"Jim, what are you doing next Saturday?"
Blair Sandburg was sprawled on the couch, wearing jeans and an undershirt, and yellow and brown argyle socks. His hair was tied back, his glasses perched on the end of his nose and a book in his lap. His fingers were tapping the pages, as he regarded his partner and roommate.
"Um, isn't that the day I'm supposed to meet Steven? And his fiancee?"
"Oh, yeah. Too bad. Well, good for you, good for Steven, but bad for me."
Jim Ellison glanced up from the television set, where he'd been pretending to be enthralled by a man wielding a skinny stick and trying to put a white ball into a small hole, and regarded his partner and roommate.
"Why too bad for you? You have something else in mind?"
"Well, yes. I thought you might help me move."
You really could have heard a pin drop. Well, Jim would have heard a pin dropping three apartment buildings away.....
"Um, yes. I found a nice place. Thought it was time, you know?"
"For moving out. Shit, Jim. I'm thirty. You're forty, too old to have a roommate. Time."
Blair had picked up his book and was pretending to read, very proud that his hands weren't shaking, and his breathing was controlled.
Ellison picked up the remote, pointed it at the set and zipped up the volume. "That makes sense. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."
Yes. Well, thought, Blair....that went well.
(*) (*) (*)
As Saturday neared, and Jim said nothing more about Blair's moving, the young man realized that he'd just successfully dug a hole, jumped in and was about to pull the dirt in over him. And of course, he didn't have a place to stay.
Oh, the web we weave when first we practise to deceive.
So. His idea had failed. And going back now and saying that maybe he wouldn't move out, was impossible. Right? He'd invited himself out, he couldn't very well invite himself back. Especially - since apparently - Jim was - happy.
Jim was happy. He wasn't singing or anything, but he wasn't morose either. He wasn't dragging his feet, or coming up with reasons why Blair should stay, or, or, or.......anything. What he was doing......was rearranging the livingroom.
Okay, it wasn't a major rearrangement....but he had moved the chair to the other side of the room.....all of six feet. But still, what did that say? Okay, it didn't *say* anything...exactly. Except that maybe, now that Blair was moving out.....Jim would put things where *he* wanted them, and not where Blair had moved them....so Jim was - glad. Happy.
And during Blair's lunch hour, on Thursday, he found himself looking, in panic, for an apartment. That he could afford. Riiiight. He might be a cop now, and be making pretty good money, for a rookie, but he had student loans, bills, and that didn't leave a whole lot for rent.
So, he sat in his car, parked at the curb, a tunafish and sprout sandwich on the seat beside him, a diet coke in the cupholder, perusing the classifieds. And making check marks, and circles, and taking the occasional bite from his sandwich.
That night, when he could have been enjoying Jim's company, in front of the fireplace and the television, stomach full thanks to Jim's chicken tetrazzini, he was, instead, looking at apartments. And blanching.
On Friday, his fat was removed from the fire. Oh, not *that* fat, not the fat that said, "Blair, don't move, I love you." No, not that fat. Rather, the fat that said, "Jim, I lied. I don't have a place to move, can I stay." Miraculously, at the twelfth hour, he'd been saved. An apartment had been found.
Apartment was too - nice a word. Hovel. Hole.
Roof over head. *Those* were the right words.
He circled the room, eyes noting the broken window....the *only* window....the grease on the walls, the newspapers on the floor, the front door, with the shoddy repair on the lock, the broken tiles on the floor, *not* hidden by the newspapers....the bathroom....no, it would be better *not* to go back in *there*.
Home, sweet home. His. Pride and Joy. For the remarkably low price of $895 a month. And did he mention the neighborhood? No? Good. That was left better unmentioned. It would be enough to state that the Cascade PD, Vice Department, would have a very good working knowledge of this part of town.
Blair Sandburg felt his legs giveway, and slowly he sat down in the middle of the room, on the dirty floor, and tried to stall the tide of a rising panic attack.
God, what had he done? And why?
That was unfair. He knew exactly what he'd done, and why. He'd been in love with his roommate, for quite sometime, thank you very much, and didn't Jim feel the same way? So, a little urging, a little push, a little.....stupidity was needed. Tell Jim you're moving out, and watch as the man stutters, and blushes and tells you that you can't leave, that you mean everything to him, that he can't live without you, that you make his big heart go pitt-patt, that....that...that nothing. You *don't* make his big heart go pitt-patt, you maybe drive him to drink. He doesn't love you, he maybe likes you. Okay, he likes you alot, but he's obviously glad you're moving out. Finally.
