Disclaimer: The guys don't belong to me more's the pity. I'm only borrowing them and will give them back unharmed.

This was written in response to Challenge 21 on Suzie's page.

This story takes place after TSByBS. Blair is a full-fledged detective.

The Witness
By Trish

"Ellison, Sandburg. My office." The shout came from Captain Simon Banks office. The pair looked at each other as the other occupants made themselves busy with the paperwork in front of them.

"I swear, big guy, I haven't done anything lately." The younger man said worried. He recognized the aggravated tone in the captain's voice.

"Well, we'd better get in there or he really will get pissed at us." They stood and walked to Simon's office. Jim reached out and knocked.


"You yelled for us, Captain?" Blair asked wanting to get whatever was going on over with.

"Sit down men." He gestured at the chairs in front of his desk. "Would you like some coffee?"

The two men looked at each other. "What do you want, Simon?" Jim asked.

Simon shuffled the papers on his desk, partially annoyed that he was so easy to read. "I'm assigning you to guard a federal witness."

Jim frowned. "Why us, Simon? We've got cases out our ears. Besides, correct me if I'm wrong, but don't the Feds usually take care of their own witnesses? Every time we've dealt with them in the past they try to take over." Blair just sat looking curious, willing to let his partner handle everything.

Simon sighed. "All right, this is the deal. A friend of mine, a U.S. Marshal, called me and asked for my best people and a safe place to stash a witness for a week."

"Why only a week?" Blair asked, unable to remain silent.

"Because the trial begins here in Cascade in a week." The captain answered.

"What problems are they having with the witness?" Jim asked, trying to get a feel for the situation they were being volunteered for.

Simon had a pained look on his face. "I'm not really sure. Jamison said they had problems keeping track of the witness. He had a habit of disappearing."

Jim looked at his boss with suspicion. "What do you mean, he has a habit of disappearing?"

Simon looked at the papers in his hand. "It says here that he has managed to get away from three different teams assigned to watch him in the past two months. Jamison said he is running out of options."

"Why is it so important that we do this?" Blair asked.

"Jamison is an old buddy of mine. Hell, we've been friends since I was in high school. When he asked for help..." Simon shrugged.

Jim and Blair looked at each other and, without a word, came to an agreement. "Okay, Simon, we're in. What do you need for us to do?" Jim asked, resigned to another stint of witness baby-sitting.

The relief was evident on the Captain's face. "Jamison will be here in twenty minutes with the witness."

Blair frowned. "Are we going to a hotel or using a safe house?" he asked trying to figure out what portion of his stuff he would need to move.

Jim, knowing the motive behind the question, made a preemptive request. He knew from long experience what a royal pain it was for his roommate to relocate for even a day not to mention a week. "Sir, could we use the loft instead?"

Simon thought for a moment. "I don't really see a problem with it." The Captain smiled and pulled out a cigar. "Now that everything is settled, the two of you can get some paperwork done before Jamison arrives with the witness." He made a shooing motion with one hand and then started the process of lighting his cigar.

The two men exited the Captain's office. "I don't know about this." Blair gestured at the desk in front of him. "You know this is only going to get worse."

Jim gave him a wicked grin. "Don't worry, Chief. I think I have a solution." He looked around the bullpen, his eyes lighting on the pair meandering towards the breakroom. Blair followed his gaze.

The younger man smiled. "Oh yeah. Paybacks are a bitch." He said, remembering the last time he and his partner had been stuck with most of Major Crime paperwork due to maneuvering by Brown and Rafe.

Jim stood and walked back to Simon's office. He knocked once before opening the door. Simon looked up.

"What now?"

"Just one thing. You know all of the back paperwork we've been working on?" Simon nodded. "Well, we would really hate for it not to be completed on time because we were baby-sitting someone."

"Your point, Ellison, I know you must have one?" Simon asked, knowing where Jim was heading.

"Since it's slow right now, I think Brown and Rafe would welcome the challenge," Jim said helpfully.

The Captain tried to suppress a smile. "You do have a point. Send them in when you see them."

"Right away, sir." Jim said with a wide smile before closing the door.

Blair looked up at his smug partner. "He bought it?"

"Yep." The big man chuckled.

"I guess we should let them know." Blair grinned.

