The present. Jim decided that he'd almost rather be back in the past - at least there....But he couldn't finish that thought.
He remembered his decision after talking with Simon, his decision to go after Blair. But on arriving home, a sense of futility overwhelmed him and then of course - the telephone call and his world had taken a nose dive into hell.
He was still there - in hell. And Jim Ellison saw nothing that would convince hm that he would be out anytime soon.
The thought that Blair was dead, gone, destroyed, was enough to invite a dark swirl of blackness to settle around his heart and mind. Which was quite appropriate for hell.
He'd searched his soul for some clue that Blair still existed, assuring himself that he would know if the man he loved so desperately had left this earth. But there was only a void where emotions and knowledge should be.
Concentrate. He - just - needed - to - concentrate.
Pitch black, nothing more.
Is that what he would feel if Blair were dead? Was this what he'd experienced at the fountain? This emptiness?
No. He'd felt - depair at the fountain, guilt at the fountain, anger at the fountain - but never this complete - lack of life.
Dear. God. He. Was. Dead.
James Ellison was no stranger to the horrors of plane crashes. He'd seen them, he'd been in them, the crash in Peru having been the worst. He'd seen the devastation as a cop and knew only too well what the effects of one small plane, at top flight speed and meeting the earth or a mountain, could do to a body.
He shuddered, the nausea rose and with one swift move, he was up and moving quickly toward the bathroom.
Simon watched his detective bolt and almost got up to help. But something held him back. Jim would want privacy now.
Simon closed his eyes and let his head rest back against the cushions. God, he'd never seen Jim like this, never. Not when he'd lost Danny, not when he'd lost Lila and certainly not when he'd lost Veronica.
He was so - absent.
Banks had observed him come briefly to life as he'd comforted Naomi, listened to her, but once they'd all settled in for the wait, once silence became their companion, Jim had withdrawn. He wasn't zoning, no chance of that as Simon well knew. Jim hadn't had his senses online for weeks. But this - vacant shell - was as close to a zone as an ex Sentinel could get. And Naomi wasn't much better.
They should be talking, comforting, but both Jim and Naomi had retreated into their cocoons of despair and Simon was right there with them.
He checked his watch and almost jumped from his seat. It was after five and he'd promised to call Daryl, fill him in. It had taken a great deal of persuasion to convince his son that he needed to stay in Cascade, with his mother. Simon walked to a secluded corner and dialed his cellphone.
"Daryl, it's Dad."
<<Have they started searching, dad? Have they?>>
"No, not yet. But the good news is that the weathermen are predicting that the fog will lift by morning. They may be able to launch their search at first light."
<<Dad, why can't Jim do something? He could find the plane, he could
Simon was struck dumb. Stunned, he tried to recover, to gather his wits about him, but Daryl was talking again.
<<Dad, it's not like I don't know. I saw him in Peru, I'm not an idiot.
And besides, I know Blair and he would never do what he said he did in
that stupid press conference. You could cover the area by car, Dad, and
Jim could listen and watch or maybe go to some ranger stations and I
know he could see from there, could see...>>
Simon had to stop him before his own heart broke.
"Daryl, Jim, isn't, can't...", then quietly, "he isn't a sentinel anymore, son."
There was silence on the other end of the phone. He strained to hear, caught the ragged breathing, heard the small hitches that told him Daryl was on the verge of tears. Daryl never cried.
Simon turned to the wall, closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the papered surface. His son was seventeen, but at that moment - he was his baby and he sounded as lost as Jim looked.
"Son, you remember in church? When Reverend Smithers talked about faith?"
"We need it now, son."
Simon's clenched his jaw, not in anger, but in pain and frustration. This was not the type of conversation he wanted to have with his son over a phone. This needed - holding - explaining.
"Daryl, where's your mother?"
<<gone - work>>
Shit. Of course.
<<dad, faith can't help. am i supposed to have faith that if blair is
dead, it's for the best? i can't do that. it isn't for the best. could
never be for the best>>
God Damn It To Hell.
And in the next breath, he sent up a fervent prayer for guidance, for the faith he needed to survive this and to aid his son.
As he breathed deep, he fought for the words, images of the past crowding in on him. Images of Jim and Blair in those early weeks and months of their partnership and burgeoning friendship, of all the close calls, and especially of one bleak morning, next to a fountain in front of Hargrove Hall.
His mind settled around thoughts, words, courage, deeds and oddly enough, one memory swam past the others to surface first. The memory of one young man breaching the generation gap between a father and son....
Several months previous:
"You will talk to him, Sandburg. You got me into this mess and you will get me out."
"Sir, I don't think I'm the one who nee....."
