OK. Someone, (yeah, yeah, a couple of someones. You know who you are) :) wrote to me asking for more of Mable. Happy to comply. After all, if I'm going to use the 'should have become a plumber' story (true. And he was an explosives expert with the bomb squad), and create a family for Joel, the least I can do is give a little more background and not make it a one time thing. I don't think there are going to be any owies in this one, but then, I haven't gotten very far, yet. :) There is, as usual, no way of knowing where this is going. Oh, yeah. It's a sequel to "De-tec-a-tive' (Duh. That is where I introduced Mable, right? Oh, gee. I've started to lose track of what I've written. Oh, dear.) It's probably pretty smarmy, (the good kind. Not the Clinton kind) and, since it's nearly Valentine's Day, I suppose this would fit that criteria. Hmmmmm. Not planned, honest. Just turned out that way. I'm tired of working on 'Seminar' for the moment. It'll be done soon, though. No, really. It will. Just check my track record. I've been knocking out two to three of these per week for the past month. Yes. I've only been doing this for a month. Scary, isn't it? All the usual disclaimers apply. I don't own most of them. Mable, J. (Joel Jr.), and Cecilia are mine, however. If you want to use them, ask. Mable's pretty amenable to such things. But then, she is a lady. In the truest, old fashioned sense of the word. They don't make 'em like Mable much any more.



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It had been a nice, quiet day. So far. In fact, the entire week had been nice and quiet. Primarily because Ellison and Sandburg had been in court all week, testifying on a murder case. He sighed contentedly as he poured himself a fresh cup of coffee. He inhaled the aroma, then shook his head. His cousin may have thought he was doing him a favour by sending him all those fancy coffees, but they were all the same to him. Coffee is coffee. Shrugging, he returned to his desk to continue going over the stack of reports he was reviewing.

He didn't notice that anyone had entered the bullpen area until there was a knock at his door. He looked up. Not seeing anyone, he stood and crossed to the door, frowning. Upon opening it, he looked down in surprise.

"Mable! What brings you by? Is anything wrong?" Standing aside to let her and her wheel chair through the door.

"No, nothing's wrong. I was actually looking for Blair. I had an idea I wanted to run past him." She smiled up at the immensely tall captain.

"He and Ellison are in court all this week. I'm glad they haven't been coming in afterwards. I know how Jim gets." He smiled, "Is there anything I can help you with? Would you like some coffee?" He abruptly realized that this was the first time Mable Taggart had been to the station since the accident that had put her in the wheel chair.

"Well," She debated with herself for a moment. "Joel and I are coming up on our thirtieth anniversary. I was thinking of having a party, and wanted to ask Blair for his assistance, and I think I'll pass on the coffee, thank you."

Simon was startled. "Thirty years? You and Joel have been married thirty years?" It was inconceivable. He sat on the edge of his desk.

"We got married in college. Joel went into the Army at the end of the semester and was sent to Viet Nam. J. was born while he was away. For a while I was afraid he wouldn't be coming back. But he did." Her chin coming up in pride. She paused in her memories. "Cecilia was born in 1971, and Michael in 1973." She smiled remembering. "We've had a wonderful life together. I was still in and out of the hospital for our twenty-fifth, so I want to make this year special. I want all the guys to come." She looked up at her husband's friend and colleague.

"I suppose you want it to be a surprise?" Simon guessed.

She smiled smugly. "Of course. Joel loves surprise parties. After all that therapy, he deserves to have a good surprise party, don't you think?"

Simon laughed. "I didn't realize just how much I've missed you, Mable. You and that wicked sense of humour. What's the theme going to be? Other than thirty years together?"

"That's what I wanted to talk to Blair about. See if he has any ideas. Could you have him give me a call? I'm at home most of the time."

"Of course I'll have him call you. You know that you're welcome to visit here any time you would like, don't you?" Leaning toward her, reaching out to touch her hand.

She smiled up at him. "I know. Thank you. For making it easy for me to come here. It has been a long time."

"Too long. I hope this means you're going to start visiting more often?"

"You're just begging for some of my baking, Simon Banks. I remember you and your sweet tooth." Giggling like a school girl at his pretended horror that she would think such of him. Then he joined her in laughter.

"A man can hope, can't he?"

Loud voices could be heard from out by the elevators. Simon groaned, "Looks like I was wrong. Here they come now. Either they're through with testifying, or court was adjourned early." He smiled down at Mable again. "You get your wish."

