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.
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. Thanks dear! How was I to know she wanted to be part of the family... <g
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, TAE, and Wnnepooh. Thanks ladies, your input made this a better story and helped me get out of some jams I’d written myself into. 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
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.
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.
If Only, Fear: Kathleen
My eyes flutter open as I feel movement beneath me. Automatically I tense, for a moment forgetting where I am. My fight or flight instincts, so close to the surface as of late, take over. Before I can follow through on my desire to run, memory returns in a flash.
Slowly I force my muscles to relax. The sudden cessation of adrenaline leaves me shaking.
I feel the hand resting on my back begin to move in a slow circular pattern. Murmured words and incomprehensible sounds of comfort reach my ears, their meaning far less important than their tone.
As I continue to tremble the arms around me tighten, as if to offer additional comfort and reassurance.
Slowly my trembling subsides, as does the residual fear. The arms, however, remain. Steel bands of protection from whatever elements out to destroy me. There is reassurance in their unwavering strength; the ability to banish demons in their constitution.
If only the bands of steel could banish the internal demons as easily as the external ones.
If only it were that easy.
A small sigh escapes my lips. The feeling of safety almost overrides the memories of before.
I remember all too well the last time I sought comfort and safety in another’s arms. In an ironic twist, the bands of steel I thought protected me from harm, in fact, turned into the means of my imprisonment. Chains to aid in my own destruction.
I won’t let it happen again.
I don’t think I could survive a second time.
How easily one’s delusions are destroyed.
I once thought that love conquered all. Okay, so it’s cliche, but that doesn’t make it any less believable.
Sounds a little odd for a scientist, though. The absolute belief in something beyond comprehension, or even definition. I’m supposed to believe in the cold hard reality of fact. The truth in reality. You have to see it to believe it. There is no place for the phantasmagoric in my world.
But then, what is science if not an exercise of faith? We convince ourselves that we can prove the existence of certain things and concepts, but underneath it all we rely on faith. We accept the missing links, the theories we cannot prove, the formulas we can’t replicate, not without question, but we do accept.
If I can accept the missing links, why can’t I accept that Jim is not David. Why do I have so much trouble trusting this will all work out. That he will not leave me a battered and bruised shell as he moves on to something, or someone, more interesting. That he will not destroy me in fear and rage over his own failures.
Maybe because I’ve been here before.
The only person Jim would destroy is himself. And then only in the event he’d failed Blair. I don’t even kid myself with the thought I fall into this category. The most important person or thing in Jim’s life is Blair. Everyone, and everything, else in his life comes second to the man sitting at the kitchen table. I know this deep inside. My heart has complete faith in Jim. The rational side of my brain, the scientist, however, doesn’t remember how to trust. It’s amazing my heart does. I only hope the power of my heart has the ability to override my head.
David did more than abuse my body. He shattered my illusions. Extinguished my belief in the overarching power of love. Drowned any vestiges of hope with the impact of a cold metal pipe against my skull.
And to think I thought I loved him.
And to think I thought he loved me.
That’s probably the worst part. He destroyed my belief in myself. Not to mention my belief in others. He made me doubt my instincts, question my judgement.
Because of him, I have no faith that I will make the right decisions. Choose to be with the right people. Spend my life following the correct path.
In short, my self-confidence is shattered.
The truly sad part about all of this....
No one seems to know.
I move through the days as if nothing happened. As if nothing has changed. As if I am the same person as before.
How easily we create new illusions to replace those lost.
This time my illusions have the power to hurt others besides myself. I’ve involved others in the scam that has become my life.
I wonder if they realize...
And how can I tell them?
And how can I not?
My thoughts spiral further downwards. With a supreme effort of will I suppress the tears I feel threatening to fall.
That’s something else I’ve gotten very good at, suppressing my emotions. Hiding my feelings. Avoiding confrontations. Keeping myself aloof from others. That way I can avoid the inevitable disappointment when they turn away.
But if I’ve gotten so good at these things, what am I doing here? Laying on a couch that is not my own, safely encased in another’s arms. Contemplating the rest of my life. Hoping I haven’t made the same mistake twice. Praying with my head that I learned from the last one. Knowing in my heart the choice has already been made, the die has already been cast, the commitment has already been made.
But what happens if I’m wrong.
I try to shake my head in denial of the thought only to find I am unable to move. Jim’s strong hand holds my head safely against his chest while his other rubs slow circles up and down my back. Strange. I didn’t even feel him move.
Have I become that unaware of my surroundings? That comfortable in his presence? That safe in his arms?
The word comes unbidden to mind. My heart trying to knock some sense into my traumatized brain.
For now I accept my heart’s decree. I trust him.
If I stop to think about it, I trust him in ways I never trusted David. I can tell him things David never knew. I can also fall asleep in his arms. Something that took a very long time with David.
I trust Jim will watch over me. Keep me safe from harm. These are things David never did.
