A Real Family

By Debbie

EMAIL: Debbie

Summary: Jim investigates drug dealers and encounters a young boy who he befriends.
An AU with Blair as a 10-year-old boy.
Warnings: Kidfic and mention of exploitation of children

It was Jim Ellison's least favorite type of case -- a case that involved children. As he neared the house, the uniformed officers apprised him that there were three children inside the residence, ranging in age from six to ten. Jim nodded his understanding and walked inside. The smell threatened to overwhelm him, but he quickly dialed it down so it was manageable. He saw the children huddled together against the far wall. The boy looked to be the oldest of the group and Jim decided he would be the best to approach.

Jim neared the huddled group and noticed they all shrank away from him.

"It's okay. I'm Detective Jim Ellison of the Cascade Police Department." Jim held out his badge, showing the kids he was who he said he was. Jim knelt down so he was at eye level with the children. "We're going to have all of you taken to the hospital to be checked over. Can you tell me your names?" Jim looked hopefully towards the three of them.

The boy spoke up. "I'm Blair," he pointed to his left, "that's Rachel." He then pointed to the other girl. "That's Melanie. Are you going to send us back to the orphanage?"

Jim heard a mixture of fear and worry in the voice. "We'll have to notify Child Protective Services. Don't any of you have parents or family to take care of you?"

"No." Blair looked down at the floor. "Roger and Pete took us from the orphanage one night. I thought it was just me, but when I woke, I saw Rachel and Melanie. I've been protecting them ever since."

Jim only shook his head. He knew there was a story behind what little this boy had told him. There would have to be psych evaluations along with the physical examinations. He just hoped these kids didn't have serious problems because of this.

Jim looked around the interior of the house. There were piles of garbage everywhere and the place was generally unkempt. It was anyone's guess why Roger and Pete had grabbed the kids. They were drug dealers and manufacturers and some dealers used kids as mules to deliver their drugs. Other dealers used kids as a diversion because no one would believe that a kid would be delivering drugs. From past arrests, Jim knew the dealers held life and death over the kids to get them to do their bidding. Their very existence was dependent upon how they performed their tasks. Jim hated the very thought of such a thing, but it was a fact.

"It appears as if you've done an admirable job of taking care of Rachel and Melanie, Blair." Jim looked at the two girls. "Has Blair taken care of you, girls?"

Both girls nodded yes, but didn't answer verbally. Jim smiled at them.

"I need you to go with this officer, kids. You'll be taken to the hospital."

"Will you…?" Blair briefly made eye contact with Jim.

"Tell you what, Chief. I'll try to get by to see you. I'd like to talk to you about Roger and Pete."

A tentative smile crossed Blair's face. Jim smiled back at the young boy.

~*~*~*~*

Blair didn't like the poking, the prodding, and the fact that the hospital personnel separated him from Rachel and Melanie. No one seemed to understand that he was their protector.

He tried to remain stoic as the doctor examined him, but it was hard to do. The welts and bruises hurt and he found himself biting his lip to avoid making a sound. He kept thinking about the detective who talked with him at the house. Detective Jim Ellison. He seemed like a nice guy. He talked to Blair as if he was a grown-up, not some little kid. It made Blair feel important, as if he was somebody. Not just an orphan who drug dealers had used.

He wondered if Detective Ellison would be back to arrest him. He had done bad things, running the drugs for Roger and Pete. If the detective arrested him, he'd go to juvenile hall. He heard about it at the orphanage from kids who had done time there. It wasn't a pleasant place, even worse than the orphanage.

The nurse had him sit in the wheelchair, telling him he was going for x-rays. On the trip there, Blair devised a plan to make sure Detective Jim Ellison didn't arrest him and send him to juvvie hall.

~*~*~*~*

The reports and the evidence against Roger Peete and Pete Brand occupied so much of Jim's time that he forgot all about checking up on the kids at the hospital. After several calls around, he found out foster families had taken in the kids temporarily. They told him he could see Blair after his first counseling session the following day.

Jim finished the reports and placed them in his Captain's inbox. Simon Banks was already gone, but Jim was able to run down the bare bones of the case so he knew three more kids were safe tonight. Jim sat at his desk, thinking about doing another investigation into the Cascade Orphanage. There had been a previous investigation, but it turned up nothing out of the ordinary. This case, though, made eight children taken from the same orphanage, used as drug mules. It had to be more than coincidence. Jim decided to wait until tomorrow, talk to the DA and Simon to try to have an investigation into affairs at the orphanage done. It appeared as if something strange was going on there.

