I apologize to all who waited so long for this next installment. My PC was a victim of a computer virus and my sis worked hard to save what she could. Thankfully all our docs were saved. Unfortunately all the emails I have saved since I began writing have been lost. One from a particular person who's suggestion is used as a prelude here is sorely missed.

However, 'back-up' is now our motto and so, without further ado ...

Thanks to Starfox for a place to hang my creative hat. The boys may not belong to me but that's alright. Here I do with them as I will. Please forgive me my mistakes and don't be shy with your comments. I live for your written words.

Steps - Portion 5

Further Awareness Raised

by K-Lyn

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

Elise Sandburg sighed as she watched her grandson playing softball, life was never like it was supposed to be. Having turned her daughter away, long ago, had been an error that she and her husband could never truly rectify, since her beloved child was taken from this earth due to a bout with cancer. Still, she hadn't gone without leaving something of herself on this world. Naomi Sandburg had had a son and thankfully Elise and her husband Ben were fortunate to be a part of his life.

Still, Elise was admittedly not as young as she once was and her grandchild was a force of nature. He was a reading and mathematic volunteer tutor, he played softball and some basketball on the school's team, he was working on some sort of book on his computer and he liked to help cook whenever his guardians permitted it. Elise and Ben could hardly keep up.

She watched as her grandson caught a ball and sent it soaring towards home base and smiled. He loved life and being a part of it, that much was true but there was another side to the child that only a close relative could see. Blair was missing his father.

James had missed 4 games and the boy's Science Fair presentation. Not because he didn't want to be there but because his job as a detective of the Cascade Police Department Major Crimes Unit required most of his time.

Elise wondered if she and her husband had made the right decision, in letting James Ellison adopt their only grandchild. True, it was her daughter's dying wish but she wasn't around to see how much her son missed the man, how hard the boy worked at hiding the pain or hear him call the man twice a day, just in case he was home.

It hurt to see such pain and she wondered if maybe she and her husband should have fought to keep the boy for their own. They could have allowed James visitation rights and maybe it would have prevented the child from suffering such disappointment.

The game soon ended and the Cascade Carnivores won.

"Grandma did you see? Did you see? I caught the fly ball with one hand. Just one!"

"I did. You were great!"

Blair looked at the people around them and then beyond. His face at first held hope and then slowly it changed to a momentary flash of sadness. Being young, the child was still trying hard to hide the negative emotions from those around him. He had no idea that the future would deny him this particular talent. His grandmother didn't miss the expression. "We going to the loft first?"

"Sure. We can check on the mail, let some fresh air into the place and get you a change of clothing."

Blair smiled brightly. "Can we eat there too? Maybe watch the Discovery Channel for a while?"

Elise saw the smile and couldn't deny the child his wish. "Well your team won didn't they?"

The young boy bounced over to the Volvo parked nearby and waited to be let inside. "Did you videotape the game?"

"Absolutely."

"Can't wait til Dad gets off this assignment." He paused and his grandmother waited for the inevitable question. "Do you - do you think he misses me?"

"Yes child, I am certain he does. The man loves you and when you love someone, you miss them when you are away even for two seconds."

Blair looked out the window at the other cars taking his playmates and their families off to wherever they lived and he nodded. "Maybe he forgot."

Elise placed a hand on the child's lap and waited til sad blue eyes looked up and into her own. "Nothing, no matter what, can make a parent forget their love for their child."

Blair nodded and then looked away.

Elise smiled. "Blair, he does loves you. You know that don't you?"

Blair nodded again and then shrugged his shoulders. "It's just hard. Momma used to go out sometimes but she always came back. I got used to it but this is new and Dad and I haven't done this before and, maybe, well he could forget. You know?"

"About you?"

Blair shrugged again. "I don't know if I am saying it right but, yeah, kinda."

Elise smiled at the timid questioner. "He hasn't forgotten."

The loft came into view moments later and the child smiled brightly. "Irene said she'd try to come by. Maybe we'll make cookies."

"I'll call Ben and see if he can come over after his meeting. We can have a celebration of sorts."

"Grand sure has a lot of meetings."

"Has to, needs to make sure the business keeps running and our futures are secure."

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

"Damn it, Simon, it has been two and a half weeks. I have other responsibilities."

Capt. Banks sighed. "I understand that, I do. Remember that I am a father too."

"Yes, I know but it's different. You've had years to establish your relationship with Daryl and a wife who fills in when... " Ellison sighed and sat down on the chair in front of his superior's desk. He was never a man who griped about doing his job or shared personal problems when on the job but he was just too frustrated with the current situation. He had a 'life' and he was needed there.

For a moment Ellison thought he had said these things aloud but realized that Simon was arguing for his cause. "Jim, they need you to be there tonight. It is going down and then all that is left is paper work and court appearances."

Ellison looked out towards the window off to the side of the office. His eyes clear and icy blue. "This has to end tonight."

A knock on the door interrupted the two. Capt. Banks' assistant, Rhonda, poked her head into the office. "Sorry gentlemen. There is someone here to see Det. Ellison said it was personal and important."

Banks sighed. "You have time but I need you out there in two hours."

Ellison nodded and mentally calculated whether or not to visit his son. If he met with the boy it would be all too brief and he wondered if it did more harm than good to have the child go through the emotional goodbye again. He entered the bullpen and paused, mid-step, in surprise. "Dad?"

"I need to have a word with you, James. In private if you don't mind."

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

FORTY MINUTES LATER...

Jim sat in the car issued to him for his current assignment. Apparently, working within a car theft ring didn't warrant any special type of vehicle. The Nissan Sentra barely held his tall frame and the vehicle was extremely difficult to maneuver within. Feeling like he did, well, the man needed room to vent and there was no room to do a damn thing.

Jim was furious. His father had no damn right to question his actions or motives when it came to his life, the way he chose to do things and he certainly had no right to bring his son into this. For years William Ellison avoided contact with his eldest son. The man never called or wrote and Jim admitted that he, too, made no attempt to reach out to his father.

Now, suddenly, William Ellison decided to step into the picture and his presence was definitely not welcomed.

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

-EARLIER-

William Ellison took his 'presumed' place at the head of the conference table and spoke in a lecturing tone. "That child is not only illegitimate but the spawn of a person who roamed all over the world like some sort of vagrant and never made any attempt to maintain a stable sort of life, not even for her offspring. That kind of thing isn't done in current society and it is certainly not the way to create a solid personal and financial background. It was like she was running like some sort of hunted animal. A trait no doubt passed on to this boy who should not be allowed to use our family name."

"Naomi Sandburg was not a vagrant, in fact she was a bright and very intelligent lady. Her life and all the choices she made are none of your business. As for her child - my son, he is a human being who is also none of your business." Jim glared at his father as he continued. "Who the hell gave you the right to come here to discuss my personal business? And what gives you the right to speak about my son as though he were an inanimate object? Hell, for that matter, who gave you the right to have his background investigated?" James shook his head. "You haven't spoken to me in years and then you suddenly decide to come to my work place under some misguided impression that anything you have to say to me is important. Get this through your head, because I want no misunderstanding, that child is my son by all that is legal and nothing you say today or anytime in the future will alter that fact."

William sighed and mentally decided to attack the situation from a different angle. He, after all, was not a quitter and this matter was far too important to ignore. Changing his tone of voice, he initiated the next attack as he moved closer to his son. "James, the child has grandparents. Let them raise him. It seems unfair to take the boy from his true family and their background. If you still feel the need to waste your time and money on this child, at least do it in such a way that it will not come back to bite the Ellison family in the financial ass."

Jim moved away from the other man - his father - and gazed out of the interview room window. He really didn't need this right now but strangely he had expected this kind of reaction from his father and wondered why the man waited so long to make his voice heard. Hell, it wasn't even surprising to find out that the man had 'researched' his and his son's life before coming to the department - that was how arguments, according to William Ellison, were won. Being 'informed meant no surprises' - was just one of William Ellison's life lessons. Jim idly wondered if his father had gone as far as to hire an investigator or simply used the one provided by his company to do the job.

What bothered the younger Ellison most was that his father thought he owned the privilege to regulate all of his son's actions. The man never gave a damn about his eldest son and now, realizing that they were at an impasse, Jim was about to deliver the end blow. "Remove my name from your papers, forget I exist. It has been what? Eight or more years? Take whatever legal measures you need but," He turned then and walked up to the older man. "I will not give him up. He is my son. My son and I shall raise him as I see fit and that means he shares my name. My son will learn the true meaning of being a father since I intend to raise him differently from the way I had been raised."

