Author's Note: This is a Family tale, so you know you ought to be familiar with the whole series. Most references are, however, to either Alone or Family Reunion.
As usual, feel free to contact me.
Detective Jim Ellison frowned and slammed the refrigerator door shut. No help there. He went to the cabinets, opening and shutting them with equal force. Great. It was his night to cook and there was nothing in the loft that even resembled a meal. Too many critical cases in the past few weeks had kept him eating on the run-- drive-thru burgers, Chinese, Italian, Thai. He nor his partner had had any down time to check the supplies in the home they shared.
Vaguely, he wondered if he could talk his partner/loftmate/best friend into going to the market. Jim really hated shopping now that he was a Sentinel. Well, actually he hated it long before his heightened senses kicked in. There was always some kid whining for something with extra sugar or a desperate divorcee wanting to know why such a handsome man was buying a single TV dinner. And now he had to deal with the detergent aisle, the spice racks, the whiffs of blood and meat from the prep room in the back... It was enough to make a hungry man go on a fast.
But Blair Sandburg had had a busy week too. Not only had he been by Jim's side during the many hours of surveillance, the almost mandatory chases, and the endless tediousness of paperwork, but he'd also had to take care of his life at the university. Students needed conferences, papers needed to be graded, professors had to be appeased because of various tardies, absences, and late reports. Nah. He wouldn't put grocery shopping on his friend's shoulders too. So with a sigh, he grabbed a pen and pad and made a list.
Because he was concentrating on finishing the task as quickly as possible, he didn't hear anyone approaching the door until the knock came. Still determined not to talk himself out of shopping, he didn't focus on who was at the door and was basically shocked when he opened it.
"Good evening, James."
Jim took in the tall form of Adam Black. As usual, he was dressed in a dark Italian cut suit and just behind him stood a guard similarly outfitted. "What the hell are you doing here?" he asked abruptly of the man he considered his brother.
Adam laughed. "That's what I like about you, James. You always welcome me with such open arms."
Jim ran a hand through his short hair and stepped back. "Come in, Adam." He closed the door behind his brother before speaking. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. The Family is well."
Jim focused on Adam, cataloguing his responses. He concluded his brother was telling the truth to some degree, but there was something he was hiding. "You came all the way from Virginia to just say hi? What is wrong with this picture, Adam?"
"We are Family, James. I was in the neighborhood and I thought it would be good manners to let the Elder know I was in his territory," Adam said, glancing around the loft. The only other time he'd been there had been when James had been lying near death in the hospital. Nothing had changed, except for the teddy bear sitting on the sofa. "Blair leave his plaything laying around?"
"It's Jamie Lin's." He didn't bother to explain that he had packed the toy to take with him to last month's Family reunion, but hadn't been able to find it in his luggage when he arrived in Virginia. That was because when they returned to the loft five days later, it had been sitting on the sofa. Neither he nor Blair had mentioned the incident nor touched the bear since.
"Oh." Apparently the fact that their niece lived in London, and as far as he knew had never been to Cascade, should be neglected. He could deal. He looked around some more. "Crappy television. I guess I know what to get you for your birthday."
"All big-ticket items will be appreciated," Jim said dryly as he counted to ten. "How long are we going to play this game, Adam? I have to go to the market."
"How, uh... domestic of you," Adam replied, raising an eyebrow in amusement. "I guess I should be leaving then." He started toward the door.
"If you actually think you're going to get out of here without telling me the purpose of this visit, you must have forgotten whom you're dealing with," Jim said softly.
Adam froze. "I'm here in Cascade for a date."
Jim frowned. "A date? You flew cross-country to go on a date? Who is she? One of the Family you met when you were here before? Hell, man. Why didn't you just have her transferred to the East Coast?" As head of North American operations, Adam had the power to do what he wanted.
"She's not a member of the Family." He started inching toward the door again, stopping only when Jim caught him with a frigid blue stare.
"Then who is she?" Who did Adam know in Cascade that wasn't Family? He had headed the protection detail after the shooting... A cop? No. Adam couldn't be dating one of the cops at the station. Could he? What about that sweet nurse who lost her sister when Quinlan had shot up the restaurant? Jennie Albright. That was her name. But she was way too nice for a scoundrel like Adam. It must be a cop. Jim's eyes narrowed.
Adam saw the look he was getting and put his hand on his collar. "I want you to remember, Elder, that I have a date to go on. Bruises on my throat would be a bit unseemly."
"The name, Adam." It was a command.
Jim blinked, opened his mouth, then reversed the steps, only to start over again. "Doctor Amanda Cuthbertson?" he questioned for clarification. Far be it for him to commit murder only to find out it had been a misunderstanding. "As in my Dr. C? As in my personal physician?"
"Look, James. I know--"
"Adam, if you really want to avoid those bruises you will shut up now."
Adam obeyed: because his military training told him to follow his commander's orders, because his status as vice president was below that of the Elder, because he had long ago given James the authority to run his life, because the one thing he was sure was that his brother actually cared for him, and finally because James was perfectly capable of killing him. And quite frankly in Adam's opinion, dating someone's private doctor was a perfectly logical reason to commit murder.
Jim was having similar thoughts. It wasn't that Adam was involved with his doctor; he trusted Dr. C. to keep his confidences. But, damn it, she was a good person and didn't deserve to have Adam screwing up her life... No. That was unfair, he berated himself. Deep down, Adam was a good person too. Hadn't he been the first person to recognize that? Hadn't he made Adam forget about what other people thought about him? Hadn't he put his trust and confidence in him and gave Adam a reason to believe in himself for the first time in his life? Was he now going to renege on that trust by saying his brother wasn't good enough for Dr. C.?
