a Dad again," he said. His voice full of excitement. "I can't wait to tell everyone. Jake! What's my little buddy going to think about this? Won't he be surprised?" he smiled. "I can't wait to see the look on his face. He's going to be a great big brother. Teach the new baby everything he knows. He's going.Oh, Babe. This is the best news," he said. Swinging her around in his arms. Laughing at the green look on her face when she yelled, "Bennett! I think I'm going to be sick." His voice was brimming with excitement and happiness as he glanced once more in her direction then dialed the police station. "Luis, buddy. You owe me twenty bucks. I'm going to be a Dad again." Gwen watched him from the hallway with a blissful smile on her face. The next few months were going to be anything but boring.




    Chapter 5







    "Oh, he's getting so big," Pilar cooed. Holding her littlest grandson in her arms. "I'm so glad you finally named him, Mijo," she smiled. "Yeah, Son," Martin laughed. Slapping Luis on the back. "I was afraid he was going to be the NAMELESS baby for most of his life. Cristian Luis is a good name." Miguel laughed at the look on his brother's face. "Seeing as I AM the only man in the house I was outvoted," Luis grinned. "Ali and Sheridan liked the name a lot more than I did. Thank goodness we compromised. This little guy," he said. Taking his son from his mother's arms and smiling as the baby gurgled, "is going to be known as Cris. Don't you forget that. No girly names for my son," he muttered under his breath. "What's that, Luis?" Hank asked jokingly. "I thought I heard you say something else." Luis glared at him. "Hey, Buddy," Hank laughed. "I was just kidding. It feels great to have this tiny person named after you, doesn't it?"

    On the opposite side of the room, Gwen sat with Kay and Sheridan on the sofa. Watching Jake and MJ gleefully demolish all of Ali's handiwork. Her painstakingly built block house. "Mommy!" Ali yelled. Pouting. "They did it AGAIN!" "Ali, come here, sweetie," Sheridan suggested. Ali complied. Crawling up into her mother's lap. And looping her arms around her neck. Kissing her sweetly on the cheek. Gwen smiled at the twosome. She would be satisfied.boy or girl.as long as the baby was healthy. BUT she couldn't help but wish the baby she was carrying would be a little girl. "Jake says you're having an alien," Ali stated matter-of-factly. "Ali!" Sheridan gasped in horror. "But Mommy!" Ali said without batting an eyelash. "Jake said the baby's picture looked just like an alien. He said he's not having a brother or sister. His mommy's baby looks just like E.T." Kay giggled helplessly beside Gwen at the look on Sheridan's and Gwen's faces. That was TYPICAL Jake. The little wise guy.

    "Ali, sweetheart," Sheridan explained. "Gwen's not having an alien," she told her with a smile. "You looked just like that in your first picture, and you're not an alien. Are you?" Ali shook her golden head 'no'. But confusion still shone in her big blue eyes. "Why isn't your tummy big like Mommy's was?" she asked curiously. Reaching out a hand and rubbing the tiniest of bumps on Gwen's stomach. Sheridan just laughed and buried her nose in Ali's soft blond hair. She'd let Gwen handle this one. "Because I still have a long time 'til I get to see my baby," Gwen answered. "Months," Kay added. "Oh," Ali said. "You're not going to let the new baby grow up to be as mean as Jake are you?" she asked seriously. And Kay choked on her diet soda. Spitting it across the room. "Hey!" Jake grumbled. Wiping his face with his sleeve. "Gross!"

    "Gwen," Sheridan apologized. Covering Ali's mouth with her hand. "I don't know what's got into her today. She's not usually so." "Honest," Gwen laughed. "It's okay," she said. Smiling broadly at Ali. And removing Sheridan's hand from her mouth. "Jake IS a little prankster. Takes after his dear old dad," she said. Looking at Hank across the room. Unable to stop the huge grin that took over her face as he winked at her. "I promise, Ali," she said. Tugging at a strand of blond hair. Ali grinned adorably at her and slid from Sheridan's lap. Walking over to Gwen to give her a hug around the neck. Then squealing as Kay grabbed at her. With threats of tickling her silly. Ali darted across the room. Launching herself into her grandfather's arms. "Grandpa Martin," she giggled. "Don't let Aunt Kay get me. Please," she squealed as Kay crept up on them. "No," she cried. Squirming free from Martin's arms and racing away to hide behind Luis's legs. Kay cackled evilly. "I'll get you my pretty," she squeaked. Imitating the Wicked Witch from one of Ali's favorite movies-The Wizard of Oz.

    Pilar watched the whole scene with a blissful look on her face. It was like she'd always imagined it'd be. She cradled Cristian close to her chest as she crossed the room and settled on the couch beside Gwen in the seat Kay had just vacated. MJ toddled over to his grandmother. Spouting baby gibberish. Struggling to climb onto the sofa so that he could better see the baby. Gwen lifted him up into her lap. "Ba-ba," MJ giggled. Pointing at the tiny child in Pilar's arms. An expression of pure delight on his sweet little brown face. "What's so special about babies anyway?" Jake grumbled. Easing closer and closer so that he could get a better look himself. "Babies, babies, babies. Too many babies. Tucker's mom had a baby at Christmas, and Tucker said he didn't get ANY presents. They were all for the baby," Jake muttered. Crossing his arms. "And they gave his room to his pesky little sister, too. When Dylan's mom had her baby, they had to move back into his grandma's house. I don't want to go back to Grandma's house," Jake said. "You can't make me," he yelled. Running from the room. Hank following close behind.

    "Still not warming up to the idea, huh?" Sheridan asked quietly. A sympathetic expression on her face. "Nope," Gwen sighed. Rubbing MJ's dark curls and placing a tiny kiss on his head. Before placing him in Kay's outstretched arms. "He's just scared the new baby's going to take his place," Pilar placated. "But it'll pass once he sees that'll never happen. "I hope so," Gwen said. Getting to her feet and walking down the hall. Stopping just outside Theresa's old bedroom and leaning against the doorframe. Watching Hank with their son. "Little buddy," she heard Hank say. "The new baby's not going to take your place. I promise. And don't worry about having to move back into Grandma's house. Trust me. That is NOT going to happen. I'll become a ballerina and tour around the world first," he joked. And she cracked up at the insane image of Hank in a tiny pink tutu and pink tights. "Dad!" Jake laughed as Hank threw him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and barreled down the hall. She smiled at Sheridan when she flashed a brilliant smile her way and mouthed 'See?' Maybe...maybe she was right.

  2. #2
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    Post Re: Always (sequel to Unforgettable)

    Chapter 6






    "Mommy," Ali giggled, "He's so chubby." Sheridan laughed as she ran the soft cloth over Cristian's dimpled body. "Your sissy's right," she cooed. "Mommy's little boy is getting so big. Yes, he is," she smiled. As Cristian broke into a toothless smile, and his big dark eyes lit up. She gently washed the rest of the baby shampoo out of his wispy dark hair and said, "Ali, sweetie, would you get me a towel?" "Okay, Mommy," Ali replied sweetly. Walking across the room and bringing back the fluffiest towel. Only the best for her little brother. "Here, Mommy," she said. Holding it. Sheridan wrapped Cristian in the towel snugly and brought him close. Rubbing a hand over his downy head and kissing it. "Mommy!" Ali said excitedly. "Somebody's at the door." "Ali, baby. Don't open the door until I get there," she called as her daughter raced out of the room.

    "Ali," she chided with a smile on her face as she walked into the living room. "I thought I told you to wait." "But Mommy," Ali said from Chad's arms. "I knew who it was." "Your Moms' right, Squirt," Chad admitted. Tweaking Ali's button nose and making her start giggling anew. "She's a smart cookie." "Chad," Sheridan smiled. Bussing his cheek. "This is a nice surprise. I didn't know you were in town." "Just passing through. Thought I'd drop in and say hi to you folks. Check on my little cousin here," he said. Grinning at Cristian. "Did I catch you at a bad time?" "No," she rushed to assure him. "We just finished giving this little guy a bath, didn't we Ali?" Chad chuckled. "I should have guessed," he said. Pointing to Sheridan's soaked blouse. Sheridan looked down at her messy state. Then back at Chad. And smiled slightly. "Mind watching him while I go change?" she asked. Settling him in Chad's arms without giving him time to answer. "Um, Auntie," Chad called after her sarcastically, "I don't know nothing about no babies." Her blue eyes twinkled as she backed out of the room. "Ask Ali. She's an expert."

    "So.Squirt. Your brother here needs some clothes. He's a handsome fella, but the towel's not the way to go," Chad said. Shifting Cristian awkwardly in his arms. Ali grinned and slid her tiny hand in Chad's larger one. Pulling him down the hall toward the nursery. She let go of his hand and ran over to the changing table. Producing a diaper. "You have to put one of these on him first," she said. Blue eyes wide and serious at the panicked look on Chad's face. "You do know how to put it on, don't you?" she asked. "Um.yeah," Chad said with false bravado. He knew about diapers. Everybody knew about diapers. He just hadn't ever put one on a kid before. He opened the diaper up. Then unwrapped the cooing child in his arms from the towel carefully. Warily. "You have to be." Chad grimaced as he felt something warm and wet hit the front of his shirt. "Careful," Ali giggled. "Don't be embarrassed," she whispered conspiratorially. "He does that to Daddy ALL the time." Chad cracked up at the mental image that popped into his head.

    "Is everything going alright?" Sheridan asked. Waltzing into the room with a fresh tee-shirt on. She laughed when she got a closer look. "I'm sorry, Chad. Here. Let me take him. I should have warned you first." "No," Chad said with determination. "I can do this. I ain't afraid of some l'il baby," he boasted. Finally succeeding with the diaper. "Man," he said with a shake of his head. "You got some aim there, kid." Ali giggled. Hiding behind her mother's legs. "Ethan said the same thing." Sheridan took Cristian from Chad's arms. Laughing. "Ethan's become quite adept at ducking. Wait right here. I'll go get you another shirt to put on." Chad smiled after the little trio.

    "Have you seen Eve?" she asked quietly. Later as they sat side by side on the sofa. Watching Ali scribble contentedly. She was making Luis an Ali original for when he came home from work. "Not yet," Chad divulged with a sigh. "It's weird. Of all the people.I never expected to find out Eve Russell was my moms. I think that was an even bigger shock than finding out I was a Crane by blood. What would old man Crane have to say about me if he was alive?" he asked. Retrieving the pacifier that had popped out of Cristian's mouth. "Nothing good, I'm afraid," Sheridan said apologetically. "As it is, I'm sure he's turning in his grave now." "Yeah," Chad chuckled. "If he weren't already dead, the old crone would probably die of a heart attack when I showed up on his doorstep." Sheridan laughed quietly at Chad's words. Truer words had never been spoken. "But we'll never know, will we?" he said to no one in particular as he got to his feet and gazed out the window.

    "Chad," Sheridan spoke softly. "Stay for dinner." "Please," Ali pouted. Chad looked back and forth at their twin faces. Unable to disappoint them. "You're not cooking, are you?" he teased. Smiling as Ali squealed in delight and latched herself onto his legs. Looking up at him with those enormous blue eyes. "No," Sheridan laughed goodnaturedly. "Luis is bringing take-out home when he picks up Theresa from the airport. And don't back out," she warned. Noticing the funny look on his face. "Theresa'll love seeing you. She's going to stay with us for a few days. I'm sure she'll enjoy catching up with an old friend," she said. Leaving no room for arguments. "Please say you'll stay," she said. An expression identical to Ali's on her face. Cristian cradled in her arms. Completely knocked out. "Okay," he said hesitantly. "I'll stay. But you have to PROMISE you won't even go in the kitchen. Last time you nearly killed me. All of us," he exaggerated. "Oh, you," she rolled her eyes as she carried the baby to his room. "Hush up. Nobody ever died from my cooking." When she was out of hearing range, Ali looked at him solemnly and whispered, "But MissPriss nearly did." Ali's blue eyes flashed with confusion as Chad rolled with laughter. "What?" she asked. Arms crossed defensively. "Priceless, Squirt. You're priceless."




