Title: Lost And Found
Category: Drama; First Time
Pairings: J/B N/o
Date:September 10, 2000
Status: New and Complete
Disclaimer: I don't know who stole Jim's white socks, only that it wasn't me. HONEST! Oh, and the guys belong to PetFly and not me, contrary to my mental illness.
Warning: Whatever you do, DON'T steal Jim's favorite white socks. Blair will kill you. You see, it seems that Jim uses the white socks - on Blair, you know? Get my drift? They're both bondage sluts! And yes, drat, I gave the dang things back - damn.
Note: Watching Sentoo part one and two and yet another post sentoo story takes over my already feeble brain. Then, as I'm watching the episodes again, while writing, I get this idea and I ask senad. Ah, wonderful Senad. And after the responses, both on and off list, I came back and changed the story!!! SO Senad, this one is for you! Thank you for my home.
Summary: Wherein Blair and Jim find something after the whole mess in Sierra Verde. And Naomi finds something too.
Lost & Found
The small airport was noisy, crowded, full of people milling about, waiting for flights. Many had children in tow, some crying, some playing. Over the din, the loudspeaker droned on, spreading its garbled messages that announced arrivals and departures in both English and Spainish. Smoke from cigarettes and cigars floated overhead, the *no smoking* rule of America seriously absent in the heart of Mexico.
Blair roused himself long enough to glance at his partner, vaguely wondering how he was handling the environment. His bloodshot eyes took in Jim's lanky form, long legs stretched out in front of him, hands shoved deep in his pockets, head back, eyes closed.
Jim was seated next to Megan and to the casual observer, appeared to be resting. But Blair wasn't the casual observer and the compressed lips, the taut muscles and the slight crease of his brow told Blair that Jim wa far from any type of restful state.
Sentinel soft, Blair whispered, "you okay, jim? you dialed down?"
Jim gave an almost invisible nod, but didn't open his eyes. Blair closed his and drifted.
Next to Blair, Simon Banks watched the nearly invisible by-play between the two men and frowned. His best unofficial team was in trouble; professionally and personally and the events of the last three days had done nothing to improve the situation.
A heaviness gripped his heart as his gaze fell first on the young man seated next to him, then swept over to Jim. Only an aisle separated the two, but it might as well have been the Grand Canyon.
Simon shook his head as he thought back over the last days. He still couldn't believe that Blair had left his hospital bed to traipse after Jim.
Okay, maybe that wasn't so hard to believe, but the fact that Blair had held up, had managed to keep up, that was the miracle. Of course, Simon now wished with all his heart that Blair hadn't been able to keep up. That somehow, Blair could have been spared seeing Jim with Alex.
Simon didn't completely understand what had happened, only that Jim hadn't been in control. But somehow, that knowledge hadn't helped. Hadn't help Jim and certainly wasn't helping Sandburg.
Which brought him back to checking the younger man, which in turn, increased his worry.
Blair was too pale, too wasted looking, and the slight trembling of his hands hadn't escaped Simon's notice either. They'd be getting Blair home not a minute too soon.
As Simon's gaze bounced from one man to the other, his fears and worries doubled.. Under any other circumstances, Jim would be seated beside Blair, but when they'd entered the airport and had made their way to the seats around their gate, Jim had deliberately taken a chair across from the one Blair had chosen. Not a good sign.
As he stared, Simon realized he'd been caught. Foggy blue eyes opened and met his. He tried to give Sandburg an encouraging smile, but it must have fallen flat because Blair simply looked away, checked his back pocket and stood.
"I'll be right back," he said to no one in particular.
Simon's concerned gaze followed the younger man as he headed slowly toward the bathrooms. He almost went after him when Blair paused halfway, body swaying, but he seemed to collect himself and quickly disappeared behind the swinging door.
A few minutes later, just as Blair returned, their flight was called.
It was open seating and as they boarded, Blair took the lead. He chose a window seat about halfway down the aisle but in front of the wings and Simon couldn't help but notice how he watched Jim's progress, eyes wary, yet hopeful.
Megan was in front of Jim and figuring that the two men would sit together, she took the seat directly behind Blair. Her dark blue eyes widened in surprise as Jim slid in beside her.
Blair quickly turned his head away and took a sudden interest at something out his window. Simon sat beside him and immediately buckled himself in.
Things were going downhill - fast.
Blair's exhaustion caught up to him less than thirty minutes into the flight, his head lolling against the window, bloodshot eyes shutting. Simon caught the movement and gently pulled the younger man to him, maneuvered the arm rest up and let the body sink into his. Sandburg was so far gone, he never stirred as his head was cushioned against Simon's chest.
As Banks gazed down at the sleeping man, he was immediately caught up in a sudden onslaught of feelings. He brought his arm around to hold the exhausted body and marvelled at what a difference the last three years had made in his life. And how the man sleeping against him was a major part of that difference.
Simon Banks wasn't quite old enough to be Sandburg's father but at the moment, he felt the part. All the emotions that he associated with Daryl, he was now experiencing in conjunction with Blair. And like any father who knows that his children's lives were out of his control, he felt powerless.
The detective in Simon took a front seat to the father as he tried to work his way through the last several days, to delve into what had gone wrong, and why so much had fallen apart so suddenly. But no matter how he tried, he simply couldn't reconcile any of it.
He reviewed that night in the bullpen, the night of Blair's death and he could hear the words coming from Jim Ellison's mouth, the words that told Blair their relationship couldn't be salvaged. Simon hadn't missed the total shock on Blair's face nor the strange detachment on Jim's and it seemed, in retrospect, that so much more had been going on that night. More than even the two men involved were aware.
