POLAR ICE CAPS
Blair sat at his computer, fingers flying across the keyboard. The words appearing before him brought a smile to his lips as he nodded, apparently agreeing with the sentiments expressed on the screen. A buzz next to him went ignored as he continued to type. The buzz repeated itself, two, three times and he finally surrendered, stopped typing, pushed the button and said, "Lori, I'm writing."
"I know. But you haven't picked up the paper yet."
"Now how do you know that?" Even as he asked, he went back to typing and smiling.
"Because I know you. Now go-get-the-paper."
"Going. Bye." He shut off the speaker phone and, with a grimace, got to his feet and walked to the front door. Once opened, he bent over and picked up the morning paper as ordered. Stepping back inside, he tucked it under his arm and walked into the kitchen where he poured himself a cup of hot coffee before walking back to his work table. After getting comfortable again, he unwrapped the paper and started reading, thanking God for rituals.
Rituals were good if for no other reason than they protected one's sanity.
Twenty minutes later, while perusing the personals, his attention was captured by the second to the last ad which read:
To: BS - parts unknown
JE - 911
From: SB - Cascade
With a shaking hand, Blair reached for the phone….
Cascade, Washington - two years earlier
A warm lump rolled over and bumped into Jim's side. He looked at the lump, tugged the blanket down and, after moving a mass of hair away, smiled at his partner's sleeping form. Blair, even dead to the world, had a semi-grin on his face.
A moment later, Blair, after snuggling closer, pulled his arm out from under the blanket and dropped it across Jim's chest. Taking advantage of his new position, Jim wrapped his arms around his bedmate, sniffed Blair's hair and then dropped his face into the dark, curly frizz and had to admit that mornings were now his favorite time of day, be it his first waking or, as in this case, the second.
Yep, he'd already been up, had even been to the deli, and the two of them had already shared a breakfast of bagels and cream cheese. None of which changed his delight in this second waking for the simple reason that now, whenever he woke up, Blair was beside him.
Waking up with the scent of Blair, feeling his hair against Jim's sensitive skin - oh, yeah, best part of any day. He loved that he could gradually stir his partner awake with soft kisses along his neck, like now, before moving upward to pepper his jaw with more kisses until Blair turned his head - just enough that their mouths would meet - like now.
Blair shifted, groaned low, gave Jim as good as he was getting, smiled sleepily into the kiss and, when it ended, said in a husky, lustful voice, "Hi."
"Hi yourself, Chief. Sleep well second time around?"
"Very. Nice way to start the day - twice. I do believe I could get used to this."
"You should be anyway, we're one month and counting."
"Hard to believe," Blair murmured as he ran a finger down Jim's cheek.
"What's hard to believe is that I didn't tumble sooner."
Blair snorted against Jim's skin and decided that the nipple so close to his mouth should benefit from the closeness. He licked at it, then sucked and nipped.
Jim arched a bit as his fingers clenched around Blair's hair and he gasped out, "How far... are you going to…take this?"
Blair raised his head and asked, "How far would you-"
Jim pushed the man's head back down and felt the thrill of Blair's chuckles against his skin. Blair went back to work and, as his mouth treated Jim's nipple to a workout, he slid his hand under the covers in order to encircle Jim's erection.
"Yeah, Blair, like that…."
Smiling around the nipple, Blair continued both activities.
Jim could feel his impending orgasm…and damn it, he could also smell…Simon's cigar.
"Chief...stop." He clamped his fingers over Blair's to still the hand motion even as he tried to move to a sitting position. "Listen…Simon's here."
Their captain's name was enough to get Blair's attention. He blinked up at Jim and said, "Wha'?"
"Simon," Jim hissed out, his brain back on-line. He managed to scoot out from under Blair, swing his legs over the edge of the bed and get to his feet. It was amazing how Simon could take a perfectly good erection and deflate it completely. Slipping on his robe, he ordered, "You stay put and don't make a sound. I'll tell Simon you were out all night…or something."
"My car, man."
"Shit. Okay, I'll tell him your date picked you up. Just…don't make a sound."
Jim bounded downstairs, leaving a stunned Blair staring after him and wondering why he couldn't just follow Jim. How the heck would Simon know whether Blair came from upstairs or down?
Jim's bare right foot just touched the hardwood floor when the front door opened and Simon peeked his head inside.
"You ready yet, Ellison?"
Jim skidded to a stop and, in disgust, slapped a hand against his forehead. Shit, the game. He'd completely forgotten. Putting on a cheerful if somewhat apologetic face, he answered, "Hey, Simon, come on in, and no, I'm not ready."
Wagging a finger at him, Simon stepped inside and chastised, "You left the door open, Jim. You flip out or something?"
Damn, of course, the deli run. Bagels, a naked Blair and, yes, he'd totally forgotten to lock the door. "Uhm, what can I say? I went out earlier for bagels and when I got back, I guess I fell asleep again." He gave Simon a sheepish grin. "Sorry."
"Well, get a move on. The guys are waiting." He looked around, noticed the open door to Blair's room, but no Blair, and asked, "Where's your shadow?"
"Not here," Jim answered as he started back upstairs.
"Thanks, Detective, but I figured that much. For one thing, there's a blueberry bagel there on the counter and if he were here - it wouldn't be."
Jim paused and, surprised at how easily the lie came, said, "Date last night, never came home." Then he added hastily, "She picked him up."
"Doesn't it just figure that our Lothario would score a date that did the picking up? And does that mean he has another new girlfriend?"
Jim tried to shrug in a noncommittal manner as he continued upstairs. "Doesn't he always?"
"I guess I'm just surprised since he usually crows about them and he hasn't said a word."
Jim threw back what he hoped was an agreeable smile from the top of the stairs before continuing - only to come to a dead stop.
Blair was staring at him and his expression was not a happy one.
Jim took a deep breath, rushed to the closet, took out a sweater, grabbed up his jeans, socks and shoes, then walked to the bed. He leaned over, his face close to Blair's and whispered, "Sorry, buddy, forgot the game. We both did, but you know I have to go, right? Too suspicious otherwise."
Frowning, Blair nodded, but his expression told Jim that if he could, he'd argue the point, but that would mean raised voices, which wouldn't be good for anyone.
Jim started to drop a grateful kiss on Blair's lips, but Simon chose that moment to yell, "Jim, come on. We're late already."
Shrugging helplessly he quickly finished dressing and, with a forlorn look for his partner, headed downstairs to Simon.
Blair stared at the computer screen in front of him but the words wouldn't come.
His mind was still on Jim and the football game that he, Simon, and two detectives from Burglary were currently attending. Not that this was Jim's fault, after all, they'd both forgotten, but Jim could have, well, faked it. He could have told Simon he wasn't feeling well, or maybe that he had to…to…well, to do something. And damn it, hadn't they agreed to tell Simon about their relationship, and wouldn't today have been the perfect time?
He answered himself with a heavy sigh and turned his attention back to the white - and all too empty - Word document in front of him. He was trying to finish his dissertation, his own personal deadline only two days away - but instead - he was obsessing over Jim, their relationship and when to tell. Not to mention why, on a glorious Saturday, he was alone while Jim was at a football game with "the guys" but he wasn't one of them.
Adding insult to injury, this was actually the second time in less than two weeks that had found him not one of the famous "guys".
Okay, in all fairness to Jim, the tickets for today's game had been offered and accepted before the two of them had become a couple, but still, he wasn't one of the guys that was included in the purchase of game tickets.
Giving himself a mental shake, he dragged his attention back to the project at hand, shoved all worries aside, and started typing. He was on his last chapter and he just might make his deadline yet.
Blair stirred the pot and checked his watch again. It was after seven, so he did some quick calculating… The game started at noon, would have been over sometime between three and four and, even if Jim had gone out afterwards, he should be home by now.
So…should he be officially worried?
He figured their relationship was still new enough that calling….
Okay, that sounded ridiculous even to him. Jim was under no obligation to call - even though before they'd started sharing a bed, he'd always done it.
He added a little more seasoning to the stew, then dropped the lid back down, lowered the heat and returned to the dining room table. Once seated, he began to pack up his notes but, before saving and shutting down his laptop, his gaze returned to the last words he'd typed....
"The sense of responsibility that an urban sentinel must carry, the fear of failure that must dog his or her every step, can not help but color each decision made."
He wasn't sure he liked the way it currently read, but damn, it certainly defined Jim. Of course, it would also describe just about anyone who suddenly found themselves with heightened senses. How would he have handled it? Wouldn't his fears have been magnified by being a sentinel? Undoubtedly.
Now that was a topic for a dissertation: 'The Fears of Blair Sandburg'.
And boy, he had plenty, none of which Jim knew. But man, they'd certainly been floating to the surface in the last few weeks, and had certainly been responsible for coloring more than a few of his own decisions. And even though he knew they were there, he had no desire to get to the root of them. Especially in light of the fact that Jim still wasn't home. He needed to be cool about that, couldn't let the insecure Blair Sandburg surface.
He closed the lid on his computer, unplugged it and carried it into his room along with his papers. After putting everything on his desk, he returned to the dining room and decided to set the table - just in case Jim made it home in time for dinner. Once he finished that, he started preparing the salad and was just putting the finished product into the fridge when it hit him…he was preparing dinner for one because, of course, at this late hour, Jim and the others would have gone to dinner.
Blair felt that all too familiar tightening of his stomach as he turned the heat off under the stew, put away the dishes and switched off the light. He walked into the living room, bent down in front of the small fireplace, got it going and then sat down on the couch.
He really didn't like being left alone with his thoughts like this because it simply wasn't safe. Funny thing was, in the last three years, whenever he'd been in a relationship that had gone sour, he'd had Jim. He could know that the woman - or man - would eventually want out of the affair, but it didn't seem to matter because when he came home - Jim was
And before Jim?
Easy. Blair had simply ended the relationships first. It wasn't as if he couldn't tell when someone was getting tired of him; he could, and easily. Just like he could always tell when Naomi would become itchy and eager to move on.
Okay, this was getting him nowhere fast. He picked up the remote and powered up the television. He surfed for awhile, then stopped at the health channel. He sat back and watched, blanking out his mind.
Jim fumbled with the key but finally got it inside the lock. He turned, pushed and stumbled inside and, once there, somehow managed to get out of his jacket.
Unfortunately, when he tossed his keys, they missed the table and hit the floor. Jim adjusted his eyesight - and immediately wished he hadn't. Blair was standing a few feet away.
Trying to look both repentant and cheerful, he waved and said, "Hey."
Smiling, Blair said, "Hey back."
"I - we went out afterwards."
"Figured as much."
"Right. So, you're not - mad?"
"Nope." Blair cocked his head and frowning, asked, "Have you been drinking?"
Blair stepped closer, sniffed, and then flicked on the light.
"Sandburg!" Jim exclaimed as he quickly shielded his eyes from the sudden glare.
"Oh, sorry. You okay?"
"I was until you blinded me without warning."
"Wow, you have been drinking."
"Hey, non-judgmental here, you know? It's just that you don't - I've never seen - I mean, since your senses and all - other than a few beers, but you're like-"
"Tanked, and this is the second time in two weeks, man."
With as much dignity as he could muster, Jim started for the stairs but they seemed to be - lowering. He bent at the knees, tilted his head and everything went back to normal.
Relieved, he continued on.
Behind him, Blair bent to the right as Jim started walking like a ninety-year-old man - a short ninety year old man.
"Not. At. All."
"Then why are you walking with your knees bent?"
Jim pointed at the stairs. "Well, the stairs - you know?"
"Yeah, you did something to them while I was gone."
"Sure, they're - you know, lower."
"Ah. Lower. Do you need some help with the navigation?"
"Don't be silly, Sandburg. I'm perfectly capable of walking up a set of stairs even if you have futzed with them."
"Okay, just thought I'd ask."
Jim snorted and started up the shorter stairs only to find himself amazed that it was taking longer to ascend shorter steps. He stopped halfway and mused, "If the stairs are shorter, shouldn't it take me less time to climb them?"
Blair dropped Jim's keys onto the table, faced his partner and scratched his head. "Well, actually, if the stairs are shorter, it means there'd have to be more steps, you know? So logically speaking, it could take longer, see?"
Jim seemed very happy with Blair's answer. He grinned and continued on up.
Blair shook his head, locked up, turned off the gas to the fire, hit the light and followed his tanked partner only to find him, upon reaching the top of the landing, flat on his back, fully clothed, legs hanging over the edge of the bed, sound asleep and snoring up a storm.
Chuckling in spite of himself, Blair set about the task of stripping Jim before lifting his lifting his what and, with some exertion, getting him up towards the head of the bed where he belonged. Once he had him settled, he pulled up the covers and tucked him in. After patting Jim's cheek, he then exchanged his jeans and shirt for his sweats and climbed in next to his partner. He turned out the light, settled on his back, clasped his hands behind his head and gazed up at the skylight.
Jim - drunk. Again.
Jim didn't get drunk, so why now, why twice in two weeks?
Weren't things going well between them? Hell, it had only been a month, things couldn't have gone south yet, could they? He thought back on past relationships and realized that a month wouldn't be a record for him, but damn close.
Man, Jim was going to be miserable tomorrow.
It was hours before sleep finally took him.
Jim made his way slowly down the stairs, every step another nail in his coffin. He needed sunglasses.
"They're on the shelf there, to your right."
Jim tried to focus on the soft, disembodied voice but gave up and just asked, "What's on the shelf?"
"Oh." He fumbled, found them and slipped them on. Oh, yeah, definitely better.
Someone took his hand and placed a cool glass of something into it. "What's this?"
"My own special hangover recipe, same one I gave you last week, so don't talk, don't argue, just drink - and drink all of it."
"Damn, I remember now. This crap tastes like-"
Raising his voice ever so slightly, enough to make Jim wince, Blair said, "I have the power to make your day miserable or bearable, so shut up and drink it - now."
With gentle hands, Blair took him by the shoulder and pushed him gently to the couch.
"How's your skin?"
"Can't get a handle on them - and could you talk a little softer?"
"Jim, I'm whispering now."
"We need to get your dials working so lean back and close your eyes."
Jim mock saluted and snapped out, "Yes, sir."
"Just do it - jerk."
Jim leaned back and closed his eyes.
"You have the dial in front of you?"
"Now picture it on a bottle of Chivas Regal."
"Maybe it was Wild Turkey?"
"You're asking for it."
"Today, you couldn't beat a baby if it had both hands tied behind its back."
"Right, so concentrate and slowly start moving those levers down…."
"Oh, they're moving, all right. The numbers, the dials, all bouncing all over the place."
"Maybe you'd better go on the offensive," Blair suggested somewhat snidely.
Jim raised his left hand, middle finger waving in the air.
"Nice thought, but you're in no condition - you'd never survive."
Jim dropped his head into his hands and moaned.
Lips curling upward, Blair sat down, very carefully, and said, "Okay, Jim, let's give it another try. Lean back and close your eyes again."
Groaning, Jim nevertheless did as instructed.
"Now, what I need you to do is picture the dials as very thick and sluggish, as though they'd gained weight and can barely move."
One of Jim's eyebrows rose.
"Jim, just do it."
"Chief, that makes no sense."
"It did last time, so could you just do it?"
"But it sounds stupid."
Blair closed his eyes and counted to ten - slowly. Finally, in a voice that gave no hint of his frustration, Blair said, "Just try it."
Jim shrugged, winced at the movement and started picturing really fat dials....
After several seconds, Jim smiled blissfully as the dials got fatter and slower in his mind's eye and his symptoms began to abate.
Blair watched, nodded in satisfaction as Jim began to relax, and then slowly eased Jim's hand, the one holding the drink, up to Jim's lips. "Drink the rest now."
When Jim finished it with scrunched up face, Blair said, "Why don't you rest awhile now while I run some errands."
"Just some last minute research and a trip to the library. A couple of books I ordered came in yesterday. Meanwhile, you take it easy, enjoy the peace and quiet and I'll be back in a couple of hours."
As he stood, Jim changed position and stretched out his legs. Blair dropped a kiss on the top of Jim's head and smiling, said, "You're a cute drunk, did you know that?"
"You're dead meat, Sandburg."
Laughing softly, Blair gathered up his jacket and keys, whispered good-bye and left, making sure the door closed gently behind him.
Blair sat at the small table in the rear of the library, three books open in front of him, his legal pad under his hand, a pen clenched between nervous fingers. He hadn't read a word or written a sentence.
He knew that in spite of his background in academia and science, he was still considered by many to be a "go with the flow" kind of guy, a fly by the seat of his pants, spontaneous, whacky guy, and, to a certain extent, he probably was. But only because constant movement and conversation tuned people out and kept eyes trained elsewhere rather than on him, just the way he liked it. Sure, they were defense mechanisms, but since meeting Jim, he'd lowered many of them, just as Jim had lowered a few for him. Against all the odds, they'd forged a friendship that many considered to be impossible to say the least. And yet - it had persevered, and now they'd taken it another step, the final one, but instead of security and a sense of being where he belonged, Blair found himself on a balancing beam with feet that were far too unsure of themselves.
And damn it, last night, Jim had come home drunk, and yes, he'd already said that, but it bore repeating because Jim just didn’t do that. So why? Was the man feeling crowded?
Too much Sandburg now that Blair was sharing a bed as well as a home? And if so, what was the solution?
He'd give Jim more privacy, like today. The last place Blair needed to be was the library. His research was complete and he had everything he needed to finish at home, but giving Jim time alone seemed paramount right now. So…he'd give Jim more days like these.
Many more. And maybe a few evenings as well.
Blair slipped into the loft, arms full of dinner, backpack hanging from his shoulder. Jim was sound asleep on the couch. He moved quietly to the kitchen, dropping his bag off on the way. At the sink, he set dinner down and started carefully pulling out the boxes of Italian food, then putting them in the oven to keep warm until Jim woke.
He trashed the bags then walked over to the couch and rested a hand gently against Jim's cheek. Satisfied that there was no fever and that the sleep was deep and natural, Blair walked into his old room and quickly changed into something more comfortable. Most of his clothes were still downstairs as they'd yet to really move anything, their relationship still so new. He slipped out of his jeans and into his sweat bottoms, pulled off the flannel shirt, left his undershirt on, and then carried the jeans into the bathroom and dumped them into the hamper. Walking back into the living room, he picked a book up off the coffee table, sat down in the chair and started reading.
By the time Jim finally began to stir, the sun was setting, giving the loft a lovely magenta glow. He opened bleary eyes and raised his head to find Blair smiling at him from the chair in the corner, a book open on his lap.
"Hey, if it ain't Sleeping Beauty, and no, I'm no prince."
Chuckling, Jim held out his arms and wheedled, "Then come on over here, my little frog, and let me kiss you and make you a prince."
"Fat chance, Ellison. You can kiss all you want, but this frog remains a frog. The most you can hope for is warts."
Jim wiggled his fingers at Blair and, as he stood and dropped the book onto the chair, Jim said, "No warts for this guy - protected sex all the way. Now get your green, froggy ass over here."
Chuckling, Blair lowered himself gently on top of Jim, rubbing gently but suggestively even as he targeted Jim's lips.
The rest of the weekend passed quietly for the two men and, somehow, Blair managed not to ask Jim about Friday night. On Sunday, while Jim watched a game, Blair tried to finish up his dissertation, but found he was still having difficulty with his conclusion. As he puzzled over the current paragraph, having given up on the previous one, Jim strolled over and placed his hands on Blair's shoulders and started to rub.
"Aw, man, that feels so good, don't stop."
As Jim's fingers encountered extremely stiff muscles, he said, "Shit, Chief, you're tense. What the hell are you working on?"
"Final chapter, same as Friday, same as last week."
Jim stopped and asked, "Final chapter? Your dissertation?"
"Yep. I told you last week that I'd set my own personal deadline, and tomorrow is it. But I'm stuck, and no," he quickly pulled the lid of the laptop down a bit, "you can't read it until I'm finished, remember?"
Jim fought for a neutral tone as his hands dropped from Blair's shoulders. "Right, of course. Want a beer?"
Blair waved his hand and bent back to his task. Jim took a bottle from the fridge, unscrewed the top and downed it in two swallows. He tossed the bottle and grabbed another one.
The dull buzz of the alarm, an arm across his chest, hair trailing over his face....
"Jim, come on, up and at 'em."
Jim squinted as Blair's hair brushed his nose and warm lips touched his as Blair whispered, "Morning" into his mouth. Jim brought up one hand and fingered soft, thick curls as he kissed him back. The kiss deepened as they shifted, explored and their erections bumped deliciously.
"I love mornings with you."
Blair lifted his head and, smiling down on Jim, answered, "Yeah, I kind of like them too. For one thing, you make a great bed warmer. We should have done this years ago."
Their voices were low and raspy with early morning huskiness, their hands slow and easy as each woke the body of the other.
A chance glimpse at the nightstand clock left Jim groaning and not in pleasure. "We're out of time, Chief."
"Nah, I set the alarm ahead."
Jim trailed small kisses up Blair's neck as he mumbled, "How much ahead?"
"That kills the whole concept of slow and easy."
"We can do slow and easy - as long as it doesn't take longer than fifteen."
Jim chuckled, his hips thrusting up into Blair. "Slow and easy in fifteen, eh? That's what you said?"
Blair nodded, his hand sliding up and down Jim's bulging erection. His movement increased as Blair began to tongue fuck Jim's mouth in time with his hand.
Jim felt as though his body was leaving his current plane of existence, but then his orgasm hit, and he made a delicious crash back to Earth even as he yelled Blair's name.
"Man, you woke the neighbors again."
Smiling and with eyes still closed, Jim nodded happily. "They needed to get up anyway."
"Yeah, but to an alarm yelling 'Sandburg!'?"
"Hey, it beats a shrill briiiing."
"Not for old Mrs. Stubbs down in 203. Bet she jumped three feet out of bed."
"She's deaf, Chief. And contrary to popular belief, I do not wake the dead or bring sound to the deaf during orgasms."
"So you say."
Jim swatted Blair's rear as he finally opened his eyes and rolled out of bed, dumping his surprised bedmate rather unceremoniously back onto the mattress. "Care to join me in the shower? And are you coming to the station today?"
"No and - no. If I join you in the shower, you'll be late and, while I'd love to watch you explain to Simon why you were tardy for the fourth time in two weeks, well...."
"Good point. We'll save the shower for tonight."
Noticing his partner's unresolved condition, Jim happily started back for the bed as he asked, "But are you sure you can't make it today? Classes that heavy?"
"No, no classes. But this is my final day, my self-imposed deadline. Have to finish, but if I do, I'll be there, promise."
At Blair's words, Jim veered left, picked up his clothes and started downstairs. As he moved, he called back up, "I'll change in the bathroom, and don't worry about the station, we can get along without you today."
Frowning, Blair dropped his head onto the pillow, waited for the sound of the bathroom door closing, then looked down at himself - at his rigid and painful self. He joylessly and efficiently brought himself to completion, cleaned himself off and climbed out of bed.
By the time Jim was showered, dressed and ready to go, Blair had his laptop open and was back at work.
Blair stretched, raised his arms and flexed his fingers. He stood, twisted at the waist, then bent back until he heard his back pop. He'd been typing non-stop for the last three hours. He stepped away from the table, walked into the kitchen, pulled a cold water bottle from the fridge, unscrewed the top and took a large gulp. For a moment, he allowed himself to relax, his back against the counter, and contemplated his afternoon of work.
Technically - he was done. It was finished. Three years of his life, three years of Jim's life, in black and white.
Three years reduced to a Word document full of sentences and paragraphs.
All that remained was that final paragraph, and yes, he'd finally come up with one, but once he typed them, got them it jkn down, it would truly be over
So what then?
A question for the ages - or at least for Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison.
Blair ambled back to the table, took his seat, placed his fingers on the keys and, as the shadows deepened into afternoon, Blair typed....
"Humanity has long dug into its past in the hope that it will shed light on its future. Perhaps what this reveals is that it is the best of ourselves that will survive and lead us through the next millennium.
Watching our every step will be our tribal protectors -- the sentinels -- and their insight will further illuminate the spiritual connection of all things."
He typed the last. Two. Words.
He was so intent on his task that he never heard the front door open, missed entirely the fact that he was no longer alone...until his mother wrapped her arms around his neck from behind.
Funny how her light laughter and whispered, "Sweetheart," could sound like breaking glass.
Blair sat in his car, in the garage of the Cascade PD, fingers tapping a nervous tune on the steering wheel. It had been two days since he'd typed, "The End", two days since such an insignificant event like a visit from his mother could blossom into a nightmare or how one random act of Naomi's could shatter his world so completely. Of course, that random act had been given considerable help by a certain publisher named Sid Graham, a union jerk by the name of Jack Bartley and, last but not least, the return of an assassin who went by the handle of the Ice Man.
Random acts all conspiring to tell the world that Jim Ellison was a sentinel.
He thought back to the hours following his mother's appearance in the loft…to an excited, frenzied media surrounding him and Jim two days ago....
"...that's got to be the sentinel...."
Frightening words yelled out by a reporter, a mike stuck in his face through the open window of the truck, and questions attacking them both like bullets, each one piercing them and tearing them apart.
"Detective Ellison, can you tell us why you decided to reveal your abilities at this time, sir?"
"How is the publication of Mr. Sandburg's manuscript affecting your work with the police department?"
Blair could still see Jim's stricken expression, could still hear his disbelieving words.
"Chief, tell me you didn't?"
He'd tried to explain, but another reporter told them both how "Your publisher sent your dissertation to the media" and Jim had shut down tight, and no amount of explanations on his part had gotten through, especially with the continued bombardment by the press.
"Let's hear it from the sentinel himself..."
"There's nothing to hear, I've no idea what you're talking about! Now get that out of here and back off before someone loses a toe!"
"Jim, I can explain...."
"Chief, do not say anything right now...."
Blair shut his eyes as the memory of Jim's expression floated before him, an expression of such hurt….
How many discussions had they attempted after the run-in with the press, with each encounter ripping into the fabric of their relationship, destroying the foundation upon which their friendship had been based?
He took in a deep, painful breath as the minutes after they'd parked, before joining Megan, Simon and Bartley, came back with crystal clear clarity....
It was cold and windy as they walked the dock toward Bartley's building. Blair had his hands stuffed deep into his pockets as he tried to match Jim's purposeful stride. Since they'd pulled away from the curb and the reporters, Jim hadn't said a word and Blair was scared.
"You're not saying anything."
"There's nothing to say, Chief. It's all been said. Out, over, no going back. I just thought we had an agreement that I was going to read the thesis first."
"We did. Look, I didn't do this."
"Right. You didn't write the book, and you didn't put my name all over it."
"Well, of course I did. But I was planning on changing your name and probably even mine to protect you. I…I just hadn't figured out a way to do that without compromising the documentation."
"You said this Sid was throwing a lot of money in your face, right?"
"To just generate publicity for the sake of generating publicity without even having a deal because he wants to…what, toss it in your face like a dangling carrot..."
"Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, stop. Wha-What are you trying to say? That I was part of this from the start? How long have we known each other, that you think that's what I'm about?"
"Why didn't you say anything about this last night? It's just like a guilty conscience to me."
"I thought it was over. My mom was doing what she thought was right, she didn't know what it was about."
"How the hell did your mother get her hands on it in the first place? It was, what, just lying around like some kind of coffee table reading?"
"No, now look, don't you try to run some interrogation on me, you're not going to find some weak spot in me, all right? Look, I'm not a perp, I'm your-lov-friend."
"Chief, you gotta great opportunity here, a once-in-a-lifetime play, go for the brass ring, good luck, uh?"
Right. Go for the brass ring. Good luck and don't let the door hit you on the way out.
Blair got out of the car and glanced over at the elevator. For the briefest of moments, he considered running, heading home, away, anything to avoid facing Major Crime and Jim. Instead, he took a deep breath, lifted his chin a bit and headed toward the elevator.
