This story was first published in the zine Crossroads in August 2000. Many, many thanks to Kath, Nita, and everyone else who worked on it pre-zine, and to Seah and all the folks associated with Crossroads itself for their hard work on both story and zine.
written August 2000, posted to the web on August 13, 2001
Perfect. Just perfect.
Blair was going to be back any second -- there he was now, starting down the hallway to the office. Frantically, dirt crumbling beneath his fingers, Jim shoved roots and dirt all the way back into the pot, straightening out the stalks and patting the dirt's surface more or less flat. He was not admitting to this, not after telling Blair earlier that he'd never dropped anything during a move in his life. He'd never hear the end of it.
He checked for footsteps again: halfway down the hallway. He had about fifteen seconds.
One glance at the dirt still on the floor was enough to convince him he'd never get it cleaned up before Blair got back. Grimacing, he did the only thing he could -- kicked it under the desk. A quick wipe of his hands on the rag shoved into his back pocket left them looking no dirtier than would be expected after an afternoon of moving dusty, grimy boxes and books and god knows what else.
By the time Blair walked in the door a few seconds later, the plant was sitting innocently on the edge of the desk, and Jim had his arms full of the last box of books. "Hey, Chief. Looks like we're about done here."
"Yeah," Blair agreed. He ran one finger along a scarred filing cabinet. "Kinda hard to believe. I've gotten so used to this place...."
Jim hitched the box up more securely, and tilted his head toward the plant. "C'mon, just one more trip. You grab that."
"Right." Blair took a deep breath and picked up the plant, turning and walking out the door without a backward glance, Jim a step behind him.
A couple of hours later, Jim emptied the last of the books onto a shelf and tossed the box into the corner with the others. "We done here, Chief?" He stretched, then glanced over at Blair.
"Yeah, I think so. I can take care of the rest later."
"Finally," Jim muttered.
Blair ignored him. "I can't get over the windows. I mean, I have a view. Too weird."
"Should suit you, then," Jim said.
Blair turned away from the window to make a face at him. "And the windows are a good thing," Jim added. "You're less likely to develop a vitamin D deficiency here."
"No, really, your color's better already. Those windows are really making a difference."
"You slay me, man, you really do."
Jim grinned. "C'mon, you can admire everything more on Monday. There's cold beer at home."
"That sounds so good," Blair said. He glanced around his new office one more time, shaking his head. "Too weird," he murmured again.
Jim picked up both their jackets and stood next to the door. "Chief?"
They made it home in record time, and less than a minute after walking in the door were leaning side by side against the counter drinking in companionable silence.
Jim drained the last of his beer and turned to rinse out the bottle, leaving it beside the sink. "Okay. I'm claiming seniority." Blair opened his mouth then wisely shut it again. Jim mock-glared a second longer just to be sure. "I'm taking a shower."
"Please," Blair said, wrinkling his nose and waving a hand in front of his face.
Jim laughed and aimed a swat at him. Blair ducked out of reach, grinning, but Jim faked him out and caught him in a headlock. "Some respect for your elders, if you please," he said, tightening his arm a bit.
Blair just laughed into his chest, arm circling Jim's back to hold himself steady. Jim held them there for a moment, letting warmth soak into him from both sides. Reluctantly, he let Blair go, sliding his hand along until he could cup the back of Blair's neck, then shaking him lightly and giving him a little shove away, grinning at him.
Blair just drew himself up and tried to look stern. "You just wait, pal, you'll get yours. I know all your weaknesses, remember."
"In your dreams, Sandburg," Jim said over his shoulder as he headed for the bathroom. "I can hear you coming a mile away."
With Blair's "Hah!" floating behind him, Jim headed for the bathroom and the shower he'd been wanting for the past two hours at least.
He relaxed under the hot spray, feeling the grime slide off him. A hot shower, a pizza, a game on the tube, just him and Blair -- perfect end to a good day.
Jim jingled his keys softly as he walked down the corridor, humming to himself. Automatically, he focused on Blair's office, not wanting to interrupt him with a student, and slowed when he heard Blair's voice. He stopped dead for a second as he realized what he was hearing, then ghosted forward, hand wrapped around his keys to silence them. He eased up to the partially opened door and let his eyes confirm the situation inside.
