The booking of Bill Petrie and his two accomplices took longer than expected, as always, and Jim was late getting home. Surprisingly, Blair was even later. Ellison arrived at the loft to find the Corvair absent from the parking lot and he spent the short walk up to the loft speculating on which pretty library assistant Blair had gotten distracted by this time. A redhead named Chloe had been the favorite last week, but Jim was fairly certain that the Petrie investigation had caused Blair to miss at least one date with that one, so it was really anybody's game. Whoever it was, Jim hoped Blair would get home soon. He had a lovely lady waiting for him right at home, after all.
Blair's mother was still in town. After her run-in with Francine, Blair had insisted Naomi stay for a few more days to "process" the experience, knowing first hand as he did how jarring that first brush with death could be. And besides which, with the case taking up much of Blair's time, mother and son had not gotten much quality time together - quality time that seemed a lot more important after the events of the last week. And so Naomi had agreed to hang around for a while longer. Jim didn't mind. Sandburg's mother had breezed into his home, his life, and his affections as easily as her son had, smoothing over his every qualm with some mysterious, seemingly hereditary combination of charm, self-confidence, and bulldog stubbornness.
"Welcome home!" Naomi called cheerfully as Jim came in. She was lounging peacefully on the couch, flipping idly through a National Geographic Blair had left on the coffee table.
"Hi, Naomi," Jim greeted her, giving her a winning smile. Something about the woman brought out the charmer in him. Another genetic thing, the Sentinel decided. It went a long way to explain Blair's knack for attracting women. "Sandburg... errr... Blair's not back yet, huh?"
Naomi's head snapped up in alarm at his words, and she seemed to notice for the first time that he had come in alone. She sprang up, the magazine falling to the floor unnoticed.
"You mean he's not with you? He said he'd be with you all day!" Her voice rose sharply, tight with sudden fear and accusation. She paced to the windows, looking down at the street below as if hoping to see Blair in the lot below. "Where is he?!"
Jim belatedly realized the problem, cursing himself as an idiot, and moved to reassure her.
"Take it easy. He just left the station a little early because he had to stop at the library to drop off some research materials that were due back. I'm sure he'll be home any time now."
Naomi turned on him abruptly, refusing to be placated. "How do you know that?" she asked. "He could be in trouble! He could have had an accident or been kidnapped or... or something!"
She was overreacting, but Jim couldn't blame her, really. The last few days hadn't exactly been designed to calm a mother's nerves. That part of wrapping up this case had apparently been left to Jim.
"Naomi," he began, giving her a reassuring smile and ushering her back to the couch. "Blair is *fine*. He's going to the library. He'll be home soon. I know this case has been a little scary, but Blair is perfectly capable of getting himself to and from the station without a chaperone."
She sank back onto the cushions. "You're right," she agreed with a rueful shake of her head. "Of course you're right. This supermom snit is pretty hard to lose, once it takes hold I guess."
They shared a laugh over that, then Jim left her to go back to reading the magazine and headed upstairs to freshen up a bit (a procedure which for Jim involved changing into more comfortable clothes and sprawling out on the bed to catch a few quick Z's) before Blair got home and a decision had to made about dinner.
He wasn't fated to get much rest, though. He had just closed his eyes when a soft query came from the bottom of the stairs. "Jim, are you decent?"
Jim came up with four or five replies to that, none of which Sandburg would approve having directed at his mother, and settled for "Yeah, come on up, Naomi."
She came bearing gifts (or the Sandburg equivalent thereof): a snack plate of vegetables, fruit, and slices of something that looked suspiciously like leftover tongue, and a large glass filled with one of Sandburg's bizarre herbal concoctions.
"You looked tired, and I thought you could use a little pick-me-up," Naomi announced brightly, setting the tray on the side-table. Jim sat up and gave it a wary glance, but managed to thank her graciously. She wasn't fooled. "Oh, come on, Jim. Live a little. It's not going to kill you to try a little bit of it."
But under her watchful gaze, there wasn't much he could do but give in. Jim gingerly picked up a piece of the tongue and tried it, nibbling off a tiny piece with an exaggerated grimace, and Naomi rolled her eyes dramatically. It really wasn't too bad, once you got past the whole *tongue* thing. Jim took a bigger bite.
"Not bad," he allowed with a shrug.
Naomi smiled. "See? All it takes is an open mind."
They laughed again, but when it faded, Naomi was suddenly serious, her eyes hard and grim. As she held his gaze, Jim realized that expanding his culinary horizons wasn't her real reason for coming up here.
