This is set a year or so post TSbyBS, and Blair is a cop.
National Missing Person's Week promised to be a hectic one, Simon mused as he headed into the seven-eleven for some much needed milk, bread and toothpaste on the way to work. Each department in the PD had been briefed to deal with the predicted madness. The 'experts' had warned that the extra attention on missing persons cases would put extra pressure on the PD as more and more people tried to get their missing loved ones back - or at least find out their final resting place.
Simon slung the required brand of toothpaste into his basket and strolled along to the diary section. As a part of the campaign this week the milk cartons would be carrying the faces of the many missing persons that had been missing for ten or more years. The supermarket chains had agreed to help by displaying those cartons with the faces out, so that people just walking by the display would see them, not just the customers buying milk.
Simon wasn't really paying attention as he ambled up to grab the milk.
He was too busy thinking about the concert to raise money for a privately run missing person agency, and the other planned civic awareness events that would add to the publicity, and therefore the hysteria. That's why it came as such a shock when a three-year-old Blair Sandburg alternated every fourth milk carton on the shelves.
Jim Ellison, Detective first grade in the Major Crimes department of the Cascade police department, former Army Ranger and Sentinel of the Great City pushed up his sleep mask and frowned in frustration. He had another ten minutes of 'sleeping in time' before Blair was due to come upstairs and wake him. Unfortunately that wasn't going to happen now - because his boss was about two meters from his front door and closing.
His Guide, Blair Sandburg, Detective second grade in the Major Crimes department of the Cascade police department, ABD in Forensic Anthropology, and Shaman of the Great City was currently in the shower. That meant that he probably wouldn't hear the knock on their front door - he certainly wouldn't be getting out of the shower to answer it.
Jim sighed, groaned, got up slowly and took his time to wander down the stairs whilst tying his robe. It looked like this week was going to be one to remember if Simon was making house calls this early in the morning. He reached the door as Simon pounded on it, opening it with a sigh.
"Good morning Simon," Jim stood aside as his boss steamed in. The stench of anger, fear, worry and anguish trailed after him in an oppressive cloud that had Jim wiping at his nose and shaking his head to clear it.
"What's wrong? Is it Daryl?" Jim grabbed Simon's arm, leading him to the dining room chairs. He got him seated and grabbed a cup of coffee from the fresh pot that Sandburg had started before he got into the shower. Simon gulped at the brew and waved Jim to a chair; fishing in the bag of groceries he pulled out the carton of milk he'd bought and put it on the table in front of Jim.
"Look," he rasped and Jim did, frowning at first until the full import of what he was looking at hit him. Then he understood. It was a picture of Blair at the age of three. Naomi had the same picture - Jim had lain upstairs on his bed and looked at the album. So what the hell was it doing on a milk carton?
"Simon…what the hell's going on?" Jim shook his head, stalling for thinking time, "This doesn't make any sense at all. Naomi's got this picture in her album of him…I've seen it."
"You've seen what, Jim?"
Blair opened the door to the bathroom and blinked. He hadn't heard the door, but then again the sound of the water tended to make him a little deaf. He rubbed at the wet mop of curls on his head and stood there quietly for a minute. Both of the men at the table were in a deep discussion of something and whatever it was, they weren't happy.
He bit down on a sigh. The trouble that had been promised the department was obviously starting early for the people in Major Crimes. He knew it was related to the Missing Person's week because they were staring at a milk carton.
"…I've seen it," Jim was saying as Blair approached.
"Seen what Jim?" Blair asked lightly, dropping automatically into a chair between the two men. That way he'd be able to control the stress levels.
Both Jim and Simon looked as if they'd swallowed a hairbrush. Blair reached out and turned the milk carton, his instincts telling him that this was the cause of consternation.
There on the side of the carton was a picture. It was of him at the age of three. He was standing against the wall that was in his aunt's backyard. His hair was short and his eyes squinted a little in the sun. Blair frowned and shook his head.
"Is this some kind of a joke?" he looked at his partner and boss respectively, then back at the carton, his sharp eyes picking out the case number and contact details.
"Uh…" Jim trailed off. Blair looked over at his Sentinel and saw the fear there, and the anger. So Jim, at least, thought there might be something to this, and was worried how it was going to turn out.
