Rated R for mature themes. A short-term visitor leaves Jim and Blair with serious issues to contemplate.

Most heartfelt thanks to my betas:  Trish and Sandy.  Thanks also to Sandy and Keri T. for additional proofreading.  I was the last one to read the final version, so any mistakes are mine.


by Charlotte Frost

© January 2003


Blair entered the loft after having Sunday brunch with his study group. "Hey," he greeted, placing his backpack on the table.

"Hey," Jim said. He was stretched out on the sofa and his eyes hadn't left the TV screen.

"What's on?" Blair asked.

"Tennis match," Jim replied with a yawn.

It didn't sound particularly exciting. Blair went to the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of water. Jim seemed pretty bored. He must not have anything else planned today if he was watching a sport that didn't normally interest him.

Still, Blair waited until a commercial came on. Then he sat down on the loveseat near the sofa. "Hey, Jim, I'd like to ask a favor."

"No," Jim replied, after barely glancing at him.

Blair chuckled. "That's cruel, man. You have no idea what I'm going to ask."

Jim's eyes were on the TV. "No, I'm not going to substitute for one of your double-booked dates. No, I'm not going to give a lecture to the class you promised to sub for. No, I'm not going to loan you a couple of grand for a major overhaul on that pathetic car of yours."  Jim shifted the sofa pillow under his head, as though he were going to get serious about taking a nap.

Blair shook his head. "You may have five hyper senses, man, but your ESP needs work. Really, Jim, this favor doesn't require any effort on your part."

Jim closed his eyes, but asked reasonably, "If it doesn't require effort then how does it qualify as a favor?"

"Well... you do own the loft."  Blair was glad he was in a patient mood. Jim was trying to be cranky -- as though that was a basic right on his Sunday off -- but Blair could easily out-wait him.

Jim's eyes opened. "And, no, I'm not leaving the loft for an evening so you and a dozen co-eds can celebrate some friend's birthday."

Blair sat back with an amused smile. "You're starting to get warm, Jim. But a birthday isn't involved."

Jim's expression was one of contemplation. So, now he was interested. He sat up. "That leaves the keywords 'loft' and 'friend'."

"Good, Jim," Blair encouraged.

The match was back on. Jim turned his eyes to focus on it.

Blair sighed. "Jim. Come on, man."

The blue eyes remained on the TV. "Just spill it, Sandburg. This match is lousy enough. I don't want to play Twenty Questions with you."

"Okay, this is the favor:  A friend of mine is moving out of his apartment on the first, and he's leaving town on the fifth. It's one of those super-duper discount airline fares that was made way in advance, so he can't change the ticket without paying a penalty, and he doesn't have any money. So, I was wondering if he could stay here those few days in between. He won't be any trouble at all. Just sleep on the couch. He probably has only one suitcase to his name, and he can keep that in my room. No clutter, no mess...."

"Just a new set of bodily odors for my senses to adjust to," Jim grimaced.

"Jim!"  Though, really, Blair couldn't blame Jim for thinking that. It had taken him a while to stop apologizing up the wazoo to Jim every time he had to fart -- even silently. He was glad that Jim had fully adjusted to his own bodily odors.

Jim's brow furrowed. "What is he, a Rainier student?"

"Yeah," Blair replied. "An undergrad freshman, but it didn't work out. He's going back home to Iowa, and he'll probably go to a school there where he only has to pay in-state tuition once he gets a job."

Jim muttered, "Sounds like a loser. How come he can't stay with somebody else?"

"Well," Blair hesitated, not really sure how to answer that question. "He's sort of got some problems. I mean, growing-pain problems. He's not particularly well-liked. But he's a good guy. He's just totally broke and, you know," Blair admitted sheepishly, "he was obviously hinting the last time I talked to him that he needed a place to stay for a few days. I've always gotten along fine with him, so I offered...."

Jim sat up, shaking his head. "I don't know, Chief. You and the people you choose as your causes."

Blair wasn't sure if he wanted to playfully protest the term -- though he suspected there was some truth to it -- or seriously protest the term. Or just stay quiet. He settled for a nervous laugh. "Some might say you were one of my causes, Jim."

Jim lay back down. "That's different," he protested, but not very forcefully. "I'm your thesis subject."

After a long moment, Blair suspected Jim had forgotten their conversation. Jim's gaze was on the TV, but his eyes were drooping closed.


Jim started, then tried to look casual as he glanced at Blair.

Blair held out his spread hands in a well? gesture.

Jim grumbled, "All right, Sandburg. Just as long as he's housebroken and I don't have to behave like a guest in my own home. One little hint of trouble -- for any reason -- and his butt is out of here. End of story."

Blair quickly held up his hands, placating. "Thanks, Jim. Thanks, man. Jeff won't be a problem, I promise."  Inwardly, he was smiling at the memory of how his butt was supposed to be out of here, after only one week. That week had turned into two and a half years.

That certainly wasn't going to be the case with Jeff. Blair hadn't even been that keen on the idea of giving the undergrad a roof over his head. But Jeff had nowhere else to go, and Blair really couldn't imagine him causing any trouble during his short stay. Besides, he'd stated firmly to Jeff that he had to clear his stay-over with his roommate -- who not only owned the loft, but who was a cop and also the kind of man who didn't have much tolerance for others who didn't follow his definition of the straight-and-narrow.

Straight-and-narrow, Blair mused. Oops!   "Uh... Jim."

Jim kept his eyes closed this time, having lost all interest in the match. "What is it now, Sandburg?"

"You're not going to be bothered or anything by the fact that Jeff is gay. Right?"

Jim's eyes slowly opened. His expression didn't change. "You waited until I said yes to tell me that?"

"No," Blair said honestly. "I just thought of it now. I mean, that I should tell you in case you have a problem with it. But you don't have a problem with it, right?"  Despite Jim's white-bread upbringing, Blair really didn't think his sentinel had any genuine hang-ups about those who tread paths that weren't quite so straight. After all, if a man like Jim could come to develop a friendship with an unconventional man such as himself, well....

Jim shifted onto his back with his hand behind his head. "What is he, Sandburg, one of your experiments in trying the other side of the fence?"

The crowd roared on the television, and they both quickly glanced at it.

Ought to turn off that stupid TV, Blair thought. Jim could sleep a lot better. But he needed to answer that question first. He picked up a sofa pillow and threw it -- gently -- at Jim. "No, man," he laughed. "I never had to try the other side of the fence, because I always knew I liked girls. Of course, I admit there was a part of me that was sort of disappointed when I realized I was blatantly heterosexual. It went against my general life philosophy of steering around the straight-and-narrow."

Jim quickly held up a hand. "'Nuff said."

Blair pouted. He doesn't want to hear about Blair Sandburg's path to discovering his very bland heterosexuality? Fine, then. "So, Jeff can stay, right?"

Jim sighed. "Yeah, yeah. Fine. Just as long as he doesn't have any dates over or start redecorating the loft."

"I actually don't think he'll be spending much time at the loft. And when he does, he'll probably just watch TV. Cable is, like, a novelty to him."

"Where did you say he was from?" Jim asked.

Blair chuckled. "A farm in Iowa. You know, one of those small family-run farms. That's what I meant about him having some problems. It's not exactly a region of the country that's going to be okay-fine about a guy being gay. So, he tries to get far away from home and comes to Rainier, and then gets hit with the culture-shock of a big city like this. Let's just say he hasn't had a lot of support coming or going."

Jim nodded knowingly. "So, naturally, you took him under your wing."

"It isn't like that," Blair protested half-heartedly. "I do think Jeff's a decent guy. He's just had a rough road."

Jim snuggled back into the couch, closing his eyes. "So, he's arriving here the day after tomorrow?"

"Yeah, the first."

Eyes closed, Jim reached to the remote and clicked off the TV.

Blair got up and snagged his backpack, taking it into his room.

Jeff Falcon had an enviable mop of dark brown hair, cut similar to the old Beatles' style. He was slender and between Jim and Blair in height. He seemed a little nervous around Jim and Jim liked it that way.

After the introductions, Jim went up to change and get ready for work, since he was now on the two-to-ten shift. Blair went about showing their temporary roommate where everything was located around the loft.

