December 19, Cascade, WA, USA
It was 3 a.m. when Jim turned the key and opened the door to his home. Ordinarily, he would have gone to the precinct after coming off an undercover assignment. But in this case, it was a joint operation with the FBI and they insisted on taking the lead--and the credit. He was more than happy to give a brief report with a promise to fill in the details after getting some sleep.
Not hearing any noises, even the faint ones Blair made when he was sleeping, Jim did a cursory scan of the loft, looking for his roommate. He checked Blair's room and was surprised to find him absent, since his car was parked in front of their building. There was no evidence of violence, but there were clothes strewn all over his bed. Jim checked the closet and found a valise was missing.
As he walked out of the room, he saw a note taped to the refrigerator. Blair's normally neat writing was scribbled and shaky. It read:
Naomi's had a serious accident outside of Swindon in England. I've gone to be with her to make medical decisions. You can reach me through her friend Delia. I'm listing her home and cell phones. I've told Simon everything I know.
Sorry this isn't much of a welcome home, partner. I hope the job went well.
Jim checked the lock box and found Blair's service revolver there. His backpack and computer were gone. Jim looked at his watch and debated calling Simon. His boss might be up. If not, he hoped he could beg forgiveness, because he couldn't wait. He dialed Simon's cell phone.
"Banks," came a voice rough with sleep. Shit.
"Simon, it's Jim. Sorry to wake you."
"Jim, are you okay? Are you hurt?"
"No, I'm fine. The case broke about two hours ago."
"Do you need me to come down to HQ?"
"No, the Fibbies are taking credit for the whole thing, so I just came home."
There was a pause. "Oh, so you've seen Blair's note?"
"Yeah. I'm sorry, that's why I couldn't wait. What happened?"
"Naomi was visiting friends in England. She had an accident, Blair didn't say how it happened. Apparently, she hit her head and went into a coma. He's her medical power of attorney as well as her son, so he left on the first flight out. That was two days ago. I haven't heard back from him since."
Jim took a minute to think. "I'm going to call the contact he left, but if things are still bad, I have to go over there. I can't let him go through this alone."
"Jim, go if you have to. I'm sorry we couldn't get word to you while you were under. You'd be entitled to time off after this job anyway, but even if you weren't…"
"Thanks, Simon. I'll let you know. I'll leave a message, so I won't wake you again."
"Delia? My name is Jim Ellison. I'm a friend of Blair's."
"Oh, yes, Jim. Blair told me you might call. He said you were on a police case and not available."
"Can you give me an update?"
"Yes, of course. Naomi is still in a coma. She has swelling around her brain. They want to operate but need to make sure she's strong enough first."
"Is Blair there?"
"No, he's at Swindon Great Western. He was going to consult with the doctor, then sit with Naomi until mid-afternoon, when visitors have to leave. He should be here in about two hours."
"I'm coming out as soon as I can get a flight. Can you tell me the best route to get there and where to go once I land?"
"Oh, that would be wonderful. I know Blair would be better with you at his side. Have you got a pen?"
Jim wrote down the information, then hung up and called the airline.
December 18, Swindon, UK
Blair stared at his mother's still body, taking in the bandages that surrounded her head, as well as the smaller ones covering other scrapes and injuries. His normally vibrant mother looked so frail and vulnerable. He'd just gotten an update from the ward doctor, who was both experienced and compassionate. The diagnosis was hematoma caused by a head injury. The prognosis unknown. Until the swelling went down, and Naomi woke from her coma, there was no way to know how much damage had been done.
Delia Whitestone entered the room and stood beside Blair, looking down at her long-time friend. "Blair, I'm so sorry," she began.
Blair hugged her, as much to comfort himself as Delia. "I don't understand," he said as he let her go and again stared at Naomi. "She was supposed to be in Egypt."
"Yes, she was planning to visit a temple in Luxor for Solstice, but she said the energy was wrong. She came here so we could tour some of the druid places in Wiltshire before going to Stonehenge. While we were walking the grounds of The Sanctuary, she must have stepped in a hole. It twisted her ankle and she fell. Her head hit one of the stones. She waved it off at first, but then suddenly got weak and collapsed. We called 999 straight away. The paramedics arrived really quickly and they brought her here to hospital, but she lost consciousness on the way."
Blair nodded. "Thank you, Delia, for being there and for staying with her until I could get here. Why don't you go home and get some rest? The nursing staff are monitoring her condition. They're keeping the neurosurgeon informed."
"Ah, yes. Mr Roberts was by this morning. He'll be making his rounds tomorrow morning and can give you his opinion."
"Who is Mr. Roberts?" Blair asked, looking puzzled.
"He's the neurosurgeon, the senior specialist consultant brought in on your mother's case. Senior doctors tend to be addressed as ‘mister’ rather than ‘doctor’. He'll talk to you after his rounds. Mr Roberts is one of the best in his field; she's in good hands." Delia laid a hand on Blair's arm. "It's likely you'll not be allowed to visit with Naomi in the morning. That's when patient care such as bathing and physiotherapy are done, and the doctors are doing their evaluations."
