Proceeding almost as planned

Well, it's Thursday. I'm off tomorrow, and I can't seem to get the muses in gear on that crossover. Darn it. Still. Sigh. Well, since I'm getting these musebashes for other things, I may as well do them. I have the beginning of this, but no idea where it's going to go.

That last was written two weeks ago. I did finally finish that blessed crossover. Now I've finally got this one done. At least, I hope so. I'm going to read it now and hope that it will fly. These things are taking a long time. Must be the heat. It's been up to 114 at my house. We don't have air conditioning. Just fans. Ugh. Oh, yeah. You need to have read 'Field Trip' to understand just who Ronnie is. Other than that, it stands alone. There will be at least one more, after this. Maybe. Eventually. Whatever.

The usual disclaimers still apply. I don't own them, only the situations I put them in. I don't get paid, although I just got an email that was worth a great deal more than mere money (Thanks, DYC).

Proceeding Almost As Planned


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She was going through the office seeking evidence. After all, it was her job. The body had already been removed, and she was searching for, something, she just wasn't sure what. There was something.... if she could only put her finger on it. She glanced up at one of the other members of the crew.

"Find anything?" She asked.

"Not yet. Looks like everything's been wiped. Sorry."

"Well, keep looking." She was checking the desk, "What have we here?" She pulled the center drawer open. She heard a click. Something told her that something bad was about to happen. There was a beep.......

"OUT! EVERYBODY OUT! NOW!" She shouted, pushing her colleague toward the door. They barely got through the portal, when the explosives in the desk ignited, turning the desk into flying shrapnel and deadly wooden darts.

She almost made it out in time.

When she regained consciousness, she found herself face-down on a gurney in the local emergency room. Every part of the back of her body felt like it was on fire. She groaned.

"Easy, Wells. You're hurt pretty bad. Not seriously, just painful."

"The desk. It blew up." She murmured.

"Yeah. Thanks to you, no one died. If you hadn't ordered everyone out when you did, you'd have probably all died. Unfortunately, you pushed everyone else out, leaving yourself to take all the force of the blast. You've got a busted arm and more splinters than a porcupine has quills. Pure, dumb luck."

"No one else was hurt?" Hopeful.

"Just a few bumps and bruises, mostly, a couple of splinters missed you and hit a couple of the others. Nothing serious."

"Good. When can I get out of here?"

She was actually a bit less fortunate than her colleague had told her. One of the splinters had sliced one of her ham-strings, nearly crippling her for life. They had managed to put it back together, but she was going to be in a half-body cast for at least a month, and then some serious therapy afterwards. Summer was not a good time to be stuck in a cast, of any kind, and she had two. They kept her in the hospital for the month that it took her hamstring to heal, she was still on crutches, her right arm still in a cast, when they let her out. She was looking at at least another month with her arm in a cast, as, for some unknown reason, it wasn't healing properly. Since she was single and lived alone, they were reluctant to release her. Sitting in the wheelchair, she reached for her purse, pulled out her address book and made a long distance phone call. Even if she didn't get along all that well with her sister, it was better than the hospital.

Her sister met her at the airport, shocked to see the wheelchair. Hurrying to meet her. "Are you all right? You didn't say anything about this."

"It's only temporary. I'll be fine. I can walk, just not very fast, yet. Don't worry about it." She allowed her sister to wait on her, gathering her belongings and pushing the wheelchair. She was too tired from the flight to protest.

"You sure you're OK?"

"I'm fine. Just tired."

"OK. My van's out in front. I'll have you home in no time." Her sister promised. Due to the traffic, it took a little longer.

They had a light supper, her sister hovering over her, until she finally put her foot down. "Please, don't hover. I'll be fine." Starting to regret not going to her parents, then deciding that this was still preferable to their hovering/smothering and matchmaking. She opted for an early bedtime to recover from the trip.

"Are you sure you want to do this?"

"I'm sure. I hate daytime TV, and I've been going stir crazy for the past month. I'd much rather be peering through a microscope somewhere, even if it isn't my own and I'm not getting paid for it. Please?" She smiled, hopefully.

"Well, if you're sure. What about your wheelchair?"

"Can we leave it in the van? I know I can't manage stairs, but there are elevators, aren't there?"

"Of course there are. I guess it'll be OK, just as long as it's there in case you need it. Do you want me to give you a ride down to the car? It'd be easier that way."

"Oh, sure. So you can do your Richard Widmark impression with the stairs? I don't think so." But she was smiling as she sat down and let her sister push her to the elevator and then to the car.

"You really think this is a good idea? These guys are pretty clannish, not very good with strangers."

"Hey, I don't want anyone to mistake me for one of the bad guys and use me for a target, if they should see me working in your lab. Call it self preservation. At least this way, one of them should recognize me and not shoot me outright." Smiling.

"OK, it's your funeral. We're here." She stepped into the busy bullpen and drew her sister in beside her. The detectives were all busy and gave them no notice. "See what I mean?" She whispered.

