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.

New York

by Shedoc

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

The bullpen was busy. Rain lashed the windows as the men and women of Major Crimes followed leads and tied up final details. They were a diverse group, in both race and appearance, but anyone who really looked for a moment could see how they moved as a well-oiled team. This department was famous for its diversity and smarts - just about everyone had a college education. Those that didn't had other skills - military background and otherwise. Right now they were working at peak efficiency in the hope that their Captain wouldn't take the increasingly bad mood caused by his visitor out on them.

Simon Banks scowled at the man sitting opposite him. His visitor was a tall man with well-developed muscles and short styled hair. He wore a suit that was well cut, but crumpled from long hours of travel and work. His skin was tanned. He spoke with an educated drawl and got to the point quickly.

Simon didn't like him at all. It wasn't his manner or personality: it was what he was about to tell one of Simon's men. Simon looked out into the bullpen and sighed. He leaned back a little - all the better to fill his lungs - and yelled,

"Ellison and Sandburg, my office!"

He saw Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg exchange glances and get up quickly. Everyone in the bullpen had been keeping a weather eye on his office ever since his visitor had arrived this morning and Simon had locked himself away - a sure sign something was wrong.

As usual Jim was dressed neatly in dark trousers, plain woolen sweater and a dress shirt. Blair was more colorful, his long hair loose, a bright vest over a long-sleeved linen shirt over a long-sleeved T-shirt and ripped jeans. As people went they were opposites in appearance, mannerisms and personality. They were the best team Simon had and daily proved their devotion to each other and the citizens of Cascade.

Jim ushered Blair into Simon's office, and into a seat and then Jim sat too - between the stranger and his partner.

Blair met Simon's eyes with a resigned look - ever since the fountain Jim had been in Blessed Protector Overdrive. They'd caught Blair's killer and he and Jim had reconciled, but Jim still treated Blair like he was precious and liable to break. Blair was working on the problem, but it was slow going. Simon had kept Jim on desk duty since their return from Peru a week ago, sensing something off about the Sentinel and not willing to risk him in the field - this hadn't helped the situation. Simon bit down on a sigh - the news he was about to tell them was going to make things worse, not better, and there was no way to isolate one from the other when Jim was in this mood.

"You wanted to see us Simon?" Blair asked quietly and Simon nodded, resigned. There was going to be no easy way to do this - better to just tell the truth and then pick up the pieces afterwards.

"Blair, this is Mark Dermas. He's a PI from New York," Simon began tiredly, "He's been looking for you. Do you remember a girl called Amelia Milton?"

"Umm," Blair thought hard, and his face lit when he came upon her face, "Oh yeah. We dated for six months. We broke up just before I started working with Jim."

Beside Blair Jim shifted uneasily, worried about where this line of inquiry was headed. Blair put a hand on his arm automatically, not even looking away from Simon. Simon breathed a silent sigh of relief as Blair kept talking, answering his next question before he could ask it.

"We broke up when her parents found out she was living in the warehouse with me. They threw a fit and pulled her out of Rainier. I think she went to one of the private U's in New York. Ammie and I lost touch when she left …her parents weren't real fond of me."

"Hard to believe," Jim spoke for the first time, his voice a little tense. Blair's fingers began to stroke his arm gently, soothing the Sentinel, the action blocked from the stranger by Jim's own body.

"Yeah, right, like I'm irresistible," Blair laughed and Jim frowned. He hated to hear his Guide run himself down.

"Hey, you think you'd be here if we didn't like you?" Simon decided to weigh in to the ongoing battle to increase Blair's sense of self worth: something that had dipped sharply after the fountain, as if Blair felt that dying diminished him. The kid sure could be dense about the way people really felt about him. There wasn't a man or woman in Major Crimes that wouldn't take a bullet for their 'professor' - and they'd all gone to bat for the civilian against their fellow cops at one point or another.

"I know - it's an abiding tolerance," Blair snuck a look at Jim and Jim growled in mock annoyance. He flicked his fingers at his partner's leg and settled in his chair. Blair easily dodged the fingers and removed his hand from Jim's arm as the tension in his body eased a little.

"At the start maybe, but not any more. More like genuine friendship, nowadays," Simon made his tone reflective and ignored Dermas' impatient little gesture. Sandburg was worth the wait. Blair blushed lightly and ducked his head in thanks. Dermas cleared his throat and ruined the moment.

"You're here because something happened to Ammie, right? Is she ok?" Blair leaned around Jim, replacing his hand. Jim tensed up again, turning a little to face Dermas and be ready to protect his Guide.

"Two weeks ago, Amelia Milton and her boyfriend died in a car crash on their way home from a function," Dermas said it smoothly, not inclined to coddle the hippie by shading the truth, "I was hired by her lawyers to find you."

Dermas would have continued but Blair sat back, letting Jim shield him from view for a moment. Dermas waited for the crocodile tears and protestations of grief - after all Amelia was rich, her parents richer and only an idiot wouldn't clue in to the fact that there was an inheritance.

"I'm sorry to hear that," the voice was sad and quiet, "She was a special person."

Dermas almost fell off his chair - whatever response he'd been expecting this heartfelt dignity wasn't it. He nodded uncertainly and waited until Blair leant forward again.

"Chief, I'm sorry," Jim said gently and Blair smiled at him in reassurance. He rubbed Jim's arm; getting comfort from giving it.

"It's ok. We sort of parted friends, but never kept in touch. I haven't thought of her in a long time. Why did her lawyers want to see me?"

This last question was aimed at Dermas and the intelligence and honesty Dermas saw there suddenly convinced him his next piece of news would be a shock to the man in front of him.

"In her Will Miss Milton has left everything she owns and her bank accounts to you. This includes sole custody of her son, a boy named Thomas Sandburg."

Silence as Blair paled and tried to remember to breathe. Jim tensed in shock and turned to his roommate and partner. At first glance he could tell that Blair had never known his girlfriend had gotten pregnant - his status as a parent was a complete surprise. Jim's hearing kicked in and he monitored his partner's heart rate and breathing. Blair's lips were moving but whatever he was saying was too quiet even for Sentinel hearing.

Simon got up and glared at Dermas before hurrying out to grab some water from the break room. Jim got up and moved closer to his friend, standing with a hand on Blair's shoulder. His Guide was leaning forward, his face in his hands as he tried to come to grips with what he'd been told. Simon returned with the water and between them they got the new father to take a few sips.

"I swear … if I'd known I would have followed her to New York. Jim you gotta believe me I didn't abandon them…"

"Easy, Sandburg," Simon broke in before Jim could even start to reply, "We both know you'd have done right by them. She didn't tell you - it's not your fault."

"C'mon Chief," Jim cajoled, "I know how you feel about this kind of thing. I know you'd never abandon your kid."

Dermas watched as the new father bit his lip and strove for calm and clarity. After a few moments he nodded and took the glass from Simon, draining it and placing it on the floor. He urged his partner to sit down and smiled a dismissal to Simon, who decided to lean on his desk nearby rather than put it between him and Blair.

"Ok," Blair's voice had purpose in it and he eyed Dermas with determination, "I need to know where he is, and the name of the lawyers. I'll book a flight to New York and try to get things sorted out there as soon as I can. I assume you have all that information for me?"

"Yes," Dermas nodded and Blair dismissed him, turning to look at Simon instead, "Simon, can I borrow Jim for the rest of the day? We need to get a few things sorted out."

"You got it Sandburg," Simon nodded - knowing the Sentinel was about to lose his Guide to a major life change, "Jim, I'll see you tomorrow."

"Ok," Jim said uneasily and Blair put out his hand to Dermas. Dermas started and then fished out the piece of paper that held the lawyers' information. Blair stuffed it into a pocket and nodded to Simon before walking out of the office. He crossed to Jim's desk without pausing, snagged his coat and left, with Jim a scant step behind.

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

Blair was silent on the way to the loft and Jim was glad of it - the time to think was something they both needed. A child to care for would alter Blair's priorities considerably, and Jim had no doubt that his friend would commit to this one hundred percent. Jim was determined to make this easy for Blair - including dissolving their working partnership if that was what the other man wanted.

Once inside Blair hung up his coat, toed off his shoes and carried them into his room, closing the door and disappearing for a few moments. Jim snagged two bottles of fruit juice from the fridge and sat on the couch, waiting until his Guide was ready to face him and tell him how their lives would be now. Blair had a second chance at life, and obviously Fate had decided to exclude Jim from that life.

Blair opened the door and came to sit next to Jim. He accepted the juice - grateful that neither one of them was drinking alcohol, they'd need all their wits now - and took a pull at it before placing it on a coaster.

"I lied," Blair decided to get this part out of the way first, "After the fountain - when we got back I told you I was going to keep on with the Sentinel thesis. But I lied … I went to my committee and told them I was working on the closed society one - the cover story. Because you pulled your waiver Jim, remember? And I worked on the other one at the same time just in case I got to the end and discovered I couldn't publish. It was a back up plan and a handy one. I'm still writing the Sentinel thesis but I'll submit the other one because … well after Alex it's just too dangerous."

Jim stared in shock, but made no move to interrupt as Blair kept on going, not even giving him time to absorb the startling news. Not giving him time to dwell on what Blair obviously saw as another betrayal of the Sentinel's trust. The older man didn't see it that way and was determined to make sure that Blair understood that before the end of this discussion.

"I'll contact my committee and tell them I'm ready to defend the closed society thesis at the end of the month - it's mostly finished anyway. Then I'll start looking for a job. I'll need something in my field that lets me pay attention to …Thomas … but also lets me work with you. We may have to cut down the time I spend at the PD; maybe you and Simon could find you a partner to help out a little. Conner knows, and she'd be good at it. There's nothing at the Uni, but that's ok, if I'm not teaching then I'll have more time for the two of you. I don't want to dissolve our partnership Jim - you're my friend, my soul mate even - but I can't work three demanding jobs at once, hell school and the PD are hard enough to balance at times. So there'll need to be a few changes ok?" Blair kept eye contact with Jim, knowing it was important to let the Sentinel read what was in his heart through his eyes. His love for Jim as well as his worry for the future was evident and it reached Jim through the shock.

"About living space - well, we'll try to find a place close by. I'm kind of hoping you'll like each other, you know? I can't think of a better uncle to give my child. Obviously the loft is way too small for three of us unless I start sleeping with one of you and let's not go there, ok? Jim? You still with me?"

"Yeah, I'm here," Jim put his juice down, leant over and engulfed Blair in a hug. He held on tight and stroked Blair's back until the other man relaxed into him. Knowing Blair could hear him clearly Jim spoke softly.

"My turn, ok? I'm not mad about the thesis. A big part of me is glad that you won't be telling everyone about me. And the rest of me is …going to be glad too, once I get over the idea that you wrote two different theses at the same time. It's not a betrayal, Chief - you were watching my back, just like you always do and I'm grateful for that. And don't worry about living space. The people next door are moving at the end of their lease. We can knock a door in the wall and you two can live there. I … I'm sorry, Chief but I want to know you'll be real close by and I can help with the daddy stuff, you know? You don't have to do this all alone. I want to help - I want to be as much a part of your family as you'll let me."

Blair was wrapped tightly around Jim now, and Jim could smell tears, so he tightened his hold and rocked them a bit, still speaking. His Guide's body trembled and he stroked his back and let his voice deepen to a croon. Blair needed this and that was all that mattered.

"I know you are my Guide forever, and I know that you're not saying you want to stop, though God knows it would be safer for you to do that. Let me talk to Simon about the partnership. And don't worry about your job for now. When you get back from New York we'll sort something out. It's too soon to worry about anything else. I love you, Chief, and you're gonna be a great daddy. Just focus on going to get your kid, ok? We'll be ok no matter what happens. Alex taught me some important lessons and I'll be damned if I make the same mistakes and let this destroy us. Whatever you need is what we'll do - no contest."

Jim took a deep breath, feeling his own eyes fill and tears track down his cheeks.

"I'd be honored to be Thomas' uncle."

"I love you too," Blair breathed unsteadily into Jim's neck. Jim stroked his back a little longer, until they were both calm and recovered. Blair straightened up and they sat in silence for a while, shoulders touching as they finished their juice.

"I'll call the airlines and see what we can do for a flight and accommodation. Why don't you pack and call the Uni? And leave me a number for your committee so I can help with that too," Jim suggested. Blair nodded, picked up the cordless and disappeared into his room.

Simon came over that evening. Jim was in the bathroom showering, and Blair was in the kitchen cooking.

"Hey Simon," Blair smiled and Simon was relieved to see the anthropologist back to what passed for normal in the Sandburg Zone. He hung up his coat and went to lean on the counter, accepting a beer from Blair.

"Hey Sandburg - this smells good. Chili?" Simon sniffed the tantalizing aromas and Blair nodded with a grin. His chili was popular in the department and loudly demanded on poker night, departmental dinners and the various weekend sporting competitions that Major Crimes participated in. From the quantity in the pot, Blair was making leftovers for Jim to freeze. The anthropologist knew how tired his partner often was after work and making sure that there was at least something half way healthy available as an alternative to Wonder Burger.

"Yeah," Blair agreed and stirred the pot gently, "Uh… thanks for this morning Simon. I really appreciate it."

"No problem, kid," Simon replied and then blinked, "Hey we'll have to stop calling you that, Professor!"

Blair laughed and saluted with his spoon as Jim came out of the bathroom. He was wrapped in the robe he kept on the back of the door, and Simon had the feeling if it had just been the two of them, Jim would have sauntered past in a towel. Their relationship wasn't sexual, and they were very casual about each other's bodies - their touch light and impersonal or tender and gentle as occasion demanded. Newcomers to the PD often mistook this touching, but were soon set 'straight' by wiser people. No one wanted to deal with a pissed off Ellison - or even worse a ballistic Sandburg.

"I'm sure we'll find plenty of other names for you, Darwin," Jim called on his way past. Blair groaned.

"True, Hairboy, my people are no slouches in that department," Simon nodded, "It's hard to believe the guppy is a dad!"

"Yeah I guess Sandy had us all fooled!" Jim's voice floated down the stairs and Blair hit Simon with the Sandburg grin. There was an evil gleam in his eyes and Simon waited for the zinger.

"I'll show you who's a fool, Uncle Jimmy," Blair called back and Simon nearly choked. A rude noise floated down and Blair shook his head.

"I see you've become a member of the family," Simon said to Jim as he rejoined them in the kitchen and Jim beamed proudly.

"Yep," he saluted with the beer he'd retrieved from the fridge and handed one to Blair. Blair accepted his bottle and the toast, smiling at his friend. They switched to other topics to set the table and eat dinner peaceably.

"So…" Simon dried the last dish and handed it to Blair to be put away. It had become a custom for the three of them to clean up the kitchen when Simon came over - Simon treasured the acceptance it signified. He wasn't a guest in the loft; he was a sometime inhabitant.

"So…" Blair sighed and smiled at the same time, "I leave at nine tomorrow for New York. I've contacted my thesis committee and arranged to defend it at the end of the semester - a month from now. Jim and I agree that it would be too difficult to teach, learn and work at the PD on top of being a dad, so I'll try to find a job that will let me spend a little time with Jim on the job too. Beyond that I have no real plans. I just want to meet Thomas and go from there."

"Fair enough," Simon nodded and joined them in the living room, "Uh, do you want me to sit on this? The gang is pretty curious about what's going on. I think they'd like to help out if they can …you're one of us you know."

"Thanks Simon," Blair's eyes were wide at the compliment and he had a pleased glow to him that Simon wanted to see more of. It took so little to make Blair happy, despite or maybe because of all the things he'd seen and done.

"I discussed this with Jim - and I sent an email off to everyone before I started dinner. They'll have it tomorrow at work. It would mean a lot to me if you'd come see us when I get him back here," Blair waited and Simon nodded, assuring the young man he wanted to meet his son.

"So you're going to stay in Cascade?" Simon asked, trying not to be too obvious. Blair nodded and leaned back into the couch a little.

"I'm committed here, Simon. I don't want to leave my first true home, and Jim. It's not just the Sentinel stuff - sure that's important but … I don't want Thomas to grow up wandering the globe without a home. And Cascade can give him that and a family to boot. We'll have Jim … and you and Daryl too," that last added shyly. Simon felt himself beam with pride and Jim smiled warmly too. It wasn't often Simon got that look on his face - the one that said you'd touched something deep inside him.

"I suspect that Thomas is going to have a PD full of uncles and aunts," Jim said in amusement and Blair shrugged.

"There's more to family than blood ties Jim, and I've met a lot of good people at the PD. Joel's kids call me Uncle Blair - and H is always asking me to baby-sit for his kids. I guess turn about is fair play there, huh?" Blair shifted a little and Jim shot Simon a warning look. Blair was tired by the emotions he'd been riding all day and would fall asleep soon.

"I'll tell them you said that," Simon rumbled quietly as Blair's eyes drifted closed and Jim turned on the television. Simon and Jim watched the nights game quietly, part two of a typical evening when Simon was there. Blair roused once or twice but was otherwise down for the count. Game over, Simon started part three of the evening, going into Blair's room and turning down the bed while Jim roused Blair enough to walk to his room and flop down on the bed again, falling asleep almost instantly. His clothes were loose enough to be comfortable for sleeping in, but Simon was glad he wouldn't have to deal with the wrinkles that would be in the linen shirt tomorrow.

Simon repositioned the covers and Jim checked the room as he always did before checking Blair and following Simon out. Simon gathered his coat up and nodded to Jim.

"I'll see you after you drop the kid at the airport," Simon said quietly, "I've got an idea about work, too."

"Probably the same one I have," Jim replied, "Thanks for not …hassling him. I wish he'd known before. He's missed the start of his son's life and it's bugging him, even though he hasn't said anything. I'll pass the word tomorrow - no teasing."

"I hear that," Simon grinned and Jim laughed at Naomi's favorite saying. They said goodnight and Jim locked up, patrolling the loft once before heading up to his own bed and rest.

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

Blair took a taxi from the airport to the lawyers. They were in the city - of course - at the top of a modern skyscraper that afforded a fine view of a lot of other skyscrapers. The firm was called Cohen and Cohen and Blair was to meet with one of the senior partners. His name was Fuller.