William Ellison shook his head. "So judgmental and so self righteous. Tell me, when was the last time you saw the boy for more than a few hours? Why? Work keeping you away? Trying to build a future for the child and making sure he will want for nothing when he gets older?" Mr. Ellison looked back into the angry cool blue eyes with the same kind of fierceness behind his own. "Try doing that for a few more years and see what it is like to have your son hate you for working to make his life better, hate you because the poor child had to live in a big house filled with all any boy could need or wish for. It is difficult to watch all that I have worked to provide you be passed on to someone who had a parent that didn't give a damn about his future. A child who is not borne of your flesh. We are not that different my son. Take this as a learning experience and let him go. Your true children deserve what is rightfully theirs."

"I am nothing like you, so never, I mean never ever, compare me to you. As for my work? I am not here trying to figure out ways to make more money to have more money. I am a detective. I try to help people and the community. I do this because I want to and because it is important for the future of this city. As for my child, every moment I am here, I miss my son andů," He paused as he caught the distasteful expression on his father's face when he mentioned the words 'son'. "Bottom line, sir, you and your opinions on how I should do things mean nothing to me. Clearly your mind is set and nothing said here will change it. Nothing will change mine either. I suggest you leave."

"You like children? Then get married." Mr. Ellison snickered as he launched into another avenue of attack. "Couldn't even do that right, could you? Now you've adopted this fatherless child and God only knows what future awaits the Ellison name. This boy might kill you in your sleep, steal money so he can run off and live with hippies or, worse, destroy the family image by becoming a drug addict or abuser of some sort."

Jim shook his head. The man considered a bad family image worse than death. He wondered if his father ever stopped to listen to the words that exited his mouth. Consumed with rancor, Jim clenched his fists and spoke in a deceptively calm voice. "Again, what you think is of no importance to me. Get out of my sight and take your damn family name with you. You and I are finished."

"However, there is just one more thing I'd like to add." Jim stepped closer and looked his father straight in the eyes. "Stay far away from my son. If he hears even one word of the trash you spouted here today - you will be very sorry."

William Ellison turned away from the stranger his child had become and walked to the door. As he reached for the door knob he paused. "Speaking to that child is of no concern to me. However, you have better get rid of that boy James or I will do what I have to - to protect the family name." Head held high, William Ellison exited the room leaving his son feeling angry and exposed.

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

-PRESENT-

Now as James Ellison sat in the unmarked car, he stared off into nothingness. His mind trying to calm the anger that still filled his heart. Slowly he retrieved his cellphone and called the Sandburg residence. Minutes later, he realized no one was home and left a message. He then dialed his own home to retrieve messages and was happily interrupted. "Hello? Dad?"

Jim smiled, tension and anger began melting away at the sound of the young voice on the other end. "Hey kiddo! What are you doing there?"

Speaking at a rate no regular stranger could understand but at a speed that a certain fledgling father had come to decipher, was the voice of a certain beloved young boy. "Dad, this is so cool! I was just thinking about you. Oh, Grandma said we could come over if my team won another game. We did, was 4 zip and boy the other team was majorly upset. One guy was really yelling at their coach. Serves them right, they tried to pull some obvious fast ones. Oh and Irene is coming by, can you believe? Haven't seen her in a bit and so is Granddad, if he can clear out soon." There was a pause. "Dad?"

Jim winced and knew what the question was going to be, before it was asked. "No Chief. One more day. Just one more day."

"Oh." Million meanings were tucked away in the two letter word. None of their meanings were missed by the older man. "I just miss you."

"I miss you too kiddo. I miss you very, very much."

Blair was silent and Jim could hear the sound of his son's heart. The beat was faster than normal. He then heard a sniffle the child tried to hide and Jim attempted to soothe his son with verbal assurance. "Chief, never doubt my love for you."

"I don't dad." Blair sighed. "Okay. I can do one more day."

"Thanks Chief, now let me talk to grandma and then I want to talk to you again."

There was a pause and then. "James? Are you alright? Coming home?"

"I've been told one more night. I am hoping to be home by noon tomorrow."

Elise whispered. "The boy misses you quite a bit."

"I know and I miss him too and I am so sorry I have to do this. They say this will end tonight. Tomorrow I will be home."

"You just be careful young man and come home in one piece."

"Thank you Elise and please give my thanks to Ben, for everything."

There was another pause.

"Dad?"

"Chief, when I get home, you and I have a lot to talk about."

"I didn't mean to sit on Mrs. Obana's tulips, it was an accident. Honest!!!"

Jim grinned at the never ending antics of his rambunctious son but worked to keep his tone serious. "We'll talk about that later. I need to make some decisions and I want to talk with you on what we should do."

"Oh, okay. Man stuff?"

Jim chuckled. "Exactly. For now, be good and stay away from coffee."

Blair snickered. "Just as long as you promise to follow the Ellison Motto."

"I promise. I love you son."

"I love you too Dad."

Jim turned the phone off and sighed. "I will not turn into William Ellison. Never."

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

MEANWHILE - - -

William Ellison entered the black town car waiting for him outside the Police Department and swiftly accessed the information in the laptop beside him. He gazed at the driver who was awaiting instructions and spoke. "Inglewood, Washington, Thomas. Seems I must make one more stop."

The mature business man gazed out the car window at the grey building that housed the Cascade Police Department and sighed in disappointment. Had he been given the luxury of the benefits his eldest son was allotted, he would never have chosen such a poor career. There were better ways to 'make the world safe'. Investments that would ensure a prosperous future for all. Business that could further develop and create future jobs for those less fortunate. His son could have been in charge of such a venture. The goal was to help others but to always help oneself. James still had time. William sighed again and muttered. "My work is definitely cut out for me."

Not one to shy away from hard work especially when it is something that the other party involved did not welcome his interference, William Ellison logically plotted his next move. This particular situation was something that needed handling as soon as possible but with the utmost care. James would someday be grateful to him for his interaction in this matter. Perhaps not today but sometime soon.

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

The assignment didn't take one day to wrap up but two days. Two days of non-communication. Two days where the situation deteriorated due to the greed of the suspects involved. Two days where a gun fight erupted and turned into a hostage situation and then, when the suspects got nervous, it turned into a search and rescue situation.

One of the men involved was carrying an explosive and thought it could be used to help him escape. He was the first of several found dead.

James Ellison received a few cuts and bruises, assisted in rescuing several hostiles from the rubble caused by the explosion and was now in the process of having his statement taken by Internal Affairs.

"You had an opportunity to stay with Hodges people. You could have escaped with the remaining two. These two could have led you to the head of the Northern operation. This was an opportunity that should not have been ignored. Why didn't you follow them?

"You are assuming a lot and with no real proof to substantiate your train of thought. Now, I have never been told nor has it ever been suggested that my role here was to become a long-term mole. I was told to close down the operation in Cascade and to get out. My role was completed as instructed. What the hell is the problem?"

The detective from IA lost his patience with the detective's detached way of viewing things. "Orders are to be followed, I agree, but when there is a chance to stop an organization at its root you are to proceed for the greater good. I know that even you saw the opportunity in front of you and there was no good reason to ignore it. You could have forced several operations in several cities to be terminated."

"You don't know that for sure. Hell, you don't even know if those two men are connected to those higher up. Now, you are accusing me of ignoring some opportunity that might have turned out to be nothing and suggesting that I risk my life without a valid reason, order or any real idea of where the situation would have led. That is sheer lunacy."

"Those men were present with the head of operations when this day began, that is proof, they were part of the crime and that is provocation enough to have anyone investigated and following them would have answered whether or not they were important. There was an opportunity to really put a dent in things and you, detective, screwed up." The pale IA officer was now beet red from anger and frustration.

"Oh?" Ellison stood and glared at the man. "And tell me exactly how you would be able to track where I ended up or how you would know that I'd be able to get a message to you. For that matter, my cover was for local use, how would you have protected me if that cover was compromised?"

"We'd arrange to get to you, eventually. We would work something out."

"Before or after I end up with a bullet in the head. These people are not stupid and the risk was too high."

The IA man stepped closer. "Is it the risk or are you losing your edge? We are aware that your personal life has recently altered a bit. A man can lose his edge because of changes like that."

