Blair cringed closer to the ground as bullets riddled the truck. Jim yelled incoherently from his position behind the front wheel; a quick glance reassured the anthropologist that his partner was alive and well - just waving Blair to get down.
Like I'll stick my head out, Blair winced as the far side tires blew under the assault from the AK47, making the truck lurch.
What had started as a favour for Simon - who was in turn doing a favour for Robbery - had turned into a nightmare of automatic weapons and drugs. Sentinel and Guide had been loaned to assist in executing a search and seizure warrant on a suspected fence. To Jim's disgust, they had been given door duty - no one was to enter or leave the premises without checking through Jim's post at the door.
It hit the fan when the cops pulled up to the front door and the noise had attracted the attention of a neighbour. The guy was a paranoid survival nut at the best of times; today he was also strung out on some coke he'd scored from the dealer on the corner.
The combination of hallucinogens and his natural paranoia heightened his aggression levels, prompting him to kick the couch through his front window - a feat of strength in itself - scream the druggie equivalent of ‘briefly ponder existential existence' - or ‘eat shit and die' - and start shooting.
They'd had enough time to duck and that was all. Typical Sandburg-Ellison luck had prevailed: Jim had parked closest to the lunatic's house, leaving them pinned down and vulnerable. The two men had sheltered behind a wheel each, with Jim afforded additional protection from the engine. Two men were hit in the initial onslaught - one a detective from Robbery, the other a uniform also on loan for the bust. First priority was to get them to safety, then rescue Jim and Blair. Back up was on the way - all the partners from Major Crimes had to do was not get shot.
Blair pressed his back to his wheel and looked over at Jim. The Detective's face was grim as he returned the look.
"Ok?" Jim mouthed and Blair nodded gently.
"You?" Blair asked, the quiet voice carrying clearly to Sentinel ears, receiving a nod in return.
"Can you pinpoint his location? Try using scent - you'll be less likely to spike on it if he starts shooting again. We need a common scent…try sweat. He's got to be sweating in there - look for that general scent."
The quiet words focussed Jim's attention as always. Despite the danger of their situation, Jim felt his heart rate settle and his breathing steady. The adrenaline pumping through his system served to put a sharp edge on his senses. As the beautiful, compelling voice directed, Jim searched out their attackers scent - using his memory of countless locker rooms to refine his quest.
Jim located the man and then nodded over to Blair. The supportive monologue stopped and his partner grinned over at him proudly before opening his mouth to ask the next question.
The lunatic screamed in rage and started spraying the area again. A quick glance showed the wounded detective being dragged to safety. Jim's gun barked several times, the slugs impacting with the windowsill in front of the shooter, sending chips spraying back towards him, making him cease-fire as he ducked.
Jim ducked back for cover as the truck once again came under heavy fire. Blair curled himself into a tiny ball, wishing to be invisible. It had bought them enough time to pull the uniform to safety as well, and Blair couldn't find it in his heart to begrudge either wounded man that care, even as the air around him seemed full of screaming metal.
Things got very hectic after that. Reinforcements arrived in the shape of the armoured SWAT vans. Tear gas was deployed and covering fire laid down so Jim and Blair could try to reach the safety of the barricade the armoured van provided. The AK47 rattled again and the reek of fuel filled the air as the truck's fuel line split. Random sparks ignited the fuel line and the truck blew before the partners reached cover.
Blair woke yelling, scaring Simon into almost dropping his cup of hospital grade coffee all over his trousers.
"Sandburg!" Simon Banks could out yell the best, "Calm down! Take it easy now!"
"Simon? Where's Jim? Is he ok? Did the others make it?" Blair pushed against the restraining hands, cataloguing his body's responses quickly. Head hurt - localised to a point above his right ear. Left arm hurt and left hip, thigh, knee and ankle - gravel rash, bruising, strains, sprains and general bumps.
Jim was not there - Simon was.
"Dammit Sandburg, settle down," Simon growled. Blair stopped struggling, taking in the details of his ward, the drip in his arm and the tension in Simon's hands, shoulders and face.
"Talk to me Simon," Blair growled in return. He remained unfazed in the face of Simon's glare, folding his arms stubbornly. Simon slumped a little and ran a hand over his face tiredly.
"Give me a break kid," his voice was quiet and deep. Gotcha, Simon thought as Blair reached for calm and turned concerned eyes on his friend. As always a personal appeal got through to Blair quicker than a direct command. All the same, the next step was not going to be easy.
"First of all the other two cops are fine. They'll be in hospital for a while, but no one died, ok. When the truck blew you and Jim both took the brunt of the blast. It threw you onto your side - you've got gravel rash and bruising. Your left ankle was twisted pretty badly and you sprained your left knee too. The doctors tell me that it's nothing permanent and with a bit of physio you'll be just fine. You've been sedated; all told you slept for a day," Simon got the easiest news dispensed as quickly as possible.
"Tell me about Jim," Blair proved his instincts were as sharp as ever. Simon put the rail down and sat on the mattress, ignoring the uncomfortable chair that had been brought for him and the medical staff that had been trying to take Blair's vital signs and perform tests.
"He took a hit to the head. It's pretty bad, Blair," Simon admitted at length, "They had to open his skull to relieve the pressure. There was some damage - they won't know how bad it is until he comes around. At the moment he's in an induced coma."
Simon stopped speaking and leaned forward, wrapping his arms around the sobbing man in the bed and holding on for all he was worth. When Blair regained control Simon let go and watched him wipe his eyes and square his shoulders.
"I'm sorry. You didn't need that," Blair gulped for breath and then calmed, a little ashamed at losing it like that in front of Simon. His good opinion meant a lot to the police observer who was always aware that he had a lot to measure up to.
"Hey," Simon's voice was gentle; "I was just as much a basket case when the doctors told me. It's ok, kid. You're only human."
Blair managed a shaky laugh and wiped his face one last time. He settled his shoulders against the pillow and fixed Simon with a look that had the older man straightening to attention involuntarily.
"This is what we're going to do," Blair's voice was cool, calm and commanding, "I want to talk to my doctor. I need to see Jim, and if I have to check out AMA to do it, I will. Once I'm with Jim I want his charts, notes and if possible his doctor. You know how…sensitive he is, I need to be able to access him. Then we'll wait until he wakes and take it from there. I assume the PD will authorise my absence while Jim needs me - if not I'll take all those sick days I'm owed."
"Easy Sandburg," Simon held up his hands in surrender, "We didn't go to all that trouble to get you hired as our resident anthropologist to have you quitting so fast."
"I know," Blair nodded, "And I appreciate all you did after the dissertation - especially when I chose to remain a civilian."
It had been a difficult choice to make, but Jim had agreed with Blair that it was better to make the University accept responsibility for its part in the debacle. Blair had turned in his 'real' thesis - the dummy they'd continued all those years ago. The Uni had awarded his doctorate and cut him lose. Blair worked for the PD now and seemed happy. If he was pursuing any academic past times, Simon was unaware of it.
"I know kid," Simon sighed acceptance; Blair would focus on Jim now, as he always did.
"I'll go get your doctor," he got off the bed, "And I'll let the gang know you're ok. They've been worried about you both."
The doctor was waiting by the nurses' station and none to happy about it. Simon made a bet with himself over the outcome of Sandburg's pending examination and nodded to the doctor before heading outside. He could call the station and have a smoke at the same time.
Happy news dispensed, Simon hung up his cell phone and leaned back on the bench. As irrational as he knew it was, Simon felt responsible for the injuries his men had suffered and the guilt weighed him down daily. Had Blair woken disoriented or damaged…
Simon threw the cigar away angrily and headed back inside to be with his men.
The ICU was cold and quiet. Blair had won his argument - and Simon won his bet - and been released from the hospital. He used a single elbow crutch for support and agreed not to walk too far.
Jim's doctors hadn't been encouraging, though Blair was able to explain away some of the drug reactions he'd had and produced enough records to prove he knew what he was doing when it came to Jim and drugs.
The body in the bed was pale and cold to touch. After some deliberation Blair decided not to fight through the drugs to reach Jim, preferring to wait until they were out of his system. He even managed to finagle unlimited visiting hours once the drugs were out of Jim's system. That was only twenty-four hours away.
Blair held the cool, lax hand in his and listened to the pinging of the monitors. He sighed and stroked a thumb over Jim's knuckles, wishing he had senses like Jim so he wouldn't be dependent on machines for monitoring his friend. It must be comforting to be able to hear another person's heartbeat.
"Good morning, Dr. Sandburg," Alice Trivet entered quietly to run her usual checks. She was Jim's duty nurse during the day - a formal person with a solid air of capability.
"Good morning, Alice," Blair sighed; he hated being called by his title. As a member of the PD the title only got in the way of good relationships with his colleagues and the civilians they encountered. It seemed too much like rubbing his education in to be called 'doctor' so Blair never used it. That didn't stop Brown, Rafe and Taggert teasing him with it - but that was different. That was family.
Nurse Trivet worked around Blair - testing, adjusting and wiping as needed.
"There now," she made a few notes, "He's holding stable Dr. Sandburg; that's good news."
Blair offered her a smile, but didn't reply. He sat with Jim in silence for a while, but Jim's doctor interrupted them again. He was not a young man and had a tendency to treat his patients like naughty grandchildren - regardless of their age. He also teased Blair with his title but Blair didn't mind that so much. It was almost a game to the two men.
"Good morning, Dr. Prescott," Blair glanced up but returned his gaze to Jim almost immediately.
"Good morning Dr. Sandburg," Prescott rumbled. He was a barrel chested man with an unruly mane of white hair and gold half glasses.
"How's my patient?" Prescott grinned and Blair made an amused sound. Prescott had made it a personal mission to get this intense young man to smile and laugh. So far he hadn't succeeded.
"He's resting, shhhh," Blair quipped but didn't lose the solemn look. Prescott nodded and turned back the sheet.
"Well," Prescott sighed when he'd completed the exam, "His body is clearing out the last of the drugs you okayed for us. He'll wake tomorrow. And now it's time to honour our deal. Go home, eat and sleep. You can come back tomorrow at nine am. No sooner, ok?"
"You'll call if there's any change?" Blair asked anxiously. Prescott nodded and touched his shoulder gently.
"I promise, son, now scat," he patted the shoulder under his hand and watched his patient's visitor get up, drop a kiss on the hand he held then snatch up his crutch and hobble out, deliberately not looking back as he left.
Prescott sighed and followed the young man out. Despite all the dire predictions he made and the medical evidence he backed it up with, that determined young man continued to cling to the hope that his friend would recover. If stubbornness and wishing counted, then Jim Ellison would wake wholly unaffected.
Unfortunately the damage was very real; and until he woke, the true extent of the damage would not be apparent.
A grim Prescott entered Jim's room the next evening.
"Hey doc," Blair didn't look up from the foot massage he was giving his partner, "What's up?"
"Mr. Sandburg," all joking was gone from Prescott's manner now, "We need to talk."
"Sure thing," Blair's massage never faltered, "Jim will want to hear what you have to say too."
Prescott set his jaw in a manner very similar to his unconscious patient.
"Blair, Jim's not responding to the change in his medication. It's been twelve hours - we should be seeing some changes in his consciousness," the doctor watched the other man change feet, unconcerned at the diagnosis.
"I know," Blair smiled at his still friend, "He's a stubborn son-of-a-bitch sometimes."
"We have to consider that he won't wake up at all," Prescott voiced the worst case scenario, "We have to start looking at our options."
"Doc," Blair sighed, "I'll look at the options with you. Just give me forty-eight ours ok? If there's no change then I'll put us in your hands."
Prescott grimaced in resignation and then nodded. In the short time he'd known Blair Sandburg the other man's determination had stood out crystal clear. He would do what he said and no less. Prescott could give him the time - in reality he had no choice.
Blair didn't watch him leave. By the time Simon arrived the next morning Blair was massaging Jim's chest, soothing around the irritated patches of skin where the sensors were stuck to Jim's chest.
"Hey Sandburg," Simon sat near Jim's feet, cautiously propping one hip on the mattress. Blair was almost in the bed with Jim, but Simon had expected that. These two men needed to touch each other a lot.
"I had a word with Jim's doctor," Simon continued, patting the foot nearest to him, "Now I need a word with you."
There was a huff of almost laughter from the Guide.
"He's zoned, Simon. Pretty deep too," Blair quietly explained, "It presents as a coma with atypical reactions - Prescott's writing it off as the brain damage."
Simon considered this for a moment and then nodded, timing his still patting hand with Blair's continued massage so as not to irritate Jim and undo Blair‘s efforts.
"Can you pull him out of it?" Simon asked quietly. He already knew the answer as Blair nodded in the affirmative. Of course he could - it was his job to pull the Sentinel from zones. He had a one hundred percent success rate. Blair glanced back at his friend.
"While you're back there, give his left big toe a good hard squeeze every five seconds until I say stop."
"Gotcha," Simon wasn't worried about the non-answer as Blair shifted further up the bed and started massaging his Sentinel's face. After a few minutes Blair began to hum softly under his breath - an old Beatles song that Simon recognised and joined in. Three songs later Blair leant forward and plucked a container from the bedside tray.
"Ok, my friend. You know I'm here. You can hear my voice and feel my touch. Let's add scent to the matrix now," Blair crooned, "Just a little whiff."
"What is that?" Simon didn't interrupt his rhythm as Blair scooped something onto one fingertip and waved it under Jim's nose. The nose in question wrinkled in response.
"It's a paste from my emergency kit - smells and tastes very strong. I made it up after I had to break a zone using rancid orange juice. Now I just carry this around as an alternative," Blair grinned over his shoulder and then addressed his partner again, "Because someone got cranky - complained all day about the taste in his mouth and a queasy stomach, right Jim? Come on now, follow my voice. Come back to where you're safe, big guy."
Jim's head began to turn, following the smell under his nose. He frowned and the toe Simon was squeezing twitched, making the captain exclaim in surprise and let go.
"You can stop now Simon," Blair's voice had a triumphant tone to it and Simon looked up. Jim's eyes were open and fixed steadily on his cooing partner's face.
"That's right Jim, just relax," Blair sucked the paste off his finger and caressed the side of Jim's face. Jim blinked sleepily in response and leaned into the touch.
"Hey there big guy," Blair soothed, "You with me?"
