Disclaimer: The Sentinel, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, Simon Banks, and all other characters are property of Paramount and Pet Fly. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has exchanged hands.

A W O L

by Shedoc

********************

*Absent*

Blair swept his eyes appraisingly over Jim's face and body. His Sentinel was the picture of health; skin tanned lightly, movements free of pain or strain. His eyes were clear and the famous jaw was unclenched - his mouth was smiling. The well cared for body was relaxed and comfortable…

"Jeeze, now I know how a microscope specimen must feel," Jim joked, snapping the Shaman back to the present, "Did you count my ribs and check my teeth?"

"Hmm," Blair replied, still trying to figure out what was wrong. Jim didn't ask for an adult hour for no good reason. Adult hours were time spent together where the two men discussed any serious problems or concerns they had. The kids were healthy, and apparently so was Jim, so Blair couldn't figure out what it was the other man needed. Their bills weren't excessive and the loft was in good repair as always…

"Chief," Jim chuckled, "Just sit down with me, ok?"

He guided the heavily thinking man to the couch and sat down, pulling his friend onto his lap and wrapping his arms around him. As he'd expected, Blair immediately cuddled up, the touch taking away the tension that had started to build in response to Jim's request, just as Jim had expected it to. His data for the Guide thesis was coming along nicely. Jim snuggled his Guide close and waited for Blair to realise that he was sitting in another man's lap, cuddled up like a child to a teddy. On the balcony outside the first heavy frost gleamed in the streetlight, emphasising the warmth of the loft.

The Shaman had been under some strain lately, what with the aftermath of Rachael Collins and Jim's appendix and several demanding cases. The conference was coming up soon - a month long event that Blair was trying so hard to get out of, despite the fact that the Chief, Captain Banks, the Mayor and his publisher were all trying to get him to commit to attend for the entire month.

Jim remembered the lectures he'd had on Guide care from the Chopec and knew he wasn't living up to his end of the bargain. Blair was pale and tired, though he put up a good front for the children and their colleagues. At night however, when everyone else was asleep, Jim saw the fatigue and wanted to erase it from his friend's face. Over the months he'd had plenty of material to add to his Guide thesis about the power of touch. Since the two men had taken to touching each other even more in private their bond had grown to almost epic proportions. Snuggling on the couch for an hour revitalised Blair for a day - and the kids saw that two adults could touch each other in a loving, non-sexual way without losing any of their 'maleness'.

With Blair's second book being released at the conference - much to his astonishment, he'd intended to publish it the same way he had the first, unheralded and unnoticed - it was important his partner have the time to enjoy the fame and notoriety he'd gain. Blair's work at the PD went largely unacknowledged by the public that he worked for, and colleagues from out of state only knew of him by vague word of mouth. He deserved this - and Jim knew he'd enjoy the positive attention.

The Sentinel was proud of his Shaman Guide and wanted to show the man off to the world and their colleagues. He wanted to be able to say Dr. Blair Sandburg, and have other people's eyes light up with recognition and respect for his partner. Blair sighed and mumbled into Jim's chest and the Sentinel realised the man was going to sleep!

"Hey, Chief," Jim crooned gently, "Stay awake for me for a moment."

"'M up," Blair protested sleepily and Jim chuckled, tangling his fingers in long curls and tugging gently. Blair tipped his head back to meet Jim's eyes. Deciding that Blair was as awake as he was going to get tonight Jim grinned.

"I want you to take Tommy to the conference with you for a month. Both of you could use the time together - and Clare and I can do the father daughter thing here. It's only two weeks of school to miss and then he'd be on school holidays. He can afford to miss two weeks," Jim kept his voice low and soothing.

"Whaa?" Blair blinked and woke up a little more, "It's not a fun place for kids to be Jim…"

"You'd be the main attraction," Jim replied, "And we'd come down in holiday time to join you both. The kids will be happy to see each other again and I can take them for day trips or something. You could make it a project for him - get him to write a paper or something on the way cops interact with each other."

"He's not in Uni yet, Jim," Blair chuckled, snuggling back in, loathe to break the contact, "I'll think about it ok?"

"Ok," Jim nodded; tucking his partner back into his embrace, not ready to let go yet either, "You want to move to bed? If we spend the night on the couch I'll be unable to move in the morning."

Blair sighed and got up reluctantly, unwilling to relinquish the contact with another adult - and one who loved him at that. Both men had found that women willing to commit to the combined family were rare indeed; non existent, in fact.

"I'll be right up," Jim got up too, following Blair to the stairs and walking past them to enter the corridor that led to his part of their loft. Clare was curled up under the covers and Jim grinned down at her, smoothing the tufts of hair that stuck out of the nest she'd made for herself. Satisfied that she was comfortable - his senses saturated in the rhythm and scents of his daughter's sleep - he left her door open a crack and headed back to Blair's bed, tumbling in beside the sleeping man and being instantly attacked by the octopus that Blair turned into in his sleep. Arms and legs twined around him and a shaggy head buried itself in his armpit, snuffling in contentment.

Feeling his heart slow to match his Guide, the Sentinel sighed happily and let sleep claim him.

********************

*With*

Tommy watched the people in the lobby with wide eyes as his father checked them into the hotel and collected keys and things from the lady behind the counter. The people at this hotel were very different to each other. There were some people like the professors at the University back home - that he'd met when Da took him there on the rare occasions he had time to attend an event at the Uni. There were people like his many aunts and uncles - cops of all different shapes and sizes. There were people like Grandfather - in suits with busy faces, and people like Poppy, who smiled a little more but seemed just as busy. It seemed odd to see all these people gathered in the one place and not be at home.

"Hey sweetie," Da's voice was warm in his ear, "What are you looking at?"

"There sure are a lot of different people here," Tommy commented, "But they're just like our family back home - the cops and the professors and the busy men."

"Business men," Blair was amused and took his son's hand. Neither one of them had grown out of that public display of affection, though Miki wouldn't hold her mother's hand in public any more. They gathered their bags and headed for the room with Blair pointing out signs and directions for Tommy so the child could find their room and the lobby if he ever got separated from his father in the hotel.

Once inside the room - furnished in standard hotel modern - Blair added their room number to the ID card he'd made for his son and handed it over in the canvas wallet that he'd bought for the trip. It was big enough to hold Tommy's spending money, his ID card and a couple of family photos. Tommy was excited at the idea of carrying a 'grown up' wallet and Blair knew his son would carry it with him whenever they left the room. It had all the emergency information and contact details for the family as well - just in case. Despite the protests Blair made when Jim called him a trouble magnet in his heart of hearts he thought there might be a kernel of truth in the idea. The Shaman attracted danger and the Sentinel banished it - the system worked well.

