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Recovery Epic-Cycle One

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Recovery Epic
Written for 100 prompts

 

Cycle One: Discoveries

 

Beginnings, Middles and Ends

001 – Beginnings

Blair's hands shook as he put the last of his books into a cardboard box. He kept waiting for something from Jim: cursing or accusations or even strong hands slamming him into the wall and demanding to know what the hell he was doing. He'd accept all of those to some varying degree, but this silence killed every dream he'd entertained for the past four years.

A wind rattled the window pane of the loft, and Blair felt like he had Sentinel hearing as the sound echoed against the bare walls, bare because Blair had already packed up his tribal masks and woven rugs. He'd labeled those with the address of the anthropology department at Rainer since he didn't feel like he could hold on to that part of him that had been an anthropologist up to that day when he'd renounced his life's work.

Nope, it was time to detach with love. Blair glanced up at the loft at the thought of the word, but Jim remained silent as he had since opening the door and standing frozen like a statue in his own doorway reviewing the disaster in his living room. Blair had sorted his belongings into piles that lazily sprawled around the room.

When Blair looked up with his heart beating wildly, he admitted to himself that he had wanted Jim to scream or curse and slam him into the wall and demand answers. He knew how to handle that. He wanted to shock Jim into that. Instead Jim walked over to the fridge, grabbed a beer and disappeared upstairs. Blair stood with a t-shirt still half folded and dangling from his hand, and his last hope had died.

After finishing with the packing and the labeling, Blair sat down and waited for the movers. He knew the guys from the station would help, but he hadn't even told them he was quitting. The look of resigned acceptance in Simon's face had precluded the idea of trying to face the others. Nope, he would just disappear from their lives the same way he'd shown up: no explanation and no excuses.

Less than an hour later, Blair watched as the movers carried out the last box. The books would be stored, the clothes were shoved in the back of his Cavalier, the keys…. Blair looked down at the keys in his hand. They weren't his anymore. Blair slowly pulled the key ring apart.

Jim's loft key dropped into the basket. Jim's extra truck key. The spare key for Jim's locker at work. The key to the basement storage room. The key to Jim's desk down at the precinct. As each key fell, it made a small clinking noise as it hit the others. He had no idea when he'd started carrying so many pieces of Jim's life, but Jim wouldn't share the one key Blair needed, and it wasn't healthy for either of them to keep lying their way through life. Blair took one last anguished look up at the bedroom, but the silence remained like this huge wall refusing him entrance into the inner sanctum of Jimdom.

Right. The end. It'd been a good run, but it was time for him to move on.

Blair turned the lock on the knob of the door and closed it. As he walked out to the street, Blair realized two things. First, his soul would never really recover from the Jim-sized injury that had left him in bleeding shreds. Second, Naomi was right, every end was a beginning. Now he just had to find some place where he could begin again.

 

002-Middle

Blair passed a sign on the road. "You are now officially in the middle of nowhere," it bragged. The middle, which is exactly where he was. The middle of his life, the middle of the west coast, the middle of nowhere.

Middle, halfway, equidistant. Blair rolled those words around in his head except that they implied that he was not only leaving something but also going to something. You couldn't have a halfway without two ends. While his heart ached at what he was leaving behind, Blair still had no idea where he was going to. Naomi would be proud; he had detached. Blair's mind played with the words as the road and rocked him into numbness.

Middle, heart, midriff. The center of Blair's pain, and never before had he understood the phrase heartbreak, but he sure did now because, man, his body ached from trying to contain his brittle agony and anger and fear and loss.

Middle class, middle ground, middle of the road. Blair had always walked the edges, but he would have given up the nipple ring and the hair and the attitude if he could have recovered the relationship he once had with Jim. Instead he got to keep the nipple ring and hair and attitude and walk away before they destroyed each other, and god he hated being the responsible one who took action before they ended up in some emotional disaster from which neither could recover.

Middle finger, which he would love to show Jim right now. Smack dab in the middle again, and Blair figured that his emotions were in such turmoil that saying applied fairly well, too.

The middle of nowhere. Oh, the sign had been terribly wrong. He wasn't in the middle of nowhere—he was in the middle of everything. He just didn't know how he was supposed to navigate without Jim. In the absence of Jim's strength and stability, Blair didn't try to navigate, he just let the road lead him south, away from the source of both his dreams and his grief.

 

003-End

Leaning back against the hot metal of the Cavalier's hood, Blair watched the dark skinned mechanic moving slowly through the garage. Blair didn't blame the man given the heat that rose from the sidewalk in waves. God it was hot, but then Blair had complained about the cold long enough that maybe he needed someplace hot. The car found an end here, and so would he.

Blair listened to the radio complain about the unseasonable heat in May, and Blair was grateful to know that 107 wasn't normal for May, not that it made him any cooler right now. Dripping sweat, the mechanic stood and upended a gallon jug of water before disappearing back under the hood of a minivan. Blair looked around for some place where he could cheaply sit in air-conditioning. The Denny's on the corner won his business by advertising their 2.99 meals.

The cold air hit Blair like the blast from an open freezer, and he shivered for a second before slipping into the dim interior which smelled of burnt grease and stale smoke. Even though a sign asked that he wait to be seated, Blair slipped past the hostess' podium and found a quiet booth in the back. Really he just wanted the cold air, so if he could go unnoticed, he was just as happy to save the money.

Blair slumped in the booth, his feet finding the seat on the far side and his head leaning against the warm glass of the tinted window. He was just so fucking tired. Tired of running, tired of pretending he wasn't dying inside, tired of wondering what Jim was doing. Just because he was doing the right thing didn't mean it didn't still hurt.

Blair had reached the land of half doze when an angry voice woke him up with a shouted demand for the cash. Blair had slithered to the floor under the table before his conscious mind could even catch up. Of course that same instinctive part of him also grabbed for his cell phone to call Jim. He got all the way to the four and the one before he angrily jabbed at the 'end' button and dialed again using 911.

In the lowest voice he thought the operator could hear, Blair gave the location, described the man, guessed at the two different types of gun the suspect might be using since Blair didn't feel like standing up to get a better look at the weapon. He provided the numbers of hostages, including himself. He described the hostages since he didn't have their names as he waited for the police to arrive. Unfortunately, the suspect started for the door before Blair heard any sirens.

Crawling below the level of the windows, Blair scrambled to a glowing emergency exit sign hanging over a glass door. Watching as the suspect ran down the side of the building, Blair timed his move.

As the suspect came close, Blair slammed the door open. The restaurant alarm system went off with a shrill blast, and the suspect went down with a bloody nose and a lot of swearing. Blair dived for the gun with a curse of his own. Oh yeah, he thought to himself as he leveled the weapon at the would-be thief.

The officers at the scene had cuffed Blair since he was the one holding the gun when they showed up, but they cuffed the scruffy dude with the blood dripping down from his nose too, so that was okay. Blair looked at the reflective surface of the window and realized that he looked a lot like scruffy guy minus the nosebleed. His face was dark with stubble, his hair slightly shiny with grease, and his clothing rumpled and somewhat smelly.

"So, you called in the 911?" a detective asked. Blair leaned back against the white car and watched as the mechanic left his little Cavalier with its hood up in order to lean against the building and watch the show. And it really was quite a show. In Cascade you had to blow up a building to get this many cops in one place.

"Yeah, man. Not really much else I could do at that point."

"But you took it into your hands to attack the suspect with a door," the detective sounded aggravated and Blair shifted his shoulders to try and reduce the strain from the handcuffs.

"Any port in a storm," he offered with a shrug. "Took on an armed bank robbery suspect with a handful of baseballs once." Blair remembered that night at the loft. Jim had gone ballistic in his Jim-way which included a lecture given in dark tones barely louder than a whisper and a jaw muscle that that twitched madly. Of course by that Friday Jim had gotten past the fear and had slapped him on the back while telling the story to the guys who had come over for poker. Blair had seen admiration in Jim's eyes, acceptance even. This time he wouldn't get the lecture or the slap on the back.

"You an officer?" the man asked.

"Was," Blair admitted. "Worked Major Crimes up in Cascade." Blair could see the doubt rise in the tall man's eyes.

"Oh man, don't even look at me like that. The hair and the earrings meant I could go places other cops couldn't even get in the door. I have a minor in psychology and a Master's degree in anthropology, so cut the snap judgment crap," Blair snarled. He'd been doing more of that lately than he used to.

"You always have this much attitude?" the tall man asked as he crossed his arms over his chest. Blair felt his anger slide away leaving him just tired, tired and lost.

"Not usually. I used to be the good cop half of the partnership," Blair said quietly. Used to be… that still hurt.

"Why'd you leave Cascade?" The detective's voice made Blair really pay attention for the first time. These were not the questions he had expected.

"I didn't like the cold," Blair answered guardedly.

"No other reason? Nothing on your record?"

"Oh man. No no, no. You are *not* putting this down as some overzealous ex-cop going postal. Man, I had the cleanest record in the department, well aside from a small illegal wire tap," Blair added the last part as an afterthought since he didn't know whether his transgressions as an observer had found their way into his official file. Then again, any investigation of his background would reveal something far more damning than a wiretap.

"You looking for work?" the man asked after staring for so long that Blair was starting to get paranoid.

"You always handcuff people before making an offer?" Blair shot back. He didn't want to deal with this right now. He was still processing the end of everything, he wasn't ready for a beginning.

"After I lost three officers to IA, I may have to handcuff people to get them to listen. We're not the most popular department right now." As the man spoke, he used a hand on Blair's arm to turn him so that Blair leaned stomach first into the car as the officer removed the cuffs. "I'm Captain Roth, by the way."

Blair turned back around rubbing his wrist lightly before returning the offered handshake. The man's dark eyes squinted in the bright sun and his blond hair had more grey than blond, which matched the deep wrinkles that outlined his eyes. The hand that gripped Blair's own was calloused, and the man wore his shirtsleeves pushed up to show dark sunspots on his forearms. Blair searched the man for some sign that this was some cosmic joke and he just wasn't getting the punchline.

"Blair Sandburg," he finally offered. "I worked with Captain Banks up in Cascade. Call around before you make the offer. I'll be in town a few days." Blair glanced around and then amended his own statement. "Oh man, if that mechanic doesn't start working, I may be in town several days," Blair nodded across the sea of flashing lights to where the mechanic still leaned against the white brick building as he watched the action.

"I need you to come down to the station to sign a statement and fill out some paperwork so we can contact you," Roth said with guarded expression of his own.

"Yeah, man, I know the drill," Blair muttered as he opened the car door and got into the front seat where Roth had gestured. As Blair watched his own car disappear in the review mirror, he wondered whether this was a beginning or whether a quick background check would lead to one more end. Blair leaned his head against the warm glass as he decided that he was just too tired to care any more.

 

 

Closed Societies
004-Insides

Blair always felt more of an outsider when he was inside than when he was outside, which sounded either ironic or slightly neurotic, but it was true nevertheless. Let him sit at the edge of some tribe recording the number of times that children imitated some adult behavior and he felt perfectly at home. But now as Roth pointed out Blair's gray metal desk and Blair's patched rolling chair and Blair's oversized computer with the fragments of half-removed stickers still clustered around the monitor, Blair felt like an utter alien wandering an unknown landscape.

An enormous black woman watched him, her arms crossed over her chest as she leaned against another squat metal desk. A man with a pinched face and thin smile stood near the coffeemaker. A Hispanic woman with a distracted expression and a pencil behind her ear ignored him in favor of a mountain of paperwork. A large man who badly needed a shave walked into the room through a door on the far end, and he didn't even try to hide his displeasure. In fact the sight of Blair brought an instant scowl to his face.

Blair idly wondered whether the desk that was now his had belonged to one of the three officers found guilty of taking bribes or if those desks had been sent away in some attempt to cleanse the unit of the collective guilt of having dirty cops in their midst.

"So you'll take cases with either Jeff or Bets to start with, they've got the most experience." Roth nodded first at the thin-lipped man and then at the black woman who looked like an extra from the set of Xena. Well, she was a little too thick for a show that featured T&A as much as feminism, but she was still formidable with wide shoulders and enough height to look Simon straight in the eye. Jeff's lips just managed to get a little thinner.

"We take the calls as they come in unless I assign a case personally. No favors, no swapping cases, no exceptions," Roth insisted with a steely expression that made Blair doubt his wisdom in taking the job. Of course, he had steadily doubted his wisdom for the last week, so that wasn't difficult.

