A Change of Venue by hawk_soaring

A Change of Venue - hawk_soaring

“I can’t do this, man.” Blair braced himself for the stern gaze he was sure Jim would toss his way before his roommate stormed out of the loft, leaving him to stew on his own for a few hours while Jim went to the gym to pound out his aggressions. It always happened that way. They never truly argued because usually by the time Jim returned Blair had meditated and come to grips with whatever had upset him.

Instead of his usual making himself scarce routine, Jim clenched his fists and stood his ground. That should have been clue one to a trained anthropologist, but apparently Blair wasn’t paying attention because he just continued on like Jim was walking away from him instead of standing there listening to him.

“I mean, I’m trying here but everything went to hell in a hand basket the minute I sold myself down the river and admitted to fraud. I can’t go out without someone taunting me. I can’t go to school because I was kicked out – asked to never grace their hallowed halls again. I can’t –“

True to his nature, Blair had worked up quite a head of steam and getting it all out seemed inevitable – until Jim quite uncharacteristically interrupted him. “Would you shut up already, Sandburg?” he growled with barely contained fury. “Do you think I don’t know about how shitty your life has become? Do you think for a minute that I don’t know it’s because of this sentinel shit?” Jim took a breath, silencing Blair with a glare when he opened his mouth to retort. “And don’t let me forget that it was your fucking meddlesome mother that got you into this mess. But then you wouldn’t be there if you had done as you said and kept my name out of your fucking research! So quit your fucking whining about it already because it’s driving me crazy. You’ve made your bed.”

“Lie in it?” Blair finished quietly, his soft voice a stark contrast to Jim’s near roar of just a moment before. “Is that it, Jim?” he asked pointedly. “Is that all you’ve got? I made my bed? Please.” He rolled his eyes. “You can do better than that, can’t you Jim? Or is your unbridled potential all in your senses and none of it in that Neanderthal brain of yours?”

“Are you calling me—?”

“A caveman?” Blair interrupted, resting his hands on his hips and cocking his head to one side as he studied the man standing in front of him. “If the shoe fits,” he taunted with barely concealed disdain.

“Get out.” Jim bit out the words as if they pained him but all Blair heard was hatred and, in his heart, he knew Jim had just cause. No matter his sacrifice, it wasn’t enough – could never be enough.

Blair dipped his head, looking down at the polished hardwood floor just long enough to blink away the sudden tears that threatened and take a calming breath. “Well, if that’s what you want, Jim,” he said, surprised and slightly proud that he sounded calm and collected when he was falling apart inside. “I’ll just be going then.” He turned and walked into his little room, throwing a few things into a bag. When he walked out again, Jim was in exactly the same place he’d left him in. Blair could feel the anger radiating off his sentinel. No. He corrected himself. Jim was no longer his – and probably never had been if the events of the past few weeks were anything to go by.

Blair took a breath, hoisted his bag over his shoulder, lifted his chin and walked right past Jim and out the door. He’d go back when Jim was at work to clean out his room. It wasn’t until he opened the door of his car and climbed in behind the wheel that he realized he had nowhere to go. Feeling the beginnings of a panic attack, Blair shoved his emotions to one side and started the car. He wouldn’t give Jim the satisfaction of breaking down where the sentinel could listen in with his hyper senses.

The simple act of driving distracted him enough that he was able to maintain his calm and he pulled into the parking lot of a traveler’s lodge on the edge of Cascade a little while later. It looked just seedy enough to be cheap and nice enough to be relatively safe. It would have to do.

Getting a room proved more difficult than he was willing to admit to himself and he plodded along the front of the building to room 107, each step more difficult than the last. Opening the door, he sighed. Just this side of gaudy – but clean enough. At least he didn’t have Jim’s senses. He suspected the sentinel would be having an apoplectic fit about now if he could see this place. But beggars couldn’t be choosers and, where once he would have crashed in his office for the night, now having no office he was forced to take what he could afford – and hope he would continue to be able to afford a roof over his head.

As he lay down in the slightly lumpy bed a little while later, Blair realized he’d also have to look for work. There was no way he could go back to the precinct either. Starting over wasn’t easy but it was a necessity and Blair was used to making do. He’d get by – even if his heart was aching for what he’d had and lost.

~*~*~

Jim stared at the door for a long minute after Blair walked out, his sense of hearing automatically following Blair out of the building before winking out alarmingly and pulling him out of a near zone. He stood in the middle of the room for another long minute before sighing loudly and running a shaking hand over his face. Blair was gone and he’d done nothing to make him stay. In fact, he’d pushed him out, throwing his mistakes in his face until all the fear and hatred that had been building for literally weeks exploded in a miasma of emotion and harsh words.

Deciding that Blair would be better off without him – and that he would certainly be able to survive on his own, Jim turned from his contemplation of the door. After all, he’d survived on his own for a number of years before Blair had bounced into his life and ’saved your sorry ass’ turned his world upside down. No, they’d both be better off moving on and getting their lives back to normal.

