Author's website: http://sara-merry99.livejournal.com/
Not mine, damn it!
Betas: Thanks so much to Aouda Fogg for reading it twice and to ainm for helping me know when enough was enough. ALF read an early draft of it and kept me from deleting it. Thanks to all of you!!
It would be easier to list the episodes that there aren't spoilers for: Smart Alec, Black & White, Pennies From Heaven, and ten or fifteen others.
Reposted to fix formatting issues.
This story is a sequel to:
Flipping through his mail, Blair opened the door to his one-room basement apartment. The weather was cold and gray; Chicago spring at its worst. There were a couple of bills, a reminder about an event on campus that he probably wouldn't go to, and... He stopped dead in his tracks. A postcard with an aerial picture of downtown Cascade, Washington. He'd lived in Cascade for, God, longer than he wanted to think. The best years of his life and the worst.
Just out of the picture, another block to the right, maybe two, was the Cascade Police Department. He looked at the picture more closely. God, it wasn't possible, but it seemed like in the very corner of the photo he could make out the corner of the sign of the bakery underneath the apartment he'd shared with his partner, Sentinel, Holy Grail, best friend, and so much more, Jim Ellison.
He closed the door to his apartment, locking and bolting it securely behind him. His modest salary as a research technician in the anthropology department at University of Illinois' Chicago campus didn't pay enough for a place in a good part of town. But, as he was so frequently reminded by the department chair, with his reputation he was lucky to have any job at all. Even one as boring and menial as cataloging and cleaning artifacts.
The mail and his keys were dropped on the table as soon as he walked in. "Hey, Noodles. How was your day? Did you get that damned mouse?" he asked conversationally, while petting his cat, an orange stray he'd found shortly after arriving in Chicago. His only answer was a rub against his legs and a purr. He started some pasta cooking for dinner and poured himself a small glass of very cheap wine. As he took his first sip of the wine he turned his attention back to the mail. The bills were added to his carefully prioritized pile--weighted according to amount demanded, deadline, and how forgiving they were if he was late in paying, though he tried hard not to be late on any of them.
He deliberately saved the postcard for last. He knew it shouldn't feel like a lifeline from home, Chicago was his home now and there would be no going back to Cascade, but it did. Six months of almost weekly cards and letters had taught him that there was no doubt who it was from, no sense in hoping that it might be from someone else. The only person in Cascade who knew he was in Chicago was Megan Connor. She had permission to give his address to Jim, Simon, Joel and Rhonda if they seemed to want to reach him. Especially Jim. No one else, unless he gave specific permission. But he'd never gotten a postcard or a letter from anyone but her. Apparently no one, not even Jim, had given Megan any reason to believe they wanted to get in touch with him. He bit his lip until he tasted blood, a bad new habit he'd picked up since moving to Chicago. The physical pain distracted him from focusing too much on emotional pains he could do nothing about. He flipped the card over.
It was blank. No message, no note. Not even a "Hope you're doing okay, more later". It was addressed to Blair Sandburg. He'd been going by Jake since shortly after leaving Cascade but Megan wasn't consistent about remembering that, especially when she was in a hurry. The address was a printed label, not handwritten. That was unusual too. She must have gotten the card ready and stamped and then mixed it in with her outgoing mail before writing anything. He flipped it back over and stared at the picture again. He'd walked that street a million times, walked it with Jim, walked it hurrying to the PD. Walked it when he left the PD for the last time, still thinking he could accept the badge they'd offered him. It was so...he bit his lip again, but even the bite couldn't stop the pain in his chest, the burning dryness in eyes that didn't seem to be able to cry. He looked to photo album on the table next to his one comfortable chair.
It was the photo album of his life in Cascade. Or, really his life with Jim. In his memory now, they seemed like exactly the same thing; it was hard to remember the many years he'd lived there before they'd met. He shook his head, but set the postcard down on top of the book. It had been a bad day in a bad week, so maybe after dinner he'd indulge himself in the album. It had been a while, two or even three weeks, since the last time he'd looked at it. Long enough.
He waited until he was done with his dinner, though, telling himself that there was some virtue in not having what he wanted. Virtue or possibly cruel irony. He refused to think too hard about that. Dinner was pasta with just a touch of sauce from a jar. The tomatoes he could afford at this time of year weren't worth cooking with, so he made do. It wasn't like he was hungry anymore anyway, so he ate whatever was cheap and kept him from having to eat again any time soon. After dinner he sat down with the photo album, allowing his thoughts to slide along the familiar paths of narrative as he looked through the book.
I suppose I have to admit to myself that the first photo sort of gives the tone of the whole album. I mean, when I collect photos of my life with Jim there's an awful lot of crime and violence involved.
So the first photo in the album, from the first couple of days we were together, is of my injuries from the Switchman's explosion on the bus. I wasn't badly hurt, just a few cuts, an embedded piece of glass or two. Nothing major, but evidence all the same.
Joel took them right there in the ambulance before the EMTs treated me. He was surprised when I asked him for a copy, but I explained it was to document my activities for my diss committee and he had it printed for me without any further questions.
So, like I said, in a way it sets the tone. Me injured.
My mother would say that it sets the tone in another way. I'm injured and Jim is nowhere in sight. But she's not looking closely enough. I can see his shadow there, cast on the back wall of the ambulance next to Joel's. He never left while I was being treated. He even made the other cops who needed a report come to him until EMS cleared me to go.
So Jim there quietly hovering over an injured me. Not saying a word but not leaving either. Definitely the foundation of our relationship.
The second picture is from a newspaper. A photographer managed to get the shot of the year: Jim dangling from the helicopter with Kincaid hanging from his leg as the chopper flew a thousand feet over the city.
It was on the front pages of newspapers all around the country; it was even in the running for a Pulitzer. She must have had one heck of a telephoto lens to get the detail and a polarizing filter to get the sky that shade of blue. I think she was standing on the roof of one of the buildings catty-corner to the PD, probably shooting pictures of the building Kinkaid's men blew up, when she noticed something going on overhead.
Every time I look at the picture, I spend my time focusing on the details of the roofs visible just at the bottom of the picture, trying to figure out where she was standing.
That's because I can't bear to think about the picture itself. Jim looks so vulnerable there, it's absolutely terrifying. And I wasn't really in any great position to help him--though I suppose I did.
But if I let myself focus on Jim, hanging there so far above the ground, I get the shivers and the horror of losing him rocks me to the core. If he'd died then, I'd have missed out on so much. But, you know, maybe it would have been better.
The next picture is for balance. I managed to get a picture of Danny Choi from Vera in personnel. It's amazing how far people are willing to go if it's "for my dissertation, you know".
I'm not sure why I wanted it. Maybe it was a reality check for me or something, combating a bad case of hero worship.
I wanted that picture of Danny to remind me that Jim likes mentoring people, likes to be a big brother and coach people along. I wasn't special, Danny was. I think that reality check is why I still keep it. That and the feeling that if there is to be any value in this album at all it has to show everything, the bad and the good.
Even if things were different, I'd never show it to Jim. I think he'd deal all right--he seems to have handled Danny's death just fine over time. But I'd hate to see the grief and pain on his face. Over someone else.
The fourth photo is nice. Jim and Simon and Earl Gaines and Mrs. LaCroix and me at dinner at her house. Jim's arm's over my shoulder. I remember he was keeping me from sneaking over to the table and sampling a bit of the dinner before everyone else got to it.
It was a good old fashioned southern dinner, like I haven't had since I stayed with Aunt Ruth in Austin. Fried chicken, black eyed peas, sauteed crookneck squash and soft white dinner rolls. One of the neighbor's children took the photograph for us.
Jim was happy that night, despite Larry's second attack on the loft. I remember being surprised; I was sure that he'd throw me out the second we got back to the loft to collect Larry and here he was smiling at me and joking about my monkey. And I was feeling like, maybe, he was happy to have me living with him. I don't know. Maybe he was then.
The fifth photo is even worse than the second and I always flip right by it. Lash's warehouse hideout is a permanent feature of my nightmares, I don't need to look at the crime scene photo of it.
But I do usually take a moment to review the mental image of Jim coming to my rescue, pulling me out of those damned chains after killing Lash. I wish someone had been there to take a photo of that. The only thing that let me sleep at night for the first month or so after Lash was Jim. Some of the time, in my nightmares, he came in just the nick of time, like he did in real life. More often, Jim woke me up and sat with me for a while and kept me from falling right back to sleep, into Lash's nest. On nights when I was particularly messed up, he even stayed with me after I'd fallen back to sleep. Somehow I knew and slept better for knowing he was watching over me, despite the horror of the nightmare I'd just woken out of.
I've only included one photo of Jim in the lab in this album. I have a bunch of these photos, showing how I set up various tests, how Jim was wired into the monitors, how the apparatus worked. They're all in my dissertation notebooks, locked away in a storage unit back in Cascade. Forty dollars a month rent for the rest of my life. This is the only one that made it into my private scrapbook. The one that says "Jim" on the first page.
Yeah, he hated those tests and exercises. I hated putting him through them, but I needed the data and he needed the practice.
He's scowling. As usual. I know he hated working in the lab--it was uncomfortable, tiring, a strain. The apparatus was complex, with spinning mirrors, strobing colored lights, and music coming at him through headphones. I was testing his ability to block out overwhelming input from one sense, so he could focus on another. Testing and teaching at the same time.
He hated those tests and exercises. I hated putting him through them, but I needed the data and he needed the practice.
He did confess to me on a couple of occasions that my tests helped him. That he could see the improvement in his control because of them. He specifically mentioned this test as having been useful.
God did that feel good.
You know, its amazing how many of these pictures, these defining moments in my relationship with Jim are of crime scenes, criminals, victims, etc. I suppose that makes sense when you're riding with a cop, but it's outside the normal range of my life, before or since.
I hate to say it, because it sounds so bad, but I respected Brackett. He was an unscrupulous bastard, but definitely a charismatic one. Compare him to Kinkaid, who was just a whack job. Kinkaid gave me the creeps, especially the way he looked at me. Brackett was articulate, intellectual--more or less sane. He even read my papers.
He was just completely amoral.
And he offered to let me stick my hand down Jim's pants.
Of course at the time, that just freaked me out. Not that he suggested it, but that I responded to the idea so strongly.
I wish I could let myself skip over the next photo too. But though I'm willing to give myself a pass for being a wimp about Lash, I almost died, I'm not willing to do so about Maya.
Lash hurt me and I think it's best if I let that go as much as possible. But I hurt Maya, badly, and I can't let myself off the hook without losing all my self-respect.
I think it would be easier to forgive myself for hurting her, if I could reconstruct even a glimmer of what I felt for her. I told Jim that I thought I was falling in love with her. I cried when she told me she hated me. But now, I can't make myself feel any of it.
What did I see in her?
Maybe it was the next time she came into our lives that killed all that. Though I didn't feel much for her then either. But now, when I remember her, all I see is the manipulation, the self-absorption, the flakiness.
Every time I flip through this particular album, I sit for a while looking at the picture and try again to feel something for her. What I feel instead is a strong sense that she was a distraction, or even an excuse.
I was falling in love with Jim, but could never show it, couldn't even let myself know about it, so I moved those feelings to her and let myself enjoy being in love for a few days. When she left, told me she hated me, I was able to release everything I was bottling up about Jim. I was in this swirl of unrecognized and unrequited love and she gave me a surface to play out all the associated emotions on.
It would have been kinder to her if I'd just bought an inflatable doll, and probably just about as effective.
*The next photo has nothing to do with crime. I didn't want to have any permanent record of Jane Cunningham/Laura McCarthy/whoever she was.*
I remember Jim sniffing after her like a hound after a bitch in heat clearly enough on my own, thank you.
But just after her arraignment, Jim and I went out to dinner together. Nowhere fancy, just a little hole in the wall near the station that had some amazing Costa Rican food. For reasons I don't understand, the place had a lounge singer on weekday nights, maybe it still does. That night, Jim tipped him to play "The Girl from Ipanema" and sang along, with a huge amount of self-deprecating humor.
I didn't have a camera with me that night, so I went back the next night on my way home from campus, though really it was half an hour in the wrong direction, and took a picture of the singer at his piano.
I wonder if Jim would even know what to make of that picture if I showed it to him. I imagine he's totally forgotten the night.
I hate like hell that my best picture of St. Sebastian's includes yellow crime scene tape across the entrance to the main building.
Brother Jeremy hasn't forgiven me for everything that happened on my last visit. I called to ask about coming by for a while when I was on my way out of Cascade and needed all the spiritual succor the universe could offer me. Brother Jeremy said that they'd love to see me sometime but that it was a bad time. Maybe later.
I suppose that, even for him, it's hard to remember that everything that happened while we were there would have happened even if we weren't, only worse.
I regret the way that whole vacation turned out, you know? Even aside from the loss of the brothers, which was horrible. I was looking forward to spending a lot of quiet time with Jim. Walking in the orchard, talking. Sharing confidences as we were falling asleep in the dorm room. And it never happened.
I got this picture of Eli Stoddard from the official website that was put up about his Borneo expedition. Sometimes I wish this photo album were online, so that I could include the whole website. One of those guys could have been me. In an alternate universe maybe it was me. And, maybe, that's a good universe, a better one.
I don't know.
What I remember from the time was just being so proud and pleased that Eli had chosen me, had specifically requested that I accompany him.
Of course, if I'd been a little less caught up in being proud and pleased I might have realized that there was something deeper going on. Eli knew that I'd found a full Sentinel and had begun my dissertation research in earnest. I had even talked to him a few times about how difficult things were for the Sentinel, that he seemed to really need my assistance in controlling and using his senses. Yet, he still tried to get me to go off on this year-long expedition. One that would have lead to me writing a different dissertation--one on acculturation and the impact of Western contact on tribal peoples. Interesting stuff, that. Important, too.
But not what I was working on, and he knew it.
Maybe he saw that I was getting too close to my subject. Maybe he realized that I was never going to make a scientifically sound study of one subject. Maybe he was just jealous, because before I found Jim, Eli was my touchstone for pretty much everything. After I found Jim, Eli just dropped off my radar screen.
Anyway, it was really strange for him to invite me, I understood that then. Now, I realize he was probably right to do so, at least by his standards. At the time, I was just proud and incredibly conflicted about it.
Going to Borneo meant leaving Jim, which wasn't an idea I was really thrilled with. Staying in Cascade meant disappointing Eli, ditto.
I didn't get any pictures of us in Peru. Which is a pity because it was such an important week for us ... for me.
Jim barely gave me time to pack a change of clothes after he grudgingly agreed to let me go with him, let alone to grab a frivolity like a camera. I did manage to take a notebook, so I was able to take some field notes. But nothing else.
Simon has a picture of Darryl standing in front of the museum in Lima, but I didn't feel right about asking for a copy.
And that trip was about so much more than Simon and Darryl, though they were the reason we went to Peru--to rescue our friends. At least Jim did. I still wasn't ready to think of Simon as a friend at that time. Later, yeah, Simon and I got used to each other. At that time, I was still the weird hippie kid riding with Ellison in his eyes. And he was still the growling grizzly bear in the glass office in mine.
I think I went with Jim to prove to him that I was still committed to him, to our project, despite the offer of that expedition to Borneo. Maybe to prove that to Eli as well, because I pretty much bailed on him by disappearing for a week without any notice.
