"Can we go somewhere?" little Blair asked, looking up from the laptop. He straightened, rubbing his back and shifting uncomfortably on the cushion.
Sandburg and Jim sat at the kitchen table, engaged in quiet discussion. They both looked up, seeing little Blair staring at them. Jimmy seemed lost in the the world of the television. Sandburg studied the young sentinel critically, observing the stiffness of his back and shoulders and shallow breathing.
"Huh?" the boy flinched slightly and looked back at the two men. "What?"
"What did the guy on the television just say?" Sandburg asked.
"He said 'Wax on. Wax off.' Why?"
"Just checking," Sandburg said. He'd wanted to make sure Jimmy hadn't zoned on the television. Well, he had zoned, but just the normal zoning that kids did when placed in front of the tube.
"Can we?" little Blair asked again.
"Where would you like to go?" Jim asked.
"Um..." he raised his eyes to the ceiling in thought. "Maybe, uh, the zoo or the park. The beach? A playground? Are there other kids here?"
"In Cascade? Yeah, there are plenty of kids in Cascade," Jim said.
"How about we go to the zoo?" Sandburg said. "But, Jimmy... JIMMY!"
"If we go to the zoo, you have to remember what I told you about the dials, okay?"
Jimmy looked back at him. "Okay. The zoo is a place where they have a lot of animals, right?"
Sandburg nodded. "Yeah, I think you'll like it. They even have a duck pond and a starfish petting pond."
"But we also need to go get you two some clothes," Jim said. "So why don't you shut off the computer and television and go get your shoes on?"
"Oh man! This is too cool!" little Blair exclaimed as he ran up to the barrier separating the zoo patrons from the panda bears. "Those are real panda bears? I've never seen pandas, just on TV! Did you know panda's are not really bears? They're more like raccoons. Did you know that pandas eat for 14 hours a day! Did you know --"
Jim laughed, casting an amused glance at the taller Blair standing next to him. "I guess the Learning Channel is in your genes, Chief."
"Yeah, that's one of the three channels we got at the camp," little Blair said. "Only I think it was mostly recorded stuff because they showed a lot of it over again."
"Yeah, boring," Jimmy said, strolling casually up to the wall. He paused a moment, studying the animals, then turned back to the two adults. "Do they have tigers here? Or alligators?"
"I think they have both," Sandburg said, "and they'll be plenty of time to see everything. We're lucky to see the Panda's. They're on loan from the San Diego Zoo." He slapped his ZOO MAP GUIDE. "It says they're here until the end of the month."
Little Blair read the plaque on the outside of the Panda enclosure and then moved eagerly onto the next exhibit -- the Coyotes. He stopped and read the plaque, his finger moving along the the lines as he read. "Coyote. Canis latrans. The Coyote lives in all life zones of the Desert Southwest from low valley floors to the crest of the highest mountains, but especially on open plains, grasslands and high mesas. To most Native American cultures, the clever, crafty and mischievous Coyote was known as the 'Little Wolf.' Closely related to the wolf, Coyotes mate for life. More often you will hear a coyote rather than see one. Its howl can be very deceiving. Due to the way the sound carries, it seems as though it is in one place, where the coyote is really some place else. Coyotes have two howling seasons. The first is in January and February. During this time they are trying to find a mate by howling. The second season is in September and October. During this period the female is calling to her offspring. The young then call back in unison. Coyotes have become a subject of controversy in areas where they thrive. Environmentalists firmly believe that the Coyotes are necessary to preserve the balance of nature. Some sportsmen feel the Coyote is responsible for the declines in game species. Meanwhile, despite the constant hunting and intensive efforts to reduce the Coyote population, on a quiet night the song of the 'Little Wolf' may still be heard throughout the Desert Southwest."
Jimmy peered over little Blair's shoulder at the plaque, then looked up, studying the grey creatures behind the barrier. "What happens when a Coyote's mate dies?" he asked, looking back at Jim and Sandburg.
Ellison shrugged. "I guess it finds a new mate."
Little Blair looked back at the two adults. "Can --" he stopped abruptly, his eyes growing wide as he stared at something past the two men.
"What?" Jim turned to follow the kid's gaze, but all he saw was a large family taking pictures of the monkeys, a cotton candy vendor, and an employee sweeping up trash.
Little Blair took off like a rocket past the two men. "Cotton candy! That's cotton candy! Can I have some, Big Jim? Can I? Please?!"
Sandburg grinned broadly. "Big Jim," he teased, needling his friend in the ribs. "It suits you."
Jim tried to muster a glare, but witnessing Sandburg's amusement and listening to little Blair's enthused pleas for candy broke through his control, and he found himself chuckling as he reached for his wallet.
Little Blair skidded to a halt in front of the vendor and leaned forward, bracing his hands on his thighs as he struggled for breath. The vendor smiled down at the young man and gestured toward the candy. "You want some cotton candy, I take it?"
Blair nodded, short of breath. "Y-Yes, sir. Yes. Do all the colors taste the same?" He asked, finally straightening and catching his breath.
"Yes, they all taste the same."
Little Blair looked back to see Jim handing the vendor several dollars. Blair smiled at the older man and pointed to the fluffiest one he could find. "I'll take that blue one, sir."
"Do you want one, Jimmy?" Ellison asked.
"Yeah, sure," Jimmy said. "I'll have the white one. Thanks... uh... Jim."
Ellison paid the man, and the vendor handed each child his candy. "Here you go. Remember to use the trash cans when you're finished."
"Yes, sir," Blair said, his eyes wide as he stared at the huge ball of candy that dwarfed his head.
Three hours later, the exhausted foursome stopped for lunch in the zoo's food court. The boys had begged for ice cream, but the adults refused, telling the children they needed to get something nutritious in their stomachs and stop filling up on junk food. "You're too pale, kid," Jim had told little Blair. "Whatever they were feeding you at the camp obviously hasn't been doing its job. You need to get some meat in you."
Jim sat down in the plastic chair with an audible sigh. Sandburg simply grinned and set his tray on the outdoor table. The two children took up positions next to one another at the table, their eyes focused on their food. Sandburg watched them, delighted to see them discover what was for them a new world. Almost every taste of food and every whiff of a scent was new. They'd led such narrow, sheltered lives in the camp. A shame, Sandburg thought. Not at all like my life with Naomi. As a child, he'd followed Naomi all over the country, and even across a few international borders. He'd seen all sides of life and been exposed to many different cultures. The two children sitting next to him, however, had lived their entire lives within walls, finding out about the world through their classes and the television -- learning only what the camp wanted them to learn.
Three years, Sandburg mused. If they're three years old, they've learned incredibly quickly. Hell, even for kids their age they're far above average. Most seven year-olds don't know what "diploid" means or how to hack into protected computer systems.
"Are you remembering to keep those dials down, Jimmy?" Sandburg asked.
The young boy looked up at him and nodded. "Yeah, thanks. They never taught me that in the camp. It's pretty neat." He looked at Jim. "Do you have special senses?"
"Shhh," Sandburg hissed softly. "Jimmy, out here, we kind of have to keep yours and Jim's special senses a secret."
"Why?" little Blair asked.
"Because most people don't have special senses."
