Title:     Return To Sender

Author: alyjude

Email: alyjude@webtv.net

Rating:  NC17

Pairing: J/B

Category: AU, Drama, first time

Date:    June 26, 2002

Status:  New, complete

Series/sequel: Nope

Archive: Yes, thank you, Blankety <G>

Other website:   www.skeeter63.org/k9kennel

Disclaimer:  Truly, does anyone own anything in this world? Is there really a world or is it all our imagination? Does the sun beam yellow?  Or have we lost our minds? Still with me? Good. I make nothing from TS.

But man, it sure is fun.

Notes: Thank you to TSL for the great beta. I've made changes, mistakes are mine. Like—aren't they always?

Notes, the sequel: This is based on a movie because I've always wanted to do a TS story based on a movie, so there. :) This particular movie is Love Letters, which starred Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones.  If you saw it, you need no spoilers. If you didn't, you still don't. :)  I have borrowed the spirit of the dialogue from the movie and I have a good memory. Haven't seen the flick in like, 20 years! <G> But it's a favorite. :) Also, this is an AU in the sense that our guys meet under different circumstances, but end up in a similar place.

Warnings: Don't follow lemmings. Don't do drugs. Don't drive by an E-Z Lube with a van full of Sentinel fans. ::aly shakes her head::

Summary: Captain Jim Ellison does something for a friend and finds his soul, but can he keep it?



Return To Sender

by alyjude


March 5, 1988 - Sota Cano, Honduras


Jim Ellison sat on the patio of the small cantina, a bottle of beer trapped between restless fingers. He watched the foot traffic with indifference. Barnes was late as usual. He yawned, then glanced down at the small puddle of water his cold beer had created. Slowly he began to trace abstract designs through the cold liquid.

He was bored senseless, which was odd, since in a few days, he and his men would be heading out on another covert mission. Jim was rarely bored before top secret missions.

"Earth to Ellison?"

Jim glanced up to find a tall cool blonde gazing down at him, a smile playing about her lips.

"You're late again, Barnes."

She pulled out a chair and with an elegant, almost feline grace, sat down. She reached for his beer, brought it to her lips and took a long swig. Smiling in relief, she handed it back.

"Gee, thirsty?" he asked sarcastically.

She grinned wickedly. "Not anymore, thanks."

"So what was so urgent that we had to meet here and now?" Jim asked, not really caring.

Alex reached into her briefcase and took out a buff colored envelope.  Jim, even from where he sat, recognized the sprawling handwriting on the outside. He immediately sat back and crossed his arms stubbornly across his chest.

"No way, Alex. No way. I told you the last letter would be it and I was serious."

"Jim, this will be the last one, I swear it. Please?"

She batted her long dark lashes, knowing full well it would have no effect on Ellison. She waved the envelope in front of him. "Don't you want to know what it says? Come on, Jim, please?" she wheedled.

"NO!" Jim said loudly. Seeing the stares of other patrons, he immediately lowered his voice. "It was wrong the first time and it's wrong now."

"Jiiim, you know I'm no good with words. But you are, even if I'm the only one who knows it. You, Captain James Ellison, are terrific with the written word. And this really will be the last one—" She let her voice trail off hopefully.

Jim had to admit that Alex spoke the truth about his letter writing abilities. He might not be known for his verbal skills, but under the right circumstances, he was a whiz with letters.

At 30, Captain James Ellison was usually seen as terse, even taciturn, but on paper, he could be a poetic genius. Especially when writing letters to a young man in Cascade, Washington. Love letters.

As he stared at the paper that Alex was waving in front of him, he was struck by an overwhelming need. A need that almost convinced him to capitulate, to write one more letter for Alex. Damn, he still couldn't figure out why he'd agreed to this farce in the first place. Why *had* he written to a complete stranger and to pretend, at least on paper, to be Alexis? But he knew.

The very first letter written by Blair Sandburg had hooked him. Captain Jim Ellison, hooked by a kid. A kid barely twenty years old and full of hopes, dreams, and exuberance. But a kid whose letters were, oddly enough, full of wisdom and maturity. Somehow the essence of Blair Sandburg had managed, through the written word, to travel over 5,000 miles and settle in Jim Ellison's hardened heart. And that was why he'd agreed to write Alex's letters for her. He'd have said yes to anything just to be able to continue to read Sandburg's letters.

