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.

Cascade

by Shedoc

Jim Ellison just knew that whatever was going on in Simon's office was sure to spell bad news for him or his friend. Maybe it was the paranoia that Blair had accused him of only last night kicking in, but right now Jim was hypersensitive to any threat to his partner - no pun intended. The foul weather that lashed the building was a perfect match for Jim's mood of late - unpredictable and unpleasant unless you were prepared. Thank God Blair seemed impervious to it and knew when to duck out of the storm - as it were.

Jim watched his colleagues bend to their work with a diligence that was not unusual, just more obvious as they sought to get out of the line of fire. When Simon blew his top the results were often spectacular - unless you were in the firing line. Whoever this guy visiting Simon was he wasn't the bearer of good news; you didn't need to be a Sentinel to figure that out.

Blair was sitting close to hand - his patient Guide was still being 'mother henned' to within an inch of his life as they struggled to overcome the last of the fountains legacy - and typing reports with a casual air that Jim wished he could achieve. Paperwork - as Blair put it - sucked, and Jim frequently took his frustration out on the recipient of that paperwork - namely the computer. This had sparked rumors that he was computer illiterate. As long as it meant Jim wasn't asked to help anyone else with their computer tasks Jim didn't discourage the idea. Blair knew, but chose not to rat him out in favor of blackmail material.

Jim winced as Simon bellowed for them and stood, waiting for Blair as his Guide sprang up lightly and walked calmly to their boss's office. Blair might not get paid for what he did around the PD, but Simon was his boss none the less. Blair didn't really see it that way, though he treated Simon with the same respect for a superior officer Jim did during work hours. When they were off duty all bets were off and Jim thought Simon enjoyed the feisty comments and sparring he got from Blair. No one in the outfit was a match for the 'Professor' when it came to IQ points, but Blair was always telling them there was more than one kind of smart.

Blair and Simon exchanged that Look as Jim made sure Blair was comfortable and safe and Jim bit down on the impulse to call them on it. He knew he was being over protective, but couldn't shut the impulse off that easily. His Guide had been dead dammit - and Jim had betrayed his trust by withdrawing the protection his Guide had so desperately needed.

Blair forced him to discuss this night after night in an effort to heal the guilt Jim felt and was making some headway - the Shaman was good at what he did - but it was slow going.

Blair soothed Jim as Simon asked about his former girlfriend and the cop got tenser anyway - this kind of visit was never a good thing even if his partner couldn't sense they were leading up to a death announcement. And from Simon's reaction it wasn't just a death involved here - there was something else. Jim was distracted for a moment by Blair's crack about tolerance, but they were called back to reality with a few simple words.

Jim hated it when he was right. Blair was curled up in his chair, almost in the fetal position, whispering softly to himself - too quiet even for Jim's hearing. Simon had gone for water and Jim did the only legal thing he could in this situation - put a hand on Blair's shoulder and blocked the strangers' view. Shooting the guy just wasn't an option right now. Eventually the words got loud enough to be heard and Jim winced at the fear and pain in his best friend's voice. Jim knew the fear came from his Guide's perception of him. Jim valued loyalty and had more than once commented on the importance of family and doing the right thing by them. Blair's words confirmed what he was thinking.

"I swear … if I'd known I would have followed her to New York. Jim you gotta believe me I didn't abandon them…"

"Easy, Sandburg," Simon broke in before Jim could even start to reply, "We both know you'd have done right by them. She didn't tell you - it's not your fault."

"C'mon Chief," Jim cajoled, "I know how you feel about this kind of thing. I know you'd never abandon your kid."

No way would the gentle man who'd always wondered about his father's identity put another child through the same pain. Jim was conscious that even though he didn't actually like his father that much it was a comfort to know who the man who helped create him was. It gave him something to compare himself to - not always a good thing until Blair had stepped in and smacked him over the head for being stupid. His friend was great at that - he could look at Jim's angst from the outside and point out another possibility that Jim might have discarded if left to himself.

Not to mention the fact that sometimes it took a smack over the head to get Jim thinking rationally again. He was just happy that someone cared enough about him to do it.

Jim felt a flash of pride as Blair took a deep breath and took control of the situation. In a matter of minutes they were walking out of Simon's office with all the information they'd need and the day off as well.

Jim figured it was time for the Sentinel and the Guide to part ways and was determined to make the split as painless for Blair as possible. Life had given Blair a second chance and Jim was evidently not a part of the package. There was no point in prolonging the pain with his own desires and needs. It was time to put Blair first.

Jim watched Blair go take a shower and leaned back. They were still together. Blair was still his Guide - had never even considered breaking away. Jim shook his head and wondered what he'd done in a previous life to deserve such good fortune. And how the hell had Blair managed to write two different theses at the same time? Jim was constantly amazed at the smarts his Guide had.

True, the future was uncertain, but he could deal with that - it always was to a degree. And he'd meant what he'd said about the job: Blair should worry about that later, because by the time the thesis was finished Jim might have a place for him at the PD.

He already works so hard there and a lot of the people at the PD consult him - not just the guys in Major Crimes, Jim mused as the hot water pipes hummed in the bathroom and the rain lashed the balcony. It was warm in the loft though, and comfortable.

We always say he's not a cop but he is one of us … and the courts already recognize him as a solid witness in police matters. He takes all the crap from the job - the long hours, the injuries, the abuse. He just doesn't get paid. Surely the department can employ him as a consultant or something. That way we can avoid the gun carrying issue and he can stay with me. And if he's a consultant maybe I can get a little more protection for him. At the very least he'll get the same medical benefits.

The water in the bathroom switched off and Jim went to deposit their empty juice containers in the recycling, leaning against the kitchen counter as he continued to mentally rehearse the arguments he would put to Simon. Surely between the two of them they could swing this?

Blair came out and grinned at his friend, who was so deep in thought Blair could step right into his personal space without reaction from the other man. It wasn't a zone out - Jim was muttering under his breath and grimacing - so Blair just stood there and waited patiently for the other man to notice him.

"Chief?" Jim looked puzzled and got the patented Sandburg grin in reply.

"Whatcha doing?" Blair asked, comfortable in Jim's space and Jim grinned back. Things might change - but their friendship would last it out. No one else was allowed this close - it felt right to be standing together like this. Not sexual - they didn't swing that way no matter what the rumors were saying - but kind of like coming home.

"Got lost in the Sandburg Zone," Jim shrugged and received a whap on the arm in reply, "Uh, have you thought about what you want me to tell the guys in the bullpen?"

Blair nodded and stepped back out of Jim's space. Jim felt chilled for a moment but let it go - Blair had needs too and Jim was determined to recognize them.

"I'll e-mail them tonight - it will be on their screens tomorrow," Blair replied, "I'm not ashamed - I didn't do anything wrong here. And they're my friends. They have a right to know what's going on, especially if it means I won't be there any more."

Jim ached at the heartfelt pain in Blair's voice and put a hand on his friend's shoulder. The muscles were tense despite the hot shower and he turned Blair around gently to start a shoulder massage.

"Don't worry about that now - just concentrate on Thomas, ok? Just like we agreed," Jim counseled and felt Blair relax into the massage, sighing in pleasure and drooping a little. Jim patted the shoulders he was rubbing and let go, "I'm gonna make a grocery run. Do you need any travel supplies?"

"Nope," Blair grinned and went to get his laptop. Jim collected his keys and jacket and headed out.

When he got back the laptop was humming on the table and Blair was in his room, packing by the sounds of it. He hurried out to help Jim with the bags and they unpacked in companionable silence. Blair rummaged around the kitchen a little and nodded to himself when done.

"I'll make some chili for dinner," Blair announced, "The e-mail is on the screen if you want to read it."

Jim went and sat down, clearing away the screen saver with a touch.

The e-mail was still up, though it had been sent. It was addressed to everyone in Major Crimes and cc'd to Simon and Jim.

Dear all,

I got some amazing news today that I want to share.

I'm a dad

My son is in New York

My ex died recently and left me custody

I'm heading to New York to go get him and I'll see you all when I get back. Jim or Simon will pass on any details. (Thanks guys)

Hairboy.

A short and to the point statement that left out so much - namely how he felt and what he was going to do next.

"Did things go ok with your committee, Chief?" Jim closed the program and went to lean on the counter opposite Blair. He loved watching his roommate cook - the guy was a whirlwind yet graceful with it. For all the teasing Jim gave about Blair's ability to make a mess, Jim didn't mind that much. After he'd evicted his best friend from the loft Jim had come to realize how much he hated tidiness when it meant that Blair was gone.

"Yep," Blair nodded, "They made a few 'it's about time' noises, but we're ready to go at the end of the semester. I'll take the laptop with me and work on the first few chapters at night once the kid is in bed."

"The kid? Seems a little impersonal Chief," Jim prodded, trying to get his friend to open up. For all the talking Blair did he rarely spoke about himself. Blair finished chopping and started pulling out the chili pot. When Jim was being prodded to talk they usually ended up on the couch or the balcony. Jim had found if you wanted Blair to talk it was best to approach him in the kitchen, while he was cooking. He had something to occupy his hands and eyes and at the end Jim got to eat a great meal. Pavlov response? Maybe, but it worked and Jim wasn't about to mess with it.

"I can't seem to get a handle on him. I mean, he's my son - but I don't have any reference for him. You know how we went to meet Megan at the airport that time? Well I kind of had a mental image of her already - because I knew she was a cop and a woman and I'd met a few before. But this is a child I never knew existed. And while I know what I look like and I know what Amelia looked like I can't imagine what a child the two of us made would look like," Blair sighed, "And it bothers me, you know? I never really considered that I might have fathered someone. We were always careful during sex - never unprotected, no accidents and she was on the pill. I mean, I saw her take the damn stuff every morning while we lived together!"

"No birth control is a hundred percent," Jim reminded him, and held up a hand when Blair shot him a hard look, "I'm not criticizing you Chief - I know you take precautions. I know you'd never abandon a baby, even if you broke up with the mother. I know this, ok? It's like a law of nature as far as I'm concerned. If you say you were careful then you were. Maybe you should insist on a paternity test. Maybe the kid belongs to someone else and she named you as the father so you wouldn't know she'd been…"

"Cheating?" Blair's lips twisted in a bitter smile, "No. I don't want to do that. If she's named me as the father then I accept that and my responsibilities. If the test was positive I'd feel guilty for doubting and if it were negative I'd feel betrayed - so we'll leave it be. He was given my name and I'll welcome him into our family, brother. I hope you can too."

"My nephew is welcome, Chief," Jim grinned and got a grin back. He was glad he'd brought the test up - it would have nagged at them both otherwise, and Blair needed the opportunity to vent some of his doubts. Jim pushed off from the counter. Blair was making leftovers for him - there was no way they'd eat that whole pot tonight, even if Simon did come over. This was yet another example of the Guide looking after the Sentinel. Jim wondered if Blair's son would have Guide traits too. After all, Jim's abilities were genetic - it made sense that Blair's would be too.

"I'm going to shower," Jim said, still thinking about it and Blair nodded in reply.

Jim pulled the truck into his assigned space at the garage and turned off the engine. Blair had been practically vibrating this morning. Jim had hated sending his Guide off like that, but knew things wouldn't settle down until Blair and Thomas met and started a relationship together. Jim hoped the kid was nice - not some whiny brat spoilt rotten by a rich mother. Blair wasn't rich or materialistic and that could be quite a culture shock to some people.

The Detective locked the truck and headed for his desk. The lift was crowded as usual, and the building resounded with the echoes of hundreds of voices as the men and women of the PD went about their business. Jim acknowledged the sound and let it go like Blair had taught him, relegating it to a background hum the way he did every morning. It had become second nature now, and he no longer needed to be guided through the process. In the beginning the noise had triggered headaches to be suffered through until Blair could get to the station to spend time with Jim. Blair had worked hard to get things down to a manageable level for Jim - he had also suffered through the headaches by association. It had taken Jim a year to gain the confidence and fine level of control he needed to do this by himself. He still had troubles when he was tired or hurt, but Blair was usually around then and Jim simply glommed his senses onto his Guide instead.

The bullpen was full when Jim arrived and he hung his jacket up as per usual - aware of the Blair shaped space that was empty beside him. He looked up as Simon opened the door to his office and nodded at his boss - yes Blair got off ok, and he'd be in touch. Simon nodded back and looked around at his team.

"Ok, everyone. My office," he growled and Jim headed in with the others. It wasn't often that Simon had everyone in there - the weekly staff meeting was held in the conference room on this floor, or in the break room at a pinch. Rhonda got up too and came in with the rest of them, closing the blinds at Simon's request.

"Did the Professor get off ok?" Simon asked Jim for the benefit of the others and Jim found himself the center of attention. He let his senses out a little to monitor his colleagues and nodded.

"He's nervous as hell, but he'll be ok. He's going to leave a contact number on the machine at home," Jim confirmed and felt people around him relax a little.

"Good," Simon replied, "Sandburg gave me permission to pass this on to you all and I want us to present a unified face to the rest of the PD. Some of our fellow officers can be a pain in the backside at times and the last thing Sandburg needs is for us to be at cross purposes with him."

"So just tell us already," Rhonda murmured, and Jim concealed a grin. No one in Major Crimes suffered fools gladly, but Rhonda had the lowest tolerance for rhetoric of them all. She was apparently impervious to the glares her boss sent her, and in general gave as good as she got. Blair worshipped her avidly, flirted with her shamelessly and respected the hell out of her.

"Sandburg is going to defend his thesis at the end of the semester," Simon started. Jim watched his colleagues grin with pride and relaxed even more. No one was condemning Blair here - his colleagues were proud not ashamed.

"He's going to be out of a job, then," Taggert frowned. Technically not a member of Major Crimes, he was often in the bullpen and included in Blair's e-mail and Simon's invitation.

"That's right," Simon nodded, "So I want us to find him one. Hell, I want him paid for doing the job he already does. We're going to need to write a proposal for the Chief and the Commissioner, so I'm going to need you to pull all your files that have evidence of Sandburg's direct and indirect involvement in your cases since he started riding along with Ellison four years ago."

"What about Kincaid?" Taggert spoke up, "He wasn't riding along then."

"He was filling out the paperwork, though," Jim spoke up and grinned, "Maybe we should have taken that as an omen."

He got a few chuckles for his effort at humor - Blair was the department's trouble magnet, an appellation the young man vehemently protested. He was also known as their mascot - a nickname Jim objected to, often violently.

"When do you want this by?" Brown asked, and leaned forward.