Jim was so obviously hurt when I told him that I'd been offered the position, even when he was telling me to take it. And he didn't seem at all ready to believe that I didn't want to go on those terms, not if it was going to hurt him.
Anyway, after we got home and had our little talk on the balcony, clearing the air and settling into the loft again, Jim finally told me about the vision he had in Peru. A large black jaguar had lead him to an encounter with a spirit warrior and he had committed himself to being a Sentinel.
I wish we had a picture of that night--sitting on the balcony with the beers, ultimately ordering in pizza. But there was no one there to take the picture and it never even crossed my mind to wreck the mood by saying, "Hey, Jim, this is one of the best nights of my life and that's all because of you. Let me take your picture".
So I cut a picture of a black jaguar out of a magazine and stuck that in. I don't think I'll ever forget any part of that trip to Peru, or the night when we got home, so that should be enough of a reminder.
I wish I could include the tape that Angie Ferris gave me in this book. That would be so cool! Instead, I've got the cover from the final, published CD.
I don't listen to the tape much anymore: I'm afraid I'm going to wreck it. But it's still one of my treasures. I keep it in the case with my mother's guitar.
The acknowledgements in the insert include a nod to Jim "for protecting us" and even to me "for getting knocked out so many times." Oh, well. I suppose that's better than nothing.
This page was blank for a long time. I knew what I wanted, a picture of Jim holding my hand, guiding it over the door of Jack Pendergast's car. But, as with so many of the great moments in life, no one was there to take the photo. So I let the blank page remind me of Jim, trying so hard to prove to himself that anyone could sense what he could. Trying to prove to himself that he was normal.
There's a picture there now, and it's kind of amazing, because I learned two things when Jim gave it to me a year or so later. One is that there are security cameras all over the Cascade PD, even in the impound garage. Jim got a print of one of the frames on the tape, the same moment I'd been wanting to have on this page since it happened.
The other is that Jim wasn't trying to prove to himself that he was normal. A few months later, around the time Incacha died, we got drunk together and he told me he was trying to show me that I was special too. At the time of that whole IA investigation into Pendergast's disappearance, still pretty early on in our friendship, he hoped that I was hypersensitive as well, if not a full Sentinel, because I seemed to be full of ideas about how to use the senses.
And much later still, when things were really good between us, he wanted me to have that picture--the same moment I wanted. Holding my hand and standing behind me in an incredibly intimate gesture.
This is one of my favorite pictures anywhere, ever. Particularly if I just hold onto that moment, and the moment he gave it to me, with both hands and don't let anything else in.
This one is embarrassingly shallow.
I managed to get hold of the tape that Wendy Hawthorne gave us--including the footage of Jim answering the door in nothing but his boxers.
Can you say screencap, boys and girls? I knew you could.
So when I look at this picture, I just ignore the wooly-headed, bleary-eyed anthropologist behind him and focus on that magnificent chest and those arms.
And the fact that when he thought there was danger coming to the loft he made sure I stayed right behind him and defended me with his gun.
Maybe it's not totally shallow after all.
Amber's a real pretty girl. I understand that. I can't really quite understand why she'd sell herself to pay for college; that's why God invented the student loan program, right? But I can understand why guys would pay for her...attentions. So by a lot of people's standards, Amber's definitely dressing up this photo album, which otherwise has some fairly grueling stuff in it.
But I wish I had a picture of Zeller instead. Not that it would do me much good now, with him dead and me in Chicago. But maybe it would be good for my mental balance about this whole Jim thing if I had a record of all the people who nearly succeeded in killing me.
Zeller completely got the drop on us and our plan was...well, if he'd decided to kill me execution-style, with a shot between the eyes or in the back of the head, that bullet-proof vest wasn't going to do me the slightest damn bit of good.
Of course, a reminder of Zeller would just take me to Jim. I guess everything does, but he was so concerned. Even taped up my ribs for me. It wasn't really necessary, I know that now. Hell, I even knew it at the time, but even at that point I enjoyed Jim's hands on me. And his concern.
I hadn't worked through what it meant and what I wanted. But I liked it.
So maybe it's for the best that I don't have a picture of Zeller, or one of Jim, or a scrap of the bandage he put on me.
I'll just look at the pretty girl for a moment and move on.
I missed a chance for another of those shallow pictures when Jim and I were on the Northstar-5 Rig together. Though I doubt he'd have been as comfortable showering and toweling off and just, God, naked in front of me, if I'd been snapping photos of him like I worked for Playgirl.
For all that it sounds incredibly indecent, that was really a very important moment in those years with Jim, because it was then that I really let myself understand that I desired him, wanted him. Before seeing him in the shower, I wasn't totally sure what to make of what I was feeling and thinking. Or at least, I kept trying to tell myself I wasn't sure, kept trying to give myself some sort of out.
But on the rig... he was gorgeous and I couldn't help but imagine all the things I could do to that beautiful, big body of his, all the things that he could do to me. I had zilch experience with men then, but I have a great imagination.
As it is, I wound up with another important photograph of that case. Joel's a damned good photographer and he got a fine picture of the bomb still in place near the barrels.
The bomb that I defused.
That still gives me the shakes. But it makes me feel kinda good too, y'know? I never thought of myself as brave before that moment. Never thought of myself as the kind of person who would take the ultimate risks for complete strangers.
But I did. I hadn't even liked those guys on the rig and I still risked my life to save them.
I guess that's one of those things you never really know about yourself until the chips are down.
Afterwards, I could see that Jim was incredibly moved. He tried to be strong and calm and cool--joking about house rules and stuff--but he didn't let me out of his sight until we were safely back at the loft. Once we were there he got me a beer and stood with me in the door to the balcony and said "Welcome home, partner," just like I'd said when we got home from Peru.
And I could tell he meant it.
So I learned two important things on that trip, and the one photograph helps me remember both.
I cannot believe that my mother gave Jim a copy of one of my baby pictures from her album. And especially that she gave him this one, me about two years old wearing nothing but a cloth diaper under plastic pants, curled up on my side with my blankie, sleeping with the abandon that only babies can manage.
Okay, sure, it's a damn cute picture. On the cuteness scale, I think I peaked at age two and have been on a downhill slide ever since. This picture is just evidence for that.
But what was she thinking? She's always known how I feel about Jim, then and now. I don't know if she was trying to sabotage the relationship; she was never thrilled about it...for good reason as it turned out. She tells me that Jim asked for a picture, that he asked for that one.
But Naomi's not above lying if she thinks it's for a good cause. So I just don't know.
Anyway, whether she's lying or not, this is the picture of me that she says Jim has. So I had her make another copy of it for me. It's good she didn't ask why I wanted it. I'm not sure I would have been able to answer. I just like the idea that maybe someday we'll be looking at it at the same moment.
I'm glad I've got a picture of Uncle Gustavo in here. He deserves a place, because I've dined out on Uncle Gustavo stories since first meeting him. Anyway, as many free meals as he's provided me with, unknowingly, since we met, he deserves a place in this book.
It wasn't easy getting his picture. I wound out getting this one from the F.B.I. via Rhonda. After all, the Cascade P.D. never got a mug shot of him and it's not like I could just call Maya and ask her to send me one as a favor.
I've never tried to contact Maya since she got deported.
After all her lies and deceptions the second time we ran into her, I really had no interest. Whatever it was that I felt for her, whatever little psycho-drama I was playing out on her, was completely gone by the time she returned.
But this isn't about Maya, this is about Uncle Gustavo.
And maybe, just a little bit, it's about Jim's threats, Jim's anger, when I was being threatened by Gustavo and his goons.
No matter where we were in our relationship, Jim was always very protective of me. Sometimes when I can't get the images of him throwing me out of the loft or telling me to go for the brass ring out of my head, I like to remember that protectiveness. It's a helpful balance.
I promised Jim a trip to Vegas after the debacle at St. Sebastian's. When Maya had been sent back home and the dust had settled again, he managed to convince Simon that we needed a break after dealing with all her shit and drama.
I didn't have a camera on the trip. I'm pretty sure I remember packing it, so Jim must have taken it out of my carry-on bag. But I did get a postcard from the Luxor, which is where we stayed while we were there.
I admit that what I really wanted for the weekend was for Jim to realize that he wanted me too and for us to spend the whole weekend in bed.
What I got was three days of getting teased about wanting to see Siegfried and Roy. I got two trips a day to the all you can eat buffet with Jim, where we joked about how much the other people were eating. I got to take in a traditional Vegas show, complete with dancing showgirls in glitter and feathers.
I got to spend a great, relaxing weekend with the love of my life.
It was nearly perfect.
Blair yawned and stretched. Glancing at his watch, he noticed that it was eleven o'clock, late for him to be up these days. He needed to be in early the next day; Dr. Gilchrist was taking his Intro to Archaeology class for a dig at the landfill and Blair needed to get to the lab before they left so Gilchrist could let him in.
He marked his place in the album with the postcard he'd received. This was a good place to stop; he'd been happy in Vegas. So had Jim.
Maybe he'd have good dreams.
The next evening, when he was being checked out of the lab by Dr. Morrow, the department chair, Blair asked, "Wouldn't it be easier for everyone, ma'am, if I had my own set of keys? I mean, I hate to bother you or Dr. Gilchrist to let me in and out every day." He hoped he put the right amount of deference in his voice.
In her most prim voice, the one she used with troublesome undergrads, Dr. Morrow said, "Well, Mr. Sandburg, you're in a probationary period now. If a year passes with no incident, we'll consider giving you keys to the lab."
Blair bit his lip and nodded. He wanted to shout at her that his reputation was shot because of academic fraud, not theft. But he supposed in Dr. Morrow's eyes, in the eyes of every academic who knew what he had done, they were equivalent. Hell, in this environment, he'd have probably been more easily forgiven for the theft.
While he was thinking, Dr. Morrow had drawn herself up to her full height. She cleared her throat to get his attention. "I had another issue to raise with you, Mr. Sandburg. One of the seniors, Annabelle Casson," Blair nodded, remembering the girl, "has complained that you changed the dating on one of her pots in the catalog."
Blair nodded again. "Oh, yeah. I did. I meant to mention it to Dr. Gilchrist; he's her advisor right? She had that pot off by a couple of centuries, so I figured I ought to change it. I'm sorry I forgot to say anything about it. It was last week when there was that big collection of flints to clean. But the catalog really needs to be right, you know?" His pending talk about the importance of accuracy in the catalog they were publishing to share with other universities around the country was killed before he even opened his mouth by the look in her dark brown eyes.
"Mr. Sandburg," she said, "your job is simply to record the information that the professors and students give you. Fix what you entered about Annabelle's pot. And I don't want you making any more 'corrections'." She put the word "corrections" in air quotes.
"But," Blair started, but he fell silent when he saw her face. "I'll just ask..."
She shook her head sharply; all of her movements were sharp and pointed, at least with Blair. She was popular with the students, though, and, as far as he could tell, with the professors; so maybe it was just him. "Just enter what you're told." She turned on a smile and said, "You have a nice weekend, Mr. Sandburg."
He mumbled, "You too, ma'am," absently as she walked away in a staccato of high heels on tile. He stood in the hall for a minute trying to decide what to do with himself. He didn't like the idea of heading back to his apartment just yet, so he shouldered his backpack and headed the long way out of the building, to the door that would lead to the Commons. He could blend in with the students for a while.
Not that this was his life anymore. He wasn't a student and didn't really want to be. But it was, at least, familiar--a familiar rhythm of life, familiar scents in the halls, familiar stresses and worries. He didn't want it, but he didn't have to think about it either. Summer was coming, there was only another month of classes left; over the break he'd have to find something else to do--the school had been very clear about the fact that the lab would be closed over the summer and there would be no pay for him. The academic fraud was going to hang over any option he might have. That and the fact that he had no references--he'd burned all his bridges behind him when he left Cascade.
He was turning the last corner in the building when a friendly voice greeted him. "Hey, Jake. How's it hanging?" It had taken more than a month for him to get used to being addressed as Jake, but he didn't think anyone had noticed. Most of the professors in the department called him Mr. Sandburg or just Sandburg, and that he was used to. By the time a few of the other people who worked in the building started warming up to him and calling him anything at all, he'd gotten used to being Jake. Sort of. He knew he'd probably never internalize it, never stop thinking of himself as Blair, but it kept people from immediately associating him with Blair Sandburg, the decade's most famous fraud.
Blair smiled and reached out toward the lean man standing there, giving him a friendly handshake and shoulder squeeze. "Jose! I haven't seen you all week, what's been up?"
Jose leaned his broom up against his trash bin and rested against the wall. "Well, Dorcas quit last week, so I've been cleaning the dorms." Jose shook his head and Blair shuddered in sympathy. Over the months he'd heard a lot about the horrors of cleaning the dormitories from Jose.
"Dude, that sucks. So you're back over here now?"
"Yeah, they did some rearranging on the schedule. I've got a couple of extra buildings, but at least I don't have to deal with that shit anymore. Do you know what some of those kids did yesterday?" Jose started patting his pockets, finally pulling out a baggy of pale greenish goo. "They made this stuff." He handed the bag to Blair.
Blair looked at it. "What the hell is it?"
"It's slime. You know like that stuff you can get for kids in the toy store." Jose looked around, then rolled his trash can into the corner. "Come on, sit with me outside. You can keep me company while I have a smoke."
Blair held the door open, but said, "You know, those things'll kill you one of these days." It was almost a reflex; he said the words to Jose at least a couple of times a week but this time his heart wasn't really in it. He was just tired and down and...he bit his lip and didn't think about any of that.
Looking at him curiously, Jose said, "You okay, Jake? Get into a fight with the Ice Dragon?" He lit his cigarette. Jose didn't think much more of Dr. Morrow than Blair did and the appellation made him smile.
Jose's eyes were on him, full of concern, but Blair just shook his head, "It's okay. I'm just tired." He held up the baggy. "So what did they do with this stuff?"
Blowing out smoke as he talked, Jose said, "They spread it on the floor in the hallways and went..." he paused to take another drag, "surfing. That's what they called it, hall surfing. Then I had to clean it up. It was all over the floor, the walls, the ceiling even. Everywhere. Shit's hard to clean up too." He took the baggy from Blair's hand and shoved it back in his pocket.
Shaking his head in sympathy, Blair said, "Damn, that sucks. Did the little brats get in any trouble?"
"Nah," Jose said, shaking his head, "they said it was high spirits. It took me hours to clean up, their damned high spirits." He took another drag. "Boss says that over the summer they'll be putting carpet in the dorms so they can't do this again. It wasn't the first time they did shit like that this year, either. Alfredo told me about some stinking mess a couple of months ago in the same dorm."
"Well, carpets should solve that problem, anyway," Blair said, with genuine sympathy. He'd been aware of activities like that when he was living in the dorms at Rainier, but as a kid years younger than anyone else there, he'd never been invited to participate in any of them.
"Yeah," Jose agreed, "but it means more work for us keeping the carpet clean." He flicked his cigarette butt into a puddle at the side of the sidewalk. "I gotta get back to work." He stood up. "You got any plans for the weekend?"
Blair shook his head as he rose to his feet, saying, "Nah. Just me and the cat, man." He clapped Jose on the shoulder, then said, "I've got a project I'm working on. I hope to get a lot done."
Shaking his head, Jose said, "Alfredo and I are going to be at Remington's tonight, man. Stop by if you need a break."
