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Disclaimer: Not mine.  No money.  Don't sue.  They're still Pet Fly's, but thankfully they no longer have anything to do with up of n.  I'm just borrowing them for a brief time.  The story however, is all mine.

 

Archive: yes please.  GL and CT.  Ronnee’ll send an official announcement when she gets it posted.

 

 

Thanks to:

 

Becky–for reminding me Carolyn is a good guy and should get to come out and play more often. Not to mention the fact that there are unresolved issues there that are kind of fun to explore.  No she doesn’t make an actual appearance, but there is some definite communicating going on here.

 

Ronnee–for offering to loan and then graciously letting me borrow AJ for a moment.  Or at least the idea of her; she doesn’t make an actual appearance.  And for helping me figure out how to get Blair out of the house.

 

All the writers and readers who believe that OFC, heck OC, are a good thing.

 

Claire, Wnne, Ronnee, Angie, TAE, Cindy, Rona, and countless others–for being supportive and telling me to ‘go for it’ when I asked if this was a good idea.  And then encouraging me to finish when I had second thoughts.

 

A big thanks to my betas Claire, Ronnee, and Wnnepooh.  Thanks ladies, your input made this a better story.  Any mistakes that remain are mine and mine alone.  What can I say, I can be rather stubborn about some things....  Okay, just about everything.... <g

 

Warnings:

 

Slight references to Cypher (sort of.  Is there anyone who doesn’t know about the Blessed Protector thing by now?), The Debt, Sentinel Too, parts 1 and 2, a previous story of mine that hasn’t been finished yet entitled Out of Darkness into Light (I’ll get there eventually, but it keeps getting pushed to the back burner so be patient with me.  Encouragement helps though... <grin>). There are slight references to Blair being a cop, but nothing overt.

 

This is one of three stories.  All told in first person from different points of view.  While each stands on its own, they do build upon one and other.  Together they form a triptych of sorts, but in an act of defiance (me defiant?  No way!) I wanted them all to be separate.  Individual snapshots that stand on their own, but mean more when displayed together.  This said, I recommend you read all three of them.

 

And the biggest warning/ disclaimer of all....  There’s an OFC here.  You are forewarned.  She only makes a peripheral appearance in this piece, but one of the points of view is hers. 

Feedback, both positive and constructive, welcome.  Flames will be shared with numerous people for our edification and enjoyment before being used to light a large bonfire on the Asylum lawn.

 

 

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If Only, Longing: Blair

 

by

 

Toni Rae

 

The soft sound of cloth moving against leather pierces my consciousness, breaking my concentration on the small screen in front of me.  Looking up from the suddenly meaningless words on the screen of my laptop I visually search the loft to find the reason for my abrupt loss of focus.

 

My eyes come to rest on the back of the couch as I hear the noise again.  This time I identify the sound.  Jim moving slightly as he tries to find a comfortable position on the couch.  This in itself is not unusual.  The noise that follows his movements the second time, however, is – or at least it used to be.  Now it’s becoming routine.  I sit in the kitchen working while Jim sits on the couch and watches TV, napping more often than not, as the evening comes to a close. 

 

These things have not changed.  I still sit in the kitchen and work.  Jim still watches TV.  What’s different is the soft sounds coming from the woman in his arms as he shifts positions.  Slight mews of contentment, love, and sometimes fear.  Strange that fear would find a place among the other more romantic emotions.  Yet I see it in her face when she’s not aware I’m watching, she’s not quite ready to trust.  But she’s learning.

 

Actually, the woman herself is unusual.  Not to mention her continued presence in the loft and in our lives.  I say ‘our’ because few people can tell where Jim ends and I begin.  They used to be able to, when we first became friends.  Then slowly I worked my way into his life.  People began to wonder when I wasn’t at his side. 

 

But this thing between them.  There’s no place for me.  Oh sure we’re all friends, but for them it’s something more. 

 

I accept her presence in his life.  I accept that there are still things in our lives we won’t share.  It used to be the University, now it’s something else. 

 

Nothing changed between us.  The bond we share remains strong.  We are still brothers in everything but name.

 

Left out.  The words arrive unbidden.  The internal verbalization of my undefined emotions.