"Just looks busy, to me." She whispered back, looking around curiously, catching the eye of one of the detectives.

"Hey, guys? I'd like to introduce my sister, Veronica, she's here visiting me." The bullpen came to a stop, everyone turning to look at them. "These are the guys of Major Crime. This is Captain Banks, Brown, Rafe..." Indicating each man as she introduced them. She failed to notice that one of the detectives had stepped up to her sister, looking her over...

"No wonder I haven't heard from you. Are you going to be all right?" He asked, worriedly.

"I'll be fine. I hope you don't mind my arriving unannounced like this?" Turning hopeful brown eyes up to his pale blue ones.

"Not in the least. Seeing you, I understand why you haven't written." He paused, taking stock of her, smiling softly. "I've missed you." He gently leaned forward and down to kiss her.

"...And this is Blair Sandburg, he's really only a special detective/consultant, and last but not least is detective Ellisssss..." She trailed off in a hiss as she realized that the man she thought to introduce had a serious lip-lock on her sister. Her jaw dropped in shock as she stared, dumbfounded. Not noticing the grins of the officers surrounding her, or the way Joel Taggart was nudging Captain Banks while both men looked on, after checking with Sandburg that this was, indeed, the lady Jim had been in frequent email contact for the past couple of months.

Jim's hands had come up to gently cup the face of his friend, deepening the kiss. Oblivious to what was going on around them. Ronnie's hands reached up to his shoulders, pulling him closer, resting against his strong, solid body. Basking in the warmth of him. Eventually, they did have to come up for air, however. They separated only slightly, smiling at one another. The entire room broke out in applause. They just smiled at each other. Jim didn't even blush when he turned to his friends and colleagues and bowed. Cassie just continued to stare.

Simon chuckled. "Well, why don't some of us adjourn to my office? Joel? Sandburg? Ellison? Wells? Ms. Wells?" He turned and led the way, while the rest of his men went back to work.

Simon took his place behind his desk and watched with approval and a shared grin with Joel Taggart at the solicitous way in which Jim escorted Ms. Wells to the most comfortable chair in the office (next to Simon's desk chair), even going so far as to bring a pillow from the credenza to help support her back, remaining close to her once he was satisfied she was comfortable, unconsciously placing himself with Ms. Wells and Blair on one side, and the others on the other side of him.

"Jim. You don't have to protect them from us, you know," Joel commented softly. Jim looked surprised, realized what he had done, and took his usual place beside Blair, leaning against the conference table, blushing.

"Welcome to Cascade, Ms. Wells."

"Ronnie, please, Captain. In spite of my sister's insistence of introducing me as Veronica, I don't answer to it, and I hope we don't have to remain so formal as to use titles, Sir."

He cast a quick, calculating glance, first at Joel, then at Blair. He smiled. "That's fine, Ronnie. In which case, I'm Simon and this is Joel. You've already met Blair."

"When did that happen?" Cassie whined.

"About six, eight weeks ago." Blair replied. "When I went on that field trip for the university? Jim came down when he was through in court, and they met over that dead woman my class found."

"I'd like to thank you, Ronnie." Joel smiled. "That particular pool was worth over five hundred dollars."

"You had an office pool on them? Why?" Ronnie saw the two men blush. "Why?" She asked again, softly.

"Uh, what was the particular pool, that time, Joel?"

"Well, my bet was that neither of you would end up in the hospital, for a change. I got great odds on that one. Hey, what's a trip with you two without one of you needing an emergency room?"

"Rare." Simon and Cassie chorused. Ronnie couldn't help but smile.

"Well, maybe they left their jinx with me." Jim and Blair looked at her in concern.

"Aw, Ronnie, don't even say that." Blair pleaded. "That is like so not funny."

"Well, I do admit that what happened was kind of weird. We'd been called to a murder scene. The place had been wiped clean. I opened the center desk drawer, there was a click, then a beep, and I realized that I'd set off a boobytrap. We barely got out in time."

"You were the last one out and took the hit." Jim concluded for her.

"Well, I am in charge." She smiled. "Better that I get hurt than one of my people. I'll admit I was lucky. They never did figure out why the bomb didn't go off when I first opened the drawer. Or who did it." She shook her head. "They won't let me go back and look, either." She sighed in exasperation.

"Well, that may be for the best." Joel said softly.

Simon was watching them all closely. Jim was nearly vibrating with the need to comfort Ronnie, Blair wasn't far behind. Cassie was hurt and confused that her sister hadn't confided in her. He was debating what to do, when his phone rang.

"Banks." He listened, glanced at Cassie, and held the phone out to her. "You're needed." He said gently. Cassie took the phone and turned away to talk and listen. When she finished, she hung the phone back up.

"Uh, I've got to go. Ronnie?"

"We'll take care of her, Cassie." Simon promised. "Or, rather, Jim will." Smiling down at the forensics chief. She nodded, realizing that Ronnie was exactly where she wanted to be; and that she was jealous of her.