The two men freshened up and changed into clothes that weren't rumpled with aeroplane travel and then headed back down to sign in for the evening 'meet and greet' dinner.

"Are we having rubber chicken?" Tommy asked the man at the sign in desk as his father pinned his badge onto his t-shirt and Blair had burst into startled laughter, wondering which member of the family had described the first night as a rubber chicken banquet. The man behind the table had given Blair a slightly quelling look, which had made Blair laugh even harder as he took his son away.

"No, it won't be rubber chicken," Blair reassured his son, "We'll have normal food to eat. There'll also be a few speeches, so we'll have to be quiet at dinner, ok? You can whisper to me."

Dinner in the Sandburg-Ellison household wasn't a riot, but neither was it silent. The children told the family about their day and the family discussed plans for the weekend and shopping together, as well as the upcoming schedule for work and babysitters. William Ellison sat regularly for the children, especially if Jim and Blair were on night shift. Daryl Banks was no longer in town to take the day shift, though he kept in contact with his cousins through email.

"Ok," Tommy nodded and followed Da into the dining room. Everyone in there was wearing name badges and Tommy took careful note of them, checking to see if the IDs were like his and Da's. A bad man called Quinn had once tried to fool Tommy with a fake ID, and only his careful scrutiny had saved the boy from being kidnapped.

Lots of people looked at him strangely and Tommy stuck close to Da's side, holding his hand while he peered around the room. His face lit up in recognition as he spotted someone he knew and he tugged his father's hand.

"Look, Da!" he pointed, "It's Detective Scruffy!"

Unfortunately Tommy's voice was just the right pitch to carry clearly and everyone turned to look at the child and then the man he was pointing too.

"Detective Kowalski," Blair corrected firmly, "We need to use people's proper names, Tommy."

Kowalski was headed over, grinning hard at the blush on Blair's face. He was still scruffy, it looked like he hadn't changed from the plane ride at all, and he didn't seem to mind the appellation.

"Sorry Detective," Tommy said in a clear voice and Stan shrugged it off, glancing at his partner in amusement. The red serge was something of an eye catcher, as was the tall well-built physique of the Mountie.

"That's all right Squirt," Stan grinned, "I am a bit scruffy at the moment. I hate flying."

"I love it," Tommy riposted, and started chattering to the detective about all the things you could do on a plane to pass the time. There was a long list as Blair was very imaginative when travelling with his children.

"Blair Sandburg," he introduced himself to the silent Mountie. His hand was taken in a strong grip. It was almost familiar, but Blair shrugged that thought off easily - they were here for a conference, not a mystery.

"Constable Benton Fraser," the deep voice was pleasant, as was the accompanying shy smile, "Ray is not known for his social graces."

"I heard that!" Stan protested his head snapping up to glare, "You'd better be talking about Vecchio!"

Tommy giggled - it was the exact same glare uncle Jim gave Da when they were teasing each other. Blair winked at his son and kept a straight face. Fraser refused to reply and dinner was called before the argument could escalate.

"Come and sit with us!" Tommy urged, "You can tell us about Chicago and the Territories. Did you spend time with the Inuit Mr. Mountie?"

"Constable," Benton corrected, "Yes I have spent time with them. Not many American children would associate them with the Territories Master…"

"Tommy," the child introduced himself, "Da's an anthropologist. He's teaching me about people from all over the world. He also catches criminals with my Uncles."

"Bounty Hunter?" Fraser straightened in surprise and Blair laughed. They headed out of the lobby to the attached restaurant that the hotel had reserved for the conference.

"Consultant with the PD. They adopted Tommy," the cryptic conversation went over Tommy's head, though he'd make sure to find out what a bounty hunter was later on. He walked next to the Constable and started asking questions at a rapid pace, listening closely to the answers before asking the next one.

They found that dinner was arranged in tables, with name cards for everyone. Disappointed that he couldn't sit with his two new friends, Tommy cheered up at the promise of spending time with them tomorrow. He and Da had to go and sit in a very boring group of people who didn't like to answer his questions. Da spoke to him quietly through dinner and then he got to sit on Da's lap with a book while a big man stood up and talked for a while and all the grownups drank coffee and tea. Even though he was a big boy now, Tommy still loved to cuddle with his Da and wasn't embarrassed of it. Da always acted like it was normal, though sometimes he joked that he needed a bigger lap for his bigger boy.

He fell asleep in Da's lap and didn't stir when he was carried to bed, waking to a new day surprised to find himself back in their room.

********************

Jim rolled out of bed before the alarm could go off and padded downstairs to look in on Clare before heading to the shower. This would be their first day with just the two of them in years - it was rare for the family to split up and go their separate ways. Or if they did it was usually Tommy and Clare left behind while their fathers went off to work.

Morning routine completed, Jim got the coffee maker going and headed to his daughters room. She was still tangled in the blankets, stirring a little as the noises he'd been making drifted into her consciousness.

"Good morning baby," Jim leant over and kissed her awake, then stroked her hair out of her eyes as she blinked up at him, "Time to get up."

"Do I have to?" she whined, "Tommy's not going to school today."

Prepared for this reaction Jim grinned and pulled the blankets back, making her wriggle in protest and sit up grumpily. The junior Sentinel wasn't impressed that her Guide was out of town, though Jim was resigned to it.

"Yes you do," he scolded lightly, "We agreed on this, remember? We'll go see Tommy and Uncle Blair when the holidays start, but you have to be a good girl and go to school."

"I remember," she sighed and got up, "I just…miss them."

The last part was said to the carpet and Jim reached out to pull her into his lap. He missed his Guide and Shaman deeply already too - even though he was adult enough to know that Blair would call and email them often. Even though Jim had urged his brother to take his chance to be in the spotlight the Sentinel selfishly wished the Guide had said no.

"I miss them too, baby," he kissed her hair, "But it won't be long and they needed some time together. Uncle Blair's a very important man this month - everyone wants to go and see him and listen to what he has to say."

"Why couldn't they just come here?" Clare grumbled, "Why did he have to go see them if he's so important?"

"Because there are lots of other people who are important there too. C'mon grumpy. Time to get ready. You have the bathroom while I make breakfast."

She sighed unhappily but kissed him and got off his knee, getting what she needed from her drawers and trailing off to the bathroom. Jim got up with a sigh to make breakfast. Listening to the noises in the bathroom was like a flashback - in some ways Clare was like Blair in the mornings. The young man woke slowly, but once up quickly became the whirlwind that Jim knew and loved. It hadn't been unusual for the Sentinel to lie in bed and listen to the smaller man drag himself from bed early to go running, the wide awake sounds when he returned a sharp contrast to the early morning creaks and groans.

