Summary: Jim continues to struggle with his past and with how to explain to Blair.
Note: See part one, "Club Doom," for warnings.
Jim Ellison had never particularly believed in bad luck. Accidents, mistakes, lack of foresight, poor planning, freak occurrencessure. Ill fortune, not so much. Where some people saw the hand of fate, he always saw freely made choices and the consequences that went along with them. What others called damnation or providence, he thought of simply as the way things were.
And yet, he couldn't help but feel that he'd cursed Blair Sandburg, that somehow his partner, his blameless friend, had gotten caught up in the karmic boomerang that should have had his name on it. Not just once even, but again and again. He kept fucking up, and Blair kept paying the price. He was starting to reconsider his stance on the whole luck question. After all, it seemed he was nothing but a bane to Blair.
Sometimes, it was amazing what turned out to be the source of one's pain. There were a lot of strong contenders to be the worst moment of his life: when he realized his mother was never coming home again; when his last buddy died in Peru, leaving him stranded and alone; when Carolyn figured out the truth and walked out on him; when he realized his father had known about his senses all along and had called him a liar anyway; that god-awful night with that kid in that filthy alleyway. Each had its own sickening dramatic appeal. Any one of them would have made a perfectly respectable nadir of misery.
So who would ever have guessed that the single most horrific moment of his life would come so quietly, on a peaceful Saturday afternoon, in a whispered confession from the person he had most loved in his whole life. No explosions, no recriminations, no pyrotechnics of any sort, just Blair's low, shaky voice. He reminded me of you. It still brought Jim dangerously close to tears whenever he thought about it. That's why Blair had gone to that club. That's what he'd been looking for the night he was nearly raped. Someone like Jim. God in heaven.
He really had never believed in divine justice, only in coincidences. But there was no way to ignore the sickening synchronicity of what he did all those years ago and what happened to Blair that night. Blair went looking for someone like me. He found someone who acted like an animal. I acted like an animal with that kid. The worst thing that could ever happen to me would be for something to happen to Blair. Shit! Shit!
Maybe he'd never put too much stock in fate, but he definitely believed in punishment. For years after his encounter with that boy, he had expected to get his comeuppance. He figured when he finally got comfortable, when he was certain it would never come back to haunt himthat's when the shit would hit the fan. But he had waited and waited, and nothing had ever happened. He was promoted to detective. He met Carolyn. And still, nothing. No shit. No fan. It had freaked him a little, the notion that he was going to get away with it. It fooled with his innate sense of justice. He didn't believe anyone ever got away with anything. He certainly never had in the past. He couldn't fathom why this would be any different.
It was only now that he remembered the fragment of physics that helped it all make sense. The harder you threw a boomerang, the farther it went. The farther it went, the longer it took to come back. The bigger the sin, the bigger the consequences. Losing his reputation and career back then would have been one thing. Losing Carolyn would have been another. But losing Blair...well, that was sorrow of a whole other magnitude.
And the truly terrifying part was that Jim had lost him. Blair had really been gone. Not simply moved out of the loft or departed from Jim's life, but fucking gone, from everything and everywhere. Hell, he still went cold way down deep in his gut when he thought about finding Blair floating in that god-forsaken fountain, blue and icy and lifeless. And, God help him, it wasn't like he'd ever actually gotten him back after it was supposedly all over, not even after Blair started breathing and talking and living again. He still had not gotten him back, not really, not completely.
The truth was that Jim couldn't allow himself to have him back again, not now, not ever. From the moment Blair had admitted what happened that night and Jim had realized the cause and effect of it, the cancerous distance had started to grow between them. The estrangement led to the boxes and that led to the fountain. And the fountain was a judgment, a message. It was all a sick, vicious cycle. It didn't matter that Blair had held out his heart to him, that Jim had seen and touched and practically bathed in that love while their spirits were joined. Jim had lost all rights to it. Here, finally, was a punishment to fit his crime. Here was hell on earth.
That was the worst partknowing that it wasn't just bad luck or a bad break or bad timing. But justice, pure and simple. Enter the shit, enter the fan.
It seemed that Jim couldn't even think about Blair anymore without harming him in some way. Just before it happened he always referred to Alex and the boxes and the grotto and the lunacy as itthat was as close to it as he ever planned to get, even in his own thoughts Before it all began, he had started having crazy dreams about Blair, scary, scary ass dreams. Jim would be running through the jungle, tracking a wolf. But when he went to shoot it with his arrow, it would all of a sudden morph into Blair, laying there on the groundmotionless, naked, defenseless, pale, cold, dead Blair. And it was Jim's fault, all his fault.