"Ok," Blair shifted uneasily, "First things first. I'm going to try and contact Naomi. The chances are that she was putting a notice in for a friend and the wrong picture somehow got attached…I'm pretty sure I'm not missing, guys."
"Right," Simon agreed, reassured by Blair's calm acceptance and quick thinking. He'd been half afraid that he was headed into the mother of all emotional scenes this morning, "While you call Naomi, Jim can get ready for work."
"And what will you be doing?" Jim growled at his boss - after all they were still off duty and in their own home. Simon grinned, used to his friend's mercurial temper, and held up the bread he'd bought.
"Making breakfast, detective, now get on with it."
As he headed to the kitchen, though, Simon was mentally preparing himself for a very bad week indeed. Because he knew as well as Sandburg did that Naomi was not the ditz she often pretended to be. The chances that the scenario Blair had come up with was correct were slim to none. Which meant his best detective team was in a world of hurt, because what affected Sandburg affected Ellison.
Joel was waiting for them when they reached the bullpen. He too had a worried face and a milk carton in his hand. So did Brown when he arrived thirty minutes later. Rhonda didn't have the carton, but she'd seen Blair's face on Good Morning America - who was apparently putting the different photos up every time they went to a station break.
Blair was hunched over his computer, working on the endless round of paperwork, waiting for Naomi to call him back. He'd also sent an urgent email to her account - with the hope that she'd contact him sooner rather than later. Jim was brooding over his own computer, and Simon's door was standing open, a sure sign that he was just as worried about their anthropologist cum detective.
Blair's tension was obvious by four, as Naomi hadn't called him at all, and his emails were unanswered. He tried again and then got up to take a walk, needing a breather from his co-workers thinly veiled concern.
"Why don't we just call it in?" Brown asked once he was sure Blair was out of ear shot, "If it is a mistake then we'll know for sure and Hairboy will be off the hot seat."
"What if it isn't?" Rafe tossed back, "I mean, he had a pretty nomadic childhood, right? Maybe somewhere along the way someone thought…I dunno…"
No one wanted to raise the idea that Blair had been kidnapped by Naomi as a child and their nomadic existence was a result of her efforts to avoid the law. If that was the scenario they were looking at, Blair would be torn apart - his obvious love for his mother destroyed by the lie she'd made of his life.
"Either way, the decision to call it in has to come from Sandburg, not us," Jim told them with a scowl, but Joel shook his head.
"Jim, we're not the only ones who know Blair Sandburg. There are people out there from the University and all over that know who he is. They'll see the photo too. Chances are that they've met Naomi and her photo albums. They'll call it in without calling Blair first," his face was sad, but his eyes resolute, "One way or another this is going to be reported, and Sandburg is going to be facing someone's family."
Jim's heart sank. He hadn't thought of that. Not everyone would call Sandburg before they called the hot line - that was why the milk cartons were so effective. No matter what they did, they were headed for some rough times ahead.
Naomi didn't call. She didn't reply to the emails that Blair sent even though they had been tagged to send a receipt when they were opened; Blair knew she'd read them, she just hadn't replied.
Jim and Simon were tiptoeing around him, as was half of the PD. He appreciated the concern, but at the same time chafed against it. Blair had never been one to run away from his problems - he faced them head on. Once they'd returned to the loft on Monday evening he'd disappeared into his room, closing the doors softly and locking away his gun carefully.
Blair changed into sweats and sat on the floor, slipping into the lotus and setting up the candles and incense he favoured for a long session of meditation. Jim would smell them and know not to disturb him. His Sentinel knew the Shaman meditated when trying to come to terms with a new problem.
Blair settled himself properly and focused on his breathing. He used the deep slow breaths to push away his feelings of betrayal and hurt at Naomi's apparent rejection, and the fear that his life had been a lie. He absorbed the quiet of his room, the comfort of his memories and the security that was his Sentinel and best friend that fairly radiated from the other side of his doors.
The steady cadence of his breaths soon slowed to the deep, silent breathing of a deeply meditating mind. The interior of his room gave way to the jungle that he and Jim had visited in their visions before. Usually his mind traveled to the seashore that he had once lived beside as a child with Naomi. He only traveled to the jungle in search of Jim or while seeking assistance for the Sentinel's problems.
