Family, Trust, and Betrayal

(Sequel to "Home for Christmas")

 

By: Kathy and Mary Ellen

 


Authors' Notes:

Well, this story has been a long time coming but it's finally finished. Both of Mary Ellen and I want to thank everyone who sent us such great feedback on "Home for Christmas" and expressed interest in a sequel. This is for all of you. We hope you like it.

As with "Home for Christmas", many thanks to D. L. Witherspoon for the use of her characters Dr. Amanda Cuthbertson and Sadie Farmsworth.

A word of warning for those who are fond of Naomi -- you may want to bail out now. We aren't very nice to her. <VEG>

Please forgive any medical/legal errors.

This story contains minor crossovers with 'The District' (Captain Vince Hunter) and 'Law and Order' (Ben Stone).

A special thanks to Dotty for agreeing to beta this story for us. Thanks, Dotty, we really appreciate it. Any remaining mistakes are solely ours.


 

Prologue

After receiving his doctorate from Rainier, Blair had immediately accepted the position offered by Commissioner Warren. Now, more than half way through the required academy courses, he was only weeks away from becoming an official, paid consultant for the Cascade Police Department. Not only would he be able to continue working with Jim, but he'd be working with his dad as well.

Jim, wanting to have his guide by his side, suggested that they find a way for Blair to skip the academy; reasoning that he could teach Blair anything that the instructors at the academy could and do a better job at it. Joel, however, had been more realistic stating that while the Major Crime detectives would accept Blair without hesitation many others might not be so welcoming. That despite Blair's association with the department over the past several years, there was bound to be some lingering resentment, if not outright hostility, towards the recently redeemed professor.

In the end, Jim had relented and Blair began classes at the academy once the new term started. It was also agreed that Blair and Joel would keep the new aspect to their relationship quiet until Blair graduated from the academy. As it was, too many of the cadets were bound to be jealous of Blair's status as Dr. Sandburg and the fact that he would be the equivalent of a detective when he finished the academy. Even though he'd already put in more that three years of grunt work, that he'd already paid his dues, those perceptions wouldn't change and if the other cadets knew that the former bomb squad captain was Blair's father, it might serve to increase their animosity. Although Blair had earned his position with the department, many would think that it was only a result of his relationship to Joel as well as his friendship with Jim.

Blair, for his part, had mixed feelings about everything. On the one hand, he shared his father's views. On the other, he was proud of his father and wanted everyone to know of their relationship. His thoughts about Jim were even more chaotic. He wanted to be by his sentinel's side. All though Jim hadn't zoned in a while, the threat of one caused Blair a great deal of worry. He knew that Megan and Simon, as well as the others since they now knew of Jim's senses, would watch out for his partner. But that knowledge didn't lessen the guilt he felt at not being there to watch Jim's back.

 

Chapter One

"God, am I glad this day is finally," Blair said as he slowly and painfully made his way to his car. "All I want to do is get home. Hopefully before Jim so I can take care of this little accident before I have to face him. Maybe that way I won't have to tell him about it."

Driving home, Blair thought back to what had happened earlier that morning. Loaded down with books, preoccupied with thoughts about his last class, he hadn't been paying attention to his surrounding as he walked down the stairs. Suddenly, he had been startled when a loud voice had exclaimed, "Hey, fraud, you don't belong here! Quit now before you really get hurt!" Before Blair could turn around and confront the person, a violent shove to the middle of his back sent him hurtling down the stairs. Barely managing to grab a hold of the railing, badly twisting his knee in the process, he had scrapped up his leg on the stair's rough surface. A surface which, ironically enough, was intended to keep people from slipping and falling.

"I can't believe those jerks," he muttered. "I am not going to complain and I am not going to quit. Idiots think that they can drive me out. Well, they've got another thing coming."

Pulling up in front of their building, Blair groaned when he spotted Jimís new truck in its usual spot. "I just can't catch a break today," he complained as he slowly got out of his car. Limping slowly, hoping that he could get inside and get cleaned up before Jim noticed that anything was wrong, Blair said, "Hell, after all, hope springs eternal. That's what they say anyway."

* * * * *

"Hey, Chief," Jim called out when he heard Blair arrive home. "How was your day?"

In the process of hanging up his jacket, Blair froze. 'Shit,' he thought. Out loud, he answered, "It wasÖumÖokay, Jim." Dropping his backpack onto the floor, Blair started over to the kitchen to get something to drink.

Emerging from the archway connecting the two lofts, Jimís eyes narrowed as he watched his partnerís slow progress over to the refrigerator. "Youíre limping."

Not noticing Jim's entrance, Blair came to an abrupt halt. "Gee, really. Hadnít noticed." He replied a bit snidely. "Itís nothing."

"If itís nothing, then whyíd you stop?"

"Gee, Jim, I know your dad taught you some manners. I stopped to answer your question. Besides, you surprised me." Blair continued on to the fridge.

Studying Blairís movements, Jim slowly and quietly approached the other man.

After retrieving a bottle of water form the refrigerator, Blair turned around and found himself face-to-face with Jim. Jerking backwards, nearly falling, he exclaimed, "Whoa!"

Grabbing Blair, preventing him from falling, Jim warned, "Watch it, Chief!"

Blair shoved Jimís hand away. "Back off, would ya!"

"Not until you tell me whatís going on with you. Howíd you hurt your leg? Did you get it checked out?"

"I just had a little accident during the last training exercise," Blair obfuscated. "I zigged when I should have zagged. No big deal."

"SandburgÖ"

"So what do you want for dinner?" Blair asked, cutting off further questioning from Jim. Or least he hoped. "Pizza? Chinese? Italian? Itís my treat."

Instead of answering right away, Jim simply stared at his obviously nervous roommate. When Blair began to fidget, becoming uncomfortable under Jimís unwavering scrutiny, Jim finally broke the silence. "Letís try that new place by the station. I hear itís pretty good."

"That new Thai place? Blair asked. "Sounds good; Iíve been wanting to go there. Just give me a few minutes and IíllÖ"

"Youíll what?" Jim interrupted. "Limp your way up to your room? I donít think so. Iím not gonna watch you drag your ass all over the place."

"I told you that Iím fine," Blair snapped. Straightening up from his slightly off balance stance, Blair fought the urge to favor his injured leg as he made his way to the stairs that led to his bedroom "See. Fine."

"So, tell me something," Jim replied, ignoring the sarcasm. "Are you resorting to the one-word answers because youíre pissed at me or because your leg is hurting?"

With a deep sigh, Blair gave in. Too tired, both physically and mentally, to keep up the act, he admitted, "Both, man, both."

Suppressing the smile that wanted to break through his stern façade, Jim ordered, "Get your butt over to the couch and sit down, Sandburg. Iíll order the food and then check out your leg."

"Ah, Jim, really IímÖ"

"Fine," Jim finished. "Yeah, so youíve said. Just humor me, ok."

"And exactly why would I want to do that?" Blair queried as he limped over to his couch.

"If you donít cooperate, Iíll be forced to use other means of persuasion," Jim replied with just a hint of warning in his tone despite the small smile on his face.

"Oh, man, Iím shaking here." Blair grinned. "Whatíre you gonna do? Make me do even more of your paperwork?"

Jim ignored the remark. "Actually, I was trying to come up with the best way to display some pictures."

"Pictures?" Blair suspiciously asked. "What pictures?"

"Oh, those baby pictures of yours." Jim had a smirk on his face. "Thought maybe I'd show them to the guys when they come over for poker Saturday night. I know Joel would like to see them. Thereís that great one of you on the fur rug. Joel would probably love to have a blow-up of that one. Maybe two, one for his desk at work and one for home. Maybe a miniature done as a key chain, so he could show you off to complete strangers."

"The rug picture? Blair swallowed nervously. "Youíd really do that to me? Jim, you wouldnít do that! Youíre just messing with me, right? Right, Jim?"

Jim continued as if Blair hadnít spoken. "Thereís this great place by the station. They do that kind of thing there. Hey, as long as Joel's getting a key chain done, he could get a mouse pad and some refrigerator magnets. Simon will probably want some copies too. Hell, I'd like to get some myself."

"Jim," Blair whined. "You canít use that picture."

"Itís a really good picture of you Chief." Jim barely managed to keep a straight face. "Whatís the matter?"

"Whatís the matter? Blair repeated. "Jim, Iím naked in that picture. I so do not want the entire bullpen seeing my bare butt on a daily basis."

Jim laughed. "Why not, Sandburg? After all, you look so cute."

Muttering under his breath about blackmailing sentinels, Blair made his way slowly and carefully to the couch and plopped down with a sigh. "Did anyone ever tell you that youíre one evil, mean, manipulative, unscrupulous son of a bitch?"

"Once or twice." Jim smiled. "And by the way, dinnerís on me tonight. I picked up a menu from that Thai place on my way home. They deliver." Jim handed the menu to his friend. "Here, take a look while I get the stuff to take care of your leg."

"Okay," Blair agreed as he opened the menu. Intent on studying the selections, he missed Jim's brief moment of intense scrutiny.

Shaking his head, Jim made his way over to his bathroom to get the needed supplies. 'Obfuscate all you want, Chief,' he thought, 'it may work on everybody else, but it doesn't work on me. After dinner I'm going to get some real answers out of you, partner.'

Returning with the supplies, Jim found out what Blair wanted and then made a brief detour to order dinner. Hanging up the phone, he gathered up the supplies from where he had dumped them on the counter. Going over to the couch, he knelt down in front of his wounded partner. Holding Blairís foot gently in one hand, he skimmed his other hand over the wounded leg. Eyeing the scrapes, bruising, and swelling, he asked, "Want to tell me how this happened, Chief?"

"I told you, Jim, it was a training accident."

"Must have been one hell of an accident," Jim stated. "You know, you donít have to do this. You donít have to go through this. We could have found a way to get you out of it."

"Do what?" Blair asked. "You mean the Police Academy?" Blair rolled his eyes. "Jim, weíve been through this. Simon and I have been through this. My dad and I have been through this." Smiling in spite of the tension between him and Jim, pleased at being able to refer to Joel as 'my dad,' Blair paused for a moment before continuing. "Rafe, Henri, Al and Rhonda have been through this with me. Hell, even your dad has been through this with me. Going to the academy is something I have to do, Jim."

"But, BlairÖ"

"For me, Jim. Itís something I have to do for me," Blair interrupted. "Please understand. Itís not like I have to go through the whole program. Just self-defense, some classes on police procedure, and firearms training. Stuff I need to back you up effectively."

"Hell, Sandburg, youíve been backing me up for years and doing a hell of a job. All without going to the Academy," Jim growled. "Why is this so important to you?"

"It just is, Jim," Blair insisted stubbornly. "I justÖItís just something I have to do. Please, just accept it."

"When youíre ready, will you come talk to me?"

Leaning his head back against the couch, Blair closed his eyes. "Iíll try, Jim. Iíll try."

Turning his attention back to Blairís injured leg, Jim once again gently slid his finger over it. Turning up his sense of touch, he checked for any serious injury. "Itís just sprained," he announced. "But youíll need to stay off of it this weekend."

Grabbing the bottle of liniment, Jim poured some into his cupped hand. After warming it in his hand for a moment, he began to lightly rub it into the injured knee. "You should be okay by Monday but youíll need to take it easy in class. You donít want to re-injure it."

Wrapping the injured knee, Jim became worried about Blair's silence. "You know, thereís something else Iím wondering about," he said. "Why wasnít this treated at the Academy? Your instructor would have had to make out an injury report and should have sent you to the infirmary as soon as it happened."

Worried that Jim would hear how his heartbeat sped up in response to the questioning, Blair was relieved to see that the older man was concentrating on wrapping his knee and apparently didnít hear it. Frantically, he thought for a few minutes before finally coming up with an answer. "Yeah, well, it happened right at the end of class. The instructor was way at the other end of the training field so I didnít tell her about it. Besides, I knew you would take care of it. After all, youíre still my blessed protector, arenít you?"

Jim, having been very aware of his best friendís increased heartbeat and respiration, persisted, "But still, she should haveÖ"

"Please, Jim, can we just drop it?" Blair pleaded. He gave Jim a weak smile. "I'm tired and I don't feel like getting into this right now."

At that moment, a knock sounded. Giving Blair a final look, Jim stood up and walked over to the door. Opening it, he accepted the bags of take-out and paid the delivery guy. When Blair started to rise from the couch, Jim said, "Stay put, Sandburg. I'll bring you a plate. We can watch some TV while we eat." Seeing Blair lean back against the couch, Jim started fixing their supper. Keeping part of his attention focused on his guide, he thought, "This isnít over yet, partner. This discussion will definitely be continued."

* * * * *

Despite Jim's many attempts at prying some more information from his uncharacteristically silent partner, Blair refused to tell him any more at the incident at the academy. Now, Monday morning, Jim watched with apprehension as Blair prepared to leave for class.

Seeing Blair wince as he bent over to pick-up his backpack, Jim advised, "Remember to take it easy on that knee today."

"Jim, I think Joel would be kind of upset to know that you're vying for his job."

Ignoring the sarcasm, Jim said, "Just don't try and overdo it today."

"Whatever." Blair walked out the door, slamming it behind him.

"You have a good day too, dear," Jim called out, smiling as Blair's resulting string of muffled expletives reached his ears.

* * * * *

Still concerned about his partner, Jim's mind was preoccupied as he entered the bullpen and walked over to his desk. His reverie was interrupted when something struck him in the chest. Looking down at the waded up piece of paper as it bounced off him and dropped to the floor, he gave it a kick as he looked around the bullpen for the culprit. Spotting the smirk on Megan's face, he asked, "Haven't you got anything better to do?"

"Besides irritate you, you mean?" Megan shook her head. "Not that I can think of."

"It's nice to know you're earning your pay there, Connor," Jim retorted as he sat down at his desk.

The inspector stood up and walked over to Jim's desk. "I wouldn't get too comfortable, Ellison. The captain wants us to go interview some witnesses in the Martin case."

"I thought that Brown and Rafe were handling that one."

"They were, but the Smith court case got moved up and they're currently testifying," Megan explained. "That leaves you and me, mate."

"Well if this just isn't my lucky day," Jim replied. "I spend the weekend with a cranky roommate and now I get to spend the day with you."

Concerned, Megan asked, "Is Sandy okay? Is something wrong?"

Hesitating for a moment, not sure if he should confide in Megan, Jim lowered his eyes. Thinking back to the times when Megan had been there for his partner, and for him as well, Jim came to a decision. "I'll tell you in the truck, okay?"

Sensing Jim's uneasiness, Megan joked, "What makes you think that I'm going to let you drive?"

"Because that's the only way that I'd go anywhere with you." Jim smirked. "Now let's go."

Once they were in Jim's truck and on their way to interview the first witness, Megan said, "So tell me what's going on with Sandy."

Sighing, Jim explained, "I don't know exactly and that's what's bothering me. He came home Friday with his knee all messed up. Said that it was just a little accident during a training exercise."

"Okay. That seems reasonable enough. Some aspects of the academy can get pretty intense I'd wager."

"I realize that," Jim replied. "I just get the feeling that there's more to it than what he told me. Something's going on and he's not talking about it."

"Going on at the academy? What do you think it is? Trouble with the other cadets?"

"Maybe." Jim shrugged. "I just wish that he'd talk to me about it. I want to help him, but I can't do that until he comes to me about it."

Snorting, Megan asked, "When has Sandy's not coming to you ever stopped you before?"

"You're right," Jim agreed. "Maybe it's time I pulled a little BPM and paid a visit to the academy. Make some discrete inquires."

"Okay, first, what in the hell in a 'BPM' and second, you being discrete? I don't think so."

"Hey, I can do discrete?" After a repeated snort from Megan, Jim insisted, "Really, I can." Glancing at Megan, he smiled. "Okay, maybe not all that discrete."

"Now that I can believe," Megan replied. "So?"

"So what?"

"So what's this 'BPM'?"

Giving Megan a sheepish look, Jim answered, "It's Ö um Ö well." Trailing off, the then mumbled something else.

"What was that, mate? I didn't quite catch that. I'm not the one with the super ears."

Rolling his eyes, Jim repeated, "Blessed Protector Maneuver."

Laughing, Megan gasped out, "What?" Seeing Jim squirm, she said, "Ooh, I think that's there's a very interesting story there."

Pulling up in front of a small, cozy-looking house, Jim replied, "Interesting would be one word for it. Then again, frightening and terrifying would work too."

"Jim?"

"It's just related to an old case, Connor. One that I don't like to talk about. Or even think about for that matter."

"Was SandyÖ"

"Don't you even think about asking him about it," Jim interrupted. "Do you hear me, Connor?"

"Sure thing, mate," Megan replied. "Whatever you say."

"Good, now let's go talk to these people." Having said that, Jim got out of the truck.

Wincing when Jim slammed the door shut, Megan thought, 'Seems like I need to make some discrete inquiries of my own.'

Following behind Jim as he stormed up to the front door and proceeded to pound on it, Megan said, "We're just here to interview them, Ellison. I don't think that the big, bad cop routine is necessary."

"Connor, IÖ" Jim began but stopped when the door opened.

"Yes, can I help you?" A soft voice hesitantly asked.

Jim pulled out his badge. "Ma'am, I'm Detective Ellison and this is Inspector Connor. We need to ask you a few questions."

The woman peered at the two officers from behind the cracked door. "About what?"

"We need to ask you some questions about a Gilbert Martin," Jim answered.

"Gil? What about him?"

"Well, if you'll just let us in, we'll tell you what we can, Mrs. Jackson." Jim's voice became tense as he began to lose his patience.

"Let me see your badge again," the woman demanded. "Both of them."

"Now, look hereÖ"

Stepping forward, pushing Jim aside, Megan pulled out her badge. "Of course, Ma'am. No problem. Can't be too careful now-a-days, can you?"

"No, you can't."

After putting her badge away, Megan turned to Jim. "Show her your badge, Ellison."

"Oh for the love ofÖ" Shaking his head, Jim pulled out his badge and shoved it towards the woman. "Satisfied now?"

His hearing suddenly spiking, Jim tackled Megan and brought them both crashing to the ground just as the door was flung open and several shots rang out. Lunging upward, Jim grabbed a hold of Mrs. Jackson and they began to struggle over the gun.

"Jim!" Megan cried out when another shot sounded. Horrified, she watched as Jim and the woman fell back into the house. Struggling to her feet, side aching from where Jim had impacted against her, Megan raced into the house. Spotting Jim sitting on the floor, a hand clenching his bloodied arm, she let out a sigh of relief. Glancing towards an unconscious Mrs. Jackson, she asked, "Are you all right?"

"Does it look like I'm all right?" Jim asked, irritation lacing every word.

Pulling out her cell phone, Megan quickly dialed the station to have them send a patrol car to pick up Mrs. Jackson and an ambulance for Jim.

Hearing Megan's call, Jim complained, "C'mon, Connor, I don't need an ambulance. After the patrol car shows up and takes Annie Oakley over there into custody, you can take me to the hospital."

"Oh, so now you're gonna let me drive?" Megan retorted. "No way, mate. If Sandy found out that I didn't have you checked out immediately, he'll have my hide. Normally, that wouldn't be such a bad thing, but in this instance I don't think that I'd enjoy the experience very much."

"Connor, I'm in enough pain as it is," Jim replied, "and even though thought of you and Sandburg together makes it escalate into intense agony."

Chuckling, Megan squatted down next to Jim and began to inspect his wound.

Pulling his arm away, Jim hissed in pain and then growled, "Watch it, Connor."

"Quit being just a baby, Ellison." There was a hint of amusement in Megan's voice. "It's just a scratch."

"Well, it doesn't feel like a scratch."

Worried, Megan lowered her voice. "Jim, are you having trouble with the Ö with the you know."

"What?"

"The dials," Megan hissed. "Are you having trouble with the dials?"

"They're a little out of whack," Jim confessed. "But it's nothing that I can't handle until I see Sandburg tonight. He'll fix it. He always does."

"JimÖ"

"I'll be fine," Jim interrupted. "I can deal with it."

"Maybe I should call Sandy."

"No." Jim shook his head in protest. "I don't want to bother him. He's got enough to worry about right now. And don't you tell him about the dials either. Like I said, I can handle it."

Uncertain, Megan began, "I don'tÖ"

"I mean it, Connor," Jim cut in. "Not a word."

Before Megan could respond, the officers and paramedics arrived. Giving Jim a final, uneasy glance, she went to talk to the patrolmen as the paramedics began treating Jim.

* * * * *

After a quick examination, hastened by Jim's incessant complaints and increasingly vocal grumbling, the paramedics loaded the wounded detective into the ambulance and took him to the hospital. Now, impatiently sitting on a gurney, Jim turned to the nurse and growled, "Exactly how much longer is this going to take anyway?"

"The doctor will be here momentarily, Sir."

"Yeah, well, I hope so." Under his breath, he added, "As it is, Sandburg gonna give me hell when he finds out about this; but it'll be worse if he hears about it from someone besides me."

"What was that, Sir?"

"Nothing." Then the door opened and Jim looked up as the doctor entered. "Well it's about time."

Smiling, Dr. Amanda Cuthbertson said, "It's nice to see you too, Jim." Expression turning serious, she added, "But what exactly are you doing back here again so soon? After what happened at Christmas time, didn't I tell you that I didn't want to see you back here for six months?"

"Yeah, like that was going to happen. You were just deluding yourself there, Doc."

Chuckling, Dr. Cuthbertson approached Jim and began to examine his arm. "Well, let's see what you've managed to do to yourself this time, Detective."

After examining Jim's arm, Dr. Cuthbertson was stitching up the gouge made by the bullet. "You were lucky this time, Jim," she said as she finished the last stitch and tied it off. "The bullet just grazed you." Putting on a bandage, she stated, "What is it with you and that partner of yours anyway? You two seem to be showing up here a lot lately."

"What are you talking about?" Jim asked. "I know that it hasn't been all that long since I've been here, but Sandburg hasn't been here for a while."

"But just last weekÖ" Trailing off, Dr. Cuthbertson gave Jim an intense, unreadable look.

"Last week what?" Jim asked when Dr. Cuthbertson didn't continue. "Is there something going on that I should know about?"

"Jim, have you seen a lot of Blair lately?"

"I seen him every day," Jim answered. "Well, at least every night during the week. He's been going to the academy during the day. We spend every weekend together though. Why?"

"Listen, Jim, I don't really feel comfortable discussing this without Blair's approval," Dr. Cuthbertson said. "I can't break any doctor/patient confidentiality."

"Listen, Doc, I think you'd better cut the crap and tell me what in the hell is going on here."

"JimÖ" Doctor Cuthbertson began. Before she could finish, Sadie rushed into the room.

Pausing as she caught sight of Jim, Sadie hesitated briefly before saying, "Dr. C, you're needed in exam area two. There was someone brought in and I think that you'll want to treat this patient yourself."

"Sadie, I'm with Detective Ellison at the moment," Dr. Cuthbertson replied. "I'm sure someone else can handle it."

"But it'sÖ"

"What, Sadie?" Dr. Cuthbertson prompted when the nurse fell silent.

Sadie bestowed a sad, sympathetic look on Jim. "It's Blair. He was just brought into the emergency room."

"Again?" Dr. Cuthbertson asked.

Reeling from Sadie's news, Jim almost missed Dr. Cuthbertson's murmured word. Glaring at the doctor, he demanded, "Wait a minute. What do you mean by 'again'?"

  

Chapter Two

"Jim, weíll discuss this later," Dr. Cuthbertson said. "Right now, I need to get to Blair."

"Fine, Dr. C," Jim agreed. "But we will definitely be discussing this later."

Nodding, Dr. Cuthbertson turned to Sadie and instructed, "Sadie, would you finished dressing Detective Ellisonís wound and then see about getting him discharged." Looking at Jim again, she added, "After youíre discharged, you can check up on Blair."

Leaving Jim to Sadieís care, confident that the nurse could keep Jim under control for the time being, Dr. Cuthbertson hurried out of the room.

As soon as the doctor left, Jim turned to the nurse. "Címon, Sadie, let me go on down there. We can handle the paperwork later."

"Jim, right now, youíd do more harm than good. Give Dr. C. a chance to help Blair. Youíll see him soon. I promise."

Sighing, Jim relented, "Okay. Iíll stay here for now. But youíve got to tell me what Dr. C. meant by Ďagainí."

"Jim, I really shouldnítÖ"

"Címon, Sadie, I need to know."

After a slight hesitation, Sadie explained, "Blair has been a frequent visitor to the ER over the past few weeks. Usually, itís something minor. A sprain, some cuts. The most serious was a bruised rib. Each time he came in, I offered to call you but he refused. He said that you were busy on a case and that he didnít want to bother you."

"Exactly how often had he been here?"

"Once or twice a week over the past two months."

"Since he began going to the academy," Jim murmured to himself. "I knew something was going on." He raised his voice. "Sadie, can you go get my discharge papers ready? I want to get to Blair as soon as possible and thereís a few phone calls that I need to make."

"Iíll go see if I can hurry them along."

"Thanks," Jim called out as the nurse left the room. Dialing up his hearing, Jim relaxed slightly when he picked up on Blairís slow, but steady, heartbeat. "Youíd better be alright, Sandburg," he whispered. "Why didnít you come to me about this, Chief? I would have done something. I am going to do something. This wonít be happening again."

Several minutes later, Sadie returned with Jimís discharge papers. "Here you go, Detective," she said as she entered the room. "Youíre all set. Just remember to take care of that arm."

Standing up, Jim took the papers from Sadie. "I will, Sadie." Then, he went to find his guide.

Standing in the hallway, Megan saw Jim leave the treatment room and head down the hall. "Jim," she called out. When Jim turned around, she hurried over to him. "Whatís going on?"

"Sandburg is in the emergency room too," Jim informed her. "While Dr. C. was treating my arm, Sadie came in to get her."

"Is he all right? What happened?"

"I donít know how he is," Jim answered. "Thatís why Iím going down there now to find something out. As for what happened, Iíve got a pretty good idea. Címon, Iíll tell you about it on the way down there."

* * * * *

When Jim finished explaining the situation, Megan exclaimed, "Those wankers! Iíll go down there and kick their asses!"

"Youíd have to get in line after me," Jim growled. "When I find out whoís responsible for this, IíllÖ" Trailing off, Jim sighed in frustration. "I just canít understand why he didnít tell me about it."

"He probably thought that he could handle it himself," Megan replied. "You know how Sandy is, never wants anyone, especially the gang at the station, to see him as weak or helpless."

"But, itís different with me."

"Is it?" Megan asked. "Seems to me that itís even more true when itís you."

"And what exactly do you mean by that, Connor?"

