One is a Lonely Number

by alyjude



4:30pm - Christmas Eve


Okay, time to start counting my blessings.....

1) I'm *not* cold or wet

2) I can't feel a thing

3) People know I'm down here

4) Jim doesn't

5) The lady and the dog are A-OK


So how bad could things really be? Well, now that you've asked.......

They may not be able to get me out before the other half of the house caves in.....and I could have a broken back, and I hate small confined spaces, and this definitely fits that description.....and I can't see a blasted thing, but that could be a blessing, and let's not forget it's Christmas Eve, but I was going to be alone anyway, so I'm still alone, stuck in mud, which I can't feel, with half a house on top of me. Of course, there's no one to talk to, but me, which could also be a good thing, cuz there's no one to say, "Shut up, Sandburg".........

"shut up, sandburg," he whispered softly into the dark.

A rumbling sound sent more dirt and mud down on the trapped man, who scrunched his eyes shut, trying to keep the dirt out. He couldn't move his hands, to shield his face, but he could just barely turn his head, keeping as much of the dirt out of his nostrils as possible. A moment later - quiet.

He carefully reopened his eyes, hoping to see light from above him, but saw - nothing. Just the darkness he was getting used to.

"Well, Stan, this is another fine mess you've gotten me into.....".




December 22, 1999


Jim Ellison climbed out of the truck, reached over, grabbed up the brown bags, shut and locked the door and started for his home. As he approached the lobby, he glanced up and noted that Sandburg had turned on all the Christmas lights, and he allowed a small smile. Dusk was rapidly turning into night, and a sharp, cold wind was coming off the bay, but as he gazed at the lights adorning the balcony, he could already feel the welcoming warmth of the loft. He could already smell home, the spicy, sweet smell, and he knew how it would feel - warm and safe, especially once a certain pair of arms wrapped around him.......

His steps quickened as he hurried inside, eager to be home....

As he rode up the elevator, he opened his hearing, hoping to listen in on some Blairtalk. He'd found that he thoroughly enjoyed *listening* in on Blair's conversations with himself. He'd never done this Sentinel Eavesdropping before, but since becoming lovers this last August, while on a case at Lake Chelan, he'd found out what a trip Blair's little *talks* could be....So far he'd found out what Blair thought of Connor's newest boyfriend, "Yuck!" and about Blair's feelings on the latest news from Hawaii, "Oh, man, this sucks! But isn't that what you get from fearbased decisions made by ignorant people?" and of particular interest, Blair's feelings on the merits of the male form, as represented by one James Joseph Ellison. It appeared that Blair really loved his arms and hands and that no one was more surprised than Blair, who'd always thought he'd be concentrating on an area a bit lower.....

Jim was grinning broadly now as he stepped out of the elevator. But his grin changed as the sounds that came from behind the door to #307 were most definitely *not* Christmas sounds.

Instead of "The Sounds of Christmas" he was hearing "Smooth" by Santana.

*And* voices. As in more than Blair's.

"....I'm never going to get this. Where does this hand go again?"

Now Jim could hear Blair......

"Down here, right on my hip, that's, lower...."

"Got it! How close?"

"Closer, Joel. That's it, now slide your leg....yes, right in there, perfect! Now we're in perfect position."

Okay, thought Jim, that's it! He fumbled with his key, dropping the bags in the process, and finally got key in door, shoulder to door and door shoved open.....and stumbled in.

The picture that greeted him was almost worse than he'd imagined.....

Joel Taggert, his old and trusted friend, had one arm around the waist of one Blair Sandburg, Jim's current and forever sextoy. Joel's right hand was gripping the hip that belonged to *Jim*, while Joel's left hand was holding the hand that belonged to *Jim*, and the two men were standing so close together, not even Sentinel sight could distinguish between them!

"Now," Blair said, "Can you feel the beat?" And using his hips, he moved Joel's body slightly, waiting for the big man to move with the music.

"Yeah, man. That's it, you've got it, just like that.....okay, now you want to guide my steps backward....."

Shit, and fuck. Blair was teaching Joel how to dance. Blood vessels dilated, lungs expanded, blood pressure dropped to normal.......

