Okay, don't all of you faint at once. :-) I know this story has been a looong time in coming. And for that reason, I'm going to say this is my final Family story. If irony has anything to say about it, I'll probably be flooded with ideas of the next story, but at the moment, I don't feel the call to write in this universe anymore.
Thanks for the lovely things you've said about the series over the years. I find it hard to believe I've been writing TS since 1997. And don't worry, I'm still enjoying the fandom. I'm just taking a break from the Family, and I felt this was the perfect stopping point. Jim (James) and Blair are leaving Cascade to get into heaven knows what kinds of trouble all over the world. If you get something into your head about their adventures that you just can't get rid of, drop me a note, and we'll see if we can't find you some relief. :-) I'm pretty generous when it comes to my universes.
I'm currently working on a zine which (keeping my fingers crossed) will be ready for MediaWest. So if you don't hear from me for a while, don't worry. It just means Skeeter Press is cracking a whip over my head. :-)
Hope you enjoy!
All is flux, nothing stays the same. ~ Heraclitus, quoted by Plato in Cratylus
"I have a plan," Blair said smugly.
"Oh, I just got to hear this," Jim replied, sharing a look with Adam.
"You go to Simon, tell him you're taking a year off. You walk out while his jaw is still on the floor. Eventually, he recovers and starts yelling. I nod my head in complete agreement with everything he says. Then, I begin to explain that I don't know what got into you, and the only choice I have is to go with you and make sure you don't get yourself killed trying to protect whatever godforsaken enterprise you've gotten yourself mixed up in."
Jim drummed his finger against the leather arm of his chair. "So, in your plan I'm Don Quixote, going after those damn windmills, and you're Sancho Panzo, the loyal servant who understands I'm crazy but indulges me anyway?"
"I didn't know I was being so literary, but...yeah, that about covers it."
"You got a better plan?" Jim asked his brother eagerly.
"Yes, James. You go to the chief of police, mayor-- whoever's in charge of stuff like this, and you say, 'I'm the Elder of Family Labs, Inc., the company which has provided Cascade with state-of-the-art crime labs for the past ten years, and I'm taking a year off to take care of some business matters. I'll have my people inform your people of my return.' Then you walk out, and we get this show on the road."
Jim and Blair looked at him. Then Jim turned to Blair. "So, in your plan...."
Adam gave a disgusted grunt and moved to the back of the plane where Anna, the Elder's current aide de camp sat with the Elder's personal bodyguard, William.
"Sent to the corner so soon, Adam?" Anna asked with a small grin. The thing she liked about working in the Family was that they didn't stand on much formality while in private quarters.
"They're trying to work out a way to finesse their captain, instead of just telling the man how it's going to be. A waste of time and energy that he could be spending on his real problems."
"The Elder's style is different from yours, Adam. From what I understand, it always has been."
"I know that. I also know that while our styles are different, our goals are not. I'm just hoping the others remember that, or we are going to have one hell of a bloodbath before all of this ends."
"You think the Elder will resort to violence?" Anna inquired.
"Who's talking about the Elder?" Adam muttered and stomped off to the cockpit.
Anna looked at William. "Trouble?"
"Only if someone decides to get in the Elder's way," William said knowledgeably, and settled back to go over the list of weapons in the plane's armory.
Adam slid out of the limo, and surveyed the street outside the Central Headquarters of the Cascade Police Department. He and William shared a nod, and he stepped back to let the others out of the car.
"If you don't want to get left down here, I suggest you get rid of that smirk," the Elder said, gracefully exiting the vehicle.
"Yes, Elder," Adam said obediently. He knew James was sore because in the end, his plan had been the one chosen. The Elder was going to meet with the leaders of Cascade's finest, and tell them he was leaving for a year. No asking, no pleading, no waiting for others to make a decision. The Elder was leaving, and they could be good sports about it and let him know he was welcome to come back, or they could throw a snit and lose not only their best detective team, but a considerable portion of their operating budget.
The Elder adjusted his shades and let his security precede him through the door. His attention was focused straight ahead so he didn't notice the looks he garnered from the people on the main floor. Blair, opting to stay near the rear just for this reason, noted the speculation in the faces of visitors and cops alike. They knew Jim was a person of power, but they weren't sure if it was just wealth emanating from him, or whether he was a politician--state, maybe national. Whoever he was, they knew to stay out of his way, the security team unnecessary as the usual crowd of people near the front desk fell back.