"C'mon, Wayfarer, you can do it, I know you can. Reach for that sunshine! Atta boy, you'll be okay. Big tough guy like you, you can take a little move, right?"
Jim couldn't contain his grin at the sight. Blair stood at the windowsill, gesturing ceilingward with one hand as he carefully watered a plant. Focusing on the object of Blair's attention, Jim recognized it as the one he'd dropped the other day.
He slid silently forward another couple steps, propping himself up on the doorjamb. "Wayfarer?"
"Jim!" Blair spun, water droplets flying from the mouth of the bottle he'd been using, worried frown smoothing out into a grin. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough to hear your patented flora pep talk. Wayfarer? Kind of a weird name for something without feet, don't you think?"
Blair didn't even have the grace to look embarrassed, just grinned more broadly and turned back to finish his careful watering. "It suits him," he said cheerfully. "And I'm just trying to get him in touch with his inner jungle self."
"'Inner jungle self'?" Jim asked in disbelief, a laugh gusting out of him. "Okay, Chief, if you say so. You hungry?" He bounced his keys in his hand. "I thought we could go to that new coffeehouse for a sandwich. My treat."
"Damn right, your treat. I told you the Pacers had that game sewed up. You owe me, man."
"Yeah, yeah," Jim said. "Lucky guess. So? Food?"
"I could eat," Blair agreed. He put down the bottle after dribbling a few more drops carefully onto the soil and grabbed his jacket. "But we're not going to a coffeehouse. We're going to Michael's."
"Michael's?! Over on Pine? Jeez, Sandburg...."
"You back the wrong team, you gotta pay the price," Blair said serenely as he walked past Jim into the corridor.
Jim lunged, but Blair was ready and took off sprinting. Laughing, Jim chased him all the way to the truck, where Blair collapsed panting. "Safe!" he crowed.
"You cheated," Jim said, leaning on the truck and dragging in air.
"Hey, all's fair, man."
"Clichés can't save you, Sandburg."
"Tough guy," Blair mocked. "And don't be a sore loser. C'mon, I'm starving."
"Oh, sure, he expects me to still buy him lunch...."
"Damn straight. That one I won fair and square."
Conceding defeat, Jim pushed himself off the truck. "Get in, then, Bruce Jenner."
"Yes!" Blair said, punching the air in triumph. "Winnah and still champeen!"
"Don't push your luck," Jim growled, grinning, as he shoved the other man toward the door.
Blair just laughed as he climbed in. As soon as Jim settled himself behind the wheel, Blair pointed regally out the windshield. "Michael's, Jeeves. And don't spare the horses."
Jim just shook his head and turned the key. This was gonna be a long lunch.
Once they'd been seated and served, though, he had to admit, Michael's had been a good choice. Not too fancy, just quiet and comfortable and with a damn good prime rib. "Good filet mignon, there, Chief?"
"Perfect," Blair agreed after he swallowed a mouthful.
"I still think a hamburger would have made you just as happy."
Blair grinned at him and ostentatiously cut off another piece of his steak, putting it in his mouth and chewing blissfully. His eyes even closed. "Mmmm."
Jim found himself memorizing the look on Blair's face, the way his nostrils flared, the way the skin between his eyebrows first smoothed out then creased as Blair's brows drew together, the way his tongue darted out to catch a bit of juice on his lips. The image got stored with the others, safely away from anywhere they might interfere with everyday stuff. Those images were kept for purely private moments, hoarded against the day there would be no more lunches with Blair, no more truck trips, no more bets over basketball games, no more sharing the last beer because they were too lazy to go out for more. Hoarded against the day Blair moved on, and left him with just the images to hold on to.
Blair swallowed, sighed happily, and slowly opened his eyes.
Jim grinned. "Enjoyed that, huh?"
"Oh, yeah." Blair grinned back and attacked his green beans. "So what are you doing this afternoon, anyway? New case come up?"
"Nah, still running checks on the Townsend case. You gonna finish those mashed potatoes?"