"Yeah, I'll do that," Blair lied with a smile. They shook hands and, as Jose went back into the building, Blair turned toward the Commons. Then he remembered the photo album at his apartment; he wanted to look at more of it, to keep reflecting on his life with Jim. Memory as drug and temptation. He wondered if he should try to fight it. It only took a couple of seconds for him to decide to give in and he walked to the bus stop instead of the Commons.
The next page doesn't have a photo, it has a headline from the Cascade Times: "Drugged Civilian Opens Fire In Police Garage".
Fortunately, it was a busy news day, so my story was buried in the middle of the local news section. I couldn't have shown my face back at the PD if I'd been splashed huge all over the front page. It was hard enough to go back as it was.
But Jim was there with me, all the way. He made sure that everyone knew I was drugged by the perps he had just taken down. And he made sure my story was eclipsed by the nine-days wonder of him taking down the bad guys while effectively blinded by the Golden. So he slipped me back into the station while people were still busy congratulating him.
I guess Jim and Simon had prepared the ground well, because no one said anything unpleasant to me. Most either said nothing or that they were glad I was okay.
Still, the headline pretty much sums it up.
After the Brent Marten case, I came home from the University one day to find Jim dressed to the nines. He was going out to dinner with the doctor he'd seen a week or so before, the one who'd removed the impacted earwax from his ears. And I mean dressed up. Black suit, bright blue shirt, black tie. He looked like something out of a magazine.
I managed to convince him to let me take his picture. I don't really remember how, now; I just remember a lot of fast footwork and a huge cock-and-bull story about needing to show a picture to my dissertation committee, or my Aunt Ruth, or Naomi's best friend. Something like that. I truly don't remember the details.
But he grumbled and let me take his picture.
I doubt I would have put it in here if he hadn't come home from that date so disappointed. I mean, Dr. Grant was just the kind of woman he usually goes for--intelligent, professional, capable and red-haired. He came home early complaining about what a bore she'd been, talking about herself and complaining about her ex.
Just before he went upstairs to change into something comfortable for the rest of the night, he ruffled my hair and told me he wished he'd taken me out to the Cloud Room instead because he could count on always having a good time with me. One of the most expensive restaurants in town and he wished he'd taken me.
That's why I keep this photo here.
Another shallow one. Jim and Debra Reeves went surfing and Jim invited me. So I managed to get a picture of Jim in his wetsuit.
I've looked at this one a hundred times, used to whack off to it regularly. Even now it still gets me going. That man looks fine in tight neoprene.
I'm not sure why Jim invited me along on his surfing trip, it's not like I'd ever surfed before, but I know why I went. I was having a lot of trouble letting him out of my sight after that Prometheus case. Watching that building burning down, the explosions occasionally rocking me back, and I was well outside the building, knowing that he was in there with them, just about killed me.
I think that's when I knew that I loved him. I didn't just want him in my bed, I wanted him any way I could get him, forever.
And damn he does look good in neoprene.
Life's most important moments happen when you don't have a camera. No matter what the Kodak people tell you.
I wish I could have photographed Jim standing on top of the Olympia Building after stopping Col. Oliver from shooting that guy. Who was he? A senator? A diplomat? Whoever. Anyway, Jim stood there, rifle in hand, silhouetted against the sky, tall and proud. He was glorious there, like a guardian watching over the whole city.
The closest I could come to catching the feeling, that image of Jim Ellison, Sentinel, guardian of Cascade, is the picture of the Paraguayan warrior from Sir Richard Burton's book. He doesn't look anything like Jim physically, of course, and he's holding a bundle of spears instead of a sniper rifle. But he has the same watchful confidence. The same aura of silent protection.
Everything about the picture is just right, except that it's not of Jim.
A couple of weeks after the whole Galileo incident the four of us from the elevator went out to dinner together. Even Caitlin, who was out on bail. Every one of us brought our camera. I know I wanted to have some record that we had actually been through it and survived.
It was a surprisingly fun evening. We had nothing in common, except for having almost died together, but we managed to find stuff to talk about. Lynda, still on crutches for her broken ankle, has a degree in sociology and we were able to bond over Emil Durkheim and Margaret Meade. Clarence has buddies who worked at the university, so he and I had some common ground there. Caitlin was subdued, mostly she just looked sad and apologetic the whole time.
Through the dinner, we stayed off the subject of the elevator, but over Irish Coffees afterwards, we all talked about how scared we'd been. I didn't realize it at the time but they'd all seen me as a sort of lifeline. I seemed confident, I guess, and I knew the cops who were trying to rescue us. Scared and desperate people will grab hold of any source of strength.
Even when it's all bullshit and smoke.
This is a great picture. Jim and I at a Jags game together. We'd been to one before, just before the Lash thing, but we'd both tried to put that whole incident out of our minds. That wasn't such a great game anyway; the Jags won, but it wasn't exciting. And the aftermath, finding the body and all, definitely put a cloud over the whole evening.
This was an amazing game, hard fought all the way down. And when the final basket went in seconds before the buzzer, Jim gave me a hug. A manly-man's hug, all slaps on the back and A-frame bodies to minimize contact, but it was still great.
I'd taken my camera; I was photographing crowd dynamics for an article I was writing, and asked the people in the seat behind us to take our picture. So the picture has Jim's arm around my shoulders, and the Jags celebrating the win in the background.
I swear part of the reason I like the previous picture so much, despite the fact that it's a great picture of a great night, is that the longer I linger over it, the longer I put off turning the page to this one.
This photo album is like the hot and cold of my life with Jim, all in microcosm. From the tremendous high of that night at the Jags game to, two days later, finding the corpse of a man tortured to death with a belt sander.
I hate morgue photos, but somehow it would seem like lying if I left them out of this album entirely. Corpses are part and parcel of the whole police gig. At least in Major Crimes.
Both Dan Wolfe and Serena Chang were great about giving me pictures from the cases Jim and I worked on. The autopsy reports are a matter of public record anyway, so I could have gotten them in any case. But Dan and Serena didn't make me work for it. I guess I'm glad about that, though I sure could have done without this particular photo.
At least Jim was wonderful to me during this case, caring and very, very physical. I can still feel his arm thrown across my chest, holding me safely in place in the truck.
Just for the record, being shot in the thigh sucks. More specifically, being shot in the thigh and then being forced to run, well, hobble, on it and going through a half a day's delay before getting to the emergency room sucks. The physical therapy afterwards...well, that sucks too.
The shot went all the way through my leg. While I was in the mine, I thought that was a bad thing--two wounds for the price of one you know--but the doctors assured me that it's good because they don't have to do so much work to get me fixed up afterwards. No surgery to dig the bullet out.
Jim was worried as hell while they were dressing the wound in the mine. He didn't say anything at the time, I think he didn't want me freaking out, but I could tell he was scared. Later, when he realized that I wasn't going to bleed to death, he relaxed and was even able to joke with me. But in the mine he was almost as pale as I was.
After I was back on my feet and tapering off the pain meds, I was spending a lot of time with the physical therapist. Until I could drive myself, Jim took me back and forth to physical therapy three times a week.
And that's what I've got a picture of here. I didn't particularly want a picture of Quinn's ugly mug, after all. So what I got was a picture that Jim took of me in physical therapy. I wasn't able to get in touch with Naomi until a couple of weeks after the shooting; I finally tracked her down in Copenhagen where she was part of the Dalai Lama's entourage. She couldn't come to visit, but I promised I really was doing everything the doctor told me to. So Jim took a picture of me on the rack doing leg exercises. God, those wore me out, but every time I did them I could feel that they were making me stronger. I sent one copy of the picture to Naomi to prove I was being good and kept one for myself, as a reminder.
You'd think that I wouldn't want to remember that time, it was painful and not a lot of fun. But, damn, Jim was wonderful.
He stayed right there in the room with me while I was doing all of the physical therapy, encouraging me through the hard parts, reassuring me with his presence when it was all hurting like Hell. He took me out to lunch afterwards, three times a week, as a reward for going through it. No Wonderburger either, my choice every time. Far more than him springing for a good lunch for me, the real reward was spending time with him.
It was an unspoken rule of these lunches that we didn't talk about either the station or the university. We talked about anything and everything else, though. He told me about some great movies--I'd never have watched To Have and Have Not if it weren't for him. I got him reading some good history books, Tuchman and McCullough and Cahill. When the weather was good, we'd take tapes and the boom box and listen to music together in the park. I told him about how much it sucked having a different "father" every few months. He told me about how hard it was ending his marriage to Carolyn, even when he knew they didn't love each other. And on and on.
So I have this photo, not to remind me of getting shot or going through physical therapy, but to remind me of those lunches with Jim.
I wonder if one of the hallmarks of a good photo album is that at least some of the pictures are completely cryptic. Or maybe that's one of the hallmarks of a bad one. I mean, to anyone who's not me this is just a photo of the loft, taken from about halfway up the stairs.
Living room's clean, of course, this is Jim's place after all, but not overly tidy. There's a book propped open on the coffee table, Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, and an empty wine glass lying on its side on the floor next to the yellow chair.
I don't think even Jim would know the significance of it.
I know that this is what the loft looked like the morning after the first time Jim and I made love...had sex. Yeah. At the time it felt like making love to me, but I guess there's no sense making more of it than it was.
He was sitting and reading the Tuchman, I was watching a video from the lab, reviewing an experiment we'd done earlier that day to explore if Jim's senses of taste and smell work more independently than most people's. I don't know what I did, or what he did, or if there was something about the black plague in the 14th century that suddenly turned his crank, but somehow we went from Jim idly stroking my hair as I sat on the floor next to him, to him kissing me practically into the carpet in about thirty seconds flat.
I didn't resist, of course. I felt like I was finally getting everything I'd wanted from him.
He gave me the best blow-job of my life right there in the living room and, when I'd recovered from that enough to walk, took me upstairs and taught me that everything I'd been imagining about him, about us, since watching him shower on the oil rig, was nothing compared to what could actually happen.
I never thought I had a poor imagination until that night.
Sometimes when I'm going through this album I stop here. Not too often, because it seems like cheating somehow, but those nights when Chicago seems an especially long way away from Cascade, I stop here and let myself remember falling asleep in his arms, both of us completely exhausted.
It was the best night of my life, the night I thought I had gotten everything I wanted. And sometimes, when it's all too obvious that I was wrong, I just want to go back to that.
This isn't really a photo and it's not really a proper page in the album. I just keep it here as a reality check.
The morning after our first night together, I woke up alone in Jim's bed. It was disappointing, I wanted to wake up with him, maybe have sex again, but it wasn't too surprising. He had to go into work early and I had a late morning class. I wouldn't have even thought about it if I'd woken up in my own room.
I did some puttering around, took the photo I have on the previous page, tidied up the living room, etc. As I was leaving, I picked up my backpack from beside the door and found a note on it.
It reads, in it's entirety:
"We're meeting the DA today to go over Dawson Quinn. Be there at 2, suite 147. Don't forget. --Jim"
God, reading that just sucked. I don't need a lot of hearts and flowers or anything, but to get nothing at all... No acknowledgment that anything had happened between us. Not even my name on the note. At that moment, I realized that we should have talked sometime between the Tuchman and the blow-job, talked about what we were doing and what it meant.
But Jim doesn't like talking, not about emotions anyway. And, true to form, he didn't really talk to me all day. Once I caught him looking at me, jaw muscle jumping, face stone hard. And when I went to bed that night it was in my own little room under the stairs.
I found the note again when I was packing to move here and stuck it in the book. The perfect let-down after the perfect night.
As wonderful as all those lunches when I was in physical therapy were, never once did Jim mention that he had a brother. Never once.
Naomi would tell me, Hell, she has told me, that it's a sign I shouldn't have needed. That Jim wouldn't, couldn't, open up to me.
I didn't really give it enough credence at the time. I was still sorting out all the weirdness after having had sex with Jim. We never did talk, but after a day or two he stopped being tense and distant and I came out of my room and faced him. We both wanted normal back, so we made a pretty heroic effort and after a couple of weeks things were okay.
And during all that time, I was trying to cut Jim some slack. I know, I know, I was always trying to cut Jim some slack, but he was having a tough time. Running into his brother was rough on him. Finding his brother suspected of murder was even rougher.
Paralleling that, was winning that cop of the year award, which didn't sit well with him. Jim's not much in favor of that kind of publicity. He'd much rather just do his work in peace and quiet and be left alone. Too much praise embarrasses him, and makes him wonder when it's going to get taken away.
But I did get a great picture of him accepting his award. Even if he wasn't pleased about it, I'm proud as Hell of him. I don't really have any right to be. He and I both know I helped him earn that award, but he's won more since then, even once since I left Cascade, Megan tells me. So I might have helped but I wasn't necessary.
But I'm proud of Jim and proud that other people recognize that he's a good cop and a good man.
After Stacey got settled at school she sent us a photograph of herself in her dorm room. She adapted surprisingly well to losing eight years of her life.
She grew emotionally and psychically into her actual physical age as quickly as the doctors hoped. By the time she sent us this photo she looked much more comfortable in her body than she had at any point when she was staying with us.
She used to come back to the loft to visit at the holidays and stayed with us for a week or so. She probably still does. I haven't seen her since I moved to Chicago, but I sent her a birthday card and Christmas presents and call her every couple of months. She saw Jim at Christmas, but didn't talk about it much with me. Jim's not legally her guardian, of course, the courts appointed someone for that, but emotionally Jim and I are the closest she's got to family.
And she's probably the closest I'll ever come to having a child. A daughter who's only nine years younger than I am.
Jim's a great father to her--gentle and warm. If I weren't still so desperately in love with him myself, I'd almost wish that he could find a nice lady and raise a family.
Now that I've gone maybe he will.
No picture here, just a feather and a smear of red paint. After the morgue people came and went with Incacha's body, all that was left of him in the loft was a feather, some red face paint and a whole lot of blood.
I didn't feel a big need to save any of the latter. I almost always have the sensation of Incacha's blood drying on my arm where he held me. I probably always will. From what I've managed to figure out, it's one of those minor manifestations of psychosis that are part and parcel of the whole shaman gig. Particularly the whole not-quite-a-shaman gig, which is rather more psychotic, and rather less useful.
One of my big regrets is that Jim never let me do more with Incacha having passed the way of the shaman to me. But every time I tried to talk to him about it, even when things were still good between us, he turned me away and completely shut down. Sometimes for days.
Even in the best of circumstances, it was not something I could have done on my own. Incacha made me a shaman for Jim, to guide him. Without his participation and, at least, willingness, I could never really have been a shaman. All I was, all I am, is a guy with some mighty strange dreams and the perpetual feeling of drying blood on his arm.
But I keep the feather and the face paint, both as mementos and as power items. It's too late for that trip now, I know it, but I can't just let go either. Witness this whole photo album.
This picture, of Jim and Orvelle Wallace posing for the reporters after we took in Ray Krause, the shattered remains of the Jumbotron on the court behind them, always makes me think about heroes. A lot of kids grow up with Superman, Batman, or their fathers to look up to. But, you know, I never had a father and Naomi didn't let me read comic books, because they're violent and patriarchal.