The jungle was quiet today, but not eerily still. The steps of the temple bore his wolf and in the clearing paced Jim's jaguar. There was no one else around, but Blair wasn't looking for people. He went to the jaguar first, stepping into its path to stop the restless prowl, and then soothing it with his hands and voice, whispering promises in its dark ears until the beast was purring and content to follow him to the wolf on the steps.
The wolf greeted them with an idle wag of the tail and the jaguar lay at its feet. The wolf nuzzled its soul mate tenderly and Blair sat beside them, burying his hands in their fur. They sat in the sun together for some time, allowing the quiet to preserve this moment of perfect peace. On the horizon storm clouds were gathering and both animals watched them closely.
"So, I guess that's a metaphor for the future, huh?" Blair sighed after a while, "That's ok guys, as long as we weather it together."
Both animals nuzzled him in approval of his words and Blair smiled, letting the jungle fade away slowly, taking his time to preserve the peace of the temple.
Blair emerged at dawn. Jim had monitored his Guide through the night, lulled to sleep by the slow rhythm of his breath and heart.
Although he had been worried when Blair first shut himself away, he knew his Shaman would not have been able to meditate so deeply for so long if he had been plagued by worry or fear. The dawn light showed the peace and health of his Guide, the well-known and loved face glowing, the deep eyes clear and unsullied. Wherever Blair had traveled in his meditations last night he had found the peace and answers he sought.
Jim had been awakened by the slow increase of Blair's respiration. He'd judged he'd have half an hour before his Guide returned to the present and got up. He'd started seeping the tea that Blair favored after a long session of meditation, and had a shower as well. Morning ablutions completed, Jim had begun to prepare a light breakfast - mainly fruit and some grains in a yogurt mixture that Blair had once shown him.
Blair smiled as Jim poured the tea and came over for a hug. They held each other in silence for a long moment, then Blair chuckled.
"There's a storm on the horizon, Jim. We can weather it together."
They held each other in silence for a long moment, then Blair chuckled.
"There's a storm on the horizon, Jim. We can weather it together."
Cryptic messages from the spirit world. Jim grinned a little into his Guide's hair and squeezed tighter, getting an 'eep' in response. Once his response would have been to push his Guide away and make some kind of wisecrack or retort. Now…
"I'll get out the wet weather gear," he promised and they broke apart, moving to the table to eat and drink in easy silence. When their plates were empty Blair pushed his chair back a little and sipped the last of his tea.
"I'll call the hotline today," he said quietly, "There's nothing to be gained by hiding my head in the sand. I don't know what they'll tell me Jim, but I do want you to know this. My place is with you, as your partner. Nothing I learn today will change that. No one can replace you at my side, and I don't want any other. Nothing can invalidate who I am or what I have experienced - not even the knowledge that there is a family out there looking for me. Whatever comes we can weather it together."
Jim relaxed a little, partly ashamed that he'd needed this affirmation of the partnership, but mostly relieved. He'd had a bad feeling ever since Simon and his milk carton had shown up, but that feeling had been banished by Blair's simple words. They would face this together. Together there was nothing they couldn't handle.
When they called to tell Simon their plans, their boss made a helpful suggestion. The people at the hotline would probably be very wary of giving information to someone claiming to be the three year old in the picture - especially as they couldn't verify over the phone who was being sincere and who was merely looking to con the grieving relatives.
Simon's suggestion was to let him make the call - he could give the contact details of the PD to whoever had placed Blair's picture on the milk carton and suggest that they call him. That would take some of the pressure off Blair and give Simon a chance to scope out what was going on. During the night it had occurred to the Captain that it was possible some kind of fraud was taking place here - after all, Blair's mother knew where he was.
Jim, who had been listening into the conversation shamelessly, nodded his approval of the plan.
He looked so hopeful that Blair agreed to go along with it.
His friends were stressing out enough - he could afford to give them this. Hopefully they would feel better now that they were actively doing something to solve this mystery.
In the truck on the way to the PD, Blair finally voiced the hope that had occurred to him whilst sitting on the temple steps.
"Jim…maybe the person who put the report in is my father."
"Maybe, Chief," Jim agreed quietly and hoped that if it was, old man Sandburg would turn out to be nicer than old man Ellison. The last thing that Blair needed was a father who disapproved of everything he'd become.
