Chapter 17



“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 it’s 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 didn’t 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 don’t give you an all clear, run over to Mrs. Claremont’s and call for backup.  Got it?”


“But, Jim – “


“That’s 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 Jim’s instructions forgotten, Blair jumped into the apartment behind Jim.




Jim was frozen in shock; Blair’s jaw joined Jim’s 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, hadn’t 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 didn’t 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 Blair’s face in both hands and shower several dozen kisses on it.  “Oh, Blair, honey, sweetie, are you all right?  I’ve been so worried, Simon wouldn’t tell me where you were and the hospital didn’t know and I’ve 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 couldn’t 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 I’m 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, Kroger’s didn’t 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, “Where’s our furniture?”


Naomi whirled, and before Jim could even think to react, her palm cracked resoundingly on his cheek.


“You!” she cried.  “It wasn’t 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 wasn’t enough that you had to turn him into a – a – cop.  I trusted you with my son and now you’ve gone and gotten him r-r- -- “  Naomi shook her head, wincing as the word simply refused to come out.  “You said you’d 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 he’d zone on sheer emotion.


“Hey, now, wait a minute,” Blair protested, flushing.  “Jim didn’t 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 don’t know what you know, or think you know, but – “


“I know everything!” Naomi said reproachfully.  “Simon wouldn’t 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 didn’t 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 Blair’s file cabinet.  Naomi had opened their mail, gone through Blair’s 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 you’ve 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. 


Naomi’s eyes widened.


“How dare you!” she shouted.


Jim fought down an insane urge to laugh.


“Naomi, when was Blair raped?”


Naomi flushed, grimacing.  “I don’t – “


“Damn right, you don’t,” 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 won’t even ask you when, or what he was hospitalized for.  Just how many times.”


Naomi wasn’t flushed anymore.  Now she’d gone white.


“He wouldn’t have been in the hospital at all,” she said coldly, “if it weren’t for you.”


“Meaning you don’t know,” Jim said.  “Not surprising, since each and every time we tried to find you and couldn’t.  About a year ago when Blair died – died, Naomi, clinically dead, we still don’t know exactly how long – where were you?  Oh, that’s right.  Tibet that time.  When he ate pizza laced with Golden and damn near died of an overdose, it was Belize, wasn’t it?  The first time he was shot it was Bora Bora, and the second time – oh, but this is all news to you, isn’t 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 you’re blaming Jim, why don’t you tell me how I was raped, Naomi, and let’s be accurate and say gang-raped.  I’d really kind of like to hear your take on it, about how it’s Jim’s fault.”


“Blair!”  Naomi looked flabbergasted; tears were running down her cheeks now.


“I suppose it was Jim’s fault that I didn’t float Tim Frain an A in my class because he was a star hockey player,” Blair said tonelessly.  “Jim’s 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 I’m a cop now or because I’m Jim’s partner – and oh, by the way, let me add parenthetically that if I’d had Jim or my gun with me, it wouldn’t 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 we’re talking about Jim,” Blair continued ruthlessly, his eyes flashing, “let’s talk about who’s taken care of me night and day since then, who’s 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.  Let’s 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.  Who’s 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, let’s 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 didn’t even hesitate.


“Chief?” Jim said quietly, tapping on the door.


“What?”  Blair’s watery voice told Jim his Guide was crying too.


“Can I come in?”


A brief pause.


“Yeah, okay.”


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 Blair’s hair.


“You all right, baby?” he said softly.


Blair shook his head.


“I don’t know,” he said honestly.  “I just . . . shit, Jim, I don’t 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 I’ve ever seen.  I dunno, Jim.  I may have to kill another cushion over this one.  At least there’s plenty now, I’ve got my choice of victims.”  He chuckled again, hiccuping slightly with a sob.  “I always thought I’d be the one trying to keep you from strangling Naomi.”


“I’d like to force-feed her fifteen pounds of hormone-injected beef coated in MSG,” Jim admitted, grinning slightly.  Somehow, however, he wasn’t 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 hadn’t 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 Blair’s hair gently.  “What do you want to do, Chief?”


“I want her to go away,” Blair said miserably.  “I don’t want to be cruel to her, I don’t.  I just – I just can’t deal with her right now.”


“I know, babe,” Jim said softly, cupping Blair’s cheek in his hand  “Look, why don’t you run yourself a nice hot bath and soak for a little while, and I’ll take care of everything.  You just relax.”


“Oh, man, Jim, I love you so much,” Blair sighed, leaning into Jim’s touch.


“That’s 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 she’d 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 wasn’t the person she thought he was, and probably hadn’t been for some time.


Reluctantly, Jim sat down on the futon next to her.  There wasn’t any particularly tactful way to say what he was going to say.


“Blair . . . doesn’t 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 friend’s apartment,” she said softly.  “I’ll 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 that’s 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.  He’d tried the stuff once, at Blair’s 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 Blair’s room kind of clued me in on that one,” she said.


Jim searched her eyes.


“You don’t particularly like the idea,” he said.


“It doesn’t bother me that Blair is bisexual,” Naomi said.  “I’m not happy that it’s you, I’ll admit that.  Not because of who you are, or . . . or what you are,” she said awkwardly.  “But because of what you do.  You’ve pulled Blair into a dangerous, violent world that – “


“What makes you think I’ve pulled him?” Jim said levelly.


