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't…"
"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 … 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?"
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."
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 I… Well, I want to…"
"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 partner’s adjoining loft before coming to a decision. With a gentle push, he started Blair towards the stairs leading to his bedroom. "You’re gonna bunk with me tonight, Junior. Go on up and change into a pair of my sweats. I’ll be up in just a minute."
Dazed, Blair blankly stared at Jim for several seconds and then started towards his partner’s 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 that’s necessary?"
After making sure Blair reached his bedroom safely, Jim walked over to Joel. Grabbing the other man’s arm, he led his friend’s 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. "Don’t tell me what my son needs."
"I’m not in the mood to get into some pissing contest with you, Joel," Jim hissed, keeping his voice low. "I’m going to have to keep a watch on Blair tonight and it’ll be easier on both of us if we’re close. Hell, it’s late anyway. It’s not like we won’t have to get up in a few hours and go to court. Until then, I want him to get some rest. He’s had quite a shock today on top of the injuries he sustained and I don’t want him to be alone right now."
"Shouldn’t that be up to him?"
"Shit, Joel, what do you think I’m gonna do? Molest your little boy or something?"
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 can’t believe you would ask me something like that."
"I think it’s time for that talk now," Joel said as he came up to stand behind Jim. "I’ll admit that I don’t 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 don’t like the way you act towards my son. When you’re not blaming him for something or shutting him out, you’re acting all controlling and possessive. And in my opinion, that’s an abusive relationship."
"Abu…" 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 off…?"
"He’s my son!"
"Yeah, and maybe your guilt over that is making you see something that isn’t there," Jim countered.
"I don’t know what you’re talking about."
"Don’t 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 you’re jealous?" When Joel flinched slightly, a feral smile appeared on Jim’s face. "That’s it, isn’t it? You don’t like the fact that Blair and I are so close. What? You think that I’m cutting in on your action? Naomi’s got nothing on you does she, Joel? Both of you think that if I’m out of the picture, you’ll have Blair to yourself."
"That’s not true!" Joel exclaimed. "You just refuse to admit the truth. Since the two of you have met, you’ve always been the important one. Blair’s needs and wants; they’ve always been secondary. Because he’s 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 doesn’t it? Doesn’t it, Sentinel?"
"Stop it!" Blair’s 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. "Blair…"
"No, Joel, stay away." Blair held up a hand to halt his father’s approach. "I can’t believe you would say those things. Do you honestly think that I would stay in some kind of abusive situation? I’ll admit that Jim and I have had some problems, but there’s no way there’s any kind of abuse going on. C’mon, Joel. Tell me you don’t really believe that."
"I’m only going on what I’ve seen, Son," Joel replied. "All the times he has hurt you. The times he’s yelled at you or belittled you."
"And I’ve yelled back," Blair countered. "We get into it. We fight and, yeah, sometimes we yell. But it’s both of us, Joel. As for the belittling part, I don’t even know where you’re coming from with that."
"That fight at the station; the one that you had on Thanksgiving. The things he said to you…"
"He was scared and worried," Blair interrupted. "When that happens, he lashes out. But he’s changed now. We both have. Now that we’ve finally acknowledged where our problems lie, we’re doing something about them. What happened before, it’s not going to happen again."
"How can you be so sure?"
Blair shrugged. "I just am. I can’t explain it. It’s just … It’s a feeling. I know that things are going to be different between Jim and I now. Don’t get me wrong, J… Dad. I love the fact that you want to look out for me and protect me. I really do. But I don’t need you to protect me from Jim. That’s the last thing I need."
"And as for everything else, that’s what he’s got me for," Jim added. "After all, I’m his blessed protector."
Joel frowned when he saw the two men exchange a smile. "He’s got his father now so he doesn’t 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, here’s 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 won’t be going to jail. One way or another, he’ll be cleared. I know it."
"I don’t 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 might…"
"I said I don’t 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. Everything’s gonna work out okay."
Joel shook his head. "Don’t tell him that. Now, if you do wind up going to jail, he’s 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 son’s face, Joel started to say something but a knock on the door stopped him.
Jim glanced between Blair and Joel. "I’ll 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."
"Not now, Joel. Just…go home. We’ll see you tomorrow."
When Joel started to leave, Blair added, "I… I love you, Dad. But you need to remember that I am an adult. Jim is my brother. I don’t want to have to choose between the two of you. But, if it does come down to it, know that I’ll choose Jim. Every time. We’ve 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 what’s best for you. But for me, Jim Ellison doesn’t 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. "It’s 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 he’s going through something quite similar himself."
"I don’t think so, Pop," Jim replied. "It’s an entirely different situation. I mean, you never accused Blair of abusing me."
"Abuse? What are you talking about?"