But then, their world had gone topsy-turvy with Blair's death and subsequent rebirth.
As Blair had been loaded into the ambulance, Jim climbing in behind the gurney, Simon had been certain the partnership would be restored. That his world would be returned to its predictable orbit. And when Blair had shown up in Sierra Verde, he'd been certain that all would be well.
God, how wrong could one man be?
But then, Alex. And now - there seemed to be nothing left.
Simon Banks watched Blair Sandburg sleep and wondered how this would ultimately end.
Cold fingers of dread gave him the unwanted answer.
The pilot announced their approach to San Francisco International Airport and with great reluctance, he shook Blair awake. The man had moved little during the long flight and Simon had let him sleep through the meal service.
"Come on, buddy, rise and shine. We're about to land in foggy San Francisco. Up and at 'em, Sandburg."
Blair struggled upright, his right hand pushing back a tangle of hair, eyes blinking owlishly as he fought for focus. The inside of his mouth felt like a volcano about to blow and his lungs burned with the heat of the same volcano.
Would anyone notice if he blew?
"I'm up, Simon. Awake and aware." That was a lie, but what the hey. He was awake.
The plane made a smooth landing and taxied to the gate. People began to stand, to pull out luggage, all eager to deplane.
The four, tired Cascadians walked up the ramp, legs feeling like hundred pound weights. They still had a two hour layover before their flight to Cascade.
As they came out into the airport, Megan quipped, "By my reckoning, we have about a two mile hike to the other end of the airport to make our connection, guys."
Before anyone could answer, a strong voice called out, "BLAIR!"
All four travellers turned to see a tall, rangy, barrel-chested man striding up to them.
Sparkling green eyes fastened on Blair as a huge grin split the handsome face and a moment later, the stranger had engulfed the younger man in a huge bear hug.
As the two men separated, Blair cleared his throat and faced his friends. "Uh, guys, this is Gault Willoughby, an old friend." He turned to the tall man and said, "Gault, this is Captain Simon Banks, Inspector Megan Connor and - Detective Jim Ellison."
No one missed the slight, almost painful pause before he'd introduced Jim.
Gault Willoughby held out a hand and shook first with Simon, then Megan, and finally with Jim.
"I'm glad to meet you all. I've heard so much about you and Major Crime that I feel I already know you." As he finished, he turned back to Blair, thus missing the shocked expressions on the faces of the people he'd just met.
"You ready, Blair?"
Sandburg gazed at Simon, then at Jim. Simon's expression clearly screamed, "What the hell!", but Jim's face gave nothing away. Blair took a deep breath and nodded. "Yeah, I'm ready."
Willoughby smiled at everyone and said, "Well, it's been great meeting you all."
Simon couldn't contain his confusion any longer. In a voice that was usually reserved for the criminal element of Cascade, he demanded, "Sandburg, what the hell is going on?"
Face suddenly beet red, Blair stammered out, "Uh, I c-called Gault from Mexico. Asked him to m-meet me here." Blair stopped and gave an apologetic glance at Willoughby, then turned back to Simon. "I'm - going to stay with him for a few days. You know - before going back to Cascade."
Shell-shocked, no one spoke.
Gault gently took Blair's backpack from his shoulders and dropped his arm across them. Blair blinked a couple of times, glanced at Jim, saw nothing in the older man's eyes, swallowed hard and said, "So, um, guess I'll - see you around." He lifted his head to look up at Gault and said, "I'm ready." Willoughby smiled another good-bye and guided Blair away.
"Well," was all that Megan could come up with as Blair walked away.
Flummoxed, Simon was watching the retreating back. He felt as though a son had just been torn from his arms and somebody should have stopped it. He turned angrily toward his detective, ready to snap his head off.
But one look at Jim stopped him cold.
The detective was frozen solid, the only sign of life being a throbbing vien at his temple and the square jaw clenching and unclenching. His ice blue eyes were fixed on a point ahead of him and Simon knew that Jim and Jim alone could still see Blair's retreating form.
Gault glanced worriedly at his companion. Blair looked like shit and the long walk to the car had left the younger man breathing hard. On top of that, the emotions he'd felt when meeting Blair's friends had left him with the feeling that Blair had been less than truthful when he'd called from Mexico.
Something was wrong but Gault knew Blair well enough to know that asking now would get him exactly nowhere fast.
During the entire ride through San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausilito, Blair said nothing and Gault wisely let silence reign.
Pulling into his driveway, he finally turned to Blair and with a jovial tone he didn't feel, said, "Here we are, home, sweet home. You're gonna love the view, Blair."
He grabbed Blair's backpack from the backseat of his Lincoln and guided the younger man up the wooden stairs to the front door of his Sausilito home. Getting the door open, he ushered his quiet guest inside.
"Your bedroom is down the hall, second door on the right and if I do so say so myself, you have a spectacular view of the Bay. But if not to your liking, you can have the third bedroom with a view of the side garden."
Blair glanced around, his eyes not really seeing. "Any room is fine, Gault. Thanks."
Taking Blair's arm, Gault led him down a hall and into a large, airy room. He placed the backpack in a corner chair, crossed to the large bay window and pulled the drapes. He pushed open the two windows, allowing a breath of fresh ocean air into the room.
"Look, it's obvious you're exhausted, so what say you take a short nap and when you wake, I'll have dinner ready and we can talk, sound good?"
Blair smiled wanly. "I could use some - rest. But don't go to any trouble with dinner. Maybe just some soup?"
"Tell me you're not still an alphabet soup fan?"
