Kiss Off

by Alyjude

Belongs to others, like Petfly and Scifi. But soon to be on DVD??? Have you VOTED YET?

Second full-fledged story done on the Cellar!!! Thank you, girls and guys! Especially Sheila, Linda, Pat, Annie, DebraC, Aless, and Sallye!
Also, big thanks to TSL and their final beta, and to K for catching even more errors.

Not what you think, just go with it.

Blair stood in front of the bathroom mirror, and with a critical eye, checked his reflection. Not bad for a guy who was almost thirty. Not great, but not bad. He leaned in and bared his teeth, then flipped himself off. He hit the light switch and stepped into the hall. "Got a hot date tonight, Chief?"

"Well," he said, looking up at his roommate, "let's just say -- I have a date."

"Anyone I know?"

Blair shook his head. "Nope. Her name is Janice, she's thirty-eight and a professor at Rainier."

Jim whistled low as he scooted past Sandburg to get to the bathroom. "Sounds interesting, Chief."

Blair smiled as Jim closed the door. "Oh, yeah," he said under his breath, which wouldn't stop Jim from hearing it, "she's special."

He plucked his coat from the rack, patted his pockets for his keys and satisfied, said easily, "See you later, Jim."

A thump on the wall signaled that Jim had indeed heard him. Laughing, Blair left.

Taking the stairs at a run, he marveled at the self-control he'd exhibited in the last several months. Which was how long he'd gone without dating. He wasn't sure where his libido had gone, but he'd sure missed it.

Wait. Not exactly true, which begged the question -- why hadn't the lack of libido bothered him? Wasn't he a healthy young man with normal sexual appetites? Okay, Jim would probably argue that last statement by pointing out that his sexual appetites were far from normal, not that Jim had a clue.

Blair jumped into his car and started the engine. Pulling into traffic, he tried to remember what he'd been thinking... oh, yeah, normal sexual appetites.

Anyway, one day, he'd simply stopped looking, caring, or dating. For some reason, he'd been more than content to sit at home with Jim. Well, until a couple of weeks ago when his libido had kicked in after bumping into Janice Hooper on the way to the university library.

That wasn't exactly true.

There'd been no real "kicking in" of his libido, just a familiar kind of buzz.

Janice was a tall cool drink of water, standing six feet without shoes. She had sweet blue eyes and long dark lashes, that for some unknown reason, she liked to bat. She had short brown hair that curled over her ears and, as befitted her job, she dressed ultra conservatively.

She was highly intelligent and sped happily along on the fast track of Rainier politics. And if Blair sometimes wondered why this successful woman wanted to date him, well, he simply shrugged and enjoyed. Not that he wasn't worthy, but in all honesty, he was five foot seven, eight years younger, and the fast track was no longer his speedway. He and Janice were an odd match by anyone's standards, including his. But damn, he did enjoy her company. She loved the Jags, fishing, the great outdoors, and yeah, the sex was terrific. Really terrific. Not -- out of this world terrific, but the best he could remember in quite awhile.

Blair pulled up in front of Gino's, parked, locked the Volvo, pocketed his keys, and headed inside. He was early, which would be refreshing. Several of their previous dates had started late, thanks to his schedule with Jim and the Cascade PD.

He stepped over to the small podium where Gino, owner and sometime chef, stood. The older man glanced up, and at seeing Blair, his face broke into a huge smile.

"Ah, Blair! It has been too long, my friend."

Blair grinned and held out a hand. "Gino. Good to see you again. How's Maria?"

"She is pregnant. We are hoping for a boy this time."

Blair gave a little huff. "Seems to me you hoped for a boy the last six times, Gino."

The restaurant owner shrugged helplessly. "What can I say? I now have six beautiful girls, all mirror images of their mother. But still, a man must have a boy. And in my case, it is imperative. I will go crazy otherwise."

Both men laughed, Blair picturing the six small Ambertos, ranging in ages nine to one year, all with curly dark hair and flashing hazel eyes.

"Your partner is parking the truck, no?" Blair, his laughter under control, shook his head. "No, no Jim tonight. I'll be meeting a young woman."

One eyebrow rose oddly before Gino nodded. "I -- see. Would you like a table now?" "No, I'll wait in the bar. But could we have the corner table by the atrium?"

"It shall be yours, Blair. And of course, you will allow Caesar to do one of his special dinners for you, yes?"

"Absolutely, Gino. We would be honored."

Blair sat with a cold beer in his hand, head bent low as he moved the glass in a small wet circle. It was just after eight, so he wasn't too worried about the fact that he was still without Janice. Around him, the bar had started to fill and the chatter was comforting. It kept him from thinking. He'd been doing that a lot lately -- not thinking. A tap on his shoulder alerted him that he was no longer alone. He turned on the stool and looked up into Janice's pale blue eyes.

"Hey," he said, his voice low and inviting.

"Am I late?" she asked, no worry or apology in her tone.

"Nope, right on time. Let me tell Gino. He's reserved a table for us."

Blair stood and gave his friend the high sign, then took Janice's arm as Gino led them to the requested table. After they were seated and comfortable, their host announced, "The chef has prepared some of his favorite dishes and I have matched them with my most special wines. Simply sit back and enjoy." Janice looked across the small table and tilted her head. "I guess that means no menus?"

"Trust me," Blair urged. "You'll enjoy." Nodding, Janice favored Gino with a brilliant smile. He returned it, but Blair didn't miss the fact that the man's smile lacked its usual luster.

"So how was your day, dear?" Janice asked, her lips twitching.

Grinning, Blair said, "Same old, same old. Taught a few classes, corrected a few papers, caught a few bad guys, the usual."

"Speaking of catching bad guys, when do I get to meet the illustrious Detective Ellison?"

Blair's eyebrow arched uncontrollably. "Illustrious? Oh, he'll love that."

"But he is, what with being Detective of the Year again. I've often wondered how he could possibly do undercover work now."

Grabbing a breadstick, Blair chuckled. "Well, first off, there isn't nearly as much undercover work as one would suppose, and most certainly not in Major Crime. Second, would you know what he looked like if you hadn't seen him on campus?"

Janice thought about that for a moment, then in surprise, said, "No, now that you mention it. All those articles and yet--"

"And yet, either no pictures or so badly taken that he's unrecognizable. Even on camera, he manages to avoid any good shots. Most cops do."

She nodded excitedly. "That's so true. Even that article that ran, what, a year or ago? Even then, I'd be hard pressed to pick him out on the street."

Blair smiled. "See? He could go undercover if he had to."

Janice took a breadstick and waved it at him. "Ah, but you could not, Mr. Sandburg. I remember that article and you were featured quite prominently, albeit in the background. Several pictures showed you up quite nicely."

Blair chuckled and, with a move the great Michael Jordan would have envied, he snagged the breadstick from between her fingers. After munching down on it and grinning at her, he said, "Not much call for observers to go undercover, Jan."

"But you could, only you couldn't."

"I wouldn't, but have. But that was before the article."

"You have?" Janice asked, surprised. "You mean there's actually something of your life with the great Ellison that you haven't shared with me?"

"Jan, there is no way in hell I could possibly share everything I've experienced in almost three years with him and the Cascade PD. Trust me on that. Not to mention that so much of it was top secret that if I told you, I'd have to--"

Laughing charmingly, Janice held up a hand. "Don't even use that line on me, Blair Sandburg. Besides, I'm not interested in Detective Ellison. I'm interested, in case it failed to make an impact, in you."

Blair let one eyebrow rise as he said, "Actually, I'm looking forward to -- impacting -- with you."


Blair took the stairs two at a time and by the time he'd hit the landing of the third floor, he was huffing lightly. He juggled his books, fished for his keys, found them and unlocked the front door. Inside, he quickly dropped his bundles, divested himself of his jacket, then popped over to the kitchen and grabbed a beer. He finished half of it before he felt normal enough to wander into the living room and sit down.

It had been a hell of a Friday, and a day that had not, unfortunately, included Jim or the PD.

Man, he thought, as he wiped his mouth with his fingers, he really missed Major Crime when he was stuck at the university. He missed Jim.

Checking his watch, he smiled. It was already after five. Jim should be home any minute. They wouldn't have much time together, as Blair had a full schedule that included a date with Janice, but still, Blair found that no matter what was happening, he needed to connect with his partner.

He was just trying to figure out why he needed that connection, when the detective walked in the door.

"Hey, missed you today, Chief."

"I bet," Blair said with a pleased smile.

Shrugging out of his jacket, he quipped, "Hey, you know the criminals of Cascade get one look at you and surrender. It's the hair."

"Well, I'm almost caught up at Rainier, so it looks like me and my hair will be back on duty with the infamous Cop of the Year starting on Monday. Don't let it go to your head."

Jim grabbed a beer and joined Blair. He sat down, stretched out his legs and gave a contented sigh. "Monday, eh? The gang will be ecstatic."

"That would be the criminal gangs, right, Jim?" Sandburg teased.

"What, you don't think Major Crime missed you, Hairboy?"

Blair snorted into his beer.

"So, what's on the agenda tonight?" Jim asked curiously.

"Well, in case you've forgotten, Megan and Janice. I'm picking Megan up at the airport, then swinging by here for Janice. Told you about it on Tuesday."

"Ah, yes. The great Connor returns from her vacation. But I don't remember you mentioning Janice, Chief."

Blair made a motion as if knocking on Jim's head. "Hel-loo? Anyone home? Janice is meeting me here, remember?"

Jim frowned, then his expression cleared. "Right. The new museum exhibit, juggling your time, she's just down the street schmoozing a few visiting philanthropists, right?"

"You got it. Janice is a whiz at getting money from the rich for the university. Since the loft is between the airport and Connor's place, and Connor's place is on the way to the museum, well, I'm a logistical wizard. Which means you will probably have the pleasure of entertaining Janice before I get back here. You still up for that?"

"No problem, Chief. I'll dazzle her with my good looks, charm her with my sparkling personality, and knock her over with my intelligent wit."

"Well," Blair said with a straight face, "you got one out of three. You'll probably knock her over."

Jim reached out and bopped Blair on the side of the head. "For that, I shall greet your Janice in my boxers, a toothpick between my teeth and scratching my ass." "Don't forget the belching, Jim."

"No worries, mate," the detective said with a goofy grin.

Blair took his empty beer bottle into the kitchen, and as he tossed it under the sink and grabbed another one for Jim, he said nonchalantly, "By the way, Janice had an idea today. She'd like to do the whole double dating thing. With you, er, with us. I mean, you and a date, and then--" "I get it, Darwin. And just who am I supposed to dredge up for this double date? And do people our age still do that?" Feigning an outraged expression, Blair said, "Our age, partner?"

Smirking, Jim said, "Yeah. Mine and Janice's."

Returning the smirk, Blair said, "Evidently people your age do. After all, it was Janice's idea. Good thing she looks so much younger than you, eh?" "You really are a rat, Sandburg," Jim said fondly.

"Yeah, I am. So what do you say? About the double date?"

"I say what I've already said. Who do I dredge up?"

Staring straight ahead, Blair pursed his lips and pretended to give it great thought. Finally he snapped his fingers. "I've got it. You could ask Connor. You two are getting along fine now, and she and Janice have met, so why not? And by the way, Jim? You are a brave man to admit that you'd have to dredge up someone."

Jim stuck out his tongue, then said, "Dredge is the appropriate word, Sandburg. You think I'd take someone I cared about on a double date with you? I think not."

Blair returned to the living room and handed Jim the beer. Pretending that he hadn't heard the insult, he said innocently, "You could ask Megan tonight. I'll bring her up, okay?"

Jim rolled his eyes, then said in a voice that cried with the suffering of such a sacrifice, "Oh, all right, Sandburg. Sheesh, what I do for you."

Blair patted him on the cheek. "You're a good friend, man. For a stinker."

"Don't you have to change -- or something?"

Laughing, Blair headed for his room.

As the French doors closed behind Sandburg, Jim leaned back and rested his head on the cushion. Staring up at the ceiling, he thought back on his four meetings with Janice. He couldn't deny that she was an attractive woman, but neither could he deny that she'd rubbed him the wrong way from the get go. Sure he'd managed to hide the fact from Sandburg, but now the idea that it might be getting serious between them was more than Jim wanted to contemplate. Way more.

He took a healthy swig of the cold beer and hoped there were several more in the fridge.

He was going to need them tonight.

Janice checked her watch, nodded to herself, then adjusted her diamond clip earrings. She gave one last look in the long mirror hanging in the hallway of the hotel suite, and smiled. She had that glow that often followed a woman after great sex. Of course, in this case, the sex had been -- forgettable -- but the check in her purse more than made up for it and was undoubtedly responsible for the glow.

As she smoothed down her hair, arms came around her waist and Roger's face joined hers in the mirror.

