The Invitation by KarieAuthoress

The Invitation - KarieAuthoress

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Notes: This is a mirror story to Bumpkin's To Change the River's Path. Both stories were written from the same plot bunny.

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June 13, 2008

”This is to invite James J Ellison to the New South Wales Awards ceremony, to be held June 15th, 2008 in Canberra. RSVP...”

It had arrived a week prior. Jim had been unprepared, of course. It was there in his mailbox after he had returned from a long and boring case. He hadn’t really looked at it, just tossed it on his side table along with his bills and his keys. It was still there days later when he went to pay his bills. He finally opened it two days ago.

”For acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril. It is with extreme pleasure...”

To say he was surprised was an understatement. Being invited to an awards ceremony in New South Wales, Australia was not on his list of events to mark the passing time of his life. He knew no one in Australia except Conner... and Blair.

Blair Sandburg, one time friend and partner, now... a distant memory. After joining the force and wanting to become Jim’s official partner, things had gone downhill fast. The other detectives, officers, all the men and women in blue, were split into two camps: those who accepted Blair, and those who saw him as a fraud and worthless to them. After a month and a half of pushing and pulling and yelling and fighting, Blair got the chance of a lifetime.

An opening in the New South Wales Commonwealth of law enforcement office meant that Inspector Megan Conner was returning home after two years. She invited Blair to come along. Jim remembered what it had been like, the day that Megan had jokingly (and yes, he could see it now, she had not been entirely serious in her invitation to him) asked if Blair wanted to come along. See new people, do new things. Blair had looked at Jim, and Jim had shrugged his shoulders... ”Sounds like a great opportunity, Chief. You should really think about it.” and walked away.

It was the last mistake he ever made where Blair was concerned. Megan, of course, wouldn’t leave it alone. Harping at him over and over the two weeks it took for Blair to finish his paperwork and pack his things. She yelled at him for hiding his feelings while they finished out her cases. She snarled at him for ignoring Blair’s wishes and desires while the others planned Blair’s and Megan’s going away party. She grumbled at him for setting Blair so far apart and closing himself off from his partner when the young man was feeling so alone.

And finally, finally when it was all said and done, she kissed Jim on the cheek at the airport and made him a promise. ”I’ll watch out for him, Mate. Just call any time and let me know when you want him back.”

Correction, that was his last mistake where Blair was concerned. He never called, never asked Blair to come back. Basically, he went on with his life and ignored that part of his past. Like all other parts of painful memories, he repressed it until now.

”... would invite you to join his friends and family as he is awarded the Australian Cross of Valor.”

Sitting in the silence that was his loft, Jim Ellison weighed his options. He could call and apologize for not coming, mutter something about the slow mail service. He could ignore it completely, never think of it, or Blair again. He could send a card that would arrive long after the fact, thus absolving him of any misconstrued rudeness in the matter.

Or he could go.

He realized, as he lay back against the couch with a beer in one hand and the invitation in the other, that he didn’t have much of a choice in these matters. The handwritten line at the bottom explained it all.

”Be here, you daft drongo!”

o-O-o

June 15, 2008

The flight over was a pain in the ass, neck, arms, back and head. The hotel was small and cramped. The dinner was bland and tasteless. The tie to his tuxedo was tight and irritating. All in all, it was a waste of time for him to be there. He was not going to be able to talk to Blair; there were too many people between him and his old friend. And the lights were too bright, the people were too loud, he was fighting a headache.

Excusing himself to visit the nearby men’s room, he detoured and stepped out onto the balcony to catch a bit of clean night air. The stars were bright in the cloudless sky and he stopped against the balcony railing to count them a while. He felt finally alone for the first time since arriving in Australia.

He had barely made it in time for this ceremony, and Blair’s award was one of the many given out. Jim never got a chance to see him, as when his name was called, it was with five others. Their names were mentioned and the entire assembly cheered. The actually awarding had been the day before, and Jim had missed that completely. He had yet to see either of his friends. He didn’t suspect he would this night. He was due back in Cascade on the next flight out in the morning.

Standing there in the cool night air, he wondered what he would have said to his friend, if he’d had the chance to actually talk to the man. ”Hey, Chief, looking good.”?