And then he found Blair in that fucking fountain. God, what was the point of those death traps anyway? For ornamental purposes? Architectural vanity? Were people fucking crazy? Blair died in there, in that tribute to somebody's questionable judgment. Blair lost his life. And while he would have liked to blame the imbecile who installed the monument to watery death so conveniently in Alex's homicidal path, the truth was that the whole thing would never have happened if it weren't for Jim and his terrible past and his complete idiocy. It was his fault and only his fault, just the way it had been in his damned dream.
He had hoped that after it was all over, after their breath and souls had been one for that miraculous moment, after Blair came back from the dead and home to the loft, that the horrible distance between them would recede, that the past would return to its sludgy lurking place, that the fucking dreams would stop. But it didn't, none of it, and the dreams just got worse.
His pleasant morning fantasies had turned into nightmares. Oh, sure, they still started off the same way: with Blair going down on him, eager and raunchy and intense, the way Blair always was in his dreams. But whenever Jim started to get lost in his pleasure, the scene would always cruelly shift, and he would be back in that alley again, fucking that kid. And then suddenly it was a sturdier body he was thrusting into, his face buried in long, soft hair. And Blair was begging so frantically, pleading with him to stop. And he knew he was hurting him, and that was the last thing he ever wanted to do. But, somehow, horrifyingly, he could never make it end. His hips just kept jerking forward, despite his will. He just kept pounding into Blair's tender, defenseless body, even though he thought he was going to be sick. And Blair just kept sobbing his name, begging not to be raped, in the most heart-breaking voice Jim had ever heard.
Last night when he had the dream, he woke up at three in the morning screaming his head off.
"Jim?" A soft, tentative voice had whispered to him.
He had still been half caught up in his dream, and it took a moment to process the fact that Blair was perched beside him on the edge of his bed. Apparently, he had been screaming for a while before finally waking himself up. In the next instant, he also registered that neither he nor Blair was any more than half clothed. That collided against the appalling images that were only just beginning to fade from his imagination. Having Blair sitting there so innocently beside him was like seeing him camped out in the lion's den. Every high strung protective impulse he had flipped out on him.
"What do you want, Sandburg?" he asked, more harshly than was absolutely necessary.
"Uh, well, you were having a nightmare."
"I'm fine now."
"Go back to bed."
"You were screaming my name." Blair's voice was stubborn.
He sighed heavily. "It's nothing."
"It didn't sound like nothing."
"Just leave it alone, huh?"
"We can't just ignore everything that's happened."
"But we don't have to rake it all up again either."
"Maybe not. But tell that to your subconscious."
"Don't get all Dr. Freud on me, huh?"
"I'm just saying..."
"Hell, I don't even remember what I was dreaming," he denied, lying.
"Bullshit," Blair said, knowing him far too well.
"Chief? I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but I can't have you here right now. I'd really appreciate it if you'd go back to your own room."
He felt Blair go still beside him. There were some times when he really wished he wasn't a Sentinel. If he hadn't been able to see so well in the dark, he would have been spared the painful mixture of embarrassment and hurt that crossed his friend's face.
"Sure, Jim," Blair finally said. "I didn't mean to overstep the boundaries. Sorry."
Jim swallowed hard and watched Blair retreat down the stairs. Every part of him screamed to call Blair back, to tell him how truly, truly sorry he was, that he hadn't meant it that way, that he wasn't afraid for his own virtue, but for Blair's safety. But the fear negated all attempts at explanation. He let Blair go. He let him go on believing that he didn't want him.
Blair avoided him after that, even more than he usually did, which was saying something these days. He tried to bite back his anger whenever people down at the station asked where Sandburg was. This took a lot out of him considering how many times in an average day his colleagues made such inquiries. He began to suspect that the other cops liked Blair better than they liked him. That might have hurt, except, of course, that he liked Blair better, too.
After a couple of days, he decided that he had to make his peace with it. So, Blair wasn't coming into the station with him. Okay, fine. He would just have to make the best of it. So he teamed up with Taggart on the Chung case. If he hadn't been so worried about the rocky state of his friendship with Blair, he might have actually enjoyed it. Joel was easy going and sensitive to people's feelings and a good cop. Not to mention that he looked up to Jim in a weird way. Joel would make somebody a great partner. It was just that he really needed a guide. He needed Blair.
But, of course, he had gone out of his way to keep Blair from ever knowing he felt that way, so he just had to tough it out. He went to the crime scene with Joel and did his Sentinel thing and made up some dumb excuse about how he was able to discover evidence even the forensics team had missed because of a detective's science course he'd taken. Since Blair wasn't along, it was up to him to do the obfuscating.