"Excuse me, sir," the desk sergeant said hesitantly as the Elder started around the desk toward the elevator. "Only authorized--" He stopped as the man turned and removed his shades. "Ellison?"
"I've only been gone a week, Sarge. You mean they've pulled my authorization already?" Jim teased.
Sergeant Wilbur Franken just stared.
"Is there a problem, Elder?" Adam asked.
"I don't know. Sergeant?"
Franken shook his head mutely. Blair patted his hand as he went by.
"Take the man out of Chinos and look what you get," Blair said sotto voce as they piled into the elevator.
"You can go back to the car, too," the Elder threatened.
Blair just laughed.
They bypassed sixth floor and Major Crime to reach the eighth floor and the Office of the Chief of Police. As the elevator door opened, Jim could hear the secretary use the intercom to say, "They're here, sir."
"Adam, Blair, you're with me," Jim said.
"And me, sir," William said softly, but forcefully.
"Fine, William. Come on, Chief."
"Uh, it looks a little crowded in there, Jim. I'll just hang with--erk!" Blair smoothed out the wrinkles in his jacket where Jim's fingers had yanked him forward. "Geez, man, all you had to do was ask."
The Elder ignored him as he stepped into the inner office. Awaiting him stood Police Chief Harry Warren, Mayor Ed Spencer, and a very pissed Simon Banks. Before he could greet them, the police chief was coming forward, his hand stuck out toward Adam.
"It's finally good to meet you, Elder. On behalf of the Cascade Police Department, I'd like to thank you and your company for all that you've done for us, and if there's anything we can do for you, you have only to ask. I see you've already availed yourself of Cascade's finest team as part of your security. That's fine. Is that what you came here to talk about? Do you need them remanded to you for special duty?"
Adam ignored the man and looked at Jim, whose eyes indicated his amusement. With a sigh, Adam turned to explain to the clueless head cop. "My brother is--" he began.
"Oh, yes," Warren interrupted. "I knew you seemed familiar. You were here before, when your brother, Detective Ellison was shot, correct? If only you'd told us who you were then, I'd--"
The mayor, having noticed the looks between the visitors, touched the chief's arm. "Have a seat. Elder," he said emphatically to Jim.
Jim smiled. "Thank you, Mayor." He had to fight the grin that wanted to appear as Warren's head spun around. "I'm sorry to schedule this meeting so abruptly, but--"
"What the hell are you doing, Ellison?" Warren asked, still not getting it.
"Trying to move this meeting forward, Chief Warren. We're all busy men. Now, as I was saying--"
"Banks, what's going on?"
"I was unaware that Captain Banks also had an appointment with you. I can wait in the--"
"I don't, Jim," Simon said quietly.
"Then why is he asking you about my business?" the Elder inquired politely.
Warren started to speak, but was pinned into silence by a stern glance from the mayor. "I'm sorry, Elder. The Chief is a bit thrown by your identity. I'm sure he will get over it."
James nodded regally. "As I was saying before, I'm sorry that I have to be so abrupt with this, but I don't have time for formalities. A problem has come up in the Family that requires my presence for the next year. I would like the option of returning here at the end of that year, and resuming my duties as an officer. If that's not possible, I understand and wish you and your city well."
Warren stalked around his desk. "I don't know what kind of game you're playing, Ellison, but you can't just show up in my office and demand--"
"I'm not demanding anything, sir. Just stating facts."
"You aren't the Elder. You--you can't be," Warren sputtered, red-faced. "The Elder is--You're just a cop, Ellison, and--and--and--" The Chief of Police took a good look at the man sitting so confidently before the mayor. He then glanced around at the others surrounding Ellison. Not just others--Ellison's people. Warren groaned. "Jesus fucking Christ."
"No. Just the Elder," Adam said dryly.
"I'm sure we can work something out," Spencer said quickly before Warren stuck his other foot in his mouth. Politically speaking, he wanted both the Elder and Detective Ellison on his side. Although he'd only been in office a few months, the outgoing mayor had been quite honest about the massive crime problem in Cascade, and his secret weapon against it--Ellison and his observer/partner, Sandburg. Permanently losing them, and the support of the Family, would leave Cascade over a barrel and his political career in the dumps. He wasn't about to let Warren screw up everything.
