Warning: This story has been done before, this is just my take *g*.

Notes: Basically, a PU (Parallel Universe story), set in late Season 3, but before Love Kills.

Disclaimers: All standard disclaimers apply. Pet Fly Productions and UPN own the characters and the series. No copyright infringement intended. No money was made in writing or sharing this story.

//denotes whispering in the background//


BIRTHRIGHT



Rimilod






Blair Sandburg sighed in relief as a knock on the front door of the loft gave him a legitimate reason for not grading the blue books in front of him. He had been sitting at the table for the past thirty minutes, not grading, and feeling guilty about it, but he couldn't help it. He was worried about Jim, had been worried about Jim for several days -- ever since his father passed away.

Blair knew that Jim and William had been working hard at their reconciliation, but also knew it had been a long and hard process to overcome old wounds. Blair could only pray that Jim felt comfortable with his attempts, that he wasn't berating himself for not having done enough.

However, the man had revealed nothing about his current state of mind.

A second rap jerked Blair out of his musings. He pushed himself away from the table and walked to the door. Standing on his toes he looked through the peep hole and saw a man about his age dressed in a very conservative suit. Deeming him safe, Blair unlocked the door.

"May I help you?"

"Yes. My name is Andrew Hardesty from Spencer, Jackson and Browne. I'm here to..."

"Oh, crap. Jim's on his way to your office. He thought the reading of the will was supposed to take place there. Here, come on in. Let me see if I can catch him before he gets too far." Blair turned toward the phone on the kitchen island.

"Actually, Mr. Sandburg, I'm here to see you," the young lawyer said in a low urgent voice, even as he shut the front door behind him.

Blair stopped, stunned. "I beg your pardon?"

"I'm here on behalf of William Ellison's estate," Andrew said as he set his briefcase on the kitchen table. "May I?"

Blair nodded absently. "This can't be good," Blair murmured, unable to bring himself to join the lawyer at the table.

Andrew turned and smiled gently at him. "While we're often considered sharks, Mr. Sandburg, we aren't always the bearer of bad news."

"Sorry," Blair apologized, running one hand over his face. "Would you like some coffee or tea?"

"No. Thank you." Andrew opened his briefcase, but hesitated when he realized Blair hadn't joined him at the table. "Mr. Ellison has entrusted our law firm with a special task to be undertaken upon his death."

"And it involves me?"

"Yes, Mr. Sandburg. Would you care to have a seat?" the lawyer asked, pointing to the chair beside him.

Blair shook his head, but walked to the end of the table, crossing his arms over his chest.

Andrew seemed to realize this was all he was going to get, and proceeded to pull a videotape out of his briefcase. "This is a fifteen minute tape. I've been instructed to let you view it in private. I thought I might wander downstairs to the bakery and get a cappuccino. I'll be back in about twenty-five minutes to discuss the rest of our business."

"Why can't we just discuss it now?" Blair asked, trying hard not to sound belligerent.

"Because I have been instructed to follow Mr. Ellison's directives to the letter." Andrew frowned when Blair made no move to take the tape. "I shouldn't say anything, but I don't believe it's bad news. Honestly."

Blair blinked at him but reluctantly unwound one of his arms from his body and accepted the tape.

"I'll be back in twenty-five." Andrew picked up his briefcase and showed himself out of the loft.

With one arm still crossed over his chest, Blair looked at the tape. "This can't be good," he whispered to himself again. Why would William send him a tape? If it were important, why wouldn't he be invited to the attorney's office along with Jim and Stephen?

He glanced over at the television set, then down at his blue books. Suddenly, grading didn't look so bad. He was tempted to toss the tape in the trash, but knew Andrew would be back, probably right on the promised minute. His feet slowly moved, as if by their own volition, toward the television.

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "You hurt Jim and I'll dig you up, old man. I swear, I will," he vowed quietly, bending over and inserting the tape into the vcr.

He picked up the remote and moved back to the couch and flopped down. Releasing another deep breath, he pushed the on button.

The tape whirled and an image came up on the screen -- William Ellison, sitting behind the mahogany desk in his office. William stared forward for almost a full minute in silence, then shook his head. "No, I don't want to start over," he said to someone behind the camera.

William pushed aside a small stack of papers. "Hello, Blair." He smiled, almost shyly. "I had a speech I was going to read, but sitting here, it suddenly doesn't seem right to tell you in such a cold informal manner. You deserve better than that."