They were putting the dirty plates in the sink when the phone rang, and Clare dashed over to the shrilling instrument to snatch it up.

"Hello? Good morning Uncle Blair!"

Jim grinned and started the washing up, listening shamelessly as his Guide greeted his daughter and they chatted together for a moment before Tommy took the phone to talk to Clare about the flight and meeting Detective Scruffy and his partner the Mountie. Tommy addressed his conversation to both Clare and Jim, sure that his Uncle was eavesdropping and comfortable with the idea as only a Guide could be.

Blair reclaimed the phone and checked in with Jim for a moment, sharing the rubber chicken remark and generally touching base with his brother before wishing them both a successful day and hanging up. Clare hugged her father happily, all gloominess forgotten, and went to get her schoolbag ready, snagging the lunch that her father had laid out for her. Jim got ready too, reflecting that the phone call had made a difference to them both. Wondering if it was a Shaman Guide trait or just something Blair knew from experience - Naomi had left her son behind a few times in the past - Jim herded his daughter out the front door and off to school.

********************

Benton Fraser sat next to Tommy Sandburg and watched in astonishment as the longhaired man that he had dismissed as a theorist did his thing.

Fraser, like all cops, had little time for the people who sat and theorised about the profession of law enforcement. It was practical experience and intelligence that led cops to the successful conclusion of a case. While the Mountie had no problem with people who were 'book smart' (unlike others in the game) he resented being told how to do his job by people who'd never been in the field.

Blair Sandburg was not one of these people. He knew - he'd been there and done that so many times he was a cop in his own right. Tommy was listening to music on Blair's Walkman and therefore missing a lot of what was said, but he was grinning up at his father happily between chapters of the book on his lap. In a way, Fraser was glad the child couldn't hear what was being said - Cascade sounded like the most dangerous city in America.

Blair's speech was centred on the unit of Major Crimes and the way they used the public of Cascade and the resources at the local university to solve their various cases as quickly as possible. While the cops weren't exactly on the streets rescuing kittens and attending yard sales they did seem to have a solid tie to the community at large. Fraser suspected that this young man was at the heart of that rather unusual occurrence and resolved to ask the anthropologist about it later.

On the other side of Tommy, Stan 'Ray' Kowalski was slumped and staring into his coffee, knowing for a fact that the assembled people here were only getting half the story. He glanced at his partner and wondered what Frase would think if Stan announced casually that they were listening to a lecture from a modern day Shaman, and a Jewish one at that. Probably make that 'hmm' noise and then pepper Sandburg with questions later.

He'd been unable to discover much about Sandburg and Ellison. Their arrest and conviction rate was a matter of public record, and the fact that they were living together had nothing to do with their lifestyle choices. Jim 'beyond the call' Ellison was no friend of the press, and stayed out of it as much as possible - though his time in Peru was also a matter of public record.

Between the two of them, Ellison and Sandburg had achieved a ninety-nine percent solution rate on their work for the Cascade PD - an almost unheard of solve rate. Since Sandburg had been employed by the PD the solve rates in Cascade had climbed for the Central Precinct - where he was based. This wasn't attributed to the consultant, though Kowalski felt it was due in major part to him. The professor's life was harder to trace. He'd travelled worldwide as a child, and come to Rainier University as a child genius. His involvement with the PD had come about through Ellison - and he'd simply stayed on.

His doctorate was based on the PD, and he'd practically severed all ties with Rainier the minute it had been awarded, going out as an independent academic. From what Kowalski could discover that was fairly rare. Most academics worked with a University in order to get the additional funding and support the halls of academia afforded. If Sandburg wanted to go on expedition he'd have to come up with the funding himself. Maybe that was what this book launch was about…

The laughter of the audience drew Kowalski back to the present and he watched the people around him applaud as Sandburg smiled and got off the podium.

"Always leave them wanting more," the man grinned as he settled beside his son, "Ok there, Tommy?"

"Yep," the boy nodded, "You looked very smart up there, Da."

"Thank you, sweetheart," Blair smiled gently, "Is the book interesting?"

"Oh yeah! Do you think I could be a wizard?" Tommy beamed and Blair laughed as the people around them got up to go to lunch. Several were waiting nearby to discuss his talk with him, and he glanced at them with a smile.

"I think you could. Ms. Duane is a very clever writer, isn't she? Ready for lunch?"

"Sure am," Tommy declared, "Constable, will you join us? And Detective Kowalski?"

"I'd be honoured to," Fraser stood, and Kowalski grinned, getting up as well at Tommy's urging. This young man was a handful. The detective had a feeling he was looking at the classic axiom of 'like father like son'.

********************

*Out*

"Tommy!" Clare squealed and dropped her father's hand to run across the lobby. Her big brother caught her with a grunt and grinned at the messy blonde hair and travel smudged face that turned up to meet him. She was grinning just as broadly as her father came over too, not quite running, but not strolling either. The family had missed each other.

"Hey sis," the nickname was a new one and Clare beamed even harder, "You ok?"

"Mmmm," Clare agreed, putting her face in Tommy's neck like her dad did with Uncle Blair. Uncle Blair and Tommy both smelled the best there - Clare had been missing them as the fresh scents faded in the loft. It had been a little disturbing in a way - she'd never had to deal with such a complete separation. She'd zoned just before they left, totally panicking her father for a moment. Uncle Simon had pulled her out using Raffey - the textures and scent were so familiar she came right on back. Uncle Simon had been surprised that it had worked, but Daddy had a thoughtful expression on his face when they got in the car. It didn't matter now, her real Guide was here.

"Missed you too," Tommy told the top of her head and then grinned up at his Uncle. From the look on his face he was scenting Tommy as well. Tommy was too used to this reaction to even bother rolling his eyes.

"Hello Uncle Jim," he put a hand out and Jim pulled both kids into him for a hug, rubbing his hands through the Sandburg curls and his daughter's messy head.

"Where's your dad?" Jim asked, happy to have the younger version of his Guide close by, though missing the Senior Sandburg. Tommy beamed up at him. Touch was usually the last sense both of his Sentinels went for - hearing had been the first, followed by sight. Taste didn't come into it and Tommy was glad - being licked by a Sentinel in public was kinda embarrassing. It had taken Da ages to stop Clare from doing that to him - in the end he'd had to teach her to link her taste and smell together.

"Da got asked to go to a special meeting! An important one! I promised to stay where the lady at the desk could see me and wait for you. Da trusted me to wait because I'm a big boy now," the pride in his accomplishment was obvious and Jim smiled down at him. Nothing like a little positive reinforcement.

