New Beginnings by Annie

New Beginnings - Annie

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Very loosely based on the movie “Murphy’s Romance”.

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“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.”

Jim Ellison looked over at his son, asleep in the passenger seat of his truck. It had been a long trip from Cascade and Joe had given into fatigue an hour or so ago, his head drooping to rest against the side window. Jim still wasn’t a hundred per cent sure whether he was doing the right thing, taking Joe away from Washington and all his friends there but Joe had seemed to take it in his stride, helping pack the apartment up and making the rounds of his friends to say goodbye.

Joe’s mom, Carolyn, had barely raised an eyebrow when Jim had called into her office to tell her they were moving. That wasn’t surprising. Carolyn had never been maternal and she’d dumped five month old Joe into Jim’s arms when he came home from the PD one day and said she was through with the whole motherhood deal. Jim wasn’t all that sorry to see her go actually. Their marriage had been mostly one of armed truces since day one, but with the help of his colleagues in the Major Crimes Unit, Jim and Joe had gotten along pretty well. Of late, Joe had pretty much stopped asking why his mom hardly ever visited them and for that Jim was grateful. There were only so many lies one could tell a little boy before you started wondering if he was believing them. Or if you were beginning to believe them yourself.

Jim had made his way up the ladder at Major Crimes with an enviable solve rate. He’d begun to think life couldn’t get any better until he’d gone on stakeout to catch a serial bomber called The Switchman and the spells had started. At first it had just been as if everything around him was too loud, too bright, his skin over-sensitized to the slightest touch, but then one day he’d taken Joe to the park to throw around a Frisbee and found himself transfixed as the brightly colored object sailed through the air. He’d apparently been frozen in place for several minutes, only snapping out of it when a shrill scream pierced through the fog he’d been immersed in. Looking around, he’d been horrified to see Joe in the middle of the road, a garbage truck bearing down on him. Jim had run with what seemed superhuman speed and managed to scoop his son out of the path of danger just in the nick of time. He’d gone to the hospital the next day for answers to his condition but when all the tests came back negative and the doctors had no answers and no treatment, Jim turned in his badge and his gun and went looking for a safe haven in which to raise his son. His captain, Simon Banks, had tried to talk him out of it but Jim had been firm in his resolve. “I need to do this for Joe,” he’d said. “He’ll be safer out of the city.” I hope, he added mentally.

Within a couple of weeks he’d managed to rent them a house in Chinook, a small town about four hours drive from Cascade. He wasn’t sure yet what kind of work he’d find there but he’d decided to spend at least a couple of weeks just getting Joe acclimated to the change before worrying about that. He had some money in a trust fund his father had set up for him back when Jim was just a kid. He’d refused to touch the money before now. His relationship with his father was distant and Jim had never really forgiven him for things that had happened in his childhood but if it meant keeping a roof over Joe’s head, Jim would put his pride in his pocket and make use of the money. He hadn’t been with the police force long enough to be eligible for a pension.

He heaved a sigh of relief as a sign loomed ahead welcoming visitors to Chinook and reached out a hand and shook Joe’s shoulder gently. “Hey, sleepyhead,” he said as the boy opened his eyes and looked over at him. “Take a look at your new home.”

Joe sat up excitedly and looked out of the window of the truck. “It’s kind of small,” he said after a few minutes.

“Looks nice though,” Jim said. He pointed to some horses in a field they were passing. “We could go horse riding sometimes maybe.”

Joe nodded. “I guess.”

Jim took a right turn on the outskirts of the small town and followed the dirt road for several miles till he pulled up in front of a broken down fence with the sign “Wilkerson” nailed to one of its sagging posts. “This is it,” he said, undoing first his own and then Joe’s seatbelt. He climbed out of the truck then walked around to lift Joe down. Taking Joe’s hand, he led the boy up to the fence, his heart sinking as he saw the decrepit state of the house. “Damn,” he whispered. He should never have rented the house without looking at it first but he’d had so little spare time and the photos the agent had sent him had apparently been more than a little misleading.

“Is it a haunted house? Like on TV?” Joe asked hesitantly, his fingers curling more tightly around Jim’s.

Jim crouched down and pulled Joe into his arms. “Nah, it just needs a bit of work,” he said reassuringly. “We’ll have a lot of fun fixing it up. I bet Uncle Simon and Uncle Joel and the other guys will come give us a hand too. And I can hang a swing for you right there, see?” Jim pointed to an oak tree in the front yard that was about the most attractive feature of the place he’d seen so far.

“I guess that’d be okay,” Joe replied.

Jim gave him a hug and stood up, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb. “So, big guy, you gonna help me get the trailer and truck unpacked or you just gonna stand there and look at your new front yard some more?”

“I’ll race ya, Dad!” Joe shouted, turning for the truck.

Jim gave him a few steps head start then took off after him, scooping him up when he caught up with him, so Joe was riding high on his shoulders. He bent forward at the back of the trailer and slid Joe off over his head to the ground. “Let’s get to work, buddy.”

~oOo~

It had taken a good four or five hours before Jim was happy for the most part with what they’d gotten done. He’d done the lion’s share of the work of course, but Joe had been happy enough carrying in smaller items and putting them away in the cupboards and closets. He’d wheeled his bike into the yard and propped it against the tree and Jim smiled when he saw it. It looked right there, made this ramshackle old place look at least partly like a home. By eight o’clock Joe was asleep in his own bed, in the room right next to where Jim planned to sleep and Jim concentrated on getting his own bed set up for the night. Within a half hour of getting Joe settled, Jim was in bed himself, more exhausted than he could remember being in a while. He set the alarm for five so he could get an early start then let himself drift off to sleep.

~oOo~

Jim aimed his best glare at the woman seated across the desk from him. “This is my bank,” he said. “I know I have money in a trust fund in my name in this bank. It became available to me when I turned twenty five. As you can probably tell, I’m well past that age and have had access to that money for some time. I just chose not to use it. Now I need to.”

The woman smiled condescendingly at him, apparently not fazed in the least by the laser-like glare Jim was directing her way. “As I’ve said explained, Mr. Ellison, I’m not saying the trust fund doesn’t exist, or that you’re not eligible age-wise to access it. What I am telling you is that account has been frozen pending a court hearing.” She lifted a hand as Jim started to speak. “No, I can’t tell you who froze it, though if you think about it, I’m sure you can guess, seeing as the only people who have any legal access to it are the beneficiary and the person who set it up.”

Jim stood up and shoved the chair backwards angrily, wincing as it scraped across the tiled floor. “My father,” he said flatly. “I should have known he’d pull something like this.”

“I’m very sorry,” the woman said, standing as well, her hands fluttering ineffectually in an apparent attempt at belated conciliation.

“Tell that to my five-year-old son when I tell him there’s nothing for dinner tonight,” Jim replied tersely, turning for the door.

“There is a church in town that offers food vouchers and the like for those in need.”

“I don’t want charity,” Jim said over his shoulder, pushing open the door. “Just what’s rightfully mine.”

Outside, he stood for a moment trying to process what he’d been told. He really shouldn’t have expected anything less from his father. When Jim had first gone to his father’s house so Joe could say goodbye to his grandpa, William Ellison had done his best to talk Jim out of leaving, offering him a job with his company instead. Jim, knowing that a change of job in the city wasn’t the answer to his sensory problems, had refused, simply saying he wanted to take Joe somewhere safer, wanted him to grow up where the air was fresh and where he could run freely outdoors. His father had been angry, and probably hurt, Jim knew. Although he’d never been an overly attentive grandfather, Joe was still his flesh and blood and William made it apparent he resented Jim mightily for taking the boy out of his orbit. Jim’s memories of his own childhood only made him more determined to remove Joe from Cascade and his father’s influence though and he’d refused the job offer strenuously.

Sighing, Jim pulled his cell phone from his pocket. He had a couple of hours till he needed to pick Joe up from his first day at his new school. Maybe Simon could float him a loan till he could get his trust fund sorted out or find a job. He’d used his pay from the Black Ops missions he’d done in the Rangers to buy the loft in Cascade and agreed to let Carolyn move into it when he and Joe had moved here. He hadn’t asked her for rent at the time and he could just imagine the derision in her voice if he called now and told her he needed her to start paying. No, he couldn’t bring himself to do that.

The mid morning sun reflected off the face of the phone and Jim canted it, trying to get it into a position where he could see more clearly. Squinting, he frowned down at the instrument, focusing in on the numbers as he stepped off the sidewalk, everything else fading into nothingness around him. A horn blared and the sound of it literally knocked him to his knees, where he hunched down, his hands over his ears. Someone grabbed him round the waist and then he was being propelled forward. His head hit something hard and unforgiving and the lights went out.

~oOo~

“Hey, man, you okay?”

Jim frowned up at the fuzzy blur above him and blinked a few times to clear his vision.

“Easy, easy. Take it slow.” A reassuring voice spoke at the same time a warm hand gripped his elbow and levered him slowly into a sitting position.

Jim groaned as his head protested the change in position. It felt like an army was tramping through his skull in hob-nailed boots. He dropped his head forward, covering his eyes with his hands. “What the hell happened?”

“You stepped right out in front of me!” a man exclaimed. “Wasn’t my fault. You saw, Blair, didn’t you? Wasn’t nothing I could do.”

“It’s okay, Travis,” the first voice Jim had heard said. “It wasn’t your fault. Why don’t you help me get the gentleman to his feet and over to the drugstore so he can rest for a while.”

“I’m fine,” Jim said but he was ushered to his feet nonetheless, and when his headache soared to new heights as soon as he was on his feet, he decided discretion was the better part of valor and allowed himself to be steered into the comfortingly darker confines of the store where he was pushed down into a chair. He looked up to see, through his still slightly blurred vision, a young man with long curly hair standing in front of him, a worried look on his face.

“Wow,” the young man said. “You were almost toast, man. In fact I think poor Travis thought he had killed you. Sorry about your head. It was the only way I could think of getting you out of the way.” He grinned and looked ruefully down at his jeans where Jim could see rips in the knees.

