Stands For Comfort

by Francesca

Author's disclaimer: Nothing's mine but the profanity — everything else belongs to Pet Fly.

Author's notes: Thank you Destina and Lanning Cook and Anne, (who was admittedly drunk at the time of the beta. Only YOU can prevent BWI!) You're wonderful betas. Feedback of all kinds gratefully welcomed.

"I don't deserve this," I said, unable to tear my eyes away from the badge in my hand: a detective's badge, no less. Weird. Wrong. Right. Wrong and right at the same time.

I glanced up and saw my mother beaming at me.

The badge was abruptly snatched out of my hand and I had to stop myself from grabbing it back. "No. You don't," Simon snapped. "At least not until you go to the Police Academy and complete firearms training."

Firearms training? I winced and again looked at my mother, who was, incredibly, still beaming away like a flashlight.

"And if you do," Simon continued, "well, Detective Ellison is looking for a permanent official partner."

I noticed then that Jim was watching me too, had been watching me intently all along. He nodded slowly when he caught my eye, confirming it all. Yes, it was true. Yes, they were gonna haul my ass out of the fire. The cavalry had come, and Jim's face said that I wasn't gonna starve to death on his watch.

I dragged my eyes away from Jim and checked back with my mother. She'd clicked on the highbeams. I couldn't ever remember her ever looking so...thrilled.

I took a deep breath to steady myself. "Oh yeah? So does this mean a paycheck?"

Jim's face broke into a warm smile. "Hey, can you say 'back rent', Chief? Come on — what do you say?"

"Say something, Sandy," Megan seconded, her face shining with the excitement of the moment.

I took a deep breath and said, finally, "I'm not cutting my hair," and the room erupted with laughter around me. I watched my mother laugh along with the rest of them, her melodic, high-pitched laugh distinct and deeply familiar. Her pale white hands flew to her mouth and covered it, as if she were trying to smother her mirth, as if laughter like this wasn't quite ladylike.

And suddenly, I lost my grip on my feelings, and they went slipping through my fingers like soap. God, how I hated her.

I yelped as Jim blindsided me, yanking me over with his cane and smoothly pulling me into a headlock. "That's what you think!" Jim hooted, tugging at my hair affectionately. "Kid, they are gonna love you at the Academy — "

"No way!" I protested, but I was laughing now, roller coastering from one emotion to another. "I'm not going to do it!"

"Oh yes you will." Jim's voice was firm, and his fingers were deep in my hair now, tickling. I squirmed in his grip, too breathless with laughter to protest anymore. "Just you wait, Captain, I'm gonna make you a little Blairskin rug — "

Laughter rose again like a wave, like a tide, drowning everything. Including me.

"You're awfully quiet."

I was sitting at the kitchen table, reading a magazine and indulging in a favorite vice: eating Jim's sugar breakfast cereal as a midnight snack. I looked up, and Jim was standing there in his boxer shorts, still holding his cane, poised between the bathroom and bed. His left leg was swathed in white bandages; he looked like an injured quarterback.

I dropped my spoon into the bowl of milk and leaned back in my chair. "I'm just tired," I said, and that was true enough. The day had left me physically exhausted and spiritually numb — I couldn't even imagine how he felt. "Don't feel much like talking."

Jim nodded, and began to limp toward me. "I know the feeling. I just didn't know you did." He flashed me a quick, sarcastic grin. "You're not sick or anything, are you? I mean, when you're too tired to talk, I get worried."

"I thought you got thankful." I showed Jim a grin of my own. "I thought you lit candles and prayed for nights like this."

Jim didn't rise to the bait. "You've been quiet all night," he said, sounding oddly serious. "You've been quiet since the station, in fact."

I blew out a deep breath, extending my arms and stretching against the back of the chair. "Well, yeah," I admitted. "I mean — that was pretty incredible, that whole scene. I've had a lot to think about. Big day for me. Big week. Big year."