Obviously Jim was in a foul mood. It was clear even from that distance that he was angry. Blair's soft, reconciliatory tones providing counterpoint to Jim's loud ire. The pair entered the nearly empty bullpen, both trying to talk over the other, hands gesticulating excitedly. When they arrived at Jim's desk, both men froze, mid sentence and gesture. Looking up at an amused Simon, standing, arms crossed in his 'who do you think you are and what do you think you're doing?' pose. More importantly, Mable Taggart was with him, sitting there with a smirk on her face.

"Oh, hi." Blair said, backing up slightly, putting Jim between him and the others in an unconscious gesture of self-preservation.

"Sorry, Simon. Mrs. Taggart." Holding down his anger. Remaining standing, whether out of deference and respect or belligerence, was debatable. Either way, his jaw was working overtime, again.

"Gentlemen." Simon replied. "Mable would like to have a little assistance from you both. I told her you would be thrilled to help her." Looking smug.

Jim scowled, but covered it by turning and glaring at Blair, who in turn looked up innocently at his partner. Mable had to work hard at not laughing at the two men.

"Thank you, Simon." She gave him an amused smile as he turned to go back into his office, being careful to close the door behind him, debating whether to lock it or not.

"What can we do for you, Mrs. Taggart?" Jim asked, sitting at his desk. Wondering why she had come to them, instead of her husband. Blair pulled up a chair as well. Letting Jim handle this. Still a little shy of her.

"Since when is it 'Mrs. Taggart'? You always called me Mable, before..."

Jim hung his head, "I'm sorry, Mable. I just..." he looked up at her with a somewhat guilty expression. Then she remembered her husband telling her that Jim had blamed himself for not being able to save Michael...

"It wasn't your fault, Jim. You saved me. For which we're both eternally grateful." Reaching out to touch his arm to give comfort. He looked deep into her eyes, reading the truth there.

"I was a pretty cold-hearted son of a bitch back then." Not asking the question he needed the answer to.

"You were hurting. I don't expect you to act like sweetness and light. You saved my life. That alone was above and beyond the call of duty. You didn't have to stop to help us. How many cars passed us while you waited for the paramedics? You kept me from bleeding to death. Joel and I will always be grateful for that." She reached out to him, taking one of his large hands in both of her delicate ones. Sighing, gathering her courage, "Michael was the one responsible. And me." Jim's head shot up, mouth opening to protest, she shook her head to deny his protest. "Yes. I was partly responsible. I knew how he was about drugs. We did everything we could to help him. But. You can't force someone to stop self destructive behavior. Not without locking them away somewhere. I suppose if he had lived, that would have been our next step. Not one we had been willing to take. In which case, the accident was Joel's and my fault. No matter what, you certainly had no responsibility for what happened. You were the hero." She squeezed the hand she was still holding. "I know I've never said it, but, thank you." There were tears in her eyes.

Jim went to his knees before her. Reaching up to embrace her. Burying his head on her shoulder. She hugged him back, letting the tears fall. Clinging tightly to the man who had selflessly stopped to help at an accident.

"Thank you." He whispered in her ear.

Blair remained quietly in the background through their healing. Smiling softly to himself. Happy to see them reach out to one another, knowing how Jim had blamed himself. Knowing that Jim had had no part in the accident, only the aftermath thereof.

When the pair regained control and Jim had returned to his chair, wiping his own eyes as Mable dabbed at her own. Blair, acting as though nothing unusual had happened. Asked: "What did you want our help with, Mrs. Taggart?"

She glared at him. "It's Mable." Then softening, "Our thirtieth wedding anniversary is coming up, and I want to have a surprise party for Joel. I was hoping you could give me some ideas for it?"

Blair grinned and started bouncing excitedly. "Do you want a theme, other than the thirty year thing?" Wow. Joel had been married longer than Blair had been alive. The concept was mind boggling for the young anthropologist.

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I want everyone there. I just don't know quite what to do. It's been a very long time since I threw a party." At the two men's tensing to protest, "I'm not counting Joel's coming home party. You two put that together. That's why I thought I'd enlist your help for this." She waited.

Jim and Blair exchanged looks. Jim shrugged. Blair turned back to Mable. "Sure. We can do that. Where do you want to have the party?"

