Disclaimer: The Sentinel, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, Simon Banks and all other characters are property of Paramount and Pet Fly. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has exchanged hands.

All hail the mighty iamdeaf - the buster of writer's block! Thank you, you saved my sanity!J

Mother Love

by Shedoc

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

Blair dodged easily through the crowds of doting parents backstage, smiling hellos at the children he knew and dropping compliments as he went to performers and parents alike. Jim was still sitting out in the auditorium, guarded jealously by his nephew while Blair braved the horde to retrieve their very own family star - Clare Terese Ellison: ballerina extraordinaire.

The jerk with the baseball bat had only managed to hit Jim Ellison once during his arrest - but that blow was hard enough and in the right place to burst his appendix. Jim had still managed to chase the man for two blocks before arresting him and escorting him through booking. He'd collapsed in the bullpen when he stretched out to reach a file on Brown's desk. One emergency appendectomy later, Jim was still weak and the surgery site was sore. He had checked out of hospital only that afternoon - determined to surprise his only daughter for her first dance recital. Joel had copped a glare from the annoyed Guide when he'd turned up with the newly released detective and settled the pale man into his designated chair. Joel hadn't been able to stay and was sort of glad - Blair would have something to say about this and the Captain didn't want to be around to hear it.

Clare had not been the star - that honor had gone to another little girl in her class, though Clare's character did have one short solo dance towards the end. The Sandburg-Ellison family couldn't have cared less if she was the 'curtain puller' - their little girl was going to be on stage and they were proud of it. The PD had been most disappointed that the dance school had limited the number of tickets available to each family - otherwise they'd have bought out the show.

Taking a deep breath and pulling a hand through his hair, Blair located where Clare was mentally - sort of mapping the backstage area in his mind and placing her within it. He'd noticed that he'd been able to find the children quickly when he was really looking, but had dismissed that as just the skill of a conscientious single parent. Turning the corner he frowned at the back of the woman that was bent over, offering Clare a bouquet of flowers and telling her what a little star she was. Clare's face was guarded, and she glanced past her admirer anxiously as Blair's heartbeat and scent reached her.

"Uncle Blair!" Clare smiled and held out her arms, knowing better than to push past the woman - it would be rude and her father and uncle prized good manners. Blair waited until the woman had drawn back a little to let Clare out and put his arms out too, letting Clare rush into them and be swept up into a full body hug.

"You were fabulous honey!" Blair praised, "You looked so good up there!"

Clare snuggled in, wrapping her tight clad legs around him and winding her arms around his neck. Her tutu crinkled, but neither bothered with it as Blair kissed her glitter dusted cheek and rocked a little. He glanced over at the woman that had been offering Clare the flowers and felt his breath catch in surprise.

Rachael Collins-Jackson had not changed much in the seven years since Blair had seen her. Her hair was a little longer, and she now wore makeup. She was still slender and chic, and the bouquet she carried looked to be tailor made for a child. Before Blair could greet her, Clare lifted her head from the crook of his shoulder and looked at him with sad eyes.

"Did you take pictures for daddy?" she asked in a little voice. The child understood that Daddy was in hospital and really wanted to see her dance, but she was still young enough to wish for a miracle. Blair ignored the tightening of Rachael's face and the calculating look in her eyes as he smiled at his little ballerina.

"I took a few, but there's a surprise waiting for you outside. Better than any old photos," Blair bounced her on his hip, "Why don't you come and see before you get changed?"

"Ok," Clare got down happily enough and took his hand easily, smiling up at him as he bowed her forward and led the way through the stage area and out into the nearly empty auditorium. As they emerged from the stage door, Jim and Tommy started clapping loudly and calling 'bravo' and 'encore'.

"Daddy!" Clare shrieked in joy and pulled free to run to her father's seat. Tommy stepped in front of Jim, catching her first and preventing any injury to the already hurting man. Clare looked up at her Guide and nodded in understanding before stepping around him and climbing on the seat next to her father. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek tenderly, then snuggled into his shoulder, whispering things only he could hear and listening to his equally soft replies.

Tommy came and leaned into his own father, feeling strong arms encircle him from behind and a kiss pressed into his short curls. The two Guides smiled at their Sentinels and waited for them to come out of the mini zone they had drifted into - one that put blinders to the world around them. Blair had often wondered what it was like to have only one person make up your entire world, and to know that you were their entire world too. Rachael stood to one side, naked desire on her face as she watched both sets of father and child express their love and joy for each other.

Finally Clare was persuaded to lean back and Jim got her to get up and show off her costume for them. She twirled on the spot and then curtsied deeply, giggling as she did and they broke into another round of applause. Dressed in powder blue tights and leotard with pastel pink and green tulle for a tutu, Clare was the image of a spring orchid. Her blonde hair was slick with gel and glitter, and tied in a bun with a pastel pink scrunchie. Glitter was dusted over her cheeks and bare arms - glitter that was now liberally spread all over her three men from their contact with her. Tommy presented her with the flowers he'd chosen with his Da on the way to the performance and then Rachael stepped forward too, to again offer her flowers to Clare. The little girl glanced at her father, who nodded, and thanked the pretty lady, taking them with a stage curtsey that charmed them all.

"Ok, honey - let's get you changed," Blair glanced at Rachael, "Tommy, you can come too - you wanted to see the backstage area, right? We'll leave the flowers with you Jim. Stay right here - do not get up without me to help you, understand?"

"Yes dear," Jim rolled his eyes at the children who giggled, glancing at the patriarch of the family as they did. Blair pulled a face right on back and herded his young charges away, grumbling that he got no respect. Jim waited until the door closed behind them to turn to his ex-lover.

"Rachael," he gestured to a seat next to him, "I must say I'm surprised to see you."

She sat carefully, her whole demeanor well groomed and poised. She looked him over carefully and frowned. His clothes were a little rumpled and he sat unnaturally stiff in the saggy chair. He had a slight beard and his hair needed a brush.

"You don't look too good, Jim," she commented, "And why wasn't Clare expecting you to be here?"

"My appendix burst. I signed out of the hospital to come and watch her dance. You didn't answer my question," Jim said tersely.

Rachael tilted her head in that annoying mannerism that she had, making Jim grit his teeth a little and reach for patience. In their short affair, Jim had come to hate that little tilt. It spoke of superiority and elitism.

"You didn't ask a question, Jim," she told him flatly, in a superior tone, "However, I suppose you are a little curious. I came to see my daughter. That's not against the law."

"No, but it is against the agreement you made me sign before she was born. You were to have nothing to do with us - you gave your baby to me to raise entirely alone," Jim's voice was harsh and cold, "Not once have I tried to contact you, not once have I asked you for anything. We're happy."

"George died a few months ago," Rachael ignored what Jim had said, her eyes fixed on the middle distance, "So any reason I had to give up my baby no longer exists. I want to be a part of her life again. I have my lawyer working on it now."

Jim felt his blood run cold.

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

Blair had to wash Clare clean of all the glitter and gel before she could be put to bed, and then he had to listen to Tommy go over his homework while Jim sat stiffly on the couch next door, refusing to go to bed. Tommy glanced at the dark corridor several times and did his best to speed up his time with his Da. Blair realized what he was doing and stopped it straight away - Sentinel and Guide had both promised not to stint their children of the love and attention they deserved in order to tend to the Sentinel/Guide bond.

It was almost ten o'clock before Blair could get back to Jim. He found his brother asleep on the couch, propped up stiffly and very pale. Larry the Barbary Ape - the guest who had been supposed to stay for a week but had been adopted by the family when the Uni found itself unable to re-open the labs that had cared for him - was curled on Jim's lap. Beads of sweat dotted Jim's top lip and forehead, and Blair did an abrupt about face. He quickly made up a care tray and carried it up to Jim's bedroom before walking back to his soul mate and carefully removing the man's shoes, socks and undoing his shirt. Once upright, Jim would only want to lie back down again as quickly as possible. The less he had to do the better. Blair lifted Larry from his partners' lap and carried the ape to his basket on top of Jim's fridge before going back to the sick man. Blair smiled and woke him gently, getting the man upright while he was still dazed and unsure, slipping his shirt off as he swayed on the spot.

He woke enough to get safely up the stairs, and was able to stand while Blair removed his trousers and boxers. Blair eased him down onto the bed tenderly, then picked up the warm washcloth and massaged skin that still carried the feel of hospital sheets, the smell of hospital air and the taste of hospital food on it. Jim smiled blissfully and went straight back to sleep as his Guide tended his body. Blair patted his partner dry with one of the soft towels that they had bought specially for Clare when she was a baby, and then managed to pull a pair of pajama bottoms onto the sleeping man. He slipped the sleep mask over darkly shadowed eyes and pulled the hot water bottles from the bedding, drawing the now warm sheets and quilt up over the relaxed form. The man in the bed sighed in delight and settled into a deeper sleep.

Blair stroked Jim's forehead with his thumb for a few moments and then got up, leaving the glass of water in easy reach before retrieving the tray from the floor and walking back down the stairs. Rachael had been gone by the time Blair and the children had returned, but Jim's face had spoken volumes.

