This is for all you wonderful and very outspoken readers. My goodness, you really are a persistent bunch and I love every single one of you. First, I apologize for taking so long with this one. I wanted to make sure it continued in the same fashion as its previous portions. It took 4 rewrites - 4. I really didn't want to disappoint you guys and I wanted it to be good.

My biggest problem is not giving either Blair or Jim too many owies. Hope this is enjoyed by you all and, yes, I shall continue writing. Just be patient with me - I tend to be a bit insecure when faced with pleasing my readers.

**If they really did belong to me, I'd be a grinnin - but since I can own them this way I just keep on a sinnin.

Steps - Portion 4

Raising Awareness

by K-Lyn

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

He quietly slipped out of his bed and tip toed to the door. It was difficult to open the door with the chain on but he was small and could reach the object by angling his arm, just so.

He smiled victoriously as his hand reached the object and carefully closed the door again. He then walked over to the counter and stood on the step stool near it. Coffee was started. He hopped off of the stool and crept up the metal staircase. There he waited.

Unbeknownst to the other, he had woken the minute the other's small, uncovered feet padded towards the front door. His blanket hid the smile on his face from the visitor in his bedroom. This was their morning ritual.

The alarm went off and, like every work day, James Ellison reached over and turned it off. He then turned to see his son run towards his bed. Bedcovers were raised just as the smaller body dove into the warmth of his father's bed. Ellison smiled as the slightly cooler body slid next to him.

"The Jags won the game last night. You should've let me stay up. Orvelle Wallace saved the best for last."

Ellison smiled as the curly head laid on his shoulder and the smaller body was pressed close beside him. He wrapped his arm around the boy and took the newspaper the child so carefully snag from the hallway. "Never on a school night, Mister. You know that."

Blair pointed to the picture of his basketball hero, Orvelle Wallace, hovering in the air and about to make his jump shot. "Look what we missed."

Ellison yawned theatrically and placed the paper aside. "Time for my nap."

Blair sighed but curled up closer. "Fifteen more minutes?"

"Hmmm."

"We having pancakes today?"

"Hmmm."

"Chocolate milk?"

"Too much sweets. Whole milk and blueberry pancakes.."

He smiled as his father pulled him even closer and the boy whispered. "I wish time could stand still and we could stay here forever."

James Ellison nodded in complete agreement. It seemed impossible to believe that somewhere between then and now, things had changed so radically. He had been a recent divorcee who relished his privacy and preferred the companionship of no one. Detective James Ellison worked for the Cascade Police Department's Major Crimes Division where he was respected and admired but not the type of individual to make many friends or to encourage other to seek him out on any personal level. He liked his solitude and wanted nothing more than to not be bothered with the hassle of those around him. Except for his friendship with his superior, Captain Simon Banks, he remained basically a solitary person. A man who did his job well and then went home. Simple. Basic and to most normal people - lonely.

Home, back then, had been a clean sparse living area. A place to watch television, eat, make use of the facilities and sleep.

Again, that was then.

One day, Detective James Ellison met a child in a public park while investigating a crime that had occurred in the same area early that week. Somehow he became entangled with the life of the young nine year old boy, the child's dying mother and a world of emotions that the detective felt overwhelmed by and unprepared for.

Time passed. Things changed and currently he was the father of the now ten year old boy - Blair. The adoption hadn't been easy. Grandparents stepped out of the woodwork. Disputes where waged and then finally the decision was made in favor of the child's best interest. James Ellison had been granted parental rights and Blair had gained both a father and grandparents.

Living adjustments were made. Schedules were developed and the Ellison home truly became a home.

Now Jim listened to the calming sound of the heartbeat beside him, breathed in the scent of the one who was his to care for and basked in the feeling of warmth and strength coming from the growing boy, his son, beside him. This was contentment, completion and love. This was his family. He kissed the boy on the side of the face and got a giggle. "Hey bed breath, brush first."

Ellison chuckled and kissed the squirming child again. "Last one to the shower is a rotten egg."

The two rushed down the steps, Jim, who had quickly grabbed and dressed in his robe, carefully monitored his son's every step. Blair made it to the shower first, well due mainly because his parent wanted to ensure his safety, and flung his clothes on the floor as he quickly stepped into the shower. Ellison patiently gathered the bedclothes off the floor and stepped into his son's bedroom to grab the child a fresh pair of underwear, a T-shirt and some cotton socks. The boy was still recovering from a near pneumonia and still looked a bit pale. The father returned to the bathroom to take care of his 'bed breath' and shave.

Mornings were no longer filled with silence. Now conversation and laughter filled the air. "You gonna be home early tonight?"

"Stake-out. Remember?"

There was a pause and then. "Oh."

"Chief, I told you about this yesterday."

The shower was turned off and the curtain pulled aside. "I was just hoping I guess. I know it's important but I miss our "thunderstorm" time together."

Jim smiled as he passed a bath sheet over to his boy. "I promise it won't last forever."

Blair nodded as he scrubbed himself dry. He dressed as his father undressed and then smiled. "You miss me too?"

Ellison smiled as he hauled his son up and into his arms. "I do but in a way I take you with me. I've got my wallet of pictures to see you whenever I want and these morning talks to think about."

Blair hugged the man and then was placed back down. "I'll get some of the things out of the fridge."

Ellison nodded and then finished undressing. As he showered he wondered if maybe his lifestyle or career choice needed altering. Though he'd never picture himself as anything but a cop, he wondered if maybe he should pick a different division to operate from. One like the burglary and missing people department. It had regular hours.

"Dad, hurry up. I'm hungry."

"I'm coming, I'm coming."

Twenty minutes later the two were munching on their stacks of pancakes. As was now the norm, a certain voice filled the air with talk. "You know? I wonder what guys like Billy and Deats do in the morning."

Ellison frowned. "What do you mean? They probably do the same thing we do."

Blair considered this and then shook his head. "Living with a lady makes things different. Naomi treated me - different."

This concerned Jim. "You miss having a mother?"

"Mmmm, no, I mean I miss my mother but I like things this way too." Blair stuffed a piece of pancake into his mouth and was about to speak but paused to swallow his food due the disapproving glare he received. When he had finished swallowing, he spoke. "Billy's parents are sort of in-between people."

"In-between?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "Come on Dad get with the program. They're swingers."

Ellison coughed out the coffee he had just sipped. "What? Where did you hear that?"

Blair nibbled on his pancake as he considered his answer, he didn't lie but presentation was everything. Dad wasn't like Naomi, he took things a bit too seriously. "Billy, you know the guy I told you can make bubbles from his spit?"

Ellison nodded.

"Well, Billy found his mom in bed with some guy and when he went to tell his dad, who, you know, sleeps in the guest room, he found his dad with some other woman. He got out of the way and made it for the kitchen. His dad told him not to bother any of the adults in the morning cause it was rude." Blair sighed. "As for Deats, you know, the guy who likes shooting spitballs into Mr. Cannon's hair piece?"

"Eyeah." Again Jim wondered if kids would ever figure out that these stunts were older than the pavement on the streets.

