?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Tough Love, Part III

And the conclusion ....



Blair parked outside Hargrove Hall, but left his gear locked in the trunk. He needed wide open spaces and a lot of fresh air to calm down and get some grip on his enraged emotions. Loping across the grass, he headed down the long hill toward the water. On the edge of the land, the ocean washing against the rocks below, he drew in long, deep breaths and forced himself to unclench his fists. Once he was past the point of feeling he was about to shatter with rage, and his breathing was more under control, he turned and walked slowly toward a nearby bench. Sinking down upon it, he stared at the moonlit bay and then, bracing his elbows on his knees, he buried his face in his still shaking hands.

God, how could they have come to this? Did Jim really think he was sleeping with him just to … what? Be allowed to study his senses? Have a decent place to live for a reasonable rent? Did Jim really think that about Naomi? Pressing his eyes closed, sick at heart, Blair knew that part of his rage was drawn from his guilt about having sometimes come close to the edge of thinking the same things about her. But it wasn’t the same, was it? Naomi couldn’t be categorized. She was … was a free spirit. She didn’t sleep with men to get a roof over her head or food in her mouth. Believing that the earth would provide, she never thought about such prosaic things. She danced from one man to another for the sheer fun of it. For the joy of being so alive. For the experience of intimately sharing that time, in that place. And then, she moved on, looking for new experiences, new places. She was like a butterfly, pretty and unpredictable, inconstant, a flash of colour and delicacy and then gone.

Blinking against the emotional burn in his eyes, he regretted having slugged Jim, and some of the things he’d said. It wasn’t his place to judge his partner, his lover, on the relationship Jim had with his father, either now, or the one he’d had before he left home to join the Army. But he just felt so badly for the kids they’d caught, knowing their lives were ruined because they’d made some bad decisions. He just couldn’t keep listening to Jim gloating about having caught them, when he knew why they’d succumbed to temptation and understood the pressures on them so well.

Hearing the low, well-tuned rumble of Jim’s truck up on the drive behind him, Blair sighed and, his head still in his hands, wondered what he was going to do now. ‘Detach with love,’ whispered in his mind, sounding a lot like his mother’s voice, and he grimaced. For most of his life, he’d tried living by that credo, but it didn’t work for him. He wanted a different life than Naomi did. Wanted a home and the constancy of sharing a lifetime of love and shared purpose. Foolishly, he had wanted those things so very much with Jim. But he wasn’t sure there was any way back, or even any point of trying to find the way. Jim didn’t love him, not in ‘forever’ terms.

Maybe, when he got right down to it, there really wasn’t anything to go back to. His gut cramped and he shuddered, fighting the urge to vomit at the thought that it was over with Jim, that it could end like this.

He heard feet scuffling through the grass and then padding along the pavement toward him. And he felt the creak and shift of the wood of the bench when Jim sat down silently beside him, close but not touching him.

“I was out of line,” Jim murmured quietly, sounding sincere. When Blair didn’t respond, he added, “I want you to come home.”

Blair lifted his head and, his hands braced on his thighs, eased back on the bench to stare out over the water toward the dark horizon. “Why?” he asked, his voice tight against his chaotic emotions.

For a while, he wasn’t sure that Jim was going to answer him, then, “I need your help at work. I still can’t do this on my own.”

His lips thinned against the shaft of pain that spiked inside, but he nodded. “I can help you at work without living in the loft,” he replied, struggling to keep his voice from cracking, wondering why he didn’t just give in and go home. Why he kept fighting it, his need to be there. To be with Jim. But he told himself such need wasn’t healthy, and would only, eventually, lead to heartbreak when the time came that Jim didn’t ‘need’ him anymore. All Jim really wanted was his help at work, his help in marshalling those extraordinary senses. The rest of it was just … convenient, and no more than that. The idea of being cast-off or, worse, their friendship eroding into awkwardness until he grudgingly, sorrowfully, left of his own accord, held him to his resolve that it was over.

“I didn’t mean what I said about your mother,” Jim ventured then, uncertainly, and Blair wondered if he was trying to find the apology that would get him to relent. He turned his face away, refusing to let go, to say it was alright.

“And I shouldn’t have implied I thought that you ever … I don’t,” his partner went on haltingly. “Or that I think you’re ….”

When his voice died away, as if lost in misery, Blair cleared his throat and sighed. “I know. You were just angry,” he allowed, his voice thin. Chuckling bitterly, he shook his head. “Some detective you are,” he went on, half-rueful, half-sarcastic. “You’d think after noticing that I’m still in university after nearly fourteen years, that you’d’ve figured out that I haven’t exactly been taking the express ride to fame and fortune.”

When Jim didn’t say anything, but laid a tentative hand on his shoulder, somehow transmitting strength and affection, Blair sighed wearily. Needing to be very clear that Jim’s half-formed suspicions were entirely unfounded, his voice low, reflective, he continued slowly, “I was barely sixteen when I started at Rainier, full of myself for being so evidently brilliant, and certain my future was made. But it didn’t take long to find out there was never enough money, not for a place to live, not even for food. My scholarships only covered tuition, and about a third of the cost of books, but not of supplies, and nothing for residence fees. Among my professors, there were pretty high expectations that I’d just zing right on through undergrad and postgraduate work, scoring perfect grades along the way, to justify having granted me entrance so early, based only on the results of my entry exams. And I was a geek – so much younger than the others that I didn’t really fit in anywhere. Not that I had time for dates or parties, anyway. I was working my butt off at whatever part-time job I could get. All the usual stuff like waiting tables and washing windows. Working as an orderly at Cascade General. Doing grunt work on the docks. Driving that semi with my uncle one summer. Studying and writing papers in all my free time, going without sleep, I managed to live up to everyone’s expectations and finished my undergrad work in two years. But I was exhausted. As fast I kept running, as hard as I tried, it wasn’t working. I could never make ends meet. And, God, I was sick of being hungry all the time – it was better when I finally stopped growing and didn’t need as much food.”

