Jim pushed open the door off the loft, cursing softly as the handle slipped from his precarious grasp. He juggled the takeout bags and lunged for the door, just missing, wincing as he heard it hit the wall hard.
Blair was standing blank-eyed in front of the telephone and Jim saw him jump at the loud noise. Sharp Sentinel eyes also didn't miss the scrunched up envelope being suddenly shoved into Blair's jeans pocket.
"Sorry, Chief, didn't mean to startle you."
Blair turned to face him and Jim picked up the shine of tears in the young man's eyes.
"Hey, you okay?" Jim fumbled the food onto the dining table and walked across to place a hand on Blair's shoulder.
"Yeah, I'm okay," Blair replied quietly.
Jim indicated the pocket of Blair's jeans with his head. "Get some bad news?" he asked.
Blair shook his head. "Nah, just a letter from Mom. Hey, Chinese? Cool. I'll get some plates, man."
"How is Naomi?" Jim asked, an indefinable sense of unease settling in his belly as he watched Blair hustle from cupboard to table to cutlery drawer and back again, setting the table.
"She's fine," Blair said, his voice overly bright. "She's in India, having a ball on some spiritual retreat."
Jim grinned, deliberately putting his worry at the back of his mind for now. "Only your mom could have a ball on a spiritual retreat," he said.
Blair shrugged. "Yeah, well, that's Mom. What do you want to drink with this, Jim? Beer or water. Hey, I think we've still got some of that Scotch left from New Year's Eve. Mind if I have one?"
Jim blinked. Blair rarely drank spirits. "Go for it," he said finally, walking across and snagging himself a beer from the fridge. "You sure everything's okay?"
"Yeah, yeah," Blair replied, pulling the bottle of liquor from the cupboard above the sink and pouring himself a healthy shot. "Everything's cool. Let's eat. I'm starved."
Jim noticed Blair wasn't 'starved' enough to eat much as he watched his partner push his food around his plate, as if by reorganizing it he could make look eaten. It worried him. He was even more worried when Blair gulped down his drink and got up and poured himself another immediately, already sipping on it as he came back to the table.
"What?" Blair asked defensively as he looked up and noticed Jim's scrutiny. "You gonna give me a lecture on the dangers of drinking? It's not like I'm planning on going out driving or anything."
Jim shook his head and gathered up the plates and cutlery, taking them over to stack on the sink. "It's your hangover," he said. He scraped the plates and put them in the dishwasher then went and sat down next to Blair on the sofa, where his Guide had tuned into a basketball game on TV.
"Why do you keep looking at me?" Blair asked. "I've told you everything's fine."
"You also told me you were starving, Chief, and yet you hardly touched your food. I know it tasted fine because we ate the same thing, and I also know it's usually one of your favorite meals, so give. What's going on with you?"
"Nothing," Blair said, his eyes focused on the game. He sighed after a moment, picked up the remote and muted the sound, then turned and faced Jim, pulling one foot up to rest crossways under his other knee. "Look, someone in my family died, that's all-"
"Shit, Blair, I'm so sorry. You should have just told me that. Who was it?"
Jim felt a pang of guilt now. His friend had lost someone who was obviously close to him and Jim was needling him for having a couple of drinks and not eating.
"Um, it wasn't someone I knew very well," Blair said. "In fact, I'd never really met him. He was more like an uncle than anything else. You know, one of those relatives that you hear about but never meet?" He turned back to the TV and flicked the sound back on.
Jim's senses went on full alert and he heard the sudden spike in Blair's heart rate and the increase in his breathing. Blair was lying, that was obvious to a Sentinel, but Jim was reluctant to push him too hard. After all, Jim hadn't exactly been forthcoming about his own family to Blair. In the end, he contented himself with giving Blair's shoulder a supportive squeeze and saying, "You know I'm here for you if you want to talk, right, buddy?"
"Yeah, thanks, man," Blair replied, his eyes fixed firmly on the TV.
Jim saw him swallow convulsively a couple of times then Blair stood, handing the remote to him. "Um, I'm sorta tired. Think I'll go to bed."
Surprised, Jim accepted the control. It was barely eight PM, he noticed, checking his watch. "All right. Goodnight, Chief. Get some rest."
