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 apes 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.
Whod have guessed Jim would freak out so entirely when theyd gone back to the loft after turning down Mrs. LaCroixs 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 hed obviously liberated from the kitchen. The television was blaring and Blair laughed out loud as he realized what the program was.
"Jim, hes watching Bonanza, man! Didnt 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 Larrys foraging.
"Jim? Hey, you go sit down. Ill 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. "Ill 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 Jims 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 wouldnt be able to take everything with him tonight. When theyd moved him in, theyd piled most of his stuff into the back of Jims 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 hed exchanged the heavy duty cleaning products with items more suited to a Sentinels senses. From the stiff line of Jims back, Blair didnt think hed 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. Hed 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 hadnt really meant any of it.
After a moment of silence, he cleared his throat. "Um, Ill come back tomorrow for the rest of my stuff, Jim. Ill keep the spare key till then and leave it here when I leave, okay?"
Jim nodded, but didnt turn around.
"Well, um, Ill I guess Ill catch up with you soon then. Call me if you need me to help out with your senses. Thats if You do still want me to help you, dont 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 didnt come.
Jim just looked at him then nodded again. "Ill call you tomorrow. Well 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 Larrys cage and headed for the door.
"Where will you stay tonight?" Jim asked.
Blair shrugged. "Ive 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 hed 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 Larrys cage. Hed 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, hed have to go back to the loft and try to move all his belongings somewhere and then try to find a place to stay.
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 wouldnt go too far and zone.
He felt a twinge of guilt now for the way hed reacted, but hed made it clear from day one that if Blair or the monkey ape, he amended acted up, theyd be out. Hed already given them one chance. After all, a mans 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 hed become accustomed to over the past few days, a scent that hed begun to use as an anchor Blairs scent.
He walked to the door of Blairs room (how quickly it had gone from being the spare room to Blairs 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 Blairs 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 Larrys 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 Blairs 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, youre a fucking fool," he castigated himself.
He fingered the hair again, then dropped it carefully into his pocket and went to get his keys.
Blair patted the top of Larrys 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 Amys 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. "Ill think of something," he replied casually.
"Are you sure youre okay?" Amy asked. "You look exhausted."
"Im fine. Just a bit tired. Havent 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 Id known you didnt, 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 youve got room on your couch for a night or two " He allowed hope to color his voice but kept the neediness out of it. Hed used that tone on Jim the night the warehouse blew up and now he felt as if hed forced Jim to take him in.
"Oh Blair, Im so sorry," Amy replied apologetically. "My sisters in town now. I just dont have the room. Why dont 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, Ill give him a call," Blair said. He bent forward and kissed Amys cheek and gave Larrys head a final goodbye pat.
"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 Larrys chest soothingly.
"Um, you shouldnt 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 Blairs 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, its Blair Im looking for. Any idea where I can find him?"
Amys eyes narrowed and for a moment, Jim wondered if she knew more about what had happened than she was telling. "Im 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 Larrys 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, its none of my business really but Blairs my friend and I just need to know if hes 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 didnt, but now I think he needs a place to stay but my sisters in town-"
Jim cut off the flow of words off by placing one hand gently over Amys mouth. "You sure youre 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. Hell 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. "Thats 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. "Ive got his address here somewhere. Although he should be at school today. Hes an Anthro grad, like Blair. You could check the Anthro department. They can tell you where he is at the moment. Did you check Blairs office?"
Jim nodded. "He wasnt there. Ill see if I can track down Jeff. And thanks, Amy." He turned at the door and went back to her. "You didnt 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 didnt 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 wouldnt 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.
"Oh man, Blair, Im sorry. Im moving back home this weekend. My moms really sick. Im 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, Im really sorry to hear about your mom. Is there anything I can do to help? You want a hand packing or anything, Im your man.//
Jim winced at the sheer exhaustion in Blairs voice. He was obviously tired to the bone yet he was offering to go all-out for his friend.
"Nah, its cool, Blair. My brothers coming down to help. Whats 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 youre moving back home and all, could I maybe take over the lease on your place. Ill 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 Id 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 didnt fall behind and saying you were doing it all for friendship Aww, man, I feel like a heel. Toby was pretty desperate. His wifes about to have the baby any day now and I thought you were staying with that cop so when Toby asked-"
//Hey, its fine, Jeff. No sweat. Youre right. Toby and Dawn need a place more than I do. Im glad you could help them. Ill be fine. I just didnt want to overstay my welcome with Jim, you know? Im sure he wont mind me hanging around till I can find somewhere else to live."
*Damn straight he wont mind, Chief* Jim thought as he moved into the room.
Jeffs 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 Jeffs unresisting hand.
Leaning forward, he whispered, "Im Jim, Blairs 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 moms 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 Blairs friends with the same gift of the gab as his guide.
"Yeah, thats 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, Ill be fine. Nah, dont sweat it. Its cool."
Jim pushed open the door of Blairs 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.
"Itll really hurt if you do that, Chief," he commented mildly then almost laughed out loud as Blairs eyes looked up at him in shock. He pressed up with his fingers to close Blairs mouth then held a finger to his own lips.
Taking a breath, he said, letting his love tinge his voice, "Blair, Im sorry." He bent forward and kissed Blairs mouth. "Please come home."
"I dont know what to say," Blair murmured.
"Now thats a first," Jim replied. He sighed and raked a hand through his hair then knelt next to Blairs chair. "I was an asshole, a selfish prick and I dont deserve your forgiveness or you. But I want you back home with me, Blair. Please."
"Thats 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 Blairs backpack over his shoulder. "Lets go, "he said, pulling Blair close against his side. "We need to go get Larry."
Jim reached down and covered Blairs 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, Blairs head pillowed on his chest, He breathed deeply, pulling Blairs scent deep inside, then closed his eyes and slept.