Where do I begin? Thank you all for the wonderful comments and praises on 'Steps'. My sister showed me how to save your messages and like a flower pressed in a book - I save each of your comments to fuel my drive to write more.

I'd also like to thank Starfox for a place to share these tales with others.

One valuable reader mentioned that there was an age discrepancy with the first story. They were right and I humbly beg forgiveness. So I hereby want to clear up that error. Blair was five years of age when he and Naomi met the Shaman, nine when Jim first met him, and became nine and a half by the story's end.

Once again, I have no beta and hope you forgive any of my literary blunders. I fear the destruction of an intelligent mind and continue on this journey alone. After all this is just for fun - Right?

If you haven't read Steps - Portion 1, this may not make a great deal of sense so please read that first. I hope you all like this next portion. This one is dedicated to all of you vocal and to those shy ones lurking just out of reach. Again thank you all.

Disclaimer: The original characters are not mine but nothing says I can't pretend.

Steps - Portion 2

by K-Lyn

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

Carolyn Plummer had divorced her husband after a year of marriage. At the time she thought it was for the best. The man seemed incapable of sharing emotions other than anger or annoyance. She considered him too detached and had wanted to share a love with someone that included closeness and romance. It was something she had hoped to show her first husband but realized later that this was impossible. James Ellison was happiest when he was alone.

So she thought.

Recently things had changed. Said husband, ex-husband now spent all of his time with a boy from God knew where. A pesky looking boy with long hair and a smart mouth. Jim seemed to really care for the little brat. The man went to Jag's games, played baseball, laughed - James Ellison laughed with the kid and now it seemed the once stoic and solitary man had adopted the child.

Who's kid was this anyway? Why adopt him when the man could have had one when the time was right? A child with someone like Carolyn.

Carolyn tried the subtle route and worked her way around the questions, digging up information wherever she could. Simon said the kid belonged to the now deceased Naomi Sandburg and Jim, for some reason, took the kid for his own and that was all the man would divulge.

A computer search on the name turned up empty. Nothing more could be found on this Naomi Sandburg other than the woman traveled a bit and her cause of death. Still Carolyn Plummer was never easily put off. The kid was an illegitimate but should be someone else's responsibility. The ex-wife even wondered how William Ellison, Jim's almost non-existent but highly influential father, handled that idea.

Had Jim lost his mind?

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

Ellison chuckled into the receiver as Blair told him how his day at Rainier Preparatory School went. The kid was definitely quite a piece of work and it was a pleasure to be able to speak with him when the noon lunch hour arrived.

A discussion with the school principal about the detective's job restraints on his day as well as his need to speak with his new son during the time he did have available ended with the principal allowing the use of the cell phone provided by father to son only at lunchtime and only in the principal's office. The rest of the day the phone was to be in the child's locker. It was a system that worked wonderfully.

The kid definitely knew how to make use of a fifteen minute call. "So Chief tell me about this tutor program you're interested in." Ellison marveled at the giving nature the boy had, he wanted to help other students learn to read. The school had a program that benefited children of lesser income families as well as their parents.

Children from lesser schools were bused into RPS to be tutored by students wanting to share their knowledge and willing to help others. Any child wanting to learn more on their off time was welcomed as long as there were within the same district and of relatively the same age as their ‘tutor'. Both students gained knowledge of each other as well as points for participating in the program. Since the program required the parental permission both sets of parents gained free daycare time from RPS. School was kept open until most parents got home from work. It was a test program and only time would show how it had faired.

"You think you want to be a professor someday?" Ellison knew the boy would be an excellent teacher. He was patient, determined and passionate about life. Who else could convince a stoic, hard-nose cop to drink chamomile tea to calm his nerves? Who else could so easily convince James Ellison that controlling his breathing would help him 'focus'? The boy even helped his senses from overloading without even knowing it.

"Well I don't know really. I thought maybe I'd cure cancer and then move on from that. The government needs to be given a look into and I really would like to see the pyramids. Oh and ..."

Jim chuckled at the sound of the boy's dreams and then sighed. "Alright, I'll call Irene and let her know that you won't be out until 4. I'll see you at 6, be good and bundle up, it's supposed to rain today. "

"Dad, I know how to dress," came the sarcastic remark.

"Listen kiddo, I know - you know how to dress - just humor me.

"Fine, got my slicker here. Don't get all jazzed up."

"We are going to have to have a talk about your use of the English language. Maybe this school is not good enough ... All right. Okay. Late Chief." Ellison smiled and he placed the receiver in its cradle. The kid seemed to brighten his mood just by talking about school.

He called Irene immediately and was grateful the woman was so easy to deal with. That taken care of he stood and went into Capt. Banks office. The two were discussing upcoming court appearance dates when Taggert entered Banks' office and interrupted the two. "Excuse me gentlemen, Simon, there has been a report of a bombing at a nearby homeless shelter. I need any extra hands you can volunteer in assisting with the civilians and with the search of the device."

Ellison, Rafe and two others reported for duty. Carolyn waited for the three to leave and then picked up a phone, time to put the plan in action.

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

Blair walked out of the school and met Irene. The two decided to stop off and pick up some ice cream before heading to the young child's home.

Though he still missed his momma a great deal, Jim was good to him and he was happy.

In a few months Blair would be celebrating his first double digit and wondered what it would be like to hang out with his new father. Maybe they could go camping or something.

As he thought about the future, he remembered his past birthdays and how Naomi always tried to make them memorable. "No year should be ignored. Life should be celebrated and each year is a gift one should never - not ever taken for granted." Blair intended to make his next year really count. It would be the year he'd make his dad proud to be his dad.

The two eventually continued their walk home while Irene quizzed Blair on police code numbers from a book Ellison had lying in a drawer in the kitchen, while Blair rapidly rattled off the responses. It was a game the boy some how coaxed the woman into playing and found it a challenging way to see if he could guess the correct answers. Lately, Irene was finding it harder to confuse the boy.

No sooner had they entered the loft, closed and locked the door behind them, when someone pounded on the door.

Irene sent Blair into the room beneath the stairs and answered the door with the chain still connected.

Blair couldn't hear what was said but Irene shoved the door closed and immediately went to make a call. She then called the boy over to her. "Blair, do you have grandparents?"

He shrugged, "Momma said her parents disowned her. I guess that meant me too."

Someone knocked on the door again and Irene pulled Blair closer to her. "Don't answer the door and stay in the storage room. I've called your dad and he should be here soon."

"But why? Is this about me?"

"Blair we'll let your dad handle this, all right?"

Blair nodded. He didn't know what was going on but he wished his dad were home now.

