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."
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.
"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."
"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
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.
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.
"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."
"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"
"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."
"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.
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.
"Just relax, Blair," Jim said. "Weíve still got a while until we get to my dadís place, so try and get a little sleep."
"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."
"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."
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."
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.
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.