by Francesca

Author's disclaimer: Not mine, all theirs, yadda yadda.

Author's notes: Warmest thanks to Miriam for betaing. Feedback requested as always.

Additional note:  God, I've been way amiss.  Sorry:  I should credit Dick Francis here, since I totally ripped off his story Reflex.   Oh, and also VC Andrews: I ripped off Flowers In the Attic, too.  Most of the backstory here (the grandmother who rejects the child; the lawyer; the concern over the wills, etc., is lifted from these guys (oh, and also an episode of Fantasy Island that I saw when I was a kid and never forgot.  Is anyone else out there haunted by old episodes of Fantasy Island? <g>)  Anyway,that stuff is theirs.  Jim and Blair are Petfly's. So I guess that the only thing that's really mine here is the first time story I've built around it.  Hope you like what I've done.

Damn phone.

I threw down my fork and glared at Sandburg, though God knew it wasn't his fault. Seems like the goddamn phone rings every time I sit down to eat nowadays.

"I'll get it," Blair immediately offered, half-rising out of his chair. I waved him back down and got up myself.

I crossed over to the phone and answered it. "Yeah?" I barked, hoping to teach whomever it was a lesson about bothering people at dinnertime.

"I'm looking for Blair Sandburg." A man's voice; polite, professional. "Blair Jacob Sandburg."

"Hang on." I went back to the table and handed my partner the cordless phone. "You," I said to him, and went back to my dinner.

Blair looked at me apologetically and put the phone to his ear. "Hello? Yes, it is." He listened quietly for a few moments, and then frowned slightly.

And then he turned the phone off, put it down on the table, and picked up his fork.

Now let me tell you, I thought for a moment that I had zoned. Because I didn't hear "goodbye", or "I'm eating, and I'll call you back." Just one second he was on the phone, and the next second he wasn't. The next second he was eating steak.

Did Mr. Congeniality just hang up on somebody?

The thought made me smile. "What was that?" I asked. "A solicitation call or something?"

Blair looked strangely blank for a moment, and then said, "Yeah," and kept eating.

Now, the kid's full of shit. I mean, I know that, and I knew it then, too — but at the time the whole thing didn't seem very important.

Plus, I was hungry.

But in hindsight, it must have been the first call.

There were a couple of them a day after that — strange calls at home, and on Sandburg's cell phone — even at the station. Calls that he answered, and instantly terminated.

He didn't say anything about them, and I didn't ask for a while — but one day at the station curiosity finally got the better of me. "Who is that, anyway?"

"It's nothing," Sandburg answered grimly.

"Doesn't sound like nothing," I ventured.

He was pacing in front of my desk. "Forget about it."

Mr. Congeniality was sounding downright pissed off, actually. Normally, that would have struck me as sort of funny — but Blair was looking genuinely odd and anxious and the whole thing was just too strange to be a joke.

"Look," I began, and he rolled his eyes and wheeled around, and started to walk out of the bullpen. I leapt out of my chair and grabbed his arm.

"Look," I began again, glaring down at him, "if you're in some kind of trouble — "

"I'm not," he said, yanking his arm away.

I ignored the interruption. "If you are — "

"If I am, Jim, I'm in a room full of cops!" Blair threw out his arms and gestured left, right, and center like a cheerleader. It was an effective display, I admit, being that the room was in fact full of cops. "I know lots of cops! Some of my best friends are cops! Some of the people who most tick me off are cops," he added, throwing me a significant look. "Okay?"

I have to give him credit — he held the angry look for twenty whole seconds before breaking up and grinning at me. I could have lasted longer, myself, but it was close to his personal best.

"Okay," I conceded, grinning back at him. "You want me to butt out, I'm out. Just wanted you to know I was on call, all right?"

Sandburg gave me a lopsided smile and touched my arm briefly. "All right," he repeated quietly. "But it's fine, Jim, it's nothing big, it's just — " He stopped, sighed and shook his head. "It's just bullshit, okay?"

I opened my mouth to tell him that dealing with bullshit was my specialty — then remembered my promise to butt out. "Okay," I said, raising my hands defensively. "Fine. Deal with your own bullshit."

And I guess that was the right thing to say, because he offered to buy me lunch.

