Blair knew something was amiss the moment he arrived home from the university and the graduate class he was teaching on Thursday nights. Maybe it was a heightened awareness sharpened over the years of living with a hyper-sensitive individual, Blair thought as stepped into the loft. Maybe it was a skill born of necessity when working with an often moody, hard-nosed cop. More likely, it was a friendship thing. Blair knew Jim Ellison too well not to realize when something was bugging him, and he knew as soon as he entered the loft that night, something was most definitely up with his sentinel, partner, and best friend.
"Hey, man," Blair called out as he dropped his keys in the basket on the table beside the door and shed his rain drenched coat and umbrella. It had been one of those rainy days the Pacific Northwest is famous for the world over. Rain, rain, and more rain. Now that it was evening, the downpour hadn't slacked at all.
"I'm home." Why did he bother, Blair thought absently. Jim would have heard his car from several blocks away, tracked his steps as he made his way up to the loft, and known the instant the lock opened on the front door that his guide was home. Just one of those little thoughtful gestures, he supposed, that came about from living with a sentinel. Maybe that should be Lesson 12 in "Sandburg's Book of Sentinel Etiquette" - 'Always Let Your Sentinel Know When He is No Longer Alone' Blair thought with a grin.
Smiling at the thought of what the other lessons might include, he looked around the loft for Jim. Usually he answered Blair's call from up above in his bedroom or out on the balcony where he'd left the door ajar just enough for the younger man to hear him. Tonight, Jim was in neither of the usual places.
Blair's smile turned upside down into a small frown. Jim's truck was out front. So, where was he?
The laundry room in the basement.
Checking the basket they kept for clothes destined for the laundry, Blair found it still full. "Your week again, Sandburg," he chided himself, remembering that indeed it was his turn to wash.
Okay, not the basement.
Blair went through his mental checklist of places Jim might be. He could have run down to the deli for some sandwiches for dinner, but then again, he'd mentioned cooking his special chili tonight. Maybe a walk in the park? On a night like this? Even Teflon-coated, never-cold Jim Ellison wouldn't go to the park on such a night.
That made no more sense than the park, but somehow, the sixth sense Blair Sandburg seemed to have developed where Jim was concerned guided him up the stairs and to the door leading to the roof. A common area for all the residents of the building, it was one of Jim's favorite spots to escape when he had serious things on his mind. As he climbed, Blair muttered, "The loft balcony's great for the minor inconveniences of life, but when things majorly suck, nothing beats the roof. You better be there, man. I'm running out of ideas here."
Maybe it was the height - not one of Blair's favorite characteristics of the place - or the simple fact that it was about as outdoors as one could get and still be at 852 Prospect that called to Jim. Blair decided that he would have to give that more thought one day, but at that moment, his friend obviously had something on his mind, and Blair's first priority was to find him. Find him and figure out what he could do to make things right.
Blair peered through the heavy rain and immediately found the solitary figure standing at the edge of the roof.
Wishing he'd taken the time to grab his already soaked jacket or umbrella, Blair moved to his side.
If statues breathe, then Jim Ellison was that statue. Standing perfectly still in the pouring rain, Jim didn't acknowledge Blair's presence. His sweater was soaked through, and his short brown hair glistened in the dim, yellow glow from the single security light on the roof. He must be cold, Blair thought and wondered how long he'd been standing this way, alone in the night and the rain.
"Jim?" Blair ventured, hoping desperately that the sentinel had not zoned. What if Jim had zoned high up on the roof, lost his balance standing so close to the edge, and.... Oh, God.
The rest was too painful to consider. Blair shook his head to clear away the vivid, horrifying image.
"Jim?" Blair knew his voice was tinged with a hint of fear, and in typical Blessed Protector fashion, Jim Ellison responded to that fear.
"It's okay, Chief. I'm here," Jim answered flatly.
That was all. No explanation, no glance in Blair's direction. Nothing more.
Sandburg shivered. It really was a cold rain. Cold and wet is my world. Where have I heard that before?
