The days stretched out and overlapped, each indistinguishable from the other. His nine to five hours at the curio shop were a painful blur meant only to be endured.  His interactions with the human race were confined to selling and answering questions at the store and while he had a phone, he never answered when it rang and erased all messages on the answering machine, unless they were from his boss. It was only at home, while writing his book, that Blair Sandburg came to life.

It took him one month to complete his story, his *detective novel* and when it came time to type *The End*, his stomach had clenched so he paused, then typed; -30- .

He spent another week coming up with a title, followed by a few hours on the net surfing publishing sites. Once he had all the information he needed to submit, he then had to actually decide on a publisher. Of course, he could have sent it directly to Sid, who would have to feel he owed Sandburg big time, but gosh, poor Sid had been fired. Oh, dear. So after careful consideration, Blair opted for submitting the required material to Intrigue Presses. He followed the submission guidelines and mailed everything off on a Monday.

Three weeks later - his life took a decidedly surreal turn towards weirdsville.

His book was accepted.

Blair Sandburg, he of the fraudulent dissertation, was about to be published.




Blair sat in the early morning light, in the same chair he'd been in the night before when he'd opened his mail. The paper informing him that Intrigue Presses was definitely interested in publishing his book sat before him. He hadn't moved an inch since opening the letter, his only thoughts centered around ---


He had to - protect his identity in order to protect Jim. But how?

A name swirled toward him....

Lori Fielding.

His good old buddy, Lori Fielding. And her letter of almost two years ago letting him know that she was happily settled in Los Angeles and working for a law firm that specialized in entertainment law.

Blair finally moved. He picked up his address book from the table by his bed and flipped through to the *F's*. His finger traveled down - and there she was - Lori Fielding, 23891 West Poplar, Los Angeles, California, 818-828-3891 He checked his watch. She'd be home. Asleep, but she'd be home. He quickly dialed and after four rings....




"Lori, it's me, Blair Sandburg."

He could hear a sharp intake of breath, than a rustling sound and finally Lori's voice, sharp and clear.

//Blair? *My* Blair? Holy smokes!//

"Hello to you too."

//Blair, how the fuck are you? And do you know what time it is, fer


"Yes, it's six, but I would have thought you'd have a clock right next to the bed."

//You shit. And to what do I owe the pleasure of being awakened from a

sound sleep, in the middle of a highly erotic dream?//

"Well, it's business, Lori. Are you still - practising?"

//Of course. And still with Pierce-Waterman.//

"Then you're just what I need. I'm about to be published and I need help."


"So can you help me?" Blair found himself grinning broadly.

//Help you, of course I can help you, you idiot. But what do you need?//

He sat down on the edge of his bed and stared at a photo on the nightstand. Jim. At the awards banquet.

"I - I think this would be better said in person, Lori."

//Okay, hang on a mo....//

He could hear rustling again, then the phone was dropped unceremoniously onto a hard surface. He waited patiently and two minutes later....

//Okay, can you get to my office today by ten?//


//Then you're now my ten o'clock. We're in Century City. Got a pencil?//

He didn't, but he had a good memory.


//800 Avenue of the Stars - The Peterman Building. Seventh floor - suite

702. And Blair, I can't wait. We'll have lunch.//

"Deal. But Lori, don't use my name. Use John Sanderson."

There was the expected pause, then laughter.

//Uh, huh. I see. Right. John Sanderson. Only you, Blair, only you//




The drive to Los Angeles had been more difficult than Blair had anticipated. Not the navigational aspects of the drive, but the actual *going* someplace. He'd been leading a life that involved getting up, going to work and going home. With the occasional trips to a market. And that was it. For weeks. By the time he'd exited the San Diego freeway onto Santa Monica Boulevard, he was a nervous wreck.

He drove down the street, checked out the billboards, watched amazed as Rolls-Royces drove past him, noted that almost everyone he'd seen in a car was talking on a cellphone, was surprised at the amount of foot traffic and at the weird outfits worn by the pedestrians, and his eyes nearly bulged as he passed a large and apparently outdoor mall that appeared to have a large, yellow submarine protruding from its side.

He felt like Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop.

Blair spotted the street sign, got over and made the right onto Avenue of the Stars, then quickly found the correct building, drove down into the garage, took a parking ticket from the automatic dispenser and after several passes, finally found a parking spot.

For several minutes he sat in his car and just breathed. In - out, in - out. Mantra time. He needed to calm down, focus and just - do it.  Finally feeling secure enough, he climbed out of the car, locked it and walked to the elevator. He could do this.

He couldn't do this.

His breathing started to hitch, sweat broke out over his brow and upper lip....

Blair turned away from the elevator and started walking back to his car.

Maybe - she'd come to him?

Fuck. What was he turning into? He stopped, closed his eyes and took another deep, centering breath. He could - trust Lori. She'd been his best friend, hell, she'd been his lover for over eight months. They'd shared some of the best sex he'd ever had - until Jim. And they loved one another. Right? He could trust her. Trust *this*.

He turned back.




"John Sanderson. I've a ten o'clock with Miss Fielding."

"Oh, yes, of course. Have a seat, Mr. Sanderson, and she'll be right with you."

Lori had a male assistant. Good for her. Then Blair had to bite back a smile because Lori had an assistant who was making eyes at him. Shaking his head, Blair ignored *can I have you for dinner* looks and took a seat in the far corner - behind a ficus.

Five minutes later, the door to Lori's office swung open and she was there, arms held out and he was up and they were hugging and kissing and she was pulling him inside, closing the door and they were alone.

"Ah, God, Blair - you look..." she paused and really looked, then added, "Shitty. You look shitty."

Chuckling, he said, "Thanks. Knew I could count on you for total acceptance and support."

"But you do. You really do. I mean, " she stood back and surveyed him from top to bottom, "I love the hair, and you look scrumtious, but Blair, there's something..."

"And you haven't changed one wit. You're as beautiful as ever."

"And that's supposed to stop me? Redirect me? Get real. This is Lori, the person who knows you inside out, now what the hell is wrong?"

He sighed. He should never have turned back.

"Come on, Lori. You read."

She tilted her head and regarded him steadily. Then, "You mean the dissertation mess?"

"I like that. The *dissertation mess*."

Lori took his hand and led him to a leather couch against the far wall.

She pushed him down and took her place beside him.

"Look, I *know* you. Blair Sandburg does *not* do fraud. Surely you don't think that *I* believed any of that?"

Blair frowned. "So, what," his head waggled a bit, "*do* you believe?"

"That someone opened Pandora's Box and you had to put it all back inside. Somehow."

"Succinctly put, but *I* opened the box by making the damn thing in the first place."

She shrugged. "But there's more. Right?"

"Nope. That's it. A lot of people were hurt, both mentally and physically, because of me and I have to make sure that Blair Sandburg can't hurt them again. Hence the John Sanderson thing and the reason I'm here."

She sat back, realized that she wasn't going to get anything else from him, so she nodded, encouraging him to tell her about the deal.

"Look, I don't want any face to face, you know? No photo on the dust jacket, no real name, no new name, just a pseudonym. A mystery man. Get it?"

"We can do that. No problem. I'll act as the middle ... person." She smiled, then went on, "We've got to get you an agent and did you bring the paperwork?"

He nodded and took the envelope from Intrigue Presses out of his pocket and handed it over. Lori took everything out and for a few moments, all was quiet as she read. Finally she put the documents down and smiled.

"This is good, Blair. But I'd expect no less from Intrigue. I think we can work this out very nicely. But you need an agent. I know someone, he's one of the best. I'll contact him, explain the nature of my eccentric client and I'll take care of everyting. You'll need to buy a fax but other than that - we're set. I'll have my assistant draw up the contract while we're at lunch, you can sign when we get back...."

"Sounds good."




Blair sat in Lori's office for almost an hour while her assistant did his part and Lori talked with a man named Spenser Winthrop, the soon-to-be agent for Blair. She'd been on the phone with him for thirty minutes, spinning a yarn about her new client but gradually winning the agent over. As she'd talked and cajoled, Blair had flipped through magazines and tried to keep his sense of calm. In reality, all he wanted to do was go back to Irvine.

Finally, everything was done that could be done and Lori was asking him where he'd like to lunch.

"What do you feel like? Seafood? Mexican? Or we could go next door to the Century City mall and eat in the food court, up to you."

"Food court? Uh, maybe not...."

Sensing that Blair didn't want to be in crowds, she nodded sagely. "I know just the place." She picked up the phone.

"Ken, would you order from Yee's for me? The usual, but for two. Great.

Yeah, speedy delivery."

She hung up the phone and grinned. "See? Privacy. We'll eat here, catch up then you sign and we're set."

Blair finally allowed himself to relax. Lori really did understand.




Dipping into the aromatic shrimp and spearing two succulent shellfish with her chopsticks, Lori quizzed her guest.

"So have you figured out the pseudonym yet?"

"Yeah, yeah, I have. Jake Sands."

"Ooh, I like. Tough, ex-coppish. Very good. I'll get that on all the docs. And you're not eating, you're shuffling."

"I'm eating." To prove his point, he clicked on a piece of pepper and popped it into his mouth. "Seme?" He mumbled.

"You going to tell me what's really going on?"

He shook his head and smiled.

"Blair, Blair, Blair..."

"Lori, Lori, Lori..."

"We used to hit the sack at this point."

"Used to."

She reached over and gently pushed some hair behind Blair's ear. "But not anymore?" She asked, a trace of wistfulness in her throaty voice.

"No, not anymore."

"I've missed you."