William bowed his head briefly. "I'll cut to the chase. I'm dying and I know I'm dying. In fact, I've already had several very small heart attacks. The doctors have been trying to push a variety of pills down my throat, but in the end, they won't have much effect. I estimate I have a few more weeks. And no, I haven't told Jimmy or Stevie nor do I plan to. In the last year, we have all made great strides in trying to heal our relationship and I don't want this hanging over their heads, making them cognizant of a clock slowly winding down. If we can make amends, we will. If not, then I'm prepared to die in the bed I've made."

"However, I don't think that will be necessary. Thanks to you. And yes, I do know that you've been the driving force behind our reconciliation. Jimmy walked away nearly fifteen years ago without blinking. He could have gone for another fifteen. While Stephen has never truly been gone physically, he hasn't been here emotionally for years -- until recently."

William smiled into the camera. "I remember the first phone call I made to Jimmy after he came back into my life. I figured there was no time like the present to mend fences. You answered the phone and put Jimmy on so fast my head almost spun. I asked him to lunch, but he was hesitant. I then heard a loud cracking sound in the background. When he spoke again, I could tell he was smiling, almost laughing. His agreement to meet for lunch made me believe in miracles again. I swore I wouldn't blow my second, and probably last, chance. Although, I have to admit to being curious about the noise was and why it seemed to help him make up his mind. Imagine my surprise when he told me it was you zapping him with a towel." William chuckled.

"I also know you were instrumental in helping Stephen bridge the distance, not only between he and I, but between him and Jim as well."

William's smile faded and he was once again silent. "Isn't it ironic that the son I refused to acknowledge was the one who gave me peace in my final days?"

Blair blinked and pushed the pause button. He shook his head and rewound the tape.

"...the son I refused to acknowledge was the one who gave me peace in my final days."

"No," Blair mouthed, shaking his head again, but not stopping the tape.

"I won't go into ancient history, there's no point at this time. Suffice it to say there are two sides to every story and there is no reason to burden you with mine." William shook his head, almost as if hearing Blair's raging thoughts. "The medical tests are conclusive, by the way. No question. Absolutely none. If you wish, you may speak to my personal physician, Robert MacGuire. He will be more than happy to show you the results and explain the methodology."

"So, why am I telling you now?" William sighed. "After the fact." The older man rubbed both hands over his face. "First and foremost, I thought you had a right to know and, after all this time, I came to accept the fact that Naomi was never going to tell you. Secondly, to apologize. While I provided financially for you, I never got to know you -- which may have been a blessing in disguise. After all, look what a good job I did with my other sons. Maybe you should consider yourself blessed."

William sighed again, then smiled sadly at the camera. "When I first realized you and Jimmy had hooked up, I wondered if you had somehow figured everything out, but later I came to understand it was simply serendipity. I was annoyed, at first, when Jimmy insisted on dragging you to all our meetings, like some sort of chaperone. But as time passed and I got to know you, I realized I liked you, liked the man you had become, so different from Jimmy and Stevie, and yet with the same integrity. I'm proud to say I fathered you."

"So why aren't you at the lawyers office with the family?" William nervously shuffled the papers on the table beside him before looking back at the camera. "Because I kept you a secret, lying by omission to Jimmy and Stevie."

William cleared his throat nervously. "I had promised myself I would tell you and the boys this past Christmas; but the holiday had been such a joyous one, and I couldn't bring myself to spoil the mood. At last I had all three of my sons around me, happy, loving. I know I made you uncomfortable with all the gifts I gave you, but I couldn't not indulge myself in giving them. Using the excuse that you were practically family covered a multitude of sins."

William shifted nervously in his chair, suddenly looking very human, instead of like the CEO of a major company. "I knew the truth would destroy the family and I couldn't do that, not after finally pulling it back together." William looked down at his clasped and withered hands for several moments before looking back at the camera. "I know it's not fair to tell you now, to burden you with this truth, but I cannot leave this world without providing for you, especially after everything you've done for Jimmy and his... gifts. For the record, all indications are that Jimmy inherited them from Mary Margaret. Maggie died from childbirth complications," William's voice broke. "For years I allowed my grief to keep me from enjoying her greatest gift to me -- Jimmy."

William pulled a handkerchief from the breast pocket of his jacket and dabbed his eyes. "I've spent the last year pulling together everything I could find about Mary Margaret's family. I bequeath those to you, to see if they might help Jimmy with his gifts."

"Stephen has shown no sign of having Jimmy's abilities, meaning I'm probably not the carrier of the genes. Grace's biggest genetic talent seemed to be the ability to spend my money."

"Speaking of which, I suppose it's time to get down to the nitty gritty, heh?" William put the handkerchief back into his pocket, the face of the CEO back in place. "When you were born, I opened several investment accounts that no one ever knew about. They are yours. Their current total is approximately 2.3 million dollars. The interest on those accounts should keep you in a very comfortable lifestyle."