He really was trying to play it cool. Later, when Blair blew them off without even the courtesy of a phone call, he downplayed it. Let's go ahead without him, he'd told Joel, with a casual whatever shrug of his shoulders. So he had to break the bad news to the distraught girlfriend without Blair there to pick up the emotional pieces. It worked out okay. Joel stepped right in and did a great job with the comforting thing. See, he tried to tell himself. I'm fine without Sandburg glued to my hip. I can still do my job and deal with the Sentinel bit and hold it all together. No problem.
And while this was factually true, he couldn't help feeling empty and alone all the same.
When they arrived back at the station and he found Blair at his desk, typing at the computer, he had the sudden impulse just to hug the hell out of him. He couldn't remember being so happy to see someone in a really long time. But he squelched the grin that threatened to break out over his face. He was playing it cool, so he made some dumb joke, to ask Blair why he was there, to tease him about his flakiness in not meeting them earlier.
"A kid in my class tried to pass me a plagiarized term paper. He's got Daddy's money to back him up and threatened me when I said I'd fail him."
Jim frowned, puzzled. "So what are you doing?"
Blair hesitated. "Well... He also drugged and raped one of my students."
Jim's mouth went into automatic cop mode and asked all the right cop questions. Was there a report filed. Did the kid have any priors. But his heart felt cryogenically suspended in his chest. Why does this keep coming up? If he had his way, the word "rape" would never again pass between them.
"Looks clean," Jim heard himself saying.
"I know. Where else can we look? "
Blair sounded both desperate and determined, and Jim didn't know why but that made him feel panicky.
"I don't know, but, uh, anyplace other than right here," he said, rather coldly and shoved Blair, chair and all, away from the computer.
"What are you doing? "
"You've got nothing. My hands are tied. It's just the law," he said, cavalierly, wanting this whole subject over and done with already. Forever.
Blair stared at him. "It's just the law?"
There was so much in Blair's face, and Jim couldn't stand to see any of it. There was How can you say that? and Doesn't how I feel matter even a little bit to you? and Don't you realize that it could have been me?it was all there, fighting for his attention. And he wished he could just explain, just get the words to come out of his mouth for once: Yes, Chief, I do realize. And that's precisely the problem. It could have been you.
"What about what's right?" Blair demanded, getting to his feet. "How many times have I heard you say that?"
Jim shook his head. The last thing he wanted was for Blair to look to him as some kind of role model.
"Don't let your anger take you out of the game. One of your better lectures, remember?" he said.
No matter how much he might have pretended otherwise in the past, Blair did give good counsel. He really wished he would take his own good advice. God knows if he'd had the benefit of Blair's wisdom a little earlier in his life he might have avoided some of the truly harrowing places his anger had taken him.
"No, I don't remember it," Blair said, his lips pressed together in a thin line, his fury barely contained.
Jim watched him push past Simon and take off out the door.
"What was that all about?" Simon asked.
"Something at school," he said, vaguely.
He wasn't sure how he would have described what was going on between them even if he had wanted to, which he didn't, least of all to his superior officer.
That left him Blairless for the rest of the day, and he spent the time thinking about how things might have been different, stockpiling if onlys like he was some kind of regret-driven survivalist. Blair had given him an opening, right after Veronica's death. He'd started to piece things together. If only Jim had take the opportunity and filled in the blanks. In fact, Blair had given him any number of chances to tell the truth since then. He kept asking questions and pushing and wondering, the way he always did. If only Jim had not balked every time Blair approached him about it. If only he'd confessed.
But every time he even considered it, his tongue got all twisted around itself. What the hell was he supposed to say? Blair, there was this kid and... How did you phrase something like that? I fucked... no, I raped... Ah shit! That was as far as he ever got, as close as he ever came to leveling with Blair, even in the practice run of his imagination.
How am I supposed to tell him something like that after what happened to him?
Real, deep, true love softens the way you see things, a voice inside him would always whisper in answer, playing back what Blair had told him. He clung to that. There was a leap of faith in him fighting for expression. But there was also a legal eagle that kept insisting he could never win this way. He could never salvage their relationship with a confession standing between them. There was a good reason why past bad acts were not admissible in a court of law. They were too damned prejudicial.
So what do I do?
He puzzled that over the rest of the day and by quitting time, he had settled on making dinner for Blair. He realized pasta was a pale substitute for a straightforward explanation, but it was the best he could do. He hoped Blair would see it the way he intended it.
He stopped off at the store on his way home to pick up all the ingredients he would need. Some jerk had parked in his spot when he got back to the loft, so he was forced to circle back around to find a place along the street. As he was heading for the entrance, he heard sounds of a scuffle. And then he heard his guide's heart beat. It was pounding out of control. He dropped the groceries and ran.