How about, ”Sandburg, still getting yourself in trouble over here too?”

No, more likely he would just come out and say, “I miss you, Blair.”

“Which Blair?” a small voice from behind him asked. Jim spun on his heel and caught sight of two pairs of bright blue eyes peering out of the ivy that hung down the walls. Canting his head to the side, he got a better look and realized he was looking at two small boys, barely 7 years each. One of them, the one with curly brown hair and a smattering of freckles across the nose, stepped forward slightly, covering the other boy, and asked again, “Which Blair do you miss?”

Jim blinked. “Hello. What’s your name?”

The first boy spoke again, “I’m Colin and this is my brother, Liam. Who are you?”

Jim smiled as he crossed over to a stone bench, settling down where he could see the doors back into the hotel. “I’m Jim. Nice to meet you, Colin. Where are your parents?”

“You ask a lot of question.” Colin replied as he shifted yet again, keeping Liam behind him at all times. Jim watched the by-play with interest. He was about to reply again when Liam plucked at Colin’s sleeve, whispering in the other boy’s ear. Colin nodded once before returning his attention to Jim. “Liam says you’re an Inspector, but not from here, yeah?”

Jim smiled at the boy’s intuitiveness. “Yes, I’m an American Detective. I’m just here in support of a friend of mine.”

Colin nodded, shifted to listen to his brother once again, and then asked, “Which Blair?”

Jim paused, oh yes that is what he had asked before. “I don’t know what you mean. Is there more than one Blair around here?”

“Well, yeah,” growled Colin. Liam tugged at his brother’s sleeve and Colin sighed. “Sorry, yeah, that was rude, huh?”

Jim shrugged. Colin ducked his head while Liam smiled at the big police man. Then Colin took a deep breath and tried again. “Well, I’m a Blair, and my brother is a Blair. Then there’s my mum, and other mum... and my Da... Only his Blair name is different than ours.”

Jim raised his hands in supplication, “Whoa, ease up there Chief.”

Liam snickered. It was actual sound from the other boy. Jim gazed at him with a smile on his face as well. “You think that name’s funny, Bud?”

Colin’s face screwed up in a scowl. “That’s our Da’s nickname. Liam thinks it’s funny, you sayin’ it at and all.”

And Jim knew... in that moment he knew who this boy’s father was. Born or simply raised, that was anyone’s guess at this moment. “So, who’s your Mother?”

“Sheryl Blair, Inspector in Homicide, New South Wales. She’s Da’s partner on the force.” Colin waved back towards Liam, “His mum is Darleen Blair, Inspector in Burglary, also in New South Wales.”

Jim nodded. “So, wait, Sheryl and Darleen, both named Blair... Lovers?”

“Oi! They’s married ladies!” Colin argued. Jim grinned brightly.

“Of course they are. And some point in time, Sheryl and Blair had you.” Jim stated this as fact. Colin nodded once.

“Aye, and on the same night, Da and Darleen had Liam.” Colin finished. Jim blinked. Of course, only Sandburg. Standing abruptly Jim stretched his back before glancing back in through the doors. People were beginning to move and Jim could only imagine that the ceremony was either in intermission, or it was over. Checking his watch, he could only assume the latter.

“Boys it would appear that our time is up. We’d better get back inside before people miss you.” Jim held a hand out to each boy, and was unsurprised when they accepted them. Turning back to the doors, he led them both inside and down the corridor towards the ballroom. At the archway entrance, Jim stopped and knelt down beside them both. “Colin, I want you to take Liam back in there to your parents table.”

“You’re not coming?” asked Colin. Jim shook his head.

“A bad headache is coming on for me, son. I’ll have to leave without finding my friend.” Jim squeezed Colin’s hand and smiled. Liam shook Jim’s arm and he dutifully turned to be addressed by the quiet youngster.

“I’ll tell Da you said hello, Uncle Jim,” whispered the straight haired boy. And then he kissed Jim on the cheek and reached out to take Colin’s hand. Colin turned quickly, planted a similar kiss on Jim’s other cheek, then went back and began to shepherd his brother out to the busy ballroom. Jim watched them for a moment before standing and leaving the hotel. He took a taxi to his own hotel and climbed the few flights of stairs to enter his room where he stripped and crawled into bed. As he slipped off to sleep, a final thought entered his mind.

