OK, two down and eight to go. And it's only Monday morning, still. I may even beat Wolfie's request of ten. Providing, of course, my imagination can keep coming up with these. :) Well, which one next? Oh, yes. Karen wanted to hear Blair sing. And Gabrielle wants to see Blair and Cecilia. This should work. I hope. I just wish I knew what was going to happen next. Let's see, shall we? Oh, by the way, The usual disclaimers apply. The only characters I own are Mable and Cecilia. The rest belong to their creators and various corporations. I will make no money at this. Please don't sue me. Thank you.

Church Picnic


Jim looked in puzzlement at the lilac envelope on his desk. It was addressed to both him and Sandburg. Picking it up, he looked around the bullpen, curious. The envelope was velum, high quality. Some sort of formal invitation, perhaps? He set it aside to await his partner, who wasn't due until after lunch.

His morning was spent with the DA's representative, who seemed to have taken an instant dislike to him. Nothing he said seemed to satisfy the man. Exasperated, he finally asked.

"What is your problem? The evidence is right there in front of you. Every single piece is documented, with a paper trail a mile long. What more do you want?" He managed to not raise his voice in his annoyance.

The prosecutor stared at him blankly. "I don't know what you're talking about." His pale, almost colourless grey eyes attempting to bore a hole through him.

"Fine. Then I can take it that you don't need anything more from me?"

The man looked down at his files and notes. He'd made the detective repeat his testimony four times. It hadn't changed one iota, no matter how he had phrased the questions. He'd be a good witness. Secretly, he was pleased. He was new, here, and wasn't looking forward to his first case. The evidence was tricky, but manageable. It would all hinge on this man's testimony. He was unshakable. He smiled, offering a modicum of friendliness.

"Yes. You may go, now. Thank you for coming."

Jim stiffened, nearly making a comment, but managed to hold back. He started for the door, when: "Oh, I have another witness, whom I've been unable to contact. Would you happen to know a ... Blair Sandburg?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"I need to talk to him. About his testimony."


"Because I want to know how he will answer the questions."

"You plan on going over the same ground four times?"

"Or more, if necessary."

Jim considered the proposition. The idea of forcing Sandburg to go through what he had gone through brought out his protective instincts. But, then again, Blair might just decide to do a number on this pompous, self-aggrandizing, arrogant and pretentious, lawyer. He shrugged.

"It's your time to waste. I don't know if he has that much time, but I can ask. He'll have his secretary call you, I'm sure."

The prosecutor blinked at him in surprise. "I was under the impression that he was a student...?" Checking his information.

"Among other things." Was Jim's cryptic reply. "I'll let him know you want to see him." He turned and left, before the lawyer could come up with anything else.

Blair was sitting at Jim's desk, updating his reports, when Jim finally got back to the office. He watched as his partner's fingers flew over the keys; the concentration that allowed him to filter out all the extraneous sights and sounds around him. He smiled when Blair suddenly stopped what he was doing and looked around, his face lighting up when he spotted his partner.

"Hey, Chief. Everything under control?"

"Sure, Jim. I got the web-page updated, and I've been working on your reports. I'll probably have them all updated in about an hour, unless you need me to go with you?"

"Nothing on the list at the moment, Chief. I've been at the DA's all morning. They have a new guy and he likes to go over testimony until you've got all the questions memorized. Not to mention the answers. Four times. I got pretty tired of it."

"Ouch. I can imagine. Uh, you had lunch yet?" Just a touch of hopefulness in his voice.

"No. Haven't had time. Where did you have in mind?"

"Uh..." He thought about how much money he had in his wallet. "How about the hot dog stand?"

Jim looked at him in surprise, knowing how much Blair preferred healthy food to junk. Realizing that it was near the end of the month and that Blair had to be about out of cash.

"How about that Salad Bar place that just opened up down the street? My treat."

He was rewarded by Blair's sudden happy expression. "You sure, man? I mean, you're not all that big on salads, I know..."

"Nah. After that pompous lawyer, I'm in the mood for something light that won't upset my stomach."

"Ouch. That bad, was it?"

"Worse. Oh, yeah. You need to get your secretary to give him a call and set up a meeting so he can grill you on what you'll say in court. When you do, I'd really appreciate it if you could jerk him around some. The guy's a real pain."

"Wouldn't believe you even with the evidence in his hands, huh?"

"Something like that."

"Uh, Jim? I don't have a secretary."

"We'll find you one. Maybe Rhonda would be willing to help us out." He handed Blair his jacket and led the way out.

Jim was pleasantly surprised by the variety of things available at the salad restaurant. He of course stocked up on the various protein items available. Blair was impressed with just how much the bigger man could pack away.

"So, how do you like it?" Blair finally asked.

"Pretty good, Chief. I guess I really was craving vegetables. Maybe stir fry for dinner tonight?" He asked.

"Man, how can you do that?" Blair asked.

"Do what?"

"Talk about dinner when you just finished eating lunch? I mean, man. The last thing on my mind right now is food."

"Oh. Just thinking ahead, Chief." Jim paid the bill and they walked back to the station.

Back at Jim's desk, Blair finished up inputting the last of Jim's reports, printed them and had Jim sign them before taking them to Simon's in basket on Rhonda's desk. He hesitated before he asked.

