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Four strong winds that blow lonely, seven seas that run high
All those things that don't change, come what may;
But our good times are all gone, and I'm bound for moving on -
I'll look for you if I'm ever back this way.
Nothing ever lasts.
Nothing ever lasts.
All right, sometimes it seems as if something is lasting, is going to last, might even last for ever... but nothing. ever. lasts.
If I tell myself that often enough maybe I'll even begin to believe it.
You'd think, though, I should have learned that little lesson thoroughly years ago. I mean, Naomi never stayed anywhere for long. My earliest memories are of travelling.
Don't get me wrong, here - as a kid I enjoyed travelling. I loved travelling. I liked falling asleep at night in a bus or a train - or occasionally a plane - and waking up in the morning and seeing a complete change of scenery, never knowing what kind of scenery to expect, going from absolutely flat to mountainous or near-desert to rainforest or dry land to ocean in just the few hours I was asleep. Never knowing where we'd stop next or how long we'd stay appealed to the budding explorer in me. And occasionally when they thought I was sleeping I'd hear someone compliment Naomi on my good behaviour - I was a quiet child, even then spending my time observing, listening, learning... and feeling sorry for the other kids I met, who didn't get the chance to travel because their parents were so dull they were happy to spend their lives in one place.
Sometimes we stayed put for a while - a few days, a few weeks, sometimes in countries where they didn't speak English, and I picked up a working knowledge of a dozen languages by the time I was six - that's the best time to learn languages, after all, when you're very young. I don't say I'm grammatically fluent in all of them, but I can get by.
Sometimes I didn't much like the place where we stopped, and I was really glad to leave it. Sometimes I loved the place, the people, and would have liked to stay longer, but Naomi always got restless and moved on.
Nothing ever lasted.
It took me a while to realise that when we stopped somewhere, it was because Naomi had moved in with someone. At first I just thought that the man in the house was whoever she was renting our rooms from. I had to have been... eight?... when I realised the truth. Yes, when I think about it, it was not long after my eighth birthday. We were staying with Carlos at the time, and I saw her kissing him. On the mouth.
I knew what that meant.
Precocious? Not really. I read a lot. Naomi read to me when I was a baby, even before I'd begun to talk, always showing me the pictures as she read, and by the time I was three, not quite four, she realised that I was recognising what the printed words under the pictures said, and from then on she encouraged me to read for myself. She didn't vet my reading, quite rightly assuming that if I didn't find a book interesting I'd abandon it in favor of one that did catch my attention; but even at eight, my interest level was around twelve or thirteen, and I'd read a couple of books on sex by then - though at that point it was academic knowledge of something I didn't think I was likely to do; my mind was maybe ready for the knowledge, but my body certainly wasn't, and at eight the idea of sticking my dick inside someone else... Let's just say that given a scale of one to ten, the 'ewww' factor was at twelve. It was another couple of years before Naomi sat down with me and gave me the talk, and another year or so after that before I began to feel any... well, urges, I suppose I'd call it, the scale of the 'ewww' factor dropped to near zero and the curiosity factor peaked to around twenty. But because of the way we lived, it was close to five years before my curiosity was satisfied.
I liked most of the men Naomi moved in with, though there were one or two... It was those ones who made me realise that if I wanted to be accepted I needed to be able to blend in. See, I'd started off thinking - remembering those things I overheard about my being well behaved - that as long as I was quiet, didn't get in anyone's way, I'd be okay. Harry, though - he found my very quietness offensive. As far as he was concerned, a nine-year-old boy shouldn't sit quietly with his nose in a book, he should be out doing 'manly' things, getting into mischief and annoying the neighbors in the process. The day I went home from school with a black eye, Harry quizzed me on what had happened, and I had to admit I'd got into a fight with the class bully and - unskilled though I was - I'd given as good as I'd got. Bloodied his nose. You'd have thought I'd won a million dollars; Harry was far, far prouder of his 'nephew' for getting into a fight than he'd been a week earlier when I went home with the top marks in the class for the term exams. And although I told Naomi the whys of it, I never did let Harry know that what made me lose my temper and fight was Don Harris snatching my books and throwing them into a puddle, because that's no way to treat books. (I just told the teacher I'd accidentally dropped them. I think she knew the truth, though she didn't query it; but because I'd fought back and didn't snitch, I didn't have any more trouble from the bullies after that. That little incident also taught me the value of obfuscation.)
We weren't there much longer; I don't think Naomi was best pleased by Harry's reaction, especially when he arranged for me to get some lessons in boxing. But those three or four lessons, basic though they were, later proved quite useful - though I never admitted it to Naomi.