The office was all deep pile carpeting and antique furniture. Blair felt distinctly out of place with his worn duffel, worse jeans and bright shirt. He'd pulled his hair back - nothing more annoying than having your hair fall into your face in confined quarters and a plane definitely qualified there - and wore his glasses. He'd considered wearing dressy clothes but had decided that comfort was more important on the flight, and besides the Miltons knew what he normally dressed like and wouldn't be impressed by his one suit.

The receptionist was a little startled - normally their clients wore suits - but agreed to stow his duffel behind the desk while he met with Fuller. Fuller's PA, a young man with a thin face and a beautiful suit, collected Blair from reception and walked him to the corner office that Mr. Arthur Fuller inhabited.

It was done up with antique furniture too and a wall of floor to ceiling bookcases lined with neat rows of leather bound books. Pictures covered the second wall - the door to the office was in a corner and you entered on the diagonal- and they all featured Fuller with a celebrity of one sort or another.

Arthur Fuller was a graying man in his late fifties. He was Blair's height and tanned despite it being winter. His body was well toned the way someone who went to the gym would be. His suit was tailored perfectly and every inch of him was immaculate. His desk was neat too - a computer sat on one corner of it and the leather blotter and antique desk set gleamed in the early afternoon sun. He'd shaken Blair's hand with a firm grip and swept his eyes over Blair in a cataloguing manner before inviting Blair to sit in a leather armchair before his desk and sitting down in his own.

"I take it Mr. Dermas informed you of the situation," Fuller said unnecessarily, "I have some particulars to go over with you and then you'll need to give me your instructions regarding the estate."

"You're to act as trustee in this matter?" Blair asked quietly, and Fuller nodded, subjecting the grad student to another piercing examination. Blair met his gaze tranquilly and folded his hands. Fuller nodded once, as if deciding something and began to speak again.

"Miss Milton has left her entire estate - with the exception of a few bequests - to you Mr. Sandburg," Fuller kept his voice even and quiet, "I expect the final figure to come to you to be just above the three point five million dollar mark. In addition to this Thomas stands to inherit a smaller amount on his eighteenth birthday - he has a trust fund from his grandparents and his mother as well. This money is of course subject to the usual taxes and so on, but you have just become a wealthy young man."

Fuller paused, watching his visitor closely. At the mention of the money Blair had paled and swallowed hard, his whole body tensing. Fuller decided Blair would either ask more about the money or start protesting that he'd give it all away if it would bring Amelia back. What Miss Milton had seen in this man - who hadn't even completed his PhD - to want to father a child with him was beyond Fuller, but he supposed there had to be something worthwhile to him.

"I'm not interested in that," Blair waved the money away, and Fuller anticipated the second part of the sentence, almost disappointed to be right.

"Tell me about my son. Where is he? Is he ok? When can I see him? Who's been taking care of him? How soon can I take him home with me? Does he need anything?" Blair leaned forward, pinning Fuller to his seat with a laser glare of his own, and one that had snapped a certain Sentinel into line more than once. Fuller was no Sentinel and therefore caved in under the pressure. Pleased to be wrong his voice warmed a little.

"He's staying with his Grandparents. They have no wish to contest your right to custody, and you can meet him tonight at dinner. You are welcome to leave with Thomas whenever you wish to. He doesn't need anything," Fuller answered succinctly and was relieved when the glare lessened a little.

"Do you have a picture? What can you tell me about my son?" Blair was embarrassed to have to beg a stranger this way for information, but his need to know was greater. Fuller lifted a file from his tray and handed it over.

Thomas Sandburg had been born three years ago - had just had his third birthday. He was healthy. There were no photos and no mention of him as a person, just the normal medical records from the pediatrician and birth certificates. Blair stared at the piece of paper that named his son and declared his maternal and paternal heritage. Blair clenched his jaw - a habit he'd learned from his partner - and looked over at Fuller.

"Is the address in here? What time may I go and see my son?" he asked tersely and Fuller raised his eyebrows a little at the tone.

"You are to arrive at five. I have made arrangements for you to stay at Miss Miltons' penthouse in the city. I have the keys to it and to her car. I've arranged for my PA to take you there when we've completed our meeting," Fullers tone was repressive - exactly the wrong thing to use on a hyper active man separated from his family and under pressure. Blair jumped up and held out his hand for the keys.

"Thanks, I'll go now," he replied impatiently, fed up with Fuller's attitude and snobbery; "I'll make an appointment later in the week to let you know about the estate. Can you give me a copy of the will?"

In short order Blair was out of the office and on his way to his ex-girlfriend's penthouse.

It was luxurious. The walls were decorated with various expensive pieces of modern art, the floors covered in Persian rugs. Top of the line appliances and fittings adorned each room. The furniture was modern and spotless. Blair wandered from room to room, just looking at all the things in each and wondering why a place full of personal touches was still not a home. It looked a little like a catalogue picture - so neat and tidy.

The kitchen was all stainless steel and marble - a chef's delight really. There was food in the cupboards and refrigerator - the PA had seen to that. He'd also told Blair that bread and milk would be delivered on a daily basis, unless Blair instructed otherwise. The place was sunny and airy, with a breakfast nook tucked away in one warm corner. It adjoined a formal dining room - a large room with a glass wall that offered a view of the city, full of polished wood and graceful chairs. Opposite that was the living room - a huge area with six overstuffed couches and end tables. An expensive entertainment unit sat in a corner and a well-stocked video cabinet rested nearby. This room also had floor to ceiling windows that led out onto an elegant patio, lined with well-shaped shrubs and artfully placed outdoor furniture. Amelia obviously liked to entertain. It struck Blair that he had yet to see any books in the house. Nor was there any evidence a toddler lived here.

This bothered Blair a little and he went looking for the bedrooms. Amelia's housekeeper had cleaned the place one last time and then left, with a generous severance payment and bequest from Amelia. Her room was spotless and empty - the bed stripped and the mattress aired. She had lived in to act as Nanny to Thomas, but had apparently thought nothing of leaving her young charge behind.

The master bedroom was also empty but for the furniture. Someone had been in to take away all Amelia's knick-knacks, clothes and toiletries. The en-suite was empty too, although a set of clean towels rested on the hand basin counter. Blair was uncomfortable at the thought of sleeping there and wandered out again, leaving his duffel in the hallway near the front door.

The next door he tried led to a bathroom - with a huge spa bath and one of those showers that sprayed water from a variety of nozzles at whatever temperature and pressure you liked. The room was done in Italian marble and was almost empty. Under the basin Blair found some children's shampoo and soap. There was a child's toothbrush and some paste on the counter next to a tumbler. This had been Thomas' bathroom then. There were no bath toys here - not even a rubber duck.

Blair stepped back out into the corridor and looked at the final two doors. One would lead to Thomas room - the other would not. Blair chose the closest one and walked into Amelias' study. Here were her books and a top of the line desktop computer. There were several modern leather chairs and lamps dotted about. Amelia's bachelor in anthropology was framed and hanging from the wall beside her masters in psychology. The bookshelves also housed photos of Amelia with various adults and three with an infant. They drew Blair's attention immediately.

In the first Amelia cradled a lace-gowned baby, her own outfit carefully chosen to match the gown. A Christening gown, Blair thought and smiled as he turned his attention to the second photo. The baby was young and dressed in designer rompers. It had blue eyes and curly hair that screamed of its father. He'd inherited Amelia's face and body type - slender and neat. Amelia held the baby proudly. The rompers matched her suit. In the next photo she wore an evening gown and sat with the curly haired boy on her lap. Again his clothes matched hers and he looked solemnly out of the photo at his father. His hair was short in length and artistically tumbled around his face. Blair reached out and stroked the baby with a gentle finger. He was grinning like a lunatic but didn't really care. His son was beautiful and he'd meet him soon.

Blair headed out of the study to the last room. Thomas' bedroom was done in white furniture. The toys were neatly housed on shelves. The bedspread was a light blue colour. There were a few books in the room - mostly fairy tale anthologies done in leather binding. There was no sense that a child lived there. Blair ignored the furniture for a moment and opened the dresser drawers. Underclothes, socks and pajamas rested in the drawers. No t-shirts or sweaters. The closet contained suits, shirts and leather shoes. No play clothes or sneakers. No balls or forgotten toys. There was a rocking chair in the corner with a teddy sitting on it. Its fur was as plush as the day it had been purchased. Blair sat heavily on the bed and shivered. How could a child live in a house and leave no true presence? Or was this one of the places he sometimes lived in - maybe Amelia only lived here when they were entertaining and lived somewhere else for day to day things.

Blair was starting to get a bad feeling about all of this. He looked around again at the sterile room and sighed. A picture frame caught his eye and he got up to look at it more closely. It had been taken in the quad outside Hargrove Hall. Amelia stood in a light linen shirt and jeans, her short blond hair blowing a little in the wind. She was leaning back against a young grinning Blair. She was looking at him; he was grinning at the camera. Blair's breath caught as memories of that summer day threatened to overwhelm him. His son knew what he looked like! She had at least given them that to start on.

Blair left the picture where it was and went to collect the folder Fuller had given him. He carried it into the lounge room, deciding to leave the rest of his exploration for later. He wanted to read over the file now so he'd know what to expect at dinner tonight. He had a few hours until he had to leave, and Blair had gotten directions from the PA so he wouldn't get lost - despite Jim's opinion of his navigating skills.

The Will was a well-crafted document written in plain English. Fullers' brief summary had been devastatingly accurate, so Blair was not too surprised. Copies of all the relevant deeds and so on were also in the file and Blair put them aside too. At the bottom of the pile was a sealed envelope with his first name on it. The handwriting was Amelia's distinctive scrawl and Blair's hands shook a little as he held it. He put the folder on the table beside the couch and settled back with the envelope. He slit the seal with his thumbnail and pulled the single sheet out. After a moment he put the envelope aside too and unfolded the paper. His name was written at the top and her signature sprawled along the bottom. Blair traced her name with his finger for a moment, then shook himself and began to read. From the date this had been written a few days after Thomas had been born.

Blair,

I guess if you're reading this then I'm no longer around and you have our son, Thomas Sandburg. I gave him your name, Teddy Blair - you are a part of him even if you never knew he existed until now. I'll tell him all about you Teddy - how you are smart and funny and loving and generous. He's going to know who you are - even though you don't know him. It's the least I can do.

I guess you also want to know why I did it - why I kept Thomas a secret from you.

It's hard to write this Teddy. I loved you - part of me always will because you gave Thomas to me. Please don't think I didn't want our baby - because I do. I want to be a mother more than anything. I just didn't want you.

I knew that if I told you I was pregnant that you'd move heaven and earth for me - but that isn't what this is about. It's not your fault Teddy, don't think I was some poor woman left to be humiliated and raise her mistake on her own. I did this.

I lied about the pill and I put a pin through every condom we ever bought - see Teddy, I wanted a baby, really. I just didn't want a husband. You were a great lover and I'll always remember that. But we were from different worlds and while yours was fun to live in for a while I always knew I'd go back to mine.

When Mother and Father brought me home I already knew I was pregnant. I waited until I was showing to tell them and they agreed with my wish not to tell you. They didn't mind that Thomas wouldn't have a father - and this way they could still see me marry one of their eligible bachelors. We all got what we wanted - kind of a win/win scenario. Remember how we used to debate those?

You have every right to be mad at me Teddy, but remember I loved you.

Take care of our son. If I'm not there to do it I know you will. And I know he'll have everything he ever needs as long as he's with you - you'll raise our baby to be smart and funny and loving and generous. Just like you.

Kiss Thomas and tell him mother loves him,

Amelia Milton

Blair put the letter down on top of the pile of documents and closed the folder. He took a deep breath and bolted to the toilet, heaving and retching until he was empty

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

Amelia's car was a golden coloured limited edition Subaru WRX - a sports car, with all the trimmings. There was a child's car seat in the back, plain and matching the interior trim. The engine hummed to life at a touch and Blair thanked the building valet before getting in. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves, then drove out into the New York traffic. The car smelt new and was spotless inside and out. The low mileage spoke of its newness and Blair handled it carefully as he wound through the busy traffic across town to the Miltons own penthouse on Long Island.

Once he'd stopped dry heaving Blair had cleaned up and changed. The shower had washed away his tears and let him scream out some of his anger and pain. He'd brought along some formal wear, expertly packed to avoid wrinkles and Blair had dressed in that for the dinner. Dark trousers and a green silk shirt under his black leather jacket were dressy enough to please the Miltons without making Blair too uncomfortable. He'd pulled his hair back again.

He'd desperately wanted to call Jim before he left, but had decided not to. Jim would still be at work and Blair had left a message on the machine at home from the airport to let his friend know he'd landed safely. Besides Blair had a feeling that his friend's kind words and support would let him lose it completely and the last thing Thomas needed was a basket case for a father. He'd call the loft tomorrow and leave the penthouses telephone number on the machine for Jim. He'd also call Simon and do the same; the Captain had asked him to keep in touch and Blair was grateful for the support.

Blair used Amelia's pass card to get into the parking garage and pulled up into a spot marked visitors. He followed the signs to the lift and signed in with the security guard stationed there. He was announced and approved, put into the lift and sent on his way all in a matter of minutes. Blair practiced some meditation on the ride up, and when the doors opened he was calm and centered. The lift let him out into a small lobby that had only one door. It was tiled and lined with carefully shaped shrubs. The door opened as he walked towards it and Mr. Milton met Blair.

Milton was tall and portly. He had the complexion of a man who frequently enjoyed a heavy meal followed by brandy and cigars. His dark suit was formally styled and cut to minimize his figure. An old fashioned gold watch chain gleamed on his waistcoat and the shine on his shoes would have impressed even Jim Ellison's standards.

"Mr. Milton, I'm so sorry for your loss," Blair said it gently, hoping to ease past Amelia's death gracefully. Milton raked his glance over Blair and grunted. His belly bounced at the sound and his face reddened a little. Their last meeting had not been pleasant - Milton had decimated Blair, running down a long list of his faults from the way he looked to his parentage. The fact that the man he had been ranting at was ten times smarter than his own perfect child had only added an edge to the diatribe. Blair had been the perfect gentleman for Amelia's sake and let it all go; though it was one of the reasons he hadn't been too upset when Amelia lost touch with him.

"Yes, well," Milton sniffed and turned around, heading back inside, leaving Blair to follow. Blair shut the front door and followed his host into a large room with couches and chairs. It was full of antiques - the furniture, the art, the floor coverings and the ornaments all spoke of money and age. Mrs. Milton sat in a chair by the window, wearing a dark evening gown; her blonde hair elaborately styled. She was thin tanned, yet she seemed brittle despite the elegance of her posture. Blair was waved over by her husband and he again offered his condolences. She rebuffed him with a sniff and Blair swallowed a sigh. It was going to be a long night - the last thing he needed was to argue with these people in front of his son.

Mrs. Milton stood and walked over to the mantle to press a button with one manicured finger. A young woman in maids' uniform answered the call. Blair controlled his desire to gape - surely no one lived like this?

"Fetch Thomas from his room Claris," Mrs. Milton ordered and received a nod in reply. The girl walked away silently to return a few minutes later with Thomas in tow. The curly haired boy wore a dark suit and leather shoes. His face was solemn, and very sad. He stood perfectly still beside Claris, not looking around or smiling at his grandparents.

"Good evening Thomas," Mrs. Milton said quietly, "You may go Claris."

"Good evening Grandmother, good evening Grandfather," Thomas replied. His voice was soft and without inflection. It was a chilling imitation of his grandparents, but they seemed pleased with it. It sent shivers down Blair's spine.

"Thomas your father has come," Milton announced and waved a hand at Blair, "Remember what I told you boy."

Thomas walked over to Blair, who smiled and got down on his knees to be the same height. Before he could do anything else Thomas held out his hand and said in his unanimated voice,

"Pleased to meet you sir."

Blair took the hand that was offered in reflex and Thomas shook his father's hand. Before Blair could respond Claris appeared again and announced dinner.

"Go with Claris and wash your hands boy," Milton commanded and Thomas turned, walked to the maid and put his hand up, waiting for it to be taken so he could be led from the room. Blair stayed frozen on his knees as his son was led away without a backward glance.

The idea of leaving his son in this place for another night or even a meal revolted Blair and he surged up to his feet. If Thomas had shown any desire to be here - a smile or a warm inflection - Blair would not have dreamt of taking him away from familiar faces so soon. But his son was an automated doll in this house - programmed to respond to commands with rote words and actions. Blair's suspicions about Amelia's penthouse returned full force and gave his anger voice.

"Thank you for looking after Thomas. We'll be on our way now," he grated out and hurried to the hallway, not even waiting for a reply. Claris was emerging from a room further down the hall and Blair hurried to her side.

"Where is his room?" Blair demanded and stooped, swinging his son up into his arms. She gaped and then turned, pointing further down the hall. Blair held Thomas close and felt a small hand latch onto his jacket as he hurried to the room. It was sterile and cold. A single bear sat on the pillow and Blair snatched it up, handing it to Thomas before pocketing the brush and comb on the dresser. A few suits hung in the closet - Blair left them there. He strode back into the hall and out the front door; no one watched them leave.

Blair drove back to the penthouse without stopping. Thomas was silent and withdrawn, the bear clutched in his lap. When Blair finally parked and got out of the car tears were tracking slowly down his son's face. The sight melted Blair and he undid the seatbelt quickly, lifting his son out and cradling him to his chest.

"You poor kid," Blair crooned, "It's ok, sweetie. You're ok. I'm here; I've got you. It's all right now."

Keeping up the flow of words Blair got them upstairs and onto the couch. The tears slowed and stopped after a little while and Blair wiped his son's face gently. He kept up the rocking and movement of his hands and Thomas leant into him tiredly. The child pushed the bear away and turned his body into Blair's a little, curling up a bit into the warm body.

"Are you hungry sweetie?" Blair asked gently and felt the nod. He got up and carried his son into the kitchen, deposited him on the counter top and left a hand on his shoulder while he reached for a can of expensive soup. The can opener was automatic and Blair lifted Thomas back onto his hip while he heated the soup on the stove and toasted some of the fresh bread. They sat in the dining room for dinner - with Thomas on Blair's lap, too tired to feed himself.

