Credits: Okay, okay... I know I've done quite a few lyric based stories. The music minor in me just can't seem to resist. The song was composed by Bryan Adams, Robert John "Mutt" Lange, and Michael Kamen and is performed by Sting, Rod Stewart, and Bryan Adams.
Mega, thanks again. Your insights and suggestions made this a much more entertaining story than it would have been otherwise. Lory and Heidi, as always, thanks for your friendship and support. Wolfshy, you're a wonderful friend and hostess for my stories. Thank you for all your hard work and for giving our tales a home. A special thanks to all who have sent their prayers and encouragement during my recovery these past long weeks. This one's for all of you.
Warning: Contains detailed descriptions of the fountain 'death' scene. If reliving that event causes you discomfort, please skip the final section of the story. Oh, and if pure smarm and emotional h/c just aren't your favorites, best pass this one by.
All For Love
When it's love you give...
(I'll be your man of good faith.)
When it's love you live...
(I'll make a stand; I won't break.)
I'll be the rock you can lean on,
Be there when you're old,
To have and to hold...
The loft was dark when Blair Sandburg came home after teaching his evening seminar at Rainier University. He'd known it would be difficult to handle a night class when he had agreed to add the seminar to his schedule. He hadn't figured on it turning out to be quite so tiring, however.
Glancing around the darkened loft, he paused and listened for confirmation that his partner was home. Nothing. Apparently, the loft was empty. Strange. Jim's truck's parked out front. Hope nothing's wrong.
As his eyes adjusted to the dim light filtering in through the expansive windows overlooking the city, Blair noticed an old wooden box resting on the floor in front of the couch. A small, dying fire crackled feebly in the fireplace, lending a flickering, gingery glow to the living room.
"Jim?" Sandburg trotted halfway up the stairs to his partner's room. "You here, man?"
Muttering to himself, the long haired graduate student dropped his well-worn backpack inside the door to his room as he quickly ran through the possibilities. "Your truck's here. We did the grocery shopping yesterday, so you're not at the store. It's my night to cook, so I know you didn't go for take out." Stumped for an answer, Blair moved through the French doors and stood in the middle of the living room, staring up at Jim's bedroom. Where are you, Ellison?
Laundry. Jim had commented that morning that he needed to do some washing soon. Hopefully, Blair moved to the bathroom and checked the laundry hamper. Still full. Obviously, Jim hadn't decided to do the wash tonight.
His eyes were captured once more by the mysterious box. Not like his roommate to leave anything out of place. Blair sat on the couch, staring at it thoughtfully. The top was half closed - or half open, depending on your perspective.
Fighting an internal battle, he considered his options. On the one hand, Blair knew that he had absolutely no right to go prying into his friend's personal belongings. On the other hand, if Jim had really wanted its contents kept secret, he'd have closed it completely or returned it to wherever it had been stored all this time, now wouldn't he? What if Jim was in trouble? Could the box provide a clue? One which might help Jim?
That did it. Blair's concern for his friend tipped the scales and won the internal debate. He opened the box.
First, Sandburg took out a small cigar box, the kind children pilfered long ago from their grandfathers to store their school supplies and treasures. It still retained a lingering scent of tobacco and old paper. Hesitantly, Blair lifted the lid and peered inside.
A small vial of French perfume, nearly empty...a strand of lustrous pearls...a lacy handkerchief, delicately embroidered in blue thread with the initials, G.E...a tortoise shell comb...a tiny gold locket with a few strands of golden hair encased behind glass on one side and a picture of a lovely young woman on the other. Her hair was a deep, burnished gold, pulled back to reveal her slim neck. Blue, luminescent eyes glowed, even from the flat, paper image. A small smile touched her lips.
The resemblance to Jim was uncanny.
G.E... Grace Ellison... These were Jim's mementos of the mother who had abandoned her family when he was only a child. The thought of his friend sitting alone in the dark, fingering these small treasures with his sensitive hands made Blair's heart contract with shared pain. Sadly, he closed the box and returned it reverently to the larger wooden box.
Next, he withdrew two photographs, wrapped in a soft, faded cloth. He immediately recognized the two men in the first picture. One, of course, was Jim. A younger Jim, with longer hair, a goatee, and of all things, an earring. Blair grinned in spite of his concern. The day would come when Jim would hear about that earring. Oh, he would most definitely hear about the earring.
Sandburg turned his attention back to the photograph. The other man in the picture was Jim's partner and friend, Jack Pendergast. They stood side by side in front of the classic car that Jack treated like his own baby. The car in which he had later died. Blair shook his head at the memory of what Jim had gone through in order to clear Jack's name in the kidnapping case he'd been investigating when he died. What wouldn't that man do in the name of friendship?
The second photo was of Danny Choi, the young officer who had also become Jim's friend. He was posed sitting astride his motorcycle, young, cocky, and full of life. Another memory surfaced, this time of Jim's pain when Choi died.
Danny and Jack, both dead, murdered in the line of duty. Two very important links in the Jim Ellison chain of loss, pain, and regret. Sandburg sighed sadly as he carefully folded the fabric around the photos and placed them back into the box.