 

I know she loves him.  It’s evident on her face, too.  As are the mirroring emotions on Jim’s. He’s afraid too.  But he loves her and despite all the hurt and pain in his past is willing to gamble with his heart another time. 

 

I wish that I had half the courage of that man. 

 

I hear the comforting murmurs Jim uses to soothe her back to sleep. 

 

A sudden ache pierces my heart.  The love between these two people fills the loft, making me wish for something, an indefinable essence, just out of my reach. 

 

It’s just not fair.

 

They aren’t even sleeping together, at least not in the biblical sense.  Though the way the two of them interact with each other you’d think otherwise – the longing glances, heated gazes, and not so subtle excuses to touch each other constantly.  Yep, the average bear would definitely look at me strangely if I said they were only casually dating. 

 

In some ways this might all be easier to take if it were a purely sexual relationship.  But just my luck, my best friend has finally found the woman of his dreams.  The other half of his heart.

 

It’s just not fair.

 

I have always wanted to be loved like that — with an all-consuming fire.  Maya came close, but watching the two of them together I realize what I felt for her was kid’s stuff.  With time it might have grown into something more, but looking back I don’t think she and I were meant to be.  But then, had things worked out differently I might not feel this way. 

 

‘No use dwelling on it, sweetie.’  I hear Naomi’s voice in my head.  ‘These things happen for a reason.’

 

‘There might be a reason, but it didn’t make things any easier at the time.’  I respond to the mother voice in my head. 

 

And it isn’t making things any easier now.

 

I’m happy for Jim.  Don’t get me wrong.  With everything he’s been through he deserves a little happiness for a change.  And her?  Oh, man.  I have never met anyone so deserving of my partner’s love. 

 

And that’s after I ran her through the database.  What can I say, with our track record it was sort of a necessity.  Not that I had many doubts mind you.  No one can survive the things she has without revealing their true nature.  The events of the last few years might have killed a lesser person.  They almost did – or rather her idiot ex-boyfriend almost did. 

 

I sigh as I send a silent prayer Heavenwards – thanking whatever deity looks after headstrong female scientists willing to get involved with headstrong Sentinels and Guides.  Not to mention the one that looks after those same headstrong Sentinels and Guides.  Hey, I’m an equal opportunity pray-er.  Lord knows we need all the help we can get. 

 

Though I have to admit this time it wasn’t our fault.  She almost died the first time, before we ever met her.  I shudder as the words from the Police report come unbidden to mind.  “Beaten unconscious.  Raped repeatedly.  Left for dead in the science lab.  Found Monday morning by a student.”

 

And that was only the first time.  Thankfully we managed to avoid a repeat performance last fall when he followed her to Cascade to finish the job.

 

Yeah.  She deserves someone like Jim.  Blessed Protectors are nice to have around.

 

Suddenly I hear him move again.  I see his head rise above the couch and finally the rest of his body as he gracefully stands.  Sometimes that man is his spirit guide embodied.  Though he is facing me, all his attention is focused on the woman in front of him. 

 

As I watch, he leans over to kiss her.  I can’t see him as he gently places his lips against hers because the couch is in the way, but his movements have become familiar.  The small kiss of reassurance taken care of, he makes sure the quilts are wrapped tightly around her body so she doesn’t catch a chill without the warmth of his body next to her. 

 

Am I jealous?  Yes.  No let me rephrase that Hell yes.  Because I want to trade places with one of them?  Again, Hell no.  Because they have found each other amidst the great debris that clutters the sea of life?  Oh yeah.

 

“Hey.  You okay?”

 

I hear his voice behind me, a slight whisper of sound so not to disturb the sleeping woman on the couch.  I feel his hand come to rest on my shoulder, though I didn’t even notice him moving towards the kitchen.  

 

Turning slightly, I face him.  One look at the slightly raised eyebrow of the man behind me and I am lost.  My ready response dies on my lips.  I cannot lie to him.  He who knows me almost better than I know myself.

 

“I envy you man.”  I indicate the sleeping woman on the couch with a flick of my wrist, my own voice barely above a whisper, but loud enough for Sentinel ears.

