Jim wandered around the casino near the lobby in order to be there if Blair needed support. He kept out of sight, though, not wanting Blair to think that he couldn’t handle things on his own. Jim jogged for the lobby soon as he heard Naomi call Blair’s name and then sped up hearing Blair’s cry of pain. His hearing dialed up without thinking about it, he heard the brief conversation and the calming of Blair’s heart.

He stopped a short distance from the uneasy looking parents and Blair’s open, if mostly silent, laughter. Jim hesitated before striding forward. Blair didn’t look surprised to see him when Jim stepped up beside him.

Well, now it’s a real family discussion,” Blair said, still sounding amused. “So, Gil, where do you recommend for lunch?”

Gil met Jim’s gaze briefly before looking back at Blair and suggesting, “Perhaps we should just go up to your hotel room and order in?”

It was a good suggestion, but Jim knew Blair wouldn’t take it. He would want somewhere public so Naomi wouldn’t go off the rails. As much as she cultivated her carefree image, they both knew she hated public scenes.

Blair shook his head. “No, we should definitely go out.”

Looking doubtful, Gil said, “Well, there’s a diner I usually go to, but we might run into people I know from the lab.”

Sounds perfect. Doesn’t it, Mom?”

The ‘Mom’ was said in a very pointed tone and Naomi’s frown deepened, but she nodded and replied almost primly, “Of course, Blair.”

Grissom gave her the name of the diner and the address and they all went outside for the valets to bring up Grissom’s and Naomi’s cars. Jim figured it was fifty-fifty whether or not she actually showed up, but that wasn’t something he could control. With Blair practically vibrating beside him, Jim took hold of his partner’s hand and squeezed it lightly.

Blair smiled up at him and said, “I’m fine. You can tone down the BP mode.”

Jim rolled his eyes and countered, “This isn’t BP mode. Now, if I carried you back up into the room and locked the door, that would be BP mode.”

Grissom cast a curious eye their way and asked, “BP mode?”

Private joke,” Blair answered easily. “We’ll explain it later.”

If they discovered that they could trust him that far, Jim knew. Grissom let it slide and Naomi ignored the entire exchange. Grissom’s SUV was brought up first and Jim held open the back door for Blair before climbing in the front passenger’s seat himself. It was so ingrained for Jim to take point that Grissom’s curious look caught Jim by surprise. He gave the man a weak smile and said, “Cop and military habits. I always ride up front if there’s only room for one of us.”

I see,” Grissom said, noncommittal.

The trip to the diner took about ten minutes and while it was a quiet ride, it didn’t feel awkward. Once they parked, Grissom’s cell rang. Jim glanced over to see ‘Nick’ on the ID which made the other man’s heart instantly race. Jim picked up the sudden, mixed smells of nerves and arousal and said, “We’ll meet you in there.”

Grissom shot him a grateful look and remained in the SUV when he and Blair climbed out.

Though he was tempted to listen in, Jim didn’t. He put an arm over Blair’s shoulder and said quietly, “Something very personal.”

Blair nodded and slid his arm around Jim’s waist, leaning on him. They’d reached the door when Jim spotted Naomi driving into the parking lot in a hybrid. His eyebrows lifted in surprise and he said, “She must be doing well, if she’s driving that. I don’t see a rental sticker.”

Frowning a little, Blair said, “I don’t think she’s owned a car in her life.”

They went inside and found the diner just as large inside, as out. It had an old-fashioned feel to it, complete with red pleather booths and waitresses who looked like they’d been there thirty years.

Go on and seat yourself,” one of the waitresses said, smiling.

Blair tugged him towards one of the few circular booths, probably because it was big and they could sit between Naomi and Grissom. It also had the benefit of not forcing Blair to choose a parent to sit next to, which would heighten the already charged situation. They took the back of the round booth, which left opposite sides for Naomi and Grissom.

Naomi came in first, her smile thin, almost brittle, as she sat on Blair’s side of the circle, but with enough distance to face him if needed. She looked at Jim and requested, “Jim, would you mind giving us a few minutes to talk privately?”

Jim looked at Blair, who shook his head and told his mother, “I don’t hide anything from Jim, Mom, and you know it.

Blair, honey, we shouldn’t be having such a private conversation in the middle of a diner,” Naomi tried again. “Let’s go back to your hotel room where we can talk freely.”

Blair made a show of looking around the almost empty diner. “Who’s going to overhear?”

Grissom entered the diner just then, looking drawn, but determined. Whatever had happened on that call, it hadn’t been good. His demeanor changed little on the walk to the booth, though his smile seemed genuine enough when aimed at Blair and Jim. When he sat, he looked at Naomi and said, “You haven’t changed very much.”

Jim couldn’t tell whether it was a compliment or not.

The waitress came over and took lackluster orders from all of them. She didn’t linger, clearly feeling the tension at the table.

