This scene has been nagging me for several days, now. Of course, the weather is beautiful and I need to go play with my ponies, but I have to be home by noon, and they won't be finished with their breakfast until nine, which doesn't leave much time for a ride. Maybe after work tomorrow...No. That's the chat with Garett... Maybe the weather will hold....Anyway, the standard disclaimers are still in effect. They still aren't mine, and never will be. I prefer real people, anyway, although...
Anyway, my thanks to their creators for not suing me, and as always, to Wolfpup for providing me such a nice home for my ramblings. Although, I'm really very sorry that my last story erased the page. Honest, I didn't mean to. I just hope she can still find room, as my muses haven't quit, yet; hopefully, they never will.
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"Jimmy?" The voice was tentative, hesitant.
Jim Ellison looked up in surprise. He'd been engrossed in his examination of a crime scene photograph, and hadn't heard him arrive. He automatically stood up to face his father. He checked, and noticed that his father seemed nervous. No real surprise there; even though they had made strides toward reconciliation, they still had a long way to go.
"Dad. What's wrong? Why are you here?" His concern reflected in his face and body language, as was his slightly aggressive stance.
"Well, I-I wanted to see you, talk to you. I was wondering if you could come for dinner Friday night?" He stood, shoulders hunched, hands clasped before him, almost in supplication, it appeared. Jim shifted on his feet, turning to give his full attention to his visitor.
"I'm not sure. I'm working on several cases at the moment, and never know if I'll get off on time."
"I was going to invite your friend, too. Professor Sandburg?" Unsure of himself, or his son's relationship with the long-haired younger man. Not wanting to annoy his son, or push him away again.
Jim stared at this stranger. His head tilting slightly to the side, he looked at his father, gauging his intent. "Dad," He started, his head lowering a bit and his eyes refusing to meet the older man's, he sighed. "Why?" Glancing quickly into his father's face, then away. Shifting his weight back a bit.
"Can't I just want to have my son come home for dinner once in a while?" The voice was plaintive, nearly begging...
"I-I-I suppose so. Let me check with Sandburg. He's over at the university right now. He has a class and office hours today. Can I call and let you know?" The stiffness in his shoulders eased a bit and his stance became subtly more open.
His father responded, "That's fine, Jimmy. I-I'm sorry if I interrupted you." There was a defeated slump to his shoulders as he turned away.
"Dad?" Jim stepped toward his father, reaching out tentatively to lightly pluck at his sleeve. When his father stopped and turned back to him, he continued. "Friday's fine. I'm not sure about Blair, but I'll be there."
"Thank you, son." Unconsciously, the older Ellison straightened up, his shy smile lighting his eyes as he met the gaze of his eldest son. "I'm inviting Steven, too. I-if that's all right with you." He hurriedly added.
"That's fine, Dad. Is he back? He was in Japan, the last I heard."
"He got back a couple of days ago... We finally started talking." The old man nodded, "It's getting better, isn't it? I mean...us?" Hope a bare flicker in his eyes.
"Yeah, Dad. It's getting better." Jim replied.
William Ellison nodded and turned away, exiting the bullpen.
"Jim?" Captain Simon Banks asked, "Wasn't that your father?" Surprised to see his detective's father there.
"Yeah. he invited me for dinner Friday night....Blair, too." Bemusement in his voice. He glanced at his superior, "I wonder what he really wants." He asked, sardonically.
"I don't know. Maybe it's his birthday?" Simon asked, teasing.
Jim's face went rigid, his eyes focused into the distance, then he spun and reached out to his desk calendar. Shaking his head, he looked up at his friend and superior. "Damn. It is." He muttered, annoyed.
"Well, good. He's trying to make a party of it. Must be pretty lonely." Simon mused, "I mean, you're not exactly close, even now. And your brother isn't any closer, is he?"
"No. No, we're not close. Better, but not close. Not yet, anyway." Jim's lips quirked up in a faint grin. "This could get interesting, Simon. Since he wants Blair there, too."
"Well, why don't you call him and ask if you can take your girlfriend, too? It might ease his mind a little." Simon teased. Jim glared at him for a moment, then thought about it.
"Hell, if the people we work with couldn't tell, how could he?" He muttered, then grinned up at his boss. "Sounds like a pretty good idea, but I'll have to check with Sandburg and Ronnie, first." He sat back down and reached for the phone, glancing over his shoulder as his partner walked in.
"Hey, Chief. You got any plans for Friday?"
"Just school and here. Why?" He looked up at the tall captain, "Hey, Simon. How's it going?"
"Fine, Sandburg. Jim, I'll talk to you later about the Jacobs' case."
"Yes, sir." Jim replied distractedly. "I still don't have anything solid to go on." He finished dialing and looked up.
"That's what we need to discuss." Simon replied, turning away toward his office.
"Hey, Ronnie." Jim's voice dropped to a soft, almost sultry tone, "You busy Friday evening?" He listened, smiling, "Yeah, it's my dad's birthday and he invited us to dinner." He listened, his smile turning into a disappointed frown. "Sure. I understand. ... No. It's all right. I do understand. ... That you're not ready to meet my family. It's OK. No, really. It's all right. ... Saturday? Sure. OK. Yeah, later." He hung up, trying to keep the disappointment from his face.
"She isn't ready to face the Ellisons in their family lair, huh?" Blair asked softly.
"No. I can't really say as I blame her, but..."
"Yeah, I know." Blair replied, reaching out a hand to grasp his friend by the shoulder. "So, what's with the birthday party?"
"My dad was just here. Invited us to dinner Friday night. I told him 'maybe'. Then Simon suggested his birthday as a reason and I looked at the calendar. My dad's birthday is Friday. He just asked us to dinner, never said that it was his birthday. Nothing." His tone was sad.
"Hey, maybe he didn't want to pressure you. So, what are you going to get him for his natal day?" Blair was nearly bouncing in his excitement.
"I have no idea." Jim replied, lifting stricken eyes to his partner.
Back at the loft after work that evening:
"Look, we had dinner with him at Steven's a few weeks ago, right?" Blair asked.
"Yeah. It was pretty formal, more like a meeting with strangers with food than a family dinner." Jim agreed.
"Well, I think your dad's trying to reconnect with his sons. You know, become a family again? He came to see you in the hospital at Christmas, along with your brother, then, after you were better, you called Steven, who invited you, us, to dinner and you asked to include your dad, right?" Blair pressed.
"Right." Jim leaned his head back against the back of the couch, closing his eyes and squinching them tight, obvious signs of a budding headache.
"So, now your dad invites everyone over for his birthday, only doesn't mention that it's his birthday. I think that the only present he wants is his sons in his house, trying to make like a family." Blair stood and circled around behind his roommate, leaned over the couch and gently began to massage Jim's temples. "So, the question is, do you want to give your dad what he wants? Or do you want to continue the estrangement?"
Jim sighed as the gentle massage eased the tension. "Well, when you put it that way, how can we refuse?"
"Yeah. I know. So, do you want to get him something, to show that you remember what day it is? Something personal. Something that says you care?"
"Sounds like an FTD ad, Chief. Flowers?" Smiling faintly, eyes still closed as the tension eased and his burgeoning headache faded away.
"Well, that might give him the wrong impression, if you know what I mean." Blair quipped, with a smirk.
"So, what do you suggest? I mean, I don't even know him, any more."
"Sure you do, Jim. He's the man who raised you, badly, I admit. I mean, he drove you away, forced you to repress your abilities; I know he hurt you, a lot. But he still loves you. Those scrapbooks you told me about. That's a man who deeply cares, Jim. Like you, he doesn't always know how to express it, but he loves you." Blair paused to watch his friend's reaction.