"Uh, Rhonda? Could I get you to do me a little favour?" Very hesitant.

"Depends on what it is. Is it legal?"

"Of course." Surprised that she'd ask.

"Well, that's no fun." Teasing.

Blair blushed. "Oh, uh, well, it may be a bit, well, unethical, maybe."

"Ooh, sounds interesting. What do you need?" Clasping her hands over her desk blotter and leaning forward on her elbows.

"Well, that new prosecutor in the DA's office? He really raked Jim over the coals this morning, and he wants to see me. Jim told him that he'd tell me and I could have my secretary give him a call. Thing is..."

"You don't have a secretary."

"Uh, right." He fidgeted.

"Do you have his number?" Rhonda asked, with a smile.

"Uh, oh, yeah. Uh, here." Pulling out the business card Jim had given him.

Rhonda picked up the phone and dialed.

"Mr. Lawrence, Please." She spoke very precisely, like some of the long time secretaries of the most tenured professors at the university. Blair had to stifle a giggle.

"Mr. Lawrence? This is Professor Sandburg's secretary. I understand that you wish to make an appointment with him?" She listened, giving Blair a conspiratorial wink. "Yes, that is correct. Blair Sandburg. Oh, dear. Let me check his schedule. He is quite busy, this semester." She wrote down a date and time, Blair took one look at it and shook his head, mouthing the word "Class". She nodded.

"I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Lawrence, but he has a class at that time." Her tone informing all and sundry that she wasn't really very sorry at all. "Perhaps...Will you hold for a moment please? I'll bring up his schedule and suggest a time." She put him on hold without allowing him to answer. Turning to Blair with a smirk.

"Now, when is a good time for you?" She asked.

"Well, the trial starts on Monday, so, uh. Well, my school workload is lightest on Fridays, so I guess, Friday? Unless I'm helping Jim."

Rhonda knew that there was something odd about Blair and his relationship both with Jim Ellison, specifically, and the department in general. But he had turned the coldest, most unfeeling person she'd ever had the displeasure of working with into a warm, almost friendly, human being, whose arrest and conviction rate had gone from good to the best in the state, if not the entire Western United States.

"Friday it is. Shall we say....ten o'clock? And of course you have an eleven-thirty luncheon you can't possibly miss." Giving him a mischievous grin. "That way, he won't have you grinding your teeth down like Jim was this morning. The guy had him for more than four hours."

"Ouch. No wonder he wanted salad for lunch. His jaw's probably hurting."

They both laughed. When they managed to stop, Rhonda took the lawyer off of hold.

"I'm terribly sorry, but Professor Sandburg is only free during the day on Friday, from ten to eleven-thirty, would that suffice?" She had to pull the phone from her ear when the man on the other end started shouting. She grimaced at Blair and gave a disgusted look at the phone. When there was silence from the lawyer, she again picked up the handset.

In her frostiest voice, she spoke. "I am sorry, sir. But I do not have to take that kind of language. If that time is not satisfactory, I am sure I can squeeze you in between his classes if you would care to come down..." She had obviously been interrupted. Her anger was causing her to blush.

"Sir! If you persist in speaking to me in this manner I shall be forced to speak to your supervisor." She suddenly went very pale, and gently hung up the phone. Shaking in rage. She looked up at an utterly forlorn looking Blair Sandburg.

"Ooh. I am not going to allow him to talk to me like that. How dare he?" She picked the phone back up and dialed a number. "Bert? Hi, it's Rhonda. Uh huh." Her voice almost flirtatious. "Look, Bert, I just called that new guy of yours, Lawrence? He's a real schmuck. He cussed me out on the phone. Twice." She winked at Blair. "Uh huh. I was doing a friend a favour and trying to make an appointment with that creep. He was the one who requested the meeting, and he got belligerent when I told him that the only time my friend had available was from ten to eleven-thirty on Friday." She listened for a moment. "No. That is not the case." She listened some more. "Look, Bert. That jerk kept Ellison in there going over that case for more than four hours. ... Ellison. ... Uh huh. That Ellison. He was very good. He didn't kill him. He didn't even hit him or raise his voice to him. After going over the case four times. ... Yes. Uh huh. ... Well, I was calling for Blair Sandburg. After seeing Jim's reaction, he was afraid to call, himself. ... Of course not! ... Look, just muzzle the beast, OK? If he does to Sandburg what he did to Jim, I don't want to be the one saying 'I told you so' while sweeping up the pieces of that jerk." She was quiet for several seconds, listening. "OK. Thanks, Bert." She hung up, bestowing a blazing smile on Blair.

"It's all taken care of. He'll set you up with an appointment and read that jerk the riot act. I don't think you need to worry too much about him."

"Thanks, Rhonda. I'm sorry it got so out of hand. Just hearing your side of the conversation, I'm glad I wasn't talking to him. Could you imagine what would have happened if Jim had heard?"

"Ouch. Yeah, I can, actually. Look, I'm expecting a call from him after Bert gets through with him, so, your appointment will be from ten to eleven-thirty on Friday. After that, I won't promise. OK?"

"Yeah. That'll be great. Thanks again, Rhonda.' "You're welcome, Blair."

