Recycled Lives by Kara Sullivan

Recycled Lives - Kara Sullivan

Author’s note: Slight spoilers for Smart Alec.

“Ellison, my office now!”

Jim Ellison looked up curiously as Captain Simon Banks disappeared back into said office. He shrugged, exchanging puzzled glances with the younger man sitting beside his desk. “I’ll be right back, Chief.”

Blair Sandburg nodded, returning his attention to the anthropology assignment he was grading.

Ellison crossed the room and entered the captain’s office. “What’s up, sir?”

Simon Banks shifted in his chair, gazing at Jim uneasily. “I have an assignment for Sandburg, and I wanted to run it by you first. And before we go any further, this was not my idea.”

“Uh oh, this doesn’t sound too promising, if you’re already denying culpability!” Ellison chuckled nervously. “How bad is it?”

Simon sighed. “The mayor thinks it will be good PR for the department.” He hesitated another moment and then stood up. “He’s decided to start a recycling program for first offenders.”

Ellison blinked. “Excuse me?”

“Yeah, that’s what I said, too.” Simon chuckled, shaking his head. “Let me explain. He’s giving non-violent first offenders a chance to straighten out their lives without going to juvenile hall. Along with community service time, each kid will have a mentor who will spend time with him or her, help them clean up their act. He’s calling it the ‘Recycled Lives’ program.”

Jim nodded, thinking that it could be a good program to have. “But what’s this got to do with Sandburg?”

Simon shrugged his shoulders, leaning back in his chair. “The mayor thinks that Sandburg really helped out with that Alec kid at the university, and I know he’s been a big help to my son, Daryl. He wants to make Sandburg the pilot program. He’ll assign a kid to him, and we’ll see how it works out.”

“That is not a good idea, sir!” Jim protested automatically, even though he knew it wouldn’t do any good. If the mayor had his mind made up, there wasn’t much they could do to change it. “First of all, when is he supposed to have time to do this? He’s stretched too thin as it is between the university and here. And second, you do remember that he almost died while working with both of those boys, don’t you? I know it wasn’t really the kids’ fault, but this sounds like a dangerous job. I mean, we’re talking Blair here. He already gets into more trouble than most.”

“I don’t disagree with you, Jim.” Simon stood up and leaned against the desk, clearly agitated. “But what are we supposed to do? I know the kid doesn’t work for the mayor, but he does have the power to pull his ride along status if he gets angry. You’ll just need to keep an eye on things, make sure Sandburg stays out of trouble.”

Jim brushed a hand through his hair in frustration. “Why did you even bother to talk to me about it first, if there’s no way to get him out of doing it?”

Simon sighed, taking a sip from the coffee mug steaming on his desk. “I wanted to talk to you first because I need your help in convincing the kid that this is a good idea. We need him on board before the mayor stops by this afternoon with the boy he’ll be mentoring.”

“Yeah, okay. Well I’d better let him know what’s going on, so I can start getting him ‘on board’!” Ellison made quotation marks in the air with both hands.

He left the office and returned to his desk, studying Blair as he headed in that direction. His partner was sitting at the desk, surrounded by text books and papers, and there were more protruding from the unzipped top of his backpack. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail, emphasizing the pallor of his face and the dark circles under his eyes.

Jim shook his head. He just knew this was a bad idea. There was no way Sandburg had the time to do this. Jim already felt guilty about all of the time Blair spent with him that could have been utilized for his TA duties or his classes. But what choice did they have? He sighed and sat back down in his seat.

Blair looked up, smiling. “Hey, man. What did Simon want?”

Jim sighed again, and then pasted as real a smile as possible on his face. “He has a job for you. It sounds like a great idea!”

*****

Blair straightened the collar on his shirt for the fifteenth time, wondering idly when the mayor was going to show up with his new charge. He knew he had surprised Jim with how calmly he had taken the news, but he wasn’t born yesterday. He knew they didn’t have a choice, and he needed to keep working with Jim, so he had to do whatever they asked of him to keep everyone happy.

“Here they come.”

Blair looked up at Jim’s quiet statement, glancing toward the door in time to see the mayor entering the room with a glowering teen-aged boy trailing along behind him. Great; the kid wasn’t any more excited about this than he was. He could already tell that this was not going to go well. The teen was tall and thin with close cropped blond hair and green eyes. Those eyes were currently locked on Ellison, having already dismissed Blair as a threat. He sighed. He really hoped that they stuck to the non-violent part of the agreement. With his luck, they had probably brought him someone who had been arrested for assault and battery.

He forced a smile to his face as the two newcomers approached, and he knew that Jim was doing the same beside him. He stood up respectfully.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Mayor.” He turned his smile on the young man hovering behind the mayor. “And this must be the student I’m helping out with.”

“I ain’t no student!” the kid snarled. “I’m a de-lin-quent.” He dragged the word out as though he was proud of the term. “And I’m only doing this because I don’t got a choice.”