"Ellison and I will work on the proposal together, so we'll need it as soon as possible," Simon replied and everyone got up, heading for the door briskly, not bothering to wait for the official dismissal. Jim waited until they were alone and looked over at his friend and commanding officer.

"You read my mind," he told Simon who shrugged.

"Hell Jim, the minute Sandburg said he still wanted to work with you in any way he could I knew he wouldn't object to the full time job. And maybe we can swing some teaching time at the Academy for him as well," Simon shrugged, "We'll leave that up to Sandburg ok? I know the Professor loves teaching."

"You don't think he'd mind teaching cops?" Jim asked curiously. He knew that Blair would teach just about anyone who asked him to, and the idea of teaching cops would appeal to his roommate. Blair loved a challenge.

"I know he wouldn't," Simon stated it like a fact and Jim grinned. The gruff captain had the measure of his civilian observer all right. Jim headed out to dig through his own files.

The message light was flashing when Jim got home and he closed the door quickly before rushing to retrieve the message. It rewound with its usual squeal of feedback and Jim winced a little before catching hold of the dial again. With Blair away this week Jim was pretty much on desk duty - Simon had made it clear he wasn't assigning any new cases to Jim until he was sure the detective could concentrate on his work. The mini zone Jim had drifted into to escape the dust he was stirring up in records hadn't helped. Conner had been there to slap him out of it - literally - and then mothered him all the way to the bullpen. Simon had noticed and confined Jim to the bullpen for the week.

The machine beeped, drawing Jim back to the here and now and he hit the play button gently.

"Hey Jim," Blair's voice was overlaid with the usual sounds of the airport - planes, people and p.a. systems, "I made it in one piece. I'm on my way to the lawyers and I'll call you again tomorrow with the number I can be reached at. Take care of yourself, big guy."

The message ended and Jim hit save absently before turning to the door again. He locked up, hung up his coat and gun, then headed for the kitchen. Halfway there he froze and turned to look at the coat rack. His gun hung in its holster, partially covered by his jacket. His gun. In plain sight for anyone to see or touch. When it had been the two of them there was no problem - Sandburg wasn't going to start messing with the weapon, Jim knew that. Children were not really on the guest list either - their friends with children didn't bring the kids to visit, Jim and Blair usually went to them. But Blair was bringing his son to live here now. That meant curious fingers and temptation. Jim had heard plenty of horror stories about cops' kids dying when they found their parents' gun.

This wasn't the only weapon in the loft either. Jim had one upstairs in his bedside table. There was also the ammunition and his weapon maintenance kit. Not to mention the one he sometimes wore in the ankle holster. Jim headed for the phone to call the weapons experts at the precinct. He'd order a lock box or something that he could install in the loft to secure these things in. Blair hated guns, but they'd have to explain to Thomas why there was one in the house and set up some rules about them. Maybe Jim should call Taggert and Brown and find out what they told their kids. The detective and the captain could probably help him choose the safest containers too. Dinner could wait a little longer.

Halfway through the morning paperwork marathon Jim was resigned to running, a call for back up came in from Rafe and Brown.

The pair was working an arson case - various wealthy real estate owners were being threatened: pay up or see your property torched. There were several good forensic leads on the case and Rafe had an informant on the streets that had heard some interesting rumors. They had gone to meet said informant that morning and Jim guessed that things had just escalated from there. A figure with long hair scrambled into the truck beside Jim, and he said,

"Seatbelt Chief," absently as he peeled out of the garage and hit the lights and sirens. It was two blocks before he realised what he'd done and he spared the glaring Aussie an apologetic glance.

"Sorry, Conner," Jim chuckled, "I guess it's habit. I caught the long hair and the bright clothes and that was all."

"Right," Conner sniffed, "I'm much better looking than Sandy, and I'm certainly not putting up with any of your crap Ellison, so don't you forget it."

"Right," Jim echoed and took the corner on two wheels. The address from dispatch had been in the high-rise apartment area of Cascade. This area was low rent, but not quite at the slum stage. Crime was slowly on the rise despite the PD's best efforts. There was call from several sectors of the community to make the apartments controlled rent, but so far the owners were resisting the pressure. Quite a few people suspected that the owners had something else in mind for the properties and needed to get rid of their tenants first. Blair was tracking the stories through the media for Jim, just in case the Sentinel needed to get involved later. There was more than one way to protect the tribe and his Shaman was always showing him that.

Jim pulled up behind Rafe and Brown's empty unit and got out, walking around the truck to put a hand on Conner's arm. She looked up, startled, but remained silent when she realised he was anchoring himself on her. Jim sent his hearing out carefully, feeling the pulse of blood through Conner's arm and using it to anchor himself. If Blair was there, he wouldn't need the contact for a simple task, but Blair wasn't there and that was the problem. The building in front of them had once been impressive and stately - now it was just shabby and dirty. Jim focussed on each floor carefully, sensing for familiar voices - or failing those, familiar heartbeats.

"Fourth floor west," Jim said as he located the two cops, "Sounds like they've got the guy cornered. He's threatening to set off an incendiary device. Conner, get Taggert down here, and the fire brigade."

Jim was running into the building without a second thought, and Conner took a moment to gape at him before pulling out her phone and following. She caught up to him in a few quick paces, but didn't speak to him until they were on the floor Jim had heard the voices.

"Why the hell does Sandy put up with you?" she growled as she pulled her gun, "Dispatch has them on the way and I've got the uniforms evacuating the other floors."

They were in the stairwell together and Jim glanced back at her. She was tucked against the wall, gun at the ready, game face on. He was glad she was there to back him up, though he wouldn't say that to her. They had a kind of friendly rivalry going on and Jim enjoyed the sparring too much.

"Thanks," he replied and stuck his head out cautiously, "And I don't know why he puts up with me."

"Sandy loves you Ellison," Conner replied staunchly, "I know that because he puts up with you and I won't hear you say otherwise."

"Conner - focus here ok?" Jim grinned at her and she growled at him. He rolled his eyes and put a hand on her arm again. She slid a little closer and waited while he sent his hearing further out to monitor the situation.

"Well?" she asked when he dropped her arm and he shook his head.

"He's not budging and if we rush him, he'll just panic and hit the trigger," Jim frowned. Megan leaned around for a look at the corridor. She couldn't hear anyone, but if Jim said he could then he could. There was a fire extinguisher in the hall and a fire hose further down.

"Hey do you know if the extinguisher will work?" Megan pointed with her chin and Jim grimaced.

"I'm a cop, not a fire Marshall," he protested and she got ready to give him the length of her tongue, "And no, my senses won't tell me that either. Sandburg might have been able to figure out a way for me to tell, but it would require more Guide expertise than you have."

As soon as he said it he realised how insulting that comment was, but Conner just sighed and nodded. He squeezed her wrist and tiptoed along the corridor to silently retrieve the extinguisher for her. She hefted it experimentally and then shook her head. He'd felt how light it was, so her next words weren't a surprise.

"Empty," she told him and put the cylinder out of the way.

"The hose is connected though," Jim told her and grinned, "I can smell the water."

Megan gaped at him and then grinned.

"So if we hit him with water, and not a bullet will the device trigger? Can you tell what he has?" she pressed and Jim again anchored himself to her arm. After a few minutes he swayed and she shoved him up against the wall, twisting her hands in his shirt to keep him upright and hissing his name in a low voice. His face regained coherency and he shook his head, standing up under his own power.

"We still need a working fire extinguisher," Jim replied, his eyes a little cloudy and unfocussed. Conner gave him a glare and stepped back.

"I'll check the floors under us. You go up and check there. No more sense stuff until we're back together ok? Sandy will kill me if anything happens to you," she ordered and headed out. Jim went up, hearing the uniforms evacuate everyone by the fire escapes on the other side of the building so as not to risk alerting the arsonist something was up. Jim searched for a few minutes before finding an extinguisher that was full and operational and hurried back to find Conner waiting for him.

"The only good one out of five," she told him, "I definitely want a word with the fire guys after this."

Jim nodded, just as angry. You shouldn't have to pay a fancy rent to live in a building with working fire extinguishers - he hated it when there was one law for the rich and one for the rest. He led the way down the corridor slowly. Megan breathed in sharply when she heard their colleagues, letting Jim know they were within normal hearing distance. He put his extinguisher down and left Megan to monitor the situation while he went back for the hose. They set up and got ready to intervene if Rafe and Brown were unable to talk the guy down.

Rafe's voice rose urgently and Jim shook his head, stepped around the corner and triggered the extinguisher. He coated the device on the floor while Conner backed him up with the hose, directing the strong stream of water at the arsonist chest and pushing him sideways, away from the trigger. Rafe and Brown dove forward, adding their bodies to the water's impact and knocking the arsonist down to the floor. Jim continued with the foam until the extinguisher was empty and tossed it aside, grabbing Conners' from where it had been left and waiting anxiously.

Rafe had a firm grip on one arm and Brown was pinning the guy's legs while Megan continued with the hose. In a matter of minutes they had the guy in cuffs, the hose off and the bomb squad on their way up. Joel barged past them as they walked down the corridor without so much as a hello, and Jim grinned at his dripping colleagues.

"Good job guys," he complimented them and got out of their way. Megan was almost as wet as Brown and Rafe because the hose had leaked the minute she twisted the nozzle.

"Thanks Jim," Conner growled and plastered her wet self against him in a bear hug. Brown held the prisoner and Rafe plastered himself to Jim's back, making sure their dry colleague got full benefit of the hug. Jim wiggled unavailingly and came out of the hug damp. They headed out of the building, Jim grumbling softly the whole way.

Taggert had recommended a small safe for Jim's house and Jim had ordered one through the PD. In the meantime he would store his spare weapons at the PD lockup, and use a lock box for his primary weapon at home.

Jim stowed the weapon carefully and put the box up on top of the fridge - out of sight from the casual observer. Then he hurried over to the blinking message machine and hit the playback button. Simon had dragged Jim to a restaurant for dinner, mumbling about promises and proper eating habits. Blair must have been bending Simon's ear after their last voluntary separation - Alex didn't count - when Jim had binged on Wonder Burger and pizza deliveries, sending his senses off balance. Jim really had known better but was too busy to fuss with a healthy meal as several of his active cases came to a head at once. The exhaustion and absence of his Guide hadn't helped.

The machine beeped its readiness and Jim hit the playback button eagerly. A childish laugh rang out and Jim started, leaning closer to the speaker.

"I can hear you too Da!"

"Yes, Uncle Jim and I made the message together. Tell Uncle Jim what we practiced, Tommy," Blair sounded happy on the surface, though a fine thread of tension ran through his voice.

"Hello Uncle Jim!" the child recited dutifully, "You can call me and Da on…"

Jim scrabbled for pen and paper and got the number down. He hit the save button for that message and then glanced at the clock before dialing.

"It's me," he smiled when he heard the familiar voice and some of the tension in his shoulders eased, "Is it too late to call?"

"Hello Jim. No it's not too late - we were just reading a story before bed," Blair's voice crackled over the line and Jim grinned, turning to go and sit on the couch.

"Can I talk to him?"

"Sure you can, hang on a moment. Tommy, do you want to talk to Uncle Jim?"

Blair's voice faded as he handed the phone over and Jim heard him put the book to one side, smiling as his nephew said hello hesitantly. His answers to Jim's questions were soft and hesitant until Jim lucked into asking about the books he'd bought with his father. Then Tommy was talking a mile a minute, only winding down when a huge yawn sounded over the line. There was a fumbling sound on the line, and then Jim could hear sheets rustle a little before Blair's voice came back.

"Jim? I'll call you back, ok," Blair said quietly, "He's almost asleep."

"I'll be here," Jim rumbled comfortingly and Blair hung up. He settled onto the couch and turned the TV on, finding a game to stare at for a little while until his friend could call him back. He tried not to anticipate trouble - tried not to imagine that Blair couldn't take Tommy away from New York because the boy was happy there. Jim fretted over the impact the move would have on a boy who had already lost his mother in a car crash. Maybe Blair would have to wait a few months before taking his son away from his mothers' family. The phone rang and Jim stared at it for a moment, before picking the handset up and thumbing the button.

"Ellison," he managed to keep his voice even and switched the TV off with the remote.

"It's me, Jim," Blair said softly, his voice sad. Jim's stomach tightened - it was bad news he knew it!

"God, I can't wait to get him home," Blair sighed over the line and Jim gripped the phone tighter.

"Really? You're not staying in New York?" the question slipped out before he knew it and heard Blair gasp in reply, "I thought that maybe he'd have to stay in New York for a while. Less trauma than leaving his family so soon after he lost his mom," Jim rushed on, trying to explain and Blair's bitter laugh silenced him as if he'd been slapped.

"Family?" the tone grated like gravel and glass, "Oh you mean the three adults who made him a doll and a robot? Who brainwashed him into giving perfect rote responses to every question? Yeah, I want him to hang around them longer - he's still human!"

"Chief," Jim said softly, and the pain in his voice calmed Blair down. The Sentinel heard his Guide take a ragged breath and run a hand through long curls. Jim could imagine his friend slumped on a couch somewhere, probably staring out a window like Jim was as he tried to explain what he meant over the phone.

"Try it again, Chief. He didn't sound like a robot tonight, he sounded like you actually, the way he ran his mouth off," Jim grinned at the thought and Blair chuckled reluctantly. He sighed again and Jim heard him shift. He's pacing, Jim smiled, knowing Blair very well.

"Ok," Blair took a deep breath, "I went to the Miltons' place last night for dinner. It was supposed to be my first meeting with Tommy. In the back of my mind I figured that I'd spend some time with Tommy and then leave him with his grandparents again. I didn't want to drag him away from familiar faces. I'm staying at Amelia's place - man you wouldn't believe how cold it is. There's no sign that a kid lives here - I couldn't even find play clothes for him. I thought that maybe his grandparents had them but... This place is so neat, Jim, you'd love it. Amelia's got all this stuff here, and personal things too, but the place is a showcase, not a home…"

"Like the loft used to be," Jim broke in, "Before you invaded it and made it a home, not just some place to sleep."

"Jim," Blair's tone was soft and surprised. Jim twitched a small smile that his friend couldn't see and waited for Blair to continue.

"Anyway," Blair sounded a bit uncertain, "I didn't want him coming back here and worrying about where his mother was, so … so I just went y'know?"

"Breathe, Sandburg," Jim let his affection creep into his tone, "You went to visit, expecting to go home alone. I'm guessing you didn't - what happened?"

