The glimmer of the idea for this one came earlier this week when my favourite nudge (that's Yiddish for one who nags, but in a nice way. Hi Tonya!) emailed me to find out what had happened, as I hadn't sent her a story in nearly a week. (Oh, my. A whole week without finishing a single story. What a shocking development!) (Anyway, I managed to finish the two stories I was working on. Oh, yeah, the title for this one? I realized that I was suffering from it. It's rained here for the past month, with only rare glimpses of sunshine. Sigh.

BTW, there are a couple of almost spoilers for Finkleman's Folly, but nothing major. Yes, this builds on the other stories, A De-tec-a-tive Trained In Observation, and Anniversary. It does, however, stand alone. (Yes, Mable's back. I'm sorry. I've turned into a MarySue about her, I guess. She just seems to complete Joel for me. And hopefully him).

All the usual disclaimers apply. I don't own them. I make no money from this. I haven't much in the way of worldly goods, so please don't sue me.

Winter Blues


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The skies had been a solid, unrelenting grey for the past month. Not really uncommon for winter in Washington state, but thanks to El Nino, it hadn't brought snow, but rain. Not so much rain that there was a lot of flooding, that had been minor. Just enough to saturate the ground to the point of slippery, muddy, marsh. Even on the hillsides. The sun hadn't been visible in nearly that entire time and everyone's nerves were showing the strain.

He awoke to the usual grey, dismal, dreary, drizzly day. He sighed, looking out the window.

"I take it that it's still raining?" Came the soft voice of his wife, still snuggled up close beside him.

"Yeah. I'm gettin' real tired of this. I wish the sun would shine, just for a few hours. Even one hour would be enough. You should see the guys at work. Everyone's pretty snappish lately." He chuckled. "Sandburg jumped Simon for asking him to fix the webpage, yesterday."

"That's pretty hard to believe. I can't picture Blair that out of sorts." Mable replied, stretching, then wrapping her arms around her husband, who slid his arm under her head to bring her close in a hug.

"I know. Simon yelled, and Blair yelled back at him. I guess this bad mood is pretty contagious." He paused, "Ellison got it first, and then it spread like the flu, only faster and more devastating. Blair was the last one to catch it."

Mable looked up into Joel's face, "You mean you've been snapping at the guys at work, too?" Surprised, and a little disappointed.

"No. I haven't snapped, yet. It's been hard. Especially when Blair stormed out of the bull pen yesterday and didn't come back. Jim was at the D.A.'s Office, and didn't hear about it until he came back. He stormed into Simon's office, they yelled at each other for a few minutes, then he stormed out, slamming the door behind him. Simon didn't come out after him and Jim just grabbed his coat and stomped out. Didn't come back, either." He shook his head. "I'm not really looking forward to going in to work this morning." He kissed his wife, then rolled out of bed. "But I have to." He smiled as he stood and headed for the bathroom and his morning routine.

"Do you want me to make you breakfast?" She called to his retreating back.

"Nah. Thanks. I'll pick something up on my way in. Maybe buy donuts for the whole office. Try to sweeten their dispositions a little."

"Where's the game supposed to be tonight?" She called to him, pulling herself up and sliding into her wheelchair. She was at least going to make them coffee.

"Haven't heard. You volunteering?"

She heard the note of hope in his voice. The weekly poker game hadn't been held at their home since the accident that left her paraplegic. Recent months had brought her back in contact with his co-workers, and they had had a couple of parties. She decided that the time had come for the poker game to move back home. She smiled in anticipation.

"Yes." She called out over the sound of the shower.

The bullpen was silent when he arrived. He glanced around at the sullen faces and sighed. No one was talking, just shuffling papers and ignoring one another. He sighed again, knowing it was at least partly his fault. Hell. He'd been snapping at everyone for days. This was one he couldn't blame on Ellison, Jim had simply clenched that jaw of his and everyone had known to steer clear of him. He sighed, wondering how to lighten the atmosphere. He went into his office and softly closed the door.

"Come on, Chief. No stalling." Jim gently pushed his smaller companion out of the elevator and toward the door to the bullpen.

"Oh, man. I so much do not want to go back in there. Simon's still gonna be pissed at me, and I can't blame him. I so overreacted yesterday." He shook his head in dispair. "How did I get myself into this, man?"