Sighing, Jim leaned forward, away from the soothing touch of his partner, leaning his elbows on his knees and rubbing his hands through his hair. "OK. I'm open to suggestions. What do you think I should get him?"
"Well... I have an idea. Why not some framed photos. Like the one of you and Steven at the racetrack? Or the one from you getting Police Officer of the Year? Or, both, maybe? I'm sure he'd like that. Why don't you call Steven, maybe have some professional portraits done? You've got almost a week. It would be something he'd treasure. Especially if you both went." Blair suggested.
"Yeah. OK. Let me give Steven a call."
"Why the tux, Chief?" Jim asked, annoyed.
"Because, this is a formal sitting, not snapshots on vacation."
"But Blair. This isn't me. How about just a suit, instead?" Jim looked up at his friend.
Blair sighed. "Oh, all right. The blue suit?"
"Yeah. I guess. Unless you think the gray one is better?"
"No, the blue one. With the light blue shirt. It enhances your eyes, makes them stand out." Blair mumbled as he pulled the required items from his friend's closet.
"My eyes?" Jim asked in surprise.
"Yeah, man. When you wear blue, it makes your eyes look even brighter and more intense than they normally are. Blue's your color, man." Blair answered distractedly as he searched for the right tie to offset the suit and shirt, finally settling for a dark red tie. "Here." He held out his choice. Jim took the tie and held it up to the robin's egg blue shirt he had just slipped into. Shrugging, he slung the tie around his neck and began to button his shirt. When he was ready to go, he looked at his roommate.
"Well, what?" Blair smirked.
Jim sighed in annoyance. "Will it do for the photos?"
"Oh, I'm sure it will." He looked up as there was a knock on the front door. "Just on time." Blair bounced down the stairs from Jim's bedroom and opened the front door.
"Hey! Right on time...wow. You look fantastic." He stepped back to allow their visitor to enter.
Jim had slowly followed his friend down the stairs, stopping near the bottom to stare at their guest. "Ronnie? What are you doing here?"
"Blair asked me to drive you to the photographer's, as my reward for this onerous task, he told me I'd get to see you all spiffed up. I'm afraid we put our heads together and I decided that I wanted some shots of 'us' while you were dressed up. Knowing how hard it is to get you ....Oh, my. You were right, Blair. He really does clean up nicely." She smiled.
"You look pretty good, yourself." Jim murmured in response.
"Wow. You guys look ready for the prom, or something." Blair quipped, ducking out of reach of his bemused Sentinel, as that worthy reached out to muss his hair. "OK, OK. Anyway, here's the directions. Steven is supposed to meet you there." Then, murmuring Sentinel-soft, he continued, "I figured that if Ronnie met Steven in less intimidating circumstances, she might change her mind about Friday."
Jim met his friend's gaze and nodded, a smile widening his mouth. "Thanks, Chief." He replied; then, turning his attention to Ronnie, he continued, "Well, since we're already dressed up, how about we go out for dinner, afterwards?"
"Oh, yeah. You have reservations at Peccadillo's." When the others turned to stare at him, he looked up, innocently. "What? You think I'd get you guys all dressed up with no place to go?" His broad smile reaching his eyes as he shooed them out the door. "Go on. You don't want to keep Steven waiting or be late." Closing the door behind them, he leaned against the wall and chuckled.
"Jim!" Steven called out to his older brother, scrambling out of his car to intercept them as they crossed the parking lot.
Jim and Ronnie turned around. Jim smiled. As his brother caught up with them, he performed the introductions. "Ronnie Wells, this is my brother, Steven. Steven, this is Ronnie Wells."
"It's a pleasure, Ms. Wells." Steven purred, taking in the semi-formal dress, not to mention the woman who filled it very nicely.
"It's Ronnie. And you can stop flirting. Jim and I are rather serious about one another." Recognizing Jim's reluctance to tie any strings to their relationship as yet. She also understood his territoriality and somewhat possessive nature...and reveled in it. With some men, it would be seen as stifling. To her, it just made her feel safe and cared about...at least, with Jim. She smiled to ease the sting of her words.
"Lucky Jim." Steven answered, smiling at them both. Jim smiled back, almost smug, but not quite.
"So, shall we do this?" Ronnie asked, her hand on Jim's arm.
"Absolutely." Steven replied and led the way into the photographer's studio.
Ronnie loved watching the men pose. They were so different, yet similar in many ways. Jim was so stiff and formal, his military background coming to the fore. Steven was so prim and proper in his pale gray suit, white shirt and black tie. Very businesslike. Jim was simply gorgeous. His dark hair and blue eyes offset and enhanced by the navy blue suit. Steven's blond boyish good looks accented by the pale gray. She had a great time watching them. After the first few, very formal, poses, she started making faces at them.
Steven glanced at Jim's girlfriend. How such a beautiful and obviously classy lady could fall for his stick of a brother, was beyond him. Then, she crossed her eyes at him and he doubled over in shocked laughter.
Jim looked at his brother, who was still staring at Ronnie. Turning his gaze to his lady, he caught her uncrossing her eyes and trying to look innocent. A smile twitched at the corners of his lips. He controlled his reaction and turned to his brother.
"Steven? Is something wrong?"
Ronnie rolled her eyes. Knowing darned good and well that Jim knew what she had done. But when Steven tried to put the blame for his hysterics on her, she managed to hold it together and look outraged at such an idea. Then, the moment he regained control and they were posed all stiff and formal again, she stuck her tongue out at him and puffed out her cheeks.
"Stop that!" Steven demanded, laughing. "That's not fair. Make her stop, Jim." He whined.
Jim turned to look at his little brother. His face suddenly going serious, thoughtful.
"Jim?" Ronnie asked, seeing his expression. Steven turned to look, as well, and immediately sobered.
"Jim?" He tentatively touched his brother's arm, "I'm sorry...I..."
"No. It's all right. I just remembered..."
"Remembered what, Jim?" Ronnie prompted, knowing of Jim's penchant for repression.
"I remembered when Mom left." His voice was barely audible. Ronnie came closer to hear, exchanging concerned glances with Steven.
"What about it?" She murmured.
"We were on the bus, coming home from school. Stevie had been crying, and a bunch of bigger kids were teasing him, calling him a baby." He looked at his brother, who had paled as the memories came back.
"I remember. I begged you to make them stop. Do you remember what you said to them?"
"Yeah. I do. I said, 'Let's see how you feel when you come home and your mom has left and isn't coming back.' Then I punched out the loudest one, as I recall." Jim's eyes bore into Steven's.
"My big brother, always protecting me. I...I forgot that, over the years."
"That's OK. So did I." Jim replied.
"No. You just transferred it. To your friends. To Blair and the people you work with. I saw it at the race track. I was so jealous. I'm sorry. Can you ever forgive me?" There was the sparkle of tears in his eyes.
Jim smiled as he reached to engulf his brother in a hug. "Yeah. I can. If you can forgive me for being such a jerk."
"Hey, I always thought jerk was synonymous with big brother." Steven smiled as he returned the hug. Neither man noticed when the photographer caught them on film.
"Hey, Jim. Why don't you and Ronnie get your pictures taken together?" Steven suggested as he pulled away from his brother. Jim smiled and turned to look at his lady.
"I think that's what she had planned." Smirking when she returned his smile.
"Well, that's what Blair had planned, and who am I to go against what he wants for you?"
The rest of the photo session was much warmer and friendlier. There were more shots of Jim and Steven, where the smiles were genuine and the laughter evident. There were some rather romantic poses with Jim and Ronnie. There were even some silly poses with all three of them. Afterwards, Jim and Ronnie insisted Steven join them for dinner.
