This story is finally done! Thanks for your patience. I had serious trouble with this one (as some of you know. By the way, thanks for letting me whine to you). I think it was because this story is a pivotal point in the Family series. I'd like to thank all of you for the ideas and suggestions you sent me. In the end, however, I had to go with my own. You may or may not buy it, but I hope that won't affect our long-term relationship. :-)
This is my take on Blair's "conversion". It's not an action piece nor a Blair-in-peril episode. It's just a quiet story of a man whose time has come to, in the words of a Southern colloquialism, "pee or get off the pot." In other words, straddling the center line only means you're in danger of getting hit from both directions.
As this is a Family (F) story, you should be familiar with the series. If not, return to TVLIT 101 and proceed to my Indexed By Date or Series page where the stories are listed in order. Oh, a reminder: Jim's injuries occurred in Adam's Date.
Feel free to write me!
"Gee, Rick, keeping treating your prospective patients this way, and it'll be you applying for a job," Jim said dryly, not surprised by the man's reaction. It seemed that he and Blair had spent many an hour with either Rick or one of the therapists who worked for him and it had been Rick himself who had taught him the basics of physical therapy. His heightened sense of touch had helped him quickly become quite adept at the skill.
"Then it's a good thing you're the only ones I treat this badly," Rick replied with a smile. "What can I do for you, gentlemen? Other than provide physical therapy, of course."
Jim shrugged out of his jacket, Blair helping, to reveal a wrapped and bandaged left arm. "Unfortunately, that's exactly why I'm here," he said, tersely explaining about the hit-and-run accident that had left him with a severely lacerated arm which was broken in two places.
Rick grimaced appropriately, but still held his ground. "You have the necessary equipment at home. You know what exercises you need to do. You know your limitations. Blair, you even know how to massage out the knots when Jim overdoes it, which he will," he added, aiming a sharp glance at the detective. "So why are you here wasting my time?"
Jim sighed and pulled out a letter he had received from his insurance carrier. "Because, according to my HMO, I can't go back to work without professional therapy." It was a nuisance, but since he was surprised his coverage hadn't been completely dropped due to being a very high risk, he was hesitant in defying the order.
"If that isn't the stupidest..." Rick's voice trailed off as he read the letter. "Come on back to my office and we'll see what we can work out. My people are already stretched thin enough without having to take care of people who are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves."
"Uh, Jim, I don't think you need me for this, do you?" Blair asked, hesitantly. He didn't mind playing chauffeur for his injured partner-- hell, after seeing Jim bounce off that car not once but twice, he was just glad that he had a partner at all. But listening to Jim and Rick bitch about HMO's when he could be...
"Go on back to the main floor, Chief. I saw you eyeing that cute receptionist when we came in," Jim said with a knowing grin.
Blair started to protest the assumption, then shrugged good-naturedly. "She could be married, man, with five kids," he pointed out.
"You won't find out by staying up here though, will you?" Jim questioned with a laugh. "Go on, Blair. I'll find you when I'm ready to go."
Blair thought about that statement as he waited for the elevator. When Jim said he could find him, he meant it. As a Sentinel, tracking down his partner was as easy as following a six-hundred pound moose in the snow. He laughed at the imagery, then settled down to figure out how to approach the pretty redhead at the desk.
Before he could reach the reception area, however, loud voices sounded from one of the medical wings on the floor and suddenly someone exploded out a door, slamming into Blair, then continuing out of the building without a word of apology.
For just a second, Blair stood stunned in the middle of the hallway, then found himself following the guy out the door-- not because he was angry, but because he had recognized his assailant and was instantly worried.
"Hey, whoa!" Blair called as he watched the man stumble in his haste, almost falling. He grabbed his elbow and guided him to a bench. "You alright, Mitch?"
"Leave me alone!" the guy yelled, then quieted as he recognized his companion. "Oh, sorry, Blair. I didn't know it was you. I thought it was someone from Dr. Saracen's office," Mitchell Allison explained to his fellow grad student.
"You okay, man?" Blair asked again, his concern evident in his deep blue eyes. He had known Mitch for years, the English major taking as long to finish his dissertation as he was. But Mitch's distractions had been medical ones while Blair's duty as Guide to the Sentinel had put him behind.
Mitch nodded, but his paleness belied his answer. "I'm okay, Blair. Just a little dizzy and a lot angry."
"You take your meds today?" Blair knew Mitch was HIV positive and was on a drug protocol designed to keep him healthy.