When Cassie had gone, Simon looked closely at their visitor and Jim, who hadn't really taken his eyes off of her since she arrived. He looked like a drowning man spotting a life raft. "Jim. Why don't you and Blair take the rest of the day off? Take Ronnie to see the sights, or something?" He suggested.

Jim finally tore his eyes away from the visitor. "I'd love to, Simon, but I've got that court date tomorrow and need to go over my files."

"Want to help, Ronnie?" Blair asked, with a smile.

Directing her smile at Jim, she replied, "I'd love to."

They were still going over the files when Cassie returned several hours later. She watched them from the window behind Jim's desk, envious of the obviously easy camaraderie among the three of them. The frequent smiles and teasing, even the way they touched each other. Wondering, not for the first time, why Jim was so down on her. It was even worse, seeing his reaction to her own sister, the obvious attraction and friendship. She saw no sign of competition between the two men, remembering her accusation back when she had first come to work there. Wondering how she could have misread them so. Jim chose that moment to turn and look at her. Smiling warmly at her and motioning for her to join them. She couldn't recall ever seeing the man so loose and relaxed. Shaking her head in confusion, she entered the bullpen and joined them.

"Hi, Cassie." Blair smiled up at her. "How was the scene?"

"Pretty routine. I got some good prints from the murder weapon. It should be fairly simple. How's it going here?"

"Good. We're doing good." Jim answered. Smiling. Cassie couldn't get over the...the happiness emanating from the man. She had thought he was cold and unfeeling, antagonistic, well, at least where she was concerned. Seeing them now, like this, she wondered if it might be her, who had the problem.

Ronnie smiled, obviously happy where she was and with the company she was keeping. "You have lunch yet, Cass? I'm about ready to go hunt down something."

"No, I haven't." She glanced at her watch, it was nearly one, "You mean these guys have been making you slave over their reports and haven't even fed you yet? That's horrible. You're still recuperating, you should be..."

"Hey, we were waiting for you, Cassie." Blair interjected. "Jim was ready for lunch more than an hour ago. We just decided to wait for you to join us." His tone letting her know that with the attitude she was copping, she was about to make them all sorry that they had waited. Cassie took the hint.

"Sorry. I didn't think." Blushing a little in shame.

"Hey, that's OK. You couldn't know." Jim said offhandedly. Smiling.

She never thought to see the day when Jim Ellison would come to her defense. Shaking her head in wonder, she asked, "So, where do you want to eat?"

Blair answered before Jim could get in his vote for Wonder Burger. "I was thinking about the dim sum restaurant over on fourth."

"Sounds good to me." Ronnie replied. "I love dim sum."

"Me, too." Cassie agreed.

"Then, let's go. Cassie, would you mind driving?" Jim asked, politely.

"Of course. I knew there was a good reason to have a van." Smiling at them.

"Finally taking your ladies to lunch?" Simon asked with a smirk as they met in the hall.

"Yes, Sir." Jim replied. "We're going out for some dim sum. Care to join us?"

"I'd love to, but I have a meeting with the Chief and the Mayor's office in half an hour. Good work on those prints, Wells. I've heard they already have the suspect in custody."

"Thank you, Captain." She replied to his retreating back.

Lunch was a resounding success. It was more like a double date than four coworkers going out for lunch. There was a great deal of laughter and kidding around, along with gentle teasing and stories of various and sundry exploits.

They were still laughing and joking around when they returned to the station. Cassie left them, to go back to her lab, no longer upset that her sister preferred the company of the men. Actually, she was rather pleased with the somewhat obvious feelings between Ronnie and Jim.

When quitting time finally came, Cassie made her way back up to the seventh floor. This time, it was no surprise to discover that the entire crew was keeping an eye on Ronnie, making her feel totally at home. She wasn't even surprised to see Jim sitting there, relaxed and jocular, although Simon standing there looking like a proud father who's son has finally brought home a girlfriend he approved of, was a bit unusual. She caught his eye, and they exchanged smiles. She shook her head in wonder.

"Hey, Ronnie. You ready to call it a day?" She looked closely at her sister, looking for any sign of her having overdone her day. Pleased that she looked just fine.

"Not really. Cass. I've only been back up for about an hour. Jim made me take a nap on Simon's couch. I was out for almost three hours, I'm ready to hit the night life, now." Smiling, her eyes telling everyone that she was only kidding.

"Well, maybe in a day or two. I'm beat. All I want is supper, a shower and bed. In that order." Cassie replied.

"Well, we've been invited out for dinner." Ronnie began, a little tentative.

"We're headed for the steak house." Megan said, "Nice, thick, juicy steaks, grilled to perfection? You can't want to miss out on a meal like that, do you?" Having only heard of Cassie from the guys in passing, she was withholding any judgment until she could decide for herself. She'd already decided that if Cassie was even half the woman that her sister Ronnie was, she was going to like her.

Cassie was surprised. The entire group was going to include her. Only because one of them was serious about her sister. Unsure, she tentatively hedged, "I wouldn't want to intrude..."