There were three of them, and they were big, mean-looking SOBS. With a bat, nonetheless. Fortunately, he had the adrenalin edge. A bat was nothing against a terrified, enraged Sentinel who had almost lost his Guide once and had no intention of ever revisiting that particular nightmare. He dispatched two of them without much trouble. The third pulled a gun. All he could think was, Just do the both of us. That's all I ask. But the guy simply corralled the rest of the goons and took off, tires screeching on the plateless car, which was probably stolen anyway.
He helped Blair up from the ground. His face was a mess, and Jim quickly ran his hands over his body, checking to make sure there were no internal injuries, no need for a trip to the hospital. He was sure that Blair hurt like hell, but he wasn't in any danger, not as far as Jim could tell.
"Let's get you cleaned up," he said.
He propped Blair against the side of the building and fumbled through the sprawled grocery bag.
"Here," he said.
"Only thing frozen. Besides, it'll help you cool off."
"I'm not the one with the problem. It's that fucking asshole Ventriss who needs to cool off."
"I'm just saying that you should back off a little, so you don't end up getting really hurt."
"What do you mean back off? When the hell have you ever backed off?"
Blair glared at him. It made Jim's eyes hurt to see that much anger in him.
He sighed. "If I had I backed off on certain things in my life, they would have gone down a lot easier." The horrible truth of it made his throat tighten up. "Listen, Blair..."
It was another opening, and he was really going to do it. Finally. If love didn't soften the way Blair saw his past, then he'd just have to deal with it. It was better than always ending up on the other side from his best friend, and Blair always getting hurt as a result of it.
He yanked his cell phone out of his jacket pocket. "Ellison."
A scared, harried female voice came over the line.
"Yeah. No, it's all right to call..."
Blair watched him, both curious and disappointed. His face was really rather battered, one eye blackened, a cut above his eyebrow. The marks were like a reproach. At least, that's the way Jim took it. It seemed so silly now to have worried about something as abstract as the dissertation. Here was the real judgment: Blair's pain, his suffering.
And he'd missed yet another chance to tell him.
So it was swept under the rug once again. They went to see Dennis Chung's girlfriend and Norman Ventriss and Henry Nadine, like there was nothing wrong between them, like it was just another case.
They had the Ventriss kid brought in, and Jim got in the box with him while Blair watched from the observation room. Jim went through his usual "they'll love you on the cell block" routine, and the kid retaliated with an insult to his virility. It was the usual bullshit, but by the end of the interview, he was pretty sure he'd managed to put at least a little fear of God into the boy. Mission accomplished. If the kid was rattled, he would make a mistake, and Jim would be there when he did. That was all this meant to him. He had more important things to actually care about.
Later, when Simon ribbed him about taking a dislike to the
brat because he had said he was getting old and having trouble
with the ladies, he could honestly say those were two things he
never worried about.
When they'd followed up on as many leads as they could, Blair headed back to the university, and he sat down at his desk to stew a little more. Blair was rocketing around like a ballistic disaster waiting to happen, and he wasn't helping. Maybe he was even making things worse. Something had to change. Something had to give.
He tried once more to imagine telling Blair, but the familiar bile rose up in his throat. How could he tell him? What would make that possible?
A thought struck him, and he logged onto the police database. He typed in a name he'd tried for years to forget and the social security number he'd never been able to purge from his memory. For the life of him, he'd never been able to fathom why that kid had gone out drug dealing with his social security card on him. The computer bleeped at him. He had a hit, not from arrest records, but from the DMV. The kid hadn't gotten himself killed or sent off to state prison. In fact, he had a legally registered car and a permanent address.
Jim jabbed at the keyboard to clear the screen and pulled back from his desk like he'd been scalded by his own foolishness. What the hell am I doing? God. He was losing it.
How would that possibly help?
He forced himself to go back to the case at hand. Brad Ventriss and Dennis Chung and Suzanne Nadine and how to prove it. Enough of trying to figure out what to do about Blair. More than enough of dredging up the past.
Jim had plenty to keep him busy with the case. The pieces started falling into place. They got a search warrant, which yielded the physical evidence they needed. Then there was the little problem of apprehending the kids when their fathers were determined to help spirit them out of the country. It ended in the usual helicopter chase, which led to the usual jumping onto a moving speed boat thing. Why was it always a helicopter? Why was it always a boat? He had no idea.
All the while, he could feel Blair waiting. He wasn't entirely sure what he was waiting for. An explanation, quite possibly. Or an apology. Or a sign of some sort. He really didn't know. But something. Definitely. He could feel it. He could feel Blair. Feel him watching and analyzing and formulating plans that he was keeping to himself.