"Mrs. Milton calls this maid -you wouldn't believe these people Jim, the way they live - and tells her to go get Tommy. So this girl disappears and comes back in with this three-year-old kid in a suit. He's holding her hand and looks so sad Jim, but I figure he's missing his mother so I let it go. He doesn't even smile at his grandparents," Blair's voice broke a little and Jim shifted uneasily, hating where this was going. He hadn't thought they made suits for three-year-olds, let alone the idea of dressing a child like that…

"So Mr. Milton says: 'Thomas your father has come. Remember what I told you boy,' and waved a hand at me like I'm a dog or something, and I get down to be at the same level as him. He walks over with such a sad little face, Jim and he says 'Pleased to meet you sir,' and shakes my hand. He shook my hand! I mean I wasn't expecting him to hug me or anything, but this …Jim it was awful!"

Blair was breathing raggedly now, and Jim wasn't much better. Tears were stinging his eyes at the pain in the description of the first ever meeting between father and son. Blair was right; it wasn't natural for a three-year-old to act like that.

"So the maid comes back and announces dinner and Tommy gets dismissed like some kind of pet. He turns around and walks over to the maid with his hands at his side, and when he gets there, God Jim…he puts his little hand up in the air near hers and just waits. He didn't take her hand, and she didn't reach out for him until he was standing next to her with his hand held up in the air like some kind of…"

Blair's voice was shaking now, and Jim was right behind him, angry tremors wracking his body. He knew how bad it was to live in a house were you were only valuable for your good behavior. At least his mother had been there while he and Steven were still babies. Steven had been eight when she left, and old enough to know what mother love felt like. They'd at least had that much to hold onto.

"Oh, Chief, God Blair. I…" Jim choked and swiped at his face, "How could they do that?"

"I don't know Jim. I didn't ask. I told them we were both leaving and found him and his room. He had a teddy bear, some more of the suits and a brush and comb. I took everything but the suits and brought him home," Blair's voice was thick with tears and stress, but he sounded a little calmer, "I told him he was coming to Cascade with me this morning and his face lit up. He's asked a million questions about you, Jim. It's why I let him leave the message - I wanted him to connect to another normal human being, even if you were just a recording this morning."

Jim's mind reeled. Blair thought he was normal? With five heightened senses, a spirit guide and the ability to call his partner back from the grave?

"I'm normal?" Jim blurted and heard Blair's confusion. For a horrible moment his gut twisted, thinking Blair was going to retract the statement.

"Of course you are," Blair sounded confused; "There's nothing unnatural about you. Jim, man, please don't tell me I make you feel like a freak! Aw man, I never meant to do that! I know I can be pretty persistent about the testing and everything, but the more data I have the better I can help you. I never wanted you to feel less than human…"

"Sandburg!" Jim shouted over the panicked pleas and Blair froze into silence. Jim could hear his heart beating fast and hard and sighed.

"Chief, that has got to be the biggest compliment I've ever had. You think I'm normal - even though you know what I can do and even after all the times I've had some weird Sentinel reaction or screamed you out of my space. Even after … the Temple. I can't tell you what that means to me. And you don't even think it's a big deal, do you? You never thought twice about all this. I'm just a normal guy with heightened senses," Jim trailed off and shook his head.

"Well, yeah," Blair said in a matter of fact tone, and Jim laughed.

"God I love the way your mind works," he said and heard Blair calm down a little.

"I love you too, Jim," Blair's voice was warm and comforting and Jim basked in it for a moment.

"So today you took him shopping," Jim prompted and heard Blair sit down on the couch.

"Yeah. Amelia has this car man, I'm definitely keeping it," his voice was a little lighter now, "As much as I love the Volvo she has to go. This car is new and reliable. Can you maybe get the Volvo valued for me? Or it can wait till next week. Don't worry, I'll do it next week," Blair answered his own question and Jim laughed.

"I'll go and value the Volvo," he promised, "What happens next week?"

"We'll be in Cascade on Sunday night - I've already booked the tickets," Blair replied, "I need to hang around to do some legal stuff, and I thought Tommy and I could see some tourist sites while we're here - you know, get to know each other a little before coming home. I've kind of made a holiday out of it for him - he needs to just do some fun normal stuff."

"That's great, Chief," Jim managed to say calmly, "Hey, I've got the weekend off - I'll fly down on Friday night and help you pack or something. If you give me your flight details we can come home together."

"Cool!"

Jim could imagine the bounce that accompanied that statement and grinned. His Guide was coming home soon; Jim could hang on until then. For now he'd have to make do with nightly phone calls and dragging information from his Guide - Blair always found it easier to misdirect Jim over the phone.

"What happened when you went shopping today, Chief?" Jim prodded and heard Blair sigh.

"Well, my emergency credit card got a workout," Blair evaded, "Good thing I'm selling the Volvo, huh?"

"And what else?" Jim ignored the attempted sidetrack. He could be as stubborn as the next man could, more so when his friend was involved.

"We picked out some clothes. 'Tommy' stuff he called it. I've been pretty much acting the clown, Jim, trying to get him to smile a bit. Anyway we got him a whole heap of stuff, nothing like the suits, and I took him to the parents' room with some of it so he could wear what we bought. I had to put him into trousers, patents and a dress shirt this morning Jim. Thank God he has normal pajamas, even if they do look like someone ironed them. Anyway I got him dressed in his new stuff and a pair of sneakers in the parents' room at the mall and sent him to take a look while I folded up the other stuff. Have you ever been in a parents' room Jim? This one had a solid mirror on the back wall - pretty grimy from all the hand marks from other kids. I looked up and he's standing in front of his reflection, crying his eyes out because he looks like the other kids do. Damn near killed me," Blair's voice roughened again, and he had to clear his throat a few times, "I just held him and rocked. When he calmed down we got the hell out of there."

"Poor kid," Jim growled, "Man, if I ever get near his grandparents…"

"Get in line," Blair sighed, "I'm so mad, but at the same time I don't want to alienate the only family he had from his mother. I'm pretty confused, I'll tell you that."

"Normal state of being for you, isn't it?" Jim teased, trying to get Blair's mood to lift a little.

"That's panic and dizziness, Jim," Blair retorted, "Hey, how was your day?"

"Pretty boring for the most part," Jim sighed, and then told his Guide about the arsonist and the fire extinguishers. He hammed it up a bit and had Blair laughing, especially over the hug at the end.

"Simon took me out to dinner at this Greek place after work. It was pretty good - we should try it with Tommy sometime," Jim suggested, "Did you leave your number with Simon too?"

"Tommy did. He says Uncle Simon has a grr voice," Blair reported and Jim chuckled, "Any sense troubles?"

"Nah, I'm ok Chief. I'm not using them much at the moment anyway," Jim yawned and then froze - he'd almost said why.

"As long as you're careful man," Blair sounded concerned, "Make sure you have someone to back you up ok? I couldn't handle a call from Simon right now telling me you're hurt or worse."

"Yes Da," Jim teased and could almost hear Blair smile, "How'd he come up with that name anyway?"

"He was calling me sir," Blair's voice showed what he felt about that, "And I asked him to choose another name for me. He didn't like Dad or Daddy, but Da made his face light up. Turn about is fair play so I asked him what I could call him and he said Tommy."

"Tommy Sandburg," Jim rolled the name on his tongue and heard Blair chuckle.

"He'll match his Uncle: Jimmy Ellison," Blair told him and Jim yawned again, trying to smother it.

"I talked to my lawyer today - he can go over the legal stuff for you - make sure there are no surprises. You've got his address right?" Jim changed the subject before the teasing could take off.

"You didn't have to do that," Blair sounded grateful, "I was going to get someone to do it when we came home."

"Nah, let my guy do it. Hell, Chief, he already knows enough about our affairs anyway, with him handling our Wills and the Power of Attorney stuff. He's expecting to hear from New York, ok? Don't forget," Jim broke off into another yawn and then apologised. Blair laughed it off gently.

"Go to bed, brother. Call us tomorrow if you can. Your schedule is the most prone to upsets, so we'll wait to hear from you, ok?" Blair sounded tired too, and Jim nodded.

"Ok, I'll call you tomorrow night. We'll try and keep it to the same time frame - will that work?"

"Sure - if he's awake you two can talk, otherwise I could probably use the debrief myself. Thanks for listening Jim. I really needed to talk this out, you know?" Blair sounded wistful and Jim smiled.

"Any time, Chief. I need to hear it - I want to help you know, and if this is all I can do, then I want to do it," Jim was aware that didn't make a lot of sense, but Blair didn't seem to mind.

"Good night Jim."

"Good night brother."

Simon was waiting the next morning with the data from his detectives and Jim found himself shut in his boss's office while they worked on the proposal. He found that it was a lot like the grant proposals and research outlines he'd read for Blair and impressed Simon with his ability to launch into what Simon called 'Blair speak' at the drop of a hat.

Rhonda brought in salads and sandwiches for lunch as well as fruit juice and speared Jim with a Look. Jim ate everything she laid out and thanked her when he went to deposit the wrappings in the trash. Blair had obviously spoken to her as well.

"So did you speak to them last night?" Simon asked when he got back from the roof - the only place he could smoke now and a cold one at that. The smell of his cigar wasn't too bad - it was a windy day and the smoke hadn't had much chance to settle on his clothes.

"Tommy talked himself to sleep," Jim grinned and Simon groaned. He had asked for the number in case of Sentinel emergencies, and didn't intend to call otherwise.

"Great - he would have to be as talkative as his father," Simon sighed and Jim shook his head.

"Actually, Simon we'll be lucky if we can get him up to that standard," Jim kept his eyes on the table and briefly outlined what Blair had said. He knew his friend wouldn't mind if Simon knew what was going on.

"Damn, Jim," Simon shook his head, "That's nasty."

"Yeah," Jim nodded and looked over at his friend and boss, "That's why we have to get him this job, Simon. We need Sandburg as much as he'll need us now."

"I hear that," Simon nodded and they bent back to their task.

As they packed up for the evening - the rough outline was ready, now they needed to polish it - various members of Major Crimes stuck their head in Simons office to ask after Blair. Jim told them the lighter facts he had, and chose not to reveal the awful side of things.

"I'm gonna go help him pack the place up on Saturday and they're flying back on Sunday afternoon," Jim added and Simon frowned. He locked the door to his office and turned to catch up with Jim, who was collecting his coat from his desk.

"Seems like a lot of work for two guys and a baby - you think he'd mind if I came along?" Simon asked as they walked out and Jim shook his head.

"The more the merrier," he replied, "If you don't mind camping in the penthouse."

"I'm sure I'll survive," Simon grinned.

Jim warmed up some chili for dinner and ate it in front of the television - Blair wasn't there to be shocked at the suspension of the house rules. Besides they were Jim's rules and he'd suspend them any time he liked.

Some impatient pacing and glaring at the clock after dinner passed the time until Jim could call. Blair answered on the second ring, his voice eager.

"Hey, Chief," Jim flopped onto the couch, "Whatcha doing?"

"Working on the first chapter - Tommy's asleep," Blair replied, his voice affectionate.

"What did you two do today?" Jim pressed and heard all about the zoo trip and the potential new flat mate Tommy had wanted to bring home.

"Good thing you talked him out of it, Sandburg," Jim teased, "We've got enough of the animal kingdom running around in here, what with the panther and the wolf."

"But Jim, think of the pest control! You'd never have to worry about roaches or mice again," Blair mock protested and Jim shook his head.

"I'm not worried now," he informed his friend and got a chuckle in reply, "Chief, there's something I've been meaning to ask you."

"Shoot," Blair encouraged and Jim got up to pace.

"Uh, it's about the money. I mean, you've got enough, right? The lawyers aren't worried? You're not selling the Volvo just to pay the bills?"

"Jim, I've got more than I could ever use," Blair sighed, "I've been thinking about this. I can pay off all my student loans in one go, and buy the place next to you outright if the owners will let me, and still have a lot left over. But I was thinking that maybe I should leave it for Tommy. He's going to inherit a lot when he comes of age, but maybe I shouldn't touch this stuff either."

"Blair - how much did the lawyers say?" Jim was confused - Blair's student loans weren't small and the place next door would be expensive.

"Over three million," Blair mumbled, "It's obscene Jim - what am I going to do with that much money?"

"Uh, Chief - it could fund a lot of expeditions. You could travel all over, looking for other Sentinels. Or you could choose another research topic and do that," Jim said softly. Blair snorted in his ear and Jim heard the curls rustle as Blair shook his head hard.

"I've already got my Sentinel," Blair reminded him firmly, "And if I go on any expeditions then you and Tommy come too. The tribe stays together Sentinel - your Shaman has spoken. Maybe I could donate to the Uni, what do you think?"

"Maybe a little - but you shouldn't throw your money away. Keep enough to fund your own expeditions - to fund ours," Jim corrected and heard his Guide relax. He'd learnt not to argue with the Shaman.

"Yeah," Blair agreed, "We'll become the worlds foremost experts on closed societies. The Ellison-Sandburg publishing team."

"Sandburg-Ellison," Jim retorted and they bantered back and forth until the discussion degenerated into insults, which Blair ended with 'nah-nah nah-nah-nah' and had Jim laughing too hard to reply coherently.

"Speaking of which - how's work?" Blair asked when speech was possible.

"Same old same old. We managed to go without the fire extinguishers this time, though both Rafe and Brown had their desks decorated," Jim grinned, and Blair chuckled.

"Bet they loved that," Blair commented and Jim nodded, staring out at the dark balcony.

"Brown's kids will - the toys went home with him and Rafe got the wet weather gear," Jim told him, "Taggert took some pictures - you can see them when you get home."

"Home," Blair's voice was full of longing, "Won't be too long, right Jim?"

"Right," Jim agreed, his voice echoing the sentiment.

Simon frowned at his detective and folded his arms.

"Jim, are you sure you want to do that?" he asked, "It's only one more night."

"You didn't hear the homesickness, Simon," Jim frowned, "And the stress."

"Ok, so I can understand that you want the time off once he's back in Cascade to help out, but can't you wait until Friday night?" Simon complained, "With you on desk duty we're already a man down."

"My flight leaves tonight, Simon," Jim replied and folded his arms over his chest in what Simon had come to recognize as the 'Blessed Protector' posture. The one Jim took when arguing with doctors, rescue officials and university department heads.

"I'll see what I can do, Jim. No promises, ok?" Simon sighed in resignation, "I've got to go see Patterson down in Vice - I'll see you later. Try and get that proof-reading done."

"You got it, Captain," Jim went and sat down obediently. He read through diligently, sticking those yellow sticky notes on the hard copy with scribbled corrections. Time passed unmarked until Simon returned with a stack of folders and a grin that wouldn't quit. He put the stack opposite Jim and sat down.