"You're a lucky man, Jim." Steven said to his brother as they stood and watched Ronnie make her way across the restaurant toward the ladies room.
"I know. She's willing to take it slow and wait for whatever happens to happen. She's a lot of fun, too."
"So I noticed." There was a wistful quality in the younger man's voice. Jim turned, picking up on it.
"Want to tell me about it?" He asked softly, interested.
"Oh, just that Becky and I broke up. I'd like to settle down, start a family, but I just can't seem to find the right woman."
Jim chuckled. At his brother's hurt glare, he held up a hand, "Wait a minute. I don't mean anything by it. I'm not laughing at you, just the situation." He watched as his brother calmed down. "You want a little advice, Steven?"
"This from someone whose marriage lasted less than two years?" was Steven's sardonic reply.
Jim had the grace to chuckle. Sitting back down and waving his brother to do the same, he began, "Yeah, well, what can I say? I only learned this little bit of information recently, myself. One of my friends told me that the reason that his marriage has lasted thirty years, is that he married his best friend."
"So? That's it?"
"No. He said that they took their time becoming best friends. Talked about hopes and dreams. Likes and dislikes. Got to know each other real well before ever getting into a physical relationship. I have to admit that my marriage to Carolyn was a lot more hormone driven than anything else. We didn't really know each other and when problems developed, we couldn't cope. I thought she was cold, and she thought that I was closed off." Jim paused for a moment to take a sip of wine, "We were both right. But because we had no foundation under our relationship. I loved Carolyn. In some ways, I still do and always will. But we make better friends than we ever did lovers. With Ronnie, we're in no hurry. We're willing to learn all there is about each other before going any farther. It's kind of nice, no pressure. Without the pressure to try and remake myself into someone else, we can relax and have fun, which makes us better friends, which leads to a better relationship, which...you get the picture?"
"You haven't taken her to bed, yet?" Surprised.
Jim shook his head in frustration with his brother. "No. Nor do we intend to for quite some time to come. Think about what I said. It's good advice. You're a businessman. Think about it. Do you buy a building built from the roof, down? Of course not. You need a solid foundation and good materials, not sub-standard crap that will crumble with the slightest stress. You've been building your relationships like they built the racetrack. Think about it." He turned and stood as he heard Ronnie returning. Steven rose, as well, watching his brother and his lady. The way they smiled at each other, the casual touches and comfortable familiarity.
"So, are you going to come with us to our dad's house on Friday?" Steven asked, unable to keep the hope from his voice.
"Oh, I wasn't planning..."
"Yeah, Ronnie. It won't be so bad, now that you've met Steven." Jim cajoled.
Ronnie looked at the two earnest men, their hopeful and pleading expressions. "Why, that little... I'm gonna kill him!" But her smile belied the threat.
"What? Who?" Steven spluttered, wondering what had happened.
"Blair. He set this up. Why, that Ooooophhhh." She gritted her teeth and shook her head in anger.
Jim gently reached out a hand and with his index finger caught her chin and turned her face toward him. "Hon? Is that really a problem?" He asked softly, his eyes worried.
"No. I just wasn't prepared for this yet, Jim." She glanced at Steven, "You're very nice, Steven, but I'm still not ready to beard the lion in his den. It's his birthday and you two need to mend some more fences. I don't want to be used as a buffer or distraction."
"OK." Jim nodded. "Will you come to dinner at the loft when I invite them?" They looked each other in the eyes; Jim earnestly, Ronnie worriedly.
Sighing, she closed her eyes and nodded. "OK. But only if Blair or I cook." She insisted.
"Deal." Jim smiled contentedly.
The rest of their meal was consumed with pleasant conversation and wry humor. As they were leaving, Steven pulled his brother aside.
"Jim, you'd better plan on hanging on to her. She's a winner, all the way." He smiled rather sadly, "I have to admit that I envy you."
Jim returned the smile, "Don't. I agree she's wonderful. She's just about perfect, but I haven't gotten her to go camping or fishing, yet. Got to see how that goes." At his brother's shocked expression, Jim laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Just kidding, bro. She's worth the effort, though. If it goes that far, it will be forever. I want forever."
"Yeah. Me, too." He smiled. "So, the proofs are supposed to be ready tomorrow afternoon and we can get the prints on Thursday. Pretty fast turn-around time. Meet you at five tomorrow?"
"Can we make it six? I'm in court all day tomorrow." Jim counter-offered.
"OK, six it is. Ronnie, it was an immense pleasure, meeting you." Steven took her hand and bowed in a courtly manner over it. He was rewarded with her full, rich laugh.
"You are such a card, Steven." She chuckled.
"Yeah, a joker." Jim added, smiling.
Steven straightened up and joined in their laughter. "I'll see you tomorrow, Jim."
Back in Ronnie's van, Jim settled back as she drove him home. "Thank you for this evening." He said, softly.
"Thank you, as well. Or should we both be thanking Blair?" They looked at each other as they waited for the light, considering it...
"Nah." They chorused, laughing.
Pulling up in front of the loft, Jim leaned over toward Ronnie, who turned to meet him. The kiss lingered until they had to part in order to breathe.
"Want to come up for coffee?" Jim offered.
"I'd better not. I might not want to leave." Ronnie replied.
"Well, Sandburg's there, so that wouldn't be a problem." Jim suggested.
Smiling, Ronnie reached out the fingers of one hand to stroke his cheek, one finger gently tracing his lips. "But in that case, what would be the point?" She murmured.
"Well, how about we park and neck for a while?" He asked.
"I can do that." Smiling, she put the van in gear and pulled into an empty parking space. Once she had turned off the engine, she turned back to him and said, softly, "Now, where were we?" He smiled and pressed his lips to hers.
"Right here." He mumbled as he threaded his fingers through her hair.
"So, Jim. How'd it go?" Blair had waited up for him. At one point, he had gone downstairs and worriedly looked for his friend. Seeing Ronnie's van parked next to his Volvo, however, he just smiled and went back inside, particularly when he noticed the fog on the inside of the windows...
"What? Who? Me?" Blair feigned innocence.
"Yeah, you." He grinned and ruffled Blair's curls as he finished removing his tie and headed to the kitchen for a beer. "You want one?" he offered.
"Sure. Thanks." He answered. Watching his companion's relaxed demeanor, he asked, "So, did it work?"
"Did what work?" Jim asked in return as he handed his friend his beer.
Sighing in exasperation, Blair replied, "Did she agree to go on Friday?"
"Oh. Sorry. I thought she would, once she met Steven and it wouldn't be quite so traumatic." Blair's disappointment was palpable.
"That's OK. It's going to be our turn to 'entertain' next. She promised to come here for dinner with Dad and Steven, providing either you or she cook." He smirked as the exuberance reappeared on his friend's face and posture.
"Really?! That's great." Blair smiled, his mind already turning over recipes for the occasion.
"Well, it's not going to happen for a while yet, Julia Child, so just chill for a bit, OK?"
"Oh, yeah, right. Sure, man. Chill. I can do that." But he kept bouncing.
Shaking his head in bemused fondness, Jim finished his beer and headed for the stairs. "I'm going to get to bed at a decent hour tonight, Chief. I'll see you in the morning."
"Good night, Jim. Oh, how was the portrait sitting?"
"It was good. Fun."
Blair waited, but there was obviously no more information forthcoming from his roommate. He'd have to pump Ronnie for the particulars when he next saw her. He smiled. If Jim thought it was 'fun', then the pictures would be great.
Jim dragged Blair along with him the next evening to help pick out which pose to have enlarged for his father. When he saw the proofs, Blair was amazed.