Blair sighed. This was so not going to be fun. With effort, he managed to keep the smile on his face. “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way. My name is Blair Sandburg.”

When the resentful young man did not respond, the mayor nudged him indignantly. “Kevin, you need to cooperate here, or you’ll end up right back where you came from.”

Kevin sniffed. “What’s wrong with that? I don’t have a problem with juvie.”

The mayor sighed in a manner that indicated they had been through this before. “Maybe not, but your father does.”

“He’s not my father,” Kevin retorted angrily. “He’s my step-father. And I don’t really care what he wants.”

The mayor sighed again, turning to Blair and Jim. “I’m sorry this is not getting off on a better foot, but I guess if it was easy we wouldn’t really need to do it in the first place. This is Kevin Stevens. He’s fifteen years old, and he was arrested for shop-lifting. The plan is that Kevin will be doing his community service for an hour every afternoon after school, and then he will be ready to meet with you every evening. We’re going to play this by ear, but we’ll see how things go to determine the length of the program.”

“What? Every night?” Kevin’s outrage nearly overtook him. “I got other things to do than hang out with some hippie.”

Jim had been watching the proceedings closely, and he broke in now. “And I’m Detective Jim Ellison. I’m Mr. Sandburg’s partner.”

Kevin snickered rudely. “I just bet you are.”

Blair cringed at Jim’s cold eyes. “Kevin, we’re not getting off to a very good start here. I know you don’t want to be here, but you’re here anyway. You might as well make the best of it.”

“Whatever.” Kevin shrugged, seeming to lose interest in the conversation. He shoved his hands into the pockets of the green hoodie sweatshirt he was wearing and stared at the floor.

Blair noticed the sudden change with interest. There had to be some redeeming quality to the young man somewhere. He just needed to find it and build on it. It was going to take a lot of work, but maybe this would work out yet.

*****

“Chief, are you sure you’re up for this? That kid is not like Alec or Daryl. He may not have been arrested for a violent crime, but he’s got a lot of hate.”

Blair looked up from his backpack where he was loading his books and papers. “Yes, he does. I just need to find the right way to channel it. It probably won’t happen overnight, but we’ll get there. Don’t worry, he’s just a fifteen year old kid. I can handle him.”

Jim studied him critically. “He may be a fifteen year old kid, but he’s bigger than you are, and I don’t like you being alone with him until we’re sure he’s going to stay non-violent.”

“I can handle him,” Sandburg repeated.

Jim shrugged. “Well, if you need me, I’m here.” He glanced at his watch. “Where are you taking him tonight?”

Blair grinned mischievously. “Actually, I have some things I need to get caught up on at my office. I’m going to take him along and maybe stop in at the archeology exhibit on the way back. I want to see how he reacts to different things; see what makes him tick.”

Jim looked concerned. “Are you sure you don’t want me to go along, too? I don’t like leaving the two of you alone too long.”

Blair laughed outright at this. “Jim, we’ll be fine. I promise I’ll call you for backup if he’s too much to handle. I kind of get the idea that a lot of that bluster he’s got going on is for show. I’ve had some students like him at Rainier.” He sobered, meeting his partner’s gaze. “I may not like being forced into this program, but I’m not afraid of the kid, and I do think it’s a good program. We’ll be fine.”

*****

Blair had been told that he would be meeting Kevin at his probation officer’s office, since the mayor’s people did not want either participant to know where the other lived. Blair guessed it was more for his benefit than Kevin’s, although he knew they had to protect the boy, too. When he arrived, Kevin was slouched in a chair in the corner of the room, tapping his foot rhythmically to the music that was blaring from the headphones of his IPod.

Blair quickly introduced himself to the probation officer, a friendly young woman by the name of Jennifer. He wondered why they would have assigned a tough teenager to the young woman until she spoke.

“Kevin. Mr. Sandburg is here. Turn off your IPod or I’ll keep it here.”

Kevin immediately sat up and turned his IPod off, although he made a valiant effort to act as if he was doing it grudgingly. Blair was getting the impression that a lot of what the young man did was for show, and it made him wonder about the boy’s home life. What had happened to turn him in this direction?

“Hey, Kevin. Come on, let’s go.” He smiled at Jennifer and led the sullen boy from the room. Once they had approached Blair’s Volvo, he unlocked the door and let Kevin settle into the vehicle. Then he turned and faced the young man.

“Okay, a few rules before we get started here.” He watched with interest as Kevin tensed up, waiting for his rules.

“Rule #1. My name is Blair, not Mr. Sandburg. I don’t want to get you in trouble with anyone, so you can call me Mr. Sandburg when we’re with Jennifer or the mayor, but otherwise I’m Blair.” He smiled as Kevin’s shoulders relaxed a little at this rule.

