by Southy

© April 2005


Jim sat on the couch with his head in his hands. "I hear his Volvo," he said with dread.

Standing beside him, Simon released a breath. "Are you absolutely sure you want to do this alone?"

Jim looked up and forced himself to meet the sad, dark eyes. "Yes. He'll - we'll - need some privacy."

"All right." Simon gathered up his coat. "I'll take the back way."

"Thanks," Jim murmured.

He sat still, listening to the increased rate of his own heart, as Simon's footsteps disappeared down the fire escape, and Blair's started up the staircase, as he'd obviously chosen to bypass the elevator.

Jim made himself sit back and face the door. It seemed ominous that the light bulb in the lamp next to the sofa had winked out.

The door opened. "Hey," Blair said, turning to the pegs next to the door and wrestling out of his jacket.

Jim was silent.

"The temperature is really dropping out there. I bet we have a few inches of snow by morning." Blair hung up the coat and turned around. His brow furrowed. "What's wrong?"

Jim wet his lips. "I need to tell you something." His voice trembled.

Blair took cautious steps toward the sofa. "Tell me what? What is it?" He knelt before Jim and reached to put his hands on Jim knees, his mouth open in worry.

Blair obviously thought that Jim needed comfort for whatever bad news was about to be relayed.

Jim drew a breath. "It's the worst possible news, buddy."

Blair's eyes watered as they gazed up at Jim. Shakily, he said, "What is it? What's wrong? Are you - are you sick?"

Jim's throat closed. The worst possible news involved himself, in Blair's eyes. He should have realized that and stated things differently. Blair would have no reason to think - 

"It's not me," Jim said, his own eyes moist.

"Then?" Blair's eyes were confused as they locked with Jim's.

Jim tried to wet his lips again. "It's someone else," he said softly, reaching to cup his hand around the back of Blair's neck. "Someone very close to you."

Blair looked away. "I can only think of my mom...." He slowly looked back at Jim, dread in his eyes.

Jim nodded and his voice was gruff. "I'm sorry. But I have to tell you that your mom - she - " It seemed so hard to say. "She died last night."

“What? How?"

Jim listened to Blair's heart accelerate. The worst was still to come. His hand drifted from Blair's neck, down to his shoulder, where it squeezed sharply. "Blair, she fell off a building. The preliminary reports are that she was spaced out on some sort of hallucinogenic. There were witnesses. She dived off a seven story building."

Blair's gaze grew increasingly distant. Then he sat back on the floor, causing Jim's hand to lose its grip, and wrapped his arms around his drawn-up knees. He snorted, an expression of wonder lighting his face. "She really did it," he said matter-of-factly.

Jim furrowed his brow. "Did what? Jumped off?"

Blair nodded and looked up at him. "She always said she wanted to fly. She finally did."

The judgment Jim had refused to feel toward Naomi suddenly boiled to the surface. "You mean it was a suicide?"

"No, no," Blair waved his hands. "Nothing like that. She just always had this whimsical way of saying that she wished she could fly. Sometimes," he glanced at Jim hesitantly, "when she took some of those hallucinogens, she said it almost felt like flying." He looked away as his voice softened. "She probably thought she really could this time. In a way, maybe she did."

Blair was in shock, Jim decided. Hence the complete lack of grief at suddenly losing his mother. "What do you mean by that?"

"Maybe it felt like flying, as she was dying. Maybe it felt like flying when she crossed over into the next dimension."

Oh, God. Jim wondered if Blair was using romantic thoughts of death as a shield against his feelings. "I thought you would be grief-stricken, devastated." He wasn't sure if he sounded puzzled or accusing.

It had to be the latter, for Blair looked so hurt. Then he glanced down, his shoulders slumping. "I can't, can't deal with this," he murmured. He suddenly brought his hands up and buried his face in them.


Jim reached forward again. "Chief, I didn't mean...." He squeezed Blair's shoulder. 

Blair looked up. "It's all right. It's not real, you know? I know what you just said. But I don't know it." He put his hand to his chest. "I can't feel it. I can't feel that she's gone. But since you said she is - and how it happened - I can at least understand...," his voice quavered as it trailed off.

Jim stood, feeling a need to move. His fists curled. "I just can't understand a woman her age, doing something like that. Something so dangerous as hallucinogens."