It wasn't as if he didn't have a clue how this was going to end.
Jim walked into the bullpen and was immediately assaulted by joking detectives, led by Rafe.
"Hey, hey, Jim, when you going to start wearing tights and a cape?"
"Uh, I don't know, you got something I can borrow, Peter Pan?"
He walked purposefully toward his desk only to be faced by a smiling Joel Taggart.
"Come on, Jim, why don't you have a sense of humor about this whole thing?"
"Joel, just let it go...give it a rest, okay?"
"Why did you keep it from us? Why didn't you just tell us what's going on?"
"I…I've got some work to do, will you excuse me?"
"Okay, buddy, I get the picture."
As Joel slipped away, another voice intruded, one that was both a surprise and far from welcome.
"I hope you're not too busy for me, Jimmy."
He looked up and into the concerned eyes of his ex-wife, Carolyn Plummer and, next to her, Simon. He pushed back his chair and stood. "Carolyn, what are you doing here?"
"I figured you might need someone. I got the first media report last night, made my reservation, and here I am."
She stepped toward him and pulled him into a hug. After a moment, she pulled back without letting go and searched his face before finally asking, "You okay, Jim?"
"Fine, fine. You should have called me, let me know you were coming."
"She called me, Jim. Asked if I thought she could help. Figured she couldn't hurt." Simon smiled gently at Carolyn's back.
Before Jim could answer, a flurry of activity behind them captured their attention.
Blair rode up to the seventh floor, his heart hammering in his chest. He could feel his jaw clench and his hands move into fists. He could do this.
The elevator door slid open and he stepped out, then into the squad room only to be immediately hailed by Henri Brown.
"Hey, Sandburg, who's playing me in the Sentinel TV show? I know, Adam Sandler!"
"I hear," Joel straightened his tie, "Denzel is playing me."
Suddenly, Blair was surrounded by cops and detectives. He held up his hands and exclaimed, "Look guys, you know damn well there isn't going to be a television show, all right-"
He was interrupted by Rafe, who started chanting, "Nobel Prize," which was all the rest of his friends needed. They were soon bowing and chanting, "We're not worthy, we're not worthy, we're not worthy."
On the other side of the room, Blair could just see Carolyn as she tightened her arm around Jim's waist. He watched as she glanced upward, found only a shut-down Jim, expression one of solid granite.
At that moment, Simon stepped forward, hands raised. "All right everyone, listen up. The official line is that this is not true. There is absolutely no proof." He looked around the bullpen and added in a steely voice, "So why am I seeing people not working?"
The scurry to find something to do would have been funny - if the reason behind it weren't so serious. Blair remained where he was and felt the stab of loss and betrayal when Simon, shooting him an angry look, stepped protectively in front of Jim.
Blair's throat closed as his eyes stung. He turned and walked out.
End Part 1
"Are you really okay, Jim?"
"I'm fine, Caro."
They were seated in the small diner a few blocks from the station, away from prying eyes, flashing cameras, joking detectives - and Blair.
Carolyn had grabbed his arm the moment Sandburg scurried out of the bullpen like the rat he was, and used the moment to spirit Jim out the back way, dodging sneaky newsmen, getting him into her rental car, pushing his head down and then driving out of the garage.
Now safely ensconced in a back booth at the restaurant, a frown marring the boyish beauty of her face, she asked again, "Jim, this is me, your ex-wife. How. Are. You?"
"Tired, in a fog, and I can't believe this is happening. My worst nightmare come to life."
His worst nightmare? How does a man dream something that can't possibly be true… unless... Her eyes widened as, incredulous, she asked, "His dissertation was true?"
His eyes lifted from the straw he was nervously twisting. "I assumed that's why you came."
She shook her head in shock. "No, no, I - I figured, well, I never trusted him, you know that. Sure, he seemed harmless and all, but he seemed to be getting so much more out of his relationship with you than you were from him… Anyway, when I heard the report, I just naturally assumed that he'd made it all up for his own advancement - which he obviously did even if the whole sentinel thing is true...."
Her voice trailed off as she realized she was making no sense at all. Carolyn took a deep breath and tried again. "I guess I'm saying now is that whether it's true or not, he betrayed you, but naturally, when I first heard, I assumed he'd made it up."
Even as she spoke, the truth of what Jim was - began to sink in. Dear God, he was really was this - thing - this Sentinel.
She sat back, the air forced from her lungs. "You never - you should have told me, Jim."
"I didn't want anyone to know - other than Simon. Had no choice there."
"You told Simon but not me, your ex-wife?"
Jim smiled wryly. "You know now."
"With the whole world I know. How could you not tell me, of all people?"
"I'm sorry." It was all he could say. It was all he'd ever been able to say to Caro.
She breathed out a gentle sigh and shook her head. "No, no, I'm sorry. This is not the time to go into this. Let's get you fed and figure out what to do next, okay?"
Blair drove aimlessly in a circle - aimless circles - ever widening aimless circles. His mother waited for him back at the loft but he couldn't face her right now. He knew he needed to go back to the station, they still had a case and a union boss to protect and Jim still needed his help even though he might not want it. But he still needed it.
Blair stopped with the aimless and headed for the station.
Blair stood with Simon and Megan in front of Bartley's desk, going over the plan again while Jim stood at the window, Carolyn by his side. Judging by the easy acceptance of her presence by everyone, Blair figured he was the only one wondering why she'd been included. Bartley, looking smug, was obviously thrilled to find another good looking woman on the case, all of which gave Blair the sudden feeling that he was the odd one out, not Carolyn.
"More press," Jim suddenly said to no one in particular. "They're like vultures hoping for a kill so they can get that Pulitzer prize-winning photo."
"If Zoeller's out there, he's got a great cover, thanks to the media circus," Simon added.
Megan checked her watch and noted, "The show's due to start in five minutes."
Simon nodded and said to Jim, "You'd better get down there."
"On my way."
Jim and Carolyn moved toward the door even as Simon added, "Mr. Bartley, time to take your position."
Bartley took his seat just as Jim gave Carolyn a pat on the arm and, completely ignoring Blair, walked out.
Uncertain what to do, Blair found himself frozen in place until Simon barked out, "What are you doing? Go with him, Sandburg!"
Shrugging helplessly, he said, "He doesn't want me with him."
"I need you with him. Help him focus. Now go on."
Blair went, conscious of Carolyn's eyes boring bullet holes in his back.
Outside, the crowds were heavy and the noise almost too much for him, which meant Jim had to be suffering. Blair searched over the heads of the people milling about the platform where the speeches would be held and finally spotted the Jags cap and moved toward his partner.
Jim was searching the perimeter as Blair came up beside him. Noticing the frustrated frown signifying Jim's difficulty concentrating on the task of trying to spot Zoeller, Blair placed a hand on Jim's back and said softly, "All right, now you know he's not going to make it easy on you, so you should probably start by trying to isolate sounds-"
"Chief, all right. I don't need your help. You don't have to quote me chapter and verse. Save that for your interviews."
Blair took a step back, feeling as shut out as it was possible to feel. He clamped his mouth shut, knowing damn well that Jim needed the chapter and the verse. He'd been overwhelmed by the sounds, lights, and movement. He needed grounding whether he liked it or not, and Blair could only hope that his touch and reminder had been enough.
Minutes later - all hell broke loose all around them.
The streets seemed peaceful after the mess at Bartley's office, Blair thought. At least Bartley was alive and in protective custody with the world believing him dead. Following the clean-up after the faked death of the union leader, he and Jim had headed home, with Jim sharing an intimate hug with Carolyn, who was staying at the Hyatt.
For the first time in a long time, Blair was glad he wasn't riding with his partner, that they were each in his own vehicle. He needed this peace and quiet, this time for himself. Not that he was doing anything with it. His mind seemed unable to figure it all out, to make sense of everything.
With a start, he realized he was home, just seconds behind Jim, who, even now, was climbing out of his truck. Blair parked, got out and, silently but together, he and Jim headed upstairs. This might have been the perfect time to really talk - except that his mother was upstairs, waiting. And judging by the smells coming from the loft, she had dinner ready.
This was not what he and Jim needed right now.
Jim shook his head and said politely, "I'm not really hungry. I'm just going upstairs, crash early. But thank you, Naomi."
Naomi, the bowl of hot soup still in her hand, shot a startled look at her son. Blair gave a small shake of his head and watched, heart heavy, as Jim started toward the stairs
"Please, Jim. You need to eat," Naomi tried again.
He turned, a hand raised. "I'm fine, really, just - tired." He looked pointedly at Blair before adding, "It's been a rough day."
"Jim, this is my fault, not Blair's. Please? Can't we talk? I mean, I should have known how special you were, that you had this gift. I always sensed this special energy about you. I'm so terribly sorry, and when I see the two of you...what it's doing to the two of you-"
"Naomi, I know you were just trying to help Blair-"
"You two listen to me, you can not let this tear apart your friendship-"
Jim turned from the stairs and walked to the window. Body language telling Blair that he was angry, Jim nevertheless said in a surprisingly gentle voice, "Things happen, Naomi. You know, people change and you just have to go with it. This whole Sentinel thing has gotten out of hand. I can't take this attention, it's not me. I just want to go back to the way things were."
That got Blair's attention. He moved toward his partner and said, his own voice soft and gentle, "Well, you can't just turn it off-"
Jim turned on Blair, his anger clearly now having a place to land. "Sure I can. There's got to be a way to make it go dormant, some meditation…."
He turned back to Naomi. "You could show me or I could find something that can tune it out or turn all this off...I'm just done with it...."
Hearing the desperation in Jim's voice, Blair reminded softly, "That's not who you are."
He knew instantly it was the wrong thing to say.
"Well, you tell me who I am then, because I have no idea," Jim's voice held more than a hint of sarcasm as he went on harshly, "At one point, I had a reputation of being a pretty decent cop. Now people look at me and they…they perceive me as some goofball comic book character." His voice rose as he went on. "People are calling my father, my brother, asking how they feel about living with a freak, now how would you like that, huh?"
With that, he moved toward the door, grabbed his coat, opened the door, and said, "If I ever want to go back to being a good cop and living a simple life, it ain't going to happen this way. Your research is done, Chief, now why don't you just let it go." With that, he was gone.
In the deepening shadows of the loft, Blair sensed that if he couldn't reach Jim now, it would be truly over. He gave his mother an apologetic look and said, "Mom, I have to go, need to try-"
"I know, dear. Go."
Jim took the stairs two at a time, his hurt and anger building. He couldn't have stayed there, not for another minute. He couldn't look at Blair's face, at Naomi's. The faces of his destruction. His vulnerability. His Achilles heel.
He drove like a maniac and somehow ended up back at the station, the one place he could still feel at home. He hoped. He somehow managed to avoid the press and make it upstairs, praying that Simon would be there, the one calm left in the storm that was his life. Once in the squad room, he was relieved to see the light on in Simon's office. He started for the door, but stopped just outside as Simon's voice, tightly controlled, revealed
that he was on the phone with the Commissioner.
And it didn't sound good.
He waited, uncertain, but then Simon hung up and Jim felt that, at the very least, he owed Simon an apology. For the last twenty-four hours, he'd been selfish enough to forget that Simon was involved in this too, that what happened to him and Blair, was happening to Simon.
Jim knocked and, at Simon's gruff, "Enter," he walked in. "Simon, I…couldn't help but overhear…."
Looking twice his age, Simon sat back, swiped a hand over his face, and said, "Every case, Jim. They're going to review every single one of your cases."
"Captain, before we hear from the so-called review board, or the brass tells us to go pack our bags, I'd like to go back to things the way they were before Sandburg, when I worked - alone and without my senses."
Clearly stunned by what Jim was actually saying, Simon took his glasses off, pinched his nose, and asked in disbelief, "You talk with Blair about this, Jim?"
"It's not his call. This is my decision - his ride is over and I want to go back to being a cop, a regular cop. And with this sentinel thing hanging over us, it's always right there, and I'm tired of it. I want out."
Like Jim, Blair chose to enter via the back alley, thus also avoiding the press camped out in front of the station. He further chose to avoid seeing anyone by taking the stairs which brought him to Simon's private entrance. The door wasn't completely closed and he could just hear Simon and Jim. He started to step in when he heard Jim say, "It's not his call. This is my decision - his ride is over and I want to go back to being a cop, a regular cop. And with this sentinel thing hanging over us, it's always right there, and I'm tired of it. I want out."
Color draining from his face, Blair turned slowly and started back for the stairs, his only desire to get the hell out of there as fast as possible.
He and Jim needed to talk - no matter what else, they had to talk and talk now. Shoving down his hurt, he walked past Simon's door, rounded the corner and pushed through the front doors to the bullpen.
Simon listened to Jim's tirade as he sat back. This was wrong, very wrong, but how could he convince Jim when he wasn't even sure why it was wrong? He had to try though…that much he knew.
"Well, maybe that's for the best," he said as he got to his feet, picked up a photograph and walked toward Jim. "I got this picture back from the rally, by the way. Here, take a look." He set it down and pointed at Zoeller's face, caught by one of the many cameramen. "You were that close until the paparazzi got in your way."
Blair entered the bullpen, fully prepared to take Jim on when something slammed into the door next to him. In front of him, Megan, her sweater going red with blood, went down and then people were yelling and he was by her side, trying to staunch the flow of blood with his hand even as he heard someone yell, "Simon's down!"
The last several hours kept replaying in his brain no matter how hard he tried to shut it all off. The ambulance, paramedics working feverishly on both Megan and Simon, then the frantic drive to the hospital, the crowded waiting room, the long wait for news - any news - on their conditions, then giving blood and coming back up to hear words of recrimination from Carolyn as she held Jim - and then the doctors were telling them all that Megan and Simon would make it and Blair had been forced to watch as Carolyn took
Jim with soft words and the promise of peace at her hotel….
The weight of it all was too heavy for him. Too heavy.
Blair walked slowly upstairs to the loft and let himself in. His mother was already in bed, having tried earlier to come to the hospital but, at Blair's words, had stayed here - waiting. With a sigh, he started for the stairs but stopped halfway.
No, he had no business sleeping upstairs tonight - maybe never again.
He turned, stripped as he walked toward the couch, leaving his clothes where they fell. He dropped down on the cushions and pulled the afghan over him. He didn't expect to actually fall asleep, and for that, he was grateful. If he closed his eyes, he'd only be haunted by the sight of Megan falling, of her blood and Simon's…and the sight of Jim's face at the hospital.
Rolling over onto his side, he also understood there'd be no forgiveness for him that night or any other.
In the wee small hours of the morning, as Simon Banks finally slipped into a natural healing sleep and Megan woke, hungry, as Naomi tossed and turned, and Jim slept in Carolyn's hotel room, Blair made his decision. He'd give Jim everything he'd asked for and in the only way he could.
Seemed such a simple thing, he thought. This decision. The right thing.
But damn, it hurt.
He was pretty certain his heart had just shattered into a million small pieces.
At seven, Blair tossed the afghan from his body and stumbled to the bathroom. He could hear his mother moving around in his old room, but couldn't bring himself to check in with her before hitting the shower.
He spent over thirty minutes cloistered in the shelter of the bathroom, letting the heat and steam of the shower cleanse him. The normal and mundane tasks of shaving, brushing his teeth and relieving himself actually lulled him into believing, for a few minutes anyway, that this was just another day.
By the time he'd exited, wearing Jim's robe, his mother had scrambled eggs dished onto a plate and was pouring orange juice and hot coffee.
"Come on, sweetie, sit down and eat."
He did as told but didn't actually eat anything. He had to tell his mother his plan.
He'd made his calls and now sat on the edge of the coffee table as his mother fretted over him. She understood his decision, so she said, but she didn't want him to do it.
It was early afternoon and, after checking with the hospital and discovering that Simon and Megan had both been moved to regular rooms, he felt even better about his plan. Joel had called two hours ago to tell him that Zoeller had discovered that Bartley was alive and had gone on a shooting spree at the station, only to end up dead - shot by Jim.
Blair had wanted to rush to Jim, to ensure that he was all right, but between his plans and Joel's words assuring him that, other than a few bruises, Jim was fine, Blair had remained at the loft.
"Will you ever forgive me for making a mess of things, sweetie?"
His mother's words brought him back from his thoughts. Glancing up from the papers in his hand, from the words he'd written for later, he caught the worry in her eyes. "It's okay, mom, we're all going to be fine now."
"Will you still love me, even with all this?"
God, how she'd been hurt by everything. He had to convince her that his decision was sound and that they'd see each other again. He rose and took her into his arms. "Mom, come on, don't be silly. Of course I do, always. Hey, we were all doing what we thought was right, right? Look at it this way, for a while, I had it all, the brass ring and everything, and now it's up to me to make sure Jim gets his brass ring, you know? He never wanted this and now I can fix it." He brushed some hair from her cheek and added, "You know that nothing happens in this universe randomly, so I know what I've got to do. Now why don't you go make your calls?"
She searched his face in the shadows of the afternoon sun and he made sure she could see only his resolve. Satisfied, she nodded and, after kissing his cheek, headed for the phone.
Blair used that moment to gaze around him.
For three years.
The longest time he'd stayed in one house.
His gaze came to rest on his luggage sitting by the door and he shook his head. How often had he seen just that picture? All the years growing up, the many times his mother would need to leave, to move, and here he was, once again moving on. Odd how even now, at almost thirty years of age, another move was indirectly a result of his mother. Did that mean he'd come full circle?
But damn, he'd give just about anything to be in Jim's arms one more time, to feel Jim's lips on his skin and hear words of tenderness wrap around him like a favorite blanket. To be able to pretend for just a few minutes that Jim loved, needed and wanted him.
Experiencing a strong need to see their bedroom one final time, he walked quickly upstairs. Standing by the bed, he picked up Jim's pillow, held it to his face and inhaled deeply. There, just - there - faint, but yes, Jim's scent. Still holding the pillow, he walked to the dresser and picked up a tossed polo shirt from the top of the hamper, along with one of Jim's Cascade PD tee shirts. He pulled the pillowcase off the pillow and stuffed both shirts into it. Dropping the pillow back on the bed, he hurried back downstairs. Once there, he shoved the pillow case with its treasures into his duffle bag.
He'd always wondered just how strong a man he was, how much willpower he really possessed, how much inner strength. He'd just never figured that this was how he'd find out.
His mother hung up the phone, obviously done, so he picked up his bags and said, "It's time, Mom."
She walked to his side, slid her arm around his waist and begged, "Please, let me come."
"No, it's better if you meet Charlie in Tampa, as planned. I'd just as soon not have an audience that included my mother, you know?"
"When will I…when will you-"
"Mom, when I'm settled, I'll call or email, okay?"
He could see the fear that she'd never hear from him again blossom in her eyes, confirmed with her next words.
"You promise, Blair? You promise?"
"I promise," he shamelessly lied. He fully intended on disappearing, certain that not only was this the best for Jim, but also for her.
Naomi picked up her shoulder bag, her luggage already in her rental, and, with a final glance at his home, Blair guided her out and shut the door on number 307, 852 Prospect Avenue, Cascade, Washington.
The paperwork was finished and the clean-up completed. The battle to bring Zoeller down had been messy, what with bullets zinging through the air, officers taking cover and Jim stalking the crazed man. Windows had been shattered as had the glass of the bullpen doors, and even the desks hadn't escaped the bullets. Fortunately, other than Zoeller, furniture and glass had been the only casualties.
Carolyn sat on the edge of his desk and, even without looking, he knew she was staring worriedly at him as he signed his report. Once he filed it, their plan was to head to the hospital. Her hand on his arm got his attention and he glanced up.
"Jim, is everything all right?"
"Fine, just fine."
"Last night, you were so quiet…I'm glad I could be here for you, but you really didn't say much and now...."
He was saved from answering by Rafe, who came out of the conference room where several detectives were watching the news. Voice dripping with sarcasm, he said, "Hey guys, Sandburg is on TV - he's giving some kind of press conference."
Puzzled, Carolyn and Jim quickly joined the others.
A podium surrounded by the press appeared on screen and Jim recognized the room - it was Chancellor Edwards' office at Rainier. A subdued Blair suddenly entered the picture and stepped up to the podium. His hair was tied back and he was wearing Jim's favorite flannel shirt as well as the leather jacket he'd given him for his last birthday. Everything in Blair's body language cried out in pain and Jim almost winced as, in a slightly tremulous voice, Blair addressed the press.
"Hi, uh, thank you all for coming, I just have a short speech prepared here."
Jim watched him swallow hard before looking up to face the cameras again.
"Um, in our media-informed culture, a scientist receives validation by having his or her work published, and, after years of research, there is, ah, great personal satisfaction when that goal is reached. However," Jim watched Blair bring both hands up to grip the podium, "my desire to impress my peers and the world at large drove me to an immoral and unethical act."
Blair's voice broke then, Jim felt his stomach plummet seven floors. He watched as Blair cleared his throat and went on - horribly on.
"My thesis, The Sentinel, is a…is a fraud. While my paper does quote ancient source materials, the documentation proving that James Ellison…."
Blair paused painfully, his eyes dropping down again but, after a shift, Jim watched as he took another breath and went on.
"...actually…possesses hyper senses is fraudulent. Looking back, I can say that it is a good piece of fiction."
As if the most painful part was over, Blair's voice dropped low as he seemed to regain some degree of composure to finish.
"I apologize for this deception and my only hope is that I can be forgiven for the pain I've caused for those closest to me. Thank you."
The entire Major Crime crew watched in stunned amazement as the man who'd been an integral part of their lives for three years gathered his notes and quickly rushed by the eager and questioning reporters to leave the room.
All eyes turned to Jim who was rooted to the spot.
Blair pushed past everyone in his effort to beat the media, but Chancellor Edwards grabbed him as he tried to slide past her.
"You've embarrassed this University for the last time, I want your office cleared out by Friday."
He stopped long enough to bite back angrily, "Already done. And happily so."
Blair pulled away from her and, ten minutes later, was in his car and speeding out of Cascade, his heart, soul and life left behind.
Carolyn looked questioningly at her ex-husband and asked, "What the hell did that mean?"
He shook his head, his mind still too full of the press conference to think clearly. What the fuck had Blair just done?
Dear Mother of God.
He had to get to his partner. Pushing away from Carolyn's cloying hand, he picked up the phone and punched in Blair's cell. It rang twice and then switched to the automated answering system.
"The party you are trying to reach is either out of the area or not connected at this time."
Disappointed, Jim hung up and asked himself where Blair would go now.
The hospital, of course.
Blair wasn't at Cascade General, although the doctors told him that a Mr. Sandburg had called in to check on the condition of Captain Banks and Inspector Connor. With that information, and a bit more hopeful, Jim hurried to the payphone, tried the loft but got no answer, which meant no Naomi or Blair.
Icy fingers gripped Jim's heart as cold hands from a grave reached for him.
No Naomi, no Blair.
He started down the hallway, completely forgetting that Carolyn was next to him.
"Jim, what is it? What's wrong?"
He waved her off. "I have to go to the loft, need to get home."
Carolyn followed alongside and he was too worried to stop her from joining him.
Jim rushed up the stairs, shoved the key into the lock and pushed his way inside.
His home was quiet - still.
Thanks to the shuttered blinds, shadows governed the space, the small slices of sun giving the loft a soft sepia tone. Dust particles danced in the few rays of light, all signifying a frightening absence.
Jim paused just inside, Carolyn coming up hard behind him. He took a deep breath for courage before moving to the French doors. He pushed them open and peered inside.
The closet door was open, revealing a few lonely coat hangers swaying listlessly in the slight stirring of air caused by Jim's movements. Even though he'd known what he'd find, he was still shocked as he took in the empty book case, showing only dusty outlines of where books had once been stacked. The desk was clutter free and neater than at any time in the last three years. Dresser drawers yawned at half mast, bare of belongings and empty of Blair.
He shot from the room, literally bumping Carolyn out of the way in his mad dash upstairs where, at the top, he skidded to a stop.
Blair's book and glasses, both of which had been sitting on the nightstand, were gone. His sleep sweats - gone. The made bed had been partially undone, his pillow, sans pillowcase, lying in the middle of the spread. He couldn't even begin to fathom why.
"Jim?" Carolyn whispered, her voice telegraphing her unease at his behavior.
She was just behind him, three steps back, gazing up at him, eyes wide and frightened.
"He's gone, Blair's gone."
She moved to his side, looked around the room and then back up at him. He could see it in her eyes - the truth finally understood. Her next words confirmed the fact that she finally got it.
"Dear God…you and…you and Sandburg."
Two Weeks Later -
Blair sat in the park and filled out yet another application form. Under name, he almost printed 'Blair Jacob Sandburg' but stopped in time. When leaving Cascade behind, he'd known he'd also have to leave behind his name. Too difficult to disappear otherwise, and if he were to be successful in protecting Jim, then he had to disappear completely.
Putting pen to paper again, he printed John Sanderson and thanked his lucky stars for a bookie cousin with connections resulting in a new driver's license and social security card. Of course, it was cash and carry now, but he still had obligations that had required a plan. In the end, it was decided that he'd send money to Robert on a monthly basis, and his cousin would make the payments on Blair's student loans and credit cards.
But other than that - Blair no longer existed.
He tucked some hair behind his ear and smiled self-consciously. There was hair but it was considerably shorter.
Blair finished the application, gathered up his stuff, and headed back across the street to the small curio shop. The bell tinkled overhead as he entered, the young woman behind the counter looking up and smiling.
"All finished, Mr. Sanderson?"
"Yes," he answered as he handed it to her. "How soon might I hear?"
She perused the application before saying, "My father will call you, but between you and me - everything looks good."
He smiled brightly. "Thank you, I really appreciate the time you took with me today. I look forward to hearing from your father, then." With that, he left and went to the small motel currently serving as his home.
The next morning, Harold Rothman, owner of the curio shop, did, indeed call and, as Blair put the phone down, he realized he was truly starting on a new chapter of his life.
He just wished he knew how this particular book was going to end.
Three months later
Working for Harold Rothman and his daughter Heidi, selling curios and antiques, was hardly challenging, but it paid the bills and kept him busy. He'd been working easily, living in a small, tidy apartment in Irvine, a bustling Orange County city in Southern California. Oddly enough, he was pretty sure he'd been here before, as a child, but really, who cared now? He had a job, the Volvo was running again, and every day that he managed to go five minutes without thinking about Jim Ellison was a major accomplishment.
Of course, his life wasn't perfect because, in all reality, being one of the walking dead was a bit of a hang-up, but other than that, life was cool. What constantly amazed him was the fact that he was a walking dead man, that the sun rose and set, that warmth and light followed the bright orb, that he shopped for frozen dinners, purchased gas, washed the car, interacted with other adults, managed to sound like an adult, grown-up and not at all spacey. And damn, he'd even caught himself smiling on occasion. Of course, the smiles had been necessary, required, and none of them had ever reached his eyes, let alone his heart, but still, he'd been surprised that his lips still knew how to make the move.
But the biggest stunner, the true shocker, was his heart. The damn thing was still beating. That old muscle just kept pumping and pumping and he couldn't help but wonder how the hell that was possible, being broken and all. But pump it did.
As the weeks slid by, he was pleased to see the infamous, fraudulent Blair Sandburg move from the headlines to page six, then page twelve and finally fade from view altogether. It hadn't taken long for the media to find something - and someone - else to hound.
Unfortunately, Robert had suddenly become persona non grata in Cascade, thanks to his less than stellar 'connections' within the gambling community, but thank God, he'd still managed to keep Blair up-to-date on Simon and Megan and their health. Blair had known exactly when both had been returned to full duty and he'd been incredibly relieved. He doubted that he'd ever forget seeing her fall, or Simon's body.
At least it had all ended better than he'd deserved it to end. Just before leaving Cascade, Robert had called to let him know that Jim was working quietly and without a partner. He finally had the anonymity he so craved and the life he'd enjoyed before Blair. Jim could now claim that brass ring.