"Hey, you've been invited." Brown pointed out. "Do you want to come, or not? We wouldn't ask you if we didn't want you to come." Simple.

"I...I guess I'd love to."

It was quite a party. Joel had left a little earlier to go and pick up his wife, prior to joining them at the steak house. With ten of them, one of whom was in a wheelchair, they took up a lot of room. They were also all in good moods, and although they weren't rowdy in any way, they also weren't exactly quiet, either. Mable made sure she sat next to Ronnie, while Jim sat on Ronnie's other side.

"So, you're the lady that's caught our Jim's heart."

Ronnie blushed. "We haven't gotten nearly that far, yet. Right now, we're just working on being friends." She paused, looking at Mable, then turning her gaze on Joel, who was talking to Cassie. "Jim said that you were the reason he wants to be friends, instead of rushing into a more...intimate relationship."

"Blair's seeing our daughter, Cecilia. We raised our children with the knowledge that Joel and I each married our best friend. We've proven that it was a wise decision. No matter what happens, no matter how angry we become, we always have that friendship to fall back on. It's what's kept our marriage solid. Kept it interesting. We also each want to do whatever is in our power to make the other happy. That's love. Jim and Blair have a very special relationship. Closer than brothers. One of the things we all worry about is how other relationships may act on that one. None of us want a repeat of what happened back in May." She looked at Ronnie, trying to gauge her understanding.

"They told me about what happened. How Blair almost died. I could tell just how much it still hurts Jim. Blair seems to be over it, pretty much. But Jim is still fighting the demons."

"He is. He didn't have a very nice childhood. His father was emotionally abusive. He's working on it, but it's hard for him. He's afraid of being hurt again, that's one reason his first marriage didn't work out. Our Blair has helped him a lot. But they both are still groping. I just hope and pray that they find the answers they need."

"Me, too. I'd like to be a part of it, but I won't force my way in. If it's meant to be, it will happen. I'm in no hurry. I hope that Jim isn't, either."

"Just the attitude I was hoping for." Mable smiled at her. She glanced at Jim, who met her gaze with a shy, warm smile, his expression admitting that he had listened in.

Jim was extremely solicitous of Ronnie, cutting her steak up for her, anticipating her every need. The rest of the group was careful to hide their amusement at his behavior. Cassie just watched in awe. She had expected that the others would be teasing Jim unmercifully, but that wasn't the case.

Megan watched the entire group, feeling like a bit of an outsider. Recognizing that Cassie was on the outside, as well. She decided to chat her up, find out how much she knew about Jim and his psychic abilities.

"So, Cassie. You've been here a while. How do you like it?" Just to get the ball rolling.

"It's OK. I'm finally starting to fit in, I think." Cassie replied. She'd seen the exchange cop from Sydney and been dismayed to see how easily the other woman was accepted. "How about you?"

"Oh, the guys are great. Almost like my brothers, except for their accents." Megan smiled.

"Accents? They don't have accents." She almost pointed out that Megan was the one with the accent.

"Sure, they have. So do you. Everyone has an accent. Mine's Australian, yours is American. It all depends on your frame of reference." Megan grinned.

"Oh, I suppose so. You haven't found them, um, sort of clannish?"

"Oh, yeah, sure. I'm a bit of an outsider, but that's OK. I blew in here like a typhoon and really messed up. Lucky for all of us, Jim's abilities saved the day."

Megan's bright, upbeat attitude was grating on Cassie. She didn't understand how Megan had done just as much toe-trouncing as she had, but had gotten away with it, without incurring the permanent wrath of Ellison, not to mention the censure of the rest of the Major Crime group. Then, Megan's comment finally registered.

"Jim's abilities? What do you mean?" Confused.

"You don't know?" Megan asked in surprise. "He's psychic. Surely you noticed?" Genuinely surprised.

That explained a great deal. No wonder Jim was so easily antagonized. It wasn't because she had actually done anything wrong (at least in her eyes) it was because he already knew. "Oh, I should have realized...That explains a lot." She smiled. Finally believing that she understood where the antagonism came from. Exchanging an 'in the know' smile with the newest member of the team.

"Yeah. I've worked with psychics before. He's probably the best I've ever seen. He just, well, he's really good. Almost like he can hear the bad guys. I just wish I'd known before I started working with them, it could have saved some hard feelings. It also could have saved a lot of trouble; but I can understand why they want to keep it quiet."

"Of course. What do you suppose Blair does? Does he help Jim with figuring out what his visions mean?"

Across the table, Jim nearly choked on his drink. Ronnie was immediately reaching out to help, as Blair stood and started pounding on Jim's back. When Jim finally was able to breathe again, everyone was looking at him in concern. He was laughing, tears running down his cheeks, partly from the pain of choking, mostly from his reaction to the conversation he'd just overheard.

"Jim? You gonna be OK there, man?" Blair asked worriedly.