Jim nodded, snuggled into Blair's hand and went to sleep. Blair smiled radiantly at Simon, who was grinning hard back.
"Captain Banks," Prescott scolded from the door, "You really shouldn't be here; ICU has a one visitor policy."
"Jim woke up," Simon blurted and the doctor bustled forward as the tall man got off the bed sheepishly. Prescott's eyes were gleaming.
"Blair?" he asked sharply, "Could you move aside for a moment?"
Blair got up reluctantly, removing his hand from Jim's cheek. The reaction was immediate.
"Oh ho," the doctor crowed, "Someone doesn't like that. Perhaps you'd better go back."
Jim was frowning and moving restlessly, making little noises as he reached for that soothing touch. Blair sat back on the bed quickly, capturing a grasping hand and petting the restless head until the Sentinel quietened. Jim sighed, turned on his side and curled around the warm body as best as he could. He gave a final wriggle and fell into a deep sleep.
The single plaintive word captured Blair's attention immediately, and he turned from his discussion in the doorway. Dr Prescott shadowed Blair to the bed as his patient's eyes opened and he called again.
"She's not here," Blair kept his voice steady by an act of pure will, "It's ok, big guy."
Jim's eyes fastened on his face, fear gleaming in them. The heart monitors showed the fear driven beat as Blair's Sentinel tried to figure out what was going on.
"Who are you?" he asked in a little voice. Blair put a hand next to his and smiled gently as a large hole was ripped through his soul. His Sentinel - his partner - didn't recognise him at all…was afraid of him.
"I'm Blair. Do you know your name?"
"Of course silly," Jim frowned, "I'm Jimmy. James Joseph Ellison. Where's Mommy? Is she coming?"
Blair hesitated a moment and then shook his head. Better not to mention right now that Mommy had left over thirty years ago and that if Jim knew where she was he hadn't mentioned it to his Guide.
"Your Mom isn't here, Jim. I don't know where she is at the moment."
"Mr. Ellison, do you know where you are?" Dr Prescott asked and Jim glanced at him for a moment before replying to Blair. His hand was inching slowly across the covers to touch the man who was smiling at him so kindly.
"I'm in hospital; you're a doctor. You've got a coat and everything," Jim proved that his skills as a detective had developed at an early age.
"That's right, Can you remember how you got here?" Prescott continued, a little frown on his face. Jim bit his lip and shook his head.
"No," the reply was tearful, and Blair took his hand. The returning grip was tight. Blair rubbed his thumb over Jim's knuckles lightly and moved a little closer to the bed.
"That's alright," Blair soothed, "It's all ok."
"How old are you Jim?" Prescott thought it best to distract the man in the bed and it worked like a charm.
"I'm six! My birthday was on Saturday!" he wriggled a little with a charming smile on his face, and then looked up at Blair who was controlling himself rigidly in response to that shock. Jim had been forty-two a week ago. Blair had bought him a lifetime membership to his favourite gym.
"Is Dad coming?" Jim didn't sound too eager for that. Blair sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed, propping his crutch against his leg.
"I haven't spoken to him," He replied gently, "You've been staying with me."
William Ellison was out of town on business and not to be disturbed, no matter how many times Simon had tried to get through to him. Jim and his father weren't any friendlier now than before William had been nearly murdered years ago.
"Until Mommy comes back?" Jim asked eagerly. He really wanted to see his mommy, and it tugged at Blair's heart that he had to keep refusing to produce her. He wasn't even that close to Naomi at six. She had raised him to be independent.
"It will probably be a very long time before that happens," Blair reached out to rub Jim's hair, avoiding the stubble over the shaved place. Jim leaned into the touch in a trusting way and the heart monitors slowed to normal as the Sentinel/Guide bond made itself known. Something in Blair eased as well - if they could connect at the basic level, perhaps they could rebuild the partnership.
"Ok. Can I come home now?" he asked guilessly and Prescott stepped in, clearing his throat.
"Not yet Jim. I need you to do some tests first. Then we'll see - ok?"
"Like at school?" Jim pulled a face and Blair laughed in surprise.
"No not like school," he replied, "Medical tests - a different type. It won't hurt - right Dr. Prescott?"
"Absolutely," Prescott nodded immediately. Jim bristled on the bed, glaring at the white haired doctor.
"I'm a brave boy," Jim protested, "Don't care if they do!"
Blair leaned in to reassure him, soothing the glare back to a smile while Prescott went to book the tests.
"Blair, will you come with me?" Jim looked sideways at the curly haired man, who smiled and nodded. Jim relaxed with a sigh. There was something very compelling about him - it spoke to the man in the bed of safety and love. If he couldn't have Mommy, then Blair would do just fine.
"Yes I will," he promised, "You can show me how brave you are."
"I'm very brave," Jim boasted, "Dad says that boys don't cry?"
There was a hesitance in his voice - as if he was asking for Blair's opinion. Blair thought quickly; he didn't agree with the stoic philosophy taught to boys all over, but also didn't want to disagree with Jim's father. Conflict would only confuse Jim and frighten him at the moment.
"Well he's right. Boys don't cry," Blair temporised, "But children do, when there's a very good reason."
Jim nodded, losing interest to Blair's relief. He looked around the stark room and then back to the man sitting on his bed. He seemed to be an understanding kind of person, so Jim decided to risk it.
"There aren't any toys to play with," Jim commented politely and Blair grinned.
"I'll get you some, ok?" he promised, "Later today. What would you like?"
"A truck?" Jim asked hopefully, "I'm going to drive one when I grow up!"
Out of the mouth of babes, Blair chuckled and promised to see what he could do.
Nurse Trivet entered with a wheelchair, which she pushed over to the edge of the bed and then stepped around.
"All right Mr. Ellison, time for those tests," she stepped forward briskly and Jim looked over at Blair.
"Can't I just walk? I'm too big for a push chair," Jim complained, eyeing the chair with disfavour.
"Sorry big guy," Blair shrugged, petting Jim's wrist lightly, "It's a rule. People in hospital need to ride in a wheelchair."
"Oh," Jim thought about it while Trivet waited impatiently. She couldn't move Jim until Blair got off the bed, and Blair wasn't moving until Jim indicated he could deal with it.
"I suppose if I have to," Jim sighed and Blair got up, pulling back the covers gently.
"That's my boy," he smiled proudly, getting an innocent grin in return.
Blair hit the button for the correct floor and leaned against the wall of the lift. The test results had not been good. Because they'd started so early this morning the results had been ready by lunchtime, devastating the young Guide in their finality. Jim Ellison seemed to have permanently regressed to the age of six; in effect Blair had just become a single parent. Both men had given power-of-attorney and next of kin status to each other - Jim couldn't afford to have doctors messing around with his senses and Blair trusted his Blessed Protector with his life.
The power-of-attorney meant Jim was effectively under Blair's control. Prescott hadn't said anything yet, but Blair had the feeling that the speech entitled 'you should commit him to a care facility' was looming fast. That wasn't even an option for Jim. Not as long as Blair had breath in his body.
The lift pinged and Blair picked up the bag with the toys he'd bought for Jim. After some searching while Jim napped after lunch, Blair had managed to locate two toy trucks - blue and green in the Ellison tradition - a couple of books he'd hoped Jim would like and a puzzle to play with. From home he'd bought some sleepwear for Jim and an old handheld game that was battery operated. It wasn't likely to interfere with any of the equipment in the ICU - his condition made Jim a high maintenance patient, and at the moment the ICU had the space available.
Walking down the corridor, Blair noticed a slightly tense air to the staff. Experience told him that the cause was a code - someone had just gone into arrest. Uneasy, Blair hastened his steps, pushing the door to Jim's room open.
His partner lay in a sobbing ball on the bed, with Nurse Trivet standing over him and scolding, trying to reattach the sensor leads.
"Hey!" Blair hurried forward and got between them, "Leave him be!"
"He just set off every alarm we have," Trivet turned the tone on Blair, "He pulled all the leads!"
"Itches!" the ball on the bed wailed and Trivet tsked in annoyance. Sobs shook the big frame.
"Is Dr. Prescott here?" Blair interrupted and she nodded. He was rubbing a nearby shoulder and the sobs eased a little in response to the kindly touch.
"He's on his way. We called when he coded and then again when it was a false alarm," she confirmed reluctantly.
"Then until he gets here the sensors stay off," Blair's tone brooked no argument. Trivet tsked again and left, outrage in every line of her stiff back.
Blair leant over and put his face even with Jim's, still rubbing the bare shoulder. Jim's gown was on the floor and the hospital briefs weren't doing much for his modesty. As soon as he calmed down Blair would get him into boxers and a t-shirt.
"Jim, can you hear me?"
"Itches," Jim sniffed, "Not a bad boy."
"Not bad," Blair sighed, "Sit up, Jim. Let me see."
Jim uncurled and sat up, sniffing defiantly. His skin had a few irritated patches where the sensors had rested and Blair dug through his backpack for the jar of salve he carried for just such an occurrence. He smoothed it over the red patches evenly, stroking until the sensitive skin absorbed it. Then he dug out the boxers and Jim pulled off the briefs. There was a rash where the elastic had rubbed and Blair soothed that too before tugging the boxers on and hopping up on the bed.
Jim snuggled in, burrowing his face into Blair's neck and sighing in relief. His breathing still hitched in after the sobs and Blair rocked gently, humming a meaningless tune and petting Jim's back.
Simon walked in and raised both eyebrows at the sight, but didn't say anything. The Sentinel stuff was weird enough. He did notice the hitches in Jim's breathing which prompted him to ask,
"Jim? You ok?"
The detective burrowed further into his partner and didn't reply.
"Just a little upset," Blair crooned, "No big deal."
"Sandburg I think Jim's old enough to answer for himself," Simon replied in exasperation, "Don't you? He's not a baby."
"That's right. He's a big boy," Blair kissed the ear closest to him, "How old are you Jim?"
There was no easy way to tell Simon this - and he wouldn't believe it unless Jim confirmed it himself.
"Six," the muffled reply was just loud enough to be heard, "I was six on Saturday."
"Jim, do you know who I am?" Simon felt sick asking. The head buried in Blair's neck didn't even turn to look at him.
"A doctor?" the voice sure sounded six. Simon sighed, looking at Blair's steady eyes. 'Brain damage?' he mouthed and slumped when Blair nodded.
"No," Simon's voice was defeated as he answered the guess, "I'm…Blair's boss."
Jim's head came up at that - alarm written on his face.
"Blair's in trouble? I'm sorry! You can go to work! I'll be good, I promise!" he blurted and Simon hastened to reassure him as tears gathered in Jim's pale eyes again.
"No he's not in trouble. I came to see how you were," Simon patted a muscled shoulder gently and Blair dried the tears before pulling Jim back into his embrace. Jim snuggled in again happily, the rocking soothing him to drowsiness.
Prescott entered, took in the scene and nodded.
"Hey Jim," Prescott made sure to smile, "I hear we had an accident?"
Jim shook his head and peeped up at the doctor from Blair's neck.
"I took off the itchy things," Jim told the truth - just like he'd been taught to, "It was noisy. People got mad."
"I see," Prescott nodded, "Well, we'll leave the itchy things off, ok?"
"No, I'm not mad," Prescott lied, thinking of several words he'd have with a certain nurse who'd put Jim in such a state, "I'll come back later, Blair. If you can get him to sleep that would be good."
"Not tired," Jim protested and Blair chuckled gently. Jim did indignant outrage well.
"People in hospital need to sleep a lot," he explained, "How about we play a game?"
Prescott left as Blair recited the teddy rhyme on Jim's hand, tickling gently before slipping the t-shirt over Jim's upper body and getting him to lie back. He rearranged the covers and then recited the rhyme with Jim singing along with him, changing the words from 'teddy bear' to ‘teddy Blair'.
"Imp," Blair smiled fondly, "Close your eyes and I'll tell you a story."
"What kind of story, Teddy?" Jim settled back on the pillows and relaxed as Blair rubbed a hand over his stomach. Simon tiptoed out to the corridor, waiting until the door was closed before burying his face in his hands and letting the tears flow. A gentle hand led him to a seat.
It was late when Blair finally limped from Jim's room. Simon was still there, standing guard over the door.
"Keeping watch, huh," Blair looked as tired as he sounded, "You know that used to be called standing sentinel."
The young man choked and Simon swept him into a hug. Blair cried, releasing the stress and fear of the day's events. He was practically vibrating with tension and Simon held him until he was silent.
"God," Blair pulled back, wiping his face, unable to meet Simon's eyes, "Sorry Simon."
"It's ok Blair; God knows how you held it together," Simon shook his head. Blair glanced at the door and bit his lip.
"Still should have waited until I was home - he might have sensed something," the reply shocked his boss, and Blair nodded, "Yeah, he's still online."
"Take him off then!" Simon blurted, "Jesus Sandburg, he's six! A six year old can't handle these senses - hell, Jim couldn't as a thirty six year old!"
"It's not a flip of the switch, Simon," Blair replied in a dull voice, "I can't make him suppress his senses. He needs to feel accepted for who and what he is. His father called him a freak and forced him to suppress them - look where that got us."
"Attitude from hell and the muscles to back it up," Simon agreed gloomily. Blair gave him a twisted, sad smile then straightened.
"He's asleep again - I'm going to get something to eat," he brushed a hand over his face tiredly.
"Why don't you go home - get some rest. I'll sit with Jim tonight," Simon suggested, "He needs you fresh and alert - right now you look pretty wasted."
"I feel pretty wasted," Blair admitted, "You'll call me if he wakes up before I get back?"
"I will," Simon promised, "I'll stick with him too."
"Thanks Simon," Blair whispered in a dry voice. Simon slipped into Jim's room and Blair forced himself to head for the elevator.
Dr Prescott was getting off as Blair approached. Despite the late hour he looked fresh and ready to go. He had a young woman with him.
"Ah Blair. Just the man I wanted to see," Prescott smiled. He was wearing a red woollen vest today, making him look a bit like Santa Claus.
"Hello Doc," Blair sighed, accepting the inevitable. He followed the other two to the small conference room and sat down wearily. The doctors sat opposite him and Blair just slumped in his seat and looked at them through bleary eyes.
"Blair this is Sue Pike. She runs the Kennedy House on Somerset Avenue," Prescott began, "The Kennedy House is a care facility that specialises in providing care for men who've been injured like Jim."
