A 'Crossroads' story from Simon and Blair's point of view.
Okay, so this was the right thing to do, wasn't it? Blair had asked himself that question a thousand times. Pretty good record considering he and Simon had only been on the road for two hours.
He didn't know why this was such a big deal (maybe because Jim seemed to think it was?). After all, he and Simon were only checking up on a friend, joining him for a holiday. But he didn't ask me. In fact, he made a huge point of not asking either one of us.
"Gee, Sandburg, I'm going to be reduced to talking to myself here." came a growl from his left. Captain Simon Banks was chomping on his eternal cigar, and to the casual observer might have looked irritated. But Sandburg had been around the captain for almost two years - they'd shared situations that ranged from horrific to screamingly funny and he knew enough to recognize when Banks was really irritated and when he was just - well, himself. Today the captain was in a good mood and his chosen partner in crime, Blair Sandburg, was trying to pick up on those vibes but failing miserably.
"I was just...thinking."
"I didn't think you had to stop talking to do that. I thought you could just do it on the fly, you know. It's certainly never shut you up before."
Blair gave a half-hearted grin. "Thanks - I think. I guess I'm wondering if we're not - you know - getting in Jim's way here. He did say he wanted to be alone."
"I thought we went over this. What the hell is Ellison going to do out in the middle of nowhere by himself? He'll be nuts in two days - begging for the sound of another voice."
"Maybe we should give him the two days?"
"Gee, Sandburg, I didn't think you'd given him twenty minutes the entire time you've known him." Banks missed the grimace that touched Blair's features.
"Yeah, well, that could have been a mistake."
Simon abruptly made a sharp right into a restaurant parking lot. "Tell you what. Let's eat."
Fifteen minutes later, both men were working on a meal of hamburgers and hash browns. Banks watched Blair carefully but the kid was concentrating on his food and Simon was pretty hungry himself. It gave him a little time to think. Sandburg had been acting funny about this whole trip ever since they'd decided to follow Jim on his 'vacation.' Almost like he wanted to go but was afraid to. What could Jim have said that bothered him so much? *I want to go by myself.* Well, yeah, Jim had such a tactful way of putting things but Sandburg knew that. He had to. He'd been working and living with Ellison for almost two years, certainly long enough to get that blunt Ellison treatment more than once. And certainly long enough to know that he was important to Ellison in every way that mattered. But there had been hints - things Jim had said. Hell, things Blair had done - like the blow-up over the prize-fighter's murder. The kid had a slight insecurity problem. Not that Simon could blame him - he had realized when that blow-up occurred that Sandburg had been sitting on a lot of emotions and not just about the murder. Sandburg had almost become one of the guys but it had been an uphill battle, trying to be a square peg in a round hole. He tried so hard to be useful, to be respected by people that rarely let anyone in their inner circle. He was in actually but Simon was sure he still felt pressured to do well, to keep proving himself over and over. It was a hard life.
"Come on, Kid. A couple of days out in the sun and air will do us both good. And if Ellison's pissed, well, he's pissed. I told you we'd fish somewhere else."
When Sandburg looked up, Simon saw something flicker in his eyes. Something unidentifiable but strong. "Listen, Sandburg, we can turn around right now if you want to. You got a lot of stuff at the university - I can understand that." Actually, Simon didn't think it had anything to do with the university and everything to do with Jim but he thought he'd offer a way out.
But Blair just shook his head. "Nah. We've come this far, let's just finish it."
"I'm taking you fishing, not to the dentist. Is there something going on here - something I should know about what's going on with Jim? Is it more than him just wanting a few days alone?"
"As far as I know it's nothing more than that. I mean, I can't think of anything -" Sandburg's voice trailed off and he looked out at the traffic.
And that was it, of course, and Simon berated himself for being a fool and not picking up on it earlier. Jim's request for a week off had come out of left field - a bomb he'd dropped while standing in the office that morning catching both of his friends off guard. It was one thing to surprise Simon, quite another to surprise Blair. Sandburg 'studied' Jim for lack of a better word. Ellison was his dissertation subject as well as his roommate, best friend, and partner. He'd spent the bulk of almost two years hanging close to Ellison and helping him control his highly enhanced senses. Sometimes he seemed more familiar with what was going on in Jim's mind than Jim himself was and while Simon found that slightly spooky, it seemed to work for the two of them.
Right up until now. Somehow Jim had come to a decision, for whatever reason, that he needed a week away from 'everything' and that included his job, his boss, and his anthropologist in residence. For once Sandburg had been totally blindsided by a surprise move on Ellison's part. Jim had evidently not been talking about this or hinting about it in any way and instead of risking a detailed explanation, he had broached the idea in the middle of a computer crisis and was out the door before either of his friends could recover long enough to discuss it with him. Simon, not given to overlong analyzing, had taken it in with a grain of salt. Sandburg on the other hand, had a mind like a well-oiled machine. It was almost a physical thing the way the kid could take an idea and examine it on all sides, looking it over like a locked box. And Jim had walked out that morning, throwing the box in Sandburg's lap and the kid been carrying it around ever since.