Mitch shook his head. "I don't take them anymore, man. That's what Doc Saracen and I fell out about."
Blair plopped down on the bench beside his friend. "I don't understand. I thought the pill cocktail was to keep you from getting full-blown AIDS, and that you had to pop them on a regular schedule for it to work." Blair had met Mitch at a bus stop when he was between cars and hadn't yet met Jim and his handy trucks. They had started talking and the next they knew, they were telling each other their life stories.
"Actually, there's no guarantee it would keep me from getting AIDS, Blair. It's probably only a delay tactic."
"And there's something wrong with that? Staying healthy in case a cure comes along in the meantime?" Blair asked.
"That's just it, Blair. A cure has been found! I don't need the drugs, man, and taking them is just interfering with my recovery. But I can't get Saracen to believe me," Mitch said, running his fingers through his hair in frustration.
"Uh, I'm having trouble believing it myself," Blair admitted. "Seems to me, a cure would have been mentioned on the news or something."
Mitch looked around, then bent his head close to Blair's. "Well, it's still a secret actually. I'm one of the test subjects."
"Well, if Saracen volunteered you for a study, shouldn't he--"
"Saracen doesn't know anything about this, Blair. I'm sort of undercover. You're some kinda cop now, right? You should understand how these things work."
"I just TA'ed a class of freshmen, man, who can't spell the word anthropology, much less understand it, so I'm a bit fried. You'll have to be clearer."
Mitch frowned. "I don't know how much I should be telling a cop," he said, suddenly wondering if he'd already revealed too much.
"I'm just an observer, man, for my diss and all. I don't owe them my secrets or yours," Blair declared. "In other words, no money has exchanged hands so I haven't been bought."
"That sucks, Blair," Mitch said sympathetically. "Why do you go through all that shit then? Sometimes you give the mummy a run for the money when it comes to bandages, man."
Blair smiled wryly. He'd never heard it put quite so vividly before. "Well, I am getting info for my paper like I said and while I'm working with one of the detectives, I get to crash at his place."
"Oh," Mitch replied, satisfied with the answer. "Room, board, and live-in security. That's cool."
Live-in security. Jim was going to love that description. "So what gives, Mitch?"
Half an hour later, Blair was sitting by himself on the bench trying to ignore the warning bells going off in his head as he thought about what Mitch had told him. Dr. Gary Angrim, a professor in the Bioengineering Department, was the researcher in question. Blair didn't know the man personally, but he had friends in the department and it seemed strange that none of them had mentioned such research was going on. A grant to do something that substantial had to be a big one which meant the pay for grad students working the project would be pretty decent and money was always a timely topic among the academically rich, monetarily poor. Mitch said something about the funding being private, but still... And how had it reached the point of human testing so quietly? The students at Rainier protested every time someone put lipstick on a chicken, yet Angrim had run animal studies without so much as a squawk? Something just wasn't adding up.
"Strike out, Chief?" Jim asked as he plopped down on the bench beside his friend.
"What?" Blair asked distractedly.
"Oh. I never got around to her, man. I bumped, and I mean that literally, into a friend of mine from Rainier. He's HIV positive and he'd been to see his doctor."
"Bad news?" Jim assumed from the worry he saw in Blair's eyes.
Blair shrugged. "There doesn't seem to be any good news on that front, does it?"
"It's an ugly disease, Chief."
"I assume the Family has extensive research going on?"
Jim nodded. "I wish I could say a cure was just around the corner, but the virus is very complex and mutates rapidly."
"So no one in your labs is even close?" Blair asked, gnawing at his lip. The Family Laboratories existed on each of the seven continents with facilities in all fifty U.S. states, the Canadian provinces and most European and South American countries. The Family provided their researchers with unlimited funding and the best equipment ever devised. Yet, they didn't have a cure, but Angrim did?
"Cure-wise, no. As you probably know, we have had luck in slowing down the virus by using a combination of drugs. Is you friend on a drug protocol?"
"Yeah. I was just wondering if there was anything else he could do, someone else he could go see, you know?"
"Tell you what, Chief. I'll contact Sam and have him gather all the information the Family has. That way you can make sure your friend is getting all the help that's out there. Would that make you feel better?"
Blair smiled. "Yeah, it would. Thanks, Jim. So how did it go with Rick?"
"I'll do the work and he'll do the paperwork."
"Is that legal?"
Jim shrugged. "I didn't bother to ask."
