First Published in: Beefstick and Lambchop 2, May 1999

A death of aminor and recurring character warning needs to go on here. Not anyone at the station, but still a death, peaceful though it may be. No condom use, but this is make-believe so none is needed. In life, use caution and wrap it up. MAJOR ANGST WARNING, and maybe a hankie warning, too. I may be able to write an angst-free story, but this isn't it. Fair warning. The town, hair dresser, and all other inhabitants are fictional, but *extremely* loosely based on places I've been.

Thanks to all who encouraged me to finish this piece, and to post it. Lots of love, all.

A few wrong turns by Voracity

Blair put down the fantasy-romance novel he was reading. //Didn't want to read this stuff, but it was all I could find on short notice.// He looked out the window of the train, watching the countryside pass by. //Pretty country. Wish I had someone to share it with.// He settled himself back into the couch in his sleeper compartment. //I wish that hadn't happened that way.//

He thought back to a few nights ago, the meeting he had at the station with Simon.

"Sandburg, the Police Commissioner has ordered you off the streets. He said he didn't like civilians getting hurt, and you had surpassed his level of tolerance after this last one."

"Blair, listen, it isn't all bad." Jim patted him on the arm. "I have my senses under control, most of the time, and Simon can usually bring me out, even if it does take so long." He smiled at his best friend. "You and I are still a team, but we can't do it here anymore. I'm not letting you go, we're just going to re-arrange the present deal a little." Jim had squeezed his shoulder.

Blair had sat there and listened to them, quietly, while they gave their reasons. His injury. The amount of time he would need to be in rehab. The fact that a *real* officer, Jim's words, would be on leave if he was injured like that. Simon saying that he was going to be put on as an outside information source and aide, would still be working with the department and Jim, just on the qt. Jim telling him that everything was going to be okay as his world crashed around him.

"Fine, whatever," he had said, escaping the office. He hadn't wanted them to know how upset he really was; well, he had, but he didn't. He hadn't waited for Jim to catch up to him, if he had tried, but went down the garage, and went home.

When he got home, juggling the keys in his injured hand with his backpack and cane in the other, he found the letter waiting for him. Naomi was ill. She needed him to come to her, at once. He sat down on the couch, reading and re-reading the letter, memorizing the painful contents word by word:


I love you dearly. I'm sick, sweetie, very sick. I'm in hospice care in rural West Virginia. I need to see you before it's too late. It has to be soon. I need you here by me now, more than ever. Enclosed is a ticket for you to come to me. Hurry, please.


He could see the large, flowing script in his mind. The letters blurring together as he cried on them. //My mother, she's dying. She's leaving me, this time for good. What am I going to do when all of my family is gone?// He had left the letter on the coffee-table, and packed a bag, taking what he would need for a long stay. He picked up his tickets on the way out, leaving the letter for Jim to see. Knowing that by not calling Jim, he was changing them forever.

Now he was here. Riding Amtrak to the east coast; a long trip, but he was comfortable enough. He watched more of the Rockies flow by, letting their quiet solitude settle him, calm him. //I wonder what Jim's doing now? Is he thinking about me? Does he have a new case that he needs help on? Does he miss me? Does it matter anymore?// He let the rhythmic wobbling of the train lull him into a deep sleep.


Blair woke to find himself laying in a forest, alone. He looked around, trying to figure out if this was another vision. //Nope, no wolf, no panther, no ruins, and this isn't a jungle. So where am I?// He ran his hands down his side, checking his clothes. //Hmm, leather. Nice, soft, supple. Warm.// He sat up, noticing what was around his bedroll. //Bedroll? Not a tent, or a sleeping bag? What happened?// He looked down at himself. //Forest green leathers. Pants, vest, shirt on underneath. All meant to blend in with the trees.// He patted around on the ground beside himself, trying to find a clue as to his identity. His hand touched upon a rough, wrapped surface. He pulled it out, drawing a sword out into the dawn light. //Oh, wow, I'm stuck in a dream again. This hasn't happened since I was sixteen. Bet it's based on that book I was reading.// He looked down at his clothes again. //I kinda look like the guy on the cover.// He laid the sword across his legs and felt around is bedroll for his pack. //Yep, here it is. Books, herbs, talisman. Just like in the book. So I guess I'm what they were calling a ranger, a forest and nature specialist and warrior that heals trees and protects animals. Cool.// He started to lay back down, but a noise caught him.

Blair got out of his bedroll and slipped towards the noise. //Didn't know I could do this. Guess it goes with the story.// He stopped beside a river, watching for a sign of what had made the noise. //Oh, my. A little girl.// He walked forward, letting the sword that he didn't realize he had brought fall to his side. He stopped a ways away from her.

"Are you all right, little one?"

She screamed, jumping up and turning at the voice. "Please don't hurt me. I can't help you."

"It's all right. I won't hurt you. You're safe now." He sat down, falling naturally into a lotus position. "See, I won't hurt you." He laid the sword down beside him. "What's your name?"

"Marin. I'm from the town over there." She pointed the way, and then sank to the ground crying. "At least I used to be. They sent me away." She cried some more, then wiped her tears. "I'm different, and they couldn't understand it, so they sent me away." She sat in imitation of Blair. "Who are you?"

"I'm Blair. Are you out here alone? Didn't your parents send someone to look after you? What do you mean, different?" The questions fell out of his mouth, startling her.

"Yes, being sent away, banishing me from the town and letting the other's nearby know about it, is something you do alone. My parents tried to hide me, but someone found out." She tipped her head, measuring him. "They didn't really protest much when the town elders came for me, though." She straightened up. "Don't you know why people are banished for around here?" She held out a hand, and got up.

Blair took it, getting up himself and grabbing his sword, then led her back to his camp. When they got there, he made her find some twigs to start a fire with while he packed his stuff back up. They dug a hole together, Blair building the fire, letting it warm them from the fall air. He searched his pack, bringing out some food and a flask of water. He handed her some, and they ate in silence.

After they were done, Blair looked at her. "I'm new around here." //That's an understatement.// "Tell me about why they banished you, Marin. Please?"

She sighed, and pushed her hair behind a ear, delicately pointed and daintily pierced. "This is the sign of the changers. We're supposed to be special, but the last one around here did something very bad, they changed in a different way. I only have a few forms, but my parents were scared that I might be like he was." She let her hair fall over again. "Don't your people have changers?"

Blair thought about it. //Jim and his spirit guide. My wolf guide. Others with guides that they saw in visions.// "Some, but they aren't feared usually. We change usually in visions, though, not in real life." He remembered reading about a shape shifter in the book, but not anything special about her. Maybe he hadn't gotten that far yet. "How do you shift?"

"I shift by thought. Some times I have trouble getting back to human form, though." She shrugged. "It isn't the forms that scare them, it's the ability to change my human form into another form."

"You mean, like differently human?" He was catching on, remembering more of the story now. "Like you can change your appearance?"

"Well, that too. Your people really must not have changers like we do. We can change everything about ourselves; our hair, our skin color, our muscles, our sex, our eye color, our very essence of who we are."

"Wow. That's so cool." Blair said, wiggling around to find a more comfortable position, one that wouldn't allow his legs to fall asleep. "You've been able to do this since birth?"

"Yes. I came out in a semi-human form. I'm not very old, but we age differently than most people. By our aging standards, I'm almost an adult." She got up to find some more wood for the disappearing fire.


Blair woke up with a start. The porter was shaking him, letting him know that the station where he was to transfer was just a few miles away. He grabbed the book, looking at it, giving it a frown, before shoving it into his bag and standing up with the help of his cane.

//Maybe I should call Jim from the station, let him know I'm okay.// He stood and stretched, feeling stiffness pull in his back. //Nah, he saw the letter, knows where I'm going. He wouldn't want me to mess up his life anymore. I just get in his way. He and Simon made sure I got the picture this time, made sure that I knew I wasn't wanted at the station anymore. That I wasn't good enough to be one of them.// Blair slipped his arm back into the sling, adjusting it until it was comfortable. //I'll call when I get to Naomi's. Where ever that is. I hope she thinks to leave directions for me, or send someone to meet me at the station.// He picked up his bag, getting out of his compartment and leaving the train, heading into the station to wait for the next one.


Blair settled back into the new sleeper compartment. //At least mom got me a sleeper all the way. It would be bad if I had to ride in the other seats. They were worse than coach on an airline.// He stuck his head out the door, looking for the porter.

"Hi, can you please pull out the bed for me? I don't know how to do it." he asked the older man.

"Sure." The elderly man stepped into the cramped confines and pulled on one couches, releasing a handle beneath them. They slid out to make a bench. "Is there anything else you need before I go?" He smiled at Blair.

"No, thank you." Blair smiled back at him, and the man left.

Blair laid down, letting his tiredness come out. //Need a nap.// He settled in for another sleep, letting the rumbling action as the train pulled away from the station set him gently under its spell.


//Damn, this is strange. I'm back again. At the same place where I stopped. Maybe this is a vision after all.// "Marin?"

"Yes, Blair." She turned from her gathering of twigs. "Is something wrong?"

"No, I just had a thought. Could..." //Think fast, cover it up.// "Could someone be out here... hunting you?"

She stood still and thought. "No, I don't think so. They usually just leave us alone, let us live as our animal forms." She turned back to her gathering. "They're too scared to hunt us. Usually." A delicate shudder wracked her small body.

"May I see your forms? I mean, if that's an okay question to ask."

"Of course it is, but not right now. I have trouble changing in the light." She didn't turn around, but he would have to of been blind not to see her back tighten.

"I'm sorry if I offended you." he said quietly when she returned to the fire.

"That's all right. I have to remember you aren't from here." She fed the fire a few sticks and sat back down. "You see, around here, a changer needs to hide themselves. Any showing off is something that makes you a danger to others. They think that if you can do it, you'll want to do it more often, and eventually you'll not be able to change back."

"So, then you'd be an animal with human knowledge, and therefore dangerous to the community." He nodded, knowing that other societies had thought like that about modern interruption into their lives. "It's okay if you tell me no. I understand now."

"No, it would be good to roam tonight. I'll show you, but you can't tell anyone. Promise?"

"Of course." He smiled at her, trying to put her at ease. "Were you planning on going any place special tonight?"

"No, but I was going to look for the others that are supposed to be out here." She shrugged, and fed the fire a few more sticks. "It's said that there is a pack of changers out here. I was hoping to run into them, but I haven't seen them in the seven-day that I've been out here." She looked over him. "They're supposed to have formed some sort of family, taking in others like them."

"You've been out here a week? By yourself? How have you lived? Did you hunt, or fish, or pick roots?" He was getting interested in this.

"No. I changed forms and hunted like that. It didn't take much effort, and the other changers wouldn't come near me unless they knew I was one of them."

//Wow, an exclusive closed society.// "Do you know where in the forest they are? We could travel that way. I would go with you to make sure nothing happened to you."

"Thank you. I would like that. They're in the depths of the forest, around a big open space, according to the person who brought me to the edge of the trees. She said that if I walked in a straight line towards the middle of the forest, I would run into it." She jumped up and kissed Blair on the cheek. "You would go with me? Even though they might harm you? You're very brave."

"Why would they harm me? I mean, I bring one of their own to them, and come with peaceful intentions. I'm not there to hurt them, or to tell others where they are. I just don't like the thought of a child, even one as mature as you, wandering alone through the woods." He patted Marin's cheek. "Now, let's get everything together, and you put the dirt we saved on the fire so we can go. Okay?" She bounced and smiled as she did what he asked.