“Rule #2. I know you don’t want to be here, but you need to try. If you don’t, I’m going to pull the plug, even though it will get us both in trouble. I don’t have extra time to waste. I really do want to help you, but if you don’t cooperate, it’s not going to ever work. Got it?”

Kevin nodded, his shoulders relaxing a little more. “Anything else?”

“Not yet.” Blair grinned. “I’m sure I’ll think of more later, but for now, that’ll be enough. Good thing you’re not working with my partner, though. He has a ton of rules.” He raised a hand at Kevin’s smirk. “And before you say anything, we are partners at work, not home. Don’t start off by being a smart mouth.”

Kevin merely nodded, looking out the window as Blair started the car. He left his IPod in his lap, leaving it off as instructed but showed no interest in striking up a conversation.

Blair glanced over at him as he backed out of his parking spot. “Any interest in where we’re going?” Seeing Kevin’s shoulder shrug, he smiled. “I’m taking you to work with me.”

The boy’s head came up sharply. “You’re taking me to the police station?”

“No.” Sandburg grinned, pleased to have caught his passenger’s attention so quickly. “I’m taking you to my other job. I work at Rainier University as a teaching assistant in the Anthropology Department.” Blair’s observation paid off as he caught the brief gleam of interest in the boy’s eyes before he carefully masked it. “I have to go through a few papers in my office, but then I thought we could check out the archeology exhibits on campus.”

Kevin nodded impassively, but Blair could tell he had definitely interested the boy. Maybe he wouldn’t be as hard a nut to crack as he thought.

*****

“So how did it go?” Ellison met his partner at the door. “You didn’t call, so I guess he did okay?”

“Yes, Mother!” Sandburg laughed. “I think he even enjoyed the archeology exhibit. We were fine, which was why I didn’t call you. I needed to connect with him on my own. Don’t worry, once he’s more comfortable with things, I’ll start having you come along with us.” His smile turned impish. “Wouldn’t want you to feel left out.”

Jim chuckled. “Fine, I’m over reacting. That kid just seemed to have a lot of pent up anger when we met him at the station, and I’d hate to see him turn it loose on you.”

Blair nodded. “I know, Jim. I think it’s still there, and I need to find a safe way for him to get rid of it without getting caught in the backlash. But for a first outing, I thought it went pretty well.”

*****

The first week progressed well. Blair met with Kevin every evening, and by the third day the boy was even laughing at Sandburg’s jokes. He seemed to be loosening up quickly. He confided in Blair that his community service wasn’t too bad. He was helping to landscape the downtown Cascade area, and he seemed to actually enjoy digging in the dirt.

“Maybe you could become an anthropologist. We go on digs all the time,” Blair joked with the young man.

When Kevin did not respond in any way, Blair changed the subject. He had taken the boy to the university a few times and slowly added in some other attractions. Kevin never outwardly reacted when Blair planned trips to a local museum with evening hours, the local library or the mall, stating that he needed to pick up a few things, but Blair was sure the teenager was enjoying the trips just the same. When he took the boy to the batting cages down the street from the loft, he hit pay dirt.

Kevin studied their new location with interest, his eyes lighting up when he realized where they were. Blair, watching closely, relaxed. Maybe here the young man could burn off some steam and get rid of some of that anger.

“Ever play baseball with your Dad?” he asked casually as they headed toward the office to pay for the time in the cages.

Kevin’s eyes flared. “He’s not my Dad!” he grit out between clenched teeth. “How many times do I have to tell you that?”

Blair looked at him solemnly. “I know. I wasn’t talking about your step-dad. I meant your real Dad. Did you ever play baseball with him?”

Kevin nodded glumly. “Yeah, we used to play every weekend in the summers . . . before he . . .” He broke off suddenly, his voice cracking.

“Kevin, I’m really sorry you lost your father. I can’t say that I know what you’re going through, because I never had a father. I don’t even know who he was.” Blair paid for their time in the cage and led the way back out of the office. “Maybe this could be something you could do to remember the good times with your Dad.”

Kevin looked up at Blair, the uncertainty on his face making him seem younger than fifteen. “I don’t think my Mom misses him at all. She married him, and I don’t know how she could even do that to my Dad.”

Blair knew that him had to be a reference to the step-dad. He felt sorry for the boy. He was apparently still grieving the loss of his father, and his mother had re-married, prompting the boy to feel betrayed. No wonder he had gotten in trouble. Not that Blair was excusing the crime, but he could understand how the grieving boy could have acted out in his pain.

“I’m sorry, Kevin; everybody reacts differently to loss. Maybe she just felt like she needed someone.”

“She had me!” Kevin grasped the bat when Blair passed it over to him and began to hit the balls as the machine lobbed them over home plate.