"Brain damaged," Blair said flatly and Sue Pike nodded. She'd seen it all before - grief and denial took many strange forms.
"We have a room available for him now," her voice was soothing and pleasant. Non-confronting.
"Is this a halfway house? You teach him to push a broom or something and send him on?" Blair knew he was being insulting, but he had a point to make.
"No," Pike corrected gently, "It's a permanent care facility. Jim will be with us until we can no longer meet his needs, then he'll go to an aged care facility," Pike had been on the receiving end before and knew not to take it personally. The anger was just the disguised grief this man was harbouring. Blair nodded and looked over at Dr. Prescott.
"Thank you for researching this for us. We won't need to send Jim away. He's coming home with me," Blair replied firmly and held up a hand when Pike would have objected.
"As his next of kin and power-of-attorney, I have final say in his…disposition. I also know that he needs a familiar face at the moment. I'm working on a proposal to the PD to allow me to work from home and Jim's pension will go towards our upkeep. He already owns the loft outright, so we're secure in a place to live. I've given this a lot of thought today and I know this is the right thing to do. If - at a later date - I can't supply what he needs, I'll consider having him placed in a facility then. Thank you for your time Ms Pike. If you'll excuse me."
Blair struggled up tiredly and limped to the door, opening it in silence and heading for home and bed.
Jim would be discharged in two days and it would take all of Blair's discipline to keep him amused and in bed until then. Blair needed all the sleep he could get.
Simon took a deep breath, collected his thoughts and opened the door. Jim looked up from the truck he was driving over his jeans-clad legs.
"Hello Jim," Simon smiled, "How are you feeling today?"
"Good!" Jim smiled in welcome, "I'm going home when Teddy gets back."
The nickname Jim had bestowed on his Guide that first day had stuck like glue. Simon had become used to it, though he didn't really see Blair as a stuffed toy. Jimmy Ellison had taken to the curly haired man - who had opened his arms and heart happily. Simon often came into the room to find the smaller man in bed with his partner, reading to him or playing a quiet game. Jimmy just snuggled on in and settled right down.
"I'll be driving you both home - is that ok?" Simon smiled and sat down near Jim's feet. Jim's face lit up in a big grin and he nodded. They'd become friends when Simon had read to Jim a naptime story while Blair cuddled him. Jim had just had another run in with Nurse Trivet over not eating all of his lunch; he'd complained about the smell and refused to put it in his mouth. Simon had been contracted to bring over emergency sandwiches and then read with Jim's feet in his lap while Blair took care of the rest of Jim.
"Do you have a truck? I'm going to get one when I grow up. Blair said I could!" Jim held up the toy in demonstration and Simon shook his head. This would impress the six year old.
"I have a police car," he grinned at Jim's delighted face, "If you're a good boy we'll let you play with the lights, ok? Maybe even use the siren some day."
"Cool!" Jim exclaimed, "I'll be good, I promise!"
"What's this?" Blair's voice was amused.
"Teddy!" Jim exclaimed and Blair limped over for a hug, "Simon is driving a police car! He says we can play with the lights!"
"Oh! You'd better be good then, Imp," Blair poked the tip of Jim's nose. Jim frowned and looked at Blair from head to toe, as if seeing him for the first time.
"Teddy, are you a police man too?" he asked, the first personal question he'd had for Blair since he woke. He tended to accept whatever Blair told him as the truth - a far cry from the suspicious detective that Blair had first known.
"No," Blair smiled, "I'm an anthropologist. That means I study people, and learn about them. I help Simon and our friends to find clues to catch criminals."
"Oh," Jim thought about it while Simon admired the answer; the exact truth without mentioning that it was Jim himself that had gotten Blair involved in their world.
"Is that how you got hurt?" Jim had noticed Blair's injuries and didn't approve. The Blessed Protector was still on the job.
"We had an accident together, Imp," Blair evaded, wondering exactly how to explain without disrupting Jim's worldview.
"A car accident? Is that why you don't have a car?" Jim's eyes widened and Blair shook his head. Now was not the time for Jim to explore his bad record with automobiles.
"I can't drive while my leg hurts - and my car is at home," Blair took Jim's hand, "We just had a little accident, but you and I weren't in a car. You're safe Imp, I promise."
Jim nodded and leaned in for a soothing hug, jolting back almost immediately.
"Teddy? Does it hurt to hug?"
"Never," Blair promised. They shared another hug while Simon reflected that this Jim was just as touch starved as Detective Ellison, then Blair helped Jim pack away his toys. The orderly arrived with the wheelchair and Simon carried the small bag while Blair held Jim's hand and they left the hospital. Blair had been there early as usual and already completed the paperwork they needed. Dr. Prescott met them at the elevator and said goodbye to his patient, slipping Blair his card with a smile.
Simon's flashing lights were duly played with and Jim sat in the back of the car, peering out the windows silently as Simon took him home. Simon had learned that Jim viewed himself as a six year old - and therefore couldn't reach tall things and liked to sit on laps. The idea of sitting in the front seat - his usual place when not in the drivers seat - was alien to him; the big man had let his smaller partner buckle him into the back seat happily.
"How's the gang?" Blair asked Simon quietly, staring ahead out the windscreen.
"Worried about you both," Simon didn't take his eyes off the road either, "They want to come to see you both - you wouldn't let them at the hospital."
"I couldn't Simon. Jim…needed some time to recover, and I…needed it too. He's still on bed rest you know. Next week, ok? When we're both on our feet."
"I guess," Simon agreed reluctantly, "But I'm still stopping by every day. Single parents need a break too."
Blair ran a hand roughly over his face, wiping the tears away and nodding.
"Thanks," he whispered.
Considering the worldview of his partner, Blair had purchased several sets of sheets and quilt covers, then taken them to a neighbour downstairs who had a sewing machine. She had converted the single bed sheets to one queen size set, which Blair had placed on Jim's bed upstairs. The sheets had a truck pattern on them, and the quilt cover was in a jungle print.
Simon made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch while Blair laid down a few house rules for his six year old:
1 - No playing upstairs - Jim was to play in the living room.
2 - No playing or touching in the kitchen unless a grownup was with him.
3 - No leaving the apartment. Blair or an adult that Jim knew had to be with him when he went out.
4 - The balcony was off limits unless a grownup was with him.
They ate lunch at the dining table, then Simon ushered Jim upstairs to change and climb into bed. Blair came up with another book and sat on the covers again to read to his partner. The extra space on the bed meant that Jim could snuggle right in, and he did so happily, with an arm around his shoulders while Blair propped the book up on one knee. Blair stroked the sleepy head pressed into his side until the man-child was asleep.
Simon ushered the injured man down the stairs and over to the couch.
"I miss him," Blair blurted as he sat down, misery in his eyes, "I miss him so much. But I also love him."
Simon nodded in understanding. He missed Detective Ellison too, but enjoyed playing with little Jimmy.
"I feel so guilty," Blair whispered and slumped back against the couch, "It's like I'm letting him down by wishing him away."
Simon sat next to his observer and sighed. This was hard on everyone - but Blair had been the closest to Jim. His loss seemed so much greater than theirs.
"We both want our friend back," he reminded Blair, "Jeez kid, it's not like you're wishing someone dead. You've been a rock through all this. It's ok to doubt a little."
"Thanks Simon," Blair managed to smile, but his eyes weren't convinced. Simon patted him on the hand and got up.
"Get a nap," Simon advised, "You look like you could use it. I'll stop by tomorrow night, ok?"
"Yes Dad," Blair's sarcasm earned him a mock scowl. Simon leaned over and picked Blair's feet up gently, placing them on the couch. He pulled the afghan over the startled man, patted him on the head and moved towards the door. Blair's quiet chuckles followed him out. He used his key to lock the door and walked quickly down to the car.
The men and women of Major Crimes looked up as he entered and Simon sighed, raising his hands for quiet.
"Ok, people," he raised his voice just enough to be heard, "Sandburg's got Ellison home - but he's still on bed rest. We both think it would be best to wait until that restriction is lifted before you all visit. To that end, we'll have poker night at Jim's place in two weeks time. Meanwhile, any donations of toys you've got would be appreciated. That's one hell of a big boy Sandburg has to entertain, and it's the best way we can help right now. I'll be heading back to give Sandburg a break tomorrow. Have your stuff with Rhonda by four."
Simon ducked into his office quickly and sat down. He sorted through his messages quickly and looked up when Joel entered. His good friend had a concerned look in his eyes and Simon bit back a sigh. He was too tired to talk about all this now - even with his friend. Since the accident, Simon hadn't been sleeping too well - restless dreams kept stealing his sleep.
"Hey Simon," Joel sat down and ran a hand through his hair.
"Hey," Simon leaned back, "I don't really have much to add, Joel."
"Yeah I know," Joel sighed, "I just…can he do this? Can Sandburg really take care of Ellison? You said it yourself - that's one big kid the kid has to care for. Ellison's taller than him for pete's sake."
"I know," Simon nodded, "But if anyone can do it…you should see them, Joel. Sandburg's got this gentle/firm thing going. When he says no Jim accepts. And Ellison…he just loves Sandburg - as far as Jim's concerned the sun rises and sets in Sandburg."
Joel sighed again. He wasn't really surprised. Anyone who'd seen their friendship and partnership in action had no doubt about the way those two felt for each other.
"A couple of the guys want to set up a schedule to help out - you know, give Blair a break when we're off duty. Do you want in?"
"Yeah," Simon nodded, "Put me down for it. Maybe we can organise things so Sandburg can have a few hours at the station too - the PD is going to give him a little flexibility about the consultancy, but every little bit helps."
William Ellison arrived during the poker party.
Everyone except Jim was at the table. Jim was curled on the couch, watching a video and exploring the afghan's textures with his hands. The gang had arrived early to greet Jim and hand over various toys - all non-violent stuff at Sandburg's demand. They'd sat on the floor to play with said toys - building a 'town' from the wrappings and holding car chases through it. The fact that there weren't enough cars didn't bother anyone. Blair had kept an eagle eye on his charge and lured him onto the couch at the first sign of fatigue. Jim's energy had been affected by his injury too - he tired like a six year old and tended to respond to fatigue like one. He was staying up as a treat tonight - Blair hoped he'd fall asleep on the couch.
Once his 'Imp' was settled, Blair joined his friends at the table for a few hands. They were quiet and had to watch their language, as well as their choice of conversational topic - no one wanted to put Blair on the spot explaining overheard remarks. Jim was a curious person, and Simon knew that his senses helped add an edge to that curiosity that most parents never had to deal with. Even on bed rest, Jim had managed to discover quite a lot about the building he lived in.
Simon had answered William's knock while Blair checked on Jim, stroking the soft hair gently while he leaned over the back of the couch.
"Mr. Ellison!" Simon's exclamation had heads turning and people standing as he stood aside to let the older man and his two companions in.
"Captain Banks, isn't it?" William's suit was neat and his voice precise, "I've come for Jim."
Blair had limped away from the sleeping man on the couch and kept his voice low as he greeted his friend's father, a feeling of dread in his gut.
William looked at him with visible disdain and sniffed, his expression as pinched as if someone had waved old socks under his nose.
"Still here, I see," William sneered, "Now Jim can't get rid of you, you have a free meal ticket, eh?"
"Mr. Ellison!" Simon hissed, "That is untrue! Blair has Jim's best interests at heart!"
"So he claims, but I think I'm right," William frowned, "Mr. Sandburg may have fooled my son, but I always saw him for what he was…"
"That's enough," Joel interrupted sharply, also keeping his voice down. The last thing they needed was for Jim to be woken by shouting.
"Hmm," William sneered again, and looked around, "Well, where is he? I suppose you've moved him into that closet you call a room?"
"He's asleep," Blair's voice was expressionless and William spotted his son on the couch. He moved forward and Simon also moved, as if to block him.
"He's coming with me. These gentlemen will take him to one of the best private care facilities in the city," William informed Blair. The younger man felt a cold hand grab his heart.
"As Jim's power-of-attorney…" Blair began.
"As his FATHER I'm committing him," William's voice rose sharply and finally woke the sleeping figure they were protecting.
"Teddy?" Jim's voice was slurred with sleep. Blair went to him immediately, smoothing his face with a tender hand. Jim tended to be a little disoriented when he first woke - Blair had a suspicion that he was fighting a potential zone as Jim's conscious mind took over the regulation of his senses.
"It's ok Imp," Blair cooed, "I'm, here. Your Dad's here too."
Jim stiffened and struggled to sit up, peering at his father over the back of the couch.
"Jim," William's tone was abrupt and Blair glared at him.
"Hello Dad," Jim's voice sounded a bit lost, "Is Mom here too? Did she come with you?"
"Your Mother is gone Jim. She isn't coming back," William's mouth twisted, "Get your things - we're leaving."
"Gone?" Jim's eyes filled with tears, "Why? Where'd she go? Teddy?"
"Shh Imp," Blair hugged the distraught man and rocked a little, "Shh, it's going to be ok."
"I want to stay with you," Jim's voice was muffled, "You take care of me! Why do I have to go? Am I going to where Mom is?"
"No," William spoke harshly, "You're going to a hospice. Get up now."
Jim bit his lip and let go of Blair reluctantly, obeying his father with a set face. The wipe he made to dry his tears was endearingly defiant and Blair's heart broke a little more at the sight.
"It will be ok, Imp," Blair promised, "It won't be forever - I promise."
William sneered at that, gestured for the two orderlies to take Jim and left.
They pretty much called the lawyers straight away. Jim's brain injury didn't negate his prior wishes - there was a good case to overturn the committal based on Blair's power-of-attorney.
Unfortunately William Ellison had money and influence - so it was nearly a week before the court date was set and meanwhile Blair had to endure court appointed investigators going over his affairs with a fine toothcomb. By the time they were in court, Jim had been in the hospice for three weeks. William had taken out a restraining order that forbade Blair to visit his partner - so Blair's anxiety levels had gone through the roof as the young man worried about all the Sentinel problems that could come up, as well as all the Jim problems as well. He could remember the fear in Jim's voice and hoped that kind people were caring for his friend.
The gang from Major Crimes had pooled money and time to help pay for the lawyers and gather whatever information for the hearing they could. On the day of the hearing Simon and Joel sat in court behind Blair and his lawyer. William Ellison sat stiffly at the other table, rigidly ignoring everyone but his attorney.