//And I thought Jim's dad was rough on him for being different. Man, what would have happened if he were here? They might have lynched him as a witch or something. I *am* going to get her there. I *will not* allow her to wander around unprotected.// "Ready?"

She nodded and took his hand. They started off toward the setting sun.


Blair was woken by the porter for supper. He was helped up, grabbing his cane on the way, and after thanking the older man, headed toward the rear dining car.

He found a table to himself, for now and sat down, letting the nice waitress get him his food. He slipped his arm out of the sling and laid it gently on the table so he could maneuver his food around the plate.

"Would you like some help?" the waitress asked him, smiling and nodding at his arm.

Blair started to frown, but then dropped his corn for what seemed like the thousandth time that night. He smiled and pushed the plate towards her. "Thanks, I haven't had much practice with the injury yet."

She sat down and cut up his food for him, handing over the spoon she had brought him. "How did you do it?"

//To tell the truth or an interesting lie? Hmmm. Truth, or part of it, it won't get out.// "I'm, I was, an observer for a metropolitan police department. I got hurt on a case." //Short and to the point, but without many details.//

"My brother is a cop, but he works in this little rural town. He's the second deputy." She shrugged and pushed the plate back over, looking around to make sure no one needed her. "I don't like his job, it's dangerous, but he loves it."

Blair smiled. "Yeah, it has it's moments." He picked up the spoon and started in on his meatloaf. "Um, this has gotten better over the years."

She smiled. "Corporate president rode a few years back and compared it to army food. It was changed immediately."

"Oh, I'm sure it wasn't *that* bad. It was almost as bad as college food, but not army food surely." They both laughed and Blair started to relax. He took another bite. "So, why do you work for Amtrak?"

"I quit school, college, two credits away from graduation. I wasn't happy with what I was going to be doing, so I stopped." She looked down and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. "I just woke up one morning and left. Had someone pack my stuff. I saw an ad on the way out of town and called. Two weeks later, I was accepted into their program."

"Um," he took a drink. "That sounds familiar." He looked her over. "My other job was to teach at a college. Anthropology. But this," he waved his sore arm around, hissing as he moved it to much, "took me out for the rest of the semester. My mom's sick, so I'm going to her."

She looked him over, seeing the sadness in his body, the way he was sitting. "Do they know?"

"Who?" He took another bite, then swallowed some water.

"Whoever you left at home?"

Blair shook his head and swallowed. "Nope, didn't care. They pushed me away. The letter just came at the wrong time. Or the right time depending on your view point." He scraped his plate clean and finished his water. He stood up, bracing against the table until he got the cane firmly in hand and supporting his weight. "I gotta go upstairs. Maybe I'll see you in the morning." He held out his sore hand and she took it gently, giving him one last smile.

He limped his way up the narrow stairs, carefully making his way back to his compartment. Once inside, he laid back down and pulled back out the romance novel, opening it to the marker and reading. //Maybe I'll forget for a while. And if I'm going to keep getting stuck there, I might as well know what's going to happen.//


Blair looked around. He was back in the forest. Marin was no where to be found, but for some reason that fact didn't upset him. He took in his surroundings, the downed tree he was sitting on, the fallen leaves, the person trying to hide behind a tree.

He jumped to his feet and searched for his sword. It wasn't anywhere either. //Oh, damn.//

"You make a lousy ranger," came the deep voice from behind the tree. "Maybe you should look for some other calling." The person came out from behind the tree, showing himself, hands held out at his side in plain sight. It was Simon. Or someone that looked just like him.

"Yeah, well, I guess I dozed off there." He shrugged and sat back down, tired all of a sudden. "So, where's Marin?"

The almost-Simon laughed and came to sit before him. "She's fine. We found her. What are you doing here?"

Blair looked around, then back at the eyes that knew him. They could see through him, it seemed, straight into his heart, mind, and soul. He wished the real Simon had looked at him like that, even once that day, then he would know how much his words had cut him. "I don't know." He had been going to lie, but he couldn't do it. The eyes stopped him. "Why am I here?"

The creature laughed again and Blair woke up to the whistle.

The porter was smiling down at him. "You only have one more stop. About half an hour till we get there." He patted Blair's shoulder one last time and left him alone.

He shook his head. //That dream is getting too weird. Majorly weird. Now Simon's in it? I gotta get some real sleep.// He moved to quickly, wincing at the pain. //Or some better drugs to numb me.// He sat up, looking out the window at the mountains and forest going by.

Every once in a while a house, or a few houses would flash by, but mostly it was trees on hillsides. Behind little mesh fences. He checked his pack, making sure it was together and he had everything before he put his sling back on.

The porter came back right before his station and helped him get his things together, steadying him down the aisle and narrow stairs. He waited beside the door, watching the town pull into view. //On I go to a new life. Yet again.//


Blair knocked softly and opened the door to his mother's room. He waited in the light from the hall for her to acknowledge him.

"Blair, sweetie, is that you?" He nodded, too choked up to speak, and she waved him over.

He sat on the side of her bed, lightly brushing her cheek. "Mom," was all he got out before he started to cry. She looked so .... small. Shrunken. Pitiful.

She held him to her chest, rocking them gently until his tears abated and dried. "Sweetie, thank you." She kissed his forehead, letting him sit up.

"Mom, how long have you been here?" he asked, wiping off his face. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, it's a bunch of things now. Mostly it's just caught up with me." She tried to sit up, but had to wait for him to help her. "Thanks. I've been sick for a while."

"And you just *now* tell me? Why not when you first found out? Or when you got here?" He was angry, but it felt right. How could she do this to him. "Why didn't you tell me months ago so we could spend some time together?" He pushed himself away from the bed. "It's not like I wouldn't have come, or wouldn't have liked to have had the time with you? How could you do this to me? Abandon me again, without saying goodbye this time?" He let out a deep, hard breath. "Sorry, I ...."

"Exploded, yeah, I noticed," she made a face at him and patted the side of her bed until he sat back down. "They tell me angry is good, it's healing." She shrugged. "I've just kinda accepted it by now."

He kissed the top of her head. "So, why didn't you tell me? Sooner, I mean."

"Because I thought I had it under control. The herbs and things I was doing were working until a month ago."

"So, this has been going on a long time?" She nodded and took his good hand, playing with the tendons. "Since the last time you were in Cascade?" She nodded again, but still wouldn't look at him. "Why? Or better yet, what?"

"Lymphoma," she said quietly. "But it was working and I didn't want you to worry...."

He stopped her with a finger over her lips. "Mom, I'm supposed to worry, I'm your son. Remember?"

She looked up at him and smiled. "How could I forget? I was in labor with you for two days, I pushed for six hours. It was like delivering a watermelon through an orange." They laughed at the old joke, and he laid down next to her. "Honey, where's Jim?"

He checked his watch, still set on Washington time. //Have to fix that later.// "At work probably."

"Is he coming too?" Blair shook his head. "Why not?"

He held up his arm, sling and all. That was all that he needed or wanted to be said.


They set the tone for the following days.

Blair would take a walk outside, exercising his leg so it would get stronger, while Naomi was counseled, medicated, fussed over, and taken care of. They would meet up for lunch at her bedside, then he would go back to her apartment in town so she could nap. He would go back to the forest in his, and she just dropped off. They met again for supper, talking over the old times into the night.

Once a week, her doctor, a pleasant old woman, would come in and check on her, actually spending time talking to her. This amazed Blair at first, he hadn't known many doctors that would take that sort of time with their patients, but she had explained to him in small town terms.

"It's not like I have a hospital full of people who need my permission to piss. I only have ten patients right now that I need to check on regularly and she's one. Are you all right with it?"

He had nodded, thanked her, then hugged her.


The day Blair found the library, in the basement under City Hall, he was ecstatic. He had been there two weeks, and had already exhausted his mother's meager supply of reading material. Except for the romance novel he had bought for the trip. Just thinking about it and the dreams it started was enough to make him have shivers.

He pored through the meager selection, finally coming up with something that Naomi would like to read, or to have read to her and something he wouldn't mind reading again.

"Hi?" He looked around for the librarian.

She popped her head out of a closet sized office and headed for the lone computer. "Are you ready to check out?"

He handed over the book. "I'm new in town....."

"Oh, we know. You're that woman's boy, the one in the Hospice house. Blair wasn't it?"

He smiled. "I had forgotten what small towns were like." He handed over his driver's license. "I don't have an in-state one yet...." She waved it off and handed him the form.

"Heard you were a teacher or something out west." She checked over the completed form and went to the typewriter to fill out his card.

"Yeah, at Rainier University. I taught Anthropology. I'm a grad student still."

"Gonna graduate soon?" She handed over the completed card and stuck the bar code sticker on it, scanning it in and the book too.

"Well, maybe, I don't know how long I'm going to be here. I'm off for the semester due to injuries, though."

She looked at him, glancing over the arm sling and the cane. "Ran into the library door I bet." They laughed and he took his book, returning to the Hospice and his mother's side.


It was a few days later that he decided he should call his advisor. He was in the house, waiting on the doctor to leave, and it was pouring rain outside again.

"Hey, man, it's Blair."

(So, where did you disappear to? Those friends of yours has been driving me nuts.)

"My mom's in Hospice care in West Virginia. I'm in this pleasant little rural town, staying near her." He took a deep breath. "I may not...."

(We can get it excused for that. Just have the head person there send me a letter saying that she's in care there and you're with her. The Dean will have to approve it, but only for one semester. What's wrong with her anyway?)


(Um, bad thing. Had a friend that died of it. Tell her I wished I had gotten to talk to her more the last time she was here.)

"Can do." He started to hang up, but stopped. "Hey, man, can you do me a favor?"

(Another one?) A long drawn out, over-dramatic sigh. (Sure.)

"Don't tell Jim where I am. This is personal and all."

(Okay.) He hung up.

Blair turned to look at the nurse behind him. "Thanks. I needed to get that straightened out."

She smiled. "You know, if he would come, you'd feel better. Right now is a good time to lean on friends."

He gave her a small, pathetic smile, compared to his normal ones. "Well, friends we might not be anymore." He shrugged and went to the waiting area, picking out a couch and flopping down.

//Why would he want me as a friend? I abandoned him.//

The little voice of reason, or unreason, came up with an response. //But not until he had abandoned you.//

He thought about that. Had he been abandoned? He had been kicked out of Jim's life at the station, but not at home. Jim was probably worried sick too. He tried to get up, but the deep couch held him. "Help," he called softly.

One of the nurses came out, smiling at him. "I told you to not sit on that one." She pulled him up and held him steady until he got the cane under him. "Okay?" He nodded and headed for the phone. "Why don't you start working with a therapist? We have one here."

He shrugged. "Don't know. Stubborn maybe."

She patted his back on her way up the stairs. "No maybe's about it."

He laughed, waiting until he was alone, to dial a number he had known by heart for three years. //Who to ask for? Who won't go narking to Jim the instant I hang up?// He laughed internally. //That leaves out Rafe, and H, and Simon too. So that leaves...// "Detective Connor please." He waited until he was connected by the station operator.


(Blair, where are you!?! We've done search after search looking for you. Jim and the Captain are both frantic over you.)