"Ask me what these are, Ellison," Simon invited and Jim frowned. Simon had that cat-on-a-canary-diet look.

"What are those?" Jim asked obediently and Simon's smile got bigger.

"Patterson had the top three on his desk. He asked if it was true we were trying to get Sandburg hired. When I told him it was he handed them over - his people had pulled all the cases Sandburg consulted on in the last few years," Simon leaned back and eyed Jim expectantly.

"There are six folders there, sir," Jim could be patient.

"The other three are from Murphy in Bunko. And Joel has some from Robbery. Homicide left a message with Rhonda about some possible information too."

Jim leaned back too and smiled slowly.

"Damn, I guess he really is a cop," Jim breathed, "After all - they wouldn't do this for an outsider."

"The professor knows his stuff, huh?" Simon boasted, and Jim nodded, tension draining out of him. Blair would have been ok with Major Crimes - he'd been accepted long ago. It was the rest of the PD Jim had worried about. There were hundreds of ways to make a civilian consultant's job miserable. Maybe they'd be spared that.

"I also got your leave approved for the next month. But I couldn't swing tomorrow," Simon didn't flinch from the scowl that was aimed his way, "Take a day without pay Detective, and consider yourself lucky."

"So what time are you meeting the guys tomorrow?" Jim asked, knowing better than to press for more. Simon showed his confusion and Jim gestured to the bullpen.

"Brown and Rafe booked their flight to New York this morning after they got the details from me. And Taggert was booked last night as far as I know," Jim grinned, "They all just want to help."

"Conner's not coming?" Simon asked, absorbing this latest surprise. Jim shook his head.

"She's on duty this weekend," he reminded his boss and handed over his marked copy, "Should I finish this, or should we add the new stuff in?"

"Let's start adding the new stuff in - maybe I can get Taggert to help out tomorrow," Simon sighed and looked out when laughter and hooting started up in the bullpen, "Now what?"

The flight was noisy, crowded and uncomfortable. Added to Jim's lack of sleep - he missed Blair's heartbeat, couldn't sleep deeply without it - and he was frazzled by the time the flight landed and he could get the hell off. The wait for a taxi was interminable and Jim was fighting to stay awake as he entered the lobby and showed ID to the night receptionist. He was waved over to the lifts without a murmur and Jim made a mental note to come back later and sort out proper security for his Guide.

In the lift his hearing flared out and he easily picked up the sound that formed the backbone of daily life for Jim - Blair's heartbeat. Jim felt his own slow to match it - his Guide was awake but at rest. Jim grinned, hefted his luggage and walked across the small lobby from the lift to the penthouse door. He hit the door chime and heard Blair startle then hurry towards the door. Jim used his sight to look through the peephole to catch the first glimpse of his friend, and nearly zoned on Blair's blue eye as his Guide used the security device more conventionally. He heard Blair's startled breath and grinned.

"What about a password?" Blair called through the door, grinning like an idiot from the sound of it. His hands fumbled at the locks for a moment before working right and unlocking the door.

"It's Ellison," Jim called and Blair opened the door.

Blair was grinning and Jim grinned back, then lunged a little to get upright, straight into Blair's arms. Jim pulled him close and leaned into his friend, grateful for the warmth and support. Jim buried his face in Blair's hair and they stood still for a moment, reconnecting and familiarizing themselves with each other. All of Jim's senses flared into sharp focus, letting the smell, sound, sight, touch and taste of his Guide roll over him in a wave. He felt the last of the tension from the flight drain away, leaving him with a warm glow.

"It's so good to see you," Blair sighed, "You're early! How'd you get the time off?"

Jim let him pull back and smiled. The familiar energy thrummed through Blair, making Jim feel more awake than he had for a while. Blair looked tired and worried, but he'd also relaxed in the hug, so Jim wasn't worried too much.

"Leave without pay," Jim shrugged and let go, turning to grab a case. Blair ducked under his arm to grab the other one. It was empty so Blair stashed it in the closet. Jim got a good look at the place his nephew had been brought up in. Blair was right - it was cold in here. Blair had shut and locked the front door while Jim looked around and Jim turned back to the person who signified home to the Sentinel.

"I didn't make your bed yet - I'll do it now," Blair said and turned to hurry down the corridor to get what he'd need. Jim grabbed the back of the sweat pants Blair was wearing and stopped him from moving, grinning again when Blair looked back in confusion. Sure, Jim was glad to see his Guide, but there was someone else involved in their family now. They were their own closed society.

"Can I look in on my nephew?" Jim not so subtly hinted and Blair smiled.

"Sure you can," he nodded and moved forward a little. Jim let go and shadowed him down the hall to Tommy's room. Blair went in first; standing against the wall to watch as Jim crept forward silently. There was enough light for Blair to see a little, but to the Sentinel it was as bright as day. Tommy was lying on his back, blankets across his chest, one arm around a toy the other flung over his head. Jim bent to peer at his nephew and sucked in a breath. The little boy looked just like his father - tousled curls and strong chin. He was angelic in his sleep. He smelt a little like Blair too - a sweeter version of the spicy musk that was Blair's skin.

"He looks just like you Chief!" he exclaimed in a whisper, ghosting a hand forward to touch the tousled curls. Blair grinned as Jim stared his fill and then crept back. Blair preceded Jim into the hall and then pulled Tommy's door partially shut. They walked a few steps down before Blair turned to look at Jim's face. Jim looked …awed. As if he couldn't believe what he'd seen. There was no doubt that Blair was this child's father - his Guide was a Dad!

"He's beautiful," Jim murmured and Blair nodded. Jim wanted another hug, but Blair had tensed up again and Jim wondered why.

"He's smart too, and funny. You'll love him Jim, I know it," Blair swallowed and turned for the linen closet, "You must be exhausted. I'll get the master bedroom made up for you - it has an en-suite and…"

So that was it - he was worried they wouldn't get along. Jim wasn't. The kid would have to be pretty awful for Jim to reject him now - and Jim was sure that wasn't the case. Nothing that came from his Guide could be awful.

"I don't want to turn you out of your bed, Chief," Jim wisely decided not to press things now - Blair was too emotional to accept any rational discussion of his son's attributes. Blair smiled, opening the closet quietly.

"I've been sleeping on the couch. It's comfortable and not too far when I crash after working on the thesis," Blair explained, "You're not turning me out of anything."

He handed Jim the bed linen and led the way to the master bedroom, flipping on the light switch and crossing to the large bed. Jim looked around from where he stood in the doorway and shook his head. It was cold and barren in here, and smelt of another person - not someone Jim wanted to know.

"No way - this is nasty," Jim frowned, "No wonder you're sleeping on the couch. There's a second one isn't there?"

"The housekeeper's room?" Blair asked, a little confused. He was rapidly approaching his energy limit and would crash soon - Jim or no Jim. Sensing this Jim shook his head and backed out, watching Blair walk towards him and turn off the light. Jim swallowed a smile and took the easy way out.

"A second couch. I …I don't want too big a distance between us tonight," Jim confessed to the quilt and missed the expression on Blair's face. The Sentinel needed time with the Guide nearby after their recent separation. Jim knew that sleeping would be impossible if Blair wasn't close by tonight - his senses had a mind of their own when Jim was tired and would keep him awake searching for Blair.

"Sure, c'mon," Blair led the way to the living room and packed away his work while Jim made a bed on the other couch. He showed Jim the bathroom and then checked the front door again before curling up on his own couch. Jim joined him, wearing the boxers he preferred to sleep in, and draped his robe over the back of the couch. He settled in and shifted around, getting comfortable.

"Good night Chief."

"Good night Jim."

Their voices rang with satisfaction and they fell asleep quickly - Sentinel and Guide reunited.

Jim woke because he was hot. Usually, the blankets ended up at waist height, even in winter. Blair had once said that Jim's senses regulated themselves unconsciously when Jim went to sleep - a natural defense mechanism that prevented zones or spikes. Jim usually replied that he couldn't sleep under a pile of blankets and left it at that - he didn't want to argue himself into testing.

As always he extended his hearing to check on Blair - who was awake. He opened his eyes and made as if to push the blanket down before the scent on the edges stopped him. Tommy had touched it within the last few minutes - his nephew had been in and covered him against the cold. And Jim hadn't even registered it! Only Blair was able to do that - in hospital the nursing staff and doctors soon learnt that their patient woke at the slightest noise or touch, unless his friend with the long hair was the toucher.

Jim lifted his head and looked over at Blair, who made shushing gestures under the quilt. Blair was listening to something and Jim extended his hearing to find out what it was.

"…Won't he?" a child's voice said softly, "So we have to be very quiet Raffey - ok? Now remember - Da said never put anything smaller than your elbow in the toaster. The bread is bigger so that's ok, but the knife is smaller so we can't put it in. We need butter and plates too. Da said not to touch the kettle - we can have water though. You sit here and watch the toaster while I get the cups. Do you think Uncle Jim will like us Raffey? Da loves us, but he's Da and mother…she said that Da was special. He is Raffey - he loves us a lot. I hope Uncle Jim will…he's very big isn't he? Now we have to butter the toast. Be careful of the knife. Do you want butter Raffey? Ok then. Now be very quiet while I carry this out and then we can wake up Da and Uncle Jim."

Jim swallowed his grin and pretended to sleep again, knowing Blair would too. He tracked his nephew as the boy carefully carried everything out to the coffee table and went back for his toy. Tommy approached his uncle slowly and patted the broad chest beneath its blanket. Jim stirred a little and then sighed, pretending to go back to sleep. It wouldn't do to let the game out too early.

"Uncle Jim!" Tommy whispered, "Wake up, Uncle Jim. I made breakfast."

"Breakfast?" Jim mumbled and opened one eye, "Is it time to get up?"

"Yes," Tommy bounced and a huge smile creased Jim's face - the kid bounced just like his dad! Jim sat up and put out his arms. Tommy scrambled up for a hug, unafraid of the subject of so many in-the-car stories. Jim broke the hug after a moment and called over to the imposter on the other couch.

"Wake up Sandburg! Your son made breakfast!"

Blair faked a mighty snore and burrowed further under the quilt, and Jim smothered his laughter, which would give the game away. Tommy was wriggling like a puppy in excitement and Jim was determined to give him this happy memory.

"Wake up Da, I made toast!" Tommy called, with no response. Jim sighed, hauled his pillow out from behind and hurled it at his Guide. Blair merely snored louder and Jim sighed. Tommy was watching with wide eyes and nervous giggles. He was unsure that it was ok to have a pillow fight - even in Jim's house pillow fights had been ok when he was little. What kind of mother had Amelia been?

"I think this calls for extreme measures," Jim whispered, "We may have to tickle him. You tickle his chest, I'll take his legs."

Tommy's face lit up and Jim untangled himself from the blankets before getting up. He carried Tommy over to the other couch and deposited the boy on top of the Blair shaped lump under its quilt. Tommy latched on with arms and legs in more of a hug than a tickle posture.

"Ugh!" Blair grunted in a muffled voice. Tommy immediately began tickling through the quilt, with Jim going for the sensitive knees while the boy attacked the ribs. Blair began squirming and yelling for help, laughing hard as he fought to get out from under the quilt. Jim made sure Tommy wasn't accidentally bucked off and otherwise tortured his Guide without mercy. Tommy was laughing so hard he was almost crying and Jim couldn't help laughing at the gleeful noise too.

"Ok, ok! I'm awake! Stop it!" Blair gasped and Tommy collapsed on top of him for a hug. Seeing the two of them together for the first time stole Jim's breath. The similarities were marked. Blair smiled at his friend and kissed his son. Their curls blended together and for a moment Jim couldn't tell where one ended and the other began.

"Good morning short stuff. Did you sleep well?" Blair asked and Tommy nodded his head from its place in the crook of Blair's neck, "And do you like your surprise?"

"Yes! Uncle Jim is here!" Tommy smiled and looked up at his uncle, who smiled back and reached down to tousle the boy's wild curls.

"I couldn't wait to meet you," Jim rumbled, "Now how about that breakfast?"

They sat on the couch together to eat the toast, which was now cold. Then Jim and Blair made a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs and coffee, while Tommy made more toast. They ate this in the kitchen nook and Jim went on a crumb hunt in the living room while Blair and Tommy cleaned up in the kitchen. Father and son went to have their morning shower while Jim used the en-suite.

Jim sat on the coffee table while Blair and Tommy planned a trip to the aquarium, watching with delight as Tommy bounced in excitement. He bit his lip when Tommy thought he'd be left behind because he couldn't swim and was relieved when Blair came up with a way to soothe the fear.

"It's …a surprise, ok? You can come, don't worry. And so can Raffey, don't you worry," Blair added, and Jim nodded.

"We'll take good care of you both," Jim spoke up and Tommy turned his face out of Blair's neck to look at his uncle. His eyes were a little wet, but he hadn't cried. Separation anxiety, Jim thought and stroked Tommy's sock-clad foot. Tommy eased away a little and Blair smiled at him.

"Love you," Blair crooned and dropped a kiss on his son's cheek. Tommy hugged his Da and kissed him back.

"Love you," he replied and then turned to Jim, throwing his arms around the detective's neck in a wild hug. Jim hugged him back, hearing clearly the muffled 'love you' Tommy whispered under his breath.

"Love you too Tommy," Jim replied and saw Blair's relief at this mutual acceptance of the two important people in his life. Tommy smiled, pulling back a little. Jim glanced at Blair and made a decision.

"Tommy, can Uncle Jim hold you for a minute? Uh…it's like a special hug that I only do for family…for when we meet," Jim smiled, hoping the boy would accept the awkward explanation. Tommy beamed and leaned into Jim, who folded his arms around the body in his lap, half closed his eyes, and turned his face into Tommy's short curls.

Jim carefully wove his senses in a net around the little boy, stroking the arms and legs that held tight to him in a soothing manner. Blair's scent overlaid Tommy's in a manner that Jim found very pleasing. The tiny heart beat tripped along merrily, a clear and lively beat that was a young echo of the father's soothing rhythm. Tommy was relaxing into the touch the way Jim needed him to, the child's respiration slowing to give Jim a baseline to work from. He was also releasing the pheromones humans did when they were safe. Jim imprinted this in his memory - Blair had trained him to perfect sensory recall - and dropped a kiss on the curls for taste. Needing to know his Guide was there as well - that his whole family was together and safe, Jim reached out a hand and Blair moved carefully so he could be included in the embrace. With Tommy between them, held safely and lovingly, Sentinel and Guide reaffirmed their bond. This addition to the tribe would not drive them apart, no matter what lay ahead.