Ellison didn't flinch from the presumptuous words and met the other man's gaze with an icy glare of his own. "It seems to me that the real reason I am here is because I played it smart. Followed my captain's orders and got the job done. However, I recall two of your departments newer operatives losing their lives in order to prove that they had an 'edge'. Two men who were under your personal supervision. Tell me sir, when was the last time you were under investigation or you were sent out there to risk your life on someone's idea of 'provocation'." He turned and moved to exit the room.

"This is not over detective. You get your ass back in here." The man shook with anger but to no avail. Detective James Ellison had left.

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

MAJOR CRIMES

Though the door to Captain Banks office was closed and the blinds drawn to conceal the inhabitants within, you would have to be deaf to ignore the rumble of voices from within which warded off any visitors.

"You told me one day. Only one day. You assured me that this was going down and then I was out. Now I am being harassed by that overpaid paper pusher and told that not only was I supposed to bring down the Cascade Operation but also those higher up in the chain. What the hell is going on?"

"Jim, just have a seat. Please." Simon sighed and waited until the detective sat before speaking. "I had no idea that IA and Vice had a hidden agenda. Of course when the two get together, hell usually breaks loose." He gazed as the other man and sighed. "Honest Jim, I had no idea they wanted you in longer and I don't condone their expectation that you should act alone. I don't need a repeat of you doing things 'your way'."

"Well I told him he could just go to hell. My work here is done."

Banks sighed again. "Look, Jim as far as we know these people still consider you one of their own. Correct?"

Ellison looked at the other man in astonishment, knowing where this discussion would lead.

"Look, I understand that you have other concerns and I know that they are important, very important, but you are the only one who has gotten this far. The only one they accepted so quickly and allowed deep into the operation."

Not wanting to hear anymore, the detective clenched his jaw before speaking. "No."

Simon raised his eyebrows and sat straighter in his chair. "It's not a request detective."

"I don't give a damn. The answer is 'no'."

"Detective, this order comes from the Chief and the Mayor. It would be a big feather in our cap."

"To hell with caps and feathers." Ellison stood. "I will not do this. I cannot stay away another month or so."

"It should only be one month." Simon stood as well. "Look, you can have five hours off and then I need you back here as soon as possible. Jim, after this assignment you can take off for a few weeks but this is important. We need to get this done."

Ellison's face reflected his disbelief at the statement. "No, sir. I respectfully refuse."

"These orders come straight from the top. You haven't a choice on this."

"Haven't I?" The detective removed his weapon from his leather holster and placed it on the captain's desk.

Banks looked at the man shocked at his actions and tried to reason with him. "We need to get these guys off the street. You are the only one who can get in without notice."

Ellison removed his badge and looked at it. "I joined up with this department immediately after leaving the military. It seemed the right thing to do. It was where I felt needed." He looked at Simon, his superior, his friend and the man he recently had chosen to be the godfather of his son. Jim had no disrespect for the other but he was determined to do what was right. "I understand that this is important but so will be the next 'operation' that winds up in Cascade and the next. It is the nature of being a detective but Simon this is not where I am needed." The badge landed on his superior's desk and he headed out the door.

"Wait."

Ellison paused but didn't look back. "I'll stop by later and complete what needs to be worked on as far as paperwork goes but then I am gone." He opened the door and again paused. "Sorry Simon but I have to do this."

"Jim ..."

Ellison exited the office and retrieved his coat just as the investigator from IA walked up to him. "I can have your badge for this."

"It's on Captain Banks' desk. He has dibs."

Ellison brushed past the man and walked to the elevator. It was time to go where he was needed.

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

Jim arrived at the loft and unsurprisingly found it empty, clean and quiet. Though somewhat disappointed that his son and the Sandburgs hadn't come to stay the night at the loft, he decided that 6:30 am was a bit early to go to their home. Besides, he wanted to wash away the presence of the last few days and dress in clothing from his own wardrobe. Now he had plenty of time to set his life in order.

An hour later, Ellison pulled out his personal phone book and searched for a particular name. After placing a call the ex-detective left a voicemail message. He was on his way to making things right. He would not be like his father.

First stop, Fat Joes for some coffee and some take-out breakfast. Then a quick stop at Rainier University for a special gift. Then to the Sandburgs, Jim wanted to hold his child and know that things were fine with their world. It was time to prevent his relationship with his son from becoming the nightmare he once shared with his own father.

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

AT THE SANDBURG RESIDENCE THAT SAME MORNING

It was early in the morning and the air was cool and clear. A good part of the day to slip out of the three floor home and have some private time outdoors. Blair quietly sneaked out into the large flora filled backyard tucked behind his grandparent's home. He liked it here. His Grandma kept the area filled with interesting plants and here he could walk and pretend he was in some jungle or forest far away. It was a great place to explore, discover things, imagine being the first to find some new form of life or to get away from the sympathetic looks poorly disguised by his mother's parents. Here the boy could think - about things.

Eventually he found his favorite spot, several large rocks which he had arranged into a sort of 'chair', and sat down between the two large lavender plants that hid his special place. It was cool this morning but the old sweatshirt his dad had gotten him from Rainier and his jeans kept him relatively warm. Placing his Yugi-Oh backpack on the ground in front of him, Blair pulled out a book to read the words written by Richard Burton, the explorer. "Whenever words encroach upon my spirit, I find a tall tree, climb it and clear my mind. Finding peace is the first step to being open enough to all life has to offer and it is something every anthropologist must be. Open."

Blair smiled at the words. The man seemed to have had an exciting life and had done so much with it. Blair found himself wondering about this 'anthropology'. His teacher told him that it was a very difficult field to enter but if he was interested, there was a great anthropology museum at Rainier University and that he should have his grandparents take him.

Blair frowned at this. "People." He kicked at a piece of dirt and sighed.

'People' just assumed that his dad was out of the picture. His dad did important work, couldn't they understand that? It was work that let them all sleep at night knowing they were protected by the cops in the city and his dad was one of those cops. Missing softball games and stuff were not as important as saving a life and making sure people like his grands didn't get picked on by bad people. "Bad people like Deats." He kicked another rock aside in frustration.

Sure, Blair missed his dad, big time and he'd be lying if he didn't but his dad was like all the other parents who worked just as much and were hardly with their kids at every game or outing and nobody looked at them funny or even seemed to care about their kids. Some of those parents were attorneys and office type people and though Blair knew that having a family cost money and that all parents had to work hard to get the money, none of those people risked their lives doing their jobs. Getting to work, considering the way some of those people drove, maybe, but not doing their work.

He continued to mumble and think about things as only a child could.

Just because Blair was adopted, it seemed the whole world felt they had the right to pass judgment over him and his dad. His teachers, his friends, their parents, and even his grands all had opinions about how his life should be.

Even though his dad told him he was important and he was second to no one, Blair knew he was not really the most important thing in his dad's life. His dad was a detective and, according to the guys at the station, he was good at what he did. Blair didn't want his dad to lose his rep cause it was important. His arrival into the man's life was an unforeseen occurrence and an unexpected responsibility.

"I try to help," mumbled the small boy. That was why he studied really hard and made sure he always got good grades. Blair joined the softball team, the basketball team so he didn't worry his teachers by not being active and did tutoring so that no one worried that he studied too much even though he loved to learn and kinda loved to teach. He liked the games and his friends but he'd rather read a good book. Still people looked at him with sad judgmental eyes and whispered about his grands with hands near their mouths. "And I thought it was impolite to whisper about others. Huh!"

Here in Inglewood things weren't any better than back at home. Lately, even his grands seemed upset about his dad being away so long. Blair wondered if anyone considered that if he were fine with the whole thing, why couldn't they be. "Guess I don't matter to them one way or the other."

He closed his eyes and breathed in the morning air that smelled of wet dirt and assorted flowers. Blair smiled at the calm feeling he got from the action. Then he heard a noise and realized it was the sound of his grands' voices coming from the front of the house. He smiled at the fact that the morning was so quiet he could easily hear where they were located.

It was time, the young boy gathered his backpack and stood. Time to find his peace-making tree and climb it. The grands, cause that was how older people were, would be talking for a bit. Time enough for climbing a certain tree and then sneaking back into the house before anyone actually searched for him. This was his adventure.

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

"Oh, Ben, he didn't call last night. Maybe something went wrong. Maybe he's ...."

"Now, Elise, these things will work out for the best. Jim loves the boy and he will try to get to him no matter what. Besides Simon Banks will call. Jim has some very trustworthy associates."