“Ah, Chief,” Jim sighed sadly.

“Don’t,” Blair said, lifting a hand as if to ward off a blow. “I’m not telling you this stuff to make you feel bad. It’s just the way it was. I shouldn’t have said what I did back in the loft, I know that. But you don’t know. You don’t know what it was like. How hard it can be for some of these kids.”

He paused and shook his head at the memories. “Anyway,” he continued, rambling now as he tried to connect his feelings about the case to the reality of his past, his voice barely above a whisper, “Like these kids, I had a chance to make the same kind of fast, easy money. Had enough offers,” he laughed bitterly, “that’s for sure; I was young, didn’t fit in with my peers, but I wasn’t butt-ugly. And it would have been so easy, the answer to all my problems. But … I was never comfortable with the idea of selling my body – it was all I had and I didn’t want to use it that way, or hurt myself that way; didn’t want to have those memories, I guess. I know I’ve slept around some – but I’ve never slept with anyone I didn’t honestly care about and want to be with. But I can understand all too easily why these kids would succumb, how easy it would seem to them. And I couldn’t do what Alex did. Couldn’t go home to grow up for a few years; to have fun with friends. I didn’t have either a home or friends to go back to. So … I got a job welding for a few years, and I made better money than my bachelor’s would have gotten me. I stuck as much of it as I could in the bank. Made some good bets on the ponies, and got enough of a stake that I could ease up a bit, though I still needed more savings before I could go back to grad school because I knew the research I wanted, needed, to do wouldn’t allow me the time to work at anything else. So then I got work on field projects; didn’t pay great, but the experience looks really good on my resume, you know? And at least it was in my field. At least I was still learning about stuff I cared about.”

“Blair –”

“Just let me finish, okay. Just … just listen,” he again cut in, his eyes downcast. He couldn’t bear Jim’s regret or sorrow, couldn’t stand the thought of looking at Jim and maybe seeing pity in his eyes.

“Okay, Chief, I’m listening.”

Looking up at the stars, nearly done, he continued doggedly, “Of the last nearly fourteen years, I’ve spent seven working to pay my way for the other seven, and of those seven, I’ve spent three with you – and after all the years, all the work, you saw the way I was living when we first met. I sure wasn’t in deluxe digs, but I couldn’t afford anything better. I could have finished the dissertation well over a year ago, but I didn’t want to stop working with you. And, it’s true, if you weren’t charging me such reasonable rent, I couldn’t have afforded the time I’ve spent working with you since we met. But that was never why I’ve been sleeping with you.” He scrubbed his face before murmuring, “I used to be on the fast track, the bright protégé, someone special, years ahead of the other students. But that was a long time ago. Now … now I’m just another teaching fellow, ABD – all but dissertation. No one special. Not anymore.”

He felt Jim’s grip on his shoulder tighten, and a slight tug, and he knew his lover wanted to hold him, hug him, share comfort. But he couldn’t let go of the tightness in his body, couldn’t get past the feeling that it was all hopeless anyway, so there was no real point in going back to keep trying, to keep hoping, that Jim might fall in love with him someday and want to spend a lifetime with him. Wasn’t going to happen and he had to accept that. Might as well accept it now.

“I didn’t think that was why you … we ….” Jim tried, but his voice caught.

Swallowing against the lump in his throat, Blair shrugged and shivered. “It’s late,” he said quietly. “You should go home.”

“What about you, Chief?”

“I’ll be fine,” he replied, his voice flat. “I took care of myself for a long time before I met you. I can do it again. Don’t worry about me, man.”

“Look, Blair, this is crazy,” Jim protested, tugging harder now. “C’mon. Let’s just go home.”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” he replied hollowly. Having to get away from that touch before he gave in to his desire to go home with Jim, he pulled away from Jim’s grip on his shoulder. Rising to his feet, Blair walked to the chain at the edge of the pavement that edged on the sea. “Go home, Jim,” he reiterated firmly. “I’ll see you at work on Monday. I’ll be there for the meeting with Simon, and we can T up when you need me for the rest of the week. And, uh, I’ll make arrangements to get the rest of the stuff out of your apartment.”

“Ah, shit,” he heard Jim sigh and he closed his eyes, though he resisted the need to bow his head, forced himself to keep his shoulders straight and his chin up. There was the sound of footsteps behind him, and then two strong hands gripped his shoulders, holding on tightly.

“Don’t do anything hasty,” Jim murmured huskily. “We need to work this out.”

“What’s to work out?” Blair asked, fighting the treacherous urge to lean back against his lover. “You said … you said you only want me back to help with your senses at work. I don’t have to live in the loft to do that. I’ll keep helping you, Jim. Don’t worry about that.”

“I’m not worried about that, dammit,” he grated. “Where will you stay? In your office?”