The aquarium was an eye opener for Jim - not only was the environment peaceful and full of beautiful things - but Tommy was full of questions and a natural curiosity that his mother had not managed to kill. He and Blair had managed to clear the air a little while Tommy played in the park, and Blair had processed some more over coffee. Jim felt proud that he was the one his brilliant friend turned to for help, that his opinion was important to Blair, as was his approval. Jim couldn't think of a way to express this to his friend at first and then it hit him.

"C'mon Chief," Jim stood up, putting their cups in the sink. Blair followed Jim out onto the patio. The storm clouds were massing in the sky and the wind was rising, but Blair ignored it in favor of working out what Jim wanted them outside for. Jim moved into the clear space in the middle of the patio and stood with his feet slightly spread, his weight balanced his arms at his sides.

"Assume the position, Blair," Jim grinned and Blair just shook his head, moving to stand in front of Jim, his back to his friend. Blair had started teaching Jim tai chi after Jim had been beaten pretty badly in a fight with a suspect. Tai chi left the Sentinel very mellow and they practiced the form once a week. That had stopped after the fountain - though Blair still performed the form when Jim was out of the loft. This was the first time Jim had indicated he wanted their joint meditation to resume. Jim had denied himself that comfort because he didn't feel worthy of the trust and warmth meditating with Blair gave him. He had betrayed his partner over another Sentinel - and Jim was only just beginning to realize that Blair didn't see it that way. At the hospital Jim had said he wasn't ready to take the trip with Blair, but today he realised he already had - in fact they still were travelling together.

"Center yourself Jim. Let go of the dials and find the peace of your inner self," Blair murmured, closing his eyes and doing the same, "Let your breathing relax."

Jim felt Blair tune into him, echoed Blair's deep breath and lifted his hands, bent at the wrist in a graceful movement. Slowly, the ritual grace and strength of the form enveloped him, soothing the last of his raw emotions. Jim flowed through the form, breathing slow and deep. He could feel his energy flowing smoothly, could feel the connection that was Blair open and relax for the first time since the fountain and smiled blissfully. He could feel Blair moving in synchronicity with him; their timing flawless as the form progressed. All the pain and guilt began to take on its proper proportion as Jim let go.

Their movements slowed and stopped, as they returned to the start, bringing their hands down in the opposite of their first movement. Blair turned to face Jim and they sank to the tiles on the patio. Jim sat for a while; just absorbing the feeling of wellbeing and peace tai chi left him with while Blair meditated. After half an hour Jim got up and slipped inside. Tommy was watching with wide eyes and Jim smiled at him. The hair was tousled all over the place and there was a smudge from the playground on one cheek. He'd obviously been standing at the window for a while.

"You and Da danced!" Tommy exclaimed and Jim grinned. He brushed the curls into some sort of order and led the boy to the bathroom. Time to wash the smudges from his nephew's face and his own - the wind had dried his healing tears long ago.

"Sort of," Jim agreed, and helped Tommy wash his face, "Da's meditating now, so we have to leave him alone for a little while. Want to help me make dinner?"

"Stir?" Tommy asked eagerly, "My favorite!"

Jim guessed he meant stir-fry - trust Blair to get vegetables into his three-year-old and make it seem cool. Asian cuisine was a specialty of Blair's - the varied flavors and textures appealing to the eclectic soul. Jim had come to love it too - Blair always seemed to make it spicy enough to leave a tingle, but not enough to overwhelm Sentinel taste.

"Uncle Jim isn't very good at stir fry," Jim confessed, "How about hamburgers? I'm very good at hamburgers!"

"What's a hamburger?" Tommy asked and Jim almost stumbled on his way to the kitchen. Time to correct a major gap in his nephew's education. They chatted a little, Jim taking the time to learn a bit more about his nephew's personality and get the boy used to his. After all, Jim was not an easy man to live with and he had no illusions that he'd mess up a few times while Tommy lived in the loft. It was important that they learn about each other now, so Blair would be ok. Jim couldn't see any reason this would be difficult - Tommy was an appealing little boy who just wanted to be loved. He had the perfect father for that.

Jim and Tommy were washing their hands when Jim heard a key in the lock. With a frown and a muttered exclamation Jim hustled into the corridor in time to see two immaculately dressed adults step into the foyer and close the door.

"Grandfather!" Tommy exclaimed as the man helped the woman out of her coat and hung it up, followed by his own. She turned a frown on her grandson, who immediately stiffened. Jim watched in sorrow as Tommy turned from a happy three-year-old into a solemn little boy. All Blair's hard work was undone in an instant.

"Good afternoon Grandmother," he said in a quiet voice and she gave him a plastic smile. Jim shivered a little at that - his father's smiles held more warmth and Jim usually thought of his parent as a cold man.

"Good afternoon Thomas," Mrs. Milton said graciously, "Have you been good?"

"Yes ma'am," Tommy nodded and went to shake his grandfather's hand.

"Who is this, Thomas?" Mr. Milton ran a disapproving glance over Jim's neat jeans, dress shirt and cable knit sweater. Tommy turned to Jim, who winced at the mask on his nephew's face.

"This is Uncle Jim," Tommy replied in a low voice and Milton put out a hand to shake with Jim.

"Jim Ellison," Jim introduced himself, "I was sorry to hear of your loss, sir."

"Yes," Milton grunted and walked past Jim to the living room, "Where is your father, Thomas?"

"Meditating sir," Tommy replied and pointed out to the now darkened patio. Blair could barely be seen out there, an unmoving figure amidst the patio furniture. As they watched the first of the rain began to fall - lightly at first and then heavily. Jim bit back a groan - Blair still needed to be careful of his lungs and meditating in the rain wouldn't do him much good.

"Da!" Tommy cried and ran for the patio door, only to be caught by Jim. He knew that shocking Blair out of meditation was bad - even dangerous. Blair had to wake by himself or be woken with extreme gentleness. An anxious three-year-old could do a lot of damage and Jim reacted without thinking.

"Easy, kiddo. We can't just run out there - we might hurt him. Give Da a minute - maybe the rain will wake him up. If it doesn't I'll go get him," Jim held Tommy close, kneeling down and feeling the tense tremors running through the small body. Sure enough the cold water hitting him broke through to Blair who grimaced, shook his head and got up smoothly, hurrying to the door. Tommy launched himself from Jim's loose hold at his father and was instantly caught up and petted. You didn't need to be a Sentinel to see Tommy was crying and Blair looked at Jim in bewilderment, before spotting the Miltons.

"Mr. and Mrs. Milton! It's ...nice to see you again," Blair managed to smile, "Just let me go change and I'll be right back."

Jim drove through the traffic carefully, taking a moment to appreciate the handling of the car.

They'd weathered his first mistake pretty well, all things considered. His urge to protect Blair had upset his nephew, but Blair had helped him set it right. They'd had to play pretty hard to get Tommy to smile again, and the delay in fixing the problem caused by the Milton's little unannounced visit hadn't helped. Jim had made sure he had their keys when he walked them down to their car. He'd also made sure they understood that they needed to give plenty of advance notice before visiting again.

Blair couldn't understand why Tommy kept asking if his grandparents would come to Cascade, but Jim was starting to think the boy wanted reassurance that he wouldn't have to live with them again. He idly considered telling Blair his theory and then decided against it. The new father was under enough stress as it was without adding that little nugget to his load.

Jim had managed to spring his surprise on Blair and was relieved when his friend cheered up too. Blair was working hard on the thesis now, so he'd be free Saturday night.

The airport didn't bother Jim as much as he thought it would and he grinned to himself. The difference it made having his Guide close by was often startling to Jim. When Blair first told him that his mental fitness affected his physical fitness Jim had tried to just shrug the idea off. It wasn't a new idea, but Jim had always dismissed that kind of ‘New Age thinking'. The senses had proved to him how right Blair was. Jim was a lot more ‘Zen' nowadays.

Daryl stood close to his father as Jim greeted his colleagues and Jim began calculating how to get everyone home.

"We'll take a taxi," Rafe gestured to his partner, who nodded and grabbed his luggage, "Just give us the address."

Jim scrawled it onto a slip of paper, then had to read it out while Brown wrote it down legibly. He caught Daryl's grin and shrugged, rolling his eyes a little. Joel caught the expression and snorted, before hefting his own bag and suggesting they get going.

"So, Daryl, how'd you swing a trip to New York?" Jim asked as he led the way to the car, "I'm thinking major blackmail material here, Simon."

"Joan had a work commitment this weekend and thought Daryl would enjoy coming with me," Simon spoke up and Jim heard the tale under that statement. The ex-wife had pitched a fit over something and Simon was wearing the consequences.

"Well, you lucked out Daryl - that game on Saturday night is supposed to be a big one," Joel commented, "Woah - this is Blair's car?"

Jim grinned as they examined the sports car thoroughly and loaded their luggage.

"So does this mean Blair is selling the Volvo?" Daryl asked as he settled in the back with his dad, "I've got some money saved and I'll be getting my license soon."

"Son, I think you can do better than Blair's old clunker," Simon spoke up, "It's not that reliable, and your mom and I would both prefer to see you in something we know is safe."

"Aw, dad," Daryl shook his head, "It just needs a little work, and Blair would give me a good price."

"That's the other thing, son," Simon turned a quelling eye on his teenager, "Sandburg has a kid of his own to think about now. He may need the cash."

"Oh," Daryl sat back, "I didn't think of that."

"Have Rafe and Brown got a taxi yet?" Simon asked to change the subject and Jim nodded.

"They were out of here before we got to the car," Jim confirmed, "I guess we'll meet them at the penthouse."

"So what's my nephew like, Ellison?" Simon settled back and Joel grinned, turning to look at Jim as they drove along.

"He's a very fragile little boy," Jim shook his head, "Sometimes he's ok, but you never know what will upset him. He's good though and loves hugging. He talks faster than Sandburg too - so watch out for that. I swear if we hook the two of them up to a generator you could power Cascade. And he bounces just like his father. Cracks me up every time."

"Will he be ok with all of us there?" Daryl asked and Jim grinned in the mirror at him.

"He loves surprises - we'll just make you a surprise and he'll be over the moon," Jim replied.

Jim relaxed in his seat next to Blair and watched the game. He knew he'd be sore from their little scrimmage and winced at the thought that he'd put his friend through that too. One day Jim would learn to grow up and quit being so competitive - the day they planted him probably. He grinned at the antics of his nephew and exchanged a knowing look with Joel - who was sitting on his other side.

"Damn, Jim, that boy has more energy than his father," Joel shook his head, "We're gonna have our work cut out for us with that one."

"Yeah, I foresee lots of 'sleep-overs' at Uncle Joel's house," Jim nodded and got a snort in reply.

"Like hell," Joel told him, "Uncle Joel will be too busy with Blair so Uncle Jim will have to step in."

"I live with the kid!" Jim protested and Joel nodded wisely.

"Home turf advantage," he said and laughed hard at the expression on Jim's face. Rafe distracted the bomb expert and Jim settled back in his seat to watch the game and just be with his friends. By the end of the game Tommy was curled into Blair's arms, sound asleep and clutching his father's jacket in a grip that just wouldn't quit. Simon caught sight of that and grimaced in sympathy, looking at Jim sadly and putting a hand on his own son's shoulder.

Jim still couldn't believe the letter he'd read. Amelia's callous treatment of Blair was inhumane - anyone who knew the man would also know how important family was to him. Jim's blood still boiled at her words and his friend's humiliation. Blair had expected to be slapped down for this and Jim had gone all primal on him. Oddly enough Jim thought it was the primal reaction that had reassured Blair more than anything else - it couldn't be faked or made politically correct. Blair's reaction stemmed from the damage Alex had done to him - the other Sentinel was still shadowing their lives and Jim resented it fiercely.

Jim tucked his friend, his nephew and Daryl into the taxi and then grinned at his colleagues.

"Let's find a bar," he suggested and got a round of grins and slaps to the arm in reply.

The bar they found wasn't too far from the penthouse - in the end they'd decided to get the train ride over with and taxi home from wherever they ended up drinking. It was a bit up market - the men and women of Major Crimes preferred their bars to be simple and welcoming places not ritzy and expensive - but Jim had never been one to stand on ceremony and his colleagues were all like minded men.

"Did you see the grip Tommy had on Sandburg's jacket…" Rafe trailed off, "He's real scared of losing his father isn't he?"

"Yeah," Jim nodded, sipping his beer and thinking dark thoughts about the Milton family.

"I thought Blair was gonna have a heart attack when Tommy jumped on you Simon," Joel chuckled.

"I know how he felt," Brown spoke up, "My Teresa is exactly the same way - she sees a new friend and goes for them. Mary and I have our hearts in our mouths half the time."

"He's the spitting image of his Da," Simon grinned, "And that bounce! Do you think it's genetic Jim?"

"Oh yeah," Jim drawled, "He bounces, he talks a mile a minute, he's got more energy than the Energizer Bunny and more curiosity than any ten cats. Definitely Sandburg traits."

"He's one lucky little boy," Rafe mused, "Sandburg is so good with him. I mean the way he answers all those questions and encourages him and just plain loves him."

"Sandburg is one of the most open men I've ever met. His son is gonna learn a lot of good things from him," Brown nodded sagely and Joel raised his bottle.

"To fatherhood," Joel said and they clinked their bottles together.

"Hey!" Simon exclaimed, "Sandburg never handed out cigars! It's tradition!"

"We'll have to remind him," Rafe laughed and Jim grinned, shaking his head. If his friends thought Blair would hand out an addictive and unhealthy substance they were surely mistaken. Coffee was as far as Blair went in that regard.

Jim stirred a little as Blair snuck out, but didn't really wake. He knew Blair was headed for the railway and could smell the coffee and pastry his friend had organized. Jim rolled onto his back and drowsed a little more, just letting his senses stretch and flex enough to touch each occupant in the Penthouse. This was a low risk activity that Blair encouraged. Sometimes in the loft Jim would touch everyone in the building this way before getting up. He always found himself a little more centered after this exercise, and more confident in his use of the senses.

Jim woke up properly when Tommy snuck into the living room and opened his eyes to smile at his nephew. Tommy smiled back; Raffey clutched under one arm. Jim held out his arms and hoisted Tommy up for a good morning hug. The boy sprawled over his chest and snuggled in quite happily.

"How are you this morning Tommy?" Jim asked and Tommy lifted his head from Jim's shoulder to smile at his uncle.

