There Will Be Sparks by Tinnean

There Will Be Sparks - Tinnean

Notes: This is not a death story. It's vaguely based on Enchanted Cottage.

~Where fantasy and reality meet, there will be sparks.~

Jim Ellison was a detective – he'd been Detective of the Year for the last three years running, ever since he'd transferred from Vice to Major Crimes for crissakes – so it hadn't taken a whack over the head with a mallet for him to realize things weren't right. He'd known that for months. He was seeing, hearing, and smelling things he shouldn't be able to see, hear, or smell.

He'd tried to be proactive about it. He'd had blood tests, EEGs, ECGs, CT scans, MRIs, everything his doctors could think of and a few where he was pretty sure they were clutching at straws. None of them could find anything – according to them he was so healthy it was sickening, and he really didn't appreciate their sense of humor. He could tell they were going to advise he see a psychologist next. Not that he had any intention of getting his head shrunk.

Only now it turned out that yeah, the problem was in his head, but it wasn't psychological. If it had only been that he would have accepted it thankfully.

No, it was his worst fears confirmed: BRAIN TUMOR.

He looked around at the sterile walls of Cascade General. His doctor was on the other side of the curtain, and Jim had had no problem hearing what was said.

Eighteen months. Tops.

Jim's hands were shaking so badly he wasn't sure he'd be able to get his pants back on and his fly buttoned up.

This was it. Jim Ellison, Detective, was going to become Jim Ellison, pusher-upper of daisies.

Sure there was chemo. And radiation therapy. But that was simply palliative. There was no cure. Dr. McCoy had said so.

Toward the end there would be pain, paralysis, deafness, blindness, incontinence, and the loss of his hair.

And okay, maybe that last was shallow, but he'd hoped to keep what he had for longer than a year and a half.

"I just need to see this patient," he heard his doctor say. That was all it took for him to steady his hands and get his pants on.

There was no point in waiting for Dr. McKay – how the fuck was his name pronounced anyway? – to come in and do his spiel. He'd heard everything that was relevant.

He got his shoes on, straightened up, and walked out.

"Detective Ellison? Detective Ellison!"

Jim just kept going.

**

"What's going on, Jim?" Simon Banks demanded around the fat cigar in his mouth. As captain of Major Crimes, he couldn't afford to let his men slack off, and Jim knew that better than anyone.

"I smelled gas and just followed the odor." He rubbed his face. These past six months… "I saw-" He shook his head and mumbled, "I don't know what I saw."

"Jim- "

"No. Don't say anything." He'd hoped he'd have more time, but what had happened today just went to prove how short his time was growing.

"Talk to me, Jim!"

"I thought I had the situation under control, but then I must have-" He shut his mouth. The only way he could explain this was by telling Simon he'd had a seizure. And there was no way he'd tell Simon that. Simon would have him riding a desk while he was supposedly taking seizure medica-

Oh, god, what was he thinking? He was going to turn in his gun and badge anyway!

"Okay, take some time off. You've got a lot of vacation time coming- "

"No. I can't do this any more, Captain." He reached into his suit jacket and took out his badge. He put it on the desk, then placed his gun beside it. "I'm sorry, sir."

"Jim, you're the best I've got! You're the best Cascade's got!"

"Maybe once." He tried to smile, but he knew it was a sorry expression. He had gotten a commendation for taking out the nest of drug dealers that had killed another member of Major Crimes, and there was talk of him being up for Cop of the Year again, but only he knew his insane attack had been the result of his knowledge that he was on borrowed time – he'd had nothing to lose.

"Look, think about this."

"I have, Simon." God knew he'd done nothing but think about it – in the dark hours before he fell asleep, in the early hours of the morning when all he could do was toss and turn, pondering his mortality.

"Where will you go? What are your plans?"

"I talked to Megan. She needs some help at the Cottage, and there's an apartment above the garage, so I'll be staying with her." Until the end. He'd already been there every free day he had to help her get the Cottage spruced up.

"How is she?"

"How do you think?"

Megan Connor-Rafe had been widowed six months before, when her husband of less than a year had been killed in a drug bust that went south. Jim had been on a stakeout in the middle of nowhere, but he'd returned home immediately and nailed the low-life bastards who'd done it, and then served as pallbearer at his partner's funeral.

When Megan had refused compassionate leave, saying she'd be climbing the walls in a matter of days, she'd been assigned to desk duty.

Everyone in Major Crimes worried about her, even though she kept insisting she was fine. How fine could she be when she came to work each day with circles under her eyes that got darker and darker until she started resembling a raccoon?

Two months later she'd gone to see a doctor for something to help her sleep and learned she was pregnant. After that, she still wasn't fine, but she was better.

"Who'd have thought she'd buy Prospect Cottage?" At the foot of Mt. Rainier and about a half mile from Mystic Lake, it catered to honeymooners – only one couple at a time, which made it in demand – and could only be reached by a narrow, one lane road.

"She and Rafe had honeymooned there."

"I remember the pictures they brought back. Very pretty place. Didn't it have some sort of legend attached to it?"

"Yeah."

When Megan and Rafe had returned home, they'd been almost giddy. They'd inscribed their names in the so-called Window of True Love. Legend had it that if a couple were truly, deeply in love, they would be able to do that.

'Truly, deeply in love.' That was a nice fantasy.

Megan and Rafe were his friends, and he'd wanted nothing but the best for them, but with the divorce rate what it was, especially among cops, could they have even beaten the odds?

Jim shook his head. He wasn't in any mood to talk about it. "When she found out it was on the market she decided she had to have it."

"Too bad the last of the original family passed on."

"Yeah. Anyway, she's going to need some help, especially when the baby comes." He'd probably be able to give her at least a year.

"All right, Jim. If you're set on this, I'll take these." He gathered up Jim's badge and gun and put them in the top drawer. "But they'll sit in my desk. I won't put your papers in until you've thought this through."

"Thanks, Simon." Jim had thought it through, and he wasn't coming back.

Simon held out his hand. "Take care of yourself, Jim. And if you need anything, let us know. You've got friends here."

"I appreciate it." But of course he wouldn't contact any of them. Yes, they were his friends, but what could they do, when he had one foot on the proverbial banana peel?

"Goodbye, Simon."

He opened the door and stepped out into the bullpen. Thankfully, it was empty.

There was nothing he needed at his desk, nothing he intended to take with him. His case files were stacked neatly, and Simon could parcel them out when everyone got back, at the same time he told them goodbye from Jim.

With a final look around, he left Major Crimes for the last time.

**

Jim was in the kitchen of Prospect Cottage making dinner when Megan walked in.

"I'm sorry I let the Johnson's wedding planner talk me into booking them here for their honeymoon."

"Oh?" He stirred the pot of tomato sauce, then offered the spoon to Megan.

"I'd better skip it. I've got indigestion like you wouldn't believe."

"In that case, I'll make you something bland."

"Thanks, Jim. You're a good mate. Rafe always thought so." She turned away. "I miss him so much."

"I know. I miss him too." Jim went to her and wrapped his arms as far around her as they would go. She was eight months pregnant now, and she was huge, although he took care never to say that. Sometimes he could swear he heard two heartbeats, but he knew that had to be the brain tumor playing havoc with his sense of hearing. Her obstetrician was adamant that she was only having a singleton. "So the newlyweds are giving you a hard time?"

"He is. He's royally pissed that he can't write their names on the window. "

"That's how it goes sometimes." Jim had been there long enough to know that was true. As a matter of fact, he hadn't seen a single couple who'd been able to do that, which enforced his belief that love was just a fantasy and the legend of Prospect Cottage was just that – a legend.