As soon as she was gone, Blair said, “This isn’t an attack or an ambush, Naomi. It’s just…I know I want to know why you never told me about Gil. All this time, I thought that something, something terrible had happened to you or that my father was a bad man to be around. But Gil is a respected scientist and a good man. Why didn’t you tell me who he was? And why not tell Gil about me?”

For a few seconds, Jim honestly felt sorry for her. It couldn’t have been easy to have her past confronted in such a way that she couldn’t escape or even plan for it. God knew that Jim’s past had come up to bite him on the ass often enough that he at least sympathized with her situation.

And then she said, “My reasons for doing so are my own, Blair. While I understand that you might be upset, I never gave you any impression of your father at all, good or bad. That was your assumption. As for not telling Gil, well, no offense Gil, but we barely knew one another at the time. Blair was, and is, my child only. You have no place in his life, because you weren’t meant to have one. I knew, even back then, that you were too…rigid, to have any positive influence on my son.”

Jim wondered just how thoroughly Naomi wanted to lose Blair, because she was going about it in such a way as to get completely disowned. Even if he hadn’t been able to smell the anger or hear his partner’s heart thundering in his chest, Jim would have known from the way he lost all expression just how livid Blair was. Glancing at Grissom, Jim saw that it was a trait he’d inherited from his father; the older man’s poker mask was firmly in place.

It took all he had not to offer some kind of comfort or to try and diffuse the situation, but this wasn’t his battle. He could only watch and wait, and hope for an outcome that didn’t leave three people with gaping wounds where their hearts used to be.

* * * *

Blair had been expecting an explanation. Any explanation, no matter how far out there or with however little reasoning, was better than the lack of one he’d just gotten. Staring at his mother incredulously, Blair demanded, “That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”

Naomi turned a little more in the booth to face him better as she said, “Yes. You haven’t lived my life or had to face my choices, Blair. You have no right to judge me.”

Sharp, angry words jumped to mind and he opened his mouth to say them all when Jim’s hand squeezed his thigh in warning. It was enough to get him to make him stop and choose his words. Taking a breath, Blair slowly let it out, counting to ten. He was grateful for Jim’s supportive presence and covered his partner’s hand with his own.

Gil spoke before he could, saying, “It doesn’t matter much to me why you did what you did, but you owe your son an explanation. Our son, despite how you kept us apart all these years. I would have been there for him, Naomi, and for you. He wouldn’t have had to live a vagabond existence; he could have lived with me while you did whatever you wanted to do. But then, I suppose you did that anyhow, not thinking of his well-being, but your own.”

Blair almost protested the cold words, but bit them back. In a way, they were true. Naomi had always done whatever she wanted. And while he wouldn’t be the man he was today without that upbringing, he couldn’t help but wonder if he’d be better, if he’d have made better choices. He certainly wouldn’t have been in so much trouble as a teenager with Gil’s calming influence.

No, you just would’ve had different issues. Everyone has them, no matter who their parents are, he thought with a sigh. He reached out to take her hand and said, “Look, Mom, I’m not judging you. I just need to know. Please tell me.”

Instead, Naomi stood and said, “I refuse to stay and listen to this attack. Blair, when you can accept that this is my business, please call me.”

Blair jumped up after her and grabbed her arm before she could get far, yanking her to a stop. Her eyes widened in shock and he told her, low and angry, “I want to understand you, Naomi, I do. I want to accept that you did what you thought was best and acted from a place of love, not a place of selfish need. Unless you tell me something, though, I can’t. My whole life, you told me to ‘detach with love,’ and ‘love the one you’re with,’ like some tired, contrived sixties song.

I know you don’t understand what I have with Jim and I know you don’t approve, but I’ve tried to include you in our lives. You’re the one who refuses to participate. You’re the one who won’t accept us as we are. I’m done. Unless you can meet me halfway, give me some kind of explanation and not treat Jim like he’s scum, don’t come around anymore. Don’t call me, don’t write, don’t email, don’t send up smoke signals. I don’t want to see you again unless you can be a mother to me. A real one.”

Naomi paled with almost every word until she was white as a ghost. As much as he wanted to take it all back, to protect her from even himself, Blair stayed silent. It had gone unsaid for long enough and he’d be damned if he kept choosing her over the love of his life. Jim had been pushed to the number two spot for long enough.

Letting out a shaky breath, Naomi said, “Fine,” and then just walked away.

Jim was suddenly right there beside him, pulling him into a careful hug and saying against his ear, “Breathe, Blair, come on, take a breath for me.”

Blair gasped suddenly when the edges of his vision grayed out, sagging against his lover and holding on tight. They seemed to stand there forever before Blair could bring himself to pull away from Jim. He gave the other man a wan smile and said, “That went well.”

Jim’s lips twitched, but there was no humor in his pale eyes. He squeezed Blair’s hip. “I’m sorry it didn’t go how you wanted.”

No, it definitely didn’t,” Blair sighed, “but it was about how I expected. We backed her into a corner and demanded answers. That’s not a scenario Naomi’s ever done well with.”