When Blair got back to Jim's desk, he was smiling, again. Seeing the pensive expression on his partner's face, he asked. "What's wrong, Jim. Something the matter?"

"Huh? Oh, no. Nothing's wrong. I was just looking at this invitation we got." Showing the envelope to his friend.

"Cool. What makes you think it's an invitation?"

"The paper is velum. The handwriting formal. The size indicates it's probably an invitation of some sort."

"Oh." He watched Jim for another minute, then, impatiently asked, "Well, aren't you going to open it?"

"Hmmm? Oh, yeah. Sure." Slipping his letter opener under the flap and neatly slitting it open. Removing the card, he read it slowly. A small grin easing his tense features. Handing it to his partner to read.

Blair perused the missive. Breaking out in a big grin. Looking around the room, he didn't see who he had been looking for. Turning back to Jim he asked: "Well, can we go?" Bouncing in excitement. Jim shrugged.

"I don't see why not." Smiling at the excited younger man. "I'll let you do the RSVP." Figuring the kid would like the job.


"Hey, Joel!" Blair called out to their friend, who walked over, looking weary.

"Hey, Blair, Jim. You guys met that new prosecutor, Lawrence, yet? Man, what a jerk." He slumped down in Blair's usual chair.

"Yeah. I had him this morning. Four hours. I swear he asked the same questions four different ways. Like he was trying to trip me up. Like we're the bad guys, or something."

"I hear that. I finally got mad and told him if he wanted to ask me any more questions, it had better be in court." He looked at their observer. "You had the displeasure yet?"

"Uh, no. I got Rhonda to call to make an appointment? He cussed her out on the phone. He was so loud that I could hear him. In fact, I'm surprised that Jim didn't hear him clear out here. She finally had to hang up on him. Then she called someone named Bert? Isn't that the DA?" Unsure.

"Yeah. Humbert. Bert to his friends. Sir, to us lowlifes." Jim concurred.

"Oh, uh, well, he knew who you are, man. I guess Rhonda threatened him with setting you loose on this guy if he didn't do something and she got a call back from him apologizing."

"Good for you, Blair. Smart move, getting Rhonda to make the call for you."

"Uh, it was Jim's idea." Blair admitted.

"It was still a good move." Joel insisted. "What did you need, Blair?" Getting back to the fact that Blair had called him over.

"Oh, yeah. Uh, about your invitation. We'd both like to go."

Joel's face was wreathed with smiles. "Excellent. Mable told me to twist your arms, if you didn't accept. If you like, we can pick you up on Saturday; although, I suppose you'd rather take yourselves so you can escape when you want to." He added.

Jim and Blair exchanged looks. Jim shrugged. "Just how long does this picnic last?"

"Oh, it starts about eleven and ends at dark, usually. There's games, food, music, people." He looked at his friends. "I even talked Simon into coming with Daryl."

"Hey, sounds like fun." Blair admitted. "I've never been to a church picnic before."

"I don't think I have, either. We didn't go in much for church." At least, not after his mother left, anyway.

"Well, it's a family oriented thing. I figure that you two and Simon definitely classify as family. More or less. I asked Brown and Rafe, but they both got nervous and declined. Maybe next year."

"Yeah. Maybe." Jim concurred.

Friday, Blair showed up for his meeting with Lawrence in a suit and tie. His hair pulled back, glasses in place, looking very professorial. The lawyer took one look at him and Blair saw the man's prejudice come to the fore.

He was belligerent, antagonistic, hostile, argumentative, and contentious. After fifteen minutes of listening to the man haranguing him, he simply stood up and walked out, never having been allowed to say a word. He was pale with rage. When Lawrence ran after him and grabbed him and spun him around and threw him up against the wall, Blair came apart. His feet dangling inches off the floor, he simply brought one knee up as hard as he could, landing his blow and causing the lawyer to scream and double over in agony, falling to his knees and holding himself. There were enough witnesses to the event that Blair didn't worry about any repercussions. He stood over the panting, whimpering man.

"You insisted I come and talk to you. You never let me say a word. All you did was rant and rave and call me names. I don't have to let you talk to me that way. I don't have to allow you to curse at me and call me names. I have the right to stand up and walk out. You do not have the right to yell at me and call me names. You do not have the right to grab me and manhandle me and throw me up against the wall. If you ever come near me again, I will hit you with a restraining order so fast that your head will spin." He turned on his heel and walked away. To the applause of the secretarial staff, who had obviously been forced to put up with his shenanigans.

By the time he got back to the squad room, everyone had heard what had happened. He was glad he had walked the eight blocks each way. The trip back had given him the time to cool down. He had also stopped at WonderBurger to get lunch for himself and his partner. When he walked in the front door, he was met with speculative looks from most of the uniformed officers. They had seen him tagging around after Hard-assed Ellison, but no one had ever considered him anything more that a wussy little hanger on. There was respect in many of the officer's eyes that hadn't been there before, even though he had been there nearly three years. The Desk Sergeant called out congratulations to him. Blair blushed with his embarrassment.

In the elevator, one of the officers from Vice spoke to him for the first time ever. "Good job." Was all he said, but he'd ridden in the elevator a number of times with this guy, and he had never acknowledged his presence before.