"Got it," Blair confirmed as he dropped his beloved backpack on his desk. So far it just had a couple of clipboards and a few notepads, but Blair knew that soon enough he would have case notes and files and reports and phone numbers of snitches and packets of food for when he had no time to eat between cases. In fact he hoped the backpacked filled with his life quickly because he couldn't keep living in his old one. Never again would he have anthropology term papers jammed inside the worn backpack next to a lunchable and a white noise generator. He needed something else to fill that space now.

Blair stood waiting for Roth to say something, but the man continued to stand and stare at the other members of the unit. For the first time, Blair wondered if Roth himself was on the inside of this closed society or if, like him, Roth was on the outside of the unit formed by the other detectives. Simon had always been one of the guys, but Blair supposed that he shouldn't assume that was true everywhere. The division between supervisors and workers was well documented.

Blair forced his thoughts away from those studies.

"So, anything on the agenda for now?" Blair asked to break the silence that had fallen.

"You and Jeff have a suspicious fire investigation on 6th and Indian School. Make sure you file a transportation request before you go," Roth ordered and then the man strode across the room and disappeared into an office that had the blinds drawn. Blair looked over toward Jeff whose thin-lipped smile had disappeared.

"Jeff Clarkson," he introduced himself as he walked between the desks with his hand held out. Blair extended his own hand.

"Blair Sandburg."

"So, heard you were part of some hotshot team up north," the black woman, Bets, added from her position still leaning on her desk. At that, Maria looked up.

"Oh man, I was sort of the tag-along end of that team. I partnered with Jim Ellison who was covert ops, Army-hero, cop of the year sort."

"*Was*?" Jeff's voice took on an edge that made Blair very aware of the fact that this closed society had been attacked and suffered losses. They were circled inside their defenses, and he wasn't one of them.

"No, no. Nothing like that. He still is off being this god-cop. I just needed to move on, you know," Blair shrugged in his best show of non-threatening resignation.

"I get that," Jeff nodded as he seemed to make some sort of decision. "Come on, we've got a case to investigate."

***

Jeff was still laughing as they got off the elevator three hours later.

"Man, I don't think it was *that* funny," Blair complained darkly as he glared at the man.

"Hell yes it is," Jeff insisted as he pushed open the doors to the bull pen. "Bets, check this out," Jeff called the minute he got in the room. Russo, the large, unshaven man had now shaved, and his square jaw made Blair flash on another face from another squad room before he blinked and noticed the suspicious brown eyes watching him.

"What's up?" Bets asked without looking up from the notes spread across her desk.

"Drunk guy who sleeps in the alley behind our burned out storefront... He thought Sandburg was his long lost girlfriend." Bets slowly looked up from her papers, her eyes focusing first on Jeff and then turning slowly to Blair. Blair crossed his own arms and glared back defiantly. Unfortunately, he knew full well how this was going to end. After a three second pause, Bets took a deep breath and started laughing, heavy deep laughter that carried to the far corners of the room. Jeff and Russo both joined her as Blair stood in the middle of the room both the center of and excluded from the joke.

"It gets better," Jeff finally gasped out. "The guy got a hold of Sandburg's curls and wouldn't let go. Kept calling him Veronica and trying to pet him." Blair transferred his glare from Bets to Jeff.

"It wasn't that funny, man."

"Oh the hell it wasn't," Jeff shot back. "It was fucking hilarious. Sandburg was all 'unhand me you beast'," Jeff mocked in a high tone.

"Hey, I do not have a girly voice, and that could have been called assaulting a police officer. Not cool. Very not cool," Blair interrupted before Jeff could take the joke any farther. Well, not that interrupting would stop the story from doing the rounds of the rumor mill. Blair understood how hazing worked, but he still didn't have to like it, even if it was an inevitable stage of being accepted into any closed society.

"You run the guy in?" Bets asked, her voice still edging toward barely contained laughter.

"Oh, this is the nice part. Sandburg got the guy to talk. Turns out the 'accidental' fire came the same night the owners moved thirty thousand dollars worth of assets into a separate storage facility. Sandburg's boyfriend took us right to it. We may not have a case yet, but I think we have enough for some warrants and a heart-to-heart talk with the Chanders."

"A homer first time at bat," Bets said, and Blair couldn't help feel a little spark of pride as the clear alpha-dog of the bull pen gave him her stamp of approval.

"Yeah, well I'm going for a shower. I feel like I have crap all over me after that."

"God knows you smell,” Jeff added with a slap on Blair’s back, and the friendly touch both assuaged and highlighted an ache in Blair’s heart. Blair pulled himself back together before he made a scene in front of his new co-workers.

"Ha ha, man. I have a spare set of clothes in my car, so I'll be back in twenty." Blair headed back for the elevator after dropping his backpack on his empty desk. He didn't notice Bets behind him until he got on the elevator.

"Good work there,” Bets offered as the elevator doors closed on them.

"Thanks," Blair stood staring at the numbers as he wondered why she had followed him.

"Haven't seen Jeff laugh since IA took his partner out in handcuffs." Bets’ words were spoken unemotionally, but Blair had been around cops long enough to hear the warning. Part of Blair found it fascinating the way that this group was reacting with Jeff beginning an initiation that would end in Blair being part of the group if Blair could handle the teasing, and Bets warning him away. Of course, maybe Bets wasn't warning him off as much as warning him about the stresses in the group. Maybe it was even Bets' way of accepting Jeff's decision to let him in: her way of telling him to tread carefully now that he was moving toward becoming an insider.

"Must have been hard. My partner got accused once--didn't stick. Of course it wasn't true in his case." Blair offered back. Reciprocity. She offered some, he offered some. He tried not to think about how his heart still ached whenever he remembered Jim. Their friendship had survived the IA investigation, but it hadn’t been strong enough to survive what came after.

"Oh, Nate was dirty. He hid it well, but Jeff spent a lot of time blaming himself after it all came out." Blair had no answer for that, so he watched the elevator doors open on the first floor employee lobby.

"Gotta go get some clean clothes," Blair offered as an apology as he stepped out and ended the conversation.

"Yeah, well lockers are at a premium around here, so don't expect to get your own, Frizzy," Bets said lightly, clearly indicating that their little heart to heart had ended. Blair stood and watched as the elevator doors closed on her and he was left alone in the small room that led out to the employee parking.

Symbolic language, he realized. Bets had warned him that he hadn't earned his way far enough inside to have a locker, he didn't have the status yet, but she had also opened the door with the assigning of a nickname. Blair reached up and pulled at his curls which actually had become rather frizzy and dry since coming to the valley, but he hadn't yet found a conditioner that could do battle with the desert air. Frizzy. Well, at least it was less effeminate than ‘Sandy’.

Blair pushed open the glass doors and stepped out into the bake oven with heat flowing off the concrete. He hurried to get his clothes from his car and get back inside to the air conditioning.

 

005-Outsides

“Frizzy, God damn it, if you don’t start logging your paperwork, I’m going to staple the damn things to your forehead,” a voice challenged Blair the minute he walked in the bull pen.

“Good morning to you too, man,” Blair answered as he dropped his backpack next to his desk. He fell into his chair and tried to ignore the spot where the blue tape that patched the blue vinyl was starting to curl up. This chair definitely needed to belong to someone with less arm hair to lose.

"You know, if you are in a department where you only have one partner, this might work, but damn it, I needed the results of the ballistics test from the Kipfer case, and I don't know where the hell it is in that disaster zone." Jeff waved his had toward Blair’s desk.

"Chill, man. It's right here," Blair plucked a file from the middle of a mountain of paper that leaned to the north.

"Frizzy." Jeff made Blair's nickname sound like a curse, and Russo snickered a little on the far side of the room.

"Man, I know. I'll get the files in order." Blair considered the mountain of lab reports and interview notes that made perfect sense to him but really weren't in any order that anyone else could use. In Cascade he had just used Jim's system for everything, but without Jim's disapproving eyebrow to condemn random papers left on the desk, Blair had fairly well fallen back into old habits.

"Sandburg, you're on desk duty until that desk stops looking like a disaster zone," Roth ordered as he passed the pair of them on his way to the office. Jeff's back instantly went a little straighter his lips thinned into that sharp expression of disapproval that was so unique to Jeff. Blair mumbled some answer as he considered the pile with a critical eye. Funny. He was the newest one in the department, but Roth was the outsider.

When the captain had hired Blair, he hadn't mentioned that Roth had been brought in to clean up the unit, which put him clearly on the outside of the society formed by the detectives who worked for him. Unlike Simon, he didn’t get invites for drinks after work, he didn’t throw barbeques at his house, and the others didn’t look to him for advice or suggestions. Okay, to be fair Blair wasn’t getting a lot of social invitations either, but no one looked at him with that guarded suspicion they used on Roth.

Blair plucked a file from the top of the pile as he watched Roth in his office. The man had started leaving the blinds to his office open, but now the detectives worked with one eye always to the captain who had replaced their "real" captain. Of course, from what Blair could gather, their "real" captain had been a genial and jovial man who'd let the detectives have full rein and hadn't noticed three of his detectives selling their services. Blair opened a drawer and used the edge to prop the files up as he started filing reports and notes into their respective case files.

"Guys don't approve of your vertical filing system, huh?" Maria asked with humor in her voice. Blair shrugged.

"Guess not. Something about have to be able to actually find paperwork when they need it," Blair said in a self-deprecating tone.

"Yeah, there is that. You want me to go down and requisition some office supplies for ya?" Maria offered. Blair gave her one of his best smiles even though the woman really didn't require the levels of bullshit required to win over women like Bets or even Sam back in Cascade.

"Would you?" he asked as he used one hand to keep the pile from falling now that he was disturbing the layers.

"No problemo. You don't even have to waste that smile on me," Maria said with a wink, and Blair just gave her a wider smile. She laughed as she headed out the door. Once she was gone, he realized that he hadn't told her what he wanted, but hopefully she would show up with something useful.

Blair had been working his desk for nearly two hours before he had corralled his paperwork into bins. He refused to go so far as to alphabetize the things, but at least with their tabs all lined up and facing out, a person could quickly skim the dozen files to find the right one. Lab reports had been filed, and in the process of checking the files, Blair discovered that he really had missed logging in quite a few reports. Each incoming report had to be listed in the front summary, and he didn't need some scummy lawyer getting someone off because of his poorly done paperwork.

Blair paused as he wondered when the police had become 'us' and defense lawyer had become 'scummy.' God, Naomi would have a fit and promptly burn enough sage in his house to set off the smoke alarms. Blair was still considering that mental shift when two men appeared at the door to the bull pen. Most of the detectives dressed in an office casual that would have thrilled Jim; however, these two had the cheap suits that dominated cop shows. Glancing around, Blair realized he was alone in the bull pen; even Roth was missing. He must have gone out the other door. Before the two suits even started heading his way, Blair had a suspicion or two. After all, he had ducked calls from Internal Affairs for three days now.

***

"We know this unit has sheltered dirty cops before, and with your own record, you surely don't want any more suspicion cast on your reputation," Grumpy Suit said as he leaned against the wall of the interrogation room. Blair knew the man was Detective Verder from IA, but he preferred to think of the man with the wide face and wider middle as Grumpy Suit.

"Oh man, do not even try that crap on me," Blair snapped as he leaned back in the uncomfortable chair.

"It's your duty to make sure that good cops don't get tainted by these creeps who sell their badges," Unctuous Suit insisted from his chair across from Blair.

"Man, you two have quite the routine, but if I see something I question, I'll go to Roth. So don't even try and play this cloak and dagger shit." Blair pushed back his chair and headed for the door. Grumpy Suit stepped in his way.

"You're either part of the problem or part of the solution, Sandburg." Blair stood looking up into the man's wide face.

"Buddy, that is what we call a false dilemma, which is a fallacy of distraction, sometimes called a black-or-white fallacy. Of course you've also thrown some ad baculum in there too, so you're just sprouting fallacies. So verbally you're not making your point as well as some of my freshman students used to. In fact, I'd fail you on logic and persuasiveness. And if you think standing in my way is physically is going to intimidate me, you obviously have no idea who I've worked with for the last four years because you can't glare half as well as a cranky ex-Ranger who's discovered ostrich meat in the chili."

Blair didn't wait for a reaction, he circled around Mr. Grumpy Suit and stormed out of the interrogation room. Rather than swallow his anger, Blair went in search of Roth.

***

Blair sat logging in the lab reports that had shown up for the day and wondering if Roth had any idea how poorly insulated his office was. Everyone in the bull pen could hear the yelling.

