Ah, Christmas, the time of year when trees are trimmed, lights are hung and pixies are infesting your holly bushes. This year, however, was a bit different. We were half-settled into my parent’s old house, they were half-settled in their new place in Columbus near Da’s brother, and I was in the O’Hare Airport with a sign, waiting for the arrival of a seven-year-old boy.
His name was Thomas and—he was my son. You can imagine my surprise when I got the letter, His mother and I had had a one-night stand during the days I had been drinking most of my meals. She was, to date, the only woman I’d ever been with and I had to admit, those odds were pretty long and my luck wasn’t the best. But the DNA test came through, though I hadn’t really had any doubts after seeing the kid’s photo, and Thomas was my son.
And his mother was dead so I was now supposed to take charge of him. There’d been some legal shenanigans and some decidedly less than legal shenanigans involved to get the process of bringing my Russian born son to the states. I didn’t want him living in a state home or anything. Better he was brought over quickly so he could start the transition process. I think. I’d also, sort of, promised him to a leprechaun but that was before I knew about him, so I don’t know that it’s totally my fault. Ian was sorting it out. Ian always sorted things out.
The terminal was a hive of activity, not that I was particularly surprised. I clutched the overstuffed teddy bear I’d bought in my hands, sighing. Jack squeezed my shoulder.
“It’s going to be fine,” he said. “Baby steps, remember?”
“You say baby steps, I say the kid is probably going to be so overwhelmed he starts crying the minute he sees me and I’m labelled the worst parent ever.”
“You’re being ridiculous.”
“What if he doesn’t like me? What if he doesn’t like you? What if he doesn’t like Tara?” Tara, who had declared rather adamantly that she would have preferred a puppy.
“He’s not even here yet, Fynn, chill.”
I eyed the arrivals board for the hundredth time. “But he will be here...look, that’s his flight.” My stomach was doing somersaults and I was practically shaking from nerves. Not the most put together picture, I’m sure, but I couldn’t help it. Jack pulled one of my hands free of the bear and held it tight. I glanced back at him and managed a smile. “It’s just—a kid, you know? Another kid, I mean. It’s just…”
And my parents were going to be here for Christmas to meet him.
I felt like we were waiting for hours, but I know it couldn’t have been all that long before I saw a tall, leggy woman in a suit wearing an airport security badge walking toward us, hand in hand with a small blond boy with wide blue eyes. He was wearing a puffy blue coat and had his papers pinned to the front of it. He looked so small and pale. I felt like my heart was going to stop beating.
As they drew closer, I knelt down, unwilling to tower over him like a giant. The security woman smiled at me.
“Yeah, that’s me,” I replied. I looked at Thomas, taking a deep breath. I’d learned a little Russian, as Thomas knew only a bit of English. I was hoping to get better as I went. I’m sure my pronunciation was awful, but we had to start somewhere. “Zdrastvooyte,” I waved. “Meenya zavoot Fynn. Ya plokha gavaryoo pa rooskee.”
Thomas managed a very small smile.
“This is for you,” I held out the bear.
After a pause, Thomas took the bear and stuffed his face into it, mumbling, “Spaseeba.”
“This is, Jack,” I pointed up.
Thomas managed to wave from behind the bear.
“Zdrastvooyte,” Jack said. “Kak pazhivayesh?” He knelt down next to me and smiled gently.
Jack was a bit further along in the Russian than me, but I think that was some kind of witchcraft, the man could pick up languages like a pint of milk.
Thomas bit on his lip. “Scared,” he said.
“That’s okay,” Jack said. “The airport is noisy.”
“Why don’t we go to the restaurant and wrap up the paperwork and then you can take Thomas home?” the woman said.
“Of course,” I said. I looked back to Thomas. “Hungry?”
He nodded eagerly.
Okay, Fynn—you can do this. You can do this. You can do this. I stood up and held out a hand to Thomas, uncertain if he would take it or continue to cling to the woman. After a long silent pause, he tucked his hand into mine. I exhaled the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, and followed Jack and the woman to the nearby hamburger place.
Thomas seemed pretty excited at the prospect of a kid’s meal, I mean, it had a toy after all. While he was occupied introducing his bear to the small ninja, or whatever it was that came with his meal, Jack and wrapped up the paperwork. The faster we got this done, the sooner we could get Thomas settled. I mean, he’d just finished a fifteen-hour trip. I could tell he was a bit tired, but right then he was probably too on edge to fall asleep. I couldn’t blame him.