"I'm good," Tommy replied solemnly, "I like basket ball."

"Me too," Jim grinned, "When we get home to Cascade Da and I will teach you to play if you like."

This earned Jim a face splitting smile and a wriggly hug as Tommy snuggled back into his chest happily. Jim lightly wrapped his arms around the boy and patted him on the back. After a moment Tommy turned his head to look at the blankets neatly folded on Blair's couch.

"Where's Da?" Tommy asked and Jim tensed a little.

"He went to take the car to the train. He'll be back soon," Jim was careful to make his tone light and easy, not wanting to trigger Tommy's fear of separation, "By the time we've had breakfast he'll be here."

Tommy went rigid in his arms and Jim heard Brown sit up. The detective must have woken when Tommy came in and his paternal instincts were telling him Jim might need some back up.

"He's gone?" there was fear in that voice and Jim tried not to tense up even further, "Like mother?"

"No, sweetheart, not like mother," Jim crooned, stroking the boy's arms and back constantly, "He'll be back soon - he's just gone with the car for a little while."

"He left me!" Tommy wriggled fiercely and got down, "No! He wouldn't!"

Jim stumbled up from the couch as Tommy dumped his toy and ran to the kitchen. His heart broke as his nephew hunted for his father through the kitchen and dining room, the study, bedrooms and bathrooms and finally the patio and living room again. Tears were gliding down Tommy's cheeks as he called for his Da once or twice and then stopped. Jim had grabbed the robe and slippers at the end of Tommy's bed and approached the boy with caution now.

"It's ok, sweetheart," Jim crouched in front of Tommy and wiped away the tears, "Da will be back soon. Get dressed for me ok, and we'll have breakfast. Everything will be fine."

"No! Want Da!" Tommy stamped a foot, pouting and flashing tear-laden eyes at Jim. Jim bit his lip and nodded. He got up and handed the robe and slippers to Brown before accepting the toy giraffe from Simon. It would do no good to either of them to get into a wrestling match over the clothes - Tommy didn't need to learn about testing Jim's limits right now.

"Look, guys, go have some breakfast, ok. Tommy and I will wait for Blair," he sighed, scrubbing a hand through his hair. He couldn't bear to push the little boy into obeying Jim's request and from the approving nod Simon and Joel gave him he'd made the right decision. When they were alone, Jim turned back to the quivering three-year-old and smiled gently.

"Ok, Tommy. We'll wait for Da together," Jim knelt and put out his arms. Tommy sidled into the hug cautiously and Jim tried not to cry too when the tears soaked into his robe. He led the way into the foyer and sat down, pulling Tommy into his lap and propping Raffey in Tommy's lap too. Tommy sat with his eyes fixed on the door and Jim stroked the rumpled curls gently while they waited, extending his hearing every few seconds to listen for Blair's heartbeat.

Tommy was tense and unmoving as his uncles and cousin finished breakfast and went to use the bathrooms. Jim was rocking him a little now and crooning meaningless sounds every now and then. Finally, Jim picked up Blair's heart in the foyer and kissed Tommy's temple.

"Da's here now Tommy," Jim soothed, "Just a few more minutes tough guy."

The lift was a few floors away and Jim deposited Tommy gently on the floor. Blair would have to deal with this alone - Tommy needed sole access to his Da for a moment, though Jim would be monitoring them both very closely.

"Just a few more seconds Tommy," Jim patted the curls and stepped away carefully. He stepped into the kitchen as the door opened and saw Tommy plaster himself to Blair's legs. Blair looked up at Jim, and Jim felt a warmth pierce his heart at the trust Blair had for him. His Guide knew the Sentinel would keep watch over the boy - and Blair knew Jim would look out for his nephew.

The others crowded around Jim to watch Blair soothe Tommy and then Simon cleared his throat.

"Let's get the linen packed," he said and shooed everyone out. Jim waited in the kitchen with the robe and slippers, knowing that Blair would come to him for them. Jim would be glad to get back to Cascade so they could start showing Tommy a normal life. Only six more hours until their flight.

Jim unlocked the door to the loft and let the smell of home waft over him. He'd never really considered it before but the mixture of his scent and Blair's, overlaid with the scent of their belongings and the more subtle scent of the building itself was one imprinted in his memory. Jim stepped aside so Blair could carry his son inside - Tommy had sacked out on the plane - and then went back out for the luggage.

"Do you want to just put him to bed?" Jim asked quietly and Blair shook his head.

"I don't want to freak him out," Blair replied just as quietly, "He needs to know where everything is so he'll feel safe. I'll wake him up now for a little while and then he can go to bed."

Jim nodded and began hauling bags to the right rooms as Blair sat on the couch and gently woke his son. He went to lean on the back of the couch as Tommy opened his eyes and grinned down over Blair's shoulder.

"Hey short stuff," Blair smiled and sat Tommy up on his lap, "Guess where we are?"

Tommy looked around carefully, rubbing sleep from his eyes and clutching Raffey to his chest.

"Where's the plane?" Tommy exclaimed and Blair laughed.

"Back in the sky, flying some place new," Blair replied, "Can you guess where we are?"

"Home!" Tommy bounced, "At home in Cascade!"

"We have a winner!" Jim crowed and pounced, snatching Tommy over the back of the couch and swinging him enthusiastically in the air before steadying the child to the floor and stepping back. Tommy had squealed with laughter at the ride and now headed off to explore, poking through the living room first and then out to the kitchen and bathroom. Every few minutes he would turn to look at Jim and Blair to check that what he was doing was ok. He was rewarded with smiles and nods of encouragement, smiling back hesitantly. After a quick tour he headed back to the couch and climbed up to sit next to Blair.

"Where do you sleep Da?" Tommy asked and Blair patted the couch cushion.

"I sleep out here for a little while. Eventually we'll have a proper bedroom each, remember?" Blair had made sure Tommy knew they were going to live with Jim in a co-joined apartment.

"Where does Uncle Jim sleep?" Tommy looked around and Jim pointed up to his bedroom.

"I sleep up there," Jim replied, "You can come up and have a look if you'd like."

Tommy put his arms up and Jim guessed he wanted to be carried. Jim tucked the smaller body more or less comfortably against his chest and walked up the stairs. He walked around the room once and then tossed his nephew lightly onto the bed, sprawling next to the giggling boy and tickling him gently.

"Da! He's tickling!" Tommy shrieked and Blair clattered up the stairs noisily, making a big production of getting between his son and Jim on the bed - which of course led to merciless tickling by Jim. Blair retaliated with a pillow to the head and Tommy grabbed the other one. Father and son pummeled Jim mercilessly until he managed to get hold of Tommy and hide behind him.

"Scaredy cat!" Blair jeered and propped himself on his weapon while Jim sprawled comfortably on the mattress. Tommy chose to cuddle with Jim and Blair traded an unseen smile over his son's head. Tommy was beginning to accept Jim as a part of the family, much to Blair's joy.

"Ok, Tommy," Jim said gently, "There's an important rule I have to tell you."

Blair shot Jim a startled look - surely Jim wasn't going to start with the house rules already!

"See this?" Jim leaned over and pulled the brochure that came with his lock box off the bedside table. He showed the picture to Tommy who nodded. Blair felt his heart skip a beat - he knew what those boxes were for and he was grateful that Jim had thought to make his gun safe from curious hands. He'd ask Jim if he would show Tommy the gun later - there was nothing worse than unsatisfied curiosity to lead a three-year-old into trouble.

"This is a very important box Tommy. I put something in there that is very dangerous to little boys. If you see this box downstairs I want you to tell me or Da so we can put it away somewhere safe. You have to promise not to touch it," Jim stroked Tommy's hair and Tommy looked over at Blair curiously.

"Why can't I touch it?" he asked and Blair smiled, "If the dangerous thing is inside the box isn't it safe?"

"Sweetie," Blair reached out to add his touch to Jim's, "Tonight is too late to go into it. For now can you promise to follow the rule? Uncle Jim and I will show you what's in the box later I promise."

"I promise too," Tommy nodded, leaning into Blair's hand trustingly, "Da? Is there a monster in the box?"

"No sweetie. Just a tool - it can't get out or even move without a person touching it. But it's dangerous if you touch it the wrong way. Just like the knives in the kitchen are."

"You're safe here, Tommy. Da and I will make sure of that," Jim promised and Tommy nodded, leaning up to kiss Jim on the cheek before scrambling into his fathers welcoming arms for some soothing snuggles and petting.

"Bed time sweetie," Blair crooned as drooping eyes and nodding head signaled the end of Tommy's energy. Blair got up and then picked up his son. He bent over so Tommy could kiss Jim goodnight and Jim followed the two down the stairs protectively. He sat on the couch to check the mail while Blair stripped Tommy down, bundled him into pajamas and put the little boy to bed.

Blair grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge and joined Jim on the couch.

"Thanks Jim," Blair sighed, "I was going to ask about the gun."

"The first night you were in New York it just hit me. I couldn't stand it if he hurt himself with my weapon. I've ordered a small safe for upstairs - I'll keep my gun there once it arrives. For now the box is on top of the fridge where he can't see it," Jim took a pull at his beer and looked over at his friend, "Did you mean what you said about showing it to him?"

"If that's ok," Blair nodded, "I think it would be best if we let him see the thing - even touch it once. It's a part of your work so he's going to see you wearing it. We'll just make it very clear that he's never to touch it and leave it there."

Jim nodded, glad his friend wasn't going to take the ostrich approach to the situation and bury his head in the sand rather than confront the gun and all it stood for. Blair was in favor of gun control and so was Jim - but the Shaman and Guides calling was to heal and nurture not hurt, so Blair preferred not to fight unless he was truly pushed into it.

"Sounds like a good idea," Jim agreed and hesitated before bringing up the next subject, "What about the Sentinel?"

"What about him?" Blair asked and then understood what Jim meant, "I wasn't planning to come right out and tell Tommy about him this week. But eventually he'll have to know. You can't suppress your senses at home - it's risky enough at the PD. We'll make it a secret - he'll be ok."

"With his uncle the freak," Jim slumped into the couch and Blair slammed the beer bottle onto the coffee table.

"You are not a freak," Blair's voice was vicious in its intensity, "I swear Jim, there are days I'd like to pull your father's ears off. You are a beautiful man, with natural abilities and a good soul. Anyone who fails to see that is truly blind and undeserving of your time or attention."

"Easy, Chief," Jim protested, wrapping his arms around his vibrating friend and rocking slowly, "I didn't really mean it."

"The hell you didn't," Blair's protest was no less vehement from being muffled in Jim's neck, "I know your father hurt you Jim. I just wish we'd met as kids - I'd have protected you from him I swear."

"I know you would," Jim was sincere. He had a mental image of Blair the size of Tommy going up against William Ellison and winning. It warmed him to the core and he stroked Blair's back. Blair had wrapped his arms around Jim and was making indignant comments that were thankfully garbled in Jim's collar. The self doubt had surprised Jim there, triggering Blair's impressive protective instincts.

"Settle down Chief," Jim soothed, "We're both tired here and not making sense. Let's get some sleep ok?"

Blair nodded and let go, sitting back and retrieving his beer. He gulped down the last mouthful and refused to meet Jim's eyes.

"Pull his ears off?" Jim asked in amusement and Blair glanced up though his lashes coyly.

"Edited for strong adult content," he said sweetly and Jim laughed, took the empty bottle to the kitchen and headed to the bathroom to get ready for bed.

They started the day in what was to become their morning routine. Jim and Blair got up and took turns in the bathroom while the other one prepared breakfast. Then Blair got Tommy out of bed and the three men ate breakfast together. Blair got Tommy washed and ready for the day while Jim read the paper - later he would make lunches for the three of them, but this month they'd be eating together.

"What are we doing today Da?" Tommy asked as Blair led his son out into the main living area. The boy was wearing a brightly coloured top that fairly screamed for attention over a pair of khaki cargo pants. With his riotous curls and stuffed giraffe Tommy was adorable.

"We need groceries," Blair looked over at Jim, "We could all go together."

"Sounds good Chief," Jim nodded, though he wasn't too keen on going shopping with a three-year-old. The ones at the supermarket always seemed to be the spawn of Satan - whining and misbehaving with a vengeance. Tommy was bouncing in excitement though and Jim couldn't stop the grin that mannerism always gave him.

"Bathroom," Blair ordered and Tommy put Raffey down obediently to trot into the bathroom while Blair retrieved his son's sneakers and put on his own. Jim heard the tap run in the sink. Tommy must be standing on tiptoe to manage the reach; Jim would have to see if he could find the little wooden stool he'd made in high school and put it in the bathroom for Tommy to stand on. Blair knelt down and Tommy hopped up to balance on Blair's thigh. With both arms around his son Blair deftly put on and laced both sneakers with a skill that left Jim grinning in admiration. Tommy went to Jim to have his coat put on and Blair handed Raffey over before shrugging into his own coat and shouldering the pack he carried.

"Ready?" Jim asked and Tommy nodded, clutching the leg of Blair's jeans as Jim opened the door. Blair led the way down the corridor to the stairs, picking his son up as he descended them quietly. Jim held the outer door open for them and Blair stopped on the street outside while Jim went over to unlock the truck.

"This is our street Tommy," Blair said and turned, "This is our building - it has a bakery, see?"

"A bakery?" Tommy asked and sniffed as a breeze wafted delicious smells his way, "Bread and cakes!"

"That's what they sell in the bakery," Blair agreed, "We'll go in there later and have a look ok?"

"Ok," Tommy agreed and Blair crossed the road to the truck. Tommy frowned at it and shook his head.

"Da, this isn't our car!" he protested, "It's blue!"

"This is Uncle Jim's truck," Blair smiled, "Our car isn't here yet. We'll have to ride in this one for a while."

"No child's seat," Jim pointed out, "We're not going far though, and I can buckle him into the center seat pretty thoroughly."

"Oh," Blair frowned, "I suppose it will be alright this time. We'll just have to walk a lot or catch the bus for the rest of the time."

"I could get a seat fitted to the truck," Jim offered, and Blair shook his head as they settled Tommy in and did up the straps.

"We won't be in the truck often enough to make it worthwhile," he replied and got in too, closing the door and doing up his own belt. Tommy couldn't see out the windshield, so he and Blair chattered away while Jim made the short drive to the local market that stocked a wide enough range to be Sentinel friendly. Blair had moved Jim away from corner store shopping when the Guide had moved in - the small store couldn't afford to stock the range of brands Blair had tested as Sentinel safe.