When dinner was over Blair carried Thomas to his room and undressed him, pulling the warm pajamas from under the pillow on and tucking his son in. He sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed the curls gently until Thomas was asleep. Then Blair cleaned the kitchen up and fell asleep on the couch; curled under a quilt he'd found in the linen press. His computer sat unused in his backpack - there would be no concentrating on the thesis tonight.

The unfamiliar angle of the morning sunlight woke Blair early and he got up slowly. Deciding he needed caffeine to survive what was going to be a very long day, Blair went into the kitchen and started the coffee machine before heading to his son's room. Bright blue eyes peeped at him as the door opened and Blair smiled, coming in to sit on the bottom of the bed.

"Good morning," he said cheerfully. Thomas sat up slowly and Blair grinned at the wildly tousled curls and sleepy expression.

"Good morning sir," Thomas replied dutifully and Blair frowned a little.

"Don't call me that," he blurted, and Thomas' eyes widened, Blair scooted closer and hugged his son. Small hands clutched the ratty shirt Blair wore in winter to sleep. The penthouse had excellent central heating, but Blair just couldn't sleep in short things in winter. Jim teased him about it all the time, but Blair just retorted that not everyone could dial the cold down and then started mentioning tests. Jim shut up pretty quickly then.

"It's ok sweetie, I'm not mad, Shhh," Blair crooned and brushed the curls back, "It's just …I'm not a sir, I'm your father. Did your grandfather say you should call me that?"

Thomas nodded against Blair's chest and Blair sighed.

"I think it would be better if you didn't," he said feeling a little lost. He was called many things but no one, not even his students, called him sir - at Blair's insistence.

"So what should I call you?" Thomas frowned up at Blair and Blair smiled back. He dropped a kiss on his son's face and held him close again, rocking a little. He'd wondered about this himself and decided to let Thomas choose a name his son was comfortable with.

"Well there are lots of names you can call me - from all over the world. How about I tell you some and you can choose?"

When Thomas nodded Blair started listing the names slowly, telling his son a little about where they came from and who used them. Thomas watched his face closely, an arm around Blair's neck and his other hand latched in Blair's shirtfront.

"That one!" Thomas exclaimed a few minutes later, "I'll call you that - it sounds nice."

"Which one sweetie?" Blair asked, "What's my name?"

"Da. Your name is Da," Thomas smiled and hugged Blair. Blair hugged him back and then asked a question that had occurred to him.

"What's your name? What would you like Da to call you?" Blair asked and the arms around his neck tightened a little. The boy pressed his face into Blair's shoulder and Blair stroked his hair gently.

"Tommy," the voice was muffled but understandable, "Can you call me Tommy?"

"Tommy," Blair said warmly and they were quiet. Blair was wondering how to bring up the idea of breakfast when Tommy's stomach growled loudly. Blair laughed and Tommy giggled.

"Oh no it's a monster save me save me," Blair laughed as the stomach growled again. Tommy giggled and growled too.

"I guess I'd better feed you before you eat me, huh?" Blair stood up, and carried his giggling son to the kitchen. He pulled the small stepstool from the pantry into the kitchen and placed it in front of the counter. Then he led a hunt through the kitchen for the frying pan. He called for the wooden spoon like you would a cat and followed Tommy on an expedition for the eggs. He quickly gathered the rest of the things needed for scrambled eggs and stood his son on the stool. He broke the eggs into the bowl and showed Tommy how to beat them. His son did that while Blair pulled out the toaster and dropped some bread in, ready to be toasted. Cautioning Tommy about the stove and making him promise not to do this alone, Blair heated the frying pan and poured the eggs in. He showed Tommy how to stir them so they'd scramble and started the toaster.

Tommy got his first lesson in buttering toast while Blair finished scrambling the eggs and they carried their plates into the breakfast nook to eat. After breakfast Blair cleaned up the kitchen while Tommy sat on the counter beside the sink. A foam fight followed and Blair had to clean the kitchen again before taking his grinning son into the bathroom.

A bit of experimentation with the shower sprays and then they both climbed in. Tommy watched his father closely and copied what Blair did, then sat on the floor and played with a sponge while Blair shaved. He'd learnt to shave without a mirror while on expedition - beards in the jungle itched - and his warehouse didn't have a mirror in the bathroom. Nor did the shower in the loft and Blair found it quicker to shave and shower at the same time, rather than using the basin and mirror. Blair finished, turned the water off and got out, knotting a towel around his waist before crouching down to dry Tommy. The towel was almost as wide as Tommy was tall so Blair wrapped it around his son, covering his head as well and then pretended to lose him, calling for Tommy and opening the cabinet drawers and doors loudly while Tommy stood still and giggled madly.

Blair finally found his son and swept him into his bedroom to get dressed. Faced with a suit Tommy shut down a little, the smile fading away quickly. Blair bit his lip, tugged the trousers and a shirt on, ignoring the tie and jacket. Then he retrieved a pair of jeans and a few shirts from his duffel in the hall and dressed too.

"Ok, kiddo," Blair pulled Tommy into his lap and smiled, "Time for a talk."

"Did I do something bad?" Tommy asked in a subdued voice and Blair shook his head, dropping a kiss on Tommy's temple. The touch starved child leaned into him and Blair wrapped his arms around the small body gently.

"You aren't a bad boy, Tommy," Blair squeezed a little, "I just need to tell you what's going to happen now. You know I don't live here right?"

Tommy nodded, latching a hand into Blair's layers of shirts and Blair smiled at him gently. His son definitely wanted contact with others - and after last night Blair was determined that he'd get it. Jim was a toucher too - they'd get along great in that department.

"You live in Cascade," Tommy said softly, "Mother said so."

"Yep, your Da lives in Cascade," Blair nodded, "And so do you now. We're gonna stay here for just a little while longer for a holiday and then you and me are packing up and heading to Cascade. Do you think you'd like that?"

"Yes," Tommy clutched tighter; "Will Grandmother and Grandfather be there too?"

"No," Blair wondered why the boy was so loyal to two cold adults, but put the thought aside, "They live here in New York. But I'll tell you who will be there … your Uncle Jim."

"I have an Uncle Jim?" Tommy brightened a little and Blair felt a fond smile cross his face at the thought of his friend. He nodded at Tommy.

"In fact Uncle Jim and I share an apartment. It's a little small, but we're going to make it bigger so we can all live together. He's really excited to meet you," Blair assured the boy and got a small smile. An idea hit Blair and he sat up a little, "Hey! I was going to call Uncle Jim and tell him the phone number here. Would you like to do that with me? And I was supposed to call your Uncle Simon too - we can do that too. Then we're going to go get you some new clothes, ok? Phone the Uncles and clothes - that's the plan."

"The plan," Tommy echoed and Blair put him on the couch and went to get the cordless phone from the kitchen. Tommy climbed back into his lap the moment he sat down and Blair snuggled him close before rehearsing the message to be left on the machine with his son. He dialed home and listened to the machine pick up before pressing the phone lightly to Tommy's ear. Tommy exclaimed that he could hear Blair after the machine beeped and Blair laughed, urging him to say his message. They hung up and Blair rehearsed the message to Simon before dialing again.

"He has a grr voice," Tommy commented, "Hello Uncle Simon this is Tommy. You can call Da and me on…"

Blair waited until Tommy said goodbye to the machine and then hung up, praising his son and hugging him.

"Ok, Genius," Blair grinned, "I want you to go to the bathroom and then we're going to get some…. What was it again?"

"Clothes," Tommy said firmly, "Da, you forgot the plan."

"Good thing I have such a smart son then," Blair chuckled and put him down, "Scoot along now."

With Tommy in the bathroom Blair raided the toys on the shelf for a coloring book, story book and a couple of small cars to put in his backpack. He was no child psychologist, but he knew it was better to have something to keep his son occupied with along just in case. His pencil case had enough highlighters and pencils to be useful in the coloring in book - which was pristine. He snagged a pair of leather lace up shoes - the softest he could find and was ready for Tommy when he got out.

Blair checked he had all the keys he'd need and called down to Reception for the car. Then he swung Tommy up on one hip, his backpack over the other shoulder and headed out.

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

The shopping center they went to was huge. Blair wrote down the floor, colour, number and letter of their parking space - he didn't want to lose the car - and then headed into the busy space. Noise from thousands of voices and the ever-present muzak echoed around the multi-story building. Bright colors clashed for attention and people thronged at varying speeds along the walkways.

Jim would go nuts in here, Blair thought as he walked along through the crowds. He spotted the department store he wanted and headed in, glancing at the directory as he passed it.

"Ok, clothes," Blair announced in ladies' underwear, "Is this the right spot?"

Tommy giggled and shook his head.

"This is mothers' stuff," his son announced and Blair nodded thoughtfully, walked a bit further along into men's wear and stopped, looking around.

"How about this? It's not mothers' stuff," Blair pretended to hold a shirt up that would have fit Jim to measure it against Tommy.

"It's Da stuff," Tommy protested. Blair put the shirt back and looked puzzled.

"So what do you need?" he asked, and Tommy frowned, thinking hard. His face cleared and he beamed as if he'd solved a riddle. Blair held his breath to see what his son would come out with.

"I need Tommy stuff!" he announced and Blair laughed, bounced his son on his hip in congratulations and set off for the boy's wear. Once they got to the right area he put Tommy down and crouched in front of his son for a moment.

"I want you to hang onto me so we don't get lost ok? And if you see something you like let me know and we'll try it on," Blair smiled and Tommy nodded, looking around at all the bright colors. Blair stood up and Tommy grabbed his jeans just above his knee. They walked slowly, with Blair snagging the occasional shirt. When they reached the trousers Blair quickly selected a few pairs of jeans in blue and black and some cargo pants in the right size. Tommy fingered some navy corduroy pants and Blair added them to his selection with a smile. This seemed to free Tommy from whatever had been restraining him and he practically dragged his Da back to the shirts to pick out a few in various colors. Blair had found a duffel coat in the closet by the door this morning - Tommy would get plenty of wear out of it, so he didn't need a new coat. They reached a selection of wool sweaters and Tommy ran his hands over them all before selecting three. Blair was careful to encourage colors that would mix well together, without discouraging his son. Tommy was quick to pick this up and he held several of his selections against the things Blair already held to match or discard them. He talked non-stop the whole time and Blair soaked up every word - proof that his son was still in there under the solemn façade.

The change room was a real adventure for Tommy as Blair struggled to make sure everything would fit and was good quality for a growing boy. Once everything had been tried and approved they headed for the shoe section. Blair found a pair of sneakers with blue trimming to fit Tommy who insisted on carrying them as they headed to the checkout.

Blair's emergency credit card took a beating at the checkout, but for once the anthropologist didn't mind - nothing was too good for his son. They went back to the car with all the bulging bags and Blair put them in the trunk before turning to Tommy.

"Alright sweetie, let's get you into some normal clothes. Pick out what you'd like to wear and we'll go get changed," Blair ordered and held Tommy up so he could go through the bags. Tommy dug out the sneakers first and Blair put them to one side while his son fished for the navy corduroy trousers and a dark green sweater in a cable knit that Blair had chosen. Selection over, Blair put his son in the trunk and changed his shoes straight away before picking up the trousers and sweater and starting to close the trunk.

"Da! I'm still here!" Tommy scolded and Blair opened it up again grinning at the frowning face.

"Gotcha," Blair chortled and swung Tommy onto his hip. He grabbed his bag, stuffed the clothes in and headed back into the mall. There was a mother breastfeeding in the parents' room, but Blair ignored her to deposit Tommy on a couch and cut the tags from the clothes. Tommy wriggled about in excitement, making things a lot harder, but after a lot of perseverance and a few quiet words Blair got him dressed and back in his sneakers. Blair caught his breath a little. Gone was the stiff figure in adult clothes - Tommy looked like any kid dressed warmly for winter in the jumper and navy corduroy.

"Whew!" Blair wiped his brow, "All done. Ok, sweetie - go look."

He folded away the dress shirt and suit trousers, putting them into the backpack and zipping it up before turning to see why his son was so quiet. Tommy was standing in front of the wall mirror, smudged with the hand marks of many other children, staring at his reflection. He was crying.

"Tommy!" Blair exclaimed and knelt beside him, "Sweetie - what's wrong?"

"That's me," Tommy whispered and touched his reflection, "I look like the other kids now."

He threw his arms around Blair's neck and Blair carried him back to the couch.

"Da's here baby, it's ok," Blair sighed and tried hard not to think ill of the dead. He patted Tommy's back until the tears stopped and then sat quietly for a few minutes.

"Are you hungry Tommy?" Blair asked and Tommy nodded, "Let's wash up and go get something to eat huh? Then we can explore the mall for a bit."

He washed his son's face and their hands, then - in a move that was becoming so practiced as to be second nature - swung his son and his bag into place and headed past the mother for the food court.

A bit of fast talking at the natural food stand got them an apple each, cut into quarters and a banana smoothie to share. Fortified by the fruit Tommy cheered up and started looking around, asking questions and pointing at things that caught his attention. Blair took them window shopping, then found a bookstore that was holding a story time for children and sat them both down at the back to listen to a story about dragons. Tommy pulled his father over to the children's section and found another book on dragons and one about a mad professor that Blair bought happily and tucked into the backpack.

Lunch was sandwiches from a salad bar and more fruit juice - which prompted a stop at the men's room. Tommy was happy to walk for a while after that, his hand clutched in Blair's - neither one willing to separate for too long. They found a toy store and came away with a coloring in book full of dragons and a rubber duck. The other toys hadn't really interested Tommy, to Blair's secret relief. His credit card couldn't take another hit like this morning.

Blair stopped at the tourist information desk for a few brochures and then carried a now very sleepy young man out to the car. Tommy slept all the way home and didn't wake when Blair carried him up to the penthouse and put him on the couch. He pulled the quilt he'd used last night over his son and took the phone out to the patio, leaving the door ajar to hear if his son called.

He called Fuller, left a message with the PA and tugged his coat closer around his body as he sat in one of the chairs out there. The day had started warmly enough, and they'd only really braved the weather once or twice, but now it was clouding over - there was snow on the way. Blair drew his legs up and looked out across the city. He folded his body into a half lotus and focussed on his breathing. Time slipped by without mark until the phone rang.

"Sandburg," Blair said absently, "Oh hello Mr. Fuller. Thank you for returning my call … yes he's here - he's asleep at the moment … You said that I had full custody and could … I felt it more important that Tommy and I get to know each other… yes I've decided what to do with the estate. I'll keep the car and a few things from here and we'll sell the rest. I'll be out of the penthouse by Sunday - you can have appraisers or whatever in on Monday… to Cascade naturally, after all that's where the family is …you heard wrong then. My brother lives in Cascade…yes…They are welcome to visit with a little advance notice …well the next time you see them you can tell them that…oh, come on Mr. Fuller, I've been here with Tommy for a day and I certainly didn't call to tell you I was taking him away from the Miltons…yes well, that's your problem …look I have to go, Tommy's waking up…yes, I'll be in touch …goodbye."

Blair hung up the phone and went back inside. Tommy sat up and looked around. He was sleep mussed again and Blair sat next to him, smiling at his gorgeous son. He tugged the quilt down a little and Tommy yawned.

"Hello you," Blair reached out to push Tommy's hair back from his eyes.

"H'lo. We're here," Tommy looked around and Blair smiled.

"Yep. You went to sleep and Da carried you up here," Blair stood and folded the quilt, "Want to keep me company while I cook dinner? You can colour in your book if you like."

Tommy got up and followed Blair into the kitchen, still half asleep. He accepted a glass of milk and the package from the toy store. Blair had included some colour pencils in their purchase and Tommy started coloring the first picture slowly and neatly. Blair found a radio and tuned it to an oldie station. He danced around the kitchen as he prepared a simple spaghetti meal, much to Tommy's amusement. They left the radio on while they ate in the breakfast nook and they danced together as they cleaned up the kitchen after dinner. Blair put the TV on in the living room and found a nature documentary to watch while he cut the labels off the clothes the valet had delivered from the car and Tommy sprawled on the rug with his coloring book.

At eight Blair rounded his son up and tucked him into bed. He put the phone on the bedside table and sat against the headboard with Tommy's dragon book. They were halfway through the story when the phone rang and Blair snagged it from the table to answer it.

"Hello," he smiled when he heard the familiar voice and some of the tension in his shoulders eased, "Hello Jim. No it's not too late - we were just reading a story before bed…sure you can, hang on a moment. Tommy, do you want to talk to Uncle Jim?"

Blair handed the phone over and put the book to one side, smiling as his son said hello hesitantly. His answers were soft and hesitant until Jim lucked into asking about the books they'd bought. Then he was talking a mile a minute, only winding down when a yawn threatened to split his head in half. He nodded and handed the phone back up to Blair before scooting down in bed a little. Blair stroked his hair as he lifted the phone back to his own ear.

"Jim? I'll call you back, ok," Blair said quietly, "He's almost asleep."

"I'll be here," Jim rumbled comfortingly and Blair hung up. He switched the lamp off and sat in the dark until Tommy let go and relaxed into sleep.

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

Tommy played with the rubber duck and the sponge while Blair shaved the next morning. They put the radio on to make breakfast - Blair's special oatmeal with raisins. Tommy danced around the kitchen while Blair cleaned up after breakfast and then raced down the hall to pick what clothes he'd wear that day. The navy corduroy made another appearance - and Blair realised that he'd just encountered one of the many parent pit-falls, the 'favorite clothes'.

Dressed warmly and with the new coloring book in Blair's pack, father and son headed out for the car again.

"Where are we going Da?" Tommy asked as Blair pulled away from the curb and steered the car along the avenue. Blair flicked a glance at his son in the mirror and smiled. The curly head was twisting from side to side, looking out the windows and his sneaker-clad feet were kicking with unconscious energy. His face had lost its' solemn mask and his blue eyes sparkled with interest.

"It's a surprise - but you can try to guess it if you like," Blair challenged and grinned as Tommy actually bounced. That little mannerism would have Jim in stitches - Jim always seemed to grin when Blair bounced, on Tommy it was adorable.

"Okay, I know! We're going to Cascade!" Tommy clapped his hands. Blair shook his head, and concentrated on the traffic.