I’d wanted to fly out to Moscow, spend a couple weeks there getting Thomas to like me, and then fly back with him but that just wasn’t in the cards. The division was still in construction mode after the attacks and, though I hated to think it, they actually needed me around.
We’d managed to get Thomas’ room sorted out though, after some back and forth with a Russian social worker I’d learned he liked bears and trains. The room wasn’t themed per say, but I hoped having some familiar things around would make him feel safe. His belongings had been shipped over, and arrived yesterday in time for me and Jack to get everything put away.
We’d just wrapped up the paperwork when I heard a thunk of something falling on the floor and glanced over at Thomas, who had dropped the ninja—which had somehow lost its head in the crash. He sniffed loudly.
“It’s okay,” I said quickly, scooping up the toy’s pieces. “I can fix it.”
Nope. That wasn’t helping. He started to cry, eyes screwed up, bear clutched tight to his chest. Well, I couldn’t blame him for that either. He was as stressed as I was.
“It’s okay, Thomas.” I wanted to—I don’t know. Hug him? I wasn’t sure what to do. He was my son but...I don’t know if I’d want some person I’d just met hugging me when I was stressed and tired.
I’d almost made up my mind to try and pat him on the shoulder when the bear caught fire.
Jack reacted quickly, pulling the top off his drink and tossing it over the fire. Thank god for that man’s quick reflexes. The bear, however, had lost half his face and an arm much faster than I thought it should have. Clearly, the toy was not as fire-resistant as it should have been.
Thomas stopped crying.
My hesitation vanished in an instant as I checked him over for burns—but there weren’t any. His shirt was a bit sooty and he was soaked in Coke, but he wasn’t hurt.
I glanced back at Jack who had a rather significant sort of look on his face.
A restaurant employee bustled over with napkins and a very concerned expression and I took it as a sign to get the hell out of Dodge. We settled things with the woman, I picked up Thomas, charred teddy bear, broken toy and backpack and we got out of there as quickly as I was able.
I sat in the back of the car with Thomas, who was still sniffling and clutching the ruined bear. “It’s okay, sweetheart,” I said, pulling wet naps from the backseat pocket to get the soda off his face before it dried into a sticky mess. “It’s okay. We’re going home.”
Jack said something I couldn’t follow in Russian and Thomas seemed a bit more reassured.
You can do this, Fynn. He’s just a kid. A small, fragile kid that might have set a toy on fire with his mind.
Everything was going to be fine. Totally fine.
Jack called Ian while I got Thomas cleaned up. Tara was spending the night at a friend’s house just to give Thomas a bit more space. Same with Simon, who was currently on Ian’s couch—I think. We’d introduce them after Thomas had gotten some sleep. Poor conked out pretty fast after putting on his PJ’s. I had to pick him up off the floor and put him to bed. I used to be like that as a kid, Mom always said so. I sat next to the bed, uncertain as he slept. Language barriers, unfamiliar people, new places—that was all going to be difficult to navigate.
“Fynn,” Jack whispered from the doorway.
I looked over. “Yeah?”
He held out his phone, “Ian.”
I nodded and stood, creeping over to him and taking the phone out into the hall. “Hey, Ian.”
“How is he?”
“Great. He’s sleeping now.” I took a breath. “I don’t suppose, maybe, my son can set fires with his mind or anything?”
“Ian!” I whispered harshly.
“I wasn’t a hundred percent certain he’d inherited his Russian bloodline. I mean, there was a chance he’d be normal, a chance he’d have Sight and a chance he’d set fires.”
“Gee, thanks Ian.”
“Did he set a fire?”
“Why else would we be having this conversation?”
“Fair enough. Look, it’ll be fine. Most pyrokinetics that age just need to be kept calm and happy.”
“He’s seven years old, Ian. He’s half a world from the home he knew, his mother is dead and my Russian is terrible.”
“It’s going to be okay, Fynn. You can do this.”
“You can,” he repeated. “I’ll stop by in a couple days and we’ll evaluate Thomas’ power then. For now, just be his dad. I know you can do that.”
“Okay. Thanks, Ian.”
I hung up and handed Jack back his phone. He tucked it into his pocket and pulled me to his side with one arm around my waist.
