Disclaimers: Boys not mine; I just borrow them from time to time when the muse moves me.
Special Thanks to my Beta Queen, Zoe, without whom I'd be doomed to a life of grammatical inaccuracy. Also, God bless my beta Ari, who has the kindness and tenacity to ensure that what you read is worthy. A special note from the heart: My wonderful beta is carrying a boy who better be born around the 16th if he knows what's good for him. May God Bless you, Zoe (GJ and GN too) and the new addition to your marvelous family.
A very, very special thanks to Jess, who took the time to beta this story within 12 hours of receiving it so that it could make the SA List deadline. Thanks, Jess. You're the best. (Especially since death stories are really not her thing.)
Thank you to wolfpup for giving my work a great home.
Warnings: could be considered AU, H/C, Angst, Smarm, Some violence, and usually a bit of colorful language. Death of Major Canon Character. Mega hanky warning.
Spoilers: None to my knowledge.
Special Note: Death stories are not my usual genre. I love the characters too much to cause them irreparable harm. However, I've lost five people this year since the last week of January, so death has been on my mind a lot more. Call this story part of my therapy for getting through this most difficult year. A special thanks to my husband, kids and closest friends who have always been there for me. With all my heart, I love you guys.
"I'm going," Jim whispered as he threw the last of his clothes into the duffle bag and zipped it shut.
"Jim?" Simon asked, capturing Jim's arm in his oversized fingers. "What about...?"
"the job?" Jim spat angrily. "It doesn't mean a fucking thing, Simon. Not without him. I put in my time, now just let me go," Jim whispered pleadingly. "Just... let... me... go," he breathed despairingly, his eyes moist with tears threatening to fall.
Simon looked up from the floor and released Jim's arm gently. "Jim, it's only been a few weeks. Give yourself a little time. It'll get..." Simon tried.
"What? Better? Easier?" Jim snapped, his anger building. "You know that's a lie, Simon. It's been six weeks and whether it's weeks or months or fucking years, it'll never get better and it most certainly won't get any easier," Jim sighed angrily, his voice fragmented with emotion. "Just don't bother. Look, I don't work for you any more. It's not you. I can't do the damn job, Simon. Never. Ever. Again. Do you understand?" Jim asked, his eyes begging for understanding.
Jim caught Simon's eye. He smiled tentatively, lost in the memories of his partner and best friend. "I have to go, Simon. It's what he'd want," Jim insisted as he dragged his bags down the stairs.
Simon shook his head and sighed heavily. "What he'd want? You think Blair would want you to quit your life, leave your friends and run away?" Simon chided his friend firmly with understanding showing in his eyes. "I know you've been through hell, Jim..."
Jim huffed angrily as he threw his bags to the floor. "No offense, Simon, but you don't know shit. I'm going. My plane leaves at three, so I need to get a move on," Jim grumbled brusquely, pushing past his former Captain and leaving the door wide open behind him.
"And how are you today, sir?" the flight attendant asked with a dazzlingly friendly smile.
Jim looked up toward the stewardess. "I'm sorry, what?" he asked distractedly.
"How are you today, sir?" she repeated with genuine enthusiasm.
"Fine," Jim replied by rote, before truly thinking about the answer. "May I have a whiskey straight up, please? Thank you," he finished tersely as he turned toward the window.
The clouds looked perfect as they had the day a part of his soul was ripped away. Jim sighed and angrily swiped at the tears that graced his eyes. "Damnit," he moaned. "Not now," he whispered through clenched teeth as the memories of Blair's last day slammed into him. It won't go away, he thought despairingly.
It had been a perfect day. Jim remembered it vividly. The sky was clear and as blue as Sandburg's eyes had been. The roar of gunfire deafened him as he gasped with remembered pain. I can't think about this now, he thought sadly, bolstering up his motivation to carry through with this trip.
"Here you go, sir. May I get you anything, else?" the stewardess asked sweetly.