The knowledge that Jim was happy was all that made Blair's life bearable. The thought that Jim was where he belonged, that maybe, just maybe he'd find something with Carolyn again...find what he'd been unable to find with Blair, yeah, somehow that made it all worthwhile.
Maybe this was what was supposed to happen - maybe all the twists and turns in his road leading to Jim's freedom.
Which brought Blair back to himself.
He sat in his apartment, staring out over his small balcony, a cold glass of beer in hand as he pondered the universe, fate, destiny and love.
He'd been trying for weeks to figure out why he might be more than a bit…what would be a good word…unlovable? Was that the word? What was it inside of him that people found…that people couldn't… He took another sip of his beer and tried to marshal his thoughts.
Maybe it wasn't that people couldn't love him, maybe it was just that they couldn't love him for long, or remain up close and personal with him, not even his mother, who'd always been off on some new adventure. Of course, in all fairness, she'd taken him a good many times, but just as often had left him to the care of others.
Suddenly he grinned, a soft, bittersweet smile as the sun dipped below the horizon. At least he'd had a month with Jim. Thirty days in Jim's bed, four weeks of making love with him, day after day of waking with one of them spooned behind the other....
Blair let his head drift back against the chair as he put the glass down on the floor. His imagination - his own version of memory sense - brought back Jim's strong, slender hands roaming his body, knowing exactly where to stop and where to tease.
Blair moaned softly as Jim's breath seemed to flow over his face and his fingers tangling with Blair's curls. Blair grinned again as he imagined the slight moue at the sight of his short hair and now wiry curls, but then he lowered the zipper to his jeans and began a slow slide up and down his rigid dick. He closed his eyes, experienced the warmth and scent of Jim Ellison, of the older man's body against his, of muscles rippling under his fingers, of tremendous strength harnessed for Blair…and his hips bucked as he shot over his hand, Jim's name torn from his lips even as tears marked their way down his face.
Jim managed to get through six whole weeks believing that Blair's absence was for the best. Six weeks telling himself that he had what he wanted.
Six weeks before he cracked, before he blew up in the bullpen and then, once home at Simon's orders, tore the loft apart.
It had taken him six long, grueling weeks before he could admit to himself that he never wanted to go back to the time before Sandburg.
Now he sat in the middle of the wreckage that was his home, vulnerable and broken, a still-recovering Simon trying to help him as he confessed that he wanted to be a sentinel, that he needed Blair, loved Blair.
"Okay, okay, Jim, I get it. Come on, let me help you up."
"Shit, I fell," he muttered.
"Yeah, Jim, you fell. Now come on, let's put our feet under us and stand up."
"Us? There is no us, Simon. You didn't fall, I did."
"Well, I'm right down here with you, buddy. So get the fuck up."
Jim waved off Simon's arm and pushed himself off the floor. Swaying, he looked around his home, Simon, resting heavily on his cane, doing the same.
"You did a pretty good job of it, Jim," he finally said.
"I don't know about that," Jim answered. He pointed to the bookshelf. "I left that intact."
"Only because I arrived and you slipped."
"I could finish it now."
"Let's not but we'll say you did. It's going to take forever to get this place cleaned up as it is."
"I was thinking of leaving everything as it is - sort of a testament to my stupidity, you know?"
"A monument to idiocy, so to speak?"
"Well, you are one stupid son of a bitch, no doubt about it."
Jim, feeling the loss again, said tonelessly, "He left me, Simon."
"Yes, he did. He left us."
Surprised, Jim turned to face his boss, one eyebrow rising in mock surprise. "Simon, last time I checked, you weren't the one sleeping with him - were you?"
Simon held up both hands and shook his head. "Hey, I liked the kid, but I draw the line at sleeping with him. Besides, can you actually see me," he pointed at his chest, then dropped his hand down to his hip, "with him - Mr. Shortstuff?"
"All right, we've now officially crossed over into weird."
"A fucking Sandburg zone without the Sandburg. We just can't escape it."
"Hey, I loved the Sandburg zone."
"Well, as long as we're confessing here - so did I. It was a good zone, you know? Full of life, energy, good will...."
"Useless information, strange unwritten codes of male behavior, unfathomable sexual practices...."
"Whoa, Ellison, you have now crossed the line into things Simon Banks doesn't want to know."
"Hell, Simon, I didn't mean he and I, I meant the stuff he knows, you know?"
"Jim, let's drop this whole part of the conversation and start cleaning up."
It took them over two hours to sweep, mop, toss and straighten. When the last piece of broken whatever had been taken downstairs to the garbage, Simon made Jim sit down while he got a bottle of scotch and two glasses.
As Simon settled next to Jim, he handed him a glass, poured for both of them, and suggested, "I say we get stinking drunk."
Jim glanced down at the amber liquid and whispered, "Tanked."
"I missed that. Say it again?"
Knowing that everything he was would be revealed in his red-rimmed eyes at that moment, Jim nevertheless lifted them to his friend and watched the surprise wash over Simon's face.
"Holy shit," Simon breathed out.
Nodding, Jim downed the glass and let Simon pour again as he said bitterly, "I guess I've got exactly what I wanted, eh, Simon? Life before Sandburg."
"He'll - come back. He will, Jim. He has to."
"No he won't. I told him just what I told you. That I wanted it over - wanted it gone. That all I desired was life as it was before and he did the only thing he could - he left, thereby giving me my wish."
"Jim, come on-"
"He's smart, Simon. Do you know how smart he is? How really, really smart he is? Do you have a clue?"
"Yeah, I've an idea."
"Then you know that he read between all my lines. He knew what I was saying and what I wasn't saying. He might as well have been standing outside your office when I told you."
"Hell, he probably was," Simon muttered into his drink.
"What the fuck do you mean by that?"
"It never registered until now, but Henri mentioned something about seeing Blair in the back hall before he came in the front doors that day," Simon said morosely.
His turn to nod glumly, Simon downed his drink.
"Jesus, he heard me. He heard me, didn't he? Didn't he?"
Simon poured himself another as he said, "Probably. Be just like him to accidentally hear us, to walk away and then decide to talk to you anyway - so then he comes in the front and-"
"Yeah - and."
Jim swiped a hand over his face as he stretched out his legs and let his body slump down into the cushions, totally lost in this new horror.
Simon twirled his glass between long, brown fingers and watched the liquid lap against the side of the glass, his own mood foul. Because Blair had heard not just Jim's words - but his own as well. Suddenly he said, "You know, Jim, I should never have said that maybe you were right about going back to the way it had been. The press may have interfered with your attempt to catch Zoeller, but without Blair and your senses, you'd have never spotted him to begin with. Hell, without your senses, we'd never have known we were fighting him. And he probably would have succeeded in his first attempt." He glanced at Jim over the rim of his glasses and added slyly, "Of course, I'm just rambling here."
When Jim failed to respond, Simon went on stubbornly. "Blair's smart, Jim. He's the smartest man I know, which means that after he calms down, he'll realize that you didn't mean any of what you said and he'll come back."
"Guess what? I did mean it. I meant every word of it when I said it. It wasn't anger or hurt or lashing out. I meant it."
"So what the hell are you saying? You don't mean it now but if he should return, you would?"
Jim waved the hand holding his drink, the action causing the liquid to slop over onto his thigh. He ignored it. "No, no, of course not. I mean that I meant it then, meant it at the moment, but I'll never mean it again."
Simon shook his head and held out the bottle. "Either we need to have more of this, or we've already had too much. Which is it?"
Looking down at his now damp leg, Jim held out his glass. "My jeans are thirsty."
They both drank, then Jim asked, "You're still recovering, Simon. Should you be drinking?"
The bottle was empty and Simon was peering into the small opening.
"A'course, I'm only a sentinel here, but Simon, my friend, that bottle is empty."
Simon flicked out his tongue and licked the rim, then let the bottle drop to the floor. "Well fuck."
They both brought their glasses up to their eyes and, by upending them, peered inside, which naturally caused what little liquid remained to drop onto their respective faces. They both swiped up the precious liquid and licked it off their fingers.
Simon tilted his head and stared at his friend. "So we go after him?"
"This is fucking unbelievable!"
"Jim, calm down. You've little left in this place as it is. You can't afford to destroy anything else."
Jim collapsed like a deflated balloon as he sank into the chair. "How? How could he have disappeared? We're fucking detectives, we find criminals every fucking day but we can't find a short, long haired nerd? A guy who fucking drives an old green Volvo? We're talking Blair here."
"Exactly, Jim. Blair. He has friends all over the world, he could be anywhere."
Jim stood impatiently and began to pace. They'd been searching for over a week with no success and Jim was nearing the end of his rope. "Had - he had friends. You heard the assholes. We've interviewed how many? People Blair helped, befriended, taught, coached, tutored, and they turned against him. They didn't give a flying fuck about happened to him."
"Fair weather friends, Jim. Not like us," Simon remarked dryly.
Simon's sarcasm wasn't lost on Jim, who said, "You're not helping. Now, how the hell has he been able to travel without using his cards?"
For several seconds both men were silent, then, almost in unison, they turned, faced each other, and said, "Robert!"
End Part 2
"Fuck, fuck, fuck!"
"Simon, calm down."
Banks threw his cane across the room and Jim went after it, picked it up and carried it back to his friend.
"Who knew, Jim? Who knew?"
"So Robert has gone underground. Okay, another dead end, but we're not finished. We have other avenues to explore."
Simon sat down with a sigh. "What other avenues? Uh, Jim? What other avenues?"
"I don't…know. But damn it, we're detectives."
"Carolyn come up with anything?"
Jim shook his head, remembering the call he'd made to his ex-wife. After Carolyn had figured out about Blair and the exact nature of his relationship with him, she'd gone very silent and - finally - left him alone. Two days later, she'd caught a plane home and, when he'd called a few days ago, she'd been less than thrilled to hear from him and even less so when he'd asked for her help. But she'd tried and, unfortunately, had come up just as empty-handed as they had.
"Same as us - meaning zip."
The Word document looked way too blank, Blair thought. It stared back at him, almost accusingly. He glanced down at the keyboard, took a deep breath, placed his fingers in place, thought of Jim…and the words started flowing.
Six hours later, with cramped fingers, he stopped. Rubbing his right hand, he sat back and started to read what it had taken him six hours to create….
He wasn't an investigator and he wasn't a private eye. He wasn't a private dick either. A dick maybe, but not a private one. What he was, was a Private Detective. He detected in private, without the badge, and left the investigating to the suits and cops.
Joe Elliot tossed the red ball against his office wall, deftly caught it as it bounded back, then repeated the action. On the other side of the glass door sat his temp, a scrawny woman with a bad temper and the best filed nails in the building. Joe was surprised that she didn't smack the gum she chewed incessantly.
The phone rang...and rang…and rang. He sat up, catching the ball in the process. The phone rang a fourth time and still the bitch in the outer office ignored it. He let it ring twice more before picking it up himself.
"Elliot Detective Agency."
//"Joe, I've got something for you."//
"Hey, how'd ya know it was me?" he asked, grinning.
//"Well, your voice was my first clue, and of course, if you're there, you're the one who always answers because you get the worst temps possible, so that was my second clue."//
"But I didn't use my regular voice," he said, almost whining.
//"Yes you did."//
"No, I was in disguise," he stubbornly insisted.
//"And you call yourself a detective?"//
"You gonna tell me what you've got?" he finally asked his old friend, Lieutenant Stan Simmons of the LAPD.
//"A case that's right up your alley."//
"You coming here, or do I-"
//"You show up at the station and the captain will have my ass. It's almost lunch, I'll be there in twenty."//
//"Nah, I'll try something different this time. Instead of the Pastrami on rye with yellow mustard, I want Dijon."//
"A true gourmand. One or two pickles?"
//"I'm on a diet - one."//
"See you in twenty."
He hung up smiling, but one look at the silhouette of the broad just outside his office and the grin faded. It was time to dump another temp. He got up and walked into the outer office.
Well, damn, the Bitch was filing her nails. Joe picked up the receiver and held it in front of her face. "In detective parlance we call this the Ameche. When the Ameche rings, the twisted temp of a secretary picks it up and says, 'Elliot Detective Agency, may I help you?'"
Totally unmoved by his words, she simply stared up at him even as she continued to file her nails.
Thinking that she was missing the movie reference, he added patiently, "Don Ameche? He played Alexander Graham Bell in the movie? Henry Fonda played his assistant? Hello?"
She opened her mouth, popped her gum and said, "You should be made aware that it's the year 2001 and no one calls it the Ameche anymore. In fact, I sincerely doubt that anyone ever called it the Ameche…except in very bad detective novels."
His pale blue eyes narrowed fractionally. Wasn't he lucky? He'd managed to hire a smartass Bitch. He pointed to the black purse hanging from her chair. "That yours?"
"Take it and go. And do us both a favor and never darken this doorstep again."
She cocked her head. "Do you really catch bad guys? Because I've got to tell you, with dialogue like that, I can only picture them laughing their asses off."
All right - he was starting to like the Bitch. Maybe he should rethink the firing. "I'm thinking - you learn to answer the phone and I'll keep you."
She looked at the phone, still in his hand, then up at the handsome face with its square jaw, chiseled features, icy pale blue eyes, and of course, there was that long, lean body….
"I'm thinking - you buy me lunch and I'll stay."
He put the phone down. "Deal."
"You going to Gebhart's?"
"I'll take a Ruben, extra sauerkraut, potato salad and two pickles. Oh, and a Diet Coke."
He started for the door, then turned back and, in a resigned voice, said, "I'm expecting Lieutenant Simmons. You'll ignore him when he arrives, won't you?"
He shook his head. Naturally. Isn't that what all temps did?
Joe Elliot, private detective, headed out to the deli.
Blair shifted in his seat, took a sip of coffee and, as the sun set, continued to read about his creation, Joe Elliot, Private Detective.
The days stretched out and overlapped, each indistinguishable from the other. His nine- to-five hours at the curio shop were becoming a painful blur meant only to be endured, while his interactions with the human race were confined to selling and answering questions at the store. At home, while he had a phone, he never answered it when it rang, letting the answering machine do his work for him. Then, once a week, he'd erase everything unless one of the messages happened to be from his boss.
The only truly good moments happened when he was at home and buried deeply in the writing of his book - only then did he come to life. It took him over a month to complete his detective novel, a feat he suspected was unusual. But damn, once he entered Joe's world, the words came so easily. Unfortunately, like all good things, he'd finally reached the conclusion of the story.
Now he sat with his laptop on his legs, fingers poised over the keys, ready to type The End - but he couldn't do it. He'd typed those two words once before and dearly wished he hadn't.
Suddenly inspiration struck and he typed, -30- instead.
Feeling extremely accomplished, he just sat there, grinning at the screen. Then he remembered - he didn't have a title.
Okay, so he'd worry about that later. Right now, he needed to think about what to do with it. As he stared at the screen and the blinking cursor next to the -30-', he thought of Jim and how the novel held so much of him in every word. Somehow, it seemed fitting that the world should know how great Jim was - even though they wouldn't know it was Jim.
With that, he went to his search engine and started looking for publishing houses. He was hardly new to being published, but fiction was a different breed altogether, so he surfed several legitimate sites that offered good advice and tips on getting something in the front door of a publishing house.
After a few hours, he had a nice list of possible publishers and another list of steps that he'd need to follow for submission to each. Of course, he could have sent it directly to Sid, after all, the guy would have to feel some obligation to publish, but gosh, poor Sid had been fired.
Wry smile in place, Blair opted for Intrigue Presses for his first submission - and probable first, but not last, rejection.
Thanking God it was Sunday, because the idea of an entire weekend stretched out in front of him with no Joe Elliot to immerse himself in really sucked. He got up, stretched, and remembered a post office on his way to the antique store. Okay, so he'd mail it tomorrow.
Three weeks later
Blair walked into his apartment, tossed his keys onto the dining room table and took his mail over to the couch. Sitting down, he started going through the circulars and magazines…and then he spotted it.
One thick envelope from Intrigue Presses.
Rejections didn't usually come in thick white envelopes.
With shaking fingers, he opened it…and his life took a decidedly surreal turn towards weirdsville.
His book had been accepted.
Blair Sandburg, he of the fraudulent dissertation, was about to be published.
Blair sat in the early morning light, in the same spot he'd been in the night before when he'd opened his mail. The paper informing him that Intrigue Presses was definitely interested in publishing his book sat on his leg where he'd left it. He'd barely moved an inch since opening it, his only thoughts centered around something he should have thought of before mailing his manuscript off to Intrigue.
And in order to do that - he had to protect his identity - but how?
He needed help and, dredging up a name from his past, he had, he hoped, his answer.
His good old buddy who was now happily settled in Los Angeles and, miracle of miracles, working for a law firm that specialized in entertainment law.
Answer at hand, he finally moved, albeit stiffly, into his room. He picked up his address book from the table by his bed and flipped through to the 'F's' - and yep, there she was, Lori Fielding, 23891 West Poplar, Los Angeles, California, 818-828-3891.
He checked his watch and nodded in satisfaction. She'd be asleep, but home. He quickly dialed and, after four rings....
"Lori, it's me, Blair."
He could hear a sharp intake of breath, than a rustling sound and finally, all traces of sleep gone, Lori's voice again.
"Blair? My Blair? Holy smokes!"
"Hello to you too," he said with a grin.
"My God, how the fuck are you? And do you know what time it is, fer crissakes?"
"Yes, it's six, but I would have thought you'd have a clock right next to the bed."
"You shit. Always the smartass. And to what do I owe the pleasure of being awakened from a sound sleep, in the middle of a highly erotic dream, by someone I haven't heard from in over two years?"
"I hate to admit it, but…it's business, Lori. Are you still practicing?"
"Of course, and still with Pierce-Waterman."
"Then you're just what I need. I'm about to be published and I need help."
"Oh, my God!"
"Can you help me?" Blair found his grin widening.
"Help you, of course I can help you, you idiot. But what do you need? Do you have an agent yet? Why a lawyer already?"
He sat down on the edge of his bed and stared at a photo on the nightstand, the photo of Jim at the Detective of the Year awards banquet. "I - I think this would be better said in person, Lori," he finally answered.
"Okay, hang on a mo, all right?"
"Sure, no problem." He could hear rustling again, then the phone was dropped unceremoniously onto a hard surface. He waited patiently and, two minutes later, she was back on the line.
"I have an opening today if you can you get to my office by ten."
"No problem. I have an understanding boss."
"Good, you're now my ten o'clock. We're in Century City. Got a pencil handy?"
He didn't, but he had a good memory. "Shoot."
"800 Avenue of the Stars, The Peterman Building. I'm on the seventh floor - suite #702. And Blair, I can't wait to see you again. We'll have lunch, all right?"
"Deal. But Lori, don't use my name. Use John Sanderson."
There was the expected pause, then laughter.
"Only you, honey, only you. All right, John Sanderson it is. See you at ten."
Blair hung up after their goodbyes and then called his boss who, as expected, was very understanding. After all, in all the months Blair had worked for Rothman's, he hadn't missed so much as an hour of work.
The drive to Los Angeles was proving more difficult than Blair could have anticipated. Oh, not the navigational aspects of it, but the actual going someplace. He'd been leading a life that involved getting up, going to work and going home again, with only occasional side trips to a market, and that was it. For months. So, by the time he exited the San Diego freeway onto Santa Monica Boulevard, he was a nervous wreck.
He drove down the street, checked out the billboards, watched, amazed, at the number of Rolls-Royces that drove past him. He also noted that almost everyone driving was talking on a cell phone. Figured.
He couldn't believe the amount of foot traffic in a city known for its vehicular traffic, not to mention the weird outfits worn by the pedestrians, but his eyes really bugged out when he passed an outdoor mall that appeared to have a large yellow submarine protruding from its side.
He felt like Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop.
Blair eventually spotted Avenue of the Stars and made a right turn onto it. He quickly found the correct building, drove down into the garage, took a parking ticket from the automatic dispenser and, after several passes, finally found a parking spot.
For several minutes he sat in his car and just breathed.
In - out, in - out.
He needed to calm down, focus and just - do it. Finally feeling secure enough, he climbed out of the car, locked it and walked to the elevator. He could do this.
He couldn't do this.
His breathing started to hitch, sweat broke out over his brow and upper lip....
Blair turned away from the elevator and started walking back to his car.
Maybe - she'd come to him?
What the hell was he turning into?
Blair stopped, closed his eyes and took a deep, centering breath. He could trust Lori, she'd been his best friend, his lover for over eight months. They'd shared some of the best sex he'd ever had - until Jim - and they'd loved one another, right?
He could trust her.
He turned back.
"John Sanderson. I've a ten o'clock with Miss Fielding."
"Oh, yes, of course. Have a seat, Mr. Sanderson, she'll be right with you."
Lori had a male assistant. Good for her. As he took a seat in the corner, Blair had to bite back a smile because Lori also had an assistant who was making eyes at him. Shaking his head in humor, Blair picked up a magazine in order to ignore the can I have you for dinner looks that continued to flow his way.
Five minutes later, the door to Lori's office swung open and she was there, arms held out in welcome. He got quickly to his feet and, as they hugged, the years between them melted away.
She finally pulled him inside and, after closing the door, said, "My God, Blair, you look...."
She paused in order to really look, and finished, "Shitty. You look shitty."
Chuckling, he said, "Thanks. Knew I could count on you for total acceptance and support."
"But you do. You really do. I mean, " she stood back and surveyed him from top to bottom, "I love the hair, and you look scrumptious, but Blair, there's something-"
"You, on the other hand," he interrupted, "haven't changed one bit. You're as beautiful as ever."
"That's supposed to stop me, isn't it? Redirect me? Get real. This is Lori, the person who knows you inside-out, now what the hell is wrong?"
He sighed. He should never have turned back. "Come on, Lori. You read."
She tilted her head and regarded him steadily. "The dissertation mess?"
"I like that. The 'dissertation mess'."
Lori took his hand and led him to a leather couch against the far wall. She pushed him down and took her place beside him. "Look, I know you and the Blair Sandburg I know does not do fraud. So, no, I didn't believe any of it, all right?"
Blair frowned. "Then what," he waggled his head, "do you believe?"
"That someone opened Pandora's Box and you had to put it all back inside. Somehow."
"Succinctly put, but…I opened the box, so putting it all back inside was the least I could do."
She shrugged. "But there's more, right?"
"Nope. That's it. A lot of people were hurt, both mentally and physically, because of me, so I have to make sure that Blair Sandburg can't hurt them again. Hence the John Sanderson thing, and the reason I'm here."
She sat back. "Okay, I got that. So what's the deal here, then? What do you want from me?"
"Advice? Help? I can't have any face-to-face meetings, no photo on dust jackets, no real name, not even my new name, just a pseudonym - a mystery man, if you will."
"We can do that, no problem. I'll act as the middle person. First thing we need to do, though, is get you an agent. Did you bring all the paperwork?"
He nodded, took the envelope from Intrigue Presses out of his pocket and handed it over.
Lori took everything out and, for a few moments, all was quiet as she read. Finally she put the documents down and smiled. "This is good, Blair, very good, but then, I'd expect no less from Intrigue. I think we can work this out very nicely but, as I said, you need an agent. Now, I just happen to know several, but I think there's one, he's great, who'd be perfect for you. I'll contact him, explain the nature of my eccentric," she made quote marks in the air, "client and take care of everything. For your part, you'll need to buy a fax as soon as possible, but other than that - we're set. I'll have my assistant draw up the contract while we're at lunch and you can sign when we get back."
Blair sat in Lori's office for almost an hour while her assistant did his part and Lori fast-talked with the man who would be Blair's agent, Spenser Winthrop. While she spun her yarns, explained her eccentric client, cajoled and entreated, Blair flipped through magazine after magazine, his nervousness increasing as his need to get home lent him an almost frenetic energy.
Finally, Lori hung up, a satisfied grin on her face. "You have yourself an agent, Blair. It wasn't easy, as you heard, but he'll take you under your conditions." She sat forward, rested her arms on the desk, and asked, "So - what do you feel like for lunch? Seafood? Mexican? Or we could go next door to the Century City mall and eat in the food court, up to you."
"Food court? Mmm, maybe not."
Seeing his discomfort, she nodded in understanding. "I know just the place." She picked up the phone. "Ken, would you order from Yee's for me? The usual, but for two. Great. Yeah, speedy delivery." She hung up the phone and grinned. "See? Privacy. We'll eat here, catch up on our lives and then you sign and we're set."
Blair finally allowed himself to relax. Lori really did understand.
Dipping into the aromatic shrimp and spearing two succulent shellfish with her chopsticks, Lori quizzed him about the book and the identity of its author. "Have you figured out the pseudonym yet?"
"Yeah, yeah, I have. Jake Sands."
"Ooh, I like. Tough, ex-cop-sounding. Very good. I'll get that on all the docs. And by the way," she pointed at his plate with her chopstick, "you're not eating, you're shuffling."
"I'm eating." To prove his point, he clicked on a piece of pepper and popped it into his mouth, chewed and swallowed. "See?"
Frustrated expression on her face, she asked, "Blair, come on. Talk to me."
"Blair, Blair, Blair...."
"Lori, Lori, Lori...."
"In the old days, this is when we'd hit the sack."
She reached over and gently pushed some hair behind Blair's ear. "But not anymore?" she asked, a trace of wistfulness in her throaty voice.
"No, not anymore."
"I've missed you."
Blair frowned at her confession because, in all honesty, in the three years he'd been with Jim, he'd never given her a thought. Damn selfish of him, actually. She'd been his best friend at Rainier, his shoulder to cry on, his bedmate and joke partner and yet, he'd never picked up the phone to share Jim with her, to share the multitude of changes in his life that had come with his association with Jim. But he was wise enough not to tell her any of that now, not to hurt her.
"Missed you too."
She favored him with a small, Mona Lisa smile, regret clearly written in her eyes, but, a moment later, she was the consummate professional. "Okay, so we're set. Hang on while I see if Wonderman out there has everything ready."
Wonderman did and, after Blair read, he signed, then read some more, and signed again, and again, and again. When he was done - he realized he was truly on his way to being published.
When Blair finally got home, the first thing he did was to call his boss and give notice, after which he collapsed on the couch and found himself grinning like an idiot.
His last two weeks at the shop passed in a whirl of work, strange emails and stranger faxes, thanks to his new agent. On his last day at the curio shop, the Rothmans said goodbye with a going-away cake and, if that weren't enough, they gave him a small gift, which he was ordered not to open until he got home. At the end of the day, after exchanging hugs and kisses and promises to 'stay in touch', he walked out the door for the last time.
Once outside, he rushed to his car and drove quickly home. When he entered his apartment and closed the door, something strange happened. It was as if being published, having a contract and the promise of money in the bank, set him free to die. Not a death in the conventional sense, not even the kind of death he'd been living with since leaving Cascade, no, this was the death of sharing life with others. Of being a part of life outside his home.
He felt safe as he stood in his small apartment. Safe and no longer any kind of threat to Jim.
It felt good.
Days and weeks later, as he dealt with mounds of paperwork that arrived via either email, faxes or delivery men, worked on revisions, as his contract with Intrigue was pounded out (he wanted approval for marketing and cover art), it continued to feel good. He didn't need to leave his home for any reason now, his total and complete retreat from the outside world made incredibly easy thanks to the internet. He soon found that there was nothing a person could want or need that could not be ordered online.
Two grocery chains, Albertsons and Vons, both had home deliveries and he used them based on delivery schedules. For movies and even popcorn, he discovered Kosmo.com, and for books and other delights, there was Amazon. For nights when cooking was the last thing he wanted to do, Restaurants on the Run, an online business that specialized in delivering neighborhood restaurant food to your door, was only a click away.
Of course, he had to admit several weeks later that he wasn't totally without some kind of interaction with others. After all, he talked with Lori by phone at least three times a week; she even visited, sharing a meal and a DVD on occasion. He also conversed with his agent by phone. But otherwise, okay, it was just him, his computer, television and CD player.