He knew if he gave the word, Adam would get on the plane back to Virginia and never contact Mandy Cuthbertson again. But who was he to meddle in their private lives? Dr. C. was a big girl. She had seen Adam at his most lethal, protecting his Elder. If she hadn't run then...
"Is this the lady you were making phone calls to during the reunion?" he asked brusquely.
Adam clasped his hands behind his back. "Yes, Elder. She gave me her private number so I could keep abreast of your recovery after I returned home. But the calls somehow continued after that," he reported dutifully.
"And now you're ready to take this relationship a step further?"
"Yes, sir. With your permission, of course."
Jim sighed. He much preferred the acerbic Adam to the "perfect soldier" one. The smart alec was his brother. The obedient one just downright scared him because he made Jim realize just how much control he had over someone. And it had started long before the Family. For some reason Jim couldn't fathom, Adam felt he owed James his life and he willingly laid it open for his brother's inspection without being asked. Anyone else would have flown to Cascade, had the date, flown home, and the Elder would have never known. But in Adam's eyes, that would have been a betrayal and he would never betray James. Such loyalty had to be answered with the like. "You're both adults," Jim said dismissingly, hoping Adam would take the hint.
"Permission granted, Elder?"
Sure. Make me put it into words. "Permission granted, Adam. Just..." Jim sighed. "Never mind."
"I'll do my best not to hurt her, James."
Jim nodded. "I know, Adam. By the way, I don't want you hurt either."
"We'll be careful. After all, it's our first date. Without an entire country separating us, we may not even like each other," Adam pointed out.
Jim brightened. "Is the limo downstairs?" Adam nodded. "I think that may be a little daunting for a first date and since you're not here on Family business..." He went to the basket next to the door and picked up a set of keys. "Here. Take the Jag. The location of the garage is on the ring."
Adam looked down at the keys Jim dropped into his hand. "Thank you, James."
"You're welcome, Adam." He walked his brother to the door. "And, hey, have fun."
Adam smiled and nodded his head. The smile was still on his face as he got off the elevator on the first floor and ran into Blair. "Blair. How are you?" he greeted politely.
Blair had noticed the limo and was prepared. "What the hell are you doing here, Adam?" he asked anxiously.
The smile turned to laughter. "Lord, he's turned you into a clone. A long-haired, bouncy, academic clone." Overcome with laughter, he walked out without answering, leaving Blair to stare after him in utter amazement.
Amanda Cuthbertson stared at her date in utter amazement, the restaurant surrounding them fading from her sight. Where had this man been all her life and how was she going to keep him? Not only did he listen to her tales of the workplace without falling asleep in his soup, but he actually got the jokes she'd made. The only other person who had ever come this close to being perfect had been another doctor and locker room gossip had convinced her never to get seriously involved with one of her own kind.
But Adam wasn't a doctor. In fact he was very far from it. At least that was what she thought in the beginning. When he had come to Cascade to protect his brother, Jim Ellison, he had said he was head of a security company. Months of talking to him on the phone had taught her not to ask about his profession and quite frankly, she understood. After all, confidentiality was a big part of her work too. But the way he understood what went on in a lab, how research was done and documented, made her think security wasn't his only specialty.
A man of mystery. She liked that. And the fact that Jim was his brother. That had given her the courage to keep on talking to him, the freedom to accept a date with him. So often these days women had to worry about who they went out with and where. But Jim was a cop and a friend; he would have warned her if Adam wasn't safe. However, apparently not only did Jim approve, but he'd even let Adam borrow his car. Although she'd never seen Jim drive the Jaguar before, she had glimpsed the license plate when the valet had driven away. It read "ELDER" and she knew that was what Adam and the rest of the security detail had called Jim. She had no idea what that meant. But not knowing everything about Jim and Blair was pretty standard. They had secrets on top of secrets. But she knew in her heart that they used those secrets for good. She smiled at herself. That made them sound like Batman and Robin or something. Of course, in her opinion, Jim looked way better than George Clooney...
Wow. Talk about getting off topic. From Jim owning a Jaguar to him driving the Batmobile. You don't get out enough, Mandy, she chastised herself. But that was going to change, wasn't it? Wonder if Adam could get the Jag for their second date. Maybe they could drive to the beach or maybe the mountains now that fall was coming. Hmm. Walking with Adam through the fallen leaves or hand in hand along the beach...
"Am I really that boring?" Adam asked dryly and Mandy jerked from the future to the present.
"Oh, Adam. I'm so sorry. You weren't boring me, really," she said quickly, angry at herself for drifting so far off. Great. Offend the man who could possibly be the man. "I was just thinking about our next date and--"
"Stop right there," Adam said. "You were thinking about our next date?"
"Yeah," she said shyly.
He smiled. "Forgive the interruption then. Please continue." His dark eyes, glittering with the reflected light of the candle on the table, swept across her face. "I'll just sit here quietly and soak in your beauty while I wait for you to finish."
She blushed. She couldn't believe it as she felt the heat flow into her cheeks. Here she was, a doctor who had seen everything, heard everything, hell, dissected everything, and yet she was blushing-- not over a proposition, but a simple compliment. Who was this man? "Uh, I was thinking that maybe we could drive to the beach or the mountains, have a picnic?" Mandy said, trying to hide how he unnerved her.
"Certainly. Name the time and date. I'll be here."
"What? No 'let me check my schedule and I'll get back to you'?"