"You and Sandy, youíve been through some pretty rough times lately," Megan explained. "There for a while, we werenít sure if the two of you would ever work through your differences. Both of you, you almost let everything that happened drive you apart for good. Like it or not, that affected both of you and your friendship. Youíve both still got a lot of issues to deal with and it seems to me that you both, especially Sandy, are still learning how to trust each other again."

"Youíre saying that Sandburg didnít come to me with this because he doesnít trust me?"

"Iím saying that the two of you need to sit down and have a long talk," Megan replied. "About everything. Alex, the dissertation, everything that happened over Christmas, Sandyís stint at the academy; youíve never really dealt with any of these things. Until you do, youíll never be back to the way you were."

"Maybe we donít need to be back to the way we were," Jim mused. "Seems to me that thatís why we got screwed up in the first place."

"I donít understand."

"Nothing, Connor," Jim replied. "Itís nothing. But youíre right about one thing. Sandburg and I will definitely be having a talk later." He turned to face Megan. "Look, Iím going to go check on Sandburg. Would you go check in at the station and tell Simon whatís going on? Maybe he can start checking out things at the academy."

"All right," Megan agreed. "But as soon as Iím done, Iíll be back. I want to know how Sandy is doing."

Jim watched as Megan walked over to the payphones. Then, he followed the sound of Blair's heartbeat to the examination room. Once there, despite the protests of several nurses and orderlies, he went drew back the curtain. "Fuck!" he exclaimed when he saw Blairís unconscious form laying on the gurney.

Hearing the yelled expletive, Dr. Cuthbertson turned around. "Jim, what are you doing back here?"

Holding up the papers that Sadie had given him, Jim replied, "You said I had to wait until after I was discharged. Well, I was so here I am. Whatís wrong with Sandburg?"

"Jim, you really need to go back to the waitingÖ"

"Iím not going anywhere until you tell me whatís wrong with my partner," Jim interrupted as he continued into the room and came to stand by Blairís bedside. "Why is he unconscious?"

"He took a pretty severe blow to the back of his head," Dr. Cuthbertson explained. "Iím getting ready to send him for a CAT scan right now. We should know something more after that."

"Itís not serious, is it?" Jim was worried at seeing his usually hyper friend lying there so still and pale.

"Like I said, weíll know more after the scan," Dr. Cuthbertson reiterated.

"Well, what about besides the head wound?" Jim gestured towards Blair's body. "Are there any other injuries?"

"A few bruises and lacerations," Dr. Cuthbertson informed. "And his knee has been pretty badly sprained."

"I know about the knee. It was messed up when he came home Friday."

"Did he say how it happened?"

"Some sort of accident during a training exercise at the academy," Jim replied. "At least thatís what he said."

"Well it seems as if heís had quite a few of these little accidents lately," Dr. Cuthbertson remarked.

"I know, Dr. C. and, believe me, I intend to get to the bottom of it."

"Well, you can do that from out in the waiting room," the doctor instructed. "Iíll come get you as soon as Blairís back from getting the scan."

"ButÖ"

"Thereís nothing you can do for him right now, Jim." Dr. Cuthbertson's tone was sympathetic. "Right now, youíd only get in the way. Go wait and let us do our job. Weíll take good care of Blair. You know that."

Reluctantly, Jim nodded. "All right. But youíd better come and get me as soon as heís back."

"I will," Dr. Cuthbertson promised.

Reaching out to grasp Blairís slack hand, Jim leaned over and whispered, "Hang in there, partner. Iíll be right here if you need me." Releasing Blairís hand, Jim took one last lingering look at his guide and then left the room.

* * * * *

Arriving in the waiting room, Jim found Megan already there waiting on him. "Hey, Connor. What did Simon say?"

"In a minute," Megan replied. "First, tell me how Sandy is doing?"

Jim sat down next to Megan. "Unconscious. Dr. C. said that he received a pretty bad blow to his head. Theyíre getting ready to do a CAT scan now and see whatís going on. She said that sheíd come get me as soon as Sandburg was brought back to the ER."

"Did she give you any idea as to how serious it was?"

"No. She didnít tell me much of anything. I guess she wanted to wait until they found something out. What about Simon? What did he say?"

"He and Joel are on their way here. Brown and Rafe were back from court so he sent them to the academy. Theyíre going to question the instructors and cadets. See if they can find out if what happened to Sandy was academy related or not."

"Maybe we can do some investigating of our own while we wait," Jim said. "Iíll go nuts just sitting here."

"What did you have in mind?"

"We could find out how Sandburg got here. If an ambulance brought him in then we could talk to the paramedics. See what they know."

"Sounds good to me." Megan looked over toward the examination rooms. "But what about Sandy? How are we going to know when he and Dr. C get back from the scan?"

Jim tapped his ear. "Iíll know." Standing up, he said, "Letís start with the admittance desk. Theyíve got to know something about how Sandburg got here."

Arriving at the admittance desk, Jim and Megan had to wait while someone was being admitted to the ER. Impatience getting the better of him, Jim took a step forward and pulled out his badge. "Excuse me, but I really need to ask someone a few questions."

"Certainly, Detective," the nurse replied. "Iíll be with you as soon as possible."

"Look, lady, IÖ"

"That will be fine," Megan interrupted as she grabbed Jimís uninjured arm and hauled the detective back a few steps. "We can wait."

After the nurse had turned her attention back to the patient, Jim turned to Megan. "What in the hell are you doing, Connor? We need some answers."

"Yes, we do," Megan agreed. "But donít you think that sheíll be a little bit more forthcoming if we donít start interrogating her? Losing your temper isnít going to do Sandy any good."

Grumbling a few inaudible comments, Jim relented.

Finished with the person she had been helping, the nurse addressed Jim and Megan. "Can I help you?"

Quickly stepping in front of Jim, Megan replied, "Yes, we have a few questions about a patient that was admitted just a little while ago."

"What is the patientís name?"

"Blair Sandburg," Megan answered. "We need to know who brought him here. Was it an ambulance?"

"Just a moment and Iíll check." The nurse looked down and began accessing a computer. "Our records indicate that someone brought him in," the woman said after a few minutes. "A Greg Williams checked Mr. Sandburg into the hospital. He was required to show his ID since Mr. Sandburg was unconscious. But he left soon after Mr. Sandburg was taken back into a treatment room."

"Did you happen to get any other information from him?" Megan asked. "Address, phone number?"

"Well, I did make a copy of his ID," the nurse replied. "I donít know why though. Itís not standard procedure. But something about the manís behavior just made me suspicious."

"Why?" Jim took a step forward. "Exactly how was he acting?"

"Being here in the ER, you tend to become pretty good at reading peopleís body language," the nurse explained, "and this gentleman, he just acted like he felt guilty. He seemed pretty anxious to leave yet also reluctant at the same time. Pretty torn actually. Like he wanted to stay and see how Mr. Sandburg was doing but was scared to do so." Seeing the looks of surprise on the faces of the two police officers, the nurse added, "Itís been a pretty slow day today. Besides Mr. Sandburg, weíve only had three other people come in for treatment. Since Mr. Sandburgís injuries were the most severe, his case drew my attention. Besides, I always tend to keep a pretty close eye on the happenings around here. Things can get pretty crazy sometimes."

"I image," Megan said. "Could you please get us a copy of Mr. Williamsí ID?"

"Right away."

When the woman went to retrieve the paper, Jim turned to Megan. "We need to get a hold of Brown and Rafe, have them check to see if this guy is in any of Sandburgís classes."

"What guy?" A loud voice asked.

Turning around, Jim and Megan saw a very concerned looking Joel and Simon standing behind them.

"Simon, Joel," Jim greeted.

"Whatís going on, Jim?" Joel asked. "Howís Blair? Megan didnít have a lot of details."

"And we still donít," Jim replied. "Sandburgís getting a CAT scan right now. Dr. C. said that he received a blow to the back of his head and theyíre checking that out. Other than that, heís got some bruises and cuts. And I think that he re-injured his knee some."

"Re-injured his knee?" Joel asked. "Jim, tell me what in the hell is going on with my son and tell me now!"

"UmÖ excuse me," a voice said, "but Iíve got that information for you."

Turning around, Megan took that paper from the nurse. "Thank you. If we have any further questions, weíll let you know." Facing the group of men once again, Megan said, "Why donít we take this to the waiting room."

"I donít care where we go just as long as someone tells me whatís going on with my son!"

"Weíll tell you everything that we know, Joel," Jim promised. "But so far, itís not a whole hell of a lot."

* * * * *

Once they were seated in the waiting room, Jim said, "Well, I guess that I should start with Friday." Receiving a nod of encouragement from Joel, he continued. "When Sandburg got home, I noticed that he was limping. He tried to give me some bull about an accident during a training exercise, but I didnít buy it."

"Why not?" Joel asked.

"Like Sandburg once said, Iím a human lie detector," Jim answered as he tapped his ear once again.

"Oh."

"Yeah," Jim agreed. "Anyway, I took a look at his knee and fixed it up but I was never able to get anything else out of him. Then, when Dr. C. was treating my arm, Sadie came in and said that Sandburg was in the ER. Before I could ask any questions, I heard Dr. C. say Ďagainí. After she left to take care of Blair, I managed to get an explanation as to what she meant."

"And what did she mean?" Joel prompted when Jim didnít elaborate.

"Apparently, Blairís been a frequent visitor to the ER since he started up at the academy," Jim explained. "Sadie said that heís been here once or twice a week for two months now."

"And you suspect that his classmates have something to do with it?" The question came from Simon this time.

"Yeah, I do," Jim confirmed.

"What about this guy that you were talking about?" Simon asked.

"The nurse said that this guy Greg Williams brought Sandburg in this afternoon," Jim answered. "I think that Brown and Rafe should check him out while they're at the academy, see if heís in Sandburgís class."

"What did Blair have to say?" Joel asked.

"Well, Joel," Jim began. Looking down, he continued, "Sandburg has been unconscious ever since he was brought here. He hasnít woken up yet."

"Shit!" Joel exclaimed, this outburst from the usually jovial man surprising the other officers. "If his injuries are a result of some kind of harassment, Iím going to go down there andÖ"

"Kick some ass," Jim finished. He laid a hand on Joelís shoulder. "Youíre too late, Joel. Connor and I have already called dibs on that."

Knowing that Jimís remark was an attempt to lessen his worry, Joel smiled. "As Blairís father, Iím invoking my parental right to go down there and seek a little bit of retaliation for my son. Simon, you can back me up on this one, canít you?"

Glancing between the two men, Simon smiled. "Donít look at me. Iím staying out of this one. Besides, Iíd like to do down there and kick some tail myself." Sobering, Simon said, "Look, Iím gonna step outside and call Brown. He and Rafe should be at the academy by now and Iíll have them look into this Williams guy. See if he really is a cadet or not."

Sensing that Jim and Joel might like some time alone, Megan said, "I'll go with you, Sir."

"I don't think that's necessary, Conner," Simon replied as he stood up.

Trying to be discreet, Megan gave the other two men a sideward glance. "Really, Captain, I'd like to go along. Find out if they've come up with anything yet."

Simon got the hint. "Oh, okay. Well, weíll be back as soon as we can."

Watching Megan and Simon walk off, Jim said, "No matter what, weíll find the guys that did this, Joel. And one way or another, theyíre pay for what they did to Blair."

Unnerved by Jimís words, not to mention the way in which Jim had said his sonís name, Joel didnít respond as he tried to decipher exactly why that vow caused a shiver to run through his body. Joel turned to look at Jim. He couldnít help wondering exactly how well he really knew this man that he had considered a friend for several years. Taking a closer look, seeing the way Jimís head was tilted slightly to the side, Joel remembered seeing Jim strike a similar posture before.

Struck by a sudden realization, Joel thought, ĎHeís listening in on Blair. Trying to find out whatís going on.í Continuing his study of the other man, he wondered, ĎBut what am I seeing? Is it a friend worrying about an injured friend? Or is it a Sentinel worried about his injured Ö guide? My son is this manís guide. Blair is Jimís guide.í It was then that Joel finally recognized the tone in which Jim had said his sonís name. And he knew why it caused such a reaction in him. ĎHis tone, when he said Blairís name, it sounded like possession. Ownership.í Another shiver racked his body. ĎOne thing is clear, as soon as I know that my son is safe, Jim Ellison and I will be having a very serious discussion.í

Both men were so caught up in their concerns for Blair that neither of them noticed the figure that detached itself from the shadows and quietly left the hospital. Escaping outside, the man pulled out a cell phone. "It's me, he was brought in again." After a moment, he stated, "I don't know yet, he's hasn't regained consciousness yet. Yes, Ellison and Taggart are here. Banks and that Connor woman as well." The man paused again. "If that's how you want it, then that's how it'll be." Snapping the phone shut, the man went back into the hospital to continue his surveillance.

Across town, Naomi Sandburg hung up the phone. "So, he's been hurt again. I won't let this continue. I know what's best for my baby even if he doesn't. Ellison and Taggart certainly aren't what's best for him. One way or another, I'll get my son back from those pigs." Smiling, she said, "Looks like it's time for us to have a little chat, Detective Ellison."

* * * * *

Huddled together on the police academy athletic field, tension radiated from all six men as they began to argue. Nervously glancing around, the dark-haired, lanky young man hissed, "You guys went way too far. I canít keep this quiet anymore."

Reaching out, John Adams grabbed the shoulder of the man standing in front of him. Leaning forward, using his larger size to intimidate the smaller cadet, he demanded, "What are you talking about? You were all gung ho for getting rid of the little fag. What changed? Maybe you're getting some from him too. He's already putting out for all of Major Crimes so what's one more, huh?"

Shrugging off the hold, Greg Williams glared at his fellow cadet. Taking a deep breath, he took a moment to calm his racing thoughts. 'God, how did I ever get mixed up in this? All I ever wanted was to be a cop like my dad and now look at me. Shit, I know that Sandburg doesn't belong here. He's an insult to everything the PD stands for. No matter what the university said, the guy publicly admitted to fraud. And he's going to be a detectiveís full time partner? But assault? That was illegal. Hell, we're training to be cops and here we are breaking the law.'

Looking up as Adams took a step towards him, Greg held up a hand to halt the other cadet's advancement. "Sandburg was unconscious when I left him at the hospital. If he dies, youíve committed murder! And I'm an accessory to that. Hell, Adams, we all want to be cops, don't we? So tell me something? How do murder and being cops go together?"

The other five men looked at him with disgust.

"Williams, youíre soft. You rat us out, weíll go after you too. You know what happens to rats, donít you?" Josh Short snarled.

Staring at the other man, the self-proclaimed ringleader of the group, Williams briefly wondered just why the man hated Sandburg so much. "Don't threaten me, Short. I'm not going to just stand there and take your shit like Sandburg does. You make a move against me and I'll go straight to Ellison. I'm sure that he'd like to have a little talk with the guys who put his partner in the hospital."

"You wouldn't dare. After all, we wouldn't want daddy to know about our extra curricular activities, would we?"

"Just back off, Short. All I'm saying is that weÖ"

"We need to break this up for now, that's what we need to do," Short interrupted. "You can bet that those Major Crime detectives are going to be here asking questions. We need to get our story straight. Remember, guys, we were just studying and none of us have had any kind of interactions with the fag." After receiving an answering nod from the others, Short turned to Williams again. "As for you, Williams, you just remember to keep your mouth shut. If you turn on us, you'll get a little taste of what we've been dishing out to Sandburg. Then I'm going to pay your old man a little visit!"

Watching as his fellow cadets walked away, Williams again wondered exactly how it got himself mixed up in this and how he could get out of it without winding up in a cell.

* * * * *

Getting out of their car, Brian Rafe and Henri Brown were furious as they made their way into the academy. Still reeling from the news that Sandburg had been hurt, and from what Banks had said it wasnít the first time, they were going to get to the bottom of this and find out who had hurt their friend.

Pausing as a soft beeping noise sounded from his coat pocket, Brown pulled out his cell phone. "Hey, Rafe, hang on a second."

Stopping, Rafe turned to watch as his partner answered the call. Concerned over the deepening frown on the other man's face, Rafe wondered if Blair's condition had taken a turn for the worse.

"Did you say Williams?" Brown asked, disturbing his partner's musings. "Shit, Captain, I think I know that guy. If he's the one that I'm thinking about, that is. There's a Detective Sam Williams in Homicide and he's got a kid named Greg." After a few seconds of silence, he added, "We've got it covered, sir. You can count on us. If this guy is responsible for the kid getting hurt, we'll take him down no matter who his father is. As soon as we find out anything we'll let you know."

"What's happening?" Rafe asked when Brown slammed his phone shut.

Shoving the phone back into his pocket, Brown started to walk towards the entrance again. "That was the captain. Seems Ellison and Connor found out that some guy named Greg Williams dumped Hairboy in the emergency room and then took off."

"And this guy is a cop's kid?"

"That's what we're going to find out," Brow replied. "Last I heard Detective Williams' kid was planning on attending the academy. So before this is over, we may end up having to bust a cop's kid."

"Oh man, that's not going to be pretty."

"Tell me about it," Brown commiserated. "But, hell, if this guy messed with Sandburg then he's going down."

"Going down hard," Rafe agreed. "Nobody messes with one of us, no matter who they are."

"You said it, babe."

Caught up in their thoughts, both men remained silent as they continued on towards the building.

Once inside, they headed for the commandant's office. Brown cleared his throat when they reached the receptionist's desk.

Hastily putting aside some papers, the administrative assistant looked up in surprise. "What can I do for you, gentlemen?"

Holding up his badge, Brown announced, "I'm Detective Brown and this is my partner Detective Rafe." He glanced down at the nameplate. "Sergeant Hughes, we need speak to Captain Jones about Blair Sandburg."

"Blair Sandburg?" Hughes asked, surprise evident on his face. "I was just filling out some paperwork on him. He missed his afternoon classes." Leaning forward, voice dropping to a conspirator's soft tone, he added, "I can't say that I'm all that surprised. Everyone here knows that he shouldn't be at the academy yet alone associated with the force. The guy's a disgrace to all of us. I'm not surprised he took off. He's nothing but aÖ aÖ" Finally noticing the twin glares directed his way, he came to a stumbling halt.

"He Ďmissedí the class because heís unconscious in the emergency room," Rafe hissed. "Now we need to talk to the commandant right now. And while you're sitting there doing nothing, how about finding out if a Greg Williams is a cadet here. If he is, then track him down and get his ass in here. We need to talk to him as well."

"Alright, gentlemen," the now flustered sergeant replied. "Let me apprise Captain Jones of the situation and then Iíll check on this Greg Williams. Please take a seat." After the two detectives had walked away, the sergeant picked up the phone and buzzed the commandant.

About five minutes later, an extremely disturbed looking man emerged from a door marked, 'Commandant'. Approaching the seated men, he stated, "Good day, gentlemen. I'm Captain Jones, please come into my office so we can discuss this matter."

Gesturing for the two detectives to precede him, Captain Jones exchanged an uneasy glance with the sergeant before following after them. Once inside, he indicated for Rafe and Brown to take a seat before he went over to sit behind his desk. "So, how can I help you?"

"Earlier today, Blair Sandburg was brought into Cascade General by a Greg Williams."

"Greg Williams?"

Hearing the recognition in the captain's tone, Rafe confirmed, "Yes, sir. The admitting nurse made a copy of his ID. There is no doubt."

"Are you aware who Cadet Williams' father is?" Jones queried.

Brown and Rafe exchanged a brief glance, silently communicating their desire to play dumb. "Why would that make any difference?" Brown asked.

"Cadet Williams comes from a very respectable family," Jones answered. "His father is a distinguished police officer himself and there is no way that his son would be involved with the likes of Sandburg."

"The likes of Sandburg?" Anger evident in his tone, Brown leaned forward. "Whether you like it or not, Sandburg is a cadet at this academy. As commandant, it is your duty not only to provide an example of how a cop should act but to also ensure the safety of everyone here. Donít you care that a cadet was hurt and then dumped at the hospital?"

"Sandburg is NOT a cadet. He is merely taking a few classes. For some reason, in spite of his questionable background, heís been allowed to attend the academy. Not only that, he'll be partnered with Ellison on a full time basis once he's done. If I had been consulted or given a choice in the matter, he would not be here. Heís a disgrace and an admitted fraud!" The captain was clearly furious. "I suppose you wish to question Williams?"

"Yes sir, we do," Brown answered. "As well as the other cadets in Sandburg's classes."

"And just who gave you the authorization to conduct interviews of my cadets?"

"Captain Banks, that's who." Growing angry at the captain's behavior, Brown gripped the arms of the chair he was seated in. "He assigned us to investigate the assault upon Dr. Sandburg. Williams was the last person to see Dr. Sandburg and will be questioned. We will also report your lack of concern about Dr. Sandburgís injuries and the academyís failure to follow established procedure. Now, find Cadet Williams. Immediately."

Rafe nodded his approval of his partnerís firm tone. This bullshit was going to stop.

Captain Jones called his assistant. "Sergeant Hughes, please locate Cadet Williams and have him report to me immediately. These detectives will question him while I observe."

Brown spoke up. "No, sir. We will question him on our own. That can happen here if you have an empty classroom or we will escort him to the station. Your choice."

"I don't think so, detective. Banks may be in charge over at Major Crime, but I'm the boss around here. I'll allow you to question Cadet Williams, but only if I'm present." His tone indignant, Jones added, "Interfering with a promising cadetís education because of a fraud. I will be calling the commissioner about this!"

"So will we, sir, so will we." Rafe murmured.

 

Chapter Three

Joel looked up as Simon and Megan returned. "Well?"

"I talked with Brown," Simon replied. "I gave them the information on this Williams and theyíre going to check him out."

Seeming to finally become aware of the conversation, Jim asked, "What exactly is the information on this Williams? I never got to look at his ID. What does it say Connor?"

Pulling the piece of paper out of her pocket, Megan unfolded it and handed it to Jim. Accepting the paper with a mumbled, "Thanks." Jim then read out loud. "Greg Williams. Age 25. Hey, this guy looks familiar."

Leaning towards Jim, Joel looked at the grainy picture. "Itís kind of hard to tell, but I think Jimís right."

"He very well could be," Simon replied. "When I spoke with Brown, he recognized the name. Seems this Greg Williams may be the son of a homicide detective name Sam Williams. After I talked with Brown, I called the precinct and asked Rhonda do some checking on it."

"Son of a bitch," Jim cursed, his fist tightening on the paper.

"Brown and Rafe are checking at the academy now to see if this Williams is a cadet. We have to tread carefully. Detective Williams has a reputation nearly as good as yours, Jim."

"Thatís bull, Simon, and you know it." Jim was clearly furious. "Sandburg could have been killed and you're talking about treading carefully. I don't believe this!"

"JimÖ" Simon began but stopped when Dr. C. walked up.

Jim stood. "How is he, Dr. C?"

"Finally awake," Dr. C answered with a smile, "though heís going to have one hell of a headache for a while. The CAT scan did confirm a slight concussion though so I want to keep him overnight for observation."

"Can I see him?" Jim asked.

"I think that can be arranged. Once heís settled into a room, Iíll come get you okay?"

"Yeah, okay. Thanks, Dr. C."

"Youíre welcome," the doctor replied. "Now, if youíll excuse me, Iíve got some other patients to attend to." With a final nod, she left.

Sitting down, Jim sagged back against the chair. "Thank God."

Sharing Jimís relief, Joel concurred. "You said it, Jim."

"Now that I know the kid is going to be all right," Simon spoke up, "I think that Iíll head to the station. Do a little investigating of my own."

"Iíll join you," Megan said. "I want to help nail these guys."

Simon nodded at Connor. "Take care of Sandburg, you two. Jim, you take care of that arm. You really should go home soon and get some rest."

"I want to see Sandburg first," Jim replied. "After that, Iíll consider it."

"See that you do, Detective. Thatís an order."

After the others had left, Joel glanced at Jim. Nervously, he cleared his throat. "Um, Jim, thereís something that Iíd like to talk to you about."

"What?"

"Blair," Joel answered. Voice low, he added, "About this Ö this guide thing."

Straightening up in his chair, Jim pinned Joel with an intense look. "Exactly what about it, Joel?"

Raising up a hand, Joel said, "Look, Jim, as Blairís father I feel that I have a right to know about whatís going on in my sonís life, to know about the different aspects of his life. You are a big part of his life. Over the years, Iíve seen you go from one extreme to the other in the way you deal with Blair. Iíve seen you concerned, protective and caring. But, Iíve also seen you controlling, hurtful and downright mean as well. Now, Iím not going to get into the whole Alex Barnes thing with you. We both know that you acted like a bastard to Blair during that time. I guess what I what to know is; how do I know that you wonít act that way towards him again? Because believe me, Jim, there is one thing that Naomi and I have in common. Like her, Iíll do whatever it takes to keep my son safe. If that means getting him away from you, then thatís what Iíll do."

"If you do try to come between Blair and me, if you make him chose between the two of us, youíll regret it," Jim warned. "You ought to know that by now. No matter what happens, Sandburg and I will always come back together again. Nothing will ever drive us apart for long."

"I know that, Jim. Iíve seen it. Iíve seen the way my son keeps coming back even after all the shit that youíve put him through. God, no many how many times I see this type of behavior, I will never understand it; a person who keeps returning to an abusive situation."

"Whoa, wait a minute there, Taggart," Jim said. "Are youÖ Do you really thinkÖ Christ, Joel, Iíve never laid a hand on Sandburg. I canít believe that youÖ"

"No, you wait a minute," Joel interrupted. "Iím not saying that you hit Blair. Though if you ever do, youíll have to answer to me. But there are other kinds of abuse, Jim. Whether you like it or not, whether youíll admit it or not, some of your behavior can border on verbal and mental abuse. Iíve seen it myself and Iíve heard about it from others whoíve witnessed the way you treat Blair. That scene in the bullpen on Thanksgiving is one such instance."

"What goes on between Sandburg and me is nobodyís business. I admit that I sometimes lose control of my temper and I blow off some steam, usually in Sandburgís direction. But he knows that I donít mean anything by it."

"Does he?" Joel asked. "Do you even tell him that youíre sorry after you Ďblown off some steamí? Seems to me that Blair is always the one trying to make things right between the two of you. Heís always trying to fix things. My God, Jim, did you even see that press conference Blair gave? The one where he renounced his lifeís work and declared himself a fraud?"

Jim shifted in his seat. "I donít want to talk about that."

"Why? Why donít you want to talk about it? Is it because you can still picture the look on his face? I still see it, Jim. Or do you not want to think about the sacrifice that he was willing to make for you?"

"I never asked him to do it!" Jim exclaimed. "Iím not responsible for what he does."

"Iím not saying that you are and Iím not saying that Blair is totally without blame in everything. But tell me something, Jim. Were you really prepared to let him do it? Were you really going to let him throw away everything that heís worked for all these years?"