"Okay, well, his mom is a busy corporate type and has him and his three sisters taken care of by some sort of live in shrink. No time to sit and talk - off to work she goes. His dad is in New York with his 'real' family. Whatever that means."

Ellison was stunned. "And they tell you all of this?"

"Yeah. Why shouldn't they? We're friends."

Ellison pushed his plate away and cleared his throat. "Chief, I know Naomi was an open and non-judgmental lady but some things are private. Your parents' sleeping partners are nobody's business and as for your other friend. Well it's just sad that both of his parents don't see the importance of being involved more with their kids. That being said, and unless someone is being badly mistreated, those are just not the things you discuss with just anyone."

"I didn't ask them to tell me ..."

Jim pulled the ten year old closer and smiled to ease the tension. "I am not saying that you did but this is something you keep between you and me."

"So it's alright to tell you?"

"No secrets. Right?"

Well, how about, if I don't mention something. Then you won't have questions and you won't know about stuff I heard."

Jim sighed. Being a parent could be one huge verbal debate when speaking with this boy. "I don't want you to keep things from me. I don't keep things from you. I want you to trust me just like I trust you."

Blair nodded and seemed to consider his next words. "It's just, that they, the guys, have no one like you at home and I guess they tell me these things because they need someone to listen."

Ellison nodded and then tilted his head to look closely at his son. "So what have you told them about me?"

Blair looked away. "Nothing."

"Chief? Secrets."

Blair sighed. "That you're a cop and you like really tall redheads."

Ellison chuckled.

"Billy said that his dad told him that the only kind of single guy who'd adopt a boy is a gay guy and a sick one too." Blair smiled brightly. "Had to set him straight and, well, you liked Naomi and she did have red hair."

Ellison stood and mussed up the curls atop the child's head. "Yep, a true redhead and I did like her."

Blair giggled. "So it was alright?"

Though it angered the older man to know that this father of Billy's had even said such an ignorant thing, he purposely hid his feelings. Racism, greed, prejudice and all the negative aspects in the world were not the creation of children. They were the creation of parents and he hated that those views were encroaching upon his child's life. He looked down at his son and smiled softly. "Yes, but remember things like, oh say, a boy sleeping with a Beanie Panther are off limits. Right?"

Blair blushed and nodded in complete and total agreement. "Alright and so is the guy who likes to wear boxers with Smiley Faces on them."

Jim chuckled at his choice of current underwear but a gift from one's son should be enjoyed. He walked up to his room to prepare for work and to tuck said boxers into some dark colored trousers.

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

Jim stood outside his building beside his son, who insisted on taking a school bus to class. The kid still had a strong need to be independent but his father now figured it was a reasonable request and granted the boy his wish. It was; after all, better than having the kid taking public transportation.

"So, you promise to wake me to go to the bathroom when you get home?"

Another ritual. Ellison was beginning to enjoy them immensely. This one was created to allow both males to make sure the other was safe and sometimes flowed into the 'thunderstorm ritual'. "I promise but no waiting up."

Blair nodded. "Grandma says she has to take a trip to Red Creek Mall near Rainier University. Says she'll treat me to a smoothie."

"She told me that you promised to listen to her and not to get too far ahead of her."

Blair noticed the bus coming and nodded. "Remember our motto."

"Ellison men are allergic to bullets and trouble."

Blair giggled at his father's military stance. "That's right, so stay away from both."

"And you be good at school and remember - privacy."

Blair hugged his dad around the waist and walked to the bus. "Say 'hi' to Simon and the rest of the guys for me."

Seconds later, alone on the corner, Jim watched the bus drive away as he felt the now familiar pain of separation. He hated the feeling. It was irrational the boy was simply going to school but the fledgling parent felt that his son needed to be with him. Always. Does every parent feel this way? He shook his head knowing the answer to that and sighed.

He continued to stand on the corner for a bit longer, never truly aware that he could clearly see his son in the bus for the entire six blocks it traveled before it went around the corner. With a sigh, he entered his truck and drove off in the opposite direction.

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

"Ellison in my office now."

Capt. Simon Banks waited until the detective was seated and the door closed. "The Winston matter seems to be coming to an end. Word according to Brown's snitch is that a drop will be made tonight. This could be it."

Karl Winston was a well known participant in the police data base. Well known but never prosecuted. He always got away somehow and his attorneys were among the best at getting the man off. This time was different. Winston was new to the Cascade area and it was important that he meet the new people at this initial stage.

The man's specialty was office supplies which was also mixed in with a side bit of drug trafficking. Either way it was Capt. Banks' hope that he go down.

"I'm scheduled to relieve Stazinski at 6 tonight."

"Good. Hopefully tonight is the night." Banks noted that the detective seemed preoccupied. "The kid have a babysitter?"

"He's with his grandmother for the day." Ellison fidgeted in his seat and then sighed. "Simon, does Daryl know more than he should about - things?"

Banks chuckled. "Ah, let's see. Could you be subtly referring to the topic of sex?"

"Well not exactly but, yeah. He was telling about some kid in his class whose parents are swingers and damned if the kid already knows what swingers are."

Simon stood and pulled his pants up a bit. "It happens at least that is what Joan keeps telling me. Today kids are exposed to things faster than any good parent would like. It's best to talk it out. I tried ignoring something once and let me tell you, that was a big mistake."

"We talked it out. I just don't like to see him lose his innocence so quickly. There is plenty of time for that."

"Tell that to the world outside Jim my boy. Tell it to the world."

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

3:00 pm Friday

Blair's grandmother made sure he was seated and belted in. The Volvo was then driven away from the school.

"Grandma?"

"Hmm?"

"Has dad ever talked to you about his side of the family?"

"No. Why?"

Blair shrugged. "We were discussing familiar origins, gene pools and one of the guys in class told me that when you are part of a 'real' family you know all of your relatives. Ms. Reed had us working on an assignment and it just got the guys talking about families and stuff."

She smiled at the child whose curiosity rivaled that of her late daughter. "The boy isn't completely correct. Do you know what a black sheep is?"

"Yes. The odd man in the family."

"Oh, it can be some much more than that. Sometimes it's a person people are ashamed to mention for reasons only they think are important."

"Like what?"

The woman sighed. "Oh, it could be something that happens between a person and his family. It could be so many things and reasons, too many to name. The boy in your class may think he knows everyone in his family and all their stories but if a parent has a secret or if the parents had never even heard their own parents speak of the black sheep, then that person is all but forgotten and your friend won't know of this person or the reasons why he is all but forgotten.."

Blair frowned and shrugged. "Seems kind of sad. Family should always be there for you. No matter what."

She nodded. She couldn't argue, she and her husband had turned away from their only daughter Naomi and now due to a serious illness, they had lost their chance to make things right with her. Again she looked at her grandchild. "Do you hate us because of what we did to Naomi?"

Blair looked back and was surprised at the question. "No, Grandma, no way. Mom didn't like to hold grudges, said it was super bad karma and I feel the same way. I mean how long do you hold a grudge? How do you keep track? What is serious enough for a grudge?" He sighed. "Too much work and a way big waste of time. Nah, Grandma, I love you and Gramps. Dad and I are lucky to have you to share life with."