"Ssshh. I can't tell you that. I just wanted to tell someone I was still living and I'm okay." He hung up before she could ask any more questions or one of the others could put a trace on the line.

//So why do I feel like a runaway teen?//

He saw the doctor come down, and headed slowly over to her. "Hey, how's mom?"

"She's not getting any better."

"Isn't that expected?"

"Usually. But I had hopes that this bout of pneumonia would break by now." She ran a hand through her hair, pushing some bobby pins to the floor. She looked down in disgust. "Oh, well. Had to get it fixed tonight anyway."

"So, should I make sure she has everything in order or is it too soon?"

She studied him, her eyes not missing a thing about him. "Yes, it would be a good idea. The sooner the better, for both of you." She put her arm around his shoulder, drawing him out of the entry way. "Blair, your mother's still expecting some miracle. Something that will pop up just in time to save her at the last minute." The doctor sighed, then hugged him. "You both are. You need to face it and get past it to acceptance. She may seem like she's accepted it, but she's not yet." She let him go and stood back some. "And you will come to my office to let me check your arm and leg later today."

"I don't have the money for an office visit."

"Who said anything about charging you? I'm taking care of you so you can take care of her for longer." She patted his hair. "She's napping, we can go now if you want."

He nodded and followed her out to the car.


Blair was sitting on the table, paper gown in place.

"Okay, now let's look at your arm." She removed the gown and gently started to flex it, watching his face when he started to his in pain. "What did you do to it?"

"I had a separated elbow and rotator cup with a torn bicep muscle somewhere in there."

She hummed and tried to move it again. "Well, it's healing, but not fast or well enough. I want you to start working with the physical therapist at the house. She's offered," she held up a hand to forestall any protest, "free of charge. Now let's look at your leg." She put his arm back in the sleeve, waiting until he had it comfortably placed on his leg.

She had him straighten it out, not locking the knee. He got it most of the way up, but not even close to straight.

"You've been walking I hear. Good, it's doing some good." She felt and moved the various muscle masses around until she go to his lower thigh. "That where the injury was?" He nodded and groaned when she squeezed it too hard. "Okay, well again, it's healing, but not fast." She turned her back to the desk, pulling open the cabinet above it and pulling out a bottle. "This is a relaxer. Use as needed to stave the cramps off once you get them." She pulled down another one. "This is a mild pain killer. Use it only when you have to." She handed them off and walked outside until he was dressed.

"Okay," she said, coming back in at his yell. "I want you to work with her at least twice a week. Your walking's fine, but I want her to monitor it. She says she doesn't get to do most of what she was trained for, so she's more than happy to take you on just to keep in practice." She waited to see if he was going to argue. "Now then. Those pills are the last you'll get. Take them *only* as needed, and take them when you need them. If it hurts enough to be doubtful, do it." She smiled. "My son and husband are just as stubborn as you, so I know you'll avoid it if possible. But that's a good thing." She patted his arm and helped him back into the sling and off the table. "Means you won't be coming back for more. Anything else?"

He shook his head and smiled at her, earning a kiss on his hair for the effort. "See you next week." He waved after she had shown him out the door.

"That boy's gonna need some one soon," she told her receptionist. "Hope he has one." She turned and looked at her next case of summer allergy. "Ready, Rolly?"


Blair walked back into the house, looking for the therapist. She was in the kitchen, making cookies for the patients. "Hey," he said from the doorway.

"Good, 'bout time you came to me. What did doc say?"

"Twice a week, walking was good, and to have you monitor me on it." He leaned against the door frame. "How did you know?"

"She called to make sure I would work with you." She walked past him, handing him a hot cookie. "Chocolate chip. Three this afternoon in the workroom." She left him alone to go to Naomi's room.

"Hey, Sweetie," she called when he stuck his head around the door. She put aside her dinner tray and patted the bed beside her.

"Eat it," he said and sat down to make sure she did.

She frowned at him, but pulled the pureed food back over, eating it all under his gaze. When she was done, and had pushed the tray back aside, she wiped her mouth. "Better?" He nodded and kissed her cheek. "Thank you. What did the doctor say?"

"I'm fine. Work with Holly, the therapist downstairs." He shrugged and gave her the picture he had drawn for her last night. "Here."

She unfolded it, smiling. "My little artist. Thank you." She placed it against the lap where she could look at it while laying down. "Anything else?"

"Yeah, actually." He took a few deep breaths, not really ready to broach the subject yet. "She wants you to work out a will."

Naomi nodded, in her sage and wise way. "Why? I've got time." She coughed, and spit delicately into the napkin.

She had tried to fold it so he wouldn't see, but he could see the pink tinge and pulled it away from her. "Because of this." He reopened it and held it up. "How long has this been going on and does she know?"

She patted his arm and took it from him, balling it up and throwing it on the tray. "Yes, dad, she knows. Everyone does." He looked so hurt, so she sat up enough to hug him before falling back to the mattress. "I have some time yet."

He shook his head. "Maybe not. You don't know that."

"Yes, dear, I do." She pushed the button, raising the back of the bed a little. "I consulted someone who could tell me when and I still have some time."

"Mom! Some fortune teller or card reader can *not* accurately tell you when your last day is." He tried to get up, but she stopped him with a frail hand on his arm. "I'm sorry, but you know that too."

The nurse poked her head around the door. "Everything okay?" She gave Blair a hard look. "I don't want her worn out now, hear?" He nodded and she left them alone.

"Sorry," he said quietly.

She laughed. "You gotta admit, I'm in a good place to be mothered." They laughed and he picked up the book, reading her a few more pages before she fell asleep.


He limped into the therapy room, smiling at Holly. "Ready for my torture session." He saluted her, almost, and made her smile.

"It's good to see someone eager to see me." She waved a hand at the mat, watching as he got down onto the floor. "Okay, so it's your arm from your shoulder to elbow, and your thigh to knee?" He nodded and she pushed him down on the mat. "Good, get ready to work them."

He just smiled and laid back. "Ready for whatever you've got. You won't be half as mean as some of the people I've worked or dealt with. You ought to try to deal with a freshman football player who's flunking."

She laughed and picked up his injured leg, starting out.


He crawled into the double bed in the apartment, exhausted. First the longer than average walk from the doctor's office, then the workout, then wheeling Naomi around the grounds. He had asked her why she picked here to go, and she turned around in the chair. "Because I wanted somewhere I could find peace," was all she said.

He flipped the comforter up, snuggling under it to avoid the cool nights. He was asleep before he realized it.


Blair looked down, seeing himself still on the log and the Simon-like person still sitting next to him. "Back again?" it asked.

He nodded and got up, stretching. "So, have you figured out why I'm here yet?"

Simon laughed. "That's not my job, Ranger. The only one who would know why you're here is you."

Blair nodded and walked around some, eager to do it without a limp, even if it was only in a dream. "This is a dream for me," he said, sure he already knew.

"It is for all of us," Simon said wisely and ran back into the woods, disappearing without a trace.

"That's so cool," Blair whispered and looked around for his things. He picked up his sword and pack, and looked around. "Where to?"


He was woken by a pounding on the door. He knew it was coming some day, this wake up. People always seemed to die in the middle of the night. But he wasn't ready for it. Not yet. He got up carefully and limped over, not bothering to grab his cane. "Yeah?" he called before opening it.

"My mom just got a call..."

Blair opened the door quickly. "Mom? Is it my mom?" He started to breathe heavily and quicker. He really wasn't ready for it to be time yet.

"No, well kinda." The teen from across the hall put a hand on his shoulder. "She's got a few visitors that are upsetting her, looking for you."

Blair shook his head. "Bet I know who they are," he muttered. He gave the teen a large smile. "Thanks, man, I'll go run 'em off."

"'Kay. Oh, Mom said to tell you supper tomorrow if you're home." He smiled and went back to his apartment.

Blair kept smiling. He really had forgotten how close small towns were. He closed the door so he could get dressed again and grabbed his keys on the way out. "Jim, this is too much," he told himself.

He started the three block walk to the hospice house.


Blair knocked gently on his mother's door, the nurse had said she might be asleep, but someone was still in there. Simon, from the description. He opened the door, poking his head through the opening. "Hey," he said softly.

Simon brought his head up from the bed, where it had laid on her hand, and smiled wanly at the younger man. He waved a hand, motioning Blair to come in.

Blair hobbled in, and sat down on the edge of Naomi's bed. The drugs they had been giving her for pain were strong enough that she wouldn't wake up unless they started to shout. "Captain," he said softly.

He was surprised when he was grabbed in a tight hug and not let go of. When Simon finally drew back some, there was a sheen of tears in his eyes. "Blair, you're okay," he said softly and pulled him back into the hug.

Blair patted his back, trying to calm him. He had never thought about Simon as being this emotional, or liking him this much. "Simon, man, you okay?"

Simon pulled back and smiled. "Shouldn't I be asking you that question? How are you?"

"I'm fine. My leg and arm are healing. Been working with a therapist here at the house. Why are you here?"

"Blair, why wouldn't I be here. Your mother is sick. She's a friend of mine, and so are you. So why wouldn't I be here?"

"Oh, I don't know." Blair was starting to get mad. Trust the men in his life to show up and act like nothing happened. Simon had been taking too many lessons from Jim. "You pretty well told me I wasn't welcome in either of your lives anymore." He started to get up, but was pulled back into a hug.

"Blair, we never meant to hurt you that day. Neither of us did. Jim especially didn't. We knew you would be upset, but we didn't think you would leave us. Then Jim got home and saw the letter and he just knew you weren't coming back. Ever. So, he called me. We've been searching for you since that night." He pulled back some. "Jim cried when Megan said you had called, but you didn't want to talk to him. Or any of us."

"That's nice," came the weak voice from the bed.

"Oh, Naomi, you're up. We're sorry." He let Blair go and sat back down, taking her hand and kissing it. "How are you feeling?"

She laughed. "Oh, Simon, always the gallant man. I'm okay. This might be a good day." She smiled at her son. "It's about time he called you two. Where's Jim?"

"He's at the Police station, registering our presence with the local guys. He'll be back in the morning."

She nodded and laid her head back. "That's good. Blair needs someone for him. Even if he says not."

Simon looked at him. "Oh, he and I and Jim are going to have a long talk."

"Left without telling anyone, huh?"

Simon laughed and Blair started to flush in anger. "Mom..."

"Shut up, son." She closed her eyes. "Take them back to the apartment and take a nap. See you in the morning. Or the afternoon, whenever you get here." She rolled onto her side and fell back asleep.

Simon stood up and held a hand out to help Blair up, but he shook it off and stood up on his own. He stomped out of the room, as much as he could, and down the hall. He didn't see Simon's face fall, or see Jim coming down the opposite end of the hall and follow him. The two men followed him silently to the park. He brushed the leaves off a bench and sat, staring out into the stars and light clouds. //How did it come to this? Why are they here? Why now, when I was just getting used to not having anyone?//

Jim kneeled down in front of his best friend and patted his good leg. "Blair, buddy, talk to us?"

"Why?" He didn't look down.

"Because we need to," Simon said, sitting beside him, after shifting him over some. "We really need to."

"I don't even know why you two are here." He looked from Simon to Jim, seeing them both ready to tear up. "It's not like you didn't make it *very* clear about my place in your lives."

"Blair," Jim said, "we're here, still friends. Even if we can't work together, and that's going to change, we're still friends."