Blair grinned, the first real smile since Gault had picked him up.
"Well, truth be told - it is a secret vice. Still."
"What a coincidence, I just happen to have a couple of cans. Now you rest and when you wake, we chow down on the alphabet."
Blair nodded and Gault left, closing the bedroom door behind him.
Sandburg took in a deep, shuddering breath and immediately winced. Lungs that he'd ignored for days were now protesting vehemently. He took off his jacket, heeled off his tennis shoes and sat down on the edge of the bed. From his position, he could look out over the Bay, note the sailboats approaching Sausilito, catch a glimpse of the marina and even the San Francisco skyline.
It wasn't his bay, wasn't home, but then - nothing was anymore.
He dropped back, pulled the pillows out from under the bedspread and curled up, intending to rest and enjoy the view for a few minutes, before going to sleep.
In the living room, Gault Willoughby sat down in the large leather recliner and with a beer in one hand and a framed picture in the other, he sought answers.
His eyes took in the photograph, a photo that he knew so well. The background was the very Bay that Blair was looking out on from his room. In the foreground, three people, a man, a woman and a child.
The man, in his very early twenties had his right arm around a laughing redhaired beauty. She was smiling up at him, love shining from her eyes. In the big man's arms, a curly haired boy with a baseball cap perched on his head. The boy looked to be about eight, but was in reality, ten. Both of his small hands were cupping the big man's face, apparantly trying to scrunch it into the same shape as his own - that of a fish.
Gault traced first the face of the woman - Naomi Sandburg, then the boy's - Blair Sandburg.
His family - for eighteen months. The best months of his life. A family he'd never replaced.
A family he'd never tried to recapture.
"You let him go, Jim."
It was a simple statement, but Simon couldn't say it. Not to Jim's face.
But he was saying it plenty in his mind.
Jim - let - him - go.
Now the three of them sat on another airplane, winging their way home, but one of them was missing. One of his men was absent. One of his people. And it wasn't right. But again - he was powerless.
As for Jim, he was a basket-case. Not a typical basket-case. Oh, no, not Jim Ellison. Very unique basket-case. He was responsive - barely. He was angry - completely. And he was hurting - big time. Simon hadn't worked with the man for over eight years without learning the signs.
When their flight had been called, it had taken both Megan and Simon to get Jim on board.
Not because he'd fought them, but because he'd been oblivious to the announcement. They got him on board, seated, belted. No questions asked.
Simon hadn't missed the tears in Connor's eyes either.
It was going to be a long flight.
The three people stepped out into the night air.
"Megan, you come in your car, or - Sandburg's?"
"We came in mine, Simon," she answered quietly.
"Fine. Then I'll see you on Monday. And Connor?"
She tilted her head, one eyebrow questioning.
"Thanks. You made a difference."
She smiled a bittersweet smile and placed one hand on Jim's arm. "Jim, take care. And - he'll be back." She reached up and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. He blinked at her and nodded.
She darted across the street and disappeared into the parking structure.
"Well, let's get you home, eh, Jim?"
Simon nudged Jim inside of #307, closed the door and flicked on the table light.
Looking at the motionless man next to him, he shook his head. If he hadn't known better, he'd have thought Jim was catatonic.
He started to pull the duffel bag from Jim's shoulder but Jim's voice stopped him.
"I'm okay, Simon. Go home, get some rest. You have the weekend to recuperate. Call Daryl."
"Simon, I'm okay. Go."
"I hate leaving you like this...."
"Well, don't. I'm fine."
Simon knew this was one battle he'd lose.
"Get some rest, Jim. I'm going to stop by tomorrow, make sure you're eating."
Steel blue eyes turned to Simon. "You think there's some reason I wouldn't eat?"
"Don't play games with me, Ellison. This is Simon Banks you're talking to. You're angry, you're hurt and Blair isn't here."
"Blair wasn't here before. I ate."
"GOD DAMN IT, ELLISON!"
He took a deep breath, realizing that it wouldn't help to lose what temper he had left.
"Okay, counting to ten. Look, Jim, I don't understand everything, but Blair not returning was a shock. For me, for Megan, for - you. You can't deny that. Or are you telling me you're all right with his decision? With the fact that he might never return?"
Simon knew instantly that he'd pushed when pulling was required. Big mistake.
Jim pivoted and reached for the door.
With a disgusted whoosh of air, Simon left, slamming the door behind him.
The duffel bag dropped from Jim's slumping shoulder and into his hand.
His fingers tightened around the strap as he gazed about his home.
A home without - warmth.
There was nothing of the man he'd taken in over three years ago.
Nothing. No belongings, no scent, no mess.
Without conscious thought, his right arm rose and swung back ---
--- and the duffel bag sailed through the air.
It flew over the couch, the coffee table, through the loft windows, shattering glass, over the balcony to finally disappear in the night.
Lights from the city of Cascade twinkled against the jagged glass, capturing Jim's attention. The colors, the bright pinpoints of diamond-like sparkles reeled him in......
Downstairs, Simon climbed into his Crown Victoria and was about to insert the key into the ignition when something landed with a thud in front of his car.
"WHAT THE HELL?!"
He quickly climbed out and walked angrily around to the front. On the street, Jim's duffel bag.
Simon glanced up but saw nothing. He picked up the bag and literally ran back inside, hit the elevator button and moments later was standing outside #307.
He didn't bother to knock, simply pulled out his spare key, the one Jim had insisted on giving him after the whole Lash episode, inserted it and pushed open the door.
Cold air swirled around a zoned Jim Ellison.