Jim shuffled away from the door, turning to go up the stairs, suddenly too exhausted to even think about turning on the television and watching some inane program to while away the hours. His gaze inevitably fell on the little room under the stairs. Blair had left the door open and Jim walked closer, his feet leading him to the door way but not over the threshold. No, this was Blair’s room and it was full of Blair’s things…

A small smile flitted across Jim’s face as he realized that Blair hadn’t really walked out on him after all. He’d left his things in his room, meaning he’d be back – when he’d calmed down. Suddenly Jim felt an easing of the pressure in his chest and he took a deep cleansing breath, not knowing the cause of his relief but reveling in it just the same.

His steps were light as he moved up the stairs and got ready for bed but as he lay in the darkness, looking up at the sky through the skylight over his bed, he wondered just where his roommate was and when he would be home. Time passed and Jim found himself listening to the cars that passed by, his hearing becoming in turns acute and then muffled as if his senses shared his unease at Blair’s absence. The streets weren’t very busy but Jim didn’t hear Blair’s car, the signature engine tick mixed with the rumble of an engine that was just this side of needing repair. He’d told Blair about the sound a couple of weeks ago, but Blair had insisted it was fine and he would get it fixed in a few weeks.

Jim’s eyes drifted closed, sleep claiming him even as he listened for Blair to return.

~*~*~

Three days – and he couldn’t even get a job washing dishes, as if his lying on his dissertation would somehow infect the very water he was scrubbing pans with. He’d been walking the streets since gas was an expense he didn’t want to have to deal with until he found a job, and getting turned down at every corner. He’d applied for dish washing jobs, night watchman, stock-boy, bagger, checker – you name it and his name was on an application somewhere in the city. But no one would hire him. According to just about everyone, he was unemployable and a risk people weren’t willing to take for a self-professed liar.

Problem was; a couple more days and he’d have to choose between a roof over his head and food in his belly. He really had been living on the edge for too long and his salary only went so far – most of it to Jim for rent. The rest went for his share of groceries and utilities. If Jim had known just how broke he really was, he’d probably have been saving Blair’s money in an account for him. Now he’d probably take it all and throw a party -- Good Riddance to an Absent Ex-Roommate.

Maybe leaving town altogether was what he needed. Really, all he was doing was wallowing in his grief here, his mind on Jim more than anything else. Maybe all he really needed was a fresh start, preferably someplace warm.

Blair’s thoughts were running along the lines of ‘where can I go to that no one will have heard of me’ and ‘how far can I get on the money I have left in my account’ when he was literally knocked on his ass. His breath left his lungs in a loud oomph just before his head hit the pavement and everything went black.

~*~*~

“Ellison! My office – now!”

Simon’s bellow rang out, making Jim flinch away from the too-loud sound. Blinking sluggishly, Jim pushed away from his desk and stood, grabbing the edge of his desk for balance briefly before walking into Simon’s office. The door slammed shut behind him, the glass rattling in the frame. He was pretty proud of the fact that he didn’t flinch away from the sound. Simon need never know it was because his hearing was on the fritz, sounds waning and then amplifying until he thought he’d go crazy. The little tricks that Blair had taught him helped a little but without his Guide, he was on the edge – and he knew it. It was the worry, really. If he only knew Blair was all right he could handle doing this on his own. If only he could get their last words out of his head. If he could forget that he’d screamed at Blair to get out. If, if, if. Right now, the only thing he was holding on to was the fact that Blair hadn’t taken everything with him when he’d left. His books – he’d at least come back for his books, and then maybe he’d stay.

“Are you even listening to me?” Simon growled, his face mere inches from Jim’s own and this time Jim flinched back, embarrassed and immediately angry at having been caught wool-gathering. Something else he could blame Sandburg for, he supposed – if he wanted to. Suddenly he wasn’t so sure blame was what he wanted at all.

“Well?” Simon snapped.

“Well what, Simon?” Jim asked with a soft sigh, his voice tired.

Simon stared at him for a moment and Jim fought the urge to fidget under that glare. “Where’s Sandburg? I thought he was going to be working with you more now that –”

Jim growled softly, stopping almost immediately when he realized that the low rumble was coming from him. ‘Now that what?’ he wanted to snarl. ‘Now that I’ve driven him away?’ Jim straightened his shoulders and decided to take the high road – he lied. “Taking some time, Sir,” he said evenly. “You know, to – adjust.”

Simon chewed on the cigar sticking out of his mouth thoughtfully. “Taking some time, huh?”

Jim nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Simon frowned and pulled the cigar from his mouth, pointing it at Jim as he spoke as if to punctuate his words. “Make sure he doesn’t take too much time, Detective. I want him on the job – if he wants a job.”

As Jim headed back to his desk he wondered just how he was going to deliver Blair – in less than a week. Four days – surely Blair would be over his huff in four days.

The day dragged, each minute seeming like an hour; each hour seeming to stretch until Jim felt like he’d been at work days instead of hours. When he finally headed home he was exhausted; emotionally and physically drained. And, when Blair’s car was conspicuously absent from Prospect Street, Jim was crushed.

The loft was empty, desolate, and Jim merely hung up his jacket, toed off his shoes and then headed upstairs, where he stripped down and crawled in between his sheets. Sleep came easily – but then so did the dreams and not all dreams are pleasant.