Blair's attitude was brighter today, and that relieved the tension that some of his co-workers felt. Now that he had a plan, the young man felt better about the situation. Action usually soothed him - his partner called him the perpetual motion machine for good reason. He and Jim went out on witness interviews for the morning, which resulted in an arrest just before lunchtime.
The karma of Ellison and Sandburg held true though, and the arrest was more of a food fight than a straight in and out operation, therefore both men needed to head to the loft to shower and change before coming back to work. Their suspect would be booked by then, and Simon would have calmed down after the restaurant owner finished complaining about the mess.
Brown and Rafe were on their way out when the two men stepped off the elevator. Jim endured the ribbing about his pie-throwing partner - they never blamed Blair for using unorthodox methods in the field, heck, they expected it - and headed for Simon's office while Blair started the paperwork and checked their messages.
"Any word?" Jim's voice was hopeful. Simon nodded, and waved his detective in. Jim settled into the familiar chair opposite the Captain's desk and folded his hands over his stomach. His boss smiled a little - it was so like Ellison to check up on his partner rather than ask the man himself.
"I've left a message on Sandburg's desk," he replied, "The contact details are for a Sheriff Jackson out at White Falls County."
"That's only three hours from here," Jim sounded surprised, and Simon nodded. It was a small world indeed.
"I'm hopeful that this isn't some kind of screw up - the Sheriff's department out there is pretty good by all accounts. They won't be running some kind of scam or anything. How was he last night?"
"He meditated all night - I think it's a personal best. He was fine this morning though - and he's totally focused on the job today. Did you hear about the bust?"
Once Simon wound down from his telling off, and Jim's ears stopped ringing, the Sentinel rejoined his partner, who handed over Simon's message wordlessly. Jim read through the details carefully and nodded, redirecting their attention to the paperwork and booking an interrogation room. Their suspect's lawyer arrived and Jim and Blair headed off to the interview, putting their personal mystery aside for now.
"Captain Banks, this is Sheriff Jackson from White Falls County," the woman's voice was cool and clear over the phone lines and Simon put his latest piece of paperwork aside to concentrate.
"Hello, Sheriff," he glanced out to see if Blair or Jim was in the bullpen. Neither man had returned from the interrogation yet, so their suspect must be holding out. It didn't matter; Sandburg and Ellison were an almost unstoppable team when it came to finding out the truth of any matter.
"I called you in response to the photo that you had published on the milk cartons," he continued, "I believe I may know the young man that's in the photo. I wanted to check what your interest in him was, and see if we can identify him properly."
"Uh huh," the woman didn't sound too impressed with his hedging, "Ok, well, how about I give you the details of the person I'm looking for and we'll see if they match up."
"That sounds reasonable," Simon nodded, though she couldn't see him.
The Sheriff started out by giving him Blair's birthday and a general physical description, including an estimate of what his height should be and his eye color. They were all spot on.
"His first name is Blair, and he could have the last name of Sandburg, though we're not sure if his mother remarried and renamed him," she continued, not waiting for Simon to confirm or deny any of this, "He'll have traveled a lot in his life time and his mother's name is Naomi."
"I see," Simon took a deep breath, "Sheriff I have to tell you that so far everything you've described to me is spot on. So I'm going to insist that you tell me how you came about this information and exactly what you want with the young man in question."
"I just want to know that he's ok, that he's happy and safe. And I know all this stuff because he's my twin brother. Naomi took him and walked out when we were three. Dad raised me. She raised him."
Blair paced the floor of the loft nervously. Simon had been gone for the day by the time they got out of that nasty interrogation - good news they'd nailed the guy but good, bad news there was yet one more lawyer out there cursing the team of Sandburg and Ellison. He'd left a cryptic message on Blair's desk that he'd be at the loft at eight pm sharp and Jim had met his Guide's eyes steadily.
The Sentinel was wisely staying out from underfoot as Blair worked off the nervous energy. He couldn't decide if it was good news or bad news, though he knew that whatever Simon had discovered had proven that he belonged in some small part on the side of that milk carton.
Blair saw the tilt to Jim's head and the flare of the nostrils that said Simon was approaching. He went and opened the door, standing so he could see the corridor that led from the lift and stairs. Simon appeared out of the stairwell, and blinked a little in startlement. While the Sentinel loved to open the door just before he could knock, the Guide rarely stood in the doorway waiting for him.