Unsure of the specifics, Blair powered up the laptop and connected to the CPD database. Ever since Clare's startling advent into their lives Blair had used the database to keep track of George Jackson and his adulterous wife. First check was with the license department - and the Guide frowned when the notation for George Jackson came up. 'Deceased' had an ominous ring to it. Was Rachael back in their lives because she had been following her husbands wishes seven years ago - with him gone there would be no obstacle to her attempting to enter Clare's life.

The next stop was the case file archive. When the search failed Blair realized that meant the case was still active - so there was something about the cause of death or the circumstances leading to it that was suspicious. Blair thought about it for a moment and then tried the medical examiner's database. He found George's autopsy report and read through it, wincing as always at the way cold medical jargon described the final moments of a person's life.

George had been declared dead at the scene of his car accident - and an autopsy had been held on the strength of the anomalies in the paramedics' report. The deceased had been beaten pretty severely with a blunt instrument. There was no jewelry or money on the body, prompting the police to treat it as a mugging. Blair frowned and looked through the file again. He sent a copy to Dan Wolfe, the CPD medical examiner with a request that the man review the injuries and give Blair his opinion on the deceased likely ability to get into a car and drive. Unable to access the case file - they weren't entered until the case was closed - Blair copied the contact details for the examiner who'd written the report and the detectives working it.

Blair sighed and shut down the modem and the laptop, packing it away and going upstairs to his own bed. With a bit of luck Dan would tell Blair that the death of George Jackson was exactly what it seemed and Jim would be able to tell him what Rachael had said.

Lying in the dark, Blair wriggled to get comfortable - a childhood habit he'd never lost - and slowed his breathing deliberately. The old trick worked, he could feel sleep creeping up on him rapidly.

"NO!" the shout was muted by the walls, but Blair was up and down the stairs in a flash, hurrying into his partners half of their home and up the stairs again, hearing Tommy stir and tumble out of bed to follow him. His son went into Clare's room, and Blair breathed a silent prayer of thanks that the young Guide was more interested in his young Sentinel than the senior one upstairs.

Jim was moving restlessly, his face beaded with sweat, the covers half off the bed.

"NO! DON'T!" he yelled, his face reddening. Blair caught at a flailing hand and pressed the palm to his chest, whispering reassurances in Chopec. Jim began to calm down, moaning in the grip of the dream and pressing his hand hard against the heartbeat he could feel.

"Wake up, Jim. We're safe, the children are safe, we're all here," Blair smiled as his efforts were rewarded by a deep rough breath and pale blue eyes snapping open to focus on his face immediately. He watched Jim extend his hearing to Tommy and Clare - his daughter was asleep still, undisturbed by his nightmare because Tommy had switched on the white noise generators and then sat on the floor by her bed.

"Go tell Tommy I'm ok, and he can go back to bed," Jim rasped, and Blair got up immediately, knowing his brother needed the time to get his head together. He walked lightly back down the stairs and smiled at the sight of his son trying not to fall asleep where he sat. Rather than waking the boy up Blair simply picked him up off the floor, using the bundles of muscles he'd gained over the years of police work and parenting an active child. He carried his son back to bed and settled him with a kiss and a soothing stroke of rumpled curls before checking on Larry and carrying a second glass of water and some aspirin up the stairs to Jim. The Sentinel had accepted the aspirin meekly and settled down on the remade bed, letting his Guide fuss gently around him and seeing to his comfort.

"It's ok, Jim," Blair got into the empty side of the bed and curled up in a ball, taking Jim's hand and pulling it up to his cheek like a child would with a teddy bear, "You can tell me about it."

"I…" Jim hesitated and sighed. He stared up at the skylight and the faint stars he could see through it, "I'm afraid. Rachael wants Clare."

"I see," Blair stroked the hand that was stroking his cheek, "I thought that the documents we had to sign extinguished her maternal rights."

In truth, Blair hadn't had to sign anything - the contract had only been between Jim and the Jacksons, but the habit of referring to both children as his was long ingrained now, as it was with Jim. The inclusion of his Guide in the situation soothed the frightened Sentinel, as Blair had known it would, and Jim turned his head to look at his curled up brother.

"That's what the lawyer said," Jim bit a lip, "I was gonna call him first thing in the morning."

"Good," Blair nodded and peered through the gloom at him, "Maybe we can stave off a huge mess if we offer her visiting rights or something. We may have to compromise a little here, buddy."

"I know," Jim tightened his grip and pulled Blair's hands closer. Blair understood what he wanted and shifted over, leaning his head against Jim's upper arm. The back of Jim's hand came to rest against his heart again, seeking the soothing sound out.

"It just made me so mad. She didn't want Clare at all, and she never even went to see her while they were both still in hospital. Now I have to introduce Clare to a mother she doesn't know. And then try to explain where she's come from and why she's there," Jim let it all out, soothed by the silky curls brushing his arm, the warm scent wafting through the room and the heartbeat that overlaid it all.

"Clare's never asked where her mother was, and that picture I keep of me and Rachael in the living room… she knows who the woman is and she knows that Rachael is her mother but…"

"It's abstract knowledge. Tommy doesn't have a Mommy and so Clare just thinks it's normal for her to have a Daddy and an Uncle just like he does," Blair mused, "She doesn't feel a lack in her life. You know that if she did she'd have asked Jim, all her friends have Mommies and Daddies. You've loved her so much she doesn't know what she's missing. She's not like Tommy."

"But Tommy doesn't seem to miss Amelia," Jim protested, and Blair smiled, propping himself up on one elbow. Jim wouldn't tolerate a word of criticism about his family - even if it was family making it.

"No, but he does know that he should have a Mommy. He started life with Amelia and he knows that our family is different. It's not an abstract for him," Blair soothed Jim's frown away and lay back down, "Go to sleep, Jim. We can worry about this in the morning."

"We love you Chief - me and the kids. You know that, right?" Jim turned his head and was met with a beautiful smile, "And we know you love us. Our Patriarch."

"I will never forgive your Dad for introducing that idea to Tommy," Blair laughed and closed his eyes when Jim chuckled. Sentinel followed Guide into sleep.

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

Simon looked up as Blair came into the bullpen ahead of his partner and stood, going to the open door of his office. Both men were later than usual and both looked tired and worried about something. Jim was a surprise - the detective was still off work at doctors orders; until the operation site recovered Jim wasn't allowed anywhere near the streets and wasn't supposed to be at his desk until next week. Hating to place another burden on the already worried man, Simon took a deep breath and made sure his voice was neutral and calm.

"Sandburg - I need to talk to you," he called and went back to his desk. He watched the curly haired consultant drop his coat onto the back of his chair and push up the flannel sleeves of his top layer of shirts before heading in to Simon's office while his partner sat down at their desk and started checking their messages.

Sandburg closed the door behind himself and sat in the chair Simon pointed to. He clasped his hands loosely over his stomach and raised both eyebrows at his boss.

"What's up, Simon?" Blair asked patiently. Simon looked out at Jim and then back at Blair.

"You guys are late. Trouble?" he decided to find out what was going on there first - then he'd know how to deal with this new issue. Blair blew out a breath and nodded, also glancing out at his frowning partner.

"Rachael Collins-Jackson turned up at Clare's dance recital last night. She told Jim that her husband was dead and she wanted custody of her daughter," Blair shook his head, "I've got Dan going over the files now - the cause of death may be screwy. Jim of course didn't tell me straight away and woke us all with his nightmares. We stopped by the lawyer on the way here to get the legal ball rolling. What's up with you?"

"The Mayor wants to send you to a month long conference on Modern Law Enforcement In Multicultural Environments," Simon shook his head, and Blair pulled a face, "And the organizers of the conference have sent me a request that I make you available to present some thing you wrote that I've never heard of. Do you…are…"

"I don't want to leave with this hanging over our heads," Blair shook his head immediately, "So I'll have to turn them down."

"It's not for another three months, Sandburg," Simon said reasonably, "And I don't have to let the organizers know straight away. They'll probably want to contact you in person anyway. That wasn't what I was asking."

"Oh," Blair's keen eyes swept Simon from head to toe in a considering gaze and then he smiled, "I publish on a fairly regular basis, Simon. I'm pretty active in the field. As a physical anthropologist it's pretty hard for me not to publish - we come across so many fascinating situations and customs."

"It sounded like they were asking you to talk about a…well, a book," Simon blurted and his eyes widened when Blair nodded and ducked his head modestly.

"You wrote a book? When? Am I in it? Can I read it? Does Jim know?" Simon fired the questions off rapidly, leaning forward in excitement. Out in the bullpen Jim's head came up and he got slowly out of his seat, moving carefully into Simon's office. Blair got up to ease his partner safely into a chair and then put a hand on his shoulder.

"Yes, I wrote a book, about five years ago. The PD is in it, but I've changed your identities. I don't have a copy to give you - and I didn't tell anyone about. The money is in the PD Widow and Orphans fund. If you went to Rainier and asked at the student bookstore they might be able to get you a copy - I can't imagine anyone would have copies lying about in stock," Blair smiled at his partner and boss, then brought Jim up to date. The waiver that everyone had signed when Blair wrote his thesis had covered the book rights as well - and the book was basically an extended version of the thesis.