"He's claiming it's false advertising on my part, although I was positive the glass cutter was in its usual place just before they got here."

"Why not use his bride's engagement ring?"

"He said something about not wanting her to take it off ever. I guess he's just sentimental."

"I'll bet he's more afraid she'd find out it isn't a real diamond." Jim grinned sourly. The stone had looked odd to him, the one time he'd been able to get a good look at it.

Megan looked startled for a second, then gave a snort of laughter. "Now that's a thought! Anyway, he's refusing to stay. As a matter of fact, he's loading up his car right now."

"They're leaving us? But what about the really fancy dinner I was going to deliver to their room?"

"And that was?"

"The surf and turf, with a salad, twice baked potatoes, and grilled asparagus."

"Ah. Of course I told them about it. She was interested, but he wasn't."

"Shit." He started to laugh. "Is he asking for a refund?"

"I wouldn't have put it past him, but tomorrow is their last day, and I told him Prospect Cottage doesn't do prorating."

The front door slammed shut. Jim winced. Tweedledum really didn't have to slam it so hard. Jim could also hear him complaining every step of the way to the car, while his bride tried to soothe him.

"And I guess we've seen the last of them." Megan looked uncomfortable.

"Will he hurt your business?"

She shrugged. "One of the big selling points is having our guests inscribe their names on that window. I don't understand it. Rafe and I had no problem with that."

"Hmmm. Maybe it would be a better idea put up a chalkboard."

"Not the same thing, Jim." But she was smiling.

"We could let them know they'll be the only guests, and they'll have lots of privacy and excellent food."

"I suppose we could do that. Well, we'll have to wait and see, I suppose."

"It'll be all right, Megan. You'll see."

"Thanks, Jim. You're the best - Oh, crap!"

"What?" He couldn't help grinning. That last sounded funny in an Aussie accent.

"There's a couple who'll be getting married in a few months. They want to check out the Cottage, and I emailed them that I'd pick them up at the airport in an hour."

"Today?"

She nodded.

"I'll go pick them up."

"Would you mind?"

"Nah. It's only a half-hour round trip to the airport."

"You're a lifesaver. I don't know what I'd do without you."

"You're my friend, and it's the least I could do for you." For Rafe's wife. Actually, she'd saved – not his life, since it was just a matter of time – but his sanity, offering him this refuge. She didn't know about the brain tumor, and in her condition there was no reason for her to know. When the time came, he'd… take care of things. He'd already changed the beneficiary of his life insurance – his brother Steven would get his pension – to Megan's babies. Baby! Why did he keep thinking multiple? He shook his head. "How are you feeling, Megan?"

"How do you think I'm feeling? I haven't seen my feet in so long I've forgotten what they look like, this little joey I'm carrying is playing footy with my kidneys, and I swear I'm on a first name basis with every restroom from here to Seattle." She dug her knuckles to her lower back and arched into the pressure. "I'm glad Rafe isn't here to see me looking like Shamu the Killer Whale."

"No, you're not."

"No, I'm not." Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. "I swear I'd stay like this forever if I could have him back."

"Go put your feet up. You should have enough rest by the time I get that couple here to show them around."

"Thanks, Jim. But I'd better get the honeymoon suite cleaned up first."

"Here." He handed her a magic marker and a piece of cardboard. "You write down the name so they can find me. I'll take care of the room."

"I'm really okay."

"Sure you are. Stop arguing with me. I have to be on the road in half an hour."

"Yes, Jim." She rubbed her abdomen, grimacing until she noticed he was watching her. Then she smoothed out her expression. "And as soon as I've written down Dr. Sandburg's name, I'll help."

"No, then you'll sit and supervise. No arguments, Megan."

To his surprise, she didn't give him any.

**

The Cascade airport was fairly crowded, and Jim wondered uneasily if he should have asked Henri, the local cabby, to make the pickup. It was too late now to do anything but keep his fingers crossed that his tumor wouldn't act up, making his senses go wonky.

He held up the placard Megan had printed, and a couple approached him arm in arm, smiling. The woman was petite, her almond-shaped eyes and thick black hair proclaiming her Oriental heritage. The man beside her was short, although not when compared to the woman. He had russet hair that curled around his shoulders, and eyes so blue Jim wanted to dive into them.

It had been a long time since he'd been attracted to a man, but this one had his motor running, which pleased him almost as much as it surprised him. He hadn't gotten an erection since he'd learned he only had a matter of months.

And wasn't that just his luck? He was coming to the end of the line, this guy was so obviously straight, and his dick couldn't care less. He sighed.

"Are you from Prospect Cottage?"

"Yes." He shook himself out of his reverie. "I'm Jim Ellison."

"I'm Blair Sandburg, and this lovely lady is my fiancée, Christine Hong." Sandburg grinned and took Jim's hand.

Jim found himself gripping it and returning Sandburg's grin. Dammit, he was maintaining that handshake too long. He let go and turned to the woman. "Ms. Hong."

"Please. Call me Chris."

"Chris. I'll take you to the baggage carousel. It's right this way."

"No, that's okay. This is just a brief trip, so we didn't even bring carry-ons."

"Well, okay then. Shall we go?"

**

Blair looked through the windshield of the pick-up as they drove through Cascade. "Can you recommend a good restaurant? We'll have some time before our flight takes off."

"Why not dine at the Cottage? We're serving surf and turf, twice baked potatoes, and grilled asparagus." Jim offered their former guests' dinner to his passengers.

"That sounds delicious!" Chris exclaimed.

"It is. If I say so myself."

"Unfortunately, I'll have to say no to the surf, Jim. I'm Jewish, and we don't eat shellfish."

"Not a problem, Chief. I'll whip up something else for you. How about double tomato bruschetta, mushroom risotto, and osso buco?"

"I could go for that!!"

"And for dessert tiramisu."

"You're killing me here, Jim!"

"Do you cook?" Chris asked. She sat between Jim and Blair, and it was probably just as well. Otherwise Jim would have been tempted to shove her out the door and drive off into the sunset with her fiancé.

No, he really wouldn't do that. Even if he had more than a year left to live. These two appeared to be a solid couple. The last thing he wanted to do was interfere with true love.

And since when was he suddenly a believer in true love?

"Yes, I do." He turned his head to smile down at the young woman. "Megan is too far along in her pregnancy to be on her feet for too long, so I've taken over just about everything at Prospect Cottage."

"So you're her… handy man?"

Jim frowned. "In a manner of speaking." He didn't like the way she made that sound.

"I did some research on Prospect Cottage when Chris suggested we come here for our honeymoon." Blair didn't seem to have noticed. Well, why would he? Love was blind, wasn't it? And probably deaf as well.

"Yeah, it's got quite a history."

"You don't believe it?"

Shit. Jim hadn't meant to let his cynicism show. "No," he obfuscated. "The Cottage was in the Burton family even before Richard Burton brought his wife there as a bride." He grinned to himself. "Richard Burton, the whaling captain, not the explorer or the actor."

"That's right. He skippered the Laura B, didn't he?"

He stared at Blair in amazement. "You're familiar with the Burtons?"

"I do my research."

"Then you know Captain Burton named his ship after his wife."

"Totally cool!"

"You could say that." Jim was… amused… by Blair's enthusiasm. "He and Laura raised their family there. They were the first ones to put their names on that window pane."

"Sweet! And the names of about a dozen couples are inscribed there now, or so I've read."

"Including your hostess and her late husband. They came here for their honeymoon."

"How did you come to know them?"

"I was on the force with Megan and Rafe."

"You were police?"

"Cascade PD. We were all good friends, as a matter of fact. After Rafe was killed, it only made sense that I help out where I could." Of course he wasn't going to say anything about how much Megan was helping him.

