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Dotty    Kathy    Lvblair    Mary Ellen    Ophelia    KAM    Ronnee    Kathy 'n Mary Ellen 

 

Home for Christmas

By: Mary Ellen and Kathy

Many thanks to D. L. Witherspoon for the use of her characters Dr. Amanda Cuthbertson and Sadie Farmsworth.

Credits to W.B. Yeats and Charles Dickens.


Spoilers for: Switchman, Vow of Silence, Dead Certain, Remembrance; Sentinel Too, Parts One and Two; The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg


"A man is not where he lives, but where he loves."
-- Latin Proverb

 

Chapter 1

There for a while, Jim had thought that everything was going to be all right. After the press conference, the media attention died down; and although there was still the occasional angry phone call or letter, he almost always managed to keep them from Blair. So, for the most part, everything was back to normal. Or at least as normal as things ever seemed to be for them.

Still slightly unsteady on his feet due to the healing gunshot wound on his leg, Jim limped over to the couch and plopped down next to Blair. "So, anything good on tonight?" He asked as he picked up the remote.

"Don't know," Blair replied, his tone lifeless and dull.

"Chief," Jim said as he turned to look at Blair, "IÖ Look, I know that things haven't exactly beenÖ. We've had a few problems lately, but things seem to be getting better now, right?"

"Sure, Jim."

"I mean, you're going to be starting the academy soon," Jim said. "I know that you'll do well there. Hell, except for a badge, you've been a cop for a while now, right? So you won't have any problems. Everything's fine, right?"

"Sure, Jim."

Clenching his jaw, Jim turned to stare at the TV. After a few moments of silence, he exploded. "I can't take this anymore, Sandburg!"

Blinking his eyes, Jim's shout penetrating the perpetual haze that seemed to be clouding his mind lately, Blair turned to look at Jim. "What?"

"This," Jim exclaimed as he waved his hand between them. "ThisÖ This silence that's been between the two of us lately is driving me nuts. You'reÖ It's likeÖ What in the hell is the matter with you lately, Sandburg? What's up with this attitude? Are you trying to get back at me? Trying to punish me? Is that what it is?"

"Jim, I don't know what you're talking about," Blair stated. "What exactly have I been doing lately?"

"Nothing, that's what," Jim replied. "You hardly talk, you just seem to hole up your room all day. You hardly ever come out; and when you do, it's like nothing registers with you. You've been like some kind ofÖ some kind of zombie or something. I know that you're still upset about everything that happened. You've got a right to be. But don't take it out on me. It's not like I asked you toÖ."

"Didn't ask me to do what, Jim?" Blair asked when Jim didn't finish. "You didn't ask me to do what? Declare myself a fraud? Renounce my life's work? No, you're right. You didn't ask me to do that. But then again, you didn't leave me too many other options did you?"

Growing angry, Jim asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"What else could I do, Jim?" Blair asked. "You didn't want to have the press crawling all over you. You couldn't get any work done. Your life was being turned upside down. And it was my fault. Isn't that right, Jim? I was the one that screwed up, so I was the one that had to fix it. So, I fixed it. End of story."

"I never asked you toÖ"

"You didn't have to," Blair interrupted. "It was my choice and I came up with what I thought was the only possible solution. But don't say that you had nothing to do with it, because you did. You sure as hell made it clear that you held me responsible for all of it, didn't you? So now, you're not in the media's spotlight anymore. As far as anyone is concerned you're just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill cop. That is just what you wanted, isn't it? What are you getting all worked up over? You never wanted me to publish my dissertation. You never wanted anyone to find out that you're a sentinel. But even though everything got all screwed up, it's fine now. My dissertation is history, nobody thinks that you're a sentinel and I'mÖ"

"And you're what, Chief?"

"Iím going to be a cop," Blair answered. Laughing, sounding bitter and pained, he added, "I got to admit, that last part probably isn't something that you wanted though, huh? You never were too thrilled with the idea of having me around. But now I guess you're stuck with me. Guess we're both kind of stuck, aren't we?"

"SandburgÖ" Jim began. "Blair, IÖ" Before he could finish the phone rang. "Shit," he exclaimed. "Stay here while I see who it is. We're not finished yet."

Blair stared after Jim's retreating form for a second before rising from the couch himself; without waiting to see who was on the phone, he silently turned and went into his room. Quietly closing the door, he shut out Jim and the rest of the world.

Picking up the phone, Jim said, "Hello," as he turned around. Seeing that Blair was no longer on the couch, he sighed. "What are we going to do, Chief," he whispered. "How can I make things right for you again?"

Hearing a muffled voice coming from the phone, he said, "Hello? Who's this?" Smiling despite his concerns for his partner, he greeted, "Hey, Steven. How are you?" After a few seconds, he replied, "That's good. We still on for lunch tomorrow? There's something that I need to discuss with you. What? No, it's nothing bad. I just need your advice. Oh, very funny, Bro. So 12:30 tomorrow, right? Could we just eat at your place? Order in or something? I just need to talk to you in private. All right, I'll bring some Chinese take out. See ya then. Bye, Steven."

Hanging up the phone, Jim stood and stared at the door to Blair's room. Before his mind registered the movement, he had crossed the room and his hand was on the doorknob. Coming to his senses, he jerked his hand away from the door. "I'll fix it, Chief," he whispered. "Whatever I have to do, I'll make things right." His concern for Blair weighing down his steps, Jim went over and turned off the TV then headed up to his room for the night.


Staring at Jim in shock, his untouched plate of food sitting on the table in front of him, Steven asked, "You want to do what?"

"You heard me, Steven," Jim replied. "I want to make things right for Sandburg and I need your help to do it."

"Jim," Steven began. "Look, I know this guy is your friend but are you sure about this? I mean, you'd be opening yourself up for all kinds of trouble. Everything has just started to die down. Do you really want to stir it all back up again?"

"It's the right thing to do," Jim stated. "It's the only thing to do. You don't know what Sandburg has done for meÖ"

"Seems to me that he has caused you a lot of trouble," Steven interrupted.

"Look, Stevie, youÖ IÖ" Jim stammered. "About Sandburg's dissertationÖ"

"I know, Jim," Steven said. "His dissertation, it's true." Seeing Jim's surprised look, he added, "I remember some stuff from when we were kids. Or at least, I've started remembering things since this whole mess started. All of that stuff about Bud's death, not to mention all of those other times when you could see or hear something that I couldn't. I've always known that there was something different about you."

"That I was a freak, you mean," Jim replied.

"JimÖ"

"No, Steven, it's all right," Jim said. "You're right. I am different and until Sandburg came along I never knew why." Pushing aside his plate of food, Jim rested his arms on the table. "So much has happened since I met him. I wouldn't even be here today if it weren't for him. When I saw him give that press conference. When I saw what he did, what he did for me, I was totally stunned. I couldn't believe that he would do that. That he would make that kind of sacrifice for me. A sacrifice that he has paid for every day since then. He's suffering, Steven. I can't let it go on any longer."

"He really means that much to you?"

"Yeah, he does, Steven." Seeing Steven attempt to hide his hurt expression, Jim reassured, "There's nothing for you to worry about, Stevie. You're my kid brother and no one will ever take your place. But Blair, he is an important part of my life. You're both important to me and I don't want to lose either one of you. And just like I wouldn't want to see you hurting, I don't want to see him hurt. So, I'm asking you to help me. Help me set things right."

"I'll help you, Jim," Steven promised. "But I'm warning you, this may be a little bit more than I can handle. If you want to do this, then you're going to need help from someone with connections more powerful and influential than the ones that I've got."

"StevenÖ"

"I mean it, Jim," Steven cut in. "If you really want to do this, then you're going to have to go to the old man."

"Shit," Jim swore. "Are you sure that you can't swing this?"

"I could get you in the door at Rainier," Steven replied, "but if you're going to get them to listen to you, then you're going to need dad's help." Shrugging, he added, "Guess it all depends on how important this is to you."

Sighing, Jim hung his head down for a moment. Looking back up at his brother, he asked, "So, is he in town?"

"Last I heard he was," Steven answered. "I couldÖ I meanÖ Well, if you want me to go with you, I will. It might make things easier."

"You'd do that?"

"Of course," Steven replied.

"Well then let's go pay a visit to Pop," Jim said.

"Right now?"

Remembering the defeated expression that was all too common on Blair's face since the press conference, Jim said, "The sooner the better."

The ride to their father's house seemed to pass in an instant; before Jim knew it, Steven was pulling into the driveway. Taking a deep breath, Jim got out of the car and followed his brother to the front door.

"You ready?" Steven asked.

"As I'll ever be," Jim answered as he knocked on the door.

Both men stood up straighter as the door opened to reveal their father. "Hi, Dad," Steven greeted.

Grinning, William exclaimed, "Jimmy, Steven, it's so good to see you both. Come in please." Stepping aside, he waited until Jim and Steven had entered the house and then shut the door. "Let's go into the living room."

Exchanging a quick glance, Jim and Steven followed after their father.

"So, Dad, where's Sally?" Steven asked.

"Oh, she has the day off," William answered. "She went to see her sister."

"That's nice," Steven replied.

Gesturing to the couch as they entered the living room, William said, "So what brings the two of you here?"

"Well, Dad," Jim said as he sat down, "I need your help."

"My help?"

Mistaking the surprised tone for one of censure, Jim stood up. "Forget it. I knew this was a mistake. Let's get out of here, Steven."

"Wait, Jimmy," William called out as Jim started to leave. "Please wait. I was surprised is all; just tell me what you need me to do. I really want to help you. Please let me help you."

Hearing the sincerity in his father's words, Jim turned and went over to sit beside his brother again. "It's about Sandburg, Dad," he began.

Immediately after Jim finished explaining things, William, true to form, took control over the situation.

"Leave it to me, Jimmy," William said as he headed towards his phone. "I'll take care of everything."

"Dad," Jim called out. When William turned to look at him, Jim said, "Just slow down a minute, okay?"

"What's wrong, Jimmy?"

"Nothing, Dad," Jim reassured. "I just think that we should discuss this a little bit more. We shouldn't be rushing into anything here. Before you make any calls, we need to have some strategy in place."

"That's not necessary," William protested. "I know just the man for this job. Charles Sands is the foremost expert on academic law in the state. If there's a way that this can be done, he'll find it."

"All right," Jim conceded, "give the guy a call. I'll scrape together the money for a retainer. I might have to mortgage the loft, but it'll be worth it if this guy can pull this off."

"There's no need for that, Jimmy," William said. "If by some chance he does require a retainer, I'll take care of it."

"DadÖ"

"It's the least I can do, Jimmy," William interrupted. "That young man, he'sÖ he's helped you accept yourÖ your gifts." Shoulders slumped; voice choked with emotion, William said, "Which is something that I was never able to do. I am so sorry, Jimmy. Sorry for everything."

Taking a hard look at the person standing before him, Jim finally saw past the visage of the domineering man from his past to find the aged, frail man that his father had become. Shaken by the realization that his father was no longer the same man, was no longer the man who had called him a freak, Jim smiled and said, "It's okay, Dad. You were just doing what you thought was best. You were just trying to protect me. I know that now."

"I was, Jimmy," William agreed. "I justÖ I was worried. Worried about you and what might happen to you if people found out about what you could do. I just wanted to keep you safe and I thought that the only was to do that was to discourage you from using your senses. I was wrong. IÖ I love you, Son." Looking over at Steven, he added, "I love both of my boys."

"We know, Dad," Steven said.

"Do you?" William asked.

"We do," Jim confirmed. "AndÖ Well, we love you too, Pop."

Smiling, wiping a hand across his face to clear away the tears, William cleared his throat. "Guess I'll make that phone call now. Okay, Jimmy?"

"Yeah, Dad," Jim replied.


Two days after meeting with his father, Jim was seated in the waiting room of Sands, Johnson, Riley, Smith & Associates, the most prestigious law firm in the city of Cascade.

"Relax, Jimmy," William murmured from his seat on Jim's right. "Everything will be okay."

"Yeah, Bro," Steven agreed from his seat on Jim's left. "By the time this guy is through, Rainier, Sid, and Berkshire Publishing will be begging to settle. This guy's a shark. No way those idiots stand a chance against him."

"Yeah, I know," Jim said. "It's justÖ God, I haven't even mentioned any of this to Sandburg yet. This thing has had me on edge lately, but I don't even think that he has noticed. Every day, he seems to withdraw more and more. I just hope that this Sands guy can get something done fast. I justÖ I'm afraid that if it takes too long, there won't be any of the old Sandburg left." Sighing, he glanced at his father and then his brother. "Does that make any sense at all?"

"Jimmy," William began, "from what I've seen of Blair, he's a very strong individual."

"Growing up with Naomi for a mother, he'd have to be," Jim mumbled.

"What?"

"Nothing, Pop," Jim said.

Reaching up a hand to pat Jim's shoulder, William said, "Trust me, Jimmy, Blair will be all right."

"Yeah," Steven stated. "After all, if he has been able to put up with you for all this time then there's nothing he can't handle."

His tension easing, Jim smiled. "Thanks."

"Anytime, Son."

"No problem, Bro."

The three men sat in silence until a woman entered the room and called out, "Ellison?"

Standing, Jim replied, "Here."

Smiling, the woman said, "This way, Sir."

Standing up, flanking Jim on both sides, William and Steven followed behind Jim as he walked over to the woman. When she stepped aside to let them pass, they walked into the hallway then stood still.

Shutting the door behind the men, the woman squeezed past them to stand in front of Jim. "Hello, I'm Pam, Mr. Sands' assistant. If you'll just follow me, I'll take you back to his office."

After escorting the three men into a very elegantly and expensively decorated office, Pam asked, "Can I get you gentlemen anything? Coffee? Water?"

"No, thank you," William answered for all three of them. "We're fine."

"All right," Pam replied. "If you'll just wait here, Mr. Sands will be with you in a moment." With a final smile, she left the office.

It was only a few seconds later that the door opened again to admit Mr. Charles Sands into the office. Eyeing the man that held Blair's future in his hands, Jim tried to get a feel for the attorney.

Approaching Jim with his hand held out, Sands said, "Hello, I'm Charles Sands. You're Jim Ellison, I presume."

"You presume right," Jim confirmed as he shook the man's hand, giving it an extra hard squeeze before letting go; nodding slightly when Sands didn't seem bothered by the powerful handshake.

"Please sit down, gentlemen, and we'll get started," Sands said as he went to sit behind his desk. Pulling several files from his desk drawer, he glanced through them quickly before looking up at Jim again. "From what I understand, you wish to arrange for Blair Sandburg to be re-admitted to Rainier's doctorate program, is that correct?"

"That's right," Jim confirmed.

"Before we begin, I've got a few questions," Sands stated. Staring Jim in the eyes, he asked, "Tell me, Detective Ellison, why would you want to help a man who perpetuated such outlandish and blatantly false statements to the media? Why would you want to help a man who not only disrupted and endangered your life, but also was directly responsible for the life-threatening injuries sustained by your fellow officers? One would think that the last thing you would want to do was to help this man in any way. So tell me, Detective, why do you want me to help a man who is an admitted fraud and liar?"

Standing up, stalking towards Sands, Jim yelled, "Just who in the hell do you think you are? How dare you sit there and condemn Sandburg? You haven't got the right. You aren't worthy enough to sit in judgment of him. No one in this room is. Blair Sandburg is one of the most loyal, trustworthy, kind, compassionate people that I've ever had the honor of knowing, and I won't sit by and let anyone, especially not some over-priced, lowlife piece of scum like you, say anything against him. Do I make myself clear?"

Not intimidated in the least, Sands calmly replied, "Very clear, Detective."

"Good," Jim replied.

When Jim turned around and started to walk back over to his seat, Sands asked, "So, tell me what it's like? Being a sentinel, I mean?"

Spinning back around, Jim exclaimed, "What? I don't have any idea what you'reÖ"

"Oh come now, Detective," Sands interrupted. "Any reasonable person can see that you think very highly of Mr. Sandburg; and a person such as yourself would never feel that way about someone who was truly a fraud and a liar." Never breaking eye contact with Jim, Sands added, "So there is only one reason why you're such a staunch supporter of Mr. Sandburg."

"Really?" Jim asked.

"Yes, really," Sands replied. "Mr. Sandburg's dissertation was indeed the truth, and the only time he actually lied was during his press conference. A press conference during with he invalidated his entire thesis in order to protect you. Isn't that true, Detective Ellison?" When none of the other men responded, Sands said, "Look, gentlemen, the only way I can work with you is if you are completely honest with me."

"It's true," Jim murmured.

"What was that, Detective?"

"I said that it's true," Jim replied in a louder voice. "I am a sentinel and Sandburg did what he did to protect me."

"Well now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's get started," Sands said. Opening one of his files, he said, "So you want to get Mr. Sandburg back in Rainier?"

"Yeah," Jim answered. "And anything else that you think that you can do. I just want him to get his name cleared and get his PhD."

"Then that's what we're going to do," Sands replied. "Now, let's get started. First tell me everything that happened."

"Well it all started when Sandburg's mother, Naomi, came for a visitÖ"

 

 

Chapter 2

After the meeting with Charles Sands, Jim forced himself to stay silent and not blurt out anything to an increasingly withdrawn and quiet Blair. Eventually, as days turned into weeks, Jim began to grow frustrated. The continued absence of his partner, physically at the station and mentally at home, served to aggravate his rapidly fraying nerves; and despite Megan's help at work, Jim's senses continued to spike uncontrollably leaving him with a constant, pounding migraine. Not knowing how to approach his silent, morose partner, Jim had resigned himself to suffering in silence.

Now sitting at his desk, steadily working on completing his paperwork, he was oblivious to his surroundings. Unaware that his desk had become the eye of the storm amid the frenzied activity in the bullpen; not knowing that the people forced to invade this designated area walked softly and conversed in whispered statements in an effort not to bother him. Standing up suddenly, ignoring the hush that fell over the room, he stalked over to Simon's office. Entering the room without knocking, he slammed the door behind him. Out in the bullpen, all eyes were riveted to the closed door as everyone tensed in anticipation, not knowing what to expect.

Looking up as Jim entered his office, Simon barked, "What, Jim?"

"Iím outta here, Captain," Jim stated in a flat tone of voice. "My last report is finished; Iíve got more vacation time than any three other detectives and I intend to take it now. So don't look for me to be back until it is all used up."

"I donít think so, Detective," Simon replied. "Iíve approved all the vacation time I can for the season. Youíre too late; youíll have to wait."

"Whatever," Jim retorted. "But, Iím gone for the rest of today. Iíve worked my forty hours this week."

"Jim, since when did you start counting hours?" Simon asked, his shock over Jim's attitude evident in his tone. "Youíve always done the job no matter the hours required."

"That was when I still gave a damn." Jim replied. "When I still had my partner by my side." Without waiting for Simon to say anything, he turned and marched out of the office. Ignoring Megan and Rhonda's questioning looks, he left the bullpen. Bypassing the elevator, he slammed open the door to the stairwell and almost ran down the stairs. Ignoring the throbbing pain in his leg, he didn't slow down until he reached the garage.

When he finally made it to his truck, he got in and just started driving; even though he didnít pay attention to where he was going, he somehow managed to avoid wrecking. Finally, unable to keep going any more, he stopped. Putting the truck in park, he turned off the ignition and stared out of the windshield. Finding himself at the beach, he sighed; this was a place he always seemed to end up when the world was falling apart. Heíd come here for the first time after his dad had blamed and punished him for wrecking the Cobra. It was his secret spot and heíd never shared it with anyone, not even Blair.

Blair. Jim closed his eyes as his thoughts turned to his friend. Since their conversation that night in the loft, the night before he met with Steven and told his brother about his plans, he and Blair hadn't spoken much.

Every time Jim tried to approach Blair, the younger man would retreat into his room. It seemed as if, as the date for his entrance into the police academy drew near, Blair was withdrawing more into himself. Now, it was common for several days to pass before Blair would say even a few words. This unnatural quiet filled the loft, making it appear a lifeless void. Anxiously, Jim awaited any news from Charles Sands. Each day with no reports or information combined with Blair's behavior filled Jim with tension.

Leaning forward, his head resting on the steering wheel, Jim said, "I don't think either one of us can take much more of this, Chief." Exhaustion, due to sleepless nights spent listening to Blair toss and turn in his bed, caused Jim to fall into a light doze.

Awaking with a jerk, it took Jim a minute to register what had disturbed him. Hearing his cell phone ring, he opened it and growled, "Ellison."

"Jimmy?" came his dad's hesitant voice.

"Yeah, Dad," Jim replied. "What's wrong? Did you need something?"

"Nothing's wrong, Jimmy," William reassured. "In fact, I'd say that everything is finally right again."

"What are you talking about?"

"Can you come home right now, Jimmy?" William asked. "Believe me, when you get here, you'll see what I mean."

"I'm on my way," Jim said as he started the truck. "But why are you at the loft?"

"Just get here, Jimmy," William ordered, then he hung up the phone.

Pulling the phone away from his ear when he heard the dial tone, Jim stared at it for a second. Then, he closed the phone and tossed in onto the passenger seat. Shaking his head, he headed for home.


When he pulled up in front of the building, Jim tuned his hearing into the loft. Not knowing what to expect, he was surprised and angered to hear Charles Sands' voice. "Son of aÖ." he began. His anger grew with each step as he exited his truck and went into the building. Still eavesdropping on Blair and the others, he heard Blair say, "I'm glad you came to see Jim, Mr. Ellison, but what does your visit have to do with me?" Turning his hearing up a notch, he heard Sands reply, "This has everything to do with you, Mr. Sandburg." Quickening his pace, he ran up the stairs. He arrived at the loft just as Blair suspiciously inquired, "Who are you anyway? Somebody had better tell me what is going on."

Opening the door, Jim took a few stumbling steps into the loft and then slammed the door shut. "What in the hell are you doing, Dad?"

"Just calm down, Jimmy," William replied. "We haven't told Blair anything yet. We wanted to wait for you to get here."

"Tell me what?" Blair asked. "Jim, what is going on here? Is something wrong?" When Jim just smiled in response, Blair exclaimed, "You think that this is funny?"

"No, Chief," Jim replied. "It's justÖ" Unable to express how happy he was to see Blair expressing some emotion, even if it was anger directed at him, Jim just smiled.

"All right, somebody had better tell me what is going on," Blair demanded.

"Certainly Mr. Sandburg," Sands replied. Turning to Jim, he said, "Please, Detective Ellison, wonít you sit down? I'll explain everything to Mr. Sandburg and fill you in on what I've been able to accomplish so far."

Jim, a little miffed at being invited to sit in his own home and angered by the fact that his father, brother and Sands had showed up at the loft without even consulting him first, reluctantly took a seat next to Blair. "So talk." He growled.

"Mr. Sandburg," Sands began.

"Blair, please," Blair interrupted.

"Blair, then," Sands replied. "As I was saying, a few weeks ago, Detective Ellison, along with his father and brother, came to pay me a visit. Detective Ellison was determined to see you readmitted to Rainier's doctorate program and to have your reputation in the academic community restored."

Shocked, Blair turned to stare at his friend. "JimÖ"

"Just let the man talk, Sandburg," Jim interrupted, his smile a stark contrast to his harsh tone. Addressing Sands, he asked, "So what about it? Can you make it happen?"

"Actually, Detective," Sands answered, "this case is as close to a no brainer as Iíve ever seen. Rainer University is clearly in the wrong. So is Berkshire Publishing. Mr. Sandburg never submitted his dissertation. Naomi Sandburg, without authorization, released an unedited rough draft to Berkshire Publishing." Pointing to Blair, he added, "Without written, notarized permission from Mr. Sandburg, Berkshire Publishing released the manuscript. Rainer University, in the person of Chancellor Edwards, was apparently Ďblinded by the lightí. The actions of Chancellor Edwards violated Mr. Sandburgís right to due process. Her acceptance and encouragement of Berkshire Publishingís actions violate university protocols involving privacy of research subjects. Rainer will settle unless they want their academic reputation to go straight down the tubes. Iím preparing to serve both the university and Berkshire Publishing with papers documenting a multi-million dollar lawsuit." Smiling, the attorney all but crowed his glee, "This will be a piece of cake!"

Not liking Sands' attitude, Jim ground out, "How much is this going to cost?"

"Oh, Iíll get my fee out of them," Sands answered. "But what will compensate me more than money is getting Edwards fired. Sheís a bitch and sheís gotten away with too much for too long. She truly overstepped her bounds this time and Iím going to see she goes down in as public a manner as possible."

"Blair," Steven said as he looked at the younger man, "Jim told us about that alternate dissertation; the closed society thing. You can submit that. Jim's privacy will be protected and your reputation will be restored. You'll be able to finish your degree."

"Jim, youÖ I can't believe this," Blair said. "But what about the whole cop thing, my being your partner?"

"You'll always be my partner, Sandburg, whether you have a badge or not," Jim replied. "We'll figure out a way for you to stay on at the PD. Maybe hook you up with an official consultant gig. Simon can arrange something." Looking at Blair, dismissing the others completely, he asked, "So, Chief, what do you think?"

"I think this is a dream come true," Blair murmured. "I just hope it works."

"Oh, believe me, Mr. Sandburg, it will work." Sands grinned wolfishly.