"No, I think we should let Simon have that pleasure." He watched as the pair returned from the breakroom. "Rafe, Brown. The captain wants to see you." Jim announced trying not to laugh at the suddenly worried faces.

He could hear them whispering as they approached the Captain's door. "Man, do you think he found out we spiked his cigars?" Brown asked worried.

Rafe stopped his friend his face paled as another thought occurred to him. "What if it's about the personal ad we put in the paper. I know he was ready to kill when the cross-dresser with an attitude showed up expecting a date." They looked at each other with fear.

Jim tried hard to look busy but was having a difficult time maintaining a straight face.

"What is it?" Blair asked seeing the strange expression on his partner's face.

"I'll explain later." He heard someone getting off of the elevator asking for directions to Simon's office. "I think the witness is here." They looked up in time to see a stressed-looking man in a very Fed-looking suit. The man was leading what looked like an eight-year-old boy.

"Oh no." Jim said, watching them enter Simon's office as Brown and Rafe, looking relieved, exited. Blair just sat and shook his head.

"When Simon said we would be baby-sitting a witness I didn't think he meant it literally." Blair muttered.

Simon whispered under his breath when he saw Jamison walking toward his office. /Jim/ The big man looked toward the captain's office. /Listen/ Jim didn't hesitate; he had a feeling that he would need all of the information he could get.

"Jamison, good to see you again." Simon took a good look at his friend. "You look terrible." He said bluntly.

"It's amazing what sleep deprivation can do for you." He turned to the young boy he was holding on to. Simon Banks, I would like you to meet Ryan Taylor. Ryan is our witness."

Simon bent down to be at eye-level with the boy. "Hello, Ryan. It's nice to meet you." The boy looked up at Jamison who nodded.

"Nice to meet you, sir." The boy replied.

Simon was surprised by how polite the young boy was. He looked at his friend and then at the grip Jamison had on the boy's collar.

Jamison blushed. "Ryan here is a bit of an escape artist. He has managed to escape from situations you wouldn't believe." Simon looked at the boy with disbelief. "Don't let his size fool you. He's managed to disappear while in the care of three trained Marshals who were closely guarding him."

Ryan hung his head. "Said I was sorry." He mumbled. Jamison sighed and patted the child on the shoulder.

"Ryan, would you like something to drink?" Jamison asked not wanting the boy in the room while he explained the rest to his friend. Ryan nodded.

Simon opened the door to his office. "Ellison, Sandburg." He yelled.

Jim had barely gotten his hearing pulled back down to normal levels when the captain yelled. He and his partner crossed over to Simon's office.

As they entered Simon introduced them. "Marshal Paul Jamison, this is Detective Jim Ellison and his partner Detective Blair Sandburg." The three men shook hands. Jamison could see the big man being a detective but the younger one looked like a refugee from the sixties. Simon could see the beginnings of doubt on his friend's face. "Ellison and Sandburg are my best team." He turned to the younger detective. "Sandburg, I want you to take this young man to the break room and get him something to drink and something to eat if he wants it. Jim, you stay here and I will fill you in."

"Ryan, do you want to come with me?" Blair asked, kneeling down in front of the boy. Ryan looked back over his shoulder at Jamison.

"You can go with him. He's okay." The marshal reassured the boy.

Ryan looked back to Blair and nodded. "Good." Blair said, rising to his feet and reaching for the boys hand. "I don't know about you but I'm hungry for something chocolate, how about you?" Blair asked as they walked out the door.

Simon closed the door behind them. "What's the rest of it?"

"Ryan is the only witness against Vince Blanca."

Simon's attention was focused on the marshal. "How?"

"Blanca's wife wanted a kid, so Vince decided that since his wife was a bit of a flake he would test drive a kid. He let her pick a kid to foster. She chose Ryan. Unfortunately this happened at the same time one of Blanca's underlings started to get greedy. Ryan was exploring a cupboard in Vince's office when Vince entered with..."

"Mickey Donato." Simon interrupted.

"Got it in one. No wonder they made you a captain." Jamison smiled briefly. "To make a long story short, Ryan saw the hit. He was smart enough to stay quiet. When everyone left he decided to go to the police. He said he watched enough cop shows where stupid people don't go to the police and get hurt. He didn't want to be stupid." Jamison paused. "He called a cab and asked the cabbie to take him to the FBI" Simon and Jim looked puzzled. "What can I say? His favorite show is reruns of the Untouchables." The marshal shrugged. "They handed him over to the Marshal service after they had misplaced him a few times."

