//The kid's only been gone two weeks and Ellison is already a basketcase. How are any of us going to survive another five and half months?//
Simon Banks looked out at the bullpen, specifically at Detective Jim Ellison. "God," he thought, "He's already reverting back to the man of over three years ago...". Slowly Simon got up from behind his desk and walked to his open door. "Ellison."
Jim looked up from the computer screen to see Simon motioning him. He rose and joined him in his office.
"Jim, I'm going to partner you with Connor, effective immediately."
Simon had been pouring himself a cup of coffee when he heard Jim's very flat "no". The coffee missed the cup and hit the floor as Simon jerked around to face his detective.
"No? NO, Detective Ellison?"
"I have a partner."
Simon took a deep breath, carefully set the cup and pot down, then turned back. "Your "partner" is currently in Ecuador, Jim, and I *want* you to work with Connor."
"No." Ellison's lips were drawn tight.
"Maybe you didn't understand....This is not a request, a suggestion or a favor...This is an order, Detective Ellison."
"I didn't need a partner before Sandburg and I don't need one until his return. He'll be back in a few months."
"I won't partner with Connor or anyone else. You want my badge?"
"You'd turn in your badge over this?"
Simon realized for the first time, how serious this was to Jim. It was time to discard his rank and be a friend. "If I pushed this, you'd quit?"
"And do what, exactly?"
"Go to Ecuador."
Simon's eyes widened and he fell back against his chair.
"Ecuador? You'd go to Ecuador?" At Jim's nod, Simon continued, "And do what? Help me out here Jim."
"I'd be with him."
Four simple words. And yet they told Simon everything. "Jim...you...you're in love with him."
"Yes. Crazy, isn't it? But there it is."
"Before Sandburg left you were barely talking to him...you were crippling yourself and him with your guilt....and now you'd drop everything and head out to Ecuador? What about the fears we talked
about, right here in this office the day of the Lowell bust? Remember that Jim? How you should never have let Sandburg move back in, that he should have a real life...a life without the danger, without you putting him in danger? And how you hated yourself? And how just looking at Sandburg hurt because of your guilt? Ring a bell, Jim? And about the fact that you couldn't forgive yourself for betraying him?"
Jim looked down at the floor, then back up at his friend. "Simon, I still feel that way. The difference is that now I know how much I love him...need him...I just pray that he can forgive me."
"GOD DAMMIT, JIM!" Simon's fist came down hard on his desk top, "*He* never had that problem! Would he have come back to the loft if there was anything for him to forgive? The only one who can't forgive you...is you. And Jim, until you do forgive yourself, you're no good to yourself or to Blair."
"Then why did he go to Ecuador?" The question was a plea and Simon wasn't sure he could answer his friend.
"Jim, those last few weeks...before Alex, things weren't exactly good for the kid...I'm not sure what happened between you, but let's face it..it was already rough sailing...then Alex and the weeks following...Jim, I hate to say this, but Blair needed you and you were so distant. You never talked it out, not even the Lowell thing. So maybe he felt he "had" to take this trip, give you some time, put some
distance between you."
Jim couldn't argue the logic. The grief he'd given Blair over the dissertation, then Alex... Simon was right, Jim needed to forgive himself.
"Simon, I need...a few days...to process this. Can you hold off on partnering me with Connor? As a favor?"
The big man couldn't help but smile at Jim's use of a Sandburg phrase and he certainly couldn't turn his request down...not now.
"Take what you need, Jim, you've certainly got it coming...We'll talk on Monday. Fair enough?"
"Yeah, and thanks, Simon."
Taking a few days off seemed the answer, until Jim got to his truck.
Days. At home. Without Blair.
Jim drove aimlessly out of the police garage. He drove so aimlessly that he was soon driving around Rainier. He drove around the campus and then around again. And how many times did he think he saw Blair?
How many times was he almost able to convince himself that he was there to pick Sandburg up, like he'd done so many times? And how many times did he think he saw the Volvo? Frustration finally drove him away from the campus.