"Eat your own potato!" Blair said, indignant.
"I did already."
Blair, without an ounce of compassion, sat there and ate his mashed potatoes at Jim until they were gone.
Jim glanced up from the paper as Blair walked in. "Hey, Chief."
"There's pizza in the fridge -- I didn't feel like cooking anything."
Jim kept watching as Blair hung up his jacket then picked up the backpack he'd dropped at his feet. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah, sure, everything's fine, why?"
"I dunno, you look... I dunno. Never mind."
"Okay." Blair walked past him into his room, putting his backpack down on the desk and unzipping it. Carefully, he lifted something out and carried it across to his shelves. Jim recognized the markings on it. It was the pot he had dropped on the floor a week or so earlier -- with no plant in sight.
Apparently you couldn't just stuff a plant back in its pot and pretend nothing had ever happened.
A twinge of guilt made Jim put the paper down and go to Blair's door.
"Wayfarer didn't make it, huh?"
"I'm sorry, Chief."
Blair turned and smiled easily, his fingers sliding off the pot's curved side. "No big deal, man, it was just a plant. Hope you got mushrooms on the pizza."
"I did on your half," Jim said, backing out of the doorway and heading for the couch as Blair walked to the kitchen. "Can you grab me a beer while you're in there?"
"Sure." Blair turned the oven on, then poked around in the fridge for a minute, Jim tracking his movements by sound. Orange juice, water, bowl of whatever-it-was that Blair was planning on having for dinner tomorrow, which had been "marinating" since yesterday.
"Wrong shelf," he called.
"Wrong shelf for beer," Blair corrected. "Ah, here we go." He pulled out something plastic and opened it. Jim wrinkled his nose as a pungent odor filled the air.
"What is that?"
"Something Steve gave me to try the next time we had pizza. Says it jazzes it up."
"Just tell me it's legal."
Blair snorted and pulled out the pizza box, letting the refrigerator door swing shut as he turned to the counter. He dumped the pizza onto a cookie sheet, sprinkling the whatever-it-was on top, then stuck it in the oven and turned back to the fridge.
Jim frowned again, staring blindly at the tv, remote clutched in his hand. No running commentary about what Blair had just added to the pizza, no promises of gustatory heaven tomorrow as he'd moved the marinating... stuff. Nothing. Vaguely, he recognized the sounds of glass bottles clinking, but didn't really register them until he felt cold approaching the back of his neck.
"Try it and you lose that hand at the wrist, Sandburg."
"You are no fun at all," Blair complained, stopping the bottle less than an inch from Jim's skin.
Jim rolled his head a bit, enjoying the contrast of bottle-chill and Blair-warm air on his skin, and reached a hand up over his shoulder.
Muttering something Jim chose not to hear, Blair put the bottle in his hand and swung around the side of the couch to drop down beside him. "So what's on?"
"No idea," Jim admitted, and started flipping channels. Blair didn't offer any suggestions, and Jim looked at him sidelong. Silently, he settled on the show they probably would have compromised on -- a Simpsons rerun -- and settled back to watch.
Blair got up at the next commercial to rescue his pizza and took it to the table to eat, pushing aside Jim's paper.
"So does that stuff help?" Jim asked finally.
"That stuff. On the pizza. Better?"
More silence then, broken only by the television.
Jim found a movie after The Simpsons ended, one that Blair had been telling him for two years he just had to see, and Blair came back to the couch when he'd finished his dinner.
"You want another beer?"
Blair held up his half-finished bottle. "I'm good."
Jim nodded and got up to get himself one, giving the whatever-it-was in the bowl another suspicious look as he opened the fridge door.
"Are you sure this is going to be safe to eat?"
That got a laugh out of Blair, and something tense in Jim's gut eased.
"Yeah, I'm sure. Some Ranger you must have made!"
"What I'll eat to survive and what I eat for regular meals don't necessarily overlap, Chief," Jim said, coming back to the couch. Blair grinned up at him, and Jim bounced his fist lightly against Blair's jaw a couple of times, grinning back, before he dropped back into his seat.
"Did duck hunters just shoot down an alien spaceship?"