“I’ll be fine,” he replied, avoiding a direct answer, not knowing the answer for anything beyond that night. “Good night, Jim.”

The hands on his shoulders lingered a moment more, but then Jim shifted to kiss him lightly on the temple before stepping back. As Blair listened to him walking slowly away, tears brimmed in his eyes and one spilled over his lashes to trail down his cheek.

**

Jim drove slowly down the long laneway toward the gate from the campus, but his eyes burned and blurred, and he had to pull over. Looking back across the grounds, he could still see the lonely figure, proud head now bowed, standing by the water. Shutting off the engine, he got out of the truck and stood leaning against it, his arms crossed, as he watched Blair and thought about everything that had happened. He’d known all week that his partner had had a tough time with this case, but he hadn’t listened to the reasons. Hadn’t paid attention. Had just been glad when Blair had gotten his act in gear and had provided the insight that had helped him break the case wide open.

Why hadn’t he listened?

Because … because his time at university had been a cakewalk, and he hadn’t credited Blair’s view that not everyone had it so easy. Thinking back now, he remembered the years in the frat house – Blair had been right in his assumptions. His father had paid the full tab and, at the time, Jim had only thought that was to be expected. He couldn’t remember noticing that other students were having a tough time of it economically. But, then, he hadn’t looked, hadn’t thought about it. Had been fully engaged in his own world. Sighing, he rubbed his face and wished he’d paid more attention to what Sandburg had been saying all week.

Not that it would have changed the outcomes. He was a cop. He had a job to do. But, yeah, maybe he wouldn’t have crowed so much about having been right that the agency was pimping and the students were selling themselves, not just their labour.

Oblivious to his presence, Sandburg turned from the water and trudged slowly back up the hill toward his car, distracting Jim from his thoughts. Holding his breath, Jim hoped that Blair had decided to return to the loft, but his partner just took his carry-all and backpack from the trunk before disappearing into the dark building. He’d meant it. He wasn’t coming home.

“Dammit,” Jim muttered as he got back into the truck, but still he didn’t drive away. Instead, he sat there and thought about what Blair had said down by the water. That he’d never slept with anyone he hadn’t cared about. Asking why Jim wanted him to go back home. Saying he wasn’t special, not anymore. But Jim knew, without a doubt, that if Blair had had his advantages in life, the wunderkind would have gotten his PhD years ago.

But then they might never have met. And he couldn’t imagine that. Couldn’t imagine not having Blair in his life.

Engulfed in sadness, Jim finally, slowly, drove off the grounds and back through the empty streets. As he got closer to home, he was dimly aware of the shriek of someone’s smoke alarm, and then he frowned as it got louder and louder, intruding into his thoughts. When he pulled up in front of the loft and parked, he finally realized with no little concern that it emanated from his building – and then he realized the hideous noise was coming from his apartment, and he bounded inside and up the stairs. Before he got to the third floor, he could smell an acrid, metallic scent, and wondered what the hell was wrong. The upper hall was empty and, as he opened the door, he remembered the neighbours were away on some extended holiday.

Smoke swirled in the air, and there was a sick, low rattling whine emanating from somewhere in the kitchen, and it was then that he knew what had happened. Neither he nor Blair had thought about the kettle set to boil before everything had gone to hell. He strode swiftly across the floor and cursed as he turned off the heat under the kettle that had boiled dry and was on the verge of meltdown. Swiftly, he tossed it in the sink, turned on the cold water to cool it and hurried to open the doors to the balcony, to air the place out. The ongoing wail of the smoke detector bludgeoned his ears, and the fumes burned his eyes and nose, and made him cough. In the bathroom, he dampened a cloth to hold over his mouth and nose to protect himself from the fumes, and then grabbed a towel to wave through the air to drive the smoke outside. A minute later, the alarm silenced and, dropping the linens, he stood rubbing his ears. The place stank, the noxious odour overwhelming every other scent.

Misery filled his eyes when he realized there was no lingering trace of Blair in the air, and he was too emotionally distraught to focus on that thing Sandburg helped him do with his senses, isolating and setting aside smells to find the subtler scents. His throat tight, he bounded up the stairs and crawled onto the bed. Burying his face in his lover’s pillow, he breathed deeply and felt some solace in the traces of the familiar fragrances that lingered there. “This isn’t over,” he rasped despairingly. “Can’t be over. Not yet. Not now.” Clutching the pillow close, feeling numb and disoriented by the events of the last hour, he eventually slipped into asleep.

**

Blair woke with a groan, his muscles stiff from sleeping restlessly on the old, battered sofa in his office. He eased himself up and stretched his arms, rolling his shoulders and neck before standing to arch his back, wincing at the low crack and pop of cartilage and bone. Grimacing, he grabbed his shaving kit and some clean, if wrinkled, clothing from his bag and left his office for a shower and swim at the athletic centre.

After sixty laps, a shower and a shave, he felt somewhat more human, if still deeply despondent. Unable to bear simply sitting alone in his office, he grabbed a heavy text from his bookshelf and a notebook, and headed over to the Student Union building, to get something to eat and a large, very large, cup of coffee. Half an hour later, seated at a table in the corner, oblivious to the world around him, he was munching on an apple and doing his best to focus on updating his notes for his next lecture to the Anthropology 101 class. When two people dropped unceremoniously into the chairs across the table from him, he looked up, and was surprised to see Mark Connolly and Ted Wilkins.