Jim Ellison gave a small sigh of relief, then leaned back to enjoy the show. After all, it was dancing that had brought them together.....and even after four months, Jim couldn't get enough of those hips......and *those* hips moving to Santana? Oh, yeah, definitely beat hot apple cider and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"....

Jim relaxed and if the vision before him was somewhat odd, what with big, gentle Joel Taggert holding the shorter, slender, pale Blair Sandburg in his arms......At that moment, Joel took Blair's fingers and lightly twirled the younger man, both of them laughing now, and the movement brought them both around, facing the front door, and Jim.

"Hey, Jim. Joel's looking pretty good, huh?"

"Oh, yeah, real good, Chief. The hard core criminals are gonna quake in their boots at this new restraining technique."

"That's what Joel and I thought."

Blair unwound himself from Joel's arms, shut off the stereo, then plopped down on the couch with a little, "whew".

"Man, a policeman's life is never done, right Joel?"

"Amen. And thanks Blair. I think I can handle it now."

Jim slipped out of his jacket and as he hung it up, he asked, "Okay, what's really going on behind this Astaire and Rogers act? And yes, *Hair*boy, you're Rogers."

"....Astaire, Jim. I'm definitely Astaire."

Joel found himself smiling, as he enjoyed the famous Ellison~Sandburg patter. It seemed to have been missing for the last couple of months, but it was certainly in good form today.

"Uh, Blair? Maybe I should put Jim out of his misery?...." Blair interrupted with an added, "Oh, let's," but Joel ignored him as he finished, "And tell him what's going on....".

"Dammit, Joel, I wasn't going to tell Jim about the two of us until after the holidays."

Taggert shot Blair a dirty look, somewhat diluted by obvious affection, and said, "Like he'd believe *us*? With that new woman in Accounting breathing down your neck?" Joel turned to Jim, rolled his eyes and explained, "See, I've been seeing, well, I'm dating...".

"....Karen Phillips," Blair assisted.

"um, yes, Karen Phillips. And I'm, I've invited her to the party....."

"...your dad is throwing for Major Crimes....," Blair cut in again.

"And I don't know how to, um, er, you know...."

"Dance?" Jim offered, beating out Sandburg by a milisecond.

"Dance. So Blair's been teaching me."

"And Joel, you are *so* ready. You're gonna sweep her off her feet, trust me."

Joel grinned happily, then checked his watch.

"Oh, man, I'm late. I'm supposed to pick up Simon, take him shopping for Kisha's Christmas present." He was still talking, thanking Blair as he grabbed his jacket, plucked up his keys and said his good-bye's.

As the door closed behind Taggert, Jim shook his head in amusement and plopped down beside Blair. He picked up Blair's legs, shoved off the younger man's shoes and began to massage dance tired feet.

"Man, I love Sentinel fingers. You do realize we could make a fortune if we went into the massage business?" Blair purred.

Jim chuckled, concentrating on working the ball of Blair's right foot. "Why do I think you could make a fortune ten times over with these senses of mine?"

He missed the quick frown that crossed Sandburg's features and the sudden stiffness. Slowly Blair moved his legs away from Jim, who looked up in surprise. Sandburg stood and made a show of stretching....

"How about some clam chowder and corn bread for dinner? I've got all the fixin's."

"Oh Shit!" Jim threw himself up and rushed the door, "I forgot our dinner. I brought Chinese." He threw open the door and retrieved the fallen food.

"Still in one piece, but cold, Chief."

"Hey, no problem, we can heat it up." Blair took the bags into the kitchen and fifteen minutes later they sat down to warmed up Moo Goo Gai Pan and Egg Rolls.

As Blair dipped an egg roll, he asked, "Pretty nice of your dad to arrange the New Year's Eve party for the gang, eh?"

"mmm", was the best Jim could say, what with a mouthfull of food.

"I mean, basically, citizens say thank you when the police save the day, they don't generally throw parties."


"I suppose they *could* throw parties, but they don't."


"So when they do, I would suspect other reasons......"

Jim stopped chewing, swallowed and stared. Blair seemed to be busy swirling sweet and sour sauce with his eggroll.