Walking into the squad room, it was no surprise to see everyone standing around and staring at him. He wished he could shrink down and disappear.

Even Simon was waiting for him. With a sigh, he headed directly for the Captain's office, his head hung down in shame.

He was so busy looking down, that he didn't notice that Simon hadn't moved from in front of his door. Blair's head jerked up when he bumped into the much larger man. He bounced back and looked up in surprise, which changed to confusion. Simon was smiling.

"Congratulations, Sandburg. Every officer who has had to deal with Mr. Lawrence has come back wishing he could have punched him out. There were half a dozen policemen who saw the whole thing. You got away so fast that none of them had a chance to ask if you wanted to press charges. Of course, when he recovered, he wanted to have you arrested. I guess everyone just laughed at him and told him how satisfying it was to watch you take on someone so much bigger than you and win. Good job, Sandburg."

Simon, congratulating him and telling him 'good job'. Right out there in front of God and everybody. His feet barely touched the ground. He'd gone from embarrassed and worried to, well, he was still embarrassed, but happy in less than a minute.

"Now, why don't you go see if you can find anything else useful to do." Simon patted him on the shoulder and sent him on his way, with the widest possible grin spread across his face.

Now, I could end it here and split this in two for the count leading up to ten, but I won't. That wouldn't be quite Kosher, uh, Fair. :)

Friday night, Blair was still on the natural high from his confrontation with the lawyer from the DA's office. He waited all afternoon for any repercussions, but they never came. He felt good. Simon had praised him in front of everybody. Heck. Simon had praised him, period. Making it public just made it better. In honour of Blair's victory over the big bad lawyer, Jim took him out to one of his favourite restaurants for dinner, after which they went home and watched a couple of movies. Blair had snuck 'The Gods Must Be Crazy' into the VCR. When it started, with Blair looking intently (or so it seemed) at the television, Jim winced at the fact that his partner had snuck a documentary in on him. He sighed and settled back, expecting to be bored. Until the Coke bottle fell from the sky and the troubles began. He ended up laughing so hard that he had tears streaming down his face. Blair just smirked. He'd seen the film before, and knew it was a good one.

"Wherever did you find that one, Chief?" Jim asked when it was over, still weak from laughing so hard.

"Oh, I've seen it before. Pretty good, huh?"

"Oh, yeah. Excellent." Still unable to stop chuckling.

Jim turned on the news and settled down. Blair still grinning with the highs of the day. After the news, they went to bed.

Jim was awakened by the ring of the telephone. He rolled over, reaching for the phone by his bed. "Ellison." Blinking at the clock. Surprised to discover it was almost ten.

"Hey, Jim. You still going to come?"

"Yeah. Yeah. We are. Sorry. I just woke up."

"Oh, I'm sorry. It's just that Cecilia was asking about Blair and I told her I'd call and check with you."

"Does Blair know she's in town?" Jim asked, surprised.

Joel chuckled. "No. She's just here for the weekend. She made us promise not to tell him, she wants it to be a surprise." Joel confided.

"It starts at eleven, right?"

"Yeah. We were just getting ready to leave, so I thought I'd give you a call. There's no hurry, I just don't want Cecilia to be disappointed."

"It'll take us about an hour to wake up and on our way, say we meet you about noon? Bayside Park, right?"

"Right. That'll be fine. See you there."

Jim had to roust Blair out of bed. The younger man shuffled off to the bathroom for a shower, muttering dire threats all the way.

"Come on, Chief. You were the one who was so gung ho to do this. Don't use all the hot water, either."

"Yeah, yeah. I got it." The still half asleep young man muttered, darkly.

Breakfast consisted of toast and coffee. Much to Blair's displeasure. Jim just grinned.

"Think about the picnic. You can eat to your little heart's content there."

"How come you're so up on this thing all of a sudden? You weren't all that interested before." Still a little cranky from being so rudely awakened.

"Joel called. He wanted to make sure we didn't forget. I just didn't want to disappoint him, OK?"

"Oh. All right." Shaking his head in wonder.

Apparently, God must have liked the church the Taggart's attended. The weather was clear and warm, highs to be in the upper seventies, with scattered clouds predicted for the afternoon. Almost hot, for that part of Washington State. There was an off-shore breeze, bringing the scents of the forests and mountains down to the coast. They happened to arrive at the same time as Simon and his son, Daryl. Automatically parking side by side, finding safety in numbers, they set out in search of their hosts.

Mable was easy to pick out at the face painting booth. She was busy painting flowers and rainbows on children's faces. They automatically headed in her direction. Her face lit up upon seeing them. She waved them over, motioning them to pull up chairs and join her.

"Glad you boys could make it." Smiling up at them. Her gaze fastened on Daryl. "Well. Look at how much you've grown, young man. You're taller than Blair, already. Bet you end up at least as tall as your daddy."

Daryl shyly held out his hand. "It's nice to see you again, Ms. Taggart."

"I hope that was Miz as in Missus, and not that new fangled androgynous nonsense." She said, mock severely.

Daryl gulped. "Yes, ma'am. I mean, no, ma'am. I mean..." Looking in panic up into his father's grinning face.

"He meant no disrespect, Mable." His father defended him. "You know how PC the schools are nowadays." Putting his arm around his son's shoulders in support.