"Simon yelled at you as usual, and you overreacted and yelled back. Then you proceeded to yell at each other and you stormed out, slamming the door. End of story."

"You weren't even there. How do you know what I did?" Puzzlement in his tone.

Jim gave him a wry grin. "'Cause I did the same thing when I heard about it. So don't worry. I have to go in and apologize, too." He guided his unresisting friend toward the office with the closed door and drawn blinds. Neither man was looking forward to the coming confrontation, but unwilling to allow the bad feelings to fester any longer than absolutely necessary. They noticed their silent, sullen co-workers didn't even look up at their entrance.

At the soft knock on the door, Simon looked up, and realized that he had drawn the blinds, so he couldn't see who it was. "Come." Tiredly. It was only eight in the morning and he was already exhausted.

The door opened and Jim stuck his head in. "You got a minute, Captain?"

Uh-oh. Jim was being formal. Must not be good. Might as well get it over with. "Sure. What do you need?" Not especially surprised when Sandburg joined them, as well. Jim closed the door behind them, and the pair sat, for a change, in the chairs. Simon prepared himself for the worst.

Glancing at his partner, Jim began. "We came to apologize for our behavior yesterday, sir."

"Yes, sir." Blair added, sitting straight in his chair.

Simon was a little nonplused. "Apologize?"

"Yes, sir." Blair repeated. "I'm sorry I got mad and yelled at you. I overreacted. I'd be happy to fix the webpage. I'm sorry I slammed the door and stomped out. ... Sir." He watched Simon's face for any sign of a repeat of the previous day.

"Oh." Simon said, in shock.

Jim jumped in, "Yes, sir. Me, too. I'd like to apologize for my behavior yesterday, as well. I had no business yelling at you and slamming your door and storming out of here the way I did. I'm sorry, sir."

Perfect little soldier. Formal, eyes front, not looking at him. Simon hated when Jim turned back into what he'd been BS, before Sandburg. Then he realized that the clenched jaw was missing, and relaxed. The apologies were genuine. He looked at Blair and saw the puppy-dog eyes, and almost, almost smiled.

"Apologies accepted." Saw the slight softening of Jim's pose and the relieved sigh from the kid. Then he surprised them. "And I hope that you will accept my apologies in return. I was in a foul mood and I took it out on everyone, yesterday. Unfortunately, the two of you caught the brunt of it." He sighed, "I'm sorry, guys. I don't know what was wrong, is wrong. I think I may be coming down with something. I've been tired and out-of-sorts for the past week. It just came to a head, yesterday, and I blew up on the two of you."

Jim relaxed, a slight smile revealing itself as he cast a quick glance at his partner, who returned the smile with a hopeful puppy expression.

"That's all right, sir. It happens to everybody, once in a while. I guess that yesterday was just our turn." His smile was a bit rueful, but honest.

Simon grinned in return. "Thanks, guys. If there's nothing else?"

"Uh, yeah. There is, actually. I need to go over what happened yesterday in the D.A.'s office with you."

Blair stood up, "Uh, I'll let you two get at it, then, and I'll get started on the update for the webpage. OK?"

"Sure. Thanks, Sandburg." Simon smiled up at the young observer. "Oh, you guys want some coffee? It's something new..." Both men jumped at the offer.

Blair left, closing the office door softly behind him, coffee cup steaming in one hand. He nearly bumped into a large man blocking his path. He looked up, startled, nearly spilling his coffee, then recognized Joel Taggart.

"Oh. Hi, Joel. What's up?"

"I was wanting to check on you guys. I couldn't help but overhear what went on yesterday. You get everything straightened out?"

"Oh, yeah. Jim apologized. I apologized. Simon apologized. We don't know what came over us, but we're all sorry about it." Blair smiled. "We're fine, now. Thanks for asking."

"It's the weather. Mable and I were discussing it this morning. When was the last time you saw the sun shining?" Following Blair to Jim's desk, where the grad student sat down and powered up the computer, preparatory to updating the webpage. Joel leaned against the desk.

Blair stopped. Brows drawn down in puzzled concentration. Looked up at Joel, who stood there, grinning. "Ah, I can't remember. Last week? No, the week before..." His eyes glazing over, trying to remember.