Orvelle Wallace was the hero of my childhood. He was the best basketball player in the league, of course, but more than that he was constantly giving of himself, sharing his money and his fame with those less fortunate. He participated in an inner-city youth athletic league right in Cascade; he actively participated, mind you, he didn't just give money and some photo ops. He was down there in the gym coaching the kids and playing with them a couple of times a month, more during the off-season. He gives money, clothes and support to battered women's shelters in Cascade. He says he's making up for not being able to protect his mom better when he was a kid.
It meant everything in the world to me that when I went to get him to sign his rookie card, he actually spoke to me. Me, undersized, geeky Jewish kid. When he saw me there at the youth center with Naomi, our packed suitcases waiting for us by the door, I think he got that I needed something a little permanent in my life. Someone to look up to who wouldn't be gone the next time the music played in Naomi's game of musical beds. He gave me a hug and some pointers on how to use my lack of height to my advantage with bigger players, and signed my card. He doesn't remember it, but I know I'll never forget.
Jim Ellison, cop and Sentinel, is definitely the hero of my adulthood. Even after all the shit that went down with us, I still admire him and look up to him. In some ways, I even try to be like him. Jim's been through so much in his life, rejection by his father, finding the dead body of his mentor in the woods, abandonment by his mother, losing his men in Peru, putting up with all the crap that the Sentinel thing brought him. Other men would have just folded from it, gotten themselves a cabin in the woods where they didn't have to put up with the noise and smell and visual chaos of the city and hid. But not Jim. He forced himself to learn how to control his senses precisely so that he could continue to protect his city. He continues to care about people, even though he believes that no one has cared about him. Not in the way he needs anyway.
With everything that happened, all the wild ups and downs we went through, I'll always admire him for continuing to do what was right, even when it was hard as hell on him.
Orvelle Wallace made sure that Jim, Simon, and I all had front row seats for the Jags first playoff game a couple of weeks later. It was being held in Seattle because of the damage to the court at the Arena when the Jumbotron fell on it. Simon took his own car over and Jim and I rode together.
It was a great game--the Jags won and there was a huge turnout of fans from Cascade, so it felt just like they were playing at home. I have the ticket stubs here in the album, though the best part of the night was what came after the game.
Jim and I decided as soon as we got the tickets that we would take a room at a hotel in Seattle, one right near the stadium. That way Jim and I could drink beer at the game without having to worry about driving. We could also hang out and take it easy and make the three hour drive home more comfortably the next morning.
I swear it was never part of my plan for us to wind out in bed together. It had been hard, hard as Hell, to put that one night behind us, to go back to being friends, to being comfortable with each other. Particularly since, Jim being Jim, we'd recreated our relationship without ever talking about what we wanted or didn't, so I was just trying to follow his lead, without letting him lead us into losing the friendship. I never wanted to go through anything like that again.
He said the next morning that it wasn't the beer that led him to drag me through the door of our hotel room and start kissing me before it had even closed behind us. Maybe not, but it was sure as Hell unexpected.
Even as my brain was reeling from the shock and the feeling that this was all, potentially, a huge mistake, my body knew exactly what it wanted. I let myself get swept up in the moment, and we spent the night sweaty and passionate and wild. He touched me like he needed me, needed the contact. It was amazing.
The next morning, I woke up in a nauseous dread, afraid that we were going to be back to hard-edged silences like knives. The ensuing panic attack woke Jim and, once I'd calmed myself down, we talked, sort of. Not as much as we should have, as it turned out.
We'd both been freaking out because of fears that the other person was going to react badly. Jim was basing his fear on his usual assumption that people are going to jerk him over and then leave him. I was basing mine on my usual "that wonderful person couldn't want me" insecurity. I guess he was happy about this new aspect to our relationship. Not that he said so in so many words, of course. What he said was, "What's not to like about this, Chief? Sex with you is great."
When I got out of the shower later, he was messing up the other bed in the hotel room. At my look he said something about not wanting the hotel staff to know what we'd been up to, like the people at the other end of the building hadn't heard him moaning as he slid inside me.
But I wasn't surprised by it, so I nodded and said I agreed with him. I continued agreeing with him when he said that he wasn't looking for an exclusive relationship with me. I mean, how do you argue with that? He knew what he wanted. I knew that I wanted him all to myself forever, but I was willing to take what I could get. So I just nodded.
I could work with not exclusive. Sure I could.
At least I was damned determined to try. Not exclusive was better than nothing. And I thought that he'd come around eventually. He'd have to.
This one's darned embarrassing. I mean how many people have even had a mug shot taken, let alone asked for a copy for their photo album?
But sometimes I need a sharp rap upside the chin to keep myself in line. Iris was definitely one of those.
Just remembering myself chasing after her, when she was clearly bad news right from the start, gives me a shudder. I've thought and thought over the past couple of years about why I wanted her so badly. I have two partial answers, and together they don't add up to one good one. Part of it, of course, was that Jim had just told me that he didn't want to be exclusive, so I was showing him that I could do that. The other part, and it's lame, is that I was feeling very out of sorts and scrambled. It had only been a couple of weeks since Incacha had passed on the way of the shaman to me, Jim was resolutely avoiding any discussion of what that might mean, and I was frustrated as hell.
I think I just wanted something easy. And Iris sure looked like she'd be that.
Here's the mug shot to prove how wrong I was.
My little guppy! Hee. I can't help but smile when I look at this photo and remember that morning. Jim teaching me to fly-cast and calling me "guppy." I loved the feel of his arms around me. I always have, but he'd let me sleep in his bed the night before we left and I'd woken up with him curled up behind me, holding me close to his chest. Standing in that river with his arms around me felt like waking up in his arms.
Jim's called me a lot of nicknames, but that's one of my favorites because it's so silly. Jim's so restrained and self-controlled most of the time. Sometimes he's angry. Once in a while, you'll see grief. But his silly sense of humor only comes out rarely. And everyone else always seemed so surprised by it, I still can't imagine that it came out much with anyone but me.
That was great. And I caught this huge fish! So cool! And Jim put his arms around me to help me net it.
Simon was there, just down the river and took the picture.
If only those damned poachers hadn't come along and screwed everything up it would have been a great day.
But I have the picture of that morning. We went fishing several times after that. but Jim never called me "guppy" again. Pity.
I don't know why I torture myself with pictures of Jim's bimbos. I hated each and every one of them. Even Michelle, who was a nice lady, really.
I shouldn't have her picture, since she's in witness protection now. But I can't imagine what harm it will do. I don't know her new name and I don't have it labeled with her old name. Even if some nefarious elements found my personal photo album, I don't know how they could use the information that her photo is in it. I don't wish her any ill at all.
I just hate her. For being there. For wanting my Jim. Worst of all, for having him.
I can't believe Jim let me take a picture of him in his get-up as Bill Murdock, howdy-bob cowboy safecracker. Great big cowboy hat and boots and the whole nine yards. He looked great, he'd look great in a clown suit, I bet, but not quite like himself.
I was actually very impressed with how well he handled that whole undercover assignment.
When I came home to find him learning a Texas accent from "Bonanza" tapes, I took matters in hand. There was no way they weren't going to see through a cheesy accent like that, and from what we knew of Trent Leeds, if they made Jim, they'd kill him.
So I taught him a Texas twang. It started as a joke, right? Every time he got a word right I'd give him a kiss. Before long I had him up on his bed practicing saying "Safes in Dallas are the heart of the palace." And every time he got it right I'd take off another piece of clothing, his or mine. "Diamonds are for stealin'," with the properly dropped 'g', earned him several minutes of me playing with his nipples. He got a blow job when he was able to say "Gems, gold, silver and pearls are the center of my world" three times without the accent faltering.
By the time he was saying "I am a jewelry thief" perfectly, 'jewelry' coming out with a long 'oo' sound just like it should, he had come three times and I had come twice and we declared him ready to face Trent Leeds and his crew. Probably because we were both too spent to twitch another muscle.
He told me the night after that whole thing went down that he'd almost lost it when he'd had to explain to Leeds that he'd gotten into safecracking because "Diamonds are for stealin'."
It gives me a kick to think of him there, with the whole crew facing him, talking about diamond theft and getting a boner because he was remembering me, me, pleasuring him.
It was such an honor to meet and get to know Genevieve Benet, to be able to work with her however briefly. Even Naomi was impressed and she's hung with some big names in her time.
Genevieve's first visit to Cascade, which was all tied up with President Lemec's plan to murder her and the reappearance, and re-disappearance, of Uncle Gustavo, was memorialized in this photo album for about a year by a clipping from the Cascade Times of her holding a gun on President Lemec. I hated having that the picture her, the lowest point of her career, by far.
And I definitely felt, feel, some guilt about all of that. Not that she'd have been any better off if she'd never met Jim and I. Without us, she'd have been rather dramatically killed by that missile in front of all those spectators and reporters. But the moment where she faced her own demon, the violence in her soul and found that she was not different from the people she'd been fighting her whole life...that shook her. And I blamed myself for that, because it's hard not to think that she'd have been happier not to have ever had to face it.
She went underground after that, disappeared out of the public eye for a little more than a year. Around the time all Hell broke loose in my own life, she came back to town. She called me from the Holiday Inn out on the highway toward Tacoma and invited me to dinner.
Over dinner we talked about her. I wanted to get away from my own life for just one night, so I dodged her questions about me. She'd been depressed and angry for months, avoiding everyone. On the anniversary of her husband's death she thought about all of the people who had looked up to her, including me. And she reached out to her family and turned to meditation and prayer to find her center again.
While we were crossing the hotel lobby, I asked the lady at the desk if she had a camera and would be willing to take our picture. She had a Polaroid so Genevieve was able to sign the photograph for me, right there in the hotel, "To Blair, you helped me find the way back. Love, Genevieve."
This page has two pictures on it, but I count them as one. They're before and after pictures of Storm Island.
I took the first picture just before the helicopter landed. It was a gorgeous day, still sunny, though the storm is just visible in the background The lighthouse and station shine white against the green vegetation and dark grey rock of the island. It's a beautiful scene.
The after picture is a crime scene photo of the lighthouse. The windows are all shot out, the door has been smashed to splinters, there are bullet scars on the walls.
Only Jim and I could go away for a quiet weekend and wind up in a war zone.
The next page, which has nothing on it but a picture of the cover of The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner, is another of the incredibly cryptic ones. It's an awesome book and I recommend it to people a lot, but I can't read it again. I can't even look at the cover for long without wishing that I was able to cry about all of this.
Not too long after Storm Island, Jim and I...crap, this is tough...tough because, like a nightmare, it doesn't sound like anything after the fact. Jim and I spent a nice quiet evening at home. I made my killer bison burgers, Jim made his great coleslaw, and we sat together at the table and ate. We talked about this book, The Beak of the Finch, which is all about natural selection and evolution in the finches of the Galapagos Islands.
Jim recommended the book to me way back when I was in physical therapy after getting shot and I'd finally caught a break and been able to read it.
We talked about the book, about natural selection, about Jim's senses and being a Sentinel and how things could go from being an evolutionary advantage to being a disadvantage within just a few thousand years.
After we'd talked until even I could see the hints of dawn in the eastern sky, we went upstairs to Jim's big bed and the sex was slow and intense and gentle. When we were lying in each other's arms afterward, he told me that he wanted us to go to South America again someday. No drug runners or kidnapped friends this time. Just a trip up to Machu Picchu, the museum in Lima, the Galapagos Islands, maybe a visit to the Chopec if we could get out there safely. Someday, he said, he wanted to do that.
And, idiot me, I decided that meant that he'd changed his mind about us not being exclusive. Hell, he was planning a future for us together, what was I supposed to think?
I almost told him I loved him that morning, but something, some lingering fear held me back. I guess I'm glad about that, though I don't know how him knowing could have made anything worse.
Well, here's another one of me injured. There really aren't all that many of them, no matter what Naomi says.
I fell into a pit near the entrance to, of all things, a Masonic treasure hoard. Jim insisted on getting a picture of the cuts and scrapes on my legs and back despite the fact that I was okay. Not perfect, I had fallen about 10 feet, but fine.
Jim wanted the documentation in case it ever became important, so he had Dan take them in the lab when we got back to the station. He actually went to a lot of effort to find Dan to do it rather than letting Cassie Welles take the photo. She was omnipresent on the case and we wouldn't have had to do more than turn around to find her. At the time, I thought he just was trying to avoid her. Maybe that's all it was, but I don't know. Part of me likes to think he wanted to keep me away from her.
Oddly, he didn't insist on taking pictures of the cuts and scrapes I got when the tunnel collapsed around us and we barely got out alive. I guess that seemed like the risks of the business to him or something.
After Jim's undercover gig in prison, he was pretty messed up. Physically, he'd taken quite a beating from that Vince guy, a gorilla in a human suit if there ever was one. His emotional state was even worse. Jim's good at undercover work, he pulled off the cowboy role just fine, but going undercover as a convict was hard. I should have known just how hard it would be and put my foot down about it. Other guys in jail know about the rapes and the fights and the secret deals, know about them intellectually and as something they occasionally experience. Jim, with his senses wide open so he wouldn't miss anything that could be of importance, was there for every single one of them. He smelled the blood and semen, could taste the fear and betrayal in the air, heard the screams and pleas.
He said it was worse after I started teaching my creative writing class, because he could hear people talking about me, about what they would do to me if they got the chance. He just had to listen and keep his guard up and pretend he couldn't hear.
After the bust, Simon told us that Jim could have three days off once he got released by EMS. It was obvious that he wasn't ready to go back to normal life yet. Jim being Jim he didn't even talk to the medics, just rinsed his eyes out with a bottle of water and bandaged himself up with the first aid kit in the truck.
As soon as we got away from Starkville, we went camping after stopping by home for the gear. Jim shuddered, visibly, when I suggested he come inside. So I grabbed clothes and sleeping bags and the tent and enough food to get us through the day. I figured I could shop for more when we got to the campground.
The whole first day he just stood at the edge of the river, completely out of it. We didn't talk about it before he started, and I freaked out at first when he zoned. When I pulled him back, he kissed me, said it was okay and slid off again, chasing the cheerful applause of the stream or something. He was riding his senses, hearing the rustling of a million leaves, smelling the good, clean water from where it emerged from the ground miles up the mountain, feeling the movement of air molecules against his face. I spent the day watching over him, keeping an eye out for predators, other people, anything that might harm, or even disturb, him. At sunset, I spent a frustrating hour brushing mosquitoes off him before it got dark enough that they went away again.
After washing his senses clean, he thanked me. I remember that clearly, because it didn't happen all that many times in our relationship. He pulled me close, wrapping me up in his strong arms, and told me about what he'd gone through at the prison; I just held him while he talked. Later, we made dinner--nothing fancy, just some fried sausage and potatoes cooked over the fire.
While we were sitting and watching the fire, I snuggled up next to him and asked him how he had known to do that to cleanse himself. He shrugged and didn't answer. His usual response to Sentinel questions. He did say, though, and I even remember his exact words, "I was able to let go because I always knew you were there, watching over me. I could trust that I was safe in your hands."
I wanted him badly that night, I'd been scared for him while he was gone, but Jim was exhausted, so we just cuddled in our sleeping bag. The next two days, though, were spent half in the sleeping bag, filling Jim's senses in a completely different way, and half sitting at the edge of the river talking.
The very last day, I found a cheap disposable camera in among the camping gear and I convinced Jim to let me take his picture. He wouldn't pose for it, of course. He wouldn't even stop what he was doing, but I got a great picture of him bending over to roll up the tent, his shirt off and his skin glowing with sweat and sunlight.