Blair's head dropped down, his shoulders drooped.....he sighed. He'd done it now. And what a way to find out that moving out was the right thing. For Jim. So, inadvertently, he'd done the right thing. For Jim.
And tomorrow - he moved. Out. On. Moving on.
GOD, WAS HE INSANE?!
Yes. And stupid. But - Jim would have his, his, his......Blair's mind faltered over the word....
His - home.....back. Jim would have his home back. And Blair....would lose, the only - home he'd ever known. The only - home - he'd ever wanted. Jim's home, Jim and Blair's home. But it wasn't......it wasn't.
Blair's teeth ground down, and he found that his hands were rubbing his jeans, rubbing and rubbing, up and down, back and forth, and he felt so empty, the way you feel when you're beyond hunger, or beyond tired, only this emptiness was endless and went on forever, and he'd - lost.
Painfully, and suddenly old, he stood. And walked out of his new home, to go to the loft and pack.
(*) (*) (*) (*)
It took him considerably longer than he'd ever have guessed. Four years of stuff, crammed into his little room......but by Friday night, or rather, Saturday morning, two am, to be exact, he was done. And there was no time like the present to start lugging stuff down to his car, because despite what he'd told Jim, that he had friends helping him move in Jim's absence, the truth was, he didn't. Have friends. So he was alone. Because Jim was out with an old army buddy. Still out. They must be closing down the bars tonight. And it was a perfect time to get everything downstairs.
The last box was in the front seat, his car was full, as he slammed the door of the Volvo. He took a deep, cleansing breath, and cold air shot through his throat and down to his lungs and it felt good. Blair turned and trudged back to the loft.
He opened the door and stepped inside and froze......it looked so - empty. He'd no idea. So much stuff had been his......for god's sake, he'd taken over. No wonder Jim was happy now. Blair walked over to the stereo, let his fingers trail over the CD's, over the shelf, and he moved about the room, touching everything, saying goodbye, and a vise seemed to have captured his chest, because it hurt, hurt bad, and the more he touched, the tighter the vise.
Never, in all the moves, over all the years, with Naomi taking him from one place to another, had he ever felt like this. Never. And he'd been torn from quite a few places that he'd dared to actually call *home*. And still, none had given him this dying feeling, this lost feeling. It was one thing to be unwanted as a man, in a sexual way, he could, maybe, deal with that. Nobody said Jim Ellison had to love Blair Sandburg back. But he wasn't wanted as a - roommate, as what he'd - been. Jim wanted him gone. And he should be able to accept that....I mean, what right thinking man *would* want a thirty year old man living with him? If he weren't living in his bedroom?
He'd no right to *ever* have thought of this place as his home. None. Big mistake. Like all the others. Foolish. Stupid. And home was where the heart.......
Shit, Fuck, shouldn't have said that.......
Blair spun about and went into his room, closed the door, dropped down onto the bed, the bed he'd be folding up tomorrow and taking with him.....and he slept. And if tears rolled down his cheeks, well, it was no more than he deserved.
(*) (*) (*) (*)
Jim Ellison climbed out of the truck and gazed up at the loft. No one would be there, when he went in.....it was Saturday, and Blair was gone now. It was late Saturday. The day with Steven and his fiancee had been good, if somewhat colored by what he knew what was waiting for him when he got home, namely nothing.
He'd deliberately stayed out all night, Friday night, with Curtis, because the idea of watching and helping Blair move was too - painful. He took his first step, to his once again empty home.
He put the key into the lock, swung the door open and stepped inside, and froze.
It was so empty. So devoid of life. Just exactly like he'd known it would be. But a surprise, none the less.....because in his heart of hearts, he'd hoped to find Blair still here, all his stuff still on the walls, on the couches, in the kitchen....just like always.
He put his keys into the basket......
Shit, fuck....the basket. The Blairbasket. The basket so Blair wouldn't lose his keys everytime he turned around.
He hung up his coat, opened the fridge, took out a beer, popped off the top and took a big swig. Well, he was home. Home. Only - not anymore. Not a home. Just a place to live.
No Blair. On the kitchen table he noticed a note, and Blair's sprawling handwriting.