Blair was impressed that the boy hit so many of them. He had quite an eye for the ball. He sat back and watched as the teenager worked out some of his aggression. It took a while, but he seemed to start winding down after a while. Blair stepped in for a few turns to let Kevin rest, causing the boy to actually laugh when he missed a few of the pitches. When their time was up, he bought his young charge a Coke, biting back the lecture he would have given Jim about all of the bad things cola does to your body. It was the most relaxed he had ever seen the youth.

“You know, I think we need to do this at least once a week,” he commented casually, prompting a blinding smile from Kevin. This was definitely getting easier.

*****

After the successful jaunt to the batting cages, Blair decided it was time to add Jim to the mix. Police officer or not, Jim could be fun to hang out with, and he actually had more in common with Kevin than Blair did. While Blair enjoyed the outdoors, Jim was definitely more athletic than he was, and he had a feeling that Kevin and his Dad had been the athletic type, too.

He left Jim in the truck when he went in to pick Kevin up at Jennifer’s office. He didn’t want to scare the kid off before they had even started.

Things started off as usual, Kevin silently following Blair from the office. When he spotted Jim in the truck, he stiffened. “What’s he doing here? Don’t you trust me anymore?”

Blair smiled gently. “Actually, he’s here because I do trust you. Jim is my best friend, and I want you two to get to know each other. Give him a chance. I think you’ll like him!”

Jim took his cue, exiting the truck and heading over to the duo. He offered the boy a genuine smile. “Hi Kevin, Blair’s been telling me good things about you. I wanted to meet you, too.”

Kevin relaxed slightly, but Blair felt that they had regressed a few days. Since he had feared that the youth’s reaction would be worse, he felt that it had been a successful introduction, overall. Tonight’s plan was a trip to a local park for some Frisbee and maybe a run. Blair planned to sit out the run, getting in some time with his books. He was staying up later every night, trying to keep everything up to date, so he was looking forward to a little study time.

He sat in the middle in the truck, not wanting Kevin to feel crowded or intimidated. “So how was your day, Kevin?”

Kevin shrugged, obviously still uncomfortable around Jim. “Okay, I guess.”

Blair smiled patiently. “Did you get to do anything interesting this afternoon with the landscaping?”

Kevin brightened considerably. “Actually, we did. They let me do all the edging today with nobody keeping an eye on me.” He was obviously proud of his accomplishment. “And one of the other guys invited me over on Saturday to shoot hoops.”

“That’s great, Kevin!” Blair was excited for the boy. He just hoped this new buddy was going to steer him in the right direction. He already knew that Kevin was the only one on the landscaping crew doing community service. “How’s school going?”

The teenager deflated instantly. “It’s fine.”

Jim was trying to keep quiet and drive as Blair had asked, but he was curious. “What’s wrong with school?”

“School is stupid.” Kevin’s response was instantaneous, and to Blair, it was predictable. He had been seeing this attitude every time school came up for the past several days.

“Why?” Jim was not going to give in that easily; after all, he was a detective.

“It just is.” Kevin was becoming more and more sullen. “It don’t mean nothin’ in real life. It’s a waste of time.”

Blair was fascinated to note the return of Kevin’s poor grammar. By now he had determined that the poor grammar only appeared when the boy was attempting to act tough. After observing him for the past week, Blair had realized that Kevin was actually quite intelligent, and he suspected that the boy had been a good student before his father’s death. He had yet to discover exactly why that had changed.

Jim glanced over at Blair, chagrined that he had broken his agreed upon silence, and drove to the park quietly, leaving Blair to attempt to salvage the conversation. At the park, Kevin relaxed a little once they had started to toss the Frisbee around. Blair knew they couldn’t do this for long, since it would be getting dark soon, but he wanted to do something that would allow Jim and Kevin to interact without being threatening.

Fifteen minutes later, he was overjoyed when his plan seemed to be working. Kevin had loosened up and was even smiling as he tossed the Frisbee with Jim. Blair was about ready to call it an evening and suggest the run when both of his companions stiffened. Looking up, Blair spotted the police chief heading in their direction, talking to another officer. Blair suspected the chief had caused Jim’s reaction and the uniformed police officer had probably caused Kevin’s. He had no idea how wrong he was.

The police chief, Jonas Petrosky, spotted the trio and immediately headed in their direction. Jim came to attention and stepped forward to greet his boss.

“Good evening, Sir. You remember Blair Sandburg?” When Petrosky nodded and shook Blair’s hand with a pleasant smile, Jim continued. “And this is . . .”

“My son.” Petrosky interrupted matter-of-factly, looking at the sullen boy sadly.

“I am not your son!”

Kevin’s vehement outburst startled the others, but everything suddenly started to fall into place for Blair. This explained Kevin’s obvious dislike of the police as well as the mayor’s insistence on the boy being the guinea pig for the pilot program. How embarrassing it would be for the police chief’s step-son to end up in juvenile hall. Blair felt sorry for the boy. He wondered what Kevin’s biological father had done for a living. He would be willing to bet it hadn’t been law enforcement.