“Hey,” he said, leaning back and pushing his hair behind his ears. “How’s it going?”

Mark, a beefy blond, shrugged and replied pointedly, “Maybe you can tell us. What was with that cop on steroids the other day?”

“Yeah, and how come you were with him?” Ted threw in. The thin, sandy-haired student leaned his elbows on the table, his manner and tone subtly aggressive.

Blair looked from one to the other as he pasted a nonchalant expression on his face. “I’m doing my dissertation on closed societies, and riding with Detective Ellison is a part of my field work,” he told them with no trace of defensiveness. “And, yeah, Jim has his Joe Friday moments, that’s for sure, but I’ve learned it’s nothing personal; just goes with the territory and the job. As for the questions last week, well, he was looking into a number of agencies, trying to get a lead on his new case. Sorry, but I can’t really say anything more than that – you understand: research protocols, subject confidentiality and all that.”

They glanced at one another and, reassured by Blair’s offhand manner, they relaxed somewhat. “So we don’t have any reason to worry,” Mark observed, though it sounded more like a question.

Blair grinned at them and lifted his hands, palms up. “Why would you have reason to worry? From what you guys told him, it sounds like a good grad project, running a semi-social agency to help other students to find temp work, to prove it can be cost-effective. Sounded like a brilliant idea to me – I’ve sure relied on enough temp agencies in my time to know how necessary such help is for students.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Ted agreed enthusiastically. “Thought we’d get our Masters’ major project done and do a good service for our fellow students at the same time.”

“Well, there you go,” Blair replied dismissively. Flicking a look at the open text and his notes, he said, “Uh, I don’t mean to be antisocial, but the work of a teaching fellow, man, it is never done.”

Subtly reminded that he ranked higher in the student hierarchy than they did, they chuckled and nodded in commiseration, and then stood. “Sure thing. We’ll, uh, see you around,” Mark said congenially, while Ted nodded in agreement.

“I’m sure we will,” Blair agreed pleasantly, his gaze dropping to the text before they’d scarcely turned away. But once they’d left the cafeteria, he sat back and rubbed his hands over his face, and felt as if he could use another shower.

**

When Jim woke, he winced and shaded his eyes from the bright glare of sunlight streaming in through the skylight, and he grimaced at the lingering scent of acrid smoke. And then he reached out to sadly press his palm upon the empty space in the bed beside him. Sighing, he forced himself up and down the steps to the kitchen, where he prepared and turned on the coffee maker. While the hot water processed through the grounds, he took a quick shower, hoping the pulse of water would relax his taut muscles and bring some measure of relaxation. But he felt no better when he toweled off and wandered into the hall, and glanced somberly at Blair’s room under the stairs.

Once he was dressed in comfortable jeans and a pullover, and had a mug of much-needed coffee in his hand, no larger in a rabid rush to close the case, he called his colleagues and told them he’d decided things could wait to brief Simon the next morning. So they could stand down on the possibility of more surveillance work that night or early the next day. Then he wandered over to the open balcony doors, to look out over the city. The day seemed to stretch with infinite emptiness before him. Snorting, he told himself it was stupid to feel so bereft. It wasn’t like he’d never see the kid again; Sandburg had assured him that they’d keep working together. And he’d known from the very beginning that this was a time-limited affair – in every respect of the word.

But all the reason in the world couldn’t banish his sense of profound, irreplaceable loss, and he cursed himself for a fool. It wasn’t like him to let himself get so involved, to care so much, so deeply. That had been the problem with his relationship with Carolyn; always holding a part of himself back, never fully surrendering to the love they’d shared, because surrendering meant he had no control. And if he had no control, he couldn’t ensure he didn’t lose his balance and give too much of himself away, pieces of himself he could never get back if or when things went sour.

He knew he was trying to maintain the same distance with Blair, but it wasn’t working. Was already too late. Sandburg had stopped being an annoying, if essential, colleague of sorts a long time ago. Now, Jim felt as if Blair was somehow necessary to his being. A part of him. Or maybe he’d become a part of Blair, given some essential piece of his soul away into Blair’s safekeeping.

Which was very … scary to contemplate. Because he couldn’t trust Blair to never leave him. Hell, Blair had left him; he just wasn’t able to accept it.

He thought, briefly, that maybe he should just accept that this was it. Whatever had been special between them was over. What was the difference really between now or sometime in the future? If he was smart, he wouldn’t fight the inevitable but simply accept that this was just one more example that life sucked. Sighing, he rubbed at the stubble on his cheek and frowned at the helplessness he felt, his inability to simply let go. He wasn’t used to failing, to losing when he wanted to win with everything in him. Wasn’t used to feeling that he couldn’t keep going alone; that he needed someone else to make him whole. Sure, Blair helped with the senses, and his help over the years had been indispensable. But it was more than that. Deep inside, there was this space that only Blair could fill, like a hunger or … or a deep empty well. He felt cold to realize that without Blair in his life, he’d be eternally lonely, ever seeking solace that would never be there, incomplete and incapable of contentment, let alone true happiness.

Give up and let go – or fight for every last second of time that he could store up in his memory and heart like a miser hoards gold. His jaw tightened with resolution. Giving up had never been his style.