From that point on, things progressed very quickly. As Sands had predicted, both Berkshire Publishing and Rainer University caved once the facts were presented. Sandburg cleared an even million from Berkshire and had all of his debts except his student loans, which Rainier graciously agreed to cover, paid by Berkshire. Rainerís board of regents announced its culpability in the wrong actions against Blair, Chancellor Edwards was fired and Blair was readmitted to the doctoral program. At a private meeting with the committee, Sandburgís topic was officially changed to closed societies; and he submitted the first three chapters, which were approved after a lengthy question and answer session. The defense was set for January 15 of the following year and Blair went home to the loft and got to work.

While Blair concentrated on completing his dissertation by his deadline date, Jim Ellison became the mother hen from hell. His constant cooking and cleaning, not to mention his close supervision, was driving the younger man nuts. But what bothered Blair the most was when Jim decreed that Blair should skip coming to the station until his dissertation was finished. However, after talking with Blair, Jim realized that the completion of the dissertation necessitated further visits to the station; so, he didnít protest when Simon arranged for Blair to ride-along with various officers from divisions other than Major Crime. Although he did have a chat with every cop that Blair rode with, making sure that they knew he would hold them responsible should anything happen to his partner.

For the next two months, Blair gathered data. Everyone at the PD cooperated with Blair; and, despite their own abundant paperwork, they gladly filled out forms and consented to Blair interviewing them. By mid November Blair gave his advisor, Professor Jackson, drafts of the final two chapters. Feeling confident about his work, Blair felt assured that he was in the home stretch. Jim took him out for a celebratory dinner and it seemed like their relationship was finally back on track, that they were finally putting everything behind them.

The feeling of contentment, both with his life and his work, persisted until his next meeting with his advisor. During the four-hour meeting, he watched in shock as she shredded the two chapters. Although Professor Jackson said that she felt that he had more that enough data, she questioned his methodology and outlined the changes that she felt was necessary. Leaving the meeting, feeling slightly depressed and discouraged, Blair was still determined to do whatever was necessary to receive his doctorate; not wanting to waste the opportunity that Jim had provided him. So, he slogged home and began the tedious, laborious re-writing process.

By the time Thanksgiving arrived, Blair felt he had earned a break; the re-write on chapter four was done and five was well in hand. Jim was at the station, having volunteered to work the holiday so that other officers could be off with their families. The Major Crime gang was on duty and had planned for a big meal being to be served in the bullpen. Remembering Joel's phone call last week, during which Blair had been issued an invitation to the station, Blair decided to take a break and visit Jim and the rest of the guys.

Wearily, head pounding, Blair exited the loft and trudged down the stairs. Pausing as he caught sight of his brand new midnight blue Mustang, Blair smiled as he remembered the day he and Jim had gone out car shopping. Spirits lifted, eager to see his partner, Blair whistled as he got into his car and drove to the station.


Walking out of the elevator, Blair hurried his pace when he heard the sounds emanating from the bullpen. Entering the room, he silently stood by the door and surveyed the scene before him. Detectives and uniformed officers filled the room, each holding a plate of delicious looking food.

It wasn't long before Blair's arrival was noticed. "Hey, Hairboy!" Henri greeted.

"Blair!" Joel exclaimed, "Good to see you, glad you could come."

Everyone was quick to greet and welcome him. Megan came up and gave him a hug while Rhonda fixed him a plate.

"Thanks, Rhonda," Blair replied as he took the plate of food. Then he blushed slightly as she leaned over and kissed his cheek. His blush deepened when wolf whistles and cheering filled the room.

Slowly making his way across the room, being careful not to drop his plate, Blair arrived at Jimís desk and was disappointed to find it vacant. Taking a seat, he began to eat as he waited for Jim's return.

"Hey, Sandburg."

Looking up, Blair smiled. "Hi, Rafe."

"Long time, no see," Rafe said. "Guess youíve been pretty busy."

"Yeah," Blair confirmed. "Thought Iíd take a break and come see you guys. Seems like Jim and I donít ever have a chance to talk anymore; he has been so busy here and Iíve been busy with the dissertation."

"I can imagine," Rafe replied. "Hey, Iím going to go grab some food before it all disappears. Can I bring you anything?"

"No, Iím good," Blair said. "Thanks though."

After nodding in reply, Rafe walked over to the food laden table set up by Rhondaís desk.


Walking down the hallway, Jim heard Blair's voice and saw red. "What the fÖ" he said. "Sandburg, you had better have a good reason for being here. I know that you don't need to gather any more information for your dissertation and you sure as hell don't have time to waste socializing." Determined to get Blair out of the station and back home, Jim stalked into the bullpen and headed straight for Blair; he was so intent on his destination that he didn't even notice the people scrambling to get out of his way.

"Sandburg, what in hell are you doing here?" Jim roared.

"Hey, Jim," Blair replied as he looked up from his food. Unfazed by Jim's attitude, he said, "I just wanted to take a break. Get some food, you know? Besides, I misÖ"

"Taking a break!" Jim exclaimed. "Youíre taking a break? I don't believe this! You donít have time for breaks!" Glaring down at Blair, Jim continued, "Don't you realize how many people went to the mat for you so that you could get a second chance to finish that damn degree? You owe everyone in this room, Sandburg."

"But, JimÖ"

"I don't want to hear your excuses, Sandburg," Jim interrupted. "Do you know how hard it was for me to go to Sands in the first place? If it weren't for me, you'd be at the police academy right now. But instead, you're still getting free room and board while youíre back at school, Mr. Millionaire; and you donít even have enough discipline to keep at your work. You're here partying your ass off when you should be at home working." Letting his anger get the best of him, Jim continued to lash out at Blair, "You get your ass back to the loft and get back to work. Youíre going to finish that paper even if it kills both of us. You hear me, Sandburg?"

Stunned by Jim's outburst, Blair self-consciously glanced around the bullpen and was surprise by the expressions of anger and shock on the faces of those present. When he was finally able to meet Jim's eyes again, his words of protest remained unspoken. Seeing what he thought was an expression of condemnation and rejection on Jim's face, Blair stood up; without saying a single word, he turned and left.

In the silence following Blair's departure, Simon ordered, "Ellison, my office now." Though the words were softly spoken, it nonetheless seemed like a yell in the quiet room.

"What?" Jim asked after he reluctantly entered Simon's office.

"Thatís what Iíd like to know?" Simon asked. "Blair comes here to share a holiday meal with his friends and you come in screaming about second chances and owing people? As far as Iím concerned everyone in the bullpen owes Blair Sandburg; especially you, Ellison." When Jim just continued to stand there, Simon continued, "My God, Jim, Blair is supposed to be your best friend. Well I'll tell you something, Ellison, with friends like you the kid certainly doesnít need enemies." Shaking his head, Simon said, "We've been through this before, Jim; with Alex. I'll ask you the same thing now that I did then. Do you really think that you can handle this sentinel thing by yourself? Hell, Jim, I was there that day at the fountain. I saw howÖ When we found BlairÖ Damn it, Jim, do you really want to lose him now after everything that's happened. I know that I don't. Sandburg has put up with a lot of shit from you over the years, but even he has his limits. I'm warning you, Jim, you damn well better get this fixed or else he may not stick around after he gets his degree. You and I both know that heíll have a lot of opportunities; and face it, Jim, the only thing keeping him here is you."

"Yes, sir."

"You stick around until the end of your shift," Simon ordered. "Blair needs some time to cool off and process. So do you. Do you understand me, Detective?"

"Yes, sir."

"Dismissed."

When Jim went back to the bullpen, the joyous mood was gone and the room was silent. Looking around, Jim saw that Blair's uneaten plate of food had been removed from his desk and the festivities, what remained of them, had moved across the hall to Homicide. Rhonda and the few remaining detectives didnít even speak to him and refused to meet his eyes as he crossed the room. After sitting down at his desk, Jim made an attempt at paperwork. It was only a few seconds later that he admitted defeat and pushed the papers aside. For the rest of the afternoon, he was preoccupied with thoughts of Blair. Eventually, he admitted to himself why he had exploded at Blair.

"What if he leaves?" Jim muttered, unaware of the looks he was receiving. "He has all that money now, and after he his doctorate he'll have his choice of jobs. There won't be anything keeping him here."

Remembering the stricken look on Blair's face after his outburst, Jim realized that he may have very well brought about his own worst nightmare. "Simon was right," he whispered. Grabbing his coat, hoping that his feeling was wrong, yet fearing that he was all ready too late, Jim ran from the bullpen and raced down the stairs to the garage.

 

 

Chapter 3

After leaving the bullpen, Blair headed back to the loft. When he got back to what he thought of as his home, Blair stumbled over to the couch and sat down. "I canít do this anymore," he muttered. "I just canít."

Making up his mind, determined to stick to his decision, it only took Blair three phone calls to gather enough help. Knowing that it would be a little while for that help to arrive, he made a quick run to an ATM for some cash and then headed to Wal-Mart to pick up a couple of padlocks. Spotting a rental place on his way back to the loft, he quickly pulled into the parking lot.

"Can I help you?" the woman behind the counter asked as he walked in the door.

"Yeah, I need to rent a storage unit," Blair replied.

"Okay," the woman said, "I just need to get some information and to see your driverís license or another form of ID."

After taking down all the necessary information, the woman asked, "How long would you like the storage unit, Mr. Sandburg?"

"I donít know," Blair answered. "IÖ Iím leaving Cascade for a while but I will be back in January." Quieter, almost as if speaking to himself, he added, "I just donít know if Iíll stay."

"Well, we do rent on a month-to-month basis," the woman stated, "and if youíll give me your credit card number, we will automatically bill you each month. You wonít have to do anything at all. When you do decide to return to Cascade, you can take your stuff out at any time."

"That sounds good," Blair replied as he pulled out his credit card.


When Blair got back to the loft, he found the six students that he had called were already there. Walking up to them, he said, "I really appreciate this, guys."

"No problem, Mr. Sandburg," Joe replied for the group. "Hey, youíve helped us all in past. If it werenít for you, some of us probably wouldnít even be at Rainier anymore. Weíre glad to help. But what exactly are we doing here?"

"Helping me move out," Blair answered. Ignoring the shocked looks his statement generated; he started over to the loft.

Working together, it took less than two hours for the seven men to empty Blair's belongings. After they had packed all the boxes in the two trucks that the students had driven, Blair said, "I rented a storage unit to stow all of this stuff in."

"Weíll follow you there," Joe replied.

Driving to the storage facility, his thoughts chaotic, Blair wondered if he was making the right decision. ĎNaomi would be so disappointed in me,í he thought, both amused and saddened by the knowledge. ĎWhen I was growing up, she never hesitated to pack us up and move at a momentís notice; and here I am, already doubting my decision to leave.í Remembering Jimís earlier actions, he said, "But then again, maybe this is something that Jim and I both need."

Arriving at the storage place, Blair got out of his car and went over to the unit he had rented. "This is it, guys," he called out.

After his storage unit had been filled and secured, Blair shook hands with each of the students. "I mean it, guys," he said, "I really appreciate this. And I want to thank you for not asking any questions. I donít think I could have handled them right now."

"We kind of figured that out, Mr. Sandburg," Joe said. "I hope you donít mind my saying this, but you seem upset. Is there anything else that we can do for you? Anything else that we can do to help?"

"Youíve already helped, Joe," Blair replied. "More than you can possible know. Goodbye, guys."

Walking back over to his car, Blair climbed into his Mustang and left Cascade behind, a destination already in mind. Needing a place to hide, a place to heal, he was going someplace where he had never faced rejection, a place where he had always been welcome. Right now, he was counting on that welcome. In fact he desperately needed it.

Mind and body numb, already anticipating the hurt that would come after that welcome feeling wore off, Blair headed for Saint Sebastianís; secure in the knowledge that once again Brother Jeremy, and the rest of the monks, would grant him the asylum that he desperately needed right now.


Returning home from his shift, Jim walked into the loft and immediately knew that something was wrong. At first, he refused to let his mind register what his eyes saw. Then, he slowly sank to his knees as he finally acknowledged the changes to the loft. That morning, he had left a warm, inviting home behind. Now, he found only the sterile environment that he had inhabited four years ago. Blair, his friend, his guide, his Shaman, his brother, was gone. Realizing what had happened, knowing that he had finally succeeded in driving away his light, Jim surrendering to the darkness; not bothering to fight off the zone as it claimed him.

Concerned about the partners, Simon and Megan decided to come by the loft and check up on their friends; only to have their fear justified when they found the front door standing wide open. Entering the loft, they were shocked to find Jim kneeling on the floor, barely breathing and deeply zoned. Eventually, after nearing talking themselves hoarse, they somehow managed to bring him out of it. At first, their attention having been focused on Jim, they didnít notice the condition of the loft.

"Jim," Simon called out as Jim took a shuddering breath. "Are you back with us?"

Confused, Jim asked, "Simon, is that you?"

"Yeah, itís me," Simon confirmed. "Connor is here too. Whatís going on, Jim?"

"Gone," Jim moaned.

"Gone," Simon repeated. "What are you talking about?"

From her position by Blairís room, Megan called out, "Itís Sandy, Captain."

Glancing over at her, Simon asked, "What?"

"Sandyís room is empty," Megan answered. "Everything is gone."

"Heís gone," Jim stated. "He left. You were right, Simon. I finally drove him away."

Not knowing, how to comfort their distressed friend, Megan and Simon remained silent.

As the days passed with no sign of Blair returning, they were forced to stand helplessly by as Jim became increasingly depressed. Every day, seeing evidence of the devastating effect Blair's absence was having on their friend, they set aside their anger and in its place they felt an overwhelming anxiety over Jim's mental well being.

Simon, who had received a letter from Blair and knew the younger man's whereabouts, found himself torn. His friendship with each man was putting him in a difficult position. Reading over Blair's letter, Simon agreed with the younger man's reasoning that he needed to get his dissertation finished before dealing with Jim. Especially since it seemed to have become an obstacle between the two of them. So, Simon made a vow to respect Blair's wishes; however, seeing Jim's condition deteriorate each day, he found that vow increasingly difficult to keep. Especially since he knew of Blairís plans to return to Cascade and, if possible, continue working at the PD. Knowing that news would bolster Jimís spirits, Simon was tempted to go against Blairís wishes and inform Jim of the younger manís plans. But in the end, he knew that he couldnít violate Blairís trust in him; so he remained silent.

Wanting to do something to help, Simon contacted Commissioner Warren about a permanent and official consulting job for Blair. Expecting some opposition, Simon was pleasantly surprised to learn that Commissioner Warren not only knew of Sandburg's prior work with the department, but he was planning on offering Blair a permanent teaching/consulting position with the PD after the young man received his doctorate.

Relieved that one potential problem had been avoided, Simon was still concerned about Jim and Blair. Even though he knew that the two men desperately wanted to maintain their close friendship, Simon worried that this may be the time that they would be unable to mend their damaged relationship.

 

Chapter 4

Four weeks. It had been almost four weeks since Jim had come home to a cold, empty loft. In that time he hadn't heard anything from Blair, not a phone call or letter. Each day, the guilt and worry ate away at him a little bit more; the accusing glares from his co-workers no match for his self- recrimination. In a display of support for Blair, his co-workers, people who once considered Jim to be a friend, no longer spoke to him unless work necessitated it. Once he might have minded the silence, but not now.

Unable to bring himself to care about anything, Jim sat listlessly at his desk. He glanced around the bullpen, forcing himself to endure the disgust he saw reflected back at him from those who would actually meet his eyes. His gaze came to rest on Simon's office and his expression hardened as he looked upon his captain, a man he once thought of as a good friend. Although Jim was certain that Simon knew where his partner was, the other man always refused Jim's frequent pleas for information concerning Blair. The knowledge that Simon was most likely honoring Blair's wishes by not disclosing any information didn't lessen the resentment he felt towards the captain but, despite the feeling of resentment, Jim understood the other man's reasoning. After the way he had treated Blair, he didn't blame Simon for wanting to protect the younger man.

At noon, Jimís phone rang. Pushing aside his untouched paperwork, he answered the phone, "Ellison." After listening for a few seconds, he said, "Wait, hold up a minute, just slow down. What info do you have? It is good?" Nodding his head, he continued, "All right, Iíll see you in twenty. What?" Scowling, he growled, "No, there wonít be any bonus this time. And youíd better not leave me hanging." Slamming down the phone, he stood up and grabbed his jacket. Not bothering to speak to anyone, or to inform Simon of where he was going, Jim walked out of the bullpen; his shoulders tensing as he felt the weight of all the stares focused on his retreating form.

Waiting until after Jim had entered the elevator and the doors closed after him, Henri remarked in a snarky tone, "Well, the Dark Force had gone to lunch. Wonder what kind of trouble he'll manage to get himself into this time?"

"Anyone wanna bet how long until he takes a bullet?" Costello, a newer detective in Major Crime, asked. "But with the way Ellison has been acting lately, odds are it'll be Ďfriendly fireí?"

Standing up, cold fury in her eyes, Rhonda exclaimed, "Iím ashamed to be associated with this department. Jim and Blair have been through hell for more than six months. Yeah, Jim blew it at Thanksgiving. Nobody knows that more than him. But the rest of youÖ " Pausing to meet each person's eyes, she then continued, "Youíre supposed to be his friends and brother cops. Yet you've got the audacity to actually sit here and take bets on when he'll be shot? You actually want him to die? Well, Iíll tell you, heíll probably oblige you. He feels worthless and no one here is any help. But have any of you even stopped to consider what his death would do to Blair? If something did happen to Jim, it would tear Blair apart." Angrily snatching up her coat, Rhonda added, "You know, I canít get home for Christmas but I was looking forward to it anyway because Major Crime has been such a good family. But thatís all changed. Iím completely disgusted with all of you."

Silently the group of detectives watched as the normally friendly woman stormed out of the room, leaving a deafening quiet in her wake.

Clearing his throat, Joel spoke up first. "Sheís right you know. I am ashamed. Jim deserves far better than heís gotten from us."

"Who, Mr. Super Senses?" Rafe snidely asked, the venom in his voice startling everyone. "He thinks he is better than any of us."

"What gives you that impression, Mate?" asked Megan in a deceptively calm voice.

"He just does," Rafe sullenly replied. "Heís got the best solve rate in the department, and he makes sure that everyone knows it."

"I don't recall Ellison ever talking about his closure rate," Henri observed. "Did he actually say something to you, or is that your own insecurity speaking?" When everyone looked at him in astonishment, he asked, "What? I canít say something sensitive and intelligent?"

"Youíre right, H." Quickly glancing around at his fellow detectives, Rafe lowered his eyes to the floor before continuing. "Sometimes, it just feels like we're working with Superman or something. It's like everything that we've done seems insignificant compared to what Ellison and Sandburg have accomplished over the past few years." Sighing, he quietly added, "I guess I'm just feeling kind of down lately. With Sandburg gone, it seems likeÖ Seems like there's something missing around here, a brightness that's gone. God, I wish I could go home for Christmas."

"You're not the only one," Megan countered. "I miss my family too. But there's no reason that this can't be a happy holiday for everyone involved. I know with Sandy missing that it won't be the same, but we can try."

"What's the point?" Joel asked.

"The point is," Megan replied, "that it's what Sandy would want us to do."

"But how do we do it?" Came Simonís deep voice.

Spinning around to look at Simon, not having noticed his presence in the bullpen, Megan said, "We could start by readmitting Ellison into the ranks again." Pointedly looking at each man, she added, "He is a member of this squad and he is hurting. He needs friends who will watch out for him, especially until Sandy comes back."

"Don't you mean if Sandburg comes back?" Rafe asked.

"He'll come back," Megan stated.

"How do you know that?" Henri asked.

"Because Sandy isÖ Sandy," Megan answered, a grin lighting up her face. "We all know that those two couldn't get along without each other. When he's ready, he'll be back. Until then, he'll expect us to look after Ellison for him. But I'm ashamed to say that that's one job we've all been failing at lately."

"How do we watch out for someone who ignores everyone and wonít work with anyone?" Rafe asked quietly.

"I can help there," said Simon. "I can order Jim to work with a partner or be confined to desk duty. He has pulled enough dangerous stunts in the past two weeks to merit watching. Itíll be up to the rest of you to get it through to him that he is a friend. Can you handle it?"

Murmurs of agreement came from everyone.

"We need something else." The surprise statement came from Costello.

"What would that be, Al?" asked Joel.

"We need Sandburg back here for Christmas," Costello answered, "and for all of us to get together. I know my wife and I have no where else to go."

"I'm all for getting together," Joel replied. "But how are we going to get Blair back here? Seems to me, with the way he and Jim left things, that Blair won't come back until he is good and ready."

"You guys just get everything set up," Simon said, "and leave Sandburg to me."

"You know where he is, donít you, Sir?" Megan asked. "Has he been in contact? Is he okay?"

"He is going to come back to Cascade, isn't he?" Henri asked. "I meanÖ Well, I know he has to come back to defend his dissertation, but after thatÖ He isn't leaving is he?"

"Relax everybody," Simon reassured. "As far as I know, not only is Sandburg coming back to Cascade, but he wants to continue working here." Sighing, he added, "But as for things between him and JimÖ Well, that I just don't know. They're going to have to work that out for themselves."

"But with a little bit of help from us," Megan replied with a smile.

"ConnorÖ"

"C'mon, Simon," Joel interrupted. "Those two, they're too special to lose. You know that just as well as we do. We've got to do whatever it takes to bring them back together again."

Eyes looking upward, Simon slowly shook his head. "I swear, Sandburg has been a bad influence on all of you."

"You say that like it's a bad thing, Captain," Henri joked.

"Okay, weíre going to have a Christmas party," Rafe enthusiastically stated. "Now all we need is to find a place and get it planned. Letís make it a surprise for Ellison." Seeing the startled look from his partner, Rafe gave Henri a weak grin. "Anything is better than moping and feeling sorry for myself."

H returned the grin. "Okay, folks, if this is a secret from Ellison then no talking about it while he is in the building. I'm sure that I don't have to say why." Receiving nods from everyone, he continued, "We communicate by email or when we know he is at least a couple of miles away."

Simon looked shocked. 'How do they know?' He wondered. 'Did someone tell them about Jim's senses? I sure didn't tell anyone. I know that Jim and Blair wouldn't say anything. That only leavesÖ' Turning to glare at Megan, he frowned when she simply shrugged her shoulders; an innocent look on her face.

Joel caught Simonís eye. "Cap," he patiently explained, "weíre detectives. We figure things out for a living. Of course we all know what Jim can do and that Sandburg somehow helps him. We donít know all of the details and no one is going to talk to anyone outside this room about it. Despite how weíve been acting lately, we do protect our own."

"Yeah," Rafe said, "and Jim is one of us. He needs our help and we need him."

"Get back to work," Simon bellowed. "This is a police station, you know. Go solve a crime or something. Write a ticket, rescue a cat up a tree."

"Um, Captain," Rafe said, "that's firemen. You know the cat thing you mentioned. Firemen do that, not cops."

"Don't tell that to Ellison," Henri retorted.

"Yeah, but he has Blair do the climbing," Joel replied. "Remember when Blair told us about that thread in that nest. And something aboutÖ"

"Yeah," Rafe cut in, "a pissed off magpie."

"Or that time with the jacket," Henri put in.

"I see that I've got some stories to listen to," Megan stated. "Start with the magpie."

"Well you see," Joel began, "this was right after Blair started riding with Jim, only of course we didn't even know about the kid yet, and there was this nestÖ"


Feeling good about their plans regarding Jim and Blair, still smiling from the stories each of them had told Megan, Henri whistled as he walked over to his car and got in. Planning on doing some Christmas shopping at Cascade Mall on his way home, he began a mental tally of the gifts he was going to need to purchase. ĎLetís see,í he thought. ĎSimon, Daryl, Joel, Rafe, Al, Rhonda, Megan, Jim, and of course Blair, I should get something special for Hairboy. But what? Maybe Iíll get him a lion tamerís chair and a bullwhip for when he has to deal with Ellison. Or something for that mop of his.í Grinning, for the first time in a long while feeling excited about Christmas, he pulled out of the garage. His smile widening when he saw that it had started to snow.


Frustrated, Jim circled Cascade Mall's parking lot for the third time. Just as he was about to give up on finding a parking spot, a bus pulled out. Stomping on the gas, he barely managed to edge past another car and pull into the now vacant spot. Ignoring the blasting horn and dirty look from the woman in the other car, Jim muttered, "Shit, just what I need." Buttoning up his jacket, holding the collar together in an attempt to keep the snow out, Jim began to trudge up the length of the parking lot; getting wetter and colder with each step. "I hate this time of year," he complained. "Why didnít I just pull my badge and park right by the mall entrance instead of getting stuck at the back of the freaking parking lot?"

Stomping his feet as he walked into the mall, Jim headed directly towards the food court where Sneaks had insisted on meeting. Sniffling, groaning as he recognized the stuffy nose and tickle at the back of his throat as the beginning of a cold, Jim coughed briefly; drawing wary looks from the people around him. Scowling, causing those people to quickly avert their eyes, Jim pushed his way through the crowd.

When an enticing aroma managed to work its way through his clogged sinuses; Jim glanced around until he spotted a group handing out hot, spiced cider. Deciding that it smelled good and that the warmth would help to sooth his scratchy throat, Jim walked over and grabbed a cup, nearly splashing the hot liquid on his hands. Mumbling a barely audible, "Thanks," he continued on to the food court.