“I’m sorry,” Jim said, rubbing his hand across his aching forehead. “I didn’t even see him. One minute I was looking at my phone and the next—“ He shut his mouth quickly before he could blurt out anything more. Wouldn’t that be a great start to his new life: becoming the town eccentric all over again?

The man handed him a glass of water and Jim took a sip then handed it back. “So, this ever happened to you before?”

“This?” Jim asked pointedly.

“You know, getting so focused on something that you step right out in front of traffic?”

“No,” Jim said firmly, shoving the memory of Joe almost getting mown down by that truck firmly to the back of his mind.

“Uh huh,” the man said, looking skeptical. “Look, I’ve seen this kind of thing before. Well, not exactly seen it but I’ve read about it. Can I ask you a couple of questions?”

Jim grunted and he obviously took that as agreement. “You finding your senses are a little hyper lately?”

“What do you mean?” Jim asked, his heart already starting to speed up.

“Um, sounds too loud. I’d say yes to that one considering the way you had your hands planted over your ears when Trav tooted his horn at you. Smells that are too strong, seeing stuff you shouldn’t be able to see, tastebuds off the wall?”

Jim stood up, locking his still wobbly knees, ignoring the supporting hand the man held out to him. “I don’t think—“

“I’ll take that as a yes. One more thing. Extra sensitive touchy feely lately?”

“That’s none of your goddamn business!” Jim snarled. “Who the hell are you anyway?”

“Whoa, calm down, man. Look, my name is Blair Sandburg. I’m an anthropologist—”

Jim cast an eye over the man’s white coat and the tag that said “Pharmacist” under his name. “I thought you were the drug store owner.” He grudgingly shook the man’s outstretched hand. “Jim Ellison.”

“Yeah, well, at the moment I run the drugstore. It belonged to my mom and I took it over for her when she got sick. I got a second degree in pharmacology when we realized she couldn’t handle the place anymore. But my main degree is in anthropology. I’m studying for my doctorate and you just may be the living embodiment of my field of study. If I'm correct, you're a behavioral throwback to a pre-civilized breed of man.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Jim snapped. “You’re telling me I'm some sort of caveman?”

“Well, maybe I was a little out of line with that caveman remark, but I mean—”

Jim advanced on him and was more than a little gratified to see Sandburg back up till he was pressed against the wall of the store. “How do you know about my problems? I’m a cop, Chief. If I find out you’ve been checking into my personal life I’ll find something to arrest you for and you’ll be sitting in a cell so fast you won’t know what’s hit you,” he growled, grabbing the front of Sandburg’s coat and pushing forward till he was right inside his personal space and the man was backed against the wall.

“Whoa, you’re a cop?” Sandburg looked surprised but seemed to regain his composure quickly and hurried on. “Hey, Joe Friday, relax, okay? Look, you mess with me, man, and you are never gonna figure out what's up with you. And before you got all bent out of shape over how I knew, man, you only had to ask. I’ve made a study of people like you. When you know what to look for the signs are like a flashing neon sign, believe me.”

Startled by his assurance, Jim released his hold and turned and walked a few paces away, trying to regain his composure and the jolt of arousal that had sung along his nerve endings when he’d touched the guy.

“Now, let me just show you something here. This is a monograph by Sir Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor. It's over a hundred years old.” Sandburg hurried over to a desk at the back of the room and came back with an ancient-looking book in his hand. He held it out to Jim, who took it and looked down to see a picture of a man dressed similarly to what Jim remembered the Peruvian tribesmen he’d met during his time with the Rangers wearing. “Anyway,” Sandburg went on when Jim didn’t speak, “the idea goes something like this - in all tribal cultures every village had what Burton named a Sentinel. Now this was someone who patrolled the border. “

“You mean a scout,” Jim said.

“No, no, no, more like a watchman. You see, this Sentinel would watch for approaching enemies, change in the weather, movement of game. Tribe survival depended on it.”

“Yeah, what's this got to do with me?” Jim asked, handing the book back.

“A Sentinel is chosen because of a genetic advantage. A sensory awareness that can be developed beyond normal humans. Now these senses are honed by solitary time spent in the wild. Now at first Burton's monograph was disputed and now it's basically forgotten. I mean, there are certain manifestations today of maybe one or two hyperactive senses, like taste and smell, people who work for coffee and perfume companies. Oh, and in Vietnam, the Army long-range recon units that had to—”

“—change their diet to fish and rice because a Cong scout could smell a Westerner by his waste,” Jim finished for him.

“Right, right, exactly,” Sandburg said, shooting him a speculative look. “I've got hundreds and hundreds of documented cases over here of one or two hyperactive senses but not one single subject with all five. You could be the real thing. You spent time in the jungle?”

Jim nodded. “My chopper was shot down in Peru. I was the only survivor of my unit. I spent the eighteen months till I was rescued living with a Chopec tribe. But the truth is I don't remember much of anything about it. “

Sandburg looked impressed. “A year and a half spent in the bush? The sole survivor of your unit? I mean, I'm no psychiatrist, but that sounds pretty damn traumatic to me. And trauma tends to get repressed.”

Jim grunted. “Let's say I buy this. Why is this coming back now after so long?”

Sandburg shrugged. “I don't know. But you need someone who understands your condition.”

“And what's the payoff for you?” Jim asked sardonically.

“My doctorate. I want to write about you. You're my thesis.”

Jim shook his head. Figured. This kid was no different than anybody else. Out to make a buck off someone else’s problems. “I've had enough.” He turned to the door and walked out onto the sidewalk, hearing Sandburg running after him.

“Well, just think about it, okay?” Sandburg said. He reached a hand out to grab Jim’s arm but Jim shook him off and started to walk away. “Oh, wait, there's one other thing I gotta warn you about.”

Jim strode away but Sandburg caught him up, grabbing him by the arm again. “Listen, man, this is important. It’s something called the zone-out factor.”

“The what?” Jim turned to stare him down but Sandburg apparently wasn’t the least bit fazed by the Ellison glare that had been known to have Cascade’s most notorious perps all but begging to confess.

“The zone-out factor. Sometimes when a Sentinel is doing his deal, he focuses too much one sense, like sight for example, and basically zones out the others. According to Burton, they can become pretty much catatonic till they’re snapped out of it. I think that’s what happened to you just now.” Sandburg gave him a serious look. “It can be dangerous, man. Back then, Sentinels usually had a partner along to watch their back…”

Jim shoved the unwanted memory of that day in the park with Joe back further still but couldn’t ignore the chill that trickled down his spine. “You mean someone like you?” He put up a hand as Sandburg nodded. “Look, thanks, but I’m not actually with the police force anymore. The most dangerous thing I plan on doing is spending time with my kid and maybe picking up some work around town.”

Sandburg narrowed his eyes. “You’ve had a zone out before,” he said knowingly, “and it was bad enough to make you want to pretend it never happened. Well, you can’t. Like it or not, your abilities, which were once latent and then probably suppressed, are back online. I can at least help you learn to control them.”

Jim sighed and rubbed a hand over his hair. Whether he wanted to admit it, the guy was getting to him, and not just because of the Sentinel stuff either. His bisexuality had been one of the major causes of his marriage problems with Carolyn and right now he had to admit he was feeling an attraction to Sandburg the likes of which he hadn’t allowed himself to feel in years. “I can’t pay you for helping me,” he said at last, both hoping the man would turn away right then and hoping just as fervently that he wouldn’t. “I’m having something of a cash flow problem right now. I’ll get it sorted out as soon as I can but right this minute I can’t even afford to buy groceries, let alone work out where next week’s rent is coming from.”

“No problem,” Sandburg said. “You don’t have to pay me for helping you.”

Jim felt the last of his resistance melt away as Sandburg gave him a wide smile, one that lit up his blue eyes. “All right, but we keep this between us for now, okay?”

“Sure thing. When do you want to start?”

“I’ve got to go pick up my son from school…” Jim said.

“Why don’t I call over tonight then, say around 5?” Sandburg suggested.

“I guess. I’m out at the old Wilkerson place on—“

“Carter Road,” Sandburg finished for him. He shrugged. “Small town. You know how it is.”

“Yeah.” Jim wondered what else Sandburg knew about him but a look at his watch had him heading hurriedly for his car. “Thanks,” he called over his shoulder.

“See you tonight.”

~oOo~

Jim peered into the depths of the larder and sighed at the scantily filled shelves. He hadn’t brought much food with him, mostly just enough to last them over the weekend of their arrival, figuring he’d do grocery shopping today while Joe was at school. That well-laid plan had had its legs cut from under it by his father’s self-centered behavior and not for the first time in his life, Jim wondered if there was anything his father wouldn’t do; anyone he wouldn’t sacrifice to get his own way.

“What’s for dinner, Daddy?” Joe said from behind him. “I’m starving.”

Jim laughed as he turned and ruffled his son’s hair. “You are not starving. It’s barely 4-30 and I know you had lunch at school because you told me how much you liked it.”

“Lunch was ages ago,” Joe said, pulling a mournful face. “Can I have some cookies till it’s dinner time?”

“Okay, only two though.” Jim pulled the cookie barrel out of the larder and took off the lid, letting Joe choose which he wanted. Joe took three but Jim decided to pretend not to notice. Cookies at least would fill him up a little because dinner tonight was going to be slim pickings. He grabbed a cookie for himself then put the barrel back.

“And milk?” Joe asked, heading for the fridge.

“I forgot to get milk,” Jim fabricated. “Water’s better for you anyway,” he added.

He went to the sink and filled two glasses from the faucet then set them on the table and helped Joe clamber up onto a chair, taking a seat across from him. He glanced at his watch. Sandburg had said he’d come at five, which meant he had a half hour to try to get his head around what the guy had told him. Oddly enough, he hadn’t actually doubted a word Sandburg had said. He was too accurate about all the things Jim had been experiencing. Jim only hoped that meant he knew what he was talking about and that he could actually help Jim get a handle on it all. He’d noticed that Sandburg had said he could help him control his senses. Jim wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that. He’d rather just get rid of them altogether but he guessed if a cure wasn’t an option, and all the doctors he’d seen in Cascade had made that pretty clear, then control was at least something to aim for.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?” Joe asked.

