FINDING HOME

By Annie

Blair huddled deeper into his jacket and slouched further down into the seat of the car.

Behind him, Larry chattered away and Blair half-turned and reached out a hand, poking it through the bars of the cage until he could scratch the little ape’s head. "Go to sleep, Larry," he said quietly.

A mammoth yawn overtook him as he spoke and Larry seemed to take the hint, moving over to his small pillow in the corner and curling up.

"Good boy," Blair whispered as he turned around and rested his weary head against the back of the seat. He closed his eyes and deliberately slowed his breathing, trying to relax into sleep himself.

A half-hour or so later, he gave the attempt up as a bad job and spent the rest of the night alternately pacing outside the car and slumped inside, his mind re-treading familiar ground as he tried to work out where the hell he was going to go next.

Who’d have guessed Jim would freak out so entirely when they’d gone back to the loft after turning down Mrs. LaCroix’s offer of dinner?

Blair had walked through the front door and smiled broadly at the sight of Larry seated on the couch, munching away on a bag of cereal he’d obviously liberated from the kitchen. The television was blaring and Blair laughed out loud as he realized what the program was.

"Jim, he’s watching Bonanza, man! Didn’t you tell me that was your favorite show?"

Hearing no response, Blair had turned to see Jim in the kitchen, furiously tidying up the remnants of Larry’s foraging.

"Jim? Hey, you go sit down. I’ll tidy all of this up," Blair said, picking up the dustpan and brush to begin sweeping up the shards of a coffee cup that lay scattered on the floor.

He jumped as the brush was snatched from his hand.

"Forget it!" Jim snapped. "I’ll do it."

"Okaaay." Blair moved backward, his hands held up in surrender. "Just trying to help."

Jim stood up and glared at him, his eyes frosty. "You want to help, Sandburg, go get your stuff packed and get yourself and the damn monkey out of here."

Blair stood flat-footed with shock at the harshness in Jim’s voice. "Jim, man, come on…" he began.

Jim turned away and began pulling cleaning equipment out from under the sink.

Blair shrugged and went to his bedroom. He looked around. He wouldn’t be able to take everything with him tonight. When they’d moved him in, they’d piled most of his stuff into the back of Jim’s truck.

He risked a look out to the kitchen. Jim was gathering a veritable militia force of rags, brushes and cleaning solutions for his assault on the loft. Blair spared a moment to be glad he’d exchanged the heavy duty cleaning products with items more suited to a Sentinel’s senses. From the stiff line of Jim’s back, Blair didn’t think he’d take too kindly to being asked to give Blair a hand to move his stuff.

He grabbed his backpack, crammed in a change of clothes then went to the bathroom and grabbed his shaving gear and toothbrush. He’d have to come back for the rest of his things the next day when Jim was at work.

He walked out into the living area and stood uncomfortably, hoping Jim would turn around and say it had all been a terrible joke, that he hadn’t really meant any of it.

After a moment of silence, he cleared his throat. "Um, I’ll come back tomorrow for the rest of my stuff, Jim. I’ll keep the spare key till then and leave it here when I leave, okay?"

Jim nodded, but didn’t turn around.

"Well, um, I’ll… I guess I’ll catch up with you soon then. Call me if you need me to help out with your senses. That’s if… You do still want me to help you, don’t you?" Blair stopped, feeling his breath become trapped in his lungs as Jim finally turned around, and he waited for that slow Ellison special smile that would tell Blair all was forgiven.

It didn’t come.

Jim just looked at him then nodded again. "I’ll call you tomorrow. We’ll set something up, some kind of schedule that works for both of us," he said.

Blair swallowed down the lump that had moved into his throat. "Good," he managed to say. He picked up Larry’s cage and headed for the door.

"Where will you stay tonight?" Jim asked.

Blair shrugged. "I’ve got a couple of favors I can call in just for a night, Jim."