"Iím what he worked for," Jim blurted out. Immediately regretting the words, he said, "What I mean isÖ I mean, heÖ" Jim sighed and ran a hand over his face. "Hell, Joel, I donít know what I mean. This whole thing with Sandburg, this whole sentinel thing, itís confusing as hell to me sometimes. For so long, it was this secret between the two of us Ö well the three of us if you count Simon but he was never that involved with it. The kid was always there with some suggestion or idea. Always coming up with some way for me to improve my senses or some new way for me to manage them. It got to be irritating at times. But it could also beÖ Shit, how can I put this without sounding like some egocentric, self-centered narcissist?"

"Let me guess," Joel said. "It can also be rather flattering at times. Kind of an ego boost, having someone so focused on you, huh? After the two of you met, you kind of became the center of his universe. Sure, he still had other interests Ö the university, a social life Ö but the main focus of his energies, his attention, was you, right?"

Jim averted his eyes. "I suppose."

"Iím not any kind of psychiatrist or anything, but even I can see that the relationship between the two of you, itís Ö symbiotic I guess is the word Iím looking for. As much as that can be beneficial to the both of you, it can also be detrimental."

"What are you saying, Joel?"

"Iím saying that maybe you and Blair need to Ö to separate your lives some. Find some separate interests."

"You make it sound like weíre joined at the hip or something. Contrary to what the guys at the station think, Sandburg and I donít spend every second of the day together. Sure a lot of areas of our lives overlap, but we do have separate interests. Weíre still two separate individuals. What is up anyway? First Connor and now you. Why the sudden interest in Sandburg and me?"

"Itís not sudden. Even before I found out that Blair was my son, I considered him a friend. I care about him andÖ"

"Yeah, sure," Jim scoffed. "You care so much that you participated in that little stunt with Brown and Rafe. The little ghost prank of yours really showed how much you care for him."

"WeÖ"

"You were ridiculing him, making fun of him. Youíre so good at telling me to think about Sandburgís feelings, but you donít do too much of that do you? Did you ever stop to think about it? Shit, Joel, you stood there asking him about ghosts and his beliefs about life after death. Did you ever stop to think that maybe it wasnít a very good idea to bring shit like that up to a guy who had just diÖ died not too long ago?" When Joel remained silent, Jim continued. "I didnít think so. I donít need you telling me how I should treat Sandburg."

"This isnít about me or my relationship with my son. Itís about you and how you treat Blair."

"Iím not going to get into this with you any more. Right now, all I want to do is see Sandburg so that I can know heís all right. Donít push me right now, Joel. Iím not in the mood for it. Besides, the last thing that Sandburg needs is to see the two of us fight."

"Out of concern for my son, Iíll let it go for now. But this isnít the end, Jim. We will be discussing this again sometime soon."

"Just great," Jim sarcastically said. "Something else for me to look forward to."

The remainder of their time in the waiting room was spent in silence, both men wanting time to calm down before seeing Blair. When Dr. Cuthbertson returned, they stood.

"Can we see him now?" Joel asked.

"Yes. Blair has been settled into a room and if you follow me, Iíll take you to him

* * * * *

Turning towards the door as it opened, Brown and Rafe watched at Sergeant Hughes escorted Greg Williams into Captain Jones' office.

After the sergeant retreated, Rafe spoke first. "Mr. Williams, you understand that you are just here to answer some questions regarding injuries sustained by Dr. Sandburg. You are not being accused of anything."

Nervously, Williams glanced around the room. "Yes, I understand."

Noting the young man's refusal to look them in the eye, Brown cleared his throat to draw the fidgeting cadet's attention. "Mr. Williams, how is it that you took Dr. Sandburg to the emergency room at Cascade General today?" The detectiveís tone was deceptively gentle.

"How did you know about that?" His eyes wide and his tone incredulous, Williams finally brought his eyes to rest on the detectives.

Inwardly amused at the cadet's shocked expression, Brown schooled his face into an unemotional mask. "We're detectives, Williams. It's our job to know these things. Now, I'll ask you again, how is it that you came to take Dr. Sandburg to the hospital today?"

Attempting to speak, Williams cleared his throat when nothing came out at first. "Sir, I Ö um Ö I found Dr. Sandburg staggering toward his car. It appeared that he was injured but he did not want me to call for help or report his injury. I respected his wishes. He lost consciousness as we were heading toward his home and I immediately drove him to Cascade General. The nurses in the ER recognized him and said they would make the appropriate calls. I gave them my ID and returned to the academy." Williams was sweating. The statement was truthful but incomplete. It did not include the beating he had witnessed. A beating in which he had stood by and done nothing as Short and the other four cadets beat Sandburg into unconsciousness. Recalling the event in vivid detail, Williams cringed as he remembered the soft thud noises that resulted when Short had kicked Sandburg in the head. Knowing that he could be charged as an accessory in the event that Sandburg died, Williams sent up a silent prayer for the injured man.

In the silence following Williams' statement, Rafe and Brown looked at each other. Both of them were good detectives and realized that they hadn't been told the whole story behind Blair's injuries. Knowing that they had to handle the nervous and distraught cadet very carefully, they were trying to figure out the best way to get the young man to tell them the rest of the story. Just as Brown opened his mouth to speak, the door once again opened. But instead of Sergeant Hughes, a vaguely familiar man entered the room this time.

Charging into the office, ignoring the protesting sergeant behind him, Detective Sam Williams stormed over to stand beside his son. Glaring at his fellow detective, he yelled, "Somebody better tell me what in the hell is going on here! What business do you have dragging my son out of his academy classes?"

Standing up, Brown extended his hand. "Detective Williams, it's good to see you again." Lowering his hand when it was ignored, he asked, "Care to tell me exactly how you found out we were here questioning your son?"

"I got an anonymous call from someone telling me that some detectives were at the academy sniffing after my kid," the elder Williams answered. "Then Banks' secretary called my department to check up on me and my kid. My captain suggested that I haul ass down here before you jokers railroad my kid. So, I'm asking again, what in the hell do you think that you're doing?"

"We're here investigating some injuries sustained by Doctor Sandburg today," Rafe supplied.

"I don't believe this crap!" Moving to stand in front of his son, Detective Williams shielded the younger man from the others. "You're here hassling my son because that little hippie ended up in the ER again?"

Not willing to allow the outraged father to remain in control of the meeting, Brown advised, "First off, Williams, I'd suggest you watch what you say about Sandburg. After all, we'll be giving a full report on this meeting to Captain Banks and to Detective Ellison as well. Your son took Sandburg to the emergency room; he admitted it himself. Since Dr. Sandburg was obviously assaulted and Cadet Williams was the last person to see him conscious, our questioning of your son is perfectly proper. If you would like to sit in on the questioning, you may. However, we are the primaries on this assault. Understood?"

Williams turned to his son. "Son, do you know anything about this?"

"Just what I told the detectives, Dad."

The homicide detective glared at Rafe and Brown. "You through with my boy?"

Rafe replied "Yes, for now. We may have more questions after we talk to Dr. Sandburg."

"Not without a lawyer present." Detective Williams warned. "I won't let my kid take the fall for this." Turning to his son, he said, "Let's get out of here."

Watching as their fellow detective herded his son out of the office, Henri and Rafe exchanged an uneasy look. Both knew that Greg Williams was involved in what had happened to Blair. And they also knew that since a cop's son was involved, the situation was going to get a whole lot worse before things were through.

* * * * *

Pushing open the door to Blairís room, Dr. Cuthbertson gestured for the two men to precede her into the room. Immediately, both men went to stand beside Blair.

Groggily, Blair moaned softly as his eyes fluttered open. "Jim?"

Leaning forward, Jim grasped Blairís hand. "Right here, Chief. How are you feeling?"

"Lousy and Iíve got one hell of a headache," Blair answered.

"Can you tell us what happened, Son?"

"Joel? Is that you?"

"Yes, itís me, Blair. Can you tell us what happened? How did you get hurt?"

Nervously glancing between Joel and Jim, Blair asked, "Can we talk about this later? I really donít feel up to talking about it right now."

"I donít want to pressure you, Chief, but Joelís right. We really need you to tell us what happened. Who did this to you?"

Stepping forward, Dr. Cuthbertson said, "Blair really needs his rest right now. Give him a break, guys. You can ask him about it later."

"ButÖ"

"Later, Jim," Dr. Cuthbertson insisted.

"All right."

Becoming more alert while the others were talking, Blair finally noticed the bandage on Jimís arm. "Jim, what happened?"

"What?"

"Your arm. Youíve been hurt."

"Itís just a scratch. Connor and I had a little trouble when we went to question someone. Nothing to worry about. Dr. C. patched me up."

"Are you sure that youíre all right? Maybe we shouldÖ"

"Iím fine," Jim interrupted. "Youíre the one lying in a hospital bed, not me."

"ButÖ"

"I mean it. Listen to the doc and get some rest."

"Jimís right," Joel said.

Instead of replying, Blair asked, "What about Megan? Is she okay?"

"Sheís fine too," Jim answered. "Weíre both fine."

"Thatís good." Blair continued to glance between the two men, studying each of them. After a moment, he asked, "So, whatís going on with you two?"

"What?" Joel asked as Jim said, "I donít know what youíre talking about."

"Anyone could see the tension radiating between the two of you."

"Itís nothing for you to worry about, Blair," Joel reassured.

"Iíll be the judge of that. Now, tell me whatís going on."

"Joel and I just had a little difference of opinion, but weíve worked it out."

"A difference of opinion? Over what?" Seeing the two men cast their eyes downward, Blair repeated, "Over what? It wasnítÖ Please tell me that you guys didnít get into a fight over me."

"Weíll talk about it later," Joel said. "When youíre feeling better."

"ButÖ"

"Later," Joel insisted. Then, seeing the slight smile on Blairís face, he asked, "What?"

"Nothing. Itís justÖ"

"Just what?"

"Itís just that that was like a total Ďdadí thing to say."

Joel laughed. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

"Good. I think. Iím still trying to get used to the idea of actually having a dad around to tell me what to do."

"Well maybe this will help you with that. Lie down and get some rest, young man. NOW!"

Laughing, Blair retorted, "I already am lying down."

"So now we start with the back talk, huh?"

Smiling, Blair looked over at Jim. His grin faded when he saw the expression on Jimís face. "Jim?"

"Yeah, Chief."

"Are you okay? You lookÖ"

"Fine. But my arm is kind of hurting. Since Joel is here and Iím sure that he wonít mind staying, I think that Iíll head back to the loft."

"Well all right," Blair replied in a hesitant tone. "If youíre sure that youíll be okay by yourself that is."

"I think that I can handle it. Donít worry about me. You just get some rest and get better. But when I come back, we are going to have a talk, about a lot of things. Understand?"

"Sure, Jim. Whatever you say."

Turning to look at Joel, Jim said, "Iíll be back later on. Youíll stay until then, right?"

"You know it."

"Good," Jim replied. Then he turned back to Blair. "Is there anything that you need me to bring you?"

"Just a change of clothes," Blair answered. "That is, if Iím going to get out of here soon."

"Dr. C said that sheíd spring you tomorrow."

"Well then thatís all Iíll need. Thanks, Jim."

"No problem. Iíll see you in a little bit."

"See you."

Waiting until after Blair had closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, Jim looked at Joel again. "Donít tell him what we talked about," he said. "He got enough problems to deal with right now without you dumping any more on him."

"I wouldnít do that."

"See that you donít." When Joel nodded, Jim added, "Iím going now, but like I told Blair, Iíll be back soon. Watch over him until then."

"Iíll always watch over my son."

"Youíd better," Jim advised. Then, he turned and left.

  

Chapter Four

Thoughts centering on his recent conversation with Joel, not to mention his earlier one with Megan, Jim left Blairís room and headed towards the elevator. Clutching his keys, actually feeling thankful to Megan for driving his truck to the hospital, Jim considered heading in to the station. Feeling a slight twinge in his arm, he decided to trust the investigation to the others for the moment. Contemplating the idea of stopping for something to eat, Jim walked out of the hospital.

Watching as Jim left, the man standing a few feet down from Blairís room pulled out his cell phone. "Itís me again. Ellison just left but it looks like Taggart is staying here. What do you want me to do?" After a few seconds the man said, "Itís your money so weíll play this out your way."

Having been unaware of the observerís presence, Jim walked over to the parking lot. Dialing up his sight, he scanned the area and quickly spotted his truck. He had just entered it and started the motor when his cell-phone rang. Using the next ring, Jim zeroed in on its location and opened the glove box. Pulling out the phone, he flipped it open. "Ellison."

After a few seconds of silence, a hesitant voice finally spoke up. "Jim."

Sighing, not in the mood to deal with this at the moment, Jim closed his eyes. "Naomi, Iím really not up to doing this right now. Besides, I thought that I made myself perfectly clear on Christmas. We donít need you disrupting our lives anymore. YouÖ" Pausing when Naomiís voice cut in, Jim listened for a while. "I really donít think thatís a good idea." Groaning, Jim tightened his grip on the phone. "All right! Iíll come. Where are you staying? Okay, Iíll see you in a few minutes." Hanging up his phone, Jim tossed in onto the seat and then pulled out of the parking lot. Despite his uneasy feeling, he started towards the location Naomi had given him.

* * * * *

Pulling up in front of the house, Jim turned off the truck and sat there for a minute before getting out. Walking up to the front door, his doubts about coming here escalated when a smiling Naomi emerged from the house to greet him.

"Jim, thank you for coming."

"Naomi, letís just cut the bull and get this over with. What do you want?"

Glancing around, appearing slightly nervous, Naomi said, "Why donít you come in and we can have a little talk."

"NaomiÖ"

"Itís about Blair."

Reluctantly, Jim walked up to Naomi. "Iím not staying long and this had better be good."

Moving to the side, Naomi allowed Jim to walk past her and into the house. After taking a final look around, she went inside. Closing the door behind her, she turned to face Jim. "I know that Blair was admitted to the hospital today."

"How did you know about that?" Becoming angry, his suspicions mounting, Jim asked, "Donít tell me youíve got someone spying on him."

"As a matter of fact, I do."

"I donít believe this!"

Crossing her arms, her posture becoming defensive, Naomi refused to be intimidated. "Heís my son and Iíll do whatever I think is best. Besides, itís a good thing that I do have someone watching over him or else Iíd never know whatís going on with him. Tell me something, Jim, when you found out that he was in the hospital did you even think about letting me know?"

"Just how in the hell was I supposed to do that? Most of the time, Sandburg doesnít even know where you are so how am I gonna find you?"

"You never even made the effort."

"What difference does that make?" Jim yelled. "Itís not like youíd bother to show up anyway. Canít have anything disrupt that carefree lifestyle of yours, can you? Always moving from place to place, from bed to bed."

Rushing towards Jim, Naomi slapped him across the face. "How dare you criticize me or my life? You havenít got the right."

Wiping his fingers across his mouth, feeling the blood that was trickling down his chin, Jim stared at Naomi. "So much for the peace-loving, non-violent hippie act, huh, Naomi?"

When Naomi raised her hand to strike him again, Jim reached out and grabbed her wrist. "I donít think so, Naomi." Tightening his grip, he glared at his partnerís mother. "And another thing, Iíve got every right to criticize what you do if your actions affect my partner. You almost destroyed us once and I wonít allow you to do that again." Releasing Naomi, Jim took a few steps back, putting some distance between the two of them. "This is your last warning. Stay away from Blair. Youíve done enough damage already." Turning his back to her, he walked over to the door. Opening it, he paused in the doorway and turned to look at Naomi again. "When are you going to get it, Naomi? A few months ago, you might have stood a chance but not now. No matter what you do, youíll never drive Sandburg and me apart."

After Jim left, Naomi rushed over to the window and watched as he got in his truck and left. "I will never stay away from my son, Ellison. I will get him away from you and Joel. You think that Iíve done damage already? You havenít seen anything yet." Moving away from the window, Naomi went over to the phone. "Itís me," she announced when the call was answered. "I need you over here right now. No I canít wait. I need you here immediately. Itís time for a change of plans." Hanging up the phone, Naomi emitted a cruel sounding laugh. "Yes, itís most definitely time for a change of plans."

* * * * *

His emotions in an uproar after the visit with Naomi, Jim almost went back to the hospital to see Blair. But knowing that his partner wasnít ready to deal with this yet, Jim resisted the urge to go bask in his guideís calming, soothing presence. Mentally and physically exhausted from the grueling events of the day, he turned the truck around and headed for the loft.

Barely managing to stay awake on the drive home, Jim parked the truck and then stumbled into the building and over to the elevator. Entering the loft, he shut the door and then leaned against it for several seconds. Pushing off of it with a weary sigh, he tossed his keys in the basket and then heeled off his shoes. Forgoing the stairs to his room, he went into Blairís room and collapsed onto his partnerís bed. Within seconds, he was deeply asleep.

* * * * *

Awakened by a loud banging noise, Jim mind was still fuzzy from sleep. Rubbing a hand over his face, he sat up and took a look at his surrounding. Blinking rapidly, it took several seconds for him to register the fact that he was in Blairís room. Shaking his head, he stumbled out of bed as another round of loud knocking sounded. "All right! Iím coming!"

Making his way across the room, nearly tripping over his shoes, Jim finally reached the door and flung it open to find two uniformed officers. "What do you want?"

Swallowing nervously, the younger looking officer pulled out his cuffs. "Are you James Ellison?"

Warily, Jim eyed the policeman. "Yeah, I am. But itís Detective James Ellison, Major Crime."

Briefly, the two officers exchanged a look. Then, the other patrolman stepped forward. "Iím Sergeant Watkins, Detective. Would you please turn around and place you hands behind your back?"

"Turn around and Ö Are you arresting me, Sergeant?"

"Please just cooperate, Detective Ellison. Thereís no need for this to get violent."

Stunned, Jim complied with the officerís orders. Flinching as the cuffs were snapped on his wrists, he asked, "Do I even get to know what Iím being arrested for?"

Grabbing a hold of Jimís elbow, Sergeant Watkins turned him around. "Attempted murder."

"Attempted murder? Of who?"

"Naomi Sandburg."

Shocked, Jim didnít fight as the two officers escorted him out of the building and placed him in the back of a police car.

 

* * * * *

Mind racing, Jim remained silent as they arrived at the precinct and he was put through the booking process. Now, using a paper towel to scrub at the ink coating his fingertips, he finally spoke. "I want my phone call now."

Pushing a phone across the counter, the booking officer said, "You can use this one, Detective."

Appreciating the gesture, Jim grabbed the phone. "Thanks."

"No problem."

Dialing the phone, Jim gave a silent prayer that someone would pick up. "Dad, itís me. I need your help. Iíve been arrested."

"What in the hellÖ" Williamís voice could be heard yelling.

"Just listen, Dad. Iím not at my precinct, so I need you to get in contact with Simon and have him find out what in the hell is going on. I can't believe this is happening. I need to be with Sandburg." Pausing for a moment, Jim listened to his father. "Simon will explain the situation with Blair. What? Oh, Iíve been arrested for attempted murder. Who? Why Naomi Sandburg, of course. Just call Simon and tell him whatís going on, okay. I donít know what little scheme sheís cooked up this time, but something tells me that this is one hell of a mess." Hesitantly, Jim added, "AndÖ um Ö thanks, Dad." Hanging up the phone, Jim looked up at the officer. "Iím finished."

"Iím sorry about this, Detective, but Iím going to have to place you in a holding cell."

Seeing the other manís sincerity, Jim resisted the urge to lash out at him. "Itís all right. Youíre just doing your job."

"Iím going to put you in a cell by yourself."

Nodding, Jim allowed the officer to escort him to a cell and lock him inside. After the other man had gone, he walked over to the bunk and sat down. Leaning forward, he rested his head in his hands. "What in the hell have you done now, Naomi?"

* * * * *

Slamming the phone down, Simon stood up and stormed out of his office. "RhondaÖ" Catching sight of someone entering the bullpen, Simon walked over to the woman and yelled, "What in the hell are your people pulling, Sanchez?

Calmly staring up at Simonís intimidating form, she replied, "I assume that youíre referring to Ellison."

"Hell yes, Iím referring to Ellison."

"Maybe we could go somewhere a little less public and discuss this?"

Glancing around, Simon finally noticed the attention they were receiving. "My office."

After they had entered his office, Simon turned his anger on the DA again. "Where do you get off having Ellison arrested?"

"It wasnít my decision, Captain." Walking over to the table, Beverly laid down her briefcase and withdrew several pictures. "About two hours ago, Naomi Sandburg was admitted to Cascade General." Holding the pictures out to Simon, she added, "As you can see, she has been beaten."

Going over to Beverly, Simon took the pictures and let out a gasp when he looked at them. "My God."

"Exactly," Beverly agreed. "The attending physician contacted the police. When they arrived at the hospital, they question Ms. Sandburg about her injuries. Apparently she was reluctant to talk about it at first, but after a lot of persuasion she eventually named Detective Ellison as her attacker."

"Are you believe her?" An expression of disbelief on his face, Simon threw the pictures down on the table. "Thereís no way that Jim could ever do something like that, especially not to his partnerís mother."

"What I may or may not believe is of no importance here." Taking a seat, Beverly stuffed the pictures back into her briefcase. "A cop has been accused of beating a woman. You know that, in a case like this, we canít afford to show any favoritism. Everything has to be done according to procedure."

"Come on, Counselor. We both know that procedure doesnít entail having someone arrested and booked within hours of an alleged attack based solely on one personís statement."

"In this case, my office felt that we couldnít afford to waste in time in bringing Ellison in."

"I can understand bringing Jim in," Simon said, "but you didnít just bring him in for questioning. You had him arrested and booked on a charge of attempted murder!"

Slamming her briefcase shut, Beverly stood up to face Simon. "It wasnít my decision!"

"Why do I get the feeling that thereís something more going on here than what youíre telling me?"

Briefly, Beverly glanced down before meeting Simonís eyes again. "What Iím about to say stays in this room, Captain." When Simon nodded, she continued. "I donít know who did it, but someone has already alerted the press about this. Before the officers even turned in their report on this incident, the press was already calling the DAís office asking questions. This thing is bound to be all over the front page tomorrow and the last thing the DA needs is bad press. There was a rush put on this whole case and if Ellison isnít careful, heís going to go down for this."

"And youíre going to be the one who puts him away?"

Shocked, Beverly was quick to defend herself. "No, of course not. Thereís no way I could remain impartial in this case. Not after Ellison saved my life before. I just wanted to come down here and let you know whatís going on."

"What about IA?" Simon asked. "Theyíre bound to be involved in this."

"Iím sure that they will conduct their own investigation. As for where theyíll go from there, your guess is as good as mine." Picking up her briefcase, Beverly started for the door then turned to look at Simon. "Look, my advice is to find Ellison a lawyer. Preferably one who has had prior experience with both sides of things in a case like this."

"What? You mean like a former prosecuting attorney?"

"If Ellison has a chance at beating this, thatíd be your best shot."

Waiting until after Beverly had left his office, Simon went over to his desk and sat down. Opening a desk drawer, he pulled out an address book and thumbed through the pages. Coming to the entry he needed, he picked up the phone and dialed a number. "Ben? Hi, this is Simon. Simon Banks. Yeah, it has been a long time. Listen, Ben, I need your help. Seems one of my detectives has gotten himself in some trouble." After a moment, Simon smiled and said, "Thatís great, Ben. I really appreciate this. Just call and let me know when youíre getting in and Iíll come pick you up. Thanks. Yeah, see you soon."

Hanging up the phone, Simon heard a knock at his door. "Come in!" When the door opened to admit Brown and Rafe, he asked, "What did you find out?"

Speaking for the two men, Brown said, "We questioned Greg Williams at the academy but before we could find anything out, his father showed up and hushed him up. Then, they high-tailed it out of there. Detective Williams told us not to try and question his son again unless a lawyer was present. But there's no doubt, Captain. Whatever's been going on with Sandburg, Greg Williams is right in the middle of it."

"That's right, Sir," Rafe agreed. "We wanted to stay and question some more of the cadets, but Captain Jones wasn't exactly being very cooperative. But we did get a list of Sandburg's classmates. We thought that we'd go interview them tonight. Maybe catch them off-guard by going to see them off academy grounds."

"All right," Simon replied. "If Jones gives you any more trouble let me know and I'll have a little talk with him."

"Yes, Sir." Then, after glancing over at his partner, Henri cleared his throat. "Um, Captain, when we got back to the station we heard someone say that Ellison had been arrested. Is it true?"

Standing up, Simon walked over to the detectives. "Yes, itís true."

"But, CaptainÖ"

Holding up a hand, Simon brought a halt to any further questions. "I know that you two want to help out Ellison. You can do that by continuing to investigate what happened to Sandburg."

"Yes, Sir," Brown agreed. "Weíll let you know when we find out anything."

"I wonít be here," Simon informed the two men. "Iím going to see if I can find out anything else about whatís going on with Ellison. But I will be calling in to see what you find out." Grabbing his coat, Simon said, "I think that weíve all got someplace that we need to be."

"Yes, Sir," both Brown and Rafe agreed as the three men left the captain's office.

Stopping by Rhondaís desk, Simon looked down at his secretary. "Iím going to track down Sheila Irwin and see what IA is up to. Then, I'm going to go check on Ellison. If William Ellison calls or if Brown and Rafe find out anything else, get a hold of me immediately."

"Yes, Sir."

Safely inside the elevator, Simon finally loosened the tight hold he had been maintaining over his emotions. Immediately after his fist impacted with the wall of the elevator, he hissed in pain and rubbed his knuckles. "What have the two of you gotten yourselves into now?" Then, he pulled out his cell phone and called the hospital.

 

Chapter Five

Closing his eyes, Joel took a moment to digest the information Simon had just given him. Thoughts interrupted when the phone started beeping, Joel looked down and realized he still held the receiver in his hand. Hastily, he hung up the phone and then glanced over at his sleeping son. Relieved to find Blair's rest undisturbed, Joel laid his hand on Blair's forehead for a moment before pulling away. "Rest easy, son," he murmured.

Taking a final look at Blair, Joel left the room and headed for the nurses' station. Arriving at the desk, disappointed to find Sadie not there, Joel turned to the woman on duty. "Excuse me, Miss." When the young woman looked up, he smiled warmly at her. "I hate to bother you, but do you happen to know where Sadie is right now?"

Closing out the program she had been running, the young woman clicked the mouse one final time before facing Joel. "She was called down to the ER. Is there something that I can help you with?"

Torn between wanting to stay with his son and needing to go check on Naomi, Joel was indecisive for a moment. "Yes, you can. I need to find out what room a Naomi Sandburg is in. She was brought in earlier today."

"Just a moment, sir." Attention diverted back to the computer; the nurse pressed several keys in rapid succession. "Naomi Sandburg is in room 104."

Smiling his thanks, Joel said, "I need to go check on her, but I'm hesitant to leave my son. Do you think that you could check in on him in a few minutes? I won't be gone long."

