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....
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
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
He could hear a sharp intake of
breath, than a rustling sound and finally Lori's voice, sharp and clear.
//Blair? *My* Blair? Holy
"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?//
//Of course. And still with
"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
//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,
//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
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
"Come on, Lori. You
She tilted her head and regarded
him steadily. Then, "You mean the dissertation mess?"
"I like that. The
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 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."
"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
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
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
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
"Yeah, yeah, I have. Jake
"Ooh, I like. Tough, ex-coppish.
Very good. I'll get that on all the docs. And you're not eating, you're
"I'm eating." To prove
his point, he clicked on a piece of pepper and popped it into his mouth. "Seme?"
"You going to tell me what's
really going on?"
He shook his head and smiled.
"Lori, Lori, Lori..."
"We used to hit the sack at
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
For groceries, he found
HomeGrocer.com. For entertainment ranging from movies to popcorn, he found
Kosmo.com. 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
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,
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
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
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
"We have men up there now, I
"Yes, sir, and Connor is
interviewing Mrs. Perkins. I'm getting ready to go up myself. Everyone is in
Simon nodded, then one eyebrow
rose in question.
"They're online tonight,
"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
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
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
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
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....
BS - parts unknown
JE - 911
SB - Cascade
His breath caught and with a
shaking hand, Blair reached for the phone....
The present collided with the
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"hey, there you are.
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 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
"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*
"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.
Jim squinted, his brows knitted
together in thought as he struggled for an answer. Then, "no, no, never a
Jim stepped closer as Blair held
his breath and watched as the older man concentrated on the beat below his
"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."
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?
"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
"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,
"no, no, need you
"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
"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
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
Simon's presence was making him
edgy, reminding him of all his failures and he fervently wished the man would
"So what have you been doing
"Hardly. Just - living.
"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
God, this was so wrong. He
shouldn't be here. He could feel his jaw tighten and hot burning liquid behind
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
"She's fine, I'm sure."
"The way Jim is fine?
"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."
"What the fuck is the matter
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."
"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?
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
Blair tightened further into his
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
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
"I was on the phone with
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."
"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
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."
"If the current warming
trend continues, we could experience a foot and a half rise in the sea
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.
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
Sheepishly, Blair sank back down
into his chair.
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
"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?"
Sandburg gave an almost shy nod,
then picked up the tablet, stuffed it into the drawer of the desk and walked
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,
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
"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
"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."
Blair shrugged dismissively just
as Jim's stomach gave a loud yell.
"Oh, ho, hungry are we,
"Woke me up."
"Well, come on, let's feed
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
"i thought he'd have gone
home?" Jim whispered.
"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
"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.
"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,
"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 -
"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?"
"And if I never *not* need
"If that's what you
"And what about what Blair
"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
"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
"No, just said he was
worried about you, that your senses were causing you great difficulty and
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
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.
"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.... "
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
"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 -
"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
"No, Chief, he was absent
"Jim - I'm so - sorry, so
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?
"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."
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
"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
"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."
"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
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....
"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
"Uh?" He lifted his
cheek from the warm chest and tilted his head up.
"Do. we. pack. my. stuff.
"Are you crazy?"
"Gee, I don't think so,
Chief. It's a simple question."
"Why would you want to go to
"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
"Jim, I'm *here*."
"Well, yeah, *now*. But
maybe you have a life in Irvine now. One you want. What *were* you doing in
"Nothing - I work from my
apartment. Which I could do just as easily *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,
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
"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
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.
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
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 -
"Man, you are *so*
"Yeah, I am, aren't I? But
then, so was Simon. Very obviously giving us time together, time to make
"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
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.
"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
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
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
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
"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
And considering that Jim was a
sentinel - well, that said a great deal about how *much* Jim *wanted* to be
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
"Blair? Hey, is everything
"Yeah, Lori, it is. Jim is
okay now and - well - Lori, I'm..."
"You're moving back to
"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
"Gee, that sounds - hopeful.
"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
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
"Yeah, everything is
"Ah. And you said that with
"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.
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
"Uh, I mean, yes, I love
Lori and no, you don't need to be jealous."
They stood, both their hands on
"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,
Stunned at the sudden tone, not
to mention the words, Jim took a step back.
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
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
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
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*
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,
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
Jim tried to look wounded, but it
They both started laughing.
"So, can you tell me about
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."
"No, it's Simon. Now
"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
"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."
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."
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
"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."
"Yep, sorry to be the bearer
of bad news - the ball dies. A three hanky Hanks movie."
"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."
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.
"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
"But I'd like you to go with
me, you know? Work out together? Spot each other?"
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
"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
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
Settling back in his chair, he
gave his friend his undivided attention.
"No more interruptions. I'm
Simon stood and started to
uncharacteristically pace. Weaver could see his friend was worried and he
figured Detective James Ellison might be the reason.
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
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
"Aw, shit." Weaver took
two shaky steps back and rested his butt against the edge of his large mahogany
"And Sandburg is back in
"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
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
"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*."
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..."