Now that he knew that at least Jim was present in the here and now, Blair turned his attention to getting them both inside where it was warm and dry. "Hey, buddy? Jim? Don't you think you should come in now? I mean it's kinda cold out here, and I don't know if you've noticed, but it's raining pretty hard, too." Cautiously, Blair rested one hand on his arm and squeezed gently, just to reassure Jim of his presence. Whatever was wrong, he was still worried that Jim remained too close to losing contact with reality.
His next words were so soft, Blair nearly missed them.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
If Sandburg was puzzled by Ellison's behavior before, now he was blatantly confused.
"Jim? I'm not sure I'm following you here...." Blair realized that he didn't even know what kind of question to ask. For once, he was totally clueless.
He turned to face Blair, and his eyes were infinitely sad. "I remembered this morning. In the shower. You were already gone to Rainier, and I was alone, and I remembered." He watched the younger man expectantly, as if he expected his words to make everything clear.
Before Blair could phrase a question, Jim spoke quietly. "When we were in Peru, in the temple, do you remember the visions?"
How could I forget?, Blair wondered. He nodded but remained silent. The suddenness of the memories was too much, and the words simply would not come. They had exchanged memories, sentinel and guide, and lived each other's pain. They had experienced the joy the other had experienced as well, but it had been the pain that had stayed with Blair, and he felt certain, with Jim as well. But what was it Jim had remembered now that had him so upset?
"Some of it was so clear after it was over that I could remember every minute detail of the experience. Other things were blurry, like I could almost remember, but couldn't quite bring back the memory entirely. Then, this morning in the shower, it all came back to me. Why didn't you tell me before, Blair?"
The hurt in those blue eyes was almost more than Sandburg could bear. Dumbly, he shook his head and stared up at him. As badly as the look in his eyes wounded his guide, Jim's next words broke his heart in two.
"He hurt you, Chief. In the worst way a child can be hurt. He hurt you, and I never knew."
With a flash of understanding, Blair knew exactly what he had remembered, and with his memory, Blair's own came flooding back.
"Oh, God," he whispered, for the moment unable to utter more. In the space of an instant, the cold rain pouring down Blair's face had become an entirely appropriate accompaniment for the steel band gripping his frozen heart. The old fear rushed back, immediately claiming its cold place in his heart as if it had never left.
Perhaps it never had.
Even as Blair numbly accepted their chilly, wet surroundings, Jim noticed his friend's shivers for the first time. Guilt replaced some of the pain in his eyes, and he took Blair's arm firmly.
"Let's go inside, Sandburg. It's freezing out here, and you're soaked."
Blair followed him meekly, steadfastly ignoring Jim's iron grip on his bicep. Compared to the pain in his heart, it was barely noticeable anyway.
By the time they were inside, the vise-like fingers on Blair's cold arm had eased up a bit, but Jim's jaw was still set in cement. If he clinches his teeth much harder, I'm gonna need to call for an appointment with the dentist tomorrow. Blair almost smiled at the image, but nothing could get past the aching pain in his chest.
When Jim spoke again, his voice was a monotone. "Go dry off, Sandburg. I'll change clothes and make us some hot chocolate. Then we'll talk."
Blair knew that tone left no room for argument. The sentinel had spoken.
Blair's mind was whirling the entire time he changed into much-welcomed dry jeans and the warmest flannel shirt in his closet. When a small chill shook his body once again, Blair layered his second-warmest shirt over the first. That and the fire should help him warm up. In a few hours.
Now that Blair considered it all, it had been a long time since he'd thought of the incident that poor Jim had been unfortunate enough to experience through Blair's own eyes. Now Blair's memories were also Jim's, and the anthropologist knew from experience exactly how painful those memories could be. What had happened back then was definitely not an easy thing to forget, but a good therapist and a lot of determination had enabled Blair to put it behind him. Now, all the memories and the old pain were being awakened from their long slumber.
The experience in Peru had been so positive in the end, he thought as he pulled on a pair of dry, thick socks. So much good had come of it - his renewed sense of his own direction as a guide...Jim's discovery that he had a son...their newfound closeness, the result of the hours spent in the temple pool with each man living the other's life. Hours spent literally feeling the other's joys and heartbreaks.