Jim smiled at him. Joe had an uncanny knack for knowing when something was bothering him. “We’re going to have a visitor in a little while,” he said.

“Yay! Uncle Simon?” Joe jumped down from his chair and ran to the window that looked out onto the road in front of the house.

“No-“

“Uncle Joel? Uncle Rafe?”

“If you’d give me a minute I’d tell you,” Jim said, getting up and walking over to join Joe at the window. A beat up old Volvo was pulling up in the driveway.

“That’s our visitor. He’s early. His name is Mr. Sandburg and he’s a new friend of mine. He’s going to help me with… with some stuff.”

“What stuff?” Joe asked.

Jim watched as Sandburg climbed out of the car, leaned back in, and pulled out two large boxes, which he balanced on top of each other and then picked up, making his way slowly to the front door.

“Just grown up stuff,” Jim called over his shoulder as he headed for the front door. “You mind your manners, okay?”

“Okay,” Joe said agreeably as he followed him.

Jim opened the door before Sandburg could knock and smiled a little as he jumped and almost dropped the boxes.

“Whoa, don’t do that, man! Just about took ten years off my life,” Sandburg said as he fumbled for the packages at the same moment Jim reached out to right them. Their hands touched for a moment and Jim could have sworn he felt something sizzle along his nerves at the connection.

“Sorry,” Jim said, shaking it off. “We saw you arrive from the window and I could see you had your hands full. What is all this stuff anyway?”

“This is a couple of surprises,” Sandburg said, letting Jim take the topmost box and then preceding him through the doorway. “Hey there,” he said as Joe wrapped an arm around Jim’s leg and stuck his thumb in his mouth.

“Say hi,” Jim instructed. “He’s a little shy,” he added, walking into the kitchen, Joe still attached to his leg like a leech. He put the box on the table then lifted Joe into his arms. “This is Joe, my son. Joe, say hello to Mr. Sandburg.”

“Hi,” Joe whispered, putting his head down on Jim’s shoulder.

“Hi. Oh, I’m Blair, by the way. Friends should call each other by their first names, shouldn’t they?”

“Yeah, they should.” Jim felt the warmth of Blair’s smile creeping in around his heart. “I’m Jim,” he said, shaking Blair’s hand.

“Great. Now we’re really friends,” Blair said, setting the other box on the floor.

“Is that for my birthday?” Joe asked.

“Is it your birthday?” Blair asked.

“No,” Jim said firmly, “it’s not. Not for another four months.”

“Still,” Blair said, ripping the tape off the box, and pulling the flaps up, “there might be something in here for someone named Joe.” He reached in and pulled out a bright red remote controlled racing car.

“Wow!” Joe yelled, scrambling to get down on the floor. “Can I have it, Daddy?”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Jim said, but one look at Joe’s excited face and he couldn’t refuse. “You can have it. Say thank you to Blair.”

“Thanks, Blair!” Joe took the car and sat down on the floor, struggling with the packaging.

“How about I help you with that?” Blair suggested, sitting down cross-legged next to him. “Um, I brought some beer. I wasn’t sure if you’d have anything like that or even if you drink beer…”

“I do and I’d love one, thanks.” Jim took the box from Joe and managed to extricate the car while Blair stood up and pulled a small cooler from the box and took two beers out of it, handing one to Jim and uncapping his own. He handed Joe a small pop top bottle of juice after giving Jim an interrogatory look, which Jim answered with a nod.

Joe had the juice bottle finished in two minutes flat. “Can I go play with my car now?” he asked, handing the empty up to Jim.

“Sure. I’ll call you when dinner’s ready,” Jim replied.

“Can he stay for dinner?” Joe asked, scooping up the car and angling his thumb over at Blair on his way to the door.

“His name’s Blair and Blair might be busy tonight,” Jim said, half-hoping that Blair was. Not that he didn’t want him to stay. He did, but he wasn’t sure how far he could stretch the single pack of Mac and Cheese he’d marked out for their dinner.

Joe just nodded and headed into his room, the car tucked possessively under his arm.

“Actually, I’m not busy and I’d love to stay,” Blair said with a smile and Jim’s heart felt as if it both rose and sank at the same time. “I hope you don’t mind but I picked up a couple of pre-made pizzas on the way over when I got the beer…”

“You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble,” Jim said, feeling his cheeks flush hotly. “I’m not looking for charity.”

“You’re not getting any either,” Blair retorted. “Just think of me as the welcome wagon lady.”

“You don’t look like any welcome wagon lady I’ve ever seen,” Jim said, casting an appreciative eye over his new friend, and blushing even more fiercely. He looked away and sipped on his drink, hoping for time to gather his composure.

“No, I guess not,” Blair said. “So, would you rather we wait till after dinner is over and Joe’s in bed before we get started working on your senses? I brought a piece of equipment with me that might help you begin to learn to isolate and control them. I’m guessing Joe doesn’t know…”

“No,” Jim said, turning back to face him. “He’s just a little boy, you know, and he’s already had a lot to deal with for a little guy.” He left any explanation of that unspoken and rose to his feet. “I’ll turn on the oven for the pizza.”

~oOo~

It had been nice, Jim decided, looking across the table at Blair, to have someone to share a meal with. It had been a while since he’d eaten with anyone besides Joe. Probably the last time had been when he’d asked Carolyn out for dinner, hoping that a congenial meal together might repair at least a few of the gaping holes in their relationship and convince her to spare a little time for Joe. It hadn’t worked though and he had to admit that had been mostly his fault. He’d been pretty obnoxious, telling her he didn’t give a rat’s ass about her sister’s wedding. While it might have been true, there’d been no reason for him to say so except that he was feeling pretty antsy after having just got back from a week long solitary stakeout and feeling like a failure for letting the Switchman get away. That failure still ate away at him at times, despite the fact they’d managed to catch her in the end. But yeah, that dinner with Caro had been a spectacular misstep in their relationship especially as his wonky senses decided to pick that night to make themselves known again and he’d ended up railing like an idiot at the waiter and pretty much accusing the restaurant of trying to poison him. He felt his cheeks heat with remembered embarrassment then jumped as he felt someone shake his arm. Looking up, he saw Blair next to him, a worried look on his face.

“You okay?” Blair asked.

Jim nodded. “Sorry. Just remembering something.”

“Had me worried for a minute. I was trying to work out what you could have possibly zoned on,” Blair replied, sitting back down in his chair across from Jim.

“You’re not gonna think I’m zoning every time I take a minute to think, are you?” Jim asked.

Blair shot one of those blindingly brilliant smiles at him that Jim was beginning to like so much. “I like the fact that it sounds like you’re planning on letting me stay around,” he said.

A soft snore had them turning to see Joe had fallen asleep at the table, one hand propping up his head.

Jim laughed quietly. “I guess I’d better get him into bed.”

“Looks like he had a long day,” Blair observed.

“First day in a new school,” Jim said, scooping Joe into his arms and carrying him through to the bedroom. He got him undressed and into pajamas then under the covers with Joe barely opening his eyes. “I should make you brush your teeth,” he said as he bent to kiss his forehead. “If you get a cavity I’ll kill myself. The last thing your old Dad needs right now is a dentist bill.”

“Money’s pretty tight, huh?”

Jim turned to see Blair leaning against the doorframe watching them. “Nothing I can’t deal with eventually,” he said, leading the way out of the room and closing the door behind them.

“If I can help out, just ask,” Blair said, walking over to the other box he’d brought with him and beginning to unpack it. “I carry a lot of people on my books at the pharmacy but there’s always room to help a friend. I know what it’s like to be broke, believe me.”

“Are we friends?” Jim asked.

Blair stood up and gave him a level look. “I hope so. I’d like to hope we’re at least that already.”

“At least?”

Blair shrugged. “I’ve got pretty good gaydar,” he said. “You’re bi, right?” When Jim nodded hesitantly, he added, “Don’t sweat it, man. Me too. So I’m hardly likely to out you to the town. Mind you, Chinook’s not exactly a backwater these days. We’ve got a Rhodes Scholar and a man who likes to wear his wife’s nightgown. We’re in the mainstream.”

“Not quite,” Jim said with a smile. “I lost track of the number of times I got called pardner today.”

Blair grinned back. “What can I tell you? Bonanza is still number one viewing in Chinook. No fancy CSI shows for this little town.”

Jim watched curiously as Blair pulled out a strange-looking piece of equipment, assembled it all on the kitchen table then plugged the cord into an electrical socket and turned it on.

“Now, remember, you were born with these senses. They're a gift passed on to you by your ancestors,“ he said as he motioned Jim into a chair he’d placed in front of it.

“What are we doing here?” Jim asked suspiciously.

“Oh, it's something very cool.” He put a pair of headphones on Jim then stood back with a satisfied smile on his face. “Made it myself. Okay. Put your chin here. “

“Hmm?”

“Put your chin here,” Blair repeated.

Jim sat down and put his chin on the indicated chin support and Blair flipped a switch on the side of the gizmo. Jim flinched as a row of multi colored lights came on accompanied by music, sending their blinding glare directly into his eyes. “Hey, come on,” he said sharply.

“Relax, man. I've put your sense of sight on overload. Don't struggle. See if you can separate from it and just hear the music,” Blair said reassuringly.

“I don't like it,” Jim said mulishly.

“Fine then. You're the one with the wacko senses. You don't want to learn how to control it, it's no skin off my back, pal.”

With a long suffering sigh, Jim put his chin back on the support.

Blair clapped his hands. “All right. Now we're talking. One step at a time.”

Jim breathed deeply, watching the colored lights, trying to focus on the music that seemed just out of reach of his hearing.

“It's all about breathing and concentration,” Blair intoned softly. “One step at a time. Zone out the light. Concentrate. Yeah. Yeah, that's it. Zone out the light. There's only music. “

It seemed like both hours and seconds later that Jim realized the lights were gone and the music was silent. He blinked a little as Blair patted him on the shoulder. “Wow,” he said softly.