"Stay," he said, almost simpering.

"Can't. I have another appointment."

He nuzzled at her neck, then rimmed her perfect ear. "Stay," he murmured again.

Coolly, she turned in his arms, moved them away from her, and said, "Roger, I'm already late. I have to go."

"You said this weekend would be different from the others. You promised--"

Moving to the front door and picking up her wrap, Janice said matter-of-factly, "This is Friday, Roger. The weekend is tomorrow. Call me." With that, she slipped out the door, closing it firmly behind her.

Walking confidently down the lushly carpeted hall to the elevator, she smiled in anticipation of the evening ahead. First Jim, then her beautiful Blair.

Sandburg refused to pace. There was, as yet, no reason to. According to the flight schedule, Connor's plane was on time.

Blair rose and started to pace.

Not an easy feat in a crowded airport.

He'd practically timed this whole evening out to the millisecond, and everything hinged on one flight from Australia arriving on time. Blair glanced up at the row of international clocks. Ten minutes. Her flight was due in ten minutes.

Megan sighed happily as the plane slowed and stopped. Seatbelts were unsnapped, people rose, stepped into the aisle, reached for the luggage compartments. Her seatmate quirked an eyebrow and she pointed to the compartment across the aisle. He nodded and wormed his way out, then reached with long arms, popped it open and, with a questioning tilt of his head, asked which bag was hers.

As she pulled her overnighter out from under the seat, she answered, "The gray and blue one."

Charles Marin nodded and yanked it down, along with his own black leather bag. He made room for her and she scooted into the aisle in front of him. As the line began to move toward the exit, he placed a hand on her shoulder and whispered, "We still on for tomorrow night or was this just a nice flight?"

She twisted her head around and peered into lively green eyes. Grinning, she said, "We're most definitely still on. You have the napkin with my number on it?"

He patted his jacket pocket and returned her grin. "I dare anyone to try and take it from me. I've always wanted to date a cop."

"What a coincidence, I've always wanted to date an architect."

His smile broadened. "You sure I can't give you a lift home?"

"I'm sure. My friend is probably waiting just on the other side of the gate. Besides, didn't you say you had a late meeting tonight?"

He nodded solemnly, then said, "I sure wish I could have cancelled it, though. But I'm already late with the blueprints, thanks to the snafu in Sydney. Can I call you later tonight?"

Warmth crept into her cheeks and she nodded. "Please do."

Talking became more difficult as they approached the exit. They contented themselves with shoulders brushing and hands occasionally touching. As they walked out into the airport, Megan spotted Blair immediately and waved. A moment later, he was taking the larger bag from her hand.

"Welcome back, Megan. How was your family? Your brother?" Blair asked with an eye on the man standing next to his friend.

"Great, but it's good to be home. And yes," she added with a look at Charles, "I do consider Cascade my home now." She took Charles' hand and said, "Sandy, I'd like you to meet a friend, Charles Marin. Charles, this is Blair Sandburg." "Ah, the anthropologist studying the police department. It's a pleasure to meet you."

Blair shook hands with the tall, good-looking man, his gaze flicking over to Megan, humor and congratulations evident on his face. She felt herself blushing, then said, "Talk to you later tonight, Charles, right?"

"You got it. And Blair, it was good to meet you."

"You too, Charles. Hope to see more of you in the future," he said with a wicked grin aimed at Megan.

The two of them watched Marin walk toward the escalator. When Blair was certain he was out of earshot, he said, "You are something else, Megan."

"Hey," she said in self-defense, "it was a long flight."

Laughing, they headed for the parking lot.

As Blair negotiated the Volvo through airport traffic, he noted, "You two looked good together, by the way. He won me over when he called me Blair."

Megan punched Sandburg lightly in the arm. "He's very nice. We're going out tomorrow night."

"What about Tony?"

"Ugh. Didn't I tell you? Tony turned out to have a wife. A petite blonde named Denise. He's lucky I wasn't armed when he finally confessed."

Blair chuckled as he turned onto Highway 8. "I won't tell Jim. It would only earn you an 'I told you so'."

"That's why I love you, Sandy."

It took them over thirty minutes to get to Prospect, but that had been included in Blair's planning so he wasn't worried.

Just as he turned onto his street, Megan said, "I'm looking forward to seeing Janice again. Are we on schedule?" "Very funny, Megs. And yes," Blair added sheepishly, "we're on time."

"Thank God," Megan said with exaggerated worry. "I'd hate to be the cause of Blair Sandburg being late for a date."


Megan looked at her friend, at the young man she'd come to think of as another brother. Curious, she asked, "Is it really serious with you and Janice?"

Blair pulled into his usual parking spot and, after turning off the engine, shrugged noncommittally. "We enjoy each other's company, have a lot in common, but serious? I don't think I'd categorize our relationship quite that way -- yet." He opened the car door and asked, "You want to stay here, or come up?"

"I'll come up. Any chance to make Jim miserable is an opportunity I have to take."

Laughing, both got out and headed inside. They talked a bit about Megan's trip on the ride up, and were still laughing softly when Blair got his keys out and unlocked the loft door. He stepped aside and allowed Megan to enter first, and promptly bumped into her, thanks to the fact that she'd come to dead stop just over the threshold. Blair glanced up -- and froze beside her.

Jim and Janice were standing by the stereo, and they were kissing.

From a great distance, Blair heard Megan's painful intake of breath, then his keys hitting the wood floor. At that moment, Janice jumped away from Jim and covered her mouth.

"Uhm, Sandy? I'll be down in the car, okay?" Megan said softly. At his stunned nod, she bent, retrieved his keys and quickly backed out of the apartment, closing the door as she went.

Blair glanced over at Jim, found him staring hard at Janice, so Blair followed the older man's gaze. Janice's eyes were wide, hair slightly mussed, her face flushed pink. At the exact moment she turned toward Blair, Jim walked over to the windows and Blair watched in surprise as his partner opened one and immediately stepped onto the balcony. He closed the window behind him.

"Oh, God, Blair, I'm so sorry, so very sorry. Please, let me explain?"

At the sound of her voice, Blair tore his eyes from Jim's back to look at her. She was still talking.

"It's not what you think -- God, of course it is. I can't believe I said that. But please, we need to talk, I need to make you understand--"

Blair held out a hand. "Let's go, Janice. I need to get Megan home."

Frowning slightly, Janice nevertheless nodded. She walked to the dining room table, picked up her purse and wrap, then reached out intending to take Blair's hand. Instead of connecting with it, she found herself being led out, his hand on her shoulder, guiding her away.

They got into the elevator and rode down in silence, a silence that continued all the way to the car. Janice slid into the front seat, grateful that the Connor woman was in the back. She didn't have a clue how to get out of her current mess, but damn it, she was going to try.

Jim heard the front door shut and opened his eyes. He was surprised to realize that his cheeks were wet. He reached up and wiped at his face. When he could no longer hear the Volvo, he turned and went back inside. He never hesitated, just grabbed his jacket and keys and walked out the front door.

The one thing Jim knew above all else was that he couldn't face Blair. Couldn't bear to see the hurt, confusion, pain, and disbelief in those usually trusting blue eyes.

Janice was still trying to figure out how to make things right with Blair when she realized that the car was slowing to a stop. Her heart dropped into her stomach as she realized that Blair was pulling up in front of her apartment building.

"Blair?" she asked, worried.

He didn't answer, instead choosing to get out and walk around to the passenger side. He opened her door and waited.

Not wanting to make a scene in front of Blair's friend, she got out. Hope sprang eternal when he walked her to the front door of her condo. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted old Mrs. Nicholson, nosy as ever. She would have loved to have yelled at the woman, but with Blair next to her, she wisely kept silent.

Blair opened her screen door, but Janice didn't get her keys out. Instead, she put a hand on Blair's arm and pleaded softly, "Please, come inside? Let me explain?"

"I need to get Megan home. I'll -- call you."

Janice closed her eyes for a moment, then said, "Blair, I admit that our -- Jim's and mine -- attraction got the better of us, but you need to understand that tonight only served to prove to me how much I love you and how much I want this to work out between us. Please? Come back after you drop her off so that we can discuss it. Please?" Gently, Blair took her purse, opened it, took out her keys and unlocked the door. He handed them back and said, "I'll call you, Janice. Good night."

She watched as he walked away. She knew damn well that Mrs. Nicholson was still staring out her window -- and probably listening too. Damn her. Janice waited until the Volvo disappeared before going inside. It took all of her willpower not to slam the door.

"Blair? Are you all right?" Megan asked, her hand on his.

They were standing in her foyer, Blair having just carried in her luggage. She found that she didn't want him to leave, not without talking, if that was what he needed to do. God, she was so angry, she could spit nails.

"Please, Blair, say something."

"You called me Blair. It's not that bad, Megan. I'm not dying or anything." "I -- are you -- I mean, are you going to be okay?"

Blair patted her hand and smiled a soft, tired smile. "I'm fine. I'll see you on Monday. Have a good time with Charles tomorrow night, okay?"


"Megan, I'm fine."

He opened the door but, before he could leave, Megan said, "If you need to talk, you call me, okay?"

"You're right up there on the list of people I'd call, Megan," he teased.

Surprised, she couldn't help the grin. "I just bet, Sandy."

Smiling, he made a jerking motion with his thumb and said, "I'm outta here."

Megan stopped him long enough to drop a kiss on his cheek. "Take care, Sandy. I love you."

"Love you too. See you Monday."

With an aching heart, Megan watched her best friend walk to his car. She waited until he drove off before closing the door. She immediately walked over to the phone and dialed the loft. She had a few choice words to say to Detective James Ellison.

Unfortunately, she got the machine, so she hung up. Her words were for Ellison alone.

Blair found his foot to be a bit heavy on the accelerator. He was anxious to get home to Jim. They needed to talk, but he was very afraid that when he arrived, Jim would be gone. A typical response for his partner.

When he got to 852, he parked for the third time in one day and raced upstairs, glad to see the truck in its usual spot. Jim was home.

He skidded to a stop in front of 307, caught his breath, then unlocked the door.

"Jim?" he said quietly. "Jim, we need to--"

He was talking to an empty apartment.


Three hours later, Blair was still alone. He was also surprised that when he stepped out onto the balcony in order to check for Jim, he found the truck no longer parked on Prospect.

Gripping the balcony railing, Blair said, "Damn you, Jim Ellison. Damn you."

Mrs. Iresema Nicholson sat in front of her television watching the news. She was clucking over some story about a park closing down in order to make way for a parking lot when she heard the yelling.

She immediately shut off the set and walked to her open front door. The yelling was coming from the professor's apartment. "Figures," Mrs. Nicholson muttered. "That woman and her men."

A moment later, the yelling escalated to a point that Mrs. Nicholson actually winced. She could hear Janice, but who was the man? Suddenly there was a loud thump, a scream, then -- silence.

Hand to her mouth, Mrs. Nicholson took a wary step back. The front door of Janice's apartment opened and a tall man ran out. Even afraid, Mrs. Nicholson stepped out to get a better look, and thanks to the well-lit complex, she could see a great deal. She watched the good-looking man run down to the curb and get into a truck, a light colored old Ford. A moment later, the truck roared off.

Mrs. Nicholson glanced with fear over at her neighbor's apartment. She started toward Janice's front door, then changed her mind. She needed to call the police. She was certain something horrible had happened.

Nine-one-one. That was the ticket.

The loud insistent jangle of the phone brought Simon Banks up from a deep sleep. He reached out and lifted the receiver. "Banks."

//Sir, it's Brown. We've got something I think you need to be aware of.//

"Shoot," Simon said as he sat up and reached for his glasses.

//A Rainier professor by the name of Janice Hooper has been murdered.// "That name sounds familiar. Anything to do with Sandburg?"

//She's the woman he's been -- seeing. She was strangled.//

"God," Simon breathed out. He rubbed at his eyes under the lenses, then asked, "How did you find out--"

//Officer Paulings. He's a friend of Blair's. He and his partner were first on the scene. He remembered her name so called me when he had the chance.//

"You haven't told Sandburg yet, right?"

//No, Sir.//

"Any witnesses?"

//One woman. And this is where it gets weird. She gave us a description of the man and his vehicle. She said the man was tall, with short hair, and drove off in what looked like an old Ford pickup, light in color.//

Simon stood up. A Ford pickup? Light colored?

"Give me the address, Brown. I'm on my way."

Simon splashed water over his face, then, with eyes shut, reached for the towel. He dried himself, opened his eyes and put on his glasses. He didn't like the look of the man staring back at him.

The man looked really tired.

