As the door closed behind him, Blair sighed, catching his breath and gathering his thoughts. Before he got a chance to speak, though, William spoke first. "Could you help me back into bed, please, Blair?"
Blair moved as quickly as his body would allow him to, helping William lift his frail legs back up onto the bed and covering them with the blanket. After the older Ellison was settled in, Blair sat down by his bedside and asked, "What do you think my relationship is with your son, Mr. Ellison?"
William rolled his eyes. This was -not- what he wanted to talk about. As a matter of fact, he was hoping he could avoid the subject altogether, particularly since the implications were, well, downright uncomfortable to even think about. "Look," William insisted, "Whatever you and Jimmy have been to each other in the past, I'm willing to overlook it as ignorance..."
Blair resisted his urge to lash out at the older man, particularly when Blair knew he was dying. Instead, he simply looked out the window, muttering, "I figured that was what you thought." Composing himself once again, Blair stated simply, "Jim and I are completely heterosexual, Mr. Ellison. The reason I became friends with your son was to help him to control his gift."
[...See, I have a -gift-, Dad...]
William drew in a sharp breath as the realization hit him. Jimmy's senses. He must use them on his job. "You...help him."
Blair nodded. "Mr. Ellison, your son is a Sentinel, a descendant of a long line of ancient warriors. They used their heightened senses to protect their people and help them find food."
William nodded, trying to understand what Blair was saying. "A Sentinel?"
"Yes," replied Blair, "the potential has been passed down in your family for generations, I would suspect. Did anyone else in your family have a gift like this?"
William nodded, although weakly. "I think my mother did. She always seemed to know where I was and what I was doing. I thought that just came from being a mother-"
"She was probably a latent Sentinel, Mr. Ellison."
Every time Blair called him 'Mr. Ellison' was sending a knife through his heart. The man who might very well be his son was sitting before him and that man felt forced to be polite and formal around him. "Please, Blair, if you don't feel comfortable calling me dad yet, could you at least call me William? Mr. Ellison makes me sound like one of your professors."
Blair smiled. Jim's dad was definitely trying. He could make an effort to try, too. "All right, William."
After a few moments of relaxed silence, William frowned, his eyes speaking of old guilt. "You help Jimmy with his senses, right?"
"He didn't need help when he was a kid. Does he need it now because I - all those years - "
Blair squeezed William's hand, understanding now where the guilt was coming from. "No, William. That's not the reason. Sally probably helped Jim without knowing it when he was very young, and Steven helped when he was older. He doesn't need help all the time, but his senses are stronger when he has the help. That's why I work as Jim's partner."
"So what are you getting out of this?"
"What are you getting out of this?" William paused for a moment to catch his breath. "Sally and Steven are Jimmy's family. I doubt he would have asked for your help if you only saw him as a charity case."
Blair let his eyes wander for a moment, composing his answer. "At first, I worked with Jim for my PhD dissertation. Jim was desperate for help, the doctors couldn't help him, and I needed a guinea pig. Full Sentinels are very hard to find, William."
William nodded. -That- made sense. But before he could jump to conclusions, Blair continued, "But after I started working with him in the field, I saw how dedicated he was to his job. To his friends. And eventually, -we- became friends. Then-"
"Family." William completed the sentence for him as the realization hit him full force. They didn't live together because they were lovers, Jim and Blair lived together because they were...
"Yeah, family." The mention of family brought the conversation full circle, and Blair and William sat in now uncomfortable silence.
As William watched Blair brush a lock of hair away from his face, he slowly began to see what Jim saw in the younger man. This was a man who had a lot going for him. [And he's far more devoted to my son than I ever was...] "Blair, I want to thank you."
Blair frowned in confusion. "Thank me? For what?"
"For being there for Jim. For helping him and Steven. For helping me."
Blair couldn't think of a response to that, so he simply squeezed the older man's hand as they sat in companionable silence.
Sally watched her two boys as they came down the stairs, concerned by the tense looks on their faces. "What's wrong? Has something happened to your father-?"
Jim shook his head. "No, he's fine. Blair's with him."
Not sure whether Steven wanted Sally in the room for their little 'talk', Jim asked her, "Sally, would you mind doing us a favor and getting us two cups of coffee?"
Watching the two men carefully, she realized that Jimmy was only doing that to give them some privacy, so she replied, "Sure. I'll go put on a new pot."
As Sally went to make the coffee, Jim motioned for Steven to sit down on the couch. Once both men were seated, Jim let out a deep breath, trying to get his thoughts together to explain. "Steven, remember when we were kids, before Bud died - "
Steven frowned for a minute, concentrating on trying to remember his very early childhood. Finally, he gave up. "Things are pretty vague from back then, Jim. I was so young..."