As he withdrew an old, yellowing envelope, a small piece of paper fell out of the slit at the end and fluttered to the ground. A telegram addressed to William Ellison. Blair read it slowly, his heart breaking with every name he read. He was holding the telegram sent to Jim's father, notifying him of the crash in Peru and listing the names of every soldier killed under his son's command. The first name on the list was Captain James Ellison, listed as MIA and 'presumed dead.'
Oh, God... Blair's eyes misted over. Unable to bear looking at his friend's name with that somber notation, he quickly slipped the telegram back into its protective envelope, then placed it carefully back in Jim's wooden box.
The final objects in the box were two gold bands, wedding rings leftover from a marriage gone cold. The smaller was inscribed C.E., the larger bore the initials J.E. She didn't even bother taking her wedding band.
For a moment, he brushed his fingers over the polished gold bands and thought of what might have been. Not only for his friend, but in his own life. How would his world have been different if Jim and Carolyn had remained husband and wife? He wouldn't be living here in the loft, that much was certain. Memories of a dingy, dirty, rat infested warehouse leered at him from the shadows of his mind. Not liking the direction his vivid imagination was carrying him, Blair quickly returned both rings to the small blue box in which he had found them.
Photos of long dead friends...the somber message listing the names of the men in his doomed unit...small tokens of a vanished mother...all that remained of his failed marriage... Each item preserved carefully for so many years, hidden away in the loft only to emerge on this dark, dreary night.
"Oh, God, Jim," Blair breathed. "What's going on with you tonight?"
Moving to the large windows covering one side of the living room wall, Sandburg stared out into the rain. It had been raining constantly since early morning. "Typical gorgeous day in sunny Cascade," he muttered sarcastically. Surely, Jim hadn't picked tonight to go for a stroll. Not with this rain...
Then again, his partner was not known for avoiding the elements when he felt the need for fresh air and solitude.
The things I do for you, Ellison. With a frustrated groan, Blair stepped out onto the balcony, cursing the cold wetness which quickly worked its way through his flannel shirt. Peering over the railing, he looked up and down the street.
There was no one walking down the sidewalk, no one standing in the shelter of the stores' doorways and canopies. No sign of Jim Ellison anywhere. Yet, a small, niggling voice inside Blair insisted that somewhere in the night, out in the pouring rain, his lonely partner waited.
Sighing deeply, the guide turned to get his coat and find his sentinel.
When there's love inside...
(I swear I'll always be strong.)
And there's a reason why...
(I'll prove to you we belong.)
I'll be the wall that protects you
from the wind and the rain,
from the hurt and the pain...
The thought burst unbidden into his mind like a bolt of lightening. The park... As Blair hurried down the stairs, he wasn't sure why he hadn't thought of it before. Situated by the bay, only a few blocks from the loft, the public park was one of Jim's favorite spots in Cascade. He gravitated there on sunny days when he just wanted to relax and enjoy the outdoors, and he drifted there when his thoughts turned dark, and he needed space to contemplate.
Praying he wasn't wrong, Sandburg turned toward the water and took off at a brisk jog. Suddenly, he had an overwhelming need to find his friend.
As Blair neared the waterfront, he immediately spotted him. A forlorn figure, head down, back hunched against the rain, as if the weight of the world rested upon his broad shoulders. Jim was facing the bay, staring into the darkness and the rain. As Blair approached, he did not acknowledge his friend's arrival. The sentinel was a solitary statue, battered by wind and rain, standing silently in the night.
Taking a deep breathe, Blair moved to stand next to his friend. He wasn't sure what to say or what to do; he only knew that he must trust his instincts if he hoped to help his partner.
Long minutes passed as the rain grew heavier, until it was beating down in a torrent. Still, Jim remained silent. Unwilling to break the silence, but longing to telegraph his support, Blair shifted closer, his shoulder pressing against the taller man's hard bicep. Even with his jacket buttoned and hunched up to cover his neck, Blair was soaked. He shivered twice uncontrollably. There was no response from his partner. Overhead, the sound of a jet's engines penetrated the rainy stillness, and somewhere across the dark waters, a buoy bell clanged its melancholy song.
"They're all gone, Chief. In one way or another, they're all gone."
At first, Blair wasn't sure Jim had spoken at all. His friend's voice was so soft, nearly drowned out in the heavy pattering of the rain. A single flash of lightening sliced the dreary clouds, momentarily illuminating the sharp features of Jim's face and revealing the profound pain behind his ice blue eyes.
That haunted look pierced Blair's heart as surely as the lightening cut through the skies. Without hesitation, he turned toward his friend, wrapping his arms around his waist and hugging him firmly. Too many times, it had been Jim who offered his strong, quiet comfort to his young partner. On this night, Blair was gratified to be needed by his sentinel, to be the one to give comfort, rather than receive it.
Sandburg rubbed the taller man's broad back reassuringly as he murmured, "I'm here. I'm right here, Jim." He pressed his face against Jim's chest, listening to the sound of his courageous, broken heart as it thrummed a steady rhythm beneath his cheek.
Strong arms wrapped around him in a tight, desperate embrace, as Ellison drew Blair as closely to him as possible. His breathing was ragged, as if the sentinel was struggling to control the dark emotions which threatened to drag him down into their swirling, murky whirlpool. When he spoke, his voice was rough with emotion. "Yeah, Chief. I know that. But, one day..." Giving up, Jim's head dropped to his friend's shoulder and rested heavily against his comforting warmth.