Fingers snapping in front of his face brought him back to the cantina— and Alex.

"Jim," she was saying, "This really will be it. I leave for Washington on Friday."

Jim didn't miss the smug tone, nor her victorious smile. "You're not actually going back there?"

Eyes dancing with excitement, she said, "Not only going back, but I'm going to marry him, Jim."

Voice suddenly cold, Jim said, "Unless I missed a couple of letters, he hasn't asked."

"He will," Alex said confidently.

Jim shook his head. This was wrong, dangerous even. "Alex, he doesn't *know* you. And since when is a 20 year old grad student—" "You haven't seen him, Jim. In spite of his age, he's fucking incredible, *and* on the fast track to success and fame. Shit, he already has his Masters in Anthropology. He was a child prodigy, Jim. He wants to travel, to see the world, and so do I. I'm telling you, we're a match made in heaven."

Heaven wasn't the part of the spiritual world he'd have used to describe their match.

"Alex, this isn't right."

"A little late to be thinking of *right*, don't you think? How many letters have you done in my name? Ten?"

Fifteen, Jim thought, but who's counting?

"You do this last one, and Blair and I are out of your hair forever."

She held out the letter. "One more and it's over—"

Unable to resist the lure of the letter and all it promised, James Ellison took it. Smiling like the Cheshire cat, Alex said, "I'll pick it up from you tonight. Seven at Lupe's?"

Jim was staring at the papers in his hand, feeling them burning his flesh, but he nodded slowly. Alex got up, leaned over and dropped a quick kiss on the top of his head. "Thank you, Jim." As she straightened, she added, "You know, I'm going to miss you."

Jim tore himself away from the letter and glanced up only to be surprised to see a wistfulness in her eyes. Then she was gone with a grin and a wave and he was left alone—with the letter.

Hands shaking, he unfolded it, spread the sheets out on the table and with equal parts dread and anticipation, he began to read—

From the desk of Blair Sandburg

Dear Alexis,


In your last letter, you wrote:


A world of color, vibrant and alive. Voices full of life. Smooth, rough, patched, ridged, so much to touch and feel. Complex spices, the simplicity of bursting saltiness on the tongue. The scent of our earth; dark, rich and mysterious. How can this world so fill our senses and yet one individual exist in darkness?-


You don't ask the easy questions, do you? The darkness of which you speak is a world in which I'm well acquainted. But the feelings you've shared with me have illuminated the darkest corners of my heart and I find myself reaching out as I've never reached out before. The world *is* vibrant and alive and I've found its colors, sounds and scents contained within your letters.

I'm running my finger over the ink of your words and suddenly I can visualize that small table in the cantina that you've told me about. I can taste the cold beer on your lips, and for me, the world is brighter.  And considering that I'm here in Cascade, that's saying something. Yeah, I'm smiling right now.

I've learned that the darkness is temporary, Alexis. Trust me on this. A hand on your shoulder, a warm laugh breathed out against your skin, and the world will once again be full of light and grace. Your words do that for me, so allow my hand and voice to do the same for you?

Would it sound silly to say that I'm actually counting down the minutes until your arrival? I know, it does. Just so you have the right picture in your mind—I'm grinning like a 14k fool.

By the way? How do you like the sound of Borneo? There's talk of an expedition to be led by my mentor, Doctor Eli Stoddard, and I'm pretty sure that I'll be asked to join. As it stands now, the expedition is scheduled for Spring. Not bad timing, I'm thinking. Yes, I'm grinning again.

Class starts in five so I'm going to end this one, knowing full well that it will probably be the last. Did you know that smiling is excellent exercise?

There's a candle in the darkness, Alexis. One for each of us.




Slowly Captain James Ellison ran his finger over the ink. He smiled, pulled up his own briefcase, took out a pad, unclipped his pen and started to write—spilling his soul in the process—





"You brought it?" Alex slid into the booth, her gaze questioning.

Without saying a word, Jim held up the letter. Alex grabbed it saying, "Thanks, Jimbo."

She opened it, set it down and handed Jim a pen. "You need to add my flight information, please?"

With a huff, Jim took the pen and as Alex recited her flight number, time of arrival etc., he wrote. When finished, she took back the letter, folded it, then slid it into the envelope she'd brought. After sealing it, she slid it over to Jim, who without hesitation, addressed it. Alex picked up the finished product, kissed it, stamped it, then slid it into her purse.