The hastily erected facade began to crumble, and Blair was struck by the sadness in the man's eyes. "I know you, Blair. I know you don't want my money or any thing I could possibly give you. Well, tough, young man. I've made provisions that if you refuse my money, the funds will still be used to immediately pay off all your student loans. The money will then be set up into a trust fund for your children, although you will always be allowed access to the money."

"So, here we are." To Blair's eyes, William suddenly looked very frail. "I know the money will never make up for the burden I'm placing on your shoulders. Do you tell the boys or don't you? It's totally up to you."

William leaned forward in his chair. "Change your dissertation topic, son. You understand why, right?" William closed his eyes then slowly sank back into his chair.

"It's been a pleasure getting to know you, to see the speed with which your mind works, to hear your laughter ring through a house which had ceased to be a home years before... until you walked through the door. You gave me back my sons, Blair, and for that I can never repay you. You've made these last few months a true joy and I am forever in your debt. May you have a long and happy life. Know that your old man was proud of you and that he loved you."

The screen faded to black.

Blair blinked, cognizant of a knocking at the door. Carefully, almost as if the electronic device would explode otherwise, he set the remote control on the couch beside him, leaned back and rubbed the heel of both palms over his eyes. He looked over at the clock in the kitchen. He had been zoned for almost ten minutes. He snorted softly at the thought.

"Mr. Sandburg," a voice called out from the hallway.

Andrew.

Of course.

He stood and stumbled toward the door, leaning his forehead against the wood and taking a deep breath to center himself before straightening and opening the portal to his future.

"You've watched the tape?" Andrew asked gently.

Blair nodded and stood to one side to let the attorney into the loft.

"I wasn't sure you would."

"I almost didn't," Blair whispered.

"Curiosity won out?"

Blair gave him a small smile and nodded.

"William hoped it might."

Blair moved as if in a trance to the kitchen table. "What now?" he whispered, gingerly lowering himself into a chair.

"There are some papers for you to sign," Andrew answered quietly, taking the chair next to him.

"What... what sort of papers?"

"Well, it depends, really. Do you want your father's bequest?"

Blair blinked at the man. "Do I have to decide now?"

Andrew shook his head and laid his hand over Blair's. "No. There's no hurry." The lawyer leaned back and took a business card from his breast pocket. "Call me whenever you're ready to talk."

Blair took the card and stared at it blankly, turning it nervously in his hands.

"If I don't hear from you within the next thirty days, I'll give you a call. If you don't mind," Andrew added as an afterthought.

Blair nodded again, distractedly.

Andrew stood and gently patted Blair on the shoulder, then gathered his briefcase and once again let himself out of the loft.

As the door snicked closed, Blair released the breath he wasn't even aware he had been holding. He was surprised to realize his mind wasn't overloaded with questions; instead... he was numb.

Woodenly, he pushed himself up from the table and moved to the phone, unconsciously dialing.

"Hello," a voice sang brightly from the other end of the phone.

"Mom," he whispered, as if speaking too loud would shatter him.

"Hey, Sweetie."

Blair couldn't bring himself to initiate conversation.

"Blair?" Naomi's voice lowered, her concern flooding through the phone.

"He... he died."

"Jim? Oh my god. Baby, I..."

"No," Blair said, raising his voice briefly, cutting her off.

A moment of silence passed between them. "Then who, sweetie?" she asked quietly, seeming to understand how fragile he was at the moment.

Blair opened his mouth to speak, but no noise came out. He tried again. "My... my..." He cleared his throat. "My father," he finally whispered.

"What?"

"He told me."

"He told you?"

He nodded his head, but said nothing.

After a moment, she said quietly, "He said he wouldn't."

"I guess he changed his mind," he whispered.

Naomi remained silent on the other end of the line.

"How... how could you let me... live with my... my brother and never say a word?" Blair asked, feeling an anger slowly churn within him.

"I swore to him I'd never tell you. I told him I'd..."

"Yet you took money from him," Blair cut in angrily.

"Of course I took money from him," she responded hotly. "I was a single mother in the seventies. I may have been young, but I wasn't an idiot."

Blair blinked back hot tears. "Did you... did you ever love him?"

There was silence on the other end of the line. When she finally answered, Naomi spoke very softly. "Yes, baby. I know you have no reason to believe me, but you were conceived in love. Sometimes though... sometimes love isn't enough."

Blair gasped for breath, his sinuses clogging with suppressed emotions.

"I'll be there tomorrow," she said quietly.

"NO!" He coughed, embarrassed by his outburst. "I... uh... I need some time to process this."

Naomi remained silent for nearly a minute. "I hear that," she said, finally.