"I'm glad to hear that, Mayor," the Elder said, nodding to Adam, who handed the official a business card. "Just contact my people with the details. And don't worry, Spencer. I'm sure Captain Banks and his Major Crime Unit will manage to keep you out of hot water with the electorate for quite some time." James smiled warmly, but the smile died as he glanced at Simon. His friend was practically screaming that he considered this a betrayal. They really needed to talk. "Captain Banks, would you accompany me downstairs to clear my desk?"
"My pleasure, Elder," Simon drawled, deliberately ignoring Adam as he headed for the door.
The silence in the elevator was heavy and all sighed with relief as the doors opened onto the sixth floor. James directed Anna toward his desk, giving her curt orders to box everything up, before turning to follow the captain into his office. When Adam moved to join him, James gave a quick shake of his head, and closed the door. William took up position in front of the door.
Adam joined Blair who was perched on the edge of someone's desk. "Why didn't you join them?" he asked curiously.
"This is between the two of them, man. And that's not a place anybody wants to be. Trust me on that one," Blair replied.
"I take it you've been there."
"Oh, yeah. Sometimes Jim gets the idea he's invulnerable, and I have to side with the captain. Sometimes the captain forgets Jim gets tired like everyone else, and I have to side with Jim. Then there's the really dangerous position of going against both of them."
"But you do it anyway."
"If it's for Jim's own good, you bet your ass I do." He looked at Adam. "I know you're, like, Jim's partner in the Family, and I'm cool with that. If something goes wrong, I expect Jim to call you, and I expect you to come running. I respect that relationship. But when it comes to Jim's health, mental or physical, that's my domain, and I want the same respect from you. His limitations frustrate him at times so he ignores them--or at least he would ignore them if I let him. But I don't, and he accepts that. That's our relationship. Got it?"
"Don't worry. James made that quite clear on our first plane ride together."
"You were such an arrogant jerk back then, man. What happened to you?"
Adam shrugged. "I remembered James likes to go for the throat. How could I have forgotten that?"
Blair laughed. "I didn't know what to think when that happened. Of course, at that time I was thinking you guys were a bunch of killers or something."
"I think there were a lot of assumptions going on. And maybe some--petty jealousy."
"Hey!" Blair said imperiously. "There was nothing petty about it. That was full-blown jealousy, man. I thought I knew Jim better than anyone else. Then you showed up, and you knew about me, but I didn't know about you."
"And I used to be the person who knew James better than anyone, and suddenly there you were, usurping my position. I think I had every right to be pissed."
"I agree. We both did. In the end it comes down to being totally Jim's fault," Blair said logically.
"I concur. Do you think we can come up with a suitable punishment?"
"He has to put up with the two of us. I can't think of anything much worse than that."
Adam laughed. "You do know I'm recording this conversation, right?"
Blair smiled. "I wouldn't expect anything less of you, Adam. But you know you can't turn Jim against me."
A sigh. "I know."
"And for some deranged reason he's kinda loyal to you, too."
"I have a lovely personality."
Blair snorted. "I guess we're just gonna have to put up with each other--for his sake."
"Of course. Now, if we can just get him out of this godforsaken city--"
"Hey, you're talking about my home."
"The crime rate in Cascade surpasses that of a city three times its size."
"It's not the city's fault."
Adam stared at the younger man. "It's the Elder's fault?" Blair nodded. "Did you miss your morning medication today?" Adam asked kindly.
Blair smiled. "He and Simon like to believe it's me, but it's not. I led a pretty non-criminally affiliated life before I met Jim. So it has to be him. And you know what that means."
Adam whipped out his cell phone. "We'll have to increase security. We already have a man to put on you, and I'd ordered the new jet--"
"A duplicate of Air Force One. The company planes are too small to make an adequate base of operations from. They also need to be refueled too often, and don't have enough anti-terrorism protection."
Blair shook his head. "I saw the movie Air Force One, man. That ain't the best you can do, is it?"
Adam jabbed a number into the phone. "Tyler? Adam. Go over to the Pentagon, get a copy of the security updates they wanted to add to Air Force One until their party lost the election, then get the plans to Aeronautics to work out the flaws...A week...No, that wasn't a suggested date of completion." Adam stood, the phone still at his ear. "Excuse me, Blair," he said politely, walking out of the bullpen.