Blair was in his element. Setting up the decorations while Jim and Simon kept Joel away from home. Mable had enlisted the help of her children. Blair was surprised to discover he was the same age as their oldest son, Joel Junior, 'J.' to the family. Mable had told him that they had decided to not call their son 'junior', as it was a name that stuck to one for life, and they didn't want that for their son. Good thing, too. The man stood nearly seven feet tall, and was built like an offensive lineman, easily three hundred and twenty pounds of solid muscle. Blair felt like he only came up to the man's belt buckle. Yet, in spite of his size, or perhaps because of it, J Taggart was a soft-spoken, gentle man. Very much like his father. He had gone to college on a sports scholarship and was now doing his residency at a large Midwest hospital, he still hadn't decided on his specialty. He was drawn to the ER, as that was where his dad usually ended up, but he was torn between that, orthopedics and pediatrics.

"So, why don't you specialize in pediatric orthopedics?" Blair asked.

J grinned, looking just like his dad when he did. "I thought of that. I don't want to be too specialized." He glanced toward his mother, who was sorting decorations with her daughter, "I'd like to help find a cure for spinal cord injuries." Looking Blair in the eye. "Your partner did a fine job of keeping Mom alive. We'll always be grateful for that." A flash of pain crossed his eyes, "He did everything right. Her spinal cord was crushed in the initial impact. She lost her spleen and one kidney, as well. We're lucky to still have her." He didn't mention his brother. Blair reached out and touched J's arm.

"You might want to tell Jim that. He thought her being in the wheel chair was his fault."

J looked surprised. "Oh, no. That's not right. Why'd he think that?"

"I think it's because he has the overwhelming urge to save the world, and he couldn't fix everything." Blair explained.

"He's not God. Only He can do that. The rest of us mere mortals just have to do the best we can. That's all anyone can ask."

Blair found himself liking this younger Taggart. They had a great deal in common. They were all having a wonderful time putting up the decorations. Mable and Cecilia had gone into the kitchen to work on the food. A short while later, Cecilia came back out with a tray of sandwiches for the workers.

"J? Blair? Lunch." Her voice soft and melodious. She was Blair's height, slender and willowy, like her mom. The two men stopped what they were doing and joined her at the dining room table.

"Oh, man. This is great. I have got to have this recipe." Blair enthused. "I have never been able to make chopped liver this good. Oh, man. I bet even Jim would like this." Relishing every bite. J and Cecilia smiled at him.

"Yeah. Mom can really cook." Cecilia said. Glancing toward the kitchen, she confided: "This is the most she's cooked since before the accident." A sad look flashed across her eyes. Then she brightened, smiling at Blair. "Thank you for helping her. I don't think we'd be doing anything special for their anniversary if you hadn't agreed to help her out." Smiling shyly into Blair's eyes.

Blair grinned back at her. "Glad to help. I love parties. I hope Jim and Simon are having fun keeping him away."

"Come on, guys. Why drag me along on this?" Joel protested. His legs were starting to ache from all the hiking through the mall. "What are we looking for, anyway?"

"A present for Sandburg." Jim replied. "He's been kinda under the weather, lately, so I thought I'd buy him a present. Then I thought it would mean more if we all pitched in to pick it out." That was such a lame excuse for a reason, that he hoped Joel didn't just stop and insist on going home. He could see that they were overdoing it. Joel was showing definite signs of distress. He'd only been back to work for a little less that a month and was still going for physical therapy three times a week. They were still working through the fact that he was still alive, after having a bomb bring a four story building down on his back.

"Look, I gotta sit down for a while. How about we stop for coffee?" Joel hated the residual weakness from the explosion. They hadn't even caught the person responsible for the bombing. Fortunately, there had been no further incidents. Jim and Simon agreed, finding a nearby coffee shop and going in and sitting down to drink their beverages.

"Why don't you just buy him some new notebooks, or something?" Joel asked. "You know, something that will help him with his school work?" Anything that will let me go home soon. He'd begun to perspire from the stress and exertion. They chatted about the goings on at the station, recent cases, personnel, and other related topics for nearly an hour. Finally, Joel stood up, ready to continue, "OK. Let's go. You decided what to get the kid yet, Jim?"

"No. Maybe something silly? Like a gag gift?" Jim suggested. They were wandering down the centre of the mall, when Joel suddenly stopped. The others turned to him, concerned.

"What's wrong, Joel?" Simon asked, concerned.

"I'll be right back. I just saw something." He crossed over to a jewelry store. Apparently mesmerized by something he had seen in the store window. Jim and Simon exchanged puzzled looks, then turned to follow their friend.