Trust wins out this time and I allow myself to finally completely relax. I sink back into sleep, my fears locked behind the door I erected to keep them at bay.
A slight movement brings me back to slight awareness. I feel the couch move gently beneath me. Before I can determine the nature of the movement, it stops. My fingertips encounter a soft surface, almost fur-like. The sensual feel of the surface under my hands entices me. My fingers move of their own violation, drawing my arms into the substance. I snuggle into the soft cocoon in which I’ve found myself, content in my surroundings.
Slowly, my mind returns to awareness. I realize I’m now holding a large teddy bear and Jim is gone. Softly my eyes flutter open to confirm my assessment. The darkness of the living room meets my eyes, as I lift my head slightly from the warm embrace of the teddy bear. I smile slightly at the memory of Jim winning the bear at a local high school carnival. He’d been so proud of his accomplishment. Jokingly we’d named him x. Somehow, the treasured bear had ended up at the loft and not in my small brownstone near campus.
And I’ll admit it. I like the fact that he keeps the bear safe for me. Just as I know, deep in my heart, he’ll keep me safe. And x looks after Jim. Kind of a mutually beneficial arrangement, if you ask me.
Besides, Jim has a soft spot for furry animals.
Now, it served as a Jim-surrogate. Every time he left me, he made sure the bear was there to watch over me. What good the bear was going to do in the even of real danger, I’ll never know, but it makes both of us feel better knowing I’m not alone.
Realizing there is a warm weight across my feet, I raise my head slightly to look down. The large green eyes of a black jaguar greet me, as it raises its head to meet my gaze. Turning my head slightly, I notice the grey wolf inhabiting the spot between my feet and the edge of the couch. It is his head keeping my feet warm. See what I mean about furry animals?
We’d been introduced the hard way. Back when Jim and I’d first met. The animals showed up just about the same time David did. Warning of the danger and destruction he was bringing.
David. Why is it my thoughts keep returning to him? Haven’t I exorcized those demons yet?
The fact that the spirit animals trust me enough to watch over me, comforts me. They accept me enough to allow me to stay – a rather unusual occurrence, from what I understand from Blair. Though their presence is reassuring, it does not transcend the walls of fear that still surround my heart.
It shocked Jim – Blair too, for that matter – when I pointed out their presence in the loft one evening. Since then I’ve come to appreciate their presence. Depending on their watchfulness. Realize that as long as I can still see them, I will still have a place in Jim’s life.
The soothing cadence of voices, the words indistinguishable without effort, reaches my ears, confirming my suspicion that Jim had left my side for Blair’s.
I want to resent the close relationship between my boyfriend and his best friend, but I can’t bring myself to do so. I care too much about both of them. That and I realize they need each other.
Neither would be the people they are today without the other. Their lives are too far interconnected to separate them. Almost like Siamese twins, you can’t separate them without serious damage to both.
Jim can’t live without Blair, and Blair can’t live without Jim. They are a world unto themselves. The only question is, does this world allow visitors? And for how long?
That’s what scares me the most. That there is no room in his life for me. I realize he doesn’t need me, but I hold out the illusion that there is room in his life for me. Even a small part will work. But I’m becoming like Blair, I can’t live without him either.
Coming in second to Blair, that I can live with. Second means I’m still in the running, not waiting back at the starting line. I’ll gladly accept second, without even blinking an eye. ‘Cause, this is one race I really don’t think I want to win. It goes back to that indefinable thing that binds them together.
They share something beyond my comprehension. Something I dare not examine too closely. They are connected in ways I can only dream. It goes way beyond them being Sentinel and Guide. Neither one will ever say much about that relationship, outside of acknowledging that it exists. Not that they need too. I knew Blair well enough before Chancellor Edwards decided to ride the coattails of his research to doubt for a minute he’d compromise his integrity by submitting a false dissertation. No. They didn’t need to bring me into their confidence. But I’m glad they did. It just showed how much they trusted me.
But there’s still something there outside of my grasp. Some facet of their relationship that I’m not even sure they’re aware of.
But will it consume them?
It’s already done so once. Can it happen again? What happens if it does?
And the most selfish question of all, is there room left for me?
And what am I going to do if there isn’t?
The graceful cadence of voices continues behind me, distracting me from my own turbulent thoughts. Which is probably a good thing. Too much thought is never a good idea. Especially when it comes to relationships. Unfortunately I’ve never been one of those people that can just accept, the scientist in me wants to analyze.
Believe me, this is often a problem with stoic, keep my feelings to myself Ellison. Sometimes I think he’d rather have a root canal than discuss our role in the grand scheme of life. A question that has always fascinated me. What are we doing here? Why? What role are we to play in one another’s lives? What brings certain people together?
Jim just nods and smiles cryptically when I ask him about fate. If he believes certain people are together for a reason? Then he changes the subject, or distracts me in someway. The issue of faith brings the same response.
