Oh, man, Blair sighed as they walked up the stairs the elevator at 852 Prospect, as usual, was out of commission. I kinda hated to come back, but its good to be home, too, you know?
I know what you mean, Jim said briefly, not because he was upset, but because he was overloaded and needed his breath. He still didnt want Blair carrying anything, which meant he had to haul all their luggage back up from the truck single-handedly.
Then he froze at the top of the stairs. He had no arm to throw out to halt Blair, so he shouldered him to a stop. Slowly, carefully, Jim put down the bags he was holding.
What? Blair whispered.
I heard something in the loft, Jim barely whispered. He drew his gun, silently thanking the cop paranoia, as Blair had put it, that had made him wear his gun every time he set foot outdoors even at the cabin. Stay back here. Have you got my cell phone?
Blair shook his head, grimacing.
Sorry. Still in the truck.
Damn. Well, when I open the door, give me ten seconds. If I dont give you an all clear, run over to Mrs. Claremonts and call for backup. Got it?
Thats an order, Officer Sandburg. Are we clear?
Blair sighed, hopefully realizing that training notwithstanding, he still was in no shape to do anything but slow Jim down.
Jim edged over to the door, silently unlocking it. He glanced over at Blair and raised three fingers, then mouthed, One two three. Gun at the ready, he kicked the door open and whirled, facing into the loft.
A familiar shriek split the air, and Jims instructions forgotten, Blair jumped into the apartment behind Jim.
Jim was frozen in shock; Blairs jaw joined Jims on the floor. If the sight of Naomi standing in the middle of the living room in a burnt-orange caftan, dropped and broken teacup at her feet, hadnt stunned them both, the sight of the loft would have.
The sofa, recliner and easy chairs were gone. There were two futons, a few cushions and a meditation bench in their place or rather, not in their place; they were moved around in what was probably a feng-shui-correct configuration. The rug was gone; the hardwood floor had been covered wall to wall with tatami mats. The lamps had been banished and replaced with shoji lamps. Jim didnt even want to look upstairs. The air was fragrant (or, to Jim, cloying and damned near unbreathable) with incense.
BLAIR!!!! Naomi flung herself at Blair and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him so hard that Jim winced sympathetically when Blair grimaced with the pain of his still-healing ribs. Thankfully Naomi pulled back slightly, only to grab Blairs face in both hands and shower several dozen kisses on it. Oh, Blair, honey, sweetie, are you all right? Ive been so worried, Simon wouldnt tell me where you were and the hospital didnt know and Ive been calling everyone
Startled, Blair pushed Naomi back slightly quite an effort, she wanted to hug him again.
What Simon? Hospital? Blair blinked, totally confused. Naomi how did you get in here?
Naomi gave a dismissive wave of her hand.
You always leave a spare key with Mrs. Claremont, so I got it from her. That was a week ago.
But Blair gestured mutely at the loft. But what
Sweetie, you couldnt possibly expect to recover in a place so full of negative energy, Naomi scolded. The organic flow was nonexistent, the spiritual field here was simply filthy. It took me all week to get this place habitable, and Im still purifying it.
Filthy spiritual field, Jim thought, completely dazed. Most mother-in-laws griped about, oh, wilted lettuce in the crisper drawer, or a full crumb tray in the toaster oven, or mildew in the corners of the tub enclosure none of which, Jim knew for a fact, applied to his loft. But then, so far as he knew, Krogers didnt sell spiritual all-purpose disinfecting cleaner. And if they did, he thought with a sort of stunned detachment, would Blair deem it Sentinel-friendly?
Naomi, he said, very, very carefully, his voice absolutely neutral, Wheres our furniture?
Naomi whirled, and before Jim could even think to react, her palm cracked resoundingly on his cheek.
You! she cried. It wasnt enough that you had to lure my little boy into all this this violence and mayhem, getting him involved in car thefts and murders and God knows what else. It wasnt enough that you had to turn him into a a cop. I trusted you with my son and now youve gone and gotten him r-r- -- Naomi shook her head, wincing as the word simply refused to come out. You said youd look out for him! Take care of him!
Jim closed his eyes, grinding his teeth, caught between fury and guilt, each feeding the other until he thought hed zone on sheer emotion.
Hey, now, wait a minute, Blair protested, flushing. Jim didnt have anything to do with
Naomi rounded on Blair again.