Simon shifted the package under his arm and smiled at the worried detective, backlit by the loft and shadowed by his protective partner.
"Hey, Sandburg," he nodded in greeting. He was ushered inside wordlessly, and headed for the couch - all the better to be comfortable while he laid this information out.
"Thanks," he nodded as Jim handed him a beer and sat close to his partner, draping an arm along the back of the couch in a casual manner that let him rub soothing circles on the Shaman's tense shoulder.
"I got the call just as you guys went into interrogation," no sense in prolonging the wait, Simon leapt straight into his pitch, "Sheriff Jackson's father placed you in the missing person campaign, Blair, and her information was so good I had her drive up to Cascade straight away with the corresponding evidence. She's waiting in a hotel at the moment, so if you want to see her you can give her a call."
"What did she say?" Blair fixed his eyes on the photo album that Simon had set on the table. It was a blue leather affair, gold embossed border with a sticky label on the spine that read 'family years'.
"She has the documents to prove it all, but Sandburg, this is gonna come as a shock," Simon warned and held up a hand at the impatient look he got, "Her name is Beth, and thirty one years ago she and her twin brother were born to Pete Jackson and Naomi Sandburg."
"What?" Jim blurted in surprise, "Simon, that's nuts!"
Simon opened the album. The first page was of pictures of Naomi and a chestnut, curly haired man that Blair took to be Pete. They were still teens, and in each picture they were hugging or holding hands. In one Naomi wore Pete's team jacket.
Simon flipped the page and there were the graduation photos, followed by a wedding photo with a date under it. In the wedding photo both the teens looked a little shocked, and Naomi was pale to boot.
"She got pregnant right after graduation…" Blair trailed off and sighed, touching the hands that were locked so tightly together. On the next page Naomi and Pete clowned for the camera, Pete touching the bulging belly of his young pregnant wife. There were a couple of shots of them in various locations that were easily identified as San Francisco.
The next page had two babies, lying wrapped together in the same rug, identical except for the pink and blue tags on their wrists. Blair's breath caught and he touched the photos reverently. His birth date was written beneath the photo along with the simple caption ‘our angels Blair and Beth' in his mother's handwriting. There was also a photo of the couple together; holding the babies between them and beaming so proudly that the love shone right off the page at the viewer.
"Call her Simon, tell her to come over," Jim spoke for his partner and then shifted to hold the overwhelmed man close, offering comfort and support as only he could.
Jim decided not to warn them of the imminent knock. Blair had relaxed a little in the twenty-minute wait, and to give him too much advance notice would undo the cuddling and breathing exercises.
Simon made as if to get up, but Blair was up, over the back of the couch and at the door before the fourth knock could fall. Simon didn't think he'd ever seen the young man move faster, unless it was to protect his partner.
Blair pulled the door open and froze. In the hallway stood a woman his height and age. Her red and chestnut curls were short, but they framed a face that was almost eerily his. Her jaw was a little softer and she was a little slimmer, but her eyes and forehead and cheekbones were the ones he saw in the mirror every day.
"Blair?" she asked hesitantly, "I'm Beth Jackson."
Blair took a deep breath and reached out with both hands, the turmoil of his emotions forbidding words for a moment. He took her by the shoulders gently, as if she was an illusion that would shatter from too tight a grip, and drew her over the threshold. His partner's gasp of astonishment barely registered as he pulled her closer, getting into her personal space, catching the faint scent that had always said Naomi to him. Her arms came up too and she wrapped them around his waist, holding on tightly, coming to rest her head on his shoulder, even as his was resting on hers.
"Beth," Blair breathed, "Oh my god."
Jim smelt the salt of tears, but he thought they were happy ones. Simon looked vaguely uncomfortable, as if he was an intruder on this very personal moment. Jim sent him a reassuring smile - one that was rarely aimed at anyone other than his partner.
"This is for family, Simon," he said softly, so as not to disturb the siblings at the door. He watched the pleasure dawn on Simon's face, as he understood what Jim meant and nodded in return.
"Beth, I'd like you to meet my partner, Jim," Blair took a deep breath and turned, tugging his twin after him, keeping his arms wrapped around her loosely. Jim smiled and came forward, running his senses over the woman who looked so familiar. She had the familial scent that Blair shared with Naomi and her heartbeat was very similar to Blair's.