Most of what's in this book are photographs. It's a photograph album after all. But there was no way to photograph what was so cool about helping Corinna Santiago. I could have a photograph of Dennis Murphy here, and that would make me think of some interesting stuff about loyalty and partners and what makes a good cop go bad. And when I looked through this album I could then have internal debates on who watches the watchmen and the trust we place in our police forces.
But that's not what I want to remember about this case.
Instead, I have a scarf from the Botanica that I bought when the store reopened a few weeks after Iya's death. It's not exactly like the one Corinna Santiago wears in her role as priestess but it's similar and it holds the scent of the bembe, incense and flowers and candles. That experience of guiding Corinna into her trance, helping her with the ceremony, seeking assistance from Oshun, that's probably as close as I'll ever come to actually being a shaman.
Hell, for that day and about a week after I didn't even feel Incacha's blood on my arm. I almost missed it.
I've considered looking into a Cuban community here, to see if I could find a group like the one Corinna served. It would be great to have ritual and spirit in my life. Heck, it's possible that she'd even give me a referral. Though I doubt it. I imagine everyone who knew me between puberty and the press conference would just as soon pretend they didn't.
Until just before she left Cascade I would have told you that I had no need for a picture of Cassie Welles in this photo album or any other. She made me crazy on our first few cases together. My biggest objection to her was that she was trying to pit Jim and I against each other, trying to make us compete for her. I played along with her stupid game because, while I didn't want her, I didn't want Jim to get her either.
But the Warren Chapel case really rattled her. Which wasn't surprising, given her history with the criminal and the way he kept involving her whether she wanted him to or not. It took quite a while before she really got her feet back under her.
Jim can be spectacularly insensitive, I know this better than anyone, but sometimes he's incredibly savvy. I could tell that he didn't particularly want Cassie around that night. For one thing, he had been worried about me, which usually made him want sex so he could reassure himself that I was okay. For another, while he didn't mind having people visiting the loft, he didn't like folks poking around in his stuff.
Despite all of that, he got that she needed to be doing something, making herself useful and, most importantly, she needed not to be alone that night. So she stayed at the loft helping to photograph the wreckage, then clean up broken glass and wood splinters. Just before I collapsed around five in the morning, I took a picture of the two of them, heads together, making a list of the things that needed to be replaced so Jim could make an insurance claim. When I got up the next morning, Cassie was sleeping on the sofa and I could hear Jim moving in his bed.
I guess the photograph isn't really of Cassie, though she's in it. It's of Jim. A reminder that inside his tough-guy schtick, inside his walls, is a really gentle and caring man. I wish he'd let me see that more often.
I hate this photo.
After Sweet Roy died, I tore my room apart looking for a photograph of him. Any photograph. I realized I didn't have one. I could have kept a fight program, but didn't. I figured I'd always be able to get another one. I could have taken a snapshot, but didn't.
So the only photo I have of my dear, gentle, honorable friend is the morgue photo of his corpse.
I suppose I have other avenues to try and get a better picture of him--I still talk to Jamie once in a while and could get him to send me one. But there's a raw honesty to this one. I only knew Roy for a few years, but he was my closest friend before I met Jim. After Jim came into my life, I was so focused on him, my Holy Grail, that I didn't have time for Roy or anyone else. Then Roy died.
I regret like Hell that Roy was murdered. But I don't regret the time I spent with Jim. I don't regret that Jim displaced just about everyone else in my life. He was worth it. I still think that.
This picture got added recently, oddly. It's a picture of Shemekia Copeland that I downloaded from her website just a month or so ago and put in here.
Not that I'm making any new memories of Jim and I, of course, but I didn't realize the significance of the night we saw her perform until I was here in Chicago and saw that she was performing at one of the local clubs. I didn't go; but I remembered when Jim and I saw her perform at the Living Blues.
At the time, it was just a great night out together. Things were really good between us, then. I spent most nights up in Jim's bed. He'd stopped inviting me and I'd stopped feeling like I wasn't welcome when he didn't. For my birthday, Jim took me out to dinner at the Cloud Room like he'd said he'd wanted to ages before. After dinner I thought we were going to go home, but he said he had a special treat for me and we went to the Living Blues instead.
I'd never been to the club before, but it was clear that Jim had. Nothing so obvious as people recognizing him, I don't think he'd been there in a long time, but he moved with comfort and familiarity. He knew where things were. I guess he must have gone with Carolyn.
We listened to the concert and went home and made love...damn it...I know I shouldn't call it that. That's not what it was. I know that. But that's what I was doing. I was making love with Jim and it sure as hell felt like he was making love to me.
We had a bunch of good nights together between the trip to Seattle for the Jags playoffs and this one. I didn't really figure out until recently, though, that this was the last of them. We had sex again, hot and dirty and needy, but things were never easy and comfortable and loving between us again after the night we saw Shemekia at the Living Blues.
So I have her picture from her website. Maybe one of these days I'll write to her publicist and ask for a better one.
Blair set the book down and went into the kitchen for a glass of water, the cat an orange snake around his ankles. "So, Noodles," he said, "what do you think? It's eleven. Should I go to bed now and save the rough stuff for tomorrow? Or push on through?"
The cat gargled a howl and stretched his front paws up Blair's leg. Blair reached down and scooped him up. "You think I should stay up, huh?" Noodles brushed his cheek against Blair's jaw. "How about I sleep instead? You keep watch."
The next morning passed slowly. Weekends kept him away from the continual disapproval of the people he worked for, which was good. But they also left him completely at loose ends. Boring as cataloging artifacts was, it was at least something to do, something to keep him moving, get him out of bed and dressed. On the weekends there was nothing at all to focus on.
The day passed in a slow moving haze of errands and cleaning and one of his long, time-killing walks around the neighborhood.
His phone was ringing when he got back from his walk. He hurried through the door and grabbed the phone off the table. Only two people ever called him anymore, Naomi and Megan. Naomi was incommunicado, in the Maldives with a new guru, so he answered the phone saying, "Hi, Megs, what's up?" He tried to force his voice to sound jaunty, or at least a little upbeat, but he could tell that he just sounded tired.
"Hey, Sandy," Megan said, her friendly voice elevating his spirits a little. "Anything going on over in the Windy City?"
Blair told her about his run-in with Dr. Morrow the day before and about Jose and the slime in the hallways. He smiled to hear her laugh. When he was done he asked, "What's up with you? Did you close that Brazelton case?"
"Yeah, Rafe and I got the guy. The DA agrees that it's a solid case, so no worries there," she was happy about that, obviously, but her voice sounded a little hesitant though, like there was something else.
"What else is going on with Cascade's finest?" Blair asked, as casually as possible. He tried to fight off the sudden rush of fear he felt. Had something happened to Jim? Would Megan tell him if it had?
"Well, Ellison left for vacation today. All of a sudden, too. He was looking at something on the computer, then jumped up and practically ran to Simon's office. When he left a few minutes later, Banks came out and redistributed Ellison's cases among the rest of us."
Blair frowned, that wasn't like Jim. Maybe he had a new girlfriend, some new redhead to turn his head and distract him from his duty. Anxious as he was for any word of Jim, he didn't want to think too hard about how obviously well Jim was doing in his absence. "Did he say anything about where he was going?"
"Not a word. The Captain didn't say anything either, except that Ellison was going to be gone for a little while and that he knew we'd be able to keep up in his absence."
Blair whistled. "Wow. Good luck with that. It's going to be tough being short handed."
"Apparently we're getting Vince Borana from Narcotics while Ellison's gone." She paused for a second. "I've heard he's good. We should be okay." She paused again, leaving Blair to wonder what was going on. "It's just not the same around here without you, Sandy. Cascade's no fun since you've been gone."
Blair shrugged, realized Megan couldn't see that through the phone, and said, "Yeah. I'm sorry. You need to hang out with H. and Brian more, they're always a good time."
She hesitated, then said, "I'm thinking of going back home, to Sydney." The words were spoken softly, but they fell like lead on Blair's ears.
He closed his eyes. He loved Megan, even if not in the way she wanted him to. Loved her for herself, but also for being his one connection back to Cascade and the life he'd had there. "God, Megan. Really? What will you do there?"
"There's a job waiting for me. Always has been. My old Chief wants me back." Her words could have sounded arch or critical, but her voice was so sad, so resigned, that all sting was taken out of them. "It's just lonely here. You know." It wasn't a question.
He did know. Megan loved him and he didn't love her; at least, he wasn't in love with her. He knew how brutally lonely that could be. He sighed. "Yeah. I'll just miss you, a lot." He heard her choke just a bit. He wanted to offer to help her, but what she wanted, needed, from him he just wasn't sure he could give. "So when are you going?" he finally asked.
"I haven't decided yet. You're the first person I've talked to about it." She paused. After a moment she said, voice almost pleading, "Sandy...", before her voice trailed off.
"Oh, Megs, I'm so..."
She cut him off, "Don't. Don't." Her voice became much more normal, suddenly, and she said, "Anyway. There's still time. I'm not leaving yet. I just thought you should know." What she left unspoken was that he could still stop her. A word from him and she'd leave Cascade for Chicago instead of Sydney. "Look, I've got to run. It's good to hear your voice. Call me next time, okay?"
"I will," he promised. As he hung up the phone, he looked over at the album on the table. Tonight he'd finish going through it, then maybe it was time to put it away. Jim was obviously getting on with his life. It was time for him to do so as well. Tomorrow was Sunday, that meant want ads in the papers, job hunting, looking to the future.
And some soul searching about Megan. He already loved her and she loved him. How hard would it be to fall in love with her if he let Jim go? How hard would it be to make her happy?
He made himself tea and went back to the living room. He puttered around for a couple of minutes, straightening a book on the shelf, adjusting the cat's scratching post, brushing cat hair off the seat of his chair. He was about to make his bed for the first time in months when he realized that he was stalling. He bit his lip and took a deep, copper-flavored breath, and picked the book back up.
Nothing should have fazed me about Jim's family after we went through the whole thing with Stephen. Nothing. Once you find that your partner and best friend has a sibling they've never told you about, all bets are off.
So I shouldn't have been surprised to learn that Jim's father was still alive and living in the ritziest neighborhood in Cascade.
But I was. I keep a photo of his house, the house Jim grew up in, to prove that it's really true.
I was shocked to learn that Jim had his senses as a kid, was aware of them, and that William Ellison had forced him to repress them. Had belittled his gifts by calling him a freak. Had made Jim be normal like everyone else.
Every kid, and I thought every adult, wants to be special somehow. Wants to have something unique about them that they can hold to themselves as validation of their worth. Lord knows I do. Jim had it and it was taken away from him, cruelly, by his father.
Even after all of that, after years of not speaking to each other, Jim still was willing to open up to his dad. Still cared about him enough to try and rebuild the relationship. I admire him for that.
Shortly after everything with the Aaron Foster case was wrapped up, we were invited over to dinner.
Sally took this picture of Jim, William, Stephen and me in the living room at the Ellison house. I would have liked to get her in the picture. It's obvious that she's the one who really raised Jim and Stephen, but all of the others, including Sally, were horrified at the idea. I guess the class distinction between the "help" and the "employers" is too strong.
If the invitation hadn't clearly mentioned both of us by name, I bet Jim would have left me at home. In any case, as soon as we walked in the door of his father's house it was clear that he wished he had. He kept looking from the expensive furniture and art objects to me, looking as dressed up as I could, and shaking his head. I'm pretty comfortable in most social situations; if you learn nothing else from ten years of studying anthropology, you learn how to fit in. But Jim was making me nervous. Before Stephen arrived, William asked me about my dissertation. I started giving him the thin blue line story; it was my standard answer to questions about my diss from anyone who wasn't already in the know. The whole time we were talking, Jim kept looking at me like he thought I was going to start singing Kumbayah or doing Hee-Haw routines or something. Or like I'd come up to him and give him a big kiss right there in front of his father. He didn't trust me to know how to behave. That sucked.
So I stayed quiet the rest of the evening and contented myself with watching the Ellison men interact, which was pretty interesting. Stephen was clearly deferring to his father, but not to Jim. Jim wasn't deferring to either of them. And William was obviously choked up at having his family back together. All of them were completely ignoring me.
Jim and I had never talked about whether or not we were ever going to come out about our relationship. I was waiting for him to take the lead on that one, because I didn't want to seem to be pressing or anything. I got my answer that night.
Lila. Another of Jim's bimbos. Another corpse. It's like two of the running themes of this album right here. Lila hit me out of the blue. Between Michelle and Lila, I'd stupidly convinced myself that Jim wanted to be exclusive. So I felt truly betrayed.
I made up a date with Sam from forensics to cover my shock, but I don't think Jim was convinced. I didn't try real hard to sell the idea that I had been planning to see someone else.
Lila. Hated her. What was to like: she hurt Jim in Bali, hurt him again in Cascade, was a stinking Tong assassin. Then she went all noble with her death and Jim spent weeks pining for her and talking about how much he cared for her.
I suppose I shouldn't hate her too much. I mean that nobility at the end saved Jim's life and I thank God, and Lila, wherever she is now, for that.
But she could have done that without fucking him, right?
After Lila, I figured that it was time and past time to talk to Jim. I mean, I couldn't just keep swinging on the pendulum between freaking out and believing what I wanted to believe. That hadn't been working very well.
So I took Jim out to dinner, my treat. The Cloud Room was my first choice, but it was a lean time of year for me so we went to an Italian place downtown. Genelli's. I have their card here. No picture. The card is enough.
I wanted to talk through Lila, explain to Jim why I was hurt, but every time I mentioned her name he'd get a sort of inward and dreamy look on his face and wouldn't say a word. Failing that, I tried talk through what we wanted out of our relationship. I tried talking about what I wanted, then asking direct questions. He either ignored me, didn't answer, or tried to talk about the food, the Jags, the new detective in Homicide, anything but us. Finally, over the stromboli, Jim said, "Chief, enough. If you don't like what we have, we can stop." More words I remember exactly. And he wouldn't say another word on the subject.
So I kept the business card. No details. No warmth. Nothing. Just like Jim that night. The beginning of the end, I guess.
I slept in my own bed for the first time in months.
This page could probably get me arrested if the feds knew about it. It's one of the dollar bills from the money train that blew up out near Clayton Falls. My logic is that the government wanted the money out of circulation--it's out of circulation. It's now a permanent part of my photo album. That's as good as burned, right? And no air pollution.
That whole weekend is horrible to contemplate. Jim wanting a vacation without me. Telling me, in front of Simon, that I was always in his face. Worst of all, the first time, the only time, Jim told me he loved me, it was a throwaway line. He'd have said anything to keep Simon and me from being mad at him. Hell, I was lumped in with Simon in a blanket "Love you" and it was like a god-awful beer commercial or something. I felt like I'd been punched. Still do, whenever I think about it.
I guess he was worried about me when they thought I had some horrible ebola-like disease and was going to die. That's what Simon said when we were going back to Cascade together, leaving Jim to his weekend with whatshername the vet. And I suppose that's something. But...not enough. Not enough at all.
I prefer contemplating the legalities and ethics of owning a dollar bill that was reported destroyed in the train explosion. Much easier.
And if the Feds to come to take me away, I'll go quietly.