Simon checked his watch and groaned. It was one-thirty; no wonder he looked so tired. How long ago had Henri called? Fifteen, twenty minutes? About that. No way was he going to phone Sandburg now. No way would he destroy what was left of the younger man's sleep. Tomorrow -- scratch that -- it was tomorrow. Okay, later, much later, he'd see Sandburg, call on him, give him the news. But for now, Sandburg could sleep the sleep of the unknowing. Simon headed out of his bathroom, hurried down the hall, took his long coat from its hanger and slipped into it. He probably wouldn't need it, but he felt better wearing it. It was summer and Cascade was experiencing a rather warm week, but in his coat, he was Captain Simon Banks and thus impervious to tragedy.

Captains were untouched by murder; everyone knew that.

Simon walked out of his home thinking that he was glad to be the one up and dealing with this while Sandburg slept.

Blair stared out the window, seeing nothing. He'd tried to catch a few winks earlier, but had failed miserably. Now he was on the couch, curled on his side and hugging the same pillow Jim used for bracing the small of his back while watching television. The colorful afghan was draped carelessly over half his body.

He'd spent several hours alternating between wandering the loft and calling a few places he figured Jim might haunt, but eventually, frustrated, he'd tried to sleep, tried being the operative word.

Blair continued to stare at the night beyond the loft.

"Come on, Jim. Come home," he whispered into the darkness.

The rock under Jim's butt was damp and the moisture was seeping through the denim to his skin. He ignored it and continued to stare out over the Pacific Ocean.

A fog bank lay unmoving several miles out, and Jim knew that if it came onshore, their little heat wave would disappear. But no, it was obviously a stubborn fog bank. Jim took a sip of the coffee he'd brought with him from Starbucks. It was tepid now, and drinking it was just habit.

After leaving the loft, he'd walked for miles while trying to sort everything out in his head, and figuring a way to keep his friendship with Blair intact.

To keep -- Blair.

He'd ended up at the Starbucks by Rainier, at a corner table, thinking -- and not thinking. Finally needing to be alone, really alone, he'd walked the several miles back home, stood for an eternity outside 852 Prospect, then got into his truck and drove off.

Jim knew that he'd lost everything. And wasn't it odd that only now did he know just how much Blair was everything?

Even though the crime had been reported over two hours ago, squad cars with their flashing lights still took up most of the street. Simon had to weave in and out before finding a spot to park not far from the front of the Hamilton Arms. He could see the yellow crime scene tape, the open door, the well-lit apartment. He got out of his car and started toward the lights and activity.

Walking toward the sectioned off apartment, Simon found himself staring at the Hamilton in awe. The complex was, to put it mildly, a very impressive apartment building. Ritzy was a word that came immediately to mind.

He tried to remember everything he'd been told about Janice Hooper, but all he could call forth was that she was a professor at Rainier. He paused on the walkway and scrubbed a hand over his face. God, was she a professor of Anthropology? He should have listened to Sandburg. He just should have listened.


Blinking, Simon realized he was no longer alone, not that he could be alone in an apartment building crawling with cops.

"Brown. They've taken the body?"

Henri nodded. "An hour ago, sir."

They started toward the apartment and Simon remembered his exchange officer. "Where's Connor?"

"Inside." "Right. I'm wishing now that I hadn't called her in on this. Only a few hours back and she doesn't even get a chance to put her jetlag behind her, and--" "Captain, under the circumstances, I don't think she'd have it any other way."

"Right, right. She and Sandburg are close."

They'd reached the tape and Brown pulled it up for his boss. They both walked under it and into the luxury apartment.

The crime scene investigators were going about their jobs silently and efficiently. Megan stood in the living room talking quietly to Margaret Close, the lead CS investigator. When she spotted Simon, Megan excused herself and hurried over. "Captain Banks, we need to talk outside."

Frowning, Simon looked into the dark blue eyes gazing up at him and felt the same prick of fear he'd experienced when H had described the man seen leaving Hooper's apartment. He knew what was coming now wouldn't be good. He nodded and all three walked out.

Megan led them away from the officers, through a small archway to what was obviously the pool area.

"Connor, what's up?" Simon asked, banking down his dread.

"Sir, H has told you about our witness?" "Yes. I assume you've interviewed her?"

The Aussie nodded, then cleared her throat. "H told you about her -- description?" At Simon's nod, Megan went on. "Not that I think Jim -- I don't. But--"

"Connor, spill," Simon ordered softly.

"You know that Sandy picked me up at the airport?" Simon nodded again. "Well, you see, he had a date with Professor Hooper, so the plan was to pick me up while Jan--Professor Hooper--would meet Sandy at the loft. We'd stop by, pick her up, then they'd drop me off and head over to the museum for the new show.

"When Sandy and I arrived, Professor Hooper was there with Ji--Detective Ellison."

Simon closed his eyes. "Go on," he ordered tersely.

"They were kiss -- he was -- I froze and Sandy came in and he saw them. He saw them, sir. I told Sandy I'd wait downstairs, so I don't know what happened next, but when Sandy and Professor Hooper came down, well, Sandy took her home first. He walked her to her door, then came back and took me home."

"How reliable is our witness?" Surprised by the question, Megan looked over at Brown, then back to Simon. "Uh, well, Mrs. Nicholson is in her late fifties, doesn't wear glasses, and her apartment is cattycorner from the victim's. She had a good view of both the apartment and the street."

"And she witnessed a tall man, one who fits the description of Jim Ellison, running from the victim's apartment and getting into a truck, correct?"

Megan nodded. "She said the vehicle looked very much like her son's Ford pickup -- only lighter in color, two-toned, no cabover."

"Mrs. Nicholson doesn't wear glasses because she's vain, perhaps?" Simon posited hopefully.

"She has twenty-twenty vision, Simon," Brown said quietly. "She had that surgery they're always advertising on the radio."

Simon took out his cigar case, extracted one, then said, "Of course she did." As he lit up, he added, "People, we have some talking to do."

Jim parked, then sat back. He let his hearing focus on the loft, and Blair, who was up and moving around. Jim had to admit that he was surprised. Even though the new dawn was only an hour old, he'd fully expected to return to a home devoid of Sandburg. But there the Volvo sat, in its usual parking spot, and upstairs, he could hear the important heartbeat.

Maybe Blair wanted to knock Jim's block off before he left.

Jim got out, pocketed his keys and headed up. The least he could do was offer his block.

Blair poured more coffee and drank it greedily, barely noting the heat. His throat was scratchy, eyes full of grit, and his mouth, even after swallowing, was full of cotton. Man, where were the days of pulling all-nighters without the side effects?

Apparently long gone.

He heard the key in the door and turned around. The door swung open and Jim walked in.

For a moment, Blair couldn't speak, and that was weird. He'd spent all night planning what to say, yet now, faced with one miserable looking Jim, he was tongue-tied.

As Jim hung up his jacket, he said, "Blair, I've got a lot to say, but right now, I can't say it. I need -- a shower and coffee. On the other hand, if you need to take a swing at me, well, take your best shot."

Blair blinked, then sputtered. Jim walked toward him, eyes shadowed, face looking old and tired, arms held out in surrender.

"Jim -- are you -- what the hell?"

"Go on, do it," Jim said softly.

Blair shook his head in frustration and took another gulp of his coffee. He put the cup down and started to speak, but Jim held up a hand.

"Company," he said, concerned. "It's -- Simon. And Brown. And -- oh, shit, Connor." Jim started for the door. "Looks like you can sit back and watch Brown and Simon deck me in your name, Chief."


But it was too late. Jim was opening the door.

Simon entered, followed by Connor and Brown. The big man walked immediately over to Sandburg.

"Blair, you need to know that I'm here in a semi-official capacity."

Sandburg looked past Simon to his partner. Jim's face showed the same puzzled expression that Blair knew he had to be wearing. He looked back at Simon. "Um, Simon? What the hell are you talking about?" Before Simon could answer, Connor and Brown took up positions on either side of Blair, almost as if -- protecting him?

Oh, God.

"Simon?" he asked, his breathing starting to hitch. "Is it -- tell me it's not -- it can't be -- mom?"

Jim took several steps toward Blair at that, but a warning glance from Connor stopped him. He froze -- and waited.

"No, Blair," Simon said gently, "it's not Naomi."

Blair let out the breath he was holding and said, "Then what--"

"Son, there's no good way to tell you this, so I'm just gonna say it. Professor Janice Hooper was found strangled to death in her apartment last night between eleven and eleven thirty."

Blair hated the feeling in his knees, that whole jello thing he had going. He reached back blindly and connected with a chair, then tried to pull it out before he crashed. A strong brown hand on his arm helped and, with eyes telegraphing his gratitude, Blair sank down.

Janice was dead?

God, Janice was dead.


Semi-official capacity. Simon was here in an semi-official capacity. What constituted semi-official? And he had Brown and Connor with him, how official was that?

And Janice was -- dead.

His immediate world became a hodge-podge of disjointed thoughts, visions, and memories. Words of his and Janice's were spinning and tumbling in his mind. In a vain attempt to force all the sights and sounds away, he squeezed his eyes shut.

"Blair, there's more."

'Isn't there always,' Blair thought. He opened his eyes and gazed up at Simon, who had moved even closer. Blair, always so adept at reading what others were thinking, now found Simon -- unreadable. Completely. And it frightened him.

"What?" he managed to ask.

He watched as Simon started to glance at Jim, then apparently change his mind to look back at him. Tension growing, Blair waited. "The reason I'm here unofficially officially, is that there was -- a witness, Blair. A woman who lives in the same building--"

With a wry, humorless smile, Blair said, "Let me guess. Mrs. Nicholson?"

Simon pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yes."

"She's a nice lady. Not deliberately nosy, or anything," Blair explained. "But she's always got her windows and door open. She tends to see and hear everything."

"Yes, well, in this case, she heard fighting coming from Professor Hooper's apartment, followed by a scream, a thud, and then silence. Moments later, a man ran out--"

Simon got no further as clarity struck. Blair pushed himself up and squared his shoulders. "You think that I -- I didn't--"

Simon quickly held up a hand, then gently pushed Blair down again. "No, you're not a suspect, Sandburg."

The use of Blair's last name was almost a comfort to him. He closed his eyes again and took several deep breaths, then asked perversely, "Why not?"

With his own wry smile, Simon answered, "You're too short, Sandburg. Mrs. Nicholson witnessed a tall man," Simon's gaze flicked over to Jim, then back again, "maybe six-one or two, running from the victim's -- from Professor Hooper's -- apartment minutes after the scream. The suspect also had short hair."

Okay, he wasn't a suspect. He let out the breath he'd been holding.

"Sandburg," Simon said in an attempt to get the younger man's attention again. When Blair looked at him, he went on. "I'm -- we're here as friends, but also in our capacity as officers of the court and we're probably a beat ahead of Homicide, but damn it, I'm in possession of certain information concerning what happened -- here -- yesterday."

Before Simon could say anything else, Blair shot an angry look at Connor, then at Simon. "What the hell does yesterday have to do -" His voice broke, but he regrouped, "- with what -- happened -- to Janice?"

"Sandburg," Simon, his voice now cold, said, "we have a description of the probable murderer and his vehicle, both eerily similar to -- your partner. Now when we throw in the fact that said partner was caught in a clinch," no one caught Jim's wince, "with the victim, your girlfriend, on the same day that she was killed, well, let's face it, Jim is going to be looking pretty good in the roll of number one suspect to the lead investigators in Homicide."

Simon couldn't have explained why he dumped everything on Blair at one time, or why his voice held anger that even he had to admit seemed to have been directed at Sandburg. But one look at the younger man's face told him how wrong he'd been to do it. Sandburg paled immediately, his mouth opening in a wide circle even as he sank helplessly back into the chair.

A conversation with Jim came back to haunt Simon at that precise moment.

//"Why did you do that, Jim? You're not angry at him, yet you took it out on him. Why?"

"God only knows. But I seem to do it a great deal. Maybe because he's there, because he takes it, then shoves it right back at me? I don't know."//

Simon remembered smiling at Jim's words even as he remembered his own reply.

//Oh, yeah, he shoves back all right. Big time. Maybe that's why? By letting your anger out on him, it acts as some kind of catalyst -- or something.//

Was that what Simon had just done? Taken his anger at Jim out on Blair? In hopes of what? What had he accomplished other than hurting the kid?

He needed to move this along. Now. Get the focus back where it belonged. He turned to Jim. Making sure his voice betrayed none of the emotion he was feeling, Simon said, "Ellison, I need your movements for last night."

Blair heard Simon's words, watched as Jim finally took the necessary steps to bring him into the grouping, then watched as Jim actually struggled to answer. It was the shock Blair needed. He jumped up, stepped between Simon and Jim, his back almost brushing Jim's chest. Eyes blazing with anger, he said, "You don't know anything about yesterday, Captain Banks." He punctuated the statement with a dagger-tossing look at Connor.