When Jim was dressed, he came downstairs, nodded politely at the hesitant dark eyes that watched him, and was grateful that nobody claimed the bathroom. He went in, shut the door, and unzipped.

Despite the noise of relieving himself, hearing the conversation in the living area was unavoidable.

"That's your roommate?" he heard Jeff say excitedly, sotto voice. "Oh, man!"

"Jeff, come on," Blair scolded.

"What a hunk of muscle!  What a man!  And you get to live with him."

"Uh, Jeff, I need to warn you about something. Jim has really, really good hearing. Don't ever assume he can't hear you."  Blair's voice dropped to barely a whisper. "Like right now."

"Hey, the way I figure it," Jeff said, "if he knows I think he's the greatest looking specimen of man on this Earth, I'm no worse off than if he never knows it."

"Come on, Jim doesn't swing that way."

"Are you sure?" Jeff asked.

"Of course, I'm sure. I've lived with Jim more than two years now. We hang out together a lot; you know, at his job as well as during our time off. If there was any possibility of him being bisexual or gay, I think I'd know it by now."

Hey, man," Jeff insisted, "everyone is bisexual. It's all a matter of social conditioning that makes heterosexuality 'normal'."

Blair chuckled softly. "Well, if you're going to go that route, consider Jim thoroughly conditioned to heterosexuality."  Then, more seriously, "Come on, Jeff, don't start dreaming about him. It'll just give you heartache. He's doing you a favor by letting you stay here, so don't repay him by being a jerk."

Jim flushed the toilet and ran his hands under the faucet.  He heard the younger man sigh, then say, "Yeah, I guess I tend to be a jerk a lot of the time, don't I?"

Now Blair's voice was placating. "You're just in a bad spot right now. Once you get back to Iowa and settle in, things will get better. You'll see."

Jim dried his hands, then emerged from the bathroom, heading toward the coat rack with long strides. "I'm out of here," he announced, determined to not feel self-conscious.

"Bye," he heard the dual voices behind him.

Later in the afternoon, Jim was sitting at his desk when the phone rang. "Ellison," he answered.

"Hey, Jim," Blair's tense voice said. "You heard what Jeff said earlier, didn't you?"

"Yeah? So?"

Blair exhaled through the receiver. "I just wanted to make sure that it didn't annoy you or anything."

"He won't annoy me if he keeps his hands to himself and his mouth shut. And cleans up after himself."

Blair chuckled. "Right, right. Thanks for being cool about this."

"I'm always cool, Sandburg."

"I'll remind you of that the next time you're road-raging."  Blair's laughter sounded through the line as the connection ended.

Why wouldn't I be cool about this? Jim wondered as he flipped through the file on his desk. Some punk kid's amorous heart is hardly a threat.

In fact, he thought it a little odd that Blair felt so worried about it that he had to check in to make sure everything was still a-okay.

Blair's concern was funny, in a kind-hearted way. What? Jim wondered silently. He doesn't think I can defend my own virtue?

On the third day of Jeff's stay, Blair was surprised to hear the key in the lock to the front door. Beside him on the sofa, Jeff seemed engrossed in the television.

Jim entered. "Hi, kids."  He hung up his coat and groaned. "Oh, for Chrissake."

Blair grinned and looked over at their temporary visitor, who had glanced up at Jim's tone. Blair explained, "Jim hates this show," as Jim came next to the sofa and gazed at the TV.

Blair noticed that, despite his crush, Jeff seemed more engrossed in the talks-to-the-dead TV psychic than in the-world's-greatest-body Jim.

Jeff glanced at Jim briefly to ask, "You think he's a phony?"

"What difference does it make?" Jim demanded, repeating an argument he and Blair had already had more than once. "Even if he's for real, why should the living be so focused on the dead? These people need to learn to move on with their lives."

The program went to commercial. Seriously, Jeff replied, "But that's what this psychic is doing -- helping them move on by reassuring them that their dead loved ones are okay."

"That's not very encouraging," Jim said, "since this psychic supposedly taps into people who have been dead for years. That's an awfully long time to wait to move on."

To Jeff, Blair said, "I've tried to explain to Jim that there's no point in God or nature or whatever giving somebody the gift of communicating with the dead if there's something wrong with it. If this psychic has a gift to do that, then it makes sense that he should put that gift to use."  Blair knew Jim wasn't so obtuse that he couldn't see the parallels to his sentinel abilities.

"Yeah, yeah," Jim muttered, turning toward the kitchen. "What's this?"

Eagerly, Jeff replied, "The remains of our great Mexican feast. Have at it."

Blair was pleased that Jim seemed interested in the ingredients for homemade tacos and burritos still spread about the counters. "Yeah," he encouraged, "dig in. We're stuffed."  He patted his stomach.

The psychic program came back on. Blair couldn't help but notice how deeply engrossed Jeff became, even though the show was in its final minutes.

Blair got up from the sofa and went into the kitchen. He'd seen the psychic at work plenty of times -- if having watched the program only to annoy Jim.

"You boys have had quite the feast here," Jim said as he put together a taco.

"You might want to warm up the chicken."

"This is fine," Jim said, taking a bite.

"Another beer, Jeff?" Blair called as he opened the fridge.

"Nah, I'm fine," Jeff called back.

Blair took one for himself. "How come you're home?"

Having devoured the first taco, Jim started making a second. "The roster got moved around for the stakeout that we're assisting Vice with tonight. I got put on it, so Simon sent me home."

From the sofa, Jeff said, "Blair tells me you were in the military."

"Uh-huh," Jim said, taking a bite of the second taco as he stood at the kitchen island.

Blair moved back to the living area with his beer. The psychic program was over, and Jeff's attention was now fully on Jim.

"You ever kill anybody?" Jeff asked.

Blair released a quiet sigh. Jeff had been thoroughly fascinated with everything he'd told him about Jim -- which, really, hadn't been much -- and now he wished he'd said even less.

But Jim didn't seem bothered, and he turned to face Jeff while he ate. "Uh-huh. I've killed more, though, in the past seven years that I've been with the police department."

Jeff's eyes grew wide. "Really?"

"Really. Being a major port area, Cascade attracts a lot of crime."

"Wow."  Jeff was reflective. "I can't imagine killing people being part of my job description."

Jim put the rest of the taco down. "Believe me, it's avoided whenever possible."  He turned to the refrigerator and pulled out the beer.

Jeff's tone softened. "What made you go into the army?"

Jim shrugged. "I didn't really have any other place to go, and I was anxious to get away from home at the time. So, I enlisted."

Blair wasn't surprised that Jim didn't elaborate about the conflict with Stephen and their father that had brought about the decision.

"You ever sorry you enlisted?" Jeff asked curiously.

Jim rested his hip against the counter and picked up his taco. "No," he replied. "I think the army was really good for me."

"In what way?"

"It gave me a sense of structure and discipline, at a time when I was feeling rebellious."  Jim paused thoughtfully. "Probably the biggest value it had was introducing me to all kinds of different people and their belief systems and ways of life."  He took another bite, then muttered, "It's quite a melting pot."

Blair blinked. He'd never known Jim to be this open with so little prodding. He couldn't help but think that Jim was enjoying the opportunity to enlighten an interested audience.

Puzzled, Jeff said, "But don't they teach all of you to act and think in a uniform way?"

Jim nodded, chewing. Then he swallowed and said, "Yes, but you still get to know some of the other guys in your free time."  He looked away a moment. "If it hadn't been for the army, I probably would have had attitudes similar to a white supremacist, without meaning to. I'm not just talking about race. I grew up in a very WASPish neighborhood. The exposure to people from other cultures and areas of the country was good for me, since I hadn't yet become too set in my ways."

Jeff appeared thoughtful. "WASP. White Anglo-Saxon Protestant?"

"You get an A," Blair approved. And another A for getting Jim to talk about this.

"So," Jeff probed, "your parents were, like, really prejudiced?"

"No, not particularly," Jim said. "But they were products of their environment, too. When you don't have much exposure to other ways of thinking, it's easy to believe that the way you've always viewed things is the only way to view them. Anyone who doesn't fit that mold becomes a threat to the establishment." Jim paused to finish the taco. "When I went to high school, there were a few black kids. They seemed to get along all right with everybody. But there was always an 'us' and 'them' feeling."

