Destinies Entwined DE Press Stories Kathy's Manips KAM's Manips Multimedia Slash Loft Library Gen Loft Library
Dotty Kathy Lvblair Mary Ellen Ophelia KAM Ronnee Kathy 'n Mary Ellen
Home for Christmas
By: Mary Ellen and Kathy
Many thanks to D. L. Witherspoon for the use of her characters Dr. Amanda Cuthbertson and Sadie Farmsworth.
Credits to W.B. Yeats and Charles Dickens.
Spoilers for: Switchman, Vow of Silence, Dead Certain, Remembrance; Sentinel Too, Parts One and Two; The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg
"A man is not where he lives, but where he loves."
-- Latin Proverb
There for a while, Jim had thought that everything was going to be all right. After the press conference, the media attention died down; and although there was still the occasional angry phone call or letter, he almost always managed to keep them from Blair. So, for the most part, everything was back to normal. Or at least as normal as things ever seemed to be for them.
Still slightly unsteady on his feet due to the healing gunshot wound on his leg, Jim limped over to the couch and plopped down next to Blair. "So, anything good on tonight?" He asked as he picked up the remote.
"Don't know," Blair replied, his tone lifeless and dull.
"Chief," Jim said as he turned to look at Blair, "I… Look, I know that things haven't exactly been…. We've had a few problems lately, but things seem to be getting better now, right?"
"I mean, you're going to be starting the academy soon," Jim said. "I know that you'll do well there. Hell, except for a badge, you've been a cop for a while now, right? So you won't have any problems. Everything's fine, right?"
Clenching his jaw, Jim turned to stare at the TV. After a few moments of silence, he exploded. "I can't take this anymore, Sandburg!"
Blinking his eyes, Jim's shout penetrating the perpetual haze that seemed to be clouding his mind lately, Blair turned to look at Jim. "What?"
"This," Jim exclaimed as he waved his hand between them. "This… This silence that's been between the two of us lately is driving me nuts. You're… It's like… What in the hell is the matter with you lately, Sandburg? What's up with this attitude? Are you trying to get back at me? Trying to punish me? Is that what it is?"
"Jim, I don't know what you're talking about," Blair stated. "What exactly have I been doing lately?"
"Nothing, that's what," Jim replied. "You hardly talk, you just seem to hole up your room all day. You hardly ever come out; and when you do, it's like nothing registers with you. You've been like some kind of… some kind of zombie or something. I know that you're still upset about everything that happened. You've got a right to be. But don't take it out on me. It's not like I asked you to…."
"Didn't ask me to do what, Jim?" Blair asked when Jim didn't finish. "You didn't ask me to do what? Declare myself a fraud? Renounce my life's work? No, you're right. You didn't ask me to do that. But then again, you didn't leave me too many other options did you?"
Growing angry, Jim asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"What else could I do, Jim?" Blair asked. "You didn't want to have the press crawling all over you. You couldn't get any work done. Your life was being turned upside down. And it was my fault. Isn't that right, Jim? I was the one that screwed up, so I was the one that had to fix it. So, I fixed it. End of story."
"I never asked you to…"
"You didn't have to," Blair interrupted. "It was my choice and I came up with what I thought was the only possible solution. But don't say that you had nothing to do with it, because you did. You sure as hell made it clear that you held me responsible for all of it, didn't you? So now, you're not in the media's spotlight anymore. As far as anyone is concerned you're just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill cop. That is just what you wanted, isn't it? What are you getting all worked up over? You never wanted me to publish my dissertation. You never wanted anyone to find out that you're a sentinel. But even though everything got all screwed up, it's fine now. My dissertation is history, nobody thinks that you're a sentinel and I'm…"
"And you're what, Chief?"
"I’m going to be a cop," Blair answered. Laughing, sounding bitter and pained, he added, "I got to admit, that last part probably isn't something that you wanted though, huh? You never were too thrilled with the idea of having me around. But now I guess you're stuck with me. Guess we're both kind of stuck, aren't we?"
"Sandburg…" Jim began. "Blair, I…" Before he could finish the phone rang. "Shit," he exclaimed. "Stay here while I see who it is. We're not finished yet."
Blair stared after Jim's retreating form for a second before rising from the couch himself; without waiting to see who was on the phone, he silently turned and went into his room. Quietly closing the door, he shut out Jim and the rest of the world.
Picking up the phone, Jim said, "Hello," as he turned around. Seeing that Blair was no longer on the couch, he sighed. "What are we going to do, Chief," he whispered. "How can I make things right for you again?"
Hearing a muffled voice coming from the phone, he said, "Hello? Who's this?" Smiling despite his concerns for his partner, he greeted, "Hey, Steven. How are you?" After a few seconds, he replied, "That's good. We still on for lunch tomorrow? There's something that I need to discuss with you. What? No, it's nothing bad. I just need your advice. Oh, very funny, Bro. So 12:30 tomorrow, right? Could we just eat at your place? Order in or something? I just need to talk to you in private. All right, I'll bring some Chinese take out. See ya then. Bye, Steven."
Hanging up the phone, Jim stood and stared at the door to Blair's room. Before his mind registered the movement, he had crossed the room and his hand was on the doorknob. Coming to his senses, he jerked his hand away from the door. "I'll fix it, Chief," he whispered. "Whatever I have to do, I'll make things right." His concern for Blair weighing down his steps, Jim went over and turned off the TV then headed up to his room for the night.
Staring at Jim in shock, his untouched plate of food sitting on the table in front of him, Steven asked, "You want to do what?"
"You heard me, Steven," Jim replied. "I want to make things right for Sandburg and I need your help to do it."
"Jim," Steven began. "Look, I know this guy is your friend but are you sure about this? I mean, you'd be opening yourself up for all kinds of trouble. Everything has just started to die down. Do you really want to stir it all back up again?"
"It's the right thing to do," Jim stated. "It's the only thing to do. You don't know what Sandburg has done for me…"
"Seems to me that he has caused you a lot of trouble," Steven interrupted.
"Look, Stevie, you… I…" Jim stammered. "About Sandburg's dissertation…"
"I know, Jim," Steven said. "His dissertation, it's true." Seeing Jim's surprised look, he added, "I remember some stuff from when we were kids. Or at least, I've started remembering things since this whole mess started. All of that stuff about Bud's death, not to mention all of those other times when you could see or hear something that I couldn't. I've always known that there was something different about you."
