The following is a DEATH STORY. It has spoilers for The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg. It is set after that by several years. In fact, it's really set in the future a couple of years, I guess.
Sandburg was a cop but isn't now, as you will see, I hope.
Again: DEATH STORY.
Any feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The day came back to Blair clearly as he looked into the blue eyes of the little boy on his front porch.
Blair waited and paced in the hospital's surgical waiting room. He had rushed past the emergency room to this floor when he'd arrived, but Megan was already in surgery. He hadn't spoken to anyone yet about her condition. Jim, he knew, was in the emergency room getting a cast for the arm that had been broken in the crash.
"Detective Sandburg?" An older, bearded man approached the pacing young man. "Why don't we have a seat down the hall."
"Oh, God," Blair whispered. "She's dead?"
"No," the doctor assured him. "No, she made it through surgery fine. I'd just like to discuss her case with you in private." The doctor's smile did little to soothe his frazzled nerves, but Blair let the man lead him down the hall to a small conference room. "Please, have a seat," the doctor said as he sat in one of the recliners in the room. Blair sat, but his leg bounced nervously.
"She will be fine." The doctor looked down at his hands. "My name is Dr. Phillips, by the way. We couldn't reach your wife's doctor. She was bleeding badly when she came in, and we had to take steps to stop the blood loss."
Blair nodded. "So she's going to be fine?"
"She'll recover and be able to return to work with the police department."
"Good," Blair said. "She really likes her job." The doctor smiled tightly and looked down again before releasing a long sigh. "What's wrong?"
"Detective Sandburg.... There's no other way to say this. Did you know your wife was pregnant?"
Blair's breath caught and he grew pale at the phrasing. "No," he whispered. "Was?"
"I'm sorry. We had to do a hysterectomy. It was the only way to save Mrs. Sandburg's life. She was about a month along. I'm sorry."
"I'm going to be sick," Blair choked out, rising to his feet and rushing out the door. He spotted the small bathroom nearby and ran for it, pushing past the man standing in the corridor. Blair didn't even close the door as he heaved his breakfast into the commode. When there was nothing left, he wilted against the cold porcelain and cried.
"I'm sorry, Chief."
The words filtered through his fog, and Blair opened his eyes to see Jim standing before him, offering a hand with something in it. His tears kept the object blurry, but Sandburg didn't care. He surged to his feet and shoved the other man from the room.
"Get away from me," Blair hissed.
"I'm so sorry," Jim repeated.
"SORRY!" Blair shouted. "I DON'T CARE HOW SORRY YOU ARE!"
"I just want to help," Jim whispered.
"Detective," Dr. Phillips said softly. "Please keep you voice down."
Sandburg never glanced at the surgeon as he advanced on Ellison, but he did lower his voice. "Help? You want to help? You've helped enough.
"No," he corrected. "There is one thing you can do. Get the hell out of my life, Ellison!" Blair whispered. "You've helped all I can stand. You've helped me die. You've helped me ruin my reputation! You've helped kill my child! You've damn near killed my wife! I don't think I can take much more of your help." He turned to Phillips. "I'd like to see my wife, please."
Phillips spared a glance at the pale man his patient's husband had backed against the wall. The doctor nodded to a passing nurse and pointed to the strangely silent man before leading Sandburg to Megan's side.
Blair hadn't seen Jim Ellison since that day. He had been allowed to stay with his wife in recovery then followed her to her room. He hadn't even asked about Jim until two days later when he'd finally left Megan's room. That's when he learned Jim had returned to the station, written his report on the accident and a resignation, and turned in his gun and badge. Two weeks later the loft was sold and $75,000 had been deposited into Blair and Megan's joint account.
That had been six years ago.
But the little boy on his front porch was unmistakable.
Blair found his voice and turned his attention to the woman accompanying the child.
"Can I help you?"
"I hope so," the woman said. "May we come in?"
"What's this about?"
"Important matters," the woman said. "My name is Anna Schmidt. I'm a private investigator for an attorney in Spadre, Arkansas. I have some matters to discuss with a Dr. and Mrs. Blair Sandburg."
"I'm Dr. Sandburg," Blair replied, still wary of letting the visitors inside. "My wife is working late. She'll be home soon."
The woman held out an envelope for Blair to see through the screen door. The plain white envelope had only one word on it: CHIEF.
Blair opened the screen door and let the two inside, taking the envelope as she passed. Blair led them into the living room from which French doors opened into a smaller room, obviously a home office. Schmidt placed a backpack on the floor near the couch and had the little boy sit on the couch.
"Perhaps we could speak in your office while BJ waits for us here?"