Court was called to order and the judge looked them over carefully before sighing and rearranging the black robes of office while sizing the two parties up. Blair had worn his only suit, pulled his hair back and donned his glasses. It was his way of showing how seriously he took the hearing. He looked threadbare beside William's designer suit though - the man's tie had probably cost more than Blair's whole suit.
"All right, let's get on with it," the judge muttered, settling herself again, "I understand you're contesting your son's Will, Mr. Ellison?"
"Your Honour, my client is merely trying to ensure that his son gets the best possible care," the attorney jumped in straight away, "He has legitimate concerns…"
"Yes, yes," she waved him silent, "Does your client know that over-turning power-of-attorney is VERY rare?"
"There are numerous precedents," the attorney launched smoothly into his next speech, "Where the person holding power-of-attorney…"
"Don't quote the precedents," the judge broke in sharply. Her eyes flashed and Blair noted the reaction with interest. He'd never been before this judge and needed to know what she would and wouldn't tolerate.
"I know my job," she continued deflating the attorney and then turned to Blair's side of the room, "Dr. Sandburg, I am curious. Why didn't you commit Mr. Ellison yourself?"
Blair laid a quietening hand on his lawyer's arm and answered for himself.
"He's my friend and partner. I won't abandon him to strangers. Jim and I are as close to family as you can get - I know I can provide the quality of care he needs. If I couldn't THEN I'd commit him," Blair's tone was quiet and authoritative. Mr. Ellison snorted.
"You have something to say, Mr. Ellison?" the judge's voice was sharp, "Very well - I'll hear your arguments."
The attorney smirked at his client - making Simon want to smack him one just on general principal - and stood. He launched into an all out offensive - citing everything from Blair's parentage, gypsy lifestyle and current financial status (he was paying off student loans) to his press conference, religion and current status as consultant with the PD.
It was hard to tell who was restraining whom as Simon and Joel shifted angrily in their seats as the attorney character assassinated one of the best men they'd ever known. Blair sat absolutely still as his lawyer made protest after protest.
"I must agree with the plaintiff. I find it hard to see the relevance of Dr. Sandburg's press conference to his ability to care for Mr. Ellison," the judge frowned, "In fact I'd have thought it spoke to a high moral standard that he would take such a step. Are there any further arguments you wish to forward? Then we'll recess for an hour. When we recommence the court will hear from Mr. Ellison's doctors and current care givers, as well as the investigators that you requested, Mr. Ellison."
They rose and she left, her robes sweeping along quietly behind her. William ran the gauntlet of glares and muttered comments as he also left the courtroom. Several more people from the PD and a couple from the Uni had arrived during proceedings and were sitting in the rows behind Simon and Joel. William's side of the courtroom was empty.
"You ok, Hairboy?" Rafe asked when William was gone. They all got up and crowded around the barrier as Blair turned to talk to them.
"Yeah," Blair sighed and fiddled with his ponytail, "I'm fine."
"Don't let him get you down, babe," Brown spoke up, "He's just an asshole."
"He's the asshole who's trying to take Jim away," Blair looked anguished, "God H - I could lose him forever here."
"Mr. Sandburg, the testimony coming up is very favourable to our case," the lawyer spoke up before anyone else could, "And the way you kept your calm just now impressed the judge; I could tell. They were trying to provoke a response from you that would go against us and you didn't give them that."
"Sandburg - you've just got to hang on," Simon added, "If you give up now…"
"Never," Blair vowed, "I'm never giving up on Jim…"
"Then we have nothing to worry about."
Dr. Prescott testified that his recommendation for Jim's committal had been turned down point blank. The attorney's smirk disappeared when the good doctor told Blair's lawyer that the hospital policy was to make that recommendation in every case like Jim's, regardless of the home situation.
"Why didn't you push for Mr. Ellison's committal?" the lawyer's question surprised the hell out of Simon, who worried that the favourable impression Prescott had just given would be undone. The doctor shrugged and eased the police captain's mind.
"We only push when we're concerned for the patient's ongoing health. In this case I had no such concerns. Mr. Sandburg was able to meet Mr. Ellison's needs and satisfied me that he would continue to do so."
Sue Pike was next. She told the court that Blair had contacted her after their initial meeting to request information on support services - just in case they needed them. She had also toured the loft to help make it safe for a six-foot plus child.
"…although Dr. Sandburg had already done most of it. He just needed one or two additional pointers and we agreed to stay in touch."
The doctor responsible for admittance exams at the hospice was next. He had been surprised at how well Jim's body was adjusting after visits to the gym had stopped. His new patient was still fit and well toned, showing no signs of abuse or neglect.
By now William Ellison was scowling darkly at his attorney, whose questions were becoming more and more ineffectual. The emerging picture was not helping their case against Blair.
He cheered up, though, when Jim's primary day nurse took the stand.
"How would you describe Mr. Ellison's current emotional status?"
The burly man frowned a little and shifted in his chair.
"I'd have to say he's a very scared little boy," he admitted reluctantly, "He drags a flannel shirt with him as a security blanket and becomes very agitated, even to the point of throwing a tantrum if it's taken away. He co-operates reluctantly with the other aides and won't interact with the other patients at all. He's moody and depressed at times - sits on the floor and rocks."
"How would you rate his overall behaviour?" the attorney leaned on his table and folded his arms impressively.
"He's very trying. He does seem to want to be good, but he's just…he keeps on getting into areas he shouldn't. Usually because he wants to help, or because he's trying to hide."
"Hide from what?" the question slipped from a horrified Blair without thought.
"His father, I think," the nurse frowned, ignoring the attorney's gag order.
"I move that comment be stricken from the record! Mr. Sandburg is to be instructed not to speak to the witnesses!"
"Very well," the judge concurred and Blair apologised to the court in a quiet voice without any prompting from anyone. His head was down and he was trying to calm his breathing.
"Why does Mr. Ellison hide?" the lawyer stood up to cross-examine the nurse.
This time the question was admitted after ten minutes of intense debate that only ended when the judge threatened to find the attorney in contempt.
"He's hiding from his father - he's said to me on several occasions that he has to stay where he is so his Teddy can find him," the nurse elaborated, "Teddy is his name for Dr. Sandburg. He recited the rhyme once, but said teddy Blair instead of teddy bear."
"Does Mr. Ellison mention Dr. Sandburg often?"
"Oh yeah! He hardly ever speaks but when he does Dr. Sandburg is mentioned somewhere. He quotes Dr. Sandburg's sayings when following our routines in the morning and while eating. It agitates him sometimes that we're not following his home routine, but I've started repeating them back to him and that has helped calm him down."
The nurse was dismissed, closing arguments made, and the court was recessed for the judge to make her decision.
"…that the decision of James Joseph Ellison to appoint Blair Jacob Sandburg as his power-of-attorney and therefore legal guardian shall be upheld. I further overturn the restraining order taken out by William Francis Ellison," the judge's words still rang in Blair's ears as Simon's car piloted through Cascade quickly, on its way to the hospice where Jim was.
"Sandburg? You with me?" Simon's voice cut across the sound byte looping though Blair's brain, "Don't tell me zones are contagious."
"Zones are contagious," Blair deadpanned and Simon groaned in denial.
"I asked you not to tell me!" he complained, grinning hard. Their friends had gone nuts, yelling and clapping in jubilation until the judge threatened to throw them out or have them arrested.
Blair had sat like a stunned statue, too overwhelmed to release the joy. He'd taken the documents he needed to retrieve Jim from the lawyer and Simon had instantly volunteered to drive, leaving Joel to organise a lift home.
The hospice appeared among the trees that lined the property and Blair leaned forward eagerly. It had taken all his willpower to stop from urging Simon to just flip on the lights and FLOOR IT already, because he wanted to be there.
Half an hour of paperwork later a jittery Blair was led to the dayroom. Jim sat on the floor by the full-length windows, rocking a little and rubbing a hand wrapped in flannel over his stomach. His lips were moving silently.
Blair took a deep breath and went to kneel beside him, ignoring the other people in the room. He put a gentle arm around the big man's shoulders.
"Hey Imp. Time to come home, ok?" Blair said tenderly and met wide eyes with a smile. Said eyes filled with tears and Jim threw himself into waiting arms, crying in reaction. Blair cooed and stroked and rocked while his partner hung on desperately.
"Really home?" a tiny voice asked when he'd calmed down, "With you Teddy?"
"Really home with me," Blair confirmed, and Jim burrowed in closer, sighing happily.
Somehow they got all of Jim's stuff and into Simon's car without Jim once letting go of Blair. Blair even sat in the back seat with him, an arm around his shoulders.
Unable to bear the miserable, disbelieving look in Jim's eyes Simon attracted the former detective's attention and he hit the lights and siren most of the way home in flagrant disregard for regs.
Home was greeted with a tiny whisper and Blair was led on a tour of the loft. Simon made a run to Wonder Burger for a celebration dinner, which was wolfed down by Jim.
Then, professing himself to be sleepy, Jim got ready for bed, supervised by his Teddy. The flannel, which had been tucked under Jim's sweater, was transferred to his pillow. Blair got a funny look on his face when he saw it, but settled on the edge of the mattress to rub Jim's stomach in slow circles and recite a creation myth from Peru in a low voice.
When his partner had finally succumbed to the call of Morpheus Blair limped slowly down the stairs.
"What was with that look?" Simon asked in a whisper when Blair slumped down on the couch next to him.
"That shirt he's been toting around? The one he was rubbing against his stomach? It's mine," Blair stated flatly. Simon found himself speechless. Even now the Sentinel sought the protection of the Guide.
Jim jerked awake and sat up. He looked around with panicked eyes, seeing but not taking in his surroundings. His breath was coming in short gasps as he screwed the flannel shirt into a ball. He held it to his face and wailed,
"Teddy!" in a despairing tone.
"Jim?" the reply was muffled, then footsteps limped closer and closer. The loved scent, heat and touch engulfed him and Jim sobbed, hanging on tight.
"Oh Jim," Blair sighed and rocked them back and forth, "I'm here Jim. It's ok Imp. Just a bad dream. Hush now, don't cry."
He murmured the words in Jim's ear gently, stroking the broad back and nuzzling the head buried in his neck. The sobs slowed but did not stop so Blair kept on stroking and rocking and nuzzling, his flow of comforting words only broken by his need to breathe.
After a tiring hour Jim had sobbed himself back to sleep. Blair laid his partner back in the bed and stroked the fingers that were clutching his arm even in sleep. Jim's breathing still hitched occasionally and Blair resigned himself to an early morning. Five am wasn't too bad - he'd got up at this time to take early morning classes only a year ago.
Jim whimpered in his sleep and Blair put a hand on his stomach, rubbing lightly in warm circles and just loving his friend as best he could.
Simon had promised to drop by for lunch and would probably come for dinner too. Maybe he would be able to suggest a nightmare preventative.
Looking up, Blair realised an hour and a half had floated by while he dozed. Six thirty was Jim's normal waking time so Blair leaned forward - Jim's hand still tightly attached to his arm - and stroked the side of Jim's face. At least the big man's breathing had calmed.
"Wakey wakey Imp," Blair called lightly, "Time to get up."
Jim's grip tightened and his eyes opened reluctantly.
"Teddy?" he asked immediately, and his face lit up in joy when he met Blair's eyes, "Teddy!"
"Good morning Imp," Blair dropped a kiss on Jim's forehead, "Ready to get up?"
"Hug," Jim demanded, sitting up. He crushed the smaller man to him, burrowing into the warm scent. Blair held him close and then pulled back with difficulty. It wouldn't do for Jim to become too dependent on him. Once his charge knew that they were back home for good, the nightmares and clinging would stop.
"Breakfast time," Blair smiled as cheerfully as he could, "Let's get your robe on."
Jim's face lit up once more at this mention of their usual routine. He let go so Blair could snag the robe and then got up to put it on.
As they were going down the stairs, Jim stopped and looked back at Blair. The Guide held tightly to the railing and wondered what was up.
"No crutch," Jim frowned, "That's naughty! Simon said so!"
"While you were gone the doctor said I don't need it," Blair smiled at his grumpy Blessed Protector, "I'm nearly all better. Come on Imp, I want my breakfast."
"Eggs?" Jim asked eagerly, turning obediently to walk down the last steps. Blair was glad to get to the bottom himself - nearly recovered or not, the joint was still tender and stairs were uncomfortable obstacles.
"Ok," Blair dragged his mind back to the conversation at hand, "With toast and juice."
He took the hand that was pushing against his and led the way to the kitchen. They put Jim's flowery apron on over his robe and scrambled the eggs in a bowl. Then Jim was put in charge of the toaster. Blair supervised the toast buttering, then dished up the now cooked eggs. He poured them both juice while Jim set the table and carried their plates balanced on the bright plastic tumblers that Taggert had brought for them.
Breakfast over - Jim had been pretty quiet instead of his usual role of morning chatterbox - and kitchen cleaned, they moved on to phase two of their morning routine.
Jim sat on the closed toilet while Blair shaved him 'just like a big boy' then played in the bath while Blair shaved himself. Both men got into the shower to wash Jim's hair and the rest of Blair then Jim watched his carer grab some clothes and follow him upstairs to dress.
Given the stress of the previous weeks, Blair pulled out the toy box when they got downstairs and settled Jim on the rug with his trucks and the police car that Simon had given him. He set his laptop up and logged onto the PD. His inbox was full, so Blair started going through it, reading the attached reports and files before sending his replies, looking up irregularly to check on Jim; even getting up once or twice to join him in a quick game of something or other.
Halfway through the morning Jim joined him at the table to draw in his scrapbook and colour in a few pages from the PD colouring book that Brown had brought for him.
He looked up at twelve thirty and smiled.
"Simon's here, Teddy," he announced and Blair grinned over at him. He'd heard nothing, but his Sentinel's hearing was definitely online. Jim played with his senses like a toy - using them to discover the secrets of the world around him. When Blair had realised this he'd taken to whispering little secrets to his partner - mainly jokes or questions about lunch to get a smile or giggle. A giggling Jim was adorable.
"You may open the door," Blair told his bouncing partner and got a big grin in response. Jim opened the door and stood in the doorway, still bouncing on his toes a little, and watching the corridor for the first glimpse of Simon.