He wondered if Blair knew that he had fathered a Sentinel and a Guide.

o-O-o

Colin and Liam said very little to their parents when they returned to the family’s table. Their mothers were regaling their friends with highlights of Da’s more spirited adventures. Their Aunt Meggie was drinking with her boyfriend. And Da, well Da was looking rather sad.

Liam crawled into Da’s lap and snuggled nose first into the warmth of his neck. Da smiled as he opened his other arm out to Colin in invitation. Colin shook his head, he was really getting too old for such things, and came to lean against the man instead. Aunt Meggie glanced over and sighed loud enough for them all to hear.

“I’m sorry Sandy, I had hoped that Jimbo would pull his head outta his arse and show up for at least tonight.”

Colin shrugged and Liam smiled into his Da’s neck. Da pulled his head back a bit to get a look at Liam. “You know something, don’tcha Short stuff?”

Liam leaned in to whisper in Da’s ear. Da smiled and glanced over at Colin. “You got to talk to him, Col?”

Colin finally smiled, “Yeah Da. I guess I did. He said he had to go, too much noise, too many people.”

Da nodded in understanding. “At least he tried.”

Aunt Meggie snorted once before turning back to her drink. The Mums shared a wistful smile with Da before turning back to their conversations. Colin leaned into Da again and felt an arm wrap around his waist. The others might not understand Uncle Jim, but he did. And Da and Liam did, too.

And who knew, maybe there would be another chance to see the man again.

o-O-o

July 1, 2008

Colin slipped silently into his Da’s room without turning on the light. Stopping with his back against the wall, he allowed his hearing to pick up his brother’s voice speaking to him patiently from their shared bedroom. ”Right, now let your eyes adjust completely and find the desk.”

Even though Liam couldn’t have heard Colin in a million years, his brother still seemed to know exactly where he was, what he was doing. ”Once you’ve found the desk, open the shallow drawer where the pens and pencils are kept. You’ll see Da’s address book in there.”

Colin stole up to the desk, checking the room to verify that his father was indeed asleep, and opened the indicated drawer. Waiting a moment, he soon heard his brother once again. ”Open the book to ‘E’ and find ‘Ellison, that’s where you will find the address. Write it down on a spare sheet of paper on the notepad Da keeps on the blotter, then get out of there.”

Colin nodded, although Liam couldn’t have seen him, found the correct address, wrote it down, put everything back as he had found it, and slipped back into the shadows. He was back in his room in moments, having not awoken any of the parents. Handing the paper off to Liam, his brother’s eyes twinkled.

“Good work, Watchman. Now we can converse with the Elder.” Liam pulled out his personal stationary, the set that he had asked for from Gamma Naomi which bore both his and his brother’s names, and began to compose his first letter.

“Dear Uncle Jim,”

o-O-o

July 16, 2008

”Greetings from Australia!”

Jim had been overjoyed with the letter from his ‘Nephews’ in Australia. It was rather sneaky and underhanded that they would correspond with him without their parents knowing, but Jim figured they had their reasons. And they were enough like their dad to pull off something like this.

Even more precious than the letter, were the pictures they had sent. Pictures of themselves, their mothers and ‘Da’. These now had a prominent position on the bookshelf next to the stereo with a hand drawn picture of Jim and the boys out on the balcony that Liam had drawn.

The letter had gone on to tell Jim about their family. According to Liam, Colin had been conceived and born first, but Liam had been born a mere two minutes afterwards. And Liam confirmed Jim’s belief that Colin was a Sentinel, like himself, with all five senses enhanced. His nephew also had the protective instinct that Jim had. And the boys believed that Liam was born to be Colin’s Guide.

Did Blair know? Liam never mentioned, but they said it was easy for them to help Colin control his abilities. And if Colin said something was off, none of the parents argued. Jim figured Blair was aware, and wasn’t making a big deal out of it, to keep the boys from thinking themselves freaks. He smiled to himself at the thought.