Cold air courtesy of the shattered balcony doors.
Simon dropped the one time missle and rushed to Jim's side.
"Ellison! Can you hear me? Come on, Jim, look at me!"
Simon had seen only three of Jim's zones in the last three years and for all three, Blair had been there, talking quietly, touching, grounding the man. None of the zones had lasted longer than a few seconds.
Five minutes later - Jim was still zoned.
And Simon was sweating.
He'd yelled, touched, shaken and all for nothing. No response.
Simon was officially scared shitless, his worse nightmare - a sudden reality.
Where was a Blair Sandburg when you really needed him?
In San Francisco. Because he had no home here.
Desperate times called for desperate measures.
Simon hit Jim.
Jim's body swayed with the blow and a hand came up to rest against the jaw that had taken Simon's right fist.
Cloudy blue eyes squinted, focused, cleared.
"Yeah, Ellison. Simon. You zoned. After you threw your luggage out the balcony window. You missed my car by mere inches."
Jim followed Simon's gaze to the broken window.
"Well said, Jim. It would appear you're not quite as fine as you think."
"I can't stay here, Simon. There's nothing of him here. Nothing." He turned tortured eyes on his friend. "I can't even smell him."
Taking the man's arm, Simon said, "You're coming home with me. Tomorrow, we'll get this sorted out."
"Right, first we board up the damn window."
Gault was drifting in his memories. Memories of a small boy, a hand tucked trustingly in his larger one, a slap-happy grin on the dirty face, sparkling, mischievous blue eyes laughing up at him....
Gault Willoughby had met Naomi Sandburg at the aquarium twenty-two years ago. He'd been almost twenty-one and a struggling student. She'd been twenty-five and the mother of an eight year old boy.
Although, to be accurate, he'd met Blair first.
The small boy had been running helter-skelter through the exhibits and had slammed into him, then bounced off the large body to land hard on the concrete floor of the tidal pool exhibit.
Gault didn't have a whole lot of experience with children, but he did know that when they fell, they cried, do he'd prepared himself.
But the small boy had surprised him by gazing up, grinning and asking cheekily, "you hurt?"
Gault had been immediately smitten.
"I think I'll live. You're one big dude, but I'm strong."
The boy had guffawed and scrambled to his feet. He brushed off his tattered jeans with clumsy, small hands then grinned again.
"i'm blair." Just that, nothing more.
Gault Willoughby was a goner.
They spent the next fifteen minutes at the tidal pools as Blair pointed out stuff that Gault had doubted even the Marine experts knew!
And it never once occurred to him that the boy was spending time with a complete stranger.
When Naomi finally caught up with her son, he'd shyly introduced her to his new friend and Gault Willoughby had fallen hard and it took all of one minute.
In the experimental dating days that followed, Naomi Sandburg had turned out to be everything he'd ever dreamed of finding in a woman. Generous, wild, giving, smart, adventuresome and a loving mother.
He gave his heart and soul to the two people he'd met that day and the next eighteen months had been sheer heaven.
But he'd been so enthralled with his new *family, with being a father, that he'd missed the signs of Naomi's restlessness, of her insecurities stemming from the fear of a future with surprisingly stable but younger man.
By the time he'd finally noticed, he was already thinking of Blair as his son and Naomi his wife.
And Blair, more often than not, had begun to call him dad. Unless he was excited. Then it was daddy.
They had celebrated Blair's tenth birthday with a picnic at Golden Gate Park and following a wonderful day of kite flying, biking and opening presents, he and Naomi had finally gotten a hyper Blair home.
Gault had won the duty of getting Blair into bed that night, a ritual that demanded a game of chase to exhaust the inexhaustable juggernaut. A game that due to the hyperkinetic energy being exhibited by the new ten year old, lasted longer than usual that night.
Eventually Gault had prevailed and a hot, sweaty Blair had been gently tossed into his bed, a story had been read (Blair to Gault) and one tousled head had finally hit the pillow. Gault had leaned down and kissed the soft, warm cheek before going out and joining Naomi.
At midnight, after they'd made love under the stars, in the backyard of his small rental, she'd told him she was leaving.
In the days that followed, he'd talked, yelled, pleaded and begged. But nothing had changed her mind.
Five days later - she and Blair were gone.
As long as he lived, Gault would never forget Blair's face as Naomi had told him they were leaving. No words could convey the expression that haunted that young, vulnerable face as the words fell from his mother's lips. There was hurt and pain of course, but there was also a strange maturity marking that expressive face.
At that moment, Blair Sandburg was older than either of the two adults standing before him.
Over the years, he'd maintained contact with Blair, both exchanging cards and letters, with Gault even sending him presents and gifts, including a Swiss Army knife for his Bar Mitsvah. He still remembered the excited phone call from Blair, telling him the knife was now his good-luck charm.
As the years flew by, he and Blair had stayed in contact, visiting occasionally, and Gault had never stopped thinking of Blair as his son.
Three years ago, their communications had dwindled, as much due to Blair's new interest in the Cascade Police Department as to Gault's decision to go into private practise in his chosen field; pyschology.
The call from Mexico had surprised him but the request to visit had thrilled him.
Gault checked his watch and was surprised that it was already after eight. He rose, walked to the phone and dialed a number.
<<You have reached the voicemail of Naomi Sandburg, please leave a
message and I'll return your call - eventually>>
"Naomi? Gault. Blair's in trouble. He's here with me, in Sausilito. You know the address. Get here as quickly as possible."
He hung up and headed to Blair's bedroom.