Jim shook his head negatively. "No thanks," he sighed and began nursing his drink.
Turning to look out at the pale blue sky, he silently cursed the day that had so drastically changed his life. Closing his eyes, he cursed the loss of his best friend, his most treasured Guide, as he drifted off into a fitful sleep.
"So what's on the menu this for dinner?" Jim asked brightly as Blair bounded about the kitchen finishing up the meal.
"You tell me. You're the one with the super senses, and we haven't been testing them as much as we should," Blair complained, instigating the ongoing argument they'd been having for nine years, now.
Jim rolled his eyes with mock annoyance. "Vegetarian lasagna. You used more spinach this time instead of adding the extra zucchini. I guess I owe you. It's your sauce, not that organic jarred stuff you buy sometimes and as usual you put too much garlic on the bread," Jim griped with a huge smile.
"There isn't too much garlic. You just need to turn your taste down a bit. The garlic is, as always, just right," Blair commented as he pulled the bread out of the oven.
Jim had finished setting the table and was pulling out a beer for each of them as Blair placed the salad on the table.
Jim started as his ears popped to the increased engine noise of the landing. He scrubbed his face hastily, trying to ward off the last vestiges of the memories of their last day together. "I just couldn't let it go," he mumbled as he gestured for some water. "I have to let it go."
"You'll absolutely love Dream Come True House," the realtor gushed openly, with a pasted smile. "It's just a magnificent location to vacation. The heated pool will keep you and your guest having fun in the sun. Will your guest be joining you soon?" she continued smiling openly as she ran fingers through her bleached blond hair.
"Guest?" Jim growled. "I was supposed to have the place to myself," he finished in clipped tones, his jaw set in granite.
"We have here that a Mr. Blair Sandburg will be joining you... Will he be arriving later today?"
Jim closed his eyes, his heart thumping wildly in his chest. Gritting his teeth, he slammed his hands down on the counter in an attempt to regain control.
"Sir?" she questioned, her face screwed up confusedly.
"Blair was..." he started, his voice shaking. "Blair was my partner," he whispered tightly, drawing his open palm across his face. "He was killed in the line of duty six weeks ago," he finished, looking away.
She gasped, her eyes suddenly wide with understanding. "I'm so sorry," she comforted, placing her hand on his shaking arm. "I didn't know and Mr. Sandburg made..." she said stopping as she realized what she was saying.
"The reservations," Jim completed the sentence coldly. "It's okay. Look, I'm very tired and really, I just want to find a bed and crash for awhile. I didn't think about changing the name on the reservations when I confirmed them. No harm done," Jim said with a vacant smile that didn't reach his eyes.
"Of course, sir. Here's the keys and your parking permit. I truly am very sorry for your loss," she confided with a smile.
"Me too," Jim breathed as he returned to the rented Explorer.
Jim sighed as he motioned to the bartender for another drink. "Thanks," he said gratefully as the bartender left him another beer.
"Drowning your sorrows?" a lilting voice broke through the dense fog surrounding him.
Jim jumped as he noticed for the first time the brunette sitting next to him. "Look, I'm not really great company right now. Sorry," he choked out angrily.
"Yeah, me either. Maybe we could just sit here and be crabby company together," she suggested, wringing her fingers until they hurt.
Glancing down, catching a glimpse of the ring on her third finger, he exclaimed callously. "I don't mean to be rude, but why don't you just go back to your husband and leave me in peace. I'm not interested, okay?" His biting tone chilled the air around them considerably.
He missed the grimace as she replied softly, "I can't..." She closed her blue eyes as the tears flowed freely from them. "He died."
Jim flinched as he heard the words and placed a shaking hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry."
"He was a police officer..." she began in hushed tones.
Jim felt his heart drop into his stomach and through the base of the barstool he was perched on. Here was someone who could understand exactly what he was going through.