He stood for a couple of minutes, gazing in the window of the store. Jim traced Joel's line of sight and discovered the older man was looking at a beautiful pendant. It was made of gold, with a cloisonne design in a strongly African pattern.

"It's beautiful." Jim murmured. Touching his friend's shoulder.

"Oh, yeah. So's the price." The tag was visible. $4,500.00. Simon whistled.

"Ouch. Pretty, though." They nodded. Jim suddenly thought of something, "Uh, will you excuse me for a minute? I need to...."

"Go ahead." Simon waved him off, staying with Joel.

Jim moved away, far enough to not be heard by the others. He pulled out his cell phone and called Blair.


"Blair. I need some information."

"Jim? Sure. What do you need?"

"I need a good place to find African artifacts, like jewelry. Gold, if possible, but not at mall prices."

Blair was confused. "Uh, why?"

"Joel spotted this beautiful pendant at one of the jewelry stores, its got that enamel stuff on it? What's it called, clois-something. It's African in design, but probably not authentic. The price is astronomical. I figured you'd know a place to find that sort of thing, only real. So. Where do we go?"

"You still didn't say why." Stalling for time while he tried to think of a store to send them to.

"Joel is looking for something for Mable. That isn't what we're supposed to be doing, but it's what happened. He hasn't forgotten his anniversary, just hasn't found the right gift. C'mon, Chief. Help me out here."

"Oh. OK. Go to........."

Jim sauntered back to the others. Joel was shaking his head. "It's beautiful. Mable would love it, but it's just too much money. I buy that for her and she'll kill me." He said, sadly.

"I just thought of where to find something for Blair. It's one of those little out of the way import shops, down by the docks. They've often got some interesting artifacts for sale. I can find something there, I'm sure." He gave Simon a look to tell him to play along.

"Sure, Jim. Let's go. I've had just about enough of this crazy place." They got Joel moving.

The little import shop was rather dark, with a mysterious atmosphere, almost giving the feeling that Peter Lorre, or Sydney Greenstreet might pop out of the walls at any moment.

The Chinese proprietor was quite old, looking to be over a hundred. He had a thick accent and was difficult to understand, until one realized he was giggling as he spoke. Jim asked to see any artifacts he might have in stock from South America, specifically, Peru. The old man nodded sagely.

"You come. I show." Jim wondered how much of the man's pidgin English was an act. He led them over to a case in the back of the store, there was a bright, fluorescent light over the counter, making it the brightest spot in the store. The old man brought out a tray of Jade figurines.

"Some old. Some new. This, this, this. Very old. This one, Peru." He had separated three figurines from the rest. The one he picked out as being old and from Peru, made Jim step back in awe.

"Jim?" Simon started, when he saw the figurine. "Oh, my..."

"What is...Oh." As Joel also saw the Jade piece. "Wow."

The figurine was nearly eight inches in height. It was two men, standing back-to-back. One, nearly a head taller than the other, with features remarkably similar to Jim Ellison's, holding a spear. The other man had long hair and bore a striking resemblance to Blair. He held a pouch with intricate carvings on it. Curled around their feet was a Jaguar.

Jim's hands started trembling. He hesitantly picked up the piece to examine it. It was beautiful. Almost as though he and Blair had posed for it. It was well worn, with minute scratches on it.

"How old is this piece?" He asked. Gingerly setting it down. Awe-struck.

"Very old. Have provenance." The old man turned to a cabinet behind him, opening a drawer and pulling out a piece of paper. He turned and handed it to Jim.

The paper was obviously very old. He looked curiously at it. When he read the signature, he nearly dropped it.

"Oh. My. God." Joel and Simon looked at the paper held in Jim's trembling hands. Joel was the first to recover the power of speech.

"The Sentinel. Isn't Sir Richard Burton that guy that Blair got most of his ideas from?" Looking up at his shocked friend, who numbly nodded. "That makes this piece at least a hundred years old, right?"

Jim nodded again. Looking up at the elderly Chinese man he asked, "How much?"

The old man seemed sad. "Very expensive. I have long time. Nobody want pay what I pay for it."

"How much?"

The old man sighed. Certain that when this man heard the price he would leave. Like so many others. He did not make a lot of money on his artifacts, just enough mark up to survive.