"You sure are, sweetheart," he agreed immediately, "Do you think you could stay right here with Clare while I check in? Then we can go upstairs together."

"Sure, Uncle Jim!" Tommy nodded and sat down happily on the couch where he'd been waiting with a book, dragging Clare along with him. She had yet to stop drinking in his scent, and from the tightness of her grip she was a little tired as well. Neither Sentinel flew well, though Uncle Jim would have used a white noise generator for Clare. They didn't work for Uncle Jim any more and Tommy noted that his Uncle would need to rest when they got up to the rooms.

"Mmph," Clare protested and Tommy petted her back gently, waiting out the reaction. This was the first time he'd been away from his little sister and Uncle for so long. He'd loved the time spent with Da, and he'd loved showing his Da off - Tommy had taken it upon himself to introduce his father to new people, though Blair was careful to monitor which ones would react poorly to this affectation. He'd missed his Sentinel, though, and his Uncle.

Uncle Jim came back and picked Clare up. She'd gone to sleep and Tommy grinned conspiratorially at his Uncle. Uncle Jim winked and took them to the elevator while another man carried the bags. Uncle Jim's room was just opposite theirs, and the man with the bags went in while Tommy unlocked his door as well. Uncle Jim took Clare into Tommy's room and put her on Da's bed. The two men watched as Clare sighed deeply and snuggled into the pillow, relaxing even further into sleep. The Shaman Guide's scent was fresh from this morning and soothed the last of the travel stress away.

"Hey kiddo, you decent?" Kowalski's voice sounded from the hallway and Tommy bounced over to the still open door.

"Hi Ray, guess what?" he chirped happily. The brightly dressed man with wildly spiked hair grinned down at his favourite playmate. The conference would have been deadly dull without this young man's presence. Now he had a good excuse to use with Fraser when he ducked out of attending something.

"You're mad and I'm not," Ray gave the traditional answer to that particular question and Tommy rolled his eyes - the traditional response. If you couldn't hang with your little sister or your friends, Detective Scruffy was the next best thing.

"No, Uncle Jim and Clare are here!" he said in a patient voice. Kowalski looked further into the room and then came in to shake hands and do the cop version of 'hail fellow well met'. They made plans to meet up for dinner and Kowalski - who had been attracted by the open door and unusual adult voice - left. Jim grinned to himself, reflecting that in a hotel full of cops his children were more than safe.

Feeling the long journey catch up with him, Jim closed the door and then joined Clare on the bed. Tommy climbed up too, making them into a 'puppy pile' as Jim let the scent of his Guides draw him into sleep.

********************

Kowalski looked up as a frowning Jim Ellison ushered his children into the dining room. His partner wasn't with him, which might have been the reason for the scowl.

"Hey, Ellison!" Kowalski waved them over to the table that he and Fraser were sharing - it was larger than they needed on purpose. The Sandburgs had organised to eat with their friends, even though Sandburg Senior was in popular demand as a dinner companion. He was the conference's rising star - his sessions were always standing room only, and people went out of their way to be introduced to him.

Blair hadn't let it go to his head. He was the same person that Kowalski had known in Cascade - a hard working, practical person with a sense of humour warped in all the right places. He put himself forward when he saw the need; otherwise he was happy to let someone else shine. Not the attitude you'd expect of the 'man of the hour'.

Tommy bounced up into his usual seat next to Kowalski while Jim helped Clare into the seat opposite. Fraser was given a very piercing look - which startled Kowalski. Everyone got along with Fraser - he was such an easygoing guy. Fraser gave Ellison an equally piercing look and Kowalski shifted uneasily. Ellison was a good man, but if he took exception to Ben there'd be some reckoning - no one dissed his partner.

"Problem?" Kowalski's sharp tone drew the piercing gaze to himself and Ellison sat down quietly.

"Do you know where this meeting Sandburg went to was being held? He's not back yet," Ellison said in a quiet voice. Tommy looked up at his friend hopefully.

"Da didn't tell me," he sighed, "He promised to be back for dinner, but we slept through the first sitting."

"No, he didn't say anything to me," Kowalski shook his head, ruffling the fly away curls of his young friend. He looked over at his partner, "Frase, did the Doc say anything to you?"

"No," Fraser frowned, his lips tight against the single word, "I've not seen Blair today."

"It's probably running overtime," Jim suggested when he caught the first scent of uneasiness from Tommy, "Never mind, he'll be along when it's done. What will you have for dinner, Clare? Tommy?"

The menu was a successful distraction for the children, though Kowalski couldn't dismiss the uneasy tension in the back of his neck. It was there all through dinner in the slightly off responses from Fraser and the tight skin around Ellison's eyes. The two men didn't react well to each other, though Ellison was friendly enough with Ray and the children. Fraser was also oddly uncommunicative.

Ellison left with the children after dinner, telling Kowalski that they were headed back upstairs to their rooms. Kowalski promised to pass the message on and watched the family enter the lift before turning to his partner with a frown.

"Perhaps we should inquire at the desk about this meeting," Fraser was rubbing his eyebrow in thought and Kowalski reached out to put his hand on his friend's wrist. Fraser straightened up in response and Ray smiled. His partner was not the kind to just reach out and touch someone - even if that was what he needed. Kowalski often had the overwhelming urge to just reach out and give the guy a bear hug; like he had the day they first met.

"Good idea, Frase," Kowalski agreed, shaking himself from his thoughts, "C'mon."

They headed for the front desk. If this didn't work then they'd look for the organisers. They weren't in Chicago, so they couldn't put out an unofficial APB, but there were enough cops and other people here to send out an alert if things turned out to be screwy.

********************

Jim woke disappointed. He was still alone, despite the fact that Clare and Tommy were sharing Blair's bed with him. Blair had not returned, and Jim had been too tired from the stress of flying with an untrained Sentinel to stay awake looking for him.

Jim eased himself out of the bed, careful not to wake the young Sentinel/Guide pair sleeping in a tangle on the bed. He washed up quickly and then changed his clothes before going back to wake his son and daughter. Tommy looked for his father first thing, and his little face crumpled in dismay when he realised that Da was still not back.

"Uncle Jim, where's Da?" there was the beginnings of fear in the young voice, piercing Jim's heart. He sat on the bed and pulled the boy in for a hug, winding his arm around his daughter as well.

"He's not back yet. Maybe he got back too late and didn't want to wake us. We'll check to see if he left a message for us somewhere, ok?" he promised, rocking the children in his lap and generally trying to project the comforting vibes that his brother managed so effortlessly. Something must have worked because Tommy calmed down and agreed to go wash up before breakfast, taking Clare with him.