"It's been five weeks since the sun last shown on the fair city of Cascade, Washington. The skies have been the same dark overcast, dismal, drizzly, dank, dreary, depressing, doleful, desolate, discouraging, disagreeably damp..."

Blair was giggling. Rafe and Brown had come over and heard the alliterative description of the preceding month's weather, and had begun to grin as well.

"What's your point, Joel?" Blair managed to get out past his laughter.

Jim and Simon had come up in time to hear Joel's description, as well. "Yeah, Joel. What is the point?" Simon added, curious.

"Point? I need to have a point?" Smiling broadly, "OK. How about this for a point, there's this huge box of donuts on my desk, and Mable will kill me if I eat them all myself. How about giving me a hand with them?" He didn't need to offer twice. Rafe, Brown, and Blair rushed over to peruse the variety of sweet treats in the huge bakery box on Joel's desk. Jim and Simon stood with matching grins and expressions of appraisal.

"What? I can't bring in stuff for the crew? I mean, I am a member of Major Crimes, now, aren't I?" Puzzlement in his expression.

"You been taking lessons from Sandburg, Joel?" Simon asked. "This seems like something he'd do to try to lighten things up. But you? A little out of character, don't you think?" Grinning.

"How long have we known each other, Simon? Twelve, fifteen years? I've always been this way. Just because I decided I wanted to do regular police work instead of explosives, doesn't mean I've changed that much. I just needed to get back out into the real world." He sighed at their concerned expressions. "Face it. After that accident, I knew I was going to have to do something else. This was the choice I made. I'm still a good cop. Besides, with me in Major Crimes, it gives you," Looking pointedly at Simon, "a little backup for Jim and Blair."

Jim placed a hand on Joel's shoulder. "Thanks." He looked at his captain and read the message there. With a smile, he went over to join the other sugar-sharks in plundering the sweets.

Joel followed Simon to his office, getting himself a cup of coffee without asking. He sat down when Simon circled his desk and sat, as well.

"You could have retired, you know." Looking with concern at his friend.

"I know. Mable threatened to kill me if I did." He smiled as he said it. "She knows how much I like my work. I am a good cop, a good detective. I can do forensics, I can..."

"Hold on, hold on, there, wait a minute. You don't have to convince me. I'm on your side. I'm thrilled to have you on the squad. I don't need convincing. ... Maybe you're trying to convince yourself?"

Joel sighed. "It's a big change, after all these years. I was looking forward to it, but then you got shot, and Finkleman tried to toss Blair out and put me in his was a real mess. I felt like I was trying to replace the kid. And I know that that is not possible, nor is it an option. It was pretty rough. I was really glad when you came back and things got back to normal."

"I'm sorry. They were just affirmative actioning when they put her in charge. I'd have preferred they put you in charge. After all, you do have the experience."

"That wasn't the problem. It's just that everything is so different, now. I'm still adjusting to having survived, I think. It's been difficult." Then he looked his friend in the eye. "But you guys have been great. Thanks."

Simon smiled in understanding. "You're more than welcome. It's difficult, sometimes, when the guys you work with become your friends outside of work. I know it's a common cop thing, but even inside 'the thin blue line' there are cliques, groupings, separate parts. I think we've been remarkably lucky in that our little group is so cohesive, with even less competitiveness than is usual. I've seen departments and divisions where they pit the detectives against one another, like it's a contest, to see who can solve the most cases, fastest, whatever. I would hate to work like that. I imagine the guys here would hate to work like that."

"Isn't that how Jim was raised? In competition with his brother Steven?" He shook his head. "They didn't even contact one another for fifteen years. That's no way to be a family." He looked up at his friend, "You know, that's what we really are. A family. We take care of each other, worry about each other, help each other. Because of that concern we have, I think we do a better job. No one's afraid to ask for help, when they need it. No one is afraid to offer help. Well, not since Sandburg came and reshaped that hard-nosed Ellison back into the semblance of something human." He smiled as he said it, though.

Simon laughed. "I have to agree with you on that one. He was a good detective before. With Sandburg, he's a great detective. And if you tell them I said that, I'll call you a liar."

"They know. If you told them, they'd just get embarrassed." Joel smiled. "By the way. Any word on the game tonight?" Waiting before springing Mable's plan.