"Not for a little while yet, short stuff! Try again!" Blair encouraged, and Tommy wriggled all over like an excited puppy.

"But I want to see Uncle Jim!" Tommy protested and Blair grinned in the mirror at his son.

"I have a photo in my wallet and it won't be too long - just a few more sleeps, ok sweetie? I'll show you the photo as soon as we get there."

"Promise?" Tommy leaned forward and Blair turned a little, glad the light was red so he could face his son for a moment.

"I promise, sweetie, as soon as we get there. Now - what's your next guess?"

Tommy nodded and smiled at his Da before looking out the window again. Blair turned back and eased the car forward, enjoying the smooth responsiveness of the gears and steering. He'd asked Jim to get the Volvo valued last night - with a child to care for reliable transport was a must, so the 'classic' had to go.

"Umm, ok I know to the mall!" Tommy cried, and Blair shook his head.

"Not today, kiddo - we went yesterday remember? Try again."

"The moon?" Tommy suggested with a wicked gleam in his eyes and Blair laughed in surprise. Tommy giggled too, a delightful sound. Blair glanced in the mirror again and smiled, shaking his head.

"Sorry, not today. Maybe some other day huh?" Blair tilted his head a little and then changed lanes, "I'll give you a hint - there are a lot of animals there."

"A farm," Tommy clapped, "With cows and chickens and dogs!"

"Nearly Tommy. These animals are very different to cows and chickens," Blair hinted, "They come from different countries and some are very big, and some are very small. They're all different colors too."

"Umm," Tommy rocked in his seat a little, hands and feet moving as he stared out the window. Blair spotted their turning and changed lanes smoothly, taking the off ramp and following the signs. They passed a billboard with a giraffe and elephant on it and Tommy's eyes widened even further. Blair mused to himself that if his son opened his eyes any more they'd fall right out.

"There! We're going there!" Tommy pointed to the next sign, but didn't seem to know the right word.

"It's called a zoo, sweetie. We're going to see all the animals at the zoo," Blair gave in and Tommy bounced and rocked at the same time, making Blair glad the straps on his son were secure.

The car park was busy and Blair had to park quite a distance from the zoo entrance. He didn't mind the walk, and Tommy would be able to burn off a little of the excited energy in the car park before they got to the entrance. He got out, opened his son's door and undid the straps, standing back to let Tommy out and shouldering his backpack at the same time. Tommy climbed out and helped shut the door before Blair locked the car. He stood with his hands at his sides and an expectant look on his face as Blair pocketed the keys.

"Ready to go short stuff?" Blair grinned and stepped back to let his son out from between the cars. Tommy shook his head.

"You promised," he reminded Blair and Blair had to think for a moment before remembering what he'd promised at the beginning of the trip. He clicked his fingers, dropped to a knee and fished out his wallet. The picture was cut down from a Polaroid taken at one of the departmental softball games. Jim had an arm around Blair and his hand on Simon's shoulder. All three were grinning widely. He turned the wallet around so Tommy could see and pointed as he spoke.

"That's Uncle Jim," Blair pointed, "And that's Uncle Simon, too."

Tommy leant over and scrutinized the picture of the three friends carefully. It was a rare shot and one that Blair loved - his Sentinel was relaxed and happy, their Chief in a playful mood and the Guide off duty. Joel Taggert hadn't meant to take the picture - he'd been trying to reload the camera and it had gone off while pointing at the threesome, who'd been laughing at Henri Brown's antics with Brian Rafe. Joel had put the picture in Blair's pack without looking at it and Blair had found it later when he was cleaning the pack out. He'd cut it down on the spot and stuck it into his wallet. Every time he saw the photo it made him smile. Tommy traced Jim's face with a cautious finger and smiled up at his Da.

"He's big!" Tommy said softly and Blair grinned, echoing the touch before putting the wallet away.

"He's strong and smart too," Blair's pride in his friends' accomplishments showed in his voice. Tommy leaned in for a hug and then Blair stood, "Catch hold Tommy and we'll go see what kind of animals live in the zoo. Don't let go no matter what, ok?"

"Ok Da," Tommy grasped Blair's jeans in one hand and they walked towards the entrance. Once inside Blair swung Tommy up onto his hip and glanced at the brightly colored map just inside the entrance. He'd never been to zoo as a kid - he'd gone in college to the one in Cascade, which was quite good. Blair preferred to see the animals in their native habitat, but understood the need for conservation efforts the zoos were making nowadays. One day Tommy would have the chance to travel to the wild to see these animals - Blair was a wanderer at heart and planned to give Tommy the same opportunity to experience different cultures and places once he was older and more settled at home. This was more of a pipe dream at the moment, but Blair liked that kind of dream: it was something to work towards. Maybe Jim could be persuaded to come too - a family safari.

"What does it say Da?" Tommy asked, touching the coloured map with a finger. Blair came back to the present and smiled at his son. Tommy's duffel was bunched up, lending a comical air to the boy.

"Each colour is for a different country, Tommy - and the animals that live in it. There's Africa, and Thailand and Australia and New Zealand," Blair pointed to each area and Tommy frowned.

"What animals live there?" he asked, looking at Blair seriously, "How do we know where to go?"

"Well, we can plan which ones we want to see and follow the map from one place to the other or…" Blair trailed off mysteriously and Tommy clutched his jacket lapel in excitement. Blair was glad that the leather was tough or it would have been pulled seriously out of shape.

"What Da?" Tommy asked breathlessly and Blair gave him a secret smile. He leaned in to whisper in Tommy's ear.

"Or we can go and explore," Blair whispered. Tommy started bouncing on his hip and pulling on his jacket. Oh yeah - Jim would have a field day with that mannerism.

"Explore! Let's explore!" Tommy cried and Blair swung Tommy to the ground. Tommy latched onto the jeans without being told and Blair shaded his eyes like an explorer would, looking left and right carefully.

"Which way, oh brave and fearless leader?" Blair asked his son, who copied his movement for a moment and then pointed decidedly.

"That way!"

"That way it is!" Blair cried and they were off.

They wandered up and down paths for hours, looking at the animals and talking. Blair read out the information and then added his own knowledge and experiences. He'd met a lot of animals on his travels and had collected a lot of second and third hand stories too. The pair drew the attention of other parents and patrons as they laughed and chattered. Tommy kept one hand firmly latched on Blair's jeans at all times, unless he was being carried - then the hand was attached to Blair's collar.

The elephants astounded the little boy, who was amazed that something so big could also be so quiet - until one let out a huge trumpet at the tourists and waved its trunk. Blair told Tommy about the mahouts and how they loved and cared for their elephants and also about the elephant Gods from India. The polar bears barely rated a glance, and the tigers were examined from head to toe before being pronounced 'too much like Grandmother's cat'. Blair caught several patrons around him swallowing laughter at that little gem and hand to rub his mouth to keep from laughing too.

The black jaguars got a special mention from Blair, and Tommy loved the lions and their new cubs, which were tousling on the grass of their large enclosure. They spent a lot of time in the aviary where the birds from rainforests all over the world flew fairly freely. The Australian Parakeets had been domesticated and would sit on your arms to be fed seed from your hands, making their odd noises as they did. Blair had bought a disposable camera at the entrance and took several pictures of Tommy and the birds together.

They got to the giraffes' enclosure and Tommy was captivated. Something about the graceful yet ungainly animals fascinated him, and Blair took a picture of Tommy pointing to one of the animals as it came close. He had to restrain his son from climbing up on the rail and leaning over, much to Tommy's indignation. Any conflict was headed off at the pass by a loud growl from the young explorer's stomach and Blair promised to come back with his son before they left.

They bought hotdogs from a dispenser and sat on a bench near the gift shop to eat them. This necessitated a visit inside and while Tommy was looking at a selection of plush toys Blair found a book of animal legends from around the world and another of the animals they'd seen in their natural habitats. He glanced over in time to see Tommy finger a brightly coloured giraffe - one of those made from natural fibre, roughly woven and dyed various colors. Tommy put his hand in his pocket and then went to watch a nearby zoo employee bend balloons into animal shapes. Blair picked up the giraffe and glanced at the One World label. It had been made from all traditional and natural fibres and the sale would go towards the people who made it. But most importantly it was a giraffe and Tommy had wanted it. Blair made his purchases quickly and put them into his pack. The giraffe had to bend its neck a little, but it fit in the pack well enough.

They went to the monkeys and apes next. The Barbary Apes inspired the edited tale of how Da came to live with Uncle Jim, and had Tommy laughing hard. The gorillas fascinated the boy and Blair got a great shot of Tommy mimicking the alpha male's posture. Most of the afternoon was spent with the primates - they were too funny to just glance at - and Blair only succeeded in luring his son away with promises of animals he could touch.

The petting enclosure was - to put it mildly - a zoo as kids and parents dashed everywhere. Tommy loved the larger animals and scorned the traditional fluffy lamb and ducklings. He proudly rode a camel and Blair took pictures for 'Uncle Jim to see when we get to Cascade Da!'

He was persuaded with difficulty that Uncle Jim would not like them to bring home a nice carpet python - even one without teeth. He had to settle for taking a picture of the python draped over Da like a living scarf, and one of the attendants took a picture of them both holding the python and grinning.

A final trip back to the giraffes via the rhino enclosure-with Tommy in his father's arms now as the excitement caught up with him - and then Blair headed back to the car. Tommy let his head rest on Blair's shoulder and Blair talked quietly of all the things they had seen. It would take several visits for them to see the whole zoo properly, but the little boy had seen all he wanted and the time spent together was more precious to Blair than a complete tour of the zoo.

"Ugh," Blair groaned as he put his pack on the car seat next to Tommy, "That got heavy!"

Tommy looked at the pack and then back at his Da curiously. Blair rubbed his chin and frowned in thought.

"You don't think one of the animals climbed in when we weren't looking, do you?" he asked his son seriously and was delighted when Tommy considered the idea carefully.

"It would have to be a small animal Da," Tommy pointed out and Blair nodded.

"Or a magical one," he agreed, "Should we open it and look inside?"

"I will!" Tommy reached over and tugged on the zipper. The giraffe's neck straightened as it was freed from the zipper, making the head pop out of the pack suddenly. Tommy gave a shout and snatched the toy from the bag, hugging it to his chest. Blair smiled and stroked the chestnut curls.

"He must have liked you as much as you liked him. A magic giraffe!" Blair fooled and was rewarded with a hug and a damp face buried in the crook of his neck. The giraffe was squashed between them.

"Love you," Tommy whispered and Blair tightened his hold for a moment.

"Love you too, Tommy. Always," Blair blinked back a few tears of his own and smiled for Tommy when the boy looked up at him, "What are we going to call your magic giraffe?"

"Raffey," Tommy replied as he was belted in. The boy was asleep before they got out of the car park; Raffey clutched tightly to his chest.

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

After what had become their morning routine of breakfast shower and dress, Blair spent some time making calls to Fuller and the rail freight company. He booked the Subaru on a freight train heading to Cascade on Sunday morning - the best way to get the car there without driving it himself. He also confirmed his booking on the flight back to Cascade with Tommy and Jim - the Sentinel had declared his intention to fly down on Friday night and return with them on Sunday. They were going to pack the things Blair wanted to take back to Cascade on Saturday and load them into the Subaru - no point in paying two freight charges to Cascade when the roomy car would fit what they needed. Tommy's toys, clothes and a few pictures would come back on the plane with them, as it would take several days for the car to arrive.

Tommy and Raffey occupied themselves on the rug with the photo journal that Blair had bought at the zoo. Raffey had yet to stray far from Tommy's side - though Blair had managed to persuade the boy to leave the toy on the basin during their morning shower. Blair came and sprawled on the rug beside his son, and they looked at the pictures together. They would have to visit the lawyers this afternoon to sign some papers and finalize Blair's instructions for the sale of the penthouse and its contents. That didn't leave much time for playing today, and Blair was thinking about a picnic in the park when Tommy spoke up.

"Da - how did the first explorers make pictures of the animals? Did they have cameras too?"

He was looking at a picture of a giraffe at the time, and leaning Raffey over to see too. Blair propped himself up a bit more and smiled at the sight.

"Da?" Tommy looked up and Blair reminded himself of the question quickly.

"Um, they drew pictures of what they saw and wrote descriptions in their journals, mostly," Blair replied, "Sometimes they caught an animal and brought it back - but a lot of them didn't make it."

"They died?" Tommy looked up sharply and Blair just nodded, stroking his son's arm and waiting to see where this would take them. Tommy bit his lip and hugged his toy close.

"It's ok to be sad sweetie," Blair said and draped an arm over his son. Tommy leaned into him for a little while and Blair decided to distract him with the original topic.

"They still have the pictures the first explorers drew and their journals too," Blair smiled at the solemn face that looked up at him, "They're on display in the Natural History Museum. Would you like to go see them?"

It worked and Tommy smiled happily, jumping up and picking Raffey up off the floor.

"Now?" he asked eagerly and Blair grinned, getting up too. He headed for the door, book in hand.

"Right now. Leave Raffey with me and go visit the bathroom, little man. Then get your sneakers. I'll put Raffey at the door with my bag," Blair held out a hand and Raffey was reluctantly handed over before Tommy scampered off. Blair had managed to hide the navy corduroy last night and Tommy had selected a pair of jeans to wear instead. Blair would run a wash on Saturday to avoid packing dirty clothes back to Cascade. Jim was bringing suitcases with him for Tommy's clothes and a few toys, so Blair didn't need to worry too much about that.

Blair called down for the car and then packed a few light snacks in his pack. The coloring book, pencils and cars were still in there and he added the book, perching Raffey on guard on top of the pack. Tommy hurried out of his room sneakers in hand, and grinned when he saw the giraffe balancing on the pack. Getting him to sit still so the sneakers could be put on and tied was tricky, and Blair had to threaten to leave Raffey behind before his excited son would calm down enough to get properly dressed. They put their coats on and Blair picked up his boy and bag and headed down to the ground floor.

Parking was a trial, but they finally managed to get into the museum. Blair carried Tommy from exhibit to exhibit - it was not a short persons display - and read out the information at each place. Tommy was curious how they got the animals to stand still long enough to be drawn and Blair had to explain the idea of quick sketches and good memories.

"And sometimes they got it wrong," Blair added, "That's supposed to be a wolf. It doesn't look anything like a real wolf, but the man drawing it was excited."

"The wolves at the zoo were different," Tommy agreed, "They weren't ugly like that."

The comment earned them a few smiles from the people around them and Blair hugged his son to him as they moved on. They avoided the taxonomy exhibit - Blair didn't want to upset his son again and wasn't too comfortable looking at the stuffed animals anyway - and wandered into the dinosaur exhibit. The bones and the accompanying pictures fascinated Tommy. They weren't like anything he'd ever seen and therefore it didn't connect in his mind that these too had once been alive; Blair didn't push the idea. He walked through this exhibit, clutching Blair's knee, as was their custom. They made a game out of what sort of noises the dinosaurs might have made, and then listened to the 'alive' versions as they roared and moved.

Once they finished with the dinosaurs Tommy was hungry enough to be happy to leave and Blair found a sub stand in the nearby park. They ate lunch on a bench and then Blair took Tommy to a playground nearby. He sat on the grass nearby while Tommy and Raffey explored the slide and jungle gym. Raffey gained an admirer - a little girl Tommy's age with almond skin and a freckled nose. Blair was relieved to see his son able to relate casually to another child. At least his upbringing had included that, even if he was a little unsure at times.

After a while Blair lured his son away from the playground and headed for their appointment with Mr. Fuller. The receptionist looked very flustered - obviously children were as out of place as jeans in this office - and the PA looked a little unsure.

"Would you like me to take him during your meeting?" the PA asked, hesitating outside Fuller's door and Tommy shook his head emphatically, clinging tightly to Blair. Blair smiled at his son and the PA.

"It's ok, Tommy has some things to play with while we talk. He'll be just fine, won't you short stuff?"

"I'll be good, Da," Tommy promised and got himself a hug and a kiss.

"I know you will. You're a good boy," Blair reassured Tommy, feeling the hand latched into his collar and the way Tommy was trying to wrap his legs around Blair's body. The PA led them in and Blair shook Fuller's hand, introduced Tommy and placed his son on the floor near the bookcase. Fuller was wearing a charcoal gray suit today with a crisp white shirt. Blair looked positively threadbare beside him, but didn't seem to notice as he pulled all the toys and books out for Tommy before going to sit in the chair opposite Fuller's desk.

They went through everything, with Blair demanding plain English explanations for the documents written in pure legalese. He kept notes and asked questions, not afraid to profess his ignorance in the face of his son's welfare and future. Fuller was kept on his toes - most clients just nodded their head and accepted what he said on face value and trust. The lawyer found it a refreshing change - not that he wanted all his clients to become so demanding.

Jim had suggested they get his lawyer in Cascade to go over everything as well and Blair requested copies of everything be sent to this man's office. Jim had already arranged it with his lawyer - had in fact done so before discussing the option with Blair, surmising correctly that when gentle persuasion failed guilt would succeed.

Three long hours later everything was finally settled and Blair carried a now drooping Tommy out of the office and back to the car. The motion of driving put Tommy to sleep again and Blair had to carry him up to the apartment - reflecting that this was becoming a habit. Not that Blair minded. The sense of trust and love he got from doing this outweighed the weight and worry of carrying a sleeping three-year-old, a full backpack and a toy giraffe.

He settled Tommy on the couch again and went to cook dinner, turning the radio on enough for Tommy to hear when he woke, but not loud enough to disturb his sleep. Dinner was a stir-fry and Tommy wandered in, sniffing the air and trailing Raffey as Blair finished it. He hooked an arm around Blair's knee and peeped up at the stove.

"Hey there short stuff. Feel better?" Blair asked as he stirred the vegetables. Tommy nodded against his leg and leaned a little harder.

"Smells yummy," Tommy yawned, "What is it?"

"Dinner," Blair laughed and turned off the heat. He quickly served two portions and carried them to the nook, Tommy clinging every step of the way. He looked a little sticky and rumpled from the nap, but ate with a good appetite. He pronounced the dinner his favorite and they had ice cream for dessert. Blair washed up and Tommy danced with Raffey to the radio.