And let’s not even talk about having a conversation about our relationship. I think he’d take major surgery without the anesthesia over that one. Unfortunately, I need the reassurance he hasn’t provided. I seek the answers to questions I didn’t even realize I have. There is so much of Jim that remains a mystery to me that I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t even know if he wants me to?
Why is it only Jim prompts this insecure response from me? In everything else I’m confident, but when it comes to my relationship with Jim, all bets are off.
The voices become more distinct as I continue to listen. Unbidden the conversation begins to reach my ears. Though I want to, I can’t not listen. I feel like a voyeur, listening in to their private thoughts, but almost like a car wreck, I can’t force myself away.
“She’s the last piece of your soul.” Blair’s words startle me. The thought that Jim needs me, or that I have a place within his soul is almost more than I can comprehend. I hold my breath waiting for Jim’s response; half expecting to hear a heartfelt denial.
“Yeah. But if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have a soul to complete.” The breath I’d been holding leaves my body in a rush. Where I’d expected denials I’d gotten a soft acceptance. I don’t quite know how to deal with the sudden knowledge that Jim thinks I complete his soul.
Hard on the heels of knowledge comes another question. Why didn’t he tell me? What is it about our situation that keeps him from confiding in me. Keeps him from bringing me fully into his life?
The questions spiral out of control. I consider answers and reject them without even realizing I’ve done it. One thought finally clarifies itself in my addled brain.
I complete his soul. I guess this means that he believes in the existence of souls. I smile slightly to myself at the realization that one of the mysteries of Ellison has been solved. Now all I have to do is pin him down on the subject of soulmates and reincarnation. I realize Jim’s quiet admission to Blair is paramount to a declaration. My heart warms slightly at Jim’s affirmation.
Reality returns with a frightening awareness as I realize I can’t pin Jim down on any of these subjects. Outside of his reluctance to discuss mystical issues lies the fact that I’m not supposed to know. But how can I not? How can I pretend I don’t know? I’ve never been very good at make-believe.
“I just want what you have.” Blair’s words bring me out of my spinning thoughts and I realize I’ve missed parts of the conversation.
Blair’s words once again throw me for a loop. What does Jim have? What is it that Blair envy’s? What is it about Jim’s life that can cause the heartache I’ve seen in Blair for the past few weeks?
And why won’t Jim tell me what it is?
My tortured psyche returns to the question Jim’s admission caused. What is it about me that won’t allow Jim to admit his feelings?
My earlier fears come crashing down around my body, smothering me. I can hardly breathe, for their weight.
Jim can’t admit how he feels, because of me. The answer to my question clarifies itself into a strikingly clear geode. I’m the problem. There’s something wrong with me.
My breath hitches in my chest, as the geode turns into ice and lodges itself in my heart.
He loves me, but he doesn’t want me. I’m damaged goods. David did this to me.
My worst fears manifest themselves in my mind, lodging securely in the garden of doubt I’d been secretly growing in the far recesses of my heart, behind tightly locked doors. But now, the door was open. Blown out in a force so extreme, nothing could contain it. The fear and doubt I’d hidden carefully from everyone, including myself overwhelmed me, drawing me down into its swirling maelstrom of self-destructive emotions.
Even as I fight the spiraling whirlwind, Blair verbalizes my worse fear. “You’ve got it all. A great woman who loves you. The perfect job. Friends. And here I am trying to figure out what my life’s all about.”
I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here. What purpose is my life serving? Am I doing either Jim or Blair any good by being here? Who knew Blair shared the same doubts I did? He always exudes such self-confidence, such a matter-of-fact assurance of his place in the world. The importance of his being at Jim’s side. Nice to know I’m not the only one emotionally rattled by Ellison.
The first time I saw them together I intuitively recognized their importance to one another. Amazing how Blair can’t see it.
“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...” Jim’s words confirm my earliest intuitions. Amazing how I can know where Blair belongs when he doesn’t. Amazing how Blair can know where I belong when I don’t.
“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. I said it before, 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.”
Jim’s words could have been meant for me the way they wormed their way into my heart, banishing the destructive emotions with well-placed swords. I always knew Jim could slay dragons if given half the chance. I can’t keep the grin from forming on my face. The image of Jim in tights and a tunic is almost more than I can stand.
A man who would say these things to Blair would never reject me because of something someone else did. There is no censure in his words. No censure in his mannerisms. The reality of our situation reasserts itself in my chaotic soul. Carefully I lock my fears back behind their door, this time reinforcing the door itself, as well as the locks with a portion of Jim’s belief in me. Somehow Jim banished my fears at the same time he banished Blair’s.
“It’s not your fault.”
Their words continue to wash over me and I feel a slight lightening of my own soul. Though I don’t know what they are talking about, somehow, I know that something profound just occurred behind me. And whatever it was, it sent shockwaves throughout the entire loft.