Sorry I missed you. Hope you liked Steven's fiancee and had a good time.
Your friend, Curtis, seemed nice, you two must have had fun.
Well, guess this is it. Was kinda hoping you'd be back in time, but hey, it's not like we won't see each other at work, right?
I know I've been a handful, but now you have peace and quiet again, and thank you, Jim, thank you for the *one week*.
PS: When I get a phone, I'll give you the number, until then, use the old cell number if you need me for your senses, okay? And did I give you the address? No? Well, here it is...
Jim neatly folded the letter, stuck it in his pocket and regarded the space around him.
Staying in the livingroom, not a good idea. He walked up the stairs, to the only room that could be comfortable to him, the only room that didn't have Blair all over it.....and sat down on the edge of the bed. Took another swig. Wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. God, would it have been any good to have told Blair that he didn't want him to move out? How could he do that to his friend? Blair deserved his own place, his own home. And that was apparently exactly what he'd wanted. So, he was gone, and Jim had a life to lead.
Suddenly he smiled. God, what a sap. It wasn't as if he wouldn't see Blair every goddamn day, the man was his partner. And poker night, and fishing weekends, and....and....empty nights when there was *no* poker game, and Sunday nights, just the two of them, making chili, or stew, he swiped a hand across his face, sighed deeply, and finished off his beer.
It was rough being in love with your partner.
(*) (*) (*) (*)
Blair sat crosslegged on his bed. In the background, babies cried, men yelled expletives, sirens blared, car doors slammed and the bar across the street, with it's neon sign, blinked red and white into his room.
So. Thirty years old, and this was his home. Temporarily anyway. Until he had the time to really look around, find the right place.
God, he hated this feeling of being lost. He'd had it most of his life and he was sick of it. Sick of it. Sick, sick, sick.......
He looked around him, spotted the heavy red and black afghan, got up, and hammered it to the wall above the lone window.
There. That was better.
How far was Monday? He looked at his watch. It was nine pm - Saturday.
Thirty five hours.
Just thirty five hours.
Captain Simon Banks sat back in his chair and allowed a satisfied, "aah" to escape his lips. The paperwork in front of him told him in explicit Blairspeak, just exactly how the team of Ellison and Sandburg had closed the Heller case and incidentally, brought down a crime czar by the name of Malchiano. Simon reached into his pocket and pulled out a single cigar holder, popped the lid and pulled out the gem hidden inside. He brought the rare Troya Clasico to his nose, rolled it between his fingers and sniffed long and deep. He had no intention of smoking this baby, it was reserved for a very special occasion, but carrying it around, holding it every now and then, that gave him pleasure.
Life was good.
And with the team of Ellison and Sandburg, life was *very* good.
He put the cigar back into it's special holder and smiled down at the report. He picked up a stamp and with a, "Take *that*, Commissioner Reynolds", he stamped the report, *For your review* and placed the Commissioner's copy into an envelope and slipped it into his out basket.
Simon could admit it now.....he'd been worried about Sandburg. Worried that the younger man might not make it. Too - soft. No, that was unfair. Sandburg had a cord of tempered steel running through him. Too - caring.
Too passionate, too - idealistic. And idealistic was incorrect as well. Well, whatever the characteristic, Banks had been very afraid that it would prevent Sandburg from becoming the kind of partner Jim Ellison needed. And he'd been wrong. Four months had shown him that. Sandburg was a good cop.
A rap on the door interrupted his thoughts and he barked out a, "Come."
The door slid open and Blair Sandburg stuck his head inside saying, "Sir? I just wanted to give this to you before you went home." Simon cranked his head, indicating Sandburg should come in, rather than hover, so Blair stepped in and placed the Change of Address copy on his boss's desk.
Blair turned and started out, but Simon's voice halted him mid-step.
"Good report. The Heller case." His head was still bent, his voice casual and Blair recognized it, knew that a response wasn't required. He reached for the door, when, "What - is - this?", stopped him.
He turned and said quietly, "Change of Address form, sir. I think."
Simon lifted his head and finally looked at his newest detective. "Yes, Sandburg, I realize that...just what exactly does it mean?"
"Um, that I moved? That I had a change of address?"
"I asked for that. Now. In plain english. Is everything all right?"
"Yes. Just - time."
Simon could feel the unease as it crept into his stomach. He didn't like this. Not one bit.