"I'm so sorry for Mrs. Connor-Rafe," Chris said. "I didn't know."

"No." Silence fell in the cab and Jim knew he'd spoken too shortly, but he couldn't help it. Rafe had been a good friend; Megan was a good friend; and all too soon, Jim would be leaving Megan to join Rafe.

**

Jim parked in front of the cottage, and Blair and Chris got out. The afternoon sunlight sparkled off the multi-paned windows. Flowers flanked the path up to the door and ran riot around the foundation.

"Ohhhh! How beautiful!" Chris gushed. "Baby, I love you!" She threw herself into Blair's arms and peppered his face with kisses. "This is the absolute perfect honeymoon destination! I'll bet it hasn't been touched in… well, forever!"

"The plumbing and electricity have been updated, but everything else is pretty much the way it was when Richard brought Laura here in 1890… " Jim led the way to the steps to the porch that wrapped around the cottage. You don't know this guy; you will not be jealous. You have no reason to be jealous. What the fuck is wrong with you?

"Hello! Welcome to Prospect Cottage!" Megan stood on the porch.

"She's… very pregnant!" Chris whispered.

"She's due in a couple of months," Jim said. "So you don't have to worry that the baby will decide to be born while you're here."

Chris gave him a puzzled look, but just then Megan narrowed her eyes at Jim.

"Jim, are you- "

Trust her to know something was bothering him.

"I'm fine, Megan. I invited Blair and Chris to have dinner here. I'd planned to give them Tweedledum's and Tweedledee's." She laughed, as he'd hoped. "But Blair can't eat shellfish."

"I think we have some age dried porterhouse steaks."

"I promised him the osso buco. I'd better get the veal shanks started."

"Come in, Ms. Hong, Dr. Sandburg. Let me show you around."

**

"That was yummy! Jim, would you marry me?" Unfortunately, it wasn't Blair who asked.

"Thank you, Chris. I'm glad you enjoyed it." Jim brought a tray with demitasse cups of espresso for Blair, Chris, and himself. Megan's cup held decaf tea.

"Do you do all the cooking?"

"Yes." He saw no need to tell her that lately Megan had been too tired to do much beyond trying to knit a baby blanket. And while she was a good cook, he was a better one.

"Honey, we're definitely coming here for our honeymoon!"

"Sure. Whatever you say, Chris. So, this is the famous window!" Blair crossed the floor to the bay window that looked out on the garden at the side of the cottage. "C'mere, babe!" Unfortunately, he wasn't talking to Jim.

Get a grip, Ellison!

"Look at these signatures!"

"Oh, Blair, let's put ours on there now!"

"Anything for you!" Blair reached for the glass cutter that usually hung next to the window but all that dangled there was the empty cord. "Um…?"

"Sorry. It's gone missing and I haven't had a chance to replace it."

"That's okay. We can use Chris's ring!"

Well, he wasn't worried that the stone wasn't real.

"That's a great- I can't get it off!" Chris twisted the ring one way and then another, but it wouldn't slide past her knuckle.

Fat fingers! Jim thought snidely. No, that's not fair. "There's some hand lotion in the kitchen. I'll get it."

Even though he wanted to punish himself for such petty thoughts, he still took his time looking for the odorless lotion.

Blair and Chris seemed to be engaged in some form of contortion when he returned.

"Ow!" Chris's face was red and she was grimacing.

Blair grinned sheepishly when he caught Jim's eyes on him.

"I thought we could try writing our names with the ring still on Chris's finger, but it's not working."

"No, I can see that."

"Where's the lotion, Jim?" Megan asked.

"We must have run out. I put it on the list along with a new glass cutter- "

"Better make it two. We seem to keep losing those things."

"Will do. I'll pick them up next time I’m in town. Sorry."

"That's okay. We can do it when we come back on our honeymoon, isn't that right, hon?" Chris kissed Blair's cheek.

"Yeah!" Blair looked at the clock that was hanging above the buffet. "Oh, wow, is that the right time?" He rushed back to the table and gulped down his espresso. "We've got to go! I'm so sorry we have to run- "

"No, that's fine." Megan was looking tired. "Thank you so much for coming to visit. We'll look forward to seeing you in a few months. Jim?"

"Not a problem, Megan. The truck is out front. I'll drive you guys back to the airport."

**

Forty minutes later, Jim pulled around the back of the Cottage. Had Blair's hand lingered a bit in his when they'd shook goodbye?

No, he had to have been imagining things.

He got out of the truck. The light was on in the kitchen, and he let himself in the back door.

Megan was at the stove, boiling a kettle for tea.

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." But she dug her fists into the small of her back. "It's just these damned Braxton-Hicks contractions."

"Well, as long as it isn't the real thing." Jim had gone with her to the Lamaze classes, since she had no one else to be her coach. He was actually enjoying this, especially since none of his own symptoms had recurred since he'd come to Prospect Cottage.

"You know my Ob says I'm right on target."

"Just don't try to tough it out. The last thing we need is me driving you to Cascade General while you're alone in the backseat having the baby."

"What makes you think I'd be in the back seat?"

"Ha, ha."

"So what did you think?"

"Dr. Sandburg and his fiancée make a cute couple."

"They do. They looked so in love." Right then Megan looked so lost.

Jim kind of felt that way himself. It had been so long since- But it was ridiculous for him to go looking for someone to fill in the blanks for him. Whereas Megan was pretty and smart, the kind of woman any man would want. When she was done grieving, she'd have no problem finding someone who loved her as much as Rafe had.

Jim went to her and hugged her.

Something was off…

"Oh, damn!"

"I'll get the truck!"

Megan's water had broken.

**

Cascade, WA wasn't large enough to warrant its own international airport, but it did have a small airfield. Passengers would shuttle in from Sea-Tac, adding only twenty minutes to their overall flight.

"And that's twenty minutes too many," Blair Sandburg grumbled to himself. He'd left the East Coast at 6 AM, and now it was almost 10:30 PM, and his day still wasn't ended.

He looked around, hoping to spot a free cab.

After the scandal that had erupted at Edwards University in Connecticut, he'd had no choice but to forfeit his tenure. And because no other institution of any repute would take him, he'd resigned himself to the fact that his career had crashed and burned.

A short, stocky man with the rolling gait of a seaman approached him. "Are you Dr. Sandburg?"

"Why do you want to know?" With his face plastered all over the newspapers and gossip rags, he'd tried to disguise his looks. He'd cut his hair – Naomi, his mother, had almost wept when she'd seen him – he was wearing glasses that were darkly tinted, and he'd developed the habit of keeping his face turned away so that he looked no one in the eye. Too many people wanted to see what the disgraced rising star in the field of anthropology looked like. There was too much involved to titillate their inquisitive little hearts – the underage sex, the acquisition of treasures that rightly belonged in their own countries, the use of the black-market antiquities trade to smuggle in drugs...

His reputation, his career was toast. And his marriage plans were deep-sixed as well. Chris had refused to have anything more to do with a drug dealer who took advantage of his students and had broken their engagement.

How could she know so little about him?

He knew his name would be cleared eventually – he knew it! – and she'd want him back, but maybe by then he wouldn't want to have anything to do with someone who was so quick to jump to conclusions.

"Jim Ellison told me to pick up a Dr. Blair Sandburg and drive him out to Prospect Cottage."

"Huh?" Oh, right, he'd asked why this guy wanted to know if he was Sandburg. He'd kind of hoped Ellison, the cute guy who worked for Mrs. Rafe, would be the one to come pick him up. If Blair hadn't been engaged to Chris at the time, he'd have been tempted to flirt with the big man. Maybe more than flirt with him.