Blair nodded. "The nurses told me I can sit with her all of this evening. I'll be by the house sometime after midnight."
"I'll have a dinner plate waiting for you on the counter." She rummaged in her purse. "Here's a key and directions to get there from here."
They hugged again. "Oh, by the way, Jim Ellison, my partner, might call; I left him your numbers. He was working undercover, so I couldn't reach him, but I wrote him a note."
"I'll let him know what's happening when he calls," Delia promised. Blair smiled his thanks and she left.
Blair pulled a chair next to the bed and took Naomi's hand. "Mom, I hope you're still in there and you can hear me. I know you said we have to let go when it's our time, but I'm not ready to let you go yet. I need you for a lot more years. Your body and spirit are strong. So please come back to me." His voice broke as he continued, "Please come back, even if you can't come back whole, that's okay. Just come back to me."
Grateful that Naomi had this room to herself, Blair closed the door and pulled out a smudge stick made of sage and sweetgrass. He lit it well away from the machines whirring around his mother, then blew it out, making the aromatic smoke swirl. He waved it around her body, starting at her head. He hoped the familiar smell would help to call her back.
After covering her entire body with the cleansing smoke, he extinguished the stick, wiped away the tears he couldn't help shedding, and sat in lotus position to meditate.
December 19, Cascade, WA, USA
Jim thanked whatever gods watched over travelers for his good luck. He thought back to his Catholic upbringing. Saint Christopher, yes, he was the patron saint of travelers. Well, Christopher, so far so good.
He booked a British Airlines nonstop to London, leaving at 6 a.m. He shamelessly called a squad car to bum a ride to the airport, then used his badge to skip the lines and make his flight with time to spare. He had a car reserved at Heathrow and it would take him less than two hours to drive to the hospital in Swindon.
As he settled into his seat, he adjusted his senses to compensate for the buffeting they would take. As soon as they hit cruising altitude, the flight attendant came by for his drink order. Deciding to try a British beer, he asked her to suggest something. The lager she served him was light and crisp. He adjusted his chair back and relaxed.
As he drank, Jim smiled as he remembered how often he and Blair had practiced controlling his senses to tolerate commercial flying, drilling until it was almost second nature. He suddenly wondered when they'd stopped practicing. When was the last time Blair had asked about his senses, had scheduled a test? Was it the move from academia to police work that brought things to a halt? Perhaps Blair was tired of his sentinel, tired of Jim's crankiness when he mentioned the senses. With a twinge of alarm, he wondered whether Blair was disillusioned at Jim's reactions during the dissertation mess.
But, no, that didn't feel right. He sensed no residual anger or resentment over the actions that led to Blair's abrupt career change. In fact, Blair had seemed downright serene the last few months, becoming more confident and competent in his new position. He'd taken lead on some of their cases and been proud of his contributions and solve rate.
Blair had even forgiven Naomi for her part in his academic downfall. It had taken some time for them to mend fences after he committed career hara-kari. Despite her globe-trotting ways, she'd made more of an effort to visit, although she kept the visits short, didn't interfere or offer advice, and stayed at hotels. Still, Blair seemed happy to see her every time she was in town and she listened with interest--and without judgment--when he shared case stories.
Jim spared a thought, hoping Naomi was okay. Which saint do you pray to for that? St. Jude? No, he was for hopeless causes. Please don’t let it be hopeless.
Jim sighed. His thoughts drifted back to Blair. Because he no longer worked at Rainier, they spent all their working hours together. He suddenly realized that they were spending more leisure time together as well. When did Blair stop dating regularly, the way he had in the first years Jim knew him? For that matter, when had he himself stopped dating? Instead of spending their free time doing things separately, they now did activities together. He didn't mind and, apparently, neither did Blair. It was almost like they'd become an old married couple, content to stay at home or go on an occasional weekend outing. Huh.
"Have you decided on your meal, sir?" The flight attendant asked. "Here's the lunch and dinner menu choices. You can let me know your preferences for those later. For starters, you can choose from a traditional British breakfast of Cumberland sausages, cheddar omelet with freshly baked bread, or yoghurt, granola and assorted fresh fruit, or a Loch Fyne smoked salmon sandwich with crème fraiche and caper berries."
He was tempted to try the British breakfast--when would he get a chance to try an authentic dish? Then Blair's voice came into his head, chiding him about his unhealthy eating habits. "I'll take the salmon, please. And coffee," he said, giving her his most charming smile.
Not interested in seeing the movie selection, his mind drifted back to his relationship with Blair. He thought about his current situation. He was haring off halfway around the world to be with his roommate. Was that normal and reasonable? Sure, he'd done it for Simon and Daryl, but then he'd feared they were injured or dead. He liked Naomi well enough, but ordinarily he'd wait at home for news about an injured acquaintance. No, he was doing this for Blair. And he knew Blair would do it for him in a heartbeat. So, what does that make them? Best friends? Bosom buddies? Soul mates? Or… life mates?