Blair's grandmother smiled and hugged the boy with her right arm. "Ready for the mall?"

"Oh yeah and my smoothie. Grandma?"

"Mmmm."

"Can we bring one home for dad? Maybe leave it in the fridge and that way he can enjoy it when he gets home?"

"Can't see why not." The car eased into the parking lot and soon the two were off on their latest Grandma and grandchild day together.

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

Martha Grady was found dead around noon. She had been murdered while sleeping and was found in pink flannel pajamas, posed into a fetal position and left holding a baby's rattle. Jim walked the area and tilted his head. "Someone sprinkled talcum powder on her. Baby's Herbal Talcum."

Det. Joel Taggert paused and smirked at the comment.

Jim sighed. "Blair likes the scent, says it smells like earth."

"Hey, not making any judgment here simply admiring your knowledge of certain things. Product's been around since the early sixties."

Jim turned around and looked at the body. "Why the fetal position?" He stepped closer. "Placed blush on her and some lip gloss."

Joel nodded. "Her hair is arranged too."

Jim nodded. "I want lots of pictures on this."

Ellison walked to the truck and waited. His hearing suddenly spiked. He could hear cars two blocks away, a baby crying and the sound of a music box. The tune was faint. The detective couldn't pin point the location of the music but could hear it clearly. He felt drawn to it and felt himself drift when his cell phone rang.

Joel smiled. It had to be the man's son. No one else could make the stoic detective smile as easily as that mop headed boy.

The call ended and Ellison tilted his head. "It's gone." The music no longer played its mesmerizing melody.

"What?"

"Nothing Joel. Let's take what we have and get the report filed. I've been told that I have a strawberry-banana smoothie waiting for me at home."

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

Captain Simon Banks was not a happy man. Sometimes he wondered why he didn't take his mother's advice and become a dentist. See something bad and remove it. Easy. This, this was another can of beans, altogether.

He spotted the two detectives and sighed. This was why they paid him what they did. "Ellison, Taggert. My office now."

Ellison sighed, he had hoped to get this down and then see his son. "What now?"

Joel sighed. "Guess Julie will have to wait a bit longer."

The two entered and closed the door. "Gentlemen what did you find at the scene?"

Taggert gave the report and Ellison filled Banks in on the powder and make-up. "She was posed in a fetal position and her hair placed in a particular arrangement."

Simon nodded. It surprised him that Detective Ellison detected so much on the initial inspection that it was uncanny. Still, he remained silent about his admiration of the other's talent. It didn't do a superior justice to allow his men to see surprise. This was the kind of quality work he expected and hoped to always receive. "Excellent. However, gentlemen, it seems our fellow operatives down in Seattle failed to warn about a little situation they have been dealing with. Seems five other murders, with similar MO have occurred in their fair city and as you noted, gentlemen, these victims were prepped."

"Like children."

Banks looked at Ellison and nodded. "Exactly. According to the report, none were related, none worked together, none ever met but each were murdered in a similar fashion. The powers that be up in Seattle have kindly invited Cascade's investigative team to their fair city to have a look. Since the county examiner is going on vacation tomorrow - they suggest you come tonight. The examiner will be on vacation in Costa Rica for one month."

"What?"

"No."

Both men had requested the weekend off. Joel had an anniversary coming up and Julia had big plans. Jim wanted time out with his newly adopted son. Camping seemed perfect.

Simon sighed. "I understand that you both have plans and I apologize but there is no simple way around this. However, I can offer one simple suggestion. Only one of you needs to go but I leave that decision to the two of you."

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

The truck sat idly in its spot. The driver frowned as he stared at the windshield and then smacked his steering wheel. Joel had seniority and had requested his day off two days prior. He got the day off and Jim got to break a promise.

It was 11pm and though he knew Blair was sleeping, he had a promise to keep.

Elise Sandburg greeted the man at the door and noted the miserable expression on his face. "What is the matter?"

Jim sighed. "I have bad news, Elise and I really hate to disappoint Blair."

Mrs. Sandburg sighed. "Oh, James, no. He was looking forward to this weekend."

"I know. So was I."

The older woman saw the saddened face and smiled sadly. "Work?"

"Yeah."

"No one else available?"

"Used quite a bit of time when Naomi was ..." He shook his head, not really wanting to continue that sentence. "It's not my turn on the rotation, Elise. I have to do this."

"Talk to the boy. He'll understand." She patted the concerned man on the hand. "Remember to always let them in. The moment you start holding back, things can change."

Jim nodded.

Elise smiled brightly. "Hey Jim, I have an idea. Ben and I were thinking of going to the country this weekend. A friend of ours asked us to come and enjoy their new bed and breakfast venture down in Silver Linings, Washington. It's an hour drive from here. How about you let us take Blair with us? Ben and I would love a chance to get closer to the child and he would have a chance to play outdoors. Maybe even meet new friends."

Jim smiled sadly. He too had been looking forward to spending time with his son and now he would have nothing. Still the boy deserved time out and away. He looked at the woman trying hard to hide his reluctance and nodded. "I'd hate to call Irene and ask her to come in to take care of my boy. She is still resting from her hospital visit. Thanks Elise, for everything."

"Nonsense, James. We're family and that is what family does."

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

He showered and then slid into the bed beside his son. The boy looked unreal, like a child's doll. With care, Jim touched the smaller face and smiled at the sense of peace he got when he was near his son. "Oh, chief, you mean the world to me."

Slowly the child woke. Jim was content to watch each movement. This small human being was his to care for and to love. He would do his best to do both. The problem was, he had other responsibilities and lately he felt like changing careers. Still, ....

"Hi, dad. Did you remember keep out motto?"

Jim chuckled. "No bullets and no trouble."

"Me too. How was stake-out?"

"Something else came up. Rafe and Brown handled it."

Blair blinked and then smiled sadly. "It's alright, you know."

"What is?"

"I can tell you have bad news and that means no camping trip. More work right?"

"How'd you know?"

"Naomi used to look at me that same sadish way. Like I'm going to hate you because you couldn't do something you promised." Blair shrugged. "I know about responsibilities. Fun is a perk and money pays for fun and I'm just a kid and I just have to understand the way things are."

The older man looked down at the boy and frowned. "What you have to understand is that I wanted to spend time with you more than you know and that I hate this."

Blair nodded and hugged his father. "We have now - right?"

"Yeah."

"Dad?"

"Hmmmm?"

"Got you a surprise in the fridge."

"Saw it and thank you. Had a few sips before I came up."

"K. Dad?"

"Mmmmmm."

"Maybe next weekend?"

Jim kissed the child on the forehead and whispered. "If it's available - yes."

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

Blair packed to spend some time at his grandparents' home in Silver Lining, Washington, a suburban area on the edge of Cascade, while Jim packed to go on his trip to Seattle.

Jim looked at his watch and then at the slow moving boy. "Hey kiddo, better pick up speed, I need to get you to the Grand P's soon. Oh and take your slicker, looks like it may rain."