But he had been with Chris, and no matter what his inclinations, he wouldn't have betrayed her. How could she even think he'd screw around on her?

He hadn't been sure what he'd do until Naomi reminded him of the reservations for Prospect Cottage.

~~~

"Mama, my life is falling apart!" he told her when he called to let her know how bad things had gotten.

"I knew it! I knew that bitch wasn't good for you!"

"Uh, I didn't mean Christine. I meant my job."

"She still wasn't any good. I read that interview she gave the Inquirer! Lies, all of it!"

"Thanks for believing in me, Mama." It had hurt more than he'd expected that Chris hadn't.

"Of course I believe in you! You're my son! I may have dragged you all over god's creation, but I raised you to be honorable! As if you'd have an affair with someone who was not only an underage boy but one of your students in the bargain!"

"Which would bother you most, Naomi? That he was male or that he was a student?"

"You should know me better than that. I certainly know you better, and you would never give a student a pass for personal reasons. I also raised you not to be bound by the conventions of a conservative society. We love who we love; I have no objection as to who you love as long as he or she is able to love you wholeheartedly. That would exclude children. And Christine. I don't believe you really loved her. I have friends, Blair," she added darkly. "They can get rid of her. She'll never be missed!

He laughed but declined. Christine Hong would be missed, not by him, not any more, but there were people who would notice if she wasn't around. "But if you really want to help, maybe you could get those friends to look into why my life is suddenly in the toilet."

"It will be my pleasure." Things might be going to hell in a handcart, but Naomi's friends would find out why. "Where can I get in touch with you?"

"I don't know. I can't stay here." Not only was his job gone, but his landlady wanted him out in twenty-four hours.

"Do you still have those reservations at Prospect Cottage? How would you feel about going there without the bi- without Christine?"

"I hadn't thought about it. It is for newlyweds."

"Well, you may as well take advantage of it."

"You know, I think I will!" At this point the place could have been a mob hideout and Mrs. Rafe a hit man- hit woman- and he wouldn't have cared, as long as it got him out of the public eye.

And in the vicinity of Jim Ellison?

There was something about the man beyond his blue eyes and the half smile that Blair found intriguing. Now he'd have the time to puzzle it out.

"I have to go."

"I'm in St. Louis right now, Blair, and I'd love to see you. Why don't you try to route a layover through Lambert-St. Louis?"

"That sounds like a good idea. I'll see what I can do and get back to you."

"All right. Take care, and watch your back!"

"I will. Love you."

"Love you too, baby." She hung up, and Blair felt a little better.

He loved being an anthropologist. Maybe he'd even be able to get his job back.

~~~

The cab driver was getting impatient. "In that case, yes," Blair told him, "I'm Sandburg. Why did you approach me? Did you recognize me?"

"No. You're the only person left standing here."

"Why was Mr. Ellison unable to pick me up?"

"Mrs. Rafe's babies came early, and they're coming home from the hospital today."

"Babies?"

"Indeed yes. She had twins about two months ago."

"And they're just now getting out of the hospital?" This might not have been the best idea.

The cabbie shrugged. "Is this all you have?" He took Blair's duffel bag.

"Yes." He'd left everything from his previous life behind. "I'll hold onto my laptop."

"No, I mean where's your bride?"

"I don't have one."

"Then why are you going to Prospect Cottage?"

Blair scowled at him. "My fiancée called off the wedding, okay?"

"Oh dear! That's most inauspicious." He opened the passenger door of his cab and slung the duffel inside.

"Tell me about it." The anthropologist in Blair kicked in. This man's manner of speech was more suitable for a hundred years ago than present day Cascade, and he found it intriguing.

"Truly, I deeply regret it. Er… " He cleared his throat. "Hop in. I'll get you there in about fifteen minutes. Ellison should have picked up Mrs. Rafe and the babies by now."

"Okay." Blair got in and blinked. The license in the holder identified the driver as Richard Burton. "Any relation to the Burtons who owned Prospect Cottage?"

"Yes. Yep." He smiled at Blair through the rearview mirror.

"It must have been disappointing to have to give it up."

"That's fate." He turned on the radio, put the cab in gear, and left the airport.

Weren't cabdrivers supposed to be notoriously verbose? For some reason this one seemed more than happy to not say a word.

Blair shrugged and massaged his temples. He was getting a headache. A good deal of that probably had to do with his not having eaten much beyond a Danish with Naomi in St. Louis and a bag of pretzels between Phoenix and Las Vegas. Not that he would have turned up his nose at airline food. He'd been in places where that would be considered gourmet fare. The airline just hadn't offered anything else.

Jim had served a really good meal the last time he'd been here. Of course he couldn't expect osso buco tonight, but any kind of protein would be nice.

**

The cab pulled up in front of Prospect Cottage.

"Thanks, man."

"Thank you. It's a pleasure to drive someone who knows how to tip."

Blair swung his duffel over one shoulder while the messenger bag with his laptop dangled from the other and shut the car door.

The Cottage was dark and looked uninhabited. "Uh… " But the cab was already on its way back to the one lone road that led to Cascade.

Oh, well. He'd roughed it more than once. He'd survive.

He took the steps to the porch in a single stride and went to the door, his hand raised to knock on it. A thought occurred to him: babies.

Brand new babies were inside. He didn't want to wake them, so instead of pounding on the door, he tried the doorknob.

It turned under his fingers, and he pushed the door open.

This was promising. And so nice of them. They had left it unlocked for him.

He stepped into the front parlor. There was a light switch around there somewhere if he remembered correctly. He fumbled along the wall.

The next thing he knew, his duffel went flying and he was flat on his back, the messenger bag digging into his spine.

"Not a good idea, asshole!" Two broad hands were around his throat, thumbs digging into his windpipe. Abruptly they eased off. "Blair?"

"Uh… " He swallowed, coughed, and swallowed again. "Yeah," he rasped.

"Jesus, I'm sorry! What are you doing here?" Jim climbed off Blair and helped him to his feet, then turned on a soft light. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," he repeated. "That- "

"You cut your hair!" Jim reached out to run his fingertips over the short strands. "Why?"

"Uh… yeah." Blair had to restrain himself from leaning into the touch. It had never felt so good when anyone else had done that. "I thought it was time for a change."

"I wish you hadn't." He seemed wistful for a moment, then shook himself and said, "I'm sorry. We weren't expecting anyone."

"But the cab driver said you'd sent him."

Jim blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Richard Burton, the cab driver- "

"We don't rely on Cascade Cabs. Oh, it's a good enough company, but I always pick up our guests. It's better customer relations."

"This is strange. You didn't have a cab pick me up, but the driver said- Never mind. You said you weren't expecting me? But I'd made the reservations."

"Megan sent a letter telling you… "

Blair was shaking his head.

"She explained about the twins, cancelled your reservations, and returned your deposit."

"I never got it." And if Chris had, she hadn't said anything to him about it.

"Come to think of it, Megan mentioned the other day that the check hadn't cleared yet."

"Uh…" This was so beyond strange it had taken a left turn into weird. "Look, is this a bad time? Should I leave?" Although if Jim wanted him to go, Blair would have to ask him for a ride back into Cascade.

"No! Things are a little at sixes and sevens here, but if you can deal with the havoc caused by two-month old twins, you're more than welcome to stay. You'll have to do your own cooking, I'm afraid. I hope your bride won't mind." Jim looked around as if expecting to see her.

"Christine didn't come with me."

"Oh. Will she be arriving in the morning?"

"No."

"Tomorrow afternoon?"

"No." God, he should have realized he'd have to- "Chris gave me back my ring."

"What? Why?"

"Haven't you read the papers?"

"No, sorry."