Blair grinned and tipped his beer up, taking a long swig. "Love this movie."
Jim shifted into the corner of the couch, angling himself so he could watch Blair as well as the tv, and spent the next hour and a half watching Blair's animated features react to everything that happened.
When it ended, Blair turned to him with a huge grin. "Was that a great movie, or what?"
"I had fun," Jim admitted.
"Yeah," Blair said, stretching hard. "I never get tired of it."
"Did they ever make the sequel?"
"No, dammit. Man, I am beat," he added, dropping out of his stretch to yawn widely. "This is kinda pathetic."
"You said it, Chief, not me."
Blair flipped him off, then got up and headed for the bathroom.
Jim grinned, clicking off the tv and grabbing the empties off the coffee table. He walked into the kitchen and rinsed them out, leaving them next to the sink.
"I'm crashing," Blair said as he walked toward his bedroom. "G'night, Jim."
"'Night." Bed sounded like a very good idea. Jim made his own trip to the bathroom, checked the locks, turned out the lights, and headed upstairs.
He undressed quickly, stripping down to boxers, and climbed into bed. After checking to be sure the alarm was set, he slid his sleeping mask on and let the darkness envelop him, rebuilding an image in his mind: Blair, sprawled against the other end of the couch, flushed with laughter and looking over at him to share the moment.
Jim reached down in the darkness, into his boxers, stroking his cock lightly. It stirred under his fingers, hunting for a firmer touch.
The Blair in his mind was letting Jim undress him now, still flushed and happy, making little noises as Jim touched him on his neck and his nipples and down his sternum. He could smell the warm scent of him, could almost taste him -- he froze, eyes opening behind their mask, breath caught in his throat.
If sight could piggyback onto hearing... why couldn't taste piggyback onto smell?
Jim drew a deep, shaking breath and rolled over onto his side.
If the pulsing cock still in his hand was any indication, he really, really wanted to test this.
But taste... taste would make this so real, too real. This was supposed to be just a fantasy, something that didn't involve the real Blair. Something that wouldn't tie him to Blair.
Something he could hang on to, if Blair decided to leave someday.
Something that Blair already knew he had, that he couldn't be angry about if he found out -- sight and sound, touch and smell.
But taste would make this so good, so real....
Jim moaned faintly, rolling onto his back and shoving his boxers down. He started jerking hard at his cock, wanting to finish before he couldn't resist any longer. Touch. He needed to focus on touch. Blair's hand warming the air at the back of his neck; Blair's stubbled jaw under his knuckles; Blair's hand, again, this time patting him on the thigh to get his attention. The heat of that touched burned in memory on his thigh, and he felt it creeping higher, toward the cock he was working so fiercely.
"A little more, just a little more," he breathed, until finally that heat touched his balls and his back arched. He clamped his jaws shut as he came, not making a sound other than the rasp of skin on skin as he milked his cock.
He reached for a tissue, reminding himself for the hundredth time to remember to bring a damp washcloth upstairs the next time, knowing he never would. He dabbed at the worst of it and tossed the wadded-up tissue at the wastebasket, grinning as he heard it bounce off the far side and go in. "Two!" he breathed.
One last check of the loft, and the building, and the block, to listen for anything out of the ordinary, and Jim drifted off to sleep.
"Hey, Chief. You hungry? I was thinking of doing a stir-fry." Yesterday it had been pasta. The day before, grilled-cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Jim leaned against the doorjamb and sipped his beer, watching as Blair moved papers from one pile to another on the bed.
"Nah. I'm good, thanks. I don't want to lose the flow here."
Twenty minutes later, he was back at the door, plate in hand. "Sure you're not hungry? I made plenty, I can just leave it on your desk."
"I'm sure, thanks."
"Okay." He went away again, back to the kitchen, where he wrapped the plate and put it in the fridge in case Blair got hungry later.
Later came and went, and there was still no sign of Blair. Enough was enough. Frowning, Jim went back to the door.
He hesitated, then asked, "Everything okay?"
"Everything's fine, Jim."