"Good," Jim said. He turned back to his cleaning as Blair walked through the door and closed it softly.

Blair had driven round in circles before finally ending up in the University parking lot where he’d spent the night.

It was dawn now, he realized. The air was chilly and the parking lot was still almost dark. He shook himself out of his musings and climbed out of the car, reaching back in for Larry’s cage. He’d go to his office and grab coffee to warm him up on the inside and then return Larry to the lab.

He had classes today too. That thought made him yawn exhaustedly as he locked the car and headed for his office. Once he had Larry squared away and his classes were over, he’d have to go back to the loft and try to move all his belongings somewhere and then try to find a place to stay.

~oOo~

Jim gave the floor a final wipe with the mop then stepped carefully over to the cupboard beneath the sink and put away the cleaning supplies. He straightened when he was done and turned in a slow circle, sharp eyes checking to make sure that everything was in its rightful place.

The loft looked spotless even to his demanding expectations and he breathed deeply, extending his sense of smell just a little, unconsciously using the techniques Blair had taught him so he wouldn’t go too far and zone.

He felt a twinge of guilt now for the way he’d reacted, but he’d made it clear from day one that if Blair or the monkey – ape, he amended – acted up, they’d be out. He’d already given them one chance. After all, a man’s home was his castle, his more so than most. For him, it was more than that; it was a sanctuary, a refuge from a world that sometimes overwhelmed him.

He inhaled deeply again. No more Larry smells, no smell of popcorn or partly eaten fruit. The loft smelled clean, sterile… empty.

That thought gave him pause and he looked around the expanse again. Something was wrong… no, not wrong – missing. Something he’d become accustomed to over the past few days, a scent that he’d begun to use as an anchor… Blair’s scent.

He walked to the door of Blair’s room (how quickly it had gone from being the spare room to Blair’s room) and simply stood there, giving his senses free rein. He could smell Blair here, could almost see him, sitting on the bed, books piled haphazardly over the covers, earphones on, his head bopping in time to the music he listened to as he studied.

He moved out into the living room and bent down to pick up one of Blair’s books that had been left on the floor near the couch. The front cover was missing now. Jim vaguely remembered sweeping it up with the rest of the remnants of Larry’s rampage and tossing it in the trash.

He went to the trashcan and rummaged through it till he found the cover. Opening a drawer, he found the sticky tape and smoothed the cover then carefully reattached it as best he could. Then he put the book on Blair’s bed. Some impulse made him stroke a hand over the pillow before he left the room and his heart felt as if it clenched within him at the coolness of the linen.

A strand of long curly hair stuck to his hand and he held it beneath his nose and sniffed it.

"Ellison, you’re a fucking fool," he castigated himself.

He fingered the hair again, then dropped it carefully into his pocket and went to get his keys.

~oOo~

Blair patted the top of Larry’s head softly as he handed him over to Amy Carter, the animal keeper of the university lab.

Larry chattered back at him then climbed up to sit on Amy’s shoulder.

"Sorry, buddy," Blair said regretfully. "Take good care of him, Amz, will you?"

"You know I will, Blair," the woman replied. "What about your grant though?"

Blair shook his head. "I’ll think of something," he replied casually.

"Are you sure you’re okay?" Amy asked. "You look exhausted."

"I’m fine. Just a bit tired. Haven’t been sleeping too well since my place blew up."

"I heard about that. But I spoke to Jeff Davis about it and he said you and Larry had a place to stay. If I’d known you didn’t, I would have offered you the couch at my apartment," Amy said.

"Yeah, well, the other place was only short term," Blair explained. "But if you’ve got room on your couch for a night or two…" He allowed hope to color his voice but kept the neediness out of it. He’d used that tone on Jim the night the warehouse blew up and now he felt as if he’d forced Jim to take him in.

"Oh Blair, I’m so sorry," Amy replied apologetically. "My sister’s in town now. I just don’t have the room. Why don’t you call Jeff and see if you can stay at his place for a while. I know he still owes you for covering his classes last year when he had mono."