"Other reasons? Such as?"

Blair looked up innocently and said, "Oh, like maybe they'd want to send a message, like, a relative, maybe....."

"Like....a son?"

"Like a son."

"And that message would be?"

"Oh, I don't know....I'm just guessing here..."

"Umph," Jim snorted loudly, but Blair went on as if he hadn't heard the snort of derision, "But maybe a father was trying to say how proud he was of his sorry he might be, and that he....loved him, maybe."

When Jim didn't respond, Blair shrugged and repeated, "maybe."

Jim shook his head sadly, "You know, Chief, any connection between your reality and the world's is purely coincidental."

Blair looked at his Sentinel, a certain sadness behind the gaze and shrugged again, "I'm just saying...maybe. I think you're dad wants to move a bit faster.....with you. He loves you, Jim. And he's trying to make it better. That's all I'm saying." He got up and took his plate into the kitchen, followed by Jim, who'd cleared away the rest of the food and repackaged it.

"Sandburg, I sometimes wonder about you. Dad is grateful. We saved his company and he's - well, grateful."

"And proud. Of you. So, the party. Accept it, Jim. Your dad loves you and wants to move faster at the reconcilliation." Blair emptied the trash under the sink, as Jim turned on the water and rinsed the dishes before putting them into the dishwasher. "Maybe. You could be - right. But maybe he's just indulging in some good PR."

Blair shook his head at the stupidity of his partner. "Man, you are so.....", but he didn't finish, the ringing phone interrupting his words. Jim wiped his hands and picked up the phone.


Blair finished up in the kitchen, but some of Jim's words caught his attention.

"Look, Dad, yes, I know......but, okay, let me get back to you....he is? Well, I'll call you back, okay? No, no, I'll, think about it....yes, I know, just let me - call you back. Right. Bye."

The phone was replaced, but Jim stayed by the small table, gazing down at the machine as if it were alive.

"Jim?" Blair walked up behind the larger man, but didn't put his arms around him, the way he wanted to, choosing instead to rest one hand on Jim's back.

"Jim? Is everything all right?"

"Yes. That was Dad. He wants me to spend Christmas with him and Steven, at the house."

Jim still hadn't turned, hadn't removed his eyes from the phone.

"But that's great, Jim. Just what you guys need."

Sandburg's words penetrated Jim's haze and he whirled around. "Blair, it's, I're not serious?"

Blair knew what Jim *wasn't* saying. In the four months since becoming lovers, they'd not confided in anyone.. As it had happened, Simon, Rafe and Kisha had all missed Jim's little *walk* and subsequent *tongue* dancing with Blair at Karen Phillips resort, and the rest of the weekend they'd been very discreet. Upon their return to Cascade, Blair had been subjected to a lengthy speech by Jim on why they needed to keep their new relationship a secret. And he'd understood. And now, Jim was being asked by his father to spend Christmas with him. Which would mean no Blair. You don't bring your work partner to your family for Christmas, especially when William Ellison had still not forgiven Blair for the dissertation fiasco.

Now Blair looked up into the worried blue eyes of the man he loved more than his own life, and nodded, "Yes, Jim, I'm serious. This is important to you and your dad. It's been slow go rebuilding your relationship....."

"Chief, you know I haven't told him about us."

Blair took a step back, needing the distance for courage. "Yes, Jim, I know. And I know how he feels about me, period. Since," his hand waved aimlessly about, "well, since you know....and that's okay, you wouldn't bring your partner with you anyway," Blair's words were flying over each other now, as he tried to make himself understood, "and Naomi will probably arrive sometime on the 24th, and heck, Jim, we'll have plenty of Christmases together, but you've got this one chance with your dad, and you need this...."

Jim smiled and held up his hands in surrender, "Okay, motormouth, I get it....".

"So, you'll go?" Blair managed to put every ounce of sincerity he owned into the question.

"If you're sure?"

"Like I said, Naomi will arrive and we'll have," he paused slightly, then rushed on, "some needed time, so yes, I'm sure."

"You didn't tell me Naomi was coming, Chief."

Blair glanced up innocently, "Didn't I? Must have slipped my mind. But you tend to have selective hearing when my mother's name comes up....."