"I see." He glanced back down and noted in surprise, the address. His head shot back up, eyebrows heavenward. "Muriel? MURIEL?"
"Muriel. Nice street. Active, interesting."
"Should raise your arrest rate considerably," Simon added dryly.
"Oh, they know a cop lives there now, sir."
"Yes. Well then."
"Yes, sir." Sandburg walked out.
Simon watched him leave, the unease growing steadily. He shook his head and realized that y2k had just struck.
(*) (*) (*) (*)
Three weeks later:
"Lunch at Moreno's, Jim?"
Ellison glanced up at his partner, who'd just returned from Forensics. "Uh, Curtis and I are heading over to Packard's. Care to join us?" The offer was sincere, but Blair shook his head, "Nah, you two enjoy. I'll grab a sandwich."
"You sure, Chief?"
"Yep. When are you heading out?"
"As soon as he arrives."
Blair sat down at his desk and opened the file he'd just retrieved from Serena in Forensics and started to read. The reading was for show, not substance, it was one of his jobs. Check out the forensic's report, before ignoring it in favor of the human crime lab sitting across from him.
"Hey, Jim, man. You ready?"
Sandburg lifted his head just enough to see the man standing in front of Jim's desk. Curtis Browning. Ex-Ranger, now owner of a hightech security firm. His stomach lurched the way it always did when this man was around. Curtis Browning was as tall as Jim, but broader, with heavier muscles. His close cropped blonde hair was just beginning to show some silver and his brown eyes were currently gazing at Jim with an all too familiar expression - lust.
Sandburg smiled warmly at the man and received his usual *barely* there flicker of disinterest. Oh, yeah, there went that lurch again. Like Blair Sandburg needed to be reminded of all that he wasn't? Not hardly.
"Up and at 'em, Jimmy boy, there's a steak with your name on it waiting patiently at Packards."
Ellison smiled tightly, Blair hoped, stood, pulled on his jacket and addressed his partner, "You sure you won't join us, Chief?" But before Blair could answer, Curtis said, "Why do I not think that a plate of blood rare meat is his favorite lunchtime delight?"
"Probably because Hairboy here, prefers things like sprouts and other non-arteryclogging foods", the words came from Detective Brian Rafe, who'd just come in and was standing behind Curtis.
Browning arched an eyebrow and repeated, "Hairboy?" Rafe slapped him on the back and said, "Our *little*nickname for him. Beats curlytop." The two men laughed as Jim stole a quick glance at Blair, who had leaned back in his seat, a sly grin on his face.
"Fuck you, Rafe. And how *does* a Detective, second grade, afford *silk* ties? Inquiring minds want to know."
Jim licked his index finger and drew an imaginary *one* in the air and said, "Sandburg, 1 - Rafe, 0."
"But who's keeping score?", Blair chuckled.
Rafe flipped Sandburg the bird and huffed off to his own desk, where his partner, Henri Brown, swatted his head with a manilla folder as he gave Sandburg the thumbs up sign. Blair smiled back and when he turned to Jim, he found him already heading to the elevator. His smile faded.
And hour later, he got up, stretched and made his way to the lounge. He checked out the food machines, winced at the turkey on rye, gave a slight *maybe* to the soup, and scrunched his face at the decidedly *green* eggsalad. He went back to the soup.
He sat down, the tepid can of minestrone in front of him, and gazed at the greasy film covering the liguid. Life sucked. Big time. He didn't *know* but he *knew* that Jim and Curtis Browning were more than friends. He was pretty certain they were.....doing it. Jeesh, how crude. Okay, that they were - fucking. How's that? Better. And they were undoubtedly doing it at the loft, upstairs, in *his* bed. Well, okay, in *Jim's* bed, but he'd thought of it as his. Jerk that he was.
Best laid plans of mice and Blair Sandburgs.
God, he felt - shitty. Three weeks. And they'd done nothing together in that time. Except one poker night at Simon's. And Curtis won. Fuck. Like, who'd invited him anyway?
Blair saw Jim at work. Period. No phone calls, no movies, no games, hell, he hadn't even been to his new place. Okay, maybe that was a good thing.
Two detectives came into the lounge, nodded at Blair, who nodded back and then resumed his greasy observations.