And he did see the Volvo. Parked in front of a bookstore. A Blair bookstore. Jim's heart jumped into his throat. BLAIR WAS BACK! Blair was back? Jim pulled in behind the car.
As he got out of the truck, a young man came out of the bookstore, unlocked the Volvo and dropped his package into the front seat, then went around to the driver's side. Only he didn't make it. The young man found himself spreadeagled on the front of his car, hands on the hood and a gruff voice identifying himself as a cop and commanding him to
"Hey, man, I didn't *do* anything."
"Then you'll have no trouble explaining why you were about to get into this car."
"The car is mine, I "own" it, man. Chill. The registration is in the glove compartment."
"And just how long have you owned it?"
"I bought it from the professor over a month ago and he delivered it a couple of weeks ago..on a Saturday."
The young man felt the pressure ease and the hand on his back leave. He waited a few moments and when nothing else happened he slowly turned to face the cop.
"Hey, I know you. I've seen you with the "prof" at the U."
The big man didn't move. He just kept looking at the car.
"Man? You okay?"
Cold blue eyes met his own, "You bought this car from Blair Sandburg?"
"Yeah, he knew how I wanted it and weeks ago he offered it to me. He gave me a real good deal too, I felt kinda guilty, the prof is cool, you know? But he said.....", he didn't finish, the big man was walking
towards a truck and a few moments later, drove off.
"Simon?" The voice was a mere whisper.
"Jim? What's wrong? Are you okay?"
"Simon, he's gone."
//Oh God, he's lost it//
"Jim, listen to me. Are you at home?"
"Yes. But you don't understand. He's really gone."
"Jim, stay put. I'm on my way."
Simon drove to his friends loft with light and siren. He was scared.
Jim had sounded..... over the edge.
As he drove he tried to imagine himself so connected to someone that even the slightest absence would be devastating. His foot pushed the accelerator all the way to the floor. He'd never experienced such a
connection, but had envied it in his own grandparents. They'd never been separated by more than twenty-four hours in their fifty year marriage.
When his grandmother had died suddenly.....his grandfather had followed....twenty-four hours later.
Was Jim, could Jim, be *that* connected to Blair? And if he was, what about Blair?
Simon pulled into a parking space in front of Jim's building.
When Simon got up to the third floor, the door to number 307 was open and Jim stood there, pale and looking ten years older.
"He sold the Volvo."
"Sold. Not in a garage at a friends, not on blocks...sold"
"Because he never intends on coming back. He's gone. Really gone."
Simon followed Jim over to the couch, "Jim, I'm sure there is a logical explanation for this...He decided at the last minute...".
"He sold it weeks ago and delivered it on the Saturday before he left. The Saturday he said he was taking it to his friend's for storage."
Simon sat down next to his friend, "There has got to be a reason...other than what you're thinking....Sandburg wouldn't do that, wouldn't leave you."
"And why not? I nearly got him killed, kicked him out of his home, treated him like shit. WHY THE FUCKING HELL SHOULD HE STAY? Uh? Tell me? Why?"
Simon thought of all that the two men had shared, had been through...the way Sandburg would look at Jim, his panic when Jim was hurt or missing...The way he had looked that day, at the fountain, when his eyes had finally opened and he saw Jim, how his eyes never left Jim's face, followed him as they put him into the ambulance, never strayed as Jim climbed in with him.....never once broke that "connection".
"He loves you, Jim." Simon was certain.
"I don't know. But we'll figure this out. I promise." And with those words he got up and went to Jim's phone.
"Brown? Listen. I want you and Rafe to head over to Rainier. Find out everything you can about a Dr. Welch and this trip to Ecuador....yeah, that's what I said...no...no trouble....just do it. And Brown? Find out where they are now. Right. Thanks." He turned back to the couch, "Jim, I swear, somehow we'll have answers before this day is out."