"So, what did you say this time?"

"You should have read it before you sealed it, Alex."

"Yeah, but I didn't. So tell me."

"Nothing much," he said, finding it difficult to express the words that now sat in Alex's purse.

"Right, nothing. Oh, well, it hardly matters now." She sat back with a satisfied grin and said, "Rumor has it that you're shipping out soon.

Is it true, Jim?"

"Alex—" he said, warning in his voice.

"So it is true. Don't worry, I won't ask where, but if the reports about the guerilla troop movement in Peru are any indication." She leaned forward, eyes darting to each side before resting once again on the handsome man opposite. "You be careful, Jimmy. Word is out that North is after your hide."

"Since when do you care, Alex?"

"Hey, I've always cared, Jimbo. And the Barnes family may not have any money left, but we still have influence, so I hear things. What worries me is that if those strings my father pulled don't work, I may end up back here and you'd be gone. Who'd write my letters then?"

"Ah, selfish to the end."

Alex smirked and patted her bag. "Selfish is my middle name. But if all goes well, Sandburg will soon be my last."

A cold feeling of dread filled Jim. He reached a hand out and clasped Alex's. "Tell him," he hissed out.

"Tell who what?" Alex said, puzzled.

"Tell Sandburg about the letters. The minute you get off the plane— tell him."

"Are you crazy?"

"Crazy to write them for you in the first place. No good can come of it, Alex. You need to tell him."

She smiled a feline grin. "You really want me to divulge the fact that for two months, he's been exchanging letters with a—man?"

"Tell him, Alex."

She slid out of the booth, straightened her uniform and shook her head.

"Ellison, you're a fool."

Jim watched her walk away and the coldness in his heart increased.




Cascade, Washington


Blair Sandburg tore around the corner of the building. He was late— again. He'd just come from the campus postal center and in his bookbag, tucked into the corner—a letter.

*The* letter.

From Alexis.

In ninety minutes, he'd know her arrival date. Blair pulled open the door to his psych class and tried to sneak to his seat.

"So glad you could join us, Mr. Sandburg. Perhaps, after you've settled in, you'd like to share with the rest of the class some of the symptoms of the chronic compulsive obsessive personality?"






No class had *ever* gone this slow. Worms—hell, turtles—moved faster than Professor McGinty today. And of course, it had absolutely nothing to do with the letter currently burning a hole in his backpack.

No sir.

The class finally ended and Blair was the first one to exit. He hurried \to the student lounge, grabbed himself a chair in the corner and took out the letter. He knuckled back a chunk of errant hair and grinned.  Alex had been right about letting it grow. He *did* look cool. The nerd had all but disappeared, to be replaced by a kind of cool hippie. Blair grinned. His mother Naomi, would be so proud.

Blair fingered the two rings in his ear. Amazing what a guy will do for a woman.

He pulled the letter from the envelope and as he opened it, he found himself shaking his head. How was it possible that only in letters Alex Barnes had been able to show her true self? When he'd first met her last summer, he'd been struck by her beauty, but had found her shallow and uninteresting. He'd promised to write, but until her first letter had arrived, he'd had no intention of doing so. And after he'd read it? He'd been shocked to his core.

Deep loneliness ran through every word she'd written. Buried hurts were in every sentence and they shot through him, changing him. After that, it had only taken a few letters for Blair to fall and to fall hard. If he still had difficulty reconciling the woman he'd met with the woman in the letters, well, he was in love and no one had ever touched him as her words had. In her letters he'd found a kindred spirit, the other half of his soul.  He unfolded the letter and with a gentle smile, began to read—


Is there a more welcome sight in the world than that of one lone candle alight in a window, its warmth permeating the cold dark life outside?  Can anything mean more to a stranger than the flickering glow, a beacon that signals a sense of belonging? Can any hope be more potent than that of your candle, promising this stranger warmth, safety and a home?

I remember as a small child, going to the beach with my family. We stayed until dark, figuring that the lighthouse would provide the illumination required to find our way back to the car. We watched the sunset and I was safe in my father's arms. It was one of the few times I can remember feeling that way about him. As darkness finally descended, the lighthouse failed us.

Clouds hid the moon and the trek back to the car was hard. But at one point, a strong hand took mine and a disembodied voice said, "Don't worry, it's all right. I've got you." It was a moment of complete safety, and until meeting you, it had been a moment that stood alone, never repeated.