Blair, lying on the street, bleeding. Blair’s face bruised, his eyes closed, head on a pillow, looking pale and fragile. Blair crying out in agony –

Jim sat up with a cry, his heart pounding in his chest. Looking around, he realized it had all been a dream – a bad dream. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, rubbing his hands over his face to banish the last vestiges of sleep. A dream – it had been nothing more than a dream. So why was his stomach in knots and his hands shaking? Damn.

~*~*~

Blair woke with a shiver, a band of coldness blanketing his eyes. As he reached a hand up toward his forehead, his stomach roiled and he rolled to his side as he began to retch. Something moved his hair out of the way and he saw a wet cloth fall to the floor as a basin was held under his chin.

“It’s okay, son. Everything is okay,” a deep melodic voice murmured as Blair ended his vomiting on a sob. A dark calloused hand gently offered a tissue and Blair used it to blow his nose before dropping it into the basin which the man had set on the floor beside the bed.

The bed began to spin as he lay back against the soft pillow and Blair gave up trying to peer up at the man as his stomach began to protest once again.

“That’s it,” the man crooned. “Just close your eyes and rest now. Everything will be okay.”

Blair licked his lips, trying not to gag on the nasty taste in his mouth. “What – what happened?” he asked softly, wincing as his words reverberated in his pounding head.

A strong hand cradled his head, lifting it slightly, and Blair felt the rim of a glass against his lips.

“Here son,” the man said softly. “Rinse and spit. Get that nasty taste out of your mouth.”

Blair sipped and spit, lying back again with a groan of discomfort. The cool cloth was placed over his eyes again and he sighed. The cold settled into him, easing the pounding of his head and he slipped into a light sleep.

Something cold pressing against his hand woke him some time later and Blair gasped in surprise. He jerked back from the sensation and then moaned softly as the motion made him instantly nauseous.

“Easy does it, son,” the deep voice from before soothed. “Breathe through it.”

Blair took the man’s advice and felt a little better rather quickly. “Got it, I think,” he said, his voice a little breathless.

“That’s good.”

Blair could hear the smile in the man’s voice and tried a rather feeble-feeling one on as he cracked open his eyes. The dim light didn’t make him want to shoot himself this time and he relaxed a bit as he realized he wasn’t going to throw up again.

“Where am I?” he asked, trying to push himself into an upright position.

Large hands pressed him gently back. “You’re safe here and in no condition to get up – so don’t try,” the large man said gruffly. “If I have to, I’ll sick Samson on you.”

Blair frowned. “Samson?” he asked, startling as he felt the same cold poking at his hand again that had woken him. Looking down, he saw an enormous shaggy black head next to him.

“This is Samson,” the man said with a smile. “Don’t worry – he’s friendly enough for all his size.” The man ran a hand over the back of his neck and Blair thought he looked a little embarrassed. “In fact, he can sometimes be a little too friendly – if you know what I mean.”

Blair frowned as the man’s words rolled around in his head. Too friendly? “Did Samson here have something to do with my present predicament? I seem to remember something heavy hitting me and then – I woke up here.”

The old man looked a little worried, a frown playing around his mouth as he nodded somewhat reluctantly. “Yeah – about that. I hope you don’t plan on suing us ‘cause me and Samson don’t have a lot.”

Blair held up his hand to stop the man’s rambling. “Don’t worry, man. I’m not going to sue you, okay?”

The man sagged in obvious relief and Blair smiled.

“So – I know Samson here.” Blair smiled as the dog nudged his hand, clearly looking to be petted. He obliged as he looked at the man. “But I don’t know who you are.”

“Me?” The old man smiled. “Sam Southington, at your service.”

The name was familiar to Blair, even if the face wasn’t, and he began to sift through his memories to find the connection. Sam apparently had other plans, however, as he continued to talk.

“I run the shelter on 7th,” he said. “That – that’s where you are by the way – at the shelter. In my apartment, in fact.” Sam frowned down at the dog. “I didn’t know what else to do with you when Samson knocked you down so I brought you in here.”

“Thanks, man.” When Sam looked away, Blair reached out to him, laying his hand on top of Sam’s. “Really, thank you.”

“Yeah, well, you wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for Samson here.”

Blair smiled. “Then thank you, Samson.”

Sam laughed then and Blair grinned as he sat up, groaning softly as his head protested the movement. Sam’s hands steadied him as Blair swung his legs over the side of the bed.

“Take it easy, son.”

“It’s Blair,” he said. “Blair Sandburg.”

“Oh.”

Blair tensed at the hesitation he heard in Sam’s voice. “Well, I can see I’ve overstayed my welcome,” he said, sighing softly. He pushed himself up, intending to get out before he could be thrown out. As he stood, the room lurched sickeningly and he tottered. Strong hands steadied him and helped him to sit again.

“You’re not in any condition to go anywhere, young man,” Sam said sternly as he helped Blair to recline once again.

“But –“

Sam smiled down at him. “No buts, Blair Sandburg. You’re staying right there until you can get to your feet without falling over.”

Blair felt himself getting choked up and he cleared his throat. “I don’t want to put you out.”

“It’s no trouble at all. And, I may have a proposition for you when you’re feeling better.”