"So?" Jimmy inquired. "There are some people who are really smart or who can play music better than others. They make money off of it, right? They don't keep it a secret."
"Right. Not everyone is all alike," little Blair said. "So why do we have to keep Jimmy's talent a secret?"
Sandburg sighed, glancing up at Jim. The Sentinel seemed content to let him handle the questions. "Well," Sandburg began, "having special senses is a bit different. Some people would want to find out all they could about your senses. If it got out, you and Jim would have no privacy, and Jim would have a hard time functioning as a police officer. Do you understand?"
Jimmy shrugged. "I guess so. If you don't want me to say anything about them, I won't. No big deal."
"Good," Sandburg said, smiling. "Now eat your food."
"Oh wow," little Blair uttered in an awe-struck tone, his hands cupped over something on the table.
"What is it?" Ellison asked.
"A spider," the young boy replied. "I thought they'd be bigger. They always look big on TV."
"You've never seen a spider?' Sandburg asked.
"Not in real life," little Blair replied, peering through the crack in his fingers. He cupped his hands together, forming a small cage, and lifted his arms to Jimmy. "Look, Jimmy. You wanna hold -- Ow!" He flinched, jerking his hands and dropping the spider onto the table. "I think it bit me!" He pouted, indignant, as he rubbed the palm of his hand. The spider lay curled in a ball on the table, unmoving. Blair stopped rubbing his hand to look at the little creature. Slowly, his bottom lip jutted out, and his brow furrowed as he leaned over the small arachnid. "It's not moving, Big Jim. How come it's not moving?"
Jim brushed the spider off the table, letting it fall to the cement. "You shouldn't play with spiders, Blair."
Little Blair's face crumbled, his eyes following the spider to the cement. "It's still not moving. Why isn't it moving?"
"I think you killed it," Jimmy said.
Damn. Damn. Damn, Sandburg thought. He knew what was coming. He remembered the first time he'd killed something. He'd been eight years old and staying at a commune temporarily with Naomi. One of the woman had a tame mouse that she let run loose. Granted, not the most healthy thing in the world, considering the rodent hadn't had shots and lived practically wild. At least it never bit anybody. He'd woken up one morning to find the little creature sitting on his cheek, but it surprised him and he reacted instinctively, swatting at the thing. He remembered watching it sail through the air off the bed and drop to the floor. It lay there, struggling to breath and twitching, making little squeaking noises, and he'd picked it up and cradled it until it finally died. Naomi had found him sobbing over the small animal. It was one of his worst childhood memories.
When little Blair's sobs came, they were just as heart-wrenching as his had been. Sandburg moved from his chair and crouched in front of the boy, pulling him into a firm embrace.
"Shhhh. It's okay. It was just an accident."
Little Blair wrapped his arms around Sandburg's neck and buried his face in Blair's chest, crying hard.
"Hey, hey," Jim said, catching Sandburg's eye. "It's okay, Blair. It's just a spider."
Sandburg shook his head at Jim. He knew the boy wouldn't understand Jim's logic. After the tears were spent, then Sandburg would sit the kid down and have a talk with him about life and death.
"Come on, Blair, it's okay. Don't cry," Jimmy said, patting Blair's shoulder.
The young Sentinel looked confused, almost afraid, as though he'd never really seen Blair cry so hard before. Blair just continued to sob against Sandburg's chest, and that seemed to truly disturb Jimmy. He finally looked away, his eyes scanning the area quickly. Finally, he rose from his chair, barely making a sound as he hurried to a bush several yards away. His hands closed over something, and he jogged back to the table. Little Blair seemed oblivious as Jimmy exchanged a nearly identical-looking live spider for the dead one.
Quickly, Jimmy patted his sobbing friend on the back as he pocketed the dead spider. "Look, Blair! It's alive! I think you just knocked the wind out of it, that's all."
Little Blair's sobs diminished, and he raised his head to look at the spider as it scampered away. He sniffled, wiping at his eyes, watching as the spider disappeared beneath a trash bin. "It's alive," he whispered, a tiny smile tugging at his eyes. He looked at Jimmy, then at Sandburg. "I didn't kill it. It's alive."
"No, you didn't kill it, Blair," Jimmy said, "but I don't think it likes us too much."
Blair sniffled one more time, wiping his nose on his sleeve. "That's okay. I wouldn't like me either if I were the spider. I didn't mean to hurt it. I just wanted to see it."
"I know, Blair," Sandburg said. "No harm done, right? Why don't you finish your food?"
"If you finish your hot dog, you can have some ice cream," Jim said.
Sandburg looked up, catching something in Jim's tone, and was surprised to see a hint of redness around the Sentinel's eyes.
Thanks to Jimmy's subterfuge, the good mood returned and the guys enjoyed the rest of the day. Before they left, Jim gave each boy $5 to spend at the zoo's store, then they hit the mall in search of clothes for the kids. It was obvious that little Blair wouldn't last much longer. It had been a long day, full of activity, and although Jimmy seemed like he could go strong for several more hours, little Blair looked ready to drop. He dragged his feet as he followed Jim and Sandburg up to the register, and his face had lost quite a lot of color. Frankly, the young boy had both men worried. Jim placed a hand on little Blair's forehead, frowning when he felt the slight fever.
"Okay, time to get you home and in bed," he said, taking the bag of clothes the cashier handed to him.
"'Kay," little Blair mumbled, leaning against Jim's leg. "I am kinda tired." He yawned, then coughed and swayed slightly.
"Okay, up you go," Jim said, handing the large bag to Sandburg and sweeping the kid into his arms. "We'll be home soon."
Little Blair nodded, his head dropping against Jim's chest as his eyelids fluttered closed.
"Goodnight," the cashier said, smiling at the men. "Tough day, eh?" She winked, jerking her chin toward the small bundle in Jim's arms.
"Yeah," Sandburg said, smiling. "Big day at the zoo."
They got the kids home a little after sunset. Both were too tired to make dinner, but they weren't really hungry, anyway. The kids, they figured, had filled up on enough junk at the zoo and probably didn't need anymore food for the day. Jim carried little Blair into the room and lowered him onto the side of the bed near the wall so that Jimmy wouldn't have to climb over the kid when he went to bed.
Trying not to wake the kid, Jim gently removed little Blair's shoes, jeans, and shirt. His eyes immediately focused on the nasty bruise that darkened the child's right side, and it took him a moment before he remembered the fight the two kids had had last night over the remote control. Had Jimmy hit little Blair hard enough to cause this kind of bruising, or did little Blair just bruise easily? Jim clenched his jaw and decided he'd have a little talk with Jimmy about controlling his temper.
"You neo-hippie witch-doctor punk!" Jim spat, lifting Sandburg by the scruff of his collar and slamming him against the wall.
Jim's face colored at the memory. Okay, so maybe he needed to work on controlling his temper a little bit better, too. How many times had he lashed out at Sandburg -- both physically and verbally? There was that other time on the train when Blair had joked about Jim's symptoms mimicking the "change in life". Again, that smart-alec remark had caused Jim's temper to flare, and he'd slammed the kid against the wall, revelling in the look of fear that had flashed quickly over Sandburg's face.
