Warnings: minor, blink and you'll miss them, references to: Love and Guns, Cypher, Payback, The Debt, Switchman, and The Sentinel By Blair Sandburg. More immediate references to Sentinel Too, parts 1 and 2, and Deep Water. There is also a slight reference to Blair being a cop.
Summary: This is a companion piece to The List. Blair's reaction to Jim's announcement regarding Blair's rent money for the past few years...
A big thanks to my betas 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....
This one is for Gabrielle who said she wanted to see the look on Blair's face when he saw the paperwork. I'm still working on that, but I had to start somewhere. For Wnne who reminds me that the magic is inside. TAE who gave me a swift kick and reminded me that this was fun. And Ronnee who's inevitable bounce always puts a smile on my face. Ladies you're the best.
Thanks everyone at CT and CTA for your friendship and inspiration.
Feedback welcome at Toni Rae **************
An Unspoken Understanding
by Toni Rae
I open the door to the loft, still lost in thoughts of my day. As I throw my keys in the basket near the door and drop my ever present backpack on the floor under the coat rack, I take in the quiet of home. My words of greeting die on my lips, when I realize the loft is dark and Jim does not occupy his usual space in front of the television. Coming home, sitting down with a beer and something mindless on television, that's part of his routine; my routine now too, I guess.
I'm not really sure when it happened, when we instituted
the hour of quiet every evening when we arrive home. I think that it started
slowly at first. On those evenings when some weird happenstance dictated
that we both arrived home at the same time, either from the station or
the U or both, we'd sit quietly - not talking about work, or the day, or
what case was currently pending, or his senses. The Jag's might come up
in casual conversation, or the local hockey team, but other than that,
we just relaxed. Not having to talk to one an other. Somehow we'd achieved
the familiarity of old friends. You know the ones who've known each other forever and sit for hours without saying a word? Gradually these evenings became routine. We consciously timed our arrivals so we could sit quietly together. Or we started on our own, waiting for the other to
join us. More often than not, I joined him. Jim would be sitting there waiting for me, an open beer on the coffee table near my side of the couch. The questions of why I was late, and where I'd been waiting until after the quiet of the loft permeated both of our senses.
Somewhat concerned, I look around, finally catching sight of his silhouette on the balcony, highlighted by the fading sunlight. //what's wrong?// I think to myself. Leaving my jacket on, I move to join him; detouring to grab a couple of beers from the refrigerator, as I walk towards the balcony doors. If something is wrong, the least I can do is offer moral support.
Not wanting to disturb him, I step quietly on to the balcony. As I move next to him, he turns slightly and I hand him one of the beers in my hand.
He smiles at me. Attempting, without words, to reassure me that everything is fine. Nodding my understanding I turn to watch the setting sun, the clouds turning vivid shades of pink, orange, violet, and red. When the last shades of color dissipate and the stars start making an appearance he turns towards me.
"Got a letter from my financial planner today." The first words out of his mouth.
What no, "Hey, Chief. How was your first day at the Academy," I think. Maybe I should rethink my earlier assessment that everything is okay here.
"What financial planner?" I ask, trying to follow the conversation going on instead of the one I anticipated.
What does he mean, his financial planner? I mean come on. I know everything there is to know about the man standing next to me, even down to his PIN number. When did he get a financial planner? And how come I didn't know about it?
He laughs. "The one I found after you started leaving me rent checks."
"Huh?" I looked at him in confusion. Rent checks. Financial planner. You lost me here buddy. No, I take that back, this conversation lost me before it began.
"The rent money you've been giving me for the last three years." He says, a slight hint of a smile on his face. Almost like he's enjoying this.
"Yeah." I remember the rent money. How could I forget
the rent money? Those regular checks, well regular as I can, I leave on
his dresser, symbolizing the unspoken understanding that the little room
under the stairs is mine. Well, that and the fact that you pay rent when
you live somewhere. Naomi never quite bought into that idea, preferring
to go with the wind and sleep wherever she landed. When I started college
I began to understand. Living off other people didn't always work. And
if you wanted to stay in one place for any length of time you had to give
something back. So I started paying Jim rent. What I haven't figured out is the financial planner business.
"I invested it." At my puzzled look he clarified. "In something other than just the things that make this place a home."
Okay, so I really didn't know what he'd been doing with the money. But I had my suspicions, so I voiced them aloud. "But you bought things. Furniture. Knickknacks. Decorated. Painted. Paid car insurance and hospital bills, for both you and the truck." I ducked before his hand reached the back of my head. Even I knew that those $1,000 deductibles added up after a while. And with as much time as his vehicles spend in the shop....
"Yes, I did all those things. But I did them out of my salary."
"What about the mortgage?" I tried to follow what he was saying. If he didn't buy those little touches, those things that made the loft our home, where did they all come from? The place was pretty spartan before I arrived. I always thought that Carolyn took everything with her.