“Wow indeed,” Blair said, sounding awed. “You’re a complete natural at this, you know that?”

Jim stood up. He felt oddly relaxed for the first time in months. “So, how long do you think this will all take?” he asked, watching Blair pack the equipment back in the box. “I mean, before I get full control.”

“And don’t need me anymore?” Blair asked, and Jim thought there was regret behind the words. Blair shrugged. “Like I said you’re a natural. I’m not saying it’s all going to come this easy but if you’re willing to work with me here, you could probably get enough control to manage on your own in a few months. I mean by then I should have the bulk of my thesis written so…”

“What if that wasn’t what I meant?” Jim asked, moving over to grip Blair’s arm and turn him round to face him. “What if I wanted you around even after I had control?”

Blair’s eyes widened and then a soft, slow smile broke out across his face. Jim had never wanted to kiss anyone as much as he wanted to kiss Blair right then but he just waited for Blair’s reply.

Blair nodded. “Then I’ll be around,” he said, reaching up to plant a chaste kiss on Jim’s mouth. “Get some rest. I’ve got more tests planned for tomorrow after Joe goes to school.”

“What about the drugstore? Don’t you need to work?” Jim asked, still savoring the feel of Blair’s lips against his own like a promise for the future.

Blair shrugged then turned and picked up the box. “Minnie can handle it. She’s a trained pharmacist too. She’s semi-retired but she likes to keep her hand in. So, eight o’clock?”

Jim nodded then reached out and pulled Blair against him, kissing him gently. “Eight o’clock,” he agreed. He walked across to the window and watched Blair leave then went into check on Joe. He covered him snugly then headed for his own room, undressed, and fell into bed, falling into a deep, dreamless sleep almost immediately.

By the next day though, Jim found himself worrying whether he’d done the right thing by kissing Blair. When eight o’clock came and went with no sign of him, he started to think maybe Blair thought he’d come on too strong or just that he’d decided a guy with wacko senses and a five year old kid was too much trouble. He tried to hold onto what Blair had said about wanting to write his thesis, using Jim as his subject, but as the day went by with no sign of him and then another day and another, Jim decided his first instincts had been right. And that Blair had written him off as not worth bothering with.

He was just climbing into his truck when Blair’s car turned into the drive.

“Sorry I haven’t been around, man,” Blair called through the window. “I went up to Cascade to see my mom for a couple of days. Had to leave in a hurry. You still up for some work?”

“Sure,” Jim called back, swallowing down all his previous doubts. “Is your mom okay?”

Blair shrugged. “She has her good days and bad days, more bad than good unfortunately.”

“I’m sorry,” Jim said. “You sure you have time for this now?”

“Definitely,” Blair replied enthusiastically. “I need to keep busy and the drugstore is kinda slow at the moment.”

“I just need to drop Joe off at school and pick up a newspaper. You want to follow us back into town?” Jim asked.

Blair grinned and climbed out of his car and locked it up. “How about I just catch a ride with you and pick up my car later?”

“Hi, Joe,” he said settling into the seat next to the boy. “You still like school?”

“It’s pretty cool,” Joe said. “I have a friend who’s an Indian.”

“Oh right, that’d be Jesse Blackwater, right? His dad and I went to school together too,” Blair said. He and Joe chatted away about Blair’s former school days until Jim pulled the truck up outside the school and Blair opened the door and climbed out to help Joe down.

Jim got out as well and walked around the truck so he could give Joe a hug goodbye. “You have a good day and behave in class,” he said, planting a loud smacking kiss on Joe’s forehead and grinning as Joe wiped it away.

“I will,” Joe said solemnly, hoisting his backpack onto his shoulders and turning to wave at Blair. “Bye, Blair.”

“See you, Joe.” Blair waved back then climbed back into the truck. “So you still looking for a job?” he asked as Jim got back behind the wheel.

“Yep. Why? You hiring?” Jim asked, pulling back out onto the road.

“No, sorry. Minnie’s all I can manage. I don’t even really pay her what she’s worth. Business isn’t exactly booming these days. Mind you, according to Minnie it’s because I carry too many people on my books.” Blair shrugged. “What can you do though? Dave Larsen needed a wheelchair and couldn’t even afford to hire one. Sam Tilson was working for the lumber company that went bust and moved out of town, welching on their insurance. Sam still needs his digitalis.”

“My dad would call you a bleeding heart liberal,” Jim observed sardonically, turning his head to look at him for a moment.

Blair bristled a little. “I don’t care if it’s bleeding or not but the last EKG I had showed I had one,” he replied sharply.

“I’m sorry,” Jim said. “I was just kidding around. My social skills are a little rusty. You’re a good man, Blair. You help a lot of people and now you’re helping Joe and me too. I’ll never be able to repay you.”

Blair rested his hand over Jim’s on the steering wheel. “You’re welcome,” he said softly. “So about that job. Colby Day’s looking for someone to help out on his place. It’s not full time but he’s a decent guy and he’ll pay you a fair wage for what you do.”

Jim nodded. “Thanks.”

“You want to go see him now?” Blair asked. “I already called and told him about you.”

“About me?” Jim almost stomped on the brakes in reaction but he relaxed as Blair laughed.

“I just told him I had a friend who was new to town and needed some work,” Blair reassured him. “Okay, now that panic attack’s over, take the next turn on the right. Colby’s place is right at the end of that road.” He squeezed Jim’s hand. “You know you can trust me, Jim. I’d never tell anyone anything you didn’t want them to know. You want the Sentinel stuff to stay quiet and I promise you it will.”

Jim smiled over at him. “I know, Chief, I know.”

Colby Day was a big bear of a man with a full head of grey hair and a grizzled beard to match. Jim liked him on sight and apparently the feeling was mutual because he offered Jim the job on the spot. Colby had five kids of his own, all boys, and he insisted Jim should finish work early enough each day to go collect Joe from school then come back to the farm so Joe could play with the Day kids while Jim finished up the last of any chores that needed doing.

“Hey, why don’t I leave you here with Colby so he can show you the ropes,” Blair suggested. “Looks like Emma’s heading into town so I’ll get a lift back to your place with her and pick up my car and get back to the store.” He waved over to where Colby’s wife was about to get into her car.

“Sure,” Jim said, hiding the twinge of disappointment he felt at not spending a few hours with Blair after all. Still, Blair was right. He needed work and he needed to show Colby he could do what the man was going to pay him to do. “Hey,” he said, grabbing Blair’s hand as he started to walk away, “tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow,” Blair promised, that special smile that Jim had begun to feel was meant only for him lighting up his face.

Jim nodded and watched him leave then walked over to join Colby at the barn. “I’m all yours,” he told his new employer. “How about you show this city boy the ropes?”

~oOo~

Any time he wasn’t working, he drove into town and picked up Blair from the drugstore. They’d go out into the countryside around the town and work on his senses. Jim was actually starting to feel Blair’s lessons were paying off. He’d had a couple of close calls with threatened zones but found that often just a touch from Blair was enough to pull him back from the brink.

Joe had grown fond of Blair too and Jim liked seeing the two of them together. They picnicked a couple of times at the top of the big bluff overlooking Chinook and Jim was beginning to feel like he and Joe were beginning to belong here, almost like they were recreating their family or building a new one. Jim liked the idea of that. It had been just him and Joe for so long. Having Blair around gave him a warm sense of comfort and happiness.

~oOo~

“So,” Jim said, looking across at Blair who was sitting cross-legged on the ground in front of him, “what’s it going to be today? Sight, hearing, touch?”

Blair tipped his head back and looked at Jim, a slow smile breaking out across his face. “How about taste?” he asked. “Haven’t done a lot of work on that.” He turned and opened the picnic basket he’d set on the ground beside him, pulled out a bandanna then stood up and walked across to put it around Jim’s eyes. “No cheating,” he warned as he tightened the knot. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

Jim grinned. “None, but I warn you I’m starving and I’ve been hanging out to find out what goodies you have in your basket, Red Riding Hood, so hurry up and get the test over before I show you one of my fingers.”

“Nag, nag, nag,” Blair replied and Jim could hear the laughter in his voice. “Okay. Here we go. I’m going to put a small amount of something completely safe and innocuous in water in these cups. You just have to tell me what the substance is.”

“I dunno,” Jim said. “I’m not a big fan of tasting stuff when I don’t know what it is…”

“Trust me,” Blair said.

“I do,” Jim said, not really surprised to find that he meant it. He held out his hand for the first cup and took a cautious sip. “Salt,” he said almost immediately.

“Good,” Blair replied, handing over the second cup.

This one was a little harder and Jim rolled the liquid over his tongue, trying to grab onto the elusive taste beneath the water. “Vanilla,” he said after a few minutes.

“Two for two,” Blair said. “Okay, here’s the third one.”

Jim took a sip and grinned. “No doubt about this one. Sugar. You making a cake or something?”

Blair laughed as he undid the bandanna and removed it, shading Jim’s eyes against the bright sun with his hand till they’d acclimatized. “Wow,” he said, sounding impressed. “That was great. There was such a tiny amount of everything in there I thought you’d have to really focus to find what they were. Like I keep telling you, Jim, you’re a natural at this.”

“This was one test I didn’t mind at least,” Jim replied. He stood up then turned quickly and pulled Blair close against him. “Kind of sorry it’s over,” he whispered, bending his head till their mouths were almost close enough to touch.

“You can keep tasting if you want,” Blair murmured and then his lips were on Jim’s, pliant and sweet.

By the time they broke apart, they were both panting for air. Blair looked disheveled, his hair in disarray where Jim had run his fingers through it, but he was smiling.

“I’d love to do more than taste testing,” Jim said, “but maybe it’s a little soon for that.”

“Probably,” Blair replied. “There’ll be time enough eventually. So… how about that lunch you were so eager to have before?”