Now I had every intention of minding my own fucking business. Except, you know, I am a cop, and besides which, I'm a Sentinel.

So I was bound to notice a guy stalking my partner.

Not that it particularly required my skills as a cop and a Sentinel to notice the man who had taken to hanging out outside our building. He was young, blond, clean-cut, and professionally dressed — and he wasn't hiding or anything, either. One morning he was just there, in front of the building, casually leaning against a non-descript black car.

And then he was eating a hot dog in front of the station.

And then he was back on Prospect that evening.

I glanced at Sandburg, who was at my side as we walked from the truck toward the glass door of our building. Blair was watching the young man with narrowed eyes — and then he set his mouth and defiantly ignored him.

"Bullshit?" I asked softly, holding the door open for him.

His head jerked toward me, his expression still wary. "Yeah," he admitted after a moment. "Total."

I nodded and didn't say anything more about it.

The next day Sandburg was teaching an early class at Rainier; after he left the loft, I waited a moment and then went to the window and watched him emerge from the building onto the street. Watched as the young man quickly got out of his car and moved to intercept him.

Blair ignored him and hurried to his Volvo, unlocked the door and threw his backpack in.

"Mr. Sandburg — " the young man began.

Blair slammed the car door shut irritably, and turned to confront him. "Look, I told you already. No. Forget it."

The blond looked upset. "I know what you said, but you just have to reconsider — "

"No, I don't," said Blair, angrily. "I just don't, okay? I don't have to reconsider shit."

"But what am I going to tell — "

"Tell them I told you to fuck off," said Blair, pulling the car door open again with a jerk.

"They won't accept that," said the man desperately, leaning over to look into the car window.

"Then that's your fucking problem, isn't it?" said Blair, pulling the door shut with a bang and starting the engine.

The man rapped on the window. "It's your only chance, you know," he said. "You'll regret it later."

This seemed to push Sandburg over the edge. "Just fuck off, will you?" he yelled, and then he put the Volvo into drive and pulled away in a quick burst of speed, sending the young man staggering backwards.

The blond watched Blair's car speed up the street, then muttered, "Dammit!" and turned back toward his own car.

Interesting, I thought, stepping away from the window.

Now I know I had promised not to interfere, but between the phone calls and the morning ambush — well, Blair might be determined to call it "bullshit" and bear it stoically, but we cops have a technical word for it: we call it harassment. And just because Blair could deal with it, didn't mean that he should have to.

And with that rationalization firmly in mind, I took the morning off and drove my truck over to Rainier.

Sure enough, there was the dark car, and the blond was smoking a cigarette over near Sandburg's Volvo, apparently stretching his legs. It was a warmish day, and his overcoat was open, revealing a dark suit and tie underneath. He looked like an FBI agent, or a young mafiosi.

But he looked scared when I grabbed him from behind and slammed him down on the hood of the car.

"Who are you and why are you following my partner?" I used my most threatening voice, and it worked a treat — the guy practically gibbered. No FBI agent or young mafioso, this.

"Polk," he sputtered. "Ed Polk. From Litman, Barnett and Polk — Polk is my father. But I'm a lawyer too." I frowned and let go of his lapel, and he scrabbled in his pocket for a card, which he extended to me with a shaking hand.

Edmund Polk. Litman, Barnett and Polk. Seattle, Washington.

"Why are you following my partner?" I asked tersely.

He straightened up, adjusted his jacket and tie nervously. "I know who you are," he said, trying to regain some of his composure. "You're James Ellison."

"Yes," I said. "Why are you following my partner?"

"Look, I just need to talk to him — can you get him to talk to me?" He was almost begging.

"What about?" I asked.

He took a deep breath, sized me up, and seemed to decide that I was a better ally than an enemy. Points for Mr. Polk. "My firm represents Rachel Sandburg. Mr. Sandburg's grandmother." He paused momentarily and then dropped his bomb. "She's dying. Bone cancer."

"Oh," I said. Grandmother — it seemed weird that Sandburg had a grandmother. Still, he must have. He wasn't hatched after all

I jerked my head in a brief expression of sympathy. "Well, I'll tell him — and I'll give him your card. All right?"