Blair frowned at her confession because - in the three years he'd been with Jim - he hadn't. Missed her. At all. She'd been his best friend at Rainier, his - shoulder to cry on, his bedmate, his joke partner and while they'd written and emailed after she left - well, hell, he'd never even told Jim about her. But he didn't say any of that, couldn't say any of that - it proved too clearly how immersed in Jim's life he'd become.  And how could he hurt Lori with the truth?

"Missed you too." It was all he could say.

She favored him with a small, Mona Lisa smile, regret clearly written in her eyes. But a minute later, she was the consummate professional.

"Okay, so we're set. Hang on while I see if wonderman out there has everything ready."

Wonderman did and Blair read and signed, signed and read. And he was on his way to being published.




Blair gave notice and on his last day at the curio shop, the Rothmans' gave him a party and a small going away gift which he was ordered to open when he got home, and then it was over.

He stepped inside the apartment, closed the door and something happened.  It was as if being published, having a contract and the promise of money in the bank set him free - to die. Not a death of the heart and lungs, but a death of the soul, the death of sharing life with others, because he didn't need to go to work, he didn't need to step outside.

As the days began and ended, as more paperwork arrived via fax or delivery man, as he signed, worked on revisions, as his contract was revised to include total approval for marketing and even cover art, Blair Sandburg ventured forth less and less.

His total and complete retreat from the outside world would never have been possible if not for the net. There was nothing a person could want or need that could not be delivered thanks to the net.

For groceries, he found For entertainment ranging from movies to popcorn, he found He could have his cleaning and laundry picked up and delivered.

From Restaurants on the Run, he found meals from local restaurants delivered to his front door.

He talked with Lori by phone and email, he conversed with his agent by phone and email.

Blair watched movies and read as Intrigue Publishers readied his book for publication. And as the days moved through his life, he stopped - experiencing it. He stopped feeling. Anything.  He didn't *know* it was happening. Never realized that a moment had come when his laughter turned false or his words automatic.

And it wasn't as if Blair stopped caring for himself; he showered, shaved, brushed his teeth, ate at least one meal a day, even exercised, but he didn't *feel*. He didn't dream or try to remember. He didn't think of Cascade or of making love to Jim Ellison. He didn't think about Simon or Megan or Joel or his cousin Robert. He gave no thought to his mother, or anyone else. He existed - breathed oxygen, watched sunsets and sunrises, gave no thought to God or the cosmos or his future. He gave no thought to his past.

On the day the sample cover art for his book arrived, something else happened.

He was reading when the doorbell rang. Lori had told him the cover art would be delivered for his approval and that all he had to do was check it out, then sign if he approved or make suggestions for changes if he didn't..

He answered the door, let the young man in, took the envelope and slid the artwork out....

The eight by ten sample showed a lonely street after dark, poorly illuminated by a street lamp. To the right, peering from an alley, two golden cat eyes blinked and to the left, imposed over the street scene, was the profile of a man.

Half in shadow, half illuminated by the supposed street lamp, the viewer could see a strong, square jaw, compressed lips and one pale blue eye.  Across the top of the artwork the title had been superimposed; *Track of the Cat* and in the bottom right hand corner; *by Jake Sands*.

Blair ran a finger over the jaw. Over Jim's jaw.

He could almost feel the stubble....

No one but Blair would see that jaw and think; Jim Ellison.

No one but - Blair.

He signed his approval and after the young man left, Blair sat down at his newly purchased (from the net) computer and began his second novel.  Living in the world of Joe Elliot was the only living Blair could do.


Simon Banks stared at the paperwork in front of him. It was a report from an old friend, a private investigator and basically it told him what he'd known it would; that Blair Sandburg had disappeared.  Completely, thoroughly disappeared.

He stared out through the blinds of his office and focused on one desk.

Jim Ellison's desk.

This news wouldn't be a surprise. After all, if Jim and Simon couldn't find Blair, how the hell could a mere private investigator?  So far Jim had been handling his *loss* rather well, once he'd destroyed his home, that is. He wasn't barking at people, smiled every now and then, worked hard, played well with others and never ran with scissors.  He'd managed to fool everyone except Simon, who saw the depth of hurt and loneliness in those pale blue eyes every day.  But - Jim was one of the strongest men that Simon had ever known. Wasn't he?

Simon pushed his chair back and in resignation, picked up the report and walked to the door. He made eye contact with Jim, held up the folder and shook his head.

Jim blinked, then nodded and turned back to his paperwork. No reason to get up, no reason to read it for himself.


The weeks turned to months and if Major Crime smiled a bit less, joked a bit less - well, they still got the job done.  If Henri Brown missed having someone to call *Hairboy*, he didn't say anything. If Megan Connor missed having that one person in her corner, she kept it to herself.

If Brian Rafe was sorry about how he'd treated Sandburg, well, he lived with his error. And if Joel Taggert missed the young man who was always there to listen, to help, to guide and encourage, the man who could take just about any joke directed at him, the *kid* who had shown more maturity and courage than the toughest cop, well, that was for him to know and no one else to discover.

For Simon - this loss of Sandburg had proven to have a greater impact than he could have ever guessed. While his friendship with Jim had grown stronger in their mutual attempts to find Blair, his own personal and professional life seemed - emptier.

The dynamo that had been Sandburg had left a hole in his heart and sometimes, when he was alone at home, in the dark, his instincts told him that this was how it would have felt had Blair died that day at Rainier - at the fountain.

Simon also discovered that contrary to popular belief, *knowing* a man was *somewhere* and not dead - did nothing to assuage the loss of his company. But of course, he didn't really *know* that Sandburg was *somewhere*, did he?  For all any of them knew, Sandburg could have - and, and - all alone and they wouldn't *know*. But Simon refused to believe that. Blair *was* alive.

And weren't they all surviving?


So why didn't surviving feel better?

But he knew the answer. Closure. There'd been no closure. Words had been said that shouldn't have been, assumptions made that had wounded, and a sacrifice given that had gone without words of thanks. A man had given up all and yet - the recipients of the gift had been unable to show their appreciation.

While their lives had gone on, quietly now, peacefully now, normally now, what had happened to the one who had sacrificed?  Simon sat back down and sent up a small prayer for the man who'd lied his way into his life all those years ago. Prayed that he was safe, that he was living.


The sirens cut through the night air as Cascade police cars careened around corners to pull up in front of the small apartment building on the corner of Lewis Avenue and Seventeenth Street. People from the neighborhood had already gathered and stood milling about the sidewalks, some in work clothes, most in robes and slippers.  Among the police vehicles that now surrounded the building was a blue and white truck and parked next to it, an LHS.  Simon met Jim just inside the lobby and taking out a cigar, barked, "What do we know?"

"A single gunshot heard on the fourth floor as reported by a Mrs.

Perkins. She stated that she heard the gunshot, followed by screaming.

It's believed the shot came from apartment 432."

"We have men up there now, I assume?"

"Yes, sir, and Connor is interviewing Mrs. Perkins. I'm getting ready to go up myself. Everyone is in position."

Simon nodded, then one eyebrow rose in question.

"They're online tonight, Simon."

"You sure? It's safe?"

Jim shrugged. "All I can do is go up and see what I can do."

Simon waylaid a passing SWAT officer and ordered him to remove his vest.  As the man did as told, Simon took off his coat and when the kevlar vest was handed to him, slipped it on.

"I'm going with you."

The two men took the secured elevator to the fourth floor and exited.  Apartment 432 was a corner flat and two officers were stationed on both sides, guns drawn and ready. More officers were spread down both hallways.

As Jim and Simon stepped out, one officer spoke quietly.

"..nothing sir. not a sound."

Banks looked at Jim, who had his head cocked. He waited, as did the other officers.

For a moment Jim thought it was useless, that his senses had gone on the blink again. But then ... somehow, he managed to concentrate, to filter out, to hear that soft voice guiding him - and from the apartment he heard - sobbing.

In all his years, Jim had never heard such hopeless, gut wrenching sobs.  He could hear movement, as if someone might be - rocking. And a voice - "...nonono, nonono, pleaseteddywakeup, pleasewakeup, please, ididn'tmean it. not you, notyou...."

Slowly Jim moved to the apartment door and rested his hand on the knob.

The door wasn't closed all the way.

Simon, trusting his detective, followed and stood back-up. Jim pushed open the door, carefully and quietly and in the darkness of the room, eyes adjusting, he spotted the woman.

Young, maybe in her mid-twenties, she sat on the floor, a body in her arms. By her side - a gun. She was rocking back and forth as she moaned and cradled the body close to her chest. Jim walked softly to her side, picked up the gun, then stepped back and turned on the light.  The woman lifted a tearstained face to the two men.  "I didn't know," she said, her voice breaking. "Paul said he'd kill me, that he was coming home and was going to kill me. I took his gun and I waited. I was going to let him come inside, then I was going to shoot him. So he'd never be able to hurt me again."

She glanced down at the man in her arms and two sets of eyes followed


--- to the long, curly brown hair against the girl's arm, to the slight body, the flannel shirt open at the collar to reveal wiry chest hair....  For the briefest of nightmarish moments, Simon believed that he was gazing down at Blair. But the profile, the hands - no, not Blair, but so like him....

"teddy should be at work," she moaned out. "at work, but, but, he came home early...."

As tears dropped onto the lifeless face and blue eyes stared unseeingly upward, the girl continued to croon, "myteddy, myteddy, didn't know it was you, didn't know, sosorrysosorrysosorry...." Megan stepped up beside Simon and whispered, "Teddy Deakins, 22 years of age, she's Laura Deakins, age 26. Brother and sister. He just moved here a few days ago. Paul is Paul Scott, Miss Deakins fiance. They all live here."