"Da," Tommy said as Blair folded the towel - even in New York the Ellison house rules held firm. Blair looked down and smiled.

"Yes sweetie?"

"Feel sticky, and yuck," Tommy frowned and Blair nodded. His son was grubby from the playground and running around and shouldn't go to bed like that. Blair felt sticky too but was planning on a shower once Tommy was asleep.

"How about a bubble bath?" Blair suggested, thinking that they should probably enjoy the spa bath while they had it - inherited fortune or not, Blair couldn't afford one in Cascade, "I think Raffey would love to see you in a bubble bath. And no, he can't swim with you. Giraffes don't have baths, it's a rule."

"Ok," Tommy agreed and walked happily to the bathroom. Blair filled the tub while Tommy sat on the floor and worked out how to undo his shoes carefully and pull them off. He also struggled out of his clothes - Blair watching carefully the whole time to prevent a fall or slip.

There was no bubble bath, so Blair used the body wash he'd brought along from home. He turned the jets on and Tommy watched as the water foamed up and bubbled around the tub.

"In you get," Blair swung his son into the warm water and Tommy splashed around a little. The rubber duck was thrown in and bobbled around madly. The idea of playing in the bath was new to Tommy - evidently he'd been washed and dried in rapid order - so Blair made a game of dunking the duck. After a while he picked up the sponge and gently massaged his son with it, making Tommy sleepy again as the gentle touches and warm water soothed him.

Blair draped a towel over his lap and sat Tommy in it to dry him. A second towel wrapped him up and Raffey was snagged on the way to the bedroom. He managed to get Tommy's pajamas on quickly and then tucked his son up for the night.

"Love you Da," Tommy said in a small voice and Blair kissed him gently.

"Love you too Tommy," Blair waited until the boy's breathing evened out and slowed before heading back to the bathroom. He drained the tub while he showered and then mopped and tidied the bathroom up before heading back out to the couch he'd been using as a bed. His laptop was underneath and he hooked it up to the power before turning it on and beginning the review of the next chapter of his thesis.

Jim had not called tonight - they'd agreed it was better if the detective initiated contact as his schedule was the most erratic - and Blair felt disappointed. He missed the nightly contact with his friend; it was a chance to touch base with another adult and also a chance to check on his Sentinel's health and general well being. Sudden parenthood had not diminished Blair's commitment as a Guide, a commitment he affirmed with Jim in the nightly phone calls.

Blair was disturbed in the middle of his rewrite by the front door chime. House security hadn't called up a guest and Blair wasn't expecting Jim for another twenty-four hours. The detective had decided to catch the red eye to New York on Friday after work to help with the packing on Saturday. Blair glanced at the display - two a.m. He got up, hit the save key and walked quickly to the door. There was a peephole there and he used it - Jim had ingrained that action into him, though they didn't have one at the loft. Blair froze for a moment and then swallowed hard to find his voice.

"What about a password?" he called through the door, grinning like an idiot. His hands fumbled at the locks for a moment before working right and unlocking the door. The train door had been easier to open for suddenly shaky hands.

"It's Ellison," the well-loved voice called and Blair opened the door.

Jim looked exhausted. His eyes were red and he was leaning against the doorjamb. Two suitcases rested on the floor beside him - for Tommy's clothes and toys on Saturday. He grinned back and lunged a little to get upright, straight into Blair's arms. Blair felt Jim pull him close and leaned into his friend, grateful for the warmth and support. Jim buried his face in Blair's hair and they stood still for a moment, reconnecting and familiarizing themselves with each other. Jim's clothes were crumpled and he smelled like an airplane, but Blair didn't care.

"It's so good to see you," Blair sighed, "You're early! How'd you get the time off?"

Jim let him pull back and smiled. The familiar energy thrummed through Blair, making Jim feel more awake than he had for a while.

"Leave without pay," he shrugged and let go, turning to grab a case. Blair ducked under his arm to grab the other one. It was empty so he stashed it in the closet.

"I didn't make your bed yet - I'll do it now," Blair said and turned to hurry down the corridor to get what he'd need. Jim grabbed the back of the sweat pants Blair was wearing and stopped him from moving, grinning again when Blair looked back in confusion.

"Can I look in on my nephew?" Jim not so subtly hinted and Blair smiled.

"Sure you can," he nodded and moved forward a little. Jim let go and shadowed him down the hall to Tommy's room. Blair went in first; standing against the wall to watch as Jim crept forward silently. There was enough light for Blair to see Jim's outline, but to the Sentinel it would be as bright as day. Tommy was lying on his back, blankets across his chest, one arm around Raffey; the other flung over his head. Blair knew from memory that his son's face would be peaceful and angelic in his sleep - he was beautiful and Blair felt a tinge of pride. Jim bent to peer at his nephew and sucked in a breath.

"He looks just like you Chief!" he exclaimed in a whisper, ghosting a hand forward to touch the tousled curls. Blair grinned as Jim stared his fill and then crept back. Blair preceded Jim into the hall and then pulled Tommy's door partially shut. They walked a few steps down before Blair turned to look at Jim's face. Jim looked …awed. As if he couldn't believe what he'd seen.

"He's beautiful," Jim murmured and Blair nodded. He'd felt this awe every time he checked on his sleeping son - and a fierce urge to protect him, as he grew older.

"He's smart too, and funny. You'll love him Jim, I know it," Blair swallowed and turned for the linen closet, "You must be exhausted. I'll get the master bedroom made up for you - it has an en-suite and…"

"I don't want to turn you out of your bed, Sandburg," Jim wisely decided not to press things now - Blair was too emotional to accept any rational discussion of his son's attributes. Blair smiled, opening the closet quietly.

"I've been sleeping on the couch. It's comfortable and not too far when I crash after working on the thesis," Blair explained, "You're not turning me out of anything."

He handed Jim the bed linen and led the way to the master bedroom, flipping on the light switch and crossing to the large bed. The room still looked barren and cold, but Jim liked minimal input at night and this room would suit his needs to a T. Jim looked around from where he stood in the doorway and shook his head.

"No way - this is nasty," Jim frowned, "No wonder you're sleeping on the couch. There's a second one isn't there?"

"The housekeeper's room?" Blair asked, a little confused. He was rapidly approaching his energy limit and would crash soon - Jim or no Jim. Sensing this Jim shook his head and backed out, watching Blair walk towards him and turn off the light.

"A second couch. I …I don't want too big a distance between us tonight," Jim confessed to the quilt and missed the expression on Blair's face. The Sentinel needed time with the Guide nearby after their recent separation. In a way the loft was perfect for them - there were no real barriers to each other in the cunningly designed apartment. It made for an embarrassing lack of privacy sometimes but had also had the effect of forcing them to confront their problems instead of hiding behind physical barriers. Such confrontations were invariably noisy and heated, but had saved their friendship and even their lives more than once.

"Sure, c'mon," Blair led the way to the living room and packed away his work while Jim made a bed on the other couch. He showed Jim the bathroom and then checked the front door again before curling up on his own couch. Jim joined him, wearing the boxers he preferred to sleep in, and draped his robe over the back of the couch. He settled in and shifted around, getting comfortable.

"Good night Chief."

"Good night Jim."

Their voices rang with satisfaction and they fell asleep quickly - Sentinel and Guide reunited.

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

As usual the angle of sunlight across his face woke Blair. He heard Jim shift on the couch and smiled into the quilt. It was just like his friend to work real hard to clear his caseload and come a day earlier - and at the same time keep it from Blair in case things didn't pan out. Blair cracked his eyes open and froze.

Tommy had gotten up earlier than usual this morning and was dressed in his robe and slippers. He had Blair's wallet in his hands and was looking from the picture Blair carried to Jim and back again. Blair hurriedly scrunched his eyes half closed and pretended to be asleep while watching his son. Raffey was leaning against the base of Jim's couch and every now and then Tommy would bend to show the toy the photo. Jim was lying curled on his side, blankets at his waist showing off his bare chest. He looked peaceful in his sleep, his face lax and unguarded, so different than when he was awake. Tommy put the wallet down and tiptoed forward. Blair held his breath as his son reached tentative fingers out to grasp an edge of the blanket and pull it up - evidently thinking Jim would be cold. Jim didn't even stir.

Tommy turned to glance at his father, who shut his eyes and lay still, then collected Raffey and disappeared. Blair opened his eyes again and tracked his son by sound. He glanced at Jim, who was beginning to move as the blanket raised his temperature, and then lifted his head a little in an effort to hear better. Blair grinned when he realised what was happening in the kitchen. Tommy and Raffey were making toast for a surprise breakfast.

Jim opened his eyes and frowned. Blair was awake, despite appearances. Deep blue eyes twinkled at him and his friend's hands made a shushing gesture under his quilt. Jim grinned at his partner. The tilt to his head gave away that he was tuned into whatever Tommy was doing in the kitchen: probably talking to Raffey. Blair couldn't hear it, but that didn't matter - Jim would tell him later. Jim was getting hot, but didn't push the blanket down - he could smell traces of Tommy on the edges closest to him where the boy had held it to tug the cover up. He heard a triumphant exclamation and immediately feigned sleep again; knowing Blair was doing the same.

Tommy very carefully carried three plates in one at a time and put them on the coffee table. Each plate had a creatively buttered piece of toast. Tommy hurried back out and then walked in very slowly with three cups of water from the tap. He finished his third trip and ran back to get Raffey and the fourth piece of toast - evidently the giraffe preferred his plain, as there was no butter on this one.

Tommy approached his uncle slowly and patted the broad chest beneath its blanket. Jim stirred a little and then sighed, pretending to go back to sleep.

"Uncle Jim!" Tommy whispered, "Wake up, Uncle Jim. I made breakfast."

"Breakfast?" Jim mumbled and opened one eye, "Is it time to get up?"

"Yes," Tommy bounced and a huge smile creased Jim's face - the kid bounced just like his dad! Jim sat up and put out his arms. Tommy scrambled up for a hug, unafraid of the subject of so many in-the-car stories. Jim broke the hug after a moment and called over to the imposter on the other couch.

"Wake up Sandburg! Your son made breakfast!"

Blair faked a mighty snore and burrowed further under the quilt, trying to smother his laughter, which would give the game away.

"Wake up Da, I made toast!" Tommy called, with no response. Jim sighed, hauled his pillow out from behind and hurled it at his Guide. Blair merely snored louder and Jim sighed. Tommy was watching with wide eyes and nervous giggles.

"I think this calls for extreme measures," Jim whispered, "We may have to tickle him. You tickle his chest, I'll take his legs."

Tommy's face lit up and Jim untangled himself from the blankets before getting up. He carried Tommy over to the other couch and deposited the boy on top of the Blair shaped lump under its quilt.

"Ugh!" Blair grunted in a muffled voice. Tommy immediately began tickling through the quilt, with Jim going for the sensitive knees while the boy attacked the ribs. Blair began squirming and yelling for help, laughing hard as he fought to get out from under the quilt. Jim made sure Tommy wasn't accidentally bucked off and otherwise tortured his Guide without mercy.

"Ok, ok I'm awake! Stop it!" Blair gasped and Tommy collapsed on top of him for a hug. Seeing the two of them together for the first time stole Jim's breath. The similarities were marked. Blair smiled at his friend and kissed his son.

"Good morning short stuff. Did you sleep well?" Blair asked and Tommy nodded his head from its place in the crook of Blair's neck, "And do you like your surprise?"

"Yes! Uncle Jim is here!" Tommy smiled and looked up at his uncle, who smiled back and reached down to tousle the boy's wild curls.

"I couldn't wait to meet you," Jim rumbled, "Now how about that breakfast?"

They sat on the couch together to eat the toast, which was now cold. Then Jim and Blair made a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs and coffee, while Tommy made more toast. They ate this in the kitchen nook and Jim went on a crumb hunt in the living room while Blair and Tommy cleaned up in the kitchen. Father and son went to have their morning shower while Jim used the en-suite.

Jim met them back in the living room, folding yesterday's clothes into his bag. Tommy showed him where to stow his bag and then went to sit on Blair's lap, looking up with love in his eyes. Jim's breath caught at the sight of father and son in their own little world - for a moment a part of him wondered if he'd ever sat like that with his own father.

"What are we doing today Da?" Tommy asked Blair, breaking into Jim's thoughts and Jim sat on the other couch, raising an eyebrow at Blair.

"What would you like to do Tommy? We have one more day of holiday and then tomorrow we have to pack to go back to Cascade. Can you think of something?" Blair asked and Jim mentally groaned - even he knew better than to ask a question like that. Tommy was bouncing in Blair's lap and Jim grinned involuntarily.

"Fishing! Let's go fishing with Uncle Jim!" Tommy turned to his uncle, who swallowed his surprise, "Da says you like fishing! Let's do that!"

Blair was a little surprised at the altruism Tommy was showing - most three year olds would have demanded a toy store one of those 'dream days' where the parents were dragged hither and yon in an effort to satisfy the child's every wish. Then again - Blair felt his jaw clenching - Tommy wasn't like most three-year-olds. His life so far had encompassed rote expressions, 'perfect' behavior and a wardrobe full of suits. Unfortunately Blair couldn't grant this request - a lack of gear and fishing hole making it impossible.

"We don't have any fishing rods, short stuff," Blair explained gently, and Tommy sighed, leaning back into Blair's chest and gazing up with soulful eyes. Blair bit down on a grin at his patented 'puppy dog' expression - obviously it was a genetic trait. Jim was chuckling a little on his couch. Blair thought for a moment, rubbing Tommy's back. Tommy leant further in and closed his eyes - his hunger for just that simple touch so evident it brought tears to Blair's eyes. He bit his lip and looked at Jim, knowing the Sentinel would pick up on his pain. Jim met his eyes sadly and came to sit on the couch with them, adding his touch to Blair's.

"I know!" Blair exclaimed, forcing his tone just a little, "We can go to the aquarium! We can't catch the fish, but we can see them!"

"Aquarium?" Tommy asked, sitting up and looking from one to the other, "What's that Da?"

"It's like an underwater zoo!" Blair enthused and saw Tommy get his bounce back with relief. Jim shot him an impressed look and Blair bit down on the urge to poke his tongue out at his roommate. He had to set a good example now.

"An underwater zoo! Uncle Jim! Will it have underwater giraffes?" Tommy asked excitedly.

"Giraffes can't swim underwater," Jim replied literally and Tommy frowned. He turned to look at his beloved toy giraffe and sighed a little sadly.

"Raffey better stay here, then," his voice was firm, "I don't want anything bad to happen to him. Oh! I can't swim underwater either! Do I have to stay here too?"

"No," Blair hugged his son close, and Tommy latched on again, one hand in Blair's collar, the other in the front of the dark purple shirt he wore with his jeans and vest.

"It's …a surprise, ok? You can come, don't worry. And so can Raffey, don't you worry," Blair added, and Jim nodded.

"We'll take good care of you both," Jim spoke up and Tommy turned his face out of Blair's neck to look at his uncle. His eyes were a little wet, but he hadn't cried. Separation anxiety, Jim thought and stroked Tommy's sock-clad foot. Tommy eased away a little and Blair smiled at him.

"Love you," Blair crooned and dropped a kiss on his son's cheek. Tommy hugged his Da and kissed him back.

"Love you," he replied and then turned to Jim, throwing his arms around the detective's neck in a wild hug. Jim hugged him back, hearing clearly the muffled 'love you' Tommy whispered under his breath.

"Love you too Tommy," Jim replied and saw Blair's relief at this mutual acceptance of the two important people in his life. Tommy smiled, pulling back a little. Jim glanced at Blair and made a decision.

"Tommy, can Uncle Jim hold you for a minute? Uh…it's like a special hug that I only do for family…for when we meet," Jim smiled, hoping the boy would accept the awkward explanation. Tommy beamed and leaned into Jim, who folded his arms around the body in his arms, half closed his eyes, and turned his face into Tommy's short curls.

Blair sat back and watched in joy as his Sentinel imprinted his son on his senses. Jim had imprinted Blair early in their partnership - the Guide was essential to the Sentinel and therefore the imprinting was instinctual. With a lot of perseverance, begging and outright emotional blackmail Blair had got most of the men and women at Major Crimes imprinted on Jim's senses. Simon was the easiest as Jim had access to him out of hours as well as at work - the three men often spent time together. Joel had been the hardest - the Sentinel's instincts had kept spiking on the smell of explosives and other dangerous compounds.

Jim reaffirmed his imprint of Blair on a regular basis - which was partially why he touched the other man so much, even in public. What the majority of people saw as the senior detective checking his partner for injuries or comforting him after danger was in reality the Sentinel reaffirming his bond to his Guide. At first it made Blair a little uncomfortable - sure he was in touch with his feelings, but not in front of an audience for crying out loud! Now he used the touch to soothe and restore his Sentinel - another weapon in the Guide's arsenal, to be used in the everlasting war against the over-stimulation the city provided for Jim's senses.

Blair smiled. Tommy had gone completely lax in his uncle's grip. Jim was stroking the boy's back, arms, legs and head in a hypnotic pattern as he imprinted touch. Both were breathing deeply - Tommy because he was almost asleep and Jim to imprint smell. Jim dropped a kiss on Tommy's temple - taste - and then let go a little. After one of those hugs Blair always felt ready to take on the world - Tommy would no doubt be in top form too. Jim reached out a hand and Blair moved carefully so he could be included in the embrace. With Tommy between them, held safely and lovingly, Sentinel and Guide reaffirmed their bond. This addition to the tribe would not drive them apart, no matter what lay ahead.

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

"Ok, short stuff," Blair said as Jim bought their tickets at the aquarium, "There are three very important rules here."

Tommy looked at his father and nodded. Blair was kneeling in front of him to be at eye level, and for a moment Blair reflected that all those years of yoga and tai chi were paying off. Holding conversations at ground level would have made him stiff otherwise.

"Rule number one - you stay with me or Uncle Jim all the time. It would be very easy to get lost in there, so don't run away ok?"

Tommy hadn't shown any desire to separate from his father so far, but Murphy's Law said that the one time Blair didn't repeat this caution was the time Tommy chose to disappear. Tommy nodded and clutched Raffey close - evidently determined his toy wouldn't run away either.