I mean, my stuff was kind of lonely there for awhile. It sort of dominated the room. Ancient artifacts, some nice replicas, anthropological journals, all those things that wouldn't fit into my room under the stairs just naturally spilled out into the rest of the loft. For a while I thought that Mr. House Rules was going to have a fit, but he just seemed to accept my presence. Slowly new things started to appear: the poster on the door, the rug and throw pillows on the couch, things from his past. I didn't think about it much. Oh, there was the fleeting thought that he had found a good use for the rent money I was paying. But now I'm beginning to wonder. Maybe some of the stuff was his from before. I kind of like that idea. Evidence of both our pasts converging, leading us into the future.
"I paid off the mortgage just after we found Jack's body. He named me his beneficiary on his life insurance policy. That amount, combined with my back salary from Peru which I used as the down payment, allowed me to payoff the principle on the mortgage."
"Oh." I said softly, still not quite understanding. "So the money that I've been giving you..." I trailed off. "You didn't really need it?"
Anger tried to override my disappointment. I mean, all the things I could have used that money for. If he didn't even need it, why did I give it to him? Here I thought that was one of the reasons he let me stay. No, that's not quite true. It may have been true in the beginning, but it didn't last very long. He let me stay because we needed each other. At least I think that's the reason he let me stay. Disappointment was definitely winning.
"For it's monetary value. No. For it's emotional value. Yes." His next words erased the disappointment from my face.
"Emotional value. What emotional value?" Emotional value. What am I missing here? Jim talking about emotional value? Something's not right here.
"The emotional value that came with knowing you were going to stay. That this was more than just a research project to you. That you were sticking it out. Staying put."
"Oh." The great Sandburgian wit and wisdom suddenly failed me. Oh. THAT emotional value. Jim's words leave me without any.
"Blair, your rent money has never been about the money. It's been about friendship. That's why, when you were in the hospital, after..." He trailed off, not quite able to say her name.
"I know." I quietly reassured him, my free hand coming to rest between his shoulder blades offering silent comfort and support. Leave it to Jim to equate rent money with a long term commitment. But then, I guess that's what I was doing too, at least on a subconscious level.
Leaving that first rent check was my signal to him that I wanted to stay. That this relationship had moved beyond us just being researcher and subject. Living with your subject tends to throw all rationality out the window. I knew that when I left him the first check, but I did it anyway. My finally finding a home overriding all thoughts of my dissertation. When he didn't return that first check in pieces I relaxed somewhat, he wasn't going to throw me out on my ear.
Eventually I noticed that he wasn't cashing them, so I mentioned it casually one evening at dinner. "Hey Jim, any idea why my rent check hasn't cleared yet?" He brushed me off, something about a mixup at the bank. This went on for a couple of months, then finally all my rent checks cleared. Not wanting to upset the fragile balance I never asked. I preferred to think him cashing my rent checks indicated that he wanted me to stay. Funny, I hadn't thought about it until now, but he even cashed the check I wrote him the month he threw me out. Maybe if we both hadn't been too busy reacting to the situation instead of dealing with it, I would have taken that sign to mean he didn't want me to go.
Guess we both have our own way of rationalizing things. Own way of dealing with our fear based responses.
"That's why I made jokes about owing me last months rent. I couldn't tell you that I wanted you to stay, wanted you to come home." Jim interrupts my thoughts, his strangely mirroring my own.
The last vestiges of disappointment left my body as we
stood there peacefully. His arm moved around my shoulders, offering his
support and friendship. Eventually the cool of the evening began to penetrate
my light jacket. I start shivering - almost imperceptibly - except to Jim.
Recognizing my tremors for what they were, Jim turned back towards the loft, grabbing the sheaf of papers from the edge of the balcony as he moved.
Noticing his movements I finally ask. "So, what'd the financial planner have to say anyway." I query, as we walk into the kitchen.
"I'll explain over dinner. Besides, we have a few decisions to make."
"Decisions? What kind of decisions? And what about dinner? It's not my night man."
"Well first we have to decide if we are going for Chinese or Italian. We have a lot to celebrate. Then when we get home we have to decide if we are going to watch the hockey game or the basketball game. And then you have to tell me how your first day at the Academy went."
"Jim!" See, I knew we'd get to the Academy eventually. My joy at the return of my lighthearted partner evident in my voice. I hadn't realized how much our casual banter meant - to both of us. His next words startled me.
"We have to decide what we're going to do with the rent money. Personally I was thinking one of two things. Either using part of it to pay off part of your student loans, or setting up a scholarship fund in the anthro department at Rainier. We could call it the Sentinel Scholarship. Or there's always the Sandburg Fund. That way you get to rub their noses in the fact that they kicked you out."
He laughed at the sneaky expression that crossed my face.
The Sandburg scholarship. That has some potential. I smiled to myself.
Nah. It would never work. I'm sure there isn't enough money there to make
the U name it after me. I mean, come on. We're talking about what, $10,000
here? No way the Chancellor would go for naming a piddly scholarship like that after me. Heck, she probably wouldn't even name a larger one after me if she could help it.
I'm torn by the choices. The opportunity to help a fellow anthro student warring with immediate financial need.
"Can't we do both? Or is there not enough money?" I finally suggest, some hesitation in my voice. It would really help a lot if I could lessen at least one of my student loans. I do not even want to think about the payments I'm going to have to start making here in a couple of months. At least I started getting the Grace Chandler scholarship a couple of years ago. That eliminated a good portion of my future debt.
