Notes: Takes place sometime in the future on one of those "zero" birthdays which lead most of us to take stock of our lives.
Dedicated to all my SA listsibs who remembered my recent "forty something" birthday in such special ways. Thank you all for your friendship and dedication to writing some of the best TSFF on the web.
This one is short and not beta read. Smarm and angst abound.
Forty Years of Dreams
It was his birthday.
Four decades old today.
Difficult to comprehend, but true. Definitely middle aged, Ellison. Never thought you'd see this day, did you? Just goes to show, life's full of surprises, and they sneak up on you when you least expect them.
The uncomfortable realization that he had achieved middle age had occurred to him immediately upon awakening in the exact spot where he had fallen asleep, curled up in a chair after he had arrived home from work. Glancing at his watch, he was startled to see it was after five. Sandburg would be home at any time.
Jim stood and stretched slowly, feeling each pop and crack of his cramped bones and muscles. Definitely getting too old to sleep for any length of time crunched up in a chair. He smiled at the irony of an ex-Army Ranger feeling such aches and pains from a mere nap in an uncomfortable chair. Times do change.
Jim stirred up the dying fire, mostly embers now, and added another log to chase the chill from the evening air. Then he crossed to the thermostat, kicking it up a notch or two. Don't need Sandburg catching cold.
The kinks now worked out of his body, he jogged up the steps to undress and slip into his old gray robe, wrapping it around his naked body like a comforting blanket of familiar security. Then, Jim returned downstairs to shower and shave before his partner returned home.
When he'd left the station, Blair had been finishing a few reports. Fighting the onset of a headache, Jim had left early, on direct orders from Simon Banks.
No one should come down with a migraine on their birthday, Jim. Go home.
Always the good soldier and cop, he obeyed, leaving his young friend to work his Sandburg magic on the few folders remaining on his desk...
At least, the headache was gone.
Leaning over the sink, Jim rinsed his face in the hot water, letting his skin soften under the soothing heat, then began to lather up. Suddenly, he froze, staring at his reflection in the mirror, its edges already touched with steam. Tentatively reaching up, he traced the planes of his own face. Already, some of the lines he'd seen on his father's face were making their first appearances on that of the son. He touched the crinkles at the corners of his eyes. No doubt about it; he was getting older. Of course, he'd known that, but he'd never really thought about it.
Before he turned forty.
Jim finished shaving, then slipped off his robe and stepped into the shower. As the hot water beat down on his skin, he reflected on his life. By the time he turned forty, he'd always figured he'd be married, maybe a couple of kids with a house in the suburbs. These weren't plans he had purposefully made, but wasn't that what everyone did? What you were expected to do?
Instead, where was he? He began lathering his body with the unscented soap and considered the question.
He had the loft, a place that never failed to relax him, body and soul, the moment he entered its spacious, soothing presence. The suburbs he could definitely do without. So, the home part had turned out okay.
No kids, but that desire had never burned at him the way he imagined it must with others. No great regrets there.
Marriage? He'd tried that once, and failed miserably. Not that he would be opposed to giving it another chance, if the right woman came along. Jim grinned, his eyes closed, water and shampoo running down his face. What kind of woman would tolerate, much less truly understand, the kind of life he led?
Better not hold your breath in the marriage department, Jim, my man. Maybe you're just not the marrying kind. Worked for John Wayne in all those movies, right? We tall, silent types have to cultivate our loner images.
The water ran in rivulets over his broad shoulders and down his bare, muscular back, washing the soap from his body while his thoughts whirled like a waterspout. He'd failed to accomplish the things he thought he would by the time he hit forty, the milestone which he had passed this very day.
So, if that many of his life goals, haphazardly set though they might have been, had gone unrealized, why was he so content? How on earth could he be happier than he'd ever been in his entire life? Realizing the length of time which had passed while he'd stood, contemplating his life, under the shower, Jim cut off the flow of water, grinning at the thought that Sandburg would be fortunate to get five minutes of hot water tonight.
He stepped out from behind the shower curtain, toweling himself dry. Jim towel dried his short hair, dressed quickly in khakis and a soft denim shirt, then combed his hair into place.
A few minutes later, he stood on the balcony, gazing out over the city. As evening shadows began to fall, the question nagged at him once more. Why exactly was he so content with his life when it certainly was not the well-ordered, traditional existence he had always expected? Jim smiled softly at the answer which resonated so clearly in his heart.
Maybe it wasn't the life he had somehow though he would find, but it was the life he was meant to have. He'd found his place, his role, in life. That other life -- the anticipated life -- had been merely an illusion. A mirage which was no longer needed to sustain him, for he had unveiled the reality of his life.
At 40, he knew the truth.
Jim Ellison had found his place, his role, in life. He was the Sentinel of the Great City. His work was important and rewarding. He'd learned to control and to apply his unique gifts so that they benefited others and brought him satisfaction. He made a difference in the world. While he didn't have the wife and kids he knew society expected, he didn't suffer from a lack of family. There was Simon and his son, Daryl, both closer than any family he'd had for a long, long time. The guys at Major Crimes weren't merely coworkers; they made up a large, extended family that never failed to lend its collective shoulder whenever a member needed some support.