"You still haven't explained why you need my help?" Simon reminded his friend.

Jamison sighed. "The FBI says they don't have the manpower. The Marshals are stretched thin because of the prison break four days ago." He looked pleadingly at Simon. "You are my last hope."

Jim spoke up for the first time. "You need someone to protect the boy while you go after Blanca." He had remembered a fax they had received from the Oregon prison about Blanca's escape. Blanca had been captured in Oregon on another charge and had been awaiting extradition to Cascade for trial. The FAX had crossed Jim's desk that morning.

After raiding the breakroom, Blair had taken the boy to his desk. They chatted while waiting for the signal to return to the captain's office. Blair learned about the young boy's passion for video games. Ryan had been describing all of the ins and outs of the new pokemon game. Blair saw Jim motion for them to return.

Ryan moved to Jamison's side. "Ryan, Detective Ellison and Sandburg will be taking care of you for a while. You need to listen to them and stay with them at all times." Ryan stared at the floor. The marshal gently tipped the boy's head up. "Do you understand me?" The boy nodded. "This means no wandering to look for stuff."



"I promise." The boy looked up at the marshal with fear in his eyes. "You will catch him, right?"

Jamison was stunned. He hadn't realized that the boy knew Vince had escaped. "Yeah, we'll get him. Now you need to behave. I'll be back before you know it." He looked at Jim and Blair. "Take good care of him, detectives. He's a slippery little devil."

"Don't worry, Marshal. We'll take good care of him." Blair assured him. The young man held out his hand to the boy. "Come on, Ryan. You'll be staying with us." The child hesitatingly reached out and took the young man's hand.

"Are we ready to leave. gentlemen?" Jim asked.

Ryan pulled away from Blair and ran to Jamison, giving the startled man a quick hug before running back to Blair and giving the big detective a nod. Jamison watched, feeling a tug at his heart as the unlikely trio left Major Crimes. "Don't worry, Jamison. They are my best men. They will take good care of him." Simon assured his friend.

Jim led the way to the truck. He couldn't help but smile when he heard the boy's reaction. "Oh, wow! It's a truck! A real big truck!" Blair opened the door and the child clambered in. "I love trucks."

"Kid, you just made a friend for life." Blair murmured.

"You've got good taste, kid." Jim said smiling before turning to his partner. "Do we have enough real food at home?" Blair started to nod then realized what he considered food and what a ten-year-old would consider food were two different things. He shook his head. "Wonderburger it is." Jim said happily. This detail was definitely looking up.

Blair sighed and looked at the boy. "You like burgers?"

"You bet." Ryan said bouncing on the seat between the two men.

"It's settled then." Jim headed the truck toward Wonderburger, his personal idea of food heaven. "After we eat we'll go and rent some movies." He looked down at the small boy. "You get to pick one that you want to watch." Ryan smiled. It seemed to the boy that this set of watchers might not be too bad.

The meal went smoothly. Blair refrained from his usual chiding about the dangers of the cholesterol-laden food. He was enjoying watching the interaction between his partner and the boy. Ryan was quietly mimicking every movement the big man made. If Jim raised his burger so did the boy. After a few minutes, Jim caught on to what the kid was doing and proceeded to exaggerate his movements. Ryan caught on that he had been found out and started giggling. Soon all three were laughing. They cleaned up their mess and headed for the video store. Walking among the shelves, they tried to find movies that would be interesting for a child and two grown men. They found the boy had a very eclectic taste in movies. He rushed around looking at the boxes, collecting the ones he wanted to see.

"Hold on, little dude." Blair stopped the boy. "You can only pick two. Let's see what you've got here." Blair started making two stacks... the 'absolutely not' pile and the 'we'll see' stack.

Ryan started to protest. "But I wanted to see Blade; the cover looks cool."

"Maybe when you're older." Blair continued.

"I've seen this one."

"Then you don't need to see Spawn again, do you?" They narrowed the selection down to four. "Okay, buddy, pick two of these." Ryan weighed his options and grabbed two of the movies. Blair looked at the covers. "Good choice. Now we need to put the rest of these away." He gestured at the stack of cases on the floor. Jim had watched the selection process and was ready when Ryan rushed up to him with his choices.