Simon glanced down at the small notebook in Megan's hand and nodded.  Laura Deakins had accidently killed her brother, while waiting to kill her fiance.

Officers came in, the slender body was removed from the girl's arms and as she stood, her rights were read.

Jim Ellison turned away and walked out, Simon following. Without a word, both entered the elevator and rode down to the lobby, then strode out into the night.

For a moment, Jim stared at the people, at the cars and lights, then glanced over his shoulder at the building behind them, and finally he moved to the alley next to the building.

Concerned, Simon followed.

Jim stepped into the darkness and rested one hand against the cool brick surface of the building, head lowered, eyes seeing - nothing.  As Simon watched, frowning, Jim began to tremble. Simon took a step toward him but Jim waved him off as the shaking increased, as breathing became difficult and stricken eyes flooded with still unshed tears.  It had been almost eighteen months since the press conference. It had been almost thirty years since Jim Ellison had openly cried.  Thirty years of surpressed feelings and denied emotions welled up inside of him and threatened to swallow him whole. The tears finally spilled over as great sobs wracked his body and he would have gone to his knees if Simon had not been there to hold him up.


The loft was quiet, one lone light spreading a muted glow over the man in the chair. Simon Banks.

Upstairs, Jim slept. Finally.

Simon leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees as he dropped his head into his hands.

It had happened. Jim's steely self control had finally broken. Simon doubted that the spillage could be contained.



Blair sat at his work table, a cup of coffee next to his right hand as he read the morning paper.

His first book, "Track of the Cat", was a bestseller, with over twenty weeks in the number one slot. Even now, after all these months, it remained in the top ten. His second book, "Lair of the Cat" was currently in the number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller list.

The adventures of Joe Elliot had captured the attention of the reading public, who apparently loved the idea of a hero who believed in protecting his territory, who harkened back to the Sam Spade days but who had a sense of humor definitely belonging in the twenty-first century. For Blair - Joe Elliot's world was the only world he inhabited.

He was already well into his third book and if he had his way, he'd

never leave Joe's world. But a small part of himself insisted that he

perform the mundane tasks of living before he'd allow himself to

re-enter Joe's life and one of those mundane tasks, as Lori's earlier

phone call had  reminded, was the morning paper. Another task was eating breakfast, his only meal of the day, and it was while munching on toast and eggs that he would force himself to read the morning paper, every section, front to back, from the comics to the obituaries.

Well, breakfast was long gone but the paper remained and at the moment, he was perusing the Personals.

He sipped from his mug of hot coffee as he read some of the ridiculous pleas, smiled at the clearly dirty ones and frowned at the more personal missives. He was almost done when his eyes froze - on the second ad from the bottom....

To:                   BS - parts unknown

                         JE - 911

From:               SB - Cascade


His breath caught and with a shaking hand, Blair reached for the phone....

The present collided with the past.




Irvine, California - the present

Simon's words had been enough to propel Blair from his seat, to phone Lori, who proceeded to make all necessary arrangements, to pack and without conscious thought, walk out his front door and step into the waiting cab.

The adrenalin continued to propel him into the John Wayne Airport, up to the gate and into the first class section of the plane. It lasted through the slow taxi back from the gate and it lasted while the plane hurtled down the runway. Only when the wheels lifted from the ground did Blair realize what he'd done. And where he was.  He was - *not* in Irvine. And he was not in his apartment. That realization brought forth a panic attack that managed to thoroughly embarrass him, not to mention the stewardess.  Three scotch and waters later, his breathing regulated.  Blair was surprised to find himself still alive when the plane touched down in Washington. He smiled ruefully at the stewardess who'd helped him, then entered the airport.

Once out on the street, he hailed a cab.

The trip to 852 Prospect was a blur, with none of the familiar sights registering. When the cab pulled up in front of his old home and he spotted both Jim's truck and Simon's car - he felt - nothing. When he walked into the lobby - he felt nothing.

He ignored the elevator in favor of walking the three flights, more in an effort to gather himself together than anything else.  He stepped onto the third floor landing and turned to his left and there was Jim's door.

And still - he felt nothing.

He raised his fist and knocked gently.

The door was thrown open and - Simon stood before him.


Simon stared at the four walls and tried to put this whole thing into perspective, but he failed.

Since the night, over two weeks ago, that they'd been called out to a shooting and found the young woman cradling the dead body of her younger brother, a body that looked horribly like Blair - Jim had been - hell, Simon couldn't even describe to himself what Jim had been. It was if he had become nothing but emotions. Raw, oozing emotions. Bleeding into everything he did, every daily task. And his senses were completely haywire.

So far, they'd had days where he could hear nothing and days when he'd been unable to see, the world nothing more than a dark blur. His temper was lightening fast and just as quickly would burn to nothing, leaving an abject Jim in its wake. Eventually work became impossible but he couldn't be left alone so Simon had been living with him for the last seven days and when he was at work, Joel or Megan would take over.  Desperate to save his friend, Simon grasped at straws. He put a personal ad in the Times, ran it for several days, in several cities, and on day three - the phone had rung and a voice Simon had not heard in almost eighteen months said his name.

He'd almost fallen to the floor in his relief at hearing Blair's voice.  He'd told him what he could and sighed in further relief as Blair informed him that he'd be there as quickly as possible. And now - Simon found himself waiting.

He'd wisely refrained from telling Jim about the ad, let alone that Blair had responded. He was no fool and things happened.  As his eyes traveled over the loft, a gentle knocking interrupted his thoughts. He strode to the door and swung it open.




The large man stepped aside and Blair walked in, a black leather garment bag slung over his shoulder.

"Thank you for coming."

The bag slipped to the floor as Blair gazed about the apartment. It was - different. Less. He turned back to Simon and shrugged.  "Where is he? Upstairs?"

"No. He - went for a walk about twenty minutes ago. Today is an okay day. His senses are borderline not there and he needed to get outside.  He should be back shortly—can I get you something?" They were both so formal and it was killing Simon, but he didn't have the power to stop it.

"No, nothing, thank you." Blair indicated the loft as he asked, "Why so empty?"

"Jim had a small - temper tantrum not long after you left. He hasn't replaced anything yet."

"I see. Uh, the triptych?"

"He destroyed it. The yellow chair as well, and the small table and lamp. The table by the door too. One dining room chair and as you can see, most of what used to rest on the stereo. Tore up several books too."

As he pointed out the empty areas, his voice took on an edge of anger.

Hearing it, Blair turned toward the front door.

"I think, I think I'll see if I can find him, you know?" That's when it hit Simon. All of it. The way Blair looked and sounded, his voice, low and rough as if unused to speaking, and - his hair, his *short* hair. Very short and very curly, unruly even.  To Simon, Blair's blue eyes suddenly looked huge and in spite of the expensive Ralph Lauren polo shirt, the equally expensive slacks and the five o'clock shadow - Blair looked like a boy.  Simon found himself staring and unable to respond.  "He used to like to go to the bay when he needed to be - alone. Do you think he might be there?"

Simon blinked a couple of times, then nodded helplessly.

"Right. Then I'll go."

And a moment later - Blair Sandburg was gone. If his luggage hadn't been sitting in the middle of the floor, Simon would have doubted that he'd been there at all.


Blair took the elevator down, and as he stepped outside, his first impulse was to run. In the opposite direction. In the direction of the airport.

God damn it, how was he supposed to have known that Jim would have these problems? Was this his fault too? Would he have to carry this as well?  Simon certainly seemed to think so.

Without realizing it, his feet were already taking him in the direction of the bay. He kept on going. When he reached Sailbay Drive, he jogged across the street and headed down to the rocky shore. The wind from off the water sliced through him and he remembered, belatedly, that he was once again in the Pacific Northwest, *not* Southern California. He'd left his jacket back at the loft, in his bag.  He didn't have to go far before he spotted Jim.  The detective stood facing the water, hands shoved deep into his pockets, the collar of his peacoat turned up against the wind and cold.  Jim.

The lanky frame he knew so well, the short hair, spiking in the breeze, and the need to touch, to feel the muscles below the clothing was almost overwhelming.

The water was steel grey with small whitecaps that promised a storm. The horizon was shrouded in fog but here, on the bay, it was clear and cold.  Blair's breathing increased and he could feel his heart thudding in his chest, then his throat.

What could he do for Jim? What would Jim want from him? And where was Carolyn?

Damn, he should have asked Simon. As he continued to watch his ex-partner, it came to him that Jim didn't know anyone was behind him, sharing the beach. Blair took a deep breath and walked silently up to the ramrod stiff back. He almost touched him then, but decided that face to face would be better, so he walked carefully around Jim and stopped in front of him.


Pale eyes that reflected the gray of the sea dropped down to his face.  Long dark lashes fluttered a moment as Jim blinked. Then he smiled - a soft, sweet smile.

"hey, there you are. hi."


Blair was speechless. The expression on Jim's face was so - ethereal, Blair almost doubted that the man before him *was* Jim Ellison.  Taking a deep breath, he tentatively said, "Hi, Jim."

The pale eyes searched his face, the smile widening. Then Jim noticed the hair. He tilted his head slightly to the side as, puzzled, he put out one hand and lightly touched the short curls.

"this is so strange, blair."

"What is, Jim?"

An iciness gripped Blair's heart. Jim seemed to be in another world.

"you, your hair. you're my fantasy and your hair is short...can a fantasy *get* a haircut?"

"I don't think so, Jim."