In his down time, the few hours when 'being published' wasn't his main focus, he read, watched movies or surfed the internet to the sounds of his favorite music. The problem was - none of it felt the same. His enjoyment of music seemed fuzzy, as if he might be under water and thus unable to hear it clearly. It was as if he'd stopped really experiencing even his small pleasures.
The scary part, he realized several weeks into his closed off life, was that he didn't care, didn't miss any of it. Did that mean he'd stopped feeling altogether? No, that couldn't be accurate because he cared how he looked, he shaved each day, bathed, fed himself, brushed his teeth and flossed after every meal. Surely that was a good sign? A sign that he felt something, even if only pride in being clean and fed.
He'd stopped dreaming too, but that part was good. He'd also - mostly - stopped thinking about Jim and Simon and Megan and his mother. He could go days without thinking about them. He could watch a sunset from his balcony (and what was it with him and balconies, anyway?) and not think of Cascade or Jim or how the glow of the setting sun would fill the loft and turn it soft and warm and hazy. Sunrises were just that - the sun rising - and he saw it most mornings and thought nothing but how strange it was that he could be up all night and not care or feel tired and that the reason for being up had nothing to do with a case or school. That it was just…because.
Blair took a bite of toast and turned the page of the book he was currently reading. Dirk Pitt was in another jam but Blair doubted there'd be a problem getting out of it. Thinking jam might go well with the rest of his toast, he was about to get up and get it from the fridge when the doorbell rang. Since that was a rare thing, and it was only eight-thirty in the morning, he considered not answering, but then remembered Lori mentioning something about cover art and how she'd have it delivered for his initials.
He got up, answered the door, and sure enough, it was some guy from Speedy Flyers Courier Service. He signed on the dotted line and, in return, received a large, flat brown envelope. The man waited and, realizing that he was expected to look and either approve or not, and since he was kind of anxious to see the cover, to see how Intrigue Presses art department had interpreted his vision, he quickly opened it and slid the artwork out.
The 8x10 glossy showed a lonely street after dark, poorly illuminated by a street lamp. To the right, peering from an alley, two golden cat eyes could be seen. To the left, superimposed over the street scene, was the profile of a man. Half in shadow, half illuminated by the street lamp, the strong, square jaw, compressed lips and one pale blue eye dominated the cover. Across the top of the artwork the title had been superimposed; "Track of the Cat." In the bottom right hand corner, in pale yellow, it said, "By Jake Sands."
Blair felt something shift in his chest as he ran his finger over the jaw - Jim's jaw. He could almost feel the stubble....
No one would see that jaw and think of Jim.
No one but him.
He signed his approval, kept the copy they'd included for him, and, after the young man left, Blair forgot all about jam or toast or Dirk Pitt as he sat down at his desk, in front of his computer, and began his second novel.
Living in the world of Joe Elliot was now a necessity; the only living Blair could do.
Simon Banks stared at the paperwork in front of him. It was a report from an old friend, a private investigator, and told him what he'd known it would - that Blair Sandburg had disappeared, completely and thoroughly.
He stared out through the blinds of his office at Jim, debated not telling him, not reminding him about the investigator. On the other hand, this news would come as no surprise. After all, if two seasoned detectives, one a sentinel, couldn't find Blair, how the hell could they have expected a private detective to succeed?
So far, Jim had been handling the loss of Blair pretty well, all things considered. The loft seemed safe from further destruction, and Simon was beginning to believe Jim would survive. He was no longer barking at people, even smiled now and then. He was working hard, playing well with others and never ran with scissors. Of course, if anyone really looked, they'd see the loss, the loneliness in his eyes, but Jim was strong and was pushing through.
Simon got to his feet and, resigned to the task, picked up the report and walked to the door. He made eye contact with Jim, held up the folder and shook his head.
Jim gave him an imperceptible nod before returning to his work.
Simon was right - no surprise. But there should have been hope, shouldn't there?
He stayed where he was, watching his team. It had been months now and Major Crime seemed to be back to normal, to the casual observer, anyway. But to Simon…he knew how much Henri missed having someone to call "Hairboy," knew how very much Megan needed Blair, the one person who was always in her corner, even when balancing it with Jim's. Rafe was still carrying around the guilt surrounding his treatment of Blair, but it was a quiet, mostly hidden guilt now. For Joel…well, Joel was a different story. Simon was one of the few people who'd come to understand how much Joel loved Blair, loved him like the son he'd never had.
And of course, there was him.
Sandburg's disappearance had a greater impact on him than he could ever have guessed. While his friendship with Jim had grown stronger in their mutual attempts to find Blair, his own personal and professional life seemed far emptier than he'd have imagined.
The absence of the dynamo that had been Blair left a hole in his heart. Sometimes, when he was at home, alone and in the dark, he could admit that it felt as it would have if Blair had died that day at Rainier - that day at the fountain.
That piece of knowledge never failed to surprise the hell out of him because, contrary to popular belief, knowing a man was alive somewhere, versus dead, did nothing to assuage the sense of loss. Especially when you didn't know if the person you were missing was still alive. Hell, for all any of them knew, Blair was…he could have…there could have been an accident…he could have…and all alone, without them…and they wouldn't know.
No…just no. Simon refused to believe anything but that Blair was alive.
And they were surviving, weren't they?
So why didn't surviving feel better?
Closure, that's why.
None of them had it. Words had been said that shouldn't have been, assumptions made that had wounded, and a sacrifice given that had gone without words of thanks. A man had given up all, and yet, the recipients of the gift had been unable to show their appreciation.
While their lives were continuing, albeit a bit more quietly than any of them would have preferred, what was happening to the one who'd sacrificed?
Simon returned to his desk and, as he sat back down, sent up a small prayer for the man who'd lied his way into his life all those years ago. Prayed that he was safe, that he was alive.
Three weeks later
The sirens cut through the night air as Cascade police cars careened around corners to pull up in front of the small apartment building on the corner of Lewis Avenue and Seventeenth Street. People from the neighborhood had already gathered in front and were now milling about the sidewalks, some in work clothes, most in robes and slippers.
Simon parked at an odd angle, got out and, after flashing his badge, hurried inside. Jim was waiting in the lobby. Joining him, Simon asked, "What do we know?"
"A single gunshot heard on the fourth floor as reported by a Mrs. Perkins. She stated that it was followed almost immediately by someone screaming. She thinks the shot came from apartment 432."
"We have men up there now, I assume?"
Jim nodded. "Yes, sir. Connor is conducting a more in-depth interview of Mrs. Perkins and I'm ready to go up myself. Everyone is in position."
Simon nodded, then one eyebrow rose in question as he asked the silent question, "How are your senses tonight?"
"They're online, Simon."
"You sure? It's safe?"
Jim shrugged. "All I can do is go up and see what I can do."
Simon waylaid a passing SWAT officer and ordered him to remove his vest. As the man did as told, Simon took off his coat and, when the Kevlar vest was handed to him, slipped it on. With a look that brooked no argument, he said, "I'm going with you."
Resigned, Jim nodded and walked over to the elevator. They took it up to the fourth floor and exited. Apartment 432 was a corner apartment, two officers stationed on both sides of the door, guns drawn and ready. More officers were spread down the hallway in both directions and at the stairway.
As they stepped out of the elevator, one of the officers said softly, "Nothing coming from the apartment, Sir. Not a sound."
Simon nodded and glanced at Jim, who had his head cocked. Simon waited patiently, as did all the other officers. For a moment, Simon almost thought it funny. After all that Blair had done to protect Jim - practically the entire department knew now. Had figured it out.
So stupid, really. Stupid and a waste and…just stupid.
Jim listened intently and, for a moment, thought it was useless, that his senses had gone on the blink again. But then he somehow managed to focus his hearing, to concentrate on how Blair used to sound and, finally, to filter out all the unnecessary sounds until he could hear nothing but the sobs coming from the apartment in question. As he listened, he thought that it was altogether possible that in all his years on the force, with all that he'd seen, he'd never heard such hopeless, gut wrenching sobs before. He picked up the sound of cloth sliding back and forth, almost as if the sobbing individual might be rocking. Suddenly the sobs changed and words replaced them.
"...Nonono, nonono, pleaseteddywakeup, pleasewakeup, please, Ididn'tmean it. Not you, notyou...."
Jim moved slowly to the apartment door and, seeing that it hadn't been closed completely, rested his hand on the doorknob. Simon was right behind him, gun out and ready. Carefully and quietly, Jim pushed the door all the way open, and eyes adjusting to the darkness within, he immediately spotted a woman. She was young, maybe in her early twenties, sitting on the floor and cradling a body as she rocked and moaned. On the floor, by her leg, was the gun.
Jim walked softly to her side, picked up the gun, then stepped back and turned on the light.
The girl lifted a tear-stained face to the two men. "I didn't know," she said, her voice breaking. "Paul said he'd kill me, that he was coming home to kill me. I took his gun and waited. I was going to let him come inside and then shoot him so he'd never be able to hurt me again."
She glanced down at the young man in her arms, Jim and Simon following her gaze.
Long, curly brown hair splayed out across her arms, a flannel shirt open at the collar to reveal wiry chest hair….
For the briefest of nightmarish moments, Jim was certain he was seeing Blair…but the profile…the hands…no, no, not Blair…but so much like him.
"Teddy should be at work," the girl said suddenly. "At work, but…but… He came home early."
As her tears dropped onto the lifeless face and blue eyes stared unseeingly upward, she started crooning, "MyTeddy…myTeddy, didn't know it was you, didn't know. So sorry…so sorrysosorrysosorrysosorry...."
Megan stepped up beside Simon and whispered, "Teddy Deakins, 18 years of age. She's Laura Deakins, age 22, his sister. He just moved here a few days ago. According to Mrs. Perkins, Paul is Paul Scott, Miss Deakins fiancé. He lives here as well."
Simon glanced down at Megan and nodded.
Apparently, Laura Deakins had accidentally killed her brother while waiting to kill her fiancé.
Since the scene could be considered secured, Simon motioned for the Crime Scene team and the Coroner to enter even as Jim gently pulled the girl away from her brother's lifeless body. He gave her over to Megan and, with a final glance back at the boy, walked out, Simon following. Without a word, both entered the elevator, rode down to the lobby, and then outside.
Jim paused on the sidewalk and, for a moment, stared at the people, the cars and the lights before glancing back at the building. He looked up at the fourth floor for several minutes and, finally, moved into the adjoining alley, a puzzled Simon on his heels.
Worried in a way that set the hair on his arms standing on end, Simon followed Jim into the darkness that was the alley. He watched, concerned, as his friend rested one hand against the cool brick surface of the building and lowered his head. A moment later…Jim began to tremble. Concerned, Simon took a step toward him but Jim waved him off as the shaking increased and his breathing took on a harshness that was painful to hear, but not as horrible as watching those pale blue eyes fill with moisture.
It had been almost two years since the press conference and now, finally, Jim was feeling it with more than anger. Simon watched, stunned, as the tears began to fall, as sobs wracked his friend's body. Jim would have gone to his knees if Simon had not been there to catch him, to hold him.
The loft was quiet, one lone light spreading a muted glow over Simon. Feeling every minute of his forty-plus years, he wished dearly for something stronger than coffee. He glanced upward, at the bedroom where Jim finally slept the sleep of the exhausted.
Leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees, Simon dropped his head into his hands.
It had happened.
Jim's steely self-control had finally broken.
Simon doubted that the spillage could be contained.
Blair sat at his work table, a cup of coffee next to his right hand as he read the morning paper.
Track of the Cat was a bestseller and had spent over twenty weeks in the number one slot. Even now, after all these months, it remained in the top ten. His second book, Lair of the Cat, now held the number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller list. For reasons Blair still didn't understand, the adventures of Joe Elliot had captured the attention of the reading public, who apparently loved the idea of a hero who believed in protecting his territory, who harkened back to the Sam Spade days but with a sense of humor definitely belonging in the twenty-first century.
Blair had been certain that only he could appreciate Joe's world, the only world he truly inhabited - but fortunately for his bank account, he'd been wrong.
Now, because Joe's world was the only one he cared about, the only one he could inhabit, he was already into the third installment. Hell, if he had his way, he'd never leave Joe's universe. Unfortunately, a small part of him insisted that he perform the mundane tasks of living before he'd allow himself to re-enter Joe's life. One of those tasks, as Lori's earlier phone call had reminded, was to read the morning paper from cover to cover every morning, preferably with breakfast, the one meal he was guaranteed to eat.
Today it was toast, bacon and scrambled eggs to accompany the Orange County Register. He'd just finished the comics and obituaries and was going through the personals.
He sipped from his mug of hot coffee as he read some of the ridiculous pleas, smiled at the clearly dirty ones and frowned at the more personal missives. He was almost done when his gaze fell on the second ad from the bottom....
To: BS - parts unknown
JE - 911
From: SB - Cascade
End Part 3
Blair put the phone down, but kept his hand on the receiver, fingers gripping it hard.
His past had just collided with his present and Jim was in trouble.
It had been strange hearing Simon's voice again. So strange. The conversation had been strained, stilted, but Simon had filled him in on Jim's condition and, when Blair had said he'd leave right away, he'd heard the mistakable sigh of relief on the other end of the phone.
So…he'd better call Lori - get the ball rolling. He lifted the phone again, hit her speed dial number and, minutes later, after her promise to make all the arrangements necessary, he was up and moving, packing, his stomach rolling, his mind numb.
Two hours after reading the S.O.S in the Register, he was, without thought, walking out the front door and into the waiting cab, his Volvo long since junked.
The adrenalin continued to propel him into the John Wayne Airport, up to the gate and into the first class section of the plane. The energy lasted through the slow taxi back from the gate and while the plane hurtled down the runway. Only when the wheels lifted from the ground did Blair realize what he'd done - and where he. The drop of adrenalin brought with it a panic attack that managed to thoroughly embarrass him, not to mention the stewardess.
Two scotch and waters later, his breathing finally evened out and his heart started pumping in its nice, normal thump-thump pattern. When the plane touched down in Washington, Blair was able to get up, grab his bag and smile rather ruefully at the stewardess who'd been so helpful. He entered the airport, ignored the stab of pain that came with the familiarity, and headed for the street and a cab.
The trip to the loft was a blur, none of the familiar sights registering. Evidently, the shock of being here was returning, but this time, instead of a panic attack, he was going blissfully numb, a fact that was proven when the cab pulled up in front of his old home.
He spotted both Jim's truck and Simon's car…and felt nothing.
When he walked into the lobby, nothing happened. He ignored the elevator in favor of the stairs, more in an effort to prolong facing his past than anything else. Unfortunately, two flights of stairs didn't take him long and eventually he reached the third floor.
Stepping onto the landing, he turned to his left…and there was Jim's door.
And he felt nothing.
He walked up to it…raised his fist…and knocked gently.
The door was thrown open and Simon was glowering down at him.
Simon stared at the four walls and tried to put this whole thing into perspective, but failed. Since the night they'd been called out to the shooting and found the young woman cradling the dead body of her younger brother, a body that looked horribly like Blair, Jim had been… Damn, Simon couldn't even describe to himself what Jim was like. It was if he had become nothing but emotions, raw, oozing, bleeding into everything he did, every daily task. His senses had gone haywire, making everything even more miserable for the man.
There'd been days when Jim could hear nothing and days when he'd been unable to see more than dark shapes. His temper was lightening lightning fast and just as quickly burn to nothing, leaving an abject Jim in its wake. Work had quickly become impossible but, since he couldn't be left alone, Simon had moved in, had been living with him for the last seven days. When Simon had to go to the station, another member of Major Crime came in during their off hours and watched over him.
Desperate to save his friend, Simon found himself grasping at straws, one of which had been the ridiculous act of putting a personal ad in several papers from Washington to California and even New York. On day three of the ad, the miracle had occurred. The phone rang and, on the other end, Blair.
He'd almost fallen in his relief at hearing Blair's voice. He'd told him what he could and, when Blair said he'd be there as quickly as possible, had sighed in complete relief. Blair would fix things. He'd make this right, fix Jim.
Of course, being no fool, Simon had wisely refrained from telling Jim about the ad, which left him alone to wait, first for a response, and now, for Blair's arrival, which, according to the time, should be any minute. He no sooner thought that, than someone knocked gently on the door. Simon jumped up and threw it open.
The large man stepped aside and Blair walked in, a black leather garment bag slung over his shoulder.
"Thank you for coming."
The bag slipped to the floor as Blair gazed about the apartment. It was - different. Less. He turned back to Simon and shrugged. "Where is he? Upstairs?"
"No. He went for a walk about twenty minutes ago. Today is an okay day. His senses are borderline not-there, but he needed to get outside. He should be back shortly. Can I get you something?"
They were both so formal and it was killing Blair, but he didn't seem to have the power to stop it.
"No, nothing, thank you." He indicated the loft and asked, "Why so empty?"
"Jim had a small temper tantrum not long after you left. He hasn't replaced anything yet."
"I see. The triptych?"
"Destroyed it. The yellow chair too, and the end table and lamp. The table by the door too. One dining room chair and, as you can see, most of what used to rest on the stereo. Tore up more than a few books, too."
As Simon pointed out the empty areas, his voice took on an edge of anger and, hearing it, Blair moved back toward the door. "I think…I think I'll see if I can find him, you know?"
When Simon didn't answer, Blair asked, "He used to like to go to the bay when he needed to be alone. Do you think he might be there?"
Simon stared at him - hard - before nodding. "Yeah, it's a good bet," he said gruffly.
"Right. Then I'll go." With that, Blair walked out, shutting the door quietly behind him.
As the door snicked shut, it hit Simon.
Blair was actually here. He'd been standing right there, next to the garment bag which was hanging over the back of one of the dining room chairs.
And yet…the way Blair sounded, his voice low, rough, as if unfamiliar with speaking. And his hair…it was short. Short and very curly, unruly even. His eyes, Blair's blue eyes had seemed huge to Simon and, in spite of the expensive Ralph Lauren polo shirt and equally expensive slacks, not to mention the five o'clock shadow, Blair had looked younger than he'd first seen him.
But now, if not for his luggage, Simon would have doubted that he'd been there at all.
Blair took the elevator down and, as he stepped outside, his first impulse was to run, preferably toward the airport.
God damn it, how was he supposed to have known that Jim would have these problems? Was this his fault too? Would he have to carry this as well?
Simon certainly seemed to think so.
Without realizing it, his feet were already taking him in the direction of the bay. When he reached Sail Drive, he jogged across the street and headed down to the rocky shore.
The wind from off the water sliced through him and he remembered, belatedly, that he was once again in the Pacific Northwest, not Southern California, and his jacket was back at the loft, tucked securely into his bag. Fortunately, he spotted Jim almost immediately.
He stood facing the water, hands shoved deep into his pockets, the collar of his peacoat turned up against the wind and cold.
The lanky frame he knew so well, the short hair, spiking in the breeze….
The need to touch, to feel Jim, was almost overwhelming.
The water was steel grey with small whitecaps that promised a storm. The horizon was shrouded in fog but here, on the bay, it was clear and cold.
Blair's breathing increased and he could feel his heart thudding in his chest, then his throat. What could he do for Jim? What would Jim want from him? And where was Carolyn? Damn, he should have asked Simon.
As he continued to watch his ex-partner, he suddenly realized that Jim didn't know he was there, didn't know someone was behind him, sharing the beach. Blair took a deep breath and walked silently up to the ramrod stiff back. He almost touched him then, but decided that face-to-face would be better, so he walked carefully around and came to a stop in front of him.
Pale blue eyes that reflected the gray of the sea dropped down to his face. Long dark lashes fluttered a moment as Jim blinked. Then he smiled - a soft, sweet smile. "Hey, there you are."
Blair was speechless. The expression on Jim's face was so ethereal, he almost doubted that the man before him was Jim Ellison. Nevertheless, he took a deep breath and said tentatively, "Hi, Jim."
Jim searched his face, his smile widening until his gaze reached his hair. Tilting his head to the side, he put out a hand, lightly touched the short curls, and puzzled, said, "This is so strange."
"What is?" Blair asked, even as his heart seemed to freeze. Jim seemed…he seemed to be in another world altogether.
"You, your hair. You're my fantasy and yet…your hair is short. Can a fantasy even get a haircut?"
"I…I don't think so."
Jim fingered more hair, rubbing small strands between a trembling thumb and forefinger before trailing his index finger down Blair's jaw. "Everything else is the same. You feel the same…."
He glanced down at Blair's clothing and asked, "But…what are you wearing?"
"A shirt, just…a shirt."
"Where's the blue and white flannel shirt? That's what you're always wearing when you come."
Blair found himself having trouble swallowing as he finally understood that, for Jim, he wasn't real. Couldn't be real. Placing his hand over Jim's, he murmured, "I might not have been real before, but I'm this time." He took Jim's hand and placed it over his heart. "Can you hear that? Did I have a heartbeat before?"
Jim squinted, his brows knitting together in thought as he struggled for an answer. Finally he said, "No, no heartbeat."
Jim stepped closer as Blair held his breath. He watched Jim concentrating on his heart beat….
"It sounds…real. I…can feel you, Chief."
"That's because I am real. I'm here, in Cascade…and freezing," he added with a small smile.
Jim's breathing started to come in gasps as he stared hard at Blair. Then his eyes filled with tears as he whispered, "Real. You're real."
Blair stepped into Jim and put his arms around Jim's waist. He could feel the tremors that coursed through Jim, so he closed his eyes and rested his head against Jim's chest…and waited. After what seemed an eternity, Jim wrapped his arms around Blair.
"Yeah, Jim, it's me."
The two men stood, bodies buffeted by the wind…but holding tight.
A heart beating steadily, soft hair against his cheek and an oh, so familiar and beloved compact body in his arms....
"Why did you leave, Chief?"
"It was the only way, man. What you wanted, needed. What everyone needed."
"No, you're wrong…I was wrong. I love you, Chief. I - love - you."
Blair heard the words, held them close, but didn't embrace them. He didn't believe them, but believing wasn't necessary. All that mattered was that Jim was in pain and needed him.
That would be enough, for however long it lasted.
"Come on, Jim, let's go back, okay?"
"Yeah, man, home."
From his position on the balcony, Simon watched the two men approach the building. Their arms were around each other's waists and, from Simon's vantage point, both looked incredibly frail. As he watched Blair check for traffic before leading Jim across the street, Simon's concern increased. Blair was here, but was anything solved? What would happen now? After all, had anything really changed? Blair Sandburg was still considered a fraud.
The front door opened and Blair, Jim plastered to his side, walked in. Simon watched as the younger man led the way up the stairs, neither one of them aware of Simon's presence.
He wondered if he should leave, but the detective in him said no. He could hear Blair's soft voice cajoling Jim to undress, that he was shivering and needed to get warm, that he needed sleep. Simon heard the deep rumbling of Jim's voice but couldn't make out the words, but hey, at least he was talking.
God, he needed a drink.
"Come on, lie down, Jim."
"No, need you here."
"I'm here and not going anywhere, okay? But you're dead on your feet, you're cold, and you need to sleep. Please?"
"You'll be here when I wake up?"
"I'll be here."
The exhausted man dropped back against the mattress, his head hitting the pillow. Hand grasping Blair's, Jim couldn't stop his eyes from closing.
After fifteen minutes, Blair gently pulled his hand from Jim's, pulled the covers up, kissed him on the forehead, and walked back downstairs.
As his foot hit the bottom step, Simon asked, "How is he?"
"Good. That's something he hasn't been doing much of lately."
Blair thought he heard accusation in Simon's voice and he looked over at the windows as he walked to one of the sofas and sat down. Simon walked into the kitchen and Blair started to tap his fingers nervously on his thighs. He took in the loft again, took in its barren condition and, unnerved, realized that things were worse than when he'd first moved in.
And damn, the loft was dusty.
Jim's home was…dusty. He looked down at the floor and was stunned to realize that it hadn't been cleaned in months. A glass appeared in front of his face, a glass held by Simon and full of an amber liquid.
"Needed a drink, thought you could use one too."
Blair took the offering as Simon sat down on the other sofa.
"I've been staying here for the last week."
Without making eye contact, Blair said, "You told me on the phone."
"Oh, right, I did."
Both men took a sip of brandy.
"So, where have you been living, Sandburg?"
Sandburg. Even now, Simon couldn't call him by his first name. But then, why should he?
"In Orange County, Irvine. Southern California."
"Nice and warm there right now."
Simon's presence was making him edgy, reminding him of all his failures and he fervently wished the man would leave.
"So what have you been doing in Irvine? Teaching?"
"I see. Why haven't you talked with Naomi?"
"What do you mean?"
"We've talked several times since you left. She didn't have a clue where you were…or even if you were."
God, this was so wrong. He shouldn't be here. He could feel his jaw tighten and the hot tears behind his eyes. He struggled internally, forced it all down, took a last swallow of the brandy. As he set the glass on the coffee table, he said in a deceptively mild voice, "Well, that was kind of the idea, you know?"
"But why hide from your mother?"
"She's fine, I'm sure."
"The way Jim is fine?"
"Naomi and I have gone much longer than this without talking. It's no biggie for her."
"But she's always known where you were."
"What the fuck is the matter with you?"
Blair stood and took his glass into the kitchen. He rinsed it out, dried it and put it away. He walked to the French doors and opened them. The room looked as it had before he'd left. He picked up his bag, carried it inside and dropped it on the bed before walking back into the living room and Simon.
"You know, you don't have to stay now. I'll take care of him."
"Right. Well, I've had a long flight so I'm going to crash in there," he pointed back to his old room, "unless you've been?"
"No, Sandburg, I've been sleeping on the couch. That old futon of yours is too short."
"You probably have everything you need then. If he wakes up, let me know."
With that, Blair turned back, walked into his old room and shut the doors.
Simon let out the breath he'd been holding.
Well, that went well - not. And how had he managed not to say all that he'd wanted to say? Hell, they might as well have been complete strangers.
The more Simon thought back on the few minutes with Sandburg, the more he realized that there'd been nothing of the old Blair in the man he'd been talking with - nothing.
God, what had Blair been doing all this time? And could a man change as much as Blair apparently had? And if so, what could possibly have brought about such a change?
Fuck. Like he didn't know?
He'd been looking at this all wrong. He'd been seeing everything through Jim's eyes when what he needed to do was view it through Sandburg's.
As Blair stripped, he folded each discarded item of clothing over the back of his old desk chair and, when down to his boxers, crawled under the covers and immediately rolled over onto his side, facing away from the doors. After a few minutes, he curled into a tight ball.
How could he go through with all this? Simon still hated him and couldn't forgive him, so how was he supposed to help Jim?
Blair tightened further into his cocoon.
He wanted desperately to be back in his little apartment.
Simon didn't know what had awakened him, but awake he was. He listened and heard nothing. He opened his eyes, lifted his head and peered over the edge of the sofa.
A small sliver of light shown from under the French doors so he flipped off the blanket, sat up and checked his watch. It was after two in the morning. He stood, grabbed his robe, slipped it on and walked to the doors. He knocked gently and, hearing what sounded like…typing, opened the door.
Blair sat in his old chair, bent over a laptop, fingers flying over the keyboard. He was smiling and nodding as he typed and, for a moment, Simon was seeing the old Sandburg.
He stepped inside and, in a quiet voice without censure, asked, "What the hell are you doing up? Do you know it's after two in the morning?"
Blair had jumped up at his voice, the chair falling backward, his face paling as his eyes widened. "Sorry, didn't - didn't mean to wake you...Simon."
Fear rolled off of him in waves and, for the first time, Simon realized that Jim wasn't the only one in trouble. "You didn't wake me." He glanced at the laptop and asked, more gently, "What are you doing up?"
Blair took another step back. "I - I don't usually go to bed until - late, you know?"
"I see." He walked over to the bed and sat down. "It's been a strange day, eh?"