"That I was a freak, you mean," Jim replied.
"No, Steven, it's all right," Jim said. "You're right. I am different and until Sandburg came along I never knew why." Pushing aside his plate of food, Jim rested his arms on the table. "So much has happened since I met him. I wouldn't even be here today if it weren't for him. When I saw him give that press conference. When I saw what he did, what he did for me, I was totally stunned. I couldn't believe that he would do that. That he would make that kind of sacrifice for me. A sacrifice that he has paid for every day since then. He's suffering, Steven. I can't let it go on any longer."
"He really means that much to you?"
"Yeah, he does, Steven." Seeing Steven attempt to hide his hurt expression, Jim reassured, "There's nothing for you to worry about, Stevie. You're my kid brother and no one will ever take your place. But Blair, he is an important part of my life. You're both important to me and I don't want to lose either one of you. And just like I wouldn't want to see you hurting, I don't want to see him hurt. So, I'm asking you to help me. Help me set things right."
"I'll help you, Jim," Steven promised. "But I'm warning you, this may be a little bit more than I can handle. If you want to do this, then you're going to need help from someone with connections more powerful and influential than the ones that I've got."
"I mean it, Jim," Steven cut in. "If you really want to do this, then you're going to have to go to the old man."
"Shit," Jim swore. "Are you sure that you can't swing this?"
"I could get you in the door at Rainier," Steven replied, "but if you're going to get them to listen to you, then you're going to need dad's help." Shrugging, he added, "Guess it all depends on how important this is to you."
Sighing, Jim hung his head down for a moment. Looking back up at his brother, he asked, "So, is he in town?"
"Last I heard he was," Steven answered. "I could… I mean… Well, if you want me to go with you, I will. It might make things easier."
"You'd do that?"
"Of course," Steven replied.
"Well then let's go pay a visit to Pop," Jim said.
Remembering the defeated expression that was all too common on Blair's face since the press conference, Jim said, "The sooner the better."
The ride to their father's house seemed to pass in an instant; before Jim knew it, Steven was pulling into the driveway. Taking a deep breath, Jim got out of the car and followed his brother to the front door.
"You ready?" Steven asked.
"As I'll ever be," Jim answered as he knocked on the door.
Both men stood up straighter as the door opened to reveal their father. "Hi, Dad," Steven greeted.
Grinning, William exclaimed, "Jimmy, Steven, it's so good to see you both. Come in please." Stepping aside, he waited until Jim and Steven had entered the house and then shut the door. "Let's go into the living room."
Exchanging a quick glance, Jim and Steven followed after their father.
"So, Dad, where's Sally?" Steven asked.
"Oh, she has the day off," William answered. "She went to see her sister."
"That's nice," Steven replied.
Gesturing to the couch as they entered the living room, William said, "So what brings the two of you here?"
"Well, Dad," Jim said as he sat down, "I need your help."
Mistaking the surprised tone for one of censure, Jim stood up. "Forget it. I knew this was a mistake. Let's get out of here, Steven."
"Wait, Jimmy," William called out as Jim started to leave. "Please wait. I was surprised is all; just tell me what you need me to do. I really want to help you. Please let me help you."
Hearing the sincerity in his father's words, Jim turned and went over to sit beside his brother again. "It's about Sandburg, Dad," he began.
Immediately after Jim finished explaining things, William, true to form, took control over the situation.
"Leave it to me, Jimmy," William said as he headed towards his phone. "I'll take care of everything."
"Dad," Jim called out. When William turned to look at him, Jim said, "Just slow down a minute, okay?"
"What's wrong, Jimmy?"
"Nothing, Dad," Jim reassured. "I just think that we should discuss this a little bit more. We shouldn't be rushing into anything here. Before you make any calls, we need to have some strategy in place."
"That's not necessary," William protested. "I know just the man for this job. Charles Sands is the foremost expert on academic law in the state. If there's a way that this can be done, he'll find it."
"All right," Jim conceded, "give the guy a call. I'll scrape together the money for a retainer. I might have to mortgage the loft, but it'll be worth it if this guy can pull this off."
"There's no need for that, Jimmy," William said. "If by some chance he does require a retainer, I'll take care of it."
"It's the least I can do, Jimmy," William interrupted. "That young man, he's… he's helped you accept your… your gifts." Shoulders slumped; voice choked with emotion, William said, "Which is something that I was never able to do. I am so sorry, Jimmy. Sorry for everything."
Taking a hard look at the person standing before him, Jim finally saw past the visage of the domineering man from his past to find the aged, frail man that his father had become. Shaken by the realization that his father was no longer the same man, was no longer the man who had called him a freak, Jim smiled and said, "It's okay, Dad. You were just doing what you thought was best. You were just trying to protect me. I know that now."
"I was, Jimmy," William agreed. "I just… I was worried. Worried about you and what might happen to you if people found out about what you could do. I just wanted to keep you safe and I thought that the only was to do that was to discourage you from using your senses. I was wrong. I… I love you, Son." Looking over at Steven, he added, "I love both of my boys."
"We know, Dad," Steven said.
"Do you?" William asked.
"We do," Jim confirmed. "And… Well, we love you too, Pop."
Smiling, wiping a hand across his face to clear away the tears, William cleared his throat. "Guess I'll make that phone call now. Okay, Jimmy?"
"Yeah, Dad," Jim replied.
Two days after meeting with his father, Jim was seated in the waiting room of Sands, Johnson, Riley, Smith & Associates, the most prestigious law firm in the city of Cascade.
"Relax, Jimmy," William murmured from his seat on Jim's right. "Everything will be okay."
"Yeah, Bro," Steven agreed from his seat on Jim's left. "By the time this guy is through, Rainier, Sid, and Berkshire Publishing will be begging to settle. This guy's a shark. No way those idiots stand a chance against him."
"Yeah, I know," Jim said. "It's just… God, I haven't even mentioned any of this to Sandburg yet. This thing has had me on edge lately, but I don't even think that he has noticed. Every day, he seems to withdraw more and more. I just hope that this Sands guy can get something done fast. I just… I'm afraid that if it takes too long, there won't be any of the old Sandburg left." Sighing, he glanced at his father and then his brother. "Does that make any sense at all?"