Ellison's eyebrow arched quizzically, but Blair just scooted past and held up the phone.

"Call him back, Jim."

Jim took the phone and with a "umph", dialed his father.




5:15pm - Christmas Eve

Water had started to seep in, under the mud, and blessing number one was now history.

Blair Sandburg was now officially cold and wet.

He'd managed to free one hand, and it was now absently digging into the squishy mud. Blair had begun to hear noises from above, like machinery, maybe? And hoped that meant imminient rescue.

As fingers pressed the mud, he thought back through the last four months and marveled at how difficult it had been for him to *not* tell anyone about he and Jim. He'd wanted badly, and not telling anyone had become like a denial of *them*, and he'd already dealt with one denial, at the press conference all those months to deny their relationship, well, it had been a strain. Actions he'd want to take, he'd had to stifle. Words, touches, all - stifled. Even at home, unless they were upstairs in bed, he'd had to curtail his natural touchy-feely self.

Blair sighed into the darkness, and thought about all the gentle touches he'd held back, so afraid that if he gave in at home, he'd crack at work and embarrass Jim.

But now, he'd come to realize it was for the best. Because in the last several weeks, he'd realized that Jim was not *in love* with Blair. In four months, Jim had not said it. Because Jim had never lied to Blair.

Blair felt the mud sucking him down, getting squishier as the water from above soaked through. He idly contemplated how much time he had, and was again grateful that Jim was at his father's.

The noise was getting closer, but the mud was rising, and it would appear that there was a competition going......rescue or mud?

Blair decided to sing.......

"i'll be home for christmas, you can plan on me......", and Blair wondered why he could feel moisture on his cheeks.


December 22, 1999


Jim waited for the connection and as it started to ring on the other end, he gave his partner one of his patented, "Why do I listen to you" looks. Blair ignored him and went about tidying up.

"Dad? Yeah, it's me. It looks like we're a go....what? On the twenty-third? At the country club?" Jim caught Blair's look, which clearly said, "yes, you big doofus", and answered his father with a, "Well, okay, yeah, that'll work. So I'll meet you and Steven at about five thirty tomorrow night. No, no problem getting off a bit early....provided the criminals play fair. Right, dad," and Jim chuckled. Then at William Ellison's next words, Jim turned away a bit, so that he wasn't facing Blair and said, "No, dad. Yes, I'm sure.....Sandburg has -, I understand.....yes, see you then. Bye."

Blair continued to wipe down, his hand movement barely stalling at the words, at their obvious meaning. And he couldn't really blame William Ellison. Blair rather suspected that Jim hadn't entirely forgiven him either. It had been a close call, after all. He was so intent on his thoughts that he didn't realize Jim had come up behind him until the older man took the cloth from his hand.

"This one spot is clean, Chief. Trust me. And if your goal is China?

There are much easier ways."

"Oh, yeah, sorry. So, want to get the tree tonight? And if you think about it, Jim, we now get two Christmas', which is really cool."

"Leave it to you to figure out that you get to celebrate twice. And can the tree wait? I've a killer headache, Sandburg."

"Shit, Jim, why didn't you say something earlier? Is it your senses? Too many lights on in the loft? The Chinese food?" A hand clamped to his mouth stopped the flow. "None of the above, Chief. Just a good, old fashioned headache. Okay?"

The hand dropped down and Blair nodded, "Right. Sorry. Why don't you go upstairs, lie down, I'll dim the lights, and maybe you can get a headstart on sleep."

"Sounds good, Sandburg. Come up when you're ready."

Blair watched Jim climb the stairs, his steps heavy. He should have noticed the headache, that was his job. Damn. He quickly moved about, hitting lights, locking up, and when he was finished, he stood for a few moments, listening as Jim crawled into bed, and a moment later, as the light upstairs went out, Blair walked over to the balcony and stood, gazing out over their city.

What was that old lyric? Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it? Well, how long had he wanted Jim? And now that he had him......he didn't. And how can someone in love, feel so lonely? Love isn't supposed to feel this way, is it? Aren't you supposed to feel connected? Bonded? Two halves suddenly whole?