Blair remained where he was, but nodded.
"I was on the phone with Daryl today."
Blair still didn't move, but his face registered its first sign of emotion as he smiled and
asked quickly, "How is he?"
"Fine. He'll be out here for spring break, but for now, school and global warming are taking up a great deal of his time."
Blair cocked his head. "Global warming?"
"Yeah, yeah. Seems he's part of a class project. He's teamed with three other students and their mission is averting global warming. He's worried about the polar ice caps melting."
A light came on within Blair's eyes and Simon gave himself an internal pat on the back.
"It's not the ice caps he needs to worry about - they're already floating. It's the ice sheets that are attached to land that we have to worry about."
Blair moved forward, eyes still aglow, and picked up his chair, righted it, then sat down. "Actually, it's amazing how our politicians refuse to listen to environmentalists. I mean, Simon, did you know that since 1900, the average temperature has risen from 57 to 58 degrees?"
"That's only, what, one degree in a hundred years?"
Blair leaned forward excitedly. "Yeah, one degree seems like nothing, but that one degree resulted in a six inch rise of the sea level, man. And here's the kicker; in the next one hundred years, the average temperature is expected to rise from 58 to 62 degrees. Not good, not good at all."
"And four degrees would do what?"
"If the current warming trend continues, we could experience a foot and a half rise in the sea level, which would be catastrophic." Blair stood and started to pace, his hands gesturing wildly. "Do you realize that Louisiana is already losing an average of 35 square miles of wetlands every year? Or that by the year 2300, it will cost an average of 200 billion dollars just to protect our coastal cities? That by then, the sea level will have risen over three feet? But of course, that's why no one is listening. We're talking the year 2300 and who the hell cares about the year 2300, you know?"
He ran a hand through his short curls as he went on. "Politicians don't, hell, the average Joe on the street doesn't care about the year 2300. They can't even picture their family line more than one generation in the future, let alone to the year 2300. The children of the year 2300 aren't their children, you know?" He turned to face Simon and stopped cold. Simon was smiling. "What? What?"
Simon's expression softened as he answered quietly, "I think I missed this the most."
Blair's shoulders rose as he gave a small shake of his head. "Missed what?"
"You - pacing, hands running away with your mouth as you share information from the Sandburg Britannica."
Sheepishly, Blair sank back down into his chair. "Sorry."
Simon leaned forward, making sure that Blair was looking at him. "Blair, I said that I missed it."
"You missed me spouting off? Showering everyone with useless information?"
Pretending to give that great thought, Simon finally nodded and said, "Yeah."
"You're, like, really sick."
"No, just acclimated to the wonderful world of Sandburg."
Blair stood and, scratching the back of his head, said, "Like I said, Simon, sick." He jerked a thumb up and added, "I think I'll check on Jim, okay?"
Blair gave him an almost shy nod, then turned back to his laptop, saved whatever he'd been working on, and shut it down before walking out.
Simon remained on the bed, gazing after the retreating back. Maybe he'd made some headway tonight.
Blair walked upstairs, half his mind on the strange conversation with Simon, the other half on the fact that he was about to go into Jim's room, the room they'd shared for almost a month. As he hit the top of the landing, he paused.
Moonlight bathed the room from the skylight above, making it easy see Jim's sleeping form. He was facing away from the stairs, stretched out on his side, the blankets twisted at the foot of the bed, the yellow sheet draped across his hip. His left leg was visible and Blair could see the slight twitch of the limb.
He walked to the edge of the bed and gazed at the spot that should be his. Without any real thought, he lifted the sheet and slipped under. Blair positioned himself on his back, careful not to touch Jim or to disturb him, and slowly let out the breath he'd been holding.
Trying to remain still, he stared up at the skylight. He could feel the heat of Jim's body and the tingling sensation of his skin as the energy of the man next to him caressed his own flesh. He was amazed that Jim was still asleep. Soundly asleep.
Arms at his side, content to listen to the soft exhalations of Jim's breath, Blair waited.
After several minutes, the light from his old room clicked off and he heard Simon move carefully to the sofa.
A cloud moved over the moon and the room was plunged into darkness. Blair whispered, to no one in particular, "So stupid."
If it hadn't been for his stomach, he'd have continued sleeping. He felt warm, comfortable, his slumber easy, happy even. But his stomach was signaling its displeasure at being underfed and the resulting cacophony of sound forced his eyes open.
He was immediately glad.
Pale sunlight shone down from his skylight but, even in the darkness, he'd have been able to see the man he was currently wrapped around, to see Blair.
It had been real - not a dream. Not a fantasy.
Blair on the beach, standing in front of him, a breeze brushing through short, dark curls, huge blue eyes staring up at him…all real.
Jim took in the short hair only inches from his nose, short hair that was as real as Blair. He couldn't believe Sandburg had actually cut it. Not that Jim cared, after all, short hair or not, Blair was there, in his bed. Where he belonged.
Jim inhaled deeply and smiled. God, he loved the morning smell of Blair Sandburg. He moved his head closer and buried his nose in the newly exposed nape of Blair's neck and took another deep breath as he tightened his arm.
And his stomach rumbled again.
Blair shifted and moaned. Jim held his breath. He knew Blair was real, but that didn't stop him from fearing that if he disturbed him, if Blair woke, he'd disappear into thin air.
Blair squirmed a bit, his hand sleepily running up Jim's arm, and Jim smiled against soft, slightly moist skin. The heart rate tipped Jim off - Blair was awake.
"No, the evil Emperor Ming."
"I always knew Ming had a boner for Flash Gordon."
"Oh, yeah, babe."
Blair turned in Jim's arms, stifling a yawn. "Morning."
"Morning. You're still here."
"Said I would be."
"Yes, you did. And I'm glad here meant up here and not down there."
Blair's lips twitched. "Here was almost there. But I came up last night to check on you… and just kind of…stayed."
Blair shrugged dismissively just as Jim's stomach gave a loud yell.
"Oh, ho, hungry are we?"
"Woke me up."
"Well, come on, let's feed the beast."
Before Jim could react, Blair had slipped out of his arms and was standing. "Get your ass in gear, there are eggs down there dying to be scrambled."
With that, Blair turned and started down stairs. Jim could hear him as he detoured into his old room. He could tell by the sounds that he was putting on clothes so Jim decided he might as well join him.
When Blair walked out of his old room, wearing jeans and a tee shirt, he found Jim, in his robe, standing over the sofa, staring down at his boss and scratching his head.
"I thought he'd have gone home?" Jim whispered.
"No, he stayed."
"Eggs for three, then."
Blair just grinned and walked into the kitchen, Jim following like a once lost puppy dog who'd now found a loving home.
Blair moved quietly through the kitchen, trying not to wake Simon. He took out the eggs and bread, a tomato and a green pepper. He searched for a an onion, but finding none, dried chives. He grabbed some cheddar cheese and the container of sour cream. Spotting some leftover ham, he added that to his haul too.
With Jim watching and his lost appetite suddenly found, Blair chopped, diced and whisked. As the pan heated, he took out a few slices of bread and put them into the toaster. He added a pat of butter to the hot pan and, as soon as only sizzling bubbles remained, added the eggs into which he'd whisked some of the sour cream. Blair waited until large bubbles formed in the surface of the eggs before adding the other ingredients. He slowly turned the eggs, folding and stirring lightly. While still runny, he popped the toaster down and said, "You could stand there and watch…or you could get out the orange juice and set the table."
"But I'm enjoying watching you."
"Watch while you work. Besides, I think Simon is awake."
Jim, so taken by the fact that Blair was in his kitchen and cooking for him, had completely missed the moans and groans emanating from the general direction of the living room. Now he checked over his shoulder in time to see his boss rise, stretch and sniff.
"Hey, what smells so good?"
"Blair's cooking. Get in here and help."
The surprise on Simon's face was enough to bring forth a chuckle from Jim even as Simon stared at him and said, "Well, someone is feeling pretty chipper this morning."
"He must mean you, Chief."
"Indubitably. Will someone set the table? The eggs and toast are ready."
Both Simon and Jim rushed to do as asked and all three were soon seated and eating. Simon's surprise increased as Jim took a huge helping and two pieces of toast. Blair took a spoonful which left a good amount for Simon.
They ate in companionable silence, Simon enjoying Jim's renewed love of food as well as the fact that it was once again…the three of them. He was halfway through his breakfast before he realized that all was not perfect. Blair was here, but Simon realized that he was seeing only the merest tip of the Sandburg. He wasn't used to that. Blair was keeping his distance and Jim hadn't noticed yet.
When everything had been cleaned up and put away, the three men took their turns in the single bathroom, to finally meet up, showered, shaved and dressed, in the living room. There were a few awkward moments as the men sat and stared at each other but Simon put a quick end to that.
"Jim, Sandburg's been in Irvine all this time, right, Blair?"
"It's in Southern California," Simon explained.
"How did you decide to settle there, Chief?"
Blair smiled a bit as he answered, "The Volvo broke down and it looked as good a place as any, so - I stayed."
"But you're back now." Jim's tone was matter-of-fact.
Blair gave a slight nod. "As long as you need me."
The words, spoken so easily, set off the alarm bells. Simon glanced at Jim and spotted the same worry mirrored back at him.
"Uhm, Simon," Jim suddenly said, "Didn't you mention something yesterday about grocery shopping?"
Catching on, and glad that Jim had finally figured out that all was not well, Simon stood.
"I did. In fact, how 'bout I let you two relax and catch up while I take care of the shopping right now?"
"That would be great," Jim agreed.
"Good. Okay, I'm off. Be back in…a while." With that, Simon grabbed his jacket, checked for his keys and made a discreet exit.
As soon as the door shut behind Simon, Jim scooted closer to Blair and took his hand. "So, what happens when you think I don't need you anymore?"
"I'll amscray and leave you in peace."
"I see." Jim rubbed the spot between Blair's thumb and finger as he asked, "What if I always never need you?"
"I stay," Blair said simply.
"If that's what you need."
"And what about Blair Sandburg's needs?"
"This isn't about me. When I thought you wanted me gone - I left. And come on, man, it's not as if things were great between us before Mom sent my dissertation to Sid. I suspect it wouldn't have been long before I'd have left in any case." Blair glanced down at their clasped hands, then added, "I'm a little confused now, but I suspect that when your senses kind of went haywire, well, you-"
"Yeah, kind of."
Jim let Blair's hand slip from his as he got to his feet. He walked over to the windows and said, "Did Simon happen to mention how - why - this happened? This thing with my senses…and emotions?"
"No, just said he was worried about you, that your senses were causing you great difficulty and pain."
Jim turned back to Blair, his head cocked. "How did he reach you, anyway?"
"A personal ad. Just happened to catch it."
"I see. Well," he turned back to the window, "a couple of weeks ago, we were called out on a shooting reported at an apartment complex. We secured the building, SWAT took over the fourth floor, where the shooting had apparently taken place, and Simon and I went up. We entered the apartment and found a young woman on the floor, cradling her dead brother."
Jim paused as that night came flooding back. He could feel the sweat trickling down his back as his mind took in the entire scene as if it were in front of him instead of a memory.
"She was the victim of abuse at the hands of her fiancé. He'd threatened her earlier, told her he was going to kill her. She got his gun and waited for him to come home. Unfortunately, a few days earlier, her younger brother had arrived and was staying with her. He had a night shift job but, that night, not feeling well, he came home early. I'm sure it seemed so simple to him at the time. You don't feel well, so you come home early."
Jim stopped, bent his head and pinched his nose. Even from where Blair sat, he could see the tremors coursing through Jim's body again. Gently, Blair prodded, "What happened?"
"She shot her brother. Killed him. He walked into a dark apartment, she was expecting the fiancé, and she shot him. I can still hear her sobs, her words of entreaty, begging him to wake up, to not be dead."
"I'm so sorry, Jim. So sorry. I get it."
Jim swung around, eyes wide and questioning. "Do you, Chief? Do you?" He swiped a hand over his face in an attempt to wipe the vision from his brain. "I lost it, Chief. Lost all control, walked out of that building and completely lost it. Ever since, it's been as though every emotion were a raw, open sore. I was feeling everything, Blair, everything."
His voice rose on the last word and he started to pace.
"I couldn't control my most basic emotions. They were all on the surface, edgy, boiling, eating at me-"
"Jim, it was a very traumatic experience and you know how your senses are tied to your emotions. You have to understand that control is vital to a sentinel. In your case, with the things that happened to you early on, well, in order to be in control, you had to stuff all those emotions down in one fell swoop and take total control. So something was bound to happen, something that would bust the dam wide open. And it sounds like that night - was the dam-buster."
"You still don't get it, do you? But then, how could you? You weren't there, you didn't see the brother. You didn't see him lying in a pool of his own blood - young, completely innocent, long, brown curly hair-"
"No, he was absent that night."
"I'm sorry, man."
Jim stared at Blair, tried to see through the barriers he'd erected, gave an impatient shake of his head when he failed. Giving Blair a small, wry smile, he said, "I was managing, Chief. Trying to live normally, one day to the next, trying to stay cool, stay in control. I tried to remember all that you'd taught me - tried to exist without you. Then, because I see a dead kid - dead when he shouldn't have been - I go to hell in a green and white truck. Suddenly all those weeks of trying…they were nothing more than a sham." He focused on Blair, eyes narrowing. "I discovered that I needed you to live. And I shouldn't, no one should need someone else to live, right?"
He started pacing and talking again, not giving Blair a chance to answer.
"But you know, when you think about it, is it so strange? I mean - people need tons of things to get through their days. They need coffee to get through the morning, or they need this to get through that, so is it so farfetched to believe that we need someone to get through life? And not just anyone, but the someone. Is it so hard to believe?"
"Jim, some people go through their whole lives without anyone."
"Oh, believe me, I know. Hell, I planned to be one of them, so you can imagine my surprise when I realized that I wasn't, that there was no way I'd survive without you in my life. Didn't want to survive without you."
He returned to stand in front of Blair, face pale, eyes full of emotion and warmth and need, more need than Blair had ever seen in anyone, let alone anyone looking at him.
"Hey," Jim suddenly interrupted. "What the hell did you mean when you said things weren't going well for us before your dissertation was leaked?"
Eyes closing, Blair just shook his head in amazement. Sighing, he answered. "I know the signs, Jim. I've seen them enough."
"Signs? What are you talking about?"
Blair's eyes shot open. "Come on, Jim. Late night out with the guys, but I'm not one of them? Coming home drunk - twice in one week and you don't get drunk, let alone drink anything stronger than beer or wine now? But you did, not once, but twice. So yeah, the signs. You were already regretting, already feeling - I don't know - penned in, maybe? Finally realizing that it wasn't real, that I wasn't what you believed? Whatever it was, you were coming to the end."
"That's what you thought?" Jim's voice was incredulous, unbelieving.
"Like I said, I recognized the actions. I've seen it in my own mother and her many boyfriends… hell, even with me."
Jim was stunned. He moved closer, reached down and pushed Blair's leg aside, then stepped into the space now available. "Blair, I love you now, I loved you then. I never stopped; I never wavered in my need and love for you. But, yes, I admit there was a problem, something between us, wedged like a goddamn doorstop, but trust me here, you weren't the problem. I should have said something, should have been honest." His eyes crinkled with the small grin. "Call it those famous fear-based responses you're so fond of pointing out."
Blair looked up at him, confusion written all over his face. "What are you talking about?"
"The doorstop - you were working on it almost everyday, had a deadline and you were close to finishing, which meant it would be over and you'd-"
"Shit, Jim, slow down, you're not running a verbal marathon here, you're not me, you know."
Taking a deep breath, Jim asked, "Do you get it now, Chief?"
"Yeah, yeah - I think I'm on board. Doorstop - dissertation. But come on, your fears were justified. The damn thing, with a little help from me and mine, nearly destroyed you."
Jim took Blair's waving hand and using it, he pulled Blair up and into his arms. "Chief, I never really thought about what would happen to me professionally once that thing was published. All I was thinking about was what would happen to you - to us. You'd have your doctorate, would no longer need to ride along, to be my partner, and I couldn't face that."
Searching Jim's face, Blair was surprised to see the truth of his words in his eyes. Which meant that…that… It meant that Jim loved him, had always loved him.
Jim was stroking his hair and, hungry for it, he leaned into it. Jim pulled him closer and he could feel Jim's breath caressing the top of his head. With a sigh of contentment, of coming home, he rested his head over Jim's heart and listened to the sound he'd needed all those nights when he'd wear Jim's Cascade PD shirt and sleep on the pillow covered by Jim's pillowcase.
"Do you get it now, Chief?"
"I think so," he murmured.
"So - do we go to Irvine and get your stuff, or do I pack my stuff and we go to Irvine?"
That was enough to pull him up and out of the comfort zone he was currently enjoying. Tilting his head up to look at Jim, he asked, "What?"
"I said, do we pack my stuff or yours?"
"Are you crazy?"
"Gee, I don't think so, Chief. It's a simple question."
"Why would you want to go to Irvine?"
"Well, let me see…."
Jim gazed up at the ceiling as if the answer would be written in the pipes that traversed the loft before thunking Blair's forehead with two fingers. "How 'bout because you're there?"
"Jim, I'm here."
"Well, yeah, now. But maybe you have a life in Irvine, one you want to keep - and what were you doing, anyway?"
"Nothing - working from my apartment - which I could do just as easily from here."
"So we pack your stuff and come back here?"
"No need. A phone call will take care of everything."
Jim teased Blair's upturned mouth as he mumbled against the pliant flesh, "So it's settled. Kiss me, Guido."
The sudden unrestrained laughter that burst from Blair brought a smile to Jim's lips. He finally had to kiss Blair and kiss him hard.
End Part 4
Jim gazed dreamily at Blair, who was sound asleep, and smiled sappily. They'd never made it upstairs once the kissing had started in earnest, and now, naked, they lay on the couch, Blair draped over him. His senses were on-line and working great, so he used them to take his fill with both sight and sound. He wrinkled his nose and thought that the 'Essence of Major Jim-Blair Coupling' might be his favorite scent.
Then he smelled Simon's cigar wafting up from the lobby.
"Shit. Chief? Wake up, Simon's on his way up and loaded down with groceries."
Blair shifted and mumbled, "Huh?"
"Now, buddy, unless you really want Simon to see that cute ass of yours."
"Shit." Blair sat up, ran suddenly nervous fingers through the tangled mess that represented his short hair even as he looked around for his clothes.
"How much time do we have?"
"He's in the elevator - on his way up now."
Blair bounded off Jim, his knee digging into Jim's thigh just before his feet hit the floor. He moved frantically around picking up his jeans and hopping into them and, as he searched for his shirt, demanded, "Well? What are you waiting for, Hanukkah? Get your ass in gear or has Simon already seen yours?"
Chuckling, Jim stood, reached down, plucked up Blair's shirt and tossed it to him. It hit him in his face and, as the beleaguered man was putting it on, Jim said with a smile, "Nope, and trust me, Chief, he doesn't want to see my ass anymore than he wants to see yours."
As he tracked Simon's travels to the front door, Jim slipped into his clothes, slicked back his hair then scooped up his white socks, stuffed them behind the cushion, stepped into his shoes and, just as the door opened, turned to face Simon.
"Hey, get everything?" he asked innocently.
Arms full of groceries, Simon froze where he was, stared at Blair - who was trying to look nonchalant while leaning against the table, legs crossed - then looked hard at Jim who was smiling broadly and looking every inch the man who'd just been laid. He was, Simon also noted, no longer wearing socks.
Grinning, he said, "Yeah, Jim, I got everything."
"So." Jim stood by the door, the door from which Simon had finally and permanently exited, and said it again. "So."
Blair, who was sitting at the table, said, "Yeah?"
"So - I'm off work for another two weeks, thanks to Simon, which means we have… two weeks to, you know, just…two weeks."
"Man, you are so obvious."
"I am, aren't I? But then, so was Simon. Very obviously giving us time together, time to make decisions-"
"Would those be decisions regarding, oh, say, top versus bottom and lube flavorings?"
"Those are good starts, sure, but I was thinking of life-altering decisions. Like - what do we do now? Where do we go from here? What's around the corner-"
Laughing, Blair held up his hands in surrender. "I get it, Jim, I get it. And there's no hurry, is there? Let's just get - reacquainted, you know?"
Jim advanced on his friend, his love and his life, eyes gleaming wickedly - the last weeks a distant memory now that Blair was here, in the flesh.
Sandburg pushed his chair back and did his own advancing, his expression just as wicked. "Sure you're up for this?"
"Oh, I'm up for it, all right. And if I were you, I'd be afraid, very afraid."
Blair grinned lasciviously, waggled his eyebrows, and growled out, "Bring it on, dude, bring it on..."
The sunset had been spectacular as Jim watched it float across Blair.
They'd finally made it upstairs, but their urgency had them ripping and tearing perfectly good clothes in their effort to get where they belonged - skin to skin. They'd kissed endlessly, toppled onto the bed, rolled, changed positions, both eager to re-explore territory that had changed in the months apart.
Both men were thinner, although Jim's weight loss had been more recent. Blair's loss surprised Jim, because while much more slender, Blair had obviously been working out. There were muscles where before there'd been none. Even now, as Jim ran his hand up and down Blair's arm, he could feel the newness of the toned body. He smiled as he gazed at the sleeping man next to him.
The sun had officially dipped below the horizon but Jim had no desire to rise, to turn on a light, to move. He was too content - too happy and comfortable. He had Blair Sandburg right where he belonged.
As Jim mused over the months apart, he wondered how it was that so few changes had been wrought for each of them. Then he corrected himself, because, in all honesty, he had no idea what had or had not occurred in Blair's life. Other than appearance.
No, that wasn't true either - because Blair was different.
Jim had changed little but the few changes he had experienced, had been internal, due to the loss of Blair - changes that were now moot. But Blair....
Jim thought back to their recent lovemaking, to the hungry, almost animal-like manner in which Blair had attacked. While it had spurred Jim on then, he could now look back and yeah, he found it slightly unnerving. That had not been the Blair he'd known, the Blair he'd made love to, and with, for a month before the dissertation issue.
And what about Blair's eyes? Yeah, major changes there. Eyes that had once been so open, so full of every thought and emotion, now glittered dark and shuttered. He'd rarely been able to tell what Blair was thinking since that moment on the beach - let alone feeling.
Jim slid his arm under Blair and, careful not to awaken him, pulled him in, his arms involuntarily tightening around Blair's body.
What could possibly have happened to Blair, what could the last months have been like if he'd had to bury himself so deeply that not even Jim could tell what was going on inside?
Absently playing with the short curls, Jim almost smiled.
Blair's short hair.
He couldn't help but wonder what had precipitated Blair's decision to cut it. And although he certainly missed the long curls, the short ones were fun, unruly. There was also the easy access to Blair's neck…the cause of at least one orgasm.
Which brought him back to their recent bout of sex. Which left him worried again. But before the worry could coalesce into something more solid, to shed some light on Blair's life, Blair stirred and started mumbling. Jim stroked his shoulder and whispered, "Hey, buddy, you okay?"
"Yeah, Ming's on vacation."
Blair grinned. "Damn, I really like Ming, you know?"
"Well, you're stuck with me indefinitely, so get used to it."
Blair lowered his head before Jim could see anything in his eyes. "No problem, man."
"Good, 'cause that's the way it's going be from now on."
Until the next time I screw up, Blair thought as he tightened his hand on Jim's shoulder.
The first four days of their two weeks were spent inside as they talked, caught up with Blair's Major Crime friends - and each other's bodies. Jim marveled at how their lovemaking could move from serious to funny to downright juvenile. He also doubted he'd ever get the loft spanking clean again - at least not totally sentinel clean. Not that he minded, because he didn't.
What he didn't understand was how, on day two, they'd started the whole Pink Panther/Clouseau/Cato game of seeking each other out when least expected and pouncing. He would have thought it a useless thing to do considering that he was a sentinel, but damn if Blair didn't manage to fool him every time. He could be coming out of the bathroom following a shower, rubbing his hair with a towel - and Blair would attack without warning. He could come into the loft after picking up the mail - and wham, before he could say "Postage stamp", he'd be on the floor with Blair on top of him and trying to suck his tonsils out.
Of course, Jim certainly gave as good as he got. Blair would be fixing lunch while Jim was supposedly cleaning the bathroom when suddenly Blair would find himself taken down by a six-foot sentinel with a hard-on.
By Jim's calculations, Blair was ahead in the number of successful, surprise pounces.
He shouldn't have been, what with Jim being a sentinel and all - but damn it, he was. Maybe it was more a testament to how much Jim wanted to be pounced upon than on failing sentinel senses.
Grinning, Jim had to admit that was probably it.
On the other hand, at the moment, his senses had done him proud. He stared down at his partner, who was flat on his back, on the floor, because this time Jim had taken a step to his left just as Blair had attacked from the right.
"Okay, that had to hurt," he said in what he hoped was an apologetic and concerned tone.
"Oh, shut up. You're not in the least bit sorry," Blair said as he rolled over and got to his feet.
"I think I just have cabin fever, Chief. Why don't we blow this popsicle stand and grab a bite to eat."
"Do we have to? My pounce may have been unsuccessful, but that doesn't mean we have to give up. How 'bout bringing in something?" Blair ran his hand over the front of Jim's jeans as he grinned up at him.
Eyes glittering, Jim nodded. "You got it, Chief."
Blair sat at the dining room table, phone in hand. It was late, but he needed to call Lori, tell her the news and ask her to take care of his landlord, packing his stuff and sending it to him. He should have done it four days ago, but kept forgetting, what with all the pouncing going on. He wasn't worried about book number three - he could finish that here, nothing had to change. Taking a deep breath, he punched in her number.
"Don't tell me I got you in bed again?"
"Blair? Hey, is everything all right? And it's eleven, okay?"
"Yeah, Lori, it is. Jim is okay now and, well, I'm-"
"You're moving back to Cascade?"
"Got it in one."
"Wow, what a surprise - not."
They shared a laugh, then her voice came back to him.
"I suppose you need your place taken care of? Let the landlord know he can put it up for rent?"
"Would you, Lori?"
"Hey, I'm your lawyer, right? That's what I do. I'll grab my hunky assistant and we'll pack it up and ship it out to you, all right?"
"Yeah, and thanks. How much do I pay you, anyway?"
"More than enough, trust me. Speaking of which - how's book three going?"
"I had the first six chapters ready before I left, so if you want an early draft, I can send it."
"Nah, no hurry. And Blair?"
"Is everything really all right?"
"As it can be, Lori, as it can be."
"Gee, that sounds hopeful - not."
"Jeez, warn a guy, will ya? You almost deafened me."
"Sorry. But hell, certainly you can do better than ‘as it can be’jkn. Is everything okay between you two now?"
Since Lori had been the only person he'd actually spent time with, he'd eventually told her about Jim. Now he smiled at her question. "Yeah, everything is fine."
"Ah. And you said that with a smile - good."
"Yeah, I did. But I've got to go before Jim gets back. He went for a late Chinese dinner run. We'll talk later, okay?"
"You got it. Your stuff will be on its way and take care. Love you, Blair."
"Love you too, Lori. Bye."
He was just hanging up when the front door opened and a frowning Jim stepped inside, arms full of Chinese.
Hurrying to Jim's side, he took one of the bags and walked into the kitchen with him.
While removing cartons, Jim asked, "So, you love someone named Lori, Chief? Should I be jealous?"
The carton in Jim's hand dropped to the floor at the same moment that Blair realized his answer hadn't come out right. As they started to clean up the white rice, Blair quickly amended, "I mean yes, I love Lori and no, you don't need to be jealous."
They stood, both their hands on the carton. "You love someone named Lori but I don't need to be jealous?"
Blair frowned up at Jim as his hand tugged at the carton. When it came away, he turned and tossed it under the sink. Turning back, he said, "No, I mean, yes, I mean - oh, fuck. Look, Lori is an old friend. She lives in LA, okay? She's the one I told you would take care of my place and get my stuff packed. That's all. And you're the one who spent the night with his ex-wife the minute things got tough, okay?"