 

The comforting warmth on my shoulder leaves then and I am suddenly bereft.  Then Jim moves to sit next to me, his hand coming to rest on my forearm — my wrists now resting lightly on the keyboard.

 

He makes no sounds, waiting for me to complete — verbalize — my thoughts.  I almost prefer his silence to half-hearted words of reassurance.  That’s not strictly fair.  His words would be filled with meaning — heck the man can even offer noodles with care and concern.  It is I who would accept them with less spirit than they were intended.  All that aside, there is really no good response to ‘I envy you.’

 

I look back over to the amazing woman on the couch – even though I can’t see her.  She’s good for Jim.  She gives him a different balance, completes him in ways I never could.  Not that I want to, mind you.  He and I fit together in so many ways — Sentinel/ Shaman, Watchman/ Guide, friend, brother, family.

 

But like him, I too need something else, someone else.  That one small piece to finish the puzzle that is my soul.

 

“She finished the puzzle.”  I finally continue, needing to vocalize my thoughts for some absurd reason.  Or maybe it is my thoughts that are absurd.  I begin to wonder as I turn back towards Jim and notice the look of puzzlement on his face.

 

“She’s the last piece of your soul.”

 

He smiles at that, a speculative gleam in his eyes.  I wonder if he has figured this out already or if this is a new revelation.

 

“Yeah.”  A look of utter contentment manifests itself on his face.  “But if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have a soul to complete.”

 

He looks surprised at the easy and hushed admission.

 

“You saved my sanity, and my life, more than once.  You breezed into my life and opened the box where I kept my heart and soul.  Then you started putting the pieces together like you knew what the picture was supposed to look like.”

 

He continues with the puzzle analogy to my slight amusement.  Who knew the great Detective Ellison even knew what a jigsaw puzzle looked like.  Even though he put the pieces of my soul together and is the glue that holds it together.

 

“I could say the same thing to you.  Before all this I never even knew what I was missing.  You gave me a home, made me part of your family.  Thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome.  But you’re my family and together we made this a home.  Before you moved in, this was merely the place I ate and slept.” 

 

We are both silent, contemplating the turn our lives have taken.  Knowing that our paths were meant to cross and we were meant to be here at this time.

 

“I just want what you have.”  I finally break the not uncomfortable silence, returning to the original question.

 

“Chief...”

 

I hold up my hand to halt the words I can see forming in his eyes.

 

“I know.  It’s just seeing the two of you like that, it kind of hit me all of a sudden.  Holiday blues I guess.”

 

“Sandburg, it’s May.”

 

“So?  I never do things at the logical time.  You should know that by now.”

 

The penetrating gaze of the man beside me announced more clearly than words that he didn’t buy the obfuscation. 

 

We had been dancing around the subject for weeks.  This time he intended to find out what was wrong.  I could see the certainty of my deduction in his eyes.  His next words further confirmed it.

 

“You’ve been moping around here for weeks.  It’s not like you.  Whatever’s going on, we’ll work through it, but you have to talk to me.”

 

Strange that after four years Jim should assume the role of new age sensitive while I revert to the childish habit of repressing feelings.  Four years ago I never would have expected to hear those words coming out of Jim’s mouth.  He had refined repression into an art form, of which he was the master.  People keep telling us that we rub off on one another.  Guess this is just another example of that.  Jim wants to talk about things; while I just want to suppress them. 

 

Maybe Kathleen has something to do with this newfound desire to talk, too?  If he practices on me, he will do better with her.  That way she won’t leave like Carolyn did.  That’s not fair. Potentially honest, but not fair.  There were things at work between he and Carolyn that no one will ever be able to discern, no matter how many probing questions they ask.  I know, I asked. And on the subject of the breakup, both are still mum.  He should call her.  Make sure there aren’t any unresolved issues hanging over their heads.  That way he can start fresh with Kathleen.  Wonder how well he’d take that suggestion?  Not.

 

Though my thoughts wandered, I know instinctively the penetrating ice-blue gaze never left my face.  He allowed me time to process, but obviously we’re finishing this conversation tonight.  Too bad, I was getting really good at avoiding it. 

