A Child's Plea

By: Kathy

NOTES/WARNINGS: This story is set in Mary Ellen's "SRO" Universe. Previous parts can be found on her page.

In this universe, after "TS by BS" Blair completes the police academy and then chooses to become the SRO (School Resource Officer) at Cascade Middle School East rather than joining Major Crimes.

Many thanks to Mary Ellen for allowing me to use the characters and universe she has created.

This story deals with child abuse.


Jim shut down his computer and then reached up to rub his forehead, the tension headache a common occurrence over the past few months. Months that he'd been without a partner. Months since Blair had chosen not to become his partner, deciding to instead become the School Resource Officer, SRO, at Cascade Middle School East; a decision that had brought a lot of tragedy and heartache into their lives, especially for the younger man. Jim hadn't known what to expect of his roommate's new job. He certainly hadn't expected the hard work and aggravation associated with it. But through it all, Blair had shown dedication and determination, sticking with it even when others might have quit. On the one hand, Jim was proud of the younger man. On the other, he still had moments when he resented the fact that Blair wasn't by his side, wasn't his partner. It was something he tried not to let affect their relationship. But sometimes, despite all the progress they'd made, his resentment did show and things were strained between the two of them. Sighing, Jim stood up and grabbed his jacket, relieved that his day was finally over.

"I'm glad you're still here," Simon said as he walked up to Jim's desk. "We've got a report of a double homicide over on 3rd Street. 911 took a call from the neighbors who said they heard multiple gunshots. When a patrol car responded, the uniforms found two dead bodies. I need you to go check it out."

"Simon, I'm beat. Can't you give this to someone else?"

Taking a good look at the detective, the captain noticed the red-rimmed eyes and pain-creased forehead. "I would if I could, Jim, but we're short-handed at the moment. Joel is out sick, Megan is on leave, and Rafe and Brown are on stakeout tonight. I need you."

"All right. Where do I need to go?"

***

While en route to the scene, Jim called the loft. "Hey, Chief, it's me. Just wanted to let you know that I'm going to be late tonight. Simon sent me to check out a double homicide. Go on and eat. I'll get something after I'm done." Ending the call, he tossed his phone onto the seat. He and Blair hadn't been able to spend much time together lately and had been planning on eating in and catching up tonight. He felt a stab of disappointment knowing that those plans were now canceled. Seemed like he and Blair never saw each other any more, just passed by on their way in and out of the loft as they went about their separate schedules. He found himself missing the younger man more and more. But was determined to keep his feelings to himself. He'd already had a hand in destroying one career and didn't want to risk this new one, especially since Blair seemed to really enjoy it. Bringing his full attention back to the road, he turned onto 3rd Street and immediately spotted the assorted emergency vehicles parked by a run-down, dilapidated house.

Bringing his truck to a stop, he grabbed his phone and shoved it into his pocket as he climbed out and headed for the house. As he got closer, he spotted a vaguely familiar boy sitting on the front porch. The kid was wrapped in a blanket and had two smaller kids, a boy and a girl, pressed tightly to his sides. "Ellison," he announced, holding up his badge, as the uniformed officer with the kids turned his way. "What have you got?"

The officer started to speak but then looked back at the kids, all three staring up at the police officers, their eyes wide and fearful. "Maybe we should..." He gestured away from the house.

Jim took another look down at the three, small, huddled forms. "Yeah, sure." Once they were several feet away, he repeated the question. "Now, what have you got?"

"There's two dead bodies inside," the officer stated. "From all appearances, it's these kids' parents. Both are dead from what looks like multiple gunshot wounds. We haven't recovered the weapon and we've got no leads; but we did find drug paraphernalia in the home, including two vials of crack cocaine. I would say we're looking at drug-related killings, but I don't know." He shrugged. "Something just doesn't seem to add up."

"What's that?"

"Well, it looks like the parents were shot in bed, in their sleep."

"What about the kids?" Jim asked. "Did you get anything out of them?"

"No, sir." A sad look on his face, he continued, "None of them have said anything since we arrived."

"Where did you find them?"

"They were in another bedroom, looks like all three of them shared one room. The two little ones were asleep in the one bed in the room and the older boy was sitting on the floor in front of the door. Almost seemed like he was guarding them or something. He had a bat and it took forever for us to convince him to let us near the younger ones. The only way he let us in was if we let him keep the bat, and even then he didn't let them out of his sight. We got them out of the house and settled on the porch, but that's it."