"... and if you want to talk to one of my detectives, you come to me. If I find you trying to go behind my back again, I will file a formal complaint with your captain." Roth yanked his office door opened and glared as the two IA detectives left silently. Russo and Maria sat at their desks pretending to ignore the scene, and so did Blair, but Jeff and Bets watched with undisguised glee.

As the door to the bull pen closed with the two intruders on the outside, Roth stood at the open door to his office, obviously still angry.

"Way to go, Cap," Bets offered, and Jeff smiled in a rather predatory way as he considered the closed doors through which the two IA detectives had disappeared.

"Vultures," Jeff proclaimed. For a second all movement in the room stopped as alliances swung and barriers moved.

Then Roth went back into his office, and everyone went back to work. Clearly the closed society had shifted because Roth and Blair were now inside, and the IA guys were clearly outside. Strangely enough, Blair could feel the pull in his own psyche, the desire to close ranks against the outside force that threatened the unit.

Thinking back, Blair wondered if he'd been inside or outside in Cascade. He knew the Major Crimes guys had taken him in, but to the rest of the department, and to the officers at the academy, he had always remained outside: the stranger, the invader, the one who threatened the group with his ruined reputation.

Blair wondered if he would have ever felt like he had a place inside the society if he'd stayed up there. Well, it was a hypothetical question now. Blair sighed as he realized a broken little part of him would always wish that he could have found a way in, but he hadn't and it was too late now.

 

 

Hours and Days Spent without Jim
006-Hours

Now that Blair had hours to just meditate, he found himself going back through his memories. Each time he would start by lighting the pillar candles around his apartment. Three on the top of the television set, four on the pass through bar between the kitchen and the corner of the main room that passed as a dining room, two on the bookshelf by the door to his bedroom.

In the center of the room he would spread a Chinese rug Naomi had given him when he had first enrolled in Rainer. At the time, he'd been a little embarrassed and he really wouldn't have meditated in front of his roommate. Of course, his roommate had been either drunk or absent most of the semester, but Blair still hadn't pulled the old, faded rug out from under the bed.

Now Blair fingered the soft fringe and let his fingertips rub over the faded brick red pattern. Somewhere along the line Blair's meditation music had gone from jungle drums and the cellar music of the inner city to the sounds of a rainforest during a thunderstorm. He set the CD player on repeat and adjusted the volume before he felt like he could relax into the music.

Settling into the center of the rug, Blair crossed his legs in a lotus position. For the hundredth time, Blair tried to focus on finding some sort of emotional exit sign that would let him escape the cycle of depression and pain that he found himself in every day. He would go to the grocery store and reach for the allergy-sensitive soap or he would see Jeff question a suspect and compare the detective's technique to Jim. He was in another fucking city, and he still couldn't keep Jim from taking the starring role in his life.

Blair centered himself around his breathing, exhaling the negative energy and trying to find some sort of peace with himself.

As Blair released the tension from his body, he let his mind float in his search for answers. The image that rose was one of water flowing by on either side as the current had pushed at him. He remembered that day. Long trails of clouds marked the grey-blue sky and Jim had laughed at him when his foot slipped on a rock. He had windmilled his arms in an attempt to regain his balance, and in the process, his fishing rod had flown out of his hand only to land ten feet down river. He'd lost his balance anyway and landed in the water with an impressive spray as he drenched himself. Jim had waded out to him and held out a hand while still laughing.

He remembered Jim building the fire up as Blair tried to dry his hair without catching fire, and Jim had fetched his fishing rod. If Simon had watched his slip and fall, Blair would have been mortified, but because it was Jim, the laughter was alright. It was safe. Jim had draped another blanket over his shoulders as the sun started falling in the sky, and Blair hadn't even cared that dinner had been canned beans since they had both failed to catch anything more appetizing.

Sighing, Blair opened his eyes to his plain apartment and the candles which had burned low. Not only had he failed to find any answers, but a glance at the clock told him that he had once again lost himself in memories for hours.

 

007-Days

Oh, it was going to be one of those days. Blair watched as Bets awkwardly poked at the woman's back in an ineffective attempt at comforting her.

"It's okay," Bets muttered unconvincingly as she looked to Blair with mute horror at having to handle the rape victim. No amount of sensitivity training could teach her how to handle crying. Bets could do shootings, strung-out suspects, vicious white-supremacists, but not a crying victim. In fact, that was her hand searching her pocket for a cell phone, no doubt to call victim's services. Blair sat next to the two women on the hospital bench. The victim had insisted that she was fine to leave, but she hadn't made it past the hallway where the crush of bodies had sent her cringing into the wall. Then the woman who had flinched from every touch had clung to Bets.

"Can I hold your hand?" Blair asked as he knelt down in front of the woman. The small blonde woman's shoulders shivered, but she didn't give an answer. Blair ran the back of his index finger over the hand that pulled at Bets' blood red blouse.

"He was an asshole. Someone should find him and beat the shit out of the bastard." Blair said the words to relate to the victim, but he found he meant them too. "Oh man, better yet, throw his ass in prison. These guys are such cowards that he'll probably piss his bunk the first night he's locked in there. Oh, I know, let's make sure he's in Sheriff Joe's jail during the trial eating those infamous baloney sandwiches. Can you imagine eating baloney for two of your three meals every day?"

Blair watched as the woman's hand uncurled so that he could put his hand in her palm. He didn't close his fingers but allowed her to slowly close her hand around his. Her head tilted so that instead of burying her face in Bets' shoulder, half her face with one wary eye turned toward Blair.

"It still wouldn't be enough, would it?" Blair asked.

"No." Even though the woman was curled into Bets like a child seeking her mother and even though Blair could feel her hand tremble as she held his hand, her voice came out clear and angry.

"We could skin him alive, and it still wouldn't be enough, would it?" Blair said softly, shifting as his knees protested his position.

"No," she repeated in the same tone.

"But the thing is, I want him to pay. I know it won't be enough, but he needs to pay. Oh man, I really need your help to nail this asshole." Blair watched as the victim started sitting up.

"He was tall," the woman started as she let go of Bets and focused on Blair kneeling in front of her. Closing her eyes, she started talking while Bets' held a tape recorder that Blair hadn't even seen her pull out.

Blair glanced over to see a look of awed admiration on Bets' face before the tough detective remembered to close her mouth and stop looking so shocked.

***

Oh yeah, definitely one of those days, Blair thought as he put the final lines on the request for a search warrant. The longer they waited, the greater the chance that the suspect would destroy the evidence, so sleep would wait. Blair glanced over at Bets and his tired mind wandered into areas that Blair normally roped off as out of bounds.

The victim's pain had left Bets, the clear dominate force in the unit, speechless and helpless. Maybe all alpha cops had some soft spot, some emotional kryptonite. For Jim it had been failure. Blair had watched the man deal with lack of sleep and angry suspects and scared witnesses and greedy informants equally well. Oh, he'd seen Jim lose his temper just as often as he'd seen the man’s lips twitch with contained laughter. Jim's humor was quiet, but when he cut loose, Blair had loved his dry, sarcastic and sometime dark humor.

But when Jim felt like he had failed, Jim would stand and take the family's angry words like whip lashes. Angry Jim would speak in harsh whispers with a jaw muscle twitching and teeth grinding. Failure Jim would stand silent with a blank face while Blair could practically feel the anguish rolling off the man. The first time Blair had seen it, they had found a kidnapped girl with her lips blue and her head turned at an impossible angle. Blair only found out about the similarities to the case where Jim lost his first partner later, but Blair had watched while Jim not only endured but seemed to seek out the father's fury. The father had even gone so far as to punch Jim, and Jim had taken it silently, refusing to press charges when Brown had grabbed the man from behind.

Blair remembered going home that night. Jim had refused to eat, instead going right up to bed with his face set in this stony expression that frightened Blair far more than Jim's anger. Blair had made dinner alone, waiting for some sort of emotional breakdown. Instead he sat at the table alone with his plate. Blair remembered the curls of fear he'd felt. Never before had he been around someone who didn't express themselves. Hell, Naomi and her friends tended to express absolutely everything whether or not it was actually appropriate at the time.

Blair had fixed a second plate, and putting silverware on each plate, he'd climbed the stairs quietly with his offering in hand. Looking back, the quiet was a little pointless since he knew Jim would have heard every move. He'd reached the top and found Jim, still dressed, laying on the bed on his back and staring at the ceiling. Blair recalled saying something really stupid, and Jim turned to look at him in disbelief before he'd sat up on the bed. Blair had handed over Jim's plate and had then sat cross-legged on the floor to eat his own meal. Jim's expression of disbelief had increased, but he had started eating.

"You got that done yet?"

Blair literally jumped at the sound of Bets' voice interrupting his memory. Blair looked at his computer screen.

"Yeah, I'll just text it over to the DA and print a copy for the file." Blair started punching at computer keys far harder than was absolutely necessary.

"Hopefully we can get this wrapped up within the hour," Bets said with a sigh. Blair wasn't so sure, especially since it seemed like it was just one of those days. Of course, he thought as he printed the document and glanced at the time on the computer, it had just passed midnight so technically today was a new day.

 

 

The End of a Time
008-Weeks

Blair typed in the date on his report. Weeks. Glancing over at the wall calendar taped next to his desk, he realized he'd left Cascade 20 days ago. Funny, three weeks into living with Jim he'd felt like he'd known him forever. Now he'd been away from Jim three weeks, but he still kept turning around to tell Jim something only to discover Jim wasn't there. It left him feeling the gaping hole in his soul again. Ironically, another part of him felt like his life with Jim had been years ago, so long ago that he could barely remember the expression Jim would get when Blair would say something particularly stupid. Blair found his lapse of memory infinitely sad.

 

009-Months

Blair pulled his hair back using a leather tie decorated at the end with small silver and turquoise beads. Late June and Blair was ready to be done with the heat, and he had never expected to feel that way about heat and sunshine.

He had loved this time of year in Cascade. The first summer session would end July 4th, and he always had a three week break from taking classes or teaching. He smiled remembering the second year he had lived with Jim.

Sprawled out over the couch in the loft, Blair stared at the high ceiling in utter exhaustion.

"Hey, Chief, pack a bag. I've got a week off and we're heading for the cabin," Jim had announced as he came through the door, and Blair groaned.

"Oh man, I'm too tired to move."

"Tough, Sandburg. Move your ass because we're leaving at first light, and I know you aren't going to pack in the morning. I'm going to be lucky if I can get you to the truck at all without carrying you that early in the morning."

"Man, I am not moving for the next week, so if you want me in the truck, you're going to have to carry me," Blair told the ceiling. It was too much work to actually look at Jim.

"Okay with me; I figure you're small enough." Blair tilted his head up and found Jim standing right in front of him with his arms crossed and a devilish look on his face.

"Oh no you don't. No, no, no, no." Blair words didn't stop Jim from pouncing. Blair tried to make it up and over the back of the couch, but Jim had his left leg in a solid hold, pulling him back.

"No feet on the furniture," Jim growled as he grabbed Blair's arm. Blair brought his other arm around to grab at Jim's head.

"Not fair, you're too bald to get any hair!" Blair complained as he pulled Jim's head to one side with a firm hold on Jim's ear. One quick move that Blair didn't have a hope of either copying or escaping, and Blair found himself face down on the couch as Jim sat on the small of his back.

"So Sandburg, you're planning on staying on the couch all week, huh? You're a little lumpy," Jim had laughed even as Blair bucked. Okay, it was actually more like Blair trying to buck because Jim was a solid man and Blair couldn't get leverage with Jim still holding one of Blair's legs hostage.

"Ass," Blair snapped although his words were muffled by the couch cushions.

"You say something?" Jim asked, and Blair realized Jim had his arm only when he started pushing it up Blair's back.

"Uncle!" Blair shouted, and the weight disappeared from his back.

"Wuss," Jim accused him with a smile.

"Yeah, well some of us missed these little brotherly ceremonies," Blair said as he righted himself on the couch. Immediately he had looked over to Jim afraid that he had stepped over some invisible line in Jim's guarded psyche, but Jim had looked back at him fondly.

"Still seems like I won fair and square, so we will be leaving at oh-five-thirty, and you will be in the truck," Jim said triumphantly before disappearing upstairs with an overly cheerful whistle.