Jim fingered more hair, rubbing small strands between a trembling thumb and forefinger, then his index finger trailed down Blair's jaw....

"everything else is the same. you feel the same but - but - what are you wearing?"

"Uh, a shirt, just a shirt."

"where's the flannel? you're always in the navy blue and white flannel shirt when you come."

Blair was having trouble swallowing as he finally understood that for Jim, he wasn't real. Couldn't *be* real.

"But I was never real before, Jim. I'm real this time. Real."

To illustrate his point, he took the thin, pale hand that now rested against his cheek and drew it down to his chest. He put the chilled palm over his heart and held it in place.

"Did I have a heartbeat before, Jim?"

Jim squinted, his brows knitted together in thought as he struggled for an answer. Then, "no, no, never a heartbeat."

"And now?"

Jim stepped closer as Blair held his breath and watched as the older man concentrated on the beat below his hand....

"it sounds - real. i can feel you, chief."

"Because I *am* real. I'm here, in Cascade, Jim."

Jim's breathing started to come in gasps as he blinked at the truth of the man in front of him. His eyes filled with tears as he mumbled, "real, real?"


Blair stepped into Jim's body and put his arms around the slender waist.  He could feel Jim's ribs even through the heaviness of the jacket. The tremors that coursed through Jim made their way to Blair. He closed his eyes and rested his head against Jim's heaving chest and waited. A moment later - two arms stole their way around his own waist.


"Yeah, Jim, it's me."

"Aw, God."

The two men stood, bodies buffeted by the wind, but holding tight.




A real, warm, beating heart, soft hair against his cheek, compact body in his arms....


"why did you leave? why?"

"it was the only way. it was what you wanted, what you needed. what everyone needed."

"no, no, no - not what i needed, only *thought* i wanted it, but no, no.  love you, chief, love you."

The words were heard, but not believed. But believing them was simply not necessary for Blair. All that mattered was that Jim was in pain and needed Blair. That would be enough, for however long it lasted.

"Come on, Jim, let's go back, okay?"


"Yes, Jim, home."




>From the balcony, Simon watched the two men approach the building.  Their arms were around each other's waists and from Simon's vantage point, both men looked incredibly - frail.

As he watched Blair check for traffic, then lead Jim across the street, Simon's concern increased. Blair was here, but was anything solved? What would happen now? Nothing had changed, Blair Sandburg was still considered a fraud....

The door opened and Blair entered, Jim plastered to his side. He led the older man straight upstairs, ignoring Simon altogether.  Simon wondered if he should leave, but the detective in him said no. He could hear Blair's soft voice cajoling Jim to undress, that he was shivering and needed to get warm, that he needed sleep. Simon heard the deep rumbling of Jim's voice but couldn't make out the words.

God, he needed a drink.




"Come on, lie down, Jim."

"no, no, need you here."

"I *am* here, Jim. And I'm not going anywhere, okay? But you're dead on your feet, you're cold and you need to sleep. Please?"

"you'll be here when i wake up?"

"I'll be here."

The exhausted man dropped back against the mattress, his head hitting the pillow. Hand grasping Blair's, Jim couldn't stop his eyes from closing....

After fifteen minutes, Blair gently pulled his hand from Jim's and went downstairs.

As his foot hit the bottom step, Simon asked, "How is he?"


"Good. That's something he hasn't been doing much of lately."

Blair thought he heard accusation in Simon's voice and he dropped his eyes to the floor as he walked to one of the sofas and sat down.  As Simon continued to move about in the kitchen, Blair's fingers tapped nervously on his thigh. He let his eyes really take in the loft and its barren condition. Unnerved, he realized that it was worse than when he'd first moved in. And - it was - dusty.

Dusty. Jim's home was - dusty. He looked down at the floor and was stunned to realize that it hadn't been cleaned in months. A hand appeared in front of his face, a hand holding a small glass filled with an amber liquid.

"Needed a drink, thought you could use one too."

Blair took the offering as Simon sat down on the other sofa.

"I've been staying here for the last week."

Without making eye contact, Blair said, "You told me on the phone."

"Oh, right, I did."

Both men took a sip of brandy.

"So, where have you been living, Sandburg?"

Sandburg. Even now, Simon couldn't call him by his first name. But then, why should he?

"Irvine, a city in Orange County. In California. Southern California."

"Nice and warm there right now."


Simon's presence was making him edgy, reminding him of all his failures and he fervently wished the man would leave.

"So what have you been doing in Irvine?



"Hardly. Just - living. Quietly."

"I see. Why haven't you talked with Naomi?"

"What do you mean?"

"I talked with her a few months ago and she was at a loss as to your whereabouts. As were we, of course."

God, this was so wrong. He shouldn't be here. He could feel his jaw tighten and hot burning liquid behind his eyes....

He struggled internally, forced it all down, then took a last swallow of the brandy. As he set the glass on the coffee table, he said in a deceptively mild voice, "Well, that was kind of the idea, you know?"

"But why hide from your mother?"

"Why not?"

"Jesus, Sandburg."

"She's fine, I'm sure."

"The way Jim is fine? Eh?"

"Naomi and I have gone much longer than this without talking. It's no biggie for her."

"But she's always known where you were."

"Yeah, well."

"What the fuck is the matter with you?"

Blair stood and took his glass into the kitchen. He rinsed it out, dried it and put it away. Then he walked to the french doors and opened them.  The room looked as it had before he'd left. He picked up his bag, carried it inside and dropped it on the bed, then walked back into the living room.

"You know, you don't have to stay now. I'll take care of him."

"I'm staying."

"Right. Well, I've had a long flight. Think I'm gonna crash in here," he pointed back to his old room, "unless you've been...."

"No, Sandburg, I've been sleeping on the couch. That old futon of yours is too short."

"You probably have everything you need then. If he wakes up, let me know."

With that, Blair turned back, walked into his old room and shut the doors.




Simon let out the breath he'd been holding.  Well, that went well - NOT. And how had he managed *not* to say all that he'd wanted to say?  Hell, they might as well have been complete strangers.

The more Simon thought back on the few minutes with Sandburg, the more he realized that there'd been nothing of the old Blair Sandburg in the man he'd been talking with, nothing.

God, what had Blair been doing for the last eighteen months? And could a man change as much as Blair apparently had? What could possibly brought about such a change?

Fuck. Like he didn't know?

He'd been looking at this all wrong. He'd been seeing everything through Jim's eyes and now he needed to view it through Sandburg's.




As Blair stripped to his shorts, he folded his clothing over the back of his old desk chair. He crawled under the covers and immediately rolled over onto his side, facing away from the doors. After a few minutes, he curled into a tight ball.

How could he go through with all this? Simon still hated him and couldn't forgive him, so how was he supposed to help Jim?

Blair tightened further into his cocoon.

He wanted desperately to be back in his little apartment.




Simon didn't know what had awakened him, but awake he was. He listened and heard nothing.

He opened his eyes, lifted his head and peered over the edge of the sofa.

A small sliver of light shown from under the french doors. He flipped off the blanket, sat up and checked his watch. It was after two in the morning. He stood, grabbed his robe, slipped it on and walked to the doors. He knocked gently. When nothing happened, he cocked his head and listened. He could hear something....

He opened the door....

Blair sat in his old chair, bent over a legal pad, pencil flying across the yellow paper. He was smiling and nodding as he wrote. And for a moment, Simon was staring at the old Sandburg.

He stepped inside.

In a quiet voice, with no censure, he asked, "Sandburg, what the hell are you doing? Do you know it's after two in the morning?"

The pencil dropped and before he could react, Blair had jumped up, the chair falling backward, his face paling as his eyes widened.

"didn't - didn't mean to wake you...sorry, simon." Fear rolled off Blair's body in waves and for the first time, Simon realized that Jim wasn't the only one in trouble.

"You didn't wake me, Blair." He glanced at the papers, then back at Sandburg. "What are you doing up?"

Blair took another step back. "I - I don't usually go to bed until - late, you know?"

"I see." He walked over to the bed and sat down. "It's been a strange day, eh?"

Blair remained where he was, but nodded.

"I was on the phone with Daryl today."

Blair still didn't move, but his face registered its first sign of real emotion as he smiled and asked quickly, "How is he?"

"He's fine - he'll be out here for spring break. Right now, school and global warming are taking up a great deal of his time."

Blair cocked his head. "Global warming, Simon?"

"Yeah, yeah. Seems he's part of a class project, teamed with three other students and their mission is averting global warming. He's worried about the polar ice caps melting."

A light came on within Blair's eyes and Simon gave himself an internal pat on the back.

"It's not the ice caps he needs to worry about - they're already floating. It's the ice *sheets* that are attached to land that we have to worry about."

Blair moved forward, eyes still aglow, picked up his chair, righted it, then sat down.

"Actually, it's amazing how our politicians refuse to listen to environmentalists. I mean, Simon, did you know that just since 1900, the average temperature has risen from 57* to 58*?"

"Uh, Blair, that's only, what, one degree? In one hundred years?"

Blair leaned forward excitedly. "Yeah, one degree seems like nothing, but that one degree resulted in a *six* inch rise of the sea level! And here's the kicker - In the next one hundred years, the average temperature is expected to rise from 58 to 62 degrees! Not good, not good at all."

"And four degrees would do what?"

"If the current warming trend continues, we could experience a foot and a half rise in the sea level!"

Blair stood and started to pace, his hands gesturing wildly.

"Do you realize that Louisiana is already losing an average of 35 square miles of wetlands every year? Or that by the year 2300, it will cost an average of 200 *billion* dollars just to protect our coastal cities?  That by then, the sea level will have risen over three feet? But of course, that's our problem - we're talking the year 2300. Who the hell cares about the year 2300, you know?"