Jim nodded. "Thanks. I'll go try the kids, see if they're ready to talk now."

"Good luck, but I doubt you'll have any success. I have a feeling that those kids had it pretty bad in that house."

A knowing look passed between the two men. Then Jim, jaw tightly clenched, went back over to the kids. Again, he was struck by the feeling that he should know the older boy from somewhere. Pushing the feeling aside for the moment, he squatted down until he was eye-level with them. "Hi, I'm Detective Ellison." He kept his voice low, hopefully non-threatening, not wanting to add to the trauma they'd already endured.

The oldest boy, rail thin with a mop of unruly dark brown hair and bright blue, intelligent eyes, stared intently at the detective. Then, seeming to come to some decision, he tightened his hold on the boy and girl clinging to him. "I know who you are. You're Officer Sandburg's friend."

Jim tried not to let his surprise show. "You know Sandburg?"

"I go to Cascade Middle School East," the boy informed him. "Officer Sandburg is always really nice to me. He... he doesn't let the other kids pick on me. I like him."

"What's your name, son?"

"I'm NOT your son," the boy exclaimed, his venomous tone drawing the attention of several nearby officers.

"Easy, partner. I didn't mean anything by that. I just have to call you something, don't I?" Jim smiled, hoping to appease the distraught boy. But it didn't work. "Look, just... just hang on a minute." Putting some distance between himself and the children, Jim pulled out his cell phone and called the only person he could of that might be able to handle the situation.

***

Blair cursed when the light turned red before he could make it through the intersection. As he sat there, his hand nervously tapping the steering wheel as he impatiently waited for the stoplight to turn green, he felt his chest tighten as he remembered the phone call from Jim.

He'd just got home and had heard the other message from his roommate, the one letting him know that the detective would be late, when the phone had rang. For a moment, he had been distracted by his thoughts, wondering, not for the first time, if he shouldn't be there by Jim's side, as his partner. Shaking himself, he answered the phone and listened with growing dismay as Jim had told him what was going on. As soon as the other man had described the young boy, Blair had realized whom he was talking about.

The first time he'd encountered Paul Midkiff, the boy had been bravely facing off against three bullies, who'd surrounded the smaller boy. He'd sent the three bigger boys to Dr. Gilbert's office, knowing that she would deal out an appropriate punishment. After that day, he'd taken it upon himself to get to know the quiet, withdrawn, rather defensive boy who he'd rescued. It had been hard going since Paul was reluctant to let anyone inside his walls; and was downright adamant about giving his trust to anyone, least of all a police officer.

But Blair knew he'd found a kindred spirit in the young boy. Especially after he discovered that Paul had skipped a couple of grades, something he himself had done, and that, also like him, Paul had been in several schools since his family moved frequently. He knew what Paul was going through, being smaller and smarter than his classmates. And, as the new kid, frequently being the subject of their anger and torment. So he'd been persistent. Now, after a lot of work and patience, he was finally starting to make some headway in the past few weeks. Several times, the two of them had talked. Blair sharing stories from his childhood, hoping to show Paul that someone knew what he was going through and was there for him.

And now this.

Sighing, heart heavy, he started on his way again when the light changed.

***

When he arrived at the address Jim had given him, Blair sought out his roommate and found the detective standing by three kids, one of which was Paul. For a moment, he allowed himself a small smile as he saw Jim's protective stance and he felt a sense of relief knowing that the sentinel was standing guard over the children. Then he started over to them.

"Hey, Jim," he called out.

"Sandburg. Thanks for coming."

Blair nodded and knelt down in front of the children, his attention immediately focused on them. "Paul, it's me, Officer Sandburg."

Paul glanced up at Jim and then looked at Blair. "Hi."

"Hi." Smiling gently, he nodded towards the two children clutching the young boy. "So, I guess this is Melinda and Maxwell, huh?"

For the first time, Paul allowed his defenses to slip and he smiled softly. "Yeah," he hugged his brother and sister closer to him. Head bent, he whispered to them. "Mel, Max, this is Officer Sandburg. Remember, I told you about him?"

Two identical sets of bright blue eyes shyly peeked at Blair before the two faces pressed against their brother's sides again.

"They're shy," Paul explained.

"That's okay." Blair smiled. "They don't have to say or do anything if they don't want to." His smile turned to a frown when he saw the look of sadness that passed over Paul's face. "Hey, why don't we get the three of you over to the ambulance? Let the paramedics look you over?"

