Jim Ellison sat at his desk and wondered again how this had happened.
How was it that he would be spending New Year's Eve alone. Especially since being alone was so far removed from his original plans.
Ellison had planned to replicate last year but with a twist. He and Sandburg had been dateless last year and so had spent the evening together and it was while standing out on the balcony, listening to Cascade welcome in 1998, that the detective had realized just how deep his feelings for his partner had gone...feelings that had gone way past the love one friend has for another....
When Jim had acknowledged those feelings, he'd felt neither shock nor surprise. Just the opposite. It had felt like coming home after a long journey and finding everything he missed in one person. It had been exhilarating! And the best New Year's Eve of his life. Okay, he'd wasted 1998, kept his secret, but at Christmas he'd resolved to tell his friend on New Year's Eve...an anniversary of sorts. And now? Everything shot to hell. By one phone call.
He'd been upstairs, getting ready for work and had absently tuned into his partner to check his progress and had caught the tail- end of a phone conversation.
"Yeah, no problem, Carmen. No really...I'll pick you up at 9:00 as planned...Oh?....Alright. Yes, I *know* it's formal and yes, I know what a tux is...very funny, I'm holding my side here...HaHaHa...okay, see you then...me too."
Jim had frozen in the middle of buttoning his shirt....Blair had a date for New Year's Eve? His plans, his words of confession, his hopes, gone. Jim had managed to finish dressing, get downstairs, shovel the bitter taste away and act as if nothing had happened.
Once he and Blair got to the station business went on as usual. Filing reports, doing the "necessary evil" that was paperwork and Blair checking the computer for some information that would help them in a major theft case.
As the day wore on Jim wasn't surprised that the major topic of conversation was the upcoming Cascade P.D. New Year's Eve Dance. This was the second year for the department dance and while last years had been poorly attended due to its last minute inception, this years was shaping up to be the event of the year.
As Jim listened he was surprised to find how many of his fellow detectives were going "stag", including Connor. Ellison glanced over at Sandburg who was still engrossed in his search and made up his mind.
He'd be damned if he was going to spend this night alone. With more force than he intended, he shoved his chair back, rose and sauntered over to where Rafe, Brown, Taggert, Connor and a few others were standing.
"Hey, Jim, you going tonight?" Brown quizzed.
"Wouldn't miss it, H." And if his reply was a little too loud? A little to jovial? Only one person noticed. Blair's head had shot up at Jim's words and now he was staring at the detectives back.
"Cool." Brown responded.
"Rumor has it, Ellison, that you clean up nice. Guess now I'll get the chance to see for myself."
Jim looked at the Aussie and smiled.
"Connor, I'd be happy to let you have the first look....Pick you up?"
The Inspector was stunned. It was no secret that Ellison hadn't exactly welcomed the exchange officer with open arms, but since the one person she'd wanted to ask her, hadn't...what the hell.
"Yeah, sure, why not."
The expression of surprise that Sandburg had been sporting since hearing Jim say he was going now changed to one of shock and hurt.
He quickly turned back to the computer before anyone could see the flush beginning to creep over his face.
The invitations to the dance had gone out two weeks before Christmas and just like last year, Blair had been left off the invitation list. It had been no surprise last year....Sandburg had accepted it, after all, he was still an unknown quantity and besides, Jim hadn't planned on going. The two men stayed home, watched old movies, ate popcorn and decided that if they made it to midnight, they'd celebrate with champagne and watch the festivities from the balcony. They had made it to midnight and if Blair had thought one thing was missing, like a New Year's kiss, well, it had been the finest New Year's Eve he'd ever had.
This year he "had" expected an invitation and had been bitterly disappointed when none was forthcoming. But then he'd also planned on repeating last years New Year's Eve with Jim. Okay....assumptions. No one knew better than Blair Sandburg where assuming could get you.
It not only made the proverbial "ass" out of you and me, but it also kicked you solidly in the gut.
And now Jim "was" going to the dance "and" taking Connor!
Blair felt the all too familiar "black hole" starting to take over and knew he had to get out and get out fast, before he made a complete fool of himself. He gathered up his stuff and looked quickly over at Jim who was leaning against Browns desk, arms folded across his chest, laughing with the others.
