About The Tattoo
Epilogue to Cypher
For PatK, in response to your wish to know
why Jim so vehemently opposed the idea of a tattoo
With thanks for your generosity to Moonridge
Laughing, Blair slapped Jim's back as the elevator doors closed. Pulling on his ear, he again quipped, "Yeah, maybe a tasteful little badge," and broke into renewed giggles.
But his amusement faltered when he glanced at his friend and realized that Jim was doing his impression of a frozen and exceptionally disapproving rock. Well, frozen except for the little muscle that throbbed along his rigid jaw. And the warmth conveyed by that flush of anger on his cheeks.
"Ah, c'mon, man," Blair cajoled, "lighten up! I thought you were kidding about kicking my butt down six flights of stairs."
Jim continued to stare straight ahead, the flexing of that throbbing muscle the only sign that he was even conscious, let alone listening.
Blair snorted, but was still grinning when he asked, "What? You got something against tattoos? Give me a clue here, Jim. I mean, it's funny, man - the idea of a Cascade PD badge -"
"It's not funny, and I'm not laughing," Jim grated, and his fists clenched. "Give it a rest, Sandburg."
"Oh, hey, I'm just saying -"
"You weren't speaking Urdu and I understood you just fine the first time."
"Urdu?" Blair gaped, belatedly realizing that he had lost track of the conversation somewhere about the time they got into the elevator.
"Urdu, Swahili, whatever," Jim snapped. He turned glacial eyes on Blair and snarled, "It's probably the most asinine idea you've ever come up with, and that's saying something. I don't want to hear anything more about it, you hear me?"
Blair gaped at the raw vehemence that was coming at him in waves. The elevator doors opened and Jim strode out. The doors were beginning to close again before Blair jerked and pushed his way out, calling, "Jim! Hey, Jim! Wait up!" He broke into a jog, slammed through the heavy door to the underground garage and caught up with Ellison about halfway across the cavernous space. "Jim! What the hell is wrong with you?"
Jim gave a short stiff shake of his head and kept on marching to the truck. When he got there, he turned to look at Blair with a hard, flat expression. "Wrong with me? I'm not the one acting like an idiot here, Sandburg. Get in the truck."
Feeling completely at sea, Blair got in and snapped on his seat belt. "I really don't know what bug has crawled up your ass, Jim. I was just kidding around," he groused. When his angry friend didn't say anything, just wheeled out of the parking spot and peeled out of the garage, Blair grabbed the doorframe and yelped. Giving Jim a wide-eyed look, he demanded, "Okay, that's it! What's going on with you? I was just joking, man. Geez, would you slow down!"
Continuing to ignore him, Jim swung sharply onto the street and gunned the engine.
"Yikes!" Blair yelled and ducked reflexively as Jim roared around a car that was going too slow for his taste, and then had to pull in sharply to avoid smacking head-on into a delivery truck coming at them. "Dammit, Jim! You're going to get us killed!"
Jim didn't answer and his white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel didn't ease up, but he did slow from the death-defying pace more suited to demolition derby than a ride through downtown. Blair found his more usual impatient aggressiveness, though still breath-taking, was a definite improvement.
Gasping for breath, Blair slumped against the seat and pressed a hand to his thumping heart. "You are seriously nuts, you know that?" he bitched, but weakly, as he eyed Jim with wary concern. Something was definitely not right here. The euphoric haze that had buoyed him through the long night before and into the morning and his giddy good humor at being alive faded into irritation with Jim's snarky attitude, and then edged close to anger.
"Who the hell are you anyway, to tell me what I can or cannot do with my own body?" he growled. Crossing his arms, he stared out the window, though he watched Jim from the corner of his eye. His friend didn't respond but the muscle jumped in the lean, taut jaw. Okay, so he was listening. What had gotten him so royally pissed off?
The rest of the drive home passed in surly silence.
When Jim pulled up and parked, Blair tried again to find out why Jim had such an apparent aversion to the idea of a tattoo. "You know," he ventured, "I'd think, being in the military and part of a paramilitary organization, the idea of a tattoo would be fairly commonplace. I mean, come on - why the dramatics, man? I think a reminder of what happened -"
Jim wheeled to face him, his expression livid. "What goes on in that clown show you call a brain? Huh? The idea of mutilating your body for the sake of carrying a permanent reminder of what happened for the rest of your life is the stupidest, most perverted thing I've ever heard and there's no way I ever want to see such a mockery on your body. Do you hear me? As long as you're living under my roof, no tattoo. Are we clear, here? Can we just drop it? 'Cause I've really had enough of the bullshit, Sandburg." With that, he shouldered out of the truck, slammed the door shut and strode in high dungeon into the building.