"Are these in the order in which they were taken?" He asked. When told that they were, he smiled and removed the first six. "Well, in that case, forget these. You both look like you're waiting for the hangman." Blair insisted. Jim and Steven glanced at the offensive photos and grimaced in agreement, immediately setting them aside.
Blair went quickly through the remaining proofs and selected several as 'possibles'. He carefully pulled them out and let the two men go through his discards before he let them look at the shots he had chosen as the best. There were ten photos in the final stack. Of them, three were of Jim and Ronnie, one of the three of them, one each of each one alone, and three of the brothers.
"OK, this one of the three of you. Great shot. You're all smiling naturally, all looking at the camera. OK?" He asked. Receiving nods of agreement, he set it aside. "Now, Jim. You need to choose one of these." He spread out the three of Jim and Ronnie. One had them sitting in a formal pose, with soft smiles; in the second one, they had obviously just recovered from laughter, Jim's arm was around Ronnie's shoulders and their grins were wide and their eyes sparkled with humor; in the third, the photographer had caught them gazing into each other's eyes, their expressions mirroring each other and indicating shocked wonder and realization.
Steven picked up the third photo. "You should get this one, for sure." He murmured. "It says it all."
Blair smiled, he had to agree, but it would be Jim's choice. The first one was rather blah, normal. The second showed their friendship. The third, possible commitment.
"I think Ronnie should be here to decide on this one." Jim murmured, softly; but his gaze lingered on the second and third shots, the fingers of one hand gently tracing the faces in the third picture.
"Well, these two, are the only ones that look good, to me at any rate." Blair indicated the two single photos. Each man was smiling naturally and looking directly into the camera. "They'd do well as a pair, to perhaps bracket a third picture. See how the angles are opposite? Jim's slightly angled to his left and Steven to the right. Very formal, but natural smiles. Now, if you put them as eight by tens next to say..." He chose one of the pictures of the two of them, "This one," He placed the proof between the other two, "As a ten by fourteen, and it makes a great grouping." He looked up for their approval.
"Not bad, Blair." Steven agreed, looking at the arrangement.
"It would look better if Dad were in the group shot, though." Jim replied softly. He and his brother looked at each other, communicating silently, and smiled.
"Yeah. It would. Maybe we should bring him in?" Steven asked.
"Only if he wants to." Jim replied.
Blair smiled at the way Jim and his brother were relating to each other. Even better than before. Obviously the photo session and dinner had gone a long way toward their reconnecting.
"OK, so, which one of these do you like?" Blair set out the three shots of the two men.
"They're all good." Jim murmured.
"Yeah. But different, too. What do you think, Blair?" Steven asked, looking to the younger man for advice.
Surprised, Blair answered, "Well, that depends on the message you want to get across. This one," He pulled out the most formal of the three poses, "says 'We're friendly, but formal'." He pulled out the second one, "This one says 'We get along well'." It showed the two men with broad smiles on their faces, obviously just recovered from laughing. "And this one," Blair pulled out the third picture, his own personal favorite. It showed the two men laughing, Jim's arm was around Steven's shoulders and Steven was leaning toward him to return the hug, "This one says that you like each other." His voice softened toward the end as he watched the two men follow his reasoning.
"That was when Ronnie was making faces at us." Steven said, a smile softening his features as he remembered.
"What do you mean, us? Seems to me that the only one she was directing it to was you." Jim replied, smiling fondly.
"Yeah." He looked up at his brother. "I like this one, but I think Dad would like the more formal pose."
"I like this one better. It's more of what I'd like us to be." Jim replied.
"Oooookay. So, why don't you each give him one?" Blair suggested. "So, which of these other poses do you want?" Blair picked up the winning shots and handed them to the photographer's secretary, smiling at her as he did.
"Well, I want to come back with Ronnie to decide on these." Jim said. Separating out the shots of the two of them.
"I'd like to think about them some more." Steven said. "We only need the ones for Dad right now, so we have time to come back later?" He looked to the secretary for confirmation.
"Yes, Sir." She said, smiling at the good looking man, heck, they were all good looking, but the other tall one was obviously taken, as could be seen by the photos. "We keep the proofs here for six months and then archive them, unless you'd care to purchase the proofs?" She asked.
"We'll think about it." Jim said. "We'd like eight by tens?" He looked to Steven for confirmation. Steven nodded, "of these two."
"Would you like them matted and framed, Sir?" She was busily filling out the order form.
"Uh," Jim looked at his brother, who matched his blank expression, then both men turned to Blair for his advice.
"Yes, please. What color mat would you suggest?"
"Well, they're wearing blue and gray in the photos, with a dark red and black ties.... Hmmmm, Oh, how about this, or this, or... this?" She pulled out color samples. There was a pale blue that matched their eyes, but Blair discarded it, as Jim was wearing too much blue, the cream color he held up to the picture and set aside, then, he placed the burgundy sample on the photo and smiled.
"This one. It goes with Jim's tie, but doesn't overwhelm. With an oak frame?" He looked at his companions, who nodded.
"Yeah. Dad's got oak frames already." Steven said, smiling.
"Yeah. This is good." Jim looked at the secretary. "Got all that?" He smiled when she met his eyes.
"Y-yes, sir. You need these by Thursday? I'll have to put a rush on them, but they'll be ready after six on Thursday, OK?"
"That'll be great, thanks." Steven answered for them.
"Come on, Chief. Get the lead out." Jim called from the kitchen, where he was getting himself a bottle of water.
"I'm coming. I'm coming." Blair replied. Muttering under his breath about suit-wearing Sentinels who spent the day in court and didn't have to change.
"I heard that." Jim called out, smiling. "I'd have gladly chased bad guys and gotten filthy and had to shower and change than have to sit in a courtroom in a stuffy suit all day." He sighed as he leaned back against the counter and took a sip of his water.
"Well, yeah. I hear that. So, do you think this will be OK?" Blair asked, stepping out of his room.
"Sure, Chief. It's not formal, or anything. In fact..." Jim set down his bottle and headed for his room, upstairs.
"Jim? What are you doing?" Blair called out, his brows furrowed in puzzlement.
"Well, I decided that this suit has got to go." Was Jim's muffled reply. "This isn't a formal occasion. I do not have to wear a suit."
"Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?" Blair asked softly.
"Myself." Jim admitted reluctantly. "He's my father, not my bow, or Ronnie's parents. I shouldn't need to try and make an impression. I don't need to make an impression." Jim insisted, trotting back down the stairs, dressed now in chinos, a collared shirt and a v-necked pullover. His eyes sought out his roommate, seeking approval.
"Looks good, man." Blair smiled. He was dressed in his best 'professor' clothes, consisting of slacks, a long sleeved shirt, v-necked sweater vest and corduroy sports coat.
"You ready?" Jim asked, accepting his bottle of water from his friend as they headed for the door.
"As I'll ever be." Blair replied. He was only going as moral support for his friend. He was perfectly aware that Jim's dad only included him because of some misconception about their relationship. Hopefully, that could soon be put to rest. Maybe.
"Jimmy, Mr. Sandburg. Welcome." Sally greeted them.
"Hi, Sally." Jim bent down to kiss the elderly woman's cheek. Blair smiled when she turned to him, offering her hand. Gallantly, he bent over her fingers, kissing her hand.
"Please, call me Blair." He murmured with a flirtatious wink.
Jim gawked when Sally blushed and actually simpered at his partner's actions. Following her in, he 'accidentally' bumped into the smaller man, nearly knocking him from his feet. Blair glared up at his larger friend, but caught the twinkle in his eye and merely gave him back a smug grin. Jim quietly set down the box he was carrying in the closet as he hung up his jacket, taking Blair's to hang up, as well, noticing that Steven had already arrived by the sight of a nearly identical package already in residence. Jim then led the way to the living room, where his father and brother awaited them.
