Timeframe: "Sentinel Too, Part Two"
Jim flicked through the pages of the latest issue of FHM magazine (Elizabeth Hurley very nice) and kicked up one foot to rest against the edge of the coffee table knowing that Sandburg would damn near swallow his tongue if he saw him now.
Jim man,’ he´d say his hands gesturing widely, encompassing Jim´s feet, the table and the whole of the loft in general. Jim smirked. It might even be worth it just to see the look on the kid´s face. What´s this? Blatant disregard for house rule one hundred and sixty seven? Or is it sixty eight. I always get ‘no feet on the coffee table´ and ‘anything on the coffee table must be on a coaster´ mixed up.’
He flipped another page. Snorted. Jesus, did some guys actually go out wearing crap like this? A page of raunchy jokes. One caught his eye and he half concentrated on reading how a nun was like a light bulb when the hissing groans of the Volvo started creeping up the street and into the lot. Not that he even had his hearing turned up. You didn´t need to be a Sentinel to hear that shitbox coming from a mile away.
The engine stopped. Jim closed the magazine and drew his leg back, planting both feet on the floor. There was a pause, then the creak of the trunk opening, the rustling of bags. Blair had been shopping.
Not that Jim knew he was going, or what for. Since the press conference it seemed as if they were each working their own covert op, not opposing each other, but certainly not working together. Not that they were arguing. Not even close. You had to speak to argue. Conversation was key to expressing differing opinions, not this thick, heavy fog of silence that seemed to have blanketed the loft.
The elevator creaked, sputtered and whirred to life. Blair was starting the academy Monday. Jim knew that from coming home early from a stakeout a few days earlier and finding Blair at the kitchen table studiously filling out enrollment papers. He didn´t mention it and neither did Blair. And then a few days later, Blair said, in passing oh yeah, I´m starting the academy Monday’, and Jim didn´t add that he already knew that because he´d been checking the roster and looking for Blair´s name every day since Simon tossed Blair that badge and changed both their lives.
There was a thump outside in the hall and then the clink and clatter of Blair´s keys as he struggled to slip one into the lock. With a start Jim realized he´d probably be more helpful if he unlocked and opened the door, rather than just standing on the other side of it, staring dumbly. He crossed the room and turned the knob at the same time the tumblers fell into place and Blair pushed it open.
"Oh, shit. Sorry Jim. I didn´t realize.."
Jim shook his head. "I heard your keys." His eyes fell to the bags Blair was dragging. Couple of shoe stores. A bag from Waldenbooks, not that funky new age book shop he normally got his reading material from. Wilson´s Leather. Using his foot Blair kicked the door closed after he pulled the fourth and final bag into the loft.
"What´s with the shopping spree, Darwin?" Jim asked casually, as they each took two and headed for Blair´s room.
Blair shrugged. "Just picking up a few things."
Jim pushed the French doors open making sure not to look at the four boxes stacked one on top of the other in the corner to the left of the futon. It took only the first few trips after Blair had cleaned out his office for Jim to discover just how to tilt his head as he walked in to block the sight of the loopy scrawl that identified one box as ‘Anthro books´ and another as ‘desk´. The dissertation lay inside a third; typed and printed out in all of its black and white glory. Just one more pink elephant for the two of them to do their well- choreographed dance around.
The smell of fresh leather was tickling Jim´s nostrils, and before Blair finished tossing the bags he was holding onto his futon, Jim tipped that bag into his hands, ready to rib his roommate for buying some new snazzy leather jacket or funky vest. It fell on top of the comforter with a soft swish, small and sturdy and most definitely not a jacket or a funky vest.
It was a backpack. A brand spanking new, black leather, soft-as-silk, hand-crafted, beautiful backpack.
Jim hated it on sight.
"What? ." Jim cleared his throat. God, was that him croaking like that. "What´s that?"
Blair raised one shoulder in a shrug and pulled a box of shoes from a second bag. Jim recognized them immediately. Thick soled, sturdy black work shoes. Cop shoes. Blair nodded at the backpack. "I needed a new one."
Jim turned his head and forced himself to look at the tower of boxes occupying the corner of Blair´s already cramped quarters. God, after forcing himself not to look for so long it felt almost well wrong to look now. Boxes. Books. Tests and papers. And on the floor propped against it all was Blair´s regular, old, beat up backpack. "What´s wrong with that one?"
"It´s shot," Blair answered casually. Too casually. Jim whipped his head back around as he literally heard Blair´s heart skip a nervous beat.
"So what are you going to do with it?"
Amazing how Blair could walk around the room as if nothing was wrong, and manage to never once glance at the old backpack. He shrugged. "Toss it, I guess."
Jim waited a beat. Two. Then, "That´s it? Just toss it?"
Blair´s eyes were flinty and cold when a minute passed and he finally stopped wandering around the room, his arms folded firmly across his chest. "What are you trying to say here, Jim?"
Jim shrugged. "I´m just saying everything deserves a moment of silence when it passes on," he said quietly. Even across the room he could feel the shudder course through Blair´s body. Jim swallowed once, but his voice was still thick and soft. "At least give it a proper burial, Chief."
Silent minutes passed before Blair nodded once; a short jerky nod, and then he bent over and lifted the old backpack up off the floor. He held it tightly; the bag which had held his books and notes. Tests to grade. Granola bar wrappers and half-dead ballpoint pens. Things which would never see the inside of this new bag. Things which would never be needed in the new bag. And, God, when it came down to it, it wasn´t about the bag at all, was it?
Jim heard Blair clear his throat. Another minute passed and then he nodded once, sharply, and held his arm out, passing the bag to Jim. "Cool. Can you get rid of this for me?"
Jim reached for it, then drew his hand back. "You sure, Chief?"
Blair met his eyes, and, for the first time in weeks, the blue was clear and unshadowed. "Absolutely."
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