Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Drama

Summary: A possible reason for the break-up of Jim and Carolyn's marriage. Set after Neighborhood Watch, but before S2. Rated PG. Spoilers for Deep Water and Remembrance.

This is mostly a story about Jim and Carolyn. It takes a several pages to set up and it's mostly told through flashbacks, but it is a story about them. For those of you out there who dislike Carolyn, go elsewhere. I liked her -- still do -- and never cared for the "Carolyn is evil" mindset. I wanted to write a story that explored a possible reason for Jim and Carolyn's divorce and this is what I thought of. Originally I was going to submit this to a zine, but I changed my mind after thinking about it more since I wanted to include it in my "universe."

A couple caveats: This is an emotional story. I do not claim to have any personal knowledge of the topics I touch on and anything I write is based sheerly on my own brain and what little I've picked up from TV and/or books. Also, I've taken a little bit of liberty with the admittedly confusing TS timelime to make everything work. So sue me.

Beta'ed by the lovely Iris Wilde and roomie-dear Robyn. Thank you both! All remaining mistakes belong to me, me, me. ~grin~ As always, my thanks to Robyn who gives me someone to bounce ideas off, especially this one which I was initially hesitant to write, much less post. Thanks also to EagleEye who gave me the idea of the swings in the park a very, very long time ago. See? I'm finally using them. ~grin~

Memory's Tears
by Becky
February 2000

Megan: "You've been married...for real. What was it like?"
Jim: "Well, it was great, you know, for the most part.
We just kind of...we just kind of drifted apart."
-- Neighborhood Watch

~~~

<<squeak squeak>>

<<squeak squeak>>

Back and forth. Back and forth.

The heavy chain links leading from the curved leather swing to the iron bar rubbed together, their high-pitched creaking echoing into the early night air, grating against each other and against the thick metal loop at the top of the children's playground equipment. The movement was slight, but enough to cause the noise, normally unheard during the day when children romped and played and laughed.

<<squeak squeak>>

<<squeak squeak>>

Now, however...now it was out of place in that somber, quiet place, jarring to the ears of the man seated in the swing. Hands grasping the chains lightly, he kept the swing in motion, using one foot to push at the hard-packed dirt beneath him. Knowing intellectually that he could stop the squeaking by simply stopping the swing, he continued the movement anyway. He needed the movement, the noise, the distraction, anything to keep his mind busy, occupied, so he didn't have to think about--

It all started here. Just two days ago.

He shook his head hard, dismissing the thoughts and images that appeared. No, I don't want to think about that.

Another voice interjected, relentlessly questioning him. Then why did you come here? Why here of all places? If you didn't want to think about it, then you shouldn't have come here.

Closing his eyes momentarily, he sighed and shifted one hand away from the chains to rub his forehead wearily. Why indeed?

Lifting his head again, he stared out at the playground, seeing it as he had two days earlier, the mid-morning light drifting over treetops to hit the fluttering yellow tape marked "Police Line - Do Not Cross"....

*********************

Two days earlier...

Ducking under the yellow police tape, Blair followed Jim across the grass to the edge of a tight clump of trees. Simon, a long brown coat around his shoulders in deference to the chill, ubiquitous cigar clenched between his teeth, stood waiting for them.

Shaking his head, Blair muttered, "A playground. Of all the places for a dead body... Man, you think there'd be some safe place kids could play without getting exposed to this." Scattered children and their parents watched from beyond the borders of the crime scene, facial expressions caught between curiosity and horror. He shook his head again, jogging a few steps to catch up with his long-legged partner.

Blue eyes glittering, Jim inclined his head in agreement, jaw muscles tightening. "No argument here, Chief." Upon reaching Simon's side, the detective asked, "What've we got, sir?"

Simon motioned them toward the trees, pulling the cigar from his mouth to talk. "Some kids were playing and one of them ended up finding a dead body when chasing a ball."

Blair made a face. "Oh, man. Is the kid okay?"

Simon nodded. "Yeah, he's okay. Conner's talking to him and his mother over there." He gestured to the far side of the crime scene briefly. "His name is Eric Jansen, nine years old. He's a little shaky as you might expect, but he's got a good head on his shoulders. Kept his little sister away from the body so she didn't see anything and got the attention of the nearest adult to call this in."

Taking a moment longer to observe the brown-haired little boy currently talking with Megan across the way, Blair smiled a little at the gestures Megan made as she talked, most likely telling a story, and at the small laugh the boy gave in response. Heartened that the boy would be okay, he turned back to Jim and Simon, refocusing on the case at hand.

Jim squatted down on the ground, lifting the tarp from the body. "Oh, my, look who we have here."

Blair joined him, peering curiously around Jim's hand and the tarp only to wince back at the sight of the large bullet hole in the man's forehead. He looked away briefly, getting his bearings back, unwilling to leave Jim's side. His partner shot him a questioning glance to which Blair nodded once, indicating he was okay before voicing his own question.

"Who is it?"

Simon answered before Jim. "Bryan Michals. Small-time hood. Got caught a few times, but never for anything big enough to hold him for long."

Jim stared at the dead man a little longer, then dropped the tarp over him again. "Looks like he tried to move up in the ranks to something more than small time and someone wasn't happy with that." He stood up, Blair following him a few steps away from the body. "I want to talk to the boy who found him. You said his name was Eric?"