"Thank you," he whispered, meaning it; knowing he had hurt her, but not sure what else to do or say.

"Will you be okay?" she asked softly.

Blair had to smile. He knew what people said about his mom, about her skills as a parent, and a lot of it was true; but his one universal truth was that his mother loved him.

"Yes," he answered simply, then added, "I'm okay now. I just have to..."

"Process."

"Exactly."

"I love you, Blair."

"I love you too, mom." And with that, he hung up the phone.

He stood, lost, beside the kitchen island, before remembering the tape. He turned and retrieved it, and put it his bedroom. His bedroom... in his brother's home. He blinked, then violently shook his head before he could zone again.

Change your dissertation topic, son. You understand why, right?

"Yeah, dad, I guess I do," he said softly. Maybe it was for the best. He had been postponing writing his thesis because he knew, had known for almost two years, that he wouldn't be able to turn in the research. It was too dangerous. Brackett had proven that fact beyond a shadow of a doubt. Besides, he had discovered that he was Jim's guide, as Brackett had also so aptly put it. He knew he couldn't walk away from Jim and so had put himself in a holding pattern until he could decide what to do. But this final straw asked the ultimate question: could he look at his own flesh and blood with the cold calculating gaze of a scientist? He shook his head, silently answering his own question.

He walked back to the kitchen table and sat down in front of his blue books. Maybe, he could tell his dissertation committee that the subject had formally withdrawn his permission to be used in his study. A white lie. An obfuscation. One that was far more believable than the ongoing saga that was his life.

The committee would not be happy. Changing topics so late in the game was considered academic suicide, but he honestly didn't know what else to do. He had once told Jim that he had enough information for ten dissertations, and he did, and not all about his sentinel. Suddenly, the enclosed structure of the modern day police department looked like a very viable alternative.

He closed his eyes. If he lived and breathed academia for the next two weeks, he could possibly get his proposal and a few opening chapters to his dissertation advisor. He now had sufficient motivation to finish.

But what about being Jim's ride-along? Once the dissertation was complete, the social lie they had used to maintain the status quo would be null and void. What were they going to do?

He lowered his head onto the blue books.

"God, William," he muttered. "Couldn't you have left me in ignorance?"


"Blair."

"Hmm?"

"Come on, buddy, you need to wake up."

"Five more minutes."

Jim's warm laugh surrounded him as strong hands guided him back against his chair. He whimpered as blood flowed back through oxygen-deprived muscles.

"Sit still," Jim commanded quietly, gently massaging his neck and shoulders. Blair closed his eyes and lost himself in the soothing touch. After several minutes, Jim asked, "Better?"

"Yeah. Thanks, man."

Jim patted his shoulders and moved into the kitchen toward the refrigerator.

"How... uh... how..."

Jim pulled out two bottles of beer and shrugged as he closed the refrigerator door with his hip. "He split everything between Stephen and I pretty equally. He gave Sally the house, which is only right since it's been her home for nearly thirty years."

"That's good."

He handed Blair a bottle. "He also left her some stocks. She should be very comfortable for the rest of her life."

Blair nodded encouragingly.

"He made Stephen CEO of the company."

"Are you okay with that?"

"Yeah, I am." Jim took a deep swig of beer. "What do I know about business anyway? Besides, he gave us each equal voting rights. Sort of the final revenge, I suppose. He'd been dropping hints about wanting me to retire from the force and join him. I guess this way he gets his wish. Now, I have to be involved with his company to some extent."

"Does that bother you?"

"No. I mean, he spent his whole life building it from the ground up; the least I can do is to honor that memory by making sure everything flows smoothly -- you know, help Stephen out when I can."

"So, are you each fifty percent shareholders?" Blair asked, turning the cold bottle over in his hands, but not opening it.

Jim shook his head. "Forty-five. Apparently, he sold ten percent somewhere along the line."

"So who has the other percentage?" Blair asked, even though he knew instinctively who owned the other shares.

"Don't know. Stephen will find out on Monday."

Monday. He had until Monday. What happened to letting me decide if I want to tell them or not, Blair thought angrily.

"You think you might do it?"

"What? Retire and go into business?" Jim asked, leaning against the island.

"Yeah. It would certainly be safer."

Jim shrugged. "But who would watch the tribe?"

Blair smiled brilliantly at him.

"Who knows? Maybe eventually. It's nice to know, at least, I have options."

Blair nodded.

"Of course, I'll probably never want for money again."

"Left you a chunk of change, did he?"

Jim took another swallow of beer. "You could say that."

Blair stood and moved to his friend... his brother. Laying an arm on Jim's forearm, he asked gently, "Hungry?"

Jim smiled softly at him, his appreciation of the comfort being given to him clearly written on his face. "Yeah, I could eat."