Blair bore the weight willingly, even gratefully. Reaching up to lightly stroke the short cropped, wet hair with his fingertips, he shook his head against the sodden fabric of Jim's overcoat. "I'm not going anywhere. Face it, buddy, you're stuck with me."
The soft voice whispered in his ear. "Promise?"
Some promises are fleeting, while others are eternal.
"I promise," Blair whispered fervently. "I promise."
Let's make it all for one and all for love.
Let the one you hold be the one you want...
The one you need...
Cause when it's all for one, it's one for all.
When there's someone that you know,
then just let your feelings show,
and make it all for one, and all for love.
Jim's two army buddies blew into Cascade unexpectedly during the break before the summer session began. Todd Maples and Robert Fuller... They had gone through basic with Ellison, and later, they had been assigned to several of the same posts. Career military, they only had one night in Cascade and wanted to spend it catching up with their old friend. They called the loft late in the afternoon, and soon, plans were made for a reunion dinner that evening. Maples and Fuller would arrive at the loft at 7:00.
"I don't know, Jim. I still can't understand why you want me to go along tonight. I mean, what do I know about army life? If there's one thing I did not have, man, it was a strict military upbringing." Blair finished buttoning his dark brown shirt and tucked it into his faded jeans.
Clad only in his boxers, Ellison grinned at him from in front of the bathroom sink where he had just finished shaving. "Call it revenge, Chief. Payback for all those nights I've spent listening to you and your friends talking about ancient Himalayan courting rituals and the traditional sacrifices of prehistoric tribes on the Asian subcontinent." He leaned over the sink and rinsed his face.
"Hey, man," Sandburg chortled. "I'm impressed. You actually remember some of that stuff. Not bad for a..." Realizing the dangerous turf onto which he was about to tread, the young anthropologist pulled up short. "Hey, I think I'll change shoes, man. These are..."
He froze as his partner slowly turned to face him. Jim's eyes were calm. Too calm. Dangerously calm. Moving slowly, the taller man moved closer, his damp towel slung over his bare shoulders and his shaving cream can in the other. "Not bad for a what, Chief? A big, dumb cop? A Neanderthal throwback?"
Sandburg began to back away. "No, way, man! You? That's not what I meant at all, see. I just meant..." Catching the mischievous glint in his partner's eyes, Blair suddenly darted away into the living room. Shouting back over his shoulder at his pursuing partner, he called, "C'mon, Jim! I didn't mean anything!"
"Too late, Darwin," Jim growled, only his eyes belaying the threat in his voice. He lunged forward, managing to snag the arm of Sandburg's shirt. In one fluid motion, Jim held him back against his chest with one arm and presented the uncapped shaving cream can in front of his partner's face with his other hand.
Blair tilted his head to look up at his tall friend with pleading eyes. "Jim! You wouldn't... No way, man!"
Without a word, Ellison held the red and white can over Blair's head. His partner wriggled and squirmed, trying his best to free his shoulders from the firm arm pinioning him against Jim's chest. No use. Blair closed his eyes in surrender, waiting for the telltale sound of escaping foam.
It never came. Instead, there was a firm knock at the door.
Blair grinned up at Jim. "They're early, man! Look at you; you're not even dressed! Is that any way to greet company?"
"Maybe." Ellison kept his grip on Blair and edged toward the door. Suddenly, the knob turned and the door opened to reveal two tall, athletic figures.
"Jim?" The red haired man moved forward, turning to shut the door behind his darker friend. "You must have left the door unlocked. We just thought..."
The other man smirked, his brown eyes hard. "But, if we're interrupting anything..."
Reluctantly, Jim released his relieved partner. Pointing a finger under his friend's nose, he warned, "Next time, Chief. Next time." Then, he flashed a grin at the hastily retreating younger man.
Jim Ellison turned to greet the new arrivals, setting the would-be shaving cream weapon on the table by the door. "Maples! Fuller! Great to see you guys." After much back slapping and shoulder punching, Jim turned to Blair. "Todd...Robert, this is Blair Sandburg, my partner." He rested his hand lightly on Sandburg's shoulder. "Chief, why don't you get the guys a beer, and I'll be ready in five."
"Sure, man," he agreed. Jim smiled broadly as he disappeared up the stairs to his room.
The five minutes felt more like five hours to Sandburg. While he tried to make conversation, the two guests seemed immune to his attempts. They sat like stone faced gargoyles in the living room, their expressions screaming disapproval, all the while taking in the artifacts and pictures throughout the loft. After several futile attempts to get a discussion started, Blair gave up and joined their silent vigil. He could only hope that Jim would dress quickly.
By the time Jim did come downstairs, Blair was ready to make his excuses and stay home. But the pleased look on his sentinel's face as the three old friends talked quelled that thought immediately. These men had been Jim's friends, and he had asked Blair to go along tonight. He wouldn't disappoint him now.
The restaurant was crowded, but their reservations landed them a choice table by the window, overlooking the lights of Cascade. Sandburg was relieved when it seemed the dinner conversation would center around old army stories. With any luck, he would manage to fade unnoticed into the background, the time would pass quickly, and soon the evening would be over.