I’m surprised at my reaction to their catharsis. In someway I’m tied to both of them, though I can’t even begin to guess how. I think the fickle hand of fate has stepped in and taken control of my world. I was destined to be here, at this point in time. The realization comes slowly.
For all my belief in fate and faith, to find it at work in my own life is a little disconcerting. A rueful smile accompanies my thoughts.
“Thanks. That helped.”
“Your forgiving yourself.”
So, Blair felt something too huh? The similarity of our emotions and experiences was beginning to scare me.
“You lost me there, Chief.”
Ah, Jim’s reluctance to discuss otherworldly things strikes again. Maybe I should have my conversation about fate with Blair, then the two of us can gang up on Jim and finally get him to talk about this stuff.
“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.”
Spirit guides? I look back down at the animals at my feet. Okay, maybe Jim’s not as reluctant to talk about some of these things as I thought. Maybe it’s me again? The doubts leak out of their well-reinforced room. Damn. I thought I’d gotten them back in successfully. Guess not.
The spirit guide thing intrigues me. Jim has never struck me as the type to practice new age religions. Or maybe that’s old religions. Or maybe that’s just religion in general. Jim always seems so self-contained, not needing anyone other than Blair. While I know of, and acknowledge his sprit guide, him joking about the large, fierce looking jaguar at my feet throws my entire image of him out of balance. I’ve been out of balance quite a lot this evening. Funny, I think I’ve been more off-balance since I met Jim than in my entire life. Strange, for someone who seems to always be in control, he seems to prompt a lot of out of control behavior and emotions in his friends.
“I really am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Aren’t I?” My attention returns to the two men behind me. Blair needed reassurance too, huh? I never would have guessed. Amazing how we have doubts where others don’t. Jim’s easy words convey his long belief in his friend’s path.
“Yeah, you are.”
I only wish I were as sure of my place in his life. His earlier words not withstanding, he’s never mentioned long term plans. He’s never mentioned that he loved me. Without the words, I have trouble believing in the reality of his feelings. That and he hasn’t mentioned to me that I complete his soul.
“I’m ready to settle down. You know, a wife, two point five kids, a dog.”
Me, too, Blair. Me too. Now all I have to do is convince a certain stubborn detective. Strangely, I was suddenly confident about my place and importance in Jim’s life. Their conversation was doing as much for me as it was them. Maybe I should tell Blair he has healing words. Nah, wouldn’t want to encourage him. On the other hand¼
I wonder how he feels about the idea of children. I’ve always wanted to be a mother. That’s something else David and I didn’t have in common. All the signs were there? Why didn’t I see them? Kids and dogs made him recoil. I should have known better. I refuse to let myself go back down that road. I can see the swirling darkness at the end of it, even from this safe distance away. Maybe I should ask Jim about keeping the darkness at bay. He seems to be so good at it.
The image of Jim playing with a small toddler comes unbidden to mind. Her light brown hair framing a heart-shaped face. Her scowl matching Jim’s. His enjoyment of the baby doll in his arms proof of his devotion and love for the little girl. The look on her face evidence of her knowledge that she has her daddy wrapped around her little finger – and she loves every minute of it.
I smile to myself.
Nothing to worry about there. Jim was born to love children – small animals too.
“Watching you and Kathleen together. It makes me long for that other person I need to fill my soul. I really do 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.” Not surprisingly, Jim’s words mirror my own thoughts. We’ve become strangely attuned to each other in the nine months we’ve been together. Almost like an old married couple, we often finish each other’s sentences.
“Men have biological clocks too. There have been studies.” Okay, I didn’t expect Blair’s response. Funny, he would have done studies on men’s biological clocks. The depth of that man’s research interests never fair to amaze me. But then, first hand experience is a good ground for research, or knowledge, for that matter.
“Not now professor. I understand. Why do you think I married Carolyn?”
“You married Carolyn because you wanted a wife, two point five kids, a dog, and a house in the suburbs?”
“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.”
And here I had this romantic image that he’d married because he loved her. Yet another illusion shattered. Though, the practical side of me rejoiced at the question and his answer. Not to mention the implications behind it. If he didn’t love her romantically, I didn’t have to worry about him ever regretting losing her. But in someways it makes it all the more confusing. Why didn’t they stay together, she was everything he was looking for...
“Um. Didn’t you think her career might get in the way of those two point five kids?” Blair’s words almost bring me off the couch. Carolyn’s career got in the way of their marriage. Somehow I could see that of Jim, but her? For some reason that didn’t fit the image I’d painted of her in my mind. Course, the idea of Jim marrying for anything other than love was a little hard to adjust to.
“I had to start somewhere Sandburg. A wife seemed the logical place. And the kid part, we never quite got that far.”
“Um, Jim.... Kathleen’s got a career too.”