Looking now at the younger versions of him and Blair highlighted the differences between him and his partner, and Jim didn't like what he saw. The comment Simon had made that morning came back to Jim. When Sandburg had told the Captain that he was giving the boys a little lesson on "compromise," Simon had thrown a look at Jim and said something like, "Well, you're the expert on that, Sandburg." At the time, Jim hadn't really paid attention to the remark. Now it hit him like a knife. Sandburg did always seem to be the one doing the bending, and Jim took that for granted.
He tucked the covers around little Blair and then spun around, walking stiffly out of the room. Jimmy sat on the couch next to Sandburg, flipping through the channel's on the television.
"Jimmy," Ellison growled.
The pair on the couch twisted around to look at him. Jim saw the confusion in Sandburg's eyes as he realized Jim's mood had darkened.
"Yeah?" the boy asked.
"Front and center now!" Jim said, pointing to a spot on the floor directly in front of him.
Jimmy glanced uncertainly at Blair, who gave him a little nudge off the couch. Reluctantly, the boy slid off the couch and meandered over to Jim.
"Yes, sir?" he asked, looking up warily at Jim.
"Do you remember when you hit Blair last night because he wouldn't give you the remote control?"
Jimmy swallowed and looked down at the floor. "Yeah."
"Come here, and be quiet!" He grabbed Jimmy by the arm and dragged him into the room. He heard Sandburg move from the couch and follow him and Jimmy to the bed. Slowly, Jim pulled the covers away from little Blair, exposing the ugly black-and-purple mottling on the kid's ribcage. "This is what you did," Jim whispered. "If I ever catch you hitting Blair again, the punishment I give you will make you wish you were back at the camp scrubbing the bathroom. Got that?"
Jimmy nodded quickly, his cheeks flushed. "Y-Yes, sir."
Jim looked up at Sandburg, seeing the frown of disapproval on his partner's face as he stared at the large bruise on the child.
"Now get into those new pajamas of yours and into bed."
"Yes, sir," Jimmy whispered, and the two men retreated from the room, leaving the boys alone.
Out in the living room, Sandburg turned to Jim. "He didn't mean to hurt him, Jim."
Jim nodded. "I know. Still doesn't excuse his actions, though."
Blair nodded in agreement. "I know." A soft smile touched his lips. "So how does it feel to be a father?"
Jim looked up sharply, catching the twinkle of amusement in Sandburg's eyes. He found himself returning the smile. "I have a whole new appreciation for Simon." He glanced up toward his room, then back at the couch, then, finally, at Blair. "You take my bed tonight."
Sandburg raised his hands and shook his head, "No, Jim --"
"Fair is fair, Sandburg," Jim said, heading for the stairs to his room. "I'll just get out of these clothes, then the room's all yours for the night, and don't argue with me because if you don't sleep up here tonight, I'll camp out on the floor. You've given up your room, so we'll just alternate between the bed. Okay?"
Blair's smile returned. "Yeah. Okay. Thanks, Jim."
It took only a couple of minutes for Jim to slip out of his clothes and into boxers and a T-shirt. He headed back down to the living room just as the phone rang. Sandburg snatched up the cordless on the second ring.
"Hello... Oh, hi Simon. Yeah. Uh-huh. Took them to the zoo... Yeah it was... Uh-huh... Really? Yeah, he's right here."
Jim took the phone from Blair. "Yeah, Simon?"
"Jim, we ran Harrison Carter's name through the computer and contacted the Oregon authorities. Nothing came up on him here, but we got a driver's license and address from the Oregon authorities. They went to check on the guy, but his house has been cleaned out. We also got something on those shipments. Fortunately, there aren't a lot of big laboratory research places in Eugene, and the Oregon authorities checked out all suspects."
A knot formed in Jim's gut. "Sir, did you --"
"No, I didn't tell them about the kids, Jim. I made up a bull story. Anyway, one of the private labs there, GenTel, has ordered a steady supply of chemicals and equipment from various biotech companies. When the authorites went to check out the lab, they found it deserted. It looks like they left in a hurry. They even left behind some very expensive equipment."
"So it's a good bet that was the camp the kids were held at," Jim muttered. "Any indication where they went or who was involved?"
"Not yet, Jim. Did you find any information at all on those files that would help. You mentioned grant applications. Were there any names or addresses?"
"No, it was only part of the application. The write-up for the theory part of their proposed experiments."
Simon sighed. "Well, I had the Oregon authorities take some photos of the place. They'll fed-ex them to me and we can show them to the kids for confirmation."
"Will do, Simon. Thanks."
"You're welcome, Jim... Oh, I know you've probably got your hands full with the kids, but I'm going to need you to come in at least half the day tomorrow to take care of some things."
"No problem, Captain. I'll be there."
"Bingo, sir. They've been spotted with Ellison and Sandburg."
The director sighed. "Damn. How the hell did they know to go to Cascade?"
"My guess, sir? Jimmy overheard us talking."
"I thought you said the white noise generators would take care of that?"
"No. What I said was that the white noise generators would dampen the sounds and give him something closer to normal hearing. The only thing a white noise generator does is mask sounds, it does not eliminate them. It is possible, with effort, to hear past the white noise."
"Great. Just great."
"You should have sound-proofed the room."
"Sure, no problem," the director snapped. "Money grows on trees, after all. This project has cost us too much as it is."
"We all knew going into this how much time and money would be required. Cloning isn't cheap, sir, and cloning humans is outrageously expensive."
"I know," the director barked. "Centrifuge machines, chemical kits, PCRs, in vitro wombs -- hell, no one even has those!"
Jones nodded. "Yes, sir, another invention of ours that would bring us quite a lot of money on its own if we were legit and could publish."
"Not as much money as a cloned Sentinel and guide."
"If you say so. So, uh, how do you want to handle this situation? It's not going to be easy to get to the kids with Ellison and Sandburg around."
"And they're onto us, I know. They found the camp yesterday. We either take out all four of them, or just disappear ourselves."
"I don't think taking them out is the best idea. The Oregonian authorities are already involved. It's just a matter of time before they connect it to us, if they haven't already. Once you unravel one thread of a mystery, the rest become much easier to untangle."
"Thanks for that little bite of wisdom, Doctor Jones."
"I'll be leaving soon. I just have to take care of something first."
"Fine. Have a great life."
"I don't think that's in the cards, anymore."
Jim woke to the sound of footsteps just outside his door. Half a second later, someone knocked. The fog of sleep dampened Jim's sense of smell, and it took him a moment to find the faint scent of cigar.
"Coming, Simon," he said, throwing off the afghan as he rose from the couch. He unlocked the chain and opened the door to reveal his Captain.
"Well, at least I got to knock this time."
Jim smiled, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and moved aside to let the Captain enter. "What brings you here so early, Simon?" he asked, glancing at the VCR clock. 7:00 a.m.
"Just thought I'd check in and see how things are going. Everyone asleep?"
"Do you have that disk from the camp?"
"Yeah, it's upstairs in my room."
Both men looked up to see a bleary-eyes Sandburg blinking down at them from the railing of the upper bedroom. Simon raised his eyebrows and looked at Jim.
"We're trading off since both of the rugrats have his bedroom."
"I see," Simon grunted.