Blair shrugged. "Sorry, I'll be out of your hair soon."

Jim sighed and watched the boy move slowly through the room. "I'll miss you."

"Me too."

"I'll try to be home as soon as I can. Maybe have you come home sooner."

Blair nodded and passed by the older man who reached out and pulled the boy close. "I am not leaving you. I will be back."

Blair shrugged. "Never make a promise you can't keep."

Jim kissed the child on the forehead. "You know that I love you don't you?"

Blair smiled and nodded.

"And you love me too don't you?"

Again a nod.

"Then remember that your dad will try as hard as he can to keep his promise."

Blair hugged the older man and whispered. "I just got you. I want to keep you."

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

Later that day ...

Blair called his dad as soon as they had arrived at the fancy bed and breakfast. His grandparents were in the next room talking to another older couple and it seemed they would be awhile. "I miss you."

"I miss you too but remember I love you too."

Blair nodded and wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. "Just remember our motto."

"You too kiddo and be good to your grands."

"I will. Bye."

Blair sat on his bed and unpacked. He remembered times when his mother would leave him at the apartment and he'd be alone for a while but he'd hoped it would be different. He shook his head and sighed. Laughter erupted from just beyond his door. The grands were laughing about some old joke only they understood.

He walked over to the window and looked at the large yard in back.

"Seems like a whole new world out there."

Blair jumped and turned around. "Yeah. So alive and no pavement."

A tall, blond boy walked into his room and smiled. "Got brought up here with my parents. Some big to-do is supposed to be visiting and they are hoping for him to fund some expedition." He smiled and held out his hand. "Sorry, name's DJ."

"Blair Sandburg-Ellison."

"Want to go out for a walk? I'm sure the adults won't give us a second thought."

Blair looked out the window and nodded. "That would be great!"

Things were looking up.

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

Jim studied the file and listened to the Seattle Coroner John Casey. "One victim actually had a diaper on and a mouth filled with applesauce."

"Baby food?"

"Strange, right?"

"What is with this guy and baby things."

Casey sighed. "Not too long ago we had a guy who was killing people and shoved paper clips into their eyeballs. Office worker gone way over the top."

"Alright, guess I'll leave you to your packing."

"Hey, not a problem, my plane has been delayed for four more hours. Huge storm headed this way and roads are expected to get pretty messy."

Jim sighed and wondered when it was that nature decided to conspire against him. The drive would now take longer than he had anticipated and he wouldn't be able to surprise the boy up at Silver Linings. "Shit!"

He pulled out his cell phone and waited. The lines were down. The storm was moving in - fast.

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

Permission had been granted and the two were soon outside walking around. DJ was an orphan who had been adopted, yet again, by college professors. He was surprised to find himself beside another orphan who had been adopted by a single man. Soon confidences where shared and so were their own personal war stories. "Yeah, kids can be asses. No one warns you that these people who adopt a kid can be evil and when they aren't, no one wants to think good about the people who care. It's all bad."

"My dad isn't evil. He loves me."

DJ looked away. "Just watch yourself. Maybe you're one of the lucky ones, and I really hope you are, but these people who adopt will promise you everything and then take it all away. Sometimes they want things that make you feel - wrong."

Blair sat near a tree and was joined by his new friend. "My dad and I try to keep everything open and we talk everything out. He tries to keep his promises but things happen."

DJ chuckled. "Have you met all of his family? Been to meet his friends?"

"I've met his friends and their family."

DJ tilted his head. "What about his family?"

Blair looked down at his hands and shrugged. "He... he hasn't had time."

DJ laughed. "Ain't it funny? They have time for what they think is important but when it comes to stuff like real families, they are busy."

Blair shook his head. "You're wrong."

DJ stood and swept his blond hair out of the way. "And you are just a child. Has he even told you about his family? Shown you pictures? Added your picture to the album?"

Blair looked away. He wasn't a dope. He had been curious and the first time he has asked his dad, he was told to let it be for now.

The second time, his dad told him that some day they'd talk about it. "Not right now Chief. Please just let it be."

Blair was ten and the world was moving too slow for someone his age. He had decided to search different avenues available to one as smart as he was. He waited until his sitter, Irene, fell asleep watching some talk show and opened his laptop to access a search engine - ELLISON, JAMES. There were a great many James Ellison's but soon he located his dad. Half an hour later he had located all the information he had wanted and was now confused and a bit hurt.

James Ellison had a brother whose name was Steven. His father's name was William and his estranged (decided to look that up at another time) mother's name was Grace. The family was wealthy and William Ellison was quite a prosperous businessman. Steven was coming up fast and James was the only one who was not into the corporate rat race. There were a few cousins out there and all were all right financially.

He sat back, sadness clouding the once happy face. So why hasn't he ever told me about them? He closed his laptop and slid it on the table beside his bed. Why hasn't he told them about me?

The mind of a ten year old is a constant jumble of thoughts but when you add a bit more intellect, the two combine. The logical part knows one thing but the child is ill equipped to accept it. Like a kaleidoscope, the thoughts separate merge and blend into things an adult would never imagine.

Maybe Dad was going to leave him. "No, he said he loved me but maybe...was he lying?" Blair again considered the questions. "He said no secrets but what about when 'you're' the secret?"

"I have an uncle." Blair sighed and then tilted his head. Maybe, yeah, maybe Dad is the problem - that had to be it. His family hates him; they don't talk to him, nothing. Now Blair felt sorry for his father. Family should be there no matter what. Why was that so hard for the adults to understand?

His dad was alone. Blair shook his head. "I'm there for him no matter what." Finally he smiled. The kaleidoscope had stopped and he now understood what was needed. His dad needed family and his love.

Blair looked at DJ who stood waiting for a response. "Sometimes adults have reasons we kids don't understand. Sometimes, when it's time, they'll tell us what we need to know."

DJ sighed. "No secrets mean - no secrets."

Blair looked away. "Stop it."

"Your father is ashamed of you being in his life. He probably has other plans for you. Plans that don't touch on being family."

Blair stood and backed away from the other. "Stop it. You're mean and ugly inside. He- he loves me."

DJ reached out to the other, suddenly regretting his words. "I'm sorry I didn't mean ..."

Blair moved further away. His heart hurt and he wanted not to hear anything more. "I - I'm sorry someone hurt you. I w-wish you hadn't suffered but my dad loves me. He isn't ashamed of me." Still the once silent questions whispered at the child. He saw the other try to touch him and turned and ran. He needed to be away. He needed to be somewhere quiet.

DJ tried to keep up with the smaller boy but he was too fast and soon the child was gone. He looked for his smaller friend for a half hour and then decided it was time to fess up. He walked away from the lush forest and sighed. "Never learn to keep my mouth shut."

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

Jim left Seattle after reviewing all files and information gathered on the five victims. Something beside the Baby's Herbal Talcum had to connect these people but what?