"Yeah, yeah, I’ll give him a call," Blair said. He bent forward and kissed Amy’s cheek and gave Larry’s head a final goodbye pat.

~oOo~

"Can I help you?"

Jim turned at the sound of the voice but kept his hand inside the bars of the cage and continued to scratch Larry’s chest soothingly.

"Um, you shouldn’t have your hand inside the cage like that." The small, blonde woman approached him and pointed at the sign hanging on the cage. "Sometimes the animals get jumpy around strangers and bite."

Jim grinned easily and pulled his hand out. "Oh, Larry and I are … were roommates," he said.

"You were? Oh, of course, you must Blair’s friend," Amy thrust out a slender hand which Jim shook.

"Yeah, Jim Ellison," Jim replied, though his mind reacted a little guiltily to the word "friend". "Actually, it’s Blair I’m looking for. Any idea where I can find him?"

Amy’s eyes narrowed and for a moment, Jim wondered if she knew more about what had happened than she was telling. "I’m not sure. He was here about an hour ago to drop Larry off. He said he was going to see Jeff Davis, to ask if Jeff would let him stay at his place –" She stopped abruptly. "How well do you know Blair?" she asked instead.

Jim shrugged, his fingers returning to stroke Larry’s soft fur through the bars. "Pretty well, I guess. Like I said, he and Larry have been staying with me for a few days since his apartment-"

Amy nodded. "I know about that. I guess… Look, it’s none of my business really but Blair’s my friend and I just need to know if he’s okay. He helped me out one time, and when I heard about the explosion, I was going to offer him my couch to sleep on but he told Jeff a really good friend of his had taken him in, so I didn’t, but now I think he needs a place to stay but my sister’s in town-"

Jim cut off the flow of words off by placing one hand gently over Amy’s mouth. "You sure you’re not related to Sandburg?" he asked, quirking a grin at her.

Amy shook her head as Jim moved his hand away. "Sorry, I tend to babble a bit. My dad says I could talk underwater with a mouthful of marbles. So, about Blair? If he was staying with you then why did he bring Larry back before he finished his paper. He’ll never get his grant money now and I know he really needs it-"

Jim raised a cautionary finger and Amy stopped. "Sorry," she whispered, blushing.

"It was a misunderstanding," Jim said. "That’s why I need to find him. I want to take him back to my… our place," he said, wondering why those words caused warmth to steal around his heart and lodge there.

"He went to see Jeff," Amy replied. "I’ve got his address here somewhere. Although he should be at school today. He’s an Anthro grad, like Blair. You could check the Anthro department. They can tell you where he is at the moment. Did you check Blair’s office?"

Jim nodded. "He wasn’t there. I’ll see if I can track down Jeff. And thanks, Amy." He turned at the door and went back to her. "You didn’t tell me what Blair did for you. Must have been a pretty big deal."

"It was," Amy said. "I had leukemia a couple of years ago. I needed a bone marrow transplant but I didn’t have the insurance or the money to pay for it. When they found me a donor, Blair organized a fund-raising drive and raised enough money for me to have the procedure. He saved my life in a way." She laughed. "You wouldn’t believe some of the ideas he came up with to raise that money."

Jim laughed too. "Oh, I think I would," he replied. "See ya soon, Larry," he said, giving the little ape a wave as he walked out of the lab.

~oOo~

"Oh man, Blair, I’m sorry. I’m moving back home this weekend. My mom’s really sick. I’m transferring to Winston University to finish up my PhD."

Jim stopped just outside the door of Jeff Davis’ office and focused his hearing on the voice on the other end of the phone.

//Oh man, Jeff, I’m really sorry to hear about your mom. Is there anything I can do to help? You want a hand packing or anything, I’m your man.//

Jim winced at the sheer exhaustion in Blair’s voice. He was obviously tired to the bone yet he was offering to go all-out for his friend.