Jim looked at the titles seriously. "You did good, kid." The first was a movie the two men had seen but didn't mind seeing again. The second, 'Babe', he wasn't too sure about.

The loft fascinated the boy. His eyes widened when he saw Blair's tribal masks on the wall. Both men could tell he wanted to explore. Jim gave him a tour of the loft while Blair made preparations for the movie.

"Wow, it looks like a treehouse." Ryan stated after the tour.

"You want to give me a hand with the popcorn?" Blair asked. "As soon as it's ready we can watch the movie." He very quickly had a young boy underfoot.

"Babe first, right?" Ryan asked. Blair looked over at his partner.

"Sure." Jim said. The three settled in to watch the movie. The two men were surprised by how much they laughed at the silly movie. Blair however was having fun dividing his attention between the movie and his usually gruff partner. 'Mr. if it's not action adventure I don't want to see it' went into hysterics every time the singing mice appeared on the screen. The big man laughed so hard tears rolled down his face.

After the movie they sent Ryan to get into his pajamas before the next movie. Jim did a security sweep of the loft while Blair made up his room for the boy. "Is the window latched?" Jim asked as he entered the small room.

"Yeah, I even put in the pins for extra protection. The kid won't even know they're there." Blair looked around. "He won't get out through my room." He said with confidence. Jim tilted his head, listening.

"He's ready. Let's go watch the other movie. Maybe he'll fall asleep soon." He said hopefully. They had no such luck. Ryan stayed awake to the ending credits. Jim looked over and saw that his partner, however, had crashed. The boy looked at the man quietly snoring beside him. He turned to Jim.

"Can we watch another movie?"

Jim checked the time. "Okay, but it will be one of my favorite movies." He quickly located his much watched copy of the Seven Samurai. When he sat back down he patted the couch next to him. "Come over here and sit kid. We don't want to wake up sleepyhead over there." Ryan stifled a giggle and moved over to the couch.

Halfway into the movie, Jim felt the weight against his side increase as the boy fell fast asleep. Jim settled back and watched the rest of the movie, enjoying the sense of peace caused by listening to the rhythmic breathing from the sleeping pair. When the movie ended, he carried the boy into Blair's room and settled Ryan into bed. He returned to the living room and covered his sleeping guide with the quilt from the back of the couch. He chuckled as the younger man wrapped the quilt tightly around himself and burrowed deeper into the couch. Jim did a final check with his senses making sure everything was safe and secure before going to his own bed.

The sound nagged at the edges of Jim's hearing. He opened his eyes and looked at the clock beside the bed. It was only two hours since he had gone to bed. Opening up his hearing, he heard the sound again. It was coming from Blair's room. Quietly padding down the stairs, he made his way to the open French doors. He looked in and saw the boy quietly crying.

"Ryan." Jim said softly. The boy jumped. "Are you okay."

"I'm okay." The boy whispered a catch in his voice.

"Did you have a nightmare?" Jim asked worried.

Ryan nodded. Jim walked over to the boy. "I'm scared to be alone; afraid they'll get me." His voice shook. "Please don't leave me alone."

Jim looked at the small bed and came to a decision. "Okay, kid, this is what we are going to do. You're coming with me." He picked up the boy. "You get to sleep up in the 'treehouse' and I will be right there to protect you." Ryan nodded his agreement with the new arrangement.

Blair awoke as the first light entered through the balcony doors. He stumbled toward the bathroom. He looked in and spotted the empty bed. "Oh man, where did he go?" Blair said under his breath. He looked around the lower level then started up the steps. When he reached the top, he smiled. The boy was curled up like a puppy against Jim's back, both sleeping deeply. Blair quietly made his way down the steps.

Jim woke to he sound of voices in the kitchen. He quickly dressed.

"I can't believe you drink that...it's green." The disgust was clear in the boy's voice. He drew closer to where Blair was standing by the blender. "It stinks, too." Jim laughed as he descended the steps.

"I told you those things were nasty. Normal people don't drink stuff like that. Right, Ryan?" The boy's head nodded quickly in agreement. "I think eggs and bacon might be a better deal." Jim offered.

"You don't have any cereal?" Ryan asked plaintively.