"She always liked them," Blair said quietly. "She got good trips from them. It's not like she took them all the time. In fact, sometimes she'd go for years without taking them."

"Then why start again?" Jim demanded. "What wasn't she getting from life that made her need that buzz?"

"She wanted to fly," Blair stated simply. 

"Regardless of the consequences? Even if it meant leaving behind the people who cared most about her? It didn't matter that she was leaving a son motherless?"

Blair lowered his gaze again. "She knew I'd understand," he said quietly.

"Do you?" Jim took a step toward him. "Do you really?"

"Right now I do," Blair said in the same quiet tone. "I can't say how I'll feel later, when this really sinks in."

That was so honest. Jim sat on the sofa again and placed his hand on Blair’s shoulder. "It happened in Portland. We need to drive down there and take possession of the body."

"I'll have her cremated there," Blair said. "That's what she wanted. Her ashes spread out in nature. I know she has other friends there who will probably plan a simple ceremony." He looked up at Jim. "We always had it arranged like that, in case I was off on an expedition or something when she died." He suddenly furrowed his brow. "How did you find out?"

"Simon found out from Captain Waterson with the Portland PD, who remembered meeting you when he visited Cascade. Since the last name was Sandburg, he called Simon, just in case it was a relative of yours."

Blair nodded.

"Simon was just here, willing to help break the news to you, if I wanted."

Blair presented a small, ironic smile. "You guys expected me to fall apart, huh?"

"We thought it would hit hard. It hit us hard."

Blair looked up again. "Don't get me wrong. I don't want her to be gone. But she and I have always had such firm beliefs about death. It's not something horrible. Having your life taken against your will - like when someone is murdered - is a horrible thing. But otherwise...."

Jim still couldn't fathom being so calm about it. He again attributed Blair's reaction to shock. "So, you want to start out first thing in the morning? Simon gave me the week off."

Blair looked directly at Jim. "You really want to come?"

"I didn't think you should be alone at a time like this."

A wry, emotion-filled smile came over Blair's face. "Thanks. I’m just not sure that you'll be comfortable hanging around with my mom's friends."

"I'm sure I'll manage.”

The sky was clear as they drove to Portland. Jim and Blair had departed to their separate bedrooms the night before, Blair getting on the phone to friends he had numbers for and asking them to gather in Portland in the next few days. Now, Blair sat beside Jim, completely silent.

After over thirty minutes of driving, Jim couldn't take it anymore. "You want to talk?" he prompted.

Blair shook his head. "I'm all right."

Jim didn't think so, but he couldn't bring himself to press. He supposed the reality was sinking in that, in less than two hours, Blair was going to be viewing Naomi's broken body.

In the silence of the truck, Jim's own feelings flip-flopped between compassion for Blair and anger at Naomi -- the utter stupidity of trying to get a high from hallucinogens. He wondered if Blair shared Naomi's fondness for them. As much as he wanted to question Blair now, he resolved to save that conversation for a later date when it would be more appropriate.

In the starkness of the county morgue, Jim stood outside the double-doors through which Blair had disappeared. 

Jim had seen his share of mangled bodies, including those of men he had considered friends. He had no need to see another, especially of a woman who was once so beautiful and vibrant, though he would have accompanied Blair had Blair asked, which Blair hadn't.

He had also been tempted to ask Blair, "Are you sure you want to do this?" The body had already been identified. But he hadn't bothered voicing the question, for he trusted that Blair knew what he needed to do in order to deal with his mother's death.

Blair wasn't gone long. He now emerged slowly from the double doors, his head down. 

Jim put his arm around him, relieved that Blair allowed the closeness.

"She's really gone," Blair whispered, his head against Jim's shoulder.

"Yes." Jim put both arms around him.

This is what he had wanted to do last night, but Blair didn't seem to want or need it. Jim was glad to be needed now.

He waited, until Blair whispered, "Let's go." 

They had already made arrangements for a funeral home to pick up Naomi's body and cremate it. There wouldn't be a formal service, only a small gathering of friends to spread her ashes, three days hence.

After they got in the truck, Blair sat quietly, his head bowed.

Jim put his hand on his back. "Did you want to be alone for awhile? We passed by that park a mile back."