Jim ushered Blair back into the booth and tugged him in close, draping an arm over his shoulder as he said, “No, I guess not.”

Are you all right?” Gil asked soberly.

Blair nodded, resting his head on Jim’s shoulder. “I will be. How about you? I know you must want answers, too.”

Gil half-smiled and confirmed, “I do, but it’s not the same thing, is it?”

The waitress came over with their food just then and Blair saw with surprise that only ten minutes had gone by since placing the order. Ten minutes for his life to change. It didn’t seem fair to him, but then, it was pretty much on par with the rest of his life.

* * * *

Nick calling his cell threw Gil for a loop. He answered as soon as Jim and Blair left the SUV, glad they hadn’t questioned his need to answer it. “Nick?”

There was a short silence and then Nick answered, “Yeah, hey Gris. Um, sorry to bother you on your time off. Cath said you had a family problem?”

It was a positive step that Nick had called and spoken to Catherine, maybe even Warrick. Maybe calling Gil the other day had broken whatever barriers Nick had put up, even if he hadn’t actually spoken at the time.

It’s fine,” Gil promised. “How are you?”

Not too bad, I guess. I don’t look like the spotted elephant anymore.”

The joke made Gil smile and he said, “Well good, I’m glad.”

Silence returned, a little longer this time before Nick said, “I’m coming back in a few days. That’s why I called Catherine, to let her know, but then she said I should talk to you about work.”

Gil cursed the timing, seeing Naomi walk into the diner. He climbed out of the vehicle as he said, “I talked to Ecklie about getting you and Warrick back on nights with me and he okayed it.”

Nick sounded shocked as he exclaimed, “He did?”

Gil wasn’t sure whether it was a good or bad shock and answered cautiously, “He did. Is that all right? I probably should have talked to you first, but…”

But I wasn’t talking to anyone. No, no it’s fine, Grissom. I ah, I just, I need to…”

Gil paused with his hand on the door, waiting anxiously for whatever revelation Nick was about to give.

Look, I’ve gotta go. I’ll see you, okay?”

Nick hung up before Gil could respond. All the words he wanted to say, how sorry he was about what had happened, how he’d never let anything like that happen again, he hadn’t been able to say any of them. He waited a few seconds to pull himself together, make sure he didn’t have any flashbacks, and walked into the diner.

He spotted the others at a round booth and silently thanked whoever had the foresight to use it. Sitting beside Jim, across from Naomi, he took a moment to really look at the woman who’d broken his heart so long ago and who’d stolen his chance at fatherhood without his knowledge. She was still lovely, she’d aged well, and her eyes held the same brightness as before, though also a measure of wariness. Gil was a little surprised to find that he had no feelings for her, one way or the other, aside from anger at being kept in the dark about Blair.

The conversation with Naomi didn’t go as he’d hoped, once Blair had suggested it in the lobby. Not for himself, but for Blair, who deserved answers. After Naomi left, Gil watched Jim comfort Blair and wondered not for the first time just what their story was. The real story, not the one he’d gleaned from official reports and hearsay.

Is she coming back?” the waitress asked.

Gil shook his head. “No, she’s not.”

Thankfully, the woman just kept the extra food on the tray and said, “Let me know if you fellas need anything else.”

Gil half-smiled in her direction and then looked at Blair, who was still leaning on Jim. He had no idea how to start asking the questions he wanted to know about; didn’t even know if he had the right to ask them.

Blair does that too,” Jim announced, apropos of nothing.

Blinking at him, Gil asked, “Does what?”

Jim grinned briefly and said, “Turns the plate instead of moving what’s on it.”

Gil looked down to find his hand on the plate and his burger in front of him, instead of the fries. He gave them a hesitant smile and said, “So does my mother.”

That brought Blair back to the present and he questioned, “She’s still alive? How old is she?”

It was the ice breaker that they’d all needed. The next hour was spent talking about extended family: Gil had none and Blair had a passel of cousin, aunts and uncles; work: lab work versus police work in catching criminals; and the Symposium.

And speaking of which,” Blair said regretfully, “I need to get back. My panel’s due to start in about half an hour.”

Hopeful, Gil requested, “Would you mind if I sat in?”

Blair smiled and replied, “I’d love it, Gil.”

Gil paid the bill, small as it was, and then they left the diner. Blair sat in the front this time and they continued the conversation about the Symposium and how it had come about, as well as where it might go in the future. He was impressed by the number of people who’d come forward to bankroll it and said as much.

Blair made a rude noise and said, “As much as I appreciate the money for it, if they’re hoping I do this again and again, they’ve got another thing coming. I already told Sasha I was out of the planning, though of course I’ll attend. I have more important things to work on.”

Gil didn’t miss the look that Blair and Jim exchanged, though he only caught it via the rearview mirror. It was the perfect opening to ask about them, but then he arrived at the hotel and pulled in front of the valet. He parked, leaving the keys in the engine, and took the ticket the valet passed to him.