Shifting to sink into his chair in the living room, he thought back over the past week, and especially concentrated on everything Blair had said to him the night before. His heart ached and his hands trembled when he thought about how tough the kid had had it for so many years, and how Blair had had to survive on his own. Part of him felt guilty for having had so much and for having taken it all so completely for granted. And part of him wondered – fourteen years ago, he’d been going on twenty-two, a student in his last year at Rainier. Had he ever noticed that exceptionally young student in the anthropology program? Ever walked past him, wrapped up in his own self-preoccupations, when Blair had been feeling scared or hungry? How many other scared, lonely and impoverished students had he walked past and never noticed? Why hadn’t he noticed? Had his anger been so great, his desire to isolate himself from the rest of humanity, even back then, been so callous? And, sure, the kids engaged in the student-run prostitution ring were breaking the law, but why had he taken it so personally? Just because he was pissed off about being handed such a Mickey Mouse case? Or because he thought these bright kids were arrogant in their decision to take on the system, to willfully be so stupid? And that they needed to be taught a lesson. In what? Ethics? Values? Or life …?

But did a stupid decision mean they should have to pay for the rest of their lives?

And what did all that have to do with getting Blair to come home?

Why had he attacked Blair last night? Insinuating that he’d prostituted himself; that his mother had done the same for the whole of his life? What had he hoped to gain? What had been the point? Pinching the bridge of his nose, uncomfortable with so much self-analysis, he sighed. Sandburg had slammed him with more than his fist in the kitchen last night. He’d laid in with several painful home truths.

Though Jim knew he was less angry with his father now, more accepting and understanding emotionally of how his father had been, he realized that he’d never consciously rewritten his own story of his childhood and adolescence in his head. He’d still been clinging to the old story, the one where his dad was a bastard. Maybe … maybe it really was time to let that story go, to accept it was how he’d seen things as a kid, but not the whole story of how things had been.

And had Blair been right in his challenge that Jim resented the fact that he had a mother, and a good relationship with that mother, when his own had abandoned him? On the surface, his mother had sure had it a whole lot easier than Naomi – a home, a husband, money, security. But there hadn’t been love. Not between his parents and not enough for her sons to hold her where she didn’t want to be. Jim’s lips tightened and he swallowed, feeling the old guilt that he wasn’t good enough, that he had somehow failed, that it had somehow been his fault that she’d gone. Looking back now with the eyes of an adult, one whose own marriage had failed, he knew that a seven-year-old kid could never be held responsible or accountable for the choices the adults in his world had made. Something resonated inside with that thought, something cracked and broke apart, and tears filled his eyes. Swiping them away, sniffing, he drew a great breath and swallowed hard. Dear God, somehow, without realizing it, he’d assumed adult responsibility – in some ways, he’d tried to become a parent to Steven, maybe even to William. And tried to be the fixer, the one who held the family together and, when he’d failed, he hadn’t been able to take it. He’d grown resentful, angry, withdrawn. Had done everything in his power to get away, so he wouldn’t have to face his failure.

Only … he’d only been a kid. He hadn’t really failed at anything. He’d been doing the best he could, and so had his father and his brother, and it had just been screwed up. Life was often screwed up and it wasn’t necessarily anybody’s fault.

But love could heal the wounds. Though he’d never before admitted it, let alone credited it to Sandburg, Blair had healed a lot of his wounds. He’d learned to trust again, if not perfectly, certainly more than he’d trusted anyone since he’d been a young child. Had become less alienated from his colleagues, more inclined to be sociable. He’d rediscovered his sense of humour. And he’d learned how to love again, how to care so deeply it rocked him, more deeply than he ever had since Bud had been killed. No one in his life knew him as Blair did. No one accepted him as completely. Oh, sure, they had differences of opinion on just about everything, but Blair generally found it all humorous, their differences refreshing, stimulating and, honestly, so did he.

Up until last night, when Jim had pushed too many buttons he hadn’t even realized were there. But he should have realized, or at least been more alert, more aware, more conscious of paying attention to all the little messages Blair had been giving him all week that there were rocks under the shoals, sore spots that needed attention. For years, Blair had become increasingly aware of and supportive of his sensitivities, both sensory and psychological. Maybe it was time to return some of those favours.

As the afternoon drifted toward evening, Jim wondered if the time had come to be less fatalistic about assuming his personal life was never going to work out, that he was somehow cursed or doomed to be alone. Maybe the love he felt for Blair was worth making a stand for, worth fighting for. Maybe … maybe it wasn’t written in stone that everything had to end when Sandburg finished his dissertation.

Shaking his head after he’d added it all up, he told himself he had some serious fence-mending to do if he hoped to persuade Blair to come back home, where he belonged. But at least he was clear on what he wanted, and that he’d do whatever was in his power to make things right between them again. Nodding to himself, feeling the energy that comes from having his objectives clear, he began to work out how he might begin making amends.

**

Blair eyed his couch with profound disfavour. The futon in the room under the stairs was light-years more comfortable, and the bed upstairs was well … with Jim in it, it was as close to perfection as anything he’d ever known. Crossing his arms, closing his eyes, he leaned back in his chair and thought about how bad he felt. Working this case with Jim had been like pouring salt on old wounds. Every time he turned around, he’d felt stung with guilt and mired in mixed feelings, about the case, about his past … and about Jim.

And everything had come to a head the night before, when he’d exploded with unreasoning fury. Whether he’d had a legitimate point or not wasn’t the issue. The issues, plural, were why and where did he go from here.