Jim was doing his own watching and waiting. It was enough to make him believe he'd finally, irrevocably lost his mind. But that didn't prevent him from going back again and again.
It had been easy enough to find out about the kid. Well, he wasn't a kid anymore. He was a grown man, not that much younger than Blair. Jim tried never to think about that. He had gone to his house, a condo in a nice area of town. He'd followed him to work, to one of the large clothing manufacturers in town. A quick phone call gained him the information that the kid was a regional vice president in sales for the company's menswear line. Sales! It made him roll his eyes.
Every now and then, he had to roll his eyes at himself, too. He didn't know what he thought he was doing.
Not too surprisingly, Blair's watching and waiting ended before his did. Silence was like a second skin to him, but for Blair, it was an unnatural condition. Jim just wasn't expecting the inquisition to come when it did, but then again, that was probably part of Blair's strategy. He'd learned the value of the element of surprise. There were times when Jim dearly wished Blair wasn't such a good student.
Getting into a little danger and busting the bad guys and coming out of the whole thing relatively unscathed had taken the edge off some of the tension between them. Blair came to tell him he got his job back, and somehow, slipped into a completely dopey take off on "Leave it to Beaver." Still, Jim was so overjoyed to see him acting more like his old self again that he happily played along. Hell, he'd pretended to be much weirder things than Wally Cleaver.
They stopped for Thai takeout on the way home. Blair's choice. His treat. They got enough food for fourteen people, just the way they liked it. When they got back to the loft, they spread it all out on the dining table and had second and third helpings of everything, washed down by several beers each. It was their "we're two guys kicking back together" thing that they did so well. It felt good. It felt like coming home.
Jim decided, after the fact, that this was probably part of Blair's strategy, too. He was practically an evil genius when it came to taking Jim off guard. So he waited until after dinner, after Jim was full and mellow and completely comfortable. They both settled on the couch with more beers, and Jim thought maybe they could catch a game of some sort on TV.
But Blair took the remote control out of his hand and put it on the end table, out of reach.
"I think we need to talk," he said.
Jim screwed up his eyebrows. "What about, Chief?"
Blair sighed. "What do you think?"
He swallowed hard. "I thought we... I thought things..."
"Just because we're not at each other's throats or giving one another the silent treatment doesn't mean that everything's all worked out."
"I don't know what you want me to say."
"How about the truth?"
Jim glared at him, irritably. "Are you saying that I've lied to you?"
Blair thought a minute. "Yeah. Maybe. At the very least, you've kept things from me."
"That's bull," he said.
Denial had become a habit that was hard to break, even when he wanted to.
"You know what? Don't even go there, man. I'm not going to recover this pretending-you-don't- even-know-what-I'm-talking-about ground again and again. It's seriously old by now. We both know we never really worked out anything after the fountain. And then, there's the stuff that came up after Veronica died. There are so many things you haven't leveled with me about that I've begun to lose count. So quit trying to pick a fight with me before we even start this discussion."
Jim sighed heavily. "Fine. If that's what you think I'm doing. Fine. So you want to talk, then talk."
"Okay, I will. I want to know why you threw me out of the loft. The real reason."
Jim cringed. "God, Blair. You don't pull any punches, do you? Look, do we have to..."
"Yes, we have to. I need to know."
"I told you about the dream."
"Yes, you did. Now what didn't you tell me?"
"I... I just didn't want you to get hurt. I didn't want to be the reason you got hurt. I never guessed that trying to keep you safe would Hell!"
Jim's throat closed up, and he couldn't talk anymore.
"I thought maybe you threw me out because you weren't comfortable with me after I told you about that shit at Club Doom," Blair said, quietly.
Jim turned to stare at him. "What?!"
"I know you said it was okay, that you wouldn't think less of me. But your actions... Well, they told a whole other story."
"But, Blair... God! I never meant. It was never you. It was me."
Blair crossed his arms over his chest. "You keep saying that, but I have no idea what it means."
"It means that I never want anything bad to happen to you."
"So how come you pulled away from me? Huh? Don't you think that's something bad happening to me?"
"I... I don't know. I didn't think so. I guess I just..."
"Well, you were wrong. Let me tell you. Losing my best friend sucks."
"Chief, you haven't..."
"Yes, I have. Ever since I told you why I picked up that Marine. Nothing's been the same."
Jim colored. "I just... It's..."
"You can't deal with how I feel about you."
"That's not it. Or, at least, not for the reason you think."