Blair had spent most of his life alone. But rarely lonely. New neighborhoods, new friends, new schools, new everything. He'd learned to make friends with himself, because sometimes, he was all that he'd had. But in the back of his mind, was the thought that he'd someday find that other half of himself, and he'd no longer be alone. But love didn't promise anything. And it didn't solve anything either. Blair Sandburg was still alone. Even when he was sitting right next to the man he loved.

Christmas lights colored the city, and the bay, and while the sight usually lifted Blair's spirits, tonight they only served to remind. Remind him that he'd lied to Jim. Naomi wasn't coming, hadn't even called him. Blair had not heard from his mother since she'd left that Friday after the press conference. She hadn't returned a single call, letter or email.

Upstairs, Jim tossed and turned. His headache was tightening it's hold, and the need for Blair's healing hands almost made him cry out. But he didn't. Something was wrong and Jim was too aware that the something might be him. Blair was holding back from Jim, holding back words, touches, gestures and truth. And the possible reason was more than Jim wanted to face right now.....he closed his eyes tightly, forcing those bright lights behind his lids, bit back a moan and then sighed as the bed dipped, and a cold cloth was draped over his eyes. "It's okay, Jim, I'm here.....sssh, don't say anything, just listen to my voice.....", and fingers smoothed Jim's temples, lips kissed his brow lightly, and strong arms shifted his body until he was resting against Sandburg's chest. The beating of his lover's heart lulled him......and the words warmed him, "Love you, Jim, just relax, let me you.....".

Jim slept.




5:30pm - Christmas Eve


He could feel the mud creeping up....which was ridiculous, because of course, he couldn't feel was just his imagination.

He should sing some more......

"You're all I want for Christmas......." his voice went on, remembering all the lyrics, and visualizing his stocking full of Jim....and he smiled a bit, and wished he'd hugged Jim good-bye, before he'd ushered him off to his father's.....just so that he'd have the memory of those arms around him, of that solid strength, and warmth and the safety Blair had always craved.......




December 23, 1999


The criminals of Cascade had indeed played fair. Major Crimes had busted a drug ring, convinced a wife to testify against her rapist husband, and closed two murder cases.

At three on the dot, Blair pushed Jim out the double doors and into the elevator, promising that he would complete all the paperwork, like that was unusual, and that Jim needed to hurry or he'd be late. As the elevator doors closed, Jim gave a little wave, then disappeared.

Now Blair sat, typing up the promised paperwork and knawing on his bottom lip. As he puzzled over some piece of useless information, Megan Connor walked in, gloom and doom written all over her expressive face.


"Nothing, Sandy, nothing, just ignore my poor humor.....," and she plopped down in her chair, scowled at her computer and added, "I just drew Christmas Eve duty, that's all." And she huffed a piece of hair out of her eyes and glowered at the Christmas decorations on her desk.

Blair joined her, perching on the edge, and quipped, "And that shoots a hole in your plans to seduce Santa? Or did you have a really *hot* date?"

"Date my granny's ass, my big brother comes in at noon tomorrow and flies out again at noon the day after. 24 hours, that's all we had."

Blair shrugged and announced, "I'll trade you shifts, no worries, mate," and he grinned at his near perfect imitation of their down under exchange officer. For Megan's part, she was thunderstruck and nearly fell over backward. As she righted herself, she asked, "Are you bluffing, Sandburg?"

"No. I'll trade. Be happy to do it. I'm the rookie anyway, I should pull the duty. Kinda looking forward to it, truth be told."

"But surely, you have plans? Didn't I hear that your mother was coming in?"

"She isn't. Wasn't. Just me and a tree. So, what do you say?"

In answer, she jumped up and began to thump him on the back, laughing merrily. "Oh, man, I will owe you big time, but I'll gladly pay off. My answer is YES!"




At five-thirty, Blair closed up shop, said good-night to everyone, got a hug and a kiss from Megan, to wolf whistles from the rest of the gang, and headed out.

As he drove home, he passed the Boy Scout Tree House and at the last minute, pulled in.

Twenty minutes and forty dollars later, he had a nice, green, snow dusted, seven foot Douglas Fir tied to the roof of his Volvo.