Simon made a note to call the store in his lunch hour and see if they could find a copy. Then he turned to his senior detective.

"Sandburg told me what happened last night. What do the lawyers say?" Simon frowned at the pale face and clenched jaw. The resident Shaman reached over and soothed some of the tension away and then took one of the cold hands in his own, lending his strength and support in that touch.

"The original contract is very tight," Jim sighed, "It's just…if she manages to get a judge that believes in mother's rights overriding the father's…they can say she was bullied into giving Clare up by her husband. He's not exactly around to defend himself."

"Mother's rights? You don't think a mother has the right to see her child?" Simon asked, wondering at the odd phrase. Jim pinched his lips together and let his partner answer.

"There's no question that Rachael should be allowed to see her daughter. We're more than willing to let her have regular access visits with Clare. But she wants sole custody. If we get a judge that feels that Rachael's rights overturn Jim's simply because she's a mother, things could go wrong. Right now the idea that we could lose Clare has us worried. The lawyers are working on presenting our case now and in the meantime we're going to grant any reasonable requests Rachael has," Blair rubbed a thumb over the hand he held and Simon nodded. A thought occurred that had him frowning.

"Hey, what if Clare turns out to be a Sentinel. Could that happen?" he asked and then scowled at the reaction of his men, "She is already? And you didn't tell me? Sandburg - you're Guiding two Sentinels?"

"Tommy is Clare's Guide," Jim corrected his boss and frowned at the look of horror on Simon's face, "Simon? What's wrong?"

"You can't be serious? Sandburg - how can you put your son through all that?" Simon blurted, "I mean, it's different for you - you chose all this. How can you make that sweet boy go through all the crap I've seen you go through whenever Jim goes awry?"

"Firstly, Jim is not a hat - he can't go awry. And secondly, there's no crap going on here Simon. I'm watching over both the children very carefully," Blair frowned. Understanding dawned on Jim's face and he leaned forward, wincing a little as his stitches pulled.

"Simon - you know that being a Sentinel is genetic, right?" he waited until the other man nodded, "Well being a Guide is genetic too. Sandburg has the gift and so does Tommy. As for the crap I put Blair through, we've learnt from our mistakes. The children's bond is nothing like ours. And yes, I am worried that Clare will be made to repress her senses if Rachael takes her away."

"We'll just have to fight it, Simon," Blair sighed, "And hope for the best."

From the look on Jim's face there was no doubt that the anxious father was making contingency plans. Simon nodded his acceptance and hoped he'd never have to swear out a warrant to arrest Jim for abducting his own daughter.

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

Tommy glanced across the playground and stiffened. The lady that had come to Clare's performance was standing outside the schoolyard, looking in at the children playing on their lunch break. Tommy had tried to think why the lady was so familiar that first night, but hadn't been able to place her. It was only when he was fetching Clare's reading book after breakfast that he'd realized the lady was Auntie Rachael. She still looked like the picture Uncle Jim kept of her in Clare's bookcase, although there were a few changes.

"Tommy?" Miki tapped his shoulder and looked over in the direction he was staring. It didn't take her long to spot the stranger in the street, "What are you looking at? Who's the lady?"

Tommy shut the chessboard he was packing up and leaned over to talk to his best friend privately. They had been playing in the shade under one of the big trees in the playground - the spot gave them a good view of the school.

"It's my old Auntie," Tommy frowned, "She gave Uncle Jim and Da Clare and then left - she's sort of Clare's mother."

"How can you sort of be a mother?" Miki asked logically, "You either are or you aren't."

Tommy's frown got deeper and he sat up on his knees to scan the playground equipment where Clare's class usually played. The agile child was hanging by her knees from the bars and swinging, her blond plaits dangling in the air as she held the denim skirt she was wearing up to hide her knickers.

"She didn't want to be a mother so she left - Clare doesn't know her. She's only seen a picture and Auntie Rachael looks different now. She came to Clare's dance last night and scared Uncle Jim," Tommy got up and Miki collected the chessboard. She was frowning too now and followed her friend as he moved across the playground, dodging ball games and running kids as they walked. Anyone who could scare big Detective Jim must be a very bad person.

"Clare!" Tommy called in a low voice as he reached the bars, knowing they were close enough for Miki to think Clare would hear them normally, "Get down from there!"

"Aw Tommy," Clare protested, "I won't fall."

"Auntie Rachael is looking for you," Tommy persisted, ignoring the implied charge of Blessed Protector Syndrome, "You have to get down before she sees you!"

"Who's Auntie Rachael?" Clare sat up on top of the bars and peered around. Tommy bit his lip and swung up onto the equipment with a lithe movement, blocking Clare's view of the street.

"She's…just get down! Hurry - I mean it!" Tommy hissed, "Come on!"

Clare finally picked up the urgency in Tommy's voice and leapt down gracefully. She was surprised when Miki took her hand and started hustling her towards the toilet blocks. Miki didn't have much to do with Clare when they were all together - more a friendly disinterest in the young hanger on than any real dislike. Tommy leapt down and hustled after them, glancing nervously over his shoulder as he did. He steered both girls into the boys' toilets - reasoning that his 'Aunt' wouldn't think to look for them in here.

"Ewww!" both girls clapped a hand to their noses, "What smells?"

Inured to the classic 'boys' toilet odor' Tommy rolled his eyes and hustled them all into a cubicle. He locked the door and closed the toilet lid before making Clare sit on it.

"Shh," he whispered, "We'll hide in here until the bell goes and then go to class. Don't go anywhere without me Clare - especially not with Auntie Rachael. No matter what she says."

"Should we call your Da?" Miki asked, looking at the frowning little girl and then back at Tommy, who bit his lip and thought about it. Da had said that the school would call him in an emergency. This was not really an emergency, but Da would probably like to know that Auntie Rachael was hanging around.

"Ok, I'll ask if I can when the bell goes," he nodded and then hushed them when two boys came running in to the toilet.

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

It was Blair's turn to pick the children up, and seeing as Jim was looking more and more tired as the day went on both men left the station early. Blair was restless in the car, tapping on the steering wheel and fidgeting at the lights. Jim watched him wearily and finally reached out a hand to rest it on Blair's knee.

"Calm down Chief, I'm ok," he rubbed his thumb in a lazy circle, remembering the way this knee had pained his partner after their plane crash and months long hike back to civilization. Blair glanced over at him vaguely and then accelerated through the intersection, taking the turning that would lead to the school. Jim was a little surprised and then worried when the touch failed to calm Blair - touch was the most important connection they had and Jim was even gathering data for a chapter in what he mentally called the 'Guide Handbook'.

"Can you see them?" Blair asked as the school came into sight. Despite the fact that they'd left early traffic had been heavy enough to delay them - so they arrived at the usual time. Children waited under the supervision of the teachers by the gate as parents pulled up along the drive to collect their children. Thinking that maybe Blair was picking up some Shaman vibes, Jim stretched his sight obediently and saw an unusual sight.

"All of Tommy's friends are standing in a row, arms linked together. Tommy and Clare are standing behind them. It's like a football scrum out there," Jim reported. He saw Miki spot the car and turn her head and watched his nephew pick up his bag and Clare's as well, speaking to her hurriedly.

Blair pulled in and Miki ran forward to open the door. The moment the door was open Tommy's friends hustled forward, escorting Tommy and Clare down the steps and into the car. Tommy fussed with Clare's seatbelt while Blair called his thanks to the children and accelerated smoothly away.

"What's going on?" Jim asked, turning his head to look into the back seat. Clare looked solemn and a little scared and Tommy looked angry.

"Auntie Rachael was hanging around the school at lunchtime. And she tried to pick Clare up from her room after school. My friends agreed to help me watch her until you came," Tommy put his own belt on and bit his lip. Blair glanced at his son in the mirror and offered him a smile.

"Why didn't the school call us?" Jim fumed, fumbling for his phone. Clare had her head down, picking at the hem of her skirt.

"The teachers didn't know - she just sneaked in there and I asked if I could call you after lunch but Miss Paterson said no. I couldn't explain it properly," Tommy sighed, "It's hard work being a big brother."

"You did a fantastic job, didn't he Jim," Blair reached over and took the phone away, disconnecting it. Jim needed to check that Clare was ok before he rang the school and started shouting. He got a mutinous look and then Jim turned his head and extended his senses in the 'hug' technique that Blair had made up for him. His senses enfolded his daughter in a net - essentially taking a picture of her. He absently noted that she'd need new socks because the current pair was wearing thin at the left heel, and that she'd been exerting herself in the playground and would need a bath before she went to sleep.

Blair handed the phone back to a much calmer father and turned for home, keeping an eye on the rear view mirror as he did to see if they were being followed. Blair's own phone rang as they traveled along one of the main roads and he pulled it out and tossed it into the backseat for his son to answer. Jim glanced up from his urgent conversation but didn't hang up yet.