"It's a pleasure," he shook her hand and ushered them both out of the doorway, herding them gently over to the couch. Beth dropped the backpack that had been slung over one shoulder to the floor, resting it against her feet, then sat holding Blair's hand tightly.
"Your hair is longer than mine…" she trailed off and Blair laughed, a delighted sound that had her chuckling along, blushing a little at the inanity of her comment.
"I can't believe you're a Sheriff," Blair replied, "I mean, it's so bizarre. What are the odds of us both ending up in law enforcement?"
"In my case I followed in Dad's footsteps," Beth shrugged, her eyes taking in every detail of the man she was clinging to, "I was a portable in the San Francisco PD when Dad was a detective. He was injured in the line of duty and…well he couldn't be a cop any more. He was worried about me, so I offered to look for a job somewhere quieter. White Falls County was looking to hire someone with city experience to deal with a new resort opening up that way, as well as a couple of bars and hotels along the highway. I applied and got the job. Dad runs a carpentry shop out there - he makes furniture and does a little building on the side."
"My father is still alive?" Blair gasped and she nodded, dismayed at the tears that stood in Blair's eyes. Jim moved closer and put his arm around his partner again. For all his bravado on the subject, Blair had always wanted to know who his father was. Now he'd have that chance.
"Easy buddy. It's ok."
"Mom and Dad met in high school, according to Dad they were going steady - don't you love that phrase? - and they went to the prom together. Mom found out she was pregnant right after they graduated and Dad married her right away. He was going to work as an apprentice carpenter for his uncle in San Francisco, and he took Mom with him."
"…mom said I was born in 'Frisco."
"Yeah, well, we were a surprise to them, according to Dad they thought something was wrong all through the pregnancy, but no one listened to a couple of clueless teens who'd gotten into trouble. Mom gave the doctors a scare when we were born, and they were sent home with two babies instead of the one they were expecting. It didn't matter though. We all lived together until just after our third birthday."
"…why don't I remember this?"
"Well, you were three, and when she took you Mom didn't take anything to remind you of us. I had Dad's memories and the photo albums to help me remember you - though if I'm honest it's more the knowledge of you than of anything we ever did together. Dad never really gave up hope that one day we'd all be a family together again, so he'd tell me stories about us and Mom."
"…what happened when we were three?"
"According to Dad, that was when he found out that Mom had strayed…that's his word choice, not mine. He had a huge argument about it with her, and the next day, while he was at work she took you and left. He came home to me in the crib and all your stuff gone, as well as Mom's. She even took your photo album."
"…I don't get it."
"This is the family album - all of the pictures of Mom and Dad are there, as well as all four of us, or the two of us. Mom had set up two different albums - one for each of us, so we'd have pictures of ourselves as we grew up without a twin to steal the limelight. Mine's at home - do you have yours somewhere?"
"…in my room."
"I'd love to see it sometime - so would dad. Anyway, Dad looked for you both but he couldn't track you down. He didn't want to call the police, because they'd probably arrest Mom or something. Then a week after my fourth birthday Mom came for a couple of days to visit. Dad asked her to come back and she said she'd think about it. This went on until just after our seventh birthday. She came for a visit and that was the last time we ever saw her."
"Well, for one thing Uncle Ray had died about ten months before and left the carpentry business to his sons. They fired Dad - they thought he was being a sponge or something I guess - and Dad had to get a new job. He joined the police department in 'Frisco and opened the door to Naomi in his uniform. I can still remember hiding under the bed at the screaming argument they had. Mom went totally nuts. Dad begged her not to leave, and begged her to let you come see us, but she stormed off and that was the last ever visit."
"…dad is a cop?"
"He was - he made it to detective rank, and I was a patrol officer in the PD for a while. He got hurt in the line of duty and had to take medical retirement. White Falls was looking for a city trained Sheriff and I got the job. Dad and I live out there now. He runs a carpentry business and we coach and tutor in the community, it's nice out there. I was kinda hoping you'd come out for a visit soon. I gotta leave tomorrow afternoon because I'm on duty this weekend, but Dad is dying to see you and … I want us to get to know each other again."
"…give me the address and I'll get some leave as soon as I can."
