Well, I've been off (Hey! Leave my mental state out of this!) for the past couple of weeks. I'm going to the rally, where I can hardly wait to meet a whole bunch of people whom I've been fortunate to make the acquaintance of through the Internet and these stories. I'm particularly looking forward to meeting Emerald (with whom I'm carpooling to the rally), Nickerbits (with whom I have a horse connection), Erinburg (who has some pictures for me), and, most particularly, Wolfpup (who has so graciously given me a home for all these ramblings). This is going to be so great!

Anyway, I'm sure that there are a lot more people I'm going to meet, some of whom I'm sure I'll recognize (I hope!), all of whom have a common cause. My cousin/roommate thinks I'm nuts to be so enamored of a 'it's just a stupid television show', but I've met so many nice people over the past year (that's right, I've only been at this for a year. Scary, isn't it?) and I can hardly wait to put faces and voices to the names I've learned.

This story has been simmering on a back burner for at least a month. It started with a memory, one from when I was very young, like somewhere between five and eight years old. The phenomenon is real, but quite rare, particularly now, with all the air pollution.

The standard disclaimers do, still apply. I don't own the characters and I won't make any money from this. I'm eternally grateful to the creators and their kindness in not suing me. This one is for all those who like a lot of smarm, it's positively afloat with it, and for Wolfpup for giving me a home, I'll see you tomorrow! ;-)

Did You See That?


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If twelve people witness an event, you will have twelve very different descriptions of what happened. It's one of the truisms of police work. The more witnesses to an event, the more varied and weird the accounts. A lot of witnesses can be worse than no witnesses.

There had been several hundred people who had witnessed the kidnapping. None of whom had bothered to do anything to stop it, but they had watched passively as (reports from two to twenty) men (and women) had swarmed (stormed) in and grabbed two (or was it one, or five?) children from in front of the zoo. It was supposed to have been a fund-raiser for the zoo, where patrons could have an expensive meal and get a big tax write off while wandering around and looking at the captive animals. Thanks to the kidnappers, the whole event was a washout.

The first uniforms on the scene were quickly at a loss as to how to handle the huge crowd of most of Cascade's wealthiest and social elite, so Major Crimes was called in. They had to expend most of their energy in calming down the witnesses, reassuring them that everything would be all right and that everything was being done to get the children back.

Detective James Ellison, ex-Army Ranger/Covert-Ops and now Sentinel of the city had a nearly blinding, debilitating headache. There was too much noise, too much cologne and perfume, all combining together to drive his enhanced senses into sensory overload. His partner, Blair Sandburg, Anthropology Grad Student and Teaching Fellow, pulled his friend away from the crowd, speaking urgently and softly; talking him once again through the steps to control his senses.

"Is he all right?" A soft voice asked. Blair turned to see his friend's father standing there, looking worriedly at his son who still had his eyes tightly shut while he worked on his breathing exercises to bring himself under control, his fingers rubbing tight circles at his temples.

"Jim? Oh, yeah. He'll be fine. Too much perfume and noise. I think it's all the perfume, more than anything else." He smiled as Jim took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, opening his eyes.

"Dad? What?" Surprised and confused at seeing his father.

"Hi, Jimmy." Uncertain as to his welcome.

"What are you doing here?" Glancing around to see if anyone was watching them.

"Well, I'm on the board for the zoo, so of course I'm here." A little exasperated at his son's seeming denseness.

"Oh." Jim couldn't help but recall that he had never actually been to the zoo. Just another inconsistency between his father the businessman, and his son. He struggled to not make any snide comments to that fact.

"I joined the board two years ago, when Charley Johnson died." Realizing that he and his son had never done any of the normal parent/child things. He'd always been too busy making his fortune to bother with his sons. He had lived to regret it. More than fifteen years without speaking to his eldest son. That had ended the past year when an incident from Jim's past had come back to haunt them both.

"Oh. Well, do you want me to take your statement?"

Blair winced. This wasn't going very well. The gulf between Jim and his father would be obvious to a blind man. "What did you see, Mr. Ellison?"

The older man looked at Blair gratefully. He didn't want to fight with his son, but he didn't know how to connect with him, either. "Well," He pulled out a scrap of paper from his pocket. "I got this license plate number..." He glanced up at his son, holding out the scrap of information.