Simon paused a moment then nodded. "Okay. But go easy on him. He's just a kid. A very unnerved kid who has just found a dead body."

Raising a hand, Jim said quietly, "I'm not gonna interrogate him, Simon. I just want to ask him a few questions, that's all. I've been where he is and I just want to make sure he's okay." He strode away before either Simon or Blair could say anything, his long legs carrying across the grass quickly.

The two men stared at Jim's back for a few moments, then looked at each other. The memory of the case that had reunited Jim and his father returned to them rapidly, the important detail being that Jim had found a dead body -- that of his adult mentor, Bud -- when he had been only 10 years old.

Another moment passed, then Blair made a few abbreviated motions in the air with his hands. "Um, I guess I oughtta..."

Simon waved him on. "Go, go, keep an eye on him." He watched Blair hurry after Jim's retreating figure, then sighed. Rubbing a hand over his forehead briefly, he shoved the cigar into his mouth and turned back to the forensics crew that awaited his instructions.

*********************

<<squeak squeak>>

That had been the beginning. Maybe I should've seen something... No, not then. Not yet. He never told me. I wish I knew why.

<<squeak squeak>>

*********************

Jim paused at Rafe's side where he stood several feet in front of the small merry-go-round, guarding young Eric Jansen's privacy. Casting a critical eye at the remaining gawkers, already including a few journalists, Jim said quietly, "You got everything under control here, Rafe?"

A small smile crossed Rafe's face and he nodded once. "Yeah. Conner's taking care of the boy and his mother and H is, uh, escorting a few unruly photographers off-site."

Jim chuckled and clapped Rafe on one shoulder. "Good man." He paused a moment as Blair jogged to a stop at his side. "Was wondering what happened to you, Sandburg."

"You've got longer legs than I do, Jim. Give me some warning next time you plan to race."

"Hmm, I'll think about it. Come on, I want to talk to Eric." Jim crossed the distance separating him from the merry-go-round, then stopped to observe the quiet interplay between Megan and Eric. The young boy, seated next to Megan, smiling slightly, was obviously entranced the woman's Australian accent, as was the giggling younger girl sitting in Megan's lap.

At his side Blair commented quietly, soft laughter in his voice, "Gotta be that accent. Gets them every time."

Jim nodded once in acknowledgment, then turned to the brown-haired woman standing next to the merry-go-round, watching Megan and the two children. "Mrs. Jansen?"

Hands clutched together at her waist, she looked up, wide brown eyes a little startled. "Yes, that's me."

Holding out his hand, Jim went on. "Mrs. Jansen, I'm Detective Jim Ellison." Motioning to his side, he added, "This is my partner, Blair Sandburg." Blair nodded to her as Jim shook her hand and continued. "Can we call anyone for you?"

"One of the other detectives called my husband. He's going to meet us at home. Thank you."

Jim nodded, then said, "I'd like to talk with your son for a few moments, if that's all right."

Mrs. Jansen hesitated, obviously torn, not wanting to cause her child any further trauma. "Well, I don't know. Are you sure it's necessary? Inspector Conner," she looked down at the female officer, "she's already talked to him."

"I'm sure she has, Mrs. Jansen. I won't be too long. I just want to hear it in his words, that's all. You can stay here and listen."

Finally the woman nodded slowly. "Okay, I guess."

Turning back to the merry-go-round, Jim carefully sat down on the partition across from Megan's. Blair stayed where he was to watch and listen, knowing the boy didn't need any other people crowding around him. Bad enough that there were already reporters and photographers surrounding the playground. Glancing up and around, noting the people standing just behind the yellow tape, staring with morbid curiosity, Blair made a face, then shook his head and looked back at Jim.

Megan was talking, introducing the boy seated next to her to Jim. "Eric, this is Detective Ellison. Jim, this is Eric Jansen." She jiggled the younger girl in her lap. "And this is his little sister, Emma, who just turned four yesterday."

Jim smiled, hoping to put the suddenly quiet eight-year-old at ease. "Hello, Eric. Has Inspector Conner been telling you stories about Australia?"

Emma answered before Eric could, short blonde curls bobbing around her head as she giggled and babbled. "Yes. Stralia. Kala bears. And kangroos."

Megan and Jim chuckled at the four-year-old's enthusiasm. Eric smiled, relaxing again, then looked at Jim, his face growing serious.

"I guess you want me to tell you what I saw."

Jim nodded. "If you can tell me, yes. I know you've probably already told a lot of people, Eric, and I can't promise you won't have to tell it again. But I would like to hear it in your own words."

The boy sighed and gestured past Blair toward the cluster of trees. "Okay. Me and Emma, we were playing with a ball, throwing it around. I kicked it too hard and it went over her head into the trees. She didn't want to go get it, so I did. And I found...that guy."

Voice gentle, Jim asked, "Did you see anything else, other than the guy?"

Eric shook his head. "No. I ran out of there so fast I didn't even find my ball." He paused, then added in a hesitant voice, "I'm sorry, Detective. It...scared me and I didn't want Emma to see the man."