"We're fine."

"Paul -"

"I won't let anyone take them away," Paul cried out. "You can't separate us. I won't let you."

"That's not going to happen. I promise."

"Chief -" There was a warning note to Jim's voice. He knew that Blair couldn't keep that promise; that wherever the children ended up wouldn't be his roommate's decision.

"I mean it, Paul," Blair continued, ignoring Jim for the moment. "I won't let them separate you."

"Really?" There was a hopeful look on Paul's face, one that nearly broke the two police officers' hearts.

"Really." Standing, Blair held out his hand. "Let's get you checked out and then we'll go somewhere so that we can talk. Okay?"

Never losing his grip on his brother and sister, Paul rose, brining them up with him. "I... I trust you, Officer Sandburg. As long as you're with us, we'll go where you tell us to."

Casing an uncertain look Jim's way, Blair didn't know how to respond to that. So, instead, he just led the three children over to the ambulance, thankful for Jim's presence as the detective followed after them.

***

After the kids had received a cursory once-over from the paramedics, having refused, actually screaming and recoiling, when they attempted a more thorough examination, Blair got the three children settled in the backseat of his car. Then, with Jim following behind them, he drove to the station and he took them to the break room. While Blair got the kids something to drink, Jim went to check in with Simon.

Giving a quick rap to Simon's door, Jim pushed it open and entered the captain's office.

Looking up from the papers he'd been reading, Simon grimaced when he saw the look on the detective's face. "That bad, huh?"

"Yeah, that bad." Jim wearily sunk down into one of the chairs in front of Simon's desk. "There were three kids found at the scene." When he saw the alarmed look appear on the other man's face, he hastily added, "Alive." He ran a hand over his face. "But it looks like our two dead vics are these kids' parents. Still no leads though. I've got uniforms canvassing the area but I don't think we're going to find anybody willing to talk. The responding officer reported finding drugs in the house. Normally, I think we'd be looking at the drug angle, but something just doesn't sit well with that theory."

"Why's that?"

"All evidence points to the parents being shot while in bed, asleep. If this was some kind of payback or some kind of deal gone bad, it would have gone down differently. And I doubt our perps would have left behind three eyewitnesses who could possibly ID them."

Simon stared intently at the detective for several long seconds. "What is your gut telling you?"

Jim shifted in his seat, glancing down at the floor before meeting Simon's eyes again. "The oldest boy ... Paul. Sandburg knows the kid. He goes to CMSE. I remember hearing him talk about the kid before but I... I really didn't pay that much attention. I've even seen the kid before, talking with Sandburg, a couple of times when I picked him up from school. That time his car was in the shop." Pausing, Jim saw the captain nod, familiar with the instances since he'd let Jim off early those days. "I think Sandburg has gotten pretty close to this kid. I... I called him to the scene, to help me deal with them, once I found out the kid knew him. They were a lot more comfortable with him, but neither of us has pressed them for details yet. We brought them back to the station and they're in the break room with Sandburg right now."

Simon could tell that there was something Jim was reluctant to tell him. "What is it? What aren't you telling me?"

"I think there's something deeper going on here. I think those kids were abused by their parents. And... and I think they're the key to finding out what happened in that house tonight."

"Are you saying -"

"Gunpowder," Jim blurted out. "I smelled gunpowder on Paul. I think he's the one who shot and killed their parents."

"Aw, hell," Simon groaned, sadly shaking his head.

***

After getting Paul, Mel and Max settled, Blair raided Megan's secret stash of hot chocolate and soon had three mugs ready for the children. "Careful, let it cool a little bit first," he warned as he set the drinks down on the table. Taking a seat, he watched as Paul picked up first Mel's and then Max's mug, blowing on the liquid and then taking a tentative sip to test the temperature.

"Thanks, Officer Sandburg," he said as he carefully handed Max his mug and then watched his younger siblings drink. "They love hot chocolate and we... we haven't been able to have any in a while." His hand shaking, Paul picked up his own mug and finally took a small sip. "What's... what's going to happen now? That other guy, your friend, Detective Ellison, he's going to want to talk to us now, right? Ask us about o... our parents?"

Blair heard how Paul's voice trembled and considered his words carefully before he answered. "Only if you're up to it, Paul. Detective Ellison is a good guy. You can trust him, I promise. He's not going to push you and he won't make you do or say anything if you're not ready."