Jim powered down his computer, getting to his feet, ready to go home for the night. He was tired and this case had done nothing to make him feel better. The good thing was the children were alive and would adjust. Of course, the only option, besides an adoption or going into foster care, was to return to the orphanage. Jim shook his head. He couldn't imagine growing up without parents or guardians to love and care for you. He knew it happened all the time, but Jim hadn't experienced that himself. He had a family, people who loved him and cared about him.

Jim found himself thinking about Blair, Rachel and Melanie on his way home. Especially Blair. Self-proclaimed protector. Jim could only smile. The kid was not much older than those he protected, but he sounded so serious and older than his ten years. Jim was looking forward to seeing the boy again. To assure himself that he was going to be fine.

~*~*~*~*

It surprised Blair to see Detective Ellison waiting outside the therapist's office.

"Hi, Blair. Remember me?"

"Yeah, you're Detective Ellison. Are you here to arrest me?" Blair's eyes darted around the room, trying to find an escape route.

Jim was able to hear the increase in Blair's heartbeat and see the worried expression cross his face as he looked around the room. "Whoa, there, Chief! Who said anything about arresting anyone?"

"I just thought… since I helped Roger and Pete…" Blair looked down at the floor, as his cheeks got red with embarrassment.

Jim reached out his hand, gently lifting Blair's chin. "I'm not going to arrest you, Blair. You're just a kid. Roger and Pete took advantage of you. I've got a proposition for you." When Blair looked intently at him, Jim chuckled. "I talked to your case worker and she told me that I can take you out for something to eat, so we can talk. Would you like to go with me?"

Blair was a little hesitant. "Sure… what do you want to know?"

"I just want to talk to you about Roger and Pete. And maybe a little about the orphanage. Just to help me with my investigation. You do want to help me, don't you?"

Blair's eyes got wide. "Me help a police detective? Wow! Yeah! Let's go!"

Blair practically dragged Jim to his feet and Jim was pleased to see the kid so enthusiastic.

"So, do you drive a police car with the lights on top? And a siren? Can I run the siren and lights? This is just so cool, man. I mean Detective."

Jim chuckled as Blair kept talking a mile a minute, not letting Jim get a word in edgewise. It seemed the boy was a bundle of energy.

Then it suddenly got quiet. Jim looked over at Blair, seeing the young boy looking up at him, waiting for answers to the myriad of questions just asked.

"I have a truck, not a police car. I have both lights and a siren, but no, you can't run them. I only use them in emergencies. And this isn't an emergency. What would you like for lunch?"

There was no answer from the kid. Jim saw the indecision in Blair's eyes. "What do you like, Chief?"

"I don't know, Detective. I only know food from the orphanage. Why do you call me Chief?"

"Don't you like it?" At Blair's nod yes, Jim continued. "It's just a nickname. Someone called me that when I was about your age. Why don't we go get pizza for lunch? Does that sound good?"

The rumble in Blair's stomach was the answer to that question. Both Jim and Blair laughed about it.

"I'd better feed you soon. It sounds like a monster in there, ready to take over."

~*~*~*~*

Jim observed how Blair took in his surroundings as he drove to the pizzeria. The kid seemed fascinated by the city and the people. Jim had talked to Blair's counselor and therapist before asking about taking Blair out. She thought it would help Blair adjust by getting back to the normal routine of his life.

The orphanage had confirmed Blair, Rachel and Melanie had been *gone* from the orphanage for six months. There was no mention from the administrators there that the missing children were anything but *gone*. No mention of kidnapping at all. In fact, they didn't indicate how the children had left. None of the children.

Jim already knew Blair's desire not to return to the orphanage. However, there didn't seem to be any other viable option at the present time. There wasn't anyone lined up to take him into foster care or to adopt him. Jim didn't understand why not. From what Jim could determine, Blair was a good enough kid.

Jim ushered Blair to a table at the back of the pizzeria. Jim ordered a medium pizza with everything on it.

"What would you like to drink?"

"Can I have a cola?" There was that hint of hesitancy again.

"Sure." Jim looked back at the waitress. "Two colas."

Jim saw the smile come across Blair's face. It was one of the few smiles the detective seen from the boy.

"What's your full name, Blair?"

"Blair Jacob Sandburg. I was born on May 23, 1986."

"How long have you been at the orphanage?"

Blair looked down at the table, then back up at Jim. "Um… about five years. There was an accident… I was the only one…" Blair's voice faded off and he wiped a hand across his eyes.

Jim reached out his hand, gently patting Blair on the arm. "Hey, I'm sorry about dredging up bad memories." Jim made a note to look up the accident. "There wasn't any family to take you in?"