I told you this was a bad idea! she said hotly. I told you that hanging around all this violence and negative karma was going to get you hurt, and now
Hey, just hold it right there, Blair said, just as hotly. I dont know what you know, or think you know, but
I know everything! Naomi said reproachfully. Simon wouldnt tell me anything except that you were off on a vacation with Jim. So I came back here, and I saw all the mail lying on the table, and there were all sorts of bills from the hospital, but they didnt have any specific information. So then I had to go to the hospital, and there was some silly problem with your medical power of attorney or some such nonsense, but I finally convinced the records clerk that your mother had every right to know and and She shuddered, closing her eyes. At least I got enough information to go to the library and look through the newspaper archive to find out what happened. And when I got back here, I looked and found some of the court papers, and that told me the rest.
Jim clenched shaking hands. Those court papers had been in Blairs file cabinet. Naomi had opened their mail, gone through Blairs file cabinet, and the loft the loft
Then Naomi rounded on him again, distracting him from that thought.
I certainly hope that at the very least youve realized that this is no life for my son! she snapped. He belongs somewhere in a safe, nurturing academic environment where he can
What, be raped again? The words spilled out before Jim could stop them.
Naomis eyes widened.
How dare you! she shouted.
Jim fought down an insane urge to laugh.
Naomi, when was Blair raped?
Naomi flushed, grimacing. I dont
Damn right, you dont, Jim said rudely. Two months ago, Naomi. Two months. For the first two weeks, Simon or I was on the phone every single day trying to reach you, calling every hovel in India.
Naomi scowled. I was at a retreat in
Yeah, right, Jim interrupted. Tell me something, Naomi. How many times has Blair been in the hospital in the past three years? Come on, make an educated guess. I wont even ask you when, or what he was hospitalized for. Just how many times.
Naomi wasnt flushed anymore. Now shed gone white.
He wouldnt have been in the hospital at all, she said coldly, if it werent for you.
Meaning you dont know, Jim said. Not surprising, since each and every time we tried to find you and couldnt. About a year ago when Blair died died, Naomi, clinically dead, we still dont know exactly how long where were you? Oh, thats right. Tibet that time. When he ate pizza laced with Golden and damn near died of an overdose, it was Belize, wasnt it? The first time he was shot it was Bora Bora, and the second time oh, but this is all news to you, isnt it? Want more details?
Naomi whirled to face Blair.
Are you going to let him talk to me this way? she demanded.
Blair was shaking, head down, hands clenched. He mumbled something that only Jim could hear, something that made Jim smile a little grimly.
I said, someone should. Blair raised his face. While youre blaming Jim, why dont you tell me how I was raped, Naomi, and lets be accurate and say gang-raped. Id really kind of like to hear your take on it, about how its Jims fault.
Blair! Naomi looked flabbergasted; tears were running down her cheeks now.
I suppose it was Jims fault that I didnt float Tim Frain an A in my class because he was a star hockey player, Blair said tonelessly. Jims fault that Tim and three of his buddies decided to ambush me walking out of the student union building at Rainier University at that nice safe nurturing academic environment, Naomi drag me into an auto shop, beat the living shit out of me, fuck me till I bled and then shove a piece of exhaust pipe up my ass, not because Im a cop now or because Im Jims partner and oh, by the way, let me add parenthetically that if Id had Jim or my gun with me, it wouldnt have happened at all but just because there were four of them and one of me.
Blair Naomi was crying now, her fingers over her mouth.
And while were talking about Jim, Blair continued ruthlessly, his eyes flashing, lets talk about whos taken care of me night and day since then, whos wiped my ass when I shit, bathed me, cleaned the bed when I pissed, held me when I cried, soothed me when I had nightmares, held my hand so I could sleep. Lets talk about who was here round the clock to love me and take care of me and give me something to fight my way back for, something to live for. Whos been there to save me and take care of me every single time I needed him every fucking time, Naomi, no matter what it cost him. You want to talk about blame, Naomi, I am so with that, lets get right into it. Blair took a deep, shaky breath, the angry energy seeming to fade. He just looked tired now, so very tired and sad. Otherwise, I really think you should pack up your mats and your incense and get out of here. He walked into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him.
Naomi folded, just folded, sat down on the floor, sobbing quietly into her hands. Jim glanced from Naomi to the bathroom. He didnt even hesitate.
Chief? Jim said quietly, tapping on the door.
What? Blairs watery voice told Jim his Guide was crying too.
Can I come in?
A brief pause.
Blair was sitting on the closed toilet lid, mopping his nose with toilet paper. Jim closed the door behind him and sat down on the rim of the tub, stroking Blairs hair.
You all right, baby? he said softly.
Blair shook his head.
I dont know, he said honestly. I just . . . shit, Jim, I dont know.