On the way home from Peru, Blair had marveled that something that began so terribly with Jim's helicopter crash and supposed death, could have turned out to be so positive. Now, as he stood before the French doors of his room, almost dreading going out to face Jim Ellison, he could see that behind every silver lining there waited a dark cloud.
This was about as big and as dark a cloud as there could be.
Blair had always known that one day, he'd have to reveal the entire truth to someone. Now that day had arrived, and as much as he had dreaded it, the reality was even worse than he had feared.
For the single person in the world to know the depths of his secret would be Jim. The thought almost made him weep with regret.
Ignoring a thunderstorm wouldn't make it go away. The truth was going to come out. When it did, he would lose Jim's respect forever. Dragging out the process would not make that pain any less. Might as well get it over with.
Taking a deep breath, Blair opened the doors and stepped into the living room to face his partner.
The fire blazed for long minutes as the two men sat on the couch in silence. Outside the expansive windows, the rain poured down in the darkness, painting unpredictable, trickling paths on the glass. Jim had turned on only one small lamp, but Blair was pleased to see that he had lighted several of the candles placed around the loft. If it hadn't been for the difficult words lying still unspoken between them, the effect would have been cozy and peaceful.
They had finished their hot chocolate. The warm, rich liquid had felt good slipping down his throat, and even now, he was thankful for the residual warmth inside. If only the warmth in his belly could spread to his heart.
Blair stared at the flickering flame of the candle on the table in front of him. He snagged a pillow from the end of the couch and wrapped his arms around it, pressing it to his stomach like a comforting stuffed animal. Beside him, Jim was silent, apparently prepared to wait for as long as it took for Blair to be ready to begin his story. Blair wondered if it had ever occurred to Jim that maybe this was one part of his past he'd just as soon keep to himself. Then again, Jim had already glimpsed the worst. All he was asking was for Blair to fill in the missing pieces of the terrifying puzzle. After all they'd experienced in the pools, didn't Jim deserve that much?
Blair raised his eyes to glance at his friend's face, as familiar now to him as his own. No one knew what had happened to him then, no one but Naomi, and even she didn't know the entire story. He'd even held back the worst from his therapist, as if to speak the entire truth might somehow make it even more horrifying than it already was in his own memory. For every second of every day since he was nine, Blair had kept the dark details locked away. Now, Jim wanted to know the truth, but Blair wondered if he had the strength even now to bring it all into the light of day. Yet, if there was one person in the world he could trust with that painful piece of his past, it was this man.
Tucking the pillow even more closely to him, Blair began his story.
"I was nine years old when it started. Naomi had found a job waiting tables out in Texas at an all-night cafe. She tried not to work the night shift, but sometimes...." Blair shrugged. "You do what you have to, y'know?" When there was no response from Jim beyond a tightening of his jaw, he went on. "Anyway, about once a week, she'd have to work late. Naomi tried, Jim. She really did. But she couldn't find anyone who'd keep a nine year old kid that late at night."
Blair leaned forward staring into the fire's light as the memories rushed back. His voice grew dis-tant, as though he had taken a step back in time. "We rented an old trailer behind a guy's filling station. It was on a quiet road. Not much traffic and no close neighbors except the guy who owned the station and his wife. Betty and...." He took a deep breath before spitting out the word. "Nick. That was his name."
Jim stared straight ahead at the flames. "So you stayed alone while Naomi worked at night?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah. Usually on Thursdays. She made me promise not to open the door for any-one, and I never did. Not that anybody ever knocked on that door, but I wouldn't have opened it if they had." He paused for a long moment, then added softly, "But Nick had a key."
Blair risked a glance at his friend's face. Jim's eyes had grown cold, their blue depths as icy as a glacier. Shivering a little at the intensity of emotion he saw there, Blair turned his gaze back to the warm fire. "He always waited a couple of hours, to be sure Naomi wasn't coming back, I guess. I tried everything I could think of, man, to make him leave me alone. I pretended to be asleep...to be sick...hid under the bed...locked myself in the bathroom. Finally, I realized none of it was going to work. Nick would find me, and it seemed that the harder he had to work to get at me, the...more difficult...he would make things for me."