Finally reaching the crowded food court, Jim stood off to the side and shifted from foot to foot. Scanning the crowd, he started to grow impatient when he didn't immediately spot Sneaks. "C'mon, where are you?" He murmured, his impatience growing with each passing second. "You'd better get your ass here soon, Sneaks," Jim continued to mutter. "And if your information about the illegal arms showing up in Cascade pans out, I'll give you the biggest bonus ever. Hell, I'll even spring for a gift certificate to one of the shoe store in this place."

Feeling tired and drained, Jim walked over to a newly empty table and sat down to wait for Sneaks. Cautiously, not sure how his sense of taste would react, he sipped at the hot drink. Then, he took a bigger drink when the first taste felt good on his sore throat. Looking up, Jim finally spotted Sneaks as the informant made his way towards the food court.

Suddenly, his vision spiked; the lights were painfully bright and the flashes were like knives in his brain. Reeling from the sensory assault, he gasped for breath as his chest tightened. Then hearing spiked, noises roaring then fading down to a low murmur. Beginning to lose consciousness, his senses fought against this debilitation and instinctively searched for Blair; trying to lock onto his guide.

'Oh, shit, this hurts,' was Jim's last conscious thought as he collapsed to the floor; just before losing consciousness, his vision spiked again, giving him a brief glance at Sneaks' retreating form as the informant ran away.


Slightly disappointed at not having found any gifts yet, wanting to find the perfect present for each of his friends, Henri was on his way to the food court to grab a slice of pizza. Nearing the crowded area, he heard a commotion and saw a group of people gathered around a table. Pushing his way past the gawking spectators, flashing his badge at those that were reluctant to move, he yelled, "I'm a cop, get out of way!" Finally coming to the center of the circle of people, he momentarily paused, shock halting any further movement. Shaking off the temporary daze, he helplessly looked down at the unconscious man lying on the floor.

Kneeling down, he placed a hand on Jim's shoulder, but quickly withdrew when Jim's body jerked as if the simple touch caused pain. Horrified at the thought that, even though Jim was unconscious, his action that was meant to comfort was in fact creating more torment for his friend; Henri muttered, "And I used to envy you? I didn't have a clue, did I? None of us did." Glancing up at a mall employee, he ordered, "Call 911 now and tell them that thereís an officer down!" Waiting until after the young woman had hurried off, he pulled out his own cell phone and dialed the bullpen.

"Rhonda, itís H," he said as his call was answered. "Put the captain on."

"I can't," Rhonda answered, "heís in a meeting with the commissioner." Concern evident in her tone; she asked, "Why, whatís up? Is something wrong?"

"Itís Ellison," Henri hurriedly explained. "Heís here at the mall. I donít know why, but heís passed out and having trouble breathing. He seems to be in a lot of pain too. I had someone call 911 so an ambulance should be here soon. When it gets here, Iíll head to the ER with him. I may not know what to tell them, but at least Jim won't be alone."

"Hang in there, H," Rhonda encouraged. "Iíll make sure everyone knows, and I'll try to get in contact with the Captain. In the meantime, Iíll try to contact Jimís dad or brother. With Blair out of town and the Captain unreachable right now, they will need to be there. If it's something with hisÖ Well, hopefully, they will know what to tell the doctors, maybe know what to do to help Jim. "

"Okay," Henri agreed. "The EMTís are coming. Iíll call when Iíve got news." Slamming the phone shut, Henri stood as the paramedics approached.

"Do you know the victim?" One of them asked.

"Yeah," Henri confirmed. "We work together. We're cops."

"Can you tell us what happened?" The same medic inquired as his partner knelt down and began to take Jim's vital signs.

"I don't know," Henri answered. "I was just shopping in the mall when I saw the crowd. I came over to see if I could help and found JimÖ Detective EllisonÖ lying there unconscious."

When Henri finished, the paramedic attending to Jim looked up. "We need to get him to the hospital. His respiration is shallow. Pulse is thready and weak. He needs to be moved now!"

"Let's get him onto the stretcher."

"Can I help?" Henri asked as the paramedics began to pick up Jim.

"We've got him, Sir. Just stand to the side."

Concerned, forced to stand helplessly by as the paramedics loaded his fellow detective onto the stretcher, Henri pleaded, "At least let me ride to the hospital with him. After all, you'll need someone there, won't you? In case the doctors have questions. Besides, he should have someone he knows with him, don't you think? In case he wakes up?"

Impatient to get Jim to the hospital the paramedic agreed, "Come on, then."

Following behind the stretcher carrying Jim, Henri said, "Man, I wish that you were here, Hairboy. I know that Jim treated you like shit, but he really needs you right now." Still hoping that Blair would by some miracle suddenly appear, Henri climbed into the back of the ambulance and hung on as it sped towards the hospital.


Hanging up the phone, pushing aside her concern for Jim, Rhonda stood up. "I have an announcement," she stated, drawing everyone's attention. "That was Henri on the phone. He said that Jim is being taken to the hospital right now." Raising her hands to halt the multitude of questions being directed her way, she continued, "I don't have very many details. Henri just said that Jim had passed out and was having trouble breathing, then the paramedics arrived and he hung up."

"So H is with him?" Rafe asked.

"Yes," Rhonda confirmed. "He was going to ride to the hospital with Jim."

"What about Simon?" Joel asked.

"He's in a meeting with the commissioner right now," Rhonda said. "I'm going to try and reach him. But in the meantime, I'm going to call Jim's father. Just in case they need someone to provide information or to authorize treatment."

"That sounds good," Joel replied. "I'm going to head over to the hospital in case Henri needs any help."

"Me too," Megan said. "ThereÖ umÖ there might be some things that I can tell them."

"MeganÖ"

"Not now, Joel," Megan interrupted. "Let's just get to the hospital."

"All right," Joel agreed, "let's go."

"I'm with you," Rafe said. "Besides, with Sandburg gone Jim will need all the support he can get."

"We'll take my car," Joel stated. "RhondaÖ"

"I'll get a hold of the Captain," Rhonda finished. "You all just get to the hospital."

After the group of detectives left, Rhonda got on the phone. Since Simon was always forced to turn off his cell phone when meeting with the commissioner, she was forced to call the commissioner's office instead of contacting the captain directly. Impatiently drumming her fingers, she waited for someone to pick up the phone.

"Yes," she said when the phone was finally answered. "This is Rhonda Carson, Captain Banks' assistant. I need to speak to him immediately. No, this cannot wait. One of his detectives has been taken to the hospital and he needs to be informed."

"Hold just one moment," the administrative assistant snidely replied.

"Bitch," Rhonda muttered under her breath after being put on hold. "I swear that woman gives all of us a bad name." Frustrated by the length of time it was taking, she urged, "Come on, already."

Just as she was about ready to hang up, the receptionist returned. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but he is still meeting with the commissionerÖ"

"I know that," Rhonda cut in. "That's why I called you. Now, I need to speak to Captain Banks right now!"

"I'm sorry, but I can't interrupt the commissioner while he is in a meeting," the woman replied. "But I'll be sure to inform Captain Banks of the situation just as soon as they're finished."

"You'll what?" Rhonda exclaimed in disbelief. "Now you listen here, I need toÖ"

"You have a nice day," the woman interrupted and then hung up.

Bringing the phone down, Rhonda held it in her hand. Staring at it in shock for several seconds, she then muttered, "I swear, I'm going toÖ" Shaking her head, she sighed. "Let's just go to plan B then, shall we." Quickly, she hung up then released the button and began to dial another number. "I hope you remembered to switch your beeper to vibrate mode instead of just turning it off, Simon," she said. "Because if you didn't, you're going to be doing your own typing for a while." After dialing the number for Simon's beeper, she quickly punched in the numbers 000. It was a code they had developed for situations like this. Situations in which Rhonda desperately needed to get in contact with Simon; who, for whatever reason, was unreachable by any other means.

Bored, having been forced to listen as the commissioner drone on and on about topics totally unrelated to the PD, Simon was startled out of the trance he had fallen into when he felt his beeper begin to vibrate. When he saw the code, he immediately pulled out his phone and turned it on. Ignoring the commissioner's protests, he called Rhonda. After talking to her and finding out what was happening, he slammed the phone shut and turned to glare at the commissioner.

"Would you care to tell me, Sir," he growled, "why your secretary failed to inform me that my department had tried to contact me? Because of your staff, I failed to receive a vital message telling me that one of my men has been taken to the hospital." Pausing for a moment to collect his racing thoughts, he then continued. "I understand your policy regarding no cell phones. I may not like it, but I respect your wishes. But thisÖ something like this, I simply cannot understand; nor will I tolerate. Right now, I'm going to check on my detective, but you can be guaranteed that I will pursue this matter, Commissioner." Without waiting for the commissioner to reply, Simon left the office.

Stunned, Commissioner Warren remained in place for several seconds. Then, he left his office and headed towards his administrative assistant, intent on having a very serious discussion with the woman. A discussion that would wind up with a letter of reprimand being placed in her personnel file.

 

Chapter 5

After they arrived at the hospital, Jim was taken back into the treatment area; and Henri, despite his protests, was directed to the waiting area. He had been waiting for about ten minutes when a commotion at the admitting desk drew his attention. Trying to remain inconspicuous, he wandered over to lean against the wall.

"I don't care who his regular doctor is," a young doctor arrogantly stated, "right now, he is my patient and I'll treat him how I see fit."

"But, Doctor Smithers," the nurse replied, "I really think that you should wait for Dr. Cuthbertson. You could take a look at the patient's file until she gets here. I've treated this patient before and know that he has quite a few allergies."

Snatching the file from the nurse's hand, Dr. Smithers simply shoved in under his arm. "I'm not waiting for anyone," he stated. "I know how to take care of this patient. You call whomever you want; I'm going to see my patient, MrÖ"

When the doctor hesitated, unsure of the patient's name, the nurse supplied, "Ellison, Doctor. And it is Detective, not mister."

Alarmed that this man was going to be treating Jim, Henri stepped forward and blocked the man's way when he started towards the treatment area.

Impatiently glancing up at the man blocking his way, the Doctor's expression turned to one of disdain as he took in the appearance of the person in front of him. "Can I help you?" he snidely asked.

"Yeah," Henri replied, "you can listen to the nurse and keep away from Jim until his doctor gets here."

"Jim?"

"Detective Ellison," Henri explained. "You know, your patient."

"Who are you to tell me how to do anything?"

Pulling out his badge, Henri held it out to the doctor. "I'm Detective Henri Brown, that's who and I work with Detective Ellison. He's a friend of mine and I'm not about to let some stuck-up, arrogant son-of-a-bitch like you get anywhere near him."

Pushing past Henri, Doctor Smithers said, "Well, if he is your friend then you'll get out of my way and allow me to treat him."

"Listen, DocÖ"

"No," Doctor Smithers interrupted, "you listen. I don't care who you are. If you don't get out of my way, I'll call security and have you forcibly removed from the building."

Before Henri could respond the loud speaker announced, "Code Blue to curtain area three. Code Blue to curtain area three."

"That's your friend," Smithers announced as he hurried past Henri.

Worried, not knowing whether stopping the doctor would help Jim or only endanger him more; Henri let the doctor go. After the man disappeared around the corner, Henri turned to the nurse, "Get Dr. Cuthberson here, and get her here now."

"She's on her way," the nurse reassured. "Since she was scheduled to work today, she was already en route to the hospital when I paged her. She just called to check in a few minutes ago and said she'd be here momentarily."

"That's a relief," Henri replied.

"What's a relief?" Joel asked as he, Megan and Rafe came up behind Henri. "What's going on?"

Turning around, Henri said, "Thank goodness you guys are here. Some stupid, son-of-a-bitch doctor is treating Jim right now and the guy doesn't even have a clue as to what's going on with him. The arrogant bastard wouldn't even look at Jim's file or wait until his doctor got here."

Forced to move aside when someone else needed access to the admittance desk; the group went over to the waiting area to finish their conversation. "How bad is it?" Megan asked after they had all taken a seat.

"That's what I'd like to know," a new voice inquired.

Looking up the groups of detective saw William and Steven Ellison. "Well, what is going on with my son?" William Ellison demanded.

"We donít know anything yet," Joel replied for the group.

"I was at Cascade Mall and found Jim collapsed on the floor," Henri explained. "I had someone call 911 and then rode with him in the ambulance. But when we got here, they took him back into the treatment area and I haven't seen him since."

"Where's Blair?" Steven asked. "Why isn't he here?"

The group of detective exchanged nervous glances. "Jim hasnít spoken to you about Blair?" Joel asked.

"No," Steven replied. "At least not with me. I haven't spoken with him for about a month. How about you, Dad?"

"I haven't spoken with Jimmy either," William answered. "Now someone tell me everything that has happened."

"Maybe you should take a seat," Joel suggested. When William and Steven sat down, Joel began, "It all started on Thanksgiving Day when Blair paid a visit to the stationÖ."


Rushing into the room where Jim was being treated, Dr. Smithers asked, "What's the situation?"

"The situation is still critical," a nurse replied. "He went into cardiac arrest, but we managed to get him back."

"All right," Dr. Smithers said, "this gentleman is obviously on some kind of drugs; steroids would be my guess. Let's give him something to fight that upper respiratory infection he has going and a shot of epinephrine to counteract this allergic reaction." When nobody moved, he ordered, "Let's get moving, people. While we're waiting for the injections, let's go ahead and pump his stomach just to be on the safe side."

When the nurse began inserting the tube down Jim's throat, he began to regain consciousness. Confused, thinking that he was under attack; he began to thrash around on the bed. Rushing forward, several orderlies grabbed a hold of him and held Jim down. Fighting against the restraining hands, Jim jerked a hand free and managed to land a blow to Dr. Smithers' nose.

Reeling backwards, hands held against his bleeding nose, Smithers yelled, "Hold him down damn it." Turning to a nurse he yelled, "I want this man sedated immediately and then placed in full restraints."

While preparing the injection, the nurse happened to glance down at Jim's file that Dr. Smithers had flung down on the counter unread. Scanning the sheet, the nurse immediately spotted the sedative listed under known allergies for this patient. Turning towards Smithers, she began, "DoctorÖ"

Jerking the syringe out of the woman's hand, Dr. Smithers didn't pay attention to her protests as he plunged it into Jim's arm and injected the medicine. Instantaneously, Jim began to convulse on the bed. Before Smithers could react to this new development, the curtain was pulled aside and a woman entered the room.

"What the hell?" Dr. Amanda Cuthbertson asked. Rushing over to Jim's side, she exclaimed, "What did you give him, Smithers?" When the man didn't answer, she added, "Answer me, Smithers. What in the hell did you do to my patient."

"IÖ IÖ" Dr. Smither stammered. "It wasn't my fault," he finally managed to say. "The guy is insane. He tried to attack me so I ordered him sedated. It's obviously he is some kind of an addict. A steroid junkie, I'd say."

"A what?" Cuthbertson asked in disbelief. "I don't believe this! Detective Ellison is most certainly not any kind of junkie. My God, did you even read his file? If you did, then you surely noticed his extreme sensitivity to certain drugs, especially sedatives."

"But IÖ"

"I don't want to hear it," Cuthbertson interrupted. "Just get the hell out of here. Due to your negligence, youíve given this man a drug he is allergic to; and I'm bringing you up on charges! Now get out of here! Sadie, get the chief of staff down here now or Iíll report the attempted murder of Jim Ellison to his buddies out in the waiting room."

"Done." Sadie grimly replied.

After Smithers retreated from the room, Dr. Cuthbertson worked steadily on Jim. Briefly, she wondered where Blair was but she couldn't afford to divert her attention from Jim. Finally, she had Jim stable enough to move to ICU, although he was going to be on a ventilator until the sedative worked its way out of his system. Watching as Jim was wheeled out of the emergency room, Cuthbertson sighed in relief. There for a while, she was afraid that they would lose Jim; he had come perilously close to dying and it was mainly due to his own will to live that he was still breathing.


While Jim was being settled into the ICU, Sadie went to the crowd in the waiting room. Her initial surprise at seeing William and Steven Ellison quickly faded when she saw the concerned expressions on the group of people waiting for news. "Mr. Ellison," she addressed the older man. "Jim is being moved to ICU. Heís on a ventilator until the sedative works its way out of his system. We know from experience that Jim does better if heís kept company, so we invite someone to be with him twenty-four hours a day if you would like."

William Ellison was surprised and a little dismayed that his son was so well known here. He looked at the police officers that surrounded him. "Gentlemen," he began, "in many ways you are Jimís family. I donít want him to be alone. Thanks to you I do understand why Blairís not here and we will work together to make the holidays happen. Letís set up a schedule so that Jim is never alone and weíre not so exhausted that we canít give him the care he needs. Sally is due back tomorrow and I know sheíll want to be included." William Ellison finished his announcement with a tired, hopeful smile.

"Sounds good, SirÖ" began Rafe.

Ellison interrupted, "Please call me Bill. After all, we all care about Jim Ö and Blair Ö and weíre probably going to get to know each other very well over the next few weeks."

Standing up, Simon, who had arrived at the hospital a few minutes ago, said, "Okay, Bill, letís get a schedule set up."

When Simon went over to the nurse's station to get some paper, Joel said, "I'm really glad that you've agreed to all of this, Bill. I think that it is just what Jim and Blair need."

"I wasn't always the kind of father that Jim needed," William confessed. "But that's something that I want to change. I haven't got all that long left and I don't want to waste my remaining years being estranged from my son Ö both my sons Ö anymore. It is time for peace in this family. Time for peace for all of us, but especially Jimmy and Blair. I owe that young man so much. He's been so good for Jimmy and I think that Jimmy has been good for him too."

"He has," Simon confirmed as he rejoined the group. "Those twoÖ they need each other."

"And we need them," Joel stated. "William's right. It is time for peace in our family."

Amid the murmurs of agreement, Simon sat down and began making out a schedule. "Who can take tonight?"


After leaving the ER, Dr. Smither had been summoned to the Chief of Staff's office. Now, as Jim was being transferred to the ICU, he stood before his boss.

"Smithers, what do you have to say for yourself?" Dr. Rose thundered.

"I did nothing wrong," Smithers arrogantly defended his actions. "I followed textbook procedure for treating a hyped up steroid junkie. That man should be arrested for illegal use of drugsÖ"

"Did you read his medical file?" Rose inquired. "I know that it was given to you and that one of the ER nurses tried to point out Detective Ellison's history with medications."

"Why waste time reading some internís stupid notes?" Smithers asked. "I saved the bastardís life and he has the nerve to break my nose? He assaulted me and I want him arrestedÖ"

Quickly losing his patience, Dr. Rose sighed. 'That's it,' he thought as Smithers continued his tirade. 'I don't care how connected this man is, he will not be allowed to jeopardize this hospital's patients any longer.'

Meanwhile, obliviously to the fate that awaited him, Smithers continued to drone on. "When my father hears how this institution has treated me, leaving a criminal lose after he attacked meÖ"

"SHUT UP!" Rose yelled, smiling in satisfaction when the other man finally shut up. "Listen to me very carefully," he continued. "You are fired! And not only are you fired but I am also reporting your behavior to the licensing board. Your arrogance nearly killed a good man today; a man who is a highly decorated police office I might add. Due to his work, he has been a patient here far too often; and, as such, there is an extensive medical file on him. The first two pages list his drug sensitivities. Yet you chose to ignore that information when the nurses tried to tell you about it. Not only that, but when one of those nurses refused to give him the medication that you ordered, you proceeded to snatch the syringe out of her hand and inject it into the patient anyway. Never before have I seen such a blatant disregard for hospital procedure."

Standing up, Rose stalked over towards Smithers. "And I'll tell you another thing, Doctor. Since Detective Ellison is now in the ICU due to your incompetence, you will be footing the bill for his treatment. I only hope that William Ellison is satisfied that we are taking all action to see that his son is healthy again. As it stands now, I guarantee you that either Detective Ellison or his family will most assuredly be taking legal action against you."

Pointing at Smithers, Rose continued, "If for some reason they decide not to pursue this matter, I guarantee you that I will make sure that you never practice medicine anywhere ever again. Now I want you out of this hospital immediately. Security will escort you to your office and will supervise you while you remove your personal items. After that, you will leave this hospital and not show your face here again. If you do, I will personally call the police and have you arrested for trespassing. Security is waiting for you outside. Now, get out!"

"You canít do this. Iíll have your jobÖ" Smithers started to protest.

"I suggest you not delay," Rose advised. "I happen to know that several of Detective Ellison's co-workers and family members are downstairs in the waiting area. I'm sure that they would like the chance to speak with you. Although I doubt that you would find the experience very pleasant."

Relenting, Smithers went with the security officer. Walking down the hallway, seeing the looks of disgust and disdain directed his way, he couldn't help but feeling that he had really screwed up. 'On no,' he thought. 'Why didn't I make the connection? Ellison. I've heard my father talk about them before. They're one of Cascade's most powerful families. Or at least William Ellison is one of Cascade's most powerful men.'

Later, as he was driving away from the hospital Smithers said, "You ended my medical career, Ellison, and I'll get you for it. You think that you're suffering now? Just wait until I get through with you. I'll make you regret messing with me."

 

Chapter 6

Now, more than twenty-four hours after his collapse at the mall, Jim had not shown any signs of returning consciousness. After much discussion, which sometimes turned into rather heated arguments, about informing Blair of Jim's condition, it was decided to wait and see what developed before alerting him. Simon, being the only one who knew of Blair's whereabouts, eventually made the final decision. Citing Blair's condition, both emotionally and mentally, at the time of his departure, the captain stated that it would be best to hold off and see if Jim's condition worsened before contacting Blair.


Taking his appointed turn, Rafe silently sat beside Jim's bed and contemplated the man lying in the bed before him. 'I hope Banks made the right decision,' he thought with some amusement, 'because when Blair gets back and finds out about this, he is definitely going to rip Simon a new one.' Rafe's expression turned grim once again. 'No matter what the captain said, I still think that Blair should have been told. I don't know why, but I've got a feeling that you'd be awake by now if he was the one here with you.' His musings becoming silent for the moment, Rafe sat and listened to the sounds echoing around him.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

'I never realized how many noises there are in the ICU, even with the audible alarms turned off. I always thought it'd be quieter than this. But then again, I'm not the one usually sitting here. Normally, it'd be Jim here and Blair would be the one lying in the bed unconscious and on a ventilator, ' Rafe thought.

Leaning forward, Rafe grasped Jim's slack, chilled hand in his own and remembered Dr. Cuthbertson 's visit earlier in the day. Although her alarm over Jim's continued unconsciousness was clearly evident, she had been confident that he would wake up soon and had assuaged some Rafe's concerns.

Gently rubbing Jim's knuckles, Rafe said, "You know, Jim, itíd be really nice if you surprised everyone and woke up now. Weíre pretty worried about you. The doc still doesnít have a clue about what knocked you down. Of course, having a cold on top of whatever is affecting you isnít helping things." Sighing, he hung his head down and quietly continued, "I want you to wake up so I can apologize for how Iíve been acting. Feeling sorry for myself is no reason to act like a shit. So, Iíll say it now. Iím sorry. Iíll say it again when youíre awake."

"RafeÖ"

The detective looked up to see William Ellison enter the room.

"Rafe, go on home," William ordered, his voice soft. "I know youíve got court tomorrow so Iíll sit with Jimmy for the rest of the night. Heíll be fine and I know heíll wake up soon. Heís far to stubborn to quit now."

"Thanks Mr. EllÖ I mean Bill," Rafe replied. "Iíll be back tomorrow afternoon. I sure hope heís awake then."

"Me too, son," William agreed. "Me too."

As Rafe left the room, William made himself comfortable in the lounge chair that had been placed beside Jim's bed. Glancing around, he noted all the broken hospital rules evident in the room. From the chair he was currently sitting in to the potted plant located on the windowsill, it was clear that hospital policy had been suspended in this particular room.

Looking towards the aloe plant, he smiled as he remembered Megan bringing it in. She stated that Sandy would insist on it being here because its scent would have a soothing effect on Jim. William realized that it did help to alleviate the rather unpleasant medicinal odors permeated the air. Slightly bemused, he wondered if Dr. Cuthbertson was responsible for no one having said anything about the blatant violations.

Expression turning somber again, William looked at the still form of his son. 'Damn you, Smithers,' he thought. 'As soon as my son is out of here, I plan to make you regret ever deciding to practice medicine.' His anger threatened to overcome him as he remembered Dr. Cuthbertson's explanation regarding Jim's condition. Although she hadn't said it outright, he knew exactly who Smithers was and his part in Jim's treatment.

Already familiar with the Smithers family, or more precisely Dr. Smithers' father with whom heíd had the distinctly unpleasant experience of various business dealings in the past, William decided that the apple apparently didn't fall far from the tree. On the advice of Dr. Rose, William had contacted an attorney to be sure that Smithers paid all of Jimís hospital bills and also that he had his license revoked or at the very least suspended. Grinning, William recalled the call heíd received that afternoon.

"Ellison"

"Bill, this is Hank Smithers. Seems we have a problem."

"No, Hank. WE donít have a problem. Your son has a problem."

"Now look, Ellison, my boy is a fine doctor. He told me that your son was hyped up on steroids and attacked him while he was trying to administer aid. I know your kid is supposed to be some kind of supercop and Iím sure you donít want the press getting the information on his drug useÖ"

"Hold it right there, Hank! Let me enlighten you as to the facts. First, MY son does not use drugs; the PD conducts drug test periodically and he often has blood drawn during his many visits to the ER and all of these tests have come up negative. If you imply drug use to the press, Iíll sue you on his behalf for liable. Believe me, Iíve got all the proof I need to make sure you pay for any comments you choose to make. Second, YOUR son refused to read Jimís medical chart and dosed him with a sedative that he did not need and is allergic to. Thatís called malpractice and Jim will press charges. Third, YOUR son will pay for all of Jimís bills from this particular stay in the hospital since itís his fault my boy is in ICU on a ventilator. Do I make myself very clear on these points!"