 

“You’ve got it all, man.  A great woman who loves you, the perfect job, friends – and here I am trying to figure out what my life’s all about.”  A note of self deprecation creeps into my tone.

 

“I also have the little brother I’ve always wanted – not to mention the one I’ve always had – a Guide, and let’s not forget I have an ‘in’ with the Shaman to the Great City.  As for you...”  He trails off, attempting to compose his thoughts.

 

“You are exactly where you belong.  I know that it doesn’t seem like it sometimes, but I couldn’t survive this roller coaster ride without you.  You are the best partner I’ve ever had.  And that was before you became an actual cop.  Your love of learning and life did not end with that press conference.”

 

I can see the care and concern on his face, then a sudden realization.  Curious I wait for his next words.

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s not your fault.”  The response is almost automatic.  He apologizes for some wrong he feels he’s committed and I reassure him it’s okay.  But there’s something different in his tone this time.  Suddenly I flashback to the events of a year ago.  ‘Oh man.’  We’re no longer talking about the ephemeral wrong he feels he committed.  His words in the hospital after the press conference slam into me.  ‘You are the best partner I’ve ever had.’  I wonder if he even realizes the echoing of his words?

 

“I know.”

 

His next words take me by surprise and I close my mouth on the standard words of our repartee. That’s new.  My eyes search his, looking for the new meaning in the conversation.  I watch as a portion of the burden on his soul lightens.  Good.  Maybe he’s finally realized he needs to forgive himself.  After all, he’s had my forgiveness for the past year.  His smile assures me that he finally gets it – in the end, you only need to forgive yourself.

 

As Jim forgives himself, pieces of my life come into focus, part of my world rights itself.  I never realized how connected our souls are.  I knew that we were connected through more than friendship.  Through more than brotherhood.  Apparently the joining of our Spirit Guides did more than just revive me.  Wonder why it took so long for me to see it?

 

“Thanks.  That helped.”  I smile at Jim’s stunned expression.  Even though my words have come out of nowhere, the expression on his face is still priceless.

 

“What helped?”  The confusion reflected on his face transfers itself to words.

 

“You – forgiving yourself.”

 

“You lost me there, Chief.  And how do you know that I forgave myself?”

 

“I felt it.  It seems the joining of our Spirit Guides did more than revive me.”  I voice my earlier thoughts, wondering at the ease with which the words fall from my lips.  Apparently Jim is not the only one doing a little forgiving this evening.  I smile as the burden of Alex lifts from my soul.  Funny, that’s the first time I’ve been able to say her name.  Jim must not be the only one that needed some forgiveness.

 

“It took you this long to figure that out, Darwin?”

 

Now it is my turn to be stunned.  “Huh?”

 

“I actually noticed it when we were in Sierra Verde.”

 

“And it took you this long to admit it?!”  Outrage at an uncommunicative Sentinel manifests itself in my words.

 

“You weren’t ready to deal with it.” 

 

“What!”  I barely squeak out.  This from a man who refused to talk about his dreams with me. What does he mean I wasn’t ready to deal with it?  I thought I was the one trying to get him to talk to me.

 

“Blair, you were caught up in trying to find Alex.  Then you were trying to figure out what was going on with me.  Neither situation was very conducive to telling you that your soul had become part of mine.  Then after we came back to Cascade it sort of went away.  I chalked it up to us being in close proximity to the Temple of the Sentinels and didn’t think much more about it.”  He pauses to take a deep breath.

 

“Then there was the whole press conference thing.  Part of the reason I took that so badly was because of the pain you caused yourself.  It just didn’t seem like the time to mention it.  Eventually I just decided it was something you needed to discover on your own.  I could tell you that ‘you did the right thing’ and that you were ‘in the right place’ until I was blue in the face.  But if you didn’t believe it yourself, it wasn’t going to do any good.”

 

The strength and sincerity of his words halt any reply I might make.  The outrage at being left out of a significant part of my Sentinel’s life dissipates as I recognize the truth in his words.  He didn’t deliberately leave me out.  I made the decision myself.

 

“I”m really doing what I’m supposed to be doing – aren’t I?”  The wonder of the realization extends throughout my being.

 

“Yeah, you are.”