Jim would have been happier if the tone had been saying 'Everything's fine, Jim,' instead of 'If you ask me that fucking question one more time I'm going to ram a notebook down your throat, and all the covert ops training in the world won't save you.' But since he'd probably brought that tone on himself by asking once too often -- okay, more like ten times too often -- in the past couple of days he didn't really think he had grounds to object. He took another sip of beer, and tried to figure out a different way to ask. Dammit, Blair didn't feel right. No matter how often he said he was fine.
"I'm sorry about the plant, Chief," he offered.
Blair paused, hands stilling on a bright red folder as he glanced over at Jim.
"Wayfarer," Jim clarified.
"Thanks, but it's no big deal. It was just a plant."
Except absolutely nothing had gone wrong in Blair's life lately except that plant dying, as far as Jim could tell. And something was seriously bothering him. The memory of his careless fumble in Blair's old office made him wince now, and he straightened against the doorjamb. Time to fess up.
"No, I mean it. I'm really sorry."
"Jim, relax, it's okay. It was just a plant, and it died after being moved. It happens."
Jim grimaced. "Not this time. I, uh -- I killed it."
"C'mon, Jim, be serious. That plant's been dying for days. The move killed it. The change in lighting, in ambient humidity, something like that."
"No, I did. I dropped it in your old office. I stuck it back in the pot, but I guess... well. I killed it. I'm really sorry. If you tell me what kind it was, I'll get you a new one."
"You killed it."
Blair nodded slowly, staring at the bed for a few heartbeats before looking back over with an easy smile. "Don't worry about getting me a new one. I'll try something different next. Time to move on, right?" But there was a shadow in his eyes.
"Chief?" Jim asked quietly. "Who gave you the plant?" Bingo. Blue eyes flicked toward him and away again, and Blair smiled, a smile that was half delight and half pain. Jim didn't know whether to comfort him or laugh with him, so settled for taking a step further into the room and leaning against the dresser.
Blair shifted the piles onto the floor and sat down cross-legged in the middle of the bed. "She brought it to my college graduation. I wasn't even sure she'd make it, you know? I mean, I knew she'd try, but she can lose track of time sometimes."
Jim took a sip of beer, figuring that was safer than actually biting his tongue.
"But there she was, camera in one hand and this tiny piece of green in the other. She said she'd been talking to a holy man in Tibet -- Nepal? No, Tibet -- or wait, maybe Sri Lanka -- "
"Heck of a difference there, Sandburg."
"Gimme a break, this was a long time ago, and I wasn't paying that much attention. I was busy trying to see if Julie Fuller was talking to her ex-boyfriend, because she said she'd broken up with him, and if she had I was gonna ask her to a private graduation celebration -- " Blair gave a filthy chuckle and waggled his eyebrows at Jim, who just shook his head and took refuge in his bottle again " -- but I didn't really believe her because they broke up all the time, man, and always wound up back together, which made me crazy, y'know? And I couldn't see her anywhere, which wasn't making me happy -- "
"Okay," Jim said loudly. "So Naomi was in Tibet or Nepal or Sri Lanka, and...?"
"Oh! Right! Okay. I think it was Tibet. I'm pretty sure. So she was in Tibet, talking to this holy man about me, and graduating, and stuff. And he was saying all this holy man stuff to her -- "
Holy man stuff? Jim's eyebrows tried to climb off his forehead as he stared at Blair.
" -- and don't give me that look, I told you I wasn't paying that much attention at the time, I had other things on my mind than just my mom, you know? -- so one of the things he told her was that something like that was truly a new beginning wrapped up in an ending, and that she should do something for me to symbolize that, because it was an important step."
"New beginning. Right. And the plant...?"
"Was a new beginning, of course."
"Ah, of course."
Blair got off the bed, walked over to him, and smacked him in the arm.
"So anyway," Blair said as he walked back to the bed and sat down, lounging back against the wall and giving Jim one last glare to keep him in line, "he gave her this little cutting from out of his garden, and told her it would be lucky for starting me out on my new path. I don't even want to know how many borders she smuggled that thing across." He laughed up at Jim. "I mean, I pity the poor customs guard who tried to stop her."