"Hey, Jim?" Fuller asked. "You still got that photo album you used to keep? You remember... The one with all the platoon photos? Man, there were some shots in there that would be worth a pretty penny on the blackmail market today."
As the conversation drifted away to former friends who had gone on to bigger and more public accomplishments. Blair began to relax. Maybe he would be forgotten after all.
Then, without warning, Maples turned his calm, calculating eyes to him.
"Did you serve in the military, Sandburg?" His cold voice drilled through Blair's heart. What did this guy have against him anyway?
Keep it light, Sandburg. Just keep it light. With a quick glance at Jim, Blair shook his head. "No way, man. I'm not exactly the spit and polish type, y'know? I did spend some time in Guyana, studying the war rituals of..."
Grimacing impatiently, Fuller interrupted, "Hey, Jim! Remember that old boy from Texas? Man, that time he..."
Blair stared down at his plate. It was obvious neither man was interested in what he could add to the conversation. Fine. Let the macho trio reminisce about noble battles gone by. He could just...
His resentful thoughts were derailed by the warmth of a hand on his shoulder. He glanced up beside him at his partner's face. Jim was seemingly engrossed in whatever tale Fuller was weaving, but a small smile played around his lips. His arm had crept up to prop on the back of Blair's chair, and without drawing attention to his movements, Jim's hand now rested comfortingly on his friend's shoulder. He tightened his fingers briefly in a reassuring squeeze.
Blair dropped his eyes back to his plate and whispered, "Thanks, man." He was rewarded with another small squeeze.
Later, after the main courses were served, Blair's attention was captured by Jim's voice. "Actually, it was Sandburg who went with me after Simon and Daryl. He was a huge asset on that mission. Couldn't have pulled it off without him."
Two sets of judgmental eyes zeroed in on him. Blair cleared his throat and looked uncertainly at Jim.
Maples laughed, "What did he do, Jim? Take care of the bad hair days on the mission? Provide his services with the mousse?" Both men broke out laughing, leaning back in their chairs, and exchanging knowing looks.
Jim's eyes turned dangerously frigid. Without speaking, he took a drink of his hot coffee, staring at Maples and Fuller across the table. Setting the cup down, he growled, "No, actually, Blair managed to help me rescue Simon and Daryl, hot wire a truck, and drive out of the compound in the midst of heavy fire. I was proud to have him at my side on that mission. Either of you have a problem with that?"
If either man did, neither dared say so.
The conversation for the rest of the meal carefully avoided the fourth, quiet member of the dining party. A fact for which Blair Sandburg was eternally grateful.
When it's love you make...
(I'll be the fire in your night.)
Then it's love you take...
(I will defend, I will fight.)
I'll be there when you need me.
When honor's at stake,
This vow I will make.
That it's all for one and all for love.
Let the one you hold be the one you want...
the one you need...
Cause when it's all for one, it's one for all.
When there's someone that you know,
then just let your feelings show,
and make it all for one and all for love.
By the time they arrived back at the loft, Blair felt as if he had been negotiating a mine field for most of the evening. His fondest hope was that Fuller and Maples would make their excuses and leave. He wanted nothing more than a little peace and quiet for the rest of the night.
It was not to be.
The two men walked into the loft with the air of visitors who fully expected to stay on long into the night. Blair sighed and wondered how soon he could make an excuse to go to his room.
He never got the chance. "Hey, Jim," Fuller said. "What about that photo album, huh? Think you could find it somewhere?"
"Yeah, Ellison," Maples chimed in. "You always were Mr. Organization. Bet you know right where it is. Probably in a color coded box or something."
Both men watched Jim expectantly. "I don't know," he hedged. "Haven't seen that thing in years."
"C'mon, Jim. Give it a shot. For old times sake," Fuller cajoled with a quirky grin.
"Hey, be back in a minute. Make yourselves at home in here." Ellison moved into the kitchen, motioning Blair to follow.
Jim busied himself setting out the lemon pie Blair had picked up at the bakery. "I'm sorry, Chief. This certainly hasn't gone the way I thought it would. At all." He placed forks on the counter. "Listen, I'll tell them I remembered throwing the damned photo album away years ago. I don't think I should leave you up here with them. I mean..."
A burst of shame colored Blair's cheeks. Jim was afraid to leave him in their own home with these guys? What kind of wimp did he think he had for a partner? "It's okay, man," he interrupted, determined to prove that he didn't need an around the clock Blessed Protector. "I'll be fine. What are they gonna do anyway? Tar and feather me in our own place?" He gently elbowed Jim in the ribs. "Besides, those two aren't gonna quit until they see those pictures, man. You might as well get yourself down there and dig it out of the basement."
"Hey, Ellison!" Maples' commanding voice boomed from the living room. "Pictures. Basement. Now!"
Jim threw Blair a helpless look. His partner shrugged.
"Chief," Jim said, a note of apology ringing in his voice. "I really hate this, but they're not going to let up. Are you sure you don't mind playing host for a few minutes?"
What else could he say? No, Jim, that's not exactly tops on my to-do list tonight? These guys obviously hate me, and right now all I want to do is escape to the sanctuary of my own room? No, he couldn't do that, especially after his bravado of moments before.
Forcing a grin he hoped was sincere, Blair jerked his head down toward the basement level. "Go on and find that book. I'll entertain your buddies for a while. No problem."
