edited by: DebbieLD and Toni Rae
Loft, April 23, 2001, 4:00
"NOOOOO! Leave me alone!"
After hearing the shout, Blair moved to the bottom of the stairs, hesitating before placing his foot on the first step. Jim was having another nightmare. For the fourth night in a row, hearing his friend crying out in the darkness had awakened Blair from a sound sleep. He suspected Jim hadn't been sleeping well for longer than he was aware, probably for at least a week. Thankfully, there was a lull at work and the entire bullpen was catching up on old paperwork.
Clearly, Jim was in no condition to be chasing down Cascade's worst criminals. He had big, dark circles under two very bloodshot eyes. To make matters worse, he was eating less than he was sleeping. Whatever was bothering him was obviously getting more intense.
Blair wasn't sure what the nightmares were about. So far the dreams had all ended the same way, with Jim yelling at someone to put him down, followed by a tremendous scream that would suddenly be cut off by a pain-filled whimper.
The last two nights when Blair had gone upstairs to wake him, Jim had not been willing to talk about the dreams.
"Let me go!"
"Enough is enough," Blair muttered as he climbed the stairs yet again, determination etched on his face. "This time, I'm not leaving until he tells me what is going on."
Standing on the top stair, he could see Jim writhing on the bed, his hands held in a defensive position in front of his face. The nightmare had just begun. Blair didn't try to touch him. When he had touched Jim the previous night, it had thrown him deeper into the nightmare, and nothing Blair had tried had broken the hold the dream had on his partner's mind. He had been forced to stand by helplessly and watch as the dream ran its course.
Tonight he had a different plan of attack. If he treated this situation as if Jim was in a zone, it was possible he could wake his friend by using only his voice. "Jim, you need to wake up for me. You're safe. It's only a dream," Blair whispered soothingly.
He talked softly for several long moments, but it was clear that Jim wasn't responding. Blair could only watch as his partner continued to struggle with some unknown adversary, continuously crying out for help. For the first time, Blair noticed the tone of the wails somehow sounded younger, closer to a child's voice than Jim's normal voice.
He tried something slightly different. "Jimmy, it's okay. I'll protect you. You're safe now. I won't let anything hurt you. Just reach out and take my hand." Blair gingerly sat down on the edge of the bed and waited to see how Jim would respond. He continued to verbally reassure his friend that he would be safe and protected.
Jim relaxed slowly with each word Blair expressed. Still caught up in the nightmare, Jim sat up and reached with both hands towards Blair. Blair shifted closer to Jim, pulling Jim's head towards his shoulder as one would comfort a small child. "You're safe now. I have you. Time to wake up, buddy," Blair whispered softly.
Blair knew the instant the nightmare released its hold on Jim. He felt his partner stiffen slightly and pull away from him. "Blair?" Jim mumbled, still not completely awake.
"It's me. You were having the worst nightmare I've ever heard, and between the two of us, we've had some doozies. Do you remember anything?" Blair asked as he shifted backwards on the bed.
Blair could almost see the walls form as Jim pulled further away, leaning back against the headboard.
"Jim, don't close up on me now. I'm not leaving until we talk about this," Blair pleaded. He couldn't sit back and watch his friend suffer through another restless night alone.
When Jim remained silent, he tried again. "You're exhausted. If you don't want to talk to me, fine, but you have to talk to someone or Simon is going to confine you to desk duty."
The phrase 'desk duty' grabbed Jim's attention and the walls came tumbling down. He rubbed one hand across his eyes, resigning himself to the fact that Blair wasn't going to let go of this. "I'd rather talk to you. You're the only one I can tell who is likely to understand the dreams."
Jim paused, trying to organize the confusing images that had populated his dreams for the last several nights. "It's all so confusing, Chief. Until tonight, the dreams were almost exactly the same. I was a little kid, maybe six or seven. I remember trying to get away from someone. This person was really angry with me, but I don't know why. No matter how fast I ran, I can't get away. I felt them grabbing me and turning me around."
The longer Jim talked, the faster the words poured out. His words were becoming barely understandable as he came closer to describing the end of the nightmare. "They picked me up, under the arms, held me in mid-air so I can't get any leverage. My legs are too short to kick them even though I still try. I yelled at them to let me go."
Blair shifted a little closer to Jim, being careful to remain out of his personal space, but staying close enough to provide some emotional support. "Slow down, Jim. Do you recognize the person? Can you see their face?"
Jim frantically shook his head. "No, I can't remember. For some reason, I don't want to look at them."
Blair was pretty sure Jim was blocking the memory of the person's identity, but didn't force the issue. Now was the time to get as much information about the nightmares as possible while Jim was in a talkative mood. "Don't worry about that now. Tell me the rest of it. What happened next?"
Jim's words were punctuated with slight gasps for air. "I'm flew through the air. Then, there's nothing but pain. So much pain and the darkness swallowed me up. I'm alone in the dark and hurting so much it's unbearable. I screamed, but nobody heard me. Nobody came to help me. Knowing I'm alone is worse than the physical pain. I feel... so... so abandoned."
Blair waited for Jim to continue. When Jim didn't say anything else, Blair asked the question upper most on his mind. "Before, you said the dreams were the same until tonight. What was different about tonight's dream?"
Jim rubbed his forehead with his right hand, trying to ease away the headache that was forming. "Tonight the darkness didn't come. Instead, I was someplace completely different, umm, outdoors. I was sitting on the ground and in front of me was a cougar. The cougar had blood all over its paws... my blood," Jim forced the last two words around the lump in his throat.
"I knew the cat was going to kill me, but I couldn't move. I was paralyzed. I couldn't even call out for help. Suddenly there was a wolf standing in front of me, growling at the cougar, forcing it to move away from me."
Blair smiled. "Did the wolf look familiar?"
Jim ruefully grinned back, an impish little half smile, which appeared only briefly before the somber images were recalled. "I've seen him a time or two before. Normally he hangs around with this cranky black jaguar."
"Not cranky, just anal," Blair corrected with a knowing smirk before asking, "So, the wolf fought the cougar?"
"Not exactly. The wolf forced the cougar back into the woods. Once the cougar was gone, the wolf lay down next to me and rested its head on my chest. I felt safe and protected, and that's when I woke up."
Jim stared at his partner for a moment, waiting for him to continue, but Blair was lost in his own thoughts. "Would you care to elaborate, Darwin? Remember that I'm the monosyllabic member of this partnership."
Sandburg grinned and pointed his finger at Jim. "I'm thinking. Give a guy a minute. My brain isn't usually awake at this hour."
"Sorry, but you're supposed to explain all this convoluted imagery away for me," Jim said with a sigh. Eyeing his friend, he added, "So, how about you start explaining what it means?"
Blair shrugged before answering. "I'll give it a shot, but I want you to do something for me first." Bouncing slightly, he sat down Indian style on the bed in front of Jim, close enough to touch his arm.
"What?" Jim asked warily.
Blair rested his hands on his knees and leaned toward Jim. "I want you to try to remember the person attacking you in your dream."
"I told you I didn't see their face."
"I think you did, Jim," Blair countered. "I think you don't want to remember."
"Nothing different about that," Jim replied, rubbing his eyes with one hand. "Why are you pushing for me to remember?"
"I believe you're repressing your attacker because the person was someone you knew. I think that's the reason you used the word 'abandoned' to describe how you felt. Now, lean back and take a deep breath. You know the drill."
Jim stared wearily at his guide, hoping for a reprieve. Blair didn't back down. He refused to look away until Jim obeyed his instruction.
"Relax, Jim. I want you to concentrate on the dream. Close your eyes and picture this image in your mind. You're running, trying to get away from someone, but you can't."
Jim closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. He allowed the tension to slowly flow from his muscles as he listened to the soothing voice. The dream images flashed before his eyes again.
"Tell me what's happening, Jim."
"Close, they're close behind," Jim whispered as he started to rock slightly. Again, Blair recognized the much younger voice.
"I know, Jim. These are only memories and they can't hurt you." Blair was tense with anticipation. He knew they were very close to identifying the cause of his best friend's nightmares. He pushed on, prompting Jim's subconscious. "The person is right behind you. Hands reach out. They grab you and spin you around. You're looking at the person's face. You know who they are; tell me whose face you are seeing."
"Mama's face, but not mama." Jim was breathing hard, like he had been exercising.
Blair shook his head, puzzled by Jim's words. "What do you mean, 'not Mama'?"
"Mama's behind her, yelling at her to stop," Jim mumbled. "She doesn't stop though. She hurts me. It hurts." Jim's hands shot over his face and he hunched down into a ball, trying to protect himself.
Blair reached for Jim's hands, pulling them down so he could see his friend's face. "You're safe, Jim. They're just memories. They can't hurt you."
Jim wasn't paying attention. He was lost in the images Blair had painted for him. Out of fear, his head was ducked away from prying eyes. "No! No! NO!"
"Okay, buddy, that's enough. Wake up for me. Right now," Blair ordered as he shook Jim's arm. Jim quieted down but still didn't look up. Blair waited another moment before peering down, trying to see Jim's face as he asked, "Are you with me?"
Jim cautiously raised his head and studied the room. He was still curled up, muscles tense with fear. Blair could tell his partner hadn't completely freed himself from the memory yet. "Jim?"
Jim pulled away from him. The frightened child retreated as the cop personality surged forward and took charge. Jim got out of bed and started pacing around the room. "I remember now. Some of it, anyway. My Aunt Faith was the one who hurt me. My mom tried to stop her, but she was too far away. I had just turned seven. It was a few days after my birthday when it happened."
Distracted by his attempts to recall everything, Jim wasn't aware that his pacing was taking him closer and closer to the stairs. Blair climbed to his feet and stood in front of the agitated older man before he could make another circuit of the room. "Sit down before you hurt yourself," he ordered.
Over the years, Blair had learned to read Jim's emotions by the set of his jaw and by studying the icy blue eyes. Tonight his emotions were easy to read: loss, pain and confusion.
"I can't remember everything, just little bits and pieces. What could I have done to my aunt to make her want to hurt me, to hate me?" Jim asked, his eyes filled with sorrow, replacing the previous anger. "I can't remember why she was so upset with me."
"Nothing. No child deserves to be treated like that, no matter what they've done." Blair shook his head as he searched for the words to apologize. If he had had any idea of the cause of the nightmares, he never would have pushed so hard. "I'm so sorry, Jim. I didn't think..."
Jim waved off the apology. "You didn't think it would turn out to be a member of my own family who wanted to kill me."