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

Ellison was just wrapping things up with Capt. Taggert who was amazed at how easily the detective was able to locate the undetonated bombs. Jim brushed off the compliments and strode towards his truck. Suddenly he felt the need to call home. He shook it off, he'd be home soon enough and Irene was a good babysitter. An hour later he entered Major Crimes prepared to type up a report on the day's events when he noted the voicemail light on his desk phone. He received the message and immediately called home. Irene said it wasn't an emergency but it was important that he call as soon as possible.

The home phone was busy and the foreboding feeling that grew in the pit of the detective's stomach was now stronger than ever. He quickly grabbed his coat and left, the report could wait till later.

As he arrived at the loft he heard Irene arguing with two men. He drew his gun and ran up the stairwell. "Hold it right there gentlemen."

A third man who had been standing off to one side stepped forward. "James Ellison?"

Judging the situation to be non-volatile, he placed his gun back into his holster, "I'll do the asking here, mister. Why are you harassing Ms. Reynolds and why is my oak door covered with pound marks?"

The thin, almost weak man stepped forward, "The name is Jacob Baronstein. I represent the Sandburgs who have filed for custody of their only grandson - Blair Sandburg. I also have a court order to take the young man to the Sandburgs tonight."

Jim was furious. His son hadn't even truly grieved the loss of his mother and now this. "Blair is going nowhere. I will not allow you anywhere near him until the court date and until I have had time to review the documents for myself."

Baronstein sighed, "The papers expressly state..."

Ellison stepped up to the shorter man and glared at him, "I don't give a rats ass what those papers say. You and your two goons here will leave or I will have you removed. As for the Sandburgs, tell me, where the hell were they when their only daughter was dying?" Ellison's eyes burned in anger and since no answer was supplied he filled in the silence, "Now leave."

Baronstein waved the two men over, "You will be seeing me again sir."

Jim ignored the man went to stand beside Irene, who had placed herself in the middle of the doorway and hadn't budged an inch. The woman was a nurse and one hell of a bouncer.

He waited until they were gone when the babysitter spoke, "Jim, I called but the lady that answered the phone said you were out and put me into your voicemail. I didn't think it was a life or death situation and I really didn't want her to interrupt you from doing your job."

Ellison frowned; he'd get to the bottom of that later. "Thank you for protecting my son, Irene."

The woman smiled, "I'll be going now. He's up in your room. Jim go easy, he's terrified and hasn't a clue what's going on."

From where Jim stood he could hear the boy's heart beating way too fast and he could also hear sniffles. He struggled to calm himself, he didn't want the child thinking he was angry with him. He'd deal with those men later.

He closed the door behind him and walked up to his room, calling out softly, "Chief?"

"D-dad?"

He paused at the top of the stairs and watched as a small body slid out from beneath his bed.

Ellison went to sit on the bed and pulled the boy over. Blair met his eyes and then looked away, "I-I liked it here. I don't wanna leave."

He pulled the boy closer, sitting him on his knee and hugged him. "I'm not letting you go."

Blair pressed his face against his dad's neck and whispered, "But they said they have papers and ..."

Jim rocked the boy within his arms and shook his head, "You are my son, Blair. No one will take that away from me."

Blair hugged the man tightly. "You are my dad and no one will ever change that for me either."

Later the two walked down to the main level and had dinner. After each took a shower, they sat and watched a movie on the action channel while Blair told his dad about his 'students', he had two, in his tutoring class and Jim told his son of his day while omitting any gory details. Time passed and Blair finally fell asleep against his father. The older man looked down at his son and smiled. It was time to call it a night.

He stood and lifted the boy in the air and then carried him to the nearby chair so he could prepare the couch. He really needed to go shopping for a bed for the kid. He completed fixing the bed and turned to get the sleeping child. "Time to go to bed tough guy."

Blair hugged his dad tightly and looked at the loft from over the strong shoulder. It was home. "Dad?"

Jim paused, "Yeah kiddo."

Blair held tighter still, "I love you very much."

Jim closed his eyes and smiled, "I love you too Blair."

Jim tucked the boy in for the night and then sat on the nearby coffee table to watch as the child fell into a deep sleep. He studied the small face, wondering what the kid would be like when he got older and hoped that the enthusiasm he saw on that face would never die. Jim reached out and brushed the hair away from the innocent sleeper's face and placed a kiss on his forehead. "I won't let them take you," he whispered.

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

The next morning, Jim took Blair to school and left instructions with the teacher as well as the principal that no one, with the exception of he or Irene, was to pick the boy up.

Attorneys are like ticks on a dog. If they can't get you in the ear, they'll bite you on the ass.

As Ellison entered Major Crimes he noticed that everyone was looking at him. Just then the door to his captain's office opened and he was called in.

Inside were Capt. Banks, two older people and Jacob Baronstein. Ellison pointedly ignored everyone as he looked at Capt. Banks.

The captain sighed at being the designated bearer of bad news. "Jim, Mr. Baronstein has a warrant for your arrest. He says you threatened him with bodily harm last night. These two people here are the Sandburgs and according to Baronstein they have a court order to take custody of Blair Sandburg."

Ellison looked at the two older individuals. Both grayed and thin. Neither had the verve that Naomi and Blair had. They lacked a sparkle in their eyes, the one Naomi had and the sparkle that shone in Blair's eyes. He then looked at his watch and then gazed out Banks' office door. "Excuse me for one moment."

Borenstein was about to start yelling when another man was motioned by the detective to enter the office, "Hello everyone, my name is Fred Casson. I represent Mr. Ellison in this matter and from what I have already learned you and your clients have no basis for this claim. Mr. Ellison was given custody of young Blair while Naomi Sandburg was alive. Now though she suffered from a terminal illness, it had no damaging effects on her thought processes. She made her decision in sound mind." He paused to gaze at the elderly couple and then back at their attorney, "I have obtained several reports on this and at the moment I have an associate of mine obtaining the witnesses to the fact. Now I believe we are disturbing Capt. Banks here with matters that should be discussed behind closed doors and I suggest that we move this discussion elsewhere. I think it unconscionable to bring personal business into the workplace unless of course it is necessary and this is not."

Simon cleared his throat in order to disrupt the tension and then offered a proposition. "Might I suggest Interrogation Room 3? Though it isn't used for meetings of this nature, it has a large conference table and several chairs. It is also soundproof and available at the moment."

The five followed Ellison to the room. An hour later Ellison stormed out. Banks spotted the man and called him into his office.

The detective entered, his body tense with barely controlled anger and began pacing. "I will not lose my son. He is my son damn it. Mine."

Banks handed him a cup of coffee and tried to calm him. "Jim, I know you and I aren't good friends but please, Blair protected Daryl and I'd like to help the little tyke if I can. Talk to me."