"I was in the hospital for a while and then I was taken to the orphanage. I don't remember any family members coming to see me."

"Let's talk about something else. Do you remember what happened when Roger and Pete took you from the orphanage?"

Blair nodded his head. He wiped across his eyes again. "I was helping the younger kids. I used to do that. I would teach them their numbers, letters and colors. It was in addition to our regular school. I'd even help with their homework."

Jim couldn't help but smile. The kid really was a protector. Plus, he had the added duties of educator and all around helper.

"It was time for bed and I went into my room, lying down like I always did. When it got dark, someone put his hand over my mouth and pulled me from my bed. I tried to kick whoever it was, but I was whacked up the side of my head. It made me dizzy, but I still tried to get away from the person. Then a cloth was put over my nose and mouth and I fell asleep." Blair looked up at Jim. Jim saw fear in the boy's eyes.

"I'm sure it was a scary time for you."

Blair nodded and continued. "I even threw-up after I woke. They weren't happy with me when I did that. They kept me locked in a closet. I don't know how long it was. I couldn't take care of Rachel and Melanie then. I didn't know what they would do to them."

Jim reflected on Blair's words. He could see the fear cross the young boy's face when he retold his story. The ten-year-old had been through so much so far in his short life. Jim wondered if the boy would ever be able to be a kid. He took on responsibilities for things that were beyond his young years.

The waitress brought their drinks and the pizza, bringing Jim out of his contemplation. He chuckled seeing Blair's eyes widen at the food.

"Thank you." When Blair didn't make a move to take any pizza, Jim spoke. "Dig in, Chief. I got it for you."

Blair reached out, grabbing a piece of pizza and taking an experimental bite. The smile blossomed across his face. "Wow! This is good." The young boy spoke with his mouth full of pizza.

"You shouldn't talk with you mouth full, Chief," Jim gently admonished.

Blair swallowed the food and took a quick drink of his soda. "Sorry, Detective."

"Why don't you just call me Jim, Blair? I'd like to think of us as friends."

That remark earned Jim another smile from Blair. "Yeah, I like that. Friends. Okay, Jim. My friend."

Blair went back to eating the pizza. Jim was pleased to see the smile return to Blair's face.

~*~*~*~*

When they finished their lunch, they left the pizzeria. Jim still had some questions he needed to ask Blair. He thought a walk through the nearby park would be the ideal setting.

A few minutes after they started walking, Jim asked his first question.

"Did Roger and Pete do anything physically to any of you?"

Blair didn't answer right away. Jim glanced down at the boy and saw the frown on his face.

"They can't hurt you anymore, Blair. They are locked away and they're not getting out."

"Roger was the one who got physical with us, if we disobeyed. He'd hit us up side the head. I tried to come between him and the girls, but I wasn't always successful."

Blair stopped walking and sat down on the ground. Jim turned back and walked to where Blair was sitting. He sat down opposite him, but Blair didn't meet his gaze.

"Blair, is something wrong?" Jim began to wonder if this was such a good idea without a professional around.

"I couldn't keep them safe." Blair said the words softly, but Jim was able to hear them. Jim shook his head.

"Blair? You're just a kid yourself. You couldn't be expected to act like a grown-up."

"I told them… I promised them."

Jim could hear the hitch in Blair's voice and saw the tears forming in the expressive blue eyes.

"Hey, it's okay. I checked with the hospital and the authorities and neither Melanie nor Rachel were hurt seriously. You did a great job, Blair."

Blair looked up at Jim. "You really mean that?"

"I would never lie to you, kiddo. Did Roger or Pete do anything else to any of you?"

"They made us do their deliveries for them. No one paid attention to us because we were kids. The authorities let us go anywhere. We also distracted people so Roger or Pete could slip in places."

Jim was relieved that nothing serious happened to any of the kids.

"Am I going back to the orphanage?" Blair asked the question quietly.

"You might not be able to, Blair. There is going to be an investigation into the orphanage. Did you notice that other children were missing or had left?"

"Yeah, one of them was a friend of mine, Charlie Maxwell. I thought maybe he got adopted or some family showed up for him." Blair looked straight at Jim. "You mean someone used him, too?"

"I'm afraid so, Blair. They found him in another house, helping another drug dealer. The dealer injected him with drugs. He's still in the hospital, from what I understand."

Blair looked away and Jim could hear the soft sob that escaped out of his mouth. Jim reached out, pulling Blair close to him and giving him a hug. That seemed to release Blair's tears as Jim felt them wetting his shoulder.