"Oh, yeah. I'm fine. Just zigged when I should have zagged." His eyes twinkling merrily. Blair looked concerned, but caught Rafe's grin from across the table and realized that Jim's reaction was due to something that apparently Cassie had said and Rafe had overheard.

Rafe silently mouthed the word 'psychic', careful to not let the two ladies see him. Blair grinned, as did the other members of the squad. Ronnie looked confused. Turning to Jim, she asked softly, "Psychic? Cass thinks you're psychic?"

"No. Well, maybe, now. Megan is convinced I'm psychic." Jim spoke softly, but Blair could hear him, as could Mable, sitting next to Ronnie.

"And you won't do anything to relieve that particular notion?"

He gave her a serious look. "No. I'm not." He was holding his breath. Watching her work out things. Hoping...

"At the dig. The wallet." She looked at him, watched him almost squirm in discomfort. She knew that there was something...She looked into his eyes and saw the plea for her not to press. She smiled, touching his arm. "OK. When it becomes important, you can tell me. Until then, I'm more than willing to let it slide." Her trust and acceptance was rewarded by one of Jim's rare, blazing smiles. He leaned over and gently kissed her.

"Thank you. When you talk to Cassie, take what she says with a very large grain of salt. I'm not psychic. But it keeps Megan off my case, so I just let it go."

Ronnie smiled back at him, resting their foreheads together, "Now I'm a little curious. If I figure it out, can I ask you?"

"Yes. If you figure it out, I'll tell you if you're right. It isn't that I don't want you to know, it's just..."

"It's just a matter of control, of trust. I understand. It really is OK. I honestly don't mind and I do understand." She patted his arm with her good hand and pulled back to continue eating.

Mable leaned toward her to softly say "Good girl." Patting her shoulder in approval. "Don't push. It will come, with time, dear." Ronnie just smiled.

"Wow. I won't need to eat for a week, after that." Cassie moaned as she unlocked the door to her apartment, standing aside for her sister to enter.

"It was nice. Everybody was really friendly." Ronnie added.

Cassie looked at her, debating whether to tell her.... "Did you know that Jim's a psychic? It sure explains a lot."

"Psychic?" Remembering Jim's comments on the subject. "How do you mean?"

"Well, Megan figured it out. It makes a lot of sense. Like the time he left a crime scene and found a syringe in a storm drain. He practically walked right to it. Like he knew it was there. It's amazing. It's no wonder he doesn't want anyone to know, though. I mean, imagine trying to convince a jury? By not saying anything about it, he can just say he was lucky, or something, maybe he was following the guy's tracks, or something." Cassie slowed down and finally stopped talking, noticing her sister's dubious expression.

"Maybe he just smelled the chemicals?" She suggested, grinning.

"Sure. That works." Cassie laughed in agreement. "So. How are the two of you getting along?" Liking the way they were relating to one another, for a change.

"We're going slow. It's kind of nice. None of the stress and fear of wondering how soon the physical relationship is going to start, or end. By working on being friends,... Oh, who am I trying to kid? If I didn't still hurt so much, I'd probably be pouncing on him. He is really, really good. Good looking, well built, nice. I think that's the most surprising thing. He's really a nice guy. Not after just a good time; willing to talk about real things, like relationships. I've never met anyone like him, before."

"Maybe it's because he's psychic?" Cassie suggested, just a little envious.

"No. I think it's just Jim. Who and what he is." She suddenly yawned, as the events of the day caught up to her. "Oh, sorry. I'm starting to feel really wiped out. I'm going to bed." She smiled at her sister, again.

"I'll bet you dream of big, tall, blue-eyed detectives all night." Cassie teased.

"I can only hope." Ronnie replied, with a matching grin.

In spite of how careful she'd been, Ronnie decided to spend the next day in bed. Her hamstring was aching, and she was afraid of stressing the tendon any further, so she stayed behind when Cassie went to work. She wasn't at all surprised when Jim called her as soon as he found out she had stayed home.

The phone rang, Ronnie looked at the clock and grinned as she picked up the receiver. "Hi, Jim." She answered the phone.

"Pretty confident, aren't you?" Was the rumbling reply.

"Yep. Maybe I'm the one who's psychic?" She teased.

"Must be. I know it isn't me." Chuckling. "Are you OK?" Concerned.

"Yeah. I'm just tired after yesterday. I was up too long, probably should have used the chair. I just...well, I don't like having to depend on other people for things."

"I know how that is. I'm learning, though. I've got some people in my life who understand and accept me for who and what I am. I wouldn't trade them for anything." Surprised to find that the admission didn't bother him as much as it might have even two months earlier.

"You're lucky. I saw how everyone feels about you last night. Whatever your secret is, everyone knows, except for Cassie and, Megan? Is that her name?"

"Yeah." Just a bit of tension in his voice, wondering if she was going to push for more information.

"Well, they're convinced that you're psychic, but you said that you aren't, so..." She stopped, thinking. "I don't really care what it is. Whatever it is, it's a good thing. It has to be for it to bring so many people around in support. I promised not to ask, and I won't. So, how's your day going?" Changing the subject, deliberately. She could hear his smile.