His grin growing slightly feral, very similar to one sometimes seen on his son, William recalled how Hank Smithers had proceeded to sputter a bit and then hang up.

Immediately after that phone call, Bill contacted his attorney to report Hank Smithers' threats. Now, as a result of Hank Smithers' action, the attorney was looking into a restraining order to keep Smithers, both father and son, from harassing any of the Ellison clan; those related both by blood and by choice.

"Jimmy, weíre all looking out for you," William said to his son. "I really wish youíd wake up." Hearing a groan, he looked down to see Jim's pale blue eyes slowly blink. Hitting the call button to summon help, he told his son, "Jim, donít fight the tube. I know itís uncomfortable but the doctor will be here soon and will hopefully be able to take it out."


Upon entering the room, the nurse took in the situation at a glance and immediately paged Dr. Cuthbertson who arrived only a few moments later. Forced to leave the room while Jim was being examined, William stood in the hallway and pulled out his cell phone and a sheet of paper. Although it was a little after 2:00AM, he knew that the others would want to hear the good news. Looking at the first number, William started to make the first of a long list of happy calls.

"Joel, this is Bill Ellison," William announced as the call was answered. "I've got some terrific news. Jim is finally awake!"

Holding the phone away from his ear, William grinned as the shouts of joys issued from the phone. After a brief conversation with Joel, William hung up and dialed the next number, his smile growing as he made each phone call. Within an hour of his getting the word out, the waiting room was filled with the men and women of Major Crime and, of course, Steven.

When Dr. Cuthbertson came into the waiting room, she was bombarded with questions. Gesturing for the group to calm down, she waited until the room was silent before speaking. "First off, Jim is indeed awake; however, he is somewhat groggy and confused right now which is causing him some agitation." Glancing around at everyone, her gaze came to rest on Simon and she pointedly said, "Since Blair isn't here, I thought one of you could come in and try to calm him down."

Stepping forward, William said, "I'll go, I want to be there for Jim right now."

When no one objected, Dr. Cuthbertson said, "Come with me, Mr. Ellison."

When William entered Jim's room, he immediately went over to his son and took his hand. Worried by the panicked expression in Jim's eyes and the way he seemed to be searching the room for something Ö or Ö someone, William suddenly realized what was upsetting his son. "It's okay, Jimmy," he reassured. "I know that you're looking for Blair, but he isnít here."

Seeing the panicked expression turn into one of regret, William quickly added, "Blair is off finishing his dissertation and your captain thought it was best not to contact him unless your condition worsened; that there was no need to worry him unnecessarily. But, Jim, there's a roomful of people out there that care a great deal about you. Steven, your co-workers, all of them are out there just waiting to come in here and see you."

Having seemed to stop listening after his father said that Blair was not at the hospital, Jimís expression clearly showed both despair and disbelief. Before William could say anything else, Dr. Cuthbertson bustled into the room, looking entirely too chipper for the late hour. "Jim," she greeted, "itís good to see you awake. Weíve been weaning you off of the vent since you showed signs of consciousness and Iím sure youíre ready to get that tube out of your throat, arenít you?"

Jim gave a small nod in response.

"Mr. Ellison, would you please go to the waiting room," Dr. Cuthbertson requested. "After I remove the tube and give Jim a more thorough examination, Iíll let everyone back in here briefly for a visit; I don't want him overwhelmed. You can also inform them that I hope to have Jim moved into a regular room later today."

"Yes, Dr. Cuthbertson," William agreed despite his misgivings. "Iíll tell everyone the good news." Looking at his son once again, he said, "Jimmy, we'll be right outside and we'll see you again soon."

Returning to the waiting room, Williamís concern for Jim was briefly pushed aside as he looked at the assembled group. Amused, he took in the varying appearance of the men and women. Rhonda and Megan looked pretty well put together; however, Henri and Rafe looked like they'd barely managed to drag themselves out of bed.

Finally noticing Williamís return, everyone looked up expectantly. Holding up a hand to forestall the onslaught of eager question, William quickly informed them of Jim's condition. "Heís awake and seems coherent. Right now, Dr. Cuthbertson is removing the ventilator and checking him over. After that she's going to allow us in, for a brief visit. And later today, she'll be moving him into a private room. I'm sure that we're all glad to hear that."

"Thatís great news, Bill," Simon replied. Noticing William's concerned look, he asked, "What's wrong, though? You look worried."

"Jim, he justÖ" William began. "Well, once I said that Blair wasn't here Ö Jim just seemed to shut down after I told him that Blair wasn't here. I tried to explain that Blair wasn't here because no one contacted him, but Ö I don't know. Jim just seemed to shut down and stopped listening to me. I don't think he heard a single word that I said after that."

"Well, we're just going to have to make him listen," Megan asserted. "We have to take it upon ourselves to keep Jim going until Sandy does return. Hey, at least he is awake now and back with us."

"Yeah, but now is when the hard part begin," Simon responded.

Confused by the captain's words, Steven asked, "What do you mean, the hard work is about to begin?"

"Steven, have you been around you brother when heís recovering from an accident or an illness lately?" Simon asked.

"Not since we were kids," Steven rather sullenly replied.

"Well, we have," Simon stated. "And trust me when I say, it ain't pretty." Chuckling, he added, "Your brother is one cranky son of a bitch when heís laid up and itís damn near impossible to keep him down long enough to get well. Without Sandburg here, itís going to be really hard. I just wish that we could tell him aboutÖ"

"But we canít," Megan interrupted. "Weíve all agreed to keep this from him; to surprise him."

"I know," Simon replied, "but it just seems to keep getting harder and harder to stay quiet, especially now that he is awake again."


Oblivious to the happenings out in the waiting room, Jim lay in the ICU; concentrating on cooperating with Dr. Cuthbertson and the nurses as they removed the tube from his throat, he hadnít heard anything his friends and family had said. Wincing in pain as the tube finally came out; Jim smiled in thanks when Sadie gave him some ice chips to soothe the soreness in his throat.

Finishing her exam, Dr. Cuthbertson smiled down at her patient. "Jim, do you have any questions besides ĎWhen can I go homeí?" she asked with a smile.

Jim returned the smile with a rueful one of his own. "How about you tell me how I ended up here?" he managed to ask, his voice scratchy and hoarse.

Not surprised by the memory loss, Dr. Cuthbertson queried, "Whatís the last thing you remember?"

"Waiting at the mall for a snitch to show," Jim answered in a low voice, his words barely audible. "I was drinking something hot. I donít remember what. After that, nothing."

"Okay, Jim, this is what I know," Dr. Cuthbertson replied. "Youíre right; you were at the mall and until now, no one knew why. Lucky for you, Henri Brown was also there doing some Christmas shopping. When he noticed a commotion at the food court, he decided to investigate and was very surprised to find you, lying on the floor unconscious and having difficulty breathing." Watching as Sadie spooned some more ice chips into Jim's mouth, Dr. Cuthbertson continued, "He told someone to go call 911 while he called the PD. Since you still hadn't regain consciousness by the time the paramedics, he rode in the ambulance with you to the hospital."

Waiting a moment to allow Jim to digest everything that she had said so far, Dr. Cuthbertson frowned as she added, "I was paged but wasnít able to get here right away. As a result, a truly idiotic and extremely arrogant colleague of mine, who no longer works here by the way, refused to read your chart and gave you a sedative; one which youíre extremely sensitive to. Due to the administration of this drug, you went into respiratory arrest and that necessitated your being placed on a ventilator for last twenty-four hours, give or take a couple of hours."

Smiling, she said, "On the plus side, I didnít expect you to wake up for another eight to ten hours but right now you're not only awake but extremely cognizant. Once again, you've managed to surprise me. Jim, it really would help if you could remember what you reacted to at the mall. It was pretty much textbook allergic reaction and whatever agent caused this really should be listed in your medical records."

"Iíll try to remember Dr. Cuthbertson," Jim promised. "But right now itís all a blank."

Seeing Jim yawn, Dr. Cuthbertson said, "I promised everyone theyíd get a chance to see you briefly. I know that you're still tired, but do you think that you could you stand some visitors? Theyíre all pretty anxious. But if you don't fell up to it, I'm sure they'll understand."

Flashing briefly to his father's visit, only remembering hearing that Blair wasn't at the hospital, Jim hesitated for a moment. Eventually he relented and agreed. "Okay, Dr. C," he said, even though he couldnít imagine who would be waiting to see him in the middle of the night. Especially since he was well aware that everyone at the station was still upset with him over his treatment of Blair on Thanksgiving.

Taking in the uncertainty, not to mention loneliness in Jim's eyes, Dr. Cuthbertson patted his arm and said, "Iíll go get everyone."


When Dr. Cuthbertson. entered the waiting room, she immediately became the focus of everyone's attention. "Jim is going to be fine," she announced and then smiled at the resulting cheers. Shushing everyone, she continued, "Heís tired; he has a cold and his throat is sore, but thatís all to be expected. I know he wants to go home, but with Blair gone he'd be alone and he isn't in any condition to take care of himself right now. So unless you all can guarantee that he will have someone with him all the time, he'll have to remain here for now."

Briefly meeting everyone's eyes, she added, "He has agreed to visitors so you can go into see him. If you keep if brief, I'll allow you to all go in together. He seems rather depressed and I think that it would cheer him up to see some friendly faces right now. But please keep it short because he still needs his rest. In fact, I think heís about to fall asleep right now; he was yawning when I left."

Speaking up when the doctor fell silent, Sally announced, "You don't need to worry about Jimmy, doctor; he'll be coming home with Mr. Ellison and myself. After all, I took care of him when he was a boy and I am certainly able to take care of him now. I doubt that he'll be any more difficult to take of now then he was when he was a boy." Smiling, she added, "Besides, Iím sure that Iíll have lots of help."

Taking a look at the group of smiling men and women, Dr. Cuthbertson nodded her agreement.

Dozing, Jim was awakened when the door to his room opened and a large number of people began to come inside. Temporarily rendered speechless, by the fact that his co-workers were actually here to see him and that Dr. C was allowing them to violate the rules by all visiting at once, Jim stared in shock after they had all entered the room

"Jimmy," William spoke, breaking the silence, "youíre a lucky man. Youíve got really good friends who are going to make sure that you recover completely; they've already been seeing to that by staying with you the whole time that you've been here. They've made sure that you haven't been alone a single second since you were admitted." Pausing for a moment to allow the news to sink in, William cleared his throat and then added, "Now as soon as you're released, you're coming home with Sally and me. Before you start arguing, you should know that you don't have a choice in the matter. Just as we didn't allow you to be alone here, we're not going to allow you to be alone after you get out of here. And that included the holidays, Son."

Not knowing what to say, still feeling Blair's absence despite the presence of his friends and family, Jim stared in disbelief as his colleagues wished him well and then took their leave. After everyone had left, he started to surrender to the weariness that had been pulling at him. Settling down to sleep, he eventually noticed his brother sitting down in the comfortable chair sitting by his bed. "Stevie," he croaked, "whatíre you doing?"

"Getting comfortable, big brother," Steven answered with a smile. "You arenít going to be here alone. Iím staying." Smile widening, he added, "And for once, youíre in no shape to make me do anything!"

Directing a half-hearted glare his brother's way, Jim sighed and closed his eyes; giving in to the encroaching exhaustion, he finally drifted off to sleep.

  

Chapter 7

The next morning, feeling reasonable happy and content for the first time in several weeks, Simon Banks smiled as he arrived at work. 'What's not to be happy about?' he thought. 'Jim is getting better and although I wish it hadn't taken his illness to accomplish it, my unit is quickly becoming a true family. And once we finally get Jim and Blair face to face again, our family will finally be complete. Then, the real healing can begin and we can have a wonderful Christmas together.'

Whistling 'Silent Night', Simon nodded hello to Rhonda on his way into his office. Contemplating bringing in some Christmas decorations, he sat down to check his voicemail. Patiently, he waded through the usual messages from his detectives; attentively, he listened to their updates of various open cases. Then, he good mood increased when he came to a message from Daryl; however, that good mood quickly evaporated as he heard what his son had to say.

"Dad," Daryl's voice issued from the phone, "Iím calling to let you know that I wonít be at your place for Christmas, but Iíll try to get back for a couple of days after New Yearís. Momís boyfriend has a place on Fifth Avenue and heís invited me to spend the holidays with them there in New York City. Youíll probably have to work anyway. Alan and Mom are getting pretty serious and I want to get to know him better. Sorry about the plans we made. Iíll be in touch."

Taking a deep breath, Simon determined not to let his disappointment spoil Christmas. 'We've all gone to a lot of effort to salvage this holiday,' he thought, 'and I'm not about to all that hard work be for nothing.' Caught up in his thoughts, it took him a moment to notice movement in the bullpen. Spotting Naomi Sandburg, he let out a loud sigh. 'When did she get into town?' he wondered as he went to see what she wanted.

Seeing Simon open his door, Naomi greeted, "Oh, Captain Banks, itís good to see you again." Sweeping past him to barge into his office she asked, "May I come in?"

"Certainly, Ms. Sandburg," Simon replied, hurriedly stepping aside when Naomi almost ran into him. Hoping to include Blair's mother in their Christmas plans, he said, "And please, it's Simon. Now, what can I do for you?"

"Iím looking for Blair," Naomi answered. "The loft seems to be unoccupied and the neighbors wonít tell me anything. Iíve got the most wonderful opportunity for him to go to India for the holiday, possibly longer. The most wonderful ashram has offered to help the both of us find enlightenmentÖ"

"Ms. Sandburg, when was the last time you communicated with Blair?" Simon broke into the monologue.

"IÖwellÖI, I havenít spoken with him since he accepted the offer to go to the police academy," Naomi hesitantly answered. "Iíve thought about emailing him but, well, things were still a bit tense. So, I decided to come and get my son so that we can clear the air."

Simon sighed again; remembering Blair's very specific instructions to not tell Naomi his location should she come looking for him, Simon remained silent. Eyes slipping shut, Simon also recalled how in the letter Blair stated that he was fully aware of how Naomi felt about Jim and was relying on Simon to shield Jim from one of Naomi's tirades. Risking a glance at Naomi, Simon saw that she was growing impatient with the continued silence.

"Ms. Sandburg, " Simon said, "If youíll give me a moment, Iíll tell you what I can." When he proceeded to tell Naomi about the Ellison family's efforts, and eventual success, in restoring Blair's academic reputation, Naomi seemed to grow increasingly agitated. Then, when he informed her that Blair was now in seclusion, omitting the details of Blair's departure, she grew even more upset.

"But my son and I have so much catching up to do," Naomi replied after Simon finished his explanation. "I'll just wait for him to come back to Cascade, then Iíll ask him to go on the retreat with me. Once he finishes his dissertation, I know that he'll want to come with me." Expression hardening, she added, "And Iíll be so glad to get him away from the violence of your world; over the past few years, he has been repeatedly hurt and injured due to his relationship with Jim and this department. It's not like he even belonged here in the first place; he was never cut out for this line of work and no matter how much Jim and the rest of you tried to influence him, he never would have been happy being a pig."

Appalled by Naomi's attitude, which was just as clueless as it had been last spring when she'd nearly destroyed Jim and Blair's friendship, Simon grated out, "I think that you may be in for a rather unpleasant surprise." Inwardly pleased by the annoyed expression on Naomi's face, he continued, "Contrary to what you think, I donít believe Blair will be that eager to leave Cascade." Reaching into his desk drawer, Simon pulled out an envelope. "He sent me this letter so that I could give it to you in case you showed up in Cascade." Handing the envelope to Naomi, Simon said, "If you'd like, you can use my office to read the letter. I'll make sure that no one disturbs you." When Naomi nodded, Simon left the office, giving her some privacy.

Barely registering Simon's departure, Naomi opened the letter; as she began to read it, she didnít even notice the trembling in her hands.

 

 

Dear Mom,

If youíre reading this then that means you finally decided to come back to Cascade. I'm glad. I've missed you, Naomi, and even though I know we've still got a lot of issues to deal with, I know that we can work things out. By now, Simon has told you everything that has happened since you left last spring so you know that I'm finishing my dissertation. Now I know that you're probably going to want me to go away with you to some retreat so that I can process everything that has happened, but that's not me anymore, Naomi. I'm not going to run away from my problems. Cascade is my home now and I'm not leaving. And I am definitely not going to abandon my family. That's right, Naomi; I consider Jim and the others my family.

After I finish the dissertation, hopefully it'll be accepted and I'll get my doctorate, I plan on pursuing a job at the PD as a full-time consultant. Also, I might even teach at the Police Academy or at the University of Washington. Hell, I may even end up teaching at both. What I'm trying to say is, I've finally found my place, Naomi. After all those years of never fitting in, never belonging, always being an outsider, I found the place that I belong. And that place is by Jim's side. He is my brother, Mom. In everything except blood, he is my brother. Despite our recent problems, I'm more certain of that than ever before and I know that we'll work everything out. I only hope that you can accept this and be happy for me. I love you, Mom.

Blair

 

After she had finished reading her son's letter, Naomi crumpled it in her fist; unable to believe that her son, who she had raised to be as free thinking and unconventional as she was, had written those words. 'Work for the police,' she thought. 'I don't think so, Blair. I was never going to permit that in the first place. I especially wonít now that you're going to receive your doctorate. After all, there are so many more options, ones that donít include any involvement with Jim or the rest of these pigs, for you to consider now. I'll just have to make you see that.'

When Simon returned to his office a few minutes later, the sight of a fuming Naomi Sandburg greeted him. "Can I get you some coffee?" He mildly asked.

"No," Naomi answered through gritted teeth. "But you can tell me can tell me where my son is!"

"Iím sorry Ms. Sandburg," Simon apologized, "but I gave my word to Blair that I would keep his whereabouts confidential, and that is one promise that I don't intend on breaking. I can, however, assure you that he is safe and healthy."

"So, whereís Ellison?" Naomi spat out. "Iíll get the location from him."

"Detective Ellison is in the hospital," Simon answered, "but it won't do you any good to go see him since he doesnít know where Blair is either. Besides, he has had a rough time lately and I really think that you should leave him alone and not hinder his recovery."

"You do not have the right to keep me from my son," Naomi exclaimed. "If I have to, Iíll get a court order to force you to tell me! If you think that I won't just try me and see; I won't allow the likes of you to keep me from my son!"

Knowing that Naomi's shouts were audible to the detectives in the bullpen, Simon remained calm and replied in a low and even tone. "Ms. Sandburg, Blair wishes to be left alone right now. Unless you want to totally alienate your son, I suggest that you respect that decision; just as I have." Attempting to reason with Naomi, though expecting that he wouldn't be able to get through to the irate and distraught woman, he urged, "Please let this go. No one wants to see you hurt, but Blair needs space right now; both to finish his dissertation and to finally come to terms with everything that has happened over the past few months. Even with Jim was in the hospital I didnít attempt to contact him, although I know that he wonít be happy with that decision once he finds out about it."

Mind racing, Naomi tried to think of where her son could have gone. ĎThat has got to be it,í she thought as she was struck by a sudden inspiration. Without saying another word to Simon, Naomi turned and stormed out of the office; she didn't even pause as a picture crash to the floor when she slammed the door behind her.


Later that afternoon, having heard nothing further from Naomi, Simon was just starting to calm down from the womanís visit. 'I really should call and check on Jim,' he thought. Just as he picked up the phone, the intercom clicked on and he heard Rhonda say, "Line one, sir. Itís Megan."

Pushing the button for line one he said, "Banks."

"Captain, I have a very disgruntled detective here," Megan stated, her voice sounding somewhat harried. "Maybe you might do a bit of attitude adjustment for me?"

Smiling as he heard the barely audible grumbling in the background, Simon said, "Put him on."

After a slight pause, Jim came on the line. "Simon, Iím signing myself out AMA," he announced. "They canít keep me here."

'I donít think so, my friend,' Simon thought as he heard Jim's weak, but determined, sounding voice. "Detective," Simon barking into the phone, using his best donít-mess-with-me-because-Iím-the-Captain-and-I-will-assign-you-to-meter-maid-duty-if-you-piss-me-off voice, "listen to me. You nearly died, during which you just happened to give your friends and family a very bad scare." Tone softening, he continued, "We care about you, Jim, and want to see you get better."

Once again switching to his previous commanding tone, he ordered, "So you will follow directions and you will stay in the hospital until your doctor releases you. After which, you will go home with your father. And you will not be allowed back on duty until I get a written statement from Dr. C stating that you are fit for duty. Do I make myself very clear?" When Jim didn't immediately respond, he stated, "Iím waiting for an answer, Detective."

"You made yourself very clear, Sir," Jim grumbled.

"Good," Simon replied. "And, Jim?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Get well, Jim," Simon said. "You're missed around here. Now, give the phone back to Connor."

Jim glared at Megan as he handed her back the phone.

Smiling, she warned, "Donít you give me that look, Jim Ellison. Or else I might have to tell Santa how naughty you've been this year." Turning her attention to the phone, she said, "Yes, Captain."

"He giving you too hard a time, Connor?" Simon asked.

"No, sir. At least not now, he isn't," Megan replied. "After your little chat just now, Jimbo is back to being his usual cheery self. Besides, Sally will be here in a few to relive me. Iíll get down to the station after she arrives."

"Very good," Simon replied. Grinning, knowing that Jim was listening to him, he added, "Donít forget the meeting," referring to everyoneís plans to meet at his house later that night to discuss plans for the Christmas party.

"I wonít, sir," Megan assured; watching in amusement as Jim tried to hide his interest in her conversation with Simon. "See you then."

"What meeting?" Jim asked after Megan ended her call.

"What?"

"That meeting that Simon mentioned," Jim explained. "Whatís that about?"

"Why, Detective Ellison," Megan chided, "were you eavesdropping on my conversation? Iím shocked."

Irritated by the smirk on Meganís face, Jim growled, "Just tell me what the meeting is about? Is something going on that I should know about?"

"Itís nothing, Jim," Megan replied. "Just a typical meeting. Nothing is going on."

"Whatever," Jim said. Looking down, picking at his blanket, Jim asked, "SoÖ umÖ have you or SimonÖ I mean, has SanÖ" Sighing, he inquired, "Has anyone heard from Sandburg? I justÖ I know that you guys are pissed at me because of the way that I acted, butÖ WellÖ IímÖ Iím worried about him."

"Look, Mate," Megan replied, "first off, yes we were rather annoyed with you for a while. You were totally in the wrong on Thanksgiving. Sandy certainly didnít deserve that type of treatment, especially from you of all people." Her tone softening, she added, "But weíve all decided that even though you act like a total jackass sometimes, youíre really an okay kind of guy. As long as you and Sandy work things out, nobody will be holding any grudges. We all just want to put our family back together again, especially at this time of year."

"But it isnít a family without Sandburg, is it?" Jim asked.

"No, it isnít," Megan agreed. "But it is Christmas time, Jim; a time for forgiveness and being with the people you love. I donít know where Sandy is right now; but Iím sure that wherever he is, he is thinking of you. Heíll be back, Jim. I know he will. I have faith in that and you should too."

"Having faith in something isnít exactly one of my strong points," Jim stated.

"Oh I donít know about that," Megan replied. "I remember seeing you show some pretty strong faith once before."

"Me?" Jim skeptically replied. "When?"

Tone soft, concern clearly evident in every word, Megan answered, "At the fountain. The day SandyÖ" Voice choked with emotions, she continued, "Even after we had all given up, you still held out hope. You had faith that Sandy would come back to us. Your faith was justified that day. Is it so difficult to believe that it will be justified this time as well?"

Not knowing how to respond, Jim remained silent.


Later that afternoon, after Megan had gone back to the station, Dr. Cuthbertson came in to examine Jim and proceeded to proclaim him recovered enough to go home. After his release him from the hospital, his father and Sally had brought him home, or to his fatherís house.

Now settled into his old room, Jim glanced around the room; lost in thought for a while, he was caught up in some rather unpleasant childhood memories. Shaking off the reverie, Jimís thoughts turned to Blair. Absentmindedly, he turned on the television and flipped through the channels. ĎIt may be an improvement over the hospital, but I sure as hell wish that I was back at the loft right now,í he thought. Then, remembering the empty feeling he always seemed to have lately when he was at home, he cursed, "Shit. Maybe I donít wish that I were at the loft. But I would if you were there, Chief. God, Blair, Iím so sorry. I screwed up again, didnít I? These fear-based responses are a bitch. Youíd think that Iíd be able to control them a little bit better by now."

As he allowed himself to think about Blair and their friendship, which he had willfully destroyed because of his insecurities and fears, depression began to set in once again. "I donít even know where you are, Chief. Are you okay? Have you finally finished your dissertation? Are you going to come back? Megan thinks you are. She wants me to have faith, but I donít know if I can. I mean, I have faith in you, Blair. I always have even though it didnít always look like it. I just donít seem to have any in myself lately, faith that Iím worthy enough for you to want to try and salvage our friendship."

Thought preoccupied with Blair, Jim didnít notice William standing outside beside the bedroom door, listening to his sonís softly spoken words.