Be the candle for me, Blair. Light my way and show me my path, my destiny. Let your breath caress my cheek and your hand guide me home.


PS: My TWA flight arrives on March 8th at 2:00pm.

PSS: Borneo? Yes.

Blair lifted his head, surprised at the burning sensation behind his eyes. He blinked a couple of times, removed his glasses and rubbed hard. His stomach did a few flip-flops and he felt that ball of excitement usually reserved for those moments before leaving on an expedition. He ran his finger over the words again.

Tuesday. Alexis would be here on Tuesday.




March 15, 1988 - Cascade, Washington


Alexis looked at the lovely Colonial home. With a grin, she walked up to the front door and knocked. A moment later the door was opened by a small oriental woman.


"I'm Alexis Barnes? I called earlier today?"

"Oh, yes, please come in." The woman stepped aside and Alexis entered.

As she gazed about her, she gave a silent whistle of appreciation. If only she'd known that Jim came from such wealth—

"Mr. Ellison is not here, but his son, Steven, will see you. Please, follow me."

Alexis was led into a large living room where a young man in his late twenties stood, hand held out in welcome. "Lieutenant Barnes?"

As she nodded and smiled politely, they shook, then the young man motioned her to the couch. As they both sat, he said, "Oddly enough, I was just finishing a letter to my brother." He indicated the small desk behind them.

"Oh? That surprises—I mean, Mr. Ellison—"

"Please, it's Steven."

"Steven. In my conversations with your brother, well, I somehow got the

impression that you two didn't, that you, well—"

"That we weren't talking? Not close?" At her nod, he went on. "We weren't. But he wrote me a few weeks ago and we've been corresponding ever since. I miss my big brother."

"I'm happy to hear that. I told him I'd look you up upon my arrival in Cascade." She smiled charmingly. "I'm a little late."

"No problem. Please, how was he the last time you saw him?"

"Fine. Dour as usual." She gave Jim's brother another dazzling smile.  "Hey, do you mind if I add a postscript to your letter? I have some information he'll be interested in hearing."

Steven Ellison rose and with a wave of his hand and a smile, indicated the letter and desk. She walked over and lifted the pen. Bending low, she scribbled:

Hey, Jimbo. Guess who? I dropped by as promised. Your brother was just finishing this and kindly allowed me to add a few words. I thought you'd like to be the first to hear; I'm married.

Take care, Ellison.

Alexis Barnes Sandburg




March 24, 1988 - Sota Cano AFB, Honduras


Jim Ellison stood in the hanger, a letter in his hand. Around him the ground crew moved efficiently, loading equipment and prepping the chopper. His own men stood several feet away, talking quietly. They were due to lift off in thirty minutes, but at that moment, all Captain James Ellison could see were three words on the white paper—

Alexis Barnes Sandburg.

He finally crumpled the letter in his hand. As he walked toward his men, he tossed it angrily into the trash bin.




October 5, 1994 - Cascade, Washington


Jim stared up at the brightly lit building. He was battling with himself as to whether he should go inside or not. It was finally the idea that Detective Megan Conner actually lived in an old warehouse that convinced him to head up.

His leg was bothering him again and the sounds coming from Conner's party were enough to make him cringe and reconsider his decision. But damn, a warehouse? He had to see the place.

Jim shrugged, walked over to the speaker box and pushed the button. As soon as he let go, the scratchy sound of a male voice said, "He-lllo?"

"Um, Jim Ellison to see Megan Conner."

The background party almost drowned out the rely, but Jim caught it.

"Oh, sure. Come right up."

There was a loud buzzing and Jim heard the door unlock. He pushed it open and found himself in a poorly lit entryway. A freight elevator stood before him and sliding the bars to the side, he stepped in, closed it and pushed the up button.

As the elevator rose, so rose the party noise. He thought of going back down and home, but besides his curiosity regarding Megan's residence, he also had to admit that he owed her big time.

Megan Conner was a new addition to the Major Crime division of the Cascade Police Department and since Jim's leg injury in the line of duty, she'd taken over most of his cases. And he had to admit that not only was she attractive, bright and funny, she was also a damn fine detective.

There was also the fact that the party

was, in a way, for him.