”Do you ever have times when you stop, and you think something isn’t right, but you can’t tell what it is? I know Col does that all the time, and usually it’s when either Da or me are hurt. Col says it’s how we are connected. He says it’s stronger with him and me, not so much with Da. So, I wonder, do you feel it when Da is hurt? Even all the way over in ‘The States’?”

Jim pondered these thoughts for a while, and then decided not to push for an answer. He knew, from working with Blair, that the senses were genetic, but the feelings, the instinct was something different. Blair would know better, but Jim wasn’t about to bring it to his attention. Blair was off having a life, Jim had his own.

But he could enjoy this small window into his friend’s world.

o-O-o

August 29, 2008

“Jim, could you come in here a moment, please?”

Jim looked up at the sound of his Captain’s calm voice, calling from his office with the door closed and the blinds shut. The Sentinel smirked as he made his way through the desks and slipped in the door. Joel looked up from his desk, and this still unsettled Jim at times when he remembered that Simon was no longer Captain of Major Crimes, and waved a hand for Jim to find a seat.

“Jim, thanks for coming in to see me,” Joel said as he shuffled papers around. Jim sat in a nearby chair and relaxed as much as his six foot two frame could in such a small space. Joel waited until it appeared the resident Sentinel was more or less comfortable before getting down to business. “In case you haven’t heard, and with those ears I’m not sure how you could have missed it, but the Mayor and Commissioner are looking for me to retire soon.”

Jim sat up, totally interested. He had heard nothing of this, though he had good excuse. He had been rather preoccupied as of late. “So, who are they looking to replace you, Joel?”

Joel smiled gently, “They want you, Jim. In fact, Simon has been calling for it ever since they made him Chief. But you turned them down and told me to take it. This time, they are sweetening the deal, offering you three new detectives to fill out the roster, giving you one hell of a pay raise and a benefits package to die for, not that you would any time soon.”

Jim blinked, realizing that his instincts were speaking to him yet again. Yes, he had made a terrible mistake letting his Guide go. But he was not going to make a mistake here. It was time for the Sentinel to step down from this duty and let the warriors take over. He would lead, as he was meant to. Being behind the desk didn’t frighten him so much anymore.

“Joel, tell Simon and the others I’m ready this time.”

o-O-o

September 5, 2008

Closing the door to his living space, Jim sighed and allowed his weariness to show. It had been a rough week of transition, but now Jim was finally Captain of Major Crimes. His father and brother had insisted on throwing him a party in celebration and had invited everyone in town. It had been a good night.

The biggest surprise came in the form of a letter from the boys in Australia. Someone had told Megan about Jim’s promotion and it had filtered down to Jim’s nephews. They both wanted to let him know that they were proud of him. Had sent more pictures and told him about their A+ status in school. It truly had made his night.

The next day, William Ellison had stopped by with a letter from Jim’s Grandfather on his mother’s side. It had been found with the will and gave Jim half of his mother’s estate. The other half went to Steven. William had suggested liquidating the estate and splitting the moneys equally. Jim had agreed.

Jim’s portion of the money rounded out to over two hundred thousand and he immediately sunk it into the building he lived in. He bought the entire place, continued the lease with Collette’s and cleared out the apartments on his floor. There were only two others living there and they were rude and obnoxious to boot. Jim was all too happy to toss them out on their collective asses. Everyone on the second floor had been there for years and Jim offered to keep them there at a slightly lower rent. Just enough to pay for the taxes and utilities that could not be separated out. In that way, he insured that it was easy to maintain the building and have comfortable neighbors for as long as he could.

He felt Blair would have approved.

All of this left Jim with a large living space on the top floor and use of the roof any time he wished. He was meeting with an architect in the next few days to remodel the space into a large penthouse apartment. What he would do with all this space, he wasn’t sure. But one thing he was certain of, it was a lot quieter now.

o-O-o

September 24, 2008

”Hey Jim, pick up the phone. You won’t believe what I just heard.” Jim raced down the stairs from the bedroom to the main floor and snatched up the phone as he heard his brother’s voice.

“Steven, what’s up?”

Steven Ellison must have been smiling, it could be heard through the phone as he spoke. ”Hey, remember the house down the street from Dad’s... Mr. Tanderson?”