Blair had complained at 5:20 when Jim physically pulled him upright and pushed a cup of coffee into his hands. He had complained at 5:21 when Jim took his packed bags down to the truck. He had complained at 5:30 when Jim threw a pair of jeans and a t-shirt at him, and again at 5:31 when Jim pulled him to his feet and pushed him into the bathroom. He was still complaining when he got in the truck at 5:50 and when Jim went through a drive through to grab breakfast before they left the city. The entire time, Jim remained annoyingly cheerful.

Blair didn't fully wake up and stop complaining until three or four hours later when Jim pulled off on a dirt road that wound its way around the mountains. Blair rolled the window down and breathed in air not filled with smog or pollution or the scent of hot city.

"Man, this is beautiful. God I love this time of year."

"Yeah, wait until you see the cabin," Jim had answered with a smile.

Blair blinked at the image of himself in the mirror, unwilling to recall the week of laughter and teasing and practical jokes involving baking powder. For the next two years he'd spent all June looking forward to that week they would take off, and now what did he have?

Blair finished in the bathroom and went out into the living room where a Salvation Army sofa draped with his meditation rug sat facing a small television. Yeah, this time June wasn't a month of anticipation; it was just one more month to survive. Blair grabbed his keys and headed to work.

 

010-Years

"Frizzy, get a new God damn bag," Russo swore as Blair struggled to thread the one side of the zipper back into the zipper pull after it broke for the hundredth time.

"Chill, man. I'll get it." Blair knelt on the hot sidewalk and concentrated on making the small pieces of interlocking metal actually interlock again.

"Not before I turn grey, you won't," Russo muttered impatiently. "We're going to hit all the university traffic if you don't get the lead out."

"There see, good as new," Blair declared triumphantly as he held up the backpack with the newly restored zipper.

"Yeah, until the next time. Frizzy, you're getting a paycheck that I *know* you don't spend on clothes, so do us all a favor and get a new damn bag… something that doesn't look like it belongs to a high school student." Blair got in the car without comment since arguing with Russo didn't generally end well. The man was cranky and aggressive. Usually Russo's attitude didn't bother him since the man generally didn't go after Blair, preferring instead to verbally attack Bets. This time his words made Blair irrationally defensive.

Blair fingered the worn strap of his backpack and considered all the years he'd had with the thing. It was the last thing Naomi had bought him before he went off to college, and he remembered picking it out while she had looked on proudly. This bag had carried his books that first semester when he had used his outgoing nature and his humor to hide his terror at being alone. The stain on the bottom came from the expedition where the Kombai people had nearly turned him into a giant bleeding pin cushion. The zipper had broken for the first time when he'd had a whole set of papers to grade and he'd tried to stuff two extra sweatshirts in on top of them so he wouldn't freeze on stakeout.

Blair's eyes stung, and he focused for a second on the traffic as Russo aggressively maneuvered around a truck to try and get into the carpool lane. He hadn't even noticed that they had reached the freeway, but now that his thoughts had gone to Jim, he couldn't seem to get that face from his memory.

He remembered Jim turning to him in resigned dismay when he'd had to drive back to stakeouts after Blair had left the backpack sitting in some corner, and sometimes that had actually worked out for the best. He couldn't even count the number of times it had flown through the air, bouncing to a stop on the bed as Jim cleaned the living room while complaining about Blair's inability to keep his stuff in his area. Several times Jim had even shoved the bag into his stomach, and at first Blair had been annoyed, but then he'd realized that he was the only one Jim trusted to see that anger and pain. Everyone had seen Jim's humor and Jim's stoic façade, but only Blair got those other parts.

Except that was past. Blair touched the fraying seam on the bag, and he realized that he hadn't ever detached from Jim. He still held on to that memory as though it could fill the hole left by Jim's physical absence. The bag was just one more symbol of that: a reminder of years spent as a student, a teacher, a guide.

It was time to let go. As Russo finally pulled into the coveted carpool lane and started accelerating past the other cars, Blair decided that it was time to truly detach. After work he would go and get a bag that wasn't soaked in his past. He would get something that didn't remind him of the years he'd spend chasing some impossible dream, and maybe even a bag that didn't look like it belonged to a high school student.

 

Bonus "Secret to Life"
Written for Ponders_Life for the 200Celebration on LJ

"So, sugar, you're new around here, aren't you?"

Blair glanced over at the carefully manicured transvestite, her gown a little outrageous in the slightly seedy atmosphere of the club. "Okay, that's sounding a little like a bad pick-up line," Blair said jokingly. Then again, he was standing in the middle of a gay bar, so he shouldn't be surprised by that.

"If I thought I could lure you away from the testosterone squad room, I'd use a much better pick-up line than that one," she said with a wink. "Miss Rose Gentle," she offered her hand with the palm down. No one could accuse Blair of missing subtle cultural cues, so he brought the enormous hand up and kissed it gently.

"Oh, honey, you have found yourself a keeper," a large black transvestite with eye-numbingly platinum hair laughed.

"And that," Miss Rose said with a wave toward the woman, "Is Chocolate Babe. Babe, if this weren't catch and release fishing around these parts, I might take this one home."

"So," Blair said when the two stopped laughing, "is this the part where the new cop gets all flustered and runs out of here or the part where I fill some sort of cop stereotype and get offended that you're insulting my manhood?" Blair asked with a laugh. Even though he was the butt of their joke, he couldn't resist both their enthusiasm and their not so subtle way of making sure the police avoided their place. The room was nearly empty, but a leatherman leaning against the bar turned to watch them curiously.

"Oh, this one's got a brain under that adorable mop of curls," Miss Rose said as she reached up and tugged a spiraling curl. The gentle pull reminded him of how Jim would do the same whenever he wanted to prove a point. 'See, Sandburg? I told you the Jags would pull it out in the end.' And then that large hand would reach over and tug his hair. At the time, Blair thought he'd been annoyed at the gesture, but now he couldn't help missing it.

"Just don't call me Frizz," Blair complained, and then wondered where that brain of his has suddenly gone because he had just doomed himself to that nickname for the rest of his life. Miss Rose just smiled innocently, which looked actually faintly disturbing on a six foot something inch wo/man wearing red lipstick and a gold sequined dress.

"I'll call you anything you want if it gets me a date," Miss Rose suggested, laying it on a little thick for Blair to take the offer seriously.

"Oh man, that would be the best offer of the last decade except that I'm not gay."

"Honey, everyone is gay given the right man to make the offer," she had moved around so that she stood next to him by the bar, and now she hip butted him. Blair thought about that for a second.

"I don't know about that. If I were going to change teams, I would have done it years ago. So, what exactly are you trying to keep me from seeing with your enthusiastic welcome?" Blair looked up at Miss Rose and suddenly he had the uncomfortable feeling of being studied. She looked down at him, pursing her red lips and frowning slightly. Blair fidgeted a little under the intense look. Then Miss Rose shook her head, her ornate hair combs rattling their hanging jewels.

"Nothing, sugar. Why don't you let me buy you a drink? Babe, you can come up with something non-alcoholic, can't you?" Miss Rose finally asked as she looked across the bar.

"If I look long enough," the transvestite behind the bar answered.

"No, I really should get going. I'm new around here, and I'm just trying to get to know the neighborhood a little bit. Roth calls it going on walkabout."

"Yeah, the others have wandered through from time to time," Miss Rose said, and Blair had an image of Russo coming in this place. It wasn't a good image.

"So I should—" Blair gestured toward the door, not sure why he suddenly felt exposed, naked.

"You should do what makes you happy, honey. That's the only secret to life," Miss Rose finished for him, and Blair fled.

 

 

Color Crucible
011. Red

Red. Blair looked down at his hands and felt an overwhelming urge to throw up. Unfortunately he didn't know a way to disgorge his emotions, and throwing up his salad from lunch wouldn't help matters. Crimson. Red. Blair considered wiping his hands on his pants, but then he's just have red over more of him. Funny how the red came from trying to help and not the actual act of violence.

"Hon, you okay?" Bets asked in a concerned voice.

"Oh man. Oh man, I shot him," Blair whispered.

"Babe, I would rather have you shoot him than him shoot us."

"I just wanted to ask a couple of questions." Blair was vaguely aware of his voice taking on a petulant, whining tone, but he couldn't seem to control that any more than he could control the shaking in his hands. He just thanked god Bets had taken his gun away as soon as the backup arrived.

"Sometimes it works that way." Blair felt Bets' arm around his shoulders, and he leaned into her, taking comfort from her soothing voice and pretending she was someone else.

 

012. Orange.

The psychologist had recommended a week off, and Blair wasn't protesting. He would have asked for the time if no one had taken his gun and made him go home. He threw his laundry into baskets as he tried to keep his mind off the image of the suspect's surprise when Blair's bullet had torn through his chest.

Blair shook his head in frustration as he refocused himself on sorting dark pants and white shirts and multicolored shirts and tan pants and dingy socks and underwear and blue shirt.

Blair stopped and looked at the shirt in his hands. Dull orange splatters on the cuffs.

Sliding down the wall until he was on his knees, Blair's resolve, which had held him together through the report and the psychologist's office and Captain Roth's lecture, failed him. While Blair hoped that taking a deep breath would somehow cleanse him, instead it released the tears that he had tried rationalizing away.

Yes, the man had been evil. Yes, without Blair another child would have died. Yes, the shooting was justified.

It didn't matter. Blair sat on the floor and sobbed over orange dots on a blue shirt.

 

013. Yellow.

"I'm not sure, but I think I'm a coward--yellow-bellied, chicken livered, gutless, pusillanimous coward," Blair slurred the word pusillanimous into one long syllable as he curled his fingers around the neck of his beer bottle to try and steady himself. Unfortunately, the bottle just slid across the scratched surface of the bar as Blair started tilting backwards. A hand at the small of his back pushed him back into the bar so that Blair could feel the cold metal of the rail pressed into his chest. "Hey, you take calls with Bets, so I know you're not a coward."

"Watch it, white boy, or you'll find out just how intimidating I can be."

Blair was fairly sure the first voice was Jeff, and he knew the second voice was Bets. Hmmm. The well-dressed teasing cop and the tough lady cop. What did that remind him of? Blair had a passing thought about life and clichés, and then it was gone in the fuzzy-grey world of blessed intoxication.

"Frizzy, you are the bravest son of a bitch I know," Bets said, and a warm hand settled on his shoulder. Blair let his head sink slowly to the bar.

"Less than ten suspects a year are killed, and I killed one," Blair informed the surface of the bar. Faded white ring stains winked back at him.

"And if you hadn't shot either you or I would have been laying dead on that street, so don't talk like you did something wrong," a demanding woman insisted, and Blair wondered where the Australian accent had gone. He missed it.

"Yellow, yellow, yellow," Blair chanted as he tried to bring the beer bottle to his mouth. He found himself putting a knuckle in his mouth because the bottle had mysteriously vanished. "Scared to go back to work," he muttered around his knuckles, and then the world started waving in and out of focus. Blair solved his problems by simply passing out.

 

014. Green.

Breathing in the damp air thick with the scent of pine, Blair could hardly believe he was in the same state. The ride up into the mountains had made Blair's ears pop several times, and now that he opened the door of Bets' huge Expedition, the first thing Blair noticed was the green. Living in the valley he had grown used to brown rock front yards and pale green leaves on light ash colored trees and grey boulders. Now all he could see was light green moss clinging to the sides of the rocks and deep green needles clothing the pine trees and verdant green weeds crowding the ditch. The green of life, Blair realized, and suddenly he didn't feel like he belonged here.

"Grab the table cloth," Bets ordered, and Blair reached back for the garish yellow piece of plastic.

"It's beautiful up here," Blair commented as he spread the cloth over the lone picnic table at the small roadside stop.

"Babe, that's what I love about this state. Even in the blistering heat of summer you can come up here and forget that we live in a damn oven." Bets started loading the table with covered dishes, far more than two people could possibly eat. "So, can't say I'm good with this sensitive crap, so I'm going to come right out and speak my piece. You did a good thing last week, and now you're pissin' me off by acting like you've somehow sinned against the universe."

"Oh man, I know I had to, but my heart hasn't quite caught up with the program." Blair sat down heavily on the gouged wood bench attached to the table.

"When the perp pulled that gun, you went by the book. If you hadn't pulled the trigger, what would have happened?"

"Bets, I know. Man, I totally get that it was a justified shooting."

"Then why are you playing martyr?"

"I'm not."

"Bullshit."

"Bets," Blair warned with his tone that he did not want to have this discussion, especially not if he was expected to eat afterwards.