"Jimmy!" His father exclaimed, not trying to stifle his joy that his son had come as promised. "Professor Sandburg. Welcome." He didn't even try to wipe the happy grin off his face. "I'm glad that you could make it."
Steven stood up to greet them, as well, smiling and exchanging a wink with his co-conspirators.
"We wouldn't have missed it for the world, Mr. Ellison." Blair replied, shaking the elderly gentleman's hand.
"Don't stand on ceremony, come on in and relax. What'll you have to drink?" The senior Ellison asked. Both of the newcomers requested beer. They spent the time before dinner politely talking of how things were going, what was new in their lives and other inane things. Blair volunteered to go and help Sally in the kitchen.
"Well, if that's what you want to do, go ahead." William said. When Blair had left the room, he turned to his eldest son and flat out asked, "He likes playing the 'little woman'?"
Steven, unprepared, was taking a drink at the time. He sprayed white wine all over his father, himself, the coffee table, the carpet... Choking on his drink and his laughter, Jim had to come up behind his brother and pound on his back to help. William just looked on in confusion.
"Blair? The 'little woman'?" Steven spluttered. "Oh, Dad. Jim?" Unable to control himself, he sank back in his chair, dabbing ineffectually at the wine spills while he laughed hysterically.
"Dad, Blair's got a steady girlfriend, who I doubt would like to hear about him being referred to as a woman of any kind." Jim admonished his father.
His father raised his eyebrows, "Then why is he out in the kitchen with Sally?" he asked in confusion.
"Because, one, he likes to be helpful; two, he actually does like to cook; and, three, he wants to give us some time alone, without an audience, as it were." Jim calmly replied.
"You mean, you and he...aren't...uh...?"
"No, Dad. We are roommates." He caught his father's eye and held the contact, "He helps me with things." Seeing his father's reaction, stiffening as his understanding reached his eyes and they widened in surprise,
"He knows?" His voice raising nearly an octave.
"Yes, Dad. He helps me."
"Helps you what, Jim?" Steven was getting lost.
"Actually, he helps me a lot, in my work. He has a rather...unique way of seeing things. A fresh perspective, as it were. I-I'd probably not be a cop any more, if it weren't for him." His visual contact with his father informed the old man of just how true those words were. William Ellison had the good grace to feel abashed and turned his eyes away from his sons.
"I'm sorry, Jimmy. I..."
"It's OK, Dad. I forgive you. You were just doing what you thought was best for me." He crossed to his father and hesitantly offered a hug. Steven watched in shock as the old man leaned into his son's embrace and sobbed. Jim just held him, rocking slightly, leaning his cheek against the top of his father's head while making soft, soothing, sounds. Steven rose uncertainly and joined them, hesitantly, he put his arms around his father and brother, a little surprised when they opened up to accept him in.
"Oh, Jimmy, Stevie. I'm sorry, boys. I'm so, so sorry." Unable to speak as the sobs wracked his aged frame. His sons exchanged looks, their faces expressing their own sorrow at their estrangement and all the hurt and anger they had felt for so many years.
Blair quietly slipped into the living room, carrying the two packages from the closet, along with a third box. He quietly set them on the coffee table and turned to sneak back out, as he passed the three men, Jim's tear-stained face lifted and their eyes met. Blair smiled and continued on his way as Jim simply hugged his father and brother more tightly to him.
"Uh, Sally? Will dinner hold for oh, say, half an hour?" Blair asked when he got back to the kitchen.
"Of course. It's just a pot roast. Why? Is something wrong? Are they fighting?" She turned to him, wiping her hands on her apron, worried.
"Oh, no. Actually, they're hugging and crying..." But the last word was spoken to an empty room as Sally ran to see for herself. Blair followed, curious. When he caught up to her, she was standing in the doorway, tears streaming down her face, her apron bunched up in her fists and held over her mouth. Gently, Blair put his arm around the slight woman and stood watching them.
"I guess you never expected this to happen, did you?" He whispered.
She shook her head and looked at him. Reaching up to touch his face, she smiled at him as she smoothed her apron back into place. "No. I thought the gulf might be too wide for them to span it. Thank you."
Blair blinked in surprise. "Me? I didn't..."
"I may be old, but I know what I see. I see how you have taken the place in his heart where the holes were for his father and brother. I see how you have cleaned out the clutter and made room in his heart to forgive, to love. I am old, but I am not yet blind." She said, her chin rising up, straightening her back and causing Blair to take a half-step back. "I see how Jimmy cares for you. How he protects you as he once protected Stevie. Loves you as he tried to love his father. You have become family to him. You forgive, so he can forgive. I know how he could hear and see. How he could smell and taste and feel when he was a boy. You have given that back to him. You help him. And now, he is able to forgive, to allow his father and Stevie back into his heart." With those whispered words, she turned and proudly walked back to her kitchen.
Blair watched her go. Him? How could he have had anything to do with the Ellison men's reconciliation. Jim had done that. Well, maybe Blair had pushed a little. But he refused to lay claim to anything to do with this one. Oh, no. No way. She had to be mistaken...he glanced back at the three men still hugging and crying together...didn't she?
When Jim felt his father and brother's sobs ease, he loosened his hold on them. All three men had mumbled their requests for forgiveness and given forgiveness in return. Finally, they slowly pulled apart, reaching in perfect unison for their handkerchiefs to wipe their streaming eyes. When they had regained their composure, they shyly looked at each other, a little uncertain as to what had happened or where to go from that point, what should they do or say next. Jim steered his father to the couch, pushing him gently down while signaling Steven to sit on one side, while he sat on the other. He picked up the package from Steven and handed it to his father.
"This one's from Steven, Dad, Happy Birthday." He said softly, and watched as his father opened the package.
He smiled at the portrait inside. The photo of his sons, formal, yet friendly. "It's beautiful, Steven. Thank you." He turned to his youngest son and received a hug.
"You're welcome, Dad." He lifted the second, matching package. "This one's from Jim, Dad. Happy Birthday." He smiled at his brother across his father's bent head. Jim returned the smile and then watched his father's face when he saw the portrait.
"Oh, Jimmy. It's wonderful. I love it." He looked at his sons with the realization that his sons had already moved closer even before this day. The fact that they were hugging and laughing in the photo proved that there was hope for him and his family. He set it beside the first picture. Then he reached to pick up the third package. It was square, obviously not a picture, from the shape. "What's this one?" He asked.
"I have no idea." Steven said, looking at Jim, who just shrugged his puzzlement.
"Well, it has my name on it..." William Ellison removed the wrapping, opened the box and looked inside. First his face paled, then blushed. Inside was a porcelain statue of a father and his two sons, playing together, building and flying kites. He tenderly lifted the piece from the box and gasped to realize that the faces on the three figures were his and his sons, as they had been as children. Both Jim and Steven caught their breaths as well as they picked out the details. As the statuette pulled free from the wrappings, a note fell out. There in fine calligraphic script was a note,
It's not too late, you know.
Looking into the box, he found three small packages, which held fabric and string. Setting the porcelain piece reverently down, he pulled out the three items. Opening one, he found a 'pocket kite'. Curious, he unfolded it to reveal a small parasail kite, in shades of gray and blue. The second package held a similar kite, in blues and greens, and the third held yet another kite in blues and yellow. Smiling, William looked at his two puzzled sons.
"Is it too late? Would you like to go kite flying with me, tomorrow, maybe?" There was an almost pleading expression on his face. His sons looked at each other, Steven puzzled, Jim's face starting to crinkle up into a smile."What time?" Jim asked, his eyes asking his brother to agree, as well.