"Nah, not that part. Everyone who knows you has wanted to kill you on occasion," Blair added in an attempt to dispel the sadness.
Despite his somber mood, Jim chuckled slightly. "Thanks, Chief. You always know the perfect thing to say to make me feel better."
"Anytime, Jim," Blair replied, thankful Jim could laugh a little after yet another painful repressed memory was forced to the surface. At the same time, he wondered how many more skeletons were locked away within his friend's past.
Jim shook his head before saying, in a more serious tone, "What I don't understand is why I'm remembering this incident now."
Blair thought for a moment before answering. "We probably unlocked the door to this memory when we found that picture of your Mom and her sister in Hanford. It's taken a little time for the memory to work its way into your subconscious. Now that you are actively trying to remember, the whole thing should come back to you eventually."
"I don't want to wait. I need to talk to my dad. I'm sure he'll know what happened." Jim reached for the cell phone sitting on the dresser.
Blair grabbed it first and held it behind his back. He took a few steps back from his friend before saying, "Whoa, Jim, it's four in the morning. This has waited for over thirty years. I think it can wait a few more hours. Allow your dad to wake up at a decent hour before interrogating him."
"Good point." Jim looked down at the bed for a minute before realizing he was not in the mood to go back to sleep. Looking over at his guide, who appeared equally wide awake, he asked, "How do you feel about an early breakfast?"
"Are you volunteering to cook?" Blair asked, raising one eyebrow.
"No, but the diner down the block is open twenty four-hours. I don't think I can get back to sleep."
Jim didn't want to admit that he didn't want to even try to go back to sleep. The nightmare was too fresh in his memory. His stomach rumbled loudly in agreement with the idea of food. "Besides, my appetite has returned with a vengeance, so food is a good option. If you're not hungry, you can stay here if you want."
Blair couldn't resist the wistful look on his partner's face. Jim didn't say it in words, but Blair knew he didn't want to be alone. "Nah, give me fifteen minutes. I could eat."
Prospect Diner, April 23, 2001, 5:00
It had actually been closer to thirty minutes before Blair had showered and been ready to go. Not that it mattered; the diner was almost empty so they were served right away.
Blair watched as Jim poured a generous amount of syrup over his pancakes. "Would you like some pancakes to go with your syrup?" he asked sarcastically.
"No thanks, and don't lecture me." Jim held the container of syrup in front of Blair's face. "This is the real thing. Not too many restaurants these days will serve real maple syrup. Trust me, these taste buds don't lie."
"Well, take it easy. Food and your stomach haven't gotten along much lately," Blair said, gesturing toward Jim's stomach.
Jim's expression was pure bliss as he swallowed a forkful of syrup-covered pancakes. "Heavenly," he muttered, closing his eyes to savor the flavor.
"Hedonist," Blair retorted, then chuckled aloud as he speared another piece of peach from the fruit cup he had ordered as a side dish to his omelet. He was actually happy Jim was eating again.
Eyeing his friend over another forkful of pancakes, Jim asked, "So, you think my nightmares are the result of the picture we found?"
Blair thought for a moment before answering cautiously. "In part, that whole series of events in Hanford brought back a lot of memories for you. It's probably a combination of both the photo and all the memories that have returned. We've been so busy the last few weeks that you really haven't had much time to process everything."
Jim nodded. "I hope my Dad can fill in a few of the details for me. Something tells me that it's very important we find out what's going on. Soon."
"Why soon?" Blair asked, knowing Jim's sixth sense was heightened also, even if his partner was too stubborn to admit it.
"It's just a feeling. A major storm is brewing and I'm not referring to the weather. I'm feeling something similar to what I felt just before you met Alex Barnes. It's not as strong though."
"I don't like the sound of that. We really do need to talk to your Dad," Blair replied.
Jim took a sip of coffee, stalling his next question. He was pretty sure he was about to hurt his friend's feelings, but it had to be done. "Blair, would it bother you too much if I talked to my dad alone?"
Blair lowered his head and stared at the table. He used his fork to shuffle the food around his plate before answering. "I have to admit, I'm a little hurt to hear that you don't want me there."
"Not because of me, buddy. I'd be more comfortable if you were there. You are the only one I trust with knowing everything about who I am," Jim quickly replied, seeing the hurt his words had caused in his friend's eyes. "I'm more concerned about my father's reaction to you being there. My dad refused to talk about my mom for all these years. Steven and I were forbidden to mention her in his presence. He's never mentioned Faith. I need him to talk about this and..."
"...And if I'm in the room, he probably won't discuss it," Blair concluded, looking up again. He didn't like it, but it made sense, knowing what little he did about Jim's father.
"Yeah. I promise to tell you everything when I get home. No more secrets, we've learned that lesson too many times."
"Word for word? You'll hold nothing back?" Blair asked, using his fork to emphasize each word.
Jim held up his hands in surrender. "If you want, I'll record it. That way you can hear for yourself, if that would make you feel better about it. Don't say yes unless you are really comfortable with the situation."
Blair sat back in the booth and weighed his pride and need for information versus Jim's need to know and William Ellison's need for privacy in this situation. Leaning forward, he speared another piece of omelet before he answered, "Your memory's fine. Just be prepared to discuss this as soon as you get home. No stalling," he admonished.
Jim crossed his heart with one finger, before making the Boy Scout salute with one hand. "Scout's honor, Chief. No stalling."
Jim had called his father from the diner as soon as they had finished eating. He knew his father was an early riser and would be awake. His father was surprised, but quickly agreed to the early morning meeting.
As he stood outside on the front walk, staring at his childhood home, Jim hesitated. Did he really want to pursue the truth? There were so many skeletons locked away in his mind, so much history about his family that had been hidden away from him. His memories of his teenage years were so clear. All of the anger at his father for the way he treated his sons.
The division between himself and his brother remained memorable, yet he could not remember much of anything from his early childhood. Even the few memories he had about his mother were very vague. If his subconscious had gone to all this trouble to repress his memories, did he really want to open them up again?
"Jimmy? Would you like to come inside?"
Jim was startled by his father's appearance at the door. "Hi, Dad. Sorry to get here so early, but it's important. Can we talk for a while or do you have plans for this morning?"
William waved for Jim to enter, stepping back to open the door fully. "Come inside, Jimmy. Sally is off today, but I'm capable of making breakfast for you if you'd like."
"Thanks for the offer, Dad. I've already eaten. If you've got a fresh pot of coffee though, I wouldn't turn down a cup," Jim answered as he entered the foyer.
William led the way into the kitchen, Jim right on his heels. The first thing Jim noticed was a half-eaten breakfast sitting on the table. He looked over at his father, who was pouring a fresh cup of coffee.
"Sorry, Dad. I didn't mean to interrupt your breakfast," Jim apologized as he took a sip from the cup and sat down next to where his father had obviously been seated.
"I thought I would finish before you got here. You made good time. I'm glad you stopped by, Jimmy." William picked up his fork as he studied his son's nervous expression. "Am I glad you stopped by? Is something wrong?"
"Why don't you finish breakfast before we talk. I'm pretty sure this isn't something we want to discuss while eating," Jim suggested.
William tensed at the ominous tone he heard in his son's voice. "I'm not sure I like the sound of this. I have the day free, so we have plenty of time to talk. Stevie is coming by later this afternoon. We were planning on having lunch. I'm sure he wouldn't mind if you joined us."
"I'd like that. Steve and I haven't spent much time together lately."
William quickly finished his breakfast and the two men made small talk over coffee before moving into the study.
Jim sat down in a chair as his father moved around the desk to sit in his leather chair behind it. "So what's on your mind, Jimmy. Not that I'm unhappy you're here, but you clearly have something heavy on your shoulders if you came all the way out here this early in the morning."
"I've been remembering some things. At least I think I have, since the memories are coming back mostly in dreams. I'm not sure they really happened. I wanted to ask you about them..." Jim paused, before adding quietly, "...and about Aunt Faith."
William winced when his son uttered the name. "You remember your Aunt Faith?"
Jim nodded, but his gaze didn't lift from the floor as he answered, "Blair and I found a picture of her and Mom during a case a few months ago. Why didn't you ever mentioned her before?"
"Your Aunt Faith did something I couldn't forgive her for, several things actually. She caused this family a lot of pain, Jimmy."
Jim heard his father's fingers tapping nervously on the desk blotter. Obviously, Faith's past actions continued to be stressful for his father to talk about, even though many years had past. "I need to know what happened back then, Dad. I keep seeing these flashes of memories, but nothing makes sense. I know Aunt Faith attacked me, but I can't remember much," Jim said as he paced back and forth in front of the fireplace.
"Jimmy, your Aunt Faith had... well... problems. For whatever reason, in her twisted mind she saw you as a threat to her. There were several occasions when I thought she was a serious threat to you."
"I remember the reason I wound up in the hospital when I was seven. It was because of Faith hurting me."
"Yes, it was," William said sadly. "To this day I don't know what really happened. I only know what Grace told me."
Jim crossed the room to sit in the chair across from his father. "How could you not know?"
"It happened during the day while I was at work. You mother called me from the hospital. When I got there, she lied to me about how you got hurt."
Jim sat back in the chair, shocked by his father's words. His hands clenched tightly. It was hard to believe his mother would allow him to be hurt and, worse, protect the person who had hurt him.
"I didn't find out what really happened until years later. Truthfully, I hoped you would never remember that incident." William sighed. "I should have been more suspicious, but at the time I was more concerned about you. You were hurt so badly. We thought we were going to lose you. I never trusted Faith. I'd seen her behave questionably before, but Grace always convinced me there was a good reason behind her actions."
"What else happened between me and Aunt Faith? I really need to know, Dad. I can't sleep anymore without having these nightmares. I can't live like this." Jim's voice died down to a whisper with his last words.
William noted the dark circles under his son's eyes, contrasting with the pale face. It also appeared to him that Jim was losing weight. He couldn't hide the truth any longer. Now that he thought about it, he wasn't sure why it had been hidden in the first place. He was sure he had a good reason at the time. Looking at his son's haggard face, he knew that the silence had to end.
"Do you remember last year when I told you about a painting that was hanging in the foyer?"
"The one of the cougar?" Jim asked.
William nodded. "Yes, that's the one. Faith adored that painting. I think that was the first time I noticed she had a problem with you."
"It was her painting?"
"Yes, your mother bought it for her, but suddenly changed her mind and wanted it hung in the foyer when you were a toddler. You kept arguing with Faith that the cat was supposed to be black. You were a determined little cuss."