"Tell me you'll keep him safe, Jim." she ordered, an iron-willed resolve in her voice, and Jim found his opinion of Naomi Sandburg going up by several notches. In the last few days, he'd come to like the woman a great deal - no doubt about that - but the cop in him couldn't help but label her as somewhat flighty. He'd seen in her Blair's free spirit, but untempered by the sense of responsibility, the priorities, and long-term goals that made Blair such a formidable friend and partner. It was clear from the look on her face now, though, that Naomi Sandburg knew exactly where her priorities lay. It was a look that demanded absolute honesty.
Jim cleared his throat, not quite ready for the open challenge in her gaze, but not looking away.
"I promise you, Naomi. Blair is..." (Unfortunately, honesty came a lot harder when you didn't quite know the truth yourself, or how to express it if you did. Jim had to make do.) "Blair is very important to me. I would give my life before I let anything hurt him."
Naomi cocked her head slightly, holding his gaze for a few more moments, considering his words, looking clear into his soul, and finally nodded her acceptance.
"Thank you. That's all I needed to know."
She smiled again, and the somber moment dropped away like a fog driven away by the noon sun. Her errand taken care of, Naomi glanced curiously around Jim's bedroom. She lived in a world where there was very little concern for private property, and as she'd made herself at home downstairs, she did so upstairs as well, wandering over to examine the shelves, picking up knick-knacks for closer examination, examining the pictures on the wall, peering out the window.
"You've been good for him, I think," she informed Jim lightly as she examined the picture on Jim's dresser - a shot of Jim and Blair taken at the annual PD picnic. Her finger traced the photo-Blair's cheek fondly. "I've never seen him so centered, so content." She cast a sly glance Jim's way with a dimpled grin. "According to your captain, he's been good for you, too."
Jim laughed. "Sounds like Simon's been talking out of school. What other deep, dark Ellison secrets has he let you in on?"
It was her turn to laugh. "Oh, nothing so horrible. Only that you're responsible to a fault, loyal to a fault." She paused, apparently remembering more of Simon's comments. "Actually, I think Captain Banks has you confused with a St. Bernard, come to think of it."
She moved on, coming around the other side of the bed to lean on the railing and look down at the rest of the loft, its decorations speaking so eloquently of the success Jim and Blair had had in commingling their separate identities. She shook her head ruefully. "I never thought I'd see the day when my vagabond child became so... settled."
"There's something to be said for 'settled'," Jim pointed out quietly, trying not to sound judgmental. "It's not such a bad thing to have a place to call home."
Naomi shook her head again. "Now you sound like Blair's father."
There was a pause - awkward on Jim's end, not on Naomi's, who didn't seem to realize she'd said anything unusual. Jim cleared his throat lightly.
"Forgive me if I'm overstepping bounds, but I thought Blair said that you don't know..."
He trailed off, giving her a chance to shut him up before he pushed too far. She just smiled one of those peaceful, Sandburg smiles.
"Blair said that I don't know who his father is, that there are multiple candidates, and his personal preference is Timothy Leary. Right?"
Jim shrugged sheepishly in agreement. Naomi laughed.
"Don't look so embarassed, Jim. That *is* the version of the story as Blair knows it. Although that bit about Timothy Leary is pure fiction. I don't know where Blair came up with it. Tim was a nice guy, a dear friend, but definitely not my type, romantically."
"As Blair knows it...?"
"Yes. It's the truth, as far as it goes. There *are* several candidates, and I can't be 100% certain. So I didn't technically lie to him."
She glanced over, a little defensive, waiting for Jim to call her on the little rationalization. He didn't, just prodding gently for more information, his curiosity piqued.
"But a mother knows these things." She smiled sadly. "Blair's father was a young man I met on La Jolla Beach in the spring of 1968, Jonathon Harding. He was nothing like any other boy I'd ever known... so serious, so *settled*. I think we first go involved with each other out of sheer rebellion. He wanted to try out the 'hippie' scene, and I saw him as a sort of a challenge. But it became more. *So* much more." She flopped unceremoniously backwards on the bed, arms outstretched, reveling in the memories. "We had six *glorious* months together. It was paradise. The Summer of Love, a whole year early. And then I got pregnant."
Jim shifted slightly, his curiosity suddenly giving way to the realization of how truly awkward he should feel at hearing this story, and how much more awkward it could become, given that Blair apparently had never heard it at all.
"Naomi," he interrupted before she could continue. "Are you sure you want to be telling *me* this and not Blair?"
She gave him another sad smile. "If I'd wanted Blair to know this, I would have told him long ago, Jim." She replied softly. "But I haven't shared this with anybody in a long time, and you care about Blair. I know you won't hurt him with this." There was a speculative pause. "Maybe I'm hoping you'll take the decision out of my hands."