Jim grinned. "Yeah, I can see what you mean. They'd never know what hit 'em."
"Exactly. So she got it all the way back to the States, and made it in time for my graduation. I think she stopped every time she found a priest to get it blessed by as many traditions as possible." The grin that had lit his face dimmed a little, and Jim flinched.
"Ahh, Chief," he murmured.
Blair glanced up and shook his head, smiling again. "It's okay, Jim. Anyway. She handed it to me and made me stand there holding it up while she took a picture."
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah, of course! Here, I've got a copy of it here somewhere." Blair launched himself off the bed toward the pile of stuff in the far corner and started digging through books and papers. "It's here somewhere, I know it is," he muttered.
"Photo album?" Jim suggested helpfully, not budging an inch.
"No, it's -- ah! Of course!" Blair pushed the mess he'd surrounded himself with back into a semblance of a pile, shoving it back upright and shifting a few things when it started to topple over, until finally it was more or less steady. He got to his feet and pointed a stern finger at it. "Stay!"
"Think that's gonna work?"
"Mock if you must, but you wait, you'll see. It'll stay," Blair said, still looking at the unsteady pile. "There, see?" He turned and headed toward Jim, face full of purpose. He flapped his hands in a brisk shooing motion. "Move."
"What's the magic word?"
"Do you want to see this picture or not?"
"That's not the magic word," Jim pointed out, but he moved anyway, more curious than he cared to admit about this stray piece of Blair's past.
"Do I want to know why you keep photos in with your shorts, Chief?"
"Do I want to know why you're asking about my underwear?" Blair shot back. Jim grinned.
Blair rummaged through a couple of drawers, pulling a few things out to get them out of the way of his search. The rabbit's foot got an absentminded stroke before being put aside, and Jim made a mental note to ask about it another time.
The shorts were all boringly normal.
"A-ha!" Triumphant, Blair tugged for a few seconds and finally came up with a small stack of photos from under a pile of t-shirts.
Jim put his bottle down and reached a long arm over, plucking the entire batch away. "Anything in here I shouldn't see for professional reasons, Chief?" he asked, straightfaced.
"Very funny. No, there's nothing incriminating in there. Think I'd keep that sort of stuff around while I was living with a cop?"
Jim blinked and looked at Blair. "What?"
"Gotcha. Just look at the pictures. And if you laugh, I hurt you. Just so you know."
Jim held out his rock-steady free hand and made it shake briefly. "Terrified over here, Sandburg."
"Asshole," Blair said cheerfully.
At the third picture, Jim stopped. "This it?"
Blair craned his neck, then moved to stand at Jim's shoulder so he could see more easily. "Yeah, that's it. God, I look about twelve. I felt so grown up."
Jim grinned. "Yeah, I remember that age. You think you have all the answers...."
"And you don't have a clue," Blair finished, laughing.
"Nope. Naomi was right, you really did used to have short hair." He touched his forefinger lightly to the photo, where Blair's hair was cropped to only a couple of inches long. It should have made him look older, but didn't. He hadn't been far off when he'd said he looked twelve in this. "You were a good-looking kid." He glanced sidelong at Blair. "Pity...."
Blair smacked him again without looking away from the picture. Jim grinned. "So where's the plant?"
"Right there." Blair reached over his arm to point at the plant clutched in his younger self's hand. "See?"
"Yeah, I see." Jim didn't bother trying to focus deeply; snapshots went grainy too fast. He just stared at the faint line of green against pale skin and black robe. Eventually he realized he'd been staring too long, and started going through the rest of the stack. Blair rattled off names that meant nothing to him as each picture made it to the top, until finally he'd gone all the way through and was back at Blair at his graduation. "No other pictures of you in here, huh?"
"Hell, Jim, I know what I look like," Blair said with a grin. "You done?"
"Yeah, Chief, I'm done." Jim handed the stack back to Blair, who looked at the picture of him with his plant a moment longer before placing it back in the drawer.
"So why Wayfarer?" Jim asked, reaching for his bottle again.
Blair looked up from where he'd been staring at the closed drawer. "Huh? Oh." He smiled. "Well, it just seemed to fit, after the journey he'd been on, you know?"