Seeing the concerned expression on Joel's face, the nurse overcame her initial reluctance. "It's a slow night, so I guess that I can check in on him in a few minutes."

"Thanks, I really appreciate it." Giving the nurse one final smile, Joel turned and started toward the elevator.

Thoughts still chaotic, not knowing what to think about recent events, Joel distractedly entered the elevator and pushed the button for the first floor. When the elevator door opened, Joel hesitated for a moment and the door almost closed again before he managed to squeeze through out and exit the elevator. Taking a deep breath, trying to remain calm and centered, he started down the hallway. Scanning the door numbers, he stopped when he reached the door numbered 104 and simply stood staring at it for several seconds. Finally, he pushed it open and entered the room.

Even though Simon had told him a few details about Naomi's injuries, Joel still let out a gasp as he saw the full extent of the damage that had been inflicted upon her. Approaching the silent, still figure lying on the bed, Joel was filled with a feeling of rage. Eyes tracing the bruises marring the beautiful face of the woman he had loved, the woman who had given birth to his son, Joel hands clenched into fists. Not noticing when his fingernails pierced the flesh of his palm, he completed his approached and stood next to the bed. Gazing down at the battered visage, he let out a breath when Naomi's eyes' fluttered open. "What in the hell did that son of a bitch do to you? I swear, Naomi, I'll make sure that Ellison pays for this."

Reaching out, Joel gently grabbed a hold of Naomi's hand. Leaning closer when he saw that she was trying to speak, he brought his ear close to her mouth. "What? What is it, Naomi?"

Her voice choked by tears, Naomi squeezed Joel's hand. "Please, Joel, don't let him hurt me again. Protect me. Protect me from Jim."

* * * * *

Reaching up a shaky hand, Blair gingerly felt he forehead. "Man, I'd kill for some aspirin right about now." When he didn't receive any response, he cracked his eyes open. Squinting, the light causing a pain to spike through his head, Blair looked around the room. "Jim? Dad? Is anybody here?"

Struggling, he finally managed to sit up. Panting as everything started to spin, he closed his eyes. "Get a grip." Taking a deep breath, he risked opening his eyes again and was relieved that the spinning sensation had stopped. Pushing off the cover, he swung his legs over the side of the bed. Just as he was about to attempt to stand, the door opened.

"What do you think you're doing?"

Looking up, Blair saw a young, pretty nurse standing in the room. "Hey. Look, maybe you could help me here. I really need to get out of here. C'mon, can't you help me, NurseÖ"

"Murray," the woman supplied. "And no, I can't. You really need to stay in bed, Mr. Sandburg."

"Call me Blair. Please."

Smiling, Nurse Murray went over to the bed. "You really do need to rest, Blair."

"Okay, okay." Relenting, Blair allowed the nurse to help him lay back down. "But could you tell me where everyone is? Someone should be here. My dad or my partner."

Pulling the covers back up over Blair, Nurse Murray answered, "I don't know about your partner, but your father went to check on another patient. It's kind of strange though."

"What's strange?'

"Well, this other patient, she has the same last name as yours."

Bolting up, Blair asked, "You mean he went to check up on a patient named Sandburg?"

Attempting to ease Blair back down, the nurse replied, "Yes. Her first name is Naomi."

Pushing the young woman aside, Blair suppressed a groan as he struggled out of the bed. "What room?"

"Blair, I really don't thinkÖ"

"That's my mother!" Stumbling over to the closet, Blair threw open the door. "Are my clothes in here? Shit! Where are my clothes? I have to get to my mom." Spotting his clothes, Blair yanked them out of the closet and, unmindful of his audience, tugged off the hospital gown and started getting dressed.

"Really, Mr. Sandburg, you need toÖ"

Buttoning his shirt, Blair interrupted, "Just tell me what room."

"ButÖ"

"Tell me!"

"104. But I thinkÖ"

Not even bothering to put on his shoes, knowing that an attempt to bend over would send him sprawling, Blair brushed past the nurse and left the room. Ignoring the nurse's yelled protests, he hurried to the elevator.

Emerging onto the first floor, Blair frantically raced down the hallway. Passing by his mother's room in his haste, he quickly backtracked.

Stunned, he stood just inside the doorway and watched as Joel leaned over and pressed a gentle kiss to his mother's cheek. Anger filling him when Joel pulled back and he was presented with an uninhibited view of his mother's battered form; Blair rocked back on his heels. His anger quickly turned to shock when he heard his father pledge, "I swear, Starlight, I'll protect you. Jim Ellison will never be allowed to hurt you again."

"What in theÖ" Stunned, Blair struggled to get the words out. "What in the hell are you talking about?"

Turning to look at his son, sadness etched in his face, Joel reached out a hand towards the shocked young man. "Blair Ö Son Ö I don't know how to tell you this butÖ"

Hands upraised, Blair backed up a step, putting distance between his parents and himself. "I know you're not trying to say that Jim did this." His tone pleading, Blair addressed his mother. "Naomi, tell him that Jim didn't do this to you. Tell him! Jim didn't do this, Naomi!"

Voice strained, Naomi looked towards her son. "Blair, sweetie, I'm sorry. I didn't want anyone to know. I didn't want you to know because I knew how much this would hurt you."

"Naomi, whatever you're trying to pull here, just knock it off all right."

Taking a step towards Blair, Joel warned, "Blair, I won't have you talking to your mother like that. She's lying here hurt and she doesn't need for you to cause her any more pain."

Staring at his parents, Blair said, "You can'tÖ I don'tÖ Somebody please tell me that this isn't what I think it is."

"I'm sorry, sweetie, but I can't." Bringing tear-filled eyes to rest on her son, Naomi sobbed, "I didn't even want to tell those officers what had happened, but they just wouldn't leave me alone until I told them everything. I justÖ I just don't understand why he would do this." Turning to Joel, she pleaded, "Please don't let him come here. Please don't let Jim hurt me again."

Frozen in place, Blair watched as Joel turned and gently gathered Naomi into his arms. "I won't, Starlight. Besides, you don't have to worry about Jim. Simon told me that he was in a holding cell right now. You're safe."

Stepping forward in order to draw his father's attention, Blair asked, "What do you mean? Where is Jim right now?"

Still maintaining his hold on Naomi, Joel looked towards Blair. "Some officers took a statement from your mother after she was admitted to the ER. Ellison was placed under arrest and booked. He's being detained downtown right now. And, by God, if they let his ass out he'd better steer clear from here. If he shows up, I'llÖ"

"Whoa, wait a minute here." Finally moving, Blair went over to stand by his mother's bedside. "Naomi, are you telling me the truth here? Jim really hurt you?"

Still pressed against Joel's chest, Naomi twisted her head slightly until she was facing her son. "Yes, Blair, he did. I don't know how he knew where I was staying, but he just showed up. He told me that you had been hurt. When I grabbed my coat to leave, he asked me where I was going. I told he that I wanted to see you and make sure that you were okay. I don't know what happened next. He just seemed to Ö to snap or something." Pausing, her breath hitching, Naomi let out a sob. "Oh, God, it was horrible. He started screaming something about how I wasn't going to take his guide away and that he'd kill me before he'd allow that to happen. Then, he justÖ he just started hÖ hitting me. I struggled. I tried to fight him off, I really did. I even managed to hit him once, but it didn't even faze him. He was just too strong and there was nothing that I could do to stop him." Sobbing now, Naomi struggled to continue. "I thought that he was going to kill me. It hurt so much and he just didn't stop. But finally, he did. I don't know why, but he just stopped and left without saying another word. He just left my lying on the floor, bleeding and in pain."

Finishing her story, Naomi reached up a shaky hand and extended it towards her son. "Blair? Please stay with me, sweetie. I need you right now."

Hastily backing away, nearing falling, Blair shook his head. "IÖ I need to get out of here. I need some time to think. I can'tÖ I can't deal with this right now."

Disentangling Naomi's hold, Joel eased towards his distraught son. "Blair, I'm sorry that you had this dumped on you right now but you need to get back upstairs. You're hurt yourself and you need to be resting."

Speechless, Blair seemed to be held in place, mesmerized by Joel's advancing form. Just as the other man's fingertips grazed his arm, the paralysis broke and Blair ran from the room.

Alarmed, Joel started after his son but a soft voice halted his movements. "Joel, please don't leave me alone. I'm still so frightened." Torn, Joel hesitated a moment before going back to Naomi.

"It's all right, Starlight. I'm not going anywhere." Wrapping his arms around Naomi again, only the fact that Jim was currently locked up kept him from racing after Blair.

* * * * *

Emerging from the hospital, his mind filled with conflicting thoughts and emotions, Blair paused to take a breath. Then without conscious thought, he blindly started running; unaware that he was headed towards the police station. Stumbling, several times almost crashing to the ground, Blair ignored the stares he was receiving. Not paying attention to his surroundings, he fell backwards as he ran into a solid, unmoving object. Dazed, he squinted up and found himself staring up at Al Costello.

Grabbing the hand that was extended his way, Blair allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. "Al, thank God it's you."

Concerned over the other man's disheveled appearance, Al asked, "What happened to you, Sandburg? Are you okay? Why aren't you at the hospital?"

"I'm fine, but I need to get to Jim." Gasping as everything started spinning, Blair grasped Al's arm.

"Sandburg?"

"I'm fine." Slightly out of breath, Blair repeated, "I'm fine. I just need to get to Jim."

"Look, my car isn't that far away. Let's get you over there and I'll take you back to the hosÖ"

"No! No hospital."

"You sure about that?" When Blair nodded slightly, Al relented. "All right. Let's get you over to my car before you fall down or pass out on me."

Tightening his hold on Blair, Al half-supported, half-carried the younger man over to his car. Once there, he opened the door and then helped Blair inside before jogging around to the other side. "Now tell me what's going on," he demanded after he was seated next to Blair. "Why aren't you in the hospital?"

Head leaned back, Blair didn't open his eyes. "You know that I was in the hospital?"

"Are you kidding? It's all over the station."

"Does everybody know about Jim too?" When Al didn't respond, Blair opened his eyes and looked towards the detective. "Well, do they?"

"UmÖ yeah, they do. They're saying that heÖ well, that your motherÖ"

"It's okay, Al, I know all about it." Looking out the window, not wanting to meet the other man's inquisitive gaze, Blair continued. "I found out about Naomi being in the hospital and went to her room. When I got there, she saidÖ She saidÖ Well, she told me stuff. Then Joel said that Jim was locked up. Is that true?"

"From what I've heard, he's being held down at the precinct on Vine Street."

"Then that's where we're going."

"SandburgÖ"

"Don't start, Al. I need to see Jim. When I see him, when I hear what he has to say, then I'll know the truth. I need to find out what happened."

"You don't believe your mom?"

"I don't know what to believe!" Voice lowered, Blair added, "I just need to see him, all right. Right now, I don't know what's going on, who to trust or what to think. So would you just take me there? Please."

"Buckle up and we'll get going." Waiting until after Blair had fastened his seatbelt, Al started up the car and headed towards where Jim was being held.

* * * * *

Lying on the bunk, arm slung across his eyes, Jim tried to dial down his hearing. Unsuccessful, he flinched as a particularly loud sound caused a spike of pain to pierce his head. Nauseous, his senses assaulted by the overwhelming sounds and odors permeating the air, he struggled upright and stumbled over to the toilet. Collapsing to his knees, he leaned forwards and began heaving.

"Jimmy, are you all right?"

Hearing the concerned voice, Jim rapidly blinked his eyes several times to clear the tears obscuring his vision. Finally bringing the speaker into focus, he attempted a smile. "Hey, Pop."

Turning to the guard standing beside him, William Ellison demanded, "Open this door this instant!"

"I'm sorry, sir, but I can't do that." Looking regretful, the guard explained, "I've got orders not to let anyone in or out of this cell unless it's cleared by District Attorney Simpson."

"Who's this Simpson?"

Instead of the guard, it was Jim who answered the question. "Trouble."

"What?"

"He's a new DA," Jim explained as the stood up and slowly made his way over to the bars. "If he's in charge of this case, then I'm screwed. The guy has been trying to make a name for himself ever since he took office. Something like this, well I imagine it's just what he's been waiting for."

"I don't care what the pompous ass wants, I won't allow anyone to use my son that way." Meeting Jim's eyes, William said, "I know that you didn't do whatever it is they're saying you did, Jim. You're innocent, son. I believe that and no one will ever convince me otherwise."

"Thanks." Eyes downcast, it was a moment before Jim continued. "But right now, there's only one person whose opinion matters."

"Blair?"

"Yeah." Looking up, meeting his father's eyes, Jim added, "Look, Blair is in the hospital right now. Simon did tell you about it, didn't he?"

"He just mentioned that Blair had been hurt and was in the hospital," William answered. "Something about an accident at the academy."

"He was still a little out of it when I left the hospital," Jim replied. "We're still waiting to get the full story."

"But you have some suspicions, don't you? Some idea as to what happened?"

"I think some of his classmates hurt him," Jim explained. "He's been coming home with injuries but he always said that it was just something that happened during a training exercise."

"You think otherwise?"

"Yeah, I do. I think he's been getting harassed. I was going to check into it, but then he was brought into the hospital today while I was there andÖ"

"Wait, why were you at the hospital?"

"It's just a scratch. Nothing to be worried about."

"JimÖ"

"Right now, I've got bigger problems than my arm."

"Tell me what you need me to do."

"I need you to get me out of here so that I can get to Sandburg before he finds out about this from someone else."

"It's too late for that." A new voice spoke up.

Eyes closing, Jim whispered, "Blair."

Stepping forward, Blair approached the bars but was careful to stay out of Jim's reach. "So, Jim, want to tell me why you tried to kill my mom?"

 

Chapter Six

Intent on finding out what was going on, not to mention getting his detective out of jail, Simon didnít bother to knock before barging into Sheila Irwinís office. "You want to tell exactly what in the hell youíre planning to do about Ellison?"

When the Internal Affairs detective stood up and walked over to him, Simon noticed that she was not alone. When the man turned to face him, Simon started at him in disbelief. "Jim? What in theÖ"

"Thatís not Jim Ellison."

Turning to Sheila, Simon asked, "What are you talking about?"

"Thatís not Jim."

Eyes drawn back to familiar looking man, Simon studied him intently for several long seconds. After a careful examination, Simon finally noticed the little details that distinguished this stranger from Jim. "Who are you?"

Ignoring the question, the man directed his attention to Sheila. "So I guess this is Banks?"

"Yes, it is."

Finally standing the man approached Simon and came to stand almost chest-to-chest with the captain. "I'm Captain Vince Hunter and I've been brought in to investigate these allegations against Detective Ellison."

Expression hardening, anger filling him at the sound of the manís arrogant words, Simon turned to glare at Sheila. "I want to know whatís going on and I want to know now."

After glancing towards Hunter, Sheila faced Simon again. "Apparently, some people felt that Jim might not receive an impartial inquest if members of our department handled this investigation. There was some concern that we might be slightly biased towards Jim and that all the crucial evidence might not be considered as we reached a decision about what, if any, disciplinary actions should be taken against him. So the DA's office called in a special investigator." She gestured towards Hunter. "Captain Vincent Hunter is from Washington DC. And, like he said, he has been brought in to handle the investigation."

Frustrated, Simon pushed past Hunter and began to pace. "Exactly what is going on here, Irwin? This whole thing has been handled strangely from the beginning. Jim is sitting in a cell right now without even having been questioned. A judge has issued a warrant with only Naomi Sandburgís statement as evidence that Jim even did anything wrong. There is no corroborating evidence that indicates Jimís guilt. This guy has been brought in already and the case is only a couple of hours old. Doesnít any of this strike you as odd?"

"Iím just following my orders, Captain," Sheila defended herself. "I havenít even been allowed to view Ms. Sandburgís statement. Iíve been ordered to stay away from this investigation."

"Then why is Hunter in your office?"

"Captain Banks, Iíd suggest that you not involve yourself in this investigation any longer. Iím here and IA will be handling this matter. It will be strictly by the book. If your assistance is needed, Iíll contact you. Until then, you need to leave." Having issued his demand, Hunter crossed his arms and stared at Simon, seeming to dare the other man to contradict him.

"The man youíre talking about is not only my detective but my friend as well. There is no way that Iím letting you railroad him. Whatever you think that he did, think again. I know him and there is know way he would ever hurt Naomi."

"She says otherwise."

"Sheís lying."

Walking over to a chair, Hunter casually sat down and then looked up towards Simon. "So what youíre telling me is that there is some bad blood between Detective Ellison and this Naomi Sandburg. Tell me, Captain Banks, exactly what is the relationship between the two of them?"

"Is this an official interview?"

"No, Iím just trying to get the facts straight. Figure out exactly who all the players are."

"Like you said, Captain, I shouldnít involve myself with this investigation so Iíll just leave until you can arrange an official interview. After all, we do want this done by the book." Satisfied by the irritated look that flashed across Hunterís face, Simon turned to Sheila. "Iíve always known you to be fair, Sheila. So even though you may not be directly involved in this thing, I trust youíll make sure everything is done right."

Taking that last statement as a slur against him, Hunter asked, "Just what are you implying, Banks?"

Keeping his eyes on Sheila, Simon didnít bother acknowledging Hunterís question. "Can you do that?"

"I wonít allow anyone to misuse this office, Simon."

"You may be opening yourself up for some fallout if you interfere."

Shaking her head, Sheila said, "If Jim is innocent, I wonít stand by and let him take the fall for something that he didnít do. But if he is guilty, then he will go down."

"All I ask is that you keep things fair."

"You have my word on that."

Nodding his thanks, Simon turned to face Hunter again. "I guess that I can tell my secretary to expect a call from you then."

"Count on it."

Unwilling to back down from the challenge, Simon continued to silently lock gazes with the other captain. After several seconds, during which neither man ended the standoff, the tension was broken by the sound of a throat being cleared.

"Captain Hunter, if youíll excuse me for a moment, Iíll escort Captain Banks to the elevator." Grabbing Simonís arm, Sheila steered him towards the door.

Not resisting the hold, Simon allowed Sheila to guide him out of the office. Once they were outside, he stopped and waited for her to speak.

Sheila released Simon's arm. "Youíre right, Captain. Something strange is going on here. Iíve already spoken to several people about it but I keep getting the runaround. Iíll do what I can here, but Iíd advise you to get Jim a lawyer fast. Someone is determined to see that he goes down, but I donít know who it is yet. Tell him to keep his guard up."

"You canít tell me anything?"

"I donít know anything." Came the exasperated reply. "IA should have handled the investigation before the DAís office even became involved. If this were any other situation or any other cop, no arrest would have been made yet. All I know is that before I even found out about Jim being arrested, this Captain Hunter shows up at my office and starts asking me all kinds of question about Jim and my prior involvement with him. Hunterís the one that told me about the attack on Naomi Sandburg and about Jim being charged with it."

"I donít like this."

"Me either," Sheila agreed. "All I can say is watch out because someone obviously has it in for Jim."

"So you donít think that he did this?"

"I admit that I really donít know Jim all that well; but from what I do know, I know that he couldnít have done it. He and Ms. Sandburg may have their differences, but thatís a long way from attempted murder. Besides, thereís no way Jim would do something that would hurt his partner." Pausing, Sheila hesitated before asking, "Does Blair even know whatís happened?"

"No yet. Heís in no condition to deal with this yet."

"I heard about what happened to him. Is he okay?"

"How did you hear about Sandburg?"

"There was some talk around the office."

"The thing with Sandburg is a whole other matter. By the time itís through, I imagine that some of his classmates will be in cells too. If Jimís still in there, hopefully theyíll wind up in with him. No court would ever be able to punish them like Ellison could."

"You really think that his classmates attacked him?"

"Yeah, I do." Sighing, Simon pinched the bridge of his nose. "Iíve got Brown and Rafe assigned to that case. Right now, theyíre interviewing the guy that brought Sandburg into the ER. Guyís name is Williams and it turns out that heís a copís kid."

"Why do I get the feeling that thereís going to be some trouble?"

"Probably because there is," Simon replied. "Of course, when Ellison and Sandburg are involved there always seems to be."

"Look, Simon, my advice is to get Jim out of jail and find out what his version of the events is. Hopefully, heíll provide you with some information that will help to discredit Naomi Sandburgís statement."

"What about setting bail or getting him out on his own recognizance?"

"I honestly don't know," Sheila answered. "But you might be able to swing it if your lawyer is good."

"He is," Simon stated. "Iíve got a friend coming in for this. His name is Ben Stone and he used to work for the DAís office in New York."

"For Jimís sake, I hope the guy knows what heís doing."

"He does."

"Until he gets here, Iíd say Jim is stuck in a cell. After that, itís up to the judge."

"Well thanks for the help, Sheila. Right now, Iím going to go check up on my detective." Watching as Sheila nodded and then slipped back into her office, Simon started down the hallway. Trying to remain optimism, he couldnít help the small amount of doubt that crept into his mind. Knowing that his belief in Jimís innocence wouldnít be enough to clear his friend, Simon could only hope that they would find some proof to back up Jim's innocence.

* * * * *

"Blair, listen to me. IÖ"

"You what?" Blair wobbled as he took a step closer to the bars. "You don't hate my mother? You aren't angry at her for trying to come between us? YouÖ She says you hurt her, Jim."

"I didn't do it!" Jim gripped the bars tightly, his knuckles white. "You have to believe me, Chief. I'd never do something like that."

"I don't want to think that you could be capable of that, Jim." After a moment, Blair added, "But I also didn't think that you'd ever kick me out of the loft. Or that you would rant and rave at me in the bullpen. Or that you would say that you couldn't trust me. But you did all of those things, Jim. Why should I think that you wouldn't hurt my mom? I know she doesn't like that I'm gonna be a cop, but even she wouldn't do something like this." Blair's voice was full of confusion. "Would she? God, Jim, I don't know what to think anymore. Or what to believe. I feel so lost and alone."

"You're not, Chief. I'm here for you. I always will be." Jim cast a helpless look Blair's way. "You gotta believe that. You gotta believe me, Blair. You gotta believe in me."

"IÖ IÖ" Blair stammered as he stagger a couple of steps forward.

Pressed against the bars, Jim tuned into Blair's vital signs. Alarmed, he looked over at Costello. "Catch him!"

Costello shot a puzzled look Jim's way before glancing over at Blair. Seeing the younger man's pallor, the detective rushed to Blair's side only to catch him as he started to fall. Gently, Costello lowered the now unconscious young man to the floor.

Frustrated, Jim began to shake the bars imprisoning him. "Get me the hell out of here!"

"JimÖ" William began.

Jim ignored his father and yelled at the approaching officer. "Get me out of here now! My partner needs help!"

The officer skidded to a halt beside Blair and fell to his knees. "I can't do that, Detective," he answered even as he began to check the unconscious man's vital signs.

Jim growled causing all the other three to look at him in shock. "I swear, I'll tear these fucking bars apart with my bare hands if you don't let me out of here now!" Backing up his words, Jim renewed his struggles against the confining bars.

Hearing the creak of protesting metal, the officers looked up in shock. Just as he was reaching for his tazer, thinking it was the only way to restrain the enraged detective, he looked over in relief when he saw Simon Banks entered the holding area.

Having heard the commotion out in the hall, Simon stalked over to the group. Coming to a halt, he stared down at Blair and bellowed, "Somebody better tell me what in the hell is going on here!"

All four men started to speak at once, causing Simon to grimace. "One at a time! Jim, you start."

"I'll start after you get me out of here!"

Simon stared down at the officer kneeling by Blair. "Fields, get Ellison out of there." When the officer started to protest, he added, "I'll take full responsibility."

"Whatever," Fields muttered as he stood up and walked over to the cell. After he opened it, he was nearly knocked down as Jim barreled past him to get to Blair.

Finally free, Jim rushed over to Blair and kneeled down. Gathering his partner in his arms, he cradled Blair against his chest. "Chief, can you hear me?"

"Fields, go call for an ambulance," Simon ordered. When the officer left, Simon squatted down next to his friends. "Jim?"

"I don't know, Simon. Maybe it was the stress." Jim glared up at Costello. "He should still be in the hospital."

Costello held up his hands. "Hey, don't blame me. I was just on my way to the hospital when the kid comes stumbling down the sidewalk. I tired to get him to go back there but he was determined to come here. Shit, Ellison, you know how the kid is when he sets his mind to something. If I hadn't brought him, he probably would've hitchhiked."

Jim sighed up he reached up and laid a hand on Blair's chest. Calmed by the steady rhythm of his guide's heartbeat, Jim felt some of the anger leave him. "You're right, Al. I'm sorry."

"Hey, he's your partner." Costello shrugged. "We're cool."

Nodding, Jim dismissed the detective and turned his attention to Simon. "He thinks I did it, Simon. He thinks I hurt Naomi."

The other three men flinched at the raw pain in Jim's voice.

Simon laid a hand on Jim's shoulder. "I'm sure he doesn't really believe that, Jim."

"I hope so, Simon. I hope so."

"Jimmy," William tried to reassure his son, "everything will work out. You'll see."

Jim just continued to hold on to Blair, rocking them both slightly.

Looking up as the paramedics arrived, Simon stood up and moved aside to give them room to work. "C'mon, Jim, let them help Blair."

Instead of moving, Jim remained on the floor and kept cradling Blair.

"Sir, you're really going to have to move aside." One of the paramedics said.

All of them were unaware of the man that came into the holding area and moved back to stand in the shadows. Silently, Hunter watched the scene occurring before him. With a calculating look on his face, he saw the way Jim reluctantly lowered Blair to the ground and, with one final caress of the young man's cheek, stood and moved back to join the captain.

Supported on one side by his father and on the other side by his captain, Jim resisted the urge to go to Blair again as the paramedics began their examination. "Oh God," he moaned, "not again."

Alarmed, Simon readjusted his hold on Jim as the detective's knees buckled. "Jim?"

Determinedly, Jim regained his footing and pulled away from the two men. "I'm fine."

Aware that Jim would want to remain with Blair, Simon warned, "You have to stay here. You know that."

"IÖ" Jim's mouth snapped shut and an emotionless mask fell over his face. "Understood, Sir."

Shaking his head, Simon let out a sigh. "Look, Jim, I've arranged for a friend of mine to represent you. He's good. A former Manhattan DA."

"That's very good of you, Sir." Jim maintained his rigid posture.

Frustrated, the captain yelled, "Damn it, Jim! This isn't helping any."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Sir."

"And cut the 'Sir' crap, would ya?"

Jim turned to stare at Simon. "Whatever you say, Captain."

Simon threw up his hands. "I give up! The only one who can deal with you when you're like this isÖ" Trailing off, Simon stared down at Blair.

"My partner." Jim's voice was soft and Simon had to strain to hear it.

"Yeah," Simon watched as the paramedics loaded Blair onto the gurney, "your partner."