As Blair *didn't* eat, he was unaware of some important changes in *him* in the last three weeks. He was completely oblivious to the fact that he'd retreated into himself, that he'd taken up the persona of the sixteen year old who'd first come to Cascade. The sixteen year old who kept people at arms length, the better to protect himself. And the twenty year old who'd become adept at hiding who he was, and letting people concentrate on themselves. Or the twenty-four year old, on the fast track to success, but who no one could have told anyone else about.
Blair got up, dumped the soup and went back to work.
(*) (*) (*) (*)
"Well, we did good partner."
"Yeah, Jim, we did."
"You heading over to Clancy's? Beer and pool with guys?"
"I don't know. You?"
"Okay, then. See you tomorrow."
"Right. Same bat time - same bat channel."
"Oooh, that's bad, Jim. And you're showing your age."
"Not hardly. Reruns, Chief, reruns."
The two men got into jackets, turned off computers, closed drawers and walked over to the elevator.
As the doors closed, Jim asked, "So, how's the new place?"
"Shaping up, Jim, shaping up."
"Good, good. Comfortable?"
They stepped out of the elevator and walked toward their respective vehicles.
"The Volvo running all right?"
"Great, Jim, just great."
They stopped at the back of the two cars, parked side by side. Jim looked at Blair. Blair looked at Jim.
"Well, see you tomorrow."
"Yeah, tomorrow. Have a good time with Curtis tonight."
"Sure. Hey, you been losing weight?"
"Don't think so."
"Yeah, yeah, you have. What, five, six pounds?"
Blair made a face Jim hadn't seen in too long....his "Jeesh, I hate smart ass Sentinels" look. "There is no way you can tell that."
"Yes, I can. And you should beef up. You're too thin."
"Right, beef up. Tonight. Immediately, oh, great Ellison."
"Fuck you, Sandburg."
They smiled. It was a selfconscious smile, not like their old smiles.....then, "I....", Jim stumbled out.
"Nothing. See you tomorrow."
They waved, got into their cars and pulled out. At the exit to the garage, Jim turned left, and Blair turned right.
(*) (*) (*) (*)
It was dark by the time Blair pulled up along his block, and after finding a parking space, he headed home.
"Jolie, how's things tonight?"
"Slow, baby, slow."
Blair smiled at the tall woman standing a few feet from the entrance to his building. She was tall, at least 6'3, wearing a stunning little black sheath, her hair pinned back into a fashionable bun. Her makeup was tasteful, and the overall effect was one of beauty and polish. She was a he. And he was a hooker.
"Uh, Jolie?" And Blair beckoned her over. Her face lit up as she strutted to his side.
"Don't tell me, you're finally gonna take me up on my generous offer?"
"Not exactly. Do me a favor?"
Jolie leaned down, her face inches from the beauty below her and drawled, "Honey, for you, anything."
"Move your business about two blocks - that way," and he pointed to his left.
"Now sweetie, why would I want to do that? This corner is hot."
Blair leaned in, opened his jacket and pointed.
Jolie's midnight blue eyes widened, and her perfectly red lips rounded.
"Oh.....dear. Yes, I see."
"I'd hate to arrest you, Jolie. You're one of my favorites. But duty is duty."
"Your wish is my command. How would you feel if I sent that prick Godiva down to this corner?"
"Why, I'd have to arrest her, if she made a move."
"Good. I'm so generous. About to give my best corner to that bitch. Now, why don't you let me give you the night of your life? I'll take you on a ride you won't soon forget, baby."
"You're out of my league, Jolie. And I could never afford you."
"Oh, baby, for you.....no charge. On the house. For that matter, on the couch, the floor, the table, the sink, the fridge...."
"I get the picture. And thanks."
"But no thanks?"
He shrugged helplessly and grinned his most charming.
"You charmer, you. You don't know what you're missing, Blair."
"I'm sure I don't. Catch you later."
"No, that would be Godiva."
Blair smiled and moved up the stoop to the front door. As he walked up the five flights to his apartment, he kept an eye open for Jersey, the marmalade cat that had suddenly, two weeks ago, adopted him. He felt foolish calling the cats name, but on the third floor, he started doing exactly that.
"Jersey? Yo, Jersey?" As he rounded the corner and started up the fourth floor, a quiet meow greeted him.
"Hey, there you are. Busy day? Got some tuna here for you. Think you might share?"
He bent down and scooped up the cat, who immediately started purring.