"Wait," Jim interrupted. "How do you know it was a he? I mean, how do you check plants, anyway?"
Blair shook his head. "Jeez, Jim -- you don't get girl plants out of a monastery. No women allowed!"
"Ah. Right. Stupid of me." Jim sipped his beer, content. Sandburg's face was doing that repressed-laughter thing again. "So you named him Wayfarer because he'd traveled so much."
"Well, sorta. Also because he was supposed to keep me company on my journey. And he did, too. Well, when I didn't have to leave him with people. Can't just take a plant with you on trips."
"No," Jim agreed, some part of him absently noting that the knots that always accompanied any mention of "journey" or similar words in Blair's voice were alive and well and living inside him.
"So," Blair said, "that is the Story of the Plant. Anything else you want to know?" He moved away from the dresser, patting Jim's arm absently, and returned to the bed, where he sat and stared at the piles of paper on the floor. "Oh, hell," he said with a sigh. "This is taking forever."
"What is it?"
Jim blinked. "Filing?"
"Yeah, you know, filing. Paperwork. Bills and correspondence and stuff. It was starting to get too disorganized, so I figured I'd sort it all out. I mean, I still know where everything is, but it was getting kinda... complicated. But I don't know about this. This is a pain."
"How long has it been since you did this?"
Blair looked at him, eyebrows drawing together.
"Oh my god," Jim said. He shook his head and took another swig of his beer. "Good luck. There's food in the fridge. If you haven't surfaced in three days, I'm sending in a rescue squad."
"Very funny!" Blair called after his retreating back.
Jim walked into the bullpen to a chorus of whistles. "Yeah, yeah, guys, very funny," he said, shaking his head as he walked to his desk. "Chief?" he said, surprised. "Thought you were busy this afternoon."
"Got cancelled," Blair said, looking him up and down. "Nice suit, Jim, but shouldn't you be wearing a tie with it?"
Jim pulled the tie out of his pocket and let it dangle from his fingers.
Blair grinned. "Hope you had it on in the courtroom."
"Of course I had it on," Jim said, shooing Blair out of his chair. Blair slid into "his" chair instead, and Jim dropped into his seat, the part of his brain that was always checking to see if anything was out of place relaxing as he glanced around. Everyone was where they were supposed to be. "Worst thing about testifying, having to wear those damned things."
"Not the cross-examination?"
"Nah. I can handle defense lawyers."
Blair coughed and bent over his notebook.
"Nothing, nothing. Just thinking about the Patterson case...."
"He wasn't a defense lawyer, Sandburg. He was Satan."
Jim grinned and tossed the offending tie onto the corner of his desk as he sat.
"So how'd it go?"
"Pretty good, I think. The jury looked pretty horrified, and the DA's case was solid."
"The jury deliberating now?"
"Not yet. More testimony and closing arguments to go. It'll probably end tomorrow morning at the latest, though."
"Cool. Here's hoping they throw away the key on that bastard. Hey, you want a coffee?" Blair asked, rising.
"Yeah, thanks," Jim said, reaching for the file on top of the small stack. As he opened it the memory of Blair's once-over flashed back into his head, and his hands stilled. The look in Blair's eyes... he shook his head. He had to be imagining it.
"I've been thinking," Blair announced.
"You don't say."
"C'mon, Jim, I'm serious."
"Okay, you've been thinking. I'm hoping it's been about this case, and how this bastard managed to kill Townsend and be back home in fifteen minutes flat."
"I have no idea how he did that. I've been thinking about potting soil."
"You... no, never mind, I probably don't want to know."
"Potting soil," Blair repeated anyway. "It's interesting stuff."
"If you say so, Chief." The light changed, and Jim drove forward. "I swear, they change the lights so that going home, the red lasts twice as long."
"Really? I always thought it was the other way around, to slow you down and make you late for stuff."
"That, too," Jim agreed.
"So basically, the red lights always last twice as long, whatever way you're going."
"One of the great mysteries of the universe."
Jim glanced over to see Blair grinning happily at the windshield, hair blowing in the breeze from the open window.