He ran a hand through his short curls as he went on. "Politicians, hell, the average Joe on the street doesn't care about the year 2300. They can't even picture their family line that far in advance. The children of the year 2300 aren't *their* children, you know?" He turned to face Simon and stopped cold. Simon was smiling.

"What? What?"

Simon's expression softened as he answered quietly, "I think I missed this the most."

Blair's shoulders rose as he gave a small shake of his head. "Missed what the most?"

"You - pacing, hands running away with your mouth as you share information from the Sandburg Britannica."

Sheepishly, Blair sank back down into his chair.

"Sorry, Simon."

Simon leaned forward, making sure that Blair was looking at him. "Blair, I said that I *missed* it."

"You missed me spouting off? Showering everyone with useless information?"

Pretending to give that great thought, Simon finally nodded and said, "Yeah."

"You're, like, really sick."

"No, just acclimated to the world of Sandburg."

Blair stood and scratching the back of his head, said, "Like I said, Simon, sick." He jerked a thumb up and added, "I think I'll just go up and check on Jim, okay?"

"Sure, Blair."

Sandburg gave an almost shy nod, then picked up the tablet, stuffed it into the drawer of the desk and walked out.

Simon remained on the bed, gazing after the retreating back. Maybe he'd made some headway tonight.




Blair walked upstairs, half his mind on the strange conversation with Simon, the other half on the fact that he was about to go into Jim's room, the room that they'd shared for almost a month. As he hit the top of the landing, he paused.

Moonlight bathed the room and the bed and Blair had no difficulty seeing Jim's sleeping form. The man was stretched out on his side, facing away from the stairs, blankets twisted at the foot of the bed, the pale yellow sheet draped across one pale hip. One leg had snuck its way out from under and Blair could see the slight twitch of the limb.

He walked to the edge of the bed and gazed at the spot that should be his. Without any real thought, he lifted the sheet and slipped under.  Blair positioned himself on his back, careful not to touch Jim or to disturb him. He slowly let out his breath.

As he lay silent and unmoving, he stared up at the skylight. Blair could feel the heat of Jim's body and the tingling sensation of his skin as the energy of the man next to him caressed his own flesh. He was amazed that Jim was still asleep. Soundly asleep.

Arms at his side, content to listen to the soft exhalations of Jim's breath, Blair waited.

After several minutes, the light from his old room clicked off and he heard Simon move carefully to the sofa.

A cloud moved over the moon and the room was plunged into darkness.

Blair whispered to no one, "so stupid."


If it hadn't been for his stomach, he'd have continued sleeping. He felt warm, comfortable and his sleep was easy - happy even. But his stomach was signaling its displeasure at being underfed and the resulting cacophony of sound forced his eyes open.

He was immediately glad.

Pale sunlight shone down from his skylight but even in the darkness he'd have been able to see the man he was currently wrapped around.


It had been real - not a dream. Not a fantasy. Blair on the beach, standing in front of him, a breeze brushing through short, dark curls, large blue eyes staring up at him.

Jim took in the short hair only inches from his nose. He'd really cut it. Blair had actually cut his hair. And Jim couldn't have cared less.  Blair, short hair and all, was here, in his bed, in his arms.

Both men were on their side, Blair facing the stairs, one arm stretched out over the edge of the bed, the other wrapped around Jim's. His breathing was easy and regular.

Jim inhaled deeply and smiled. God, he loved the morning smell of Blair Sandburg. He moved his head closer and buried his nose in the newly exposed nape of Blair's neck and took another deep breath as he tightened his arm.

And his stomach rumbled again.

Blair shifted and moaned. Jim held his breath. He knew Blair was real, but that didn't stop him from fearing that if he disturbed Blair, if Blair woke, he'd disappear into thin air.

Blair squirmed a bit, his hand sleepily running up Jim's arm and Jim smiled against soft, slightly moist skin. The heart rate tipped Jim off - Blair was awake.



"No, the evil Emperor Ming."

"I always knew Ming had a boner for Flash Gordon."

"Oh, yeah, baby."

Blair turned in Jim's arms, stifling a yawn.


"Morning. You're still here."

"Said I would be."

"Yes, you did. And I'm glad *here* meant *here* and not *there*."

Blair's lips twitched. "Here *was* almost there. But I came up last night to check on you and I just - kind of - stayed."

"Thank you."

Blair shrugged dismissively just as Jim's stomach gave a loud yell.

"Oh, ho, hungry are we, Jim?"

"Woke me up."

"Well, come on, let's feed you."

Before Jim could react, Blair had slipped out of his arms and was standing. "Get your ass in gear, there are eggs down there dying to be scrambled."

He turned and headed down, stopping only long enough to notice that Simon was still asleep and then to detour into his old room to slip into jeans and a tee shirt. By the time he came out, Jim was standing over the sofa, staring down at his boss and scratching his head.

"i thought he'd have gone home?" Jim whispered.

"no, stayed."

"eggs for three."

Blair just grinned and walked into the kitchen, Jim following like a lost puppy dog. A happy, lost puppy dog.

Blair moved quietly through the kitchen, careful *not* to wake Simon. He took out the eggs and bread, a tomato, a green pepper, searched for a onion, but finding none, settled on some cheese, dried chives and at the last moment, added sour cream to his haul. There was some leftover ham and he grabbed that too.

With Jim watching, his lost appetite suddenly found, Blair chopped, diced and whisked. As the pan heated, he took out a few slices of bread and put them into the toaster. He added a pat of butter to the hot pan and as soon as only sizzling bubbles remained, he added the eggs into which he'd whisked some of the sour cream. Blair waited until large bubbles formed in the surface of the eggs, added all the other ingredients, then started to slowly turn the eggs, folding and stirring lightly. While still runny, he popped the toaster down.

"You could stand there, *or* you could get out the orange juice and set the table?"

"But I'm enjoying watching you."

"Watch while you work and Simon is stirring."

Jim, so taken by the fact that Blair was in his kitchen - cooking for him, had completely missed the moans and groans emanating from the general direction of the living room. Jim checked over his shoulder to see his boss rise, stretch and sniff.

"Hey, what smells so good?"

"Blair's cooking. Get in here and help."

The surprise on Simon's face was enough to bring forth a chuckle from Jim. Simon stared at his friend. "Well, someone is feeling pretty chipper this morning."

"He must mean you, Chief."

"Indubitably. Will someone set the table? These eggs are ready and so is the toast."

Both Simon and Jim rushed to do as asked and all three were soon seated and eating. Simon's surprise increased as Jim took a huge helping *and* two pieces of toast. Blair took a spoonful which left a good amount for Simon.

They ate in companionable silence, Simon enjoying Jim's renewed love of food and the fact that it was the three of them - once again.

He was halfway through his breakfast before he realized that all was not perfect. Blair was here, but Simon realized that he was seeing only the merest tip of the Sandburg. He wasn't used to that. Blair was keeping his distance and Jim hadn't noticed yet.

When everything had been cleaned up and put away, the three men took their turns in the single bathroom, to finally meet up, showered, shaved and dressed, in the living room. There were a few awkward moments as the men sat and stared at each other but Simon decided to take the reins.

"Jim, Sandburg's been in Irvine all this time, right, Blair?"



"It's in Southern California," Simon explained.

"How did you decide to settle there, Chief?"

Blair smiled a bit as he answered, "The Volvo broke down and it looked as good a place as any, so - I stayed."

"But you're back now." Jim's tone was matter-of-fact.

Blair gave a slight nod. "As long as you need me."

The alarm bells went off in Jim's brain. He glanced over at Simon and saw the worry in the brown eyes, then he looked back at Blair. And saw - nothing. Blair sat there, complacent, that half smile on his face.

"Simon, maybe - you mentioned something yesterday, about --- food, shopping."

Catching on and glad that Jim had finally figured out that all was not well, Simon stood.

"Yes, well, shopping. You two relax and leave things to me." With that, he headed over to the door, grabbed his jacket, checked for his keys and made a discreet exit.

As soon as the door shut behind his friend, Jim scooted closer to Blair and took his hand.

"So, when I don't *need* you anymore, what then?"

"I leave."

"I see."

"And if I never *not* need you?"

"I stay."


"If that's what you need."

"And what about what Blair Sandburg needs?"

"This isn't about Blair Sandburg. I thought you wanted me gone - I left.

It's not as if things were great between us before mom sent my diss to

Sid. It wouldn't have been long before I'd have left in any case." Blair

glanced down at their clasped hands, then added, "I'm a little confused

now, but I suspect that when your senses kind of went haywire, well, you



"Needed you?"

"Yeah, kind of."

Jim let Blair's hand slip from his, then stood and walked to the balcony windows. "Did Simon happen to mention how - why this happened? This thing with my senses and my emotions?"

"No, just said he was worried about you, that your senses were causing you great difficulty and pain."

Jim turned back to Blair, his head cocked. "How did he reach you, anyway?"

"A personal ad. Just happened to catch it."

"I see. Well," he turned back to the window, "a couple of weeks ago, we were called out late when a shooting was reported at an apartment building. We secured the building, SWAT took over the fourth floor, where the shooting had apparently taken place, and Simon and I went up.  We went into the apartment, the door was slightly ajar, and on the floor sat a young woman."

Jim paused as the memory of that night came flooding back. He could feel the sweat trickling down his back as his mind reviewed the scene....