Sandburg's voice went up an octave. "Well, goodmorning to you, Blair... Thank you, Simon... How are you, Blair?.. Oh I'm fine, sir."
Jim chuckled. Simon just scowled. "Good morning, Sandburg."
Blair beamed, then disappeared for a moment. Seconds later he appeared at the top of the staircase dressed in sweats and a white T-shirt. "Thank you, Simon," he said, trotting down to the living room.
A low creak pulled the mens' attention to the lower bedroom, and they saw the two boys standing in the doorway, rubbing their eyes groggily.
"Good morning, you two," Sandburg said.
"'Morning," they rang in unison.
Little Blair blinked, seeming to notice the Captain for the first time. A shy smile touched his mouth, and he ducked back into the room quickly.
Jim raised his eyebrows and threw a look at the Captain. "I guess you just have a way with children, sir... or is it just Blair?"
Before Simon could reply, little Blair reappeared in the doorway with a brown paperbag clutched in his hands. He ducked his head a fraction and shuffled into the living room, stopping a few inches in front of the Captain. The boy craned his neck back and offered another bashful smile as he held out the paper bag.
Simon looked inquiringly at Jim, but the Sentinel just shrugged. "Beats me, sir."
Looking back at the small boy, the Captain asked, "What's this?"
"Big Jim gave us $5 to spend at the zoo yesterday, and I got this for you."
"You got something for me?" Simon repeated, surprised. Slowly, almost suspiciously, he took the bag and opened it, peering inside. A slow smile touched his face, and he reached in to pull out a palm-sized white stone that looked as smooth as glass. One word lay carved in its surface, set in black: JOY.
Simon looked up, confused, but he offered a polite smile to the boy. "Well, thank you, son. This is very nice."
Little Blair smiled. "It's so you won't be mad anymore. The little card at the store said that whoever has that stone will get whatever the stone says." His smile faded, and he looked almost worried for a moment. "Does it work? Are you happy, now?"
Simon looked like he'd just swallowed one of his cigars. A suspicious redness tinged the edges of his eyes, and he studiously avoided Jim's amused gaze. A slow grin parted his mouth, and he knelt down in front of little Blair. "Yeah, son, it works. Thank you."
Little Blair beamed, looking like someone had just pinned a medal on his chest.
Ellison and Sandburg walked into Major Crime with the two children in tow. The low buzz of the bull pen fell to silence as the officers looked up from their respective desks at the newcomers. Jim didn't think any of his fellow detectives would recognize the kids as copies of him and Sandburg, but he didn't like coming in with the children, anyway. However, he had no choice. Simon wanted him to put in a half a day, and there was no way he could find a babysitter on such short notice. Even if he could, he wouldn't risk leaving the two boys alone with a stranger, especially if the researchers from the camp were looking for the kids. He also didn't want to leave the children alone with Sandburg. It was just too dangerous. One unarmed anthropologist, no matter how quick-on-his-feet, would stand little chance against armed men intent on killing or kidnapping the children.
The door to Simon's office opened, and the Captain waved the two men inside. "Ellison. Sandburg. My office."
"And the fun begins," the anthropologist muttered under his breath.
Jim followed his three companions into the office and closed the door behind him.
"Any news, sir?"
"Nothing new since I spoke with you last," Banks said, sinking into the chair behind his desk. He then turned his attention to Jimmy and little Blair. "I'm glad you're both here," he told the boys, offering a reassuring smile. "I have some pictures of a building, and I'm going to show them to you. I want you to tell me if this is the camp where you lived. Okay?"
The two boys nodded. "Okay," Jimmy said.
Simon grabbed a manila folder from his desk, opened it, and withdrew two photographs, holding them up so the boys could inspect them. One showed the outside of a building, taken from several yards away. It was a plain, rectangular brown structure two stories high. The other photo showed a large room, probably taken inside the building.
"Yes, this is it," Jimmy said.
"It's empty?" little Blair asked, looking up at Simon.
The Captain nodded. "Yes. They evacuated the place right after you left. Also, I've got Carter's Oregon state file on my machine. Guy's squeaky clean, unfortunately," he said, turning to the computer. He tapped the keyboard, frowned, then squinted at the machine. "Damn thing," he muttered, pounding the keys a bit harder.
Little Blair moved quietly up behind the Captain, his small face pinched in concentration as he stared up at the screen. Simon didn't notice him until he rolled back the chair in frustration and slammed into the kid. Little Blair gave a small yelp, and Simon jumped from his chair, surprised.
"Sorry, kid. Geez, what are you doing standing there?"
Little Blair rubbed his knee and gazed up at the Captain. "Jus' seeing what was wrong with your computer."
Simon smiled tolerantly. "That's nice, but why don't you go stand over there and --"
"I'd let him take a look at it if I were you, Simon," Sandburg said, his eyes twinkling. "He hacked into the camp's computer system, after all."
Simon's eyes narrowed, and he looked back down at Blair, his expression skeptical. The boy ignored the pseudo-glare and crawled into the seat, grabbing onto the edge of the computer desk and pulling himself and the chair toward the keyboard. He began typing furiously, his eyes darting back and forth between the keyboard and the screen. Minutes later, he pushed the chair away and looked up at the Captain.
"It should work, now, but you'll have to shut it off and start it up again. There was a conflict in the .sys file between two programs, but I fixed that."
Simon grunted and it was obvious that he didn't quite believe the kid. Still, he reached over and shut down the machine, then waited for it to reboot. Little Blair vacated the seat, and Simon sat down just as Windows gave its familiar boot-up chime. He moved the mouse and clicked on the program, opened it, and pounded on the keyboard.
"Well, I'll be..." He looked down in astonishment at the kid. "How would you like a job, son?"
Sandburg cleared his throat and Simon looked up at him in annoyance. "Uh, Simon," the anthropologist began, "you don't even pay me. If you start paying my seven year-old counterpart, I'll have to take that as an insult."
Simon scowled. "You didn't give me a nice stone to make me happy," he said, looking back down at little Blair's smiling face. That comment seemed to have delighted the child to no end. "Isn't that right, Blair?" he asked, pointing to the small white stone sitting on the bookcase shelf against the far wall.
Little Blair nodded, his eyes bright and happy as they hovered over the displayed gift. "Right, sir."
Four hours later, Jim finished with the paper work and other odds and ends at his desk. Simon had agreed -- rather easily -- to keep the kids entertained in his office and away from the prying eyes of the other detective's in the bullpen. Jim didn't want anybody staring too long or too hard at the children for fear that they might just recognize the resemblance.
"Ready to go, Chief?" Jim asked, looking at his partner hunched over his laptop at the edge of the desk.
Blair looked up at him. "Definitely."
Jim walked over to Simon's office and popped his head in. Simon sat at his computer with little Blair in his lap. Jimmy sat on the floor playing a GameBoy that Daryl must have left during one of his visits.
Jim suppressed a smile. He wondered if Simon really thought about the fact that little Blair was actually little Blair. A few more years, and that boy would be the man now sitting at his desk in the bullpen.
Jim didn't dare voice his thoughts, though. "Sandburg and I are finished here. Do you need us to do anything else?"
Simon looked up from the computer. "No, Jim." He waved a hand in the air. "Go on get out of here... and take these rugrats with you," he grumbled, but it was obvious the tone was only for effect.