I was able to get a nice copy of Megan Connor's official department photograph. No obfuscation this time; Megan gave it to me before I left Cascade. She's a good friend, though it seemed at first like she was just a loose cannon. I mean all of that ignoring regulations and policy so she could pursue her own investigation. No wonder it pissed Jim off, it was just the kind of thing he had a tendency to do.
But once things settled down, once it was clear that she was staying, Megan and I got very close. She figured out how I felt about Jim almost immediately, which was terrifying until I realized that she wasn't going to try and hurt either of us with the knowledge. I made her promise that she'd never tell him. He wanted us kept so secret, he would have been furious if he'd found out that she knew. It was good, though, to have someone to talk about Jim with. Even though I mostly talked in vague terms, about what I wanted in a partner and why I was frustrated and so on, she knew what I was talking about, knew who I was talking about, and was very sympathetic. I really appreciated that she never tried to give me any advice. She just sat there and drank her beer and told me she understood and was sorry.
During all of this, I was so wrapped up in my own issues, my own life, that I didn't notice she was falling in love with me. If I'd met her before I was in love with Jim, I think I would have fallen for her hard. She's a lot of what I look for in a partner, determined and caring and larger than life. And, even now, she still wants me, which just blows me away.
I know she loves me. I know that if I invited her out to Chicago she'd come, even come to stay. But would it be fair to her? She deserves someone who wants her more than anyone else, not someone who's accepting her love as a salve to an abused ego. I wish I could do that for her. For me.
I just don't know if I can.
If the night at Genelli's wasn't the beginning of the end for us, Jim reading the first chapter of my dissertation definitely was. And I don't place everything on his shoulders. Seriously.
He'd gotten so distant by then, that I was saying anything, even teasing him about what I was writing, just to try and get a response out of him. So I was poking at the bear and he, eventually, reacted. I should have expected it. Really.
I guess I did. It even felt sadly good to get a few things out in the open between us. Jim felt like I'd betrayed his trust and his privacy by writing about his life. I just wanted a chance to confront him. Nothing was fixed or resolved, though Jim pretended it was. And the pretense even held for a few days.
The next night, the sex was desperate, fast and hard, and I remember falling asleep clutching his arms because I was afraid that when I woke up he'd be gone. In fact, he was, despite my efforts to hold him. Just to the station early, but it felt like a sign.
So I put a page of that chapter in here. Not the whole chapter, of course. If this photo album ever fell into the wrong hands, whether Jim's or someone who wanted to hurt him, that would be too revealing. So I just have one page of rather dull literature review. Not even the word "sentinel" on the page, just some blither from Victorian anthropologists about tribal culture.
It's all I need to remind me of something I wish I could let myself forget.
I don't need this picture at all. It's a photo, from a catalog, of a Glock 9mm handgun, Jim's service weapon.
Once you've opened the door of your home to find your lover holding a gun in your face, no outside reminders are necessary. I sometimes wake up from nightmares of that barrel, huge and right in my face, and Jim, coldly furious. Sometimes in my nightmares he pulls the trigger and I wake in a sweat, whimpering.
But in case I ever forget, I have the proper page from the Glock catalog. I even got Megan to help me with it because I never learned much about guns when I was riding with Jim, and what I did know I've forgotten.
Except that barrel pointed between my eyes--that I could draw from memory. On my deathbed I'll probably be able to draw that from memory.
Sometimes I wonder what a casual observer would make of this album. I mean someone who didn't remember all the events and people memorialized here, who didn't know how they all connected. I mean I've got beautiful women and gruesome dead bodies and newspaper clippings and feathers and ...
I managed to get a good photograph of one of Alex's artworks. She helped me set it up and light it, even loaned me the camera.
It's a beautiful piece, a swirling jungle scene of a jaguar with eyes instead of spots. Creepy, but lovely.
I keep it here as a reminder of how I was duped by Alex. How completely I was taken in by the beautiful, vulnerable, lady artist, lady sentinel, and how completely I failed Jim. Beautiful, vulnerable Jim.
That's the worst part of it all--hurting Jim that badly. He hurt me too, yeah, but I'm strong and I can take it. Jim is so fragile, emotionally, and it wounded him so deeply that I was, in his eyes, ignoring him to spend time with Alex. Neglecting his legitimate needs for me as his partner and friend, particularly when he was going through all sorts of strange Sentinel stuff.
There aren't too many things in my life that I wish I could go back and undo. My experiences make me who I am and I'm generally happy with myself. But I wish I could go back and really be there for Jim at that time. Not that I'm sure he would have had me, after reading that chapter of the dissertation he was barely speaking to me, but at least my conscience would be clear.
You'd think this'd be a tough photo to look at. It's of the crime scene at Hargrove Hall, while I was lying there dead on the ground. It was taken after the EMTs gave up on me but before Jim went back to work and brought me back. At least I was out of the fountain.
It is a tough one. God, it's creepy to look at this photo of my own dead body--there really aren't any words.
But, shit. It beats the Hell out of any other picture I could have of that whole mess with Alex in Sierra Verde. I'd rather spend the day looking at myself dead on the ground than even a minute remembering Jim kissing her tenderly in the temple or on the beach. I can't even think about those moments, I just can't. Some self-protective reflex keeps me away from reliving those moments in my head. The worst moments of my life. Bar none.
At least, Jim is in this picture--barely visible behind Simon, who was keeping him back. He was obviously frantic and scared. Which helps a little to heal the pain of him kissing the bitch.
Boy, Jim wasn't kidding when he said I'd frighten the children on the street after I got beaten up by Ventriss' goons. I look scary with two black eyes and butterfly bandages on my forehead.
This picture pisses me off. Jim eventually decided he was going to believe me that Ventriss was behind my getting beaten up. Two days after the assault, he documented the injuries so we could add it to the charges against him.
While we were on the plane home from Sierra Verde, Jim formally asked me to come back to live in the loft. Which was okay. And obviously I said yes.
But, he was clearly not going to do anything so rash as trust me, care about me, even talk to me.
Which sucked. And hurt.
I guess I shouldn't be too pissed off about the whole Ventriss case. I mean, once Jim figured out that I was right about Brad, he sort of warmed up to me again. A little anyway. Just enough that we could work together again. Which is something.
Another bimbo. Another morgue photo. Another woman I hated because Jim cared for her.
At least Veronica didn't go all noble and heroic with her death. She was evil and manipulative all the way to the end. She used Ray Aldo against Jim and then ultimately planned to kill Aldo and make off with all the money herself.
I'm not sorry she's dead. Jim was really crazy over her. So many of his "relationships" never went beyond a date or two, but Veronica was stringing him along for months. Using him. It was a hard time for me for a lot of reasons. I could see that Veronica was bad news. I could sense the oncoming train wreck, even if Jim couldn't. And Jim was so cold and distant. That was sheer torture. Nothing ever felt right again after he read that chapter of my dissertation. He kept his distance, shut me out verbally and refused to get near me physically.
We were falling apart and I felt the tearing like a knife in my soul. Particularly because I'm pretty sure the only reason I'm alive at all was because Jim gave some of himself to me at the fountain. And it seemed like he was taking it back.
Veronica scared me, just about to death.
Not much to say about this one. It's a headshot of Vince Deal. He had a million of them made up after he "helped" us with that Hydra case.
It's cool to have. I mean, it's not very often that you get to meet a television star, particularly one from a show that you really loved. And he signed it, "Next time I'll let you make the pancakes, Vince," which is pretty funny.
And it's nice to have something sort of relaxing to think about after the picture of Veronica's corpse. Something that doesn't mean pain and death. In fact, Jim and I were getting along pretty well, that case. Almost like the old days, though he still wouldn't touch me.
It was like we were having to go through remaking our friendship without the sex all over again. And, at least in my case, without the love. It sucked like nobody's business. But as long was Jim was willing to try to have me in his life, I was willing to work with him. So we played at being buddies at the station and when other people were around.
It probably would have worked if we'd been able to give it enough time.
I have the picture of Vince here to distract me from all that. I just try to remember the three bears breakfast with the runny, burned, and just right pancakes.
I tore apart the check that Sid Graham sent me as an advance for my dissertation the minute I got it. I'd never seen a check with that many zeros on it, but I didn't even think about what I was doing. I just ripped it up in a helpless rage.
Then Jim accused me of deliberately betraying him. Thought I would sacrifice everything we had for money. Told me to go for the brass ring. So I pulled the scraps of the check out of the trash. I never had any intention of cashing it. But I knew that it would be a valuable reminder of that. Like I need a remember of what that felt like. It's like the thing with the gun. I'll never forget.
But I spent the night before the press conference putting the jigsaw puzzle of this check back together and pasting it here. Jim was at the station looking for any sign he could find of Zeller. And avoiding me. There was no way I was going to sleep anyway.
I've never had a lot of money, but that check was never a temptation. What I wanted was Jim. Hell, if I'm honest with myself, I'll admit that I still do. But it's never going to happen.
Bad as the picture of my dead body is, this newspaper photo of my press conference is definitely worse. At least when I was dead, I wasn't aware of pain or anything except that light ahead of me calling me to it.
The press conference was its own sort of death, suicide really, and I was awake for every miserable second of it. From making the calls to arrange it, to standing up there denouncing the miracle that is Jim Ellison, to Chancellor Edwards cursing me and kicking me off campus afterwards.
If I'd had the time to think of it that morning, I probably would have preferred to go back to the fountain. Oblivion beats the hell out of agony.
Blair tucked the new postcard, his favorite so far, into the front cover of the album and closed it slowly. He wished, as he usually did when he made it all the way through the album, that someone had thought to take a picture of the little ceremony at the station where Jim and Simon offered him the badge, offered him the position of Jim's permanent and official partner. Maybe a picture of Jim holding him, cuddling him almost, in public. That would make a much happier ending to the album.
But not really a true one, he reflected. Jim hadn't meant for anyone, least of all Blair, to interpret that as a public declaration of their relationship. And "permanent and official partner" was, apparently, an offer limited to the PD and nowhere else. Jim made that abundantly clear later that night. Blair stayed at the loft while Jim went out with one of the lady attorneys in the DAs office and didn't return until early the next morning. Blair avoided him until he left Cascade two days later. They'd hardly spoken to each other.
Blair sighed and set the album down on the table next to him. Noodles appeared in his lap and rubbed his head under Blair's hand, purring.
"Yeah, cat, I get the hint," Blair said, grateful for the distraction, as he started to scratch behind the orange ears.
Both of them were startled a few minutes later when the phone rang. Noodles jumped off of Blair's lap, leaving small cuts through Blair's jeans as Blair grabbed the phone. "Hey, Megs. Forget something?" he asked.
There was quiet on the line for a couple of heartbeats. Surprised, Blair said, "Hello? Megan?"
The quiet continued for another heartbeat. Blair was just about to hang up the phone when he heard Jim's voice say, "Blair?" Blair was shaking his head in disbelief as the voice continued, "It's Jim. Can we...," there was a deep breath, almost a sigh, "Can we talk?"
Blair almost dropped the phone, he almost hung up without answering. He didn't do either. "Jim? Ellison? Really?" He hated the way his voice squeaked on the last word. Before Jim could answer, could take away the offer of contact, he said, "Yeah, we can talk if you want." He looked at his watch, midnight. He'd gone through the album slowly this time. "It's ten o'clock there. Kind of late for a phone call. Would you rather do this in the morning?"
With a snort Jim said, "It's later than you think. I'm just down the block from you."
Choking, Blair asked, "You're where? Here? In Chicago?"
"Yeah." Blair thought he heard a sound like a sharp inhalation through the phone. "I must be right outside your apartment; I can hear your heartbeat. Can I come in?" His voice sounded strange, tight but not angry.
Blair stood up. He couldn't bear the thought of Jim seeing his crappy apartment. Couldn't bear for Jim to know that much about his life, about what he'd become. Outside his apartment, he could put on a better show. He checked his wallet: eight dollars, his lunch money until payday. Oh, well. There was always peanut butter. "Why don't we go to Java Jane's? It's about three blocks away, open twenty-four hours, and makes the best coffee I've tasted outside of Washington. I can meet you out front in five minutes."
Jim grunted then said, "Okay, Chief. If that's what you prefer."
Almost exactly five minutes later Blair closed the door to his building behind him and walked down the stairs. Jim's eyes were shadowed as he watched, not giving anything away. Blair felt himself blush, then blush harder at the knowledge that Jim could see it even on the dark street. "Hi, Jim," he said, extending a hand and watching carefully. He wasn't sure how Jim wanted to play this, wasn't sure what Jim wanted at all. Biting his lip, opening again the almost constant cut there, he tried not to think about what this visit might mean.
Blair was surprised when Jim used the outstretched hand to pull him into a fierce hug, saying, "God. I'd almost...". As his voice trailed away, Blair moved into the hug and wrapped his arms around Jim's waist. Just for a moment, he promised himself, just to refresh the memory. Before he was ready, Jim let go, stepping back and looking at him. His smile vanished as his forehead creased. "You look thin. You eating?"
"I'm okay. Come on, let's go," Blair said with a shrug. He gestured down the street and set off walking. When he heard Jim's footsteps, he asked, as casually as he could, "So, what brings you to Chicago, man? A conference? Or a case? And how did you know my number?"
Jim's steps stopped behind Blair and a long, strong hand closed over his forearm, pulling him to a halt. "Wait a second. What do you think is going on here?"
Blair didn't turn to look and see what expression might be on Jim's face. Didn't think he wanted to know. "I think you're in town for some reason and looked me up. Megan must have given you my address after all. Old friends getting together and all that. Chance to chat and catch up." His heart raced as he tried not to think of any other possibilities. Damn it, he couldn't, wouldn't, let himself think there could be anything more than just that. Jim reaching out for friendship, even at a distance, was a treasure he'd never thought he'd have again. But, still, try as he might he couldn't entirely quench a spark of hope, of anger, maybe both mixed together. He licked at where his lip was still bleeding and let the copper taste calm his racing heart before going on, cautiously, "Though midnight's an awful odd time for that."
When there was no reply from behind him after a second or two, Blair started walking in the direction of Java Jane's again, but Jim's hand was still on his arm. Blair stopped, he didn't want to break even that little bit of physical contact. Jim turned Blair around by his shoulders so that they were standing inches apart, face to face. Jim's eyes burned like gas jets, blue flames glittering out through the night shadows.
When Jim spoke his voice was intense, emphasizing every word. "I have been searching for you for six months, Chief. Three days after you left, you sold the Volvo to a collector in San Francisco for $2500 in cash. You bought a bus ticket to Salt Lake City two days later. In Salt Lake, you used your credit card to buy a roast beef sandwich and a coke at the bus terminal. Then you went off the grid." His voice went soft as he continued, "I was afr..." he stopped. Blair thinned his lips, of course Jim wouldn't want to talk about messy emotions. Apparently nothing had changed. Jim's face hardened, maybe in response to Blair's expression, but his voice was more normal when he asked, "Megan's known where you were all this time?"
Nodding, Blair said, "Yeah. I let her know where I was as soon as I got here. She didn't tell you? She was supposed to tell you if she knew you were interested." Surely Megan wouldn't have kept his address from Jim. She knew how much it hurt him that Jim hadn't asked for it.
Before he could think through whether or not she would do that, Jim said, voice sad, "I did all the research and searching at home. Simon knew I was looking for you, but I didn't figure it was anyone else's business." He stroked Blair's cheekbones with his thumbs and said, thoughtfully, "She wouldn't have known."