Blair knelt down in the car park again in what Jim was beginning to recognize as the parental version of a pre-emptive strike.

"Ok, Tommy, a few rules," Blair smiled, "Stay with Da or Uncle Jim all the time. You may look but not touch. Ask all the questions you like, but no means no."

"Ok," Tommy nodded solemnly. Blair smiled and got up off his knee, waiting until Tommy latched on before walking towards the store. Jim found a trolley that wouldn't drive him nuts and taught Tommy how to ride on the end while Raffey rested in the trolley.

Before Blair moved in Jim was a seek and destroy shopper - he went in with a definite list, got only that and was out again in the minimum time. Blair took over the grocery shopping when he moved in - citing his flexible schedule as a reason for the offer. In reality he wanted to double check that everything brought into the loft was safe. A few months after Blair moved in Jim found himself at a loose end and went shopping with his Guide. Blair favored the hunter-gatherer approach, wandering the aisles and picking and choosing as the whim took him. Much to Jim's astonishment this method was just as time effective, and less stressful. For Blair the sight of Jim draped over a shopping trolley as they wandered the aisles was a source of gentle amusement - the six-foot-plus man draped well.

Now Tommy added another dimension to their shopping routine as the little boy chattered in excitement at the colors and variety of objects he saw. It was painfully obvious that he had never been grocery shopping before. To Jim's relief Tommy accepted his fathers gentle 'no' with equanimity - though he didn't ask for much. Jim gave himself over to answering questions, steering the trolley and looking with poorly disguised pity at any parent with a whining child.

There was a brief delay in the hygiene aisle as Blair selected a 'no more tears' shampoo for Tommy that wouldn't irritate Jim's sense of smell, and a bottle of corm starch too instead of baby powder. The smell from the powder made Jim sneeze.

They headed off to the fruit and vegetable display and Tommy was holding a bag for Blair to put mandarins in when Jim caught the edge of trouble.

"Blair," Jim said significantly and Blair frowned, urging Tommy to silence and moving to stand next to Jim.

"What?" he asked in a resigned voice - they couldn't even go shopping? It just wasn't fair. Jim grinned at him.

"Two men with guns in the next aisle. They're planning to hold up the registers on the way out," Jim murmured and straightened to his full height assuming what Blair privately thought of as ‘full Sentinel hunting mode'.

"You two get some place safe and I'll warn the manager," Jim continued.

"The hell you will," Blair hissed, "You'll take them on - I know you Enqueri!"

"And are were supposed to let the child walk into danger Shaman?" Jim hissed back, "You can't leave him alone!"

"Excuse me, ma'am?" Blair turned to a mother nearby and smiled at her. She smiled back cautiously.

"I don't want to alarm you but my partner here has spotted two armed men in the next aisle. We're with the PD and need to check it out, but my son…"

"Of course," her face was immediately understanding and worried as she herded her own daughter closer to the stroller with the sleeping baby. Blair squatted down in front of Tommy.

"Ok, short stuff," Blair smiled, "You need to go with the lady for a minute. Da and Uncle Jim have to go to work, but I promise not to be gone for long."

"Can't I come?" Tommy's face crumpled and Blair shook his head resolutely. He couldn't afford to give any lee way here - there was too much at risk.

"I won't leave the store. There's some very naughty men here and Uncle Jim and I have to go talk to them. Can you be good for me?"

"Ok," Tommy said in a very little voice and Blair walked him around the fruit stand to the woman. She held out her driver's license to Blair.

"So you know he's safe," she suggested and Blair smiled in relief. He accepted the license and bent to kiss Tommy's cheek. Jim pointed to the frozen food section further down - the freezer's were huge and tall and should make a good barrier against trouble. She nodded and headed that way, pausing to gather other parents and shoppers, herding them ahead of her to the relative safety of the frozen food section.

"Jim, you don't have your gun," Blair murmured as they walked towards the aisle in question.

"I've got you," Jim replied, "That's all I'll need."

"I'm not a weapon," Blair growled and Jim grinned.

"Your brain is," he shushed Blair's indignant and almost silent diatribe. Blair paused long enough to warn a bunch of teenagers and caught up.

"They're on the move. They're going to approach through the second aisle from the end - the one that lines up with the express lanes," Jim passed the information on and Blair got an unholy gleam in his eyes. He grabbed a mop from the sale display and hightailed it towards the aisle in question, hissing ‘stall them' under his breath.

Jim hurried behind Blair, turning up another aisle that had a stacked display of soup cans at the far end. He warned the people in that aisle to get to the freezers and then threw a can of tomatoes at the soup display. His aim was good - Sentinel sight really helped - and the display went scattering into the path of the two targets. Jim managed to fake surprise along with the few people still around and the stock clerk that came hurrying to see what had happened. The two men - dressed in jeans and plain sweaters, with plain caps and running shoes - were forced to backtrack and then go back up the next aisle in order to stick to their plan. Meanwhile, Jim warned the clerk and several others to get to safety before following the two men at a little distance. Jim noticed that there were fewer people around - obviously Blair had succeeded in warning a few others, though not everyone.

The two would-be-felons got to the aisle they wanted - which was empty - pulled their guns and tugged stockings down from under their caps to obscure their faces. The handguns were 9 mm's, and Jim felt a clench of fear - the clips would hold thirteen bullets and could do a lot of damage.

They looked at each other, nodded and ran full speed down the aisle. Halfway there, their feet slid out from under them in a truly spectacular fashion and they fell, arms and legs flying everywhere. They both lost their guns and Blair jumped from the top of the shelves - where he'd apparently been lying - to secure one gun while Jim went for the other.

"Cascade PD - freeze!" Jim barked and made sure not to tread on the film of olive oil that Blair had mopped onto the floor of the aisle. His friend stood on the other side of the oil slick and held the gun safely pointed at the ceiling, safety on. One of the downed men swore.

"Hands behind your heads! Face down on the floor," Jim continued and Blair moved carefully back out of reach when the men obediently rolled into position. In the distance Jim could hear sirens and knew that back up would be here soon. He called the Miranda to his two captives and then grinned over at Blair.

"Good plan Chief," he complimented Blair who grinned back and shifted a little restlessly. Jim understood at once.

"Back up is almost here, Sandburg. As soon as they arrive to secure the scene you can go get Tommy," he sympathized and Blair nodded.

"We'll have to scatter flour to absorb the oil before we cuff them Jim. I put some bags up on top of the shelf with the mop, ok?" Blair sighed, "I suppose we'll have to go do the paperwork today?"

"Looks like I get to show my nephew off at the precinct today after all," Jim crowed and Blair rolled his eyes. Two uniformed cops appeared, guns drawn and pointed at Blair.

"Cascade PD! Drop the weapon!"

"I'm Detective Ellison and that is my partner Blair Sandburg," Jim identified himself as Blair obediently put his arm straight out to the side and began to slowly bend his knees to lay the gun on the floor. He'd found it best to not aggravate the uniformed cops by waiting for Jim to straighten things out.

"Hell, Ellison, can't you even go shopping without seeing action?" the older cop straightened, "How you doing Sandburg?"

"Fine Murphy," Blair smiled, turning slowly with the gun pointed at the floor and his other hand in plain sight. He handed the gun over happily.

"I heard you were a dad?" Murphy asked. He was a skinny man with absolutely no hair and shockingly green eyes. Blair had met him at several crime scenes and around the PD. He'd found a friend forever when he loaned Murphy's younger brother a book for his school assignment. The paper got an 'A' and Blair got an invite to the Murphy family barbecue - something that until now had been reserved for family and fellow cops only.

"He's here," Blair nodded, "We had to leave him behind. If you guys are ok I'll go get him?"

"Go on, Chief," Jim called as he scattered flour onto the slick floor to give them some traction while cuffing the perps. Blair didn't need to be told twice, jogging quickly the length of the store to the freezers.

"Da!" Tommy flung himself at Blair and was swept up for hugs and kisses.

"It's ok folks. The PD have the situation well in hand. Just stay out of aisle four," Blair spoke up and then thanked the woman who'd taken care of Tommy. He handed her license back and she smiled at Tommy.

"He was a very good boy," she complimented him and Tommy ducked his head into his father's neck shyly. Blair thanked her again and then walked back to their abandoned trolley. The food they had would keep ok in the truck so Blair pushed it to the registers and paid for the groceries while the cops finished the mop up in aisle four. Jim spotted them on the way to the door and called Blair over. The store manager offered to watch the trolley and Blair took his son over to meet Murphy and a few other friends. Jim was greeted with clinging hugs too, and the Detective stroked his nephew's hair tenderly.

"He looks just like you, Sandburg," Murphy grinned, slapping Blair on the shoulder lightly, "You'd better not let my mother see him - she'll steal him away."

"No!" Tommy protested and reached for Blair.

"Murphy is joking, sweetie," Blair soothed, holding Tommy close. Jim made warning signs at Murphy, who looked startled but went along, backing Blair up.

"C'mon Tommy," Jim said gently, "You, me and Da are going to go visit Uncle Simon at work for a little while, ok? You can meet Auntie Rhonda and Auntie Megan too."

"Auntie Rhonda?" Murphy spluttered, "I want to be around to see you call her that!"

Rhonda and Megan spoiled Tommy rotten and gave Jim and Blair enough time to get the paperwork done before being claimed by Simon for lunch. They ate at Wonder Burger, which had the advantage of being close to the station.

Tommy recovered some of his bounce, though he declined an invitation to play in the ball pit at the store. Simon dismissed them to the loft and Jim went to finish the grocery shopping while Blair unpacked what they already had. Tommy settled in front of the glass doors that led to the balcony with his coloring book and Raffey.

"How's he doing?" Jim asked quietly as he unpacked the last of the stuff he'd bought. Blair sighed and shook his head.

"Ok," Blair leaned against the counter, "Jim…I hate that I had to choose. I don't regret helping you - but leaving him behind like that…it hurt, a lot."

"Chief," Jim's heart clenched, "Uh…I should probably tell you something. Simon and I…hell, almost the whole PD…are writing a proposal to get you hired when the doctorate is done. We thought maybe you could work with the PD full time - based in Major Crimes of course, but working with all the departments."

"You are?" Blair whispered in shock, "You'd do that for me?"

"Yeah," Jim nodded, swallowing hard, "But if you can't do it…I mean today was fairly standard for us, you know? You wouldn't have thought twice about it before…"

"I wouldn't have thought twice about it today if it had just been us two and Tommy was somewhere else," Blair interrupted, "Jim, it was the fact that he was in danger that had me worried. Your job is dangerous and you needed me to back you up, but he needed me too. If he'd been with Simon at the PD while we did the shopping and you'd spotted those two guys, I wouldn't have given it a second thought. I'm not worried about the risks of your job, Jim. I made peace with all that a long time ago."

"He won't be with us when you work at the PD full time," Jim said in a small voice. It was a dream come true to have Blair with him full time, and on terms that Blair was comfortable with, but being a cop or working with a cop was dangerous. It wasn't worth risking a split in the family if Blair felt he couldn't do it.

"No," Blair agreed, "He'll be at school or day care. He'll be safe with other children learning to do what children do. And when the day is over he'll be safe at home with us. Jim, I always worried what would happen to us when the doctorate was done. This was a dream I never thought would happen."

"It's not just Simon. Bunko and Vice and Homicide have all contributed and Richards from Robbery and Taggert have both offered to help Simon with the presentation to the Commissioner," Jim said proudly, "You might not be a cop, but you're sure accepted as one."

Blair's face lit up in a purely happy smile and Jim patted his shoulder gently. They turned to look out of the kitchen at Tommy, who was happily coloring away at his book.

"So what now? You should probably get some work done on the thesis. I can play here with Tommy for a while if you want," Jim offered, "Set the laptop up on the dining table and we'll be quiet I promise."

"You wouldn't mind?" Blair looked guilty and relieved at the same time; "It's just slow going at the moment, checking and double checking everything."

"Go on," Jim nodded and Blair headed for his room, hauling out the things he would need and setting them up. Jim went to sprawl on the couch nearest Tommy with a book and the quiet sounds of the computer keys and Tommy's pencils interspersed with the occasional rustle of pages filled the loft.

Jim looked up at the end of a chapter to find Tommy leaning on the arm of the couch looking at him. Again, the boy had sneaked in under Jim's radar and Jim made a mental note to mention it to Blair once he'd graduated.

"Want to read with me?" Jim offered and Tommy's solemn face split into a huge smile. The little boy padded over to the pack Blair had left by the door and pulled out the animal anthology that Blair had bought at the zoo.

Jim settled himself in the crook of the sofa, one leg leaning along the back of the cushions, the other on the floor and settled Tommy in front of him, holding the book so they could both see. Jim slouched down a little to get comfortable and then let Tommy pick the first story to be read.

When Blair looked up an hour later both Sentinel and child were asleep on the couch, the book lying forgotten on Jim's leg.

After a fortnight of living with Tommy all Jim's doubts were assuaged. The child was happy and comfortable with his new home and new family and had blossomed under the loving care his father and uncle dished out on a daily basis.

They'd done the gun safety lecture on Tommy's second day in the loft and explained Jim's job. That had led to a discussion of Blair's job too. Trying to explain what an anthropologist was doing working with a detective was hard enough when talking to adults - Tommy got a very watered down version that had managed to stem his questions for now. Jim was not looking forward to the Sentinel discussion, but Blair hadn't indicated that discussion was on the horizon any time soon, and had continued to train Jim's senses as usual with little verbal cues and physical reinforcement in the shape of pats and taps.

Tommy had begun to accept short term separations from Blair - taking trips to the park with Jim happily enough. Blair was always home when they returned and listened enthusiastically to his son's adventures. Blair had also managed to leave Tommy at the loft for short periods with Jim - running down to the bakery, or walking around the block before returning. Tommy had…endured those separations stoically, letting Jim distract him with a story or a chore.

In what Blair declared to be an Ellison trait, Tommy loved to work around the loft. Jim would give him an easy task to do - like dusting the coffee table or plumping the couch cushions - while Jim worked at another task nearby. Jim had argued that Tommy couldn't have got it from his side of the family, to which Blair made a comment about osmosis that had left Jim laughing too hard to make a come back.

Blair's work on the thesis continued daily. He timed his breaks around meals and morning playtime so he wasn't stinting his son's needs. They'd made a trip to the car yard to sell Blair's Volvo - the check went straight onto Blair's credit card - and another to pick up the Subaru. Jim had unloaded most of the car's content into his truck so Tommy could ride in the car with Blair. He'd detoured past the Taggert household to drop off the computer - helping to hide it in the basement - and then Tommy had been a ‘big boy' and coloured in upstairs while Blair and Jim packed the stuff into Jim's already full storage space.