Jim smiled. "Want to grab some lunch with us, sir?"
"No, unfortunately I can't, Jim. Got a meeting in about half an hour."
Blair leaned forward and clicked the mouse, then twisted around to look at Simon. "Checkmate," he announced innocently as though he were reciting the time of day.
Jim burst into laughter as Simon turned back to glare in flustered consternation at the screen.
"Can we go to the park?" Jimmy asked.
Sandburg drove the Volvo down Fifth Avenue with Jim in the passenger seat and the two boys in the back. Jim had suggested they take Blair's car to the station since the truck had no seatbelts for the children and the anthropologist had readily agreed.
Jim glanced in the rearview mirror at the two kids. "Sure, I suppose we can do that."
"Cool!" little Blair exclaimed. "I've never been to a park before."
"So I figured," Jim muttered dryly. He huffed hard, wondering what kind of men could keep two children locked away from the world in a cold, sterile laboratory.
Thirty minutes later, Sandburg pulled the Volvo into a parking space at the park. The kids hurried eagerly out of the back seat, and Jim and Sandburg rushed after them.
"Hold up!" Ellison commanded.
The two boys skidded to a halt and turned around.
"No running away from us," the Sentinel ordered. "Stay close."
"You think the guys from the camp are after us?" Jimmy inquired.
Ellison's jaw clenched, and he studied the young man. Lying to the kid probably wouldn't accomplish much. "Possibly," he answered. "Let's just be on the safe side. Okay?"
"Okay," Jimmy said matter-of-factly. His eyes drifted over to a group of children playing football on the grass.
"You want to play?" Sandburg asked.
Jimmy didn't move, staring wide-eyed at the group of children.
"Jimmy?" Sandburg prodded.
"Those are children," Jimmy whispered.
Sandburg glanced at Jim. "Yeah."
Jimmy looked up at Sandburg, a slow smile touching his lips. "Can I go play with them?"
Jim grinned. "Sure. Just run on up and ask."
"Me too?!" little Blair asked, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "Can I play, too?"
"Yes, you can both play," Sandburg said.
Jim and Sandburg sat on the park bench watching the children play football with the other kids. Jim kept his senses extended, on alert, ever-aware of the potential threat presented by the "missing" researchers who might very possibly want to get their prize subjects back.
Even as he kept his senses tuned to the periphery, he watched the children play. The two boys had been drafted to opposite teams to keep the even numbers. Jimmy proved a fast-learner, having caught three passes in fifteen minutes. Little Blair, on the other hand, seemed to tire easily, panting much too hard for the level of exertion he was putting into the game.
Sandburg's voice jarred Jim's attention away from the game. "Jimmy's pretty good at football."
Jim flashed a smug grin. "Of course, he is."
The ball sailed through the air, falling right into little Blair's arms. The small boy suddenly found himself pursued by half a dozen boys. With a mixed squeal of excitement and fear, Blair spun around and took off like a bat out of hell, his little legs pounding hard against the ground.
"Run Blair, run!" Jim yelled, jumping up from the bench.
Blair ran, but not fast enough. Jimmy came up fast behind Blair, having some difficulty catching him. Blair tired quickly, though, and Jimmy lunged forward, wrapping his arms around Blair's waiste and sending them both sprawling to the ground. A loud cry of pain escaped little Blair at the moment of impact, and Jimmy leapt away from his friend as though he'd suddenly transformed into a snake.
Oh no. Jim rushed forward in a near-panic, his heart in his stomach. Jimmy hunched over Blair, trying desperately to comfort the crying boy.
"Blair, what's wrong?" Jim asked, panicked, as he dropped next to the boy.
Blair lay curled in a ball, crying hard, his right arm clutched against his chest.
"Come on, buddy, let me see," Jim soothed, gently taking Blair's injured arm in his hands. He didn't try to pry the arm away from Blair's chest, though, afraid of possibly aggravating any injuries if the boy resisted. "I'm just going to feel your arm, okay?"
Little Blair seemed oblivious, rocking back and forth, his eyes clenched shut as tears rolled onto his cheeks.
"What's wrong?" Jimmy asked, one hand placed uncertainly on Blair's shoulder.
"He hurt his arm," Jim answered tersely.
"Is it broken?" Sandburg asked, kneeling down on the grass next to the boys.
"Yeah." Jim's fingers brushed over the sharp protusion beneath the skin. "Damn. Completely through."
Sandburg's face paled. "I don't understand. He didn't hit the ground that hard. This is grass. How the hell could the bone have just snapped like that?"
Jim's jaw twitched and he shook his head. "I don't know, but let's get him to the ER." Gently, he slid his arms beneath the curled boy and lifted him off the ground. "Sshhhhh, it's okay," he comforted. Little Blair turned his face into Jim's chest, his arm still cradled protectively against his chest as his body shook with sobs. "It's okay. Shhhh. You're gonna be okay," Jim repeated, taking long strides to the car but being careful not to jostle the injured boy.
"Jimmy, you get in the front seat so I can have the backseat for me and Blair, okay?"
"Okay," the boy answered meekly, moving to the passenger side door.
Sandburg unlocked his door, then promptly reached into the backseat and unlocked Jim's door. "How's he doing?"
"He's pale and sweaty, going into shock," Jim answered. He had his hands full, so Sandburg opened the door for him. Carefully, Jim slid into the backseat, keeping little Blair held firmly against his chest.
"I didn't mean to," Jimmy's small voice interrupted. "I was just playing. I didn't mean to hurt him."
"It's okay," Sandburg said, sliding behind the wheel as Jimmy buckled himself into the seat. "It was just an accident."
Ellison, Sandburg, and Jimmy sat in the examination room near little Blair's bed as they waited for the x-ray results. The doctor had felt the clear break with his own hands, but wanted to make sure there were no secondary spliters or fractures before attempting to set the bone.
Little Blair was sleeping lightly on the exam table, having been given a mild sedative. His arm was immobilized in a splint but not yet fitted with a cast. Tiny beads of sweat dotted his forehead, and his face still looked too pale for Jim's comfort. Jim sat on one side of the examination table and Jimmy and Sandburg sat on the other side. Jimmy looked the picture of despondancy, slumped in his chair, his eyes sad and his fingers wrapped firmly around Blair's good wrist.
Footsteps squeaked in the hallway outside the room, and the two Sentinels perked up. Moments later, the doctor walked through the door, his face grim.
Oh no. Jim's chest tightened and he rose from the chair. "What is it, Doctor?"
The doctor glanced uncertainly at the two boys, then looked back at Jim. "Can I talk to you two in private? I'll have one of the volunteers stay with the boys."
"NO!" Jimmy's yell startled the men, and they turned to look at him. "Whatever you have to say I want to hear, too."
Jim nodded. He knew Jimmy would just listen in, anyway, so it was better to stay in the same room with the kid where he could do some damage-control, if need be. "It's okay," he told the doctor. "You can tell us here."
"All right," the doctor said, taking up the spare chair. "Has Blair been experiencing any unusual pain? Back pain or neck pain? Has he seemed to tire easily?"