Blair nodded again; of course, Jim wouldn't let anyone know he was looking for his missing partner. If he did, someone might be able to figure out what they once were to each other. He wished that he could somehow avoid this whole encounter, avoid the crushing disappointment, avoid the cold loneliness outside Jim's protective walls. But he had hope now, whether he wanted it or not; Jim had been looking for him. It was just a faint glimmer, but there. He determined to ignore it. He stepped away and gestured down the street. "It's freezing out here, let's get some coffee. We can talk at Jane's." His voice was hard and raw, as bitter as the night.
Jim didn't move, didn't blink. His gaze held Blair as surely has his hands had. "What's wrong? I hoped you'd be happy to see me."
"Yeah. I'm sure you did." Blair saw a spasm of pain cross Jim's face and said, a little more gently, "God knows I want to be happy to see you, I've been wanting..." He shook his head. "Never mind. I need to know what you're here for, Jim. I don't know how to react yet. You said on the phone that you want to talk. We can do that where it's warm."
With a blink and a nod, Jim gestured for Blair to lead them. They walked silently for about half a block, then Blair started talking, "So how long are you in town for?"
Jim said, softly, "That depends on how our conversation goes. I've got two weeks of leave, more if I want it."
Blair turned to look at him. They were walking in step now, shoulder to shoulder like nothing had ever come between them. The comfort and familiarity of it made Blair wish, again, that he could cry, yell, scream, do anything at all with the pent up emotions of the last few years.He took a deep breath and said, "That was nice of Simon. How's he doing?"
With a grunt, Jim said, "Fine, I guess. I haven't been paying attention. Between looking for you and work, there hasn't been time for anything else."
Blair was opening his mouth to ask another question, trying frantically to think of something sufficiently generic and mundane to ask, when Jim said, "I've missed you, Chief."
Blair's throat got tight, but he managed to say, "I missed you too, Jim." He rubbed his arm. Somehow Jim's presence was making the familiar feel of drying blood on his arm more intense; the usually subtle sensation was overwhelming. He opened his mouth to speak, to share with Jim how he'd been feeling when he left Cascade, but this was Jim's conversation to lead. He bit his lip to keep quiet.
"You need to be careful with your lip; I can smell the blood," Jim said, voice soft and unusually gentle.
"Yeah," Blair agreed. "It's a bad habit. One of these days, I'll break it." He turned a corner and pointed to a well-lit shop halfway down the block. "Java Jane's. It's a popular hang-out with the college kids, but at this time of night we should be able to get a booth in the back room."
They walked in silence the rest of the way. Blair was waiting for Jim to start the conversation. He had no idea what Jim was waiting for; something that he wasn't providing, judging from the tightness he could see in Jim's jaw.
As he opened the door, Blair could hear one of the crowd of students there shouting to the barista, "Hey, Dan, you gonna take our picture again tonight?"
The barista shot him a glare over the cash register, "Not a chance! If Jane knew you guys were in here every night, that'd totally pooch the deal." The five other kids in the group laughed but their laughter died when Jim and Blair entered.
When they got to the counter, Blair gestured for Jim to order first. Blair smiled at the familiarity of Jim ordering a plain cup of coffee, black. Since Jim's coffee was cheap, Blair indulged himself a little, ordering a large latte. When Jim reached for his wallet, Blair said, "No, man. I got it. It was my idea after all." He gave the guy at the counter his fiver and told him to keep the change, then turned to Jim, "I'll go find us a table in the back. Why don't you wait for our drinks?"
On the other side of the bead curtain between the front of the coffee shop and the back, it was much quieter. Two people were studying together in one corner, talking in soft murmurs that he couldn't quite hear. Blair sat in the most secluded booth, back to the room.
Blair was scratching his arm when Jim slid into the booth across from him. Jim noticed the move and asked, "You okay?"
"Yeah. It's just a..." He shrugged. "It's nothing." There was silence for a few seconds and Blair wouldn't meet Jim's eyes.
"You learned that from me, didn't you?" Jim asked. Blair gaped at him, confused, and he went on, "Silence."
With a shrug, Blair said, "Yeah. I guess." Meeting Jim's unreadable gaze, he gestured in Jim's direction. "Ball's in your court, man. What do you want to talk about?"
Jim took a sip of his coffee, smiled a little, and took another one. "You're right, this is good." Blair nodded and took a sip of his own latte. Jim reached out for Blair's hand, squeezing tightly. "Ball's in my court, huh?" Blair nodded again. "Okay. But I need you to agree to one thing." Blair raised an eyebrow at him and made a go on gesture with his cup. "I need you to be honest with me, Blair. About everything."
Eyebrows raised, Blair said, "Oh?" He took a sip of his drink.
"I don't think either of us has ever been entirely honest with the other. At least not about..." Jim waved his hand between them, "us."
Knowing he was right, but surprised to hear Jim acknowledging it, Blair nodded, saying, "Okay. I agree to your condition. Assuming you'll be honest with me, too."
Jim nodded. "Of course." He took a deep breath. "Why did you leave Cascade? And why did you change your name and hide from me?"
Covering his surprise at the question by taking a sip of his latte, Blair finally said, "I left because I couldn't see anything for me there." Before Jim could speak, he went on, "You and Simon had offered me that badge, and I really appreciated that. But I couldn't go on with..." He looked up at Jim, who squeezed his hand. "I know I hurt you, Jim. With the dissertation, with Alex. God knows I'm sorry about that. But being on the see-saw with you was tearing me up, and I couldn't see any end in sight."
Jim winced. "I'm sorry. I knew I was pushing you away, but I couldn't figure out how to stop."
Blair held his latte close to his chest, letting its warmth fight against the cold that was permeating him. After a couple of moments, he went on, "As for the second question..." He took a deep breath, and suddenly he knew the real reason, the reason he'd been keeping from himself. "There're two reasons. One of them is that it pretty much sucks being Blair Sandburg right now. Jake Sandburg's not quite so...encumbered." Jim squeezed Blair's hand again, and Blair held on to it. "The other one's stupid. Really. You don't..." he trailed off when he saw the fierce look in Jim's eye. He looked down. "Yeah. Truth. Okay. Look, Jim, as long as I was hard to find I could tell myself that you hadn't found me because I'd hidden too well. If I was easy to find and you never contacted me, well...I just didn't want to face that." He breathed in deeply, embarrassed at the little hitch. "It was bad enough that you never got my address from Megan. Every letter, every call, from her was a reminder that I hadn't heard from you."
Jim squeezed his hand again. "Of course I was looking for you, Chief. Did you really think I wouldn't be?" Blair nodded, miserable, and Jim's eyes dimmed. He held onto Blair's hand, rubbing his thumb over Blair's rough knuckles. "What did you want for us, back then?" Jim asked, too casually. When Blair didn't answer right away, Jim reminded him, "You promised the truth."
Blair took a deep breath and summoned his self-respect into a little flare of anger that quickly grew into a blaze. "What difference does it make? I didn't want what you wanted. You wanted Lila and Veronica and Michelle and, probably, Finkelman and that stupid bimbo in Leeds' gang. With me as your secret little back-up plan in case you couldn't get a date when you wanted one." He kept his voice low, though he wanted to shout, but even so, Jim blanched a little at the words, at the anger. Maybe it was surprise. Blair was surprised himself.
"Is that what you thought? What you think?" Jim said, gripping Blair's hand, keeping Blar from snatching it away.
"What was I supposed to think? We'd barely finished...fucking for the second time when you told me that you didn't want to be exclusive. And tried to hide what we'd been up to."
Jim's jaw tightened, muscle jumping. Blair braced himself. Not for a shout, Jim didn't usually shout, but for the cold that made Jim's eyes hard and cold like splinters of iceberg. After a couple of seconds, Jim relaxed, then said, voice sad, "It's what I thought you wanted. You didn't argue with me."
Blair took a deep breath and released it, before speaking fiercely, voice low. "Damn it, Jim, what was I supposed to say? You didn't want to be exclusive, I did. It's not like I was going to give up what I could have because I wasn't going to get everything." He bit his lip for the comfort of the blood. Just like that his anger was gone, leaving him hollow.
Jim put his finger to the cut on Blair's lip. "Tell me what you wanted, Blair. Please." He stared into Blair's eyes. Flames, not ice. Blair relaxed a little.
Blair couldn't tear his gaze away from Jim's eyes, but he felt exposed, torn open. "I wanted you. I loved..." He blushed. Jim blinked and, freed from his gaze, Blair looked down into his latte. "I wanted you and me, forever," he mumbled. He winced at the desperation he was revealing. He'd never, never wanted Jim know that. Not if he didn't want the same thing.
Jim stood, and moved so that they were sitting next to each other in the booth, without ever letting go of Blair's hand. Blair slid over to make room. Jim lifted Blair's hand to his lips. "I never knew."
Blair shook his head, and mumbled, "I didn't think you wanted to. And if you knew..." He sighed. "It's like changing my name. As long as you didn't know, I could dream. If you knew what I wanted and turned me down, then it was all over..."
Jim put his arm over Blair's shoulder and pulled him close, holding tightly to stop Blair from squirming away. After Blair stopped moving, Jim leaned over and whispered in Blair's ear, "I wouldn't have turned you down, Blair. Not then and not now."
Blair felt his breath catch in his throat as he exhaled. He was trying desperately to disbelieve Jim's words, to protect himself by not accepting what he was hearing. Trying, but failing. God, but he wanted this so badly. Whatever Jim was offering, he wanted it. He leaned into Jim, tension easing, despite his efforts to hold onto it. "Why didn't we ever..."
Blair was interrupted by Jim suddenly lifting his head and turning to look over his shoulder, toward the room. Blair squirmed around so he could see. The barista was there, a camera in his hand, looking apologetic, as though he recognized that his timing was bad. He fidgeted for a second, then said, "Guys, I'm sorry to bother you, but the owner thinks things get sketchy here at night. You know, drug deals and homeless people sleeping here and stuff. She wants us to start shutting down at midnight, but a couple of us really need this night shift because of our classes. So we've been taking pictures of everyone who's here after midnight, trying to show her that we're not getting any bums or junkies or bangers. Anyway, can I take your picture? It'll only take a sec, then I'll totally get out of your hair." He waved back over his shoulder.
Blair started to slide down the seat; Jim would want some space between them, even if he did allow the photograph. In any case, their comfortable illusion of privacy, cast by the quiet and the blank wall they faced, was shattered now. Blair bit his lip. He was surprised when Jim tugged him close with an arm still over his shoulder and said, "Sure. Go ahead. It'd be a shame for this place not to be here for the students."
While the barista was fiddling with the camera, Blair looked up at Jim and whispered, "Are you sure, man? Who knows where this picture could wind up."
Jim smiled at him, and Blair felt the disjointed pieces of his life begin to fall together. "I'm sure, Blair. I've never been more sure of anything." He leaned over and kissed Blair quickly, just a quick brush of their lips. Then he turned toward the barista with a smile. "Go for it."
With a quick flash, the picture was taken. Blair hoped that the picture wouldn't show him looking as stunned as he felt at the public kiss. Maybe something really had changed. "Thanks guys. Every little bit helps," the barista said, then he waved and walked off.
Jim turned to Blair when they were alone again, "So..." He stopped, swallowed the last of his coffee, took a deep breath. "What do you want, now?"
Blair looked up through his lashes at Jim's impossibly beautiful and unexpectedly diffident face and felt a warm flush of arousal. He wanted Jim, desperately, even if it was a mistake in the long run. "At this moment, I'd like for us to go back to my apartment." He looked away, drained his own drink, then looked back. "In general, I'd like for us to...," he paused, rubbed his arm, then continued, voice faint but firm, "I can't deal with the silent anger, Jim, never again. I still want us ... but not if you won't talk to me."
Jim stood and gently tugged Blair out of the booth. "I want that, too. Come on." When Blair was standing, Jim put his arms around Blair's waist and held him close for several seconds, long enough that Blair let himself completely relax into it. "Feels good to hold you again, Chief. I've missed this, missed you," Jim murmured in his ear, before letting him go with obvious reluctance and leading him out into the night.
Just outside the door, Jim stopped, "I've got to..." In the light from the glass door, he looked embarrassed.
Blair smiled. "You can't wait 'til we're home, man? Five minutes?"
"I'll just be a second." Jim squeezed his shoulder then ducked back through the lighted door.
Blair thought about going inside, waiting in the warmth, but the noise and activity in the crowded front room was too much for his nerves. He needed darkness and quiet and being alone with Jim. And it wouldn't be long.
Indeed, before the cold had started to creep through his coat, Jim was back, looking apologetic. As they started walking, Jim took Blair's hand and held it, fingers entwined.
Blair looked down at their hands, then up at Jim's face. "I've been answering all the questions so far." Jim nodded and squeezed his hand. "Am I allowed to ask some, too?"
"Sure. What do you want to know?" He pulled Blair close by their clasped hands, then let go to wrap his arm over Blair's shoulder.
Hoo boy. Blair didn't know what to ask first. There were so many things he wanted explained but, if he pressed too hard whatever this was between them might disappear. Blown away like powdery snow. He rubbed his face with his free hand and took a deep breath. "Why were you...why didn't you..." He paused, biting his lip.
With gentle fingers, Jim eased his bleeding lip out from between his teeth. "Don't do that, Chief. You don't need to. Just ask," Jim said, voice calm.
"At least one of us is relaxed," Blair muttered. He started walking again, then asked, "Why are you here?" That seemed safe enough to ask.
Jim kissed the side of Blair's head and whispered into his hair, "Because I need you."
Nodding in sudden understanding, Blair said, "Your senses." He felt guilty; Jim's control had been so good for so long, he'd let himself put the thought that Jim might need him as a Guide out of his mind. "Damn. I'm sorry."
With a flash of a frown, Jim kissed him on the temple again. "They've been fine. Or fine enough. I keep them dialed down mostly. That's not it." He stopped talking for long enough that Blair thought that he wasn't going to explain, that he wasn't going to let Blair past the silence. Blair's heart lurched, maybe Jim just couldn't open those walls. Not even for him. When Jim finally spoke, Blair let out the breath he'd been holding. "The loft is empty without you. My life is empty. I can't stand it. God, Blair, I let you go...Hell, I drove you away, without ever telling you that I love you. Without ever letting you know what I really want. I couldn't forgive myself for that."
Blair slowed to a stop while Jim was talking, and stared. He could feel a slow smile spreading across his face. The cold couldn't seem to touch him anymore, though a moment ago he'd been freezing. Jim was smiling as well, gently, with the lights shining in his eyes. "You're serious?"
Jim's smiled widened. "Yeah, I'm serious." He looked around. "This is your place isn't it? Shall we go in?"
Blair blushed and fished the keys out of his pocket. "Yeah, this is it. You can meet my roommate."
"Roommate? I was kind of hoping we'd be alone tonight." Jim said, running his hands down Blair's back--leaving Blair half-hard and completely aware of Jim's heat behind him.
"He won't mind...or if he does we'll lock him in the bathroom." Jim raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing. Blair led them inside and to the door of his apartment. He fumbled with the key in the lock, fingers wooden and clumsy with arousal, while Jim continued to touch him. Almost innocent touches to his shoulder, the back of his neck, his hair. Almost innocent, but not.