Stunned at the sudden biting tone, not to mention the words, Jim took a step back. "Whoa. Where did that come from, Sandburg?"
Blair closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Like he knew where that had come from? "Nowhere, Jim. Just…just forget I said anything. Didn't mean it." He waved his hand dismissively, then turned and took down two plates.
"Look, I didn't spend the night with Carolyn, Blair. Well, I did, but I slept on the couch."
"Yeah, okay, like I said, just forget-" Blair turned around, one eyebrow rising. "The couch?"
"Yeah, Chief, the couch."
"Not that she wasn't offering, and not that she wasn't comforting, and yeah, I was hurt and confused, but I loved you and would never-"
"Hey, it's okay even if you had slept with her - I mean, it was all pretty harrowing and you must have felt like shit, like you'd just been handed the biggest lump of coal in the world-"
Jim took Blair into his arms, thus effectively stopping the nervous words. After several minutes of waiting for Blair's breathing to calm down, Jim whispered, "You know, Superman could make a diamond from a lump of coal."
For a heartbeat - nothing. Then Blair started to shake, which was followed by a deep rumbling sound against his chest, a sound that was scaring the hell out of Jim, because…because Blair seemed to be crying and damn it, he hadn't seen tears since Maya, the She-Devil.
He was just about to do something - anything - when he heard the snort. The "I'm laughing so hard, I'm going to die" snort.
Jim bopped him on the back of his head. "You schmuck."
Blair lifted his laughing, tear-streaked face to Jim, shook his head and waved his hand in the "I can't talk, I'm laughing too hard because Jim is a dick" gesture, even as he started to choke.
Taking a bit too much pleasure in the act, Jim patted him on the back - hard.
"Sorry, Ji-m," he hiccoughed. "Bu-t…that was to-o…I me-an… Oh, fuck!"
Blair gave up and went back to laughing, which was about the time Jim realized that Blair was really laughing, as in an honest-to-god laugh. Deep, no holds barred laughter - the old Sandburg laugh.
Jim smiled and let him laugh.
"God, I still can't believe you said that, Jim."
"I can't believe you thought it was that funny. We were in the middle of one of those, you know, moments. Profound, full of love, cleansing."
Blair glared at him over the rim of his coffee, then rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right. Whatever."
"Hey, it was."
Blair snorted into his coffee before saying with a grin, "Actually, now that I think about it - I'm insulted. If I'm the coal, does that make you Superman?"
Jim arched an eyebrow, causing Blair to snort again. "Get real, man."
Jim tried to look wounded, but it didn't work and they both started laughing.
"So, tell me about this Lori."
Blair glanced up from his book to peer at Jim over the rim of his glasses. "Now?"
"Well, we're here, in bed. You're reading, I'm reading while feeling you up, yeah, now."
"You mean that's you down there?"
"No, it's Simon. Now talk."
"Man, he really gets around for a captain. And there's nothing to tell, Jim. Lori and I have known each other for about ten years. She moved to Los Angeles after she passed the bar."
"I can't believe you never mentioned her, Chief."
Blair shrugged and it was clear that he was done. But Jim wasn't.
"Were you and she - well, how close were you two?"
Realizing that he was going to have tell Jim more, Blair took off his glasses. "At one point, early in our friendship, we were lovers, but we were moving in different directions and I drove her crazy." Blair shrugged humorously and added, "You probably know the feeling."
"Yet you managed to remain friends?"
"We started out that way and really liked each other - so why not?"
Jim had to admit that other than Maya and Sam, every woman or man that Blair had been involved with had ended up his friend. Jim doubted sincerely that if anything happened to their relationship again, if Blair found himself no longer in love with Jim - that he'd be quite so - friendly. He needed him too much. Loved him too much.
But all he said was, "Yeah, why not?"
One week later -
"Hey, how 'bout a movie tonight?"
Blair twisted his head around and gazed up at Jim. They were lying on the couch, Jim with his back against the cushions and Blair with his back against Jim. Blair batted his eyelashes. "You really want to leave this haven?" He moved his hand suggestively down Jim's thigh.
"What, you don't want to catch that new Hanks flick?"
"Man becomes a castaway, man meets a ball, man builds a raft, man loses ball, man is rescued. There, now you've seen the movie."
Jim pouted for a moment before exclaiming in horror, "Wait, the ball dies?!?"
"Yep, the ball dies. A three hanky Hanks movie."
"Hollywood should know better. It's an unwritten rule, you never kill off dogs, children or-"
"Or soccer balls."
"Right. So - no movie. How 'bout we just go out to dinner? Take a walk up the Promenade?"
Blair wiggled back against Jim and quipped, "Very comfortable where I am."
Jim groaned. "So we, uh, stay put."
As Blair wiggled again, Jim gave a fleeting thought to the idea that Blair hadn't been outside since that first day...but then his mind went dead as Blair turned in his arms and they were kissing and groping, their passions escalating nicely.
Next morning -
"Hey, how 'bout Mama's Cafe for her apple pancakes?"
"Actually, Jim, I had some toast a while ago, before you got up. Not really hungry right now."
Hiding his disappointment, Jim went on. "Okay, what about a walk on the beach? Maybe that'll work up an appetite - or better still - the gym?"
Blair looked up from his book and smiled easily. He took off his glasses and hooked them on the collar of his tee shirt. "Look, why don't you go to the gym, get a good workout and, by the time you get back, I'll have some apple pancakes ready. How does that sound?"
"But I'd like you to go with me, you know? Work out together? Spot each other?"
"Sorry, just not in the mood. But please, Jim, you go, okay?"
"Well, I really could use a good workout. You sure you don't mind?"
His smile broadening, Blair shook his head. "I'm sure. Go, get all hot and sweaty, then come back for pancakes and more sweat." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively and made a pretty passable attempt at a leer.
Jim grinned and nodded happily in response. "You got it. And I'm holding you to the promise of apple pancakes, Sandburg."
"Hey, a promise is a promise. A man's word is his bond. A promise is a ring of-"
"Yeah, yeah. I get it. I'm out of here."
Jim ran up to their room, grabbed his gym bag and running shoes, then trotted back down. He dropped a kiss on Sandburg's forehead and headed out - still a bit disappointed, but eager for his workout. There was only today and the weekend left before returning to work and he still felt a bit out of shape. Sure, he'd put back on the weight he'd lost, but still felt sluggish even all the 'pouncing'.
Jim smiled at that thought as he descended to the lobby, and it was only as he pushed his way outside that a previously half-formed thought made its way back into his consciousness.
Blair hadn't been outside once since the beach.
Jim stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and stared up at the loft.
Blair had found a way out every single time.
Jim broke out in a cold sweat but didn't go back inside. Instead, he headed for the gym four blocks away. He needed to think and working out would allow his mind free rein.
"Look, Stu, I wouldn't be here if the favor weren't big, if I could have done it on the phone, I would have."
Commissioner Stuart Weaver stared across his desk at one of his oldest friends, Captain Simon Banks. "Sorry, Simon, you're right." Stuart reached over and hit his intercom. "Judy, hold all calls. Thank you." Settling back in his chair, he gave his friend his undivided attention. "No more interruptions. I'm all yours."
Simon stood and started to uncharacteristically pace. Weaver could see his friend was worried and figured Detective Ellison might be the reason. "Is Ellison all right? Are we going to lose him?"
Simon turned to his friend and boss and smiled ruefully. "Guess that's why you're the Commissioner, eh? Yeah, this is about Jim, but not what you think. Actually, he's due back Monday and yes, he's much better. I expect a full return to duty."
Weaver sat forward, clearly relieved. "I can't tell you how glad I am to hear that, Simon. In spite of all the trouble all those months ago, he's really one of our best. We can't afford to lose him."
Taking a deep breath, Simon nodded and retook his seat. "You don't know how relieved I am to hear you say that, Stu, because you're right - it's not every day a city is handed a Sentinel and we definitely can't afford to lose him." Simon sat back and waited.
Grey eyes blinked back at him as the handsome face creased in a frown. "Simon?"
"You heard me."
The man behind the desk exploded out of his seat in a burst of almost manic energy. "Fuck! Do you know what you're saying?" he demanded.
"Ssh, do you want everyone in your outer office to hear you? And sit down."
Weaver ignored the order but he did lower his voice as he stood over his friend. "Simon, tell me you're not telling me what you just told me. Tell me that."
Simon gave him an almost sympathetic look, but shook his head. "I can't tell you that, because I am."
"Aw, shit." Weaver took two shaky steps back and rested his butt against the edge of his large mahogany desk.
"Oh, and Sandburg's back in Cascade."
"No, this is a good thing, because a sentinel needs his back-up, needs someone to keep him focused, and that's what Blair Sandburg is - does. He's kind of a guide, so to speak. Which is why I let him ride with Jim, and why you kept okaying it. A sentinel can't do it alone - too many distractions. So, now he's back and Jim returns on Monday and we have to find a way to arrange it so that Sandburg can ride with him, be his partner."
Weaver bent his head and rubbed his thumbs into his eyes. After a moment, he moved his fingers and thumbs to his temples. "This isn't happening, Simon. You're a figment of my imagination - a bad dream as a result of bad oysters eaten last night for dinner. I'm going to wake up in a minute, Stephanie will be lying next to me, and you won't."
"No, Stephanie wouldn't like that at all."
"Fuck you, Simon." After a moment, he asked, "You're not joking, by any chance?"
"No, I'm not."
"What do you suggest? Another ninety-day observer pass that goes on for three years? And what do you think will happen if the press gets a hold of this?"
"It's been almost two years, he's old news. We can do this."
"What about your team? As far as they know, Sandburg stabbed his friend - and the department - in the back. You think they're just going let him waltz back in?"
"They also saw their friend give up everything in a press conference and then disappear. And make no mistake about it - Blair Sandburg was - and is - their friend. They also think of him as a fellow officer - if unofficial. And believe it or not, some of my people are actually detectives. They figured it out. They know."
"So what do you want me to do? Welcome him back with open arms?"
Dark eyes blazing with indignation, Simon said, "That's exactly what I expect and what Blair deserves, and a whole lot more. He deserves a twenty-one gun salute for what he did, for what he gave up and, believe me, he gave up more than you could ever know. And as long as I'm on the subject of what you don't have a clue about, well, you don't have a clue about Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg and what they've done for this city and her citizens. Not a clue.
"You don't have a clue about what it means to be a sentinel, or to be the man who has to teach and guide him. I've been with them every step of the way and I sure as hell know that I couldn't do it. In fact, in the months since Blair left, I haven't been able to. I've failed miserably at helping him. He's been functioning with his heightened senses at least half the time, or with senses completely out of control - and he's still the best damn detective you or I have ever seen. So no, you can't begin to understand, and yes, you should welcome Blair Sandburg with open arms."
Weaver reached down and opened his bottom drawer. He lifted out a small brown bottle, uncapped it, reached back down, took out a small glass, filled it, handed it to Simon, who took it with a smile, then holding the bottle up in 'cheers' motion, Weaver drank heartily while Simon gulped his down.
Wiping his mouth unceremoniously, Weaver said, "So, what's the solution? How do we bring him back?"
"Well, now that you mention it," Simon said mildly, "I do happen to have a few ideas...."
Jim sat unmoving, his gym bag resting by his right foot. Exhausted, both physically and mentally, he'd found as he'd headed back home that his legs just - gave out. He'd sunk down onto a bus bench and now, fifteen minutes later, was still sitting.
All through his workout he'd chewed over the alarming truth he'd finally allowed himself to see - a truth he'd wanted desperately to pretend didn't exist. As he sat staring at his shoes, he shook his head. He was a detective - needed additional evidence. More proof that his conclusion was accurate. Suddenly energized by that thought, he picked up his bag, slung it over his shoulder and headed home.
Jim unlocked the door and took a strong whiff. The smell that had been tantalizing him for the last ten minutes was indeed coming from their home. Cinnamon, nutmeg and apples.
"Oh, yeah, I can smell those pancakes now," he said happily as he dropped everything and moved quickly into the kitchen to come up behind Sandburg. "So where are they, O Master Pancake Maker?"
"In the oven."
"Okay, warming - let's eat."
"Sorry," Blair said with a grin. "They're not done yet."
Jim had been nuzzling Blair's neck while rubbing small circles over the flannel-clad chest, but at Blair's words, he leaned back, a quizzical expression on his face. "Not done yet, but in the oven?"
"Yep. You wanted the apple pancake that you get at Mama's, right?"
"Wait, you actually made the puff pancake?"
"You got it, O Astute One."
Jim whirled the chef around and planted a big one on Blair's mouth. Nibbling the bottom lip, he murmured, "How much longer?"
Laughing, Blair said, "Not long enough, apparently." He gave a small, playful push and said, "Back off or we have a burnt and collapsed puff apple pancake."
Jim appeared to weigh the issue. "Mmm, Blair or puffed pancake? Man, that's a tough one."
"No it isn't, because Blair made the damn thing and Jim will eat the damn thing."
Laughing harder, Blair handed Jim a plastic container and ordered, "Go. Put this on the table and we'll eat."
Jim did as told, the smell of the pancake in the oven actually overriding his passion at the moment. "Man, I must be getting old. I want the pancake more than you - for now."
"Nah, Jim, not old. You're just wise enough to know that you're going to get both the pancake and the hot chef."
"Okay, I've always been smart, but now I'm wise too. I'm so good."
Blair snorted, bent over, opened the oven door and slid out the pan. He set it on the wooden cutting board, placed a plate over the top, then flip-flopped the whole thing. As he carefully removed the pan, the apple-cinnamon dripping pancake was revealed. Blair dusted it with some powdered sugar and, with no small amount of flair - set the plate in the middle of the table.
Jim could barely contain himself as he slid a knife down the middle, then scooped up his half and plopped it down on the plate. He took the plastic container of cinnamon syrup and drizzled it over the top, Blair watching every move with affectionate amusement.
He picked up his fork, cut off a piece and slid it into his mouth. His expression moved from anticipatory to dreamy as his eyes closed in complete satisfaction. While he chewed and swallowed, eyes still closed, Blair's smile widened. Watching Jim eat was something he'd sorely missed. Hell, just watching him....
"Mama needs to take lessons from you, Chief." Summer-sky blues opened as Jim favored Blair with the dreamiest smile ever. "Oh, yeah, she needs your recipe."
Grinning, Blair cut himself a quarter piece, eschewed the syrup and dug in.
Jim burped, grinned, and eyed the rest of the pancake. Blair shoved it over and Jim finished it up, then burped again.
"Okay, that's a resounding yes to the question of whether Jim Ellison liked his breakfast. It also means Jim Ellison gets to clean up."
"Gladly, Sandburg, gladly."
Jim tossed the sponge into its holder and sighed contentedly. The kitchen was spotless and all was right with his world. Almost.
While he'd cleaned and Blair had given small, snide coaching hints from his seat by the windows, Jim had thought long and hard about his evidence-gathering mission. As the moisture-squeezed-sponge made its satisfying plop sound, he turned toward Blair, ready to get started. "Okay, kitchen clean - two men well-fed and happy, so now we go for a walk."
Blair pulled his legs up, gave a little jump in the chair and crossed them under him, then gave Jim an "Oh, really" look. "A walk? Is that a metaphor heretofore unused? Or does it imply a new method of ravaging the male body? Also heretofore unused and unknown."
Jim walked to the coat rack and picked up both their jackets. "No, Sandburg, a walk is a walk. We put one foot in front of the other, usually in the great outdoors and with no real destination in mind. See?"
"Well, if I had my druthers - and do you know where that word comes from?"
Still holding the jackets, Ellison said, "Latin for preference."
"Nope, but that's good. It's an English contraction for would rather. Get it? Would equals the d-"
"And ruthers equals rather but that begs the question of why it isn't 'drathers'? If I had my drathers?"
Stumped, Blair blinked. Then his face brightened and Jim just knew he was about to be flamboozled.
"Oh, hey, simple - it's the accent, see?" He then said, in a perfect British accent, "Why, milord, if I had my druthers, we'd be fox hunting." His smile dazzled Jim.
"Yes, well, that certainly makes sense. Now how about that walk? You, me, the sunshine…."
He punctuated his speech with a shake of Blair's jacket.
Blair untangled himself and walked slowly up to Jim. He took the jacket and let it drop to the floor as he moved in close. "Did we forget the hot chef?"
Jim had been prepared for this; after all, Blair had used it almost every time the idea of going outside had come up. Jim opened up his senses and, while his abilities told him that there was desire in the air, another scent overrode it.
Jim searched Blair's face but found no hint of it. He was about to face the beast head on when the phone rang. Blair moved to answer it.
"Sandburg, I need to talk with Jim."
"Hey, Simon, how are you? Long time, no see."
"I'm fine. And long time, bet you're glad no see."
"Not at all. In fact, after almost two weeks cooped up with me, I'm betting Jim could use an afternoon away from the old homestead. Maybe you can talk him into something?"
"You know, I think I can manage that."
"Great, here he is." Blair handed off the phone and stepped back.
Jim shot him a sharp look as he said into the phone, "Hey, Simon."
"Jim, look, I need to see you. Should I come over or do you really need out?"
"Not really. What's up?"
"It's important or I wouldn't ask. Can you meet me at, say, Brannigan's?"
"Make it four and you've got a deal. Is this just a me thing or can-"
"I'd rather run this by you first."
"Right, no problem then. Brannigan's at four."
Jim hung up the phone and started a quick, internal debate. When he was done, he had no idea who'd won so said, "Simon wants me to meet him at-"
"Brannigan's at four, yeah, I heard. Gives us plenty of time, Sentinel of the Great City. If you know what I mean?"
"I'm really up for that walk, Chief." His voice was easy, deceptively easy, but his eyes glittered with determination. A determination that didn't escape Blair's notice.
"Well, you go ahead, then. Have your walk. I'm not really in the mood."
Jim smiled benignly. "No, I really didn't think you would be. You haven't been outside since you arrived."
"Of course I have. Or have you forgotten who met you on the beach?"
"You did and you haven't budged since then. You've turned down every suggestion to go out. The movie, dinner, a walk, the Promenade, you name it." He took a step toward him. "What's up, Chief?"
Blair started for the stairs.
"Sandburg, you didn't answer."
"Look, I was up early this morning and, believe it or not, I'm actually tired. I think I'm going to take a nap. If you want a walk - go, enjoy. But don't make a federal case out of the fact that I don't."
He let Blair get halfway up before saying, "This isn't exactly how I envisioned starting over. I guess I thought it would be different this time, that we'd both be honest and talk when we need to."
Blair paused, sighed, and finally turned. "Look, you go for your walk and when you meet Simon, I'll go with you, but instead of joining you two at Brannigan's, I'll check out Benton's Books next door. Will that satisfy you?"
Jim's eyes narrowed, gauging the man above. Finally, he nodded. "Yeah, that'll work."
"I'm thrilled. Now, I'm really tired and I'm really going to take that nap."
He watched as Blair went the rest of the way up, listened as he stripped down to his shorts and crawled under the covers.
"Well, that went well. Not," he muttered to himself.
Blair spent thirty minutes not sleeping. Thirty minutes of a too-rapid heartbeat and shallow, panicky breaths. And Jim ought to know, he'd heard every one of them.
Oh yeah, this was good. Great. Blair was upstairs having a mini panic attack and where was the great Jim Ellison? Downstairs and determined to take this all the way.
Goddamn it, he just didn't get this. If he was right and Blair couldn't - or wouldn't - go outside, then damn it, why? What the hell had happened to him to cause this?
"Well, let's see, Detective," his mind snarked. "He was accused by his lover of deliberately giving his dissertation to the press - you could probably count that, and of course, he then heard his lover tell their boss that all he wanted was to go back to the way things were before he came along, and let's not forget his confession - a very public confession - that he was a total fraud, thus destroying his entire future. You could definitely count all of that. And no, I'm not done yet, because on top of everything else, he had to leave the only real home he'd ever known, had to leave the man he'd loved, the man he'd been forced to watch turn to his ex-wife for comfort. How am I doing so far?"
Jim decided that his mind had been exposed to Blair far too long to be saved.
On the other hand, the overexposure had obviously left him smarter, because his mind spoke wisely, if somewhat rudely, and based on all that information, he should be able to figure this out. After all, he knew Blair, knew his mind.
So, what would drive Blair into a form of agoraphobia?
The answer danced just out of range, only to dart back teasingly. It felt as though he were close, so close he was almost tempted to check the tip of his tongue. Jim immediately clamped his mouth shut when he realized he'd been about to do just that.
He cocked his head as it hit him that everything was very quiet upstairs…thank God, Blair had actually fallen asleep. Maybe he should join him. Yeah, that was the ticket. He started for the stairs, but was interrupted by a knock on the door. Afraid it would wake Blair, he literally ran to answer before they could knock again. He swung the door open and said impatiently, "Yes?"
"UPS for Blair Sandburg. Sign here please." Somewhat bewildered, Jim nevertheless took the log and signed where indicated. As he handed it back, he asked, "What kind of delivery?"
"I have them downstairs, sir. Four large boxes. I'll have them up in no time." He gave a smart salute and headed to the elevator.
Jim tuned in on Blair and relaxed. He was still deeply asleep. Ten minutes later the elevator pinged, opened and the UPS delivery guy pulled out his cart which was piled high. It took both men working quietly together to get them inside and into the spare room. Jim thanked the guy, walked him back to the door and, curiosity piqued, he returned to the boxes.
One was marked Clothes in a firm handwriting that decorated the cardboard in several places. The second said Odds and Ends, but it was the third and fourth that captured his attention. They were of a sturdier material with the word "Fragile" stamped over both of them. One was identified by the words, Computer & Accessories and the other, Exercise Equipment.
While at least the newly toned body was explained, Jim was left wondering about the computer box, especially since he was staring at Blair's laptop sitting on the desk.
Actually…now that he got a good look at it…this one was new, thin and a Dell, versus Blair's old, thick, heavy Compaq.
How the hell could Blair afford two computers - and if he worked from home, why a laptop and a desktop, because it was obvious by the size of the box that the other was just that.
He must have had one hell of a great paying 'at home' job.
The urge to open everything, to get an idea of Blair's life while in California, was so strong, Jim actually put his hands on the boxes, was ready to tear into them, before he managed to corral the need.
Sighing heavily - he turned away.
Jim checked his watch to confirm the time. Yep, he should get Blair up. Not that he believed for a second Blair would leave the loft. He was about to head upstairs when he heard the sound of the bed creaking as Blair sat up and shifted around. A few moments later, Blair came downstairs.
As his foot hit the last step, he met Jim's gaze and asked, "Hey, ready?"
Noting the nervousness his partner was trying so hard to hide, Jim nodded and said easily, "Your stuff came while you were sleeping. I had the guy put everything in your old room."
"Oh, great. Clean clothes." He grinned but seemed uncaring that his belongings had arrived. Instead, he nodded toward the door and urged, "So, let's go."
Jim picked Blair's jacket up from the floor, amazed that he hadn't done it before and, experiencing a sense of déjà vu, held it out to him.
Blair took it, slipped it on and, other than the telltale racing heartbeat, gave no other indication that he might be reluctant to step outside. Jim opened the door, grabbed his jacket, stuffed keys into his pocket and stepped aside to allow Blair to precede him.
They entered the elevator and, as it began its descent, Jim tried to ignore the fear rolling off his partner, tried to ignore the sweat, which had joined the fast heartbeat as the only other outward sign of distress. The elevator opened on the ground floor and, once again, Jim waited, allowing Blair to go first. Once in the lobby, he moved slightly ahead so that he could get the door, not out of any kind of macho courtesy, but rather to ensure that Blair walked out.
Standing there, hand on the door, holding it open, Jim waited.
With a stubborn lift of his chin and a look on his face that told Jim just what he thought of him at that moment, Blair stepped forward. At that precise moment, two people walked by the open door with one of them glancing inside before looking away.
Blair froze...and Jim let the door swing shut.
Moving to his partner's side, he took Blair's hand. "It's okay, Chief," he said softly. He dropped a gentle kiss on Blair's temple, felt the wild beating of his pulse, and tightened his hold on Blair's hand.
Everything clicked and Jim had his answer for Blair's fear of the outside. "I get it now, I understand. But Chief, you don't need to protect me anymore, all right?"
Sandburg butted his head against Jim's chest in an aggravated manner that almost made Jim smile, it was so typical of his partner when he was frustrated with himself. They stayed that way for several minutes before Blair finally said, "Did you know you can order videos and popcorn off the net?"
"No, Chief, I didn't know that."
"Kosmo.com." Blair took a deep breath and looked up at Jim. "You can get anything from the net, man. Groceries, movies, restaurant food delivered to your door…a man never needs to step outside, never. As long as you have a fax machine and a computer, you never need to step outside."
"Restaurants, huh? So that's how you did the whole pancake thing this morning?" he teased.
Blair punched Jim in the shoulder and said, "You jerk."
"Yeah, I am." Jim gently cupped the back of Blair's head and added, "It's been a long time, Chief. We're old news now. Hell, we're not even old news. It's okay, trust me."
"I was so worried someone would recognize me, you know? But I had a job, I left the apartment, did shopping, but then…then I got…I got that online job, you know? And it was like, okay, great, I don't have to risk anything anymore, and there was nothing outside for me, nothing I needed. You weren't out there, so just no need to go out."
Jim ran his fingers through Blair's short curls even as he placed his lips against Blair's forehead. "That's why you cut it, isn't it?"
Blair nodded. "Seemed like a good way to hide, and you have to admit, I look different."
"Oh, yeah." He stroked his thumb down Blair's cheek and asked, "Want to give it another try or just head back upstairs?"
Looking actually hopeful, Blair glanced at the lobby door and said, "Another try…I need to do this."
"Great, and if anyone hassles us, I say we just give them the bird."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Damn, now why didn't I think of that?"
"You should have. You know damn well that a good 'Fuck you, asshole' is worth its weight in gold. All the problems of the universe would be solved if only more people-"
Jim brushed his lips over Blair's. "Yeah."
End Part 5
Simon looked at his watch. Four-fifteen. Jim was late. He took another sip of his beer and turned his attention to the television and Tiger Woods.
As Jim pushed open the glass door again, Blair started to slip his hand out of Jim's, but at the shake of his head, Blair changed his mind and they stepped outside together.
When they hit the sidewalk, Blair paused, took in a deep breath and, with some trepidation, looked around. Sunset was only an hour away but there was enough warmth to heat his face. As they started walking to Brannigan's, Blair succeeded in pulling his hand from Jim's, but they moved closer together, arms touching as they walked.
People bustled past them, some eyes making contact, most too busy living their lives to notice them. A few shy smiles were exchanged but most people stared straight ahead, bent on getting where they needed to be. At the total normalcy of the walk, Blair felt the tension starting to melt away. The world was bent on its rotation, not on a guy who'd once, over two years ago, declared himself a fraud, a liar and a cheat.
Traffic whizzed by, people went in and out of shops, clouds moved over the gradually setting sun, and a slight wind came up from across the bay…and Jim and Blair kept walking.
Birds squawked overhead and two children rushed between them, temporarily separating them before they continued on their way. A boy on a bicycle zipped by, jumping his bike off the curb to avoid them, and Blair realized that going outside wasn't the end of the world as he knew it.
They turned the final corner and stopped in front of the pub's green door.
"Benton's Books?" Jim asked, not at all eager to let Blair go it on his own.
Still surprised by the fact that the world was still spinning, he smiled and said, "Yeah, Jim, I am."
Grinning back at him, Jim nodded and then tucked a bit of hair behind Blair's ear, which was really silly, but it made him feel better.
"You guys do what you need to do, but don't eat, all right? When you're done, come get me. I could really use one of Brannigan's fish sandwiches."