Jim placed a gentle hand on Eric's knee, squeezing it. "It's okay, Eric, I understand. I just asked to be sure." He paused and lowered his voice a tad. "When I wasn't much older than you, I saw something like this and I wouldn't have wanted my little brother to see it either. And it scared me, too."

Eric blinked up at him. "You saw a..." He trailed off with a glance toward his avidly listening sister.

"Yes, I did." He unconsciously rubbed his thumb over the boy's knee, soothing him. "You might have a few bad dreams about it, but it's okay to be a little scared. It's a scary thing to find something like that."

Emma piped in, bouncing a little in Megan's lap. "When I scared, I go to my mommy 'n daddy. They make it all better."

Jim shifted his glance toward the little girl, smiling softly. "That's what mommies and daddies are supposed to do, isn't it, Emma?"

She nodded. "Uh-huh. Make it all better. Make bad things," she waved one little hand in the air, "go 'way."

Chuckling quietly along with Megan, Jim turned his attention back to Eric. "You think you'll be okay, Eric?"

The boy nodded. "Yeah. I think so." He frowned a little. "Can I have my ball back?"

Another voice intruded. "Here you go." Jim and Eric looked up to see Blair holding a dark red rubber kickball. "Captain Banks found this and asked me to give it to you." He turned it so Jim could see "Jansen" written along the seam in black marker.

Eric jumped up and grabbed the ball from Blair's outstretched hands. "Thank you." He stopped and looked at Jim. "Can we go now, Detective?"

Jim nodded. "You can go. Thank you for talking to me, Eric."

Emma hopped off Megan's lap and toddled off with Eric and their mother, her hand tucked snugly in her brother's hand. Rafe escorted them, meeting up with Brown at the edge of the park. The little girl turned back as they reached the yellow tape and waved at all of them, her smile bright and cheerful. Megan waved back, returning the wide smile with one of her own.

"Such adorable children." Her smile faded and she looked over at Jim. "I hope Eric will be okay."

Jim glanced at Mrs. Jansen and her two children as Rafe and Brown led them to their car, growling at any intruding media. "He seemed like the type who'll bounce back pretty quick. And his parents will be there for him. I think he'll be fine."

"I hope you're right, Jim." She shifted, reaching out a hand to touch Jim's shoulder hesitantly. "About what you told Eric, about the body you found when you were younger, that was true?"

He met her eyes, nodding once. "Yes. I was 10." He looked away, then up to meet Blair's concerned gaze. "It wasn't a...pleasant experience."

"No, I wouldn't think it would be."

The silence held for a few moments, then Jim shook his head once and slapped both hands on his legs. "But it was a long time ago and has no connection to our current case aside of my memories. So let's get a move on."

Blair stepped forward and held out a hand to Megan. "Need a hand?"

Megan smiled and grasped his hand as she pushed herself up from the small merry-go-round. "Why, thank you, Sandy. You are such a gentleman."

Inclining his head and sweeping an arm through the air, Blair affected a cultured tone. "My pleasure, madam." He spoiled the image by letting a grin grace his features as he raised his head again. Both smiling, Megan and Blair turned to look at Jim, still seated on the merry-go-round, watching them amusedly.

Megan cocked an eyebrow at him. "You coming, Jimbo?"

Blair raised a hand to cover his grin, which grew larger at Jim's mock glare.

"Yeah, I'm coming, Conner." With a grunt, Jim pulled on the bars of the merry-go-round and got back to his feet again. "Why do they have to make those things so close to the ground?"

"Getting old there, Jim," Blair quipped, dodging out of Jim's reach when the older man took a swipe at him.

Megan rolled her eyes, laughter in her voice as she said, "Come along, boys. I think our captain wants to talk to us."

*********************

<<squeak squeak>>

Blue eyes shifted, resting on the distant clump of trees, noting the yellow police tape that continued to flutter in the gentle night wind. A simple homicide. Nothing that took more than a few days' work to solve. Who could've known it would lead to...to...well, to revealing that one not-so-little thing that he never told me.

<<squeak squeak>>

*********************

Earlier that day...

Jim hung up his desk phone and stood, reaching for his jacket. As he did, Blair entered the bullpen and jogged over to him, backpack over one shoulder. "Hey, Jim."

Turning and shrugging on the jacket, Jim stepped around the desk. "I thought you had classes this afternoon, Chief."

"Cancelled. Professor Millhorn came down with some nasty virus and she thought it better not to inflict it on the rest of us."

Jim chuckled and walked out of the bullpen, Blair falling into step beside him automatically. "Good. Otherwise, you'd probably get it and share it with me." They stopped at the elevator, and Jim pushed the 'down' button before waggling his finger at Blair. "And that would not be a pretty sight."

Blair held up both hands in defense. "Hey, you don't have to tell me. I've seen you when you're sick. Talk about scary..." He trailed off and shuddered, the effect ruined by the wide grin on his face.

Rolling his eyes, Jim tugged on Blair's ponytail. "You're a real prince, Sandburg."

"I try."

Snorting at the false modesty in Blair's voice, Jim shook his head.

Blair laughed and asked, "So where are you heading off to?"

"Mrs. Jansen, Eric's mom, called just before you got here."

The humor fell away and he turned to abrupt seriousness, remembering the little boy from two days earlier. "Oh, man, how's he doing?"