"Jimmy," William began, "from what I've seen of Blair, he's a very strong individual."
"Growing up with Naomi for a mother, he'd have to be," Jim mumbled.
"Nothing, Pop," Jim said.
Reaching up a hand to pat Jim's shoulder, William said, "Trust me, Jimmy, Blair will be all right."
"Yeah," Steven stated. "After all, if he has been able to put up with you for all this time then there's nothing he can't handle."
His tension easing, Jim smiled. "Thanks."
"No problem, Bro."
The three men sat in silence until a woman entered the room and called out, "Ellison?"
Standing, Jim replied, "Here."
Smiling, the woman said, "This way, Sir."
Standing up, flanking Jim on both sides, William and Steven followed behind Jim as he walked over to the woman. When she stepped aside to let them pass, they walked into the hallway then stood still.
Shutting the door behind the men, the woman squeezed past them to stand in front of Jim. "Hello, I'm Pam, Mr. Sands' assistant. If you'll just follow me, I'll take you back to his office."
After escorting the three men into a very elegantly and expensively decorated office, Pam asked, "Can I get you gentlemen anything? Coffee? Water?"
"No, thank you," William answered for all three of them. "We're fine."
"All right," Pam replied. "If you'll just wait here, Mr. Sands will be with you in a moment." With a final smile, she left the office.
It was only a few seconds later that the door opened again to admit Mr. Charles Sands into the office. Eyeing the man that held Blair's future in his hands, Jim tried to get a feel for the attorney.
Approaching Jim with his hand held out, Sands said, "Hello, I'm Charles Sands. You're Jim Ellison, I presume."
"You presume right," Jim confirmed as he shook the man's hand, giving it an extra hard squeeze before letting go; nodding slightly when Sands didn't seem bothered by the powerful handshake.
"Please sit down, gentlemen, and we'll get started," Sands said as he went to sit behind his desk. Pulling several files from his desk drawer, he glanced through them quickly before looking up at Jim again. "From what I understand, you wish to arrange for Blair Sandburg to be re-admitted to Rainier's doctorate program, is that correct?"
"That's right," Jim confirmed.
"Before we begin, I've got a few questions," Sands stated. Staring Jim in the eyes, he asked, "Tell me, Detective Ellison, why would you want to help a man who perpetuated such outlandish and blatantly false statements to the media? Why would you want to help a man who not only disrupted and endangered your life, but also was directly responsible for the life-threatening injuries sustained by your fellow officers? One would think that the last thing you would want to do was to help this man in any way. So tell me, Detective, why do you want me to help a man who is an admitted fraud and liar?"
Standing up, stalking towards Sands, Jim yelled, "Just who in the hell do you think you are? How dare you sit there and condemn Sandburg? You haven't got the right. You aren't worthy enough to sit in judgment of him. No one in this room is. Blair Sandburg is one of the most loyal, trustworthy, kind, compassionate people that I've ever had the honor of knowing, and I won't sit by and let anyone, especially not some over-priced, lowlife piece of scum like you, say anything against him. Do I make myself clear?"
Not intimidated in the least, Sands calmly replied, "Very clear, Detective."
"Good," Jim replied.
When Jim turned around and started to walk back over to his seat, Sands asked, "So, tell me what it's like? Being a sentinel, I mean?"
Spinning back around, Jim exclaimed, "What? I don't have any idea what you're…"
"Oh come now, Detective," Sands interrupted. "Any reasonable person can see that you think very highly of Mr. Sandburg; and a person such as yourself would never feel that way about someone who was truly a fraud and a liar." Never breaking eye contact with Jim, Sands added, "So there is only one reason why you're such a staunch supporter of Mr. Sandburg."
"Really?" Jim asked.
"Yes, really," Sands replied. "Mr. Sandburg's dissertation was indeed the truth, and the only time he actually lied was during his press conference. A press conference during with he invalidated his entire thesis in order to protect you. Isn't that true, Detective Ellison?" When none of the other men responded, Sands said, "Look, gentlemen, the only way I can work with you is if you are completely honest with me."
"It's true," Jim murmured.
"What was that, Detective?"
"I said that it's true," Jim replied in a louder voice. "I am a sentinel and Sandburg did what he did to protect me."
"Well now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's get started," Sands said. Opening one of his files, he said, "So you want to get Mr. Sandburg back in Rainier?"
"Yeah," Jim answered. "And anything else that you think that you can do. I just want him to get his name cleared and get his PhD."
"Then that's what we're going to do," Sands replied. "Now, let's get started. First tell me everything that happened."
"Well it all started when Sandburg's mother, Naomi, came for a visit…"
After the meeting with Charles Sands, Jim forced himself to stay silent and not blurt out anything to an increasingly withdrawn and quiet Blair. Eventually, as days turned into weeks, Jim began to grow frustrated. The continued absence of his partner, physically at the station and mentally at home, served to aggravate his rapidly fraying nerves; and despite Megan's help at work, Jim's senses continued to spike uncontrollably leaving him with a constant, pounding migraine. Not knowing how to approach his silent, morose partner, Jim had resigned himself to suffering in silence.
Now sitting at his desk, steadily working on completing his paperwork, he was oblivious to his surroundings. Unaware that his desk had become the eye of the storm amid the frenzied activity in the bullpen; not knowing that the people forced to invade this designated area walked softly and conversed in whispered statements in an effort not to bother him. Standing up suddenly, ignoring the hush that fell over the room, he stalked over to Simon's office. Entering the room without knocking, he slammed the door behind him. Out in the bullpen, all eyes were riveted to the closed door as everyone tensed in anticipation, not knowing what to expect.
Looking up as Jim entered his office, Simon barked, "What, Jim?"
"I’m outta here, Captain," Jim stated in a flat tone of voice. "My last report is finished; I’ve got more vacation time than any three other detectives and I intend to take it now. So don't look for me to be back until it is all used up."
"I don’t think so, Detective," Simon replied. "I’ve approved all the vacation time I can for the season. You’re too late; you’ll have to wait."
"Whatever," Jim retorted. "But, I’m gone for the rest of today. I’ve worked my forty hours this week."
"Jim, since when did you start counting hours?" Simon asked, his shock over Jim's attitude evident in his tone. "You’ve always done the job no matter the hours required."