Blair moved around the kitchen island. "Is Stephen okay?"

"It's hard to say." Jim shrugged briefly, when Blair turned toward him. "He wasn't quite as far removed emotionally as I am... was," he corrected. "He seemed lost somehow."

"But he knows you're there for him, right?"

"Yes, mom, he does." Jim smiled gently at him again.

"Sorry."

"Don't be. You wouldn't be you otherwise."

"Thanks, man. Now go sit down while I get dinner thrown together."


Blair flew through the front door and the loft and threw his backpack on his bed. He moved back into the kitchen, and pulled out the big stainless steel pot and filled it with water, putting it on the burner and turning the gas on beneath it.

Pasta.

Pasta was good.

Quick. Simple.

Unlike his day had been.

Professor Harlan had NOT been pleased by the news that Blair's research subject had revoked his agreement to be used in his doctorate.

Blair knew he had the gift of the Irish when it came to talking himself out of situations, but he had never worked as hard as he had during the meeting with his advisor. In the end, his arguments had worked. Harlan was going to meet with the dissertation committee in two days with the outline of Blair's proposal and his timeline to finish the revised thesis.

Now all he had to do was talk to Jim. He opened the freezer and pulled out a bag of shrimp.

The object of his thoughts walked through the door and tossed his keys into the wicker basket. "Hey, Chief."

"Hey, Jim. Dinner should be ready in about fifteen minutes."

"Great. I'm starved."

"How was work?"

"Same old, same old."

"In other words, blood, guts and boredom."

"Got it in one." Jim chuckled, looking over Blair's shoulder on the way to the refrigerator. "Hey, Shrimp! What's the occasion?"

"What do you mean what's the occasion?"

"You're feeding me shrimp, shrimp." Jim tugged on his ponytail. "What? You want to ask a favor or something? Want to borrow the truck?"

Blair turned and grinned impishly at the older man. "So you're saying if I want to borrow the truck all I have to do is feed you shrimp?"

"No, that's not what I'm saying."

"It sure sounded that way to me, oh great sentinel."

Jim reached for him, but Blair danced easily out of range. Jim's grin promised payback, but Blair just stuck his tongue out at him.

"So, what's up, Junior?"

"Well, I was hoping you might have some time to sit down with me after dinner and..."

The phone rang, cutting off the rest of his thought.

Jim reached for the phone and Blair turned and bent into the refrigerator, pulling tomatoes, onions and squash out of the vegetable bins. His grin faded as he stood and noticed Jim's hard stare.

"I'll call you back as soon as I find out," Jim said firmly, his eyes never leaving Blair's face as he pushed the end button.

Blair swallowed hard, putting the vegetables on the cutting board.

A full minute of silence passed, neither man sure how to broach the subject before them.

"So, shrimp?"

If the circumstances had been different, Blair might have smiled, but at the moment smiling was the furthest thing from his mind. "I... I wanted to talk to you after dinner about a couple of things."

"Things?" the word was repeated icily.

Blair dropped his gaze and toyed with the vegetables before him.

"Like why you own ten percent of the stock in my father's company?"

Blair closed his eyes. So it was true. He had hoped, prayed even, that William wouldn't be so obvious about things, but apparently the knowledge of his death had given the man courage to face issues he couldn't do in life. "Yes."

"Maybe we should talk now." Not a question, but a statement, almost an order.

Blair nodded, turning the heat off under the water and putting the shrimp back in the freezer. He swallowed hard, and nodded his head in a barely perceptible motion toward the front room. He watched Jim's jaw clench, but the older man moved to the couch. Blair made a detour to his room and got the tape off his desk.

Jim was frowning when he returned.

Blair walked into the front room and paced beside the coffee table, desperately looking for a way to start the conversation.

"Sandburg," Jim growled.

Blair stopped dead in his tracks. He took a deep breath and blushed at the shuddering quality of the air passing over his lips. "On Friday," he began, not looking at Jim, "while you were at the attorney's office, I had a visitor. It was a lawyer from your dad's firm. I told him you had already left, but he said he didn't want to talk to you, he wanted to talk to me. He gave me this." Blair thrust the tape toward Jim, feeling like a little kid as he did so.

Jim frowned again, but took the tape. "What's this?"

Blair blinked, his mind suddenly going blank. "Just watch the tape, Jim," he whispered, then turned and headed for the door.

"Where are you going?" Jim demanded, although his tone was much softer.

"I'll be back. I just want you to have some time to process this on your own."