Blair raised an eyebrow. “Proposition, huh? Why don’t you tell me about it?”

“Now?” Sam asked.

Blair smiled. “Now. I need to be distracted.”

Sam sighed. “Youth,” he mumbled good-naturedly. “Okay then, young man.” He took a breath. “In case you didn’t catch it – I recognized your name. And, before you go getting all huffy and trying to leave again, I think you got a bum rap.” He held up a hand when Blair opened his mouth to speak and Blair subsided again, deciding to hear the old man out. “But that’s neither here nor there. I expect your prospects have taken a down-turn since your press conference and I’d like to offer you a job – and a place to stay, if you need it.”

Blair was stunned and he felt tears spring to his eyes. This man – this stranger – knew who he was and was still willing to give him a job and a place to stay. Sam didn’t know him from Adam but he didn’t judge him. Blair cleared his throat. “I’d like that, man. Thank you.”

Blair watched as Sam busied himself around the room, thinking about how lucky he had been to have been knocked over by Samson. He’d been on the verge of leaving town for good but he liked Cascade – and he supposed he was slightly relieved that he was staying.

~*~*~

It was a week later. Jim walked in to the empty loft, tossed his keys into the basket on the shelf by the door and stopped in his tracks. The keys that had been knocking together softly in the empty basket for the last ten days suddenly sounded louder. Looking into the basket, Jim noticed that there were more keys. His hand was shaking when he reached into the basket and pulled out his key ring. Another key ring lay in the bottom of the basket. There were four keys on it and Jim could name them easily, not by the notches in them, but because he’d recognize the old scrap of leather they were attached to anywhere. They were Blair’s keys.

Jim turned. “Blair?” he called out softly. He didn’t hear Blair, but then the more he was alone, the more he wasn’t using his senses to their fullest. Taking a step further into the apartment, he raised his head, opened his senses just a little and sniffed. A low growl built in his throat as he realized people – too many people had been in his home. People, the scents all rolled into a big ball of funky odors and, as Jim unraveled the ball of scent, he realized that none of the people had been Blair. If not Blair, then who had been in his home – and why had they had Blair’s keys?

Jim hurried across the floor, stumbling to a halt in the doorway of Blair’s room – his empty room. The room was spotless, in fact, devoid of everything that had made it Blair’s refuge. Gone were all the piles of books, the knick-knacks, clothes, computer… simply everything. All that was left was an empty bookcase, barren desk, and the folded futon sitting forlornly against the far wall.

As Jim backed out of Blair’s room he realized the entire loft was conspicuously barren of Blair’s things. There were no masks on the walls, no idols on the shelves. In fact, it looked and smelled as if he had never even been there – as if he had simply been a figment of Jim’s imagination. But, if that was the case, then why did his heart ache so profoundly?

~*~*~

Blair was ladling soup into bowls when Sam walked past, patting him lightly on the shoulder. It was done then. He felt like a coward for not going himself, but he couldn’t face the loft again. He couldn’t go there and see the pieces of the life he’d built with Jim; pieces that he never had the guts to mold into a whole. He’d never taken that step to tell Jim just how much he cared.

When all this started, Blair had never guessed that he would fall in love with his large, buff, ex-army Ranger, police Detective of a roommate. But, after living together, hanging out together, and everything they’d gone through together, Blair couldn’t deny his feelings any longer. Acting on them, however, was something he couldn’t bring himself to do. Jim had been married; there was no way he would be interested in Blair in that way. And so Blair had pined in silence, taking his arousal in hand outside the loft but never where Jim would be able to hear or smell him. He’d slept with a few women to keep up appearances and tried to be happy. And being with Jim did make him happy – but he wanted it all.

Maybe his wanting had been the reason he’d blown up so spectacularly at Jim when he’d pushed him about the dissertation disaster. Maybe it had been the fact that the love of his life didn’t trust him – couldn’t believe that it hadn’t been planned, didn’t understand why he’d ruined his own career to save Jim’s. He was sick and tired of beating his head against that particular brick wall – and had snapped.

Moving out had been for the best. Finding this gig working at the homeless shelter had been a Godsend. Getting over Jim was the only thing left on his list of getting on with his life.

~*~*~

“You going to tell me what happened?”

Jim sighed and rolled his head against the back of the sofa, looking over to where Simon sat, beer in hand. He opened his mouth and closed it again. What could he say? That he’d fucked up and lost the one thing in his life that was inherently good? No, Simon wouldn’t understand his longing for Blair, the ache that had settled in his heart when Blair hadn’t come home or even called him. He shook his head slowly and looked away again.

“He’s been gone a month, Jim.”

Jim huffed out a mirthless chuckle. “You think I don’t know that?” he asked wearily. “It’s actually been twenty-seven days, seven hours,” he rolled his head toward the clock on the wall, “and sixteen minutes.”

“But who’s counting, right?” Simon added, taking a long pull on the beer.

Jim closed his eyes. “What did you want, Simon?”

“To see if you were okay,” Simon said gruffly. “And I can see that you’re not.”

“Really?” Jim said. “You can see that?”