"I've been totally disgraced. My tenure's in the process of being revoked with cause and I've left Edwards University."

"Jesus, Chief, I'm sorry! What happened?"

He might as well get this over with now. "I was accused of using my position at Edwards U. to smuggle drugs into the country in the crates of antiquities that I bought illegally from a leftist cell in South America. The money from the drugs was used to supply guns to some paramilitary group. And on top of that I was supposed to be having an affair with an underage student I was tutoring."

"My, you were certainly busy!"

Blair flinched. "I'll go." He should have realized the decks were stacked too much against him.

"No." Jim's hand closed around his wrist. "What I meant was, I could buy any one of those charges, but all of them? They're a bit much."

"Thanks. I think."

Jim smiled and shook his head. "I'm not explaining myself well. I don't know that much about you, but from what I learned in the short amount of time we spent together, I can't see you doing any of that, much less all of it. It sounds like you were set up."

"That's what I tried to get across to them, but they wouldn't believe me. They wouldn't even give me a chance to explain. They said the evidence they had was too hard and fast, too damning for anything I could say to make any difference."

"And so you just walked away from your career?"

Blair shrugged. He would have fought for it, but it would have been useless. Once the sponsors got wind of it, all his funding would have been withdrawn. He'd been asked to leave for the good of the University, and put like that, he'd had no choice

"And Chris?"

Blair hunched a shoulder. She wouldn't see him, talk to him. She'd sent his ring back via a messenger service.

"You mean she threw you over? I'm sorry, Chief."

"Yeah. So am I. Did you book the honeymoon suite? Is someone already staying here?"

"No. We decided it would be better to keep it vacant until things became a little more settled with Josie and Jake."

"The twins?"

"Yes." A soft smile curled Jim's lips.

"The cab driver told me Megan had her babies. They must have come as a surprise. If I remember rightly, she was only expecting one."

"Yeah. I thought at first we might lose all of them. It scared the shit out of me."

"How are they?"

"Better now. They were two months premature."

"Yeah, the cab driver told me that too." Blair had been looking forward to the babies he and Chris would have. He sighed. Jim was going to be a great dad. "Would… would it be okay if I stay? I won't be in the way, I promise. And I can walk the babies if they get fussy, or diaper them or feed them!"

"How'd you come to have that on your resume, Chief?"

"I'm an anthropologist." Well, he'd been one. "I learned all kinds of things out in the field. I'm really handy, I promise."

"Then thanks. If you wouldn't mind, that will come in handy."

"Awesome! Uh… One last question, Jim; how'd you know it was me?"

"Moonlight." A dull red climbed Jim's cheeks, and his eyes took on an almost haunted expression.

"Excuse me?"

"A stray beam of moonlight. I'm very sorry, and I hope I didn't hurt you."

"No, I'm fine." Blair would have sworn it was a moonless night.

"Would you like a bedtime snack?" Jim slung Blair's duffel over his shoulder.

"That sounds great. The flight from Phoenix to Las Vegas was delayed on the runway for six hours, and we played catch-up with the rest of the flights, so other than a cup of coffee and a Danish in St. Louis and a bag of pretzels, my stomach's empty."

"Okay, let's leave your stuff here. We're going to the kitchen. I'll whip up something for you."

"You don't have to go out of your way, Jim. A bowl of cereal would be fine."

"Nope. I'll fry up some bacon and eggs. Hey, it's the least I could do after almost killing you."

"Uh, Jim? No bacon." Blair followed him to the back of the Cottage, tempted to hold onto his shirt. The lights were off. How was he able to see?

"It's okay. It's turkey bacon. Coffee?"

"Sure." Why not? He hadn't been sleeping well as it was, and another sleepless night wouldn't make much of a difference. "I have to apologize again. I shouldn't have just let myself in. I was going to knock, but I didn't want to chance waking the babies if they were asleep."

"Appreciate that, Chief. It was a rough day, and Megan only got them to sleep about twenty minutes ago. Her suite is that way." He pointed to a darkened corridor. "As a matter of fact, I was just getting around to shutting down the Cottage for the night."

"Where do you sleep, Jim?" Shit, he shouldn't have asked that. But Jim didn't seem to mind.

"I have an apartment over the garage. It used to be the carriage house, but Megan had part of it remodeled for me. It's home. Not that I'm there much."

As Jim fried the eggs and bacon he told Blair about Megan, the twins, Megan, the Cottage, Megan –

"She's lucky to have you, Jim." He sighed. If that wasn't just his luck. Jim and Megan were a couple.

"I'm lucky to have her. Here you go, Chief. I'll go bring your things up to the honeymoon suite, and once you get that inside you, you can crash for the night."

"Thanks, Jim." Blair stared at the plate Jim had set before him. He might as well mainline the cholesterol straight to his arteries, but what the hell? He was only going to live once.

**

Blair had been at the Cottage for almost a month and a half now, and he'd never felt so at home anywhere. All his life he'd traveled from one corner of the globe to the other, never content to stay in one place for any longer than it took to complete his research.

Chris was a homebody, and all she'd ever wanted to do was take care of him and the house and babies he was going to give her. He'd worried that his wanderlust would kick in before they'd even gotten home from their honeymoon.

Now he realized he'd been looking for home. And it seemed like he'd finally found it. The more so when he realized Jim and Megan weren't a couple.

He'd been afraid they would look at him differently after he told them why he was more or less hiding out at Prospect Cottage.

He should have known better. Megan had patted him absently on the shoulder and gone to change the twins, and Jim just looked interested and asked a lot of questions. They hadn't been intrusive, though.

Finally, Jim had patted his shoulder also – he seemed to do that a lot, and while Blair generally didn't care to be touched, Jim was obviously the exception to that rule.

"I've got some errands to run, Chief. I'd ask you to come along, but you'd just be bored. Tell Megan I might be late getting back."

"Don't worry about it. I can make dinner."

"Thanks, Chief."

"That's what friends are for."

This time Jim hugged him. Blair smiled and awkwardly patted his back, one of those straight guy expressions of affection. Just because Jim was a touchy-feely kind of guy didn't meant he was gay.

He walked out onto the porch with Jim and waved him off. Okay, get a hold of yourself, Sandburg. The last thing you want is for him to think you're coming on to him. Even if you'd like nothing better.

He decided now was as good a time as any to go talk to Megan.

**

"So you'll look into this for me, Simon?"

"It's out of my jurisdiction, but I have some friends back East. I'll put it to them and see what they can do."

"I appreciate it."

"What's this Sandburg to you?"

"Just a friend who got a raw deal. No one should have to give up the job they love."

"Like you gave up police work?"

"I had my reasons, Simon."

"And you still won't talk about them?"

"No."

"I don't understand why you'd want to become a maintenance man, but it's your life." Simon went to him, his hand outstretched. "I had to put in your papers, but if you ever change your mind, I'll put in a new set reinstating you."

Jim gripped his hand. "Thank you, Simon. I won't be back, but that means a lot to me."

He didn't have much time left, but as he'd been there for Megan and her babies, now he'd do what he could for Blair.

**

"Jim."

A quiet voice seemed to reach out to Jim, drawing him back from the deep fog that had enshrouded him.

"Jim? Come back to me, man!"

"Blair?" He blinked and shook his head.

"Yeah. Where were you?" Blair's hand was warm on the back of his neck, and he was enveloped by Blair's scent, the same scent that had told him it was Blair under him the night Blair had returned to Prospect Cottage.

Jim arched into the touch like a cat being stroked.

And then he froze.

Oh, god. He'd been fine for so long he'd been positive he'd gone into remission. Why now?

He'd parked the truck at the back of the cottage, and when he'd stepped out, a flash of yellow plumage had caught his eye. It was so pretty, so vibrant…

The next thing he knew, Blair was there, calling him back.