Blair felt sorry for poor Tyler, because whether Tyler knew it or not, the Elder's plane would be ready by Adam's deadline.
"Hey, Blair," Joel Taggert called as he spotted his friend. "I see the Elder made good on his word to bring you back safe and sound."
"Well, we're safe and sound, Joel, but we're not back, not for long anyway. Just flew in to tie up some loose ends and then we'll be leaving for a year or so."
"A year? This have something to do with the trouble in South America?"
"That particular problem has been dealt with," Blair said, and Joel decided he really didn't want to know what that meant. "But there is the potential for similar problems, and Jim's decided that they should be nipped in the bud personally."
"And it's gonna take a year?"
"It's either going to be the way Jim wants it in a year, or he's not coming back, Joel."
"That'd be a damn shame, but I understand. The Elder takes his responsibilities seriously. And of course you're going with him."
"I can't let him go alone," Blair said, realizing that truth for the first time. It just wasn't "in" him to let Jim go off alone. That was what had him jumping out of a plane in Peru, getting on a plane into the unknown when Adam made his appearance that night nearly two years ago, and what was putting him on a 747 to tour the world with Jim. It all came down to that one basic tenet.
"You two be careful."
"Simon and Jim saying their goodbyes?" Joel tipped his head toward the office.
"Something like that. Simon didn't know we were leaving until Jim broke the news in a meeting with Simon, Mayor Spencer, and Chief Warren."
"Ouch," Joel said softly.
"It was for Simon's protection, Joel. We all know how vindictive Warren can be if he suspects someone's been pulling something behind his back. With the Family backing him, Jim is untouchable; Simon isn't. We couldn't leave knowing we'd left the captain swinging in the wind like that."
Joel shook his head. "You guys never do anything the easy way, do you?"
"Not if it means leaving our friends unprotected."
Joel smiled and patted Blair on the back. "You're both good men, and you're gonna be missed around here. Drop us a postcard every now and again, okay?"
"'Kay, Joel. And you know if we're needed, we'll come running. Jim might be the Elder, but he's also Detective Ellison of the Major Crime Unit. That's just as important to him."
"What about your schoolwork? Rainier gonna have a problem with you waltzing off for a year?"
A shrug. "That's our next stop. But they were so honored when I was chosen to go to South America for the Family that I can't see them opposing this. It makes them look good and the Family will give them a little more money to work with. It'll be fine."
"Sure it will," Joel agreed. He looked over at his desk where a Records clerk had just dropped off a packet. "Well, some of us still work here. I'm sure Simon will inform everybody of your general plans, but I'll be sure to tell Brown and Rafe what's going on. I know they'll hate they missed you."
Blair laughed. "Being on stakeout is the one thing I'm not going to miss, man. Tell them we'll be in contact, and that we're gonna miss you guys."
Blair watched Joel make his way to his desk, then focused on the rest of the bullpen. It was all so familiar. How the hell had the place become so much a part of him? What was he doing in a cop's world--and liking it? None of it was the future he'd imagined for himself, yet he couldn't find a single part of it he wanted to change. Not even the Family. Boy, what a difference a year made.
What differences would this one bring about?
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kick your ass across the room?" Simon said as soon as Jim closed the door behind him. "Other than the fact that an army of Family meatheads would descend upon me like a plague of locusts, and there'd only be a big greasy spot left where I used to be."
"I didn't do this to hurt you, Simon."
"To make a fool of me?"
"To protect you. Warren had to believe you were just as in the dark as he was."
"I was, damn it!" Simon took a deep breath before sitting down and motioning Jim into the seat in front of his desk. "What's going on, Jim?"
Jim rubbed a hand across his face. "I've done the indefensible, Simon; I've neglected my responsibilities, and now I'm paying for it."
"The Family. Because of my negligence, things have gotten out of control. I'm hoping that a year of my undivided attention can--I don't know--add some stability, make it clear to all parties that the Family is interested in going forward, that I am the leader they need me to be."
"Are you?" Simon asked softly. "You have other responsibilities, and as much as I hate to say it, I can see why some members of the Family aren't sure of where your loyalties lie. Is this really something you want to do, Jim? I know you have this thing about giving your word so many years ago. But what about now? If you could go back and change things, if you could tell Father thanks but no thanks, would you?"