    Chapter 7









    "Aunt Theresa!" Ali squealed happily. Throwing her arms around Theresa's neck and planting tiny little kisses all over her face. "I've missed you!" she exclaimed with a grin. Theresa smiled back at her. Pulling her long blond hair back from her face. "Wow! Miss Ali! You're such a big girl now." Ali smiled proudly. And nodded her head. "I know." Chad chuckled to himself. The kid was something else. "Chad," Theresa said in surprise. "I didn't know you were going to be here." "That's aight. Neither did Sheridan. I kinda dropped in unannounced. And 'Auntie' here wouldn't hear of me leaving. Basically threatened me into staying for dinner."

    "Chad," Sheridan laughed. "I did not. He's lying, Theresa," she said with a smile. "Hi Chad," Luis waved in greeting. Setting Theresa's bags down in the floor with a sigh of relief. "What do you have in here, Theresa? A dead body?" Luis teased. Grabbing Ali from her arms and swinging her around in the air. "Daddy!" Ali giggled helplessly. "You're making me dizzy!" "No," Theresa said. Rolling her eyes at her brother. "Presents," she divulged. Smiling as Ali's face lit up in pleasure. "For you," she said. Tickling Ali's ribs. "And for your brother. Where IS that brother of yours?" she asked.

    "Down for the count, I'm afraid," Sheridan said. "He's just as stubborn as his daddy. Fought it every step of the way," she smiled. Wrapping her arms around Luis's waist and looking up at him adoringly. Theresa beamed at them. They were so happy. And she was so happy for them. "He just couldn't keep his little eyes open. Sorry," she apologized. "No problem," Theresa said. "I'll see him in the morning. And for the next week." "A free babysitter," Luis whispered in Sheridan's ear. She swatted him playfully. Laughing.

    "So Luis.Man. Where's that food Sheridan promised?" Chad piped up. Clapping his hands together. "Yeah, Daddy," Ali said. Tugging on his hand. "We're hungry," she said. Rubbing her tummy. "Been starving the troops again, Honey?" Luis teased. Enjoying the fire that sparked in Sheridan's eyes. "No," she pouted. "I offered them food, but somebody," she said. Looking at Ali. "Somebody told Chad my cooking was toxic." Luis howled with laughter. "But baby," he said. Pulling her to him and kissing the tip of her nose. "Miss Priss DID nearly die. We just got the veterinarian's bill last week. Too bad," he finished. Mumbling under his breath. "We could have been rid of that pain in the ass."

    "Luis! I thought I told you...not in front of Ali," she said. Bringing her voice down to a whisper. "I'm sorry," he grinned. "Correction. Pain in the A-S-S," he said. Spelling it out. "Mommy!" Ali gasped. "Daddy said a bad word." Luis looked to Sheridan in shock. "When did she learn how to do that?" he whispered. "And HOW..." "Jake," Sheridan muttered. Rubbing her forehead tiredly. "This Jake character is just full of tricks, isn't he?" Chad laughed. "Yeah," Luis smirked. "That's Hank's son for you. Have you heard the news? Gwen's expecting another little terror in a few months. Hank's on cloud nine."

    Theresa smiled. She could just picture the look on Hank's face. Jake-- little mischief maker that he was--could do NO wrong in his eyes. Chip off the ole block, he always boasted. She wondered what he'd do...what Jake'd do...if Gwen had a baby girl. She laughed at the thought. Either way...she kinda felt sorry for Gwen. She was going to have her hands full. Overflowing. She sighed. She wouldn't mind having her hands full. Success wasn't all it was cracked up to be unless you had someone to share it with.

    Sheridan noticed the wistful expression on Theresa's face and decided to change the subject again. "You know what, Theresa? I don't think it'd hurt if you visited with Cristian now. Otherwise, he'll keep us ALL up the entire night. What do you say?" she asked with a smile. "I'd like that," Theresa answered. "You and Chad start dinner without us 'women'," Sheridan said. Sweeping her giggling daughter up onto her hip. "Just don't eat it all. Men are such pigs," she called over her shoulder in a teasing voice. "Aren't they, Theresa?" Theresa's only response was laughter. Chad shook his head at the expression of pure happiness on Luis's face as he said, "They're something else, aren't they?" "Can't argue with that, Man," he answered. "I sure can't argue with that."




    Chapter 8






    "There's my beautiful wife," Luis grinned. Wrapping his arms around Sheridan's waist from behind. "I was almost ready to send a search party out for you," he whispered. Kissing her bare shoulder. "Blame it on those beautiful, maddeningly stubborn children of ours, Buster. Ali refused to let Theresa read her bedtime story to her. I had to do it. And Cristian.he doesn't want to miss a thing," she said. "Smart kids," Luis laughed. Nuzzling her neck. Smiling when she shivered. "It's you, Baby. Neither of them wants to let you out of their sight. "They love their mommy," he said. Trailing his lips along her jawline. "Just as much as I do," he said. "Have I told you lately?" he asked. Turning her around in his arms.

    Sheridan's blue eyes sparkled in the soft lamplight. "I think maybe once or twice," she teased. "Once or twice? That's all? I'm getting a little behind on my most important job. Letting you know each and every day how much I love you, how happy I am to have you back in my life. Sheridan.you AND the children are my life," he said in a more serious voice. "I don't know what I'd do if." "Shh," she soothed. "You won't ever have to find out. I'M not going anywhere," she told him. Brushing her lips against his tenderly.

    "Thank you," he smiled. Framing her face with his hands and kissing her forehead. "I don't know what got into me. I guess.things are just TOO perfect, you know? Almost too good to be true." Sheridan smiled at him. "I know exactly what you mean. But it is REAL. It's not a dream. But.just in case," she smirked. Running her hands down to his backside. And giving him a good pinch. Luis laughed. Pulling her closer. "All that worrying for nothing. I have a better way to prove this," he said, glancing around the room and back at her, "is real." "Oh yeah," Sheridan challenged. "Sounds interesting. Care to let me in on the secret?"

    "My pleasure," Luis said in a low voice. Backing her up against the closed door and crushing his lips to hers. "Much better," Sheridan said shakily. Her hands traveling down his smooth stomach and pausing at the waistband of the pajama pants he wore. "Luis," she said. Moistening her lips with her tongue. "This isn't such a good idea. Not right now. Theresa's just down the hall. And Chad's camped out in the living room. There are limits to how.Luis," she rushed. Her cheeks slightly pink with embarrassment. "These walls aren't soundproof." Luis released the breath he'd been holding. A sly smile on his face as he leaned close and whispered in her ear. "Luis!" she laughed. Shoving him away. "You're too much sometimes," she smiled. "I'm going to go get a glass of water. You need anything?" "The only thing I want," he groaned, "is what I can't have."

    She shut the door behind her. Her soft laughter echoing down the hall. "Chad," she said in surprise when she saw that he wasn't asleep at all. Wide awake actually. And staring at the open book in his lap with what could only be described as fascination. "Oh. Sheridan," he said. Jumping to his feet. Tucking the book out of sight. She studied him curiously. "It's alright, Chad. You don't have to hide it. It's only natural to have this desire to know," she said. Reaching around him and picking up the book. A picture album. A Crane picture album. She opened the album. And was met by the steely, unfeeling eyes of Alistair Crane. Her father.

    "You know," she said softly. Lowering herself down to the sofa's softness. "My father was a horrible man. Almost inhuman. But I can't.I couldn't bring myself to throw away his picture," she admitted quietly. "It's the only picture I have of him. There's no excuse, Chad," she said. Her blue eyes locking into his. "No excuse for what he did to you. To Julian. Eve. He was a hateful, uncaring man. And his picture doesn't belong in here," she said. Removing it slowly. "Why don't you do the honors?" she suggested. Holding the photo out and nodding her head at the crackling fire. Chad took the picture from her trembling hand with a hesitant smile. Crossed the room. Knelt in front of its warmth. Looked into his Grandfather's eyes once more. And placed the picture in the flames.

    "Well," Sheridan said. Breaking the silence that had descended on them. "I bet that felt good," she laughed softly. Chad laughed with her. Though he could see the smile on her lips didn't reach her eyes. "Better than I ever imagined. Now.why don't you help me out here?" he said. Pointing to the album in her lap. "I was looking in this book here before when it dawned on me.I have NO idea who these people are. And that ain't right. They're my family. Just like you," he smiled. "I'm curious. I want to get to know them. ALL of them. So.what do you say?" he asked.

    "Okay," Sheridan said. "But first you have to promise me something." "A catch? Man. There's always a catch. Is that a Crane family trait?" he teased. "Wiseguy," she cracked. Blue eyes twinkling. "I'm being serious here, Chad. I want you to promise me that you'll at least give Eve a chance. I mean, really. She deserves it. She's your mother, Chad. She loves you. And don't start with the arguments," she warned when he opened his mouth. "You raise some legitimate points. But.do you really want to hold on to this.do you really want to keep her at arm's length for the rest of your life? She made some mistakes. We all do. Come on, Chad. You gave me a chance. Quite a leap of faith, don't you think? And I.at least I hope.turned out not to be so bad," she smiled. "Do we have a deal?" she asked. Offering her hand. He mulled it over for a few minutes. Before grasping her hand and shaking on it. "Deal. You drive a hard bargain. And for the record.you're not so bad at all. Not so bad," he said. Smiling at her. "What are you waiting for? We don't have all night," he pointed to the album. Luis hugged Theresa close as they watched the unlikely couple. Everything was almost too good to be true.





    Chapter 9









    "I want you to be good for Aunt Theresa, sweetie. You promise?" Sheridan asked Ali. Securing the ribbon in her long blond hair. "I promise," Ali said sweetly. "Mommy? Why can't you go with us?" she pouted. "Ali, baby," she began. Brushing her knuckles across Ali's soft cheek. "I thought I explained all this. Mommy's got an interview today. You like the Youth Center, don't you?" Ali nodded her head. Her blue eyes shining with confusion. "I'm going to talk with a nice man about getting a job there. Being the director." "What's a director?" Ali asked. "What will you do?"

    "I can answer that, Ali," Theresa said. Walking into the Ali's bedroom with Cristian settled on her hip. "That means your mommy's going to be in charge. Wouldn't that be great?" she smiled. "I guess," Ali whispered. Her little face downcast. "But Mommy.who would stay with Cristian and me? I don't want a babysitter." Sheridan pulled Ali into her arms and hugged her tight before answering her question. "Sometimes Nana would stay with you. And sometimes.sometimes I'd take you and your brother to work with me." "Really?" Ali asked skeptically. Hope in her childish voice. "Really," Sheridan assured her. Smiling when Ali heaved a huge sigh of relief. "Better?" she asked. Giving Ali Eskimo kisses. "All better," Ali giggled.

    "Thank you for doing this, Theresa," she said later. As she made sure her son was buckled in securely in his carseat. Ali, too. "No problem," Theresa smiled. Hugging her in goodbye. "I love these two," she said. Winking at Ali. "And you don't have to worry. I would NEVER let anything happen to them. So.quit being such a worrywart. They'll be fine," she said. Sheridan laughed softly. "I guess I AM worrying too much. I." "I know," Theresa said. Taking her hand in hers and squeezing it reassuringly. "Mommy," Ali giggled when Sheridan hugged her fiercely once again. "Sorry, baby," she whispered. Committing Ali's smiling blue eyes to memory. She couldn't explain it. But something just felt.off. "You know Mommy loves you, don't you sweetheart?" An adorable smile lit up Ali's face as she said, "Always." "And forever," Sheridan added. Tears in her eyes. "Sheridan," Theresa chided gently as she cranked the car. "Remember what I said."