Jim walked to the window and looked out at the view. It was a cool cloudy day. Grey and gloomy. He sighed, "It's broken down to one very simple thing. Basically, since Blair is their grandson by blood, they will get custody. Casson said he could get me visitation rights but feels it might be better to just let go of Blair. He feels that there isn't a judge anywhere who would allow custody to be given to a non-family member. The fact that Naomi granted the right to be her son's father is considered an act of desperation. Their attorney, the disgusting soulless bastard, said that Naomi had no idea her parents were available and suggested that the medication she was given at the time may have impaired her judgment." Ellison placed the cup down and sat on the chair, "Simon, I can't explain it but he's mine to protect, mine to love. My son. I promised his mother and I promised him. I can't go back on this. He means too much to me. Everything."

Banks had never known the detective to be a passionate man, let alone emotional but at that moment he felt what any father would feel for another who's child was about to be taken away. "I'm so sorry Jim. So very sorry."

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

Blair waited for Irene to come pick him up when instead he noticed two police officers coming into the school. He quickly ran out the back way, knowing the two were here for him. He searched his backpack for his cell phone and groaned, he'd left it in his locker after lunch.

Minutes later, he noticed that they were looking for him and stopped to speak with one of his classmates. Megan had pointed in the opposite direction, waited and quickly walked over to where Blair hid. "They say they're here to take you to your grandparents. Are they bad people?"

Blair shook his head. "I don't want to go with them. Please help me. I just - I want my dad."

Megan accepted the reason as only one nine year old could do for another whom she was smitten with. Decision made, the young girl took Blair's hand and pulled him back into the school and down the hall into the home economics room. "Stay in this cupboard. You can have those crackers in the corner; I put them there this morning, for my next assignment. No one will find you here, I promise. Wait for your dad to come get you."

Blair climbed in and paused, "Could you call my dad and tell him where I am? I-I left my cell phone in my locker."

Megan smiled brightly, "Anything."

Blair gave her the number and moved to get into the cupboard, he hesitated and turned to face her again. "Thank you Megan." He kissed her quickly on the cheek and then crawled into the cupboard, closing the doors behind him.

Megan blushed and turned to leave, whispering, "Some day I am going to marry that boy." She giggled and went to the payphone.

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

Ellison was fuming. Irene wasn't able to pick Blair up and had been informed of the sheriffs who had gone to the school to take his son, without success. Jim wanted to strike someone, now his child was missing and probably terrified. Then he got the call from a certain small redhead and smiled, "Megan, thank you for helping Blair. You are a very sweet child." He smiled at the giggle he received. His son was in for quite a future in the romance department.

An hour later and after making certain he wasn't followed, Ellison entered the economics classroom at RPS, "Chief?" Though he got no response, he heard the familiar heartbeat coming from the lower right corner, beneath a sink. Jim reached over and opened the cabinet door. There he found his son curled into a tight ball. He reached in and pulled the sleeping figure towards him. His eyes adjusted to the dim room and he noted that the boy had been crying. Tear tracks streaked the slightly dusty face. He carried the child to his truck and placed him in the back. As he drove to the loft, he noticed a car with two men inside seated in his usual parking spot. Both men were watching the loft. Ellison parked two blocks away and entered the building through a side door.

Blair slept through all of this and it concerned his father. The boy was usually a live wire, he must have been seriously frightened. Ellison kept the lights in the loft dim and made certain that all the doors were locked. Never once, during all of this, did the man release the child from his hold. Never once did the boy wake.

He sat down on the couch and looked at the child in his arms. So young, so small and so innocent. "Chief?"

Blair stirred and curled into Jim's chest causing the man to chuckle, "Come on sleepy head, open those peepers for me."

Blair yawned and then opened his eyes. He looked around and then up at his dad. "I'm home?"

Ellison chuckled again and re-situated the child in his arms. "Yeah kid, you're home."

Sitting up, Blair hugged the man tightly, "They're gonna take me away aren't they?"

Jim closed his eyes, he had promised never to lie to the boy. Even now, it wasn't right. "I think so."

Blair buried his face in the crook of his father's neck and spoke softly, "Why? I'm happy here - I don't want to go away, this is my home."

Ellison pulled the body close to him and whispered back. "I tried hief, I really did and I will keep trying but for now we have to do this. A judge has decided that you would be better off living with your grandparents. They're your blood relatives and they have money so they can afford to spoil you with good things and spend more time with you than I can."

Blair felt a tear slip from his eyes and sniffled, "Dad?"

Jim fought hard to remain calm and to relax. God this was so very hard, "Yes, son."

Blair smiled at the response. "I will always love you - no matter what."

Ellison nodded, "I will never stop loving you kiddo. Never."

Blair let go but stayed in Jim's lap, "I don't want to go. They weren't there for my momma, you were. You cared about me when I thought no one wanted me. Not even those people at the agency."

Ellison waited a moment and spoke again, softly. "Blair I haven't stopped fighting to keep you but I want you to remember that - that they are your grandparents. I don't want you hating them. Naomi would never want that and neither would I. Try to accept them, maybe they're trying to make up for past mistakes."

Blair looked at the only man he'd come to love as a father and sniffled. "They are making me leave you behind. I can't help it, I don't like them already."

Jim cleared his throat, he wanted to cry with the boy but he had to do this right. "I never wanted to have a son, much less share my life with anyone as much as I do with you. You are my son, Blair never forget that. I will try to get you back but I don't want you to hate. You're a lucky boy you know?"

Blair frowned through his tears, "How do you figure?"

Jim smiled at the curiosity shown in the small face. "Because we are all fighting to love you. We all love - you."

Smiling at the idea, Blair nodded. "I'll be good dad, I promise, but don't forget me."

Ellison pulled the boy close, he closed his eyes and breathed in the smell of the boy, reveled in the warmth the small body gave to his heart and soul. He world was right when the child was near. "I will never - ever forget you Blair."

Later Jim called his attorney and agreed to have the boy ready the next morning. That night he fell asleep on the couch beside his son. His heart breaking at what was to come. He wished he could die rather than face this pain and it occurred to him that it was this very fear that kept him from caring about a lot of things. He looked down at his son and smiled through his pain because it was nothing compared to the joy he had shared with the child beside him. The price had been worth it but the aftereffects were hard to deal with.

The next morning Blair was dressed in his favorite sweatshirt and jeans. His clothes packed and his hair combed. Jim fought every instinct that screamed for him to grab the boy and go into hiding. This was his son, no one could tell him different. He wanted to cry out or hit some one, yet he held it all back - he had to.