His eyes never leaving the fire, Jim's hand found Blair's and held on tightly. "You don't have to...."
"It's okay, Jim," Blair interrupted forcefully. "You saw what happened yourself. You were there, man." Shifting a little, Blair looked up at Jim intently, his voice growing louder with emotion. He was on the verge of the precipice now, and somehow, suddenly anxious to plunge over the side. "You want to know, don't you? Why I didn't tell? Tell Naomi. Tell my teacher. Tell poor old unsuspecting Betty who was minding that filthy gas station while her husband was out in the back raping a nine year old kid."
Releasing Blair's hand, Jim grasped his shoulders firmly. "I don't have to know all that, Chief. What happened to you wasn't your fault, and no one could ever blame you for...."
Blair shrugged out of Jim's grip and shot to his feet. "Damn it, Jim! I know it wasn't my fault! I went through years of therapy, man, and I already knew that much. I didn't ask that pervert to come to me every Thursday night! I never wanted his oily hair in my face, his greasy hands on my body!" Blair could see the anger his words ignited in Jim's eyes. The ice had definitely melted there now. Yet, somehow, he couldn't hold back from the edge of the abyss. It was time to confess his sins, time to let Jim know the truth about the partner he so valued. Even if it meant losing forever that look of pride he loved to see in Jim's eyes.
Desperate to end it all, Blair plunged on. "Everyone always wonders why a kid doesn't tell." He paced over to the window and stared out at the lines of rain falling down the panes. Teardrops in the cold, he thought idly. "I want you to know, Jim. You already know the worst, right?" His voice became soft. "At least, you know what you think is the worst. But that's not really it, man. What you saw in the temple isn't the worst of it. I've never told anyone that part, man. Not Naomi. Not my doctor. But I want to tell you, Jim. Somehow, it matters to me now that you know. Okay?" Blair looked up at Jim like a lost child searching for home.
His own voice resonating with emotion, Jim accepted the gift his friend offered. "You can tell me, Chief. You know that."
Turning around, Blair flashed a brief smile, darkened with regret for what was about to be lost to him forever. "I know, man. Thanks." He sat down on the couch again, his legs curled under him, and the reassuring pillow once more tucked tightly against him.
"He came to our trailer every Thursday night for nearly six months." Blair laughed nervously. "Ever notice how I always take the Thursday night grad classes, Jim? I used to sign up for them; now I teach them. Can you figure out why that is?"
Ellison's eyes closed for a moment. "So you don't have to be alone. Is that it?"
Blowing out the breath he was holding in a small huff, Blair confirmed his friend's insight. "Yeah. That's it. I know it isn't logical, but I still don't like to be alone on Thursday nights. Anyway, six months of Nick. Showing up at the trailer all sweaty and dirty and smelling like a mixture of gasoline and motor oil and old worn-out rubber. You'd have loved him, man. Totally blown your sense of smell." Blair smiled briefly at the thought, then the smile faded as quickly as it had appeared.
Once more, Blair's voice dropped into the low register it always found when he was deep in thought. "Why didn't I tell? The classic reason, I suppose. He threatened me and my mother. Said he'd shoot us both with that old .45 he kept behind the counter of the station in case of a hold up. Take our bodies out into the desert and bury us so deep even the animals couldn't get to us to pick our bones clean." Blair's shoulders rose and fell with his deep breathing. "So...I never told. Not until it was all over anyway."
"There's nothing so awful about being scared to tell, Blair. You were only nine years old, damn it. Of course you were scared. You mean you never told that to your therapist or Naomi? Never told them why you didn't tell?"
Jim sounded so concerned, so anxious to reassure him. Blair nearly laughed hysterically when he realized what his friend was saying. Jim thought that was the big secret, the huge thun-dercloud that had been hovering behind the brightly sparkling silver lining that had been Peru. Closing his eyes, Blair shook his head and whispered, "That's not it, Jim. I told them all that. Telling them that I was a coward was easy."
A volcanic eruption couldn't have possessed more fury. Jim grabbed Blair's shoulders again, this time nearly violently. The pillow tumbled harmlessly to the floor. Blair's stunned eyes flew to Ellison's and locked there with the angry blue orbs of the sentinel.