"I can't go around thinking like that. I can't dwell on what could have happened. There are just too many pitfalls, too many 'what-if's in my past to indulge myself in such a game."
"Quit with the philosophizing bullshit and give me an answer, Ellison. Knowing what you know now, who you are now, would you decline eldership, or whatever the hell you call it?"
Simon was stunned by the answer. "No?"
Jim was a little surprised, too. "God help me, Simon, but no, I wouldn't turn down Father's offer. The Family does a lot of good, has solved a lot of local problems before they became global ones."
"I won't deny that, but we're not talking about the Family. It's you we're discussing, Jim."
"I'm a good detective, Captain. My record speaks for itself, and since I've-- no, since Sandburg and I have gotten these senses under control, I've been better than good. There's tangible proof that I know what I'm doing on the force. There's no such evidence of my business skills. I mean, I could show you the Family's Annual Report, but that doesn't say what I've done, does it? So you have doubts, and I have doubts." Jim stood, then started pacing. "But if I'm forced to look at it honestly, my doubts diminish. I can be the Elder, Simon. I have the education, the knowledge, the skills to be this person. And after being literally forced into accepting the position because of Father's near-assassination, I want to be this person."
"But you also want to be a detective. I'm afraid this might be a case of wanting your cake and eating it, too," Simon warned. "I need officers who are dedicated to their work."
"So you're not even willing to let me try to give this a chance? Fine." Jim stood in front of the desk and held out his hand. "It was a pleasure working with you, sir."
"Shit, Jim. I--" He threw an annoyed glance at the door as someone knocked. "Come in!"
Anna walked in. "Elder, Joseph needs your go ahead to close down the missile testing."
"Is everyone in place?"
"Yes, sir. There's a seven-minute window. If it had been longer I would have waited before interrupting you."
"Excuse me, Captain."
Simon nodded as he watched Jim take the cell phone Anna extended and walk over to the corner of the office. Reluctantly, he admitted to himself that the man in the tailored suit wasn't his detective. It wasn't just the clothes, but the whole attitude. How Warren could have been so blind to miss the way Jim had walked into the office, how the power just exuded from him...well, that showed just how closed-minded the chief was. With an attitude like that, he'd never advance to an elected office. Spencer, however, had pegged Jim right away. There would be few political limits for a man like that.
The captain sighed. He could lose a valuable detective and a good friend, or he could give Jim a year to get this out of his system...or work it out so he could be both cop and Elder. It sounded like an impossible task, but ever since Jim had hooked up with Sandburg, 'impossible' seemed to be their standard mode of operation. Sandburg. Well, at least the Sentinel was taking his Guide with him.
And leaving his city in the hands of his Watcher.
The frustrating thing was that this had happened to him before. Just when he got something broken in just right, change happened. Joan had divorced him, his favorite leather chair's leg had broken off, his loafers had never recovered from "the incident in the cow pasture", and now this. He'd gotten used to having a Sentinel on his team. He'd gotten used to having Sandburg around. He'd gotten used to the nuttiness that seemed to dog the pair's every move. Now he was going to lose them, too.
Simon waited for Jim to hang up and Anna to leave before he looked at his friend. "I better hear from you at least once a week. And I don't want to hear any of that 'Simon, I was busy' shit, understand? If you think you can juggle being a cop and a big-time leader of industry, then you can damn well fit a phone call into your schedule."
Jim grinned. "Yes, sir."
"Call Sandburg and Black in here."
The captain stared at the three men standing in front of him, two standing at military "at ease", the third with his hands in his pockets and slightly rocking. "Ellison, take care of Sandburg."
"Sandburg, I know you can write. Keep me informed, and your partner out of trouble."
Blair grinned. "Yes, sir."
Simon turned to Adam, his eyes raking over the lean form. "Black."
The single word was both a request and a warning. Adam nodded solemnly. "Yes, sir." Yes, he would look after both of them and yes, he knew the captain would take it out of his hide if something happened to either.
Simon glared at Jim. "Don't you and your band of Merry Men have some other office to terrorize?"
They trooped out of his office, only to have Blair sorta sprint back in. "We'll be back, Simon," he offered with a sympathetic smile. "And make sure you read your email daily."
"I will, Blair. Be careful, okay?"
"We will be. 'Bye, Simon."
The captain tried to focus on the files on his desk, but his thoughts were still on a certain pair when Joel stopped in his doorway a few minutes later.