Surprised, Steven added, "How about two o'clock?" shifting his gaze to his father, who, in turn looked to his oldest son for confirmation.
"Works for me." Jim agreed.
"Would you like to meet here? The park's not far..." William Ellison asked.
"Sure, Dad." Jim answered smiling. He then turned his attention back to the note. He'd recognize that handwriting anywhere, even if it was a little more careful and precise than usual. He'd have to talk to Blair about this...as well as his father.
Dinner was a pleasant affair. William told stories of when his sons were children, skipping over, or possibly just not remembering, the bad things. His sons were amazed that he knew so much about them. Their memories were of a workaholic man who was never around, yet, here he was, regaling them with stories of their exploits as children. Blair was vastly entertained, learning a great deal about his friend from William's stories.
After dinner, they returned to the living room with their coffee. The conversation continued, with Blair asking questions which led to Jim and Steven telling about their lives and exploits, filling their father in on the missing years of their lives. Finally, near midnight, Steven happened to glance at the clock on the mantle.
"Is that the time!" He exclaimed, shocked. Standing, he looked wildly around, "I'm sorry, I need to get home. I'm expecting an important call from Europe in a couple of hours." Hesitantly, he turned toward the door, while the others stood.
"Let me walk you to your car, Stevie?" William asked his son. Together, they walked to the door, Jim and Steven hugging briefly and William walking his son to his car. When he returned, he found Jim and Blair quietly back in the living room.
"Thanks for staying Jimmy." He glanced nervously at Blair, but continued. "I-I-I need to talk to you about a few things." The fear of rejection was obvious in his voice.
"Sure, Dad." Jim replied, glancing in concern at his roommate.
"Uh, if you want me to, I can go wait in the truck..." Blair offered to give them privacy.
"I don't think that will be necessary, Blair." He paused, searching for the words. "You help Jimmy with his... his senses, don't you." It wasn't phrased as a question, but a statement. He lifted his pale blue eyes to the younger man.
"Yes. I do." Blair agreed, meeting the old man's gaze steadily.
William nodded and turned his attention to his son. "Did you ever wonder why you were named James Joseph?" He asked.
Jim blinked in surprise. "Not really. Although, I guess I was a little surprised that I wasn't named after you." He admitted.
"You never knew that I had an older brother, did you?" His voice was soft, his expression one of looking back far into the past, at memories good and bad.
"No, Sir. I was always under the impression that you only had a sister." Jim agreed.
William nodded. "I never spoke of him. He was a lot older than I was, you know. He was almost twelve years older than me." He fell silent, sliding cautiously into his memories.
"Did he have senses like Jim?" Blair asked softly, bringing the elderly man back to the present, but with his memories tagging along.
William smiled. This boy was bright..."Yes, Blair. I remember how he always protected me from big bullies when I was little, how he was always the one I ran to when there was trouble, or I was afraid. He was very protective of Amy and me, you know."
"I can imagine." Blair glanced at his partner, seeing the intent look on his face as he assimilated this new and startling information. There was just a shade of anger beginning in his eyes. Blair reached out to touch his friend's arm, giving him a warning shake of his head to listen before jumping to any conclusions. Clenching his teeth spasmodically, Jim forced himself to relax, nodding.
"Well, when the war started, he enlisted, of course. He was sent to the Pacific. His unit was captured by the Japanese and imprisoned. When he finally came home, he had changed. A great deal. He was subject to nightmares on a regular basis. Wouldn't go out in the daylight because he said it hurt his eyes. Couldn't stand any noise, not even the radio, said it was too loud, even if no one else could hear it." His eyes fell on Blair. "I didn't know how to help him. He was always in such pain. I remember how, before the war, he could always find me, no matter how well I hid. I remember once, we were doing something we weren't supposed to do, he suddenly froze in place, tilting his head in this peculiar way he had, like he was listening, then he said that our father was coming and that we'd better get a move on if we didn't want to be eating our dinner from the mantle..." He smiled fondly at the memories.
With a glance at Jim, Blair prompted the old man. "What happened to him, Mr. Ellison?"
William looked up, a haunted look in his eyes. He glanced at Blair and then turned his gaze on his son. He stared a long time at him, then looked away. "You look like him, Jimmy. You're so much like him..." He abruptly stood up and began to walk around the room. Finally stopping by the mantle, he leaned an elbow on shelf and bowed his head and rubbed his forehead with one hand.
"What happened, Dad?" Jim asked softly.
William looked up and met his son's eyes, seeing, just for a moment, his older brother...
"I-I-I was graduating from high school." He began, "I was going to go on to college, something that Jimmy had missed out on, because of the war. He said he was so proud of me, I'd kept up good grades and had won a scholarship to the university. I went to my graduation. My folks were there, as was Amy, but Jimmy didn't come and I was disappointed. Afterwards, when we got home, I couldn't find him. I searched everywhere, but he wasn't anywhere. Finally, my parents insisted that I go out to dinner with them. When we came home, I went to my room to change out of my suit..." His eyes looked far into the past, to that day and what happened. There was a haunted look in his eyes. His audience waited for him to continue, mesmerized.
Taking a deep breath, William continued. "I found Jimmy in my room. He'd taken our father's shotgun and blown his head off with it. He left a note to me, apologizing for messing up my room, but it was the only place he could be where he still felt like a human being instead of some kind of freak." He closed his eyes at the remembered sight and the agony it still brought him.
Jim sat, stunned. He glanced at Blair, who had tears in his eyes at the story. Silently, Jim stood up and approached his father. "That's why you tried to push my abilities away. You were afraid that I'd be just like him, living down to his name." He whispered, gently resting a hand on his father's shoulder. "I'm not him, Dad. I'm stronger than that. I have somebody who understands and helps me. Gives me the support I need." His eyes shifted to that person and he directed his next words to him, even though he was still speaking to his father, "I know I don't say it nearly often enough, but I need him. When something happens, even when he has no real idea of what to do, he comes up with the right answer. No matter what. He's there, he watches my back. He has faith in me, Dad, faith that I'll be able to save him when there's trouble; and he gets into a lot of trouble." He smiled. "I think I understand, now; why you tried to make me push my abilities away. You were wrong, but I understand, now. You were just trying to protect me, keep me from being like your brother."
William turned into his son's embrace, fumbling as he reached his arms around the larger man, seeking the physical contact he had always denied, but now so desperately needed himself. Jim wrapped his arms around his father and hung on for dear life as his father, for the second time that night, cried.
"That was pretty intense, man." Blair said softly as they hung their coats on their hooks.
"Yeah. It was." Jim agreed. He closed his eyes, lifted his arms over his head and stretched, joints popping at the movement. "I think I understand, now, why he was so hard on me. He was afraid that I'd be like his brother."
"His big brother whom he practically worshipped, Jim." Blair reminded him.
"Yeah. It must have been tough when he realized that I had the same 'problem' his brother had."
"I can't imagine, Jim. How he managed to cope with it all. Considering all this, I think he did a pretty good job as a father, after all. Not as good as he could have, but better than one might expect under the circumstances." Blair said cautiously.
"Yeah. I guess he did his best." He smiled at his friend. "The statue and the kites were a good idea, Chief. Where'd you get the statue?" Changing the subject, having had enough emotional pain for the evening.
"Oh, I know this girl at school. She did it for me." Blair smiled. "She did a pretty good job, don't you think?"
"Yeah, Chief, she did a great job...so did you." He smiled fondly at his friend. "Well, it's almost two, I've got a date with Dad in twelve hours, so I'm going to bed. See you in the morning, Chief."
"Good night, Jim." Blair replied.