"No. I suppose we can talk Jim into it. He's pretty centrally located."

"Well, actually...Mable volunteered. She'd like to have the game at our house. Like we used to." Simon and Jim were the only ones left that remembered when the weekly poker games had been held at the Taggart home. Jim had only been in Major Crimes a couple of months and had just started joining in the weekly poker game, when Mable's accident occurred. The game disbanded for many months, and had slowly started up again. First at Simon's house, then rotating among the players, then some of the guys retired and were replaced with new people. For the past couple of years, the game was held mostly at Ellison's loft or Simon's house, now that he was divorced. The game had expanded to include Sandburg, who added making dinner into the weekly event, much to everyone's amusement. It had proven to be a good thing, helping to bond them into a cohesive unit. There had on occasion been members of the uniformed squads, or vice, or other units who had joined in; but it had narrowed down to the members of Major Crimes and Joel Taggart, Captain of the bomb squad. Now of Major Crimes.

"Sounds great." Simon enthused. "I always did love the games at your house. Your lady has always been more of a den-mother, than a wife." Seeing Joel's grin, he hurried to correct himself. "I mean look at how Joan was, or even Carolyn. They hated the games."

"That's because they never learned how wonderful second hand cigar smoke can be." Joel replied with a laugh. "My Mable likes company. She loves to entertain. She saw the poker game as a chance to throw a party. If Joan or Carolyn had ever deigned to join us, she'd have had a second party just for them."

"I envy you. You got real lucky with Mable. I hope you realize that." Simon confided.

"I know. I was lucky enough to fall in love and marry my best friend. That's what's helped us last. No matter the trouble or worry, we stay friends. We fell in love with each other as we were, not as how we thought we could change each other. That's the difference. I hope you and Jim eventually find someone like that. I even hope Blair finds someone like that. Although it might be a little difficult to find someone who can keep up with him."

"Oh, I don't know. He and Cecilia seemed to..."

"Oh, no. Don't even suggest that my daughter and Sandburg..."

"No, wait a minute!" Simon interrupted. "Just listen a minute. I was saying how he and Cecilia seemed to have an awful lot to talk about at your anniversary party. I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't email pals, or something. I wouldn't worry about them, after all she goes to school in California, doesn't she?"

"Yeah. Caltech." He gave his friend a rueful grin. "I suppose you're right. They did have a lot to talk about. I think it was a case of finally finding someone else as smart as they were to talk to. It scares me, sometimes, to realize just how smart some of these kids are. Especially when it's my kid."

"I don't mind that. What scares me is when those really smart kids do really dumb things, like drugs. Crime in general. It's such a waste." Thinking about his own son and the temptations out there for him.

"Yeah. You're right. I'm glad that my kids managed to miss it. I hope your Daryl does, too." He smiled that understanding smile of having been where Simon was now. "I don't miss those days."

"I'm pretty lucky. Daryl really looks up to Sandburg, and Sandburg is an excellent roll model."

"And if I ever repeat that, you'll call me a liar." Joel laughed. Standing to get a refill of coffee. "Seriously, about the game tonight. You want to announce it, or should I?"

"You. It's an invitation. Brown and Rafe weren't here back when your house was the usual place for the game. They might be a little uncomfortable about it and need to be coaxed."

"OK. Mable said that you didn't have to bring anything but your appetites. Seven-thirty?"

"You got it."

Joel went back out to the bull pen, where the other members of Major crimes were laughing and joking over their coffee and donuts.

"You'd think the sun was shining." Joel commented as he joined his co-workers.

"Yeah." Blair grinned around his donut. "A little ray of sunshine named Joel Taggart."

The others laughed at the image. "Little Joel Sunshine, that's you, Cap." Rafe chuckled.

Joel laughed in reply. "Whatever it takes. By the way, the game's going to be at my house tonight. Seven-thirty. Come hungry." He turned away to go back to his desk.

Rafe stared after him. 'His house?" He whispered. His eyes showing his doubt.

"Oh, cool." Blair enthused. "Mable must have asked for company." He started bouncing in anticipation.

"Cool it, Lothario. Cecilia is back in California. We'll be playing poker, tonight, not partying." Jim teased, with a playful shove to Blair's chest, knocking the smaller man back and into Detective Brown, who laughed and shoved the smaller man back toward Ellison.