Blair nodded, anxious to contribute to the conversation. "Feeling separation from the larger whole is always what breeds fear, which in turns breeds paranoia and hatred. Or, at the very least, fear of other ways of thinking create a need to preserve one's way of life, because it's considered the 'superior' way."  Blair indicated quote marks with his fingers.

Jim took a long swig of beer. Then he came toward the sofa where Blair was and sat on the other end. "One of those black kids in high school once invited me over to his house. I turned him down. I was scared to death to enter a home where a black family lived. It was too... different... from what I knew. Or, at least, I thought it would be."

Blair was all the more intrigued, since Jim was so different now. "Being in the army changed that completely for you?"

"Yeah," Jim replied after a thoughtful moment. "It didn't change anything overnight. But when you start working closely with other people and pull together for the purpose of survival, you start realizing how petty all those surface differences really are."  
Jeff leaned forward eagerly on his sofa cushion. "Are you saying that the army doesn't have harassment or those who gang up on guys who are different?"

"I'm not saying that," Jim corrected.

Blair noticed that Jeff almost seemed to deflate -- as though, for a moment, he was seriously considering the army for himself. Come on, Jeff, you're hardly army material. If Jeff thought being a gay man at Rainier had been difficult and lonely....

Jim continued, "I'm just saying that, for me, being exposed to all different sorts of people was something I needed. For that reason alone, I'm glad I was in the army. It made me a more well-rounded person. Not as judgmental."

There was a moment of silence. Blair didn't think Jim would appreciate being told that he was proud of him -- it would sound too patronizing. Instead, he went for humor and said, "Except when it comes to TV psychics who talk to dead people."

Jim nodded. "Except when it comes to so-called psychics who make money off of other peoples' grief."

"I thought he was pretty cool," Jeff said seriously. "I don't see how he could have been faking it."

Jim held up a hand, as though in surrender. "Whatever."  He stood and moved back toward the kitchen.

Jeff and Blair laughed.

The stakeout only lasted a couple of hours. The perp was picked up at another location when he tried to rob a convenience store.

As Jim came off the elevator on the third floor of 852 Prospect, he reminded himself that there was a visitor sleeping on the sofa. But there wasn't any way he could be so quiet that he wouldn't wake Jeff.

One more night, then things will be back to normal. He hadn't really minded Jeff's company the past few days. Their visitor added something different to his and Blair's usual conversations. The only thing that had actually annoyed him about Jeff's presence was that Blair seemed to feel obligated to hang out with him, which meant Jim was deprived of his shadow at work.

Jim unlocked the door and slipped in as quietly as he could. With his sentinel eyesight, he saw Jeff, in dark briefs and partially covered by a single blanket, sit up on the sofa.

"Sorry I woke you," Jim said politely. He kept his voice low, in deference to Blair's slumber.

He turned to hang up his coat, and heard Jeff's soft footsteps on the floor. He assumed Jeff was going to the kitchen or bathroom.

He turned back around, only to find Jeff standing right in front of him.

Jeff's hand reached out and settled on Jim's chest. "What do you say, Jim?" he whispered in a low, husky voice. The hand rubbed. "How long has it been since you've known a man's touch? I know exactly what you need."

Possible responses flooded Jim's brain. He had to make an effort not to laugh at this sort of transparent manipulation.

Instead, he firmly took Jeff's hand and held it away. "Not interested."  His gaze bore into Jeff's, though he didn't think Jeff could see his expression. The loft was completely dark.

"All that talk about the army," Jeff continued in a low, taunting voice. "You've known a man's touch, haven't you? You miss it."  

Jim was shocked at the young man's gall when his free hand came up and planted itself firmly on Jim's chest.

"Sandburg isn't your type," Jeff went on with spite in his voice. "He's too analytical. He uses words to keep himself at a distance. But he doesn't want anyone else to have you, either. He defends you like he's some sort of walking chastity belt."

A ball of anger developed in Jim's gut. After all Blair has done for you, you little prick....

Jaw firming, Jim took the hand on his chest and pulled it away, so that he was now holding both of Jeff's hands in both of his.

"With me," Jeff said in a breathy whisper, slowly running his tongue around his open mouth, "it'll be the raw, physical stuff. No questions, no explanations. No seeing each other again."  His eyes slowly closed as his voice became pleading. "We can have tonight."  Thick swallow. "Tomorrow night, too."

Jim realized that his body was responding.

Blair stood near the doors to his room, holding his breath. He had awakened upon hearing Jim arrive home, and had rolled over with the intent to fall back to sleep. But he had a popcorn kernel stuck between his teeth that nagged at him, and he'd decided to get up and go to the bathroom for some floss.

Then he'd heard Jeff's voice. Something about the low deliberateness of it made Blair hesitate to interrupt. Then he realized what Jeff was doing. He'd felt a moment of fury, and was ready to march out of his room and confront their visitor.

But something had stopped him at the last moment. After all, Jim could take of himself, couldn't he? And Blair really didn't want to add to Jeff's embarrassment by observing his rejection.

Jim had done just that -- promptly rejected Jeff's breathy offer with a firm, "Not interested."  

But it hadn't ended there.

Now, Blair waited as Jeff taunted with, "We can have tonight."  He said something else, but it was stated too softly for Blair to catch.

Blair continued to wait, wondering why Jim didn't slam Jeff up against the wall for not respecting "No" the first time.

And waited.

Come on, Jim!

Blair's fists clenched.

He didn't want this.

"Get out," Jim said, pleased at the firmness of his voice, despite his body's eagerness for the uncomplicated pleasures that Jeff promised. "Now."

Jeff continued to gaze longingly at him.

Jim released Jeff's hands. "Get your stuff and go. Touch me again and I'll injure you."  He said it as though he would have no control over what he did.

Jeff's gaze lowered. As did his face. Then his hands.

As Jeff shuffled away, looking firmly dejected, Jim flipped on the lights over the kitchen.

Blair appeared, holding Jeff's duffel bag and looking grim.

How long has he been standing there? Jim wondered. Obviously, his attention had been so focused on Jeff that his senses hadn't detected Blair's silent presence. How much did he hear? He was disturbed by the thought that Blair had heard everything, though he wasn't sure why.

Blair threw the duffel bag at Jeff. "Get dressed and I'll get you a cab," he said in a hard tone, then moved to the phone.

"I'm going to bed," Jim said, squeezing Blair's shoulder as he passed him.

He didn't look at Jeff as he climbed the stairs. He felt bad for Blair that things had turned out this way.

It wasn't until Blair hung up the phone, the taxi summoned, that he turned around. Jeff was dressed in a pair of jeans and slowly buttoning his shirt. He looked thoroughly miserable.

Blair wanted to ask "Why?", but he didn't want to talk here in the loft. Instead, he moved into the bathroom, grabbed Jeff's few things, and brought them out to the living area. Letting his expression show the full extent of his anger and disappointment, he held them out to Jeff, who took them without looking up.

When Jeff had all his meager belongings packed in the duffel bag, Blair said pointedly, "The cab should be downstairs any minute."

Jeff took his cue and left.

It was only after the door was closed that Blair realized Jeff probably had no money to pay for the cab.


What's more, Jeff still had one more night to spend somewhere before his plane left for Des Moines the day after tomorrow.

Blair grabbed his wallet and raced out the door. He flew down the stairs so that when Jeff emerged from the building, he was waiting at the curb.

Hunched over from the cold breeze, since he was dressed only in sweats and socks, Blair held out two twenties -- all he had. "For the cab," he said. "And a cheap room tomorrow night. It's all I've got."

Jeff barely glanced up and took the money.

Blair crossed his arms against the breeze. "Why, Jeff?" he asked as the cab pulled up. "Why did you have to do something stupid like this? I told you Jim wasn't interested in men."

Jeff looked up and met his eye. He snorted and demanded, "What the hell do you know about what he wants? You've got him all to yourself and you don't even know it." He shook his head and scoffed, "What a waste."

Blair's mouth fell open, shocked by the confidence in Jeff's words.

Jeff took a step toward the cab, then abruptly turned back around. "He was aroused. He wanted it. But it wasn't me he wanted it from."

Fuck you, Jeff, Blair thought as he watched Jeff get into the cab.