"Guess I was daydreaming," he offered weakly, and he stepped away from the comforting touch.

For a second it looked like Blair was going to challenge his words, but then he let it go, and Jim sighed in relief.

"What can I do for you, Jim?"

Kiss me? Love me for the rest of my life, however long- short- that might be?

"Nothing. I'm fine." He would have laughed, but he didn't think Blair would get the joke. "Sorry. My mind was a million miles away."

"Okay. If you say so. But if there's a problem… "

"A problem?"

"Moneywise. Look, Jim. I know you and Megan haven't been able to book the honeymoon suite since I've been here." It had been two months - the best two months of Jim's life. "If you want me to go- "

"NO! I mean, no." They'd become good friends in that short period of time. At first Blair had been reluctant to leave the Cottage grounds, but lately he'd driven into town with him to pick up groceries. They'd even gone fishing and camping a time or two.

The corner of Blair's mouth crooked up in a rueful grin. "If you need me to go- "

"No. We have enough to get by."

"Would you even tell me if it was otherwise? I mean I'm just a sometime guest- "

"You're more that than, Blair! You're… "

"Yes?"

"You're a friend. Uh… " Jim suddenly had an idea. "I have to go. Megan's calling me."

"She is? I don't hear anything."

"I'll talk to you later."

"Okay, Jim."

Jim was down the path, but he could still hear how confused those words sounded. Well, Blair was going to be tickled pink when Jim told him his plan.

If he could just get Megan to go along with it.

**

"Jim! The very man! I was about to go looking for you!" Megan had the twins cradled in her arms. "It's time for their feeding."

"Who's going first?"

"Jake."

"Okay. I'll take Josie. Come to Uncle Jim, cupcake." He cradled the tiny bundle in his arms and breathed in her baby scent. His heart swelled with indescribable pleasure. He'd never have children, but at least he'd been given this gift. He began walking back and forth across the room, humming under his breath.

Megan settled herself in the rocking chair in the corner of the kitchen, put Jake to her breast, and hummed along with Jim.

He paused in his humming and drew in a breath. Okay, here went nothing. "Blair's been a big help, hasn't he?"

"Yes, he has." She smiled down at her son and ran a finger over his cheek. "Who's the handsomest little boy in the whole wide world? Oh, your daddy would have been so proud of you! Don't you think so, Jim?"

"Sure. I… uh… I was wondering what you'd think about having him stay here on a permanent basis?"

"Jake? But of course he'll be here permanently!"

"You know that wasn't what I meant?"

"I know, Jim. I'm sorry. I couldn't resist teasing you. What would we have Blair do?"

"Oh, mow the lawn, clean the gutters, wash the windows."

"Jim, that's what you do." She adjusted her blouse and brought Jake to her shoulder, patting his back until he let out a healthy burp.

"Well, yeah, but- I mean I might have to go into Cascade. Or somewhere," he concluded weakly.

"Here, Jake is finished. Let me have Josie." They switched babies and she sat down again. "It's been slow. Do you think we can afford it?"

'We.' "Megan, the Cottage is yours."

"Yes, but it's yours as well. You're as much as part of Prospect Cottage as I am. As the babies are. I couldn't have made it through this last year if it weren't for you."

"You and Rafe were my closest friends on the force. Of course I'd help out as much as I could. You're family."

"But you've got family, Jim. Your brother, your father."

"We’re estranged. And I thought we were going to talk about Blair staying here."

"You like him, don't you?" She smiled down at her little girl.

"Well, yeah. He's- Shit!"

"What?"

"Let me have that diaper." He took the one Megan had draped over her shoulder and wiped up Jake's mouth and chin. "Just a little spitup." The baby began to cry at the indignity. "Okay, lambchop, here you go." He put the diaper over his own shoulder, eased Jake up, and began rubbing soothing circles on his back.

"You'd make such a great father, Jim."

"This is as close as I'll ever get to it."

"Because you're gay?"

"No. Because I'm-" He shook his head. There was no need for Megan to know he was dying. Not yet. "Because I haven't found Mr. Right."

"Or did you, but he was just not right for you?"

Jim smiled wryly. Rafe had not only been his partner, he'd been his friend. Jim was sure Rafe had never let Megan know what had happened between the two of them that one night after a particularly brutal murder investigation. Two children, both under five, slaughtered. And it had been their father who'd done it.

Rafe had wanted to tear the bastard's head off. Jim would have helped, only the Press had already arrived. They'd taken him in, gotten him processed, and then Jim had brought Rafe home. "You don't want to use alcohol to get you through this."

"Then what?" Rafe had snarled.

"Me. Let me help you get through this."

Rafe was smart enough not to protest. They were friends, and friends did what they had to for each other.

Jim had stripped and let Rafe fuck him.

It had just been that one night. Jim was gay and didn't love Rafe. Rafe was straight and didn't love Jim. But it had made them partners in the truest sense of the word.

When Rafe started dating Megan, Jim had approved. And when Rafe had asked Megan to marry him, Jim had shared in their joy, standing as Rafe's best man.

Megan was another smart cop. She'd liked Jim, and even more so that he'd kept her husband sane enough to become her husband.

Now she was laughing.

"Mind telling me what's so funny?"

"Blair came and asked me the same thing."

"He did?" Jim started laughing himself. "So what did you tell him?"

"He'd have to talk to you about it – he thought to remodel that extra space above the garage – but it was fine with me."

"You're a peach!"

"Well, you're fair dinkum too. Now let's get these two changed and then put them down for a nap."

**

"Blair!" Jim found him on the path to Mystic Lake. He got that tingly feeling that started at the base of his neck, slip-slided down his spine, and settled in his balls, making his dick hard and his fingers itch to explore his own body if there wasn't another available. "Megan said you wanted to talk to me."

"Hi, Jim. Uh… yeah. I was talking to her about it."

"About what?" He made sure Blair didn't see his smile.

"You have to have the honeymoon suite available. It's too easy for people to forget about Prospect Cottage, and it's on the verge of that. So this would be the ideal solution. Megan… uh… she said it's all right with her if it's all right with you."

"What is, Chief?" Oh, he was liking this way too much, but what the hell? He only had a short time left, and he'd be damned if he didn't enjoy it as much as he could.

"The extra space over the garage. Next to your apartment?"

"You want to move in with me?"

"Yes! No! I mean, in a manner of speaking." He was blushing, and he looked adorable. If only Jim had more time… "There's plenty of space for a second apartment. I could have it remodeled, put in a bedroom and a bathroom, maybe a kitchenette. If that's okay with you?"

"I thought your accounts were frozen."

"The ones they know about are. But I've got an account in First Federal of Cascade that they don't know about. I wrote a novel, Jim. Naomi has a friend who's a publisher, and he read it as a favor to her. He loved it and gave me a whopper of an advance."

"You're going to be published? Good for you, Chief! When's it coming out? I'll buy a copy."

"You don't even know what it's about."

"Doesn't matter. I still want a copy."

"You'll get one, but you're not paying for it. I'm getting complimentary copies, and I'll give one to you."

"Signed?"

"Of course!"

"Excellent." Jim laughed. He wasn't going to give one thought to the fact he might not be around to get the book. "So what's it called?"

"O.D.A. 731."

"What do you know about Operational Detachments, Chief?"

"It's called research, Jim." Blair was grinning so proudly Jim thought he'd start dancing any second.

"Hmmm. So what's it about?"

"This soldier spends eighteen months in Peru after all the men in his squad have been killed in a helicopter crash. He rallies the natives and holds the Pass until reinforcements come."