Schmidt's question broke into Blair's contemplation of the missive in his hand. He glanced down to see the little boy opening a backpack and smiled at the memories of his own childhood that the scene brought out. He nodded and led the way into the room.
"We'll be right back," Schmidt told the child. "Read your books or color, but wait for us here." The quiet boy nodded, and Blair watched her come into the office and close the doors. He sat behind his desk while she took a seat on the sofa against the wall, carefully avoiding the blue books stacked on one end. He almost gasped when she pulled out a small white noise generator and turned it on. Through the doors, Blair saw the child absently reach up to rub his ears before turning back to his book. "Perhaps you'd like to read the letter first."
Blair nodded silently and opened the envelope. Tears came immediately to his eyes.
"Guess you're surprised to hear from me.
"I'm surprised you're reading this. It's only the 500th letter I've started in the last six years. Probably won't be the best version, but time's up.
"The child that has so abruptly been delivered to your doorstep is my son, Blair Joseph Ellison. Sorry to spring this on you, but I don't see any other way.
"His mother died in a car accident three months ago. He spent two days and two nights alone in the car with her body. He needs a gentle touch. He needs a GUIDE, if you know what I mean.
"He also needs a father who can give him all the things I can't. He even gets a bonus with you. He gets a mother, too. I know you and Megan are still together, and I know you can give BJ all the love and guidance he needs to grow into a wonderful man. I hope you will agree to this.
"Ms. Schmidt has the papers to finalize your adoption of BJ.
"I took something from you years ago. Hell, I took a lot of things from you. I'm hoping this works out so that I'll be able to give something back.
"You know, though, that if you accept BJ and raise him the way I know you can, you'll still be giving me more.
"Please don't turn your back on him the way I turned my back on you. He needs you as much as I ever did.
Blair took a moment to gain control of his voice and tried to blink away the tears without overtly wiping his eyes.
"What's all this mean supposed to mean?" he finally asked.
"Mr. Ellison was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his wife died," Schmidt said. "He is currently hospitalized and has no hope of recovery. In fact, he probably has less than a month to live. He contacted my employer's office to work out the adoption or guardianship papers for his son and to have someone deliver him here to you."
"Yes. I understand it is an aggressive type. Even if it had been caught sooner, it is unlikely the outcome would have been any different."
"Where is he? I haven't seen him in six years. Where has he been?"
"Mr. Ellison has been a sheriff's deputy for Whitehorse County for the past five and a half years. He was married to Maggie Freeman for five years. Her car disappeared during a thunderstorm three months ago. When authorities found the car three days later, she was dead. The child was dehydrated but seemed fine otherwise, although he had a few difficult moments in the hospital before his father arrived."
"What's with the white noise generator?"
"Mr. Ellison said I should always have this on when discussing BJ with you until you make your decision. He also said it would mean something to you."
"What happens if I don't agree to this?"
"Mrs. Ellison has a brother. There has been very little contact between the boy and his uncle, however, and Deputy Ellison specifically requested his family be notified of his son's situation only as a last resort."
Blair watched the object of their discussion and saw the head snap up and look around. The boy watched the door for several minutes before Blair heard Megan arrive from work. He watched her walk into the living room from the kitchen and smile at the child.
Blair occasionally tutored students from the University. Some of the students were single parents and on occasion had no where to put their children during their tutoring sessions. Blair didn't mind the children, at least the ones who were well-behaved, and they occasionally proved to be chaperones of sorts. At any rate, finding a child in the living room while her husband was in his office with someone wasn't unusual for Megan Conner Sandburg. Blair watched her talk to the little boy and reach out for his hand. The little boy sighed and looked at the closed French doors.
"I have to discuss this with my wife," Blair said.
"I understand." Schmidt rose. "BJ and I are staying at the Holiday Inn. He told me to tell you to take your time, but I hope you'll come to a decision soon." She added, "If you and your wife refuse to accept responsibility for the child, there are other options in Whitehorse County. I believe several of the deputy's friends are willing to take the child in."
Blair nodded as he reached over and snapped off the white noise device. "I think Megan has just offered him some cookies. Why don't you have some before you leave?"
Blair watched the child's eyes light up and a hauntingly familiar grin split the little face as Schmidt gave verbal acceptance to the invitation. Before they were to the doors, the little boy had taken Megan's hand and was following her into the kitchen.
"What's your name?" Megan's voice floated out from the kitchen as Blair and Schmidt left the office.
"BJ. But Daddy calls me 'Chief,'" a little voice replied politely.