Adam shrugged. "If I don't have the time, I'll make it. You're the one with the noble profession. I'm prepared to make certain sacrifices to be with you. So you check your schedule and just let me know."
"But I'm a researcher," Mandy argued. "My schedule shouldn't be as inflexible as a practicing doctor. I see a few patients at the hospital just to keep my credentials up-to-date and of course, there's your brother and Blair. It's not like the majority of my work is life-and-death."
Adam reached out and put his hand over hers which was kneading the linen napkin. "It is to the people who it may help one day. I don't know who told you differently in the past, who said they should come before your work, sweet Mandy, but it wasn't me and it never will be. If you want to chain yourself to your desk twenty-three hours a day, it's fine with me. All I ask is for maybe a minute or two of your free hour, if possible."
She looked into the dark eyes and saw a stark sincerity that scared her. Quickly, her eyes fell to their linked hands. "Please stop, Adam, before I do something foolish."
"Like cry?" A finger reached out and traced the path of a tear down her face. "Too late."
She gave a sad smile. "Crying I can handle; falling in love with you is the really big gamble."
Adam blinked, the only outward sign of how her words affected him. Oh, he knew he was in love five seconds after helping her into the car. He had known then and there that she had snatched his heart out of his chest, her medical skills excellent because he had felt no pain during the process. But he hadn't expected the feelings to be reciprocated. He was a complicated man, secretive... hard. His parents hadn't loved him-- a cold truth he had absorbed early in life and had carried with him until a certain James Ellison had grabbed him by the throat and imbued a warmth that thawed the chunk of ice which had been his guiding force. Suddenly he had been able to give and accept... love. Father, Raleigh, Arielle... His mind and, much later, his heart understood that they loved him and he loved them. It had been the start of a whole new life for him.
"If you had come back with some quick, suave reply, I would have had doubts," Mandy said as she stared at the man who had become quiet across from her. "But your silence, Adam, tells me what I need to know. Scary, huh? Our first date and we already know." She giggled as Adam grew paler. "If you pass out, I'll have to give you mouth-to-mouth. My technique may prove to be too intense for our current audience so maybe we should leave. Besides, I have the necessary tools for such a procedure back at my apartment."
Adam signaled for the waiter. Then came a strange beeping sound. Mandy frowned and reached for her purse. "About your acceptance of my work," she began as she pulled out her pager. "Sorry. There's a experiment I'm working on where the environment has to stay a certain temperature. If it fluctuates, an alarm goes off and I have to guide someone through the procedure to reset it."
"Wouldn't it be easier to reset it yourself?"
"You wouldn't mind?"
"Your work is not a problem for me. I told you that."
"I know that's what you said but..." She shook her head and wondered at her luck. This man was definitely a keeper. "Just let me call and tell them I'm coming in." Adam pulled a cell phone out of his jacket pocket and handed it to her. She checked the number on the pager and dialed. "This is Cuthbertson. I--... What?... When?... I'm on my way."
Adam was already behind her, pulling back her chair. "A bigger problem than a temperature fluctuation?" he asked in concern.
She put her hand in his and squeezed. "It's your brother. There's been an accident."
Blair paced the emergency room, looking up each time the door to the outside opened. Simon would be along soon, he thought to himself as another stranger entered the area. Maybe the captain would be able to get answers because he couldn't. Some orderly had just parked him in the waiting room and left him, not caring how badly he needed to know how Jim was doing. Jim. How could the night have gone so bad, so quickly? Maybe if they had been on a case or even if the Sentinel had been on the trail of something suspicious... But no. They had just been walking home from dinner.
The door opened again and this time he was rewarded-- twice over. "Simon! Adam!"
The captain stopped suddenly and looked over his shoulder. Adam Black ignored him and walked toward Blair. "What happened?" he demanded.
Blair waved away the question and looked around. "Where is Dr. C? You didn't bring her with you?"
"I let her out at the physician's entrance. She's probably already with James. What happened to him, Blair?"
"Car. Came from nowhere." Blair took a deep, shaky breath.
"Sit down, Sandburg," Simon ordered, nearly shoving Adam out of the way. He had no idea of why Jim's black sheep brother was in town, but at the moment that was the least of his concerns. "First, are you okay? Have you been checked out?" The faded jeans and sweater were covered with ominous dark spots.
"I'm fine, Simon. The blood," he looked down at his sweater and paled, "the blood is Jim's. Oh God, Simon. It all happened so fast, you know? Jim and I had walked to the Chinese place for dinner. There was nothing in the loft to eat and by the time he had explained why Adam was in town, we were both starving so we figured we could go to the market later or even tomorrow as long as we had something to eat tonight. It was a nice evening, no rain, warm, so we decided to walk. Jim likes to do that sometimes. Walk through the neighborhood. Sort of like an animal, marking his territory in his own way."
"I know how territorial Jim is, Blair," Simon said gently, nudging him past this tangent. "What happened to Jim?"
"We were on our way back home. I have a paper due in a couple of days and I was saying something about using this down time to finish it. That was when Mr. Ricolla, the bakery guy, told Jim his nephew wanted to go the Police Academy and he wanted to talk with Jim about it. Jim realized the conversation was going to run long, so he told me to go on home since I had this paper waiting. I told Mr. Ricolla goodnight and as I walked away, Little Tony Blake almost ran me over riding his Big Wheel on the sidewalk. He grinned an apology and I smiled an acceptance, then crossed the street. Seconds later, I heard Jim call out my name. I turned and there's this car going at least sixty miles an hour down the street. It's a residential area, Simon. I've always thought thirty-five was too fast, especially with the number of kids around. But there he is, driving down the road like a bat out of hell.