Blair finished what he was doing and packed away the laptop, clearing the table for lunch.
Simon drummed his fingers on his desk for a moment, then picked up his phone. He dialled quickly before he could change his mind and waited for the call to be answered, glad he had pulled the blinds so his people couldn't see him sweating this out.
"Joan? It's Simon," he said firmly, "Do you have a minute?"
His ex sounded surprised and a little wary, but said she could talk.
"Um," Simon faltered, "Did you hear about Detective Ellison? Oh. Well, Jim's been injured. The short version is that he's become a six year old in a grown man's body. Yes. Yes it's been very hard on all of us. His partner is caring for him in-house. Yes, Blair Sandburg. The reason I'm calling is that Jim's started having nightmares. Yes, like Daryl. Can you remember what we did for him? Oh you will? That's great, Joan, I really appreciate it. Yes, I'm still on for the weekend - tell Daryl I'm looking forward to having him. No, I don't think we'll visit Jim - Daryl doesn't need to see him like this. The team here helps out - visit in shifts so Sandburg can catch a break. Yes, very tiring. Thanks Joan - I'll look for your fax. Yes. Bye."
Simon hung up and mopped his brow. When he'd recovered he went to warn Rhonda about the incoming fax.
"Nightmares, huh?" Rhonda mused, "You know, my sister's kid had some bad ones. I'll give her a call, see what she did."
"Who's having nightmares?" Joel asked, "Jim? Damn. You know I'm sure my little brother had a nasty time with them. Let me see what Mom can come up with."
"Come up with what?" Rafe asked, "Aw man, they just don't catch a break do they? Do you think a night-light would help? I used to have one."
"One what?" Brown popped up, "Aren't those for kids afraid of the dark? I've got one in the attic we used for Sally. Let me call the missus, see if we can get a care package going."
Simon went back into his office and closed the door. Blair would burst when he found out what their friends were doing. Any concern that the young man would be left to 'cope' vanished.
Major Crimes was a family - it had been noted many times in the past - and a big part of that family was Blair and Jim. Now they were sidelined they wouldn't be forgotten - the ties that held the family were strong enough to hold them all together.
The panther whined, trapped by the thorns. Blair looked at it in frustration. Always the same dream - the panther trapped, only its shadow reaching through the thorns, the wolf desperately digging, lamed by the thorns: both animals were looking to him for help.
As he had every single dream, Blair reached out his human hands and joined the effort, snapping away the weakened branches near the wolf's shallow trench and dragging them away.
At least there was some progress - at first Blair had only been able to HEAR the panther. Now he could see a pair of eyes and an ear occasionally.
All too soon the thicket faded away and Blair woke back in his room, heart pounding. He thumped the mattress in frustration and got up. The only reason he wasn't sitting in a corner sobbing was the hope the dream held out. Blair was sure that if he got the panther free his friend would recover.
Glancing at the clock on the microwave, Blair drained his glass and went to pull his laptop out to the table. He'd work until it was time for Jim to get up.
The combination of nightlight, hot milk at bed time and the teddy that he and Simon had taken Jim to buy, then dressed in the flannel shirt had stopped the nightmares. Jim had wandered up and down the isle of soft toys at the mall, going from one store to another, touching, sniffing and squeezing until he found the ‘perfect one'. He christened the bear Sherbet and Blair had cut the tags off in the store, walking them to the counter to pay. Sherbet hadn't left Jim's side for more than a few hours in the first week, but now the Sentinel was happy to leave the protector to guard his pillow during the day.
Jim would finally allow Blair to leave the loft without him, and would accompany Simon or Joel out of the loft to the park or library. The people of Major Crimes had managed to find bikes to fit Jim and Blair which gave Blair a chance to thoroughly exercise his partner: Jim's muscular build was being maintained with sneaky weights training by Simon - who took him to the gym to climb the ropes and swing from the bars. They couldn't just let him run down in condition - his health would run down as well.
Shutting down his computer, Blair packed it away and headed upstairs to wake his Imp for another day.
Fed, shaved, bathed and dressed, Jim played at the table with his 'diary' - Blair was re-educating him to read and write - while Blair composed a grocery list. They were meeting Joel and Rafe in the park for lunch and then hitting the shops. To Blair's relief Jim was more interested in pushing the cart than riding in it.
"Visitor," Jim announced as Blair shut the fridge.
"Who is it?" Blair watched Jim catalogue what his senses were telling him and then shrug.
"I don't know," he frowned, "Someone new."
Blair waited for the knock and then walked to open the door. He blanched when Steven Ellison was revealed standing uncertainly in the corridor.
"Steven!" Blair exclaimed, "Uh…come in."
He watched closely as Jim's younger brother stepped inside and smiled at the man clutching the coloured pencil in one hand.
"Hello Jim," Steven took off his coat and Blair hung it up. The contrast between the brothers was painful. Steven wore a designer sweater and drill trousers - Jim was in jeans and a bright green top Simon had brought over from Daryl. The teen claimed the top was too big for him, and the bright colour was very appealing to a six year old.
"Hello," Jim replied politely, "Who are you?"
Steven flinched, making Jim nervous. He began to fidget, his eyes seeking Blair's face anxiously. The stranger's heart was loud and uncomfortable in Jim's hearing and he realised that Teddy was upset too.
"This is Steven, Jim," Blair looked for and failed to see any sign of recognition. Evidently Steven Ellison was very different in looks as an adult. His big brother didn't equate the adult with the little boy he remembered. Then again he wouldn't - the big brother still saw a six year old in his mind's eye when he thought about himself.
"I have a brother called Steven," Jim frowned, "He's not here. Teddy? Where's Stevie? Did mom take him with her?"
Blair mentally supplied the rest of that sentence as he hurried to Jim's side - 'take Steven and not me'.
"Come here," Blair urged the former cop up and led the way to the couch, pushing Jim to sit down and sitting beside him. Steven sat on the other couch in shock. When he'd heard from his father he'd been surprised and then horrified. It had never occurred to him his big brother wouldn't recognise him - nor did he realise Blair was helping Jim deal with separation anxiety over the mother Steven rarely thought of now.
He watched his brother's partner put an arm around Jim and rub his shoulder.
"Jim, your mom loves you," Blair began carefully, "But she did have to go away. Stevie is still here - Sally is taking care of him now, and your dad."
"Is…is he safe? Dad won't send him away? He could come here, Teddy - I'll help you take care of him. He'll be good I promise…" Jim blurted loathing for his father evident on his face.
"Stevie is very safe. Your dad can't send him anywhere," Blair did his best to reassure Jim. Jim twisted on the couch so his legs hung over Blair's, effectively sitting on his lap. The smaller man didn't even blink, wrapping his arms around the man-child and soothing him with little pats.
"I tell you what," Steven couldn't bear the look of misery on his brother's face, "I'll keep an eye on Stevie for you. I talk to your dad now and then, and I write to Sally. Don't you worry, Jim."
Jim lifted a damp face from Blair's neck and nodded, trying so hard to be brave it broke Steven's heart.
"That sounds like a very good plan," Blair smiled his thanks, "Steven can call us and tell us how Stevie is. What do you say, Jim?"
"Yes please," Jim sniffled, "You won't let dad be mean to my little brother?"
"I promise," Steven vowed.
Simon turned off the siren and pulled up behind the two patrol cars. He hurried along the paved pathway to the impressive front door. White marble columns framed the uniformed cop standing in the doorway.
Simon flipped his ID open and followed the directions to the living room where three other cops were trying to calm Steven and William Ellison down and console Sally.
"What are you doing here?" Ellison senior barked when he caught sight of Simon. The distaste in his face was evident and only fuelled Simon's active dislike of the man. If it wasn't for Jim…
"Cop family call," Simon barked right back, "The dispatcher informed me of a disturbance at Jim Ellison's family home. Of course I came over to see if everything was all right."
This silenced William better than the uniforms had. The idea that Jim's colleagues were sticking by him was obviously a new one - William Ellison had expected his son to be forgotten, left at the mercy of that waster Sandburg.
"Good to see you Captain Banks," Steven sighed, "I've just been to see Jim."
"How was he?" Simon asked tensely, making a note to call Blair when this was over and check on them.
"He didn't recognise me," Steven replied painfully, "But my name reminded him he had a little brother. He's very worried about Stevie living alone with dad. I came to ask Sally if she'd write to him once a week and tell him I'm ok."
"Ridiculous!" William snorted, "That long haired freak is making a baby out of him!"
"He is a baby, Mr. Ellison," Simon replied absently, "A frightened six year old baby who thinks you're going to take away the one person who makes his life bearable. Sally, are you all right?"
Sally nodded and sniffed, smiling at the young cop who had an arm around her shoulders awkwardly. He patted her and smiled in reassurance. The screaming argument between the two Ellisons on top of the heartfelt plea from little Jimmy had been too much for her. William had forbidden her to visit the boy she'd raised after Mrs. Ellison had left, denying her the comfort of seeing that he was safe enough and happy in himself. She'd been planning to slip out anyway - after all she was no slave to her employer - but then Steven had stormed into his former home, using language she'd have once washed his mouth out for.
"Well, if you're ready to go, Steven," Simon looked significantly at Jim's younger brother, "Come out to the car and I'll give you my contact details."
"Thanks Simon; Sally I'm sorry about all this," Steven turned, collected his coat and left without a backward glance. Simon followed him out and gave him a moment to get it together while the uniforms wrapped things up inside and headed out.
"Dad wants to appeal," Steven burst out as the patrol cars pulled away, "He hates Dr. Sandburg for telling people that Jim is a freak. He wants Jimmy committed and Dr. Sandburg out of the loft."
"Your father feels that Blair is taking advantage of Jim," Simon said carefully.
"Dammit! Jimmy's always been different! After the press conference Dr. Sandburg held I called him - he told me Dr. Sandburg is the only one who makes him feel normal!" Steven clenched his hands into fists, "He really is special, Simon."
"I know," Simon replied, "I've known for years. It's one of the reasons Blair has been partnered with Jim for so long."
Steven sighed, slumping against the car. Simon rested his arms on the roof and stared across the street, waiting in silence for Steven to get to the heart of the matter. He was enough like his brother for Simon to know there was something else bothering him here.
"He cried for me," Steven whispered, "He wanted me to come live with them in the loft. I've told Dad I'll fight any appeal he makes."
Simon reached over without looking and patted Steven's shoulder. After a few minutes they swapped details and Simon watched him drive away.
Jim craned his neck to look out the front window. As a Christmas treat he was allowed to sit in the front seat while Blair drove them to Simon's house. Daryl was with Joan this year, so Simon was hosting Christmas at his house. Jim and Blair were arriving for lunch and the rest of Major Crimes and their families were coming over for dinner and presents.
Jim was wearing his present - a bright new knitted sweater from Blair in soft wool. Jim had given Blair a story he'd written and illustrated all by himself, though there was another present at Simon's house for his Guide.
He'd sent a present each to Steven and Sally and a handmade card to his father. Despite all his cajoling, Blair couldn't persuade his charge to pick something out for the senior Ellison, though he was determined that William would at least get the card. Sally had mailed him a card back, signed Stevie and Sally and his brother had sent a gift signed Steven. Sally's weekly letters also arrived by post with made up and remembered activities for a happy three year old that had long since grown up. So far they had satisfied Jim's concerns.
"Are we there yet?" Jim turned to smile at the driver, "Are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet?"
"Imp!" Blair laughed, "Be good for Teddy!"
Jim giggled a little and turned back to the window. It had snowed for Christmas, making the landscape full of white lumps, hiding familiar sights. After a few blocks he turned back.
"Teddy, am I naughty? Are you tired of me?" the big man's voice was hesitant.
"Huh?" Blair glanced over at him, wondering where this was coming from, "Of course I'm not!"
"Ok," Jim turned away again. Blair spotted Simon's house with relief. He pulled up to the curb, got out and locked his door, got Jim out and locked that door too, then took Jim's hand and led him up the path.
"Happy Christmas!" Simon carolled as he opened the door. Jim hugged him and followed their host to the lounge room. He showed off his new sweater again for Simon and then sat on the couch. Simon shot a concerned look at Blair, who sighed and sat next to Jim. He turned the solemn face towards him gently and asked,
"Who said you were naughty and I don't want you?"
Simon thumped down onto the coffee table in shock as sad eyes met steady ones.
"They didn't know I could hear them," Jim sighed, "It was the people downstairs. They think I should go away so you can do what you want."
"Do you know what I want?" Blair smiled, "To stay with you. You're my Imp and no trouble at all."
"Promise?" Jim's lip trembled even as hope lit his eyes. Teddy was a special and magical person who deserved to be happy every day. He didn't want to make Teddy tired of him - ever.
"I swear," Blair crossed his heart and Jim fell into the offered hug with a happy sob. Simon moved over and joined the embrace, relieved to see a smile on Jim's face once more.
Brown brought his video camera to tape the proceedings as the families of Major Crimes crammed into Simon's spacious lounge. Joel wore a Santa hat and handed around the presents that they'd normally have given each other at the office party. They'd also agreed to buy a few small gifts for the few children that would be attending, including Jim.
The idea was to be finished with the gifts in time for dinner so the children would be in bed at a decent time. Simon had somehow ended up on the couch with Jim on his lap while Blair perched on the armrest nearby. Jim was still a little subdued, but Rafe was working hard with Joel to cheer him up. Rhonda did her part, mock scolding them as the 'mother of Major Crimes' when they got too noisy.
Seeing that the former detective had the largest haul - the kids had all opened their gifts with their parents that morning - Joel spread Jim's gifts out, handing out a new package every second gift or so. The gifts given to Jim were varied - several bright shirts, a few books, the latest Disney video and another truck for the ever growing collection.
Blair's second gift - a new watch to replace the one lost in the accident - had everyone oohing and ahhing. Blair fastened it on Jim's wrist with a kiss and Simon helped the new owner set it to the right time. Jim had been learning the time with Simon and had caught on to the concept fairly quickly.
Jim's gift to Blair came last. He'd confided to Simon what he wanted to give his Teddy and the family had got together to fund it. Simon had even arranged to take time off to accompany the two men, though at the moment, Jim thought Blair was going alone.