White Falls was a sprawling town, with a tree lined main street and wide pavements. The stores were all well established, nothing too fancy or hectic. Blair found the Sheriffs office at the end of the street - a single story brick building near the council chambers. He parked out the front and took a deep breath, willing his heart rate to slow. The last thing he needed was to hyperventilate.
He and Beth had arranged that he would drop in to the Sheriff's office first, so Beth could warn her father that he was on his way. He'd been unsure of when Simon would be able to give him leave time, and didn't think it was fair to just land himself on the man unannounced. Luckily, Simon had been able to swing three weeks emergency leave, citing family reasons. Unfortunately, Jim hadn't been able to swing leave time as well. His place in Blair's family wasn't really recognized by anything so mundane as regulations, though each man knew where the other stood in their heart. He would try and come for a weekend at one point - at both Beth and Blair's insistence.
The man at the front counter did a classic double take as Blair entered and the tense man managed a small smile. Looks like Beth hadn't warned her colleagues about him.
"Hey Sheriff!" the man yelled, staring hard, his eyes taking in the long hair pulled in a ponytail, the sideburns and masculine lines.
"Harry, how many times do I have to remind you that we are professionals, and should act accordingly?" Beth's voice was exasperated as she emerged from her office, "We spent a pretty penny putting in phones that had an intercom just so you wouldn't have to shout like you were in the field."
"Sorry, Sheriff, but there's someone here that looks just like you!" Harry gestured wildly and Beth looked past her Deputy to Blair. The brown uniform sat well on her, as did the usual utility belt and badge. Her face lit up when she caught sight of him and she hurried forward, arms open. Blair wrapped himself around her, hugging tightly. That was not the faked reaction of someone putting up with an unwanted addition to the family. That was the loving reaction of a sibling greeting someone she'd missed. Any concerns that Blair had that she was simply humoring her father disappeared in a flash.
"Hey sib," Blair chuckled in her ear, "Glad to see you again."
"Ditto, sib," Beth adopted the nickname in a heartbeat and squeezed once before letting go.
"Harry, I'm heading home for lunch. I'll be back at the usual time, and I've got the cell and all if you need me," Beth tucked her hand into Blair's and tugged him forward, heading for the door. Blair waved back at Harry and they split up, Beth to her cruiser, Blair to the Volvo. As she led the way along the main street, Beth called home on her cell phone, hanging up quickly as she guided Blair to the former farmhouse that she shared with her father.
It was on the outskirts of town, and had a barn nearby that doubled as Pete's display area and workshop for the furniture. The barn was painted blue and white, and the house matched it. There was an extensive garden out the front of the house, one that was designed to compliment the old fruit trees that surrounded the house. Beth parked around the back, near the large vegetable patch and hopped out, hurrying to help Blair with his bags and bickering with him in a comfortable tone about who would carry what. In all his life Blair had never connected so quickly or deeply with any other person, not even Jim.
The sound of the cars had alerted Pete to their arrival, and the tall well built man stepped out of his workshop, shucking the leather apron he wore to protect his clothes. He wore faded jeans and a flannel shirt with rolled sleeves. His hair was also short, the grey streaked chestnut curls tight about his head. He was limping quickly towards them, his face a mixture of joy, hope and apprehension.
Blair dropped his bags and moved quickly, hugging the older exuberantly. Strong arms came up to hold him close, and a rough voice welcomed him home.
Jim felt the last anxiety in his muscles melt away to nothing as Blair stepped out of the sky blue barn and waved enthusiastically. The summer sun was warming them even as it set, so Blair's short sleeved shirt was sweat marked from where he'd been working with his father - mainly apprentice level skills that Pete insisted on showing him. Beth had ribbed that she already knew how to do that 'baby stuff' - earning a laughing scold from her father to 'leave her little brother alone'.
They had spent the last two weeks making memories and sharing each other's past. Pete spoke a little of the Naomi he'd known and their early years together. They'd thoroughly explored the photo albums and caught up to the recent past. Pete had told Blair the bare bones of the accident that took his left leg below the knee and Blair had shared a little of the disaster that had led to him choosing to become a cop, as well as the chance that had led him to the nearly finished PhD in Forensic Anthropology. Beth had already achieved a Masters in linguistics and another in archaeology through external learning courses. Pete had walked around with a smug smile for days.