"Rule number two - don't touch the glass. If you touch it or tap it you could upset the fish inside - and we don't want to do that."

Not to mention the fact that they'd probably be evicted - this rule was displayed in large signs all over the entrance and probably further inside too. Tommy wasn't emotionally ready to face the consequences of such a rejection and Blair did not want to go back to Cascade and face the people at Major Crimes after being evicted from the New York Aquarium. Jim would see to it that they found out and their teasing would be merciless.

"Rule number three - have fun and ask lots of questions."

Nothing like encouraging an already impressive natural curiosity. Tommy's grin was wide and he hugged Blair before he stood up. Tommy latched onto Blair's jeans and they walked over to Jim, who handed them each a token.

"Ready to go?" Jim asked and smiled when Tommy bounced in excitement. Blair caught the smile and sighed - Jim was never going to let him hear the end of this inherited trait.

"Ready," Tommy piped in a clear voice and reached out. He tried to latch onto Jim's jeans as well but was prevented by his grip on Raffey.

"How about Da carries Raffey for a while?" Blair offered and took the toy. Tommy latched on and Blair grinned while Jim tried to figure out how to walk while attached to a three-year-old. They went through the entrance, handing over the tokens and then Blair stepped in front of the map. Tommy caught sight of it and turned to Jim.

"Look, Uncle Jim it's a map! We can plan where to go or we can…" Tommy trailed off for a moment and then waved his hands, "Explore!"

"Hmm," Jim rubbed his jaw and Blair smiled down at his excited son, "Let's just explore …is that ok?"

"Yes!" Tommy clapped his hands and moved on to part two of the ritual that had begun at the zoo with his father. He shaded his eyes and looked from left to right.

"Which way brave and fearless leader?" Blair asked on cue and Tommy pointed to the right.

"That way!"

The three of them headed off, Tommy latched onto Blair and Jim's jeans happily. Blair was happy with the arrangement - his son was protected this way. Raffey was tucked firmly under Blair's arm, on the side closest to Tommy so the boy could talk to his toy as they walked.

The corridor Tommy had chosen led them to a ramp that let them walk through a glass tunnel that ran through the middle of one of the fish tanks. Surrounded on all sides by water, Tommy fell silent - gasping now and then as brightly coloured fish zipped past. Blair glanced at Jim and whispered soft instructions under his breath to help deal with the watery light and odd echoes in the chamber, averting a zone out. They stopped frequently to let Tommy gaze at various features inside the tank. There was the obligatory sunken wreck, as well as twisted rock formations and underwater plants.

Other children went by with their parents, moving fairly quickly as the kids pushed for more exciting exhibits. Blair was glad his son was enthralled with what he saw - it was a magical view and Blair was too fascinated to rush through himself. A glance at Jim showed his friend gazing into the tank and smiling a little as bright schools of fish darted and swirled through the water.

Once out of the tunnel they moved on to the individual tanks, where rare fish were kept in specialized environments. Jim and Blair took turns to read the information at each tank to Tommy and answer his questions as best they could. They wandered from place to place slowly, seeing as much or as little as they wanted.

By lunchtime Tommy was all fished out, so Blair found a park with playground equipment for them to picnic in. This time they had sandwiches and then Jim and Blair sat on a bench near the equipment while Tommy played. Raffey was again dragged onto the equipment, and gathered another playmate for its owner.

"So," Blair trailed off uncertainly. He wanted Jim's opinion of his son but was kind of afraid to ask. Jim and Tommy had hit it off - the boy had accepted his uncle happily, but Blair needed to know it was mutual. Jim put his arm on the back of the bench as he watched Raffey and Tommy go down the slide.

"I'm in awe. He's just like you Chief - he has your curiosity and energy. The questions he came up with!" Jim grinned - they'd both had to scramble to come up with halfway reasonable answers; "He's a little solemn, though. I guess he's still missing his mother. And I can see what you meant about the penthouse - no kid lives there. He'll be ok, Chief - we'll get him back to the loft and show him what a real home is like."

Jim traced a soothing circle with his fingertips between Blair's shoulder blades and was rewarded with a lessening of the tension in his friend's body. Blair sighed and then waved when Tommy looked over.

"I…" Blair bit his lip, "I wanted to thank you for this morning. I can't tell you how much it meant to me that you imprinted him like that. He's so hungry for affection and love …it scares me to think what his life was like before. How could Amelia do this to her own baby? How could I have misjudged her so badly?"

"It's not the first time you've let your heart lead your head, Sandburg," Jim tried to say this right, to lay to rest the doubts that plagued the new father once and for all, "You're a Human being - and last time I checked that makes you fallible. Even Shaman Guides have their frailties, so just calm down. We all screw up sometimes."

Blair grinned at Jim and whapped him lightly in the ribs. He could always count on Jim to overcome his own self-contained nature and try to make Blair feel better.

"Thanks for the ringing endorsement," Blair's tone was light, but his eyes reflected his true thoughts and feelings. Jim's answering smile was like the sun coming out after rain. Tommy shouted for attention and Blair obediently watched Raffey go down the slide by himself, followed by Tommy and his new friend.

"He makes friends as quickly as you do," Jim said happily, "And he bounces like you too! Jeez, Chief, I nearly lost it when I saw him do that. Is it genetic do you think?"

"Maybe," Blair laughed, "I wonder what other habits of mine he's inherited?"

"Certainly not your untidy ones - he cleaned up after the toast this morning like a trooper," Jim retorted, and Blair rolled his eyes. Tommy ran past the sandpit, laughing happily as his friend chased him in a game of tag. A few other children joined in and the noise level increased as they squealed and laughed.

"How were you after the tunnel today Jim?" Blair asked, still watching his son play. He'd known Jim was in trouble by the way his body moved. Blair had actually anticipated this problem, and considered how to best allow his Sentinel to experience the aquarium fully, but without any discomfort or having to dial everything lower. In the end he'd got Jim to focus on touch a little, namely Tommy's grip on his leg. The split concentration let Jim relax his hold on the dials so they could find their natural level. It was a technique Blair was trying to get Jim to do automatically. If the Sentinel could regulate his senses consciously, and unconsciously - switching from one to the other, as the situation demanded - then the risk of zone out and overload would lessen. Jim was finding it difficult, but Blair was certain his friend would master the skill with practice.

"Fine," Jim replied softly, "I think I'm getting the hang of this split concentration thing. It was a good idea, Chief."

"You're welcome," Blair replied and looked up at the sky above the park. It was starting to cloud over and he frowned, "How's that weather sense of yours?"

"Hmm," Jim frowned, "We should probably get going."

"Why? What do you sense?" Blair asked excitedly, looking away from his son to focus on Jim. Jim swallowed his smile and answered with a straight face.

"It's going to rain."

"You can sense the moisture in the air?" Blair asked in excitement, bouncing once on the seat and Jim felt the grin split his face.

"Nope - heard the radio on the hotdog cart," he replied smugly and faked a wince when Blair's hand lightly smacked his arm. Blair turned and stood up from the bench.

"Tommy! Time to go!" he called and Tommy pulled a face. Blair bit down on a smile - it was a cute face, even though Tommy was certainly trying for a different effect.

"Aw, do we have to?" Tommy called back from his position on the climbing equipment, "Raffey and I are having fun!"

"Sorry, short stuff. It's going to rain. You wouldn't want Raffey to catch a cold would you?" Blair replied firmly and Tommy shook his head. He climbed down slowly while Blair waited and then walked over to his Da. Blair smiled at him and tousled his curls.

"There are plenty of parks in Cascade too," Blair told him and Tommy perked up a little. He hurried over to the bench where Jim was sitting and asked if Jim knew there were parks in Cascade.

"Yup," Jim got up and grinned down at his nephew, "In fact there's one near the loft. I'll take you there once we're home."

Tommy bounced and latched onto Jim's knee happily. After a few steps Jim reached down and took Tommy's hand instead - finding it easier to walk that way. Blair met his eyes with a knowing grin and they walked out of the park like that. He carried his son across the road and when Tommy laid his head on his shoulder Blair carried him the rest of the way to the car.

The drive home put Tommy to sleep again and Jim carried Blair's pack up to the penthouse while Blair carried Tommy.

"He really does sack right out," Jim said in wonder as Tommy was laid on a couch and covered with Blair's quilt. Raffey was tucked in too and they headed for the kitchen and coffee.

"Yeah," Blair grinned, "He's so angelic when he sleeps."

"He's a good kid, Chief - he does what he's told even if he has to ask why first. That's pretty rare," Jim put a hand on Blair's shoulder while they waited for the kettle to boil. Blair smiled at Jim.

"I know. I'm glad he asks though - he was pretty much a robot the first day. You should have seen it Jim - it made me so mad how they treated him," Blair's smile vanished and he turned to get the cups down, "He only had one toy at his grandparent's place - a bear I haven't seen him touch once since we got back here. And Raffey - most kids would have run over yelling 'can I have it', but he put his hands in his pockets and walked away without a backwards glance. He cried Jim …just burst right into tears and hugged the stupid toy like it was precious. They're never more than a few feet apart now."

Blair made the coffee, tears pricking his eyes, and Jim stood close in support. He'd already heard this over the phone but Blair needed to vent to a person, not a device so Jim took his coffee quietly and sat in the nook opposite Blair.

"He's not familiar with playing in the bath and the idea that his toys are his to play with …there are only three pictures of him and Amelia in the entire house. There's an album of professional baby photos - you know: Anne Geddes style, but none of mum and baby in the bath, or his first step. It's like he was a doll for her - to be dressed in pretty clothes and shown off as an accomplishment. It kills me to think he had to go through that, but I'm even madder at her. What was she thinking?"

Blair fell silent and sipped his coffee. Jim leaned back in the nook and watched Blair process. His mobile face showed the many emotions and thoughts racing through his head. By the time the coffee was finished Blair had settled down a little.

"C'mon Chief," Jim stood up, putting their cups in the sink. Blair followed Jim out onto the patio. The storm clouds were massing in the sky and the wind was rising, but Blair ignored it in favor of working out what Jim wanted them outside for. Jim moved into the clear space in the middle of the patio and stood with his feet slightly spread, his weight balanced his arms at his sides.

"Assume the position, Blair," Jim grinned and Blair just shook his head, moving to stand in front of Jim, his back to his friend. Blair had started teaching Jim tai chi after Jim had been beaten pretty badly in a fight with a suspect. Blair had told his friend it would ease the muscle aches and keep him fit until Jim was ready to go back to the gym. In reality the controlled movements and hypnotic calm of tai chi was the closest Blair could get Jim to meditation. By the time the visits to the gym started again Blair had managed to get Jim addicted to the mellow feeling tai chi left the Sentinel with and they practiced the form once a week. That had stopped after the fountain - though Blair still performed the form when Jim was out of the loft. This was the first time Jim had indicated he wanted their joint meditation to resume.

"Center yourself Jim. Let go of the dials and find the peace of your inner self," Blair murmured, closing his eyes and doing the same, "Let your breathing relax."

When he knew Jim was ready - Blair was no Sentinel but he was able to tune into Jim to some degree with his normal senses - Blair took a deep breath, heard it echoed from behind and lifted his hands, bent at the wrist in a graceful movement. In seconds the ritual grace and strength of the form enveloped him, soothing the last of his raw emotions. Blair shifted surely through the form, his eyes half closed and breathing slow and deep. He could feel his energy flowing smoothly, could feel the connection that was Jim open and relax for the first time since the fountain and smiled blissfully. He could feel Jim moving in synchronicity with him; their timing flawless as the form progressed.

Their movements slowed and stopped, as they returned to the start, bringing their hands down in the opposite of their first movement. Blair turned to face Jim and they sank to the tiles on the patio. Jim would sit with Blair for a while, while Blair meditated and Jim just absorbed the feeling of wellbeing and peace tai chi left him with. After half an hour Jim got up and slipped inside. Tommy was watching with wide eyes and Jim smiled at him. The hair was tousled all over the place and there was a smudge from the playground on one cheek.

"You and Da danced!" Tommy exclaimed and Jim grinned. He brushed the curls into some sort of order and led the boy to the bathroom.

"Sort of," Jim agreed, and helped Tommy wash his face, "Da's meditating now, so we have to leave him alone for a little while. Want to help me make dinner?"

"Stir?" Tommy asked eagerly, "My favorite!"

Jim guessed he meant stir-fry - trust Blair to get vegetables into his three-year-old and make it seem cool.

"Uncle Jim isn't very good at stir fry," Jim confessed, "How about hamburgers? I'm very good at hamburgers!"

"What's a hamburger?" Tommy asked and Jim almost stumbled on his way to the kitchen. Time to correct a major gap in his nephew's education. Raffey was deposited on the counter, out of the way but close enough to watch as Jim and Tommy made hamburger patties together. The radio was switched on at Tommy's command 'Da and I always cook with the radio on' and Jim rigged an apron for his nephew out of tea towels to protect the bright sweater Tommy had chosen that morning. The patties were piled on a plate and covered with plastic wrap before being put in the fridge. Jim and Tommy were washing their hands when Jim heard a key in the lock. With a frown and a muttered exclamation Jim hustled into the corridor in time to see two immaculately dressed adults step into the foyer and close the door.

"Grandfather!" Tommy exclaimed as the man helped the woman out of her coat and hung it up, followed by his own. She turned a frown on her grandson, who immediately stiffened. Jim watched in sorrow as Tommy turned from a happy three-year-old into a solemn little boy.

"Good afternoon Grandmother," he said in a quiet voice and she gave him a plastic smile.

"Good afternoon Thomas," Mrs. Milton said graciously, "Have you been good?"

"Yes ma'am," Tommy nodded and went to shake his grandfather's hand.

"Who is this, Thomas?" Mr. Milton ran a disapproving glance over Jim's neat jeans, dress shirt and cable knit sweater. Tommy turned to Jim, who winced at the mask on his nephew's face.

"This is Uncle Jim," Tommy replied in a low voice and Milton put out a hand to shake with Jim.

"Jim Ellison," Jim introduced himself, "I was sorry to hear of your loss, sir."

"Yes," Milton grunted and walked past Jim to the living room, "Where is your father, Thomas?"

"Meditating sir," Tommy replied and pointed out to the now darkened patio. Blair could barely be seen out there, an unmoving figure amidst the patio furniture. As they watched the first of the rain began to fall - lightly at first and then heavily.

"Da!" Tommy cried and ran for the patio door, only to be caught by Jim. He knew that shocking Blair out of meditation was bad - even dangerous. Blair had to wake by himself or be woken with extreme gentleness.

"Easy, kiddo. We can't just run out there - we might hurt him. Give Da a minute - maybe the rain will wake him up. If it doesn't I'll go get him," Jim held Tommy close, kneeling down and feeling the tense tremors running through the small body. Sure enough the cold water hitting him broke through to Blair who grimaced, shook his head and got up smoothly, hurrying to the door. Tommy launched himself from Jim's loose hold at his father and was instantly caught up and petted. You didn't need to be a Sentinel to see Tommy was crying and Blair looked at Jim in bewilderment, before spotting the Miltons.

"Mr. and Mrs. Milton! It's ...nice to see you again," Blair managed to smile, "Just let me go change and I'll be right back."

He strode from the room, Tommy in his arms. The Miltons looked disapproving, but sat down, smoothing their tailored clothes to avoid wrinkles. Jim nodded politely and went out too, going to the hall closet to pull dry clothes out for Blair before snagging a towel from the bathroom and heading to Tommy's room. Blair was sitting in the rocking chair with Tommy in his lap. The boy was quiet, but had stopped crying. Blair dropped a kiss on his son's head and stood up, handing Tommy over to Jim and accepting the towel and clothes. He dried off and dressed in the dry clothes quickly, using Tommy's comb to straighten his hair. Tommy watched everything from Jim's arms and held his own out when Blair stepped closer.

"C'mon short stuff," Blair said, feeling the hand in his collar and shirtfront again, "Let's go visit with your grandparents."

Tommy buried his face in Blair's neck and Blair looked at Jim in resignation. The happy boy he'd encouraged for the past few days had been buried again. Jim looked angry - jaw clenched, face still - as he followed Blair back to the living room. The Miltons were sitting in silence, Jim hadn't heard them say a word since they were left in the living room, and Mrs. Milton looked up with a disapproving sniff as Blair sat opposite her, cradling Tommy close like the precious object his son was.

"What can we do for you both?" Blair ignored the sniff and the thought that these two had come on a purely social visit. Better to get this over with so Tommy could be coaxed back to cheerfulness. Mr. Milton glanced at Jim and raised an eyebrow.

"This is your brother?" he asked Blair and Blair smiled gently.

"Yes, this is Jim. We share a place in Cascade together," he replied, "We're going to extend our home so there will be plenty of room for all of us."

"I see," Mr. Milton frowned, "Will you give us your address? I'd like to stay in touch with my grandson."

"Of course," Blair nodded, "Though you'll have to give us warning next time you visit - our job doesn't allow us a regular schedule."

"Mr. Sandburg, we also came to ask if we could take a few of Amelia's photos and books. She prized these particularly and wouldn't have wanted them to be thrown away," Mrs. Milton spoke up and Blair nodded, keeping his temper with difficulty. He wasn't throwing away Amelia, and he'd intended to box up her degrees and photos in the study for her parents. Blair had already moved the pictures of Amelia and Tommy into his duffel, determined his son would at least have that from his mother. He was also storing several single use cameras with lots of pictures of his son at the zoo, the park, and here in the penthouse. Including several compulsory shots of Tommy in the bath. Every kid needed a few of those to be embarrassed over when he got older.

"Please take what you'd like," Blair said gently, "I know Amelia would have wanted you to have them. You know where the study is?"

"Of course," Mrs. Milton stood and walked out of the room with studied grace. Tommy lifted his head out of Blair's neck and looked at Jim.

"Uncle Jim? Are we going to go home with you soon?" Tommy's voice was uncertain and Jim leaned in to tousle his hair. Tommy giggled a little and batted at the tousling hand.

"Sure are, Tommy. Two more nights in New York and then we're on our way home," Jim reassured him, letting Tommy catch his hand and hold it still.

"Two more nights?" Tommy asked Blair, who smiled and held up two fingers.