"Ok, this is the last gift," Joel's words had Jim tense in anticipation, "And…it's a gifts from Jim… and… it's… for… Blair!"
"Huh?" Blair blinked and looked at his excited charge, "Oh - a surprise!"
Jim nodded vigorously and Blair accepted the decorated shoebox Joel was holding out. He held it up to one ear and shook it carefully, watching Jim as he did, then smiled and slowly slipped the ribbon off. He stared blankly at the two plane tickets to Florida then blinked and looked up at his suddenly solemn 'boy'.
"So you can be warm," Jim blurted, thinking of all the times Teddy had shivered in the cold. Blair's eyes filled and he put the tickets down, moving so he could hug his partner.
"Good thing there are two tickets - I wouldn't want to go without you," he kissed short hair and smiled at the astonished face. Jim got up off Simon to have a look and Blair thanked the family quietly. The former detective tuned back in, in time to hear that Simon was coming too and sighed happily.
"Who's hungry?" Simon asked gruffly and got up to start heating the dinner.
Blair sat on the side of Jim's bed and stroked his hand over the soft hair. Sherbet was snuggled close and Jim's breaths were deep and even. Blair thought about the day they'd just had and once more the familiar protective anger burned through him, though he was careful not to let it contaminate his light touch.
Someone, somewhere along the way had convinced little Jimmy Ellison that he wasn't worth loving unless he was a good, invisible child.
Blair hoped that wherever they were, that person was as alone as they deserved to be.
He leant forward, kissed a warm temple and went slowly down the stairs. He'd have a beer in Jim's memory tonight and then be up early to play with little Jimmy tomorrow.
No trip to Florida was complete without a visit to Disneyland. Simon and Blair planned it as a surprise for Jim, who could remember going to a local theme park when he was five. The idea of visiting with Mickey Mouse was interesting, though Jim really wanted to meet Sheriff Woody.
The flight from Cascade had been tiring - Jim hated being cooped up and got cranky when a flight steward told him he was being too noisy. The stewardess was luckily a more enlightened soul - she dug out a children's activity pack for Jim and managed to relocate Simon so Jim could spread out into his seat as well. Blair spent the flight telling stories and playing games to amuse Jim, who was too keyed up to nap. It didn't help that the changes in air pressure and the millions of aircraft noises and smells kept distracting Jim's senses.
They'd reached the hotel - one connected to the theme park - late that afternoon, just as Jim reached the end of his endurance. A quick wash was all that Blair could manage to do as his rapidly tiring partner drooped towards sleep. Simon ordered room service and they watched the sports channel together before going to bed themselves.
The Imp was back in top form the next day, smiling at his 'parents' over the breakfast buffet and asking anxiously if Teddy felt warmer. The bright winter sunshine was a definite improvement over Cascade and Blair gave his affirmative answer with a clear conscience. Simon read the parks brochures over breakfast while Jim and Blair discussed the plane flight and then Blair laid down some rules for the day.
Once inside the park, Simon became the chief navigator while Blair held Jim's hand and dealt with the excitement and curiosity of his Imp. Grateful that Jim's reading skills weren't good enough to let his unique worldview interfere with what he wanted to do, Blair and Simon took turns going on the various rides Jim wanted to try.
They found Sheriff Woody after lunch and had a picture taken with him and then found Buzz Lightyear too. Simon slipped away to buy a Mickey Mouse hat with 'Imp' stitched into it while Jim and Blair rode the swans.
Blair steered them to some of the quieter attractions for a while, then managed to get his tiring partner to agree to go back to the hotel. Simon lingered in the lobby to get the three rolls of film they'd used put in for processing, then joined them for a room service dinner. Jim was reluctant to go to bed and eventually fell asleep in Blair's lap. Simon had to help the anthropologist carry his partner to bed.
Day two of the holiday saw them at a truck rally - to Jim's not so secret delight. There were vehicles of all shape, size and colour, and Jim declared his intention to see every one of them.
The place was packed with parents, couples and excited children. Both Simon and Blair were inured to the wondering looks strangers often gave their charge, and Jim was blessedly oblivious to it all. Luckily several of the vendors were quick to realise the situation and treated Jim as his worldview demanded.
He got to play on several simulators - and drove pretty well all things considered, though Simon was heard to wish he'd driven like that when he was a cop. Jim also missed that remark. He rode the fire engine with the other kids and showed off his knowledge of police cars to the cops saddled with the local PD display. He came away from that stand with a fake badge of his own, and compared it gleefully to Simon's, grinning in delight. Blair had several pictures of it all - he sensed potential blackmail material against his boss.
They left the truck show while it was still early - to avoid another bout of overtiredness - and headed for the beach.
It was too cold for swimming, but the three men made sandcastles, then a city to drive seashell cars through. Jim started making sound effects for his car, followed by Simon. Blair was laughing too hard to participate in that activity.
They ate in the hotel restaurant that evening, going over their plans for the next day. Disney World beckoned - there was still a lot to explore and Jim was intrigued by the idea of driving his own little car.
It wasn't until they got upstairs that Jim changed from a happy boy to a clinging child. Simon shrugged in bewilderment as Blair held his partner in his lap and rocked slowly.
"It must be environmental," Blair frowned at the head burrowed into his chest. He stroked Jim's neck and shoulders in soothing cadence. Simon's respect for the anthropologist went up another notch as the tension in his former detective eased and his grip loosened at little.
"Imp? Tell Teddy what's wrong," Blair urged in a soft tone.
"Bad noise," Jim whined, pressing his ear to Blair's chest, "Can't hear it."
Simon shrugged in confusion and looked around, trying to figure out what Jim couldn't hear.
"Can't hear it," Jim rubbed his cheek on Blair and like a bolt from the blue, Simon got it. From the expression on Blair's face, so did he. Something in the quiet room was blocking the sound of Blair's heartbeat. Jim must have been anchoring himself on that comforting sound - instinctive behaviour for a Sentinel and double soothing to a youngster.
"Imp, you know that I won't ever leave you, right?" Blair patted Jim's back, "There must be something in here giving off white noise, Simon."
"But what?" Simon frowned, "It's so quiet in here I can barely hear the AC."
Blair's face lit up and for a moment he looked as he had at Jim's birthday party - a young carefree man, content with his life and his friends.
"That's it! They must be using their own white noise generators. Think about it - the combined noise of the park, over excited guests and the usual hotel noise must make for a pretty loud environment. Rather than shell out for expensive insulation to soundproof the rooms they use a generator to cut the noise down," Blair explained rapidly.
"That doesn't solve Jim's problem," Simon pointed out gently, hating to squash the first emergence of the pre-accident Sandburg. Blair was rocking gently and stroking Jim's back with one hand while the other cupped the sensitive man's head. Jim was relaxing slowly, his eyes blinking shut and his breathing evening out into sleep.
They had to carry him to bed again.
Blair grimaced in frustration. Only a few strands still trapped the panther. If only he'd had more time. The spirit animals were both growling and snarling now, apparently frustrated by his slow progress.
Getting up with a sigh, Blair started his daily routine of rousing, feeding and dressing Jim. It had been so long since he'd spoken to his friend James Ellison that Blair had almost forgotten what their morning banter was like. He'd stopped mourning a while ago, though he'd never stop missing Jim Ellison he was content to spend his days delighting in the joyful presence of Jimmy. Jimmy was a curious, yet shy, child. Away from his father's threatening and manipulative influence he was becoming more outspoken and spontaneous.
Blair's thoughts were interrupted by a poke from his charge and he poked back, covering his mental truancy with crossed eyes and a wriggle of the eyebrows. Jimmy giggled and Blair sent him upstairs to empty his hamper.
Jim paused on his way upstairs to collect his laundry.
"Visitor!" he announced, smiling down at his adopted father.
"Who is it Jim?" Blair dropped his load of dirty towels into the basket. His Sentinel scrunched his nose up adorably as he tried to identify the approaching person.
"Um," he wriggled, "I don't know? They smell a bit like you do."
Blair frowned. Naomi hadn't visited since the fiasco with his dissertation. She hadn't responded to any of his e-mails - in fact he'd had no idea of her location for the past two years. She was the only person who'd share his familiar scent and be visiting the loft. How could he introduce his mother to Jim without raking up Jim's own fears and insecurities? Resigning himself to a difficult morning, Blair tipped his head up to look at Jim, who was still standing on the stairs.
"Go on up and get your laundry," Blair smiled at his big boy, "Don't forget your stinky socks."
"Won't," Jim retorted, "Don't have any! Must be your stinky socks, Teddy."
"Imp," Blair mock growled and Jim giggled as he ran up to his bedroom. Blair opened the door for Naomi and collected the linen from the kitchen. They were going to strip the beds today - an activity that led inevitably to pillow fights.
"Hi Sweetie," Naomi breezed in through the open door and wafted over for a firm embrace.
"Hi Naomi," Blair smiled and returned the hug, "How are you?"
"Fine, honey. I've been travelling in Brazil and then Malaysia. I met some truly wonderful friends there," Naomi drew back and glanced around, "You're still living with Jim. The energy here is still so…"
"Teddy?" Jim's hesitant voice interrupted. He was staring at their visitor: her tanned skin and colourful dress were very different to Megan and Rhonda. His arms were full of dirty clothes and Blair walked around his mother to take them from his charge.
"Is that everything Imp?" Blair tugged on Jim's bright shirt, "No hidden socks?"
That got him a brief smile and a shake of the head. Naomi was staring openly as Jim 'hid' behind Blair a little. He was still shy of strangers and liked to be close to the man that spoke of comfort and safety when meeting new adults.
"Come and sit down," Blair invited his mother and positioned himself on the couch. Jim 'sat' on Blair's lap - legs draped over his Guide and arms around his waist - and snuggled in, never taking his eyes from their newest guest.
"Sweetie?" the single word spoke volumes.
"Jim," Blair ignored her, unable to think of a better way to broach this subject and hoping Naomi would pick up the vibes, "I want you to meet Naomi - an old friend of mine…"
"Blair Jacob Sandburg!" Naomi spat, her eyes flashing fire, "I know that living with a pig is damaging your karma, but how dare you mock me! Your own mother!"
Jim flinched and buried his face in Blair's neck. His grip tightened even further, as did that of the man holding him. Blair's eyes flashed their own fire as the first tears dampened his skin and he rocked his lapful of Jim gently, running soothing hands along his arm and back. Maintaining his control for Jim's sake was hard, but it had to be done. Once more it was all about Naomi and her place in the scheme of things. Couldn't she see that there was something else dictating his actions now?
"Stop it," Blair said quietly, "I am not mocking you. You will respect me in my home."
"Respect?" Naomi shrieked and Jim flinched closer, away from the sound, "Respect you while that pig flaunts himself in your lap?"
Jim's rasping sobs shut her up faster that any retort from Blair ever could. The big man's knuckles were white where he had taken fistfuls of Blair's shirt and he shifted uneasily, trying to climb into Blair's skin. The curly haired man was pulling him in tight, wrapping solid arms around the shuddering frame in response.
"Shh Jimmy. It's ok," Blair cuddled his friend and crooned, "Teddy is here, Imp."
"Want her to go," Jim sobbed, "I'm not a pig."
"No you're not," Blair agreed, love rich in his tone, "You're my big boy, aren't you? Hush now, it's all ok."
"Is it bad to live with me?" Jim lifted a miserable face from Blair's damp neck. Blair ignored the woman staring from the other couch to kiss the tears away and smile his love at the man in his lap.
"Living with you is the best decision I ever made," Blair promised, "We're sticking together."
"Like glue?" Jim clutched his Guide close and relaxed a little when he was clutched back in turn.
"Like super glue," Blair glared at his mother, "When you leave, make sure the door locks behind you. I don't want you to come back."
Before Naomi could reply or even move, Jim gasped in shock. He sifted so he could see Blair's face clearly, anxiety in his eyes. This was what Blair was afraid of - triggering Jim's own issues about his mother's absence.
"She's your mommy! She has to come back!"
"No she doesn't," Blair replied firmly, "She's like your dad, and we don't let him come over either. It's ok, Jim No one is taking you away."
Neither man noticed Naomi slip away from the loft, too wrapped up in each other to pay attention to the outside world.
Eventually Jim calmed down enough for Blair to snag the afghan and the remote. The laundry would have to wait until Simon or one of the 'uncles' could come by. He got Jim snuggled down with his head in Blair's lap and found the morning cartoon. Jim got a very firm grip on his Teddy and lay quietly, watching Scooby Doo and the gang solemnly while Blair's fingers carded gently through his hair.
Simon arrived at lunchtime, giving Jim a knowing look and then a hug. He made sandwiches for everyone and fetched them over to the couch. Their 'child' sat up obediently and Simon chatted lightly about a motor show that was being planned for next month. With a burst of enthusiasm from Blair they broke Jim's doldrums and got him up off the couch again.
Simon slipped Blair a note on his way out and Blair pocketed it for later study while they got the laundry and customary pillow fight out of the way.
Once Jim was finally in bed for the night Blair managed to sit down for three minutes and read Simon's note. Naomi had gone to the PD and gotten the full story from Simon as well as a few home truths. Simon had gotten her phone number for while she was in Cascade and urged Blair to call her. Unwilling to let their last words to each other be said in anger, Blair dialled the number.
"Hello?" Naomi's voice was eager and tense. Blair had to remind himself that his mother didn't do what she did from cruelty, she was just…indifferent at times.
"It's me," Blair said quietly, "I rang to apologise. You didn't know what was going on and I should have kept my temper."
"Oh Blair, baby," Naomi gushed, "It's ok. I understand. Captain Banks told me all about it. I should have known what was happening. You have such a generous soul, sweetie. Are you sure they're not taking advantage of you?"
Blair grit his teeth and counted to ten.
"I'm only gonna discuss this with you once," he kept his tone even with effort, "I love Jim. We were never a couple but I loved James Joseph Ellison, which is why I stayed. He was my partner and my friend and abandoning him was never an option for me. I also love Jimmy. He's my Imp and I cherish the time we have together. It is impossible for me to be taken advantage of as I am here of my own free will. I fought his father for custody and I'd do it again in a heartbeat."
There was a long moment of silence as his mother processed his reply and Blair found himself listening to make sure his charge hadn't woken.
"I hear you baby," Naomi said after a moment, "Can I come see you both tomorrow?"