Megan turned suddenly at the announcement, catching Blair's eye as he came into the kitchen. He nodded at her unspoken question. She unconsciously rubbed her abdomen and then looked around for the former Cascade detective.
"Is your Daddy here?" she asked.
"No," the little boy replied.
"Is your Mom here?"
"No. Mama died."
"I'm sorry," Megan said, setting the cookies before him.
"Did you make these?" BJ asked. He picked up a second cookie even as he shoved the first one halfway into his mouth.
Megan laughed. "No," she said. "Blair did." She pointed to her husband who had taken a seat across the table from BJ.
"My name's Blair, too," the young visitor said brightly. "Dustin teased me about it, once, but Daddy said Blair is a good, strong name, and only the bravest, strongest people get named Blair. He said I should grow up to be good and strong and honest and brave and loal. Are you good and strong and honest and brave and loal?"
Blair was speechless and Megan answered for him. "Yes, BJ. He is. He's especially loyal."
Blair smiled weakly, fighting fresh tears as the little boy concentrated on his treat. He watched in silence as the child obviously savored the ingredients of the cookie. For a special occasion, Blair had used real butter, molasses and real eggs in this particular batch of cookies. The pure pleasure on the child's face reminded him of buttermilk doughnuts for a moment and he wondered why.
Blair rose suddenly and wanted desperately to run from the room as the image of a blind Jim Ellison thoroughly enjoying a buttermilk doughnut through his remaining senses flashed through his mind. He wanted to leave, to run from what this child's presence meant, but to do so would be turning his back on Jim. He settled for washing his hands at the kitchen sink.
"Sandy?" Megan asked, going quickly to his side. He shook his head minutely and used the paper towel to wipe his hands then his face, erasing the tear tracks.
Behind them, Schmidt stood quickly. "Come on, BJ," she said. "Dr. and Mrs. Sandburg have a lot to talk about tonight. We need to eat then get you to bed."
"Would you like to stay for dinner?" Megan asked.
"Thank you," Schmidt said, "but I think you have a lot to discuss tonight. I think we should go."
BJ looked longingly at the cookies still on the plate in the middle of the table as Schmidt took his hand.
"Wait," Megan said. She grabbed a plastic bag from the drawer and dumped the cookies into the bag. "Here you go. Maybe you can come back and visit again."
"Thank you," BJ said shyly, grasping the cookies to his chest.
The visitors left, Megan walking them to the door and seeing them out when Blair stayed rooted to his spot beside the sink. He was still there five minutes later when she returned.
"What's the story?" Megan asked, taking a seat at the table. Blair joined her but remained quiet. "He's Jim's son?" Blair nodded. "Where's Jim?"
"He has cancer," Blair said, throat constricting and making the words hard to get out. He took several deep breaths. "It's terminal. Ms. Schmidt said he had maybe a month."
"Why were they here?"
"He wants us to care for his son."
The words hung between the two. Blair studied the tabletop, nail scratching at a waxy spot left from their candlelit anniversary dinner last month. Megan glanced around the little house. They'd bought it with the money Jim had left in their account. Blair hadn't wanted to touch the money, wanting to save it for Jim's eventual return, but she had been so furious at her husband's partner, furious for the injury that sealed her childlessness, furious for his abrupt departure, and eventually, furious for the months of eluding her husband's search for him that became years of absence. Two years ago, they had purchased this small, two-bedroom home, suspecting they'd never need more bedrooms.
"He wants us to adopt BJ," Blair clarified after a long moment of silence.
"Adopt? What about his family? His wife's family?"
"BJ may be a sentinel," Blair whispered.
"He may be a sentinel. Jim thinks he is. He heard Ms. Schmidt give permission to have cookies when we were in the office." Blair paused. "He reminded me of Jim when he was eating that cookie." The tears streamed down his face and dropped onto the tabletop. Megan moved to kneel beside him and took him in her arms.
"We don't have a choice, do we?" Megan asked.
"Yes," Blair said. "We do. If you don't think you can handle this. If you're still mad at him for what happened... I'll find another way to help BJ."
Megan bent her head and they spent a moment, forehead to forehead. "I don't hold it against him, anymore," she whispered. "I promise, the only reason I'd still be mad at him, is for everything he did to you. Can you move past it? Can you stand to be a father to his son? Have you really forgiven him?"
"I forgave him a long time ago, Megan," Blair said. "I just couldn't ever find him to tell him."
She reached up to wipe the tears from his cheeks. "Do we really have anything to discuss?"
He shook his head. "Unless it's how we're going to afford it. How we're going to explain it. Where we're going to put him."
"It's a two-bedroom house, Sandy. We can afford it. We just have to change our spending habits a little. Okay, a lot."