The entire Major Crime gang was celebrating the capture of Garett Kincaid following the man's botched attempt at taking over the station.  Kincaid was the leader of a terrorist group calling themselves the Sunrise Patriots. The group had been busted months ago by Major Crime, but Kincaid had escaped and in an attempt to free his men, had taken the entire sixth floor hostage. It was in rescuing his fellow officers and capturing Kincaid that Jim had received his leg injury. He'd been on medical leave for the last two weeks, but now that he was up and around, Conner had decided it was time to party down.

With a start, Jim realized that the elevator had stopped. He opened up the doors and stepped out. Before he could knock on the brightly painted red door, it swung open and a man in his mid twenties said, "Detective Ellison, welcome!"

The voice, low and gentle, moved through Jim like a zephyr. He started to say something, but a booming voice from inside stopped him.


Jim couldn't ignore the voice of his captain.





Voices, music, artificial scents, smoke, the smell of cooking food, a cold drink in his hand, the hot bodies surrounding him—

"Eighteen months? You spent eighteen months stranded in the jungles of Peru?"

"How the hell did you survive?"

"He's a God damn hero!"

The questions and remarks came from spouses, dates, and friends outside of the police department, all apparently interested in Jim Ellison, sole survivor of a helicopter crash while on a mission five years previous.

Jim took another sip of his scotch and smiled, but didn't answer. A body moved to his left and for the first time Jim noticed the young man who'd welcomed him initially. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor and in his lap sat a tabby kitten. The man was stroking the animal but his eyes were fastened on Jim.

Jim found himself smiling at the young man, his gaze arrested by the gentle glow that seemed to surround him. Jim couldn't tear his gaze away from the long, curly hair. The light of an overhead lamp seemed to capture the strands and Jim could see shades of burnt copper, gold and deep chestnut mingling with rich mahogany. For a moment, Jim lost himself in the rich colors, but then someone moved into his line of sight and blocked his view. He blinked a couple of times, shook his head and tried to pay attention to the young woman speaking breathlessly to him.





There were only a few people left and most of them were talking quietly as they came down from the natural energy of the party. Jim, kitten in his hands, sat on the floor next to the curly-haired young man. The kitten was purring loudly as Jim blew gently into its fur.

"His name is Skeeter."

Jim turned his head and made contact with bright blue eyes. "Skeeter?  Interesting name." Jim spoke slowly and with great care. He was drunk and he knew it. He lifted the kitten above his head and studied it. "No, he is definitely *not* a Skeeter. This cat needs a new name."

"What would you suggest?"

Jim turned the furball in every direction, felt its small heart beating against his palm, felt the softness of the fur, searched the golden eyes, watched the small pink tongue flick out and a name came to him.

"Blair. His name should be Blair."

A glass shattered and Jim glanced up to see Megan staring at him, her face pale.

"Shit, sorry," she said quickly before hurrying into the kitchen for something to clean up the mess.

The quiet young man said, "Blair. I like that. Okay, Skeeter is no more.

From now on, he is officially christened *Blair*. Very original, James.

Is that name important to you?"

Jim scrunched up his face as he tried to concentrate. Through his alcohol fuzzed brain, the name that had haunted his dreams swam into focus.

Blair Sandburg.

"Yes, I think the name Blair—Blair Sandburg—is very important to me."

The young man leaned forward, his expression one of sympathy and interest. "Was this Blair someone you cared about, Jim?"

Drunk, bleary pale blue eyes skittered past the kitten and attempted to focus on the man who'd asked the question. Without thought, he nodded.  "Yes, yes, someone I cared about and lost."

Megan, who'd been cleaning up the broken glass, suddenly bent over, scooped the kitten from Jim's hands and as she handed it over to the young man, said, "Jimbo, I think it's time you headed home. You're drunk, mate." She helped him up and added, "Henri is here and he's going to give you a lift, okay?"

Jim tried to see past her, to find the young man, but Henri had his arm and was leading him toward the front door. As his coat was being slid up his arms, Megan leaned in close and whispered, "Jim, if you remember any of this, see me tomorrow, Saturday. We have some—one, in common."

Jim wiggled around, or at least tried to, but his arms were caught in his jacket. He only managed a garbled, "Uh?"

"Just remember the name Blair Sandburg and see me tomorrow. Don't forget, Jim."


It was Sunday before Jim remembered anything. And even then, it was *only* Megan's words he remembered. Her words and a name.  Blair Sandburg.

Nothing could have kept Jim away, in spite of knowing that following up with Megan was the *last* thing he should do.