"Oh," Simon rudely interrupted, "But you are. Aren't you the one who couldn't keep his opinions to himself? Now, I want you to fix my son. TODAY." He busied himself straightening his desk as he added, "He'll be here in fifteen minutes. Take care of it."
They were standing in Simon's office, and while it had been weeks since Garett Kincaid's second attempt to lay siege to Cascade, the discussion between father and son was ongoing. Simon was angry because Daryl was still talking police academy instead of college and citing Blair Sandburg as his champion.
Blair stood before his boss, his own anger in check, understanding the worry of the man before him.
"Simon, I think you need to sit down with...."
"I don't pay you to think, Sandburg."
"Actually sir? You don't pay me at all, but if you did, it would most definitely be to think."
Simon put the palms of his hands flat on his desk and rose menacingly. Glaring at his observer, he said, far too quietly, "For a reason that escapes me, my son has chosen to listen to you in this matter. He seems to think the sun rises and sets on you. So change - his mind. And where you get off telling my son anything, let alone trying to tell me how to handle my son, I'll never know. You have no idea what it's like to be a father and I doubt that you ever will. For that matter, you don't have a clue how to be a son. Change his mind, Sandburg."
Simon failed to notice the sudden flare of anger in the blue eyes, or the sudden flushing of skin. And he certainly had no clue that he'd gone too far this time.
Blair took several breaths, his mind whispering his mantra over and over again. A custom oft needed of late.
"Simon, I'll talk with him. That's all I can promise."
Blair knew when he was being dismissed.
Daryl showed up on time, his face dour. He was expecting another lecture from his father and was happily surprised when Blair tried to hijack him.
"How does lunch at McGhee's sound?"
"Oh, man, I'd love to go, but mom is expecting me back in an hour. Dad isn't here?"
"He'll be back shortly, so I thought I'd grab you first, treat you to lunch before he takes over."
Daryl peeked around Blair and frowned at his father's empty office. He shook his head in resignation. Figures. His father insists he meet him at work, then can't be here himself.
Blair, seeing the hurt, took his arm and said, "Let me treat you to lunch downstairs, in the cafeteria. It's the least the Cascade PD can do for one of its sons. Come on, sky's the limit."
The line was minimal so within five minutes, they were seated, trays loaded. As Blair watched Daryl put his sandwich together, he asked, "So, have you decided on the academy?"
"Yep. Dad's still trying to talk me out of it, but it's what I want to do."
"Have you actually listened to him?"
The beef dip sandwich was on its way to Daryl's mouth, but Blair's words froze it mid-air. Suspicious, Daryl put the meaty delight down and looked at his friend. "Dad asked you to talk to me, didn't he?"
Blair chuckled and shook his head. "Asked, Daryl? No, your father didn't ask. He ordered." As the younger man started to rise, his face a study in hurt and anger, Blair motioned impatiently with his right hand and added, "Daryl, I'm not going to say anything I don't believe and I would certainly never say anything that didn't need saying. He can order all he wants, that's what he does. Now - sit down and finish your sandwich."
Still suspicious, Daryl sat and grudgingly picked up his sandwich. "So.
Talk. But you're not going to change my mind."
Grinning, Blair taunted, "Betcha five bucks I can."
"Man, you are too much."
"Yep. Now, here's how I see the whole thing. If I'm wrong, I'm pretty certain you'll correct me. Number one; your father loves you. He'd die for you. Do we agree so far?"
"yes." Then Daryl looked up and challenged, "But I'm still going to the academy."
"Fair enough. Number two; it would kill your father if anything happened to you. Agreed?"
In a voice far less tough, Daryl answered, "yes."
"Good. So, number three; your father only wants the very best for you and your happiness is first with him. Agreed?"
"No. If my happiness came first, he'd let me go the academy."
"Wrong, Daryl. If your happiness didn't come first, he might push you to the academy. How many fathers do you know that don't want their sons following in their footsteps?"
Daryl leaned back, his suspicion on full alert. "Why do I think I'm about to be painted into a collegian corner?"
Blair laughed heartily and for the first time, Daryl joined him.
"Hey, kid, I can't help it if your father loves you more than life, can I?"
"No. And I'm no kid."
"To me you are. Remember, around here, I'm the kid. It feels great to have someone else fit the bill better than me."
"Okay, but only you can use it."
"Deal. Now, number four; How can college hurt you? How can having some fun, broadening your education and giving yourself more options be a bad thing?"
"But you said...."
"I said, you need to follow your dreams and I told Simon he needs to let you choose. I was right. But that doesn't answer my questions."
"But, I want to start the academy when I graduate. Why wait?"
"Fair question. How 'bout this for an answer; College will give you greater opportunities within the department and coming in as a college graduate automatically ups your salary by over 25% in the first year alone. Not to mention that a college diploma opens every door in the place and I'm fully aware of your interest in forensics."