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

Jim arranged to meet with Mr. Borenstein at the park across from the loft. He was given the Sandburgs' phone number and told to call later that night to speak to Blair. The cell phone was not allowed.

Blair hugged the barely calm man one last time and Jim watched as the small hand was pulled away from his grasp and the child was walked away. Blair remained silent until he was placed into the limousine that waited nearby. As the door closed, he allowed tears to fall then, hoping his Dad wouldn't be able to see him.

Ellison walked back to the loft and began to clean up. The boy would be fine, he told himself. Blair needed to go to a better school and see the world. The Sandburgs told him they had money and wanted to share with the boy all that life had to offer. Blair would be better off without a cop who yelled about stupid things and who had a salary that couldn't afford the kid whatever he desired.

The room now in place, he walked up to his room and began to fix his bed when his fingers brushed against something beneath his pillow. He pulled out Blair's book about sentinels. Slowly he sat on the bed, as he carefully opened the book. A piece of paper slid towards him containing familiar handwriting. "Dad, I miss you already. Remember to keep up your meditating and breathing lessons. Most of all remember that I will love you forever. Your Son - Blair."

Jim closed the book and placed it on the bed beside him. He placed his elbow on his knees and buried his face into his hands, "I can't do this. It hurts so much. Please. Please." Tears fell. Never had he felt so much heart ache, never had he cried this much in his life.

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

Blair exited the limo and walked up to the large door. It opened and he came face to face with two older people. "Hello, sir, madam. I am Blair Sandburg - son of Naomi Sandburg and James Ellison. Your grandson."

The two smiled and took the outstretched hand.

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

Jim returned to work a day later. More distanced than before. Carolyn had seen what he was like with the boy and she wanted that man for herself, now was the time to move forward. Try she did. She had invited him to lunch, dinner, Jag's games, she tried to talk to him and each time she received short courteous responses. He was the same cold man she remembered divorcing, devoid of the warmth he shared with that child and now he seemed even colder and more indifferent.

Carolyn decided she hated that boy. She was married to the man, shared his bed, loved him and he never once was as caring as he had been with that boy. She was glad she had done what she did. Jim had hurt her and now she had hurt him in return.

Payback was a bitch.

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

Blair did everything his grandparents wanted. He studied, ate what they expected him to, made nice with the rich boys and girls whose parents were related to associates of his grandfather, dressed in the overpriced clothing bought for him, respected his grandparents but wanted more than anything to go back to his dad.

Blair touched his hair as the wind blew past his cheek and sniffled, "Momma I'm not happy. Please momma, come and get me."

Elise Sandburg silently watched her grandchild. He had raised such a stink about that long hair, he'd look so much better without it but she gave in to the only request the boy made. She heard his whispered prayer and slowly backed out of the room before he could see her. Blair seemed happy, seemed content but that was how he seemed. Not how he was.

She walked to her husband in the large den and sat across from him, "We're losing that child."

Ben Sandburg gazed at her and smiled reassuringly, "Now El, the young man is just suffering from adjusting to living here. You'll see. He just needs more time."

Elise looked at her husband, he was strong and accustomed to getting things the way he wanted them. He wasn't used to losing any battle no matter what the cost. "Ben, he had had time. The child is not happy. I won't do this again. Not with that poor boy. Please Ben I can't."

Ben looked at his wife, his only weakness, and sighed. "So you prefer to give the boy up to that cop? Our grandchild handed over to a total stranger. Our own blood."

Elise stood and walked to the doorway. "I won't go through this again. Just make it happen Ben, before he ends up hating us and running away too."

Ben sighed, "He belongs to us Elise and besides, Ellison is really not the type of person I feel that boy should be raised by. Blair would be exposed to blue-collar backgrounds and a world where he quite possibly could come in contact with real criminals. I did my research and it seems Naomi selected a man to raise her son that is very much like she was. He also grew in a nice stable home and somehow he ended up an outsider. Blair will not end up like that. He is ours to raise as best we can."

Elise looked away, she chose her battles well and was so far, undefeated. "Blair is not a possession, he is our grandson, Naomi's son. As for James Ellison, the man calls every day and it has been two months already. He stays away as requested but I can tell by the sound of his voice that he is hurting as much as Blair. Ben they love each other. I know, we love our grandchild too but ..." Elise looked at the man she loved for years, the man who forced an ultimatum on his only daughter and in turn had forced her to run away, to die alone and far from her family.

Elise had stood by and allowed this, Ben was always right. Just not that time, or this time. "Do this for me Ben - please. I love him dearly but that child is hurting and I can't stand to see it in his eyes. I can't stand to see my daughter's eyes with that pain again."

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

The judge passed the papers through. Now, it was truly official.

Blair sat in the large dining area; today he was 10 years old. He sighed, he had hoped to get a call from his dad but maybe he was too busy. Maybe he forgot about you. Blair shook his head at the nagging thought. Dad promised and he would never forget. His grandmother walked into the dining area and sat beside him while the cook prepared his birthday dinner and the two awaited the return of his grandfather from some last minute meeting or something.

Elise took the boy by the hand and walked to the atrium in the back of the house. Blair liked this part of the home, he felt like he was in a jungle or forest, far from everyone. It had good vibes here. Elise sat on a bench near the window and pulled the boy beside her, "This was you mother's favorite place. She said it was like seeing the world before mankind changed it." Elise smiled as the voice of her daughter giggled in her memory.

Blair looked away. "Why did you and she never talk?"

Elise sighed, "When you are a parent you wish the best for your child. Things happened, Naomi wanted to do things her way and, well, your grandfather and I tried to force her to live another way. My poor daughter was so alone, she needed to be who she was in her heart, to live outside our rules and because we left her no choice, one day she ran away."

Elise felt a tear drop from her eye and sighed. "I never knew where she went to, whom she was with or if she was alright. Your grandfather and I loved her so very much, Blair, we both did - honest we did." Elise smiled through her unshed tears and gazed and the small face beside her, "I don't want you to ever feel the need to run away from us. I want you to be happy, to share your happiness with us and when you need help or just want to talk to an older person, I want you to call on us. I want you to know we are for you here no matter what."

Blair liked his grandmother and his grandfather and wished Naomi had been able to moved past what had happened. Maybe her life would have been better, maybe she would have lived longer. He looked at his grandmother's tear filled eyes and smiled. "I will - I promise. Grandma?"

Elise smiled, "Yes my sweet boy."

Blair spoke softly, "Do you think we can have my dad, I mean Jim, over some time? I miss him."

Just then the two heard Ben call to them before the older woman could answer.

Blair walked beside his grandmother and decided to ask his question again later, maybe when she was happier. He walked into the foyer and smiled brightly. "Dad? Dad!!!!"