He tried to smile, but grimaced instead. "I'm sorry. I... lost my partner two months ago," he supplied, grateful for someone to talk to.
"You're a cop!" she exclaimed, gauging his appearance with the stereotype she'd grown accustomed to over the years. "You don't look the type," she finished appraisingly.
The man in front of her had steel blue eyes, haunted by devastating pain and deeply tanned skin. He was running his open palm over the full beard and mustache that graced his strong angular face. He looked so tired, she thought as she finished taking in his appearance.
"I was. I quit about two weeks ago. I couldn't do it anymore... not without..." Jim tried to explain.
She looked up into his pain-filled eyes. "Your partner," she completed hesitantly. "Ben, that was my husband, and his partner, John were killed in a bank robbery. The robbers were using those special bullets that go through the armor," she explained through tears. "Ben always wore his Kevlar on the street. He always said, 'I'll do everything I can to come home to you, baby," she choked out the words, then glanced at the floor embarrassedly.
She continued, gasping a bit for air. "I have... nightmares about it... all the time. Did he suffer? What he was thinking? Was he thinking of me and the boys... as much as I had been... thinking of him that day..." she managed through streaming tears, her voice cracked with emotion.
"He was," Jim confided as he wrapped his arms around her gently. "I know he was," he whispered. "When you're hit, you don't think about the pain or anything else. You just think about the people you'll leave behind. He was thinking of you and your boys," Jim reassured her confidently.
"Thank you," she whispered brokenly. "I can't tell you what it means... to hear that."
"Oh, I think I know. How long...?" Jim asked quietly, patting her hand reassuringly.
"About six months ago," she informed him distractedly. "God, I miss him so much!" She gasped out looking into the face of a man mirroring her anguish.
"I know what you mean. I miss Blair more than I ever thought possible. Damn, he was the best partner, the best friend, a cop could have. He was a damn good cop, one of the best," Jim remarked emphatically.
"Sounds like you were pretty close. Did he leave a... a wife?"
Jim shook his head sadly. "No, we were always too damn busy to even date much. We worked in Major Crimes and we were roommates for almost nine years before... before..." Jim shook his head and turned away trying not to think about everything Blair had given up for him. "Would you like to get some dinner?" he asked thoughtfully, surprised at having enjoyed the conversation more than he thought possible.
She flinched at the sudden change of subject. "I'm sorry, but I'm not ready..."
Jim paled as he understood the perceived intention. "Oh, no! No! I'm sorry... It's just been awhile since I could talk to someone about Blair. Someone who really understands," Jim explained, taking her hand in his. "I just want to eat. I figure it's a good sign, since it's the first time in two months food sounds the least bit appealing."
"Yeah, I've had the same problem. I've lost almost forty pounds in six months. It was actually my sister who brought me down here. She insisted that I come down here and get my head on straight so I could be there for my boys. She was right. You know, I just realized... I don't even know your name," she finished, looking up at him through red, puffy eyes.
"It's Jim. Jim Ellison," he introduced himself, taking her slender hand in his.
"I'm Patty. Patty Drake. Why does that name sound familiar?" she asked, rolling her eyes upward as if visually searching her brain for the answer.
Jim shrugged as he pulled several bills from his wallet to pay for his tab.
"Oh, my gosh," she gasped, her hand flying to cover her expressive mouth. "You said your partner's name was Blair?" she questioned, her eyes widening. "You're Jim Ellison."
Jim flinched as he watched her mentally connecting all the dots.
"My husband said that you and Sandburg..." she started.
"Look, we had a rough time in the beginning, but Sandburg was the best. I'm sorry, but I don't know if I... need to know what your husband said. There were a lot of cops who couldn't take the fact that Sandburg..."
"Jim, it's okay. My husband, Ben, said you were two of the finest detectives and men he'd ever met. He worked with you a few years back on some big drug case," she reassured.