Jim forced a grin.
Hey, you forgot your catch phrase, he said lamely.
Huh. Blair chuckled weakly. Well, this is about the rainiest fucking weather Ive ever seen. I dunno, Jim. I may have to kill another cushion over this one. At least theres plenty now, Ive got my choice of victims. He chuckled again, hiccuping slightly with a sob. I always thought Id be the one trying to keep you from strangling Naomi.
Id like to force-feed her fifteen pounds of hormone-injected beef coated in MSG, Jim admitted, grinning slightly. Somehow, however, he wasnt as angry as he would have expected. Somehow just the fact that Blair had stood up for him, had taken his side against Naomi . . . that and the fact that he was too worried about Blair to manage real anger at the moment. Blair hadnt needed a confrontation. How much of a setback was this going to cause?
Blair gave a short, wheezy laugh.
I like that, he said. Then he stopped and looked at Jim with sad, naked eyes. Jim . . . what are we gonna do now?
What, about Naomi? Jim stroked Blairs hair gently. What do you want to do, Chief?
I want her to go away, Blair said miserably. I dont want to be cruel to her, I dont. I just I just cant deal with her right now.
I know, babe, Jim said softly, cupping Blairs cheek in his hand Look, why dont you run yourself a nice hot bath and soak for a little while, and Ill take care of everything. You just relax.
Oh, man, Jim, I love you so much, Blair sighed, leaning into Jims touch.
Thats right back at you, babe, Jim said. He kissed Blair on the cheek and stepped back around him. Now, I want to hear that bath water running.
You got it, Blair said, and his smile was a little more genuine this time.
Jim braced himself and stepped back out of the bathroom. Naomi had moved from the floor to one of the futons, and from the sound of it shed stopped crying, but she was still sitting with her face in her hands. Jim felt an unwilling burst of pity. He had the suspicion that for the first time ever, Naomi was learning that she barely knew her own son . . . that he wasnt the person she thought he was, and probably hadnt been for some time.
Reluctantly, Jim sat down on the futon next to her. There wasnt any particularly tactful way to say what he was going to say.
Blair . . . doesnt want to talk to you right now, he said as gently as he could. Were you staying here, or
Naomi shook her head tiredly.
No, I I was borrowing a friends apartment, she said softly. Ill call a taxi.
Jim took a deep breath.
Look can we go get a cup of tea or something? he said awkwardly. I think you and I should talk. As in talk, not shout.
Naomi nodded wearily.
All right, she said. I suppose thats best.
After peeping into the bathroom and making sure Blair was lounging in the tub as instructed, and telling Blair his plans, Jim drove Naomi to the Garden of Eden, a vegetarian cafe Blair liked. Fortunately the place actually sold a fairly drinkable strawberry yogurt smoothie, and he sipped one and tried not to grimace when Naomi ordered wheatgrass juice. Hed tried the stuff once, at Blairs urging, and it tasted an awful lot like lawn clippings to him. At last Naomi sighed and looked up at Jim.
Go on, she said. You might as well lower the boom now.
Blair and I are together, Jim said without preamble.
Naomi smiled slightly.
Jim, the absence of a bed in Blairs room kind of clued me in on that one, she said.
Jim searched her eyes.
You dont particularly like the idea, he said.
It doesnt bother me that Blair is bisexual, Naomi said. Im not happy that its you, Ill admit that. Not because of who you are, or . . . or what you are, she said awkwardly. But because of what you do. Youve pulled Blair into a dangerous, violent world that
What makes you think Ive pulled him? Jim said levelly.
Youre right, she said. I know Blair better than that. More likely hes the one who pushed his way into your life, full of theories and curiosity and this unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I just She shook her head. I just cant be pleased with the choices hes making.
Jim sipped his smoothie.
Theyre his choices, Naomi. Youve got to stop trying to make them for him.
You think I dont know that? Naomi said impatiently. She shook her head again. Do you think I havent torn myself to pieces over what happened with his dissertation? He destroyed his academic career because of what I did. Do you think I can ever forgive myself for that?
Blairs forgiven you for that, Jim said, slightly emphasizing the last word.
Naomi flushed and dropped her eyes.
You know She hesitated. There are a lot of parents, nice couples who have everything going for them money, a nice house, a good marriage, good jobs who do their best to raise their children with love and caring and all the advantages, and still it goes wrong. Even with everything going for them, their children can turn out to be monsters. Like the monsters who hurt my son. She drew a shaky breath. I did the best I could with Blair. I thought I was giving him things no other children had. Travel. Balance. Life experiences. Breadth as well as depth. A chance to grow up knowing who he was, his place in the universe. A better set of values than materialism and authoritarianism and
She shook her head.