"That's the same park where everyone is going to meet tomorrow," Blair said without looking at him. Then, "Yeah, you can drop me off there."

They drove in silence. When Jim stopped by the park he said, "I'll give you about an hour. Then I'll come back here with some food."

"Okay," Blair said quietly.

"Later we can drop by the PD and get a copy of the official report."

Blair hesitated, before again saying, "Okay." He got out of the truck.

As Jim drove off, he wished there was more that he could do. He tried to comfort himself with the thought that there would never be anything worse than this that he would have to see Blair go through - save, God forbid, some kind of injury or illness that threatened Blair's life directly.

He thought back to last night, when he'd first told Blair he had the "worst possible news", and Blair assumed it meant something involving Jim. His eyes had watered - in a way they hadn't since learning of Naomi's death.

Jim wished he could feel the calm about Naomi's death that Blair did. Instead, he felt a restlessness and unease, if only because of his lack of understanding about why she would do something so stupid.

He felt a burning desire to see the police report. He shouldn't without Blair being with him, but when he'd mentioned it, Blair had hesitated as though he really wasn't that interested in the details.

Jim turned in the direction of the PD.

"I'm so sorry for your friend," Captain Waterson said. He was a slender man with graying brown hair and a thick mustache. He handed the file to Jim. "It's officially ruled an accident, brought about by hallucinogens. Nobody was with Ms. Sandburg when she took the drugs, as far as we can tell. Then witnesses in the building reported that she went up on the roof. She seemed 'ecstatic and happy', according to someone who was trying to talk her down. And then she held her hands out, like she thought she was going to fly, and she jumped."

Jim was only half-listening, for he was already reading through the report. There were witness statements from nine different people.

After a few moments, Waterson hesitantly asked, "Uh... do you know if Ms. Sandburg routinely indulged in hallucinogens?"

"According to Blair, she did off and on," Jim said. Though he felt a little odd talking about Naomi behind Blair's back, he needed to give the authorities all the information necessary. "He said she always said she wanted to fly."

Waterson shook his head. "My parents came from that generation of flower children, but once they started a family, they left all the drugs behind."

Jim grunted an affirmative. It seemed the responsible thing to do.

"How's your friend taking it?" Waterson asked a few minutes later.

It sounded like a question for the sake of conversation. Jim shrugged. "As well as can be expected." He wasn't comfortable expressing his own dismay at Blair's minimal reaction. "I'd like to get him a copy of the file."

"Sure." Waterson opened the door and called in his secretary.

Blair was easy to find later, sitting on a park bench near where Jim had dropped him off.

"I hope you're hungry," Jim said in greeting, carrying a thick paper sack from a fast food restaurant. He was grateful the sun was clinging to the sky and it was warm enough to eat outside.

Blair dived in.

"I got you a chicken sandwich and some onion rings."


After they ate for a while, Jim gently asked, "How are you doing?"

"Okay." Blair shrugged, his eyes still avoiding Jim's. "It's like I feel I should be feeling all this stuff, and thinking all this stuff, but it's unreal. Even seeing Naomi's body, it's unreal."

"Yeah," Jim said, glad to have gotten this much from Blair. "I imagine it'll take a while for it all to sink in."

He waited until the food was gone before saying, "I decided to go ahead and see that friend of Simon's, Captain Waterson. I have a copy of the file in my truck."

Blair finally looked at him. "Is there anything we don't already know?"

Jim shook his head.

Blair didn't say anything further. Jim wondered if Blair had wished that there were some other explanation for Naomi's death - other than she wanted to "fly" off a building.

Jim returned to Portland three days later. Blair had remained there to spend time with Naomi's friends, assuring Jim that there was no point in Jim hanging around until the service itself. Jim was, of course, invited to the latter, but Blair had told him that it was all right if he didn't want to attend because, as Blair had said with a laugh, it would be a "hippy kind of thing" and Jim might not be comfortable.

Since Blair didn't seem to expect him to attend - or even necessarily want him to, reading between the lines - Jim decided not to. But he said he would be there to pick up Blair after the ceremony was over. So, now he was waiting at the mouth of Black Canyon Park. He dozed in the sun that shone through the truck until his hearing picked up voices. 