For a long moment, the older man studied his friend's eyes, searching for any conflict between Blair's words and whatever the complicated young man might truly be feeling inside. Reading nothing there but encouragement, Jim nodded at last. "Thanks, Chief. I promise I won't be long." With a clap to his partner's back, Jim reluctantly headed out the door and down to the basement.
Blair took a deep breath. Might as well try to make the best of a bad situation. He moved into the living room and smiled weakly at their guests, both of whom were staring at him in cold silence. "Hey, I'll bring the beer. We'll have the pie after Jim gets back. Meet you out on the balcony?" He nodded toward the door.
Without a word, the two men moved outside.
Sandburg joined them, carefully gripping the three bottles. Settling himself on one of the chairs, he took a drink and smiled as warmly as he could, given the way the evening had gone thus far. "So, you guys were really tight with Jim back in his army days? Bet you could tell me some stories I could use against him later. I need all the ammunition I can get, y'know." Blair grinned broadly, hoping his tone was conspiratorial enough to perhaps break down whatever iron walls had been thrown up between them.
Maples and Fuller exchanged glances, and when Fuller spoke his voice was cold. "Yeah. We knew Jim. At least, we thought we knew him. Just goes to show, you never really know someone."
Blair looked puzzled, but he was determined to keep the conversation going in a positive direction. Ignoring the cryptic response, he asked, "I guess it's been a while since you were all able to get together like this, hasn't it?"
Todd Maples nodded. "Long enough for Jim to have become a totally different person from the man we knew." He jerked his head in the direction of the loft's living room. "Since when is Jim Ellison into all that African art crap? And weren't those poetry books on the shelves? That sure as hell ain't the Jim we knew."
Sandburg's chuckle sounded stiff, even to his own ears. "That would be my African art crap and most of the poetry books are mine." Blair stopped for a moment, thinking. Then, his dark blue eyes grew more defiant. "Some are Jim's, though. Believe it or not, he likes some poetry. And, by the way, the artifacts are South American, Oceanic, and Eurasian. Not African."
Both men looked surprised. "That crap is yours? What the hell's it doing in Jim's home?" Robert Fuller questioned. "They run out of room at whatever commune you're living in?"
Blair stared down at his beer bottle as the anger built within him, then he met their stony eyes unflinchingly. Who the hell did these guys think they were anyway? This was his life, his and Jim's, and they didn't have to answer to anyone about the way they chose to live it. "Yeah. That 'crap' as you so elegantly phrased it, is mine. See, Jim and I are roommates as well as partners."
Maples' eyes grew even colder, as he spat out his words. "Partners. I wondered about that when Jim introduced you. When he told us about your escapades in Peru when he went to rescue his captain and his kid, I figured Jim was just exaggerating. You are a cop?" His smirk sent a chill down Blair's spine. "Or, maybe you meant 'partner' in a different sense."
The two men exchanged leering looks and laughed uproariously.
Glancing back inside the loft, Blair silently begged Jim to hurry up and join them soon. He definitely did not like the direction this conversation was taking. He forced a smile. "No, we're roommates, and I work with Jim at the station as a civilian observer. It's all part of my doctoral research in anthropology."
Fuller tipped his beer bottle up and took a long swig, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "Todd, I don't know about you, but the Jim Ellison I remember wouldn't have allowed someone like him wash his Jeep, much less invite him into his home to live."
Maples nodded. "Yeah, you're right, Robert. Our buddy Jim definitely has had a distinct change in personality." He paused to take a drink, then continued. "Hey, Sandburg, what the hell's with that long hair, anyway?" He gestured with the neck of his beer bottle. "You some leftover flower child or something? Or maybe you're gunning for vice down at the station?" Without waiting for a response, he gulped another mouthful of beer and added, "Besides, Jim needs a real partner. A real cop who can back him up when the chips are down. And, from what I see, that ain't you, no matter what tall tale Jim tells about Peru. Bet you couldn't even take down a marshmallow, could you, Sandburg?"
Before Blair could answer, Fuller had appeared behind him, jerking his head back with a firm grip on his long hair. Maples stood beside him, the blade of a knife flashing in the moonlight. The big man grinned as he held the knife across the hank of hair his buddy tightly gripped. "Hey, Todd, what do you think this kid would look like with a crew cut or a Mohawk?" The knife moved to slide across Blair's cheek. "Or," Maples laughed. "Maybe just a close shave?"
That damn photo album. How the hell did they remember that thing after all these years? His arms crossed, Jim stared at the boxes stacked in their storage area in the basement. He knew the contents of most of them, but some had been packed away years ago. Others had been added by Sandburg through the years. Who knew what was in which one?
Halfheartedly, Jim removed a couple of lids and quickly peered into the contents. Old Christmas decorations...odd sheets and pillowcases...musty sweatshirts and faded T-shirts which should have been given to charity years ago.
He reached for the lid of the next box, his mind wandering. He found himself tuning in automatically to the conversation upstairs on the balcony, checking on his partner.
Then, there it was...the old photo album, its covered faded by time, its pages lightly yellowed with age. Opening randomly to a page about halfway through, he smiled at the sight of the old photographs still there. Then, the smile faded as Jim listened more closely to the words from far above.