But Ed Polk still looked anxious. "No, it's more than that. She wants to see him. It's her last wish," he added, putting on a sanctimonious expression. "She wants to see him — and so my grandfather sent me down here to get him. I think he figured that I'm closer to Mr. Sandburg's age — that we might get along or something." He made a face, and I smirked: it was clear from their morning encounter that he and Sandburg, regardless of age, had not found each other simpatico. Which didn't surprise me at all — this clean-cut kid in his expensive suit was about as different from my partner as one thirty-year-old man could be from another. "I need him to come back with me to Seattle," Polk explained. "I can't go back without him, see?"

I nodded slowly. "Well, I'll tell him."

"You have to convince him," Polk pleaded, taking a step closer. I shot him a dirty look and he stepped back again and swallowed. "Mr. Ellison, you just have to. Tell him its her dying wish. Tell him to be reasonable. Tell him she's rich — she is, you know."

I raised my eyebrows at this, which he took as a sign to continue. "She's very rich — and if he plays his cards right, he could be the heir," Polk said eagerly. "It could be millions — even after taxes and our cut. And all he has to do is see her. Day trip to Seattle." He stepped closer again, took the card from my fingertips, and scribbled a number on the back with an expensive looking pen he pulled from his shirt pocket. "That's my hotel number. Please talk to him — please tell him to call me."

"I'll tell him," I repeated, and Polk nodded and relaxed slightly. "But I think you should go now — before he gets here."

Polk hesitated, then nodded quickly. "Okay. Okay, fine. But please — " I narrowed my eyes, and he stopped. "All right," he said. "I'm going."

I watched him as he walked to his car, got in, and pulled away. Then I went into Hargrove Hall to find Sandburg.

He was still in class, so I went to wait in the familiar disarray of his office. Papers and artifacts covered every surface — the place always looked to me like the Natural History museum minutes after a terrorist attack. Still, I've always found it a strangely comforting place — it was the first place where anyone had ever made sense to me. In a way, it was home; in a way, I felt like I had been born there. Born in Sandburg's office, among the clutter and the papers — born to the sound of Sandburg's jungle music.

I noticed that he had left his stereo on, and I went over and switched the power off.

After a while I heard his familiar step in the hallway and turned toward the door expectantly.

He opened the door and there was a split-second before he recognized me when he tensed, when his heart rate shot up.

He hadn't been expecting me.

I greeted him. "Don't you ever clean this place?"

He'd been expecting Polk, and his relief at seeing me was palpable. "Jim!" he said, blinking and shutting the door behind him — and then locking it as an afterthought. "What are you doing here? Why aren't you at work?" He dropped the books and papers he was carrying onto his desk, where they seemed to magically disappear into the general chaos.

"I met Mr. Polk," I said. Sandburg froze for a second, then sighed and wearily dropped into his desk chair. I perched on the side of the desk and looked hard at him; his face was tight with — with something that looked very much like pain.

"Oh, you mean my buddy Ed?" Blair said, forcing a smile.

"Yeah," I said softly. "Your old buddy Ed."

Blair studied his fingernails. "Did he tell you?"

"He gave me the gist, yeah," I replied.

Blair nodded, then looked up at me suddenly with hard eyes. "So?" he asked, and there was a challenge in his voice.

"So what's wrong with this woman?" I asked.

"Cancer, I guess," Blair said quietly, looking away.

"No, I mean what's wrong with her?" I clarified.

"Don't you mean, what's wrong with me?" Blair asked bitterly.

"There's nothing wrong with you," I said firmly, and Blair's face changed — he looked suddenly, pathetically, grateful. And then suddenly he was out of his chair, and hugging me — Blair is a hugger, which I've had to get used to. "Why don't you tell me what's going on," I murmured quietly, and he sighed, and pulled away from me, and began to pace.

"God, I don't know what the fuck to do," he moaned, threading his fingers through his hair nervously. "She wants me to go up there — "

"Your grandmother," I clarified.

"My grandmother," Sandburg confirmed. "She's Naomi's mother, and she's dying, and — goddammit, I'd go if Naomi really wanted me to, but of course she's done one of her famous disappearing acts, and I can't reach her!"