"She was the victim of abuse - at the hands of her fiance. That night, she decided to end it, to kill him. She had his gun and she simply waited for him to come home. A few days earlier, her younger brother had arrived and was staying with her. He had a night shift job but that night, not feeling well, he - came home early. So simple. You don't feel well, so you come home early."

Jim stopped, bent his head and pinched his nose. Even from where Blair sat, he could see the tremors coursing through Jim's body.

Gently, Blair asked,"What happened?"

"She shot her brother. Killed him. She was on the floor, holding him in her arms, sobbing, begging him to wake up, to not be dead.... "

"I see."

Jim swung around, eyes wide and questioning. "Do you, Chief? Do you?" He swiped a hand over his eyes in an attempt to wipe the vision from his brain, then in a low, almost not there voice, he added, "I lost it, lost all control, walked out of that building and completely lost it. Ever since, it's been as though every emotion was a raw, open sore. I was feeling *everything*, Blair. *EVERYTHING*!" His voice rose on the last word and he started to pace.

"I couldn't control my most basic emotions. They were all on the surface, edgy, boiling, eating at me...."

"Jim, it was very traumatic, and you *know* how your senses are tied to your emotions. You have to understand - control is vital to a sentinel, Jim. In your case, with the things that happened to you early on, well, in order to *be* in control, you had to stuff all those emotions down in one fell swoop and take *total* control.

"And something was bound to happen, something that would bust the dam wide open - and that *something* was - that night."

"You don't get it, do you? But then, how could you? You weren't there, you didn't see *him*. You didn't see him lying in a pool of his own blood - young, completely innocent, long, brown curly hair...."

"oh god."

"No, Chief, he was absent that night."

"Jim - I'm so - sorry, so very sorry."

Ellison stared at the man who meant so much to him, tried to see *inside* him, but shook his head when he failed. He gave Blair a small, wry smile.

"A year, Chief. I managed one whole year. Tried to live normally, one day to the next, tried to stay cool, stay in control, tried to remember all that you'd taught me - tried to exist without you. Then I see a young man - dead when he shouldn't have been and I go to hell in a green and white truck. Because I discover the whole year was a sham - I discover that I *do* need you to live. And I shouldn't, no one should *need* someone else to live, right?"

He started pacing again, his mind running fast to keep up with his mouth.

"But you know, when you think about it, is it so strange? I mean - people need tons of things to get through their days. They need coffee to get through the morning, or they need this to get through that - is it so farfetched to believe that we need *someone* to get through life?  And not just *someone* but *the* someone. Is it so hard to believe?"

"Jim, lots of people go through their whole lives without anyone."

"I know. So imagine my surpirise when I realized that I *wasn't* one of those people. And for awhile, I was lucky, Blair, I had you. I need you."

He'd come back to stand before Blair, stood over him now, his face pale, eyes full of emotion and warmth and need, more need than Blair had ever seen in anyone, let alone anyone looking at him, but how could this be?

"Jim ---"

"And what did you mean when you said things weren't going well for us before your dissertation was leaked? What did you mean?"

Eyes closing, Blair just shook his head in amazement. Sighing, he answered.

"I know the signs, Jim. I've seen them enough. I know the signs."

"Signs? What signs? What signs could you possibly have seen?"

Blair's eyes shot open. "Come on, Jim. Late nights out with the *guys*, but I'm not one of the *guys*? Coming home drunk - twice in one week?  You don't drink, remember? But you did, not once, but twice. You were already regretting, already feeling - I don't know, penned in, maybe?  Realizing that it wasn't real, that I wasn't what you thought, whatever.

But you were coming to the end."

"That's what you thought?" Jim's voice was incredulous, unbelieving.

"Like I said, I recognized the actions. I've seen it in my own mother - with her many boyfriends, hell, even with me."

Jim was stunned. He moved closer, reached down and pushed Blair's leg aside, then stepped into the space now available.

"Blair, I love you now, I loved you then. I never stopped, I never wavered in my need and love for you. But, yes, there was something and I didn't deal with it well." His lips twitched and his eyes crinkled with the small grin. "Call it those famous fear based responses you're so fond of pointing out."

Blair was looking up at him, confusion written all over his face. "Jim, what were you afraid of?"

"You - were working on it. Actually working on it and you had a final deadline and you were finishing it, and it was going to be over and you...."

"Shit, Jim, slow down, you're not running a verbal marathon here."

Taking a deep breath, Jim asked, "Do you get it now, Chief?"

"Yeah, yeah - I think I'm on board. My dissertation. And it would appear your fears were justified, Jim. The damn thing, with a little help from me and mine, nearly destroyed you."

Jim took Blair's waving hand and using it, he pulled Blair up and into his arms. "Chief, I never really thought about what would happen to me once that thing was published and all I was thinking about was what would happen to you. You'd have your doctorate, Sandburg. You'd no longer be my partner and I couldn't face that."

As Blair searched Jim's eyes, he found that it was still there - the *need*. And the love. For him. And he didn't get it. But at least he now had some understanding as to what Jim had been feeling.

One hand was stroking his hair and he leaned into the attention, felt Jim pull him in closer, experienced the warmth of Jim's body, of his breath caressing the top of his head and he just - did it. He just - let his head rest against Jim's chest, his cheek and ear resting over Jim's heart.

The gentle sound, a sound that had been his Memorex sleeping companion as he'd wound himself around the pillow that had been encased in Jim's pillow case, as he'd slept in Jim's Cascade PD shirt and dreamed of being in Jim's arms....

"Do you get it now, Chief?"

"I think so," he mumbled into the soft thrumming.

"So - do we go to Irvine and get your stuff, or do I pack my stuff and we go to Irvine?"

*That* pulled him out of his heart reverie.

"Uh?" He lifted his cheek from the warm chest and tilted his head up.

"Do. we. pack. my. stuff. or. yours?"

"Are you crazy?"

"Gee, I don't think so, Chief. It's a simple question."

"Why would you want to go to Irvine?"

"Um, let me see," he gazed up at the ceiling as if the answer would be written in the pipes that traversed the loft, then slapped his forehead and said, "because you're there?"

"Jim, I'm *here*."

"Well, yeah, *now*. But maybe you have a life in Irvine now. One you want. What *were* you doing in Irvine, anyway?"

"Nothing - I work from my apartment. Which I could do just as easily *here*."

"So we head to Irvine to pack your stuff and we come back *here*?"

"No need. A phone call will take care of everything."

Jim teased Blair's upturned mouth as he mumbled against the pliant flesh, "so we're settled. Kiss me, Guido."

The sudden unrestrained laughter that burst from Blair brought a smile to Jim's lips. The sound was the first and only evidence that Blair Sandburg was in his apartment. He nudged the still laughing lips with his own and a moment later, they were kissing. Hard.

Blair didn't think anything was settled - but at the moment, his body couldn't have cared less.




Jim gazed sleepily at the head on his chest and smiled sappily. They'd never made it upstairs once the kissing had started in earnest and now, naked, they lay on the couch, Blair draped over Jim. His senses were on-line and he took his fill of the scents that surrounded them - the odor of sex, sweat, Jim and Blair. Essence of major coupling. Then he heard footsteps.

"Shit. Blair? Chief? Wake up, Simon's on his way up, loaded down with food, no doubt."

The head shifted and turned to face the back of the couch as Blair mumbled, "uh, huh."

"Now, Kemo Sabe. Unless you really want Simon to see us like this ... I mean, you have a cute ass and all, but it might be more than Simon wants to see, you know?"

"Shit." Blair sat up, ran suddenly nervous fingers through the tangled mess that represented his short hair as his eyes shot around the room looking for his clothes. "How much time do we have?"

"About - one minute."

Blair bounded off of Jim, his knee digging into Jim's thigh just before his feet hit the floor. He moved frantically around picking up his jeans and hopping into them, then as he searched for his shirt he demanded, "Well? What are you waiting for? Chanuka? Get your ass in gear, or has Simon already seen yours?"

Chuckling, Jim stood, reached down, plucked up Blair's shirt and tossed it to him. It hit him in his face and as the beleagured Sandburg was putting it on, Jim said with a smile, "Nope, and trust me, Chief, he doesn't want to see my ass anymore than he wants to see yours."

As he tracked Simon's travels to the front door, Jim slipped into his clothes, slicked back his hair then scooped up his white socks, stuffed them behind the cushion, stepped into his shoes and just as the door opened, he turned to face Simon.

"Hey, get everything?"

Simon froze, arms full of groceries, to stare at Blair, standing next to the table, hand resting on the surface, legs crossed, looking - guilty, to Jim, who stood next to the couch, smiling and looking - ridiculously happy. And Simon noted, sockless.

"Yeah, Jim, got everything."



Jim stood by the door, the door from which Simon had finally *and* permanently exited. Blair sat at the table staring at him.


"So - I'm still off work for another two weeks, thanks to Simon - so we have two weeks to, you know, just - two weeks."

"Man, you are *so* obvious."

"Yeah, I am, aren't I? But then, so was Simon. Very obviously giving us time together, time to make decisions..."

"Would those be decisions regarding, oh, say, positions? Lube flavorings?"

"Those are good starts, sure, but I was thinking of life type decisions.  Like - what do we do now? Where do we go from here? What's around the corner..."

Laughing, Blair held up his hands in surrender. "I get it, Jim, I get it. And there's no hurry, is there? Let's just get - reacquainted, you know?"

Jim advanced on his friend, his love and his life, eyes gleaming wickedly - the last weeks a distant memory now that Blair was here, in the flesh.

Sandburg pushed his chair back and did his own advancing, his expression just as wicked.

"Sure you're up to this, Jim?"