"Why didn't you give this to someone earlier?" Jim asked, annoyed.

"Because everyone was yelling and screaming and I couldn't get anyone's attention." Surprised that he wasn't upset over that fact.

Jim mirrored his father's expression. Blair had to stifle a grin. The two Ellison men were so much alike... Jim took the slip of paper and pulled out his cell phone.

"Yeah. Put out an APB on Whisky Bravo...Sorry. William Boy Adam three four nine. Suspects wanted in connection with the kidnapping at the zoo...Yeah, someone got the license plate number. No, everyone was too hysterical for him to report it earlier. Thanks." He hung up.

"You can't remember whether to use the military or police codes for letters?" His father asked, with a faint smile.

Jim chuckled. "Nope." He looked his father over, recognized the hope in his eyes and decided to give in to it. "Thanks, Dad." He reached out and gently touched his father's shoulder. His father took it as an invitation and stepped in to give his son a hug.

"Thank you, Jimmy." For listening. For not pushing me away. For letting me in.

The hug was rather stiff, but it was a start. Reluctantly, the two men released each other. Blushing faintly, they said their good-byes and went their separate ways.

The van that bore the plate number William Ellison had had the presence of mind to write down was found abandoned on the waterfront, with no sign of where the occupants might have gone. By the time Jim and Blair arrived, any hope of using his senses to determine what had happened was gone, trampled beneath the feet of half a dozen uniformed officers. Frustrated, Jim was looking in the van, hoping to discover anything that might be of use in tracing the kidnappers.

"Sorry, Jim. It looks like the van was hosed out with water before being abandoned. There aren't even any smudges on the mirror." Ronnie Wells sadly informed the detective.


"Wiped. With Windex, if my nose is right." She grinned up at the detective, knowing that his nose could tell with complete accuracy which brand of glass cleaner had been used. "They're pros, Jim. Or else really gifted amateurs. It's almost as though they knew that we'd find anything they might have left. I'm sorry." There just wasn't anything more for her to do. She couldn't make up evidence that wasn't there.

"That's all right. Thanks for trying." Frustrated, his jaw clenching, he turned away and looked around the area. A frown forming, a characteristic wrinkle between his eyes, he glanced at his partner. "Blair, I'm going to take a look around." Blair looked up, puzzled, then nodded as he understood.

"OK. I'm right here." He placed a hand on his friend's back to ground and center him. With a grateful smile, he let his eyes unfocus and extended his hearing searching... Fifteen minutes later, he had to give up. There was nothing. Not one, single, solitary thing to go on.

The frustration level was high. Much too high. There had been no ransom demand, no one seemed to know anything, not even who the victims were. They were spinning their wheels and the strain was showing. Not even the FBI had any luck with the case and they were beginning to doubt that there even was a case.

For more than a week it continued. Every spare moment was spent searching for something, anything to go on. Some people were beginning to think that the entire thing had been a hoax, until the first body was found.

It was a ten year old boy. He had been savagely beaten and molested. It had gone from kidnapping to murder with the one, grisly discovery. Efforts were redoubled. The examination of the body indicated that the boy had been bathed prior to being placed in a trash bag and taken to the dump, where some scavengers had found the body. The FBI still weren't getting any further than the local police, and tempers were thin. At least they weren't at each other's throats, yet. But there was an increase in charges of excessive force as felons, particularly violent ones, were arrested and questioned.

The following week, there was another body. The first one still hadn't been identified. This one was an eight year old girl. Same modus operandi as the first, only more brutal, if possible. Whoever this was, they were a truly evil and sick person. This time, there was some evidence left behind. They now had a blood type and enough of a semen sample to at least eliminate suspects. Not that they had any, yet.

Jim had photographs of the two murdered children. Ronnie had done her best to make them not look dead. She'd done a fair job of it. Armed with the photos, Jim began making the rounds of all the schools in the city, planning to hit the outlying areas if necessary.