"His mom says he's been having a few nightmares and he's still a little scared. I guess he's worried that the murderer will show up at his house." The elevator arrived and both men stepped inside as Jim continued talking. "I offered to stop by and talk with him for a little bit, tell him not to worry. We caught the guy this morning, so maybe that'll help."

Blair's eyes widened. "You got him?"

Jim nodded. "Fastest case I've ever had. Michals owed someone money and got himself shot when he refused to pay. We found the gun in a dumpster across the park. The perp's fingerprints were all over it. Megan and I arrested him this morning."

Shifting his backpack on his shoulder a little, Blair shook his head. "I don't understand that, man. If you kill the guy that owes you money, you're still not gonna get paid. It's a lose-lose situation!"

The elevator doors opened and they exited, detouring around a group of uniformed officers waiting at the doors. Jim shrugged. "No one ever said criminals were smart, Chief." He paused as they walked to the truck. "You coming with me?"

"If you want. We can come back later to get my car."

"Fine by me."

*********************

<<squeak squeak>>

Maybe I'm making too big of a deal about this. I mean...it happened before we met. And it was...painful. Lips thinned as the man pressed them together. Not something you really want to dwell on. Or talk about.

<<squeak squeak>>

*********************

Mrs. Jansen met them at the door, opening it before Blair had a chance to ring the doorbell. "Detective Ellison, Mr. Sandburg. Please, come inside."

As she moved aside, Blair spotted Emma standing just behind her, one hand clutching at her mother's pantleg. He grinned and waggled his fingers at the little girl, who giggled and scampered off into the house, calling her brother's name.

Chuckling, the two men entered the house. Jim leaned in closer to Blair, whispering, "I think she likes you, Chief."

Blair smiled. "It's the Sandburg charm."

Jim rolled his eyes, then turned his attention to Mrs. Jansen who had returned to their sides after closing the door.

"Thank you both for coming. I know Eric will appreciate it." She paused and added, "And so do I."

Jim touched her shoulder. "My pleasure, ma'am."

They started walking down the short hallway, Blair trailing behind them, eyes taking in the decor. Mrs. Jansen continued. "You mentioned on the phone that you'd caught the man responsible."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Will Eric..." She stopped and looked up at Jim. "Will my son have to testify?"

Jim shook his head. "No. He won't. The man we caught confessed and we have plenty of evidence without any involvement from your son. Hopefully in a little while this will all just be a memory."

She closed her eyes momentarily and released a heavy breath. "Oh, thank you, Detective. I was so worried about that."

With the timing of all small children, Emma reappeared and grabbed Jim's hand, tugging at him. "Eric...see? It's the policeman." Blair smothered a laugh as Jim gamely let himself be dragged by the hand around the corner and into the family room where Eric sat on the couch. The TV set was on, playing what Blair recognized as the newer Superman cartoons.

From the entranceway of the family room, Blair and Mrs. Jansen watched as Jim sat next to Eric on the couch and slowly began a conversation with the young boy. Her mission complete, Emma plopped down on the carpet several feet away to play with a selection of dolls, her blonde curls bouncing as she moved. Blair shook his head, somewhat bemused at the safety children felt around Jim. He wondered absently if it was some sort of sentinel/tribal thing...

"Mr. Sandburg...?"

Shaking himself back to the present, Blair turned to Mrs. Jansen. "Please, call me Blair."

"Blair. Can I get you anything?"

"No, no, I'm good." He gestured to the front room. "You have a beautiful house."

"Thank you. My husband designed it. He wanted it to be perfect." She laughed a little. "Of course, now that years have passed since he had this house built and we have two very active children, he's finding it a little cramped." Her smile faded a touch. "He was heartbroken when he heard about what happened at the park. He didn't even go into work yesterday, just spent the whole day with Eric. He stayed most of last night in my son's bedroom, just watching him sleep and trying to chase the nightmares away. I barely convinced him to go to work this morning."

"Sounds like he's a good father."

"He is." She smiled. "A wonderful man. He loves both our children very much. Eric, however...Eric is special."

Blair frowned and glanced back at Jim and Eric, finding them laughing softly together about something on the TV. "How so?"

Mrs. Jansen followed his gaze to Eric and smiled. "We didn't think we would be able to have children. I had several miscarriages. It was...hard...on both of us. We finally decided to adopt. Eric has been a joy from day one." She shook her head and finished quietly. "Imagine our surprise when a few years later Emma was born."

On the couch, Jim leaned forward and whispered something in Eric's ear before patting his knee one last time and rising to his feet. Eric nodded and smiled at him, sliding off the couch to stand as well. Jim ruffled Eric's hair playfully, laughing as he made a face and dodged away in the way all eight-year-old boys do.

"You ready to go, Chief?" Jim made his way over to him.

Blair nodded. "Yup."

Jim turned to Mrs. Jansen. "I can't promise the nightmares will go away, but he told me knowing the bad guy was in jail helped. I hope it does."

Mrs. Jansen smiled her gratefulness. "I'm sure it will. Thank you again, Detective." She led them toward the front door. She opened the door and Blair stepped outside. Jim paused a moment to shake her hand, holding it for a moment longer.

