Blair didn't get home until after eleven. Jim heard a car stop out front, then
drive away; heard the outside door open and close; heard footsteps on the stairs,
approaching the door. He shut the television off, leaving the living room in
darkness. A key turned in the lock, and Blair tiptoed in. Jim studied his partner
from the shadows. Streaked with auburn and gold by the lamplight, the wild tumble
of brown curls brushed Blair's shoulders, falling forward to screen his face
until he remembered to shove it back. The kid was too thin. The cleft in his
chin was more pronounced, his angular jaw so sharp it looked as though it would
cut through the flesh. His full lips were dark against pale skin, and there
were circles under the wide blue eyes. Normally, those eyes were clear and open;
now they were shadowed, the color darkened.
Jim stood up, and Blair started violently. He went white in fear of a memory, then red
when memory gave way to reason. There was a tremor in his voice.
"Jim. What are you doing up?"
"Waiting for you."
"In the dark?"
"I had the TV on."
Blair hung up his jacket, turned to find Jim near, and backed up a step. Jim shook his
head. He was handling this all wrong. The last thing he wanted was to frighten Blair. He
made sure his voice was quiet, but he couldn't keep it as flat as he wanted.
"Sandburg, where have you been?"
Blair wouldn't look at him. One hand slid back and forth over the strap of his
backpack. "At the U."
"I called there two hours ago. There was no answer."
"I wasn't in my office two hours ago. I was talking to Keith Parks. He subbed for
me while I was--while I was gone." Blair looked up then, a spark of defiance in his
eyes. "What is this, Jim? Are you checking up on me now?"
"No. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You left kind of suddenly this
Blair's gaze dropped again. "I had a lot of work to do. I told you that."
"I know what you told me, Sandburg."
The clear blue eyes met his, anger in their depths. "You don't believe me. You
think I'm a liar, now? You don't trust me anymore, is that it?"
Where did that come from? Jim started to reach out, saw Sandburg tense, and
turned the gesture into spreading his hands. "Sandburg, I trust you. You're my
partner. But I'm not blind. You were upset about something when you left this morning.
Folding his arms, Jim fixed his eyes on the younger man. He didn't say another word; he
didn't have to.
"I had a flashback," Blair admitted. "It was no big deal, I just--had to
get out. So I went to the U. I had to go there anyway."
"The last bus leaves the campus at 9:30. How'd you get home?"
"Keith gave me a ride!" The anger was back. "Dammit, Jim, since when do
you get to interrogate me?"
"Since a month ago."
The minute he said it, he knew he shouldn't have. Fear drained all the anger from Blair's eyes. His voice was almost a whisper.
"Ponytail's gone, Jim. He's gone. He's not coming back. That's what you told me.
Ponytail? Well, it fit. Jim nodded. "He's gone, Partner. We won't see him
"Then why are you--why are you doing this?" Blair's heart was slamming in his
chest. "Is someone else after me?"
Jim's first impulse was to put his hand on the narrow shoulder, to reassure Blair
without words. But he couldn't do that anymore. If he touched him, Blair would bolt. He
folded his arms more tightly, and kept his distance.
"No, Sandburg. No one's after you."
"Then why? You must have a reason." Eyes wide and blue as a newborn pup's
rose to his. "Tell me, Jim."
Aw, hell. "I was worried, that's all."
"That's all?" Blair's heartbeat was slowing, returning to normal.
"There's no other reason?"
Blair gave a half-laugh, shaking his head. "You were worried." He shook his
head again, and smiled. "Thanks, Jim."
Blair shouldered his pack and disappeared into his room. Jim stared after him. He didn't get it. A minute ago, Blair had been ripping into him for asking questions, and now he was grateful? Sometimes, he thought he was never going to understand how his partner's mind worked. It didn't follow any logical pattern. What had Blair said once? "I go back and forth with things when the Muse strikes." That statement certainly seemed to fit his reasoning. He'd never seen anyone jump between seemingly unrelated subjects as quickly as Blair did, and then incorporate them all into a single unique solution. But right now, that didn't matter. The kid had survived his first day back. He was home, safe, and peace was restored. That was all that mattered.
Jim rapped on the bathroom door. "Let's go, Sandburg. Breakfast's on."
He went back to the kitchen, shoveled a stack of pancakes out of the frying pan and
onto a plate, and set the plate at Sandburg's place. Blair emerged from the bathroom,
shuffling down the hall in socks and Jim's old Cascade PD sweatshirt. He'd pushed the
sleeves up so they wouldn't cover his hands, but the sweatshirt was so long on him that it
fell halfway to his knees. Jim hoped there were boxers under there somewhere, but he
wasn't about to ask. A huge yawn split Blair's face. He raised a hand to cover it, and
ended up with sleeve instead of fingers. Jim hid his grin behind his coffee mug. He
gestured at the sweatshirt with the spatula.
"Where'd you get that?"
"The laundry," Blair replied.
"The dirty laundry."