"That's this many sleeps in your bed," Blair told him careful to distinguish between sleep and the naps Tommy took each afternoon on the couch. Tommy looked over at his grandfather hesitantly.

"Will grandfather be there?" he asked Blair who shook his head. Blair wasn't sure if his son wanted his grandparents in Cascade or not - he was unsure of the cause of Tommy's tears just now and had to be cautious to avoid another outbreak.

"He can come and visit, sometimes," Blair added and Tommy nodded, tucking his head back into Blair's neck and holding on tight again. Blair stroked his back and held on tight. Mrs. Milton came back into the living room and Mr. Milton stood to relieve her of the pile of books she carried. Jim stood too and offered to carry anything else she wanted down to the car. He was led off to a pile of framed photos and a few more books.

Blair stood with Tommy in his arms and walked the Miltons to the front door. Tommy was persuaded to say goodbye to his grandparents and Jim nodded to Blair as he shut the front door behind him.

Blair went to sit back on the couch, looking at the rain and rocking a little. Tommy was still doing his impersonation of a barnacle and Blair wanted to wait until Jim was back to talk this all out. Whatever had caused this reaction had to be discovered and made better - Blair had worked too hard to overcome his son's conditioning to let him slip back now.

Blair heard a key in the lock and looked up when Jim entered the room. Jim sat on the coffee table opposite Blair and frowned at Tommy in worry. Blair took a deep breath and tapped Tommy gently on the head.

"Tommy? What's wrong sweetie?" Blair made his voice warm and gentle. He urged his son to sit up and look at him, smiling into sad eyes, "You can tell Da, I won't be sad. What happened?"

"Uncle Jim was mad at me," Tommy didn't look at Jim, "He said I'd hurt you. I didn't mean to Da! I'm sorry!"

Tears spilled down Tommy's face and Jim gaped in shock. He reached out to pet his nephew gently, and Blair moved his arms so Jim had access while still holding his son.

"Is this when I was meditating?" Blair asked Jim, and he nodded. Tommy had misunderstood his uncle's actions and the stress of his grandparents sudden visit had compounded the problem. The Miltons weren't exactly people you could process in front of.

"I wasn't mad, Tommy," Jim said, stroking Tommy's arm gently, "When Da meditates it's better not to wake him up suddenly. You didn't know so I just grabbed you. I didn't mean to scare you. I'm sorry."

"And I'm fine, Tommy," Blair smiled, "You're a good boy and I love you."

"I love you too," Tommy replied, his tears drying again, "Are you going to meditate again?"

"Not tonight, sweetie, but sometimes I will," Blair wondered how to explain meditation to a three year old, and then decided to let it be for now. Tommy nodded and hugged him, then leant over to hug Jim too. Jim returned the hug with relief and Blair smiled at his friend. His stomach growled, and Tommy giggled.

"A monster!" he teased Blair and Blair crossed his eyes at his son, getting more giggles in reward.

"Then you'd better feed me before I eat you!" Blair growled and tickled the boy in his lap. Tommy shrieked and wriggled furiously.

"Help! Uncle Jim!" Tommy laughed and Jim stood up. He swooped down to snatch Tommy up, tucked the child under his arm like a football and ran around the living room, shouting,

"I'll save you!"

Tommy whooped with laughter as Blair got up and chased them, growling loudly and snatching at Tommy's feet when he got close enough to them. They ended up in the kitchen and Tommy was deposited in the sink.

"Uncle Jim!" he squealed, "I don't sit here!"

"Oh, sorry!" Jim replied, picked Tommy up and opened the fridge. Tommy kicked his feet and struggled so Jim put him down.

"Not in there either!" the Sentinel was told indignantly and Jim looked crestfallen. He got the hamburger patties out and closed the fridge. Tommy hugged Jim's legs and smiled up at his uncle.

"That's ok," Tommy comforted, "I'm not mad."

"Oh good," Jim smiled back in relief and Blair shook his head and got the frying pan out to cook the patties in. Tommy hopped up on his stool and helped make the filling for the hamburgers while Jim cooked the patties.

Burgers assembled, they sat in the nook to eat. Tommy rescued Raffey from isolation after dinner while Jim and Blair cleaned up. Blair went to fill the bath for Tommy while Jim read the dragon story that Tommy had chosen at the beginning of the week and heard every single night. The bath was a messy one, with a foam fight started by Jim and ended only when all the foam was decorating the walls floor and fixtures of the bathroom. Blair again massaged Tommy with the sponge and then dried the half-asleep child while Jim cleaned up the bathroom.

When he came out of Tommy's room Jim was making the bed in the master bedroom. Blair stood in the doorway for a moment and then moved to help. He wasn't sleeping in here alone, and he certainly wasn't sleeping in here with Jim. They might love each other, but neither one of them swung that way in bed.

"What are you doing?" Blair asked as he smoothed his side of the bed down. Jim rolled his eyes.

"Making the bed," Jim replied in a 'Duh' tone. Blair rolled his eyes right back.

"I didn't realize the couch was that uncomfortable," Blair sighed and caught the pillow and pillow case tossed to him. He started slipping it on, and smoothing out the wrinkles. Wrinkles in a bed and Ellison did not mix - Blair couldn't decide if it was a hold over from the army or Jim's childhood. William Ellison could give a drill sergeant a run for his money.

"It's not for me," Jim replied, still in the 'Duh' tone. Blair frowned at him. They placed the pillows on the bed and started inserting the doona into a cover.

"I'm not sleeping in here," he told his friend firmly, "And if you're not why are we doing this?"

"'Cause there's not enough couches for the guys to sleep on," Jim rolled his eyes in his best 'gee you're dense' manner, "I'm going to meet them at the airport tonight."

Blair dropped his side of the quilt and gaped at Jim.

"What?" he asked, and Jim gave him that playful 'gotcha' grin that appeared too rarely on the stern face.

"A few of the gang wanted to come and help out. And there's a game on Saturday night. Joel won tickets on the radio. Tommy can come too - he won eight and there'll be seven of us. Can I borrow the car Dad?" Jim smoothed the doona onto the bed and stood with his hands on his hips, watching his Guide fondly.

"Yeah," Blair nodded. He grinned at his partner; "Did they book the flight before or after Joel won the tickets?"

His Guide was not a dumb man.

"Before," Jim grinned back at Blair, "But don't tell them I told you that. You'll ruin their tough guy act."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Blair replied, "I'll call downstairs and see if I can order some more bread or something. We're running low on breakfast foods."

"I'll make up the housekeeper's room," Jim headed out.

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

Blair opened the door when he heard the muted ding of the elevator. Simon stepped out first, dragging his carry on and a scowl. Daryl stepped out after his father, looking as wasted as Simon, but he grinned when he saw Blair and stepped around his dad to slap hands with his sometime tutor.

"Surprise!" Daryl chortled and Blair grinned widely, "Daryl Banks' removals service has arrived."

"This your apprentice?" Blair asked, indicating Simon with a grin and getting the patented glare in response. Daryl shook his head.

"For a smart guy you sure know how to live dangerously," Daryl grinned and stepped inside. Joel slapped Blair on the shoulder, his red eyes barely open. Even the casual clothes looked tired and Blair put a steadying hand out.

"Hey Joel - there's a bed this way," Blair said immediately and turned to lead the Captain to the housekeeper's room. He turned on the light and the bedside lamp, then switched off the light on his way out, calling a gentle goodnight.

He returned to see Jim show Daryl and Simon the master bedroom and grinned as Jim shut the door quietly. Blair slipped in to check that Tommy was still asleep and spent a moment in awed reflection at his son's side. I helped make this Blair mused, stroking the short curls and he shook his head before heading back to the living room. Jim was already stripped to his boxers and packing up Blair's computer while Rafe and Brown took turns in the bathroom. Blair had changed after Jim left, and so he simply slid into his nest of blankets and settled in.

"Hey Hairboy - nice place," Brown said as he entered, dressed in striped flannel. Blair grinned at his friend and shrugged.

"Almost nice enough to want to stay," Blair teased, "But I'd miss you too much, H."

"Aw isn't that sweet," Rafe cooed, "He'd miss you."

Everyone stared at Rafe's silk pajamas for a moment before Brown recalled he'd been insulted.

"Yeah well he wouldn't miss you, partner," Brown smirked and settled onto his couch. Jim ended the argument before it could begin by switching off the lights and settling onto his couch.

"Goodnight gentlemen," Jim said firmly and ignored the catcalls he got.

Being cops on their day off the gang did the typical thing - got up ridiculously early. Blair had the coffee machine primed and ready to go first thing, and the delivery boy from the nearby bakery was greeted by several very large men in sleepwear, who appropriated his load of bagels, Danishes and donuts gleefully before remembering to tip him well.

"So when do I get to meet my nephew, Sandburg?" Simon asked, peering into the bag he snatched. Blair's hand reached over, closed the bag and pulled it from his grasp.

"When you sit down and behave like a civilized person. Honestly, you'd think I was surrounded by a bunch of cops," Blair complained, "Please guys - he's not ready for a display of the cop to donut phenomenon."

Daryl laughed and Jim whapped the teenager gently on the arm. Jim had a bag of pastry in his hands too, though at a glare from Blair it remained unmolested.

"Don't mock the donuts, son," Jim mock growled earning himself a wide eyed look as Daryl edged closer to Simon. Simon leaned over and whapped Jim on the arm for whapping his son, and then turned to Daryl.

"What he said," Simon nodded and got a round of laughs. Blair shook his head and dumped his bag on the kitchen counter to go check on his son. Sure enough the noise had woken him up and Tommy was sitting up in his bed, curls sleep tousled and looking totally adorable.

"Da? What's the noise for?" Tommy's face lit up when Blair opened the door and Blair snagged his robe before sitting on the bed and holding out his arms for the morning cuddle. Tommy dove in happily and snuggled close. Blair took the opportunity to get the robe on his son and then smooth the curls back from his face.

"Good morning," Blair grinned and got a kiss in reply, "And the noise is a surprise. Would you like to go see?"

"Yeah," Tommy nodded and got off his father to put on his slippers. Raffey was picked up and Blair's sweats gripped firmly. They got to the kitchen and Tommy stopped dead at the sight of all the new people in there. His eyes widened and he sneaked a little closer to Blair as five strangers bid him good morning. Blair stroked his head gently, and Tommy replied softly. Jim stepped around Joel and got a grin. Tommy let go to give Jim a hug and Jim swung him up in his arms.

"Who is all this?" Tommy asked Blair and Blair reached out to drag Simon forward a little. Tommy frowned and then his face cleared.

"Uncle Simon!" Tommy exclaimed and launched himself from Jim's arms at Simon. Simon caught the boy quickly, though the toy giraffe tumbled to the floor. Blair restrained himself from snatching at his son and picked up the toy instead.

"Hello Tommy," Daryl said, pressing in close to his dad, "I'm Daryl."

"He's your cousin, Tommy," Blair explained and Tommy shook the hand Daryl offered, to Daryl's astonishment. Blair grinned and held a hand out to Daryl, who slapped him a low five. Tommy copied the move and was slapped a low five too, before repeating the gesture to Daryl. Blair introduced Uncle Joel, Uncle Henri and Uncle Brian to his son - who all got a low five in hello - and then encouraged his son to get down from Uncle Simon.

"Breakfast," Blair said briskly, and everyone got moving. Due to sheer numbers they wouldn't fit in the nook, so Jim found a cloth and they set the dining room table. Tommy sat between Simon and Jim, with Blair sitting opposite and ate a donut and a bagel for breakfast, topped off with a large glass of juice. Joel brought up the tickets and Blair acted suitably surprised, agreeing happily to attending the game that night with Tommy. Simon and Blair cleaned the kitchen while the others took turns in the bathrooms.

"I really appreciate this Simon," Blair said as they stacked the last of the dishes in the washer prior to setting it off. Simon straightened and leaned against the counter.

"It's not a big deal, Sandburg," Simon cautioned, "And …you're welcome. I hope you don't mind Daryl came too - Joan threw a fit and said that if I was going to pack a girlfriend back to Cascade then she should at least meet my son first. She had him booked on my flight and dropped at the front door before I could get my head spinning in the right direction. Daryl was a bit suspicious at first, but when we met the guys he settled down. If only I could get Joan to do that."

"That's …unusual," Blair tried to be diplomatic, "And I'm always glad to see Daryl. I'm not embarrassed to be seen with my son - besides I'm hoping they'll like each other so I can gain a sitter."

"Yeah, like I'd let my boy sit for yours. You're a trouble magnet, Sandburg, and your son! Well I met him and two seconds later he was jumping from heights," Simon growled. Blair shook his head in denial and pointed at the taller man. No way was this challenge going unanswered.

"Must be something to do with you, then, cause I never jumped from anything until I met you!" he retorted and Simon rolled his eyes.

"I'm going onto the patio for a coffee and a smoke," was the lofty response. Blair snorted and Simon paused for a moment, "Uh …Jim said you had some papers to this place. I've had a bit of experience with this stuff. If you want I could take a look."

Blair smiled gently, recognizing the gesture for what it was and fishing the folder out of the kitchen drawer he'd put it in. He handed it over without comment and Simon nodded once before heading out for his smoke.

Tommy and Daryl were in the living room watching the Saturday morning cartoons - which had Blair a little worried about the violence content. His son was giggling away though and Blair didn't have the heart to tell him he couldn't watch 'Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys' - most of which went over his son's head as the concept of Star Trek parodies and pop culture references were a little outside his ken. He drew the line at 'Action Man' though, suggesting Tommy show Daryl his room instead. Daryl accepted the offer quickly and was led off. Blair started to fold the blankets left on the couches and Rafe came in, freshly shaved and neatly dressed. The detective pitched in quickly, helping to reduce the mess to order in no time at all.

"Wow, Sandburg. This place is amazing. Some of the art you've got in here is incredible," Brown said as he put the last blanket neatly on the pile. Blair shrugged and looked around.

"Not my style, Brown," Blair sighed, "And it …looks like a museum in here, not a home. The stuff in the loft may not be cutting edge avante guarde, but the place looks like a home, you know?"

"Yeah the loft is comfortable. You sure made some changes for the better when you moved in with Ellison," Brown nodded, and looked out at the patio, "Woah - Captain Banks!"

Blair looked up at the alarmed tone and turned in time to see Simon throw his coffee cup at the low wall. It shattered, sending coffee and porcelain everywhere. Simon was pacing in tight circles now, puffing furiously at his cigar, the folder abandoned on the chair he'd been sitting in. Blair paled when he realised he'd left Amelia's letter in there.

Oh god, Simon read it - he knows what she did, he's going to…I can't believe I was so stupid as to leave that in there…how can I face him now he's read that Blair panicked and whirled, heading for the door. Not even Jim had read the letter - Blair hadn't even told his friend it existed, not wanting to ruin Amelia's good image to his friend, though Jim didn't exactly have a high opinion of her anyway. Practiced hands caught Blair by the shoulder, stopping his headlong flight and turning him to meet Jim's concerned eyes.

"Chief?" Jim asked and Blair groaned, twisting a little to get away. Jim's hands tightened their grip and he shook Blair slightly, "Calm down Chief before Tommy comes out and sees you."

The threat worked and Blair took a deep breath, standing still and forcing his breathing to slow and calm. Seeing the worst was over Jim let go, but didn't back off.

"What happened?" Jim asked in a low voice, "Simon's really worked up out there - and did he throw his coffee mug? What did you do - put salt in it?"

Blair steeled himself for the disgust and disappointment he was sure to see once Jim knew the truth. This would be the straw that broke the camel's back he just knew it.

"Simon asked to see the papers the lawyers gave me. I handed the whole folder over and it still had a letter in it from Amelia. I guess he read that too. It's on the patio - you can read it if you want," Blair said in a low voice. Jim frowned.

"She wrote you a letter? You didn't tell me that," Jim replied and turned to look towards the living room, "Does it explain why she didn't tell you about Tommy?"

Blair nodded and Brown and Joel emerged from the bathrooms. Blair made a decision and squared his shoulders.

"I'm going to shower with Tommy," Blair said firmly, "Read the letter Jim. You …have a right to know."

Blair headed past his friend and went to collect his son. Tommy parted from Daryl reluctantly but was soon happily splashing in the shower and rubbing shampoo through his short curls. Blair took extra time this morning - wanting the initial reactions from Jim out of the way before his friend quietly closed down their friendship. The way Blair saw it not even Naomi wanted to stick around full time, and she was his mother, so why would a friend - even soul mates had their limits right?

Tommy dressed happily, chattering about the game tonight and how Daryl had promised to buy popcorn. Blair smiled and made a few agreeing noises, but otherwise was quiet as he combed Tommy's hair and then his own, pulling his longer locks into a ponytail. Raffey was collected from the counter and Tommy headed out, not really noticing his father's silence. Blair cleaned up the bathroom mechanically and carried all the used towels out to the small launderette in the back of the penthouse. He started a load and then moved back to the main part of the house. Joel intercepted him in the corridor.

"Jim and Simon want a word with you Blair. We were thinking we could go get some boxes for the packing or something and take Tommy with us. Do you think he'd be ok with that?" Joel asked quietly and Blair nodded, his face solemn and resigned. He gave Joel a small smile when Joel looked at him more closely and raised his voice to call his son.

Tommy was happy to lead his cousin and uncles on a box hunting expedition and Blair went to face his former friends. Jim and Simon were still out on the patio, so Blair went to join them, closing the door gently so the insulated glass would sound proof their conversation. Simon and Jim wouldn't look at him and Blair resigned himself to a drawn out confrontation.

"So you know then. I guess this changes things," Blair said, just to get the ball rolling. Jim started at the sound and shot Blair a sheepish look. The Sentinel had been tuned in to his Guide's body and had his hearing turned up. Blair made the little apology gesture that had developed between the two men and looked over at Simon.

Jim crossed the patio in two long strides and grabbed Blair, pulling him close and cutting off any possible words. The larger man was thrumming with tension and Blair's hands fluttered over his chest and back in an attempt to soothe him.

"God, Sandburg! How could you think we'd think less of you because of that …bitches decision!" Simon burst out, "Your worth to us is defined by you, not someone else's…"

Simon ran out of words and added his touch to the embrace, putting his hands on Blair's shoulders. After a moment of tense silence Simon spoke again.