"Yeah," Jim mused. "Very big." He braced himself with his cane and slowly perched on the edge of the table, grunting a little as he took his weight off his injured leg. "So, listen," Jim said, and I sat up in my chair, instantly at attention. Jim was actually asking me to listen. That meant Jim actually wanted to say something. "This is probably a stupid question, but I have to ask, okay?"

"Sure," I said, nodding quickly. "Ask away."

"You weren't — " Jim stopped suddenly, looking disgruntled, mouth twisting. "I mean, you aren't — "

I put on my most encouraging face, the one I used to use to get shy students to participate in class. Come on, it said. Anything you say will absolutely fascinate me.

Jim blew out a breath and spit it out. "You're not serious about the hair thing, are you?"

I stared at him for a moment, and then smiled and shook my head no. Whizz — thunk: wrong target. Well, that only figured. After all, Jim was a Sentinel, and Naomi was a brick wall. "No, man — of course I'll cut it. It was just a joke," I added, though of course, it hadn't been.

Jim looked relieved and a little embarrassed. "Okay," he said gruffly. "That's what I thought. See, I told you it was stupid," he added, embarrassment taking the upper hand for a moment and turning the tips of his ears pink. "But I just had to ask, you know?"

"It's a nice thought," I said sincerely.

"Just — you never technically said yes." Jim's voice was casual, but he looked away as he spoke.

"Yes, Jim," I said promptly. Jim's eyes flicked back to me and I smiled warmly at him. "Yes, I'll cut my hair. Yes, I'll go to the Academy. Yes, I'd love to be your partner, okay? I'd really, really love it."

Jim looked pleased at this news. "Okay," he said, and whacked me affectionately with his cane. "Good."

"I didn't mean to worry you or anything." I felt compelled to apologize; I hadn't meant to worry him — I just hadn't been thinking straight: big news, there. "I was always going to do it. I really do want to be a cop, Jim — I think maybe I always did."

Jim's grin widened. "No more vacant crime scenes, kid. Welcome to the big time — where the perps are still alive."

"Yeah, exactly," I said, feeling deeply moved that he'd remembered that. "Really, man — I can't wait."

"Okay, cool." Jim waved his hand in graceful dismissal; he was happy, and that made me happy. "That's a load off. Guess I picked up a mixed signal somewhere," he added, shifting his body carefully and tightening his grip on the cane as he prepared to stand. "I dunno, I somehow got the idea that you were angry — "

I don't know what he saw in my face, but he instantly stopped moving and his eyes grew sharp. I'd seen him look at other people like this before, but he had never used that look on me.

"Shit, you are angry," Jim said, sounding surprised.

"I'm not," I managed, but the words stuck in my throat.

Jim looked momentarily shocked at my lie — shocked and a little hurt — but he covered up quickly. "Listen to me, Sandburg." His voice was full of calm compassion, which only exacerbated my guilt: goddammit, I didn't want to be having this conversation! "What's happened here-it's rough, I know it's been rough for you. But I don't want you to feel backed into a corner — "

"I don't, okay!" I retorted, internally furious at myself for sounding exactly like a man who's been backed into a corner. "Just listen to what I told you. I want to be a cop, I want to go to the Academy — I even want to cut this fucking hair off, if you wanna know the truth."

Underneath the calm surface of him I could see fear spreading like a bruise. Oh, Jim — my Jim and his fucking fear-based responses. I groaned and let my head fall forward, noticing only then that somewhere along the line I'd clenched my hands into fists. Maybe that had tipped Jim off. Fuck me hard.

"Look, Jim," I said finally, raising my head. "I'm just tired. A little cranky. But not angry — I'm not angry at you, I swear."

He stared stonily at me for another second, and then he nodded, once, encouragingly, apparently waiting for me to say more. I didn't, and he frowned at me, thoughtfully chewing his lip. I fidgeted under this scrutiny, but held my tongue; I had nothing more to say; to say any more would be dangerous.