Ellison caught the boy as he jumped into his arms. "Hey there Chief. Been behaving yourself?"

Blair smiled brightly. "Yeah dad, just like you said." He hugged the man tightly and whispered, "I still miss you every day."

Ellison smiled at the warmth that he felt from the child and whispered back, "I miss you too kiddo."

Ben Sandburg gazed at his wife and smiled, she was right. The two were miserable and now, well now they seemed at peace. Elise smiled at her husband and then looked at the detective, "Let's go celebrate this boy's birthday."

Blair was happy beyond words. Everything was terrific; the only thing that would have been more perfect would be to have his momma there. Still Blair was elated.

The night's festivities wore on but reality slowly begged to be acknowledged.

As the evening grew close Blair began to get depressed. His dad would be leaving. The ten year old really did like his grandparents but dad needed him. Dad was alone with no one to talk to or to take care of him and he looked so tired. Blair wondered if he had, had a bad headache and had he been drinking the chamomile tee. Grandma and granddad had each other they didn't need Blair. Dad needed Blair and Blair definitely needed his Dad.

Ellison enjoyed the whole day. Ben Sandburg was intent on grilling him about his work and his income but he didn't care, he was near his son and nothing else mattered. Blair looked good but was so thin and his clothes didn't seem his style. Still the kid made him smile and for the first time since the boy was taken away, Jim felt calm and content.

Jim noted that the Sandburgs were good people, rich, married for a long while and content. He couldn't help but feel a bit jealous. Why would Blair want to live with him? The loft was small, here the kid lived in a better class neighborhood and would be able to do more with his future. He watched Blair and tried hard not to get depressed at the thought of leaving the boy.

All presents were unwrapped and the housekeeper had promptly taken them away. Ellison sighed, it was time to leave. Time to leave Blair. Elise cleared her throat, "Blair there is one more gift your grandfather and I want to give to you." She handed an envelope to Blair and smiled.

Blair opened the envelope and frowned, "Huh?"

Ellison walked over to the boy and looked at the papers. He looked at Blair and then at the two seated across from him, "You're giving me custody of Blair? Is this for real?"

Elise smiled warmly at the two and placed her hand into that of her husband's, "We've decided we were wrong. Jim, Blair needs you and you, I'll wager, need my grandson. I just hope you'll indulge us in some phone calls and quite a few visits. Oh, and I promise, these papers are final and will not be contested further. He is yours to raise."

Ben cleared his throat. "I hope you will allow the boy to come over during a holiday once and again."

Jim smiled as he replied. "Anytime sir. I can appreciate just how difficult this is for you."

Elise looked at the silent child. "Blair? Is this alright with you?"

Blair looked at all the parents before him. "I have a father and grandparents. I'm tying to process but, yes, I am very happy - thank you."

Elise sat on the chair nearest the boy and pulled him close. "Do you want to live with Jim?"

Blair looked at Jim and smiled. "I love my dad and yes I want to live with him but I - I'm gonna miss you both too."

Elise pulled him close, "I will be here whenever you want to visit."

Blair kissed her on the cheek and went to hug his grandfather. "This is the best birthday ever."

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

Jim walked into the loft smiling broadly and lugging several suitcases. Blair followed close behind carrying several bags with him and bounced into the loft. "Dad, you cleaned up the place. Looks nice." Of course the place was never dirty but Blair had often heard the older people say this kind of stuff and figured it was what one said when one was away for a while.

Ellison chuckled at the comment and secretly anticipated some disorder. Blair had placed everything in the space below his dad's bedroom. The two hadn't even bought a bedroom set yet but soon. Jim leaned against the counter and watched as the newly aged 10 year old fixed the couch for bed, placing a select few of his gifts beside the bookshelf and turned on the television.

Blair sat on the couch and looked over his shoulder at his dad, "Come on Dad, the game starts in five minutes. Don't cha want to watch it with me?"

Jim walked over to the couch and sat beside the boy. It had been the best basketball game ever. Neither viewer remembered who won but both loved the company.

Fifteen minutes later the kid was slumped against his right arm and asleep. Jim lowered the sound on the television and pulled Blair close. He looked at the face, searching for change, hoping he'd see none. It had been two of the longest months, months that could have altered the boy in a million ways. Thankfully nothing did. Jim smiled as Blair curled closer to him and sighed contentedly.

One month ago, Ellison remembered one night in particular. He again sat on the couch in the darkened room. There was no need for light, no need to eat, no need for anything - he was alone and now he knew what alone truly was. He missed his son. Some people hinted that the kid wasn't his by blood, which in the long run he'd be grateful the child had been taken in by true family members and that it was time to move on. They didn't understand that a man who never truly opened himself to care about someone couldn't just turn away from that one person who had shown him what it was like to want to come home to a smiling face and to want to share little bits of their life. Blair was like a beacon in the darkness and Ellison needed that light to continue to exist.

He carefully shifted the child on the couch and tucked him in. "I can't believe you're my son. That you want to be with me. I only hope I deserve your love. Sleep well Chief." He brushed back some stray hair and then went to take a shower.

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

Blair dreamed he was in the jungle and the panther was running beside him. He saw his mother in the distance and then she was gone. Blair stopped and watched as everything drifted away from him. Slowly an inky darkness crept towards him. He tried to move but it was everywhere. "No. Get away. No. Dad. Dad!!!"

Jim had just finished dressing for bed when he heard the boy cry out. He quickly ran to the couch and picked him up. Blair held on tightly as he cried, "My momma is dead. She-she's gone. Forever. Isn't she?"

The older man nodded and held the child close as Blair cried harder. "Please. Please, don't leave Daddy, please don't leave me - ever."

Jim had been concerned that Blair never truly mourned for his mother but was told that it would take time and now... now he simply held on tightly and tried to comfort the boy. "Shhh, I won't leave you. I promise."

He held the child in his arms as he stood and paced the living room area. It was an action that calmed him and seemed to make the boy feel safer. Time passed and Blair slowly fell asleep in his arms. Ellison tried to place him back on the couch but Blair whimpered, "No, don't let go."

He looked up and decided his next course of action. Jim took the child to bed with him and lay beside the boy, rubbing his back and hoping to calm him down. Blair shifted around and wrapped his arms around Ellison's waist. His head rested on top of the older man's chest as he sighed in contentment. Ellison smiled, "I won't leave you. You are my son and I promise I will be here when you wake and then some."

Blair woke later that night and sat up. He looked around. It was dark and reminded him of his dream. He shivered and then felt a hand come up behind him and pull him back into the safeness of warmth and comfort. It was Dad. He was in Dad's bed. Blair smiled and curled into the safety offered by his dad. He was protected here and the darkness couldn't harm him with Dad around. Again Blair laid his head on his father's chest and sighed. "I love you daddy."

