Cover by Romanse
Art by Lisa, Ankaree, Lyn
"Naomi, please. We only just got home a month ago and you want to take off already?" Simon scrubbed a hand over his face in exasperation. "Give me a few weeks to get things squared away at work and I'll come with you."
Naomi turned and smiled at him, reaching out to run a hand down his cheek. "This is something I need to do on my own," she said comfortingly. "It's not you, I swear. Ask Blair. He knows, whenever I need to make a decision, I go away. Process."
Simon took her hand, turned it and kissed the palm. "Are you having second thoughts about us?'
"No," she replied too quickly. She sighed. "Maybe." At the disappointed look on his face, she hurried on, "It's a big decision. I've been on my own for so long. Able to just go wherever I want, when I want. I need to know I can do that and not have regrets later." She gave him a quick grin. "Are you so very sure of this... of us?"
Simon pulled her into his arms and took her mouth in a deep kiss. Pulling away finally, he said, "Does that answer your question?"
Naomi hugged him tightly. "Yes, it does." She pulled away and walked over to the kitchen window, staring out into the darkness. "Everything's happened so fast. I just need to be sure. I won't hurt you."
Both turned at the sound of Daryl's voice from the doorway.
"Hey, sweetie," Naomi greeted him. "How are you? I was hoping to see you before I left. Did you have a good Christmas with your mom?"
Daryl's eyes narrowed and he shrugged. "It was okay. I would have rather spent it here with my dad."
"Daryl," Simon interrupted before Naomi could reply, "I explained that to you. Your mom really wanted you to spend Christmas with her -"
"It's fine, okay?" Daryl cut in. He hefted his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. "I need to get some study done. I'm going to the library at Rainier."
"Sure, okay. Don't be late, all right?"
"I'm eighteen, Dad, not a little kid."
"And I'm still your father," Simon retorted. He sighed, reining in his impatience. "I guess I just forget sometimes how old you are. Drive carefully, okay?"
Daryl nodded then looked over at Naomi. "It was nice to see you, Ms. Sandburg."
"See you later."
Simon watched him leave, a frown on his face. Naomi walked over and wrapped her arms about him. "It's just a phase," she reassured him. "He'll grow out of it."
"I've been waiting ten years for him to grow out of it," Simon grumped. He smiled down at her, brushing a strand of her red hair from her face. "I love you so much. Hurry back, all right?"
Naomi smiled, her eyes twinkling. "I will."
Daryl climbed into his car and hit the play button on the CD player, allowing the loud rhythmic beat of the music to wash over him. He backed out of the driveway and was only halfway down the road before he reached out and turned the sound off. The pounding music his father so hated was good when he needed to escape his frustration and anger. Tonight though, he needed to think.
He wasn't entirely sure what he was angry about anymore. He liked Ms. Sandburg - Naomi, he amended - a lot. She was pretty cool for an old lady and pretty as well. If she and his dad did end up getting married, Blair would be his brother. Step-brother, anyway. That brought a smile to his face.
He had to admit he'd been pissed to come home and find that his dad was seeing Blair's mom. In fact, had given her a ring, which had to mean it was pretty serious. No, that wasn't right. He wasn't pissed about that. After all, his mom had started dating again just a few months after she and his dad had divorced. It was the fact that he hadn't been told until it was done. He'd gone to see his mom for Christmas, his father had gone to his friend's cabin to spend the holiday with Jim, Blair, Blair's mom and Jim's dad and brother. His father sat him down his first night back and told him. He was in love with Naomi and he was hoping they'd get married.
Daryl hadn't known how to react. He'd merely shrugged, muttered "whatever" and gone into the kitchen to fix something to eat. His dad had followed, asking if he was okay with it, did he want to talk about it but he'd merely shaken his head and insisted it was cool. And it was... mostly. He just wished his dad had told him before they'd gone and made it semi-official. He hadn't spoken to Blair yet. He and Jim were pretty much back at work from the moment they got back, though Daryl's dad had mentioned something about a barbecue the following weekend.
Looked like that wouldn't happen now, with Naomi going off somewhere. Despite his misgivings over the relationship, Daryl knew that was what was bothering him the most. They'd only just got together and they were arguing already. Echoes of his parents shouting overlaid the more softly spoken words tonight and Daryl felt tears burn his eyes. He didn't think he could stand going through that again.
Shaking off his dark thoughts, he steered his car into an empty parking space near the university library, once again wishing his father had bought him a new car, instead of the second-hand model he currently drove. "You have to earn it, son," Daryl said in a credible imitation of his father's booming voice. Pulling his backpack from the seat beside him, he got out, locked the car and strode into the library.