"I don't even know how old he is," Blair said.
"He's four. He told me. I guess I can trust him. When do kids start learning to say how old they are? When do kids start school?" Megan's eyes grew wide at the questions that started to form in her mind.
"Hey," Blair shushed her, reaching out to touch her lips. "It's okay. We'll figure it out." She nodded, calming. "I have a few more tests to grade and then I need to post the grades. Once that is done, I'm free for three weeks. Simon will give you some time off, I'm sure."
"Do we tell them?" Megan asked.
"I don't know." Blair hesitated, studying the tabletop again. "I want to see him, Megan. Before..." She nodded in understanding. "Do you think you could get a few days off? We could go down there day after tomorrow and then bring BJ and whatever stuff he has back with us."
Megan nodded agreement. "I'll clear it with Simon. You finish grading. Should we at least tell Simon?" Blair nodded.
"Maybe I should?" Blair asked.
"I'll do it," Megan whispered. She doubted Simon would be able to understand Blair's ramblings because she knew her husband would be in tears before he got the news halfway out. "Go. Finish grading."
Blair left the room and took twice as long as he should have to complete the grading. It was difficult to concentrate when one dream was coming true and another crumbling in his hands. He had searched long and hard for Jim after the blow-up that had chased the Sentinel from his life. Even before Megan had been ready to face Jim and forgive him, Blair had started looking. He'd even written to Spadre, Arkansas, having traced his former partner that far. But all his inquiries had been sent back with negative answers. He had almost gone there, but Simon had convinced him to let it go.
"If he's not ready to face you, Sandburg," Simon had said, "he'll only run if you get close. Give him time. When he's ready, he'll be back."
Eventually, Blair had come to the conclusion that Jim had died somewhere, somehow--or just didn't want to see him again.
Last blue book put aside, Blair turned back to the letter. Obviously, Jim had kept tabs on him somehow. Blair wondered again if the former Cascade detective had been involved in Chancellor Edwards' dismissal from Rainier and the formal invitation for Blair to return and complete his doctorate. The invitation had come out of the blue three months after Jim had left Cascade. The powers that be had simply said they had reviewed his case and decided the Chancellor had acted improperly. Blair was welcome to continue his studies.
He had done so, quitting the police force and completing his degree in less than a year and accepting a teaching position at a small, private university in town. Rainier had offered, but Blair was less than comfortable there, even with the accepted revelation that Alex Barnes had five heightened senses and the story that Blair's "Sentinel" dissertation had actually been a novel, never meant for the dissertation committee's eyes, much less the press or ready for a publisher.
At 11 pm, six hours after his world had been rocked to its core, Blair realized he hadn't heard anything more from Megan. He left his office and heard her in the extra bedroom. He leaned against the door frame and watched her straighten the room, removing the more obvious feminine touches Joel's wife had convinced her to use in decorating the guest room, as well as evidence of her career. Since Naomi had used the room more often than anyone else, the feminine decor hadn't been a problem. But sometimes, such as now when Naomi hadn't been by in months, the room was an eclectic blend of femininity and police. Next to the dainty flower arrangement was a catalogue for ammunition and firearms.
"You know, some people would think you're nesting," Blair teased, watching Megan try to decide what to do with the vase and the catalogue.
The comment earned him a glare. "Just tidying up a little." She opened the closet door and her expression crumbled. "Sandy," she whined. "Where are we going to put all this stuff?"
The doctor stopped them outside the door.
"If he's sleeping, please let him sleep as long as possible," Dr. Conners said. "He hasn't been sleeping well and sedatives haven't seemed to help."
Blair nodded and steeled himself to enter the room. Megan put a comforting hand on his shoulder before sliding it down to take his hand in hers. With a gentle squeeze to his hand, she pushed open the door.
Blair managed not to gasp when he stepped into the room and saw Jim on the bed, but that could have been because he didn't really recognize the man in the bed as his friend. The patient was gaunt and pale, nearly bald, and the sunken eyes surrounded by dark circles gave him a ghoulish appearance. His eyes were closed but he moved constantly in his restless sleep.
Megan's grip tightened on his hand and they shared a pained, sorrow-filled look before moving quietly into the room. After a few moments, Megan whispered to Blair.
"I can't stay here," she whispered. "I'm going to go get BJ and go to a park or something. I need to do something fun, something good." He nodded and waited until she left the room before forcing himself closer to the bed.