I was surprised at the sudden vehemence in his voice — surprised and not a little discomfited. Because, well — because I had never really thought about Sandburg's life before me. Sandburg had always presented himself as a man without attachments, without baggage, without history. He had seemed to me a free-floating independent agent, and I had pulled him into my life and my house and my job, and he was the first person to have ever made sense to me. I guess I've always had something of a "finders, keepers" view of Sandburg — god, I know that sounds patronizing, like he was some sort of weird pet that I found and adopted — but god, that was honestly how I felt. And suddenly, now, there were attachments, and baggage, and history — suddenly now there was evidence that Sandburg had had a life before me — and I hated it with a hatred that was both irrational and profound.

" — I can't reach her," Blair was saying angrily, "and so I'm stuck with this and I don't know what she wants me to do. I mean, I can't read minds, now can I? And I'll tell you, man, I just don't need the abuse, okay?" Blair wrapped his arms around himself protectively. "Honest to god, I don't need it, thanks. And I can't imagine that she's suddenly made a 180 degree turn about me, suddenly, out of nowhere — I mean, I think that I should be spared that final, deathbed kick in the ass, don't you?"

I frowned; it was too much, too fast. "Your grandmother doesn't like you?"

Blair laughed hollowly. "Not like me? Man, she fuckin' hates me, she's always hated me. I mean, I tried, you know? — Naomi dragged me up there once or twice when I was a kid, and I did try. Best behavior and all that. It never mattered before — why would it matter now?"

This was almost incomprehensible: how could anyone hate Blair Sandburg? I'd seen pros try to hate Blair Sandburg — try hard and fail miserably. He was just so fucking likable. "But why?" I asked confusedly.

"Why?!" Blair yelled, and I leaned away from him; honest to god, I'd never seen him so angry before, though I knew he wasn't angry at me. "Why?!" he sputtered. "Because I'm — Because Naomi — Because I'm a bastard, that's why."

I squeezed my eyes shut against that simple truth.

I heard him stop and suck in a breath. "I'm a bastard and I'm short and I'm sort of dark — the Sandburgs are all pale and willowy, like Naomi. I don't look like anybody else."

That much I believed; I couldn't picture anyone else looking like Blair. I opened my eyes and checked my mental picture of Blair against the real thing.

At the moment, the real thing was angrier. "It must have been a constant slap in the face to her, a constant reminder of something she wanted to forget. She would never look at me, or call me by name — I was always 'the boy'." The memory distorted his features. 'Where's the boy?' 'Take the boy into the kitchen and give him something to eat.'"

He was shaking, now, and he tightened his grip on himself. "But I guess I'm the only one left, now — my cousin Joshua died in a DWI four years ago. He was the favorite, but now he's dead, and so I suppose she's had to rethink her position about me. Better a bastard grandson by the bedside than none at all, I guess," he added bitterly.

"Jesus, Sandburg," I muttered.

"Yeah, well," Blair said, dropping back into his desk chair. We sat there for a minute or two in silent thought.

"She doesn't sound much like Naomi," I offered finally, and that made Blair laugh, really laugh.

"No," he said, grinning at me. "No, she isn't. Nothing like." His face softened as he thought about his mother, and suddenly I felt like I understood that relationship better too: a mother-son bond formed in adversity; mother and son contra mundem. "But maybe that's the way to approach this whole mess," Blair reflected slowly. "I mean, whatever else, she did give me Naomi — I suppose I can dredge up some gratitude for that if nothing else."

"You don't have to go," I said firmly.

"I don't want to go," Blair confessed, looking up at me guiltily. "God help me, Jim, I don't. But I should, shouldn't I?"

"You don't have to," I repeated, and dammit, some part of me didn't want him to go. Some part of me thought he was mine, and didn't want to admit that anyone else had a claim on him.

"No, but I should," Blair said dully. "Old Ed was right — this is a one shot thing. If I don't go — well, then I have to live with that. That I didn't."

"It's a two-way street, Blair," I objected.

He nodded agreement. "Yeah, but then all the more reason for me to keep my side of the street open. Then my hands are clean, you know? If she — " he hesitated for moment and then forced himself to continue, " — if she's not nice to me, well, then that's her problem, right? She can't say that she was dying and no one showed up."

"Would serve her right," I muttered.