"Nothing happened between Janice and Jim, other than he fact that she kissed him. Kissed him, Captain Banks. She was kissing him, not the other way around. As for Jim's whereabouts, he was here when I got back and we spent most of the night talking and clearing the air. He never left."

Stunned, Jim watched as Blair took a protective stance in front of him -- then he listened in shock and disbelief as his partner lied through his teeth in supplying Jim with an alibi.

Years of Covert Ops had Jim trained well. He managed to maintain an expression of schooled indifference.

"Jim was here all night?" Simon asked, unable to hide his disbelief.

Blair nodded sharply. "Surely you can understand that we had a hell of a lot to talk about, sir? Okay," Blair said, holding up one hand in admission, "so I did most of the talking, but you know damn well that something like that would go on well into the night. Hell, neither of us slept, although I think I finally drifted off about three-thirty or so." He indicated the afghan. "Jim covered me up."

Simon gazed from one man to the other, assimilating and gauging. Blair didn't flinch, didn't give an inch. "We need to be prepared for Homicide's investigation so I want both of you in my office in two hours. I'll need your statements, on record. Is that clear?"

Blair nodded, then poked Jim with his elbow. He heard the rumble of Jim's voice as much through his body as with his ears.

"Yes, Sir," Jim said. "We'll be there."

The sentinel part of the man remained motionless as he listened. The detective was edgy and eager to get going, to solve the crime, but the man was wary and confused. When the Sentinel was satisfied that the others were gone, he unleashed the man.

Jim whirled on his partner, face flushed with a mixture of anger and embarrassment. "ARE YOU CRAZY!?" Startled, Blair jumped back, almost knocking the chair over. "Jim?"

The man advanced. "You ARE crazy, aren't you?" He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then asked in an angry voice, "Do you know what you've done, Sandburg? I mean, how the hell could you stand there and lie to them? WHAT THE FUCK HAS GOTTEN INTO YOU?"

Blair leaned back a bit, mostly to avoid the spray. He kept blinking and frowning as Jim ranted, but he didn't move away.

Finally Jim lost steam, and in a voice now colored with shame, asked, "Aw, God, Blair. What have you done?"


Jim turned his back on Sandburg and walked over to the windows. He tried to control his breathing even as he felt his partner come up beside him. When the younger man said nothing, Jim sighed. Resigned, he said quietly, "Blair, you shouldn't have done that."

"Jim, it was a gut reaction. I mean, they were all standing there and it's not like I don't know that you weren't kissing her, that you didn't kill her, that you weren't even there. We both know that if I hadn't provided you with an alibi, well, at least now, when Homicide gets too close, I mean -- the whole thing could have gone on forever. Your reputation would be tarnished again, Simon would end up going through hell, and everyone would have IA on their backs.

"Not to mention all those suspicions about Major Crime once more running rampant, and Simon's leadership coming into question. Why should I let that happen? Why should I let you go through that again?"

The words penetrated and Jim faced his partner. "So instead you lie to our friend? To my boss? You could go to jail, Chief. Obstruction of justice, remember?"

"I didn't obstruct anything, let alone justice. I just made sure that Simon and the others weren't hampered by the worry that you'd be a real suspect. Now they can find the killer instead of spending valuable time deflecting the slings and arrows of untrue accusations."

Jim gave a small shake of his head. His partner was something else. Then one of the things Blair had said hit him. Stunned, he asked, "Chief, what makes you think that I wasn't kissing her?"

"You mean, besides the obvious?"

"Humor me with the obvious first," Jim said dryly.

Arms outstretched, Blair said, "It's simple, Jim. You wouldn't do that to me. You would never in a million years do that to me. To a friend."

Jim turned away. "Forgetting Emily, are we?" he said, his voice suddenly hard. "And -- Alex?"

Blair placed his hand on Jim's back. "No, Jim. I'm not forgetting Emily. But she and Jack weren't together, even though Jack refused to accept that. And you were in the middle of a major crisis, you were lonely and you were confused. As for Alex, haven't we talked that one into the ground? You know what was really going on there, so give it up already."

Blair's words fed the banked anger in Jim and he spun around, grabbed both Blair's arms in a punishing grip, and while almost lifting him from the ground, he yelled, "WHY DID YOU DO IT?"

Blair almost bit through his lower lip when Jim grabbed him. He could feel the confusion rolling off of his friend, confusion, fear and -- shame. Jim's eyes were swimming in unshed tears and Blair felt the responding moisture in his own eyes.

Blair didn't fight, he just returned Jim's gaze steadily, not an easy thing to do when your feet are off the ground. As quickly as it had happened, it was over. Jim let go, swiped a hand over his eyes, then walked over to the couch and dropped down. "I'll never understand you, Sandburg. Never." Rubbing his arms, Blair stayed where he was. "What's to understand, Jim? We both know that I could never completely explain why I do so much of what I do. Your question was rhetorical, right?"

Jim waved a hand in the air and asked, "So what now?"

"Now we go to the station and do as Simon asked. Then we find the man who killed -- Janice." Jim, who'd been staring at his shoes, looked up, his expression one of horror. "Oh, God, Chief, Janice." Then he was on his feet and standing by Blair again. He reached out, then let his arm drop. "I'm so sorry, Chief. So very sorry."

"I'll deal later, Jim. Right now, the station, then the investigation."

Jim pulled into his space in the underground garage. As he turned off the engine, Blair said, "Listen, Jim. I've been thinking. And no comments about me thinking and how dangerous that is, okay?" Without waiting for an answer, he quickly went on. "I don't think Homicide is going to beating down the doors to Major Crime to get a statement from you. I mean, okay, the description sounds like you, but only to us, you know? And they don't know about -- what happened. So I'm thinking we have time. But if I'm wrong, well, you have to go along with my story, so think. Could anyone have seen you after 11:30? Anyone who could -- contradict the alibi?"

Jim found himself thinking back to Starbucks -- but then realizing that he was actually falling into Blair's lie, he hit the steering wheel with his fist. "Sandburg, we're going upstairs and telling the truth, you understand me?"

"No we're not, Jim. Not unless you want me thrown out of Major Crime and tossed into jail."

Jim's eyes narrowed as he looked over at his partner. "Why you--"

"That would be sneaky bastard, Jim. Just remember, if it comes up, you never left last night."

Blair was uneasy. Nothing had gone as he'd thought it would. When he and Jim arrived on the sixth floor, they'd been separated by some detective from Homicide named Keith. The man's partner, Reed, had whisked Blair away, placed him in an interrogation room, then promptly left him alone. That had been over thirty minutes ago.

His head was pounding and his throat was closing up. Fine time to catch a fucking cold. He'd give his soul for two aspirin. As he gazed around him, he wondered if he was being watched. No, they'd probably just -- forgotten him.

Blair rubbed at his eyes under his glasses and he could immediately hear Janice's voice--

//"Why don't you wear contacts, Blair? Not that I'm complaining, I love a man in glasses. But it is unusual."//


God, he felt so guilty. Not once had he thought of her since Simon had given him the news. Not one thought for the brilliant and beautiful woman who'd given him comfort over the last few weeks.

Uh, Blair? a little voice whispered. That would also be the woman who made a move on your best friend.

He sighed deeply. He could really use a glass of water. Big time. Some of his herbal tea would be even better.

Detective Robert Keith sat on the edge of the table and regarded the great Jim Ellison. He didn't look so hot on the other side of an interrogation. Taking a final drag on his cigarette, he blew out a stream of smoke and said casually, "Homicide has a description of the man who killed Professor Hooper. Oddly enough, sounds just like you, Detective, even down to the truck. Now normally, that wouldn't mean much, but let's face it, the dead woman was your partner's girlfriend, so suddenly that description means a helluva lot, you know?"

He stubbed out the cigarette and added, "You a good cop gone bad, Ellison?"

Jim clamped down on his seething anger and said, just as casually, "You get that dialogue from an old Jimmy Cagney movie, Keith? Nah, in your case, it came from an episode of Cagney and Lacey."

"Very funny, Detective. You should remember that all I'm trying to do is help a fellow cop. Now why don't you just--"

"Let me guess, why don't I just confess? Save everyone a lot of time?"

"That would be about it, yeah. See," he got up and walked around the table to stand against the same wall that held the two-way mirror, "the way I think this went down is that you got jealous of the good and beautiful professor."

Keith stuck his hands in his pocket and affected a laid back posture. "Everyone knows you have a thing for Sandburg's ass, Ellison. Hell, maybe you get a piece of it on a regular basis but can't keep his dick between the two of you? Hard to keep a horn dog like Sandburg tied to you, eh? Or maybe you haven't tried -- tying -- him up yet?"

Palms flat on the table, Jim braced himself and slowly rose. His anger was rising to the surface and ready to erupt as he hissed out, "Keith, you just crossed the line. That comment is so far out of--"

"I agree," a new voice announced.

Both men looked up to see Captain Banks and Captain Rome of Homicide standing in the doorway.

"Detective Keith, you're dismissed," Rome barked out.

Michael Keith stood, shrugged, and started to pick up his notes.

"Leave them, Detective," Rome instructed.

Keith paused, dropped the papers and, without a backward glance, walked out. Rome immediately said, "You have my apology, Ellison. Detective Keith did not have authorization for this--interview."

Jim nodded, his anger too near the surface to trust any answer he might give the Homicide captain. As he straightened, he looked at Simon and asked tersely, "Where's Sandburg?"

At Simon's look of puzzlement, Jim said, "Keith's partner took him the minute we walked in."

Rome exchanged looks with Simon as he said, "Simon, Keith was acting entirely on his own. If he brought Detective Ellison here, then I suspect--"

Jim was no longer listening. Head cocked to the right, he suddenly said, "CRAP!" and took off.

Okay, he was well and truly sick, and didn't that just suck big time? And how long had he been in here, anyway? And did it mean that they'd arrested Jim? God, he couldn't handle it if they had. No fucking way.

Alone, Blair honored his tradition of allowing his brain free rein. He immediately began to imagine every worst-case scenario in the book, and a few that had been left out of said book. "Man, I need to get control here," he coached. Realizing that he'd just spoken out loud, and that he probably was being monitored, Blair added an immediate and heartfelt, "Aw, SHIT!"

In an effort to 'fool' anyone listening, and because his brain was on fire and he wasn't thinking entirely straight, he added, "I need aspirin."

Now maybe they'd think that was what he'd meant by control, and if he was lucky, they'd actually bring him some fucking aspirin. Wait. Didn't he have one of those individual aspirin packets from the first aid kit at the U?

Blair feverishly checked his pockets and found nothing except what looked like an old receipt. Mildly curious, and with nothing better to do, he peered at it with bleary eyes. "Aw, God."

It was the receipt from a dinner he and Janice had enjoyed the previous week. He rubbed a hand over it, his fingers stopping at the line item that read, "Chicken Mole"; Janice's order.

Man, he could remember that night so clearly; the restaurant, the ambiance, their laughter--

Suddenly Blair sat upright in his chair, a memory tickling his mind. The hostess had been leading them to their table, Blair slightly behind Janice. The bar had been to their right and, as they'd passed it, Janice had stopped dead.

He remembered how she'd been staring to her right, and he'd naturally followed her gaze to a tall man leaning standing at the bar. A tall, short-haired man who could have been a pale imitation of Jim Ellison.

When they'd settled at their table, menus still being perused, Blair had asked about him. Janice had shrugged, made a comment about his observational skills, then said nothing else until he'd prodded her. He'd teased her by asking if the guy was an old boyfriend -- and hadn't she said something about him being a "boyfriend wannabe"?

Yeah, that was it. A boyfriend wannabe.

What else had she said? Damn this headache. The one thing he did remember was that the rest of the evening had progressed easily, if not romantically. Later, Janice had begged off anything further, claiming a heavy work schedule the next day.

Blair remembered that he hadn't been too upset by their shortened evening, but now, in hindsight, and with Janice -- dead -- he wished he'd pushed for more, like going into her apartment and talking with her. Maybe he could have--

NO. There are no maybes, no what ifs. No action of his could have stopped -- what happened.

Could it?

Blair rubbed at his eyes and thought that at least now he had something to give Simon. Maybe he could give Simon this cold too? Nah, that wouldn't be fair.

As Jim hurried toward the interrogation room that he knew held his partner, he could hear Simon and Rome just behind him. The observation window came into view and with a flick of his eyes, Jim took in his partner, even as he continued to move to the door. Sandburg was seated, head cradled by his folded arms that rested on the tabletop. He looked miserable.

Jim barged in and skidded to a stop as Blair lifted his head, squinted up at him, then croaked out, "Jim? You okay? Everything okay?"

Simon put up a hand as he and Rome approached the interrogation room Jim had just entered. "Let me take it from here, Rome. I don't think--"

"I get it, Banks. And again, I'm sorry. I think Keith hasn't put the whole Meyers bust behind him yet. He still feels that Ellison--"

"You know, I don't really want to hear it, Rome. You take care of your people, I'll take care of mine, and together, we'll take care of Cascade."