"That was when I still gave a damn." Jim replied. "When I still had my partner by my side." Without waiting for Simon to say anything, he turned and marched out of the office. Ignoring Megan and Rhonda's questioning looks, he left the bullpen. Bypassing the elevator, he slammed open the door to the stairwell and almost ran down the stairs. Ignoring the throbbing pain in his leg, he didn't slow down until he reached the garage.
When he finally made it to his truck, he got in and just started driving; even though he didn’t pay attention to where he was going, he somehow managed to avoid wrecking. Finally, unable to keep going any more, he stopped. Putting the truck in park, he turned off the ignition and stared out of the windshield. Finding himself at the beach, he sighed; this was a place he always seemed to end up when the world was falling apart. He’d come here for the first time after his dad had blamed and punished him for wrecking the Cobra. It was his secret spot and he’d never shared it with anyone, not even Blair.
Blair. Jim closed his eyes as his thoughts turned to his friend. Since their conversation that night in the loft, the night before he met with Steven and told his brother about his plans, he and Blair hadn't spoken much.
Every time Jim tried to approach Blair, the younger man would retreat into his room. It seemed as if, as the date for his entrance into the police academy drew near, Blair was withdrawing more into himself. Now, it was common for several days to pass before Blair would say even a few words. This unnatural quiet filled the loft, making it appear a lifeless void. Anxiously, Jim awaited any news from Charles Sands. Each day with no reports or information combined with Blair's behavior filled Jim with tension.
Leaning forward, his head resting on the steering wheel, Jim said, "I don't think either one of us can take much more of this, Chief." Exhaustion, due to sleepless nights spent listening to Blair toss and turn in his bed, caused Jim to fall into a light doze.
Awaking with a jerk, it took Jim a minute to register what had disturbed him. Hearing his cell phone ring, he opened it and growled, "Ellison."
"Jimmy?" came his dad's hesitant voice.
"Yeah, Dad," Jim replied. "What's wrong? Did you need something?"
"Nothing's wrong, Jimmy," William reassured. "In fact, I'd say that everything is finally right again."
"What are you talking about?"
"Can you come home right now, Jimmy?" William asked. "Believe me, when you get here, you'll see what I mean."
"I'm on my way," Jim said as he started the truck. "But why are you at the loft?"
"Just get here, Jimmy," William ordered, then he hung up the phone.
Pulling the phone away from his ear when he heard the dial tone, Jim stared at it for a second. Then, he closed the phone and tossed in onto the passenger seat. Shaking his head, he headed for home.
When he pulled up in front of the building, Jim tuned his hearing into the loft. Not knowing what to expect, he was surprised and angered to hear Charles Sands' voice. "Son of a…." he began. His anger grew with each step as he exited his truck and went into the building. Still eavesdropping on Blair and the others, he heard Blair say, "I'm glad you came to see Jim, Mr. Ellison, but what does your visit have to do with me?" Turning his hearing up a notch, he heard Sands reply, "This has everything to do with you, Mr. Sandburg." Quickening his pace, he ran up the stairs. He arrived at the loft just as Blair suspiciously inquired, "Who are you anyway? Somebody had better tell me what is going on."
Opening the door, Jim took a few stumbling steps into the loft and then slammed the door shut. "What in the hell are you doing, Dad?"
"Just calm down, Jimmy," William replied. "We haven't told Blair anything yet. We wanted to wait for you to get here."
"Tell me what?" Blair asked. "Jim, what is going on here? Is something wrong?" When Jim just smiled in response, Blair exclaimed, "You think that this is funny?"
"No, Chief," Jim replied. "It's just…" Unable to express how happy he was to see Blair expressing some emotion, even if it was anger directed at him, Jim just smiled.
"All right, somebody had better tell me what is going on," Blair demanded.
"Certainly Mr. Sandburg," Sands replied. Turning to Jim, he said, "Please, Detective Ellison, won’t you sit down? I'll explain everything to Mr. Sandburg and fill you in on what I've been able to accomplish so far."
Jim, a little miffed at being invited to sit in his own home and angered by the fact that his father, brother and Sands had showed up at the loft without even consulting him first, reluctantly took a seat next to Blair. "So talk." He growled.
"Mr. Sandburg," Sands began.
"Blair, please," Blair interrupted.
"Blair, then," Sands replied. "As I was saying, a few weeks ago, Detective Ellison, along with his father and brother, came to pay me a visit. Detective Ellison was determined to see you readmitted to Rainier's doctorate program and to have your reputation in the academic community restored."
Shocked, Blair turned to stare at his friend. "Jim…"
"Just let the man talk, Sandburg," Jim interrupted, his smile a stark contrast to his harsh tone. Addressing Sands, he asked, "So what about it? Can you make it happen?"
"Actually, Detective," Sands answered, "this case is as close to a no brainer as I’ve ever seen. Rainer University is clearly in the wrong. So is Berkshire Publishing. Mr. Sandburg never submitted his dissertation. Naomi Sandburg, without authorization, released an unedited rough draft to Berkshire Publishing." Pointing to Blair, he added, "Without written, notarized permission from Mr. Sandburg, Berkshire Publishing released the manuscript. Rainer University, in the person of Chancellor Edwards, was apparently ‘blinded by the light’. The actions of Chancellor Edwards violated Mr. Sandburg’s right to due process. Her acceptance and encouragement of Berkshire Publishing’s actions violate university protocols involving privacy of research subjects. Rainer will settle unless they want their academic reputation to go straight down the tubes. I’m preparing to serve both the university and Berkshire Publishing with papers documenting a multi-million dollar lawsuit." Smiling, the attorney all but crowed his glee, "This will be a piece of cake!"
Not liking Sands' attitude, Jim ground out, "How much is this going to cost?"
"Oh, I’ll get my fee out of them," Sands answered. "But what will compensate me more than money is getting Edwards fired. She’s a bitch and she’s gotten away with too much for too long. She truly overstepped her bounds this time and I’m going to see she goes down in as public a manner as possible."
"Blair," Steven said as he looked at the younger man, "Jim told us about that alternate dissertation; the closed society thing. You can submit that. Jim's privacy will be protected and your reputation will be restored. You'll be able to finish your degree."