"I'm so sorry I read it - I know I should have stopped, but I thought you meant for me to read it because you gave it to me. Once I started I couldn't just walk away. That kid …he was a trophy baby. A way for her to show how competent she was by having a career and a love life and a child. There's no good way to say this - but thank God you have the kid now. He'll get the life he deserves," Simon squeezed the shoulders he held and let go, turning away and going inside. The rest had to come from Jim.

"Mine," Jim growled when they were alone, "No other to Guide me. You or no one."

Blair wrapped his arms around Jim's chest in response and felt a little of the tension drain away.

"Promise not to leave?" Jim continued his voice uncertain now and Blair nodded into his shoulder.

"If I leave, you'll come too," Blair promised nonsensically, and that seemed to satisfy the man squeezing the air from his lungs. The grip loosened a little and Jim lifted his head to look at Blair.

"I wanted to be sick when I read that…" Jim trailed off miserably, "She must have been blind not to see you Blair. How could she have missed all the things you are?"

"Jim," Blair chuckled, "A lot of that is due to you."

Jim shook his head stubbornly but Blair laid his fingers across Jim's lips, preventing a denial.

"I was selfish when we first met Jim, and blind to a lot of stuff. I still am sometimes, but you've taught me to get past that," Blair smiled gently, "It's true, you know it. Sure I can be giving when it's easy - you showed me how to do that when it's hard."

"You made me human. You kept me sane," Jim countered. Blair gave his friend a wry look and Jim finally let go. They still stood close together, but weren't touching any more. Jim needed to trust his Guide not to abandon him; Blair needed to trust his Sentinel to let go when it was needed.

"So we both improved the other. Maybe we didn't set out to do it, maybe it's just one of those serendipitous events that life likes to throw at us. Let's just be glad it happened, huh?" Blair grinned and Jim grinned back slowly. He nodded and slapped at his partner's shoulder, which Blair easily avoided by swaying gracefully to one side and then back to standing front and center.

"I'm glad you happened Chief. No matter what," Jim vowed and Blair nodded solemnly, "Now let's get inside. You're freezing. I can't believe you came out here without a coat!"

"Hey Jim, if I'm a dad, and you continue acting all parental like this, does this make you the mommy of our family?"

Blair let the swat connect this time.

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

Blair had printed a packing list from the computer in the study. The list was split into pieces and the six adults, one teenager and a very excited child split to pack away what would be needed in Cascade.

With a bit of thought Blair had decided to take enough from the kitchen to outfit his own back home. Jim petitioned for the four-slice toaster, only to find it was already on the list, right under the coffee machine. All the linen was going and a couple of the rugs. Everything in Tommy's room was going, except the furniture - Blair would buy that in Cascade.

After a lot of persuasion on his part, Blair sold the computer - for a lot less than it was worth - to Joel, who was in the market for one for his kids. The entertainment unit in the living room was deemed to big to go back to Cascade, and was being left to be sold; though some of the videos and music were packed away.

Tommy supervised the packing of his room carefully. Blair and Jim took that job on especially, consulting on each group of toys and packing a few to go back to Cascade in the suitcases, the rest into boxes to be fit into the car.

"Speaking of the car - how did you get everyone back from the airport?" Blair asked Jim as they carefully took the rocking chair apart. That was the only bit of furniture Blair was taking with him and Jim approved wholeheartedly, he'd already read a story to his nephew in that chair and the motion had been very soothing to them both.

"Rafe and Brown took a cab here from the airport with most of the luggage," Jim replied and smiled as Tommy again stuck his head over Blair's shoulder to see what was happening. His friend looked funny with a smaller head peering over one side, and a brightly colored giraffe peering over the other. Tommy was plastered over his father's back and Blair snatched behind him, standing up suddenly, hoisting Tommy up as he did. Tommy squealed and was promptly deposited on the bed.

"This would go quicker if you two would quit playing around," Jim grinned and Blair crossed his eyes at him, ruffling his son's short curls and bending to pick up pieces of the chair to be wrapped in sheets to avoid damage in the move. Jim pulled a face back, which had Tommy laughing hard.

Lunch was eaten at a nearby deli and then Jim took Tommy to the Empire State Building with Daryl while the others packed the car carefully. They had decided to take public transport to the game that night, as parking was sure to be a problem. Blair had also explained to Tommy that Raffey would have to stay home or he'd get lost.

After some negotiation Tommy agreed to do it if Blair would leave the TV on for the giraffe to watch the game from home. A small sacrifice to avoid tears and moping - one Blair was glad to make.

The stadium wasn't too busy yet, though a few of the die-hard fans had shown up four hours before the game. Taggert went to identify himself and collect the tickets and Blair finally got to ask the question that had been bugging him. Tommy was perched comfortably on his hip; hand tucked into his collar like always, and in a prime position to follow the conversation.

"How did Joel end up winning a radio contest?" Blair looked around at his friends; "He doesn't strike me as the type."

"He's not," Simon snorted, "This radio station was asking a sports question and dialing numbers at random. If you answered the phone with the correct answer straight away you won."

"Only they had a glitch, and instead of calling New York numbers only they called Joel direct at his desk in the PD," Jim added, grinning wildly, "So the phone rings and he picks it up and says: 'Taggert', just like we all do. Which also happens to be the answer to this sports question - the name of a player from whatever it was."

"And the next thing he knows he's won eight tickets to the pre-match warm up, a meet the team deal and eight front row seats to tonight's game," Brown chuckled.

"You should have seen his face," Rafe laughed, "I've seen him look better in the middle of disarming a bomb!"

"So I thought that seeing as you're here anyway and these clowns were already booking flights we'd accept the tickets," Joel added that as he came back with a very pale, thin and brightly dressed man in tow. Blair grinned at his friends.

"Just because of that, huh," he said knowingly and no one would meet his eyes - except for Jim who looked virtuous. Joel cleared his throat and introduced the man next to him as the DJ that had been running the competition.

"Ray Farley," Ray's voice was the smooth deep tone that most professional announcers used and his handshake was limp. Beside the cops he looked positively frail and tiny - even Blair was sturdier in comparison.

"This way guys - the team is warming up on center court now. We'll get some photos maybe even get a scrimmage in. After that the station has a guest shot with Joel for a little while - but you're welcome to wander around a bit. The game starts soon after," Ray led the way as he talked, expertly pitching his voice to be heard.

"Guest shot?" Joel asked in trepidation, and Ray nodded.

"We want to tell our listeners how you won the competition - they'll think it's hysterical!" Ray enthused, "And it won't be for long. I taped the original conversation - I just need a bit more and we'll be done!"

"Relax, Joel. You'll be fine," Jim offered his scowling friend.

"Dammit Jim, I'm a bomb disposal expert not a celebrity!" Joel growled and Ray nearly fell over laughing.

"Oh man! Can you say that again for the mike? That is like so cool!" Ray chuckled and Blair grinned at his friend. They hung the celebrity passes Ray handed out around their necks and then walked out to the court. The Nicks were there, running warm-up drills and Ray bounded over to the coach while the men from Cascade stood quietly together and explained the idea of basketball to Tommy.

"They're big, Da," was Tommy's comment and Jim reflected that when you were three everyone was big in comparison. Having big uncles had helped Tommy get used to the idea and he was happy enough to slap low fives with the players when they were introduced.

They moved onto the court and Joel declined the offer to scrimmage with the team - claiming it wasn't his sport.

"Sandburg and Ellison are good though - you should get them out," Joel dobbed his friends in shamelessly and took Tommy from Blair carefully. Tommy was happy enough to be carried by his uncle as long as he could still see his Da. Blair gave Daryl his jacket to hold and grinned over at Jim.

"C'mon, Jim. I'm sure the backboard will stay up this time," Blair teased and Jim rolled his eyes.

"That wasn't my fault, Sandburg," Jim growled, shrugging out of his jacket too, "And you know it."

Simon chuckled and took Jim's coat before standing back to watch his best partnership scrimmage with the Nicks.

They agreed to half court, two on two, and Jim started with the ball. The Nicks had offered to spot them a few points, which Jim had turned down immediately. Blair rolled his eyes and prepared to be sore for the next few days as the Sentinels sense of competition outweighed everything else.

A quick pass from Jim and Blair whirled, guarding the ball with his body as he dribbled it up the court. The player on his back was good - naturally - and had the advantage of height and reach, but Blair was cunning and shot the ball backward between his legs as Jim went past. The basket was blocked, and Jim's man took the ball back to the start easily. He managed to fake Jim out and throw the ball over Blair to his teammate who scored an easy basket, to the cheering of his teammates.

Blair turned and speared Jim with a significant look and Jim grinned. Their conversation on another court came back to him and Jim loosened his shoulders, ready to use the 'special talents' Blair had reminded him of. Tommy was bouncing in Joel's arms and Jim laughed at the sight - like father like son.

Blair took the ball to the halfway mark and stood straight a moment, dribbling the ball beside himself casually and grinning at his man. The guy grinned back with all the cockiness of a pro facing an amateur and Blair drove past him in a flash of movement to make it halfway down the court before his opponent got there. He was all over Blair, who let him push for a moment before straightening again and whipping the ball behind his back to Jim and driving to the right, around the startled pro. Jim sent the ball back almost immediately and Blair dribbled twice as he took two fast strides forward and hooked the ball into the basket in a sweet little move that had his friends and son roaring in approval and even the pro's colleagues giving him a yell of encouragement.

The pros scored the third basket quickly, as if wanting to make a point and Jim and Blair shook hands happily enough before heading off the court. Jim's opponent shouted and threw the ball to Jim who turned smoothly, zeroed in on the basket and sunk the ball with a quiet swish in a standing throw from almost halfway. He winked at the astonished player and went to rejoin his friends as the team went to the change rooms. Fans were streaming in slowly and the men from Cascade went to their seats while Joel was escorted off to his interview with Ray.

Tommy watched everything with wide eyes and constant questions. He sat between Daryl and Blair happily, his legs kicking in excitement and his arms waving all over the place - the perfect picture of a wound up three-year-old. Daryl and Jim were dispatched for popcorn and drinks while Blair took Tommy to the men's room before the game got started.

The cheerleaders were watched with astonishment - Tommy asked why they were dancing like that and Daryl had a hard time not laughing as Blair explained the idea of team spirit. Tommy wanted to know if he should have danced when Da and Uncle Jim played with the big men, and Jim told the boy he had almost been dancing with Uncle Joel so that counted.

The game was a good one - the two teams were evenly matched, so it came down to strategy for the winning baskets. The Nicks scraped a win and the men from Cascade waited a little while before heading out of the stadium.

Simon was not looking forward to the ride home. At the moment Daryl was still hyped by the game, but once they got on the train, his son would turn from energetic teen to surly teen as the late hour caught up with him. Tommy had practically passed out in Blair's arms and Jim was standing protectively over his Guide so the crowd wouldn't jostle the precious cargo.

"Hey, Daryl," Blair called over the noise of the crowd, "I'm taking Tommy home in a taxi. I could use some help - would you mind coming along?"

Simon watched his son puff up proudly at being trusted with helping a friend like that and gave Blair a thank you nod.

"Sure Blair," Daryl smiled and glanced at his dad. Simon was beaming at him proudly, giving the teenager a little thrill. His dad was proud that he was responsible - and Blair had asked him not Detective Ellison. He stepped to Blair's side as they got to the taxi rank and accepted the backpack that Jim was carrying for his friend.

The cab ride was quiet, but Daryl was ready to pay when the cab pulled up and he hurried around to open Blair's door and then usher his friend inside carefully. He got the keys to the penthouse ready and was out of the elevator first, unlocking the door and holding it open for Blair who nodded in thanks and proceeded down the hall to his son's room. Daryl turned the lock but didn't bother with the chain, knowing that Detective Ellison had a key to get back in. Then he hurried down to the living room to turn off the TV and collect Raffey from where the toy had been lovingly propped up on the couch with a snack. Daryl carried the toy down to Tommy's room in time to see Blair tuck the covers around the still sleeping boy. Blair smiled and held the doona up so Daryl could tuck Raffey in and then led the way out of his son's room.

"You'd better eat that snack, or Tommy will think Raffey didn't like it," Blair pointed to the donut and Daryl grinned, taking a huge bite and chewing happily. Blair shook his head and went to brush his teeth.

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

Blair was first up the next morning. The others had apparently stopped at a bar on the way home and had a few beers. Daryl had gone to bed after the donut and Blair had followed soon after. He put the coffee on and accepted delivery of the morning pastries. He left a note on the counter and took the full car to the rail freight yard.

After half a rainforest of forms and various vague nods in answer to the million and one requirements of the rail freight company - it was a car not a nuclear weapon, though the people accepting his business seemed confused about that - Blair caught a cab back to the penthouse.

He confirmed with Reception that they'd be moving out today and the assessors would be in on Monday morning then rode up quietly in the lift. After the events in Wilkinson Tower he wasn't too fond of elevators, but the idea of climbing the stairs to the fortieth floor was even less appealing. Given the choice Blair used the stairs at the loft and the PD - even though Major Crimes was on the seventh floor. The additional workout on top of his morning - or evening - runs kept him fit.

Tommy plastered himself against Blair's legs the minute he stepped in the door. He was barefoot and still wore his pajamas. Raffey was dropped to the floor and forgotten in the boy's haste to get to his father.

"Tommy? What's wrong?" Blair asked and glanced down the hall. Jim was standing half in half out of the kitchen. He just nodded when Blair noticed him and disappeared. Keeping watch, Blair thought and sat down on the spot, pulling Tommy into his lap and wrapping his jacket around the boy as best he could. Tommy wasn't crying, but his face was pale and strained.

"You left," Tommy mumbled and Blair nodded. He realised that Tommy was dependent - his time with his mother had done a lot of damage - but Blair didn't want to encourage the dependency. In Cascade there would be times when they had to be separate from each other and it would be best if Tommy could learn that it wasn't the end of the world.

"I had to take the car to the train, remember? It's coming to Cascade with us. In fact we're flying to Cascade today," Blair said gently, "And I was coming back. I always will."

"But you didn't take me with you," Tommy protested and Blair smiled. His friends were putting the last of the linen into the spare duffel Simon had brought and making a cheerful noise while they did it.

"I knew you were safe - you were with your uncles and your cousin Daryl. Uncle Jim was here and Raffey," Blair replied, "I bet he looked after you this morning and made breakfast and everything."

"Uh huh," Tommy nodded, "But I didn't want it without you."

"C'mon then," Blair urged his son to get up and then picked up Raffey. He brushed the toy off and handed it to his son, before lifting him onto his hip and walking down the hall. Jim was in the kitchen - obviously listening to their conversation - and he held out the robe and slippers Tommy had refused to wear. Blair put Tommy down and took Raffey back while Jim helped his nephew get dressed. They ate in the nook with Jim - the others had decided not to wait and Blair was glad, he hadn't expected them to.

Tommy and Blair went for their morning shower and Jim used the en-suite while their friends watched TV and relaxed before the flight. The plan was for the luggage to go to the storage area in Reception and everyone else to split up for the day. Daryl and Simon were going to do father son things and Rafe and Brown were planning to head off to some art gallery that they'd heard had an exhibition to do with cops. Taggert was meeting an old friend who'd moved out to New York ten years ago and kept in touch by phone.

Everyone was booked on the same flight back, so Jim and Blair would retrieve the luggage, hand over the keys to the penthouse and meet them all at the airport an hour before the flight was due to board. They'd check in and find a way to exhaust Tommy for the flight home.

They said their goodbye-for-nows and headed off in different directions. Jim and Blair had decided to spend the day with Tommy in the park - there was one in easy adult walking distance and Jim planned on giving his nephew a piggy back ride to it. Jim pranced and made a few horse noises to get the boy giggling - he was still a little quiet - and Blair made Woah noises to get his partner to settle down.

"If he pukes because you jogged him up and down on a full stomach, I don't want to know," Blair warned Sentinel soft and Jim immediately settled into a more staid gait.

The park was built around an artificial lake and Blair cautioned his son away from it before turning the boy loose on the play equipment. It took an hour for Tommy to settle down enough to be interested in the equipment - he kept checking that Blair was still there.

"How bad was it?" Blair asked when he was sure his son couldn't hear them talking. Jim shook his head and sighed.

"He cried a little - and searched the place pretty thoroughly. He wouldn't stay still long enough for me to put the robe on so I just sat in the hall by the door with him. When I heard your heartbeat on the elevator I told him you were coming and left to give you some space. I promised you'd be back, but he was really worked up. When we get him to Cascade we're going to have to work on it," Jim's voice was gentle and Blair nodded ruefully.

"Maybe we can start by having him leave me behind - you could take him to the park and I'll stay at the loft one day. Once he gets used to the idea that good things can happen when he's with someone else we'll try it the other way around. I really didn't think he'd panic like that. I'm sorry you had to go through that Jim," Blair waved to Tommy and looked over at his friend. His face was solemn and Jim shivered a little. The expression was hauntingly similar to Tommy's.

"It's ok Chief, neither one of us was expecting that reaction. The park plan is a good idea. Simon let me take some leave time, so I'll be around while you work on your thesis. I'll be off work until you face the committee, so we have a month to get Tommy used to the idea that separation is ok."

Blair's face lit up at that and he turned to face Jim, reaching out to touch his friend's arm.

"You'd do that for me? Man, that is so cool! Thank you," Blair's face and voice repaid the effort Jim had to go through to get that time approved.

Jim had a hankering for New York pizza, so they cut the morning short to walk through the park to a pizzeria that had been teasing Jim's nose all morning. It was one of those twenty four hour places that sold it by the slice as well as the pan and Tommy ate his first ever slice with gusto. They walked back through the park and Blair carried his son back to the penthouse to wash up and take one last look around. Jim had arranged for a taxi and was loading it as they came off the lift.

"Ready to go home to Cascade, Tommy?" Blair asked and smiled when his son's face lit up.

"Yes! Cascade!" Tommy bounced and got into the taxi without a backwards look. Blair met Jim's involuntary grin with one of his own and they climbed in too. The taxi pulled out and melted with the traffic to take them to the airport and home.

End New York...

Begin Cascade...

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