    Theresa watched Sheridan's figure fade in the distance as she drove away. To the mall. "So.Miss Ali.where do you want to go first?" "The toy store!" Ali squealed excitedly. Theresa giggled at her niece's reflection in the rearview mirror. "The toy store it is," she said with a smile. "How about a little music?" she asked. Turning on the radio and searching for a good station. She stopped looking when she heard Ali's sweet voice singing softly in the backseat. She was amazed to learn she knew ALL the words. The smile on her face grew as she joined her in song. And before she knew it.they were there.

    Ali waited patiently while she strapped Cristian in his stroller. Slipping her tiny hand in hers. Her face lighting up with awe when they walked inside the bustling building. It was dizzying, and Theresa began to think that maybe they should have just gone to the park. Somewhere calmer. "Oh, Aunt Theresa!" Ali exclaimed. Tugging on her hand. "There's Jake's mommy! Can we go see her?" Theresa looked up, and her eyes connected with Gwen's from a few feet away. She couldn't ward off the rush of memories when she saw her. Reminders of how young and na´ve she'd been. "Okay," she said slowly. Realizing the past was in the past.

    Ali took off running before she could say another word. And Theresa had to laugh at the look of surprise and shock on Gwen's face when Ali threw her arms around her legs. "Hi to you, too, Ali," she laughed. Rubbing her rounded tummy self-consciously as she looked at her and said, "Hi, Theresa." The moment was a bit awkward to say the least, and Theresa was actually thankful when Cristian start fussing. She unbuckled him and carefully brought him close to her chest. Stroking his back soothingly. Gradually his cries quieted. "You're good with him, Theresa," Gwen said softly. She shot Gwen a grateful smile as before continuing to hum lullabies to her nephew. Pleased when Gwen smiled back, and in that moment, she felt really silly for labeling Gwen the 'enemy' all those years ago.

    "Oh god," she heard Gwen mutter under her breath, and she turned to see what or who had caused such a reaction. Cringing when she saw none other than Rebecca Hotchkiss. Ali tugged at her shirt nervously. "Aunt Theresa," she whispered. "I don't like her. She scares me." "Ali," Theresa hushed. "Oh don't worry about it," Gwen said. "She has that effect on a lot people. Myself included sometimes. I don't know what possessed me to actually invite her today. It's not like she's thrilled with the fact that I'm carrying Hank's child. Again," she sighed. As Rebecca got closer and closer. "Theresa...I would advise you to leave," she warned. "This isn't going to be pretty." But it was too late.

    "Well, well. If it isn't the little gold-digging tramp that stole my daughter's fiance all those years ago. Fancy you showing your face again in this town," Rebecca sneered. "Mother!" Gwen gasped. Theresa glared at the older woman. Then leaned down and looked into Ali's blue eyes. "Sweetie. Why don't you go over there to the toy store? Okay? Stay where I can see you," she called as Ali followed her instructions. Theresa waited until she was out of earshot before saying anything. "Ms. Hotchkiss," she said. Handing Cristian to Gwen. "I'm not saying what I did all those years ago was right. Far from it. But that was years ago. I've moved on. We've all moved on. And I don't appreciate you talking to me like that in front of my brother's children. At least have the decency not to do that."

    "Decency," Rebecca mocked. "I can't believe I'm hearing this. From you of all people." Theresa looked down at her feet. Some of what she was saying was striking a chord. But...she wasn't evil. And she wanted the woman to see that. "I've already apologized. What more do you want? Is it not enough that I've had to live with my actions all this time? I'm alone. There's no one in my life. Because I feel guilty. That I resorted to such..." "Well, you should feel guilty," Rebecca shrieked. "You lying, conniving..." "Mother!" Gwen yelled. "It's over. Like Theresa said. And I'm much happier with Hank than I ever was with Ethan. Can't you see that?" she practically yelled. "Stop this stupid fighting. Now. You're scaring the baby," she said. Kissing Cristian's downy head in an effort to calm him. As if to prove her point, Cristian began wailing in earnest. Drawing the curious stares of onlookers. Rebecca shut her mouth. Embarrassed by the unwanted attention. And Theresa took Cristian back from Gwen desperately trying to quiet his cries. This wasn't how her day with him and Ali was supposed to turn out. Oh no, she thought. Panic rising in her heart as she glanced over to the last place she had seen Ali. She wasn't there. She was gone. "Oh my god!" she gasped. Running toward the store. "Ali! Ali! Ali, where are you?!?!"



    Chapter 10








    "Ali! Sweetie, don't do this to me. You're scaring your aunt Theresa, baby," she cried. Frantically searching the toy store. Cristian was screaming at the top of his lungs. People looked at her strangely. Warily. She ran down the aisles. Her heart stopping with every little blond head she saw. None of them was her. "Here," she barely registered hearing Rebecca say. Holding out her arms for Cristian. "I'll hold him," she said forcefully. "Theresa," she sighed. "Give him to me. You can't look for her with him screaming in your face like that, and you know it."

    She noticed Gwen talking to the manager of the store, and it was obvious she was telling him what Ali looked like. Asking him questions. She kissed Cristian's forehead and thrust him into Rebecca's arms. Racing outside to the throng of people. She couldn't have gone far. She wouldn't wander off like that. She knew better. She knew better, she thought with a pang. Trying to ward off the tears she felt stinging her eyes. She'd broken her promise to Sheridan. It was all her fault.

    She jerked when she felt a hand on her arm. "Excuse me, m'am," he said. And she looked up into kind gray eyes. "I need to ask you some questions," he said. Taking out a notepad. "Give me a description of the little girl. Where you last saw her. How long she's been missing." She ran her hands through her hair nervously. Speaking softly. Closing her eyes and picturing Ali the last time she saw her. "She's a beautiful, beautiful little girl. Blue eyes. Long blond hair. It's tied up with a red ribbon today, though. In a ponytail," she babbled.

    "Four years old. Nearly five. She's so proud," she said tremulously. Tears shining in her eyes. "Said she was a big girl. But she's just a baby. About this tall," she said. Indicating with her hands Ali's height. "What was she wearing?" he asked after taking all that down. "Jeans. A red sweater. And this really cute little black jacket. I'm sorry. I'm having trouble." "It's okay," he reassured her. "Take your time." "Time? Time! Too much time's passed already," she said. Her voice rising with every word. "I haven't seen her in almost twenty minutes. Since I told her to.It's all my fault. I never should have.I never," she broke off. Sobbing.

    The man left her alone then. To make a call on his cell phone. She could barely make out his garbled voice giving a description of Ali to the person on the other end. This was a nightmare. A complete and utter nightmare. "Theresa," Gwen said softly. "Theresa," she repeated. Placing her hands on her shoulders and leading her away from the curious crowd. "It's not your fault. They're going to find her. I just know they will. I called Hank. He's on his way with Sam. He promised to call Luis for me. Do you know where Sheridan is?" she asked gently. "She needs to know."

    "She had an interview about the director's job at the Youth Center today," she said numbly. "She was worried something was going to go wrong today, but I convinced her everything would be alright. I lied. I lied to her, Gwen," she said. Raising her red eyes to the other woman. And for the first time, she noticed the wetness in her own eyes as she looked at her. Sympathetically. "Theresa," she said softly. "Theresa."

    "Gwen! Babe, what happened?" Hank asked in concern. Taking his wife in his arms. "Have they found her yet?" he queried. His brown eyes darting back and forth between them. "They're looking," Rebecca said. Joining them. She glared at Hank when he sent a stunned look her way. And hugged Cristian closer. He was still crying. But more softly now. "They have every security man in this mall looking for that little girl." "Marty and a few of the other guys are searching for her, too," Sam added. "Ali's very special to a lot of people."

    "Luis?" Theresa whispered. "Does he know?" she asked. Staring into Hank's brown eyes. Hank nodded his head. "He went to get Sheridan. Break the news to her." "Is he...?" "Your brother's trying to play it cool. But I'm not going to lie to you, Theresa," Hank said. Releasing Gwen from his grasp and walking over to her. Taking her hands in his. "He's scared. He loves that little girl. She's all he had when Sheridan was missing all those years."

    She lowered her head. The truth of his words making it hurt even more. Ali was the only thing that kept Luis alive when he thought Sheridan was dead. And she'd lost Luis'--and Sheridan's--most precious possession. She'd never forgive herself if something happened. Never. And she had to wonder as she looked up and saw her brother leading Sheridan through the crowd...would THEY ever forgive her? All hope seemed lost when the kind man that had questioned her before walked toward them slowly. Carrying the tiny black jacket. Her heart sank as she saw the red ribbon flutter to the ground behind him. And Sheridan's screams echoed in her ears.

  3. #3
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    Post Re: Always (sequel to Unforgettable)

    Chapter 11






    "Sheridan. Mija? Can I get you anything?" Pilar asked softly. Kneeling down in front of her. Her heart broke at the hollow look in Sheridan's blue eyes. She hadn't said a word since they'd left the mall. After hours of searching, the police had finally determined that whoever had taken Ali was nowhere to be found. Gone from the mall. Probably long gone. Pilar swallowed the lump in her throat and reached to take Sheridan's hands in her own. "Here. Let me take that," she said. Taking the red satin ribbon from her.

    Luis had told her in a broken voice that mall security had found the ribbon and Ali's jacket in one of the restrooms. "Pilar," Sheridan whispered. "What if she's cold?" she asked in a tiny voice. "Oh Pilar. I can't bear to think of her being scared. She's just a baby," she sobbed. Pilar's own eyes flooded with tears as she took Sheridan in her arms. Gently rocking her back and forth. "Shh. We'll find her, Mija. We will. And until then.God will be watching over her. Do you believe me?" Sheridan stared at her with pain-filled blue eyes. "I want to," she whispered shakily. "I want to so badly."

    Cristian's cries echoed in the silent home, and Sheridan rose to her feet. But Pilar stilled her with a comforting hand. "I'll go check on him," she said. And Sheridan watched as the woman she considered a mother walked down the hall to the nursery. Cristian, she'd heard Theresa tell Martin earlier, had been crying almost nonstop since Ali had disappeared. He was only a baby. Yet she couldn't help but think her sweet little son knew. He knew his sister was gone. And he missed her. They ALL did, she thought miserably. As she opened the door to Ali's bedroom and slipped inside. If she closed her eyes, she could almost feel her presence in the room with her.

    She walked slowly over to Ali's small twin bed and smiled tenderly as she spied her favorite teddy bear. Hugging it close and burying her nose in its softness. Her throat grew tight with new tears. She could still smell her. She wrapped her arms around herself and gave in to the tears once more. Curling up on the bed. Why was this happening? Why now? Hadn't she been through enough? Ali's young life was filled with so much pain thus far. She'd thought they were finally past that. Everything was going perfectly, she thought. Shutting her eyes tightly. Ali was everywhere in this room. And instead of making her feel better, it only made her miss her more. Memories assaulted her when she closed her eyes.

    *****She closed the door behind her and let out the breath she'd been holding almost all day. "Mommy," Ali giggled. "You look like Nana does when Jake goes home." "Ali," she laughed. "What am I going to do with you?" she said scooping her up in her arms and kissing her silly. "What do you say about a nice, relaxing bubble bath, sweetie?"

