Finding the 'OFF' switch
Author notes: Counterpoint to sunglow66's Blair in Canada trilogy, taken from Jim's POV. (After much nagging from her!)
I should have known from the last time how the loft would look after he left, but it's still a shock to see the walls and shelves bare of his belongings. Julia's - our - picture hangs where one of his masks had been and I can still see the faint outline of it, even without sentinel sight. She's due home at any minute now, with the chips and dips for poker night.
It'll be the first one since Sandburg left four months ago; it's been a crazy time what with new cases and Jules moving in, and to be honest I didn't feel like exposing her to the guys at work just yet. She's the first woman I've been serious about since Carolyn, and it was nice not to have to watch my back for a change. The senses? Back to normal, and have been since before he left. It was my choice, after all, and I'd had enough of the blood and pain I'd been exposed to since they resurfaced three years ago. Now I don't have to worry about the god-awful stench of decay and corruption around me.
Sandburg left not long after that. He resisted for a while, trying to get me to change my mind by burning candles and meditating, but I can be a stubborn bastard when I want to be. I made Simon withdraw his pass by asking for a new partner and he assigned me to work with Connor. That was when he started packing, or maybe it was when I asked him to move out because Julia was moving in. He didn't come home that night, so I assumed he was arranging to stay with one of his numerous contacts at Rainier. I didn't think he'd quit, though. Now that was a shock.
The sound of a key in the lock heralded the arrival of Julia, and Jim finished opening the door, taking the grocery bags out of her arms. She thanked him with a kiss before going into the kitchen area.
"Beers and wine are still in the car downstairs, Jimmy." She threw over her shoulder and Jim grabbed the keys up, wincing a bit at the nickname she'd chosen. Her friends thought it cute that they had the same initials, and so they'd become 'Jimmy and Jules'. Personally, Jim thought it sounded like something out of that Johnny Depp movie, and he wasn't into all that shit.
Popping the trunk of Julia's car, he surveyed the two crates of beer and six bottles of wine incredulously. What the hell was the wine for? It was poker night, which meant beer; everyone knew that. Tamping down the irritation, he stacked the crates and picked up the wine carrier, wondering if Connor could be persuaded to drink it instead of her usual beer. Grumbling softly all the way back up the stairs, he shouldered the door to the loft open and deposited his burden on the counter.
Picking up the beer, he opened the fridge and slid the cases in the space he'd cleared earlier, then put the wine to chill next to them. Blair had always preferred red wine, Jim remembered, and only then if they were having Italian. The click of heels on stairs alerted him to Julia descending the stairs and he winced again at the thought of stiletto marks in the wood. Little idiosyncrasies he'd found endearing in the beginning were starting to wear on his teeth enamel, and late at night, with a nose full of blonde strands, he remembered Carolyn and the downward spiral of their relationship. Christ, was it starting already?
The gang arrived en masse, an intimidating group to the uninitiated, but Julia stood confidently at the door, smiling in welcome. Polite nods greeted her as they spilled inside, but they greeted Jim with their usual enthusiasm. Well, except for Simon. Simon had been watching him like a hawk since Sandburg had left, and a couple of times he'd caught him with a frown of disapproval on his face. Jim shrugged it off; he could still do his job after all and that's all Simon should be concerned about.
Connor turned her nose up at the wine Julia offered her, and grabbed a beer from the selection Joel had brought, noting that it was one that Sandy had introduced him to. Julia put dishes of pretzels and chips on the table and then retreated to the sofa, curling up in the corner to watch them haggle over who was sitting where. She listened carefully to the banter being tossed backwards and forwards between the group, and frowned slightly when Blair's name came up with alarming frequency. It was the empty chair between Megan and Joel, though, that prompted her to rise on the pretext of getting a glass of wine.
"Are we expecting anyone else?" she asked.
"Nope." Henri Brown rocked back in his chair while sorting his cards out and then tossed a chip into the centre of the table. "That's where Hairboy used to sit."
The slightly morbid gesture made her feel uncomfortable, especially when Rafe put an opened bottle of beer in front of it.
"I hope nothing has happened to him." She said, wondering if maybe she'd missed something. No, Jimmy would have told her if his friend had died, surely?
"Sandburg isn't dead, Julia, he's in Canada." Jim frowned round at the others, wondering what the hell had got into them.
"Might just as well be," Simon puffed around his cigar and Julia coughed as the smoke stung her eyes. Megan snorted beer through her nose and Rafe pounded her on the back.
"Don't waste good beer, Connor." Simon waved his cigar around, spreading the smoke.
"Is this something you always do when one of you isn't here?" Julia stood behind Jim and placed her hands on his shoulders in a proprietary way.
"Oh no, this is a recent thing." Joel said and Jim looked at him in surprise; as far as he knew, it was a tonight thing, because it hadn't happened at any of the other poker nights since Sandburg's departure.
As the night wore on and the beer flowed, Jim was reminded more and more of Blair by the others' reminiscing, and Julia retreated once again to the sofa, her obvious resentment showing as Jim did nothing to include her in the conversation. The muscle in Jim's jaw twitched as he was caught between his friends and his girlfriend, and he knew from past experience where it was heading.
"Are your friends always that rude, Jimmy?" her first shot came as he closed the door after Simon.
"It was like being in the same room as my ex in-laws, only you weren't married to Blair Sandburg."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Oh, don't be so dense, Jimmy. They hate me."
"They barely know you."
"None of them made any effort, did they? I bet if Blair were here..."
"Well he's not." Jim snapped and sighed as she stomped into the bathroom, slamming the door after her. "Damn."
On autopilot he gathered up the empty bottles and rinsed them out before putting them in the recycling box. He was just placing the last of the dips in a Tupperware dish when Julia came out of the bathroom, still mad.
"I think you should sleep downstairs tonight, Jim."
"And think over where your priorities lie." She continued past him and Jim swore she ground her heels into the wooden floor deliberately. If there had been a door to the bedroom upstairs it would have been subjected to the same treatment as the bathroom one. As it was, drawers were slammed and shoes thunked unheeded against the dresser as she readied herself for bed.
Jim opened the French doors to Blair's old room and sank down onto the futon still acting as a bed. Scrubbing his hands over his face, shoulders slumped, he wondered what the fuck he'd done to deserve this.
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