One of the paramedics looked up at the three men. "We're ready to transport him now."

"You need to take him to Cascade General, heÖ"

The man smiled. "We know all about it. When Dr. C. found him missing, she put out an all points bulletin. She'll be there waiting when we get him to the ER."

Simon nodded. "Okay."

"Someone needs to go with him." Jim looked over at his father.

William was unable to resist the pleading look in his son's eyes. "I'll go, Jimmy. I'll make sure Blair isn't left alone."

"Thanks, Pop." Jim's expression hardened. "While you're there, try to find Joel Taggart. I want to know what the hell he was thinking. I can't believe he let Blair just walk out of the hospital."

"Just calm down until we find out all the facts, Jim," Simon tried to placate the agitated man.

"I'll calm down when Blair and I are back home where we belong." When Jim took a step towards the gurney, Officer Fields stepped forward and restrained him.

"Sorry, Detective, but I'm going to have to put you back in the cell now."

Conflicted, Jim hesitated before finally allowing the officer to lead him into the cell. Once he was locked in again, he looked over at his father. "Keep an eye on him for me."

"I will," William promised. His focus on Blair, the elder Ellison didn't notice the man standing in the shadows as he followed the paramedics outside.

After the others had left, Hunter stepped forward. "Well, wasn't that a touching scene."

Jim looked up and found himself facing a mirror image. "WhoÖ WhatÖ" He turned to look at his captain. "Simon?"

A scowl on his face, Simon introduced the other man. "Jim, this is Captain Vince Hunter. He's with IA and he was brought in to conduct the investigation into Naomi's assault."

Mind reeling, Jim just stared as Hunter stalked over to the cell.

A smirk on his face, Hunter stepped up next to the bars. "Well, well, well. The mighty Detective Ellison." The IA captain gave Jim a once over. "You don't look like very much to me. But I guess it takes a big man to beat up on a woman, huh?" When Jim lunged forward, outstretched arms shooting through the bars to reach for Hunter's throat, the other man quickly retreated. "Careful, Ellison, I'd hate to have to add assaulting an officer to the list of charges."

"You son of aÖ"

"Just know something, Ellison. If you're dirty, I will bring you down."

"Wait just a damn minute, Hunter." Simon moved to place himself between the two men. "I won't have you threatening one of my men like that. If for one instant, I think that you're not conducting a fair and impartial investigation, I'll have your ass on a plane back to DC so fast it'll make your head spin. Am I making myself clear?"

"I don't answer to you, Banks," Hunter sneered. "And as far as this investigation is concerned, you don't have the authority to do shit."

"Really? Well we'll just have to see about that, won't we," Simon countered.

"I guess we will." Hunter looked over at Jim. "I'll be back to question you later, Ellison." The IA captain started to leave but then glanced over his shoulder. "I would tell you not to go anywhere, but in this case I don't think that'll be a problem." With a sarcastic chuckle, Hunter left.

As soon as his look alike was gone, Jim demanded, "Tell me what is going on here, Simon!"

"I don't know much," the captain explained. "I went to Sheila Irwin's office earlier to see how the IA investigation was going to play out. When I got there, that guy was sitting in her office acting like he owned the place. All Sheila could tell me is that a special investigator was brought in to handle the investigation I don't know why yet but I'm going to find out."

Jim locked gazes with the older man. "I've got a bad feeling about this."

Simon could only nod in agreement. As he started to say something, his cell phone rang. "Just a minute, Jim." An irritated expression on his face, Simon pulled out his phone. "Yes?" A grin appeared on his face. "Okay, Ben." He snapped the phone shut and put it away as he turned back to Jim. "That was Ben StoneÖ"

"Your friend, the former DA."

Nodding, Simon said, "Yeah. He was able to get an earlier flight. He's at the airport right now. I'm gonna go pick him up and then we're gonna see about getting you out of here."

"Wait a minute," Jim called out when Simon started to leave. "What about the investigation? Have Rafe and Brown found anything else out?"

"Look, Jim, I'llÖ"

"Tell me, Simon."

"Fine, but we're gonna make this quick." Simon walked back over to the cell. "They went to the academy and started questioning Williams. Before they could get anything from him, his father showed up and pulled him out of there. Tonight they're gonna go question some of Sandburg's classmates, see if they can get something out of any of them."

"Whoa, hold up a minute." Jim held up a hand. "How in the hell did Williams' father know to show up at the academy?"

"Evidently, someone tipped him off that Rafe and Brown were there interviewing his son."

Frustrated, Jim began to pace the cell. "And I'm stuck in this fucking place, not able to be any good to anybody. I can't be with my partner, I can't try to find the bastards that hurt him and I can't be out there trying to clear my name." Coming to a standstill by the wall, Jim punched it with his fist. "Damn!"

Concerned, Simon started to call for the officer. "FieldsÖ"

"Don't bother, Simon, I'm fine." Jim managed his reddened knuckles. "Just go get your friend and get me the hell out of here. I need to see Blair."

"I'll do my best, Jim."

"I know you will, Simon." Jim gave his friend a slight smile. "And tell your friend thanks for me, will ya?"

The captain nodded. "We'll be back soon to get you out of here."

Jim walked over and sat down on the bunk. "Yeah." Lying down, he slung an arm over his eyes. "I'll be out of here real soon."

Simon hesitated for a moment. Then, trying to shake off the image of his friend appearing so defeated, the captain turned and left.

"Real soon," Jim muttered. He closed his eyes, trying to get some rest, but all he could see was the look of shocked disbelief and hurt on his partner's face. "Please, Chief, don't give up on me now. Donít give up on us. I can't do this without you." With a heavy sigh, Jim turned onto his side. Drawing up his knees, he curled himself into a tight ball. Trying to block out his surroundings, he focused his sense of smell on his hands and the remnant of his guide's scent that clung to them.

 

Chapter Seven

After leaving the station, Hunter headed for the hospital intending to question Naomi for himself. When he arrived, he saw William Ellison nervously pacing the waiting area. Changing his plans, he headed over to the older man. "Excuse me, Mr. Ellison, I'mÖ"

Turning around, William gasped in shock as one hand went to clutch at his chest. "Oh my God!"

Alarmed, Hunter took a step towards Ellison only to stop when the other man began to back away. "Sir, if you'd just calm down a minute, IÖ"

"I can't believe it's you."

Thinking that the other man was confusing him for Ellison, Hunter began, "Mr. Ellison, I'm not your son, I'mÖ"

"I know exactly who you are," William interrupted as he stumbled over to a seat and sat down. "You're my nephew."

This time, it was Hunter who was shocked. "The hell I am!"

"Your mother is my sister," William insisted. "Her name is Kristine."

Hunter went over to sit down next to William. "How did you know that?"

"I told you, she's my sister." William looked over at his nephew. "My God, I never realized the resemblance was so great. I noticed it in the pictures she used to send but those stopped coming so long ago."

"Look, Mr. Ellison, I'm here to conduct an investigation," Hunter stated. "So this little family reunion, if that's what this is, can just wait. I've got a job to do and I'm going to do it."

"CaptainÖ VinceÖ" William trailed off. "I don't even know what I should call you."

"Hunter is fine."

William smiled. "Hunter, surely you must realize that my son could never do what Naomi Sandburg says he did. I know that woman. She's lying. She'd do anything to drive Jim and Blair apart."

"And Ellison would do anything to make sure that doesn't happened, right?"

"That's not true! Jim would never hurt Naomi. Besides the fact that he'd never attack someone like that, he'd never want to hurt Blair that way!"

"So this Sandburg is really important to Ellison, huh?" The calculating expression was back on Hunter's face.

Seeing the look on the other man's face, William said, "Whatever you're thinking, just stop right now. You're wrong about my son. You'll see."

"I guess we will." Hunter stood up. "I'll be wanting to talk to you again, Mr. Ellison. I'll call and set up a time."

"All right," William agreed. When Hunter turned to leave, he called out, "Please, Hunter, if you talk to your mother, tell herÖ"

"My mother is dead," Hunter interrupted and then ignored the pained gasp from behind him as he walked off.

* * * * *

Although reeling from the possibility that he might be related to the man he was investigating, Hunter allowed no trace of it to show on his face as he pushed open the door to Naomi's room.

Turning as the door opened, Joel and Naomi both let out startled gasps as they saw who was entering the room. Joel's expression quickly turned to one of rage and he started towards the man, but the sound of Naomi sobbing brought him rushing back to her side. As he gathered her into his arms, he turned to glare at the man. "How dare you show your face here?"

Already growing irritated by the constant mistaken identity, Hunter rolled his eyes. "Look, I'm not Ellison, all right. My name is Hunter and I'm Internal Affairs. I was ordered here to lead the investigation into the allegations against Detective Ellison."

Upon taking a closer look, Joel could see the differences between this man and Jim. He relaxed slightly but didn't let go of Naomi. "What do you want?"

"I need to question Ms. Sandburg." Hunter took a few steps closer to the bed. "I want to hear her version of the events."

"She's already given a statement."

"Yeah, and I've read it," Hunter countered. "Now I want to hear it from her."

"I don't thinkÖ"

"It's all right, Joel." Naomi's soft voice sounded. "I'll talk to him."

Stepping past the protective man, Hunter came to stand by the bed. "So, Ms. Sandburg, tell me what happened between you and Detective Ellison."

 

* * * * *

After the paramedics had taken Blair away, Jim silently lay on the bunk. When Simon returned with another man in tow, Jim looked up in surprise as the cell door was opened. "Simon?"

"C'mon, Jim, let's go."

"Go where?"

Simon gestured towards the man standing beside him. "Ben here is going to try and get you out of this cell. For now, at least."

"I don't understand," Jim said as he stood up and walked out of the cell. "What's going on?"

When Jim joined them, Simon said, "Jim Ellison meet Ben Stone."

Jim shook the man's hand. "You're Simon's friend. The attorney."

"Yes, I am, Detective," the man answered. "And I'm going to see to it that these baseless charges are dismissed."

"How do you know they're baseless?" Jim challenged the attorney.

"Because Simon told me they are," Stone smoothly answered. "I trust his judgement and if he says you're above reproach, then I believe him."

Jim gave the captain a nod of thanks. "Now what's this about getting me out of here?"

"We've arrange for a hearing in front of Judge Morrison," Simon explained.

"How did you do that?"

"I have my methods."

"Which means that you must have called in a whole lot of markers," Jim replied. "Thanks, Simon."

"Don't thank me yet. You can do that after we get your butt out of here for good."

After arriving at the courthouse, the three men entered the courtroom and waited for Jim's case to be called. Just as his name was announced, a man hurriedly entered the room and strode to the prosecution's table.

Giving the man a sideward look, Jim stood at the defense table with Ben Stone. Jim scowled when the DA looked over with a smug expression on his face. Hearing Simon's quiet murmur to stay calm, Jim relaxed slightly.

Straightening as the judge entered and took the bench, Jim was barely able to keep control as the DA began laying out his case. Hearing the man's lies, Jim clenched his jaw but was determined to not make a scene. He was well aware that any outburst would only be used against him.

Standing beside the man he was representing, Stone couldn't believe the flimsy evidence against his client. As the hearing proceeded, he listened as the judge asked the prosecutor several very observant and pertinent questions about the case. Gradually, he relaxed as he realized that the judge didn't seem to share the prosecutor's prejudice against Jim.

When it was Stoneís turn to speak, he addressed the prosecutor directly. "Sir, have you questioned Detective Ellison about the alleged attack on Ms. Sandburg?"

Ignoring the defense attorney, Simpson directed his answer to the judge. "Your Honor, with all due respect, we have Ms. Sandburgís statement accusing the defendant of assaulting her. Plus, weíve got the doctorís report documenting her injuries." The prosecutor sneered. "There was no need for us to question Detective Ellison."

Stone persisted in questioning the other attorney. "Do you at least have some physical evidence connecting Detective Ellison to the crime scene? Or any evidence at all that corroborates Ms. Sandburgís account of how she sustained these injuries?"

The prosecutor had the good grace to look confused. "Why would we need that? Heís guilty. This is just a formality."

Ben and Jim stared at Simpson in disbelief. Both of them were shocked that this man was with the Cascade DAís office.

Even the judge seemed nonplused as she said, "Young man, Iím not sure of your academic background, so Iím going to speak in simple terms. Please concentrate. First, a person is innocent until proven guilty. Second, both physical and circumstantial evidence is required to prove a personís guilt. Third, a person is questioned before they are arrested. Do you understand the mistakes you have made?"

The DA sputtered. "Iíve made NO mistakes. I demand this criminal be remanded into custody."

The judge looked at him in astonishment. Shaking her head, she spoke directly to Simon Banks. "Captain Banks, will you take responsibility for your detective?"

Simonís reply was strong. "Yes, your honor, I will."

Then the judge addressed Jim. "Detective, I hope this matter is cleared up in a short period of time. Please be aware that, although you are innocent until proven guilty, you are under suspicion for this attack. Behave accordingly."

Although relieved that he would be able to go see his partner, Jimís face was expressionless as he answered, "Yes, Maíam."

"Iím scheduling a preliminary hearing for tomorrow morning. At that time, I want the prosecution to present its evidence, such as it is, against Detective Ellison. If Iím not satisfied that the evidence supports the prosecutionís case then Iím dismissing all charges." Ignoring Simpson as he started to protest, the judge spoke to Jim. "Until then, you are released ROR, Detective."

When Simon came up to Jim, the detective asked, "Will you take me to the hospital? I need to see my partner."

Simon nodded. "Sure. Letís go."

As Stone walked out of the courtroom with the two police officers, he took one final look at the DA. Seeing the angry look on the other attorneyís face, he knew that there was something strange about this whole case and he wondered if there was some sort of conspiracy going on.

* * * * *

After watching Jim and the others leave, Simpson hurriedly left the building. Once he reached his car, he pulled out his cell phone. "Yeah, itís me. I just got out of court. Ellison was released ROR." A grimace on his face, he listened to the muffled shouts for several seconds. "Hey, it wasnít my fault. I thought you were going arrange for Judge Thomas to hear this case. That guy is always looking for headlines. He wouldíve left Ellisonís ass in jail. Morrison is different. She doesnít care about the press." Again, Simpson listened in silence. Then, he said, "Hey, weíve still got the preliminary hearing tomorrow. As soon as I get Naomi Sandburg in there in front of the judge, Ellison wonít stand a chance in hell of getting these charges dismissed. Youíll see. Iíll bring him down yet." An angry expression on his face, Simpson yelled, "Just because your father helped get me this position, doesnít mean Iím going to take any shit for you. I said Iíd take care of it and I will!" Simpson hung up and then threw the phone down.

* * * * *

After interviewing Naomi, despite repeated interruptions from Joel, Hunter headed back down to the waiting room. When he didn't see William Ellison there, he went over to the admittance desk. "Pardon me."

The woman behind the desk smiled up at him. "Yes, can I help you?"

"I hope so." Hunter returned the smile. Pulling out his badge, he held it up to her. "I need to see a Blair Sandburg. Can you tell me what room he's in?"

"Yes, Sir."

When the woman gave him Blair's room number, Hunter started towards the elevator. Stepping out of it, he noticed a uniformed officer standing by a door. Figuring he could find Sandburg inside, he approached with his badge held up for the officer to see. "Captain Hunter, IA. I need to see Sandburg."

"Sorry, Sir." Although shocked by the man before him, the officer didn't move from his position. "I've got orders that no one is to enter this room."

"On whose authority?"

"Captain Banks," the officer answered. "He requested that someone be on guard here until Sandburg is released."

"You're not keeping me from going inside that room." Hunter started to push past the officer. When the other man tried to restrain him, the IA captain growled, "Do you really want to mess with me?"

The officer backed down. "I'm reporting this to Captain Banks."

"You do that." Hunter pushed past the officer and went inside the room.

Seated in a chair beside Blair's bed, William looked up as the door opened. "What do you want?"

"I just came from asking Naomi Sandburg some questions and thought I'd see if he's up to answering some as well." Hunter nodded towards Blair.

"He woke up briefly but he's sleeping now."

"What did the docs say?"

William looked at Hunter in surprise. "Why do you care?" Ashamed of his words, William immediately apologized. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."

Hunter shrugged.

"The doctor said that he's just overwhelmed. Both physically and mentally." William laid a hand on Blair's arm. "With the concussion and allÖ"

"Concussion?"

William looked up at Hunter's sharp tone. "Yeah. Blair suffered a concussion earlier today." Seeing the slight narrowing of the IA captain's eyes, William said, "And before you even ask, it wasn't Jim." The elder Ellison turned his attention back to Blair. "Jim just recently found out that Blair has been suffering some harassment at the academy. Today, one of his classmates brought him into the ER. He'd suffered a concussion. He wasn't even supposed to have left the hospital." William expression was one of fondness. "But it seems he left anyway."

"SoÖ umÖ he's gonna be all right, then?"

Briefly, William wondered about the other man's hesitant tone. "Yes, he should be fine. As long as he gets some rest, that is."

Feeling drawn to the young man lying on the bed, Hunter ignored William's shocked look as he walked over to stand by the bed. Gently, he reached down and moved some strands of hair off of the unconscious man's face.

Stirring at the touch, Blair eyelids fluttered. "JimmmmÖ"

For some reason, one that he didn't want to think about, Hunter felt an intense feeling of anger and irritation at the thought that Sandburg might have mistaken him for Ellison.

Blair opened his eyes all the way and instantly knew that the man standing beside him wasn't his partner. Stiffening, he warily eyed the man leaning over him. "Who you are?"

Hunter straightened, putting some distance between them. "My name is Hunter and I'm with IA. I'm investigating the allegations against Detective Ellison."

Seeing the confusion on Blair's face, William spoke up. "This man is Jim's cousin, Blair."

"We don't know that," Hunter protested, crossing his arms over his chest.

On the bed, Blair looked back and forth between the two men. "Why does shit like this keep happening?" Sighing, he turned to his partner's lookalike. "Look, Hunter or whatever you name is, there's nothing for you to investigate. Jim didn't hurt Naomi."

"Really?" Hunter had a skeptical look on his face. "What makes you think that?"

"I know Jim."

"And you also know your mother, don't you?" Hunter leaned over and peered at Blair. "So tell me, Sandburg, is your mother the type of person who'd lie and bring false charges against someone?"

"No!" Blair hesitated. "I meanÖ"

Feeling an odd protectiveness against the younger man, Hunter softened his expression and tone. "What you mean is that you're caught between your partner and your mother. It's only natural that you'd feel conflicted, kid."

"I'm not. I justÖ" Blair looked over at William. "I don't know. I just don't know."

William patted the young man's shoulder. "It's okay, Blair. Why don't you try to get some more rest?"

Starting to get out of bed, Blair protested, "No. I need to find out the truth."

Irritated by Blair's actions, Hunter moved to push him back down on the bed. "Look, you're not going anywhere right now."

"Excuse me? I don't think I heard you right. 'Cause if you think I'm staying here thenÖ"

"Blair, I think he's right," William interrupted. "You really need to stay put for now. At least until the doctor releases you."

As a wave of dizziness threatened to overcome him, Blair stopped moving. "Oh, man."

Instantly, the two men moved close. "Blair?" William worriedly glanced over at Hunter. "Maybe we should get the doctor."

"Name?"

"Dr. Cuthbertson."

Hunter nodded and started towards the door but stopped when Blair spoke up.

"Wait, I'm okay now. I'll stay put." Under his breath he added, "For now, at least."

"Are you always this stubborn?" Hunter asked, scowling at Blair.

Surprised, Blair's head jerked up and he stared at the IA captain. He knew that his last words shouldn't have been audible to anyone. Except Jim. OrÖ Shocked, he glanced over at William and then looked at Hunter again. Then, he became suspicious as he thought of something. "You seem awful bothered by the idea that you and Jim could be related," he observed. "Do you know Jim or something? Hell, for all we know, you could've attacked my mom." Staring over Hunter, Blair demanded, "Exactly when did you get to Cascade, anyway? Maybe you've got some kind of grudge against Jim and you're trying to frame him or something."

"That's crazy!"

"Yeah, well I hope you can prove what time you got in town. Otherwise, you're a suspect in this just as much as Jim." Blair turned to William. "Bill, hand me the phone. I need to call Simon."

"Sandburg, I'm not trying to frame Ellison!" Hunter's tone was incredulous. "I don't even know the guy. Before today, I'd never seen him before in my life."

"That's not exactly true," William spoke up. "The two of you used to play together when you were younger. When my sister brought you to visit."

"Look, Mr. EllisonÖ"

"You can call me Uncle Bill."

Hunter spluttered. "UÖ UncleÖ" He shook his head. "I already told you that I don't want to get into this."

Knowing by Hunter's reaction that the captain didn't have anything to do with the attack on Naomi, Blair's curiosity resurfaced for the moment. "You have a sister, Bill?"

"Yes." William's eyes grew distance. "I loved her a great deal. She was a wonderful person and we used to be very close. But thenÖWell, then we had a falling out. Seems I always drive away the people who mean the most to me."

"I already told you that I'm not your long lost nephew or whatever the hell you think I am." Hunter took a menacing step forward. "I don't want to hear anymore aboutÖ"

"Your mother," Bill finished, causing an irritated look to appear on Hunter's face, "who is my sister."

"I'm here to conduct an investigation and I'm not going to stand here and listen to this crap." Turning to Blair, Hunter said, "Now, I want you to tell me about the relationship between your mother and your partner."

"Why? So you can send Jim to prison? I don't think so."

"Hey, earlier you didn't seem too surprised at the idea of Ellison attacking your mother," Hunter stated. "What's with the change of heart?"

Blair paled. "What are you talking about?"

"Hey, I overheard you at the station earlier. When you were talking with Ellison. You asked him why he tried to kill your mother." Hunter moved closer, causing Blair to press back against the bed.

"I was Ö I was confused." Blair looked down. "Hell, I passed out, man. I didn't know what I was saying."

"Well, then maybe we can go down and pay a visit to your mother," Hunter suggested. "Wonder what she'd say when her son accuses her of lying. She seemed pretty upset earlier but maybe she's calmed down some by now."

Blair looked up at the man looming over him. "You saw Naomi?"

"Yeah." Hunter nodded. "Right before I came to see you, I stopped and paid her a little visit. The guy, what's his name Ö Taggart Ö seemed pretty protective of her but she was eager to talk to me. Told me all about your partner's little visit and how he beat the crap out of her."

"IÖ"

"So, tell me, Sandburg," Hunter said, "which one of them is lying Ö your mother or your partner?"

"IÖ"

"C'mon, which is it?" The IA captain pressed. "Which one is a liar? Who do you believe? Who do you trust?"

"IÖ IÖ"

"That's quite enough of that." William squeezed between Hunter and the bed, causing Hunter to take a step back. "I won't let you browbeat him like this. He's been through enough. You will leave him alone."

"Why are you protecting him?" Hunter asked. "He all but accused your son of brutally attacking his mother earlier."

"All I know is that Blair is in no condition to be interrogated right now and I'm not about to stand aside while you attack him." William poked Hunter in the chest. "So you just turn around and leave this room immediately or else I'll call security and have you removed."

"I donít think that will be necessary." A new voice spoke up.

A scowl on his face, Hunter turned around and saw Simon walk into the room. The IA captain's scowl deepened when he saw Jim come in behind the captain. "Ellison? What in the hell are you doing here?"

From behind the two larger men, a smaller man stepped into view. "Detective Ellison is here to see his wounded partner."

"Who the hell are you?" Hunter demanded.

"My name is Ben Stone and I'm Detective Ellison's counsel. And if you continue to harass this young man," Stone gestured towards Blair, "I'll see to it that you're reprimanded, if not brought up on formal charges. You're attempting to question someone who's suffering from diminished capacity; something which is not only unethical but highly illegal as well."

Through everything, Jim and Blair were only aware of each other. Eyes locked, their surroundings faded away. A silent communication seemed to pass between sentinel and guide. The spell was broken when Jim took a small step forward. A tentative smile on his face, he said, "How are you doing, Chief?"

Blair didn't immediately say anything as he continued to regard his partner. "I wanted to ask you something earlier."

"What?"

Everyone else in the room grew quiet as they listened to the conversation.

"Your faceÖ"

Jim touched the cut on his mouth. "Naomi slapped me."

Instantly, Stone spoke up. "Detective, I'm going to advise you not to say anything else."

Neither man seemed to have heard the attorney. Eyes still locked with Jim's, Blair asked, "Why?"

"I pissed her off." Jim shrugged. "I found out that she was having someone spy on us, reporting our movements back to her. She knew you had been brought to the hospital and she was angry because I didn't try to contact her about it. IÖ I kinda said some things. Then, she slapped me. When she tried to do it again, I grabbed her wrist. That's all I did, Blair. I just restrained her. I swear."

As the minutes passed with no response from Blair, all five men felt the tension in the room. Seemingly unaware of all the attention focused on him, Blair continued to silently ponder his partner. Head tilted to the side, he looked at the small cut on the older man's face. "Whatever you said must've really pissed her off." It almost seemed as if he were talking to himself. "I remember times when I got her that mad. Once, my black eye lasted for about a week." Shaking himself, Blair roused some. When he spoke again, there was strength and conviction in his tone. "I believe you, Jim."

 

Chapter Eight

"You what?" A loud exclamation broke the silence following Blair's statement. Attention drawn by the words, everyone turned towards the door and saw Joel standing there. Stepping further into the room, Joel continued. "I can't believe you, Blair! You saw your mother. You saw what was done to her. And you've got the nerve to call her a liar?"

"JoelÖ" Before anyone could react, Blair unsteadily got out of bed and started over to his father. Just as his steps faltered, he felt two solid grips grab hold of him and offer support. "DadÖ"

Over Blair's slightly bowed head, Hunter mouthed, 'Dad?' to Jim. Shaking his head, Jim mouthed back, 'Not now.'

Ignoring the silent conversation, Blair continued to address Joel. "Dad, do you really think that Jim would be capable of doing something like that to Naomi? Or to me? Think about it for a minute, Joel. You know Jim. He's not that kind of person."

"I think youíre the one who needs to think about what he's capable of," Joel countered. "Or am I the only one who remembers all the times that he's treated you like crap. How many times has he ridiculed you or belittled you? How many times has he blamed you for things that weren't your fault? What about when he kicked you out of the loft? Or when he let Alex Barnes kill you? He's done all of those things and more yet you'd take his word over that of your own mother."

When Blair took a step forward and almost fell, Hunter and Jim helped him back over to the bed. Shooting them both an irritated look, he sat down and then turned his attention back to his father again.

Moving off to the side, Hunter and Jim stood next to each other. Voice low, Hunter said, "Taggart is the kid's father?"

Voice just as low, Jim answered, "Yeah. Long story."

Then, the two men looked at each other. Noticing how close they were, they hastily separated and put some distance between them. The action earned them another look from Blair and they both settled down.