"What about Max and Mel?" Paul picked up one of the napkins lying on the table and wiped off first Mel's and then Max's mouth, cleaning off the small chocolate mustaches. "I don't want anyone messing with them. They're just kids."

"So are you, Paul."

"No, I'm not." Paul's eyes blazed. "I'm grown and I take care of them. I'm a good big brother. I watch out for them. Make sure our par... make sure no one hurts them. No one is ever going to hurt them. I won't let that happen. I won't!"

"I know, Paul. I know you take care of them. I can see that."

Breathing heavily, Paul settled back in his seat. Gathering his now frightened brother and sister to him, he murmured softly to them, reassuring them.

Quietly, his heart aching, Blair watched the touching scene. His guts clenching as his worst fears were confirmed. He'd heard Paul's slip and knew what it meant. For a little while now, he'd suspected that Paul was being abused. But he'd never seen any bruises on the boy and, without proof, he knew that the only way he'd be able to act was if Paul came to him, told him what was going on. It was frustrating to him, that feeling of helplessness. A feeling which only grew over the weeks as he'd steadily worked to gain Paul's trust, hoping that with that trust Paul would eventually confide in him, allowing him the freedom to act. But it seemed his efforts hadn't been good enough. He'd failed to rescue the children in time and now they'd been subjected to the horror of being in the house as their parents had been murdered. Were, in fact, still in danger even though their abusers were dead. Odds are it was only a matter of time before whoever killed their parents returned to finish the job, killing the only witnesses to the crime. Blair was determined to not fail this time. This time he'd protect the three children sitting in front of him. No matter what he had to do to keep them safe.

***

Blair looked up when the door opened and Jim, followed closely by Simon, entered the room. Seeing the look on Jim's face, he could tell that something was wrong. "Jim -" he started to stand, but Jim waved him back down. "What's wrong?" He looked between the two men. "What's going on?"

Jim glanced back at Simon. "Um... Chief, I think I should take Paul into Simon's office. Ask him a few questions about what happened tonight."

"I don't think that's wise, Jim." Blair was staring at the children and could see how Paul had wrapped an arm around his brother and sister, hugging them close to him. "Besides, in a case like this, isn't there some sort of procedure we should be following ... someone we need to contact?"

"He knows." The three men turned towards the direction of the softly spoken words.

"Paul?"

Tears in his eyes, Paul jerked his head in Jim's direction. "He knows, Officer Sandburg."

"Knows what, Paul?"

"W... what I did."

"Jim?" Confused, Blair turned to Jim, a questioning look on his face.

"I... um... I could smell gunpowder on him, Chief. I think that he -"

"No!" Blair exclaimed, rising from his seat and marching over to Jim. "How could you even think something like that. It's -"

"True."

Blair stared at Jim for a moment longer, denial written all over his face, before going to kneel beside the children. "Paul?"

"It was me, Officer Sandburg. I did it. I k..." He looked at his brother and sister. "I did *it*. It was me. I just... I couldn't let them keep doing it. I just couldn't." The boy broke down into tears, scaring his siblings into crying as well.

Wordlessly, his mind reeling and his heart aching, Blair gathered the three children to him and held them as they sobbed. Though he didn't acknowledge it, he was aware of Jim coming to kneel down beside him.

"Couldn't let them keep doing what, Paul?" The question was soft, the tone caring.

"Jim, I don't think -"

"Let me handle this, Chief. Trust me here. Please."

Blair knew what it took for Jim to ask that. But, for a moment, he was undecided. His need to protect the three children in his arms was at war with his desire to trust his friend completely once again. That trust was something that had been sorely lacking between them for so long now, since the press conference - no, before then really, since everything with Alex. He honestly didn't know if he was capable of putting his trust ... his faith ... in Jim again. Not after everything that had happened. But there was an even greater part of him that knew he had to try. If for no other reason than the fact that he owed it to the friendship ... the partnership ... they once shared. Decision made, he met Jim's eyes and saw the uncertainty there. He nodded.

Jim exhaled deeply and returned the nod. "Paul, if Sandburg stays here with Mel and Max, will you come into Captain Banks' office and tell us what happened tonight?"

Uncertain, Paul looked at Blair. "Officer Sandburg?"

"I want to be with him when he talks to you, Jim. And, no offense, but I also think he needs someone there to look out for his interests. But no matter what, I don't want Max and Mel left with someone I don't know." Part of Blair's problems were solved when he saw movement outside the break room. "There's Joel. Can you go catch him and tell him what's going on?"