It had sure been a godsend when I got that one. I didn't
even know I'd applied for it when the checks started arriving. The first
came with a nice letter. Dear Mr. Sandburg. You have been selected....yadda,
yadda, yadda. I'd gotten so many of them, applied for so many grants, I
even read it closely. All those letters read alike after a while.
Later, I went back and reread it. I was cleaning out my file cabinet or some such thing. I know, Jim's got me trained. Either that or I am adopting some of his anal-retentive traits. Every once in a while file cabinets need to be cleaned out. I've always known that, I just never did anything about it before I met Jim. This letter turned out to be different. Something about being personally selected by the unnamed benefactor. At the time I thought it odd, but didn't really pursue the matter. I needed the money and I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Funny. I hadn't thought about that letter in a while. Maybe now that I'm not connected to the University I'll have to look into where the scholarship came from. Or maybe not. After all, some things are better left alone. Takes the magic out of them, you know?
"I don't see why not. It would have to be a smaller amount for both things, though." Jim's words brought me back to the conversation at hand.
"Cool! I want to name it the Incacha Fund for South American Studies though." Almost without thought the name slips from my lips. I smile, knowing I've said the right thing.
"I like it." He finally managed to stutter out. "Thank you."
"It's no more than you would have done for me."
How can I ever begin to explain and repay all the things he's done for me? He gave me a home. Gave me my life, both literally and figuratively. I wonder if he knows how important he is to me. My Holy Grail. My Sentinel. My friend. My brother. Looking into his blue eyes I have an inkling that he does. That he returns the emotions equally. I smile again, blue eyes locked with blue. He easily returns my smile, as we communicate the importance of our relationship without words.
"I'll call the financial planner in the morning and have her set it up. Let me know which loan you want paid off and I'll have her do it all at the same time."
"How much money are we talking about, Jim?" I am surprised by the offer to pay off, not just reduce, one of my loans. He can't be serious. Can he? I mean, we are only talking about three years worth of rent money. There can't be that much money in that account. Can there?
"Enough. Besides, my financial planner is very good at her job." He answered before reaching for the phone. Guess he made a decision on dinner. I hope he went for the little Chinese place down the street.
"Chinese okay? The usual restaurant?" He asks before dialing the last number.
"Yeah, fine, whatever." I smile inwardly before waving him off as my attention returned to the issue at hand. I try to mentally calculate the amount of money I'd given him in the guise of rent over the last three years. I can feel the changing emotions on my face as I try to remember the amounts of all those checks. Of course it would be easier if I had just written them all for the same amount. As my mind skims over my check register my concentration on my calculations changes to shock at the figure I came up with. That can't be right. Nearly $15,000? Really? Nah... Wow. Wow. My mind moves from shock to excitement, as I began to play with the possibilities. How much interest does a normal savings account accrue? Man I shoulda taken some accounting classes.
"Figure it out yet, junior?" He asks, after hanging up the phone.
"Well, I figure I've paid you a little over $15,000, so there should be what about $20,000 there." My mind struggles to grasp the possibilities.
He smiles at the awe in my voice. "About that, and well invested."
Well invested? What does that mean?
"You know, it sort of doesn't feel right to use that money to pay off my student loans. I mean, come on man, you shouldn't be paying off my student loans for me. Maybe we should just put it all towards the scholarship." Doubts about my using the money for my own purposes resurface.
"That's part of the reason it's there Chief. I knew one day you were going to have to start paying all those loans back. Think of it as an investment fund that you've been contributing to for the last three years."
"I don't know. It just doesn't feel right. That's the rent money man."
"Haven't you heard a word I've said? It was never about the money."
He is surprised at my sudden agreement. But after living with him for three years I know when to push and when to capitulate. Besides, I'd hate to ruin this fragile understanding we've developed. I like the thought of him doing this for me. I wouldn't want to cheapen his gesture by refusing. No one has ever looked out for me the way he does. My Blessed Protector. I once called him that in jest. Little did I know at the time, how true the words would become.
"What about the rent money?" I ask, suddenly, needing the reassurance he wants - no needs - me to stay. Just because I considered him my Blessed Protector didn't mean HE did.
"You mean the stuff you are going to keep giving me on a fairly regular monthly basis?" He grabbed his jacket and keys en-route to the door. "Let's go Chief, dinner's awaitin'."
"Yeah. Do you still want it?" I am suddenly nervous, awaiting his answer.
"That depends. Do you want to stay?"
"Always. You know that." My eyes speak the depth of my commitment.
He smiles. One of those killer smiles that I keep telling him causes women to swoon. His eyes returning my commitment. "Good. As for the money, it keeps going into the investment fund. That way whatever we decide to do with it will continue for a good long time."
He closes the door behind us as we walk out the door.
After a short wait for the elevator, we begin walking down the block, the
restaurant just a few doors down. I have a contented smile on my face,
I can feel it. It matches the one I see on his. Yep. It seems my Blessed
my feelings on this one.