"Then I suddenly realize why Jim is yelling. Tony Blake and his Big Wheel are directly in the car's path. Under normal circumstances I should have been there first. I was closer. But when have circumstances ever been normal with Jim and me, huh? So I'm stepping off the curb toward Tony, when Jim just launches himself toward the kid and he shoves the Big Wheel in my direction. I instinctively know what I'm supposed to do, so I pluck Tony off the toy and we fall to the pavement. No brakes ever squealed, Simon. The guy never slows and the next thing I know, I'm watching Jim bounce off the hood of the car. He lands on the windshield and he bounces again and then he hits the street. The sound..." He paused, breathing for the first time since he started the story.
"What about the car and driver?" Adam prompted, receiving a glare from the captain.
"Never stopped. Green. The car was green. It has to have dents... I mean the way Jim... and blood. People rushed out. They took Tony from me and they surrounded Jim. I kept calling out to him but he wouldn't answer. I crawled over to him and waved everyone back. You know how he is when he's in pain. Didn't want the noise of the crowd getting to him. His arm was at an odd angle and it was bloody. I think it may have gone through the windshield. So I touched his other arm instead, to let him know I was there, and I talked to him, Simon. The EMTs, they tried to get me to shut up and go away, said that he couldn't hear me anyway. But I know better and so do you. Jim hears me when he doesn't hear anyone else. He always hears me, Simon."
"I know, Blair." Simon patted the hunched shoulder, angry at the driver, angry at the fates that were responsible for his friends suffering again.
"Dr. C!" Blair jumped up from his seat as the doctor approached.
Adam immediately noticed the beautiful blue dress she had worn to dinner had been replaced by pale green scrubs. "Blair, we're taking him into surgery. I knew you would sign the papers, so I told them to begin the prep."
"Of course." He took the clipboard and pen she offered, scribbling his name in the space for next-of-kin's signature. "You told them about the anesthesia?"
"Dr. Singh has worked with Jim before." She took the clipboard back and touched his arm. "We're going to get him through this."
"I know, Dr. C. I just need to know how it's going every so often?" Blair pleaded.
"I'll keep you informed." She hurried away.
"He's in good hands, Sandburg," Simon said. "I'm going to call in to the station, see how the search is going for this hit-and-run driver, okay?"
"Sure, Simon. I'll be in the surgical waiting room." His fists balled and for a moment, Simon was afraid he was going to punch the wall, an action more typical of his partner than Sandburg, but the captain could understand the need. But then Blair took a deep breath, regaining some semblance of control. "I'll see you upstairs. We both know the way."
Simon watched him walk away and shook his head. He hated leaving him alone even for a minute. Where the hell had Adam Black disappeared to? Just when the man was needed...
"You look lost," a voice said behind him, "and since you know the layout of this place as well as I do, I can only assume your 'lost' is more than direction. Think a hug will help put you on the right path?"
Simon turned and wrapped his arms around his "adopted" mother. Sadie Farmsworth worked the Admissions desk at Cascade General's E.R. Jim, Blair, and Simon had made so many appearances there, she had "adopted" them. The five grandsons she had raised were either out of their own or nearly so. If it hadn't been for her three new "sons", she would probably be suffering from empty nest syndrome. But considering the danger her sons attracted, they would always need someone to care for them. The phone call she had received tonight proved her point. "How is he?"
"They're taking him to surgery."
"He's already gone up to the waiting room. I was just debating whether to call the station or join him."
She patted his arm. "You make your call. I'll take care of Blair."
"Thank you," Simon said, giving her another hug. "I don't know what we'd do without you, Sadie."
"That's what we mothers are for, Simon."
His step was lighter as he headed for the phone.
Mandy wasn't surprised to see the waiting room full of Ellison supporters when she finally emerged from the operating theater. The detective and his partner inspired loyalty in all who knew them; maybe it was the loyalty they had for each other spilling over or maybe people gravitated toward them for the same reason moths were drawn to bright lights... Ah. There she was being fanciful again. Her eyes sought the man who inspired her thoughts to run amok. The pain hidden in his eyes made reality slam back into her. She pasted on a weary smile and faced the people standing in front of her. "Jim is a very strong man with an incredibly healthy will to survive. It's going to take some time, but I predict a complete recovery." She gasped as Blair pulled her into a hard embrace, then she relaxed and gave into the relief she was feeling as well.
"Thank you, Dr. C.," he whispered in her ear.
"As usual, I had very little to do with it, Blair," she admitted. Jim lived simply because he had so much to live for. The crowd in the room attested to that. "He's being transferred to recovery and if I know my patient as well as I think I do, he's going to be waking up soon. We probably better get you suited up and beside him before that happens. I know he'll want you there." Before she left the room, she glanced once again at Adam and he winked at her. A promise. An anticipation. She ushered Blair toward the recovery suite.
"Mr. Black," Joel Taggert said, approaching Jim's brother after Blair left. He had arrived after Jim was in surgery and had been surprised to see Adam Black waiting with Simon and Blair. Well, more with Blair because Simon was obviously uncomfortable with his presence. He'd asked his old friend why the man was there, but Simon didn't have an answer and had refused to ask. Joel had no such qualms. "Why are you here? Is there another security threat?"
Adam liked the straightforward, soft-spoken police captain that he had worked with when Jim, Blair, and Captain Banks had all been in the hospital. "All is well, Captain Taggert. I was in town on personal business when the accident occurred so I came here to be with Blair. However, I see I needn't have worried that he would be alone."