"Jim, you… I can't believe this," Blair said. "But what about the whole cop thing, my being your partner?"
"You'll always be my partner, Sandburg, whether you have a badge or not," Jim replied. "We'll figure out a way for you to stay on at the PD. Maybe hook you up with an official consultant gig. Simon can arrange something." Looking at Blair, dismissing the others completely, he asked, "So, Chief, what do you think?"
"I think this is a dream come true," Blair murmured. "I just hope it works."
"Oh, believe me, Mr. Sandburg, it will work." Sands grinned wolfishly.
From that point on, things progressed very quickly. As Sands had predicted, both Berkshire Publishing and Rainer University caved once the facts were presented. Sandburg cleared an even million from Berkshire and had all of his debts except his student loans, which Rainier graciously agreed to cover, paid by Berkshire. Rainer’s board of regents announced its culpability in the wrong actions against Blair, Chancellor Edwards was fired and Blair was readmitted to the doctoral program. At a private meeting with the committee, Sandburg’s topic was officially changed to closed societies; and he submitted the first three chapters, which were approved after a lengthy question and answer session. The defense was set for January 15 of the following year and Blair went home to the loft and got to work.
While Blair concentrated on completing his dissertation by his deadline date, Jim Ellison became the mother hen from hell. His constant cooking and cleaning, not to mention his close supervision, was driving the younger man nuts. But what bothered Blair the most was when Jim decreed that Blair should skip coming to the station until his dissertation was finished. However, after talking with Blair, Jim realized that the completion of the dissertation necessitated further visits to the station; so, he didn’t protest when Simon arranged for Blair to ride-along with various officers from divisions other than Major Crime. Although he did have a chat with every cop that Blair rode with, making sure that they knew he would hold them responsible should anything happen to his partner.
For the next two months, Blair gathered data. Everyone at the PD cooperated with Blair; and, despite their own abundant paperwork, they gladly filled out forms and consented to Blair interviewing them. By mid November Blair gave his advisor, Professor Jackson, drafts of the final two chapters. Feeling confident about his work, Blair felt assured that he was in the home stretch. Jim took him out for a celebratory dinner and it seemed like their relationship was finally back on track, that they were finally putting everything behind them.
The feeling of contentment, both with his life and his work, persisted until his next meeting with his advisor. During the four-hour meeting, he watched in shock as she shredded the two chapters. Although Professor Jackson said that she felt that he had more that enough data, she questioned his methodology and outlined the changes that she felt was necessary. Leaving the meeting, feeling slightly depressed and discouraged, Blair was still determined to do whatever was necessary to receive his doctorate; not wanting to waste the opportunity that Jim had provided him. So, he slogged home and began the tedious, laborious re-writing process.
By the time Thanksgiving arrived, Blair felt he had earned a break; the re-write on chapter four was done and five was well in hand. Jim was at the station, having volunteered to work the holiday so that other officers could be off with their families. The Major Crime gang was on duty and had planned for a big meal being to be served in the bullpen. Remembering Joel's phone call last week, during which Blair had been issued an invitation to the station, Blair decided to take a break and visit Jim and the rest of the guys.
Wearily, head pounding, Blair exited the loft and trudged down the stairs. Pausing as he caught sight of his brand new midnight blue Mustang, Blair smiled as he remembered the day he and Jim had gone out car shopping. Spirits lifted, eager to see his partner, Blair whistled as he got into his car and drove to the station.
Walking out of the elevator, Blair hurried his pace when he heard the sounds emanating from the bullpen. Entering the room, he silently stood by the door and surveyed the scene before him. Detectives and uniformed officers filled the room, each holding a plate of delicious looking food.
It wasn't long before Blair's arrival was noticed. "Hey, Hairboy!" Henri greeted.
"Blair!" Joel exclaimed, "Good to see you, glad you could come."
Everyone was quick to greet and welcome him. Megan came up and gave him a hug while Rhonda fixed him a plate.
"Thanks, Rhonda," Blair replied as he took the plate of food. Then he blushed slightly as she leaned over and kissed his cheek. His blush deepened when wolf whistles and cheering filled the room.
Slowly making his way across the room, being careful not to drop his plate, Blair arrived at Jim’s desk and was disappointed to find it vacant. Taking a seat, he began to eat as he waited for Jim's return.
Looking up, Blair smiled. "Hi, Rafe."
"Long time, no see," Rafe said. "Guess you’ve been pretty busy."
"Yeah," Blair confirmed. "Thought I’d take a break and come see you guys. Seems like Jim and I don’t ever have a chance to talk anymore; he has been so busy here and I’ve been busy with the dissertation."
"I can imagine," Rafe replied. "Hey, I’m going to go grab some food before it all disappears. Can I bring you anything?"
"No, I’m good," Blair said. "Thanks though."
After nodding in reply, Rafe walked over to the food laden table set up by Rhonda’s desk.
Walking down the hallway, Jim heard Blair's voice and saw red. "What the f…" he said. "Sandburg, you had better have a good reason for being here. I know that you don't need to gather any more information for your dissertation and you sure as hell don't have time to waste socializing." Determined to get Blair out of the station and back home, Jim stalked into the bullpen and headed straight for Blair; he was so intent on his destination that he didn't even notice the people scrambling to get out of his way.
"Sandburg, what in hell are you doing here?" Jim roared.
"Hey, Jim," Blair replied as he looked up from his food. Unfazed by Jim's attitude, he said, "I just wanted to take a break. Get some food, you know? Besides, I mis…"
"Taking a break!" Jim exclaimed. "You’re taking a break? I don't believe this! You don’t have time for breaks!" Glaring down at Blair, Jim continued, "Don't you realize how many people went to the mat for you so that you could get a second chance to finish that damn degree? You owe everyone in this room, Sandburg."
"I don't want to hear your excuses, Sandburg," Jim interrupted. "Do you know how hard it was for me to go to Sands in the first place? If it weren't for me, you'd be at the police academy right now. But instead, you're still getting free room and board while you’re back at school, Mr. Millionaire; and you don’t even have enough discipline to keep at your work. You're here partying your ass off when you should be at home working." Letting his anger get the best of him, Jim continued to lash out at Blair, "You get your ass back to the loft and get back to work. You’re going to finish that paper even if it kills both of us. You hear me, Sandburg?"