Jim waved off his excuse. If Steven had remembered things about his childhood Sentinel abilities it would have helped, but the information wasn't all that crucial. There was other evidence. "Don't worry about it, then. Remember when you had to rebuild the grandstand at the racetrack?" Steven nodded. "You wondered how I had known the whole thing was about to cave in?"
Steven nodded again. "You blew it off, saying it was a trade secret or something..." He started to recall a vague memory from his childhood of Jim hearing his cries for help, no matter how far away he was... Immediately he put two and two together. Leaning back against the couch, he breathed out in astonishment, "You heard the cement cracking in the building, didn't you?"
Jim nodded, smiling. "I always knew you were the smart one, Stevie."
Steven rested his head in his hands, trying to reconcile the simple belief of childhood with his limited college-level scientific knowledge. What Jim was claiming wasn't possible. It simply wasn't possible... "How?"
"Trade secret actually isn't all that far off, Steven. I was born with heightened senses. Blair helps me focus them to my best advantage in my work."
"All of them."
Jim let out a deep breath. This was always the tough part to explain. He was tempted to tell Steven what was going on upstairs, but he promised Blair he wouldn't eavesdrop. So what about a different example... He focused in on Sally, trying to isolate something unique to tell Steven, when he noticed something that disturbed him. Her heartbeat was faster than he remembered it being a few months earlier, and consistent at that... "Steven, has Sally been diagnosed with high blood pressure lately?"
Steven shook his head at the same time a loud crash could be heard coming from the kitchen. When the two brothers ran in, they could see Sally trying to clean up a broken coffee cup. Steven declared immediately, "I'll get some paper towels..." as Jim bent down to help Sally pick up the pieces of ceramic.
When Jim was down to her eye level, Sally asked in a quiet whisper, "How did you know, Jimmy? I haven't even told your father yet."
Jim had the good decency to blush. "Your pulse is faster than I last remembered it." Standing up to allow Steven to mop up the coffee with the paper towels, he commented, "I take it you heard every word."
Sally nodded. "I remember little things from when you were growing up, but I don't remember you listening to people's hearts. When did you learn to do that?"
Jim shrugged. "Blair taught me."
Steven looked up from the kitchen sink in amazement. "So it's -true-, Sally?"
The old housekeeper nodded. "My doctor told me just before your father got really sick. I didn't have the heart to tell him after that."
Jim put an arm around Sally and laid a gentle kiss on her forehead. "It's okay, Sally. I understand." Stepping back to look into her eyes, he offered, "Now if you -ever- need anything from us, you call me, okay? You're a part of this family, too, you know. In the meantime, why don't you go get some rest. You look like you could use it." Sally simply nodded her agreement.
Steven, for his part, was still stuck on Jim's revelations. "So let me get this straight, Jim. Your hearing is so good you can hear people's heartbeats?" Jim nodded.
"And Blair teaches you how to make your senses stronger?"
"More or less, yeah."
"Does he have-?"
Jim smiled and shook his head. Now -that- was a question he hadn't been asked before. "No. He doesn't. He's been studying people like me for a long time, though, so he knows what he's talking about."
"So you're just one of Blair's research subjects?"
Jim winced as memories of one of Blair's -other- 'research subjects' hit him uncomfortably hard. "We started out that way. But we became really good friends. -That's- the reason he helps me now."
"So why don't I remember any of this type of stuff from when we were growing up?"
Jim face grew sad as he remembered those painful times. "After Bud was murdered, Dad wouldn't back me up when I said I saw who killed him. He said I was crazy-that I was a freak. I stopped trying to use my senses after that, and pretty soon I just forgot how. They came back when I crashed in Peru."
"Was Blair in Peru with you?"
Jim shook his head. "No. I lost the senses again after I returned, but they came back again during a case I was working on. That's when we met."
"And you've been working together ever since?" Jim nodded.
Each man stood silent for a moment, the only noise coming from Sally who was still cleaning up the broken cup. Finally Steven broke the stalemate. "Why didn't you tell me any of this when we were at the track that night?"
"I didn't know you then."
"And you do now?"
"Not like before, but yeah. And you needed to know to totally accept Blair. That's what counts."
"Does Dad know your senses are back for good?"
Jim nodded. "I told him when we found Bud's real killer."
"And does he know about Blair?"
Jim smiled. "I have a feeling Blair's telling him right now."
Finally finished with washing his hands, Steven smiled in return. "So shall we go upstairs and rescue our potentially new little half-brother before Dad musters up his last bit of energy to try and shut him up?"