Flabbergasted by the fury that seemed totally beyond the realm of rationality, Blair blinked, and then realized he was still sitting in the truck. Determined to get to the bottom of it all, he jumped out and ran into the building. Finding the elevator open, he slid in and hit the button for the third floor, emerging just as Jim was coming out of the stairwell and storming down the hall. Blair fell in behind, demanding, "Are you serious? You'd kick me out if I got a tattoo? And what do you mean, 'stupidest, most perverted thing' you've ever heard? People get tattoos all the time, man. It's no big deal."
Jim unlocked and shoved open the busted door and marched inside, his spine and shoulders rigid. "It is to me," he snapped over his shoulder as Blair followed him and closed the door.
"Yeah, I kinda got that," Blair retorted sarcastically, and then heaved a sigh. "Would you just tell me why the idea makes you so nuts?"
"You're not going to leave this alone, are you, Sandburg?" Jim demanded, his tone icy and deadly low.
Ignoring the intimidation, not in the least impressed by it, Blair shook his head stubbornly. "No, I'm not. I make a joke about having a reminder of last night and you rip me a new one. Your reaction is way over the top, man, and I want to know why. Did some tattoo artist terrorize you when you were a kid, or what? And what the hell difference does it make to you what I do with my body?"
Jim stared at him and then turned away. He went to the fridge and yanked out a beer. Unscrewing the cap, he took a deep swallow and set the bottle on the island counter. "Because I might see it when you're running around half naked between the shower and your room. I might I might see it. And it would be it would make me sick, to remember last night. Okay? You satisfied now?" He picked up the bottle and took another long swallow before he stalked to the balcony and stared out toward the harbor.
"Jim, I'm sorry, man, but I really don't get what bothers you so much about last night," Blair replied as he put the kettle on to make a mug of tea. "I thought well, I thought it was pretty damned amazing."
Turning slowly, Jim looked across the room at him, stunned disbelief on his face. "How can you say that? Amazing? You thought it was amazing to damn near be murdered by that psycho? You you can't understand why seeing a reminder of what happened would bother me?" He shook his head and waved his arm in agitation. "Why the hell would I want to see something that reminded me every damned time I looked at it, how badly I screwed up? Huh? How often I let that creep slip through my fingers. How I I was too stupid to realize he'd targeted you, and didn't do a damn thing to put you under protection. How I let him get to you, right here in our own home! And - and how close it was. How fucking close I came to you came to it was a matter of minutes, Chief. If I hadn't found that piece of down. If I hadn't put that together with the waste in the other victim's stomachs. If we hadn't found the duck pond. If I'd gotten there a few minutes later. So damned many ifs and any one of them - any one of them - could have ended up with you dead. Tell me, Sandburg. You go ahead and tell me why I should want to have a symbol of that stained into your body as a lifetime reminder that my failures, my mistakes, my stupidity damned near got you killed. Huh? You tell me that. Blessed Protector!" he spat and turned away. "More like total fuck-up." Again, he shook his head, but this time without any belligerence. This time, he just seemed very tired and beaten, somehow. "Maybe you want a reminder of all that, but I sure as hell don't."
Blair's lips parted in amazement and he felt sorrow well inside. He had had no idea, none, of what Jim had been thinking, feeling. He unplugged the kettle and walked over to join his friend by the windows. Laying his hand flat against Jim's back, he held it there despite Jim's flinch at his touch. "I'm sorry, Jim. I I didn't know what last night meant to you. How you saw things."
Jim grunted and sipped on the beer. "How else is there to see it, Chief? You damned near died and it was all my fault."
"Well, you could try seeing it, remembering it, the way I do," Blair said softly. "Lash fooled all of us, Jim. Not just you. He played us all. And none of us twigged that he'd targeted me. Okay, maybe we should have - we, Jim: you, me, and Simon, not just you. But we didn't. And I don't know about all those 'ifs' you talked about, but it sounds to me like like you pulled out all the stops and you found the clue nobody else could have and you put it all together so fast that, that you got there in time. You did that, Jim. Nobody else. You. As for me? Hell, it wasn't until I saw his reflection after coming out of the theatre last evening that I even felt a shiver of apprehension - but I wasn't sure what I'd seen, or if it was just a trick of the light, you know? But still I could have - probably should have - gone to the station, instead of coming back here. I, well, I thought you'd be here but it wasn't like we'd made any plans for the evening. There was no reason you should have been here."
Blair paused and swallowed as he remembered the brief, violent battle and he looked around at the damage, the evidence of his inability to defend himself. "It's not your fault that I couldn't hold him off, Jim. That I wasn't strong enough, or skilled enough. Not your fault."
Jim didn't say anything and kept his face averted.