Rolling his eyes, Blair turned to Joel again. His voice was hushed and strained with emotion. "Joel, you're right. Naomi is my mother. I know her, just like I know Jim. I admit it. When I first saw Naomi, I was angry and confused. There for a little while, I thought that she was telling the truth. That Jim had hurt her. It had nothing to do with Jim though. It was an instinctual reaction. My mom was hurt and I reacted. Seeing her like that drudged up a lot at memories and I just lashed out without stopping to think."

Jim walked over to the bed and sat down close to Blair, their shoulders touching. Grateful for his partner's presence, Blair leaned into the contact.

"Memories, Chief?"

"Yeah." Blair's voice was soft and everyone had to strain to hear him as he continued. "Naomi Ö she got mixed up with a lot of not so good people, you know. Some of her boyfriendsÖ well, they'd get a little violent sometimes. She always left right away if any of them got out of line. But there were still times when I saw her beat up. One time, I jumped one of the guys."

"What happened?"

Blair looked over up at Jim. "Guy beat the shit out of me." The young man let out an unpleasant sounding laugh. "Naomi was so pissed at me. I ended up in the hospital and that drew the attention of Social Services. Man, she got me out of there so fast. Next day, we were in a new town and she had a new boyfriend. I didn't like the guy so I Ö um Ö I tried to break them up. I was acting up, always trying to piss this guy off so that he'd leave." Blair looked down at the floor. "Finally, he left. Naomi was so mad at me. We got into an argument. I said something she didn't like and Ö and she slapped me. Then she asked me why I made her do it. That she wouldn't have hit me if I hadn't said anything to her. But then she seemed so sorry, you know. Kept apologizing and said that it would never happen again. And it didn't. For a little while at least."

Looking up, Blair saw the anger in the eyes of Jim and the others and was quick to defend his mother. "Hey, it's not like it was all her fault. I did have a smart mouth and I talked back to her a lot. I shouldn't have done that. She was a single parent trying to support us. And she had a hard enough time without me making it worse. I was always pushing her, testing the limits and trying to see how much I could get away with. A lot of times Ö it only happened because I pushed her. It wasn't her fault."

"BlairÖ"

"It wasn't her fault, Jim."

Jim laid his hand on Blair's back and began to rub soothing circles over the tense shoulders.

Hesitantly, Joel stepped forward. "Blair, are you saying Ö Naomi hurt you?"

Blair shrugged. "Not really. I mean the worst I ever got was a black eye or a split lip. Nothing major or anything. It's not like she beat me or anything."

Looking up, Jim met Joel's eyes. "I didn't do it, Joel. I swear, I didn't."

"IÖ Aw, hell." Joel began to pace. "I Ö um Ö I still love her, you know. She's the only woman I've really ever loved. But I'm beginning to see that she's not the person I thought she was and that's the person I fell in love with. The person I thought she was." Joel shook his head. "How could I have been so wrong?" Coming to a standstill, he looked at Jim. "I don't know what to say, Jim. IÖ"

Jim moved his arm to Blair's shoulders. Squeezing the younger man to his side, he said, "It's okay, Joel. You were just looking out for someone you love. I know what that's like."

Despite himself, Joel felt a slight shudder run through him. Once again, he was bothered by the possessive way in which Jim referred to and treated his son. "Yeah, I guess so."

In the silence that followed, William asked, "So what now?"

It was his son that answered. "I guess a lot of that depends on Hunter." Jim looked over at the IA captain. "So, am I still under investigation?"

Hunter nodded. "Yeah, you are." He held up his hands when he received several hostile glares. "Look, I can't just drop this investigation on your say so. If Ms. Sandburg is lying, I'll need proof of that. Until then, you're still under suspicion. No matter what my personal feelings are, I'm not going to let them sway my investigation. I've got to remain impartial here. If not, then even if I did clear you, there would still be some suspicion. You know how it goes, Ellison."

Jim sighed. "I know. But if we get proof that Naomi is lyingÖ"

"Then bring it to me," Hunter interrupted. "You give me solid proof, I'll check it out for myself. If it holds up, then you'll be cleared. Until then, I'm going to continue my investigation."

Jim nodded.

"All right then. Well, I've got to go." Hunter began to walk over to the door. "I've got some interviews to conduct." Pausing by the door, he turned to look at Blair. "You take care of yourself, kid."

Looking up, a slight smile on his face, Blair said, "I will." Smile fading, he added, "And you can expect a visit from us soon. We will find evidence to clear Jim. You'll see."

With a slight inclination of his head, Hunter acknowledged Blair's words. Then, he left.

After the IA captain had left, Blair turned to his partner. "Jim, IÖ"

Once again, Jim gave Blair's shoulders a gentle squeeze. "I know, Chief. It's okay. I understand."

Blair smiled. "Thanks, Jim." Straightening slightly, he asked, "So, how did you get out?" Looking over at the unfamiliar man who had come into the room with his partner, he added, "And who exactly is this guy?"

"The two are kinda related actually." Jim jerked his thumb towards Stone. "This is a friend of Simon's. He used to work with the Manhattan DA but he's gone into private practice now."

Stone stepped up to Blair with his hand held out. "Mr. Sandburg."

"Please, it's just Blair." The young man shook the attorney's hand. "That's quite a change; going from being a DA to a defense attorney."

Stone released Blair's hand. "Yes, well, I found that my ethics just couldn't co-exist with some of the actions I was called upon to perform as a DA. After a particularly Ö distasteful Ö incident, I left the DA's office and spent some time traveling through Europe. After much thought and soul searching, I decided to continue practicing law, just on the other side for a change."

"Must have been a difficult case."

Briefly, an expression of regret passed over Stone's face. "Yes, it was."

Sensing the other man's discomfort, Blair said, "Well, I'm sorry about the circumstances surrounding it, but I'm glad you became a defense attorney." He looked over at Jim. "We both are." Blair turned back to the attorney again. "Thanks. From both of us."

Stone gave then a small smile. "You're very welcome."

"So how did you get Jim out?"

"It wasnít that hard. The judge saw all of the irregularities in this case. It didnít hurt that the DA is an idiot. And with Simon taking responsibility for Detective Ellison, the judge didnít have any reasons not to release him." Stone looked over at Simon. "Tell me something, Simon. Is that Simpson guy typical of all the DA's in this town?"

"No, heís not, Ben," Simon answered. "Heís definitely the exception. Actually, this is the first time Iíve ever dealt with the guy. He hasnít been a DA all that long."

 

"Thatís what I donít understand," Jim said. "What is it with this Simpson guy? I mean, I was arrested and booked without ever being questioned. There was no investigation into Naomi's allegations at all. Not to mention the fact that IA, including Hunter being brought in, has already started an investigation. This whole thing is screwy."

"I definitely get the feeling that there is more going on here than what weíve been told," Stone stated. "Something about this whole case just seems off. But, at least that doesnít seem to be the case with the judge. She seems like sheís going to be completely fair and impartial."

Jim nodded.

"I'm aware of how difficult this is for you, Blair," Stone said, "but we need to discuss some strategy. There must be a way for us to Ö well Ö to prove that your mother is lying about Jim."

"I donítÖ" Jim began.

"What is it, Jim?" Blair asked when the detective didn't finish.

"I justÖ I know how important your mom is to you, Chief. I don't want to do anything to screw up your relationship with her."

Looking up, his expression hard, he said, "My mom did that when she came after you. And I'm sure as hell not going to let her take you down."

"BlairÖ"

The younger man turned to meet his partner's eyes. "She's not going to get away with this Jim. I could forgive her anything. Anything. My diss, everything that happened when I was growing up, I could forgive her all of that. But hurting you is the one thing that I could never forgive her for."

"Okay, Chief," Jim replied. "But whatever we do, however we decide to handle this, you've got the final say so. We won't do anything that you don't want to do."

"JimÖ"

"I mean it, Blair. You've been hurt enough and I won't do anything to add to what you've already gone through."

"I don't think you've got a choice there, Jim. No matter what happens, I think we're all in for a world of hurt."

Jim sighed. "I know."

Blair looked over at the silent attorney. "So what happens now?"

"Well, the judge scheduled a preliminary hearing for in the morning. Frankly, I'm surprised she set it up so soon. But I've already learned to expect the unexpected in this case."

"The hearing being set for tomorrow, is that a good thing or a bad thing?" Blair asked.

"Honestly, I think it's for the best," Stone answered. "From what I've seen, there's no evidence, other than Ms. Sandburg's word, that Jim committed this crime. Unless the prosecution can come up with some corroborating evidence, I look for the charges to be dismissed."

Blair looked over at Jim. "Who's the judge?"

The older man smiled. "Morrison."

Blair returned the smile. "That's good. She's sure to give you a fair hearing Jim."

"Yeah." The smile faded from Jim's face. "But I'm not so sure about Simpson."

"What do you know about this man?" William asked his son.

"Not much," Jim answered. "Why?"

"Just curious."

Jim couldn't help noticing the speculative look on his father's face. But before he could question his father further, Blair spoke up. "Okay, well let's see about getting me out of here then."

"What?" Jim asked. "No way. You're staying here."

"I don't think so," Blair protested. "You'll need me there to testify at the hearing tomorrow."

"BlairÖ"

"I'm going to be there for you, Jim, and I don't want to hear another word about it!" Seeing that the older man was about to say something, Blair laid a hand on Jim's arm. "I need to do this, Jim."

"Well, if you're going to be there, Blair, then you need to be prepared," Stone advised. "I'm positive that the prosecution will call your mother to testify. Can you handle that?"

To Blair, none of the others in the room mattered. He kept his eyes locked with his partner's as he answered, "I can." Then, when Jim put an arm around him again, he welcomed the comforting embrace as he leaned into his partner's side.

* * * * *

After leaving the hospital, Hunter went back to the precinct. As he strode into Major Crime, he saw a few detectives sitting around. Matching faces to the descriptions he had been given, he walked up to two officers. "Brown, Rafe, I'm Captain Vince Hunter from IA. I've conducting an investigation into the allegations against Detective Ellison."

The partners exchanged a quick glance before facing the other man again. "We heard all about you," Brown stated.

"I need to talk to the two of you."

"Why should we help you bring Ellison down?" Brown demanded. "No way he'd hurt Hairboy's mom."

"Look, I'm not out to bring anybody down," Hunter asserted. "All I want to do is find out the truth. Now is there someplace we can talk?"

Reluctantly, the two men stood up. "Yeah, c'mon." As they walked out of the bullpen and started down the hallway, Brown added, "But we can't stay long. We've got some interviews of our own to conduct."

"Into the harassment Sandburg's been experiencing at the Academy?"

"Yeah." Brown gave the IA captain a suspicious look. "What do you know about it?"

"I spoke to William Ellison at the hospital," Hunter explained as Brown led him into an interrogation room, "and he told me about it. I hope you find the sons of bitches responsible."

Surprised by the reaction, Rafe asked, "What's it to you?"

Hunter shrugged. "I spoke to the kid."

The two partners looked at each other. "Ah."

Hunter glared at the two men. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Joining the IA captain at the table, Brown explained, "Let's just say that you're not the only one to fall victim to the kid. Not many people can remain immune to the Sandburg charm. He kinda grows on a person."

Uncomfortable, Hunter cleared his throat. "Whatever. Now, about Ellison. What can you tell me about his relationship with Ms. Sandburg? I've already heard about what happened over the holidays. Seems like Ms. Sandburg isn't too happy with her son's involvement with the police department, especially Detective Ellison."

In response, the two detectives shrugged.

"Listen, I'm not convinced that she's telling the truth, all right?" Hunter admitted. "But if I'm going to have any chance at all of clearing Ellison, I'm going to need some information. Tell me something here, guys."

The two detectives assessed the intense man as they pondered the quiet declaration. Another silent communication passed between them and then Brown started to speak. When the detective was finished, he asked, "Okay, now you tell us something."

Surprised, Hunter was silent for a second. "What do you want to know?"

"What's the deal with you and Ellison?" Brown inquired. "You've got this freaky twin thing going on here."

Hunter shrugged as he reluctantly replied, "There's a slight possibility there might be some family connection between the two of us."

"You don't sound too sure of that."

"Let's just say that I'm more inclined to believe it's just some weird coincidence."

The two detectives again exchanged a quick glance. This time, it was Rafe that addressed the IA captain. "Look, Ellison is a good cop. But more important than that, he's a good friend and a decent guy. And if I were you, I'd consider myself lucky to be his family."

Standing up, the two men headed towards the door. "We've got to head out now," Brown informed the silent man sitting at the table. "If you need to talk to us again, you know where to find us."

"Hold up a minute."

Both men turned to face Hunter. "What?" Brown asked.

"Exactly how is your investigation going?" Hunter inquired. "Have you found out who's responsible for the harassment?"

"We've got a few leads."

"I heard that a cop's kid was involved."

Surprised, the two men glanced at each other before facing Hunter again. "Where'd you hear that?" Rafe demanded.

"Just around." The reply was evasive. "Is it true?"

"We don't know anything for sure yet."

Hunter tilted his head to the side as he gave the two men a speculative look. "Hmmm."

"What?"

"Nothing." Hunter gestured towards the door. "We're through here."

After the two men left, Hunter could hear their hushed conversation in the hallway.

* * * * *

"How'd he know that? About Williams' kid being involved in this thing with Sandburg?"

"I don't know. But that guy is seriously freaky. Reminds me of Ellison."

"Yeah, I know what you mean. Hey, you don't think that he reallyÖ"

"C'mon, Rafe, you know that Ellison would never hurt Hairboy's mom."

"I know. I guess I'm still kinda pissed at Ellison."

"Me too. I still can't believe the way he treated Hairboy."

"At least they've gotten over all that shit now and put it behind them."

"I'd hate to have to put up with Ellison if Blair wasn't around to keep him under control."

"I know what you mean, partner."

"Right now though, we need to go get the guys that hurt the kid. Otherwise, we'll have to answer to the captain."

"Forget the captain. We'd have to answer to Ellison."

"Plus, it really pisses me off that someone messed with the kid."

"Yeah. Nobody messes with one of us and gets away with it."

"And the kid became one of us a long time ago."

"You said it."

"Let's go."

* * * * *

Inside the interrogation room, Hunter shook himself slightly as he heard the two men walk off.

"Williams, huh? I'll have to remember that name. But for now, I've got another interview to conduct. So, Rhonda Campbell, let's see what you can tell me about my supposed cousin." Leaving the room, Hunter went to find Simon's assistant.

  

Chapter Nine

After they discussed the upcoming hearing some more, Blair became adamant about being released from the hospital. "I don't want to stay here tonight, Jim."

Instead of Jim, Joel stepped forward to reason with the determined young man. "Blair, be reasonable. You've got a concussion. You need to stay here for tonight."

"No!" Blair protested. "Besides, IÖ I want to go talk to Naomi one more time."

"I don't think that's a very good idea." Simon voiced his opinion.

"You don't get it." Blair twisted around until he could see the captain. "I may be able to reason with her. Convince her to tell the truth before it's too late." He turned to look at Stone. "I mean, if she lies in court, she could get in some pretty serious trouble, couldn't she?"

The attorney met Blair's gaze. "I'm not going to lie to you. Your mother could face some serious charges when these allegations are disproved. I mean, giving false information to the police, perjuring herself in court and filing a false police report. She could find herself in some serious trouble. In Washington, she could do prison time."

"As much as I hate what she did, IÖ IÖ"

"You don't want to see her hurt," Jim finished.

Blair shrugged and looked down, unable to see the expected reproach in his friend's eyes.

Sighing, Jim reached over and tilted Blair's head up. "I understand, Blair. I wouldn't expect you to do anything else. Naomi is your mom and I know you love her. Hell, I gotta admit that I'm kinda fond of the lady myself. Even after all this shit she's put us through."

"You are?"

Jim smiled at the look of surprise on his Guide's face. "Hey, she gave me you, didn't she?"

Blair breath caught and he blinked his eyes against the wetness starting to gather. "God, Jim, I just don't understand how she could do this. When I was a kid, a lot of the time she acted like I was just in the way. ButÖ I just don't understand why this matters to her so much. Why is she so against our friendship? Why does it bother her to see me happy and at peace? For the first time in my life, I've got a home. I'm settled. Why does she want to mess with that?"

"I don't know, Chief. I don't know."

Blair wiped at his eyes. "Can one of you go and get Dr. C?"

"BlairÖ"

"Please, Jim."

Unable to resist the pleading tone, Jim asked, "Simon, could youÖ"

"I'll go round up the doc," Simon interrupted. "But I want someone in the room when Sandburg talks to his mother."

"I don't thinkÖ" Blair started to protest.

"I'll do it," Joel volunteered. "If she's awake, that is. They had her pretty heavily sedated earlier. I think the run in with Hunter kinda shook her up."

Blair couldn't suppress his concern for his mother. "Why? What did he say to her?"

"He just questioned her. That's all," Joel explained.

Expression darkening, Blair demanded, "Did he get her very upset? If he hurtÖ"

Joel held up a hand, forestalling his son's tirade. "Blair, more than anything, it was just his resemblance to Jim that got to her."

The young man relaxed slightly. Seeing that things were calm for the moment, Simon left to get the doctor.

* * * * *

After questioning Rhonda, Hunter felt compelled to head back to the hospital. In part, wanted to check on Sandburg again. But he also felt an overwhelming urge to question William about the connection between himself and the Ellison family. He had some memories from childhood that now made some sense. He wished his mom was still alive. He had some big questions to ask. It was possible that William Ellison had the answers.

Forgoing the elevator, the IA captain decided to use the stairs. As he arrived at the first floor landing, he overheard a familiar sounding voice. Automatically tuning in, he heard an irate sounding Naomi arguing with someone in hushed tones. Curious, he decided to investigate. Quietly, he exited the stairwell and approached Naomi's room. A frown appeared on his face as he listened to the continuing argument.

"What do you mean Ellison is out of jail?" Naomi's hushed voice inquired.

"Just what I told you," A deep male voice replied. "Banks arranged for some lawyer to come defend Ellison. The guy convinced a judge to release Ellison. They set up some kind of hearing for tomorrow. So, you'd better be ready to put on one hell of a performance 'cause the DA is sure to call you to testify."

"This is not good. How dare they let him go!"

"Yeah, well, that's not all the news I got for ya."

"Tell me!"

"Right now, Ellison is upstairs paying a visit to that baby boy of yours. 'Course that's only fair since little Blair went to see Ellison earlier. Wonder how that kid of yours liked seeing Ellison behind bars?"

Outside the room, Hunter bristled at the derisive tone the man used when referring to Blair.

"Do you know what happened?" Naomi's tone was worried and frantic. "My baby believes me, doesn't he?"

"I had a parabolic mike with me earlier. The kid walked right in there and asked Ellison why he tried to kill you." A low chuckle sounded. "I would've loved to have seen the look on Ellison's face then."

The gloating, sneering tone was evident in Naomi's voice. "Too bad you weren't able to get pictures for me."

"So what do you need me to do now?"

"Nothing. For now, I don't need your services. Tomorrow, Jim Ellison will be sent back to jail and I'll get my baby boy away from that pig for good."

Hearing that someone was approaching the door, Hunter quickly moved away. Watching from the shadows, he saw a man leave Naomi's room. An unpleasant grin on his face, the IA Captain quietly followed.

* * * * *

When Simon returned, he entered the room and then quickly stepped aside. Dr. Cuthbertson stormed inside and marched over to the bed. "What is this I hear about you leaving?"

Not intimidated in the least, Blair replied, "I need to get out of here."

"Well, I say you need to stay."

"Look, Dr. C., I can't stay, all right?" Blair turned pleading eyes the doctor's way. "There's some things that I need to do." The young man glanced over at the silent man beside him. "Some things that I have to do."

"I take it this has something to do with your mother being a patient here as well."

"Yeah, it does," Blair confirmed. "I can't go into it, Dr. C. but I need you to trust me on this. If anything happens, you know that Jim will bring me back here right away."

"Whether he wants to come or not," Jim added.

The doctor eyed the two men seated on the bed. Finally, she gave an exasperated sigh. "It's never easy with you two, is it?" Throwing up her hands, she relented. "All right, I'll release you." Pointing a finger at Jim, she warned, "But you'd better get him back here at the first sign of trouble, understand?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

Blair snickered slightly at his partner's response.

Turning, Dr. Cuthbertson pinned Blair in place with a glare. "And just what do you find so amusing?"

"UmÖ Nothing, ma'am."

The doctor nodded to herself. "Good." Her demeanor gentling, she gave them a small smile. "Take care of each other, guys."

"We will," both men replied.

Shaking her head, Dr. Cuthbertson said, "I'll go arrange for Blair's release. And Iím telling Sadie. Iím sure sheíll want some words with you."

"How long will that be?" Blair asked.

"Not too long," Dr. Cuthbertson answered. "I'll be back with shortly."

* * * * *

Almost half an hour had passed before Dr. Cuthbertson finally returned. Sadie Farmsworth was sitting in the roomís only chair and had evidently made her position known. Blair had that stubborn look on his face. "You're all set," she announced as she walked into the room. "You can go now. But just rememberÖ"

"I know, I know. Right back here at the first sign of trouble."

"That's right."

"I'll look after him, Dr. C.," Jim promised.

Dr. Cuthbertson nodded. "I know."

"Can we forget the wheelchair?" Blair asked. "We're Ö um Ö we're not leaving the hospital right away."

"Are you going to stop in and see your mother?" Dr. Cuthbertson asked, her tone soft and gentle.

"Yeah."

Against her better judgment, she couldn't say no to the obviously dejected young man. "All right, we'll skip the wheelchair." A stern look on her face, the doctor added, "This time."

"Thanks, Dr. C."

"You're welcome, Blair. Take care, okay?"

"I will." When Blair then moved to stand, he felt Jim's supportive hand come to rest on his back as his partner stood as well.

"You ready, Chief?"

"As I'll ever be."

The two men gave the doctor a slight nod and then left the room. Wordlessly, Simon, Stone, William and Joel followed behind them.

After they left the room, Stone said, "I need to do some preparation for tomorrow morning."

"Okay," Simon answered for the group. "I'll takeÖ"

"No, that's all right," the attorney interrupted. "You need to stay with Jim and Blair. I'll go downstairs and catch a cab. Call me when you get done here. I need to know what happens."

"All right." Simon stuck out his hand. "Thanks for all your help, Ben. I really appreciate it."

"So do I," William added as the two men shook hands. "When this is over, send me your bill and I'llÖ"

Stone held up a hand. "That's not necessary, Mr. Ellison. I'm doing this pro bono."

"That's very generous of you," William replied.

"I'm just want to make sure a miscarriage of justice doesn't occur. To me, that's payment enough. Now if you'll excuse me."

"I'll call you later, Ben," Simon promised.

Stone nodded. "As for you, Detective, watch our for your partner. Tomorrow morning I'm going to do everything in my power to get these trumped up charges dismissed."

"Thank you, Ben."

"Yeah, thanks, man," Blair added his own thanks to his partner's.

"It's my pleasure, gentlemen." After giving them a final nod, the attorney walked away.

Wordlessly, the remaining men started towards the elevator.

* * * * *

When they reached Naomi's room, Jim laid a hand on Blair arm as the younger man started towards the door. "Are you sure you want to do this, Blair?"

"I have to, Jim. For her sake as well as my own."

Jim nodded his understanding as he moved his hand away. "Just Ö God, I know this is gonna sound Ö don't let her upset you too much, okay? I meanÖ"

Blair gave the older man a small, bittersweet smile. "I won't, Jim. And, thanks." With a glance towards Joel, Blair let out a sigh and then pushed open the door to his mother's room.

* * * * *

Having fallen into a light sleep, Naomi stirred and then awakened as Blair entered the room with Joel silently coming in behind him. Sitting up, she smiled at her son. "Blair."

"Hi, Naomi." Blair stepped into the room but didn't come close to the bed. "How are you?"

"Well, I'm better now that you're back." A small frown appeared on Naomi's face. "I was so sad when you left here earlier. I needed you to be here for me, Blair."

"IÖ IÖ" Blair gave Joel a helpless look.

In support, Joel stepped up to stand beside his son.

Spotting Joel, Naomi smiled again. "Joel, you're finally back. I missed you."

Joel nodded but didn't move from Blair's side. "Naomi."

Taking a deep breath, Blair finally moved to stand by the bed. Looking down at his mother, he said, "Naomi, we need to talk."

Instantly, Naomi's expression hardened. "About what?"

* * * * *

Out in the hallway, Jim nervously prowled in front of the door to Naomi's room.

Irritated at the detective's actions, Simon growled, "Knock it off, Jim."

Ignoring the captain, Jim continued to pace. "I don't like this."

"None of us like this, but if you don't stand still, I'm gonna cuff you to a chair."

William moved to block his son's path. "If you're worried then listen to them, Jimmy."

Jim couldn't help the look of surprise that appeared on his face. "You're telling me to use my senses?"

William laid his hands on Jim's shoulders. "I can't go back and change the way I acted when you were a child, Jimmy. I wish to God that I could, but I can't. What I can do is realize my mistakes and learn from them. I know now what you can do, what you are, it's aÖ" a small smile appeared on the elder Ellison's face as he tightened his hold on Jim, "Ö a gift. It's something that you should embrace. And it's something that I can accept now. I'm Ö I'm proud of you, Son." William drew his son into a hug.

Startled, it was a few seconds before Jim brought his arms up and hugged his father back. "Thanks, Dad."

Separating from Jim, William cleared his throat. "Now, what would Blair have you do?"

"Focus one sense on something while I dial up my hearing."

"Well, what are you waiting for? Do it!"

Jim chuckled. "Yes, Sir." Then, he laid a hand on his father's shoulder. Focusing part of his attention on the warmth emanating from his father's body, he dialed up his hearing and listened in on what was going on with his guide.

* * * * *

When Blair didn't immediately answer her, Naomi demanded, "Tell me what we need to talk about, Blair."

Drawing another deep, steadying breath, Blair replied, "We need to talk about Jim and your Ö and your lies about him."

"What did you just say?"

"IÖ I want to know why you're lying about Jim. I know that he didn't hurt you."

Naomi appeared grief-stricken as she stared at Blair. "I don't believe this." Tears welling up in her eyes, her voice quivered. "HowÖ How could you say something like that to me? How could you accuse me of lying to you? My own son doesn't believe me. You're taking that word of that pig over your own mother. He beat me, nearly killed me, and you're taking his side." Openly crying now, Naomi buried her face in her hands.

"Mom," Blair approached Naomi and laid a hand on her back. "IÖ"

Jerking away, Naomi yelled, "Just go away! I should have known that you'd take his side! You never really loved me! You've always been so selfish, putting yourself ahead of everything. I sacrificed so much while you were growing up. I worked so hard to support you and provide for you and this is how you repay me? This is the thanks I get? I deserve better than this. I deserve some loyalty and respect from my son!"