~oOo~

“Hey, Daddy, Blair’s here!” Joe sounded excited, as he usually was whenever Blair arrived for a visit. Jim grinned indulgently as he looked through the porch door and watched Blair swoop Joe up to sit astride his shoulders. They’d only been here three months but Jim was beginning to feel as if he’d known Blair all his life. Blair waved Jim outside and Jim went, walking across to where Blair’s car was parked. He bent his head and gave Blair a quick kiss on the cheek then bestowed one on Joe as well, both he and Blair laughing as Joe wiped it off with a grubby hand, leaving a smear of dirt in its stead. Jim lifted Joe down from Blair’s shoulders and placed him on the ground. “I wasn’t expecting to see you till later,” he said, “not that I’m complaining, mind you.”

Blair smiled at that. “Well, not that I really needed an excuse to spend a bit more time with you two than we’d originally planned but there is a reason I’m early.” He frowned as he picked up a box from the passenger seat of his car and put it on the ground next to Joe. “I really hope this won’t be the end of a beautiful friendship,” he said obscurely, bending down to open the carton.

Jim pulled his appreciative gaze away from Blair’s jean-clad backside as he heard yipping coming from inside the box.

Joe’s face lit up like it was Christmas morning and he’d just been given everything he’d always wanted in one fell swoop. “A puppy, Dad!” he shrieked, taking the leash Blair handed him.

Blair lifted the dog out of the box and gave Jim a tentative grin. “Well, it’s a dog, not a puppy. He belonged to Mrs. Masters and when she had to go into a nursing home, Minnie said we’d find a home for Sailor here.”

Jim raised his eyebrows. “Sailor?”

Blair laughed. “Mrs. Masters had a wild sense of humor and apparently she was something of a swinger back in the day. She said she loved being able to go outside and say “Hello, Sailor”, said it reminded her of the good old days.”

“Hmm.” Jim looked down at Joe. The little boy had Sailor in a tight hug and the dog didn’t seem to mind at all. In fact Sailor’s pink tongue was working overtime, licking every bit of Joe he could reach. Jim bent and patted the dog’s head then pulled Blair against him and kissed him hard. “Thanks,” he said.

“Well, if that’s the kind of thanks I’m going to get, I might just have to go round up a few more stray dogs,” Blair replied with a laugh.

“Can Sailor come on our picnic with us, Daddy?” Joe asked.

“Sure,” Jim said, tousling his son’s dark hair, “he’s family now.”

An hour later, Jim was standing at the edge of the high bluff that overlooked Chinook and the surrounding farmlands. He took in a deep lungful of the crisp, clear air then reached behind him to grasp Blair’s hand and pull him up to stand alongside him. Behind them Sailor was running through the grass barking madly as Joe giggled and raced along behind him. “Now this is my idea of heaven,” Jim said, tucking Blair in close to his side.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Blair said, scrunching his eyes tight and clenching his fingers into the fabric of Jim’s shirt.

“Huh, you’re afraid of heights,” Jim said, smiling. “I didn’t think you were afraid of anything, Chief. “

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Blair said, wrapping both arms around Jim’s waist and leaning his head against his chest. “And what’s the deal with the Chief thing anyway? Is it the long hair?”

“I love the hair,” Jim said, “but no, it’s just a nickname. If you don’t like it-“

“I like it fine,” Blair replied, pulling Jim down for a quick kiss, “but it’s your nickname for me. Just yours.”

“Just mine,” Jim replied firmly. “Stay over tonight?” he asked. “I think it’s time, don’t you?”

“If Blair wants to stay for a sleepover, he can sleep in my other bed,” Joe interrupted.

Jim snickered as Blair blushed hotly. He crouched down next to his son. “I don’t think Blair would fit in your trundle bed, buddy, do you? He’s bigger than he looks. How about Blair sleeps in my room tonight and then next weekend you can have Jesse over for a sleepover instead?”

“Okay,” Joe replied equably. “Can we eat now? I think Sailor must be starving. He opened the basket all by himself.” He pointed over to where they’d left the picnic basket and Jim groaned and took off at a run, hoping he’d be in time to save their lunch from their new family member.

~oOo~

Jim stretched and yawned as he rolled over in bed, only to be brought up short by the warm, compact body snuggled against him. He grinned and dropped a kiss on Blair’s curly hair then trailed his lips down over his temple and cheek till he reached his mouth.

“You’re not worried about morning breath with those senses of yours?” Blair mumbled sleepily.

“Hey, if you can handle mine, I can definitely handle yours,” Jim replied, going back for a deeper kiss.

Blair pushed him onto his back then moved to blanket Jim’s body with his own, beginning a slow sensuous slide up and down that had Jim’s cock up and begging for more within seconds. He groaned. “You’re gonna be the death of me, Chief,” he said, setting up a counter-rhythm of his own.

“Yeah,” Blair agreed, dipping his head to lap at the lobe of Jim’s ear, “but what a great way to go.”

~oOo~

Jim cursed as there was a knock on the door. He looked at his watch. He was due to pick Blair up in twenty minutes so they could spend more time on his senses training before Jim headed over to work at the Day farm. He was more than a little surprised when he opened the door to find Carolyn standing there. He raised an inquiring eyebrow at her as he leaned up against the doorframe. “You’re a long way from home, Caro,” he said.

“I’m not allowed to come see where my son is living?” she replied, pushing past him and walking into the living room.

“Well, you didn’t seem to care where I was taking him when we left,” Jim said flatly. He moved around to stand in front of her. “What do you want, Carolyn?”

“Your father’s worried about Joe,” she said. “He has that right as his grandfather and quite frankly, now I’ve seen this dump, I don’t blame him.”

“So you’re doing my father’s bidding now? How much did he offer you for this little fact-finding mission?”

Carolyn looked shocked as if the very idea had never even occurred to her. “Nothing,” she snapped. “He’s my child too and there’s nothing in the divorce agreement that says I can’t see him when I want.”

“Except that you’ve never showed the slightest interest in acting upon that since then,” Jim drawled. “You certainly didn’t want to see him when we were in Cascade yet now you’re willing to drive all the way out into the boonies to do your maternal duty. Anyway,” he looked pointedly at his watch, “Joe’s in school. He won’t be home till 3-30 and I’ve got things to do before I pick him up so if you don’t mind…” He took her by the arm and ushered her not so gently towards the front door, opening it and giving her a small push to shove her out onto the front porch. “Come back tomorrow at five and stay for dinner if you want. Sorry, but I’ve got other plans for tonight.”

“What will be having? Rabbit?” Carolyn wrinkled her nose and gave a small unattractive sneer.

“As a matter of fact…” Jim replied. He laughed. “Steak,” he said finally. “Come or not, it’s up to you. I do have another guest coming as well.” He hadn’t actually asked Blair yet but he was pretty sure he’d accept and he figured he might as well lay all his cards on the table for Carolyn once and for all.

“A new girlfriend already!” Carolyn leaned in and tweaked his cheek and Jim stuck his hands in his pockets in an effort to restrain himself from doing the same back to her.

“A friend,” he said obliquely. “You coming or not?”

“Of course,” she said. “Tell Joseph Mommy can’t wait to see him.”

She twirled on her spiked heels and cursed as one got caught in a knothole in the porch floorboards and Jim hid a grin as she bent and pulled the offending shoe free then snapped the broken heel off and hobbled undaintily back to her car.

He waited till she’d driven away then got into his truck and headed for town, stopping to pick Joe up from school along the way.

In town he parked in front of the drugstore, a little surprised not to see Blair’s ancient Volvo parked out front but he climbed out of the vehicle and let Joe out then took his hand and walked into the store.

There was no sign of Blair, Jim was disappointed to see, but there was an elderly lady dispensing medicines at a high counter at the back of the store and Jim led Joe over. “Um, hi, I’m looking for Blair,” he said.

The woman looked up and gave him a smile. “You must be Jim and Joe Ellison,” she said. “Blair said you might be by. I’m sure he would have called you but he had to leave in a hurry… He was so upset— “

“Upset?” Jim asked.

“His mom got real sick again a few days ago and she died the day before yesterday. Cancer, you know. Blair had to go off up to the hospice in Cascade to be with her and then make all the arrangements.” The woman looked at Joe and dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “You know, for the funeral and all. Such a shame. Naomi was a good woman but I guess it was her time. Lord knows, she’s been sick so long, it’s more than likely a blessed relief for her to be free from pain.” She smiled sadly then reached over the counter to shake Jim’s hand. “I’m Minnie, by the way. I expect Blair’s told you about me.”

“Yeah, he has. Nice to meet you.” Jim looked down at Joe. “Guess we’ll head on home then, have some dinner. How’s that sound?”

Joe nodded.

“Say goodbye,” Jim instructed.

“Bye, lady,” Joe said obediently.

“Now, young Joe, you see those rows of Gummi Bears on the shelf there?” Minnie pointed to a rack and Joe nodded, a grin lighting his whole face. “Well, you just grab yourself a bag on your way out. Maybe one for your Dad too. He looks like a man who enjoys a Gummi Bear now and then.” Minnie winked at Jim as Joe ran off to grab the candy. “Blair’s coming back tonight or tomorrow. Naomi didn’t want a big ceremony, just a small send off for her closest friends. Blair’s the only family she had anyhow. I’ll tell him you came by when he gets back.”

“Thank you.” Jim headed back to collect Joe, and taking his hand, led him out to the truck. Standing next to it, he looked through his wallet, glad he’d just been paid for the week. He still needed to stock up on groceries for dinner for the next night. No way was he having Carolyn seeing a bare larder and fridge when she arrived.

“You have to sign this,” Joe said suddenly, extracting a folded slip of paper from his jeans pocket.

Jim felt his heart sink as he opened it. A permission slip for swimming lessons, which were going to set him back fifty dollars. He sighed then looked down into Joe’s hopeful face. “I just gotta make a phone call then we’ll head home,” he said.

“Can I have the swimming lessons, Dad?” Joe asked.

“Sure,” Jim said confidently. “Everyone needs to know how to swim, right?”