"When I was in that warehouse, chained in the chair, helpless - I was sure I was going to die," Blair went on, his voice low and tight as he did his best not to succumb to the horror of the memories. "Nobody knew where I was and I didn't think there was any way that well, I knew it was hopeless and I just kept thinking how bad it was going to be for you, to find me like the others, you know? I was so, so furious, that he'd played me and that I was powerless and couldn't stop him. I didn't want to die and I sure didn't want to die like that."
Jim swallowed convulsively and bowed his head. Blair heard his shaky, shuddering inhalation and felt the muscles in his friend's back tighten in resistance to hearing about it all. "But that's not what I remember most about last night, Jim. And that's not what my joke about the tattoo or the spiffy little earring was about. Didn't you hear me? I said I wanted the badge of the Cascade PD as a memento. And you know why? You know what I remember? When I was helpless and he was pouring that shit down my throat and I knew I was going to be dead in I remember you charging in. You. I I remember you."
Blair's voice caught and he had to clear his throat. "It was like a miracle, you know? I mean, there was just no way you could have found me, no clues. And yet there you were. You ordered him away from me and you fought him and, and he could have killed you but you risked that - to save my life. I heard the shots, and I was so scared, man, so scared that - that he'd hurt you. And then you walked through that door a second time. I was pretty far gone by then, but I remember that. I remember you walking over to me and cupping my face. And and then you glanced around for the key to the chains but you didn't spend a lot of time looking. It was like you knew that I had to get out of that horror chamber or I'd go crazy."
Blair swallowed and slowly rubbed Jim's back. "You picked me up, chains and all, and you carried me out of there in your arms. Like like I was a little kid and you'd saved me and you were taking me away from the danger and bringing me home. I I've never felt so safe in my life, Jim. You were so gentle, man. You kept talking to me, telling me it was going to be okay, that I was fine, that Lash wouldn't ever hurt me again." He shook his head slowly at the memory, a faint smile of amazement on his face. "You took care of me and, and you brought me home."
For a moment, there was just silence between them. "That's what I remember, Jim. What I found so amazing, so miraculous. And that's what I will remember for the rest of my life. You. Against all the odds, you finding me. You saving my life. You you taking care of me. And, and that's why I thought a memento, even something as permanent as a tattoo, would be something I'd treasure. Because every time I looked at it, it would remind me of you. And of how grateful I am to you and always will be."
Jim sniffed and swiped at his nose. He took a breath, sipped at his beer. And then he nodded to himself. Lifting his arm, he draped it around Blair's shoulders and drew him in close to his side. When he looked down at Blair, his expression was clear, the lines of anger and strain gone, and a wisp of a smile curved the corner of his mouth. "Okay," he said, his tone dry. "I guess if you've got your heart set on a tattoo, I could live with it."
Blair snorted and then started to snicker. "Oh, right. Now that it symbolizes the great Jim Ellison, hero extraordinaire and man's best friend, I can have a tattoo if I want one."
Jim looked like he was giving that due thought. "Yeah," he replied, his smile widening, "that works for me."
Laughing, Blair slapped his back. But he shook his head. "Nah, nah, I was just kidding around. I could never sit still to have all those needles jabbed into me." He gave a dramatic shudder. "I was just pulling your chain." Stepping out of Jim's embrace, he sidled away. "And," he went on as he headed back to the kitchen, "I don't need anything to remind me. Cause I won't ever forget, you know? So long as I live, I won't forget you appearing like magic to save my ass."
He plugged the kettle back in and reached into the cupboard for one of his canisters of tea. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that Jim had turned around and was watching him. "But, you know," he said with a grin, "a tasteful earring really might be nice."
Jim laughed and moved into the living room, where he sat down and studied his broken television set.
Blair grimaced and turned away, feeling badly about the damage that had been done. Sighing, he made his tea and carried the mug into the living room. Sitting down, he raked his hair back and said, "I'm really sorry about all the stuff that got trashed, man."
But Jim just shrugged and shook his head. "Don't worry about it," he said. "It's just stuff."
"Stuff? This from the man with a thousand and one rules to safeguard the sanctity and security of his home and possessions?"
"Yeah," Jim replied as he finished off the beer and stood to take the empty to the kitchen. "Just stuff." On the way, he paused behind the sofa and gripped Blair's shoulder. "Didn't lose anything that can't be replaced, Chief. Got back all that really mattered."
Blair felt a curl of warmth spread in his chest, and he smiled. "Guess it's all in your perspective, huh?"
Jim ruffled his hair and Blair ducked out of reach, laughing, and the warmth grew into the euphoria he'd felt when Jim had carried him out of Lash's lair.
Behind him, Jim began puttering in the kitchen, making their lunch. "Yeah, I guess it is," he agreed. He glanced back over his shoulder and smiled. "I guess it is."
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