His heart saddened by his sonís despondent tone, William quietly crept down the hallway. Once downstairs, William headed for his den. Picking up the phone, he called Simon. "Hello, Captain Banks," he said when his call was answered. "I really need to speak to you about Jim. I think itís time for us to step up those plans."


After ending his conversation with Jimís father, Simon paged Rhonda.

"Yes, Sir?" Rhondaís voice came from the intercom.

"Rhonda, I need you to find me the number for Saint Sebastianís," Simon said. "Itís a monastery."

After ending his conversation with Rhonda, Simon leaned back in his chair. ĎI hope that I made the right decision, guys,í he thought. ĎNot informing Blair seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but now Iím not so sure.í

"Captain," Rhondaís voice interrupted his musings, "Iíve got that number for you."

"Thank you, Rhonda," Simon said as he quickly jotted down the number Rhonda recited to him. "Could you please see to it that Iím not disturbed for the next few minutes."

Ending his conversation with Rhonda, Simon picked up the phone. "Hello," he said when the phone was answered, "this is Simon Banks from Cascade and I need to speak to someone about Blair Sandburg."

 

 

Chapter 8

"Well that was a very enlightening phone call," Brother Jeremy observed as he hung up the phone. Staring out the window, he added, "Thanks to your captain, I now know why you appeared so drawn and tired when you suddenly showed up here last month, Brother Blair. And I also know why you havenít been your usual self."

Having been alarmed at the usually exuberant young manís withdrawn and somber behavior, Brother Jeremy had more than once almost approached Blair about what was troubling him; not wanting to press Blair, who had been working nonstop on his dissertation, Brother Jeremy had decided to give him some space. "Now how am I going to get you to Cascade by Christmas Eve?" he wondered. "Perhaps I should seek Brother Marcusí counsel on this matter."

Deciding to speak to Brother Marcus immediately, Brother Jeremy was just about to leave his office when a woman barged into the room. Startled by the sudden appearance, he halted in mid-step. Recovering his composure, he asked, "Can I help you?"

Eyes blazing, the woman said, "I hope so, or else thereís going to be hell to pay."

Shocked by the womanís attitude, Brother Jeremy listened on in silence as the newcomer continued.

"My name is Naomi Sandburg and Iíve come for my son."

Unaware of his motherís presence at the monastery, Blair was working with Br. Marcus in the barn; helping the monk in the creation of a new stained glass window for a church in Bosnia. Feeling grateful for the exacting work, which was helping to keep his mind off of everything; Blair was experiencing a rare moment of peace and contentment. For a moment he smiled as he recalled finishing his dissertation the other day.

ĎWhen I first hooked my laptop up to the phone jack in his office, Brother Jeremy seemed about ready to throw a fit,í Blair mused. ĎBut at least itís finally over. Now I just have to meet with Professor Jackson after Christmas and prepare for my defense. I still have to decide what to do next. Do I stay in Cascade or do I leave? Teach at the academy? Do I become an official consultant with the PD?í Frowning, his thought turned to Jim. ĎThatís if Jim even wants me to stay,í he thought as he once again dealt with now familiar feelings of concern for Jim and regret over the way things were between them when he had left Cascade.

Lost in thought, he didnít hear the commotion as Brother Tomas, who was looking rather panicked, ran into the barn. "Brother Blair," the monk called out, "thereís a woman here to see you. Brother Jeremy says it is your mother and that you should come to his office right away."

"Iím coming, Tomas," Blair replied, amused by the young monkís obvious shock that a woman would come to the monastery unannounced. "Calm down. I promise she wonít bite. Well, not you at least." After wiping his face, Blair nodded goodbye to Brother Marcus and then headed for the main building.

Entering Brother Jeremyís office, Blair briefly wondered why Naomi had chosen this moment to reappear in his life. The fact that, as far as his mother knew, he was supposed to have started at the police academy in a few days registered in his mind as he was suddenly swept up into a tight embrace.

Returning the hug, he greeted, "Hi, Mom. Itís been a while."

"Too long, Sweetie," Naomi replied as she released Blair. "Oh, Blair," Naomi said while wiping at the tears in her eyes, "Itís so good to see you. When I arrived in Cascade and couldnít find you, I was so worried. But Brother Jeremy was kind enough to assuage my worries. He said that youíd been here for a while and that youíve finished your dissertation."

"Yes, Mom, itís finished," Blair confirmed. "Iíll defend in January."

"Iím so happy for you, Baby," Naomi replied. "Now you can finally get on with your life. And, Sweetie, Iíve got the greatest surprise for you. Itís all arranged. Weíll leave right after Christmas. The ashram wants to begin your studies as soon as we get there. Heíll purify you and purge all of the violence and ugliness youíve been exposed to for the past four years. Iím so glad youíve finally seen reason and left those pigs behindÖ"

"Whoa, hold up a minute, Mom," Blair interrupted. "Get on with my life? Ashram? Leave those Ďpigsí behind? What are you talking about?"

"Well now that youíve finished your dissertation and will finally get your doctorate, thereís no limit to what you can do," Naomi explained. "You can teach anywhere you want, go on expeditions. Oh, Blair, it will be wonderful for you. But first, you simply must come with me to India. As I was saying, thereís this ashramÖ"

Becoming angry, Blair ordered, "Get to the part about leaving the Ďpigsí behind, Naomi."

Shocked by Blairís tone, especially since he had never spoken to her like that before, Naomi stammered, "WellÖ IÖ Since youíreÖ You canÖ"

"Can what?" Blair asked.

"Well now, youíll no longer be stuck in Cascade," Naomi stated. "You wonít have any reason to expose yourself to Jim or his world any longer. I never liked your being a part of that, Blair. People like us shouldnít associate with pigs. We certainly shouldnít be living and working with them."

"NaomiÖ"

Ignoring Blair, Naomi continued, "Donít get me wrong, I donít have anything against Jim, Captain Banks, or any of those other people; but theyíre simply no good for you, Sweetie." Not noticing Blairís increasingly irate expression, Naomi prattled on. "When I think about all the times that youíve been hurt over the past several years, IÖ I'm just so glad that you're finally free of him. We can move on together. We donít need to settle anywhere. The world is our home, it always has been and it always will be. Come on, Blair; letís go right now. We can go to India right now!"

"Naomi," Blair replied, his tone low in an attempt to maintain control over his temper, "Iím going to defend my dissertation and get my degree. Then, if theyíll have me, I will become a consultant to the PD; maybe even an instructor at the academy as well." Sighing, Blair continued, "Naomi, even though weíre not related by blood, I consider Jim to be my brother. Yeah, weíve had some problems recently, but weíll work them out. Heís my family and family sticks together, through good times as well as bad. I hope you can understand that."

Her expression stricken, Naomi said, "Blair, that pig is not your brother. Youíre simply deluding yourself. He doesnít need you anymore. Surely you must realize that or else you wouldnít be here right now." Switching tactics, she asked, "Why are you here, Blair? Did that pig throw you out again? Why do you keep letting him treat you this way? What hold does he have over you that you would continue to accept this abuse?"

"First of all, Jim didnít throw me out. I left," Blair explained. "But now, I realize how big of a mistake my leaving was. Second, donít ever refer to Jim, or any of my other friends, as a Ďpigí. I mean it, Naomi. Itís demeaning to them and the job that they do. Theyíre out on the streets risking their lives day in and day out in order to protect the public. I admire them a great deal for their courage and dedication. Now, I donít deny that there are some bad cops; but they are in the minority, especially in the Cascade PD." Reaching out to grasp Naomiís shoulders, Blair continued in gentler tone. "Over the past four years, Iíve felt honored to be a part of that world, Naomi. Sure, it has a down side but I know that itís where I belong."

Letting go of his mother, Blair took a step back. "Iím not going with you to India," he stated. "Iím not a little kid anymore and you canít make decisions for my life. You canít just trot off to some out-of-the-way place and expect me to tag along without saying a word. I mean how could you make plans like that without even consulting me first, Naomi? Itís the same thing you did when you gave my dissertation to your friend, Sid. Your actions affected a lot of people. Simon and Megan were shot and Jimís life was almost destroyed."

Pacing in the small confines of the room, Blair said, "Now, when everything is just starting to settle down and Iím trying to get my life back on track, you show up and disrupt everything. Where have you been the past few months? When I needed you the most, you were nowhere to be found. But you know who was there for me? Jim, thatís who. That Ďpigí and his family have done so much for me. They contacted a lawyer and with his help, I sued Rainier, your friend Sid and his publishing company. Not only was I re-accepted back into Rainierís doctorate program, but your friend Sid is currently out of work. None of that would have been possible if not for the Ellisons."

Coming to a halt, Blair looked at his mother. "Theyíre my family, Naomi, by my choice and by theirs. I love you and you will always be my mom, but you have to accept that and accept their place in my life. You rejected your birth family for both of us when I was a baby and youíve chosen to deny me a father, but this is one family that you canít take away from me. I love them, Naomi, and I need them in my life. I want you to be a part of my life too, but if you canít come to terms with my life as it is now, and as it will be in the future, then I donít know how you can continue to be a part of my life."

"Blair, you canít mean this," Naomi said.

"The choice isnít mine, Naomi," Blair replied. "Itís yours." Turning to Brother Jeremy, Blair said, "Thank you for your hospitality but I think itís time for me to return to my family now. I need to be with my brother, especially since tomorrow is Christmas Eve."

Relieved that he wouldnít have to result to trickery to get Blair back to Cascade, Jeremy said, "Brother Blair, a number of us are going to Cascade volunteer at a homeless shelter. Weíd be more that happy to have you ride to town with us."

"Thanks, thatíd be great," Blair replied to the monk before addressing his mother once more. "Whatíll it be, Naomi?" When she didnít answer, he said, "If you change your mind, you know how to reach me." Turning to leave the office, Blair paused at the door. "You know my email, so please keep in contact; Iíd like to have an idea where you are and that youíre safe, Mom. And if youíre in Cascade tomorrow night, please come to the loft. Iíd really like to spend this Christmas with my entire family."

After Blair left, Brother Jeremy hurried to Naomiís side. "Ms. Sandburg, Iíll have Brother Tomas drive you to your car," he informed her. "I hope you find the peace that youíre looking for. You will be in my prayers."

Still in shock from Blairís words, Naomi wordlessly followed the young monk to the old vehicle and climbed in; she never looked back as the young monk drove her away from St. Sebastianís and her son.

After Naomi had left the office, Brother Jeremy immediately headed for the phone. "Hello," he said when his call was answered, "this is Brother Jeremy from Saint Sebastian's and I need to speak with Captain Banks." While he was waiting for Simon, Brother Jeremy stared out the window and watched as Blair headed back to the barn and Brother Marcus. "Captain Banks," he said after the call had been transferred, "this is Brother Jeremy and I've got some news for you. First, I just want to assure you that Brother Blair will be returning to Cascade tomorrow. Why? Well, that's the second thing that I need to tell you. Naomi Sandburg just got through leaving. While I don't feel comfortable breaking any confidences and telling you what transpired, I can tell you that, as a result of his conversation with his mother, Brother Blair finally seems to have come to terms with whatever has been bothering him." Smiling, Brother Jeremy asked, "So what time should we have him home tomorrow evening?"

 

Chapter 9

"Glad you could make it," Simon greeted as he opened his door to allow William and Steven to enter his home. "Everyone else is already here."

"Good," William replied. "I don't want to leave Jimmy alone too long. Even though Sally is there to keep him company, I didn't feel right about leaving him."

"How is he doing?" Simon asked as he took William and Steven's coats.

"Okay, I think," William answered as Simon turned to hang up their coats. "But you know how he is; he really doesn't let you know when something is bothering him."

"Yeah, I know," Simon replied. "Sometimes, it seems like Sandburg is the only person that he'll really talk to."

"Speaking of Blair," Steven said, "have you heard anything else from him?"

"Why don't we go in the living room with everyone else," Simon suggested. "That way, I'll only have to explain things once."

"Why do I get the feeling that you've got some news for us?" Steven asked.

Smiling, Simon said, "This way, gentlemen."

When they entered the living room, everyone nodded in acknowledgement of the new arrivals.

"Hello, everyone," William said. Then, turning to Simon, he asked, "So what news do you have about Blair?"

"You heard from Sandy?" Megan asked. "Why didn't you tell us sooner?"

"I didn't hear from Sandburg," Simon explained. "I heard from Brother Jeremy?"

Confused, Megan looked around to see several smiling faces. "All right, so I see there's something else that I've missed. Who is this Brother Jeremy?"

"Don't ask me," Steven said when Megan looked his way. "I haven't got a clue."

"Me either," William said. "But going by the smiles, I see that some of you do. Would you care to enlighten us?"

"Yeah, what's up?" Costello asked.

"Brother Jeremy is the rector at Saint Sebastian's," Simon replied. "It's a monastery, which is where Blair has been ever since he left Cascade."

Chuckling, Megan asked, "Sandy in a monastery? Forgive me, but I'm having some trouble picturing that."

"Yeah, well you should hear about the last time he went there," Henri stated. "Of course, that time he took Jim with him."

"Just another one of their quiet little vacations that ended up with gunfire and bad buys," Rafe added. "I swear, those guys always end up needing to take a vacation to recover from their vacations."

"Did I hear you right?" Costello asked. "Gunfire and perps at a monastery? I mean, what are the oddsÖ"

"You forget, Al," Joel interrupted, "this is Ellison and Sandburg we're talking about here. The one thing that you've got to remember about those two is that if something can possible go wrong, it will definitely go wrong. When they're around, anything can happen. If you're gonna make it in Major Crime, then that is one fact that you never ever want to forget."

Clearing his throat, attracting everyone's attention, Simon said, "If you'll permit me to finish, I was saying that I heard from Brother Jeremy today and he assured me that Blair will be back in Cascade tomorrow."

"Did he say why Blair decided to come back?" Joel asked.

Looking uncomfortable, Simon replied, "I just know that it had something to do with his mother. Apparently she paid a visit to Blair today. Brother Jeremy wouldn't go into much detail, but from what I gather, it wasn't a very pleasant experience."

"Poor Sandy," Megan said. "I hope that he's okay."

"He will be as soon as he and Jim make up," Henri stated.

"Yeah," Simon agreed. "Now we're coming down to the wire here, people. We've got to get everything arranged; with everything that has happened recently we haven't had time to make very many preparation and we really need to get this thing set in motion."

When Simon finished, William stepped forward. "Okay, people, we need organization," he stated, effectively taking over the meeting. "First, we need a location, so, any ideas on where this party will take place?"

"The loft," Simon stated. "Brother Jeremy and I already discussed this. He and the other monks will be volunteering at a homeless shelter tomorrow and theyíre going to convince Blair to go with them. After they get finished, Brother Jeremy is going to suggest that they head over to the loft. This will give us plenty of time to get everything in place tomorrow."

"That sounds feasible," William agreed. "Jimmy has been wanting to get some items from the loft, so I suggested that we go tomorrow evening. I just need to know what time."

"I told Brother Jeremy to have Blair there around 6:30," Simon informed the others. "So I think that you should have Jim there at around 6:15."

"Why do we want Jim to get there sooner than Blair?" Costello asked. "Wouldn't it be better if they showed up at the same time?"

"No," Megan disagreed. "I think that I see what Simon is getting at here. When Jim gets to the loft, he's going to be in for a pretty big surprise; and as most of us know, when he is surprised or has something unexpected happen, he can get pretty defensive. This way, he'll have a chance to Ö as Sandy would say Ö process things before Sandy gets there."

"Exactly," Simon stated. "Now, I've got a key to the loft so we won't have any problem gaining access to the place. Since most of their neighbors are familiar with Megan and myself, we'll head over there first thing tomorrow morning and clue them in on what is happening."

"Why would you need to do that?" Steven asked.

"Well, with everything that's happened around there, most of them have become pretty suspicious of anyone lurking around the loft," Simon explained.

"Does this have something to do with that 'anything can happen' rule?" Costello asked.

"Yes," several voices answered in unison.

When the resulting laughter died down, William said, "Okay, we've got location covered; now, what about food? I know that Sally wouldn't object to cooking, but with Jimmy in the houseÖ"

"He is bound to know that something is up," Megan finished when William trailed off.

"Exactly," William said. "I mean, Sally can make cookies and snacks using the excuse of taking them to a homeless shelter; she can just make double what she had planned making. With my help, it should be done in plenty of time."

"Excuse me?" Steven spoke up. "I must be imagining things because I know that I couldn't have heard what I thought that I heard just now. C'mon. My dad actually baking?" Turning to look at his father, Steven said, "Forgive me, Dad, but get real. I mean when Jim and I were growing up, you couldn't even handle no-bake cookies."

"That was a long time ago, Stevie," William replied. "And Iíve changed since then. I was hoping that you and Jimmy had realized that with everything that has happened recently butÖ"

"Dad," Steven interrupted as he came over to stand by his father, "I was just joking. I know that you've changed, Dad. Jimmy and I both know that. We do."

"Yes, well, umÖ" William said, emotions making his words seem hesitant, "so, where were we? Food, wasnít it?"

"I think that I know where we can get the turkey," Costello said. When everyone turned to look at him, he added, "Well, you see, my wife's work always hands out certificates as a Christmas bonus; I think it is something like \\$10 or $15 that she can use towards the purchase of a turkey. She should be able to get a pretty good-sized one for that amount." Eyes downcast, he continued, "Neither one of us has any family in the area, and she has really missed not having anyone to cook for this year. She comes from a large family and they always made a big deal out of the holidays; at least, they did until her parents died. After that, they kind of stopped. I think something like this, it could go a long way towards lifting her spirits."

"That would be great," Simon said. "But, Al, are you sure your wife wouldn't mind?"

"Melody would love it," Costello replied. "She could cook it at our place and drop it off for the party."

"Drop it off?" Joel asked. "Won't she want to stay for the party?"

"I'm sure that she wouldn't want to imposeÖ"

"That's nonsense," Joel interrupted. "We've all been wanting to meet your wife and this would be the perfect time. I'm sure that I speak for everyone when I say that she is more than welcome at the party."

Seeing the others nod in agreement, Costello said, "That's great. She'll love it. Thanks."

"We're that one that owe her thanks," Megan said. "Because I, for one, am absolutely lousy in the kitchen. But I can handle something simple like corn or potatoes. Your wife shouldn't have to fix everything."

"I can fix the stuffing," Rhonda volunteered. "I'll use my grandmother's recipe; itís terrific."

"Okay," Simon said. "Now what else do we need?"

"Hairboy will probably want salad," Henri stated. "I could bring that. Hell, even I can chop tomatoes and tear up some lettuce."

"I'll take cranberry sauce and rolls," Rafe said.

Nodding, Simon said, "I think we just about have it covered. I'll bring some yams. Anything else?"

"Not that I can think of," Megan replied.

"Sounds good to me," Joel stated as the other nodded in agreement.

"What about decorations?" William asked. "I could get some from home. Try to sneak them out the back way while Jimmy is sleeping. Unless someone else has some they could bring."

"Or we could just use Sandy and Jim's stuff," Megan suggested. Seeing the surprised look on William's face, she asked, "Something the matter, Bill?"

"Oh no," William replied. "I just thoughtÖ Well, with Blair being Jewish and allÖ I just didn't thinkÖ"

"Didn't think that Jim would have any decorations," Simon finished. Seeing William nod, he said, "The first year after Blair showed up, they really didn't put up many decorations. I remember Blair putting up his menorah and some ceramic figures of Santa Clause and a nativity scene. But last Christmas, they went all out."

"That's right," Joel confirmed. "And as for Blair being JewishÖ Well, I think that Blair is really a whole lot of things. He always seems to be celebrating something; Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah." Chuckling, he added, "Halloween. I remember Jim complaining about how hyped up on sugar Blair was last Halloween. When one thinks of Blair, the word unconventional definitely comes to mind."

"Hell, growing up with Naomi for a mother, it is surprising he turned out as normal as he did," Simon stated.

"SimonÖ"

"Yeah, I know, Joel," Simon said. "But sometimes that womanÖ"

"I understand where you're coming from," Joel said. "I really do. But now isn't the time. Right now, we need to focus on Jim and Blair."

"You're right," Simon agreed. "So what now?"

"UmÖ presents," Megan said. "I've got most of mine done, but I still need to pick up something for Sandy. Oh, and for Melody, of course."

"You don't have toÖ"

"No way, Mate," Megan interrupted. "There's no way she's going to be the only one there without a present. Besides, it's the least I can do since she's going to be cooking for us."

"Yeah," Henri agreed.

"Thanks, guys," Costello said. "I know that she'll appreciate it."

"Now that that's settled," William said, "how are we going to get the decorations? Does Jimmy keep them in the loft?"

"No," Simon answered. "I remember seeing boxes label 'Christmas décor' down in the storage area in the basement the last time I helped Jim stow away some camping gear."

"Do you think we can get into it?" William asked.

"Well, since I have a key to it," Simon replied, "I don't think that will be a problem." Seeing William's questioning look, Simon explained, "Last time Jim and Blair went camping, they invited me along. When we got back in town, I just put my stuff down with theirs and Jim gave me a key in case I ever needed to get it."

"Then I think that we've got everything covered," William said. "Unless anyone can think of something that we've overlooked?" When no one said anything, he continued, "In that case, I suggest we call this meeting to a close. We've all got a lot of preparations to make tomorrow."

"Let's call it a night then," Simon said. Turning to Megan he said, "I'm going to head over to the loft at about eight o'clock in the morning and get started on the decorations."

"I'll meet you then," Joel offered.

"All right," Simon agreed. "The rest of you show up when you can."

While everyone was getting their coats, Simon pulled Joel to the side. "Joel, would you mind sticking around for a little while?"

"Sure, Simon," Joel replied. "What's up?"

"I just need a friendly ear right now," Simon explained. "Why don't you head back into the living room while I herd everybody out of here."

"All right," Joel agreed.

After seeing everyone out, Simon went back to the living room. "Thanks for staying, Joel."

"No problem, Simon," Joel replied.

Sighing, Simon said, "It's Daryl."

"What about him?" Joel asked. "Is he all right? Nothing has happened, has it?"

"No, no," Simon reassured, "it's nothing like that. I got a phone call from him and he is doing fine. But unfortunately, he wants to spend Christmas in New York with Joan and her new boyfriend. Evidently, they're getting pretty serious and Daryl wants a chance to get to know the guy a little bit better."

"Shit, Simon, I'm sorry," Joel said. "That's gotta be tough on you."

"Yeah, but I have to respect his wishes," Simon replied. "If Joan and this guy really are getting serious then he could become a major part of Daryl's life and they should get to know each other."

"I don't know how you handle it," Joel said.

"Handle what?" Simon asked.

"Fatherhood," Joel answered. "I mean, a part of me has always regretted not having a child of my own; but, I don't think that I would have been a very good father."

"Are you kidding me?" Simon replied. "Joel, you would've been a great father. Any kid would be lucky to have you as their dad."

"Well, I don't think it is going to be an issue now," Joel said. "There's not exactly a whole lot of prospects out there for me. Besides, I'm too old to become a dad."

"JoelÖ" Simon began but the ringing of the phone interrupted him. "Be right back," he said as he went over to answer it. "Banks."

"Me too."

"Daryl," Simon replied, a grin lighting up his face. "Itís good to hear from you. Howís New York?"

Instead of answering, Daryl asked, "Dad, can I still spend Christmas with you?" Sounding anxious, he quickly added, "That is, if you havenít made other plans."

"Of course you can spend Christmas with me!" Simon exclaimed. "Iíve got plans, but they'd be so much better with you here. Do you need money for a ticket? Can you get to an airport safely? Are you okay?"

Laughing, Daryl said, "Calm down, Dad. Iím fine." Voice growing serious, he explained, "Iím at a really nice hotel in New York. After I got here, Mom and Robert suddenly decided to take a cruise instead of spending Christmas here; Mom said something about being tired of all of the snow. They said that I could go with them, butÖ Well, I just decided that I really want to spend Christmas with you, Dad. If it's okay, that is. I know you're probably ticked about me dumping you the way that I did, butÖ"

"Hold it, Daryl," Simon interrupted. "Son, you are always welcome here. Never doubt that. I love you."

"I love you too, Daddy," Daryl replied in a quiet voice.

"Now then, do you need a ticket or any money?" Simon asked.

"Nope, Dad, got that covered," Daryl answered. "Before Mom and Robert leftÖ"

"Wait a minute," Simon interrupted. "You mean to tell me that you're in New York by yourself! IÖ"

"Dad, I'm fine," Daryl reassured. "Everything's fine. Like I was saying, before Mom and Robert left, Mom booked me on the first flight back to Cascade. Iíll land at the airport at 9:00 tomorrow morning. Can you be there to pick me up?"

"Can I pick you up?" Simon repeated. "Are you kidding me? I'll be there with bells on."

Daryl groaned. "Dad, just be there. No decorations, okay."

After a sharing a brief laugh with his son, Simon listened as Daryl went over the flight information. "I'll see you then, Daryl. Love you, Son."

Hanging up, Simon smiled and then went to rejoin Joel.

Joel looked up as Simon came back into the living room. "Everything okay?"

"More than okay," Simon replied. "Daryl is going to be here for Christmas."

"But you saidÖ"

"Joan and her boyfriend decided to go on a cruise," Simon interrupted. "They offered to take Daryl with them, but he decided to come back home instead."

"That's great!" Joel exclaimed. "I'm really happy for you, Simon."