The rain started to beat against his truck and eventually he was forced to pull into a rest stop. A dirty gray curtain of water formed around the truck and the detective decided it would be awhile before he could leave this part of Washington. He pulled over and parked at a highway side rest stop. Again he tried to reach his son and then the precinct but his phone could receive no service. Hoping that his boy was safe, he again reviewed the file.

They were all posed in a particular way. Why? Something a memory. Then it came to him. "They mean something to the guy. He's posing them at rest and seemingly content. Making the moment last."

He got out of the truck and ran to the public washroom. After using the facilities he again tried his cell and this time was able to connect to the station. "Simon, the murderer is close to these people. Maybe it's a friend or relative. He poses them like this to keep them forever looking safe and content. Young and innocent."

"But none of them lived near each other."

"Check their mail or their email. This guy had to have sent them something. It would be his way of making a connection and marking the victim."

"I'll have Rafe look into it. How soon till you return?"

"Don't know. Bad storm. Tried to call to check on Blair but my phone doesn't seem to connect. You're the first call I've been able to make."

"I'll call and check on him. Just hurry back."

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

Blair wondered the wooded area near the bed and breakfast. It was cool and quiet. Tears quietly fell from his eyes as he continued to hear DJ's words, hear the words of his friends at school. "When Naomi was here no one cared about stuff. She took me places, left me places but she loved me. Didn't she?"

He sat down and sighed. All this thinking hurt his heart and his head. "I just want it all to go away." He looked up and smiled. The panther was there. "You here to watch me?"

The panther growled and Blair wiped his tears. "I'm not running away. Promise. I just." He sighed. "I don't think I want to grow up. It just gets too hard."

The panther walked up to the boy and then lay down beside him. Blair patted the black cat, never once considering that this was a strange occurrence. His mother had told him that imagination was strong in young people and he was good at it. Blair looked out at the forest and noted that the skies were getting dark. "Gonna rain. Heard the guy on the car radio say that there was a storm coming." He shrugged. "He loves me doesn't he?"

The panther looked at the child and the gold eyes seemed to glow.

Blair sighed. "I know. Time to go home kid."

The boy stood and headed back. The panther close at his side. The moment the two neared the bed and breakfast the panther faded, leaving the future guide amongst those his care was under.

Blair walked into the large cabin. "Blair Sandburg-Ellison where in the world have you been?"

Blair gasped as he was hugged tightly and returned the hug. "Grandma, I'm not a child you know. I just went for a walk."

Ben walked into the room and sighed. "DJ told us you took off on him. Said he upset you and that he is sorry."

Blair looked away and shrugged. "Whatever?"

Elise pulled the child near the couch and ease herself onto the cushions. "Blair, that boy has been through some bad things. I wish I had known before he had gone off with you. He isn't exactly who I wanted you to be with. Are you alright?"

"He didn't hurt me. He's just in pain grandma. DJ just needs to be loved."

Ben walked over and sat beside his wife. "How come you took off?"

Blair looked away and shrugged.

"Blair? Answer your grandfather."

Blair looked at the two and moved away. "Please, I don't want to discuss this."

"Young man, you will answer your grandmother and I. What did he say to upset you?"

Blair's eyes again filled with tears and he shook his head. "You all lie. All of you and you hurt each other. I don't want to be hurt anymore. I-I wish Naomi hadn't died. I wish I were still out there with her and not here. I wish things were like before."

Elise looked at her husband and then at the distraught child standing so very alone before them. "We love you Blair. We all love you, child."

Blair trembled and looked at the two older people. "Why couldn't you have loved my mom? W-why couldn't you ...?" He stopped speaking the moment he saw the pain in the older woman's eyes. "I-I'm sorry." He turned and ran to his room.

He didn't mean to say those things out loud. He just wanted to be left alone.

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

All victims had received an invitation to a free physical at St. Anne's Medical Facility. All victims were healthy and had no history of severe illness. Never sick, not one visited the doctors since they were very young and all took advantage of the free offer.

"But how did this guy flush them out?"

Simon looked at the documents, shifted several folders and sighed. "They all ran the Cascadion Race."

Jim looked up from his papers drowsily, having just arrived in Cascade; he felt exhausted and really needed some sleep. He let out a yawn and then grinned sheepishly. "Sorry Simon. Could you repeat that? A race?"

"According to the calendar for each victim. They all either raced or attended the race as a participant of one kind or another. Forms were completed."

Taggert nodded. "And none of them listed a regular physician."

Banks held up the calendars and looked at the other two detectives. "Guess we know what the killer sent each victim." In his hand were several mini calendars and each had the day of the race highlighted in bright yellow.

Jim frowned. "But why? Could the suspect be jealous of his victims? Jealous because they're healthy?"

Simon sighed. "The suspect is either very ill or "

"Has a relative they're close to and are losing to some sort of illness. The baby thing?" Jim shook his head. "This is getting stranger and stranger." He stood and sighed. "Time to visit St. Anne's."

Jim waited until Taggert stepped out of the room and then addressed his superior. "Called the Sandburgs. Thanks for checking up on Blair for me."

Simon waived him off. "Just get this wrapped up quickly. The crazies are piling up out there."

Jim rode in Taggerts sedan. He was to darn tired to drive and decided that it was safer this way."

They were soon at the hospital and began interviewing any possible lead. Jim sighed. It had seemed to all make sense originally but now. No one person stuck out. The doctors who volunteered to work the race varied. The staff never the same person and the records though very specific weren't handled by any one person. It was all handled in without any undercurrent of maliciousness.

"Damn it. Where the hell did I go wrong?"

Taggert sighed at the other's need to solve the case. The younger the detective - the more impatient the man. Sure, it was extremely important to arrest the person or persons responsible for the crimes presently facing them but sometimes you just had to wait for the big break. He decided to distract the other. "Jim, I wanted to thank you for taking the trip to Seattle. I really needed the time off."

Jim nodded and then waived him off. "Don't mention it, Joel." He sighed. "Guess we should call it a day."

The older detective looked out of the widows that lined the corridors and sighed. "The rain is never going to let up."

Jim yawned. "Better leave now. Simon wants to meet at noon tomorrow."

Joel shook his head. "Did you call Blair's grandparents to let them know you'd be back later than expected?"

Jim paused and looked out the window. "Yeah. I just feel wrong for imposing and worse for doing this to him. A father should be there for the kid no matter what."

Joel slapped his hand on the other's shoulder. "It takes a village to raise a child. Sounds corny but it was how I was raised. My dad was an Investigator for the Arson Squad and back then there were no computers and fancy gadgets to track how a fire was started but he was really good at what he did. He helped put away many an arsonist." Joel sighed as the two continued their journey into the parking lot. "I didn't understand at first. Wanted him around for fishing and stuff. Grandparents, cousins, and sometimes friends entertained me. Learned a lot and had fun but it wasn't the same thing. Then one day I saw what he did. I came to understand about responsibility and work. I loved my dad and I knew he loved me back but I learned that the amount of time spent with someone isn't as valuable how we truly feel about each other. So I learned to make the most of the time we had and got some great memories out of those times."