"Mom, I'm sorry. IÖ"

"I don't want to hear it, Blair. This time you've gone too far."

"Please, Naomi, think about what you're doing," Blair pleaded. "You don't want to go through with this. You could get in a lot of troubleÖyou could end up in prison."

"Are you threatening me?" Naomi interrupted. "How dare you! Let me tell you something, Blair. The only one who's going to be in trouble is that pig of yours. He's going to pay for what he's done. I'll see to that if it's the last thing I ever do!"

"Mom, don't do this! Please!" Blair tried to reason with his mother once again. "Just tell the truth and all of this will go away. I won't let anything happen to you. I'll protect you."

Naomi scoffed. "You? You're going to protect me? You couldn't do that before so why should I think that you'd do it now?"

"MomÖ"

"I remember how well you protected me," Naomi overrode her son's attempt to speak. "You stood by and let some of my boyfriends beat me up. What did you do to protect me then? Nothing, that's what."

Blair paled. "IÖ"

Joelís mouth hung open. He was shocked at what heíd just heard Naomi say. She had expected her child to protect her. She was supposed to protect Blair. He placed his arm around his son and took a deep breath. Heíd give Blair the defense he deserved.

*****

Out in the hallway, Jim let out a low growl and started for the room. "That bitch!"

"Whoa!" Simon rushed forward to try to restrain Jim.

Easily evading Simon's grasp, Jim stormed into Naomi's room. In an instant, the sentinel took note of his guide's thundering heartbeat and rapid breathing. When Blair turned his way and he saw the look of absolute horror and shock on his guide's pale face, Jim's anger grew. With a snarl, he started towards the bed.

Alarmed by Jim's sudden appearance, and by the look of absolute anger and hatred on the older man's face, Blair was stunned into temporary paralysis. Then, seeing Jim head towards Naomi, he shook off the shock and moved to place himself in front of Jim.

Intent on the object of his hostility, the sentinel didn't immediately notice the presence that moved to block his way. Just as he was about to run over his guide, some part of him recognized the obstacle as being his partner. Not wanting to injure Blair, some reason returned and cleared away a portion of the red haze clouding Jim's mind. "Out of the way, Blair."

Blair laid his hand on Jim's chest, over the older man's heart. "No, Jim. I'm not going to let you do something we'd both end up regretting."

"But sheÖ"

"Öisn't worth it," Blair finished. Leaning forward, he rested his forehead against Jim's shoulder. "I know that now, Jim. Don't give in to her. Don't do anything that would make them take you away. That's what she wants. I finally see her now, Jim. I see her for who she is and not for who I want her to be. Just get me out of here now before I lose it. Please, Jim, take me home."

Fists clenching and unclenching at his sides, Jim glared at Naomi. Seeing the smug look on her face, he almost went after her again. But then, he felt the wetness against his shirt. Looking down, seeing Blair shoulders shaking slightly, Jim wrapped his arms around his hurting partner. Without saying a single word to the woman sitting on the bed, he kept his guide in his protective embrace as they turned and left the room.

 

Chapter Ten

Left behind, Simon, Joel and William all stared at Naomi with looks of disgust on their faces. Joel was the first to break the silence. "I can't believe that I ever took your word over Jim's. What kind of pathetic fool am I?"

Feeling sorry for his friend, Simon walked over and took hold of Joel's arm. "C'mon, Joel, let's get out of here." Glaring over at Naomi, he added, "Your son needs you right now."

After the two men left, William approached Naomi. Seeing the self-satisfied smile on her face, the elder Ellison hissed, "Wipe that smile off of your face right now before I slap it off."

Stunned, the smile faded from Naomi's face and she stared at William in shock. "You can'tÖ"

"Oh, yes, I can," William interrupted. "You might not give a damn about that boy but I do and I won't tolerate anyone hurting him like you just did. You aren't fit to be called a mother. And I'll tell you something else Ö your days of abusing Blair are over! I don't care what I have to do but I'll never allow you to treat him like that again." William leaned close to Naomi and smiled when she shrank back. "I don't care what I have to do, I'll make sure that my son never spends one night in prison because of you and your lies. I'll do whatever it takes to protect them from you. Whatever it takes. Do you understand me?"

"YÖ Yes."

Giving the now frightened woman a nod, William turned and left the room.

*****

When William came out of the room, he found Simon waiting in the hallway.

Seeing the other man's questioning look, Simon said, "They took Blair downstairs. Joel is going to take them back to the loft in his car. I told them that I'd stick around and let you know what was going on."

"Thank you."

Simon shrugged. "You're welcome. I have to head to the station for a little while. I want to see how the investigation into Blair's harassment is going and IÖ Well, I want toÖ"

"Check on Hunter," William finished.

"Well, yeah," Simon admitted. "I just want to make sure the guy isn't trying to railroad Jim or anything."

"I think that's one thing you don't have to worry about," William reassured. "I believe Vince Hunter is an honorable man. I think he and Jim have a lot in common in that regard."

"I hope you're right." Simon gestured towards the door. "I'm going to head out now."

"I'll join you." Both men started down the hallway. "I want to stop by and check on the boys before I head home."

"Would you tell them that I'll give them a call if I find out anything?"

"I certainly will."

When they reached the parking lot, they said their goodnights and then went their separate ways.

* * * * *

Seated in the backseat of Joel's car, Jim held Blair close to his side. Soothingly, he ran a hand up and down his partner's back. Pulling the shaking body more firmly against him, he murmured, "It's okay, Blair. Just let it all out."

Concerned, Joel glanced in the rearview mirror. "Jim?"

"Not now, Joel. Just get us home." Seeing the older man bristle slightly, Jim sighed. "Right now, Blair just needs to be someplace where he feels safe. And that place is home."

Reluctantly, Joel remained silent as they continued on their way to the loft.

Letting out another weary sounding sigh, Jim leaned further back into the seat as he kept up the soft words to his partner. "Everything will be okay, Blair. I promise."

"How could she say those things?" The question was said Sentinel soft.

Leaning his head down, Jim rested his cheek against his partner's hair. "I don't know." The words were whispered, audible only to the man lying against him. "I'm just so damn sorry. I hate that you're hurting. I wish I could make it all go away. Or that there was at least something that I could do to help."

Blair tightened his hold on Jim. "You are helping. Just by being here, you make it not hurt as bad. Knowing that I've still got you, still got my brother, it helps more than you could ever know."

"Same here, Chief. Same here."

Eyes closed, wrapped in each other's presence, sentinel and guide felt the wounds on their souls being healed by their closeness.

In the front seat, Joel kept glancing in the rearview mirror. His eyes widened when he thought he could detect a faint blue light surrounding the embracing men. When he blinked his eyes, the eerie light was gone. Joel felt shivers run up and down his spine. Feeling uneasy now, he didn't look in the mirror again.

*****

When they got to the loft, Jim continued to maintain his hold on Blair as they went upstairs. Reaching the door, he silently passed his keys over to Joel.

Joel opened the door and then stepped aside to allow Jim and Blair to enter their home. Following behind them, he shut the door and then set the keys in the basket sitting on the table next to it.

Standing in the middle of his loft, Jim glanced over at his partnerís adjoining loft before coming to a decision. With a gentle push, he started Blair towards the stairs leading to his bedroom. "Youíre gonna bunk with me tonight, Junior. Go on up and change into a pair of my sweats. Iíll be up in just a minute."

Dazed, Blair blankly stared at Jim for several seconds and then started towards his partnerís bedroom.

Having silently watched the interaction between the two men, Joel spoke up when he saw his son climbing the stairs. "Do you really think thatís necessary?"

After making sure Blair reached his bedroom safely, Jim walked over to Joel. Grabbing the other manís arm, he led his friendís father over to the kitchen. "Keep your voice down. The last thing Blair needs right now is to hear more arguing."

Joel jerked his arm away from Jim. "Donít tell me what my son needs."

"Iím not in the mood to get into some pissing contest with you, Joel," Jim hissed, keeping his voice low. "Iím going to have to keep a watch on Blair tonight and itíll be easier on both of us if weíre close. Hell, itís late anyway. Itís not like we wonít have to get up in a few hours and go to court. Until then, I want him to get some rest. Heís had quite a shock today on top of the injuries he sustained and I donít want him to be alone right now."

"Shouldnít that be up to him?"

"Shit, Joel, what do you think Iím gonna do? Molest your little boy or something?"

"Are you?"

Jim spun away from Joel. Walking over to the counter, he gripped the edge tightly, afraid of what he would do if his fists were free. "I canít believe you would ask me something like that."

"I think itís time for that talk now," Joel said as he came up to stand behind Jim. "Iíll admit that I donít know a whole hell of a lot about this Sentinel thing or how Blair fits into it. But what I do know is that I donít like the way you act towards my son. When youíre not blaming him for something or shutting him out, youíre acting all controlling and possessive. And in my opinion, thatís an abusive relationship."

"AbuÖ" Jim turned around and stared at Joel, the look of shock on his face quickly changing to one of anger. "Where in the hell do you get offÖ?"

"Heís my son!"

"Yeah, and maybe your guilt over that is making you see something that isnít there," Jim countered.

"I donít know what youíre talking about."

"Donít you?" Jim moved closer to the other man, forcing Joel to take a step backwards. "All of a sudden you find out that Blair is your son. Then, you start thinking about everything you missed out on and you feel guilty. You think you can make up for all the time you missed out on by being some overprotective father." The sentinel stalked forward. "Or is it that youíre jealous?" When Joel flinched slightly, a feral smile appeared on Jimís face. "Thatís it, isnít it? You donít like the fact that Blair and I are so close. What? You think that Iím cutting in on your action? Naomiís got nothing on you does she, Joel? Both of you think that if Iím out of the picture, youíll have Blair to yourself."

"Thatís not true!" Joel exclaimed. "You just refuse to admit the truth. Since the two of you have met, youíve always been the important one. Blairís needs and wants; theyíve always been secondary. Because heís a caring, forgiving person, you know that no matter how you act, Blair will stay as long as you need him. And that gives you all the power doesnít it? Doesnít it, Sentinel?"

"Stop it!" Blairís voice rang out. "Just stop it!"

Both men turned and saw an unsteady Blair standing at the foot of the stairs. Joel started towards his son. "BlairÖ"

"No, Joel, stay away." Blair held up a hand to halt his fatherís approach. "I canít believe you would say those things. Do you honestly think that I would stay in some kind of abusive situation? Iíll admit that Jim and I have had some problems, but thereís no way thereís any kind of abuse going on. Címon, Joel. Tell me you donít really believe that."

"Iím only going on what Iíve seen, Son," Joel replied. "All the times he has hurt you. The times heís yelled at you or belittled you."

"And Iíve yelled back," Blair countered. "We get into it. We fight and, yeah, sometimes we yell. But itís both of us, Joel. As for the belittling part, I donít even know where youíre coming from with that."

"That fight at the station; the one that you had on Thanksgiving. The things he said to youÖ"

"He was scared and worried," Blair interrupted. "When that happens, he lashes out. But heís changed now. We both have. Now that weíve finally acknowledged where our problems lie, weíre doing something about them. What happened before, itís not going to happen again."

"How can you be so sure?"

Blair shrugged. "I just am. I canít explain it. Itís just Ö Itís a feeling. I know that things are going to be different between Jim and I now. Donít get me wrong, JÖ Dad. I love the fact that you want to look out for me and protect me. I really do. But I donít need you to protect me from Jim. Thatís the last thing I need."

"And as for everything else, thatís what heís got me for," Jim added. "After all, Iím his blessed protector."

Joel frowned when he saw the two men exchange a smile. "Heís got his father now so he doesnít need a blessed protector anymore."

When Jim took a step towards Joel, Blair held up his hands. "Okay, time out. Neutral corners, guys. Look, obviously there are some pretty complex issues at work here. I, for one, am not up to dealing with them tonight. So, hereís what I suggest. After we get all of this shit behind us, I suggest we take a little trip up to the cabin. We can have a long talk and deal with everything. Okay?"

"That might be a problem if Jim is in jail."

"Joel!" Blair exclaimed. "How can you even think something like that? Jim wonít be going to jail. One way or another, heíll be cleared. I know it."

"ChiefÖ"

"I donít want to hear it, Jim. You will be cleared. I just know it."

Jim tried once more. "Blair, you have to face the possibility that I mightÖ"

"I said I donít want to hear it," Blair interrupted. "Everything will be okay."

"Another feeling?" Jim softly asked.

Blair looked down. "Yeah, I guess."

"Okay, Chief. I believe you. Everythingís gonna work out okay."

Joel shook his head. "Donít tell him that. Now, if you do wind up going to jail, heís going to feel terrible. He needs to face that fact that you might just end up doing some time over this."

In the silence, Blair stared at Joel. Seeing the unreadable expression on his sonís face, Joel started to say something but a knock on the door stopped him.

Jim glanced between Blair and Joel. "Iíll get that." Neither man responded as Jim went over to the door and opened it to reveal his father standing in the hallway. "What are you doing here?"

"I just wanted to check on the two of you," William answered as he stepped around his son and entered the loft. When he saw Blair and Joel, he became concerned. "Is everything all right?"

"Yeah, it is," Blair replied. "My Dad was just leaving."

"BlairÖ"

"Not now, Joel. JustÖgo home. Weíll see you tomorrow."

"Okay, Son."

When Joel started to leave, Blair added, "IÖ I love you, Dad. But you need to remember that I am an adult. Jim is my brother. I donít want to have to choose between the two of you. But, if it does come down to it, know that Iíll choose Jim. Every time. Weíve been through too much together for me to even consider life without him."

Turning at the sound of the hesitant, soft words, Joel smiled at his son. "I love you too, Blair. I want whatís best for you. But for me, Jim Ellison doesnít figure into that equation. Get some rest." With a barely civil nod to Jim, Joel left.

"Somebody mind telling me what that was all about?" William asked as Jim shut and locked the door.

"Just working out a few kinks in this whole father-son thing." Blair shrugged. "Itís kind of hard getting used to have a father after so many years without one."

William looked between Blair and his son. "Maybe Jimmy can help you out with that, Blair. I imagine heís going through something quite similar himself."

"I donít think so, Pop," Jim replied. "Itís an entirely different situation. I mean, you never accused Blair of abusing me."

"Abuse? What are you talking about?"

"Itís nothing, Bill," Blair answered, shooting Jim a warning look. "Just something that Joel and I need to clear up. Itís just one big misunderstanding."

Realizing that something more was going on between the three men, William thought about persisting. But then, after one look at Blairís tired, drawn face, he decided to let it go for now. Heíd get to the bottom of the problem once Jimís name was cleared. Joel Taggert would find out that Blair was part of the Ellison family. Heíd make sure of that. "All right. But if thereís some kind of problem, I hope you know that Iím here for the two of you. If thereís anything you need, all you have to do is ask."

"We know that, Bill," Blair replied for both he and Jim. "We really appreciate it too."

"Yeah, we do," Jim added. "But for now, itís time for you to hit the sheets." Walking over to Blair, Jim grasped the younger manís chin and tilted his face up. "You look like youíre about to fall over, Chief." Releasing Blair, Jim added, "Go on." Seeing Blairís glance over at William, Jim chuckled. "Itís all right, go on up."

"You sure?"

"Go on before I have to carry your butt up there."

"Okay." Blair peered around Jim and smiled at William. "Good night, Bill."

"Good night, Blair." William raised an eyebrow when he saw Blair head towards his sonís room. Then, seeing the challenging look his son was directing his way, he simply shrugged and smiled.

Nodding to himself, glad that his father wasnít going to make a big deal out of the sleeping arrangements, Jim asked, "What happened after we left?"

"What do you mean?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "Címon, Pop, I know you said something to Naomi."

"After you left, I just made it clear that she shouldnít try to interfere with you or Blair again, thatís all." William walked over to Jim. His voice was low when he continued. "But you and I both know that sheís not likely to stop. Thatís whyÖ" William looked up towards Jimís bedroom. "IÖ I want you to know that I wonít let you spent any time in jail, Son. Iíve got some contacts, people who can arrange things. If worse comes to worse thenÖ"

"Hold up there," Jim interrupted. "Look, Pop, I donít want you involved in anything like that. I donít want you to risk going to jail over this. IÖ"

"Donít you argue with me, Jimmy," William overrode his sonís protest. "Iím not going to allow my son to sit in jail for something he didnít do. Now, I can arrange to get both you and Blair out of the countryÖ"

"Thatís not necessary," Jim protested. "A while ago, I accepted the fact that Blair and I might need to disappear. Iíve already got things arranged; everything is in place in case things go bad. Understand?"

William nodded. "Yes, I do. I just hate that I might lose you again, Son. Especially now when things are so much better between us."

"No matter what happens, Iíll contact you. When itís safe. I promise Iíll let you know that weíre all right."

Choked with emotion, William didnít trust himself to speak. He simply drew his son into a hug.

Knowing what his father was feeling, experiencing the same emotions himself, Jim whispered into his fatherís ear. "Me too."

Just then, the phone rang and the two men reluctantly separated. Wiping at his eyes, Jim went over and picked up the phone. "Ellison. Oh, hey, Simon. What? Heís fine. Heís resting right now." Jim listened for a while, nodding occasionally. "All right. Thanks for calling, Simon. Yeah, weíll expect you and Ben in the morning. Okay. Bye." Jim hung up the phone and then turned to find his father looking at him expectantly.

"What did he say?"

"Just that thereís nothing new." Jim sighed. "He checked in with Rafe and Brown. They conducted some interviews but so far nobodyís talking. I swear, if it wasnít for all of this shit with Naomi, Iíd be out there tracking those bastards down. I feel so fuÖ so damn helpless. I hate it."

"I know you do, Son, but itíll be over soon."

"I hope so. I really do."

"Did he say anything about Hunter?"

"Actually, thatís kind of strange." Jim had a puzzled look on his face. "Simon said that he canít find Hunter anywhere. Evidently the guy was at the station earlier because he interviewed some people. But he left and now nobody can find him."

"Do you think that heís okay?"

Irritated by the concern in his fatherís voice, Jim scoffed, "Heís probably just out trying to dig up some dirt on me."

"Jim, you really should give Hunter a chance. He is family after all."

"Since when isÖ" Jim bit his tongue and stopped before he could say the hurtful words. "The guy just rubs me the wrong way, okay? Hell, we donít even know if he really is family." Seeing the reproachful look his father gave him, Jim ran a hand over his face. "Okay, okay, I admit that heís probably related to us. But that doesnít mean I have to like the guy."

"Just give him a chance," William requested. "Please."

"Look, itís not even like the guy will be here that long. As soon as this case is over, heíll head back to DC." Jim was silent for a moment. "SoÖ You, um, want to tell me why I never knew you had a sister."

"Never knewÖ" William looked at Jim in shock. "You mean you donít remember your Aunt Kristine?"

"Should I?"

"She and Hunter used to visit us quite frequently when you were younger," William answered. "Up until you wereÖ Well, until the two of us had a disagreement."

"What was that about anyway? What did the two of you fight over?"

William looked away from Jim. "We just argued, thatís all."

"DadÖ"

"I really need to be going," William interrupted. "Iíll see you in the morning."

Jim realized that he wouldnít get any more answers out of his father. "Yeah, goodnight. See ya tomorrow."

Wondering why he didnít remember his aunt, or his cousin, Jim saw his father out and then locked the door again. Mind still preoccupied, he went up to his bedroom. After he reached the top of the stairs, all thoughts about his cousin fled when he saw Blair. Quietly, he approached the bed. Reaching out a hand, he gently touched Blairís face. Instantly, the furrowed brow was eased by his soothing caress and Blair settled into a deep sleep. Mentally setting his internal alarm to wake him up in two hours so that he could check on his concussed partner, Jim lifted up the covers and slid into bed next to Blair. Letting out a weary sigh, Jim settled into bed. The sound of his partnerís steady heartbeat instantly lulling him into an easy sleep.

  

Chapter Eleven

Awakened when Blair started thrashing around, Jim sat up and began speaking softly to his partner. "Wake up, Blair. C'mon." When Blair started to emerge from the nightmare, Jim reached down and squeezed the younger man's shoulder. "That's it."

"WhaÖ" Blair blinked several times and then confusion filled eyes turned Jim's way. "What's wrong?"

"You were having a nightmare," Jim explained. "What to tell me what it was about? Then again, I could probably guess."

Sitting up, Blair ran a hand over his face. "Sorry about waking you up."

"Donít worry about it." Jim reached behind his back and moved his pillow around. Leaning back, he looked over at Blair. "So?"

"Huh?" Blair was still partially asleep.

Jim smiled. "What were you dreaming about?"

Blair shrugged and averted his eyes. "Nothing. Can't remember." The younger man gestured towards the bandage on his partner's arm. "How is your arm doing? Does it hurt?"

Jim sighed. "I told you it was just a scratch. It's nothing, okay. I'm fine. And stop trying to change the subject." Jim shifted until he was lying on his side, facing Blair. "Aren't you the one who's always saying it helps to talk about stuff? Talk to me here, Chief. I want to help."

"I know you do." Blair's voice was soft. "It's justÖ I doubted you, Jim."

"Look at me." When Blair didn't look up, Jim reached over and tilted his chin up. "You didn't do anything wrong, Blair. My God, we're talking about your mother. It's only natural that you'd believe her and want to protect her."

"But I'm your guide. I never should haveÖ"

"I don't want to hear it," Jim interrupted. "Look, I know that I've acted like a jerk to you before. You know that I can have a temper and how your mother can push my buttons. I'm not surprised that you had doubts. I'm not angry with you and I don't blame you. You didn't do anything wrong."

Although he still felt guilty, Blair reluctantly acquiesced. "Whatever you say, Jim."

"And don't you forget it, Junior." Jim smiled when he heard Blair's weak chuckle. "Now how about telling me about that dream?"

Blair shrugged. "Don't really remember much of it. I thinkÖ It's like I was stumbling around in the dark. I was looking for you. I kept calling out your name butÖ But each time I tried to talk, there was something stopping me. I felt likeÖ Like there was something in the dark chasing me and I was afraid to say anything 'cause then it'd know where I was. But at the same time I wanted Ö needed Ö to find you." He reached down and started picking at a loose thread on Jim's cover. "I just felt alone." Looking toward Jim again, Blair asked, "What are we going to do, Jim? If you're sent to prison, I mean. I don't thinkÖ Man, I can't even think about you being in a place like that. The two of us being separated like that." Wracked by shivers, Blair's body shook violently.

Jim reached over and laid his hand on top of Blair's. "Never gonna happen, partner. I promise you, no matter what happens, we won't be split up." Backing up the vow, Jim gently squeezed the hand he was holding.

"HowÖ"

"Just trust me, okay, Chief?" Jim asked. "Just know that it's all set up and I've taken care of everything."

Blair turned his hand over and interlaced his fingers with Jim's. "I do, Jim. I honestly do. Even earlier when IÖ well, even then I trusted you. I believed you. In my heart, I knew that you couldn't have done anything like that. But when I saw NaomiÖ I guess it just brought up a lot of memories and IÖ I just kinda lost it there for a little while."

"Hey, you're not the only one with demons. I've got my fair share of them too. I understand where you were coming from."

Blair released Jim's hand. "So, what about the dials? What do you have them set on? Any trouble with your senses? I know that being in Ö I know that you probably had some problems earlier."

Jim rolled onto his back. "I'm fine. The arm is fine, the dials are fine and the senses are fine. So quit trying to change the subject."

"I'm not," Blair protested. "I'm just worried about you."

Smiling, Jim looked over at Blair. "I know, partner, and I'm glad to have you watching my back. But youÖ"

"I justÖ I just can't handle any more right now, okay. I mean, tomorrowÖ Tomorrow is going to be hard, Jim. On both of us. There's no telling what my moÖ what Naomi will do."

Jim rolled over to his side again. "That's why we need to get some rest while we can, Junior." Placing a hand on Blair's head, Jim gently pushed until Blair lay down. "No more nightmares either. If you start to have another one, justÖ just imagine the panther there to watch over you."

A faint smile on his face, Blair choked back his emotions. "So he's gonna guard my dreams, huh?"

"That's right." Jim tapped Blair's forehead. "And with him in there prowling around, there's no chance of those bad dreams returning."

"I hope so," Blair whispered. With a weary sigh, he closed his eyes. "Night, Jim."

"Goodnight, Chief." Jim lay down. Positioned on his side, he drew his hand up under his cheek. For several long minutes, he simply watched his guide drift off to sleep. Later, when Blair started to thrash around, Jim reached over and laid his palm on the sleeping man's forehead. "Remember the panther's there to protect you, Blair. Everything is okay." At the contact and soft words, the younger man quieted down and settled into a deeper, dreamless sleep. "That's right. Sleep. We're both here watching over you."

For the rest of the night, both protectors kept guard. The sentinel watching over his sleeping guide, constantly scanning for any physical threats. While the panther patrolled the younger man's dreams, keeping the nightmares at bay.

*****

The next morning, Blair awakened to find Jim staring at him. "Jim?" Receiving no response, he leaned up and started to reach towards the other man. His hand halted in mid-air when Jim spoke.

"Did you know that you talk in your sleep?" A soft, open expression on his face, Jim continued. "I don't think I ever really noticed before. I guess that when I'm asleep I just monitor you on an unconscious level. I don't wake up unless I think something's wrong. But last nightÖ Last night, I didn't sleep. I guess I just wanted to watch over you." Jim finally looked away from Blair. "Or maybe I was just storing up some memories in caseÖ well, just in case." A small smile appeared on the older man's face. "While you're asleep, you move around almost as much as you do when you're awake. Then Ö later Ö you started talking. A lot of it was mumbled and I couldn't make it out. Sometimes, when the nightmares would start, I'd hear you say my name. You always said my name. I have to wonder. I hope it's because I save you from them. But a part of me can't help wondering if it's because I'm the cause of most of them."

"JimÖ"

Shaking his head, Jim seemed to come back to himself. "It's getting late and we'd better get moving. Simon and Ben will be here soon. We have to be at court in a little while." Jim gestured towards the stairs. "You head on down and get in the shower. I'll throw together a quick breakfast."

Not knowing what to say, his own emotions in a chaotic jumble at the moment, Blair gave his partner a long, searching look. Finally, he gave a slight nod and climbed out of bed.

*****

Just as the two men were finishing cleaning up from breakfast, both of them having mainly picked at their food instead of eating, Jim looked over towards the door. "They're here," he announced as a knock sounded.

Speechless, Blair stood frozen in place and simply stared.

Jim hastily wiped off his hands on a dishtowel and then threw it down on the counter. He walked over to the door and, after a final look at his partner, opened it. "Hey, Simon. Ben." Stepping aside, he let the two men enter the loft.