Jim tried that on for size. He was surprised to find that he wasn't surprised. He'd known in his heart that when Blair disavowed his thesis, he was not doing it only out of guilt over his and Naomi's actions; he was doing it out of love for Jim. It was easy for Jim to label it as brotherly love, he could almost hear Blair saying "I love you, man" in that casual hippy manner. But there was nothing casual in Blair's actions that day. He was deliberate and sincere.
It was more than time for Jim to be equally sincere. He knew that Blair loved him--was in love with him. His knowledge might be a result of the connection they shared after their spirits merged at the fountain, or through the many ways Blair showed his love. His tolerance in the face of Jim's impatience, the way he comforted Jim when he was discouraged, even the way he nagged Jim about his diet, all spoke to how much he cared. In the face of so many people who had abandoned Jim through his life, this son of a nomadic mother had stayed with Jim through the worst times. Stayed through bullets and beatings and belittling as he followed Jim at his job. Stayed after being drowned and being accused of betrayal after Naomi's screw-up. How could that be anything but love?
Shaking his head, Jim reflected that, despite love that was probably overwhelming him, Blair had been content to let him live in ignorance--and he'd been equally content to let it ride. Well, Jim vowed to himself, no longer.
"Here's your meal, sir," the flight attendant said, interrupting his thoughts. He wasn't hungry any longer, but knew he should fuel his body. Plenty of time on the long flight to finish deciding what he wanted to do about his future with Blair.
December 20, Swindon, UK
"I'm looking for Naomi Sandburg's room," Jim told the woman at the Intensive Care/High Dependency Unit reception desk. "I'm a friend of her son's, Blair."
Checking her records, she made a phone call. After hanging up, she said, "She's currently in surgery. That will be Operating Theatre 9. Follow the signs on the third floor. He'll be in the waiting area." She pointed to the south hallway. "The lift is just around that corner."
Nodding his thanks, Jim headed for the elevator.
Blair was pacing the length of the waiting room, which wasn't very large, oblivious to anything except watching the double doors to the operating room.
"Blair," Jim called out softly.
Blair stopped mid-stride to stare at him. "Jim? What are you doing here?"
Jim walked up to Blair and opened his arms. "Where else would I be?"
Too grateful to care why, Blair allowed himself to be enfolded in those strong, steady arms. Jim swayed slightly, almost rocking him and feeling him relax. "How is Naomi?" Jim asked gently.
"They're performing surgery to relieve the pressure of the hematoma on her brain. They should be finishing up soon, if there aren't any complications." Blair looked up into Jim's eyes. "All the nurses say her doctor is one of the top neurosurgeons in the country."
Just then, the double-doors opened and a masked doctor garbed in scrubs emerged. He pulled down his mask as he approached them. Blair reluctantly separated from Jim to face the doctor.
"Mr Sandburg, the operation went well. We're taking your mother to post-op and then we'll move her to the ward."
Blair closed his eyes and breathed, "Thank god." Then, with obvious apprehension, he asked, "What about brain damage?"
"We won't know until she wakes up, but she was already more responsive by the time we finished. That's a good sign."
Blair let out a gust of breath. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
"Give us half an hour to clean her up, then you can stay for as long as you like. You understand the procedure with coma patients?" Blair nodded. "Why don't you get some coffee and a little food? It's going to be a long night." Mr Roberts nodded at both men and left.
Jim carried in sandwiches and fresh coffee from Greggs, a nearby bakery that one of the nurses had recommended. Blair was reading to his mom, some romance novel he'd found in the lounge. "Here," Jim said. "Rest your voice and eat something. I'll read for a while."
Blair smiled his thanks and gratefully drank the coffee. As he listened to Jim's pleasant baritone, he watched the man he knew and loved, seeing his gentle side that was so often hidden. He thought back to that hug in the waiting room. It was more than a manly hug between two friends, one that so often ended with mutual back-slapping. It felt as if Jim had been prepared to hold him forever if they hadn't been interrupted by the doctor. Was it possible that Jim wanted more, possibly what Blair wanted?
Fear of rejection, especially now when he was at his most vulnerable, made Blair hesitate. As if he'd read Blair's thoughts, Jim stopped reading and looked directly at him. Blair thought he saw love in those sky-blue eyes. He pulled another chair next to Jim, clasping one of Jim's hands in his own. "Thank you, Jim, for coming out here to help me with Naomi."
Jim gave Blair a blinding smile. "What else could I do… for my mother-in-law."
Could he be hearing correctly, that Jim returned his love? Jim moved his other hand to clasp Blair's, his smile gently confirming. Overwhelmed, Blair pulled Jim to him and kissed him with all the years of pent-up passion he'd held in his heart. Jim kissed him back just as soundly, breaking only when the pulse monitor's tone changed. They looked at the bed.
"Blair," came the faint, beloved voice they'd been waiting to hear.
"Mom, you're awake!" Blair's voice choked, filled with joy that she obviously recognized him. He took her hand, pressing it close to his heart, and leaned down to kiss her cheek. Then he pulled Jim closer to the bed, so she could see them both. "Have I got a Solstice surprise for you."