He opened the door slowly and wasn't surprised to see Blair fully clothed and dead to the world. Working quickly and efficiently but with great tenderness, he removed Blair's shirt and jeans, pulled the blanket out from under his sleeping form and covered him.
He closed one of the windows all the way, the other half-way, then pulled the drapes. Before walking out, he stood over the sleeping man.
Blair was almost thirty years old but at that moment, Gault saw only the young boy, a boy that was hurting. He laid his hand on Blair's forehead a moment, brushed away a few stray strands of hair and whispered, "good-night, son."
The bed, the alarm, the smells ---- all strange, different - wrong.
Jim cracked one eye open and winced.
Metallica was not a practical *first thing in the morning*vision. He turned his head, opened the other eye and promptly wished that he needed to squint. Squinting to focus had merit. For one thing, one might squint and pray that when one had actually focused, the item being squinted at would look entirely different.
A grinning Simon Banks dressed as Bozo the Clown required squinting.
Lots of squinting.
But Jim was a Sentinel and needed no squinting and certainly no
re-focusing. Simon, aka Bozo the Clown, would remain just that.
A benefit of Metallica and Bozo this early in the morning was that Jim now knew why everything was wrong. He was in Daryl's room, in Simon's home. And he was in a twin bed.
Bones creaked and protested loudly as he sat up and rubbed a hand over his jaw. He stood, stretched and scratched, slipped into his jeans, pulled on the tee shirt draped on the end of the bedpost and walked out into the long hall. He paused, checking for sounds and after reassuring himself that the bathroom was empty, made his way to the small room.
He was only slightly surprised to see his own shaving kit sitting on a shelf above the toilet and he smiled at Simon's thoughtfulness. He relieved himself, got the hot water going, brushed his teeth. swiped a wash cloth over his face, then made fast work of shaving. A shower could wait.
He ran his deodorant stick up under his shirt, capped it and dropped it back into the bag. His current buzz cut required nothing. He gave a last, disgusted look at his reflection, at his bloodshot eyes, shrugged, and left the bathroom.
Eggs scrambling, toast toasting and fresh squeezed orange juice and hot coffee. He followed his nose to the kitchen.
"Hey, you're up." Simon smiled and with an elbow, indicated the coffee and the clean mug sitting next to the automatic coffee maker. Jim helped himself, blew on the swirling blackness, then took a wake-up swig. Standing against the sink, he watched Simon butter toast, cut it, then dish up the eggs. He followed him to the small dinette where they both sat and began to eat.
Neither spoke as they downed the breakfast.
For Jim, it was painfully reminiscent of those early days with Blair as his temporary houseguest. Especially of a certain morning after Larry's famous escape.
Jim tried to swallow, but the eggs stuck in his throat. He took a quick sip of juice and managed to get the lump of food down.
"Simon, you do have Connor's telephone number, right?"
"I need to - she knows, I'm assuming," he paused as Simon's eyebrow rose. "Look, she knows where Blair was staying, okay? I want to go to the hotel, pack his stuff and get it all back where it belongs. Home."
Simon put his fork down and leaned forward, his brown eyes frosting over. "Are you telling me that you didn't know where Sandburg went after he left your place?"
"No. There was no chance - and we didn't, and that night --- he knew that I knew he'd be at his office, you see?"
"And I suppose you think that packing up his stuff and taking it back to your place will magically bring him home?"
Jim's jaw clenched and he willed himself to relax before answering.
"No, Simon, but if he comes home, he'll find a home to come back to."
For a moment, Simon regarded his detective, his friend, gauging his grasp on reality. Satisfied with what he observed in the pale blue eyes, he scraped back his chair and walked to the phone on the wall.
Jim could hear the ringing, then Connor's voice. "Connor, it's me. Do you have the address of the hotel where Sandburg was staying?" He reached for the pencil hanging from a string and began to scribble as Megan answered.
"Thanks and yes, we're both fine. "
Jim tried not to overhear, punched down his impatience and avoided the obvious - using his senses to see the address Simon had scrawled. His fingers drummed a restless tune on the formica tabletop.
"Right, Monday. And thanks." He hung up and turned to Jim. "Got it. Now what?"
"Now I head over there and get his stuff."
"Don't you mean, we head over there?"
"Do you recognize the address, Jim?" Simon was checking street signs as Jim negotiated the truck through the Saturday morning traffic. At Simon's question, his fingers tightened on the steering wheel and he gave a terse, "Yes."
Simon glanced away from the window to give him the once over. "Care to explain that yes?"
"Stewart Place is east of the University, Simon."
East of the University. Shit.
"Ok-ay. Doesn't mean this Lamplighter Inn is a problem."
"Yes it does. I doubt that it's changed much."
"So you know this hotel?"
"Motel, Simon. Motel. Popular spot for Vice, if you get my drift."
Jim made a left and ten minutes later was pulling into the parking lot of the Lamplighter Inn.
Simon groaned. The Inn was worse than he'd begun to imagine.
As they got out of the truck, Jim asked, "You did say number ten, right?"
Simon gave a distracted nod.
Jim strode into the motel office, flashed his badge and demanded the key to number ten.
The clerk, a pimply faced teen, handed it over as quickly as he could move.
Together, Simon and Jim entered number ten.
The room had been without an occupant for several days and the immediate mustiness of the place was to be expected. But the other odors, the stink of old urine, old sex, vomit and human waste, hit them both hard. Jim was lucky, he could dial it way down. Simon wisely left the door ajar.
The plastic-backed drapes had been closed and Simon had to search for the wall switch and flick it on in order to see.
He immediately wished he hadn't.