Blair folded his arms and tried to glare at his partner. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse, mister," he lectured sternly, trying but failing to hide the glint of amusement in his eyes.""You'll have to be punished, you know."
"Oh, no!" Jim said in feigned horror as they walked along the trail leading to the parking lot.
"I'm sorry, but it's the only way you'll learn," Blair said grimly. "Jim, you are hereby sentenced to one week without Wonder Burger. No breakfasts, no lunches, no dinners. Understand?"
"But, Chi-eee-ef," he wailed, winking at a little girl who stared at him as they passed by. "I'm injured. You're supposed to treat me better."
"Jim, if we waited until you were uninjured or I was uninjured..." Neither of us would ever be punished again, he completed to himself. Hmm. No cleaning out the fridge because he hadn't stayed in the truck like he'd been ordered to. No scrubbing the bathroom because he'd forgotten it was his week to do their laundry... "I think you're right, Jim. You are injured and it's not fair to punish you. We'll just let it go, okay?"
Jim nodded uneasily, suspecting he had just been bamboozled by his friend once again. Oh, well, at least he would get something out of it this time. His mouth watering at the thought of an Eighth Wonder Of The World special-- a triple Wonder Cheeseburger with a Colossal Fry and a Sea-Size drink, he cheerfully followed his scheming partner to the truck.
Blair smiled wistfully as he exited the elevator and saw the loft door slightly ajar. Ever since Jim had been home on injury leave, the door was always open for him. It was nice knowing his partner cared enough to track his movements from the parking lot to the elevator to the door. He could really get addicted to the warm fuzzies Jim's pampering generated. Gee, maybe he already was...
Knowing Jim wasn't alone, Blair immediately looked for their visitor but only found Jim on the phone. His roommate waved, then pointed toward the balcony. Blair nodded his understanding and after putting his backpack down, he went outside where their visitor stood in his dark suit gazing over the city. "Not exactly the Virginia countryside, is it, Adam?" he asked the man Jim considered to be his brother.
"I come to Cascade for the people, not the environment," Adam Black replied as he turned to face his brother's brother. Starting to sound a little like a Southern novel, he thought wryly.
"One of these days I'm going to have the Jag when you want to borrow it," Blair said, having noticed the sleek sportscar parked in front of the building and associating it with a visit from Adam. It was Jim's car but he had presented Adam with a set of keys and told him he could use it whenever he came to Cascade to visit his lady-- Dr. Mandy Cuthbertson. Blair shook his head in amusement as he plopped down on one of the patio chairs. Who would have thought tight-assed Jim Ellison would be such a sucker for family? Oooh. Was that another warm fuzzy he was feeling? He grinned in delight.
"I fly all the way out here to give James something to do other than annoy you and this is the thanks I get?" Adam chastened dryly. "You griping about who gets to borrow the Elder's car?"
"You what?" Blair focused on the man he could see through the glass door. Ah. He should have known from the way Jim was standing, the nonchalant, but commanding posture which spoke of years of being instantly obeyed, that the Elder was on the job. "Someone too tough for even you to handle, Adam?"
Adam laughed. "I could have handled him all right, but Father thought the negotiations needed the Elder's lighter touch."
"No bloodshed allowed, huh?"
"They like to limit my fun," Adam said with a frown. "Oh, Sam sent you a packet. He said he downloaded most of the information to you, but this was some hard copy you needed to see. James put it in your room for you." Sam was the Family's version of Thing and Lurch combined. He was sort of a sophisticated computer, an artificial intelligence actually, that oversaw Family operations from the main facility in Virginia.
Adam looked at him curiously. "Anything you want to tell me about? Have you finally decided to get off that high moral horse of yours and accept what we do?" It had irked him that Blair had rejected the Family's purpose of policing scientific and technological research. Not that he cared about Blair's opinion in the least. There was only one man's opinion he cared about and he was the only reason he was bothering with this discussion.
"What do you know of morality, Adam?" Blair questioned sarcastically.
Adam shrugged. "Just what little I've learned from James, actually. Judging people is a waste of time in my book and that's what morality is all about, right? You've judged me and the rest of the Family because of what we do. That's wrong and you know it."
Blair gave a sharp laugh. "You're going to give me a lecture on right and wrong, Adam? That's really rich, man." In his opinion, Adam could have easily become a sociopath but for the interference of one Jim Ellison, who had seen beyond the shroud of indifference in which Adam cloaked himself. How he had done so was a mystery to Blair, who even now still had to do a doubletake to picture Adam as a protector of mankind instead of a destroyer.