Blair shook off his thoughts in an attempt to salvage things. “Sir, I’ve really been enjoying my time with Kevin. He’s a great kid.”

Petrosky nodded absently, his eyes still locked on his step-son. “I’ve been trying to tell him that, but he won’t listen to me. I’m glad he’s been able to spend some time with you.”

Kevin looked away, keeping his eyes anywhere but on his step-father. Blair had liked the new police chief since the first time he had met him, and he knew Jim had, as well. Poor Kevin felt so angry and betrayed by his mother’s re-marriage that he had probably not given the man a chance.

Jim stepped forward. “It was really nice seeing you again, sir. But I think we’re going to get going. We had some other plans for this evening.”

Petrosky nodded, looking mournfully at Kevin once more. Then he forced a smile and headed after the young uniformed officer he had been talking with. Once he was gone, Blair broke the uncomfortable silence.

“Well, I’ve had enough of the park. Anyone for ice cream?”

“Sounds great to me, Ch . . . Blair.” Jim’s attempt to correct his usage of the nickname ‘Chief’ would have been funny if the whole situation hadn’t been so sad.

*****

Another two weeks went by, and Kevin seemed to finally be loosening up to Jim. Blair suspected his reticence around the detective was fueled by the thought of who Jim’s boss was. The three of them had gone on hikes, to another museum and to another couple of trips to the batting cages. Blair was hopeful that things were really getting better. And then everything came crashing down.

Blair sent Jim in to get Kevin at Jennifer’s office. When the two came out, Kevin was wearing his rebellious scowl. Blair sighed, wondering what had precipitated that. Jim met his eyes and shrugged; apparently he had no idea either.

The three got in the truck and headed for the park, but Kevin didn’t respond to either of the men when they asked him questions. He seemed genuinely upset, and Blair wondered what had happened. He hoped it was nothing with his new friend, Josh. He had been hanging around the other teen from the landscaping crew quite a bit, and Blair had thought things were really improving.

“Kevin, is something bothering you?” Jim’s question interrupted Blair’s thoughts.

“No.”

The terse answer proved it was a lie, and Jim tried again. “Did something happen at school?”

“No.”

This time Blair tried. “Is everything going okay with landscaping?”

“Yes.” This time Kevin’s voice trembled, showing just how upset he actually was.

“Kevin, how can we help you if you don’t tell us what’s wrong?” Jim’s voice was gentle.

Kevin sniffled, his lower lip trembling. Blair thought fleetingly how the teen was nowhere near as tough as he tried to pretend. Finally Kevin sighed. Jim pulled the car into a spot in the parking lot, and the three got out and headed toward a bench in the park. Kevin deliberately sat in the middle of the bench, forcing the two men to sit one on either side of him. Jim and Blair exchanged confused looks.

“I have to tell somebody. I guess it might as well be you.” Kevin wiped a hand across his face, shamefacedly dashing tears from his eyes. “You know I got caught shop-lifting?”

Both men nodded, unwilling to interrupt the boy now that he had finally decided to open up to them.

“Well, it wasn’t my idea. I met this kid at school, and he knew how miserable I was, and how I felt like I didn’t have any family since my dad was . . . gone . . . and my mom got married to him.” Blair noticed absently that the vehemence with which Kevin said him was not nearly as strong as before. He wondered if the boy was starting to accept his new step-father. “Well, Gray said he knew how I felt, and he told me that he had some people that were like a family to him, and I could be part of that family, too.”

Blair and Jim exchanged glances again. He was talking about joining a gang.

“So I started hanging around with Gray and his friends, and they seemed really cool. They told me that I could join them and really be a part of them. They even had these cool nicknames for each other. Like Gray. They were all colors. Red, Blackie, Whitey, Blue . . . and they wanted me to be part of them! I wanted to fit in somewhere so bad I said yes. They said all I had to do was take a few things from the drug store down the street from the school. I didn’t want to, but I really wanted to be part of the group.”

Jim nodded encouragingly. “I understand you wanting to fit in. And you’re taking responsibility for your mistake now. Are Gray and his friends bothering you again?”

Kevin nodded miserably. “They said that they’re my only friends and that I promised to join them. I just want them to leave me alone now. I know now that they were wrong. You’ve both been really nice to me, and I’ve got a real friend now. Josh is great! And I . . I guess my step-father isn’t as bad as I thought. I think he really does want to help me. I just don’t know what to do. Gray says if I don’t go through with it, they’ll come after me.”

Ellison’s jaw tightened. “We can protect you, Kevin. Could you point out the boys to us? We can keep them from doing this to any other kids.”

Kevin flinched. “No, I’m too afraid of what they’ll do. Please don’t make me point them out. There has to be some other way of getting out of this.”

“Kevin, don’t worry about it. We’ll figure something out.” Blair’s soothing voice calmed the teen down immediately.