Ellison was barely awake but the words drifted to his consciousness and he smiled.

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

Capt. Banks sighed, Ellison had been doing well for a while but lately he was almost zombie-like in his movements and actions. Present but only in body, his spirit was gone. Simon didn't know how to reach the man. Sure Ellison missed the boy but, well, he wasn't really his son. Right? How the hell did that kid reach the usually cold and non-expressive detective when no one else could? He hoped the two days leave he gave Ellison would allow the man to regroup. Simon didn't want to begin to worry about any reckless behavior out on the field.

Just then there was a knock on his door. "Come."

The door opened and in came said boy, "Hi Simon. I wanted to ask that you give this to Daryl. He said he likes the Jags and my grandpa gave me two hats. He had them both autographed by the players and since I've got only one head, I thought I'd share."

Slightly stunned by the reappearance of the little live wire, Capt. Banks took the hat from the child and noted that it was indeed autographed by all the players, "I don't know what to say?"

Blair frowned, "My dad said the customary response is - Thank you dude."

Banks chuckled at the statement and wondered when it was that his demeanor had invited such cockiness from one so young but still he had to smile - the kid was absolutely right. "Well young man, I do thank you and so will Daryl but I don't think I'll call you dude."

Blair laughed. "Okay and you're welcome. Gotta go. Dad said to leave you alone, said you're one busy guy."

Banks looked behind the boy. "Where is your Dad?"

Blair shrugged, "I told him about Ms. Plummer stopping by a couple of days ago and how I liked her and he told me to have a seat. Guess he wanted to thank her for looking in on me while I stayed at my grandparents."

Banks nodded, "Alright, go do as your Dad said. Oh and I'll make sure Daryl gets this and thanks again."

Blair walked out the door and Banks chuckled. "Dude indeed." The kid had a way about him. Just then Brown walked up to the desk and started teasing the boy. Blair was obviously no push over and soon had the older man chuckling. Yep that kid has a way about him.

Banks wondered why Carolyn had even bothered to look in on the kid, she seemed to dislike him but Blair seemed to win most everyone over. "Guess I was wrong."

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

Ellison went to the Lab department and waited for his ex-wife. He remembered a time when he had loved the woman deeply and still felt sadness that their marriage didn't last. She wanted so much and Jim didn't know how to please her. He did try but he was unable to share all of his heart - he didn't know how and she didn't want to wait for him to learn.

It still hurt that their marriage had failed. He had hoped to remain friends but apparently Carolyn had other intentions.

The woman entered the lab and smiled at Jim, "Come into to my office Jimmy."

Ellison entered her office and closed the door.

Carolyn sat at her desk and smiled brightly, "How can I help you Jimmy? Change your mind about lunch? I'm even willing to go to Wonder Burger."

Ellison took a deep breath, "Carolyn, you've met my son Blair haven't you?"

Carolyn looked away and then back. "Yes. I also heard he's no longer yours. His grandparents have him now. I also hear you are still trying to get him back. Which is admirable but just plain silly and not at all something you would normally do..."

Jim looked at her and pinned her with an icy glare, "Why the disgust in your voice?"

Carolyn met his cold gaze with one of her own and remembered how much she hated that look and tone. "Jim why adopt a child like that? He has grandparents; why not let them deal with him? You could have kids of your own. A child who was of your own blood not some cast off."

Jim spoke in a soft clipped tone, "I do with my life as I choose. You no longer have the right to have any say in my actions. This child, this wonderful kid is an unexpected joy in my life. I agree, he does have grandparents and, yes, I could have children on my own and maybe, someday, I will, but Blair will be part of that decision along with whomever the mother will be."

Ellison looked away for a moment and then back at Carolyn. "I had wondered how the Sandburgs were able to locate Blair so soon after his mother's death. I wondered how they knew his schedule and my schedule for that matter. It was you wasn't it?

The woman didn't answer knowing her ex-husband already knew the truth.

"You had no right."

Carolyn stood, her body trembling with uncontrollable anger. "Jimmy you don't need this child and his baggage laid on you. I just wanted to help you out of a bad situation."

"We are no longer married. You no longer need to concern yourself with my life. My son and I will be just fine." He exited the office and paused. "If you ever hurt him or speak out of turn in front of him, I will make you pay. Stay away from him and me for that matter." He turned and left as he heard Carolyn call out to him. He didn't look back - there was no need.

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

Blair sighed. He hated waiting. He noticed that Rafe was having trouble with his computer so he stepped over. Fifteen minutes later he had updated all the computers in the Major Crime Division, cleaned out their 'trash cans' and changed the fonts to Arial, a font the kid preferred. Capt. Banks also liked that font, said it looked cleaner. Brown was now working on a faster moving system and loving it. The guys were around Blair listening to a ten year old about how a 'user' could update the system when Jim walked in. He leaned against the doorframe and watched as his co-workers listened to the boy with rapt attention.

Capt. Banks looked up from his desk. He noted Jim and then followed his gaze to the circle of men and women around Blair. He looked back and motioned for Ellison to join him.

The detective stepped in and took the cup of coffee that Simon offered to him. "So? Let's hear it."

"Hear what?"

Simon rolled his eyes, "Is Blair in your care now?"

Ellison smiled, "Yes. The Sandburgs gave me documented custody. It's official. My son is home for good." He paused and looked out the window. "How does he do it?"

Simon tilted his head, "Do what?"

"He's just a child but look at him. He is at home anywhere and with most anyone."

The Captain of the Major Crimes Division smirked, "The little dude impresses the hell out of me too."

"Dude?"

Simon laughed as he repeated the hat giving discussion. "You are going to have your hands full with that one. I speak from experience and you had better be ready."

Ellison chuckled, "Well, let me go get the 'dude' and we'll head out for the day. I just dropped by to say thanks for helping me out by listening to me when I needed to talk. I did appreciate it."

Simon liked the new improved James Ellison. The guy had a sense of humor and he spoke. "Take the little troublemaker home. Oh, and tell him I like the new fonts and my screensaver."

Jim looked at the captain's screen and noted it had a picture of the superior and his son, Daryl. He chuckled as he replied, "No sweat 'dude'."

Simon almost spat out his coffee. Yep, he definitely liked the new James Ellison.

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

Blair was happy, back at his old school, back to tutoring and back home with his new dad. He watched now as his Dad paced in front of him. Even now.

