Jack makes it back to Drake's Hollow early on Snowflake Day morning, and is immediately challenged to a snowball fight by his son.
"Okay, boys, it's time to open the presents!" Delaney, giddy with excitement, comes out to call them inside
As the family gathers around the gift pile, Shadow notices some disturbance in Jack's aura. He can't quite put his finger on the source, but there is a darkness there, a wrongness.
Whatever it is will have to wait until after the holiday. Ryan is first to open his gifts.
Followed by Delaney, who is still as thrilled as a child with the unwrapping of presents.
But in the end, no new toy can compare with the gift of having her Jack home with them.
Later in the afternoon, Cassidy and Jesse arrive with their daughter Laurie for a holiday visit.
"Jesse would like to get you alone for a minute," Cass says, nodding her head toward where her husband is standing in the yard.
"Has Jack told you anything about what he's doing?" Jesse asks.
"Not much really. He said he's working for some global security company," Shadow answers, vague on the details. But he's getting a strong vibe from Jesse, he's worried about his brother, and that just adds to Shadow's own concerns about the wrongness he felt from Jack earlier.
"Bluewater," Jesse says, "Jack works for a company called Bluewater. 'Global security' is just a gloss for mercenary operations. They do the things a nation's real military can't be caught doing. Cass and I have been investigating them for years now. They cover their tracks really well, and it's hard to get any hard information, but everything we have been able to get points to some really dark dealings on their part."
"And now Jack works for them," Shadow frowns.
"I don't think he's in deep enough to be involved in anything yet. Thy still have him in training. But, I'm worried. And I was hoping you'd, you know, look out for him."
"I do, Jesse, as much as I can," Shadow says.
As worried as they are about Jack's new career, Jesse and Cassidy keep it to themselves during the family meal, instead talking about their daughters and how lucky they re to have had their girls so close in age.
Jillyan and Laurie look so much alike that Farrel doesn't know who he's potty training. Laurie is too young yet to be bothered by the fact that this old man keeps calling her 'Cass'.
The toddlers in the family are also too young to be aware that today is a holiday. New toys, old toys, it's all the same to them.
"Do you remember our first time?" Jack ask her.
"Of course I do," Delaney answers, reaching up to stroke his hair.
"I knew, that night, I wanted to be with you forever, Laney," Jack continues, "That's never changed."
Delaney sits up, wrapping her arms over his shoulders so she can touch her forehead to his. "I knew it then, too. I may not have thought about stuff like that as hard as you did, Jack, but I've always known in my heart that you were the one."
"But--" Jack starts, and Delaney hushes him.
"Don't bring up Ian," she pouts.
"I can't help it," Jack says, "I really try not to think about it. But I don't understand how you could go with him, if you really loved me. I don't want to doubt you, I really don't..."
Delaney drops her head down to his shoulder, moving deeper into his embrace. "I have to think real hard to even remember that night. I honestly don't know what I was thinking. But I know it had nothing to do with love. I take a lot of stupid risks, Jack, but I almost lost you, and that changed everything. I'll never put us on the line again. I couldn't face losing you again."
"Bluewater," Iola says, repeating the name of the company, "I had this weird feeling not too long ago, about blue water."
"Just a feeling?" Shadow asks, "Nothing more?"
Iola shakes her head, "Just this sense of dread, and the words blue and water. That was the day I saw the shower acting all possessed."
"The spirit realm is closest to us between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice," Shadow says, "Maybe that wasn't your normal precognition, but a spirit trying to warn you of something."
"Perhaps," Iola says. Her own precognitive abilities have been sketchy at best lately, "I hope Jack isn't in any real trouble. But, what about Fergus? Does this have anything to do with him?" Everything coms down to Fergus, their worries for their son since Shadow's Spooky Day visitation by the spirit of his long dead grandmother.
Shadow shakes his head sadly. "I have no idea, my love. He seems fine, normal. If it weren't for my vision, we wouldn't even be thinking of him as any different from Ryan or Weylin."