He seemed relieved to have gotten that off his chest, but he also seemed exhausted, so Jim cut the evening short. Since the night they had run into the police chief, Jim and Blair had been dropping Kevin off at home, since they now knew where that was. Once he had thanked them solemnly and headed into the house, Jim turned the truck back toward the loft.

“Jim, what can we do? We have to get him out of this. He’s a really good kid stuck in a bad set of circumstances. I don’t want to even think what that gang could do to him if they get angry enough.”

Jim nodded. “Well for starters, I need to have a talk with the Chief. He needs to know what’s going on. I’m sure we can help Kevin. We’ll figure something out.”

*****

The phone was ringing as Blair came in the door from the university. He dropped his backpack on the floor and ran to answer it. “Hello?”

“Hey, Chief. I just wanted to let you know that I have an appointment to talk to Chief Petrosky tonight. So it’s just going to be you and Kevin for a while. What were you planning to do?”

“We’re going to the batting cages tonight.” Sandburg sighed. “I think he needs some time to let out his aggression after last night.”

“Okay, well I’ll join you there once I’m done with my meeting. Make sure Kevin knows this will all work out.”

Blair agreed and then hung up the phone, heading for his bedroom. He needed to change his clothes, and then he would be heading out to pick Kevin up from Jennifer’s office. The kid really needed an outlet for his frustration today. Blair was pretty sure that he did, too.

He picked Kevin up and they headed for the batting cages. The teen was silent, most probably embarrassed about his tears the night before. Blair ignored it and kept up a quiet chatter the whole way to the cages. Once they arrived, Kevin set to work with a vengeance. Blair would not have been surprised to see the boy rip the cover off one of the baseballs with as hard as he was swinging. He hoped it helped.

After a while, Kevin sat down, taking a break while Blair got a few swings in. Usually that was good for a few laughs as Kevin was always amused by how much better he was than Blair at batting. Tonight he just sat quietly and watched.

“Well, well, well. What’s this?”

Kevin tensed at the sudden intrusion, and Blair stopped swinging to look behind him. Five boys stood ringed around the outside of the cage, wearing hoodies in five different colors. Blair didn’t have to be a genius to know that this was Kevin’s gang. The boy wearing gray stood in front of the open door to the cage.

“Kevin, you turned us down to hang out with this old man?” Gray seemed actually offended.

Blair thought that he should have been the one who was offended, having been called an old man. He supposed at fifteen or sixteen years old, twenty-seven did seem pretty ancient.

“Yes, I did.” Kevin suddenly seemed to have found some bravery. “He hangs out with me and doesn’t make me do anything illegal to belong.”

Gray’s eyes snapped with anger, and he took a step closer to the cage. “He only hangs out with you because he feels sorry for you. Did you really think that you were cool enough to join us? We just felt sorry for you, too.”

Kevin tilted his chin up defiantly. “I feel sorry for you. “ His voice was strong, and he seemed to be surprising himself with the truth of his statement. “I have friends who like me just for me, and my mom loves me, and even my step-father’s not so bad. I don’t need you guys anymore.”

Blair cringed and tried to take a surreptitious step toward the bench where he had left his cell phone. One of the other boys cut him off. Blair assumed this one was Whitey, since he was wearing a white hoodie.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he rasped menacingly.

Blue, Blackie and Red all stepped closer, too. Blair noticed fleetingly that they were all ranging closer to him, probably judging him the more immediate threat since Kevin had never posed a problem before. Not taking the time to think it through, he took a step forward. “Kevin, run!”

Kevin didn’t need a second invitation. Shoving Blue into the fence, he dashed out of the cage and up the sidewalk toward the office. The other boys, deprived of their prey, turned to face Blair. He swallowed hard, hoping that Kevin thought to call for help.

*****

Jim sat down with the Chief and Simon and slowly related the story that Kevin had told them. He really wasn’t sure what they could do to help the boy, but they needed to do something. He could tell by Petrosky’s reaction that he really cared about his step-son.

“I just wish he had felt comfortable enough with me to come to me.”

Jim nodded. “Not to be rude, Sir, but he felt betrayed that his mother married again. It didn’t matter who you were, just that you weren’t his father. I think he’s starting to come around now, though. He told us you weren’t too bad. For a fifteen year old, that’s pretty high praise!” He smiled.

Petrosky chuckled. “That is encouraging. I’m not too bad, huh?”

The conversation was interrupted when Rhonda, the Major Crimes secretary, poked her head in the door. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I have an urgent call for Jim on line two. I think it’s the teenager Blair’s been hanging out with.”

Jim jumped up, heart in his throat, and picked up the call. “Kevin?”

“Jim, Blair’s in trouble. They’re here and he tried to stop them. Hurry!”

Jim turned to the two men crowded close behind him and thrust the phone at the Chief. “He needs you. See if you can calm him down. Simon, Blair’s in trouble. We need to get out there.”