Blair grinned and nodded. "Twenty-five percent."
"Yeah. Wow. And of course, with college you've got your basic gorgeous co-eds, frat parties, football games, alumni weekends, hard work, pulling all-nighters, a wealth of education at your fingertips, gorgeous co-eds, the knowledge of great minds, yours for the taking, gorgeous co-eds, The Spring Dance...."
...together they both intoned, "And gorgeous co-eds."
They broke into raucous laughter, with Blair picking up the roll that came with his salad and tossing it across the table at Daryl.
When they quieted down, Daryl asked tentatively, "Do you think, I mean, does Dad...."
"Daryl, your father would be prouder than a peacock if you were to become a police officer, but he wants you to have every option, every opportunity to make a well informed decision. And maybe, just maybe, he doesn't want to see his only child grow up too quickly. College provides that much needed bridge for both parent and child."
Daryl shook his head. "What is it with parents and college?"
"I don't honestly know. But you might want to consider the difficulty someone like your father would have had in college. Or your grandfather."
"Never waste an opportunity."
Blair cocked his head and smiled. "Exactly."
"My grandfather used to say that. All the time."
"Wise man. Like your father."
Daryl frowned and looked up at Blair. "Do you miss not having a father?"
"Whoa, let's not pussy foot around here."
Daryl grinned but didn't back down. "Do you?"
The salad roll had ended up back on Blair's plate and now he started to tear it up as he considered Daryl's question.
"When I see Simon with you, yeah, I think I miss it. I look at what kind of father Simon is, how much he loves you, how he's still his own person, but how that person needs you in order to be whole, and yes, I sometimes wish...", his voice trailed off as he'd become aware of the naked emotion he'd allowed out. He looked up and smiled, "But then," he pulled out a hunk of his hair, "who'd want this for a son?" And he laughed.
"But you do have Naomi."
For a minute, Blair's face clouded over. "Yeah. But there's a difference. You see, your father and mother not only love you, but they need you too. You do complete them. Naomi has never needed me. I don't - complete her. She needs - the world." He picked up what was left of the roll and waved it at Daryl. "You have parents who truly understand what it means to be parents."
"I don't get you."
"Most parents seem to think their kids owe them something. They just don't get it. Children are a gift, Daryl. Your father knows this. He cherishes you. So does your mother."
"But - Naomi didn't?"
"Oh, no, mom was great, don't get me wrong. I'm just talking about parents in general."
Daryl nodded in sudden understanding. "You mean - Jim's dad."
"Jeesh, Daryl, you get around."
"Small child - big ears."
"Not so small anymore. Heck, you're taller than me."
"Oh, like that's hard."
"Man, that was harsh." But Blair was laughing. "And speaking of parents, your hour is up."
Daryl wanted to talk more, about Blair and his mother but intuitively, he realized that Blair had already given away more than he ever had.
They got up, dumped their trays and headed to the elevator. Neither young man saw the shadow separate itself from the partition behind the table they'd occupied.
Simon watched his son and Jim's partner enter the elevator, laughing and he continued to watch even as the doors closed.
By the time Simon got back up to his office, Blair had left to meet Jim at the courthouse and his son was gone. He wandered into his office, his mind still on the conversation he'd overheard. As he sat down, he noticed a letter, addressed to him, in Daryl's handwriting. He tore it open.
I'm going to accept the scholarship to Rainier.
But right after graduation, I'm going to the academy.
By the way, would you give this five dollar bill to Blair?
Simon fingered the bill.
His son was still waiting. Waiting for words of assurance. Simon reached into his pocket, pulled out his money clip and slipped a wrinkled bill out. It was the same five dollar bill. He'd never had the opportunity to give it to Blair. Or to talk with him, thanks to the media and a small story about sentinels.
"Son. Listen to me. Blair is alive. I'm sure of it. We'll bring him home, okay?"
<<I believe you, Dad>>
Naomi gazed about her somewhat dazedly and realized that she was alone again. She looked around, almost frantically, and spotted Simon in a far corner, talking on his cell phone.
Jim was no where to be seen.
She noted rather abstractly that Simon looked terrible, his head resting against the wall.
He appeared - lost.
Weren't they all right now? And how could they be lost when only Blair was lost? They knew where they were. They were safe, could tell anyone who asked that yes, they did indeed know where they were. Could Blair do that right now?
She bit back a groan.
Her head turned sharply, looking for the child that belonged to the voice.
A small chubby hand plucked at her shift and Naomi glanced down and into the worried blue eyes of her four year old son.
"Honey, I'm talking. You know you shouldn't interrupt."
"zoo. you promised."