For the first time that day, Jim felt hopeful. Maybe, just maybe, he'd have a chance to tell Blair how he felt....to ask for his forgiveness.
An hour later they had part of the answer. Brown called back and Simon listened for several minutes, not talking, just nodding. Jim could certainly have "listened" in but his mind was busy planning the words, the touches....
A hand on his shoulder brought him out, "Jim?"
He looked up and tensed immediately. He stood to face Simon and waited.
//How do I tell him? Just say it.//
"There is no expedition. Dr. Welch is in New York at NYU giving a lecture series."
Blue eyes blinked at brown.
"There's more, isn't there?"
Simon put his hand on his friends arm, "Sit down, Jim." Jim didn't move, "Say it, Simon."
"Blair met with his dissertation committee...he told them there wouldn't be any dissertation. That his subject had.....lied. That he'd been duped, fooled. He then, as best as Rafe and Brown can put together,
destroyed all his notes, his research, his writings, everything. And this all happened during the two weeks following Blair's release from the hospital."
Jim moved unsteadily around the bigger man, around the couch. Then a wail filled the loft and assaulted Simon's ears and Jim Ellison fell to his knees, his body shaking, his head moving back and forth and finally the wailing ceased and Simon could hear only...nononono. He rushed over to Jim's side, knelt down in front of him, reached out and tried to pull his friend toward him, into his arms, but at the first contact Jim screamed, his hands flew to his head...
"Make it stop Blair...make it stop! It hurts, Blair, you can make it stop....", then, "pleasepleasepleaseblairblairblair.....".
Simon could only rely on his observations of how Blair had handled Jim through the years and he knew Jim was experiencing a severe sensory overload. But Simon wasn't Blair, he couldn't talk Jim's senses down, couldn't help him control them, so he told him to do what he would want to do in similiar circumstances....
"TURN THEM OFF, JIM! TURN THEM OFF!"
And he did grab Jim then, pulled his head up and forced Jim to look at him, make eye contact. He could see the pain blazing in them.
"JIM, TURN THEM OFF NOW!"
His words must have gotten through to the sentinel because slowly, oh, so slowly, his body began to relax and then he fell forward into Simon's arms. Simon held him, arms wrapped tightly around him.
For Blair, the days before the club's opening passed in a haze. He had been successful in getting the job at the bookstore and his life now consisted of a six hour shift, from ten to four, at the bookstore, then shower and change, grab something to eat, if he remembered, then over to the club for the training sessions with his staff. The two men were both in their twenties, good looking and apt pupils. In the early morning hours he would head to his room, sit in a chair and drink until he could sleep. After a few hours of alcohol induced rest, his day would start again.
The club had been open for over two weeks and was doing very well, with customers coming from Seattle and surrounding cities. The band, Polar Opposites, was popular and the singer, Jesse could be
outstanding. Unfortunately, he could also be erratic, temperamental and often strung out. The bar was a great success, with patrons surrounding the three men, watching their antics.
On Friday afternoon, a couple of hours before opening, all hell broke loose.
"Quinn, he's just disappeared. Gone. We have no lead singer for tonight. No replacement."
Tony was clearly in a panic, pacing back and forth in front of Quinn's desk, "We're sunk, we'll have to play taped music all night."
Quinn knew that would not be as devastating as Tony feared. The patrons would just spend more time in the bar and if he moved Blair around all evening, from the private bar upstairs to the main bar.....The real fact was that if he could get Blair to "stay" upstairs....to "really" service his private customers....but no, not yet "Tony, relax, we can get by..and I think you underestimate Dottie. With a little work and some time, she can easily replace Jesse."
"But a few days? Quinn, it's Friday, tomorrow is Saturday, our two best nights."
"Why don't you lipsync Joe?"
Both men looked at the door, which Tony had left open. Blair stood there, a liquor inventory sheet for Quinn's signature, in his hand.
Tony spoke first, "Lipsync Joe? Care to explain that?"
Blair stepped into the room, "Joe and Jesse could be twins if you're looking at the stage from the floor of the club and you have all the rehearsals taped."