"Damn it, Chief! I'll listen to whatever you need to tell me, but I'll be damned if I'll listen to this garbage." His voice grew imperceptibly softer, and the rage in his eyes dimmed to a glowing, stubborn certainty. "I've known you a long time now, Sandburg. I've seen you face situations even a trained cop would find unnerving, not to mention a civilian. How many times have you run away, huh?" Jim paused for a moment, never losing his lock on Sandburg's eyes. "Never. Not once. Ever. You've stuck by me through kidnappings, parachute jumps, bomb scares, bullets, and maniacs. I'll take a lot from you, kid, things I'd never let another man get by with. But I will not tolerate your calling yourself a coward. I don't do lies, Chief. You know that by now."
Slowly, almost in shock, Blair nodded.
"Say it. You weren't a coward because you didn't tell. You were a nine year old kid. You were confused. You were protecting your own life and your mother's in the only way you knew how, but you were not a coward. Let me hear you." Jim's commanding voice left no room for resistance.
As he stared into Jim's determined eyes, Blair felt the truth beginning to balloon up inside him, rising to lift his heart nearly to the top of the thunderous, dark cloud, nearly escaping its gloomy darkness. "I wasn't a coward. I believed he'd do it. The only way I knew to stay alive and protect my mom was not to tell." The balloon of relief hovered hopefully at the apex of the storm cloud. Waiting. Still encompassed by the darkness and danger.
Carefully studying Blair's face, Jim nodded at last. "Good. Don't forget it, Chief." He hesitated, then added, "Do you feel like going on?"
Blair lowered his head, resting it for a moment against the sentinel's chest. He felt Jim's fingers lightly brush over his hair and smiled bitterly at the warmth the familiar gesture brought. Would Jim ever touch him so easily again after the rest of the truth came out? Almost certainly not. Jim was a cop, after all. A straight-arrow, by-the-book, no-shades-of-gray cop. Savoring the warmth of Jim's hand for one last moment, Blair fought down the bile rising in his throat at the thought of all that would change between them this night. Straight-ening abruptly, he steeled himself for the words yet to come. "Yeah, man. I'm ready to get it all out in the open. Tonight."
Blair tucked himself back into the corner of the couch. "It was late spring. I'll never forget that night. Warm. Hot almost, with heavy humidity in the air. And...it was Thursday. The week after my tenth birthday. Naomi had baked me this little cake. White frosting with a chocolate cake. I got a pocket knife. My first Swiss army knife. Oh, man, was I proud of that knife. Kept it in my pocket wherever I went." Blair took his time painting the picture for Jim. It seemed very important that he capture with words every detail of that night for his partner.
Jim shifted on the couch as Blair talked. "A Thursday a long time ago, Chief. Tonight you're safe. Remember that."
Blair nodded, but his gaze remained on the flickering candle before him. It was a few minutes before he spoke again, but the silence between them wasn't uncomfortable.
"Naomi went in at seven, and by eight, it was dark. I heard the key turn in the door, and I remember shivering even though it was so hot. By then, I no longer hid or tried to stop him. It only made it last longer and hurt more. Nick had been drinking that night, and the smell of the liquor almost covered up the stink of the garage and his sweat. Almost."
"There are emotional drunks and sleepy drunks and mean drunks. Nick was a mean drunk. Funny, but he'd never been drunk before that night. He found me huddled up in the corner of the tiny living room of the trailer and grabbed me by my hair. He was muttering the whole time he dragged me into my room, but I couldn't understand more than a word or two. I think he and Betty had been fighting again. They had some pretty intense confrontations. Naomi and I'd listen through the open windows since the trailer didn't have air conditioning. She'd laugh every time they fought and wonder where Nick would be sleeping that night. If it was Thursday, I knew where he'd be."
Jim's jaw tightened like a vise. "You can stop if you want, Sandburg. You shouldn't have to relive this again."