    "Oh Mommy!" she squealed. "I love bubble baths." Grinning at her adorably. Then hugging her neck. Extra tight. "A bubble bath it is," she said. Setting her down on her feet and taking her little hand in hers. And leading her down the hall to the bathroom.

    She sighed in pleasure as she sank into the warm water. A smile threatening to take over her entire face as Ali mimicked her every action. Right down to the expression of complete contentment on her little face. "Come here, baby," she whispered. Pulling her tiny body closer and squeezing her tight.

    "I love you, Mommy," Ali said sweetly. Cuddling up against her. "I love you, too," she answered. Wiping bubbles on her cute little nose and laughing when she did the same. Soon they were engaged in an all-out bubble war.*****

    *****. "Mommy! Aunt Ivy! Look!" In her arms she held an adorable, tiny kitten.

    "Ali," Sheridan laughed. "Honey, where did you get this little sweetheart?" she said. Taking the kitten from Ali's arms and cuddling it close. The kitten mewled softly at her. Causing Ali to giggle. "She likes you, Mommy." "You didn't answer my question, Baby. Where'd you get the kitten?"

    "Well," she began. A huge grin lighting up her face. Blue eyes twinkling. Another giggle escaping when she looked at Ethan's face. Saw the finger he had raised to his lips. "I can't tell. It's a secret." "A secret, huh?" Ivy laughed. Catching the conspiratorial looks passed between Ethan and Ali. "I bet it's a secret."

    "Oh, but it is, Aunt Ivy. I can't tell a soul. I promised," Ali said seriously. One look at Ethan's face, and Sheridan laughed out loud. "You are so busted. You're a terrible liar. Your face is an open book. Not setting a good example for my daughter, either, Ethan. What am I going to do with you two?"

    Ethan swept Ali up into his arms and said, "I don't know. What do you think, Ali?" Ali looped her arms around Ethan's neck and said, "We're not in trouble, are we Mommy?" Pouting at her. Ethan wore an identical expression on his face. "Aww. Sheridan. How can you refuse those faces?" Ivy said with a smile.

    "I can't," she muttered. Heaving an exaggerated sigh. "Oh, Mommy!" Ali squealed. "Does this mean we can keep her? Please say yes. Please." Sheridan looked at the tiny purring bundle of white fur in her hands to her daughter's hopeful blue eyes. And back at the white bundle. And her heart melted. "Yes. We can keep her."

    Ethan set Ali down on her feet. Smiling as she reigned kisses on Sheridan's face and hugged her tightly about the neck. "Thank you, Mommy. Thank you. I can't wait to take her home. What are we going to name her? Where is she going to sleep? Can she sleep in my bed with me? Oh, I can't wait to show her to Jake. He'll be so jealous."

    "Ali," she laughed. "Baby, that's not very nice." "Well, he not very nice to me, either. He's been bragging about the fish his dad bought him. But I think a kitten's much better. Isn't it, Aunt Ivy?"*****

    *****"Mommy," Ali pouted. Indignant tears pooling in her big blue eyes. "Nana says she's going to wash my mouth out with soap. I don't want her to do it, Mommy. Make her wash Daddy's mouth out, too," she said in a tiny, trembling voice. One fat tear spilling over and trailing down her cheek.

    "Oh, sweetie," Sheridan soothed. Taking her upset daughter in her arms and rubbing her back in comforting circles as Ali wrapped herself around her. "Nana just doesn't want you saying ugly words," she said. Wiping Ali's tears away from her silky cheeks.

    "She did the same thing to me when I was little like you." "She did?" Ali sniffled. Looking back and forth from her mother to her grandmother. "Yeah, she did," Sheridan said. A slight smile on her face.

    "But Nana's a big softie. She just said that to scare me," she whispered in Ali's ear. "I bet if you gave her a big kiss and a hug and promised never to say it again, she'd forget all about it."

    "Really?" Ali whispered. Hope shining in her eyes. "Really," Sheridan said. Tapping Ali's cute little nose with her finger. "Why don't you try it," she said. Setting Ali on her feet. Smiling as she watched Pilar lift Ali up in her arms and hug her close. *****

    *****"Daddy, it's so pretty," Ali said in awe. Pointing at the horizon. At the sunset. "Not as pretty as my two girls," he said. Pulling her more firmly against him. Looking at them both with such adoration it warmed Sheridan's heart. Luis set Ali on her feet. And she ran to the waves. Joyfully running back and forth along the shoreline. Squealing as they surged toward her. Spraying her with their mist. "Ali! Be careful, sweetie," she called. Sinking back into his arms. He wrapped his arms around her from behind as they watched their daughter play.

    She leaned even further back into his embrace and sighed in contentment when he placed a gentle kiss on her neck. Whispered "I love you" in her ear. She looped her arm back behind her. Caressing his face. "I love you, too," she breathed. "Thank you for bringing me here. With Ali. How did you know exactly what I needed?"

    "I know you. You're worth a million of your father, Sheridan. Don't ever forget that. A lot of people love you. Our friends. Our family. Me. And Ali," he said. Laughing as the tiny person whose name just escaped his lips came running towards them. Her long blond hair damp. Tangled from the wind.

    "Mommy! Daddy! Look what I found," she said excitedly. Proudly showing off the shells in her little hand. Her blue eyes sparkled and her hair shone like gold in the waning sun. "Looks like you found treasure, AliCat," he said. Grinning at her enthusiasm. She grinned at him in return. Her smile impossibly big. And infectious. She laid the shells down, and crawled into her mother's arms. Snuggling close to her. Close to her warmth. He wrapped his arms about both of them. Watching until the sun was no more.*****

    *****"AliCat," her daddy said happily. "Come inside. Your mommy and I have someone very special we want you to meet," he finished with an impossibly big grin. Sweeping her up into his arms and carrying her over to the bed's edge.

    "Hi, sweetie," her mommy said tiredly. Smiling up at her. She smiled back, but her attention was drawn to the little blue bundle in her mommy's arms. Her blue eyes widened comically when a tiny hand appeared. Then another tiny hand. And the soft blue blanket slipped away some more.

    She reached a tentative hand down to the baby's downy head. "He looks like Daddy," she whispered in awe. Not noticing the looks passing between her parents. The special smile her mommy gave her daddy. "Yes, he does, baby," her mommy agreed. Patting the bed beside her.

    Ali cuddled into her mother's warm embrace. Never taking her eyes off the tiny being in her arms. The baby blinked at her. "What's his name?" she said softly. Giggling as the baby's hand latched on to her pinky.

    "He doesn't have one yet, AliCat," her daddy laughed. "Your mommy and I just can't come up with a name that fits this little guy," he said. Rubbing the baby's head. "But Mommy," Ali said. Her big blue eyes serious. "He has to have a name. They won't let us take him home."

    Her mommy just laughed. "Sweetie, we'll steal him if we have to. Won't we, Luis?" She drew in a shocked breath when her daddy agreed. "We'll run away." She twirled a strand of her long blond hair nervously and leaned down close to her little brother. Kissing his fuzzy head with a sigh and muttering to herself. "Jake said you were going be nothing but trouble. BUT I love you anyway."*****

    *****"I want you to be good for Aunt Theresa, sweetie. You promise?" Sheridan asked Ali. Securing the ribbon in her long blond hair. "I promise," Ali said sweetly. "Mommy? Why can't you go with us?" she pouted. "Ali, baby," she began. Brushing her knuckles across Ali's soft cheek. "I thought I explained all this. Mommy's got an interview today. You like the Youth Center, don't you?" Ali nodded her head. Her blue eyes shining with confusion. "I'm going to talk with a nice man about getting a job there. Being the director." "What's a director?" Ali asked. "What will you do?"

    "I can answer that, Ali," Theresa said. Walking into the Ali's bedroom with Cristian settled on her hip. "That means your mommy's going to be in charge. Wouldn't that be great?" she smiled. "I guess," Ali whispered. Her little face downcast. "But Mommy.who would stay with Cristian and me? I don't want a babysitter." Sheridan pulled Ali into her arms and hugged her tight before answering her question. "Sometimes Nana would stay with you. And sometimes.sometimes I'd take you and your brother to work with me." "Really?" Ali asked skeptically. Hope in her childish voice. "Really," Sheridan assured her. Smiling when Ali heaved a huge sigh of relief. "Better?" she asked. Giving Ali Eskimo kisses. "All better," Ali giggled.

    "Thank you for doing this, Theresa," she said later. As she made sure her son was buckled in securely in his carseat. Ali, too. "No problem," Theresa smiled. Hugging her in goodbye. "I love these two," she said. Winking at Ali. "And you don't have to worry. I would NEVER let anything happen to them. So.quit being such a worrywart. They'll be fine," she said. Sheridan laughed softly. "I guess I AM worrying too much. I." "I know," Theresa said. Taking her hand in hers and squeezing it reassuringly. "Mommy," Ali giggled when Sheridan hugged her fiercely once again. "Sorry, baby," she whispered. Committing Ali's smiling blue eyes to memory. She couldn't explain it. But something just felt.off. "You know Mommy loves you, don't you sweetheart?" An adorable smile lit up Ali's face as she said, "Always." "And forever," Sheridan added. Tears in her eyes. "Sheridan," Theresa chided gently as she cranked the car. "Remember what I said." *****

    She should never had let them go. Let them leave. She'd felt in her heart something wasn't right. It wasn't Theresa's fault. It was hers. She jumped when she felt a gentle hand on her back. And looked into Luis's loving, concerned brown eyes. "Oh Luis," she sobbed. Throwing her arms around his neck. "I want my baby. Please bring my baby back."





    Chapter 12




    "Thank you," Chad said quietly. As he walked Eve out to her car. Eve smiled slightly at his words. The smile on her face vanished when he asked another question. "Is she going to be alright? I mean, I don't know how much more of this she can take, Dr. Russell," he rambled. And she realized with a pang that was who she was to him. Not his mother. Just Dr. Russell. "I don't know, Chad. If." she began. But it was too awful to finish the thought. To think about what would happen if Ali never came back. "She'll be fine," she said. Placing a hand on his arm. "Just as soon as she's holding that dear little girl in her arms again." Chad studied her face in the pale glow from the lights inside. There was so much he wanted to say to her. Now wasn't the right time. So he settled for goodbye. Watching her car fade away in the distance before he turned to go back inside.

    It seemed everyone in Harmony was there. Waiting word on Ali. Hank sat on the sofa. Rubbing his eyes tiredly as he talked to Sam on his cell phone. For updates on the search. Jake was sprawled out beside him. The little guy was finally down for the count. He'd listened. Confusion in his brown eyes as Gwen and Hank had sat him down and explained what had happened at the mall this morning. He just couldn't grasp that Ali was gone. No surprise, really. He couldn't either. Hank shot Grace a grateful smile when she lifted Jake up into her arms and carried him down the hall. And mouthed 'thank you.'

    Ethan and Ivy were in a quiet corner. Trying to console Theresa. Trying to convince her she wasn't at fault. But not even hearing it from Sheridan's own lips had done the trick. Theresa was guilt-ridden. And only one thing.one thing would ease her mind. He walked into the kitchen. In a quest for coffee. "Chad," Pilar said. "Could you.?" He took MJ off her hands without another word. The toddler squirmed in his arms restlessly. Babbling. "Ma-ma." "Shh," he soothed. "It's okay, kid. She's kind of busy right now," he whispered. Remembering exactly where Kay was. Desperately trying to rock Cristian to sleep.

    "Here. I'll take him," Martin volunteered. "Have to keep myself busy somehow. Would you do something for me in return? Well.actually Hank." "Sure, Man. Whatever you say," he replied. "Check on Gwen. He's worried she's overdoing it." "Will do," he said. Heading off to the last place he'd seen the woman in question. At Sheridan's bedside. He pushed the door to Luis and Sheridan's bedroom open slowly. Not wanting to disturb either of its occupants. "How's she doing?" he whispered. Watching Gwen stroke the hair back from Sheridan's forehead.