Jim's breathing was visible, short breaths taking more energy than they supplied. The canula had slipped from his nose, and Blair reached out to adjust it, a trick learned six years ago with Megan and not quite forgotten. As his hand hovered near Jim's face, the breathing grew deeper and easier. The restlessness eased and Blair smiled as the patient slipped into an easier, deeper sleep. He pulled away and Jim's brow creased slightly. Blair hurried to take a seat in a chair near the bed and gently laid a hand on Jim's, hoping he would return to deep slumber. Blair watched as Jim's features smoothed again. He settled in to await his friend's awakening.
The small hospital's room was clean and quiet, Blair noticed as he looked around. A binder on the night stand caught his attention, and he reached for it with his free hand. Balancing the book carefully in his lap, he opened it with one hand and smiled at the title page.
"A Gift for My Love
"To Margaret Freeman Ellison
From James Joseph Ellison"
Blair turned the page reverently and smiled as his friend's life unfolded in his hands. The book was a homemade history of their--evidently brief--courtship and marriage. Either Jim had found someone to help him with the project, or he had become much more at ease with a computer. The images were digital, but printed with a quality printer and laid out in simple, clean design. Each photo was accompanied by the date and place as well as the circumstances of the picture, with the exception of one.
The face of mother and father as they beheld their newly born son spoke more than a thousand words. It eloquently bespoke of shared joy, breathless anticipation, and highest hopes. A brief pang of envy enveloped Blair as he knew he and Megan would never share such a moment, but the sheer joy of the new parents eclipsed his personal tragedy, and he could sustain no anger, no bitterness toward his friend.
Blair continued to page through the book, noting the smattering of pictures of Jim and BJ. Most of the pictures were of Maggie and BJ. Jim seemed happy in the pictures, Blair noted, and the anthropologist was relieved after years of wondering.
The door to the room creaked open and Blair watched Jim carefully for signs of waking, but the patient slept on. Satisfied the man was undisturbed, he turned to face the newcomer.
The man in the tan deputy's uniform eyed Blair suspiciously but nodded politely. He glanced first at the sleeping patient before turning back to Blair.
Blair stood, losing contact with Jim for the first time since he'd sat down, and extended his hand.
"Dr. Blair Sandburg."
The deputy gave a small smile and returned the whispered introduction. "Robert White." He nodded at the patient. "Looks like he's sleeping well for the first time in a while." As he spoke Jim stirred and both men fell silent.
Blair was torn between wishing more rest for his friend and hoping he'd awaken. He reached out to gently lay his hand on Jim's and the older man quieted.
"Welcome to Arkansas," White said.
"You work with Jim?" Blair asked. White nodded. Blair indicated the book in his hand. "He seemed happy here."
"He was, for the most part. Had his gloomy periods, you know?"
"Yeah, I know."
Silence fell until White spoke again. "So you're going to take care of BJ, huh?"
"He's a special little boy."
"I know. If he's anything like his dad, he is." Silence again. "You knew who I was?" Blair had been surprised.
Whiting nodded. "He mentioned you several times."
Blair looked down. "Did he, uh, ever say why he never contacted me?"
White shook his head. "Not specifically. Just that he had done something to you. He was a good deputy, a good man. Kind of shy, kept to himself unless he was needed. Maggie was definitely the more out-going of the two. Bright eyes, bright mind, wicked sense of humor." The deputy grew silent. "Listen," he continued, "It was good to meet you. I was just in town to drop off a prisoner. I need to get back to my county."
"Your county?" Blair asked.
"Yeah," White said. "My county has two county seats, but only one county jail. It's not big and it's full. We have to bring some of our prisoners here occasionally. This is the closest hospital. If it were in our county, there'd be a lot more people. Jim's well-liked." White stopped at the door. "I'm glad you made it in to see him. I think he really wanted that."
Blair nodded, not trusting his voice to be strong in the presence of this stranger. White nodded back in understanding before leaving. Blair returned to his seat. Jim slept on.
Blair had moved from the chair to the window of the room, looking out at the grounds of the small hospital. The two-story structure was rather old, Blair and Megan had noted, but was evidently the only medical facility in the county. In fact, someone had told them, it served much of two neighboring counties as well.
The name drifted whisper-soft across the room, and Blair at first wondered if he'd imagined it. He watched Jim closely and finally saw the blue eyes open.
"Hey," Blair greeted, coming to the bedside. He couldn't find the strength for more words.
Jim smiled at him and raised his arm slightly toward his friend. "I'm glad you came," Jim said. If his physical appearance hadn't been enough, the ghost of Jim Ellison's voice drove the painful truth home to Blair.
"I would have come sooner if I'd known where you were."
Jim shrugged slightly, smiling sadly as he closed his eyes. "I know."