Black eyes cooly appraised him. "There you go judging again. Admit it, Blair. You tolerate me and the rest of the Family because of your relationship with James, but you look down on us because of what we do. The rest of them ignore it. I won't."
"Why? Because your 'right' is so much more 'right' than mine? Because you believe so fervently in your cause?" As far as he knew, Adam believed in one thing-- Adam.
Adam recognized he was being baited and took the challenge. "There's that," he said, dropping his voice to a whisper. Although the Elder was on the other side of the glass, he suspected that he could hear them. How? He figured if he needed to know, his brother would eventually tell him. Speaking of... "But there's also James to consider."
Blair became furious at Adam's implication. "Don't you dare assume I haven't considered Jim in all this. You were the one who came here and dragged him back into that dark little world of yours where you suppress free thought and censor any ideas that don't quite meet your standards," he said bitterly.
"You act as if the Family arbitrarily chooses which research to promote and which should be placed under scrutiny. There is nothing arbitrary about what we do. We are trying to protect lives."
"At what cost? It is everyone's right to think. Where would we be if the scientists, engineers, and explorers of the past had been oppressed by people like you? 'No, Columbus, you can't sail around the world because it's flat. We'll just lock you up until you get some sense into your head.' Or 'no, you can't feed people mold, Dr. Fleming. It's too much of a risk'," Blair mocked.
"How about what James is saying now?" Adam charged. "'No, general, you cannot test germ warfare even in the empty desert. Why? Because you haven't bothered to learn what will happen as the plants absorb the biotoxin and the animals eat the plants and the people eat the animals. Nor did you take the time to test how long the compound survives in an airborne environment.' You expect James to turn his head on that one, Blair? You think he could? Just how well do you know this man you claim to be your best friend?"
"I knew him quite well until you interfered with our lives!"
"Bullshit. James was the Elder long before he met you and he was still the Elder after he met you as well. For you, he hid what is a big part of him. And now, even after you've discovered who he is, he still has to hide because you're so damn sensitive and pious. Do you even care that he can't be himself around you? Doesn't that bother you even in the slightest?"
"I accept Jim for who he is!"
"Yeah, but do you accept James?" Adam demanded.
"That's enough," Jim said quietly, joining them on the patio. "Adam, the problem has been taken care of. Why don't you go pick up your lady?"
Adam nodded reluctantly and stepped away from Blair. "Of course, James. I'll see you later."
As he brushed past him, Jim put a hand briefly on his arm. "We'll talk then," he warned softly. Adam gave a grim smile and continued on through the loft. "So, would you like to have a talk now?" Jim asked his partner.
"About what?" Blair asked innocently.
"About whatever it is that made you trade shots with Adam."
"Other than him just being Adam, you mean?" Blair joked wearily.
Jim sighed. "Something's been bothering you for a couple days now, Chief. I don't know whether it has to do with your sick friend or if it's just that you're tired of putting up with me--"
"It's not you, Jim," Blair said quickly. "That much I can tell you. Actually, you haven't been nearly as much a pain as you usually are when you're housebound."
"Thanks, I think," Jim replied with a brief grin. "Then if it isn't me..."
"It's not my secret to tell," Blair said softly.
"Maybe part of it is," Jim suggested gently. "Just remember, when you're ready, I'm here. Okay?"
Blair nodded and sent his attention inward as Jim left him to his thoughts. Jim was right; he had been in a funk since running into Mitch. The secrecy surrounding Dr. Angrim's "cure" had set off his paranoia alarms-- perfected after working with Jim for so long. If the research was legitimate, there should have been government and medical officials in the know. That was what he had learned from looking at the Family files. A lot of people bitched about the FDA and how hard it was to get their approval, but this wasn't some anti-aging cream already in use in Paris or a European day-after contraceptive. This was about an epidemic that was killing millions worldwide.
It was obvious that there had to be some controls in place. The researchers had to be protected from America's favorite pastime-- Sue That Company!, and the patient had to be protected from certain fiscal dangers as well. With something as scary as AIDS, people became desperate and easily led. Quick cure schemes, fraudulent herbal remedies, even pay-for-prayer cons abounded. If no one kept up with the legitimate research, then the real answer would probably get buried beneath all the fake ones. He hadn't gotten around to asking Mitch if being Angrim's guinea pig was costing him anything, but someone was backing the research with big bucks. Someone was being frauded-- whether it was Mitch, the backers, or Angrim.