"Wait a minute. Hold it. I am so not into a game of 'Bounce the Blair', guys. Just hold it." Laughing.

Jim laughed and reached out and started tickling his partner, "OK. If we can't play 'Bounce the Blair', how's about we play with 'Tickle Me, Blair'?"

"Oh! No! No! Don't! AAAHHHHH!" Blair was pinned between Brown and Rafe, who weren't helping Jim, but who didn't move so Blair could escape, either. Blair was trying hysterically to push Jim's hands away, laughing so hard that tears started streaming down his cheeks, shrieking with laughter.

Simon came out to see what the commotion was. He caught Joel's eye across the room. Noticing the huge grins on everyone's faces, he asked softly, "What is going on here?" Rafe blushed, starting to move away and allow Blair to escape, when Brown reached across and held him in place.

"Nothing but a little lightening of the weather, sir." Brown answered innocently. His voice managing to pretend that his body wasn't helping to trap a young anthropology grad student and allow said grad student to be unmercifully tickled by his much larger and stronger partner.

Simon raised an eyebrow. Looking at the three large men and one small student, noting the inequality of the battle.

"I thought that our job was to protect the public from assault." He said mildly. Rafe looked nervous.

Joel came to the rescue. "You're absolutely right, Captain." He looked at Rafe and Brown. With a wink, he indicated his intentions. Both men's eyes widened in startled surprise, then narrowed in glee.

Jim never saw it coming. The guys who had kept Sandburg from escaping suddenly grabbed him. Simon and Joel rushed in to assist, wrestling him immobile. Hanging on while Blair regained his breath and wiped his streaming eyes.

"You better act fast, Sandburg." Simon growled. "We probably won't be able to hold him for very long.

"What? What are you No. No! Don't let NO!NO!NO! DON'T! PLEASE! AHHHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHA!" Shrieking with laughter as Blair attacked, tickling him. His fellow police officers holding him helpless while his partner wreaked his revenge.

Joel let go of Jim with one hand and casually reached over and tickled Simon, who abruptly let go of Jim to try to protect himself. Soon they were involved in a free-for-all of everyone tickling everyone else. They were all laughing, tears streaming down their faces, gasping for breath. No one was safe. No one was sacrosanct. Everyone was involved. No one attempted to escape, for if they did all the others would grab him and hold him while someone tickled him with no defense.

It took a while, but eventually everyone settled down, sprawled on the floor, wiping their streaming eyes. Every time they made eye contact, they would start to laugh again. Fortunately, the door to the hall was closed and no one had happened upon them making utter idiots of themselves. Suddenly Joel looked up and exclaimed: "Hey! Look. The sun is shining!"

Jim was the first one to his feet and he reached down to pull Blair up, and then Joel. Rafe helped pull Brown and Simon up, and they all rushed to the windows to catch the fleeting glimpse of blue sky and sunshine. The six men basked in the beauty and recent rarity of the event. Smiling with the joy the sight brought. Even though the brief clearing didn't last, they all felt better for it. Of course their thirty minutes of silliness didn't count and if they had been pressed to explain their good moods would have explained that the brief sunshine had been the cause.

Throughout the day, every time their eyes met, the big, tough cops of Major crimes would burst out laughing. As the normal day progressed, the other officers who had cause to stop by wondered at the jocularity of the group. None, however, left with a satisfactory explanation. The weather turned nasty again, quickly, but nothing could dampen their spirits. The weather even had the criminals staying indoors and off the streets. It was a rare, peaceful day of catching up on paperwork, with no new cases assigned. No new crimes of enough severity to come into the perview of the Major Crimes Division. There was nothing to spoil the good humour they shared.

Dinner was a masterpiece. Mable's buffet was laden with enough supplies to make a delicatessen jealous. The card players served themselves and sat at the dining room table to play. The dark cherrywood table provided a beautiful surface for playing cards and the aged matching chairs were surprisingly comfortable, providing excellent support for the bodies relaxing and playing.

After having spoken with her husband that morning about how glum and tense everyone had been of late, she was surprised at how cheerful they all seemed. She was serving coffee, late in the evening and finally asked, "Joel mentioned that you were all feeling a little under the weather. What happened to change you're attitudes?" She caught the embarrassed exchange of expressions. Focusing on the one she knew would tell her, she smiled. "Well? Joel? You want to explain what happened?"