It surprised him when Jim parted from them in the lobby, but the other man just grinned at him and said, “Sandburg in motion is a beautiful thing, as long as it doesn’t involve very long discussions on things I don’t really care about.”

Blair laughed and then gasped, holding his side. He poked Jim in the stomach and said, “Yeah, you’re not nearly as much of a dumb jock as you like people to think.”

Hey, don’t let that get around,” Jim teased, kissing the top of his head. “Have fun, Chief. See you later, Grissom.”

Bemused by the exchange, Gil said, “Good bye, Jim.”

The lecture was in one of the smaller rooms and turned out to not be a lecture at all. Blair in teaching mode was a man who drew in those around him, encouraged them to participate and to give their own opinions even as he organically gave his own. It filled Gil with a pride that he knew he had no right to feel, not having had any hand in his upbringing.

And it was that thought which made him at least a little grateful to Naomi. If she’d been any other woman, this vital creativity might have been stifled in the school system, pigeonholed and even belittled by other students. It didn’t excuse her actions, but he did find a little more understanding for her.

Blair went over his allotted time by a good half-hour and then the after-discussion lasted another forty-five minutes. It reminded him of bull sessions in the lab and, years before that, college. Gil found himself participating somewhat even though he was as far from an expert at interpersonal relationships as one could get. There was something about Blair that made a person think and want to engage with those around them.

Once the last of the attendees left, Gil offered a broad smile to Blair and said, “I can see why everyone wants to be in your sessions. That was amazing!”

Blair smiled back at him. “Thanks, Gil! It was a great group, I just got them thinking a little. And I saw more than one person giving you looks of awe, by the way.”

Gil waved it off and said, “Doubtful, but thank you. Do you have any other sessions?”

Blair chuckled, replying, “No, Sasha knows better than to give me more than two a day because they always run long. Me running on time is about an hour late for everyone else. Hey, you want to join me and Jim for dinner? Our treat this time. And no offense, but real food, too, this time.”

Gil huffed in amusement. “None taken. We go there because it’s close to the lab, not because of the fine cuisine. And I would love to, thank you.”

Great! Let me run upstairs and get Jim. We’ll be down in five,” Blair enthused.

Gil watched him hustle across the lobby to the elevators and smiled. His phone rang and this time it was Catherine. Smiling, he answered, “Hello, Catherine.”

Well hello, Gil,” she answered, sounding surprised. “It sounds like you’re having a good day.”

I am. Naomi showed up, which was something of a disaster, but then Blair, Jim, and I had lunch and talked, which was good. And Blair invited me to his afternoon lecture, which was even better. And now we’re going out to dinner.”

Wow. Gil, that’s great! I’m so happy for you.”

Thanks. Now what’s wrong?”

Catherine half-laughed over the phone and said, “You know me too well. The Belkins DNA sample disappeared.”

Astonished, Gil demanded, “What do you mean, disappeared?”

Catherine reported, “Greg had it under lock and key with the other samples, but when he came on-shift tonight, it was missing.”

And nothing else was taken?”

No.”

Gil caught sight of Blair and Jim getting off the elevator, the younger man grinning up with something like adoration at his partner. A pang went through Gil’s heart as he thought about Nick. Pushing that aside, Gil took a breath and then said, “Then you will just have to find it.”

I, what? You’re not coming in?” she asked, sounding shocked.

Gil watched Blair and Jim as they crossed the lobby and then told her, “My son is in town for only three more days, so no. I won’t be coming in. I know you can handle this, Catherine, and thank you for doing so.”

Catherine chuckled warmly and said, “I never thought I would live to see the day, but good for you. Have fun tonight, Gil.”

I will. And thanks again, Catherine,” Gil answered, disconnecting.

Blair and Jim stopped in front of him and Blair asked, “So where are we going?”

Something warmed deep inside and Gil said, “I know the perfect place.”

* * * *

Jim was a little surprised when Grissom brought them to a small, Chinese restaurant and dashed inside, telling them to stay in the car. He shot Blair a grin and said, “First time I’ve heard that aimed at me.”

Blair rolled his eyes, but grinned back. “Not even close to turnabout, man, so don’t even think about it.”

Jim snorted, but Grissom was back before he could comment. He took the two large bags from Grissom and set them on the floor between his legs so they didn’t fall over on the trip, wherever they were going. The food smelled incredible, teasing Jim’s senses of smell and taste for the next twenty minutes. They were outside the city in the opposite direction Blair had been the other night when Grissom turned off the main freeway.

It was just as dark out here as in the other part of the desert, but Jim caught sight of a couple of coyotes jogging alongside the byway. He was glad that he had his weapon, just in case. It was three dirt roads later that they reached wherever it was Grissom wanted to go, and by then, they were literally in the middle of nowhere.