Jim looked back at Simon. "Sir?"

"I'm on it."

After he left, Jim turned back to Blair. "Chief, you know I'd never do anything to hurt these kids."

Blair smiled softly, hoping it would take some of the hurt out of his earlier words. "I know. It's just... I didn't protect them before. I should have seen ... should have know..."

Before Jim could respond to Blair's words, the door opened and Simon came back into the room, with a grim-looking Joel following after him.

"Jim, Blair, Joel is going to stay here and watch over Max and Mel for a little while."

"Officer Sandburg?" Paul looked at the two large men standing by the doorway.

"It's okay, Paul. Joel is a good friend of mine. He won't let anything happen to your brother and sister. They'll be safe with him. I promise."

Smiling, Joel walked over to the table. "Hi, I'm Joel. I'm a police officer just like Blair. And speaking of Blair, I see he looted Megan's supply of hot chocolate for you. But I bet that'd be a whole lot better with some marshmallows, huh?" When the two youngsters, mouths still quivering, gave tentative nods, Joel winked. "Well, lucky for you I managed to find out where she hides her stash. After they leave, I'll show you where it is, but you've got to promise to keep it secret. These guys can't resist marshmallows and if Megan finds out they know where she keeps them, then she'll move them. And it will take me another six months to figure out where she hid bag."

Jim stood and took a step back. "Thanks, Joel."

"Yeah, thanks. Keep 'em safe for me, okay?"

"Sure thing, Blair."

Blair stood and looked down at Paul. "You okay with this?"

Paul stared at Joel, silently taking measure of him. Slowly, he nodded. "Yeah. It's okay." He looked between his brother and sister. "Max, Mel, I'm going to go talk with Officer Sandburg for a little while. I want you guys to stay here with

Officer Joel for a little while. I'll be back soon, I promise. 'kay?"

"'kay." Two soft voices replied.

Separating from them, Paul stood up and walked over to Blair's side. He cast a hesitant look over at his brother and sister, uncertain if he should leave them. But then, Joel smiled at him as he sat down and began to tell Max and Mel a story. When he felt a hand grab his, he looked up into Blair's face, comforted by the strength he saw there. "Let's go."

***

When the reached Simon's office, Blair guided Paul over to one of the chairs in front of the captain's desk. Once he was seated, Blair stood behind him, protectively, with one hand resting on his shoulder.

"Earlier, after Jim explained things to me, I called Beverly Sanchez," Simon explained. "She is on her way here, along with someone from Child Protection Services -"

"No way!" Paul jumped to his feet and spun around to glare at Blair. "You said we wouldn't be separated. You promised! I believed you. Even after everyone else... I thought I could trust you."

"You can, Paul." Blair slowly approached the distraught boy. "You can trust me. I won't let them split you up. I won't."

"Blair -"

"I won't let them do it, Simon. They need to be together. You know that."

"We may not have much say in the matter." Simon sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I gave Beverly a rundown on what's happened. She was going to get in touch with a defense attorney she knows, one that is an advocate for children's rights, and have him come here as well. But we have no choice, we have to call is CPS. If the kids don't have any relatives in the area, then they'll have to be placed somewhere. I'll pull whatever strings I can and try to keep them together but I can't make any promises. I'm sorry."

"But I did make a promise." Blair's words were addressed to Simon, but he kept his eyes locked with Paul's. "And it's one that I intend to keep."

Jim stepped forward, finally speaking up. "Sandburg, you're setting these kids, as well as yourself, up for a world of hurt and you know it." When Blair turned towards him, starting to speak, Jim held up his hand. "But even though I'm not sure you're doing the right thing here, I'll do whatever I can to help."

Blair nodded his thanks as a knock sounded. Simon went to open the door and Beverly Sanchez, as well as another woman and a man entered the captain's office.

"Captain, Jim, Blair," Beverly greeted. "This must be Paul."

His earlier anger disappearing, Paul moved to Blair's side, seeking protection. Blair wrapped his arm around his shoulders. "Yes, it is. His brother and sister are in the break room with Joel Taggart."

Beverly smiled. "Hello, Paul. First, I want to let you know that no one here is going to hurt you. We're just here to help."

Paul just eyed her warily.