Gee, he had a great apartment, a cat, his own prostitutes, what more could a man want?
Four Days Later:
Blair inched cautiously and silently toward the open door and could hear the man screaming for the cops to back off. He gave a quick scan to his left and spotted Jim, moving down the opposite hall, gun held up and to his side. Simon was on Blair's right, with Taggert. Four men, creeping up on one crazed husband, holding an entire office hostage. And outside, the police waited.
The building they were currently creeping around in had been built strangely, with huge picture windows on all four corners, and instead of floor to ceiling walls, the interior was split up by six foot high modular dividers. The overall effect was one of visibility, and trust. Perfect for a schmaltzy loan company and perfect for the four cops doing the creeping.
Blair moved closer, losing Jim in the process, and at the exact same moment, the man, Tom Jenkins, stepped into Blair's line of sight. No hostages near him, a good target. And for a split second - Blair froze.
So much could have happened, in the bit of stalled time, but all that did, was that Jenkins turned and spotted Sandburg. His face showed his incredulity, his gun hand rose and Blair moved. He took his low stance, gun held out in front of him and yelled, "FREEZE, CASCADE PD. DROP YOUR WEAPON NOW!"
His voice was strong, firm and Jenkins frowned, the internal struggle clearly visible. But just as it appeared that he'd chosen to fight, Jim stepped in next to him, his gun levelled on the man's head. Jenkins raised his arms, gun dangling from a fingertip.
"Drop the weapon now," Blair repeated.
The gun hit the ground.
More commands were given and Jenkins hit the floor, hands behind his head. Jim, who was closer, moved in and cuffed him.
Blair sighed, holstered his weapon, but before joining the others, he saw a flash of blue to his right, glanced over and met Simon Bank's glare.
(*) (*) (*)
The day ended quietly, with Jenkin's arrest and the muted sobbing of his wife. Reports were written and filed, and concerned looks were flying between Ellison and Taggert as they watched Blair typing up his report.
Blair had said little since the arrest, not joining in on the jocularity that always followed a hostage situation that ends well. Of course, his silence wasn't exactly new, but still......
"Hey, Sandburg, some of us are going to Clancy's, relax a little, lift a few, you know. You coming?"
Blair smiled at Taggert but shook his head, "No, don't think so, Joel.
And isn't it Poker night?"
Joel stole a glance at Jim, then, "Uh, no, no game tonight. We kinda - cancelled it."
"Well, yeah. You couldn't make it last week, and then a couple of guys pulled out this week, so it kinda - got postponed."
"Oh, I see." Which he didn't. Even with his not going, there was still Curtis Browning. Which was why Blair had stopped going. Nobody ever accused Blair Sandburg of being a gracious loser, or a masochist.
"Aw, come on, Blair, join us?"
"Thanks, Joel, but I really do have plans."
"Oh, well then, alright. Understood. See you Monday morning, then."
Blair grinned and said, "Not if I win the lottery, then it's *Hellooo, Paris*."
Both laughed and high-fived, and Joel was gone.
"You should go, Chief," Jim said softly.
"Can't," Blair said, as he went back to his computer. Then he added, "Have fun at the game tonight, and no terrorists or murders, okay?"
Jim responded to the back of Blair's head, "Gotcha, no terrorists, no murders." But he continued to stare at his friend, his throat constricting, his jaw tensing.
"You're gonna be late, Ellison."
"Yeah, late. See ya Monday, Chief."
(*) (*) (*) (*)
Banks checked out the bullpen and found it almost empty, with only Sandburg still working. He rose, went to his door, and called out quietly, "Sandburg."
Blair stood, wiped suddenly sweaty hands on his jeans and walked into Simon's office.
"Have a seat, Blair." He didn't miss the look of astonishment that crossed Sandburg's face.
"Don't be so surprised, I *do* know your first name."
"Everyone does, sir. They just don't use it."
Blair sat down, completely at odds on how this was going to go down.
Simon took the chair that Jim usually occupied, and said, "As a Captain, it's not unusual for me to have a heart to heart with one of my people. Looks like it's your turn. What happened today?"
Blair didn't try to bluff, they both knew exactly to what Simon referred. "Nothing that will ever happen again, sir."
Not the answer he was expecting, or wanted. He decided to try another tact.
"When did all this *Sir* crap start?"