There were also physical dangers that awaited the patients. The fact that Mitch was off his meds at Angrim's insistence... That made Blair more nervous than anything else. Had Mitch been informed of the possibly dire consequences of his actions? Had he been properly warned that if he stopped boosting his immune system, the HIV could get a foothold and never let go? And what was there to keep the cure from being worse than the disease? For Angrim to be performing tests on human beings at this point, he had to be taking considerable risks with his subjects. That was definitely a no-no.
Great, now I'm agreeing with government policy. Naomi will be so disappointed in me. Of course, she's probably expecting it. After all, I am living with a cop and working as his partner. What next? I'll get a crew cut and start talking about "us" and "them"? Or maybe I'll vote Republican and say the homeless are only living on the street because they're all too lazy to get a job? Yeah, I can see me now, banning books from the library and burning CDs and tapes in front of the music store. Yep, that's me-- Mr. Censorship. Jim will be so proud.
He stopped and ran the thoughts through his head again. No. Jim wouldn't be proud. Because none of that described his partner. Jim didn't disrespect the law-abiding homeless. He kept his hair cut short out of convenience, not because of his politics. He complained about, and sometimes laughed at, his roommate's choice of music, but he never asked him to get rid of it. Turn it down? Yes. Turn it off? On a really bad day. Throw it out of the loft? Never. Jim wasn't into censorship.
And neither was James. And that, Blair realized with belated clarity, was the root of his moodiness. He had, as Adam had informed him, judged the Family because of what they did. Now, he was faced with the reality of Angrim's research and suddenly, he wasn't so sure of his no-quarter-given stance on the Family's purpose. He was actually starting to see their point of view. The Family wasn't trying to inhibit anyone; they were just trying to protect them... Okay, sometimes they were a bit heavy-handed and he would continue to wonder about the quick judgments they made. But all in all, they were guarding lives, corraling the science that escaped the fences and borders already in place. Like Angrim's research.
How had it gotten by Family scrutiny anyway? In the Elder's backyard even? Blair flicked a glance inside the loft, saw Jim working with the weights to strengthen his arm, and knew the answer. Because Angrim was working at Rainier University and James would never intrude on Blair's territory. Because James didn't want to offend him. Because James tried to be unobtrusive around Blair. Because James knew Blair didn't like him.
Shit. Adam had been right again. Jim hid a very important part of himself because Blair didn't accept him. He had accepted the cop, the soldier, the Sentinel, even just the plain, fallible human being. But he hadn't accepted James. He hadn't truly acknowledged the Elder, the powerful figure who ran a worldwide organization, gave orders to the leaders of nations and armies, and had at his disposal well-suited soldiers who would do his every bidding. People said his name with reverence, the men and women who worked for him sang his praises, and his sister had named him the godfather of her child. But one lowly anthropology grad student, in his learned arrogance, refused to give him the respect he deserved.
And what was the Elder's reaction to that? He stepped aside and made no mention of the hurt and betrayal he must be feeling. Even if he had never understood the importance of the Family, he should have respected his partner's right to believe in it. From the beginning, Jim had told him that he wasn't going to push him into accepting what the Family did, but that they had to come to some kind of understanding. But he hadn't wanted that. Maybe because he knew Jim had a point even though it went against everything he'd been taught by his mother, his professors…
With a sigh, Blair realized it was time for him to come to grips with the man he lived with and the man that he himself had become. Both were intertwined and it was much too late for him to change that even if he wanted to... which he didn't. Knowing what he had to do, he went inside, grabbed the papers Adam had left for him and his backpack. Then he told Jim he had to go out for a while.
As he left the loft, he took a final glance back at his partner. Why he had delayed this, he didn't know. It was past time for a change, but thankfully with friendship, nothing was ever too late.
Jim glanced at his watch as he heard Blair's car pull into the parking lot. His partner had been gone for several hours, and although he was reluctant to admit it, he had started to get concerned. Apparently, running into his HIV-positive friend had triggered some difficult thought processes in his Guide and while that usually caused him to harp constantly on a subject, this time Blair had internalized it. That wasn't good.
He walked over to the door and opened slightly so Blair wouldn't have to spend ten minutes fishing his keys out of his pocket. Jim couldn't quite understand why, after all this time of having the loft keys on the same ring as his car keys, Blair still stuck the keys in his pocket as soon as he got out of his car, then searched for them two minutes later. One of the quirks of being Sandburg, he supposed.