"You know Sandburg, this is quite possibly nothing more than Jim trying to get in a week of fishing. And if he does need a little distance - well, hell, it's probably all that meditation and value of solitude stuff you've been filling his head with. He just asked for a week, not the next three months."
"I know -" huge sigh.
Banks resisted the urge not to sigh with him. How had he ever gotten into this father confessor position? It was always something with Sandburg and Ellison from the little annoyances that roommates normally had to the really exotic stuff - like tests or something. He and Ellison had been friends before, they shared similar backgrounds but the guy was reserved. Sandburg blew into his personal space and suddenly the very reserved Jim Ellison was asking Simon for all kinds of advice on how to handle the kid. Except for his marriage to Carolyn, who was pretty reserved herself, Ellison just didn't get close to people. Suddenly he ended up with this vocal anthropologist always about ten inches away and he had the shell-shocked look of a man who walked into a petting zoo in which all the animals rushed up at once.
And of course, Sandburg. Well, Sandburg never shut up. Didn't mean he was always saying something but then again sometimes the odd line slipped through, the truth in all the bullshit. Simon had learned to watch for these little glimmers and add them to his ongoing study of his one and only anthropologist.
And what all his notes told him this time was that Sandburg was thrown because Jim had just up and left and Blair had no clue about why. Before, it had been Sandburg who even engineered their vacations which they often took together. He could often tell when Jim was burning out before Jim himself recognized the symptoms. Simon jumped back into the present when Blair suddenly began talking again.
"You know, I thought Jim was feeling pretty good these days. I mean he'd just gotten over some rough stuff but - he's been kind of cool about it. Relaxed."
"He doesn't have to have a nervous break-down to request an out-of-town trip."
"I know that. I just -" Sandburg shook his head.
"Look, is this about him - or you?"
"Maybe both of us. Maybe what he's tired of isn't work."
Simon thought about that for a few seconds. "If you're saying what I think you're saying, you're wrong."
"What do you think I'm saying?"
"Good grief, Sandburg, can't you ever just come out with what's on your mind? If you think this is about Jim ditching you, you are wrong.
"How do you know that? You weren't expecting it this morning either."
"No I wasn't but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Jim is either in real need of a vacation or he's giving us the bum's rush so he can brag about all the fish he caught when he gets back."
"Yeah, I guess."
"I know that tone, Sandburg. You're humoring me and I want you to stop it. Jim might be getting frustrated but it isn't with you. Maybe the job, maybe the work load but have you ever seen him pissed and able to keep it a secret?"
"No." Sandburg grinned. "Or you either, for that matter."
"Let's blow this joint and get back on the road."
His thoughts exactly in the late evening hours of the next day. Only Ellison and Sandburg (or was it Sandburg and Ellison) could manage to land in the middle of a plague outbreak, which was really the red herring for the hijacking of about a ton and a half of 'old money.' These guys definitely had a talent all right. Now Simon knew why Jim had been hung up on distance - he craved a little of it himself. And maybe, a little voice told him, he could have given Jim the courtesy of the space he requested to begin with. Then again what were friends for? And Jim would have been by himself during all this.
He was relieved Blair was coming with him. If Jim stayed the rest of the week, the kid could relax, have the loft to himself for a change. Maybe he needed a little peace and quite as much as Jim did even if he couldn't see it. And typically, Sandburg had gotten the raw end of the deal again - actually getting sick, even though it had been engineered through the water supply. The fact that it wasn't a virus hadn't meant that he was any less ill or that Simon and Jim hadn't been any less worried. Simon actually found himself fretting, as if it were his kid brother in there or something. He worried about all the men under his command, watched out for them when he could, but Blair inspired something different, maybe because he wasn't a cop during his duty and it seemed unfair for him to keep getting in the way of disasters.
And it had been a disaster. He'd heard Jim shouting his name from the basement and by the time he got there, Jim was pulling a semi-conscious Blair out the door. So much for their luck holding - Simon had suspected one of them might get it sooner or later, but for it to be Blair...
By the time they got Sandburg on the stretcher, Jim had wiped the frantic look off his face, calmed down and his voice had gone into low reassuring tones. But Simon could see the panic still underneath. And that old Jim came to the surface, the 'no nonsense, I'm not falling apart' version that reappeared every time something extreme threatened.
But they had gotten through it, like always. And Jim finally managed to do exactly what he wanted to do, which was haul Blair out of the isolation tent. With Sandburg recovering, Jim seemed himself again and Simon felt better too. Funny how even when Sandburg was sidelined, if he were just there things were better for Jim.
Walking back to the car though, Simon noticed how pale Blair still was, how shaky he looked. He definitely needed to go home. He found himself patting Sandburg on the back. "You can rest on the way home. It won't be such a bad trip."
"Thanks, Simon." Sandburg still sounded a little breathless.
In less than ten minutes after they got on the road, Sandburg was asleep, sprawled on the passenger seat of the car. One leg tucked underneath the other, forehead against the side window and hands resting in his lap, he somehow managed to make the position seem comfortable.
Simon wished he wouldn't have conked out so soon. He was kind of curious (and concerned, if he pushed into the next emotional layer) about what Sandburg had thought about everything they'd learned on this little trip.