"Okay, well then." Beverly gestured to the man and woman standing beside her. "This is Carmen Roberts. She's with Child Protection Services." All the adults watched as Paul shrank back, pressing more firmly against Blair. "She's just here to make sure you and your brother and sister have someplace to stay and someone to take care of you." When Paul didn't say anything, she continued. "This gentleman here is Marc Hicks. And, if it's okay with you, he'd like to be your attorney, if you need one. He's a good guy and he's helped a lot of kids. I know he can help you too, if you'll let him."

Paul looked up at Blair, silently asking for help.

Blair gave him a reassuring smile and then looked over at Hicks. "I've heard of you."

"Beverly gave me some idea of what's happened and I really want to help Paul."

Blair studied the other man for several seconds. "He's okay," he said as he looked down at Paul. "I think you can trust him."

Those words seemed to satisfy him but he didn't leave Blair's side.

Marc clapped his hands together. "Well, I really think I should have a word in private with Paul before we go any further."

"Maybe not," Beverly spoke up. Then she squatted down. "Paul, your parents hurt you, didn't they?" Her voice was soft.

Hesitantly, Paul nodded, tightening his grip on Blair.

"Can you tell us about it?"

"Why? People like you never helped before, so what are you doing to do now? It's over. I made sure they wouldn't hurt Max or Mel. Nobody else would protect them so I did."

There was a moment of silence following his words. Beverly cleared her throat. "You asked for help before?"

"A bunch of times. But nobody ever listened. Nobody ever believed me. And then we would always move and it'd be the same thing all over again. So, after awhile, I just stopped talking."

Blair knelt down and turned Paul to face him. "Why didn't you tell me, Paul? I would have listened. I would have helped."

"I... I just couldn't. I like you. You talked with me. You were nice to me. I thought if I told you, you wouldn't like me anymore. And they only hurt me. As long as I was the only one, then it was okay. But... but today, Mel and Max... I came home and they were crying. And then when I helped them with their bath, I saw... there were bruises. I knew what had happened. And I knew I couldn't let it happen again. So I... I... My dad had a gun; he'd shown it to me before." Paul was sobbing quietly. "So I got it and I went into their bedroom and I... I couldn't let them hurt Mel and Max again. I'm their big brother; I had to protect them."

Blair pulled the crying boy to him, hugging Paul to his chest. "Oh, Paul."

***

After the emotional confession, Marc quietly said, "Don't you think he's been through enough, Beverly? Can't we work something out here?"

Beverly couldn't tear her eyes away from the sight of Paul sobbing as he was held in Blair's arms. "I need evidence... something to back up his story."

"I know a pediatrician - one who is used to dealing with abused and traumatized kids. If I give her a call, I know she'll agree to see the kids tonight."

"They'll also need to be examined by a psychologist - one approved by the DA's office." Beverly looked back at Marc. "I can set that up."

"Tomorrow?" Marc asked.

"I think that'd be best," she agreed. "Get this over with as soon as possible. I think they've been through enough already."

"That just leaves what to do with them tonight," Marc stated.

Ms. Roberts spoke up. "I don't have any placements that can take in three children."

"I don't even know if I can allow Paul to be placed in foster care," Beverly admitted. "As much as I hate to do it, he may have to be placed in custody until we can get this all sorted out."

"C'mon, Beverly, that's that last thing the kid needs."

"I know, Jim, but my options are limited here. He did just confess to murdering his parents, after all."

"Sounds like self defense to me," Jim argued.

"Yeah, and if we can find evidence supporting that then I know we'll be able to work out something. But I have to follow procedure here until then, so I'm afraid he'll have to be kept in custody."

"But does that necessarily have to mean he has to be put in lock-up?"

Blair gave Jim a sharp look. "Where exactly are you going with this, Jim?"

Ignoring the question, Jim asked, "If there were someone who was willing to take the kids in until this matter is settled, could the kids, all three of them, go there instead?"

"And exactly where would that be?"

Jim met Blair's eyes. "The loft. Sandburg and I could take them - for a little while at least. That way they'd be together and Paul would, technically, be in custody. Mine and Sandburg's."

"I'm sorry, Jim, but I don't think so."

"Why, Beverly? Sandburg and I -"

"Jim, I don't doubt that you and Blair would take excellent care of them, but..." Beverly looked over at Ms. Roberts.

"Detective Ellison, we could never approve such a placement. Besides the demands of your jobs, you and Officer Sandburg aren't approved foster parents. There are forms to be filled out, evaluations to be conducted, and then a waiting period before anyone can get approved."