Stunned by Jim's outburst, Blair self-consciously glanced around the bullpen and was surprise by the expressions of anger and shock on the faces of those present. When he was finally able to meet Jim's eyes again, his words of protest remained unspoken. Seeing what he thought was an expression of condemnation and rejection on Jim's face, Blair stood up; without saying a single word, he turned and left.
In the silence following Blair's departure, Simon ordered, "Ellison, my office now." Though the words were softly spoken, it nonetheless seemed like a yell in the quiet room.
"What?" Jim asked after he reluctantly entered Simon's office.
"That’s what I’d like to know?" Simon asked. "Blair comes here to share a holiday meal with his friends and you come in screaming about second chances and owing people? As far as I’m concerned everyone in the bullpen owes Blair Sandburg; especially you, Ellison." When Jim just continued to stand there, Simon continued, "My God, Jim, Blair is supposed to be your best friend. Well I'll tell you something, Ellison, with friends like you the kid certainly doesn’t need enemies." Shaking his head, Simon said, "We've been through this before, Jim; with Alex. I'll ask you the same thing now that I did then. Do you really think that you can handle this sentinel thing by yourself? Hell, Jim, I was there that day at the fountain. I saw how… When we found Blair… Damn it, Jim, do you really want to lose him now after everything that's happened. I know that I don't. Sandburg has put up with a lot of shit from you over the years, but even he has his limits. I'm warning you, Jim, you damn well better get this fixed or else he may not stick around after he gets his degree. You and I both know that he’ll have a lot of opportunities; and face it, Jim, the only thing keeping him here is you."
"You stick around until the end of your shift," Simon ordered. "Blair needs some time to cool off and process. So do you. Do you understand me, Detective?"
When Jim went back to the bullpen, the joyous mood was gone and the room was silent. Looking around, Jim saw that Blair's uneaten plate of food had been removed from his desk and the festivities, what remained of them, had moved across the hall to Homicide. Rhonda and the few remaining detectives didn’t even speak to him and refused to meet his eyes as he crossed the room. After sitting down at his desk, Jim made an attempt at paperwork. It was only a few seconds later that he admitted defeat and pushed the papers aside. For the rest of the afternoon, he was preoccupied with thoughts of Blair. Eventually, he admitted to himself why he had exploded at Blair.
"What if he leaves?" Jim muttered, unaware of the looks he was receiving. "He has all that money now, and after he his doctorate he'll have his choice of jobs. There won't be anything keeping him here."
Remembering the stricken look on Blair's face after his outburst, Jim realized that he may have very well brought about his own worst nightmare. "Simon was right," he whispered. Grabbing his coat, hoping that his feeling was wrong, yet fearing that he was all ready too late, Jim ran from the bullpen and raced down the stairs to the garage.
After leaving the bullpen, Blair headed back to the loft. When he got back to what he thought of as his home, Blair stumbled over to the couch and sat down. "I can’t do this anymore," he muttered. "I just can’t."
Making up his mind, determined to stick to his decision, it only took Blair three phone calls to gather enough help. Knowing that it would be a little while for that help to arrive, he made a quick run to an ATM for some cash and then headed to Wal-Mart to pick up a couple of padlocks. Spotting a rental place on his way back to the loft, he quickly pulled into the parking lot.
"Can I help you?" the woman behind the counter asked as he walked in the door.
"Yeah, I need to rent a storage unit," Blair replied.
"Okay," the woman said, "I just need to get some information and to see your driver’s license or another form of ID."
After taking down all the necessary information, the woman asked, "How long would you like the storage unit, Mr. Sandburg?"
"I don’t know," Blair answered. "I… I’m leaving Cascade for a while but I will be back in January." Quieter, almost as if speaking to himself, he added, "I just don’t know if I’ll stay."
"Well, we do rent on a month-to-month basis," the woman stated, "and if you’ll give me your credit card number, we will automatically bill you each month. You won’t have to do anything at all. When you do decide to return to Cascade, you can take your stuff out at any time."
"That sounds good," Blair replied as he pulled out his credit card.
When Blair got back to the loft, he found the six students that he had called were already there. Walking up to them, he said, "I really appreciate this, guys."
"No problem, Mr. Sandburg," Joe replied for the group. "Hey, you’ve helped us all in past. If it weren’t for you, some of us probably wouldn’t even be at Rainier anymore. We’re glad to help. But what exactly are we doing here?"
"Helping me move out," Blair answered. Ignoring the shocked looks his statement generated; he started over to the loft.
Working together, it took less than two hours for the seven men to empty Blair's belongings. After they had packed all the boxes in the two trucks that the students had driven, Blair said, "I rented a storage unit to stow all of this stuff in."
"We’ll follow you there," Joe replied.
Driving to the storage facility, his thoughts chaotic, Blair wondered if he was making the right decision. ‘Naomi would be so disappointed in me,’ he thought, both amused and saddened by the knowledge. ‘When I was growing up, she never hesitated to pack us up and move at a moment’s notice; and here I am, already doubting my decision to leave.’ Remembering Jim’s earlier actions, he said, "But then again, maybe this is something that Jim and I both need."
Arriving at the storage place, Blair got out of his car and went over to the unit he had rented. "This is it, guys," he called out.
After his storage unit had been filled and secured, Blair shook hands with each of the students. "I mean it, guys," he said, "I really appreciate this. And I want to thank you for not asking any questions. I don’t think I could have handled them right now."
"We kind of figured that out, Mr. Sandburg," Joe said. "I hope you don’t mind my saying this, but you seem upset. Is there anything else that we can do for you? Anything else that we can do to help?"
"You’ve already helped, Joe," Blair replied. "More than you can possible know. Goodbye, guys."
Walking back over to his car, Blair climbed into his Mustang and left Cascade behind, a destination already in mind. Needing a place to hide, a place to heal, he was going someplace where he had never faced rejection, a place where he had always been welcome. Right now, he was counting on that welcome. In fact he desperately needed it.
Mind and body numb, already anticipating the hurt that would come after that welcome feeling wore off, Blair headed for Saint Sebastian’s; secure in the knowledge that once again Brother Jeremy, and the rest of the monks, would grant him the asylum that he desperately needed right now.