Blair chuckled. "I guess you'll have to breakout your secret stash." Jim glared at the younger man.

"Yes." He heard the boy whisper and the box of Captain Crunch came into view. Jim handed him a bowl and pointed him to the table.

"Go, sit." Jim walked to the fridge to get the milk. Ignoring Blair's amused look, he poured himself a bowl also. He could hear Blair muttering under his breath.

"I will not give in. Algae shakes are nutritious and delicious. I will not give in." Ryan, following Jim's lead, made a big production over the great taste of the cereal. They really poured it on whenever Blair looked their way. The younger man poured himself a glass full and stoically started to drink. After two swallows, he turned to the sink and, with great ceremony, poured it down the drain. He reached in the cupboard and pulled out a bowl for himself. Holding the bowl in front of himself he asked, "Please, sir, may I have some?"

Jim looked at him while trying to refrain from laughing. "Are you sure you really want to put a sugared cereal in your stomach?"

"You're a real comedian, big guy. Hand over the Captain before I have to do something drastic." Blair shook his spoon at his partner. Ryan was watching with wide eyes. It was the first time he had ever seen two grownups teasing each other like this. They noticed the boy's watchful gaze and, realizing that in his young life he had probably not had much fun with adults, they played it up.

"I don't know if I can let you do this. I know! You can have a sprout omelet." Jim said with a smirk winking at Ryan.

"Oh please, just one bowl. I swear I won't hassle you about what you eat for a whole week."

Jim turned to the boy. "What do you think? Should we let Blair have some?"

The boy gave it serious thought before agreeing to share the cereal. "Thank you." Blair said as he poured himself a bowl of cereal. "I was beginning to feel like the rabbit in the Trix commercial."

While the boy was getting dressed, the two men started to plan the day. "We can't stay in for the entire week before the trial. We'll all go stir crazy and you don't want to be trapped in this loft with a bored child." Blair thought for a moment. "You know, the kid doesn't have much in the way of clothes." Blair had seen the few changes when he had helped the boy unpack the night before.

"I take that as a hint you would like to go and get him some stuff?"

"I've got a little extra cash." Blair said after mentally checking his bank balance.

"Tell you what. We'll go the mall and get the kid some clothes and then we'll go to the park for lunch."

"Works for me. The two of us shouldn't have any problem keeping up with the kid." Blair said confidently. He walked over to the bedroom door and knocked. "Yo, Ryan. You want to go out to the mall with us today?"

The boy popped his head out the door. "Really? The mall? The others never let me go anywhere."

"Yeah, then we're going to the park for lunch." Ryan pulled back into the bedroom and, seconds later, exited the room ready to go.

"Hold up, buddy. We've got to wait until the mall opens." Jim checked his watch. "We have a couple of hours still." The boy seemed to deflate.


Blair stepped in. "I don't know about you but I wouldn't mind watching some cartoons this morning." He shrugged. "That's how I get in the mood for the mall."

The boy's face brightened. "Cartoons."

"Thank goodness for the Cartoon Network." Jim thought. He sat back on the couch and started to read. He maintained his watch, periodically scanning the area for threats to the boy. He would glance over at the two on the floor listening as they laughed at the antics of the Roadrunner and Wiley Coyote. The time passed quickly and, before they knew it, the time had come to head out to the mall.

"Come on, big guy, let's go. If we get there early, it shouldn't be too bad." Blair said trying to get his partner motivated. "You know the longer we wait, the more perfume they will have time to spray." Scents were the hardest for the Sentinel to control, and a department store cosmetics section ranked right up there in Jim's opinion with the detergent aisle in a grocery store.

"You've got a point." Jim said as he reluctantly stood. Ryan was already by the door bouncing in place. They trooped down the stairs. The boy was talking a mile a minute, excited to be out. When they climbed into the truck and everyone was settled Jim turned to the boy. "Okay, Ryan, we have a few rules while we are away from the loft. Rule number one: you have to be with at least one of us at all times. Rule number two: no wandering. If for some reason we are separated at anytime today, stay in one place. We will find you. Rule number three: do not go anywhere with anyone but the two of us." He glanced down at the wide-eyed boy. "Do you understand?" Ryan nodded. "I need to hear you say yes."

"Yes sir, I promise."