Jim climbed out of the SUV and then picked up the bags while Grissom went around back. Handing a bag to Blair, he said quietly, “There is nothing for miles. I hope the SUV doesn’t quit on us.”

It looks almost brand new,” Blair protested.

Jim shot him a pointed look. “And since when has being ‘new’ stopped anything from crapping out on us in the past?”

A faint smile surfaced on Blair’s face, his expression rueful. “I knew that financing was too good to be true.”

Jim said dryly, “Just think of the millions of dollars we’ll get in that class action lawsuit.”

Blair snorted and hip-checked him on his way to the back of the vehicle. Following, Jim found Grissom’s arms full with fold up chairs, blankets, an electric lantern, and a telescope.

I like to come out here to think when Vegas gets to be too much,” Grissom said, looking abruptly unsure of himself. “I should have asked, sorry. I just, well, I wanted to show you there’s beauty in the desert, not just neon, sex, and violence.”

Blair smiled and assured him, “It’s great out here, if a little chilly, but you’ve got that covered. Let’s eat, man, I’m starving.”

Jim gathered him in for a brief neck-lock and teased, “You’re always starving.”

Blair’s arm went around his waist and he replied, “So what’s your point?”

One of these days, you’re going to start growing again, but not in the direction you want,” Jim said, chuckling.

Blair goosed him with his free hand and retorted, “Someone’s sleeping on the sofa when we get back.”

Jim turned on hearing Grissom’s heart start beating faster, but his questioning look to the other man simply got him a faint, almost wistful smile in return.

Shall we get set up before the food gets cold?” Grissom suggested, walking away.

There was definitely something going on with the other man, but since his heart rate calmed, Jim didn’t question it. They walked about ten yards from the SUV and set up the chairs; Jim and Blair’s were right next to each other, while Grissom settled his a foot or so from Blair’s.

The telescope went up in the center of them, a few feet out, and Grissom said, “I don’t know if either of you are into astronomy, but I’m a bit of a hobbyist.”

Blair smiled widely at him and said, “Never really had time, but I always wanted to learn the constellations.”

That was all the invitation Grissom seemed to need. Jim sat on his canvas chair and just looked up at the sky while eating, enjoying the incredible view of stars over the desert. The other two men ate clustered around the telescope and he grinned to himself at Grissom’s lecturing, but compelling tone. It reminded him so much of Blair that even without the blood test there would’ve been no doubt in his mind that the man was Blair’s father.

When the food was gone and the trash stowed in the SUV, Blair pushed his chair against Jim’s and announced with a grin, “Blanket-time.”

Jim snickered and obligingly picked up the blanket, giving one end to Blair and putting his arm over his lover’s shoulder. Blair snuggled happily against him and rested his head on Jim’s shoulder. He deposited a kiss on top of the wild curls and murmured, “This is nice.”

Blair heaved a sigh and replied, “You said it.”

That irregular heartbeat caught Jim’s attention again and he looked over to find Grissom gazing at them. The sadness on his face matched the scent the breeze slowly blew his way, but it was masked again before he could ask about it.

Do you mind if I ask how long you’ve been together?” Grissom questioned, finally taking his own seat.

Blair chuckled and looked up at Jim as he prompted, “How long now, Jim?”

Jim half-smiled and answered, “Feels like forever, but in a good way.”

Yeah, you’re still aiming for the couch tonight, buddy-boy,” Blair teased, then looked over at his father and continued, “Technically, we’ve known each other around eight years. We were friends and roommates the first three and half, four years though.”

Grissom smiled briefly. “That sounds nice. And…you’re in it for the long-haul, I expect?”

Jim confirmed dryly, “The longest.”

Blair elbowed him comfortably and threatened, “Wow, you’re really cruising for it tonight, aren’t you?”

Jim chuckled and then said to Grissom, “We haven’t had an official commitment ceremony, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Blair said in a stage whisper, “I think he’s asking if your intentions towards his son are honorable.”

Grissom huffed in amusement and allowed, “Maybe I am. Not that I have a right to. You’ve known each other far longer than you’ve known me.”

Waving it off with a grin, Blair said, “No, that’s cool. You’re bound to be curious. Even today there’s a misconception in the general population that gay couples don’t last very long. It’s getting better, though, the more open long-term couples can be in public. The more public marriages and divorces the community goes through assures the rest of the population that there really isn’t any difference between gay and straight relationships.”

Please don’t get him started on the anthropological beginnings of today’s cultural acceptances and norms,” Jim pleaded, only half-joking. It was too beautiful and peaceful a night for a lecture that always wound Blair up.

Grissom chuckled at that and said, “I’m not trying to, although that sounds like a fascinating discussion for another time.”

Blair snorted. “At least some people appreciate me.”

Jim grinned and said, “I appreciate you, Chief, just not all your lectures.”

Blair chuckled, not taking offense. It was a running joke, if one that had taken a number of years to hold no sting.

Why do you call him that?”

