Jim reached for the coffeepot, catching a glimpse of his own reflection in the glass. He'd been smiling, practically humming to himself all morning. An aftereffect of the best night's sleep he'd had in a long time. That is, once the landlord finally finished that new boiler installation in the basement. He had to spend most of the evening tuning out the hammering, cursing, and general noise below--noise that only he could hear, naturally--but they had finished the job an hour before he turned in. Maybe it was the blessed silence after all that irritating clamor that gave Jim such a good night's sleep. Whatever it was, he was enjoying it. Just about as much as Blair seemed to be enjoying his shower. The kid had been in there nearly fifteen minutes.
"Sandburg, we're gonna be late." No sooner had he called out than he heard the water shut off with a curse. Couldn't have run out of hot water, even Blair hadn't been able to outlast the newer tank. A minute later the bathroom door opened, coughing out a cloud of steam and Blair with one towel wrapped around his waist and another over his head.
"Hey, Chief, I thought we'd grab some breakfast on the way in this morning." He watched as his housemate stood in the hallway rubbing his hair dry.
"I can't today, Jim. I've got two lectures to give this morning, then my research group meets at noon and if I don't get that paper on tribal cures turned in by this afternoon, I'm toast."
Jim set his cup down, looking at Blair. "I thought you said you'd be with me today,
that these classes were over last week."
Blair snatched the towel off his head and threw it into his room, turning back to Jim in a flash of anger. "No, I said they were today. I have a life outside this cop stuff, you know." With a flourish of wet hair, he stormed through the double doors, shouting back, "Sometimes there are more important things going on than Major Crimes."
"Whoa, hey." Jim stepped forward, eyebrows creasing somewhere between surprise and frustration. "What's with the attitude here, Chief? I just asked a question."
His back to Jim, Blair pulled open the top drawer of his dresser, shoving damp hair from his face as he searched its contents. "Yeah, well, I'm sorry, Jim. But I'm late, I didn't get any sleep last night, and I don't have time to talk about this." Yanking a shirt from the drawer, Blair turned and pulled it roughly over his head.
"I can see where this is going." Jim shook his head and returned to the kitchen and his coffee. "Do you need a ride or anything?"
"No." Blair's curt reply was punctuated by a slamming of his dresser drawer and a hurried return to the bathroom.
"Or maybe some Midol?" Jim's quiet question went unheard. Fine. If Blair was going to be in such a snit this morning over things only he had control of, Jim wasn't going to waste any more time watching it. He finished his coffee and gathered up the keys and cell phone just as Blair made another move from bathroom to bedroom in a rush of hair and clothes.
"I'm outta here, Chief." Jim paused before walking to the door, giving Blair time to suddenly realize he needed a ride after all, or forgot to tell Jim something.
"Fine, whatever." The swift reply was accompanied by an absent wave of one hand, as if swatting a fly.
Jim shook his head and left, making sure his irritation didn't allow the door to slam. There was no way he was going to let Blair's mood ruin his own. Once downstairs and in the car, he focused back up to hear his partner scurrying around the loft, then heard the door slam as Blair rushed out the stairwell and around the building to the lot where he kept his car. Jim waited just long enough to be sure that old thing started up, then he started his own engine and drove to the Station.
He was parking just as Captain Banks got out of his own car.
"Hey, Jim. Where's your sidekick today?"
"Off being the professor." Jim walked with Simon to the elevator, his mood returning to the cheeriness he had been enjoying before Blair came out of the bathroom. "Just as well. He woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning."
"Uh-oh, trouble in paradise?"
Jim shrugged, pressing the elevator button as the doors closed. "I don't know what his problem is this time. But I'm not letting him ruin my day."
"And you shouldn't. I don't know how you put up with that kid day in and day out. Me, I'd have overdosed on enthusiasm months ago."
"He keeps me young." Jim grinned as the doors opened on the seventh floor.
"That's funny, he makes me feel older." Simon slapped Jim on the back, then walked toward his office, leaving the detective standing at his own desk.
Jim chuckled as he reached for the various notes strewn about the top of his files. After going over the urgent ones, he filled his cup with fresh coffee, bought a couple of doughnuts from the regular girl as she made the rounds, then settled in with some paperwork. Twice he had to stop himself from asking Blair to get him some more coffee, so absorbed in his report and good mood he'd completely forgotten he was alone.
"Ellison, where's your partner today?"
Jim looked up to find Elise Crane from personnel standing beside his desk, papers in hand. "He's not here today."
The papers were shoved roughly toward him, rustling with the motion. "He needs to fill these out this week and turn them in." Before he could accept the forms, they were deposited on his desk. "And we'll need another sample."