"I said we might get to the petting zoo. But right now, we're working on our protest, okay? That's why we came to the park, sweetie. Why don't you let me get you chocolate milk and you sit down and finish your crayon drawing, okay?"
Short, flyaway curls shook as Blair demanded, "did too promise, you prooo-mused."
"Okay, okay, we'll go soon. But in the meantime, do your coloring okay?"
She took his hand and led him back to the tree where their hamper and blanket were and plopped him down. From the cooler, she pulled a chocolate milk, opened the tab, handed it to her son and ran her hands through his curls.
"You need a haircut, young man. Now, as soon as we're done here, you and I will take in the petting zoo, okay?"
Answering with happy nod and one brown moustache, Blair bent over his coloring book.
Naomi stood and went back to her friends.
Fifteen minutes later, the sound of the merry-go-round proved too much for one four year old. He folded his book, took the last gulp of his chocolate milk and got up. He walked up to his mommy and pulled on her shift again.
"mommy, can i have a nickel?"
Without looking looking at him, Naomi fished in her pocket and came up with a quarter. She handed it down and he happily took the larger, shinier coin and scampered off.
The merry-go-round was in motion when he ran up, so he knew he had to wait his turn, but it was hard. There were only three ahead of him, so unless almost all the other kids stayed on for second go-around, he'd make it on.
His eyes searched for the black cat and when he spotted it, he almost jumped for joy. He just had to get the big, black cat - he just had to.
The music slowed and gradually, so did the ride. Kids got off and Blair started to edge up, eager to get to the cat. The man at the gate took his quarter and gave him change and Blair was running and climbing up, but the cat was on the other side so he hurried, but other, bigger kids rushed past him, each eager to claim their favorite animal.
But no one chose the big black cat. Grinning happily, Blair tried to climb up, but it was hard. The jaguar was leaping and the foothold was higher than some of the other animals, but Blair wasn't going to give up.
Suddenly, two hands went around his waist and he was lifted up and settled on the cat. When he turned around, a big teenager was grinning at him.
"Settled now, kid?"
He smiled back, a little shy, and he nodded. His eyes went down to the teen's feet, then all the way back up. He'd never seen anyone this tall before.
"Mighty brave of you to choose the wild jaguar, young man. I'm impressed."
Blair was so in awe of the huge black teen, he could only nod and smile. His hand went out and soothed over the neck of the cat and he finally found his voice.
A wide grin split the handsome face and a booming laugh rang out.
"Yours, uh? Well, okay, my man."
The teen turned away from Blair and yelled, "Just a minute, Matt, hold your horses, I'll be right there." Then he turned back to Blair and said, "Well, little bro' calls. If you need any help getting down, just holler, okay?"
The teen ambled away and the merry-go-round started up.
Blair leaned forward, eyes narrowed as he imagined himself in the jungle, evil hunters after him and his faithful companion, the black jag.
But nobody was faster than his cat, so Blair knew he would be safe.
He rode the cat two more times, but finally curious about the whistling sound he could hear every now and then, he got off and wandered toward the inviting, cheerful noise.
As he came around a corner, his eyes widened in amazement.
A choo-choo train. And it really moved, and children were on it, riding it around and every so often, the engineer would blow the red and gold whistle on the top of the engine.
Blair looked in his palm, at the shiny dime staring up at him. Would it be enough?
Because he had to ride the train. He just had to.
Again a line. His little foot tapped, his hand hugging the gate as he once again waited his turn. His eyes followed the train all over the tracks, moved down to the shiny wheels, up to the top of the engine and the whistle, across all the colors and designs, and his grin widened in equal proportion to his eyes.
The train pulled up and chugged to a stop and the children were disgorged. The line moved and then he was there, handing the dime to the lady but she put out a hand, stopping him.
"You have to have a ticket."
She must have seen his confusion, because she turned him around and pointed him in the direction of a small booth. "There, you can buy your ticket there." She gave him a pat on his behind and sent him toward the lady in the booth.
But he'd miss his ride. He turned back to her and she smiled down at him. "There's time if you hurry."
He plopped the dime on the wooden shelf and a pink ticket was shoved over to him. Holding it in the air, he ran back.
And got into another line.
The lady at the front spotted him and reached over the other children, grabbed his arm and pulled him to the front. "Here, I saved you a spot." She took his ticket, lifted him up and set him down *right behind the engineer*! She ruffled his curls and walked back to the others.
Two minutes later, the train started to move and Blair was right up front!
They went around two times, the wind blowing in his face, capturing his short curls and he laughed and giggled and held on tight. Then the engineer took his hand and raised it up and fastened his fingers around a long string and he said loudly, "PULL IT."
Blair pulled it and the whistle went off - TOOT-TOOT and he'd done it! He'd made the whistle toot!