Shrugging apologetically at his compatriots, he turned to his wife with a big grin. "Let's just say we all managed to tickle each other today, shall we?"

She looked at him in consternation. Tickle? As in ? Tickle? She looked into the eyes of each man. Uncertain. Confused.

It was Jim's fault. He made the mistake of looking at Simon, who stuck his tongue out at him. Jim started laughing. Blair looked at him, curiously. He pointed to Simon, who repeated the gesture for him. This time everyone saw it, and they began to laugh and make faces at one another. Soon, they were all laughing hysterically. Pointing at one another at each new eye-crossing, tongue sticking-out, nose thumbing gesture and expression.

Mable wisely backed away from the table, shaking her head and smiling. She realized that when Joel said 'tickle' he meant 'tickle'. She watched the six adult males forget their age and decorum and become the rowdy bunch of teenagers they tried so hard to repress. When the teasing and face-making turned to roughhousing, she managed to steer them into the back yard, where they ended up playing tag. Surprisingly, Blair was the only one never tagged 'it'. It wasn't so much that he was faster than the others, just more agile, able to slip between bushes, dodging around trees. Finally, the older men ganged up on him herding him into a corner where Rafe finally managed to tag him. Then the race was truly on. Blair couldn't believe it. For such large men, they sure were fast. He realized that if he was ever going to be able to pass on the tag, he was going to have to out think them. They teased him, speeding by just out of reach, depending on their greater speed to protect them. So Blair got sneaky. He chose Simon for his target, doggedly following him, never letting him catch his breath. Eventually, he managed to zig as Simon zagged and tagged him with a gleeful shout of "You're it!"

Mable had been monitoring the game. She could hear how hard the men were gasping for breath. She turned out the outside lights and called out.

"That's enough, now, boys. I can hear you puffin' like steam engines. It's time to come in now, before you catch your deaths of cold." There were laughter-filled answers of "Yes, Mom." From the participants, but they followed her instructions.

The rain had been light, but they had all been out long enough to get thoroughly soaked. She shook her head at them, laughing.

"Good thing I always kept extra towels." She herded the soggy group toward the stairs, telling them where to find the bathrooms and towels. Ordering them to send down their wet things to be put in the drier. Joel, of course, went to their room to shower and change. The visitors were surprised to discover three more full bathrooms upstairs, and quickly took turns showering to warm up, then wrapping up in towels to dry and keep warm. Waiting for his chance, when no one was looking, Blair twisted up a towel and, as Jim passed him, snapped his friend's butt with the corner of the towel.

"Hey!" The startled Jim exclaimed, turning to an eyebrow wiggling smirking Guide. "Why, you " He snagged another towel and returned the snap. Simon, couldn't resist and snapped Jim, as well. Soon they were all involved in the towel fight, dodging through the hall, in and out of the bathrooms, laughing and playing. Joel came upstairs and gathered the wet garments, catching his share of towel-snaps. Taking the wrung out clothing down and putting them in the drier. He had a hard time convincing them to come back downstairs and sit in the family room watching television until their clothes dried. It was a subdued and embarrassed group of men he finally pushed down the stairs.

"It's all right, guys. Mable has had J's entire football team on the couch in towels before. I assure you she won't think twice about it." Of them all, only Blair didn't seem too upset about sitting around watching TV in Mable's presence. But then, he did have experience with a multitude of cultures.

Mable made hot cocoa. She decided that if they were going to act like children, she should treat them like children. She brought in the tray of mugs, a bag of marshmallows for them to use as they saw fit.

"Now, you boys just settle down for a while. I'm sure you don't want me to have to turn any of you over my knee and spank you, now, do you?"

Joel looked speculatively at his friends and co-workers. "I don't think I'd make that offer to this group, if I were you, baby. You might be surprised at who might take you up on it." He smothered a smile as the five men blushed in complete embarrassment.

"Joel! Shame on you," She began, then saw the embarrassed expressions on their guest's faces. She laughed. "It's all right, boys. I'll play nice." Her laughter causing their blushes to deepen.