Blair went on as if he hadn't heard. "Nick threw me down on my bed, and my head hit the headboard. Hard. I think I must have blacked out there for a minute, 'cause the next thing I remember is...him on top of me." Blair swallowed against the bitterness rising in his throat. "I begged him to stop, to leave me alone. He slapped me hard across the face and told me to shut up and enjoy it. One of my socks was lying on the mattress. He grabbed it and shoved it in my mouth as a gag. Said he didn't want to hear my whining anymore. I remember thinking I was going to choke to death and starting to cry."
Jim's hands clenched into tight fists, but he remained silent.
Blair's voice droned on, devoid of emotion. In Blair's mind, he had returned to the past, reliving the horror once again. He forgot that Jim was beside him and lost himself in the emotions of the memories. "I don't know how I ended up with the knife in my hand, but suddenly it was just there. I couldn't see anything with the tears filling my eyes, and I couldn't say anything with that gag in my mouth, but somehow I got that blade open. That much, I could do. I can still remember how the blade felt sliding into his side, just like a knife slicing through butter. It went in so easily." Blair paused, remembering. "Nick's eyes flew open, and oh, man, the look in them I can see to this day. Pure disbelief. I don't think he realized for a moment that I was the one responsible for the pain. Before he could react, I yanked out that knife and stuck it in again. And again."
"He kind of straightened up, but still not saying anything. Then, he just collapsed. Right on top of me." A haze of memory covered Blair's eyes. "There was so much blood. So hot...so sticky. I knew my cuts couldn't have drawn so much blood. That's when I saw the butcher knife in his back. Someone rolled him off me, and I yanked that dirty sock from my mouth as I jumped off the bed. I looked up and saw who had really killed Nick. It was Betty. She was just standing there, her eyes wide, staring down at him. She was so thin, almost like she didn't eat regularly. Right then, her eyes looked like brown moons in her pale face. Her hair was long...stringy...and it was all in her face, but she didn't brush it back. She just grabbed Nick's ankles and told me to hold the door for her. I don't know where she took him, but she was back in a few minutes, telling me we had to clean the place up before my mother got home from work. So we did. Changed the sheets and took the old ones outside for Betty to burn. I don't think Naomi ever asked what happened to those sheets. I took a long, hot bath. I remember scrubbing my skin almost raw, trying to get his stench off me and wash away the feeling of his hands on me."
Blair shuddered slightly, instinctively shifting away from Jim, even though he wanted nothing more than to move closer to his sentinel and the protection he always provided. It was coming now, the unforgivable sin. His voice fell to a near whisper. "I dropped the knife down a storm drain the next day after school. We never told Naomi...or the police. Betty said she was going to tell anyone who asked that Nick had finally split, run off with some hitch-hiker that was passing through. He had a reputation as a skirt chaser, she said. Guess it wasn't only skirts he chased, huh?" Blair smiled crookedly at the thought.
"Anyway, the police must not have done much in the way of an investigation, or maybe no one cared enough to report him missing or even to ask Betty what happened to him. I never told Naomi the whole truth - the part about what happened to Nick. Betty explained what he'd done to me so Naomi would get me some counseling, but not the part about Nick. Naomi packed us up, and we left the next day. I talked about the abuse with her and with the psychologist she took me to after we got settled in the next town, but I never told anyone the whole truth. Not until tonight, Jim." The near-whisper grew even softer. "I'm sorry."
Disbelief clouded Jim's eyes. "Sorry? For what? You've got nothing to apologize for, Chief."
Blair shook his head. "I stabbed a man, and when he was killed, I didn't say a word. I helped Betty cover up a murder, man! I was an accomplice, Jim, and there's no statute of limitation on murder." The next words barely made it past the tightness in his throat. "I'll be out by morning. If you won't take me in tonight, I swear I'll be out of your life tomorrow. Or, if you'd rather, you can call Simon now to come take me down to the station. Either way. I'll do whatever you want, Jim." He waited for the blow to fall, an odd sense of relieved resignation filling his heart. Jim knew. It was all over.
"C'mere, kid," Jim said softly, reaching out for Blair, drawing him close in a tight hug.
Blair allowed himself to be pulled into the sentinel's arms, tentatively reaching around the broad shoulders to grasp Jim's sweater tightly and hold on. At least, Jim wasn't angry. They could part as friends. For that much, he was grateful.