"I hate to rain on your parade, Chief, but that sounds like every other military procedural that's on the bookshelves today."

"Ah, but this one has a twist. Listen and learn, Grasshopper. This soldier – his name is Rick – Well, his senses come online while he's in Peru, all of them, and he can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell a hundred times more accurately than your average human being."

"What?" Suddenly this wasn't so amusing.

"Oh, yeah. There was actually a monograph about this, Sentinels of Paraguay. That's kind of what I based it on."

"But your book is fiction – all of it."

"Jim, surely you've heard of people who work in perfume factories or for coffee companies who have senses that are sharper than average." Blair looked at him like he had a screw loose, and maybe he did.

"Not really."

"Well, there are."

"Really and truly, and not something in fiction?"

"Yes, really and truly."

He swallowed hard, but Blair didn't seem to notice.

"Anyway, Rick- "

"Who?"

"My character. His senses went back to normal; he came back to the States and joined the police force. Everything was fine, and then he went on a stakeout in the woods, and they came back. He thought he was losing his mind, but a girl who was studying Sentinels found out about him – she had a boyfriend who worked in the hospital who faxed the information to her – and helped him come to grips with his- "

"If you say super powers, Sandburg, I'm going to smack you upside the head!"

"His abilities?" Blair laughed at him, and he was pleased Blair knew he was teasing. "Does that work better for you?"

"Okay. Uh… Blair… I have something I need to tell you."

"You're gay?"

"What? NO! I mean I am, but- "

"It's okay, because I am too."

"- that isn't what I have to - Wait a minute! You're gay? What about Chris?"

"I wanted a family, and Chris was pretty and she said she loved me. I was tired of playing the field with all the guys. And let's face it, I'm not getting any younger- "

"Chief, you're thirty!"

"And that's a death knell in the gay community. Weren't you aware?"

"I didn't dip my toe in the water too frequently. Were you going to use Chris as your beard?"

"No. I would have stayed faithful to her. But now she's out of the picture and you're in it. Will you let me live with you?"

"I can't."

Blair lost all color. "I… I see. Well, having made the biggest horse's ass of myself, I think I'd better- "

"Blair, you don't understand! I'd love nothing more than to share my life and my apartment with you. But I'm dying."

"What?"

"I'm- "

"I heard what you said. What I want to know is how you can be dying. You're only about ten years older than me."

"I've… I've got a brain tumor. I had eighteen months left to live. Now I've only got about three months left."

"Jim- "

"I'm sorry, Chief. Megan doesn't know. Please don't say anything to her."

"I promise. How did you find out? What made you even think you had a problem?"

"Want to hear a real kicker? My senses started going crazy. I heard things, saw things… "

Blair's breath hitched. "Like a sentinel?"

"Yeah. I went for all kinds of tests. That was how Dr. McCoy- McKay- whatever the fuck his name is… that was how he found out I had a brain tumor. I overheard him talking."

"Well, this does suck donkey- Weren't there options?"

"Oh, sure, but radiation and chemotherapy would only make me comfortable."

"Let me stay with you." Blair's eyes were shiny with tears, and he gripped Jim's arms. "I want to be with you for as long as you've got. Please let me!"

"I'd like that."

"Come up to my suite."

"I… uh… tend to be a little loud."

"You're a screamer?" Blair looked enchanted, and Jim felt his color rise.

"Suppose you come up to my apartment?" He was determined to ignore Blair's delight.

"Yes!"

"Let me just tell Megan."

"That we're going to bump uglies?"

"No, that we're going to measure out the space for your apartment." Jim took Blair's hand and pulled him along the path.

"Okay." Blair was smiling. Jim didn't have to see it. He could hear it.

**

Jim lay on his back. Blair was curled beside him, his head resting on Jim's shoulder as he idly drew designs in the modest amount of hair that covered his chest.

"I'm going to make you happy, Jim."

"You already do, Chief."

"You're not sore, are you?"

"I'll survive. You're a surprise, you know?"

"You know what they say about short guys."

Jim dropped a kiss on Blair's hair, smiling as it tickled his nose. "All I know is it's true."

**

Jim hung up the phone. Time was growing short, and he'd been afraid it would run out before he heard anything from Simon or his friends.

"Hey, Jim, would you look at this!" Blair came into the foyer holding Autumn Brides.

"Yeah!" Megan followed him, smiling broadly. "That article about the Cottage is in this-"

"What's up, babe?"

"Nothing. Why?"

"You look like you got some bad news."

"No." It was good news for Blair, but with his reputation restored and his career back on track, there wouldn't be any reason for him to stay at Prospect Cottage any longer. "I just need to drive into Cascade."

"Okay, give me a minute, and I'll go with you."

"No. Stay with Megan and keep an eye on things, would you?"

Blair's eyes widened. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." Jim scowled, cutting a glance at Megan.

Fortunately she had taken the magazine from Blair and was apparently enthralled with its contents.

"He can go with you," she said. "The twins are napping, and I can take care of the Cottage for a few hours."

"I need to go alone. Humor me, okay?"

"Oookay." Blair looked hurt.

"It's just some stuff I need to take care of. I'll be back before you know it." Jim hated that he was hurting his lover.

"Sure, Jim. Go ahead. I've got to hook up that glass cutter anyway."

"Blair... "

"Go on. The sooner you go, the sooner you'll get back."

**

Blair went to the window in the dining room and fastened the glass cutter to the cord that dangled just off the upper sash. He'd never been the clingy type of boyfriend, and the last thing he wanted Jim to think was that he didn't trust him. Because he did, more than anyone, even Naomi.

It hadn't bothered him when Jim had gone anywhere without him back when he'd first come to stay at Prospect Cottage; they hadn't been together then. But they were together now.

He realized he'd been scrawling Jim's name inside a heart on the window. Oh, what the hell? He added his own name, then sighed and went back to the foyer to wait for Jim to come back.

**

Jim met Simon at Sarah's Ice Cream. Simon handed him a vanilla cone and a napkin and started walking down the street, working on an ice cream sandwich. Jim fell into step beside him.

"You were right, Jim. Turned out some guy named Lash was impersonating your Dr. Sandburg."

"But why?"

"A Professor Bruckner hired him. Bruckner felt he should have got tenure over Sandburg. He also knew the underage kid had a thing for Sandburg, so Bruckner had Lash pose as him. The kid thought he'd hit the lottery, and when the real Sandburg brushed him off, he flipped out and filed a complaint. Both Bruckner and Lash are in custody now for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. And you remember Garrett Kincaid?"

"The whack job who headed up the Patriots?"

"He's the one."

"How could I forget?"

"Well, he was behind the drug trafficking and the gunrunning."

"Drug trafficking? Looks like he's taken a step down in the world."

"Yeah. Bruckner brought him in as well. Kincaid didn't care about Sandburg; he intended to use the money to start another paramilitary organization."

"He never knew when to stop."

"No. He was released on a technicality the last time, but not now. With all the charges against him, he won't see sunlight as a free man for a thousand years."

"Life turns out fair sometimes, doesn't it?"

"Yeah, although I'd have been glad never to have seen his scrawny white ass again after what he did to Daryl."

"Well, you didn't." Jim knew Simon had never gotten over the horror of seeing his teenage son dangled out of his office window on the 5th floor. "Your friend took care of it for you."

"Semantics." Simon waved it away. "Odd thing, though."

"Oh?"

"My friend had been looking into it even before I contacted him."

"That is odd."

Simon had other things to tell him. "Dr. Stoddard is bending over backwards to distance himself from the fiasco the University made of it. If Sandburg decides to sue, he could probably have all their jobs and own the University to boot!"