Returning home from his shift, Jim walked into the loft and immediately knew that something was wrong. At first, he refused to let his mind register what his eyes saw. Then, he slowly sank to his knees as he finally acknowledged the changes to the loft. That morning, he had left a warm, inviting home behind. Now, he found only the sterile environment that he had inhabited four years ago. Blair, his friend, his guide, his Shaman, his brother, was gone. Realizing what had happened, knowing that he had finally succeeded in driving away his light, Jim surrendering to the darkness; not bothering to fight off the zone as it claimed him.
Concerned about the partners, Simon and Megan decided to come by the loft and check up on their friends; only to have their fear justified when they found the front door standing wide open. Entering the loft, they were shocked to find Jim kneeling on the floor, barely breathing and deeply zoned. Eventually, after nearing talking themselves hoarse, they somehow managed to bring him out of it. At first, their attention having been focused on Jim, they didn’t notice the condition of the loft.
"Jim," Simon called out as Jim took a shuddering breath. "Are you back with us?"
Confused, Jim asked, "Simon, is that you?"
"Yeah, it’s me," Simon confirmed. "Connor is here too. What’s going on, Jim?"
"Gone," Jim moaned.
"Gone," Simon repeated. "What are you talking about?"
From her position by Blair’s room, Megan called out, "It’s Sandy, Captain."
Glancing over at her, Simon asked, "What?"
"Sandy’s room is empty," Megan answered. "Everything is gone."
"He’s gone," Jim stated. "He left. You were right, Simon. I finally drove him away."
Not knowing, how to comfort their distressed friend, Megan and Simon remained silent.
As the days passed with no sign of Blair returning, they were forced to stand helplessly by as Jim became increasingly depressed. Every day, seeing evidence of the devastating effect Blair's absence was having on their friend, they set aside their anger and in its place they felt an overwhelming anxiety over Jim's mental well being.
Simon, who had received a letter from Blair and knew the younger man's whereabouts, found himself torn. His friendship with each man was putting him in a difficult position. Reading over Blair's letter, Simon agreed with the younger man's reasoning that he needed to get his dissertation finished before dealing with Jim. Especially since it seemed to have become an obstacle between the two of them. So, Simon made a vow to respect Blair's wishes; however, seeing Jim's condition deteriorate each day, he found that vow increasingly difficult to keep. Especially since he knew of Blair’s plans to return to Cascade and, if possible, continue working at the PD. Knowing that news would bolster Jim’s spirits, Simon was tempted to go against Blair’s wishes and inform Jim of the younger man’s plans. But in the end, he knew that he couldn’t violate Blair’s trust in him; so he remained silent.
Wanting to do something to help, Simon contacted Commissioner Warren about a permanent and official consulting job for Blair. Expecting some opposition, Simon was pleasantly surprised to learn that Commissioner Warren not only knew of Sandburg's prior work with the department, but he was planning on offering Blair a permanent teaching/consulting position with the PD after the young man received his doctorate.
Relieved that one potential problem had been avoided, Simon was still concerned about Jim and Blair. Even though he knew that the two men desperately wanted to maintain their close friendship, Simon worried that this may be the time that they would be unable to mend their damaged relationship.
Four weeks. It had been almost four weeks since Jim had come home to a cold, empty loft. In that time he hadn't heard anything from Blair, not a phone call or letter. Each day, the guilt and worry ate away at him a little bit more; the accusing glares from his co-workers no match for his self- recrimination. In a display of support for Blair, his co-workers, people who once considered Jim to be a friend, no longer spoke to him unless work necessitated it. Once he might have minded the silence, but not now.
Unable to bring himself to care about anything, Jim sat listlessly at his desk. He glanced around the bullpen, forcing himself to endure the disgust he saw reflected back at him from those who would actually meet his eyes. His gaze came to rest on Simon's office and his expression hardened as he looked upon his captain, a man he once thought of as a good friend. Although Jim was certain that Simon knew where his partner was, the other man always refused Jim's frequent pleas for information concerning Blair. The knowledge that Simon was most likely honoring Blair's wishes by not disclosing any information didn't lessen the resentment he felt towards the captain but, despite the feeling of resentment, Jim understood the other man's reasoning. After the way he had treated Blair, he didn't blame Simon for wanting to protect the younger man.
At noon, Jim’s phone rang. Pushing aside his untouched paperwork, he answered the phone, "Ellison." After listening for a few seconds, he said, "Wait, hold up a minute, just slow down. What info do you have? It is good?" Nodding his head, he continued, "All right, I’ll see you in twenty. What?" Scowling, he growled, "No, there won’t be any bonus this time. And you’d better not leave me hanging." Slamming down the phone, he stood up and grabbed his jacket. Not bothering to speak to anyone, or to inform Simon of where he was going, Jim walked out of the bullpen; his shoulders tensing as he felt the weight of all the stares focused on his retreating form.
Waiting until after Jim had entered the elevator and the doors closed after him, Henri remarked in a snarky tone, "Well, the Dark Force had gone to lunch. Wonder what kind of trouble he'll manage to get himself into this time?"
"Anyone wanna bet how long until he takes a bullet?" Costello, a newer detective in Major Crime, asked. "But with the way Ellison has been acting lately, odds are it'll be ‘friendly fire’?"
Standing up, cold fury in her eyes, Rhonda exclaimed, "I’m ashamed to be associated with this department. Jim and Blair have been through hell for more than six months. Yeah, Jim blew it at Thanksgiving. Nobody knows that more than him. But the rest of you… " Pausing to meet each person's eyes, she then continued, "You’re supposed to be his friends and brother cops. Yet you've got the audacity to actually sit here and take bets on when he'll be shot? You actually want him to die? Well, I’ll tell you, he’ll probably oblige you. He feels worthless and no one here is any help. But have any of you even stopped to consider what his death would do to Blair? If something did happen to Jim, it would tear Blair apart." Angrily snatching up her coat, Rhonda added, "You know, I can’t get home for Christmas but I was looking forward to it anyway because Major Crime has been such a good family. But that’s all changed. I’m completely disgusted with all of you."
Silently the group of detectives watched as the normally friendly woman stormed out of the room, leaving a deafening quiet in her wake.
Clearing his throat, Joel spoke up first. "She’s right you know. I am ashamed. Jim deserves far better than he’s gotten from us."