Once in a while, you just get lucky. This particular day was one of Jim's. Having left Blair at the university, Jim headed for the near-by Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. He parked his truck and headed for the office. As he crossed the campus, he observed a group of boys and recognized the classic assemblage around a fight. He automatically headed over to break it up. When he was close enough, he noticed that it was a case of mob mentality. There was one small boy at the center of it all. His face was red with fear, anger, and frustration. Tears streaking down. There were four primary bullies pushing him around. The boys at the edge of the crowd took one look at Jim and started to back away, recognizing authority when it loomed over them. The four bullies never noticed, too busy with pushing their smaller victim around and calling him names.

"Sissy. You're a freak." One boy declared, slapping the smaller boy's face and then pushing him to one of his cohorts.

"Baby! Look at him blubber." Grabbing the smaller boy and spinning him around and then pushing him on to the next one. Jim spotted a teacher who had come to break up the fight. Catching each other's eyes, they waded in and each grabbed two of the bullies by the backs of their jackets and pulled them back. The rest of the children scattered.

The teacher glanced curiously at Jim, wondering who he was and what he was doing on campus. He smiled and, since the two boys he'd grabbed weren't making any move to escape, he let them go and pulled out his ID. The flash of light as it reflected off his badge made the four bullies pale in fear.

"My name is Detective Ellison, Major Crime." He winked at the teacher, who smiled back at him, she had a good idea as to where he was going and thoroughly approved. This particular group of bullies had been terrorizing the smaller children for most of the school year. The principal had decided that the next time there was trouble that they had no choice but to call the police, and here one was. Quite an impressive policeman. She decided.

Speaking to the teacher, he explained his presence. "I'm trying to track down a couple of missing kids, and wondered if anyone here knows them. I saw these four committing felony assault and battery on this young man." The young man in question had regained control and was staring up at him in awe. "Now, the question is, should I call for a unit to take them to jail or not?"

"Why don't we start with the principal's office?" The teacher suggested. She scowled at the boys and said, "You know the drill. Let's go." She turned and led the way toward the administration building, the victim's hand clasped reassuringly in hers and the four miscreants following behind, heads down, casting surreptitious glances at the, to them, enormous policeman bringing up the rear. Jim watched the lady teacher appreciatively as she led the way to the principal's office. He smiled as she pointed the boys to the chairs in the foyer, taking the victim with her into the office. Jim turned his most intimidating glare on the four bullies, making them squirm, nervously.

"Detective Ellison?" The principal was a woman in her early sixties, heavy-set and solid looking. She reminded him of one of his...

"Ms. Klemper?" Jim asked in shock. She blinked at him in surprise.

"It's Jacobs, now." Her brow furrowed. "Do I know you?"

"You were my fifth grade teacher. My name is Jim Ellison." The woman's face drew down in a frown of concentration, then broke out in a smile.

"Jimmy Ellison! Of course. Please, come in." She stood aside to allow the teacher and the smaller boy to leave. "Take him to the infirmary and call his parents. See if they want to press charges. Encourage them." She murmured to the departing teacher. Turning her attention to the four boys squirming on the chairs, she glared, "You four stay right there. Cerise, please call their parents. Tell them that this time, there was an adult witness. A police officer. See if that gets any results." She smiled up at Jim. "It's been a long time, Jimmy." She led the way into her office.

"I know you aren't here to bust a bunch of playground bullies, but your timing couldn't have been better. Those four boys' parents seem to think it's a good thing that they beat up on smaller children and steal their lunch money. I promised them that the next time there was a problem that I would call the police for those little hoodlums. Now, while we wait to see if Jeremy's parents want to press charges, what can I do for you?"

Jim smiled. He remembered her as an enthusiastic teacher who cared about her students. She had been one of the bright spots in his childhood. She had obviously known what his home life was like and had gone out of her way to make him feel appreciated. He couldn't keep the smile off his face, in spite of his grim purpose there.

"I never got the chance to thank you for everything that year. It was real important to me, the way you encouraged me, and everything."

"I saw your picture on that magazine. I was surprised when you chose to come back here." She remembered her fondness for the lost young man he had been. So protective of others, the weaker, the smaller, but with no one to protect him. She had admired his strength of character even then and was pleased to see the man mirrored the boy.