"Then you have to explain it to me, Jim. I'm seriously, seriously lost here. And I've been lost since that day I told you what happened. And then I died and came back. And you went into heat over Alex, and I'm not blaming you for that. But it's all made me even more lost. I need something to grab on to. I need some answers. And I need them to come from you."
Jim took a deep breath. It was now or never. He felt distinctly nauseous.
"I don't know if I can give you the answers you need, Chief. I mean, I can try. I just don't know if it will be enough. Or I guess I should say that maybe it will be too much. Maybe you won't want anything from me after I tell you. Maybe you'll just be out the door. I don't know..."
"Hey, you know, I can't believe I'm saying this to you, but Jim, man, you're babbling."
"Sorry," he said, wiping his damp palms on his jeans. "You see, Blair, there was this time I fuc I rap" He couldn't say it. He couldn't. "I... I... I love you!"
Hey, it was a confession. It wasn't the confession. But it was the truth. He turned to Blair hopefully.
Blair just stared at him, stunned.
"I do, you know," Jim said, softly. "I really, really love you."
Still no response.
"I think maybe I've always loved you."
"What?" Blair finally asked.
"I, uh, well..."
"That's what you have to say to me?"
"I ask you for answers, and that's what you give me?"
"You love me?"
"Yes. Very much so."
"That's not an answer, Jim."
"No, that's more like a mystery. An out-and-out conundrum. A goddamned freakin' enigma. That does not make anything clearer."
"Sorry? You're sorry?" Blair got up to pace. "Well, I should hope you would be."
"I have to tell you, Chief. This isn't exactly the reaction I was hoping for."
"What did you expect? That I'd be ecstatic that you love me back? Well, I am. I fucking am. But what the hell... What has all this misery been between us? Why have you been acting like you can't stand the sight of me?"
"Yes, you did."
"No, I didn't. That's just how you interpreted it."
"How else was I supposed to interpret your closing me out of your life? What could possibly be the reason for that if you didn't want to get away from me?"
Jim just blinked at him, unable to respond. Blair stared back at him.
"Oh," he finally said.
"What?" Jim asked.
"Oh. Oh, oh, oh."
"If you didn't want to get away from me, then you wanted to get me away from you. What the hell for?"
"Why would you do that? Why would you feel you had to do that?"
"Only one reason. You were trying in your weird, indecipherable Sentinel way to protect me. From yourself. Why?"
"I can't... I don't want..."
"What happened, Jim? Huh? I know something happened, something you don't want to tell me. You pretty much said as much after Veronica died. What do you think you've done that's so terrible I won't love you anymore when I find out about it?"
He shook his head. "I can't."
"You can't? You can't? You mean to sit there and say that you're not going to tell me why we've both gone through hell these past months."
He shifted uneasily. "Yes. That's what I mean to say."
Blair stared at him like he was a crazy person.
"I'm sorry," he offered, futilely.
"You're sorry? You're telling me you're sorry that you consciously, willfully refuse to tell me what I want...no, no, what I need to know?"
"Yes. Sorry, Chief. I swear to God I am. But it's the best I can do."
"So that's your offer then?" he said. "You love me. No explanation. No coming clean with me. No answers. Just you love me."
He thought about it and nodded. "Yes."
Blair shook his head. "I don't know if that's enough for me."
Jim swallowed hard. "I understand."
"No, I don't think you do. I don't think you understand how I've longed for you, waited for you, wanted you, watched, hoped, dreamed, prayed to God for you. I don't think you understand how it suckslike nothing else has ever sucked beforeto stand here and not be jumping for sheer, fucking unbelievable joy that you love me. Please, Jim, can't you just give me this one thing? This one little truth? And then we can clear the slate and start over. Start together. Can't you? Please?"
Blair held his gaze, such a desperate look in his eyes, and Jim searched himself, searched for a way to do what Blair wanted. But finally, he just had to shake his head. "I'm sorry, Chief." He could hear the tears in his own voice.
"I don't know what to do then. I don't know what to do, man."
"Can't we just..."
Blair shook his head. "I need to think. I need some time to think."
"I could leave for a while," he offered.
"No. I can't stay here in the loft. There's too much in my head. I need more room for all this, and there's too much...us here. I won't be able to concentrate with all this...this history surrounding me. I'm going to go out for a while."
Blair moved toward his coat where it hung on the peg.
He got up and started toward Blair. "Will you..." He needed to know.
"Try not to freak, man. I'm not leaving. I'm just thinking. I don't know how long that's going to take. If I don't come home tonight, I'll call and leave you a message where I'll be. Okay? And I will come home eventually. I promise."
Jim could only nod. What other choice did he have? This was all his fault. No wonder that whole fear-based response thing from Blair's dissertation got to him so much. It was too painfully true.