Sandburg nodded. Because of the obvious resemblance between the two, they'd decided to put down that little Blair was Sandburg's son on the hosptial admission forms. "He does tire quickly, but he hasn't complained of pain. I have noticed a few bruises on him. You saw the one around his other wrist and the larger one near his ribs."
The doctor nodded, his lips pressed into a tight line. "I've looked at Blair's X-rays and there is a clean break just above the wrist. However, what concerns me is the condition of the bone itself. The X-ray showed moderate damage to the bone overall, like 'potholes.' I can't be sure yet, but such 'potholes' are classic of a condition known as myeloma."
Jim stopped breathing. He felt as though he'd just been punched in the gut.
"Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells, a type of white blood cell found in many tissues of the body, but mainly in the bone marrow. In myeloma, a plasma cell becomes malignant. It grows continuously — especially in the marrow — destroying normal bone tissue, causing pain, and crowding out normal blood cell production." The doctor paused for breath, his eyes drifting over the small, still form on the bed. "The onset of myeloma interferes with normal production of antibodies and makes myeloma patients susceptible to infections. Malignant plasma cells produce abnormal antibodies that we can test for in the blood. I'd like your permission to do a blood test on Blair for these antibodies."
Jim nodded, numb. It felt like his head was spinning.
"The thing that confuses me is that myeloma is almost always found in older persons," the doctor continued. "I've never seen it in a child before, though it is possible, of course."
"Prognosis?" Jim gasped out. It was all he could think about at the moment. What are his chances of surviving this cancer?
"The survival rate for myeloma is about thirty percent," the doctor reported, obviously trying to inject as much hopefulness in his tone as possible.
Seventy percent chance of dying, Jim translated silently.
"But you said myeloma is almost always found in older people," Sandburg jumped in, a hint of desperation in his voice. "So it's possible he doesn't have myeloma, right?"
"It's possible," the doctor agreed, but he didn't sound as though he believed that. "Once I do the blood test, if that comes back positive, I'll have to confirm with a bone marrow sample."
Sandburg nodded. "Go ahead and do the blood test."
"We'll do that now, but it won't be until tomorrow that we get the tests. In the meantime, I'm going to send you home with a list of instructions. I'll give you a call tomorrow. By then, I'll also have the blood test results and we'll be able to go from there. Okay?"
"Okay," Sandburg managed.
"I'm not going to put a cast on Blair's arm. Instead, I'll use a plastic splint with pins to keep the arm immobile. However, if the blood test comes back positive, we may have to do surgery to repair the bone. This will involve securing the bone with a metal pin."
Jim closed his eyes. "Okay."
"There is, however, the matter of insurance."
Jim opened his eyes. Could things get any worst?
"I see no carrier listed for your son, Mr. Sandburg," the doctor stated.
"He has none," Jim answered before Sandburg could form a reply. "I'll pay for whatever he needs."
"It can get quite expensive."
"I can pay part upfront, if you're concerned about it." He had about $5,000 available on his emergency credit card, and, if need be, he could refinance the loft.
"Okay," the doctor said, his voice controlled. "I'll send you up to the front desk with some forms. They'll take care of you there. Another thing, myeloma makes one susceptible to colds and infections. When he's home, keep up his fluids, make sure he gets plenty of rest, and keep him away from other children for the time being. It's flu season, and the last thing he needs right now is to get sick."
Jimmy stood up, his back straight and his eyes angry. Jim and Sandburg exchanged concerned glances as the boy walked to the door and turned around to look at them.
"It's my fault," he said, his voice flat and his eyes possessed of a strange, distant quality.
"No, Jimmy," Sandburg began. "It's not --"
"It's my fault!" Jimmy screamed, then raised his arm and slammed it against the doorjamb as hard as he could. "It's my fault!" He slammed his wrist again and again into the doorjamb, but Jim leapt from his chair and grabbed the boy, pulling him into a bear hug.
"No, let me go!" Jimmy screamed, kicking wildly.
The doctor remained calm in the face of the boy's outburst, content to let Jim handle the situation.
"Calm down, Jimmy!" Ellison yelled, dragging the boy to the floor. "It's okay, just calm down."
"No! It's my fault! I broke his arm and now he's gonna die!"
The doctor rose from his chair and crouched in front of the struggling boy. "Jimmy, listen to me," he said calmly.
Jimmy stopped struggling, but tears streamed down his cheeks and he trembled in Jim's arms.
"You didn't make Blair's arm break," the doctor explained. "Blair's arm broke because his bones are very weak. If he has myeloma, he had it before he broke his arm. None of this is your fault."
Jimmy stuck his chin out, his eyes hard. "You're going to make him better, right?"
The doctor hesitated a moment before answering. "I'm going to try."
Jim carried little Blair into the loft. The boy was still sleeping, his right arm held straight against Jim's chest, immobilized in a brace. Jimmy followed, his shoulders hunched, and Sandburg took up the rear, a bag of prescriptions clutched in his hand. Jimmy had made the ride home in complete silence, staring out the window the whole time while Jim cradled the sleeping child in his arms in the backseat.
"I'll put him to bed," Jim said, heading for the room. "Then I'll call Simon and let him know what's going on."
Sandburg nodded, heading for the kitchen. "I'll make dinner." He doubted anybody had an appetite, but Jimmy, at least, needed to get some food in his stomach.
Jim disappeared into the room and Sandburg placed the bag of prescriptions on top of the refrigerator, then searched the cupboards for things that he could make quickly and with little effort. He pulled out a bag of rigatoni and retrieved a bottle of marinara sauce from the shelf, then set a pot of water to boil on the stove.
Jim emerged from the room a few minutes later and Sandburg spared a glance at the Sentinel, feeling a pang in his chest at the obvious pain in the older man's blue eyes. Quickly, Blair turned his gaze back to the pot of rigatoni, pushing back the sting of tears that threatened to emerge.
God, he's too young to have cancer. He's just a child. He hasn't even lived life yet, hasn't seen much of the world. He's never even built a sand castle on the beach or been to Disneyland.
Blair threw another glance over his shoulder the lone figure in the living room. Jimmy had taken residence on the couch and now sat unmoving in front of a blank television screen. With a sigh, Jim manuevered around the sofa and sat down next to the boy.
"Are you okay, now?" he asked.
Jimmy seemed to fold in on himself, slouching against the back of the sofa. "We shouldn't have left the camp. He was okay there."
"That has nothing to do with this, Jimmy."
"Whatever," the boy replied flatly. He pushed himself to his feet and looked at the French doors to Blair's room. "I'm not very hungry. I just wanna go to bed, now. Okay?"
"How about just a little dinner?" Jim prodded.
Jimmy shook his head. "I just want to go to bed," he repeated.
Jim nodded. It was obvious that Jimmy wanted to keep close to Blair. "Okay. Just be careful not to jostle Blair's arm when you get into bed."
"I'll be careful," the boy said, then shuffled off toward the room.
Jim watched him disappear through the doors, then he reached over and picked up the phone, dialing Simon's number.
Thirty minutes later, the expected knock sounded at the door and Sandburg rose from the armchair to let the Captain inside.
"Hello, Simon," he said bleakly, then turned around and shuffled back to the chair.