"Oh, I know, Simon. At least he does practice his good manners in public."

"And when I stay with my dad, too." Daryl blurted out. That got a smile from both Mable and his dad. Even Jim smiled at that one.

"Mable? How much for a teddy bear?" Blair asked.

"One dollar."

"OK." He pulled out the dollar and placed it in her hand. He grinned slyly up at his partner. "For Jim." he said, softly, stifling a giggle.

"Oh, no. No way. Not me." Jim said. Hands out in protest, backing up. He kept backing away, until he bumped into a rather solid object, turning with an apology on his lips, he saw Joel. "You tell them I am Not going to wear a teddy bear on my face."

Joel raised an eyebrow. "Why not?" He asked. Simon laughed. Jim, knowing he had lost, made the best of it. Reaching in his pocket, he pulled out a five dollar bill.

"Fine. But if I have to wear one, you all have to wear one." He declared.

Blair and Daryl high-fived each other and turned to the choices for the others.

"Huh uh. Blair gets the cutest puppy dog you can do." Jim demanded.

"With big, sad, eyes." Simon added.

"Daryl gets a unicorn. For obvious reasons." Mable added, mixing her paint.

"Uh huh." Jim agreed. Looking maliciously at his captain, he grinned. "Give Simon some flowers, and Joel the rainbow." He demanded to the groans from both men.

Half an hour later, they were admiring one another's face art. Mable had them all stand together so she could check her handiwork. As soon as they were in position, she whipped out her camera and shot a picture before any of them could move.

"That's extortion." Simon declared.

"Only if I try to force you into something. I prefer to call it 'insurance'." She replied with a smile.

"You are an evil lady, Mable." Blair intoned.

"Not at a church function, surely?" Came a sweet voice from behind them. Blair blushed scarlet as he turned and looked at the young woman who had spoken.

"C-Cecilia? I thought you were in California?" Nearly stuttering in his shock.

"I was. I will be. I came home for a long weekend. I don't have any classes until Wednesday." She came close, ostensibly to examine the little dog with big, sad eyes on his cheek. "That is perfectly you." She murmured as she tilted her head to the side for a kiss.

Blair automatically complied, a little surprised at his actions. His hands coming up automatically to wrap around and hold her close, forgetting their audience in the joy of seeing her again. When they came up for air, he gasped.

"Why didn't you tell me you were coming?" Still holding her close.

"I wanted to surprise you. I guess it worked?" Smiling, looking and sounding so like her mother.

"Oh, yeah. It worked, all right." He suddenly realized what they had done and looked worriedly at her smiling parents. He started to let go of her and step back, but she wouldn't let go of him. He blushed, looking into Joel's eyes, put at ease when Joel smiled and squeezed Mable's hand.

"It's OK, Blair. I knew about your being email pals with Cecilia."

"You don't mind?"

"She's a grown woman, perfectly capable of making up her own mind. I know we raised her right. We have nothing to worry about. Do we?" Looking rather pointedly at the young man.

"Oh! No, sir. Not a thing to worry about." He kept trying to extricate himself from Cecilia's embrace, but she wouldn't let him go.

The others laughed in amusement at his attempts to distance himself from the lovely young lady, who seemed determined to stay attached to him. They finally settled for holding hands.

"Well, why don't you show the guys around, Cecilia?" Her father asked, noting Blair's expression of relief.

"Sure. Mom?"

"I'll be along in a bit, dear. I have half an hour to go on my shift." With which she turned her attention to a small child patiently waiting, staring in awe at the large men with the pretty pictures painted on their faces.

Joel smiled and bent down to kiss his wife and then followed after their friends.

The annual church picnic was one of the outreach programs put on by the church. They would plan the big picnic and encourage all their members to invite their non-churchgoing friends to join them. Joel and Cecilia escorted their friends around the park, introducing them and getting them to join in the activities.

They all joined in the three legged race, Jim and Blair, Simon and Daryl, and Joel and Cecilia. There was no real surprise when Jim and Blair won. They were so in sync, that they outran everyone, without tripping or stumbling even once, in spite of the disparity of their heights.

After crossing the finish line, they turned and watched as the other teams struggled and tripped and fell all over themselves, trying to move faster than they should. While Jim bent down to untie their joined legs, Blair cheered on their friends, who managed to come in second and third.

Joel was panting, allowing Blair to untie them. "I'm getting too old for this." He gasped. He'd had to struggle to make third. Cecilia hugged him and asked him if he were all right. He smiled and said he was fine, but the hundred yard dash tied to someone who skipped rather than ran made it difficult.

Simon and Daryl were pleased with their second place; a little surprised that they had done so well. Their little plastic first, second, and third place trophies were admired and laughed about.

Mable had managed to finish up her shift in the face painting booth in time to see the ending of the three legged race. She gave freely of her congratulations.

Lunch consisted of barbecued chicken and ribs, along with the usual potato and macaroni salads, corn on the cob and a variety of deserts and soft drinks. They played flag football, with the team from the PD winning easily against all comers. As the afternoon wound down toward dusk, the entire group came together. The visitors were a little nervous that they would now 'pay' for their inclusion by having to listen to a sermon, but were pleasantly surprised to discover that, instead, they were to be entertained by the choir. Mable and Joel had to excuse themselves, as they were both in the choir. The accompaniment consisted of a couple of guitars and a set of drums. The musicians were decidedly amateur, but the singing was worthy of any professional group.

