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Rob and just-legal Evey celebrate her birthday.

"It's good to see you son, I thought I'd...I never...I was so...oh Jacko, I thought we'd lost you...!" he faltered, his voice thick with emotion, and for once I didn't object when he called me the same name as his foul old dog, caught up in his emotion as I was. He continued to hug me, wordlessly pounding me on the back, and I was immensely glad, and immensely comforted, to have my Grandad here, along with my mum, the only constant in my life as I grew up. I glanced up, to see mum and Harry slipping out of the kitchen, giving me some time alone with him.

At last he let go of me, turning his back to mop his eyes, and then turning back to me to take me by the shoulders.

"Let me see you, Jacko, let me look at you!"

He looked long and hard at me before sitting back down at the kitchen table, motioning me to take a seat, his gaze flicking over me, subjecting me to the closest scrutiny, his sharp old eyes not missing a thing. He poured me a coffee, and handed me the toast-rack and the butter-dish.

"Your mother will do you a cooked breakfast in a minute, you and Harry both; he deserves another one, he's a good lad; he came with me this morning after breakfast to Ludlow to help me cut and load the tree, the two of you can put it up later. How are you feeling, lad? Honestly?"

I was so glad he wasn't fussing around, that he was just being himself, a little more talkative than his wont, but not intrusive, just friendly and concerned.

"I feel fine, Grandad, just weird; six months have just vanished, and suddenly I look like something out of 'Nosferatu'; I've had better awakenings, believe me!"

He grinned at that, and passed me the marmalade pot.

"A couple of weeks of your mother's cooking should take care of that, don't you worry! There's no rush to head back down to London, Harry has to go back just before Christmas, give him your keys and he'll check on the flat for you, and pick-up any bits and pieces you want; he'll bring them up when he comes back to spend Christmas with that lovely little girl of his. In the meantime, rest, eat, sleep, get your strength back. If the weather's still acting-up after New Year, take the Trooper back down to London; I've still got the Land-Rover to cope with whatever the weather throws at us up here. Otherwise, your mother will take the pair of you back down when you're ready to go."

He poured himself another coffee.

"Thing is, though, why do you need to go back any time soon? You're on the binnacle list, and will be for a while yet, Teruko's already deferred university until March, you could stay here a while and let us look after you; Harry is going to be spending a lot of time at Woolwich over the next few weeks, so he'll keep an eye on your place, actually, it was his idea, so you can rest, relax, and recuperate here at home, and you don't have to worry about anything except getting back to normal. More importantly, Teruko needs to stay here, near her mother; she needs some serious care too; I look at that little girl and all I can see is exhaustion and fear; she needs her home, and she needs her family. Think about it, son."

I already was; that was probably the longest speech I'd ever heard him make, and he was making all sorts of sense; I'd talk to Teruko when she came back from this mysterious shopping trip to Telford.

At that point, mum came in, with Harry in tow, asking what I wanted for breakfast. I plumped for the full English, Harry's eyes lighting up at that, so we adjourned to the sitting room to sit in front of the fire and enjoy the smell of fresh pine needles from the wrapped Christmas tree leaning against the wall while mum set about making my favourite breakfast.

To occupy ourselves, we set up the tree in a corner, Harry and I lifting the tree, an eight-footer, while Grandad slid the tree-jack into place and tightened the clamps. Mum and the girls had already brought down the lights and decorations, so Harry, Grandad and I whiled away the time untangling and testing the lights while we waited for breakfast.

Mum called us in to eat, and