Joel shook his head. "Blair's one of us and so is your brother. You never have to worry about them being alone. We stick together, Mr. Black."
"I'm glad, Captain Taggert. My mind will be at ease when I'm back home."
"Going there soon?" Simon asked quickly.
Adam laughed. This captain amused him. The dislike he felt for Adam was almost palpable and there was nothing more appealing to the former ranger than an honest enemy. Captain Banks blamed him for what he considered to be James' conflicting feelings between being a cop and being the Elder. But Adam knew there wasn't really a conflict; James had made his decision. "I think I'll stick around for a few days, captain. Make sure James is recovering well. After all, he is Family." He knew Banks knew the full implication of the word.
Simon gritted his teeth. He had nothing against the Family per se; he understood what they did and why they did it. What he held against them was Jim's involvement. However necessary their business was, it still seemed to compromise his detective. And there was the fact that they considered Jim their leader and had the power to demand he take over full time whenever they saw fit. Like earlier in the year. One minute Jim was working on a robbery/homicide. The next minute he was in a dark suit, flying across the country in a private jet, and having people kiss a ring on his finger. At the Family's whim, Adam being the number one messenger, Jim transformed from being Jim the cop to James the Elder. The whole thing just felt wrong. Maybe because he was the captain. Maybe because he was the Watcher. Maybe because he was a friend.
Detective Henri Brown stood before him. "Tell me you got good news, Brown." Major Crimes had made it a personal mission to find the man who had hit Jim. Of course, it wasn't exactly their case, but no one had the nerve to tell them that.
"Sorry, sir. We still haven't found the driver nor the car. They seemed to have disappeared off the face of the planet." The detective shifted uneasily beneath his captain's hard glare. Next coin toss he and his partner had, he was going to call. "Uhmm, how's Ellison?"
Simon's face softened. "He's going to be okay. Sandburg's with him."
Brown smiled. "At least one of us had good news. I'll get back on the street now, sir. Someone has to know something. We'll find the s.o.b.," he vowed and jogged away, Adam watching him with a bemused expression.
"Mr. Black," a soft, but demanding voice called to him.
"Yes, Mrs. Farmsworth?" Adam knew the lady from his previous visit and had been amused that the small lady could strike terror in the hearts of the Elder and his cohorts. But as he glimpsed the speculative gleam in her eyes, he suddenly realized it wasn't as amusing as he thought.
Sadie contemplated the tall man, trying to see what her friend Mandy Cuthbertson saw in him. Good-looking? Yes. But the dark eyes hid more than they revealed. However, she had her ways. "One of my grandsons will be picking me up shortly. Would you accompany me downstairs to wait for him? I told him I'd meet him at the E.R. so he wouldn't have to look for a parking space."
"Sadie, I'd be more than happy to--" Simon began.
"No, son. You've had a long night. Mr. Black and I will just renew our acquaintance." Adam obediently followed her into the hall.
"You want to get out of here for a while, Simon?" Joel asked, seeing the lines of exhaustion on his friend's face. "I'll sit here a spell and see if Blair needs anything."
"Thanks, Joel. I want to run over to the loft and pick up a bag for the kid. He's still wearing Jim's blood. I don't think that's going to do either of them any good." Simon stood and stretched wearily. "Well, one more tragedy averted, Joel. How many times are we going to go through this, I wonder?"
"As many as it takes, Simon."
Simon nodded. Joel was right; they would do this as long as necessary because the alternative was unacceptable.
Dark blue eyes popped open to find their lighter counterparts staring back. "Hey, big guy. Thought you were going to sleep all night." He looked toward the window where surprisingly sunlight was beaming in. "Then again, maybe you did."
"Ever'bod' 'kay, right?" Jim's mouth was swollen on one side, making talking difficult. Of course that was the least of his injuries. His left arm was broken in two places and severely lacerated. It was only by incredible luck that no major nerves had been severed as the arm went through the windshield. He had more ribs cracked than uncracked and the jagged ends had poked holes into his internal organs, thus the need for surgery. And all that wasn't broken, was sprained or strained.
"That's right. Remember I told you that when you woke up in recovery. I'm fine and so is little Tony."
Blair shook his head. "They haven't caught the driver yet. But everyone's on the street looking for him."
Jim closed his eyes, fighting the drugs that were clouding his mind. Something important was trying to come forward. There. He had it. "A'am still here?"
"Yeah. I think he's just sitting out there to get on Simon's nerves. If he is, he's doing a pretty good job of it," Blair said, laughing softly. "You need to get well soon so you can referee those two."
"I know they're both good men. The problem is that they don't know it. How's the pain?"
"Yeah, that should last for another hour or so, then we're going to try a light trance instead of drugs, okay?"
"'Kay." He trusted his Guide to take care of him. "Bla'?"
"Wan' see A'am." Blair started to shake his head. Jim needed to rest. "Ple's?"
Blair sighed and walked out to the waiting room. Simon and Adam looked up at him. "Adam, he wants to see you. But only for a minute. He needs his rest."
"I know, Blair. Mandy filled me in when I took her home."
Blair took the seat Adam had occupied, throwing his head back against the soft cushion and closing his eyes. A five minute nap was definitely in order.
"Did I hear what I think I heard?" Simon asked.
"What did you hear, Simon?"
"He called your doctor Mandy and took her home?"
Blair had forgotten Simon didn't know the latest. "Adam and Dr. C. are dating."
Blair grinned. "Yeah, that was my reaction too. I ran into Adam leaving the loft when I got home. Jim said he stopped by to get his permission to take her out."