A little surprised by the curious question, Jim looked back at Grissom and shrugged. “It’s just a nickname.”

Yes, but most nicknames between long-term couples involve diminutives where yours grants a sense of…power, I guess. As if you follow his lead, rather than vice versa, despite the age and…physical differences,” Grissom commented.

It was an uncommonly accurate observation. Most people assumed that Jim was in charge because of his experience and persona and Blair’s laid-back personality. There weren’t many who even thought to challenge that assumption, let alone guess the true nature of their relationship. Not that Jim had any problem with people knowing he would follow Blair to hell, it was just a surprisingly insight for someone who’d known them only a few days.

Blair stayed quiet, obviously waiting for him to field the situation and Jim huffed in amusement before saying, “For the most part, we have an equal partnership but I guess when push comes to shove, Blair wears the pants around here.”

Blair chuckled warmly at his attempt at humor and added, “When it’s not a tribal skirt or kilt or whatever.”

Grissom shook his head, but Jim could see from the faint smile he was bemused more than anything else at the confirmation. That whiff of sadness struck him again and he wondered if the call Grissom had gotten from ‘Nick’ had something to do with it.

Before he could decide what, if anything, to do, Blair pulled away from Jim and leaned on his knees, towards Grissom. “If you don’t mind my saying, Gil, you seem…sad. Is there anything we can do to help? Did you need to talk to someone?”

Grissom stayed silent for a long time, staring out at the desert, but Blair didn’t move; his posture attentive and welcoming, as opposed to expectant. Jim didn’t know anyone who could stay silent in the face of that kind of invitation, he could practically feel the ‘talk to me’ vibes coming off his lover in waves. Blair was in full Shaman mode now, projecting safety and assistance like nobody else could.

Finally, Grissom explained slowly, softly, “About a month ago, the man I’m, the man I’m in love with was abducted by someone who buried him alive in a glass coffin. We had a deadline, a countdown clock, and a live feed, but no leads except what the kidnapper gave us. I made the ransom drop, but it, it was fake, and he wasn’t there. It was just the kidnapper, who blew himself up and almost took me with him.”

Oh, man,” Blair breathed, reaching out to grasp Grissom’s thigh. “And without him, you had nothing to go on.”

Grissom nodded and Jim saw the gooseflesh break out on his arm as he shuddered, clearly still in the grip of that waking nightmare.

Grissom continued in an almost broken voice, “Fire ants got into the coffin. The bastard buried him right near a hill of them. They just about ate him alive and I couldn’t do a damn thing except watch. Seeing the two of you together, I’m happy for you, I am, but…it just reinforces what I can’t have, not anymore.”

Jim wasn’t surprised when Blair moved to hug Grissom. It was his nature to comfort and this was simply too much pain for him to ignore from anyone, even if a bond hadn’t already been forming between the two men.

When Blair pulled back, he asked simply, “Why can’t you have it?”

He barely talks to me anymore. When he called the first time, he didn’t say anything, he just hung up,” Grissom sighed. “He’s traumatized and it’s going to take a long time for him to get over it.”

Blair half-smiled and encouraged, “So be there for him. Everyone needs a friend when shit happens.”

I won’t take advantage of him,” Grissom said flatly.

Blair held up his hands, placating, and returned to his seat, though his tone remained calm and comforting as he said, “I didn’t say to do that, just to be there for him. See what happens down the road. Trust me when I say that nothing is impossible. Jim and me, well, it took a long time for both of us to realize what we were to each other. But we were friends first, best friends, and without that foundation there’s no way we’d still be together today. It would’ve fallen apart more than once.”

Judging that Blair had finished, Jim added, “And if you haven’t asked, how do you know he doesn’t want more with you, too? I didn’t. If Blair hadn’t brought it up, I probably wouldn’t have had the balls to do it. If you tell him and he doesn’t feel for you what you do for him, there’ll be some awkwardness, maybe he’ll transfer, maybe you’ll never see him again, but if he doesn’t feel for you, that’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world. At least you’ll know. And if he does…it’s the best feeling in the world, Grissom, believe me. Take a chance.”

Grissom offered a wry twist of the lips and commented, “I’m not really the chance-taking kind.”

Then you’ll never know,” Jim said, shrugging.

There was a definite awkward moment as Grissom looked between them. Jim figured it must be very weird getting advice from a son you barely knew. The older man seemed to push it all away with a faint sigh as he said, “Thank you for the advice, I’ll think about it. In the meantime, we didn’t come here so I could get histrionic on you. Let’s enjoy the rest of the night.”

Blair looked at Jim for confirmation that Grissom was really okay. Since the other man’s scent and breathing were normal, Jim nodded, smiling faintly. Blair smiled at Grissom and said, “Sounds great.”

Jim put his arm back around Blair’s shoulder as the smaller man again snuggled up to him. Then he just sat back and watched the beauty of the night unfurl, letting his senses roam and knowing that he’d always come back to himself because that’s where Blair was.