Blair leaned over and whispered to the boy. "You lucked out. He usually has about fifty rules; you only got three." Ryan smiled.

"Okay, we're here. Let's see how quickly we can get this done so we can get to the park." Jim said, not looking forward to the crowds in the mall. He didn't notice the woman standing partially hidden by the first store's entrance.

She watched the trio as they walked past and pulled out her cell phone. "Hey Jordan. Yeah, it's me. I'm here at the mall." She paused for a second. "Back off, buddy! I just called to give you some info for the boss. If you don't chill, I'll call him myself." The voice on the other end fell silent. "I just saw the kid. Yeah, the one the boss wants taken care of." She listened. "Okay, I'll follow them while you get hold of the boss." She disconnected and began to follow the two men and the boy.

"Follow me, I know exactly where we need to go." Blair said confidently. He headed for the nearest clothing store. Jim kept a close watch on the area while Ryan and Blair tried to agree on something to wear. "Come on, Ryan. You don't have a Jags T-shirt." Blair shook his head. "That is a crime all by itself. I think we need to get you one. You wouldn't want to get in trouble." While the younger man was looking for the right sizes for the boy and Jim was surveying the area, they didn't notice the sudden interest the boy showed when he spotted the arcade. Ryan had grown restless and was wandering in ever widening circles away from the two men.

"Jim," Blair called his partner over. "I think I've got everything."

The big man laughed. "It looks like you're about to buy out the store." He gestured at the stack of clothing in his partner's arms. Jim looked around. "Where's Ryan?"

Blair dropped the stack of clothing on the counter and ran to the dressing rooms. "Ryan, you in there?" There was no answer. "Damn." He said. Blair rejoined his partner. "Can you sense him?"

Jim pulled up the memory of the boy's heartbeat. He worked to filter out the extra sounds in the mall. Blair kept his hand on his partner's back as he tracked the boy. Exiting the clothing store, Jim turned to the center of the mall and they both saw where the boy had gone. He had been drawn like a moth to a light to the arcade. "When I get hold of that boy, he's going to write the rules at least one hundred times." With difficulty, Jim managed to maintain his focus on the boy and they found him in the arcade in record time. Blair started to go to the boy when his partner grabbed his arm. "Hold up." He listened to the voice of the woman who had just joined the boy at the video game.

"Hey kid, you're pretty good with that game. You know what? I have one just like it at home and it really needs a kid who can play it as well as you can. Would you like to come and try it out?"

Ryan looked up at the woman in disbelief. He had been taught all of his young life not to go with strangers. He also remembered too late the detective's rules. He considered his answer. "No ma'am, my dad told me to stay right here and he would be right back."

"I'm sure he wouldn't mind..."

Jim interrupted her. "You ready to go, kid?" Jim asked as he interposed his body between the boy and the would be kidnapper. He turned and stared at her. She could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. "If I ever see you near this or any other child, I will run you in. Do you understand me?" She nodded, speechless with fear. She was unable to tell who she was more afraid of...her boss when he found out she had lost the boy or the man standing in front of her. The indecision left her paralyzed.

They returned to the clothing store and collected their purchases and then left the mall. "We're going back to your place, aren't we?" Ryan said sadly. He knew he had broken the rules and was now in big trouble again. He had been looking forward to playing outside if even for just a short while. Jim and Blair looked at each other over the boy's head.

"It's your call, big guy. We both know she was probably working for Blanca." Jim silently agreed but, looking at the sad little boy beside him, he relented.

"No, we are not going back to the loft. I still want to have lunch at the park. But we are going to have a discussion about rules when we get there." Jim announced. Ryan's joy was tempered by the knowledge that he was still in trouble. When they arrived at the park they quickly found a spot that gave Jim a clear visual field; nothing would be able to sneak up on them here. They sat at a picnic table and Jim began the 'discussion'. "Ryan, do you know what you did wrong?"

"Yes, sir." The boy whispered.

"What?" Jim asked trying to be patient.

"I wandered away when you told me to stay with you."

"That's right. Do you understand why we told you to stay with us at all times." The boy nodded. "Okay, what are the reasons?"

Ryan started counting them off, using his fingers. "I could get lost, I could get hurt, the bad people could get me."

Jim shook his head. "Then why did you wander off?"

"I forgot."