“Right,” Joe replied, grinning, ripping open the bag of Gummi Bears and grabbing a handful out.

Jim thought about telling him to leave some for later then shrugged. Joe hadn’t had many treats lately after all. He pulled out his phone and dialed a number. Wouldn’t hurt to have an extra person at dinner, someone who could act as a buffer between him and Carolyn. “Hey, Simon,” he said as the phone was answered.

“Jim,” his old friend replied, “good to hear from you. How’s life in the boonies? How’s Joe doing? We all miss you guys.”

“We miss you too,” Jim said. “I was wondering if you’d like to come down.” He let out a breath then rushed on, “Actually Caro’s in town and I could really use the moral support, man.”

Simon laughed. “Be the piggy in the middle, you mean. Okay, I’ll head down tomorrow then,” Simon replied. “You can tell yourself you’ve got a hired hand for a couple of days. Give me some chores to do.”

Jim laughed. “I’ll do that. Plenty of work to do around the place. Simon, I really appreciate this. Tell the guys hi from us and that as soon as we’re more settled, we’ll have them all here for a weekend.”

“I will, Jim. I’ll see you tomorrow then, probably around 2.”

Finally letting out his tension in a huge sigh of relief Jim disconnected the call and leaned in the window. “Uncle Simon’s coming to visit tomorrow,” he told Joe, smiling as Joe grinned broadly.

“What about Uncle Rafe and Uncle H and Uncle Joel and Aunt Rhonda and Daryl-“

Jim stopped him before he could name every member of the Cascade PD. “Someone has to stay behind to catch the bad guys, buddy,” he said, climbing behind the wheel and turning the car for home. “But we’ll get them all out here as soon as we get the place fixed up.”

“Okay.” Joe settled back in his seat and chattered about school and swimming lessons all the way to the store and then all the way home as well.

“Listen,” Jim said as they went into the house. “We’ve got someone else coming over for dinner tomorrow as well as Uncle Simon. Guess we Ellison men are pretty popular, huh?”

“Who is it, Daddy?”

“Mommy,” Jim replied, getting down on his haunches in front of Joe. “She’s really missed you so she came all the way from Cascade to have dinner with us and visit with you for a while.” He didn’t miss the sudden shadowed look in Joe’s eyes and hurried on, “I bet she’s brought you a present too.”

“Can I show her the car Blair got me?” Joe asked.

“Um, sure, of course you can,” Jim said. “Now, go change your clothes and go play for a while so I can start getting dinner ready.”

~oOo~

“Stop wriggling so I can get this done up properly,” Jim said, fumbling with the knot on Joe’s tie.

“I don’t want to wear a tie,” Joe complained, squirming out of Jim’s reach and plonking down on the floor with a disgruntled sigh. “Why do I have to get all dressed up just for dinner anyway?”

“Because Uncle Simon and Mommy are coming and it’s nice to get dressed up when you have company coming over,” Jim said through gritted teeth. “Come on, Joe, cooperate with me here, okay?”

Joe stood up and walked back over to him. “You never made me get all dressed up when Uncle Simon came over for dinner back in Cascade,” he said.

Jim stopped reaching for Joe’s necktie in mid-action. “You’re right,” he said. He sighed. “I guess I was trying too hard in the hope we’d make a good impression on your Mom.”

“Why?” Joe asked.

“That’s a real good question, partner,” Jim replied, pulling Joe into his arms for a quick hug. “Your old dad got his priorities confused for a while there, that’s all.” He pulled the tie from around Joe’s neck then helped him take the button up shirt off as well. “Go find your favorite t-shirt that’s actually clean,” he said, pointing to the bureau in the corner.

Joe scampered over happily and opened the drawer, pulling out a t-shirt with a picture of Buzz Lightyear on the front. “This one,” he said decisively. “What’s prio- That word you said?”

“It means forgetting what’s most important,” Jim replied. He stood up and headed for the kitchen as he heard a knock at the door. “I think that’s your Uncle Simon,” he said. “You want to go let him in?”

“Yeah!” Joe yelled happily, heading for the front door at a run. “Uncle Simon! I missed you!” Jim heard him shout as he opened the door.

“Well, hello there, I’ve missed my deputy too,” Simon said. “Where’s your dad?”

“In the kitchen, Simon,” Jim called out. “Come on through.”

Jim turned from the fridge, a bottle of beer in each hand and grinned as Simon entered with Joe clinging to his hand. Simon took the beer then pulled Jim into a tight hug, slapping him on the back with his free hand. “It’s damn good to see you, Ellison,” Simon said.

“You too, Simon, you too.” He really meant it too, Jim thought. He’d never realized until right now just how much he’d missed his friends, Simon especially. “So,” he said as Joe scampered out the front door to play in the yard with Sailor, “how about we sit out on the porch and get caught up then you can give me a hand with dinner. I seem to remember you’re a dab hand at barbecuing steaks.”

A half hour later they were still sitting there, alternately talking and listening and catching each other up on what had been happening in their respective lives since Jim had left Cascade.

“Hey, I forgot to tell you about Rafe and Megan.” Simon waggled his eyebrows expressively and Jim laughed.

“Can’t say I’m surprised to hear those two hooked up,” Jim remarked. “I figured it was the only reason Megan stayed on once her international exchange posting was up.”

“Yeah? Surprised the heck out of me,” Simon replied. “I always thought she had the hots for you.”

“Nah, we were just partners, we worked together well on the job but that’s all. Actually speaking of relationships…” Jim’s voice trailed off but then he looked at Simon’s face and saw that steadfast, kind gaze looking back at him and he plunged on. “I’m seeing someone now. In fact I’m hoping you’ll get to meet him before you head back to Cascade.”

“Him?” Simon didn’t sound too shocked, just curious, so Jim kept going.

“I assumed you knew I was bisexual. I figured Caro would have told you that was one of the reasons we broke up. She couldn’t handle the idea despite the fact I never cheated on her with anyone else, male or female.”

Simon nodded. “Yeah, I remember her mentioning something about it but I figured she was just trash talking. She was pretty pissed with you at the time.” Simon gave a low, deep chuckle and shook his head wryly.

“No, it was true. Anyway, Blair owns the drug store here but he’s also an anthropologist and he’s been able to help me with that problem I was having with my senses,” Jim explained.

“You mean, that stuff that you told me about. The heightened senses stuff? It’s for real? Sorry,” Simon hastened to add,” not that I didn’t want to believe you but you have to admit it sounded kinda crazy.”

Jim nodded agreement, offering a wry smile of his own. “I don’t blame you,” he said, “but no, it’s for real. Turns out I’m what’s known as a Sentinel and I have all these heightened senses.”

“Like a Superman deal?”

“No, no, it’s all perfectly natural. Anyway, Blair’s helping me learn to control them. For the first time in months, Simon, I don’t feel like I’m going crazy. And he’s great with Joe.” He swallowed. “And I’m in love with him. I’ll understand if you’re uncomfortable with everything I’ve told you but you’re my best friend and I wanted you to know.”

Simon leaned across the gap between them and gave Jim’s shoulder a pat. “You’re damn right I’m your best friend and I’m looking forwarding to meeting this Blair of yours. Jim, you look more relaxed than I’ve seen you in years. If that’s what being in love with Blair does for you, then I’m all for it.”

~oOo~

“Simon! I didn’t know you’d be here,” Carolyn trilled as Simon opened the front door and let her inside.

“Nice to see you, Caro,” Simon said, hiding his insincerity behind a broad welcoming smile. “Jim asked if I’d come down and give him a hand around the place.”

He regretted that the minute the words left his mouth as Carolyn nodded then leaned in close and murmured conspiratorially, “I know, isn’t it a dump? I don’t know what Jim was thinking actually bringing Joseph to live here.”

He was thinking of what was best for your son, Simon wanted to say but he didn’t. He said instead, “It’s a nice enough place. Small towns have their charm and Jim and Joe certainly seem to like it here.”

“I guess,” Carolyn said, a small sneer twisting her mouth. “Oh god, please tell me there’s something alcoholic to drink around here besides beer.”

“Wine spritzer,” Jim said as he stepped into the hallway and held a glass out to her. He grinned, “I remember what you like, Caro.” He pecked her on the cheek then stood back and ushered her into the living room.

“Joe!” he called. “Come say hi to Mommy.”

It took a few minutes but eventually Joe sidled in through the door. He walked shyly over to Carolyn and dutifully allowed her to kiss his cheek.

“It’s so good to see you, little man,” Carolyn gushed, holding him at arm’s length. “Jim, doesn’t he have any decent clothes to wear?”

“I’m not a little man,” Joe said firmly, retreating across the room to climb up on Simon’s lap. “I’m a boy and this is a decent shirt. What’s decent mean, Uncle Simon?” he added in a whisper.

“Nothing you need to worry about yet,” Simon replied, shooting Carolyn a hard glare. “It’s a great t-shirt, buddy. “

“Can I show Mommy my car now? The one Blair gave me?” Joe asked, climbing off Simon’s lap and heading for his room.

“Sure,” Jim said.

“Blair?” Carolyn asked. “The new girlfriend?”

“Blair’s not a girl, silly,” Joe said, coming back into the room, his remote control car held proudly in his hands. “Blair’s a man like Daddy. Well, not ‘xactly like Daddy cos he has way more hair. He’s nice though. See,” he said winningly, holding his car out to Carolyn, “he gave me this and he gave me a dog too. His name’s Sailor. Would you like to play with my dog?”

“Maybe later, dear,” Carolyn said, ignoring the car and Joe’s hurt look. “Look, Jim, you might as well know the reason I’m here is to take Joe back to Cascade with me. He needs to go to a proper school, meet the right people. He’s an Ellison, after all.”

Jim snorted. “I just knew my father was behind your sudden maternal urge to see your child, Caro. How much is he paying you?”

“Nothing,” Carolyn said a little too quickly.