Finally, Jim sighed and said, "Blair, you know she didn't mean — "

Bang, I was on my feet before even consciously registering my decision to do so. "No," I said, stabbing at him with my index finger. "That is not what this is about. You don't know what this is about, so don't go poking around in my subconscious, okay? Freud you ain't."

Jim's face was suffused with patience. "I never said I was Freud, Sandburg, but you don't have to be Freud to guess that if you're not angry at me, then you're angry at Naomi. Hell, I was angry with Naomi for a minute there — "

I didn't want to hear this. "I'm telling you, Jim — "

"Look, it's normal!" Jim insisted, overriding me. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions, mine included. Your Mom tried to do something nice for you and it backfired — badly. She fucked up your career, Sandburg — and take it from me, you're not going to get anywhere by pretending it didn't happen."

I felt like punching a wall, or punching him. "This is not about my career! This is not about my career, or the press conference, or the dissertation," I was frantically ticking these points off on my fingers, "or any of that! This is about — " and I suddenly came to my senses and clamped my mouth shut.

Jim looked at me curiously. "This is about what?"

The word flashed in red neon before my eyes. Betrayal. "This is about nothing, okay?" I took a few faltering steps backward and raised my palms in surrender. "This is much ado about nothing, Jim — we're cool, we're on the same page, just let the rest take care of itself. Let it drop."

Jim blew out an exasperated breath, and I felt another pang of guilt. This had all been my fault; I'd lost control this afternoon, let something slip, and the wrong person had noticed. And wasn't that exactly the problem? Jim was sitting here with me at half-past-twelve in the morning, when he should have been walking his horse back to the stable and hanging up his hat for the night.

I could practically see his wheels spinning; he was trying to think of something to do, a way to help. I even had the idea that there was more than help on offer here; there was maybe comfort, if I wanted it. I had the idea that there was fine print at the bottom of this offer to become Jim's partner, caveats and bonuses that hadn't yet been discussed. And part of me wanted to read the fine print, to take everything I thought Jim might be offering...

...but I just couldn't. Jim was still staring at me, his face all concerned kindness. That made it hard. I wanted to tell him, but I just couldn't. Maybe Naomi had betrayed me, but I would never betray her — never ever.

I closed my eyes and rubbed them with my fingertips. "Go to bed, man. Get some rest. I'm fine — really." I dropped my hands and jerked my head toward my room; Jim and I had traded beds since his injury so he wouldn't have to deal with the stairs. He was sleeping on my futon, and I was sleeping in the loft. "Hit the sack."

Jim hesitated for a moment and then gave up; I actually saw him do it, saw him write off further conversation with me as a lost cause. He braced himself on his cane, and stood. "I hope you know what you're doing, Sandburg." He shook his head and began to limp slowly toward my French doors. "I never thought I'd say this to you, but you should probably talk to someone — "

"I'll meditate," I said grimly. "I'll work through it, get over it. I always do."

Jim paused to look at me and the doubt in his eyes scared me.

Well, what the fuck did he know?

When the French doors had closed, I sat down again, feeling like I'd just gone ten rounds with Ali. I was exhausted, totally burned out — and worst of all, now that I was safe and my guard was down, all that unwanted anger was clenching up in my gut again, twisting and wrenching my insides.

How could I possibly tell? How could I possibly explain? How could I say, after everything that had happened, that I wasn't angry at Naomi for disobeying my wishes, hacking my computer, sending my dissertation to a publisher, exposing Jim's abilities, or ruining my career? Because I wasn't angry about any of that — that was textbook Naomi, just par for the course. She'd done shit like that ever since I could remember; my mother was the veritable Queen of Good Intentions Gone Fucking Amuck, and I couldn't have survived her if I hadn't, in my deepest heart of hearts, known that she meant well. She'd explained herself, and I believed every word: she'd wanted to help my career, get me a publisher, the Nobel Prize, a cool three million, and the fame and fortune I undoubtedly deserved.