"Yo! Jim! Gotta run, man, forgot some errands. Catch you later." And without waiting for a reply, Blair made a hasty retreat.
Somehow he managed to get down to his car without any problems but once safely ensconced behind the wheel the shaking started. He closed his eyes and started his deep breathing exercises...something he hadn't needed in years. After ten minutes he felt safe to drive.
Jim couldn't believe he was doing this. Putting on a tux, going to a dance he didn't want to go to *and* going with the wrong person.
And who the hell was this Carmen anyway?
Blair had never even mentioned her...shit. He looked at his watch. It was 7:45 and he'd promised to pick Connor up at 8:00, so now he was late on top of everything else.
As Ellison started down the stairs he was startled to hear Sandburg outside the door, struggling with his keys. Jim had assumed that when he'd come home to an empty loft, Blair had already left for *his* date.
The front door opened and Sandburg stepped in, loaded down with books.
The younger man looked up as Jim took the last steps down. "Hey, Jim, you look great!"
Blair felt his jaw clench and a telltale blush start up again so he bent his head down, letting his hair hide the red as he dropped the books onto the kitchen table. Blair also felt an unaccustomed burning sensation behind his eyes and was glad Jim was now behind him, putting on his coat and grabbing his keys. He heard the door open and called out, "Uh, Jim? Have a good time...and....it's New Year's Eve.... drunk drivers and all....drive safe, okay?"
"Always, Chief, always. Play safe yourself tonight." Then the door shut and Blair was alone.
He stood next to the table for a few minutes, not moving, trying not to let the tears drop, to rein in his emotions.
//Okay, Sandburg, you feel like shit. Fine. You're alone, so? You've been alone before and will be again...nothing new there. You're not a cop. The dance is for cops...You are an observer, not even on the payroll....you are there for Jim and nothing else...no reason to be invited.//
//No except...You*are*not*a*cop. You're a shadow, Ellison's shadow....in the background, where you belong. You*are*not*part*of*the*team.//
And if he were honest with himself? Would he want to be a part of the team?
Jim Ellison's life had become Blair Sandburg's. It was as simple and as complicated as that. Yes, he was still an anthropologist, but that had served it's purpose....it had found him his Sentinel. His obsession.
From the time he was twelve....finding a real sentinel. No one understood, not even his mother, not Jim....no one. Certainly none of the women he'd dated....high maintenance, that's what they'd say
eventually, right before leaving him...impossible to maintain relationship with someone who was obsessed. And since finding Jim?
They still left....couldn't compete with his time given to Jim. And Jim? More than Blair had ever hoped his sentinel would be....His Sentinel. Blair had been set down on this path over seventeen years ago....a path that led straight to the older man. And it was all he wanted, all he needed.
The discovery of Jim had relegated everything, his school, his teaching, even his dissertation, to the backseat of his life. He loved being a part of the bigger man's life, his job, Major Crimes....
//Yeah, except you're "not" a part of his life or the team....and now you know it. And his life will never be yours//
Blair was suddenly reminded of that old philosophical question, "If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, does it make any noise?" And if you're a guide and the Shaman of the Great City, but
no one knows it or acknowledges it....are you?
//Okay Blair, enough of the pity party here. Get a hold of yourself. *You* chose this path, accept it//
Blair shook himself, picked up the books and took everything into his room. So he was alone.
He could still enjoy the night, change into nice warm sweats, watch a favorite movie or two, open the split of champagne and eat some popcorn.....maybe try and reach Naomi in New Mexico....then.....go to bed....alone.
The Cascade Country Club was teeming with New Year's Eve revellers. There were no less than four parties going on....and the Cascade P.D.'s just one of them.
Jim stood by the banquet table, trying, unsuccessfully, to tune down all the sounds, smells and lights. A headache was making itself known and the only thing he wanted was to be home....with Blair. It was only a little after 9:00 and he doubted that he would make it to midnight.