Uh-oh. Part of the problem begins to become clear. He thinks that my career is more important then he is. Whatever gave him that idea? Events of the past few months begin to replay themselves in my mind. Jim going to faculty parties with me. Jim picking me up at the lab for a late dinner. Jim sitting through another one of my guest lectures at another university.
He thinks my career is the most important thing in my life.
How could he be more wrong?
“I know.” His words confirm my suspicions.
“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.”
He loves me?
The two thoughts war within my head, fighting for dominance.
“That pretty much sums it up.”
“What are you going to do?”
Nothing? What does nothing mean? I don’t think I like the sound of nothing. That means we keep going the way we have been. And now that I’m starting to realize he loves me, I don’t think I can do that.
I don’t think I can go back to just being the girlfriend that sleeps on the couch two nights a week.
“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.”
Once again, Blair’s words mirror my thoughts. I really need to take him out for drinks some night and talk about this cosmic connection we seem to be having where one James Joseph Ellison is concerned.
“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.”
Somehow his words do not reassure me. Not that he was trying to, mind you. He was trying to work something out in his own mind. How was he to know I was listening in?
The image of the little girl returns. Only this time she’s sitting with an infant baby. Gently cooing to the small form, Jim stands behind the couch. Watching to make sure the little girl doesn’t drop her baby brother.
Unexpectedly, other images began to march across my subconsciousness.
Jim giving me his coat as we were walking downtown. The sudden change in the beautiful fall afternoon – sun turning quickly to clouds and then rain. My light jacket, while warm enough for the afternoon, was not sufficient to ward off the driving rain.
He’d quickly given me his jacket as soon as he’d noticed my shivers. The soft warmth of the leather enveloped me. Made me feel safe again.
Though whether those shivers were from the sudden rain, or the bleak landscape the clouds brought to light, I’ll never know.
Then again, neither will he.
Or maybe he already does? Seeing as how he can read my every emotion with the raise of an eyebrow, it wouldn’t surprise me.
Then there was the brief struggled that ensued when he asked for it back. I could feel the smile emerging on my face at that memory. He’d never expected me to be quite so stubborn about it. The battle of wills was good for both of us. I’d lost in the end – it’s awfully hard to argue with someone who’s far bigger than you are. But the fact that he even let me protest did wonders for my still shattered dignity.
Course, I still would have liked to keep the jacket.
I think that’s when I started to trust again. Not just him, but a semblance of myself.
If it wasn’t then, it was Christmas.
My first Christmas here in Cascade. I’d left the majority of my friends in Seattle, and with everything that had happened that fall, hadn’t had time to make new ones. My parents planned a month long cruise, and wouldn’t be home.
So I was alone for the first Christmas of my life.
Jim took pity on me.
Or maybe it was Blair.
I’ll never know.
It was Jim that issued the invitation, so it’s on his head that this rests. The carefully worded invitation. Spend the day with us, at the loft. We’ll do everything, if you’ll make your famous chocolate cake for dessert.
How he’d known that chocolate cake was the traditional Christmas dessert in my family, I’ll never know.
That seems to be a reoccurring theme when it comes to this man and our relationship.
Somehow, I think he called my mother. And what a conversation that would have been to listen in on.
I don’t care how he knew.
Or how he did it.
It was the best Christmas of my life.
The food and the company had been excellent. Almost the entire Major Crimes group had been there. Each brining their own special holiday tradition.
Simon made eggnog. Course, I still think he had more rum in it than nog.
AJ made traditional South American wedding cookies. And ribbon candy. The latter, she claimed as a tribute to her “American roots.” She refused to say a word about the cookies – even after Ellison teased her unmercifully for over an hour.
H. brought the music. More to the point, he brought his bass. He and Blair spent all day playing traditional, and not so traditional carols.
Megan brought Australian sugar cookies. Much to the chagrin of the rest of the group. She took quite a bit of teasing over the distinctive “outback” shapes she’d crafted.
Rafe brought a delicate glass ornament that he hung carefully on the tree. Sitting by the fire after dinner, he softly relayed the story of The Littlest Angel and how it’d been his favorite Christmas story when he was a kid. The angle herself had been in his family for generations, and always served to remind him how lucky he was.
Joel and Lydia brought traditional southern fare: sweet potatoes, the ones with the little marshmallows melted on top; corn chutney; grits. And he graced us with his amazing voice, the gently words of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas flowing gently from his mouth.
Jim and Blair took care of everything else. The loft was decorated beautifully. The tree twinkled in the soft afternoon light. The garland hung from the upstairs banister providing a subtle fragrance, overlaid with soft vanilla and the smells of cooking. The turkey and all it’s trimmings cooked to perfection.
Mother Nature provided the snow. Making it a far longer holiday than anyone would have realized – but they were prepared. Jim said it was cleansing. The city needed it after the fall we’d had.
I know I sure did.