"Hey, man," Blair said as he walked into the loft. "Sorry, I was gone so long. Sometimes it takes a while to talk sense into a stubborn friend," he added as he lowered his backpack.
"Really? I had no idea," Jim said dryly, receiving a rueful chuckle in reply. "Did you eat while you were out? There's some left over something in the fridge."
"Sounds appetizing," Blair said, rolling his eyes at the less than descriptive description. "Too bad I ate at Mitch's place."
"He was the stubborn friend?"
Blair nodded. "It took me hitting him with all the information Sam had gathered for me, but he was on the phone to his doctor when I left." He was weary but pleased.
Jim wasn't exactly following Blair's every word, but he was used to his friend starting in the middle of a story or conversation. He knew if he waited long enough, the beginning would eventually reveal itself. "I'm glad for him and for you. You seem as if a heavy burden has been lifted from your shoulders." He really did. For the first time in several days, he had been able to hear the old Sandburg bounce in his roommate's step as he made his way from the parking lot.
"Well, I've been carrying some stuff around for a while," Blair admitted, plopping down on the sofa while Jim settled into his favorite chair. "But it's time to toss it out. In other words, I'm ready to talk now."
"Okay, Chief. I'm listening."
Blair shook his head. "It's not you I want to talk to."
Jim blinked, surprised at the hurt he suddenly felt. Whoa, Ellison. Remember you're an adult. The kid's finally gonna talk. That's what mattered. "Sure, Chief. Is there someone I can call for you?" He moved as if to get up and get the phone.
Blair reached out and settled his hand on his friend's arm. When Jim flinched, he looked at him. "You overdid it, didn't you?"
Jim shrugged. "Just a little. I got distracted and worked out longer than I meant to." Worrying about you, as usual.
"Worrying about me, no doubt," Blair said, knowing he was right when Jim looked at him strangely. He laughed. "I don't have to be a mind reader, you know. You're rather predictable at times, big guy."
"I wish I could say the same about you. Maybe then I wouldn't wake up each morning wondering if my hair has turned white overnight."
Blair smiled. "A little gray would make you distinguished. Come on over here by me and let me see how bad the damage is." He patted the cushion beside him.
"Just a mild strain. I'll be fine by morning," Jim protested, even as he did as Blair asked. He casually picked up the mink teddy bear in his way and sat it gently on the end of the sofa, knowing that in the morning the bear would be once again sitting on the center cushion. It was something he was slowly getting used to.
Blair, ignoring the whole ritual with the bear completely, ran his hand along the heavily muscled arm. "It's tight. Want a rub down?"
"Maybe later. I think you should go on and have that talk. I can wait."
He shrugged. "Since you insist... The person I need to talk to, Jim, is James." The stunned look on Jim's face was priceless... and precious. Just how deeply had this rejection affected his friend?
"What are you saying, Chief?"
"I'm saying there is illegal research going on at Rainier and I'm reporting it to the Elder." He didn't feel guilty; he had told Mitch what he was going to do and the grad student had agreed.
"I'll call Adam," Jim said quickly.
"Why?" Blair asked. "If I had wanted to deal with Adam, I would have called him myself."
"But nothing. I live with the Elder. I'm reporting to the Elder. And I'm expecting the Elder to do something about it." Jim looked absolutely perplexed. "I trust you to do what you do, James. It's that simple."
"I do," Blair said firmly. "I don't know if it's because I was slapped in the face by the situation Mitch is involved in or if it's because of what Adam was trying to tell me this afternoon, but I accept you, James. I may not-- oh hell, I probably won't-- always agree with what the Family does, but I respect you for doing it and I won't force you to keep that knowledge from me."
"You didn't force anything, Chief," Jim began.
"Yes, I did. I was uncomfortable with the Family and with your role in it. You picked up on that and decided to shield me. You shouldn't have had to do that. As your best friend, as your Guide, as the brothers we have become, I should have embraced all that you are. Instead, I picked and chose the parts of you I wanted to be friends with. You should have called me on it, not Adam," he chided lightly.
"Maybe it was because I was having trouble accepting it as well."
Blair shook his head. "No. You are the Elder. I hear it in your voice and see it in your movements and actions. You wear it with the same ease as you do the Sentinel and the detective. Your doubts about who you are come from me and for that, I am very sorry."
"You make it sound like you did something wrong, Chief. You were only following your heart," Jim pointed out.