Why the hell had he even wanted to help Jeff out?

The cab sped away.

Blair watched until it was out of sight, taking the time to try to still the thoughts that raced through his brain.

Of course Jim was aroused, he decided as he moved into the elevator. Any man would be with somebody trying to seduce him like that. He didn't know in what ways Jeff might have touched Jim -- how dare he! -- but he did know that Jeff had been using an awfully seductive voice.

Besides, Jim hasn't had any in a while.

As the elevator crept up to the third floor, Blair tried not to think about how long it had taken Jim to reject Jeff the second time. Like maybe he was considering it.

Jeff and Jim.

Blair rubbed his hands round his face, trying to rid himself of the mental image.

The image fled when Blair opened the door and found Jim, wearing his brown robe and putting a teakettle on the stove.

With disapproval, Jim said, "You gave him money, didn't you?"

Alarmed, Blair asked, "You heard us talking?"

"No. I saw you leave here with your wallet out."

Blair sighed, feeling relieved and yet disappointed that Jim hadn't heard the conversation. Now, he'd have the burden of being alone in knowing what Jeff had said.

He came into the kitchen. "He didn't have any money, Jim. As much as I'm pissed off at him, I didn't want him to spend the rest of tonight and tomorrow night on the street. Plus, he needed money for the cab."

Jim shook his head hopelessly as he rummaged through the cabinets. "Did you hear what he was saying to me?"

"Most of it, I think."

"Then you know he didn't have the most flattering things to say about you."  Jim pulled a cardboard container from the cabinet.  "He had a lot of nerve, bad-mouthing you after all you tried to do for him. And yet you still felt obligated to help him out."

Blair grimaced. What could he say? Being a soft touch was part of his nature. "Well, he's gone now."  Blair slapped his hands together, as though dusting Jeff's presence from them.

Jim reached into another cabinet for a mug. "Hot cocoa?"

"Tea," Blair replied, moving past Jim to choose a flavor.

Blair watched Jim take down another mug and hand it to him. Blair gazed at it for a moment, then muttered, "I'm sorry I brought him into our home."  He looked up to meet Jim's eye.

"Your heart was in the right place."  Jim turned to the teakettle and hovered over it.

Blair smiled inwardly, relieved that this was all Jim was going to make of the issue.

Jim continued, "It's Jeff's loss for not appreciating that."  The kettle started to whistle and Jim turned off the burner.

Blair put a teabag in his mug, then held it out for Jim to fill with the steaming water.

Jim said, "If he would have accepted the 'no' the first time, I wouldn't have told him to leave."  He turned from Blair and filled his own mug, while stirring in the cocoa mix with a spoon.

"I can't believe he came on to you at all. I kept telling him you wouldn't be interested."  In his mind, Blair remembered that long delay before the second rejection came.

He played with the teabag in the water.

Jim said, "I wouldn't hold it against him for trying, young punk that he is."  He snorted. "But when he persisted... that was something I wasn't about to put up with."  He sipped his cocoa.

Blair used a spoon to squeeze tea from the teabag, then put it aside. He leaned back against the kitchen island and blew at his mug.

He knew if he kept Jeff's final words to himself, it would bother him for eternity. The fact that Jim was up after saying he was going to bed suggested that maybe Jim wanted to talk, too.

Blair sipped for a few moments, wondering where to begin. Finally, he said, "I heard him say something to you about the army."  He glanced up at Jim, feeling himself blush at his intentions.

Jim regarded Blair for a long moment. Then he grinned slightly and crossed his arms, leaning back against the counter. "All right, Chief, let's lay it out on the table. What is it you want to know?"

Blair grimaced at being so easily read. But he was hardly going to pass up this opportunity to ask questions when Jim appeared willing to answer them.

He sipped his tea, noticing there was a tremor in his hands. He'd heard it said that gay people could recognize each other on sight. He wasn't sure he believed that, but he asked, "Was what Jeff hinted at true? It sounded like he was saying that he knew you'd done things in the army. With other guys."  He squelched the urge to assure Jim that it wouldn't matter; it wouldn't change his opinion of him. Surely Jim already knew that.

"Is this for your dissertation?" Jim asked with a hint of disapproval.

Blair shook his head. "I'm just curious."  He chuckled self-consciously. "It wouldn't be the first time you surprised me."  He thought about the time when Jim had demonstrated his knowledge of motorcycles, after giving no hint of ever having the slightest interest in them.

Jim shifted to stir his cocoa some more. Finally, without looking up, he said, "I almost did something in the army. Once."

"What happened?"  Blair prompted. He didn't examine why he was glad that that was all there was to it.

"During a training exercise, me and this other guy were off scouting together."  Jim leaned back against the counter again, but continued to focus on his mug. "He came on to me. I was just young enough, just curious enough, just horny enough, and just flattered enough.... Well," he looked up at Blair for a brief second, "let's just say that I wasn't going to resist."

Blair waited.

"Maybe, if there hadn't been a delay, something would have happened."  Jim shrugged, as though determined to be casual.  "We had to monitor some communications going back and forth, and it was another fifteen minutes before things quieted down and we felt alone again. By then," another shrug, "I was asking myself if this was really something I wanted to do."  He put the mug down and looked fully at Blair. "It was like jumping off a cliff. I was afraid that once I jumped, there would be no going back. I wasn't ready to make that kind of decision right then."

"You mean," Blair also put his mug down, "you were afraid you would like it and you'd want it again?"

"No. I was afraid that it would define me in a way I wasn't sure I wanted to be defined for the rest of my life. And certainly not while I was serving in the military. It would cause too many problems if word got around."  Jim shook his head. "My whole future wasn't worth a little roll in the hay just to appease my curiosity and inflate my ego because another guy was turned on by me."

When Jim sipped his cocoa, Blair asked, "That was the only time?"

Jim nodded. "Nothing like that ever happened again. Looking back, I'm not sorry I didn't try it that time. I feel I made the right decision."

Blair gazed at the sink for a long moment. Finally, he ventured, "Then Jeff read you all wrong."

Forcefully, Jim said, "He was doing a sales pitch, Chief."

Now Blair looked at the floor. "Based on what he said downstairs, he seemed to think you wanted me."  He made himself glance back up.

"He was jealous," Jim said simply. "Probably not only of the fact that you live with me, but that you have a roof over your head and that you're going somewhere in your life."

Blair hoisted himself up so that he was sitting on the counter, next to the burners. "I don't think he meant it like that."  He met Jim's eye. "He sincerely thought you rejected him because you wanted me."

Jim tilted his head to one side. "So, what do you think, Chief?"  His voice was a touch challenging and spiced with humor. He poured out the little bit of liquid remaining in his mug and filled it with water, then left it in the sink.

Blair was relieved to catch the underlying note of humor. He was glad they were talking about this, so he wasn't isolated with his thoughts about what Jeff had said. He grinned. "I think if you've been wanting me, you've needed to give me some stronger clues."

Jim took one step closer to Blair, then crossed his arms. "Is that an invitation?"  The humor was still there.

Blair wasn't sure which way to play this, but some part of his mind was reluctant to participate in a game that could turn dangerous. He fell back on moral principles, glad to have them in place. "For starters, Jim," he picked up his mug, glad his hands were no longer shaking, "I wouldn't get involved with my thesis subject like that."

"You're sidestepping the issue, Chief."  Jim's voice was quiet, but a tiny smile was still at his mouth.

Blair swallowed, then returned the smile. "I think if I ever wanted to play around or experiment like that, you're the only guy I'd ever consider doing it with."

Jim paused, as though surprised. Then he recovered and stepped to the right, so that he was directly across from Blair in the narrow kitchen. "Is that so?"

Blair felt he had the upper hand now. His grin widened. "Yep. Come on, Jim, I wouldn't get in the sack with some guy I didn't trust. You know, 'be gentle, it's my first time' and all that."

Jim seemed to consider that, and Blair was eager to point out, "This is all a one-sided conversation, man. I've been brutally honest about what Jeff thought about us. Your turn. Have you ever thought about me like that?"  He wasn't sure what kind of answer he expected, let alone wanted.

