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.

Fast Forward

by Shedoc

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

Jim cursed under his breath as he swerved around some civil servant on the way back to the office after a long lunch and considered just hitting the lights and siren. Simon was mad he'd been called away from a meeting over a case they were working with Vice, and Blair had been nowhere to be found in the precinct, so things could hardly get worse if he was reprimanded by the Chief. It was so rare for the school to call him that he'd hit the Sentinel-protecting-his-young button and gone into overdrive when the lunchtime traffic had held him up.

Clare had only been in school for a year - his blond haired blue eyed daughter had loved it, as much as Tommy did, though she wasn't as advanced as her 'big brother'. Only this morning Jim had braided her hair into pigtails while listening to her read her primer and helped her when she stumbled. He could clearly remember the feel of her soft hair as it slid through his fingers and the bright jumper she'd chosen to wear with her overalls. She had tied her shoes herself, smiling up at him in accomplishment - it was a new skill and one she and Tommy had worked hard on together as a surprise - and kissed him goodbye. She'd gone walking out holding Blair's hand and chatting to Tommy who was also holding hands on her uncle's other side.

The sound of her chatter had clung to his ears until they were out of range - about ten blocks away. Blair had told Jim to stop listening under his breath, and the Sentinel had been so shocked his hearing had snapped back to normal levels automatically. He'd made a note to ask Blair how he knew Jim was still listening and then locked up both lofts and gone to work.

Jim pulled up in front of the school, parking illegally, but flipping the truck's id so it would be visible. He ran along the front path and up the steps to the office, stuffing his keys in his pocket and trying not to panic. His senses weren't reliable enough at the moment to look for Clare without risking a zone - his emotions were too high. The receptionist looked up at his hurried entry and immediately picked up the phone, calling the Principal and smiling at Jim while she spoke.

Principal Wilson emerged from his office and beckoned Jim in. For a moment Jim wished he had ignored Blair's advice to split Tommy and Clare up to let them develop friends outside of the Sentinel/Guide bond - he sure could have used the reassurance that Tommy was here to watch over Clare.

"She's not hurt, Detective," Wilson said first, reassuring Jim as best he could. Despite the fact that he'd said it on the phone, most parents tended to err on the side of overreaction when their children were concerned.

"What's happened then?" Jim asked tensely, perching on the chair he was offered, "Just give me the facts."

Wilson sighed a little. He was a very thin man, balding like Jim but not as well built. Despite his wrinkled suit and general air of disarray, Wilson was an accurate and well liked administrator. Clare thought he was funny, and often spoke of Principal Wilson at the dinner table.

"The fish tank in Clare's classroom was knocked over during lunch time. School rules forbid students entering the building without supervision…"

"She knocked over the fish tank?" Jim butted in, bewildered, "Why?"

"No, Clare didn't knock it over," Wilson corrected quickly, "She says she saw another student do it."

"She was there?" Jim frowned, trying to figure out the problem. Clare didn't lie - Blair valued the truth very highly from his children and both kids knew that Jim would spot a lie literally in a heartbeat. If Clare had owned up to being in the room against rules, she would accept her punishment fairly. Why had Wilson said she was very upset?

"She approached a teacher on duty in the playground, and reported that she had just seen this student break the fish tank. Clare said she saw it from the jungle gym. That is on the other side of the playground, Detective. You can see the window of the year one classroom from there, but even I can't see inside from that distance, and I have twenty-twenty vision and the advantage of height on her. She will not retract her statement and has become quite distressed. The student she is accusing has never been in trouble before and vehemently denies the accusation," Wilson sighed, "I called you because we need to get to the bottom of this story. There must be some reason for her to target this student so strongly. She will of course, have to apologize to the boy for her lie - something she is refusing to do."

"Can I see her?" Jim's jaw was clenched and Wilson shot him a look before nodding. He picked up the phone and asked the school nurse to bring Clare to his office. Jim's hearing had picked up the muffled sobs of his daughter and his jaw had clenched even tighter. With a direction to work with he easily picked up the noises of his daughter's approach and he turned in the chair to face the door seconds before the nurse knocked and led Clare in. Her neat pigtails were now full of snags and bristles and her face was tear stained. She was sobbing in that overtired way children who have been crying for a very long time do, and her bright clothes only enhanced her unnatural pallor. Jim simply held out his arms and Clare launched herself into them.

"I saw it! I did!" she wailed into his neck and Jim kissed her rumpled hair, rocking them back and forth and stroking her taut body. She wormed closer, burrowing into his body and sobbing even harder, desperate that someone believes she was telling the truth.

"Hush baby, I know you did," Jim crooned, "Hush now."

"Mum-mum," Clare sobbed - her old name for him that Jim hadn't heard in years. It made his heart seize for a moment and he glared at Wilson in anger. To upset a six-year-old so much she regressed to babyhood was not good enough. Jim had realized right away that Clare had probably used her Sentinel sight unconsciously to track the movement of her classmate. The problem was that the school didn't know she was a Sentinel and would automatically discount her words as a lie.

"Mum-mum's here, honey. It's all over now," Jim kissed her again and just let her cry herself out. Wilson fidgeted uncomfortably - he was a good man and hated to see any child this distraught, despite their behavior. Exhausted by her emotions Clare slid into sleep and Jim bit back his anger.

"We'll deal with this tomorrow," Jim stared Wilson down, "My daughter needs to go home and rest. I suggest you talk to the student she accused again. My daughter has no reason to lie about this, and you have no call to dismiss her as a liar. I'll call tomorrow to make an appointment."

Jim slid off the chair, balancing Clare's limp weight easily and headed for the door. Her head lolled on his shoulder a little, and a pang of worry shifted through him. A surreptitious glance showed her eyes to be open and glazed - not asleep then, zoned and pretty deeply too. Jim swallowed a bolt of panic and hurried to the car, laying his daughter on the seat and belting her in before trying to bring her out of it.