He came awake and got out of the truck. A group of over a dozen adults, of various ages, descended from a trail that looped around a large boulder. Blair was in the center of the group, talking with some of the others. Walking by a trash receptacle, he dumped a box into it - the box Jim assumed had contained Naomi's ashes.

At the parking lot, there were many hugs for Blair and between others in the group. Then people began to disburse to the cars parked in the area. 

Blair came over to the truck. "Hi," he said as he got in.

"Hey," Jim returned.

Blair buckled his seatbelt, and then sat back with a sigh. "I guess that's it then."

Jim remembered hearing that phrase many years ago. A young cousin was getting married and Jim had attended the ceremony. It was an elaborate event that had obviously required much planning. Afterwards, he'd overheard the bride remark, "I guess that's it," as though it was a letdown that, after all the planning, the ceremony was over in a matter of minutes.

Blair's voice had sounded letdown, as well. This was all there was to mark Naomi's passing.

Jim said, "You know, you could have a another ceremony in Cascade." One that all Blair's friends from the PD could attend.

Blair shook his head. "This is how she wanted it."

Jim studied him, wondering what more he could do. "You ready to go home?"

“Yeah, I'm ready."

When Jim got through talking with Simon about his latest assignment, Simon sat back and asked, "How's Sandburg doing?"

Jim shrugged, at a loss as to how to describe Blair. "He seems okay. Almost too okay, if you know what I mean."

Simon drew a breath. "We all deal with death differently. Besides, it was so sudden maybe it's taking a while to sink in."

Jim had already told himself that repeatedly. Blair was quieter lately, perhaps more reflective. He sometimes stared at the TV as though he wasn't really seeing it. Otherwise, on a day-to-day basis, he didn't behave like someone who had suffered a severe loss.

But then, Jim considered, maybe the loss wasn't really that poignant because Blair had seen Naomi so infrequently. Still, with the enormous affection that had existed between mother and son, Jim had to believe that a big hole remained where Naomi's love had once resided.

A couple of weeks later, Jim came home to find Blair sitting at the table with a serious expression on his face. "What's wrong?" 

Blair looked up at him. "I'm thinking of moving out."

Jim fought back the wave of shock, hurt, and inadequacy that wanted to engulf him. "Why?"

Blair's face softened. "This was never supposed to be a long-term thing in the first place. I'm just thinking it's time I was out on my own."

Jim took a chair across from Blair and turned it around so he could sit while resting his arms across the back. He couldn't tell from Blair's tone if he were sincere. He hoped Blair hadn't been. 

Gently, he said, "I know it was intended to be just short term - at first. But," he tried not to shy away from his own naked feelings, "I thought we'd always gotten along pretty good. I thought this whole thing was working out." He shifted, seeking a rational explanation. "Chief, if this is about your Mom; if you need more space...."

"It's not about that," Blair said quickly. Then, "At least, not directly." His gaze lowered. "I just - just think I should be on my own." Jaw firming, he said, "It's just me now. Naomi was the only close family I had."

Jim blinked as he came face to face with how little he mattered in Blair's world. 

His desire to lash out in hurt, anger, and betrayal was tempered only by his pride. Gaze lowering, he said, "It's not like you need my permission to leave." He abruptly left the chair. "Do whatever you want."

He moved to the kitchen, opening and slamming cabinet doors until he found the peanut butter. He threw a drawer open and grabbed a knife.

"I'll start looking for places," Blair said.

As Jim fought with the tie to a loaf of bread, he fought back the sorrow that threatened at the finality of Blair's words.

"I'll always make sure you know can get a hold of me - you know, for the sentinel stuff."

Great. As though their lives together always came down to the sentinel stuff.

The bread was open. Jim opened another cabinet and grabbed a saucer and wrestled it down. It wobbled for a moment on the countertop, creating a threatening sound.

"Why are you so mad?" Blair asked.

Jim snorted, shaking his head at the stupidity of the question. Then he decided that it would do no harm to be blatantly honest - and maybe it would do some good. He took a couple of steps toward the table and shook the knife toward Blair. "What? I'm supposed to be glad to hear that I've been such a lousy friend that I'm not good enough for you to hang around with? That Mr. Sociable would prefer his own company to mine?"

Blair looked genuinely shocked. "You haven't been a lousy friend. You've been great. Wonderful."