"It’s nothing, Bill," Blair answered, shooting Jim a warning look. "Just something that Joel and I need to clear up. It’s 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 Blair’s tired, drawn face, he decided to let it go for now. He’d get to the bottom of the problem once Jim’s name was cleared. Joel Taggert would find out that Blair was part of the Ellison family. He’d make sure of that. "All right. But if there’s some kind of problem, I hope you know that I’m here for the two of you. If there’s 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, it’s time for you to hit the sheets." Walking over to Blair, Jim grasped the younger man’s chin and tilted his face up. "You look like you’re about to fall over, Chief." Releasing Blair, Jim added, "Go on." Seeing Blair’s glance over at William, Jim chuckled. "It’s all right, go on up."
"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 son’s room. Then, seeing the challenging look his son was directing his way, he simply shrugged and smiled.
Nodding to himself, glad that his father wasn’t 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. "C’mon, Pop, I know you said something to Naomi."
"After you left, I just made it clear that she shouldn’t try to interfere with you or Blair again, that’s all." William walked over to Jim. His voice was low when he continued. "But you and I both know that she’s not likely to stop. That’s why…" William looked up towards Jim’s bedroom. "I… I want you to know that I won’t let you spent any time in jail, Son. I’ve got some contacts, people who can arrange things. If worse comes to worse then…"
"Hold up there," Jim interrupted. "Look, Pop, I don’t want you involved in anything like that. I don’t want you to risk going to jail over this. I…"
"Don’t you argue with me, Jimmy," William overrode his son’s protest. "I’m not going to allow my son to sit in jail for something he didn’t do. Now, I can arrange to get both you and Blair out of the country…"
"That’s not necessary," Jim protested. "A while ago, I accepted the fact that Blair and I might need to disappear. I’ve 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, I’ll contact you. When it’s safe. I promise I’ll let you know that we’re all right."
Choked with emotion, William didn’t 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 father’s 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? He’s fine. He’s resting right now." Jim listened for a while, nodding occasionally. "All right. Thanks for calling, Simon. Yeah, we’ll 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 there’s nothing new." Jim sighed. "He checked in with Rafe and Brown. They conducted some interviews but so far nobody’s talking. I swear, if it wasn’t for all of this shit with Naomi, I’d be out there tracking those bastards down. I feel so fu… so damn helpless. I hate it."
"I know you do, Son, but it’ll be over soon."
"I hope so. I really do."
"Did he say anything about Hunter?"
"Actually, that’s kind of strange." Jim had a puzzled look on his face. "Simon said that he can’t 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 he’s okay?"
Irritated by the concern in his father’s voice, Jim scoffed, "He’s 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 is…" Jim bit his tongue and stopped before he could say the hurtful words. "The guy just rubs me the wrong way, okay? Hell, we don’t 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 he’s probably related to us. But that doesn’t mean I have to like the guy."
"Just give him a chance," William requested. "Please."
"Look, it’s not even like the guy will be here that long. As soon as this case is over, he’ll head back to DC." Jim was silent for a moment. "So… You, um, want to tell me why I never knew you had a sister."
"Never knew…" William looked at Jim in shock. "You mean you don’t remember your Aunt Kristine?"
"She and Hunter used to visit us quite frequently when you were younger," William answered. "Up until you were… 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, that’s all."
"I really need to be going," William interrupted. "I’ll see you in the morning."
Jim realized that he wouldn’t get any more answers out of his father. "Yeah, goodnight. See ya tomorrow."
Wondering why he didn’t 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 Blair’s 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 partner’s steady heartbeat instantly lulling him into an easy sleep.
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."
"Wha…" 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."
"Don’t 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 just… 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 have…"
"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 think… It's like I was stumbling around in the dark. I was looking for you. I kept calling out your name but… But each time I tried to talk, there was something stopping me. I felt like… 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 … needed … 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 think… 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.
"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 I… 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 Naomi… I guess it just brought up a lot of memories and I… 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 … 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 you…"
"I just… I just can't handle any more right now, okay. I mean, tomorrow… Tomorrow is going to be hard, Jim. On both of us. There's no telling what my mo… 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, just… 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 night… 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 case… 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 … later … 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."
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 injuries…"
"Those happened during training, I…"
"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 from…"
"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.
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 this… 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."
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."
"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 right…"
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."
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, "Um… 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 Ji… Detective Ellison."
"Very well. While this is highly irregular, I will hear the witness."
"But your Honor…"
"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. "You…"
"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. "Naomi…"
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 … Mom … please don't make things worse. We can still…"
"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, you…"
"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 the…"
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 and…" 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, she’ll have to stand trial when she is cured, won’t 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 … if that’s what you want … then I’m 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. "I…" 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."
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."
"You… I…" Jim looked over at Blair. "He…"
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."
"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 … 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 … celebrate … 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."
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 Greg’s 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? I’m 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, she’s 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. "What’s 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 he’d raised and his son couldn’t 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 wasn’t 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 Sandburg’s dissertation, the one that was leaked, wasn’t 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 he’d, for a time, believed the fraud story in spite of the evidence in front of him. He’d 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 wasn’t 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. You’re 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 he’d 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. It’s 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 you’ll be proud of me again someday."
Williams embraced his son. "I couldn’t 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."