Jim paused at the sedan and sighed. "The problem is - Blair understands about responsibility. Says he knows I love him. It's just his way of accepting things, like he doesn't think he's important to me. He expects to be put on hold and it just isn't right."

Joel got into the car and waited for the other to join him. "My advice? Once and a while put the job on hold. Now, I don't mean for this to get back to Simon and I do know the importance of solving a crime but we are all human and we have lives. Live it Jim. With Blair and if you have time maybe with a special someone."

Jim snorted. "Blair first. After Carolyn, I really don't feel like treading those waters again. At least not for a while."

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

Elise Sandburg looked at her husband, Ben with concern. Her grandchild didn't eat, hadn't spoken unless spoken to and now sat on his bed staring out towards the window.

"I hate that damn DJ for bringing this on. I had hoped to get closer to Blair."

Ben sighed. "You know that sooner or later, that child would question things. He isn't slow. He notices things. He's hurting inside and has been for a while. I'm grateful he got it out in the open."

"Should we call Jim?"

Ben looked at his wife and pulled her close. "Let's give him the night."

In the bedroom Blair wiped away yet another tear. He looked at his laptop and at the homework assigned to him by Ms. Reed.

CREATE A FAMILY TREE - CREATIVITY AND UNIQUENESS ARE APPRECIATED.

He threw his notebook across the room. His assignment had been embarrassingly easy. Naomi at the top, Ben and Elise off to the far left of the tree. At the far right corner was the name James Ellison. At the very bottom was Blair Sandburg-Ellison. 'Discarded By-Product.'

Blair fell asleep somewhere between the tears and the sobs.

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

Jim entered his home and showered. It wasn't until he sat down to call his son's grandparent that the concern set in. The same message repeated over and over from the headset. "We're sorry, service to this area has been disrupted due to power outage. We ask for you patience. We are working to return service as soon as possible."

"What the ..." He reached for the remote and placed it on the Weather Channel. Minutes later he discovered that the county where his son's grandparents lived was in the midst of the worst storm to hit the Washington area.

Sleep, now thoroughly forgotten, the concerned parent made several calls. Finally he reached the Silver Lining Sheriff Station. "What I need to know is how things really are down there?"

Officer Whalen, being an old hand at phone calls like this, sighed. "Family member or property?"

"What?"

"Sir."

"Detective Ellison."

"Alright detective, at the moment we are operating under emergency procedures. If you are concerned about a family member, I am sorry but at the moment we are unable to report anything. As for property ..."

"No, my son, my ten year old boy is up there with his grandparents, the Sandburgs and I wanted to know just how bad things are."

"I appreciate your concern, truly I do, but at the moment there is nothing to report. We are hoping that the storm will pass without damage. Now please I ask that you stay off the phone until things are less hectic."

"Please, if you hear any news, I'm with the Cascade P.D., Ellison, James Ellison."

"Alright sir and good luck to you and yours."

Seconds later, the phone rang. "Jim? It's Elise. I heard about the storm and just knew you'd be awake. We are fine."

"Should I come down?"

There was a pause and then Ben spoke. "James? Don't be silly. We are on the outskirts of Silver Linings. Look," Ben sighed and then spoke again. "James, Blair had a bit of an upset. Another boy and he, well he needs to talk to you when he gets home."

"Is he alright?"

Again a pause and this time Elise was on the phone. "He had questions to talk over with you and Blair needs to hear the truth from you."

"About what? I don't keep secrets Elise."

"We're going to leave early tomorrow and should be home by three. Jim, what time will you be in?"

"I should be off work by 6. Are you sure you don't want me down there now?"

"No son, he's asleep now. Let's just give it the night."

The call was disturbing and Jim, though exhausted slept fitfully. He needed to speak with his son. He lay on his side, he arm outstretched towards the spot his son usually occupied. "Sleep well Chief. Whatever it is, I will fix."

That night he dreamed of a small wolf cub that cried out for its pack. He sat beside the cub and pulled it close. Soon the two slept.

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

Blair woke the next morning. His head ached and his eyes felt puffy. Slowly he made it to the bathroom and showered. The warm water helped clear the pain in his head and his eyes felt better as well.

He dressed and sighed. It was time to face the grandparents.

Elise saw the hesitant child make his way to the front area and smiled. "Morning Blair."

Blair looked at her and smiled shyly. "Morning Grandma."

Ben walked into the room and looked at his wife and smiled at the boy in front of them. "Seems the Bakers have overbooked. Asked if we mind leaving a little early."

Blair looked at the two. "I didn't mean what I said. I'm sorry."

Elise pulled the boy over and spoke softly. "Adults make mistakes Blair. We aren't perfect. No one is. Just remember one thing. Ben and I have learned our lesson and don't expect to repeat it ever. We love you, child and nothing you do will change that."

Blair looked into the eyes of his grandmother and smiled. "I love you too."

Ben joined the two and then laughed. "Best be heading home. Don't want to be found glued together like this."

Blair pulled back. "We can stay. I promise to be good."

Ben smiled. "Nonsense. Your dad will be home by six, he hopes, and we just thought we'd all surprise him by coming home early."

Blair smiled. "He likes Wonder Burger. It's a number 4 with extra cheese and a large size fries. We could pick some up on the way in."

Elise frowned. "Well he will have to settle for a home cooked meal. That food is only good for growing roses in. Now let's pack up. The storm is going to give us a bit of trouble and we don't want to get stuck anywhere."

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

Simon Banks entered his office and sighed. He loved the first few minutes of the day. It wasn't that crime stood still or that his people didn't work the minute they signed in. No, it just seemed less stressful. He sipped his coffee and checked his voice mail. He stilled at the third one.

"Cmdr. Bennington here. There's been another murder..." The address followed and the morning's peace was chattered.

Ellison entered the bullpen and looked up and into the eyes of his superior. The younger detective sighed and nodded.

It was going to be a very long day.

Soon Joel Taggert joined the other two men. "Evelyn Carter was found on the roof top of her building. She lay on her side, baby blanket around her shoulder, hiding the broken neck. She had been attacked from behind and lay with her eyes open. Dressed in a white gown and holding a rattle.

Jim looked at the other men. "This one was more violent than the others but the rest of the scene is similar."

Joel nodded. "Have to agree. This isn't a copycat. Our guy lost his temper." He looked at the notes provided to him by the first cop on the scene and read it to his partner. "She lived on the third floor. He took her to the roof. Why her?"

Banks looked at the file and then the other men. "Gentlemen, she worked at a home for the mentally and physically disabled. St. Mary's Home for The Challenged."

Jim's eyebrows shot up. "They sponsored the Cascadion Race."

Joel shook his head. "Damn."

It was hard when the very place that was created to help others housed people who would do harm. Sure, people will always be people but it was still difficult to accept. "Guess we better head over there."

Jim sighed and hoped he would still be able to get home by six.

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

Blair placed his things back into his room and paused when he saw his notebook. On the corner of the cover was DJ's phone number. He sighed as he remembered the other boy standing in front of him, looking so sad.