"Sandburg," Tommy piped in a clear voice, "Hello Uncle Simon. Da is busy driving and Uncle Jim is on the phone. Umm, hang on. Da? Are we headed for home?"

"Yes we are. Does Uncle Simon want us to come to the station?" Blair asked and Jim muttered a quick apology into the phone before turning his head to tune into the conversation. Tommy relayed the question and Jim shook his head at Blair as Simon answered the question, returning to his own cell phone conversation.

"No, he says he'll meet us at home. He says it's important that we stay there and wait for him," Tommy reported and then hung up when Simon said goodbye. He tucked the phone into his school bag for safekeeping and looked out the window. Clare worried at her bottom lip and stared down at her knees - never a good idea for a young child in a moving car but even worse for a Sentinel prone to travel sickness. Tommy reached over absently and tapped her shoulder, pointing to her own window when she looked up. Clare sighed but looked out obediently.

Jim's call finished as they pulled up and he was first out of the car, scanning the area with his senses while Blair stood with one foot still in the car. Nodding that it was clear, Jim shepherded them all across the road and into the building.

Larry greeted them happily at the door and was petted by the children and then fed by Blair while his family packed away their bags, coats and (in Jim's case) weapons. The children went to Jim's table for their after school snack, and Blair also made Jim eat something in order to take an aspirin to help with the pain from his incision. Clare was unusually silent, and kept glancing at the photo on her bookshelf under the stairs while she finished her snack. Jim waited until his brother had finished tidying the kitchen before taking the photo down and calling his daughter over to sit on the couch with him. Blair gathered Tommy up and sat on the loveseat after Jim shot him an appealing look.

"Clare," Jim began, watching his daughter snuggle into his good side, "I know this is confusing…"

"Auntie Rachael is my mom, isn't she?" Clare interrupted, "I heard Tommy talking."

Jim glanced over at his nephew and smiled in reassurance before returning his attention to the blond child in his lap. He pressed a kiss into her hair and tilted the photo so she could touch it. Feeling Blair's approval from the other couch Jim nodded and stroked her back while she thought about it.

"What…why is she here? Will…what does she want?" Clare looked up at the loving face above hers, leaning into the kiss that was dropped on her forehead, "Why didn't she want me?"

"Oh baby," Jim breathed, painful tears clogging his throat for a moment, "You know Daddy loves you, and Uncle Blair too. We always want you - no matter what."

"But why didn't she? Everyone else has a mom," the little girl bit her lip. Jim rocked as best he could and looked to his brother for help. Tommy had wound himself around his father, forced to face his own mother's 'abandonment' of him. The curly haired man was rocking gently; his gaze fixed on the middle distance. His hands moved constantly, stroking in love and reassurance - speaking in touch.

"Auntie Rachael wasn't ready to be a mom when you were born. She had a husband already and a whole different life. Your Daddy loved her while they were making you, but she just couldn't keep you baby, so your Daddy did. We always wanted you and we'll always love you. You know that, right?" his voice was kind of distant too, but the tone was exactly what Clare needed to hear to get past the worst of the self-doubt. She nodded and sniffled a little into Jim's neck. Larry came to snuggle with his favorite adult, burying his face in Blair's neck and making funny little crooning noises.

Simon's unique scent signature teased Jim's nose and he let his boss use the key they'd given him so long ago when Blair had first moved in and worried that Jim could zone and be unable to get to help. Simon would have some more news for them - something that would allow them to define the threat that Rachael presented more clearly.

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

Simon bit his lip at the sight that greeted him as he stepped through the door. Both parents hanging on to upset children, soothing and loving as best as they could. Neither man acknowledged his entrance, though Simon knew that Jim at least was aware of his presence.

Simon locked the door, hung up his coat, and went to sit in the yellow chair. Blair lifted his head from Tommy's curls and smiled at him, then kissed his son and whispered something in Tommy's ear. Tommy sat up a little and looked over at his uncle. The boy was clinging like he used to in the early days of their acquaintance, his arms around his father's waist and his body pressed against Blair's warmth. The furry lump that was Larry crawled into Tommy's lap and the boy detached one hand to stroke to soft fur.

"Hello Uncle Simon," Tommy said in a muted tone. Simon smiled at him and got out of his chair to sit on the couch with them both, putting his arm around his adopted kin.

"Hey there kiddo," Simon rumbled, watching Blair smooth his son's face with loving fingers, "You ok?"

Tommy nodded and leaned into his father again. Blair nodded too when Simon looked over at him. In a flash, Simon got it - Tommy was dealing with his own lack of a mother just as Clare was finding hers. Simon petted the boy in sympathy, unable to imagine the pain he felt.

"Are you staying for dinner Simon?" Blair asked in a normal tone, trying to restore some everyday life to their situation, "I think William's coming over tonight as well."

"Uh, sure," Simon nodded, "Daryl's still here so Moira won't miss me if I stay. I'll give her a call - do you still have that terminal?"

Moira was deaf, and therefore used a terminal hooked to her phone to have conversations with her callers. Since the twins had been born, Simon's visits to the loft had decreased - it was easier for the Sandburg-Ellison family to visit him. Blair nodded and Simon went to call his wife. When he'd hung up he turned to frown at Jim and Clare.

"Uh, Sandburg…" Simon pointed and Blair nodded.

"Yeah they zoned just before you came in," he confirmed in a tired voice, ignoring Tommy's exclamation of alarm, "I was hoping they'd come back out by themselves."

"I didn't notice?" Tommy's voice was anxious and Blair smiled down at his son, ruffling the short curls and patting a tearstained cheek.

"Who says you had to? It's safe here and a little zone won't hurt them," he told his son affectionately, "Go wash your face for me sweetie. I'll send Clare in to you in a minute."

Tommy got down obediently, with Larry clinging to his shoulder. Boy and ape disappeared into the bathroom and Blair got up, moving to kneel in front of his Sentinels. His voice reached out and soothed them, even as his hands stroked their heads, leaving his scent behind for them to follow. He knew better than to try and pull Clare away from Jim - in this state the senior Sentinel would react forcefully to a perceived threat to his child. Clare responded first - she had been lulled by the slowing of Jim's heart as he zoned on her - stirring and turning into the stroking hand, opening her eyes and blinking down at her uncle then looking up at her father. The movement of Clare reached through with Blair's voice to bring Jim out of it and he took a deep breath, wincing when the stitches pulled a little and Clare leant into the wrong place. Skillful hands took Clare away and sent her to wash her face and hands with Tommy, then the soothing contact of his Guide's warm body and strong arms urged him to lie down. Soft surface below, warm weight above, the scent of a fellow protector near by and Jim went off to sleep peacefully.

Simon watched Blair recall Clare with his hand and voice. The little girl's wiggle and bounce made her father stiffen in pain, but she was too groggy to notice properly. She toddled off to wash her own face and hands, and then Jim fell forward into Blair's embrace. The curly haired man caught him easily enough and Simon hastened forward to help, draping the afghan over his best detective as the exhausted man went to sleep.

"I think we'll order in," Blair looked worried for a moment, then smiled as the children emerged from the bathroom, "What do you say guys? Pizza?"

"Yeah!" Tommy nodded and went to fetch the cordless phone while Clare hurried to the fridge to retrieve the menu for Simon's perusal. This was a rare treat for the children - Jim's addiction to Wonder Burger had pretty much been cured when Clare came along, he wanted his daughter to grow up healthy and strong, which meant a healthy diet.

Simon fell into the spirit of things easily enough - his news would have to wait until the children were in bed now and until Jim woke up. He sat at the table with the children while they pulled out their homework and Blair sat on the coffee table, near his Sentinel. Jim woke when the pizza arrived and managed his share of the food, though he went back to sleep again while Blair and the children cleaned up. Simon sat on the loveseat nearby and watched TV with his nephew and niece while Blair moved around the home, seeing to little chores and playing with Larry. Clare kissed her sleeping father happily enough and toddled off to bed for a goodnight story with Simon, Tommy followed not long after. Blair switched the white noise generator in Clare's room on and then gestured for Simon to sit on the coffee table. He sat on the floor by Jim's head and smiled up at his boss before waking his brother gently.

"Hey big guy - you conked out on us," Blair's voice was very gentle and slightly amused. Jim sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face before turning his head to look up at his boss too. Simon understood that the Sentinel was too drained to get up, and decided to keep his briefing short.

"What have you got for us, Simon," Jim's voice was low and Simon sighed.

"Sandburg's foray into cyberspace, coupled with his queries about George Jackson raised some flags with our colleagues. They contacted me this afternoon wondering if we'd seen the grieving widow. Apparently there's some question as to the actual cause of George's injuries. They feel that his wife may not be telling the whole truth," Simon rubbed his brow, "They're gonna send us a man to talk to her. They asked her to stay local but obviously…"

Jim grit his teeth and sat up, pushing the afghan aside. He couldn't stand because Blair was somehow tangled in his legs.