Elise sighed and sat on one of the wide chairs on their front porch. "I loved Naomi and I am so very sorry for the way things had ended between our only child and us. It just hurts sometimes to look at Blair and for a second see the eyes of my daughter and wish to say things I never had a chance to say. Then I get so..." She sighed and shook her head.

"You're angry at her aren't you?"

"You?"

Ben sat beside her and nodded. "Why leave the boy in the care of a stranger? A man who has other places to be and things to do. James is so young to be a father and Blair is such a hand full. They are so different and their lives so busy. Jim should be out shaking trees and seeing what's out there and Blair needs so very much love and attention. He should not have to worry about getting accustomed to a new father and learning the man's habits but then getting a another mother. WE are here and we are family."

Elise dabbed at the tears that formed in the corner of her eyes as her husband spoke aloud all the thoughts she had held deep in her heart. She didn't add her additional concerns that James didn't seem the type to comfort the child when Blair had a bad dream or the type to simply cuddle with the boy because it soothed the soul. "If Naomi had only come here, to us - her parents, first, we would have taken care of the child ourselves. We could have taken care of him on our own and Naomi would have had us there to take care of her through all the time in the hospital. She never gave us another chance. I didn't think our relationship had deteriorated so badly that she would go this far."

Ben placed his arms around the woman he had married some 44 years ago and kissed her on the cheek. He didn't want her crying over the regrets they both held towards their only daughter. They had both been grieving over their loss and at the way things had ended for so very long. It had to end. Ben instead focused on discussing his grandchild's new guardian. "Jim hasn't mentioned his side of the family, not even once. It's strange don't you think? Doesn't take the boy to meet them and never shows pictures of himself when he was younger. I find myself wondering if he regrets his decision to adopt Blair."

"No, don't say that. I saw him the day we told him to adopt Blair." Elise sniffled as she swiped away the tears that formed again in her eyes because, although the decision was the right thing to do, it truly had hurt her deeply to give her only grandchild to another to care for. "Our grandson has never seemed happier and James was just as ecstatic. That wasn't fake, Ben. James loves that boy, no question." Of this the older woman was certain. No matter the differences, James loved their grandchild.

"Perhaps it isn't fake but maybe now he wishes he had only asked to be just a part of the boy's life. You know, like a big brother, and not as restricting and time consuming as a parent."

Elise leaned into the man beside her and sighed. "Still, we can't live forever and, like you said, Blair is quite a handful for people our age. Softball games, museum trips, and all that driving. Eventually, our bodies would tire not that we wouldn't try hard to keep up but he is so young and exuberant. Ten times more active than Naomi ever was. He needs someone younger to follow him wherever he wants and needs to go."

"I agree my love but like I said, James could be a big brother, he is hardly present in Blair's life now, it wouldn't be that hard of a transition. His job is important. I understand that, honest I do but, well, we could raise Blair and give him all the time and attention he can stand. Jim could watch out for the boy from time to time - visit whenever his schedule allows. He could take him on some of those tours to museums and play softball with Blair too. At the end of the day Blair would come home to us. That way we could raise him in a proper home and avoid the mistakes we made with Naomi and show Blair that we are good parents. Let him learn what it is to be a Sandburg from a Sandburg. If and when the time comes, then Jim can have Blair. Death seems a fair enough reason to allow that."

Elise shook her head. "If we took him away from Jim, Blair would come to hate us and I couldn't live with that." She looked at her husband who appeared miserable and she whispered softly to him. "Oh Ben, I just want to know that we are doing what's best."

Ben nodded. "We've faced worse you and I."

Elise smiled sadly and nodded. "We just stick together right?"

Ben kissed his wife and nodded. He too wished for a sign that Blair was where he should be and that things would work out.

Just as the Sandburg's resolved to let things work themselves out, a dark car pulled into the driveway and the two looked over at the vehicle curiously. A tall, mature and well dressed man stepped out of the backside of the vehicle and looked at the two people on the porch.

"Mr. and Mrs. Sandburg? I am William Ellison. I know that the two of you were not expecting me but, if I may have a moment of your time. I'd like to discuss your grandson's welfare."

Ben tilted his head and nodded. "Please, come in."

Elise offered the man some coffee and quickly went to retrieve some. Ben waited till his wife returned to hear what Mr. Ellison had to say. "Is your grandson here?"

Elise nodded. "He is still asleep. A bit early for him to be up."

William nodded but internally, he disapproved. It was 6:30 am and time to begin the day. "Then I assume we adults are relatively alone?"

Ben nodded. "Is James all right? I mean, you're not here to tell us that he's been injured are you?"

"No. My son is just fine. I met with him two days ago actually. I had planned to meet with you shortly after but you were not home at the time."

Elise nodded. "We were at Jim's, your son's, home. Blair wanted to go to there to get a few things and we couldn't deny him his wish."

William smiled tolerantly. "That is what I came here to discuss. My son, James, has always lived his life a bit impetuously and was a bit hasty with his decisions of late. You see, Jim has a desire to help so many but, well, sometimes he can be a bit over zealous."

Ben looked at his wife and then at Mr. Ellison. "What are you saying?"

"Surely you must agree that your grandson should not be taken care of by a stranger. The child should be raised by family. By the two of you just as his mother was. Don't you agree?'

Elise looked down and spoke. "We had tried that, initially. We had hired attorneys and ..." She looked at the other man and smiled sadly. "Some things should be handled with the heart and we should not be so concerned with how things should be."

"Still, it is better to raise those in your family, your way and not with outside interference."

Ben frowned at the remark that sounded so much like his own yet somehow more sinister. "Since we have never spoken to you before, please excuse my bluntness on this matter, but what exactly are you here for sir?"

"Please, if you will allow me to continue. Children can be a bit careless with the things they do. They never plan for the future until the future is present and there is no time to provide for the end." William smiled again. "James is still in his late twenties, still plenty of time to plan a secure future. Someday my son will have a family of his own, as I said he's is still young and, as I mentioned before, too impetuous to have given up on love just yet. I expect that he will have children, children who are of James Ellison's own blood and children who will deserve the right to partake in the financial stability offered to them from the family. It would be unfair to have these benefits divided."

Ben shook his head astonished at the man's statement. "This is about money? You come to my home to discuss finances?"

Elise spoke. "Money? Blair is hardly in need of money."

William nodded and again smiled in order to calm the two people he was addressing. "Today that may be true but what about tomorrow? Years down the road. Surely as parents you must have considered this for your own child."

"I must admit sir, I had wondered about you and your wife." Elise looked at the man and shook her head. "James never speaks of either of you. Not a single word. He is a very private person and for the most part we, my husband and I, have respected that. However, we can't help but wonder why it was he never introduced Blair to his family. I also can't help but wonder why it is that you are here, alone. Surely you could have spoken with James."

Ben saw his wife hesitate and continued for her. It was a gift to be married to someone you loved so well that you were privy to their way of thinking. "James has taken the boy to meet his co-workers. Made a godfather out of his superior who is a very wonderful man and has done his best to meet anyone involved with the boy in school. However, he has never once discussed his family. I'm, sorry, we both thought that peculiar." Ben looked at his wife and took her hand into his. "Can't say that we didn't wonder if perhaps we were a bit hasty in the decisions we made concerning our only grandchild but, as my wife will attest, Jim loves that child and that child loves him just as much."

William pursed his lips and then continued his verbal attack. "Mr. Sandburg, I am sure they care for each other. As I said, my son has an overly giving heart. However, someday, when my son finally marries someone with whom he can maintain a relationship and decides to have children, he will come to realize that having adopted this boy may not have been the best idea. It may cause friction between this child and his own. It could also hinder his chances to marry someone. There are few women who would take a man and child for her own."

Ben looked at the other man suddenly angry he had let him into his home. "I had my doubts about James - this I freely admit. Doubts about this arrangement and my grandson being raised by a relative stranger. In fact this morning ... well, my wife and I wondered if we were doing the right thing."

William nodded, choosing to ignore the angry look in the hopes that the man was about to say something agreeable. He chose his next words carefully. "Then I suggest we do the right thing for all concerned. I can offer a substantial sum to help maintain a decent lifestyle for the boy, proving that he is not being abandoned just being allowed to grow in an environment better suited to a child like him and I am willing to assist in having the adoption terminated. In fact I know of someone who can have it completed in a day. You and your wife will have the boy for your own and, if you want, Jim can visit. Perhaps spend holidays with the child." He looked at the two and tilted his head. "Everyone gets something and our households remain properly managed."