"Those are two very special children you've got. Take care of them."

"I will."

A few short moments later, the two men were in the truck again and on their way home. Blair said quietly, "Mrs. Jansen was telling me about Eric...that he was special...did you...?"

Jim answered softly. "I heard."

Frowning at the odd tone in Jim's voice, Blair shifted in his seat to look at Jim. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Just... I'm fine."

Blair watched him a moment longer, then decided it was just Jim being Jim. He shook his head and smiled a little. "You were something with Eric, man. You would've made a good father." Pausing, he gnawed at his lower lip and looked out the side window. "Speaking of which, did you and Carolyn ever think about having kids?" Only silence responded to the question and he turned back. "Jim?"

Slowly, Jim finally answered, his eyes remaining on the road in front of them and lost in memory. "Yes. Once. But it...wasn't meant to be."

*********************

<<squeak squeak>>

Which brought him to where he was now. Sitting in the near-dark in a playground on a swing. Alone. Pondering the wrongness of the universe that let some children find dead bodies in parks. And kept other children from ever being born.

Jim had dropped him at the loft then taken off to 'be alone' for awhile. Whatever that meant. Left to his own devices, Blair had gone upstairs, cooked supper, ate, and still Jim didn't return. Finally, he decided to take a walk and use some of his excess energy doing something instead of just worrying. He didn't realize his wandering steps had led him to the park until he nearly tripped over the same merry-go-round that Jim had complained about the other day. Spotting the swings, Blair had collapsed in one, only vaguely registering that it had been nearly ten years since he'd last sat in one.

<<squeak squeak>>

Maybe I'm jumping to the wrong conclusions. Carolyn never said anything when I talked to her last month. In two hours, she had plenty to say, but nothing about...that.

<<crunch crunch>>

<<squea-->>

Blair stopped the swing abruptly and shifted upright, hands grasping the chains more tightly. Oh, this is good, Sandburg. You're out alone with no weapons at hand in a park where just a few nights ago someone was murdered. Real good. Before he could stand to face whoever was creeping up on him, that someone spoke.

"I thought I might find you here."

He wilted and turned, not rising from the swing, to see Jim, arms crossed over his chest, leaning against the frame. In the distance, Blair spotted the familiar pickup in the parking lot.

"Jim. Hi. Pull up a, uh, swing."

The detective pushed away from the frame and stepped closer to Blair. He eyed the swing next to Blair suspiciously, then carefully sat down in it. Blair bit down on a grin, reading the expression on Jim's face as one of near certainty that the whole set would come crashing down on them any moment. He resisted the urge to bounce a little. Instead, he asked, "Have you been looking for me?"

Jim shifted once, then froze for a moment as the frame creaked, then breathed out as he turned to look at Blair. "Yeah. I was looking for you." He paused, then looked down, scuffing the toe of his shoe into the dirt. "Sorry for blowing you off earlier. I just..."

"...needed to be alone. I understand that. It's okay."

They sat in silence; Jim stared at the dirt beneath him and Blair watched the yellow police tape flutter in the breeze.

"It's been a long time since I thought about it. Part of me...forgot. Wanted to forget." Jim's voice was quiet and Blair turned to watch his profile as he spoke. "And Carolyn...Carolyn never liked it that I could just turn everything off like that. The ba--" He broke off and clamped his lips together, jaw muscles jumping in his cheek.

Blair stretched an arm across the distance separating them and touched Jim's shoulder, rubbing it. "It's okay. You don't have to talk about it."

"No. I--" Jim took a breath. "I need to talk about it, I think. I never really have." He paused, gathering his thoughts. Shifting upwards, spilling Blair's hand from his shoulder, Jim stared at the night sky, a soft smile flitting across his face. "Did I ever tell you that Simon was actually the one that introduced us? I don't know what it was about her, but there was just something..."

*********************

Two and a half years before the Switchman case...

"Jim, this is Lt. Carolyn Plummer, our new chief of forensics." Simon grinned rather smugly. "Stole her from under the noses of Seattle PD. Lt. Plummer, this is Detective Jim Ellison."

Politely shaking hands with the brunette, Jim inclined his head. "Nice to meet you, Lt. Plummer. The captain told me he was finding ways to, uh, perfect his team. You must be it."

Carolyn smiled self-consciously but laughed softly nonetheless. "Thank you. I'm not sure I can live up to that expectation. And, please, if we're going to be working together, call me Carolyn."

"Carolyn," Jim repeated, still holding on to her hand. "Okay. And I'm Jim."

Simon cleared his throat loudly and the two pulled apart. "You've caught Jim on one of his better days. He's not normally this...civil."

Jim chuckled and sat back against the table. "Jack pounded some manners into me."

"Jack?" Carolyn queried.

The smile on Simon's face faltered just a tad. "Jack Pendergrast, Jim's former partner. He--" He looked at Jim whose eyes had sharpened with the expected angry feelings still associated with Jack's strange disappearance three months earlier and the widely held belief that Jack was a bad cop. Regardless of what happened with Jack, Simon knew he still had the missing cop to thank for Jim's abrupt turnaround from spoiled vice cop to partially on his way to becoming an excellent addition to Major Crimes. Deciding he didn't want to tangle with a surly Jim that day, he amended his explanation. "He's not with us any longer." Shoving away from his desk, Simon waved that topic away and moved on. "In any case, the reason I called you in here, Jim, was that I wanted you to show Lt. Plummer around the city a little."