"Another genetic Ellison trait," Jim said with a chuckle. "Just ask Sandburg."
"I have to admit, you do come by your stubbornness naturally," William said. "Faith was so upset with you over that silly painting. Frankly, I never understood what the fuss was about."
"I don't remember arguing with her." Out of the corner of his eyes, Jim thought he saw his spirit guide lurking in the doorway to the foyer. The cougar had to have been Faith's spirit guide, but he didn't want to start explaining the concept of spirit guides to his father.
"Anyway, you were around five when this happened. I was sitting in the kitchen with your mother having a cup of coffee when I heard Faith start yelling at you. I walked out to the entranceway to see what the problem was. You were standing on a chair in front of the painting with your black fingerpaint container and a brush so you could reach the cougar in the painting."
As his father explained, his own memory of the incident tickled his brain. He just needed to hear a little bit more. "What happened next?"
"Faith took the paint brush away from you. At first, I was amused. Even at age five, you were strong-willed, Jimmy. I watched you stand up to your aunt, determined to convince her that the cat was the wrong color. The reason why you don't remember this is probably because Faith pushed you off the chair and you landed hard."
"She said I needed to be punished," Jim murmured, too softly for his father to hear. "My arm was hurt really bad."
"The black paint went flying everywhere, but mostly on Faith's dress and hair. I swear, if I hadn't been there, she would have gone after you again. You were on the floor screaming, holding your arm. Nothing was broken, but your arm was badly bruised."
Jim started to pace around the study. "I think I'm starting to remember, but it's all in bits and pieces."
"When Faith wanted you to be whipped as punishment, I told her she was overreacting. Your mother was on Faith's side. Seems her parents had often punished them by that method. When I refused to punish you, as Faith wanted, she pulled you to your feet and began dragging you upstairs. I stopped her from touching you. After I sent you to your room, I told her she was no longer welcome in our home."
Jim stared in surprise at father's explanation. He didn't remember his father ever standing up for him.
"Your mother and I separated shortly after that incident," William added sadly.
"I remember you getting divorced when I was eight," Jim said, puzzled.
"Yes, but we separated when you were five. Your mother wanted to go back to school. She was bored with... with the country club circuit, with the high society social scene. I was working long hours and wasn't here for her."
"And her sons were either too much trouble or weren't interesting enough for her to stay at home," Jim added bitterly.
"No, Jimmy," William amended quickly. "It wasn't about you and Stevie. She loved you both dearly. As angry as I was with your mother and the decisions she made, I've never doubted that she loved the two of you. She just needed... something... more. This house and family weren't satisfying enough for her. She wanted things that I couldn't give her. My edict concerning Faith was the last straw as far as your mother was concerned."
"What did she want that we didn't have?" Jim demanded angrily. This was a side of his mother he wasn't sure he wanted to hear about.
"Adults to talk to who were interested in the same things she was. For as long as I knew your mother, she had wanted a career. There was a wide gulf between her and her parents about that issue. They couldn't accept that she had a mind of her own and wanted more than being a mother and a wife."
"A lot of women have both."
"Today they do, Jimmy. Remember, we are talking about the mid-sixties. The early stages of the Women's Movement were just organizing at this time. Your mother joined these organizations when they were first founded. At the time, I admired her for having a brilliant mind of her own. I respected that about her, still do."
"I can't believe she would have left us because she wanted a job. Why did she even bother to get married, or to have children?"
"She thought she could have both. There were other problems occurring at the time. It wasn't just about having a job. She loved you and your brother, Jimmy. She left because she thought it was best for the two of you."
Jim didn't quite believe his father's words. How could her leaving be best for them? "I never realized that you and mom were separated that long. I always thought that you got divorced because of me, because of my getting hurt."
"No, your accident actually prolonged the marriage. Your mother didn't want to add any more stress during your recovery. When Grace asked for the separation when you were five, I made her promise that she would remain close to her children. We tried to keep our lives as normal as possible for you and your brother. It was probably because of that you didn't notice the separation. Also, Stevie was too young to remember much about this time."
"I don't remember much about those years. I remember Mom being here, but I also remember Sally being around more often.
"I know. Sally was only here part time before we were separated. When your mother said she wanted to go back to school, we hired Sally full time."
"I wish I could remember," Jim said as one hand rubbed his forehead. He could feel the headache forming behind his eyes.
"I allowed Grace to come and go freely within this house, as long as Faith wasn't with her. I didn't want to take your mother away from either you or Stevie. She was equally determined to remain a part of your lives. I figured this was just a phase she was going through. I thought she'd come to her senses and we would reconcile."
"But you didn't."
"No," William said sadly.
"Why not, Dad? Did you two even try?"
"You mother did something that made it impossible. It was completely her decision and she made it without consulting me."
"What? What could she have done that was so terrible?" Jim asked.
Meanwhile, at the loft
Blair opened the refrigerator door and reached for a bottle of water. Jim had been gone for over two hours. He was interpreting the long period as a good thing. Blair figured, as he opened the bottle and started to drink, if the discussion with William Ellison had gone badly, Jim would have been home already. On the other hand, Blair's insatiable curiosity had been eating away at him since the moment Jim had remembered his Aunt Faith's attack.
He was almost done with the bottle when he was startled by a loud knock at the door. Throwing the empty bottle into the trash on his way, he looked through the peephole. He was surprised to see Grace Ellison standing in the hallway.
Blair almost decided not to open the door, but it had been several months since they had seen Grace. His curiosity overruled his disgust at her previous behavior and he opened the door. The woman smiled at him and offered her hand. "You must be Blair Sandburg."
Blair ignored the hand. "Hello, Grace. I'll only let you in if you promise not to break anything this time. Your little tantrum the last time you were here cost your son a fortune." Blair stood firm, blocking the door as he awaited her response.
"But I've never..." The woman's eyes opened wide, as if she was surprised by the accusation.
"Cut the crap, Grace," Blair replied in exasperation. "Surely you're not old enough for senility to have set in. You remember last October? Throwing that doorknob through the glass door, just before making your dramatic exit?"
Grace Ellison raised her hand to her mouth and started shaking. "Oh my god, she's been here since last October. But I thought... I had no idea... I can't believe she was so bold. What has she done to my boys, to Jimmy and Stevie?"
Blair studied the woman standing in front of him carefully. He was pretty sure the woman wasn't acting. In fact, he suddenly had a small inkling of just who had been visiting the Ellison family pretending to be Grace Ellison. He immediately changed to a much politer tone. "Ms. Ellison, why don't you come in and sit down."
"Mr. Sandburg, this is very complicated to explain, but I am the real Grace Ellison. The woman who was here before, impersonating me, is..."
"Is your twin sister Faith," Blair finished for her. "We've known for a few months now that you have a twin sister. We found a picture of the two of you together. It was quite a shock for Jim."
Grace sighed deeply. She had wanted to explain herself about her sister. "I'm sure. After he was hurt, he didn't remember his aunt, blocked his memory of her completely. The doctor thought it was best he not be forced to remember. I had no idea that she had contacted you already." Grace took a handkerchief from her purse and wiped her eyes.
"Can I get you something to drink, Ms. Ellison?"
"If you've got any tea, I'd love a cup, and you may call me Grace. I understand you have been a very good friend to my son over the years. I am very grateful to you for that."
Blair blushed at the compliment. "Please, call me Blair, and I can manage to make a nice cup of chamomile tea for us."
Blair filled the teakettle and placed it upon the burner. He surreptitiously watched as Grace Ellison moved around the room, looking at the pictures and artifacts scattered about the loft. Grace paused and stared at one picture in particular. It had been taken the night of the bachelor auction and showed Jim and Steven, arm in arm, smiling happily at the camera.
His attention was returned to his task as the teakettle whistled. Pouring two cups of the calming tea, he carried them into the living room. "If you'd like, I'll have a copy made of that picture for you," he said, gesturing towards the photograph she was holding.
Grace set the picture down. "I'd like that very much. I haven't been able to keep close tabs on my boys. It was much too dangerous for them. I had to keep my distance from them in order to keep them safe. If I had known Faith had already been here... known she had contacted my son, I would have come sooner."
"Why don't you come sit down and tell me all about it?" Blair gestured to the seat next to him at the table.
Grace smiled as she crossed the room to sit down at the table where Blair had set the cups.
"I'm not sure where to start." Grace played with the cup in front of her for a moment.
"Start at the beginning. Tell me why you came here now, after all these years," Blair proposed.
"Faith found out about Jimmy and Stevie. There was no reason to stay away any longer. I did stop by a few months ago, but you weren't here. Never mind, I'll explain all that later. Please, it's been so long. Would you tell me all you can about my children? I've waited years to see them again, to be able to know them. Hopefully, to hold them and explain why I had to leave."
Blair saw the anguish and pain in Grace's blue eyes, eyes so much like those of her elder son.
"I propose a deal, a story for a story. I'll tell you what I can about both your sons' activities the last few years, and you'll tell me about why you had to leave them to keep them safe."
"Sounds fair. It'll be nice to tell the story to someone who just might understand my decision. Who shall go first?" Grace asked after sipping a mouthful of tea.
"You should, since it was my brilliant idea," Blair answered, grinning from ear to ear.
"A story... hmmm... it's been a long time since I've told any stories. They're all supposed to start with 'Once upon a time', right?"
"Fairy tales are supposed to start that way. I think it's an unwritten rule, but something tells me your story is not in the same category as a fairy tale."
Grace was wringing her hands. She sighed deeply. "You're right. Fairy tales have happy endings. This story doesn't have one of those."
Blair patted her hands, trying to calm her. "Seems to me the story isn't over yet, Grace. You still have a chance at a happy ending here," he said comfortingly.
She smiled sadly and nodded. "You could be right. Okay, once upon a time, there were two sisters, twin sisters actually. Though they were fraternal twins, upon first glance most people often mistook them for identical twins. The two girls were very close. They relied on each other for support and love because their parents were strict, demanding, and cold. Their names were Faith and Grace. Faith was the older sister, by a good three and a half minutes, and she took her role of protector to the younger sister quite seriously."
"Sounds like a genetic trait. Jim is the same way," Blair commented.
"I suppose that's possible. Jimmy was always very protective of Stevie," Grace said with a smile before continuing her story. "Ever since they were little girls, they knew that Faith was different from other children. She could see and hear much better then everyone else. In fact, all of her senses were stronger than normal."
"Faith is a full Sentinel? All five of her senses are heightened?" Blair asked excitedly.
Grace nodded hesitantly.