...the Jim Ellison I remember wouldn't have allowed someone like him wash his Jeep, much less invite him into his home to live...Jim needs a real partner. A real cop who can back him up when the chips are down. And, from what I see, that ain't you, no matter what tall tale Jim tells about Peru. Bet you couldn't even take down a marshmallow, could you, Sandburg...Hey, Todd, what do you think this kid would look like with a crew cut? Or, maybe a close shave?
In the basement, a box tumbled to the floor, its contents spilling haphazardly onto the cold concrete.
Jim Ellison flew up the stairs to the first floor, slamming the photo album against the wall as he ran. Several pages tore loose, fluttering to the floor behind him. On one, a photograph of three old friends stared upward...one sandy blond, the second with dark brown hair, the third a red head... Their youthful smiles frozen forever in shades of black and white.
The picture had torn in a jagged line across the center as it was ripped from the photo album, dividing the friends forever, two from one.
Jim never noticed. As he reached the first floor, he caught sight of the elevator door sliding slowly shut. Rushing forward, he fought to wedge his fingers between the doors. Damn it! It was no use. The elevator was gone. In frustration, he slammed his hand against the control buttons. There was no time to wait. He abandoned the elevator and dashed up the stairs. As he rounded each flight, the pounding of Blair's frightened heartbeat throbbed in his ears. Hang on, Chief! I'm on my way! Just hang on!
Blair felt the knife pressing down firmly on his hair. His neck was bent back so far, he was staring straight up at the stars. A sharp pain ripped through his spine. Forcing back the pain, he fought to stay in control, to resist the urge to strike out at these men who had tormented him so relentlessly. They definitely had him out manned, both in size and experience. He decided to rely on the talent which had saved him from so many close calls and wait for Jim. Blair began to speak. "C'mon, guys," he began. "You really don't want to do this..."
The words had barely left his lips when he heard a gasp of pain from Fuller, and the grip on his hair suddenly disappeared. He jerked his head up to see Maples doubled over in pain, panting and wheezing in his struggle to breathe. Springing up from his chair, Blair gazed up into the blazing eyes of Jim Ellison.
Between his groans of pain, Fuller gasped, "J...Jim... What the hell...?"
Once he'd recovered from his surprise at Jim's sudden appearance, Blair quickly moved to stand slightly behind his friend, his hand resting lightly on the small of the sentinel's back. He could feel the tenseness of Jim's muscles through his sweater, and he heard the angry tremor in his voice. It was obvious that Jim was barely maintaining his control.
"Get out! Get the hell out of my home. Now!"
Maples' face was flushed, whether from the blow he had taken to his abdomen or from anger, Sandburg wasn't sure. "Damn it, Jim!" he argued, still panting between words. "Talk about over reacting! We were just having a little fun with the kid. Trying to figure out what the hell he's doing here with you. I mean, you can't tell me that this little hippie's your partner for real. I ain't buying that, Jim. Man, you may have changed, but nobody changesthat much!"
Ellison's icy voice silenced Maples. "First, it's none of your business what Blair is to me. You wouldn't believe it. Hell, you couldn't understand it, if I told you. Second, you're damn right he's my partner - for real. He's the only partner I want backing me up."
Jim moved forward until he was inches from the other man's face. Maples retreated, halting only when his back collided with the brick wall behind him. He raised his hands defensively, as if he expected Jim to hit him again. "Furthermore," Jim continued in the same cold tone. "He's twice the man either of you two bastards will ever be. Now, you've got ten seconds to hit the door. I don't ever want to see either of your faces around me or my partner again. Move!"
With the last word, Jim roughly shoved Maples toward the door leading back inside. He stumbled forward a few steps, then quickly left the loft with Fuller following closely behind. The door was pulled shut with a forceful slam.
The loft was silent. Jim purposefully turned his hearing down as the door closed behind them. He had no desire to hear what was being said about him behind his back. Frankly, he didn't care, and he had more important matters to attend to at the moment. He turned around to face Blair Sandburg.
The younger man was standing absolutely motionless, staring into the loft at the closed door where his two tormentors had disappeared. His shocked blue eyes were wide, both his hands clenched into tight fists, his fingernails digging painfully into his palms.
Jim reached out, resting his hands gently on his friend's shoulders, massaging gently to relieve the tenseness he felt there. "You okay, Chief?"
After staring at the intricate pattern knitted into Jim's blue sweater for a few seconds, Blair looked up, smiling weakly. "Yeah, man, I guess so. You heard?"
Ellison nodded. "Yeah. I was listening from downstairs. I'm sorry, Sandburg. I should have come up sooner... Hell, I never should have left you alone with them, but I thought they'd ease up. I never dreamed they would pull a sick stunt like that."
Staring intently at his best friend's face, Blair's deep blue eyes flashed. "What the hell kind of men are they, Jim? I mean, who treats someone they just met that way?"
Dropping his hands from Sandburg's shoulders, Jim moved without comment back inside the loft. He eased down on the couch with a heavy sigh, shifting to make room for his friend. "Sandburg," Jim began. He stopped, then turned and looked at the younger man sitting beside him. "It hurts to admit it, but it's true. What kind of men are they? The kind I used to be, Chief."
Sandburg looked astonished. "You? No way, man! You wouldn't..." Then, he remembered. The memories flooded back, all too clearly.