There was no response to his touches, scent or voice, and Jim realized that she had probably zoned on one or all three of those. Digging out his phone, Jim ran to the other side of the truck and got in, hitting the speed dial for Blair and starting the truck with the other hand.

"Jim, I'm at home," Blair answered the phone on the first ring, "Bring her straight up to my room and I'll do what I can."

He hung up before Jim could reply, and the detective threw the phone onto the seat as he hit the siren and lights to get home faster.

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

Blair checked the tray; warm wash cloths and extra blankets were all in easy reach, then climbed into his bed. He was wearing his oldest sweats - gray fabric that had worn so soft it felt quite gentle to his skin, and would generate extra heat for Clare. The young Sentinel often got colder when she zoned deeply, and Blair felt it was pretty bad. Jim wouldn't panic for a normal zone - he'd become quite proficient at Guiding his daughter. Tommy had a sure and gentle touch with her that often got the fastest results, but Blair was still the master. Both men were reluctant to involve Tommy in the more strenuous side of guiding a Sentinel. The constant vigilance that Blair maintained to pre-empt and divert potential problems and the burden of training and honing the skills of a Sentinel who didn't fully understand that she was one was beyond Tommy's skills. Blair and Jim had agreed that the children's bond would develop naturally and they would both be encouraged to explore their world and roles at their own pace. Clare's senses had emerged fully by her third birthday, prompting Blair to make games out of some simple training exercises to teach her the elements of control. Her first major zone had happened mercifully at the loft and Tommy had been averting minor zones for months before hand. Jim had been held up as a role model, though Clare's natural coping techniques were still intact and Blair had simply encouraged those. With love and tolerance, Clare would never need to learn the artificial control techniques that Jim often had to consciously employ to make everyday life bearable.

Much like the adults' bond, the children had become instinctively aware of each other first. Unlike their bond, that instinct had been nurtured and accepted. One of the positives about guiding another bond was the two adults could see to it that their own mistakes were avoided. Unfortunately that allowed the children to make all new mistakes and their parents - like parents everywhere - had to scramble for solutions as best they could.

Blair heard the front door open and close and Jim's footsteps as he hurried up the stairs to his Guide. Blair peeled the covers back and held up his arms, accepting the limp bundle tenderly and wrapping her back in his blankets. First thing he did was release her hair from the plaits and card gentle fingers through it.

"Hello, Clare," Blair cooed, pressing his hands to her icy face. Jim ditched his jacket and shoes and then crawled onto the bed as well, placing the gun close to protect them all while the Shaman healed the fledgling Sentinel. Blair was aware that his Sentinel's instincts were running high and reached back to draw Jim's arm around them both. He didn't pause in his efforts to call his niece back as he shook out the extra blanket and slid it over Jim, feeling the anxious father relax just a notch in response.

"I know you're scared honey, but you need to listen to me now," Blair continued, "It's time to come home, little one. You're safe and loved, and it's all going to be just fine. Come on kitten, uncurl for me."

Clare sighed and blinked, wincing in pain. Blair snagged eye drops from the tray and applied them to dry eyes, then cleaned her face tenderly with a washcloth. Jim was pressing in close now; peering at Clare over his shoulder as Blair washed each hand too, and smoothed tendrils of hair back from her face. Clare's eyes blinked a few more times and then focused, gazing up into the deep blue ones that smiled at her lovingly.

"Hey there," Blair murmured, "You're ok."

Jim reached around to add his touch and Clare sighed, snuggling into her father's hand and her uncle's warmth.

"Want to tell me what happened?" Blair continued in the same warm murmur. Clare's heart didn't even skip a beat as she recalled the afternoon's events and gazed up at the Shaman.

"I saw Peter Mallard tip the fish tank in our room. The teachers didn't believe me," she closed her eyes and snuggled in, "I wasn't lying though. I promise I saw him. Sentinel swear."

Jim had once made that promise to Tommy and now it was a family oath. There was no oath more serious or binding in the family than to Sentinel swear. Accusations of lying were terribly serious in their household, much to Simon's amusement who knew what a pair of obfuscators Blair and Jim could be when it came to report writing, court appearances and general everyday life.

"I believe you," Jim's voice overlapped with Blair's and the detective felt the last of the tension in his daughter's frame ease away to nothing. Blair reached over to the tray again and plucked an orange from it, peeling it easily and giving Clare a segment to suck on. He passed one back to Jim and took one himself, sucking thoughtfully.

"I think I should take her out of school," Jim murmured in Blair's ear, burying his nose in long curls and stroking kinked blond hair. Blair shook his head.

"That won't solve the problem," he replied, "And her record will be marked with it. She doesn't need a notation saying 'saw something she couldn't have seen from that distance' on her files."

"I'm not telling her to lie," Jim growled, "Our children will have to deal with that all their adult life - we're not going to start her in grade school."

"She won't have to lie. Let's just leave it for now. I'll come in to school with you tomorrow and we'll deal with it then," the Shaman's voice was dreamy as he swallowed his piece of orange and gave out the next segments. Jim lifted his head enough to peer at his partner and frowned. Blair's eyes were unfocussed and his respiration was down too. He had the look that Jim had learnt to associate with Andarko and Peru.

Sighing, Jim put his face back in the long curls and let his Guide's scent carry away the last of his tension and stress. If Andarko was here, then something was stirring on the spirit planes and Jim would just have to trust that the Shaman would guide them safely as always.

The front door opened and Jim hitched up enough to watch Tommy and his Poppy enter. Tommy glanced up to his Da's room straight away and headed for his own room to put away his school bag and remove his shoes before walking upstairs. A glance beckoned William Ellison to accompany him, and Jim smiled at his father as the older man topped the stairs.