She was here again. He'd been hoping she would be. He made his way over to the computer alcoves and sat down beside her. Waiting for the Internet to come up, he turned to look at her, hoping she'd notice him but her gaze remained fixed on the screen in front of her as her nimble fingers danced over the keyboard. Feeling brazen, Daryl edged one of her books off the corner of the desk with his elbow.
"Oh, sorry," he said.
That got her attention. She turned to him when the book hit the floor with a thud. "No biggie," she said.
They reached down at the same time to pick up the book and their fingers brushed. Daryl grabbed the book and lifted it, holding it out to her. "Here you go."
"Thanks." With that one word, her attention swiveled back to the screen and she giggled softly then typed something on the keyboard.
"I'm... I'm Daryl." He was glad of his dark skin when she turned and gave him a quick smile and he felt his cheeks heat.
"Nice to meet you," he said but she was back to her computer, typing away industriously. Daryl sneaked a look and gave an inward sigh. Chat room. Figured. Seemed that was all girls were interested in these days.
Jim stroked one hand down Blair's bare back, savoring the feel of smooth skin beneath his enhanced touch. He flirted with sleep, the hypnotic rhythm of Blair's heartbeat and breathing relaxing him at last. He'd been wound tighter than a spring the last few days. They both had. Their caseload since their return from the cabin had been heavy and manpower was short in all departments due to a flu epidemic. The last case had been traumatic. A string of gas station robberies where the thieves had taken a particular delight in terrorizing their victims before shooting them in the head. They'd caught them in the end but again, Jim was reminded just how much Blair was sacrificing to remain as his partner. It had been tough for all of them but Blair had suffered the most, still unable to check his humanity at the door as Jim had preached to him so long ago.
The journey they'd embarked upon since Simon had thrown Blair the gold shield sometimes seemed impossible to believe, the stuff fantasy novels are made from. Jim had never really thought too deeply about what it meant when Incacha had passed the way of the shaman onto Blair. Despite his own fairly unique heightened senses, his experience at the fountain when he'd revived Blair and his encounter with Molly, a woman long dead, he still felt uneasy delving into the whys and wherefores of it all. That was the stuff he left to Sandburg who loved to explore the metaphysical aspects of Jim's senses. When the shaman sickness had manifested itself, Jim had no choice but to take a flying leap into the water and had discovered that, as Blair had said, it was nice. Though the cell phone case a few weeks ago had him rethinking that. He still jumped every time his phone rang.
He still felt uneasy... Okay, he could admit to his fear of Blair's spirit walks, terrified that one time Blair might get lost in that other plane and be lost to him forever. But it appeared there needed to be this balance, that Blair needed to have one foot in each reality, as it were, and if that kept Blair healthy and beside him, it was a risk they had to take.
It had been an incredible journey, and despite his misgivings, it had led them home, led them to this, giving Jim the one thing he'd yearned for so long yet doubted he would ever have. Blair in his arms.
The object of his thoughts muttered something subvocally and turned to face him. Still deeply asleep, Blair managed to push Jim back to make room for himself then resituated his body so that his upper leg rested over Jim's, his head pillowed on Jim's chest. Settled again, Blair quieted.
Rafe and Megan were due back home the following week and that would take some of the strain off Jim and Blair. Jim wondered idly if they had plans for a family of their own, now they had Rafe's sister, Trina to care for. He wasn't sure how the headstrong teen would take to having a baby around, usurping her big brother's attention. The thought of that relationship turned Jim's thoughts to Simon... and Naomi. That match was as incongruous as Rafe and Connor's was 'natural.'
Naomi was a beautiful woman. Jim had certainly been taken in by her charm the first time he'd met her but the two were such diverse characters, their personalities miles apart, he still felt a certain amount of doubt that the relationship would work. It was none of his business, he decided. Blair had spoken to both of them while they were still up at the cabin and despite his own misgivings and his concern, had decided to let it go. Jim thought it was best he do the same.
"Still awake?" Blair's voice was hushed, sleepy and Jim smiled and ran a hand through Blair's hair, smoothing the silky strands that had snarled while he slept.
"Not really tired," he replied then shrugged. "Maybe too tired is a better way to put it."
Blair lifted his head and lightly tongued Jim's left nipple, sending a stirring of arousal to Jim's groin. "I know a great remedy for that." A hand strayed lower, down Jim's belly and Blair's fingers stroked lightly up and down Jim's cock.
"Sure, why not?" Jim said, his voice suddenly hoarse. "Can't hurt."
"Sandburg! My office!" The scowl on Simon's face was enough of a hint that all was not right with his world.