Dr. McKay...McCoy...neo-hippie, witch doctor punk...
Seeing his friend's reaction, Jim nodded. "That's right, Chief. When you first met me, I was no different from them." He gestured vaguely toward the door. "Same sorry attitude, same huge chip on my shoulder, and all the rest." Jim reached out to clasp Blair by the upper arms, his light blue eyes worried as he gazed into Blair's. "I'm sorry, Sandburg. Sorry I treated you the way I did then, and sorry that my friends - hell, those bastards I thought were my friends - treated you the way they did tonight. You didn't deserve any of it."
Blair smiled at last. "S'okay, Jim. Not your fault, man."
Reaching out to tuck a stray strand of curly hair behind Blair's ear, Jim smiled gratefully. If there was one word which completely applied to Blair Sandburg, it was 'forgiving.' Jim only wished he didn't have to ask for that forgiveness quite so often. "Thanks, Chief. Hey, since we're all dressed up anyway, let's not waste the rest of the evening." He stood up, then extended his hand down to Sandburg. "Movie's on me, partner."
Their eyes held for a moment, then Blair clasped his friend's hand. Pulling against Ellison's offered strength, Blair rose to his feet. Turning toward the door, their arms slipped naturally around each other's waists in a loose, one-armed hug. "Good idea, partner. You might even talk me into one of those shoot'em ups you love so."
Jim grinned as he picked up his keys from the tray by the door. "I might make a cop out of you yet, Sandburg."
The sound of gentle laughter echoed from the halls as the door closed softly behind them.********************
Don't lay our love to rest,
'cause we could stand up to the test.
We got everything and more than we had planned.
More than the rivers that run inland.
We got it all in our hands.
"Damn it, Jim! Why the hell do you think everything's about you, man? This may come as a shock to you and that master ego of yours, but it's not, you know!" Blair Sandburg slammed the book he'd been reading down on the kitchen table. "I really think you'd be happier if I just left! That way, you could have your own way all the time, right?" Laughing bitterly, he moved toward the door. "Hell, maybe you'd have been better off if I had died in that fountain! I'd be out of the way for sure, right, man? Permanently!" Grabbing his coat, he slammed the door to the loft shut behind him.
Jim Ellison stood in shock. What had begun as a simple discussion of house rules had suddenly and inexplicably escalated into a major argument. Now, Sandburg was gone, leaving the haunting sound of his last bitter words ringing in Jim's sensitive ears.
Where the hell had that come from?
It had been two months since Blair's drowning in the fountain on Rainier's campus at the hands of Alex Barnes. After returning from Mexico, they had talked - at least to some extent - about everything that had transpired in the past few weeks to tear apart their friendship. The wounds had healed, or so Jim had thought. Now, he realized, maybe the deepest cuts of all remained as fresh as they had ever been, open and festering sores.
Well, enough was enough. Sandburg wasn't getting away with those words. Not ever with those words. You're not avoiding me that easily, Chief. I'm not losing you over this, not after all we've been through.
Roughly throwing open the loft door, Jim quickly followed Sandburg to the street below. Pulling on his coat as he ran down the stairs, Jim tracked his partner's heartbeat with his hearing. He wasn't far ahead. He heard the door to Blair's old car creak open.
"Sandburg!" Jim called, reaching desperately to grab the door handle. He threw it open, then climbed quickly into the passenger seat.
Blair glared at him. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Ellison? This is my car, and the last time I checked, I have the right to drive it any time I want to. Without you in it."
Jim ignored the harshness of his friend's voice. He couldn't afford to lose his temper. Not if he hoped to salvage this friendship, and not saving it was an option he couldn't bear to consider. Softly, he said, "Blair. What you said back there, it scared the hell out of me, kid. We have to talk about this."
Sandburg's laugh was harsh. "Talk? Impassive, stoic Jim Ellison thinks we need to talk? Why, man? Because I said you'd be better off without me? Because I said I should have died in that damned fountain?"
Before answering, Jim considered his words carefully as he stared out the dirty windshield. He was painfully aware that what he said next might well doom him to a life of loneliness, might drive Blair Sandburg from his life forever. Finally, he stopped listening to his head and spoke from his heart. "No, Chief, not because you said it. It scared me that you might actually believe it."
Blair's hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Slowly, he lowered his head, resting his forehead against his hands. His breathing was too fast, too strained.
Jim reached over and gently touched his partner's soft curls, resting his fingers briefly in the warmth of their wild tangle before letting his hand fall helplessly into his own lap. "Blair, what we have...it's everything to me, kiddo. I know I can be a total bastard sometimes, a selfish jerk, but I do not want to throw away our friendship."
Jim turned and stared out the side window. "You know, I've never been that scared in my life. Seeing you lying there, not breathing, so cold and so pale..." His breath caught in a near sob, and the tall cop fell silent, trying to rein in his emotions.
Sandburg shifted to look at his partner. "Jim... You've never talked to me about that day. I mean, about how you felt, what you saw. I figured you just wanted to forget it, act like it never happened." He hesitated before adding, "That is the patented Ellison response, you know."
Jim's voice was suddenly rough. "I realize we haven't talked enough about what happened that day. It's not that I don't think it's important, Chief. It's not that I think it doesn't matter anymore, that it's over. I know it's not over. Hell, it'll never be over, for either of us. It's just that..." Words failed him for a moment, then Jim added softly, in a near whisper, "It still hurts too damned much."