 

Now, all that remains is the gaping hole waiting to be filled within my soul.

 

“I’m ready to settle down.”  I blurt out before I lose my nerve.  “You know, a wife, two point five kids, a dog.”  I can tell he noticed the omission by the raised eyebrow.

 

“What?  No house in the suburbs?” 

Yep.  Right again. 

 

“Nah.  The suburbs are boring.  I’d much rather live in the city.  I know this nice little loft on Prospect.”

 

“Don’t you think things are going to get a little crowded around here with the addition of your newfound family, Chief?”

 

“Well, yeah, there is that issue.”  I smile to reassure him of the levity of my words.  I would never dream of leaving him.  We’re too connected for that.

 

“So what’s the problem here?  IS there a problem?”

 

His sudden change of subject, the 180-degree turn back to our serious conversation startles me.  I answer his question honestly, without thinking about it.

 

“Watching you and Kathleen together.  Makes me long for that other person I need to fill my heart.”  I finally admit what’s been bothering me for the last several weeks.  Watching them merge their lives together made me feel like the perpetual third wheel.  I didn’t have any doubt there would still be a place for me in Jim’s life.  I just hadn’t figured out where.  “I really want what you’ve got.”

 

“It doesn’t happen overnight.”

 

“I know that.  It just feels like it’s time.”

 

“Sandburg, you sound like a woman with a biological clock.”

 

“Men have biological clocks too.  There have been studies – .”

 

“Not now professor.”  Jim interrupts my flow of words.  “I understand.  Why do you think I married Carolyn?”

 

Well now – that’s a new theory. 

 

“Um.”  Ah, the great Sandburg wit and wisdom comes into play yet again.  I’ve been at a loss for words more times tonight than the past four years combined.

 

“You married Carolyn because you wanted a wife, two point five kids, a dog, and a house in the suburbs?”  I finally manage to grind out.  I was definitely having trouble with this concept.

 

“Not exactly.  I married Carolyn because it was time for me to settle down and start working on the future of the Ellison dynasty.  The house in the suburbs was never part of the plan.”

 

“Um.  Didn’t you think her career might get in the way of those two point five kids?”

“I had to start somewhere Sandburg.  A wife seemed the logical place.  And the kid part...  Well, we never quite got that far.”  I recognize the note of sadness that enters his voice, longing for things that might have been.  Suddenly it all made sense.  Jim was searching for the same things that I was, he was just lucky enough to find them.  Or rather her. 

 

I wonder if the desire to settle down is a genetic portion of being a Sentinel?  Or even a Guide? Maybe part of what he’s feeling, and I’m feeling, stems from the desire to protect the tribe and the genetic bloodlines.  Oh man. 

 

“Um, Jim....  Kathleen’s got a career too.”

 

“I know.”  The sadness in his voice deepens, and the connected piece of our souls reverberates with the emotion.  I can tell by the tone of his voice that he’s come to the same realization I just did.  He was genetically driven to protect the tribe.  Part of that protection included providing a new Sentinel to take up where he leaves off.  Carolyn was not up to the challenge of protecting the future of the human race.

 

And now it looked like Kathleen might not be either.

 

“Have you asked her?” 

 

“No.  It really doesn’t matter.  Even if she doesn’t want to have kids, I still love her.  I’m not going to give up on her because of some stupid genetic predisposition.”

 

“Oh man.”

 

“That pretty much sums it up.”

 

“What are you going to do?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Nothing as in, ‘I’m not going to ask her about having children’ nothing.  Or nothing as in, ‘I’m not going to pursue this relationship’ nothing.”  Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.  I move my hand to rest on his, offering silent support of his decision.

 

“Nothing as in, ‘I’m not going to ask her about having children.’  I don’t think that I could let her go at this point.  And I’m too afraid of her answer to ask.”

 

I watch as he shrugs off his melancholy.

 

“Now, what about you?”

 

“I’ll be okay.”

 

“You know, if us being here bothers you that much, Kathleen and I can start spending more time at her house.”

 

I know my friend’s words are sincere, but they only serve to make me feel guilty.  “No way, man.  This is your home.  You have the right to spend time with whomever you wish.  Maybe I should start looking for a place of my own.”