"No. I'm not dropping this until you get over it. Since I don't know how to do the careful and caring shit, this is my version of supportive. So either pull your head out of your ass or you're going to see this side of me a whole lot, Babe."

"God help me," Blair moaned as he let his eyes follow the line of the mountains around them. The peaks he could see now were the home of the Hopi Kachina spirits who lived on the mountain six months a year and with the tribe the other six. Blair wondered if he could manage to wrangle an invite to a Kachina dance when it came around next time.

"Do not go wandering away when I'm giving you advice," Bets snapped.

"I thought you were yelling at me," Blair dryly commented as he turned his eyes to Bets who had her hands firmly planted on her hips in challenge.

"Same thing," she said with a complaisant shrug. "You've got to get your head in the job," she said in a nearly compassionate tone as she took a seat opposite of him and pulled the cover off a bowl of ribs before pulling one out.

"And if I can't?" Blair asked. Bets stopped and considered him with the rib sticking up in the air.

"Then you can't do this job." Bets words made Blair stop and blink in surprise. "And don't you dare give up because I am tired of taking calls with Russo. I'm going to end up shooting the man if I have to ride with him."

"I don't know if I can live with this. I killed a man."

"I really hate sounding like our local headshrinker, but you gotta talk about it."

"I've talked about it until I can't talk any more," Blair pointed out defensively as he pulled the bowl of ribs over to his side of the table.

"Babe, you have talked about statistics and cultural beliefs about killing and the fucking history of firearms, but you have not talked about anything that really counts. So stop trying to bullshit an old bullshitter like me."

"You're not old."

"And again with the creative topic change." Bets tore a piece of meat off her rib, and Blair pushed himself up and away from the table.

"I'm not hungry," he said dropping the rib he had just snagged on the top of the covered bowl before walking away from table. He hadn't understood why Bets had wanted to come so far for a simple picnic, but after enduring the three hour drive, he got it. He was essentially trapped here with Bets while she poked at his soft emotional underbelly. The woman was a predator.

Blair walked away from her and into the trees. So much green. Putting a hand on the rough bark of a tall pine tree, Blair breathed in the smell of life, the smell of green, and he wished that he still felt like he belonged to this world of living things. But since wishes weren't horses, he was going to have to walk.

 

015. Blue.

Blair could hear the sound of water, and he wandered down a path made of woodchips and marker posts topped with bright orange paint. The small trail led down to a stream, and Blair slid the last few steep feet to the edge of the water. The stream slid over rocks with frothy white-blue crests and dark blue eddies and blue-green spots where algae clung to rocks. Even though Blair desperately wanted privacy, he could hear Bets hot on his trail, her heavy footsteps making the bark chips snap under her weight.

"Maybe it's time to head back," Blair said as soon as she came close enough to hear him, but he never moved his eyes from the stream.

"Not even," Bets snapped.

"You know, this might be described as kidnapping."

"My ma always said a person should try everything once, so I guess this is your day for gettin' kidnapped."

Bets' words made Blair snort so loud that he made his own nose sting. "Oh man, you're like years too late to be my first on that count," Blair laughed darkly. "Years, man. Like about a dozen kidnappings too late to be my first."

Blair sat down on the damp ground and he could feel the moisture from the grass soak into his jeans.

"A dozen? You've lived an interesting life Frizzy." Bets sat down next to him, and Blair bit his tongue before he said too much.

"Yeah."

"Kidnapped, huh. Must be an interesting story."

"Not really. Kombai tree people thought I was an evil spirit but then they figured I was a geek and took me back to meet the family. An insane man thought he could kill me and steal my identity. A gun-runner grabbed me after I fell for his daughter. Then there's the paramilitary nutjob who grabbed me twice and the survivalists who tried to blow me up and the dirty cops," Blair glanced over and Bets was looking at him like he had lost his mind. "And I think I'm just stopping there."

"You're either one hell of a liar or the biggest trouble magnet I've ever met."

"Try both," Blair said with a sigh. "Died once." Blair bit his tongue harder as he realized that he had said the one thing he didn't mean to say.

"Did ya now?" Bets leaned back into the slope of the stream bank, and Blair followed her example. Just like in the valley, the sky was a uniform crisp, clear blue.

"Yeah," Blair whispered as he stared up into the air.

"What that feel like?" Bets words sounded casual, but Blair didn't miss the sharp steel under the honeyed tones. He didn't doubt that Bets would keep him up here until she was satisfied that he had, as she put it, pulled his head out of his ass. Blair considered just how long they could be up here because he felt like his head had taken up permanent residence there.

"Cold," he finally answered. Bets didn't answer and Blair could feel the silence winding around him like a hungry snake. "Fucking terrifying," Blair added. The warm air moved over his face, and he kept staring up into the bright blue sky that didn't match his mood at all. He remembered the cold of the fountain where Alex had shoved his head under the water until his lungs had burned with the need for oxygen and his mouth had finally opened. He remembered the blue dreamscape where the jaguar had found him.

"I felt helpless," Blair spoke into that silence and drove away the snaking memories that tried to trap him.

"I bet you did. Did you feel like that when you killed Fielder?"

Blair opened his mouth to protest, but then he realized the truth. "Yeah," he whispered. "No fucking control. Just watching my life change, and I can't do anything about it," Blair whispered the truth to the sky above, driving the fears into the open.

"Funny thing about that. Killing makes a bad man feel powerful, but it makes a good man feel helpless."

"I didn't fucking want to do it. That asshole. He could have just dropped the fucking gun." Blair surged to his feet and ripped a small branch off a nearby tree. "He looked right at me. What? Is it so obvious that I'm not cop material that he thought I'd stand there and let him shoot me?"

"Oh, Babe, he knew you'd shoot. He picked his death because he couldn't face what prison held for a child molester and killer."

"And he fucking used me for his suicide."

"Sucks, don't it?" Bets asked quietly, and Blair clung to the branch he'd just ripped from the tree as if he could use it to beat the memories away.

"Man, more than I can say. I know that I didn't have any other choice, but I can't get guilt and the anger out."

"Don't try. Figure they'll be a part of you for a long time, but you just stop puttin' on yourself. Know that the guilt is Fielder's and you have a right to be angry."

"Bets, I think I just need some time. Maybe a chance to get my thoughts together."

"Wish you had somebody you could let help ya." Bets' words brought an image of ice-blue eyes and a smiling face to Blair's mind.

"I just need to work this out myself," Blair said softly.

"Okay, Babe. You want some ribs and coleslaw, and I'll be up at the table." As Bets started back up the trail, Blair kept his eyes focused on the turbulent blues of the stream as the water just kept rushing past. For some reason he couldn't stop thinking about the old adage about never being able to step in the same river twice. Closing his eyes, he let himself sink down into lotus position as he searched his mind for some sort of resolution.

 

016. Purple.

"Hey, Frizz," Maria called across the room, and Blair waved absent-mindedly as he read the report in his hand. Two and two were adding up to five, which was making Blair increasingly frustrated. Dropping into his desk chair, Blair slowly lowered the file. He was so caught up in the report that the sight of a purple and red monstrosity on his desk startled him badly enough that he dropped the file and all the papers across the cheap gray carpeting of the bullpen. Behind him, a half dozen voices roared with laughter. Blair swiveled his chair around to glare at his various co-workers. Maria and Jeff leaned against the wall by the coffee machine, Bets was at her desk literally slapping her thigh and Carl snorted rather unsubtly from behind a file of his own while Russo just nodded happily.

"What the?" Blair looked again at the stuffed toy. A long curved red horn sat in the middle of the forehead right above a rather evil looking eye. The short purple fur covered the body while long curved red nails came out of each paw. In short, it was the creepiest looking toy Blair had ever seen.

"Man, if someone plans to give this to a kid, you'd better be able to afford the therapy bill."

"Nah, that's all yours," Jeff offered from across the room.

"Um, thanks?" Blair looked at the hideous thing again.

"You know, Babe, the song… the guy too tough for the one-eyed, one-horned purple people eater to eat." Bets commented and then made it clear the conversation was over by turning her back and slipping on headphones as she typed up a week's worth of reports. As the rest of the room wandered back to work, Blair sat looking at the small purple toy that suddenly seemed a lot less grotesque.

Blair reached out and touched the purple fur on one stuffed arm before putting the creature on the top of his in basket. He idly wondered if it was too morbid to name the thing Alex.

 

017. Brown.

Brown hair, brown eyes. Great description, Blair thought as he wandered the ASU campus. The vague description of the attacker made Blair glare at every brown-haired student who passed him on the quad. With his messenger bag slung over one shoulder, he knew he looked the part of a middle-age returning student. Hell, he fit in on campus better than at the police barbeque, which is why he'd pulled bait duty. "Man, if you guys had any idea how often me being bait has backfired," Blair hissed into the phone. Ironically, the phone wasn't connected, but the wire he wore on his collar would carry the words back to the rest of his team. The rest of his team who were inside the nursing building while he was wandering the dim shadows between various buildings with a phone to his ear and a bag slung over his shoulder like the oblivious student he was supposed to be.

A brown-haired man approached him from the north as he came out from between two buildings, and Blair tried to not *look* like he was tensing up. Considering he'd seen the pictures of the vicious assaults, it wasn't easy: broken bones, internal injures, head trauma. The man passed with a small nod. Blair started to breath again.

Blair was within sight of the Student Union when something hard and crushing hit him in the kidney from behind. Blair fell to his knees with a gasp, and before he could recover his breath, he found himself dragged into the shadow of the old library.

A second blow landed, but Blair had rolled and squirmed so that the metal bar caught him in the hip instead of the more vulnerable back. Blair scrambled for his weapon, pulling it out with one hand as he grappled with the attacker with his other.

"Phoenix police, put your hands up and step back," Blair demanded as he lined up his gun with the suspect. For one moment, the shadow form that Blair could see froze, caught between attacking and fleeing and surrendering, and Blair felt a bubble of warm panic rise in his chest. Then the shadow raised its hands and began to retreat.

Blair pushed his way up to his knees while holding the gun steady, and a whole chorus of running footsteps heralded the arrival of backup.

Shouted voices ordered the man to his knees, and Blair slipped the safety into place before sliding his weapon into the holster under his multicolored vest. As his colleagues cuffed and Mirandized the suspect, Blair stood in the shadow, leaning against the stone building, and slowly smiling. Oh yeah. He'd done it. For the first time since the shooting, he'd pulled his gun.

The bubble of panic shrank rather than disappearing completely, but as Russo pulled the suspect to his feet, Blair looked at the attacker's wide face and brown eyes and brown hair and realized that he had just saved some random student from months of pain. He'd helped to stop the monster. The adrenaline rush Blair had felt so many times in the past came back, and he smiled wider as Russo roughly pulled toward the parking lot where they had left the unmarked police vehicles.

"You okay?" Russo asked in passing.

"Oh man, I'm more than okay. I'm so jazzed. I'm riding adrenaline," Blair said as he slapped Russo on the arm. Russo just rolled his eyes as he gave the suspect's arm another jerk to get him moving faster.

 

018. Black.

Blair didn't realize he was dreaming until he saw the black form dart through the trees. Really, he should have recognized the blue jungle, but until he saw the black jaguar, he accepted the twisted trees and eerie light as normal. Moving forward toward the shadowy form of the jaguar, Blair also realized that he had four feet, which should have been another indication of dream. Well, he could do lucid dreaming. Man, he had read enough about lucid dreaming and altered states of consciousness to teach a whole catalogue of classes on them, if he had still been a teacher. Blair concentrated and forced his body to take on more human features although he couldn't seem to lose the hair.

As Blair stepped forward into the night, he nearly tripped over the body of a large deer. Blair was briefly tempted to complain about the improbability of the elk-like creature being in Peru, but then he was a timber wolf in Peru, so logic really didn't have much to do with it. The deer had its stomach torn out, and Blair felt his own stomach churn at the sight of slick intestines and organs slowly sliding from the warm interior of the animal.

"Chief, I didn't want this for you."

Blair spun around, and Jim stood there in his jungle fatigues with a tired expression on his face.

"I shouldn't have suggested it," Jim said sadly as he looked at the dead animal.

"Great man. I can't get you to talk in real life, so my subconscious just creates a new you," Blair snorted his disgust with a half-laugh and half-sob sound.

"Chief," Jim said as he took a step closer, but then he stopped. "Chief, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Jim. Man, even in my subconscious you're still playing babysitter, but I can handle this." That must have been the wrong answer because Jim gave him one last look before shifting back into the black jaguar and disappearing into the jungle.