Jim began to rock him slowly. He seemed to be in no hurry to speak. Blair felt the tightness inside loosen a little as the comfort offered by his friend began to help him relax. He knew Naomi had held him this way after Betty told her about Nick, but then, there had still been the dark cloud of Nick's death looming over him, a deadly secret lying silent between them. Now the secret was out, and the comforting warmth of Jim's embrace was a soothing balm for Blair's scarred soul.
After several slow minutes had passed, Jim's deep voice rumbled in his ear. "Listen to me, Blair. You fought back against an attacker. A monster. That's self-defense. Betty killed that bastard to protect you. I sure as hell am not going to fault her for that. I would have killed him myself if I'd been there. This all happened a long time ago in Texas. Not my jurisdiction." One large hand reached up to bury itself in Blair's curls, pressing his head even more tightly to Jim's shoulder. "What did you think, Darwin? That'd I'd really turn you in?"
Unable to speak, Blair settled for a quick nod. He heard Jim's soft chuckle and felt his friend's head lower to rest against his own. "For such a smart guy, you sure underestimate yourself sometimes, Chief. You mean a hell of a lot more to me than that, understand? Sometimes, the law becomes the lesser consideration, you know?"
Jim fell silent for a minute, still rocking Blair slowly in his arms. Then he asked quietly, "Do you think you need to see the department shrink about any of this? I know you dealt with all the...other...a long time ago, but you've never seen a professional about the rest of it. I could set up an appointment for you, if...."
Blair cut him off. "Not necessary," he murmured into the thick weave of Jim's sweater. The balloon of relief that had earlier reached the uppermost region of the storm cloud now rose high above its blackness, escaping into the light at last. "I've dealt with it. I always knew what I did was self-defense. I just needed to hear that you don't think less of me for not going to the police, for not reporting Betty and all that happened." Blair sighed contentedly, warm at last, inside and out, for the first time that day.
"I don't think any less of you, Blair," Jim said softly, his breath stirring Blair's curls. "In fact, I'm damn proud. You didn't let that bastard get away with using you. You fought back. You fought hard. Just like you always do." After a few silent moments, the sentinel added, almost as an afterthought, "Don't worry about having to schedule those Thursday night classes anymore, okay? We've got a standing date for Thursdays now. Poker, a movie, a long weekend camping trip...you name it. Thursdays, you're with me. Understand?"
Blair's nod was accompanied by a small smile and a sigh as he relaxed fully into Jim's arms. He was almost drowsy now, so relaxed and at peace at last. He didn't think he'd have trouble handling Thursday nights now, but still, his friend's company was welcome. Blair made no effort to pull away from Jim, and the older man seemed in no hurry to release him.
"I'm sorry you had to experience it, too, Jim. At the temple, I mean." Blair's words were slurred now, his voice drowsy as sleep fought to claim him.
Ellison didn't reply for a time. "I haven't spent the time analyzing everything that's happened to us the way you have, Chief, but wasn't that the whole point of the visions in the temple pool? A deeper understanding of each other? I know exactly how you felt then. How helpless you felt...how afraid. It's easy to sympathize, to say 'I know how you feel', but I really do. I know. Does that help you a little? To know that I know? That I understand? Isn't that the whole purpose behind what we went through in Peru?"
Blair kept his eyes closed, soaking in Jim's warmth. "Yeah. It does help. And I think you're right about times like this being the reason for it all - the pool and the visions and everything. No barriers now, Jim. No secrets. Right?"
Lowering his head again to rest against Blair's, Jim Ellison said quietly, but firmly. "No secrets, Chief. No barriers. Not anymore." Tightening his arms around his guide, he whispered, "Rest now. Shhh...."
Content to obey, Blair sighed deeply and gave in to exhaustion.
Outside, the cold rain fell throughout the night. Inside the loft, the glow of candles and firelight created an oasis of comfort and warmth. Outside, the heavy clouds hung low and dark. Inside, the threatening storm clouds had vanished, driven away by the power of friendship and infinite understanding.
Clouds banished, on this particular Thursday night, only the silver lining remained.
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