"Thank you for fetching Tommy, Dad," Jim said and William smiled over at his adopted grandson.

"Always a pleasure," he waved it away. Blair's hand rose to offer him a segment from the second orange and William sat on the foot of the bed a little uncomfortably. The last few years had been difficult for the older man as Jim and Blair raised their baby Sentinel to use her gifts naturally and easily - unflinchingly accepting her special abilities as normal. William had winced more than once as his memories rose up to spite his reactions to his eldest son.

He watched the two Guides soothe and comfort the two Sentinels, sharing the orange with each other and stroking arms or backs lightly. William came in for his fair share of the orange and was appealed to in conversation as Tommy told the family about his day at school and Blair told them about his lunch at work. By the time they were done Jim and Clare were asleep in each other's arms. Tommy and Blair made sure father and daughter were covered warmly and then led the way downstairs.

"They'll sleep until tomorrow now," Blair reassured William. He glanced up at the loft and then nodded.

"Stay for tea, Poppy?" Tommy asked now, and William grinned at him. Tommy had grown rapidly, and was at the thin, gangly pre-pubescent stage. With his short curls rioting off his head and his clothes smudged from school and the playground he had lost none of the appeal of his baby years.

"That depends on what's on the menu," William teased and got a roll of the eyes in response. Tommy turned to his father, who laughed softly and patted his son on the shoulder.

"We'll make pasta and bolognaise sauce," he told the boy, "Get out the ingredients while I tell Poppy what happened. And you can fill the kettle and set it on the stove. I'll light it when we get back."

Smiling at the pride shining from his son's eyes, the Shaman of the Great City led William to the corridor between the two apartments and spoke quietly.

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

Jim and Blair walked into the school with Clare positioned between them protectively. The Guides had woken their Sentinels at the usual time and Tommy had reluctantly gone off to school. He'd protested that Clare was his special Sentinel and he should come along to take care of her, but Blair had managed to explain to his son that it was better to let the adults handle it this time. Clare had sat at Blair's table and worked on some writing exercises he'd roughed out for her to do. Jim made a lunchtime appointment with Wilson and then called Simon as well - only to find that Blair had organized a day off for them both yesterday before leaving the station. This was not the first time Blair had anticipated their needs perfectly, and Jim filed the incident away in his memory - he had a feeling something significant was happening to his Shaman and Guide.

Wilson was wearing a tie with yellow smiley faces today, and he showed all three of them to a chair amicably. Clare sat absolutely still as the confidence she'd gained in her morning at home with her father and uncle ebbed away under the influence of the school. Jim reached a hand to rest it on the back of her chair - one of the not-touching gestures he often used with Blair when he wanted to ground one of them.

Jim introduced his partner and explained that Blair was Clare's emergency contact and had come along at Jim's request.

"We owe you an apology, Clare," Wilson started the ball rolling, "You were absolutely correct. This morning Peter Mallard came in with his parents and confessed that he had been in the classroom and accidentally tipped the tank over. Apparently Clare's accusation was on his mind and he told his parents what he'd done straight away. He'll apologize for calling you a liar, Clare and replace the tank and fish. We feel that he's been punished enough for his role in this incident and there will be no further sanctions placed against him."

Clare let her head hang in relief and struggled to be a big girl for Daddy and not cry. Daddy plucked her out of her chair and cuddled her close anyway, while Uncle Blair leaned over to drop a kiss on her cheek.

"I'm glad the young man told the truth," Blair spoke for them all, "However, I would like to discuss your response to Clare's original statement."

"Mr. Sandburg," Wilson's smile was strained, "I realize that we were in error and apologize…"

Blair waved a hand, dismissing the apology as unimportant.

"When we enrolled Clare here, you were given a list of allergies and sensitivities that she has. I believe it's a part of her school file," Blair spoke easily, overriding Wilson's attempts to continue, "Her file clearly states that her vision is exceptionally acute - better than forty-twenty. We have had it tested, and I regularly check her sight and hearing myself."

"All I can do is apologize, Mr. Sandburg," Wilson's smile had become even more strained and Blair nodded, point made, leaning back and glancing over at his Sentinels. The matter would have to stand as it was for now. At the end of term Clare could be moved without incident to Tommy's school - he'd put her on the list weeks ago - and Tommy could watch out for her for the final years of grade school. Once he went to high school Clare would have enough practice at filtering out Sentinel reactions from normal ones.

Clearly their hopes that the young boy could be spared some of the burdens of Guiding a Sentinel was a vain one. Though hopefully Tommy wouldn't have to do much more than a normal big brother would.

Blair would bring it up with Jim on the weekend while the kids were distracted in the park. His partner would be happy their children were attending the same school and Clare - unlike her father - made friends fairly quickly. Blair waited out in the truck while Jim walked Clare to class, and then sat deep in thought for the drive to the station.

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

Swinging rapidly around the corner of the banister, Tommy barely broke stride as he hurdled the broken box that had been abandoned on the floor and tore along the dingy floor after the fleeing girl ahead of him. The light filtering from the haphazardly boarded windows was enough for the ten-year-old to see where he was going. Drawing a breath he shouted at the top of his lungs.

"Miki! Stop it!"

His best friend in the whole world skidded to a stop, wrenching uselessly at a jammed door, trying to get into the room beyond so she could hide. Tommy didn't bother to slow down, he simply tackled her hard, bringing them both crashing to the floor and squirming to get on top the way he'd seen Da do it one night when Uncle Jim had a severe reaction to something in his coffee and freaked out. They'd had to handcuff Uncle Jim and call an ambulance - Miki struggled briefly and then went limp. She glared up at him before crumbling into sobs of pure mortification.

Tommy sighed and patted her face gently, easing off cautiously and struggling to regain his breath.