Simon snorted. “Yeah, I can see that, detective. Now, I need you to get your shit together, Jim – before you get yourself or someone else killed.” When Jim didn’t answer, Simon stood, setting his empty beer bottle on the coffee table. “Maybe you should find out what happened to your roommate. Be the detective you were trained to be.” Simon tossed something onto the coffee table. “Take a look at that. It’s a place to start.”

Jim waited until the door closed behind Simon before lifting his head. There was a folded piece of paper on the coffee table. Jim leaned forward and picked it up, setting his bottle of beer down beside Simon’s. It was an ad from the local PennySaver newspaper for a ’62 Volvo – dark green. How many people drove a ’62 Volvo in Cascade? As Jim perused the ad further he noted it was for a used car lot on the edge of town – Alton’s Autos. Jim’s gaze went back to the picture of the car. It was Blair’s – it had to be.

Not surprisingly, Alton didn’t exist. “My father’s name was Alton – I kept the name after he passed on and left the business to me.” The woman stuck her hand out. “Name’s Amanda – Amanda Morton.”

Jim raised an eyebrow as he took her hand and she shook her head.

“No one is going to shop at a used car from a place owned by a woman. This way, they come looking for Alton and leave satisfied. We have good quality cars here, detective. I insist on it. We don’t sell anything I wouldn’t personally drive.”

Jim nodded, impressed with the woman’s forthright demeanor. “I understand you recently purchased a ’62 Volvo.”

Amanda sighed loudly. “You have got to be kidding me! That kid played me?”

Jim gaped at the woman, listening as she ranted about the young man looking like a hippy but talking fast and convincing her he merely needed the money to pay back student loans. After listening for a couple of minutes, Jim held up a hand. “Whoa,” he said smiling. “This kid; does he have a name?”

Amanda huffed out an aggravated breath. “Blair – Blair Sandburg,” she said. “So what did he do anyway?”

“Huh?” Jim said distractedly. “I can’t discuss Mr. Sandburg’s affairs with you, Ms. Morton. But I would like to see the bill of sale if you don’t mind.”

Amanda nodded. “Sure thing, detective. Just let me pull it for you.”

Jim waited as Amanda Morton walked away from him. Blair would have had to give an address for the sale. But when he got that address what would he do with it? It was pretty obvious that Blair wanted nothing to do with him. He’d sent strangers into the loft to pick up his things – he probably couldn’t bear the thought of going back there after being tossed out into the street with not much more than the clothes on his back. This whole thing – this looking for him – was a futile exercise at best. There was no way Blair would even want to see him, let alone talk to him. Maybe it was for the best, him leaving.

“Detective Ellison?”

Amanda’s return startled Jim and he did his best to hide his surprise at her sudden reappearance. Judging by the small smile that lingered around her lips, he wasn’t too sure he’d succeeded but if she was willing to ignore it, so would he. “Yes, Mrs. Morton? You have something for me?”

Jim took the proffered piece of paper from the woman and thanked her absentmindedly as he looked at the address written on it. Something about the address – he was sure he should know it.

~*~*~

“Blair? You okay?”

Blair looked up from where he was stirring a large pot of soup. “Hey, Sam,” he said wearily. “Hey, Samson.” The Newfie bumped Blair with his head, making him stumble slightly. Blair shook his head. “No fair, dog. You out weigh me.” He bumped Samson with his hip and kept stirring the soup. He could feel Sam’s gaze on him but didn’t turn to acknowledge him.

“Son, you gonna tell me what’s wrong?”

Blair could feel tears well up in his eyes and cursed himself for his weakness. Blinking the moisture away, he pasted a smile on his face and glanced sideways at Sam. “Nothing, man. I’m good.”

“Liar. You’re hurting, Blair.”

Blair shrugged. “No big deal, Sam. I just have to get used to things being different now.”

“Are you sure you have to get used to things – or can you go back to what you had?” Silence descended in the kitchen for a few long minutes before Blair sighed softly.

“I don’t think going back is an option for me, Sam – but thanks.” Blair turned to face Sam and tried a tremulous smile on his face. “Some things can’t be fixed, man. And – maybe it’s better this way.”

Sam sighed and shook his head. “I still think –“

Blair shook his head. “Sam – don’t, please.”

Sam held up his hands. “Okay – whatever you say. But don’t expect this to just go away, Blair. You’re going to need to face your past sooner or later.”

Blair waited until he was alone again before sighing. “I hope it’s later, man – because I can’t go there right now. It still hurts too much.”

~*~*~

Jim pulled up in front of the address given to him by Amanda Morton. His hands tightened on the steering wheel of the truck as he stared out the passenger side window. “An empty lot. Fuck, Chief, where are you?” He still remembered the dream of Blair lying on the ground, blood seeping from a head wound. In fact, he couldn’t rid himself of the memory and it featured in frequent nightmares – not every night, but so damned close to it that Jim was reluctant to close his eyes at night for fear of it returning.

“Think, Ellison,” Jim muttered. “Why would Blair use this particular address on his paperwork? Not wanting to be found? That means he knew I’d go looking for him.” Jim sighed. “No – it has to be something else.” Jim closed his eyes and thought back to the case he and Blair had been on the last time he’d seen this particular vacant lot. But it hadn’t really been vacant that day. There had been two bodies in the middle of the lot – two homeless men who’d been beaten to death. Turns out it had been kids who’d done the dirty deed; kids who had been bored and were looking for ‘disposable’ people, people no one would miss.