    "As well as could be expected, I guess," Gwen answered. Meeting his eyes. "But the sedatives can only offer temporary relief. What about tomorrow?" she said. To no one in particular. He answered anyway. "Sam and Luis and Miguel are out there looking for her. Not to mention half of Harmony's police force. And tomorrow.we'll all have our Miss Ali back. They'll find her," he said. More confidently than he felt. "Look," he suggested. "Why don't you let me take over here? You look like you can use the rest. And...you're worrying your husband," he finished with a slight smile.

    "When you put it like that how can I refuse?" she answered. Rising to her feet with some difficulty. "You take good care of her," she said as she walked past him. Slipping the door shut once more. I will, he thought. Glancing at his aunt's still form. He watched her sleep for what seemed like hours. The night quiet. Almost eerily quiet. Until the phone's insistent ringing shattered the silence. The noise stopped, and he left the room. His curiousity getting the better of him. He walked into the living room just as Hank was hanging up the phone. "Well..." Gwen asked. Hank grabbed her hand in his and squeezed it before he answering.

    "That was Sam," he said quietly. "He just got a call from Marty down at the wharf. Marty said...," he paused. Covering his face with his hands wearily. Not able to hide his tears. "Marty said they pulled a little girl matching Ali's description from the water. They're on their way down there right now." Gwen buried her face in her husband's shoulder and cried. He felt like the room was spinning as he took in the news. The possibility was too much. He placed a restraining hand on Ethan's arm when he got up to follow Theresa as she ran out the front door. "You stay here. I'll go." He followed Theresa's suit. And escaped.






    Chapter 13




    "Luis," Sam said. Glancing at his friend out of the corner of his eye as the car sped forward. The sirens wailing in the night air. "You have to prepare yourself. Just in case.Believe me. I'm hoping just as much as you are. But you have to be ready." "Sam," Luis warned tersely. Looking straight ahead. "You don't have to tell me that. Don't you think I know already? My little girl is missing, dammit. Since this morning. And Marty and some of the guys just fished a child matching Ali's description out of the water. Don't take away my hope." Miguel said nothing from the backseat. Only prayed that this wasn't Ali.

    "Look, Bro," he said later. At the wharf. "Why don't you wait right here? Let me go," he pleaded. He couldn't bear the thought of putting Luis in more pain. "Stay here. Let me and Sam go." "No," Luis answered in a low voice. "This is something I have to do. By myself. You're not going to talk me out of it, Miguel. Neither are you, Sam," he said. Casting his dark haunted eyes his way. "I HAVE to do this. Alone. Understand?" "But Luis," Miguel protested. "Let him be," Sam said. A hand on the younger man's arm. "He's right. Just let him go." They watched Luis's tall form fade in the distance.

    One step at a time, Luis. One step at a time. Come on. You can do it. You have to know. Have to learn the truth. And what if it's Ali, his mind screamed. What if it's your baby? What are you going to do then? What are you going to tell Sheridan? How are you going to move past this? There is NO moving past Ali. Forgetting her. He couldn't forget his little girl. NEVER. She'd always be in his heart. Always.

    *****Luis grinned over Ali's shoulder at the look on his mother's face. Pure exhaustion. She was at the end of her rope. Of course, that was to be expected after spending the entire day with the precocious four-year-old currently hugging his neck so tightly she was blocking off his air supply.

    "Ali, honey," he choked, "you can let go now." He took a deep breath of air as he set his daughter on her feet and got his first REAL look at her mud- streaked face. "What have you been up to today?" he asked, wiping a smudge of dirt off her nose.

    "Nothing," Ali giggled. He arched an eyebrow at her response. Causing her to giggle harder. He looked to his mother for a straight answer. "She and Jake thought it would be fun to make mud pies. You're lucky, Luis. Jake looked like he'd wallowed in a mud puddle."

    He tried not to smile as he said, "I bet Gwen hit the roof." "Actually," Pilar said with a smile, "I don't have a clue. Hank took Jake home." She cringed in sympathy as she said, "Unfortunately, Jake didn't have a change of clothes here like Ali did. There's not an inch on that child's body not covered in mud, Luis. Poor Hank."

    "Jake looked like a pig!" Ali squealed. "Well, AliCat, you don't look much better," Luis said as he threw his giggling daughter over his shoulder and kissed his mother's cheek. "Bye Mama. Thanks for having the patience of a saint and taking care of her for me. I love you. Ali, say goodbye." "Bye Nana," Ali waved. Upside down. "See you tomorrow."*****

    And later.he couldn't help but remember how loving Ali had kept him sane. Kept him alive when nothing else seemed to matter.

    *****"Come on, Ali. Let's get you cleaned up. Wait a minute. Have you had your dinner yet?" Luis asked. Hope in his eyes. It'd been a very long day at the station. He released the breath he'd been holding in relief when his daughter informed him she had already eaten. "Good. Go pick out your pajamas while I run your bath."

    He adjusted the temperature of the water and added some of Ali's favorite bubble bath. "Ooo, bubbles. Thank you, Daddy," Ali said, big blue eyes sparkling. "Come here," he said, holding his hand out to Ali. "How did you manage to get so much mud in your hair?"

    "Jake put it there. He's so mean. But I got him back, Daddy," she said excitedly, tossing her long blond hair back off her shoulders. "I..." "Shhh," Luis silenced her with a finger to her lips. "Not right now, Ali. The water's getting cold. We still have to wash your hair." "Oh, okay," Ali pouted. Rather dejectedly as she pulled her shirt over her head and rid herself of the rest of her clothes and climbed into the tub.

    Luis smiled as she sang made-up songs to herself as she bathed. Continued singing at the top of her lungs--her disappointment over not getting to share her revenge against Jake forgotten--as he washed her hair and rinsed the rest of the shampoo out. He shook with silent laughter when she ordered, "Turn around, Daddy," as she dressed in her favorite pj's. Made especially for her by Theresa. She was a pink and white angel. He wiped the grin off his face when she said in all seriousness, "You can turn around now, Daddy. I'm decent." But it was hard. Very hard.

    The grin was back to stay as she challenged, "Race you, Daddy," and he chased her to her bed. Scooping her wiggling, squealing little form up into his arms like she weighed nothing at all and kissing her silly. "Stop," she pleaded breathlessly as he tickled her tummy. "Please," she begged through fits of giggles. He finally relented. Out of breath himself. And pulled the covers back for Ali to crawl into bed.

    He couldn't refuse her when she patted the bed for him to join her and lay back against the pillows as she snuggled up against him. A picture of her mother clutched in her tiny hands. "Tell me a story, Daddy. About Mommy. The first time you met," she said, gazing up at him with those familiar blue eyes so full of life and love. "How I met Mommy, huh?" he asked, stroking her still damp hair back from her face. "Let's see. How does that story go again?"

    "Daddy," Ali admonished in exasperation, "you remember. Mommy crashed into your police car. And it was love at first sight." "Love at first sight," Luis repeated under his breath. Lost in the memory. The words at their first meeting echoing in his head. He smiled to himself as he said to his daughter--their daughter, "You've been talking to Aunt Theresa about us again, haven't you?" Ali's grinned widely and giggled. Despite shaking her head 'no'.

    "Love at first sight?" he repeated a second time. "I guess you could say that, AliCat. Even though me and your mommy weren't very nice to each other at first, I guess your aunt Theresa's right. I started falling in love with your mommy's spirit from that moment on. But I had myself convinced I hated her."

    "You hated Mommy!" Ali gasped. "No, sweetie. I didn't. I just pretended to. I was kind of mean. But the more I got to know your mommy, the more I loved her," he reassured her. He continued the story of his and Sheridan's first meeting, only to realize Ali had fallen asleep sometime during the middle of it.

    He kissed her forehead and tucked the covers snugly around her. And whispered "I love you." He placed Sheridan's picture back in place on the nightstand. "And I love you. Always," he whispered tracing her beloved face with his fingertip. Then he turned the lamp off. Went to his own bed. To visit her in his dreams.*****

    Then Sheridan came back into his life. Their lives. The missing piece to his heart was back. They were a family. Getting to know each other all over again.

    *****He stood in the doorway watching them. Mother and daughter were having a tea party. Wearing identical hats. They were all smiles. His heart was so full of love for them at that moment. He was sure it would burst. "Daddy!" Ali called. Noticing him spying on them. "Come have a tea party with us." He looked to Sheridan. Gazing into her eyes. Looking for an answer. And finding one. "Come on, Luis," she said almost shyly. Blue eyes twinkling with amusement. Just like Ali's.*****

    *****. He stared down at her. Thanking God for the millionth time for bringing her back to him. And Ali. He loved her with every breath, every fiber in his being. Nothing was ever going to come between them again, he thought as he placed a kiss on the top of her head.

    He looked up. Startled to find himself gazing into his daughter's confused blue eyes. "Daddy," she whispered. "Why are you and Mommy sleeping on the couch?" He smiled at her appearance. Her tangled blond mane and the too-big pyjamas. Before answering her. "I don't know, AliCat. I guess I was so tired I just fell asleep on the couch without noticing it."

    "Did Mommy fall asleep with you?" she asked. Running a tiny hand across her mother's hair with love. "Yes," he answered with a smile. Not believing that this was really happening. That it was real. "Daddy..." she began again. But he quieted her with a finger to the lips. Rising to his feet. Lifting his wife in his arms.

    He carried her into his room. The bedroom they had shared so long ago. Laid her down on its softness and reached a hand out to Ali. Beckoning her to come closer. "Daddy?" she whispered. "Can I sleep with you and Mommy?" He nodded his head and pulled the covers back for her to crawl under them. She snuggled close to her mother. Kissing her cheek. And shut her eyes. Sighing happily. He ran a hand down her soft hair, hers and her mother's, and lay his head down. The last thing he saw before falling into a deep sleep the beloved faces of his two girls.*****

    He hadn't known it was possible to love someone so much. So unconditionally. But that's the way it had always been with Ali, he realized. Swallowing the lump in his throat as he neared the scene. The yellow tape marking the area as a crime scene had his heart pounding furiously. Please, dear God. Don't let it be her. I'll do anything. I'll do anything for my baby. And it was true.

    *****"Goodnight Daddy," Ali yawned. Nestled in her mother's arms. Stroking the kitten snuggled against her chest contentedly. "Night, AliCat," he whispered. With a kiss to her forehead. Ruffling her long blond hair and ignoring the purring white bundle she held close like a treasure.

    Until Ali said, "Kiss the kitty goodnight, too, Daddy." Luis's mouth hung open at her request. His brown eyes traveled from Ali and the kitten to his wife's blue eyes. Shining with amusement in the dimly lit room. Her eyes were twinkling. Laughing. But she kept a straight face when she said, "Go ahead, Luis. She's part of the family now." She was good, he thought with an inward groan. Too good. He would have already cracked.

    "How 'bout I just pet her instead?" "Nope," Ali said in all seriousness with a shake of her head. "She wants a kiss." He looked to Sheridan for help. Any escape. But he found none. She was having difficulty smothering her laughter. Ali's blue eyes watched him expectantly. Waiting. He didn't stand a chance. Ali giggled in satisfaction when he granted her request, and Sheridan's laughter rang out behind her as she carried Ali to her bedroom to tuck her in..