And hes so brilliant and beautiful, she said wistfully. Theres so much light in him, so much potential. I suppose its only natural to want to take some credit for that. You dont think you dont want to that perhaps your child is so bright and beautiful not because of how you raised him, but in spite of it.
I think youre being a little hard on yourself, Naomi, he said.
Am I, Jim? Naomi looked at him squarely. Do you really believe that, or do you think I walked out on the job before it was over?
Jim frowned and traced his fingertip through the condensation on the side of his glass.
Maybe a little of both, he said frankly. Naomi, maybe you need to think a little bit about what you want to be to Blair now. I mean, if what you want is to not be tied down, footloose and free to wander the earth in search of I dont know, whatever then fine, thats your choice. But then you cant just show up on the doorstep and play the outraged mommy, try to reorganize Blairs life and tell him or me what we should be doing. If you want to be his mother, then the rights come with responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is to be there not just when you want to be, but when he needs you to be.
Naomi sighed raggedly. She stared into her wheatgrass juice a long time before she looked up at Jim.
Have I lost him, Jim? she said softly.
I dont know, he said honestly. I dont think so. Blairs a forgiving man. But I think youre going to have to be willing to do it on his terms for a while. I think you need to start looking at Blair and his life not in terms of what you wanted for him, but in terms of what he wants. What makes him happy.
Naomi searched Jims eyes.
Do you make him happy? she said softly.
I try, Jim said without hesitation. Every moment of every day, I try.
Naomi nodded, smiling ever so slightly.
I believe you do, she said quietly. She sighed again, pulled a pen out of her purse and scribbled on her napkin. This is the address and telephone number of the apartment where Im staying. When if Blair wants to talk to me, have him give me a call. If I have to change where Im staying, Ill let you know where I am. Her lips trembled slightly. Ill be here in Cascade for for as long as it takes.
Jim nodded silently, accepting the napkin.
Ah . . . Naomi? he said hesitantly.
Naomi wiped her eyes.
Jim cleared his throat.
Our furniture? You didnt, ah, get rid of it or anything, did you?
The corners of Naomis mouth twitched.
Im not a thief, Jim, she said gently. Its in storage. Bartletts, right down the street. Unit 42. I rented it in Blairs name, and the key is on the table by the door. She sighed wistfully. I suppose you didnt like the tatami matting and the futons.
Naomi, I got that couch and that recliner to be comfortable for Blair while he recovers. As for the rest you never saw the loft before Blair moved in.
Meaning? Naomi said, raising her eyebrows.
Meaning the place was pretty damned empty before your son moved in, Jim said wryly. Meaning all that negative energy was more or less all Blairs stuff.
Naomi sighed, rubbing her eyes.
Ive really done it this time, havent I? she said miserably.
If its any comfort, Ive screwed up with him more times and worse than you ever could, he said. Look, give Blair a little time, okay? And here. He wrote Gerard Worths name and phone number on his own napkin, handing it to Naomi. This is the counsellor were seeing. Hes damned good. You might give him a go. And later on, maybe if things work out, Blair might like you to come to a meeting of the support group we attend. Okay?
Naomi clutched the napkin tightly.
More than okay, she said, smiling shakily. Thanks, Jim. For giving me any kind of a chance at all, especially after the things I said. I lashed out at you because because I had to have someone to blame, someone to hurt, because Blair was hurt and there was nothing else I could do about it.
If you only knew how many times Ive felt exactly the same way, he said. Look, Ive got to get home. I dont want to leave Blair alone for long. Wed better get going.
Naomi shook her head.
You go home to Blair, she said firmly. Im going to sit here and think for a while, and Ill get a taxi. Go on, Jim. Youre right, Blair shouldnt be alone.
Jim hesitated for a moment, but the pull of Blairs unhappiness was too strong, and he hurried back to the loft. The balcony doors and all the windows were open, and thankfully most of the incense smoke was gone. Blair was curled up on one of the futons, sleeping uneasily, swaddled in Jims bathrobe, but he woke when Jim sat down beside him, grimacing as he shifted.
Man, these things are uncomfortable, Blair said, shaking his head. I dont know how I ever used to sleep on one.
Well, you didnt have cracked bones then, Jim reminded him. Why didnt you just go upstairs?
Blair glanced around the transformed lower floor.
I was kind of afraid to, he admitted sheepishly. I had this awful image of our bed being replaced with some kind of Hindu bed of nails or something.