"I thought you'd think Dad would need the rescuing?"
"Between the two of -them-, it's a toss-up."
As Jim and Steven climbed the stairs to their father's bedroom, both men heard something they didn't expect to hear from their father's room.
Slowly, Jim opened the door to find his partner laughing himself to tears over something that, evidently, his father must have told him. "Chief?"
Having finally gotten the attention of the two men, Blair greeted them. "Oh, hi guys! Jim, your dad was just telling me about some of the things you did to poor Sally as a kid. I didn't know you could be that cruel!"
"Laugh it up, junior, and I might start pulling some of those pranks on you." Allowing himself to finally smile, Jim let his curiosity get the best of him. "So everything's okay between you two now?"
Blair and William locked eyes for a brief moment, which was all that the Sentinel needed to see. "I guess so, Chief. I guess so."
"Yeah," commented Blair, "Now all we need is to find out that we're actually family."
William squeezed Blair's hand, signaling that he needed Blair's attention. His voice hoarse from overuse, William was able to loudly whisper, "You're already Jim's brother. That's enough to make you family."
Jim found himself unable to speak. Finally, his father understood what his life - his gift - was all about. Squeezing Blair's shoulder, he finally managed enough strength to say, "Thanks, dad."
Epilogue - one week later
Blair walked into the loft and collapsed on the couch, exhausted. Loosening his tie, he sighed deeply. "Man, what a day. How are you holding up, Jim?"
Following close behind him, Jim had set a teakettle to boil and started slowly undoing the buttons on his dress blue uniform. He hated the thing, but he wore it to show respect at a formal occasion. Like his father's funeral. Realizing that Blair had spoken to him, he responded, "Yeah, Chief?"
"I said, how are you holding up?" Blair had only been able to spend a week with William Ellison, and already he was feeling the loss. Jim couldn't be taking this well.
Jim sighed deeply. "I'm hanging in there, Chief. I'm just glad we didn't leave anything unresolved, and we got a chance to say goodbye."
Blair smiled a peaceful smile in response. "Yeah, me too."
For a few moments, the only sound was of the water boiling in the tea kettle as both men settled down for a quiet night. Then the ringing of the phone pierced the silence. Since Jim was headed for the shower, he called out from the bathroom, "You want to get that, Chief?"
"'Kay!" called Blair in response as he picked up the line. "Hello?"
An vaguely familiar voice answered. "Can I speak to Jim Ellison, please?"
Hearing the running water of the shower, Blair figured that Jim was unavailable. "Can I leave a message for him?"
"Is this Blair Sandburg?"
[Who is this guy?] "Yes it is?"
"Oh. I'm Dr. Nicholas McPherson at Cascade General. I treated you after the truck accident last week."
Blair instantly recognized the voice when he heard the name, and a stab of panic seized through his heart. Barely able to keep himself calm, he answered, "Yes Sir, I remember."
Dr. McPherson couldn't help but laugh again at being called 'Sir'. "At any rate, I have the results from the blood tests your friend requested on your behalf. Would you like me to deliver them to you?"
"No," replied Blair, "That's all right. Jim and I will stop by to pick them up tomorrow. I know how busy you are. Is there anything you can tell me over the phone, though?" He was -dying- to know...
"Well, the two samples weren't blood related, but there were several genetic similarities. I think the sample will be of great help in your research."
Blair's heart sank. Not blood related. That meant he and Jim weren't brothers. Wanting to get off the phone, he quickly concluded the call, "Yeah, that sounds interesting, Doctor. I'll be by to pick up the results tomorrow. Thanks again for your help. I really appreciate it."
"Anytime, Mr. Sandburg. Anytime." *click*
Jim had just stepped out of the shower when he saw the look of despair in his friend's eyes. Concerned that maybe something bad had happened, he asked, "Chief? What's going on? Who was that on the phone?"
"That was Dr. McPherson, Jim. The tests were negative."
[So the search continues,] thought Jim. But from the look on his face, it wasn't hard to see the disappointment there. "So my father's not your biological father. We'll keep looking."
"Jim, don't you get it? The tests were -negative-. That means we're not brothers."
Crossing over to get closer to his friend, Jim squeezed the younger man's shoulder in encouragement. "Sounds like you don't understand, Blair. Remember what my father said? We're brothers. We don't need blood tests to tell us that."
Blair looked up into the confident eyes of his...brother. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. Now what about ordering pizza? I don't really feel up to cooking tonight."
"Okay, but I want to get vegetarian pizza this time."
"How many times to I have to tell you, Sandburg? Vegetables go -in- -your- - salad-, not on your pizza..."