Finally subdued, the group sipped their cocoa and watched the news. Mable had pulled their now dry clothing from the drier and folded it. She returned just in time for the weather report. For the first time in more than a month, they were predicting clear weather for the weekend. They all breathed sighs of relief at the prospect. "Wonderful. Clear skies tomorrow." She smiled at her husband. "Maybe we can go somewhere?" Hopeful. Just as tired of the dismal weather as everyone else. She handed out the dry clothes. Smiling at Jim as she handed him his plaid boxers. He turned crimson. Blair smirked, until she handed him his boxers with the dinosaurs on them, at which time he grabbed his clothes and ran for the upstairs to dress. The other four men following rapidly on his heels.

Coming back downstairs, Simon whispered to Jim "Dinosaurs?" With an enormous grin.

Glancing around, Jim whispered back, "You should see the ones with the cave men on them."

"Funny, guys. Funny." Blair muttered. "They were a gift."

Simon looked at the young man, "A gift. From whom?"

They had made it back down the stairs. Rafe and Brown were grinning at the exchange.

Blair looked uneasily around, "A girl."

"A girl gave you underwear?" Simon asked, incredulous.

"Uh, yeah."

"What girl?" Simon pressed, curious.

"Uh, " Blair looked around frantically for escape. Unfortunately, Mable was in the way.

"Simon Banks. That is not a question a gentleman should ask." She glared at him, her gaze softening as she shifted her eyes to Blair. "And I'm sure Blair wouldn't dream of telling you who she is." She reached out and took his hand, leading him away from the others. When they had put enough distance between them, taking into account Jim's abilities and propensity for listening in to anything concerning his partner (She had glared at him in warning as they passed him), she whispered softly "I'm sure Cecilia doesn't want anyone to know about this, do you?" Blair stared at her in shock.

"Y..You know?"

"Of course. Who do you think helped her find them?" She looked up at him with a twinkle of merriment in her eyes. "All that I ask, is that she not see them, um, in use?"Blair blushed furiously. "Uh, no, ma'am. Absolutely not." He glanced back at the others who were looking curiously at them, Joel having joined them in their puzzlement.

"We're just friends. She sent them Oh, you probably already know that, huh?"

She smiled at him. "Yes. Cecilia tells me almost everything. She does like you, by the way. As a friend. At least, for now." She looked at him, speculatively. "You could both do a lot worse. But you have plenty of time. I want for my daughter what I have. Joel and I were friends for a long time before we became lovers. That friendship is what has held us together all these years. My advice to you, is. Take your time. Be friends."

Blair smiled. "That's great advice. For everything. Thanks. I'll do that." He glanced back at the group watching them. "Besides, I wouldn't want to do anything to mess up any of my friendships."

She returned his smile. "That's good enough for me." She patted his hand. "Now. It's getting late, and I think this party is about over, for tonight." She led him back to the group, who were all looking a little sheepish, knowing they had overstepped the bounds of good manners.

"It's all right, boys. You were just acting like boys always do."

Simon flinched. "Ouch. I take that to mean that it's time for all of us to grow up and start behaving like gentlemen again."

Her laugh was musical, "Well, that would be a good idea. Just don't lose the child again. It was nice to have you boys here." Easier to handle than real children, more controllable.

She refused Jim and Blair's offers to help clean up. With laughter and gentle prodding, she managed to send them all on their way without making them feel pushed or embarrassed by their behavior. She made them all promise to come back the next Friday for the weekly poker game.

Later that night, when the lights were out and they were finally ready to sleep, Joel finally asked his question. "Cecilia?" Pretty sure of the answer, but not positive.

"Would that be a problem?"

"Cecilia and Blair?" He thought about it. "No. I guess not. Simon and I were actually discussing it earlier today."

"Before or after the tickle fight?"

He chuckled. "Before."

"Would you mind?"

"No. Simon was right. They're both so smart that it's hard to find anyone who can talk to who can understand them. Just so long as they don't rush into anything is my only concern. I am aware of Blair's reputation."

"That's all right. I was aware of yours when we met, too."

"You were?" Startled.



"See how well we turned out?"

"I get your point. I promise not to harass the boy, OK?"

"Good decision." She snuggled close, "Joel?"


"Are you really tired and sleepy?"

He lay quietly for a moment. "Not that tired and sleepy."

The End

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