Jim snorted again as he turned back to the kitchen counter. "Then why is it so important for you to leave?" 

Yet, Blair had every right to leave, for any reason. Jim turned toward him again, needing to clarify. "I haven't had much family either in my life, Chief. I thought that's what we were to each other. So, yeah, it stings a bit to know I don't even hit anywhere on the family scale - not even an 'adopted family' scale." He turned back to the peanut butter and jabbed the knife into the jar, scooping up a huge glob of the creamy substance.

The hurt overtook his anger. And his pride. He turned back to Blair. "I did everything I could think of to help you through this. I'm sorry that it wasn't enough." He quickly turned back. His voice had been unsteady.

He slathered the peanut butter onto the bread, tearing it.

"Jim, no." Blair was at his side, his hand gripping Jim's wrist.

Jim didn't resist. He wanted this situation to be resolved. He didn't want to Blair to leave; at least, not under these circumstances.

Blair took the knife from his fingers and laid it on the counter. "There's no flaw in you," he said gruffly, his own eyes wide and bleary. "I'm so sorry. It didn't occur to me that you'd think...."

Now that Blair was the vulnerable one, Jim felt back in control, though his voice was gentle once again. "I'd hoped you considered this your home."

"I have," Blair quickly nodded. Then he swallowed. "That's been the problem. I was afraid of believing it too much. I was afraid of -" his eyes darted away. Then he lowered his head and whispered, "I've been afraid of loving you too much." He bit his lower lip.

Jim's anger and betrayal melted away. He wanted to embrace Blair tightly, but feared he was too fragile at the moment to withstand that much sentiment. Instead, he brushed his thumb along Blair's cheek.

Blair's voice trembled as he kept his gaze lowered. "My mom was all I had. Even though we didn't see each other much, I always knew there was someone in the world who loved me. Now," Blair's eyes squeezed shut as his voice tightened, "it's like I'm the only one in the room."

Jim reached to Blair and pulled him close. He felt the surprise, the token resistance. But he didn't ease his hold. "I've been in the room with you, all along." He stroked Blair's back. "It's all right to hang onto me."

Blair's hand felt along Jim's back, as though testing. Then it gripped. And then gripped harder. The other hand followed.

Jim relaxed as Blair rested against him.

Blair gripped harder with both hands and started crying.

They ended up on the floor, Jim holding Blair against him.

"I'm so sorry about your mom," Jim said after Blair had quieted.

Blair said, "I'm sorry I made you feel that you weren't doing enough. There's nothing more you could have done." He shifted back to see look at Jim fully. "I meant what I said. You were wonderful about everything."

Blair's eyes were watery and red-rimmed, his face flushed red. 

Jim brushed away a residual tear. "Are we clear now that this is your home, too, and I want to be here for you?"

Blair nodded. "It's just been hard," he said with lowered eyes, "believing that someone else is here, when there's never been anybody else."

Jim relaxed back against the lower cabinet and loosely draped his arm across Blair's shoulders. "Yeah, I guess I can understand how you'd feel that way." He paused. "You're not alone. Got it?"

Blair nodded with a wry smile. "Got it."


A moment later, Blair struggled to his feet. 

Jim followed, watching Blair wipe at his eyes. He asked, "You aren't angry at your mom, for what she did? For dying so senselessly?"

Blair shook his head. "I know you can't understand, Jim. But I'm not angry at her."

Jim shifted uncomfortably, unsure of how to ask his next question. "Do you ever indulge in any of that stuff?"

"Not for a long time. You know, I tried a lot of different things when I was a teenager. I didn't like the way the stuff - any of the drugs -- messed with my head. But my mom, she liked some of that. I don't judge her for it."

Jim felt relief. "I'm glad to hear that. I'd hate to lose you, for any reason. But to something so unnecessary...."

Blair managed a wry smile. "You won't lose me like that." Then he sobered. "I know you're careful in everything you do, but you have a dangerous job. If I lost you...," he gulped.

Jim squeezed his shoulder. "I guess we'll just have to look out for each other all the more, won't we?"

Blair nodded, smiling again. "Yeah." He rubbed at his forehead. "I'm wrung out. I'm going to bed."

Jim squeezed his shoulder once more, and then turned away. "Sleep well."

He intended to take his own advice.



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