And the most amazing part... They made me feel like I belonged there. That I was part of the group. That my being there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
More shreds of dignity were restored on that long winter’s evening.
I think if I wasn’t already completely devoted to that man by that evening, the soft kiss under the mistletoe hung near the balcony would have melted any remaining reserves. From that moment on, he had my heart, my soul, and my entire well-being in his hands.
And I have to admit, he’s never once abused that trust I placed in him.
Wonder why it’s taken me this long to realize it? Wonder why I still have doubts? Wonder why I can’t completely trust that he’s not David?
Maybe I can...
Not realizing it, I sink back into sleep, images of children playing occupying my dreams.
“Kathleen. Katy. Kit,”
Words tickle at my subconsciousness. I ignore their gentle pull and snuggle closer to the bear in my arms.
A pressure descends on my lips. Still inside a sleep induced fog, I lash out instinctively. My arms attempt to strike at the nearest available object. Still unsure of my surroundings, admittedly more asleep than awake, I continue to defend myself to the best of my abilities. My fists flail wildly. Occasionally they encounter a soft, but immobile surface. I try to lash out with my feet, only to find them immobilized by a soft weight against the couch.
Eventually, I grab a hold of something. Instinctively recognizing that my actions have caused pain, I refuse to let go.
“Shh... It’s just me. No one’s going to hurt you. It’s okay. Shh.”
Again, soothing words reach my ears, in an attempt to calm me. Slowly, the soothing sounds began to take form.
Slowly, my grip loosens as I recognize the source of the words.
What have I done?
I can feel the emotions cross my face. Awareness. Apologies. Shame.
I feel myself being pulled into strong arms. Their strength forcing my head against his chest. Keeping me from my initial inclination to hide in the back cushions of the couch. I knew if I could find a spot for my head he would go away. Leave me alone. Allow my mortification to consume me.
Soft words break through the litany of curses I am mentally calling myself.
“Shh. It’s okay. Nothing to be afraid of. You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s okay.” The words trail off into nonsensical phrases meant to be soothing.
Eventually, the words break through the barrier I am slowly erecting around my heart. Carefully, the warmth surrounding me penetrates my carefully constructed defenses. Slowly I raise my head and look him in the eyes – almost subconsciously expecting to find censure, though there is none.
“So, are you spending the night or am I taking you home?”
Somehow that was not the response I was expecting. I know that he doesn’t blame me for my actions. I can see it in his eyes. I heard it in his voice earlier. But those long held emotions and self-doubts cannot be erased in a single nights. Though the initial seeds have been sown. With time and nurturing they will grow.
I pull away even further. By his raised eyebrows I can tell my expression has once again turned wary. I wish I could make him understand. It is not him. It is me. There is this intangible “thing” between us. One that I would happily extinguish, if only I could. Somehow I know that it is going to take both of us to make this particular demon disappear.
“Spending the night.” I finally answer the question. Now sure what the appropriate response is in this particular situation. How does one ask for the comfort they know they so desperately need? How does one make sure their intentions are not misconstrued?
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’d love to have Jim Ellison sharing my bed in more than a plutonic fashion. But I also recognize that I want it all. His heart, his soul, his complete devotion. Just sharing a bed is not enough.
I wonder if he realizes that is the reason I keep pushing him away?
Keep his affections at a distance?
I was never a one-night-stand kinda gal anyway – but then I think he knew that. At least I hope he did...
He runs his finger down my cheek, his words soft, “Okay. Go wash your face and brush your teeth. I’ll go make sure the sheets on my bed are clean.”
My eyes widen at his words.
I can see the conflicting emotions cross his face. Oh lord, I’ve done it again. Made him feel inadequate about my emotions.
“It’s okay.” I try to repair the damage my oh-too expressive face has caused. Makes me wish for my mother’s poker face. She could always get away with anything, she covers her emotions easily.
Me, I wear my heart on my sleeve. Visible for anyone and everyone who cares to look. Course, most people don’t even bother to try. That’s part of what makes Jim unique, he took the time to read past the careful facade I’d created to help me get through the day. Now, he can read me better than anyone else in the world, including my mother.
“I can sleep down here. I just don’t think I could face going back to my house. Too many open spaces for me to think in.” The words are out of my mouth before I have a chance to realize their meaning.
“You can sleep upstairs. I’ll sleep down here.”
A raised eyebrow forestalls any further comment I might make. I really am perfectly capable of sleeping on the couch, he’s just too stubborn to let me.
Or too much of a gentleman.
He leans forward and brushes his lips gently against mine. There is understanding and love there. “Now, go brush your teeth.”
“But I didn’t bring my toothbrush.” I answer automatically, still reeling from the emotions carried in the simple brush of lips against mine.
“That’s okay. There’s an extra one sitting on the counter in the bathroom. I’ll bring you something more comfortable to sleep in.”