"Jim, how's it going?" Simon asked as he walked past the detective.

"Hanging in there." Jim nodded at Ben as the attorney passed him. "Any word from Rafe and Brown?"

"They conducted some interviews last night but so far nothing." Simon looked over at Blair. "I know this is bad timing, Blair, but later on today they'll need to interview you."

"Me?" Blair looked uneasy. "Look, Simon, I can't remember anything about what happened. All I know is I left for the Academy that day and the next thing I know, I'm waking up in the hospital with Jim and Joel standing over me. That's all I remember, honest."

"I believe you but they still need to talk to you," Simon replied. "You need to tell this about this harassment and who's been doing it."

Blair shot Jim a look. "What harassment?"

"C'mon, Chief, it's obvious someone has been bothering you." Jim walked over to the younger man. "All those bruises and injuriesÖ"

"Those happened during training, IÖ"

"Nobody gets hurt that badly that often." Jim held up a hand. "Hear me out, Chief. Dr. C. told me about all your trips to the ER. Why didn't you say something?"

"Say what?" Blair exclaimed. "That I can't hack the Academy? That I need you around to protect me fromÖ"

"From who, Chief?" Jim asked. "Is Williams one of them?"

Surprised, Blair was momentarily speechless. "What makes you ask that?" Blair questioned when he recovered.

"He's the one that brought you into the ER," Jim answered.

"That figures," Blair muttered, almost to himself.

"Blair?"

The concern in Jim's voice caught Blair's attention. "We'd better get going, right? We don't want to be late for court."

Simon looked at his watch. "The kid's right. We'd better get moving." The captain pinned Blair in place with a look. "But no matter what, we'll be talking about this academy thing later, understand."

"Yeah, sure," Blair reluctantly agreed.

At the moment Stone spoke up. "So are you two ready for this?" Receiving a hesitant nod from Blair, Stone walked over to the young man. "I'm going to ask you again, Blair. Can you handle this?"

Blair took a shaky breath. His voice only trembled slightly when he answered. "I can, Ben. I'll be okay."

"Good." Stone looked at his watch. "We'd better get moving then."

Staying close to his partner, Jim followed as Stone and Simon started to leave the loft. Halting momentarily to lock the door, the detective then walked over and placed his hand against Blair's back as the four men left the building.

During the short trip to the courthouse, none of them spoke. The silence lasted until they were inside the courtroom. After they sat down, Blair kept shifting nervously until Jim laid a hand on his thigh. "Calm down, Chief."

"I can't calm down," Blair hissed. "I'm too nervous."

"Hey, no worries, Sandy." Megan squeezed past the four men and took a seat beside Blair. "I'm sure everything will be okay."

"Megan." Blair turned to face the Inspector. "What are you doing here?"

"What? I can't offer some moral support for my friends?"

"Of course, you can." Blair smiled. "Thanks."

"Hey, Connor, where have you been?" Jim leaned around Blair and looked over at Megan. "I haven't seen you since the hospital?"

"Well, with all of you out someone had to take up the slack." Megan's grin matched the teasing tone in her voice. "I went to question Mrs. Jackson again. Without you around, she was a little bit more cooperative. With the information she gave me, I was able to track down Gilbert Martin. Had to go all over the city until I found the wanker but I finally was able to bring him in late last night."

"Oh. Well, um, thanks, Connor."

Megan winked at Jim. "No problem, mate."

Jim started to say something back but suddenly stopped and looked back towards the door.

"Jim, what is it?"

Instead of saying anything, Jim put his arm around Blair's shoulders and gave his partner a squeeze just as the door opened. Hearing his guide's heartbeat start to race when Simpson, with Naomi in tow, entered the courtroom, Jim pulled Blair closer to his side.

"Oh, man," Blair breathed as he got a good look at his mother. "She looks even worse than yesterday."

When Blair started to rise, Jim exerted some pressure and kept the younger man seated. "I don't think that'd be best, Chief."

Blair slumped back in the seat. "I knew that it'd be hard, but thisÖ It's even worse than I thought."

"I know." Jim offered what support he could, wanting nothing more than to just take his guide away from the whole situation. "Hang in there. I'm here for you and so are the others."

"That's right, we are." Standing behind Blair, William rested his hand on his son's, giving both Jim's hand and Blair's shoulder a squeeze.

"Bill." Blair turned and looked at Jim's father in surprise. "I didn't think you'd be here."

"And why not?" Bill smiled at the chastised expression that appeared on Blair's face. "There's no place else I'd rather be than here."

"Thanks, Pop."

William patted Jim's hand. "How are you two doing?"

"Hanging in there," Jim answered for both of them. Casting a pointed look Naomi's way, he added, "For now, at least." Jim looked back at his father. "You want to sit up here with us?"

"No, no, I'm fine back here." William took a seat behind Jim and then leaned forward to place one hand on Jim's shoulder and the other on Blair's.

Both men glanced back and gave William a smile of thanks. Then, Blair began to fidget slightly and look towards the door.

"What is it, Chief?"

Instantly, Blair stilled. "Nothing, Jim."

Guessing what was wrong with his partner, Jim reassured, "He'll be here, Blair."

Blair shrugged. "I'm fine. I've got all of you here."

Before responding, Jim turned towards the door again. "Looks like you're gonna have someone else here too."

Blair looked back at the door just in time to see Joel walk into the courtroom. He smiled as his father walked over to them. "Joel."

"Hey, Blair. You didn't think I'd miss this, did you?"

When it looked like Joel was going to move to sit beside Blair, William said, "Seems like us fathers are stuck back here, Joel. Come have a seat."

Joel frowned and seemed like it was going to protest but then he went to sit down beside William. "Naomi here yet?"

"Yeah." Blair voice was soft and barely audible in the noisy courtroom. "She's up there with the prosecutor."

A sharp intake of breath was Joel's only response when he looked up and saw Naomi.

Wanting to distract Blair's attention away from his mother, Jim looked over at Simon and asked, "So, did Hunter ever show up?"

"Not yet," Simon answered.

"He's okay though, right?" William leaned forward. "Nothing's happened to him, has it?"

"I'm sure he's fine, Bill," Simon reassured. "The guy certainly seems like he's able to take care of himself."

The group quieted down as the bailiff walked to the front of the courtroom and announced for them to rise for the judge.

Judge Morrison set down at the bench as the bailiff called the first case. "People vs. James Ellison. The charge is assault in the first degree and attempted murder in the second degree. Please step forward."

When Blair started to rise, Stone said, "You need to stay here for now, Blair."

"ButÖ"

"Ben's right, Blair," Jim interrupted. "Stay here with Simon and the others, okay?"

Reluctantly, Blair nodded. "Okay."

Jim smiled and then walked over to the defense table with Ben.

When they were standing in front of the judge, she addressed Jim. "Detective Ellison, how do you plead?"

"Not guilty, your honor." Jim replied confidently.

The judge addressed the prosecutor. "What evidence does the prosecution have against this defendant?"

Simpson stood. "Your honor, the people have the statement of Ms. Naomi Sandburg, who is here and prepared to testify about the attack on her by James Ellison."

"Very well," Judge Morrison said. "Ms. Sandburg please take the stand."

Seated next to Ben, Jim smiled as he heard Blair's whispered, "Prosecution? Man, more like persecution." The smile left his face as Naomi slowly, and in obvious pain, made her way to the witness stand.

 

*****

When she had walked into the courtroom and saw her son seated beside Jim, it was all Naomi could do not to go over and confront her disloyal child. Now, as she took the stand and prepared to testify against the man who had ruined her relationship with her son, she couldn't help the feeling of smug satisfaction she was experiencing.

Relishing the fact that she had the power to destroy Jim, she stared her opponent straight in the eyes as she placed her hand of the Bible and said, "I do," in response to the bailiff's question about telling the truth. Preparing to finally triumph over Jim once and for all and get her son back for good, Naomi eagerly leaned forward as Simpson approached her.

"Ms. Sandburg, I'm sorry to have to drag you in here so soon after your attack but I have just a few questions I need to ask." Now standing in front of Naomi, Simpson asked, "Before we get into the events that transpired, I think there's one important question that I need to ask you. Tell me, Ms. Sandburg, is the man who attacked you in the courtroom today?" Simpson stepped aside, allowing Naomi an unrestricted view of Jim.

"Yes, I do." Naomi was inwardly pleased with her tearful sounding response. Lifting her finger, she started to point at Jim. "He's rightÖ"

Before Naomi could finish, the doors flew open and Hunter came into the courtroom dragging a man behind him. "Your honor, please pardon this interruption but have information vital to this case."

As chaos erupted in the courtroom, the judge banged her gavel. "Order in the court! I want order in this court right now or I'll clear the room!" When everyone quieted down, she glared at the two new arrivals. "Now, I suggest you gentlemen tell me who you are before I have you taken into custody for contempt."

"I'm Captain Vince Hunter, special investigator for the Cascade Police Department, Internal Affairs Division. And he," Hunter gave the bruised and battered looking man a good shake, "well, this person is the one who really beat up the prosecution's star witness up there."

  

Chapter Twelve

The courtroom erupted again. Blair stood up and yelled, "What?" While Jim, with an expression of respect on his face, looked at Hunter.

Above it all, Simpson vehemently exclaimed, "Your Honor, I object! This man has no standing in this courtroom. I demand he be thrown out immediately."

"Well, since this is my courtroom, I'll decide that." She turned to look at Hunter. "I suppose you can verify all of this?"

"Yes, Ma'am, I can." Hunter gestured towards Simon. "I believe Captain Banks can attest to my identity and after you hear this person speak," Hunter pulled the man forward, "you'll see that these charges against Ellison are complete bull." Seeing the look the judge gave him, he hastily added, "UmÖ no disrespect intended, your Honor."

"He's telling the truth, Judge." Simon stood up. "Hunter is IA. He was brought in from DC to investigate the charges against JiÖ Detective Ellison."

"Very well. While this is highly irregular, I will hear the witness."

"But your HonorÖ"

"Sit down and shut up, Mr. Simpson. Seems to me that you've disregarded procedure yourself quite a few times with this case."

Chastised, the prosecutor sat down.

Naomi, having sat stunned during all of this, finally overcame her shock. "You can't do this!" She pointed at Jim. "This man attacked me and you're gonna let him get away with it because he's a pig!"

"Ms. Sandburg, please step down," the judge ordered.

"No, I will not!" Naomi protested. "I demand some justice. I won't let you cover this up."

"If you continue, I'll hold you in contempt."

Naomi glared at the other woman. "YouÖ"

"Naomi, please stop this," Blair pleaded as he rushed past Simon and the others. "There's still time to make this right." Reaching the defense table, Blair stood next to Jim. "Don't keep up these lies any longer. It's time for the truth."

"The truth?" Naomi barked out a bitter sounding laugh. "What do you know about the truth? Your whole life is based on lies."

Jim stood up. "NaomiÖ"

Ignoring the warning tone, Naomi continued. "No, you're both so anxious for the truth to come out so why not get it all out."

"Naomi Ö Mom Ö please don't make things worse. We can stillÖ"

"Still what?" Naomi interrupted. "Be one big happy family

Hunter's prisoner laughed. "More like one big dysfunctional family," he muttered.

"You just shut the hell up, youÖ"

"Come off of it, Lady," Hunter interrupted. "Your hired thug here already told me everything. How you hired him to spy on Ellison and Sandburg and how you had him beat you up so that you could pin it on Ellison. It's all over. You might as well come clean and hope the judge goes easy on you."

"It's all lies! Lies!" A look of intense anger on her face, Naomi turned towards Jim. "You put them up to this, didn't you? You've never liked me. Ever since that first time we met and I wouldn't sleep with you, you've held a grudge against me." Putting on a tearful, pained expression, Naomi faced her son. "I didn't want you to know about that, Blair, but that first time I met Jim, he tried to seduce me. I turned him down because I knew it'd hurt you. Since then, he's had it in for me."

Before he could stop himself, Jim shot back, "Yeah, like you've ever closed your legs to anyone."

"You smug, arrogant, controlling bastard!" Spit flew from Naomi's mouth as she tore into Jim. "I despise you. All you've ever done is hurt my son. I tried to protect him from you but he refuses to see you for what you really are. If he stays with you, he'll wind up hurt or dead. He's my baby boy and he belongs with me! I won't let you have him! I won't!"

While everyone sat stunned, Naomi flew from the witness stand and rushed the bailiff. Before the surprised man could act, she grabbed his gun and turned towards Jim. "I'll free my son from you once and for all."

When his mother pulled the trigger, Blair reacted without thinking. He flung himself in front of Jim, taking the bullet that was intended for his partner.

As the bailiff wrestled the gun away from Naomi and restrained her, Jim gently lowered Blair to the floor. "Chief?" He began to examine his partner. "Talk to me, Chief."

Blair moaned as he opened his eyes. "Aw, man, that hurts."

Jim chuckled softly.

Hearing Jim laugh as he rushed over to the partners, Hunter demanded, "What in the hell is so funny, Ellison?" Then, he looked down and was surprised to see that there was no blood. "What theÖ"

Jim opened Blair's shirt and revealed the bulletproof vest his partner was wearing.

"Shit!" Hunter exclaimed. "Don't do that to me, Ellison."

Attention focused on Blair, Jim only vaguely registered the other man's extreme reaction to the possibility that his partner had been injured. Jim unfastened the vest and pulled it open. Sensitive fingers examined the already bruising flesh. "How you doing, Chief?"

"How do you think I'm doing?" Blair retorted. "It hurts."

When Hunter realized that Blair was relatively unharmed, he looked up in alarm. "My prisoner." He let out a relieved sigh when he saw the man being restrained by Simon.

Joel and William both approached the men and knelt down as Hunter went to take custody of his prisoner. "How is it?" Joel asked. Then he too spotted the vest. "A vest?"

Jim helped Blair sit up. "I thought it'd be best to take some precautions."

"Precautions?" Joel looked over at Naomi. "Yeah, I guess so. Good thinking."

"But, Jimmy, didn't you have one on too?"

"Yeah, I did," Jim confirmed. "Which is why I'm wondering why my partner saw fit to throw himself in front of a bullet."

Blair coughed weakly. "I swear I just reacted, Jim. I just saw her pull the trigger andÖ" Trailing off, Blair shrugged. "I didn't think about it at all. My instincts just took over and I knew I had to protect you."

"Thanks, partner." Jim embraced the younger man. "But if you ever do something stupid like that again, I'll kick your butt. Understand?"

Blair nodded. "Understood." Wiping at his eyes, he looked over at Naomi. His mother was struggling against the bailiff as he dragged her out of the courtroom. "I can't believe she tried to shoot you."

Even as the bailiff dragged her out of the courtroom, Naomi continued to rant. "This isn't over! It'll never be over until I get my son away from you!"

Jim simply glared at Naomi and tightened his arms around Blair when the younger man shivered.

*****

A week later, Jim and Blair were sitting on the couch and quietly discussing everything they had been through. Blair took a sip of his tea and then looked over at Jim. "Do you think they'll be able to help her?"

"Conover is a good place now, Chief. Naomi will get all the help she needs there."

Blair sighed. "I'm just grateful to Ben for agreeing to represent her."

"He knew that she was sick and needed treatment," Jim replied. "With the diminished capacity plea, she got off easy. In-patient treatment at a psychiatric facility until the doctors deem her cured."

"But, Jim, sheíll have to stand trial when she is cured, wonít she? You've got the right to press charges against her for what she did to you." Blair looked dejected at the thought. The past weeks had been tough on both of them, in a lot of ways.

"Blair, look at me." When the younger man didn't look up, Jim pleaded, "Please." Finally, Blair looked at his partner and brother. "Blair, if Naomi agrees to leave us alone, to see you in public under supervised settings Ö if thatís what you want Ö then Iím not going to press charges. I know you love your mom. God knows I wish I even knew where my mom was and why she abandoned Stevie and me. I don't want to keep you from seeing your mom, Chief. I just want you to be safe. Okay?"

"You really mean that?"

"Yeah, I do," Jim replied. "When you're ready, and her doctors okay it, we even can go visit her at Conover."

"You'd do that?"

"Yeah, Chief, I would. I mean, sure I'm pissed that she tried to come between us but I realize that she just sick."

"You're right. I'm sure that once she gets better, nothing like this will ever happen again."

Not sharing his partner's confidence, Jim shrugged. "I guess." Changing the subject, he said, "Now all we have to do is take care of the bastards who attacked you."

"Jim, we've been over this. I don't remember anything about the attack. There's no point in causing trouble. I'll be graduating soon anyway."

"I'm not going to let these guys get away with it, Sandburg," Jim replied. "IÖ" A knock at the door interrupted the detective. "Hang on a minute." Jim stood up and walked over to the door. When he opened it, he exclaimed, "What in the hell are you doing here?"

Pushing past Jim, Hunter strode into the loft. "Hey, Sandburg."

"Hunter!"

Jim shut the door and walked over to Hunter. "Answer the question."

"Isn't it obvious, cousin?" When Jim scowled, Hunter grinned. "That's right. I had a long talk with your father. Seems we are related, after all?" The IA captain opened his arms and smirked. "So how about a hug?" he said with a touch of rancor.

Jim crossed his arms over his chest and glared at his newly found relative. "I'm gonna ask you again. What in the hell are you still doing in Cascade?"

"Well, investigating you was so much fun, I decided to accept a position with the Cascade PD." Pausing to stare at Jim, he added, "Do you realize that I outrank you?" Ignoring the spluttering Jim, Hunter walked over to the couch and sat down. He turned to his cousin. "Go pour me a whiskey. Then we can talk about nailing the guys that have been messing with Sandburg."

"YouÖ IÖ" Jim looked over at Blair. "HeÖ"

Blair grinned at Hunter. "Welcome to the family, man." Then he looked back at his still shell-shocked partner. "I think things are going be a whole lot more interesting around here from now on."

Hunter gave Blair a gentle slap on the back. "You said it." He shifted on the couch and, with an irritated expression on his face, looked back at Jim. "What's the holdup? Go get me that drink."

Jim just closed his eyes and groaned.

*****

At Conover, the new resident walked down the hallway and entered the patient's room. "Hello, Ms. Sandburg. I'm going to be treating you." Ignoring the woman's hostile look, he walked over to the bed. Leaning down, he whispered, "Just between you and me, I don't blame you one bit for trying to get your son away from that man."

Suspicious, Naomi hesitantly asked, "You don't?"

"No, I don't," the doctor replied. "I'm quite familiar with Detective Ellison and I think you have every reason to be concerned for your son."

"My poor baby boy." Naomi moaned. "I have to save him from that pig."

"I know you do. You're his mother and you only want what's best for him."

"That's right, I do."

"And I want to help you." The doctor sat down on the bed and reached over to pat Naomi's hand. "Let me help you save your son."

Naomi smiled. "Will you?"

"Yes, I will," the doctor reassured. "But I'm going to need your help to do it."

"Tell me what I need to do."

"Well, you know a lot about Detective Ellison. I thought you could just tell me some things about him."

"What things?"

"I think you know what I'm talking about, Naomi."

Slowly the puzzled expression disappeared from Naomi's face and was replaced with an evil grin. "You know, don't you? The truth, I mean. You know that he's really a sentinel."

"Yes, I do."

Naomi glanced down. "You know, I told Blair that I didn't read his dissertation but I really did. He had so much information in there. All of it about him. All of the mighty sentinel's strengths Ö and his weaknesses."

The doctor leaned forward. "Yes?"

Eagerly, Naomi began to talk.

*****

A couple of hours later, the doctor left Naomi's room and whistled as he left the hospital. As soon as he got outside, he pulled out a cell phone. "It's me. I just left her."

"Well?" Edwards' impatient voice responded. "Did you get anything useful?"

"Oh, you bet I did." Smithers smirked. "This is a lot better than your plan to bring Ellison down. Hiring that guy to hook up with Sandburg's mother and let her think the whole thing was her idea." The scoffing tone was evident in Smithers' voice. "That worked out great, didn't it?"

"Shut up, you fool. If that incompetent DA had done his job like you assured me he would, Ellison would be locked up right now instead of the crazy Sandburg woman."

"Too bad Hunter had to show up and ruin the whole thing," Smithers mused.

"Don't worry about Hunter," Edwards replied. "I've got something in mind for him. You just worry about Sandburg's mother. She's our key to getting revenge on Ellison and Sandburg. With the information she provides us, we'll be able to figure out the perfect way to destroy them once and for all."

Smithers smiled as the sound of laughter issued from the phone. "I'm on my way to your place now. Once I get there, we'll start planning. Well, unless you want to um Ö celebrate Ö first."

"Of course, I do," Edwards purred. "Hurry home, pet."

"I'll be there soon." Smithers ended the call and hurried to his car.

Across town, Edwards hung up the phone and then lay back in bed. The young man beside her rolled over and kissed her passionately for several long seconds. "So I guess I better go soon, huh?" He asked when they finally separated.

"Yes, but don't go far," Edwards ordered. "I'll need you again later. We've still got some plans to discuss. I've got some more ideas for you."

"Why don't you let me handle things myself?" Josh Short complained. "I can drive Sandburg out of the Academy. I know I can."

"You haven't been able to so far, now have you?" When the young man's expression turned dark, Edwards was quick to soothe him. "Don't be mad, dear. You've done a good job so far. I've just come up with a few new things for you to try is all."

Mollified, Short leaned over and kissed Edwards. "Okay."

Feeling smug, Edwards watched as the cadet got out of bed and started to dress. "That's a good boy."

Buttoning his shirt, Short asked, "What time do you want me back?"

"Oh in a couple of hours," Edwards replied. "My dealings with Smithers won't take long."

"Okay." Short walked over and gave Edwards one final kiss. Then, he left.

Waiting for Smithers to arrive, Edwards grinned as she thought about her plans for Jim and Blair. "Just you wait, sentinel and guide. You'll regret the day you ever crossed me."

  

Epilogue

Across town, in a small, modest but well kept home, Sam Williams waited for his only son to come home. He had been played and he resented it. Now he had to fix it and Gregís police career was the price to be paid. As he sat thinking about his son, he remembered how proud he had felt when Greg had been accepted at the academy, deciding to follow in his father's footsteps and become a police officer. When he had first seen his only son dressed up in his cadet uniform, he had almost been overcome by emotion. But now, all of that would come to an end. In all likelihood, his son's days at the academy would shortly be over; his career over before it even began. Impatient, needing to talk to his son, Williams looked up at the clock and saw that his son would arrive home soon.

On schedule, within a few minutes, Williams heard the front door closing and then his son's voice called out, "I'm home." Spotting his dad sitting in the living room, Greg said, "Hey, Dad! Is Mom around? Iím starved?"

Despite himself, Williams smiled. Greg was still all boy in spite of attaining twenty-five years. Then his expression turned serious again. "No, son, sheís out for the moment. I have something I need to talk with you about." Detective Williams, a twenty year veteran of the CPD was grave in his manner. His son recognized this and immediately settled down.

"Sure, Dad." Greg went over and sat down next to his father on the couch. "Whatís up?"

Detective Sam Williams was not one to beat around the bush. Point blank, he turned to his son and asked, "What do you know about those attacks at the Cascade Police Academy? The ones on Dr. Sandburg?"

Greg was taken aback by his father's formal tone. His dad had never spoken to him like that before, like he was a criminal. He stuttered slightly when he answered, "Nnnnothing."

Williams eyed his son dispassionately. He knew the boy heíd raised and his son couldnít lie worth a damn. "Really, son," he replied. "Are you absolutely sure? Because Major Crime seems to feel that you do and that's why they wanted to question you. Even though Dr. Sandburg hasn't pressed charges yet, they're taking this investigation very seriously."

As he let that information register, Williams thought about the young man his son was accused of harassing. Sam Williams wasnít a stupid man. He had figured some things out in several long, sleepless nights. Things such as why Jim Ellison was so unbeatable as a detective, why Blair Sandburg had hung around Major Crimes for so long with so much acceptance and why the PD was more than willing to take the self-confessed fraud on at detective status. Williams knew that Sandburgís dissertation, the one that was leaked, wasnít a fraud. The young man had denied it to protect Ellison, like any good cop would do for his partner.

It shamed Sam Williams that heíd, for a time, believed the fraud story in spite of the evidence in front of him. Heíd done some investigating on his own and found that people were more willing to talk to him since he was the father of one of their classmates. When he had discovered the truth behind the 'incidents' and Captain Jones' seemingly apathy towards everything, he had felt sicken by the behavior of the man who was responsible for the training of future police officers. Now, he was determined to do what was right. Even if it meant sacrificing his son's police career. He just hoped the kid wasnít in it so deep that a jail sentence would be necessary as well.

Greg eyed his father. "Dad, that fraud has NO business on the police force! He shames us all! I can't believe you sitting here taking his side over your own son?" Despite the look of outrage on his face, Greg couldn't prevent the nervous tone that crept into his voice.

Williams pleaded with his son. "Tell me what you know, Greg. I can help you here. Youíre acting like a perp. I can read you, Son. I know you're not telling me the truth. I know that you're mixed up in this and I want to help you do the right thing here." He was saddened that his son would not carry on the family legacy. "It's too late for you to be a cop now, but I think you can still manage to get out of this without any jail time if you tell the truth now!"

Nervousness gave way to anger. "You support that damned fraud and not your own son?"

In the face of his son's rage, Sam Williams tried to remain calm despite his own growing anger. "Sit down, Son. I want to enlighten you." Williams then proceeded to explain everything he had discovered. He hoped that the boy he knew that heíd raised the right way would be a stand up guy and accept responsibility for what had been happening. Williams felt relieved when he saw a light dawn in his son's eyes; he was finally reaching his son.

As he listened to his dad, all of Greg's earlier doubts returned. Then, he remembered how his fellow classmate, the one he had stood by and watched being beaten, had always made time to help their fellow cadets. He remembered the last night study sessions and comprehensive tutoring that had helped people on the verge of failing. He looked up and met his father's eyes. "Dad, place me under arrest and then call the precinct. I want to tell everything I know about the conspiracy to keep Dr. Sandburg from becoming a member of the CPD. I will willingly admit to my part in everything. I've stood by and done nothing for the last time. I want to start protecting him now, something I should have done from the beginning. Itís the right thing to do. I just hope I get the chance to apologize to him and to Detective Ellison. And, Dad, yes, I know what NOT to say about Detective Ellison." Greg had also realized the truth about the two men.
"I swear that youíll be proud of me again someday."

Williams embraced his son. "I couldnít be prouder of you than I am at this moment Just remember, Son, I've always been proud of you and I always will be. I love you." Then, the detective released his son and recited him his Miranda rights. Once done, Williams went over to the phone. "Hello, this is Detective Sam Williams and I need to speak to Captain Simon Banks." Eyes locked with his son's Williams said, "I have some information about the harassment Dr. Sandburg has been experiencing at the Academy."

The End