"Oh, are we Jim? Are we really?" He glared at the older man, his best friend. "Are you so sure about that? 'Cause I'm not." He tried to get up, but the gentle hands on him stopped him.

"Blair, we are still friends. No matter what." Simon stroked his arm. "I'm your friend and he's always been. Nothing that happens at the station should affect that, but we know it does and we're sorry about how we handled that day."

"Why? You gave it to me in simple terms. I'm not good enough to work with you. I'm not good enough to do anything with you like the other guys and Megan are."

"Chief, we didn't mean it that way. We were worried about you getting hurt again." Jim ran a hand down the hurt thigh. "This isn't the first time it's happened, and it won't be the last if you're there. We were, and the Chief was, just trying to protect you."

Blair stood up, and was pulled back down. "I don't need protecting like some child," he hissed and tried to walk off again, but was stopped at the standing part.

"Is there some problem here?" One of the local Police officers was coming up behind them.

"No, Officer," Jim said. "We're just trying to convince him that we're still friends."

"Blair, you all right?"

He nodded. "Yeah. They won't hurt me." //Not physically, anyway.// "These are two of the cops I used to work with, Bill," he said, waving a hand. "This is Detective Ellison, and Captain Banks."

"Gentlemen." He nodded. "You know the park is supposed to be closed, right?"

Blair smiled. "Yeah, but I didn't want to wake my neighbor. She works too hard as it is without being woken up by yelling."

"Okay, just wrap it up soon or go to someplace open." He walked away. "Oh, and Blair, would you like to come for dinner on Sunday? My wife wants to pump you for that recipe."

He laughed. "I don't know, man. Depends. I'll tell you Saturday."

"Okay." He nodded and left them alone.

"Looks like you've found a life here without me," Jim said and got up, leaving. He couldn't stand to stay there and face Blair, who didn't need him. Wouldn't ever need him again.

Simon scowled at him and ran after the younger man. "Jim," he called softly.

//This is *so* not what I wanted to happen when we first met again. Maybe I'm still angry.// He snorted. //No maybes about it. I'm still furious with them. Now they show up and expect things to be the way they were. How can I go back to the way things were after that? After all of this?//

He looked up as Simon pushed/pulled/walked Jim back.

"Blair, we need to talk. Seriously talk." Simon put Jim on the bench, in the spot he had occupied. "Both of you need to talk, then we need to talk. Is there someplace we can do that?"

Blair checked for his watch, which he forgot. "It's the middle of the night. Most everything's closed. We could go back to the apartment, but we can't be loud. I won't have the nice lady next door woken up." He looked at Simon. "Or we can wait until the morning and you can just sleep on the floor and couch."

"Sounds good," Jim said quietly. "We.... it can wait until tomorrow."

Blair nodded and stood up. He hobbled up. "Come on," he said, when he noticed they weren't following him.

"We brought the car," Jim said. "Would you like to ride?" Blair shook his head. "Okay, I'll go with you."

"I'll go get it," Simon said. "Meet you there." He smiled at Blair's quizzical expression. "One of the nice nurses told me where you live."

Blair just nodded, that sounded like them. "Jim, coming?"

The older man smiled and followed him. "Sure, Chief, anywhere you go."

They walked out of the park together, under the watchful eyes of the local Police. They walked in silence to the apartment building, leaving the deadbolt at the bottom of the stairs undone for Simon and going up.

Blair's hands shook as he unlocked the door, so Jim took the keys from him and undid it before the jingling woke the neighbor. He opened the door and let Blair go in first.

Jim looked around the sparse furnishings. "Nice place. Naomi's?"

"Yeah. She kept paying the rent on it, though, so I could stay here." He flopped down into the chair, looking up at Jim, who was standing guard over him. "Man, sit, you're making me tired, just by standing there."

Jim laughed softly and went to the kitchen. "Do you have anything to drink?"

"Cabinet. Right one. Lemonade and tea mixes. Go ahead and make a pitcher." He wiggled down into the chair and sighed. "It's going to be a long night," he said softly.

Jim came back in and handed him a glass of tea. "Yeah, it is." He sipped his tea and looked at his best friend. "Why didn't you leave me a letter or something?"

"I was rushing." He took a swallow. "Didn't think you'd care anyway." He took another drink, only to have the glass taken out of his hands.

"Blair, I was frantic. I looked everywhere for you. Even after I found your mother's letter, I couldn't find out where you went. We tried everything to find you, but it was like you had disappeared from the face of the Earth." He sighed and sat down in front of his friend. He laid his head on the knees before him. "Simon found me zoned most mornings. I had to move into his place so it would quit. I was searching for you, and nothing I did could find you." He started to rub small circles on the flesh. "I couldn't do it without you. I haven't been at work in two weeks because I couldn't face it."

Blair sighed. "Jim, man, that's just Sentinel stuff. I'll be back in Cascade after this is over, and you'll be fine."

"Back with me?" he asked softly.

Blair shook his head. "No, man, we...I need space."

Simon came in and locked the door. "I got the one downstairs too." He sat down on the couch and drank Jim's tea. "And you've had space for the last three and a half weeks."

"I'm going to bed." He tried to stand, but Jim wouldn't let go of his legs. "Jim, man, I need to get up to do that."

"No, talk to us, please?" He looked up, sad eyes evident.

"In the morning, Jim," Simon said. He stood up. "Do you have any extra blankets and things?"

"Closet," he said, pointing toward the bedroom. Simon nodded and headed down the hall. "Jim, man, I need my rest. I have a long day tomorrow, not to mention talking with you will be draining."


"Can't what? Let go?" The older man nodded and he sighed. He got comfortable in the chair. "Go ahead and do what you need to do to relax."

Jim smiled sadly. "You wouldn't want that." He moved his head onto the thighs. "How are you?"

"Better. I had therapy today, the first one. I've been walking a lot." He shrugged. "I'm getting better and stronger."

"I'm sorry," he said quietly.

Blair thought he had heard wrong. What did Jim have to be sorry for about his injury. "It wasn't your fault I was hurt. I'm the one who wanted to stop there for that particular spice."

Jim chuckled softly. "But you also shouldn't have been there. That was my fault."

Blair shook his head and stroked Jim's hair. "It was my fault. I was in that store because I wanted something special that night. You wouldn't have been able to talk me out of it."

"Blair, that man panicked when he recognized me in the truck. He knew I was a cop, and saw you getting out of it. Besides, I should have wondered why there wasn't anyone up front and checked it with my hearing first."

"At least you still had it then," Simon said, coming back in with the extra pillow and a blanket and sheet set.

"They're gone?" Blair asked. Jim and Simon both nodded. "Man, that I never expected. You should be able to use it without me being there. What are you going to do when I'm not working there when I get back?"

"Well, you're coming back, that should help things," Simon said. "He kept trying to find you with his senses. That was most of his problem at the loft. And two, you're coming back to the station to work too so that won't be a problem."

"You said the Higher Ups didn't want me there, had pulled my ride along status."

"Oh, they had. But they got really pissed when Jim went on Administrative leave two days after you left because he couldn't do the job." He grinned. "The Commissioner tried to have his badge taken, but IA just put him on restricted leave and suggested, in the strongest possible terms and the nicest way, that we get you back."

Jim chuckled. "Oh, his face was priceless," he added. "It turned all purple and green."

"Bruised, just like his ego." They all shared a laugh.

"Oh, man, that must have been a sight." He took a deep breath and the smile dropped off his face. "But he was right, I don't need to be there."

Jim started to cough. Simon patted his back and rolled his eyes. "He's been doing this each time someone said he didn't need you." They waited, patting and rubbing him until he calmed down. "The doctor I dragged him to said it was some sort of hysterical reaction like a panic attack of coughing." Simon shrugged.

Blair sat there, and helped Jim calm down, and thought. //He needs me. This isn't the same strong and unemotional person I left.// He looked down at his best friends, seeing them for the first time that night. //Jim has a gray hair!// He picked up the strand and played with it. //Simon looks older too. I did this. My selfishness did this to them.// "I'm sorry," he said.

Jim just looked up at him, wonder on his face. "For what?" He gave one last little cough and settled down. "None of this is your fault. Well except the panic stuff after you left me." He gave a small smile. "And I know you were upset, so I can forgive you that too."


"No, Blair. Stop." He laid a finger across the mobile lips. "It's not important right now. Right now all that is important is that we're back together and you're willing to talk to us." Blair nodded so he removed his finger. "That's all that matters to me. That I have you beside me and you're willing to talk to me again. I know I don't deserve it, and you were right to take yourself away from us when we treated you like shit. But, now that I have you close enough to talk to and touch, you're not going to leave again. I'll change, whatever it takes. Just don't leave me again."

Blair was shocked. //Jim sounds so desperate .... but he can't be. Why would he be? The only reason someone sounds like that is when a lover..... He can't love me, not after everything that's happened, not Jim. But he sounded so lost just now.// He took a deep breath. And another, making the decision easily. //I can give him a chance. I *need* to give him another chance. For us.// He smiled down, trying to put him at ease. //I love him. So much. I need him, as much as he needs me it seems. That's why you almost killed me when you sent me away from you.// "I won't go. Neither will you for a while."

"No, we're staying here until you're coming home," Simon said, laying down. "We're on leave until you can come back with us."

Blair nodded. "I'm not sure...." He swallowed, still not ready to talk about it or wanting to show how much he was hurting.

Jim reached up and pulled him into a hug, cooing soft noises into his hair and rocking him gently. He hadn't needed to be told. His Blair needed him and he was going to be there this time. He wouldn't let him go this time. Never again. He couldn't let him go again.

"I'm.... thanks, Jim."

"Anytime," he said quietly and stood up. "You need to get to bed Want help up?"

Blair took his hand and pulled himself up, leaving his cane next to the chair. "Sure." He didn't say anything when Jim helped him into the bedroom, holding his arm while he wobbled in slowly. He sat on the bed and looked up. "Where are..." He cleared his throat. "Where are you going to sleep?"

Jim looked at the floor, sweeping it with the toe of his shoe. "This carpet looks soft, can I sleep in here?" Blair nodded and he gave his a bright smile. "I promise I won't have any nightmares and wake you up."

Blair smiled, then frowned as the words sunk in. "Nightmares? About what?" When Jim didn't answer, he huffed in frustration. Jim immediately fell to his knees in front of him and rested on his thighs.

"I won't shut you out. I've been having them about you. I keep seeing you fall to the parking lot, the gun shots." He took a deep breath, slowing his words. "I keep seeing you die in front of me, at the store, and I can't do anything about it," he said quietly.

Blair went back to stroking Jim's hair. "I'm here, though."

"But you weren't there," Jim said. He looked up. "You left me. Alone."

"Jim, I had to come."

Jim nodded. "I know. But you didn't let me know or anything. I was alone again. You weren't going to come back. Not to me at least, and I couldn't do that." He buried his head into Blair's thigh. "I can't be like that again," he said into the firm flesh.

Blair thought about what he had said, thinking about what he knew about Jim and his past. Everyone had left him, or drove him away. Now he had done the same thing, and Jim still wanted him. //That says something about us. Even though I screwed up that badly, he still wants me. Still wants us. Can I do this again? Let myself be that open and vulnerable to him again? Can I go back to following him around like a puppy again?// "Jim, what do you want from me?" //I have to know. I can't go back to being his shadow again.//

"I want you back. On your terms. How ever you want to do it. I'll take whatever you're willing to give me again." He looked up. "Just don't leave me totally alone again. Please?"