    "Mommy? Daddy? Can I sleep with you?" What the hell, he thought. "Come on in, AliCat. What?" he asked when she paused in the doorway. A funny look on her face. She looked to Sheridan. Sheridan turned her blue gaze on him. "Okay. Go get her." "Thank you, Daddy!" Ali said excitedly before running to the bathroom and freeing the kitten from its prison. She scrambled into bed between them. The kitten purring in pleasure as it lay against her chest. Ali and her brand-new partner in crime were fast asleep within minutes. He lay on his side. Watching his wife watch their daughter sleep. She kissed Ali's forehead sweetly and brushed her hair back off her face before meeting his eyes. He reached out and linked his fingers with hers. Giving her hand a squeeze. Before letting go. Closing his eyes. And drifting off.*****

    Don't let it be my baby, he screamed inwardly. Seeing the sympathetic looks on Marty's face. The other guys' faces. Don't let it be her, he prayed. His heart getting stuck in his throat when he caught a glimpse of blond hair. Long, beautiful blond hair. Cristian can't grow up not knowing his big sister. It's not fair, his mind screamed as he knelt beside the tiny body and reached a shaking hand out. Don't take such a sweet, loving little being from us. The people who love her. Don't be so cruel.

    *****"Stop it," Ali giggled as Luis blew raspberries on her tummy. "It tickles," she squealed. Luis ignored her. And continued his torture. Sheridan smiled. Before turning her gaze back to the tiny child cradled in her arms. "Your daddy and big sister are sooo silly," she laughed. Running a finger gently across her son's beloved face. "Mommy," Ali squealed breathlessly. "Make him stop. Please!" she giggled. "Should we rescue your big sister?" The baby gurgled in response, and she hugged him close to her body as she rose from the couch and loomed over her husband and daughter. "Thank you, Mommy," Ali said as Luis released her. Hugging her mother's legs.

    Sheridan ran a hand over Ali's long blond hair lovingly. "Can I hold him, Mommy? Please? I promise to be real careful," Ali pleaded. Her big blue eyes hopeful. Sheridan placed her son in Luis's outstretched arms and settled against the cushions on the floor. Pulling Ali into her lap. "In a minute, Baby. I want to hold you for a little while first," she whispered. Threading her fingers through Ali's hair. "You're getting so big," she smiled. "Mommy, I AM four years old," Ali said seriously. Luis chuckled under his breath. And Ali shot him a funny look. She still hated being laughed at. "I'll be five soon."

    "Yes, you will," Sheridan said. Her voice heavy with emotion. Her life was perfect right now. But she still felt pangs of sadness every time she thought of all the time she had missed with her baby girl. "It's okay, Mommy," Ali said. Snuggling deeper into Sheridan's arms. Laying her golden head against her chest. Her tiny fingers playing with the rings her mother wore. Sheridan buried her nose in Ali's soft hair and inhaled her sweet scent. Grasping the hand that Luis held out and flashing a watery smile his way.

    Luis scooted closer. The baby nestled in one arm and held out the other for his two girls. "Come here," he whispered. Admiring the way the firelight flickered across their features. Sighing in pleasure as his wife rested her chin atop his shoulder, and his daughter curled up against him. 'I love you', he thought. Not saying a word. Because it wasn't necessary. Ali gazed up at him adoringly, and he ruffled her blond hair affectionately. "You have to put your hand behind his head like this," he demonstrated. "And hold him close. He likes being close," he said. His brown eyes staring into his daughter's intently. "You ready, AliCat?"

    Ali nodded her head. Opening her arms. A giant smile of awe taking over her entire face as Luis gently placed her brother in them. "Oh," she breathed. "He's so little," she whispered. Kissing his dark head sweetly. "You're not trouble like Jake said. You're the sweetest little brother in the world."*****

    Please God, he thought. Shutting his eyes tight as he lifted the damp hair back from the tiny cold face. He opened his eyes slowly. Barely daring to look. And felt all the air leave his lungs as he stared at her sweet face. "Oh my god," he sobbed. Crumpling as it hit him. "Oh my god. It's not her. It's not her," he cried in relief when he felt Miguel's grip his shoulder. "It's not Ali. Thank you God," he said. Looking to the heavens. Thank you.





    Chapter 14





    "Do you think this is God's way of punishing me for breaking all my promises to him?" she asked. Swaying gently on the old tire swing out front. "Back when I'd do anything.ANYTHING.to make Ethan mine?" Chad mulled it over thoughtfully before he answered. "Theresa. Girl, I don't think God works that way. I mean, the Man Upstairs just doesn't seem like the type to keep grudges," he laughed. Happy to see the corners of her mouth turning up. "You were younger. Very na´ve. That was a LONG time ago. You've done a lot of growing up since then. People change. And I certainly don't think God's punishing you. Forgive me for saying this.but get over yourself, Theresa . It's a sad fact, but these things happen. Not because of past mistakes. Somebody like the person that took Ali doesn't think about all that stuff. Hell. I'm not sure if they even think at all." He looked to Theresa for a response but was met by silence. He turned to go. Stopping in his tracks when he heard her quiet reply. "Thanks, Chad. For being honest. I needed to hear that" Chad smiled. "You're welcome. Now.what do you say we go back inside? It's cold out here," he shivered. Theresa's soft laughter was music to his ears.

    "What's going on here?" Chad asked as they walked back inside. And saw Hank in a frenzied state by Gwen's side. "Nothing," Gwen bit out. " Just the baby kicking up a storm," she lied. Wincing. Off Theresa's look of concern she continued. "Really. It's nothing serious. Jake kicked me black and blue when I carried him. I have to admit, Theresa," she laughed nervously. "I thought I'd never see the day when you were worried about ME," she finished. Moaning softly. "Damn. Bennett! This kid of yours would make a great soccer player."

    "Haha, Babe. Funny," Hank said humorously. "Quit lying. I can read you like an open book. Pilar? Would you call the hospital and tell them we're coming in?" "Yes, Hank," she answered. Picking up the phone and dialing the number. "Kay?" "Don't worry, Uncle Hank. I'll watch Jake for you. Now go. Get Gwen to the hospital and have her and the baby checked out. All this stress can't be good for either of them." "Thank you," Hank said. Grinning slightly. "Have I ever told you that you're my favorite niece?" he said. Kissing her forehead in goodbye. "Oh.once or twice," she smirked. Squeezing Gwen's hand reassuringly as she walked past.

    "Call us," Gwen called over her shoulder as they walked out the door. "Call us if there's any news about Ali." "We will," Grace smiled. Answering for them all. The minute she heard the car crank, though, the smile on her face faltered. "I hope Gwen's right. And it's nothing serious. I can't bear to think of this endless night getting any worse. Kay, honey. Do you mind if I go check on MJ? I need to.I need to see him." "I'll go with you," Kay said softly. Linking her arms through her mother's.

    Ivy watched them go. Seeing the love they had for each other. And realizing she didn't want to break that up. Not anymore. They were a family. Ethan and his brother and sisters and Sheridan were hers. That's the way it would always be. She sighed. Getting to her feet. Pacing restlessly. "Mother," Ethan said gently. Placing his hands on her shoulders and forcing her to stop. "Mother," he said pointedly. "Wearing a hole in Sheridan and Luis's carpet is not going to help matters any." "Oh, Ethan," she said. Cupping his cheek. "I can't sit still. Why haven't we heard anything yet? Luis and Sam should have found out by now."

    "Found out what?" they heard a voice ask behind them. "Sheridan," Ivy soothed in a calming voice. "Darling. I just meant we.I just.what are you doing up? You should be resting, sweetheart." "Resting? Resting," Sheridan scoffed. "How can I when my baby's out there without me? What should Luis and Sam have found out by now, Ivy? Tell me the truth," she pleaded in a tremulous voice. "Please. I HAVE to know. It's killing me not knowing." "Aunt Sheridan," Ethan stalled. Looking to Martin for help. "Don't! Don't do that! If you know something about my baby, tell me dammit," she yelled. "Tell me," she sobbed.

    The front door flew open. And all eyes turned to find Luis standing there. He stalked across the room and pulled Sheridan roughly into his arms. Her sobs muffled against his chest. "It wasn't her. It wasn't Ali. We're going to find her, Baby," he said. Holding Sheridan at arms' length. Brushing her damp hair back from her forehead. And wiping her tears away. "I promise. We ARE going to find her. We're not going to give up," he said. Staring into her blue eyes. "We'll bring Ali home again. Soon."







    Chapter 15




    "I can't believe you didn't tell me sooner," Hank said. Pulling his chair up beside Gwen's bedside. "You've really been having these pains off and on all day?" he asked. Sweeping her damp hair back from her forehead. Gwen closed her eyes for a moment as guilt washed through her. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to add another worry to an already long list. And they weren't really that bad until.until that last phone call from Sam. I'm so relieved that wasn't Ali, Hank. But I feel so selfish. That's someone else's baby even if it's not Ali."

    "I know," he murmured. Squeezing her hand tightly. He'd felt the same way. And he told her so. "It's a perfectly normal, human reaction. Don't dwell on it. What's taking Eve so long?" he said. Glancing at the door and shifting restlessly in his seat. "Bennett," Gwen laughed. "Calm down. Eve said it was nothing serious. But just in case." "Just in case what?" he asked in a panicked voice. "What aren't you telling me, Babe?"

    "Hi, you two," Eve smiled. Holding the door open for the nurse to push the equipment through. "You ready to check on that baby of yours? Give Hank here some peace of mind?" she teased. Laughing at his stricken look and wide eyes. "All set," Gwen answered. "Shut your mouth, Hank, before you catch some flies in it," she ordered. Gasping slightly as the nurse squeezed the cool substance on her round stomach.

    "There," Eve said with a smile. "There she is. Looks like everything's fine." "Eve? Did I just hear you right? Did you.did you say 'she'?" Hank gulped. Eve covered her mouth. "Oh.I'm so sorry. You wanted to be surprised, didn't you?" "Oh my god," Hank said dumbly. "What am I going to do with a little girl? Ribbons, lace, the color pink, tea parties, dress up, the color pink. Did I mention the color pink?" he squeaked.

    "Hank," Gwen laughed. An enormous smile lighting up her entire face. "Hank! Snap out of it. Not all girls love pink," she said. Rolling her eyes. "I happen to hate the color pink. And who says you can't teach our little girl," she paused. Letting it sink in. They were having a daughter. "Who's to say you can't teach her all the things you taught Jake?" she said uncertainly. "Well.not EVERYTHING you taught Jake," she amended. "We're having a little girl, Bennett. That's nothing to be scared of."

    "We'll leave you two alone," Eve interjected. Before the door shut completely behind her she heard a joyful exclamation. "We're having a little girl!" At least she could give somebody some happy news. She wondered if there were any word on Ali yet. She decided to call Sheridan and Luis's home to share the good news. And check up on the beloved little girl.

    She relayed the information to Theresa and learned they still hadn't heard anything. She hung the phone up with a sigh. "Still no news, is there?" she heard a voice ask. And she turned around to meet the concerned blue eyes of her best friend. "I was hoping foolishly that they'd somehow find her in the time it took me and Kay to drive here," Grace continued. Hugging her tight. "We came to make sure everything was alright with Gwen and the baby. Let Jake see his mother's okay. She IS okay, isn't she?" Grace asked. As they walked down the hall to retrieve Kay and the kids from the waiting room. "I'll let you guys see for yourselves," she smiled. Leading them back to Gwen's room. And pushing open the door once more.

    "Ahem," she cleared her throat. And the two happy, expectant parents jumped apart guiltily. "Mom!" Jake exclaimed. "I was so worried," he admitted. Wrapping his arms around her neck. Gwen looked to Grace and Kay for answers. Kay handed MJ to her uncle and answered her unspoken question. "When he woke up this morning, and you weren't there." "Oh," Gwen said softly as it dawned on her that her young son was taking Ali's disappearance harder than she'd originally thought. "I'm not going anywhere, Jake," she smiled. Ruffling his unruly brown hair affectionately. "Dr. Russell," the nurse interrupted. "You have a phone call." "Would you." "Sure," everyone said.