"Things aren't going to be the same around here," Joel predicted. "What are we going to do, Simon?"
"Keep the home fires burning. They'll return."
Simon closed his eyes and tuned into his Watcher "radar". When he opened them, he was smiling. "Yeah, Joel. They'll be back."
"You realize this is highly irregular," Rainier University president Dr. Tom McCall said.
Blair shrugged. "The Family doesn't deal in 'regular', sir. They want me to accompany the Elder as he reviews worldwide operations, and well, I'm agreeable to the plan as well. I just need to know what my status will be when I return to Rainier."
"You won't have a status," Chancellor Edwards said, her mouth a tight line. "We have bent over backwards accommodating you, Mr. Sandburg. Your ride-along status with the Cascade Police Department has been a long distraction of yours. You teach and/or attend your classes when it's convenient for you. You have brought danger onto the campus, and have singlehandedly caused our insurance company to reexamine the student premiums. It was against my judgment that you were allowed to take the time off to act as--what was that peculiar title?"
"Cultural liaison," Blair supplied archly. Edwards had never liked him. Maybe he reminded her of an old boyfriend or something.
"Yes, whatever. I didn't like the idea then, nor do I like it now. Obviously, I was overruled. But as the head of the School of Arts and Sciences, I can positively assure you that if you leave at this point in your studies, you won't be able to return."
Blair gave a casual shrug. "Then all I ask is that you forward my records to the University of Virginia. They've been after the Family to keep their educational allotments in state, anyway."
McCall paled. "Mr. Sandburg, are you threatening--"
Blair threw up his hands. "Whoa, Dr. McCall. I'm not making threats. I just know that the Family supports institutions that support the Family."
"Dr. McCall, I'm sure Mr. Sandburg is inflating his position," Edwards said caustically. "I'm sure the Family has better things to do than to 'defend the honor' of a lowly assistant."
Blair was starting to feel truly offended. He was a member of the Family, dammit. "You'd be surprised at what the Family would do to protect one of its own. The politicians talk family values. The Family puts them into practice. If you don't believe me, you can look in the outer office and see the bodyguard they've assigned to me. You can also look out the window and see the limo that is waiting for me. And inside that limo is the head of North American Operations and the Elder, both of whom are as close to me as brothers. So don't tell me, Ms. Edwards, what the Family would or wouldn't do. You have no idea."
Edwards opened her mouth, but a quick chopping movement from McCall shushed her.
"Mr. Sandburg, I can see you care for the Family, and because of that, I think we can put your absence under the heading of a Family emergency." McCall laughed nervously.
"Actually, I thought it could be called a study abroad, Dr. McCall," Blair said smugly. "Worth at least three credit hours."
Edwards gasped in outrage. McCall silenced her with a searing glance. "At least, Mr. Sandburg. Since this seems to be a matter of some urgency, I'll give you my personal assurance of your welcome back here at Rainier University, and the details will be forwarded to you after our Board of Trustees meet. I'm sure they, along with whoever is head of the College of Arts and Sciences, will come up with a satisfactory agreement."
Blair smiled and stood. "That's cool, Dr. McCall. I'll give the Family your regards." He ignored Edwards, shook McCall's hand, and left. Robert, his bodyguard, walked just to the front of him.
They reached the limo, and Blair practically fell in, laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes. "I LOVE it, Jim. God, what a rush! Me, Blair Sandburg, doing a power play in the high bastion of power itself--well, at least in the academic world."
"I'm glad you enjoyed yourself, Sandburg," Jim said with a grin of his own.
"This is heady stuff, man. No wonder you don't make a habit of whipping it out for every situation. Could be addictive."
"'Absolute power corrupts absolutely,'" Adam quoted.
"Absolutely," Blair agreed, his smile fading as he realized that had happened to Gregory. He touched Jim's arm. "No worries, man. From now on, you get to play the heavy. I'll just be the lowly assistant."
Blair grinned. Jim had been listening. "Well, yes--yes, she is," he agreed wholeheartedly. "So, what's our next stop?"
"The airport," Adam said. "Unless you have another unnecessary confrontation to make before we leave?"
"Jim?" Blair stared at him.
"Don't you have one stop to make before the airport?"
"C'mon, man. You know you need to do this."
"I'll call, Chief."