A quick call to the front desk revealed no messages from Blair, though Kowalski had left one for him - to meet him at breakfast urgently. Jim decided the detective must have some news for him and took the children to the restaurant for breakfast. Fraser and his partner were there already, and Fraser offered to sit with the children while Kowalski and Jim filled plates for everyone. They were in line for the buffet when Kowalski briefed Jim.

"The organisers and the hotel staff all have no idea of where this meeting was supposed to take place, or even who it's with. Your partners a smart man, so whoever it was they had to have had some decent credentials to get him to come along. I've put the word out among the conference attendees and they're keeping an eye out for anything unusual. So far no one has remembered seeing your partner after his last talk yesterday."

"Damn," Jim sighed, "I've got a real bad feeling about this."

"Anything like the one that had the Doc lead me and your captain halfway across Cascade when you were hurt that time?" Kowalski's gaze was knowing and Jim acknowledged it with a nod.

"Nothing like that - he's the one that gets the clear vibes, I just get the possibilities. Right now it's possible he's held under duress somewhere - but I don't know where. Or why. Or who. Damnit!"

"Easy there," Kowalski said softly, "Keep it together - the kids need you to focus. Have you got someone they can go to? It might be a good idea if you can get someone out to take care of them or something."

"I'll call my dad. And I'd better call our boss - he'll need to know," Jim sighed and they turned back to the table with full plates for the people waiting, "The kids aren't going to like this - not at all."

Clare looked up at him with a frown as they reached the table and Jim gave her a warning look. She knew better than to listen in on his conversations with another adult - it had been a hard fight, but she had eventually accepted this restriction. Oddly enough Jim and Blair had totally swapped personalities in this aspect of the young Sentinel's training. Jim had sat her down and explained it patiently - the right to privacy, the fact that adults sometimes talked about things that children shouldn't hear and the way she'd spoil all the surprises that adults liked to prepare for their kids. Clare had agreed with him the whole way, promised to behave, gave him all the right answers and been sent off to play with Tommy while her proud father beamed at his brother. She'd done it again the next day and Jim had once more sat down to explain the problem once again, adding that being a Sentinel was a trust, not a birthright. He'd held her hand while she nodded and agreed with what he was saying.

They'd caught her at it again the same day. Blair had watched her start the same snow job on her father as before and lost his temper, getting angry and telling the junior Sentinel that until she proved her trustworthiness to him again he would carry and use a white noise generator. He'd also grounded her for a week and sent her to her room. One day of being deprived of her familiy's heartbeats and voices had her truly repentant. She only extended her hearing with her Guide's approval - and Blair's consent as well. Tommy had been deeply impressed by his father's rare display of temper and made sure to only let Clare extend her hearing when they were training together - in the form of games that Blair had okayed - or if they were looking for a member of the family.

Clare blinked at her father and then bridled. She was worried about Uncle Blair, but she hadn't listened to what he was saying with Detective Scruffy. She never again wanted to live in the awful silence that her breach of trust had created. Her Daddy ruffled her hair in apology and then leaned over to kiss her temple.

"Sorry baby," he whispered in her ear and she nodded, looking over at her Guide's unhappy face.

"Daddy, where is Uncle Blair?" she asked when her father sat down next to her. He sighed and looked over at Tommy. The junior Guide was also watching him unhappily.

"We're not sure," he replied gently, "We're looking for him, ok? I'm going to call Poppy to come and visit while we look."

"Can't you find him?" there was a tear in Tommy's eyes, "Please Uncle Jim, you have to look for him."

"I will sweetheart, but I want to be sure that you are being taken care of," Jim got up and went to kneel at Tommy's side, "It's all going to be ok, I promise. Da will be ok too."

Tommy buried his head in Jim's shoulder for a moment and then straightened up. He touched Jim's chest, his eyes shining with the same look his father got when he had an idea.

"Find him Uncle Jim! You just have to look!"

Jim put a hand over the one that was pressed to his heart and smiled as best he could.

"I will, sweetheart - and the people here will help me look ok?" his smile faded when Tommy shook his head adamantly, tears spilling over his cheeks as he tried to Guide his father's Sentinel in the right path.

"You look!" he insisted, his voice catching, "Look!"

"Shh," Jim pulled him close again and Tommy hit his shoulder with a clenched fist, not hard enough to bruise, but hard enough to be felt. His muffled insistence that Jim look was audible to Kowalski and Fraser, who exchanged looks while Clare got down and went to comfort her Guide too.

********************

Breakfast was declared a disaster and Tommy and Clare were returned to Clare's room. Jim didn't want to risk upsetting Clare with the fading scent of their Shaman Guide. Tommy curled up on the bed and refused to talk to his uncle, angry that he couldn't make himself understood. After a while Uncle Jim went to talk to the PD and Clare promised to stay with her Guide and not open the door to anyone except her Daddy.

She went and sat on the bed next to Tommy and rested a hand on his back.

"I'm sorry Tommy," she whispered, "I wish I could help."

Tommy sat up abruptly, startling her. His short curls were on end and he had a wild look in his eyes. He reminded Clare of her Uncle - he would get this look on his face too, when he was in the midst of pulling some rabbit out of his hat. He'd looked like Tommy when he'd banned her from listening to other people's conversations and condemned her to silence.

"Tommy?" Clare asked nervously, drawing back a little. Tommy fixed his eyes on her and grinned.

"You can help!" he exclaimed, "You can help me to look!"

"Tommy, I promised to…"

"Stay with me! If I go out then you have to as well! Please, Clare - I want my Da!" Tommy hopped up and brushed his hands over his face and clothes. Clare got up too, indecision in her face. She wanted to help, and she wanted to see her Uncle and family Patriarch as well. At the same time she didn't want to get into trouble with her own Daddy.

"Please, Clare," Tommy begged softly, "We have to try."

Clare hesitated and then caved, unable to deny her Guide this one thing. She nodded and put on the jacket he was holding out to her, and then took his hand. Tommy smiled and kissed her cheek before leading the way to the door, explaining what he wanted her to do as they walked.

"Ok," he said firmly, "Da and I were in the lobby and this man in a business suit came up and spoke to him. They spoke quietly for a moment and then Da came and told me to wait for you and Uncle Jim. You'll have to try and find Da's scent or something."

"I don't know, Tommy," Clare frowned, "It's pretty busy down there."

"I just want you to try," Tommy told her, "It's ok if you can't. Besides, we'll go through the door that they went through - it might be easier there."