"Home," he said as he pulled in in front of their building.
Upstairs, they went through the usual routine of hanging up coats and getting beers.
"I hope you're not hungry right this second, Jim, because that couch is calling my name." Blair walked over and flopped down in the middle of the couch, putting his head back and letting out a groan. "Long day."
Jim grinned and followed, settling in on one end. "The couch is good." Idly, his eyes traced the line of Blair's jaw and neck. "Food is going to be an option at some point, though, right?"
Blair's lips curved. "Yeah, yeah. I'll make pasta in a little while."
They just sat for a few more minutes, relaxing into the silence. Finally, Blair stirred, twisting so that he was facing Jim.
"So you probably noticed I was a little bummed about Wayfarer going to that big greenhouse in the sky."
"I noticed," Jim said, meeting Blair's eyes squarely, wishing the other man was within reach.
"Yeah, well, I couldn't figure out why, you know? I mean, it was just a plant."
"Chief, your mother gave it to you for your graduation, of course you were attached to it."
"No, it was more than that. It was like... me. Symbolically me, see?"
"Symbolically you," Jim said.
"You're a plant?"
"Time for you to ease up on those algae shakes, Chief."
"Sorry, sorry. Okay, so you're symbolically a plant. What exactly does that mean?"
"Just... okay, it's like this. Naomi gave me Wayfarer to sort of symbolize my new life after graduation, right?"
"Right. So when he died, it was kinda like I died, y'know?"
Jim's stomach clenched, and he stared at Blair. "Like you died?"
"Not literally, Jim, jeez," Blair said. "Symbolically. Like part of my life was gone."
"You had a hell of a lot invested in a plant, there, Chief."
"Tell me about it. But I was wrong."
"Okay, I'll bite. How were you wrong?"
Jim blinked. "Hence the potting soil thoughts?"
"Exactly! You've got it!"
"Actually, I don't have a clue here. What are you talking about?"
"Okay. Wayfarer was the part of my life that was about journeying, right? Going from adolescence into adulthood, finding my path."
"Okay," Jim said cautiously.
"And then he got uprooted, and he died."
Jim winced. "When I dropped him and then put him back in his pot."
"He's been dropped before, Jim, and moved before, dozens of times. This is the first time he didn't make it. It wasn't your fault. I figured he just couldn't handle being uprooted, even though he tried."
"Right," Jim said hollowly. "And this is you?"
"No, see, that's where I was wrong. I was thinking that I'd been uprooted, too, sorta. You know, living in a new environment, doing different things -- not being able to just drop everything and go off on an expedition and stuff, y'know?"
"So I'm cramping your style."
"No! No, no, man, that's not it at all."
"Because I thought growth was about the journey, but I forgot all about repotting."
"I still don't have a fucking clue what you're talking about, Sandburg."
Blair sighed. "Plants get stifled when they're in pots that are too small for them, Jim. You have to uproot 'em every now and then, put 'em in a bigger pot so they can grow more easily, put more roots down. It wasn't being uprooted that killed Wayfarer; it was trying to make him fit back in his old pot afterward. He'd outgrown it."
"I've been repotted, see?"
"I can see that you're a bit potty," Jim muttered, earning himself another smack.
"I used to just have one pot -- the journey pot, just like Wayfarer. But lately I've moved into a bigger pot. A real office at the university, my work with the PD, the loft with you. Bigger, see? My roots have grown, gotten deeper."
"So I'm settled now."
"And settled is...?"
"Good. Settled is good."
Jim nodded. "Settled is good," he agreed. The knots that had begun multiplying inside him during all of this started loosening, until even his breathing was easier than he could remember it being since -- well, for as long as he could remember. Settled was very good.
Blair looked at him. "What?"
"Nothing. So, looks like I'm stuck with you, huh, Chief?"
"That a problem?"
"No. No problem."
"Good," Blair said, grinning. "'Cause I plan on sticking around."
"Guess I can live with that," Jim said. He smiled as he met Blair's eyes, then caught his breath at the look in them. The heat he thought he'd imagined the other day was back, full force.
Settled had real possibilities.
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