But eventually, the ride came to an end. And he didn't have anymore money. But it had been the best ever and he had to tell mommy. Now.
He ran out and back into the park, eyes searching for his tree. But, but, but - he couldn't fine it.
Not it. Not their tree. Not their stuff. And not his mommy.
He turned his head in every direction - but no mommy. He started walking, looking, searching and eyeing every large group but they were never his mommy.
He stopped after what seemed like forever because there was a drinking fountain and he was hot and thirsty, but it was a grown-up fountain and that made him mad. He tried anyway. Got wet, but didn't get anything to drink.
He went back to walking. And searching.
"But a sit-down has been done, Naomi. It didn't work."
"We sat down in the chancellor's office, that's why it didn't work."
"So you're suggesting we sit down where?"
"Right smack dab in the middle of the field. Where we can do the most good."
"Holy shit, Naomi. You're fuckin' brilliant."
Naomi gazed around the sea of young faces and smiled. This felt good. She might be the only one with a child, but damn, she would make a difference. And the whole idea of the military on their campus, doing maneuvers on their football field, well, no thank you!
"Is one of you Naomi?"
All heads swiveled at the voice and stared at a burly police officer. Naomi stepped forward and said, "I am. What's the problem? We're just students sitting in a park talking, officer."
He scowled at her and from behind his leg he pulled something out.
"Did you lose this, *ma'am?"
She gazed down to see Blair, face tear stained, fingers wrapped in the man's trousers, looking unhappily up at her. The big cop reached down and picked her son up as easily as if he were nothing heavier than a pillow. Then he glared at her.
"I, yes, I mean, no, I....Blair?"
He blinked at her and whispered, "mommy?"
She held out her arms and the cop leaned in, letting Blair make the choice. He hesitated, but finally let go of the man's neck and let his arms carry him into his mother's.
"Maybe you should care a bit more about your child than your college protests, uh?" With those words, he stalked off.
Richie Howard stood and said, "Who the hell does he think he is? The pig."
Everyone else immediately joined in, but Naomi was strangely silent as she watched the man disappear into the dusk.
When she couldn't see him anymore, she looked at her son, pushed back sweaty curls from his forehead and started to say something but his expression stopped her.
He was staring at her as if he'd never seen her before - as if she were a complete stranger. She frowned and said, "Honey?"
"you didn't come for me. you didn't find me. you didn't even know i was gone."
Naomi Sandburg covered her face with her hands, her shoulders shaking. He was lost again, but this time, she knew it, she'd come as far as she could, and still - it wouldn't be enough.
Jim moved slowly away from the stall and stumbled to the sink. He turned on the water, bent over and splashed the liquid over his face. He bent lower and slurped up some water, swished it around in his mouth and spit. He repeated this four or five times.
As he washed his hands, the bathroom door opened and Simon appeared behind him, hands coming to rest on his shoulders.
"He's alive, Jim. I'm certain of it."
"Oh? And what little bird dropped that piece of information into your lap?"
Simon ignored the pain induced sarcasm, instead choosing to turn the younger man around and saying, "No one, Jim. But to quote my son, it simply can't be any other any way."
"oh, sure, throw daryl into this." Jim smiled slightly.
"My son, like your partner, is rarely wrong."
"Simon, you know the odds as well as I do."
"Yep, and any odds involving Blair Sandburg, automatically favor Blair Sandburg."
"you, you've got a point there, simon."
"Damn straight I do. Now let's get back out to Naomi."
The two men came out of the bathroom and Jim immediately noticed Naomi's condition. He rushed to her side, Simon right behind him.
She lifted her head and they could see the track of tears. Jim sat beside her, on the small end table, put his arm around her and pulled her close.
"It's okay, he's going to be okay. He is okay."
"no, he's lost, just like before and i can't go to him, can't find him. it's always been like that."
"Naomi, what do you mean?"
She sniffled into the kleenex Simon handed her and her words rushed out....
"When he was four, at Tilden Park, before we moved, I was with several other Berkeley students, I was going to school part-time, I was just 21, we were protesting the military coming onto campus and were meeting at Tilden. Blair wanted to go to the petting zoo, but I got him some chocolate milk and he played with his crayons and the next thing I knew, it was three hours later and a policeman was bringing him to me because he'd got lost. See?"
Neither man understood in the least, but it didn't matter to Naomi, she just kept on going...
"And he knew, you see? Blair knew that I hadn't even known he was gone. If you could've seen the expression on his face. The way he looked at me, like I was a stranger to him. That was the beginning, I realize that now. And he had so much fun until he couldn't find me, he rode the merry-go-round, his favorite animal, the black cat, and he rode the train, and I was so lucky because everyone else took care of him, but I didn't. You see?"