    "Whew!" Jake exhaled in relief. "Is the baby okay?" he asked quizzically. "What do you think, Babe? Should we tell him?" Hank grinned. "Tell me what?" Jake said. Crossing his arms. "Jake," Gwen said gently, "your baby sister is just fine." "SISTER! Yuck!" he said in disgust. Then more quietly he said, "But I AM glad she's okay," he said. An indifferent look on his face. But everyone could tell. The idea was quickly growing on him. Kay was sure he was thinking of all the ways he could only torture a baby sister. She laughed. "A girl, huh? Uncle Hank.how are you going to survive?"

    "What? You don't think I can handle a sweet little girl?" he asked in mock indignation. "You're forgetting that ALL little girls aren't sweet," Kay grinned. "Take me, for example. Need I say more?" "Okay. You got me on that one," he chuckled. "You and Jake have more in common than I realized. Grace. You REALLY are a saint." "Me. Hank Bennett. With a little girl," he said. "I only wish I do as great a job as Luis did with.Ali," he finished. The smile on his face faltering. "Damn," he swore softly. "My buddy must be going through hell. Any news?" he asked. Studying Kay and Grace's faces. And finding nothing had changed. "They've." "That was Sam," Eve said. Bursting through the door. "They just got a call in from a woman who claims she saw a little girl fitting Ali's description last night. In Castleton. They're on their way to check it out now."

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
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    Post Re: Always (sequel to Unforgettable)

    Chapter 16




    "Luis," Sam hissed. "You shouldn't be here. You're too emotionally involved. If that's Ali in there."

    "Sam. Don't lecture me. Look. You know I have to be here. Especially if my daughter's in that hotel room," Luis spoke. Crouching down beside his superior. And friend. "What's going down?"

    "A woman called 9-1-1 early this morning. Said she might have some information on Ali. Told the cops to hurry. The man holding her was dangerous."

    "Dangerous!"

    "Luis," Sam said gently. With a calming hand on the younger man's arm. "Her call was traced. To this hotel. Marty talked to the manager, and he told him he had seen a little girl. One that looked very much like the picture of Ali."

    "Where? Where is she, Sam? Why haven't you."

    "We can't do that, Luis. 'Cause the woman was right. She should know," Sam said. Wiping the sweat from his brow. "Her husband is holding her and the little girl hostage. He's got a gun, Luis. And he."

    "What Sam? He what?" Luis demanded.

    "He's used it already," Sam said. Turning away. Unable to meet Luis's eyes.

    "No!" Luis cried. Despair creeping into his voice.

    "Luis!" Sam said harshly. "Stay calm. Or I'll have no choice but to have you escorted off these premises. You hear me?" Luis clenched his jaw and nodded slowly. But Sam could tell he was only going through the motions. The man had one thing on his mind. And God help the recipient of his anger.

    "He's coming out!" Marty yelled.

    And Sam had to physically restrain Luis from rushing forward. Playing the hero. His worst nightmare was coming true right before his very eyes.

    In the crazed man's arms was a child. Her blond hair wild. Her big blue eyes wide with fear. She screamed in terror when the man held his gun to her head.

    Luis's whole body went stiff with tension as he uttered in an anguished voice, "Oh my god, Sam. He's got Ali. The bastard's scaring her to death. I'm going to kill him," he gritted out. Pulling his gun from its holster.


    "No guns! No guns!" the kidnapper screamed madly. "I'll kill her! I swear I'll kill her!" he yelled. Pressing the gun more firmly against Ali's temple.

    "Didn't you hear what he said?" Luis cried desperately. "She's my little girl, Sam. Don't take any chances with her life," he pleaded.

    "Put the guns down," Sam ordered. "He means business."

    The man smiled in triumph. Clutching Ali tighter.

    Ali sobbed softly in his grip.

    Luis closed his eyes. Thankful Sheridan wasn't witness to this horrific scene.

    "Listen up," the man shouted. "If you give me what I ask for.I'll let the kid go."

    "He's lying," Sam muttered. "He has no intention of letting his free ticket out of here loose."

    "I know that," Luis hissed. "But do you see another way out of this, Sam?" he asked. Before standing up. "We'll give you everything you ask for. Just let the little girl go."

    "Daddy! Daddy!" Ali screamed.

    Luis's heart fell to the pit of his stomach when the madman looked at him strangely.

    "Shut up, kid," he warned. "What's she saying that for? Are you."

    Please, AliCat, he thought. Please understand. "What kind of question is that?" Luis laughed dryly. "Of course, she's not my kid. I don't know what she's talking about. Listen," he bit out impatiently. "Are you going to take the deal or not?"

    The man eyed him suspiciously for several moments. Then made up his mind. "Yeah. I want a car. And your promise, no one will try to stop me from leaving."

    Okay, Luis thought. "I can do that," he answered levelly. How stupid was this guy? "Here," he said. Holding out the keys to his jeep. "You can take mine. Better yet.I can drive. My buddies here are sure not to try any funny business with me in the car," he reasoned. "Just let the little girl go."

    "Okay," the man agreed. His dark eyes darting back and forth. "Give me the keys."

    "You want the keys?" Luis asked. "Here," he shouted. Tossing them at the man.

    The man loosened his grip on Ali momentarily in surprise. And that was all the time she needed to squirm free.

    "Ali! Get down!" he yelled. Raising his gun.

    "What the hell." the other man swore. Pointing his gun at Luis. He had no time to finish that thought before the first bullet hit him. Square in the chest.



    Chapter 17



    "We need an ambulance," Luis shouted. Checking the man for a pulse. And finding a thready one.

    "Luis," Sam said. A hand on his shoulder. "Let us take it from here," he said. Nodding toward Ali. "Take her home," he said quietly.

    "Thank you, Sam," Luis said. Hugging Sam briefly. "AliCat," he whispered. Kneeling in front of her. Tipping her chin up with his index finger. Ali's tiny chin quivered, and Luis's heart constricted at the tears rolling down her pink cheeks.

    "I knew you'd come, Daddy," she cried. Throwing her arms around his neck and burying her face in his neck. "Oh Daddy," she sobbed as he stroked her long blonde hair and kissed the crown of her head.

    He didn't want to let go of her ever again. And Sam seemed to sense that. Recruiting one of the guys to drive him and Ali back to Harmony. Home. Back to Cristian and Sheridan.

    Ali clutched his shirt the entire drive home. Her blue eyes drooping in fatigue.

    "It's okay, baby. Close your eyes. Daddy's here," he soothed. Rubbing lazy circles on her little back.

    Silvano looked on sympathetically from the rear view mirror as Luis coaxed his daughter to slumber. The poor kid had been through hell in the last 24 hours. If there were any justice in this world, the awful memory would be wiped from her young mind. But he didn't think she'd be that lucky. Then had two completely devoted parents and a whole network of people that loved her. It'd take time. But she'd be okay.

    "Thanks Man," Luis waved. As the squad car pulled out of the driveway. He tucked Ali in closer to his heart and began slowly walking toward the front door. Tears in his brown eyes when he realized the enormity of the events of the past day. If he ever had any doubts at all, he knew now. He would do ANYTHING for his daughter. His son. His wife. His entire family. And his life wouldn't be the same without a single one of them.

    His mother's face crumpled, and the brave mask she had been wearing the past 24 hours was gone as she saw her sleeping granddaughter nestled in her son's embrace. "Mijo," she whispered. "Is she.?" She left the question hanging in the air.

    "She'll be fine. Now that she's home. Where she belongs. Mama," he said in a choked voice when she kissed his cheek.

    "We have our angel back," his father whispered. Tracing Ali's sweet features with a gentle hand.

    "Where is she?" Luis asked. Searching the living room for her familiar figure.

    His father slipped an arm around his mother's waist and hugged her to him. "They're in Ali's room," he said with a smile. Thinking of the smile that would surely light up Sheridan's face at this wondrous sight.

    "Martin," his wife said quietly as they watched their son carry his daughter down the hall. "I think we should leave them alone. Just for now." He glanced at his son once more. Then helped her into her coat and opened the door. Leaving the little family to themselves.

    Luis stood in the doorway to Ali's room and listened to his wife sing to their son in a beautiful, wistful voice. Lullabies she'd sang to Ali when she was a baby. He could hear the tears in her voice. He watched silently as she laid Cristian down gently on Ali's bed. Placing a tender kiss to his forehead. Straightening up and picking up a picture from Ali's bedside table. A picture of the four of them. Shortly after Cristian's birth. An aura of sadness surrounded her. And he wanted to do away with it. "Sheridan," he uttered softly.

    "Luis. I don't know if I can do it without her," she said. Without turning around. "She's such a big part of my life. Our lives. I feel so empty inside without her," she cried. Her blue eyes seeing him-and Ali-for the first time. "Luis?" she asked in disbelief. "Tell me I haven't gone crazy. Tell me this isn't some cruel trick of the mind. That I want her back so much, I'm imagining things," she pleaded. Edging closer. And reaching a trembling hand out to touch Ali's soft golden hair.

    "She's real," she gasped. "How? Where?" she asked. A million emotions playing across her beautiful face.

    "Not now," he answered. Cupping her jaw in the palm of his hand. Stroking her lips with his thumb. "She IS real," he smiled. "And home. Where she belongs. C'mere," he beckoned. Wrapping his free arm around his wife.

    Sheridan came willingly. Gazing at their daughter's beloved face and sweeping her hair back from her forehead with a loving hand. "Mommy loves you, Sweetie. So much." Happy tears spilled from her lashes when Ali blinked her blue eyes open and whispered. "Always and forever, Mommy?" "Always and forever, baby," she smiled. Closing her eyes and sighing blissfully at the feeling of holding her tiny daughter in her arms again. Always, she mouthed. Squeezing Luis's hand. She held on. Determined never to let go.


    Chapter 18


    "Thank you, Eve," Luis said appreciatively.

    "No problem," Eve said softly. Patting Luis's hand. "I'm just relieved to have such good news for you. She's fine physically. But keep her close. Nightmares can be just as scary as the real thing. It'll take her a while to recover emotionally. She's going to need you and Sheridan. Your love and support is the best medicine," she said. Stepping outside with a smile.

    Luis locked the door behind her and walked toward his and Sheridan's bedroom. Turning out all the lights along the way.

    "Hi, Daddy," Sheridan greeted with a smile as a he walked into their bathroom and found her and Ali relaxing in the bubbles.

    Ali smiled sweetly at him. Snuggling deeper in Sheridan's arms. "Hi, Daddy," she said somewhat shyly. Breaking out into a full-fledged grin as he scooped up some bubbles and wiped them on her nose.

    Sheridan's blue eyes sparkled with happiness. And she hugged Ali tighter. Making her squeak. "Hmm," she laughed. "A new squeeze toy."

    "Mommy!" Ali giggled. "I'm not a toy!"

    "I don't know about that, Sweetie," Sheridan teased. Squeezing her tight again. And eliciting the same reaction.

    "AliCat!" Luis gasped in mock surprise.

    "Oh Daddy," she giggled. "You're so silly."

    "But you love me anyway, don't you, Baby?"

    "Yeah," she answered. Smacking him on the lips.

    Sheridan took the opportunity to douse him with bubbles.

    "No fair," he grinned. Wiping the bubbles off his face with the back of his hand. "Two against one. You guys double-teamed me. This is war," he said. Smirking at Sheridan as he scooped some more bubbles up in his hands and advanced on her.