"Hey, Chief," Jim laughed as Blair tugged open his door. The ex ranger slid out of the truck into a hug, and grinned at the excited gleam in his Guide's face.
"Jim! Good trip?" Blair bounced - something that Jim hadn't seen for a long time - and reached in the back of the truck for Jim's bag, "You're in the room next to mine, come on, I'll show you. How was your week? Any problems with you-know-what?"
"Yes, it was a good trip, that sounds great, thank you, we've been pretty quiet on the crime fighting front and no, there have been no problems," Jim answered in order, an old game of theirs from the early days when Blair would fire a million and one questions at him. To answer out of order only confused things, and Jim had trained himself to this new skill.
The room next to Blair's was comfortably furnished in pale yellow tones and Jim dropped his bag at the foot of the bed. He'd unpack later - when his friend had calmed down a little. Blair gave him time for a quick wash and then dragged him back downstairs and over to the barn to meet Pete Jackson.
The family resemblance was unmistakable. Blair's eyes and chin came from this man, as did his general build and square shaped hands. It was obvious he'd inherited the curly hair too, though he was a little redder, taking after Naomi in that area. If this was what his dearest brother was going to age into, then Jim was very pleased to make the man's acquaintance.
Pete brushed aside the polite 'I hope I'm not intruding' comments with a wave of his hand and banished the last of Jim's very secret fear that his Guide would elect to stay out here instead of returning to his place in Cascade with a few simple words.
"My son has told me a lot about you, Jim," Pete chuckled, "Anyone that he considers family is welcome in my home, day or night, no exceptions."
"Come on Sandburg! Get the lead out!" Jim yelled from the sidelines and chuckled at the hand gesture that was his very grimy Guide's only response. It was true Fourth of July weather - hot and clear. The smell of the grills wafted over the field and most of Major Crimes was ranged on the dugout benches, calling encouragement and derision at short intervals.
"Jackson, Jackson, she's our man - if she can't do it no one can!" Simon added as Beth headed for the plate, grinning in turn at the identical hand gesture.
Murphy from Vice sneered, pitched a fastball and gaped as she hit it out of the park with a graceful swing of shoulders and hips. The twins jogged around the bases at their leisure, touched home plate with a delighted team cheering them on and headed into the dugout.
"What was that little gesture I saw out there, children?" Pete Jackson asked mildly, and Major Crimes laughed at the sight of the two of them scuffing their feet in the dirt and avoiding his eyes.
"He/She taught it to me," they chorused pointing at the other and the laughter boiled over in to almost hysterics. Simon had to prop himself up on Jim, and H rolled on the ground, clutching his ribs.
"Hey! Are we gonna play ball or what?" Murphy yelled and Jim staggered up, quelling the laughter with difficulty, collecting his bat and heading for the plate. Blair grinned and threw himself down beside his father, while Beth nudged Simon over for her share of the narrow bench.
The two families had been traveling back and forth for the major holidays, taking it turn about, though Pete had come to Cascade for a month long visit, meeting the team at Major Crimes and riding along with his son for a day as well. Simon had watched his best pair of detectives settle into a contented groove, the sudden discovery of Blair's family only enhancing the extraordinary bond they shared. That was in part due to the welcome that Pete and Beth gave to Jim - sometimes Simon thought that they understood that there was more than simple friendship, or even simple brotherhood there. Simon knew that they had told the Jacksons the full story about the thesis at Jim's insistence. Simon had been relieved to hear that - a part of him had worried that the strain of lying - and not only lying, but making himself out to be the worst of frauds at that - to his newly recovered father and sibling would tear Blair away from Jim.
"Hey, Hairgirl, catch," H threw Beth a bottle of sports drink and she caught it deftly, popping the top and taking a healthy swig. The nickname had been issued on her first visit with Major Crimes, and she'd taken it in good humor, as well as Joel's pious thanks that their hair was different length so they could tell the twins apart. Major Crimes had opened their arms to the Jackson's, and as a result they all had standing invitations for Halloween and New Years.
The crack of bat and ball recalled the Captain from his musings. Jim was on second by now and Joel on first. Simon leaned back and looked at his people with deep satisfaction. They were relaxed - a rare enough thing for cops - and healthy. His newest detective was settled in and working hard. He had a beer in his hand, his team was winning and the weather was clear and warm.
Life just didn't get any better than this.
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