Before Jim could agree or disagree, Blair left, practically flinging himself down the stairs. Once he stepped onto Prospect, he stopped, unsure where to go. Andrew had gone for cappuccino while he had watched the tape, but he knew caffeine was the last thing his system needed. He glanced at his watch, then decided a walk was what he needed. Turning left, he headed for the harbor.


Blair looked at his watch again. It had been forty minutes since he left the loft. He closed his eyes, shaking his head over his cowardice. But knowing he couldn't postpone the inevitable, he headed home.

"Jim," he called out as soon as he opened the door.

Silence greeted him. The loft was dark as if no one had been there for hours. The vegetables which he had left on the cutting board were gone.

"Jim," he whispered, even though he knew he was alone.

Rejection.

Had he really expected anything different?

He shook his head. Not really.

He squeezed his eyes shut, recognizing the lie immediately.

"Hey, why break a trend?" he tried to say cheerfully, but his voice cracked.

How many times had Naomi promised him a family? How many times had she involved a man in their lives, the man's family, only to leave because commitment cramped her style? How many times had potential brothers and sisters been torn away from him?

Why should this situation be any different?

He unconsciously pressed one hand over his heart, hoping to ease the pain.

Because this time it hadn't been Naomi's decision.

This time he was the one being rejected.

He swayed, falling back against the front door.

"Okay, first things first," he whispered, straightening against the door, determined not to feel sorry for himself. He moved quickly to his room and stuffed an empty backpack with a pair of jeans, underwear, a couple of shirts, his toothbrush and deodorant. He scanned the room, and picked up his laptop and a couple of text books, then picked up his other pack and moved back into the front room. Dropping his things on the table, he found a piece of paper, flipped it over and rummaged in his pack for a pen.

I, Blair Sandburg, do hereby transfer and convey all interest in Ellison Corporation to James Joseph Ellison.

He quickly signed and dated the document, gathered up his belongings and moved to the front door. He would come back when Jim was at work and get the rest of his things. Best to make a clean break of things. He was suddenly glad he hadn't put off talking with Harlan. Switching dissertation topics was now more advantageous than ever. He would leave Jim all of his sentinel notes and observations to do with as he willed. It was the least he could do for blood. He'd write Jim an email and explain the switch, to let Jim know his secret was safe.

It was for the best.

He had Naomi, anything more would be an embarrassment of riches.

Right?


Blair paced back and forth in front of his desk, knowing if he stayed in the little room, posing as an office, he would never be able to quiet the demons whispering in his ear.

Research.

He smiled, relieved, grateful to be able to channel his energy in another direction. If the committee accepted his change of topics, and he believed they would given that the primary subject was no longer available, he knew his life was going to be spent in the library for the next several weeks. He might as well get a jump-start on the process. With a goal in mind, he quickly gathered his backpack and headed for the catacombs.


"Blair," a warm male voice sing-songed gently in his ear.

Blair floated languidly in the hazy mist between the world of wakefulness and morpheous. "Hmmm?"

"Why are you here?"

"Research," he mumbled.

"It's midnight."

"Hmmm."

"You need to go home."

"No home. No family."

//"What's he talking about?"//

//"I don't know."//

"Blair, you need to come home."

"No home. Jim's gone. Didn't want a brother."

//"Oh, shit."//

//"What?"//

//"I wasn't there when he got home."//

//"So? You left him a note. He even wrote on the back of it."//

//"I doubt he read it."//

//"Well, wake him up."//

//"No, wait, Stephen."//

//"What?"//

//"We need to ask him a few more questions."//

//"What? He's not even awake."//

//"I know, but when he's in this state he always tells the truth. It's better than sodium pentathol."//

//"Are you serious?"//

//"Yeah, watch."//

"Blair?"

"Hmmm?"

"Who sent me the stripper for my birthday?"

"Stephen did, along with the guys."

"Did you chip in any money?"

"Ten bucks. It was all I had."

//"Damn, that's scary. Will he remember he ratted out his buddies?"//

//"Doubtful."//

//"I'll have to remember this trick."//

"Blair."

"Hmmm?"

"Do you want to be my brother?"

"More than anything."

//"Could he be any more adorable?"//

//"Adorable? Did you say adorable?"//

//"I bet he was a cute kid."//

//"Yeah, he was. Naomi showed me pictures once."//

//"Naomi. That bitch..."//

//"Let's not go down that path right now. Okay?"//

//"Sorry."//

"Blair."

"Hmmm?"

"I know you want to be Jim's brother, but do you want to my brother too?"

"Yes."

//"I'm keeping him."//

//"What?"//

//"I don't care what you say, Jimmy. I'm taking him home."//

//"Over my dead body."//

//"Well, I, at least, want visitation rights."//

//"I think we can arrange something."//

//"Shouldn't we wake him up?"//

//"Yeah. I think we should. But be prepared, Blair is a master at misdirection. Just remember, he's already told us what he wants."//

//"I'll remember."//

//"He can be aggravating."//

//"More than you?"//

//"Doubtful."//

//"Then I'm not worried."//

"Blair."