Blair smiled at his answer. Things would be different now, this time. //Not a chance. I can't stand seeing you like this again.// He patted the bed in silent invitation, he would feel better an so would Jim if he could hold him and know he was there and real. Jim shook his head no. "No? Not even so you can sleep?"

"No. I can't do that to you." He lifted Blair's legs and swung them up into the bed. He pulled the blankets over him, smoothing them and then laying beside the bed. "I'll be right here."

//He's afraid of me?// "Jim, the floor's uncomfortable. All I was offering was a soft place to sleep. You can even lay on top of the covers if you want. But, it would help me and you know that you're here if you did."

"No, Blair, I don't want to do that to you. You need the bed all to yourself. Rest and we'll talk tomorrow." He turned off the light and settled himself in. "Night."

"Night, Jim." //Thank you for coming for me. We'll work this out.//


Blair woke up. It was almost dawn, when he looked out the window. What had woken him? He heard another noise and listened carefully. He rolled carefully onto his side and looked down at man laying beside him.

Jim was reaching for something in his sleep, crying out for it.

Blair reached a hand down and rubbed the shoulder that was sticking up. Jim calmed, and rolled over, taking his hand in his and rubbing it. He stopped making those noises and smiled. Blair settled himself, getting comfortable with an arm hanging off the bed. He knew, somehow, he would never have that dream about the forest again, not as long as Jim held him.


The next time he woke, it was almost noon. He hadn't gone back to the forest tonight. For once and never again. He was calm, rested. And his arm was asleep. He peered over the bed, watching Jim play with his fingers. "Morning." Jim dropped his hand, looking guilty. "That's okay. That's why I put it down there." He gave him a smile. "You were having another nightmare. I rubbed your shoulder and you grabbed my hand, a big smile on your face."

"Thanks," came the quiet response. "Simon went to get groceries."

Blair nodded. "I've not had a chance." He sat up, pulling the blanket over the shorts he had thrown on last night. "Want first shower?"

Jim shook his head. "My bag's still in the car."

Blair nodded and pulled open the closet. "I stole a t-shirt of your's when I left...." He stopped, not wanting to bring back up the subject.

"S'okay." Jim came up behind him. He kissed him lightly on the top of his head, shocking the younger man. "Go take your shower. Simon'll be back soon."

Blair nodded and hobbled into the bathroom. He remembered to close the door, leaving it open slightly so the swollen wood wouldn't stick again. He relieved himself and started the shower, waiting until the toilet stopped running so he could get cold water. He adjusted the water and stepped in, grabbing the shower curtain rod for balance with his good hand. He adjusted the head, proof that Simon had taken a shower already and reached for his bottle of shampoo. He lifted the wet hair out of his eyes, and looked around. No shampoo bottle. He checked the other flat places in the plastic walls. There is was, next to the curtain. He grabbed the bar, steadying himself as he turned. It came away in his hand, the tension rod slipping in the moisture. He started to slip, but was caught by strong arms. He looked up into Jim's concerned face, and smiled. "Thanks, man."

Jim set him back upright, steadying him until he quit wobbling. "Okay?"

Blair nodded and reached for the shampoo, shaking the bottle. "Simon moved it on me."

Jim smiled and nodded, grabbing the curtain and rod, looking at it. "How does this go back up?" He checked for hooks and things, finding none. He raised an eyebrow and looked at the ends of the slim rod again.

"It's a tension rod. Squeeze it and put it where you want it." He blushed at the meaning the words put into his mind. //I've been dreaming about him too much already.//

Jim nodded again and slid the rod up into a place where he could see dents in the wall. Once he had it up, he left the room, closing the door slightly. "I'll go make your bed."

"Okay," Blair called. He turned back to the water, looking at the bottle like it was some alien life form. He shook and poured some out, working it into his hair.


Jim listened to Blair shower, making sure he wouldn't hurt himself again. He made the bed and straightened the clothes laying beside the bed up, not sure if they were clean or not. He decided to check, and lifted a t-shirt up, sniffing it deeply.

He got lost in the scent, noticing all the differences from the last time he had smelled Blair.


Blair got out of the shower, testing the bar before letting it hold his weight. He stepped out lightly, sliding the supposedly non-skid mat back into place with a foot. He grabbed the towel and noticed it was wet, so reached under the sink to get another, and saw all the clean ones were in the wash still. "Jim?"

No answer.

He shrugged and grabbed his robe off the back of the door, warm from the heater that wouldn't turn off, and slipped it on the sore arm first. He stepped off the mat and promptly fell down. "Oh, cramp, cramp, crampcrampcrampcramp," he murmured. He tried to rub it out, getting the knot to loosen eventually.

He pulled himself out of the bathroom, across the fifteen feet of hall to the bedroom, and stopped. There was Jim, standing still, holding a shirt to his nose and zoned. "Oh, crap," he said and pulled himself up on the doorframe. "Jim, man, come on."

Jim didn't move, so he pulled the shirt away. Jim whimpered and his breathing changed, getting suddenly shallow.

"Jim, move." He grabbed the arm again, holding it to steady himself as he cramped up again. "Jim, man, come on now. This is a bit much. Zoning on my shirt and all." He couldn't think of what else to do, so he pulled the unresisting man down to the bed and fell next to him. He pulled Jim's head to his chest and told him to "smell me, not the shirt. Find your way back to me, man."


Jim lost the scent and panicked. Blair. Blair was gone. His scent was missing. Someone had stolen the Blair scent. Again. He started to pant, looking around the where-ever he was to find it, sniffing the air. There, it was there. He let his sense of smell go to it, inhaling deeply at the clean and fresh smell of his Blair. He opened his eyes, seeing his Blair's chest. He was smelling Blair's chest now. How...? He must have zoned again. He looked up, smiling. Blair's face was twisted in pain. "What's wrong? Did I hurt you?" He ran a gentle hand down Blair's arm, noticing it trapped under him, so he sat up.

Blair was whispering something about a cramp. He checked both injured limbs, quickly finding the knot in his leg. He started in on it, alternating gentle and firm strokes over the bulge "Sshh, it's okay. Let me get it out. I'll make it better. Ssshh" Blair nodded, his breathing easing, not biting his lip as deep, his whole posture getting softer and calmer at his touch. "You must have overdid it yesterday," Jim said, moving to a new spot and working some more. He stroked the soft flesh, easing Blair back to a non-pain spot. "There," he said, giving it one last pat. "Better?"

Blair looked up and nodded. "You?"

"I zoned again?" Another nod. "Sorry," he said and looked down, turning his sight up and looking at the leg. He could see the red spots he had put on it, rubbing it so hard. He could see the starting of a varicose vein near the injury site. "I... you need to go see the doctor."

"Nope, already did." He sat up, making Jim move. He grabbed the older man, smiling and kissing his cheek. "Thanks. You don't know how much that hurt." He leaned over Jim's body and got into the bedside table, grabbing the bottles of pills and checking the labels. He tossed one back in and sat back up, an arm coming around him to help him back up. "She gave me these for when it happened." He gave Jim the bottle and smiled as he read it carefully.

"Okay. Do you want some tea to take it with?" Blair shook his head no, checked the dose and swallowed one dry. "Ewww, how can you do that?"

Blair coughed at the taste and Jim jumped off the bed, jogging into the kitchen, coming back with some tea for him. He stood there, making sure he drank all of it. He placed the glass back in the kitchen and came back to sit beside him. "Better?" Blair nodded and he sat down, pulling Blair close. "So, talk to me now?"

Blair looked down at himself, pulling the robe together slightly to cover himself, and started. "I was just so hurt..."

"I know. We didn't mean to hurt you. We were trying to rationalize it so you wouldn't feel so bad. We *never* meant to hurt you and never wanted you to leave. Simon went later that next day and *yelled* at the Commissioner that afternoon."

"He yelled at him over me?" Blair looked up, searching for the truth he knew he would find in Jim's eyes. All he found was honesty and pain and love. Jim did love him, really loved him. "I'll come back, but not until..."

"No, we're not going back yet. Not until Naomi's gone and you're ready." Jim hugged him to his side and kissed the top of his head. "I love you. We'll wait. And if Simon has to go back, I'll wait."

Blair nodded and smiled, lighting up Jim's whole face. "I didn't want to call you, but I was thinking about you everyday. Everyone wanted me to call. That's why I called Megan that day."

"So you did the runaway thing and called and told her you were living." Jim grunted when Blair blushed and nodded. He pulled a curl lightly. "That was too much. We pulled out our last resort and called someone to find you for us."

"You?" Then the light dawned. "You called a friend in the intelligence community, didn't you?" Jim nodded and looked at him, squarely in the eyes. "Okay."

"Blair, you don't know what it did to me, you leaving. For the week I made it to work, I zoned on the littlest things, a piece of hair or a left over smell. I was looking for you, my senses kept going off to find you. The few hours a day that I wasn't under, I was rude and pushy and grumpy. The second day, Joel took a swing at me, I was so bad. Simon was keeping me in his office, so he could watch over me and protect me from the others. It was that bad." He stroked the curl lovingly. "I was miserable, in constant pain. Not from my senses, but my chest and my head started to hurt. I couldn't see, I couldn't do anything buy lay there and gasp. Simon dragged me to the doctor after the first coughing attack. He told me I needed committed to a Psych ward because of my obsessive behavior over you, that it was 'unhealthy'. Simon said it was love, and the doctor said it was mental illness." He snorted. "I'm still not sure which was right."

"It was love," Blair said, laying a hand on his cheek. "It had to be. And it's returned."

Jim's smile was one of the most precious Blair had ever seen. "Really?"

He could only nod, and smile. They sat there, smiling for a while. Until Blair shivered.

"That's it. Dressed." Jim got up and got him some clothes, handing them over, kissing the top of his head again and leaving him alone to dress. He met Simon in the kitchen, and helped him put up the food.

"So, you two are okay?" Jim nodded and smiled, and reached up to put something on a shelf. "Good." He handed over a box of spaghetti, and waited until Jim had it up. "I stopped in to talk to Naomi. She's not expecting him until well after lunch."

"Thanks, man," Blair said, coming in and resting against the wall. "How's she this morning?"

"She's okay." Simon put up the milk and looked at him. "Small towns are more gossipy than Police stations." They laughed at him, Blair giggling. "Oh, no. By the time I got to the grocery store, the cashier and three women knew I was here to be with you and so was the other guy. They all told me it was good that you had finally called us to help you through this and would you like some cookies? That from the cashier."

Jim smiled and looked at Blair. He could almost see his ribs through the shirt. His smile faded. "Yeah, he could use them. Have you eaten recently?"

Blair shook his head in frustration. "I *can* remember how to take care of myself."

Jim held up his hands. "I know," he tried to back off, but the overprotective part of him wouldn't stop. "It's just that it looks like you've lost some weight, and you weren't heavy to begin with."

Blair blew a stray hair out of his face. "Jim, man, tone the Blessed Protector back some. I'm fine. It's all the walking I've been doing. I ate last night before I got back."

Simon nodded and put a restraining hand on Jim's arm. "As long as you're looking after yourself."

"I am." He went into the bathroom and they heard the blow-drier start.

"Jim, you can't start off with that again. The man is more than capable of taking care of himself. I know you worry, but he's not a child."