And fifteen minutes after that, he was cursing his stupidity. One five foot, seven inch man does not easily carry a seven foot tree up three flights of stairs. Because the elevator was of course, broken.

Sweating in 30 degree weather and cursing the holidays, he finally had the tree in it's place, in the far corner, and as he stepped back to admire the view, he felt foolishly proud. He spent the next half hour rounding up the decorations, unraveling tree lights, which thanks to an anal sentinel, was an almost delightful task, and sipping his own version of a tree trimmers hot toddy; Hot chocolate, Bailey's Irish Cream, and a shot of whiskey. Talk about warming the cockles of one's heart.....

It took him over two hours to decorate, but when he was done, he had a masterpiece. He quickly gathered up all the presents he'd purchased for Jim and layed them under the tree, then shut off all the lights in the loft, and hit the tree lights.

Ah, yes. Nice. Real nice.

"Sandburg, you are good. For a nice jewish boy from everywhere in the world."

Before going to bed, he actually thought about calling Jim, but remembered he'd be at the Christmas Party at the Country Club. Oh, well.

He climbed the stairs, stood gazing at the large, empty bed, stripped down, and crawled in. He turned off the light, took Jim's pillow and hugged it to his chest, buried his face in the softness, inhaled the small bit of Jim's scent, and slept.




5:45pm - Christmas Eve


The noise had ended. So had the flow of mud. Blair's hand stopped playing with the mudpies, as he cocked his head and listened.


"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.....where the tree tops glisten and children listen, to hear sleigh bells in the snow......hohohoho.....", his voice trailed off.




December 24th - 2:00pm

"Jeesh, Sandburg, did you see that guy run? I thought he was a goner."

"Nah, Joel, he was an easy mark."

Joel Taggert sat down at his desk and grinned up at his temporary partner, "Man, who knew you could throw a frisbee like that? You nailed the guy."

"I'm an old frisbee champion from way back....he never had a chance." Blair sat down and started the inevitable paperwork crusade, but the swinging of the double doors caught his attention and his face showed his surprise.

"Simon, what are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be picking up Daryl at the airport?"

The large man chomped down on his cigar as he stormed his way to his office. "Snowed in, no flights. Not coming until later in the week." His door slammed shut.

"Oooh, Santa is going to pay for that thinks, hey, Hairboy?"

"Man, he was really counting on Daryl this Christmas."

Both men looked at the closed door, then grimaced and went back to their paperwork.

Inside his office, Simon stewed. Their first Christmas together since the divorce, and what happens? Snowed in. Damn.

He was just about to light up, rules or no rules, when the light bulb went on.....Sandburg and Taggert. *Sandburg* and Taggert. He got up, opened the door and bellowed, "Sandburg, my office - now!"

Blair shot a "What did I do now" look at Taggert, who just shrugged, as Bair got up and walked slowly into Simon's office.


"What the hell are you doing here?"


"Sandburg, cut the crap. Connor pulled the duty, not you. And why aren't you with Ellison?"

"I traded with Connor and Jim and I aren't glued to the hips, you know. He does have a life, as do I." Blair couldn't help the bit of defensiveness that crept into his voice.

"Don't shovel that shit on me. I know what happened at Lake Chelan. Now why aren't you with Ellison at his father's?"

The air whoosed out of Blair like a deflated balloon. He sat down, barely making the chair.

"Simon.....I don't know....what do you.....shit."

"I'm not blind, Sandburg. I saw you both, the way you were looking at each other, the way he looked when you were dancing....and I've worked with you two for almost four was hardly a surprise. Now spill."

Just having the stuffing knocked out of him slowed his response down a bit, and he couldn't answer right away.....

"Sandburg, why aren't you - with - Jim?"

"Hisfatherdoesn'tknowandhasn'tforgivenmefor thedissertation."

"I see." Simon templed his fingers and regarded the young man across from him. "Yes, I do see."

"Ah, sir, may I go now?" Blair stood, suddenly nervous at the way Simon was looking at him.

"Get out of here, Sandburg." And he waved a hand.