That was just Naomi being a mother — it was just the sort of thing she did. Okay, she'd made a mistake, but Naomi didn't do things the way conventional people did them. Naomi didn't listen with her ears; she listened with her heart.

I loved her for that.

But this — today — how could I possibly explain to anyone that I was angry at my mother for her sudden, inexplicable show of support? For once, my mother seemed to have caught the clue bus, seemed to have understood who I was and what I wanted. She'd stood there, beaming and clapping merrily, as Simon Banks had handed me a badge —

God, I wanted to believe, I really really wanted to. I wanted to believe that Naomi understood what Jim understood, that anthropology was maybe only my way of being a white-collar cop. Anthropology was the sex, drugs, and rock and roll of academia, a heady cocktail of travel, adventure, intellect and — okay — machismo. I'd been restless, I was still restless, and I'd instinctively chosen the field most likely to get me out of the library and into the great, wide, wonderful world. I'd long ago faced the fact that, even with my brains, I wouldn't have hacked it in History or Philosophy — I knew those guys, and they were great guys, smart guys, but they spent their lives with their asses glued to chairs, parsing Hobbes and Kant and Descartes. The only things they ever chased were footnotes; they only ran back and forth between their offices and the library, and maybe to the bar afterwards to down a few and make their brains stop spinning.

I would have gone fucking crazy in that situation; I would have burst out of my library cubicle and gone whooping across the Rainier lawns like a lunatic. As it was, even with the pressure valve of my observership with Major Crimes, I'd found it difficult to actually write the thesis which was supposed to be the point of the whole exercise. I'd had my research done for years, but I just couldn't sit still long enough to commit it to paper. Every word was an agony, and I remembered the endless quiet days of staring at the laptop and its blinking cursor. I'd gotten up practically every other page to throw myself onto my bed and jerk off, needing to feel my heart racing and my blood pumping, needing to know that I was still there, there and alive.

I wanted to believe that — somehow — Naomi'd figured this out, understood that I was finally leaping off the merry-go-round. I wanted to believe that she was happy for me for having figured out my karmic destiny. And a year ago maybe I would have believed it, but —

I couldn't believe it now.

She'd just stood there, beaming brightly. Not a word of protest, not a look of worry, discomfit, or unease. My mother — who called cops "pigs", who marched for CND and gun control — had actually clapped her hands as Simon Banks explained about the academy and firearms training —

She just handed me over.

And it wasn't because she understood anything. I knew that now, deep in my bones, although I wished to heaven that I didn't know it. Her happiness hadn't stemmed from understanding; no, her happiness was just the usual, an expression of relief. Someone else was going to take charge of things, take charge of me. She'd clapped appreciatively, gratefully, (selfishly, my mind whispered), because Jim and Simon had solved her problem and set her free.

Because she'd made a mess of things again, made a mess of me again, but someone else would foot the bill — again, again, again. Someone else would always step up to the plate and make things right. This time it was Jim Ellison and Major Crimes, but face it, they were just the last in a long fucking line.

Teachers, social workers, aunts, uncles, ex-boyfriends, random strangers — all the people who'd made things okay when they weren't okay. Aunt Olivia, who'd taken me in for three months when Naomi'd forgotten to ask if the spiritual cruise she'd booked for the summer ("Meditate at sea in the only floating ashram in the entire world! Surround yourself with blue sky and blue ocean and let your spirit fly!") permitted children on board. They didn't, of course, apparently feeling that children were better unseen and unheard when seafaring adults were attempting spiritual enlightenment. So many teachers had bought me school supplies out of their own pockets, so many school nurses had ponied up with vaccinations, antibiotics, flu shots —

I could still picture my Uncle Phil, the guy who taught me how to weld, realizing with barely concealed amusement that Naomi's version of "the talk" ("Sexual pleasure allows us to transcend into higher dimensions of consciousness, Blair. Through orgasm, we convert our sex energy — our vital force, our life force, our Chi — and use it to enter a state of divinity...") was woefully inadequate for a fifteen year old boy living in Wyoming in Orwell's 1984. Phil filled me in on the practical side of the story, showing me my first condom and explaining about the various dangers of sexual intercourse — which included pregnancy, venereal disease, and, to my stunned amazement, shotguns. ("Son, keep in mind when you pork a woman, her daddy may try to blow your head clean off.")