 

“Absolutely not.”

 

I’m shocked at the vehemence in his voice.  Not that I really want to move out, but I didn’t expect him to take my offer quite so personally.  I always knew that one day things would change and I would move out.  If the tone of his voice is any indication, apparently he hadn’t come to the same realization.

 

“Uh, Jim.  Don’t you think that things are going to get a bit crowded around here with the addition of your newfound family?”  I mimic his earlier words back to him in hopes he’ll realize our living arrangement can’t last forever without my having to say it out loud.  “You, me, a jaguar, a wolf, Kathleen – come on man, there isn’t room for all of us.  Especially considering how much space that Spirit Guide of yours takes up.  Did you know he kicked me off the couch the other night?”  I try to inject a note of levity into the conversation.

 

“He just wanted to be petted.”

 

I sigh inwardly in relief as Ellison takes my cue and moves the conversation into lighter territory. While I knew this was a conversation we needed to have, I wasn’t ready to finish it tonight. We’d already bared our souls to one another once this evening.  We’d already had too many revelations, shared too many experiences. 

 

Petted!  That animal didn’t want to be petted, he wanted to devour me.  Well, maybe not devour me – I am, after all, important to Jim and he knows it – but he definitely wanted my spot in front of the television.  Who knew the big cat liked to watch Nick at Nite?  I always pegged him for more of a ESPN or Discovery Channel kinda cat.

 

“Have you ever tried to cuddle with a 300 pound wild animal?”  I ask incredulously, my hands waving wildly.  My abrupt motion dislodges his hand still gently resting atop my arm in a gesture of comfort.  He acknowledges my motion with a slight smile and nod of his head.  A tact agreement to postpone this new facet of our conversation, as well as recognition of comfort given and received.  All exchanged in the space of a heartbeat.

 

“Actually, yeah.  The last time that wolf of yours decided to watch a hockey game with me, he made sure he sat right in front of the TV, too.”

 

“That’s because you won’t let him sit on the couch.”  In defense of my spirit guide I allow an indignant tone to enter my voice. 

 

“He minds much better than you do, too.  And far better than that monkey of your’s ever did.”

 

“A Barbary ape, Jim.  He was a Barbary ape.”

 

“Whatever he was, he was messy.  He broke twelve house rules before he even made it through the door the first time.”  He smiles.  “At least the wolf seems to understand the way things work around here.”  The smile becomes a grin, almost as if he knows my response before I utter the words.  I of course play right into his hands.

 

“And how exactly do things work around here....”

 

“You’d know if you’d ever sit down and actually read the house rules.”

 

“I’ve read the house rules.”  Oh right, who am I kidding here.  I never made it past the second page.  Latin is more useful than some of Jim’s rules.  I don’t know how he comes up with them. I mean really.  Take number 15.  Spices must be kept in alphabetical order in the cabinet.  Who alphabetizes their spice rack.  Never mind.  Don’t answer that.  I was never very good at following the rules anyway.  As Naomi would say, ‘they’re too confining.’  And Jim’s rules, well let’s just say the Washington State correctional system has nothing on Jim Ellison when it comes to rules and restrictions.

 

“Yeah, right.  If you’ve read them then how come wet towels never make it into the hamper in the bathroom and there’s something growing in the back corner of the bookcase?”

 

“If you knew there was something growing in the bookcase why didn’t you throw it away before it started to breed?”  Ugh.  Remind me never to pull things off the shelf without looking.  He’s the Sentinel.  He should be able to sense these things before they get bad.  Maybe I should run some tests...

 

“I did.  I just wanted to see what your response would be.”

 

“Ellison!”

 

He brings a finger to his lips in the classic librarian’s shush pose, reminding me of the sleeping woman on the couch.  Oops.  I’d forgotten all about her being there.  Guess that gives me some idea of how comfortable I am with her presence.  And how comfortable Jim is, though I’m sure he’s been listening to her sleep as we talk.  He’s almost as tuned into her as he is to me.  Any slight change in her breathing or heart rate and he knows immediately.  Guess that means we trust her.  He and I would never have a conversation like this with anyone else around.  Well, Simon maybe.  Naomi possibly.  But certainly not any of the women either of us have dated recently.  Yeah, I think she’s good for both of us.