The room was no more than either of them expected. Worn furniture, peeling walls, leaking ceiling, cigarette burned carpet. But the condition of the room, the way Sandburg had left it his last day here - that surprised them.
The bed was still unmade, blankets on the floor, sheets twisted, pillows pummeled. Whatever sleep Blair had experienced - had been troubled.
A bottle of Tequila sat on the scuffed and broken nightstand, a cheap bathroom glass next to it. The glass had a fingerful of the liquor remaining. The bottle was almost empty.
Across from the bed sat the ubiquitous dresser and mirror - Except the mirror had been shattered.
Chunks of glass were on the dresser top and floor surrounding the furniture. In the middle of the largest pieces of glass, sat Blair's tape recorder. Broken.
One suitcase sat on the floor next to the dresser and Jim moved cautiously forward and lifted it. The weight of it told him it was full. His eyes took in the rest of the small room and satisfied him that nothing else of Blair remained. Sandburg had obviously taken anything else that had been here when Megan had brought him from the hospital. Double checking, he stepped into the small bathroom.
A used towel on the toilet, no personal items and another broken mirror.
A small window above the toilet told Jim where the Volve was parked.
As he and Simon left, Jim looked back once and whispered, "blair."
He closed the door softly behind them.
Throwing the suitcase into the back of the truck, he drove Simon around back, silently handed him the spare Volvo key and watched as Simon climbed in, not without some difficulty considering that the car was packed to the rafters with boxes, then started up the engine and backed out.
Neither man looked back as they drove away from the Lamplighter Inn.
Blair turned away from the jagged edge of brightness that flickered from between the closed drapes. He coughed, shallow at first, but then - deeper. He heard the ominous rumble from within his chest and tried to take a deep breath.
Damn. That hurt.
He flopped over onto his back and blinked blindly. He had a fever, he could tell. And everything hurt. Every bone, muscle, and nerve ending. Another pain, more metaphysical than physical had taken up roots in his chest, around the heart area. He squeezed his eyes shut.
Filmy blues shot back open and he squinted.
Willoughby came all the way into the room, a concerned frown telling Blair that he obviously looked as bad as he felt.
"I was getting worried. It's after twelve and not a peep from you."
The smile was good, just not great. And it didn't erase the frown.
"May I say, dead men have looked better than you?"
Blair winced, then shrugged. "Hey, if the shoe fits, I should wear it."
Gault sat down on the edge of the bed as Blair scooted over a bit to make room and hitched himself up to sit back against the oak headboard. The movement set him coughing again.
"Blair, that is one nasty cough. Get up, put on your jeans and shirt, I'm taking you to my doctor's office. Now."
"Uh, Willie? I don't usually run to a doctor for a cough. You know?"
Gault smiled at his old nickname. But another coughing fit attacked Blair and he quickly put out his hand to feel Blair's flushed face.
"How about a fever? Do you usually go to the doctor for a fever? And congestion that would make the Oakland Bay Bridge at rush hour look empty?"
Blair indicated his backpack with a jerk of his head. "I have medication in my bag. I'll take it and I'll be fine." He started to throw off the covers, but Gault's restraining hand stopped him. "I'll get it, stay put."
Stay put. Shit. Even here. Stay put. Stay put.
Gault rummaged around in the bag and his fingers closed over three rubberbanded prescription bottles. He pulled them out, took off the rubber band and read each label.
"Uh, Blair? This is some serious shit, here. What the hell is going on?
And none of it has been used!"
"I've been kind of busy. Guess I forgot."
Gault walked back to the bed, handed the bottles to Blair and snorted. "Now that sounds like you. Forgetting. Have you ever forgotten anything Blair?"
It was the wrong thing to ask. Blair's face shut down like a city during a blackout. Sandburg reached out and took the medications and once again, started to get out of bed.
"Stay. I'll get some juice for you. Do you feel like eating anything?
Maybe some of that soup you missed last night?"
"Juice would be good and yeah, soup doesn't sound too life threatening. And I am getting up unless you like the idea of your 29 year old almost son peeing in your guest bed?"
"Don't forget to flush."
Blair gave a mock salute and swung his legs over the side and stood. And swayed. And fell forward. Gault just caught him.
"Does my widdle boy need help getting to the bathroom?"
"That's bafroom to you, Willy."
Chuckling, Gault helped Blair into the bathroom and a few embarrased moments later, assisted him back to bed.
"Okay, I realize that twenty-odd years ago, you gave me baths and tucked me in, but this was - weird." His voice was raspy now and he punctuated his words with another coughing fit.
"Not weird, normal. You needed help, I gave it. Now rest while I get the O.J. for those pills. And if you're no better by tomorrow, we go to the doctor."
Blair rested his head back and nodded. He had to agree, he did feel terrible but he had high hopes for the medicine.
The way he figured it, all his running around in Sierra Verde had left his body and mind so confused and so far behind that only now, as he slowed down, had his body been able to react to the drowning.
He could almost hear his body screaming, "AH, HA, we've got you now!"
Not that he cared.
Gault walked back in, carrying a glass of juice, which he handed to Blair. As Blair took it, Gault opened all three bottles and took out the appropriate pills, took Blair's hand, palm up and dropped them in.
"Swallow like a good boy."
Blair snorted - but swallowed.
As Blair finished off the juice, Gault opened the drapes and let the sun in to warm the room.
"Ack! Sunlight. I may turn to ash."
"Very funny. I'm going to make that soup, then we sit, eat and you talk."
Blair wrinkled his nose in disgust, set the glass down and dropped back down under the covers.