"$1,200.00" He stated. Of that price, his mark up was a mere $200.00. He knew that many people doubled and even tripled their cost on items, but he did not feel that was right. He would rather make a small profit and make people happy than move to one of the malls and have to deal with all the modern things.

"Can I put it on a credit card? Or would you prefer a check?"

The old man blinked up at the tall, muscular, man in surprise. "A check is fine." He replied. Watching Jim pull out his checkbook and write out the check.

Jim noticed that the old man's accent and pidgin English had disappeared when he answered Jim's last question. He handed the check to the old man, showing his ID, as well.

Simon had been looking in the case, while Jim made his purchase. There, in the bottom of the case. He reached behind Jim to grasp Joel's arm. When he had his attention, he pointed. There in the case, was a pendant very similar to the one they had seen at the mall. This one looked older, more worn, of course, but...

"Thank you." Jim said to the proprietor when he took possession of his package. He looked at the others, a bemused expression still on his face. "Blair is going to go nuts over this one." He grinned. He noticed Joel's attention focused on the display case. He caught Simon's eye and nodded.

"Could we see those African pieces on the bottom, please?" Joel asked. The old man put the jade pieces away and pulled out the tray from the bottom.

"Most not very old. Only fifty to one hundred years. Real Gold. Not valuable otherwise. Very nice. You like?" Setting the tray in front of Joel to examine the contents.

He immediately picked up the pendant. It was heavy, made of solid gold, with inlays of lapis, onyx, tiger-eye, malachite, and mother of pearl. It displayed a woman standing with her children around her. It was beautiful. There was also fine filigree work of silver and copper worked around the inlaid picture. The detail was astounding in a piece a mere four and a half inches in diameter.

"How much is this?" Joel whispered. It was far more beautiful than the one in the mall.

The old man picked up the piece. Looked at it closely, then turned with it to weigh it on his scales, behind the counter. It was a massive five and a quarter ounces. The old man turned back, sighing.

"Very heavy. Five ounces gold. $2,000.00." He was only asking the gold price on the piece. Joel pulled out his check book.

"Sold. Mable will love that." It didn't hurt that it was less than half the price of the lesser quality one in the mall store.

The old man was amazed. Here had come three strangers to his shop, and he had made as much from these two customers as he had the entire previous week. A most wondrous occurrence, indeed.

"How you find my shop, please?" Curious.

"Blair Sandburg. He said you had good stuff. He never mentioned this statue, though." Jim replied, his own curiosity piqued.

"Ah. Mr. Sandburg. Very good boy. Buy many pieces from me. He not see statue. Is recent acquisition. I get from estate sale. In Los Angeles. Many good things." He took Joel's check and wrapped up the pendant in tissue paper. Then he took a small African lacquered box and placed the package in the box, handing it to Joel. "You give wife. She like very much." He assured the surprised Joel.

He then escorted the three men from the shop. When they were gone, he closed and locked up for the rest of the day. Smiling happily to himself, he went upstairs to his apartment. He had been around a long time. He smiled broadly as he sat at his desk to write in his journal. He was never happier than when the right person made the right purchase. It made life worth living. He chuckled to himself. Glad that the big policeman who had purchased the statue knew the boy Blair. He knew the statue was for the nice boy. He had planned on showing the statue to Blair when he came in next, even though he knew that the young man would never be able to afford it. This way, he didn't have to find a way to join the two of them together. This man would do it for him. He stifled his curiosity about the odd fact that the policeman resembled the Sentinel as depicted in the carving. It was none of his business. His job was to try to steer people into making the right purchase. Like the other policeman. He and his wife would be very happy with the pendant, for that was the nature of that particular item.

Joel was ecstatic. He had found the perfect gift for his beloved on their anniversary. He really hadn't wanted to go out today, but knew that it would be the only chance he'd have to find the right gift for his Mable. This made it all worth while.

Joel dozed on their way back to his house. Jim and Simon sat in companionable silence. Pulling up at the Taggart home, they noticed that the only vehicle in evidence was Blair's Volvo and Mable's van. They exchanged sly grins before waking Joel.

"They're here!" Blair hissed to the gathered crowd. They all ran into the parlor to hide. When the three new arrivals came in, they hung their coats in the closet and Joel called out to his wife, "Mable? Blair? We're back." Wandering toward the kitchen. Jim and Simon glanced toward the parlor, where Blair was whispering that they could come in whenever they wanted to, they were ready for them.

"Hey, Joel?" Simon asked, "There's a light on in the parlor, maybe that's where they are."