Ben stared at the man and for a moment William could actually feel his soul being searched for answers. "Is it because I am a Jew? That my wife is catholic? Or is it because my daughter was a runaway? Had her child with some unknown? I know of her past and, yes, I am not proud of it but you sir have no right to pass judgment on her or us. You of a people should know that you cannot control everything in your child's life."

"Mr. Sandburg, I am simply looking out for the future of my family. You can't fault me for that can you?"

Ben looked at his wife and shook his head. Elise smiled at her husband, knowing he would take care of the visitor and left the room. It was time for the two fathers to have a discussion. She had no interest in hearing anymore from the man she now wished she had never met. "Please excuse me."

Ben watched her leave, knowing that his wife had no further interest in dealing with the man before him. He turned back and looked at the taller man with a calm face. "Let me inform you of something your fact checkers would never know. I too, have worked hard, saved and planned for the future of my family and even a bit for their family. My wife and I are financially sound and will enjoy our old age quite comfortably. As for my daughter, Naomi. I too tried to raise her in a respectable fashion, had her attend all the 'correct' functions and sent her to the best schools. She was no idiot, she simply didn't want to be a part of all of that. Still I forced her into things she was never shy to tell me she hated. Eventually, I suppose it all became too much and she ran away. She wanted to do things I considered frivolous." He looked away for a moment and closed his eyes. "I now hope that she had an exciting life and did only things that made her happy. She was a good person and deserved so much more than she took." He looked at Ellison. "You see, I learned that you can't control your children. They have wills of their own and some run away in order to spare their parents the pain of more arguments."

"You can control them if you know how. I know how."

"Really? You have had no contact with your son since he returned from the military and, if he knew about even half of the things you've said here this morning, I don't think you'd ever get the chance to speak to him again." Ben sighed. "You lose so much if you aren't willing to give a little."

"How much do I have to give?"

"Money again." Ben laughed sadly and shook his head. It was very apparent that this was a materialistic man and appealing to his humanity was getting nowhere. "I also had you researched, sir. I too am a man who wants to know those who involve themselves with my family." Large dark blue eyes met Williams paler colored eyes. "However, to calm your overly suspicious mind. We have more than enough financial benefits to offer our grandson. He will never need your money and, if you disown your own son, he also will benefit financially. I consider the man family, now more than ever. I am only concerned for the emotional side of both Blair and James. I wish all involved to be happy. - content, if you will."

Ben walked to the hallway, leading out of his home, and paused to look back. He noticed Elise standing further back in the hallway. He spoke to their visitor coolly. "I thank you for coming here and allowing me to obtain my answer."

"Answer?"

"As I had mentioned I was questioning my actions regarding my only grandchild. Blair is all I have left of my beautiful daughter. All the money and assets in the world is nothing compared to watching your children's children mature and develop. So I began to believe that my grandchild should be here with me and Elise to be loved and nurtured. I now know that I have already done the right thing." He opened the door and stood in the doorway. "James needs family. I see that now and Elise and I will be happy to share all that we have and are with him. After all, he was there for my daughter when I could not be. He is a good man, sir, of that, you should be proud. I shall never again question his love for my grandson nor question his actions with regard to Blair's welfare. Don't expect any assistance in efforts to take Blair from his father. I see now, that they have suffered great losses in both their lives and together they will grow strong. I will not cause either of them any emotional harm. Now, please leave our home."

William said nothing further. It wasn't until he was in the luxury car and half a mile away that he realized he had no idea who the Sandburgs really were nor what his next course of action would be.

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

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WOODS - - MINUTES EARLIER

Blair spotted the tree. It was perfect. An old oak with lots of curves and bumps to use to climb up on. Blair adjusted his backpack and slowly made his way to the top. Soon he was high above ground and could see for miles, well, it was pretty far to a child his age.

Carefully, Blair situated himself on a thick old branch and then smiled at the sight of the homes he could see from his perch. He cautiously sat down on a wide limb and resituated his backpack.

He pulled out his 'Beanie Panther©' and placed him on the tree limb just above him. "You keep a look out for any predators. Okay?"

Blair smiled as the toy whose bright yellow eyes glowed warmly seemed to accept his duty. "You know?" He knew it was childish to talk to inanimate objects but up here, who would know? "Dad might buy you a friend to hang with. You know for when I go to school? Said he saw just the right kind of friend and might bring him home when he gets off."

Blair looked out at the view surrounding him and sighed. "I know. I shouldn't be speaking to toys, boys my age are playing 'tough' but no one needs to know. Sides who else has dreams of panthers and jungles?"

Blair pulled out his journal and began to write about his current accomplishment. "Today, I sought peace and found it."

It was a while before he stopped writing about his climb and how he felt during his journey. Eventually, he stopped and began to think about - stuff. "Wish people would leave things alone. I'm happy with Dad. He loves me and - well, that's all that matters. So why can't they all stop whispering and looking at me like I was born with a extra eye or something?"

He looked over at his grandparents home which could be seen from where he sat but just barely and he smiled. "They are good people. Naomi was lucky. Wish she could have known that they still loved her." He tilted his head skyward and spoke softly. "They love you still momma."

He closed his eyes and remembered his mother's smile, her smell and the way it felt to kiss her neck when she hugged him. Just then a breeze touched his cheek and a tear slipped through his eyelashes. "Momma? I miss you. I try to be happy when I remember you but ... I can't help it. I hurt inside. I miss you so much it hurts my heart."

Wiping the wetness away from his cheek, Blair smiled sadly and continued his one-sided conversation with his mom. "Dad is the best. You know? Talks about sports and body stuff we men go through. He tries really hard to be a good dad and I try really hard to be a good son. I love him, momma, and when I am with him things seem right, you know? Remembering you and how things were isn't so hard then. Don't know how he's doing right now but I know he's doing things to help make living in Cascade better. Could you keep your eyes on him? God has so much to do and I'm not really a big deal but ...please momma keep an eye out for him?"

Blair leaned off to the left and back against the tree. The wind around the precariously perched peace seeker was picking up and it was as if the world were moving with it. The sounds of the leaves and the tree itself made Blair truly understand that there was life all around him. At the moment he moved with the earth and he felt as though he were flying but was safe and happy. He closed is eyes and smiled. "I found peace."

He was interrupted when a cool drop of water landed on his face. Blair opened his eyes and watched as the sky darkened and rain began to fall. "Sheesh, I really hate the rain, I mean a guy gets comfortable, tries to enjoy life and nature decides to get wet all over you."

He readjusted his backpack after repacking it and carefully made his way back down to the ground. Midway there he paused and looked back up the tree to see his panther still watching over him. "Oops! Did I forget you big guy? Sorry."

The toy panther seemed to wink and Blair giggled as he re-traced his steps back up the tree. He reached out and grabbed the panther. "There, I got you."

Again, he carefully made his journey down towards the ground. The rain was now coming down stronger and his foot slipped a few times. Blair misjudged a jump and slid. "NO!!!!! Dad!!!!!!!" He reached out for a hold of a limb and turned in midair to face the ground as it rushed up to meet him.

He landed hard and awkwardly. His arm was tucked behind him and the side of his head hurt. He tried to sit up and cried out. He laid back and sniffled. "Dad, please come home. I need you. Please?"

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

Jim arrived at the Sandburgs' minutes after his father's car had disappeared down an opposite route. He walked up towards the porch and paused. He tilted his head and then froze. Packages were tossed on to one of the chairs on the porch and Jim took off in the direction of his son's grandparents' voices.

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

Blair Sandburg Ellison was missing.

The concerned trio searched the house completely while Jim was on the phone to all the boy's friends and schoolmates. It was while he was preparing to dial the police that the frantic father paused.

Ben and Elise saw James standing in the hallway, gazing out the window and looking for all the world like a mannequin.

Elise stepped up to Jim and spoke softly. "What do you hear?"

For a moment Jim didn't speak. Ben was about to say something but was gratefully interrupted. "He's out there. He just called to me."

Elise placed a hand on the rigid shoulders and whispered. "Find your son, James. Find the child and protect him."

Without explanation the phone slipped from his hand and Jim exited the home.

Ben went to follow and prevented his wife from joining him. "Call for an ambulance."

"What? Why? How do you know?"

Ben turned to his wife and took both of her hands in his. "We were right in making him Blair's father. I believe that now. James loves our grandson and Blair knows this and would have come home if he could. Please, call for an ambulance."