Drawn back to the warehouse, Jim found himself following a vaguely familiar routine when he pushed the button on the call box. He was somewhat startled by a male voice doing a fine imitation of Billy Crystal.


Jim leaned in and said, "Jim Ellison to see Megan?"

"Hey, Jim, great! Come on up!"

A buzzer sounded and it set Jim's teeth on edge, but he entered, took the freight elevator up and at the top floor, got out. The red door was already open, and a curly haired young man wearing a happy grin was standing in the doorway.

"Come in. Megan is at the store, but she's due back any second. Have a seat."

Jim's answering smile was a natural as the young man's exuberance. No one could fail to smile in return. The man fairly bubbled over with good cheer, innocence and a kind of bounce that said life was great. Jim watched him walk into the cavernous living space and his gaze just naturally drifted down in appreciation to the tight jeans that were hugging a very nice ass.

"You want something to drink, Jim?"

The words forced his gaze back up and he blinked. The kid acted as though they knew each other! And damn it, Jim would have remembered meeting this guy, no matter what. Wouldn't he?

"Um, do we know each other?"

One expressive eyebrow rose and a slightly wicked gleam came into the man's eyes. "You don't remember Friday night?"

Jim felt the heat start at the collar of his white cable knit sweater.  Fuck. Had something happened between he and this kid? No. Absolutely not. He *would* have remembered.

Before he could stammer out a response, the man was laughing delightedly and lifting up a small bundle of fur.

"Skeeter, aka Blair, remember now?"


Shit, he'd renamed the kitten. He remembered now. Jim reached for the furball in an effort to stave off any response to his heated skin and nodded. "Sure, I remember. You're—you're...."

The young man dropped his head a bit and shuffled his feet and Jim realized he'd just embarrassed the kid. "Shit, I'm sorry I don't remember your name. I think I was a little worse for the alcohol. Clue me in?"

When no answer came, Jim decided to try and guess. "Okay, how about—John? Or maybe—Michael? Yeah, you look like a Michael."

The young man grinned and shook his head, clearly getting into the game.  Jim gave him a mock frown and turned the kitten in his hands until they were staring at each other, the kitten's moist nose a few inches from his own. "Come on, Blair, you can tell me what his name is, can't you?

Whisper it to me—"

The kitten purred, but that was it. Jim allowed it to crawl onto his shoulder as he regarded the young man, who was now blushing. Jim held out his arms in supplication and said, "Hey, I'm sorry I don't remember, honest."

"That's okay, I don't actually remember it myself."

Jim blinked and shook his head in confusion. "Excuse me?"

"I don't remember—who I am. But Megan calls me Sandy."

Jim was dumbfounded. "You don't know who you are?" he asked, incredulous.

"Nope," Sandy said with a helpless shrug. "Hey, it makes for interesting conversation, you know?"

By now, Jim was thoroughly confused, especially when trying to fit Megan into it. He put the kitten down and watched it scamper off, then asked carefully, "So, are you and Conner related, or something?"

"No. I met her in the—hospital. We kind of struck up a friendship and when they—released me, she invited me to stay with her."

Further questions were stalled when the door opened and Megan, arms loaded with groceries, walked in. "Jimbo, fancy meeting you here."

Her voice welcomed him, but he didn't miss the wary look in her eyes.  Jim quickly took a couple of bags from her and as Sandy went after the kitten, Jim followed Megan into the kitchen.  As he set the groceries down on a large butcher-block, he forgot about the young man in the other room in his need to find out about Blair Sandburg.

"I'm here, I remembered. Talk to me, Conner."

"Not now, Jim." She turned to face the door and yelled out, "Sandy, I forgot your medication. Could you run back down to the pharmacy and pick it up?"

The man in question poked his head in and smiling, said, "You mean the great Megan forgot something for a change?"

Her answering grin was so full of love, it took Jim's breath away.

"I'm afraid so, Sandy. Must be getting old."

Sandy gave her a raspberry, then said, "I'll go, but only if Jim promises to be here when I get back?"

His look was so hopeful, Jim found himself automatically nodding. Sandy grinned. "Great. I'll be right back then. Be good you guys!"

A moment later, they heard the closing of the front door and Megan gave a sigh of relief.

"Okay, Conner, we're alone now. And considering," Jim took a prescription bag out of one of the large plastic shopping bags and held it up, "that this must be the missing medicine, that was your intent in getting him out of here."