"Chief in order to live together we have to abide by some rules. Now you have to learn to clean up after yourself. Your clothes go into the hamper, not on the floor. Your shoes by the front door, it keeps outside dirt from being traipsed around the place and wash your cups and plates right after you use them, that way they can be used whenever you need them."

Blair looked down and nodded, "Oh, okay. I'll do that."

Jim sighed, "Chief, I'm not yelling at you, we just need to keep the place tidy. Alright?"

Blair nodded. He right away started to pick up after himself and then went to go do his homework at the dining room table. Momma never told me when to clean. She thought I was a good boy. Blair looked out towards the balcony windows for a moment and sighed. Maybe Dad is getting tired of me. Maybe he thinks I'm too much trouble and he's changing his mind about me and being his son. He decided to become very neat and quiet - just in case. He hoped his dad wouldn't be like those others. They always got tired of him and then they left. What if Jim gets tired of me?

Several hours later Jim went to his bed. His son had been very quite and he figured the kid was mulling over his rules. Ellison remembered growing up in his own home. The strict rules and the harsh punishments. He did learn to keep the rules but the punishments were not always just. The new parent promised not to raise the boy in the same manner. Rules yes, harsh punishments - no. Ellison loved the boy. A feeling he never felt his father shared for he or his brother Steven. He wanted to be a better father than William Ellison. He was going to try hard.

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

Two months later...

There was no obvious indication that anything was wrong. In fact, James Ellison was quite pleased with his relationship with his son. So when the principal called to meet with him, he was expecting some sort of praise about Blair. Instead he was told that the principal and several of Blair's teachers were concerned that the boy was not happy at home. Blair's grades had dropped considerably; he hadn't been participating in class, which was strange since the boy usually exhibited such enthusiasm and curiosity. Blair also fell asleep a lot in class and barely ate his lunch.

Knowing a direct discussion with his son was out of the question -the kid maneuvered out of a direct attack better than any suspect the detective had ever come across-, Jim decided to utilize his detective skills towards this situation.

Suddenly it was apparent that the boy wasn't eating much at home either. He had dropped two pant sizes and was rolling his pants inward. He cleaned constantly but did it in such a way that one had to really look at what he was doing. In fact this was the reason Blair rarely slept. Jim watched Blair as the boy lay on the couch facing the door. He watched the door all night long and whenever he nodded off, he struggled to stay awake by going to the bathroom and straightening things as he walked along.

Ellison tried to discuss this with the kid. He tried to be subtle, "Are you happy here Chief? I mean would you like to go live with your grandparents?"

Blair shook his head; his eyes impossibly wide and his hands trembling. Jim didn't want the kid to fear him. He'd never hurt the boy but Blair reacted as though terrified by the question and forcing the older man to drop the discussion.

Ellison did the only thing most parents would do; he discussed his problems with another parent.

Simon Banks was honored and shocked that the man before him was able to speak so much and in such detail about a personal matter. He listened to the entire story and then to Ellison's attempt at solving the situation. The captain waited until the overly concerned man sank onto one of the chairs in front of his desk.

"Jim, Naomi was, well, she liked to love men. Correct?"

Ellison didn't like the question but nodded.

"Bear with me for a moment. Imagine being that child for a second. Men going in and out of his mother and his life. Men who may have tried to befriend the boy in order to win his mother over. Men who might have made the kid feel, whether inadvertently or not, that Blair was the cause of their leaving."

Ellison looked so confused that Simon had to struggle to keep from laughing at the perplexed expression he was looking at. The detective was always so certain about things and suddenly Banks got to see a rare expression on the face before him. "Jim, maybe Blair isn't unhappy. Maybe he is afraid you might be getting tired of him or maybe you want your old life back."

Jim considered the idea, "But I've never said anything to make him think this."

Simon sighed, "My son thought that my divorce from Joan meant I was divorcing him. I had several long talks and several long tests to go through before he trusted me. Even now he still wonders if I will leave him. Jim, I assume you are in this no matter what. Correct?"

Jim was more certain of that answer than anything else and it angered him when questioned. Banks saw the angry response coming and held up his hands, "I ask because most of us become fathers unexpectedly. Never truly ready. I figure adopting a child is a bit different. You know to expect difficulty and the unexpected. Jim, each day with a child is difficult, heartbreaking, joyous, enlightening and more. Blair never had a real father figure, you are as strange to him as raising him is to you. Learn from each other. Work on caring and sharing. Remember he is ten and his view of the world is different. Your actions need to be straightforward and true."

Ellison smiled, "You must be one hell of a father."

Banks sighed, "I do try but no one is ever perfect. What matters is you never stop trying."

Walking up to the window, Jim looked at his co-workers, "Thank you for your advice Simon. I have the weekend off so he and I will talk this out."

Banks stood and joined the other man. "Remember, never stop trying."

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

Blair was exhausted. He had cleaned the oven for his father and hoped he would be impressed. Irene was really amazed and was also equally impressed at the vegetable lasagna that she and the young cook had created. Blair watched as his father entered the loft and took one more glance around the place to make sure he had put everything in its place.

Jim walked over to his son and smiled, "Well kiddo, I think tomorrow you and I should take a trip."

Blair frowned, "Where to?"

Jim smiled, "It's a surprise. Now how about we eat that great smelling lasagna? Then I want you to get to sleep early. Tomorrow we get up before the sun."

Blair smiled eagerly, he'd never gone on a trip with his dad, this would be fun. Guess the cleaning really does help.

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

Blair watched as the city blended into a forest. He remembered several retreats where his mom studied holistic ways to cure herself. Blair was very small then and only remembered playing in the woods. He smiled softly at the sound of his mother's voice as his memory supplied it from one summer day, "Blair baby, be careful. I don't want to lose you."

Blair closed his eyes. I was careful momma. I lost you instead.

Jim noticed the sad look on the kid's face but decided to wait. There would be time to talk and that was what they were going to do. No distractions, just man to man. Well, male to male.

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

Distractions by his father made Blair almost forget his worries. His dad showed him how to pitch a tent. Blair showed him that he knew how to start a fire without matches or a lighter. His dad showed him how to fish and Blair showed him a recipe his mom taught him that included herbs and twigs from the forest around the two.

Night fell and the two sat side by side. Jim made sure the kid was fed, washed up and relaxed. Now was time for their talk. "Chief, I had a meeting with your principal the other day. He told me your grades are slipping."

Blair met his gaze and worriedly answered, "I'll do better. I promise."

"Chief, I'm not criticizing you. I want to know what's wrong."

Blair shook his head and looked down at his hands, "Nothing is wrong. Everything is fine."

Ellison sighed. "If everything is alright then why aren't you getting enough sleep, or eating much or ..."