Jim moved a step closer. "Chief, every time the mental image pops in my mind, and I start thinking about these layers of clothes," he tugged at Blair's sweatshirt, "the five o'clock shadow," he tweaked Blair's chin, "the hairy chest," his hand rubbed briefly there, "the long hair," he gently yanked on a few strands. "Well," Jim placed his hands on either side of Blair and leaned over him. "I'm rather overcome by all the things about you that need fixing."  He briefly clasped Blair's cheeks.

Blair laughed. It felt good that Jim was being relaxed like this.

"Of course," Jim pretended to consider seriously, "there is your perfect nose," he tweaked it, "your luscious lips," his finger circled them, "and your big, broad shoulders."  His hands rested there.

Blair's grin widened. "So, there's hope for me?"  Then he remembered what they were talking about. "For us?"  He wondered whether or not his eagerness was feigned.

Jim shrugged casually. "Yeah, I guess. Who knows? Ask me when I'm no longer your thesis subject, and maybe I'll be going through a midlife crisis where I want to try everything I've missed out on before, five o'clock shadow and all."  He slapped Blair with the back of his hand.

"Deal."  Blair hopped off the counter as soon as Jim stepped back.

He was still grinning. There was nothing quite like a non-threatened, totally-at-ease Jim Ellison. Blair wished he were privy to him more often.

He took a few more sips of his cooled tea, then poured out the rest. "I'm off to bed."

"Goodnight," Jim said, shutting off the light.

As Blair got back into bed, he recalled that he'd already been in bed once tonight. Then that fiasco with Jeff had happened.

It was amazing that the night had turned out so well.

Blair wasn't sure if he and Jim and just been joking around, or if they'd actually made a crazy, tentative date for some distant point in the future.

It didn't matter. He felt ridiculously happy.

Good riddance, Jeff.

He soon fell asleep.

On a Sunday mid-morning two weeks later, Jim looked at Blair when there was a knock on the door.

Blair shook his head and shrugged, indicating he wasn't expecting anybody.

Jim didn't detect any familiar odors or other clues identifying their visitor. Dressed in jeans and an undershirt, he opened the door.

At first, he thought they were Jehovah's Witnesses. Then he saw the sadness in their eyes.

Standing before him were a thin man and plump-looking woman, both with sun-wrinkled skin and old-fashioned clothing that he assumed was meant to be their Sunday best. They looked to be in their sixties.

"Are you Blair Sandburg?" the man asked.

"No, but he's right here."  Jim stepped back as Blair came forward. He wondered what these dispirited, harmless-looking people could possibly want with Blair.

"I'm Blair Sandburg," Blair said. "What can I do for you?"

Jim watched them look Blair and up down. Blair was dressed in sweats and hadn't bothered to shower that morning. 
Finally, the man said, "It's our understanding that you were the last friend to see our son, Jeff, alive."

Jim and Blair both started. Blair gasped, "Alive? What happened?"

"You haven't heard?" the man asked.

"No," Blair said, his mouth hanging open.

Jim stepped back, opening the door wider. "Come in, please."  He held out his hand, "I'm Blair's roommate, Jim Ellison."

The man looked at him, then back at Blair. Hesitantly, as though touching something he wasn't sure he wanted to touch, he shook Jim's hand. "I'm Thomas Falcon, and this is my wife, Esther."

Blair turned to quickly neaten the sofas and coffee table. "Please, sit."

Quietly, out of respect for their grief -- what the hell happened? -- Jim asked, "Would anyone like coffee?"

Thomas shook his head. Esther managed a tight smile and said, "I'll take some, please. Just black."

As Jim went to the kitchen to make more coffee, he heard Blair sigh deeply, then ask, "What happened? The last time I talked to Jeff, he was going to be leaving on a plane for Des Moines within a couple of days."

Thomas hesitated to speak, so Esther said, "We're sorry you didn't know. I suppose we shouldn't have assumed. Jeff," she swallowed and lowered her gaze, "he - he killed himself at a motel here in Cascade."

Oh, God, Jim thought, watching the coffee brew.

"When?" Blair asked in a trembling voice.

"It's been a couple of weeks," Esther continued. "He never got on the plane to come home."

Jim watched Blair lower his face in his hands. He moved near the dining table, knowing it was all the more necessary to stay calm in light of Blair's shock and whatever guilt might follow. "I'm a detective with the Cascade Police Department. I work in Major Crimes, so I wouldn't have heard about a suicide." He restrained himself from saying "simple suicide". "I can check into his file, if you'd like."  Then he realized, "Though I suppose they've probably already filled you in on all the details."

While Thomas stared into space, his jaw firm, Esther said, "Yes, they've told us everything they know. We've buried Jeff back in Iowa. We just thought we'd come out here one more time to try to talk to anyone who knew Jeff. We thought maybe they could tell us something...." She trailed off uncomfortably.

Jim turned back to the coffee. God, what could he and Blair tell them that would be of some comfort? Well, yes, Mr. and Mrs. Falcon, we saw Jeff a day or two before he did it and we kicked him out of the loft because he was a jerk. By the way, did you know your son was gay? He suspected that they did, considering the way Mr. Falcon had looked him up and down when he said he was Blair's roommate.

Christ. What did the Falcons think, that he and Blair had had some sort of three-way with Jeff?

Finally, Blair looked up and quietly asked, "How did you get my name?"

Esther continued to do the talking. "We traced his last days. The cab company told us that there had been a call to come to this address. One or two of his friends at Rainier confirmed that you live here, Mr. Sandburg. And that," she hesitated, "you had been a friend to Jeff. One of them said they'd understood that you were letting him stay here before he flew back to Des Moines."

Why didn't any of those friends tell Blair that Jeff had killed himself? Jim wondered. But then, he suspected they hadn't really been friends of Jeff, but instead mere acquaintances who didn't feel it their place to spread the word about Jeff's suicide. Blair had said originally that Jeff didn't have many friends. If any.

As Jim poured the coffee into cups, he remembered Jeff's hands moving seductively along his chest. Those big, dark eyes so sincere in their desire.

Christ, Jim thought. What was I supposed to do, throw him a bone? Give him some hope when there's no way I would have given him what he wanted? Let him stay, even though he'd behaved like a jerk?

Jim came out with a coffee cup in each hand. "Mrs. Falcon," he said as he handed it to her. He waited until Blair's moist eyes met his own. "Chief?"

Blair shook his head.

Jim kept the second cup for himself and sat next to Blair.

Blair released a loud, weary sigh. "Look, Mr. and Mrs. Falcon, I know that if you made the trip all the way out here to find out about Jeff... well, it seems to me that you sincerely want to know the truth."

Jim was relieved that Blair was taking the lead on this. He thought the truth was the best course, as well, but he didn't want to have to be the one to tell them about Jeff's final days.

Mr. Falcon shifted uncomfortably. Softly, Mrs. Falcon said, "Please."

Blair set back and crossed his arms, as though defending himself against a possible attack. "Jeff was a student in my Anthropology 101 class. He was struggling and I talked to him a few times. I also talked to a few of his other teachers and he wasn't doing any better in his other subjects. His focus wasn't on his schoolwork. He was obviously troubled by a lot of things. He was having a hard time making friends and fitting in. Also, I think," Blair lowered his gaze, "he had a lot of self-esteem issues."  He looked up suddenly. "He told me he was gay."  No reaction from the Falcons, and Blair added, "A homosexual," as though he wasn't sure that Midwest farm people would know the modern definition of "gay".

Mr. Falcon looked at them abruptly, his face hard. "It doesn't matter what you call it, does it? He was still a freak."

Jim had to work at not wincing at the word that he'd always felt so sensitive to.

Mr. Falcon's eyes darted back and forth between them, as though accusing them of the same thing.

In other circumstances, this would be the time for Jim to escort his visitors to the door. But he couldn't expect them to be rational and polite in their time of grief.
Blair, too, was apparently struggling to continue conversing with them. Firmly, he asked, "Do you want me to tell you everything I know, or not?"  No response. He said shakily, "Because this is really hard for me to talk about, but I want to so you'll know the truth. But I don't want to waste my time if you aren't going to listen."

Esther was looking straight ahead when she whispered, "Please continue."

Jim started to reach out to put a supporting hand on Blair back, but then he hesitated. Such a gesture would make the Falcons believe that their suspicions were true.