Pulling out a notebook and turning on his bed lamp, Blair began writing in his journal. He hoped that Jim never realized that he had been the reason his mother left her family. That she hadn't been able to deal with her son's senses or her husband's memories of his elder brother. He shook his head in sorrow for Jim and his family. Knowing more of the Ellison family history could only help him help Jim, but he still hurt for his friend and his family. Finishing his entries, he turned out the light and settled down to sleep.
The phone rang at noon. Jim picked it up on the second ring. "Ellison."
"Hey, Jimmy. Uh, do you think you could maybe talk Blair into joining us this afternoon?" William Ellison's voice was uncertain.
"Are you sure, Dad?" Jim asked in surprise, casting a quick speculative glance at his roommate, who was at the dining room table, pounding away on his laptop.
"Yeah, I'm sure, son. Didn't you say he was raised by a single mother?"
"Well, yeah..." Jim replied, puzzled.
"Well, I know we aren't exactly the best example, but he's welcome in ours, if that's all right with you?"
Jim stood in silence, listening to his father's words and, more importantly, his emotions. The heartbeat was steady, the tone of voice firm. Watching his friend, he felt a slow smile start low in his belly and rise up through his heart and into his face. "Yeah, Dad. That's more than all right with me. I'll figure out something."
"Good, son. Thanks, Jim. For last night. Remind me to thank Blair for the statue and the note. I'll see you in a couple of hours."
"OK, Dad. I'll see you in a couple." Hanging up the phone, he found that he was pleased that his father recognized that Blair had been behind the 'father' gift. "Hey, Chief? It's a beautiful day out. How's about you come with us to the park? You can work just as well there as you can here, and there you might be able to attract a few co-eds." He offered.
"Funny, Jim. Not. This is for you and your family, Jim. I don't..."
"My dad asked me to bring you." Jim interrupted, quietly.
Blair gaped like a fish. "He asked for me to come?" His voice cracking just a bit.
"Yeah, Chief. He asked for you to come.
It was a rare clear winter day in Cascade, Washington. The sky was nearly cloudless, although the line of clouds from an approaching storm could be seen in the northwest. The temperature was rather balmy for the time of year, temperatures in the mid sixties. The wind was out of the northwest at about eight to twelve miles per hour, excellent conditions for kite flying. Blair settled himself at a picnic table, watching the three older men as they got out their kites and got them ready to fly. The three kites, with their complementary colors launched easily in the steady breeze and were soon high in the sky. The ground was too wet to sit on, so the three men joined Blair at his table, pulling their kites in a bit and then letting them fly even further up.
William handed his kite to his youngest son, who smiled at him. Jim watched as well, as the old man pulled a package from his coat pocket. Holding it out to Blair, he said, "Blair? Won't you join us?"
Blair looked up, surprised. "Huh? I'm right here. What do you mean, 'join' you?" Puzzled by the question.
"No, I meant, won't you join us flying kites?"
"Oh, uh, I don't have a kite." Blair admitted, turning back to his laptop in embarrassment.
"Well, that's what I thought, so I got this for you." William Ellison held out a package. Inside was a brightly colored pillow kite. The colors of blue, green, yellow, orange, lavender, and turquoise caught the young man's eyes. Looking up at the others in shocked confusion, he stuttered,
"B-b-b-but...This is supposed to be a time for you guys to work on being a family again. I'm not part of that." His eyes suspiciously bright.
"Blair, thanks to you, we have a chance to be a family again." William said, bluntly. "You've given Jimmy all the 'family' things we.. I took away from him and denied my sons. If anyone deserves to be treated like family, it's you. You've helped Jim so much. I-I-I can't ever repay you. You convinced my sons to talk to each other and work through their differences. You convinced Jim to talk to me, and because of that, I had a chance to mend some badly demolished ties to my sons. You suggested what they should get me for my birthday and to agree to come home for my birthday. On top of all that, you gave me that beautiful statue and reminded me of all the things I missed when they were growing up. Even to the reminder that we still had time. I can never thank you enough for giving me back my sons, Blair." He held out the kite.
Blair didn't know what to say. He looked at Jim for a clue, but he was grinning like an idiot. He glanced at Steven, but he was doing the same, only more smug about it. Looking up at William, he could imagine, suddenly, what it might be like to actually belong to a real family. Dysfunctional and all. Smiling shyly, he reached out and picked up the brightly colored bundle of fabric. Unfolding it, he stood up and stepped away from the table to have some room to maneuver. Unfolding the kite, he attached the string and held the edges to allow the air chambers to fill. Holding tight to the string, he let go of the kite and watched joyfully as it soared up into the sky to join its siblings. Laughing like a child, he pulled his string and abruptly let more cord out, his kite swooped and nearly collided with one of the others. Jim laughed and copied his maneuver, bumping his kite against his father's. Soon, they were all four working to see what they could make their kites do.
They didn't stop until dark. Tiredly they headed back to William Ellison's house. The elderly man was moving a bit stiffly, not having ever played so much since he was a child. Looking at the three younger men, he couldn't help but smile. He had not only regained his own two sons, he had gotten another one, by adoption. He reached out and slung one arm around the smallest one, receiving a smile for his trouble.
"Say, boys, why don't we go out for pizza or something?" William offered. Jim and Steven stopped abruptly, looking first at their father and then at each other.
"Uh, sure, Dad. I can handle pizza." Jim managed to say as he started walking again, his own arm reaching out around Steven's neck, pulling him along and close; reaching with his other hand to briskly scrub his knuckles on the top of Steven's head in a classic noogie.
"Aaugh!" Steven yelped, trying to escape. When he discovered that Jim had him firmly held, he reached out and started tickling the larger man. Laughing and shoving, they hurried to catch up. When they got close enough, the Ellison brothers snatched Blair from William's grasp and started tickling him, unmercifully. Shrieking with laughter, Blair begged them to stop.
"Boys, boys!" William admonished in his firmest 'father' tone of voice. "That's enough. It's not fair for the two of you to pick on someone so much younger and smaller than you are." The two older boys laughed, letting their victim go. Blair was giggling uncontrollably as he move closer to William for protection. William wrapped his arm back around the smaller man, smiling. This was good. Much better than he had ever hoped for.
They went out for pizza. The 'boys' were loud and playful. They also included their father and adopted brother in their fun and games. Fortunately, Blair was pretty much able to defend himself against his larger opponents. Using his agility and wit to outmaneuver them. William simply basked in the reflected warmth of just having them near. All in all, it had been the best birthday William Ellison could ever remember having. His sons were talking to one another. They had forgiven him and each other for past hurts, and on top of everything else, they were starting to all be friends. He looked at the long-haired young man whom he blessed for it all. Grateful that Blair had become his oldest son's friend and that the younger man had taught his son how to forgive, how to love, how to let others in. He wondered what he could ever possibly do to repay the grad student. Then he simply smiled and did the most obvious, he hugged him and whispered "Thank you." in his ear. He was rewarded with a brilliant smile and a return hug.
"You're welcome." Blair replied, smiling.
"All ready, Jim?" Blair asked as he finished setting the table for dinner. It wasn't going to be anything like the formal dinners at Steven's or Jim's dad's, but it was comfortable and homey; particularly with the smells emanating from the kitchen. There was just room enough for six at their table, and Blair was scurrying around worriedly trying to make any adjustments he could think of.
"Blair," A gentle voice admonished him, "You're acting like a bride awaiting her mother-in-law."
"Not you, too?" Blair wailed, staring at the woman who stood in the kitchen, smiling at him.
"Well, the table's set, the food is cooking, the wine is breathing, everyone's ready, the guests will be arriving in a few minutes, so what's your problem?"