"Right. I'll reassign Rhodes and Erskine to the case and I'll personally keep you posted."

Satisfied, Simon nodded and watched as the man headed back to the elevators. Taking a deep breath, he hurried inside the interrogation room.

Jesus, Jim thought, on top of everything else, the guy was sicker than the proverbial dog, not to mention every other sick animal in the universe.

Forcing his body to relax, Jim said, "Yeah, Chief, I'm fine. You, however, are most definitely not."

Blair closed his eyes, then banged his head softly on the table. "I know, I know. They're gonna arrest me, right? You told them--"

"Sandburg, are you okay?" Simon asked as he walked in, almost pushing Jim out of his path.

"Simon, he's sick. I'm taking him home." Concerned, Simon placed a large hand on Blair's forehead. "He's burning up, Jim," then with a sheepish grin, added, "But I guess you know that."

"Yeah, I do. He's coming down with something and sitting in one of our super duper refrigerated interrogation rooms hasn't helped."

During their exchange, Blair had been whipping his head back and forth between the two men, his brow creased in confusion. Jim, fearing whiplash, decided to take action. Smiling tenderly, he put his hand under Blair's arm and helped him stand.

"Come on, buddy, we're going home."

"But, but--"

Jim just shook his head, put a finger to Blair's lips, then guided him out. As they stepped into the hall, Blair twisted his head around so that he could see Simon. "But, but -- I need to--"

"Later, kid," Simon offered with a fond smile. "Later."

"But, but, I remembered something."

Jim and Simon stopped dead.



"A guy. Looked like you, Jim, or at least like a cheap knock-off. Old boyfriend of Janice's, sort of. We saw him at Pepito's last," he faltered, coughed, then managed, "whatever."

Simon looked over Blair's head at Jim, who shrugged helplessly. Simon looked down at Sandburg and asked gently, "Got a name, Blair? Anything solid?"

Blair tried to remember more, to bring back the entire conversation again. Had she said his name when telling him about the guy? Something... about an actor?

No, the guy's name was like...

"I...I, I think...Daly? She said they grew up together in Texas. Yeah, Daly. Stuart, I think."

"Sandburg," Simon asked warily, "how does this help? How does this guy--"

"Simon, he looked like Jim. Same height, hair, eyes, build. Isn't that enough? Old boyfriend, looks like Jim?"

Nodding, Simon said, "We'll get on it. In the meantime, you get the hell out of here, you're probably infecting all of us." Blair might have been a tad put out by Simon's words, if the bigger man hadn't been smiling down at him, affection and worry evident in his eyes.

The guy was clearly feverish and definitely miserable, yet he never stopped talking. All the, "Jim we gotta do this'" and the "Jim we gotta do that" suggestions made Jim almost wish he could turn his hearing down to zero. Almost.

By the time he got Sandburg to Prospect and upstairs, it was an easy task to guide him straight into the bedroom, even as he continued saying, "Yes, Sandburg," or "No, Sandburg, you're right, Sandburg."

Jim kept agreeing even as he stripped Blair down to his shorts, put him into his sweat bottoms, pulled a tee shirt over his head, and gently pushed him back against the pillows and pulled up the covers. Even as Jim walked to the kitchen for aspirin, cold medicine and water, Blair kept talking.

Smiling indulgently, and with hands full, Jim returned to the small bedroom. He helped Blair take the medicine and drink the water, then patted him on the head and said, "Go to sleep now, Chief, we'll talk when you wake up."

"Okay, but you gotta make sure--"

"I will, Chief. I will. Go to sleep."

With another sneeze, Blair rolled over, pulled the covers to his chin and closed his eyes, a true testament to the degree of his illness. Jim waited until Blair's breathing evened out, then he sat down on the edge of the bed and watched his partner sleep.

//We have an APB on the man, Jim. You'll never guess what the DMV shows as his registered vehicle.//

"Oh, let me give it a try, Simon. A Ford, perhaps?" Jim said dryly. And wasn't that light at the end of his tunnel getting damn bright?

//You got it. A 1966 Ford F100, Jim. It's two-toned, tan and cream.//

Eyes closed, body swaying slightly, Jim said, "So it's looking good, then, Simon?"

//Very good. How's the kid?//

"Sick. Fever struggling at around a hundred and two. At the moment, he's sound asleep and I'm going to try to keep him that way for the rest of the day and into the night."

//Good, good. I'll stop by on my way home.//

"You don't have to do--"

//I'll stop by on my way home.//

Jim smiled. "Right, sir. Simon, do we know about any -- family for Janice?"

//She had no one, Jim. Her parents died when she was fifteen, there were no aunts or uncles, only one grandparent, with whom she lived in Austin, Texas. The summer of her eighteenth birthday, the grandmother passed away and Janice Hooper was left alone.//

Jim looked at the French doors. "Shit," he said quietly. "That means Blair will have to--"

//No, Rainier is arranging everything. They're just waiting for us to release the body.// "Well, that's something, anyway."

//Our little ray of sunshine. See you shortly.//

"Thanks, Simon."

Jim replaced the phone in its cradle and returned to Blair's bedroom. He sat on the bed and slowly pushed some damp hair from his partner's face. He grinned as he realized that Blair looked terrible when he was sick. He'd have to share that with him later.

As the minutes ticked by, Jim tried to figure his partner out. The man had lied to Simon for him. Lied to him. Bold of face and absent of fear.

For him.

No one had ever done that for Jim Ellison in his entire life. No one.

Until now, until -- Blair.

As the room darkened and the setting sun bathed his home in golden hues that were just beginning to turn pink, Jim accepted the fact that the only other person Blair would lie for would be his mother. Blair had strange ethics. He could gamble to earn college money by betting the horses, struggle to save the environment while driving a gas-guzzling, exhaust-spewing ancient Volvo, juggle his dates, and obfuscate to protect or help. And yet, within the confines of the world as viewed by Blair Sandburg, he was an exceptionally honest man.

Jim could attest to just how honest Blair Sandburg was, thanks to having taken that peek at a certain introductory chapter of a certain dissertation. Oh, yeah, Blair Sandburg could be painfully honest, about Jim, and about himself. Three years with Blair had proven, time and again, that Sandburg could be brutally honest about himself.

Jim rested his hand on Blair's neck, held it there, and remembered a conversation the two had shared not long after wrapping up the case at the race track. Jim had returned from a quiet dinner with his brother, a dinner that had begun the process of healing several old wounds. Blair had been on the balcony and Jim had joined him. While sharing a nightcap, Sandburg had hemmed and hawed for a few minutes, then finally spoken up.

//"Jim, I need to apologize for what I said when you first told me about Steven." "Sandburg, I had three glasses of wine at dinner, and now I'm indulging in an Irish coffee; you'll need to be more specific."

Blair stared up at him, smiled softly, and said, "Jim, are you telling me you're -- blitzed?"

"No, Sandburg, I'm telling you I'm buzzed and I need plain talk. So spill. In English."

"The remark about how you should have told me about a brother, that maybe the sentinel thing had been passed on, remember? You said something about sending Steven to Peru for eighteen months and I said that I could probably get a grant for that. I was being a scientific prick when what you needed was a friend."

Jim didn't said anything right away, which prompted Blair to go on.

"I get that way, sometimes, Jim. It's the scientist in me. You know, objectivity and all that."

Blair's gaze shifted to the city, but Jim could tell that Blair was looking inward, and sharing something of himself that very few were privy to.

"Too many years as an observer of the human condition, Jim. Writing notes, making assumptions, drawing conclusions, all done through the eye of the cold scientist. That man creeps out every now and then, much to my chagrin. He's not a part of me that I've always been proud of, you know? He means well, has only the best interests of all concerned, but damn, he can be a cold-blooded, insensitive bastard." He gave a small bittersweet smile and added, "And I mean that last part literally."

"Don't worry about it, Sandburg. Remember, Doctor Frankenstein was rather fond of his monster."

"Uh, Jimbo? I think you have the good doctor confused with the bride of Frankenstein."//

Watching Blair sleep now, he thought being the bride of this particular Doctor Frankenstein might not be too bad.

Jim was fixing a couple of sandwiches when Simon arrived downstairs. He got up, opened the door, then went back to slathering mustard on thick slices of brown bread from Louie's Deli on Twenty-third. By the time Simon walked in, the mustard had been joined by equally thick chunks of ham and delicate slices of aged Swiss cheese.

"Have a seat, Simon. Just made us both a couple of sandwiches. There's some of Blair's egg and potato salad to go with it, if you'll grab the bowl from the fridge."

Eyes glittering behind his lenses, Simon shucked his coat as he said, "Don't have to ask me twice, Ellison."

The bowl joined the paper plates on the table and, after adding two beers to the ensemble, Simon sat down. He promptly scooped out a healthy helping of the potato salad, then waited for Jim. As he watched his friend add a couple of fat dill pickles to the platter that held the sandwiches, he asked, "Blair still asleep, I gather?"

Jim carried the food to the table, set it down, and took his chair. As he helped himself, he nodded. "Oh, yeah. But I've got some of Naomi's chicken soup defrosting for when, and if, he gets up tonight." Simon looked up with interest. "Naomi's chicken soup? Would that be the one with the matzo balls?"

Chuckling, Jim shook his head. "Sorry, no. Just plain old chunky chicken soup." Simon went back to eating the ham sandwich and potato salad.

For several minutes, both men ate in companionable silence, wanting nothing more than to take the edge off of their hunger. When Simon had finished his second helping of salad, he wiped his mouth and said, "You know, the kid really surprised me today. That boldfaced lie of his rocked my universe, I can tell you that."

Shocked, Jim barely managed to say, "How -- how did -- you know?"

"I didn't. Until just now."

Mouth open, Jim stared at his friend for the briefest of moments. Then - "You haven't been able to do that to me for--"


Jim nodded, then downed the rest of his beer. He needed another one. He got up, pulled two more from the fridge, then walked back to the table and handed one to Simon.

"He was trying to protect me."

Simon twisted off the cap, took a swig, then said, "No kidding. It's Sandburg's primary purpose for living. Although, for about two seconds, I thought he was trying to give himself an alibi, by giving you one."

At Jim's astounded look, Simon waved his beer in the air, and said, "For a few seconds, Jim. Natural Cop Suspicions. Then I came back down to Earth and remembered that Sandburg could never be mistaken for you. I also know that Blair Sandburg would turn himself in if he killed anyone."

"You're right, he would." For a few moments, Jim fiddled with the label on his beer, nervous fingers playing with an edge that had separated from the cold bottle. Finally, without looking up, he said, "Sandburg's a strange man, Simon." "Gee, really? I never noticed," Simon offered with a straight face.

"Very funny. But I mean it. He once told me about a friend of his, one of the few he had growing up. The kid's name was Matt. Anyway, Naomi and Blair were living in El Paso, and Blair was in junior high school. This Matt kid was his only real friend, and from what Blair said, wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer when it came to school work. Blair used to help him study. Anyway, one night before a big test, Matt asked Blair to let him copy from his paper the next day. Blair said no, that Matt would never learn that way."

Jim stopped a moment and gave Simon a wry grin. "That's our Sandburg, eh?"

Simon nodded, then said, "Go on."

"Matt was mad at him and left in a bit of a huff, and the next day, he never said a word to Blair, just gave him the cold shoulder. When the grades came out, Blair got the shock of his life. Matt had aced the test."


"Yeah," Jim smiled. "Uh-oh. Seems that another kid got a hold of the answers and sold them to Matt, among others."

"Shit, Jim, this is junior high school you're talking about."

"Yeah, well, this was the eighties, and thanks to the wonderful Regan years, we had a world full of future Masters of the Universes. Hell, kids were grooming for college in kindergarten, remember?"

"Point taken. What happened next?"

"Matt bragged to Blair."

"And?" Simon urged, anxious to hear how a young Blair handled such a situation.

"And nothing -- at least until the teacher was blamed and accused of doing the selling to make himself look better." Jim looked down again, then slowly peeled off the label as he said, "That's when Blair turned his friend in."

Simon sat back stunned. Jim glanced up and nodded in sympathy. "Yeah, that's how I felt when he told me. Like I said, he's a strange man. And strangely -- honorable."

Simon looked over at the French doors. He stared at them for what seemed to Jim to be an eternity. Finally Jim couldn't stand it anymore. "Simon? What the hell are you thinking?"

Slowly the older man turned his attention back to Jim. "I guess -- the pieces that are Blair Sandburg have always been there, I just never bothered to put them all together. I'm bothering now."

Curious, Jim asked, "What are you coming up with?"