Quinn caught the idea immediately.
"Tony, there's your solution. Take it to Joe. Make it happen."
Tony heard Quinn's tone. It was his Jean Luc Picard voice. He hurried out of the office.
Blair moved forward, holding out the inventory sheet. Quinn took it, signed it and handed it back, "Blair, sit for a minute", and he indicated a chair. Blair took it and Quinn took a few moments to appraise the young man in front of him. Blair was thin, but it looked....good...sexy. His face was pale, almost translucent, his cheekbones, his eyes and lips accented by both the thinness and the pale skin. Quinn knew the man was almost thirty, but he looked several years younger. Quinn had already had several offers for Blair's "services" and he'd hated turning those offers down, especially since he could so easily visualize Blair *delivering* those services....naked, on his knees...and he could see himself, behind Blair.....
Blair's voice roused him.
"Sorry Blair, just thinking about your solution today...I'm impressed."
Blair just shrugged.
"You've turned into quite an asset to my club. I want you to know that I'm very appreciative."
Quinn suddenly realized he might have a way to "ease" Blair in the direction that would greatly benefit both of them, "In fact, don't be surprised to find a little something extra in your paycheck tomorrow."
Blair stood, "That's not necessary", and he gave Quinn a small smile, "But I'll take it."
Quinn nodded and watched the man as he walked out. Yes, he knew just how to hook his beautiful number one bartender. Give him a taste of the money he could be making. He quickly wrote himself a note to ensure that an extra five hundred would be in his pay. That should "wet" his appetite.
Simon had finally got Jim off the floor and now they sat, desperately trying to put the pieces together.
"Jim, there is something we have to agree on before we go any further....".
There was no response from Jim. Simon touched his arm gently, "Jim, do you hear me?"
A small nod.
"Good. You have got to agree not to do anything stupid...and we both know what I mean...agreed?" Again, no response.
"Ellison, look at me. LOOK AT ME NOW!" It was a command and it worked.
Jim looked at him, "Did you hear me?"
"Do you agree?"
"Fine, do you consider yourself a good judge of Sandburg?"
It was a good question. It penetrated.
"Good. If Sandburg hated you", he had to ignore the pain that crossed Jim's face and press his advantage, "If he couldn't forgive you....what would he do?"
Jim's response was immediate, "He'd tell me."
"He'd *tell* you in no uncertain terms."
Simon was rewarded with a small smile, "Go with this, Jim. He'd spare no words to *tell* you. There'd be so many words you'd have to remind him to take a breath. Right?" Again a small smile, "So that is not what happened here. Sandburg went to great lengths to make it "appear" to be a trip you'd accept, wouldn't question, it's almost as if he were......protecting you...so that leaving would not add any more guilt....Now why would he do that Jim?"
//Come on man, think, you know the answer//
But Jim just looked puzzled.
"How about this? You've admitted that you'd never discussed the situation with Alex...never explained your reasoning and you certainly never explained what happened that day with Lowell....your fears for his safety surfacing in anger...so what conclusion would Sandburg be likely to come up with when left to his own musings? His own thoughts?"
//You know this one too//
Simon waited. Watched all the different scenarios pass before Jim's face. Saw the truth finally dawn.
"Oh, God, he'd think.....he thinks....".
"He *thinks* you couldn't forgive him. He *thinks* you had him come back out of guilt and honor and he *thinks* this was the best way to give you what he thought you wanted and as painlessly as possible."
Anguished eyes looked at Simon, "We have to find him...he has to know....I have to find him!"
"And we will, Jim, we will."
After Rafe and Brown left the University they headed for Jim's place.
They both *knew* something was wrong and they were determined to help.
"Simon, it's Rafe and Brown.
The knocking at the door answered him.
Moments later all four men were gathered around the dining room table, mapping out their strategy.
Two hours later the four men were back at the loft and comparing notes.