"Ok," Clare sighed and they walked through the lobby quickly, heads held up like they were supposed to be there. No one stopped them, and neither child could see Jim or Detective Scruffy and his partner so they were fairly safe.

Turning left through the lobby the children went through a connecting door to a series of small conference rooms. This area was not as heavily used as the lobby and Tommy slowed right down, letting Clare sniff as they walked along the broad corridor. She stopped near the fire exit.

"There's a funny smell here," she told her Guide, "And Uncle Blair's scent is here too. It doesn't go any further."

Tommy bent and looked at the fire door carefully.

"This is broken. It won't set the alarm off if we open it. Maybe Da went through here," he glanced up and down the hall and stretched out a hand to the door to open it.

"Wait!" Clare grabbed his arm, "It goes outside! It's the middle of winter Tommy. We don't have a map and we'll get lost out there. Lets go up and find Daddy. Maybe he can find out more than we have - he's stronger than me."

"Only when Da's around," Tommy frowned, "And he won't listen to me. He only listens to Da now."

"We still have to tell him," Clare insisted and grabbed her Guide's hand, "There might be clues here that the police need to see. We can't mess it up!"

She dragged her big brother back to the lobby and over to the front desk where her father was standing, arguing with the person behind the desk.

"Daddy!" Clare called, and Jim turned immediately. His face cleared of worry, and then his jaw clenched. He strode quickly towards his children, anger and relief on his face in equal measure. He grabbed Clare's hand the moment he was beside them and reached for Tommy too.

"Where were you?" his voice was low and angry, "I told you to stay…"

"Together," Tommy interrupted firmly, finishing the sentence, "You didn't say we had to stay in the room. We found a clue Uncle Jim - the fire escape down there has been messed up and Clare can smell Da there, as well as something else."

"Hey, you found them," Kowalski's voice was relieved as he came up behind Jim, "Where were they?"

"There's something they want to show me," Jim said, "Hurry up you two. Poppy's on his way - he'll be here after lunch. Until then, I'm not letting you out of my sight."

Clare led the way while Tommy spoke in a low voice, telling his Uncle what he had asked his Sentinel to do and what she had found. Jim's grip didn't loosen so much as a fraction as the children stopped near the door and the adult Sentinel sent his own senses out to check.

"Chloroform," Fraser said in surprise behind them and Tommy and Clare both turned to glance at him.

"Is that what it's called," Clare mused and filed the name and the scent away, nodding to Tommy when she had. No one in the corridor found it unusual for the Mountie to identify the scent - after all, in the Sandburg Ellison family it was a normal occurrence for someone to have heightened senses.

"I'll take your word for it," Kowalski told his partner, "Anything else?"

"No," Jim said shortly and pushed the door open with the back of his hand, letting the cold air blast in. They couldn't afford to delay now - the trail was being obliterated with every passing moment.

"Do up your jackets kids. Let's go."

********************

The trail led along the alley to the curb. Jim bit back a bad word, glancing at his children. Fraser stepped around him and started looking around carefully, shadowed by Kowalski, who was muttering something about 'licking things'.

They watched incredulously as Fraser got down on the ground and started poring over the sludge there. Kowalski looked over his shoulder at them and came back; a little uneasy at letting these outsiders watch his partner work. They were used to each other and knew that Fraser's skills would get them the results they needed. Ray just didn't know how to explain this to two grieving children and one peeved cop.

"Give me your cell phone," Jim said before Kowalski could speak, letting go of Tommy long enough to fish his own out and swap them over, "Once the kids are with my Dad I'll call you and we'll meet up."

The Sentinel of the Great City had finally pinpointed the tension he was feeling around the Chicago flatfoot and his partner - the Sentinel of the Windy City had not been formally introduced by the Shaman Guide. He nodded once to Ray and then took the children back inside, cutting through the lobby to the valet stand, where the rental car he'd arranged for was retrieved. He buckled the children in and headed for the airport.

William Ellison was flying out in the corporate jet - so Jim and the children had the waiting area to themselves. Clare stood against the window, watching all the activity outside with wide eyes. Tommy sat slumped next to his uncle.

"I'm sorry kiddo," Jim sighed, feeling that he'd failed Tommy somehow. Big blue eyes looked up at him sadly.

"It's ok, Uncle Jim," Tommy sighed, "It was a stupid idea anyway."

"Huh?" Jim frowned, "You got us a clue - a good place to start!"

"Not the search in the hotel - the looking," Tommy tried to explain, "You know, when you look for dad without going anywhere? He has a name for it."

Jim frowned and thought hard, trying to figure out just how Tommy wanted him to stay in one place and…

"Oh!" Jim exclaimed, remembering the way Tommy had touched his chest above his heart. The young Guide had wanted him to use the bond to locate the Shaman. Unfortunately Jim wasn't sure he could do that without Blair to Guide him through it first - and he'd never tried to spirit walk on his own. The Sentinel's visions came at the whim of the spirit plane, not at the Sentinel's command.

"I don't know how to do that without your Da," Jim sighed, "That's his area of expertise."

Tommy sighed again and pulled away, leaving Jim to sit alone and going to stand next to his young Sentinel. Jim was left with the unmistakable feeling that he'd failed and thus disappointed his nephew. Frustrated, he sat back and folded his arms. Blair was the mystical one in the family; he was the Shaman after all. With his senses Jim tended to be grounded more firmly in the external world - visions and spirit guides only came to him in dire emergencies.

And yet, Jim reflected, there wasn't an emergency much more dire than this. His Shaman Guide was missing, and had been for more than twenty-four hours. His juniors were distressed and vulnerable while he was torn between protecting them and searching for his Guide. Until they were protected he was forced to allow a Sentinel he'd never met before conduct a search for his missing soul mate. If there was ever a time for visions, this was it. Tommy had even told him to try - so why wasn't it happening?

Because you're not trying, you're being stubborn, Blair's voice echoed in Jim's head and he sat up, startled. It was the exasperated tone of a tired man, and Jim cringed at the idea that he was blocking off his only hope of finding the man who was more than family to him.

Settling once more, his hands loose and comfortable upon his knees, Jim took slow, calm breaths; centring himself as best he could in the turmoil of the airport. He let the doors of the lounge become barriers, blocking out the people in the airport and the heartbeats of his children his anchor. The world quietened and slipped away slowly, to be replaced with the jungle of his visions.

Jim looked around, and then cast his senses for the wolf. When he didn't find it, he headed down the well-travelled path to the temple he knew was waiting for him. He picked up traces of Blair on the path, but they were old - his Shaman Guide had not journeyed here for a while. The jaguar waited on the steps of the temple, sprawled insolently next to its stone counterpart.