"Nah, it’s cool, Blair. My brother’s coming down to help. What’s up with you, man? You sound wiped," Jeff said.

//Look, Jeff, I hate to bother you at a time like this but I was just wondering, seeing you’re moving back home and all, could I maybe take over the lease on your place. I’ll get the security deposit somehow. I just… I really need somewhere to stay right now, man.//

"Aw, Blair, I already promised Toby Summers he could take it over. If I’d known you were looking for somewhere… I mean, after all the help you gave me when I had mono last year, keeping up with my classes and tutoring me so I didn’t fall behind and saying you were doing it all for friendship… Aww, man, I feel like a heel. Toby was pretty desperate. His wife’s about to have the baby any day now and I thought you were staying with that cop so when Toby asked-"

//Hey, it’s fine, Jeff. No sweat. You’re right. Toby and Dawn need a place more than I do. I’m glad you could help them. I’ll be fine. I just didn’t want to overstay my welcome with Jim, you know? I’m sure he won’t mind me hanging around till I can find somewhere else to live."

*Damn straight he won’t mind, Chief* Jim thought as he moved into the room.

Jeff’s eyes widened as Jim clamped a hand over the receiver of the phone and with his other hand, reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. Awkwardly, using one hand, he pulled a fifty dollar bill out and stuffed it into Jeff’s unresisting hand.

Leaning forward, he whispered, "I’m Jim, Blair’s friend. Keep him talking till I get to his office."

Jeff nodded his agreement and Jim turned to run from the room. He stopped and patted the young man on the shoulder. "I hope your mom’s okay. You take care, Jeff."

Jeff did the nodding thing again then looked down at the money in his hand and smiled.

"Hey, Blair, did you hear what happened at the retirement party for old man Swanston last week?"

Jim took off for the stairs, praising every deity he could think of for blessing all Blair’s friends with the same gift of the gab as his guide.

~oOo~

"Yeah, that’s hysterical, all right. Look, buddy, I gotta go. You look after yourself and give your mom my best and stay in touch, okay? Yeah, yeah, I’ll be fine. Nah, don’t sweat it. It’s cool."

Jim pushed open the door of Blair’s office softly and stepped inside in time to see Blair hang up the phone.

"Great, juust great. Now what am I going to do?"

Jim reached out a hand just in time to stop Blair from heading his desk.

"It’ll really hurt if you do that, Chief," he commented mildly then almost laughed out loud as Blair’s eyes looked up at him in shock. He pressed up with his fingers to close Blair’s mouth then held a finger to his own lips.

Taking a breath, he said, letting his love tinge his voice, "Blair, I’m sorry." He bent forward and kissed Blair’s mouth. "Please come home."

"I don’t know what to say," Blair murmured.

"Now that’s a first," Jim replied. He sighed and raked a hand through his hair then knelt next to Blair’s chair. "I was an asshole, a selfish prick and I don’t deserve your forgiveness or you. But I want you back home with me, Blair. Please."

"Oh."

"That’s it? Just ‘oh’?" Jim said, heart in his throat, where he could feel it beating a tom-tom against his skin.

"Oh, I love you too?" Blair asked. He raised an eyebrow at Jim, then allowed a gentle smile, tinged with something like relief to tilt his mouth.

"Yeah, I love you too," Jim replied.

He pulled Blair up from his chair, then reached down and slung Blair’s backpack over his shoulder. "Let’s go, "he said, pulling Blair close against his side. "We need to go get Larry."

~oOo~

Jim reached down and covered Blair’s mouth gently with his own. Blair was beautiful in sleep, sated and satisfied with their lovemaking.

Blair murmured softly and Jim pulled him into his arms, Blair’s head pillowed on his chest, He breathed deeply, pulling Blair’s scent deep inside, then closed his eyes and slept.

END