Naomi hadn't bothered with such things because Naomi Sandburg was special, Naomi Sandburg marched to the beat of her own drum, Naomi was an individual, Naomi believed in something — Chi, the life force, peace and love, karma. If my mother hadn't provided me with this or that — well, the lilies of the field toil not, neither do they spin. God will provide — and God had provided. Everything that happened was testament to my mother's greatness, to her essential rightness; I took what came, and I believed.

I'd believed everything; I believed Mom had a direct link to heaven; I believed that Mom talked to God on Jimi Hendrix's guitar.

And now? Well, now, it seemed appallingly, shattering clear that the only consistent philosophy my mother had was "pass the buck." She hadn't blinked at the badge, or Simon's mention of firearms, and she'd actually laughed at my refusal to cut my ("So sixties! You look beautiful!") hair.

My head hurt, my sinuses were clogging up, and I took a long, snuffling breath to clear them. My face was wet, and I swiped the sleeve of my shirt under my eyes, then across my nose. Yeah, well, so much for the sixties — and why the fuck was I so surprised, anyway? I'd read book after book about the sixties, and my head knew, even if my heart denied it, the difference between the myth and the reality. The communal houses had fallen apart — people forgot to buy food, forgot to pay rent, forgot to clean the toilets. God knows, I'd lived in enough shitty flophouses — and that was the sixties in a nutshell, wasn't it?

Hell, why was I so fixated on the sixties? I hadn't grown up in the sixties — I'd grown up in the seventies. Hoo-boy, hang on, historical reality check! — I wasn't the product of "peace and love", I was raised by the fucking "Me Generation."

Those were my years — I'd barely existed in the goddammed sixties. Who was I kidding? Who was Naomi kidding? My whole shitty childhood took place in the scattershot seventies, the years of the Peter Pan Complex, Eastern mysticism, health-food fads, self-help books, and est. Check, check, check, check — Naomi and me, we'd done 'em all. No idealism, just the same old "me me me" translated into a bunch of exotic languages. I'd wasted my time clinging to the hemline of my mother's peasant skirts as she'd gone to consciousness raising groups, Earth Day rallies, and searched for the zipless fuck —

You little shit, a familiar dark voice whispered to me. She never lied to you. If you've been lying to yourself, don't you dare take it out on her!

I froze, cringed — obedience to this voice was damn near automatic. This voice, unpleasant as it was, told me a lot of hard truths.

Naomi never claimed to be a saint, it said. If you made her one — if you deluded yourself into thinking that she was Grace Slick, Diana Quick, and Marianne Faithfull all rolled into one, that's your own fucking fault.

This was basically true. Naomi hadn't ever made extravagant claims about herself; she hadn't even claimed to know what she was doing, most of the time. But —

She implied it, another, new voice, muttered. I blinked, surprised — no voice in my head had ever before dared to contradict the dark voice. If she didn't say it straight out, she damn well implied that there was some sort of a consistent philosophy behind —

No, you implied it,  the dark voice insisted. You heard what you wanted to hear. "Naomi's one of the original hippies," you said, and the dark voice was mocking him now. "She lived with Timothy Leary; she and Hendrix were pretty close..."

"Stop it," I hissed, covering my ears with my hands.

"My mom, she was a protester, she was really into the counterculture, she was — "

She was a bad mother, the new voice intoned somberly.

I skittered out of my chair, heart pounding, looking for candles. Right, I needed some goddammed meditation, and pronto! Or a stiff drink.

How dare you! You ungrateful little bastard!

It's the truth, isn't it? Fuck, the new voice was had some major cajones, or maybe it was brain damaged. So maybe you're right, maybe I was lying to myself before. Pretending that her vegetarianism was an ideological commitment. So all right, let's tell the truth, now, shall we?