"Most of which is camping gear," Blair grinned at his friend, "Gear we should put to good use, man. I promised Tommy fishing."

"Are you sure Chief?" Jim asked as they put the last of it away and locked the door behind them, "How's the thesis? You're presenting it next week."

"It's done - Jim. One more quick review for safety and I'll send the data to the printer. The committee need a copy each three days before I defend it, so we can go then," Blair sighed and tilted his head at Jim significantly.

"He's fine - singing along to the radio," Jim stretched his hearing obediently and Blair smiled in thanks, squeezing Jim's wrist lightly and leading the way upstairs.

"What about the weather - it's a bit cold to camp out overnight for a kid - not to mention your lungs," Jim continued the previous topic and Blair stiffened.

"We'll make it a day trip then," his voice was a little tight, "And I'm not fragile Jim. You have to let it go."

Jim reached out and caught Blair's arm, pulling him to a stop.

"I can't not care, Chief," Jim sighed, "You know that. I accept that I can't protect you from the world and that I can't control the future. But don't ask me to stop caring."

"I'm not," Blair smiled and came to stand on Jim's step, "I'm asking you to trust me to care enough too. I don't want to leave you behind Jim, and there's Tommy to think of now. We have a little boy counting on us to care and be careful. I love that you care."

Jim folded him in a hug and they stood together for a moment - the last wounds finally beginning to heal. Then Jim stiffened and Blair let go.

"Phone," Jim ran up the stairs, with Blair just behind him. Neither man gave a second thought to the fact that they'd been standing on the first floor landing when Jim heard the ringing. They reached the door as the ringing stopped and Jim opened the door in time to hear his nephew say calmly into the handset,

"Sandburg."

In a perfect imitation of his uncle's normal response. Blair smothered a laugh and toed off his shoes at the door while Jim closed it. Tommy turned to look at his Da and uncle.

"Yes, he's here," Tommy said into the phone and Jim extended his hearing a little, stepping forward when he heard his father's voice.

"Ok," Tommy told William Ellison and held out the phone, "It's for you Uncle Jim."

"Thanks, Tommy," Jim smiled and took the phone, ruffling the short curls and bringing the phone to his ear, "Dad?"

"Jimmy?" William's voice sounded uncertain, "Who answered the phone?"

Jim wondered for a moment if his father was concerned his eldest son had married his male roommate and adopted a child without telling him, then decided to cut the other man some slack. Blair was sitting on the floor with Tommy, looking at the pictures his son had drawn while waiting for them to come back upstairs. The sight was enough to mellow anyone.

"Blair's son, Tommy. That's the first time he's answered a phone. Pretty smart for a three-year-old huh?" Jim boasted, "How are you dad?"

"I'm fine, Jimmy," William replied, "I just rang to see how you were doing. I've been in Japan, and Sally told me this morning about what had happened to Blair. I wanted to be sure you were ok."

"I'm not the one you should be worried about," Jim sighed, "It was too close, Dad. I nearly lost him this time."

"I see," William's voice said otherwise, but Jim wasn't going to call him on it, "May I come and see you son? We haven't spent a lot of time together lately - my fault, son, my fault - and I'd…like to meet Blair again. We never really had a chance to talk that one time. You say he's married?"

"No," Jim headed into the bathroom, closing the door so his voice wouldn't carry, "His girlfriend used him to have a trophy baby. He only just found out about it. She died and left him sole custody."

"Oh. Are they living with you?"

"Is that a problem?" Jim challenged defensively.

"No! Of course it isn't! I just want to know what to expect Jimmy. I know so little about your life now. I'm not judging you - I lost the right to advise or censure your actions a long time ago," William's voice was heavy with regret and Jim swallowed a stab of guilt before sighing and renewing his grip on the phone.

"Yes they're living with me. We're planning to extend into the apartment next door so we'll have enough room. Blair's going for his doctorate next week and he'll be working for the PD after that. I'd be happy for you to come and meet my nephew and Blair," he said gently. There was silence on the other end for a moment and Jim wondered what his father was thinking.

"Thank you," William said at last, "When would be convenient?"

"Why don't you come for dinner tonight?" Jim suggested, "If you're not too tired from your trip."

"Would five o'clock be all right?" William asked and Jim agreed. They hung up and Blair murmured a nearly silent apology that Jim had to retreat to the bathroom for privacy. Jim shook his head significantly.

"Dad wants to come over for dinner, Chief. I told him five o'clock would be ok," Jim smiled at Tommy who was headed his way with pictures. Blair's face cleared a little as he realised that Jim had been explaining his nephew's advent into their lives.

"Great," Blair smiled now and headed for the kitchen, "Does he like lasagna Jim?"

"Sure," Jim nodded and admired the picture being held out to him, "This is great short stuff! We should hang it up on the fridge!"

"Ok," Tommy beamed proudly, "Uncle Jim who's coming for dinner?"

Obviously the boy hadn't been paying attention. Jim smiled as he found the tape and Tommy held the masterpiece against the fridge - a picture of the three of them at the park.

"My Dad," Jim replied as he taped the corners down carefully. He put the tape on the counter and stayed at Tommy's height, "He wants to come and say hello."

"Your dad?" Tommy asked and looked over at Blair, "Da? Is your dad coming over too?"

"No sweetie," Blair smiled and got down on the floor too while Tommy thought this over.

"Is he my uncle too?" Tommy frowned and Jim shook his head straight away. William Ellison wasn't going to be called uncle by Tommy Sandburg if Jim had any say in it.

"No," Blair said gently, "Your Grandfather was your mother's Da. Remember? You called him Grandfather, not Uncle."

Tommy nodded and snuggled close for reassurance and petting.

"Well, it's the same here," Blair knew he was explaining badly, but couldn't think of another way to put it.

"He's my Grandfather?" Tommy squeaked with wide eyes and clung tighter. Jim reached out and put his arms around father and son. He was wondering if he could call and cancel dinner tonight.

"No, sweetie," Blair crooned, "Grandfather is in New York, remember? You're here with Da and Uncle Jim now."

"But then who is he?" Tommy demanded in confusion and Jim dropped a kiss on the shorter curls.

"Just Mr. Ellison," Jim soothed, "That's all. It's ok, Tommy. Don't worry about it."

"Promise?" Tommy asked and Jim smiled, nodding gently. After a few minutes of hugging and rocking Tommy was happy to let go and Blair and Jim stood.

"Should I cancel?" Jim asked and Blair shook his head.

"No, that would just make it worse. He'll be ok, and if it's too much I'll go visit Joel. Helen and the kids have been dying to meet Tommy," Blair ran a hand through his curls and shrugged, "Let's just get dinner started."

"I'll do that Chief. Why don't you two read a story together?" Jim offered. Blair smiled down at his son.

"We could do that," Blair nodded, "Or Tommy could help you tidy up while I make dinner. What do you say, short stuff?"

"Both!" Tommy said firmly, "Tidy up and then a story, Da!"

"Both!" Blair exclaimed, "Wow! I don't know if we're clever enough to do that!"

"You are," Tommy insisted, "Uncle Jim says you're a genie!"

"A genie?" Blair looked at Jim, and Tommy nodded vigorously.

"That means you're very very smart. It's a special word!"

"A genius," Blair corrected with a grin, "And so are you. Everyone in my family is very very smart."

"You and me and Uncle Jim and Uncle Simon and Auntie Rhonda and Auntie Megan and Uncle Brian and Uncle H and Raffey and…" Tommy started bouncing as he listed his family and clapping his hands.

"And if we don't get started we won't have enough time to do both," Blair broke in easily and Tommy grabbed Jim's hand to tow him out to the living room.

William Ellison arrived precisely on time, wearing slacks and a sports coat and bearing a gift for Tommy. It was wrapped in rice paper and Tommy took it hesitantly.

"Thank you," his voice was soft, but William smiled gently and sat on the couch. Tommy stood at the coffee table to unwrap the small parcel carefully while Blair sat on the floor beside him and Jim sat next to his father. The paper revealed a small carved wooden box, lacquered in red and black with no apparent lid. Something rattled inside when Tommy lifted it, and he turned it over in careful hands before looking at Blair for guidance. Blair grinned at his son and took the proffered box.

"It's a puzzle box, Tommy. You have to find your way inside to find out what the rattling noise is. There's a trick to it. Don't shake it too hard or whatever is inside might break," Blair explained and handed it back after a quick look. Tommy nodded and went to the yellow chair by the windows. He hauled himself up without another word and started examining the box to find the trick.

"He's a little young for that, Dad," Jim said quietly and Blair shot his friend a look that shut him up.

"Nonsense," Blair retorted, "I had one like that when I was three; we got it from a temple near Kyoto."

"That's where I got mine," William perked up, "A stall under a big old cherry tree."

"Uh huh - that's the place," Blair smiled, "Isn't it a beautiful tree? They say it's as old as the temple. It's all knarled and twisted Jim, and the branches spread out in a canopy. With the blossoms on it's a fantastic sight."

"How long did it take you to master the box, Chief?" Jim smiled right back and his Guide shrugged a shoulder, glancing over at Tommy for a moment and then looking back.

"About an hour," his voice was diffident, "I was a very curious child - I loved puzzles. It doesn't matter how long it takes - think of how proud he'll be when he solves it. Do you want anything, Mr. Ellison? I'm about to check on the dinner."

"No, thank you," William smiled, "It smells wonderful."

"Blair's a great cook," Jim agreed, "My diet has only improved since I met him."

"I'll remember that the next time you complain about a new dish, or want to eat Wonder Burger," the cook retorted and headed to the kitchen, leaving father and son alone to talk.

"This is a…warm place you have here Jimmy," William said looking around, "A real home."

"Yeah," Jim nodded, "We like it. It's comfortable."

"Blair seems well," William continued, trying hard to connect to his son, "Healthy."

"He's just fine, now," Jim nodded, tuning into Blair's heart for a brief moment, letting the steady beat soothe him, "He has to be careful about colds and flu, but he's back to his usual self."

"I'm sorry I wasn't here to help you," William sighed, "I always seem to let you down when you need me, son."

"Chances are I wouldn't have accepted it Dad. There was a lot of stuff going on at the time. Blair and I were fighting pretty badly and my boss was thinking of yanking my badge."

"Was it…because of the senses?" William almost whispered and sighed when Jim nodded. His father took Jim's hand and looked his son in the eyes. There was regret and sorrow in the older man's eyes.

"Maybe if I hadn't made you…maybe things wouldn't be so bad now if I'd tried harder to understand back then, son," William murmured. Jim started, unsure of how to respond. Was his father apologizing for calling him a freak?

"Actually," Blair broke in from behind them while he set the table, "It's probably for the best that Jim didn't use them full time until he met Incacha. Untrained like that he could have really hurt himself."

"Incacha?" William turned to look at Blair and the Sentinel was grateful for the respite when his hand was released. Blair straightened and told Tommy to wash his hands.

"Incacha was Jim's first Guide," Blair explained, "Jim switched his senses off again when he left Peru. But after a while they just came back. That's how we met."

"You saved my life, Chief. And my sanity," Jim grinned, "He's my Guide now Dad. My very own brother and soul mate."

William nodded and stood. He stepped out from behind the couch towards Blair.

"I'm glad you have each other," he said hesitantly, "And I want to thank you Blair for being strong enough to do what I couldn't."

"It's my honor," Blair said simply and shook the hand stretched out towards him. Tommy came back in and smiled up at the adults as they bustled to sit at the table and dish out dinner.

Jim cleaned the kitchen while Blair and William sat in the living room over after dinner coffee. Tommy was back in the yellow chair with the puzzle box. Jim listened to the conversation shamelessly, though it was mostly a travel dialogue as Blair and William compared notes. They were interrupted in Brazil by Tommy's shout of triumph as the puzzle box yielded to his determined fingers.

"A dragon!" Tommy shouted, snatching the figure carved from jade from the box and wriggling off the chair. He carried both objects over to the couch and climbed up between the two adults before turning to show Blair.

"How did you know they're my favorite?" Tommy demanded and William smiled down at the excited face.

"Just lucky, I guess," he chuckled. Tommy bounced up onto his knees - ignoring the ‘no feet on furniture' rule just like his Da - and gave William a big hug. William returned the hug carefully, smiling at Blair who winked and held the small dragon up for Jim to see.

"Looks a bit like the one in the story, Tommy," Jim called from the kitchen as he wiped plates. Tommy grinned and nodded enthusiastically.

"Have you read it?" he asked William, who had to confess he hadn't. Tommy wriggled down and hurried into his room, hurrying back out with the book that was kept on the bedside table. He put the book on the couch and held his arms up to William. The older man hesitated a minute, then perched Tommy gingerly on his knee. He glanced at Blair to see if this was ok, received a reassuring nod and grin then picked up the book at Tommy's urging. Blair passed the dragon to his son and went to help put away the dry plates and glasses.

"Another Sandburg gene comes to light - the blatant manipulation of elders," Jim whispered and Blair frowned.

"Actually I think that only works on Ellisons," he replied Sentinel quiet, "Dominant genes."

Jim snorted and wiped down the counter while Blair folded and hung the towel. They rejoined the others on the couch in time for the end of the story. William had pulled Tommy onto his lap comfortably, and the boy was leaning against him in his trusting manner.

"What's another word for Grandfather?" Tommy asked, looking up at William with a little frown. William looked puzzled, but played along willingly.

"There's lots of names," he murmured, "Granddad…Grandpa…Gramps…um…Pop…Poppy…"

"Poppy?" Tommy craned his head back to look at William and Jim caught his breath, "Can I call you that?"

"Um, sure," William floundered, "If that's ok with your father and Jimmy."

"Da," Tommy corrected, "And Uncle Jim."

"Uncle Jimmy," Blair grinned and Jim groaned.

"Don't start, Chief," he warned, "Uncle Jim is just fine, Tommy. Da is being silly."

"Da's not silly!" Tommy flashed back, his eyes sparking. William chuckled.

"Uncle Jim means Da is joking," William mediated and Tommy looked up at him trustingly.

"So can I call you Poppy?" he reverted to his first question with typical curiosity. William saw Jim and Blair exchange a look and Jim's hesitant nod to Blair, who smiled and nodded at William easily.

"I'd like that very much," William replied. Jim put a hand on his father's shoulder for a moment.

"Welcome to the family," he smiled.

End Cascade

BeginGlimpses

Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Shedoc.>

Back to Shedoc's page.