Jim nodded and tossed his half-finished cone in the trash. He was glad Blair would be reinstated at Edwards U. He was going to miss him, but he wasn't going to stand in his way.

But maybe Blair would stay just a little bit longer, until it wouldn't matter one way or the other?

**

"Jim's back!"

"Is he?" Megan looked up from the magazine. "This is a great article. I think I'll email the writer and offer her a free stay in the honeymoon suite whenever she's ready to take advantage of it."

"Megan?" he whispered.

"Yes, Sandy?"

"You won't tell Jim I've been waiting by the front door all this time, will you?"

"My lips are sealed."

"Thanks!" He kissed her cheek.

"And why are we whispering?"

Blair shrugged. It was Jim's secret, and he hadn't wanted to tell Megan, especially since he didn't have much longer.

And that was why Blair couldn't understand why he didn't want him to go to Cascade with him. Were his symptoms starting? Had he wanted to have a private conversation with his doctor?

"I'll be in the dining room hooking up the glass cutter."

"You already did that."

"Oh, yeah, I did."

"What are you going to tell him?"

"I'll think of something. I'm very good at obfuscating, I'll have you know!"

She smiled at him. "Why not just tell him the truth?"

"That he hurt my feelings? Really grown-up, Megan."

"But it's the truth, isn't it?"

"Yeah." He sighed.

And then it was too late to escape, because the front door opened and Jim walked in.

"Hi, Chief. Hello, Megan."

"Jim." Blair swallowed. Jim looked awful. Oh, god, he had gone to the doctor and been given worse news, like he had even less time than they'd thought! Blair went to him and slid his arms around him, and never mind that Megan was there and they'd always tried to be discreet around her and the twins. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Jim's arms tightened around him for a minute, but then he put Blair away from him. He tried to smile, but it was half-hearted at best. "You know what Thomas Wolfe said, about not being able to go home? Well, he was wrong." Jim held out a manila envelope.

"What's this?"

"It's the proof exonerating you. It was a set-up, Chief. One of your fellow professors wanted you gone. He knew the best way to get you out was to blacken your name so badly there'd be no hope of you ever working at another university. You can go back to Edwards."

"Do you… do you want me to go?"

"I want you to do whatever makes you happy."

"And if I said staying with you is what makes me happy?"

"Really?" Jim's face lit up.

"Really. I'll be here for the rest of your life."

"I was hoping you'd say that."

"That's a little selfish, isn't it, Jim?" Megan asked. "After all, as much as I love having Sandy's help, we aren't going to be able to afford a doctor of philosophy on our payroll."

"You won't need to pay me, Megan. My assets will be unfrozen, and there's talk my book may hit the best seller list. I could pay you!"

"Well, in that case… Why don't you two go take a seat in the dining room? I'll bring you some lunch."

They looked after Megan as she headed for the kitchen, then went into the dining room.

"What's going to happen to the people involved?"

"Serious jail time for all of them."

"I can't say I feel sorry for them."

"Me neither. What will you do after, Chief?"

"Does it matter?"

"I think it does."

"I'll stay here."

"They'll take you back in a shot, you know."

"Why would I want to go back to a place that believed the worst about me and wouldn't give me a chance to defend myself?"

"But you love anthropology."

"Rainier isn't too far from here. I could teach there if I ever felt the urge." He shrugged. "The future can take care of itself. Right now, Megan's going to need help, and I can write here as easily as anywhere else."

Jim slid his arm around Blair's shoulders and pulled him in close. "Thanks, Chief. That will be one less thing for me to worry about."

"I hate like hell the thought of my life without you."

Jim gave him a squeeze and then let him go and walked toward the window with the names of those who'd found love inscribed on it. He picked up the glass cutter and played with it.

"I'll wait for you. Wherever I am, in heaven or hell, I'll wait for you."

"Just see you don't take up with any of those angels."

"Oh?"

"You're mine, Jim Ellison! I catch any of those flyboys trying to put the moves on you, and I'll drop kick them through the pearly gates!"

"You don't have to worry. I'll – Blair, what's this?"

"What's what?"

Jim ran his fingertips over the glass pane. Scrawled within a heart were two names that hadn't been there before.

His and Blair's.

He turned and pulled him into his embrace. "I guess we're really truly in love."

Blair tipped his head back and smiled at him. "I guess we really, truly are."

**

A month. That was all they had left. Jim was still in good health, but they both knew it was just a matter of time.

Oh, god, how was he going to live without him?

Jim murmured in his sleep. Blair spooned up behind him, wrapped an arm around his waist, and kissed the back of his neck.

**

He woke from a dream of wolves and jaguars and a blue rainforest. His heart was pounding. In the dream, Jim's voice had kept repeating overheard.

"Jim?"

"Hmmm?"

"Jim!" He poked him in the ribs.

"Why are you abusing the dying man?" Jim grumbled.

"What did Dr. McCoy say?"

"I told you. He said I had a brain tumor and I had eighteen months to live."

"And then?"

"What do you mean, 'and then'?"

"Jim, you said you overheard him. So he came out and told you this to your face, and then… ?"

"He didn't tell me to my face. What did I need to have him doing that for? I heard him, and- "

"Jesus, Jim!" Blair rolled out of bed and began grabbing up clothes from where they'd been tossed.

"What are you doing?"

"Getting dressed. And unless you intend to drive to Cascade General naked, I suggest you do the same."

"You've lost me, Chief."

"Not if I can help it! What's Dr. McCoy's phone number?"

"It's still in my cell phone. I never deleted it."

Blair frowned at him. "Fine. Where's your cell phone?"

"In my pants."

Blair continued grumbling and grousing until he finally found the phone. "Want to explain what it's doing under the bed, Jim?"

Jim blushed, and Blair felt his irritation melt away. Jim was just so cute when he turned red. "I guess it must have fallen out. I… uh… I was in kind of a hurry to get my pants off, if you'll recall."

Blair leaned down and kissed him, then flipped open the phone and scrolled through the contacts. Finally he found Dr. McCoy's number.

"Dr. McCoy's service."

"Is Dr. McCoy available to see me? I'm a patient of his, and my name is James Ellison."

Jim rolled his eyes.

"My birthdate?"

"9-14-62," Jim whispered.

Blair repeated it into the phone. "Okay, thanks very much. I'll be there in an hour. Is it okay if I bring a friend along? Great. Thanks again." He turned to Jim. "Dr. McCoy's been wanting to talk to you. Get dressed!"

**

Jim stared at the doctor, feeling as if the world had done a one eighty. "Not a brain tumor?"

"Of course not. The last MRI we did was clear. I was about to tell you that, but you took off."

"But I heard you talking to another doctor. You said I had a brain tumor and had eighteen months to live."

"I have no explanation for that, but I assure you it couldn't have been you I was talking about. You don't have a brain tumor."

"Then- "

Blair kicked his ankle. "Thank you for taking the time to see us, Dr. McCoy."

"Actually, the Gaelic pronunciation is McKay."

"McKay. Right. Thank you. Come on, Jim. This calls for a little celebration!" Blair grabbed his arm and hustled him out of the doctor's office.

"I don't understand it. How could I have- " He shook his head. "I just don't understand it."

"Don't you see, Jim? Your hearing had kicked in. We've got to do some testing!"

"Testing?"

"Yeah. We need to see what you can do, what your limits are, how you can control your senses. This is going to be the best!"

"Yes, I think it is." Jim smiled at him. He felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders.

Not only did he have the rest of his life given back to him, but he'd be able to spend it with Blair.

~End~

Back to Stories.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Tracy, Trish, Tony, and Gail for the beta's and the brainstorming, and to Patt for the art. Most especially I want to thank Patt and Lisa for their hard work all these years. This one is for you, ladies.