Blair smiled, finally getting the door open and the light on. Noodles was there waiting, glaring at Jim with yellow-eyed disfavor. Blair shut and bolted the door behind them, saying, "Noodles, Jim. Jim, Noodles." He turned to hang his keys on the hook by the door and kick off his shoes.
Jim asked, "You have a cat?"
"Yeah. He was cold. I was lonely. It was Thanksgiving. Seemed like fate, you know," he said. When he turned around, he saw Jim hunkered down, reaching out toward the cat, his black leather coat pulled tight over the muscles of his back. He touched Jim's hair, feeling the softness. "God, Jim, you're here." He looked around at his apartment and was embarrassed. "Umm, I'd show you around, but this is it. The door in the corner leads to the bathroom, if you need it."
Jim stood and looked obediently around the room. After a moment he turned back to Blair and, putting his hands on Blair's shoulders, said, "I don't care about the apartment, Chief. I'm here with you. That's..." He kissed Blair's forehead. "That's all I could ask for."
Blair's eyes widened and he reached out, tentatively, for Jim. His hands shook as he rested them on Jim's broad chest, taking in the solidity. "Yeah, okay." He bit his lip; he'd never been so uncertain before. Not about sex anyway.
Jim calmly took off his leather coat and draped it over the back of one of the two chairs at the tiny breakfast table. When Blair didn't move, Jim came to him and started unbuttoning his wool coat. Blair thought he could feel Jim shaking, but discounted the idea; he must be feeling his own nervousness. He started to help Jim with the buttons. Jim took each of Blair's hands in turn, kissed the knuckles, and set them on his own chest. "I want to be naked with you. Now." His voice was blatantly hungry. Blair gulped and skimmed his hands down Jim's body, passing over his abdomen to lightly stroke the erection that was visibly pressing against Jim's fly. It twitched under his hand, making Blair shiver.
The knowledge of Jim's desire broke Blair free of his nerves and he started working on Jim's buttons in earnest. When his fingers brushed against the skin of Jim's throat, the soft hollow between his collar bones, he started to babble, "Oh, man. Jesus Jim, your skin is so sweet, so soft. So good..." He figured he'd have plenty of time to be embarrassed later. For now he was just going to enjoy. He leaned forward and licked that little spot. When Jim moaned, he felt an exultant passion. God. No matter what else had gone wrong with them, the sex was always good.
He moaned himself and felt the responding jump in Jim's pulse under his fingers and tongue. Jim herded him toward the mattress in the corner, stripping off clothes, Blair's and his own, as they went. Blair was focused on staying in contact while they moved, not letting Jim get out of his reach. He was almost too successful. Each touch, intended or incidental, inflamed him and Blair was afraid that he'd get off before they even made it to the mattress, before they were together long enough to make this real.
The thought that it might not be real, that there was more that they should have discussed, more that should have been clarified, froze him to the core. He fought to hold onto his arousal as Jim guided him down onto the bed. Even the feel of Jim's naked skin against his own couldn't pull him out of his head. His heart was thundering and he could feel a panic attack building, hovering angry around the edge of his vision. He lay very still on the mattress, trying to breathe deeply and calm himself.
Once they were lying down, Blair was vaguely aware of Jim cocking his head, sensing something. After a moment he shook his head and stretched out beside Blair, leaning over him. Jim rested his hand on Blair's chest, murmuring, "It's okay, Chief, okay," until the panic attack started to subside. When Blair's heart was no longer thundering irregularly and his breathing was at least even if not very deep, Jim started to touch him. The strokes were soft, apparently aimless. He trailed his fingers idly along Blair's chest, the sensitive skin of his sides, over his nipples. The too-gentle touches were accompanied by kisses, deep and slow and concentrated and anything but innocent.
Blair forced his questions, his doubts, away and focused on Jim, on the taste of him, on the feel of velvet skin over hard, warm muscles, on the almost inaudible humming noise he was making. Blair moaned indistinctly and rolled his hips, trying to tempt Jim's ghost touches down to his filling cock. Jim gentled his touches impossibly further, continuing to avoid Blair's cock. He deepened his kisses, though, until Blair felt that Jim was touching his soul and every fear, every insecurity, every desire he'd ever had must be apparent. When Jim backed away, so that they were barely touching, Blair squeezed his eyes shut and whimpered his fear that he was stopping.
"Shh, shh. It's good, it'll be good. Just trust me." He brushed his lips against Blair's, reassuring, and traced a finger down the center of Blair's chest. "Look at me, Blair," Jim commanded, voice soft. Blair opened his eyes. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm not going to stop. I promise." Blair didn't trust himself to say anything so he just nodded. "Can you trust me?" Jim asked, staring at Blair with lonely eyes.
Blair wanted to look away, but he could tell from the look in Jim's eyes that he was talking about more than just sex. This was the moment when he needed to decide if he could risk everything with Jim again. He felt a tear tracking down the side of his face into his hair as he said, "Yes. I can." Jim's smile almost stole his breath, but he managed to ask, "Can you trust me?"
A few heartbeats of silence passed, long enough to convince Blair that he'd misread the situation. Again. He reached to wipe away the tears, to hide them. Before he could, though, Jim was kissing the tracks away. Between each tiny kiss, Jim murmured into his skin, so softly Blair wouldn't have been able to hear him from even a couple of inches away, "Always...always...always."
Blair's eyes fluttered closed in relief. Jim kept kissing his face for a moment then turned his attention to Blair's chest. With his eyes closed, Blair felt like he had Sentinel skin, able to feel every nuance of Jim's touch. He could feel each ridge and whorl of Jim's fingerprint as they caught on the hair on his chest and the little trail down his belly to his cock. The rough softness of Jim's tongue on his nipple felt like a thousand separate caresses. Jim's fingers in his pubic hair sent ripples of pleasure to his cock from each individual hair as it moved. A drop of his own pre-come splashing on his belly was a shock of wet heat that made him wail. God. Jim licked across the head of his cock, slick and warm and velvety. Blair tensed his muscles and fought, shaking, against his orgasm. He needed more time to experience Jim here wanting him. He couldn't, couldn't let it end just yet. He tugged Jim's head away from his cock, saying, "Too close, too close. Need you to come with me."
Obeying Blair's request even as he groaned in disappointment, Jim moved away. His groan changed into one of pleasure as Blair rolled on top of him, lining up their hard dicks. His skin was still sensitized and the feel of Jim's cock next to his own, satin-smooth skin stretched taut over the engorged flesh, made him vibrate with desire. He tried to fight for control, distracting himself by gliding his fingers over the film of sweat on Jim's perfect chest. But the temptation was too much, and he reached down and took both of their cocks in his hand, pumping them once.
Jim put his hand on their joined cocks as well, so that they were both giving and receiving the same pleasure. Perfect symmetry. Blair almost shouted as Jim's long fingers tightened around them; Jim shuddered and made a noise that wasn't quite a whimper. Blair felt that noise throughout his body, vibrating through him where they touched, moving tiny hairs on his super-sensitive skin and it pushed him over the edge. He thrust into their joined fists, shooting his semen over their hands and chests. He was still pulsing when Jim moaned, loud and deep, and climaxed as well.
Jim held him and soothed him through the physical shakiness, cradling Blair close. When Blair's heart had stopped its clamoring in his chest, he pushed away a little bit, just so he could see Jim's face. "You meant that? About trusting me. You weren't just saying that?" He asked, his broken voice revealing his precarious emotional state.
Jim's eyes, clear blue and miles deep, met his as he nodded solemnly. "I trusted that you wouldn't deliberately hurt me. But I thought you were leaving as soon as you finished your dissertation. And that was killing me." Blair opened his mouth to speak, but Jim rested his fingers, damp with their mingled come, on his lips to silence him. He went on, and now his voice was shaking and broken, "Every moment you spent working on it..."
Blair felt cold, sharp wires around his heart, bindings that had tied him up for years, unravel. He reached up and stroked Jim's cheek, where lines of pain were etched ages deep. "Every time I worked on it, you thought I was hurrying to leave you." Jim nodded, still not looking away. "And then I did leave." Jim closed his eyes in a wince. "And you came after me anyway." He very carefully didn't make that a question.
Somehow Jim must have guessed that it was one, because he opened his eyes again. "Like I said, I need you. I love you."
Blair smiled and snuggled close into Jim's arms, "I love you, Jim. I've loved you forever." He traced a spiral on Jim's chest, right over his heart, then said, "I would never have left you if I didn't think that was what you wanted. Never. Doctorate or no doctorate. You know that now, right?"
His only answer was a kiss pressed into his hair and a deep yawn. Blair thought about pressing the question, but decided that the kiss was enough of an answer for the middle of the night. At the moment, he wasn't up to facing any other answer Jim might give. Or, worse, Jim not answering at all. He couldn't deal with it now, not until he got some sleep. And maybe it'd all still be okay in the morning.
Whether it was or it wasn't, he could go back to Jane's after Jim left, get a menu or a picture of the booth for his album. One more memory. Hell, maybe he could get a copy of that picture the barista took. What was his name, Dave? Dan? Someone there would know.
"There's a stain on the carpet, Chief, did you know that?" Jim said, just as Blair was emerging out of sleep.
Startled out of his semi-conscious haze, Blair shook his head, rolled onto his side, and said, as coherently as he could manage, "Huh?" He scratched flakes of dried semen off his stomach. Jim. Here. Right. Time to play it by ear. "There's lots of stains on this carpet, Jim; it's been here since avocado green was a fashion color. Arguably, anything that color's a stain already."
"Not this carpet, Chief, the one at the loft. Come look," Jim answered, patiently.
With a nod, Blair sat up, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and locating his glasses on the cinder block he used as a bedside table. He peered around the room to see Jim sitting in the chair, the photo album open on his lap.
Blair cringed. He never wanted Jim to see that, never even wanted him to know about it. Before he could move, before he could say anything, before he could snatch the book away and hide it, Jim said, voice soft, "It's okay. Let me show you."
Blair staggered to his feet, looking around for a pair of sweats, or even boxers. Nothing clean and easy to find, damn it. He rubbed at his arm; fine then, he'd be naked. There was definitely something symbolic about that.
He walked to Jim's side. As soon as he was in reach, Jim wrapped an arm around his waist and pulled him onto the arm of the chair. With his other hand he tapped at the picture of the loft the morning after their first night together. "That wine glass, it left a stain."
Blair gulped. "And you haven't cleaned it up?" he asked, voice fainter than he wanted it to be.
Jim sat there for a moment, staring at the picture, stroking Blair's back. Finally, he said, "No one can see it but me, and I like knowing it's there. I knocked your glass over when I was," he paused, then continued, softly, "the first time we made love."
"You recognize when that was taken?" Blair asked, sadness roughening his voice. He wished he was angry instead; he felt he deserved to be. Jim nodded, but said nothing. Pointing at the note upside down against the facing page, Blair said, "Turn it over."
Jim did so and winced. Blair stood up, slipping out of Jim's grasp, and walked to the bookcase. His back to Jim, he asked, "If you were so happy, what was with the note, man? Why did you shut me out?"
"Because you were studying me." Noises from behind him alerted Blair to the fact that Jim was standing up, walking toward him, but he didn't turn around. "I'm not an anthropologist, but I was pretty sure that fucking your research subject is as bad as fucking a suspect."
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Blair said, "So you closed me out because you realized I was doing shitty research? That doesn't even make sense." He turned around to face the other man, getting his first good look. Jim was naked; Blair wondered if his nudity was symbolic as well.
Not appearing to notice his moment of distraction, Jim said, "No. I closed you out because...God damn it, Blair. I couldn't be there when you woke up and realized that fucked your Holy Grail and would have to abandon our project. I couldn't be in love with you when you moved on to something else. I couldn't need you when you left to go to Borneo, or somewhere worse."
He looked away, and Blair studied the classic profile, the bunched muscles at Jim's jaw. Blair cupped his cheek with one hand, stroking his thumb over the high cheekbone. "You may have been a better anthropologist than I was, Jim. Because I never thought of any of that. I wouldn't have cared if I had, but it didn't even occur to me that I shouldn't be making...fucking you." He blushed and stared at the smooth skin of Jim's shoulder.
With a soft kiss to his temple, Jim whispered, "We were making love, Blair. Every single time."
Blair's eyes flew to meet Jim's, which were warm and soft. Jim smiled and nodded and Blair pulled him into a kiss. He allowed himself to feel, to believe, that it was going to be good this time. As they were kissing, he was overwhelmed by a rush of giddy joy and he grinned. Good, Hell, it was going to be great. His joy triggered Jim's and they stood for several minutes, clinging to one another, laughing together and kissing between the laughter.
When it subsided, Jim went and grabbed the album from the table. He sat down on the bed, piling pillows and blankets behind his back. Spreading his legs wide, he said, "Come here, Chief. Talk me through this thing."
Without hesitation, Blair sat down between Jim's spread legs and leaned back against his strong chest. "Are you sure, Jim?" He bit his lip for second. "There's some rough stuff in there."
Jim wrapped his arms around Blair's waist and kissed his shoulder. "I'm sure. If it's important enough for you to keep, I want to see it." He set the book on Blair's lap.
They were still on the bed, paging through the album slowly, talking over everything, when the doorbell rang hours later. Noodles jumped off the corner of the mattress and hid under the chair. Blair stood up, but before he got to the door, he remembered they were both naked, and called out, "Hang on a sec." He scrambled for a dirty pair of jeans.
A young man's voice, vaguely familiar, called through the door, "Hey, I gotta run, but it's okay, man. I'm just dropping something off for Mr. Ellison. I'll leave it outside the door."
"Okay, thanks," Blair said, confused. He looked over his shoulder at Jim, who was pulling on his boxer shorts. "What's up? Who even knows you're here?"
Smiling shyly, Jim said, "It's something I ordered last night." He opened the door, and picked up an envelope on the floor with a shout of "Thanks."
"No problem", echoed faintly from the foyer upstairs as Blair looked over Jim's shoulder. "What is it?" As soon as Blair saw the shape of what was in the envelope, he smiled, knowing the answer. "The photo from Java Jane's." He said and kissed the back of Jim's neck.
"Yeah, when I went back in, I paid Dan to take the film to the hour photo developer today and bring a copy of that one here." He turned and put his arms around Blair's waist. "We can put this one in your album and make another copy for mine," he said, still shy.
"Yours?" Blair asked, stepping into the circle of Jim's arms. Jim nodded, pulled him close and rested his cheek on Blair's head. Blair traced lightly over Jim's spine for a second before saying, "Maybe we could combine them? You know, instead of your memories and mine, we could have ours." He expected to feel fear, or at least nervousness, but was overwhelmed with wonder.
Jim squeezed him tightly, saying, "I like that idea, Chief."
Blair kissed Jim's chest then rested his cheek against the firm muscles. After a few seconds, Jim asked, "So where do we want to keep this album of ours?" For the first time in years, in forever, Blair wasn't looking for any hidden meaning, or hidden lack of meaning, in Jim's words. The trust felt good.
Finally free of all of his own unvoiced fears, Blair answered, honestly, "I want to go home, to Cascade." He relaxed into the safety of Jim's arms.
"Okay, that's where we'll be," Jim answered simply, then he kissed Blair, deeply, deliberately, thoroughly. The first memory of their new life.
65 Photographs by Sara: email@example.com
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