"Jim!" Blair called out, and a jaguar scream answered him. The sound ripped through Blair, and he took off running after Jim, suddenly terrified that something had gone horribly wrong. He tried to call out again, but his face had changed and when he opened his mouth, his tongue hung down as he ran.

Leaping over a fallen tree, he spotted the jaguar, black fur stained with red. Blair hurried forward, desperate to reach the cat's side. As he closed the final distance, the cat reached out a paw and slashed him across the face so that he could feel sharp points ripping through the flesh of his cheek.

Gasping in pain and reaching up to touch his cheek, Blair sat straight up in bed. The black of night surrounded him, and he could feel the unblemished skin of his face where the jaguar claws had torn him. Blair sat there trying to calm his heart beat and wrestle his own fears into submission. Reaching to his bedside phone, he picked the handset up and the numbers glowed softly before Blair put the phone back down and the room went black again.

Yeah, like he could just call Jim up in the middle of the night because he had a nightmare. Blair settled back down onto the mattress, but he spent the rest of the night staring into the darkness until the first glow of dawn crept into the space between the blinds and the wall.

Maybe he should go for a run, he thought as he lay there trying not to think of a black jaguar bleeding in a blue jungle.

 

019. White.

Blair stared at the white wall of his kitchen and tried counting the spackled nail holes in order to distract himself from the anger that threatened to spill out. "Sweetie, I can understand why you accepted the position in Cascade, but this..." Naomi's voice trailed off in definite disapproval and confusion.

"Mom, I like the work. I like figuring out how the clues fit together, and I like helping people."

"I hear you," Naomi answered, and Blair was struck with a desire to strangle the phone, a desire which quickly faded into a tired sigh.

"Mom, I'm making a life here."

"And I'm so proud of you for picking up and moving on, and honey, I am so sorry that I made this trouble for you."

"I know, Mom. I don't blame you."

"I just wanted you to find your happiness, and I thought it would help."

"I know, Mom."

"But sweetie, as your mother this thing now worries me."

"Mom," Blair tried using a sharp tone to warn her off dangerous territory, but as usual Naomi ignored the warning.

"I mean, in Cascade you had Jim and I understand how you two became linked. Your spirits touched each other, and I understood that you needed to follow Jim even to the point of joining the force. I know that. But sweetie, you..." Blair could hear his mother's voice catch on the edge of tears.

"Mom, it happened. It was miserable, but I survived."

"You killed a man." Naomi's words sent a white hot spear of regret through Blair's soul, but he took a deep breath as he switched over to counting threads on the spider web growing in the corner, the delicate strands almost invisible against the wall.

"I know, Mom. I didn't have a choice, and as much as I wish something different had happened, I won't wish that it never happened. If I hadn't started questioning the construction workers, more children would have died."

"Oh honey, I hear you. And I am proud that you are living your beliefs. I just worry about you."

"I can take care of myself Mom."

"I know that. I've always had confidence in your judgment. You were the most mature ten year old I've ever seen, but you never showed any interest in police work before Jim."

"And now that I know how good it feels to help people, to make a difference, I don't want to go back to writing papers that maybe a hundred people will ever read."

"There are other ways to make a difference, honey. You could join an advocacy group or investigate corporate misconduct or become a spokesperson for an aboriginal tribe."

"I could be more like you," Blair snapped, and immediately he regretted it as the silence on the other end of the phone revealed his mother's distress far more than any words.

"I hear your frustration and confusion, sweetie. I just don't want you to try to be Jim now that you don't have him in your life."

"I'm not Mom. I have my own life here."

"As a detective?"

"Yes."

"Carrying a gun?"

"Yes."

"Playing a white knight?"

"Oh boy, I am not trying to play anything, Mom. I just wanted to make a new life away from the diss and the whole disaster. The rest just happened."

"We make our own destinies," Naomi pointed out quietly.

"Then this is the destiny that I've made for myself."

"I hear you, but I still worry. I'm your mom, sweetie, and I worry about you."

"And I love you for worrying, but I'm okay."

"What if it happens again?"

"I hope it doesn't, but I'll just have to deal with that when the day comes."

"Honey, you are throwing your life away."

"No, I'm not."

"You could do so much better..."

"Better than what? Better than a cop? Better like three million dollars better? Maybe I don't want to do any better." The ugly words slipped out of Blair like knives, and he could feel a white-hot anger rise like a monster from the deep. The silence from the other end condemned him far more effectively than any words. He took deep cleansing breaths as he tried to center himself. It hadn't been Naomi's fault, it really hadn't, but he still felt the anger curled inside.

"You deserve to vent. I made your life very difficult, and that wasn't my intention. I just want you to find your own path and not walk in someone's else's shadow... anyone else's shadow."

"Mom, I'm not in shadow here. I'm doing okay."

"And is that a white lie to make your mother feel better?"

"I'm as okay as I can be," Blair said truthfully.

"Have you heard from him?" Neither Naomi nor Blair had to define 'him.'

"No. I've talked to Simon and Megan a couple of times, but..." Blair struggled to describe it. "It just isn't the same."

"Oh sweetie, you just have to detach with love," Naomi said in a suddenly soft tone.

"Yeah, I did the detaching part, now I just have to learn to live with it," Blair answered. "But I'm doing okay, Mom. Promise."

"My little white knight," Naomi said fondly, and Blair had to smile at the tone, a tone she had always used when he had brought home some injured animal he wanted to save. The tone she used when the injured animal had died in Blair's arms.

"Always," he promised her.

 

020. Colourless.

The sky was a sort of blend of grays and blues and whites, and the air heavy with humidity. While Blair enjoyed the hot, dry weather that was normal in Phoenix, this pre-rain blanket that fell over the valley left him sweating madly and seriously considering cutting his hair. Ever since the shooting, the other officers had promoted him from Frizzy to Frizz, but right now Blair thought damp and stringy described his hair better than frizzy. Thick, weedy grass covered the cemetery's property and sent creepers onto the concrete paths where the grass searched for ground where it could send down roots. Jeff had explained that this grass that crept into every available space and took root in rock and clay and dirt grey with lack of nutrients only thrived in the bake oven summers. Come winter with its mild weather the grass would lose its color and disappear only to come back from the root when the sun started blasting the valley again next year.

Wiping his hand over his neck, he considered losing a layer of clothing, but he didn't want to take off the multicolored vest that he wore over the short-sleeved green shirt. He didn't want the gun visible. Not here. Not now.
Blair looked at the limp paper in his hand and turned it as he tried to figure out the landmarks well enough to find his destination. He flashed on an image of Jim glaring at him from under a Jags hat as Blair admitted to getting them lost again. Jim would sigh dramatically even while having laughter in his eyes.

The sight of the Gethsemane marker pulled him out of his memory. If he was reading the map right, his goal should be in this section of the cemetery. He stepped off the path and walked between the sunken markers lined up in rows.

Death wasn't neat or clean or orderly, and the crisp order of the gravestones suddenly seemed like the world's biggest hypocrisy. Hell, death was even less orderly than life, and yet here it was cleaned up and trimmed and put in order so that the living could come and see the neat version of death instead of the messy reality.

At the far edge of the garden, the gravestones disappeared so that the land looked like a lawn interrupted only by small round markers with letters and numbers. Blair knelt down and pushed the creepers back off a marker in order to read it: 48B. Standing almost took more energy than he had in the thick, humid air, but Blair pushed on to the next marker. 49B. Blair took the map and figured out north so that he could estimate grave sized widths. 49B-lot 3. Moving to the piece of land that matched the highlighted square on the map, Blair sat on the ground.

"Hey man," he said to the ground or the putty colored sky or the soul that may or may not be able to hear him. "Thought I'd come out and just talk. Figured I had a few things to say to you." Blair stopped as he tried to collect the thoughts that kept scattering to the corners of his mind.

"I talked to your mother. Apologized really. She... um... no offense man, but she's a bit of a loon. I mean, she makes Naomi look like Betty Homemaker. I think she was stoned. Actually, I hope she was stoned because if she's like that when she's sober, that's really sad. Anyway, I told her how sorry I was, and she said she missed you. Well, it was between bouts of cursing me out, but she's just angry that she lost you." Blair took a deep breath.

"Your sister told me about the neighbor. She told me how you never wanted anyone to touch you after that." Blair blinked as the world suddenly lost its sharp edges as tears filled his eyes. "She knows you never meant to do something so evil, but sometimes we get evil put in our souls and we don't know how to get it out. The poison just keeps spreading." Blair tried to reconcile the feelings that flowed through him, but he couldn't find any middle ground between his anger at the evil this man had created and the compassion for the boy that man had once been.

"Man, you hurt a lot of people, but I know how you covered them up, dressed them again and put them somewhere safe so they would be found. I know you didn't want them to be lost or in pain. But man, you were the adult. You needed to get the poison out, and you just tried to fit in by poisoning everything around you. Not cool, man."

A distant rumble of thunder suggested that the promised rain might actually fall, but then it had felt like rain for hours and the clouds remained a colorless dull blanket over the valley.

"Oh man. I wish you would have asked for help earlier because I would rather have helped you find a therapist than helped you commit suicide. It wasn't fucking fair. I didn't deserve that any more than those children deserved what you did to them... any more than you deserved what happened to you. I'm just sorry for the whole mess." Blair closed his eyes as the wind started to blow.

"You know, usually when I solve a case I get all jazzed, but there just isn't anything to get jazzed about here. There's no good side. But man, I wanted to say that I forgive you. I know that you weren't strong enough to survive the poison that got into your soul, but I am. I'm okay, and I hope wherever you are, you're okay too. Well, maybe a little extra karma or a lifetime or two as a bug. You hurt kids, man, and maybe a few cycles of getting stepped on will teach you to be a little more careful of others, but after you've gotten the poison out of your soul, I hope you have a chance for something better. I hope my bullet wasn't the end for you. I hope you have a chance to make a different choice.

Blair opened his eyes, and the dust made his eyes sting and water as his hair whipped around his face. Blair turned and looked at the wall of dust descending on him. He'd read about haboobs, the wall of dust that would swallow the east valley whole and bury it under a dust storm. They only happened two places in the world, and Blair watched in wonder as the wall seemed to creep forward even though his mind told him that the leading edge of the dust storm could actually travel quite fast.

Blair continued to watch as the sky dimmed and his skin felt the prickles and then the wall engulfed him. Color disappeared in the thick dust and the wind pulled at the edges of his clothing. Blair had been in much worse storms, but the sudden shift as the dust enveloped him left him in awe. He could practically feel the storms power ripping past him.

Making a final silent prayer that Fielder's soul had found peace that it never found in life, Blair moved through the colorless dust storm back toward his car which had become a shadow in the sea of sand. He had work to do.

 

 

The Sanchez Cycle
021. Friends.

“Who reported the murder?” Blair asked as he stepped into a very familiar office. The victim, Roger Sanchez, had been in archeology rather than anthropology, but the stacks of paper and the artifacts crowding the walls and the books packed on the shelves were a familiar sight from his past. “A friend of his who he often had lunch with, Peter Collins,” the secretary answered. Part of Blair was glad for a case that didn’t involve a hysterical victim or some strange Babylonian script being left at vandalism sites as part of a bizarre frat prank. Another part of him wasn’t sure he was ready to face this crime scene. Oh, it wasn't the idea of a body that bothered him as much as the room itself. The victim had been removed, but the office felt like a moment from Blair’s past.

Blair stepped into the room and tried to get a feel for the professor who had been shot point blank in the chest some time after everyone else had gone home for the night. Blair walked around the room admiring the Sudanese masks and the Eritrean rug, the Afrikaner shipping manifest and the Libyan flute, the Mayan figurine and the Peruvian hat. Sanchez had a wide range of interests, but the pictures of his expeditions made Blair wonder what his life would have been if he had stayed in this world.

“He’s…” a broken voice started, and Blair spun around, his heart beating madly as the stranger appeared out of nowhere. What the hell were the uniformed cops doing out there because they sure weren’t keeping people back. The skinny, middle aged man had a long face, and a casual suit that hung from his frame. “He’s dead,” the man whispered.

“Mr. Collins?” Blair asked, finally making a connection. The man nodded. “Mr. Collins, maybe we should talk somewhere else,” Blair suggested softly. The man ignored him and walked to spot right in front of the large desk, his eyes focused on where, at one time, Sanchez’s chair had sat. Sanchez was gone, the crime scene unit had taken the chair out to collect detailed samples. Despite this, Blair suspected that Collins could still see what he had found this morning.