"Yes, I wanted to make sure we were alone. I nearly died last night when you named the kitten Blair."

"Why, Megan? How do you know Blair Sandburg and where is he?"

"Jim, it's more important right now for me to know how *you* know of him."

Jim stared at his friend, assessing how much he dared tell—but the honest, open gaze that Megan gave him was enough.

"I *don't* know him. I know his wife, Alexis. We served together in Honduras."

Megan frowned then stepped closer to Jim. "His wife is dead, Jim. She was—murdered."

Jim felt the world narrow and his vision darken—

"Ellison, you okay?"

He came back, albeit reluctantly.

"Murdered," he whispered.

"So they say."

That got his attention. "What do you mean? Who says—"

"Jim, according to the police, Alexis Sandburg was murdered by her husband—Blair Sandburg."





Jim felt the world tilt and words written on paper floated through his consciousness, followed immediately by denial.

"NO!" He found himself yelling. There was no way the man who'd written those letters could ever kill anyone. Jim knew that with a certainty given to very little else in his life. "No way," he repeated, quietly this time. "That's not possible."

"Jim, I'm only—"

But Jim wasn't listening—

"Letters," he mumbled. "I knew it was wrong, *knew* it, but damn, I did

it anyway, *wanted* to do it, wanted to share with him—his


Megan grabbed at his arm and as her fingers dug in, she hissed out, "What do you know about the letters? *How* could you know about them?"

Jim pulled himself together as the detective in him took over. "Megan, we're talking in circles here. Let's start from the beginning. How do you know all of this? How do you know Blair Sandburg?"

Megan dropped her hand from Jim's arm and realizing that he was right, that they needed to start over, said, "Blair's mother and I were friends. I've known Blair for years. Seven years ago, he met Alexis Barnes at a party. He wasn't impressed with her at the time, but then they started exchanging letters. He fell for her."

Megan ran her fingers through her hair as she said, "God, he was so young, Jim. And Naomi was against any relationship between he and Alexis. Not because of the age difference, but because Naomi saw through her. In fact, I can't remember Naomi *ever* being so angry about anything as she was when she found out they were going to be married."

Jim pulled a chair away from the kitchen table and Megan gratefully sat down as she continued.

"You have to understand, Blair was her only child, the light of her life. She gave him everything, took him all over the world, spoiled him something awful. And yet—Blair grew up to be the kindest, most wonderful person anyone could want to know. But—he also grew up innocent, although, that might not be the right word."

"It is," Jim said. "Innocent in his view of the world."

Eyes widening in surprise, Megan nodded. "That's exactly it. He had this outlook and it in no way prepared him for someone like—Alexis. Naomi understood this and fought the marriage. But like all children, Blair revolted by marrying Alex almost the moment she returned from Honduras."

Megan paused to take a deep breath and her next words hitched a little as she struggled with a deep emotion.

"It was bad almost from the beginning. Naomi cut him off financially, hoping I'm sure, that Alex would leave him. What she hadn't counted on was his imagination. He began to write brilliant short stories while attending Rainier. He was published and the money kept their heads afloat.

"But Alex wanted more. She needed people around her, she needed parties and action. What she got was Blair. Studious, nature loving, a teacher and a writer. And Blair? He wanted the woman in the letters. The woman who spoke of soul mates and this beautiful vision for the future. They began to fight. Not that you could call what they did really fighting.  She'd yell, he'd try to reason, she'd stalk out, then disappear for days."

Megan began to shake as she re-lived those days and Jim went searching for liquor. He found it and quickly poured her a shot. When he handed it to her, she smiled wryly, then drank it down in one swallow.

"Thank you. I hate to say this, but I needed that."

Jim returned her smile, then sat down next to her. "Go on, Megan, tell me the rest."

"The last fight—was five years ago. Alex went to Naomi, told her that Blair was in serious financial trouble and begged her for help. Naomi listened. She then called Blair and asked him to meet her. Back then, she lived in a large home on Blind Man's Bluff. Now from this point on, I'm only telling you what the Cascade PD *thinks* happened.

"Blair drove up to Blind Man's Bluff. Wait, I need to back up a bit. You need to understand the layout of the house. See, the front of the home actually overlooked the bluff and the ocean. And it was there, on the lawn, that Blair found Alex and Naomi. They must have all argued and apparently Naomi finally left the two alone. Blair was adamant that they leave, Alexis resisted. The police think they fought on the bluff, that there was a struggle and—Alexis Barnes Sandburg ended up dead—at the bottom of the bluff."