Elise trustingly considered her spouse's words and nodded. "Go and help him." She gave Ben the cellphone she had retrieved after Jim had dropped it. "Call when you know where he is."

The older man turned to leave but not before he grabbed two jackets from the coat hooks and a blanket from the couch as he raced outside to follow the quickly disappearing father.

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

Blair shivered in the cool air and felt so very tired. Suddenly the panther was beside him, growling and nudging him to open his eyes. "Don't feel too good, man. Feel so cold and sleepy. My arm feels gone, can't seem to find it."

The panther nudged him again and Blair smiled softly. "Hey cat, how'd you get so big?" Blair closed his eyes and again was nudged. "Sorry dude. Tired. You watch out for the bad guys - kay?"

The panther snuffled the boy's hair and paused. The feline made a low growl as he turned his eyes off to the North. It looked at the child once more and then turned and ran.

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

Jim paused in confusion. He couldn't hear his son anymore and was beginning to feel fear creep into his heart. It had been so very clear a moment ago and now, nothing. Just the annoying tapping sounds of the rain falling on the leaves around him. The child's voice was silent.

Ben was close to reaching the man and paused. He didn't know how he knew but he didn't want to distract James in any way.

Suddenly James seemed to see something off to the right. It appeared to jar him from the frozen stance. Ben was about to ask if he needed any help but again held his peace. James nodded as though speaking to someone off to his right and then the man took off running.

What Jim had seen was impossible but somehow he knew enough to ignore the confusion in his mind and to follow this 'vision' to wherever it led.

Minutes later he found himself outside a large picket fence that surrounded a home that appeared vacant. He reached out and opened the gate door to look into the yard beyond the fence.

It was a large garden that appeared mostly untended with grass at least a foot high. A child, his son's size could be anywhere. "Blair?"

The panther, Jim's 'vision', continued towards a large oak tree. Jim followed. Then he saw his son laying at the foot of the tree, looking like a broken and discarded doll. "Blair!"

With extreme cautiousness and the utmost gentleness, Jim checked his son's injuries. The unconscious child shivered forcing his father to frantically search for a way to warm his son without jostling his apparently damaged left arm. He cursed his carelessness in rushing to look for his son without a coat on.

A blanket fell down from above the distraught parent and Jim looked up and smiled gratefully at the older man who had just joined him. "His arm is broken and he has a concussion."

Ben nodded as he relayed the information to his wife via the cellphone. "You heard him Elise. Yes, honey, he's alive and breathing. Danbush, yeah, she hasn't locked that damn gate in years and you should see this horrendous yard." Ben sighed and rolled his eyes. "Elise? Let the dispatcher know where we are and we will discuss Mrs. Danbush later. I know, I know. Bye."

Jim heard the voices in the background but his full attention was on his son. "Come on Chief. Open those eyes for me and say hello. Come on, you can sleep later."

Slowly the boy came around. The rain continued to fall but with the jackets and blanket over the small body, the boy was feeling warmer. "Dad?"

"Yeah kiddo. Come on. Open your eyes."

Slowly, two dazed blue eyes gazed up into two concerned eyes. "Dad? Are you really here?"

Jim smiled. "Everything is going to be all right. Just stay awake."

Blair nodded and smiled. "Tired."

Ben squatted beside Jim and spoke. "Hey, Blair, your dad just came home and you want to sleep?"

Blair frowned. "Don't want to grandpa but ... so tired."

The ambulance arrived and Jim and Ben were pulled aside to allow the two medics room to work. Soon the small child was ready for transport. One of the medics looked at the two concerned men. "Don't usually allow passengers but the boy is underaged. So, only a parent may go."

Ben smiled at Jim. "We'll meet you at the hospital. Go son and take care of our grandson."

Jim nodded gratefully and left.

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

INGLEWOOD MEMORIAL HOSPITAL

Ben sat beside his wife as she completed the 'required' forms pertaining to Blair and his family history. Across from the two grandparents was the frantically pacing father.

Elise watched the younger man and then whispered to her husband. "Should we tell him about this morning?"

Ben shook his head. "Not unless we have to. James doesn't need that now and maybe someday that idiot will want to reconcile with his son. Telling James about the whole discussion will just prevent them from mending whatever they have now."

Elise frowned. "You don't think Blair heard us on the porch or any of what was said to our visitor, do you?"

Ben sighed. "Thought about that, but I don't think so." He looked at his wife and patted her on the knee. "Let me worry about that, you fill out the forms and be there for James."

Elise nodded and worked on completing the medical forms.

Jim continued to pace. Thoughts of a concerned parent raced through his head. 'I should have picked him up the minute I got off. Should have had him at home with me. I would have heard him trying to sneak out and he and I would have had a long talk.' It wasn't fair to think that the Sandburgs' had been remiss in their duties, watching his son, but Jim just knew that the child would not have been able to sneak out on him.

He looked out of one of the windows that lined the waiting room and sighed. It was then that he heard some of what Elise and Ben were discussing. He was about to ask who their visitor was when the doctor entered the area.

"Who here is for Blair Sandburg-Ellison?"

Three concerned adults stood up quickly.

The doctor motioned for the three to follow him into an office a few doors from where the waiting room was. "Dr. Augbrie." He looked at the tallest of the three and spoke. "Are you Blair's father?"

"I am. James Ellison."

The doctor nodded and smiled. "Young Blair has had quite the adventure. Told me he climbed a rather large tree and when it started raining, he slipped."

"Will he be alright?"

"Repaired his broken arm and wrapped his bruised ribs." He sighed. "Got a slight concussion from the knock he received from the fall and I want him under observation til tomorrow but he should be fine."

Ben noted the slightly displeased look on the doctors face. "Why the frown? Sounds like he'll be alright."

The doctor nodded and then tilted his head. "Has he been in the hospital before?"

All three looked at each other and then shook their heads.

Jim didn't like the look on the physician's face. "Why do you ask?"

"He is a little too familiar with hospital procedures and the questions he ..."

Jim smiled sadly as he interrupted the doctor. "He lost his mother to cancer a little while ago." He looked away and sighed. "Saw her through most of her illness. Even helped with some of her treatments."

The doctor nodded sadly. "Please, you don't have to say anything further. I understand completely. Just thought it was a bit strange." He sighed. "Young Blair is in Room 962. He is probably a bit out of it but he will know you are there. Again, if by tomorrow he appears more lucid, he will be allowed to go home."

The three were taken to the room where the boy was kept. The bed across from him held another child who was sleeping. Jim smiled as two large blue eyes greeted him. "Hey Chief, how're you feeling?"

"Didn't mean to cause trouble."

Elise stepped closer and spoke out of concern. "Why did you sneak off? Did anything upset you, child?"

Blair frowned and shrugged. "No Grand."

"Are you sure?"

Blair looked down through sleepy eyes and nodded. "I'm sure."

Jim reached out and lightly touched the forehead where a bandage had been placed. He then ran his hand over the cast and sighed. "You sure you're feeling alright?"

The parent never received an answer, Blair had fallen asleep.

Ben and Elise watched as James brushed the boy's cheek with his hand and then bent down to kiss him on his forehead. He turned and saw the two watching him and looked away.

Elise stepped up to him and took his hand into her own. "Never be ashamed to love your child. It's a good thing."

The three stepped out of the room and headed back to the waiting area. Jim turned and looked at the two and noticed that they both seemed to want to say something desperately. He decided to ask a question of his own. "What happened this morning?"

Elise looked at her husband who pulled her close to him. He looked up at James knowing that honesty was the only correct way to proceed. "We were out on the front porch. Elise had checked on the boy. We had no idea he was going to do something like this."

Jim held up a hand and sighed. "Blair and I will have a very long talk about sneaking out of the house. It will not happen again." He stepped closer to the two and spoke softly. "What else happened this morning?"

Ben looked past the Waiting Area and at the Garden Atrium just outside. "Let's take a walk."

Elise anxiously looked at her husband and Ben calmly patted her hand. "Go. Stay with Blair. James and I are going to have a talk."

Elise kissed him on the cheek and then walked up to James and waited for him to bend down to her so that she could give him a kiss too.

Jim watched her enter his child's hospital room and then turned to join Ben.

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

The two men walked into the hospital atrium which contained a large garden and Jim waited for the other to speak.