He watched the younger man leave, his face flushed. Something was wrong in the Ellison-Sandburg home, and he was tempted to call Ellison at his father's, but good sense prevailed, or was that cowardice? Jim was his friend, but he had not confided the newest change in his life to his Captain, so maybe he'd better leave well enough alone.....




6:00pm - Christmas Eve

Still no resumption of the noise that Blair had come to associate with his rescue. His hand continued to make small mud pies, and he continued to sing......

"Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock......".




3:30pm - Chistmas Eve

"One last interview and we call it a day, hey, Sandburg?"

"Sounds good to me, Joel." As Blair answered, he looked out the car window and gave a low whistle. "Man, this rain is something else. It hasn't stopped since twelve noon."

Joel hitched himself a little closer to the wheel, peering out through the windshield wipers. "Yeah, I know. And that area near Stockton Ave. is already soaked through. I'm worried about slides."

"Don't we go near that area to interview Wilson?"

"Um, just a couple of blocks west.....".

Joel negotiated the rain slick streets and the heavy traffic like a pro, but it still took a good ten minutes longer than it should have, even in this bad weather.

As they crossed Stockton, a low rumbling sound seemed to roll over the two men....and each glanced at the other....than back out the windows.

On Blair's side, he could see one of the old Victorian houses that were so popular in this area of Cascade, and as he watched, amazed, the house seemed to tilt......and the ground to it's right seemed to drop, to shift, and right in front of Blair's eyes, the ground disappeared, leaving a huge hole, with half the house seeming to melt in slow motion.....


Taggert pulled the car over, and in seconds, he was on the phone, calling in the emergency as Blair jumped out of the car and began to run to the corner.......

From that moment on, everything happened so fast, Joel could not later, remember everything in any kind of sequential detail. People were running, toward the house and away from the house, and Blair was yelling and pointing, the wind whipping through his hair, rain splashing against him, and Joel ran up next to him, and still could not hear his words, but he followed his hand and saw the people on the second floor, and the house was sinking, and Blair was running, Joel right behind him......

Together, they aided six people from the sinking house, and just as the fire department arrived, they heard a scream. Blair whirled around, and again pointed, and the two men ran to the corner, where the second story was now almost immersed in mud, and they could see a woman, trapped, trying to climb up and out, but she was just too Blair jumped in, and moments later, he was lifting and Joel was catching, and the woman was in his arms, but before he set her down, she began screaming, "LUKE, LUKE!" And Blair turned, saw the dog, shivering, and shaking, just behind him, and the mud was coming in, so he reached back, grabbed the small pet, and held it up to Joel.....

A huge, ripping sound surrounded them, and the housed seemed to upend, and just as the room Blair was in tilted away from Joel, he grabbed the dog from Blair's hands, turned and set it in the waiting arms of the woman, then turned back, just in time to see the floor below Sandburg's feet give way, and the young man disappear from view in a gust of wind, noise, mud and flying hair.

The house continued it's sideways movement, and settled with a loud groan, over the very spot, where just moments ago, Blair had stood.

"Dear God, no, " Joel whispered.

He stood there, wet, shivering, the woman behind him crying, the dog whimpering, and stared at the spot, now filled with *house*.

Firemen ran up, received the information of a trapped man, and rescue efforts began. Time was not on their side, everyone knew that, but they ploughed ahead, moving in carefully, shoring up the sinkhole, cordoning off the area and bringing in reinforcements.




4:15pm - Christmas Eve


Jim sat in front of the fireplace, half listening to the news, but mostly feeling like shit. No matter how convincing Blair's words had been, Jim was not happy. Blair should be here. Or Jim should be with Blair. This was not right.

William Ellison watched the news, his mind elsewhere. Something was wrong with Jim, and he desperately wanted to know what, and if he could do anything to help. But their relationship was too new and he was afraid to ask. So he kept silent.

Something on the screen caught his attention and he focused......

".....rescue efforts are ongoing, but it doesn't look good for the detective. We'll keep you posted, as this story unfolds."

At the word, *Detective*, Jim turned and joined his father by the television set.

"Detective, dad? What's going on?"

"I don't know, just caught that reference myself." They both watched as the camera panned the scene and Jim recognized Taggert.