"What are you doing?" he asked in a reasonable voice, as if he hadn't just chased his best friend into a condemned building five blocks from the park where they were supposed to be playing. Miki curled up and sobbed harder. Tommy sighed and rubbed at her shoulder, sitting up and leaning against a crumbling wall. He waited patiently for his normally calm friend to regain control over herself and hoped Uncle Jim wouldn't be too worried when he couldn't see them straight away.

"Was it those other children?" Tommy asked when Miki pushed up to sit next to him, her face grubby and her clothes liberally smeared with the dirt from the floor.

"They said that I was dirty," she gulped, "That I was just a walking piece of dirt. Because of my color. And that you only pretended to like me and they were going to come back and get me. And…my tummy hurts - it's been hurting all week and I feel awful and I just wanted to get away."

She leaned to the side a little and Tommy leaned into her, putting an arm around his best friend and clenching his jaw just like his uncle. True to his genes, Tommy hated injustice - he stood up to every playground bully he met, got in the face of anyone who was being unfair, spoke out when he thought it was needed. His Da had taught him how to do all that without arrogance or antagonism, showing his son how to be a truly proactive pacifist - one that worked to bring peace to his little corner of the universe. Uncle Jim had shown him how to defend himself if his opponent got physical, and Da had added a few tips for that too. They all 'danced' now. Once every week the floor was cleared and the three of them moved through the peaceful tai chi form. As soon as Clare was old enough to balance properly she had begun to learn too - mimicking their graceful movements at first, and then learning them properly.

"Well we won't solve our problems here," Tommy repeated his Da's words and smiled at his friend, glancing at his wrist watch, "June and Sam and Harry are meeting us at the park in…five minutes. I bet they can help us out. And does your mom know your tummy hurts?"

"No, I didn't tell her," Miki's lip trembled again, "She's busy with the new baby. What are we gonna do about those kids?"

Miki's parents had been very surprised to produce a new member of their family and had hurriedly reorganized their lives around the new addition. Miki had been happy to have a little sister - just like Tommy was the comment Blair had overheard - but had found the changes at home hard to adjust to after nine years of being the only child of the house.

"They called you dirty, right? So, lets make them dirty!" Tommy grinned at her skeptical face, "The fountain has been leaking - that flower bed opposite is full of water that's why all those plants are dying. You lead them there and we'll ambush them."

"Mud pies!" Miki laughed, and sniffed one last time. Tommy hugged her hard and got up, taking her hand when she stood again, totally unfazed by the gesture.

"Miki," his voice was very serious, "You know that I really do like you. You are my bestest friend in the entire world. I'd…I'd walk through dog poop for you!"

Miki nodded, reassured by the fierce vow and squeezed his hand.

"I'd walk through dog poop for you too. With no shoes on," she replied and then they both went 'ewww' and headed back towards the park and their friends and a date with mud pies.

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

Blair looked up in surprise as Jim and Clare ushered Tommy and Miki into the loft. The two very muddy children froze on command while a grinning Clare got newspaper for them to stand on while they peeled off their clothes. Blair bit back a groan at the thought of what the inside of the Subaru must look like now and got up from the report he was finishing for the DA.

"What did you two fall into?" he shook his head, concealing his amusement. Jim was looking a little grim, and Clare's giggles had a nervous edge to them. Miki was looking a little pale and Tommy took her hand in a comforting gesture.

"We threw mud at some boys who were being mean to Miki and she's not well!" Tommy blurted out before Jim could answer. Blair dropped easily to his knees and put a hand to Miki's face. She was supposed to spend the whole weekend with Tommy. He looked at her miserable, mud spattered face and nodded gently.

"What's up, Miki? Where do you feel sick?" he rubbed her temple with his thumb and she let a few tears slip. Tommy threw his arms around her, ignoring the mud that smeared all over them even further.

"She says her tummy has hurt all week," Tommy told his dad and Blair rubbed her lower back, frowning when she sighed in relief and leant into the touch.

"Have you been feeling funny, Miki? Hot and cold all week?" he asked, instincts and memories clamoring. She nodded into Tommy's shoulder and Blair met Jim's worried eyes.

"Get me the phone, Clare," Blair whispered under his breath and then picked Miki up entirely. He took the cordless phone from his niece and headed into the bathroom, shutting the door firmly and leaving Jim to deal with the mud splattered Tommy.

"Are you sending Miki home because we were bad?" Tommy's face was woe begone as he stripped, careful not to let mud drip on the wooden floor, "We couldn't let her be teased, Uncle Jim. They were saying really bad things. They said she was dirty because her skin is darker than ours is, and they told her I didn't like her anymore. We only showed them what dirty really was."

"If Miki is sick, she'll want to go home to her mom, Tommy," Jim reasoned and then patted the now bare shoulder, "Go into the other bathroom and have a shower. I'll check on Miki for you, ok?"

"Ok," Tommy said in a soft voice and obediently headed for the corridor. Clare had gathered clean clothes for him, which he accepted with a smile and a tug of her long hair. Clare looked up at her Dad in concern and he smiled at her tenderly, holding out his arms for a hug.

"Why don't you go on in the other room and put the TV on. You can watch a video from the cupboard if you like," Jim suggested and was relieved when she grinned and scampered off. He walked over to the closed door and listened to Miki's sobs and Blair's soothing voice. Whatever was going on in there had her upset while Blair was doing his best not to make matters worse for the girl.

"Chief?" Jim called lightly, tapping on the door. Miki made a small moan of embarrassment and Blair soothed her gently.

"Jim, Miki's mom is coming over," Blair called through the closed door, "Could you pack her bag for her - she'll be going home. We'll have her over some other weekend. We could also use a complete change of clothes in here."