"After reading Jake's journals, I suspected she had several heightened senses, but I wasn't sure if it was all of them," Blair explained.
"We didn't know what to call it back then, but yes, Faith and Jimmy have the same family curse."
"It's not a curse," Blair corrected. "It's a gift. Jim has used his senses to help a lot of people, Grace."
"I guess. Jimmy seems to have much better control. Sometimes, Faith would become... lost because of them. A loud noise or if she was staring too hard at something would cause her to drift away."
"I call them zone-outs. They happen when a sentinel focuses too hard on one of their senses," Blair explained. "Jim had them too, but they are mostly under control now. He still suffers periodically with sensory spikes when under extreme stress."
"Exactly. It happened more frequently if we were apart for a long period of time. But, that didn't happen very often when we were growing up. In fact, even after I was married and had two children of my own, we spent a large amount of time together. Faith was married herself, but still found the time to see me several times a week."
"It's nice that the two of you were so close."
"Some people have said that we were too close, too dependent upon each other," Grace replied, ominously. "Later on, Faith was very jealous of time I spent with other people. She became very possessive."
"I've never noticed that before. Jim's never objected when my former school work or friends kept me away from him." Blair wished he had a notebook handy. This was important information.
"Faith became more possessive after... after a major upheaval took place in her life. The problem became clear when Faith attacked Grace's oldest son, Jimmy, just after he turned seven. She tried to kill him. She tried to kill my baby." Grace's voice lost the storyteller's tone as she finally spoke of the attack on her son. She had tears running down her cheeks.
Blair reached over and patted her hand. "It's all right, Grace. You don't have to say anything more. Jim told me about it."
Grace stared at Blair, horrified. "He remembers? He didn't remember when he was a child."
"The memories are just starting to come back. He doesn't recall everything that happened, but eventually I think he will."
"It would probably be better if he didn't remember. After that incident, I had Faith committed to the Washington State Asylum. I told my husband that I would be leaving town for a while to stay closer to the Asylum. Faith needed me more than he or the children did. William and I had already been separated for over two years for other reasons, so I didn't think he would be so upset about my absence."
Blair was dumbfounded at how Grace could be so matter-of-fact about the situation. "Faith attacked your son and you left your family to take care of her. I'm not surprised at all at his reaction."
"Oh, no! You've misunderstood. William didn't know how Jimmy got hurt. I lied about how it happened," Grace confessed, her shame evident to Blair. "When William found out that I had Faith committed, he demanded that I never see her again. I just couldn't agree to that."
Blair was certain that Grace was hiding a great deal about the story, but didn't press for more details. "It was clearly a terrible situation for all concerned."
"It was a stressful time in my life. At first, we weren't sure Jimmy was going to survive the attack. Then the doctors were sure there would be some brain damage. Thankfully, Children's Hospital had the best pediatric neurosurgeon on the West Coast."
"Now I understand why Steven has continued to support the hospital's fundraising activities. I knew Jim had spent some time there, but he didn't mention how seriously hurt he was."
"Jimmy didn't remember much of anything about that time and Stevie was too young to understand either. All he knew was that his brother couldn't come home. A few months later, Jimmy got so angry with me when I didn't want him playing peewee football. It seemed so soon after his injury, but I was overruled by the doctor and by William."
Blair realized that Grace really did have no idea how her sons had grown up. "Jim loves sports. Always did, though these days he's more into basketball than football."
"It was just another battle between me and William. We tried to hide it from the children, but we were fighting all the time. I couldn't take the pressure. Six months after Jimmy was released from the hospital, I asked for a divorce."
Blair didn't know what to say, so he reached across the space between them and took her hand, allowing his actions to speak for him.
"There was no one else for Faith to rely on besides me. My lawyer thought I was crazy, when I agreed to the divorce, asking for nothing in the settlement. I didn't want custody of the children. I just wanted to be able to see them. I also didn't want spousal support, but the lawyer insisted. I just wanted William to sign the papers."
"How did you support yourself and your sister on just spousal support?"
"My parents left a substantial amount money to Faith when they died. I was appointed her legal guardian when she was in the institution the first time and the funds were made available to support the two of us. I also worked at several different chemical companies over the years. I did manage to finish my Master's degree in Chemistry. When the government passed all those equal opportunity laws, woman scientists were a hot property on the job market."
"I can imagine. My mother was involved in more than one of the battles over woman's rights," Blair said fondly. "It must have been very hard balancing work in addition to having to take care of Faith and having children of your own."
"I did see the boys several times over the next few years. The problem was, each time I visited with Jimmy, Faith would slip back into madness and rage. I was always so careful to remove any traces of my visits, but she always knew when I had seen the boys."
Blair could see the confusion in Grace's expression. She clearly didn't understand just how strong a Sentinel's senses could be if fully utilized.
"She's a Sentinel. Scent is a powerful motivator. Even if you showered, Jim's scent would have remained on your coat or clothes."
"She threatened them both, Jimmy and Stevie. Several times she managed to get out of her room. She never made it off the grounds, but she got close enough to frighten me. I knew sooner or later she would succeed in escaping and go after my children." Tears started rolling down Grace's cheeks as the memories of living in a constant state of fear for her children overwhelmed her.
"If you were acting as her guide, she would've been threatened by your spending time with another Sentinel. Jim and I experienced something similar a few years ago. Sentinels are very territorial, particularly about their guides."
Grace shook her head. "I wasn't her guide. Not like you are for Jimmy, or like... never mind." Grace continued on nervously, "I had to choose, Blair. I had to choose between my sons and my twin sister. I thought Jimmy and Stevie would be happy with their Dad. Sally had been more of a mother to them than I had at the time."
Grace had to pause for a moment to calm down so she could continue. "Faith had no one but me. I also didn't believe Faith would ever stop trying to hurt Jimmy. Sooner or later, she would have escaped from that hospital. It was the most difficult decision I've ever made, but I chose my sister. In order to protect them from her, I told Faith that Jimmy and Stevie had been killed with their father in a car accident and never saw them again."
Blair was dumbfounded at the decision that Grace had been forced to make. He couldn't imagine having to chose between his mother and Jim. Thankfully, he had never been forced to choose.
"I'm not sure I could make a decision given those choices."
Grace smiled sadly and shook her head. "You already did, Blair. You gave up fame and fortune in exchange for protecting Jimmy's identity. You declared yourself a fraud rather than expose my son to public scrutiny."
"It's not quite the same. It's a lot easier for me to choose between material possessions and a person for whom I care deeply. You had to choose between members of your family."
Grace found comfort in Blair's assurances, but didn't want to discuss it any further. Changing the subject, she said with a smile, "I've kept my end of the bargain. Now it's your turn for story time. Tell me how you and Jimmy met. You seem to have such different personalities. It's hard to believe the two of you are so close."
"We didn't exactly get off on the right foot. If I remember the discussion, I called him a throwback to primitive man and he called me a Neo-hippie witch doctor punk."
Grace laughed so hard she was shaking. "Knowing a little about my son, I'm surprised you're alive to tell the tale."
"Actually, that was our second meeting. Our first meeting was at the hospital. I was impersonating a doctor..."
Present, Ellison Residence
"What? What did Mom do?"
"Do you remember the time just before Bud Hadish was murdered? I was supposed to go to a conference?" William asked. "I wanted Grace to stay with you boys while I was gone."
Jim remembered Bud's death. He vaguely remembered coming home after football practice to hear his father talking to his mother on the phone...
Ellison Residence, 1972
"Hey, Stevie... Is Dad eating with us?"
"I don't know. He's talking to mom," Steven answered.
Jim could hear a hint of distress in his little brother's voice. He could see his father in the den through the window. His father sounded very angry. He tried to hear the conversation. If there was going to be trouble, he wanted to know what was happening. These days his parents were always fighting about something. He didn't want Stevie to worry about it.
"Grace, that's not my problem!"
Steven wasn't sure what was going on. Jimmy was just standing there staring through the front window.
"Whatcha you looking at?" He asked, rocking from side to side.
Jimmy didn't answer. He was too focused on the conversation occurring between his parents.
"Grace, I can't pay you alimony if I don't work. This conference is not optional and I gotta attend it. And I need you to take care of the boys for two weeks."
"I can't, William. You don't understand. I can't have them around."
Jimmy didn't want to hear anymore. His mother didn't want them with her. He turned his attention back to his little brother, who was demanding to know what was going on. Stevie really missed Mom. He had to be protected from the knowledge that their mother didn't want to be around them.
"Hey, who do you think would win in a fight -- Spiderman or the Hulk?" Jimmy asked in the hopes that Stevie wouldn't ask what was going on inside.
"No contest. Spiderman would kick his butt."
"Bet he couldn't."
"Bet he could!"
"I was listening, Dad. Steven and I were standing outside the window while you were on the phone with Mom. I heard her say, 'I can't have them around.' I quit listening after that. I think that was the point I gave up on her. I didn't care if she ever came back."
"Then you didn't hear why she couldn't take care of you?" William asked tentatively.
"Let me explain..."
"Why, Grace? They haven't seen you in ages. The boys need you, particularly Stevie. He misses you. Jimmy does too, even if he won't admit it."
"I'm sorry, William. You just wouldn't understand. I can't be around the boys. It upsets Faith too much when I am."
William's face was bright red with rage. He yelled into the phone, "You're right! I don't understand! Faith has nothing to do with this."
"She does. She gets so angry when I see them."
"Just don't tell her." William mentally made a note to purchase a longer cord for the phone. He needed to pace when talking to his ex-wife.
"She'll know. She always knows," Grace wailed.
"Grace, it's her problem. The boys need to see you. I'll send them to you. That way, you won't be far from Faith. Jimmy can watch Stevie for a few hours while you visit with your sister. He's very responsible," William replied firmly, in a much calmer tone.
"No, William. Don't send them here. It's too dangerous for them to be here. I don't want to take the risk."
"What do you mean by dangerous? Faith wouldn't hurt the children."
"She would," Grace mumbled. Quickly making a tough decision, she decided it was time to tell her ex-husband the truth. "She has once already and I won't give her the opportunity to do it again."
"What do you mean? When did she hurt the boys?" William yelled. Calm was no longer possible.
Grace moved the receiver away from her ear until William was done yelling. "Jimmy's accident, when he was seven... well, it wasn't an accident," she mumbled.
"It wasn't? What the HELL really happened!"
"I dropped by the house to give Jimmy his birthday gift. Faith was supposed to wait for me in the car, but she didn't. While Stevie was showing me something in his room, Faith sneaked into the house."