"Well, not so good. I was hoping to have a friend visiting today, but she couldn't make it in. How about you?"

"Oh, I'm just lazing about, got a nice new book to read, the radio's playing an oldies station, and I'm talking to this absolutely wonderful man."

"Lucky you. Oops. Gotta go. Simon's giving me the evil eye. Time to go to work. Will I see you later?" Hopeful.

"I'd like that. Give me a call when you get off?"

"Great. I...I...I miss you." He whispered, before hanging up the phone.

Ronnie turned on the television to watch the noon news. The big story of the day was a hostage situation at a local business. She watched in worried concern when she spotted the members of Major Crime on the scene. She looked closely, searching for...there was Simon, and Joel; there were Rafe and Brown...and Blair. Where was Jim? Finally, she spotted him as she watched Blair move. Jim was barely visible, pressed up beside the building. He had his eyes closed, a look of intense concentration on his face. She could see Blair, his hand on Jim's back, talking to his partner, Jim suddenly said something to Blair, who relayed it back to Simon, then Jim abruptly moved, Blair close behind him, pressing tightly against the wall behind a side door, poised for...

She watched in wonder as the door suddenly opened and two people came out, the first one being held at gunpoint by the other. Jim moved fast, snatching the woman hostage out of the way and pointing his pistol at the man's face. Blair caught the woman as she fell. The man dropped his gun and surrendered. It turned out he had acted alone, lost his job and decided to take it out on his co-workers.

It gave her a lot to think about. She spent the rest of her afternoon wondering about what she had seen.

When the phone rang at five o'clock, she answered it on the first ring. "Hello?"

"Hi. I'm still filling out some reports. I'll be here for about another half hour. Would you like to go out for dinner?" She could hear the weariness in his voice.

"I saw the noon news. Are you all right?"

"Yeah. Not a scratch. Just a little post adrenaline let down. I'm fine." He insisted.

"Well, if you're sure. You sound tired." Content just to hear his voice.

"A little. It's just the let down. I want to see you, be with you. But I also want to make an early night of it, if you don't mind?"

"Not at all. Why don't we just keep it casual? Nothing too serious?"

"How about pizza? There's a pretty good place right downtown."

"Sounds fine. Is Blair coming?" She could sense the uncertainty Jim was feeling.

"I didn't ask him." Jim replied.

"Isn't he just as stressed as you are?"

"Yeah." Torn between wanting to be with his friend and partner, and his friend and possible future...

"Jim? Why don't you see if Blair has anyone he'd like to have join us? If he doesn't, I don't mind there being three of us." Understanding that Cassie was too easily able to push Jim's buttons.

"Are you sure?" Hopeful.

"I'm sure. Shall we"

"Good. I can handle seven. I'll see you then."

"I'm looking forward to it." Smiling as she disconnected the call.

Blair didn't have anyone he could call on short notice and tried to beg off. Jim insisted, suspecting that if he didn't, Ronnie would want to go and get him, anyway. Jim guessed right.

"I'm feeling like a fifth wheel, here, Ronnie. I'd just as soon..."

"But fifth wheels are important. That's what allows a vehicle to have a tight turning radius. It's the centre-point around which the rest of the vehicle rotates. Very important." Smiling in recognition of Blair's importance in Jim's life and not wanting to interfere in that.

Blair looked at her closely, checking to see if she meant what she said. Realizing that she was serious, he smiled. "Thanks. Today was pretty rough. We got lucky." He admitted.

"I saw it all on TV. Excellent coverage, by the way. I could see both of you." She paused, debating with herself, then decided that it was still too early in their relationship to press for more details. She had questions, but decided to put them off until some future time when they had progressed further in their relationship. "You guys did a terrific job."

"Thanks." Blair blushed. "But it was Jim, who did most of it."

"You were right there with him, keeping him focused on what he was doing. I probably only noticed it because I was looking for you. You both did great. Now, what kind of pizza?" Dismissing any further discussion of the earlier episode.

They had a good time, even with Blair's comments about cholesterol and fat. Jim and Ronnie double-teamed him in their praise of the health benefits of cheese and meat and the various vegetables they had opted for. Laughing and teasing each other.

When they returned to Cassie's apartment, both men insisted on escorting her to the door. Blair tried to distance himself as Jim and Ronnie kissed good night. When they parted, however, Ronnie reached out and grabbed the younger man and pulled him in for a kiss and a hug, as well. It was far more platonic, but it still left Blair in shock, much to the others' amusement. Jim reached out and cupped her face in one hand, stroking his thumb across her cheekbone. "I'll talk to you tomorrow?" Hopeful.

"I'd love to." She replied, turning her head to kiss his palm before she turned to enter the apartment.

"Man. If you don't work this out and keep her, you are an absolute idiot." Blair announced, once they were back in the truck.

"Yeah. I think so, too. But it's still too soon." Jim shook his head. "I can't believe how this is all working. I wouldn't have believed anything could be like this, not ever. It's pretty scary."