Simon nodded, using a phone on another desk to call for some backup. The two men rushed from the office, and Simon didn’t say anything when Jim led the way to his truck. Jim clutched the steering wheel with his left hand, dialing his cell phone with the right. He tried calling Blair’s cell phone several times, but there was no answer. After several tense minutes, the two men arrived at the batting cages. Jim noticed absently that the marked police car pulled in behind them, lights flashing.

Kevin appeared in the doorway of the office, dropping the phone and leading the way to the cage they had been using. Jim dialed up his hearing and could hear the sound of flesh against flesh before they had even arrived. The sound turned his stomach. When they reached the cage at the end of the sidewalk, Jim wondered if he would ever forget the sight that greeted them. All five boys surrounded Blair, two of them holding him up while the other three took turns pummeling him.

The only good thing about the situation was that the boys were so busy concentrating on Blair that they didn’t notice the police officers descending on them until it was too late. If Jim was a little forceful when he pulled Gray away from his unconscious partner, none of the other officers commented on it. Kneeling at Blair’s side, Jim laid a trembling hand on the younger man’s neck. Normally he could have heard his heart beat, but at the moment he was so worked up he could only hear his own. He let out a sigh of relief when he found a pulse at Blair’s throat.

He glanced up at Simon and Kevin, both leaning over him anxiously. “He’s alive.” He looked back down at his partner. “But he’s a mess.”

Simon grasped Ellison’s shoulder. “I called for an ambulance.”

Jim nodded, concentrating on his partner. Sandburg was deeply unconscious, and Jim could smell the strong iron stench of human blood coming from multiple locations on his partner’s body. He had a split lip, his nose was bleeding, and a cut oozed sluggishly above his left eye. Ellison gently felt for broken bones. He didn’t find any, but he could feel the heat of bruises covering Sandburg’s stomach and abdomen. He hoped there were no internal injuries.

Behind him, Jim could hear Kevin crying, but he didn’t have time to comfort the teen, concentrating fully on his partner. “Chief, you hang in there. You’re going to be fine.”

He allowed himself to be pulled back out of the way as the paramedics arrived, knowing they could do more for the injured man than he could. He watched numbly as his partner was quickly checked over and then readied for transport to Cascade General Hospital.

“Kevin?” He almost didn’t look around, but was glad he did later. Petrosky had arrived on the scene, and Kevin had taken one look at him and hurled himself into his step-father’s arms, crying heavily now. Petrosky spared a concerned glance for the injured observer, but then concentrated on his step-son. “It’s going to be okay, Kevin. You’re alright.”

“But Blair’s not,” Kevin gasped out between broken sobs. “Why would he do that? He got all of their attention on him so I could get away.”

“Because you’re worth it.” Petrosky hugged the boy tightly, and Jim was glad he had taken the time to watch the reunion when Kevin hugged his step-father back just as tightly.

As soon as Blair was feeling well enough, he wanted to relate every moment of the scene he had just witnessed. He knew Blair would feel it made his sacrifice worth it. He followed the gurney into the ambulance, sitting on the edge of the bench seat, one hand on his partner’s shoulder. He knew that the equipment was monitoring Blair’s vitals, but he gave into the urge to use his senses to monitor them himself.

When they arrived at the hospital, Jim was left in the waiting room while they rushed Blair into the ER. Jim pinched his leg to keep from zoning while he listened in on the frantic activity. Blair’s face had been so bruised that he almost wouldn’t have recognized him. He heard the conversation in the room and knew they had called in a few specialists, including a plastic surgeon. He hoped that was one specialty that they wouldn’t need for long.

“Jim?”

Ellison looked up to see Simon sitting beside him. He wondered how long the captain had been trying to get his attention.

“Jim, how’s it going in there?”

“They called in a plastic surgeon. They’re waiting for some X-rays to come back to see how bad his face is, and I know they’re worried about internal bleeding, too. What happened after we left?”

Simon’s face took on a look of grim satisfaction. “Those kids will be going away for a long time. Apparently this isn’t the first time they’ve beat someone half to death.” Simon cringed at the look on Jim’s face. “It’s just an expression, Jim. I’m sure he’ll be fine. But there were several witnesses this time, and there’s no way they’ll be getting off.”

“That’s good, sir.” Jim nodded distractedly. “How’s Kevin?”

“I think he’ll be okay. The Chief was bringing him over here so he could wait for news about Blair. The kid’s really broken up about it. But at least he’s bonding with Petrosky.”

Jim nodded, returning his attention to the sounds from Blair’s room. He listened quietly until the doctors emerged into the waiting room. He already knew what they’d say, but he wanted to hear it again, so he listened closely.

“Family of Blair Sandburg?”

Jim and Simon stood, and Jim suddenly became aware that the room was full of police officers, including Petrosky, who still had one arm around Kevin.