"Yeah, you too. Thanks, Jim, you know, for dinner and everything. Night."
"You know, I can manage at the PD tomorrow without you, if you'd rather not-"
"No, I'll be there, Jim. I told you. I'm fine," Blair said quickly.
Jim watched him until he closed the door to his room behind him and then sat back against the sofa, extending his hearing and listening as Blair sank down on his bed, the futon creaking a little under his weight. The next sound had the Sentinel on his feet and heading for Blair's room - quiet sobs that sounded like they were being muffled by the pillow.
Jim made it as far as Blair's door and stood there, his hand resting on the panel of glass. Then, hearing the sobs mutate into a hitching rhythm of sleep, he turned and went back to the couch.
He turned the TV sound to low and kept his senses partly focused on Blair's room till he found he couldn't stay awake any longer himself.
"What the hell did you think you were doing?" Jim said, his voice raised more by fear than anger.
Blair moved further back into the pillows, as if just those few inches could distance himself from his partner’s perceived wrath. He swallowed visibly and one slightly shaky hand came up to touch the bandage decorating his temple. "Would you mind not yelling?" he said quietly. Then he pushed himself up from his pillows and leaned forward, into Ellison’s space. "In case you haven’t noticed, I happen to have a freakin’ HEADACHE!"
Jim took a step back as the sound of Blair’s yell reverberated in his ears. "You’re the only one who’s yelling here, Sandburg. I was just trying to ascertain whether you have some sort of fucking death wish or something."
"Don’t be so bloody melodramatic, Jim," Blair snarled, flopping back against the pillows again. "I fell down four or five steps-"
"That you weren’t supposed to be at the top of, anyway, Einstein. You were supposed to be back at the truck calling for back-up while I checked out the warehouse."
"I did call for back-up," Blair said, his voice more restrained now. "Look, man, I’m sorry. I heard the gunshots and I freaked, okay? Can we forget it now?"
Jim bent down and took Blair’s chin firmly in his hand and angled it up so he could look into his partner’s pain-filled blue eyes. "No," he said very softly. "Ï understand why you did what you did but I will *never* forget coming out of that warehouse and seeing you unconscious on the ground."
"Yeah, okay, it was stupid, but how did I know you were going to come barreling through that door on the heels of that perp? I thought he’d shot you," Blair said, his breath catching in his hurry to explain.
"And what were you going to do with the guy if you had managed to catch him?" Jim asked, closing his eyes briefly as the horror of the scene flashed before his eyes again. The sound of the warehouse door as it slammed into someone on the other side, Jim’s short-lived relief that he’d hit the perp squashed ruthlessly as he ran through the entrance and saw Blair on the ground six steps below, his eyes closed, blood trickling down the side of his face.
Blair grinned up at him and for a moment, Jim saw a flash of *his* Blair, the one who’d been missing ever since Blair had gotten the mysterious letter a couple of days before.
"I would have looked around for a vending machine," Blair said.
"Funny, Shecky," Jim retorted. He sighed as he sat down on the edge of the bed. "What’s going on with you, Chief? You’ve been up and down like a yo-yo the past couple of days ever since you got that letter-"
"It’s nothing I can’t handle," Blair said calmly but Jim fancied he could hear the edge of sadness in his voice. "Now you want to hand me my clothes so I can get out of here?"
"Sorry, Blair, you’re staying overnight." Jim held up a hand as the expected objection began to emerge from Blair’s mouth. "Look, you were out cold for over fifteen minutes, you’ve got a cut on your head that needed eight stitches to close and I’ve got to get back and see if I can find out where our perp went after I let him get away from me at the warehouse."
"All the more reason I should be with you, Jim. If he got away from you before, when I was outside-"
"I’m only going to be chasing down leads on the computer, Sandburg. If we get a solid lead, I’ll get Rafe or Brown to go out with me," Jim said firmly.
"Okay, but you have to promise to pick me up no later than nine in the morning. There’s something important I have to do tomorrow," Blair said, his voice still mutinous.
"The only thing you’re doing tomorrow is resting at home. Look, I’ve gotta go. Get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow," Jim said. He stood and patted Blair’s back and then let himself out of the room.