Shadow turns out the lights and lifts Iola onto their bed. "Tonight is the solstice," he reminds her with a whisper, "The days get longer, and the world is lighter. It's time to put our worries aside, and trust that everything will be all right." His words speak more confidence than he feels, and Iola knows it. Still, they can't spend every moment in fear for the future, and for this moment, they are able to forget their cares, and wrap themselves in their love like nothing else exists.
The next morning, Shadow and Iola take Fergus and Weylin to the park for a little fun in the fresh, cold air.
"I had a strange dream last night," Shadow says, "I dreamed I was performing a trepanation on Jack. When I cut the hole in his skull, a dark spirit emerged."
Iola mulls over this for a moment before responding, "You aren't considering...?"
"Actually doing it?" Shadow laughs, "No. Neolithic shamans would perform trepanation to relieve pressure on the brain, and it was effective in its way. But, I think this dream was more symbolic. I've been sensing something wrong with Jack, and I think this dream was telling me it's something from the outside that has gotten into him. Something that needs to be removed."
"Maybe he should see my father," Iola suggests, lifting a fussy Fergus from the spring rider, "Have him check for tumors."
"That's not a bad idea," Shadow admits, "But I think we're dealing with something more malign in its intent. Still, ruling out medical issues can't hurt."
Though their work is vastly different, father and son share space in the attic for alchemical experimentation and scientific research.
"What are you working on son?" Farrell asks over his shoulder.
"Something for spiritual cleansing. Detoxification of the spirit," Shadow answers.
As he has with Aouregan for all these years, Farrell keeps his disbelief to himself. He's seen his wife and children work magic, and has never understood how they do it or where it comes from, so he tucks it into the back of his mind and focuses on hard science. Quantum mechanics is magic enough for him.
In the evening, Delaney goes off to 'work', while Jack, on leave for a few days for the holiday, stays home. Shadow takes the opportunity to have a private talk with him.
"I was always jealous of your family, growing up. You guys always seemed so happy. I feel more at home here now than I ever did in our house when I was a kid."
"You're family," Shadow answers simply, "You belong here." And it's that tight sense of family and belonging that allows Shadow to broach the personal and sensitive subject of the darkness he senses in Jack. "I'd like to perform a cleansing ritual on you," Shadow finishes.
Jack agrees to be subjected to Shadow's spellcasting, though he doesn't himself feel this 'darkness' he was talking about. But, what can it hurt, Jack figures, and Shadow has been helpful before with the dream work thing.
"I, uh, don't feel any different?" Jack says when the ritual is apparently over.
"No, you wouldn't," Shadow says, "Whatever it is that's gotten into you wasn't affecting you on a conscious level. It's till, there, Jack. This was a simple purification spell, and not enough to completely purge this thing from you. I'll do some more research, and in the meantime, I think you should check in with Dr. Hawksquill, to make sure it isn't a medical issue."
"I feel fine, Shadow," Jack says, "And, anyway, the company runs physicals on me, like, every week. I swear, I've never had this much medical care in my life."
Shadow frowns, thinking about what Jesse told him about Jack's employers. "What kind of tests are they running? Do they tell you what they find?"
"Well, no," Jack admits, "But, that just probably means everything is fine, right? They'd tell me if something was wrong, I'm sure."
Shadow is not quite as sure about that as Jack is. "Please, Jack, let Dr. Hawksquill have a look at you. For me."
"All right, sure," Jack agrees, "I have to go back in to training tomorrow, but as soon as I get my next leave, I'll see the doc here." He pulls Shadow in for a strong bro hug, "I think you're worried over nothing, Shadow, but it's nice you do worry."
Ten Sims in the house is just chaos! Sorry I got no good pics of Weylin as a toddler.
Now some out takes:
"I'm going to post this on my blog."
"You post pictures of us on a blog?"
"All the time. Look."
"Shit, Laney, is that a picture of my ass?"
"I got 26 followers after I posted that one."