"Simon..." Throwing a hesitant glance at Carolyn, Jim started to interrupt.

The captain continued, raising his voice over Jim's. "I know for a fact that your desk is clear of priority cases, Jim. Just a quick tour." Every now and then, the petulant troublemaker popped up and Simon remembered that the "Ellison Transformation Project" was still underway.

"If this is too much trouble, I can find my own way." Carolyn's eyes darted from one man to the other. "I've been here before a few times actually..."

Jim relented under Simon's captainly glower and shook his head. "No, no, that's okay." He turned to Carolyn, smiling warmly, charm back in place. "I can show you around. I, uh, grew up here, so I probably know the city better than most." Pulling open the office door, he gestured her through. "Besides, the captain just gave me permission to take the day off and spend it with a beautiful woman. Who am I to argue against that?"

Carolyn's laughter echoed in the bullpen as they left.

*********************

Present...

"After that, things seem to just happen. We went out to eat a few times, usually lunch. Then came a few dinners. Don't get me wrong...we argued a lot as well. You know me -- never one to take the easy road. But we were both...lonely, I guess. I hadn't really been seeing anyone. And just before she left Seattle, she'd broken up with a guy she thought was gonna marry her. So we...dated." Jim chuckled. "Drove Simon nuts to see us flagrantly going against his 'no fraternization' rule, even if he was the one to more or less set us up with each other."

Blair laughed softly, then grew serious again. "You loved her, didn't you?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah. I loved her. Still do, in a way. I probably always will." He stared off into the distance for several seconds, then shook himself. "Anyway, a few months down the road, after Simon had finally given in and just accepted our relationship with his typical grace, I proposed to her. She said yes. Simon was...surprised. I don't think marriage was something anyone had seen coming, least of all me. But marry we did a few weeks later. The media got wind of it and, of course, had to capture the 'American Hero' getting hitched. Carolyn's family didn't know whether to be shocked that Carolyn was marrying so fast with hardly any notice or proud that their daughter was marrying a man who'd been on the cover of a national magazine."

"I bet. What did Carolyn think? Of all the media."

He shrugged. "Didn't seem to faze her. She was in love. Soon enough the media faded away, their attention caught by other things. And we had...other things to worry about..."

*********************

Three months after the wedding...

"Jimmy?"

Carolyn's tentative voice wafted up to the upper loft bedroom from the bathroom. Frowning, Jim pulled the gray t-shirt over his head and tugged it into place as he stepped toward the stairs. "Carolyn? What is it?" She rarely called him Jimmy -- especially not in that tone of voice.

"Could you come down here? Please? I think..." Her voice trailed off.

"Carolyn?" No answer. Jim took the stairs two at a time, growing more worried at his wife's lack of response. They'd had an argument the day before but had made up over a candlelit dinner. He hoped this wasn't some leftover issue they'd mutually forgotten about. Jogging over to the partially open bathroom door, he tapped at the wood, then pushed open the door slowly. "Carolyn? You okay?"

Hair still mussed from sleep, terrycloth robe pulled around her loosely, Carolyn sat on the closed toilet seat and held an oddly familiar-looking plastic stick in her hand. She stared at it a moment longer, then raised stunned eyes to Jim. Swallowing hard, she took a breath, then said, "I think...I think I'm pregnant."

*********************

Present...

"Not something either of us were expecting. Or planned for. Or really even talked about. I mean, we were using birth control, but I guess..." Jim sighed and lifted one hand to rub his fingers over his eyes. "Carolyn saw her doctor and found out she was definitely pregnant. So we talked and thought about it and did some more talking. Neither one of us could see abortion as an option and the more Carolyn thought about it, the more a baby began to appeal to her. And slowly it began to appeal to me..."

*********************

Two months into the pregnancy...

"Jim....Jim!....Ellison!!"

Jim jerked upright in his desk chair, the loud greeting startling him into knocking over the container of pens on his desk and accidentally ripping a page in the catalog he'd been studying. Glancing upward, he found Simon watching him, a measured look of mixed annoyance and concern on his features. "Captain! Uh, sorry, sir. I was... Sorry." He slapped the catalog shut and dragged a case folder on top of it before fiddling with the spilled pens, nervously restacking them in the cup.

"Jim..."

"Yes, sir?" He tried for the innocent look, folding his hands together over the case folder.

Simon crossed his arms and sat on the corner of the desk. "Look, I don't normally get so involved in my people's private lives, but whatever it is that's got both you and Plummer so distracted lately, I want to know. And just what is so important about whatever it is you're hiding under that folder?" He gestured towards Jim's hands.

The detective hesitated a moment, looking around the half-full bullpen, then slowly moved the folder away. Simon shifted forward to read the upside down catalog title. "Furniture for Your...Child?" He moved startled eyes back to Jim's face. "Jim?"

Jim opened the catalog to a dog-eared page and laid a finger on a picture of a white bedecked crib. "I like this one, but Carolyn thinks it's too...ornate. What do you think?"

Simon just stared at him a moment, then snatched the catalog away from Jim and slid from the desk to his feet. "In my office."