His friend heard him and closed his eyes tightly. "But I need to know, Jim. After all that went on - your kicking me out, telling me that you needed a partner you could trust, that joke about the rent, acting the way you did with Alex... I need to know that my dying mattered to you!"
Jim Ellison had to fight to breathe. His heart was pounding in his head, and for an instant, the world seemed to turn dark before his eyes. Did Sandburg not realize the hell he had gone through that day on the ground beside the fountain?
"Blair," he choked out at last. "My God, Chief, of course your dying mattered!" He wiped away the hot tears gathering in his eyes with the memories that suddenly came rushing back. "Do you really want to know how I felt that day? What I saw?" Suddenly, the dam burst, and all the feelings the sentinel had buried since that terrible day poured out. "Okay, Sandburg, I can do that!"
He turned to face his friend, then reached out to grip his shoulders, squeezing hard, so tightly that Blair winced in pain. The sentinel ignored him and kept his iron grip. Jim's blue eyes blazed with fiery emotion, and his voice was filled with the agony which suddenly seemed so fresh, so overwhelming once again.
"I was running up the steps of Hargrove Hall with Simon, looking for you. I was so damned desperate to find you, Chief. I knew Alex had come after you, that she wanted to hurt you. I've never been so frightened that I would be too late as I was as I ran up those steps. Something...our connection...our bond...my instincts...I don't know what...made me look back. At the fountain. It was as if I knew exactly where you'd be, almost as if I'd lived that moment before, and maybe I had. It was my worst nightmare come true. I saw you floating, Blair. Your jacket billowed out over your back. You were face down in the water, and my heart literally stopped beating. If I live to be a thousand, I'll never forget that moment. You've heard the phrase 'cold fear'? I knew the meaning of it that day."
Jim took a deep breath, pained to his very core to see the horror in his friend's eyes, but ignoring it. If this was what Sandburg needed to hear in order to heal, then Jim was going to relive every heart wrenching moment of that day.
Even if the reliving tore them both apart.
"I don't even remember getting to you, Chief. We pulled you out of the water. You were so cold. I remember thinking that your skin was blue, and that you must be cold. For an instant, all I wanted was to get you warm again, because you hate being cold. I didn't want you to be cold." Jim's voice broke, and he looked away. Blair's hands came up to grasp Jim's shoulders as he retained his grip on Blair's.
Jim took a deep shuddering breath, and once more, he met Blair's stunned eyes. "Simon and I started CPR. I tried to breathe for you, Blair. I can still feel how cold your lips were against mine." He brushed his fingertips lightly across his own lips for an instant, remembering, and his eyes had a distant, desperate look. " I had almost no control over my senses. You were gone, and already I was losing my control. My focus. Somehow, it didn't even matter. Bringing you back was the only thing I cared about at that moment. The only thing." Jim's eyes bored into Sandburg's, and his hands shook on his friend's shoulders.
"I could feel every single degree your body lost as it cooled. I could taste everything you'd eaten that day, and your toothpaste, and I could hear..." Jim's voice broke. "Nothing, Chief; I could hear absolutely nothing. No heartbeat. No breathing. Just that terrible silence."
"But, you know what the worst thing was? You were so damned still." Jim's small laugh was hollow. "You're never still, Chief, so that really got to me. It broke my heart to see you that still. I wanted to shake you, and I did shout at you. I tried to order you not to go, to make you come back to me. All the while, Simon tried to tell me you were dead. Henri told me to let you go." Jim's voice rose, and his desperate eyes would not release Sandburg's, even as the tears flowed unchecked down his cheeks.
"But I couldn't! I knew you were in there, and I could not let you go! Not without me. I knew if I did, if you died, that you would take my heart and my soul with you, and I would be as good as dead, too." Jim leaned forward until their foreheads touched, and his tears dropped onto Blair's face, to mingle there with his guide's own. "You wanted to know what I felt...what I saw. I saw my life ending, Chief. I saw myself dying with you, and I welcomed it! I felt my soul being ripped from my body, yet all I wanted to do was be with you."
"It's okay, Jim," Blair whispered, pulling Jim forward into a tight embrace. "It's okay. Shhhh..."
After several silent minutes had passed and their breathing had slowed once more to normal, he pulled back enough to gaze into Jim's eyes. Holding out his hands, palms up, Blair smiled, his eyes still brimming with tears. "We've got it all right here, man. Everything's right here in our hands. Let's not blow it again, Jim. Okay? Please?"
Ellison nodded, then pulled Blair forward. He rested his chin against his friend's shoulder and whispered, "You got it, Chief. Never again."
For a long time, sentinel and guide held each other in the silence of the night. At last, the tears stopped, and the freshly reopened wounds began their final mend.
Healing can come in many guises and in many places, most unexpectedly. It can even come in a cramped little car parked under the dull glow of a streetlamp in the city of Cascade.
Now it's all for one and all for love.
Let the one you hold be the one you want...
The one you need...
Cause when it's all for one, it's one for all.
When there's someone that you know,
then just let your feelings show.
When there's someone that you want...
When there's someone that you need...
Let's make it all for one,
and all for love.
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