"I don't thinks that's a good idea," Blair vetoed the suggestion, "It took me hours to calm him down again. He's terrified of being abandoned. I don't want him upset again."
"But sweetie - I haven't seen you in two whole years!" Naomi protested.
"Mom - you never answered my letters, paper or electronic. I can't believe it's such a big issue for you," Blair sighed, "My email addy hasn't changed - stay in touch ok? What's your next port of call?"
"I'm going to spend some time at home - visit family while I'm here. Why don't you come with me? I'm sure Jim will be welcome," Naomi's suggestion irritated Blair. She might have heard him, but she sure wasn't listening.
"No thanks anyway Naomi," Blair forced a smile into his voice, "Look, it's been a long day. Call me when you can, ok? Safe travelling."
He hung up and muted the phone so it wouldn't wake them if anyone decided to call that night. With a tired sigh, Blair locked up, turned everything off and went to bed. Tomorrow was another day. Things would be better then.
Jimmy made the bed carefully, smoothing and patting the wrinkles out before stepping back to look it over critically. Satisfied, he walked quietly down the stairs and snuck into Teddy's room.
Teddy was asleep in the usual tumbled pile of blankets, and Jim smiled at the sight. His Teddy was not a neat sleeper - in fact he was pretty messy. Jim leaned in close to one curl covered ear.
"Teddy?" he whispered, "It's time to get up."
"Mmph," Teddy protested and Jim giggled. He reached out with long fingers and tickled the sweet smelling lump of sleeping Guide. Teddy squirmed and gasped and finally yelled, flailing out of the blankets to launch his own tickle attack. They ended up in a pile on the floor together.
"Imp," Blair kissed Jim's cheek and cuddled him close for a moment. Then he swatted his big boy lightly on the backside.
"Hey!" Jim protested and got up, followed by Blair.
"Why aren't you still snoring?" Blair grinned, already knowing the answer. Jim shifted eagerly, looking around the living area.
"Today is my birthday!" he reminded Blair, who pretended great shock, as if Jim hadn't been talking about this for a week already.
"Oh! I didn't know!" Blair hammed it up, grinning at the scowl on his six - now seven - year old man. He pulled the taller man close for a warm hug, smiling when Jim snuggled in eagerly and leaned on him. Blair just locked his knees and rubbed Jim's back.
"Happy Birthday, my Jim," Blair whispered in the Sentinel's ear, "I love you."
"Love you too, Teddy," Jim whispered back and Blair's heart ached. He'd lost his best friend one week after his forty-second birthday. Blair missed Jim with a deep unending ache. Little Jimmy banished some of it, but today would be a bittersweet day for Blair.
Jim's stomach rumbled and recalled the Guide to the present. He chuckled and kissed the ear next to his mouth then let go. Jim stood up reluctantly.
"Time for breakfast, huh?" he smiled at the happy face and took Jim's hand, "What would you like today - you can have anything you want for a treat."
"Ooh!" Jim bounced on his toes in excitement, "Pancakes with dribbly syrup and cream and real berries!"
"And how do you know I've got real berries?" Blair asked, hands on hips. He'd bought a punnet of strawberries yesterday while Jim was out with Rafe and Brown. He'd unpacked and put away the groceries before the trio returned and dinner had been pizza - delivered to the loft and devoured to the last crumb.
"I can smell them," Jim put his hands on his hips too, "Silly Teddy."
"Huh," Blair replied and they grinned at each other again before getting out the fixings.
Once they'd cleared away the remains of breakfast Blair sat Jim down on the couch and pulled out his birthday present.
"What is it?" Jim asked eagerly running curious fingers over the handmade paper. The textures and patterns fascinated the young Sentinel and Blair settled nearby to watch him examine it with sensitive fingers, guarding against a zone. Jim eventually looked up from his fascination with cloudy eyes, earning himself a warm smile.
"Aren't you going to open it?" the reminder broke the spell of the paper and Jim grinned, tearing into the package eagerly.
"A truck!" there was a tinge of disappointment in the tone and Blair concealed a grin. Jim's fascination with driving hadn't faded, and he'd asked for a real truck he could drive after Simon took him to a local motor show. He'd asked everyone he knew pretty consistently in the endearingly sly way that six year olds had.
"A special one," Blair helped pull it out of the box and attached the antenna before fetching the rechargeable batteries he'd had on charge in his room.
"What's that for?" Jim watched closely as Blair put the batteries in, turned everything on and handed the controls to Jim.
"Move the levers and see what happens," Blair tucked his feet up out of the way and watched the delight on his 'son's' face light up the room.
The elevator was working so Jim drove his truck down to the mailbox with them. The box had a few cards in it, so they put them in the back of the truck and drove them back up to the loft. Steven and Sally had both sent cards - with ten dollars inside from Steven and kisses from Sally and 'Stevie'.
Naomi had also sent a card to Jim, with a leather bracelet inside it. Blair recognised the green bead woven into the leather as malachite - to promote healing and well-being. He tied it onto Jim's wrist and watched the Sentinel smooth it against his skin.
The phone rang while Blair was going through the bills and he let Jim answer it. The adult Jim had growled his name in response to a ringing phone - the seven-year-old version piped a cheerful 'hello' into it.
Scared eyes and a white knuckled grip had Blair at his side before Jim had to reply to his father's birthday greeting. Blair wrapped his arms around Jim's waist, rubbing at a hip gently.
He listened to the hesitant voice describe the new toy truck and the special breakfast, then thanking the stern man on the other end of the line before hanging up. Jim turned in Blair's arms and snuggled close, seeking the comforting warmth and scent of his chosen father.
"Dad said he's sending me a present," Jim's voice was muffled in Blair's shoulder, "He said it will arrive at ten o'clock."
"Sounds mysterious," Blair made his tone light and positive. William Ellison was still a frightening figure to his first-born son. Jim nodded and leaned heavily.
"Oof! You're getting heavy!" Blair locked his knees again, "You'll squash me in a moment!"
Jim just leaned harder, hiding a smile in Blair's collar while Teddy moaned and puffed and strained under his weight. Blair let him lean for a moment and then tickled him suddenly. Jim squealed and wriggled away. Sentinels were ticklish - especially in response to a playful Guide.
"No fair!" he cried, but Blair just chased him around the loft. They ended up in a pile on the rug - Blair flat on his back and Jim curled with his head on Blair's chest, just above his heart. Blair made a long arm for the remote and switched the TV onto a cartoon station, while his other hand petted Jim's head and neck lightly.
Eventually Jim's sombre mood dissolved into giggles at the antics on screen. Blair's fingers never stilled.
At ten o'clock there was a knock on the door and Blair persuaded Jim to let him up. Jim stayed out of sight while Blair answered the door and signed for the large wicker chest. The deliveryman deposited it on the floor by the dining table and left.
"Teddy - there's something in there," Jim crept closer to the wicker chest and its bright ribbon, "Something moving."
For a wild moment, Blair wondered if William Ellison had smuggled himself into the loft, disguised as a birthday present. Jim's fingers were already undoing the ribbon eagerly. He yanked open the top of the basket and peered inside.
"A puppy!" he cheered and Blair's eyes widened in dismay for a moment. The loft was too small - they had no yard…Jim reached in and pulled the Dalmatian out very carefully, settling it in his lap and patting it while it looked around uncertainly.
Blair spotted a letter tied to the top of the basket and pulled it out. The pup's pedigree papers, immunisation records and vet check forms were inside. There were also some bowls in the basket, as well as a thick blanket and leather leash.
"Can I keep it Teddy? I promise to walk it and feed it! I really do!" Jim's voice broke into Blair's thoughts. He had his 'begging face' on, but in his eyes was a genuine desire.
"Yes, you can keep her," Blair resigned himself to poop patrol. There was no way he could be so cruel as to deny Jim the pet now he'd held it, "We'll need to train her to a tray and give her lots of exercise."
"I'll help, I promise," Jim nodded eagerly, "You're the best, Teddy!"
The pup was starting to take an interest in Jim, chewing and wriggling around in his lap. Jim was delighted, chuckling and petting it lightly. His hands were gentle - the strength in them tempered and controlled. Blair had no fears that the pup would be accidentally hurt - Jim would treat it with the respect it deserved.
"What do you want to call her?" Blair had noticed the animal's sex on the pedigree, along with a real fancy name that Blair had no intention of ever calling the animal - not if he didn't want the ASPCA after him for acts of unusual cruelty. Jim's head came up in astonishment.
"I can name her? Me?" he asked and Blair nodded with a smile, bracing himself for the worst. His Imp thought about it while she chewed on his shoelace, growling a little as she tugged and pulled.
"Buster!" Jim announced proudly after a moment, "We'll call her Buster!"
"Ok," Blair hid a wince, "Buster it is."
"Buster?" Simon groaned that evening, "Couldn't you change his mind?"
"Simon, he was so happy I didn't have the heart to argue," Blair sighed, laying out the picnic dinner on the table while Jim and Joel Taggert played with Buster. Henri Brown arrived with his family and the birthday cake and Brian Rafe turned up with some helium balloons, which he tied to the table.
They'd bought the necessary dog accessories at the local market after lunch, including some vital chew toys and a check chain they could use with the leash to train the puppy.
"On the plus side," Rhonda said from where she was watching Jim play, "That dog will need a lot of exercise - which means Jim will get some too."
"Whatever possessed the man to send Jim a puppy?" Megan shook her head, "I mean, Jim's never even mentioned wanting a dog. All he cares about are trucks and you, Sandy."
"Did he like the remote control truck you bought him?" Simon asked and Blair grinned broadly.
"That's it!" Rhonda exclaimed before he could reply. "His father is trying to compete with you for Jim! He's trying to buy him back with more expensive presents."
"Didn't work then," Blair chuckled, not worried about this theory, "Jim spent the day driving that truck around while Buster alternately chase it and rode in it. Thank god the batteries went flat - they were making enough noise to wake the dead."
"Did you get any pictures," Megan laughed and Blair nodded, smiling fondly in memory.
"Yep," he told her, "Including one of them both sacked out on the floor together. Jim had Buster on his chest and his arm around the truck. So cute!"
"I want a print of that," Rhonda chuckled and Simon added his own bid. Most of the family had a picture of Jim somewhere. Simon had several.
"Dinner time?" Jim's hopeful voice broke in, "We're hungry!"
"Oh are you?" Blair put his arm out and Jim walked into the cuddle happily. Rafe and Brown joined Megan in filling and passing plates while Simon finished up at the grill. Dinner was a good natured, noisy affair as Jim entertained them with Buster stories and the others reminisced about their own childhood pets. Simon stepped in with the 'no dogs on the bed' rule, which Blair immediately seconded. Despite the fact that James Ellison wasn't around any more his house rules were still mostly enforced. The Detective would not have wanted dogs on his furniture.
They sang happy birthday over the cake and Jim unwrapped his presents excitedly, with hugs and kisses for each giver. He accrued a few more colourful clothes and some storybooks, as well as the obligatory truck - this time in the shape of patterned pyjamas.
Blair loaded a sleepy seven year old into his car and Simon followed them home to help put Jim and Buster to bed.
They settled on the couch together with a beer each. After sitting in silence for several minutes Simon raised his bottle in a toast.
"Happy Birthday Jim," he toasted the balcony windows and Blair clinked his bottle solemnly against Simon's before taking a drink. His eyes were bright in the lamplight and Simon dropped an arm around his shoulders gruffly.
They sat like that for a while.
Daryl Banks tried not to stare when his father greeted Detective Ellison with a hug and a kiss. The puppy at Detective Ellison's feet yapped in a reminding tone and his Dad bent over to pat it, laughing. The spots made the dog look like it had a black eye that spread up to one ear, and the tip of its tail was black too.
"Jim, this is my son Daryl," his dad waved him over, "Daryl this is Jim."
There was a reminding tone in his dad's voice and Daryl smiled at the man he'd once looked up to, his father's advice ringing in his ears.
"Hi Jim," Daryl looked down at the pup, "Nice dog. What's it called?"
"Buster," Jim smiled, "She's a Dalmatian - like the dogs in the movie!"
"Yeah that used to be a favourite of mine too," Daryl laughed, "Hi Blair!"
"Hey Daryl! I see you've made it to another Cascade PD family picnic!"
"Never missed one yet," Daryl couldn't explain why these picnics were so important to him - maybe because they'd been so much fun when his parents were still together.
Blair was spreading the blanket he'd bought while Jim went to talk to Joel, who was just arriving with his wife. Daryl bent to help his friend out, smiling at the thanks he got and shrugging it off with typical teen coolness.
The lure of football was strong, and Daryl went off to join one of the so-called friendly games between Major Crimes and Vice. Once or twice he caught a glimpse of Jim cheering them on, laughing and holding tightly to Blair's hand with Buster yapping and tumbling at their feet.
It saddened Daryl that two men who would usually be in the thick of the game were sidelined. He felt proud at the way Blair had stuck by his friend, and the way that Jim obviously trusted Daryl's dad as a good friend. His team's yells got Daryl's mind back on the game and he lost track of Blair and Jim for a while.
He caught sight of them at the end of the picnic. Blair was heading to the men's room while Jim helped Rhonda put her stuff in her car and Buster yapped from the front seat of the Volvo. One of the men from uniform tossed the football across the car park to a buddy and missed. The ball bounced in the road and Jim yelled,
"I'll get it!"
He was stooping for the ball when the Chief's wife got her heel stuck under the accelerator, sending the powerful new Mercedes harrowing straight for the man-child. Blair's scream cut the air like a knife as he ran in front of the car to tackle his son. There was a sickening crunch as the car hit one of them a glancing blow before ramming into a row of parked cars.
Daryl caught a glimpse of Blair, bleeding on the ground, his arms cradling Jim's head and shoulders before their family from Major Crimes surrounded the two men and Rhonda pulled him back.
Blair tore feverishly at the last of the thorns, uncaring of the bleeding, crippling wounds the vicious tendrils inflicted.
The now thin and dull-coated wolf dug savagely at his side, growling and panting. The panther was silent in its prison now, the only sounds came from Blair and his spirit guide.
With a scream of triumph, Blair dragged the last barrier aside and flung himself inside the narrow gap. The panther lay still inside its prison, the golden eyes closed. Blair caressed the silken pelt with torn hands, tears streaming down his face.