"Where is my Guide?" Jim demanded of it, and got no response beyond a lash of its tail. Jim frowned and looked around the clearing, then started up the steps of the temple. His spirit guide got up and strolled behind him, walking almost on his heels. Inside, the temple reflected the one in Mexico and Jim found himself standing next to the pools. The jaguar purred and nudged him forward so he could see into the cool, still water.

For a moment there was nothing in the pool, then its surface rippled and changed. Inside he could now see a small, dark room. There was weak light filtering from a high window in one wall - the grimy glass was streaked with years of filth and looked like it wouldn't open without a brick being thrown through it. Frowning, Jim leaned his palms on the side of the pool and looked closer. The room wasn't as empty as he'd first thought. In the corner, stripped to his thin boxers, curled the Shaman Guide. There were bruises and welts covering his body - making Jim's blood boil in anger. He was shivering - actually it was beyond that stage, he was so cold he shook with palsy. There was blood from a split eyebrow and that eye was swollen shut. Fevered eyes opened to stare at Jim glassily. A wildly shaking hand lifted and pointed to the wall behind him. Obediently, Jim looked and frowned. A word had been scrawled onto the wall in the dust. It made no sense to him and he turned to ask Blair what it meant. The sound of his voice broke the trance and Jim opened his eyes to see his father kneeling in front of him while Simon held Tommy and Clare.

The look in Tommy's eyes was reward in itself.

********************

Simon followed as Jim steamed out of the airport to his rental car while William Ellison headed for the company limo and the hotel with his grandchildren.

"Jim! Slow down dammit!" Simon yelled, almost running to keep up. Jim slowed a little and Simon grabbed his arm.

"Look, it's bad enough when Sandburg goes on one of his little side trips, but when you join the act…" Simon began in a hurried tone. His best detective laughed humourlessly, and the police captain shivered at the sound.

"I was taking side trips first - remember?" he asked his boss, who climbed in and buckled up while Jim left the car park in his usual fashion. When Simon could work up enough spit to moisten his mouth, he spoke again.

"You haven't zoned for years, Jim and you know it," he retorted. Jim grunted and fished in his pocket, tossing the phone he'd retrieved to Simon.

"Call my cell phone," he told the captain, "Kowalski has it. His Sentinel is tracking Sandburg's abductors."

"Shit!" Simon yelped, "Kowalski's a Guide? He has a Sentinel?!"

"Yeah - I figured it out just before we split up. It's ok Simon - this is one of the good guys," Jim reassured the dark skinned man, "It's not another Alex - though we're both setting off each others radars. Once Blair's safe he'll fix it."

"And how the hell do you know that?" Simon scowled while dialling. He caught Jim's shrug from the corner of his eye and sighed. Life was never dull with the Sandburg-Ellison family. He just hoped he'd be around to see more of it. Blair had been missing long enough for his abductors to do some serious damage if they were inclined that way. His loss would be a devastating blow to the family - including the members from the PD.

The phone was answered - not with the typical cops bark - but with a complaint.

"Dammit Ellison, what took ya?"

"It's Banks," Simon identified himself to Kowalski, "What have you got?"

"We're in the warehouse district - can't these people find a better place to hide? My partner tracked them as far as this, but the trail is confused. We're going to need more than the two of us here."

"Give me the address," Simon told him. He relayed it to Jim, who estimated ten minutes to get there, and then relayed Jim's terse order to the Chicago detective.

"Find out what Umbro means."

********************

Kowalski was slouched against a wall when Jim pulled up, with his partner standing almost at attention beside him. The neat red uniform was certainly an eye catcher under the navy coat and Simon winced at the thought of taking a man into action in that colour. Before he could suggest that the Mountie change - or at least remove the tunic - Jim was asking if Kowalski had found out the meaning of Umbro.

"It's a brand name - they make sports clothes," Kowalski replied straight away and jerked his head at his partner. Jim took the gesture to mean that the information came from Fraser rather than extensive research, but was willing to let it stand.

"Do they have a warehouse here?" he looked around, trying not to let the sounds and smells overwhelm him. This part of the warehouse area was busy and noisome. He wondered how Fraser was coping without Kowalski's active touch.

"I haven't seen one, but we can find out," Kowalski replied, swapping his phone back and hitting a memory button.

"The Yellow Pages?" Fraser asked in amusement and Kowalski rolled his eyes.

"It seemed like a good idea after that last time…"

He stopped speaking to his partner and started speaking to the phone instead, turning away slightly to concentrate. They waited in silence, with Jim looking around keenly, trying to get a feel for the area so his senses would settle. They kept drifting, caught by one thing or another as they tried to locate his missing brother. His protective instincts were working overtime after the vision. Blair was sick and hurt and needed him…

Simon's hand on his wrist recalled Jim to the present world before he could get too deep into the zone.

"Stay with us Ellison - I don't want to have to explain this crap to Kowalski and his partner. That is Sandburg's job. So let's stay with it and find him, ok," Simon's growl was too low for normal hearing, though Fraser of course heard it. A look of puzzlement crossed his face, but he chose not to say anything, waiting instead for his partner to finish his phone call.

"Got it," Kowalski crowed, "Come on!"

He led the way at a jog, following the road signs and the directions he'd scrawled on the back of a receipt. Jim kept close reign on his senses, not wanting to delay the rescue with a zone out or spike.

The Umbro warehouse was busy - forklifts sped about with crates and boxes and the reception area had two or three drivers waiting in it, complaining about the coffee, the weather, their pay and their sports team. The noise nearly overwhelmed Jim again, until Simon's touch restored his balance. Fraser was rubbing his eyebrow and Kowalski frowned at him, before patting his wrist and leaning over the counter to ask a couple of quick questions that Simon couldn't hear and Jim obviously didn't catch. Five minutes of 'conversation' in that racket and Kowalski was leading them back out again, not stopping until they were off the premises and around the corner.

"Ok," he took a deep breath and ruffled a hand through his hair. Jim caught the scent of whatever the Chicago detective used in his hair and watched as Fraser relaxed when the smell reached him.

"We lucked out. Umbro moved to that warehouse about two months ago because the old one was too small and needed more money spent on it to refit it than the company was willing to pay. Because it's in such bad repair the receptionist thinks that it's still empty. My guess is that whoever has Sandburg has taken him there."

"You got the address?" Simon asked and Kowalski gave him a 'duh' look and nodded.

"It's not in easy walking distance," he told them, "We should head back to the car."

********************

"How do you want to play this?" Simon asked as Jim followed the directions from the back seat.

"Whattya mean?" Kowalski asked, "We find him, we call the cops, we get him out."