    Ali squealed in delight.

    "Ali," Sheridan laughed helplessly as Luis tortured her. With her daughter's help. "You're not supposed to help him." Her hysterical laughter echoed off the bathroom's walls.

    The bubble fight finally ended.

    Cristian woke up wailing.

    Luis graciously offered to go check on him.

    Sheridan climbed out of the tub and wrapped a towel around herself. Grabbing the fluffiest towel off the rack for Ali. "Sweetie, where are you?" she teased when Ali's soapy little body was swallowed up by towel. She smiled at Ali's muffled giggles. The adorable grin on her face as she poked her blond head out and exclaimed, "Here I am, Mommy!" And she pushed away the ache she felt when she remembered that just hours earlier, she'd had almost no hope. Her daughter was back. In her arms. Alive and happy. And so good. She dressed her in her favorite pair of pyjamas. Lifted her into her arms without a second thought and carried her into her and Luis's bedroom.

    Ali lay her golden head on her shoulder sleepily. Barely stirring when she laid her down against the cool sheets and covered her lovingly. And just watched her.

    "Guess who else wants Mommy?" Luis said quietly. Surprising her.

    Cristian waved his arms at her. Wearing a sweet smile on his toothless face for the first time in over 24 hours.

    She took her son from Luis's arms and smacked him loudly on the cheek. He cackled with delight. His dark eyes sparkling with love for her. "I know we shouldn't have him in the bed with us," she whispered later. Watching Cristian's little chest rise and fall with each breath as she held him close to her heart. And stroked Ali's silky hair. "But I don't.I don't want to let either of them out of my sight, Luis. Not tonight."

    "Neither do I," he admitted. He placed a tender kiss on Ali's forehead and rubbed a gentle thumb across Cristian's parted lips.

    "God, Luis," she whispered shakily. Overwhelmed at that moment by her feelings. About the last day. The longest day in her life. For their children. For him.

    He just smiled at her. And said, "I know."




    Chapter 19



    "A little girl," Sheridan said with a smile. "I still can't believe it. What does Jake think?"

    Gwen laughed. "Jake's head is filled with visions of torture and slave labor. That son of mine probably thinks he won't have to ever lift a finger again. He's not sweet about it like Ali," she smiled. "But I think the idea's growing on him. He wouldn't mind a baby sister so much if she were like Ali. It's so amazing how resilient she is, Sheridan. Ali is one tough kid."

    Sheridan glanced over to where Jake and Ali play in front of coffee table. A tender smile on her face as she thought of Ali's bravery. "Yes, she is, isn't she? She still has nightmares sometimes. But they're less vivid than they were a month ago. I think my nightmares are worse."

    "Oh, Sheridan," Gwen said. Laying a soothing hand on her friend's arm. "You have her back. And kidnapper will be behind bars never to see the light of day again."

    Sheridan squeezed Gwen's hand and sighed. "Maybe I'm crazy. But I feel so sorry for his wife. She lost her baby, too, Gwen. The little girl at the wharf. He killed her. I don't know why exactly. How do you understand a murderer's reasoning? How could someone hurt an innocent little girl. Luis said she looked almost exactly like Ali. Ali told us the woman protected her. Called her "Lara." He gave her Ali to replace the daughter he'd taken away from her, Gwen. And she was so grief-stricken she went along with him. Until he tried to hurt Ali, too."

    Gwen shuddered. A sudden chill making her cold. "And that's when he shot her," she said quietly.

    Sheridan nodded her head solemnly. "Eve says she'll never walk again."

    "How sad," Gwen said soberly. "Sheridan," she sniffled. "Let's talk about something less depressing, okay?"

    Sheridan shot a watery smile Gwen's way. The topic of their conversation didn't do anything for Gwen's emotional state. "Okay," she laughed softly. "Are you up to helping me plan Ali's birthday party? It's the first one since I've been back home, and I want to make it extra special. Try to make up for all the ones I missed." She watched in horror as Gwen burst into tears again.

    "Damn," she swore softly. "I'm so sorry, Sheridan. Don't mind me. I cried during Survivor the other night. Hank's still making fun of me."

    Sheridan giggled. "Survivor?" she asked in disbelief.

    "Yes," Gwen nodded. Smiling through her tears.

    "Mommy?" Ali asked curiously. Crawling into Sheridan's lap. "What's so funny?"

    Jake rolled his brown eyes. "Don't even ask, Ali. Women," he muttered. Crossing his arms across his chest and plopping down beside them. "Mom cries ALL the time now. And she eats the yuckiest stuff. She made Dad get her frog legs last week. And she ate strawberry ice cream with pancake syrup on it when she finished that." He continued.

    But Ali was stuck on one thing. "Frog legs!" she gasped in horror. "You pulled a frog's legs off?"

    Sheridan bit her lip to keep from laughing.

    Gwen rolled her eyes as Jake grinned and said, "Yep. Me and Dad hunted for hours for that silly frog. He was huge. This big," he said. Stretching his arms out. "Dad had to call Uncle Sam over to help saw his legs off. Aunt Grace cooked them in this big witch's cauldron that she borrowed from Tabitha," he divulged wickedly as Ali covered her ears with her hands and squealed, "No more! No more!"

    "Jake!" Gwen yelled. "That's enough. Tell Ali the truth."

    "Aw. Mom," he whined. "Alright," he muttered when Ali looked at him expectantly. "You're such a baby," he began. "But I like you anyways," he rushed. Seeing the pout on Ali's lips and the tears collecting in her big blue eyes. "It was just an itty bitty frog, Ali. Dad had to pull the legs off himself," he grinned devilishly.

    "Jake," Gwen groaned. Giving him a warning look.

    "I'm sorry," he said. Walking up to Ali. "Here. You can have my lucky penny. I promise not to tease you anymore."

    Gwen's eyes about popped out of her head with that statement. And she choked in surprise.

    Sheridan's brows were raised as Jake relinquished the lucky penny to Ali, and she laughed softly when she saw that his fingers were crossed behind his back.

    Ali beamed in pleasure. "Thank you," she said sweetly. Leaning forward to kiss Jake on the cheek.

    "Oh! Stop that! I just gave you my lucky penny. I don't want to be your boyfriend or nothing," he gagged in disgust.

    Gwen laughed and taunted, "Aww. How sweet. When's the wedding? Are you going to invite your dear old mom? What about Grandma? You'll look so handsome in your tux. I can't wait. Won't it be wonderful, Sheridan?"

    "NNN OOO !" Jake screamed as he ran out the front door. "Dad! Dad! Help me!"


    Chapter 20


    "What are you thinking?" Luis queried. Wrapping his arms around her from behind.

    She leaned back into his embrace with a sigh. "Just things," she said nonchalantly.

    "Sheridan," Luis admonished. "Be honest with me. I KNOW it's more than that," he said softly. Walking in front of her and kneeling at her feet.

    "It's just.I don't know, Luis," she said. Playing with the rings on her fingers nervously.

    He stilled her hands with one of his. Daring her to look away. Evade his questions once more.

    "Ali's birthday's soon."

    "So." he said calmly.

    "So? Luis," she said. Jumping to her feet. "So I disappeared from her life one week after her first birthday. How do we know something else isn't going to happen this time?"

    "Sheridan," he said. Grabbing her firmly by the shoulders. "I love you, Baby. But that's ridiculous."

    Her blue eyes flashed fire. Anger swelling within her that he would so easily dismiss her fears.

    Great, Luis. Open mouth. Insert foot. "I don't mean . I don'. This is coming out all wrong," he swore. "Sheridan.I don't mean to make your fears seem unimportant. To trivialize them. But you're here with us now. And I'll be damned if I'll ever let you go again. You're stuck with me," he grinned. His dark eyes dancing with amusement when he slid his fingers through the belt loops of her jeans and pulled her closer.

    "Luis," she said in a low voice. Desperately trying to keep up the pretense of anger. And failing miserably as her blue eyes softened at his simple "I love you." "No fair," she said. Eyes brimming with unshed tears.

    "Fair? Fair, huh? This from a woman that can strike me dumb with one look into her amazing blue eyes," he teased.

    "See?" she laughed. "You make it so hard to stay mad at you. Why WAS I mad at you?" she laughed. Looping her arms loosely about his neck. And staring into his eyes.

    "Because I left the toilet seat up this morning?" Luis smirked. Laughing when she rolled her eyes. Almost immediately. "Because I was a jerk and spoke before I thought," he whispered. Kissing her palm tenderly.

    "You weren't a jerk," she whispered back. Threading her fingers through his black hair and nuzzling her nose against his before giving him a lingering kiss on the lips. A kiss so full of love it almost brought tears to Luis's own eyes.

    "God, how I missed you all those years," he breathed shakily. Smoothing his hands over her blond hair lovingly. "I love you," he repeated. "I cannot say it enough. I'll never be able to tell you how much. Not even if I say it a million times a day for the rest of our lives."

    "Luis," she laughed softly. A glorious smile on her beautiful face. "Shut up."

    "What?" he asked with a devilish grin. "What was that I heard, Mrs. Lopez-Fitzgerald? Did I hear the lady order me to shut up?" he asked. Scooping her up in his arms and whisking her to their bedroom. "I'm afraid there's only one way I can grant the lady's request," he said. Kicking the door to their bedroom closed with his foot.

    "And how might you do that?" she teased. Knowing full well HOW her husband planned on granting her request. And enjoying every minute of it.

    "Wouldn't you like to know?" he said. Groaning as she slid slowly down his body. Pinning him against the door.

    "I'm waiting, Detective," she smirked. Running her hands up and down his muscular chest. "Uh huh," she laughed. "Not capable of stringing together a coherent thought, huh?"

    "Thank God for grandparents," he said breathlessly. Capturing her lips in a searing kiss and backing her up until the back of her legs hit their bed.

    "I second that," she mumbled against his lips. Ripping his shirt open in frustration when she couldn't work the buttons free. "I'm NOT sorry," she said when Luis quirked a dark brow at her. "You can always buy a new one," she suggested.

    He laughed. His hands slipping under her shirt and making short order of it as well. He covered her body with his. Lowering them both to the mattress below. Fumbling with the snap of her jeans and tugging them down her long legs a few minutes later. "Did you pour yourself into those things this morning?" he asked. Half seriously. Half teasingly. "Sorry," he yelped. As she flipped them over and straddled him.

    So not so sorry, he thought. Watching her slip the straps of her black lacy bra down her shoulders and reach back to unhook it. It had to be illegal to look that good after two children in five years. And he told her so.

    She just flashed him a dazzling smile.

    He was able to help her finish removing the rest of their clothing.

    And they made love. By turns tenderly. Gently. Wildly. Passionately.

    He cradled her face in his hands as they rode the final waves of pleasure and whispered the words he felt so deeply in his heart. Kissing away her tears as they spilled forth from her blue eyes. "I love you," he whispered again later.


    And Sheridan drifted off to sleep in his arms with a contented smile on her face. "I love you, too."

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Dubuque, IA
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    118

    Re: Always (sequel to Unforgettable)

    I thought this fic was finished? Way further along? Am I missing something?
    The truth shall set you free, now if only someone would tell it!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Always (sequel to Unforgettable)

    Hey Lynne,

    This fic is definitely finished and even posted in its entirety in a couple of places: Janine's old fanfic page Sheridan's Story Center and FF.net.

    I'm just way behind on posting the rest of the story up here. These particular boards weren't around when I was originally writing the story.

    That's why they are new/old chapters.

    You're not missing anything. Or you shouldn't be. I'm pretty sure you've read the entire series up until the latest chapter of Believe--on Janine's page if I'm not mistaken.

    Shae

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