"Oh, sorry. You said his name was Ben? Ben Drake. Was he a beat cop?" He continued at her affirmative nod. "I remember him. He was instrumental in bringing down that drug ring," Jim remembered with a small smile. "He was one hell of a cop with good instincts. I'm sorry for your loss. I guess with everything that was going on, I didn't remember you from the funeral," Jim reasoned, feeling suddenly overwhelmed with sadness at the loss of another fine CPD officer.
Jim finished his beer setting the bottle on the ground next to the lounge chair. The breeze rolling in off the water was perfect. He strained a bit to see the sailboat rounding the point.
"Jim, come on man. That was Simon. He needs us down at a crime scene on the Waterfront. They pulled out a floater," Blair grimaced, already reeling from the imagined smell.
"Great," Jim managed as he grabbed his coat from the rack and shoved his keys into the pocket as he pulled it on. "Let's do it!"
"And to think we thought it would be a quiet night after all the crap we did today," Blair scoffed with a sidelong glance at his Sentinel.
"YOU thought it would be quiet. Hell, kid, I knew better," Jim grumbled under his breath, as he rounded the corner to the site.
"Well, Jim, that's why they pay you the big bucks!" Blair bit his lip trying not to laugh out loud.
"Riiight. Laugh it up, Chief," Jim snapped playfully, as he launched a swat at the back of his younger partner's head.
"Hey," Blair cried out in mock outrage. "Hands off, Conan," Blair laughed outright.
Simon chewed his cigar and shook his head at the familiar sight. "When you two are ready to actually work..." he grumped, his hand gesturing toward where the victim was being examined by Dan Wolfe.
"Sure," they answered together as they made their way to the body.
Jim sighed as he pulled himself from the mild sensory zone of his reminiscing. Getting up from the chair, he turned to go inside and call it a night.
"Jim, it's Patty. How's it going today?" her voice echoed across the phone lines.
"A little better," Jim answered, scrubbing his palm over his beard. "What about you?"
"Better. I talked to my boys. They can't wait to see their mommy."
"You go back tomorrow, right?" Jim asked as he moved into the kitchen to grab a bottle of water.
"Yeah, tomorrow. Thought we could do dinner tonight. Sort of a farewell and thank you all wrapped up in one dinner," she invited, her voice holding a touch of sadness at leaving.
"Sounds great. Meet you at 6:30," Jim promised and hung up the phone.
"Dinner was great, Jim. Thanks," Patty said, smiling with affection. "Listen, Jim, I know it doesn't seem like the pain will ever go away, but I promise you, it gets a little better every single day," she finished, grasping his hand warmly.
"Tell me about Blair?" she asked finally giving his hand a gentle squeeze.
Jim paused as if wondering where to begin. "He was the best person I've ever met," he admitted openly. "He was brilliant and had the energy of ten men," he finished with an amused laugh.
Patty smiled, encouraging him to continue.
"Blair was like this monsoon that blew in and drowned you with the amount of energy he had. He never seemed to slow down." Jim shook his head remembering. "When we first met, he was going to school, teaching classes, observing at the PD and acting as my partner. I never understood how he could do it all."
Her eyes lit up appreciatively, but with vague sadness. "He sounds like he was amazing. I'm sorry I never met him."
"Me too," Jim finished, turning away to look out at the rolling waves beyond the window.
"If you can't talk about it, I'll understand... but how did he... die, Jim?" Patty inquired, clasping his hand more firmly in her warm hands.
Jim paused thoughtfully as pain flashed across his chiseled features.
"We had just finished with a floater at the waterfront," Jim started with trepidation.
"Would you stop doing that!" Jim snapped as he slapped at his partner's tapping hands pummeling the dashboard.
"Sorry, man, I'm just ready to call it a night and can't seem to come down off this day, you know?" Blair explained, gesturing wildly.
"Well, it's driving ME nuts, so knock it off!" Jim hissed.