"A man that, oddly enough, I can trust with everything. Including -- you. That's worried me quite a bit, Jim. You require rather unique handling, in case that skipped your notice. You're a very special man and I've worried that Sandburg wasn't -- that he couldn't--"

"But he can."

"Yeah, he can." Simon's gaze grew razor sharp. "But I'm wondering if you understand that?"

This time it was Jim's turn to look over at the French doors. After a heartbeat, he answered, "I'm -- not sure. I still can't get a handle on what he did today."

"Jim, let me put this as simply as I know how. I'll use small words, okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, very funny."

"I wasn't trying to be, Jim. Anytime my goal is getting you to see the truth sitting on your nose, funny doesn't cut it, so listen up. I think Sandburg has a lot of acquaintances, but not many real friends, so there's no way he'd ever let the few he has down. His devotion to the lucky few is unwavering. Case in point, this guy Matt. Blair only turned him in when someone else was about to be blamed. But Jim, Sandburg would never turn you in. Never. No matter what you did. Do you get it now?"

Blair turned over, coughed harshly, and woke up.

Yuck. He felt crappy.

His room was dark, which meant he'd slept through the afternoon. He glanced over at his alarm clock and winced. Man, it was after seven. A rumbling in the vicinity of his stomach told him that he was hungry, but his mind didn't agree in the slightest. His headache was back, but not as bad. Which was good.

One French door opened and a sliver of light peeked through, then was blocked out by a large shadow.

"I have chicken soup warming on the stove. Feel up to coming out here, or would you prefer being served in bed?"

Blair lifted his head, fully expecting to see his mother, albeit with Jim's voice, standing just inside the door. "Uh, Jim? Is that you?"

"No, it's Mr. French, doofus. And this was a one time offer, so speak up or forever hold your peace."

Blair was startled that his first reaction to Jim's words was about how much he'd like to hold Jim's -- piece. He shook his head, trying to clear it, then did some painful hacking. Finally he managed to rasp out, "I'll get up." "Okay. And Simon's here."

"M..'kay," he mumbled, wondering if he was in trouble again.

The door closed and he reached over and turned on his bedside lamp. He scrubbed both hands over his face, then sneezed. God, he hated being sick. Especially now. He grabbed several Kleenex, got up, slipped into an old pair of loafers, stuffed a wad of tissue into his pockets, then pulled v-neck sweater over his head. At the last minute, he decided to take care of the rats nest that was his hair by grabbing a tie from his desk and subduing the mass. He sneezed, fumbled for a tissue, blew his nose, then shook his head. Colds were for the birds.

As he opened the French door, he wondered idly if birds ever caught colds.

Stepping out into the living room, Blair found Simon seated at the table and Jim ladling soup into a bowl.

Simon turned around and smiled. "You look like hell, Sandburg. Take a seat before you fall down."

"Good to see you too, Simon. It's been--" Blair had to stop in order to cough, but when he was done, he finished with, "so long."

Simon rolled his eyes. "Eat, Sandburg. Feed a cold and starve a fever, you know."

Blair put a hand on his forehead and said, "Uh-oh. I have a cold and a fever. I always wondered what a person was supposed to do then."

"You only eat half as much, Sandburg. And Simon, you got it wrong. You starve a fever and feed a cold."

Jim sat down and grinned.

Blair sniffed the soup, and because he couldn't smell anything, he scrunched up his face as he said, "Jim, you are so weird."

"Just eat, Sandburg."

"Can't smell it," Blair complained, his voice almost a whine.

"Well, no, you have a cold. Eat," Jim ordered.

Blair looked from Jim to Simon, then back to Jim. He sniffled, picked up the spoon, and dug in.

They let Sandburg eat in silence, the only real sounds being his sneezing and the occasional blowing of his nose.

When the soup was history, Jim cleaned up as Simon observed, "For a guy that sounds as though he should be in a hospital, you sure ate enough, Sandburg."

"Considering that he couldn't smell anything, he downed enough soup to float a battleship," Jim added.

Sandburg huffed a bit, then blew a strand of hair out of his face before saying, "My only consolation here is that both of you are undoubtedly going to get this cold."

Jim rinsed the soup bowl, then placed it in the dishwasher. "I'm sure we will, Sandburg. Which simply proves our unwavering devotion to you." Blair had been about to blow his nose again when Jim spoke. At the words, and all that lay quietly behind them, Blair paused. He watched as Simon and Jim exchanged looks, the kind that in novels were always fraught with meaning, and he sighed.

Simon knew.

In the world of fiction, Blair knew that at this point, he was expected to accept with silent grace and to go unquestioningly into the future knowing that Simon knew the truth, and that Simon knew that he knew, that Simon knew.

But that was fiction, and Blair was -- Blair.

"You know," he stated simply.

Simon grinned. "Know what? That I'm going to catch your cold? Yeah, I know. It's a given. By this time next week, your sneezing, sniffling and hacking will have made the rounds of the entire department. Jim will take on everyone's overload, then be the last to succumb, at which time, you'll play nursemaid to him, then catch the damn cold again."

Sandburg gave himself a small mental shake of the head and decided that A: Fiction was better, and B: He needed to fall back on the tried and true by being -- Blair Sandburg.

He got up, went into his room, rummaged around for the telephone number to Louise's Natural Remedies, found it, and quickly dialed. While waiting for Louise or one of her clerks to pick up, he nodded in satisfaction.

The two men in the kitchen would not catch this cold.

"What's he doing?" Simon asked.

"Using his phone, why?"

"Should we talk?"

Jim didn't have the opportunity to answer, as his phone rang. He picked up the receiver.

"Ellison. Hey, H, yeah, he is. Hang on."

Understanding that the call was about the case and that Henri couldn't say anything to him, Jim handed off the phone. As Simon took it, Blair came out of his room, eyes wary as he watched Simon move away, receiver in hand. He shot a questioning look at Jim, who just shrugged.

"What is it, Brown? When? Right, I'm on my way."

When Simon put the phone down and turned around, he found two men trying hard not to stare at him, while staring at him.

"Homicide picked up Daly. They're going to be interviewing him shortly."

Jim started for the door.

"Hold it, Ellison. This case belongs to Homicide. You're not involved."

Simon's words didn't stop Jim from picking up his jacket. "Simon, I'm involved, if for no other reason than the fact that the victim is someone known to me. You don't think it would look odd if I didn't accompany you?"

Simon considered Jim's words as he glanced over at Sandburg, who had transferred his non-staring technique to Jim. He made his decision. "No, Ellison. You're staying here with your partner. I'll call you when I know anything."


"Jim, we've crossed a few too many lines today, don't you think? Let's try playing it by the book from now on. Besides, your partner is ill, so I doubt that anyone would question the fact that you're here and not at the station."

With obvious dislike, but grudging acceptance of Simon's words, Jim hung his jacket back up on the peg and took down Simon's.

"I'll call you, Jim."

"Thanks, Simon."

Nodding, Simon took the offered coat, slipped it on, and as Jim opened the door, the older man said, "Take it easy, Sandburg, and don't worry about anything. We'll get this thing closed, that much I promise."

"Thanks, Simon," Blair managed.

Jim walked Simon to the elevator, leaving the apartment door slightly ajar. As the older man punched the down arrow, Jim said quietly, "I should be going with you, Simon."

"Then," Simon jerked his thumb back at the loft, "he'd want to come and we can't have that, now can we?" Simon smiled as he added, "Unwavering devotion, remember?"


"I will." The elevator opened and Simon stepped in. As he pushed the 'L', he added, "Take care of him, and take care of yourself."

Jim nodded and stepped back. When the doors slid shut, he turned and walked back to the loft and inside.

"I called Louise's. She's rushing over a few things -- for you and Simon."

Jim locked the door and faced his friend. "More heebie-jeebie roots, Sandburg? You gonna get us both higher than kites?"

"Laugh it up, Jim, but you'll be glad when you don't come down with anything."

"What about you?"

"She's bringing stuff for me, too. By tomorrow, I'll be as healthy as a horse."

"A dead horse," Jim said dryly as Blair sneezed again. "Come on, buddy, let's get some tea into you, and a couple of Tylenol."

"I could handle that."

While Blair sat down in the corner of the couch, Jim put water in the tea kettle, set it on the range top and turned on the gas. While the water heated, he got out Blair's mug, the special blend of tea Blair used when illness threatened, and the honey jar.

While waiting for the kettle to whistle, he puttered around the small space, folding dishtowels and re-hanging them, straightening things that didn't need straightening, all to avoid what he knew had to occur, namely -- the 'talk'.

The kettle whistled and he poured the water into the mug, added the honey, then carried the steeping tea out to his partner, who took it gratefully. Jim immediately went into the bathroom for the Tylenol.

As Blair shook out two red and white capsules, Jim extended his puttering to the living room. Blair swallowed the pills with a blown-on sip of the hot tea, even as he watched Jim's movements.

Years of living with Jim Ellison told Blair that Jim was stalling, trying to avoid something he needed to do. Blair sat back and relaxed, confident that when Jim was ready, he'd sit down and start the ball rolling.

As books were righted, CD's put away, magazines realigned and furniture nudged ever so slightly to the right or left, Blair considered Simon, truth, and all things that fitted into the category of 'deep shit'. Blair didn't want to think about what would happen if Homicide couldn't close the case, and soon. But since that very problem fitted neatly into the 'deep shit' category, he had to think about it.

How far would Simon go in allowing Blair's lie to stand? How much could the man be asked to compromise his principles?

Damn, this was confusing. Maybe if his head weren't so congested he'd be able to think coherently. And he really needed to do that, because if Daly wasn't the murderer, then Blair would have to ask some very hard questions about the woman he'd been intimate with for the last several weeks. You should be asking those questions anyway, Blair.

No doubt.

*Like -- who would want to kill a lovely, intelligent professor?*

Yes, there was always that question.

How much do you really know about Janice?

Okay, he could ask that one, but he really didn't want to. Because the answer was -- not much.

Something dark waved in front of his face and Blair blinked to get the item into focus.

A bag. A brown bag.

"Well?" Jim asked.

Blair looked up to find Jim dangling the bag in front of him.

"Just delivered? Your cold remedies? Hello? Earth to Sandburg?"

Shocked, Blair took the package. "I -- you mean someone -- I never heard anyone at the door," he finished lamely.

"Obviously. A kid dropped this off. It's what you ordered, right?"

Blair peeked in and nodded. He reached inside and pulled out a brown jar, opened it, took out a small yellow capsule and handed it to Jim. "Here, take this." He dug back in and pulled out a jar of liquid. "And swallow it with this. My cold won't stand a chance of taking hold in you."

Jim looked suspiciously at the two items. "Sandburg? I could be called up on the random drug testing at any time." "Jim, Jim, Jim. You don't think I've learned my lesson? That bottle," he pointed to the one with the liquid in it, "contains Noni Juice. Noni comes from the Morinda plant and has been used for centuries in Polynesia. It's a natural antioxidant, chockfull of vitamin C, too. The other is called Bacter-6TM. It's an herbal medicine that contains plants high in berberine."

"Sandburg? Berberine? Remember random drug tests?"

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Jim. We're talking a couple of harmless roots, some Lonicera flower, the bark from the Phellodendron plant, Forsythia fruit, cloves and Stevia leaf. None of those have anything that would show up as a narcotic in your blood stream. Just put about thirty drops of this stuff in a cup and use it to wash the yellow pill down. Do it again tonight and two or three times a day and no colds, no flu, no nothing."

Still suspicious, Jim said, "What about you?"

Blair held up the bag and shook it lightly. "Three of everything, Jim. Can't forget Simon. Now go on, be a good boy and do as you're told."

Jim held up the Noni Juice. "What does this taste like? I refuse to swallow any foul tasting -- anything. I'd rather get a cold."

"You are such a baby. It tastes -- um, fresh. That's the best word I can come up. You'll like it." Only slightly mollified, Jim took the medicines into the kitchen and, following Blair's instructions, quickly swallowed and drank. Pursing his lips as he looked at the bottle of Noni Juice, he said, "Mmm, you're right. Fresh. This isn't -- bad. Not bad at all."

For Blair's part, he simply took the pill, then drank right out of his bottle. He screwed the top back on and put both on the coffee table. He had no doubt that by tomorrow he'd feel a hundred percent better. Secure in that knowledge, he sank back against the cushion, closed his eyes, and pulled the afghan over him. Until tomorrow, he'd be miserable, but quiet.

Jim came in and sat down on the other couch. Blair cracked open an eye. Jim was drumming his fingers on his thigh. Blair closed his eye. It would be, based on the drumming, at least another fifteen minutes before Jim would talk.

Time enough for a cat nap.

Simon stood silently in front of the observation window and watched two Homicide detectives interrogate Stuart Daly. Henri Brown stood on one side of Simon, Joel Taggart on the other.