Connor was on the dance floor with Rafe and Jim had been saved from the obligatory "trade" dance by Joel who had swept Rafe's date, Karen, onto the dance floor.
Simon came up beside him looking worried.
"Jim? You alright?"
"Fine, Simon. Just a little headache."
"I haven't seen Sandburg.....you want me to try and find him?"
"He's not here, Simon. He had......other plans for the evening."
Jim did his best at making his response sound disinterested. It didn't work.
"Sandburg isn't here? He had other plans?"
Jim dropped his empty glass on the table behind him, took a deep breath and faced his captain."That's what I said. Sandburg does have a life you know...outside of Major Crimes. He's seeing someone named Carmen. Picked her up at nine."
"Carmen? Why does that name sound familiar?"
The music had ended and Rafe and Connor joined the two men just as Simon asked his question.
"What name?" Connor asked.
"Carmen. Blair's date tonight." Simon answered, "I was trying to figure out why it sounded so familiar."
"*Dr.* Carmen Mosquera." Connor took a champagne glass from a passing waiter, "She's the guest speaker at the Anthropological Conference next week. Sandy's been talking about it for weeks. She's one of the first people he worked with when he started at Rainier." Megan looked at the men as if they should know what she was talking about.
Simon looked at Jim, "So Blair's spending New Year's Eve with this Dr. Mosquera?"
It was Connor who answered.
"Don't think so Captain, Dr. Mosquera doesn't arrive in Cascade until *next* Thursday. Sandy said he was picking her up at the airport at nine in the morning. There's a formal reception later that night."
Everyone was looking at Connor as if she had two heads.
"I told you, mates...Sandy's been talking about it for weeks. Don't you guys listen to him?"
Jim was saved from answering by the arrival of Joel and Karen. Joel looked angrier than anyone could remember seeing him.
"Simon, tell me you didn't know about this?"
"Taggert, what are you talking about?"
"Simon, it's a slap in our faces, you didn't know, did you?"
"Joel, slow down and tell us what the hell you're talking about."
"We were dancing and Karen was getting hot so we went out onto the veranda and several guys from vice, Williams, Fox, Peterson and some others, were talking about the dance. They didn't see us and Williams was saying how Ellison was here without his "shadow" and the others laughed and then Peterson said that Ellison's little "boytoy" wasn't here because he, Peterson, had been in charge of the invitations and hadn't sent him one." Joel took a breath, "Simon, we're all here and Blair isn't."
For Jim, this news was the final blow. He'd been so sure Blair had a date and now to find out he hadn't been invited....God, what must he be feeling? Shit.
"Look, I've got to get out of here...Megan? I'm sorry...but."
Connor held up a hand, "It's okay, Jim, I understand. Go."
Simon added, "Don't worry, I'll get her home."
Connor lit up like a Christmas tree at that and Jim had a fleeting thought of, "So that's the way the wind blows?" before striding across the ballroom and out to the truck.
Blair had every cupboard in the kitchen open, contents searched and still no popcorn and no champagne.
//I'll be damned if I'm going to go into 1999 without champagne and no way am I going to watch "Diehard" without popcorn//
It was a little after nine and he knew Van's Liquor was open. Blair grabbed a jacket and his keys.
The streets were quiet and no one was in Van's when he arrived. Blair waved to Pete, the owner's son, as he found his treasures and set them on the counter.
"Blair, I'm surprised to see you without your shadow."
Blair, who'd been checking his sweat pockets, looked up at Pete's remark. "My shadow?"
"Yeah, Detective Ellison. I mean, you're never in here without him."
Pete leaned forward conspiratorially, "He follows you down every aisle. Susie thinks it's cute." Pete winked.
Blair was dumbfounded. Jim? His shadow?
"That'll be $33.50, Blair." Pete gave a big grin, "That's $2.50 for the champagne and $31.00 for the popcorn." Pete was laughing uproariously at his own joke.
"You're a funny guy."
Pete smiled and winked again.
Blair was still checking his pockets and finally came to the conclusion that he'd left his wallet at home, "In his other pants".
"Uh, Pete, seems I left my wallet at home, hold onto this stuff and I'll be back in a few minutes."