Rafe reported first, "Okay, he didn't fly out of Cascade. No airline had any record of Sandburg on any flight on the seventh or on any other day. Simon, what did you and Jim find out at his bank?"
"On Friday, the fourth, he closed both his checking and savings accounts. His savings account had four hundred dollars, which he turned into a money order payable to Cascade General Hospital. He then took two hundred dollars of his checking account money and converted that into a cashiers check which represented a payment on a student loan. That left him with two hundred dollars."
Brown explained, "Two hundred? That's all he has? He's out there with only two hundred dollars?"
Rafe calmed his partner down then addressed Simon again, "Why a money order to Cascade General?"
"Seven days in the hospital, a bill of over fifty-five hundred...and his University insurance didn't cover it and ours.....denied the claim." Jim got up and walked over to the balcony, his back to the others. It was quiet for several minutes until Rafe interrupted everyone's thoughts, "That wasn't alot of money..I mean...".
Jim spoke from the balcony, 'He hasn't been teaching many classes....spent most of his time with me...on cases. No time for other research, no grants or endowments.....".
Simon added, "And of course, his work with us went unpaid....".
Silence enveloped the men again as each of them contemplated how little they had known of the anthropologist they had worked with for three years.
Brown got up and began to pace and his musings caught everyone's attention, "Okay, he didn't fly out and he wouldn't have used what little money he had on a bus or train ticket....that just leaves....hitchiking...yeah, hairboy would hitch...be just like him..".
Rafe jumped in, "And he's been gone what? Three weeks? Would he have made another payment?"
"Knowing Blair?" Jim added, "Yes. His obligations were very important to him...".
Simon jumped up, then sat back down, "But we can't check tonight..it's after ten already."
"Why not?" Jim demanded. Brown and Rafe added, "Yeah, why not?"
An hour and several phone calls later the four men were at Cascade General Hospital, in the business offices, with the manager who was peering at the computer screen in front of him.
"Well, Captain Banks, it looks as though we received another payment last Friday...a money order, for two hundred dollars."
"Can we see that money order?"
"Well, if my assistant did her job, we'll have a copy, hang on a second,
I'll check in the back office."
Rafe jingled coins in his pocket.
Simon chewed on his cigar.
And Jim stared at the computer screen, at the highlighted name; Blair Sandburg. Slowly he moved his hand toward the screen, toward the name and lightly drew his finger across it.
"Gentlemen, I have bad news. No copy. That means you will have to go to our bank tomorrow and yes, they are open on Saturday, and hope they still have it on the premises."
The disappointment was self evident.
By some unspoken agreement, everyone returned to the loft.
Rafe spoke first, "Okay, tomorrow, we hit the bank."
"Rafe, you planning on robbing the place?" His partner joked.
"Ha, Ha, very funny Henri...you know what I mean."
It was after midnight. "Look guys, it's late, go home, get some sleep, enjoy your weekend, I'll take over from here...this isn't about you."
"Wrong, Jim. He's our friend too. And your a son of a bitch without him. I'm staying here tonight. And that is final." Simon was adamant.
Rafe and Brown were not about to left out. "And we're staying too, right, Rafe?"
Jim looked at his friends. He knew nothing would change their minds, "So with Simon on one couch, which of you will get the other one, and which of you will be sleeping on the floor?"
"They still with us Jim?"
"Yeah, a few cars back. How much longer?"
"Five minutes less than the last time you asked."
All four men had indeed *hit* the bank at 10:00 am Saturday morning.
Once Simon had flashed his badge and identified himself, they were ushered into the Manager's office. That started the longest four hour wait in history. It seemed the money order was "in holding". No one cared what that meant, "Just get the damn thing, NOW!" was Simon's response.
At two pm, a copy was finally being faxed into the manager's office.
"Got it gentlemen. The money order was purchased at Van's Liquor Store in....Camden, Washington. Is there anything....", but the manager was talking to an empty office.
They were now on the road, in two cars and figured on reaching Camden by six thirty, seven at the latest.