You sure you want to do that? the dark voice threatened. You sure that's smart, Blair?

I knew it wasn't smart; I'd found five thick candles of assorted colors on the bookshelf, and I clutched them to my chest and stumbled over to the coffee table. With shaking hands, I lined them up as the crazy voice said: Maybe it isn't smart, but maybe I've got to admit this, at least to myself. You were there today. You saw what happened.

Yeah, I saw. I saw her clapping for you, cheering you on, like she always does. She was so proud of you, Blair baby. God only knows why —

She wasn't clapping for me! the new voice yelled. She was clapping because Jim'd pulled out his American Express card and paid the check! She was clapping because she wasn't going to have to wash the dishes!

The fucking candles wouldn't light; or maybe, it was just that my hands were shaking.

You know, don't you, the dark voice added darkly, that if she knew you were thinking this, it would kill her. And maybe she does know it. Why else would you choose the one career you knew she'd disapprove of?

I went to three World Series, five NBA playoff games — the new voice retorted, — and it sucked. It sucked big time.

The candles sputtered into life, jumping and spitting with energy. I felt nearly dizzy with relief and scrambled into position on the floor beside them. I really needed to meditate, I needed to clear my head out. Now, you listen to me, all you fucking voices! You guys don't have to go home but you can't! stay! here!

I crossed my legs and took a deep cleansing breath, spreading my arms wide, embracing the universe.

Yoga was her idea,the new voice hissed. Yoga just trains you to be quiet and sit still — and like it.

I dropped my arms and started to cry as the sixties — finally — ended.

"Sandburg! Sandburg!" I raised my head and roughly wiped at my eyes; I hadn't any idea how long Jim'd been calling for me.

"What?" I called, trying to sound more irritated than distressed.

"C'mere!" Jim called back.

"You need something?" I groaned and shoved my stiff legs apart, then scrambled to my feet. "Jim?"

Jim didn't answer. I leaned over and blew the candles out, then waved my hand to disperse the rising smoke.

"Jim, do you need something?" I repeated, padding through the dark living room toward the French doors and cracking them open. I could barely make him out in the darkness. "Whattya want?"

Jim's calm voice floated to me across my dark bedroom. "I want you to stop having a nervous breakdown in the living room."

"Oh," I said, feeling sucker-punched. "Right. Sorry. Night, Jim." I quickly pulled the door shut and turned for the stairs.

"Sandburg!" Jim yelled after me, but I didn't stop or even slow down. "Sandburg, quit it! Get your ass back here!"

"Go to sleep!" I called from the fourth step. "I'm going to sleep! Goodnight, Jim!"

Jim's voice got edgy. "Don't make me come up there! I'm an injured man with a busted leg, Sandburg — you're gonna feel like shit if you make me haul my ass outta this nice warm bed."

I stopped on the eighth step and groaned; goddammit, he was right.

"You know I'm right, Sandburg!" Psychic bastard Sentinel. "You'll regret it, believe me — you hear me?" I hesitated on that eighth step, torn between flight and guilt. "All right," Jim sighed, "have it your way. I'm getting up."

"No, don't," I yelled down over the bannister. "I'm coming, I'm coming! Goddammit," I hissed as I turned and stomped down the stairs.

"I heard that!"

"I know," I muttered between clenched teeth as I circled back toward the door. Irritation felt good; irritation felt like my friend right now.

I opened my bedroom door and debated flicking on the overhead light and blinding Jim but good. Then again, I'd have to face him if I did that, and maybe darkness was my friend too. He could still see me — but I wouldn't have to see him seeing me. "What?" I demanded.

I heard a soft groan in the darkness — maybe frustration, maybe just plain ol' pain. "Hell, Sandburg..."

"What?" I asked again, more gently this time.