The spoon rattled against the empty bowl and Gault smiled. There hadn't been much in the bowl, but he'd finished it all. A good sign. He took the dish and set it on the floor.
"Want more?" At Blair's negative response, he asked, "You ready to talk?"
"Nothing to tell. Just needed some - space. That's all. A few days away from Cascade, that kind of thing."
"Uh, huh. And the moon is made of green cheese."
"I never believed that, you know."
"I know. But it was fun, uh?"
They both smiled in memory. "Yeah," Blair said softly, "it was fun."
"In all these years, Blair, all our get-togethers, we've never talked about it. About what you felt when your mother - took you away."
Blair gave a small dismissive gesture and his eyes flicked to the window, to the bay beyond.
"What was there to say? I was ten, it happened."
"Do you understand what it did to me? How much I loved you?"
Gault could see Blair's jaw clench as he continued to stare out the window. Blair swallowed hard, choking back the emotion that threatened to overwhelm him.
"Yeah, I - knew."
"But - nothing. Mom was always leaving, or they were. Okay? It's life."
Gault was shocked. Blair couldn't believe that?
"No, that isn't life, Blair. People don't always leave. Sometimes, often times, they stay."
Blair could feel the stinging hurt and pain and he willed it down, forced it back where it belonged. He couldn't afford it anymore. It got him exactly nowhere. It got him exactly nothing. "Whatever."
"I'm kind of tired, maybe a small nap?"
"Okay, you rest. But you should know, I left a message for Naomi. She may show up on my doorstep."
His loud, surprised croak brought on another coughing fit, this one sending his body surging forward, his lungs straining for air.
With a muttered, "shit", Gault almost ran into the bathroom, filled the glass with water and hurried back. He sat down next to Blair and began to rub his back, soothing words of comfort his only weapon as Blair coughed.
When the coughing slowed, he took the glass and brought it to Blair's lips. "Here, take a sip, swallow slow...".
Blair did as instructed and soon, pale and shaking, he sat back and closed his eyes.
"That'll teach you to yell at me," Gault joked. He received a small, wan grin for his efforts.
"You sleep. I'll check in later, see how you are."
Keeping his eyes closed, Blair nodded slowly, then whispered, "please, call her. tell her i'm fine?"
"No problem, Blair. Sleep."
He closed the door and walked slowly out to the large living room.
Hands in his pockets, he stared out over the Bay.
The nap, like the first one, turned into an all day sleep, with Blair rousing only long enough to eat some more soup at dinner before hitting the sack again.
By his second morning with Gault, both the congestion and the cough had improved. At least enough so that Gault didn't think the doctor was necessary - yet.
After a breakfast of Cream of Rice, Blair actually settled on the couch by the huge bay window, one of Gault's mysteries in his lap. Gault puttered about, tidying up that which needed no tidying. He made a couple of calls to his clinic in San Francisco, finished a bit of business, then sat down with his guest.
"Well, at least you look better rested, if not - completely better."
Blair smiled and put down the book he'd been reading. "I feel - better.
The cough is improving, and not feverish today."
"I should hope so. Those meds are pretty powerful and you've been doing quite a bit of sleeping."
"I'm sorry about that, Willy. You take me in and I spend the first two days ill and asleep!"
"That's okay, Blair, you know that. I want you well. And if being here does that, than I'm happy."
The ringing of the phone interrupted Blair's response and a few mintues later, Gault came back, shaking his head.
"I'm going to have to leave for a bit, a patient emergency. Will you be all right?"
"Of course. Go."
Gault gathered up his briefcase, laptop, slipped on his jacket and double-checked his pockets, making sure he had his keys. Satisfied, he stood over Blair.
"You sure you'll be okay?"
Smiling indulgently, Blair said, "I'm sure. Go - Dad."
The smile Gault gave him was worth using the word.
As the afternoon wore on, with no one to take his mind from his thoughts, Blair found himself sinking deep into a depression. His guilt, fears and loneliness, along with the thought of a future that didn't include Jim, sent him outside, onto the redwood deck that overlooked Sausilito and the Marina. Wrapped in the blanket from his bed, he dropped down into one of the chaise lounges.
It was a beautiful afternoon, crystal bright, with a clarity that bespoke fall. A slight breeze ruffled through his hair and from below the house, the sounds of laughter and joy floated up.
Evidently a late afternoon barbeque was taking place in the home just below Gault's. Rich cooking odors drifted up, but Blair was no longer aware of the sweet and pungent odor of sauce, of meat sizzling on a grill or of family and friends enjoying each others comany. The boats out on the bay were no longer of any interest to him and he no longer saw the sparkling blue of the ocean, or the sun reflected off the water in small, sharp edged diamonds.
He saw only his own dark thoughts, Jim's face as he turned to him on the beach, Alex in his arms and Jim's words as he told him that his trust and faith had been betrayed.
How was it that everything Blair touched turned to dust? How did he always ruin the good things that came into his life? How could he, even for a moment, have put science ahead of Jim?
He wasn't surprised when no answers were forthcoming.
The blanket dropped from the chaise as Blair's eyes darkened.
Jim stepped back and regarded his handywork. Blair's bedroom was complete. Everything in its place. He stepped out into the living room, gave a satisfied glance at the repaired windows, then watched as Simon placed a large rock on the book shelf.
"That goes in here, Simon. And don't ask, I haven't a clue why Blair has a rock."
Simon hefted it in his hand, than brought it up close and studied it. "I know the kid is strange, but this looks like a plain old, everyday rock to me."
Jim chuckled and took the object from Simon's hand. "Knowing Blair, it has some deep metaphysical significance."