"I told you she wasn't welcome at the house. How could you bring her here?" William's grip on the receiver was so tight that he cracked the plastic.
"I'm sorry, William. I thought it would be all right. I didn't know what would happen. I didn't think she'd really hurt him."
"How did it happen? How did Jimmy get hurt? Don't lie to me this time, Grace."
"Jimmy was downstairs and heard her come inside. He tried to run away. He was yelling for help. He managed to get to the top of the stairs before Faith caught him. I heard him screaming for me, calling my name. I came out of the bedroom running towards them, but Faith threw him down the stairs before I could stop her."
"How the HELL could you have let that happen! Why would she have hurt Jimmy!" William screamed into the phone, wishing he was face-to-face with her. Then, realizing that his sons needed him at home and not in jail, he was thankful there was some distance between them.
"Faith was out of control. You remember what had happened just before Jimmy's birthday. I'm not sure why she felt that way, but she believed that Jimmy was a threat to her."
William gritted his teeth as he forced out the next question to his former wife. "He was seven years old. How could he have been... never mind. I can't believe that you knew Faith hurt Jimmy deliberately and you didn't do anything about it!"
"That's why I had her committed, so she couldn't hurt anyone else."
"Jimmy could have been her second..."
"That's not fair, William. Faith was only defending herself from Paul. It's not the same thing." Grace's embarrassment was being replaced by anger.
"No, this is much worse. She hurt a defenseless child. I can't believe you didn't tell me this sooner."
"She's my sister, William. She would have been sent to jail. You would have made sure of that," she replied, her tone completely hostile. The reasons she divorced this man flooded back, increasing her anger.
"That's the only thing you've gotten right in ages. It's where she belongs, not that country club for the insane."
"She needs help, not prison. William, please try to understand?" Grace pleaded. Now that William knew the truth, he could make their lives difficult.
"NO, I can't. It doesn't matter anyway. This whole discussion is irrelevant. I still don't understand why you can't take the boys. Faith's in a secured facility. It's not like she can come and go as she pleases. What's the danger?"
"After each of my visits to the boys, she's made an attempt to escape. She came very close to making a clean getaway the last time this happened."
"Does she still want to hurt Jimmy? Is that why she keeps trying to escape?"
"Yes, and not just Jimmy. She also wants to hurt you and Stevie. Nothing I've said has made a difference to her."
"Listen to me carefully, Grace. You can't help Faith. You need to walk away, for your sake and your children's well being. I'll help you. We may not have been able to stay married, but I do love you. You deserve more than being a keeper for a mad woman, even if she is your sister."
Forgetting that her husband couldn't see her, Grace shook her head as she answered, "I can't abandon her. She's my family, William. She needs me."
"What about your children? They need you, too!"
"The boys will be happier with you, and Sally is a better mother to them than I ever was. I've made my decision, William, and there's no turning back. After what I did, I can never see you or the boys again."
William rolled his eyes. Grace had always been so damn melodramatic. "Of course you can. I'm angry at you for lying to me, but I'm not going to stop you from seeing the boys."
"No, that wasn't what I meant. I made a decision, William. I had to do it to keep the children safe."
"What have you done?" William asked, afraid to hear the answer. His ex-wife obviously was NOT behaving rationally.
"I told Faith that you and the boys were killed in a car accident last month."
"You did what!"
"Faith believes that you all are dead, which is the way I want it. Now you and the children are safe from her."
William couldn't believe his ears. Grace didn't even sound upset. Her tone was so matter-of- fact that she could have been discussing the weather, not the permanent abandonment of her children. "Even if it means you can't see your children?"
"It's a small sacrifice if it keeps them safe. Promise me you'll take good care of them, William."
"I'll do one better. I promise I'll raise them to be strong, independent, responsible men, Grace. They'll be nothing like you. I won't allow it." William swore as he slammed down the phone. How could his ex-wife have done this? More importantly, what was he going to tell his sons?
William tried to find the words to explain his actions after Grace abandoned them. "I knew that you had abilities very similar to Faith and I was afraid. So I was very tough on you. I was afraid you would lose control like Faith and have to be put away."
"Dad, you don't have to say anything. I understand now." Jim was surprised as it sunk in that he truly did understand, and that he was ready to forgive his father for the gap that until now had always been between them.
"No! I need to say the words, Jimmy. I saw how close you and Stevie were after your mother left us. I thought the two of you were too close, too dependent on each other, like Faith and Grace were when they were young. I was determined to teach the two of you to stand on your own. I thought if you could do that, you wouldn't grow up to be like your aunt."
"You did that. Until I met Blair, I was convinced that I never needed anyone else in my life."
"I know I'm to blame for that. I thought I was doing the right thing, son."
Jim shook his head at his father's apology. "That wasn't completely your responsibility. The Rangers had a little influence on my attitude as well, Dad."
"I'm sorry, Jimmy. I know I didn't handle this situation well. I didn't want you to be like your Aunt Faith. I thought you could learn not to use your senses. I don't know what else to say."
"You did the best you could, Dad. I know that now. I'm not sure what I would have done had I been in your place. We're okay now. We both need to let go of the past."
"Thank you, son." William reached out for Jim, offering a long overdue hug for his eldest child. The open wounds between them were finally starting to heal.
"...And that's how Jim and I became roommates," Blair finished. "Would you like a refill?"
"No thank you, Blair," Grace answered politely.
Blair nodded as he set down his own cup. "If you don't mind my asking, Grace, before you said that your parents left a substantial sum of money to Faith. Didn't they leave you anything?"
"No, I was a severe disappointment to my parents. I could never seem to please them. They were unhappy with my plans for my life, my desire for a career. You see, when I was in high school, I was surprised to find out that I had a strong aptitude towards math and science."
"I don't understand. Why would that surprise you?"
"You have to remember the time. This was the late fifties. The idea of women studying science was not well received...
Cascade Washington 1956
"But Mother, they won't let me into the science track unless you sign the permission slip," Grace explained, frustrated with her mother's obstinacy.
"This isn't a proper set of classes for a young lady to take. You should be more concerned with the home economics courses. You'll have your hands full with your own household and children soon enough. You need to learn how to handle these things. Lord knows you've avoided learning those things around here."
Grace refrained from rolling her eyes. Now was not the time to anger her mother. "I'm not ready to get married yet. I'm not sure that I want to be someone's wife or a mother."
"So what will you do with your life? You can't live here forever."
Grace refused to back down. She stared back at her mother, who was glaring at her with her arms folded across her chest, tapping her foot and waiting for her reply. "I want a career. I like chemistry. It's fascinating to watch the experiments. I want to go to college and be a scientist."
"Who has put these ridiculous ideas in your head? You should be ashamed of yourself. That is totally inappropriate for a young lady to be studying. What will people say?"
Grace clenched her jaw and stood straight, squaring her shoulders before answering. "I don't care what other people think. The busybodies at the country club can just mind their own business."
"Watch your tone, young lady. You are still young enough for me use that switch on you."
"I'm sorry, Mother. But, this is what I want to do. Please?"
"Fine, you want to do this... this... this science curriculum, I'll sign the sheet. But you will continue to take the home economics courses, too. That way, when you fail, you'll have something to fall back on."
Grace waited until her mother left the room before muttering, "I won't fail. I wouldn't give you the satisfaction."
Faith entered the room and wrapped her arms around her little sister. "I know you'll do great. I believe in you."
"Thanks," Grace replied, sniffling slightly.
"So does William Ellison," Faith added with a smirk. "I think he likes you."
"He does not!" Grace pulled out of the embrace, giggling. "Anyway, I noticed Paul has been staring at you in gym class again."
"Yeah, but William Ellison is quite a catch. Not to mention, Mother and Father think highly of the family."
"Yes, but they want me to marry him. I'm not sure that I'm in love with him."
"So? Nothing says that you can't be friendly with him. Think about it. It might get Mother off your back for awhile."
"I don't want to lead him on. That's not fair to him." Grace didn't like the idea of using William to make her mother happy.
"Do you like him?"
"Yes," Grace answered honestly.
"See where it leads. Nobody gets hurt if you're honest with him."
"So your sister supported your decision to study science when your parents didn't?" Blair clarified.
"Yes, both she and William were very supportive when we were in school together. It was almost the only area where the two of them agreed."
"I noticed before that you said you became Faith's legal guardian when she was institutionalized the first time. What did you mean by the first time?"
"I'm afraid Faith has been in and out of institutions for the last twenty years. I was quite thankful for that when all those news reports aired when Jimmy was rescued from Peru. I was so sure that Faith would discover that he was alive."
"Why institutions? I mean, wasn't that a bit extreme?" Blair was horrified at the idea that people were being locked away only for having out of control heightened senses. Something that was, with a little training, completely manageable.
"I can't always help her when she loses control. It's happening more frequently now. She's also very protective of me. Twice in the last five years she's been charged with assault."
"I'm sorry, Grace. I don't know what to say."
"That's all right, Blair. There's nothing you can do. It's my burden to bear. She is my sister, which reminds me... are Jimmy and Stevie close?" Grace asked, bluntly changing the topic of discussion.
"They are now, but for a while there they weren't in touch with each other. For the first year or so I knew Jim, he never mentioned that he had a brother."
"So how did they get back together?"
"It involved a murder case." Blair laughed as he remembered Jim borrowing that horse in hot pursuit. "Did you know your eldest son had a hidden desire to be a jockey?"
Back at William Ellison's residence
"At the time, I really believed I was doing the right thing by you and your brother. Looking back, I'm not so sure, Jimmy."
"I understand, Dad. Really I do. I can see why you raised us the way you did, not that I don't wish things could have been different."
"All I can say is I'm sorry. I'm just happy to see that you can handle your senses without the difficulties that Faith had."
"Blair's a big part of the reason I can. If he hadn't known about sentinels, I think I would have signed myself into the funny farm. Just before I met Blair, I had almost no control over them. He taught me a lot about controlling them, but, more importantly, he has a presence that seems to ground me automatically."
"Faith had problems with hers almost all the time. I met Faith and Grace when they were in high school. I fell in love with your mother our senior year. We decided to go to the same university when we graduated. We were quite the group. It was Faith, Grace, Jake Groves, Paul Sutton and I. The five of us were always together. Grace and Jake Groves were in the science school. I was in the business school along with Faith and Paul Sutton."
"Is Paul Sutton the one who Faith had to defend herself against?" Jim asked, recalling his father's earlier reference to 'Paul', curious as to what had happened.
"Yes, but that wasn't until much later in our lives."