Jim nodded as he answered, “Yeah I remember. It had that huge library on the first floor. Dad used to say if he ever redid the library at home, he would model it after that one.”

”Yeah, well guess what?” Steven sounded fairly excited to be sharing this with his brother and Jim felt the excitement tingle his spine. ”Tanderson is selling the house. Dad’s buying as much of the shelves as he can, but his library is too small and there are several sets of shelves left over. These would be great in the new floor plan for the penthouse, don’t you think?”

Jim thought back over his plans for the huge floor space in the second half of the penthouse, it was easily two story and could accommodate several sections of the library shelving that he remembered had been in Tanderson’s house. “Yeah, Stevie, I see it. Tell dad to snatch it all up and I’ll pay it back.”

Steven laughed, ”Oh no, Jimmy. Call this a birthday present. I’m investing in these shelves along with Sally. Our choice, you don’t get a say!”

And then he was gone, leaving Jim with a phone in his hand and a dopey grin on his face. After a moment, Jim hung up the phone, then turned it on again and dialed the number for his architect. “Hey, Tom, come over for dinner tonight. I think I have figured out what to do with that extra space...”

o-O-o

October 22, 2008

Colin sniffled once as Liam’s arm was gently manipulated to accommodate his cast. “Li, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you would fall off the roof!”

“Col, not your fault. I went up there.” Liam attempted to assure his brother even through clenched teeth as the nurse hit a particularly sore spot. Their Da stood to the side with Colin and soothed him lightly with a hand stroking his thick wavy curls.

“Neither of you should have been up there. But I think you have both learned a lesson here, yes?” Their Da was not one to punish wrong doing when the wrong doers had come out with a massive injury that gets the point across better than any corporal punishment ever could. Colin shuffled and rubbed his nose with the sleeve of his shirt. Liam caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and handed over an extra handkerchief. Da never said a word about the exchange.

Arriving at their city home, Da tucked both boys in to their bed and went to check the mail. Colin wrapped himself gently around his younger brother, snuffling into his dark straight hair and sighing contentedly. Da came back and found them in just this pose, his eyes bright with unshed tears.

Liam immediately sought to distract their father’s upset by calling attention to the mail in his hands. “What’s there Da?”

Da started suddenly and looked down at the envelope in his hands. “Oh, this... it’s a letter to you and Colin. Want me to read it to you?”

Liam smiled until he saw the post mark on the envelope, then he began to get nervous. Colin must have noticed the change in scent, as he started to whimper. Da stroked a hand down Colin’s back, but spoke to Liam. “Has he written you back before?”

Liam relaxed. Of course his father would have figured out that the boys were writing to their Uncle. And he wasn’t upset by it, so it must have been all right to do so. “That’s the first, actually. Mostly we write to him and send him pictures.”

Da smiled as he opened the envelope. The first words made him smile wider, bigger than Liam had ever seen.

“To the Great Sentinel of New South Wales and his Great Shaman...”

o-O-o

November 10, 2008

Jim rode the elevator to his floor and stepped out into the most heavenly scent. He hadn’t smelled anything like it in years. Only one person made this dish so perfectly, and even though Blair had tried over and over again, it was never quite right.

“Naomi!”

The powerful red-head almost literally floated out of Blair’s old room, her eyes shining as bright as her smile. “Jim! I’m glad you’re home, dinner will be ready in fifteen, I think you have time for a shower.”

“Ah, no, I’m fine, Naomi. I showered at the PD,” he answered as he went to open a bottle of white wine. Naomi shook her head and took the bottle out of his hands practically shoving him back towards the bathroom.

“Not your soap, not your water, not your towels. How bad is your skin twitching right now?”

Jim sighed, “Yeah ok. You’re right. I’ll deal with it now rather than later.”

After showering and eating, Jim sat back and could actually relax for the first time in weeks. Naomi sat with him in comfortable silence for a while, waiting. Jim smirked, “You know I always thought that Blair’s motor-mouth came from you.”

Naomi burst out laughing, “I was waiting for you. Jim, I know you value your silences at times.”

“Not anymore,” muttered the man as he stared down into his nearly empty glass. “Naomi, I made a big mistake.”