"You've made too much progress for a simple telephone call. You're gonna be gone a year, man."
Adam cleared his throat and politely raised his hand.
"Yes, Adam?" James said patiently.
"I have a question." The Elder nodded. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Sandburg thinks I should go see my dad."
Dark eyes focused on Blair. "Why?"
"Because Jim doesn't need his past holding him back, Adam. Repairing the relationships with his dad and brother allows Jim to be who he needs to be."
"You don't like James as he is?"
Bastard. Blair glared at Adam. "Of course I like Jim--James. But that doesn't mean there isn't any room for improvement."
"And you honestly believe encouraging him to renew a relationship with a man who made his childhood hell is an improvement?" Adam asked dryly.
"Yes, if it removes a weight from James' shoulders." Adam rolled his eyes in response. Blair tried a different tactic. "What if something happens to Mr. Ellison while we're gone?"
Jim hit the intercom button and told the driver his father's address. Blair nodded encouragingly, and ignored the dark shadow glaring at him from the far corner of the limo.
"Excuse me?" Jim said as the others slid out of the limo behind him. "I don't think I asked for company."
"Come on, Jim. You don't think I'm going to miss the opportunity of seeing where you grew up as many times as possible, do you?" Blair questioned reasonably.
Jim growled warningly. Blair grinned and stepped around him.
"What's your excuse?" Jim glared at Adam.
"Rules of war. Never let your commanding officer walk into the enemy camp without watching his back."
"Enemy camp? C'mon, Adam. Isn't that a little over the top?" Blair asked, walking backward up the sidewalk.
"Civilian thinking," Adam spat out, stepping around Jim as well, and starting up the walk.
Jim sighed, and started forward. Behind him, William fell into place.
William Ellison was so startled to see his son at his door that he didn't react to the entourage with him. "Jimmy? Come in, son. Something wrong?"
"No, Dad. I'm going out of town, and just wanted to drop in and say goodbye to you and Sally."
"I'm sorry, Jim. Sally's in San Francisco for the week visiting family." He looked at the men accompanying his son. "What's this all about?"
"Sorry, Dad. You remember Sandburg?" William nodded. "And this is Adam Black. And William."
"Adam Black? That name sounds familiar. Family Labs, right?"
Adam gave a terse nod.
"Oh, I think I understand now, Jimmy. So is this an undercover assignment for the CPD or are you officially working as security for the Family? I'm not surprised. There have been rumors about problems within the organization--"
"Rumors?" Jim interrupted.
"Yeah. A year or so ago, one of the original siblings died, and I think the head of the Family--Father or something like that--he almost died too. Then a few weeks ago, there was some kind of coup attempt in South America."
"Damn. Adam, I want someone working spin control immediately."
"Yes, Elder." He walked to the far corner of the room and pulled out his cell phone.
"El--" William shook his head. "The Elder is supposedly the power behind the power at Family Labs."
Jim shrugged. "Something like that, Dad."
"You can't be."
William looked at Blair.
"He is," Blair confirmed.
"But--but you don't even like business!"
Jim laughed. "I used to not like Brussel sprouts either, Dad. My tastes change."
"You're a cop."
"I'm many things. But at the moment, I'm the Elder. As you said, there have been problems lately. The Family needs my attention. That's why I'm taking a year away from Cascade to see what needs to be done."
"Jimmy, Family Labs is on the Forbes list."
"It takes a little getting used to, I know," Jim said, clasping his dad's shoulder. "But I need you to keep my identity a secret. I'm not hiding anymore, but...."
"Neither are you advertising. I understand, Jimmy. This--this is incredible! I'm so proud of you, son." He wrapped his arms around Jim and gave him a loving squeeze.
Jim ignored Adam's soft mutter of, "Now you're proud of him," and returned the embrace before pulling away. "Gotta go, Dad. I have a plane waiting."
"Yes, yes, of course. The Elder is a busy man," William Ellison said, beaming from ear to ear.
"Here's a card with the general Family number. Sam will put you through to me immediately."
"Sure, Jimmy--I mean, Elder."
"James, we really need to be leaving," Adam said abruptly.
Jim nodded. "Take care, Dad. Tell Sally that I hate I missed her, but if she needs anything she's to call."
"I'll tell her. Hope you have a nice flight."
"It was necessary, Jim," Blair stated quietly as they settled into the limo once more.