Jim shrugged. "It's home." They sat for a few moments in silence, remembering the past; then, Jim took a deep breath and pulled out the photos, the reason for his presence. "I need to identify these two children. I was hoping that you might be able to help me." He reached across the wide desk and deposited the two photos in front of Ms. Jacobs. Frowning, the older woman stared at the photos.

"Let me check." She rose and turned to her file cabinet. "I keep copies of all the class photos. If they were here for picture day, they'll be in this file." She opened the drawer and pulled out a file. "How old are they?"

"The girl's about eight and the boy about ten." He watched as she pulled the appropriate class pictures. She looked at Jim's photos, then hers. There was a sadness in her eyes.

"Oh, yes. Those are the Kamov children. Russian immigrants. They were all pulled out of school about a month ago. They were moving to Portland, I believe." She looked up at him, sadly. "They're dead, aren't they?"

"Yes. I'm sorry. Can you give me their former address? Perhaps a forwarding address?"

"Certainly, under the circumstances. Normally, it would take a court order, but since it's a murder investigation?"

"Yes. I'm afraid so." He gratefully accepted the information she looked up for him.

"There were six children, altogether. I hope..." She looked up at him, the pain obvious in her eyes.

"So do I. Thank you. So, what do you want to do with the bullies?"

At that moment, the intercom buzzed, announcing that the secretary had contacted Jeremy's parents and that they were willing to press charges against the four older, larger boys. Jim's smile turned feral at the thought. He excused himself and made a quick call in to his captain.


"Yeah, Simon. I got an ID on the kids. Along with a possible address." Jim announced.

"That's great, Jim! Get on it. Do you want backup to meet you there?"

"Well, could you send someone else? I've got a little, uh, 'incident' here to take care of, first."

"What kind of 'incident'?"

"Well, I'm at Woodrow Wilson Elementary. Came upon a felonious assault and battery in progress. I'm..."

"Wait a minute. You're telling me you're sticking around for a playground fight?" Shocked.

"Yeah, well, there were four fifth graders beating up on a second grader. The boys have apparently been a problem and the little kid's parents are going to press charges. I'm going to need a patrol car and Juvee, I guess."

"You've got it. I'll set it in motion. Give me the address and I'll send Joel and Megan out on it."

"Thanks, Sir." Jim then proceeded to pass on the information, then disconnected the call.

Jeremy's parents were both hard working people who were just trying to give their children a better life. This was the fourth time their son had been targeted by this particular group of bullies and they were tired of it and wanted to press charges. The parents of the four boys finally showed up a couple of hours later, each one blaming someone else for the boys' trouble. Jim waited as patiently as he could before he finally broke in.

"Look. Just look at them. Look at your four fifth graders and then take a look at Jeremy. He's half their size, three years younger. You must be just so proud of how the four of them were beating up on a kid so much smaller and weaker than they are. Don't forget, I was a witness to what was going on... and DON'T try and blame Jeremy for anything. He's the victim, here. There isn't any excuse any of you can give for your sons' behavior. None. There is never any excuse for the strong to harm and terrorize the weak. Jeremy and his parents are absolutely right in their insistence that the authorities be brought in. This isn't the first time your boys have picked on and beaten up a younger and smaller child. It will be the last. Now that we're involved, you're going to have to prove your competence to care for and control your sons. Charges have been pressed, there are two adult witnesses to the assault and battery of Jeremy and there isn't a whole lot you can do about it."

"But that little sissy..." One of the fathers began, only to have Jim cut him off.

"Sissy? Sissy!? Your boys are the only sissies I see here. Ganging up on a littler kid? That takes real courage. Your four boys are cowardly bullies who prey on the weaker. Well, let me tell you, I'll take one Jeremy over a thousand of your boys, any day of the week." He spotted his own partner standing behind the uniformed officers, obviously having come in search of him. "Just because he's smaller than they are doesn't make him less than them. The fact that he tried to defend himself against them, stood up to them in spite of the beating he knew he was going to get, that's courage." He looked up at the uniformed officers and the Juvenile officers, who were nodding in agreement. "Get them out of here." Jaw clenching, the muscles standing out in his outrage, he watched, glaring as the four little monsters were led, crying, from the office, their parents following with loud protests.

Jim turned to look at little Jeremy. The boy was obviously exhausted and needed to go home. Jim crouched down beside the small boy's chair. "It's going to be all right. I don't think they'll be bothering you any more."