“Maybe, and most likely you are right. But what can you do about it now?” Naomi stood and began clearing the table, starting in on the dishes while Jim sat and thought. After a moment, Jim stood and helped his friend (couldn’t call her a guest for god’s sake) clean the kitchen and close the apartment down for the night. With a fresh glass of wine, Naomi began a slow tour of the apartment.

“You don’t spend that much time on this side, do you?” she asked as she fingered the drapes that covered the southern windows. Jim came to join her, leaning in close to add his warmth.

“I tend to stay on the northern side, I’ve lived there for so long, it felt natural.” He sipped his wine and left her to her thoughts. Finally she moved to the small bedroom under the stairs.

“I know you have work in the morning. The boys are very proud of you, by the way.” She smiled while he felt the blush creep up.

“Yeah, they wrote to me about it. Blair’s not angry with them is he?” Jim asked, suddenly concerned with causing trouble for his nephews.

“Why ever for, Jim? None of you did anything wrong. If anything, your acceptance of them as a part of Blair, simply added validation for Blair.” She headed in to the bedroom, closing the door behind her. Jim snagged the door and asked her one more question.

“Naomi, is he happy?”

She didn’t reply, only patted his arm and went to bed.

The next day Jim went to work while Naomi slept. He didn’t expect her to be there when he returned and, upon stepping off the elevator that night, knew she was long gone. A note left on his dining room table admonished him to go to the roof and he obeyed.

Just off from the doorway was a large greenhouse with plants hanging inside and outside, on the shelves and everywhere. It was a veritable garden of vegetables and herbs with a few fruit trees to add definition and color. Inside the door on the potters’ shelf, he found several books on the caring and growth of the plants. And another note addressed to him.

”Jim, sometimes it’s not so much about happiness and everything to do with responsibility. He loves those boys, he respects those women... he loves you.”

Jim leaned heavily against the door frame as he read the note over and over again. He loved him. Blair loved him. That surprised him more than anything.

What didn’t surprise him was the understanding that he, Jim, loved Blair too.

o-O-o

December 8, 2008

It was a horrendous crash, flames and fire reaching to the stars. Screams from within went unanswered and finally died out as the car was engulfed in minutes. From a distance, face pale in the moonlight, Blair looked back at him and cried out, “JIM!”

He woke in a blind panic, his chest heaving and skin drenched in sweat. Gazing around the silent loft bedroom, his eyes caught sight of the clock. He read the time flashing red before him.

0700.

He had been up late covering a stakeout with his men. Finally finishing up the paperwork, he had come home only an hour before and had fallen into bed soon after striping himself of his clothing. Now he was wide awake and shivering as if someone had walked over his grave.

He divested himself of his soaking wet sheets and hurried down the stairs to his phone. He didn’t know why, but suddenly he needed to call, needed to hear his nephews’ voices. Needed to hear Blair.

The phone rang and rang. Finally, it was picked up by a rather frazzled Megan Conner.

“Hullo?”

“Conner, it’s Jim. Where’s Blair?”

A breathy sigh from across the line and then she was back, ”Look, Jimbo, I don’t have a lot of time right now. Blair and the boys are at the hospital now and I have to get over there right away.”

Hospital? Oh gods... “Conner, who’s in the hospital, what’s going on?”

”Gotta go, Jim. I’ll tell Blair you called. Oh hell, I hope they come out of this all right.” She was gone a moment later and Jim was left with the dial tone. Snarling, he clicked it off and dumped it to the couch before storming up the stairs to his room and his clothes. Blair was in trouble, something was wrong and his Guide needed him. And he was across the damn ocean!

o-O-o

December 13, 2008

It took too long, way too long in Jim’s opinion, for him to get the desk covered and get a flight out to Sydney. But finally he was there. When he arrived, he called Megan again and was told that she was in the middle of preparations for the funeral. Jim’s heart nearly stopped.

The man he spoke to, Megan’s partner on the job, told him where the funeral was being held and gave Jim directions. Jim promised he would be there on time. After finding a place to have his dark suit pressed, he arrived at the gravesite in time to join the mourners.