"I really am sorry I hurt you. I-I never seem to be able to keep friends and, well, I was hoping you and I could be friends. I-I really liked talking with you."

Blair remembered his feelings about grudges and smiled. "I'd like that DJ."

The two promised to keep in touch and Blair was determined to keep his promises. He would not be like adults. He would be different.

Elise poked her head into the room. "I need help with the potatoes, know where I can find some?"

Blair smiled and tucked the notebook under his pillow. "Coming grandma."

Two hours later the meal was ready and still no Jim. Blair looked at his grandparents and shrugged. "He's a cop. He has to fight the bad guys and they don't know about being home."

Elise smiled at the positive thinking child. "How about we sit down and eat and then we wrap some of this up so that he can eat some for lunch tomorrow?"

Blair smiled. "Hey, I want some for school too."

Ben laughed. "Well if Jim doesn't see any brownies, he won't miss them."

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

"He's on the roof Jim. I'll take the back."

Jim nodded. It had taken two hours of questioning before they worked their way to Louis DeMato. He was a forty-year-old man forced to live with the mind of a five year old. He had been badly mistreated by his parents and had never learned to interact well with others. The caregiver, Evelyn Carter, had come to care for the young troubled man. She tried to show him a different way of life. Tried to show him what life outside of the facility could bring. She had failed.

Louis saw only people he envied and hated. He killed because people showed him pity. He killed when they 'pretended' to care. He killed when he 'liked' them because he knew they didn't like him back. Finally, he killed Ms. Carter because he loved her most of all.

He wasn't a child, they were. He dressed them like the children they were. His job at the library enabled him the freedom he needed to buy the things to dress them in.

He even went for a ride with Ms. Carter's boyfriend. He had hid in the man's trunk and waited several hours before he arrived at the man's condo in Seattle. He waited and then killed the man who had convinced several people to join the race and who enabled Louis to continue killing.

The murderer had stayed in the boyfriend's condo for a time and had driven the deceased's car to various crime scenes. A music box playing a sad lullaby sat on the dashboard and in the backseat of the vehicle were various baby item.

He had done all of this in order to clear the field so that his love for Ms. Carter could be noticed and still the woman didn't marry him. Frustrated with how things progressed, he killed her too.

Jim reached the top of the roof and froze. Louis stood on the edge or the thirty-story building but faced the detective instead of the ground behind him. The man was very thin; ear length hair hid his face and dressed in baggy camouflage clothing. So alone and lost. "I never needed anyone, not really. I know I am forty. I know I am a man. Why can't I have what I want? All of you do."

"What is it that you want?" Jim heard Joel come up from behind the man and slowly walk forward.

"I want to not hurt. I want to be looked at without pity. I'm not a baby."

"Did you tell that to people?"

He paused, his dark hair moving in the wind and he shrugged. "Ms. Carter said friends was all we could be." He looked out over the building and down at the parking lot below. "She didn't want to love me. Not as a woman loves a man. Said I was a child at heart and didn't understand what love really meant."

Jim stepped forward. "All those others. Why?"

Louis snickered. His voice changed into one of sarcasm. "Poor man. So old to be so simple. Look at him. Thank God I'm not like that. Whispers. Eyes with nothing but pity in them. They didn't see me. They saw my body. I was smarter than them and they were the stupid children."

"Please don't jump." Jim paused as Louis began to shift.

"I gave them all another chance. They're all in heaven now. Maybe God will show them how to behave." He looked at the street below. "Now it's my turn. I need another chance. Maybe this time I get to be older."

Joel and Jim lunged forward but Louis was too far. His body landed below and both men looked away.

Joel looked at the man beside him and shook his head. "Maybe God will forgive him."

Jim nodded and walked away. It was hard to accept situations like this as a success. A murderer had been stopped from harming anyone further. Too many had died and their families would at least be satisfied with the knowledge that this nightmare would not continue but a confused and lost man had committed suicide and a soul had not been saved.

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

The reports had been filed, questions answered and a statement to press regarding the death of Cascades latest murderer had been issued. Jim had missed his 6pm deadline and it was now Monday. The whole weekend lost to capturing a lost soul and losing even him in the end.

Jim parked and exited his car just as his son, dressed in a red slicker, and his grandparents, both under a large umbrella, exited the building.

"Dad!"

Jim hugged the boy and kissed his forehead. "Looks like I missed out on some brownies."

Blair looked at his Grandmother and giggled. "Told ya. He just knows." He looked back at his dad and whispered. "Grandma saved you two."

The bus neared and Jim groaned in disappointment. His time was up.

Blair ran to the bus and waved. "See you at three?"

Jim nodded. "Count on it."

Elise and Ben walked up to the obviously saddened man and protected him from the rain with their umbrella. Elise took the young man's hand into her own and squeezed it. "Let's go inside. We have a lot to talk about."

Jim followed the two after watching the bus turn the corner.

The moment he entered the loft he could tell the situation was serious. He remained in front of the now closed front door. "Tell me."

Ben smiled. "Easy Jim. The boy is just fine, he's had a bit of an upset but it's nothing to be overly worried about. Come, sit on the couch and relax. I know that together, we'll handle this situation just fine."

So the two told the parent about their eventful weekend. About DJ and his having a disturbed childhood, about Blair's taking off into the woods by himself and the grandparent's hour-long search for the waif, and then about the tearful outburst afterwards. Elise had tears in her eyes as she spoke. "He still is very troubled by us not being there for Naomi and he seems upset about something else but he won't tell us what it is. So like my daughter. Taking pain and trying to handle it herself."

Ben patted his wife on the knee. "It was why we never knew there was a problem until she had failed to handle the situation."

Jim frowned. It had hurt to hear about all of this knowing he had not been there and though he knew the two loved his son, they weren't him. "I'll speak with him. I'm sorry the two of you had to handle this and that he hurt you."

Ben shook his head. "We needed this Jim. Gives us purpose to stick around and make things right for the child. I don't want to lose the boy and I don't want him thinking we'd give up on him."

Jim nodded. "Thank you both."

Elise a hugged the younger man and smiled. "Now, how about you sit down and let an old woman cook a huge breakfast for you? Raising that boy means you are going to need a lot of energy."

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

Blair was lost in the world of history and the past. He really and truly liked being at school.

Soon it was lunch and Blair followed Deats and Billy to their 'spot' near a large oak tree. Deats spoke about his mother and the fact that she didn't put a lock on the cable so he was going to watch some R-rated Anime tonight.

"Dad's girlfriend was sleeping naked again. Saw her boobs. Mom says the bitch is huge."

Deats leaned forward. "Well are they?"

Blair sighed. "Guys, my dad says we shouldn't be talking about stuff like this. It's personal. Private."

Billy snorted. "Seen your dad naked? Has he let you touch him?"

Blair frowned. "What the heck you talking about?"

"My dad says your dad is a fag who likes little boys. Says your own grandfather will have nothing to do with your dad cause he is a freak."

Blair shook his head. "Liar. You don't know my grandfather. He'd never say such a thing."