Jim pounded the steering wheel of his truck. “Fuck, Blair! You’re not disposable… and I miss you.”

~*~*~

“Hey, Curly!”

Blair looked out from the kitchen, wiping his hands on the towel at his waist and frowning at the man standing by the food counter. “It’s Blair, man. How many times do I have to tell you?”

“Blair? What the hell kinda name is Blair? A little girly, ain’t it?”

They’d been through this countless times. Blair rolled his eyes in mock irritation. “Oh, so now you’re questioning my gender, Lesley? C’mon, man – you’ve got nothing to talk about.”

The tall, thin man at the counter laughed loudly. “Too true, man – too true. Guess we both got shafted by our mama’s, huh?” he said, ending with an exaggerated wink.

Blair grinned. He liked Lesley. Heck he liked most of the guys who frequented the soup kitchen and shelter. Blair quickly enveloped Lesley in a hug, squeezing tightly and letting go quickly so he didn’t call any unwanted attention to their friendship. While most of the men who frequented the establishment were okay, there were a few who worried Blair and he wouldn’t put it past them to harass Lesley or even himself over any perceived affection between them.

“So what’s up, man?” Blair asked. “It’s a little early for the dinner shift.”

Lesley leaned forward conspiratorially and Blair looked around automatically. They were alone. “Word on the street has it that people are looking for you.”

“What?” Blair asked. “What people?”

Lesley straightened up and shrugged. “Don’t know, Blair. All I know is people are asking questions.”

“Anyone ask you?”

Lesley smiled and shook his head. “Not yet. Want me to fuck with them?”

Blair grinned but shook his head. “Don’t get in any trouble on my account, man.”

“You in trouble, Curley?” Lesley asked seriously.

Blair shook his head. “No, I’m not in any trouble. I can’t imagine why anyone is asking questions about me.” ’Unless something happened to Jim.’ Just the thought of Jim being injured made Blair break out in a cold sweat. What would he do if Jim needed him? Could he go back knowing that Jim didn’t respect him any longer? Maybe, he conceded, but only to get Jim out of whatever trouble he was in and then he’d leave again. And, next time, he wouldn’t be so easy to find. With a start, he realized he didn’t want to have to leave this place. He was – content.

His thoughts must have shown on his face because a hand landed lightly on his shoulder and he looked up to see concern in Lesley’s eyes. “You okay?”

Blair managed a nod, not sure how convincing it was. He took a breath. “Hey – can you – would you scout around for me? Find out who’s asking the questions?” Lesley raised his eyebrows. “It’s important, man.”

Lesley nodded. “Sure thing, Blair. I can do that.”

Blair watched as the tall, thin man walked out, the door closing quietly behind him. Who was looking for him – and, more importantly, why?

~*~*~

Simon leaned, one hip balanced on the corner of his desk, and looked down at the man seated in front of him. “Jim – think about it. I know you can make the connection. It’s what you do.”

Jim looked up and barely contained the growl that was building in his throat. “I’ve looked everywhere, Simon. I can’t find him.” Jim sighed and clenched his hands in his lap, trying to hide the tremors that plagued him. He’d been living on almost no sleep, his emotions all over the place, his senses tamped down hard out of necessity.

“Jim, there has to be a connection,” Simon said again. “You need to find it.”

Jim shot to his feet, hands fisted at his sides. “Don’t you think I know that, Captain?” he spat. “I know it’s up to me to put the pieces of this puzzle together – but I’ve tried and I’m all out of ideas here.” He turned away and stared out of the window. “I don’t know where else to look.” He’d been to the bus stations, the cab companies, truck stops – and no one remembered seeing Blair. He’d flashed Blair’s picture all over Cascade and had come up empty. It was like he’d vanished off the face of the earth. He was missing something but, for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what it was.

“Jim, everyone’s been watching out for Blair but it’s like he’s vanished off the face of the earth. I think it’s up to you now.” Simon patted Jim’s shoulder. “You’ll find him.”

Jim sighed and ran a hand over his face. “Maybe he’s gone, Simon. Maybe he blew town when I kicked him out.”

“And maybe he’s out there as lost and alone as you are,” Simon said softly.

Jim couldn’t find any words so he merely nodded and turned to leave.

“Jim,” Simon said, stopping Jim in the doorway. “Go home. Get some rest. This will all work out.”

Jim sighed, but didn’t turn around. “Thanks, Simon. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Monday, Jim. Tomorrow’s Saturday and you’re off – I am too, for that matter.”

He was on his way home when it hit him. He knew where Blair was. It was simple, really, and Blair had left him plenty of clues. The address should have tipped him off immediately, especially since their tie to that address was the investigation of the murders of two homeless men. Blair had been leaving him clues all along and he’d missed them entirely.

Jim pulled over to the side of the road. He needed to think about this. The one thing he was certain of was that Blair was at a homeless shelter. That made sense in that when he’d kicked Blair out, he’d essentially made him homeless. The only question that remained was – where? Which shelter was Blair in?