"You got it," Jim called back and headed into Tommy's room. He fished out a change for Miki and then repacked the bag. He put it by the door, away from the muddy clothes Tommy had shed. He was straightening when he heard quick footsteps and opened the door, sticking his head out to spot Gabriel Solange as she hustled down the corridor. Her face was a blend of worry and fear.

"She's in the bathroom Gabriel - what did Blair say?" Jim let her in, still monitoring the sobs from the bathroom as Blair helped her clean up.

"He thinks it's her appendix. There's just no way of telling," Gabriel replied as Jim took her coat and she licked her lips nervously, "I'm just so sorry I didn't notice it. I thought she was reacting to her new little sister, not…"

"She's ok, Gabriel. If it is we've caught it in time," Jim tried to be positive as they headed for the bathroom.

"Why do we always seem to sit for each other in dire emergencies?" Gabriel sighed as she took the clean clothes from him, and Jim nodded in acknowledgement. The Solanges had sat for them when he'd had that extreme reaction to the coffee he'd drunk - his Guide had called them in desperation while Jim ranted on the floor and the children had been locked safely in the bathroom.

"Woah, lady! Too much bad karma!" he put his hands up and Gabriel grinned, got a grip, knocked on the door and was admitted. Blair slipped out moments later and looked at Jim in shock.

"Well, Chief, at least you caught it in time," Jim said in a low voice and Blair rolled his eyes. Before he could snap a comeback Tommy appeared, his eyes going to the bathroom door and the sound of the Solange womens' voices. Blair dropped a hand on his shoulder and smiled at the uncombed curls dripping on his son's shoulders.

"Miki is going home because she doesn't feel too good. You can call her tomorrow," Blair told him and patted the shoulder gently, "Now, perhaps you can explain to me why you thought mud pies were a good solution?"

"Aw Da! They said she was dirty. It was ironic!" Tommy produced his latest word with pride - the boy still collected words and languages the way his peers collected baseball cards, though he collected those as well. Blair shook his head and decided to forego the lecture this time. The bathroom door opened and Gabriel emerged with Miki in tow. Gabriel had managed to clean the mud off her daughter entirely and change her into fresh clothes, but it was obvious the little girl still felt very unwell.

Tommy immediately engulfed his friend in a hug and whispered something the adults couldn't hear to her. She nodded and kissed his cheek goodbye - something that had started after the rogue Chopec had kidnapped the children. Gabriel patted Tommy on the shoulder, everyone said goodbye and the two women left.

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

"Chief, do you think it's odd how touch oriented Tommy is?" Jim asked as they watched the suspect's house. Blair put his binoculars down and turned a little on the truck seat to face his partner. Miki's appendix had been removed and Tommy's first visit to her in the hospital had been spent curled up on the bed with her, reading her a story and holding her hand. The nurses had thought this was so cute they'd taken photos - Jim was figuring on using it for blackmail material at his nephew's twenty-first birthday party.

"He was touch starved when he came to me, Jim. And he's a Guide. Touch is a Guide's primary weapon against zones," Blair frowned, "Why? Does it bother you that he touches Clare?"

"Chief, he touches everyone. He hugs his friends - boys and girls alike - he hugs all the adults he knows except at school - but only because they told him not to - he even hugs us as he walks past on the way to the bathroom. I'm not worried about him touching Clare, and I've never seen him touch a stranger - I just…he touches more than you do," Jim frowned, looking at his brother in the almost dark cab. Blair was frowning too.

"I don't get it - if there's no problem, what are we discussing?" he asked, "And I don't touch as much as Tommy because if I did I'd be arrested. By our colleagues, Jim - you know, the big men who carry guns?"

"So what you're saying is it's your instinct to touch just as much as Tommy does? And you're always controlling that instinct?"

"No, I'm saying that as I got to high school I realized that people didn't touch that much and gradually stopped doing it - I sort of limited myself to the more casual range of touches - hand to shoulder and so on. Tommy will reach that stage too," Blair replied, turning to look back out of the windscreen. Jim nodded and turned to refocus on the house.

Upon reflection it seemed kind of sad to Jim that a person who liked to express himself through touch was denied that outlet. Perhaps that was why Blair spoke so much about his feelings and thoughts. He was compensating for the lack of a good hug. Jim didn't mind his Guide touching him - in fact the Sentinel positively gloated at any prolonged contact with his Guide.

It was society that had taught Jim that only lovers hugged and touched each other, but more than one outsider at the station had mistaken him and Blair for lovers. Jim himself did best with show and not tell, though it was difficult for him to break through the barriers put on his behavior by modern society.

Jim glanced at his Guide, who was answering the radio check with the easy efficiency of someone who'd been doing the job for years. Perhaps there was a way to return touch as a primary method of communication for Blair and a way to desensitize his own in-built reactions at the same time. Jim smiled wryly and shook his head. His partner glanced over curiously but didn't ask him what he was smiling about and Jim didn't elaborate.

Deciding to start the program now, Jim reached across the seat and took Blair's hand. He heard his Guide's heart rate speed up in surprise and then settle down as their fingers entwined comfortably. Their skin warmed at the contact and Blair squeezed the fingers tangled with his comfortably, not even taking his gaze off the house they were watching.

After an hour, Jim heard Simon approaching and considered untangling their hands for a moment. Then he realized that Blair's vital signs were at total rest. Even though his Guide was awake and efficiently making notes in the logbook, Blair was as calm and relaxed as if he was asleep. If an hour of holding hands could do that for his friend, what would a hug do?

Deciding to explore the possibilities later, Jim warned his partner of their boss's approach and let him disengage. He caught the glance that Blair sent him and promptly retook his hand.

"I don't care if he sees us holding hands. Simon knows the score. Besides, since the twins were born he's mellowed," Jim grinned. His partner rolled his eyes and pulled a face but made no effort to pull away.

"Not that much," Blair told him seriously, but wound down his window and grinned at their boss.