But what difference did it make at this point? The Falcons -- Thomas especially -- seemed to have already made up their mind. No wonder Jeff killed himself, Jim couldn't help but think, glad to have somewhere obvious to lay the blame.

He extended his arm and rested his hand on Blair's shoulder. His fingers began to massage it.
Blair glanced at him with gratitude in his eyes. Then he released another breath and said to their visitors, "Look, I know this can't be easy for you. But I haven't had a chance yet to let this sink in. Bear with me so I can get this all out."

Thomas had gone back to staring into space. Esther gave a small nod.

Blair said, "I talked to Jeff about all sorts of organizations on campus that could help him. Study groups, gay groups, groups for out-of-town freshmen who were having trouble being away from home -- that sort of thing. When I asked him about it later, he said none of them seemed to be the kind of thing he'd find helpful. He barely passed my class with a D, and he wasn't doing any better in his other classes. He also couldn't find a job to fill the gaps that financial aid wouldn't cover. So, he ended up deciding he was going to return to Iowa."

Blair hesitated a long time and Jim squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. Blair leaned forward, arms on his knees, and Jim extended his massage to include Blair's back.

Blair said, "The cheapest flight he could get to Des Moines didn't have a seat available until a few days after the lease was up on his apartment. He and I weren't exactly friends or pals who hung out together, but he seemed kind of desperate. He had no money and no place to go. So, I told him he could stay here for those few days."  He looked over at Jim, then back at the Falcons. "Actually, I had to clear it with Jim first. It's his place. I just stay here because I'm doing my thesis on the police department, and I need to work closely with Jim."

Jim admired the way Blair tried to indicate that their relationship wasn't for unseemly purposes. He saw Mr. Falcon's eyes dart past the kitchen area to where Blair's room was.

"Anyway," Blair continued wearily, "Jim didn't know Jeff from Adam, but he agreed to let him stay, as long as he behaved himself and didn't cause any problems."  Blair gazed at the floor a moment, as though gathering his thoughts. "Actually, Jeff and I sort of hung out for a couple of days and I enjoyed his company. Everything seemed fine."  He looked at the Falcons. "Then Jim came home in the middle of the night after a stakeout and Jeff came on to him." Blair looked away uncomfortably. The Falcons also shifted on the sofa.

Still looking away, Blair said, "Jeff was attracted to Jim from the start. I told him straight out, more than once, that Jim wasn't gay."  Blair sighed. "I guess he still had to see for himself."  He looked at Jim now, as though wondering if Jim wanted to pick it up from here.

Jim didn't, but he knew Blair needed a respite. He dropped his hand from Blair's back and said, "It wouldn't have bothered me, except he wouldn't take No for an answer."  He now questioned if that was reason enough to throw Jeff out on his ass. "I didn't want him here if he was going to behave like that. So, I told him to leave then and there."

Blair nodded. "I wanted him to leave, too. I had forty dollars in my wallet, and I gave it to him so he could pay the cab and get a room until his plane left." He swallowed thickly. "I didn't hear from him after that."  He lowered his head and his voice. "I assumed he made it home okay."

Jim had some questions, but he wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answers. At least not right now. So, he remained silent as both their guests stared into space.

Finally, Blair looked up again and asked, "When did he die?"  

Esther took a deep breath and replied, "The motel manager found him May 5th -- the day he was supposed to leave for home. The coroner thinks he did it the night before."

"So," Blair said thoughtfully, "that was the night after Jim and I kicked him out."

Jim felt better, knowing that Jeff didn't kill himself immediately as a knee-jerk reaction to being thrown out.

"How did he do it?" Blair asked quietly.

Thomas remained stone still. Esther shifted uncomfortably on the sofa. Staring straight ahead, she said, "He stabbed himself."

Oh, God. Jim closed his eyes. That was definitely not one of the better choices for suicide.

"Excuse me," Blair said, standing.

The rest of them watched Blair as he moved to the bathroom and shut the door.

Jim didn't know what to say.

Thomas said to his wife, "We'd better go."

"Yes," she said, standing.

Jim also stood, feeling relieved that they were leaving. He said, "I'm very sorry for your loss."

"Thank you," Esther said softly, while Thomas merely glanced in his direction.

Jim held the door for them, resisting the impulse to hold out his hand. He was sure Mr. Falcon didn't want to shake it.

As they moved out the door, Esther said, "Thank you and Blair for spending time with us."

Jim nodded. "Take care."  He closed the door behind them.

He extended his hearing out as he approached the bathroom, but he couldn't detect any noise beyond Blair's heartbeat.

"Blair?" he said, just before pushing open the door, which hadn't been fully shut.

Blair was leaning against the vanity, which his hands were braced against, staring at the sink.

"I'm sorry, buddy," Jim said, not knowing what else to say.

"I was really pissed at him," Blair said in a tight voice, "but I never wanted him to do anything like this."

"Of course, you didn't. I didn't either."  Jim came into the bathroom and put his arm around Blair's shoulders. "I thought we could go down to the station and look at his file. At least we can get the facts."  

Blair nodded, then vaguely indicated the shower. "Give me a minute to wash up and get dressed."

Jim gave Blair's shoulder a squeeze, then turned away.

The truck had been quiet on the way to the station. When they were a few minutes away, Blair said distantly, "How many people commit suicide by stabbing themselves?"  He was gazing out the window.

"Not many," Jim replied softly.

Blair swallowed audibly. "It had to take him a while to die."

Probably, Jim acknowledged silently. Not sure it would be much comfort, he pointed out, "If Jeff didn't try to call for help after he stabbed himself, I guess that would mean he really wanted to die."

Blair slowly shook his head, his mouth curved in an angry frown. "You've really got to hate yourself to be able to plunge a knife into your own body."  He released a heavy breath and stared out the window.

Once arriving at the station, they went to the department that handled suicides and accidental deaths.  They had the desk clerk pull the file on Jeff Falcon. Jim then asked for an empty conference room and was directed to one down the hall.

They closed the door behind them and sat down. Jim opened the thin manila folder, and the first document was a photo of Jeff's dead body, a knife protruding from his bloody stomach.

"Oh, God," Blair said in a trembling voice, turning away. He buried his face in his hands.

Jim frowned, feeling annoyed at the desk clerk who hadn't put the papers in the proper order before filing them away. He gazed at that photo an extended moment, committing it to memory, then slipped it beneath the other papers. He then read the police report, and found the referenced photocopy of the note it mentioned.

"Here's a note," Jim said, flipping the police report up to display the copy.

Blair put his hands down and moved closer.

"Hmm," Jim said. "This is the envelope," he pointed to the copy. The scrawl on the front said, "To Anybody Who Cares."   

He flipped up to the next page. "Then here's the note."  It, too, read, "To Anybody Who Cares". That was all it said.

"These are photocopies," Blair murmured. "I guess his parents have the originals?"

"Yeah, the police would have let them have them."

Blair slowly shook his head back and forth, frowning.

Jim perused the official reports. "He was pronounced dead at one-twenty PM on the fifth. The manager was the one who found him, because he went in to clean the room. He told the officers who responded to his call that Jeff had checked in very early in the morning of the fourth."  That would have been shortly after Jeff left the loft.

Jim read a little further. "The manager is the one who gave him the butcher knife. He said Jeff had asked to borrow it earlier that day, saying the zipper to his duffel bag was jammed and he needed to cut into it. The manager didn't give it another thought."

Blair stared at the far wall. "If the manager hadn't given him the knife, he wouldn't have had any way of doing it."

Keeping his voice calm, Jim corrected, "He could have just hanged himself in the bathroom. This was premeditated, Chief. He didn't do this on a whim when we kicked him out of the loft. He asked for the knife later the following afternoon. Then he did it some time in the middle of the night. That takes some pretty strong determination. If he hadn't done it that night, that way, he would have found some other way to do it later."

Blair drew his leg up, resting his foot on the edge of his chair, and leaned his forehead against his bent knee. He closed his eyes.

Jim didn't know what comfort he could offer, except to continue reporting the facts. "The officers talked with a couple of his teachers at Rainier, mainly to confirm his handwriting, since his only relatives were back in Iowa. The teachers mentioned that Jeff seemed... lost," he settled on the word in one of the reports.