“He doesn’t love me,” he murmured aloud and snorted in self-derision, feeling like some sad-sack character in a Harlequin novel. Sitting up, he drummed his fingers on the desk. “Actually,” he continued aloud, arguing with himself, “he does love you. As a friend, at least. And he sure seems to enjoy making love with you. He loves you enough to have followed you last night, and to want you to go home with him.”

His lips twisted in a grimace. “Yeah, but when I asked him why, he said it was because he wanted my help with his senses on the job.”

Blowing a long breath, he shook his head as he muttered on, “And when have you ever known Jim to freely admit he needs anyone? Huh? He’s not the type to get all gushy, you know that. You’ve got to look at his actions. He let you stay in the loft – against his better judgment and his preferences at the time. He took you into his bed. He came after you last night. So, you just want him to jump through emotional and verbal hoops to please your ego, or what?”

“Yeah, but … it’s not the same thing. What he feels is, I don’t know, a certain comfort level? A convenience, maybe? He definitely likes the sex. But he doesn’t want me to hang around until we’re both old and gray.”

He frowned. How did he know that, exactly? Or was he making assumptions? Bad assumptions? He’d told Jim more than a year ago that he had enough to write his dissertation, but Jim hadn’t expected him to get it done and move on. Hadn’t said word one about it – except that he really hated the first chapter. And he really had hated it, and then some. But he’d relented. Had let it go. Hadn’t mentioned it since.

But there was Clayton Falls.

But he’d said, “I love you guys,” and made it clear he’d just wanted a little space, a little time alone. What was so terrible about that?

But there’d been the pretty veterinarian. And Lila. And …. “But … what? He always came back, didn’t he? He eventually, always, sought comfort again with you,” he reflected, still carrying on the conversation with himself, finding the mental distancing helpful to working through emotional questions and choices. Sometimes he thought this form of mental rambling aloud came from having lived so much of his life alone. Or maybe it was just that it was his nature to work things out with words, and the scientist in him required him to attempt some objectivity even when it came to his most personal dilemmas. Most of the time, he knew he was unconscious of the process, but this time, he was playing it out deliberately, the questions too important to lie fallow, the emotions too raw to be left to fester. “It’s a form of love, an affiliation, a trust.”

“Is that enough? Can it be enough?” He shook his head sorrowfully. “For a lifetime, no. But for now? It’s not easy for him to commit, I know that. This guy is seriously screwed up when it comes to relationships.” He sighed. “Like you aren’t? He’s got a lot of good reasons for being so cautious. Maybe he just needs more time.”

Swallowing against his dry throat, feeling the ache of need and love rise within him, Blair whispered to himself, “Maybe … maybe it’s worth it to keep trying. You’ve had three great years. Maybe … maybe the cosmic truth is that a lifetime is lived a day at a time.”

“Yeah, and maybe that’s all bullshit,” he sighed again, rubbing his aching forehead. “It hurts. It hurts bad that he doesn’t ever say he loves me. It’s gonna hurt whenever it’s all over.” Rolling his eyes, looking up at the ceiling, he grumbled, “What’s the difference? Hurts now; hurts later?”

And then, restless, he stood and paced to the window to stare out at the lengthening afternoon shadows on the lawn. “You’re such a wuss. Whining like a baby. Get over it. Do you love him or not? Is he worth whatever it takes for one more day, one more hour?”

Drawing in a deep breath, he nodded. “Yeah. He is. He’s worth whatever it takes. I love him, and whatever happens, I always will.”

“Then, you schmuck, go home.”

Chuckling to himself, glad there was no one there to hear his weird craziness, he stuffed his gear into the carry-all and went home.

**

Jim was so lost in his thoughts, his plans, that he didn’t hear the light footsteps in the hallway, and was startled when the key turned in the lock and the door opened to reveal his partner.

“Blair!” he exclaimed, rising uncertainly to his feet. “You’re home.”

“Yeah,” he nodded in agreement as he set his bags down and shrugged out of his jacket. “I remembered that tonight was my turn to cook.”

A sweet smile of relief and welcome lit Jim’s face, and the tension washed out of his body. “Uh, you want a beer?” he offered, striding toward the fridge.

“Yeah, sure, a beer would be good,” Blair agreed. “I’ll just put my stuff in my room and be right back.”

Jim nodded and swallowed, wondering about the ‘my room’ comment. He was trying to decide what to say first – that Blair had been right or that he was sorry – when Sandburg came back, casually rolling up his sleeves as he said, “Connolly and Wilkins stopped by for a chat this morning.”

Blinking at the complete and totally unexpected shift of topic, Jim exclaimed, “They what?”

“Joined me at my table in the cafeteria,” Blair went on as he accepted the bottle Jim was holding out to him. He took a quick sip and went on, “Wanted to know if they had anything to worry about.”

Frowning, Jim asked, “What did you say?”

“Well, after I explained my closed society thesis and role as a ride-along observer for research, and referred to you as Joe Friday, I asked what they thought they had to worry about. I mean, students need all the help they can get to find temp jobs, and their idea of proving such an agency could be profitable is dynamite. Too bad they didn’t stay legal, but that doesn’t negate the value of the concept.”

Narrowing his eyes, Jim listened with reflexive impatience. “Cut to the chase, Chief. Do they know we’re on to them?”

“Nah, I don’t think so … but any future tails and stakeouts run the risk of being spotted,” Blair replied with a shrug. “They’re at the cautious stage. Not really nervous, but paying attention.”