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

Clare grinned up at her Guide and took the hand he was holding out, accepting the help to get up into the tree he was crouched in. Once she was in the lower branches Tommy turned and headed up higher, Clare swarming easily after him now the first step had been taken.

Camping was their favorite activity - a chance to run wild for a while and play as they liked while their fathers kicked back and relaxed. Jim and Blair were currently fishing, and Tommy had snuck off to climb trees near the water. Clare had tracked him down and the older boy had climbed down to give her the boost she needed to come along with him. The summer sunshine was hot, but the leafy haven they climbed through was cool and shady.

They reached a gap in the branches and paused to admire the view. This particular camping site boasted a river that ran along a ravine. There were mountains in the distance and a clear blue sky that just went on forever.

"Hawks!" Clare pointed to some distant specks in the sky, and Tommy peered at them, taking her word for it, "See them Tommy? There are four of them, just circling the clearing!"

"Hey! Junior Sentinel! Some of us can't see that much detail," Tommy grinned, "I can see four specks and nothing else. Pull back a bit. If you zone up here you'll fall out of the tree!"

"But they're so beautiful!" Clare sighed, and did what she'd been told. Her dad would never let her climb another tree ever again if she fell out of this one. She loved that he cared enough about her to worry and protect her, but sometimes she wished he wasn't so smart - he could spot whenever they'd been doing the wrong thing the moment he saw them. Uncle Blair was worse - he knew without even needing to be in the same city.

"Hey I think we can get into the next tree from over there," Tommy told Clare to distract her, "Let's see how far we can go without walking on the ground."

"Yeah!" Clare enthused and they began to scramble and climb in earnest. The weekly tai chi, Clare's dance classes and Tommy's gymnastics club all helped the children to get across gaps that less coordinated people would have hesitated to tackle. As they climbed they called jokes and encouragement to each other, plotting their route together and suggesting grips or stretches. Time slipped away unmarked until Tommy slipped, missing the branch he was reaching for. He fell a short distance before slamming into the ground.

"Tommy!" Clare shrieked, and slid down as quickly as she could. Tommy was crying and wheezing, trying to suck air back into his winded lungs and cradling his left wrist close. Clare reached him and flung her arms around his shoulders, crying too and trying to lift him up.

"Stop it!" Tommy groaned and Clare settled down, containing her sobs and wiping first her face then his. They lay there for a little while, regaining their breath while they recovered from the shock.

"Tommy?" Clare asked in a small voice, "Are you ok?"

"I think I broke my wrist," Tommy moaned, his face pale, "It really hurts Clare."

"When did it get so dark?" Clare asked nervously, looking at the lengthening shadows, "Is that why you fell?"

"Yeah I guess," Tommy rocked back and forth on the ground in an effort to alleviate some of the pain. Clare sniffed hard once and then got her arms under Tommy again, heaving him upright with rare strength. Tommy hissed, but didn't complain as he held his arm close.

"You ok?" Tommy asked after a moment, and Clare nodded, standing up and looking around carefully. She sighed, realizing that they were a long way from the camp and their dads. She looked down at Tommy who was still rocking and made a decision.

"We can't stay here tonight, we have to walk back," Clare said firmly, "Daddy can check your wrist for you."

"You could go without me," Tommy suggested, "It hurts too much Clare. Please."

"Tommy Sandburg, get up!" Clare snapped, "I'm not leaving you here, and it's too dangerous to sleep out. C'mon!"

Tommy sighed and struggled to his feet as she tugged on him, hissing in pain and cradling his wrist close. His face went even paler and he staggered to a tree, leaning on it and trying to catch his breath. He glared over at his anxious Sentinel and ignored her impatience to regain his balance.

"Just 'cos you're a Sentinel you can't boss me around," Tommy warned her, "The Guide is the one who's in charge - my Da is your Dad's boss."

"Is not," Clare retorted, "Not at work!"

"We don't have jobs," Tommy told her crankily, "We're kids Clare. And my wrist hurts too much to walk back to camp. I'm staying here. Besides, you don't even know where the camp is - we were climbing all afternoon, not walking. There's no track for you to follow. And it's getting dark - I won't be able to see soon."

"So give up then!" Clare said in a shrill voice, "And I can find the camp! I can!"

She burst into tears and Tommy hung his head. Uncle Jim and Da were always telling him that as the oldest he had to take care of his 'little sister' when they were out together. Clare was scared and it was his job to watch out for her. Besides she was right - they couldn't really stay out overnight. Tommy straightened away from the tree and walked over to the sobbing girl.

"Ok, ok, stop crying," he said wearily, "We'll head for camp. Our dads are probably looking for us by now; we'll probably meet up with them. But this won't work if you're crying so calm down."

As apologies went it was pretty lousy, but it was enough for Clare and she calmed down as ordered. She wiped her face again and sniffed defiantly, glaring at him. His face softened and he patted her on the shoulder with his good hand.

"Ok, try hearing," he suggested, "Just sort of stretch your ears out and see if you can hear them yelling."

Clare took his offered hand and took a deep breath, her head tilting to one side a little as she followed his directions. Tommy used the words he'd heard his Da use time and again with both Sentinels and watched to make sure she didn't zone out.

"There!" Clare exclaimed and led the way, using eyes that had adjusted to the lower amount of light automatically to avoid the roughest ground and any obstacles that Tommy would no longer be able to spot.

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

Jim heard his partner cry out and drop his rod. Turning, he saw Blair doubled over on the bank of the river, gasping and clutching his wrist. Jim had been standing in the river thigh deep, half zoned on the repetitive flowing movements of fly-fishing and the bubbling sound of the water as it flowed around the bend and over some rocks. Blair's heartbeat had been an underlying ambient sound, smooth and slow as his Guide meditated through the fishing too.