Most of the music was totally out of Blair's experience, but it was beautiful. When Mable moved out front to sing solo, they were enraptured with her clear high soprano; and when Joel joined her, singing counterpoint with his rich baritone, the crowd fell silent. It was like angels singing, the words and music touching each and every soul within earshot.

From the sublime voices of the choir, they then started singing songs many of the group obviously knew by heart. There was a little surprise when Simon and Daryl joined in; Simon with his deep bass voice and Daryl with his soon-to-be changing voice. Jim didn't join in at all, considering himself unable to sing, but happy to enjoy hearing the others.

Suddenly, Blair recognized one of the songs. It was from Psalms, he recalled, possibly the hundred and thirty-seventh, he thought. It was being sung as a round, but rather hesitantly. He stood and made his way around his friends, Jim watching in surprise.

He slipped up behind the group attempting to accompany the singers, and whispered to the guitarist struggling hardest. The young man gave him a blazing smile and immediately turned the guitar over to him. Blair slid into place and started playing. The group stopped to listen. He was playing all three parts at once, his fingers flying over the strings. He stopped for a moment, and began to sing, Surprising everyone who knew him with his clear, rich tenor. Joel, realizing what was happening, joined him in counterpoint, urging the audience to join, having already been split into thirds for the round. Once through, with each group joining in as the verses changed. The music was beautiful. Blair playing the guitar and the voices raised in perfect harmony, the words of the song sending chills up and down their spines. There were many faces with tears trickling unnoticed down their cheeks from the beauty of the round.

"By the waters, the waters of Babylon.

We lay down and wept, and wept for thee, Zion. We remember thee, remember thee, remember thee, Zion."

They repeated the round half a dozen times before they, by one accord dropped out, one group at a time, leaving Blair singing again one last time through, solo, the simple guitar providing all the other voices needed, slowly coming to a halt.

There was a hush fallen over the group. They stared in awe as the sun, obscured by clouds, suddenly shown through and the light, clear and brilliant, lit them, like a benediction. Blair, oblivious, still hearing the words to the Psalm, unconsciously started playing again. The soft strains of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, 'Ode to Joy' began to filter across the crowd. Playing double-string, melody and counterpoint, the soft sounds of the guitar floated around them, effectively bringing an end to the festivities. It was as though the angels had come to smile down upon them as they quietly met and greeted one another before gathering up their belongings and wandering toward the parking lot, their cars, and home. Knowing that God had met them there in the park that day, and that they had been blessed. Many of them stopped to thank the slight young man with the long, curly hair whom they'd never seen before, but whose presence and participation had so moved them. Blair sat, still playing softly, when he felt the presence of his friends approach. He looked up, a little embarrassed. Seeing the owner of the guitar still standing beside him, he blinked in surprised realization and returned the instrument. The younger man smiled at him, and wordlessly accepted his guitar. Looking at it in awe at the music the stranger had managed to call from it. With a shy look at the older man, he whispered.

"It was the touch of the Master's hand." Then he turned and walked away.

Blair looked after him, a puzzled look on his face. He wasn't quite sure what had just happened, but he felt inordinately peaceful. He turned and looked at his friends.

"That was beautiful, Chief." Jim said softly, laying a hand on his friend's shoulder.

"Yeah." Daryl agreed. "I didn't know you played the guitar. Or sang. You got a great set of pipes there, man."

Simon smiled at Blair's discomfiture. "He's right, Sandburg. It was beautiful."

Joel and Mable nodded in agreement.

Cecilia put her arms around him and kissed him. "It was wonderful. Thank you." She whispered in his ear.

The pastor quietly walked up, greeting the Taggarts. "Well, who is this young man?"

"Pastor Robbins, this is Blair Sandburg, the others are Jim Ellison, Simon and Daryl Banks." Joel made the introductions.

"Sandburg? Then I take it that you wouldn't be interested in joining our little congregation?" The pastor replied, wistfully.

"Uh, I don't think so. Thanks." Blair almost mumbled in his surprise.

The minister sighed. "Pity. We can always use good musicians. Perhaps we could hire you for some of our productions? We don't have a really good guitarist in the congregation, yet."

"Uh." Looking at his friends in consternation. "I'm not a professional, just an amateur."

"You could be a professional, I'm sure. If you have a card, we'd be willing to pay you for your services."

Blair looked around at his friends, they were smiling except for Jim, who was scowling. Blair realized why. He was already stretched too thin for his Sentinel's peace of mind; to be adding to his already hectic schedule was just asking for trouble.

"Uh, thanks. But I don't think so. I'm already stretched pretty thin, between my job and school, and working on my doctoral thesis. But thank you for the offer." Blair finally replied, earning a smile from his Blessed Protector, who had been ready to rearrange his pelvis up around his clavicles if he'd taken on another responsibility.

"Well, if you ever decide otherwise, we'd be happy to welcome you into our congregation, even if you can't join the orchestra or choir." Looking up to include the others in the invitation. "You're all welcome to join us, any time." He smiled, not about to push, just making the offer.