"Maybe. But I guess that's not my call to make." Again his hands moved nervously to tug at his hair — if he kept on like this, he was going to rip it all out. "I mean, god, I never thought I could be this petty — I'd treat some stranger on the street better than this. That can't be a good sign, can it?" He shook his head no, answering his own question. "I've got to be better than she is, or there isn't any fucking point. Or I prove that she was right about me all along."

I saw the strain on his face, and felt sudden rage at the situation — no one should be asked to justify their lives like this. It was just so dammed unfair. You just couldn't live with that sort of pressure — prove you're not a bastard, prove you're not a freak. And the fact that Sandburg, of all people, had been put into this position — fucking Sandburg, goddammmit! I felt my hands curling into fists, I wanted to hit someone, I wanted to punch the wall.

And maybe it was just because we were in Sandburg's office — ground zero, the center of the universe, the place where Sandburg had first thrown me a lifeline, had cut me the first goddamn break I had ever gotten in my whole goddamned life — but I suddenly felt that I had to do something, that I had to pull him up out of the water.

So I got up off the desk and grabbed him by the arms and yanked him out of his chair. He stared at me with wide blue eyes for a moment, and then I crushed him against my chest.

Blair is a hugger, and I've gotten used to it.

It took a moment, but then I felt his arms come up around my back. And I tightened my arms, and held him close — closer than I've ever held him in my life, almost lifting him off the floor. He gave me back as good as he was getting, because for a short guy he has remarkably muscular arms. And he clutched me so tightly that for a weird moment we were sharing a single center of gravity, like we were one person, and my balance was his balance, his balance was my balance. And we were still and perfectly balanced in the moment, in his office, at the center of the universe.

But this wasn't about balance, somehow, and so I let my head fall forward onto his shoulder and I found his ear in the mass of dark curls.

And kissed it.

And he twitched, and his heartbeat suddenly spiked through the roof, and he flailed and lost his balance, so I grabbed him and held him up, which is what I wanted in the first place.

My mouth was still on his ear, and I whispered roughly, "I love you, Sandburg."

And his heart started doing the mambo, his heart was Tito Puente at the climax of a really good gig. And he squeezed me tighter, and buried his face in my chest, and murmured, "Oh god, Jim — I love you too, man. So much."

I can't explain it, but that irritated me. Sandburg always seemed to find it easy to say things like "I love you too, man", whereas for me — god, it was like swallowing broken glass.

It wasn't enough, somehow: I needed him to understand that this wasn't merely about me managing to communicate on his hippy-dippy-trippy level. This wasn't the new, more sensitive me, this wasn't some fucking New Age bonding ritual.

I needed him to understand that I would swallow broken glass for him.

And so I shoved him away from me, shoved him back toward his chair, and I could see confusion flicker across his face. I took an aggressive step into his personal space, intentionally throwing him off-balance again; he raised his hands, stumbled, and sat down hard in his chair.

I dropped to my knees in front of him. His eyes widened and his mouth opened in shock — and then I dragged my eyes away from his face and gripped his thighs with my palms, pulled his legs apart and positioned myself between them.

My hands were on the waistband of his jeans when I heard his stifled gasp — "Jim!" — but I couldn't look up, I couldn't look at him. I took a deep breath and focused on undoing the button, on pulling his zipper down.

He was already half-hard. I took him in my hand and began to tease him to full hardness, leaning forward to kiss the softer flesh of his abdomen. His heart was pounding in my ears, and he was breathing like a fucking freight train — I had to dial down or cover my ears, it was that loud.

"Jiiiim," and now my name was a ragged moan, ripped from his throat. Better: not so goddamned facile. And he was hard and hot in my hand, and he was beautiful, as I knew he would be, and I moved my head slightly and caressed his erection with my cheek.

"I love you, Sandburg," I repeated quietly, and he whimpered and gasped, merely, "Yes," and I thought, Right, he's got it now. Houston, we have contact.

I gripped the base of his cock in my hand and began to blow him, teasing the head of his dick with my mouth and tongue. The moans above me grew louder and louder — god, he was a screamer — and so I reached up blindly with my free hand and covered his mouth. And I could feel him breathing heavily into my palm, feel the warmth of his breath, the softness of his lips, against my skin. I could hear the muffled sounds of his pleasure coming faster and faster until they coalesced into a single, constant wail and then he jerked and came, howling into my hand, spurting into my mouth. I swallowed and swallowed and then sucked him gently as he softened; I let my hand fall away from his mouth so that he could breathe.