"Thanks, Joel," Simon said. "But can you believe that Joan actually had the nerve to leave Daryl alone. She didn't even stay around until his flight left. Right now, he is in New York by himself."

"I'm sure he'll be all right," Joel reassured. "He's a smart kid and he knows how to handle himself."

"I know that," Simon said, "but it doesn't make me worry any less."

"Of course not, you're a good dad who loves his son." Glancing at his watch, Joel said, "I really should be heading home. We've got a lot to do tomorrow before Blair gets back."

"You're right," Simon agreed. "Thanks for staying and listening, Joel." Pausing for a moment, he added, "You know it's funny."

"What is?"

"How much you and Sandburg are alike," Simon explained. "You're both really good listeners and you're always the first one there when someone needs help." Staring intently at Joel for several seconds, Simon said, "You know, Sandburg has said that Naomi never told him who his father was; that she didn't know herself. MaybeÖ"

"Whoa, Simon," Joel said. "If you thinkÖ"

"Kidding, Joel," Simon interrupted. "Besides, I think that you would remember having met Naomi before. But then again, where were you back in 1968?" Laughing, Simon asked, "Run into any red-heads back then?" Abruptly coming to a halt when Joel didn't start laughing also, Simon asked, "Joel? Is something wrong?"

Shaking his head, seeming to come out of a daze, Joel replied, "No, everything's fine. But I really have to go now. See you in the morning."

"See you then," Simon said as he escorted Joel to the door.

Once he got into his car, Joel sat there thinking. After a while, he chuckled and said, "Naw, it couldn't be." Then he started up his car and headed home.

 

Chapter 10

After waking up the next morning, Blair walked over to the window and looked outside. "Cold and wet," he muttered. "Figures." Walking over to the closet, he pulled out his suitcase. After throwing in onto the bed, he began tossing his clothes inside; absentmindedly, he set two shirts and a pair of jeans aside to put on later.

Just as he finished packing, a knock sounded at the door. "Come in," he called out as he finished zipping up the suitcase.

"Brother Blair," Brother Jeremy greeted as he opened the door, "how are you this morning?"

"Fine," Blair replied.

"Maybe just a tad bit nervous?" Brother Jeremy asked after seeing the way Blair was fiddling with the zipper on his suitcase.

Looking up at the monk, Blair admitted, "Maybe just a little." Looking out of the window he said, "I mean, what if Jim doesn't want me to come back? What if he is still mad at me?"

Coming over to stand beside Blair, Brother Jeremy laid a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Brother Blair, from what I saw of Brother Jim during your last visit here, I'd say that he cares for you a great deal; and I know that you feel the same way towards him. It may seem like there's no solution in sight, but I know that the two of you will work this out. But that won't happen unless you go back and face him. The two of you have to confront these issues and deal with them."

"Yeah, well, confronting issues isn't exactly something that Jim does very well," Blair replied.

"Close your eyes, Brother Blair," Brother Jeremy instructed. When Blair hesitated, he said, "Do it." After Blair's eyes were closed, he added, "Now I want you to picture the place where you feel most comfortable, the place that you consider home. Do that and tell me what you see."

Brow furrowed in concentration, Blair was silent for several long seconds. Finally, he opened his eyes.

"Well?" Bother Jeremy asked. "What did you see?"

"Jim," Blair answered, in a shocked tone.

"Why do you sound so surprised?" Brother Jeremy asked. "Did you really think that only a house or a building could be a home. Home is being accepted for who and what you are; home is being cared for and loved."

"I get all of those things from Jim," Blair said. "He is my home."

"Now, don't you think that you're a little bit too old to be running away from home, young man?" Brother Jeremy asked.

Returning Brother Jeremy's smile, Blair replied, "So when do we leave?"

"Right after breakfast," Brother Jeremy answered. "But there is one thing though."

"What's that?" Blair inquired.

"Well, the brothers and I have volunteered our time to aid at a homeless shelter today," Brother Jeremy explained. "But in addition to that, we will first be picking up some presents. Unfortunately, the shelter experienced a theft sometime during the night. The majority of the packages they had already were stolen."

"That sucks," Blair exclaimed. Then realizing what he had said, he added, "OhÖ Geez, I'm sorry, IÖ"

Chuckling Brother Jeremy said, "That's quite all right, Brother Blair. Besides, you're right. It does suck." Laughing harder at Blair's surprised expression, he added, "As I was saying, the presents were stolen so the brothers and I agreed to do a little last minute Christmas shopping. Since we are rather ignorant of what the current trends are, we were hoping that you could give us some assistance."

"You want me to go shopping with you?" Blair asked.

"We would be most appreciative," Brother Jeremy replied.

"I don't know," Blair stated. "I was wanting to get back to Jim, I want to go there and see him as soon as possible."

"Wouldn't he at the station today?" Brother Jeremy asked.

"Yeah," Blair said. "And this conversation is one that we definitely shouldn't be having there." Looking up at Brother Jeremy, he added, "I'd love to help you guys out. But on one condition."

"What?"

"Well, I don't know if you know this or not, but I received huge settlement from the lawsuit," Blair said. "I know that you guys were probably going to have to do some serious scrambling to collect enough money to buy presents todayÖ"

"Yes," Brother Jeremy agreed, "there was some worry about where the money would come from. We were planning to use some of our own funds. It would mean delaying several other projects such as Brother Marcus' stain glass work, butÖ"

"I don't want you to have to do that," Blair interrupted. "I'd like to pay for the presents today. I want to make sure that all of the children in the shelter receive a Christmas that they'll remember all year long."

"Thank you, Brother Blair. For the children, I thank you," Brother Jeremy said. Turning to leave, he reminded Blair, "Breakfast will be served in fifteen minutes. After that, we'll be heading for Cascade."

"I'll be there," Blair replied. After Brother Jeremy had left, Blair softly added, "I just hope that Jim wants me there."


Back in Cascade, Jim was awakened by the smell of freshly baked cookies. Climbing out of bed, he snagged his robe and quickly donned it while following the delicious aroma to the kitchen; where he stood in shock as he watched his father using a cookie cutter to make gingerbread men.

Noticing his son's arrival, William turned around. "Hi, Jimmy. How are you this morning?"

"UmÖ fine, Dad," Jim replied. "How about you? Are you okay?"

"Great," William answered. Gesturing to the dough in front of him, he added, "You're just in time. I think that Sally is getting ready to take the first batch out of the oven. Maybe you can manage to nab a couple of these from her. Personally, I like the dough but the finished product is pretty good too."

Smiling, Jim said, "Well, a couple should be enough for me but what about you?"

"I know you, Son," William replied. "And I definitely know your appetite. Believe me, two will definitely not be enough for you."

"Sit down, Jimmy," Sally ordered as she took a sheet of cookies out of the oven. "I'll fix you some breakfast. Which definitely won't consist of cookies and milk."

"Really, Sally, you don't have toÖ"

"I said sit, young man," Sally interrupted. When Jim hesitated, she added, "Well, what are you waiting for? Get moving."

"Yes, Ma'am," Jim meekly replied.

"I see you haven't lost your touch, Sally," William said with a chuckle.

"And why are you just standing there?" Sally asked. "These cookies aren't going to bake themselves you know. Get moving."

"Yes, Ma'am," William replied, in a tone nearly identical to the one that Jim had used.

"You're right, Pop," Jim called out from his seat at the table.

"What?" William asked.

Laughing, Jim said, "Sally definitely hasn't lost her touch."

Before William could respond, the doorbell rang. Seeing Jim start to rise, William said, "Just stay put, Jimmy. I'll get it."

William went to the front door and opened it to reveal a rather angry looking, red headed woman. "Can I help you?"

Barging past William, Naomi stormed into the house.

Reaching out to snag her shoulder, William asked, "Excuse me, MissÖ"

"It's Ms.," Naomi corrected. "Ms. Naomi Sandburg."

"Blair's mother?" William asked.

"That's right," Naomi confirmed, "and I've come to talk to you about our sons." Facing William, she said, "Now I'm pretty sure that you're no happier about their continued association that I am. I'm very familiar with your kind and how you view people like my son and I; what you think of those who are labeled as 'rebels' and 'non-conformists' by society. Frankly, Mr. Ellison, I don't want my son around pigs any longer. I only tolerated it this long because I was sure that Blair would eventually come to his senses and leave Jim; however, that doesn't seem to be happening. So, I decided to come to you for help."

"My help?" William asked. "To do what?"

"Why to separate our sons, of course," Naomi replied.

Catching sight of Jim, who was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, Bill motioned his son back when he noticed the angry expression on Jim's face. "Let me handle this, Jimmy," he whispered. Seeing Jim nod, William directed his attention to Naomi. "Ms. Sandburg, let's get one thing straight right now. Not only do I think very highly of your son, I also owe him a great deal of thanks. Not only for being instrumental in bringing my son back to me, but for helping Jimmy finally come to terms with who and what he is; something that I was never able to do. And frankly, I consider your prejudiced and stereotyped view of me to be extremely insulting. It is completely untrue and without any merit what so ever."

Taking a deep breath in an effort to regain his composure, William continued, "Ms. Sandburg, I realize that you believe that your actions are in Blair's best interests, but they are not."

"Who are you to tell me how to handle my son?" Naomi asked, her tone indignant. "From what I've seen and heard, you're in no position to be giving anyone parenting advice."

Again discretely motioning Jim to stay back when his son started forward again, William replied, "You're right. I have made a lot of mistakes. Mistakes that I paid dearly for. Due to my own stubbornness and lack of foresight, I was forced to endure a long separation from my children. That is one fate that I don't wish on anyone, Madam. Even you." Sighing, William continued, " I love my sons and I've grown to care a great deal for yours as well. Jim considers Blair to be his brother and as such I consider Blair to be a part of my family. And as with my boys, I am very proud of Blair's achievements, both in his academic career and in his involvement with the police department. I admit, their relationship may seem rather out of the ordinary to most people, but you and I both know the reason behind their involvement with each other; and we both know that they belong together."

"Mr. Ellison, be reasonable," Naomi implored when William fell silent. "your son has nearly gotten my son killed on several occasions."

"And I don't like that any more than you. I don't like the fact that our sons face life-threatening situations on an almost daily basis, but is it what they are sometimes forced to endure in order to protect those around them," William replied. "But you must realize that whether Blair stays or leaves, the choice is his. You can't make it for him."

"You're wrong there," Naomi protested. "I want Blair as far away from Jim Ellison and Cascade as I can get him and Iíll make that happen with or without your help. If you or your son try to stand in my way, I'llÖ"

"Stop right there," William ordered. "I don't know who you think you're dealing with, but no one threatens me or my family; and if you persist in this harassment, I will place a call to my attorney and have him ensure that you can not interfere with our lives anymore. Now, get out of my house or Iíll have you arrested for trespassing."

"I'll leave," Naomi conceded, "but you can be assured that this is not over." With that decree, she turned and stormed out of the door, slamming it behind her. Once outside, she closed her eyes for a moment and took a few deep breaths. "I am relaxed," she murmured. "I am relaxed. Oh, Hell, I am not! I swear; I will get my baby away from these people if it's the last thing that I do. I won't allow them to hurt him anymore." Then, she ran over to her car and left.

Inside, Jim walked over to his father after Naomi's exit. "You gotta admit, Pop. She certainly has a flare for the dramatic, doesn't she?"

"Tell me that Blair isn't as difficult to deal with as his mother," William responded with a smile.

"UmÖ wellÖ actuallyÖ" Seeing the somewhat fearful expression on his father's face, Jim laughed. "Don't worry about it, Pop. Blair is a pretty easy-going guy most of the time."

"Why am I not reassured?" William asked with a laugh.

"WellÖ" Jim began.

"What's going on out there?" Sally called out, interrupted Jim. "Get back in this kitchen right now. Jim, your breakfast is ready. Mr. Ellison, there are still cookies to be made."

Exchanging a look, both Jim and William replied, "Yes, Ma'am." Then they walked back into the kitchen, their laughter trailing behind them.


Over at the loft, the group of Major Crime detectives looked around in satisfaction. "It looks beautiful," Megan observed as she stared at the decorated tree; watching the strands of lights twinkling and reflecting against the tinsel. Turning to look at Blair's menorah, complete with new candles, she added, "Jim and Sandy will love it."

"I hope so," Joel said. "I really hope so."

"Of course they will," Rafe stated. "It really is going to be a great Christmas."

"Now, all we have to do is wait for tonight," Henri said. "How much longer do we have anyway?"

"A little while," Simon answered. "We got done a lot sooner that I thought. We done good, people."

A chorus of, "yeah," sounded throughout the loft.

Laughing, Megan said, "Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm going to go do some shopping and then head home to fix the corn and potatoes for tonight."

"I need to head out too," Rafe said. "I've got some rolls to make. The dough should be ready by now." Seeing the other surprised looks, he added, "What? You thought I'd use something out of a can or some store bought ones? No way, guys. I'm using my mom's recipe. They'll melt in your mouth."

"Okay, folks, let's head out," Simon ordered. "Get everything done that you need to do; cooking, shopping, whatever and we'll meet back here at 5:00 to get everything else in place."

"Will that give us enough time?" Costello asked.

"I think so," Simon replied. "We've got the decorations out and the tree set up. When we come back, all we need to do is get all the food set up."

"Sounds good," Joel said.

"See you tonight," Simon said after they had reached the street. Climbing into his car, he called out, "Merry Christmas, everyone!"


Following behind Brother Jeremy as they entered the homeless shelter, Blair let out a quiet sigh. 'God, I am so exhausted,' he thought. 'I never thought that monks could shop like that.'

"Something the matter, Brother Blair?" Brother Jeremy asked.

"OhÖ no, nothing," Blair replied. "But we are done with the shopping, aren't we?"

"What's the matter, Brother Blair?" Brother Marcus asked. "You seem a little bitÖ flustered."

"Flustered?" Blair incredulously asked. "Are you kidding me? You guys wore me out. I'm freaking exhausted." Seeing the looks directed his way, Blair moaned, "Oh shÖ I meanÖ IÖ" Trailing off, Blair ran a hand through his hair.

Laughing, Brother Jeremy said, "We're sorry, Brother Blair, but we don't usually get to go out like we did today. I think the brothers got a little bit carried away."

"I don't think that they were the only one, Brother Jeremy," Blair replied. "I mean exactly how long did you spend playing on that Playstation?"

"Well since the employees had gone to the trouble up setting one up on display," Brother Jeremy said, "I couldn't very well let all their time and hard work go to waste now, could I?"

Laughing, Blair said, "Whatever you say, Brother Jeremy."

"Did you have time to do any shopping for yourself?" Brother Jeremy asked.

"Yeah, I managed to squeeze in some when you challenged that kid to a rematch," Blair answered. "Hey, who won anyway?"

When Brother Jeremy didn't reply, Brother Marcus spoke up. "Well, as you would say, Brother Blair. The kid kicked his butt."

Aghast, Brother Jeremy exclaimed, "Brother Marcus!"

"Well he did," Brother Marcus defended himself.

"Still, we must maintain a proper level of decorum," Brother Jeremy chastised. After a few seconds, he added, "Besides, by the third game, he was the one who got his butt kicked."

Leaving a shocked Blair and Brother Marcus behind, Brother Jeremy went over to talk to a group people who were standing by a Christmas tree set up in the corner of the room.

"Did he just say what I thought I heard him just say?" Blair asked.

"Of course not," Brother Marcus replied. "Surely it was just our ears playing a trick on us." With a wicked gleam in his eyes, Brother Marcus added, "But one does wonder why he is now sporting a few new calluses."

Blair was still thinking of an appropriate response when Brother Jeremy returned. "Well are you ready to leave now, Brothers?"

"Leave?" Blair asked. "Shouldn't we stay and help out? With the food service and all?"

"They've got plenty of help for right now," Brother Jeremy replied. "Besides tomorrow, when they hand out the presents, is when they will really need help. I told them that the brothers and I would be back then. In the meantime, I thought we could take a little drive around the city. Give the brothers a chance to see the lights and various decorations."

"That's nice," Blair said, "but if you're excuse me, I'llÖ"

"You aren't joining us?" Brother Marcus asked.

"Well IÖ"

"Please do, Brother Blair," Brother Jeremy interrupted. "We really would like it if you would come with us."

"ErÖ IÖ" Seeing the hopeful look on their faces, Blair relented, "Okay, but only for a little while. Jim should be getting off of work soon and I want to see him."

"Oh, you'll definitely see him," Brother Jeremy replied.

"Huh?"

"Nothing, Brother Blair," Brother Marcus said while shooting Brother Jeremy a warning look. "Now let's head out."

"Let's," Brother Jeremy agreed. "After you, Brother Blair."

After Blair had walked out of the door, Brother Marcus hissed, "What was that about? You could have ruined the whole thing."

"Relax, Brother," Brother Jeremy replied. "I wouldn't let anything ruin this surprise. But you've got to admit, we always seem to have an interesting time when Brother Blair is around."

Smiling fondly, Brother Marcus agreed, "He certainly is a special young man, isn't he?"

"Yes," Brother Jeremy agreed. "Which is why we will do our part to ensure he and Brother Jim settle their differences."

"Yes, we will," Brother Marcus concurred. "Shall we, Brother?"

Nodding in response, Brother Jeremy headed outside with Brother Marcus following closely behind.


"You want to do what?" Jim asked in disbelief.

"Come on, Jimmy," William replied while holding out Jim's jacket. "It will be fun."

"Okay, I can accept the cookie thing," Jim stated. "I mean it was kind of a stretch, but what the heck. I've seen stranger things. Believe me, I have definitely seen stranger things. But this, I just can't accept this."

"Look, Jimmy," William said, "Sally is going to be delivering the baked goods and I don't want us sitting around the house doing nothing. Besides, it will be good for you to get out."

"What's the point?" Jim asked.

"James Joseph Ellison, you will march over here and get your coat on this instant," William ordered.

Automatically, Jim responded to the commanding tone and before he knew it, he was standing in front of his father, one hand already in a sleeve. "What?" he asked in confusion.

"Sally isn't the only who hasn't lost it, Jimmy," William replied with a chuckle. "Now finish putting on your coat, young man."

Grinning, Jim did as instructed. "All right, already, let's go and get this over with." Under his breath he mumbled, "Christmas lights. The man wants to go see Christmas lights. Un-freaking-believable."

Once they were outside and seated in the car, Jim asked, "Hey, Pop, do you think we could make a stop?"

"Sure, Jimmy, what for?"

"I've got a little bit of shopping that I need to do," Jim answered. "I thoughtÖ Well, just in caseÖ I wantÖ"

"Where do you want to get Blair's present?" William asked.

"What? How did youÖ" Smiling Jim said, "Never mind. I've got the perfect present in mind for Blair."


A few hours later, presents gift-wrapped and sitting in the back seat, William and Jim had just finished making a circuit of the city. "Anywhere else you'd like to go, Son?"

"Maybe the loft," Jim replied. "I'd like to see ifÖ"

"If Blair is there?" William asked. When Jim simply nodded, William said, "Then that's where we'll go."

'I just hope that he is there,' Jim thought.

Smiling to himself, William turned the car around and headed for the loft.

A few minutes later, William was parking the car when Jim suddenly stiffened. "What's wrong, Jim?"

"Do you have your cell phone?" Jim asked.

"Yes, butÖ"

"There's someone in the loft," Jim explained. "A lot of people, actually. I'm going to see what's going on. I want you to call 911 and tell them that an officer needs assistance at this location."

"But, JimmyÖ"

"Just do it, Dad," Jim ordered as he opened the car door.

Reaching over, William grabbed Jim shoulder. "That's not necessary, Son."

"What are you talking about?" Jim asked. "What's going on here?"

"Just come upstairs with me, Jimmy," William pleaded. "Please, Son, trust me."

Putting aside his mistrust, Jim agreed, "All right, Pop." Following his father inside the building, Jim thought, 'I really wish that I had my gun right now.'

Reaching the loft, William stood aside and watched as Jim unlocked the door and then pushed it open. Then, he laughed when Jim gasped in surprise when they were greeted with many shouts of "Merry Christmas."

Shocked, Jim took a hesitant step inside. "I don't believe this," he murmured as he took in the scene before him.

"Come on in, Jim," Simon invited, his arm along Daryl's shoulders, hugging his son close.

Stepping further inside, Jim saw several smiles directing his way. In disbelief, he scanned the faces. Sally, Rafe, Henri, Joel, Megan, Steven, Daryl, Simon and Al, who had an attractive woman by his side; all of his friends and family, well all except one vital member of his clan, were in attendance.

Noticing that Jim still seemed a little depressed, Simon stepped forward. "I hope we didn'tÖ"

"Simon, this is great," Jim interrupted. "I can't believe you guys did all of this."

"So you're not mad?" Joel asked.

"No, Joel, I'm not mad," Jim replied. "But I am hungry. What smells so good?"

"That would be the turkey," Costello answered. Coming over to Jim, pulling his wife along with him, he said, "Melody, this is Detective Ellison. Detective Ellison, this is my wife, Melody."

"Pleased to meet you," Jim said as he shook the woman's hand. "But please, it's just Jim, okay? That goes for you too, Al."

"Thanks, Jim," Costello replied.

"Not probÖ" Trailing off, Jim cocked his head to the side.

"Jim?" Costello asked, exchanging an uneasy glance with his wife. "Is something wrong?"

Without saying anything, Jim turned and ran from the loft.

"What?" William asked. "What happened?"

"I don't know," Costello answered. "We were just standing here talking and all of a sudden, he just stopped talking. He had his head tilted to the side andÖ"

"His head was tilted to the side?" Simon asked.

"Yeah," Costello replied. "WhatÖ" Tailing off, he watched as Simon ran over to the balcony.

"What's going on, Simon?" Joel asked.

"Get over here, guys," Simon said as he looked out the balcony. "I think we're about to witness a Christmas miracle."

Just as the other rushed over to join Simon by the balcony, a beat up bus pulled up in front of the building.

 

Chapter 11

While his friends and family looked on from the balcony, Jim appeared on the street below.

ĎBlair is in there,í Jim thought as he raced over to the bus. ĎWhy does that bus look so familiar?í He came to a halt as realization dawned. ĎOf course. Where else would he have gone? I should have known.í

Feeling hesitant, he continued his approach to the bus. Pace slowed, unsure of his welcome, he stopped again when the door opened and the monks began exiting the bus. Scanning the group of men, he began to worry when he didnít spot Blair right away.

"Brother Jim," Brother Jeremy greeted as he walked over to the detective. Concerned when Jim didnít respond, he reached out a hand and laid it on the other manís arm. Giving it a shake, he called out again. "Hello, Brother Jim?"

Finally noticing Brother Jeremyís presence, Jim looked at the monk. "Brother Jeremy," he said. "Whereís Sandburg?"

Amusement in this voice, Brother Jeremy said, "Brother Blair is asleep. I believe that we wore him out today." Turning serious, he added, "He is very tired, Brother Jim. He has been working night and day on his dissertation. That, combined with all of the other worries that have been weighing down his soul, severely affected his sleep during his stay at St. Sebastianís."

"HÖ how is he?" Jim asked.

Taking a good look at Jim, Brother Jeremy replied, "I imagine he feels just about as good as you look, Brother Jim. Seems youíve both had a rough time lately." Seeing Jim shrug, Brother Jeremy placed his hand on Jimí shoulder. "Brother Jim," he said, "I think that Brother Blair would be delighted to have you wake him up. He has truly missed you and couldnít wait to get here tonight so that he could see you."

"Really?"

Eyebrows raised, surprised by the hesitant tone coming from the normally self-assured man that he remember from Jim and Blairís visit to the monastery, Brother Jeremy reassured, "Yes. Now go to him, Brother Jim."

While listening to Brother Jeremyís words, a smile appeared on Jimís face; erasing all the tension and grief in an instant and replacing it with an expression of joy and peace, it made him appear happy and content. "Thank you, Brother Jeremy," Jim said. "Iíve missed him too. You canít possibly begin to imagine just how much." Gesturing towards the loft, he added, "Please, wonít you and the brothers go up to my loft for some dinner? I promise thereís plenty. Besides, the rest of my family is up there and I know that theyíd really like to meet all of you."

"Weíll go up," Brother Jeremy said. Giving Jim a little shove in the direction of the bus, he ordered, "You get Blair." Then he led the brothers across the street and into the building.

"Well, Chief," Jim said with a chuckle, "weíve certainly have given the neighbor something to talk about this time. This little show will fuel the gossip fodder for a while."

Going over to the ramshackle bus, Jim paused for a moment before climbing the stairs. Once inside, he scanned the seats until he spotted Blair. Near the back on the bus, slumped over against the window with a wadded up jacket between him and the cold glass, Blair softly snored as he slept. Quietly, Jim approached Blair; coming to a stop, Jim stared down at him. Seeing him looking so peaceful, and noticing the dark circles under his eyes, Jim was hesitant to wake Blair.

But soon, desire to talk with Blair made Jim reach out a hand and gently shake his shoulder.

"Blair, hey, buddy, wake up." His voice soft, Jim continued, "Thereís a good meal waiting for you and lots of friends. Come on, Blair. Open your eyes."

"Come on, five more minutes, Jim," Blair muttered as he tried to pull his scarf further over his face.

"Hey, Sandburg," Jim said in a louder voice, "get up now. I need you, buddy."