“Caro, you’re more of a workaholic than I ever was,” Jim added. “You telling me you’re going to ease up on your workload so you can spend time with Joe, take him to school, supervise his playtime-“

Carolyn shook her head, her lips narrowing into a thin smile. “Won’t have to,” she said. “There’s an excellent boarding school in New Jersey. Joseph will be going there next term. Your father has kindly agreed to pay the tuition since we figured you wouldn’t be able to afford it now you’re out of a job.”

“I’m working,” Jim said defensively, “but that’s beside the point because there’s no way you’re taking him. You left him with me when he was five months old. Have barely seen him since. You really think I’m going to hand him over to you just so you can collect some blood money my father’s promised you?”

Simon was standing now, sending a hard as nails glare at Carolyn, which she patently ignored. “Caro, come on,” he said after a moment, “surely you can see Joe’s happy here…”

“It’s not your business,” Simon,” she said, not taking her eyes from Jim’s face.

“He’s been more family to Joe than you or my father ever has,” Jim said hotly. “And this is my house. Simon can say whatever he likes about it.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter what either of you think,” Carolyn said coolly, turning to pick up her purse from the seat where she’d placed it. “There’s no sole custody agreement,” she went on. “We share custody, remember? You can’t stop me taking him. Joe, go pack a bag. You’re coming with me back to Cascade.”

“No!” Joe shouted, dropping his prized car onto the floor and turned to throw himself at Jim, wrapping his arms around Jim’s legs. “Don’t let her take me, Daddy. I want to stay here with you and Blair and Sailor!” He was sobbing already, fat tears dampening Jim’s pants leg.

Jim crouched down and held him away a little so he could look into his tear-filled eyes. “It’s okay, buddy. You’re not going anywhere. Why don’t you go see Sailor for a little while, take him some of those jerky treats he likes so much.”

Joe nodded, his sobs easing a little. He wiped his hand across his eyes and nose and Jim grimaced then pulled a Kleenex out of a box on the coffee table and handed it to him. “Off you go,” he said once he helped him use the tissue. “Everything’s gonna be fine, I promise.

Jim watched Joe leave then turned on his ex-wife. “You’re not taking him without a fight from me,” he said flatly.

“He’s my son too. I’ll call the police if I have to, Jimmy.” Carolyn put her hands on her hips and stared back at him, her eyes coldly angry.

Jim shot a look at Simon, who shrugged. “If there’s no custody agreement, Jim…”

Jim looked up as the front door opened and Blair walked in, stopping just inside the door and looking around at the three of them hesitantly.

~oOo~

“Hey, I hope you don’t mind me just letting myself in, man,” Blair said. “I knocked but no one answered and when I saw Joe take off with Sailor, I thought I’d better come let you know. It’s kind of late for him to be out running around, isn’t it?”

“I take it this is the boyfriend,” Carolyn said, a smirk in her voice. “I’m the ex,” she added.

“Caro, shut up for a minute,” Jim ordered, focusing his attention back to what Blair had said. “Where’s Joe? He was supposed to be just outside.” He walked over to the door and opened it, looking outside. “Joe!” he called. “Bring Sailor back inside now. It’ll be getting dark soon!”

Blair turned and went out onto the porch and pointed in the direction of the woods abutting the side of the property. “They headed off that way.”

By now Carolyn and Simon had joined them outside. Jim could feel a low roil of dread building in his gut and he reached out, clenching his hand onto Blair’s arm. “I gotta go find him,” he said urgently. “He was upset and it’s getting dark.”

Blair put his hand over Jim’s and squeezed tightly. “Use your hearing, Jim. Just keep hanging onto my arm and ground your senses that way then take a deep breath and focus your hearing. He’s your son. You know his voice better than anyone does. You can find him.”

Jim cast a quick look around at Simon, who had a quizzical look in his eyes. He shrugged. “This is how Blair helps me,” he said. He turned his attention back in the direction Joe had gone then let himself feel the warmth of Blair’s skin through the sleeve of his shirt, the beat of his pulse…

“Don’t go too deep, Jim.”

Blair’s voice seemed to echo inside Jim’s head and he inhaled a quick sharp breath, lifting his head and looking towards the trees. He pictured a dial, just as Blair had taught him, and then imagined turning it up till he could hear birds singing in the trees beyond the house, then further still.

“Jimmy!”

Carolyn’s voice startled him and he jumped but Blair’s hand was firm on his, his voice a low urgent tone as he asked for quiet and Jim re-centered himself and listened again till he heard it – Joe’s sobbing voice, calling to Sailor, the dog’s excited yipping in counterpoint. “Oh god,” he whispered as he pinpointed the direction they were heading. “They’re heading for the bluff.”

“You sure?” Blair asked but he was already on the move, dragging Jim along with him toward the truck. Simon took off after them down the porch steps, Carolyn tottering along on her heels behind them, demanding to know what the hell was going on. Blair stood back to let Carolyn into the passenger seat then climbed onto the bed of the truck with Simon and held on as Jim climbed behind the wheel and floored the accelerator.

Jim registered it all in the periphery of his mind, his ears still focused on Joe’s voice. He took the fire road through the trees, hoping they could get there at almost the same time as Joe. His heart was pounding in his ears and his chest felt tight by the time he slewed the truck to a halt at the edge of the clearing a few hundred feet from the bluff’s edge and stumbled out of the vehicle.

There was no sign of Joe and Jim had a fleeting moment of relief till Sailor’s bark exploded in his ears and he fell to his knees. Blair was next to him in a heartbeat, pulling Jim’s hands away from his ears and urging him to dial his hearing down. It took a few moments but finally Jim was able to get to his feet. He looked around, ignoring Carolyn’s querulous questions about where they were, grateful when Simon took her by the arm and led her to one side. Sailor was running back and forth at the edge of bluff, barking madly and Jim’s heart felt as if it had dropped to his boots. He made it to the cliff’s edge in a shambling run, with Blair shadowing him. There, Jim lay flat on his belly and peered over the edge. “He’s here!” he called back over his shoulder, barely recognizing his own hoarse fear-filled voice. “He’s on a ledge about twenty feet down.”

Simon and Carolyn had joined them at the edge and Carolyn reached a shaky hand out to Jim. “Do something!” she said, tears trailing down her face.

“Simon, in the bed of the truck there’s a rope,” Jim peered over the edge of the cliff again. Joe was face down, unmoving, but by extending his sight a little, Jim could make out the rise and fall of his breathing. He took Carolyn’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “He’s alive. I think he’s unconscious but I can go over on the rope and bring him back up.”

Simon was back with the rope and he shook his head as he handed it to Jim. “It won’t hold your weight, Jim,” he said. “We can tie it on to the bumper of the truck but it still won’t support your weight or mine either. Besides we need to be topside to haul them up.”

Jim grabbed Carolyn’s hand again. “You’re the lightest, Caro. Here, let’s get the rope around your waist-“ He stopped as Carolyn shook her head, her face suddenly ghostly pale. “Carolyn, it’s Joe down there.”

“I can’t. Jimmy, you know I’ve always been afraid of heights-“

“I’ll do it,” Blair said, grabbing the rope and tying it quickly around his waist, cinching it tight and leaving a loop at the front. “I’m not as light as she is but I’m definitely lighter than you. I can do it, man. Come on, tie it off. I need to get down there before Joe wakes up.” Blair swallowed hard, his face almost as pale as Carolyn’s as he looked over the edge of the bluff. “If he moves…” He left the words unsaid but Jim knew what he meant.

“You’re scared of heights too,” Jim said, even as he checked the knots securing the rope around Blair’s waist then handed the other end to Simon, who’d already driven the truck as close to the edge as was safe.

“Yeah, well, there are times when you have to face your fears,” Blair replied. “I can do it, Jim.”

“We can’t risk pulling them up using the truck,” Simon warned as he rejoined them. “The rope might not take the strain. We’ll still have to bring them up by hand.” He turned to Blair. “Tie Joe into the loop when you get down there. Make sure it’s under his arms then give two tugs on the rope when you’re ready. Use your feet to help you climb back up. It’ll lessen the strain on the rope… and on us.”

Blair nodded then shot a quick glance at Jim. “It’ll be okay, I promise.”

Jim nodded back then tied off the rope on the truck’s front bumper and turned to watch as Blair backed over the edge. He took up position behind Simon, one hand on his back, steadying him as Simon let the rope out slowly and carefully. He couldn’t see anything beyond the ledge but by dialing his hearing up a little he could hear the scrabble of Blair’s booted feet against the loose shale of the cliff side, his panting, somewhat panicked breathing, the staccato beating of his heart.

“Jim, you okay back there?” Simon called.

“Yeah, fine.” Jim pulled himself back from the edge of an imminent zone, disseminating his senses just as Blair had taught him to do, feeling the burn of the rope on his palms, the scent of wildflowers carried by the chill wind, Simon’s steadfast form in front of him, and the acrid tang of fear in his mouth, then refocused on what he had to do to bring Joe and Blair back to safe ground. Finally he felt the jolt as Blair touched down on the ledge and waited with bated breath for what seemed forever till he felt the two tugs signaling Blair was ready for them to start pulling them up.

Jim planted his feet firmly and leaned back, bunching his biceps and pulling with a slow steady strength. The double weight of both Blair and Joe made the rope creak and Jim held his breath each time he heard the sound then released it in a whoosh and kept on pulling. A sudden gust of wind made the rope swing and Jim heard a muffled curse and then a crack as something hit the rock face. “Blair? You okay?”

“Damn,” Simon muttered, leaning forward so he could see over the edge. “Looks like he got caught in the cross draft and hit his head. They’re only a couple of feet down though. Keep hold of the rope,” he warned, dropping to his belly and inching forward till he could extend his arm over the edge. “A little more,” he called over his shoulder and Jim pulled with all of his might then stood firm as Simon reached down and managed to snag Blair’s jacket and pull him and Joe the rest of the way up. “I got them,” Simon said breathlessly. He untied the rope from around Blair’s waist then rolled him onto his side while Jim freed Joe.

Carolyn seemed suddenly to snap out of her frozen panic, appearing at Jim’s side and dropping to her knees to pull Joe into her arms.