Simon himself had been fairly impressed with Jim's little speech, delivered dirt dry and deadpan about 'loving them' (quotes included) and his assertion to Blair that he did not want him to move out. The Jim he'd known two years ago would never have said it. The new improved Jim could say it but only in the most casual way. It was still like a foreign language to him - he had the words but didn't have the inflection exactly right. Still, it was quite a leap. And, Simon was quite sure, the absolute emotional truth. He just wondered if Sandburg realized it. Maybe being so close to Jim he hadn't picked up on the changes, hadn't realized how fundamentally different Ellison was from the man he had been.
He sighed. Typical. Sandburg, always so eager to talk, had closed himself off as well as Jim ever had. He had either learned it from Jim, or maybe, just maybe, both men had ways of dancing around the truth. Different styles, same results. He briefly wondered if Jim had heard all the other doubts underneath the simple "do you want me to move" question Sandburg had posed. Because it had been rich with other, unspoken, questions. "Do you still want me in your life, do I bug you, do you need me?" All of which had been answered by Jim but maybe not delivered in a language Blair understood. As usual, Simon would have to do the translating between the these stubborn partners whose feelings for each other were as obvious as paint on a wall to observers but not, apparently, to each other. That is if Sandburg would wake up for say, five minutes. Oh, the hell with it.
The smell of coffee was strong, tantalizing. Blair shifted and pulled himself to the surface of wakefulness, away from a semi-remembered dream. "What is it?" he said blearily.
"Drink this." Simon said with the tone of a man used to giving orders.
Blair blinked at the Styrofoam cup less than two inches from his face. He concentrated then managed to bring his hand up and hold it. It felt warm, pleasant. He took an experimental sip and let it burn his throat on the way down. It was a little painful but satisfying, the warmth spreading through his whole body. "Where are we?"
"About an hour and a half away from home. Thought I ought to wake you up before you slept too long in that position. I'm surprised you can even move - you can move, can't you?"
Blair shrugged and straightened out his legs. "No problem." Actually he was a little stiff but the disgusted look on Simon's face was worth a few kinks.
"You feeling okay?" Simon reached out his hand and felt Blair's forehead again. Sandburg immediately went still, feeling as strange as he had the first time Simon had done it. It was a little embarrassing but awesome too. He would never in a million years have thought this big fierce police captain would have such a tender side and that he would show it to Blair. It made him feel privileged somehow, and cared for. He liked it a lot.
"Still a little warm." Simon reached into his glove compartment and took out a bottle of aspirins.
"No -" Blair began.
"Yes." Simon said with finality. "Aspirin takes down fever. You've got one. Your captain orders you to take it." As if making a point, he shook two of the pills out and dropped them in Blair's hand.
Sandburg sighed and swallowed them. Truthfully, it had only been a token argument anyway. He still felt crummy and a little at sea about just 'why' this darn vacation had been so important to Jim. Sometimes it seemed to make sense - it certainly sounded reasonable on the surface - guy with a lot of responsibility and a huge workload wants some solitude. Sandburg thought he understood that - what he could not understand was his ignorance of the whole thing. Granted, he didn't have to know everything in the Sentinel's head but gee whiz, the guy must have been ready to crack from the strain for him to do something so...so impulsive. So un-Jim like. Course, "I love you" had been un-Jim like too but then it had been in response to a typical Blair question. Sometimes he felt like a basket case watching rock solid Ellison who seemed to have such a good grip on himself. Maybe too good a grip. Nobody was that together.
"You want something to eat?"
Blair blinked at Simon's question. His head felt fuzzy, full of cotton. The thought of food made his stomach turn over lazily. "Not really, but it's okay if we stop." Just don't make me go in, he requested silently.
Simon cranked the car. "That's okay. We'll pick up something on the way home - eat at the loft. That is if you invite me in now that you're officially Jim's approved roommate."
Blair grinned a little at the thought but wondered at the 'approved' part. But Ellison had said it. It had come out of his mouth in mid-shrug but heck, what did he expect? It wasn't like the guy to suffer in silence - if he'd been pissed that Blair was staying there he'd have probably dropped a hint or something. Maybe like 'don't let the door hit you on the way out.' Sandburg reached into his pocket and fingered the loft keys. Yes, they were his, attached to his funky keychain, along with his office keys, car keys, and a spare to the truck (and Jim wouldn't have had to give him that one, would he?). What was that saying, the one Naomi used? Actions speak louder than words. An old saying, not new age at all but useful for explaining why bureaucrats never kept their promises, why you couldn't trust authority, and why you didn't have to swallow the perfect speech. It also explained why Jim had given him the keys to his home, his truck, and had not so much as allowed him into his life but had gathered him in, the whole package, quirky diet, run-on-speech, old clothes, didn't matter. That's what it came down to. The proof was in his hands and in his memory, in halting Jim-speech. "Yeah, why don't you come in. I'm sure we've got something to drink around the place. And I'll clean out the refrigerator in case Jim does catch some fish."
They looked at each other. "Nah." they said in unison.