You stay here, Ill go assess the damages, he offered. He trotted upstairs, amused to realize hed been holding his breath. He let it out, breathed in and started sneezing. Hurriedly he ran downstairs.
Blair was already on his feet. Jim?
Jim knuckled his eyes, only worsening the problem.
Hang on a ashoooo! minute -- <cough>.
No, wait, wait, dont rub! Blair vanished into the bathroom, then returned with a wet washcloth. Here, lie down on the futon, put this over your eyes. Whats wrong?
Several kleenex later, Jim felt rather less charitable about Naomi than he had a half hour before.
Well, theres good news and theres bad news, Chief, he said sourly. The good news is that our bed is still up there.
Well, thats good.
The bad news is shes replaced the pillows with some kind of funky buckwheat things.
Aww, hell. Thats bad news.
The good news is that our old pillows are in the closet I could see them, the door was open a bit.
Thats good news.
And the bad news is shes been burning sage and God knows what else up there, and its seeped into everything. Most of the fumes themselves mustve gone out when you opened the windows, but the sheets, the pillows probably the mattress, too.
Awwww, damn it! Blair groaned. He gazed miserably at Jim. Jim, theres no way I can sleep on these futons.
Yeah, I know, babe, he said. Its okay, well just put the air mattress on the floor and sleep on that for tonight. Tomorrow well get our furniture back and buy a new mattress and sheets and so on weve got to go clothes shopping for you anyway and pay somebody to haul the mattress to the storage facility. Maybe Simon or one of the guysll want it its only about a year old.
Awwww, man. Blair shook his head. Im so mad I cant see straight, Jim. I cant believe she did this. I cant believe she said those things to you. I just want to His hands clenched into fists and he thumped them on the futon. Rainy weather, rainy weather, rainy rainy rainy fucking weather!
Hey, Chief, its okay, Jim soothed. Look on the bright side, at least its not horse manure.
I guess thats something, he said. He looked up at Jim. What happened? With Naomi, I mean. After you left.
We had a drink at the Garden of Eden, Jim told him. Talked a little. Shes sorry, Chief about a whole lot of things. I think shes going to be processing for a while. She gave me a number where shes staying, said shed stay in Cascade and let us know where she is.
I dont want to talk to her, he said dully. Probably for the first time in my life, I just dont want to see her.
Jim frowned, silently laying out the air mattress and inflating it with the battery pump. He couldnt blame Blair in the slightest for his reaction God knows Jim himself had thought as bad, or worse, about Naomi at several points, not all of them recent. But that was a Jim reaction. Blair was different. Blair understood, empathized, forgave. At least he used to until now. Or was that one of those deflecting things Blair did to keep from facing his own anger? If so, what did it mean that hed forgiven Jim all those times? Did it mean that next time Jim screwed up Blair wouldnt forgive him? Was Jim being wrong to expect forgiveness? Was Blair hurting himself to give it?
Jim shook his head, frustrated and confused. Jesus, all this shrink stuff is driving me crazy, he thought, and then laughed to himself at the thought.
What? Blair said, gazing at him puzzledly from the futon.
Nothing, Jim sighed. Well have to use the sleeping bags again. Tomorrow Ill wash the sheets and blankets, maybe thatll work. We may have to use the air mattress for a couple nights, until we can get a new mattress delivered. He hesitated. You could sleep upstairs if youd be more comfortable.
The flash of fear in Blairs eyes told him hed definitely put his foot in his mouth. Immediately Jim continued, But I sure wish youd stay with me, Chief. Id miss you way too much. What Id really like is to hold you tonight and think about how lucky I am to have someone who loves me so much.
The corners of Blairs mouth twitched.
Yeah. Jim grinned at Blair and spread out the sleeping bags. My lover loves me so much that hed give up his bed and sleep on an air mattress so I wont smell burned sage and sneeze all night.
Blair grinned and scooted over to the air mattress, stretching out on top of the sleeping bag.
Yeah? Well, my lover loves me so much that he got his nipple pierced for me.
My lover bought me hiking boots.
My lover goes to therapy with me.
Jim lay down beside Blair and groaned.
Well, you win, Chief. Guess you must have one hell of a lover.
Guess I do. Blair scooted closer. And right now I want him to hold me and keep all the bad dreams away while I sleep.
I can do that, Jim said, drawing Blair close. He thought briefly about undressing, then corrected himself. There were more important things in the world than slept-in clothes.
Blair smiled and pillowed his head on Jims shoulder.
You sure can, he whispered, and closed his eyes.