"Oh, I'm up to it, all right. And if I were you, I'd be afraid, very afraid..."

Blair grinned lasciviously and waggled his eyebrows, then ground out, "Bring it on, dude, bring it on..."

Jim did.




The sunset had been spectacular as Jim watched it float across Blair's body and face. They'd never made it upstairs, their urgency sending them sprawling on the floor, ripping and tearing perfectly good clothes in their effort to get where they belonged - skin to skin.They'd kissed endlessly, rolled, changed positions, both eager to re-explore territory that had changed slightly in the eighteen months they'd been apart.

Both men were thinner, although Jim's weight loss had been more recent.  Blair's loss surprised Ellison because while much more slender, Blair had obviously been working out. There were muscles where before, there'd been none. Even now, as Jim ran his hand up and down Blair's arm, he could feel the newness of the toned body. He smiled as he gazedat the sleeping man splayed over his body and was glad he'd managed to get them both up off the floor and to the couch.

The sun had officially dipped below the horizon but Jim had no desire to rise, to turn on a light, to move. He was too content. Too happy and too comfortable. And Blair Sandburg was right where he belonged.

As Jim sleepily mused over the last year and a half, he wondered how it was that so few changes had been wrought for each of them. But then he paused in his ruminations because in all honesty, he really had no idea about what changes had or had not occured in Blair's life. Other than appearance.

And damn it, that was a lie. Blair *was* different.

Jim had changed little and the changes he'd experienced had been internal and due to the loss of Blair - changes that were now moot. But Blair ---

Jim thought back to their recent lovemaking, to the hungry, almost animalistic manner in which Blair had attacked. While it had spurred Jim on, now that he thought back over it - he was slightly unerved. That had not been the Blair he'd known, the Blair he'd made love to and with for a month before the dissertation issue.

And Blair's eyes.

There was a change there too - eyes that had once been so open, so full of every thought and emotion now glittered dark and shuttered. At no time since he'd seen Blair in front of him on the beach had he known what Blair had been thinking, or for that matter, feeling - not once.

He frowned at that thought, rubbing his cheek against Blair's hair, his arms involuntarily tightening around Blair's body.

What could possibly have happened to Blair, what could the last months have been like for him if he'd had to bury himself so deeply that not even Jim could tell what was going on inside of him?

Jim brought up his hand and started absently playing with the short curls.

Blair's short hair. Jim smiled a half smile as he asked himself what had precipitated Blair's decision to cut his hair? Jim had to admit that while he certainly missed those long curls, the short ones were fun, unruly and Blair's hair so thick that Jim could still bury his face in the richness. And the access he now had to Blair's neck --- God, Blair's neck alone had been the cause of at least one orgasm.

The memory of which immediately brought him back to their recent bout of sex...

And that left him - worried again. But before he could allow that worry to coalesce, to form into a coherent thought, Blair stirred and started mumbling. Jim stroked his shoulder and whispered, "hey, buddy, you okay?"

A word mumbled into his skin but Jim caught it ---


"Yeah, Chief, it's me. Ming is on vacation."

A smile, then Blair shifted and raised his head to look up at Jim.

"Damn, and I really *like* Ming, you know?"

"Well, you're stuck with me indefinitely, Sandburg, so get used to it."

Blair lowered his head before Jim could see anything in his eyes.

"i could - get used to it."

"Good, cause that's the way it's gonna be from now on."

*Until the next time I screw up*, thought Blair, his hand tightening on Jim's shoulder.




The first four days of the two weeks were spent in the loft together, talking some, Jim catching Blair up on everyone, but primarily spent catching up on each other - especially body-wise.

Their lovemaking went from serious to funny, to downright juvenile. They somehow tripped onto the game of seeking each other out when least expected and pouncing.

Jim would come out of the shower, drying his hair and - Blair would attack.

Blair would be fixing lunch, Jim supposedly cleaning up in the bedroom, and suddenly Blair would find himself taken down by a six foot sentinel with a hard-on.

Jim would come into the loft after picking up the mail or the morning paper and find a 140- pound octupus wrapped around him, mouth latching onto the back of his neck.

As of the end of day four - Blair was ahead.

And considering that Jim was a sentinel - well, that said a great deal about how *much* Jim *wanted* to be *caught*.

As he stood in the living room, laughing at the current state of his partner who was flat on his back because this time Jim had accidently taken a step to his left just as Blair had attacked from the right, Jim decided it was time they got out of the loft. Time to fight off a delirous case of cabin fever and go to dinner.

Laughing at his partner's position, Jim struck out his hand and jerked his head. "Come on, Sandburg, on your feet. Let's blow this popsicle stand and grab a bite to eat."

He hauled Blair to his feet, still laughing and missed the shadow that crossed Sandburg's face.

"Uh, do we have to? How 'bout bringing in something?" Blair ran his hand over the front of Jim's jeans as he grinned up at the man.

Eyes glittering, Jim nodded. "You got it, Chief."




Blair sat at the dining room table, phone in hand. He needed to call Lori, tell her the news and ask her to take care of his apartment, pack his stuff and send it to him. He wasn't worried about book number three - he could finish that here, nothing had to change. Taking a deep breath, he punched in her number.


"Don't tell me I got you in bed *again*?"

"Blair? Hey, is everything all right?"

"Yeah, Lori, it is. Jim is okay now and - well - Lori, I'm..."

"You're moving back to Cascade?"

"Uh, yep."

"Uh, what a surprise."

They shared a laugh, then she added, "I suppose you need your place taken care of? Let the landlord know he can put it up for rent?" "Would you, Lori?"

"Hey, I'm your lawyer, right? That's what I do. I'll grab my hunky assistant and together we'll pack up your stuff and ship it out to you.  You just need to tell me when you're online again, okay?"

"You got it. I had the first six chapters ready before I - before I left, so when everything gets here, I'll send to you."

"Great. And Blair?"


"Is everything all right? *Really* all right?"

"As it can be, Lori, as it can be."

"Gee, that sounds - hopeful. NOT!"

"Jeez, warn a guy, will ya? You almost deafened me!"

"Sorry. But hell, certainly you can do better than *as it can be*. Is everything okay between you two now?"

Lori had been the only person that Blair had actually *seen* on a personal basis as his books had developed and as they'd worked together.  And in those later months he'd confided in his friend. Now he smiled at Lori's question.

"Yeah, everything is fine."

"Ah. And you said that with a smile."

"Yeah, I did. And I've got to go - Jim will be back any minute, okay?"

"Okay, I get it. Your stuff will be on its way and take care. Love you, Blair."

"Love you too, Lori. Bye."

As Blair said the words, the front door opened and Jim, frowning, stepped inside, arms full of Chinese.

Blair quickly hung up and hurried to Jim's side, taking one of the bags and walking into the kitchen with him. They set the bags down and started to remove the cartons as Jim asked, "You love someone named Lori, Chief? Should I be jealous?"

"No. And yes."

The carton in Jim's hand dropped to the floor at the same moment that Blair realized he'd answered in reverse. As they both dropped down and began to scoop up the white rice, Blair hastened to assure Jim.

"Uh, I mean, yes, I love Lori and no, you don't need to be jealous."

They stood, both their hands on the carton.

"You love someone named Lori but I don't need to be jealous?"

Blair frowned up at Jim as his hand tugged at the carton. When it came away, he turned and tossed it under the sink. Turning back, he said, "No, I mean, yes, I mean - oh, fuck. Look, Lori is an old friend. She lives in LA, okay? She's gonna take care of everything for me, pack up my stuff and send it on. That's all. And you're the one who spent the night with his ex-wife the minute things got tough, okay?"

Stunned at the sudden tone, not to mention the words, Jim took a step back.

"Whoa. Where did that come from, Sandburg?"

Blair closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Like he knew where that had come from? Fuck.

"Nowhere, Jim. Just forget I said anything. Didn't mean it." He waved his hand dismissively, then turned and took down two plates.

"I didn't spend the night with Carolyn, Blair. Well, I did, but I slept on the couch."

"Yeah, okay, like I said, just forget ---" he turned back, one eyebrow rising. "You did?"

"Yeah, Chief, I did."


"Not that she wasn't offering, Chief. And not that - she wasn't -

comforting, but Chief, I might have been confused back then, hurt even,

but I still loved you - would never have ---"

"Hey, it's okay, even if you *had* slept with her - I mean, it was all pretty harrowing, and you must have felt like shit, like you'd just been handed the biggest lump of coal in the world..."

Jim took Blair into his arms. And held tight. After several minutes, waiting for Blair's breathing to calm down, Jim whispered into the soft hair, "you know, superman could make a diamond from a lump of coal."

For a heartbeat - nothing. Then the body in his arms started to shake and that was followed by a deep rumbling against his chest and Jim was frightened because Blair was crying and Blair, he'd hadn't seen Blair cry since, god knew when and he'd made him cry and god damn it all...

Then he heard it. The snort. The Sandburg *laughing so hard I *can't* pee in my pants* snort...

Jim bopped him on the back of his head.

"You schmuck."

Blair lifted his laughing, tear streaked face to Jim, shook his head and waved his hand in the *I can't talk, I'm laughing too hard because Jim is a dick* gesture, even as he started to choke.

Taking a bit too much pleasure in the act, Jim patted him on the back - hard.

"Sorry, Ji-(hiccup)m. But, bu(hiccup) that was, sooo (hiccup) I mean - fuck." Sandburg gave up and went back to laughing.

Which was about the time that Jim realized that Blair was *really* laughing. A real, honest to god laugh. Deep, no holds barred laughter.  The *old* Sandburg laugh.