“Mr. Collins?” Blair said a little louder, and a shiver went through the man’s frame as he reached out and braced himself with one hand on Sanchez’s desk. So much for preserving the scene. Oh well, the man had found Sanchez, so his fingerprints were probably on the desk already.

“Mr. Collins?” Blair called louder and this time the man’s head tilted toward him and his fingers slowly traveled the smooth wood of Sanchez’s desk. “Maybe we should talk in your office.” Taking the man by the arm, Blair guided him out of the crime scene.

Blair spent an unproductive hour with the primary witness who seemed utterly unable to process the image of death he’d seen. Blair remembered seeing that first body floating in a bathtub, a yellow scarf wrapped around her neck, and he couldn’t blame Collins for being shaken. Sanchez had not been a pretty sight with six bullets through his chest. Definitely overkill. Definitely someone with a personal ax to grind. In the end, he got little more than Collins had offered on the 911 call, but he dutifully typed up the extra details in his laptop before heading back to Sanchez’s office.

Finding the office disturbingly familiar, Blair wandered the perimeter trying to get to know Sanchez, maybe understand why someone would feel so much anger towards a middle-aged archeologist. The longer Blair was a detective, the more he understood that driving need to find the truth and give justice to the people left behind.

Blair fingered a South American carving of a protector god, and he realized that as much as he loved anthropology and archeology, he love helping people more. He certainly never intended to have this life, but all those years of putting clues together had made him into a damn good cop. Maybe he still couldn’t compete with Bets or certain other people when it came to intimidating confessions out of people or tackling a suspect, but he had other strengths. A voice broke into his thoughts as his partner of the day came into the small office.

“So, didn’t you used to be into all this stuff?” Jeff asked in a tone that carried curiosity but not the hostility the Cascade cops had always used when discussing his past.

“Yeah, used to,” Blair admitted as he ran his fingers through his shortened hair.

“Must be weird, being back then.”

“It’s like visiting an old friend I don’t get to see very often any more,” Blair admitted fondly. And maybe it was the act of saying the words, but for the first time, Blair realized that anthropology was no longer a cherished lover and confidante but rather a simple friend, missed but not vital to his survival. Blair smiled as he walked out of the office

 

022. Enemies

“Well, this should be a short list of suspects,” Jeff said as they reached the secretary’s abandoned desk. Knowing the university system, all the administrative support staff and the student workers were huddled in some back break room concocting rumors that would flood the campus within the hour.

“What do you mean?” Blair asked as he shifted his leather messenger bag on his arm.

“Please, the vic was a professor with a clean financial record—no drugs, no gambling, no suspicious spending. How many enemies could he have?”

“Man, you have no clue,” Blair said fondly, shaking his head.

“Okay, enlighten me, oh enlightened one.” Blair gave Jeff a strange look, and Jeff just shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, not really quick on the quips today, late night,” Jeff admitted.

“Okay, I will then. The first category would be students. Oh man, you have not seen anything until you see a college quarterback benched by a grade or some guy who can’t get his company to reimburse his tuition because he only got a C instead of a B. Not pretty. So we might want to look at students he failed last semester or students he is failing this semester.

“Then there are the other professors. You may think professors are these kind-hearted teddy bears, but oh no. The competition over grant money and tenure can get vicious. Asking around with the staff will probability give us the names of any of the other professors he was in a pissing contest with.

“Then again, there are the activists who accuse archeologists of raping the cultural heritage of a country for profit, and man, I totally understand their point of view, but not all archeologists are like that, and some of these activists are just,” Blair whistled sharply and waved his hand palm down at shoulder level to indicate the level of nutsy some of the activists reached.

“And then you have to remember that professors are still people with love lives and quarrels, and I figure that’s enough to keep us busy for a day or two,” Blair stopped as Jeff looked at him thoughtfully.

“Frizz, I’m glad you decided to join the force. It’s safer,” he quipped before slapping Blair on the arm and heading toward the exit.

“Hardee-har-har, man. Hardee har-har.”

 

023. Lovers.

"I think Sanchez and Collins might have been lovers," Blair mused as he considered the way Collins had hovered around them and the way he had gently touched the corner of Sanchez's desk.

"Okay, that is more information that I needed to know," Jeff complained as he guided their car around an old sedan with an ancient driver.

"What? Homophobic?" Blair knew that Arizona was pretty damn conservative and homophobia was at epidemic levels, but Jeff had never struck him as one to care.

"Don't go there. What people do in their own homes is their own business as long as I don't have to think about it too much." Jeff paused for a second. "Or see it. I really don't want to see it." Jeff smiled and his sharp features took on a very fox-like appearance. "Then again I don't want to see Bets having at it either, although I wouldn't mind a look at Maria in the act." Blair aimed a backhanded slap at Jeff's arm, and the man gave him a sharp, "Hey!" for his efforts.

"Okay, if it's not homophobia, why does the idea of Sanchez and Collins offend you?" Blair asked curiously.

"Come on, they're geek boys. I don't like the thought of either of them getting busy with anyone."

"Oh man, you are pathetic. So... how do you expect scientists to reproduce?"

"I don't. I mean, hey, if they absolutely have to, they can do some geeky science thing, but anyone that pale and that skinny and that... geeky has no right to be getting busy. It makes for a bad mental image."

"Some geeky thing?" Blair crossed his arms in challenge. After all, he had his own geeky past to defend.

"Yeah, like artificial insemination or something."

"Maybe immaculate conception?" Blair asked as he tried not to laugh. Jeff turned away from the traffic long enough to shoot Blair a death-glare.

"I'm going to say yes even though I'm trying not to think of how that applies to Sanchez and Collins, 'cause the thought of either of them pregnant is worse than thinking of them getting it on."

"Well I suppose there is the old story of Horus's birth from the Papyrus of Ani. The spirit of Ra and the spirit of Osiris met and 'poof' Horus just showed up. So, you want geeks to do that sort of thing?"

"It'd be nice if they could. Much better mental image."

"Of course then there's the South American tale of the woman who got pregnant when the skull of a fallen hero spit on her."

"And I'm thinking that she was telling her father a little white lie with that one."

"Hey, it's an epic tale of good and evil. Reproduction is often a central theme in ancient times when the ability to reproduce determined who had heirs and allies."

"Really? I just thought it was sex."

"Oh man, not in ancient hero stories. Then again, sometimes it's about not having the sex. When Set was trying to steal the rulership of Earth from Osiris, he cut his brother up into pieces and made sure that Osiris' genitals would never be found."

"Okay, if he's cut up into pieces, what the hell difference does a missing cock make?"

"Osiris' wife put him back together, but she couldn't find his genitals."

"Okay, that's just disturbing. Actually that's a worse image than Sanchez getting it on, pre or post murder." Blair shivered in horror at that particular thought, but he still had some revenge to get.

"Not as disturbing as the next part. She made him cock out of clay and so she could get pregnant." Blair watched as Jeff's head snapped over to him. Blair had to work to suppress the smile as he considered how to work the next bit into the conversation.

"You're shitting me. These people obviously did not understand biology very well.” Navigating into the carpool lane, Jeff headed back for the station.

"Yeah, well it was all about reproduction. After Set attacked Horus to try and get Earth, Horus grabbed Set's genitals in his hand and crushed them."

"Oh god... you did not have to tell me that!" Jeff complained as he squirmed in his seat.

"Yep, Set threw some shit at Horus, and Horus reached out and grabbed Set's cock and balls and started squeezing." Blair pulled out the last word with a long eee sound accompanied by him holding out his hand and slowly closing it in demonstration.

"Okay, stop."

"There's this really interesting wall art in a pyramid in..."

"Stop!"

"And then Ra stabbed himself in the genitals," Blair couldn't contain his smile now as Jeff's lips pursed together in disgust.

"Okay, enough,” Jeff nearly shouted. “Some things just don't need to be said."

"Yeah, well man, next time you start picking on the geeks, just remember that I have years of anthropology and cultural studies behind me. I've got mutilated genitals stories from a dozen different countries."

"Damn you geeks are vicious little shits."

"Yep," Blair agreed with a smile.

 

024. Family.

"Jeff?" Blair called. "Yeah, what's up?"

"What type of aftershave do you use?"

"Why? Am I offending your nose?" Jeff asked as he stuck his head in the spacious bathroom previously owned by the dead Sanchez.

"Look," Blair gestured toward the tipped garbage can when a bottle of Armani aftershave lay partially buried by the crumpled tissues and an empty package of condoms.

"And?" Jeff asked with an exaggerated tone. Blair reached across the man and pulled open the medicine cabinet where a half full bottle of Parisian's Pure Indulgence aftershave sat on the third shelf. Jeff raised one eyebrow in a comical expression.

"Und ver-ry interesting," he said in a fake accent that was half Schultz from Hogan's Heroes and half bad New York gangster. Blair rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, well I don't think Sanchez lived here alone," Blair said as he put the silver trash container on the counter.

"Good catch, Frizz. Let's bag the Armani crap and send it for prints," Jeff said as he wandered out of the bathroom.

Blair headed for the kitchen. Opening the cupboards, he found chips and salsa sitting next to granola bars. Oh yeah, Sanchez hadn't lived here alone. Blair collected several boxes on the table for the criminologists to dust. Wandering up to the bedroom, Blair opened the closet. Unsurprisingly, the clothes stood spread out on the bar evenly. Too evenly. Blair was willing to bet that someone had recently removed clothing from half of this closet and had then spread out Sanchez's clothes to make it look like he lived alone.

Walking over to the bed, Blair completely broke protocol by sitting on the bed. He was willing to bet that Collins and Sanchez had been family, but in the face of a police investigation, Collins had fled. Now the only question was whether it was a murderer's guilt or fear of homophobia that had driven Collins from the home he had obviously shared with his lover.

 

025. Strangers.

Standing at the back of the church, Blair vacillated between looking out the windows to the mountain beyond the church and watching the scene inside. The huge arched windows allowed for a spectacular view of the scenery, but the real drama was inside the large church.

Family filled the rows closest to the coffin with professors taking the middle rows, and crying students gathered near the back. Collins was in back with the students, and Blair could see three female students huddled around him protectively. Sanchez's three brothers sat near the front, the youngest flinching at every audible sob.

Blair listened as one family member after another rose to go to the microphone and talk about the murdered professor. His father spoke of a child who had loved books and worked to pay his own way through college. His older brother talked about the time Sanchez spent volunteering in his community in the eighties. As Blair listened to each family member rise and speak, he realized that Sanchez was a stranger to those people who remembered the child Sanchez had once been, but who didn't seem to know the man now.

No one mentioned the Mexican dig site from the photograph Sanchez had enlarged and hung on his living room wall. None of the speakers brought up the three awards Sanchez had earned for various articles he'd published. People really didn't talk about the gay-support group that Sanchez sponsored every Wednesday, working with students identified as at risk by the student services department. And not one soul mentioned Collins who sat in the back row trembling with grief.

Blair watched the crowd as the pall bearers carried the coffin out of the chapel and out into the graveyard. Sanchez's mother wept until her husband, a solid looking man with a grey mustache had to support her. Blair had the uneasy feeling that the real Sanchez had been a stranger to these people.

Blair rubbed his hand over his now much shorter hair as he watched the family pass. The youngest brother, a quiet man in his thirties carrying the back of the coffin glared at Collins as he passed the back rows of the church. Interesting. Collins drew himself up to his full proud five foot five and glared right back. Very interesting.

The procession out to the gravesite was slow and hot and miserable with the morning sun already pounding the ground and reflecting off every available hard surface: the sidewalk, the concrete benches, even the statues.

Blair tried to keep back, well aware that as the police officer investigating the crime he wasn't part of this collective grief, but he also regretted both the death of a man he was quickly coming to respect and the chasm that seemed to exist between the man he knew through his investigation and the man the family seemed to know. He couldn't help find it sad when people who loved each other were reduced to being mere strangers.

 

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A Life Lived in Moments
026. Teammates.

"Move it Frizz," Russo screamed in either frustration or encouragement, Blair wasn't sure which one. Blair pressed his back to the hot brick and tried to remind himself this was just a game. Holding his gun out in proper form, Blair came around the corner and lined up with one of the doors facing him across a sandy field peppered with weeds. A door popped open at random, and Blair used a precious half second to determine whether it was hostile or friendly before putting a bullet in the cardboard target.