He patted Blair on the back. "It's okay, Blair. Just let it out. I'm here to help."

Jim kept up the litany of words, even though he never had many dealings with kids before. There was something about this kid, though. He felt Blair relax slightly against him. Jim needed to ask one more question.

"Roger and Pete didn't give you or the girls drugs, did they?"

Blair shook his head no and Jim felt it against his shoulder. It seemed Blair had taken up residence sitting in Jim's lap, his head buried against Jim's shoulder. There were still tears falling and Jim heard sniffles and hitches in the boy's breathing.

After a few minutes, Blair pulled away from Jim. Jim saw the red-rimmed eyes and the snotty nose. He pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket, handing it to Blair. "Blow."

Blair did as instructed and started to hand the handkerchief back, but Jim said no. "Just put it in your pocket, just in case you need it later."

Blair did and then got to his feet. "Are you married, Jim?"

Jim frowned, wondering where this question came from. "Why do you want to know?"

"I just wondered if you had a family."

"I used to be married, but it didn't work out."

"Do you have kids?"

"No, no kids."

"Would you like one?" Before Jim had a chance to answer, Blair continued. "I'm sorry, Jim. It's just that I've wanted a family for the longest time… "

"I understand, Blair. If I could spend time with you, I'd love to have a kid like you. But my job is dangerous and I wouldn't want to disappoint you."

Even as Jim was talking to the young boy, he was thinking of someone that just might want to take the boy in, at least on a trial basis. His brother, Steven, and his wife, had been talking about adopting a child. Maybe Blair would be the answer to their search. Jim made a note to call Steven later.

"I understand, Jim. Nobody wants a kid when they get as old as I am. I'm not cute and little anymore. If I was a baby, now that would be a different situation."

"Don't get discouraged, Blair. I have an idea I want to check into and maybe you'll have somewhere permanent to live soon."

"Really? Are you going to change your mind?"

"Not me, but I have a brother who's married."

"They don't want a baby? They would take someone like me?" Blair was starting to get excited about the prospect.

"Whoa, calm down there! I have to talk to him and his wife. I'll get back to you. We best get you back to your temporary home."

"Okay." Blair sounded less than thrilled.

~*~*~*~*

Jim actually whistled as he walked up to the house. Blair lived here with Madeline and Joseph Binder, foster parents who'd taken him in temporarily. Blair liked it here, even though he knew it wasn't a permanent place to live. It was a lot better than the orphanage, which looked as though it might close down unless new management could come in and change things for the better. There had been an investigation and it appeared the children living there weren't as safe as they could be. Jim was happy that the misdeeds at the orphanage were in the open, but that left many children without a place to live, to rely on their well-being and safety. Some children went to another state facility out of town. Others had gone to foster families in the area. As far as an orphanage resuming in Cascade, it was anybody's guess if it would happen again. Jim was happy Blair was still in Cascade.

Jim had news for Blair, good news. In fact, he had several pieces of good news for Blair. He'd called earlier, asking Madeline if he could stop by after work to talk to Blair. She'd said it would be fine. It had been several days since Jim had seen Blair. He tried to see or talk to the young boy every day. Blair seemed interested in the work Jim did as a detective with the police department.

The week before, Jim had taken Blair to the station and given him the grand tour of the place, especially Major Crime. He introduced Blair to all the detectives, including his partner, Megan Connor. Afterwards, Blair had mentioned to Jim he thought Megan would be a wonderful wife for Jim. Jim only laughed, explaining to the young boy that he and Megan fought like cats and dogs and would never survive if they were married. Blair had only shrugged his shoulders.

Jim rang the doorbell and he could hear Blair's voice from inside the house. That was the other remarkable thing Jim discovered since he met Blair that his senses had become slightly more acute and focused. He had partnered with Megan Connor because she showed an ability to help ground Jim when his senses seemed to want to spiral out of control. However, with Blair, they seemed to fall into place immediately. Of course, Jim knew he couldn't have a ten-year-old kid tagging along with a police officer. Jim would never put Blair into danger like that. But it was one of the reasons Jim hung out with him as much as he could.

The door opened and Blair stood there, grinning. "Hi, Jim! C'mon in! Maddie's just made chocolate chip cookies! She even let me help!" While Blair talked, he pulled Jim inside the house and towards the kitchen. Jim let Blair lead the way.

They arrived in the kitchen and Jim saw Madeline pulling out another full cookie sheet. "They smell heavenly, Madeline. Blair mentioned you let him help. Are you sure they're fit to be eaten?"

Madeline just laughed. "They are fine, Jim. Blair's quite the cook. Very helpful in the kitchen."