Many of the people Jim knew nothing about. He recognized Megan; all decked out in her formal dress uniform. She stood tall and proud to a slightly shorter man with dark, curly hair who was wearing a pressed suit. Beside them stood two little boys, one with wavy hair and the other with straight hair. Jim let out a barely audible sigh of relief. The priest finished with his part and the Honor Guard fired their rounds. From this distance Jim could see that there were two caskets side by side, covered with flags. The flags were removed, folded, and handed off to the boys.

Jim held himself still, watching the proceedings with very little interest. His entire focus was on the three souls standing still as stone against the wind as the family, friends and well-wishers began to filter through and pass on their condolences. Eventually only four people remained. Megan was the first to turn away and caught Jim’s gaze. He smiled faintly and lifted his chin slightly.

“Colin,” he whispered. The reaction was instantaneous. Colin turned and was in his arms on the fly. Liam, who had felt his brother turn, raced after and was caught in the other arm. Jim hugged them both, nuzzling his nose against their warm necks and holding them as they sniffled and sobbed. He slowly set them down to stand on either side of him as Blair approached.

He was older, leaner, with more gray at his temples than Jim had even thought he would see. But his eyes were still bright, made more so by the tears that he struggled to hold back. One whispered word slipped from his lips, “Jim.”

Jim opened his arms out to his partner, who fell into them and clutched at him as if he would vanish into thin air. Wrapping his arms around the shaking shoulders, Jim turned and led the way back to his rental. Megan followed behind and helped him get the kids in the car. When they were settled, Jim drove them to his hotel and they were soon settled on the plush, comfortable couch.

The boys had shed their coats, ties and shoes upon entering and were soon napping on one couch. Jim and Blair curled up on the other. Blair laid his head on Jim’s shoulder as he half sat in Jim’s lap, at the big man’s insistence. Eventually, Jim began the questions.

“How?” he knew he didn’t need to elaborate. From the moment that Blair had stepped into his arms, they had fallen into synch once again.

“Car Bomb. They were on the way back home late at night.” Blair snuggled deeper into Jim’s embrace.

“Why?”

“Drug Cartel. Darleen was on loan to Narcotics. Bad guys figured her out.”

“They get caught?” Jim asked. Blair was beginning to doze in his friend’s arms, so comfortable and comforted was he.

“Don’t know, don’t care. Wasn’t my case, and I want nothing to do with it. Megan is taking care of it; it won’t fall through the cracks.” Blair leaned back to look Jim in the eye. “Do you think I’m being cold-hearted because I don’t want in on this one?”

Jim shook his head, “You have more important things to work out.”

They fell silent after that. Jim held Blair, and watched over the boys. He could tell they were all exhausted. Finally, just as Jim thought that Blair had fallen asleep, a whispered sigh came to his ear. “I can’t stay here, Jim.”

Of course. That’s why he had been working so tirelessly ever since the night of the awards ceremony. Step by step, bit by bit, Jim had been preparing for this moment. Still, there were some things that Jim was uncertain of. “What about work?”

Blair shrugged, “My boys are more important to me. Besides, I have my doctorate now and I’d rather get back into teaching.”

Jim raised his brows in surprise and Blair chuckled as he explained, “I wrote my dissertation on closed societies using the Australian police force as the model. I had more than enough information, you remember?”

“Yeah, I do... I know that Edwards is no longer the Chancellor at Rainier, so it should be easier to get a job teaching there.” Jim smiled as he made plans. Blair chuckled lightly against his chest.

“Jim, you make it sound like I’m coming back to live with you. You don’t have the room, I have extras now.”

Jim stroked the shoulder length curls, remembering their texture and scent as he soothed the tense body in his arms. “You are coming home with me. You, the boys... I have more than enough room now. Wait til you see the library, and the bedrooms, and the kitchen... Oh and the garden your mom left upstairs. It’s all perfect.”

Sometime during this, Blair had fallen asleep. But Jim wasn’t upset. He would just wait until tomorrow, and tell Blair all about their new home. He would take his family back home; get the boys enrolled in school, get Blair set up as Professor Sandburg. He was being given a second chance.

He wasn’t going to make another mistake.

To be continued in Home For The Holidays.

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Acknowledgements: Thank you to Dorothy for her beta work. This is my version of a plot bunny that bit two people. Marnie and Me! Thank you to Patt for the cover art.