I heard him inhaling violently above me, heard him trying to bring his breathing back under control. And then his hand was on my head, stroking my hair gently, and I pulled back and let his cock slip out of my mouth, dropping an 'au revoir' kiss on the tip before daring to look up at him.

And there was new knowledge in the beautiful blue eyes. He caressed my hair, and he caressed my face, and I let him do it; I closed my eyes while he touched me and thought about lifelines and broken glass and how much I loved his office.

"Will you come with me to Seattle?" he asked, finally.

I opened my eyes. "I'd go with you to hell," I answered.

Edmund Polk nearly did a jig of joy when Sandburg approached him on Prospect Street that evening and told him that he had reconsidered, that he would in fact go to Seattle. Polk's joy was dimmed only slightly by the fact that Sandburg was going to drive with me, and not with him — as if we might just cut and run, head for the hills.

Not that that was a terrible idea, mind you.

But Sandburg had made up his mind now, and he was grimly determined to see the thing through.

He slept upstairs with me that night, and he slept poorly — I finally had to straightjacket him in my arms around two a.m. to get him to keep the fuck still, and thus restrained, he finally drifted off.

Nonetheless, he woke in something resembling wide-eyed panic.

I held him and kissed his face and tried to reassure him, whereupon he apologized sincerely and profusely for being such a shitty lover during these, the first twenty-four hours of our relationship. I waved that away, explaining that I was sure he'd make it up to me — which I was sure he would. He nodded, and then heaved himself out of bed and went downstairs to shower and dress.

I have to say, he certainly made the effort. He emerged from his bedroom looking neat: hair pulled back, earrings removed, jacket and tie — he looked terrific, except for the strained, unhappy expression on his face, which ruined the whole thing, as far as I was concerned. He cocked an eyebrow at me and sighed, and wordlessly we left the loft.

We didn't talk much during the drive — Blair stared out the passenger side window, and occasionally I reached out and rubbed his leg with my open palm. It was a strange reversal of our usual dynamic — I felt like he was the one in danger of zoning.

We drove through some beautiful countryside, but somehow I was certain that Blair wasn't seeing any of it.

His leg was twitching nervously by the time we approached the outer suburbs of Seattle. The directions Polk had given us were clear, and we soon were turning into the large complex where Rachel Sandburg currently lived. While it was in fact a hospital/home for the elderly, the building was designed to look more like a posh hotel; I pulled the truck into a parking slot and turned the engine off.

Blair was staring out the front window at the ornate building. "Fancy," he murmured, not looking at me.

"Yeah," I responded. I waited a moment, but he didn't seem inclined to move, and so I nudged him gently. "Best get it over with, don't you think?"

He looked over at me, and he suddenly looked very young. "Right," he murmured distractedly. "Get it over with."

But still he didn't move. "Which will involve our getting out of the truck," I observed pointedly.

"Right. Out of the truck." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Out of the truck, okay," he repeated, finally reaching for the door handle.

It was a surprisingly clear and sunny day as we walked up the manicured path to the large double doors at the front. We pushed through and approached the carved mahogany reception desk. A woman looked up at us and smiled.

"Blair Sandburg to see Rachel Sandburg," Blair muttered, fidgeting nervously.

"Ah yes," the woman said pleasantly. "She's expecting you — she's in Suite E. I'll show you the way." She rang a small bell on her desk and a man appeared through a door on the other side of the lobby, presumably to cover the desk while she was away.

"Follow me," the woman said, and we did.

There was no sense of sickness or old age in that building; the walls were painted a warm mauve color, and the long hallways were lushly carpeted. Each room — suite? — seemed to have a little reception area outside: a few wingback chairs clustered around a dark wood coffee table, upon which was a vase of flowers and a neat stack of newspapers and magazines.

Mrs. Sandburg's suite was at the very end of a long corridor; her reception area was in front of a floor to ceiling window which overlooked a flower garden. God almighty.