Jim grabbed two cookies from the plate, handing one to Blair. He took a bite and scrunched up his face. He saw the look of horror come across Blair's face. He laughed at the young boy.

"They are delicious, Chief. You did a good job."

Blair smacked Jim on the leg. "That wasn't a nice thing to do." He walked out of the kitchen.

"Damn! I didn't mean to upset him! I actually have good news for him."

"He probably went upstairs to his room. Go make it up to him, Jim."

Jim finished his cookie and went upstairs. The door to Blair's room was closed. Jim softly knocked on the door. "Blair? Can I come in? I need to tell you something." There was no answer from Blair. "Blair? Look, I'm sorry I made that face. The cookies are really delicious. You'll have to give me the recipe. Can I come in?"

There was a muffled answer from Blair. Jim slowly opened the door, walking into Blair's bedroom. He saw books all over the place. He wondered how Blair found the time to read them all. He already knew Blair was ahead of other kids his age as far as most school subjects went. He excelled at schoolwork and even helped students who had trouble grasping different subjects.

Jim found an empty spot on Blair's bed and sat down by the boy who presently had his face buried in his pillow. Jim reached out and patted him on the back.

"I didn't mean to upset you, Chief. Can you face me? I have some news for you."

After a minute or so, Blair sat up, wiping away the last of his tears. He pulled the handkerchief out of his pant's pocket, blew his nose, and wiped his eyes. Jim recognized the handkerchief he gave Blair. He didn't even know Blair still had it.

"I hope that's been washed since the last time you used it."

"Oh, yeah. I have Madeline wash it every week." Blair replaced the handkerchief in the pocket. "What kind of news do you have for me? Good or bad?"

"I think it's good news. First of all, both Roger and Pete are going to prison for a long, long time. The DA wanted me to tell you that he appreciated your statement and it was instrumental in putting those men away."

"I don't have to testify?"

"Nope. See I told you I would try to get them to do it without you or Melanie or Rachel having to testify. So, none of you have to worry about them anymore."

Blair slowly nodded his head, finally accepting that he was safe from those two. "You said you had more news?"

Jim smiled. "Yeah, I have more news. How would you like to be part of a real family? With a mother and a father and even siblings?"

"A family? I have a family here with Maddy and Joe."

"But this is only a temporary home, Blair. I mean a permanent home, and a permanent family."

"Are you getting married?" Blair locked his eyes with Jim's, holding his breath.

"No, not me." Jim broke eye contact with Blair. "Remember when I told you about my brother, Steven? And his wife?"

Blair nodded his head. And he smiled when the meaning became clear for him. "You mean… That they want me?" Tears welled up in Blair's eyes. He quickly wiped them away.

"Of course, you'll have to meet Steven and Jessica, but I think you'll hit it off with them. In fact, they want to have you spend several days with them. How does that sound to you?"

"Um… yeah. I can't believe that they really want me."

"I told them what a great kid you are. And this way, I'll still be able to see you."

Blair suddenly launched himself into Jim's arms, putting his arms around Jim's neck and hugging him. "I didn't even think about that! You would be there, too!"

Jim laughed. "There's one other thing I have to tell you, Blair. Well, two more things. First, Charlie Maxwell is improving and he should be able to leave the hospital soon. They found an uncle who is willing to take him in once he's out of the hospital. I asked at the hospital and they are going to let me take you to see him, if you want to go?"

"Yeah, I'd really like to go. Charlie is one of my best friends. He's a year older than me, but I always used to help him with his homework."

"Okay, I'll arrange that for you."

"Thank you, Jim. I don't think I've thanked you for all you've done for me."

Jim hugged the boy close. "There's no reason to thank me, Blair. It's what I do, it's my job. To help those who can't help themselves. I have one other thing to tell you. When you go to my brother's house, there will be a full house. Steven and Jessica are planning on adopting Melanie and Rachel too."

The smile broadened on Blair's face. "Awesome! They didn't even mention anything about that in school."

"That's because I told them I wanted to tell you."

"You know, sometimes you can be real tricky, Jim. Or should I say Uncle Jim?"

"Jim is just fine. Why don't we go downstairs and finish helping Madeline with the cookies?"

"Yeah! And I can tell her the awesome news!" Blair jumped off Jim and left the bedroom.

Jim could hear Blair as he excitedly told Madeline his news - he was going to have a real family! Jim took his time going downstairs, reflecting on how attached he already was to the young boy and how much closer they would become over the years ahead. It was the closest thing to a real family Jim was going to have in his lifetime.

END