Jim heard Blair groan and he turned his head to check on him but Joe was conscious now too, struggling against his mother’s hold and calling out for Jim.

“Look after Joe,” Simon said. “I’ll take care of your friend here.”

Jim watched for a moment as he saw Simon lean close to Blair, stilling him with gentle but firm hands and soft assurances. He turned back to his son. “Hey, buddy, just stay still okay. I’ve just got to call for help. You sit tight here with your mom, all right?”

Joe was still sobbing, his chest heaving as tears streamed down his pale face but he nodded.

Carolyn flashed a quick look at Jim. “Thank you,” she said as he got to his feet and pulled his cellphone from his pocket.

Jim looked over at Blair and Simon. “Thank Blair,” he said tersely as he dialed the emergency number.

~oOo~

“Can I talk to you?”

Jim looked up, putting a finger to his lips. “He’s asleep again, Caro. Can this wait?”

Carolyn shook her head. “No,” she said softly, “it really can’t.” She walked across the room and stood by the window and Jim bent forward and placed a kiss on Joe’s forehead then went over to join her.

“Well?” he asked, feeling himself tense up as he waited for her to speak. “I know I can’t stop you taking him—“

Carolyn put a finger against his lips. “I’m not going to,” she said, tears filling her eyes. “You were right, Jim. I thought if I had Joe, your father would have no choice but to help me out financially.” She blushed hotly. “Um, I have some gambling debts. Big ones. I’m not gambling anymore, I swear, but I still need to pay the debts.”

“How much?” Jim asked.

Carolyn smiled ruefully. “More than you can afford to help me with,” she replied.

“So what are you going to do?” Jim asked, hope gradually easing the tightness in his chest and jaw.

“I’m going to leave Joe where he belongs, with his father. When I couldn’t make myself go over that cliff after him, couldn’t save my own child…” Carolyn brushed at her eyes impatiently. “Your friend, Blair, was as scared as me but he was willing to risk his life for Joe. I guess I’m not much of a mother, am I?”

“No,” Jim replied honestly, “but maybe you could learn to be. Caro, get help for your gambling and we’ll find a way to pay off your debts. You can come visit Joe here, get to know him…”

“You’d do that for me?”

Jim smiled. “It’s easy to be generous when you have everything you could ever want or need,” he said. He looked around as Joe stirred. “Can you sit with him for a while?” he asked. “I’d like to go see Blair.”

“Sure. Tell him thank you for me.”

“I will.”

~oOo~

“Jim, can I see you for a moment?”

Jim stopped outside Joe’s room. “Can it wait, Simon? I’m just on my way to see Blair.”

“Well, it actually involves your friend so you might want to take a few minutes and hear what I have to say.”

“All right.” Jim felt his hackles beginning to rise, wondering if Simon had decided he couldn’t sanction Jim’s relationship with Blair after all. Well, if that was the case then Jim guessed he’d be writing another friendship off because no way was he ending things with Blair.

Simon grinned at him and Jim felt his defenses lowering a little. “Relax, Jim,” Simon said. “I told you, your relationship with Blair is your business. Besides, like I already told you, I like whatever it is he’s done for you and that’s what I want to talk to you about. But before we get to that, how’s Joe?”

“Concussion, broken arm,” Jim relied. “He thought the cast was pretty cool actually when he woke up earlier. Wants me to invite all the guys down next weekend so they can sign it for him.”

“I’m glad he’s relatively unscathed. So, Caro…” Simon left the rest of the question unspoken but Jim knew what he meant.

“She’s leaving him with me. She realized that’s the best place for him to be.” Jim said no more than that. Whether Carolyn decided to confide in Simon about her gambling problems was her business, her story to tell.

Simon seemed satisfied with the answer. “You were pretty amazing out there today,” he said. “This thing with your senses? Are you sure it’s not some kind of superman deal?”

Jim laughed. “Not hardly. No, Simon, it’s all perfectly natural. My senses are just heightened more than most people’s and Blair’s been teaching me how to use that to the best advantage.” He snorted. “Not sure what use they’ll be here but at least I don’t feel like I’m going insane anymore.”

“Yeah, that was kind of what I wanted to ask you. Jim, we could use your abilities on the job. Think about it, with your senses, you could pick up clues an ordinary cop can’t, and if Blair can help you develop them and control them…” Simon raised his eyebrows meaningfully.

“You want me to go back to Cascade and back to Major Crime?” Jim shook his head. “Sorry, Simon, but Joe’s happy here. Better yet, he’s safe here, and I’m not sure Blair would want to move to Cascade either. He has his drugstore to run.”

Simon shook his head. “I’m not asking you to move back to the city, Jim. You could work as a paid consultant. I’d make sure you only got called in on cases where we really needed your particular skills. I’d offer Blair the same role so he could work with you.”

“You really think the commissioner would go with that?” Jim asked. “I’m not looking to go public with this.”

“And I don’t want you to,” Simon said. “Why advertise to the perps that we have an ace up our sleeve? Look, if you agree to this, I’m going to call the commissioner. I’m pretty sure he’ll see the benefits of having you back and keeping it quiet.”

“Couldn’t my evidence be called into question in court?” Jim asked. He had to admit the idea of being back on the job was immensely appealing but he wanted to be sure he had all the bases covered first.

“Not if your senses are leading us to evidence that is already there but we just haven’t found yet,” Simon said. “Look, it’s going to take some time to iron out all the wrinkles, but if we can, will you do it?”

Jim nodded. “If Blair agrees, then yes.”

“That’s good enough for me. Think I’ll head in and be the first to sign my deputy’s cast.”

“I know he’d like that,” Jim said, watching as Simon pushed open the door to Joe’s room and stepped inside. He turned and headed for Blair’s room next door. Blair had come off a little better than Joe, sustaining only a slight concussion and a gashed head from his run in with the cliff face. He’d have a headache for a few days though, and with that in mind Jim opened the door quietly and peered around the corner to see if he was awake.

“Come on in,” Blair said.

“How are you feeling?” Jim asked, leaning down to brush Blair’s lips gently with his own.

“Just fine. Head’s kind of fuzzy but I’m not feeling nauseous anymore and the double vision’s gone. How’s Joe?”

“He’s fine. Got a snazzy new cast on his arm to show off. Egg on his head. You can compare war wounds when I get to take you both home tomorrow,” Jim said, settling into the chair next to the bed.

“Home. I like the sound of that,” Blair replied, reaching out to hold Jim’s hand.

“I do too. I never got the chance to tell you how sorry I am about your mom,” Jim said.

“She’d been in pain for a long time. It was a relief to know she wasn’t anymore,” Blair replied.

“Yeah, I can understand that.” Jim took a deep breath then ploughed on. “Listen, I have a proposition for you…” He laughed as Blair waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Not that kind of proposition. It’s actually Simon’s proposition—“

“Whoa!” Blair made a time out sign with his hands. “Your friend, Simon, seems really nice but he’s not really my type.”

“Haha,” Jim said with a grin. “He’s offered me a job as a consultant with Major Crime, my old unit.”

“Wow, really?” Blair pushed himself up in the bed. “That would be so cool, man. I mean, you’re a human crime lab. You could really do some good with your senses there.” His smile faltered as he added, “I guess that means you and Joe moving back to Cascade. Which is totally cool. I mean we’ll still have weekends and vacations, right?”

Jim leaned in and kissed him. “Shut up,” he said softly as he pulled away, “just listen because this involves you too.”

Blair made a show of locking his lips with a key.

“Simon wants me to work as a consultant, which means I stay here in Chinook and only go to Cascade when they really need me to work on a case. He also wants you to work with me, on a paid basis, as my official partner.”

“Would I have to carry a gun?” Blair asked.

“Nope, you’ll be a consultant, just like me.”

“Well, okay then. Yes. I’m in if it means still being able to work with you,” Blair grinned broadly and added, “but I‘m not cutting my hair, man.”

“No,” Jim agreed, pulling him over for a hug and running his fingers through Blair’s soft curls, “you’re definitely not doing that.”

~oOo~

“Hey, what’s going on?” Blair called as he pulled his car to a stop in the yard and climbed out.

“We’re having a party,” Joe yelled back, “and Dad bought a new car!” He waved the hose in his hand at Blair, giggling as the water hit its target and drenched Blair from head to toe.

“Watch it!” Blair mock-growled, slamming the car door behind him and running across to swoop Joe into a hug. “I’m already short. I don’t want to shrink anymore.”

Jim laughed, watching them, then gasped as he got drenched in his turn as Joe and Blair wrestled for possession of the hose. Reaching out, he grabbed it from them and fixed them both with a mock-stern look. “Enough monkeying around,” he said. “Joe, go get dried off. Just as well that cast came off this morning.” He looked at his watch. “Uncle Simon and the guys will be here soon.”

“Yay!” Joe yelled. “Okay, Dad. Can we have s’mores as well? Uncle Joel loves s’mores.”

“Yes, we can but only after dinner.” Jim shook his head and smiled as Joe took off running up to the house, Sailor yapping at his heels.

“So,” Blair said, moving over to wrap his arms around Jim’s waist, “new car, huh?”

Jim shrugged. “My dad released my trust fund and I figured we needed something more suited to a family than my old truck was.”

“Family, huh?” Blair smiled sweetly. “Yeah, that’s good.”

“I think so too.” Jim turned so Blair was leaning against the car then pushed against him, the friction of their damp clothes deliciously arousing. He kissed Blair slowly and deeply then pulled away and looked into his eyes, cherishing the love he saw he reflected there. “This is our new life, Blair, our new beginning. Yours, mine, and Joe’s.”

“And Sailor’s.”

“Smartass,” Jim said with a laugh. “Yes, and Sailor’s too.”

“Forever,” Blair replied, sealing the promise with another kiss.

The End

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Notes: Many thanks to Lyn for the great beta and suggestions, Patt for the cheerleading and keeping me on target, and to Lapetite Kiki for the gorgeous art. And to Devra for being constantly encouraging and supportive, no matter what fandom I’m writing in.