The little boy looked up at him, shyly, he whispered, "Did you mean it? About me being brave? That you'd want one of me instead of a lot of them?" Amazed, having always thought that policemen had to be big and strong, like this huge man.

Jim smiled and gently placed a hand on the small boy's shoulder. "You see that man over there? The short one with the long hair?" Jeremy nodded. "That's my partner. He's also my best friend. He's the best partner I've ever had and I wouldn't trade him for any of a hundred, a million, other bigger, stronger men. He's smart, he's fast, and he knows how to help. And there's no way I'd ever trade him." The little boy stared at the man Jim indicated.

Blair noticed Jim and Jeremy staring at him. He bounced and smiled, coming over to join them. "Hi, Jim. I got through at the U and called to see how things were going. Simon told me you were here, so I just walked over. It wasn't far. It's starting to rain, though."

"Of course, he does talk a lot." Jim whispered to the now giggling little boy. Blair just grinned.

Joel and Megan approached the house. There was something about the place that was bothering Joel. Megan didn't seem to notice. Catching her arm and stopping her before she set foot on the steps leading up to the front porch, he cautioned her. "There's something wrong, here."

Surprised, Megan blurted out, "What? Don't tell me that you're psychic, too?"

Joel chuckled. "No. But something's wrong. I can't quite put my finger on it." He stared at the house, glancing at the windows, then circled around the front, shaking his head in annoyance. "Something..."

"Well, step back and take a good, long, look." Megan encouraged, tugging at Joel's sleeve. They backed up to the sidewalk and just stood and stared at the house for a moment. "What's out of place?"

"I'm not sure." His brow furrowed in consternation. "I should be able to see it..."

"Maybe it's not something visible. Maybe it's a noise, or a smell..."

"Damn! That's it. C4." He pulled out his cell phone and called it in.

By the time Jim and Blair arrived, the explosives under the wood framed house had been removed. Had anyone gone up the steps and rung the doorbell, the explosives would have gone off and killed anyone within at least thirty feet, not to mention turning the house into wooden toothpick missiles. Once it was safe, Jim led the way into the house, Blair at his back, with Joel and Megan close behind. They found the evidence in the basement. Evidence that the two dead children had been killed there. There was no sign of the other four children. Jim found one other piece of evidence, a video tape.

"They're making snuff films." Agent Walters informed them. He was sickened by what he had seen on the video tape. Whoever this sicko was, he was playing with them. "Your forensics people got a couple of good prints from the cassette, but without a lot of luck, we're not all that much closer to catching them."

"There must be something we can do." Blair insisted. He had been left out of the viewing of the tape, and from the nauseated expressions on the other's faces, he was glad of it.

"Well, if you know any heavy-duty porno players, maybe." Walters suggested, without much hope.

When Blair got an idea, he was like a terrier with a rat. He wouldn't let go until he'd worried it to death. Leaving the others to spin their wheels in hopeless pursuit of non-existent leads, he did what he did best. He thought about it. Then he got on the Internet and went hunting. Four hours later, he finally found something. Murmuring softly under his breath, he said, "Jim. I think I've got something."

Jim was exhausted. He hadn't been sleeping very well. He kept having nightmares about brutalized children. He hadn't had a full night's sleep in weeks, and it was beginning to wear him down. Blair knew, but wouldn't do anything without Jim's permission, accepting that his partner would deal with the emotions and frustration as best he could until he finally admitted needing help. Meanwhile, Blair stayed close; knowing that when the crash came, he would be needed.

He'd been listening to the Feds talking in circles for days. He just wished that something would give them just a slight break. He was nearly dozing when he heard Blair soft voice asking him to come check out what he had found. Stretching lazily, joints cracking, he lumbered to his feet and headed out of the office, with a nod of acknowledgment from his captain.

"What's up, Chief?" Jim yawned. Nothing was happening and they were all tired.

"Look at this." He indicated the computer screen. On it, was an advertisement for porno films, films featuring children. There, right there, was a photo of one of their victims, prior to death. Jim snapped to attention.

"Shit. Can you print this? Find out who it is and where they are?"

"Sure. But I think the only way we're going to catch them is to order the tape and then back-track them."