Blair couldn't find the words to say. He'd run through a thousand practice conversations since the woman and BJ had visited and now he was struck dumb. For six years he had thought of what to say to his friend and now all those words were gone. What do you say when your best friend is dying?
Jim's eyes suddenly popped open and he gripped Blair's hand with more strength, still a shadow of his one-time power.
"BJ?" Jim whispered. "You'll take care of BJ?"
Blair nodded. He swallowed. "Megan's with him. I think they went find a park or something." Jim nodded. "Why?"
"Because you can help him, and you and Megan should have a family. Should have had a family."
"Why'd you leave?"
"It was best."
"Jim, man, I know you didn't do anything to hurt Megan on purpose."
"No," Jim agreed. "Not on purpose. But I should have stopped pursuit long before we crashed. It wasn't worth it."
"We forgave you a long time ago."
"I looked for you."
"You found me."
"You found me."
Jim shook his head. "No," he sighed. "You found me. I was here when you contacted the sheriff's office."
"You were here?"
"I answered the letters."
"You told me you weren't here?" Blair asked. Jim nodded. "Why?"
"Because I couldn't go back there."
"I thought we were friends, man."
"You were. I just didn't want to hurt you anymore. And I would have. I would have hurt you again."
"I don't believe that, you know."
"You've been all right, all these years?" Blair asked.
Jim nodded, pausing to save his breath for his answer. "I've been fine. My senses haven't been a problem at all."
Blair gripped his friend's hand a little tighter. "I wasn't asking about your senses, Jim," he said. "I wanted to know if you've been all right. Tell me you've been happy? That you haven't been alone."
"I had Maggie, and BJ." Jim rested, gathering his strength to speak again, grimacing against the pain.
"Do you need something?" Blair asked. "Should I get your doctor?"
Jim shook his head. "Doesn't help. Trying to keep the dials down," he gasped.
"Tell me about Maggie," Blair requested.
Jim smiled. "She was wonderful. She was kind. She was hard-headed. She was everything." He paused and looked at his friend, drinking in the sight. "She knew everything I ever did to you and she still loved me, she still married me. I wish you had been my best man."
"All you had to do was ask."
"I know." Jim huffed in an attempt to laugh. "You should check with Naomi, Chief. Maggie's dad was in the hippie scene. Maybe you were related." He rested. "I used to pretend, sometimes, that you were her brother."
"I'll check with Naomi." Blair looked down at the frail hand he held. He felt the grip tighten as Jim rode another spasm of pain. "So you think BJ is a Sentinel?" Jim nodded. "Since he was alone with his mother?" Again Jim nodded.
"You'll help him?"
"Yes. I'll help him. I promise."
"Thank you. I trust you with my son. I could always trust you." The two men fell silent. Blair fighting tears. Jim fighting for strength. "So much to tell you. I'm sorry. I missed you."
"Missed you, too, Jim," Blair choked out. "Your dad calls every couple of months to see if I've heard from you."
"He wasn't so bad, you know. He did the best he could."
"I'll tell him you said so." Blair paused. "Why didn't you tell him about BJ? Steven would be happy to raise him, I'm sure."
"Would you rather he did? Rather someone else took care of him?" Jim asked, suddenly unsure of his last gesture toward the man to whom he owed so much.
"No," Blair hurried to assure him. "I'm honored that you thought of us. Just wondering why."
"He needs you. He needs someone who will understand him and who won't make him feel like a freak."
Blair nodded, accepting the sentiment. "Hey," Blair said, "Simon should be here tomorrow sometime. He was keynote speaker at a conference in Seattle and couldn't get away."
Jim nodded. "Tell Simon, he was a good friend. Tell the guys hello. And good-bye, I guess, too, huh?"
"I will." Tears dropped from Blair's eyes to the rail. "Oh, man, Jim, why didn't you just come back? Why'd we have to wait six years?"
"Come back. I was on your front porch one afternoon."
"Why the hell didn't you let us know?" Blair demanded.
"Heard Megan on the phone. You'd been turned down again for an adoption. Didn't think it would be the right time to stop in."
"I forgave you a long time ago, Jim," Megan whispered from the door. Blair looked up to see her cradling a sleeping BJ against her shoulder. His hair was matted to his face with sweat.
Jim smiled at his son as Megan walked closer. "We were going to come out there this summer, before BJ started school. Had the time off all planned. Then Maggie died and I got sick. It happened so fast. I was coming though. I was ready to face you again." He looked at his son. "BJ really wanted to meet you."
"He's beautiful, Jim," Megan whispered. "Thank you so much."
"Thank you," Jim whispered. He gritted his teeth against the pain and moved restlessly, seeking some sort of relief.