"Exciting, too." Blair grinned. Understanding exactly where his friend was coming from.

"Yeah. It is. So, Chief, when's Cecilia coming back?"

"Next week. Maybe Ronnie will still be here and we can all go on a real double date?" Hopeful.

"Sounds like a plan."

Just to be perverse, Cecilia came in several days earlier than she had planned. She got the scoop on Jim and Ronnie from her parents; understanding their approval of Jim's lady. She waited a day before she called Blair to let him know she was home.

"Hey, professor? How's it going?"

"Cecilia?! Where are you? Are you home already?"

"Yes, home, yes." She giggled in response. "I got home yesterday. Mom and Dad have been filling me in. I heard about Jim and Ronnie. Mom and Dad really like her. Personally, I think it's about time Jim had someone good in his life."

"Me, too. So. When do you want to get together? I was suggesting that the four of us go out to a movie, or something? What do you think?"

"Well...sounds like fun. What movie did you have in mind?"

"Well, Jim wants to see 'Saving Private Ryan', but I was thinking of more of a comedy. What do you think?"

"Well, I'm with Jim, I think. This time, anyway. Even Mom and Dad are talking about going to see it. That doesn't happen very often. Maybe we could all go together?" Only half serious.

"Well..." Blair was a little uncertain. He was hoping to get in a little cuddling and still felt a bit nervous about having her parents as chaperones.

"I'm only teasing. I know how intimidating my parents are. You should have seen how they treated my boyfriends that they didn't like."

"Ouch. Scary. Joel's a pussy cat, but I'd sure hate to have your mom down on me. She's one tough lady."

Cecilia laughed. "And everyone who knows us, says I'm just like her. So, how does that rate on your scare meter?"

"Not a problem. You're my friend, it's fun to play and tease with you."

"So, why don't you ask Jim and Ronnie about the movies? Why don't we make it Friday? That way, we won't have to worry about anyone having to get up and go to work the next day?"

"Great. Uh, what about us going out for dinner, or something, tonight?" Hopeful.

"How's about you and Jim and Ronnie coming over here for supper? I'm sure Mom and Dad would love to grill Ronnie about her intentions toward Jim." The smile obvious in her voice.

Blair laughed. "Yeah. I just bet they would. I'll ask. See you later?"

"You better believe it. Dinner's at seven."

"Are you sure I'm not intruding?" Ronnie asked for the fourth time in thirty minutes.

"Positive. Joel and Mable have kind of adopted us. So, now they want to get to know you better, see how you fit in. It's not nearly as bad as meeting my mom, or Jim's dad, for that matter. They're much more accepting of people than ... I can't believe I just said that about my mom. Wow." Shaking his head in his surprise. He looked across Ronnie at Jim's smirking countenance. "Don't say a word, man. Not one word."

"I was just about to make the observation that if I had a choice, I wish my family had been more like the Taggart's. But, since it wasn't, I'm just as grateful that they're here now."

"They're good friends?" Ronnie asked, already sure that she knew the answer.

"They all are." Jim agreed, thinking back to the days Before Sandburg, when his colleagues were afraid of him, and wondering how he'd gotten so lucky.

"We're still working on it, but we're all getting to be a pretty cohesive unit. It's kinda cool." Blair agreed.

"I've got a friend who has a saying. It goes something like 'Friends are the family we choose for ourselves'. It allows us to decide for ourselves how we're going to be, and who we're going to permit into our inner circle. From what I've seen, so far, you guys have a pretty good family circle." She looked at the two men sitting on either side of her. "I'd be honored to become a part of it."

Jim reached an arm around her and gave her a quick hug and returning both hands to the steering wheel. "You're getting there. A lot faster than most."

"That's because of who you're with, of course." Blair said, teasingly. "You should have seen Joel and Simon when we got back from Sacramento. It was wild. Somehow, they knew, and started bugging Jim about who you were, what happened, and stuff."

"Yeah. Blair here jumped their cases for it, and read them the riot act." Jim chuckled. "But it worked. They backed off. I'm surprised that Simon hasn't cornered you and asked you your intentions." Laughing harder.

"Um, I think that's what's planned as the entertainment for tonight." Blair said, a little uncertain.

"Oh, why?" Jim asked, concerned.

"Something Cecilia said." Blair squeaked. "Something about Joel and Mable wanting to grill you on your intentions toward Jim." His voice getting back to normal.

"Well, I'll just have to assure them that my intentions are honorable." Ronnie murmured, snuggling up against Jim, who snaked an arm around her shoulders, encouraging her to lean her head against his shoulder and giving her another hug.

Dinner wasn't nearly as much of an ordeal as Blair intimated it might have been. Although the Taggarts did ask her questions, it was more of the 'get to know you' type, than the 'what are your intentions toward our friend'. All in all, it was a very pleasant evening, good food, good conversation, good friends. Ronnie not only fit in, she was welcomed like a long-lost relative, with love and acceptance.