Blair fought back the tears. He's going to send me away. He doesn't want me any more. Nobody ever wants me for long.

Jim noticed that the kid wasn't listening; he seemed lost in his own thoughts. He pulled Blair onto his lap and situated him so that they faced each other. "Blair talk to me. Tell me what's wrong and I'll fix it. Please Chief. How can I be your dad if you don't talk to me?"

Blair felt like he wanted to cry, to run. He tried to pull away but was held in his place. He looked down and spoke softly. "Please don't be mad at me. Don't send me away. I'll do better, I promise."

Pulling the teary eyed boy to his chest Jim began to rock. He remembered times when he was young and he wanted someone to care. He never knew the warmth of an embrace in those times. Holding Blair now was almost like holding himself as a child. It felt right. Necessary. As he rocked the boy he spoke. "Blair, why do you think I'll send you away?"

Blair spoke through his tears. "My momma always said she loved me and she did but I always wanted a Dad or a brother. Someone to talk guy stuff with. My 'uncles' would start out liking me but eventually they'd leave. Most of the time they never even said goodbye." Blair sniffled.

Ellison brushed a few curls away from the child's forehead and shifted the boy so his head lay on his right shoulder. Still he rocked. "They hurt you."

Blair nodded. "One 'uncle' - Josh - I just thought he loved me. He took me everywhere, told me secrets and he even told people he was my father. I-I heard my mom and he yelling one day. Josh started to grab his things. He was leaving. I tried to stop him. I didn't want him to leave. I loved him and I thought he loved me too." Blair sniffled and suddenly felt so tired. "I placed my hand on his and told him that I loved him, I told him that I'd go with him. He laughed at me, called me trash and then shoved me away. He told me I was nothing but a pain and that my momma was alone because no one wanted me for a son."

Blair looked up at his dad and spoke softly. "He was right. No one does."

Ellison shook his head. "I want you to remember a few things for me. Remember that I met you before I ever set eyes on your momma. I was never one of your 'uncles' and I am you father now and forever."

He brushed the tears from the small face that looked up at him. "Blair, I love you. Nothing will ever change that. Nothing."

Blair wiped another tear away, "But what if..."

Jim shook him, "No. No 'what ifs'. I am your father because I choose to be. I want to be and I will always be."

Blair looked deeply into the man's eyes. Jim remembered the penetrating gaze and for the first time he opened his heart to it. This time it was welcomed.

Blair smiled shyly. "I love you too. I'm just afraid that you'll get tired of me. Maybe you'll want a boy of your own. Someone with your own looks. The kids at school said their parents would never want to adopt a child cause we have baggage and that I was a bit of a problem cause of my hair and the way I dress and... "

"Blair stop. You are a very special young man. You helped your mother face death by sharing your love, you've learned to do things most of your classmates don't even know how to do. You are honest and intelligent. I am darn proud that you want me for your Dad and proud to call you my son."

Blair blushed, "Yeah?"

Ellison nodded, "Yeah, so don't ever think I got the raw end of the deal. I am privileged. We got to meet and like each other. We chose each other. Family forever. As for a son created between a special lady, and myself well, if that happens my love for you will never lessen. Never ever. Together Chief, remember that."

Blair smiled and hugged his Dad. "Mine forever?"

Ellison chuckled, "Forever and then some, squirt." Ellison tilted his head, "So are you okay now?"

Blair nodded.

"No more worry?"

Blair shook his head.

"From now on will you come to me before making yourself sick with worry?"

Blair nodded.

Ellison chuckled. The kid had to be exhausted; it was rare when he only nodded instead of speaking. "Let's get into our sleeping bags and get some rest."

Jim waited until the boy was sleeping soundly and then turned out the latern. He felt exhausted as well. Opening up was hard but it was worth it. Blair seemed more at ease. Tomorrow perhaps he'd be back to his usual self.

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

Ellison found himself running through the jungle. He didn't know where he was headed and still he ran. The trees parted and he found himself in front of some sort of temple. A warrior stood before him. Ellison had spent time in Peru with the Chopec Indians and this man resembled their warrior tribesmen.

"Welcome keeper of the village. You have taken your first step towards acceptance as your role of protector."

Looking past the man Jim spotted a small figure curled on a step and moved toward him. "Blair."

The warrior blocked his way. "The boy plays a large part in your role. Do you accept the gifts you have been given?"

Jim tried to near his son and was blocked again. "He is my son. You have no right."

"Silence. He is a gift as well as your senses. Do you accept these gifts?"

Ellison looked at the child, alone and off to the corner. He would take on anything and anyone to protect the boy. His son. "Yes I do."

A black jaguar silently walked up to the boy. Ellison was ready to take on the animal but stood his ground and watched as the animal gently nuzzled the sleeping boy. The large cat then walked towards the warrior as the man spoke to Jim. "Accept these gifts and accept a future on a path untouched in time. Your journey will not be alone. Your spirit animal and, in time, your shaman will share the walk with you."

The jaguar walked slowly before Ellison and crouched down. Without any warning the animal pounced up at him.

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

Jim jerked awake and quickly remembered he wasn't at the loft. He closed his eyes again, it was only a dream. Suddenly all the sounds of the forest seemed sharper and the scents around him distinctive.

He opened his eyes again and looked around his tent. For the second time that morning he received a shock. Blair was gone. "Blair?"

The dream forgotten, the need to find the boy overrode his questions. He exited the tent hastily putting on his hiking boots. He opened his mouth to call out for the child but stopped when he heard the boy crying somewhere nearby. He quickly strode in the direction of the child.

Blair didn't want to wake his Dad. He wanted to talk to his mother. He walked to the stream that his Dad had fished from yesterday and spoke softly about the discussion the two shared. He told her his fears and how much he loved and missed her. He wondered if his momma was listening. He didn't have long to wait. A cool breeze slid against his cheek. The boy began to cry, missing his mother and grateful that she kept her promise. She was listening.

Just then he was scooped up by his Dad and held in a tight embrace. "Oh God Blair. Are you alright?"

The boy smiled through his tears, "Yeah Dad. I was just talking to mom."

"Chief, I understand your need to talk to Naomi but she would have heard you in the tent. Don't ever leave the camp like that. There are still some animals out here that could harm you."

Blair looked away. "I didn't mean to worry you."

Jim tightened his embrace a bit more allowing the small head to lie on his shoulder. "That's part of my responsibilities, kiddo. Get used to it."

Blair returned the embrace. "I will - I promise."

Ellison walked back to the campsite with the boy held in his arms. The world just seemed calmer and things felt right when the two were together. Together. "So squirt let's have some breakfast and go hiking. There's a whole world I want to share with you."

END OF STEPS - PORTION 2

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