"Who, Mr. Super Senses?" Rafe snidely asked, the venom in his voice startling everyone. "He thinks he is better than any of us."
"What gives you that impression, Mate?" asked Megan in a deceptively calm voice.
"He just does," Rafe sullenly replied. "He’s got the best solve rate in the department, and he makes sure that everyone knows it."
"I don't recall Ellison ever talking about his closure rate," Henri observed. "Did he actually say something to you, or is that your own insecurity speaking?" When everyone looked at him in astonishment, he asked, "What? I can’t say something sensitive and intelligent?"
"You’re right, H." Quickly glancing around at his fellow detectives, Rafe lowered his eyes to the floor before continuing. "Sometimes, it just feels like we're working with Superman or something. It's like everything that we've done seems insignificant compared to what Ellison and Sandburg have accomplished over the past few years." Sighing, he quietly added, "I guess I'm just feeling kind of down lately. With Sandburg gone, it seems like… Seems like there's something missing around here, a brightness that's gone. God, I wish I could go home for Christmas."
"You're not the only one," Megan countered. "I miss my family too. But there's no reason that this can't be a happy holiday for everyone involved. I know with Sandy missing that it won't be the same, but we can try."
"What's the point?" Joel asked.
"The point is," Megan replied, "that it's what Sandy would want us to do."
"But how do we do it?" Came Simon’s deep voice.
Spinning around to look at Simon, not having noticed his presence in the bullpen, Megan said, "We could start by readmitting Ellison into the ranks again." Pointedly looking at each man, she added, "He is a member of this squad and he is hurting. He needs friends who will watch out for him, especially until Sandy comes back."
"Don't you mean if Sandburg comes back?" Rafe asked.
"He'll come back," Megan stated.
"How do you know that?" Henri asked.
"Because Sandy is… Sandy," Megan answered, a grin lighting up her face. "We all know that those two couldn't get along without each other. When he's ready, he'll be back. Until then, he'll expect us to look after Ellison for him. But I'm ashamed to say that that's one job we've all been failing at lately."
"How do we watch out for someone who ignores everyone and won’t work with anyone?" Rafe asked quietly.
"I can help there," said Simon. "I can order Jim to work with a partner or be confined to desk duty. He has pulled enough dangerous stunts in the past two weeks to merit watching. It’ll be up to the rest of you to get it through to him that he is a friend. Can you handle it?"
Murmurs of agreement came from everyone.
"We need something else." The surprise statement came from Costello.
"What would that be, Al?" asked Joel.
"We need Sandburg back here for Christmas," Costello answered, "and for all of us to get together. I know my wife and I have no where else to go."
"I'm all for getting together," Joel replied. "But how are we going to get Blair back here? Seems to me, with the way he and Jim left things, that Blair won't come back until he is good and ready."
"You guys just get everything set up," Simon said, "and leave Sandburg to me."
"You know where he is, don’t you, Sir?" Megan asked. "Has he been in contact? Is he okay?"
"He is going to come back to Cascade, isn't he?" Henri asked. "I mean… Well, I know he has to come back to defend his dissertation, but after that… He isn't leaving is he?"
"Relax everybody," Simon reassured. "As far as I know, not only is Sandburg coming back to Cascade, but he wants to continue working here." Sighing, he added, "But as for things between him and Jim… Well, that I just don't know. They're going to have to work that out for themselves."
"But with a little bit of help from us," Megan replied with a smile.
"C'mon, Simon," Joel interrupted. "Those two, they're too special to lose. You know that just as well as we do. We've got to do whatever it takes to bring them back together again."
Eyes looking upward, Simon slowly shook his head. "I swear, Sandburg has been a bad influence on all of you."
"You say that like it's a bad thing, Captain," Henri joked.
"Okay, we’re going to have a Christmas party," Rafe enthusiastically stated. "Now all we need is to find a place and get it planned. Let’s make it a surprise for Ellison." Seeing the startled look from his partner, Rafe gave Henri a weak grin. "Anything is better than moping and feeling sorry for myself."
H returned the grin. "Okay, folks, if this is a secret from Ellison then no talking about it while he is in the building. I'm sure that I don't have to say why." Receiving nods from everyone, he continued, "We communicate by email or when we know he is at least a couple of miles away."
Simon looked shocked. 'How do they know?' He wondered. 'Did someone tell them about Jim's senses? I sure didn't tell anyone. I know that Jim and Blair wouldn't say anything. That only leaves…' Turning to glare at Megan, he frowned when she simply shrugged her shoulders; an innocent look on her face.
Joel caught Simon’s eye. "Cap," he patiently explained, "we’re detectives. We figure things out for a living. Of course we all know what Jim can do and that Sandburg somehow helps him. We don’t know all of the details and no one is going to talk to anyone outside this room about it. Despite how we’ve been acting lately, we do protect our own."
"Yeah," Rafe said, "and Jim is one of us. He needs our help and we need him."
"Get back to work," Simon bellowed. "This is a police station, you know. Go solve a crime or something. Write a ticket, rescue a cat up a tree."
"Um, Captain," Rafe said, "that's firemen. You know the cat thing you mentioned. Firemen do that, not cops."
"Don't tell that to Ellison," Henri retorted.
"Yeah, but he has Blair do the climbing," Joel replied. "Remember when Blair told us about that thread in that nest. And something about…"
"Yeah," Rafe cut in, "a pissed off magpie."
"Or that time with the jacket," Henri put in.
"I see that I've got some stories to listen to," Megan stated. "Start with the magpie."
"Well you see," Joel began, "this was right after Blair started riding with Jim, only of course we didn't even know about the kid yet, and there was this nest…"
Feeling good about their plans regarding Jim and Blair, still smiling from the stories each of them had told Megan, Henri whistled as he walked over to his car and got in. Planning on doing some Christmas shopping at Cascade Mall on his way home, he began a mental tally of the gifts he was going to need to purchase. ‘Let’s see,’ he thought. ‘Simon, Daryl, Joel, Rafe, Al, Rhonda, Megan, Jim, and of course Blair, I should get something special for Hairboy. But what? Maybe I’ll get him a lion tamer’s chair and a bullwhip for when he has to deal with Ellison. Or something for that mop of his.’ Grinning, for the first time in a long while feeling excited about Christmas, he pulled out of the garage. His smile widening when he saw that it had started to snow.