Sandburg looked about ready to jump out of his skin. The woman smiled at him and said, "I'll just tell Mrs. Sandburg that you're here." She gently knocked on a huge wood door that bore a small brass plaque marked "Suite E" and then slipped inside — Sandburg waited until the door had shut behind her and then whirled on me.

"Look," he said tightly, "just wait here, read a newspaper or something, and for god's sake don't listen, okay? I don't want you to — I don't want you to listen."

"Okay," I said quietly. "I won't listen, I swear."

Sandburg crossed his arms and bounced up and down nervously. "Okay. Okay. You swear, right?"

"I swear," I said, raising my hand and crossing my heart.

I'd half-meant the gesture as a joke, but he seemed to take it seriously, and it seemed to calm him somewhat. He chewed his lip and looked at me guiltily. "I'm sorry."

I shook my head. "Don't be sorry."

"It's not that — it's just that I don't want you to hear — I mean, I don't know what she might say and — " He stopped and rubbed his face with his hands. "I just don't want you to think that — god, what am I trying to say here?" he muttered.

I thought I knew, and I tried to tell him so. "Blair," I said quietly, "I didn't want you around when I went to talk to my father, either."

His head jerked up, and he stared at me in surprise. "Right. Yeah. You get it, don't you." It was a statement, not a question.

"I get it," I confirmed quietly, and I did. It was hard enough to be rejected by your family; it was excruciating to be rejected by your family in front of people you cared about.

And then the door opened and we both looked over expectantly. The woman held the door open for Blair and said, "Mrs. Sandburg will see you now," and Blair nodded and shot me a quick, desperate look. I raised crossed fingers at him and he smiled and walked into the suite. The woman pulled the heavy door shut behind him and then turned to me. "Can I get you a cup of coffee or something?"

"That would be great, thanks," I said, making myself comfortable in a white wingback chair and reaching for a copy of the L.A. Times. She nodded and disappeared down the hallway, only to return a few minutes bearing a tray with a small china coffeepot, a cup and saucer. and a jug of cream. She set it down on the coffeetable in front of me and I thanked her.

I sipped my coffee — which was excellent, this being Seattle and all — and read the paper, stopping occasionally to look out the window at the flowers. I kept my promise to Blair, and kept my hearing dialed down — but after a while there was a commotion behind me, and I didn't have to be a Sentinel to hear it.

The wooden door was suddenly open, and I could see my partner's strong hand gripping the jamb. "That is so not true!" he was yelling, and I winced. Clearly it wasn't going well.

And then I heard Mrs. Sandburg's voice — it was strong and carried easily into the reception area. "Of course it's true — why else would you come?"

Mrs. Sandburg didn't sound to my ears like she was going to be dying any time soon. Though those things can be deceptive.

"I came because they said you were dying!"

"I am dying," Rachel Sandburg retorted, " — but that doesn't mean I'm a fool."

"You are a fool," Blair shot back at her. "Because there are other ways to live on, you know? It's not just genetics. There's how people think of you. And you just don't even want to know what I think of you. You really just don't."

"That's a lovely speech," Mrs. Sandburg said snidely.

"If I took anything from you, I'd hurl." Apparently, that was Blair's exit line, because he came blazing out the door and began striding angrily down the hallway toward the lobby.

I got up out of my chair and hurried after him. Behind me, I could hear Mrs. Sandburg calling, "Young man, where do you think you're going — ?" and Blair raised a hand and circled it around in the air.

Not that Mrs. Sandburg could appreciate the subtlety of the gesture.

The woman who had brought me coffee looked up from her post at the reception desk and said, "I hope you had a pleasant — " but that was all I heard, because Sandburg was pushing out the front door and I was right behind him.

He was making good speed back toward the truck and I followed him easily, being that I only had to take one step for every two of his.

He climbed into the passenger side and slammed the door behind him. More calmly, I positioned myself behind the wheel. "Let's get the fuck out of here," Blair spat, and I nodded, started the engine, and began to back out of the lot.

His arms were crossed angrily and his jaw was twitching; I turned the truck toward home and waited for him to tell me whatever he wanted to tell me. Finally, he exhaled irritably and said, "Well, that was fucking pointless."

"Not entirely," I suggested mildly, and he shot me a look. I raised my eyebrow and explained. "Well, you've gone from being 'boy' to being 'young man' — that's progress of a sort, isn't it?"