Blair turned, took the few steps that brought him to the door of the bookstore and, without a backward glance, went inside. Jim waited, listening, sensing - and only when Blair's heartbeat calmed, did he enter the pub.
Jim spotted Simon immediately, seated in a back booth. He moved quickly and slid in opposite.
"Hey, you made it."
"Yeah, sorry I'm late."
"No problem. What'll it be?"
Simon raised his hand and caught the attention of the barmaid. When she stepped up to their table he ordered the drinks. A moment later she was back with two tall bottles followed by two equally tall, and very chilled, beer glasses. She set them down, left the bill and, when she walked away, Jim poured his, let the head subside, then topped it off. Simon did the same.
After they each took a healthy swallow, Jim asked, "So what's up?"
"I had an interesting meeting with the Commissioner and thought you might want to hear about it."
When Jim simply arched an eyebrow, Simon went on. "Now that Sandburg is back - and I assume he is back?"
Jim nodded and smiled rather slyly. "He's back."
"Good. So anyway, figuring that was the way the wind was blowing, I figured I'd better find a way to get him onboard, maybe as a consultant. But selling the powers that be on that idea…well, I wasn't holding out much hope."
At Jim's expression of puzzlement, it was obvious to Simon that he hadn't thought that far ahead. "Yeah," he said, "I figured you hadn't gone that far into the future. Now you know why I thought you and I should talk first. See…I told Weaver everything."
Jim sat back stunned. "You did what?"
"He knows. It was the only way, Jim."
"Only way for what?"
"Only way to make Sandburg your official partner."
"My official partner," Jim repeated.
"Yeah. If that's what you want. And yes, I made a big assumption that it would be. Color me optimistic."
"Color you a know-it-all."
"That's me. Simon Banks, see all, know all." He waited half a beat, then asked, "It is what you want, right?"
Jim stared at the ring of moisture pooling around his beer glass, his mind in turmoil.
Looking back up, he said, "I wouldn't hit the streets without him, Simon, so yeah, it's what I want."
"All right then. Here's how it goes down-"
He got no further as Jim held up his hand. "Whoa, Simon. I said it's what I want. We have to consider Blair and what he wants. From everything I've seen, his clothing and the computers, whatever his at-home job is, it pays damn well."
"Why do you think this is just us right now? I give you the facts, the plan, you take it back as an option for Blair."
"You don't get it, Simon." Jim reached for the damp napkin under his beer bottle and began to systematically tear it into small pieces. "Apparently, Blair hasn't…never…well, at least not for quite a while…he never went outside, couldn't leave his apartment - at all. So the idea that he could just pick up where we left off-"
"Actually, I figured something like that. I could see it in his eyes...or maybe it was what wasn't in his eyes. You know how he was, how everything was always right there, in his gaze, but not now. It was obvious he'd shut down, in a way. So yeah, I figured he'd been living a rather cloistered life. "
Somewhat amazed that Simon had figured it out before him, but also grateful, Jim nodded. "Yeah, exactly. I mean, we both went about the daily routine of living, and yet, not really living. I guess the difference between us was the fact that I had you, my job, a routine…and friends. But once Blair left - he was alone."
"Yeah, that makes sense. He had three years invested in someone else's life and world. Giving that up, giving up his own world at the same time-"
Jim made a cutting-off motion with his hand. "No, Simon, you've got it wrong. Blair could have made a new life and, in a way, he did. Don't you see? He was protecting me - us - me. Come on, we're talking about Blair, a guy who could have done anything, talk himself into anything, the way he did with you all those years ago. But he was paranoid about being recognized."
"Damn," Simon said. "So that's why the shut-down, the staying indoors…."
Simon shook his head in disbelief as he said, almost to himself, "Why don’t we ever see the damage caused by all the balls we unwittingly set into motion or how the reverberations of those balls can go on indefinitely?"
Jim stared at his drink and added quietly, "I wonder if Naomi really understands what she did to her son."
"Speaking as a father - I'd hope yes. Speaking as an observer of human nature - and Naomi in particular, I'd say no. She's a conundrum. She fought us like a lion protecting her cub and yet-"
"Yeah, and yet. That says it all, doesn't it? Do you suppose she's even missed him? Sure, we know she wanted to find him, but did she actually miss him?"
Simon downed the last of his second beer and said, "He doesn't think so. I mentioned her on his first night back and he seemed unconcerned, said there'd been long stretches of time when they didn't see one another." Simon's eyes flashed bright behind the lenses as he added almost angrily, "Not that I care if Naomi missed him because, damn it, I did. I missed the hell out of him. And yeah, that surprised me - I wasn't prepared for it. His absence tore a hole in me." He spun his glass around and smiled wryly. "I guess I had two sons and didn't realize it."
Several minutes passed before Jim asked, "So, how does this official partnership work?"
"Now you're talking."
Blair was so wrapped up in the book, he never noticed Jim coming up behind him until a hand dropped on his shoulder.
"Gripping murder mystery? And if so, who done it?"
Laughing, Blair shook his head and answered, "Nah, just some old, dusty tome about South American tribes and their affection for Coca-Cola."
"Scintillating. You ready for that sandwich?"
"What, you can't hear my stomach growling?"
"I thought that was construction work over on Silas Drive," Jim quipped.
"Ha-ha," Blair said as he got to his feet and put the book back in the bag. Catching Jim's smirk, he gave him a sheepish grin. "Yeah, okay, so I bought a few books. You want to make something out of it, tough guy?"
"Sandburg, if you hadn't purchased anything, I'd have been worried."
Chuckling, they exited the shop.
As Blair pulled the door to Brannigan's open, Jim said, "Simon is joining us. You don't mind, do you?"
"Of course not."
Pausing before following Blair inside, Jim took Blair's arm. "You okay?"
"I don't know, am I?" Blair challenged.
"Well, your heart is racing."
"So why ask?"
"You know, you're a real pain in the butt."
"And proud of it. Now let's go."
Once they'd ordered and were relaxing a bit, Jim had a chance to marvel at how well Blair was handling the pub, especially since his heart rate hadn't slowed one iota since walking in. On the outside, however, he appeared calm, even his usually mobile hands still and quiet.
"So how's Daryl?" Blair suddenly asked.
"He's fine, but no closer to solving global warming than two weeks ago. Hell, they can't even agree on the causes, let alone solutions."
"It's understandable, though. Global warming is a multi-pronged problem, Simon. It can't be solved with any one idea. We've got deforestation, fossil fuel, air contaminants, pollution, you name it, all contributing to the problem. What his study group needs to decide is where to concentrate their efforts, to work on one problem at a time."
Smiling, Simon baited him by asking, "And just what would you suggest they tackle first?"
Blair chuckled and added, his tone definitely teasing, "Overpopulation."
"Hey, that wasn't on your list," Simon groused.
"No, but if you think about it, it's the primary cause for all the other items, isn't it? People need room and food, hence the deforestation. They need transportation and jobs and plastic and power and-"
Laughing, Simon held his hands up in surrender. "Okay, I get it. Overpopulation it is."
"Of course, the tricky problem comes with the fact that it's mighty hard to tell people not to have babies. Almost as hard as telling them to rideshare, or god forbid, stop using hair spray."
"I don't suppose you have the answer?"
"Sorry, fresh out. But I can tell you that, in my opinion, education is our best weapon - and maybe our only chance."
"I'll pass that on, Sandburg."
The food arrived and all three men dug in hungrily. Jim was glad to see that Blair ate his entire sandwich while Simon was equally happy to see Jim down every bit of his Irish stew.
At the end of the meal, after the waitress had cleared the table and they were enjoying a final cup of coffee, Blair settled back and, after shooting knowing looks at his companions, said, "Okay, so what's up, guys?"
Simon looked at Jim, who shrugged and smiled.
"Was he always this much of a smartass?"
"Yep, and don't forget smart, so you might as well tell him."
"Right." He looked over at Blair and asked, "How would you like to be Jim's permanent and official partner?"
Blair's eyes widened at Simon's words before he turned his attention to Jim, who just sat back and smiled broadly.
"His official partner? Official?"
"Yeah, Sandburg, official. As in - a cop."
"As in the Academy?"
"In a way, yes. But not like you're thinking. You'd have to do what we originally discussed, namely the firearms training and self-defense, but Jim would be your instructor. I've been given permission to sign off on you, thanks to your three years experience with the department - assuming you pass firearms and kick Jim's butt."
"I see," Blair said, his tone conveying to both men that he might be less than thrilled.
Jim flicked a worried glance over to Simon, who shot it right back even as Jim asked, "So what do you say, Chief?"
Blair had managed to keep his memories of Jim's pleas for a normal life at bay for months. Even being back in Cascade hadn't brought them to the surface…until now. At Jim's question, Blair was hit with every single one of them ….
"If I ever want to go back to being a good cop and leading a simple life, it ain't gonna happen now."
"...I'd like to go back to things the way they were before Sandburg, when I worked alone...."
"It's not his call, Captain. This is my decision. His ride is over...."
His guts twisted up inside as the words replayed over and over in his mind. Realizing that Jim and Simon were waiting for his response, he finally said, "That's probably not the best idea."
"I'm sorry, Jim. But it's just not the best way to go."
Simon looked from one to the other, then grabbed the bill, dropped down two twenties and got to his feet. "Look, I'll clear out, let you two talk. Call me tomorrow, Jim. All right?" He put his hand on Jim's shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
Eyes still on Blair, Jim nodded in agreement.
Blair wanted to say something to Simon, to apologize, to do something, but his throat was too tight and talking would have been impossible. He could do nothing but stare at Jim's hands, both wrapped around the empty coffee mug, fingers going white.
Simon walked out, leaving the two behind.
"Chief? Come on, this is what we've been waiting for, this is the answer."
Somehow Blair managed to croak out, "Let's take this home, all right?"
The walk back had none of the ease or camaraderie of the one to Brannigan's. Blair's heartbeat and respiration were off the charts and yet, once again, his eyes held no hint of his true feelings.
He'd shut down again.
Jim couldn't blame him. He felt like doing the same as a new fear settled in the pit of his stomach, the fear that Blair didn't want to be his partner, didn't want to be a cop. But as they rounded the corner onto Prospect, Jim had another epiphany.
It didn't matter because Jim didn't need to be a cop. Anything Blair wanted to do, they would do. As they rode the elevator up to the third floor, another thought came to him in the proverbial flash: Blair wanted to be a cop.
He'd wanted to be one for a long time, wanted to be Jim's partner. Hadn't he told him so all those years ago?
"Do you think Simon Banks is going to let this partnership continue if there's no legitimate reason for me to be here?
"I don't know. I think the captain's developed kind of an abiding tolerance for you."
"What about you? You sure as hell don't need me if you don't have sentinel abilities."
"What? Were you worried you're not going to complete your dissertation?"
"Come on, Jim. I got enough information for ten dissertations. I could have finished months ago."
"So, you've been stalling?"
"Yeah. You know, I mean, what do you expect? For me to just jump back into my academic life? Come on -- that would be like jumping off a roller coaster and spending the rest of my life on a merry-go-round."
Could he have had more proof of Blair's desires regarding his work with him? Not to mention his love?
Damn, he'd been stupid - and blind and deaf. Some sentinel he was.
Armed with the new truths, he mentally changed tactics.
"Okay, we're home, our jackets are hanging side-by-side, we've got a fire going, we're comfortable, so spill."
Blair was standing in front of the windows, his back to Jim. In a voice that was oddly flat and unemotional, he said, "It's just not a good idea, Jim. That's all."
In spite of the fact that he'd prefer having Blair in his arms, Jim remained where he was, on the couch. He sensed Blair's need for space, and acknowledged that their future hung on the next few minutes - on what he actually said - not did. Words were the weapons he needed to polish off and use.
"Simon and I think it is. We think it's a very good idea."
"Oh, really? Not so long ago, both of you thought things were better before I came along. You were eager to go back to a time before the Sandburg Zone."
Before Jim could respond, Blair went on, his voice steadier. "And I can't really argue that. You guys were right. Things probably were better. You've always been a great detective, man. One who most definitely didn't need me tagging along." He gave a dry bark of a laugh as he added wryly, "Hell, where did I get off following you around for three years anyway, pretending I was a cop?"
"Nice speech, Sandburg, but full of shit."
Jim finally got up, moved to Blair's side. He turned Blair so that he was forced to look at him and said, "Chief, you might have been just an observer, but you were the best cop I'd ever worked with and the best partner I could have asked for. You've been a great friend, pulled me through some really weird stuff. And if that weren't enough, and it certainly would be for anyone else, you're great in bed, have the most beautiful lips I've ever kissed and an ass to die for - what more could a guy want?"
Blair stared up at him, his expression a mixture of disbelief and hope. Slowly the disbelief gave way to humor as a small twinkle appeared in the smoky depths of his eyes. "A great ass, huh?"
"That's important in a partner."
"Critical, Chief, critical."
Blair made a hand motion as if reading off a sign. "Partner needed, must be able to watch back and have a great backside. See Detective Ellison."
"You got it."
"Right." Reality crept back into his tone as he asked, "And when I screw up again, when it gets rough? How much will my backside count then?"
Jim didn't miss the trace of bitterness in Blair's tone and decided to fight it with his own question. "What happens the next time I screw up, the next time I accuse you of betraying me?"
"Jim, man, that's a given. We're dealing with Mr. Insecure here."
Looking shocked, Jim exclaimed in a horrified voice, "I'm insecure? What about you, Chief? If we look insecure up in the dictionary, guess whose name would show up."
"Could you be any more trite?" Shaking his head in wonder, he muttered, "Man, are we a pair or what?"
"The 'or what' part, Chief. But come on, we can learn. We're grown-ups, here, so no, I'm not worried about us. Sure, it's been a rough road, but we've traveled it, we know the dips and potholes, we can avoid them this time around. We can do this, we can trust each other."
"Jim, that should have been happening all along."
"Yeah, well, I take a little more convincing than your average Joe, okay? But I'm there now."
Jim nodded and waited. He'd pled his case - he hoped it was enough. He knew that for Blair, it wasn't just a trust issue - trust he could do. But there were more than a few insecurities in his makeup and his fear now would be that he'd screw up - not Jim. When time continued on and there was still no response from Blair, he asked, "Come on, buddy, talk to me here."
Blair touched the side of Jim's face…then patted it. "Okay, this is how it's going to go down. I'm not leaving again and you're never going to kick me out, understood? Because - it just isn't going to work otherwise. We don't go back, we only go forward. It's a given that I'll screw up, that you'll have fear-based responses, but we have only one choice and that's to take it, to take each other. You don't leave, I don't leave. We've both had our fill of people leaving, so no more, period. Can you handle that?"
"So, I guess we just made a deal."
"We did," Jim agreed.
"That part about the dips and potholes?"
"That was really stupid."
"Hey, I thought it worked," Jim huffed indignantly.
"Like I said - really stupid."
"So I should call Simon?"
"Call Simon - after."
Hearing came back first - the pounding of their heartbeats sounding almost in tandem, the rush of blood through veins, sharp breaths hitching as they each tried to recapture normal breathing. He could hear the glide of skin across the sheets as Blair shifted ever so slightly, and even heard his own sweat as it dripped from his hair onto the pillow.
Smell was next and he inhaled deeply and gratefully. The sweet, pungent odor of their bodies, the heady sweat, like deep, dark, fresh earth just turned over, his own lighter, almost grassy scent mixing with the darker, spicier odor of Blair.
Taste had always been his favorite, especially when combined with his heightened sense of smell. He bent his head and licked at the trace amount of salty sweat that clung to Blair's temple…and shivered in delight. If only caviar tasted this good.
Touch was all hair and residual goosebumps. He tangled his right hand in Blair's curls, gripped almost too hard even as he slid his left arm down, letting his hand slide into that soft spot at Blair's inner thigh, his knuckles brushing silky balls.
His vision cleared last, their room dark with the rich velvet night, their skin pale and almost glowing, Blair's profile capturing him, holding him.
And finally - memory sense. Re-experiencing Blair moving, dipping, his cock buried deep, Jim's trapped between them. Feeling once again Blair's fingers crunching the sheet on either side of Jim's head, hearing his moans of pleasure, smelling his arousal, seeing the lust in his eyes, eyes gone nearly black with passion.
At that moment, Jim's senses were so full of Blair, of their just completed lovemaking, that he knew he would never not have him inside of him. He could almost come again just from the memory of it.
God, it was great being a sentinel.
"You want to call Simon now?" Blair murmured against Jim's shoulder.
Jim dug his fingers into Blair's hair, latched onto his skull, and turned Blair's head in a 'no' motion.
"Okay, that's a definite no. So we call him later."
Jim pushed Blair's head up and down, soliciting a chuckle from Blair. "Right, later. So we go to sleep."
They did just that - in each other's arms, content and sated.
For one frightening moment, Jim believed he was alone, the last two weeks a dream, but then he heard the familiar heartbeat and his own slowed back to normal.
Blair was downstairs.
Jim heard the toilet flush and, a moment later, the faucet was turned on. He focused in on the sounds….
"Is it interesting listening to me wash my hands, Jim?"
Jim grinned and threw back the covers. As his feet hit the floor, he pounded the wood twice.
Blair's laughter was quickly followed by an invitation.
"So, what are you waiting for? Come on down, we both could use a shower - Stinky."
"Stinky, my foot!" Jim yelled down to his partner as he jumped out of bed.
He hurried downstairs, stopping only when Blair stepped out from the hall to say, "Your foot smells ten times better than you do right now."
Jim started running.
Laughing, Blair ducked back into the bathroom and jumped into the shower, which he'd already turned on. By the time Jim burst in, the steam was heady, the water sluicing over Blair as he held his hand out. Jim slid to a stop and, laughing, took the hand and joined his partner.
Blair stepped aside and let the spray hit Jim, watching happily as the larger man brought his hands up and brushed the water from his face and back over his hair, as the steam rose from his body. He felt himself get hard again, but before he could act on it, Jim grabbed the shampoo and said, "Come here."
Blair moved into the circle of Jim's arms and wrapped his around Jim's waist. A moment later, Jim was washing his hair and it felt incredible. It was also about to become a new house rule.
In the month they'd been together, before the dissertation fiasco, Jim had dreamed of washing Blair's hair, but had never gotten around to it. Now, here he was, doing just that and, not that he would ever admit it outside the shower, but he was playing with it too. There was no other word for it and, judging by Blair's patient sighs, he was fully aware of the fact that Jim was making soapy pyramids.
Damn, he loved the way the darkness of Blair's hair mixed with the bubbling whiteness of the shampoo. If he wasn't careful, he could so easily-
"Don't even think about it, Jim."
Shit. How does he always know? Laughing, Jim said, "I loved your hair long, had some pretty potent fantasies that were never realized, but I have to tell you, I really love it short."
"Judging by the way you're playing - yeah, you're obviously a happy hair guy."
Jim let one soapy hand travel down to cup a slippery ass cheek. He squeezed and said, "Hair and butt guy."
Blair clamped his nose and in a nasal tone, said, "Jim Ellison, mild mannered Sentinel of the Great City by day and the all powerful Buttman by night! Join him in his adventures as he plumbs the depths of the male butt-"
Laughing, Jim kissed him quiet.
When they parted, Jim whispered, "Come to think of it, I think it's my turn to do some plumbing."
Blair kissed Jim's chin and said, "I just love equality in a relationship. Go for it, Buttman."
"This shampoo is all natural, right?"
"Jim? Jim, no way - I am not going to be fucked by Buttman with some dorky herbal essence shampoo. No way!"
Jim slipped a sudsy finger in between Blair's ass cheeks and nudged.
"Jim? Jim, this is so not fair. It's not… Oh, shit, you are. Well, at least it smells good."
They sat in the corner of the shower, warm water showering softly down on them. Blair was resting against Jim, Jim's legs wrapped around him.
"We really need to call Simon now," Blair murmured.
Neither of them moved.
"Are you sure about this, Chief?"
"Jim, go. It's better this way. Ease everyone into the idea of my return. Three days back in the saddle for you and then we start at the Academy on Thursday as planned."
"But I wanted to go back with you by my side."
Blair handed him a brown paper bag and smiled. "Ham on rye, two dill pickles, a pear and four Oreo cookies. And you know dam damn well that I'm not an observer anymore and, until I pass firearms, you need to be damn careful."
Taking the sack, Jim groaned. "Blair Sandburg and a gun? You bet I'd better be careful. And did you say ham on rye?" At Blair's nod, he grinned. "Aw, gee, thanks, Pops."
"Be good and don't run during recess."
Blair pulled Jim down and bussed him a solid one.
As Jim walked out, headed for his first day back at the station in almost a month, he decided that being kissed by 'Pops' could have some serious psychological repercussions.
Blair spent the day unpacking, grateful that he and Jim had been too busy since the arrival of his stuff for him to unpack in Jim's presence. He set up the exercise equipment, got his computer and fax hooked up and, as he took out the box that contained his current manuscript, wondered why he hadn't told Jim about John Sanderson or Jake Sands.
John Sanderson was no biggie - Jim understood Blair's need to not be Blair, but Jake Sands was kind of big, his bank account even larger.
Not that Blair had really lied, he hadn't. He'd been honest when he'd said he worked from home. Hell, not even an obfuscation - just not all of the truth. He glanced at the manuscript in his hand and thought back to Benton's Books. It had been so weird seeing his book so prominently displayed. Hell, both books. He'd been bowled over, actually.
He set the manuscript down, sat back at the desk, powered up his desktop and moved into his Cat file, clicked on Cat 3, and watched as his latest chapter popped up. He still didn't have a title, damn it. For several moments, he stared at the words, words written how long ago now? He'd been afraid that he might not be able to move back into Joe Elliot's world, but as he read, he grinned…and then started typing.
Joe Elliot was alive and kicking.
Blair typed fast, the words flowing as they'd never flowed before because Joe was finally fully dimensional, his tongue sharper and wittier. All Joe Elliot needed now was a sidekick.
An hour later he stopped to read back what he'd typed, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"And I'm supposed to trust you, why?"
"Why not? What, you think I'm the murderer? Me? Mr. Hippie Wannabe?"
Joe gave the kid before him his best armor-piercing gaze. The kid didn't even blink.
//"Oh, yeah, this guy's got your number, Elliot."//
"Okay, kid, just promise me one thing: if you're the killer, catch me on my blindside, okay?"
Cheekily, the kid asked, "You got one, Elliot?"
Joe turned around, jerking his thumb to indicate the kid should follow. Oh, yeah, he had a blindside, namely smart-mouthed, long-haired twenty-something kids. And let's not forget the hippie wannabe part. And what did he say his IQ was again? Probably a number Joe would need all his fingers and toes to attain, along with a bus load of other toes and fingers, too.
Not that Joe Elliot was stupid or anything. No sir. He had a college education, thank you very much. He glanced behind him, just to make sure the kid was still following and, satisfied, went back to his jumbled thoughts.
Yeah, he was smart - book smart and street smart, and while this kid had the book smart down pat, he woefully behind on the street smart part. Okay, he had some street smarts, but the streets he'd been traveling were at considerable odds with Joe's. The kid walked down well-lit, safe main streets versus Joe's back alleys. Could he - hell, should he - take this fresh-faced kid there?
"Yeah, Joe, you should. You need someone to watch your back, someone you can trust."
Elliot whirled on him. "What, now you're fucking psychic?"
The kid just shrugged - that stupid, endearing shrug that Joe just knew he'd come to love someday - just not today. "Listen, buddy, I've never needed anyone, and certainly no one like you."
The kid hiked his book bag back up his shoulder and adjusted his long coat. With his own piercing gaze fixed on Elliot, he said, "Sure you do, Joe. You need lots of people. You need Lieutenant Simmons and you need The Bitch, you need Wally, and guess what? You need me. So shut up and let's go close this guy down. I have finals at the end of the week, man, and I've got to study."
Joe gazed down into the excited, animated face. "Why do I have this sudden urge to quote from Casablanca?"
"Hey, cool, man. But I am so not Claude Rains."
Joe really hoped this kid had parents somewhere. He wasn't going to babysit
Grinning, Blair went back to the title page and typed in: "Cat & Dog"
"Wait, are you saying that…is what you're saying that…Blair…that Sandburg is back?"
"Yeah, Joel, he's back."
Rafe leaned forward, obviously excited at the news, but still disbelieving. "Back as in back, back?"
Jim was surrounded. Megan was behind him, Joel in front of him, Rafe and Henri had rolled their chairs to the side of Jim's desk, Rhonda was perched on the edge, Winters was next to her, and Carlton was on the other side.
Grinning like a loon, Jim answered, "Yeah, back. As in back."
Megan put her hand on his shoulder and asked, "As in back here?"
Jim's eyes went from one detective to another and, seeing exactly what he'd hoped to see: acceptance, said, "Yeah, eventually. Simon's been given permission to sign off based on years served, so to speak, after I instruct him in firearms and self-defense. When we're done, he'll be my official partner."
Henri stood up, reached across the space between them, and patted Jim on the top of his head. "Oh, man, Hairboy, self-defense and guns? Better you than me, my man. If you survive - you'll deserve a medal."
Everyone laughed as Rafe high-fived his partner. At that moment, Simon opened his office door and glared. Detectives moved quickly back to their own desks, and Simon, muttering, "I've still got it," moved back into his office, but not before giving Jim a thumbs up.
Paperwork. Never-ending paperwork. Firearms and self-defense with Blair he could handle, but the paperwork was going to kill him. Was it lunch time yet? Jim glanced up and was relieved to see the hands straight up. Thank you, God.
He opened his drawer, pulled out the brown bag, stood and stepped into the lounge. Megan was already there, a book propped up by her purse. She was spooning tomato soup into her mouth as her gaze flew over the pages.
Jim pulled a chair out, decided on a soft drink, walked to the machine, deposited two quarters and a dime, hit the button for Mountain Dew and, after it rattled its way down, grabbed it and took his seat. Megan never moved.
He opened the bag, took out the lunch Blair had prepared for him, and spread it out. When he unwrapped the sandwich, he nearly choked.
Blair had trimmed the crusts and cut the sandwich into neat, precise fourths.
The man was dead meat.
The only saving grace was the Connor was so deeply involved in the book, she hadn't noticed Blair's little prank.
Jim cocked his head. Speaking of books…what on earth could be so great about the one she was reading that she'd forego the joy of snarking at him? He craned his neck in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the cover and title, but her purse prevented even a sentinel from seeing it. Never the shy one, he simply reached over and pushed at the cover a bit.
"Hey, watch it!"
"Sorry, Connor. Just trying to see what has you so enthralled."
A bit huffily, she lifted the book to reveal a very eye-catching bit of cover art. There was a dark street with one badly working street lamp. To the right of the lamp, he could just make out the shadow of a cat, defined by its gleaming yellow cat eyes. Finally, above the animal, half of a shadowy face could be seen, one startling blue eye, the primary focus.
"'Track of the Cat', first in the series," Megan said.
"Yeah, a mystery. Main character is a private eye named Joe Elliot. A real smartass, but loveable." She tapped the book and added, "Number one on the New York Bestseller list for weeks, still number nine or something. The sequel, 'Lair of the Cat', debuted at number one."
Jim reached for it as he asked, "May I?"
Reluctantly, she handed it over. He glanced down at the name in the bottom corner - Jake Sands - and then flipped it over in order to see what the author looked like. He was disappointed to find no picture, no information at all.
Seeing his confusion, Megan said, "No one knows what he looks like and nope, no photo on book two either. Joel's betting the author is some police bigwig."
As Jim leafed through the pages, he asked, "Joel? He's read it?"
"Hell, Ellison, everyone's read it. It's damn good."
For some reason, the book looked familiar…oh, yeah, Benton's Books. This, along with the second one, had been prominently displayed in the front window. He'd only noticed because he looked in through the window first in order to spot Blair.
"Looks pretty good." He glanced at the cover again - deciding that something seemed familiar….