The doctor nodded and then smiled. “I have some good news. Mr. Sandburg did sustain severe bruising to his face and torso, but he does not have any broken bones and there does not appear to be any internal bleeding. We’ll be keeping him here for a day or two to make sure there’s not anything hiding from us, but I see no reason why he won’t make a complete recovery. Of course, he’ll be pretty sore for a while, but once the swelling goes down, he should be as good as new. We didn’t even have to stitch the facial cut. It stopped bleeding on its own, and it shouldn’t even leave a scar.”

Jim sagged into his chair in relief. He had heard them talking in the room, but hearing the words directed to him made them seem more real. His partner was going to be fine. He vaguely felt Simon patting him on the back and heard Kevin’s excited voice in the background, but everything else faded out as he listened for Blair’s reassuring heartbeat. This time he could hear it, slow and strong. He smiled at Simon and then at Kevin. Everything was really going to be okay.

*****

Blair woke slowly. He could hear an annoying beeping sound, and it seemed to correspond with a throbbing pain throughout his body. He wondered vaguely where he was and what had happened to him, but then he remembered and wished he hadn’t. He tried to open his eyes, but they were apparently both swollen shut. He grunted in pain.

“Hey, Chief, take it easy. You’re not going to be able to see out of either eye for a few days. You had a pretty bad beating, but the doctors tell me that you’ll be as good as new before you know it. Nothing was broken, you had no internal injuries, and you didn’t even need any stitches. Just rest for now, and we’ll take good care of you.”

Blair cringed automatically at a light touch on his shoulder, but then he realized that it didn’t hurt. In fact it was kind of comforting. He relaxed and let the soothing feeling lull him back to sleep.

*****

“Blair?”

Sandburg rolled his head toward the voice, squinting through barely open eyes to see Kevin standing nervously in the doorway. “Kev’n,” he mumbled groggily.

“Yeah.” Kevin took a few steps closer to the bed. “I just wanted to say thank you for what you did. I couldn’t believe you would be willing to do that for me.” He shook his head in disbelief. “And I wanted to tell you that my step-father and me . . . well, we have an understanding now. He’s not trying to replace my dad. He’s just trying to be there for me and my mom. Thanks for everything.”

Blair nodded painfully. “Good.”

Kevin stood there awkwardly for a few minutes, and then took a step back. “Well, that’s all I wanted to say. You can go back to sleep now. Jim says I can come see you at home when you’re feeling better.”

Blair nodded again and then closed his eyes, falling instantly back to sleep.

*****

It had taken nearly three weeks for the bruises to fade. Blair found it ironic that it took as long for the bruises to go away as it had for him to get through to Kevin. He had gone back to work at both the university and the station as soon as possible, but it was great to finally lose the brilliant and changing colors that had been scattered around his face. It was nice to have people finally stop staring at him.

He sat now at Jim’s desk in the bullpen, working on a report while Jim questioned a suspect in one of the interrogation rooms.

“Mr. Sandburg?”

Blair looked up to find both the mayor and Chief Petrosky standing beside the desk. “Oh, hi. Sorry, Jim’s down the hall. Did you need me to get him?”

“No, it’s you we came to see.” The mayor stepped forward, seeming ill at ease. “I just wanted to apologize for everything that happened to you. I’m really sorry I got you involved. I just thought you’d done such a good job with those other boys that you would be the one we needed to get to help with the Chief’s son.”

“That’s okay.” Sandburg studied both men closely. “Tell me one thing. Is ‘Recycled Lives’ really a program?”

Petrosky shook his head. “No, I’m sorry to say it’s not. We made the whole thing up to get you to work with Kevin. I’m very grateful for what you did, but I’m sorry how it all turned out. Is there anything we can do to make it up to you?”

Blair didn’t hesitate. “Yes, actually there is. Make that program a reality.”

The two men exchanged glances. Blair grinned at the look on both men’s faces. “I am not saying I enjoyed how I ended up, but it really worked. In fact, if it’s okay with you, I’d like to still get together with Kevin every now and then. He’s kind of like a kid brother now.”

Petrosky nodded, speechless.

“The point is, the program works. It worked with Kevin, and it would work with other kids. I just think you might want to make the mentors aware of the potential dangers. Or better yet, make them police officers!”

The mayor smiled at this, and then nodded. “’Recycled Lives’ it is. Thanks for your help, Mr. Sandburg.”

The two men left, and Blair looked up to see Jim standing in the doorway, smiling crookedly. He smiled back, happy that he could now smile without splitting his healing lip back open. “I guess you heard.”

Jim chuckled. “Think who you’re talking to. Of course I heard. I’m proud of you, Chief. You not only saved the kid and got him together with his step-father, but because of you, other kids will have the same benefit. Good job.”

Blair grinned. “So now nobody better tell me I don’t do my part with recycling!”

Finis

Back to the Gendex

Acknowledgments: Thanks to Jess for asking me to join in on the fun and thank you to Patt for the cover art.