Meekly, Jim followed and waited until Simon had closed the door. "Captain--"

Simon slapped the catalog down on the table then raised one hand. "One question. Why didn't I know about this?"

"Carolyn doesn't want to tell anyone yet."

Laughing, Simon pointed at the catalog. "Obviously she doesn't know you brought that into work today."

Jim shook his head. "No, she went to the doctor this morning for a check-up. Haven't seen her since we parted ways at the loft. I'm sorry, Simon. You would've been the first person to know. Well, after her parents, that is. After all, you're the one who got us together."

"Don't remind me," Simon groaned.

Chuckling, Jim picked up the catalog and opened it again to the selection of cribs. "So, father to a going-to-be father, what do you think?"

Simon shook his head and studied the pictures with Jim. "Jim Ellison, father. Somehow that just doesn't compute. Of course, Carolyn Plummer, mother, isn't really working for me either. I thought the two of you were gonna stick with being a career couple."

"Well, you know, things...happen. And we talked...a lot. We know we'll have to make adjustments, but I think we'll manage okay." Jim stroked a finger over the fancy crib. "I want the best for my daughter."

The captain raised an eyebrow. "Daughter? Isn't it a little early to be deciding that?"

Jim shrugged. "Carolyn wants a boy. I want a girl. We're...debating who will be right."

Simon laughed. "I remember those...debates with Joan when she was pregnant with Daryl. She--" His desk phone rang and he stepped over to answer it. "Banks." He looked out the office window, then at Jim. "He's right here."

Correctly interpreting Simon's words, Jim joined Simon at the desk and took the receiver. "This is Jim Ellison .... Yes .... What?" His eyes widened and his grip on the catalog tightened. Simon grasped his shoulder and met Jim's suddenly very young eyes. "Yes, yes, I'm...I'm on my way. Please tell her I'm coming. Thank you." With an almost too careful movement, Jim hung the phone back up, then stared at the catalog in his hands. With a bitter twist of his lips, he laid the catalog on Simon's desk. "Guess I won't be needing this after all."

"Jim, what happened? Is Carolyn all right?" Simon's hand shook him from his daze.

Looking up, Jim nodded. "She's...okay. The baby...she lost..." He couldn't finish and he shuddered. Shrugging away Simon's touch, he headed towards the door. "I have to go. Carolyn's waiting for me."

Stunned, Simon stopped him. "Wait, Jim. Are you sure you're up to driving? I can--"

Jim shook his head. "No, it's okay. I'll be fine. Carolyn...Carolyn won't want anyone else to know. Thanks." He slipped away before Simon could stop him.

*********************

Present...

"Oh, god, Jim...that's...that's..." Blair gave up on words, just shaking his head instead. Again, his hand rested on Jim's shoulder, letting his friend know he was there.

"I know. There are no words to describe it. And it was...hard, just like Mrs. Jansen said. Carolyn took several days off work and just stayed home, grieving, trying to...handle it. I think..." Jim sighed. "I think she lost a piece of herself that day."

"What about you?" Blair asked softly, his concern as ever for his partner.

Jim snorted. "Me? I did exactly what I think Carolyn half-expected. I closed up, didn't talk about it, refused to talk about it. I held Carolyn, let her cry, let her mourn, but I didn't let myself do anything. It wasn't..." His hands tightened into fists on the chains. "It wasn't how I grew up. Men don't cry. Not even for something like that." He shook his head, jaw muscles clenching. "I was such a fool."

"Jim..." Blair tried to interrupt.

"Carolyn accused me of not caring, of not even wanting the baby. We yelled. Argued. Fought. Loudly. All the time. It was...well, it just was." He leaned his head against one hand where it gripped the chain. "After awhile, I just stopped. Stopped listening. Stopped talking. Stopped bothering even to fight with her. And we just...drifted apart. When she handed me the divorce papers a few months later, I--I don't know. I was shocked? I don't know why. I shouldn't have been. Even Simon saw it coming. I just wasn't...there anymore. I never paid attention to see the things right in front of me. And I lost Carolyn because of it."

"Jim. You're not that man." Blair pulled himself closer to Jim. "Not now. You have to forgive yourself."

Blue eyes softening just a bit, Jim lifted his head to meet Blair's eyes. "Maybe I just did."

Blair blinked in confusion, but pressed onward. "Did you ever...grieve?"

Jim nodded, then shook his head in wry memory. "Sort of. The week after the divorce was finalized, I went out and got rip-roaring drunk. Fortunately the bartender knew me and knew Simon. He called Simon to come get me and take me home. From what little I can remember, it wasn't a good evening. I was a mess. I alternately cried, moaned, and threw up in Simon's car. And let's not go into what I felt like the next morning..." He shuddered. "Not one of my better days. I'm amazed Simon didn't toss me out of Major Crimes after that, especially considering I think he would've kept Carolyn over me if that'd ever become an issue."

"But you and Carolyn, you still managed to work things out...more or less," Blair persisted.

"Yeah, more or less. In time, I got my act together. We settled into an uneasy working friendship, but that was about it. I tried asking her out, but..." He shrugged. "We were just finding our footing with each other again when she got that job offer in San Francisco. It was too much of a good thing to pass up. Last I talked to her, she was doing really well." Jim smiled wistfully. "She's happy."