"Who pissed on your cornflakes this morning, man?" Blair asked quietly, just barely loud enough for the Sentinel to hear and growl at.
"Anyway, Blair was so jazzed he couldn't settle down, so we decided to stop at the store so he could burn off a little bit of that energy before heading back to the loft," Jim remembered painfully.
"If I knew then what I know now..." Jim began hesitantly.
"He was heading up to the checkout while I ran back to get a bag of Doritos," Jim intoned.
"Hey man, don't take all night. I am SO dead on my feet. Come on, man," Blair groused as he headed for the checkout.
Gunfire exploded from the front of the store.
"Shit!" Jim hissed as he made his way carefully to the checkout lanes.
Peeking around the Coca Cola display, he could make out two gunmen standing there, weapons drawn, with Blair standing in the middle of the mess.
"Cascade PD, put your weapons down!" Blair shouted in his deepest and most convincingly authoritative tone.
Jim tilted his head, his eyes never leaving his Guide. "Hell," he rasped as he tried to pin down the location of the heartbeat approaching Blair.
Looking toward the two gunmen Sandburg pinned down. They had laid their weapons on the floor and were assuming a prone position on the floor.
Jim brought his gun to bear on the third gunmen that had eluded him just as he fired on his partner. "Blair! Get down!" He shouted his warning before bringing the gunman to his knee with several shots to the chest.
"Not enough time, Patty," Jim choked out, his voice wavering with emotion. "Three bullets... hit him... drowned in his own..." Jim finished, tears openly pouring down his cheeks. He brought his hand up to his face to wipe them away, sniffling as he attempted to regain control.
"Oh my God... Jim. I'm so... sorry. I never should have pushed. I just..." Patty apologized through her own streaming tears.
"Blair, stay with me... Come on, buddy. Please... please, don't let go," Jim begged through tears. "Can't make it without my Guide..." he choked out.
Blair reached out to his Sentinel and grasped his hand firmly.
"Can't... Jim... sorry... can't feel... legs... so cold..." Blair gasped, fighting to bring one last comfort to his Sentinel. "Promise... you... go... on..." Blair begged, his breathing becoming even more erratic.
Jim looked into his eyes, shaking his head negatively. "I can't, Blair..."
"Promise..." Blair blurted painfully, but with increased force behind his voice, his eyes daring his Sentinel to look away.
"I promise," Jim vowed as the tears rolled down his face.
"Love you, brother..." he finished, his eyes growing distant as Jim listened to his heartbeat as it slowed and eventually beat its last beat.
"Love you, brother," Jim whispered as he closed his partner's eyes. "Rest, Blair," he whispered, as his fingers gently stroked Blair's hair. "Just rest."
Jim brought his eyes back to Patty's anguished face. Her tears flowing freely as she tried to catch them with the brightly colored fabric napkin. She wiped her tears away with her free hand and looked into Jim's emotion-laden eyes. Knowing there was nothing she could say to ease his pain, she grasped his hand firmly and squeezed it as she moved to get up from the table.
"It was good to meet you, Jim Ellison," she whispered with a smile. "Thanks for everything." With a light kiss to his tear-stained cheek, she was gone.
Jim went back to the house and stripped down to his boxers for bed as he continued through his mundane bedtime routine. Checking all the doors and windows to insure they were secure, he glanced longingly at the waves and decided that tomorrow he would give Simon a call. It had been a long road so far and he knew the trip was far from over, but somehow he felt more at peace than he had since the night that changed his life forever.
Simon's thoughts churned as he wondered what he'd find when he reached Ellison. The cryptic phone call he'd received a few days ago asking him to come down frankly had him worried. Ellison had even paid for the ticket.
"Damn, what the hell is going on?" Simon demanded of no one in particular as he was alone in the rental car.
He took the next left and pulled up into the first driveway, his hands nervously clutching the wheel. Letting out a low whistle, he pulled forward as far as possible and turned off the car. "Wow," he whispered breathlessly as he took in the house before him. There were five porches from which to view the perfect sunset as he came around the house to the front entry.