She waved off any further protest Jim might have made and continued with her memories. "Jonathon was so eager to 'do the right thing.' He had all these plans: the fairy tale wedding, white picket fence, dog named Rover. And I - I wasn't interested in that. I didn't want to be tied down, and I panicked. I left. Spent some time traveling, until it got inconvenient with Junior on board, then I just picked a spot and put down a few roots until Blair was born. We went back to La Jolla a year later, but Jonathon was gone by then. I went to a few of his old haunts, but no one knew where he'd gone. I spent a long time looking for him, checking the phone books in every city I passed through." Naomi laughed a little. "YEARS of checking phone books and calling every Jonathon Harding. There were a surprising lot of them."
Jim sat up, suddenly eager.
"Naomi, do you know anything else about him? Age? Birth Date? How long was he in La Jolla? We could hunt him up. I find people for a living; I think we could manage this one."
Naomi shook her head sadly and held up a hand to forestall his thought.
"I didn't say I never found him, Detective. I never expected to, but I did. He was living in Salt Lake City, of all places."
She shrugged. "When I didn't marry him, he found someone who would. He had it all - a big house, two-car garage, white picket fence, perky wife, three kids, and a dog. He was... shocked to see me, to say the least. Blair was seven years old by that time. The sweetest, most beautiful... Wait."
She got up suddenly and trotted down the stairs, returning a moment later carrying a big photo album that she plopped down on the bed and paged through rapidly. About a quarter of the way through, she found what she was looking for and turned it to Jim, open to two pages full of pictures of a beaming, seven-year-old Blair, complete with mop of tousled auburn curls. Naomi was in a few of them, as well, arms wrapped securely around the little boy, looking radiant and fiery, even in the grainy twenty-year-old photos. A slow smile crossed Jim's face at the images of his roommate's happy childhood.
"What kind of a man could look into that face and turn away," Naomi asked softly. Jim glanced up at her and saw tears glimmering in her eyes. "Johnny had the nerve to think I was there to ask for *money*. God, I felt so stupid and hurt and angry. There I was, standing on his doorstep, giving him the opportunity to meet the beautiful angel that he helped create, and all he was worried about was how much it would cost to get me to go away without a fuss."
She swiped at a few tears that had fallen loose, sniffling a little, and laughing halfheartedly at her own discomposure.
"And now I really have said more than I intended."
"Naomi, I'm sorry."
"Don't be. It's water under the bridge, now. Has been for twenty years. I've never been able to bring myself to tell Blair, though. I'd rather he live his life without a father than knowing he had one who didn't want him. I suppose you think that's wrong."
Jim had a sudden vivid memory of his own seven-year-old self, sitting alone in the dark, late at night, listening to his parents arguing, his mother's voice shrill and hateful, accusing his father of trying to stifle her, keep her from living her own life.
"I'm not trying to 'stifle' you, Eleanor! You have responsibilities to your children, for god's sake!"
"YOUR children, Will. They have YOUR last name, don't they? I may have had to go through the nine months and labor, but I'll be damned if I let you chain me to this house for the rest of my life trying to live up to your perfect little fantasy!"
Jim's looked down at the smiling, rumpled little boy in the photo album, and he shook his head.
"No, I don't think it's wrong," he told her, pulling away from his own childhood pain with an effort. As Naomi had said, it was water under the bridge. "The kid seems to have turned out okay, anyway."
Naomi grinned, nodding in proud agreement.
"Yeah, he has, hasn't he?"
Jim flipped idly to the next page in the album, and nearly choked on surprised laughter that burst out of him at the sight of the first picture on the page. A still young Blair stood between two older women, unabashedly showing off an outfit that included a baggy housedress, high heel shoes, several strings of pearls around his neck, large pearl earrings, and a feathered pillbox hat perched jauntily atop his head.
"Oh, this is too much."
Naomi glanced down, her smile widening, the tension disappearing into the light of happier memories.
"That's my mom," she told him, indicating one of the women. "And that's Mrs. Danbush, her neighbor. Blair used to spend a lot of time with them over the summer. They just loved to play dress-up. There's a better one in there from a day they took the time to get boxes of old clothes out of their attic. Blair made a *gorgeous* flapper girl, except his hair is all wrong."
"This, I gotta see."
Jim started turning pages, and Naomi joined him again on the bed, peering over his shoulder and offering running commentary on the treasure trove of memories stored there. They were still at it a half hour later when Jim heard the Corvair pull into the lot outside, signaling that Blair was home.
Thanks for reading!