Blair turned away not wanting to laugh and undermine his frustrated partner. When he felt that he had it under control he turned back. "I have a suggestion since we don't want you to forget again. I have a way to make sure." He dug into his backpack and pulled out a notebook. He wrote on the top line in capital letters, 'I WILL NOT WANDER.' He handed the notebook to Ryan. "Now you have to write this twenty times." He pointed out the top line. "When you get done, we'll eat." Ryan opened his mouth to argue. "Don't even start. If you don't do this, we will go back to the loft." Blair said firmly.

Jim felt good not having to be the heavy with the boy. It was a nice change. The two men talked quietly as Ryan completed his punishment. He proudly handed the completed assignment.

"Very good." Blair praised the boy. "Do you think you will remember this time?"

"Yeah." Ryan said emphatically. He looked over to Jim. "I'm hungry."

Jim stood. "Come on, then. We'll get something to eat." They walked over to the nearest Mr. Tubesteak stand. As they made their selections, Jim kept an eye out. He thought he had seen the woman from the Arcade drive by the park a few minutes before. "Blair, why don't you and Ryan head over to the table. I need to make a call." Blair looked at him sharply.

"Sure, no problem. We'll meet you over at the table."

Jim waited until they were a few yards away before pulling out his phone. He hit the speed dial and waited for Simon to pick up.


"Simon, we're at the park and I think we are going to need some back-up. One of Blanca's associates just drove by."

"What the hell are you doing at the park? No, don't answer that. Back-up is on its way."

Jim returned to his companions. Blair asked just loud enough for Jim to hear. "Trouble?"

"Yep, be ready." He spoke to the boy. "You about done with your lunch?" The boy was crumpling the hot-dog wrapper.

"Sure." He tossed the wrapper in the trash.

"I think we need to get going." Jim said looking around. "Damn." He spotted the car at the entrance to the park and it looked like it was heading their way. "Sandburg, get the kid over by those trees." Only the knowledge that he was the only one to remain with the boy kept Blair from protesting. One of the things he had learned from his partner that had been reinforced at the academy was to protect the innocent civilians.

Jim circled around the car and saw the same woman behind the wheel. A man the detective recognized on sight had joined her. It was Julian Robertson, one of Blanca's trigger men. The occupants of the car were focused on the man and boy heading for the trees. Jim was ready when Robertson stepped from the car. Weapon drawn, he directed the pair to lay on the ground with their hands behind their heads. He could hear the approaching police vehicles. Simon was the first to arrive.

"Hello, sir. I think we have a couple of live ones here." Jim stepped back as the uniformed officers cuffed the pair on the ground. Blair and Ryan left the cover of the trees when they saw the arrival of the additional units.

Ryan looked at the pair on the ground. He stepped back when the man turned towards him. Pulling on Blair's sleeve, he got the young man's attention. "I've seen him before." He whispered. "He works for Vince."

"It's going to be okay. We won't let anything happen to you. I promise." Blair said as he knelt down beside the boy. "But you have to remember to do your part." He gained his partner's attention. "Are we about done here?"

"Yeah, I think it's time to head back home." There wasn't any protest from the boy; the seriousness of the situation had finally sunk in.

"I'll have a unit follow you back to the loft. There will be a twenty-four hour guard outside the loft from now on." Simon ordered.

The ride back to the loft was quiet. Ryan sat still between the two men. His eight-year-old mind had added two plus two and come up with six. He knew they would pack him up and ship him to someone else as soon as he got packed. After all, that's what had happened every other time that he had gotten into trouble. When they reached the loft, the boy headed straight to Blair's room and started to pack his meager possessions. The two men watched from the doorway.

"What are you doing?" Jim asked.

"Packing." He said without looking up.

"Why?" Blair asked, trying to figure out what the boy was thinking.

"Cause it won't be long before you send me away." Under his breath he said. "They always do."

Jim walked over to the boy and sat on the bed. "You aren't going anywhere." Holding the boy by the shoulders, he turned him around. 'First of all, we like you. Second, we need to keep you safe and third, Marshall Jamison would have our livers for breakfast if anything happened to you." He lifted the boy's chin to look him in the eyes.