"You know, Jim, looking at you and at the cover…it's uncanny. I mean, I know the man on the cover isn't you, but damn, seeing you with the book…."
Okay, the eye was pale blue…but….
His world suddenly made like a roller coaster as, once again, he saw Blair, as he'd seen at Benton's Books, through the window…the book…cat eyes glaring…Blair's face wavering….
The roller coaster came to a jerking halt.
Heart racing, Jim flipped to the front page of the book, to the copyright date….
"Dear God," he muttered when he found it.
A moment later, book in hand, he was up, chair tipping over backwards as he ran out and toward the elevator.
Frowning, Megan went after him.
In the hallway, she caught up just as he stepped into the elevator.
"Hey, my book?" she managed to get out - just as the elevator closed. "Well, damn."
She stared at the closed doors - cocked her head - and whispered, "Oh, my God."
Jim tossed the book over to the passenger seat, jumped in, started the engine and roared out from the underground garage. Tires squealed as he made an abrupt turn onto Forest.
Minutes later, he was pulling up in front of his building. He grabbed the book, jumped out and ran into the lobby. Ignoring the elevator, he took the steps two and three at a time. By the time he reached the loft, he was breathing hard and sweating.
Jim fumbled with the lock and then almost fell in when it gave. As he straightened, he was immediately aware that the only sound was the gentle - and quick - tapping of computer keys. He walked to the open French doors and peered inside.
An expensive and elaborate computer now sat on Blair's old desk, a fax machine parked next to it.
A fax machine. Blair had a fax machine.
Piled on top of it sat several large FedEx envelopes and plain brown manila envelopes.
Surprised by Jim's voice, Blair stopped typing and turned his head to look at Jim, who stood in the doorway, breathing harsh, a hardcover book in his hand.
"You're him, aren't you?" Jim asked. "You're Jake Sands."
Blair's hands dropped to his lap. Wow, their Shangri-la hadn't lasted long, but they had a deal and he was going to hold Jim to it.
He took a deep, courage-instilling breath, and said, "Now Jim, remember our deal. It's a given that we'd screw up, remember? I don't leave, you don't leave. I know I should have told you, but I didn't lie, not really. I was going to tell you, but you know, you never really asked what I did, and well, it was so easy not to say anything, and honestly, writing was the only thing that kept me going. I lived in that world, needed it, and...."
He paused mid-sentence and asked, "Hey, how did you figure it out, anyway?"
Jim held up the book. "This is me, isn't it? This is Connor's copy. She was reading it in the lounge. I just kind of…it kind of slid together in my mind." At the look of disbelief on Blair's face, he said sarcastically, "Hell, I'm a detective, remember?"
"Ah, yes, that deductive reasoning of yours."
"You're Jake Sands," Jim said again, in the same awestruck voice.
"We've established that."
"You're Jake Sands."
"Yes, Jim, I am. And I'm - John Sanderson too."
"Who's he?" He immediately held up a hand. "No, let me guess; John Sanderson's a screenplay writer, right? No, wait, he's a famous artist."
Blair took comfort in the fact that Jim was snarky and sarcastic as opposed to angry as he said patiently, "John Sanderson is the name I took when I left Cascade. Robert got me a new driver's license and social security card so I could-"
Blair looked down at his hands. "Yeah."
"You're Jake Sands."
"Aw, Jim, come on, get over it, already."
"You're writing another book now, aren't you?"
"Well, you know how it is. I sort of…kind of… I have a contract, Jim. A five-book contract."
"A five… Dear God," Jim said incredulously.
"You're famous, Chief."
"No, Jake Sands is."
"So no one knows who he really is?"
"Well, Lori, of course. She set everything up, made it all possible when my book was accepted. But other than her…no, no one knows and they never will."
Jim's eyes softened as he said, "They should."
Jim moved to Blair's side and, as Blair glanced up, Jim cupped the back of Blair's head and kissed him, tonsil-deep and commitment thorough.
When he was done, he asked with a grin, "So I'm Joe Elliot?"
"Yeah," Blair answered, his breath still catching, eyes glazing over.
"And you? Are you in them?"
Giving himself a little shake, and trying not to look smug, he said, "Just wrote me in. Joe's inherited a sidekick."
"Poor Joe," Jim murmured between nibbles.
"Lunch hour," he said absently. "Oh, hey, you do have both books here, right? This one belongs to Connor."
"Yeah, I've got them…somewhere."
Jim sighed happily and went back to nibbling.
"So, what, I'm lunch? After all the trouble I went to-"
Jim kissed him silent, something Blair was really beginning to enjoy.
They were on the floor, shoulder to shoulder, backs against the bed.
"How much of your lunch hour is left?"
"Probably should head out."
"Made it here in six - have six minutes left. Legs won't work right now."
"Your fault, Chief."
Blair just grinned.
"Hey, just how good is that contract?"
"Oh, that. Well, it's…pretty good."
"Blair, how good?"
"Uhm...is this going to bother you? Mess with your male sense of superiority? Futz with your macho side, or something?"
"I don't know, you haven't told me yet."
"Well, how good would it have to be in order for it to make you question your maleness?"
"I might have a slight macho, male chauvinist pig kind of problem if you were, say, a millionaire."
"Oh, okay, then. We're safe - for a while, anyway."
"For a while?" Jim squeaked.
"Well, come on, it's a five-book deal. Oh, and I got this fax today, from Lori, and it appears that Castle Rock wants to buy the movie rights to 'Track of the Cat' and my agent-"
"Wait, you have an agent?"
"Well, yeah, of course. You can't just do this without one, you know. Anyway, she says it's a good deal and wanted to know if she should push for final script control but I don't know, what do you think?"
Jim shook his head helplessly. Book deals, movie deals, déjà vu.
"Jim, man, none of it matters because I'm where I want to be. The only place I want to be. With you, on the streets, working our city-"
"Gathering material for your next book-"
Blair grinned. "Gathering material for my next book."
"So you're back to studying me?"
"Hey, yeah! Cool! But I've got to study me too. I'm a sidekick now."
"Am I going to like this Joe Elliot character?"
Blair turned around in Jim's arms and, lips brushing over Jim's, he said, "You're going to love him, man, just like I do - just like the whole world."
He stared at his partner, listened to his words - and got it. The books had not only been the way Blair had survived, they'd also served to make Jim known. Not the sentinel Jim, but the detective, the man.
The man he'd had to deny at the press conference.
He captured Blair's face between his two hands and said, "Damn, I love you."
Jim glanced over at his partner who was wedged into the corner of his seat, staring out the window. "Relax, they're all dying to see you, Chief."
"So you said."
They'd been training for days, working hard, and Jim had decided, after fielding the constant questions from the squad, that it was time for Blair to join him at the station. He'd thought Blair felt the same way, but apparently Blair wasn't as comfortable as he'd believed.
"You going to make it through this?"
"Hey, I handled weapons training, didn't I? I guess I can handle seeing the gang again."
"You did great during training, by the way. I was impressed."
"I never said I didn't know how to shoot, you know."
"I could use some meditation right now."
Jim started to hum.
Blair punched him in the arm.
Blair grabbed Jim and said, "No, wait."
"Blair, those are your friends up there. It's okay."
"Wrong, technically, they're yours."
They were in the underground garage and approaching the elevators. Apparently, in spite of their discussion in the truck, Blair still didn't get it, so Jim stepped in front of him and gripped the younger man's forearm. "Chief, those men and women are your friends too. You have no idea what they - what we all - went through when you disappeared. Joel was a walking zombie, Connor had no one to talk to, Henri didn't crack wise for weeks and Rafe felt miserable because he'd never had the chance to apologize. Now, do I really need to say more? Do I need to tell you about Rhonda, Pete, or Wes? Or how about Simon?"
Stunned, Blair looked over Jim's shoulder at the elevator and mumbled, "I…I…didn't-"
"No, you didn't."
Blair watched the elevator count up the floors and groaned inwardly. Didn't it just figure that this one time, the damn thing wouldn't stop even once? It blinked seven, gave that little lurch he'd forgotten about and then, with no fanfare, no rumbling drums, the doors slid open just as they had for years. And there, in front of them, the double doors leading into Major Crime.
Blair was just behind Jim and as they approached the doors, he could see his reflection in the glass. Short, dark hair, blue shirt, black leather jacket, jeans…eyes a little wide, probably in horror, and one very pale face.
He really shouldn't be this scared, but he was. And while Jim's words had gone some distance in helping him believe that the men and women beyond those doors really wanted to see him - it had been so damn long.
He glanced sideways, at Jim, and almost smiled. Jim looked like the Cock of the Walk as he strode through the doors. He walked in a very casual, nonchalant manner to his desk, slipped out of his jacket, hung it up, then pulled out his chair and sat down. Blair didn't miss the smirk that teased his lips. Jim gave a slight nod toward the new desk that now sat kitty-corner to his own, indicating that Blair should sit down. Feeling somewhat uncomfortable at the idea of sitting at someone else's desk, he nevertheless realized there was no other choice.
When nothing happened, when no one said anything, Blair started to relax a bit and even gazed with some interest around the room, looking for changes and, yes, admittedly, hungry to see the faces of the people he'd come to consider family.
Henri and Megan were both on the phone, but he noticed that Megan gave Jim a small wave. Rafe wasn't at his desk, nor was Joel, which saddened Blair. He'd really been looking forward to seeing Joel. He noted with a small grin that Megan had changed her hairstyle. Where it had been long and curly, it was now medium length and straight. He suspected she now ironed it, or whatever women had to do to straighten their hair these days.
Two men Blair didn't recognize sat at the back desks and, looking at them, Blair felt that stirring of nervousness again. It was one thing to see his old friends, to be accepted by them, but new detectives? He glanced over at Simon's office, noted that the blinds were drawn so he was either gone or in a meeting, which was also disappointing.
Gee, was he having fun yet?
Just then, Jim reached for a file in his in-box, opened it and started reading. Blair didn't miss the smirk that was still in place and decided right then and there to kill him later.
Suddenly Blair felt like lifting his feet and spinning around in the chair. Woo-hoo. He almost did, but at that moment, Henri put the phone down the phone, rolled his eyes and spotted Jim. He grinned - a grin that Blair realized he'd missed - before getting up and sauntering over in that hip-hop John Wayne walk of his.
"Ellison, you finish with Hairboy yet?"
"Yep, all finished. He actually kicked my butt today."
Blair frowned and thought, "Hello? Hairboy's right here."
"Have you been in Simon's office lately? He has the kid's latest target sheet tacked up on his wall."
"No way, man. And I thought you were-"
"Hey, Jimbo, I thought you said you would bring Sandy in today? What happened?" Megan asked as she walked up.
Jim smiled, shrugged, turned to Blair and said, "Gee, I don't know. Why don't we ask him?" Eyes twinkling, he added, "Chief?"
Both detectives followed Jim's gaze and immediately gasped in surprised delight, with Megan the first to recover.
"Sandy?" she asked in disbelief. She hurried over and immediately reached out to touch his hair. "My God, you cut it, you actually cut it."
Realizing at that moment that no one had recognized him, Blair felt his face heating up as he said, "Uhm, yeah, yeah, I did."
Henri, struck dumb, was just reaching out to touch the short curls when Joel burst in. Spotting Jim, he smiled broadly. "Hey, you're here." He looked around the room and frowned. "I thought you'd be bringing Blair in today?"
Laughing, Megan walked up to him, reached into his inside coat pocket and pulled out a pair of glasses. "Here, these might help." She slipped them on his nose, stepped behind him and then pushed him gently toward Blair. "See Joel," she intoned. "See Joel spot Sandy. See Joel grin."
Once again Blair had to watch someone's eyes bug out as their mouth dropped open in shock. This time he compulsively raised his hand to his hair, nervously tucking some behind his ear. A moment later he found himself engulfed in Joel's embrace, his face shoved against rough tweed as Joel rumbled his name.
That was all it took for Henri to do the same and then Megan. He was hugged, kissed and hair tousled, spiked and stroked.
Who knew everyone had such a hair fetish? Not him.
Eventually Rafe walked in with Simon and Rhonda and everyone had to cover their ears when she caught sight of Blair. She squeaked so loudly that Blair immediately looked at his partner to make sure he was all right. He got a thumbs up gesture for his worries. Rafe looked embarrassed, but that didn't stop him from touching Blair's hair after Rhonda hugged the stuffing out of him. And during it all, Simon and Jim just grinned and enjoyed the show.
In thirty years, Blair was fairly certain that he'd never been hugged this much or this hard - and damn, Joel was actually crying.
Emotions that he'd walled up and buried deep, even in the last days, now gushed up and out, playing over his face, lighting his eyes and sending him bouncing. His grin grew like a weed, spread, reached out and tugged everyone in close.
He was back, he was home, and he was wanted.
Blair dropped down onto the couch and ran the small towel over his face. He was hot and sweaty from his workout and, while he wasn't done by any means, he'd found that his nerves hadn't been assuaged by the strenuous exercise. All he wanted to do was check on Jim who was now reading "Lair of the Cat" having just finished "Track of the Cat."
While pumping iron (a 'maintain your sanity' task that was now a required 'kick Jim's butt' task for his badge), he'd heard the occasional bark of laughter and hoped that was a good sign, that Jim was laughing in all the right places.
Now he watched Jim and realized with a start that the man was completely unaware of his presence. Now that was a good sign. Or not.
He tried to check the number of pages Jim had to go…and decided there was time for a shower. He got up and, with an amazed shake of his head at Jim's immersion in the book, walked into the bathroom. He turned on the water, stripped and climbed in. Not as much fun as a shared shower, but hey, sometimes life was tough and a man just had to shower alone. He grinned. Two years of showering alone and now - hell, all he had to do was whisper and Jim would be there in an instant. His grin multiplied.
Blair soaped up, then down, washed his hair, rinsed and as he stepped back under the spray, he found himself wondering about hair. He still couldn't get over the fact that no one had recognized him last week. Not one single detective. He'd sat at a strange desk, one that Simon later told him was his, supposedly a complete stranger, and not one nod, not one look, and okay, that was, well - weird.
Okay, he'd come in with Jim, but that alone should have triggered something, right? As he turned his back on the steamy water and let it sluice over tense and tired shoulder muscles, Blair closed his eyes. Was it some kind of 'under the radar' thing?
His anthropological mind took the Rubik's cube of a puzzle and twisted it. Maybe a kind of subconscious, "Oh, hey, that's Sandburg but not" thing? He'd spent years observing human behavior - ancient and modern - but what happened at the station fell under the category of observing how people observed him, which was another kettle of fish. Obviously, their brains registered the sight of Jim with a short guy glued to his side and just naturally accepted it. He chuckled at that thought.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
Old Don could go anywhere as long as the short guy was there. Or should that be, the short guy could go anywhere - as long as good old Don was there? Actually, he realized with a start - it was both.
He turned back to face the spray of water and let it cascade over his head. He was just reaching for the faucet when a cold breeze blew over his heated skin and a shadow darkened the plastic shower curtain. A moment later, Jim was behind him, arms were wrapped around his waist.
Blair leaned back into the broad chest and said, "Ming?"
"Who else? That fool Ellison is sound asleep and I can now have my evil way with you."
Laughing, Jim whipped him around and, with mock horror, asked, "Did you actually say la-de-da?"
"To be accurate, no. I said, la-de-da."
"Oh, well then, that's okay. I would have been seriously worried about your fragile masculinity if you'd said, la-de-da."
"Yes, well, the emphasis on the 'la' denotes a man with a strong masculine bent but on a first name basis with his feminine side and has a big dick. The emphasis on 'de' denotes a man with a strong masculine bent who is heavy into denial of anyone having a feminine side, probably because of his woefully small dick."
"And if the emphasis were to be placed on the 'da'?"
"That would be Melissa Etheridge."
"A well-balanced female who knows exactly what she wants, and a damn fine singer to boot."
"Now that denotes a man who is uncertain about his masculinity, wears a flowered apron because he thinks it's cute, looks to his short, hairy partner for guidance, loves Melissa Etheridge, and has a so-so dick."
"Did you know that 'so-so' is Chopek for, 'Don't come near me with that thing, I won't be able to walk for a week'?"
"Well, there's only way to handle that problem," Blair said as he moved down Jim's body, hands gliding over slippery hips and down the lean, muscular legs until he was on his knees before Jim.
Looking at the full erection, he cocked his head, one eyebrow rising and said in awe, "well, la-de-da and come to Papa."
Dry, relaxed, and in sweats, the two men lay on the couch, Blair between Jim's legs and half wedged against the back. Jim's fingers were playing with still damp curls as Blair sighed contentedly.
"Don't you want to know?"
"Know what?" Blair asked sleepily.
"How I liked the books?"
"Hey, Jim, how did you like the books?"
Jim pinched one firm ass cheek and, after a swift punch in the arm delivered by his indignant partner, said simply, "Thank you."
Blair grinned and nestled in. "So you liked them."
He was just drifting off, his body in that warm, safe cradle of cozy when Jim's voice tickled his ear. "What happens in the other three?"
Blair cracked open one eye and stared at Jim's chin. Nice chin.
It was late, they were in bed, the moon was hiding behind a cloud that threatened rain, and tomorrow - he was going to be sworn in by Simon. So why, at…he glanced blearily at the clock…two in the morning, would Jim want to know about the other books?
"Dare I ask why you would need to know that now?"
"I want to know what happens to them, that's why, you goof."
"Okay, well, in number three, which, as you know, introduces a devilishly handsome young man by the name of Gary-"
"Right, my quirky sidekick."
"Exactly. So, in book three, the primary focus will be the burgeoning relationship between them. There will be heinous crimes committed, all with the aim of humiliating the police, who, by the end, will find themselves indebted to the two men. Book four will be called 'Shadow of the Cat' and book five is 'Blood of the Cat.' And you, my friend, will just have to wait with everyone else to read them."
Jim bit Blair's nose and whispered, "But I have an in with the author - special privileges, you know."
"An in? You have an in?"
One hand crept under the blanket to lovingly smooth over Sandburg's warm, bare ass. "Oh, yeah, I've got a great in."
Jim stood in front of the mirror and fiddled with his shirt. He ran a hand over the back of his hair and sighed. Big day and he looked like shit. Five hours sleep will do that to a man.
Blair's swearing in and no fanfare as requested. A quiet ceremony taking place behind cin Simon's office, behind closed doors, with only Jim and Joel present to witness Blair's repeating of the oath. The badge and gun would be presented to him by Simon…and then, finally, Blair would be official, would be Jim's honest-to-God partner.
He smiled as he remembered catching a naked Blair in the bathroom earlier, arms outstretched, hands gripping the squeeze bottle of Soft Soap, legs spread wide as he'd said, with an appropriately fierce sneer, "Freeze, sucker, Cascade PD!"
Jim had immediately held up his hands and begged, "Don't shoot, I'm unarmed!"
Blair had whirled around, the bottle of Soft Soap flying up as Blair's face went a delightful shade of red. Actually, his face hadn't been the only thing that had gone red. But he'd recovered quickly, chuckled, then pointed down to Jim's groin and said in a perfect imitation of a Brooklyn cop, "Unarmed? I so don't think so. Up against the wall and spread 'em or I'll be forced to get tough."
Grinning, Jim fiddled with the tie a bit more before finally heading downstairs to find Blair already at the table, a cup of coffee and a pile of toast in front of him, his suit jacket tossed casually over the back of his chair.
"How you doing?" Jim asked as he sat down next to him.
Blair glanced up and favored him with a small Cheshire grin. "I'm fine, Jim. Stop worrying." He pushed the toast forward. "Have a piece, sit down and shut up."
One eyebrow shot up, but Jim found himself obeying. They sipped hot coffee, munched companionably on the toast and grinned at each other.
They'd come a long way in a few.
Word had been spread that Blair didn't want anything done for his swearing in ceremony. No celebrations, no party, just the oath and then work. But Megan had a different idea about welcoming their newest detective and made sure the gang of Major Crime was behind her all the way. When Jim and Blair arrived, the detectives managed to look busy, bustling about, smiling, grinning, giving Blair quiet thumbs up, a few pats on the back, but basically looking like business as usual. There was no hint of Megan's plan, nothing to clue Blair in that things weren't going to go exactly as planned.
Simon was standing in his doorway, a huge smile plastered on his face as Jim and Blair walked in. "Well, gentlemen, you ready?"
Jim nodded and, with his hand on Blair's back, they both entered Simon's office, Simon shutting the door behind them.
Eight detectives immediately scrambled to the closed door to listen.
Jim stood at Blair's left shoulder, Joel at his right, Simon in front of the younger man. Blair's right hand was raised and his voice, low but strong, repeated the oath.
"I, Blair Jacob Sandburg, do hereby swear, as an officer of the court, to uphold the laws of this city, to serve and protect the citizens of Cascade, and to faithfully discharge my duties with honor and courage."
Simon turned and picked something up from his desk before turning back to face his newest detective. "It is with great honor and respect, Blair, that I present you with your badge. You are now, officially, Detective Blair Sandburg. Welcome aboard, Detective."
He handed the badge to Blair, who opened it carefully, almost reverently, to see the Cascade Police Crest, the royal blue center and his badge number - 4112
He was Detective Sandburg - #4112
Blair glanced back up at Simon and his brow creased as he caught the expression on the Captain's face. Pride mixed with affection. Behind the lenses that did so much to hide Simon Banks' feelings, Blair also spotted the sheen of moisture in the strangely kind brown eyes that stared back at him. The lump in his throat that had been threatening to suffocate him, grew. With some difficulty - he swallowed. "Thank you, Captain."
It was all he could say - it was enough.
"Don't forget this."
Simon handed him his holstered gun and, as the leather slid into his hand, he felt a strange tingle in his palm. A badge and a gun. An anthropologist of the world and he now stood in Simon Banks' office, holding a gun and a badge, Jim by his side.
In a haze, he realized that Simon was holding out his hand and, clumsily, Blair transferred the gun and badge into his other hand so that he could accept the handshake. Then his hand was sliding away and he found himself engulfed in another bear hug by Joel.
When Taggart finally released him, Blair faced Jim. "Hey."
"Yeah," Jim said, dazzling Blair with his smile.
The detectives crowded around the door suddenly scrambled away to their desks. Drawers were raided and knowing looks exchanged with Megan, who nodded.
Simon's door opened and all four men came out. Jim and Joel immediately stepped aside so that Blair could precede them, both men trying hard to hide their smiles. As Blair stepped forward, his hand already going to the tie, finger pulling it away from his neck, he happened to glance up to find every single detective holding a book in front of their faces, each detective completely absorbed in their reading.
"Track of the Cat".
Eyes going into the awake version of REM, Blair turned back to Jim and found him, Joel and Simon with copies of "Lair of the Cat" held up in front of their faces.
"Aw, man," he whined.
From behind him, Megan quipped, "You know, guys, the only thing wrong with Joe Elliot is that he doesn't have a partner. He really needs one, you know?"
Rafe put his book down and nodded. "I couldn't agree with you more, Connor. The man needs a permanent and official partner."
Brown waved his copy in the air and said, "I can't help but wonder who's going to play the quirky but lovable street musician, RJ. Personally, I see Chris Rock in the role."
"What about Lieutenant Simmons' partner, Ticker? I'm thinking…Denzel," Joel said thoughtfully.
Jim looked at Simon and, rubbing his chin, asked, "What about Simmons, Simon? Who do you see playing the gruff, loud, cigar-smoking Lieutenant?"
Simon closed the book and said, "You left out lovable, Jim. Gruff, loud and lovable, cigar-smoking Simmons, and isn't it obvious? Samuel L. Jackson, naturally. Sam's the man."
Jim held up his hand and the two men high-fived as Jim said, "Oh, yeah."
"Anyone want to know who's going to play Joe?" Blair asked, his own eyes now gleaming with humor.
Everyone in the room yelled at the same time, "Who?"
With a grin to beat the band, Blair waited for the count of ten before saying, "Joe Pesci."
That did it. The books were dropped, chairs were scraped back and Blair was surrounded by detectives, all congratulating him, exchanging hugs, handshakes and tears.
Four weeks later
"So when's she coming?"
"This is good, Chief. You and Naomi need the time to talk. But I'm telling you now - no sage."
"Don't worry, Jim, she knows."
The two men sat in the truck, inconspicuously parked around the corner from a pool hall. They were running a stakeout on two young men suspected of dealing at the local junior high school, a school attended by the Mayor's daughter, which explained why Major Crime was involved.
"Heads up, Chief, Carter's coming out."
"What about Meyer?"
"He's still inside. Let Rafe know that he and Brown need to remain."
Jim started the truck as Blair spoke into the small mike. A moment later, Jim pulled out into traffic as on foot, Carter headed north on Fairview.
They followed him as only a sentinel could, until the dealer stopped on the corner of Fairview and Raitt and entered a 'mom and pop' store frequented by young teens. Jim pulled in and parked several cars down from the entrance. The two men watched for several minutes before Carter came out and lounged against the wall. It took another twenty minutes before two teens approached their suspect.
"This is it, let's go, Chief."
They climbed out and started for the three men.
Carter was taking money and handing over small white packages as he glanced up, his beer-bleary green eyes fastening on Jim. Intuition born on the streets kicked in and he immediately pushed the two kids away and took off.
"Shit, man," Blair muttered even as they both took off after the guy.
Jim yelled into his mike for backup and, gun out, ran hard, Blair right next to him. Carter was clearly under the influence himself, but he still managed to give them a run for their money.
He rounded the corner of Raitt and Sullivan, dodging pedestrians, knocking people over, darting in and around bicycles, mail boxes and trash cans. Blair moved slightly ahead of Jim when Carter turned onto a dead end street. At the end of the block a wall separated the street from the junk yard on the other side.
Carter jumped at the wall, his hand clamping down on the top and he started to haul himself up. He pulled his legs over, sat on the top, feet dangling, and made the mistake of looking back to see how close his pursuers were. What he found was Blair running full tilt toward the wall. Energized, Carter disappeared over the side just as Blair hit the wall.
Panting, Blair leaned back against the wall as Jim bounded up, out of breath and sweating. Jerking a thumb up, Blair said somewhat breathlessly, "He went over."
Jim rolled his eyes and said, "Of course he did. So why aren't you?"
"What, you can't hear the dogs?"
"So? You going over now or waiting for Hanukkah?"
"After you, fearless leader."
With a snort, Jim gave a good jump, his hand connecting with the top. He started to pull himself up, closely followed by Blair. At one point, Jim's foot slipped, causing him to slide a bit and his butt hit Blair's head. "Sandburg, this is no time to cop a feel. You're supposed to watch my back - not my backside."
"Hey, you're the one who said a good backside was crucial to being a good partner. Well, I'm just following Buttman, a man with," he pulled himself up alongside Jim on the top of the wall, "a really great butt, as he makes his appointed rounds and saves the city from the evildoers of the world."
"Just jump, Sandburg."
"Jim, I repeat - there are dogs. Vicious, growling, hungry dogs."
"Sandburg - jump."
"Fine. On the count of three, we go together."
"Oh, all right, already. But you're going down in my book as an official wuss." He lifted his hand and started counting off, " One - two - three-"
And discovered that they needn't have worried about the dogs - they were busy with Carter.
The uniforms were putting Carter in the back of the squad car as the team of Ellison and Sandburg cleaned themselves up. It seemed that when they jumped - they'd picked the dogs favorite dumping ground.
As the car turned out of the junkyard and headed back to the station, Jim turned to Blair and, wrinkling his nose, said, "Buttman not happy. Buttman's partner stinks."
"Hey, I've got news for you: Buttman stinks."
Picking some dirt and mud off of Sandburg's shoulder, Jim asked, smiling, "So how do you like being a detective, Chief?"
Lifting his dirty face to Jim's, sparkling blue eyes crinkled with laughter, he said, "I love it, Buttman."
"So let's go get cleaned up, Penis Breath, partner to Buttman."
"God, I feel so grown up."