"Well, then, let's get started." He clapped a hand on his partner's shoulder and headed back into the captain's office.

"Excuse me, gentlemen. Sir? Blair seems to have found something. If you'd care to..." He nimbly jumped out of the way of the sudden movement of everyone in the office as they all scurried to Sandburg and the webpage he had found. Simon waited for them to leave and simply quirked up an eyebrow in question.

"One of the kid's pictures is on this website, offering porno films for sale. It's a pretty good bet that we can trace them from the order."

"Good work, Jim." Simon almost smiled, unwrapping a fresh cigar.

"Thank Sandburg, Sir. It was all his doing."

It took another week. A week of slogging hard work. A week that brought another child's body. But they were getting closer. Then the weather turned bad. A severe cold front hit them, causing power outages and heavy ice. They all ended up trapped in the police station for three days. The wind had been blowing hard, the sleet and snow fell horizontally with the icy blasts. Then, after three days of ice-storm, the wind picked up and blew all the clouds away. They had power in the building, thanks to the UPS system (Uninterrupted Power Source) in the building. They were still able to work on the net, tracking down the distributors and, hopefully, the perpetrators of the heinous crimes against children.

Jim insisted on going out after them the moment they had a lock on the evil SOBs who had perpetrated the entire mess. Rafe volunteered to go with him, as backup. As did the rest of Major Crimes. The Feds decided to let them. They weren't going to leave the safety of the station for anything except, perhaps, their hotel rooms.

The wind was biting. Even through the heaviest of clothing, the cold forced its way. Using Rafe's SUV to get to the address Blair had managed to finally track down after following all the blind alleys and fictitious names. It turned out to be quite simple. They thought they were safe, hiding behind the Internet. They got a judge to sign a search warrant based on what Blair had found. Luckily, the judge was stuck in his office as well. He took one look at the evidence and signed. Once at the house where their suspects lived, they simply went up and knocked at the door. When it was opened, they served their warrant and, holding all the residents in the living room, searched the house. They found two live children, and one dead one. Their parents were so strung out on drugs that they didn't have any concept of what they had done. They rounded them all up and called for transport, which took its own sweet time to get there. At least the ambulance came quickly for the injured children.

It was over. Four dead children, ten adults in jail. They had confiscated all the equipment and graphic videos that would be certain to put them all away until they died. But it didn't help. They were all depressed. How could anyone do things like that? To children? The horror kept them all in the bullpen. No one was talking. The reports had been filled out and filed. The clouds had finally blown out during the night. Jim stood at the windows looking out to the east. Using his enhanced sight, he abruptly remembered something. Turning back to the others, he spoke, "Get your coats on."


"Just do it. Everyone. Come on. You need to come with me. Hurry." He started pushing his coworkers toward the door, shoving their coats at them. "Come on. Let's go." Pushing them all out the door, ignoring their protests. Guiding them toward the stairs shoving them upward and out onto the roof. The sky to the east was beginning to pale. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, the wind having blown it all away. The wind was perfectly still, now. The sky shot through with billions of crystal lights from the stars.

"OK, Jim. It's seriously freezing up here, man." Blair muttered to his friend. "What is it?" There were murmurs of agreement with the smaller man.

"What is it, Jim?" Simon asked, concerned.

"Is something wrong?" Joel added.

"Watch. See that notch in the mountains?" Jim spoke softly, excited, although no one knew why.

"Watch what?" Megan asked, they were all exhausted, physically and emotionally.

"Just watch. That spot where the mountains dip a little. You'll see in a few minutes." The sky was lightening by the minute. Paling from black, to dark blue, to gray, then, the sun popped over the rim of the mountains, exactly where Jim had indicated it would. They all stopped in awe.

"What was that?" Brown asked, shocked.

"Oh, man. Oh, wow." Blair started bouncing, turning his gaze to his friend and partner. "How'd you know? I mean, Oh, wow."

"I don't understand?" Megan asked. The others simply stared at each other, exchanging confused stares.

"It's the green flash." Blair explained. "It's a really rare phenomenon. It can only happen at sunrise or sunset, just as the sun clears the horizon, and only if there is absolutely no haze or clouds in the sky. Oh, man. How did you know, Jim?"