"What about me?" Marc asked. "My wife and I became foster parents years ago. We often take in the kids I represent until a suitable home can be found. If Paul agrees, then he and his brother and sister would be welcome in our home."

Paul looked at the adults in the room before his eyes settled on Blair. "Officer Sandburg, what do you think?"

Blair took a moment to silently study the attorney again, remembering all the good things he'd heard and read about the other man. "I think it'd be okay, Paul."

For a moment, Paul didn't respond. But then, he slowly nodded. "Okay."

Marc smiled, putting Paul, and Blair, slightly more at ease.

***

That night the children, accompanied by Blair and Jim, were taken to the doctor and examined. They, along with Marc, were saddened when the doctor confirmed the abuse of all three children, long-term in Paul's case. Then, after a tearful goodbye, Marc took the kids home to meet his wife while Jim and Blair returned to the loft.

"I swear, I don't understand how people can do that to their kids. I mean, I can't understand how any adult can abuse a child, but when it's your own child you're hurting... How can people be so despicable?"

"I don't know, Chief." Jim joined Blair by the balcony doors, staring out over the darkened city. "I wish I had some answers. For both of us. But I don't."

"How are they ever going to get over something like this? How can they ever expect to have a normal life?"

"They can, and they will. With a lot of help and a lot of love."

"But will they get it? That's the problem now, isn't it? Will they get the help and the love that they need?"

Jim draped his arm around Blair's shoulders. "They will, Blair, 'cause we'll make sure of it. No matter what, we'll see that they do."

"I hope you're right, Jim, I really do. But what about all those other kids out there? You heard Paul. He asked for help. He told people what was going on, he did everything he was supposed to do - everything we tell kids to do. But nobody listened. So how many other kids out there are like Paul? Being hurt, asking for help only to have their pleas falling on deaf ears?"

"I can't answer that, Blair. No one can. All I do know is that in this case, for these kids, we can make a difference. I only wish it could have been sooner. But at least, people are listening now. At least they're being heard now. It may not be much, but it's a start."

"But it's not enough, Jim. It'll never be enough." Blair shrugged out of Jim's embrace and went into his room.

Jim could only stare after his friend's retreating form, not knowing what to say. But knowing that Blair was right. No matter how much they'd like to believe otherwise, no matter how much they'd like for it to be otherwise, it would never be enough.

***

Epilogue

Jim pulled up in front of the large, two-story house and turned off the engine. "Looks like a pretty nice place," he said as he looked over at Blair. "Lots of space, trees, swing set, I think there's even a sandbox over there."

"Yeah, I guess," Blair said, sounding uncertain.

Just then several yells sounded and the two men watched as three children, each carrying a large water gun, ran around the side of the house. They were spraying each other and laughing.

When the oldest child noticed the truck, he yelled out, "Blair!" and ran towards them.

Smiling, Blair got out of the truck and opened his arms just as the wet boy barreled into him. "Hey, Paul."

Still keeping his hold on Blair, Paul said, "Hi, Jim."

Jim smiled. "Hi."

"I'm glad you two could make it," a male voice said, drawing their attention.

Both men looked up to see Marc Hicks, carrying Mel in one arm and Max in the other, walk up to them. "The kids were really looking forward to the barbecue and we were really hoping you could come."

"Us too, thanks for inviting us," Jim answered for both of them.

"I was just getting ready to light up the grill."

"Great, I'll help." Jim glanced over at Blair. "Coming, Chief?"

"Blair, first you've got to come see my room. It's great. Please." Paul turned towards Marc. "Can I show Blair my room? Please, Marc?"

Marc laughed. "Of course you can, Paul. Just be sure to dry off before you go inside or Martha will get you good."

Blair tensed, waiting to see how Paul would react. But the boy just laughed and said, "Yeah, yeah, okay."

Jim could see Blair relax as he saw how happy the children, especially Paul, seemed to be. He smiled when Blair, laughing, allowed Paul to start pulling him towards the house. It'd been a difficult few weeks while everything had been settled. Beverly and Marc had worked out a deal for Paul and he was receiving court-mandated therapy. The judge had agreed with the deal, being very sympathetic to Paul. However, the best development had been when Marc and his wife, Martha, had petitioned to adopt the three children. They had a home now, with people who loved them.

Their pleas heard. And, this time, finally answered.

The End

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