He burst out laughing, and some of the tension drained out of his body. "Man, when did you become such an optimist?"

"I've always been a optimist, Chief."

He snorted at me. "Yeah, right."

"Tell me what happened."

He groaned. "What happened is that we managed detente for about ten minutes or so. I asked her how she was, she told me, I made polite, sympathetic noises. She asked me how Naomi was, I told her, she made polite, sympathetic noises. And then she said — and get this, this is great — that she knew perfectly well that I only came to see her because I wanted her money." He laughed once, harshly, and then stared angrily out the window. "As if. As fucking if! And so I told her — "

" — that to take her money would make you hurl." I smiled reflexively. "I heard that part."

"Yeah, well, I just might, you know? I just might.

"Nice parting shot, though," I commented.

"Thanks, man." He sighed and then added, "You know, I hope she does leave me the money. Just so that I can give it all away. Give it to a charity for dogs and cats. Or to the Democrats. Or to buy clean needles for heroin addicts." He grinned widely. "Something that would really piss her off."

"How about an anthro scholarship at Rainier?" I suggested.

"Nah — too legit. Maybe I'll offer cash grants to pre-operative transsexuals."

"You could open a tattoo parlor."

"Yeah. Or an S & M club. 'The Rachel Sandburg Whip Emporium.'"

I had to pull off the road, I was laughing so hard. Blair was holding his stomach and snorting with laugher in the seat beside me — and then he snuffled a bit, and then suddenly he was crying uncontrollably, and I pulled him into my armpit, and reflected that if he got snot all over my leather jacket, well hell, I could always get it dry-cleaned.

I took him home and tried to get him to eat something. He claimed he wasn't hungry — and then he grabbed me, kissed me hard, and dragged me upstairs to the bedroom by my arm.

Now I should tell you that I fully intended that he should fuck me first, both in the interest of equality and because I really, actually, wanted him to fuck me first. I tried to explain that to him as I watched him pulling off his clothes — though I expect it maybe came out a bit muddled, because I completely lost my power of speech somewhere between the underwear and the socks.

Anyway, whether or not he understood me, he chose to disregard me. He pillowed his head on his arms and raised his ass up in the air and fucking offered it to me — and well, it would have taken a man with much stronger willpower than mine to refuse.

God, he was gorgeous; his ass was round and smooth and totally inviting, and I was panting and trembling with the wanting of it. I caressed his ass with eager hands, and french-kissed his hole long and slow, and then fucked him hard — and let me tell you, we are going to have to do something about this screaming thing of his, or else we are just going to have to move somewhere where we don't have neighbors.

Four months later, Blair got a thick envelope from Litman, Barnett and Polk. I took it out of our mailbox, and weighed it in my hand.

I knew what it meant.

Blair was sitting on the sofa grading papers when I came into the loft; he looked up at me over his glasses, and frowned.

"What?" he asked immediately.

I went over to him and handed him the letter. "Oh shit," he muttered, and I nodded and went to the kitchen, both to get myself a beer and to give him some space.

I shut the fridge and glanced over at him; he still hadn't opened the letter.

"You okay?"

"Yeah," Blair said grimly. "I'm just thinking that — hell, I fucked that up, didn't I?"

"You did your best," I said quietly.

"Best," Blair echoed. "Maybe." He took a deep breath and then ripped into the letter, extracted a wad of papers. And then he pulled one out of the pile and read it — and reread it — and then let out a sort of groaning laugh.

He looked up at me and held up the single sheet of pink paper; I had no trouble reading the ornate script from across the room.

One sentence.

If my money makes you hurl, young man, then hurl away.

He didn't hurl, though, and he didn't even hurl it all away. When push came to shove Sandburg was no fool; grad students with indefensible dissertations couldn't afford to be. So he paid off his credit cards, and his student loans, and his outstanding medical bills, and then spent a month happily buying insurance — health insurance, car insurance, every damn kind of insurance he could think of; he insured himself six ways till Sunday.

And then he made a huge anonymous donation to the Greater Cascade Home for Unwed Mothers.

He stuck the remaining cash into investments, and graciously consented to keep living with me in the meager style to which we've become accustomed.

Because it was his life, and mine; it was ours, and we were used to it.

The End