Jim smiled and let him laugh.




"God, I still can't believe you said that, Jim."

"I can't believe you laughed. That was, you know, one of those *moments*. Profound, full of love, cleansing..."

Blair glared at him over the rim of his coffee, then rolled his eyes.

"Uh, huh. Right.


"Hey, it *was*."

Blair snorted into his coffee and then said with a grin, "Actually, now that I think about it - I'm - insulted. I'm the coal? You're Superman?  Get real."

Jim tried to look wounded, but it didn't work.

They both started laughing.




"So, can you tell me about this Lori?"

Blair glanced up from his book and peered at Jim over the rim of his glasses. "Now?"

"Well, we're here, in bed. You're reading, I'm reading and feeling you up, yeah, now."

"You mean that's *you* down there?"

"No, it's Simon. Now talk."

"Man, he really gets around for a captain. And there's nothing to tell, Jim. Lori and I have known each other for about ten years. She moved to Los Angeles after she passed the bar."

"I can't believe you never mentioned her, Chief."

Blair shrugged and it was clear that he was done. But Jim wasn't.

"Were you and she - well, how close were you two?"

Realizing that he was going to have tell Jim more, Blair took off his glasses.

"At one point, early in our friendship, we were lovers. For several months, but - we were moving in different directions and I drove her crazy." Blair shrugged humorously and added, "You probably know the feeling."

"Yet you managed to remain friends?"

"We started out that way and we really liked each other - so why not?"

Jim had to admit that other than Maya and Sam, every woman or man that Blair had been involved with had ended up his friend. Jim doubted sincerely that if anything happened to their relationship again, if Blair found himself no longer *in love* with Jim - that Jim could remain *just* friends. He needed him too much. Loved him too much. But all he said was, "Yeah, why not."




"Hey, how 'bout a movie tonight?"

Blair twisted his head around and gazed up at Jim. They were lying on the couch, Jim with his back against the cushions and Blair with his back against Jim. Blair batted his eyelashes.

"You *really* want to leave this haven?" He batted again, then let his hand move over Jim's fleece-clad butt.

"What, you don't want to get outside? Catch that new Hanks flick?"

"Man become a castaway, man meets a ball, man builds a raft, man loses ball, man is rescued. There, now you've seen the movie."

Jim made a Blairpout and exclaimed in horror, "He LOSES the ball?!"

"Yep, sorry to be the bearer of bad news - the ball dies. A three hanky Hanks movie."

"Hollywood should know - you never kill off dogs, children or ---"

"Or balls."

"Right. So - no movie. How 'bout we just go out to dinner? Take a walk up the Promenade?"

Blair wiggled back against Jim and quipped, "Very comfortable where I am."

Jim groaned, then managed, "So - we, uh, stay put."

"Oh, yeah."

As Blair wiggled again, Jim gave a fleeting thought to the idea that Blair hadn't been outside ... but then his mind went dead as Blair turned in his arms and they were kissing and groping, their passions escalating nicely.




"Hey, wanna go down to Mama's Cafe for her apple pancakes?"

"Actually, Jim, I had some toast a while ago, before you got up. Not really hungry right now."

Hiding his disappointment, Jim went on. "Okay, how 'bout we take a walk on the beach? Maybe after a while you'll work up an appetite? Or how 'bout the gym?"

Blair looked up from his book and smiled easily. He took off his glasses and hooked them on the collar of his tee shirt. "Look, why don't you go to the gym, get a good work out and by the time you get back, I'll have some apple pancakes ready. How does that sound?"

"But I'd like you to go with me, you know? Work out together? Spot each other?"

"Just not in the mood. Sorry. But please, Jim, you go, okay?"

"Well, I really could use a good work-out. You sure you don't mind?"

His smile broadening, Blair shook his head. "I'm sure. Go, get all hot and sweaty, then come back for pancakes and more heat and sweat."

He waggled his eyebrows suggestively and made a pretty passable attempt at a leer. Jim grinned and nodded happily.

"You got it. And I'm holding you to the promise of apple pancakes, Sandburg."

"Hey, a promise is a promise. A man's word is his bond. A promise is a ring of..."

"Yeah, yeah. I get it. And I'm outta here."

Jim ran up the loft stairs, grabbed his gym bag and running shoes, then trotted back down. He dropped a kiss on Sandburg's forehead and headed out - still a bit disappointed, but eager for that work-out. He only had four more days and he needed to *feel* in shape. He'd put on a good deal of the weight he'd lost, but he felt sluggish, even *with* all the exercise he and Sandburg had been getting.

Jim smiled at that thought as he descended to the lobby and it was only as he pushed his way outside that a previously half formed thought made its way back into his consciousness.

Blair - hadn't been outside once since the beach.

Jim stopped dead, in the middle of the sidewalk and stared up at the loft.


Every. Single. Suggested. Outing.

Jim broke out in a cold sweat. But he didn't go back inside. He kept walking. To the gym. Four blocks. He needed to think and working out would allow his mind free rein.




"Look, Stu, I wouldn't be here if the favor weren't big, if I could have done it on the phone, I would have."

Commissioner Stuart Weaver stared across his desk at one of his oldest friends. Captain Simon Banks.

"Sorry, Simon, you're right." Stuart reached over and hit his intercom.

"Judy, hold all calls. Thank you."

Settling back in his chair, he gave his friend his undivided attention.

"No more interruptions. I'm all yours."

Simon stood and started to uncharacteristically pace. Weaver could see his friend was worried and he figured Detective James Ellison might be the reason.

"Is Ellison all right? Are we going to lose him?"

Simon turned to his friend and boss and smiled ruefully. "Guess that's why you're the Commissioner, eh? Yeah, this is about Jim, but not what you think. Actually, he's due back Monday and yes, he's much better. I expect a full return to duty."

Weaver sat forward, clearly relieved. "I can't tell you how glad I am to hear that, Simon. We really can't afford to lose him."

Taking a deep breath, Simon nodded and retook his seat. "And you don't know how relieved I am to have you say that, Stu. Because you're right - it's not every day a city is handed a Sentinel and we definitely can't afford to lose him." Simon sat back and waited.

Grey eyes blinked, the handsome face creasing in a frown. "Simon?"

"You heard me, Stu."



The man behind the desk exploded out of his seat in a burst of almost manic energy.


"Stuart, sit down. Or do you want everyone in your outer office to hear you?"

Weaver ignored the *order* to sit down but he did lower his voice as he stood over his friend.

"Simon, tell me you're *not* telling me what you just told me. Tell me that."

Simon gave Stuart an almost sympathetic look, but shook his head. "I can't tell you that, Stu. Because I am."

"Aw, shit." Weaver took two shaky steps back and rested his butt against the edge of his large mahogany desk.

"And Sandburg is back in Cascade, Stu."

"Aw, shit."

"No, this is a good thing, Stu. Because a sentinel needs his back-up, needs someone to keep him focused and that's what Blair Sandburg is - he's kind of like - a guide, so to speak. *That's* why I let him ride with Jim, *that's* why you kept okaying it. A sentinel can't do it alone - too many distractions. And Sandburg is back and Jim returns on Monday and we have to find some way to arrange for Sandburg to ride with him.  To *be* his partner."

Commissioner Stuart Weaver bent his head and rubbed his thumbs into his eyes. After a moment, he moved his fingers and thumbs to his temples.

"This isn't happening, Simon. You're a figment of my imagination. A bad dream, bad oysters last night for dinner. I'm gonna wake up in a minute, Stephy will be lying next to me and you *won't* be here."

"Would that be your wife, Stephanie, or would that be the tennis player Stephy Graff?"

"Fuck you, Simon."

Slowly, Weaver made his way back to his chair. He slid down and closed his eyes. "You're not joking, by any chance?"

"No, Stu, I'm not."

"What do you suggest? Another ninety day observer pass that goes on for three years? And what do you think will happen if the press get a hold of this?"

"It's been a year and a half, Stu. It's long over. He's very much old news. We can do this."

"And your team? As far as they know, Sandburg stabbed his friend and the department in the back. You think they're just gonna let him waltz back in?"

"They also saw their friend give up everything in a press conference.  And then disappear. And make no mistake - Blair Sandburg *was* their friend *and* a fellow officer - if unofficial. And Stu? Believe it or not, some of my people are actually - detectives. They figured it out.  They *know*."

"So what do you want me to do? Welcome him back with open arms?"

Simon lowered his gaze for a moment, then with dark eyes blazing, he said, "Actually, that's exactly what Blair deserves. And a whole lot more. He deserves a twenty-one gun salute for what he did, for what he gave up, and Stu, he gave up more than you can ever know. And as long as I'm on the subject of what you don't have a clue about, well, you don't have a clue about Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg and what they've done for this city and her citizens. Not a clue.

"You don't have a clue about what it means to *be* a sentinel, or to be the man who must teach and guide the sentinel. I've been with them every step of the way, I *know* I couldn't do it, in fact, in the last year and a half, *haven't* been able to help Jim. He's been mostly without his heightened senses. No, you can't begin to understand. So yes, you should welcome Blair Sandburg with open arms."

Weaver reached down and opened his bottom drawer. He lifted out a small brown bottle, uncapped it, reached back down, took out a small glass, filled it, handed it to Simon, who took it with a smile, then holding the bottle up in *cheers* motion, Weaver drank heartily. Simon gulped his down.

Wiping his mouth unceremoniously, Weaver said, "So, what's the solution?

How do we bring him back?"

"Well, now that you mention it, Stu," Simon said mildly, "I do happen to have a few ideas..."