"Dear God. But what about Naomi Sandburg? Surely she was able to—"

"No one knows what Naomi saw or didn't see. She did, at some point, return to the bluff because when the police arrived—she was sitting against the large tree that stands several feet away from the cliff edge, the victim of a stroke. She's been at the Edwards Rehabilitation Center for the last five years. She can't speak, doesn't know anyone, she's in a world all her own."

"And Blair? He confessed? What?"

"Blair was found lying near the edge, his hands and face bearing the scratches that told the police that Alex had fought hard for her life.  He'd evidently sustained a blow to his head, God only knows how."

Jim's heart seemed to stop as he felt all the blood drain from his face.

"Oh, God. He's—Blair's—dead, isn't he?"


Jim's head shot up as his gaze nearly burned a hole through Megan. "No?

NO? Where is he, Conner?" Jim stood, knocking the chair over. "Where.

Is. He?"

Megan looked up at the irate man and said simply, "You met him last night, Jim. And you were talking to him this morning when I came home.  Sandy—is Blair Sandburg."





Jim's hand flailed behind him, struggling to find the chair. He connected with it, then pulled it up. Body shaking, he sank down.



Dear God.

As everything he'd heard settled, he dropped his head into his hands and murmured, "He killed her."

"No one knows what happened, Jim. When Blair came to, in the hospital, he was as you saw him today. Without memory of who he was, or of his life before awaking. There was a trial, if you want to call it that, and he was convicted of manslaughter. Blair went to prison."

God, no. Shutting his eyes against the truth, Jim bit back a moan. Megan leaned forward and rested her hand reassuringly on Jim's arm.

"He was safe, Jim. And he has no memory of that time, other than meeting me. He spent most of his sentence in the psych ward. He doesn't remember me from before, of course, but I'm still like his big sister and he trusted me immediately. I brought him here, applied with the Cascade PD and I make sure he's safe and happy. He takes medications for the migraines, the only thing leftover from what happened to him. He works part-time at the Cascade Natural History Museum."

Megan walked to the sink and began to prepare coffee for both of them.

As she worked, she told Jim more.

"Blair used to sit in their small apartment and read her letters over and over again. During one of her many absences, I was there when he took them out. I remember asking why he stayed with her. He looked at me, smiled this sad little smile, then waved her letters in the air and said, 'Because this is the real Alex and I know I'll find her one day.' God, Jim, I hate those letters. He even had them with him the day she died. They found them on the cliff and one was even clutched in Naomi's hand."

Megan brought two steaming mugs of coffee over and after placing one in front of Jim, she re-took her seat. Jim stared at the black swirling liquid and saw only the beloved sprawling handwriting of Blair Sandburg, and words he'd long since committed to memory—

...a hand on a shoulder, a warm vibrant laugh breathed against trembling skin and suddenly the world is full of light and grace. Your words do that for me, Alexis. Let my hand, my voice, do the same for you...

Without thought, Jim said softly, "I wrote those letters, Megan, not Alex. I'm the murderer here. I destroyed them both as surely as if I'd shot them."

"You wrote them? YOU?" Megan fairly screeched.

He nodded, his mind numb.

"But why? My God, Ellison, WHY?"

Jim dropped his head into his hands again. "It seemed so harmless at first, and later—the letters, his words, the world he created for me—God, Megan, I couldn't stop.


Megan Conner stared at her fellow detective, eyes wide in wonder. "Dear God, you love him."

He lifted his head to stare at her. "Do I? Do I love him the way he loved Alex? Do I know him any better than he thought he knew her?"

"You love him, Jim. You love Blair because those letters represent all that he was and still, in the ways that count, is. But you're right.  You *are* responsible and I think you'd better go before he returns because, God damn it, nothing good can come of this now. You know that, don't you?"

There was nothing harsh in her voice, only a soft truth. Her eyes were warm with sympathy and Jim was stunned to find something more—understanding. Wearily he pushed himself up. "You're right, I should go."

Megan nodded and walked him to the door. As he started to leave, she stopped him. "Jim, I believe things happen for a reason. I'm not sure how this will end, but Sandy *is* happy, believe that."

Jim nodded. He had no choice. He *had* to believe—or die.