"You're free now," he sobbed, "Please, you're free. Please!"
He grabbed handfuls of fur and pulled, sobbing and choking on incoherent pleas, pulling the unresponsive animal out of the thorns and into the light. The wolf added its teeth to his efforts and together they dragged the panther away from the thicket and onto a flat rock in the sunlight.
The wolf curled around its mate, licking Blair's blood from the black fur. Blair knelt opposite them, falling silent as the wolf tended to the panther so gently. The silence seemed to stretch forever as the wolf nuzzled and licked.
Then the panther purred. Blair held his breath as the purr became stronger and its tail began to twitch.
"Oh please," his near silent whisper was rewarded with a golden gaze. For a long moment the panther held his gaze, then it rolled onto its back for the wolf, purring and nuzzling its mate in turn.
Simon sat down quickly, taking Jim's hand and putting his other hand on his friend's chest. He glanced at Prescott, who nodded in encouragement. Jim was stirring and Simon knew that without his 'Teddy' Jim would probably panic.
Both his friends had been knocked out in the accident, though Blair had snapped a rib in the fall and once again dislocated his knee. Jim had been sheltered in his father's arms and the blow to his head had been his most serious injury in a list of minor bumps and scrapes.
Simon rubbed Jim's stomach in the comfort touch that Blair used as Jim's eyes opened slowly. The man in the bed frowned up at the ceiling for a moment then looked around. He dismissed the doctor for the time being and then looked at Simon.
"Hey there," Simon smiled, "How are you feeling?"
"Confused," Jim frowned and lifted their joined hands, "What the hell are you doing? And where's Blair? Was he hurt when the truck blew?"
Simon gaped at the former detective as Dr. Prescott stepped in.
"Can you tell me your name and age please?" he smiled at his frowning patient. The man settled down a little, obviously recognising the post head injury drill.
"Detective James Joseph Ellison. I was forty two on Saturday," he said clearly, "Simon, you were there."
"Oh my god!" Simon blurted and Prescott held up a hand to silence him.
"Can you tell me how you were injured?" Prescott continued.
"We were on loan to Robbery for a raid. One of the neighbours was high and started shooting at us. The truck blew when he hit the fuel tank or something. We were running for cover. Dammit Simon, tell me - WHAT HAPPENED TO BLAIR?"
"He's ok - just out at the moment," Simon stared at his friend, "My God it's good to have you back. He's gonna flip."
"What do you mean?" Jim demanded and Simon glanced at Prescott, unsure how to put it. He was still quite frankly stunned at Jim's recovery.
"Detective, your original head injury was quite serious. It damaged your brain - irreversibly we thought - and regressed you to the mental age of six," Prescott said gently, "You memories and behaviour were that of a six year old Jimmy Ellison."
"No…Simon, you're playing a joke, right?" Jim looked to his boss, who shook his head and lifted their still joined hands. He couldn't bear to let go in case Jim slipped away again to be replaced with Jimmy.
"I thought I was going to have to reassure Jimmy that everything was ok," his voice was unsteady, "Blair…took you in and raised you like a son. It's been over a year, Jim."
"No," Jim shook his head in denial, then sat up, "I want to see him."
"Ok," Simon glared Prescott down and the doctor went to get a wheelchair.
"Simon…is he hurt? What happened to put us back here?" Jim was clutching Simon's hand just as tightly now as he began tracking the events that would lead to him waking alone in a hospital.
"He knocked you out of the path of an out of control car," Simon sighed, "At the annual PD picnic. I guess you don't remember Buster either."
"No," Jim frowned. Simon grinned.
"It's the name of your Dalmatian - your Dad sent it as a present for your seventh birthday," Simon shrugged, "Daryl's dog sitting at the moment."
Prescott reappeared and Jim got up eagerly - sitting impatiently as they wheeled him along to Blair's room. Joel was sitting by the bed; he smiled at Jim as the wheelchair came to a halt.
"He's skin and bones!" Jim exclaimed before Joel could speak.
"He's been losing weight a little. I've been keeping an eye on him," Simon said defensively, "I don't want to be cruel Jim, but you were one hell of a big kid to care for. He loves you enough to do it thoroughly."
"Simon!" Joel objected as Jim froze, his face stricken, "What are you doing?"
"It's all right Joel," Jim muttered, "It's me, Detective Ellison. I don't know what's been going on, but I'm me again."
"Ellison?" Joel's tone was disbelieving, but he got a huge grin on his face. Before he could say anything else the man in the bed moaned. Jim was up and sitting on the bed in seconds, taking Blair's hand in his and leaning close.
Dazed blue eyes opened and searched for his, the cloudiness clearing away rapidly as the curly haired man woke properly.
"Easy Chief," Jim soothed, "We're ok."
Blair smiled, squeezed his hand and went back to sleep.
Prescott insisted on tests. The 'damage' that had shown on Jim's earlier scans was gone, leading to theories about blood clots and other things Jim wasn't too interested in.
Blair slept; a deep and heavy sleep that no amount of noise seemed to penetrate. Jim didn't mind - he knew the sleep was healing and spent the time sitting with his Guide while his friends told him a little about the last fourteen months. What they said triggered Jim's own memories - and oddly enough he didn't feel embarrassed at the image they'd had of him. He was awed and humbled by the depth of friendship his colleagues had shown him.
Blair blew him away. He'd been reduced to tears when the memories of his father came forward and the adult understood what his Guide had done. He'd also remembered - and told Simon - the way Blair had turned his own mother away to comfort him.
Steven came on the third day of Blair's sleep to see his brother, and his brother's guardian.
"You're sure you're ok?" Steven asked, ten minutes into his visit. Jim laughed and reached across Blair to touch his brother's hand. They'd hugged when Steve first arrived, then his little brother had retreated, embarrassed.
"I'm sure," Jim reassured the younger man, "Thanks Stevie."
"You didn't recognise me, you know. Sally has been writing letters about me to reassure you that I was ok," Steven grinned suddenly, "And thanks for the birthday present. I'd totally forgotten I liked that cartoon. Where did you get the mug?"
"Blair found it on a site on the web," Jim chuckled, "It was like magic at the time."
"Yeah, he's a magic guy," Steven looked solemnly at the still form his brother was guarding, "If he needs anything, let me know. Or even if he just wants something…maybe a holiday somewhere warm, huh? Yeah…I'll get some brochures. We can pick a place for while his knee heals up."
"No Disney," Blair mumbled without opening his eyes. Steve chuckled.
"I've got that hat you guys sent me on my wall at home," he smiled as Blair's eyes opened. Jim leaned in, brushing curly hair back from the pale face.
"You gonna wake up for a while, Chief?" he asked softly. Blair's eyes searched his face and his Guide nodded.
"Sure," Blair smiled and looked over at Steven, "Hey, Steve. Good to see you."
"And you," Steven smiled back, "So where would you like to go?"
"Umm," Blair mused, "I've got some savings. Float me a loan and lets go to Club Med. I've heard it's nice there."
The brothers met each other's eyes in silent agreement. Blair was going - and he wasn't paying for anything. Nothing was too good for the young man who'd defended his partner so completely.
The door opened quietly and Jim glanced up. William Ellison stood in the doorway uncertainly, his eyes raking over Jim hungrily.
"Dad? What are you doing here?" Steve didn't sound too impressed and Blair tensed, struggling to sit up to protect Jim. Jim leaned over him, pushing him flat again and stilling nervous hands.
"Shh," he whispered, brushing his fingers over Blair's lips. His Guide was muttering ‘protect the Sentinel' comments and Jim smiled, leaning in close for the illusion of privacy.
"I'm safe, stand down," Jim ordered in a tender voice, tangling their hands together. He straightened to glare at his father, feeling the fear in Blair's tight grip.
"You're upsetting him, Dad. What are you doing here?" Jim cut across Steven's low voiced comments.
"I came to see you son. Despite what you think I am concerned about my sons," William's voice was resentful, "I see he's got you both believing that I'm some kind of evil presence."
"Hey!" Jim barked, "If you didn't act the role…"
"Jim!" Blair's voice lashed out, "Do not complete that sentence!"
Jim's head whipped around. Blair was glaring with the old energy, his eyes rekindled with the fierce intelligence that marked the man.
"Your dad only wanted the best for you," Blair's voice gentled, "I couldn't make the six year old understand that, but you will. Calm down, ok? Maybe you should go home for a bit. You can visit with your dad and clean up, ok? I'll see you tomorrow. Take him home, Mr. Ellison."
Jim found himself obeying automatically, untangling his hands and getting up. He smoothed the covers into place and watched Blair go back to sleep before leading his father out.
Simon found Jim at the loft later, watching the Christmas video with a photo album on his lap.
"You ok Jim? Steve told me at the hospital that your dad took you home," Simon sat on the couch and chuckled at the screen, "That was a good Christmas."
"I'm sitting on your lap!" Jim gawked.
"You were six Jim," Simon replied, "And you liked sitting on laps."
He flipped through the album to a picture of Jim sitting on Blair's lap. Both were holding a Jag's shirt up and grinning.
"Blair's birthday," Jim remembered, and Simon nodded. They sat quietly while Blair opened the last present.
"He loved Jimmy," Jim sighed, "I hope that he can stand to have me back. That he won't leave now because he thinks I don't need him."
"Huh?" Simon frowned, "Jim - he must love you. No one would do what he's done for someone they didn't already love. Jimmy was loved for your sake at first and then in his own right. Sandburg didn't choose to stick around because he thought you needed him before the accident and why the hell are we discussing this?"
"Because Sandburg's in the hospital again; hurt while protecting me - again," Jim sighed and looked at his toy box. He remembered Blair helping him to decorate the cardboard box with wrapping paper and pictures that Jim had drawn. Simon smacked him in the arm. Hard.
"Enough of that crap," he growled, "Or I'll tell your Guide about it."
"Ok, ok," Jim fended his boss off. The Christmas part of the tape ended and there was snow on the screen for a moment before the scene jumped to a shot of most of Major Crimes on the floor, playing with the trucks and Jim while Blair slept on the couch. The cheerful noise didn't disturb him at all.
"Who's with him now?" Jim asked tensely while his on screen counterpart chased Simon's truck across the floor. Megan had taped this.
"Joel came and took over from Steven," Simon replied, watching Jimmy lose interest and sneak up on the sleeping man.
"Good," Jim approved. Blair woke at the first touch and smiled sleepily at his boy, reaching out to ruffle the short hair before getting up with a yawn to join in. Megan was called over to play too and the screen switched back to snow. Jim turned the TV off.
"Steve and I want to take him to Club Med for a while. Can you arrange the leave time for him?" he turned a page in the album and touched the happy people in there with reverent fingers.
"Sure," Simon agreed, "I'll even take care of Buster while you're gone."
Simon smiled happily at the tanned men that stepped through the arrivals gate. Jim was glowing with vitality and finally looking himself - dressed in 'Jim' clothes. There was a happy, untroubled expression on his face. At his side Blair bounced as of old, hands waving as he detailed some theory or other. He was still thinner than Simon liked, but he'd gained a little weight - that was a good start.
"Did you talk the whole way, Sandburg?!" Simon laughed as they met.
"Most of it," Blair grinned, "It was Jim's fault."
"Whatever you say Chief," Jim replied, rolling his eyes good-naturedly. They made small talk out to the car, where Buster greeted them with excitement.
"Did you behave, Buster?" Jim cuddled the excited dog to his chest - she was still small enough for him to do that. Buster yapped and licked him all over his face, her tail whipping about in excitement. Jim scrunched his face up, but didn't pull away, his long fingers petting the dog in return.
Blair laughed and started hauling luggage off the trolley and into the trunk.
"Sandburg!" Simon barked, "Put that down!"
"Geeze, Simon, give a guy a heart attack," Blair grumbled, reaching for the bag he'd dropped.
"Freeze Chief. No heavy lifting. It's a part of your rest cure," Jim put Buster into his Guide's arms and helped load the car with Simon.
"Jim, I thought we discussed this. No coddling. I'll treat you like an adult and you'll do the same for me," Blair frowned.
"You've been taking care of me for so long. It's my turn now," Jim said firmly in reply, "No coddling, just caring, see?"
"Uh huh," Blair didn't sound convinced but got into the back seat with Buster, securing the animal in its harness.
Jim described the resort for Simon while Blair dozed with Buster in his lap. The two cops exchanged significant looks when they noticed. The 'rest cure' had helped, but Blair was still tired.
He was 'allowed' to take Buster up to the loft while Jim and Simon made like beasts of burden with the bags. Simon stayed for dinner - delivered Thai food - and left promising to come again on the weekend. Jim had to process the paperwork to get his re-qualification as a detective started and Blair had to review an old case file for a court case that was finally starting on Monday.
Jim sat on the floor in front of the couch, leaning against Blair's legs with Buster on his lap while they watched the late night news. Blair's fingers found their way into his short hair and the silence was supremely content as they reconnected with their home and their lives.
"Did I thank you for my childhood, Chief?" Jim murmured when the news was done. He was petting Buster the way Blair was petting him. It felt good that they could connect so easily together.
"Hmm," Blair thought about it, "It was my pleasure. I have to admit I've been a little worried about us. I was pretty intimate with you while you were gone. I don't want you to be embarrassed or ashamed of that."
"Nah," Jim leaned his head on Blair's good knee, "I understand. And from what I can remember I always could say no. You gave me a lot of dignity Chief. I can't ever repay that."
"We're not a cheque book Jim. We don't have a running balance to maintain," Blair reminded his friend, and Jim nodded, letting it go. They let the silence descend once more, with the tv talking away quietly in the corner.
"Did I thank you for Buster?" Jim stirred after a while, smiling at the young dog asleep in his lap. Blair chuckled.
"That was from your dad, Jim," Blair's voice was warm and light, Jim sensed his friend was drifting slowly towards sleep again and made a mental note to get them both up and off to bed soon.
"Yeah, but you didn't have to let me keep her. You could have said no. She's a lot of work Chief and we really don't have the ideal space for a dog," Jim looked up at his friend, "Teddy always seemed so cool - he always knew what to do and how to make things work out."
"My Imp was worth the effort," Blair's heart was in his face, "He always will be."
Buster snored, breaking the moment.
Laughing, Sentinel and Guide, soul mates and friends, got up off the couch and locked up for the night, content to be together once more.
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