"Great - my daughter's being stalked by her murdering mother. Why couldn't my damn appendix have burst last year when I fell down those stairs?" he growled, "Chief - pack your gear. We're taking the kids and…"

"Woah, big guy! Blessed Protector strikes again! We're not taking the kids anywhere. We have the hometown advantage and our entire support network is here so just chill. We can keep them out of school for a few days if you like, but we stay in Cascade. You're in no condition to go on the run and if we relocate now Rachael may well go underground and that won't solve our problem."

"He's right, Jim," Simon backed the Guide up, "We can't help you if you're not here. I've already got an extra patrol running by the loft and one lined up for the school…"

"School's out until this is over," Jim vetoed that idea with a growl, "Tommy too - I'm not taking any risks."

"Ok," Blair conceded, "I can keep them up to speed with their school work anyway. Simon, can we finish this tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Simon got up, seeing the tremors in Jim's clenched hands, "I'll come by after ten - that detective should be here by then and he'll want a word with the two of you anyway. Get some rest Jim."

There was no response, but Simon wasn't really expecting one anyway. Blair let their boss out and locked up carefully before turning to the task of getting Jim ready for bed.

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

The 'holiday' from school was a novel enough idea that both children were happy to sit at the kitchen table and work through the exercises that Blair prepared for them. Knowing they'd have guests some time after ten, Blair planned to have their 'recess' when Simon and the Detective from Chicago arrived. He'd already cued a video in his machine ready to go, and moved the white noise generator into the corridor to form a sound barrier between the two groups.

Larry was happy to settle in Blair's part of the house for the day - now being called the schoolroom - Jim's little joke over breakfast that stuck. Jim slept on the couch in his living room at Blair's insistence - sleep being a natural aid to rapid healing. Some instinct told Simon to knock on Blair's door and he let his boss in, eyeing the wiry man with spiky blond hair and crumpled clothes that followed his boss.

"Hey, Captain," the formality sounded weird to say the least coming from Blair in his own home. Simon swallowed his surprise and nodded hello.

"This is Detective Kowalski," Simon introduced the man, "Detective, this is Dr. Sandburg. He's the lead consultant and profiler for the PD, and Ellison's partner."

"Hi," Kowalski looked around, intelligence burning in his keen eyes, "Call me Stan."

"Blair," the curly haired man locked the door and took coats to hang while the children looked over from the table and Larry chattered softly.

"Isn't it a little unusual to be partnered with family?" Stan looked back over at Simon; "The non-frat rules don't apply out here?"

"Ellison and Sandburg are a special case," Simon replied stiffly. Blair gave their visitor a half grin and looked over at his children.

"Ok, you two," he called, "You can watch the video now. Tommy, there's a snack in the kitchen for the three of you - but don't let Larry have too much sugar ok?"

"Sure Da," Tommy nodded and walked into the kitchen while Clare bounced over to the couch. Stan followed them into the corridor, past the white noise generators and sat on a chair at the dining table with Simon while Blair woke his partner with sub vocal words of encouragement. He helped straighten Jim's hair and clothes before he got up, shadowing the unsteady steps to the table and supervising the careful lowering onto a wooden chair. Stan Kowalski paid no attention to this, tactfully 'missing' the other man's illness. Introductions were made while Blair made coffee and the four men pulled their files out.

"Ok," Kowalski nodded, "Right, Rachael Collins. This broad is one weird lady - and cool as a cucumber. We turn up to inform her of the death and she has a convenient bout of hysterics that effectively prevents us from asking her the usual questions and then when she's recovered the next day she'll only see us in the presence of her close personal attorney. She's all black clothes and glistening eyes, but my partner Benny thought that might have been artificial tears - did you know they put stuff in actors' eyes to make them cry? Yuck."

Simon was grinning broadly and Blair shot him a dirty look. This guy didn't sound anything like him dammit! Simon rolled his eyes at the look and caught the frown on Jim's face, getting it under control quickly. The Sentinel's sense of humor would be pretty much MIA for the duration of this particular crisis.

"Did she give any indication that she was coming to see her daughter?" Blair asked, flipping through the preliminary interview. Kowalski shook his head.

"We didn't even know she had one," he confessed, "What's the deal with that?"

"I didn't know she was married when we were together. The birth control failed on us, and she found out she was pregnant after Sandburg and I went missing for three months. When we got back she'd gone to join her husband in Chicago. They contacted me and offered me the choice of taking the baby or letting them put it up for adoption. I signed a full and sole custody agreement with their lawyer - there was supposed to be zero contact between us and them," Jim's voice was totally expressionless and Kowalski frowned.

"That's harsh," he muttered, "First she lied and then she dumped it."

"I will not give up my daughter," Jim growled forcefully.

"Easy big guy," Blair put a hand on Jim's arm immediately, "Kowalski meant Rachael not you."

"Hell yeah - there's no way I'd ever give up on my kid. My parents would kill me for one, and Benny would guilt me for the rest of my life," Kowalski grinned, "Of course, I've not been in your boat, Detective. Just a roll of the dice, right?"

"Yeah," Jim sighed, "What about cause of death? Where are you on that? Our ME said the reported injuries were crippling - he probably couldn't have got up off the ground to get in the car to drive, and there's no way they could have been sustained in the car."

"We had another good look at the body - hell it's still in the damn morgue; she's made no claim to it, not even to bury the poor sap. Our guys think he was pushed off a high platform, then dragged into the car. There are no bloodstains on the passenger seat or trunk of the car, so he wasn't repositioned at all, but we didn't find him in a built up area. Benny noted some weird compression effect and that the car seat was too far back. We think she might have sat on his lap - yuck - to drive him there and then got out and caught a bus or taxi back. That means she was wearing a protective overall of some kind. We're still looking for it in the area," Kowalski pointed to the relevant information and then sat back. Blair refilled his coffee and glanced at the corridor. Jim nodded to him and Blair sat back down. If Simon saw anything unusual in this little exchange he made no mention of it, so Kowalski kept his eyes on the files and wondered. Something about these two was familiar…

"Are you planning to arrest Rachael?" Blair asked as he sipped his coffee.

Kowalski shook his head. "No, we haven't got nearly enough on her to arrest her - let's just say my Lieutenant thought I could use a holiday and told me about the hospitality in Cascade," the rumpled man grinned, "So far the coffee has been first rate."

"Yeah, we're well known for our coffee. Maybe after you've had a chance to relax we can take you on a tour of the better coffee places in the city," Jim's face and voice were totally serious as he said this, not looking up from his file. Kowalski gaped at the man and Blair lost it, laughing hard. He laughed harder at the little smile that Jim didn't quite manage to repress and Kowalski joined in with the joyful sound while Simon sighed and rolled his eyes. Maybe things were going to be ok after all.

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

Rachael was easy to find - she'd registered in the Hilton under her own name - in one of the better suites. The sheer opulence of the place was a stark contrast to the simple and homey comforts of the loft - one that wasn't lost on Blair and Simon as they crossed the lobby on their way in. Kowalski slouched along beside the two men, seeming as perfectly at home there as Blair was. Simon's suit looked odd beside the two casually dressed men as they used the lift to head for the top floors.

"So what's the coffee like here?" Stan grinned at Blair, who chuckled lightly and glanced over at Simon.

"Expensive," Simon replied firmly, "We wouldn't want to blow your holiday budget."

That earned him more chuckles and Simon hid his own smile as a relaxed Sandburg stepped lightly from the elevator. Ever since Galileo, the anthropologist had tensed up when travelling in tall buildings. A glance at the signs on the wall told them where to go and Simon led the way. Their strategy session at the loft had come to the conclusion that they needed more information from the lady in question, and Stan had been all for just going over and asking for it. Simon had pointed out that Kowalski was out of his jurisdiction, so Jim had stepped in, stating quite calmly that he wasn't. This had earned him a dressing down from the resident Shaman and a firm hand back to the couch. The units outside had been informed that Blair and Simon were going out and that Jim would be alone in the loft with the children.

Rachael's suite was facing a view of the bay and at the far end of the hotel, so it took a few minutes of wandering through the seemingly endless hotel corridors to reach her suite. Polite tapping at the door had no result, and the slightly louder knock that Simon used did not work either.

"Either of you hear any movement in there?" Simon asked, meeting Sandburg's eye with a resigned expression. Jim's hearing would have been very useful in this situation. Blair grinned ironically and shook his head. Stan actually went so far as to put his ear to the door before reporting a total lack of sound in the room. Simon was about to suggest they called in house security and got them to open the door, or at least check if anyone in the hotel had seen Rachael lately when Stan's phone went off loudly in his pocket.

"Excuse me," he grinned helplessly and hauled the offending piece of technology out, "Kowalski. Hey Benny, what's up? You did? When was this? Oh, well, pass it on to Thatcher - that's what she's paid for. Tell her the whole thing and then let her decide what to pass on. Yeah, I guess. Hey did Frannie get those files for you? Yeah, sorry about that. Great, what did they come up with? I know you're not Benny, but you are my partner…yeah well take your hat off then, but just read them, ok? Uh huh. Ok thanks. No, she's out here after her daughter - got a local detective into trouble and then dumped the kid. It's a possible motive though; so keep it under your hat unless Walsh asks for it. Thanks, Benny. Say hi to Dief for me. Will do."