He knew there were more clues if he could just stop and think about it all for a minute. He remembered the interviews during the investigation. The police had visited every shelter in Cascade – all six of them. He and Blair had taken three themselves.

The two men had frequented the same shelters. Jim closed his eyes. The shelter on West Main; it was run by the Baptist Church if he remembered correctly. That was where the two men had stayed most often. They had turned to the shelter on 7th when they could get in. Jim remembered the man who ran the shelter being on the local news the night before they’d finally broken the case. He was a large man, dark skinned, and he had a dog – a Newfie, at his side. Blair had smiled as he listened to the man and had commented that he was sorry they hadn’t pulled that shelter because he would have liked to have met that man.

Jim sat for a moment longer and then pulled back out into traffic, pulling a quick U-turn and heading back downtown. He had a homeless shelter to visit.

~*~*~

Blair was working the food line, putting up with the regulars’ good natured ribbing. As he ladled yet another bowl full of soup, he realized that he liked his new job. He liked the people. He liked feeling needed. And he really liked making a difference. Most of these people weren’t losers. They weren’t here because they were lazy. Life had dealt them a bum hand but they were dealing with it, making the most of every day and, if they needed a place to call home, even if it was temporary, he was glad he was part of this place, a part of the solution.

“Curly!”

Blair looked up and grinned. “Lesley, my man,” he said, accepting the high-five slap from the tall, thin man. “What’s the word?”

Lesley leaned forward, resting his weight on his hands. “The people who are looking for you,” he said softly, looking around warily, “are the cops, dude.”

Blair could feel the blood rush from his face and he grabbed the edge of the serving table for balance. He felt a hand descend on to his shoulder and clasp it gently and he flinched away from the touch.

“You okay, man?” Lesley asked, concern evident in his voice. “Sam?”

Blair looked around wildly when he heard Lesley call for Sam. “I’m okay, man,” he hissed, running shaking hands over his apron to dry the perspiration on them.

“Sure you are,” Sam said in a booming voice making Blair jump in surprise. “That’s why you look like you’re going to fall over.” He turned to Lesley. “What happened?” he asked.

Blair sighed loudly. “Hey! I’m standing right here. Why don’t you ask me?”

Sam smiled down at Blair as he took him by the arm. “Because I know you and I know that you won’t give me a straight answer.” He lifted his eyes to the tall man standing on the other side of the table. “Lesley?”

Lesley leaned over the table and lowered his voice as if he didn’t want anyone else to overhear what he had to say. Blair was suddenly absurdly grateful for the gesture. “There are people looking for Blair.” Sam nodded, obviously having heard the rumors. “The people – are the cops.”

Sam sighed softly. “Thank you, Lesley. I assume this information will not pass your lips again?”

Lesley mimed zipping his lips. “Not a word, Boss.”

Sam smiled. “Thank you.”

Blair stumbled along beside Sam as the large man stalked away, feeling a lot like a small child being hauled away for chastisement. He took a brief moment to be thankful that he wasn’t going to get fired in front of a room full of homeless people, especially since it looked like he was soon going to be joining their ranks.

“Sam,” he began, “it’s not what you think.” He knew he was starting to panic but he couldn’t help it. This was his Shangri-La, his last hope. If he got fired –

Sam stopped suddenly, pushing Blair down into a chair gently. “I know, son. Now just breathe.”

“Y-you know?” Blair gasped.

Sam smiled. “Yeah, I’ve heard that the cops are looking for you.”

“Where –?”

“Word on the street. I do have ears, you know.”

Blair smiled. “S-so you going to fire me?” he asked uneasily.

Sam laughed. “No. Hell, Blair – take a look at the people I hang out with every day.”

Blair looked away, trying to compose himself as he felt sudden tears threatening. “Thanks, man,” he managed after a few moments.

Sam clapped him on the shoulder. “You’re welcome. Now get yourself put back together and meet me out front when you can. I have a feeling this is going to be a busy night.”

Blair nodded and leaned forward, letting his head hang as he braced his elbows on his knees. Sam’s footsteps faded away and then he heard a door slam closed. He was alone in the back for now – well, except for Samson, but he was probably asleep somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be.

It was longer than just a few minutes before Blair felt steady enough to go back out into the front room and help with the dinner shift. Once he was sure his appearance wasn’t going to raise any more questions Blair headed out to help Sam. He really was grateful for all the older man had done for him and working in the shelter to keep a roof over his head was a great deal as far as he was concerned. There was no way he wanted to mess it up.

~*~*~

Jim pulled up in front of the shelter. There were two possibilities in his mind; the shelter on West Main and the one on 7th. For no reason other than the Newfie and Blair’s reaction to the owner’s picture, this one seemed the obvious choice. So why then was he sitting in the truck, afraid to walk inside?

He spotted him almost as soon as he walked in the door and it hit him like a punch to the gut that he’d thrown everything away over something so minuscule he’d already forgotten the original argument. Sure, the whole dissertation fiasco had been the building block but he knew there was no way Blair had done that on purpose. He wouldn’t have put Jim in that kind of danger.