Blair gave Jim a quick glance and raised an eyebrow. Jim merely shrugged and motioned him toward the captain's office. Blair sidled past Simon and waited in front of the desk, standing for now. This appeared to be official business. "What's up, Captain?"
Simon moved to stand behind his desk and picked up a folder from his inbox, sliding it toward Blair. "Notice anything wrong with this?" he asked.
Blair opened the folder and scanned the front page. It was the report he'd typed up the previous day, detailing their latest arrest. "Ummm, no." He looked up at Simon, puzzled. "Sorry, I don't see -"
"You didn't initialize that error." Simon leaned over and tapped a finger next to a sentence that Blair had crossed out and reworded by hand.
"Oh, sorry." Grabbing a pen from the desk, Blair leaned over and corrected his mistake. He was startled when Simon didn't appear mollified by his action.
"Do you realize what a costly mistake that could have been, Sandburg?" Simon growled. "You've been a detective for how long now?"
Blair opened and shut his mouth a few times, aware he was doing a fair imitation of a grounded fish, equally aware, when Simon rushed on, that it had been a rhetorical question.
"If that had been picked up by White's lawyer, there could have been hell to pay."
"I know that. I'm sorry. It was late and we'd been on the street for the better part of a day -"
"I don't want excuses, Sandburg, just get it right next time. Understood?"
"Yes, sir." Blair resisted the urge to snap to attention and salute. "I'm sorry."
At Simon's dismissive nod, he turned and headed for the door.
"By the way," Simon continued, "if you need to contact your mother, she left this morning to fly to California. The usual place she goes. She said you knew it."
Blair spun around and stared at Simon in surprise. "What? Why? Did she say what's going on? Did you two have a fight?"
"No, we didn't have a fight, not that it's any of your business. She said she needed to think things over."
Blair couldn't stop the small smile from breaking out. "Yeah, well, that's mom. It'll be fine, Simon, she'll be back before you know it."
"We'll see. That's all."
Blair opened the door and headed out to his desk. He sat and shot his partner a 'don't ask' glare.
Jim did anyway. "What was all that about?"
"What? You didn't listen in?" He sighed at the hurt expression on Jim's face. "I'm sorry, man. Apparently mom's taken off to California to process and Simon's pissed about it. I guess, seeing I'm a Sandburg, it's my ass that's gonna get kicked."
Jim stood. "I'll go talk to him."
"No, don't." Blair reached out and snagged Jim's nearest hand. "Leave it, okay? He'll get over it." He frowned and muttered darkly, "If I could have caught her before she got on that plane, I'd tear her a new one myself."
Jim resumed his seat and stared at Blair for a moment. "You think she won't come back?"
"I don't know, man. I mean, every other time it's gotten close to a commitment, she's taken off. I thought this time would be different. I spoke to her at the cabin. Warned her not to hurt Simon. She seemed so sure about their relationship." He shrugged and turned to concentrate on his computer screen. "I just don't know."
Blair looked up at the summons. Simon stood in the doorway to his office, looking somewhat chagrined. "I'm sorry, Blair," he said. "That was uncalled for."
Blair nodded. "Thanks, Si - sir. I'll try not to screw up again."
Simon shook his head. "You didn't. I did." And both men knew he wasn't talking about Blair's report.
Blair felt peaceful now, calm, his anger evaporating as he journeyed on. He was letting it go, having processed it, dealt with it and moved on. He remembered his last spirit walk when he'd overheard Naomi and Simon in the restaurant, had known he was eavesdropping but seemed unable to help himself from gravitating toward their voices. I'm letting it go, he told himself firmly.
He opened his eyes, taking a moment to center himself. The sky outside the balcony windows was dark, the only light inside the loft came from his meditation candles. Jim sat at the dining room able, reading the paper. Blair shook his head. Even after all this time, it still sometimes took him by surprise to see Jim sitting in the dark, reading as though it was broad daylight. He smiled and stretched his arms over his head, arching his back to loosen the joints.
Standing, he headed over to his lover and wrapped his arms around Jim's neck, pressing a kiss to his cheek. "What's got you so interested?" he asked. He scanned the newsprint but couldn't see much more than a blur without his glasses, which were around here... somewhere. He spotted them over on the kitchen counter but couldn't be bothered getting them. "Jim?" He prodded his partner with an elbow.
"What? Oh sorry." Jim turned his head slightly and smiled at him. "How was your meditation? Feeling calmer about your mother?"
Even at the mention of her name, some of Blair's ire resurfaced. He sighed. "I was... till just now."
"Nah, it's okay." Blair shifted and moved to sit beside Jim. "It just burns me up. She was so sure about everything up at the cabin. She promised me she wouldn't hurt Simon's feelings. And then, like all the other times, she gets cold feet."