He kisses me again, silencing the thank you poised on my lips. With feral grace, he stands, then pulls me to my feet. He walks me across the loft, leaving me at the bathroom, as he moves the rest of the way upstairs.
Flipping on the light, I shut the door softly behind me. My feet encounter a soft mass, and I look down to find several towels littering the floor. I laugh softly. Apparently Blair’s not as housetrained as Jim would like to think.
Bending over, I place the towels in the hamper – a mere inches from where the towels had come to rest. Straightening, my eyes fall on a basket sitting on the back of the toilet. The large purple bow beckons me closer.
My fingers unconsciously reach out to finger the soft silk of the bow. Catching the tag I lean over to read the tag.
Thought you might need a few things to make you feel more at home.
PS: This stuff is staying here. You already have a set at home.
I expected to see Blair’s handwriting, and the knowledge that the basket was from Jim, to me, takes several moments to penetrate my still sleep fogged brain.
As I stand staring dumbly at the gift, my hands still fingering the bow, a short knock sounds at the door. Before I even have a chance to react, it opens a crack and a worn t-shirt and a pair of flannel boxers appear on the edge of the sink.
The sight of the outfit Jim always lends me to sleep in, serves to snap me out of my lethargy. Pulling the basket into my arms, I sit on the edge of the bathtub to sort through the things Jim thought I might need.
Shampoo and Conditioner.
Both blackberry scented from the specialized bath store in the mall downtown.
French vanilla – also from the specialty store.
Raspberry – speciality store.
And a green nylon scrubbie, complete with long string to hang it on the wall.
I smile at the thought of Jim braving both the mall and the calliope of scents in the unique store. Almost more than anything, that image assails many of the lingering doubts.
A bottle of cleansing soap for my face, my favorite brand.
A bottle of hand lotion, my favorite brand.
A bottle of moisturizer, also my favorite brand.
A razor and a bottle of shaving cream.
A bright pink toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste.
Several brightly colored scrunchies.
A package of small barrettes.
A package of large barrettes like I usually use to tie my often unruly hair away from my face.
And at the very bottom of the basket, providing the padding for everything else, a soft, green terry cloth robe.
The generosity and thoughtfulness of the gift brings new tears to my eyes.
At the same time, it reaffirms my place here. My sense of belonging.
I wonder how he managed to identify all the things I like, not to mention the scents.
Laughing slightly at myself, and my inane question, I start finding homes for all the new items. Knowing, even as I do so, it will drive his sense of organization out of kilter. Smiling evilly, I try to find the most obscure places to store things.
The rest of my bedtime preparations pass in a haze. With the familiar items at hand, the nightly ritual – normally missing at the loft – takes less time than normal. I place everything in its new place. Change my clothes and finally emerge from the bathroom; my new robe wrapped firmly around my body.
“Took you long enough.” His words startle me and I look around for the source, only to find him sitting on the stairs leading up to his bedroom.
“Waiting for me, were you?” I toss easily back, my earlier words of thanks forgotten in the automatic response to his banter.
A large smile graces his face at my words.
“Well now, would it do any good if I were?” He adopts a ridiculous Texas accent, making his words all the less serious.
“Don’t know. Depends on what you’re looking for.” I smile suggestively, before making my way up the stairs; knowing he will follow.
This too is part of the game we play. The verbal sparing. The easy banter. The enjoyment we take from one another’s company.
“You know, this would be far more fun if I got to stay up here with you...”
His voice wafts up the last few stairs. I turn away from the stairs to hide the grin forming on my face.
“Katy. I’m sorry.”
I realize my mistake when his words reach my ears. “For what?” I spin to face him; the smile intact, knowing I have to reassure him. Convince him that nothing has changed.
Except it has.
I’m no longer afraid of him.
My questioning look produces a rather cosmopolitan response, I think. I have to love Jim Ellison at a loss for words. Though, I’m not sure exactly what he’s at a loss for at the moment.
“Everything okay?” I change the usual banter, trying to figure out where we got lost in the usual repartee.
“Fine. Off to bed with you now.” He reaches over to take my robe. Placing it carefully on the end of the bed, he pulls back the covers.
Smiling at his sudden loss of self-assuredness, I crawl gratefully beneath the covers. It has been a long day, and a long week, and I am ready to sink back into the oblivion of sleep. I know that we still have things to discuss. Issues to resolve. But not tonight. Tonight was emotionally draining for all of us – and I don’t even know half of what he and Blair talked about. I can see the tired lines in his face.
I reach out to catch his hand where it rests gently near my neck. It can never be said this man doesn’t do a good job of tucking someone in. I want to express the words pounding at both my head and my heart, but I cannot. Something holds me back.
The moment passes.
He leans over to kiss me goodnight. I am surprised by the intensity of his kiss. Almost as if he is trying to impart some long lost knowledge to me.
An intensity I easily match.
“Goodnight, dear heart.” He finishes securing the covers around my body.