Simon had been biting his tongue for two days. Two days as they unpacked and put away. But now, this opportunity was too good.
"Knowing Blair, how could you not know what the history is behind that rock?"
Simon's words had their desired effect. Jim froze halfway back into Sandburg's room.
He stared at the rock. Then at Simon.
"You never asked him, did you, Jim?"
Jim set the rock down on the shelf in the corner of Blair's room. He stayed there, staring at it, even as Simon came up behind him.
"Well? Am I right? You never asked him?"
"No, I never asked. One doesn't usually have to ask Sandburg those things. He just - tells you. Fills you with all the minute details until you think your head will burst." The gentle, sorrowful smile on Jim's face told Simon that Jim's words were meant in the best way.
"But he didn't tell you about this rock, did he? Unusual, don't you think?"
Jim's finger ran over the rough edge of the rock facing him as he shook his head. "No, he never - offered up the story behind this one."
"And you didn't ask."
Jim turned and faced his boss, his friend. "No, I didn't. I don't pry, Simon. It was rough enough having my life poked and prodded, no excuse to do the same with Blair."
"Did it ever occur to you that he might like having his life *poked and prodded* by you?"
"No, it didn't, Simon. He's a remarkably closed individual. For all his sharing stories."
"Bullshit. He dropped clues right and left and you never bit. He loves you, Jim and if you haven't figured that out yet, you are one sorry son of a bitch."
Jim picked up the rock and almost cradled it. "I do know, Simon. I'm a sentinel, remember? And a detective."
Something dropped from Simon's throat to his heart, then his stomach.
"But - you don't feel the same? That's what this is all about? Why he didn't come back?"
Jim brushed past Simon and sat on the edge of Blair's bed, still holding the rock. He breathed in deeply, taking in what little bit of Blairscent that he could.
"I love Blair. Sometimes so much, I can't breathe."
Simon scratched the back of his head as he frowned at his friend. "You love him?"
Jim nodded hopelessly.
"So, let me get this straight; you love him, he loves you and you're sitting here, on his bed, holding his pet rock as if it were him and he's in San Francisco. Sure, of course, I get it. Typical Ellison and Sandburg."
"For God's sake, Simon! You were there, in Sierra Verde, you saw what I did! How do I undo that? How do I now go to him and tell him I love him? And shit, this is weird, sitting here talking about this with you of all people."
"If this is weird for you, you can imagine how it is for me," he paused, took the rock from Jim's hand and added, "This is what you do, Jim. You take this rock, you go to San Francisco, find this Gault Willoughby, tell him what's what, and then tell Blair you love him and ask him to please explain what the hell this damn rock is all about."
"Sounds too simple. Blair doesn't grasp the concept of simple all that well."
"*Your* part is simple. His part, well, he can talk all he wants, as long as he tells you about this fucking rock and comes home."
By the time Gault drove up his driveway, the fog that had shrouded San Francisco had made its way over to Sausilito and for the last mile, he'd needed his headlights.
He shut down and gazed up at his home. There were no lights on and that worried him. While it wasn't dark yet, the fog had cloaked his hill in a deep, shadowy gray that begged for the bright warmth of interior lighting. He hurried up the walkway and entered.
The moment he stepped inside, he shivered, the cold and dampness of the fog having somehow permeated his home. He glanced around and immediately spotted the source of the chill. An open sliding door. Blair must have been on the deck and in coming back inside, had obviously forgot to close the slider. Gault hurried to the door, his plan being to close it, then turn on the heat before checking on Blair.
As he neared the door, he could just make out a dark shape in the swirling gray fog.
He quickly stepped outside.
When there was no response, he knelt down beside the lounge chair and placed an arm on the cold hand.
"Blair, it's freezing out here. Let's go inside." As he spoke, he reached for the blanket on the deck and draped it over the still form.
"Blair, please, answer me?"
"It's nice out here, Gault."
Blair's voice was low and without inflection.
"No, it isn't, Blair. It's cold and damp. Do you want to end up in the hospital? This is the worst thing for your lungs right now. Let me take you inside."
"I like it out here."
Gault could conceivably carry Blair inside, but he doubted that the younger man would allow that. So, he went with the flow.
"Fine, we'll stay out here. Hang on while I get warm. Be right back."
He literally ran back inside, grabbed another couple of blankets, put on his jacket, grabbed Blair's and went back out.
"Put this on. Now. No argument."
Blair let him slip the coat over his arms and drape the additional blankets over him, right up to his neck.
"You want hot chocolate, hot tea, coffee or something stronger? And don't say none of the above.You're getting one of them, your choice." He received no answer. Fine. He went back inside and made two steaming mugs of Irish Coffee.
Holding one out to Blair, he ordered, "Take this. Drink it."
The pale hand resting on the wooden arm of the chaise didn't move. Gault set his mug down on the small table and lifted Blair's hand, opened the fingers and placed the mug against Blair's palm, then closed the fingers over the ceramic.
"You either drink this now, or I call an ambulance."
The hand carried the mug to blue lips.
"Blow on it first, it's hot."
The blue tinged lips pursed and blew, then sipped.
For the next few minutes, Gault had to threaten and cajole to get the mug emptied.
"Good. That should stave off pnuemonia for a few more minutes. Now, I want to know what's wrong and I want to know now. Talk."
Bundled up as he was, Gault could just see Blair's face. Immobile, pale, the eyes shrouded. His hair was damp with fog, the curls plastered around his face. Slowly, the head turned and shadowed blue eyes looked at him.
"Did you know that I died?"