Jim looked down. "I know. It's just that I worry, and ...."

"And you love him." Jim looked up in shock. How did Simon figure it out. "Please. Like it wasn't obvious. You quit eating, you moped around my house while we were getting ready to leave. You called his name in your sleep, and not only during the nightmares. You love the man, and he loves you. Otherwise this wouldn't have affected both of you this way."

Jim nodded and looked down. "I can't make it without him. He's my soul and my heart."

Simon rubbed his shoulders, making Jim look at him. "I know. That's why you have to take this slow. Easy and slow. You can't just jump back to your old relationship, things have changed. Drastically changed. And now you have to deal with that too."

"Yes, sir," he said and smiled. "As long as he's mine."

"I'm not a possession either," Blair said from behind him, hugging him tightly from behind and snuggling his face in between Jim's shoulderblades. "I'm not a toy or a pet or anything you can own. I'm a person."

"I know. I have known. Don't hate me, not over that. Please?"

"Why would I hate you for loving me like that?" He kissed the firm flesh. "I like that you try to protect me, that you care that much for me, but you have to let me be by myself sometimes too. Okay?" Jim nodded and he smiled, nipping the flesh. "Good."

Jim turned in his arms and hugged him close. "I'm yours. And I won't smother you in cotton to protect you either, not if I can stop myself."

"Jim, man, you'll always want to. That's a given, and I accept it and love it. Sometimes. And when I don't I'll growl at you and you'll stop." He smiled. "'Kay?"

Jim smiled and hugged him tighter. "Yeah. It's cool. Thank you for understanding."

"Understanding what? That you love me and you've *always* been overprotective of me. Man, that came out the first time I was with you and you told me to stay in the car. It was so obvious," he said, tapping the massive chest.

Jim laughed. "Yeah, I guess it was. Okay." He looked down. "Breakfast?"

"I'm not doing dishes so you can cook."

Simon held a hand up. "Don't look at me."

Jim just shrugged and nodded. "Was that restaurant any good?"

Blair shuddered. "No. But the best breakfast is served over at one of the local bars. Let's go." He let Jim go and waited until he was set free from the muscular cage. He grabbed his cane and looked down at his arm. "Not even going to consider looking for it," he whispered. He looked around for his keys, which Simon held up and his wallet, which Jim handed him. They followed him out the door, his limp more pronounced.

"Blair, what's up with your leg?" Simon asked.

"Cramps earlier," he threw back over his shoulder as he locked the bottom door. "But Jim gives a monster massage, so it's okay now."

"Bet me," Jim said, and steered him toward the car. "In."

"Nope, the bar's only around the corner. We can use it later to get to the house."

"Okay." They followed him around the corner and stopped in front of a questionable looking doorway. "This is a clean place?"

"Yeah. She's got her kids inside 'cause she can't find a sitter." Blair opened the door and walked in. He took a spot at the bar, next to the baby in the car seat and started to play.

"Who? Oh, Blair!" she yelled, coming out of the back. "Oh, honey how you feeling today? Leg okay?"

"Yeah, fine." He pulled Jim down next to him. "This is Jim and that's Simon," he said pointing at the man looking around at the baseball stuff on the walls.

"Yeah, I heard your friends finally came. Lisa," she said, holding out a hand. "What can I do for ya?"

"Breakfast," Blair moaned and laid his head down on the bar top. "I'm starving and Jim noticed that I had lost weight."

She clucked her tongue and patted his hair, disappearing back into the back. By the time she got back, all of them were playing with the baby and smiling. "Food," she said, sitting down the plates and smiling. "She's a doll isn't she?"

"Yeah, Mandy's getting so *big*." Blair kissed her cheek and started in on his food. "Man, eat before it gets cold and you insult her."

Jim and Simon laughed and tore into their food, making Lisa smile.


"Knock, knock." Blair put his head around the door and looked in on his mother. He saw someone next to her. "Hi, who are you?"

"Oh, hi." He got up and Naomi sighed and rolled her eyes. "I'm Reverend Mitchels. One of the nurses said it was okay if I came in to see your Mother."

"Sweetie, I was just explaining to the nice man how I wasn't a Christian and how it was nice he had come to talk to me anyway." She waved the group in. Blair leaned down and gave her a kiss. "Good," she whispered, "you didn't send them away. You needed someone."

"Yes, mom," he said. "So, is this a conversion call or..." He stood back up and looked at the young man.

"Nope, not even." He held up a hand. "I'm one of the progressive members. I believe that people have a right to practice what they want as long as it doesn't hurt someone else." He smiled. "Actually, I was hoping I could get your Mother to tell me some of her travel stories."

Blair nodded and looked down at his mother. "Okay?" She nodded. "Okay. I gotta go see Holly anyway for a few minutes. I'll be back soon." He gave her a kiss on the forehead. He left them alone, knowing Jim would come with him and Simon would stay.

"Coming?" he asked, waiting against the wall until Jim came out. He held onto his arm and walked down the hall to find her.

"Holly?" he called in the workout room. She popped her head out of the office. "Busy?"

"Not for you, precious." She came out and handed over a cookie. "New recipe. Jim, right?"

Blair almost choked. "How..."

"You were asleep next to her bed last week and was talking to him." She shrugged and shook Jim's hand. "Good to meet you."

"Good to meet you too." He stroked Blair's neck until he calmed down and finished the cookie. "He had a cramp this morning."

"Two," Blair said, chewing the last piece. "That's good."

"Let's see. One was probably after you'd been standing for a few minutes and the other was soon after?"

"Yeah, getting out of the shower and about five minutes later, after I had made it to the bed. Took one of the muscle relaxers Doc gave me."

She nodded. "Okay. Sounds about right. Did you walk it off or rub it out?"

"Rubbed it out." He looked at Jim. "Well, he did the second one."

She smiled at him. "Had some experience?"

"Some of my own after injuries."

She nodded, her head bouncing around. "'Kay. We can work on it later, if you want."

"Okay." She patted his arm and walked away. "When?" he called.

"Later. I'll come get you." She disappeared back into the office.

Jim helped him back up the stairs, both ignoring the smiles from the nurses. "So, what do you want to do afterward?"

"Um, go for a walk?"

"Okay. Here or in the park?"

"Park. They have a few trails."

"Cool." Jim opened Naomi's door and saw them all laughing at something she was saying.

"Ah, must be Tunisia. Right?"

"Oh, yes, Sweetie, come in and sit here beside me." She patted part of the bed and he limped in and sat down. "Reverend, my son has some amazing stories to tell. You should ask him."

"Oh, Mom, it's nothing compared to what you've done." He kissed the soft cheek, noticing how sunk in it had become recently. "Do you want us to go so you can rest?"

"No dear. And quit fussing. It's not time yet." She rolled her eyes and pushed the button to sit the bed up some more. "He's such a fusser. You'd think that he needed to take care of me or something."

"Now, Naomi, people get their comfort during stressful times different ways. That may be his. You never know. I'd say it was, and his too," he said, pointing at Jim. "They both look like they need to fuss over people to feel better."

Blair looked at Jim and smiled, a bright and light one. "Busted."

Jim laughed and sat on the floor next to him, ignoring the chair. "Yeah, that's me."

Simon laughed and patted the Minister on the shoulder. "You have *no*idea how bad those two can get. When Blair get's injured, Jim turns into this overprotective motherhen. When Jim get's hurt, Blair buzzes around and becomes this world class fusser."

"Oh, my, sounds like you've had too much experience with both of those."

"We're cops," Jim said, "and Blair's an observer with the department."

"I had heard. Some of the nice older ladies in the Women's Auxiliary have decided that he needed to be fed and looked after, maybe even fixed up with a nice granddaughter or two."

Blair laughed. "Man, the second day I was here, I was presented with four pies and two nieces. It's like I'm fresh meat or something." He looked at his mother. "Then someone told someone that I was taken by a nice man and they came up and started asking about him. I wonder who that was?" He looked down at his mother.

"But, Sweetie, Blair, I had to do something to get you to bring him here." She smiled and when that didn't work, pouted. "It's not like you were going to call him anytime soon."

Reverend Mitchels smiled and patted their shoulders. "That's good that you found someone to love. Love is never wrong."

"Thanks, man. I was kinda worried about that here, what with this being a small town and a few fundamentalist churches around and all."

"Blair, I won't lie. There are some people around here would love to tear into you about it, but they're few and far between in this town. And if anyone gives you crap about it, just send them to me." He leveled his gaze on him. "Myself and my wife would *love* to tell them about the wrongness of their beliefs."

Blair laughed and warded him off. "Thanks, man. I'll remember not to get on your bad side."

"Good," the gentle smile came back. He checked his watch and frowned. "Oh, my, Mrs. Smith won't forgive me for being late." He got up and stretched. "Oh, it's been good to talk to you. Hopefully we'll get more chances." He patted her arm and left.

"He's a nice man," she said and yawned, drifting off to sleep.

"Night, Mom." Blair smiled and was tucking the blankets around her when Jim stood up and looked at her in alarm. "Jim, man, what's wrong."

Jim came over to the bed and searched for a pulse. He jogged out into the hall. "Nurse," he called. One of them poked her head out. "You gotta come. Now."

She followed him back into the room and checked her over. She frowned and looked at Blair, her eyes sad. "I'm sorry, Blair." She pulled the sheet up and left the room to call the doctor.

Blair fell off the bed, shaking his head. "No, no it can't be. She's just sleeping. She was fine just a minute ago. NO, nonononononononnonono," he was shaking his head in time to his words.

Jim gathered him close, holding him to his chest and not letting go. "Blair, I'm sorry, she's gone." He rocked them, not noticing when Simon left them alone. "Ssshh, she was happy in her last few minutes and she had made her peace." He continued to try and quiet Blair down.

He looked up as the Doctor walked in and gave Blair a shot. "You take care of him tonight." She checked Naomi over and signed a form. "She made arrangements already with the funeral home and he needs to get a grip before going over there." She looked Jim in the eyes. "You hurt him and I'll track you down." She left them alone with the body.

Blair calmed once the shot was given, instantly stopped shaking and talking. When he said something, it was slurred. "Jiimmmm, whyyyy nowwww? Whyyy couuuldddn'tt sssheee waitt. III wannnttedd moooorrre timmme witthh herrr," and he fell asleep on Jim's shoulder.

Simon came back in and held the younger man while Jim stood up. "I'll say my goodbyes now and we'll take him back to the apartment." Jim nodded and carried Blair out and down the stairs to the car, laying him in the backseat and climbing in under his head. He stroked the soft hair and cried silently for his friend and their loss.


Blair stood and looked down at the casket. She looked so peaceful, laying there in her favorite outfit. He laid the necklace across her hands and smiled. His mother, never the conformist, had everything planned out so he didn't have to worry. The person who would take her ashes was there and waiting for them in the morning. Her memorial marker was already being put up in Cascade so he could have someplace to visit. Some of her ashes would be interred there, under a newly planted tree. The rest would go to the silent man that he barely remembered from his youth as the head of a pleasant commune that his mother kept going back to.

Jim came up behind him and laid a rose over the necklace and helped him close the lid. Simon and the nurses at the house had already been in to pay their respects. Blair turned the key and locked it, shutting his mother away forever. Jim stepped back, laying a hand on his arm and steadying him as he stepped off the small step.

He sniffled and wiped his eyes, nodding at the silent man.