"I'll see you, man," Blair said and left.
Jim stood there in the middle of the living room.
"Don't forget, Chief. You promised," he whispered to himself.
He waited up most of the night, but Blair didn't return. Not that he'd really expected he would. Blair had dutifully called around eleven to leave a message that he was crashing at his friend Ray's place. Still, he'd wanted to be awake, just in case. He nodded off for a little while, but he was awake again in time to watch the sun come up. He finally forced himself to get up from the sofa. He made some coffee. There were still hours before he needed to go to work. He shuffled into the bathroom and took a shower. He didn't have anything better to do.
After he was dressed and had eaten breakfast, he found himself at loose ends once more. He felt the part of him that had been watching and waiting calling to him. Maybe you could get some resolution. Maybe you could get some answers. Then maybe you could give Blair what he wants.
It was too big a temptation. He was out the door with his coat in hand before his sensible self even had time to register what he was doing.
The boy...the man, he couldn't get used to that... The man lived in one of the new condos they had just begun building over on the west side. It was a trendy, up-and-coming area populated largely by young professionals. The kid...man... was doing well to be able to afford to live here.
Jim parked his truck on the other side of the street from the man's condo and waited. He had done enough reconnaissance to know that he would be leaving for work soon. He wasn't sure what he was going to do yet, so he was glad to have a few minutes to try to decide.
Eventually, the man came out of the house. He was immaculately dressed in a suit that looked like it cost more than Jim's monthly salary. His blond hair was shorter now, sleekly styled. He carried a leather attache case. If Jim hadn't been a personal witness to the man's past, he would have thought he was just another cellphone wielding MBA. The street urchin was impossible to discern in the well-manicured yuppy.
The man headed toward his BMW, and Jim had to make a decision. He was out of the truck and moving toward the man's car before he even knew what he was doing, as if he were on automatic pilot.
The man looked up as he heard Jim approaching. "Can I help you?" he asked.
"I hope so," Jim said.
The man stared at him, frowning, as if he were familiar but he couldn't quite place him. Then there was a spark of recognition.
The man smiled, and that surprised Jim. "Detective. You're really not who I was expecting. It's been a while, hasn't it?"
Jim was sweating, but he felt cold all over. He wondered more than ever why he was doing this.
The man was still smiling. "I'm sure the statute of limitations is up on my little...um, infraction, so I have to admit that I'm a little confusednot mention, terribly curiouswhat you're doing here."
"I, well... It's not official business. It's, uh...personal, I guess you could say."
The man watched him appraisingly. "Personal. Hmm."
Jim colored. "Not like... Not personal as in... I just need to ask you..."
The man waited.
"Well, you see, I..."
The man's face cleared in understanding. "Oh," he said. "I get it. You're here for forgiveness." He smiled more broadly.
Jim's throat was parched with shame. "I am sorry. For whatever it's worth."
"Yes, well, I can see that you are sorry. I suppose I don't really know what it's worth, though. And I'm afraid you've come to the wrong place for absolution."
Jim looked down at the ground. What had he expected? He felt sick.
"Oh, no. I don't mean that I'm withholding it or anything. I just don't particularly believe in sin, so I'd really be the last one who could absolve anyone of anything. The way I see it you do what you have to. If you get what you want, well, that's really the best you can hope for. No need to say you're sorry. You've won, for heaven's sake."
Jim's mouth fell open. "But... I... God."
The man laughed. "What do you think you did?" And suddenly his face changed. He looked ten years younger. His expression twisted into terrified outrage, and his lip trembled. "You have to let me go now. You got what you wanted. You better let me go."
Jim thought he might throw up.
"You don't know how close Sam and I were to getting where we needed to be," the man continued. "We had the money for school. I'd just been to register for classes. A little more money for books and living expenses, and we were home free. I don't know what possessed me to start dealing. Sam told me I was an idiot. I guess I just got impatient."
"You mean.. It was... You..."
"I really couldn't afford to get caught, and you just had to turn out to be a cop. But shit like that happens all the time. You learned to deal with it. Most guys, cops included, are bossed around by their dicks. You get their rocks off and suddenly, you're magically out of trouble. But a few of you...well, the only way to get to you is guilt. Push you to do something against your precious honor, and you'll fall all over yourselves trying to fix it. That's you, man. You're a classic case."
"You wanted me to..."
The man laughed smugly. "You were so easy."
"But you... you said..."
His face went blank for a moment, and then the boy he remembered from all those years ago was before him again. "Kidfucker!" he cried, his voice filled with outrage. And then the grown man was back once more. "I couldn't have you changing your mind and coming after me later. Hell, you had my name and my damned social security number. I don't know why I didn't leave that at home after I registered for school. Sorry for the drama. But you do what you have to do to get by. That's the number one rule of the streets."