Joel came over and led the way over to the indicated room. As soon as the door opened, the crowd inside shouted "Surprise" and "Happy Anniversary". Joel just stood there, dumfounded. Then a delighted grin crossed his face. Searching the crowd of his colleagues, neighbors and friends, he spotted his Mable in the far corner. As he approached her, he suddenly realized that his children were with her. As he arrived by his family, he reached out and tenderly touched the faces of his son and daughter, never taking his eyes from his wife. He knelt before her and drew her close in a hug.

"I love you so much, baby." He murmured into her ear. Holding her tightly. Pulling back, he pulled his purchase from his pocket. "I found something for you, baby." Shyly holding out the lovely lacquered box.

She looked at it in surprise, then opened it. Removing the wrappings, she just stared in shock at the magnificent piece of jewelry. She raised tear filled eyes to her husband.

"Oh, Joel. Sweetheart, this is magnificent. This is wonderful." She leaned forward and threw her arms around her husband, while the crowd cheered.

It was a great party. Joel had proudly introduced his children to his colleagues and neighbors. The theme had made everyone laugh. Blair had outdone himself. He had decorated the room to look like a fancy jail cell, with the words 'Prisoner of Love' on a banner above the French doors. The party spilled out onto the back lawn, where the theme had been continued, decorating the area to look like an exercise yard. Joel had laughed. Some of the equipment Blair had used as decorations was his therapy gear. This was a much more fun use of the various weights and mobility machines.

As was typical of all of the historical Taggart parties, this one didn't end until well after midnight. Once again, after the guests had left, there was the three-man cleanup crew. This time Jim had taken care of the leftovers, while J, Cecilia, Blair, and Simon carried in the dishes and picked up the trash.

"OK. Here are all the leftovers, You're going to have to have another party just to use up all this stuff." He joked. "I put the vegetables in plastic bags in the crisper. The cheese I wrapped in plastic and put in the dairy drawer; the vegetables are in the violet containers, the..." He looked up, confused.

Blair, Simon, Mable, and Joel were laughing, hysterically. The two younger Taggarts were watching in bemused confusion.

"You color code leftovers?" J asked.

"Yeah. Why? What?..." He couldn't figure out why everyone was laughing. "What's wrong with color coding? Wha-at?! He demanded of the group of hysterically laughing people. Blair suddenly sat down on the ground, tears streaming down his face.

"Oh, man." Blair giggled weakly. "Jim, please stop. I...I...I'm going to ... have an accident here if you're not careful." Trying his best to stop, but not being able to.

The confused Jim finally shrugged in disgust and carried the leftovers into the kitchen and put them away, not understanding what everyone found so amusing about color coding leftovers. Shaking his head in confusion.

"Oh. Man. I'm sorry, I couldn't help it. I know it's just the way Jim is, but I find the color coding to be a little much." Blair finally managed to gasp out.

Mable had been laughing with the rest of them. Then she realized that Jim really didn't have a clue as to why they were laughing. Afraid they might have hurt his feelings, she left the others to check on him. She found him in the kitchen, filling the sink with hot soapy water to wash the dishes. The expression on his face made him look like a lost child. She positioned herself so that he had to move around her to do anything.

"Jim?" He looked at her, puzzled. She reached up to take his hand and led him to the kitchen table, urging him to sit down. When he had, she attempted to explain, "Jim. Most people don't color code things. They just find the correct size container and don't even notice what color it may be. I realize that color coding helps you to keep from accidentally grabbing something of Blair's that you generally don't even think of wanting to eat. That makes sense. Color coding leftovers from a party is good, as well. I certainly don't mind. But 'v is for violet is for vegetables', is going a bit beyond, if you follow my meaning. Even if that wasn't what you were thinking, it made us laugh." She watched his eyes. She could see the wheels turning, trying to comprehend. It took nearly a minute, but then the corners of his lips quirked up in an understanding grin.

"OK. I know. Anal retentive, house rules, the whole thing." He sighed. "You should see Sandburg's room. Most of the time it looks like a tornado went through it. The house rules were my way of trying to keep some semblance of order." The smile became rueful. "I admit I need order. In that way I'll admit that living alone would be easier. I'd always have full control," He looked up at her. A tightness in his eyes.

"But?" She prompted.

"But. It would be terribly lonely. All alone. Without Blair around." He didn't know how to explain without sounding improper.

"He's your best friend. You haven't had one of those before, have you?"