Jim hugged her even harder and looked to Simon for help, but Simon was staring at her, his mouth open.
"Simon, what's wrong?"
"I was in 'Frisco in '73. Vacation with dad. Last vacation before going off to college. Me and my little brother. I took him on the merry-go-round and there was this little tyke, in shorts and yellow tank top and sandals. He had short curly hair and the biggest blue eyes I've ever se......"
Simon stopped, turned to Jim and added, "just like - Blair's. And he couldn't get up onto the jaguar, it was too high, so I lifted him up."
Naomi gasped, reached out and took Simon's hand. "He told me - a big teenager with a huge smile helped him get up on the cat. And he was wearing shorts and a yellow tank top."
The three people looked at each other, all sounds fading, the room melting into the background, Simon's hand tightenting around Naomi's.
Jim's voice broke the spell.
"What did you mean when you said, that was the beginning?"
Naomi turned tear-filled eyes in his direction and for a moment it looked as though she wouldn't be able to answer him, but then she coughed a bit and said, "That's when it started, when Blair - started to do for himself. He wouldn't let me help him with anything. He was so small and trying so hard to be so self-sufficient but now I realize, it wasn't cute, it wasn't something to brag about - he didn't think that I, he believed that I, don't you see?"
Her plaintive cry tore at Jim's heart because he did see. It explained so much about his guide.
"Naomi, that's happened to all of us. We get wrapped up in something and we totally forget our kids. It happens to everyone."
"No Simon. This was different. For three hours, I wasn't a mother. I wasn't a twenty-one year old with a four year old son. I was a college student making a difference. He could have been hurt, or kidnapped, and I'd never have known it. I was oblivious to anything but that group of kids I was with. What kind of mother was I?"
"I can only judge you by your son and with that as my guide; you were one hell of a mother. I'm sure you made mistakes, as do we all, but if Blair is any indication, well...."
Jim added quietly, "He loves you Naomi. He thinks you're the greatest thing since sliced bread and he's always been proud of you."
Suddenly, Simon chuckled. "Did I ever tell you two about the thing with Blair and Amy?"
Both Naomi and Jim shook their heads and smiled, encouraging him to tell them now...
"Well, you know I started seeing Amy right after I got out of the hospital after that bank fiasco, right?"
Jim nodded and Naomi said,"Blair mentioned something about a nurse you were seeing. What happened?"
Simon gazed fondly at the two faces in front of him, both eager to hear his story, to share a piece of the man they were missing and it was right, this was how it should be....
"Well, I was really confused, Amy being so much younger than me, and then I discovered she was seeing someone while seeing me, and Blair overheard this conversation....."
"....between me and Amy, and I gotta tell ya, his advice sucked."
Naomi actually giggled at that and Jim laughed outright. His laugh was so refreshing that the other people in the small room turned to see what was going on, but Simon paid no heed as he continued, a smile on his face.
"Not everything that comes out of your son's mouth is golden, Naomi."
"Tell me something I don't know, Simon."
Banks guffawed and went on.
"Anyway, I'm talking to Amy on the phone while sitting at Jim's desk, so naturally Mr. Observer sits down like I'm not there and I'm saying something like, Look, Amy, I'm not jealous, okay? and Blair says, under his breath, "liar, liar, pants on fire....", so I kick him hard and while he's rubbing his shin, I say something like, *If you want to see other guys, fine, but that isn't what I want to do* and again, under his breath the twerp says, "no kidding? and I thought you really had the hots for Rafe..."."
At that, both Naomi and Jim started laughing again and as they wiped their eyes, Jim added, "Yep, that's Blair all over. Hope you kicked him again, Simon."
"Nope, I pulled his hair. You know how he hates having anyone touch his hair."
"God, yes. He won't even let me really touch it, and I'm his mother!"
Jim leaned forward and said, "So what happened next?"
"So I turned away from him and lowered my voice, and don't ask me why I didn't just move to my office cuz hell if I know. Anyway, I'm now whispering and Blair starts leaning over, like he's looking for something as I say, Amy, do you want us to continue seeing each other? and Blair starts humming, really loud and shaking his head at me and I'm swatting my hand at him and he mouths at me, "put her on hold, simon - now" so I do and I turn to him and hiss out, what Sandburg? and he says, "Never ask a woman if she wants to continue seeing you, Simon. Jeesh. Show a little - finesse."
"Now at this point, you gotta understand, I'm thinking, okay, here's Sandburg, working his way through half the female continency of the Cascade PD and he's only, like, not even thirty and I'm in my forties and have been with one woman since just after college, so maybe I should listen to him, right?"
Naomi tried to look serious and nod understandingly but she failed miserably and Jim just sat back shaking his head.