Blair got his attention with a quick squeeze to his hand. "Hey, Jim," he said. "Look at me. Let's get that dial under control."
"Can't," Jim said.
"Okay," he said. "Then let's focus on something other than touch. Maybe that will help."
"Wait," Jim gasped. He touched the fingers of his free hand to his mouth for a weak kiss then reached out to his son. Megan bent over so Jim could bless the child's forehead. "I love you, Chief," he whispered. He looked at Megan and she nodded, taking the child away. When the door had closed behind them, he turned back to his Guide. "Okay. Focus on something else, huh?"
Blair nodded. He wanted desperately to jabber about something but found his throat too tight. Jim's hand reached out for Blair's chest and rested briefly over the younger man's frantically beating heart.
"Don't," Jim whispered. "I'm fine. You'll take good care of BJ. I know." Jim rested. "He'll be more your son than mine, I know. But tell him, I loved him. And I love you, my brother."
Jim's eyes closed. Blair watched the tension fade away as Jim willfully slid into a zone. Knowing his friend would be pain-free, Blair let him slide. He lowered the rail with one hand and sank into the chair, resting his chin on the bed so he could watch his friend, his Sentinel.
Two hours later, Blair noticed the slowing breaths. He searched for and found the nurse's call button.
"I think he needs help," Blair said, looking up to see the doctor walking in with a nurse.
The doctor checked Jim's pulse and listened to his lungs and heart. He turned to the man he had only met today and shook his head.
"There's nothing we can do," Dr. Connors said. "He asked for no respirators or resuscitation attempts. We have to abide by his wishes."
"But I haven't seen him in six years!" Blair choked out through new tears. "He's my best friend. I'm not ready to let him go!"
"I'm sorry," the doctor repeated. "We're monitoring him with this pocket telemetry unit. We'll know when we're needed." He rested a hand on Blair's arm. "Your presence here has helped him immensely," Dr. Connors said. "He has rested better today than in several days." He paused. "Is there someone we should call?"
"His wife is outside," the nurse whispered to the doctor as Blair ignored the question and returned his attention to Jim.
The physician and nurse left and Megan entered the room moments later. She sat beside her husband as they waited. Thirty minutes passed before a priest entered the room. He quietly introduced himself to Blair and Megan. Maggie had been a life-long member of the small congregation and Jim had joined the church just the year before. The priest took the few moments to give Jim the Anointing of the Sick before turning back to the visitors.
"It's nice to see you here," Fr. Vianney said. "He was very good to Maggie. He obviously thought highly of you to name his son after you. He spoke highly of all his friends from Washington state. He and Maggie were planning to visit there, I believe. I'm glad you could be here." Blair nodded. "I'll leave you to stay with him, if you like." Blair nodded again. "If I can help, you can find me just a couple of blocks north at St. Michael's. The staff here has my number." With that, the elderly priest left.
Blair and Megan watched as Jim's breathing grew slower and more shallow. Gripping Jim's hand desperately, Blair waited silently for the end. He wanted to plead with his friend to stay, but he knew it would do no good. As his watch beeped the change of hours, Jim's breathing stopped. Within a few minutes, the nurses had returned and, taking a last check of vitals, shook their heads sympathetically at Blair and Megan.
Barely able to see through her own tears, Megan made her way to her husband and enfolded him in her arms as he cried.
It was BJ's sixth birthday, and Blair and Megan had invited his friends and theirs to a cook out.
Megan and Simon were in the kitchen watching through the patio doors as Blair and BJ put some finishing touches on the outdoor set up. For once, Cascade's weather was cooperating and the day promised to be bright, pleasant and rain-free.
"He's happy," Simon said, watching the man and boy.
"Which one?" Megan asked.
"Both." Simon looked back at his detective and noted the wide smile on her face. "And so are you."
"Yeah, well, you should have been here last night. That child was whiny about everything. He wouldn't eat, wouldn't take a bath, wouldn't go to bed. I was ready to pull my hair out. I threatened to pull his out, but Sandy came in then and took over. He told me that BJ being Jim's son, it wouldn't be good to have him start losing his hair quite yet." Megan paused as she watched her family in the yard. "It's been a good two years," she said.
"I think he sees this as a way to make sure BJ has a happier childhood than Jim did," Megan continued. "He works very hard to let BJ know he's a normal child who can just see and hear and taste things a little better. Sandy's not even trying to extend his senses. He just wants to teach BJ control." Megan laughed. "It's going to be interesting to see how they get along as the years go on. I think Blair's going to be surprised."