"When I started working for you....and getting paid, *Sir*."
Simon sat back, smiling slightly and said, "Well, thank god the lack of respect still exists." He then leaned forward again and said,"I'm the Captain, Blair and I need to know more than your assurances that *nothing* will happen again. You froze out there today, and next time, somebody could die."
"It won't happen again."
"I need more, Sandburg, I need *why*."
"You wouldn't.....", he paused and let out a long breath, "Why isn't important, because the why doesn't exist."
Simon hated these talks anyway, but with Sandburg, he'd known it would be difficult. He and Blair lived on two different planets and he just knew that tickets weren't readily available for travel to Sandburg's world. He settled on observing the young man for a moment, weighing his words, and thinking about his options.
As he stared, the air seemed to waver, and it was as if he were looking through a windshield during a rainstorm.....wet, messy, blurry, but with crystal clear moments of sight when the wipers hit that perfect spot.....and that was how he now saw Blair...wet, messy, blurry, like always, but there were suddenly these flashes of clarity, and in those moments, he glimpsed a man suddenly too thin, too pale, his eyes full of sadness.....an infinite sadness, weighing him down, revealing a vulnerable boy. And Simon couldn't retreat now, because he *had* seen, was *still* seeing, and he didn't want to retreat, but rather, wanted to hold him, the way he still wanted to hold Daryl, but couldn't, because men didn't do that, so instead, with all the care at his command, he said, "Try me, Blair. I might understand, I might surprise you."
Their eyes met, and Blair saw the challenge, but chose to give Simon some hard truths instead.
"You've been watching me for months. You and Jim, waiting for me to crack or fail. That isn't what happened. I'm a cop now, I like it, I want it. But today, for just a moment, my own worries took center stage and I froze. I caught myself wondering why I *was* there, not because I didn't want to be, but because maybe - you, Jim, the others, didn't. But then I shrugged it off, because in the long run, I *am* there - here, and while I may not be your choice for this department, and Jim and I may not be....," he paused again, to control his voice, then, "But I am a cop, and I am his partner."
Simon couldn't have been more surprised if a table had suddenly taken up speech.
"You do have my assurance that it won't happen again, Simon. May I go?"
The easy thing would have been to say - yes.
"No. What makes you think you wouldn't be my choice?"
"Oh, please, Simon. If I hadn't been forced down your throat, because of Jim's senses, you and I both know you would never have taken me into Major Crime."
"You're probably right, and I'd have been wrong. Hell, I didn't *want* Ellison eleven years ago. He was loose cannon. But now - now I have the best team in the state."
"Simon, I have a shield now because of Jim's guilt over what he perceives as my loss because of the press conference. You know it, and I know it."
Simon stood, his ire escalating to smoldering anger, "Do you really believe I'd have someone, anyone, in this department because of guilt? Maybe you'd better examine your own, because that's why Jim thinks you're here."
Blair blanched and slowly rose to *his* feet. "I live with my guilt everyday, Simon. Everytime I see you wince when you move too fast or bend to pick something up without thinking first, and everytime Connor absently rubs her shoulder or predicts rain, or uses that rubber ball of hers. You think I don't know that I'm directly responsible for what happened to you two? I *know*, Simon, believe me, I know."
"I was an observer of human nature, past and present, of human cultures and I should have known I was dealing with a runaway train, but I ignored what I know, choosing faith instead. And you nearly died, because if I had stopped it, if I had anticipated, recognized human foibles, it would have been stopped and Jim would have caught Zoeller at the trap we set. So yes, I have guilt. And I'll carry it the rest of my days. I'll see you two lying in your own blood for as long as I live. But what I won't do, is freeze again. I can do the job, it's who I am now." Blair's voice had been alarmingly low, his words terse, hands clenched, but as he finished, his head dropped, eyes going to the floor.
"May I go now?"
Simon was stunned, frozen himself and the whispered query could only force out an equally quiet, "yes."
Blair walked out, face drained of all possible color, holding everything inside as he sat down and finished his work, then turned off the computer and walked out to the elevator, completely unaware that he'd left Simon sitting in the middle of his office, unmoving.
(*) (*) (*) (*)
His street was oddly quiet as Blair turned off of Prescott. The sudden cold snap had sent everyone scurrying indoors to conduct their street business.