Blair raised his head. "The cops surely talked to the cab company, and would have known that Jeff got picked up at our building. Why wouldn't they have wanted to talk to me or to you?"

"There was nothing to investigate," Jim replied simply. "They probably didn't even bother with the cab company. They had a suicide note -- in Jeff's handwriting -- and a body with a self-inflicted wound confirmed by the coroner. There's nothing suspicious about it. It's not the cops' job to go beyond the solving of the crime. Jeff caused his own demise. The why of it," Jim sighed uncomfortably, "is up to family and friends."  He closed the file, having read through the few papers in it.

"He felt that nobody loved him," Blair said sadly, resting his chin on his bent knee.

Jim turned in his chair to face Blair. "You went above and beyond on his behalf, Chief. You tried to get him some help. It was his choice not to take it. It was his choice to plunge that knife into his gut. None of that was your doing."

Blair's large eyes looked at Jim directly. "Don't you even feel a little bit guilty?"

Jim wanted to answer No, because the rational part of him knew there was no reason for guilt on his or Blair's behalf. But the sentimental part of him....

"Yeah, I-I guess," he admitted, his gaze darting to the floor. "A little. Maybe...  that night, I could have just laughed him off and said 'Nice try' instead of kicking him out."  Yet.... "Still, Chief, I don't think kicking him out is what caused this."  He indicated the file. "From everything I know about Jeff from what you've told me and what the file says -- to say nothing of his parents' attitudes -- I'd say he's been headed down this path for a long time."

"It's just hard, you know?" Blair said in an unsteady voice, staring at the table. "To try to help somebody... and know that whatever you did, it wasn't enough."

"Yeah," Jim drawled softly. He hated to see Blair taking this so hard, when it was obvious that there was nothing Blair could have done.

Blair looked up suddenly. "Can we go to the motel? Where he died? So, you can go over it with your senses?"

"For what purpose?" Jim asked, inwardly cringing at the naked pain in Blair's eyes. He picked up the file again. "The reports are all cut-and-dried. There's no question unanswered."

"For my peace of mind," Blair replied simply. "Please?"

"Yeah, okay," Jim said. There was nothing he could do for Jeff, but this was something he could do for Blair. Yet.... "I don't see how my senses can help. Surely, there's been other tenants in the room since Jeff died."

"I'd still like to try," Blair said, rising to his feet.

Two hours later, Jim shook his head while coming out of the bathroom. The motel room was old and grungy, various fragrances trying unsuccessfully to cover up the dirty, smoky smell underneath.

Blair stood looking out the window.

"Nothing, Chief," Jim told him. "I'm sorry."

Blair made a weak shrugging motion, as though he hadn't expected otherwise. "Thanks for trying," he whispered, still gazing out the window.

They'd been lucky that the room was currently vacant. The manager let them have it to themselves for as long as they needed.

Jim moved over to his partner and placed his hands on his shoulders. "I wish there was something I could say to put closure on this for you."  

Blair's shoulders were stiff and he gave a brief nod.

Just as Blair hurt for not being able to fix things for Jeff, Jim hurt to not be able to fix things for Blair. His hurt, at least, was something that could be dealt with.

"Blair," he beckoned in a soft whisper, trying to turn Blair by his shoulders.

After a moment of resistance, Blair let himself be turned around. One look at that sorrowful face, and all Jim wanted to do was take the pain away. He wrapped his arms around Blair and pulled him close.

Blair let his head rest heavily on Jim's shoulder, and he loosely wrapped his arms around Jim's waist.

Jim rubbed his hand up and down Blair's back, the motion slow and soothing.

"Thanks," Blair finally whispered, but he made no move to end the contact. In fact, his arms pulled more snuggly.

As Jim rested his cheek against Blair's head, he couldn't help but think that this was a strange place to have this closeness with Blair -- a musty old motel room where a man they barely knew had brutally taken his own life.

After many minutes, Blair stiffened. With a tight voice, he said, "I keep thinking about that psychic Jeff and I watched on TV. He was so fascinated."  He swallowed and looked up at Jim. "What if that's what gave him the courage to do it? Having that reassurance that there's an afterlife?"

Jim, too, remembered Jeff's fascination with the program. "You're hardly responsible for his viewing choices."

"I know."  Blair's arms tightened.

"Besides," Jim recalled, "I know that psychic has said things to discourage suicide."

"There weren't any suicide readings when Jeff and I watched," Blair said in a small voice. "Besides, you know that psychic taps into them, anyway. If Jeff believed any of it -- and he seemed to -- maybe that's all the assurance he needed to check out of this life."

"Maybe," Jim said gently, recalling something else from that afternoon when he'd walked in on Blair and Jeff watching the psychic program. "He also could have been more determined to do it after what I said about the army. Remember when he asked me if guys who were different were ganged up on by everyone else? I didn't deny it. Maybe he was thinking the army might be a place for him to go, and I took that hope away from him."

Blair patted Jim's back with one hand. "He'd never mentioned the army before. If he had any hope of going there, it was only because you'd started talking about it."  Both of Blair's arms now squeezed Jim. "You didn't take anything away from him."

Jim was thankful that Blair absolved him of any responsibility. It gave him the strength to say, "If I did -- or if I didn't -- it was still Jeff's choice to take his own life. That's the bottom-line truth here, Chief."

He felt relief when Blair nodded against him.

Finally, Blair straightened and stepped away from Jim. But he only went as far as the bed and sat on the mattress. Looking up, he said, "I have to feel there's a lesson to be learned from all of this. That there's a reason we went through it. I accept that no matter what conclusion I reach, there's nothing I can do to help Jeff. But what about the next Jeff?"  Blair gestured with his hands. "I need to feel that if I would have said X, or would have done Y, then that would have saved him. Then I'll know the right thing to do or say the next time I run into a Jeff."

Jim had to admire Blair's determination to find something good in this inexplicable tragedy that had visited their lives. He sat next to Blair and offered, "Maybe the lesson here is that you can't help people who don't want to be helped. You did everything you could for him, Chief. You went above and beyond the call. He didn't care. He didn't want your help." Softening his voice, Jim quietly concluded, "Some things are out of our hands."

Blair looked at Jim from out of the corner of his eye, then slowly shook his head. "We all lose our way sometimes," he murmured. "It happens. But we let someone else help us find our way back. Or we read some phrase in a book. Or hear something that rings true with us. And we know how to get out of the rut we're in."  He turned his head to look at Jim. "I feel that God dumped Jeff in our laps and we let him down. We let Jeff down, we let God down, and we let ourselves down."

Jim drew a breath, then released it slowly. He knew Blair needed to talk about this, but he was finding the circular conversation tiring. He gently scolded, "If you're going to bring God into it, then I don't think we mere mortals had much say in what happened to Jeff."

Blair stood and moved back to the window. Looking out, he said, "I've been trying to think of a way to honor Jeff's memory."  He glanced at Jim. "You know, honor some kind of legacy he left behind." Blair shook head. "When it gets down to it, I knew hardly anything about him. I don't know anything about his dreams or ambitions. His hobbies."  He shrugged helplessly. "He was listed as a Liberal Arts major, and he said he'd change his major when he found a subject that turned him on."

It did seem, Jim considered silently, that Jeff hadn't had much impact on the world he was in for nineteen years.

Blair looked at Jim. "The only thing I know about Jeff is that he loved you."

That seemed a profound statement, but Jim couldn't buy into it. He snorted, "It was hardly love, Chief. He didn't know anything about me. I was just a physical type that appealed to him."

"All right," Blair relented, "then all I know about Jeff is that he was in lust with you. So, what does that leave for honoring his memory?"  He stared out the window.

Jim wasn't sure where Blair was going with that train of thought. But he knew he had his own need to make a confession -- though he didn't know why. Nor was he certain if Blair even wanted to hear it. "Chief...."

Blair looked back at him.

Jim leaned forward on the bed, his elbows resting on his knees. "Listen, Chief," Jim shifted uncomfortably, "there's a reason why I kicked Jeff out of the loft besides his annoying persistence."

Blair blinked, waiting.