"What made Faith so angry that she attacked me? You mentioned something about an upheaval? Did it involve this Paul Sutton?" Jim asked, tired of having to get the story in bits and pieces.
"Are you always a cop, Jimmy?"
"Sorry, but I guess I am," Jim apologized. "If you don't want to talk about it, I understand."
William waved off his son's apology. "It's alright. You have the right to know. Two deaths should have been big news, but Faith's family and the Sutton family had a lot of political power back then. No one wanted to see the story told in the newspapers."
"Two murders were covered up!" Jim exclaimed, appalled at the idea.
"Actually, it was ruled one murder and one act of self-defense by the District Attorney. This was back in 1968. Faith and Paul had been married for about two years. Your mother was working on her master's degree in chemistry. One of her lab partners was a woman named Lyssa Clark. Faith became good friends with her. In fact, I recall Grace mentioning that Faith didn't have any of her spells during the time she was friends with Lyssa."
Sutton Residence, 1968
"Just where do you think you're going, Faith?" Paul asked, staggering slightly and spilling his fourth scotch of the evening.
"Lyssa and Grace are waiting outside. Finals are over and we've decided to celebrate. I won't be late, Paul," Faith answered.
"I'm sick of hearing about Grace and Lyssa, Lyssa and Grace. I'm tired of you spending more time with them than you do with me. Just sit down and shut up."
Paul grabbed Faith by the arm and threw her down onto the couch. During her fall, Faith knocked over the lamp on the end table and it smashed into several pieces.
"Don't touch me again. I swear to God, if you touch me again, I'll kill you!" Faith screamed as she got to her feet and moved out of his reach.
Faith could hear someone pounding at the door. She darted to her left to get to the door, but her husband blocked her path. As they jockeyed for position, she heard someone turning a key in the door. She was relieved to see both Grace and Lyssa burst into the room. Paul had never hit her in front of anyone else. He had always been careful not to leave any bruises someplace visible.
"Leave her alone, Paul!" Grace yelled as they moved into the living room.
"Come on, Faith. You can't stay here anymore. It's not safe," Lyssa said as she crossed the room to stand by Faith.
"She's not going anywhere. This is none of your business, so get the hell out of my house!" Paul ordered, swaying as a result of all the alcohol he had consumed.
Lyssa moved in front of Faith, blocking Paul's view. "I'm sick of seeing Faith so covered in bruises she can't move. I'm sick of hearing her make excuses for you. This time, I'm going to make sure she files charges."
"Let's just go. We'll let Paul sober up," Grace suggested.
Paul moved to block their way to the door. "She's not going anywhere. She's my wife and has to obey me."
Lyssa tugged on Faith's arm, gesturing for her to go first. In her efforts to get Faith out of the house, she turned her back on Paul. Grace could only watch as Paul grabbed Lyssa by her long hair and slammed her against the wall. He braced his forearm against her throat, forcing her to struggle for air.
Grace tried to pull him away from her friend but he backhanded her across the face, knocking her to the floor.
"Think you're hot stuff huh, bitch? You're not taking my wife anywhere. She'll never see you again. I promise," Paul roared. He increased the pressure across Lyssa's windpipe.
Faith picked up the fireplace poker and raised it over her head. "Let her go, right now, or I swear I'll hit you with this."
Paul was too drunk to pay attention. Faith could see that Lyssa wasn't moving anymore. She swung the poker, hitting her husband across the back. He fell to the floor and rolled away from her. Lyssa fell to the floor, as boneless as a rag doll.
Faith continued to menace her husband with the poker as Grace tried to help their friend. With a trembling hand, she checked for a pulse.
"She's dead. He killed her," Grace cried out, sitting back on her heels.
"No, that can't be. She's not dead," Faith wailed, shaking her head in denial. She didn't notice Paul climbing to his feet and slinking away from her. "She can't be dead. Please don't let her be dead."
Grace reached for her sister, muttering softly, "I'm so sorry, Faith. I'm so sorry."
The two women were reminded that they weren't alone when Paul started yelling, "It's your fault, Faith. You made me do it." He lunged for the two women. Faith raised the poker again as Paul struck Grace across the side of the face and then reached out to take the poker from her.
"I hate you! I hate you!" Faith kept screaming, with each word striking her husband with the poker. "You are never hurting me or anyone else ever again." With one well-placed blow, she bashed in his skull, splattering blood everywhere. Faith continued to mutter those same words even as Grace pulled the weapon away from her and held her in a tight embrace.
"So, Faith killed Paul after he killed Lyssa," Jim summarized. He thought he remembered a slim brown-haired woman who visited with his mother sometimes. "Did Lyssa have a daughter?" Jim had vague memories of playing with a little girl who came to visit when his mother was home.
"She did have a little girl just a little younger than you. She went to live with her grandparents back east when Lyssa died," William replied.
"Tell me about Faith's guide, Grace. What was she like?"
"Lyssa was very special. She was my best friend after Faith. She was the only other woman I knew back then who wanted to be a scientist as much as I did. She was a recent widow. Her husband had been with one of the first units shipped to Viet Nam. He was also one of the first casualties of the conflict. She had a daughter around Jimmy's age named Stephanie."
"Was that how you met?"
"We met while I was attending graduate school. She was my lab partner in several classes. I was the one who introduced Lyssa to Faith. We were studying and needed a break. Faith was having some problems with her husband at the time and occasionally stayed with me."
"Her husband was a heavy drinker. He often became abusive when he was drunk. Several times he beat her bad enough to put her in the hospital. Twice he was arrested, but Faith refused to press charges. She loved him."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Grace. I realize in those days the police didn't treat spousal abuse as a very serious crime."
"It was a long time ago, Blair and it wasn't all bad. I had the chance to witness one of the closest relationships outside of a family. Faith and Lyssa seemed drawn to each other. I believe they had a closer friendship than Faith and I, and my sister absolutely adored Lyssa's daughter. It was wonderful to watch."
"What makes you think Lyssa was her guide?"
"Faith always had these severe allergies, which often caused her to black out... 'zone-out' is your phrase for it. I always had trouble bringing Faith out of those zones. Lyssa could always do it with ease. Faith actually zoned less with Lyssa around."
"Jim didn't zone out that often. Of course, he had managed to repress his senses for a long time and found me shortly after they reappeared."
"The year that Faith and Lyssa were friends was the happiest time I'd ever seen my sister have. When Lyssa died, my sister was devastated. The way she died made the situation even more difficult."
"How did she die?" Blair asked, fidgeting in the chair. He suspected he already knew the answer, but he wanted to hear Grace's explanation.
"Faith's husband killed her in a drunken rage. Lyssa and I were trying to get Faith out of the house. Paul was drunk again and was hurting her."
"I assume he was sent to jail?"
"No, he died. Faith was so upset when she realized that Lyssa was dead and that Paul had killed her. When he was stupid enough to attack me, Faith hit him with the fireplace poker."
"I'm surprised she wasn't sent to jail."
"It really was self-defense. He wasn't going to stop until we were all dead. We saw him kill Lyssa. Faith was never the same after that. It was almost as if she had given up hope."
"Hope?" Blair asked puzzled.
"Of ever being happy again."
William Ellison's Residence
Jim heard the sound of a car door slamming outside. He pulled back the curtains shading the window. "Steven's here," he announced.
William looked over at the clock on the mantle. "I hadn't realized so much time had gone by. It's a little before noon."
"I better call Sandburg. He's gonna be worried," Jim said as the doorbell rang.
"Use the phone on the desk there. I'll go tell Steven you're here," William suggested as he moved into the hall to answer the door. He paused and turned back around. "See if Mr. Sandburg wants to join us for lunch, Jimmy?"
"Dad, he hates it when you call him Mr. Sandburg. Try to call him Blair," Jim said before he picked up the phone and dialed the loft. On the third ring, a familiar voice said hello.
"Hi, Chief, just wanted to let you know that everything is fine. I lost track of the time and didn't want you to think something terrible had happened." Jim smiled as he heard his father warmly greeting his younger brother outside.
"Thanks for calling me. I was getting a little worried. I take it things are going well over there?"
"My dad has been very forthcoming. I'm not sure I'd use the word 'well', though. Steve just showed up here. He and my dad had plans to have lunch together. We've been invited along. You interested?"
"Jim, we have a houseguest," Blair answered tentatively.
"Who's there, Chief?" Jim asked, picking up immediately on Blair's hesitation.
"Actually, it's your mom, Jim."
Jim was speechless for a brief moment. After what had happened the last time his mother was in town, he couldn't believe Blair would invite her into their home. "Sandburg, after what happened last time, how can you..."
"...Your real mom. If you think hard, you'll realize just who visited us last fall," Blair interrupted.
Jim was thankful he was partially leaning against his father's desk as he figured out exactly what Blair was telling him. "It was Faith."
"Yeah. Your mom was really upset when I told her Faith had been here. Grace wants to see you, Jim. She thinks you're all in danger -- you, Steven and William."
Jim wasn't sure how to answer. Did he want to see his mother? He could only stand and stare at the phone in his hand. He heard Blair's voice asking, "Jim? You still there?"
"Jimmy, are you all right?" William asked from the door. Steven was standing slightly behind him.
"Blair, I need to call you back."
"Give me a few minutes here," Jim said as he hung up the phone. He rubbed his eyes with one hand. "Mom is at the loft with Blair. She wants to see us, all of us. I didn't know what to say."
Steven crossed the room and sat down on the sofa in front of the fireplace. "You told me your first meeting with her didn't go all that well."
"It wasn't Mom who came here last October. It was Faith, impersonating her."
"Why?" Steven asked.
"She was checking out the enemy. Grace always swore that Faith wanted to hurt the two of you. She must have wanted to see what she'd be up against. Damn it, I told her that Jim was a detective when she came to see me," William admitted angrily.
"Why Faith came to see us pretending to be our mother isn't as important to me right now as the fact that our real mom is here now. Stevie, do you want to see her?" Jim asked.
"No... Yes... I don't know," Steven muttered, folding his arms across his chest, his foot tapping nervously on the floor. "Not alone, I don't want it to be just her and me."
"If you're asking my opinion, I think you should see her. There are some questions only she'll be able to answer and I think you ought to hear her out," William replied, trying to be open- minded about his former wife.
"No, Dad. I was wondering if you wanted to come along. Mom seems to think you're in danger from Faith, too."
"You mean right now?"
"Yeah. I was thinking we could have lunch at the loft, all of us together."
"We were planning on having Chinese anyway, Dad. We could take it to the loft and eat there," Steven interjected, looking at his father for his agreement. William nodded, albeit reluctantly.