Jim didn't answer for a moment, and I waited. Eventually he said, "Look, I know it's not fair, but I basically rely on you to be — you know — sane." I felt my lips twitch at that. "And I suppose you have a right to be a lunatic now and then," Jim added with a sigh, "but really — I'd prefer you didn't."

"All right," I conceded guiltily. "I'm sorry. Sanity resumes, okay? Starting right now, I promise."

I heard Jim shift position. "Okay," he said finally. "Fair enough."

I nodded, knowing he could see me clearly. My eyes were finally adjusting to the dark, and now I could see Jim lying there, propped up against my blue plaid pillows.

"Just — " Jim added softly, and then he stopped and managed a shrug. "What's wrong with you, anyway? This isn't like you, Sandburg. Normally, you're the sanest person I know."

"Geez, and I thought you really knew me," I said with a grin.

"Yeah, I thought so, too," Jim replied, sounding serious.

"You know me," I assured him. "In fact, you're probably the only one who does," I added, making a face.

"Well, hey," Jim sighed. "Welcome to my boat, Sandburg — grab an oar. Seems to me that if you can get somebody to understand you even some of the time you're doing pretty well in this life, you know?"

The words were loaded, and I nodded slowly to show him that — yeah — I knew exactly what he meant.

"For the rest of it, maybe you have to forgive a little," Jim mused. "Cut the world some slack. Or else you just get an ulcer."

"That I don't need," I agreed.

"Me neither. I got enough problems already. C'mere." To my surprise, Jim raised his arm and waved me over, then patted the bed between himself and the wall. "C'mon, I won't bite you."

I hesitated, not sure what exactly he was offering. "Jim, I — "

Jim snorted and rolled his eyes. "Jesus, but you're a pain in my ass. You gonna make me get up?"

"No," I said, doubtfully.

"So c'mere already. You look like hell, Sandburg, and I wanna give you a hug, but I'm just too fuckin' lazy to get up."

I bit my lip to suppress a smile. "All right, all right..."

I moved forward and then kneed my way up the bed before collapsing next to him. Jim grinned at me, slung an arm around my shoulders, and pulled me into a tight hug.

It felt good. It felt great. He was warm and solid and comforting, and he smelled like bed — my bed. I sank against him, wrapped my arms around him, and hugged him back.

"There you go," Jim muttered into my hair; he was rubbing my back. "Feel better now, you little wuss?"

I nodded into his shoulder. I felt a lot better. "Yeah."


"You're just a big ol' softie yourself, you know," I pointed out.

"Yeah, I know," Jim murmured and squeezed my shoulder. "Just don't tell."

"Actually, I was planning on making it the centerpiece of my new book," I said, and this earned me a painful smack to the head. "Hey! Ow!"

Jim moved his hand into my hair, massaging where he'd hit me. "I guess I never thanked you for not being a money hungry megalomaniac," he conceded.

The head massage was making me sleepy, contented; I felt better than I'd felt in weeks. "Eh, who needs a Nobel Prize anyway? Fricken' thing just collects dust..."

"I'll miss your hair," Jim said quietly, surprising me yet again. "I'm sorry about that."

"I'm not. It's kind of a pain."

"Still," Jim objected, and then he fell quiet and just held me. I found my breathing moving into sync with his, felt the tension easing from my body, felt myself growing sleepy in the familiarity of my bedroom, in the unfamiliarity of Jim's arms.

"Sandburg?" Jim murmured after a while.

I jerked back from the edge of sleep. "Hm?"

"Just...I think I should tell you," he said, sounding as groggy as I felt, "for the sake of — well, full disclosure — that I'd probably make a pass at you. Except my whole fuckin' body hurts."

I exhaled a little laugh and rubbed my cheek against his shirt. "Well, hey. I'd probably make a pass at you, except I'm still feeling fragile and I might — like — cry or throw up or something embarrasing."

Jim gave me a reassuring little squeeze and then relaxed beside me. "Okay, then," he said and yawned. "Just as long as we understand each other," he added sleepily, and then he held me all night long.  

The End