"Right, so I say, Finesse, Sandburg? and he says, "Yeah, Simon, finesse. She's a sexually confident woman of the nineties, it's different now, you know? It's not unusual to date several different people at one time. Just chill out, man."
"CHILL OUT?" I yell at him, and we both look quickly around but no one's listening and Amy is still hanging on so I say, *I'll have you know, Sandburg, I'm a sexually confident man of the nineties and I still don't want to date someone else while I'm seeing Amy, you got that?* and he says, "Hey, I understand. Do what you gotta do, Simon" so I do. I get back on with Amy and tell her I don't want to see other people and I'd prefer it if she didn't either and she says she's going to but that I'm not going to be one of them and she hangs up."
"Well, I hang up, stand, and I'm feeling kind of - lost, and Blair says, "Simon, she's out there somewhere and she won't want to see anyone but you" and I just stare at him and he smiles, kinda cagey like and I stick my cigar in my mouth, nod and stride into my office."
Simon looked at his best friend and his other best friend's mother and smiled. "Guess maybe some stuff he says might be worth listening to, uh?"
Naomi favored him with a small grin and he leaned forward to ask another question. "Tell me," Simon lowered his voice as if about to be let in on some grand conspiracy, "he didn't always talk as much as he does now?"
His broad smile encouraged her and her own grin widened in response. "I wish I could, Simon, but I used to call him my little chatterbox."
Simon shot Jim a triumphant look and crowed, "You heard it here, Jim. We now have ample ammunition."
Naomi laughed outright at that and added, "God, he's really going to kill me, but you know, he did have his quiet moments." The incredulous looks made her hasten to add,"No, really, he did. Especially if I had company. He could be very quiet then. He'd almost disappear." She gave a slight giggle, a sound that gave Jim and Simon a glance at the girl she'd been.
"He'd get all shy and duck his head, but he'd sit quietly and listen to everything we said. But when we were alone, or with someone he trusted, he never stopped. He never slowed down, always asking or showing or sharing."
Her eyes suddenly became - almost dreamy as she said, "I can remember, and don't either of you ever tell him about this, but I'd wake up in the middle of the night, when he was still in a crib and I'd just have to see him, reassure myself, and I'd creep in, not wanting to wake him, and he'd by lying there chattering away, not making a lick of sense, playing with his toes and I'd peek over the edge of his crib and he'd start giggling and his fingers would start reaching for me."
"Later, when he could stand, he'd haul himself up and tilt his head and start - chatting. Who knew what he was saying, I mean, you could only understand maybe every fifth word. And you know, he was always awake before me, playing by himself, chittering away."
"Bet he never stopped moving either," Jim added, a twinkling of memory in his eyes, his voice - wistful.
"No, he never did." She turned to Simon and said, "You know how babies love to ride in the car, how they generally fall right to sleep?"
Simon, his own cherished memories of taking Daryl out at midnight to get him to sleep and driving around the block a few times, bringing a fond smile to his lips, said, "I know exactly what you mean."
"Well, it never worked with Blair. He'd perk right up and start babbling again, his legs moving to the beat of his nonsensical conversation. His head would whip around, eyes trying to see everything and his hands, waving and pounding, fingers moving...God, even his toes wiggled."
"Same thing when I'd take him out in his stroller. He'd never just rest back, oh, no, not him." Her eyes were sparkling now, her voice proud as she went on. "He'd lean forward, chubby little legs bouncing to some beat only he could hear as he watched, grinned and babbled."
She giggled again and said to Simon, "You know, I do believe I'm the first mother who needed a baby leash!"
"It's odd though," she whispered, "Because when he was asleep, he'd be so still." Then Naomi looked at both men in turn and asked,"Do you suppose it was his body's way of re-energizing?"
"Oh, yeah. I used to watch him study and you're right, his fingers, his legs, they never stopped. And if he was listening to his headphones, his body would be bopping to whatever god-awful tribal music he was listening to, but when he'd fall asleep on the couch, not a muscle would twitch. He was most definitely gathering energy for the next onslaught!"
Naomi's eyes seemed to bore right through to his soul and the mood between the three of them made a subtle shift.
"Why did he tell me he was getting a job in Tacoma, Jim?"
He'd been afraid of this moment, but now that it was here....
"Because I screwed up royally. I love Blair but I couldn't deal."
She seemed to know exactly what he meant by his loving Blair. "Deal?
Because you're both men?"
Jim stood and wiping the sweat from his palms down his thigh, he took the seat across from Blair's mother.
"No, not that." He shook his head and gave her a wry smile, full of irony. "Your son had me pegged from the get-go. He told me all my life reactions were fear based and he was right. I couldn't accept his love, because if I did, it meant accepting his leaving, or dying, just like everyone....," his words died on his lips as he realized what he'd just said.