"You know when Naomi was born, Elise and I had no idea how to raise a child. No new parent does. We tried to do what we thought was right. Sent her to the best schools, introduced her to people we considered to have impeccable backgrounds and to be financially sound. She had the best that we could offer." He sighed and looked away. "The first time she ran away she was sixteen years old. We found her at a some school friend's home. The people she was with were renters, lower middle class and the friend had a father who was serving time at some state prison."

Ben looked away. "We practically dragged my daughter home. Had arguments from noon till dawn. I would not have my child lowering her standards." He shook his head and shrugged. "We solved nothing and things, well, things just escalated. The last time I saw her, we said some hateful things. Things I never got to take back."

He looked at the tall, proud looking man beside him and smiled sadly. "She would have hated you back then. She hated conformists. Her definition being, someone who follows rules and you being an officer of the law would have added fuel to the fire."

Jim smiled softly. "She said as much when we first met but she also needed some help and wasn't too proud to accept mine. We became friends in the end but not without a few disagreements." Jim looked away and spoke softly. "She was a wonderful lady. I shall always miss her."

Ben nodded and swiftly swiped away a tear that formed in the corner of his left eye. "Elise and I lost any chance to reconcile when she passed away and, well, I have to confess to feeling some doubts about you." He held up his hand when James opened his mouth to speak. "Please allow me to tell you this in my own way."

Jim nodded wondering what this had to do with this morning's visitor.

"James, our daughter meant the world to Elise and I. Somehow things went terribly wrong and we handled her growing up badly." Ben waved his hand off to the side and shook his head. "She's gone now and I shall forever wish that she had somehow reached out to one of us when she needed comforting and a shoulder to lean on. Blair is all we have left of my beautiful girl and he is very precious to us. You are a young man. Young enough to want to do things with your life, to see and explore places and you are also able to someday have a child of your own. Reasons enough to rethink my grandson's care. Then there is your job and your schedule. Quite frankly I have recently begun to consider that perhaps Blair would be better off in our care. I began to think we should rethink your adopting the boy."

Jim shook his head and look away.

Ben placed a hand on the younger man's knee. "Blair would be raised by his mother's family and this time he'd be raised by people who knew what he needed." Ben chuckled. "Earlier today, I had wished for a sign to tell me if I should rethink my recent actions and take my grandson back. That is when your father showed up at our home."

Jim clenched his jaw tightly but said nothing. He didn't want to hear any of this. Blair was his and he'd take his son and run to where no one would find them. No one would take his boy away.

"Your father said things and offered things that, at first, were an insult to Elise and I." He shook his head. "I basically told him off and warned him that what he had said to us could lose whatever he has with you if he continued to bother us."

"He has no right ..."

"James, please." Ben patted the other's knee and waited till James calmed a bit before he spoke again. "It is because of him that I realized what a fool I still am."

"What?"

Ben laughed. "What the hell was I thinking? Taking my grandson to raise properly? Doing what I think is best for him? Gracious, had I learned nothing from what had happened with Naomi. Did I really want to repeat all the wrong things that I had done when my dear daughter was alive?" He shook his head. "Old habits die hard and today just proved it all. James, Elise and I don't want to lose the last connection we have with Naomi but here we were poised to repeat the very same errors."

"I don't understand. My father convinced you of this?"

"Yes, your father." Ben chuckled again. "The man sounded like I did back when Naomi was alive and, hell, even this morning before Mr. Ellison arrived. I saw first hand exactly how I looked when reciting the future for a child who will, without a doubt, grow up to be the exact opposite of what I have mapped out for him."

"He still had no right to go to your home and ..."

"But that is exactly what he doesn't understand." Ben turned to face the man beside him. "James, you are our children. We introduce you to the world, watch out for your safety and hope you make the right choices in life. That is what a good parent does or should do. But, where we mess up is when we don't understand that you are not ours to control, regulate or force to do as we will. It simply can't be done. I understand that now."

"And my father was the one who made this clear to you?"

Ben laughed at the incredulous look he got from the man beside him. "You are Blair's father, I have seen you with him and he with you. Blood ties have nothing over the love you have for the boy. You are his father - to hell with conventionalism. Naomi choose you and while I wish she had come to Elise and I, I shall stand by her final decision from now till death. I only hope that you never experience what it is like to lose a child forever. I hope that you learn from our mistakes as well."

Jim looked off towards the garden and tried to process all that he had heard. "So you no longer want to take Blair from me?"

"The current situation still needs some smoothing out but I am happy to be his grandfather and to allow you to be his father. Call it a momentary loss of sanity but I see now that Blair is in very good hands and I hope that you can forgive me for having any doubts."

Jim nodded and felt he could now breathe more easily. "I do. If I had been in your position, I know I would have had more than a few doubts. As for my father, I apologize for his meddling into a situation that is none of his concern. I can not forgive him."

"Hate is easy to feel James but remember that forgiveness, though difficult, is best." Ben stood and stretched and then winced at the movement. "Blair suggested that Elise and I try Yoga. Says there are classes for people our age. The boy can be a smarty-pants but he is full of interesting ideas. Still, maybe she and I should try it. Said it would make us more limber."

Jim smiled and shook his head. "Told me it's good for my sex life. The things that kid thinks about."

Ben and Jim started back. "I don't envy you. When puberty hit Naomi, Elise and I had to practically dress her in a burlap sack. With Blair, I fear for the ladies out there."

The two laughed as they continued back.

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

Blair woke and sat up slightly disoriented. "D-dad?"

The door to his room opened and a nurse walked in. "Morning cutie. How you feeling today?"

Blair smiled shyly. "I'm alrigh. And yourself?'

"Oh, how sweet of you to ask. A little tired but moving along."

Blair nodded and looked down at the cast on his arm. He remembered being woken up several times last night but hadn't his dad been there? "Is my dad here?"

The nurse checked the chart, re-tucked his bed linen and smiled. "Left two hours ago and should be back any minute. Now, what would you like to eat?" She produced the hospital menu and smiled. "Take a look at that and I will be right back."

Blair watched her go to the other side of the room and tend to the boy there. He looked at the menu and immediately remembered another time in another hospital when he was with his mother.

"Don't feel like eating today."

"Mom, you have to. It will make you feel better."

Naomi looked at her son and smiled sadly. "Blair, you know that things won't get any better don't you son?"

Blair continued to look at the menu. "They have eggs benedict?"

"Blair, sweetie, it isn't good to pretend things like this will disappear. You have to enjoy the time you have while you have it."

Blair put the menu down and shrugged. "Maybe we could have a while longer if you'd eat."

Naomi looked at her son and laughed. "Never thought about it that way." She pulled her son beside her and kissed him on the cheek. "Eggs benedict?"

Blair nodded.

"Sign me up."

Blair pushed the menu away and laid back down. The nurse walked back and smiled. "So? What will you have?"

"I'm not really hungry. Please, I just feel tired."

The nurse frowned at the unexpected sadness that formed on the cherub like face. "I'll stop by later and see if you've changed your mind."

Blair waited till she left before he pulled a pillow close let go of the pain the memory gave him.

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

Jim walked into the hospital with a broad smile on his face. Things were changing for the best. Ben and Elise had returned home due to their hasty retreat. Windows and doors had been left unlocked and Elise was concerned about the stove. Jim smiled at the conversation he had earlier. "You take Blair home and we will stop by later tomorrow."

Ben walked up and patted the younger man on the shoulder. "Concentrate on Blair and the life you two are building together. You will have time for other things later."

"I'll do that and thank you, sir." Jim would see his father at a later time, that was for certain but Ben was right. It was time to concentrate on his son and their life together.

He removed the tie and adjusted the dress shirt he wore as he entered the hospital room where his son was staying. As he walked into the room he frowned in concern. "Blair? Chief? Are you alright? Why are you crying? Does your arm hurt?"

Blair was pulled up and into the arms of his father as the boy continued to cry. "I-I don't like it here. P-please take me home? Please?"

Jim held his son and began to rock the child slowly. "Doctor should be here any moment. Then you can go home. What happened kiddo? Why are you crying?"

"You left me. I don't like it here. People die here. It's lonely here. Mom. I -I keep seeing ..."

Jim sighed at the brevity of the sentences he heard. His son was hurting. "Had a dream or were you remembering?"

Blair pressed further into the chest in front of him. "Remembering. It hurts."

Jim nodded and continued to rock his son while rubbing his back soothingly. "She was always happy when you were with her. You made her time on earth wonderful and special."

"I m-miss her a lot."