"Chief!" he exclaimed and waded out of the water, dropping his rod to the ground and reaching for the wrist that was being clutched so tightly, "What happened?"

"Tommy," Blair gasped, "He fell! Oh God, he fell out of the tree!"

Jim looked around wildly, trying to spot his nephew on the ground. With a start he realized the sunset was painting their campsite with the first golden light and that the children were nowhere nearby.

"Sandburg! Blair! I can't see the kids! You're scaring me!" Jim blurted, shaking his friend hard. Clarity returned to the deep blue eyes and Blair straightened up, pulling away and heading for the tents.

"We need the first aid kit," he tossed over his shoulder, "Start searching, Jim - look for their voices and heartbeats."

Jim took a deep breath, calmed himself down and sent his hearing out on the winds. He picked up the rapid heartbeats and bickering straight away and turned in that direction as Blair emerged from the tent. His Guide met him as he strode to the edge of the clearing.

"We need to call them," Blair hooked a hand into the back of the wet shorts Jim was wearing, letting the other man's superior eyesight guide them along the track, "Clare will probably be listening for us. Jim…can you hear Tommy?"

"Yeah," Jim nodded, "He's conscious and mobile. They're arguing about what to do. Clare's trying to find us with her hearing. Clare! Can you hear me? We're on our way honey! Just take it easy! She heard me Chief - they're walking this way."

Blair nodded and began to talk, warning both the Sentinels against zoning out in the dark and encouraging them to let their hearing and sight work in tandem to let them find each other quicker. Jim interjected occasional directions - like head a little more to the left Clare - in order to make their job easier. A half-hour of rapid walking on the part of the adults brought them to their children and Tommy was engulfed in his father's warm arms.

A quick check by Jim found a sprained wrist and a bumped head, but nothing more serious than that. Tommy was lifted onto his uncle's back and Clare guided her father's Guide over the rough terrain as they headed back to camp. Blair lit a fire and heated soup while Jim dealt with the first aid, and then both children were fed and snuggled close.

"We are so lucky," Blair kissed short curls and rubbed his son's back, "Any other family would have had to call Search and Rescue. You could still be out there."

"I'm sorry," Tommy sniffed, "We just lost track of time. I slipped because the light was going. I'm not a very good Guide."

"What?" Jim exclaimed, "Tommy - you're a little young to be worrying about whether you're a good Guide or not. And Clare didn't zone - I heard the way you talked to her the whole time, telling her to tune in and then tune out again. That was a good idea."

"Jim's right, sweetie, you shouldn't be worrying about being a good or bad Guide yet," Blair rocked them both a bit, comforting his son with the familiar movement.

"But you're a good Guide," Tommy protested, snuggling in drowsily. Blair laughed.

"I'm older than you are, and I've had more opportunities to practice. It's ok sweetie. Let me and Uncle Jim worry about it now," he murmured softly, hoping to send the tired and sore child to sleep. Clare stirred in Jim's lap and looked across the fire.

"You are too my Guide anyway," she said firmly, "You're the only one who makes me feel all tingly. Except for Uncle Blair, but that's different. Daddy doesn't make me feel that way at all and none of my friends either. So there."

Blair chuckled at this resounding endorsement and the description of Guide touch. Tommy didn't reply - he had finally drifted off to sleep.

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

Jim watched Miki admire the sprained wrist and Clare greet her new best friend Lucy with shrieks of delight. The children headed inside and he put the truck in gear, checked the mirror and pulled out into traffic.

They had stayed out at the campsite for the full three days they'd planned despite Tommy's injured wrist. The boy had been adamant that he didn't want to go home and Blair had indicated that he didn't feel the need to rush back to civilization and a hospital.

Jim slowed for a red light and replayed the weekend in his mind. How had Blair known his son had fallen from the tree and hurt himself? Was his partner becoming psychic in his old age? Imagining the look on Blair's face if Jim suggested that to him had the cop chuckling. He'd be dragged off to the nearest doctor and hospitalized for prolonged observation.

Maybe it was a Shaman thing. Blair was certainly able to anticipate every mood, whim and need of Jim's perfectly. He had them taking herbal remedies for colds before they caught them - for someone to actually get sick in the immediate or extended family was very rare nowadays. In fact Major Crimes hadn't been hit badly by the flu season for years.

He answered the phone with the name of the person calling - provided he knew them - and was able to locate just about anyone from their family with a few minutes thought. Simon had noticed it and even Moira had said something to Jim about Blair's uncanny sixth sense.

Pulling into the station, Jim shrugged it aside for now. Blair was still working on the Sentinel dissertation - Clare and Tommy were giving him all new data and ideas to work from - perhaps the answer lay somewhere in the twenty-nine volume document locked in the safe at William Ellison's house. Or perhaps Jim would just write a dissertation of his own - a Guide dissertation. The idea appealed to him and he nodded to himself as he walked through the station to the elevator.

"Earth to Jim," Rafe teased and Jim looked up grinning. The dapper young cop was holding the lift for his colleague and Jim hurried to step inside.

"How was the camping trip?" Rafe asked after they'd exchanged the traditional Monday greetings. Jim rolled his eyes and put on an exasperated face.

"How do you think? I took two Sandburgs out into the wilderness," he sighed and Rafe chuckled, waiting to hear whatever disaster had occurred, "The kids wandered off and climbed a tree, which Tommy promptly fell out of. Sprained wrist."

"He ok?" Rafe looked concerned and Jim nodded immediately. The whole department had adopted Tommy upon his arrival, and Clare too. You didn't joke about the kid's health in the bullpen - those guys were armed and dangerous.

"Yeah, just fine. It's his left hand so he went to school happily enough. Had all the girls oohing over his bandage before he'd even walked in the gate," Jim grinned, happy to spread the 'like father like son' gossip before his partner reached the station. Blair would be ribbed for sure.