"Thank you." Simon replied. "We might take you up on that, some time. We don't currently have a home church." Daryl grinned, standing beside his father, lightly enclosed in his embrace.

Jim looked uncomfortable. Noting it, the pastor spoke to him. "I take it you don't have much church experience, Mr. Ellison?"

"Uh, no. Not since my parents divorced." He replied, squirming, just a little.

"Well, if you ever decide that you're interested, I'd be pleased to welcome you. Perhaps you could come with the Taggarts some Sunday? No strings." He added hurriedly, noting just how uncomfortable Jim was getting. Smiling and withdrawing before frightening the man completely away, he added to Blair, "You also have a lovely voice. Thank you for taking over. It was.awe-inspiring." With a final wave, he turned and walked away.

Mable was noticing just how uncomfortable Jim and Blair were. She reached out and touched Jim's hand. "Don't worry, dear. He's always on the prowl for new members." Smiling.

"Uh, yeah. I guess so. Kind of goes with the territory, I suppose." Jim shrugged, relaxing.

"Maybe you could come to the Christmas Program. That's the next big one." At the looks of surprise from their friends, Joel explained further. "I know we just got past Easter, but we're already practicing and memorizing the stuff for Christmas. It takes a good five months to get it perfected. Well, as perfect as we mere mortals can get."

"You guys sounded pretty perfect to me." Blair and Daryl chorused in unison, causing everyone to laugh.

"Yes, well, a lot of that was just the praise songs we sing every week, we've had so much practice that we can even sing them in our sleep." Mable replied.

Joel laughed. "Speak for yourself, Baby. I've heard you practicing in your sleep a few times." Giving her a hug when she blushed.

"Careful, Dad. We both resemble that remark." His daughter put in.

"You, uh, sing in your sleep?" Blair asked, softly, wonderingly.

"Only when I'm having trouble learning a piece." Cecilia explained, then, with a look at her mom, they chorused: "Like the Hallelujah Chorus." Breaking down into giggles.

"Oh, that was so hard." Mable admitted.

"And so high" Cecilia agreed.

Mable looked up at their friends, with a glance at her husband, who gave her a nod, she spoke. "Would you boys care to join us for supper this evening?"

Simon looked askance at his suddenly nervous son, realizing he had never been to the Taggart's home. With a reassuring smile, he answered. "We'd love to."

Jim and Blair exchanged looks, Jim shrugged noncommittally, Blair began to bounce in anticipation.

"Are you sure?" He asked, needing the reassurance that they wouldn't be imposing. "I mean, you've been busy all day, we wouldn't want to impose." But really wanting to spend more time with Cecilia.

Joel chuckled. "You should know by now that we don't extend invitations unless we mean them. So, how about it?"

Seeing the looks in their friends' eyes, Jim answered. "We'd love to. Besides, this way, we can all chaperone these two." Grinning and mussing up Blair's hair.

"Aw, man. Don't mess with the hair." Blair whined, to everyone's amusement.

Dinner was a pot roast, set up in a crock pot early that morning, allowing them to be out all day and still have a hot meal when they got home. Looking at the full six quart casserole and the table already set for seven, Blair raised an eyebrow and said, "Uh, you weren't planning on any of us saying 'no', were you."

Joel laughed and slapped him on the back. "Smart boy." Cecilia asked Blair to help her fix drinks for everyone. He jumped at the chance to work with her.

Dinner was a pleasant affair, with Blair and Cecilia sitting side by side, with all the others pretending to ignore them. As soon as they had finished, Jim and Simon offered to do the dishes, but Mable told them to relax, the 'children' could do it. Blair and Cecilia immediately set Daryl to clear the table, then set him free to join the adults while they washed, dried and put away the dishes.

Daryl thought he would be bored with the adults, but found their discussion of religion interesting and enlightening. After a while, he asked, "Excuse me, Mr. Ellison? Don't you believe in God?" Worried.

"What makes you ask that, Daryl?" Mable asked.

"Well, you haven't gone to church since you were little. So, how do you know what to believe? I mean, I learned from Mom and Dad, and listened in church and Sunday School. How did you decide?"

Jim looked at the teen with a blank look on his face. Shaking his head, he replied, "I don't really know what I believe. I mean, sure, I think there's a God, but as for the rest of it, I don't have any convictions one way or another."

"Oh." Daryl gave him what could only be described as a pitying look. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry, Daryl. Not everyone has had your advantages." Jim replied.

There was a slightly belligerent look on the teen's face, but he held his tongue, not wanting to argue with an adult. But his demeanor definitely let Jim know that he didn't agree with him one iota.

Seeking to soothe ruffled feathers, Joel changed the subject. "So, what do you suppose is taking Cecilia and Blair so long with the dishes?" He asked with a grin.

"I bet they're sucking face. That's what I'd be doing if I was all alone with a babe like her." Daryl answered, to the winces from his elders.

"Bad choice of words, kid." Jim admonished him, to Joel and Mable's amusement.

"Well, that's an interesting description." Mable laughed. Just then, the young couple came into the parlor, hand in hand. Both of them with mussed hair, causing everyone to laugh.

Blair frowned, "What's so funny?" He asked.