 

“You know you’re going to have to talk to her.  She might surprise you.”  Reminded of Kathleen’s presence I bring the conversation back to the original topic, or at least one of them, as I begin the shutdown procedures on my laptop.  My eyes flit between the small screen in front of me and my friend’s face, as I wait for him to acknowledge my words.  He does not disappoint me.

 

“I know.”  The bleak look in his eyes belies his cautiously optimistic words.

In some ways the look in his eyes says more than any of the words we’ve shared this evening. Ghosts of past hurt and rejection shadow his features.  A note of despair, detectable only to someone as tuned into his soul as I, enters his voice.

 

“Give her a chance man.  What’s the worst thing she could say?  No.  Then at least you’d know where you stand.  If you don’t ask her, you don’t ever give her the chance to say yes.  The answer’s already no.” 

 

“Thanks Chief.”  He squeezes my shoulder gently before allowing his hand to rest on my collarbone.

 

“Welcome.  It’s all part of the service.”  The hand on my shoulder reaches up and cuffs me on the back of the head.  The range and motion of the hand such that I do not have the opportunity to duck.  Ruefully, I rub the back of my head.

 

“Hey!”  This time I remember to keep my voice down, but that doesn’t stop me from imbuing a great amount of exasperation into my word.  My one word exclamations can be very expressive you know.

 

I glance back down at my laptop to see if I can turn it off.  Noticing that the shutdown procedure is finished I close up the computer and grab my backpack from the floor next to my chair. Stuffing the computer into the backpack, I remember something. 

 

“I’m spending the day with AJ.  She got a couple boxes from Uncle Zel for a new exhibit at the museum.  I told her I’d help her unpack them.”

 

“Good.  Bring her over for dinner when you are done.”

 

“You think Rafe is going to let me kidnap her for dinner after I’ve spent all day with her?  Come on, man.  I think love’s addled your brain.  Those two don’t spend more than four or five hours apart on the weekdays.  They’re even worse on weekends.”

 

“So bring him too.  Kathleen and I will cook.  I’ll even call Simon, H., and Megan.”

 

“Kathleen cooks?”  This was news to me.  Guess that explains why my partner’s been eating dinner at her house so often. 

 

“Much better than Carolyn ever did.”

 

“Cool.  Want us to stop and pick up a couple bottles of wine on the way home?”

 

“Nah.  I’m sure we’ll have to go pick up a few things for dinner anyway.  We’ll just stop then.”

Suddenly, I let out a yawn.  Glancing up at the clock on the wall I realize how late it has gotten.

 

“It’s getting late.  Why don’t you head off to bed.  I’m sure AJ’s going to want to get an early start in the morning.  I’ll go wake up Kathleen and take her home.” 

 

Apparently, Jim noticed the yawn.

 

“It’s okay.  She can stay.”  I say with some authority.  Like it’s my decision to make anyway. Whatever.  My bed, however, looks more and more inviting by the second.  I stand, grabbing my backpack off the table.  As I move towards the front door to set down my backpack I allow my hand to rest on his shoulder, offering reassurance, comfort, and support with the simple gesture. Whether for him or me, I’m not sure, however.

 

“Thanks, man.”

 

“You’re welcome.” 

 

His eyes come up to meet mine briefly.  The ghosts gone from their depths.  Vanquished, at least for the moment.  I suspect, however, they will be back.  But at least now he knows he doesn’t have to deal with them alone.  And maybe by then he’ll have another person in his corner and we can defeat a few of them.  I have great faith that Kathleen’s going to make the right decision. Besides, I’ve always wanted to be an uncle.

 

“All part of the service.  Not to mention the Blessed Protector agreement.”

 

Dropping my backpack under the coat rack, I head towards the bathroom.

 

“Night, Blair.”  I hear just before shutting the door.

 

“Night, man.”  I whisper back, knowing he will hear even with the door closed.  As I stand in front of the mirror to brush my teeth I notice some of the ghosts are gone from my eyes as well.  At least for the moment, things are right with the world.

 

Finis