"Blair, don't worry about it, I know you're good for it....bring it by Friday or Saturday. Happy New Year."
"You're not only a funny man, you're a good man too."
"Susie says the same thing, if you know what I mean?" And he waggled an eyebrow suggestively.
"Pete, wives have to say that. It's in their contracts."
"Hoho, I bet you keep Ellison in stitches." Pete handed the bag to the younger man.
"Yeah, stitches. Thanks for the trust, man, and you and Susie have a great New Year. Give her a kiss for me."
The expressive eyebrows waggled again as Pete waved the anthropologist out the door.
Back in the Volvo, Blair felt the beginnings of another depressive mood so as he pulled away from the curb he started another series of lectures. But the closer he got to the empty loft, the less power the lectures seemed to have. By the time he'd stopped at the signal at Prospect and Evans the depression was well-rooted.
For a moment, Blair actually felt silly. The streets were empty, not another car in sight and there he sat, at a red light. He actually contemplated running the light but then his own good sense *and* the sound of another car squelched his brief rebellious idea. Idly he watched the red Chevy Blazer move toward the intersection. Then something caught his eye and he turned his head to look ahead. Another car, this one without headlights, was travelling southbound on Prospect and its speed looked to be at least 60+mph. Way too fast for approaching an intersection where it had a red light. And it showed no signs of slowing. At that point, everything went into slow motion for Blair.
The Chevy moved into the intersection, oblivious to any danger, while the other car bore down on its unsuspecting victims. Blair tried to use his horn, as a warning, but it was too late...way too late.
The two vehicles met in a metal-crunching, bone crushing impact. As Blair watched, helpless, the Chevy was slammed sideways and pushed into the pole on Blair's corner. The other car was now out of control and headed straight for the Volvo. There was nothing the young man could do as he watched the inexorable course of the car.
The last thing he thought before metal brutally collided with metal was:
Screaming. He heard screaming. He opened his eyes and turned his head.
Ooookay, movement was not necessarily a good thing. Blair tried to remember why not. The car. Running the light. The other car?
Blair reached down and snapped the seatbelt open, climbed painfully out of his car and dazedly looked around him.
The Chevy lay on its side, the passenger side resting up against the pole. Blair could see the smoke coming from the undercarriage and he could smell the fumes of leaking fuel. To his left, the other car rested on "its" side in the middle of the median. A man was walking, no, stumbling, away.
Blair shook his head, trying to clear it and felt warm liquid on his face. He reached up and found, not to his surprise, blood. He really wanted to curl up on the asphalt and go to sleep, but he was drawn to the Chevy. As he got closer he could see a woman starting to slump forward as her airbag deflated. Somehow Blair knew, *knew* the woman didn't have much time....that the car was going to blow.
Heedless of his own pain, he ran to the door, grabbed the handle, pulled and was rewarded with the sluggish give as it opened. He quickly reached in, snapped her seatbelt open, placed his right hand carefully on the back of her neck, his left hand on her forehead, then while doing his best to keep everything aligned, he brought her back against the seat.
She was bleeding from a cut on her forehead and from the nose, which looked broken, probably from flying pieces of steering wheel that housed the airbag. A voice was telling him to get her out NOW! He listened.
It was difficult, moving her and trying to protect her neck and spine, but finally he had her safely in his arms and was moving away.
When he felt he was out of harm's way, he gently lowered his charge to the ground. He took off his jacket, folded it and placed it under the woman's head, then stripped off his sweatshirt and covered her legs. He could now hear sirens and hoped that meant someone had called for help.
People were just now beginning to show up around the scene.
It should be safe now...but. Something was pulling him back to the Chevy. The same voice that had told him the car was going to blow, was now telling him to go back. Again, he *knew*....someone else was still in the car.
Blair hurried back to the car, going this time to back door. This door didn't give so easily. It took every bit of strength Blair possessed to pry it open. The damage back here was much worse than the front of the car....twisted metal, seats in the air...the pole.....Blair would have given anything if Jim were here. He would have been able to tell if someone was trapped. Would have been able to hear a heartbeat.