"Oh, dear." Mable replied, "We were just discussing what could be taking you two so long. It seems that Daryl may have been correct in his assumption." Smiling at the pair.

"Oh?" Cecilia asked, "And what assumption was that?" One eyebrow arched in question. A faint smile on her lips.

"Uh," Daryl looked at his elders for help, and saw none coming. "Oh, man. I said that if I were all alone with a babe like you, I'd be sucking face." He almost whispered in his embarrassment.

Blair flushed, scarlet. "Bingo." Jim said softly, a grin splitting his face. The others smiled benignly at the young couple, without censure.

"Uh, well" Blair started, but was interrupted by Cecilia's reply.

"Thank you, Daryl. I have to agree with the desire to 'suck face' with such a babe, myself." Winking at Blair, who only turned a deeper shade of red.

Blair tried to hide behind his hands, shaking his head in mortification. "I cannot believe that we did that in your parent's home, with them waiting for us in the next room. How could I be so dumb?" He muttered so softly that only Jim could hear.

Automatically coming to his friend's aid, Jim spoke up. "Hey, at least they're not sneaking around behind anybody's back." The other adults nodded in agreement. "Besides, Chief, you should consider it an honour that Joel and Mable feel that you're worthy of their daughter's attentions."

Blair peeked through his fingers to see how Joel and Mable were taking things, only to be met by their gentle, caring smiles. Reassured, he brought his hands back down and gave back a tentative smile. Laughing, Jim stood up and announced: "Thank you for a lovely day, some great company, and some marvelous food. However, before my partner embarrasses himself further, I think it's time for us to go."

Simon and Daryl arose, as well, speaking their own thanks and good-byes; escorted by Joel and Mable, they headed for the door. Blair stayed behind for a moment for a private good-bye to Cecilia.

In the truck on the way home, Jim looked over at his partner. "Can I ask you a question, Chief?"

"Sure." Blair replied, sensing the seriousness in Jim's tone.

"Do you believe in God?"

Blair sat quietly for several minutes, thinking of all the things he'd seen, all the beliefs he'd been exposed to.

"Yeah. I'd have to say that I do."

"Which one?"

"Uh," He thought a bit longer, not having actually been asked to make such a commitment before. "All of Him."

"Huh?" Confused.

"I believe that there is one God. He has many names. But there is only one. Allah, Jehovah, God, all the same One, man. I don't know about heaven, but I believe in hell. I don't know about Messiah, whether the Christians have it right, or not. Yeshua, the Hebrew name for Jesus was a real person. Thought by some to have been a prophet, by others Messiah. I just don't know. Why?"

"Oh. It was something Daryl said. He felt sorry for me because I don't have any religious beliefs." He wasn't sure how that made him feel.

Blair understood. "Religion is a very personal thing. It's OK to proclaim your beliefs, just as long as you don't try to force your views on anyone else. It's OK to talk about religion, but you can't legislate it, and the more you try and force a particular view on someone, the harder they try and push back. Take Joel and Mable. They demonstrate their beliefs every day. You can see their 'religion' if you will in their adherence to its precepts. I've met and known a lot of passionate members of lots of different faiths, but I find that the quiet ones, like Joel and Mable, attract me a lot more than the louder ones. Sometimes..." He trailed off, thinking. "Sometimes, I find myself wanting to know more about someone's faith, just because they're so calm, so peaceful about it. The Taggart's are like that. Do you hear what I'm saying, man?"

Jim was silent a long time. He'd pulled into his parking space, turned off the engine and just sat, thinking. Blair was in no hurry.

"Yeah. I think I do. And you're right. They do live their faith. Maybe...Maybe I'll try their church some day."

"Yeah. Me, too. It seemed, I don't know, real somehow. You know?"

"Yeah, Chief. I think I do." They sat for a few more minutes, thinking about beliefs, and where they fit in the larger scheme of things. Finally, Jim glanced over at his friend.

"So, Chief. How's your love life?" Jim got out of the truck as Blair started to splutter about how he and Cecilia weren't in that kind of relationship, yet. Heavy on the yet.

Laughing, the Sentinel and his Guide crossed the street to their home. The Guide's hands flying, trying to explain how he and the young lady were just friends, that nothing was going on between them, that they hadn't gotten to know each other well enough to think of anything beyond friendship at that point.

Gently grasping his smaller companion by the shoulder, Jim pushed him through the door with a final remark: "Well, the next time you're talking to your friend, you better remember to wipe the lipstick off your face, and cover the marks on your neck."

The End

Oh, boy. This went on much much longer than I had anticipated. It's Tuesday, now, and I'm getting behind in the count. However, this makes three, seven more to go. J Oh, yeah. The beliefs expressed are sanitized and almost pc'd versions of my own beliefs. I mean no disrespect to anyone else's beliefs or religions. This is my AU, so I get to make these decisions, besides, Karen wanted me to show Joel and Mable in a church setting, this was as close as I dared in the current climate of things. My apologies if I offend anyone. However, you should have known at least a little where this was going from the title. You do have the choice not to read. Sorry for the rant. I don't mean to sound apologetic for my beliefs, only that I don't feel I have the right to force them on another. For any reason. R.I.Eaton

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