"Not your mom's father, dork. My dad says the whore knew what she was doing when she suckered your fake dad into taking you in. Said you are set for life. Said William Ellison told him you were the main reason he was ashamed of his older son. Said he always did behave strangely."

Deats laughed. "Strange like how?"

Billy shoved Blair. "Come fag boy tell us."

Blair had never ever in all of his life felt so angered. His fist struck the other before his mind knew what had happened.

Billy lay on the ground crying and Deats jumped in to help. Blair was soon in his first schoolyard fight.

Ms. Reed ran out and called for assistance. "Blair Ellison. What has gotten into you?"

Blair simply looked at the ground. He was out of words. He wanted to disappear.

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

When the call to come down to the school came in James Ellison was stunned. Half an hour later, once again, he was being told about events in his son's life.

Principle Crumwell sighed. "If the boy is having difficulty coping with things, I can suggest a very good child psychologist."

Jim shook his head. "I need to see him. I assure this is not the way he usually behaves. If I may, what were the names of the others involved?"

"Dennis Reinhold and Bill Gordon. Basically good boys all. Until now I had thought the three were good friends. Of course boys will be boys."

Jim shook his head. "I need to see my son."

Mr. Crumwell stood and led the father down the hall while he spoke. "Because this is his first offense, Blair is asked to stay home for two days. Time to cool off. The other two involved will be in detention for the next two days."

Jim nodded. "Have you spoken with their parents?"

"No but they have been informed."

Jim spotted his son sitting in the corner of an empty classroom, gazing out at the schoolyard. He noticed that a certain redhead was looking back at his son and waved. His son bowed his head and wiped his eyes with the back of his shirtsleeve. "Let's go Blair."

Blair looked up at his father and the boy's eyes shifted through various emotions. Fear, embarrassment and then disappointment. Jim had no idea why the last one but was determined to get to the bottom of it.

The two walked to the truck and said nothing during the long drive to the loft. Jim had his son cleaned up and changed. When the boy was back in the front room, Jim ushered him over to the couch. "I have heard from your grandparents and I have heard what happened from your principle. What I want to hear is from you."

Blair shrugged. "Those people don't lie. I guess you should take their word for things."

Jim sighed and tried another tact. "Why did you go off into the woods and leave the grands to worry?"

Blair shook his head. "I had things to think about. I needed to be alone and away."

"What things?"

Blair didn't want to hurt anyone anymore and simply looked away.

"No secrets, remember?"

"I remember." He looked at his father and looked away. "I don't want to talk about this right now."

"You aren't being given a choice mister. Talk." He was at the end of his rope. James Ellison wanted answers now.

Nothing.

"Blair. Now!!!"

"You are not my real dad. Real dads share things."

"What - what are you talking about? I am your dad. I love you."

"Do you? You tell me no secrets. You tell me that not saying things is the same as keeping a secret but it's all a lie."

Jim shook his head. It was like being in a tornado and making out only fragments of what swirled into view. "Please son. I love you. Tell me what is bothering you."

"Billy said that your father won't talk to you because of me. I didn't even know the man knew of me and I only knew of him cause I ran a check on you on the computer. Gay men like to adopt boys and people who adopt like to hurt the kids they take in. My momma didn't know you were rich did she? She didn't pick you cause you had money. And - and you don't show me to your parents cause you're ashamed of me. You're ashamed of me."

Blair looked away and shook his head. "I tried to do the assignment. I made a cool computer program type sheet but there are only five people and I don't count. Not really. I don't count to anyone. So I hit them both cause friends don't say things like that and it hurt and I hurt." The boy sobbed.

Jim pulled his son onto his lap and hugged him tightly. Whispering words of comfort and holding the shaking body tightly, it was a while before the child was calmed down but the weary father was willing to wait.

Gradually, the boy told his father everything. Slowly, Jim closed his eyes wishing he had seen this coming.

When the child was done, Jim spoke. "I never considered that my not telling you about my father and brother would hurt you this way. I didn't have a good childhood, Chief. My dad was never the kind to hug or talk. As long as my younger brother, Steven, and I did what we were asked, he left us alone. He used to challenge the two of us. He would buy one bike and make us compete for it. It was always a competition at my house." Jim sighed. He never wanted to talk about things like this but now - now he had to do it cause his son needed it.

"I never knew about the kind of love a father could have for his child. I dreamt about it and wished for it but eventually I figured that life, real life wasn't like that. I ran away from home and joined the army and never saw either again."

"Didn't they miss you?" Came the tear-filled voice.

Jim kissed the boy on the forehead and then shook his own head. "No. It's how they were."

"He hates you cause of me."

"He has never loved me, Chief, besides it doesn't matter." He moved his son around so that the two could look each other in the eye. "I know what those boys said hurt and what DJ has been through was painful. Sometimes, not that it's right, but sometimes the world can be a very ugly place for people. It's why I became a cop, so I could help fix things but Blair I want you to hear me."

"What?"

"I love you. I didn't tell you about my dad and brother cause I was ashamed of how my life was. I didn't want you to think I'd be like them."

Blair hugged his father and sighed. "They all say such bad things and it just got to me."

Jim rocked his boy as he spoke. "It is wrong for parents to say things like that to their children and tomorrow I will speak to Mr. Crumwell about this but I want you to try and never let words spoken in hate get to you. You know the truth. Naomi was a fine and beautiful lady. She was a wonderful mother and she loved you. You also know that it was you who picked me to be your dad and she simply agreed. Not the other way around. As for my father? I'll handle him."

"I don't want you to get upset."

Jim again kissed the boy in his arm and whispered into the small ear next to his cheek. "Then know that I will try to never disappoint you. I care about you, Chief, and I always will."

Blair smiled and whispered back. "I'm not disappointed anymore and I'm sorry for what I said. I love you, dad."

"And about your homework."

"Yeah?"

"I think we need to broaden the minds of those kids you go to school with."

"How?"

Jim smiled. "I think we need to show them all that it takes a village to raise my kid."

Blair giggled. Sometimes, his dad could say the strangest things but that's what dad did.

Jim stood and carried his now exhausted son up the stairs.

Blair hugged his father and watched the world behind him retreat as his father turned the lights out and headed up to bed. "Did you catch the bad guy?"

"The bad guy is gone."

Blair hugged his father tighter. "I don't ever want to stop sleeping with you. I like our talks."

Jim smirked. "Someday, when you are married, you'll change your opinion."

Blair shook his head. "No way. Sides who would I marry?"

"Ummm, let's see. Red hair, blue eyes and likes to wave at my son through school windows."

"You saw her?"

"Yeah and I don't think she wants to marry me."

The two situated themselves in the bed just as the thunder began. Blair leaned on his father's chest and sighed. "If I ever do get married, she had better handle it. Cause I like sleeping with my old man and talking shop."

Jim chuckled. He visualized being sixty and having his grown son sleeping in bed with him. It would change in time. Things like that always did but as he looked down at the curly head on his chest and listened to the boy talk about his adventure in the forest with a certain black panther, he couldn't help but enjoy the moment.

He paused in his musings and spoke. "Tell what the panther did again."

End of Portion 4

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