He shook his head, "No. No I haven't. I've had friends, sure, colleagues, partners, even. Nothing like this." His eyes pleading with her to understand.

She smiled. "I was very lucky." She said. "I have the same best friend now that I had in high school. We talk every day, discuss anything and everything." She smiled at the younger man before her. "I'm especially lucky in that I married him. Joel and I were friends long before we were lovers. I've watched the two of you together. You're friends, brothers, sometimes parent and child, and those rolls change. You're closer than most lovers, but somehow I don't think it's sexual, it's something beyond that, isn't it?" Pressing, just a little. Curious about what had brought the two men together.

Jim looked closely at her, wondering how Joel had managed to find such a beautiful and intelligent woman, how they had made their marriage work so well for thirty years.

"Wait here." He stood and went into the front room, to the closet where he removed his purchase from his coat pocket. Returning to the kitchen. Opening the parcel. Setting the statue on the table before her. Sitting back down, waiting.

She stared at the Jade carving. The detail was exceptionally fine. Then she realized who the carving looked like. She looked up at Jim. Trying to read his eyes. Unable to. She reached over and picked up the piece of jade.

"Wherever did you find this?" Turning it, noticing that up close, the resemblance was even more noticeable. Looking at Jim for an explanation.

"Look at this." He held out the aged paper. She had a little trouble deciphering the handwriting, but she did find the title of the piece.

"The Sentinel and his Guides." Looking up at Jim. "What does it mean?" Jim shook his head.

"I don't know. I'm going to give that to Blair. For his research." Turning to look out the kitchen door as the others came in. Seeing Blair looking at them, worriedly.

Jim was in a quandary. He wouldn't mind taking Mable into their confidence, knowing how Joel hated keeping secrets from his wife, but he didn't know the younger Taggarts well enough to trust them. He needn't have worried.

"J, Cecilia, you've both been up since yesterday. Why don't you go to bed before you fall down?" It was said gently, but there would be no arguing with their mom, and they both knew it.

"OK, Mom. We'll be good." Cecilia replied for them both with a giggle. Turning and pushing her brother before her toward the stairs. While they waited for the sounds of their children to quieten, Mable made some coffee. Jim had picked up the jade carving and the papers with and was holding them under the table so that Blair wouldn't see them. Blair started in with washing the dishes. Simon and Joel were watching Jim, knowing something was up.

When the last of the dishes had been washed, dried and put away, the five of them sat at the kitchen table over coffee. Jim looked at Blair.

"We went to that shop you told us about."

"Cool. Isn't it great? Mr. Sing was helpful?" Knowing that Joel had purchased the pendant there.

"Yes. Very. I found something for you." He pulled out the jade carving, setting it carefully on the table in front of Blair, who just sat and stared at it in shock.

"Chief? Don't forget to breathe." Blair gasped. Staring from the carving to Jim to Joel to Simon to Mable and back to Jim.

"Oh, man. I... Oh, man!" He was trembling with excitement. "Jim. It looks like us! It even has your spirit guide and everything. Oh!" Suddenly realizing that Mable wasn't part of the group that knew about Jim's abilities. Even Simon stiffened in surprise, a worried look on his face. Only Joel showed any equanimity. Somehow he knew that Jim had decided to trust his Mable. He gave Ellison a grateful look. Jim smiled in return, somehow understanding Joel's reluctance to keep anything from his wife.

"It's OK, Chief. It isn't fair to try to force Joel to keep a secret from Mable. This way, we don't have to worry about him talking in his sleep." He grinned. Somehow, his family seemed to be growing, little by little. He liked the thought of having more people he could trust. Just as long as he had the control over who knew.

Blair picked up the jade to examine more closely, pulling his glasses from his pocket. "Jim. It's us. How?" Looking up at his friend, confused, frightened. Jim handed him the provenance. Blair looked at it and jumped in shock.

"That's Sir Richard Burton's handwriting!" Carefully setting the statuette down and grabbing the papers. He read them through, stopping at the signature at the bottom. "Oh, man." There was another piece of paper authenticating the monograph as being written by Burton. "Oh, man." Blair slumped in his chair, unable to function over the enormity of the shock. Finally, he looked up to the concerned people watching him. "I'm sorry. I...I..." He shook his head in wonder.

"Write this day down, people." Simon declared. "Sandburg's at a loss for words." Chuckling.