Simon closed the door behind him and moved over to the couch, sitting down next to Jim. "What are you going to do?" he asked the two men. "If the hospital starts doing tests on him, won't they find out he's a clone?"
Sandburg shook his head. "I doubt it. Clones are as human as you or me, Simon. They won't know unless they compare my DNA with his."
"What about the medical bills? Technically, the boy doesn't even exist. He has no records. No insurance. Not even a birth certificate," Simon continued.
"I know," Jim said miserably. "Fortunately, they accepted Sandburg as Blair's father, and right now that seems to be good enough."
"How's Jimmy taking all of this?" the Captain asked.
Sandburg shook his head. "Not too good. He thinks it's his fault. I guess that famous Ellison guilt-complex is genetic," he said, throwing a brief glance at the Sentinel.
"Anything I can do to help?" Simon inquired softly.
Jim nodded, meeting the Captain's gaze with hard eyes. "Yeah. Find the bastards who ran that camp. Maybe they'll know something that can help." He turned his head to stare out the balcony. "I hate just sitting here doing nothing."
"The kids need you, Jim. You're the person best able to protect them if the camp researchers are after them... and, right now, little Blair needs you more than ever."
Jim nodded, his jaw tight. "I know, sir. I know."
Jim woke to the soft, muffled sound of crying. He glanced at the clock, noting the time at ten past two. Throwing off the covers, he trotted down the stairs. Sandburg lay curled on the couch beneath the afghan, dead to the world. Jim looked past his partner to the French doors, left left a crack open so that they could both keep a better ear on the children.
"Shhh. It's okay, Blair," came Jimmy's soft whisper.
Jim hurried into the room, leaving the lights off as he crouched next to the bed. His Sentinel eyesight could easily make out the two boys in the darkness. Blair lay curled on his side next to his friend, and Jimmy had one arm wrapped around little Blair's shoulders.
"Arm hurts," little Blair whimpered. "Hurts bad."
Ellison reached over Jimmy to place a palm on Blair's forehead. The kid felt a little too hot, his skin damp with perspiration. "Okay," Jim said. "I'll go get you some of the painkillers the doctor prescribed. Just hang on. Okay?"
"'Kay," Blair mumbled, biting his lower lip against the pain.
Jim rushed out of the room and snatched the bag from the top of the refrigerator. Working quietly so as not to disturb his obviously exhausted partner, he filled a glass with water and carried the bottle of painkillers back into the room.
"Here you go, Jimmy, hold this for me," he asked, handing the glass to Jimmy so he could shake one of the pills onto his palm. Capping the bottle, he placed it on the bureau and placed the pill into Blair's mouth, then took the water from Jimmy. "Can you sit up a moment, Jimmy?"
The young Sentinel complied quickly, moving to the end of the bed to give Ellison some room. Jim slid in next to little Blair and gently eased his shoulders up. "One big sip," he instructed, tilting the glass against Blair's mouth. He smiled when Blair swallowed the pill without a fuss, then set the glass next to the bottle on the dresser. "That was very good, Blair. It'll take a few minutes to start working, so just hang tight. Okay?"
Blair nodded, shifting on the bed so that he could snuggle closer to Jim. "Am I gonna die, Big Jim?"
Jim stiffened. "What makes you say that?" He hadn't told the kid about the doctor's pre-diagnosis. How do you tell a child he's dying? It's not supposed to happen. Children aren't supposed to die.
"I woke up a little and heard Jimmy crying back at the hospital. He said my arm was broke and I was gonna die."
Jimmy's eyes flashed with guilt, and he pulled his legs up against his chest, looking miserable.
"You're sick, Blair," Jim explained, resting his chin on top of the boy's head, "but we're going to do everything we can to make you better."
"Is it because I'm a clone and not a real person?" Blair asked softly. "Is that why I'm sick?"
Jim closed his eyes, hugging the small boy a closer. "You are a real person, Blair. I don't ever want to hear you say that again. Got it?"
Blair nodded against his chest, and Jim heard the slight hitch in the boy's breathing that indicated the start of more tears.
Soft morning sunlight tickled Sandburg's eyelids, and he released a deep yawn, shifting onto his side on the couch and opening his eyes. The loft was quiet, with only the gentle sounds of snoring drifting down from the upper bedroom. Blair sat up and glanced at the French doors to his room, frowning when he saw them hanging completely open. Rising quietly from the couch, he shuffled over to the doorway and peered into the room. The bed was empty, the covers rumpled and hanging partially off the bed.
A small knot of worry formed in his gut, and he turned around to look up at Jim's bedroom. He could just see the top of Jim's bed, but that was all. Moving quietly, he headed up the stairs. The sight that greeted him once he reached the top forced a smile from his lips.
In the bed, the two boys lay curled next to Jim with little Blair sandwiched between the two Sentinels, his injured arm held straight in the brace on top of the covers. Blair's smile turned into a grin, and he began to slowly back down the stairs when he saw Jim lift one eyelid.
"Good morning, Chief."
Blair stopped and moved back up to the top of the stairs. "'Mornin', Jim. Sleep well?" His mouth twitched.
Jim grinned, opening his other eye. "For the most part." He glanced down at the sleeping boys. "It's kind of weird. His heartbeat is like yours -- not exactly like yours, but I can tell it's the same heart, if you know what I mean."
Sandburg seemed to consider that for a moment. "I guess so. You can differentiate the sound of my heartbeat from others?"
Jim looked up at his friend. "Yeah, now I can. It's just yours, though. Everyone else's heartbeat pretty much sounds the same way to me."
Blair jerked his chin toward Jimmy. "Strange that he's still asleep. I figured all our whispering would have woken him up by now."
Jim shrugged. "They're both exhausted. Blair woke up last night crying because his arm hurt. I gave him some painkillers and stayed with him until he fell asleep. I tried to get up a couple of times, but he'd wake up a little and start crying again. He... uh... knows he's sick. He heard Jimmy back at the hopital."
"Damn," Sandburg cursed softly, grabbing onto the railing when his knees threatened to betray him. "I know he had to find out sometime, but I was hoping it could've waited until after we heard for sure."
"Me too," Jim said.
The phone rang, saving Sandburg from the dismal conversation, and he turned around and stumbled down the stairs, snatching up the cordless on the third ring.
"Hello. Sandburg, here."
"Good morning, Mr. Sandburg. This is Dr. Wilson from Cascade General. I'm calling because I've got the results of Blair's blood test back."
Sandburg stiffened. "And?"
"I'd like to see you and Blair in my office today as soon as possible."
Sandburg's breath caught in his chest. "What is it?" He braced himself.
"I think this is something we should discuss in person, Mr. Sandburg."
Blair closed his eyes. "I agree, but can you please give me some idea? Is it myeloma?"
There was a brief pause. "Yes, I'm sorry, it is. I'll do a bone marrow test to confirm, but that's not all I found."
A knot of fear formed in Blair's stomach. Could the doctor have somehow figured out that little Blair was a clone. "What else?"
"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Mr. Sandburg, especially over the phone, but the tests indicate that myeloma may not be the only cancer inside your son's body."
"What do you mean?" Jim asked, sitting stiffly in the chair as he gazed at the doctor.