Jim smiled. He wasn't sure this was a good idea, but after hearing his father's side of the story, he wanted to hear what his mother had to say. "Let me call Blair and find out what they want. We can pick it up on the way to the loft. I'll drive and bring the two of you back when we're done."
"I'm not riding in that pickup truck of yours," William replied, waving a hand in denial. "I'll take my car."
"Stevie, why don't you ride with me. We'll pick up the food." Jim tried not to sound like he was begging, but he really wanted to talk to his brother alone and bring him up-to-date. "Okay, Stevie?" Jim asked.
Steven must have heard the tone or seen something in Jim's expression. "Sure, I'll ride with you, Jim," Steven said and then added with a smirk, "I'm not letting you into my car. I like my fenders just the way they are."
"I thought you forgave me for that?" Jim asked, plastering an 'I'm hurt' expression on his face.
"I did," Steve chuckled before adding, "Also, promise me you won't take off in hot pursuit of someone. I've heard about the way you drive in that mode from Blair."
Jim was already in the process of dialing Blair and could only mock-glare back at his little brother. William chuckled as he watched the interaction between his sons, thankful that he hadn't permanently damaged their relationship by raising them as he did.
Grace's eyes had filled with tears as she realized that Jim had hung up on Blair.
"Jim doesn't do surprises very well, Grace. He didn't say no, he said he needed a few minutes. That's a good sign," Blair explained. He and Grace moved into the living room as they waited, not so patiently, for the return call. Thankfully they didn't have long to wait before the phone rang.
Blair answered just after the second ring. "Jim?"
"It's me, Chief. You really surprised me. Sorry I hung up on you."
"It's okay. Uh, it IS okay, right?"
"Yeah, just called to find out what you and our guest wanted from the Chinese restaurant. We decided to move our lunch to the loft so we could all sit down and talk."
"Hold on a minute and I'll ask," Blair requested. He put one hand over the phone and called over to Grace. "Your son wants to know if you'd like something for lunch. We're having Chinese delivered."
Grace's smile appeared to light up the room as she replied, "An egg roll with some shrimp fried rice, please."
Blair repeated her request before adding, "You know what I like, Jim. Just how many guests are we having?"
"Steve and Dad are both coming over," Jim explained, staring at his little brother who was anxiously pacing in front of the fireplace.
"I'll be ready. Don't worry about drinks. The refrigerator is full and I'll start a pot of coffee."
"See ya in about an hour, Chief."
"Fine," Blair answered before hanging up the phone. "William and Steven are coming here with Jim. Seems we're going to have a little get-together."
"William's coming? I can't... I don't know if I can face him." Grace reached for her purse and pulled out her compact. Looking at her face in the small mirror, she groaned, "I must look terrible."
"You look fine and I'm sure you can face down William. If you'd like to freshen up a little, the bathroom is down the hall. It will be about an hour before they get here. They're picking up the food first."
"Thank you, Blair, for everything," Grace said over her shoulder as she headed for the bathroom.
"I'm doing this for Jim," Blair called back. After the door closed, he muttered, "I hope I haven't made an error here." He moved into the kitchen and picked up the coffeepot.
"So, Jim, what was it you wanted to tell me that you didn't want Dad to hear?" Steven asked as he climbed into the truck. "Why did you want me riding with you?"
"Maybe I just enjoy your company," Jim shot back a little defensively.
"Yeah, right. Try another one."
"Honest, it's not something I'm trying to hide from him. There has been way too much hiding already. Dad and I have been talking all morning and there are some things you need to know."
Steven flinched. "This doesn't sound good."
Jim spent the next ten minutes of the drive catching his brother up on the family history. When he was done, he waited for Steven to say something. He was not completely surprised when his brother remained silent.
"Stevie? You okay?"
"Yeah, it's just really hard to take in all at once. I'm not sure that I believe it all. So that's how you got hurt? Our own aunt threw you down the stairs?" Steven asked incredulously.
"Yep," Jim confirmed as he stopped the truck at a light. He checked his rearview mirror. He thought he had picked up a tail when he had left his father's house. Two cars back he saw the same light blue Toyota Corolla that had been parked two houses up the street when he left. The driver was a woman, but a large floppy hat and sunglasses hid her features. He spared a glance at his younger brother, not surprised to see the dazed eyes looking inward. "Do you remember any of it?"
Steven slowly shook his head. "Though you'd think I would. I remember you being in the hospital and coming back home. Why can't I remember what put you in the hospital?"
"Probably because it would have been pretty traumatic for a four-year-old to witness," Jim pointed out. "You've probably repressed it like I did." He took another quick glance in the mirror. He was pretty sure it was Faith who was tailing them. When the light turned green, he turned right. It was a little out of the way, but he wanted to see if the Toyota would follow. He wasn't surprised to see the car continuing to follow.
"But why?" Steven ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "Why would Faith do that? If she loved our mom, why would she hurt her nephew? And why would Mom cover it up?"
Jim sighed. "From what Dad said, Faith's a sentinel, too. And if I'm catching it right, this Lyssa must have been her guide." Jim turned left at the next intersection, watching the light blue car continue to follow.
"Like Blair is for you?" Steven asked. "But it doesn't sound like they were together very long."
"No, and Lyssa was killed defending Faith." Jim pulled into an empty parking space in front of the Chinese restaurant and turned off the engine. "Trust me, there's a boatload of guilt that goes with your guide getting hurt because of something you did. If Blair..." Jim choked on the words. He paused, gathering his courage. "If I had lost Blair at that university fountain three years ago, I doubt I would have been sane afterwards."
Steven shifted uncomfortably on the bench seat. He really didn't like where this was going. "So you're saying Faith went insane with guilt?"
"Guilt and the senses. I thought I was going crazy before I met Blair. He grounds me so I can handle them."
Steven's serious blue eyes met Jim's. "Okay, I might buy that you'd go insane without Blair. Maybe. And I'd probably organize and take point on the suicide watch if you felt responsible for Blair's death. But to be so far gone as to actually hurt a kid, let alone a nephew?" Steven shook his head emphatically. "No. No way. You've always been the protector, Jim. You might shoot a perp to protect yourself or someone else. But you'd never hurt someone who was defenseless, especially a kid who couldn't protect himself. There had to have been something else seriously wrong with Faith for her to act that way."
While oddly comforted by his brother's faith, Jim was still worried. "Yet she viewed ME as a threat. Maybe it was because I was another sentinel, taking Mom's attention away from her?"
"You think Mom was standing in as Faith's Blair?"
"Maybe. It doesn't sound like she was close to anyone else."
"But..." Steven took a deep breath to keep his emotions under control. "But why did Mom chose her over us?"
"Maybe she's as mixed up as Dad about things. He thought he was protecting us. She thought she was protecting us..."
"And we got drop kicked in the middle," Steven finished with a grumble as his eyes lowered to his lap.
Jim reached over and squeezed his brother's shoulder, feeling the hurt just as keenly. "Yeah, but we managed to survive." Though it would have been a lot easier if Mom had stuck around. Thinking hard, Jim assessed his brother. "I want you to make me a promise."
Steven looked up, eyes narrowing at his brother's tone. "What?"
Taking a deep breath, Jim quietly requested, "If something happens to Blair and I become a danger, I don't want you to throw your life away like Mom did for Faith. Toss my butt onto the first plane to Peru and leave me in the jungle."
Steven's eyes widened. "Jim..."
"Like you said, I'm a protector. I do not want to be a danger to any future nieces and nephews. Nor do I want them to be forced to repress their senses like I was. I trust you to make sure that doesn't happen and protect them from even me if it comes down to that. Promise?"
Wiping away the moisture from the corner of his eyes, Steven quietly answered. "Promise. But only because I don't think it will ever come to that. You'd probably check yourself onto that plane first."
"Good enough," Jim replied, opening the truck door. "Come on, let's go inside."
"I'll just wait here."
Jim eyed the blue car parked up the street from the restaurant. "I'm not carrying all this food by myself. Get your lazy butt out of my truck."
Steven opened the door and exited the truck. "Actually, I do have to make sure you get the order right. You're getting older now and they say the memory is the second thing to go."
"I'm not touching that line, little brother, and you ought to remember that I'm still bigger and meaner than you," Jim replied as he moved around the front of the truck to stand next to Steven.
"Sorry, couldn't resist," Steven laughed as he reached for the door.
Jim lightly cuffed him on the back of the head.
"Hey! What was that for?"
"Sorry, couldn't resist," Jim answered smugly. As Steven entered the restaurant, Jim took another look up the street. He didn't want to alarm his brother, but he needed to deal with Faith.
William was standing next to his car in the parking lot when Jim pulled into his usual space. Jim grabbed half the bags, leaving the others for Steven as he exited the truck.
"Hi, Dad. You could have gone upstairs. Blair would have let you in without me."
William glanced nervously up at the third floor of the building. "I know, but I didn't want to face Grace alone. There's strength in numbers, son."
"You nervous?" Jim asked his father as he noted that Steven hadn't gotten out of the truck yet.
"Maybe a little," William answered.
Jim bit back his laughter. Before now he wouldn't have believed that there was anyone his father would be afraid to face.
"Here, Dad, take the food upstairs. I don't think Stevie's going to get out of the truck without a little encouragement."
William chuckled as he ran his fingers through his graying hair. With a curt nod to his eldest, he walked toward the front door into the building.
Jim waited until his father was actually inside the building before heading to the passenger door of his truck. He opened the door, startling Steven.
"Food's getting cold, Stevie."
"So are my feet, Bro," Steven replied softly.
"You've got nothing to worry about," Jim answered, rubbing his little brother's forearm. He was so accustomed to seeing "Steven the talented businessman" that he hadn't consider the possibility of him feeling insecure.
"I don't know what to say to her. I really don't remember much, just that she wasn't around very much," Steven explained.
Jim reached in and pulled his brother out of the truck. "Look at it this way. She doesn't know you any better than you know her. I'm not ready to welcome her back with open arms as my mother either, but I do want to hear her side of the story, and maybe get to know her a little better, too."
Steven's jaw dropped after hearing his brother's answer. Here he had believed that Jim was comfortable with the idea of their mother coming back into their lives. Jim leaned over and grabbed the rest of the food before using his elbow to push Steven towards the door. "At least close your mouth so she doesn't think you're part fish."
Since his hands were free, Steven used one of them to punch his big brother in the arm. Chuckling to himself, he held the door for Jim and then pushed the button for the elevator. Just as the doors started to open, he realized that this might not be as scary as he thought.