"And he gave it? Sometimes I just don't understand that partner of yours," Simon said in disbelief.
"Adam is his brother, Simon. Just like we are. Would you honestly expect him to tell one of us that we weren't good enough for someone?"
"But..." Simon didn't know how to put it into words.
Blair knew what he meant however; he'd had his doubts about Adam too. "Adam can be sinister in appearance and maybe in action too. I don't know because I've never seen him at work. All I know is that he's very loyal to Jim and the Family. He would give his life for Jim in an instant. He helped save my life in Virginia and he watched out for all of us when Quinlan shot us. So far his good points are outweighing his bad ones."
"I know all that, Sandburg, but--"
"Jim trusts him, Simon. That's good enough for me." Blair drifted off to sleep.
Simon rubbed his eyes, wondering if they were as bloodshot as they felt. It was true Jim didn't trust easily and if Adam had made it into that inner circle, then there had to be a reason. And it was also true that the captain trusted his detective's instinct, even before the Sentinel gifts emerged. But his own instinct told him Adam Black was dangerous. Okay. Maybe the dark deeds he had committed, because the eyes told everyone that he was no innocent, had been done in the name of the government. After all, Adam and Jim had served together and Jim had admitted his past wasn't all goodness and light. But the difference between Jim and Adam was that Jim felt guilty over what he'd had to do. Simon doubted Adam recognized guilt in any form.
Still, the information did explain Sadie's fascination with the man. Simon was curious as to what she had said to him because when he had returned, Adam was... frazzled seemed to be a good word. Sadie-- always watching over her brood. He could relate.
He took a quick glance at his sleeping companion and wondered if he had a shot of convincing the kid to go home for a few hours of real sleep in his own bed. But he was a fine one to talk. He hadn't gone home himself and probably wouldn't until someone caught the son of a bitch who had mown down one of his best friends.
With a sigh overlapped by a weary groan, the Watcher continued his watch.
"James?" Adam approached the bed cautiously, disturbed by his brother's still form. Now that he and James were communicating on a personal level again, he was starting to realize how vulnerable his brother was. Maybe it was time to reinstate guards on the Elder, permanently.
"A'am." Blue eyes met black ones and assessed them shrewdly. "Giv' 'im back."
Adam could have pretended not to understand but what would be the use? James knew. James always knew. "Why?"
"Going through hours of court and wasting taxpayer's money is justice? My version is a lot faster and cheaper as well. He damned near killed you, James. Then the coward fled the scene, badly at that. Our people were on him five minutes after I gave them Blair's description of the car," Adam explained. "We know he's guilty, Elder. We have the car with your blood on it and his fingerprints on the steering wheel. He even got cut by flying glass from the windshield."
"Goo'. Giv' 'em car too." Jim was hit by a sudden horrible thought. "'e 'live?"
"Only because you are."
Jim sighed with relief. If Adam had killed the man... No, he hurt too much to think about that. Blair had been wrong about the hour; the pain medication was already wearing off. "Giv' 'im to p'lice. Tha's an or'er."
Adam nodded. He would never disobey a direct order from the Elder. "I'll send Blair back in." He turned to leave.
"Sor' abou' y'date."
Adam smiled. "It's okay, James. We'd gotten to the important part anyway." His brother looked at him and then in the way only James could do, he looked through him. The blue eyes widened in acknowledgment of what he found. "Happy? At least for me?" Adam asked hesitantly.
Jim smiled with the half of his mouth that still worked. "Hap' fo' bof of you."
"So anyway, I'm standing in Akura Yamachi's office, right?" Adam said from the chair next to the Elder's bed. Jim was much better, able to sit up and hear what Adam thought was his best performance ever. "And I'm explaining why, to my sorrow I add, that we're going to have to close his company down..."
"And we're going to dismantle your other holdings as well."
Akura stood weakly. "Dismantle? Why? We'll both lose millions. This is insane, Mr. Black. You were the company's white knight, yes? You took us in when the Australian was trying to take us over. You matched his offer, then upped it twelve percent. We're talking in the hundreds of millions. Now, you're telling me that you're cutting us loose, that you're prepared to accept a loss that great? Why? What is the reason for your madness?"
"After acquiring your company we found that your values are incompatible with ours," Adam said simply. "Family Laboratories, Incorporated is so named for a reason and we will not compromise that reason for any amount of money, whether gain or loss."
Akura's face wrinkled in confusion. "What do you mean my values are incompatible? I believe in family. My sons mean everything to me."
"And what about your daughter?"
The old man's jaw dropped, but he recovered quickly. "You are mistaken, Mr. Black. I have no daughter."
"Then you are saying this is a lie?" Adam reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and pulled a crisply folded document. "It's a birth certificate, Mr. Yamachi. It has your name and your wife's. But you say this is not your daughter?"
"How?" The voice was strangled as he fingered the certificate. Who had leaked this information? There was definitely a traitor in his organization, someone who wanted to sabotage this new partnership. Whoever it was would regret the day they screwed with Akura Yamachi!
"Birth certificates are a matter of public record, Mr. Yamachi. So do you have a daughter or not?"
"I *had* a daughter, Mr. Black. But she was difficult, headstrong. I disowned her many years ago," the man admitted, tilting his head slightly to allow Adam to see the tears of anguish in his eyes. "It was a difficult decision, one that I have regretted many times."
Adam shook his head. "Incompatible as I said before, Mr. Yamachi. Within our organization, family is always family. No matter the circumstances or disappointments, no matter the cost. We protect our own. Always." He pulled out his wallet and flipped through the photos, stopping at one of them and handing it to Akura.