"What's this for?"
"He's been here one year. All the papers have to be updated in order to renew his ID for another 12 months."
"A year?" No way, it was only a few months!
"A year. I'll need those by Friday." With that and a flurry of White Shoulders perfume, she turned and walked out of the bullpen.
Jim looked at the forms, trying to accept the time line they suggested. A year?
"Hey, Jim, whaddaya got goin' for lunch?" Simon pushed his cigar out in the wastebasket beside Jim's desk.
"Huh? Oh, nothing planned, Simon." His great morning mood was beginning to wane, leaving just a trace of the smile he'd worn all morning long. "What did you have in mind?"
"I was thinking Elroy's, down on third." The smile that crossed the Captain's face spoke of a lunch Blair would frown on.
"Sounds good." Jim stood, shoving the papers aside.
"And with Sandburg gone today, we can eat without guilt."
Jim laughed, following the Captain. "Come on, Simon, you don't let a little guilt stop you from doing what you want."
"Nah, not really. But you have to admit, Blair Sandburg is more than a little anything." Simon laughed at his own joke. "Come on, enough of that. Let's go eat ourselves sick."
Jim agreed on principle, but once at the restaurant found himself not as hungry for greasy burgers and french fries as he'd expected to be. Simon was going on about something he and Daryl had done the weekend before and Jim found it all too easy not to listen. There was something about Blair that morning that just wasn't right. He'd had bad mornings before, hell they both had. But his attitude this morning was unusual. Even for an angry Blair Sandburg.
"Jim? Hey, man, where are you today, anyway?"
"Oh, sorry, Simon." His half-ear attempt at following the Captain's usual father-son story had failed. "I was just trying to figure out where the year went."
"Which year?" The derisive snort that emanated from Simon was followed by a fresh cigar being shoved into his mouth. "I've been losing years for a long time now."
Jim stared at the match head the Captain slid along the edge of their table. As it burst into sulfur-laden flame, his mind flashed back to an office, dusty and loud, with jungle music blaring out from the speakers of a boombox in the far corner, mixing with more obnoxious beats and electric noise. His first meeting with Blair--first under the kid's real name--had been volatile. Of all the people to meet when his life was giving him nothing but confusion and hell, it had to be Blair Sandburg. The kid's flip, flaky attitude rubbed Jim the worst way just when he'd reached the absolute end of his own long fuse. But almost immediately they managed to size each other up, and alter their respective approaches.
Life since that day had been nothing short of educational.
Simon's bark brought Jim out of the memory and the match flame and back into the greasy diner. "Sorry, Simon. I was just thinking." He glanced up, trying not to cringe away from the cigar smoke curling toward him. "Sandburg's been with me now for a year. I just can't fathom it being 12 months already."
"Seems like an eternity to me." Simon let out a great puff, aiming it over Jim's head where the ceiling fan could send it straight back down again.
"Yeah, well, maybe that explains his mood this morning." Maybe Blair knew better than he did how much time had gone by. Jim stood and picked up the check, digging his wallet out on the way to the counter.
"Well, you know what they say about any relationship, Jim. The first year is the hardest." Simon made no move to pay for his lunch, except to pat Jim on the back as he stepped outside.
With a sigh, Jim paid the full amount, walking the change back to their table for a tip. When he got outside, the cigar was in full force, leaving no clear way around the smoke that billowed out.
"Thanks for lunch, Jim. I owe you one." Simon smiled, then took another puff.
"Yeah. Listen, I have a couple of suspects to talk to about this Nielsen case. I'll catch you later." Jim waited for Simon's acknowledging nod before he walked to the truck.
With every intention of driving to the offices of Murgenstein, Nielsen and Tuft, Jim found himself parked in the shade just outside the Social Sciences building of Rainier University. Students milled about the campus like ants on a mission known only to them. Each carried several books thicker than Jim's arm, some struggling to hold them all, others giving the hardbacks as much respect as Simon gave one of his cigars when it had burned to the end. Jim had no idea if Blair would be available or not. He had even less idea what the hell he was doing there in the middle of the day when he had other things to do. But there he was, making his way through the crowded hall on his way to an office he knew almost as well as his own.
It was empty. Papers covered the desk and a few had spilled onto the floor, pushed along their merry way by the breeze flowing in through the open window. Jim picked up the strays and stacked them on top of the pile, then walked to the little fridge and pulled out a bottle of water. It was early yet, plenty of time to talk to the partners of Murgenstein, Nielsen and Tuft about the death of their eldest partner. Plenty of time to sit in the stuffy waiting room while the overly perfumed receptionist shuffled papers around in an attempt to look busy until the rude interruption sitting in her area was allowed in to meet with the surviving partners.