"No. If I was following my heart, there wouldn't have been any conflict. Instead, I followed what I thought I should follow, what the Sandburg before you would have followed." Blair sighed, hoping the explanation didn't sound as jumbled to Jim as it did to him. He stood up and paced, hoping the movement and the free use of his hands could help get his point across. "Sometimes it feels as if I've lost myself in this life with you, Jim. I don't like guns but because of you, I'm surrounded by one or more night and day. I don't like violence. But on a sometimes daily basis, I'm confronted with the most violent people in the city. I get shot at, spat at, beat up, kidnapped, and tortured and when I can, I retaliate. So much for the philosophy of non-violence, huh? In short, I have adapted, endured, and conformed because I made a choice to be at your side."
"I'm sorry," Jim said softly, regretting the sacrifices his friend had made in his name.
Blair shook his head. "Didn't you hear the word 'choice' in there, Jim?"
"But you didn't choose to be at the Elder's side, Chief. You didn't know he existed."
"Exactly. And I used that as an excuse to exert my independence. I had changed as much as I was going to change. I didn't know this James and I wasn't about to compromise any more of the remaining parts of Blair Sandburg," he explained, silently laughing at his own stupidity. "You already owned so much of my soul, Jim. I wasn't about to give more to some stranger named James."
"Chief, I never wanted your soul," Jim said, anguish roughing his voice.
"I know that. And I haven't really lost it to you, you know. It's a gift, Jim, which means I get as much from giving it as you do in receiving it. But in denying James, I screwed up that balance and the part I refused to hand over was slowly slipping away until today." He stopped in front of Jim, wanting to see, no, needing to see the understanding in the clear blue eyes. "James is you, Jim. You are the Elder. And it is you who are my friend and so much more. For convenience sake, we sometimes divide you into individual parts in discussion, but in reality, there are no parts. You are a whole and if I say I support you, then I must support all that you are. Up until now, I hadn't done that."
"But you went with me to England to be with Arielle and Jamie Lin. You accompanied me to the reunion. If that wasn't support, what was it?"
Blair shrugged."Fear maybe? My feelings for the individual Family members haven't changed. There are those I like and those I despise. But now that I look back on it, the reason I accompanied you on those occasions was the same reason I went with you to Virginia that first time-- I feared the Family. I was scared that if I wasn't along, they would take you away from me. It wasn't a rational thought, I know," he added when Jim looked to protest, "but when has that ever stopped me? Still, I was right to fear the Family-- not because of the bonds you share with them, but because of my reaction to them. I was the problem, not them."
He sat down beside his partner. "But there isn't a problem anymore. The Family can't take you away from me if I am truly part of the Family. In fact, it just makes us even closer," he said happily.
"Whoa, Chief. Despite what you think, despite whatever thoughts Adam put into your head this afternoon, this is not necessary. You don't have to 'embrace' the Family, or whatever the hell it is you're doing, just to make me happy. I don't want or need any more sacrifices from you," Jim declared, trying to come to grips with what he'd just heard. "You don't like what the Family does, that's fine. I have accepted that. You don't have to apologize and lay this research situation at my feet like an appeasement offering. I know I said something about us having to eventually work it out, but I didn't mean you were the one to do all the compromising. If you don't want me doing Family business here in the loft, that's your right because this is your home too. If you don't want to discuss the Family, that's okay. I understand that it makes you uncomfortable. I respect your right to have a different opinion."
"Then respect my right to change it, Jim. I'm not tossing this to you like a bone to a growling dog. What is going on at Rainier is wrong. I know that."
"If something illegal is happening, tell it to the police. Let me call Simon."
"It's not that black and white. Dr. Angrim may really be onto something, man. I would hate for him to go to jail and his notes held in evidence for an eternity when maybe they could hold the key to the cure we've all been searching for. This is a shade of black, James. This is why the Family exists. This is why I'm asking for the Elder's help."
Jim locked eyes with his best friend, knowing that was the only way to really see into his soul. Sometimes when the kid started obfuscating and twisting the truth, he could confuse even himself. But he saw no evidence of confusion, no hint of wavering or doubt. There was just the shining glow that he always associated with his partner. "Okay, Blair. Give me what details you have. I'll get our people on top of it immediately."
"Thank you, Elder," Blair said and felt a sense of rightness. Our people. Well, everyone knew the best way to achieve change was from the inside and if anyone wanted to get in his face about it, well, they would have to deal with the Elder... and the Elder would pile-drive them into the ground. Ahhh. A warm fuzzy trickled along his spine. Time to repay the favor. "Give me a second to get some liniment. I'll talk and massage at the same time. Okay?" Before Jim could answer, Blair had disappeared into the bathroom but the Sentinel could hear him humming a song as he moved. Happy. Content.