"Fuck, that's Joel." Jim was up and at the phone in a heartbeat. He caught Simon in his car, on his way to the scene.

//It's Blair, Jim. He's trapped, the house is sinking and I'm ten minutes from there now//

"I'll be there in twenty."


6:30pm - Christmas Eve


I'm a big boy....I can accept the facts. I'm not going to make it home for Christmas.

"Sandburg, no obfuscations."


"i'm not gonna make it....", he said softly, to no one.

"and it's okay, too. now i'm glad you don't love me, jim. too hard on you if you did. things work out for the best after all....i guess." Blair tried to turn his head, but the mud really had his hair, so he just blinked hard, and felt the saltiness of his tears as they trickled down to his lips. "remember that guy, elliot warner? the one who killed his clerk because his clerk was better liked? weird guy, but i remember this conversation simon and i had.....after you took good old elliot down to be booked," Blair took a deep breath, his breathing faltering, hitching, and the breath wasn't so deep at all, but he needed the sound of his own voice, so he continued whispering, "and simon and i were stunned by what the guy no one loved him and that some people just weren't - lovable. couldn't be loved. i asked simon if he believed that.....if some people couldn't be loved, and you know, he said he did. i didn't agree at the time...but now, i'm not so sure...i don't believe i've been loved. okay, i'm only thirty, but still....."

A low rumbling noise started up and it was different than before, and more guck came down and the mud around Blair seemed to move, to roll slightly and Blair held his breath, ready......but everything went still again.

"where was i? oh, yeah....only thirty. i'm not saying people don't like me, i'm sure they know? in small doses. but i've never been in someone's arms and had a voice whisper, "i love you, blair", not even in the throes of sex. i don't think a person should die, without hearing those you?"

"i love you, jim. i love you so much, these last four months, i wouldn't trade for anything, honest. i wouldn't even trade getting out of here, if it meant i'd have to give up the last four months. it's been hard, you know? not touching you the way i wanted to.....hiding how i felt, but now it's definitely for the best. we've been such good friends....been through so much....i suppose i should make a confession now....remember that blue vest i was wearing when you came to my office the first time? no, of course you don't remember....well anyway, that morning, i was getting ready, and suddenly, what i wore was important. i wanted to impress you, and gail, another ta, said that vest brought out the blue in my eyes.....and i wanted you to notice me....yep, i, blair sandburg, wanted a man to notice i wore that vest. stupid, huh?"




"No, Blair, it wasn't stupid. And I did notice. I noticed your hair, your eyes, your mouth, that stupid little hand gesture, which I now realize was your way of bonding with the big, tough, cop, I noticed everything about you. But I especially noticed your touch. When you touched me, it was like electric shock therapy."

Jim Ellison was crawling through mud, muck and dirt, a lifeline tied around his waist, working his way toward the *voice*. He'd arrived on the scene just before four-forty, and like everyone else, had immediately begun to work. But he worked with a difference.

He could hear Blair.

Hear him sing. Or talk. So of course, Simon, Joel, Steven and Jim's dad worked with a difference. They all knew that as long as Jim worked feverishly, Blair was still alive. They'd see Jim pause every now and then, so they paused too....and watched as he wiped his face, or as his shoulders slumped forward, and they watched as he cried, or shook his head violently and said, "No, Chief, no....", and then he'd go back to work, harder than ever, and they would do the same, William Ellison standing shoulder to shoulder with his son, shoring up the side of the house, creating a work area, hammering wood around the hole, thanking God that it had stopped raining, and remembering his son's face, as he'd turned from the phone and said Blair's name......and William Ellison had recognized love when he saw it......

Finally the opening they'd been working toward, was there....and it seemed only natural that instead of one of the firemen, it would be Detective Jim Ellison who crawled down after the lost man. They'd tied a lifeline around him, and given him the vest he'd need when he reached Blair. It was called a "BuddyVest" and it would allow Jim to carry Blair on his back, tied securely, as Jim worked his way back to the people who would bring them out.

So, Jim had started his journey. And had listened, and talked, and above, everyone prayed that it would stay dry, that the rain wouldn't come again.



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