* * * *

Gil was able to audit a few of Blair’s other lectures before the symposium came to an end and found them just as enthralling as the first. He really was an excellent teacher and Gil felt a pang knowing that a teaching career had been denied such a gifted man. He hadn’t asked Blair for the whole story yet, even though he wanted to, because he didn’t feel they were at that point. Whatever had truly gone down, it was obviously intensely personal and Gil didn’t want to intrude or wear out his welcome.

More importantly, he got to spend time with Blair outside the hotel, getting to know his son. Every so often, Blair would surprise him by doing something that reminded Gil of himself, or even his mother, and realize that this brilliant young man truly was his son. It was baffling how Blair had turned out so extroverted, given the natural reserve he should have inherited along with certain mannerisms; Gil surmised that it to be Naomi’s influence.

Jim had decided to stay until the end of the conference. According to Blair, the detective alternately amused himself with the big screen tv and worked the case remotely with Simon Banks, the Captain whom Gil had heard many, many things about. He was looking forward to meeting the man that Blair held in such high regard, but didn’t want to presume an invitation to visit Cascade.

The last night of the symposium found Gil invited to the closing dinner and seated at Jim and Blair’s table, along with several distinguished persons from different fields. It amazed him how Blair seemed to not only keep track of, but converse easily in, multiple discussions simultaneously,. It made his head swim, and Gil considered himself fairly adept at multi-tasking.

Don’t even try to keep up,” Jim advised quietly, humor lighting his pale blue eyes. “No one can.”

Gil chuckled and said, “It’s exhausting. How do you live with so much energy?”

Jim cracked a grin at that. “Simon and I used to joke that he could fuel an entire energy station without any trouble. The thing with Sandburg is that he’ll go a hundred miles an hour for days, and then crash so hard he’ll sleep for twenty-four hours solid. He’s actually calmed down a lot since we first met.”

Gil’s eyebrows lifted incredulously and he questioned, “This is calmed down?”

Jim told him dryly, “This is positively sedate. I got him to sleep for a whole six hours last night.”

I heard that,” Blair said, honing in on the exchange with a grin. “Just wait until I do my detox in a couple of weeks. Then you’ll see sleeping.”

Gil chuckled at Jim’s mock-horrified expression. His phone rang and he looked at it to find ‘Nick’ on the ID. His heart stuttered and he stood, saying, “Excuse me, I need to take this,” before opening the phone and putting it to his ear. “Nick?”

The chatter he walked by in search of a quiet area wasn’t as rowdy as it could have been, thankfully, but Nick still asked, “Did I interrupt a meeting? Cath said you weren’t at work tonight.”

Gil left the ballroom and almost sighed in relief at the relative quiet. “No, no I’m at a conference dinner.”

Huh. I didn’t hear of any forensics cons in the area,” Nick said, sounding almost like his old self.

Gil hesitated and then corrected, “It’s not forensics, it’s cultural.”

Oh. Okay.”

Gil waited, but when Nick said nothing else, he asked, “Are you back?”

Tomorrow, actually. I ah, I thought we could get together before shift and, and talk.”

It was a terrifying and exciting suggestion, but he’d already promised to bring Jim and Blair to the airport. And then he thought, In for a penny… and said, “I’m, well, dropping off my son and his partner at the airport before shift. Would you like to meet him?”

The dead silence was not encouraging, but Nick finally exclaimed, “You have a son?”

Gil nodded automatically and answered, “I just found out a few days ago. He’s a speaker at the symposium, one of the founders actually.”

Oh my God. Wow. Uh, well hey, you know, I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

I wouldn’t have invited you if that were the case. I…want you to meet him.”

Oh. I ah…”

Realizing abruptly that it was too much to ask, especially for Nick’s first day back, Gil flushed with embarrassment and said hurriedly into the silence, “That’s okay. I shouldn’t have asked. Next time they come to Vegas, maybe. If you want to.”

I want to,” Nick echoed, almost immediately, sounding guilty.

The guilt wasn’t particularly encouraging. Gil withheld a sigh and said, “I’ll see you at work tomorrow, then.”

Yeah. See you then, Grissom.”

Gil disconnected with a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose to stem the rush of a headache suddenly assaulting him.

* * * *

Stepping out of the SUV the following night, Gil spotted Blair and Jim waiting by the valets with their luggage. Blair’s luggage, at least. All Jim seemed to have was a duffel bag.

Oh man, you totally don’t need to do this!” Blair exclaimed, smiling widely.

Gil smiled back, unable not to, and replied, “I want to.”

Jim’s hand came down on Blair’s shoulder as the valets put their luggage in the back. He said to Gil, “We appreciate it.”

Blair nodded immediately. “We definitely do.”

Gil nodded in return and said, “It’s no problem,” and then walked back around to get in the driver’s side. The drive to the airport didn’t take long and Blair filled the time with relieved chatter about how well the last couple days of the Symposium had gone. He parked in the drop-off area and they walked to the main entrance.

Inside the noisy lobby of comings and goings, Gil stopped and looked towards the security area before admitting, “I should probably take my leave here. I have to be at work shortly and there’s not enough time for me to go through security to see you off.”

Blair smiled and said, “Sure, of course. I can’t believe you took as much time off as you did, but I’m glad.”

A little hesitant, Gil asked, “Really?”

In answer, Blair hugged him tightly for a long moment before stepping back and saying firmly, “Really. It was wonderful to get to know you. And I hope you know it doesn’t stop here. We’d love to have you come visit. Plus there’s holidays and stuff, if you don’t have plans already.”

Gratified, and a bit overwhelmed by their ready acceptance of him into their lives, Gil answered, “I generally work the holidays. Ecklie will probably have a heart attack when I ask for them off for the first time in twenty years.”

Jim held out his hand, which Gil shook, and said, “It was good to meet you. Take care, Gil.”

You too,” Gil replied warmly.

Blair gave him a little wave and then they shouldered and picked up the various bags and suitcases and headed off to their terminal.

Gil watched them go and then turned to leave, walking sedately to the vehicle and thinking about the strange turn his life had just taken. The drive was filled with more of the same and he reached the lab with an equilibrium that surprised him. Somehow, it felt as if he’d always had a son, even if he hadn’t watched Blair grow up. There was just something about him that had reached right in to fill a hole Gil hadn’t known existed. And as son-in-laws went, Gil could do a lot worse than Jim Ellison.

He almost bumped into Nick rounding the corner to the elevators and gripped the other man’s arms to steady them both. As always, his heart beat a little faster being in close proximity to Nick and he breathed in deeply, even as he stood back with a smile. A quick look showed that Nick had recovered from his ordeal, at least physically, though there were shadows under his eyes that spoke of problems sleeping.

Nick smiled back at him and greeted, “Hey, Grissom, how are you? How’d the airport run go?”

Gil answered, “It went fine, thank you. And I’m good. How are you?”

God, he thought, in dismay, hovering between embarrassment and guilt. We’re reduced to making small talk.

Nick waved off his concern and said, “I’m fine, thanks. Look, I ah, I appreciate you getting me and Warrick back on nights. It’s great.”

It was no trouble,” Gil lied. “It’s not the same without you, both of you.”

And that was the truth, though he missed them both in different ways.

They stood awkwardly in the hall for a few more seconds and then Nick said, “Well, I should get to HR. They’ve got some paperwork for me to fill out.”

Of course,” Gil agreed. “I’ll see you in the breakroom for assignments.”

Nick nodded and headed in the direction he’d been going, towards administration.

Gil watched him go with a sigh and mental kick in the butt. So much for taking a chance. He stabbed the elevator call button with unnecessary force and winced at the resulting pain in his finger. He snorted and thought, That’s what you get.

Still. Having Nick back on nights meant that they would be working together again and that would give him time. Time to be there for Nick and time to work up the nerve to perhaps show the younger man what was really in his heart.

Shaking his head at his own foolishness, Gil stepped into the elevator and set his mind on work.



Epilogue

Gil rubbed at tired, gritty eyes the following morning on his way to the breakroom to get more coffee. His coffee machine had stopped working for no apparent reason, though he suspected that Greg's extra special beans had something to do with it. He'd probably tinkered with the machine to get his brew 'just right.' He frowned when he got there and found Warrick, Nick, Catherine, Sara, and Greg all there watching the smallish television. It looked like a live feed of the very early morning news.

Nudging Catherine, he asked, “What’s going on?”

She turned big eyes on him and asked faintly, “Gil, what flight were Blair and Jim on?”

His stomach dropped with sudden worry as he countered sharply, “Why?”

A flight from Vegas to Cascade was taken by terrorists last night. Two unnamed police detectives were instrumental in stopping the hostage situation, but there isn’t any details on who they are or what the real situation is.”

Gil swallowed against a suddenly dry throat and immediately pulled out his cell phone, dialing Blair’s number. When there was nothing but voicemail, he dialed Jim’s number.

We’re fine,” Jim answered without preamble. “Blair’s got a badly sprained ankle jumping from, ah, never mind, and hurt his ribs again, but we’re okay.”

Gil sank into the nearest chair in relief. He didn’t even want to know where Blair had been jumping from or to, it was just too frightening to think about. “Thank God. And no one was seriously hurt?”

Well, we’ve got two dead terrorists, but all the civilians are fine,” Jim reported. Someone shouted something, bellowed really, that sounded like ‘Now, Ellison!’ and he continued hurriedly, “I’ve got to go, Grissom. I’ll have Blair call you from the hospital. Oh, and welcome to the family.”

Gil numbly listened to the dial tone for a moment and then disconnected from his end. He suddenly had the feeling that life with Blair and Jim in it was going to be very, very interesting.