"What the hell did you DO!?"
"Uh, Jim, I think it's pretty obvious-" His keys hit the basket, but I'm on him before he can hang up his jacket.
"Your hair," I say, and I mold my hands to his skull, tug the short curls through my fingers, hoping maybe this is some kind of prank, that it's a wig or something... I can't really believe it, but his hair stills feels like his hair, and I'm kicking myself for every time I wanted to touch it and never did.
"Jesus, Sandburg, I didn't mean it-"
"Jim, relax, man. It's just a haircut." He closes his hand on my wrist.
Just a haircut. Just hair. Just the last shred of the Blair Sandburg I met three years ago. The guy who wore silver earrings and tribal beads on rawhide, and left towels on my floor, and smiled like a kid all the fucking time.
Before his childhood and his friends and his dreams and his life's work got murdered, one at a time. Sacrificed.
"You... Jim. Jim-- you're cryin', man."
"What the hell are you talking about," I bitch, as I keep carding his hair, as if I can stretch the curls out to the length they were yesterday. Now I'm rubbing his earlobe between my thumb and forefinger; I can feel the knots of scar tissue there, where the holes have closed up.
He touches my face lightly, and holds up his fingers.
His fingers are wet. My face is wet. Hell, he's right. I am crying.
"Oh Christ, Sandburg, why'd you do it?"
"I'm sensing you don't like the new look."
"Jesus, I'm not talking about your hair! I'm talking about... your whole life, Chief. Your doctorate, your reputation, millions of fucking dollars! For fuck sake, Sandburg--" I swipe my eyes with the back of my arm. "And your goddamned, stupid, beautiful hair!"
I touch it again, so soft, warm from being close to his skin.
I'm fucking losing it.
I can't even look at him, because I know he's got this concerned look on his face.
His life is ruined, his future is shot to hell, and I'll bet you three million dollars his big blue eyes are chock full of compassion.
"Come here, man. It's okay. It's okay. It had to happen. Nothing lasts forever. But it's going to be okay. It really is. I promise you, Jim, I promise..."
His arms are locked around my waist, and I can feel his voice echo in my chest, feel his breath sift through the fabric of my shirt and melt against my skin. It sounds like I'm not the only one he's trying to convince.
I cup his face in my hands and chafe my cheek against his forehead, and when I talk again, I'm so choked up I can hardly understand myself.
"Why'd you do it?" And this time I tug on a lock of his hair.
"I... needed to. I just... In many cultures, you cut off your hair when you're in mourning. And I'm grieving for my past, I guess. What I was. Who I used to be." He swallows, and I can hear the strain vibrate in his voice. But he lifts his chin to scrape up a smile for me. "And this way, bad guys can't get a handle on me."
His own eyes are suspiciously bright, but he's keeping it together. Except for the fact that he's wiping his runny nose on the front of my shirt. I take the hint and loosen my grip on him a bit, then let him go and drop onto the couch, weak and lousy with regret.
Slumping beside me, his arm pressed against mine, he runs a big, square hand through his hair again, and I can tell he misses it, too.
For a while we don't say anything, and I just try to be glad he's here, still hanging on, toughing it out. With me.
"Three million dollars," I say eventually. I'm staring out the French doors. A cloud of starlings is breaking up into long strings of black birds hunched on telephone wires. Two teenagers a few buildings away are washing their dad's car. I can read the headlines on the newspaper they're using to dry the windows. I can hear three babies crying and three mothers trying to soothe them, forty-two televisions babbling over the static of fifty-six radios and the hum of seventy-nine car engines.
Blair lays a hand on my arm and it all fades away.
"I had to do it. It's just money, man. You're my friend. What we have- you can't put a price on it. You shouldn't.
"It's not the end, man. It's just a new beginning. I had to give it up so you could have your life back. It was a fair trade. Hell, it was a bargain."
I want to shake him, make him realize just how much bullshit he's buying, here.
"Some bargain. What the hell do you get out of it? You get disgrace and public humiliation- oh yeah, deal of the century."
He studies his hands and says softly, "I got you." He meets my eyes and repeats it. "I got you back. It's like- you're my secret again. You're this marvel that no one else knows about- well, besides Simon and Megan, anyway. And my Mom. And Brackett-"
I cover his mouth with my hand, and feel his warm lips try to frame words against my palm.
"I get the point, Sandburg." I take my hand away and curl my fingers, so I can hold on to that almost-kiss for a little while. "You were saying?"
He's starting to grin a little, and it's like he's warming up... soon maybe he'll be that blaze of Blair again, that cheery Sandburg one man pep squad.
"The discovery is the important part. No one can take that away from me, and no amount of fame or recognition, no honor could ever match the thrill of just knowing you're breathing, that you exist.
"And no job could be more rewarding than the work I already do. Which is help you do your job. Watch your back. Guide you when I can.
"I mean, man, you're the Sentinel of the Great City, but I'm the Shaman-- and now I'll have time to explore that, more time to focus, more time to see what I can see, more time to... become who I am."
"But I liked who you were. I liked that guy. What happened to the Sandburg who ate tongue and used herbal crap to cure colds, that guy with all the hair, and double hoops in his ear? I didn't want this. I didn't want for you to-"
"Grow up?" he suggests.
I want to grind my teeth in frustration.
"No- to give up. Everything you worked for-"
His hand closes on the cap of my shoulder.
"This is what I was working for. A love stronger than adversity. Stronger than death. You think this happens every day, Jim? You think you meet someone you're willing to trust your life to, you're willing to jump out of planes and dodge bullets for, once a week? Twice a year?
"I didn't lose a thing if I have you to show for it."
His eyes are burning into mine, and I rest my forehead against his.
"I love you, Jim."
"I'm not stupid, Sandburg. I know that."
He cups my face in my hands and breathes into my mouth.
"Then kiss me, Einstein."
And his lips close over mine and I can finally taste him, taste all that pain and strength and sacrifice...
When we can breathe again, I catch his earlobe in my teeth.
"So, you gave up three million in hard cold cash for the privilege of my company, huh?"
"I don't know if I'd put it that way... but, yeah."
"So I guess I'm shit outta luck hitting you up for back rent then?"
He chews on my jaw, laughs against my throat.
"I'd say we could work it out in trade... but I happen to know that prostitution is a crime in this state. I'd hate to have to bring myself downtown."
"Hey, as long as no money changes hands..." And I shift him onto my lap and I bury my face in his hair, glad of his solid weight, despite my complaining knee. "I've never been so proud of anybody in all my life, Sandburg."
He speaks against the side of my throat and the texture of his voice makes every hair on my body stand on end.
"I may be new at the actual cop biz, man, but my motto has always been 'protect and serve.'" He busses my cheek and settles in like he's not planning on going anywhere until my legs go numb, and maybe not then, either.
I'm betting on forever, myself.