From somewhere down the hall, a familiar voice rang clear. Blair was on his way, either between classes in a rush, or finished for a bit. From the light tone of his voice, Jim judged his mood to have improved tenfold over this morning. And the way he bounded into the office, smiling and nodding to someone who continued down the hall, convinced Jim that his judgment was dead on.
"Hey, Jim, what are you doing here?" Blair's eyebrows arched for a moment as he noticed his visitor.
"Just passing by, thought I'd stop in." He took another drink of water then capped the bottle and set it down, watching Blair spring toward his chair and slap the notebooks he'd been carrying down over the unruly stack of papers. "Everything okay with you, Chief?"
"Yeah, fine." Blair slumped into the chair and swivelled it around, looking at Jim with a puzzled expression that quickly changed to recognition. "Oh, man, this morning. Listen, Jim, I'm sorry about that. I don't know what happened, I just let everything get to me, I guess."
"Yeah, you sure did. It was a little out of the blue for you."
"I am really sorry, man. I never should have snapped at you like that." Blair shook his head and shoved a hand through his hair. "I just got no sleep last night, then I was late this morning and nearly fell asleep in the shower. I dunno, just a bad day."
"Well, we all have them." Jim got off the windowsill where he'd been perched and returned the water to the fridge. "Just don't bring it home unless you're willing to talk it out."
"Right, sorry about that." Blair pulled his glasses from a shirt pocket and put them on.
"What about you and I going out to dinner tonight, huh?" Jim caught his own reflection in the glasses as Blair turned back to look at him. He was used to those glasses now, but sometimes the color of Blair's eyes was confused with the reflection of his own, throwing Jim for a second.
"My treat, Chief." Jim answered the hesitancy in his friend's voice.
"Great. Um, I'll be free after tonight's lecture, around 7:00."
"Good enough. Just come on home, we'll go when you get there." With a pat on Blair's shoulder, Jim left the office, slipping once again into the sea of bodies flowing down the corridor.
Sitting in the reception area of Murgenstein, Nielsen and Tuft was only slightly more bearable now that he'd spoken with Blair. Filtering out Ms. Liechtenstein's Chanel No. 5 kept Jim busy while he waited for the partners of the firm to realize the significance of a Detective waiting outside to speak with them. Naturally, neither of them had any new information as to the reason their elder partner, Mr. Nielsen, had taken the swan dive off the penthouse roof. The millions they saved by avoiding the lawsuit he had instigated was simply a coincidence, surely. As Jim listened for the third time to the story of founding the partnership, he found himself wishing Blair was there. He had yet to manage to bring his partner with him to interview this pair in their $1200.00 suits from Armani and their executive offices that rivaled his entire loft for space. Jim found Blair's presence in situations like these to be very effective in putting off the suspects' pace, dropping their guard just enough for Jim to get an edge in. And Blair himself often found that edge, prying it up like an expert for Jim to get in and make the crucial exposure. Days like this made Jim feel somewhat disadvantaged, as if his gun only had half the rounds it should carry.
On his way back out of the offices, Ms. Liechtenstein sighed mightily and pulled out a file drawer, making very little effort to pretend her magazine hadn't been her prime focus for the last twenty minutes. Jim made his departure, shaking his head as he passed the large reception desk. Not a pencil out of place, not one single scrap of paper anywhere to be seen, and dust lined the keyboard of her quiet computer. Her primary task could not have been more clear.
As the private elevator doors closed, Jim allowed himself to inhale again, having literally held his breath through the large vacuum labeled Reception. The perfume alone could have driven a man of Mr. Nielsen's age right off the roof.
"Just identify it and push it out, Jim."
Blair's advice carried him down the 48 flights, complete with one elevator switch, until he was out into the fresh air again. A glance at his watch told Jim the day was over, as far as he was concerned. If Blair was right, he'd be home in an hour, and they could go out for the first time in weeks and have a nice, relaxing evening. He could bring the kid up on the case, if he was finished with classes this time.
Back at the loft, Jim had just enough time to change his clothes and sit down before his housemate bounded up the stairs and through the door. An armload of books and mail was dropped onto the table as Blair hurried down the hall to the bathroom with a quick nod at Jim. He often wondered how the kid could come home from a long day and still have so much boundless energy.
"Hey, Jim." Blair came back out of the bathroom at one quarter the speed he'd entered, still drying his hands on a towel that was then tossed back to land on the counter.