"Why? Because the old windbag finally decided he was worthy?" Adam asked bitterly.
"Because it's one less concern Jim will have while he's gone," Blair replied sharply. His eyes narrowed, then widened. "Jim's relationship with his fa--dad--is not a threat to his relationship with the Family, Adam."
"He knows that, Chief," Jim said, his eyes flicking briefly over the form sitting across from him. "Just drop it, okay?"
Blair sat back against the leather with a huff. He had apparently stumbled into something, because Jim was being super protective of Adam, and he knew from experience that Jim only got that way when someone he loved was being threatened. Since he knew Jim didn't truly consider him a threat, it must be the subject that was a threat. So if it wasn't Jim's relationship with his dad that was bothering Adam, then maybe Adam's dad was the real issue.
"And don't sit over there plotting to straighten out my life," Adam said, staring out the window.
"You get in contact with Media Services?" Jim asked quickly, hoping to forestall a quarrel.
"Yes. They'll fax a statement for your approval while we're in the air. We also need to issue a statement to the Family as well, assuring them that this isn't a witch hunt."
"Actually, it is," Blair pointed out. "But only actual witches will be harmed. Wait a minute. I didn't say that right, because I assume the Family doesn't prohibit the practice of Wicca?"
Jim shook his head, grinning at the predicament Blair was getting himself into.
"So, I guess we shouldn't use the term witch hunt at all. In fact, the word 'hunt' itself could be very distressing to those who are concerned about our current treatment of animals on the planet. Perhaps we should--"
"Put you on the phone to Media Services and let the brains hash it out?" Jim said, handing Blair his cell.
"Wait a minute, Jim. Don't we have another stop to make?"
Jim sighed. "Where?"
"The hospital to say goodbye to Sadie."
"No," Adam said sharply. "That woman does NOT like me. If you're going, I'll gladly stay in the car this time."
Jim smiled, and winked at Blair. He'd given him the perfect setup. "You don't have to worry about that, Brother. Sadie's not even in town. Remember, Blair? One of her grandsons is giving her a tour of the East Coast for her birthday."
"That's sweet," Adam said, relief evident in his voice.
"Yes, it is," Jim agreed. "Boston, New York, Philadelphia, D.C., the farm."
Dark eyes widened, then narrowed. "The farm?"
Blair just couldn't contain his delight. "Yeah, Adam. You see, Jim and I figured she'd need some down time before hitting the rest of the coast. I mean, at the rate they were going, she was gonna be completely exhausted by the time she got to Disney World. So, she and her grandson are going to spend a few days--"
"A week, actually," Jim corrected with a grin.
"A week at the farm. Father and Raleigh are thrilled. They didn't get to meet her when they were in Cascade--"
"Lucky them," Adam muttered.
"Father wants to show off his horses, and Raleigh's already getting together some recipes he thinks she'll like. It's gonna be wonderful," Blair blathered.
"Wonderful," Adam said acerbically. "This wouldn't be occurring after we've left the continent, would it?"
"Of course not," Blair chided laughingly. "She's probably already there."
Adam groaned and remained silent the rest of the way to the airport, while Jim and Blair looked at each other periodically to burst out in laughter.
All too soon, Jim and Blair were standing on the top stair of the plane, looking back at Cascade.
"Gonna miss this place."
"Me too, Jim. Stayed here longer than anywhere else. Thought it was gonna be my permanent home. But you know what?"
"I found out home is where your Family is. No regrets, man."
"Blair, Media Services is on the viewscreen for you."
"Thanks, Adam. C'mon, Elder. We have work to do."
Jim smiled and followed his partner inside. Blair, as usual, was correct. There was work to do, and life to live.
"You okay, James?"
The Elder clasped his brother's shoulder, and signaled the flight attendant that they were ready to leave. "I'm okay, Adam. I'm just learning a valuable lesson."
"And that would be?"
"Everything changes. But the important things never do."
Adam frowned. "You've been around Blair too long."
Jim patted his shoulder. "Thanks for the compliment. Okay, Anna, what do you have for me?"
Adam watched James wander off with his assistant, the Elder once again firmly in control of the Family. He saw Blair talking to Michelle in Media Services, his hands dancing wildly as he explained some point he was making. Changes, yes. And non-changes. The Elder was right--and that was how it was meant to be.
Adam Black took his seat, and decided life was good.