"Hmmm?"

"Time to get up."

"Five more minutes."

Jim laughed. "Come on, buddy. You need to wake up."

Warm hands gently massaged his shoulders and neck, pulling him against the hard wooden back of his chair. He cried out as the blood rushed through his sleepy muscles.

"You're okay. You just need to wake up."

Blair shook his head to clear his vision, then turned in his chair to see Jim and Stephen standing behind him. His brows knitted momentarily in confusion, but his memory quickly returned. He stood abruptly, spinning to face them; however, his feet got tangled in his backpack straps and he lurched forward.

Both men reached for him, holding him in place as he unraveled his feet.

"Is he always this graceful?" Stephen asked in a teasing voice.

"Hell, this is nothing. You should have seen him after I waxed the floor a couple of months ago."

Stephen laughed. "Says the man who drops his gun all the time."

"You know, you're spending way too much time with Henri and Rafe."

"Best way to get the dirt on you, bro."

Blair leaned against the desk behind him and held up his hands to indicate that he was fine when his brothers released him. "What are you guys doing here?" he asked quietly.

"Looking for you, what else?" Jim frowned, yet his tone was teasing.

"Why?"

"Don't you think we need to talk about Pop's little revelation?"

"No," Blair said, then flinched at the sullenness of his tone.

"Well, we think we do," Jim countered.

"You didn't seem to think so earlier."

Stephen grinned impishly as he held up the piece of paper with Blair's note on it. He turned it around and flashed the other side at Blair.

Blair. I called Stephen. Was on his way. Had a flat tire. Going to pick him up. Be back by 8 p.m. Jim.

Blair dropped his gaze and worried his lower lip with his teeth.

With great deliberation, Stephen tore the piece of paper into tiny bits. "I think I need a chance to woo you before you just willy-nilly give your stock to Jim. I mean, I demand equal time after all."

Blair looked up at the dark haired man.

"I always wanted to have a little brother," Stephen said quietly. "You know, someone I could torture."

Jim chuckled. "You realize that not only are you no longer the little brother, Stevie, you're now the middle brother."

"Well, fuck." Steve breathed out in exasperation. "Isn't life just grand? But hey," he said, brightening, "That means I get to pick on him. I mean, you've been picking on him for almost three years. I demand equal time."

Blair frowned as he watched the exchange before him, his sleepy brain not comprehending what was being said. After a few more moments of nattering at each other, the two older men returned their attention back to him.

"You know, I feel a little left out," Stephen said quietly. "I mean, if you're a sentinel and he's a guide, what in the hell does that make me?"

"What?" Blair breathed out in shock.

Jim stepped forward and laid a hand on Blair's shoulder. "I told Stephen about my abilities six months ago. I thought... I thought he had a right to know. I was worried about Annie, that she might have inherited some of the family genes, you know?"

"And you didn't tell me?"

"At the time..." Jim started, but Blair held up his hand.

"Hey, your life. Right?" He bent over to pick up his backpack, then turned to cram his notebooks into the sack. "You were telling your family. No need to explain."

"I was telling our family."

"No, you weren't, Jim."

"Sandburg..."

"That's right. Sandburg. Not Ellison." Blair viciously yanked on the straps and hoisted the pack over his shoulder. "I thought we were family before, Jim. Obviously, I was wrong." Blair tried to push his way past the older man, but Stephen blocked his path.

Stephen growled menacingly. "You're not going anywhere until we get this straightened out, kid."

"What? Now, all of a sudden, you're interested in a relationship with me? Get real, Stephen. You barely tolerated me before. I was just someone standing in your way to get back to Jim. You had to play nice with me and you did; but don't think for a second I don't know how much you resent me."

"God, damn it, Sandburg," Jim shouted in exasperation.

"No, Jim," Stephen whispered, holding one finger up in his older brother's face. "He's right."

"What?" Jim demanded.

"At first, Jimmy. Only at first. When you were investigating Ben's murder you were doing things so by the book you weren't even remotely approachable. And yet, you seemed to flaunt Blair in front of me every chance you got, as if showing me what I'd missed. And it was easier to be mad at Blair than you. But after a while," Stephen turned and faced the younger man, "I got to know you. You're smart, you're funny and you keep this Neanderthal in line. I haven't resented you in a long time, Blair; and a big part of that is due to your grace in dealing with me when I was being such a jerk."

Blair swallowed hard, but refused to make eye contact. "I need to get out of here."