"Did the warrant turn up anything in Daly's room?"

"Nothing of interest, Simon," Joel reported.

"What about Miss Hooper's office at Rainier?"

"They're still going through everything there, and at her home. I suspect they found something, though."

Simon tore his gaze from the interrogation to look at Brown. "Care to go into greater detail?"

"They got very closed-mouthed when I asked, but they're scheduled to interview the Dean later tonight, after some shindig at the university."

Joel, hands clasped behind his back, asked, "After? Since when do we conduct interviews after anything?"

"Politics, Joel. Politics," Simon reminded.

The interrogation wasn't going well, Simon observed. Daly was giving Homicide a run for their money in the closed-mouth department. His lawyer wasn't allowing the man to answer anything. At every question, the well-dressed man simply gave Daly a barely-there shake of his head.

"When's the line-up scheduled?"

"They're bringing in the witness now."

Eyes fastened on their suspect, Simon prayed that they didn't decide to include Jim in the line-up.

As it turned out, Mrs. Nicholson managed to pick Daly out of a line-up that included six other men, none of which were Jim, but all of which were about 6'1, had short brown hair and excellent builds. She'd never even hesitated. The suspect was taken back to the interrogation room and his lawyer informed.

Daly still refused to say anything.

Tired beyond measure, Simon walked into his office and shut the door. Homicide had enough on Daly to convince the DA to move ahead, so the man had been officially charged with second degree murder. But Simon had really been hoping for a confession on Daly's part. Their circumstantial evidence was good, but in order to take any thought of Jim being even remotely considered as a suspect, a confession would have been nice.

Simon sat down and swiveled to face the coffeemaker. With a sigh of gratitude that there was plenty of his special blend left, he set the machine for two cups. Leaving it do its thing, he turned back to his desk and the work that, in spite of the late hour, he should do. He promptly ignored it all in favor of a rehash of the last three years of his life.

Three years of Sentinels and their annoying backups.

Simon smiled as he wondered if Jim understood how lucky he was to have someone go to bat for him the way Sandburg had. He also hoped that someday -- he'd have someone that committed to him.

That much in love with him.

Trust had always been a major issue for Jim, and Simon hoped that now, finally, Jim could put aside that worry. Would the stubborn sentinel accept the gift that Sandburg offered, and return it in full measure?

He damn well better or he'd have Simon Banks to deal with.

His coffeemaker pinged.


The man glanced up from the paperwork he'd finally decided to tackle, to find Connor peeking around his partially opened door.

"I knocked, sir, but I guess you didn't hear me."

Simon waved his hand, indicating that she should come all the way inside. "Sorry, Connor, my mind was buried in government forms."

"Understood. Just thought you might like to know that the case against Daly just locked tighter than a drum."

"Talk," Simon ordered.

Simon stared at the numbers in front of his face -- 307; and he marveled at the fact that this was the longest he'd ever had to stand outside Jim's apartment before the man answered. Simon was evidently going to have to knock. He raised his fist to do just that when the door opened.

"Sorry, Simon, but I was checking on Sandburg," Jim whispered as he stepped aside and allowed the older man to enter. As the door closed, he added, "He's back in bed and dead to the world."

"No better?" Simon whispered back.

"Actually, I think he is. But he needs another good night's sleep."

Simon nodded in empathy. Couldn't they all? "I just stopped by to tell you that it's over. Homicide got Daly's confession about forty minutes ago, thanks to a major break. I wanted to give you the news personally."

Jim stared at him, and Simon was painfully aware that the stare wasn't just the normal, "tell me more" look. He was being subjected to the full sentinel examination. Before his friend could say anything, Simon added, "The news isn't going to be anything that Blair will enjoy hearing, Jim."

Jim pulled out a chair at the dining room table and sat down. He waited. Simon took another chair, not bothering to remove his coat.

"The detectives assigned to the case finally had a nice long talk with both the Dean and Chancellor Edwards. Those conversations, along with a check found in Professor Hooper's purse, led them to interview a Roger Winston. Name ring a bell?"

Jim nodded solemnly. "Winston Industries."

"Exactly. The check was from him, made out to Rainier. It seems that Hooper was quite adept at wrangling money out of the rich for the university--"

"I know. Blair mentioned something about that."

"Yeah, well, I'm betting that what he didn't mention, because he didn't know, was how Professor Hooper made most of her collections."

Jim felt his stomach hit rock bottom. This wasn't going to be good.

Sandburg poked his nose out from under the blankets and sniffed.


He grinned. Jim was cooking. More importantly, Blair could actually smell breakfast. He inhaled and his grin widened. God, he loved natural remedies. His congestion was almost gone and he felt -- pretty damn good.

And Jim was cooking.

Sandburg practically bounded out of bed, pulled on his flannel robe and, with fingers buried in his hair as he scratched his scalp, he exited his room. "'Morning, Chief," Jim said from his position at the stove where he was testing the eggs.

"Bacon and--"

"Omelets, Chief. Almost ready. You just have time for a field trip to the bathroom. Go. Hurry." He waved the spatula, eyes fixed on the cooking eggs. "Right. Gone." He sniffed appreciatively again, then hurried into the bathroom. He relieved himself, flushed, washed, brushed his teeth, ignored the bed head look, and made a beeline for the table. As he sat down, Jim was just sliding the large omelet onto a platter. He surrounded it with the bacon, then carried the plate to the table, which already held orange juice and toasted bagels. The instant he set it down, Blair was cutting into the omelet and scooping his half onto his dish. He then plucked up four strips of bacon and added them next to his omelet.

"Feeling better today, are we?" Jim asked with a fond grin.

"Oh, yeah. Feeling good and hungry."

"Glad to hear it." Jim took his seat, filled his plate, added a honey-wheat bagel and, after adding salt and pepper to his eggs, he started eating.

For several minutes, both men ate in companionable silence. Jim could tell by Sandburg's breathing that he was truly on the road to recovery, and their meal progressed without any sneezes or coughs. Maybe the stuff they'd both taken the night before really worked. He was glad he'd given Simon his.

When Sandburg actually stopped inhaling his food, Jim started clearing the table. Blair pushed back his chair to help but Jim waved him off. "Stay put, Chief. You're better today, but let's not push it, all right? While I'm cleaning up, why don't you settle in the living room and enjoy the morning paper."

Blair looked from the kitchen to the sunny living room, then back again. Jim, seeing the indecision, chuckled and said, "Go. Sit. Relax. You know this won't take me long. I'll join you shortly and I promise to bring hot coffee."

"This kind of care doesn't happen all that often, Jim. I'm going to take advantage. Thanks."

He ambled into the living room and dropped down onto the couch. He thought of turning on the set and surfing for sports, but the beauty of the morning, the sun dancing across the wooden floor, and the lure of the morning paper vetoed television. He picked up the Cascade Times but didn't open it. Instead, he dropped his head back, closed his eyes and listened.

If he really concentrated, he could hear the rub of denim as Jim moved quietly and efficiently in the kitchen. The birds chirping happily outside faded into the background as he listened with his soul to Jim.

The last days had taken a great deal out of him, but listening to the simple sounds of Jim doing the thing he did second best, namely cleaning, was like a balm to his soul.

Blair sat up. There was an odd rhythm to Jim's cleaning. An almost... manic tempo. Something was wrong. Which explained the breakfast.

The beauty of the moment shattered.

Heart in his throat, Blair got up and walked over to stand on the other side of the cooking island. Bracing himself with the palms of his hands resting on the cool metal, he asked, "Jim, what's wrong?"

At Blair's question, Jim's back stiffened. Sandburg watched as with slow deliberate movements, the older man turned off the water, put the sponge away, wiped his hands, then turned to face Blair.

"Nothing is really wrong, Chief. In fact, I guess you could say things are good. Daly confessed last night. It's over."

Blair looked hard at Jim, noted the tight lips and the lack of relief in Jim's eyes. "O-kay," he finally said, "now why don't you drop the other shoe."

"You're -- not going to like it, Chief, and if I could avoid telling you, I would. But damn it, it's going to be all over the news later today, and Rainier is going to be right in the middle of it."

Blair took his eyes from Jim long enough to look at the phone. It was unplugged. "Shit," he breathed out. "Just how bad is it?"

"Let's move into the--"

"Tell me, Jim. Here and now."

Jim glanced down at the floor and scuffed his heel at a spot of dried food. Blair moved around to stand with his back to the range, facing Jim. "Just say it, man."

"Homicide found several pieces of evidence that led them to question Janice's methods of soliciting university contributions. The evidence led them to Roger Winston--"

"That was her appointment, the one I told you about. He was going to give her a check," Blair said, his voice confused.

Jim nodded. "She collected it. The detectives found it in her purse. When they questioned Winston, confronted him with some of the other evidence they'd found--"

"Jim? What aren't you saying? What other evidence?"

"She had one of those computer journals, Chief. And when they told him, he admitted that -- and there were others, Chief. I won't say the word blackmail, exactly, but she used sex and the fear of discovery to get the contributions." Jim turned away, stretched out his arms and gripped the counter with his hands. "She always chose to solicit contributions from the rich men with families, with something to lose. She wooed them, got them to bed, then solicited the funds in exchange for keeping quiet or, in Winston's case, granting them -- more sex."

A frown creasing his brow, Blair absorbed the information. In doing so, however, only more questions came to mind. He started to ask one of them when Jim spoke again.

"Daly met up with Janice early on the morning of her death. It seems that Janice was less than truthful with you, Chief. She and Daly were married -- still. He'd been in town for weeks, following her, watching her. He wanted her back. She told him no. He apparently followed her to the Hyatt where she met Winston, who remembered seeing Daly in the bar of the hotel when he met Janice."

The facts were finally hitting Sandburg, his knees telling him to sit down, and fast. Shaking, he walked back over to the table and pulled out a chair. He sank down with a sigh. Jim heard it and finally turned around. Face a study in worry, he said, "Chief? You okay?"

Blair dropped his head into his hand while waving the other in the air. "Fine, fine, just -- absorbing. Is there more?"

"Just that Daly admitted that he'd gone back to her place that night, that they'd argued and that she, in a fit of anger, apparently wanting to hurt him, told him what she really did. I guess she laid it on pretty thick. Thick enough that it enraged him to the point of--"

"Killing -- her."

"Yeah," Jim acknowledged softly.

"So that's it. And that's why you have the phone unplugged?"

"The news media are going to love this one, Chief. Beautiful Rainier professor, money, sex, a secret husband--"

"And the TA she was dating. The stupid, poor idiot of a TA. Yeah, I can see where I'd make good news. They must be dying for an interview with the schmuck, meaning me."

Jim moved quickly to Blair's side and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Chief, no one thinks--"

"Save it, Jim. What I don't understand is why the hell was she dating me? Was I a smokescreen or something? Or she was just slumming?"

Jim sat down next to Blair, surprised at the lack of feeling or bitterness in Blair's voice. The guy actually sounded curious, rather than angry or hurt.


"I mean, let's face it, I've been wondering why she was seeing me anyway. A lowly grad student and all. Heck, the only thing I have understood about all of this was her move on you. Now that made sense."

"Chief, according to her -- journal, she had very strong feelings for you. You were the only one she didn't want anything from. The only person she enjoyed simply because of the man you are. I think that Janice loved you, Chief, at least as much as she was capable of loving anyone."

At the stricken look on Blair's face, Jim realized that he'd somehow said the wrong thing. He put his hand out and rested it on Blair's forearm. "Chief?"

"I didn't know, Jim," Blair said, his voice sounding so young. "Our time together was just something I thought we both needed, you know? I mean, sure, I wondered why me, but we had fun and I could relax and forget--"

"Forget? Forget what, Chief?"

Blair waved a hand dismissively. "Nothing, Jim. Just -- nothing. I can't really be angry with Janice. She was using me, but hey, I was using her too."

Blair got up and walked over to the windows and Jim wondered what he was seeing. He let Blair have his silence and contented himself with watching.

As the minutes slipped soundlessly by, Jim came to the realization that he and Sandburg had never been as far apart as they were now. He might as well have been standing on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, and Blair on the US side. Jim had no idea how to bridge the chasm.

"You know, Jim," Blair suddenly said, "I can't wait to see how Chancellor Edwards gets Rainier out from under this newest scandal. I'm betting she blames me."

"Okay, I'll bite. Why on Earth would she blame you?"

"I'm not one of her favorites, and who in their right mind would believe that I didn't know what was going on? I mean, let's face it, Janice wasn't seeing me for my money, you know?"

Jim joined Blair in front of the windows. Once there, he realized that while he'd closed the physical distance between them, they were still miles apart. He gave himself a small shake, then put on a more cheerful face as he said, "Since when aren't you everyone's favorite, Chief? Come on, you're Mr. Whiz Kid."