Akura's hand trembled as he stared at the picture of Arielle. "Where did you get this?"
"Is there something strange about a man carrying a picture of his sister in his wallet?"
Adam nodded. "My sister. If this deal would have worked out, you would have had to work with her, you know. She's the head of our European operations. She lives in London with her husband and their daughter." He took the wallet back and flipped to another photo. "That's Jamie Lin. My niece. Beautiful child, isn't she? But you know that. You saw her for yourself a few weeks ago. But you turned your back on her. That's okay, though. You see, she has a family that loves her, that will *always* look after her interests."
Akura thought back to all the people he had stepped on and over on his way to making his fortune. He imagined them all laughing at him now. "You would give up millions for her?" he asked, still not understanding.
Adam took his wallet back and slipped it slowly into his pocket. "She's family; I would kill for her. Money is just paper, Mr. Yamachi. Family is a matter of the heart."
"What if I talk to her, visit my granddaughter..."
"I hit him then, James. I know you didn't want any violence and it was because of that promise I didn't shoot him when he shed those crocodile tears. But he was basically saying he would love our sister for money. He was, in essence, making us into pimps. Disrespecting my sister and my Elder..."
"If I had known how much you had suffered, maybe I would have let you have more fun with Robert Taylor," Jim said dryly. Taylor was the driver of the hit-and-run. He had mysteriously turned up in front of the police station, wrapped in a red bow and bearing a tag with his confession written on it.
"Don't worry about that, James. Robert and I had our moment."
Jim laughed. He knew Adam's sense of justice was a little skewed, but what the hell. "You did a good job, Adam, even if you did assault the old prick. To tell the truth, I almost went after him and his sons in the cemetery. So how much did we end up losing?" he asked conversationally. Whatever the amount, it was worth it.
Adam snorted. "Richardson and Marks, the senior members, set up the deal. In the end, we'll probably net a million or two."
"I thought they had retired." Richardson and Marks had been with Father even before the Family. Something about how accountants, gun-running, and sinking boats didn't mix. Even before he became a cop, Jim knew he didn't want to know the details of that. But, although they had failed at their one shot of being criminals, they were a hell of an accountant team. It had been said they could pinch a penny so tight that Lincoln begged Boothe to shoot him for the relief.
"They've retired and their children have retired. The grands are now running the business. But when they heard the reason behind our takeover bid, they considered the operation a personal matter. They're almost as bad as Father and Raleigh when it comes to protecting the Family."
Jim smiled. And you, Adam. You do your own share of protecting. He turned his head toward the door as he heard familiar footsteps approach. Adam noticed his brother's action and turned just in time to see Mandy walk through the door.
"You bothering my patient again, mister?" she said sternly, before going into Adam's embrace.
"Just killing time until the person I want to bother has time for me."
"I'd leave you two alone if I could leave," Jim said wryly, hearing the couple's heartbeats react to each other.
"Trying to get sprung early, detective?" Mandy asked her impatient patient.
"Well, I figured since I have an 'in' with you now..." he teased.
"No wonder you didn't have a problem with Adam dating me," she said, laughing. "Let me do a quick exam and then I'll make my decision, okay? Where's Blair?"
"Fixing up the loft. He figures you're going to let me go too. He left Adam here to make sure I didn't get into any trouble and blow my chance at going home."
"Wise decision. Here, honey. Take these prescriptions and get them filled for your brother."
"Your wish is my command." Adam caressed her hand and left.
She shivered and turned to Jim with a bright smile. "Did he tell you about Sadie's interrogation? He says the next hardened criminal you catch, you should let her have a go at him. It will save time and money."
"That's my brother," Jim said with a grin. "Always eager to save the public time and money." He sent his senses on a search mission. "You're scared," he said, hearing her heart race. "Is there a problem?"
"Yeah. I'm in love with your brother," she said, slumping into the chair he had just left. "It's taking me some time to get used to it, that's all."
"He's in love with you too."
She cocked an eyebrow. "He tell you that?" Jim rolled his eyes and she laughed. "You know like I know, huh? By the way, I wanted to thank you."
"For accepting what we feel for each other. If you hadn't..."
"Adam would still love you."
"But he wouldn't be with me," she said honestly. "Not if you hadn't approved. He doesn't talk about himself much and he talks even less about his family. But I know, the same way I know he loves me, that what he feels for you is even stronger."
"It's older," Jim protested. "He's more comfortable with it. Give him time, Dr. C."
"Mandy," she reminded him. "And it's alright, Jim. I'm not jealous, merely grateful. Maybe I'm getting psychic in my old age, but something tells me that his feelings for you are why he can feel something for me."
"I just don't understand him, Mandy," Jim said, frustrated by Adam's image of him which he had apparently shared with his lady.
"That's funny. According to Adam you are the first and only person to do so." She smiled as a faint blush tinged Jim's cheeks. "This makes you uncomfortable, doesn't it?" He nodded. "Does Adam?"
"No... Sometimes," he amended. "It's only when he tries to give me credit for something I'm not responsible for. Just take my word for it, okay? Don't believe everything he tells you."
"I cross my heart," Mandy promised. She stood up and grabbed her stethoscope in preparation of his exam. She knew Adam's view of Jim was biased, but she also knew he wasn't totally offbase. The detective, his partner, and his captain all seemed larger than life at times. Just from patching them up, she realized how hard they worked to protect the city, the risks they took, the hunches they played. Most people did their jobs and went home. If hospital entry times were any indication, they were on duty 24 hours a day.