Jim smiled, content. "The wind blew all the clouds away and then stopped blowing an hour or so ago, letting any dust settle. I wasn't sure, but it was a pretty good chance." He looked at all his colleagues. "It was worth taking the chance." His tone indicating that there was still hope in the world, that the past month wasn't normal, that there was still the possibility of making a difference.

"That's a pretty hopeful sign." Joel said softly, expressing everyone's feelings on the matter. His words met with nods of agreement. They watched the rest of the sun rise, the clear, clean, still air brightening with the renewal brought by the sun. Hope coming again to their battered and bruised psyches. They stayed out in the cold until the day was well and truly started, then, sighing, they slowly made their way back down. A few hours later, the sun had melted the ice from the roads, allowing them to go home to their own beds, and families.

The loft was colder than the outside, it had been so long since they had been there. The building had been without electricity for who knew how long. It was back on, now, but it was still cold. Jim tossed his keys in the basket, hung his coat on the hook and proceeded to turn up the heat and then lit the fire in the fireplace. Blair left his coat on, just going into his room to pull his heavy quilt from his bed, dragging it back out to the couch to sit in front of the fire until the apartment warmed up. He watched as his friend and partner went around checking for damage from the storm and setting up the coffee maker to brew.

He could be very patient, when he had to be. He knew that eventually, Jim would be ready to talk. He just hoped it was soon. Finally, Jim was through stalling and, carrying coffee for them both, settled beside his roommate, holding out a cup, which Blair gratefully held in both hands, soaking up the warmth.

"So. You ready to talk about it?" He asked, softly.

"Yeah. I don't understand how anyone can do things like that. Torture their own kids."

"They were strung out on drugs and didn't know what was happening. I'm sure when they come back to reality, they'll feel it." Blair said softly.

"How can anyone even do that? Get so involved in, in anything to not realize what's going on, without taking care of their kids?"

"Is it any different from you and your family? I mean, really? Your dad was always so involved with his business that he never had time for you. Is this really so very different?" Blair held his breath, waiting for the response.

"Yeah. There's a difference. My dad did what he could to keep us safe, at least. He may not have been there for a lot of stuff, but he did keep us safe..." He cast a pointed glance at his friend. "That's it, isn't it?" He added softly. "You think I, I, I was putting my dad in their place, don't you?"

"Were you?" Watching his friend from just the corner of his eye, not wanting to be too confrontational.

Jim was silent, thinking. "Maybe. A little." His lips twisted into a self-mocking grin. "Yeah. I guess. Thanks. There is a big difference." He smiled as he turned to his friend, reaching out to gently punch him on the shoulder, then reaching up to fiercely muss his hair, springing out of reach.

"Oh, man! Not the hair. Jiiimmmm!" Slapping at the teasing hands and laughing. It quickly escalated into a shoving match and then a pillow fight, ending with both men winded and laughing, the laughter and joy of their companionship chasing away the lingering depression.

Still gasping with laughter, Blair suggested, "Why don't you call your dad? And/or Steven?" Just a little suggestion, nothing too difficult.

Jim smiled and shook his head, knowing exactly what his friend was doing. "Yeah, that sounds like a good idea." He stood and gently ruffled Blair's hair as he passed him headed for the phone.

"Hello, Steven? Jim... No, nothing's wrong. I just felt like talking for a while. How is everything? Business? Great. No. Nothing's wrong. No, really. I just felt like hearing your voice. Dinner? Next week? Well..." Glancing at his roommate who was giving him hand signals indicating that he should do it. "Let me ask. Blair? Steven wants us to come over for dinner next Friday, are we free?"

"You don't have to include me, man." Blair hissed.

"Blair wants to know why you're including him?" He listened and smiled. "Because he figures that you're family, too. Got to be to put up with his mean older brother." Chuckling, "What do you mean that isn't what you said? We'd love to come. Why don't you invite Dad, as well?" His smile becoming indulgent as his brother's excited voice came over the line. "Yeah. Well, I'm going to be calling him in a few minutes, so why don't I ask him?... Yeah. I'd like that. OK, then. Friday at eight. We'll see you then. Yeah. OK. Bye." He hung up the phone and chuckled at Blair's worried expression. "Take it easy, Chief. It's only dinner."