"I can't believe... It was so real. I... I hurt you."
"You didn't do anything to me that I didn't want you to do. You wouldn't just fuck me and look the other way like all your buddies did. So I had to play rough. I had to make sure it came out in my favor. I had to win. And I must say I'm kind of surprised that you're still obsessing over this all these years later. Really, detective. It was win-win. You got laid. I got off. Time to let it go."
He stared at the man, not able to wrap his mind around what he was saying. He stumbled back a few steps, back toward his truck. His senses were going crazy. The memory of that night kept playing in his head, only this time he could see and hear and feel everything so much more clearly. He could hear the heart beat. It didn't have the right rhythm. Too calm. He could smell fear on the kid while they were in the truck, but not in the alleyway. When Jim forced his way inside him, the boy actually relaxed.
How could that possibly be?
"Are you okay, detective?"
He reached for the door handle.
"Hey, before you go, just so you know, I was twenty then. That kidfucker thing was just to make an impression."
He opened the truck door.
"It's kind of funny, you know. All my past little indiscretions...they give me a certain cachet in the fashion industry. It's really kind of interesting how things work out, isn't it?"
He couldn't stop shaking. His senses were assaulting him. He got into his truck, slammed the door and gunned the engine. As he screeched away, he couldn't miss the site of the man waving good- bye to him. He was still smiling.
The trip home was a blur. Looking back on it, it was pretty surprising that he didn't end up wrapped around a tree somewhere along the way. But he did manage to make it back to the loft, to get safely inside. After that, the lights went out, everything went dead.
When he did finally come back to himself, it was only because he sensed fear. No, terror. Blair's terror.
He sat bolt upright, instinctively reaching for his gun, which wasn't there. "Chief! What's wrong? Are you all right?"
Somehow he had ended up on the floor. Blair was crouched beside him.
"You asshole. You fucking, fucking, fucking asshole," Blair said, half hysterically, out of breath.
Blair's face was red from crying. He wouldn't stop shaking his head. "No. No. No. No. No. No," he kept saying.
"God, Blair. You're scaring me."
Blair stared at him like he'd heard anything so outrageous in all his whole life. Then he started laughing. It was the most creepy, spine-chilling sound Jim could ever recall.
He grabbed Blair's upper arms and shook him hard. "What the hell is going on here?"
"I couldn't bring you out of it. I shook you and yelled at you. Nothing. Nothing. Do you get that? I couldn't get you to come back to me. And God. Oh, God. Tell me you weren't lying here zoned the whole time I was gone. Please, God. Tell you weren't, Jim. Please? Tell me."
He let out his breath. So, that was it. He squeezed Blair's shoulder. "I wasn't. I promise. I just went out to... I didn't zone because you left."
Blair looked like he wanted to believe him, but wasn't sure if he could.
"I swear, Chief. I would tell you. I really would. I wasn't out that long. I promise."
Blair started breathing again. "Thank God. You scared the shit out of me, Jim. Don't ever do that again. I can't take it."
"Not as young as you used to be, huh, Chief?" he tried to joke.
Blair shook his head. "Don't. Not funny."
"That's my line, man. I'm the one who's sorry."
"I told you this wasn't your..."
"I should have been here."
"You would have been if I hadn't driven you away," Jim said ruefully.
Blair sighed and sat down next to him on the floor. "You still not gonna tell me what happened?"
Jim didn't know how to answer that. Now, he wasn't even sure what had happened.
"I'm not saying that I never will. But not right now. I'm sorry, Chief. God. You don't know how sorry I am."
Blair sighed again, more heavily this time. "Okay, so if that's what we have to work with, then I guess we'll just have to make do."
"Do you mean..."
"I spent all night thinking about it, and I finally came to the conclusion that I could most likely learn to live with it. I'd just need some time to make my peace before we...well, you know."
"So you want... You would still consider..."
"I did mean it when I said I love you, Jim. I wish you could believe that."
"I wish I could, too, Chief," he said, softly.
Blair shook his head and after a pause, he said, "I was serious when I said you'd better not ever scare me like that again. When I came home and found you there on the floor, I practically had a heart attack."
"I'll be more careful. Honestly."
"You damn well better be."
Blair scooted a little closer, and after a slight hesitation, he awkwardly slid his arm around Jim's waist. Jim held his breath for a moment, the way you might if a rare and precious species of bird alighted on your shoulder. And then all the tension just magically left his body. He felt calm for the first time in months, maybe the first time in years. He hugged Blair closer to him.
"Thank you," he whispered.