The boy's eyes were swimming with tears. Without a thought, Jim pulled him into his arm and held him close. The caring gesture was all it took for Ryan to release his tears, holding on tight to the big detective. One day he would have to thank his guide for the mellowing effect the younger man had been on his life. Three years ago he would not have been assigned to deal with a small child, they had terrified him. He would have fought to get away from a case like this one.

Ryan fell asleep after his crying jag. Jim carefully laid him down on the bed in the small bedroom and quietly left the room.

"How's he doing?"

"He's asleep for the moment. He cried himself to sleep." He sat on the couch, Blair flopped down onto the floor.

"So what do we do now?"

"I have a feeling that Blanca will try to get to the kid here. We just need to stay ready. Simon has people all around the area. We're as safe as we can be under the circumstances." They tried to relax, sitting back and watching the basketball game while they waited for Ryan to wake up. Jim suddenly tensed and picked up his gun.

"What is it?"

"Someone is coming up the stairs and it's not one of ours."

Getting his weapon from the kitchen, Blair started toward his room. He was almost there when the front door was kicked in. Two men rushed through the ruined doorway with their guns drawn and started shooting. Jim dove behind the couch and Blair stepped into the bathroom. When the first man moved toward Blair's room, the young detective tackled him, knocking the gunman to the ground. Jim took care of the other man with a shot to the chest. Jim stood up from behind the couch and knelt to check the downed man's condition. He was clubbed from behind, knocking him out.

Ryan was awakened by the sound of gunshots. At first he flashed back to the night when he saw the man die but when he heard the sounds of a fight, he peeked through the glass. He saw Blair knock out the man on the floor. He also saw Blanca come into the loft and hit the big detective on the head, knocking him unconscious. He opened the door to warn Blair but when, Blanca's gun aimed at him, the boy was frozen with fear. Ryan saw his short life flash before his eyes. Blair quickly stood, pulling the boy behind him.

"Blanca, you don't want to do this." The young man said, trying to stall.

Blanca laughed. "Oh, yes, I do. I'm even going to enjoy it." His finger tightened on the trigger.

"Drop it, Blanca." Jim said from behind the killer. "It would give me great pleasure to splatter your brains all over this room. Just give me an excuse."

Blanca eased off the trigger and raised his hands above his head. Jim could hear Simon and from the sound of his voice Jamison was with him. The detective took the gun from Blanca's hand and handed it back to Simon. Pulling down one arm at a time Blanca was cuffed and could see that it was over. Jim handed Blanca over to a uniformed officer for transport.

Jamison moved past him and over to the boy. Seeing Ryan was in good hands. Blair rushed over to his wobbly partner. The Marshal knelt down in front of the boy. "You came back." Ryan said with disbelief.

"I told you I would be back and I always keep my promises."

Two days later

After a long day of paperwork, the two men made their way back to the loft. Blair was on autopilot. He dropped his backpack on the floor, toed off his shoes, and collapsed onto the couch. His partner was only marginally better. Jim, however, had enough energy to reach the refrigerator and pull out a couple of cold beers. After handing one to his partner, he sat down and tried to relax.

"You think we'll ever see the kid again?" Blair asked. He'd gotten attached to the boy.

Jim smiled. "Oh, I can guarantee that we will." He stood and walked over to the door, pulling it open as Simon reached up to knock. The Captain just glared. Jim grinned and motioned for Simon and his companions to enter. Jamison ushered Ryan in.

"Hi, kid." Blair said, smiling when he saw the boy. The difference in Ryan was immediately visible. He was grinning from ear to ear.

"Hi, Blair! Hi, Detective Jim!"

Jamison spoke up. "Ryan wanted to thank you for everything."

Jim knelt down. "You are very welcome." He looked at the happy boy. "What are you going to do now?"

The grin grew even more. "I'm going to be adopted." He looked up at Jamison. "The Marshal and his wife want me." Jim could see the quiet happiness on the Marshal's face.

"They are really lucky to get a kid like you." Blair said. v Ryan looked at the two men shyly. "Since I'm going to be living here in Cascade, could maybe sometimes I come over to visit?"

"Any time, champ, anytime." They both agreed.

After the new family and Simon left they sat back to enjoy the quiet. "Well, it looks like we are honorary uncles now." Blair stated.

"Yep." Jim looked at his partner. "You know the best part about being an uncle?"

"What's that?"

"You get to give them back." Blair laughed until Jim added. "One kid in the loft is enough."