"Yeah. With all the Ellisons in one place at the same time in how many years?"

"Well, only if Dad agrees to come. He picked the phone back up and dialed...

"Hello, Dad? Jimmy. I'm fine, Dad. Uh huh. No, everything's fine. Yeah, we caught them. No. It wasn't good, but we did our best. Yeah. Look, Steven's invited us for dinner next Friday and we wondered if you'd like to join us? No, just Steven, Blair and me. Yeah. Well, he is, as far as I'm concerned." Just a slight edge to his voice. "No, Dad.... Yes, Dad. So, will you come? Steven's, eight o'clock Friday night. Yeah. That'll be great. I'm looking forward to it. No, really. I am." Jim listened for a while, his expression softening and turning a little sorrowful, "It's OK, Dad. I understand that you were just trying to do what you thought was best. It's in the past. I, I, I'd like to leave it there, if you don't mind. ... Sure. That'll be great. Thanks, Dad." He cast a quick look at his Guide. "I'll tell him. No, that's all right. It's not a problem, Dad. Honest. Yeah. OK, Friday. I, it'll be good to be together. Yeah. I'd like that. OK, see you then. Good-bye, Dad." He looked ruefully at his friend. "Just remember, Darwin, this was all your idea."

"Wait a minute. I only suggested you call and talk to them. And what's with the idea of dragging me along to dinner with them? Man, talk about pressure, I..."

"You sound like a bride heading for the in-laws, Chief." Jim smirked. Blair froze, mouth gaping.

"That is like, so not cool, man. Why would they want me there?" Insecurity dripping from his voice.

"Because they both recognize that you've managed to fill that spot in my life labeled 'family'. They recognize it and, thankfully, accept it. Do you have a problem with that?" All humor gone now, only seriousness left.

Blair stared at this stranger. Friend, partner, Sentinel, ... brother, family. A soft tentative smile began to form on his face and the bounce was back. "You mean that? Me? Family? You're sure? Me?"

"Yeah, Blair. I'm sure. You know, since I've met you, a lot has changed. For the better, I might add."

"Yeah?" Trying to rein in the eagerness. Jim wasn't usually so forthcoming when it came to feelings.

"Yes, Blair. I've started talking to my father and brother after half a lifetime of anger, hurt, and bitterness. I have people who care about me, who give a damn whether I'm OK or not. Who willingly listen to me when I need to vent, without throwing it back in my face. I have friends, Chief. Real ones. The kind you want to watch your back, the kind you can depend on. The kind who can and do depend on me. The kind who can keep a secret, although this particular secret shared is so much more a blessing than the curse I've always tried to make it out to be. All because of you. Is that a problem for you?"

Blair's expression was serious. "No. No, it isn't. A lot has changed for me, too, you know. I mean, I'm settled. I've been in one place for three years. That's got to be some kind of record for me. You've taught me what the word 'commitment' means. That just because things get rough, you don't run away, but stand your ground and fight your way through them. That that's what friends do. Stand by one another through whatever happens." He looked away, the soul-deep sadness showing a bit, for a change. "I know so little about who I am, my family. It, it hurt, growing up. Not knowing. But you, you ignored all that. You're the first person in my life, other than my mom, who has accepted me for me. Liked me for who I am, not what I can do for you, not because you want anything. Just for me." He glanced into the pale blue eyes beside him, seeing the moisture glistening in them and realizing that his own eyes were swimming, as well. Blinking rapidly to dispel the moisture, he swallowed once, hard, then continued. "I like the idea of us being family. I heard something once, I think it applies here. 'Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.' I think that's what we have." His expression uncertain, he looked up at his roommate, only to find himself engulfed in a bear-hug.

"Yeah, Chief. I couldn't say it better myself. My friend, my partner, my Guide, my brother."

Blair smiled as his eyes overflowed with the emotions of the moment, knowing that they were, in part, due to the stresses from this last case, but that the feelings were just as valid, no matter what had brought them to the surface. He returned the hug just as fiercely. "My friend, my partner, my Blessed Protector, my Sentinel, my brother." He whispered. It was enough. It was more than most people had, and it was enough.

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