A comfortable silence descended on them again and they sat in the swings, just listening to the night breeze whistling through the park. A stiffer wind blew by and Blair shivered a bit. Another wind followed and he watched Jim shiver without realizing it. Finally, he cleared his throat softly and spoke up.

"Uh, maybe we should be getting back. I've got classes in the morning. You haven't had supper yet, I'm assuming. And I think earlier you mentioned meeting with the DA tomorrow to go over your court testimony." He hunched his shoulders down a little as he talked.

Jim looked over at him with a smile. "Cold, Chief?"

"Give that man a donut; he got it in one."

Laughing, Jim stood, and Blair joined him quickly. He swung an arm over the shorter man's shoulders and turned them to head back to the truck. "C'mon, O Cold One, let's go home. You can have some of that funny-smelling tea you've been hiding behind the cocoa."

*********************

Half-listening to his roommate croon to himself in the hot shower later that evening, Jim sat down on his bed upstairs and pulled a battered shoebox into his lap. Opening it, he withdrew a small, framed wedding picture of himself and Carolyn, the only one he'd kept. He smiled at the picture, remembering how happy the two of them had been, if even for a short while. He set the picture aside and leafed through the rest of the contents. A few newspaper articles, mostly centered around their media-watched courtship and marriage. Their marriage license and wedding papers. The divorce papers were stored elsewhere. A small blue velvet box held their wedding bands, but he didn't open it, just stroked one finger over the top of the container.

At the bottom of the box, in one corner, lay a small, flat, square box. He lifted it reverently and removed the stiff lid with care. Pushing away the crinkling and yellowing tissue paper with two gentle fingers, he stared at the tiny white knitted booties nestled inside. The only thing to survive his early childhood were these delicate items. His grandmother, a woman he barely remembered, had knitted these for him when he was a baby. After his mother left, he'd found them stuffed in the back of her spacious closet one day when his father was out. Sally had kept them for him while he was a boy and he'd received them in the mail after he'd married Carolyn. No card, no note, just the box with no return address. But he'd known who'd sent them. He'd recognized Sally's handwriting and had sent her a small bouquet of flowers with only a "Thank You" written on the card.

Setting the box aside, Jim sighed and ran both hands over his face. Blair was still singing to himself, though the song had changed to some fast food jingle he'd heard on the radio the other day. Jim laughed and straightened, then reached for the phone sitting on the bedside table. He hesitated a moment, then quickly dialed a number before he could change his mind.

The phone on the other end rang once...twice...then was picked up in the middle of the third ring. "Hello?"

"Carolyn, hi. It's me, Jim."

"Jim? How're you doing? I haven't talked to you in a while."

Jim leaned back on the bed. "I know. I've been busy. As usual. How are you? Things still going good down there?"

"Yeah, my team's great. I love it here. Oh, and I got a cat. She reminds me of you." Her warm laugh flowed across the line.

"Me?" Jim chuckled. "Why? Or should I be afraid to ask?"

"Not too afraid. She's just a picky eater. I think she wants a set of crystal bowls to eat from. And she loves the smell of hamburger."

Jim laughed harder. "Sounds like my kind of feline. Except for the fact that she'd probably make me sneeze."

Carolyn laughed with him, then slowly asked, "So...why is the big bad Cascade detective calling little ol' me so late?"

Jim breathed out and replied in a soft voice. "No reason really. Just wanted to say hi. And to say..." He froze up, then made himself go on. "I talked to Blair tonight about...about the baby."

Carolyn's soft inhalation echoed across the line, followed by a sigh. "Oh, Jim."

"It's probably way too late to say this, but I just wanted you to know how...sorry I am for how things turned out." He picked at a loose thread on his comforter. "Things got really bad between us. And I've always regretted that. I'm sorry."

"Jim..." Jim could hear her swallowing and running her fingers through her hair.

"I did want the baby, you know, Carolyn. I was looking at cribs with Simon when the doctor called." He picked up the small open box with the tiny booties in it. "I even pulled my one family heirloom out of storage."

"You have a family heirloom, Jim?" Her voice sounded suspiciously tight with emotion.

He chuckled. "Yeah. A pair of hand-knitted white baby booties. They were mine from my grandmother."

"Oh."

Silence strung out between them again and Jim found the lid for the tiny box, resealing it carefully. "I guess I should let you go."

"Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"If ever you're in the area, stop by. Maybe we could go out for lunch or something." A thread of hope wove itself into the words.

Jim injected a tiny note of lightness into the conversation. "Do you guys have Wonderburger?"

Carolyn laughed. "No, Jim, no Wonderburger. You'll just have to trust my judgment in food."

"Okay, okay." He chuckled. "I was just kidding."

"Uh-huh. You forget that I know you."

"That you do." The shower stopped below and he heard Blair muttering to himself as he smeared the fog from the mirrors. "I should really let you go. I'm sure you've got a busy day tomorrow."

"Yeah, I do."

"So...bye."

"Thanks for calling. It was...good talking to you. Really good." She paused, then rushed to add, "And Jim?"

"Yes, Carolyn?"

"I knew. I always knew."

~ The End ~