And...there was Blair. His partner. Ice blue eyes softened with affection, and a soft smile touched his lips.
His partner. That was true in so many ways. They shared so much, the two of them, to have started out so different from each other, so diametrically opposed. Shared laughter. Shared tears. Shared hopes and dreams. Shared disappointments and regrets.
Partners. Yes, but more now. So much more. Friends. Brothers. Knitted souls.
He heard the sound of Blair's car long before it appeared below, and he tracked it through the sounds of the city until it pulled to a creaking stop in front of their building. Jim watched his friend with a fond smile as he emerged from the battered old car, his hands laden with birthday surprises. A white box, obviously from the bakery. A whiff of chocolate made Jim's mouth water in anticipation. Was that vanilla frosting? A sack from the grocery store, no doubt containing ice cream. His backpack slung from his shoulders as always, just as much a part of Blair as his arms and legs and trademark hair.
Jim followed his steps as Blair made his way to the elevator, then to the door of the loft. There were the expected sounds of the freezer door opening, objects being placed on the kitchen counter, and the ever-present backpack hitting the floor of his room. Then, the door to the balcony opened, and Blair was at his side.
Right on schedule.
"Hey, man," he said quietly. "Everything okay? Headache better?"
Jim nodded, his eyes still fastened on the colors of the sunset painting the distant horizon. Why had he never noticed that particular hue of red before? "All gone. Thanks."
The two men stood for a long time in companionable silence before Blair gently bumped his shoulder against Jim's arm. "Forty, big guy. That's a pretty big milestone."
"Yeah. It is." Jim's eyes remained focused on the horizon beyond, watching the seabirds dip and glide over the bay far in the distance.
Hesitantly, Blair said softly, "Jim, I know this is kinda personal, so I understand if you don't want to answer, but..." He traced an invisible pattern on the dusty railing with his fingertip.
"Go ahead, Chief. Ask." A tiny smiled tugged at the corners of Jim's lips.
Beside him, the younger man took a deep breath, then turned resolutely to look up at his friend. "Do you...? I mean, is your life what you wanted it to be at forty? I know neither of our lives have turned out exactly according to whatever roadmaps we might have had in our heads, but...? Is yours okay?" After the rush of words, he fell silent and turned to contemplate to lights blinking on like tiny candles throughout Cascade.
Long minutes passed before Jim answered. "How'd you know I'd been thinking about that question all afternoon?"
Blair looked up at him with a grin. "It's one of those milestone birthday traditions, man. Taking stock. Reevaluating your life." Then his smile faltered. "But, like I said, if it's too personal..."
Jim shook his head. "It's okay, Chief. No secrets, remember? Not anymore." He leaned down on the railing, his arms crossed, a contemplative look on his face. "Nothing there I mind telling you anyway. Where did I see myself at forty? I wanted a home, good friends, a job I enjoyed. I hoped to find someone I wanted to spend my life with, someone I loved and who loved me back. Someone who wouldn't leave me." He sighed softly. "That's about it, Chief. Pretty simple stuff, I guess. But, then, I'm a simple man."
Blair's huff of laughter surprised him, and he turned to look at his friend.
"What's so funny about that?"
"You? Simple? C'mon, man, sorry to burst the distorted bubble that is your self image, but I just cannot let that one ride. You're a lot of things, my brother, but simple, you ain't."
Laughing blue eyes gazed up at him, and Jim stood silently for a moment, then broke into a wide smile and patted Sandburg's cheeks lightly. "Maybe you're right there, Chief. Maybe I'm not as simple as I like to think I am."
"You got that right," Sandburg teased. "But, hey, back to those goals for forty. How do you feel about them now that you're there? I mean, you haven't exactly reached them all."
Jim chuckled softly as he regarded his friend, his blue eyes bright with affection. "And just where do you see that I've fallen short, Chief?"
Blair ticked off his responses on his fingers. "Home, you've got. Check off, too, friends and a challenging job. But, I don't see you married, buddy. Unless you've got some big secret you're hiding, and if that's true, you're doing an outstanding job of it."
The Sentinel turned back to gaze out over his city. His voice was as soft as the breeze drifting over them from the sea far in the distance. "I realized today that I have reached that goal. What I wanted, I've got."
Blair stared up at him, his mind searching back over Jim's words, delving in his memory for the key to unlock that last cryptic statement. I hoped to find someone I wanted to spend my life with, someone I loved and who loved me back. Someone who wouldn't leave me.
It took a few moments for the meaning to sink in. Then, Jim felt his friend's arms wrap around him hesitantly, and he immediately turned to complete the embrace. Blair melted forward against him, his head snuggled up against Jim's chest, arms tight around his back.
"Thanks, Jim," he whispered.
Resting his chin atop the soft curls, Jim Ellison smiled. "You're welcome, Chief. Nothing but the truth."
And the truth shall set you free.
Forty. It wasn't really so bad. Not when you realized you had everything in life you ever really needed. Not so bad at all. He turned his cheek to rest against the top of Blair's head and closed his eyes, his thoughts drifting aimlessly, the cool breeze caressing his sensitive skin.
Unwilling to break the relaxed, contented mood which enveloped him, Jim murmured lazily, "Mmmm?"
"Happy birthday," Blair whispered.
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