"He has this idea that he'll always be able to talk to BJ about anything. But, BJ is his own person with his own ideas and there are some stormy days ahead. But not for a while, I think."
They watched as BJ abandoned Blair and raced around the house.
"Guess someone's here," Megan said. She and Simon soon picked up the sounds of a car pulling in at the front of the house. She headed for the front door. "He's a great early warning system." She was puzzled, however, as she saw William Ellison climb slowly from his car. "He's not usually that excited about seeing his grandfather, however." The mystery was solved when another car pulled up behind Mr. Ellison's and Henri Brown's eight-year-old son scrambled out of the car. Megan halted BJ's pell-mell rush toward his friend with an order whispered too low for anyone outside the house to hear. "Greet your grandfather first, BJ."
The six-year-old nearly fell over stopping on a dime in front of the elderly man. "Hello, Grandpa," BJ politely greeted his paternal grandfather. William Ellison smiled down at the little boy, who was obviously anxious to greet his friend.
"Hello, BJ. Happy Birthday."
"Thank you." The little boy gave the tall man a quick hug then stepped back.
"Could you help me carry something to the back yard?" BJ nodded, reluctance obvious. "Perhaps young Mr. Brown here can help, too." Donnie Brown forced a smile on his face and nodded. The two boys waited patiently for their burdens. "This is just a little something for the party," William said, giving each boy a grocery sack to carry to the back yard. When they had rounded the house, he turned back to his car.
"Hello, Mr. Ellison," Henri greeted.
"Hello, Detective," William replied. "Could I bother you for a little assistance?"
"Sure," Henri said.
"Hi, everyone," Megan called from the porch. She stepped down into the yard and walked toward the group as William opened the back door.
"I was afraid he would know what I have back here," William said. "He can be so sharp. It's hard to surprise him."
"You're telling me," Megan muttered.
William paused and before he could continue Megan's name was called from the back of the house and she excused herself to see what Blair wanted.
"I hope this won't cause problems," William finally continued as he motioned for Henri to remove the large, blanket-draped box on the back seat.
"Ohhhh, isn't he cute!" Henri's wife exclaimed as the blanket slid off the traveling kennel Henri pulled from the car. Sitting inside, looking wide-eyed at his surroundings was a golden retriever pup. Henri's eyes rolled as his wife reached through the wires with her fingers to pet the pup.
"You didn't check with Blair and Megan first?" Henri asked.
"No," William admitted. "I didn't want to take a chance that BJ would hear." He looked up at the Browns. "Every boy should have a dog, shouldn't he? And he's from the Humane Society, so I didn't spend a great deal on him."
"Just make sure Blair and Megan know it's from you," Brown said as he gripped the cage and started toward the back of the house.
BJ stopped in his tracks when Brown rounded the corner of the house. He watched, wide-eyed as the cage was settled on the ground. Henri stepped back to allow Mr. Ellison next to the cage. He noted when his wife had latched the gate to the back yard.
BJ and Donnie ran up to the cage just as Mr. Ellison reached down to open the door.
"It's a PUPPY!" BJ exclaimed, dropping to his knees as the curious pup ventured outside. He studied the two boys on the ground before him a moment, then tail wagging furiously, launched himself happily into BJ's lap.
"Who's is it?" Donnie asked.
"It's BJ's," William said. "If he wants it."
"YES!" BJ shouted. "Thank you, Grandpa." He turned big eyes to Blair and Megan. "I can keep him, right, Mom and Dad? Please?" He pleaded with his big blue eyes as the pup squirmed on his lap.
"Yes," Blair said. "As long as you take care of him."
"I will! I will!" BJ rose, sliding the puppy off his lap. "Does he have a name?"
"No," William said. "There are some toys in one of those sacks." Donnie jumped up and soon returned with a ball and a knotted rope. It didn't take long for the boys and the pup to begin romping through the yard. "I hope this is all right," William said. "I know I should have asked first."
Blair and Megan watched BJ romp with the pet.
"Well, I wish you had asked first," Megan said.
"It's okay," Blair said. "Pets are good. They teach responsibility and compassion. Thanks, William." He turned toward the older man and saw the wistful expression on the man's face. "I'm surprised, though. BJ's never mentioned wanting a dog. Did he ask you for one?"
"No," William said. "When Jimmy was five, he asked me for a dog. He asked me every day for a year. I told him he didn't have time for a dog and that they were just nuisances. He asked for only one thing for his sixth birthday. A dog. I gave him a savings account he couldn't touch until he was 21. That's all I could think about for the past couple of months." William watched his grandson giggle beneath an onslaught of puppy. "I wish I'd given him the puppy."
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