Jim reached out and squeezed his hand. "You're still worried she won't come back?"
"I just don't know and I don't know how long I can take being Simon's whipping boy because I'm her son."
"He did apologize," Jim reminded him.
"Yeah," Blair agreed glumly, "but can you imagine how he'll react if she says she's changed her mind?"
"Let's worry about that if it happens," Jim said. He pushed the paper away, reminding Blair of Jim's earlier absorption with it.
"What got your interest so much that you didn't even hear me?" he asked.
"Missing girl. Third one in two weeks."
"And?" Blair prompted. Sometimes, when one of Jim's hunches was niggling at him, it was like extracting a tooth.
"Dunno. Just that the girls have similar looks." He shrugged and yawned.
"Do they suspect kidnapping?"
"Nope. All of the girls had problems at home, one had run away before." Jim stood and headed for the bathroom. "Just a niggle at the back of my mind. It'll come to me. You coming to bed?"
"In a while. Got some profiling notes I have to finish up for Vice on that case they've been working."
"Don't burn the midnight oil, Chief," Jim advised. "If you want to stay in Simon's good books, you don't want to be late tomorrow."
Daryl had fully intended to go straight home after his classes but the way his father had been acting since Naomi had left didn't make it seem an attractive option. He and his father had always had a rocky relationship, especially since Daryl had reached his teenage years and started deciding that he was entitled to have a choice in his decisions. He knew his father loved him, could even accept that was the reason his dad was so strict with him, but it didn't help to ease the impatience he felt at being constantly treated like he was five years old.
University was proving harder than he thought and he sometimes wished his dad would have let him just join the PD like he'd wanted. Still, he couldn't stop him, if he really wanted to. He planned on giving it until the end of the year and if things hadn't improved, he'd drop out. He'd thought of asking Blair for some tutoring but he always seemed so busy these days, what with working Jim and doing the profiling thing too. Daryl still found it strange to think of Blair as a cop. He just didn't fit the part. Then he thought back to the times he and Blair had run afoul of Kincaid and revised his thinking somewhat. Blair had certainly handled both incidents exactly as Daryl figured a cop would.
Once he walked in the door of the coffee shop, he was glad he'd decided to make a detour. Marissa, the girl from the library was sitting at one of the booths - alone. She was chatting on her cell phone but hung up when Daryl approached. Daryl smiled at her, feeling self-conscious and gave her a small wave. "Hi, Marissa. How are you?"
She smiled back at him and motioned him to a seat. "I'm fine. You're... not stalking me or something, are you?"
Daryl shook his head. "No! I would never - I mean, you're sure pretty enough to - but no." He sighed and wished the ground would swallow him up. "I sound like an idiot," he said forlornly.
"My fault," Marissa said. "I embarrassed you. I've seen you around campus." She smiled and Daryl thought again how very pretty she was. "I've noticed you looking at me."
"I didn't mean anything by it," Daryl blurted out. "I mean... you're really pretty and..." He trailed off but brightened when she reached out and squeezed his hand.
"It's okay," she reassured him. "It's nice to know you think I'm pretty."
"Can I buy you a coffee or a hot chocolate?"
"I'd like that," she replied then looked at her watch, "but I'm meeting someone in a few minutes."
Daryl felt disappointed. "Boyfriend?"
Marissa shook her head. "Not really. Not yet anyway. Just someone I met in a chat room. We're meeting for the first time tonight." She shrugged. "See how things go."
"That's kinda dangerous, isn't it?" Daryl blurted out. "I mean, you shouldn't go alone. My dad's a cop and -"
Marissa stood. "There he is now." Daryl looked to where she was pointing outside. A white van stood at the curb and a young man, about his own age, stood beside it. "I have to go. It was nice seeing you again, Daryl."
"Yeah, you too."
She walked a step or two away then turned and came back. Leaning close to Daryl, she spoke in a low voice. "Promise me something?" When Daryl nodded, she continued. "Don't tell anyone about this." Daryl opened his mouth, about to protest and she rushed on. "My folks are really strict. If they even knew I was here, I'd be grounded for a year." She looked at him beseechingly. "Please?" She smiled, her eyes twinkling. "And if it doesn't work out, I might just let you buy me that hot chocolate."
Daryl nodded. "Sure, okay. Just be careful, all right?"
Marissa straightened and gave him a wave. "You're so sweet."
He watched her walk out to the van and shake the stranger's hand then climb into the vehicle. Feeling depressed, Daryl got up and headed out himself. With the mood he was in, he doubted anything his father said could upset him. He stood on the pavement and watched the van pull out into the traffic. A sudden surge of disquiet seized him and he squinted at what he could see of the license plate, committing it to memory.