Kowalski hung up and drifted back over to Simon and Blair. Blair, he noticed, was looking a little pinched. Wondering if the man was feeling all right, Kowalski gestured with his phone before putting it away.

"That was my partner in Chicago," he told both men, "He was contacted by a financial advisor in Canada, who wanted the Consulate to check on his former lover, Rachael Collins. Apparently she asked him to set up a trust fund for someone called Clare Collins. She must have meant it for Clare Ellison. She sent the paperwork back to him but he had a question for her and couldn't contact her. Instead of calling the PD he called the Consulate."

"Consulate?" Simon frowned and Kowalski realized he'd have to explain a little better than that. Blair was standing unusually still and tense, but Simon was distracted by the confusion of Stan's tale.

"The Canadian Consulate. My partner's a Mountie. He came to Chicago in pursuit of his father's killers and for reasons that needn't be entered into remained attached to the Consulate there as a liaison with the Chicago PD," Stan's recitation had the air of something he'd said or heard often. Simon grinned a little at that - it sounded as unorthodox as Blair's advent into their lives. He was about to speak when Blair paled, gasped and doubled over, clutching his head in pain. Simon and Stan both grabbed him, steadying the smaller man.

"She's at the loft," Blair moaned and staggered free, listing to the side as he hurried back towards the lift as fast as unsteady legs would take him. Stan gaped as Simon yanked his own phone out and called the loft, hurrying to keep pace with the Shaman as he nearly ran through the corridors and bounced off the closed doors of the lift. Blair growled low in his throat and headed for the fire stairs, unwilling to wait for the lift to travel its stately way up the shaft.

"Sandburg, wait!" Simon yelled helplessly as Blair careened down the stairs two at a time, gasping for air and barely in control of his descent. Stan followed, saving his breath for running and swallowing all the questions swirling through his brain. Simon swore and hung up when the machine picked up, dialing dispatch instead and shouting instructions to be patched through to the men in the unit outside the loft. He called in the intruder and hung up as they hit the ground floor. Blair burst through the lobby, running like a demon for the car, scattering people in his wake.

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

There was an ambulance outside the loft when they pulled up and Simon cursed under his breath as Blair leapt from the still moving vehicle to race inside. Not even bothering to switch off the engine, Simon followed, shadowing the Shaman up the stairs and into the joined loft. Jim was on the floor, bleeding from a cut to the head and the torn incision that had barely begun to heal. They were sliding him onto the backboard as Blair dropped to his knees beside his injured brother. Trembling fingers checked for life and reason and found both. Jim was unconscious not zoned, and had been struck from behind.

"He was coming back from the bathroom," Blair tossed the comment over his shoulder to Simon, "He's unconscious."

The paramedics knew better than to interfere as Blair checked their patient over again and repeated their own conclusions. These two men had something of a reputation when it came to the city's emergency services. Standard procedure was to let them do what they had to so the paramedics could do what they had to later. Blair nodded to the two medics and got up, hurrying to his own loft. Larry was shrieking from Tommy's bedroom, but the Shaman left the ape where it was for now, wanting to concentrate on the scene. The white noise generators had still been working when he walked past them, explaining why Clare hadn't noticed the intruder initially and why Jim hadn't sensed her either. The older Sentinel was always at a disadvantage when he was ill, his senses tended to shut down a little to limit input that he couldn't handle.

"Anything?" Simon asked tensely from the corridor, knowing better than to distract the other man when he got that particular look on his face. Blair moved surely from the front door to the fire escape exit in the kitchen, disappearing down the metal framework without a word, making Simon exclaim and hurry after him. The two uniformed cops who'd been stationed outside looked over at Kowalski.

"You'd better go after them, pal," the older one called, "I've seen that look before - Sandburg's on the hunt. We'll go to the hospital with Ellison - tell the Captain that."

Stan nodded and ran out the door after the other two men, reflecting that the two cops had better do a better job of guarding Ellison at the hospital than they had in his home. He spotted Simon at the end of the alley and ran to catch up. The taller man caught his arm, shaking his head and holding up a finger for silence. Blair was standing in the mouth of the alley, his head turning from side to side. There was something feral about his stance, you almost expected him to throw back his head and howl.

Then he grunted and started running. Simon jerked his thumb at Kowalski, pulling his phone out as he did.

"Give me your phone. Go get the car and call your phone when you're in it. I'll give you directions," Simon said in a hurry, snatched the proffered phone and ran after his tribe's Shaman. In this mood Sandburg was dangerous - if he caught up to Rachael there would be violence. Simon had seen this expression on his face when the children had been taken by some of the Chopec at the direction of their Shaman. Only that time, Jim had been there too, operating on instinct and emotion. Now Jim was in the hospital and any calming influence he might have had on this version of Sandburg was no longer available.

"Sandburg," Simon puffed as he struggled to keep up with the other man, "Slow down. You'll never catch her car on foot."

Running was Blair's preferred form of fitness training - he continued to be Moira's running mate twice a week, though Simon was pretty sure he ran long distances daily. Simon knew for a fact that on the days Jim drove the children to school, Blair ran to the station and then showered in the locker room. The curly haired man had the build of a runner, whipcord over bone that converted to astonishing strength when it was called for. Simon would never be able to keep up with the man if he decided to really take off, which was why he'd sent Kowalski for the car.

"Not in a car," the growl floated back over Blair's shoulder, no sign of breathlessness in his voice, "On foot. The children are running."

Simon felt a flash of relief - there was still a chance the children would come out of this ok. The phone in his hand rang and Simon answered it with his customary bark, huffing directions over the open line and struggling to keep up with Blair at the same time. Two blocks later Kowalski jumped out of the car and ran past Simon to back Blair up. The crumpled man matched the Shaman's pace easily, despite the fact that neither was dressed for running.

"Where do you think they're headed?" he asked the hunter, blinking in surprise as deep blue eyes speared him with a glance, apparently seeing him right down to his soul and back again.

"Tommy will take her to the forest in the sky," the answer made no sense to Kowalski, who put his phone to his mouth and asked Simon if the reference made any sense to the older man.

"Crap," Simon growled, "Yeah that makes sense. We're only about four blocks away. I'll call for backup and see you there. Stick with him Kowalski - Sandburg doesn't carry a gun."

"You got it," Kowalski nodded and shoved the phone into his pocket again. As he followed the twisting path through the alleys and back paths of the city, he wondered how Sandburg had known of the attack and what trail he was following at the moment. The years with Benny had taught him a little about tracking, though he'd never be able to match the Mountie's skill at the art.

Feeling that he was missing something very important about this whole case, Stan rounded the next corner just behind Sandburg and couldn't stop the startled exclamation as Sandburg accelerated smoothly away from him. Stan was at his almost top speed and beginning to feel it as his breath came in harsh pants. He watched in astonishment as the other man ran forward, leaping over several rubbish bins before launching himself around the corner at the end.

By the time Simon arrived Rachael Collins-Jackson was in cuffs. She was cowering against Kowalski and pleading with him not to let the wolf-man get her. Kowalski's face showed his disgust as she confessed to the attack at the loft and the murder of her husband as insurance against being given over to 'that creature'. There was no sign of Blair as Kowalski handed her over to Simon who read the Miranda again just in case. She waived her right to a lawyer and Simon called for a unit to transport her to the precinct.

"Where's Sandburg?" Simon asked the panting man. He pointed in reply towards a dilapidated building with an overgrown greenhouse on the roof. It was a few blocks away still and Simon nodded.

"Once we get her taken care of I'll go get them. You want to go in to the station with her?" Simon refused to look at their prisoner and Kowalski nodded, realizing that whatever was going on was a secret that the tall Captain intended to keep.

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

Blair slipped into the humid glass tent with little noise. For a moment memories assaulted him - going with Jim to find the remains of Incacha's camp and helping his grieving Sentinel pack the meager possessions away for return to the tribe. The warriors would return home the way they had come - but Incacha's possessions were abandoned for Jim to take care of.

Memory quieted as the ghosts slipped away and Blair moved gently deeper into the rioting vegetation. The scents here were strong, even to his nose, and he found a warm patch of sunlight to sit in. He could feel the children's presence like an electric current along his skin. Settling himself so he was comfortable, Blair waited quietly.

Clare would have detected his presence when the door squeaked open. Tommy would have her using her fledgling abilities to locate him and then identify him. Once they knew he was there the children would come to him - it saved him calling and startling them.

The running he had done had left Blair in quite a sweat - his natural scent intensified by the exertion. He concentrated on calming his heart beat to its normal range, determined to make the work easier for Clare. The children would know it was safe to come out - there was no way he'd lead danger to them and they knew that instinctively. When Clare was convinced, Tommy would be and they'd emerge.

A soft rustle announced the children's first movement and Blair opened his eyes with a smile. Clare sobbed suddenly and threw herself out of hiding into his lap, arms and legs wrapping around him with desperate young strength. Blair freed an arm to hold it out to his son. Tommy sank onto the ground beside his father and burrowed in to the offered comfort.

"Shh, kitten," Blair murmured over Clare's sobs, "It's all right now. I've got you. I've got you both."