Jim continued to watch, not noticing the quiet that was spreading out from where he stood just inside the doorway. He watched as Blair talked quietly with the men that went through the soup line and he watched how that quiet conversation transformed the men, some even going as far as laughing with Blair or giving him a shy smile. This was his Blair and he was really in his element – helping people, dealing with people on a level that Jim would never have been able to achieve. Warmth flooded him. He wanted Blair back in his life – and as more than a friend.

~*~*~

It wasn’t until Blair could hear the sound of napkins rustling and people shifting in their chairs that he realized just how quiet the normally boisterous eating area had become. He only hoped something bad wasn’t brewing. They’d had few fights since he’d been there, Sam almost always able to defuse the situation before it came to a head and blows were exchanged. Their regulars knew that fighting would get them banned forever and they respected Sam enough to follow his rules. So what the hell was up now? He wiped his hands on his apron, knowing he’d throw his lot in with Sam should the situation ever escalate to where he needed to.

Blair risked a glance to his right and saw that Sam was still manning the serving table beside him. He raised an eyebrow and saw Sam shrug once before turning his gaze back out over the dining area. Blair bit back a sigh and followed Sam’s gaze.

He nearly broke and ran when he saw Jim standing inside the door, but the patrons were aware of Jim’s presence and most likely knew him to be a cop – hell, his entire being screamed it. Blair wouldn’t let the last sight of him be running from the police because if he did that, Sam would have no recourse but to fire him. No, he’d face Jim and take whatever his ex-roommate had to dish out before sending him on his way and asking him not to return. His heart couldn’t take shattering into pieces many more times before it gave way entirely.

He straightened up and squared his shoulders as he met Jim’s gaze steadily. He knew Jim could see through his façade as he was most likely monitoring his body’s responses with his senses, but he wouldn’t let that deter him. He wouldn’t run from Jim’s scrutiny.

Blair watched as Jim wove his way through the room, skirting the tables and heading directly for where Blair stood, waiting. By the time Jim reached the serving table, the dining room was as quiet as a church and Blair could feel a blush rise on his face at the thought of all these men watching.

Jim seemed at a loss for words, simply staring at Blair and, before the silence could cause the patrons to start whispering among themselves, Blair took the initiative. “Want to come with me, Jim? To – to talk.”

Jim nodded. Blair turned to Sam who smiled and patted him on the shoulder. Blair then led Jim back through the kitchen to the small sitting room he and Sam shared. He waved Jim to a chair and then took one across from him – a safe distance, in his mind.

“So – you found me,” he said after a moment of painful silence.

Jim nodded. “I – Blair, I just wanted you to know how sorry I am, for everything.” When Blair opened his mouth to answer, Jim held up his hand. “Please,” he said softly, “let me finish before I lose my nerve.”

Blair smiled and nodded, opening his hands in a gesture that said, ‘go ahead, the floor’s yours’.

Jim ran a hand over his head and Blair was surprised to see that it was shaking slightly. “I – I know you wouldn’t have leaked your dissertation, Blair. I know that none of what happened was your fault. Hell, I knew it before you left, but I was too afraid of what could have happened to tell you. And then, after – after the press conference, I was ashamed.”

Blair frowned. “Ashamed? Of what? Of me? You were ashamed to be seen with me?”

Jim looked up and Blair could see that he was shocked by Blair’s words. So what then?

“No! Blair, I could never be ashamed of you.” Jim looked down at his hands. “I was ashamed of me – of the way I’d been treating you. I was ashamed that my actions had caused you to lose your academic life, your reputation – your life.”

Blair sighed softly. “Don’t you know that I don’t care about all that, Jim? I gave those things up for you – for our friendship. I gave them up because what you can do is too important to lose.”

Jim was silent for long enough that Blair didn’t think he would ever answer that last tirade – and maybe he’d gone too far but what was said was said and there was no going back now.

“Blair, I need you – ”

Blair snorted softly. “No you don’t. It’s been a month and you’ve obviously survived without me. Jim, you don’t need me anymore. You’re using your senses –”

“No, I’m not,” Jim interjected. “I tamped everything down tight and have kept it there until I walked in that door tonight.”

Blair gasped softly. “Jim – why?”

Jim shook his head. “Every time I used my senses I was trying to find you. I only spiraled out of control once but it was enough to tell me that, while I could control the senses, I couldn’t control my desires.” He lifted his head and Blair stared into his eyes. “I want you, Blair. I want you in my life – and, in my bed.”

“Jim?” Blair was stunned. Oh he’d known that Jim swung both ways as it were, but he’d never shown any interest in him and he’d thought he just simply wasn’t Jim’s type. He’d convinced himself that his brass ring was simply unattainable – and yet here Jim was handing him everything he’d ever wanted on a silver platter. He smiled. “I’m not giving up my job.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to– but do you think you could give up your luxurious accommodations and move back in with me?”

Blair pretended to think about it for a minute. “Well, I don’t think you can dis my digs until you’ve actually seen them.” He stood and held out his hand. “Want to check out my bedroom, Jim?”

Jim stood and pulled Blair into his arms, bending his head and kissing him. “I’d love to take this somewhere more private.”

END

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Notes: Moonridge fic for Patt: So, I would love to see Jim and Blair fight big time, Blair move out and them make up and get together in the end.