That makes two of us, Chief.
"You wanted to see me, Blair?" Adam asked, tapping lightly on Blair's office door in Hargrave Hall.
"Oh, hi, Adam," Blair said enthusiastically. "You on campus finishing up with Dr. Angrim's lab?"
Adam nodded. "Just wanted to make sure we have all his research. Then I'm joining him in Virginia. He's going to be an assistant to one of the researchers there for a while."
Blair smiled. The doctor was getting what he deserved. First, he had been demoted to a mere research assistant and second, he was going to be under close scrutiny. Being assigned to the Virginia facility meant being under Adam's personal watch. He shivered when he thought of how bad that could be. "What about his backers?"
"They're being dealt with. And your friend, Mitch? He's back on the protocol with apparently no lasting effects from his lapse."
"That's good news." He motioned for Adam to have a seat. "I just wanted to thank you."
"For opening my eyes. They weren't really closed, you know. Just unfocused."
Adam nodded his understanding."James said this was your catch."
Blair shrugged. "Sometimes there is a need for guys in dark suits."
"You understand then?"
"I not only understand, I accept. But that doesn't mean I'm going to be any easier to live with," Blair added with a quick grin.
"Thank God that's James' problem, not mine."
The anthropologist shook his head. "I'm a full-fledged member of the Family now, Adam. That means you're going to hear more from me. And I have lots and lots of opinions about everything."
Black eyes caught him in a deadly stare. "But in the end?"
"But in the end, the Elder has the last word." The fierceness faded. "When it comes to loyalty to him, Adam, whether he's Jim, James, or whomever, I think you've met your match," Blair warned.
Adam smiled. "I can live with that."
Blair's smiled echoed his. "Yeah, I can too."
Adam stood and walked toward the door. "See you next week... little brother."
Dark blue eyes sparkled back at him. "Say hello to the Family for me. Tell them we're still waiting on that visit."
"I'll pass the word along. Take care of yourself and James."
"Always," Blair pledged. "Uh, Adam, if you're not in a big hurry, I'm getting ready to meet Jim for lunch. Want to join us?"
Adam shrugged. "I guess I can call my pilot and tell her there's a delay. Where are you planning to go?"
"We'll let the Elder decide," Blair said with a grin.
Adam reached to unloosen his tie. "Won't need this at Wonder Burger."
Blair groaned. Out of all the ways Jim and James were different, this had to be the one thing they agreed on. "Is it the cholesterol that's the attraction? Or is it simply the grease itself?" he asked disgustedly as he gathered his backpack. "We're going to have to help him through this addiction, you know? I've tried on my own and so far the results have been less than satisfying. Simon's been no help at all. Almost as bad as Jim is. I just can't make them see the benefits of macrobiotic diet when, according to them, they are obviously doing just fine. Just because they haven't dropped dead yet from clogged arteries isn't a reason to ignore good eating habits. Wait a minute, Adam. Hello, Blair Sandburg."
Adam blinked at the smooth transition from talking to him to answering the phone. When Blair held up his fingers indicating he'd be through in approximately five minutes, Adam sat back in the chair and remembered a time long ago. He and James had been on the porch at the farm. James had already committed to the Family and Adam was in the middle of his typical half-second hesitation before following wherever James led.
"Come on, Adam," James had said, his crystal blue eyes shining excitedly. "We're going to do some good in this world. At times it will be frustrating, irritating, maybe even dangerous, but I know you like that. What it won't be, though, is boring. I promise you that." Like he knew he would, like James knew he would, he had nodded and gone inside to kiss Father's ring.
"So, Adam," Blair said, replacing the phone and continuing as if he'd never stopped, "we're going to stop off at the loft and I'm going to grab a jacket and tie for Jim and myself and then we're going to one of those nice restaurants you take Dr. C. to. And hand over the keys, man. This time I get to drive the Jag. You know I've been wanting to..."
Adam shook his head and obediently followed the chattering anthropologist out the door. It would be interesting to see how long he could go without taking a breath. Wonder if James had timed him yet? Wonder if he'd get used to it? Probably. Since James hadn't killed him yet, that meant there was a fade-to-the-background factor somewhere. Guess he'd find it eventually.
Adam smiled as he stepped into the sunshine and Blair was still talking. Irritating, but never boring. Yeah. James always kept his promises.