“He’s going to be okay,” Jack whispered. “He’s an Adder. They’re a tough breed.”
Looking in on my sleeping son, who had refused to give up the charred bear and had it pressed to his chest as he slept, I felt some of the nervous tension disappear. I’d been nervous with Tara too, of course, but there was something different about this. I guess, maybe, knowing that the kid was genetically mine meant there was more to worry about. What if he got my bad habits? Poor thing.
But just like Tara, I felt that warm certainty in my chest. I had Jack to help me and no shortage of family. More importantly, I loved him. This was never something I’d expected to have. A husband. Children. A few years ago that sort of life would have been nothing but a pipe dream but now it was my life. I had people counting on me. I had Jack and Tara and now—I had a son.
“I just don’t want to disappoint him. Ever.” I looked at Jack. “You know?”
“I know.” He kissed my cheek.
“I’m also just a little bit afraid he might set the house on fire.”
Jack laughed softly. “You don’t worry about that with Tara? I do.”
I made a face. “Fair enough.”
“Come on, we have to call your parents and Shannon. He’s dead to the world for a while.”
“Okay.” I slipped out of Jack’s embrace and padded over to Thomas, pushing some hair out of his face. “I love you,” I whispered. “I’ll keep you safe. I promise. Jack too.” I pressed a kiss to the top of his head and padded back out of the room.
Jack smiled at me. “It’s going to be okay, Fynn.”
“Okay.” I took a breath. “I just—I don’t want to leave him alone. You know? I don’t want him to wake up alone.”
“I’ll get some pillows.” He kissed me.
I settled against the door frame, content to watch Thomas sleep. With everything that had had happened, I couldn’t help thinking that Thomas might have been better off with someone else, anyone else. I was kind of a human disaster. At the same time, I couldn’t imagine him being with anyone else now that he was here.
He was muttering in his sleep, I used to do that when I was a kid. Hell, according to Jack, sometimes I still did. Usually about giant socks or something. I padded over, crouching next to the bed to listen. I didn’t want to leave him in a nightmare, if that’s what this was. I couldn’t really make it out, my Russian was terrible, but it didn’t seem to be bad. He wasn’t scared at least.
I heard Jack come back, and he handed me the pillows and afghan he’d retrieved with a soft smile. I settled onto the floor next to the bed, not really certain if I would get any sleep, and let out a small huff of surprise when Jack joined me.
“I don’t want to be alone either,” he whispered. “Go to sleep.”
Contrary to popular belief, I can follow orders—particularly when those orders came from Jack’s lips. I closed my eyes, half listening to Thomas’ soft murmurs, and drifted off to sleep.
I woke up to light in my face and a gentle shaking of my shoulder. I managed to pry my eyes open and looked up to see Thomas standing over me, holding the bear.
“Hey, Thomas. Hungry?”
I sat up, wiping my eyes and glancing around. I could smell something—pancakes, which meant Jack was in the kitchen. Thomas got my attention again with a soft tap on my shoulder.
Thomas held out the bear. “Popka fix?” He bit his lip. “Fix Mr. Smoky?”
He’d named the bear Mr. Smoky. Dear god that was the cutest fucking thing. Do not swear in front of child.
I nodded. “I can fix him.”
He smiled brightly.
I smiled back and got to my feet. “Pancakes first, okay?”
“O-kay!” He took my hand when I offered and we headed downstairs to join Jack in the kitchen. My back hurt, but hey, my son was smiling. And, I realized a few beats after seating Thomas at the kitchen table, what he had called me.
“Popka?” I prompted Thomas.
He nodded. “You. Popka.”
“That’s Dad,” Jack said.
I swallowed. “Okay.” I grabbed the bottle of syrup from the counter as Jack put a plate in front of Thomas. “You want?” I asked.
Thomas nodded emphatically. I poured syrup for him and glanced back at Jack. He was smiling at me in a dopey sort of way I’d never seen before.
“You’re doing fine,” he mouthed.
We had breakfast together and between us, Jack and I told Thomas about his new big sister, his cousin Simon and Popka’s twin brother Michael. It was going to be weird for a while, but I think it was going to be okay—at least Thomas didn’t seem to have any notion of the ghosts hovering about us, Adders from the past welcoming my son to Chicago. Small blessings. I’d take every one I could get. I had a feeling I was going to need them. I always did.