Hearing footsteps in the hallway, Blair opened the door to the loft, expecting to see Jim. He was surprised to come face to face with William Ellison.
"Hello, Blair. Jim and Stevie are right behind me. Where do you want me to put the food?" William said quickly, avoiding looking at his ex-wife standing a few feet from the open doorway.
"Just put the food in the kitchen. I figured we'd have a buffet style lunch," Blair answered, moving out of William's way. Hearing the arrival of the elevator in the hall, Blair didn't close the door. Steven exited the elevator first, with Jim right on his heels.
"Hey, Steve. How's it going?" Blair greeted the younger Ellison. As soon as Jim was close enough, Blair grabbed the remaining food bags away from him, ignoring Jim's glare. "Talk to your mother, Jim. She's been waiting a long time for this moment," Blair whispered softly.
Steven took only a few steps into the loft before stopping. He could only stare silently at the woman standing in front of him. She was dressed in a pair of dark blue dockers and a yellow fleece long-sleeved shirt, not what he had expected from someone who had been married to William Ellison. She had tears running down her cheeks but she was smiling proudly.
"My little boy! You're all grown up," Grace said through her tears. She opened up her arms, inviting her younger child in for a hug.
Steven closed the distance between them with a single step and moved into her embrace. It seemed words weren't necessary. For now, actions spoke louder than words.
Jim entered the room just in time to see Grace hugging Steven. He hesitated a moment, watching his mother with his younger brother, not quite sure what he was feeling. Grace seemed to know he was standing there. She reached out with one arm and pulled her elder child into the embrace.
"I can't believe that I'm holding you again," she said through her tears. "I've waited so long for this moment. I was starting to believe that it would never happen."
Blair and William stood together in the kitchen, watching the emotional reunion taking place between mother and sons. Both men knew that there was a lot of baggage that would have to be discarded, on both sides, but this was a good beginning.
William was the first to look away. He began rummaging through the cabinets, pulling out plates and placing them on the counter. Blair followed his lead and grabbed several coffee mugs. When he had completed his task, he saw that Grace was talking softly to her children. He couldn't hear what she was saying, but Jim and Steven were both smiling.
"Is anyone hungry?" he called from the kitchen. Jim nodded and offered his arm to his mother. She wiped away her tears and smiled as Jim escorted her to the table, with Steven pulling her chair out for her.
While there was quite a bit of discussion over lunch, topics remained in safe areas. Grace wanted to hear about her children's recent lives -- how they were doing at work, current girlfriends, that type of thing. Everyone avoided mentioning the person who had brought the Ellison family together again at this time.
They sat at the table for over two hours making small talk. As the discussion turned to what Grace had been doing recently, Blair realized that the course of the reunion was about to take a more serious turn. He started collecting the dishes from the table. His plan was to give the Ellison clan as much space as possible. "Why don't you all have a seat in the living room? I'll clean up the rest of this mess."
Steven ruined his well-laid plans by saying, "I'll take this garbage out for you, Blair," as he gathered the empty containers from the table.
Jim had recognized what his friend had been trying to do and appreciated his efforts, but he wasn't about to leave Blair out of this discussion. He had as much at stake with Faith being in town as the rest of them. "It will go much quicker if we all clean up. I'll get the dishes. Sandburg, why don't you give Stevie a hand taking all that to the dumpster. You could also get rid of that garbage from the kitchen you forgot to take care of last night."
Blair started to protest, but something in Jim's expression told him that this was important, much more important than emptying the kitchen garbage. "Sure, Jim."
Jim followed the two young men as they headed downstairs from the loft with his hearing. Knowing that Faith was nearby, he wasn't about to let either Blair or Steven out of range of his senses. He was wondering how he could convince Steven and his father to spend the night at the loft.
Blair led the way down the stairs and out the back door. He turned to the right and entered the alley. Steven immediately saw their destination. A large black dumpster was placed against the side of the building.
Steven lifted the lid and groaned loudly. He tried not to breathe too deeply. "Oh, MAN! I bet Jim makes you do this job all the time. This smell must drive him nuts with his senses." Steven dropped the trash from their lunch into the bin. He quickly moved a few feet back from the container, holding his nose to limit his sense of smell.
"Most of the time," Blair answered as he threw the bag into the bin. Blair's back was to the front of the alley, so he didn't see a slim figure move out of the shadows coming directly at him.
"Blair! Look out!" Steven yelled as he moved to Blair's side. It looked like his mother was coming toward Blair with a tire iron, but she was dressed differently. It had to be his Aunt Faith.
Blair brought his hands up to defend himself, but the tire iron clipped him across the back of his shoulders. His knees buckled at the pain, but he regained his feet. He looked around for something to defend himself and Steven, but nothing was handy. "JIM!" He yelled, knowing that his partner was probably monitoring them.
He launched for Faith's arm as she took another swing at him. He deflected the blow away from himself by knocking his attacker off balance. Unfortunately, he had pushed her right into Steven and the two of them went down in a tangle.
Faith elbowed Steven in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him as she scrambled to her feet. She had lost the tire iron in the struggle; therefore, she attacked Blair again with her bare hands.
She pushed him backwards and his head hit the side of the dumpster. His vision faded to black as he lost consciousness. Just before the darkness claimed him, he could have sworn he saw Jim coming around the corner, a look of rage on his face.
Steven was trying to both catch his breath and climb to his feet. Faith was getting the upper hand on Blair and he needed help. He was horrified when Faith shoved Blair and he hit his head during his fall. Steven was frozen in place as Faith turned her attention to him. In that instant, he was never so happy to hear the sound of his big brother's voice coming from the front of the alley.
"Leave them alone!" Jim yelled as he ran down the alley.
Faith froze for a split-second, torn between achieving her goal or fleeing the scene. Her decision was easy to make upon seeing the rage on her nephew's face. Her obvious escape route blocked, she ran for the back door to the building.
After watching his aunt run into the building, Steven knelt down next to Blair. He was relieved to see him rolling onto his side and groaning softly. He noticed a shadow moving next to him. He looked up to see Jim standing right behind him.
"Get her!" Steven said angrily. "I'll look after Blair. He'll be okay with me."
"Go, Jim," Blair muttered after hearing Steven's reassurances. "I'll be fine!"
Overruled by his little brother and his best friend, Jim started chasing after Faith. Family ties wouldn't protect her from Jim's anger now. He extended his hearing. Faith was clearly in good shape for her age, but she would be pushing herself physically to make her escape. It took him a moment to locate her. He recognized the sound of the main door to the building closing and the sound of a rapid heartbeat.
"Get Blair upstairs and lock the door, Stevie. I'll be back." Jim took off, determined to chase down the person tormenting him in his life and his dreams and put an end to the nightmare.
Faith exited the building, checking the mouth of the alley. She had left her car two blocks over. She was sure her nephew had spotted her tailing his truck earlier and didn't want the car parked within sight of his home.
Thankfully, this time of day there were quite a few people on the sidewalk. She set off in the direction of her car at a fast walk. She could only hope to lose herself in the crowd. At least with all these people around, her cop nephew wouldn't have a clear shot at her, and there would be plenty of distractions she could use against him.
By the time Jim reached the street, Faith had almost a full block lead on him. Jim tried to weave his way through the small groups of people walking on the sidewalk, almost tripping over a stroller. His plan was not to draw any attention to himself or Faith.
He doubted that his aunt was armed, but he wasn't taking any chances. He was slowly gaining ground on her when she noticed she was being followed. She darted out into the street about fifty yards before the intersection. Jim could only watch as one car after another swerved to avoid hitting her.
The first to lose control was the taxi into whose path Faith had stepped. In order to avoid hitting the woman, the driver turned his cab into oncoming traffic. The green Ford Explorer had no time to stop and hit the cab almost head on.
The blue Saturn behind the Explorer had been following too closely and rear-ended the other vehicle. The next car in the line of traffic managed to avoid the other three cars by turning onto the sidewalk, but was unable to stop before hitting the front wall of the bookstore on the corner. Thankfully the pedestrians on the sidewalk were agile enough to move out of the path of the oncoming car.
The smell of gasoline permeated the air. Helping people at the scene of the accident was more urgent than catching up with Faith. Jim moved to assist the driver of the Explorer out of his car before the situation got any worse.
Faith had just reached her car when she realized that she was no longer being pursued. She watched as her nephew leaned into the window of the Saturn to check on the driver. "Soon, dear boy. I'll be back soon and we'll finish this."
Blair was sitting on the couch being fussed over by both Grace and Steven when Jim arrived back at the loft. He saw the dejected look on his partner's face but asked anyway, "Did she get away?"
"Yeah, I lost her after she created a four car pile-up two blocks over. How are you doing, Sandburg?" Jim could see the bruise on his head already starting to darken.
Not wanting another mother hen checking him over, Blair waved off Jim's concern with a quick, "I'm fine. She didn't do any major damage. Just a few bruises and a major headache, nothing I can't handle. I can't believe she came after me with Steve standing right there watching."
"I can't believe she did this," Grace cried. "I'm so sorry. I thought I was protecting you all, but now I'm not sure I was right to stay away this long."
Some of the frustration Jim had been feeling since the nightmare had began started to leak through as he demanded, "Why did it take you so long to get in touch with us, Mom? Faith came to see us last October. Did you know that? How long has Faith been on the loose?"
"I'm not sure, Jimmy. She knew about you far longer than I believed if she came to visit you back in October. She only slipped up with me just after Christmas. When I learned that she was coming after you all, I reported her intentions to the authorities at the institution."
"How long, Mom?" Jim repeated.
"She was recaptured back in March in Seattle. I tried to see you then, to explain, but you weren't at home."
"So why are you here now? It's been six weeks."
"The Seattle authorities incarcerated her at a new hospital. She convinced the doctor in charge that she didn't need to be locked up in a maximum-security ward. She's escaped from the hospital two weeks later. The doctor didn't want to admit that he had made a mistake, so he tried to handle finding her with internal security."
"So she's been on the loose for almost four weeks. Don't you have any idea where she could be staying? Where would she go?" Jim pressed.
Grace shrugged her shoulders. "Normally, Faith always comes to find me, but this time I don't have any idea where she is."
Author's note: Thanks to all the members of the story arc team who worked so hard on this season's arc. For without their efforts, this story would not have been brought to life. *g*. Thank you for establishing the foundation for this story in your own contributions to the season, and helping me bring to reality the vision that each of us shared as this storyline was developed. I hope you all enjoyed the effort as much as I did.
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