"Da…is Uncle Jim ok?" Tommy's face was twisted with strain and Blair kissed his son lovingly before hauling him tighter into his side. He was so proud of his son he couldn't find the words for a minute.

"Yes," Blair replied, "He's had to go back to hospital, but he'll be just fine. And this time we'll make him stay until the doctors say he can come home, right?"

"Right," Tommy buried his face in Blair's sweaty neck and hung on as tightly as his Sentinel was doing. Clare's sobs had slowed a little and Blair rocked both children in his arms, kissing Tommy's curls and petting Clare's back tenderly.

"I want mum-mum," Clare wailed suddenly and Blair tightened his grip. She was frightened and confused by all the conflict, hence the regression to babyhood. Chances were that she wouldn't settle completely until she was able to touch and scent her father for herself - remaking the most elemental contact a Sentinel could experience.

"Hush kitten - mum-mum is ok. I promise," he crooned, "Uncle Simon will be here soon and we'll go see Daddy, ok? You just need to hang on for a little longer."

Clare's sobs faded to odd little hiccups and hitches in her breath as Tommy added his efforts to his father's, stroking her hair lightly. There was little doubt that one of the children had seen the attack on Jim and alerted the other - though Blair suspected that if Clare had seen Jim struck down she wouldn't have left him no matter what the danger to Tommy was. The bond between father and daughter was stronger than the one she was building with her Guide and would remain so until Blair allowed Tommy to take full responsibility for his Sentinel.

The tension radiating from Tommy reinforced Blair's deductions and Blair tightened his grip on his son. Despite the fact that he was breathing rhythmically and stroking Clare's hair to calm her, tears were pouring down Tommy's face in an effort to relieve the stress and fear he had been operating under. Blair nuzzled his son's temple and rumbled a little in his throat - a deep comforting noise that had Tommy slumping against him heavily. There was a soft knocking noise on the door that had both children tensing but Blair just smiled and called for Simon to come in. The tall man joined them on the floor, adding his arms to the embrace and helping Blair soothe the children back to calmness.

After a short while Tommy let his uncle draw him away so Blair could get up with Clare in his arms. The wistful expression on Tommy's face had Simon swinging the child up into his arms as well, though the boy had long since declared himself 'too old to be carried like a baby'. Simon's instinct proved true as Tommy wound his arms around the big man's neck and buried his face in them.

The walk to the car was quiet and all three family members climbed in the back, Blair in the middle with his arms around the children. A quick call ahead to the hospital revealed that Jim had arrived and was being treated for concussion and his torn incision. Simon drove slowly, with the idea that by the time they reached the hospital Jim would be close to being transferred to his own room. The ER was no place for the children to wait in their current state and Simon didn't want to have to argue about them waiting in the loft. A second call to the station showed that Rafe and Brown were dealing with Rachael Collins, while Detective Kowalski sat in on the interview. Simon would be very interested to hear what her motives for all this had been.

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

Jim woke with Clare curled up against his good side and Tommy curled up at his feet. Blair was asleep in the chair next to his bed and sunrise was showing through the open blind in the small room. For a moment Jim just let himself drift, reestablishing the connection between himself and his family, reading in their presence comfort and safety, letting this sensation replace his final conscious moments after being attacked in the loft. After a little while he turned his head to stare at Blair.

True to form, the sleeping Shaman felt his gaze and woke, stretching a little as he leaned forward to tenderly caress Jim's face and smiling at the solemn gaze. His eyes asked if Jim was in any pain, and the Sentinel denied it with a look. He was weak as a kitten, though, and knew he wouldn't be getting out of bed any time soon. The posture of his Guide said that there was no danger to face and Jim let himself drift in the deep blue gaze.

Tommy stirred first, breaking the loving contact between them and Blair reached down to pick his son up off the bed and cradle him close. By the time the child opened his eyes fully he was in his father's lap, being rocked and stroked and hugged. Jim realized that both children were still struggling with recent events and made sure to smile when Tommy looked his way. He couldn't reach out for the boy as his closest arm was wrapped around his daughter, but Tommy didn't seem to mind. The child burrowed into the comfort of his father's body and Jim smiled again at the familiar scene.

Clare stirred a little, responding to the movement in the room, and Jim caressed her hair lightly. Blue eyes so like his own blinked open and searched anxiously for his face. A few tears welled, but she didn't cry, just moved very carefully so she could kiss his face.

"Hey kitten," Jim's voice was weak too, but clear and calm, "Love you."

"Love you too, Daddy," Clare replied firmly, "And I don't want to go with my mother. I want to stay with you. She's mean and she scared me."

"You're staying with me," Jim promised and his daughter settled down immediately. Tommy was yet to speak to anyone, and Jim shot the boy a concerned look. His brother didn't seem too worried though, and Jim decided to just let things happen. He was warm and comfortable, and didn't fight it as his body went back to sleep.

Blair smiled at his sleeping partner and held out a hand to Clare. She climbed off the bed obediently and looked at Tommy with curiosity. She'd never seen her big brother this upset and hugged his legs - the closest part she could reach - in an effort to make him feel better. It didn't seem to work, but before she could get upset the door opened and Simon stuck his head in.

"How is he?" Simon came to look at the sleeping man on the bed and pick up his adoptive niece.

"He just went back to sleep," Blair's voice was comfortable, "He's just fine."

"Good," Simon nodded and tweaked Clare's hair; "How about we go get some breakfast then? And Rafe and Brown need to talk to their witness."

Blair nodded and got up, keeping Tommy in his arms. Though the boy was nearly ten he was small for his age - just like his father had been - and Blair had no trouble carrying him. Simon frowned a little at the unusual sight, but chose not to air his concerns. From the stillness of Tommy's body a stranger to the boy would assume he was asleep, but Simon could see his hands were almost white knuckled in their grip. As he had when Simon first met him, Tommy was gripping Blair's shirtfront and collar. His legs were wrapped firmly around his father's body and they'd need a crowbar to break the two apart.

Blair sat in the back again as Simon drove them back to the loft. Larry was still locked in Tommy's room - no one had wanted to face the irate ape, and Clare went to let him out immediately. The animal bounced around the loft shrieking loudly for a few minutes before calming down enough to come to the food that Clare laid out at Blair's direction. Simon made a quick breakfast of toast for them all and then washed Clare's face and hands before helping her strip down and putting her in Tommy's bed.

By now the little girl was shooting worried glances at her big brother, who had yet to speak or let go of his father. Simon sat on the bedside and read her a story from Tommy's animal anthology - the one Blair had bought at the zoo so long ago. When the Captain emerged, Rafe and Brown were hanging up their coats and the white noise generator was shushing on the floor outside Tommy's room.

Both uncles were looking at their adopted nephew in concern as he failed to even look up at their greetings. Simon thought about suggesting they call one of the child psychologists that worked for the PD to assess Tommy, then reconsidered. Blair would be able to break his son's silence, and determine what he needed. Simon could wait until he was asked for the phone number - if Tommy needed it.

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

"Tommy?" Blair crooned softly, "Uncle Brian and Uncle H are here. They need to talk to you."

Tommy heard the loving voice, but didn't want to move from the comfort of his father's warmth and strength. He felt protected and cherished in his father's arms, and didn't want to give that up. He shook his head a little, trying to tell his father he didn't want to come out and burrowed closer.

"I know, baby," the voice was calm and sympathetic, "I know you were scared. It's safe now; no one here will hurt you. I'm here, I'll protect you."

Tommy sighed and loosened his grip for a moment. Warm hands were rubbing his back and arms as his father rocked them back and forth on the couch. This was a familiar motion, one that Sandburg had used on the very first night he'd met his son, and continued to use when the boy needed comfort or pampering. It spoke to Tommy now, reminding him of the unconditional love his father showered on him every day.

Tommy let go with his legs, and his father immediately adjusted their position, so Tommy was sitting across his lap. A turn of the boy's head would allow him to see his uncles sitting on the other couch, watching with worried eyes, but Tommy wasn't ready to face them yet.

"Da is here. Da loves you. I'm very proud of how brave and smart you were. My wonderful boy," the sentence made no sense, yet it opened a floodgate of emotion as Tommy cried out the stress and fear of watching Rachael Collins strike down his ailing uncle. The warm voice of his father soothed and surrounded him, wrapping him in love. It took a few minutes for the boy to calm down again and he obediently lifted his face for Blair to wash it with the warm cloth that Simon had prepared when the tears started. He resettled his grip on Blair's collar and shirt front, but didn't hide his face again, choosing instead to lean against Da's chest and look over at his uncles, a little shamefaced at crying like a baby in front of them.

"Hey kiddo, feeling better?" Simon breathed, and Tommy nodded, offering a little smile and looking up at his father for reassurance. He got a tender smile and a squeeze.

"Maybe we should come back later - he's obviously not ready to answer any questions," Brown shifted on the couch and Tommy shook his head adamantly. He was brave, not a baby.

"I can do it," he insisted, "You'll stay with me, Da?"

"Promise," Blair nodded and Tommy looked back at Uncle Brian and Uncle H. He licked his lips and took a careful breath.