As he made his way up to his room, his name was repeatedly called out and he waved, and smiled, and inquired after husbands, wives, children etc. As he neared the fifth floor landing, an old voice piped down at him, "I found Jersey, Blair, in the trash bin, again. I rescued him."
Blair looked up at the wizened face of Tom Evans, his neighbor, and said, "Thanks Tom. How's Marti?"
He hit the landing just as Jersey made his leap for freedom and trotted down the hall to wait patiently in front of Blair's door.
"She's fine, thanks to you. That humififier did the trick."
Blair fished for his keys as he nodded, "Good, Tom, good." He opened the door and watched, smiling, as the cat leaped for the bed in one smooth move.
"Let me know if you need anything else. I'll stop by later, okay?"
"Sure, Blair. Night."
Sandburg closed his door, shucked his jacket and shoes, dropping the coat on the recliner he'd just bought, then went into the bathroom.
Twenty minutes later, wearing white cotton drawstring pants and his blue undershirt, he padded out, and while drying his hair, fed Jersey, who was twining around his legs like a snake.
He plopped down on his bed, plucked up the remote and began his nightly ritual of channel surfing. When he hit the History Channel and their special on Jungle warfare, he stopped in interest.
Jersey finished his meal, leaped effortlessly onto Blair's lap and as the cat began *his* nightly ritual of cleaning and as the eerie light from the television screen flickered across Blair's face, he began to rub Jersey's head.
(*) (*) (*)
Blair was lucky. With his lone window propped up by a small piece of wood, the smoke didn't have the chance to kill him. As his eyes opened, as the coughing started, he became aware of the yells, the screams and thundering sounds of panicked feet running in the hall. He bolted up, looked frantically for the cat, realized he'd already left by the window, and bounded out of bed, stepped into his loafers and threw open the door.
The hall was filled with escaping people and heavy smoke, and down at the end of the hall he could now see the flames, licking their way toward him. He ran toward them, stopping at the door of #514, where he started to pound.
"Evans! Tom, Open up!" When nothing happened, he put his shoulder to the old door and with two good shoves, broke it open.
Tom was trying to drag his wife across the floor when Blair fell in, and he quickly made his way to the bathroom, grabbing two towels, wetting them down in the shower, then hurrying back to Tom. He put one towel in his hand and told him to hold it to his face, as he draped the other one over the prone woman. He hefted her over his shoulder and pushing Tom ahead, they attempted their escape.
"Man, it's freezing, and the cold obviously hampered the Jags. They sucked, big time."
Why did Jim have such trouble accepting the phrase, "sucked big time" from Curtis? When he'd always looked forward to hearing it from Blair? Was it Curtis' age? His size? Or maybe it was because when Blair said it, the object of his derision usually *did* suck big time? And the Jags had played fairly well tonight? For that matter, why did Jim accept *anything* from Curtis?
Because - he was - lonely.
"Earth to Jim, you here?"
"Sorry, and yeah, I'm here."
"You could have fooled me. You've been AWOL all evening. And don't forget, you drop me off at the Hirasaka Building. A CEO's job is never done."
"I remember. And sorry, just a lot on my mind."
"You should come to work for me. You're wasted at Major Crime. We'd be a great team, Jimbo, just like the old days. And turn here."
Jim automatically swung the truck in the indicated direction, knowing full well where to turn, but allowing Curtis his bit of control. They were moving easily now, with no Stadium traffic and Jim found himself thinking again that the last month had been a huge mistake. He made love to Curtis, wanting only Blair. He kissed a massive, smooth chest, wanting only the feel of a leaner, fur covered chest and his fingers raked through short, blonde bristles when they cried out for long, tangly curls.
Everyday, the words were on his lips, "Come Home." And everyday, they went unspoken.
"JIM! STOP HERE!"
Ellison again automatically turned the wheel and pulled up in front of the huge building that housed Browning's security offices.
"The Jags didn't play that bad, man."
Curtis had jumped out and now stood, door in hand, watching Jim.
"No, they didn't."
"I'll see you in a couple of hours, but don't wait up, alright?"
Jim smiled his agreement, watched as Curtis jogged to the lobby door and let himself in. Jim checked his left mirror and pulled out into traffic.
As he drove down Fremont, he glanced quickly down Russell and saw the orange sky to his right.
He focused.....and knew.
He pulled a u-turn and headed for Blair.
(*) (*) (*) (*)