"Naomi wanted me to give you this." He handed over an envelope. "She made arrangements with the lawyer in town to read her will, but I'm sure she left you everything anyway." He kissed Blair's cheek. "You and he are always welcome to come and visit her."

Blair nodded and took the envelope. "Thanks," he whispered and left on Jim's arm. They would be there for the internment in Cascade in two weeks. "We'll see. She arranged for part of her ashes to go to where I am and be planted under a tree," he said as they walked out the door.

He nodded. "That was like her."

Jim helped him walk to the park, his cane left at home. They sat down on a bench and watched the sunset. They sat in silence, Jim letting Blair stay lost in his memories for a while longer, and watched the first few stars come out.

Jim kissed his cheek. "We can stay as long as you want," he said simply and pulled the younger man close.

Blair nodded and stood up. "Sleep with me tonight?"

Jim smiled and nodded. "Just sleep."

"Yeah," he said simply and they walked back to the apartment.

The landlord had left them a note tacked to the door. Naomi had paid for the end of that month and the next.

They went inside to see food lined up on the counter. Blair raised an eyebrow and Simon said, "They were waiting outside the door when I came in." Blair nodded and headed for the bathroom.

"I'm going to take a long hot bath."

"Okay," Jim said. "Want supper in a while?" Blair shook his head as he turned corner.


Jim pulled up the covers, holding them while Blair climbed in. He pulled him close and let him find a comfortable spot before stroking his back. "She was a good woman, caring and loving," he said.

Blair nodded and started to cry, muffling the sounds in the strong chest that he knew now would support him through anything.

It was almost dawn by the time he fell asleep. Jim watched him, gently brushing away the tears and stroking his hair and arms.


Jim sat there, holding Blair's hand, to the astonishment and fury of the lawyer. "Mr. Sandburg."

"Blair, please," he said quietly.

"Blair. Your mother didn't have a large estate, but most of the will is to notify you of things she held in trust for you from your grandparents." He stared at Jim again. "Um, is he staying here during the reading?"

"He's my partner," Blair said, squeezing Jim's hand. "He's here for me."

The lawyer frowned and went on. "Apparently your grandparents left their estate in custody of your mother, letting her hold it for you, but not able to touch it. I've checked and the taxes have been paid regularly on it, so there are no problems there." He shuffled some papers. "Apparently there's a small trust fund of a few thousand dollars and a few pieces of jewelry and other personal items in a safety deposit box in a bank in Cascade." He pushed the form and the key over to Blair. "Her own estate consisted of a small trust and a letter, which you should already have in your possession." He looked up and Blair nodded. "You can look over the forms yourself," he pushed them across the desk. "Nothing there should be a shock."

Blair looked over the papers, seeing what each of the items listed was. "What's this?" He pointed to an entry and gave it back.

"That's a design patent for something. I'm not sure what, but it looks like she's in the process of selling it." He shrugged. "I could search it for you, if you want."

"No, I have an attorney in Cascade, a friend who'll do it for me. It's his specialty" He stood up. "Is there anything else?"

"Well, there is the matter of probate, but ..."

"I'm an only child. She miscarried the other."

"That's not exactly so. She gave one up for adoption a few years back."

"No, that one wasn't hers, she was taking care of the adoption for a friend."

"Mr. Sandburg," he snorted. "What sort of woman lists herself as the birth mother of a child she didn't have and put it up for adoption when it wasn't hers?"

"My mother's friend was in an abusive relationship. She wanted her child to be protected and safe. It's outlined in the letter she left me." He shrugged. "That's my mother, to a tee. She's, she was, like that."

"If you say so." The lawyer shrugged. "Come back in a week and we'll sign the papers from probate."

Blair nodded and Jim helped him out of the office.

Once they were outside, Jim stopped him. "Your mother did that?"

Blair nodded and smiled. "Yeah, there are actually seven or eight kids that she did that for. It's in the letter, I'll show you back at the apartment."

They walked through the town, slowly, taking it easy. Blair stopped to talk to a few people he knew, stopping in at the local beauty salon to talk to one of the hairdressers. "Hey, Shawn," he said and sat down in an extra chair.

The male hairdresser smiled and came over to hug him. "Oh, good. You're okay." He pulled them back to his station and sat them in the dryer chairs that weren't occupied. "I'm sorry, we had heard your mom had died. Are you okay?"

Blair nodded and smiled. "Shawn, this is Jim. My partner, and the person I worked with in Cascade. Jim, this is Shawn, he's the main source of gossip in this town." He smiled and Shawn stuck out his tongue, smiling.

"Oh, no, not even." He came over and patted Blair's shoulder. "So, how much longer you stayin'?"

"Until the probate's done." He chuckled softly. "He was shocked that my mom had rescued some children and put them up for adoption under her name."

"Oh, that was *so* like your mom. She was a great lady." They shared a sad smile and Shawn started to run his finger's through Blair's hair. "She was a great woman."

"I know. It's just hard, you know. I wanted more time, and she kept the fact she was sick from me." He laughed. "Oh, she had a person come in and do a reading to tell her the time and day of her death."

"Oh, honey, I know. I was there, doing her hair, when he showed up. You know he was almost right. Only off by two days," he added at Blair's astonished look.

"Really?" Shawn nodded. He grabbed Jim's hand. "That's good. Man, what a way...."

"Don't worry, sweetie, she loved you. She did want more time with you, but she didn't want you to see her suffer for all those months."

"So she was here for a while before she sent for him?" Jim asked.

Shawn nodded. "Oh, yeah. Almost a year actually." He shook his head. "We all started to think Blair didn't care until she told one of the nurses to get her some paper so she could send for him." He smiled. "It shocked us, properly shocked us, that your mother hadn't told you yet, but we were patient and waited for you to come."

"I did, the same day I got the letter." He looked at Jim. "One of the worst days of my life, that day was. Full of misunderstandings."

Jim smiled and squeezed his hand. "Definitely full of misunderstandings and wrong turns."

"Good for you." Shawn stood up and went back to the woman in his chair. "So, you getting clipped tonight?"

Blair shook his head. "Nah, but right before we go in a week or so."

Shawn nodded. "Just tell me the day before so I can clear you some time."

"Thanks man," he said. Jim stood and helped him up. "See you then."

They finished walking around to the apartment, meeting a few more people they knew on the way and stopping to talk.

Jim opened the door, holding it open so Blair could walk in and sit down. "How's your leg?"

Blair looked down at it and frowned. "It's okay. Tired."

Jim shut the door and came to sit on the floor in front of him. He ran a gentle hand over the injury. "Would you like me to work on it some more?"

Blair nodded. And yawned. "In a little while, man, I'm about to doze off here."

Jim nodded and stood up, grabbing Blair and carrying him into the bedroom, setting him on the bed. He slipped off Blair's shoes and socks, undoing his pants and belt and sliding them off. Blair raised his hips at his tug and opened his eyes to stare at him. Jim smiled and started on his shirt. He got it off and slid it carefully off the sore arm last, tossing it aside. Jim kissed his forehead and covered him, closing the door partway and going back to the living room.

"Jim, man, you are such a parent sometimes," Blair whispered. His answer was a laugh from the living room.


Jim stood behind a silent Blair as he signed the last papers for Naomi's estate.

Blair pushed the last one over and looked up, eyes bright with unshed tears. "Anything else?"

The lawyer shook his head and shook his hand. "I'm sorry for your loss, Blair. If you need something between now and when you leave, feel free to come to me."

"Thanks," Blair stood up and took Jim's arm, and the cane and left with his copies. They stopped back at Shawn's and got a trim, saying goodbye and then going back to the almost empty apartment.

Jim looked around. All that was left was a box of things that was being used and their bags. He led Blair to the bed and laid him down, stripping him and laying next to him. They cuddled for a long time, silent and comfortable with each other and that part of their relationship. Blair rolled over and kissed Jim, something they had done before. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For being you. For being here, for taking care of me. For everything." He kissed his lips again, just brushing them with his lips and then laid his head on Jim's chest. "Thanks."

"Welcome. Anytime," Jim said, holding him close.


Back in Cascade: 2 weeks after the funeral:

Jim stood behind Blair, an unobtrusive hand on his arm holding him steady as a friend of Naomi's poured some of her ashes into the hole. They watched him drop in a few flower petals and then place the tree, planting it as a reminder of her life and love.

He came over to Blair after it was in and shook his hand. "Your mother was an inspiration and a great woman. We all mourn with you." He nodded at Jim and left.

Jim stepped back, letting Blair have some time alone with his mom. Blair got down onto this knees beside the new planting and picked up some dirt. "Mom, you know I wanted more time, and I know you didn't want me to suffer while watching you suffer. I understand, and I heard you, I really did. I'll miss you though, and I wish we had had more time." He smoothed the dirt he held back in, smoothing the places in front of him that he could reach. "May your gift back to the earth let this tree grow strong and healthy, and may it show your strength that you showed me." He stood back up, stiffly, and looked back at Jim, smiling. "Home," he said, walking over to his mate.

"Can't, honey, we need to go meet your therapist this afternoon and set up your schedule."

Blair nodded and walked beside Jim back to the car. His leg was stronger now, the limp barely visible, but Jim wanted him to keep it up until he didn't need the cane anymore. He agreed and Jim had gifted him with an exceptional massage.

They made it to the hospital and went in, talking to a nurse they knew on the elevator trip up.

Jim held the door open for him and let him go first. Blair looked at the facilities, comparing it to the last time he had been in here and to the small workout room in the hospice house. This place was cold, sterile, but he wouldn't have to be here for long, hopefully.

"Mr. Sandburg," a nice looking young woman called. He nodded and started toward her, carefully picking his way among the equipment. She stood there and watched him.

"Hi, Wendy."

"Blair." He shook her hand and reached behind him to pull Jim forward. "Jim, my partner."

"Police or otherwise?" She smiled and shook his hand. "Are you going to help him?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah. I've been doing what I could and he's been walking. He's gotten much better since his injury."

"Good" she said and clapped her hands.

Blair looked at her and his only thought was //A happy cheerful person should make me get better much sooner.//

Jim smiled in tolerance and looked down at Blair, his face mirroring the thoughts.


The day Blair and Jim returned to work, almost a month after the planting, Major Crimes threw a party and each detective handed Jim a case, ten cases to work on in all. All the hard ones Simon shook his head and took back four of them and handed them back, making the people grunt and mumble. He handed Jim some paperwork and smiled, grabbing a cookie and brownie, going back to his office to answer the phone.

Blair smiled and perched himself on Jim's desk. He could walk now without a cane, but he still got tired if he stood too long. His arm was fine, as long as he didn't hold it up for an hour again. Starting back at the University in two weeks was going to be fun. He smiled at the people who came up, giving him a hug and telling him off for leaving them like that.

Joel was the last to come up to him and hug him, quietly whispering his thanks for his return safely and his sorrow at Naomi's passing. Blair kissed his cheek and smiled for him. "It's okay. I've made my peace with it now and Jim's helped me work through it." Joel nodded and headed back to the cake and groups of officers.

Jim came over, picked him up off his desk and carried him over to the others and set him back onto Rafe's desk. Everyone laughed and Joel told him he was back where he belonged now. And this time he had better stay there.

Their first day back was filled with paperwork and visitors, sympathy and scowls at the way he had left. Cards and smiles, cookies and hugs.