The doctor looked back and forth between the two men. "When cancer springs up, we can detect it through blood tests. Some of those blood tests measure levels of the compound urinary 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid and Carcinoembryonic agent, which can become elevated when cancer is present. Your son's levels are quite high. I'd like to keep him here overnight to do a few tests, if that's all right."
Sandburg fidgeted in the chair next to Jim. His mouth suddenly felt dry, his throat tight. "Whatever needs to be done," he croaked. Whatever it takes, please, God, just let him make it through this. He'd figure out later how to pay for it all. "We don't have insurance, but --"
"Ah yes, that's something else I've been meaning to talk to you about. After you left yesterday, a large payment was made to the cashier toward your account. I received a note in my mailbox saying all funds were to be used for Blair's treatment, and anything left over was to be used for other children in need."
Jim straightened. "An anonymous donation?"
The doctor nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Twenty thousand dollars."
"Can we see the note?"
"Yes, of course."
Jim's eyes scanned the notebook-sized piece of white paper in his hands. He read the words a third time. "Dr. Wilson, I have made a payment of $20,000 to the hospital cashier. This money is to be used to treat the child brought in by James Ellison and Blair Sandburg. Whatever is left over may be used for other children in financial need."
Sandburg peered over Jim's shoulder. "You think that money is from someone at the camp?" he whispered, mindful of the doctor.
Jim nodded. "Who else?"
"Someone who's conscience is bothering him... or her?" Sandburg suggested.
"Maybe, or maybe someone who just wants to protect his investment." He looked up at the doctor. "How many people have handled this?"
"That I know of? Just me and whoever wrote it."
"I'd like to take this, if you don't mind."
"Be my guest."
Sandburg leaned close to Jim and whispered. "Dust for prints?"
Jim nodded tersely.
"Okay, I'm going to need you to hold him real still," the doctor instructed.
Jim glanced anxiously at Sandburg, who looked sick to his stomach, then at Jimmy. The young sentinel stood in the corner, looking like he was about to face a firing squad. Little Blair lay on the exam table, dressed in an aqua hospital gown. Fear was evident in little Blair's eyes, but it was obvious from his clenched jaw and tight lips that the kid was trying to put on a brave front.
Jim leaned over little Blair and whispered softly in his ear. "Just relax. This'll be over before you know it. Okay, buddy? And try not to move. That's very important."
Little Blair swallowed. "Okay, Big Jim," he said, a slight tremble in his voice.
"Good boy," Jim praised. "Now, I'm going to hold your arms, and Sandburg's going to hold your legs, just to keep you still." He glanced at his partner, and Sandburg, grim-faced and pale, moved over to little Blair's legs and placed his arms over them.
"Okay," the doctor began. "You're going to feel some pressure, Blair, but it shouldn't hurt too much. Then I'm going to put the needle in. You might feel a little bit uncomfortable, but if you stay real still it'll be over fast."
"I'll be still," little Blair promised.
When the needle went in, Blair tensed, but remained otherwise still. He clenched his eyes. Jim leaned forward a bit, keeping his hands on Blair's arms, and looked at what the the doctor was doing. He saw the needle being driven into Blair's spine and winced in sympathy. A low moan escaped little Blair's throat, and Jim felt the child's muscles twitch as though he were trying very hard to remain still.
"Shhhh. It's okay, Blair. You're doing real good," Jim encouraged the boy, though part of him felt like a traitor. He wanted to take the child away from this place -- away from the pain -- but instead he was holding Blair down so a needle could be driven into his spine.
The doctor pulled on the plunger, filling the syringe with spinal fluid.
"Owwww. Ow. Ow," Blair twitched, and Jim looked down at him, seeing tears running down the boy's cheeks.
Slowly, the doctor withdrew the needle and gave a long sigh. "All done. You did great, Blair. Very brave."
Jim immediately released little Blair's arms and pulled him into a firm hug, letting the child cry against his chest. "Shhhh. It's okay. It's all over, now. You did very good, Blair. I'm so proud of you."
Since little Blair couldn't leave, none of them left and, after a brief argument, Jim got permission for all three of them to stay in the room with the child overnight. Nobody got much sleep, however, because the whole purpose of Blair staying over was to have tests done. That meant being wheeled down to radiology, having more blood drawn, etc.
Morning came quickly and the doctor discharged Blair before noon, telling them he would call as soon as the test results came back and giving the two men half a dozen informational pamphlets and a couple of pages of instructions to take home with them.
Traffic was light, and they made it home in good time. Little Blair still looked pale and weak, but he insisted on walking on his own next to Jimmy. Sandburg watched the two boys shuffle into the loft. Seven year-old Blair walked like a seventy year-old, and Jimmy stayed right beside his friend, his fingers intertwined with Blair's.
"Can I watch TV?" little Blair asked, heading to the couch.
"Sure." Jim answered.
Little Blair glanced uncertainly at Jimmy, who plopped himself down on the sofa next to Blair. With a smile, Jimmy grabbed the remote control and handed it to Blair.
"Here you go. You can pick this time."
Blair's face lit up, but he shook his head and leaned back against the cushion. "That's okay. You can pick something."
Jimmy looked uncertain for a moment, then he turned his attention to the TV and turned on the power. The screen flared to life, and he began flipping through the channels. Sandburg and Jim watched silently from the kitchen as Jimmy kept his head tilted just a fraction, obviously watching little Blair out of the corner of his eye.
When Jimmy reached the Sci-Fi channel, he found an old re-run of the classic Star Trek. Doctor McCoy stood over a motionless figure against a desert backdrop. "He's dead, Jim."
Jimmy placed the remote control on the coffee table and leaned back on the couch. Little Blair looked over at him, his brow furrowed.
"You want to watch this?"
Jimmy nodded. "Yeah, it looks kind of interesting."
Blair smiled and turned his attention back to the screen. After a few seconds, Jimmy draped a casual arm around his friend's shoulders, and the two of them sat in quiet contentment, drawn into the adventures of the Enterprise crew.
Simon arrived a little after seven, and Jim opened the door a moment before the captain knocked. This time, Simon refrained from making a crack as he walked past Jim, his eyes immediately falling on the two boys asleep on the couch. Jimmy sat with his head tilted back against the cushions, his mouth slightly parted. Little Blair lay awkwardly with his braced arm thrown across Jimmy's lap. Blair was shifted on his side a fraction, his head resting on Jimmy's shoulder.
A soft smile lifted the edges of Simon's mouth. "Now that's something to take a picture of." His smile dropped, and he winced. "Sorry... I suppose taking photos of these two isn't a good idea at the moment."
Jim shrugged. "It's okay, sir. They're just two normal kids. That's all."
"Not so normal," Simon muttered.
Jim ignored the comment. "Any news, sir?"
"Forensics went over that note. No fingerprints. They couldn't get anything from it."
"Another dead end," Sandburg sighed.
Simon nodded gravely, then lowered his voice. "So how is he?"
Jim took a slow, deep breath. "The doctor doesn't seem optimistic. They did more tests on him last night and this morning. He's got high levels of cancer indicators in his blood, and the doctor thinks that there may be more to deal with than just the myeloma... as if that weren't bad enough."
"Damn." Simon turned back to study the two boys. "He's so young," he whispered.
"I know," Jim replied softly. "Too young."