Naomi lowered her head and sighed. Her breath hitched and Simon questioned gently, "Naomi?"
"So many mistakes." The words were almost whispered and it seemed as if she were talking to herself rather than to Jim or Simon.
"I asked him how he could forgive me, you know. In the car at Rainier, just before his press conference."
Jim swallowed the boulder that had suddenly taken up residence in his throat, her words suddenly terrifying him, but she continued unaware.
"I should learn to think before I act. But I've never learned and I never listened, but I did that day...."
He was fiddling with his collar, staring over his steering wheel and checking out the front of Rainier. He was nervous, his foot tapping constantly. It was breaking Naomi's heart.
She watched him as he looked around the University, as if memorizing it, cataloguing it for future reference.
He started going over his notes again and she knew he didn't need to, the subject and his words forever engraved on his heart.
This was her fault and she didn't know if she could cope.
"How could you forgive me, Blair?"
He put the index cards down and faced her, his eyes shining back at her. "You're my mom and I love you. Besides, I'm as much to blame for this as anyone, maybe more."
He picked up a couple of cards and tapped them relentlessly on his the edge of his hand. "Mom, I've been a fool for three years. I knew I could never publish, that the damn thing could never see the light of day. Deep inside, I knew this. But still I persisted, still I stayed and continued to work on it. Why?"
The very action of answering her seemed to act like a balm on his tortured soul. He reached over and gently took her hand. "Mom, I gotta tell ya, I didn't know the answers to those questions before, but I do now. I love Jim Ellison and I would kill to protect him. So today - I'm taking a life. For him. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
She nodded, numb, her mind frozen.
"It's okay, mom, honest."
Naomi's fingers had shredded the Kleenex as she related the exchanged words and now she looked up and said, "And of course, I did understand."
Simon threw a worried glance at Jim and seeing his pale face and shaking hands, he hastened to add, "Jim, it's not as if...."
But Naomi interrupted, not really hearing Simon. "He didn't mean he was taking his life in the sense of his career or his reputation, he was almost - happy to give up his academic life. What he meant was his life - with you, Jim."
For a moment, neither man could speak as the import of her words struck home.
His life with you.
"He figured that once he stood in front of those people, the cameras capturing every word, once he declared himself and his work a fraud, there be no more life with you, that he wouldn't be accepted any longer, lose his observer pass, his - home, with you."
"That's what was killing him as he took that podium, but he did it gladly - to protect the people and the man he loved."
"...and to protect me," she added, her voice choking.
She looked at Jim, her eyes soul-deep sad. "Jim, if I could take back one moment of my life, it would be the moment I hit that send button."
"I know, Naomi. I know. So many things, words and deeds I give anything to take back. Anything."
The two people who loved Blair Sandburg the most - shared their regrets and for a brief moment, their souls.
"He knew he'd destroyed the trust you'd placed in him, Jim. That devastated him as much as losing you.
Simon was suddenly hit by a tidal wave of emotion. Naomi and Jim were talking about Blair in the past tense. Moments before, Blair had been alive.
"He's still devastated, Ellison, but not so much that he couldn't tell you off!"
Jim's head jerked up at the anger in Simon's voice, but before he could say anything, Simon rumbled on. "How dare you two talk about him as if he were dead! You're both giving up and there's no excuse for that. Blair Sandburg is not dead, period."
Outside the small room, there was a sudden flurry of activity. Phones rang, employees of the airline scurried about and the President of AirMobile Charters came out of his office.
Evan Harris was a tall man, late forties, well-groomed, black hair greying at the temples. He'd been flying planes since his fourteenth birthday and in 1980 he'd started AirMobile. It was his only child.
As he came out of his office, head held high, eyes black-rimmed with fatigue, he headed directly for the VIP lounge.
There was no way to do this well.
The door to the lounge opened and all eyes were immediately focused on the tall, imposing man who entered.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm Evan Harris and I own and operate AirMobile Charters. We received word about twenty minutes ago, from the United States Air Force, that our plane has been found."
There were no cheers, no gasps, nothing as the small group assembled about the room waited for the other shoe to drop.
Harris gazed around him and he could see the truth in their eyes but he knew they would still not be prepared.
"The plane was spotted by one of our satellites. It was located at the bottom of a gorge, wreakage spread out over a one mile radius. No - survivors appeared on the satellite picture."
"I've been told that fog or no fog, the search team will move in, on foot if need be. I will keep you posted as more information becomes available. In the meantime, I suggest you allow us to shuttle you to the lodge for the evening. I have prepared the necessary statements and will address the press as soon as we get you all settled."