That night, Blair climbed the stairs and stripped fully, climbing into bed beside Jim and holding him close.

Jim rolled and when he felt how naked Blair was, he smiled and raised an eyebrow. "You sure?"

Blair nodded and leaned up, kissing him. "My arm and leg are fine. I have closure and joy. I'm back in my place at your side and I heard a rumor that you're going to start taking classes to be by my side. So, yeah, I'm yours and you're mine, and we're going to make sure of it tonight." He kissed Jim, diving right into his mouth and claiming it for his own, suckling on the tongue that followed his back.

Jim rolled them over, breaking the kiss and pulling back. "So, would you like to tell me the other news?"

Blair just smiled and pulled out the box he had put under his pillow earlier, warning Jim away from it. He handed it over and watched Jim sit up and open it over his chest.

Jim tore open the paper, getting down to the small box. Small jewelry box. He looked at Blair, who nodded, and he opened it slowly. Inside was a pair of diamond solitaire earrings and a ring, a diamond and emerald man's ring. "Blair, this is... this is too .. ..."

"Expensive? Too much too soon? Too fast?"

Jim nodded at the first, but growled at the second and third suggestions.

"Jim, it's part of the things my grandmother gave me. I want us to be married, mated, joined, whatever you want to call it. We belong together for all time. If this time has proved nothing else, it has proved that. Would you wear my ring and one of the earrings?"

Jim smiled and his eyes got bright in dim room. "Oh, Blair, yes."

Blair sat up and pulled out the ring, slipping it on Jim's finger. "With you, for you, beside you, always." He took the other one out and reopened Jim's ear with it, putting it in and fastening it.

Jim took out one of the earrings and removed one of Blair's hoops, the top one. He slipped the small diamond in and fastened it tightly. "Blair, with you, beside you, for you, behind you, always. Mine," he said, kissing him.

Blair took the box from his limp finger and tossed it away. He pulled Jim's head down and kissed him deeply.

Jim laid down carefully on top of his mate, his husband, and sealed their personal vows with a deep and thorough kiss.

Blair flipped him over and straddled his lover. "Mine," he whispered and dived back down into his mouth, stroking the firm chest under his thighs. Jim grabbed his legs and spread him out, holding him close. "Together, always. No matter what shit hits us," he whispered between kisses and went with his husband's guidance.

Jim rolled them onto their sides so he could touch and hold Blair while kissing him.

They both concentrated on learning the other's body, teaching their mates what they liked. Jim found a sensitive spot and nipped it. Blair wiggled around and kissed a spot on Jim's neck, making him hiss and nip the spot again. The touches elevated, getting firmer and more arousing. Blair groaned and spread his legs, inviting Jim's touch on his hardness.

Jim took the hint and moved down the lithe body and learned this new part of Blair like he had the rest. He tasted and smelled and touched to his heart's content and then looked up at Blair, waiting until he caught his eyes before trying to swallow it whole.

Blair's hips shot off the bed, his mouth opened to let his groan out, and his hands went immediately to his Jim's head. When Jim pulled back a few seconds later, he panted and moaned in disappointment. "And here (pant) I thought I (pant) was going to have to (pant, pant) teach my virginal love Jim to do things like that." He smiled and pulled Jim up to kiss him.

Jim made a negative sounding noise, and kissed him.

"Not so virginal?" Blair asked when they came up for air.

"Virginal, but not unknowledgeable." Jim smiled down at him. "Vice assignments can be very informative."

"So, what did you do for the great city while undercover?" Blair licked the tight throat. "Did you work at a gay club or act as a pimp or...."

Jim stopped his guesses with another kiss. "No, silly." Another, chaste and teasing kiss. "I went undercover to bust a prostitution ring that was run from a phone sex operation."

Blair laughed, would have rolled up onto his side and started to laugh if Jim hadn't been laying on top of him. "Oh, man, that is something I can *not* imagine you doing. Talking dirty over the phone." He broke down into giggles.

Jim tickled him, drawing it out. "I'll have you know I was one of their best operators. When the owner was busted and got off, she asked if I would come back and moonlight some time."

Blair gave one last giggle and surged up to pull Jim down into a deep and satisfying kiss. "So, does that mean that if I call you, you'll tell me a fantasy?" he whispered against his lips.

Jim stole a quick kiss and rolled onto his back. "Depends."

"On what?" Blair asked, climbing on top of the larger body and crawling over it to kiss, nip, and lick various spots.

"Oh, yeah, babe. Um, where I was. I wouldn't do it in the office." He grunted and lifted his hips, silently asking for Blair's attention on his cock, which he got. And then some. "Oh, Gawd!" His hips shot off the bed, shoving himself further down Blair's, who had just swallowed him whole on the first try, throat. "Oh, you've done this before, haven't you?"

Blair released him, much to his sorrow and licked him from root to crown. "Once or twice."

"Only me from now on?" He was pleading. He couldn't, wouldn't, be able to share his Blair with anyone.

"Jim," Blair said, pulling himself up the strong body until he could look in his eyes. "Honey, we're married. It's only going to be you and me from now on. Or at least it had better be." He twisted a nipple, hard. "And I mean it."

"Oh, yeah. Just us... Yeah, babe, more."

Blair shook his head and waited until Jim came back down some. "Just us."

"Just us," Jim panted. He rolled Blair under him again. "You know, Joel asked to come to the wedding, just so long as he didn't have to participate or anything."

"So, you want to do it again in front of friends?" Jim nodded and started to work his nipples. "Oh, yes, Jim, so good." He grabbed the moving head and held it where he wanted. "I was thinking in front of Naomi's tree."

Jim raised his head and smiled. "I'd like that. A lot. But what about the night before? We're supposed to be separated. I don't want to do that." He began to pout. It was too soon to lose even one night with his Blair.

"Oh, babe, no. We can spend it at Simon's probably. In different rooms. I'll talk with Darryl all night and you and Simon can do groom and best man things." He smiled and ran a finger along the pouting lip. "Please? I would love to marry you in front of our friends."

"Oh, all right. We can do that. As long as they both like us still in the morning."

"Babe, Darryl and Simon will always love us like family, because we are. We never have to worry about their support." He hugged Jim closer. "Never."

Jim pulled away and smiled. "Okay." He went back to his nipple torture. "So, is my Blair a top or a bottom?"

"Your Blair is both a top and a bottom, but will be, had better be, a bottom tonight. He'll show his virgin love how to do it right tonight and will then love his virginal Jim into the mattress tomorrow night."

Jim hummed in pleasure into the taut nipples and moved lower. He started back on licking the massive organ that had been poking him for the last few minutes and once again tried to swallow it whole. Blair groaned his appreciation, so Jim reached out a hand to find the lube he had hidden beside the bed. He came up when Blair lunged down to grab it and handed it over, going back down as soon as he was resettled.

Jim lubed up a finger, laying the tube where he could reach it easily for more. While he worked his way down Blair's cock, he teased his hole and slipped the wet finger in, teasing with small thrusts. Blair shoved back down on it, making it sink in. Jim hummed around the his cock and pulled it back out to add more lube and a second finger. He pushed them back in, scissoring and playing in the tight hole. Blair started thrusting back onto them, then into his mouth, pleased, more than pleased, with the dual stimulation.

Jim lubed up a third finger and slipped it in, waiting for Blair to relax before searching for the little nub he had just found a second ago. Blair grabbed his head and thrust one last time, shooting his hot, salty cum down Jim's throat, making him swallow and almost choke.

Jim pried Blair's hands away and pulled back swallowing some more and coming up for air. He coughed a few times, making Blair blush and hide his head under a pillow. He smiled and grabbed the pillow, twisting his three fingers inside Blair's anus, teasing his prostate again. "Next time, warn a guy," he said softly. When Blair started to apologize, he took a lick of the spilled cum, turning the hurried words into a moan. "That's all I meant. I wanted to drink you, just warn me next time so I don't choke."

Blair blushed and nodded.

"Good," he said and went back to licking up what he had spilled while stretching his love more. "Gotta get you good and wide," Jim murmured next to the soft flesh. "Don't want to hurt you when I pound you into the mattress."

Blair chuckled and pulled him up. "Oh, my virginal love Jim. You could never hurt me. I know that. And so do you." He kissed him and grabbed the tube from his fingers, squeezing some out and spreading it onto Jim's cock in a thin layer. "Make me yours," he whispered, tossing the tube aside and kissing him again.

Jim did as he was told. He moved until he was laying between Blair's legs and guided his slick organ into the tight orifice. Blair hissed as the head popped through, so he stopped and waited. Blair wasn't going to wait, though. He slid his legs around Jim's waist and pulled him close, making him go deeper. Jim finally got the hint and slid in, a little at a time, until he was buried as close to Blair's ass as he could get.

Blair was panting, a huge grin on his face. "Oh, yeah, man, that's it." He smiled and lifted his good leg up, putting it on Jim's shoulder. He bent the other and rested it on Jim's chest.

Jim grabbed the ankle and slid in as far as this new position allowed him. "Oh, Blair, so good," he whispered. He started to thrust, easing in and out, being gentle for their first time. There would be plenty of time later to pound his Blair like he wanted.

Blair whimpered and shifted, trying to get more. Jim went faster, satisfying both of them.

They didn't last long, this first time, each new to part of the act. Jim new to being with a man and Blair new to Jim and this position. They each came softly saying the other's name.

Both felt the world explode around them, resolidifying around the other's eyes. Blue met blue and locked, zoning on the feelings. Only Jim softening and slipping out brought them out of it. Jim rolled onto his back and pulled Blair close, hugging him.

Blair panted until he came back down, resting on Jim's solid and heaving chest. "Oh, my. My virgin love was very knowledgeable."

Jim smiled. "Not so much a virgin anymore." He took one last deep breathe and let it out, calm now.

"Still a virgin to me," Blair said, licking some of the sweat off his chest. "Always my virgin love."

Jim pulled him up, taking one last kiss. "Mine, but I need a nap before you make a slut out of me."

Blair laughed and pulled the blankets out from under him, covering them both. "Night love."

"Good night, husband."

Blair's smile lit up the whole of the loft and the part of the outside that was shined on through the windows.


The next day, while Jim was filling out domestic partnership papers in Simon's office, flowers, roses, came for him. The card said only, "Thinking about you, my virgin love, and what we promised last night." He took his ring off the chain Blair had put it on that morning and slipped it back on.

Jim hummed a happy tune and brought them with him everywhere he went in the office that day.


Epilogue: 1 year anniversary of their vows.

Blair and Jim stood in front of Naomi's healthy tree and looked at each other. The two best men, Simon and Megan, were standing a little ways from them. Jim looked over his Blair, resplendent in light blue pants and vest, and a cream shirt.

"I, Jim Ellison, do take you Blair to be my mate, holding you close and protecting you as you do so to me. Always and forever. Through all the things that may hit us and all the blessings we receive." He slipped a ring that matched his onto Blair's finger. "Beside you, behind you, with you and for you. Always."

Blair smiled and wiped away a tear running down Jim's face and then his own. He took Jim's ring and held it out, looking at his love dressed all in cream and a blue shirt. "I, Blair Sandburg, do take you Jim to be my mate. Holding you close and protecting you as you do to me. Forever." He slipped on the ring. "Beside you, behind you, with you and for you. Mine always."

They kissed to great applause and the tree waved in the non-existent breeze.

An End?