"How do you explain finding him? How do we explain that we knew he was in the Umbro warehouse? We asked for directions, for crying out loud!" Simon didn't hide his exasperation. Were these two that forward with the whole Sentinel thing that they never bothered to hide it?

"Ellison's informant gave us the info - right Ellison? I mean - that is how you found them. Frase and I tracked the car to the right district and then you came up with the rest - turn here Ellison," Kowalski frowned at Simon and the police captain looked over at the other half of his best team.

"Jim? You got an informant out this way?" Simon asked and Jim nodded tensely, not wanting to get into an argument about cover stories right now. He was watching for any suspicious traffic and pedestrians, not wanting to give away their presence to Blair's captors.

"Ya know, it's kinda weird…" Kowalski mused, "I mean why has there been no claim for ransom or anything? Why take the doc and not make any demands or try and contact anyone?"

"You're assuming that Dr. Sandburg has not simply been killed and his body hidden," Fraser said quietly, "It is a possibility we would do well to consider."

"He's not dead," Jim snapped, "I'd know if he was."

Fraser looked as though he wanted to pursue the matter but his partner shook his head in warning. Jim pulled up to the curb when directed and they sat quietly in the car, looking around at the area. This was much seedier - the warehouses here in need of repair, with a few obviously close to being outright condemned. There was little foot traffic, though cars and trucks went along the street on a regular basis, enough so that their car didn't stand out.

"That one," Kowalski pointed and Simon reached over to Jim at the same time as the man from Chicago. Jim felt the double tingle of Guide Touch and his senses went flying almost without his permission.

"He's alone. In the basement at the back," Jim blurted and Kowalski let go, fishing for his cell phone and calling it in to the local PD through the 911 systems. Jim was out of the car and prowling already, Fraser and Simon close behind. The doors were locked, and the windows were firmly boarded up. There was a dumpster under the fire escape though, and Fraser opened it, discovering Blair's clothes inside. Jim and Simon got up on the dumpster and then onto the fire escape, followed by Fraser and Kowalski.

It was but a few minutes work to get to the top and break open the door on the roof before heading down inside the building. The late afternoon sun didn't penetrate the grimy windows, making the interior almost completely dark to unenhanced eyes. Simon latched onto Jim's jacket and a glance showed Kowalski trailing along with his hand in Fraser's sam browne.

"Watch it," Kowalski said softly, "This place is falling apart. We don't want anyone going down the stairs the wrong way."

No one replied, though Jim sent his hearing ahead of them cautiously, listening to the structural creaks and groans for possible trouble spots.

The basement was as filthy as in his vision and Jim hissed in anger as he hurried to the corner where his unconscious Shaman Guide lay. Simon bit off an exclamation and stripped off his coat hurriedly, passing it over so they could warm their consultant up. The others added theirs.

Despite Jim's soft urging, Blair's eyes didn't open - and there was no other response either. Air whistled in and out of his throat harshly, and a harsh, bubbling cough disturbed his rest for a moment. It put the hairs on the back of Simon's neck up to hear it.

"He's been beaten pretty badly," Jim reported, a trace of anguish in his voice, "He's hypothermic and there is fluid in his lungs."

"Can we move him?" Fraser asked urgently, "We're about to have company - and I don't believe it's the local PD."

Jim's head snapped up as he heard the footsteps that Fraser had already pinpointed. He swore softly and Simon helped him bundle Blair up and together they lifted him off the floor. Fraser and Kowalski led the way, bypassing the stairs they'd come down in favour of retreating further into the basement, finding cover in a prefab office with no glass in the windows.

The male voices that swore long and loud were thickly accented in the peculiar patios of gang speak. Simon turned a hand enough to grasp Jim's wrist, preventing the Sentinel from shifting his Guide into Simon's arms and heading out for vengeance.

Loud voices from upstairs and gunfire announced the arrival of back up.

********************

*Leave*

Blair opened his eyes to the warmth of the loft and smiled a little. The afternoon sun was streaming through the windows off Jim's balcony and onto the couch where he lay propped up and covered by a thick quilt. The pneumonia had proven especially difficult to beat, and traces of it still remained, as evidenced by the lingering barking cough and exhaustion.

He didn't remember much from the time he was chloroformed to waking in the hospital. Jim had told him that a few of the local gangs had come up with the not so brilliant idea that it might be nice to have an expert on police procedure and tactics at their beck and call - hence his abduction. They'd managed to blackmail an attendee into decoying him to the corridor where they waited and the rest was history.

At the hoarse question 'why me' Jim's face had taken on a bitter smile.

"Because you are the conference's rising star," his touch had been tender as he stroked Blair's curls back from his face, "Who better to predict the police' next move than the top state profiler?"

"Not your fault. Probably would have gone anyway - just not with Tommy," the cryptic message had been the last thing Blair said for three days as his body once more slipped into a near coma to fight the infection ravaging his lungs. Jim had plenty of time to figure it out. He had urged Blair to go to the conference, wanting his partner to gain some much-deserved recognition. If he hadn't also insisted Blair take his son so the family could meet up later, no one would have realised Blair was missing until his next scheduled speech at the end of the conference. It assuaged some of Jim's irrational guilt - though he wouldn't be an Ellison if he hadn't felt something.

Tommy appeared around the end of the couch, looking at his father anxiously, smiling when he realised Blair was awake again. He came to sit next to his father, one hand rubbing Blair's chest, the other tucked into the one Blair held out to him.

"Feel better, Da?" Tommy asked in a quiet voice and Blair nodded.

"Much," he husked, "With all the care and attention my family is giving me I'll be better in no time."

"Uh huh," Tommy shook his head, "You have to rest for a long, long time now. Uncle Jim said we aren't going to let you do anything for at least three months so you'll really really get better."

"Oh he did, did he?" Blair asked grimly, gathering himself to put that notion into an early grave.

"Yes, he did," Jim's voice said softly. He leaned over the edge of the couch, clearly using his senses to check his Guide out, "Like you said with the appendix, Chief - if you push things too early, you could relapse and take twice as long to get better."

"Advice from a wise man," Clare added with a chuckle, rounding the couch to lean against her Guide. Blair read the stress and concern in each face and gave in, not wanting to burden them further. He could play possum for a while and truth told, he did feel a bit like a wet noodle at the moment.

"Can't argue with that then," he sighed, "Just wait, though. I'm a very demanding patient. And right now I'm demanding snuggles."

The children giggled and complied happily, and Jim reached down to cup Blair's temple in his hand. As long as Blair was there to put demands on the family - that was all that mattered.

End

This is the last one in the Tommy series for a while - I'll start another one some time next year.

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