"This is Jim's father we're talking about. You know, 'Mr. Anal-retentive' senior? Where do you think he learned it from?" Blair blithered.
"Blair, sweetheart, go. Sit down. Do your breathing exercises. Calm down. Everything will be just fine." She turned him toward the living room and gave him a push. "You don't see Jim acting like this, do you?"
"Of course not. He's doing the 'my jaw is pure marble, I hope I don't splinter my teeth' act. He's almost as shook about this as I am." Blair muttered annoyed.
The woman sitting on the couch stood up to guide him over to sit beside her. "But Blair, he can't be nearly as intimidating as my folks, can he?" The beautiful young woman asked as she stroked a hand through his tumbled curls.
"Oh, man. I gotta..." He was interrupted by a knock at the door. Staring around frantically, like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck, he froze. The sound of Jim trotting down the stairs broke him from his frozen terror.
"Relax, Chief. It's just my dad and Sally." Jim grunted as he crossed to the door and opened it. Pasting a nervous smile on as he saw their guests. "Dad, Sally. Come on in." His own nervousness was due solely to the fact that neither of his guests had ever seen his home before, and he was well aware that it probably didn't measure up to his father's idea of a residence.
They needn't have worried. William was so pleased with the invitation that he barely even noticed the loft. His son owned the property, and it suited his needs. He was content here and that was good enough for William. He'd been going over his antiquated ideas of success over the past few years and had come to the realization that there were many more important things than a fancy showplace to sleep in. The loft had a warm, welcome feeling to it. Cozy and intimate. A place where people cared more about each other than appearances. He did notice that much of the decoration appeared to be influenced by Blair. He found it pleasant.
He was surprised by the two ladies who came forward to be introduced. Jim performed the introductions.
"Dad, this is Ronnie Wells, and Cecilia Taggart." He announced, "Ladies, this is my father, and Sally." There would be no mention of 'housekeeper' here.
Puzzledly, William accepted the hands offered by the two young women. "Ladies, a pleasure." He looked askance at his son.
"Oh, sorry, Dad. Ronnie and I are seeing one another, and Cecilia is Blair's young lady."
William looked in surprise at the two women. Ronnie, easily as tall as Blair, with auburn hair and brown eyes appeared very relaxed, but the dark skinned young woman seemed a bit nervous, as though uncertain of her welcome. He smiled at her, "It's a pleasure to meet you both." He said, then leaned close to the younger woman, "How to you manage to handle Blair's... exuberance?" He whispered, then stepped back.
Cecilia laughed, caught up in the old gentleman's attempt to make her feel at ease, "Oh, it's easy, Mr. Ellison. I just tell him to chill out." Which comment elicited laughter from all, although Blair's was a bit embarrassed; but she took care of that by giving him a quick kiss.
William couldn't get over how relieved he was upon meeting Jim's and Blair's girlfriends. It was obvious that both couples were quite serious in their relationships. Yet, in spite of the age difference, they were remarkably compatible. William started having thoughts of future grandchildren, which kept him smiling and pleasant all evening long. He was careful not to push and found himself caught up in the familiarity and friendship of the couples. Sally was treated as an honored guest rather than simply an employee of the family. She even overcame her natural reticence to tell a few stories about Jim as a child and young man, much to everyone's amusement. She was careful not to tell any embarrassing stories, for which he was grateful.
When their guests had gone, Jim sagged against the door. It had been difficult, having his father here for the first time. It had gone very well, considering. Sighing, he pushed up and headed for the kitchen to start the cleanup. He leaned over and kissed Ronnie, who was running the dish water.
"Hmmmm. What's this for?" She asked, curiously.
"Oh, just for being you. For coming over and meeting my dad. For letting him hope that some day there just might be grandchildren." He murmured into her hair as his lips nibbled along her face.
"Oh?" She asked, smiling at his actions.
"Mmmmmhmmmm." Jim replied and gently kissed her again.
"Grandkids, huh?" Pulling back and looking up at him.
"Yeah. What, you don't like that idea?" Suddenly worried, he pulled back a bit.
"Oh, I like the idea. But we're still a long way from that kind of commitment, don't you think?"
"Yeah, I guess so." Jim replied, sliding his arms around her and reaching to turn off the water. "Well, if you'll go relax, I'll get started on the dishes." He offered.
"Why don't I help? We'll be done much faster." She suggested.
Smiling, he agreed.
Meanwhile, Blair drove Cecilia back to her parents house. "So, what did you think of Jim's dad?" He asked.
"I thought he was sweet. He was trying so hard to be behave himself. I think he was a little surprised when he saw us. You guys didn't warn him, did you?"
"Warned him about what?" Blair asked, puzzled.
"Well, he certainly wasn't expecting me." She said in exasperation.
She stared at his confused expression for a moment, frowning. Slowly, a gentle smile replaced her frown. "You really don't know, do you?"
"Know what?" Blair asked, totally lost and wondering when they had crossed over into the 'Twilight Zone'.
"Blair, I'm black? You know, not Caucasian?"
Blair glanced over at her, still confused. "So?"
Sighing, Cecilia reached over and patted his knee. "I knew there was a reason I liked you." She smiled at his expression of total loss. "Blair, Mr. Ellison was just a little surprised to see me because I'm black. He was raised to think that mixed couples were a bad thing, or at least 'not done' in his circles. Didn't you notice just how formal and polite he was?"
"I thought that was because he was trying to make up with Jim over all the mistakes he made when Jim was growing up." Blair admitted. "It never occurred to me that ..."
"I know. That's why I love you. You have never taken into account color. Neither has Jim. It really makes no difference to either of you, which still makes you something of a rarity. Thank you."
"You're welcome, although I'm not sure for what." Blair replied.
"I know." She smiled as she leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder. Blair automatically slipped his right arm around her and was glad they were on the freeway and he wouldn't have to shift for a while.
By the time Blair made it , Ronnie had left for her own home. Jim was waiting up for him."So, how do you think we did, Chief?" Jim was sitting on the couch, watching the late news.
"I think it went great, myself, Jim. What do you think?" Blair finished hanging up his jacket and walked over to sit on the couch beside Jim.
"I think we did good. Dad was a little nervous, but then, so were we. We didn't get into any arguments, although we were a little formal, but I think that was on account of the ladies' presence, at least partly." Jim said. "Sally took a little time to relax and fit in, but that was to be expected. Cecilia and Ronnie were both great; nothing ever flustered them." He added.
"Yeah. The ladies are pretty special." Blair agreed.
"That they are, Chief. That they are."
They sat quietly, watching the news, allowing the events of the day to wash over them; relaxing in the comfort of one another's company. When the news ended, Jim rose, turning off the television. He stretched, arms over his head, joints popping. Reaching down, he nudged his companion, who had dozed off during the sports news.
"C'mon, Chief. Time for bed." Blair awoke slowly, stretching, he blinked up at his roommate and smiled.
"Sorry, man. I guess I was more tired than I thought."
"Nah. The news was just that boring." Jim grinned back. Reaching out a hand, he helped the smaller man to his feet and nudged him toward his room. "Good night, Chief. Sleep well." Jim murmured softly as he headed for the stairs to his own room.
"Good night, Jim." Blair replied with a yawn as he shuffled off to his own room.
In the stillness of the night, with no human eyes to see them, the Black Jaguar and the wolf settled onto the couch, each using the other as a pillow, the Panther purred, while the Wolf grinned, their eyes reflecting in the darkness. Standing guard over the guardians, both spirits pleased with the way things were progressing and the way their charges were handling it.
Peace reigned in the darkness as hearts once torn mended and the distance of time and miles faded away to leave room for growth and love.
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