"Maybe it's skipped your notice, Jim, but I'm several years past 'Whiz Kid'. I'm being passed by younger, smarter, brighter, whizzier kids. They publish regularly, they schmooze, they play the never-ending game of university politics--"

Blair suddenly gave out with a dry bark of laughter. "And they bring in the moola, Jim. Is that ironic or what?"

The chasm was widening and Jim wondered if anyone had ever truly survived going over Niagara in a barrel. Staring at Blair's profile, Jim tried to reconcile the Sandburg standing next to him with the Sandburg of three years ago. He couldn't do it. The difference was too -- great, too -- disparate.

Three years ago, Blair had been full of energy, bouncing from project to project, publishing, teaching, researching, expounding on theories as if they were popcorn, sharing those theories with anyone who would listen, and confident in both the theories and his future. Back then, everything Blair touched or saw or heard, was new. Even if it was old, even if he'd touched it, seen it, or heard it a hundred times before.

Jim remembered the earrings, the ankh, the bracelets, the crazy clothes, the idiotic jokes, the music. The women. He remembered the blue books spread over every possible surface, the tutoring late into the night, then up and at 'em the next morning at the station.

Jim even remembered the annoying habit Blair had of starting a new cup of coffee every time he moved from the couch to the table to the yellow chair to work. By morning, Jim would be washing upwards of four or five mugs -- if he found them all. Inevitably, the one he'd miss would be found days later and covered in furry little green things.

Blair washed his own mugs now. And the blue books never ventured further than the dining room table. The tutoring was gone, except for rare occasions, and more often than not, Blair was foisting off his classes in order to--


Jim's thoughts detoured away from "to" and back to anthropological theories that had given way to suggestions and ideas on the criminal mind or methods of madness. If there were any all-nighters, they were with -- they were with--

To be--

Words -- Blair's words -- came back to Jim--

Janice was in order to forget.

And Blair had seen Janice kissing him, yet hadn't for a moment believed that Jim had been kissing Janice.

And when had Blair last dated, prior to Janice?

To be with--

The world exploded in understanding.

"Chief," Jim said quietly, "I need to know something."

"Yeah, Jim?"

"You walk in here and see Janice and I in a clinch but you don't for a minute believe that I would -- betray -- you. Okay, fine, but I need to know what your first thought was when you saw us together."


"Humor me, Chief."

Blair turned from the window to face Jim, his expression both thoughtful and exasperated. "I don't know," he said as he scratched his head.

"Come on, Sandburg. Very first thought."

Blair rolled his eyes, then said, "Okay, we came in, Megan froze, I think I bumped into her, I spotted you two and I wondered why Janice was kissing you."

"That was your first thought? Your very first one?"

"Yeah, it was. Then I kind of went, 'duh' in a mental kind of way."

"Why were you, in that split second before rational thought, so certain that Janice was kissing me, versus the other way around?"

"Man, that is so easy. I've seen you kiss, Jim."


"Jim, you kiss with everything. Maybe it's because you're a sentinel, I don't know, but you pour it all into a kiss. Your hands are usually -- buried -- in -- hair," Blair cleared his throat, "your body is pressed against every inch of the other person, like you can't bear for there to be any space between you, you... you're just so... involved, you know? And you weren't with Janice.

"Your hands, I remember, were on her forearms, but your palms were on top, like you were about to press down, to push away. And your eyes were open. You always kiss with them closed tightly. Like you're burying yourself in -- the -- person."

Blair gave a little cough, opened the window, and quickly stepped through and onto the balcony, leaving Jim behind, breathless, and with one finished thought--

To be with -- him.

So much in Blair's life -- gone. In order to be with -- Jim.

There were trust issues -- and there were trust issues. Looking at his partner's back, watching the breeze make its way through Sandburg's curly hair, Jim acknowledged that, yeah, he had trust issues.

Blair Sandburg did not.

Was it any wonder that they were on opposite sides of Niagara Falls? But he who had the issues was responsible for making his way to the man who had none.

Why? Because the man who had none... had none.

Because Blair Sandburg trusted Jim Ellison with his life, his honor, his future and his heart. Because Blair Sandburg had been on the journey all along, right beside Jim, shoulder to shoulder, if Blair were standing on a box, day by day, criminal by criminal.

Blair had taught, learned, trusted, accepted, made his share of human errors, never failed to pick himself up, dust himself off, and start all over again.

Every. Single. Time.

And Blair Sandburg knew how Jim kissed.

At that moment, a gentle reassuring warmth suffused Jim. A warmth not unlike that which a small child feels when, disturbed, they awaken in the middle of the night. Afraid, the child is soothed and comforted by a familiar loving voice that calms and restores the child's sense of security. "It's all right, Jimmy. Everything is all right. Go back to sleep and tomorrow, when you wake up, the sun will be bright and warm and all will be right with your world."

For Jim's first eight years, that voice had been his mother's. Then Sally's. And now... Blair's. But -- finally -- Jim understood that Blair, unlike his mother, would never leave. Blair would always turn on a light within Jim, illuminate the darkest corners, banish the demons, offer the necessary comfort, and take care of Jim's days and nights. All Jim had to do was -- allow it. Surrender.

Jim took a deep breath, exhaled and, as the sun climbed toward high noon and the breeze continued its game of hide and seek with Sandburg's hair, Jim let go.

He stepped out onto the balcony to stand shoulder to shoulder, if Blair were standing on a box, with his partner. Hands on the railing, eyes on the sparkling blue of the bay, he said softly, "It's been a hell of a trip so far, hasn't it, Chief?"

Blair turned from the view to look up at Jim, eyes telegraphing his uncertainty. "Yeah, it has, Jim."

Watching a sailboat glide effortlessly through the water, Jim smiled. "I love a good road trip. With the right person beside me, that is. No fun alone, no fun with the wrong person."

Frowning now, Blair nodded in puzzled agreement. "Um, that's... true."

"I've been luckier than I knew in the last three years. Alone, I'd have crashed and burned. With the wrong person, same thing. But I had you. I've had you every step of the way on this crazy sentinel road trip, and I still have you.

"And the extra added bonus? You know how I kiss. Saves on surprises. I've discovered over the years that not everyone can handle the kind of all consuming kiss that I tend to give -- need to give. Probably sentinel related, don't you think?" The uncertainty was fading, as was the puzzlement. Like the sun pushing its way past storm clouds, Blair's smile was beginning to push through.

"Could be. You use all of your senses when you kiss. They're all heavily involved in the sensation."

"Exactly." Jim's gaze left the bay and turned to face Blair. "I'm hoping that this road trip we're on never ends, Chief. How 'bout you?" The storm clouds were gone, and in their wake, only the bright warm sun remained. "I'll second that," Blair said with a nod.

Jim stepped in close and, with eyes lovingly roaming Blair's face, he buried his fingers in Sandburg's hair and lowered his head. He was grateful to see Blair leaning forward and tilting his head up in order to meet Jim half-way.

Smiling, they kissed.

Soft and easy at first, needing to simply connect physically, they let their lips lightly brush, then press gently. As the connection strengthened, as their heart beats sped up, Jim dropped one hand from Blair's curls and placed it on the small of the younger man's back and pressed. Lips opened then, tongues dipped in, stroked, and set fire to a need in both that had been smoldering for months.

Blair had been right. Jim's senses focused solely on the man in his arms. He reveled in the feel of Blair, the sinewy strength, the straining muscles, and heat of flushed skin. His sense of smell took in male musk, the salty tang of sweat, and the pungent odor of arousal. His head swam in ecstasy.

Jim enjoyed all the textures of Blair's mouth and lips; tingled as he felt each guttural moan. He gave up trying to sort out the various flavors, in favor of lumping them all together in one unique taste sensation that zinged straight to his groin.

Even Jim's sense of sight was having a field day. With eyes closed, Jim was swimming in sense memory. As his tongue delved deeper, it was guided by Jim's vision of Blair's smile. Blue eyes invited Jim into Blair's soul while thick curly hair, glinting in the noon day sun, promised new touch sensations.

Jim could 'see' Blair's neck as it was stretched to reach Jim, could 'see' the square jaw and strong chin melded to his own. He knew what Blair's dark lashes looked like against the pale skin and he could 'see' the fragile eyelids moving with Blair's energy.

But it was through his hearing that Jim benefited most. It wasn't just the almost animalistic groans that Blair was making low in his throat, but the sounds of Blair's whole body. Of flannel against cotton, cotton against skin and chest hair, of ragged breathing, and of the very essence of Blair; his heart, sounding a rhythm that called to the primal Jim Ellison, to the sentinel.

The balcony was moving. No, he was moving. Jim was moving him. Backwards. Sandburg didn't give a flying fuck. No way was he releasing Jim's mouth. So he'd -- move.

They moved inside, lips parting briefly. Jim chuckled against Blair's mouth as they stumbled, righted themselves and kept moving.

Blair took great pains to keep up the kissing even as he began to unbutton Jim's shirt, then pull the older man's undershirt out so he could slide his hands over Jim's upper body.

Felt good, felt great, but now he was itching to get his hands elsewhere.

Zipper. Belt. No, belt, zipper. Pull, slide, unhitch, unsnap, pull down, reach in, but keep that tongue in place.

Shift, avoid coffee table... ouch.





He was going to have to let go of Jim's tongue if Jim was going to be able to get the hell out of his jeans. Blair could do the letting go part -- maybe.

Nice view. Jim jerking off his jeans and boxers. Nice view two years ago on that oil rig. Better today. Mine today, he thought. Mine forever.

When Jim woke up, he knew instantly that something was different. He wasn't alone. He looked up at his skylight and noted that it was late afternoon. He sniffed and grinned.

A rich liquid voice said, "You're awake."

Jim turned his head to find the reason he wasn't alone -- Blair.

Blair was smiling at him from his position on his stomach, pillow bunched under his arms, hair tangled, face creased, lips swollen, eyes bright.

"Yep, I'm awake," Jim agreed with a smile as he rolled lazily onto his side. He noticed that the sheet and blanket were nowhere in evidence and he vaguely remembered kicking them off earlier. He reached out and stroked his hand down Blair's arm. "You cold?"

"Nope. Just right, in fact."


They grinned at each other.

"You look incredible after marathon sex," Jim finally said.

"So do you. You also look... different."

Jim pushed a little bit of hair away from Blair's face. "So do you. Why is that?"

Blair captured Jim's hand and one by one, kissed his fingers. "We've seen each other in every conceivable manner -- except this one. We've seen each other mad, hurt, injured, ill, drunk, happy, you name it. But we've never seen each other after sex."

Jim wiggled the fingers that Blair still held as he said, "We'd never seen each other during sex either."

"Noticed that, did you?"

"I don't have a gold shield for nothing, Chief." Jim slipped his hand away from Blair's and rested it on Blair's hip. It just seemed to fit so nicely there. "I'm almost glad we waited so long--"

"Don't you mean 'took' so long?"

"Took, wait, same thing. I don't think I'd have been ready for you three years ago."

One odd eyebrow rose and Jim chuckled. "Hey, what can I say? You're unbelievable, Chief."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

With a gentle smile, Jim said, "You should. I can't usually let go so totally, or let my senses go wild. And I've never been with anyone who loved me as completely as you did. Three years ago, hell, two years ago, I'd have run for the hills because no way would I have been--"

"Able to accept it? Accept your worth?"

Unable to speak, Jim simply nodded.

"Don't worry, the Blair Sandburg of three years ago couldn't have given it to you. He was a shallow prick. Not that you wouldn't have had the greatest sex of your life with that Sandburg, because you would have."

Jim buried his face in Blair's neck as he murmured, "Naturally. Great sex and Blair Sandburg go hand in hand."

Laughing, Blair rolled over onto his back, bringing Jim with him. "It would have been great sex then, but now, it's -- great love." Blair ran his hand through the short soft hair and asked, "How do you feel about being another man's one great love?"

Jim lifted his head and, with eyes crinkling in mirth, said softly, "Grateful that I finally figured that out, Chief. My Detective of the Year award should be revoked."

Blair gave Jim's forehead a little slap with the palm of his hand as he intoned, "I hereby revoke your Detective of the Year award. In its place, you'll be receiving the honorable 'Great Lover of the Year' award. I think you're really, really, really going to love the trophy."

"I already do, Sandburg. Best damn trophy I've ever seen -- or had."

"Damn right."

They stared happily at each other, then Jim's expression changed, his worry frown wiping out his grin. "You going to be okay, Chief?"

Understanding the concern behind the question, Blair nodded. "I'm going to be very okay -- now. The next few days are going to be rough, but I've had rough at Rainier before. What I've never had all the way, was you. Makes all the difference, man."

Doing his best imitation of Blair, Jim said, "I love you, maaaan."

End Kiss Off