“Goodnight, sweet prince.”
The light goes off and he makes his way back down the stairs. I hear the gentle sounds of weight being added to the couch. Blankets being adjusted and draped around his body.
When he has settled down for the evening. I too can rest and sleep once again claims me.
“Jim?” My eyes open slightly at the sound of his voice and the weight on my shoulder, and I try to figure out what he’s doing on the floor next to the bed What’s going on? What happened?
“Sweetheart.” His voice is soft, soothing, non-threatening.
“What’s wrong?” Even I can hear the heavy traces of sleep still in my voice.
“You tell me.” I feel the soothing motion of his hand on my shoulder. Unconsciously I lean into the touch, grateful for the touch, but still unsure the reason for my return to wakefulness.
“You were having a nightmare.” I can feel my eyes widen at his words.
When did the nightmares start again?
“I didn’t know how to wake you.” I can hear the lost tone in his voice. I don’t even think he realizes it’s there.
“What? Why? Oh.” I turn my face into the pillow. Once again he’s woken me from a nightmare. What keeps him here? What keeps him doing this?
My eyes widen further as the exact details of this particular nightmare return in a flood.
“Katy? What’s wrong?”
“David.” The single word slips out before I have a chance to halt it.
I cover my sudden confusion, with movement. Shifting slightly I turn around to rearrange the pillows behind me so I can lean against the rail. He takes my motion as a signal and moves to sit next to me on the bed.
In reality I am grateful for his presence.
Finally, situated, and much more ready to deal with the final exoneration of my nightmare, I turn back to face him.
“I was dreaming about David again.” Somehow, instinctively I realize that it is time to bring this particular nightmare into the light of day. To bring it into the light, so it no longer has the power to hurt me.
He reaches a hand towards my face, stopping in mid-air. “This is my fault.” The look on his face matches his tone of voice. Bleak.
Now where did that come from?
I grab his hand and bring it the rest of the way to my face, placing his hand against my cheekbone. Gently I turn and place a small kiss on the palm of his hand. “No. David did this. You had nothing to do with it.” I try to banish the pain I see in his eyes.
Blair was right, this man does try to take the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“But what I said, earlier.” He persists, not realizing it is unnecessary.
“Made me feel loved. Wanted.” My voice is soft, even as I make the admission. I wish to call the words back, still unsure of their reception.
“But this?” His free arm indicated the sleep tossed bedding and sweat-soaked pillow.
“Was nothing more than a nightmare.”
“That I caused.”
“Jim, you are not responsible for everything that happens. You can’t do everything. Be everywhere. It is just not possible.” I place my own hand on his face; attempting to sooth the worry lines that had suddenly appeared. Funny, I’m the one waking up from a nightmare, and he’s the one that needs reassurance.
“But I should be able to protect the people I love.”
Silently my heart cheers at his admission, knowing it may be the closest thing to a declaration I ever get from him.
“You have. And you will continue to do so.” I use my thumb to stroke his jaw-line – trying to stop its furious clenching. “You saved me.”
“But I can’t seem to save you from the nightmares.” His voice is anguished, broken.
“Don’t you see?” He shakes his head slightly. “You have.”
“What do you mean?” A slight note of hope reenters his voice.
Maybe what I’m saying is finally getting through to him.
“I wasn’t dreaming about what he did to me. I was dreaming he killed you.” I lower my eyes to the bedcovers, and notice my hands worrying the comforter. And not remembering how they got there, I find my hands far more disconcerting than him. I raise my eye back up to meet his. “That final meeting, when you came to rescue me. He shot you. I couldn’t handle it if you died.” I hold my breath, waiting for his response.
This is the first time I’ve admitted to my dreams. First time I’ve been brave enough to admit my fear of losing him.
God. I love him so much.
He puts his hands over hers, stopping their nervous motion.
“That’s not what happened. It’s okay. I’m right here. He’s dead. I’m not.”
“Kathleen. I love you.”
“I love you too, James Joseph Ellison.” I smile up at him, attempting to project all the love in my heart, into my eyes.
“Yeah, I do.” My smile grows as the final vestiges of the nightmare leave. There is no room left for the old fears.
His admission – and mine – have driven them away.
He leans down and pulls me into his arms. His lips coming to rest against mine.
Several long minutes later, we both have to come up for air. Somewhere along the way, we’ve shifted positions and he is now lying full length next to me.
Raising himself up on his elbows, he looks down into my eyes. “You know I’ll do anything for you.”
“I know.” My breath catches in my chest. “And you know, I’ll be here for you. No matter what.”
“I know.” He kisses me gently. “So, how do you feel about children?”
“What did you have in mind?” My tone becomes teasing.
The gentle sound of laughter slowly turns into soft sighs.
Unnoticed, the animals at the foot of the bed turn away, leaving their humans to their privacy. Knowing, everything has finally worked itself out.