Jim pushed open the door of Blair’s room the next morning promptly at nine. His stomach seemed to plummet to the very soles of his shoes as he realized Blair’s bed was empty, the bed looking newly-made.
‘Shit,’’ he cursed mentally as he turned and let the door slam shut behind him, heading for the nurse’s station at a jog, ‘Surely they would have called if Blair had taken a turn for the worse during the night.’
The nurse behind the desk looked up and smiled brightly at him. "Hi, Detective, did Blair forget something?" she asked before Jim could even speak.
Jim shook his head, trying desperately to get his racing heart under control. "Where is he?" he asked. "I was supposed to pick him up at nine."
"Really?" the nurse stood, surprise showing on her face. "He checked himself out at around 6 A.M. Normally, we insist patients go home with a relative or friend, especially after a concussion but as he signed himself out AMA, there was really nothing we could do. He caught a taxi, I believe, but I’ve no idea where to. He’s probably just headed for home to catch up on his sleep. Hospitals aren’t the quietest of places, even at night and we had to wake him every hour to check his vitals." She leaned across and gave Jim’s arm a reassuring pat. "I can tell you that he seemed fine physically when he left. We would have discharged him when you got here anyway. That’s why it seemed so odd that he was in such a rush to leave so early this morning."
Jim swallowed down the anger that had replaced the fear in his heart and smiled back at the nurse. "I’m sure he’s fine," ‘until I get hold of him,’ he added mentally. "Thanks for everything."
By the time he was in his car heading for the loft, he was already cataloguing all the various ways he could kill Sandburg and where he could hide the body.
"Sandburg!" he roared as he shoved open the loft door as hard as he could.
Silence greeted him and he stood still, casting his senses around for some sign of Blair.
Suddenly the phone rang, jangling in the stillness and he strode across the room and picked up the receiver. "Sandburg, where the hell are you?"
"Jim? It’s Naomi. Where’s Blair? Has something happened?"
‘Jesus, this day was getting better and better. No way was he telling Blair’s mother that her son had just spent the night in hospital with concussion after Jim had shoved him down a flight of stairs.’ "Naomi, hi. How are you? No, nothing’s happened. I was just expecting Blair to be home and he’s not, that’s all. I can give him a message for you."
"No, I’ll call again later. I really need to talk to him after the news I sent him in my letter the other day. I was in India and I felt so bad sending him something like that but I knew he’d want to know, in case he wanted to go the funeral, and I couldn’t get any phone reception and I only just got back and-"
Jim huffed out an impatient breath and rubbed his free hand up over his hair. Yep, Blair was definitely his mother’s son all right, if the verbosity was anything to go by. "Look, Naomi," he finally said as she took a breath. "Whose funeral? Who died? Blair didn’t tell me much although he seemed pretty upset considering it was someone he’d never met."
"Well, I suppose Blair never gave up hope of meeting him someday, although Tom had made it pretty clear he wanted nothing to do with either of us. I guess Blair would be upset realizing there’s absolutely no hope of that happening now-"
"Naomi!" Jim all but shouted. "Who died?"
There was a long silence before Naomi spoke again, her voice small and hushed now. "His father, Jim. Blair’s father."
The cemetery was quiet and appeared almost deserted as Jim pulled his vehicle in through the entrance gates and parked. He could see several people standing around an open grave a few hundred yards away and he walked towards them, quickening his pace as he identified Blair.
He made no attempt to speak to his partner when he reached him, just let him know he was there with a gentle hand on his shoulder.
Blair’s head whipped up and around, his eyes widening in shock. Jim mouthed an apology for startling him, then moved to stand at Blair’s right shoulder.
The obsequies finished moments after Jim arrived, and he watched in silence as Blair walked to the grave and tossed a handful of dirt on top of the coffin. He stood there for a moment, his head bowed then spoke to the young dark-haired woman standing opposite for several minutes. Jim watched as the girl walked around the grave and embraced Blair. She was younger than Blair, it appeared but she had the same dark curly hair…
Jim looked down at his friend. "Yeah. You okay?"
Blair shook his head slightly as they walked back to the truck. "I’m not sure. Probably. Sorry about leaving the hospital without telling you."
"Why did you?" Jim asked as he unlocked the doors and waited for Blair to climb into the passenger seat. Blair wound down the window and Jim leaned his arms on the open window frame as he waited for Blair’s answer.