"Phew," he sighed, then let go with another whistle and a chuckle as the door opened.
"Hey, Simon. Glad, you could make it. Come on in," Jim offered as he stepped aside to grant his friend entry to the magnificent house.
Simon shook his head as he took in the vastness of the house. "This is amazing, Jim," he whispered reverently as he moved into the living room.
"Yeah, I know. Four bedrooms, 3.5 baths. Lots of space. A great view of the ocean. Sandburg would have loved it here," Jim finished with a heavy sigh.
Simon gaped openly at his former detective.
"What?" Jim asked defensively, a small hint of a smile playing at his lips.
"You seem so different, Jim," Simon started, studying Jim as he sunk into the sofa in the middle of the plush room.
Jim smiled full out, his eyes twinkling. "I am different, Simon. It took me awhile, but I finally realized what Blair's been trying to teach me all these years," Jim chuckled at the irony, running his hand over his beard.
"What?" Simon inquired confusedly.
"He always said you have to 'find peace' within your life. You can't just wait for it to happen, but you actually have to work for it. It took me a long time to get that," Jim said, shaking his head with a knowing smile. "See, that's how come Blair could keep so much going on at one time. It wasn't that he had more energy than you or me. He just found his peace, his balance."
Jim sighed as his thoughts reflected on his friend. Damn, he missed him.
Simon coughed a little as he stifled a smile. "Blair would be proud of you, Jim. He was so terrified that when he died, you would eat your gun. I have to admit, I was more than a little afraid of that myself," Simon admitted aloud for the first time.
Jim looked away suddenly. "I'll be honest with you, Simon," he started, continuing when their eyes finally locked onto each other. "That's where I was headed. It took every ounce of strength I had to get through those first six weeks. There were a couple times when I was cleaning it, that I loaded it up and thought about ending it all, but I couldn't," Jim conceded. "I just couldn't break that promise to Blair. He died in my arms and I couldn't let him go knowing that I would break that promise," Jim revealed quietly.
"Well, you look good, Jim," Simon commented, taking in his friend's appearance. "The beard'll take some getting used to, but I think I like it. I hope you brought me down here to fish," Simon baited with a devilish smile.
"Of course, and to tell you that I'm coming back to Cascade next week. I met a woman down here who helped me see a lot," Jim reminisced with twinkling eyes.
"A woman, huh?" Simon teased affectionately.
"It's not what you think. You remember late last year when Officers Drake and Benedict were gunned down by those bank robbers. Drake's wife came down here to get her head together and in the process helped me get mine together," Jim praised openly.
"Wow, she must be quite a woman," Simon's admiration apparent on his face.
"She is. I just had to deal with all the anger, resentment and agony that my life held after losing Blair. He was the most important person in my life... and... he died. I felt so incredibly alone. I still do at times. I'm not saying that I don't miss him. God, I miss him like hell," Jim growled fiercely.
Simon sat there taking it all in.
Jim got up and paced the room a bit restlessly. Turning, he blurted, "I want to come back to work, Simon."
"What about the... well, you know..."
"What? The senses?" Jim asked, gesturing a bit grandly. "Well, Simon. They're under control. To be honest, they're not near as strong as they used to be. I told you Blair took a part of my soul with him when he died," Jim finished, stroking his beard thoughtfully.
"I don't think it will be a problem. You've been on bereavement leave. I couldn't turn in your resignation. Also, Blair left me a letter that if he died and you resigned within the first year of his death that I was to handle it as carefully as possible because you'd regret the decision," Simon informed him, chuckling a bit under his breath. "He said something about making major decisions within the first year. Sandburg really was a piece of work, wasn't he?"
"Yes, he was, Simon. More than you know," Jim agreed, as he smiled and gestured for the Captain to follow him out to the beckoning waves of the quiet beach.