"After Da and Uncle Simon went with Detective Kowalski to look for Auntie Rachael, I went to see if Uncle Jim was ok. He was asleep, so I went back to sit with Clare and finish watching the video. We were supposed to do some more work after that, but I couldn't find any that Da had left out so I went to see if Uncle Jim would let us come in with him and maybe watch another video," Tommy told them in a clear voice. He was still leaning hard into Blair, who had stopped rocking and was rubbing his son's back gently.

"When I got to the corridor I saw Uncle Jim come out of the bathroom. I was going to step out when Auntie Rachael jumped up from behind the kitchen counter and hit him with the fruit bowl," Tommy's voice wavered and he turned his face into Blair's chest for a moment, a few more tears escaping to run down his cheeks.

"Shh, baby. She can't come back now - she's all locked away, isn't she guys?"

"Yes she is," Simon rumbled in agreement, "It's ok kiddo. You're ok."

"I ran back and put Larry in my room so he wouldn't get hurt," Tommy continued after a moment, his voice a bit stronger than before, "I grabbed Clare's hand and ran down the fire escape. Auntie Rachael saw us going through the door and ran after us. We hid in the next alley and then headed for the police station, but she found us again. Every time we thought she was gone she managed to find us. Clare couldn't concentrate. She was worried about Uncle Jim and I didn't know what to tell her."

The last sentences made sense to Blair and Simon, explaining why the young Sentinel hadn't been able to use her senses to track their enemy and determine when it was safe for them to leave concealment.

"We got to the forest in the sky and then you found us, Da," Tommy's gaze was solemn, but he had finally let go of Blair's collar. Blair smiled and kissed his forehead.

"You were very brave, Tommy," Simon spoke up, "You did everything right."

"I had to take care of Clare," Tommy smiled a little, thinking of his little sister, "It's my job."

"Then you should get a pay rise," Brown chuckled at the confusion on Tommy's face, "Don't tell me you're not paying him, Sandburg! That young man deserves pocket money."

"You're right, H. We'll have to start paying him pocket money," Blair agreed, thinking the distraction of a new idea and the power of being able to shop for himself - an activity that Tommy had never tired of - would divert Tommy from darker thoughts. The boy's nature was not acquisitive; he was very generous with his possessions and time, giving both with a good will. Blair would make sure to explain that the pocket money was being paid because Tommy was wise enough to handle it, not for taking care of Clare, and they could negotiate the amount.

"Pocket money?" Tommy asked and Blair smiled, explaining the idea in a low voice while the uncles tiptoed from the loft, leaving father and son to recover their balance in their own way.

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

In the end the DA decided to allow Chicago to try Rachael Collins on the murder charges first. The charges of assault and attempted kidnapping were less serious, though she'd probably end up committed to an institution rather than in prison. Her attorney was already making noise about getting her assessed to see if she was even fit to stand trial. No one was impressed.

Forensics had retrieved the key at the loft that Rachael had used to get in. Jim had given her one long before Clare was born and then forgotten to retrieve it once they split up. Blair had collected all the keys they'd ever given out and then changed all the locks, before sitting down with his son and deciding who should be given a new key. The list matched the original keyholders as Tommy discussed who was a safe person with his father. The action had gone some way to alleviating the aftermath of the attack for the little boy - now all he needed was time and the never ending love of his father.

"What I don't get is how the two are connected," Blair confessed to Kowalski at Jim's bedside. The detective from Chicago had accompanied Simon to the hospital to update the detective and Blair had arranged for William Ellison to watch the children for a few hours. They'd come with their Poppy for a visit after Jim's afternoon nap - something that Blair was most militant about.

"It seems that when Rachael discovered she was pregnant she tried to talk old George into passing the baby off as his. But, George-boy didn't want anything to do with a kid that he hadn't made and refused outright. Once they realized it was too late for an abortion George came up with the scheme of contacting Ellison. Seems he was a bit of a bastard and wanted to humiliate you as much as possible. He never expected you to actually agree to adopt Clare," Stan met Jim's eyes with respect, "You were more honorable than he thought."

"There's nothing honorable in taking responsibility for your actions," Jim shook his head, "Besides, I had a great role model."

The look he shot at Blair made it clear who the role model was and Blair rolled his eyes.

"Go on," he urged Stan who grinned and did as he was ordered, wondering what the full story really was here.

"Well," he shifted to get comfortable, "Rachael carried the baby - and according to the lawyer - bonded with it. After the delivery it was George who cut off all contact between mother and baby. This whole thing brewed in Rachael's mind - because she really didn't want to give the baby up at all, but didn't want to be humiliated by the divorce at the same time. George urged her to forget the whole thing and they tried to have a baby of their own. Then they discovered that Mr. Jackson was shooting blanks and Rachael just… snapped. She pushed him off a bridge, then drove the car down to where his body was, put him in, and sat on him to drive to where we eventually found the car. She had a change of clothes in the trunk and chucked the bloodstained stuff in the bag in the river. Then she came to Cascade to claim her 'prize'."

"Jesus," Jim breathed, his face pale, "If she'd gotten hold of my daughter…"

"She didn't," Blair reminded his Sentinel firmly, "Tommy stopped her, remember?"

"How is he?" Kowalski asked, "I heard he'd had some troubles."

"A few nightmares," Blair sighed, "But they've stopped already and he's ok during the day. Clare helps; she's got this whole big case of hero worship going at the moment. And Tommy's friends have been over for a few visits. They're back at school tomorrow, so with a bit of luck we'll get past this soon."

"Well you tell him from me, that he's one brave kid and if he's ever in Chicago to look me up," Kowalski grinned. Jim chose that moment to yawn and Blair chuckled, swapping a knowing look with Simon. The Captain took the hint and made his excuses, which Kowalski added to as they left the room.

Blair got up and started settling his cranky Sentinel for a nap.

"I can't wait to get out of here," Jim grumbled as his Guide sat on the edge of the bed and traced random patterns over his chest. The action was soothing and despite himself Jim felt his eyes grow heavy.

"If you'd stayed in the first time you wouldn't have put yourself in such a bad way," Blair retorted, "We need you, Jim. No more risks to your health, ok?"

"Yes Dad," Jim's sleepy retort made his Patriarch chuckle and lean over to drop a kiss to his temple. Sleep took him.

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

Epilogue

"Ready, Brown?" Jim asked, shrugging the PD windbreaker on over his vest and settling his cap. The other detective finished checking his weapon and holstered it smoothly.

"Yeah," Brown nodded, "Rafe! Get the lead out!"

"Coming mother," his partner's voice floated sweetly across the bullpen and Brown rolled his eyes. Simon came out of his office, also dressed for the raid and pulled a PD cap on firmly.

"Where's Sandburg?" Jim frowned, looking for his absent partner amongst the hustle of the bullpen. The curly haired man was not in sight, and Jim couldn't remember seeing him in the last ten minutes.

"Maybe he's in his office - I think he was meeting with Charlie Leaven from Vice," Simon turned to head out of the bullpen and almost stumbled at Jim's next question.

"He has an office?"

"Do you even work in the same precinct as the rest of us?" Simon snorted, "Sandburg's had an office since he got the Ph.D. The Chief thought it was more secure than having case files from a dozen departments lying on your desk in the bullpen. Where did you think he went when he was consulting with the other departments?"

They were walking rapidly down the corridor now, and Jim could hear his Guide speaking quickly as he moved about.

"I thought he went to them," Jim shrugged, a little embarrassed that he hadn't asked his Guide back when the man started working at the PD full time all those years ago. Simon rolled his eyes and shoved open a door without knocking.

"Sandburg! We're waiting!"

"Coming Simon," Blair finished pulling his hair back and gestured for his visitor to stand. The office was small and full of the typical Sandburg clutter. Maps were pinned to the wall, and photos of various crime scenes and evidence. There was a computer on the desk, and a bunch of framed photos. Tommy and Clare. Jim and Blair. Jim and both children. The whole Ellison family and Tommy at Christmas. Simon and his family. Jim and his Cop of the Year award. Files and books crammed into a single bookcase and overflowed from the top of the filing cabinet. The phone was on the windowsill, next to a canister of tea and an abandoned coffee mug. The blinds were pulled up so sunlight streamed into the room.

Blair led Charlie Leaven down the corridor and into the elevator with the rest of Major Crimes, still speaking rapidly and pointing to things in the profile that Charlie was holding. They got to the third floor and Charlie got off, muttering under his breath and making notes in the margins.

"Jesus Sandburg, did you even draw breath?" Rafe teased the profiler and Blair laughed.

"Breathing is over rated," he told his friends and Jim shivered, remembering the fountain and the damning silence of the beloved heartbeat.

"Not to me it's not - so keep doing it, ok Chief?" Jim's voice had an anxious edge to it and his Guide's hand slid up to Jim's shoulder and squeezed firmly.

"Sounds like a plan to me," the reassurance was spoken with a smile and Jim smiled back, letting their eyes connect for a moment, gathering their strength before the battle.

"Definitely sounds like a plan," he agreed.

-End-

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

Back to Shedoc's page.