Jim nodded soberly. “That’s good to know,” he reflected and then took a sip from his bottle. “Sounds like you handled it just right.”

Blair gave him a bow and then grinned. “Do my best, man,” he asserted. “I do my best.”

Smiling back, Jim replied with solid sincerity, “I know you do, Chief. And I appreciate it.”

Flushing with pleasure at the staunch approbation, Blair’s gaze skittered away. “So, we got any food in the fridge?”

“Not a lot,” Jim told him. “We were a little too busy yesterday to do any shopping. You wanna go out or order in?”

“Chinese?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Okay, I’ll phone it in and you can pay,” Blair proposed and when Jim looked askance at him, he cheekily added, “Division of labour. Besides, it’s your fault we didn’t go shopping yesterday.”

“My fault?” Jim protested, feeling unfairly maligned.

“Well, yeah. We were working your case – not like I had you giving a lecture to a class or grading papers or something,” he explained, eminently reasonably. “Your job. Your fault.”

Chuckling, Jim nodded and, capitulating gracefully, waved him toward the phone.

But after the order was placed, and Blair joined him in the living room, he once again tensed up as he tried to find the words for what he wanted to say. But, after studying him for what felt like second, maybe, Blair said quietly, “It’s okay, Jim. You apologized last night. I heard you. I … I just needed time to calm down.”

“You made some good points,” Jim allowed as he picked at the label on his bottle. “And you pack a pretty good punch for a little guy.”

“Little guy?” Blair snorted, and then laughed as he shook his head. “Don’t push it, Ellison,” he growled with mock threat.

Jim chuckled, but quickly sobered again. Leaning forward, he said solemnly, “I wish you’d had it easier, Chief.”

Blair gave him a crooked smile. “All life is about experiencing things, Jim; learning as we go along. Took me awhile longer than I’d planned when I was sixteen to get here, but I’ve learned a lot of valuable things along the way.”

Jim rubbed his chin and nodded vaguely in agreement. “We might not have met if … well, if you’d stayed on the fast track,” he ventured.

“I know,” Blair replied with warm affection. “And that’s the main reason I’m glad I didn’t.”

Feeling unaccountably humbled by the quiet affirmation, Jim again nodded to buy time while he swallowed the lump in his throat. “Me, too,” he finally managed, but then he frowned, thinking that didn’t sound right; in fact, it sounded selfish.

But again Blair seemed to read his mind, as he so often did. “It’s okay to be as glad as I am that we met, Jim,” he teased lightly. “It might have been a long and winding road that brought me to this point. But I can live with that.”

Once again, Jim chuckled in relief and he felt a sense of peace pervade his being, of contentment deep in his soul. Blair had come back to him and hadn’t made him grovel, like he remembered Carolyn had done after their big fights. Blair had heard his apologies and had known they were sincerely offered, even without all the words being said. Blair … Blair understood him, and accepted him as he was, without rancor or restraint. Maybe … maybe he could trust Blair would stay … or at least, allow himself to hope Blair would never leave him. Lifting his bottle of beer, he toasted his partner – his lover – and, with an endearing smile, Blair toasted him back.

Later that night, they made slow, tender love. And just before they dozed off, Jim kissed Blair’s damp temple and rasped huskily, “You are special, Chief. You’re very special to me.”

Blair’s grip around his chest tightened, and his lips caressed Jim’s throat lightly, the touch as gossamer as dandelion fluff, and yet Jim felt it so solidly, as he knew Blair knew he would – a wordless affirmation that he was special, too, to Blair, in equally as many and complex ways. He wrapped his arms around his lover and held him close as they let the night claim them.

**

The next morning, the detectives gathered around the table in Simon’s office, to brief him on the progress they’d made on the prostitution case over the weekend. Well pleased by their progress, he nodded approvingly. “Good work,” he acknowledged with a glance that included them all. “So, a warrant for the phone taps on the suspects, another few days of surveillance, and we should be able to wrap this one up with arrests by the end of the week. Jim, you’ll handle the interrogations. We should have a solid case to present to the DA, with charges that will stick in court.”

Ellison nodded. “I suspect these kids will fold pretty quickly,” he postulated. “They’ll be scared when they realize the game is up.”

“Play with fire and sometimes you get burned,” Simon rejoined with a philosophical shrug.

“Uh, about that, sir,” Jim ventured with a glance at his partner, “I’ve been thinking that we might recommend probation rather than jail time. The, uh, the shock of being arrested, going to court … well, they are only kids. They’ve made a mistake, a big one, sure. But the conviction on their record will stand for the rest of their lives. I, uh, I think that’s probably enough; that we don’t have to throw the book at them.”

Blair looked at Jim, surprise written on his face – and gratitude.

Simon was simply surprised, as were the other detectives around the table, given Jim’s attitude about the case only days before. “You think that’s enough, do you?” Banks probed.

“Yes, sir, I do,” he affirmed solidly.

“Well, so do I, detective,” he allowed decisively, the suggestion fair in his view, and it balanced off his discomfort with his suspicions of why the Mayor had been pushing so hard. Sure, the kids had broken the law, but he figured her husband and other adults who should know better had been equally as guilty in soliciting them, but would never pay the penalty.

With that, the meeting broke up. When they approached Jim’s desk, Blair touched his arm, slowing him down and causing him to turn and face his partner. “Thanks, man,” he said, his voice low and solemn. “I really, really appreciate what you just did.”