"You don't understand, Simon. That's us. This piece of jade was carved nearly a thousand years ago. Yet it looks like Jim and me. This is awesome. I'm having a little trouble processing it." He shook his head. "It's authentic. It's even titled 'Sentinel and guides' plural on the guides. The human one," Reaching out to touch his own likeness, "and the spirit one" Letting his finger slide down to stroke the image of the jaguar. "Oh, man. This is just too much." Shaking his head again. "If this is a dream, don't wake me up." He again tentatively ran his hands over the carving. Lost in the craftsmanship that had gone into its creation.

Mable finally broke the silence. "Isn't a sentinel like a guard?" She asked, curiously.

Blair nodded. "In the dictionary. In Burton's works, it refers to a member of the tribe who has enhanced senses to help protect the tribe, find food, know where to look in times of danger, stuff like that."

"Enhanced senses?" She looked at her husband, who returned her glare with a gentle smile. "Like finding a man buried under tons of collapsed building?" Very softly, almost accusing. Joel nodded, glancing at Jim. Mable looked at the indicated person, thinking. "Knowing when Simon was coming down the street bringing Joel home from the hospital?" Jim nodded. "Digging him out of the rubble without crushing him?" Another nod. "Have you always been like this?"

Jim shook his head. "No. It happened the first time when I was in Peru. That's why I was so surprised by this carving. It's over a thousand years old, it's from Peru. It looks like us." He shrugged. "I can't explain it. That's Blair's department."

Blair wasn't going to be explaining anything for a while. At least not about the statue. First, he had to explain everything to Mable. She took it with a calm that surprised Blair. Simon tried to explain, "She's raised a family, has Joel for a husband, and you wonder why Jim and his senses aren't freaking her out?" Simon shook his head and smiled. "It would take a lot more than this to freak out this lady."

Joel smiled. Holding his wife's hand. "Look. It's late. We can all talk about this later. I, for one, am exhausted." He stood. "Why don't you play with your new toy over the weekend, Blair? Maybe talk to Mr. Sing about it? He might know more, you know. I plan on spending this weekend with my family." He smiled proudly down at his wife. "The kids haven't been home in a few years, and I want to do some heavy duty bonding this weekend."

He escorted his friends to the door, wishing them good night and thanking them for the wonderful surprise.

Later, in bed, Mable pounced on him. "How long have you known?" Just a little miffed. In thirty years, they had never had any secrets from each other.

"I found out just after I started therapy." Holding her close. Knowing that answer wasn't enough. "When I was trapped? I heard them talking. Blair was trying to get Jim to listen for my heartbeat. He couldn't concentrate hard enough, so he used his sense of smell, tracked my by the cigars. I thought I was dreaming. Then, in the hospital, I heard them talking about why Jim had trouble focusing his hearing. I kept telling myself that it was a dream, or wishful thinking. Then, when they were helping with the therapy, something brought it all back. I just had to ask them. They decided they could trust me. Simon's known almost from the beginning. I'm surprised I didn't figure it out sooner. It was just so fantastic, I discounted all the clues. Now, Jim's decided he can trust you. I'm glad. I hated not being able to talk to you about it." Nuzzling at her throat, hands stroking and fondling.

"Jim has never trusted people much." She murmured softly, "I should take his confidence in my discretion as an honour." She smiled. "Now I understand how Blair managed to help him change so much. He's never had anyone he could trust that much, before."

"Mmm-hmm" Joel mumbled in agreement, falling asleep.

Mable considered waking him up, but decided that he'd had a hard enough day. Snuggling close, she, too, went to sleep.

Blair couldn't hold still. He was so excited about the jade carving. He desperately wanted to start work on finding other documentation for the piece. Try to trace its origins. When they got back to the loft, Jim insisted that the thing would still be waiting for him in the morning. It took threats, but Blair did go to bed, not planning to go to sleep, at least, not until his head hit the pillow.

OK. I know. This is not the end. We need to find out the meaning of the jade carving. I may or may not continue this line. I can picture the piece. Blame Wolfpup for the design. I was reading the Arkadas earlier this week. Sigh. Maybe I should stop writing for a while and dig out the clay (oops. sorry about that) and sculpt this thing. Of course, I'll have to make it bigger than eight inches. Maybe twelve? Hmmm. I'll have to see.

I think I need a party. This is two in a row with parties and cuddling. Hmmmm. Maybe I just need a cuddle. Hmmmmm. R.I.Eaton

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