At the last words, Blair shot up. "Jim?" he called out, confused after being pulled from his deep sleep. "Are you alriÖ" Trailing off as memories of the last month came rushing back, Blair glanced around the bus, refusing to meet Jimís eyes. "Jim, um, Ö What I mean to say isÖ God, Jim, Iím so sorry. IÖ"

"Hold it a minute, Chief," Jim interrupted. Seating down next to Blair, he continued, "Blair, youíve got nothing to apologize." Hands gripping the seat in front of him, Jim said, "Iím the one that needs to apologize. Can you forgive me for the way that I acted on Thanksgiving? I know that I was a real jerk to you that day, butÖ"

Jim took a deep breath before he continued. "It was Ö Hell, Blair, I was afraid. I guess I have been every since you went back to Rainier. You were gonna have everything that you ever wanted. Your PhD, all that money, opportunities to teach or go on expeditions. With all of that, why would you want to stay here? And IÖ I need you in my life, Blair. I wasÖI am scared that youíll take off. Go live with one of those exotic tribes that youíre always talking about and never even come back for a visit."

Lying his hand on top of Jimís Blair said, "Youíre right, I have thought about going on an expedition; especially during the last month. Iíve been doing a lot of thinking about my future while Iíve been at St. Sebastianís. Do I want to stay in Cascade? Do I want to go on an expedition? Do I want to teach? Do I want to work at the PD? And Iíve decided that the answer to all of those questions is Ďyesí."

Seeing Jim begin to say something, Blair quickly continued, "But, even if I decided to go on some kind of expedition, Iíd do my best to make sure you could go with me. Even if for some reason you couldnít come with me, never doubt that Iíd always come back. I will always come back to you. Youíre my family, Jim. MyÖ my brother. You always will be and I donít ever want to lose you."

Jim beamed at Blair, but then frowned when he noticed that Blair was shivering. Pulling his hand out from beneath Blairís, Jim wrapped his arm around Blair. Feeling how cold Blair was, he said, "Címon, Chief, letís get you inside before you caught cold." Meeting Blair eyes, Jim softly said, "Letís go home, Blair."

Twisting in the seat, wrapping his own arm around Jimís waist, Blair gave squeezed tightly. "I already am home, Jim."

"Huh?" Jim asked as he returned the hug.

Voice muffled against Jimís shoulder, Blair said, "Just something that Brother Jeremy helped me see. Iíll explain later."

Chuckling, Jim gave Blair a final squeeze before pushing his back slightly. "Letís get up there and get some food before it all disappears."

"Food?" Blair asked. "Let me guess, you guys got the holiday platter from Wonderburger again, didnít you?"

"Nah, the good stuff is long gone," Jim replied with a smile. "But Iím sure the brothers have left you some scraps. Letís go."

"Just a minute," Blair said when Jim stood up. "I need to get my stuff."

"We can get it later, Sandburg," Jim replied.

"I got some presents that I need to get," Blair explained as he stood up and then squeezed past Jim and went to the back of the bus. "Get back here and help me. And no cheating. I want you to be surprised."

"Cheating?" Jim asked. "Would I do that?"

"You donít even want me to answer that, man," Blair said.

After gathering Blairís things, they left the bus. "Hang on a minute, Chief," Jim said when Blair started walking towards the apartment building. "I need to grab a few things out dadís car."

"Your dadís car?" Blair asked.

"Iíll explain later," Jim replied as he started over to William's. Suddenly, he paused. "Shit," he cursed.

"What is it, Jim?"

"I just remembered, we locked the doors and dad has the keys," Jim explained. "We'll get your stuff upstairs and then I'll grab dad's keys and come back down."

"Jim, I'm sure that it can wait," Blair said. "Besides," he added as he walked over to Jim, "I've already got my present. The one that matters the most, anyway."

Throwing an arm around Blair's shoulders, Jim looked at him and said, "Me too, Chief. Me too."

Walking side by side, the two men went inside.


Immediately after they walked into the loft, Sandburg was surrounded.

"Sandburg!" Rafe called out.

"Merry Christmas, Sandy!" Megan greeted as she hugged Blair, packages, suitcases and all.

"Happy Hanukkah, man," Henri said.

"Welcome back, Blair," Joel said as he took Meganís place and embraced Blair.

"Sandburg, are you ever gonna get a real job?" Simon growled, while grinning at Blair.

"Hey, man. I donít need a real job," Blair replied with a grin of his own. "At least I wonít after I convince the PD to finally start paying me for keeping you guys in line."

While Blair was welcomed back by the Major Crime detectives, someone knocked on the door. Being closest to the door, and not wanting to interrupt the others, Brother Jeremy went over and opened it to reveal two ladies that he didnít know.

"Hello," said the smaller of the two ladies. "Iím Amanda Cuthbertson. This is Sadie Farmsworth. Are Jim and Blair in?"

"Oh, yes indeed, maíam. They are both home." Brother Jeremy answered as he ushered the ladies in and took their coats. "They are somewhere in that, uh, group, over there," he informed them as he pointed over at the group of men and women huddled together.

Exchanging smiles, Sadie and Dr. Cuthbertson didnít hesitate as they went over to the group and insinuated themselves in the middle of it.

"Jim, youíre looking well," Sadie said. "Are you following the instructions we gave you?"

Blair pounced. "What instructions? Jim, have you been sick? Dr. C whatís going on with Jim?"

Not wanting to get between Jim and Blair on this, Dr. Cuthbertson turned to Jim. "Detective, I think that you should explain things to Blair," she sweetly said.

"Thanks a lot, Doc," Jim sarcastically replied. Pulling Blair away from the group, Jim guided him over until that stood by the tree. "Blair I had some kind of allergic reaction while I was in the mall waiting to meet Sneaks," he started to explain. "I collapsed and H pretty much rescued me. At the hospital some arrogant SOB not only decided that reading my medical file was a waste of his time but also that I was hyped up on steroids. Then, he proceeded to inject me with one of those sedatives that Iím allergic to. It pretty much knocked me off my feet. Dr. C released me two days ago and Iíve been staying with Dad and Sally because, according to everybody, Iím not a big enough boy to stay by myself."

"Do you have any idea what you reacted to?" Blair asked, already slipping into protective mode. "If it affected you like that, then we really need to find out what it was; we canít risk your accidentally being exposed to it again."

"I donít know, Blair," Jim answered. "The sedative messed with my short-term memory. I remember drinking something but not what."

"If we were alone, I could guide you through a recall of the memories," Blair said. "Iím sure that I could help you remember what it was. This is something that I donít want to put off, Jim. Do you think theyíd mind if we went into my room for a little while? If they keep it down in here, it should be quiet enough for you to go deep enough to call up the memories."

"Weíll work on it later, Chief," Jim replied.

"But, JimÖ"

"Hey, something sure smells good," Jim interrupted. "I donít know about you, but Iím starving."

"Are you crazy?" Blair exclaimed. "You canít eat any of this. What if whatever you reacted to is in some of this food?"

"Whatever I reacted to was in something from the mall," Jim replied. Looking past Blair, Jim called out, "Hey, guys, did any of this food come from the mall?"

When all he received was negative responses, he turned to Blair again. "See, itíll be fine. Stop worrying."

"Itís my job to worry," Blair replied. Whispering, he added, "Youíre my sentinel Ö and my brother. I canít not worry about you, Jim."

"ChiefÖ"

"Just be sure and take a whiff of everything," Blair instructed, interrupting Jim. Chances are, since you had such a severe reaction, your senses will remember it even if you donít." Walking away from Jim, Blair called out, "So, did you guys leave any food?"

Bemused, Jim followed behind Blair and watched as Megan and Joel got busy putting together plates of food for the both of them. Just as they sat down and got ready to eat, someone pounded on the door.

Gesturing for everyone to stay put, Steven went over to answer the door. Not recognizing the red-haired woman standing outside the loft, he was about to speak when she shoved past him.

"Blair, I need to talk to you right now," Naomi demanded as she walked over to her son. "Come with me."

When Blair made to stand up, Jim put a restraining hand on Blairís shoulder. Not knowing why, but feeling instinctively moved to protect his guide, Jim warned, "BlairÖ"

"Itís okay, Jim," Blair reassured as he shook off Jimís hold and stood up to greet his mother. "Naomi, hi. I'm glad that you came. Would you like something to eat or something hot to drink?"

"No, Blair," Naomi replied as she warily eyed Jim. "What I want is for you to come with me. You donít seem to understand that these people are bad for you. Sweetie, you have such a bright future. Youíve managed to finish your dissertation in spite of all the obstacles these pigs have thrown in your way and Iíve very proud of you. In fact, Iíve contacted a good friend of mine; a university president who really wants to meet you. Heíll have a tenure track position open in the next academic year; and if your interview with him goes well, youíll be back where you belong in August. That will leave us plenty of time to go to the ashram in India. Oh, Blair, Iím so excited about this. Iíve made all the arrangements, andÖ"

"Naomi, please stop and listen to me," Blair interrupted. When Naomi seemed about to continue, Blair added, "I mean it, Naomi. Since you obviously didnít pay any attention when I tried to tell you this before, Iím going to say it again now." Waiting until he had Naomiís full attention, he said, "I love you, Naomi, and you will always be my mother. But since you obviously refuse to listen to me or to respect my decisions, you are no longer welcome here." Gesturing towards Jim, he added, "You come barging in here and you insult my friends and my familyÖ"

"Blair, these pigs are not yourÖ"

"Be quiet!" Blair yelled. "For once, you are going to stand there and let me say what I need to say!"

Looking very shocked, Naomi remained silent and listened to Blair as he continued to speak.

"I will defend my dissertation on January 15," Blair informed his mother. "You are not welcome; I donít need you disrupting things that day. After I defend my dissertation and, hopefully, receive my doctorate, I will pursue a position as a full time consultant at the Cascade Police Department. And since I donít want to give up teaching, I may also see about teaching too, either at the academy, or at the University of Washington, or both." Sitting down beside Jim once again, Blair continued, "This is my life, Naomi, the life that I have chosen for myself. I told you before; this is where I belong. If you canít accept that, if you canít accept my life and the people in it, thenÖ then I donít know how we can ever have any kind of relationship. These people here, they are my family and I wonít tolerate anyone, even you, disrespecting them."

Looking up at Naomi, his voice soft, Blair said, "You look at me, and you keep seeing the little boy that you dragged from one place to another; unilaterally making all choices regarding where and how we lived. When you werenít dumping me with someone, that is. Iím grown now, Naomi. You canít make decisions for me or for my life anymore. Iíve been doing that for a long time now. You just refuse to acknowledge that. But now you have to, because nothing you say, nothing you do, is going to make me leave my home or my family ever again."

Following Blairís speech, all eyes were fixed on Naomi, whose gaze took in the whole assemblage before finally settling on Joel.

"Yes, Blair, youíve made yourself quite clear," Naomi said, keeping her eyes on Joel. "You have rejected all of the values that I tried to instill in you and youíve succeeded in joining the establishment. But, then again, I should have expected this. Itís in your blood, after all. Youíve finally turned into a pig, just like your father!"

Stunned, Blair could only stare at Naomi. "Father?" He finally asked. "Who is he? Tell me, Naomi!"

Suddenly, Joel gasped out, "Oh my God!" When all eyes turned to stare at him, he said, "Blair, she means me." Looking at Naomi, he asked, "Donít you, Starlight?"

Jim queried, "Starlight?"

Seeming to talk to himself, Joel murmured, "I can't believe that I didn't put it together before now. I never knew her real name, she never would tell me. The only time I ever saw her since then was that day we were all at the station, when Blair was offered the badge. I guess, with everything that had happened, I really didn't pay that much attention to her. Oh my God, I can't believe that it is really you, Starlight."

Sighing, Joel turned to Blair. In a louder voice, he explained, "I had just graduated from high school; and since my family didnít have much money, I knew college wasnít in the cards. Shortly after graduation, I got my draft notice informing me that I had two months until I had to report to Camp Pendleton. I had some money saved. Not enough for college but enough to bum around until I had to report." Pausing for a moment to glance over at Naomi, Joel looked back at Blair and continued, "Just ten days before I had to check in, I got involved in an anti-war protest; during which, I met the most beautiful girl. She was a real rebel, so firm in her convictions and sure of her beliefs. I knew I was just playing so I didnít get too involved. I just hung back, way back during the actual protests; and because I was so far back, I saw the police coming. Through all of the confusion, I was able to grab her and shout a warning to the rest."

Lowering his eyes to the floor, Joel confessed, "That night we made love. I knew there would be problems in a mixed race relationship but I thought we could overcome them; I was so in love with her, I knew that there was nothing that we couldnít overcome. It was about three days later that I asked her to marry me. At first, she said yes; but then I told her that we would have to get married before I reported for basic training." Expression hardening, he glared up at Naomi. "She screamed at me, yelling to get out and calling me a baby killer. Iíve never felt pain like that, before or since. I left but I couldnít forget. About six months later I got a letter. I still carry it with me." Pulling out his wallet, Joel took out a worn envelope. "Here," he said as he walked over and handed it to Blair.

Reaching out to take the letter from Joel, Blair glanced over at Jim who smiled encouragement. Taking a deep breath, Blair looked at the letter. Although it was much faded, Blair immediately recognized his motherís handwriting on the envelope. Gently, he removed the enclosed paper and began to read out loud.

 

 

January 15, 1969

Joel,

Iím pregnant with your child. I refuse to raise my child with a murderer. I will never tell this child who you are or where to find you. I hope you rot in hell.

Starlight

 

Joel stood quietly, waiting for the condemnation he felt that he deserved; positive that he had lost the respect of his colleagues, knowing that he could never be forgiven for deserting his child. He flinched as Blair approached him.

"Dad?" Blair hesitantly questioned. "Can I call you dad?"

"Oh, Blair," Joel replied, voice choked with emotion. "Iíd be honored if youíd call me dad."

A spontaneous cheer broke out, followed by hearty congratulations to the newfound father and son.

In the midst of the celebration, Jim quietly, but firmly, took Naomiís arm and escorted her out of the loft. Shutting the door behind them, he turned to face Naomi. Returning the murderous look she gave him, Jim said, "Naomi, you need to leave. Youíve tried everything to destroy Blair and youíve failed. Despite you, he has a real family now and he will always have a home with me." Leaning forward, he hissed, "Personally, I hope hell freezes over before I see you again; but Blairís the forgiving type, so if he contacts you and asks you to come, I wonít stop him." Bringing his face close to hers, he warned, "But if you ever hurt him again, Iíll make you regret it." Releasing Naomi, he ordered, "Now, go." Turning his back on her, he went back inside to rejoin his family.

Naomi glared at the closed door. "Iíll be back to get my son, Ellison," she vowed. "You can count on it." Then, she turned and left.

Inside the loft, Jim said quietly to himself, "And Iíll be here waiting, Naomi."

Walking over to Blair, who was still standing beside Joel, Jim smiled when he saw the amazed look on Joelís face.

Surrounded by his friends, Joel reached over and pulled his son into a hug. "I canít believe this," he whispered. "I thought you wouldnítÖ That everyoneÖ" Pulling back to look at Blair, Joel said, "I love you, son."

"I love you too, dad," Blair replied.

"I donít know about the rest of you," Simon called out, "but I think that this calls for a toast."

After everyone had a glass of hot cider, Jim announced, "To Blair and Joel; Simon and Daryl; me, Steven and my dad; and fathers and sons everywhere!"

"Here, here!" Everyone called and then drank.

Immediately after taking a drink of the cider, Jim stiffened. Beside him, Blair asked, "Jim, you okay?" While Blair watched on in horror, Jim collapsed to the floor.

Before Dr. Cuthbertson could say anything, Sadie ran downstairs for the doctor's medical bag.

When Blair knelt down beside Jim and reached out to touch the unconscious man, Henri grabbed his arm. "I wouldnít do that," Henri warned. "Before, it hurt when I touched him."

Jerking away from Henri restraining grip, Blair again reached out for Jim.

"HairboyÖ"

"Back off," Blair growled.

Surprised to hear Blair use such a demanding, authoritative tone, Henri backed away. Dismissing the other totally, Blair leaned over Jim and placed a hand on Jimís face. Shocked, Henri and the others watched as, even while unconscious, Jim responded to Blairís touch by turning towards Blairís hand.

Placing his other hand on Jimís chest, Blair threatened, "Jim, I swear, if you leave me, Iíll kick your ass. Fight."

At that moment, Sadie dashed back into the loft. Rushing over to Dr. Cuthbertson, she handed the doctor a syringe and an alcohol swab. Taking the syringe, Dr. Cuthbertson knelt down beside Jim and plunged it into his arm. Injecting the medicine, she sat back on her heels. "Give it a second," she said when Blair looked over at her.

Before Blair could reply, Jim drew a deep breath and opened his eyes. Directing a weak grin to the worried faces above him, he said, "Uh, Dr. C?"

"Yes, Jim?" Dr. Cuthbertson inquired.

"I just remembered what I was drinking at the mall," Jim replied.

Glaring up at everyone, Blair grated out, "Didnít Jim ask you all if any of this stuff came from the mall?" When no one responded, he asked, "Well, didnít he?"

"We thought he were just talking about the food, Sandy," Megan replied.

Closing his eyes, Blair took a deep breath. "Who brought the cider?"

Reaching up a hand, Jim grabbed some of Blairís hair and gave it a gentle tug to attract his irate guideís attention. "Ease up, Chief," he said. "Nobody meant for this to happen. It was an accident."

"ButÖ"

"Iím okay," Jim reassured as he locked gazes with Blair. "I am."

Hesitant to interrupt the intense moment between the two men, Dr. Cuthbertson cleared her throat. "Well, since we know Jimís not allergic to apple juice, he must have reacted to one of the mulling spices. Now, we need to figure out which one so that he doesnít eat or drink something else that has it." Looking down at Jim, she added, "Which means that we need to do some tests." When Jim groaned, she added, "Cheer up, Jim. At least you donít have to spend Christmas in the hospital."

"Dr. Cuthbertson, are you sure he doesnít need to go to the hospital?" William Ellison asked, his tone conveying his worry for his son.

"Quite sure, sir," Dr. Cuthbertson replied. "The epinephrine worked instantaneously. Heíll be fine as long as heís not exposed to the allergen again." Smiling, she declared, "Heíll be home for Christmas."

After helping Jim to his feet, Blair proceeded to whack Jimís arm with the back of his hand.

"Ow!" Jim exclaimed. "What was that for?"

"Tell me something, Jim," Blair requested as everyone looked on in amusement.

"Well if you promise not to hit me again, then I might," Jim replied.

"What did the cider smell like?" Blair asked.

Instantly realizing what Blair was talking about, Jim mumbled, "Uh oh."

"What was that?"

"WellÖ umÖ you seeÖ"

"Iím waiting."

"I didnít smell it, all right?" Jim replied. "Are you happy now?"

"With you?" Blair responded. "Not particularly. And you wonít be too happy either after we have a little talk about your listening skills."

"SandburgÖ"

"You scared me," Blair quietly replied. "A lot."

"Iím sorry, Chief," Jim said. "Next time, Iíll be more careful."

"Youíd better," Blair warned.

"I will," Jim promised.

While Jim and Blair were talking, William and Joel whispered back and forth. Seeing that their sons were okay, William stepped forward and announced, "Jim, you and Blair are coming home with me. Joelís going to spend the night too. I want all of my family under one roof tonight. Weíll all meet back here tomorrow morning to open presents."

Stepping forward, Simon said, "You all go on and get out of here. Weíll take care of the clean-up." Addressing the others he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, and I use that term very loosely, the sooner you get to work the sooner youíll be able to go home."

"Arenít you going to help us, Captain?" Megan asked.

"Like you said, Connor, Iím the captain. And captains supervise." Simon had a perfectly evil grin.

Then Jim started to protest. "Dad, Blair and IÖ"

"Shut up, Jimmy," William ordered. "Youíre coming home tonight. You too, Steven."

Remaining silent, Joel merely looked over at his son. Noticing the look, Blair smiled and said, "Jim, your dad is right. I think that both of us need to spend some time with our dads tonight." Lowering his voice, his words meant solely for Jim, Blair said, "And I donít know about you, but I definitely donít want us to be separated tonight."

"Okay," Jim agreed.

"Good," William stated. Turning to Sally, he asked, "Sally, will you be coming?"

"I can take Sally in my car, Dad," Steven offered. "Otherwise, things would be pretty crowded in your car."

"All right," William replied. "That is if it is all right with you, Sally."

"Itís fine, Mr. Ellison," Sally said.

A few minutes later, as they were getting ready to leave, Blair called out, "Hey, Simon."

"What?" Simon asked as he turned to look at Blair.

"Don't think that I'm going to forget about this," Blair said.

Confused, Simon inquired, "What?"

"Jim was in the hospital and you didn't call and let me know," Blair stated. "Jim isn't the only one that I'm going to be having a little talk with, Simon."

"Oh no," Simon moaned while the others laughed.

"Bye, guys," Blair called out.

"Yeah bye," Jim said. "See you tomorrow. Weíll be here at about nine. Does that sound okay to everybody?"

When everyone agreed, fathers and sons left the loft.

"Hairboy is really going to let the captain have it," H whispered to Rafe after they had left.

"Yeah," Rafe replied. "Guess we should feel sorry for him, shouldn't we?"

After a few seconds they looked at each other. "Naw," they both said with a laugh.

Downstairs, as they all piled into William's car, Jim began to chuckle.

"What?" Blair asked.

"Nothing, Chief," Jim replied. "C'mon, let's go spend some time with our fathers."

"Yeah," Blair agreed.

After they got in the car, William started it up and they headed towards his house.

 

Chapter 12

In the car, on the way to Williamís house, Blair began to feel the effects of his many weeks of sleepless nights. Looking out the window, he tired to fight off a yawn, but gave up. Embarrassed when he noticed that everyone had turned to stare at him, he mumbled, "Sorry."

"Sounds like you could use a good nightís sleep, Chief," Jim remarked.

"I guess," Blair replied.

"Brother Jeremy told me that you hadnít been getting much rest," Jim stated.

When Blair just shrugged, Jim reached over and put his arm around Blair; tugging until Blairís head came to rest on his shoulder.

"Jim?"

"Just relax, Blair," Jim said. "Weíve still got a while until we get to my dadís place, so try and get a little sleep."

"ButÖ"

"Donít argue with me, Blair," Jim interrupted. "I know youíre tired. I noticed the dark circles under your eyes, not to mention the weight that youíve lost. So get some rest, Junior."

Emitting a content sounding sign, Blair snuggled down against Jimís side and closed his eyes.

A few minutes later, Jim glanced up and caught Joel looked at him and Blair. "Joel?"

"What is he to you, Jim?" Joel asked. "I knowÖ Hell, we all knowÖ that youíre a sentinel. We know that Blair would never really falsify his research, and that heíd do anything to protect you. But, Jim, I remember how youíve treated him. How youíve treated him since around the time Alex Barnes showed up. Youíve hurt him, Jim. Before, when he was just my friend, it upset me; but now that I know that he is my son, IÖ I just canít stand to the side and let it continue." Meeting Jimís eyes, Joel said, "So tell me that all of that is going to change. Tell me what my son is to you, what he means to you, and that you wonít ever treat him that way again."

"Blair is a lot of things to me, Joel," Jim replied. "I donít even know if I can put into words everything that he means to me. He is my brother, my best friend, my guide, my shaman." Seeing Joel raise his eyebrows, Jim said, "That last one requires a long explanation, Joel, and itís Blairís decision whether to tell it or not." When Joel nodded, Jim continued, "Whenever Iím hurting, be it physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, he is there. He is my redemption, my conscience, myÖ my light."

Looking down at Blair, Jim reached out a hand and gently pushed the hair out of Blairís face. "I know that Iíve been a real bastard to him lately. I know that. He says itís because of my fear based reactions. Heís right. But the only thing he isnít right about is what those fears are; he thinks itís my fear of exposure. I admit, that is part of it. But what really scares meÖ Iím afraid that heíll leave." Swallowing hard, Jim struggled to continue. "ThatÖ dayÖ You werenít there that day at the fÖ at the fountain. You donít know what it was like; what seeing him face down in that fountain was like. I swear, there for a little while, my heart stopped beating. I couldnít move at all. Then, it was like a switch was thrown and everything started happening at once. It was all a blur. H and I dragging him from the water, Simon and I giving him CPR, the paramedics showing up and telling us that he was gone. ThenÖ"

"Then what, Jim?" Joel gently asked. "Something happened that day, didnít it? But nobody will talk about it. We all just tried to pretend that it never happened. But something changed between the two of you that day at the fountain. What happened, Jim? What happened?"

"Something did happen," Jim confirmed, "and to tell you the truth Joel, it scared the shit out of me. It wasÖ I neverÖ I couldnít deal with it; didnít want to admit that it really happened. So, I started pushing him away. I was torn, Joel. My emotions were all screwed up, especially after everything that happened with Alex. There was a part of me that never wanted to be separated from him. But at the same time, there was a part of me that was afraid to be around him."

"Why, Jim?"

"Because I knew that if we were around each other, then weíd have to deal with what happened; talk about it," Jim answered. "I couldnít do that; I wasnít ready to do that, and I think that Blair knew it. Then with everything that happened with Naomi and Blairís dissertation, all of that got pushed aside."

"And now?" Joel asked.

"Now, Iíve got him back," Jim replied. "Despite everything that has happened, he came back; and I donít plan on ever making him leave again."

"See that you donít," Joel warned.

Jim nodded in response and then tilted his head to the side, resting it on Blairís. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeply; emitting his own sigh of contentment when the scent of his guideís hair washed over him, he settled down to rest. Within a few seconds, he too was asleep.