Jim kissed the sweaty forehead and hugged the boy tightly. "I miss her too."

Blair spoke softly. "I'm glad you got to know her. Please dad, I just want to leave."

Just then the nurse returned. "So? Still not hungry?"

Jim answered her instead. "How about toast and some orange juice?"

The nurse nodded and left.

Father and son sat quietly. Jim was content to simply hold his son and Blair was happy to be safe with his father again.

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

As the Ford SUV headed away from the hospital Jim noticed his son's usual inability to sit still returned. "How about some pizza and a shake?" His son hadn't really eaten the toast and barely sipped the orange juice. However, judging from the power surging in the seat beside him, he knew the boy's appetite had resurfaced.

'Really? Cool."

Jim drove to Louiegee's Pizza, placed an order and went to wait the 45 minutes in the truck which was parked by a tree. Louiegee's was a take-out only pizza joint. It had the best deep dish in town but had no place to sit.

Jim smirked. It fit well into his plans. "We got some time so why don't we sit here and you and I can have a chat."

Blair stilled. "You gonna get mad?"

"No. But there may be some lecturing."

Blair sighed and decided to plead his defense. "The book I was reading? You know the Richard Burton book?"

Jim nodded and decided to listen carefully to the presentation that was sure to follow. His son's explanations were always presented in great detail. "The one the grands got for you?"

"You got it. Well, the guy has a part in the book about how to clear your mind and find peace. He said to climb a sturdy tree with good limbs, find the perfect spot on the tree and to relax. That it was the perfect place to calm ones spirit."

"You needed to find peace?"

Blair looked away and sighed. "Kid's have reason to look for peace too you know. They may not be adult worries but we have things - important things?"

Jim looked at the small man in progress seated beside him and spoke softly. "Were you bothered by me being away for so long?"

Blair shrugged. "It isn't me. I understand - I really do. You have a job to do and it's important. Simon and I had a talk a while ago and he explained why police were important not only to those in trouble but to the community too." Blair shook his head and looked away. "I don't want you to ever stop doing what you are doing. It helps a lot of people."

Jim frowned and reached out to pull the chin to face back in his direction. "Who's been bothering you?"

Blair looked up at his father, surprised that he had figured this out and was caught in the direct gaze that always forced the truth out of him. That was when he opened up. "People, dad. Teachers suggesting that the grands come to the school outings instead of asking about you, the guys at school making fun of me cause my dad seems to be someone I invented and their stupid parents telling them that it's just wrong for a good looking man, who is young and single, to be adopting some ..." He sighed. "Even the grands do it, looking at me with sad eyes all the time."

The boy looked away for a moment and then shrugged. "I'm happy, dad, honest I am. Other kids at school have parents they don't see for months, have nannies and babysitters with them all the time. Couple of them are latch-key types and no one bothers them or their parents but just cause I'm a kid who was adopted they want to make me the one to pick on."

Blair shrugged as he looked up at his dad. "I tried to ignore them. Try really hard. I don't fight when the guys, whenever they ... and the grands, I love them but I get so tired of 'how're you feeling?' and 'Are you alright?'" He shrugged. "I needed to go somewhere. Just for a little while but if I even take more than 15 minutes in the bathroom, grandma comes to get me." Blair looked up at his dad and sighed. "A guy needs more than 15 minutes dad - you take almost an hour when you're reading the sports page in there and I can't even get a half an hour. Don't let me even get started on Granddad. He takes almost an hour and a half sometimes and grandma never bothers him."

Jim nodded while smiling at his son's observation on the male bathroom behavior of his family. This kid didn't miss a thing. "Chief, I understand what you're saying and I agree. A guy needs some time to do - things but sneaking out of their house was very, very wrong. What if you had gotten seriously hurt and we didn't get to you in time? What about strangers? And, you know better than to sneak onto someone's property. It was very dangerous and extremely wrong. It's not like you Blair. I don't want to have to go through this ever again and I don't want to have to worry that every time you go to your Grands, you are going to be sneaking out. You scared all of us very badly."

"I'm sorry, Dad. I am really, really sorry."

Jim tilted his head. "I want you to promise me that you will never sneak out like that. Not ever."

"I promise."

Jim let go of some anxiety he had been holding onto since his son had been missing and was determined to bring this subject up again, later. Just to make certain that his son understood the dangers of sneaking away from the safety of his home and those who cared deeply for him. Now, however, it was time to discuss a different matter. "I also wanted to talk to you about the way things are at the moment. About my time away and how I felt."

"Dad, I understand."

Jim sighed and pulled his son closer beside him. "I know you understand but I am tired of leaving you alone, tired of wondering if you miss me and I want to be there for you whenever you need me or, you know, just because."

Blair looked up and smiled at the 'just because'. "You'll have a vacation soon."

Jim shook his head. "I did something ...". He hesitated and then sighed.

"What?"

"I quit the force."

Blair pulled away and looked up at his dad in disbelief. "What? Because of me? No! You like being a detective. Dad, no!"

Jim didn't expect tears and quickly pulled his son back beside him. "I did this cause I need to be with you, Blair. I did this because you mean so very much to me."

"Y-you love your job, dad. It is what you're good at and I don't want to take that away from you." Blair shook his head and more tears pooled in the child's eyes. "The grands can take me in, you don't have to be my dad anymore, we - we could figure out something else. Something that lets you stay in your dream job. Just - just visit or ..."

His son was hyperventilating and Jim was becoming very concerned. "Blair stop. Settle down and just breathe."

He watched as the boy closed his eyes and slowed his breathing. Jim brushed away tears that slid from beneath the tiny eyelids and kissed Blair on the forehead. The child had shed far too many tears of late and this had to stop. Jim waited a moment longer to be certain that his son was less stressed and then spoke softly to the boy. "Chief, all those other people have no right to talk about you the way that they do and on that subject I agree with you - we are none of their business. It is ignorant but unfortunately gossip is just one of the failings of man. The grands? Well, they're worried cause they love you and that is never going to change. Loving someone always means that you will worry about them. Trust me, it is a good thing. Loving someone means you have something special in your life and you want it protected. As for me and my job - being a detective. Well, I've never had a son. Never ever thought I'd want one."

Blair opened his eyes and tears formed again. Jim smiled softly as he brushed the tears away from the eyes again. "You coming into my life is the best surprise I have ever had and so very much what I need. I want to be the perfect dad and do things right. Now, most dads get to be there from the beginning of their son's life." He looked into the large blue eyes and at the rounded nose and again kissed the boy on the forehead. "Got gypped in that department but, I'm here now so I will make the best of this gift. Blair, I didn't quit the force cause you're too much trouble or because I 'have to'. I quit cause I want to. Cause right now I want to enjoy being a good dad. To me that is more important than anything I have ever done. Understand?"

"But what about the guys and Simon? They need you."

"They will be alright. Simon will watch for all of them. Who knows? Someday I might go back but right now I need to try this. This is what is important. My son is important and I love him."

Blair looked down deep in thought. His father waited quietly while rubbing the child's shoulder. Minutes later the young boy sighed, nodded and then looked up again. "Dad?"

"Yes?"

"You're going to miss being a detective."

Jim opened his mouth but his son spoke quickly. "I know that you will, but, for now, I hear what you're saying. What you need is important to me too cause I love you a lot."

Jim smiled brightly. He looked closely at the boy and saw timeless wisdom twinkling within the youthful eyes gazing back at him. He was father to a wonderful mystery. "So you'll be alright with this?"

"Mom always said that there is always room for an adventure. Had mine and learned some lessons. Guess this will be our first."

Jim chuckled and hugged his son.

Blair closed his eyes and smiled. "I love you dad."

Jim nodded. "Love you more than my heart can hold and then some."

Blair smiled and leaned against his dad. "It's nice, you know?"

"What?"

"Having these man talks - they make me feel good inside and I don't feel like searching for peace when I feel this way."

Jim looked at the cast holding his boy's arm which was situated between the two. He remembered the terror he felt when he didn't know where his son had gone and sighed. "If these talks will stop you from sneaking out ..."

Blair looked up and straight into his father's eyes. "Never again. Promise."

Jim nodded and tightly held his man in progress. "So, tell me what I've missed while I was away."

They still had a twenty minute wait but time glides by when you are spending time with someone dear to your heart. Jim smiled as his son's voice washed over him - he too had peace when they spoke like this.

It started raining outside but within the SUV the climate was perfect. Peaceful.

END

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