The care they showed for each other was unusual too. They didn't flinch like most men when it came to showing their feelings. Sure, they traded insults, punched each other in jest, but when it counted, they let each other know exactly what they felt. They touched, taboo these days even though everyone knew how much a touch could help in the healing process. They whispered words of encouragement, wiped each other's tears, kept watch for the enemy, real or imagined. What had Jim and the captain said that night when Jim was poisoned? Something about watchers and sentinels. She'd had to leave the room so she wouldn't be caught crying in front of a patient.
With a wistful sigh, Mandy completed her examination noting with satisfaction that Jim's pulse was steady, his blood pressure in range, and he was sore but healing without infection. Pronouncing him fit for extreme homecare under the watchful eye of his roommate and partner, she started out of the room to get his release papers ready. Then she stopped and bent down to kiss his cheek. "You know, we all need our heroes. Don't begrudge Adam his."
Jim nodded. "As long as you know the truth."
"Oh, I picked my heroes long ago, Elder," Mandy said, grinning at Jim's startled reaction to her use of that particular designation. Would she ever find out what it meant? Maybe it was a security code name like the Secret Service used for the President. Hmm. Very interesting family she'd chosen to get involved in. Good thing she liked puzzles. "But I can't tell you their names. Professional ethics, of course," she added in a conspiratorial whisper, patting his hand as he continued to stare at her. Humming to herself, she left the room.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Jim sighed and sank back against the sofa cushions. Although it hurt to move, the pain was better than the constant inaction his roommate insisted upon. "There's someone at the door. Or will be."
"And I'm incapable of opening a door, is that it?" Blair quizzed, wiping his hands on a towel after putting away the last lunch dish. "Who is it?"
Blair took the few steps necessary to reach the door and opened it as Adam was about to knock. "Come on in. You're just in time to stop me from killing your brother."
Adam blinked at the instant greeting, adding it to his list of things to ignore. "Difficult patient, is he?"
"Yes, but you know that and that's why you're here to relieve me, right?" Blair asked out of pure devilment.
"Sorry, Nurse Blair, but you're on your own. I just stopped in to say goodbye."
"You're heading back to Virginia?" Jim asked, turning to face his brother while conveniently forgetting the broken ribs. The pain reminded him very quickly.
"Quick shallow breaths, Jim," Blair said, hurrying to his partner's side as soon as he heard the almost silent gasp. "Focus. Feel the pain dissipate. Good. Breathe a little deeper now."
"Doesn't he have pills for this sort of thing?" Adam demanded to know.
"We avoid pills around here as much as possible, Adam," Blair said, keeping his voice even as he soothed his roommate. "Besides, he only has pain when he does dumb stuff like this. Sure you don't want to take him with you? It'll be a while before he can go back to work anyway."
"Blair, if Father and Raleigh get a chance to spoil him, you probably won't want him back."
Blair sighed. "Yeah, I wouldn't want the hassle of having to train him all over again. It took long enough the first time."
"Sandburg, I'm going to 'train' you," Jim threatened as the red spots faded from his sight. "Just as soon as these ribs heal."
Blair got up to make some tea that would ease Jim's aches. "See what I have to put up with, Adam? Remember this when I start charging the Family a handling fee."
"As long as you send the bill, not him."
"My ribs are glad you guys are not funny," Jim griped. "And don't go making that awful tea. I've had enough of it." Blair ignored him as usual. Resisting the urge to make a rude gesture in his roommate's direction, he concentrated on Adam instead. "You and Mandy doing okay?"
"Fine. But she complained I was interrupting her research time. I told her she was free to go to the lab whenever she wanted to. I mean I'm a big boy; I can find something else to do while she works. Then she said the problem was she didn't want to go to the lab while I was here, so I took the hint. But I'll be back in a few weeks. She wants to go to the beach and then she wants to spend a fall weekend in the mountains."
"Try Mountain Cascade Inn," Blair called from the kitchen. "Nice, romantic suites with fireplaces. She'll love it."
"I'll get Sam to make reservations."
"That's right," Jim said with a grin. "The Family knows about your mystery woman now, don't they?"
Adam scowled. "Yeah, thanks to you, James. I call to tell them about your injuries and I end up having to explain why I was in Cascade in the first place. You know what they say about payback, brother."
"Adam's threatening me, Chief," Jim tattled, pouting pitifully.
"Maybe he needs some tea too."
"Uh, sorry, but I have to go. The plane's waiting and so is security," Adam hurriedly explained as James grinned at him devilishly. "I'll see you in a few weeks, Elder. I'll probably be in contact before then," he added meaningfully.
Family business. "I'll be here. My keeper will see to that."
Adam nodded and walked toward the door where Blair was waiting. "Take care of him?" he requested softly.
"You know I will. See you in a few weeks, Adam."
Blair closed the door and looked at Jim with a thoughtful smile. "Is it just me or has Dr. C. already mellowed him?"
Jim squirmed into a more comfortable position on the sofa. "It's just you," he finally answered with a snicker.
"Sounds like someone is ready for his tea and then a nice nap," Blair replied.
"Sorry, Chief. ESPN is running a special pre-season college football report for the next four hours. Should be interesting."
"As interesting as you trying to turn the TV on in your condition."
"Whaddya mean? I have the remote con--" He felt around the cushions. "Where the heck is the remote control? I had it right here a minute ago."
"Oh, you meant this?" Blair held up the clicker then tossed it on the table as he carried Jim's mug to him.
"How--" Jim stopped, then frowned. "Adam," he declared flatly.
"Payback, Jim. Sweet payback. Now about that nap..."
THE ENDComments? D.L. Witherspoon