"Stupid. You’d said I wasn’t going anywhere when I got home, that I had to rest and I just had to be here," Blair replied finally.
"You could have just explained," Jim said. He walked around and climbed into the driver’s seat then turned to face Blair. "You had to know I’d understand, that I would have driven you here…"
Blair just nodded and turned away. "I know. I wasn’t thinking very clearly. I’ll try to explain when we get home."
"Good enough." Jim started up the truck and drove slowly through the gates.
Blair looked up and accepted the bottle of chilled water from Jim’s hand. "No whiskey?" he asked, his lips quirking up in a small smile.
Jim tapped the bandage on Blair's forehead gently as he sat down beside him on the couch. "Not till the concussion’s a thing of the past," he said, tapping his own water bottle against Blair’s. "In memory of your father," he said solemnly.
Blair shook his head. "I didn’t know him at all," he replied.
"Yeah, you told me you didn’t know who your father was," Jim reminded him.
"When I told you that, I really didn’t. Then a month or so ago, just before she went to India, Mom called and said that she’d run into my father’s sister. The sister, my aunt, I guess, gave Mom, my father’s phone number. Mom called him, told him about me, what I was doing…" Blair stopped, sipping at his water, smiling up at Jim gratefully as the Sentinel patted his knee to encourage him to continue. "Long story short, he told her he hadn’t been interested in her bastard kid when she told him she was pregnant, so why would he be interested now?"
"God, I’m so sorry, Chief." Jim felt stunned at the unknown man’s heartlessness and at the thought that he’d so willingly given up the opportunity to get to know as unique and special a person as Blair.
"Yeah, me too, more for Naomi than for me, actually. She told me that when she met him he was a rich kid who wanted to be a hippie, preached all the peace and love stuff right along with her, till he found out she was pregnant. Then he told her he was engaged to be married to a nice girl back home and that his parents would never accept Naomi or her illegitimate baby. So, Mom took off and raised me on her own, with the help of friends in communes all across the country," Blair said, a small grin lighting his face as if at the memories.
"And then?" Jim asked, prompting his guide to continue.
Blair took a deep breath and then finished his drink, putting the bottle down on the table. He leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees and cupped his face in his upturned hands. "And then, Naomi heard from his sister to say he was really sick. She was on her way to India by then and as soon as she could, she called the hospital and found out that he’d just died. The same day, there was a flood that affected communications in the area where she was staying. She managed to get a letter to me via International Express. I received it two days after he died."
"Why didn’t you tell me any of this that night when I came home?" Jim asked. "I knew you were upset about something…"
Blair shrugged then turned his head to look at Jim, dropping his hands down to his knees, "Probably for the same reason you didn’t tell me about your father and Steven until you pretty much had to. I guess I just wasn’t sure how to tell you. I guess we’ve both got a few skeletons buried, Jim. "
Jim could only nod his silent acknowledgement of that.
"So why was it so important to go to the funeral?" Jim asked. "Closure?"
Blair shook his head. "I just wondered… if maybe he’d had other kids… maybe I had a sister or a brother out there. A family other than Naomi, you know?"
Jim nodded as he wrapped his arm around his friend’s shoulders and pulled him back against his side. "The girl at the funeral? She had hair like yours-"
Jim felt Blair’s head shake against his shoulder. "Apparently he never married the girl he was engaged to, never had any other children. He became something of a recluse. The woman at the funeral was his nurse."
"I’m sorry," Jim whispered, his own voice husky with sadness for his guide. "You do have family besides Naomi, though. You know that, don’t you, Chief?"
Blair tilted his head back, his eyes glistening and smiled at him. He lifted his hand and patted Jim’s chest. "I know, now," he said. "Thanks, Jim."
"Least I can do for family," Jim said gruffly. He gave Blair’s shoulders a quick, hard squeeze then pushed him away and stood up. "If my memory serves me right, it’s your turn to cook dinner."
Blair’s eyes widened in mock-shock. "I’m injured," he said, "and *you* injured me. I think I deserve the delivery meal of my choice for that."
"Whine, whine, whine, Sandburg, " Jim said as he headed for the kitchen drawer to find the menu for Blair’s favorite pizza restaurant.