Giving him a tight-lipped smile, Jim looped an arm around Blair’s shoulders. “Well, Chief, like you said last night, life is about experience and learning. I guess even this old dog can learn a few new tricks.”

“You’re not so old, man,” Blair contested fondly.

Ruffling his partner’s hair, and laughing at the predictable reaction of having his hand pushed away, he said with low meaning, “Yeah, but I can do some really good tricks.”

Blair laughed with light-hearted gaiety and nodded with firm agreement. “Yeah, man, I’ll give you that. Great tricks.”

Both snickering at the puns and double entendres, each of them feeling joy to simply be together, they happily got busy, doing the work necessary to obtain the warrants they needed to complete the case. “You know,” Jim mused, “I was really pissed off to be assigned this case. Last week, I hated every minute of it.”

“Yeah, I know. Me, too,” Blair agreed heartily.

Looking up at him, Jim reflected, “But I’m not angry about it anymore. It, uh … well ….”

When his voice trailed off, Blair smiled at him with complete understanding. “Yeah, I know. Me, too.”

“How do you do that?” he asked, not quite exasperated, mostly relieved. “Know what I’m thinking before I say it?”

“I know you,” Blair replied with a diffident shrug.

“Yeah. Yeah. You do,” Jim agreed. Returning his attention to the paperwork, he added softly, “Better than anyone else ever has or ever will.”

Startled by the admission, Blair looked at him … and beamed with pleasure. Well pleased to have won such evident approval and to have been the cause of such an expression of unmitigated happiness on his partner’s face, Jim’s lips quirked in a small half-smile of his own. The plan he’d formulated the afternoon before, to mend fences and restore the easiness between them, was working out rather well.

Maybe … maybe there was hope for them yet. Maybe what they shared today could last a lifetime.

Love, real love, he reflected, was tough, hard work sometimes – not the relationship, but accepting the vulnerability, the risks, not knowing for sure how it would all turn out … well, it was just about the hardest thing he’d ever attempted in his life. But maybe love – loving and being loved by Blair – was worth the gamble. Watching Blair from the corner of his eye, his throat tightened, and he knew, just knew, this was one gamble he couldn’t afford not to take. Blair had become a part of him; a part he could never replace. And … and he wanted, badly wanted, to know this man, and be with this man, for the whole of the rest of his life. Because … well, for so damned many reasons, he couldn’t begin to list them or he’d never get his work done.

And, just maybe, he’d find the courage one day, maybe even sooner rather than later, to reply to Blair’s easy, “Love ya, Jim,” with “I love you, too, Chief. I love you, too.”


Finis

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
admiralandrea
Jun. 18th, 2006 09:40 am (UTC)
An interesting story. I like how you show us Blair and Jim's pasts and how blind can be sometimes to what reality is like. People with a lot of advantages don't realise that life isn't that easy for everyone. Nice character insights and I'm glad they resolved things at the end. Thanks for a great story!
caarianna
Jun. 18th, 2006 09:44 am (UTC)
Hey, glad you enjoyed it, and that it seemed credible to you. It was trickly, writing a hopeful ending when The Sentinel, Too is looming just ahead, LOL! Be awhile before the boys get everything worked out! ;)
caarianna
Jun. 18th, 2006 09:48 am (UTC)
Er, 'tricky', not 'trickly', LOL. Guess it's time I went to bed!
snailbones
Jun. 18th, 2006 11:11 am (UTC)
That was really great - a nice long Sunday morning read ;~).

I love Jim being all emotionally vulnerable and defensive, poor guy.

Thanks for posting - and thanks to Janet for letting you post early.
caarianna
Jun. 18th, 2006 11:36 am (UTC)
I'm so glad to know you enjoyed it! Janet has given me some great story ideas and, bless her, as 'story consultant' she didn't need to win this to have access to it. She's a very generous lady. Thanks for leaving your comments!
marizilda
Jun. 18th, 2006 10:02 pm (UTC)
Hi
Was a pleasant Sunday reading your story, I liked: ))))
Congratulations : )
caarianna
Jun. 18th, 2006 10:11 pm (UTC)
Ah, hey, thanks, Mari! I'm glad you liked it -- and I've sent The Auction to you. Nice to know you're here on LJ!
betagoddess
Jun. 19th, 2006 04:14 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed reading this story. I loved the way they each decided to get back together, but separately. Nice how you worked it. =>}

Thanks for posting it and sharing it with us. =>}
caarianna
Jun. 19th, 2006 04:24 am (UTC)
I'm really glad to know you enjoyed the story! Thanks so much for writing to let me know.

pattrose
Jun. 23rd, 2006 09:30 pm (UTC)
What a fantastic story. I love a mixed up Jim and I love how you show him learning and opening up more to Blair. He can be taught. LOL It was a very nice read. Thank you.
caarianna
Jul. 14th, 2006 12:31 pm (UTC)
Patt, I'm really glad you enjoyed this story! Sorry to be so late replying, but between Moonridge and then traveling with Linda for a couple weeks afterward, I lost track of my messages and am still catching up. Gerri's been encouraging me to write a sequel to this story ... and I must say, I'm tempted! ::grins::
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

Profile

Dorian
caarianna
caarianna

Latest Month

April 2017
S M T W T F S
      1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30      
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow