In eight months time, Jim will come home to a silent loft, and will find a letter on the kitchen table. It will be cold that evening; the chill will wrap itself around him like a travesty of a lover, icy fingers dancing across his skin but the cold will be forgotten the moment he sees his name on the envelope.
His hands will shake when he opens the envelope, and as he pulls out the letter he will extend his hearing as far as he can, searching for a heartbeat that isn’t there. The letter will be brief and emotionless – just a few lines filled with practicalities that won’t sound like Blair at all. All the trademark enthusiasm, the passion for life that once spilled out into everything he did and everything he said will be gone.
Jim will glance at Blair’s artefacts – the ones that used to hang on the wall in the lounge - and only then will he discover they are gone as well. He will realise that they were never hung back up after Alex, that none of Blair’s things were ever returned to their rightful places in the loft. They stayed sequestered in the tiny confines of Blair’s room instead, a mute signal that their friendship has become fractured and broken in ways that Jim has never wanted to face.
He will run to that room, then, and stare in shock at the empty shelves. The cupboards will stand open, bare, and he will notice that Blair even took the time to clean the floor before he left.
There will be nothing of Blair’s left behind, and no reason for him to come back.
Only then will Jim finally open his eyes to the truth. Looking back over the months, he will realise just how things have changed between them. How gentle banter has slowly turned into something more than teasing: barbed words meant to hurt, said without the slightest trace of a smile.
He will finally recognise the hurt he’s seen in Blair’s eyes every day; the hurt that, at first, caused Blair to answer back, using words carefully chosen to do as much damage as Jim’s own, until things were said on both sides that can neither be taken back nor forgotten.
He will remember how Blair slowly stopped fighting back, until there were no more angry words in the loft, no more explanations, only a weary, resigned silence where there was once laughter and life.
He will realise with horror that he can’t remember the last time they simply spent a quiet, comfortable evening in one another’s company. Nor will he be able to remember the last time Blair could stand to look him in the eyes.
Jim will also know that Blair’s letter is not merely a ploy for attention, and there will be no convenient clues in his words as to where he’s gone – no last minute chance for Jim to make a grand gesture and finally put things right. By then, his chances will have run out.
Jim will search of course, tirelessly and for weeks on end – but one thing Blair’s time with Major Crimes has taught him is how to stay hidden. His colleagues will be sympathetic and helpful, but Jim will hear what they say to each other when his back is turned and they think he can’t hear them - that this is his own fault, and that Jim Ellison is the only person who didn’t see this coming.
He will discover that, for months, Major Crimes have had a pool going on how long it will be before Blair gives up and leaves Cascade. Simon will win, and will buy boxes of the finest Cuban cigars with the proceeds. Every time he lights one he will think fondly of Sandburg, and the smell of the cigars will make Jim choke.
Eventually Jim will be forced to give up the search, knowing that there is nowhere left to look, and that Blair does not want to be found.
As time passes, all traces of Sandburg’s existence will fade from the loft, until there is no sign that he was ever there, but Jim will know better.
He will return to work, but it will never be the same. His senses will flicker on and off, as unreliable as his whirling emotions, and Simon will force him to accept Megan as a permanent partner, stating that it is not safe for him to work cases on his own.
One day he will wake up and his senses will be gone completely, and Jim will feel immense relief that it’s over, that he no longer has to deal with painful, disorienting sensory spikes that only serve to remind him of what he has lost.
However, with the loss of his senses, he will also lose his final link to Blair. He will no longer hear Blair’s voice in his head as he fights for the dials, searching for even a tenth of the control he once had.
Blair will leave all his research behind, three thick binders full of typed notes and one bound, printed copy of his thesis: the thesis that two days after the press conference he told Jim he had burned. It will be a week before Jim picks up the dissertation, and he will turn over the cover to find a dedication on the inside, written in Blair’s elaborate handwriting.
To Jim, the best friend I ever had, and the finest man I ever knew.
The world lies at your feet.
He will stare at the words, seeing past the letters and down into the ink itself, sentinel-eyes making out the dents in the page where Blair pressed hard, imagining Blair’s hands moving as he carefully formed each letter. He will stare at the page, searching so desperately for the smallest trace of his friend on the paper that he’ll zone, lost in the words the way he once lost himself in Sandburg’s voice. When he finally awakens, night will have fallen and he’ll discover that he’s been crying, that his tears have dripped onto the page, causing the ink to merge together until the dedication is no longer readable.
Jim will never be able to bring himself to read the dissertation. Instead, it will sit on a shelf in Jim’s bedroom, gathering dust that Jim will never clean away. Every night, as he walks up the stairs to his bed, that shelf will be the first place he looks.
In eight months time, Jim will come home to a silent loft, and will find a letter on the kitchen table. As the letter falls from trembling hands he will see all the warning signs that he missed. But now, as he closes the door behind him, leaving Sandburg standing lost amid a sea of badly packed boxes, he sees nothing but his anger.