At that moment, Blair's own hearing picked up a small, distinct, "Mommy".
He crawled half way in, trying to peer under the bent seat and torn metal. There. A small hand.
"Honey? Your mommy is okay. Do you want to see her?"
There was a rustling sound followed by a small, "yes."
"Can you see my hand?" he asked gently.
"Can you move, honey?"
"I know, sweetie, I know. But try to reach my hand and I promise to get us both out, okay? Will you do that for me?"
There was no immediate answer and Blair knew the car was going to blow any second. They were both out of time.
Blair reached even farther as he saw a small, pale hand come out around the broken seat. His hand connected and wrapped around the smaller one and he gently pulled. She came out, a little girl of maybe six and he took her into his arms. Everything was telling him to hurry, to run, do not stop, do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars....get the hell out. He did. But he couldn't get far enough. The smoke, the hissing wires, the sparks, all finally collided with the fuel and the car blew.
The intense force of the explosion propelled him through the air and his only thought was to protect the small bundle in his arms. Then everything went black.
It was a forty minute drive from the country club back into the city and Jim tried not to hurry, not to speed, but the idea of Blair, alone and feeling......his foot came down harder and his speedometer climbed.
Ellison felt like kicking himself from one end of town to the other. He was a Sentinel, God Dammit....he'd heard Blair's heart pounding, felt the heat of his hurt, but his own pain got in the way of correctly diagnosing what he was hearing, what he was sensing. And all the signs "were" there, as always. As up front and honest as Blair himself.
Ellison turned onto Evans and long before he got to Prospect he could *see* the flashing lights. He focused his sight on the corner and saw the remains of what was obviously a multi-car accident. There were no ambulances left at the scene only police cars and a fire engine. His sense of smell told him there had been a fire and as his eyes scanned the area he saw the remains of a burned vehicle. His eyes continued there exploration. His heart seemed to stop. One of the cars.....a green Volvo. He frantically scanned the group of people standing around the scene.....no Blair.
Jim pulled the truck over and parked. Pulling out his badge, he quickly identified himself to the first police officer he encountered. "Jim Ellison, Major Crimes. That Volvo over there belongs to my partner. What can you tell me?"
The officer had recognized the detective immediately. "Det. Ellison, I'm sorry...I can't give you much information.....".
"What can you tell me," He demanded.
The officer pulled out his notebook. "There were five victims. A woman and child were transported to Mercy, one male was treated here at the scene and arrested for alleged drunk driving, a second male was transported to Cascade General and.....". He closed his book and looked up at the detective, "I'm sorry, sir, one male was dead at the scene and also transported to Cascade General."
Jim stood, swaying, eyes closed. No. Blair wasn't dead. He wasn't. Couldn't be. He'd know. He-would-know.
Ellison thanked the officer and walked over to the Volvo for a brief inspection before it was towed. He assessed the amount of damage and blood. He ran back to the truck and drove at breakneck speed for
The gang from Major Crimes was only twenty minutes behind Jim.
Once Jim had left, they had unanimously decided to "split". After all, if one member of their team had not been invited, then none of them were invited. And Simon hadn't spared any words in telling Captain Evers of Vice exactly how they all felt. With heads high, the entire group of Major Crimes had stormed out....intent on taking the party to Peppino's then onto the loft to wish Blair a Happy New Year and extend several apologies. Peppino's came first due to the overwhelming feeling that Jim would want to be "alone" with his partner for awhile before company descended upon them.
Peppino's was north of the loft so everyone had to pass the intersection of Evans and Prospect.
Simon saw the Volvo first, as it was being loaded onto a tow truck. He quickly pulled over, in the same spot as Ellison, just minutes earlier. He jumped out and tried to get as much information as possible. The other cars pulled in behind Simon's. Taggert reached Simon first, who was now on his cell phone. The others climbed out of cars and stood quietly, faces solemn, dread filling their hearts.
After several minutes and several fruitless phone calls, Simon had as much information as Jim had received. He walked back to the group.
"Three cars involved. One fatality. One male taken to Cascade General. One male arrested. Let's go people."
The caravan headed for Cascade General.