When they arrived at his home, William turned off the car and then took a look into the backseat; smiling at the sight of Jim and Blair peacefully sleeping, he said, "Theyíre quite a pair, arenít they?"

"Yeah," Joel agreed. "I almost hate to wake them up."

"Me too," William replied. "I think this is the first decent sleep Iíve seen Jimmy get since he was released from the hospital."

"Well, you handle your kid," Joel said with a smile, "and Iíll handle mine."

Nodding his agreement, William got out of the car. Glancing over to see Steven pull up behind his car, William waved to his youngest son. Then, he and Joel opened the back doors and reached in to gently shake their sons awake.

"Címon, Jim," Blair mumbled, "I told you five more minutes."

"Go Ďway, Chief," Jim groaned. "Lemme sleep."

Exchanging grins, William and Joel increased their efforts.

"Hey, Blair," Joel said, "time to rise and shine, son."

"Wake up, Jimmy," William said.

Simultaneously, two sets of eyes slowly opened. Seeing that their sons were partially awake and only semi-conscious, William and Joel helped Jim and Blair climb out of the car.

"Just a few more minutes and you can go back to bed," Joel told Blair.

Keeping a tight grip on Jim, smiling at Steven as he came over to help, William said, "Just a little bit further, Jimmy."

"Iíll go get the door," Sally said.

"Thank you, Sally," William called out to her as she went over to the front door.

After they finally managed to get their sons inside, Joel asked, "Where are we going to put them?"

Upstairs in Jimmyís room," William said. "Theyíll have to share the bed; but at this point, I donít even think theyíll notice."

"I think youíre right," Joel agreed. Tightening his grip on Blair, he began to follow William and Steven upstairs.

"Itís this first one," William said when they reached the top of the stairs. "Steven, if you keep a hold on Jimmy, Iíll get the door."

"Okay, Dad."

Once in Jimís old room, William hurried over to turn down the covers as Joel and Steven brought Blair and Jim inside. "Just put them down," William instructed.

"What about their shoes and coats?" Steven asked.

"I donít know about the two of you," Joel said, "but I think weíve wrestled them around enough. Letís slip their shoes off, but leave their jackets on. I think that at some point tonight, theyíll probably get up and take their coat off themselves."

"I agree," William said.

Having gotten Jim and Blair settled; the three men left the room. "Steven, you can take your old room," William said as he shut the door behind them.

"Okay, Dad," Steven replied. "I think Iíll go turn in too."

"Goodnight, Son," William said.

"Night, Steven," Joel said.

"Goodnight," Steven replied. "See you in the morning."

After Steven had disappeared into his old room, William turned to Joel. "The guest room is right across the hall from Jimmyís room. ButÖ"

"But what?" Joel asked.

"Well, if youíd like to talkÖ." William began. "Look, Joel, I know that Iím not the best person to be offering advice on parenting; but, I know that youíve received quite a shock tonight. If you need to talk, Iím willing to listen; and to give you whatever help that I can."

"Thanks, William," Joel replied. "I would like to talk to someone right now."

"Letís go downstairs," William suggested. "That way we wonít disturb the kids."

When the two men were downstairs again, Sally approached them. "Will there by anything else, Mr. Ellison?" she asked. "Would you like something to drink, Captain Taggert?"

"No, Sally," William replied. "Weíre fine. You head on to bed. If we want anything, we can get it ourselves."

"Goodnight then, gentlemen," Sally said. "Iíll see you in the morning."

"Goodnight, Sally," William and Joel replied.

After Sally had gone, William said, "Why donít we go into the living room. I donít know about you, but I could use a drink right now."

Once they were in the living room, William gestured towards the couch. "Have a seat, Joel," he said. "Would you like a drink?"

"Sure," Joel replied as he sat sown. "Whatever youíre having is fine."

Pouring each of them a brandy, William asked, "So, I guess you had a pretty big shock tonight, huh?"

"Yeah," Joel replied.

Walking over to Joel, William handed him a glass. Sitting down on the couch, he asked, "But it was a good one, right?"

"It was," Joel agreed. After taking a drink, he added, "Iíve always felt a little bit fatherly towards Blair. Now I guess it makes some sense why I felt that way." Looking at William, he asked, "But what about you, Bill? Youíve been good to Blair; I know that itís mainly because of his friendship with Jim, but it seems like thereís more to it than that."

"There is," William agreed. "Iím not going to tell you that Iíve developed a close relationship with Blair. The truth is, I really havenít been able to spend all that much time with him. But, there is just something about that young man that draws a person to him."

"Yeah," Joel agreed, "there is. You know, he reminds me a lot of Naomi. How she was back when we first met; she was so kind and compassionate. I just canít believe that she has changed so much. The woman that you saw tonight; sheís not the same woman that I fell in love with, Bill." After taking another drink, Joel said, "As much as I despise the woman she has become, I still love the woman that she was. Does that make sense?"

"Yes, it does," William replied. "You canít totally hate her. After all, because of her, you have something very special in your life. You have your son. She gave him to you; and because of that, youíll never be able to totally hate her. I donít hate my ex-wife; because of her, I have Jimmy and Steve."

"My son," Joel repeated with a smile on his face. "I never thought that Iíd be able to say those words."

Holding his glass up, William said, "To our sons."

Tapping his glass against Williams, Joel said, "To our sons."


The next morning, Steven woke up slowly. At first, he was disoriented by his surroundings; but then, he remembered everything that had happened the night before. Smiling, he sat up and stretched. Then, smelling the aroma of freshly brewed coffee; he climbed out of bed and headed downstairs. Walking into kitchen, he was met with the childhood sight of Sally wearing a bright Christmas apron and taking a pan of homemade biscuits out of the oven. "Merry Christmas, Sally!" he exclaimed.

"Merry Christmas, Steven." Sally replied. Then, popping his questing hand with a potholder, she scolded, "Donít you touch these biscuits, young man."

"Aw, címon, Sally," Steven whined, "just one. Please."

"Give it up, bro," Jim advised as entered the kitchen. Chuckling when his brother ducked to avoid the swat he had aimed towards the back of Stevenís head, he ordered, "Do what Sally tells you." Then, reaching for a biscuit himself, he complained, "Ouch, that stung, Sally," when he received the same treatment that his brother had gotten. A hint of whining creeping into his tone, Jim said, ""Iíve been sick. Please, can I have a biscuit?"

Sally just laughed and then shooed them both out of the kitchen and said, "You can eat as soon as everyone gets downstairs."

Fortunately, Blair, Joel, and Bill joined them just moments later. After a leisurely and happy breakfast, everyone showered, dressed and headed to the loft. Upon their arrival, they found that Simon and Megan had gotten there first and already had coffee and hot chocolate brewed.

Seeing the way Blair was scrutinizing the beverages, Megan reassured, "Itís okay, Sandy. Thereís not a single drop of that mulled cider in the loft. I promise."

After the others had arrived, they all gathered around the tree and Daryl, having been designated Santa, began passing out presents. Once the gifts were all passed out, everyone began to open them. Some of the gifts were just for fun, others had obviously been chosen with great care; but all were appreciated.

"Thanks, Dad," Steven said as he looked at the gift from his father.

"What did the old man get you?" Jim asked, shooting a grin towards William.

"A timeshare at a resort in Hawaii," Steven answered. "My favorite one."

"Pretty nice, bro," Jim said.

"Now, Jim," William said, "I know that youíre probably wondering where your present is; but it isnít exactly one that I could wrap up and put underneath the tree."

"Should I be worried?" Jim asked.

Smiling, William said, "No, Jimmy." Then, looking at Blair, he added, "Actually, this gift is for both you and Blair."

Surprised, Blair asked, "Me?"

"Yes, you," William replied. "You are a member of this family, after all."

"Yeah, Junior," Jim said as he captured Blair in a headlock and ruffled his partner's hair.

Squirming out of Jimís grasp, Blair complained, "How many times do I have to tell you, Jim? Not the hair, man."

Holding out a small, wrapped box, William said, "Merry Christmas, boys."

Nudging Blair in the side, Jim said, "Well go on and take it, Chief."

"But, Jim, donít you wantÖ"

"Take it, Sandburg."

"Okay, okay," Blair said. Reaching out to take the present from Bill he said, "Thanks, Mr. EÖ. I mean thanks, Bill."

"Youíre welcome, Blair."

"Iíll thank you after I see what it is," Jim said. Smiling he added, "Just kidding, Pop. Thanks."

"Youíre welcome, Son."

After glancing at Jim and receiving a nod, Blair tore off the wrapping present. "What? I donít understand," he said after he had it opened. Holding up the keys, he picked up the piece of paper that was in the box and handed it to Jim.

Unfolding the paper, Jim eyes widened slightly as he read. Looking up at his father, he said, "Dad, I donít know what to say."

"Youíre not supposed to say anything, son," William replied. "I just hope that you and Blair enjoy it."

"We will," Jim replied.

"Enjoy what?" Blair asked. "What is it, Jim?"

"Itís umÖ itís the deed to the family cabin," Jim explained. "I remember Stevie and I going up there with our grandfather when we were younger. It was so peaceful and quiet up there. I used to love it. But Stevie, well he hated it. Didnít you, bro?"

"Yeah," Steven replied. "Not exactly my thing. But I do remember how much Jim loved going there."

Showing the paper to Blair, Jim said, "This is the deed to the place, Chief; and itís in both of our names."

"Jim, I canítÖ"

"Yes, you can," Jim insisted.

Turning to William, Blair began, "Bill, you canítÖ"

"I can and I have," William interrupted. "I figured that both Jimmy and you probably need a break every once in a while. A chance to get out of the city."

"Yeah," Blair agreed. "But you didnít have to put my nameÖ"

"I thought that this is how Jim would want it," William cut in. "If I was wrongÖ"

"You werenít wrong, Dad," Jim said. "This is the way that I want it, okay, Blair?"

Still reeling from the surprise, Blair merely replied, "Okay."

Breaking the silence, Simon spoke up. "I hope you guys are planning on inviting your captain up there sometime."

"Well, since we canít go up there unless you give us time off work," Blair replied, "I suppose we can work something out."

Laughing, Jim and Blair both picked up a present. "Here," they both said as they handed the gift to the other.

Accepting the gift from Blair, Jim handed Blairís over and said, "You first."

"No, you," Blair replied.

"I said, you first."

"No, you go first."

"Boys," Joel said. Once he had their attention, he said, "Why donít you open them at the same time."

"See, Joel," William said, "youíre a natural at this fatherhood thing."

"Yeah," Blair agreed, causing Joel to smile. Turning to Jim, Blair said, "So, same time."

"Okay."

Both men turned to their respective presents at the same time. Blair ripped into his with great gusto, shredding the wrapping paper. Jim carefully unwrapped his, folding the paper carefully and placing the ribbon and bow on top where they wouldnít be crushed.

Naturally, Blair got his gift open first. "Oh man," he gasped.

When Blair didn't say anything else, Joelís curiosity was peeked. "What has you speechless, Blair?" Joel asked in a concerned tone of voice.

"Yeah, and can we bottle it to use later?" Simon joked; only to be shocked by the glare he received from Joel. ĎOkay,í he thought, Ďnote to self, do not tease the kid when dadís around.í He then smiled an apology at Joel and was relieved to see the other man relax.

Holding up his gift, everyone saw that it was a beautiful, leather-covered clipboard with some papers; and there was a Mt. Blanc pen in the penholder. There was silence for several seconds; then, Blair spoke in a hushed tone. "Jim has given me the loft next door and the plans to knock down a section of the common wall."

Holding up a chain, he said, "And he gave me this." Blair cupped the pendant in his other hand. "On one side, thereís an etching of a wolf and panther," he explained. "On the other thereís an inscription. It saysÖ It says ĎTwo souls; forever joined in this life and the next'." Turning to Jim, Blair said, "Oh, Jim, I donít know what to say." Alarmed when Jim didnít respond, Blair immediately crouched in front of his sentinel.

"What is it?" William asked. "Is something wrong with Jimmy? Is it from that cider last night?"

"No," Blair answered. "Itís a zoÖ" Trailing off, Blair hesitantly looked around at everyone.

"Itís okay, son," Joel said. "We know all about Jim. You donít have to worry. Your secret is safe with us."

Seeing the others nod in agreement, Blair took a deep breath and then turned his attention back to Jim. Placing his hands on Jimís face, he said, "Jim, donít do this now, man." Leaning closer, he continued, "Come on Jim; come on back. Focus on my voice. Follow my voice back, Jim." After a moment, Jim took a deep breath and everyone but Blair relaxed. "What happened Jim? Did I do something to upset you?"

Speaking quickly to relieve the concern of his brother, Jim replied, "No Blair, you didnít do anything to upset me. ActuallyÖ um Ö"

"Spill it, Jim," Blair ordered.

Seeming embarrassed, Jim said, "Well, you see Ö Oh, God, I canít believe this happened. I mean, it hasnít happened for a while now; and then something like this makes meÖ" Finally able to meet Blairís eyes, he said, "The tree."

"Shit," Blair cursed. "Why didnít I anticipate that? I should have knownÖ"

"Whoa, Blair," Jim interrupted. "Go easy on yourself. You couldnít have knownÖ"

"But I should have," Blair insisted. "With everything that has been going on, itís no wonder that youÖ"

"But you were here to bring me back," Jim said. "You said it yourself, Sandburg, zoning is just another part of this whole sentinel thing. Thatís why I need someone to watch my back, right, partner?"

"Right," Blair agreed. Looking down at the box Jim still held, he asked, "So, what do you think about your present? I know that it canít compare to what you gave me, butÖ"

"What is it?" Simon asked.

"Well," Jim said while holding up a set of keys, "according to the papers, these goes to my new F250 Supercab with leather interior, a CD player; it's got the works actually, fully loaded." Placing the keys back into the box, Jim turned to Blair.

"I know that you don't want to get rid of Sweetheart, Jim," Blair said. "But you got to admit, she can be unreliable sometimes; and, she can't exactly handle some of the places where we go to fish. So, I thoughÖ"

"I really appreciate this, Chief," Jim interrupted. "I like the truck. It's a great gift. But the other present, itÖ"

"Other present?" Simon asked. "There's more?"

"Oh yeah," Jim replied. Looking at Blair, he said, "It justÖ Well, it just took me by surprise. Iíve never received anything quite like it. Thank you." No one had ever seen quite that expression on Jim Ellisonís face before. It was a look of affection and contentment; an expression that made him look like he was finally at peace with himself and his life. Leaning in towards his partner, Jim whispered, "Thanks, buddy."

At that moment, Steven quickly pulled out his new digital camera and took a picture of the two men. Immediately, he was inundated with email addresses since everyone present wanted a copy too.

Finally, Simon got impatient. "Well, Ellison, spill the beans," he growled. "What did Sandburg get you?"

Jim held up a beautiful, leather-bound book. The embossed title said "The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats". The bookmark was a beautiful piece of lace with the letters ĎJJEí embroidered on it. Opening the book to the marked page, Jim read out loud.

 

A Deep Sworn Vow

"Others because you did not keep

That deep-sworn vow have been friends of mine:

Yet always when I look death in the face,

When I clamber to the heights of sleep,

Or when I grow excited with wine,

Suddenly I meet your face."

 

Holding up a piece of vellum as if it were the most precious thing in the world; his voice choked with emotion, Jim said, "Thatís not the real present, though, this is."

"May I?" Joel asked. Receiving a nod, he gently took the vellum from Jimís hands and looked read, "You, James Joseph Ellison, are the bother of my heart and soul. I, Blair Jacob Sandburg, vow to never again abandon you and to always support you with my actions, my words, and my deeds."

There wasnít a dry eye in the house; and when Daryl said, "God Bless us, every one," and the sound of laughter filled the loft.

 

Epilogue

The day of January 15 dawned clear and cold.

Emerging from his bedroom, Blair stifled a huge yawn; to his utter surprise he had slept quite well, and didnít feel nearly as nervous as he thought he would. Walking over to the coffee maker, he glanced over into his loft. For a little while, he had been surprised by how fast the construction had been completed. A feat that had only been possible because of William Ellison's connections; Jim's father had called in a few favors and construction had begun the day after Christmas. The newly constructed archway still smelled of paint and plaster.

Although the archway connecting the two apartments had been built into the dividing wall, he hadnít moved into his apartment yet; but then again, Jim wasn't acting like he was in any big rush to have Blair move. Smiling, Blair remembered the conversation they had the day after Christmas.

"Blair" Jim said as he walked into Blair's room, "we need to talk."

Putting aside his book, Blair looked up in surprise. "I can count on my fingers the number of times youíve said that to me," he said with a nervous laugh.

"Yeah, I know," Jim said, "but itís something that Iím trying to change."

"Okay, Jim," Blair replied. When Jim didn't say anything, he added, "So talk."

Walking over the bed, Jim shoved Blair's feet to the floor and sat down. "Youíve been avoiding talking about your place," Jim said. "The contractor is going to be here in a little while to start working on the remodeling. But, Chief, If you donít want to move in over there you donít have to." Looking Blair in the eyes, Jim continued. "In fact, we donít even have to put in the archway. I just want you to know that weíre a part of each other forever. Plus, I also want you to have the space you need; I know that youíve got stuff thatís been in storage for years and I know you'd probably like to display some of it. So, I thought this was the best way to stay together and still have the space we both need. Do you understand what Iím trying to say?"

"I understand, Jim," Blair replied. "It's justÖ Well, at first, it just brought back some bad memories, you know?"

"Blair, I'm so sorÖ"

"I know," Blair interrupted. "We both made mistakes back then and we both paid for them."

"Some of us more than others," Jim stated.

"Yeah, well," Blair said, "let's not go there, okay? What I'm trying to say is that at first it kinda felt like you were kicking me out again. But I know that's the furthest thing from the truth." Grinning at Jim, Blair held up the pendant from around his neck. "Like it says, my brother, two souls forever joined."

Closing his hand over Blair's, enclosing the pendant between their palms, Jim said, "In this life and in the next."

"Definitely," Blair replied.

Shrugging his robe on as he came down the stairs, Jim caught sight of Blair standing by the coffee maker. Taking a whiff, and not smelling the aroma of brewing coffee, he asked, "Hey, Chief, you okay?"

Shaking his head, Blair turned to look at Jim. "Yeah," came the short reply. "Just caught up in some memories there for a minute."

"Good ones?" Jim asked as he walked past Blair and started putting on some coffee to brew.

"Yeah," Blair answered. Then, he sat down and began tapping his hand against table.

Giving his roommate a speculative glance, Jim persisted, "Are you sure that you're okay?"

"Yeah, Jim. Iím good," Blair insisted. "I guessÖ Iím just starting to get nervous, is all. The rumors that started circulating last week kinda got to me."

"Blair, you know weíve got a handle on that," Jim replied. "Trust me, everythingís going to go fine. Youíll be Dr. Sandburg before lunch. Have faith, Blair"

"Somehow, I think that you have enough for both of us," Blair said. Smiling, he suggested, "How about we both grab a shower and then go out to breakfast. The defense starts at 10:00; but, before it begins, Iíve got to meet with Dr. Jackson so that we go over a few things."

"I know, Darwin," Jim responded, "believe me, I know."

Heading through the archway, intent on taking a shower in the other loft's bathroom, Blair called out, "First one done has to pay for breakfast."

Chuckling, Jim went upstairs to get some clothes.


After a good breakfast, which Jim ended up paying for, Jim dropped Blair at Rainer for what he hoped was the last time. Waving goodbye, he pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the PD; intent on going over the plans detailing Major Crime attendance at Blair's defense, he finally let a little bit of his own nervousness show.

Arriving at the station, Jim headed directly for Major Crime; entering the bullpen, he was greeted by Joel.

"Hey, Jim," Joel said. "Is everything on schedule so far?"

"Yeah, Joel," Jim replied. "I just got through dropping Sandburg off at Rainier; and as soon as we go over everything one last time, we can all head over there."

Walking out of his office, Simon called out, "Okay, people, Ellison is here so everybody get into my office. We've got some plans to go over."

Once everyone was settled in Simon's office, Jim said, "Let's go over this one more time." Looking around at the people gathered in the room, he continued, "As you all know, Charles Sands contacted Sandburg and myself to request a meeting. When we got to his office, he told us that he had kept an ear to the ground at Rainer for Blair. Evidently, there had been a rumor going around. It seemed as if two members of Blair committee have plans to vote against his dissertation and hold a press conference; a third member is being pressured to go along with the plan." Taking a deep breath, Jim added, "Now, Sands assured Blair and me that he had the situation in hand; but we think that it'd be best it all of you would be present at the defense."

"Like we'd be anywhere else," H called out. "No way would we miss this."

"That's right," Megan agreed. "We want to be there to support Sandy."

Smiling, Jim said, "Thanks, guys. Anyway, I tried to get Sands to tell me who his sources were so that I could check them out myself, but he wouldn't tell me anything. He also warned me that if I started investigating at Rainier, I could blow Blair's chances of getting his doctorate." Looking at Joel, he added, "That's the last thing that I want. So, I'm counting on you guys to help me keep an eye out; be on the lookout in case anything does happen so that we can keep Sandburg safe."

"We wouldn't have it any other way, Jim," Rafe said.

"So when do we leave?" Al asked.

"Now," Jim replied. "Blair's defense will be starting in just a little bit."


At 9:55AM the Major Crime detectives, along with William, Steven and Sally, filed into the designated room. Nervously, Jim paced along the hallway; soon, his movements beginning to irritate the others.

"Jimmy, would you please sit down?" William requested. "Everyone is nervous enough without you making things worse."

Coming to a halt, Jim glanced around at the others. Grinning sheepishly, he mumbled, "Sorry." Sitting down next to Steven, he scowled when his brother smirked at him.

A few minutes later, the assembled group looked up as several people approached. While they watched, the university president, the provost, and the new chancellor walked down the hallway. Closely following behind them was Blair and Professor Jackson.

Tuning into them, Jim listened as three members of Blair's committee suddenly experienced a sudden increase in their heartbeats. 'So,' he thought, 'youíre the ones that have been plotting against my partner.'

While Jim continued to monitor the new arrivals, Charles Sands arrived and was cordially greeted by the three high-ranking university officials. Believing that Sands had everything under control, Jim was just beginning to relax when the university president suddenly stepped forward.

Stepping forward, he said, "Mr. Sandburg, I know that you are anxious to begin; but I need to speak privately with your committee for a moment, please excuse us for a moment."

"Thatís quite all right, sir," Blair calmly replied; however, Jim knew his guide was anything but calm.

"Whatís going on, Jim?" Simon whispered.

"I canít get into it here, sir," Jim whispered back. "And I promised Blair I wouldnít listen to anything during the defense." Jim replied.

After nearly ten minutes, the committee filed back in and the defense began. For almost ninety minutes Blair was questioned in depth about his research, his methodology, and his conclusions. Finally, the questioning was over and everyone filed into the hall to wait.

Walking over to Blair, Jim placed an arm around his shoulders in an attempt to offer support. Joel stuck close to his son's other side; not saying anything, but his mere presence providing a great deal of comfort.

About twenty minutes later Blair was called in; and several seconds later, everyone in the hall heard the whoop of joy. Just as Jim was about to charge into the room, the door opened up and Blair said, "C'mon in, guys."

Once everyone was inside, the university president announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Dr. Sandburg!"

After much cheering and applauding, the group filed out of Hargrove Hall; only to be surprised by the horde of reporters that had been waiting for them.

Jabbing a microphone into Blair's face, one man asked, "Mr. Sandburg, how does it feel to be labeled a fraud again?"

Pushing her way to the front, a woman inquired, "Mr. Sandburg, did you really falsify your research again?"

Coming to the rescue, the university president stepped in front of Blair and said, ""Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I see I will have to make a statement. Please be quiet."

After several seconds, they finally settled down; and when there was finally quiet, the president continued, "I donít know where you got your information, but you need to check you facts. Not only has Dr. Sandburg successfully defended his dissertation; he has informed me that he also plans to participate in the graduation exercise in May. Now, you will leave Dr. Sandburg and his friends alone; if you persist in this harassment, I will press trespassing charges against all of you." Glancing around at the group of detectives, he added, "And I believe that these gentlemen will be more than willing to assist me."

After the group of reporters had dispersed, Jim said, "I don't know about you guys, but I think that a little celebration is in order." Once again placing an arm around Blair's shoulders, he added, "And the first round is on Dr. Sandburg."


Across the street, two people watched the proceedings with barely restrained fury in their eyes. Turning to his companion, Hank Smithers, Jr. snarled, "I thought you had it fixed; you told me that they took the money. They were supposed to arrange it so that he failed. They broke the contract and we should sue the bastards."

The former chancellor shrugged and replied, "Obviously, something happened." Contempt lacing her next words, she added, "And we canít sue, you idiot. That contract was illegal. Are you really that stupid?"

"Shut up," Smithers growled. "Iím going to get Ellison. Iím going to take him down; and when I do, Iíll make sure his little fag buddy goes down with him!"

"Hush," Edwards ordered, "youíre attracting attention." Staring at Jim and Blair, she directed an evil smile their way. "Youíre right. Sandburg is going down. Weíll just have to go to plan B."

"You have a plan B?"

"Of course I do," Edwards snapped. "Letís go somewhere more private and weíll talk."

Unnoticed by any of the happy crowd gathered around the new doctor, they left Rainer behind. For the moment, anyway.

The End