Roth had been working with him, coming out to the range just to help Blair after hours when all the cadets were at home, tucked in their beds. Blair snorted. Yeah, right. The cadets were probably our drinking and getting arrested themselves, Blair thought as he lined up on another target that came out of a door.

Blair watched as the picture of the child with a water gun disappeared unharmed. He and Roth had worked the range until Blair trusted himself with the gun, and even felt confident. Of course it helped that Roth insisted that he'd rather have a detective with a slower score and no accidental hits than the detective with the best score in the department.

Well, Blair was nowhere near the best in the department if Russo's curses were anything to go by. Nope, at this rate, the two-five was going to easily win the bet, but Blair refused to hurry his pace as he reached the building and cleared the first room. A cardboard face appeared in the empty window frame, and Blair trained his gun on it for a brief second before the click behind him reminded him he hadn't cleared the closet yet.

Blair slammed his back to the wall near the window and lined his weapon up with the closet. A cardboard picture of a kind older gentleman appeared, shotgun in hand. Blair pulled the trigger with the same regret he always felt.

Blair understood. To help people and stop the bad guys, a person simply had to have the power to stop those who wouldn’t be stopped any other way.

Pushed away from the wall, Blair identified the cardboard face of a child before moving to the second room. Three more faces, two hostile, one hostage. Blair put neat holes in two pieces of cardboard while moving around the third. One more door.

Blair came out the back door, the sun from the afternoon sky nearly blinding him as he stepped onto the gravel and rock surface of the house’s "backyard." One shed and three fences to clear.

Blair suspected that the unit had well and truly lost the bet by now, and he anticipated a long afternoon of washing cars and getting verbally tortured, but he focused on the range, taking out two more paper villains and sparing three inanimate victims.

As Blair lined up and took out the last target, a horn blew and the range sergeant yelled his score through the bullhorn. Blair flinched. Oh yeah, they had totally lost the challenge. Well, no help for it… he was going to spend the afternoon washing cars over at the two-five with the rest of the unit. After that, getting back to investigating his cases would be a joy.

Blair holstered his weapon and started walking across the weedy and patchy grass to where the rest of the unit waited.

“You’re washing the tires, Frizz,” Russo growled unhappily.

“Whatever, man,” Blair said. Russo snorted and started walking back to the parking lot. Funny, Blair had expected a lot more shit than that.

 

027. Parents

Sandburg!" Roth bellowed, and Blair cringed at the sound. He knew that bellowing was just Roth’s way, but it really bugged him that everyone in the bull pen knew whenever his ass was in the fire. Blair quickly initialed the paperwork before sliding the file back into place and hurrying towards his captain’s office.

"Captain?" Blair asked as he walked into the office and closed the door behind him. From the sound of the bellow, he wanted at least a little privacy for this ass-chewing.

"I have a complaint here from the Sanchez family that you have, and I quote, ‘harassed and insulted the family on multiple occasions.’ Would you care to explain this?"

"Captain, I just know Tom Sanchez killed his brother," Blair started. Roth interrupted.

"So you harass the family? Sandburg, you know better than that!"

"I’m not harassing them."

"Then why do I have this letter from the parents?"

"Because the parents don’t want to admit their son was gay!" Blair didn’t realize he was shouting back until the last word. He also hadn’t realized that he’d leaned forward into the desk. Now he stood and took a step back in the silence that followed. “I’m just trying to get them to talk about who knew about their son’s personal life. They won’t talk."

"The parents aren’t going to start talking by you badgering them."

"Oh, man, I know. I totally know. I just can’t think of any other way to get them to start seeing the truth. The parents are providing the alibi for their son Tom, and if they would only see the truth…"

"Sometimes parents don’t see the truth, sometimes they can’t." Roth’s voice grew suddenly more tired and softer. “Frizz, sometimes you can’t solve a case, and beating your head against this wall won’t help. You don’t need official complaints in your file."

"And what do I tell Mr. Collins? What do I tell Sanchez’s lover and real family?"

"You tell him that you’re sorry, but you can’t keep beating a horse that’s dead, buried, and rotting away in the earth."

"They don’t bury horses," Blair pointed out petulantly.

"Yeah, well they do bury careers. Let this one go, Frizz," Roth ordered. Blair fingered the edge of the vest he was wearing, the small silver beads cool in his hand.

"I—"

"Frizz, you're one of my best detectives, but you can't close every case and you can't beat yourself up for not being perfect. Let it go."

Blair stood and looked at his captain's concerned expression, and he realized that he didn't really have a choice. As long as the Sanchez's were protecting the one brother, the other would never have justice. The most he could do was have faith that the universe would balanced it all out in the end.

"Right, no more calling the Sanchezes," Blair agreed. Of course, that didn't mean he'd stop chasing other leads, but for now, he realized that he couldn't fix the world single-handedly. Blair wandered back to his desk and looked at the growing pile of files in his active box. Oh, he definitely couldn't fix the world. But at least he hadn't done as Bets suggested and relegated these people to the dead files. If he couldn’t solve the crime, the least he could do would be to remember. Well, that and care.

 

028. Children

"Dirty pigs!" a young voice called out, and Blair tried reminding himself that these were kids, children really. Blair walked over the spikey-haired young man who had shouted those words despite the fact he was making himself a bit of a suspect in the theft of the school computers and the vandalism in the halls. Of course there was such a crowd around the school building that Blair had more than enough suspects to choose from. He decided then that he hated summer school. Arizona was too damn hot and the kids too damn cranky for summer school. Ignoring his own aggravation, Blair went over to the group with a smile on his face.

"Did you know that in Chinese mythology, the pig is one of the most revered animals, the symbol of honor and loyalty. Being born in the year of the pig is considered good luck, and many people try to marry people born under that zodiac sign because people born under the influence of the pig are so caring. Of course I was actually born under the sign of the monkey, but I can still appreciate the pig.

"In fact there are many cultures that consider pigs to be symbols of prosperity, man. Just like there are lots of cultures that consider your piercing there to be symbols of prosperity and status. Did you know there are 4,000 year old clay statues from Iran that show women of status having multiple ear piercings, and the ancient people of Mexico and China used to stretch their ears with large ear spools that would make the piercings stretch until you could get a small hand through the lobe?

"Oh man, they were really into the body modification, but I've never gone past a nipple ring, and I had to get myself good and drunk before I even managed that." Blair looked at the shocked faces gazing at him from under dyed black hair and dark Goth makeup.

"So, anyone know what kind of losers spend their weekend trying to get *into* school instead of trying to get out of school like all the normal kids?" Blair asked sweetly.

 

029. Birth.

Blair realized he was dreaming when the blue jungle around him shimmered and disappeared for a moment leaving him and the black jaguar standing on a flat, featureless surface surrounded by blue light. "Hey, Jim," Blair said to the dream cat. It instantly transformed into Jim as though the name had the power to force Jim back into his true form. Blair still kept his distance since he had been swept by those jaguar claws often enough that he didn't want to take the chance of waking up with his heart pounding and his fingers checking for blood.

"Blair," Jim said, and the pain and wariness in Jim's eyes was enough to make Blair take a step backwards. The emotional guards were all up, and Blair wondered why he conjured angry Jim into his dreams when he really just wanted to lose himself in some happy memory. Better yet, some happy fantasy of things that never ever would have happened in real life.

"Still pissed, huh?" Blair asked, deciding to go along with his subconscious which constantly insisted that he deal with this version of Jim.

"You walked out," Jim accused him.

"You walked out first. Oh man, I need to wake up. I am so not prepared to having this argument with my own psyche." Jim stood silent, watching him, and Blair felt a shiver travel his backbone as Jim transformed into the cat again. Right, avoid the claws. Obviously that wasn't an issue because the cat turned tail and then the jungle returned, trees blocking his view of the Jim cat.

"Oh man, do you ever wish we could just start over? I am so fucking tired of missing you," Blair whispered to the blue air. "I just want a fresh start, a way to erase all this crap and have my best friend back again. I…" Blair's voice cracked. "I wish there were some sort of rebirth or cleansing ceremony that would cancel out the past." Only silence answered Blair, and he woke suddenly. Looking at the clock, Blair decided to give up on sleep and go take a morning run. Maybe watching the sun rise would clear the feeling of anticipation that hung in the air.

 

030. Death.

"Oh, I see big tings in your future," the old woman muttered in a fake New Orleans accent.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm going to be cop of the year," Blair answered as he guided her toward the squad room. She might be a witness, but her fake psychic routine and her faker accent were both starting to bother him. Of course all the others had abandoned him to the old woman long ago. Cowards.

"Let's talk about the man you saw on the street," Blair tried as he sat her down next to his desk and brought out his tape recorder. He quickly spoke his name, the date and the location of the interview into the machine before setting it on the desk where it would catch Madame Zelanski's every word.

"The man is the five of cups… no moving on to the six… too much time in the four of cups." Madame Zelanski waved her hand dismissively as though she had finished. "But you… I would have you draw a card for yourself." Blair struggled to remember his mother's tarot period. He'd been young enough that he had sat at her feet as she learned their meanings and explained how the cards allowed the universe to speak to the individual.

"Five of cups," Blair said, ignoring the woman's comments about him. "You mean pain or loss? What did he look like to make you say that?"

"Ah, the young cub knows the cards. Do you hear the universe whisper its secrets?" she instantly asked in a low, reverent voice.

"Not lately," Blair said as he struggled to not lose patience, it wouldn't help anyone if he threw her in a cell for obstructing justice. "I just need some facts from this physical reality," he tried this time.

"There is no physical reality. The man with blood on his hands thought there was, but the four of cups tricked him," she said as she leaned forward conspiratorially. However, her accent was starting to slip. It kinda ruined the whole mystical routine, Blair thought.

"The four of cups, is that one pleasure?" Blair asked.

"Pleasure in excess or pleasure about to be lost," she agreed.

"Okay, let's try it this way. Pretend that I'm someone who doesn't believe in the tarot at all and tell me what you saw with your eyes that a non-believer could see," Blair tried. The woman looked at him with her head cocked to one side and a thoughtful expression.

"I'll make a deal with you," she wheedled.

"What sort of deal?" Blair needed her statement, but the tape recorder had caught the offer and now Blair wanted all the cards on the table, so to speak. If she wanted money, he had to turn that over to Roth.

"Pull a card," she demanded triumphantly as she held out a deck.

"Oh man, that's it?" The woman nodded once. "Deal. You tell me what mere mortal eyes would have seen and I will pull a card."

"His eyes were large and black, his steps unsteady from the drugs he had taken," Madam Zelanski started. Blair shifted the tape recorder close to her and flipped open a notepad so that he could take a few notes of his own. It helped him think.

In the end, the woman had seen even more than anyone had expected. Blair smiled as he looked down at the tape recorder with the wealth of details about the killer and the victim. Say what you want about the old woman, she had sharp eyes. And now those eyes were focused right on him as one fat finger tapped the top of a deck of tarot cards she had reverently placed on his desk. Blair glanced up at Bets and Maria who had shown up near the end of the interview.

Well he had made a deal. He picked up about a third of the deck and took a card. Pushing the rest of the deck to one side, he flipped his card face up on the corner of his desk.

"Ah!" Madam Zelanski exclaimed enthusiastically. "Death! Oh how exciting. I knew I could smell fate clinging to you like the scent of a rose lingering on the petals." Blair temporarily lost his train of thought as he heard Bets' snort of laughter.

"Yes, well let's get your statement typed up and then you can sign it," Blair said with a glare toward his friend.

***

"Doesn't it bother you?" Maria asked hours later long after Madam Zelanski with her fake accent and long skirts had been sent back home with a uniformed patrol.

"What?"

"That," Maria gestured toward the card that still lay on his desk, a skeletal hand holding a scythe and a skull grinning out from a hood. "It's like she cursed you or something."

"Oh man, no way. The death card is just about change. It means a person is about to move on to a new level or find a new level of consciousness. I mean, we all fear death, but really what we fear is the unknown. That just means I'm about to walk into the unknown," Blair explained. "Well, it would if I believed in that stuff," he amended himself when he caught Bets' amused expression.

"So, it's nothing bad?" Maria asked.

"Um, change can be good or bad," Blair explained. "I just figure I've seen enough major life changes that I know how to roll with the punches." Maria nodded and moved back to her desk while Blair considered just how terrifyingly true that statement actually was. Three months of getting settled, and if one counterfeit gypsy could be believed, life was about to change again. He couldn't decide if it was anxiety or just plain weariness that he felt at the thought.