"So, Cecilia and I were talking about going to the movies on Friday. We thought we'd go and see 'Saving Private Ryan'. Maybe you guys would like to join us?" Blair asked, as they were talking over coffee after dinner.

"Ronnie?" Jim asked, willing to take her lead on the decision.

"I'd love to." She agreed. She glanced at the older couple. "Would you like to come, too?" She found the couple impossible to resist. Their loving care for their daughter and friends making her feel more than welcome.

"Oh, we wouldn't want to put a damper on your fun." Mable began, "We can go some other time."

Cecilia glared at Blair, trying to communicate her feelings on the matter. Blair glanced askance at Jim, who shrugged almost imperceptibly, leaving the decision up to him.

"You wouldn't put a damper on anything. Come with us. Please?" Blair requested. I mean, you're always asking us along, I think it's time you came along with us." Looking at the others for support.

"Come on, Joel. It'll be good." Jim encouraged.

"Well...." Joel exchanged a look with his wife, who's shining eyes told him what he needed to know. "All right. We'd love to. What time, Friday?"

They all agreed that the movie was excellent. Unfortunately, both Jim and Joel had a little trouble with the first scenes, where the depiction of war was far too real for either man's comfort. It was a good thing that they were in the company they were. It might have been a far different result if they hadn't had the love and support of the non-combat experienced members of the group. Ronnie and Mable were the first to notice anything wrong. Jim and Joel had tensed up from the reaction of the almost real film. The screams, the blood, the death and mayhem.

"Jim? Honey? Shh. It's OK. Look at me." Gently grasping his chin and turning his face toward her, away from the screen. On the aisle, Mable was doing the same thing for Joel. Blair and Cecilia, realizing what was happening, each turned toward the closest man, Cecilia to her father, Blair to his friend. They talked softly through the too realistic scenes, distracting the two veterans, soothing them with their voices and touch. Once the most disturbing scenes were over, they were all right. But they kept a close watch on them, just in case. Frequently touching the two men in reassurance.

"Man. That was some movie." Blair enthused as they headed out toward the Taggart's van.

"Yeah. Sorry about losing it in there, guys. I..."

"You have nothing to apologize for, Jim. Nor has Joel. I'd heard that a lot of vets were having bad reactions to the first part of that film. It's OK. You both did just fine. If you need to talk, we're here for you." Ronnie interjected. Everyone missed Mable's satisfied smile as she squeezed her husband's hand, looking up at him. He winked back at her.

"I want some of that yuppie coffee." Mable announced. "Something sweet and frothy and absolutely decadent." Effectively lightening the mood.

"Oh, yeah. There's a Starbuck's just down the mall..."

"I wish you could stay." Jim murmured into her ear. Nuzzling close; trying to get everything he could out of their last few minutes together before her flight left.

She sighed. "I know. Me, too. No. Yes. Oh, I don't know. I want to go back to work. I love my job. But I want to be with you, too. Then, there's the therapy and finally getting this stupid cast off. I don't think I can make it back up here for Labor Day." She looked up at him, asking.

"Maybe I can go down there?" Tentative.

"I'd love that. The state fair will be running. It can be a lot of fun. ... Unless you don't like that sort of thing? Having noticed his wince at the mention.

He sighed. "It's not that I don't like them, it's just that they're so loud, so many people, and the smells..." He stopped himself, forgetting, for the moment that she didn't know about his senses.

"Well, we could do something else, maybe go to RenFair?"

"What?" At a loss.

"Sorry. I used to work it, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. It's a big thing, knights in armor, jousting, food, crafts, plays, jugglers. It's a reenactment of a medieval country fair, complete with an Elizabeth the first. It's fun, not nearly as many people as the state fair." She didn't add that it was usually more crowded, as the area wasn't nearly as large, either.

"Well, I'll think about it. I won't care where we are or what we're doing, just as long as we're together." Smiling down at her. He was about to kiss her again, when they announced her flight. "I'll miss you." Hugging her, tightly.

"I'll miss you, too." She almost said the words, but managed to stop herself in time, knowing that it was still too soon for any kind of commitment.

They let go of each other. He watched her as she made her way down the loading ramp, back in her wheel chair for the trip home. Then he watched her through the tiny window she sat next to, watched as the plane filled up, closed the doors, and taxied away. Watched as the plane gathered speed and took off, disappearing into the distance until even his enhanced eyesight could no longer track it. There were tears in his eyes when he finally turned away from the windows, ready, at last, to make his way home. Seeing his partner standing there, waiting for him, the picture of patience, knowing that he would be going through the same thing in another couple of weeks when his lady returned to school.

"Ready?" Blair asked softly.

"As I'm going to get." Jim replied. They turned toward the exit, falling automatically into step with each other. Jim reached out and slid his arm across his friend's shoulders, giving them a gentle squeeze of thanks for his support. Blair slid his arm around Jim's waist, returning the hug and adding a pat on the larger man's back, before each man released the other and they finished making their way out of the airport terminal for the drive home.

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