"Sorry," Stephen said softly. "No can do."

"Look, you can't keep me here." Blair growled, trying to push his way through again, but the rock in front of him refused to budge.

"What's going on in that brain of yours, Professor?" Jim asked gently, removing Blair's backpack from his shoulder.

Blair spun around, grabbing for his bag.

"Come on, Blair, talk to us." Stephen shoved him forward a little bit, into Jim chest.

"What are you afraid of, Blair?" Jim asked, pushing him back into Stephen, while dropping the backpack behind him on the desk.

Blair tried to stay upright, but the two men kept pushing him back and forth between them, demanding he talk. He was tired, cold and hungry, and suddenly having flashbacks of seventh grade. An ache gathered deep within him and by some unspoken command he roared, releasing all the pain and misery within him.

"Why didn't he want me?" he shouted, collapsing, but the cement didn't bang his shins as he was expecting. Instead, he found himself held tightly between the two older men. "Why?" he cried out in pain. "Why?"

"Shhh, Blair, shhh," Jim said quietly, embracing him tighter.

"It wasn't you, Blair. It wasn't," Stephen shushed from the other side.

The two older men knelt, bringing Blair with them as they did.

"You have to understand, Blair," Stephen whispered. "My mother was a bitch. She walked out on us about the time you were born. Dad tried to raise us on his own. It was a complete and utter disaster. What did men know about parenting skills back in the seventies? I have to give him credit though, he did try. He couldn't have handled another child."

"But later..." Blair's chest heaved, trying to contain all the emotions desperately seeking a way out.

"Later, you were your own man," Jim said quietly. "What need did you have of a father? He had already blown it with Stephen and me. I think he was scared."

"But this past Christmas, Blair, he treated you as one of his own. Don't you remember the presents he bought you? And how he couldn't stop listening to your stories? He was trying to get to know you. And for Pop, he was trying hard. At the time, I just figured he was looking for an in to get to Jimmy. But now, I can see the attempt for what it really was."

"He did love you, Blair," Jim insisted quietly. "He was scared, so scared that he would blow it again, scared that by blowing it he'd lose us all a second time. I don't condone what he did, but I understand it."

"So do I," Stephen said quietly.

Blair's fists clenched in both men's shirts. "I don't want his stock or his money."

"I know. It doesn't make up for not having a father all those years, but don't reject the only thing he had left to give," Jim said quietly.

"Give us a chance, Blair. We're not half bad," Stephen teased, elbowing the younger man playfully. "We're not half good, but we're not half bad either."

"Professor? Are you okay?" a concerned earnest voice asked from nearby.

All three men looked around in shock at the wide-eyed blonde standing between two sets of shelves.

"Yeah, Kelly. I'm okay."

"Do you want me to call the police, Professor?"

"I am a cop," Jim growled.

"Then why are you sitting on Professor Sandburg?" the girl demanded.

"Hey, they're not heavy. They're my brothers."

"Oh. My. God. He did NOT just say that," Stephen said incredulously.

"I think he did. I don't believe it, but I'm pretty sure he did."

"You realize what that means?"

"Noogies for Blair."

"Kelly, run! Get help," Blair laughed, desperately trying to get off the floor, not realizing the girl had already left, shaking her head in fond exasperation.

The men rolled around for several minutes, each trying to get a better hold on the others. Finally, from the bottom of the pile, Stephen asked, "Hey, how did that student get a drop on you, Sentinel-boy?"

"Yeah, Jim, how did she get the drop on you?"

"What is this? Pick on Jim time?"

Blair and Stephen looked at each other, then at Jim, then back at each other. "Yes."

Jim sighed heavily, which made the two younger men laugh.

"You guys want to get off of me now," Stephen whined, wiggling to dislodge them.

"No," Jim and Blair said together.

"You know," Blair said quietly. "I could, maybe, get used to this." He looked shyly up at Jim, then down at Stephen, bouncing once for effect.

"You'd better, cause we're not going anywhere."

"Except to the emergency room," came a quiet whimper from the bottom of pile.

"Is he always this much of whiner?" Blair asked as Jim stood up, taking Jim's hand and allowing the older man to pull him to his feet.

"Yes, like you wouldn't believe."

Both Blair and Jim reached down to help Stephen up. They stood quietly, each grinning shyly at the other.

"Family?" Jim asked, putting his hand in the center of their little circle.

Stephen nodded and put his hand on top of Jim's. "Family."

"Family," Blair whispered, putting his hand on top of Stephen's, then laughing as each of them tried to get their hand on top of the pile.

Maybe an embarrassment of riches wouldn't be such a bad thing after all.

~*~*~ End ~*~*~


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