"Come on, Jim, it's not like you were mud-wrestling in it." Alarm crossed his
face. "You don't mind, do you? It's a little cold this morning, and--well, it was
"No, Sandburg, I don't mind. But if you're cold, why don't you put some pants
"Huh?" Blair looked down at his bare legs. "Oh. Right. Be right
Blair vanished into his room, and reappeared moments later wearing his jeans. And the
sweatshirt. Yawning, he slipped into his chair, his eyes going wide at the sight of
breakfast. "Pancakes! Great!"
Show time. Blair forked the pancakes one at a time and laid them out around his plate,
making sure that no edge overlapped any other. Next, he carefully spread strawberry jam
over each one, coating the entire surface. Finally, he grabbed the maple syrup and poured
a thin stream on top of the jam, back and forth, around and around, creating an intricate
pattern. Jim shook his head. Blair did it the same way every time. Lately, Jim made
pancakes just to see the performance. He couldn't understand how Blair could actually eat
"Got enough sugar, there, Partner?"
Blair just waggled his eyebrows, and shoved a forkful of jam and maple pancake into his
mouth. Jim looked away, switching his concentration to his own breakfast. Blair ate
quickly, alternating sips of orange juice and coffee. At least he didn't mix them
together. He'd threatened to, once. He finished the pancakes, and poured himself another
cup of coffee, yawning again.
"You gonna be able to stay awake today, Sandburg?"
"Yeah." Blair yawned once more. "I was up late last night, reading
Keith's notes. I've gotta teach a class today, and I have to know what they've been
"Does this mean you're not coming with me today?"
Blair studied his mug. "I can't, Jim. Class goes from 9 to 11, then I've gotta try
to get caught up."
Jim nodded, accepting the excuse. "Did you get your office cleaned up?"
Blair laughed a little. "I didn't have to. Someone did it for me." He fixed
Jim with a direct eye and a raised eyebrow. "You wouldn't know anything about that,
"Me?" Jim shook his head. "Sorry, Sherlock, wrong suspect."
"I wish I knew who it was. I'd like to thank them. You should've seen the place,
Jim, I totally trashed it. Whoever cleaned it up restored all the artifacts, put them back
on the shelves, and straightened out all the paperwork. It's never been so neat
in there." The eye was back. "It really wasn't you?"
"Sandburg, I don't know squat about restoring artifacts."
Fortunately, there were plenty on campus who did. When Jim had asked for volunteers,
he'd been surprised and gratified by the response. Blair had no idea how well-liked he was
at the university. Of course, most of the volunteers had been female. Blair was always
more popular with women than with men, a fact that Jim was sure didn't bother Sandburg at
"Well, it sure saved me a lot of time," Blair said. "I would've been
months putting that stuff back together. The truth is, I was kind of afraid to go in there
yesterday. When I saw it--" A smile lit his face. "Man, I was
Jim smiled, and said nothing. That was just the effect he'd wanted to create.
They drank their coffee in companionable silence. Now and again, Jim glanced at Blair's
face, to get an idea of what was going through his partner's head. Things seemed okay,
until some thought jolted Blair, and his expression abruptly changed. Any trace of a smile
vanished. He stared at the table, running his thumb up and down the handle of his mug.
"Jim, is it okay?" he blurted. "I mean, me not going in with you today?
You don't need me for anything, do you?"
He had to be careful with this one. He was no psychologist, but he knew there was more
to Blair's questions than what was on the surface. "Partner, I always need you. But
if you have other work today, I guess I can get by without you. I can call if I have
Blair let out his breath. "Okay. Thanks, Jim."
Jim concealed his own relief. He'd gotten past that one. Now for the big one.
"Don't forget your appointment with the counselor tonight."
Panic flashed through Blair's eyes. The thumb on the handle moved faster. "Jim,
I've been thinking about that. I don't see how I can go."
Calmly. Calmly, dammit. "Why not?"
"Well, she's going to want me to tell her what happened. I can't do that. If I
tell her about the shapeshifting, she'll think I'm nuts and have me locked up."
"No, she won't. Dr. Hawthorne knows all about it."
"But I can't tell her about the Sentinel stuff."
"She knows that, too."
Blair's eyes went wide. "You told her?"
Jim nodded. "You're right, Sandburg, she had to know or she would think
you were nuts. So I told her."
"And she believed you?"
"Simon backed me up. I had to give her a little demonstration, to convince her,
but she believed me." Eventually. "Don't worry, Sandburg: Dr. Hawthorne's the
best. She's worked with the Department for years." Jim looked directly into Blair's
eyes. "I want you to promise me that you'll show up tonight."
A small voice. "I will."
"That doesn't sound like a promise, Sandburg."
"Okay, I promise, I swear, on my honor as an anthropologist!" Blair snapped.
"Is that enough, or do you want blood, too?"
"That should do it," Jim said quietly. He was not going to let the kid
provoke him. Not about this. "Besides, at the moment, your blood's about
three-quarters maple syrup. You can't swear an oath on maple syrup."
"You can in Vermont," Blair quipped.
Jim didn't even bother to reply.