"Hey. You ready for dinner?" Jim didn't bother getting off the couch until he got the nod. "I'm hungry for Mexican."
"Yeah, whatever you want is fine."
"Let's go then." Jim grabbed the keys while Blair started out the door. As they passed 305, shouts could be heard ringing clearly through the walls and door. Shouts that even Blair heard, judging by his reaction.
"Man, they're going at it tonight." Blair paused near their neighbors' door, looking back at Jim.
The last thing he wanted to do was ruin his own evening settling a domestic with his neighbors. Jim stopped, listening.
"I told you my mind was made up. Why can't you just take No for an answer just this one time?!"
"Because I don't agree, dammit! You didn't consult me, you just ran out and blew all that money, and charged it to boot!"
"I told you time and again we needed a new water heater, but you wouldn't listen! You had to take that trip to Vegas last spring. Can't take the money and pay cash for something we NEED!"
"I've had enough!"
Doors slammed inside the apartment, the inside noises separated to either side of their building. Jim shrugged. "Sounds like they're fine, Chief. Let's go." With one hand on Blair's back to propel him along, Jim headed for the truck.
Dinner was pleasant, with his partner back to his usual good humor. He went on about his research group, some cultural event they were preparing for next month, then listened with interest about the case Jim had been working on while Blair was ensconced in his scholastic other life. He left out the descriptions and impressions he had of the surviving partners. If Blair was going to be with him for the rest of this one, he wanted the kid to see them with a fresh eye. Jim had learned that was the best way to use his new tool to his advantage, and he rather liked watching it work as well.
By the time they got home, there wasn't a peep to be heard coming out of the Walters' place. Just to be certain, Jim allowed a small breach of privacy and listened for what should be two heartbeats. He found them, each in a separate room, but alive and quiet. Blair was at their door, watching him.
"I hate to do that, but domestic disputes aren't something to ignore." Jim shook his head and unlocked the door.
"No, you don't." There was an edge to that voice he didn't recognize. Blair pushed past him to enter the loft first, tossing his light jacket to the back of the couch.
"Listen in. You don't hate to do that, you do it all the time with me." Blair stormed into his bedroom, then came back out, striding purposefully to the table with a stack of notebooks.
"That's different, Chief." Jim raised a hand, taking a few steps toward the table. "I don't pry into other people's private lives when I have no just cause."
Blair returned to his room and brought out his laptop computer. When he looked up, he found Jim still awaiting an acknowledgment. "Fine. Whatever you say, Jim." The computer was set on the table with finality, disturbing several of the notebooks as they lay in wait of attention.
The edge had grown sharper, possibly fueled by hot peppers and a couple of beers. Jim sighed and forced his reply back down where it would do more good. He used the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face to wash off the rest of the irritation he'd been starting to feel. First this morning, then a nice quiet evening, now he's at it again. Maybe Blair was going through menopause?
By the time he came back out to watch some TV, Blair was completely absorbed in his work. Glasses reflected the computer glow as he looked from a notebook to the screen and back again, eyebrows knit in concentration. Jim walked past, not even glancing at the papers, and plopped wearily down on the couch. He was tired, and beginning to really relax again, feeling good, like he had that morning. Maybe Simon had been right, about their first milestone being a hard one. A year! Man, that was hard to fathom. And he'd forgotten to mention the paperwork renewal. One glance back at Blair told him it could wait until morning. It could be that they both realized it, on some unconscious level, and were just feeling the growing pains of co-existence.
Yeah, that was probably it. Jim was reacting with a very settled, comfortable feeling that helped him sleep at night and kept his mood downright cheery. And Blair...well, Blair was reacting with stress and irritation. What the hell was that supposed to mean?
"I'm turning in." He stood and stretched, then clicked off the TV. Still no response. "Are you with me tomorrow, or not?"
Blair pulled off his glasses with one hand and rubbed both eyelids with the fingers of the other. It was an exaggerated motion, designed more as a delay than anything. "Yeah, I'm with you. What time are we going in?"
"The usual, Chief." The eyes that met his then weren't their usual bright blue. They were red and dull, trying to reflect something from deep within, something that didn't want to come out just yet. "Are you going to be up all night?"
"I hope not." The glasses went back on, and the eyes hid behind reflected light.
"Me, too." Jim turned and went upstairs, listening to the young man below turning pages and hitting keys. "Good night."
There wasn't much time to dwell on Blair's
surliness after his head hit the pillow, or much need to block out the sounds
below. Before he could even turn over once, Jim drifted off into a very pleasant
and restful night's sleep.
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