Jim swallowed thickly, wondering why he'd started this. And wondered how Blair would feel about him. "I...  When he was doing his little seduction routine.... It - it," Jim shrugged helplessly. Softly, he confessed as he lowered his gaze, "I was getting aroused. That's why I told him he had to leave."

Blair took a step toward the bed. "Jim, man, come on. He wanted you and he knew all the buttons to push. I mean," brief snort, "when someone's promising to make you feel good, no strings attached, and you haven't had any in a while.... Well, at that point, gender doesn't matter a whole lot, right?"

Jim's mouth fell open. He hadn't expected Blair to make excuses for him. "You don't sound surprised," he noted, wondering if there was something transparent about him that he himself wasn't aware of.

Blair waved a hand. "He told me you were."  He turned to face Jim fully. "Right before he got in the cab, he was pissed off and angry and frustrated. He was saying all this stuff about how you wanted it, but you wanted it from me and not him. That I was too stupid to realize that I had you all to myself."  Blair crossed his arms and looked back out the window.

Going for logic, Jim pointed out, "He was feeling rejected. He was lashing out at the person who he perceived had what he wanted."  A thought occurred just then, and Jim snorted with amusement. "Hell, Chief, I guess he was right, in a way."  He watched Blair turn around, looking startled. Jim smiled warmly. It felt good. "In a manner of speaking, you are the love of my life."

"Wh-what?"  Blair asked, surprised but also sounding pleased. He took a step closer, his arms still crossed.

Jim tilted his head, glad that Blair's mood was boosted by the words, even if he didn't understand what Jim meant. Needing to keep it simple, Jim said, "You're the longest, most intimate relationship I've ever had."

An expression of thoughtfulness came over Blair's face. Then he smiled a genuine smile and looked fully at Jim. "Really?"

You're fishing, Chief, Jim scolded fondly in his mind. He shrugged, feigning casualness.  "Yeah. You've lived with me longer than I was married to Carolyn. You've," Jim looked away bashfully, "managed to get me to talk about things more successfully than she was ever able to."  He searched for words, feeling self-conscious for having revealed this much. "I've been friends with some guys a lot longer than I've been friends with you -- old army buddies and a few cops -- but we usually have a pretty narrow range of subjects to talk about whenever we get together."  He made himself look back up. "If Jeff really thought he was enamored with me, he had reason to be jealous of you."

Blair's expression grew distant as he worked that through -- accepting the compliment while still remorseful for having what Jeff couldn't.

Suddenly, Blair's face brightened. "Jeff really did miss the boat, didn't he? He knew what attracted him physically, but he knew nothing of the love part."  His expression turned sad as he looked back out the window. "I don't think he ever had a boyfriend. Not even for a short time. He seemed to turn everybody off."

Jim reasoned, "He wore his lack of self-esteem pretty heavily on his sleeve. There aren't many people who are drawn to that, unless they're a predatory type."  He hesitated, then noted, "He must have had some experience."  To come on to me the way he did.

"With sex," Blair said softly. "I don't think he had any experience with love."

Jim couldn't disagree, so he remained silent.

"It's weird," Blair said after a long moment, "but the ending of Jeff's short, unhappy life makes me want to appreciate what I have all the more."

"Maybe that's the gift he left you," Jim said, standing. The musty smell of the room was threatening to take up permanent residence in his sinuses. He moved to Blair and laid a hand on his shoulder. Tenderly, he said, "If you believe that psychic on TV, you know that Jeff is okay now."

Blair looked up at him, his eyes more watery than at any time since receiving news of Jeff's death. He swallowed thickly and nodded.

Jim pointed out, "He obviously didn't want to return home to Iowa, because there was nothing for him there."  

"He didn't belong anywhere," Blair said shakily, his arms still crossed.

"Maybe he's truly home now."

Blair quickly lowered his head. "Let's go."

Jim left the room key on the table, as the manager had instructed. He followed Blair out the door and made sure it was tightly closed.

Blair turned his head toward Jim and said, "Thanks for coming here."

"Sure," Jim replied.

Standing beside the truck, Blair gazed back at the unit where a troubled young man had so brutally taken his own life.

Blair's face looked bleaker than it had all day.

"Ready to go home?" Jim asked as he opened the driver's side door.

Blair nodded. His arms were wrapped stiffly around his body.

As Jim got in and reached over to unlock the door for Blair, he wondered if his partner was going to fall apart. His growling stomach reminded him of the lunch they had skipped, but now Jim just wanted to get Blair home as soon as possible.

The cab of the truck was silent as they started out. Once they got on the boulevard that would take them to Prospect, Blair said unsteadily, "He was so lonely, Jim. No one should ever be that lonely."  He was staring out the side window.

Jim's brow furrowed as he traded his gaze back and forth between Blair and the road.  Blair had run a gauntlet of emotions since finding out about Jeff's death a few hours before. But this was the first appearance of raw despair.

Hoping he sounded calm and soothing, Jim said, "We've all been there, Chief. Most of us choose to do something about it, so we don't stay in that spot forever. For whatever reason, Jeff stayed in that spot. He didn't seem too interested in letting others reach out to him. You did all you could."  

Blair wouldn't look at him. "You ever been that lonely, Jim?"  He seemed almost curled in on himself, facing the door.

"Yeah," Jim replied, stopping at a light. There had been a few times, but he selected the one that would mean the most to Blair. "When I saw the molecules in water. When I could smell fumes that no one else could. When I could hear ticking that no one else heard. When my boss laughed at me for being scared that I was losing my mind."  He didn't blame Simon for that. He would have done the same thing if an underling had reported something similar to him.

Jim pulled into a vacant parking lot. He put the truck in Park and stretched his arm out across the back of the seat. "I was at a pretty low point. I could function, but it's hard when you're going through something that nobody else understands."

He reached to tug on a few strands of Blair's hair. "I told myself I went to see you at the University because I had no choice. But I did have a choice. We always have choices. I could have tried to deal with my senses by myself -- and Lord knows where I'd be now -- or had myself checked into a mental hospital or... God knows what else."  He looked over at Blair, whose expression had relaxed slightly. "The fact that things worked out okay is because I gave myself that option."  

Jim's fingers dropped from Blair's hair to his shoulder. They gently rubbed there. "If Jeff felt he was out of choices, it's because he wouldn't look out of the box he'd put himself into."

Blair straightened and released a heavy breath. He finally looked at Jim. "I don't want to waste us. That's the word he used. He said you were wasted on me. That's how I want to honor his legacy:  by not ever taking you for granted."

"I think he was talking about sex, Chief," Jim felt compelled to point out.

"He was, and that was his mistake. That's why he was so lonely. He couldn't see past the physical part of relationships to what other people had to offer. He never gave himself a chance to find value in others. If he had, he would have found value in himself."  

Blair laid his head against the window. "Man, I'm so tired."

Jim drew a breath. "It's been a long day. We had no idea when we woke up this morning what was in store for us."

Blair managed a humorous snort. "Yeah."  Then he raised his head. "What did you think of his parents?"

Jim shrugged. "I thought they were unaccepting of who he was, but they obviously cared, since they came all this way to talk to his friends."  He shook his head, not wanting to think about it. "Who knows how they'll ever end up explaining Jeff's unhappiness to themselves."  He released the breath he was holding. "I certainly don't envy them."

"I'm sure they meant well," Blair decided, "but I can also understand Jeff not wanting to go back to Iowa. I'm sure he felt he had no place to go."

"At least," Jim put in, "no place where he was going to feel any better about himself. You can't run from yourself, no matter how hard you try."

Blair was silent.

Jim waited to see if Blair was going to say anything further. When he didn't, Jim put the truck into gear. "Let's go home."

From the corner of his eye, his saw Blair look over at him. "Thanks, Jim. For doing all this with me today."  He swallowed. "It helped a lot."

As he pulled into traffic, Jim wasn't sure that anything he'd said had been of any real help to Blair. But he knew what Blair meant -- that his supportive presence was what had mattered most of all.

Support Jeff Falcon had never allowed himself.

Your loss, Jim thought, knowing it was uncharitable. He could have so easily been a Jeff Falcon. But he'd always managed to find something to believe in. Now, since the emergence of his sentinel abilities, he had placed an awful lot of that belief in the young man at his side.

No, he wasn't going to waste it.



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