The lift let them out and they walked into the bullpen. Simon was putting his coat back on and heading for the door. He looked tired and harassed, and Jim smelt the odor of vomit on him, though no one else would have noticed it.

"Simon? The twins?" Jim asked and his boss sighed, shaking his head. Moira's pregnancy had come as a real surprise, and the twins were an even bigger one. Daryl was a hugely proud big brother, though he was in the first year of college and didn't get to see them often.

"Ate something that was off - we've been up all night with vomit bowls and wet cloths," Simon grimaced, "I'm not going to stay - just had to get the budget e-mailed over to the Chief. We've had the doctor in and Sandburg showed up when I was leaving with something for their stomach."

"Moira ok?" Rafe asked while Jim mused that his partner's sixth sense had struck again. Simon nodded and took his leave of his men while Jim shrugged his coat off and waited for his partner to arrive. The first chapter for the Guide dissertation was firming up.

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

"…And let all the primates out of their cages," Joel was saying as the lift doors opened. Blair looked up from the shoelace he was tying for Clare - they were in a hurry - and frowned. Jim and Joel stepped out of the elevator and walked along the corridor to 205. The bag containing Clare's dancing kit rested on the floor beside them, ready to go.

"Where was this?" Blair asked as he straightened. Joel grimaced at him.

"Rainier," Joel sighed, "Apparently the kids responsible had been watching 'Twelve Monkeys' and that movie with Matthew Broderick. So they let all the research animals loose from the labs. Unfortunately most of these animals are ill equipped to deal with life in Cascade."

"Will they be alright Daddy?" Clare looked up at her father anxiously and he nodded, smiling gently and ruffling her hair.

"Don't worry, honey," Jim told her, "It's ok. Hey, Chief - was Larry still at the Uni?"

"Nah - he was retired a long time ago," the curly haired man said significantly - which Jim took to mean the Barbary Ape that had trashed the loft was no longer in the physical world, though there was a scratch in the floor that Jim would always have to remind the Sentinel of his reluctant house guest.

"His grandkids are there, though," Blair bit a lip, obviously worried about the primates and the city. Joel put a hand on his shoulder. The Professor was always worrying about others - his big heart was well known in the bullpen.

"The lab was trashed pretty badly, the ones they catch are going to the zoo or the animal shelter," Joel told him and Blair grinned. There was a crash inside the loft and Jim frowned while Clare tensed.

"Is Tommy in there?" he asked his partner who shook his head.

"Tommy is at Miki's this weekend - the big slumber party, remember?" Tommy's father reminded his uncle. Jim tightened his jaw even further and pushed Clare towards Joel.

"Go with Uncle Joel, honey, while we check it out," Jim told his daughter and Joel took her hand, pulling her back towards the lift while Blair unlocked the door as quietly as possible and then slipped into place behind Jim.

The lamp that usually sat on the table near the couch had shattered into pieces, knocked off by someone. Jim looked around, a semi-familiar scent teasing his nose. There was no one in Blair's half of their loft. A few more crashes and thuds came from Jim's loft and he moved swiftly on silent feet to the corridor. Blair was a shadow, echoing his silent movements perfectly.

Jim frowned, locating the heartbeat of the intruder and he turned to look at his Guide.

"The heartbeat is wrong," he breathed quietly and Blair frowned at him too. Before he could ask the question on the tip of his tongue there was another crash and Jim leapt into his loft, gun covering the area in a smooth sweep.

"Cascade PD! Freeze!" he snapped, tracking the movement. The intruder froze and quivered. Blair was quivering too - with laughter. A strong sense of déjà vu was hanging over Jim as he straightened up.

"Aw man," Jim sighed and put away his gun, "The little wretch has smashed all the breakfast plates and my favorite coffee cup. Not to mention the fruit bowl. How on earth did he get in? Did you leave a window open Chief?"

"He was hungry, weren't you fella?" Blair moved around Jim and put his hands out gently, ignoring the implication that this was somehow his fault. The intruder took one look and then was in his arms in a flying leap, "You still got any of Clare's old bottle and teats lying around?"

Jim looked at the Barbary Ape nestling into the warmth and scent of his Guide and recognized a kindred spirit. He sighed, giving in to the inevitable.

"Yeah," he headed for the front door first to tell Joel and Clare it was all clear and then went to fish one of the old feeding bottles from storage.

When he got back to the loft the Ape was sitting in Blair's lap, eating fragments of orange and some of the nuts left over from the last poker night. Clare was cooing from the other side of the table and Joel was chuckling while he waited for the Uni to answer his call.

"He's got a collar on," Jim observed, rapidly filling the bottle with water and a little juice, remembering the way his last primate guest had liked it, "Does he have a name?"

Blair looked but didn't answer as Joel's call was picked up and he explained who he was and what their situation was. They listened to the syncopated conversation in silence, Blair concentrating on the hungry animal in his arms and Clare torn between watching and listening.

"Uh, hang on," Joel put a hand over the mouthpiece. Jim, who knew what was coming, handed the bottle over and began trying to think if he'd thrown out that blanket that had been spoiled by the pot of children's paint or if it was still in the closet somewhere.

"They've run out of room at the shelter, guys. And well - they know you've cared for a Barbary Ape before, Sandburg. They want to know if you can keep him for a week or so?" Joel raised his eyebrows and Clare bounced on her knees in excitement.

"Oh, please!" she smiled, "Can we Daddy?"

"I suppose so," Jim sighed, and grinned at his daughter and Guide while Joel relayed the affirmative answer, "What's his name then?"

"Larry junior," Blair chuckled, taking the empty bottle and holding it out for a refill, "Looks like we've come full circle, Jim."

End

Continued in Mother Love…

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

Back to Shedoc's page.