Naomi sighed.


“You’re right,” she said.  “I know Blair better than that.  More likely he’s 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 can’t be pleased with the choices he’s making.”


Jim sipped his smoothie.


“They’re his choices, Naomi.  You’ve got to stop trying to make them for him.”


“You think I don’t know that?” Naomi said impatiently.  She shook her head again.  “Do you think I haven’t 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?”


“Blair’s 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 he’s so brilliant and beautiful,” she said wistfully.  “There’s so much light in him, so much potential.  I suppose it’s only natural to want to take some credit for that.  You don’t think – you don’t want to – that perhaps your child is so bright and beautiful not because of how you raised him, but in spite of it.”


Jim sighed.


“I think you’re 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 don’t know, whatever – then fine, that’s your choice.  But then you can’t just show up on the doorstep and play the outraged mommy, try to reorganize Blair’s 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.


Jim hesitated.


“I don’t know,” he said honestly.  “I don’t think so.  Blair’s a forgiving man.  But I think you’re 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 Jim’s 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 I’m staying.  When – if Blair wants to talk to me, have him give me a call.  If I have to change where I’m staying, I’ll let you know where I am.”  Her lips trembled slightly.  “I’ll 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 didn’t, ah, get rid of it or anything, did you?”


The corners of Naomi’s mouth twitched.


“I’m not a thief, Jim,” she said gently.  “It’s in storage.  Bartlett’s, right down the street.  Unit 42.  I rented it in Blair’s name, and the key is on the table by the door.”  She sighed wistfully.  “I suppose you didn’t like the tatami matting and the futons.”


Jim chuckled.


“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 Blair’s stuff.”


Naomi sighed, rubbing her eyes.


“I’ve really done it this time, haven’t I?” she said miserably.


Jim chuckled.


“If it’s any comfort, I’ve 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 Worth’s name and phone number on his own napkin, handing it to Naomi.  “This is the counsellor we’re seeing.  He’s 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.”


Jim sighed.


“If you only knew how many times I’ve felt exactly the same way,” he said.  “Look, I’ve got to get home.  I don’t want to leave Blair alone for long.  We’d better get going.”


Naomi shook her head.


“You go home to Blair,” she said firmly.  “I’m going to sit here and think for a while, and I’ll get a taxi.  Go on, Jim.  You’re right, Blair shouldn’t be alone.”


Jim hesitated for a moment, but the pull of Blair’s 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 Jim’s 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 don’t know how I ever used to sleep on one.”


“Well, you didn’t have cracked bones then,” Jim reminded him.  “Why didn’t 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.”


Jim chuckled.


“You stay here, I’ll go assess the damages,” he offered.  He trotted upstairs, amused to realize he’d 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, don’t rub!”  Blair vanished into the bathroom, then returned with a wet washcloth.  “Here, lie down on the futon, put this over your eyes.  What’s wrong?”


Several kleenex later, Jim felt rather less charitable about Naomi than he had a half hour before.


“Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news, Chief,” he said sourly.  “The good news is that our bed is still up there.”


“Well, that’s good.”


“The bad news is she’s replaced the pillows with some kind of funky buckwheat things.”


“Aww, hell.  That’s bad news.”


“The good news is that our old pillows are in the closet – I could see them, the door was open a bit.”


“That’s good news.”


“And the bad news is she’s been burning sage and God knows what else up there, and it’s seeped into everything.  Most of the fumes themselves must’ve 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, there’s no way I can sleep on these futons.”


Jim sighed.


“Yeah, I know, babe,” he said.  “It’s okay, we’ll just put the air mattress on the floor and sleep on that for tonight.  Tomorrow we’ll get our furniture back and buy a new mattress and sheets and so on – we’ve 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 guys’ll want it – it’s only about a year old.”


“Awwww, man.”  Blair shook his head.  “I’m so mad I can’t see straight, Jim.  I can’t believe she did this.  I can’t 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, it’s okay,” Jim soothed.  “Look on the bright side, at least it’s not horse manure.”


Blair snorted.


“I guess that’s 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.  She’s sorry, Chief – about a whole lot of things.  I think she’s going to be ‘processing’ for a while.  She gave me a number where she’s staying, said she’d stay in Cascade and let us know where she is.”


Blair sighed.


“I don’t want to talk to her,” he said dully.  “Probably for the first time in my life, I just don’t want to see her.”


Jim frowned, silently laying out the air mattress and inflating it with the battery pump.  He couldn’t 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 he’d forgiven Jim all those times?  Did it mean that next time Jim screwed up Blair wouldn’t 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.  “We’ll have to use the sleeping bags again.  Tomorrow I’ll wash the sheets and blankets, maybe that’ll 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 you’d be more comfortable.”


The flash of fear in Blair’s eyes told him he’d definitely put his foot in his mouth.  Immediately Jim continued, “But I sure wish you’d stay with me, Chief.  I’d miss you way too much.  What I’d 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 Blair’s mouth twitched.


“Oh, yeah?”


“Yeah.”  Jim grinned at Blair and spread out the sleeping bags.  “My lover loves me so much that he’d give up his bed and sleep on an air mattress so I won’t 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 Jim’s shoulder.


“You sure can,” he whispered, and closed his eyes.

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