After that, I watched the reactions of the people around me, and quickly learned to respond to them in whatever way allowed me to be accepted most easily. Usually that meant projecting an energetic, talkative personality - not something that came easily to me at first; like I said, I was a quiet child, and pretty introverted, hard though that might be for anyone knowing me in my university years to believe.
I probably overdid it when I first went to Rainier. Professor Buckner was right when he described me as 'a brat, headstrong, stubborn...', the same as Alec Summers - the main difference between me and Alec was that I studied. Yes, in a way I thought I knew it all, because I'd travelled pretty well all over the world by then, seen so much more than the other students, even though I was so much younger... but although I'd been to school here and there, until I was fifteen, when I had the best part of a year in one school so that I could take the exams that would take me to the university, my formal education was patchy; most of what I knew I'd picked up from reading, and I hadn't learned that often there are two sides to pretty well everything. Most of my books had said, in effect, that any other viewpoint than the writer's was 'controversial' - if they'd even admitted that there was another viewpoint.
But at Rainier I soon learned that there was rarely one hard and fast way of looking at anything theoretical, and that there are exceptions to every rule. Even the way people react to external stimuli isn't always predictable - there's always the odd person whose response will be unexpected and totally different from everyone else's.
Actually, Buckner was totally the wrong adviser for me; we reacted badly to each other from the word go. I irritated him, and he put my back up. Later, when we were no longer forced to associate, we avoided each other as much as possible. What probably saved me at the time was Eli Stoddard. He listened to what I had to say, especially when I spoke about some of the places I'd been; he'd been to a lot of them himself, and found my memories, the child's-eye-view, fascinating. Discussing those places and those memories with him helped me grow up as nothing else did.
I'd picked up Burton's Sentinels of Paraguay when I was twelve, one day when I was browsing through some old books in a used book store in Asuncion. It was dirt cheap because it was a travel book so old it had become a history book - almost a book of legends; and it was in English - not the language of choice for most of the store's clientele. How it had found its way there in the first place I can't begin to imagine. I'd expected to find it interesting enough, expected to pick up a little factual knowledge of what some of the tribes had been like before they had exposure to the white man's culture - what I didn't expect was to find it enthralling, to the point where I began to search for more and more information about sentinels, getting more and more frustrated when I discovered just how little had been documented about them since Burton. One or two other explorer-writers who were writing soon after Burton mentioned possible sentinels in passing - only Burton had seen their full importance to their tribes - but these comments got fewer and fewer until there was no mention of them at all in more recent books.
Yet I couldn't believe that sentinels had died out.
Eli encouraged me in my study of sentinels, agreeing with me that the handful of tribes still living pretty much as their ancestors had done must still have sentinels, even if modern 'civilised' man didn't need them. It was he who first suggested to me that I might find sentinel-level senses of taste and smell among tea and coffee and wine tasters or the workers in perfume companies.
I had a little discussion on levels of vision with my optometrist one day when I had my eyes tested, and he put me in touch with a couple of men who were extremely far-sighted - unfortunately both needed glasses for close work, which meant they didn't, properly speaking, have sentinel vision, but they added a little data to my slowly-filling notebook. I found some sensitivity of touch and hearing among blind people, but it was fairly clear that they had learned to use these to a greater capacity than normal to compensate for their lack of vision rather than having those senses naturally enhanced.
A couple of expeditions proved to be not very helpful; the elders of both tribes agreed that sometimes someone was born who could see further or hear better than most men, but neither would admit to having had anyone like that in their tribes for many years.
I got a couple of papers out of it all, once it looked as if I'd discovered as much about modern-day sentinels - or rather, the lack of them - as there was to discover. But I never stopped looking.
I spend ten years searching for people with enhanced senses. And then, when I was twenty-six and had almost given up hope, I finally found one. The real thing. Jim Ellison, a Cascade detective.
The next four years were great. Oh, we had a few problems and I suffered a few injuries and sometimes things got pretty nerve-wracking, but I loved the roller-coaster ride of police work. I'd responsibilities at Rainier too, and there were times when sleep seemed to be a myth, but hey, you can waste a third of your time in bed; cutting horizontal time from eight hours to five gives you the equivalent of nearly a whole extra day per week, and a lot of the time I needed it.
The other great thing about those four years was Jim himself. He gave me a home - something I'd never known before; the longest Naomi ever stayed anywhere was about three months. Even as a student, I never stayed long anywhere; my summers were spent on short expeditions and there was no point in paying rent for a room I wasn't going to use for several weeks - and most years I did something during the winter and spring breaks that also took me away from Cascade. Money wasn't in itself a problem - Naomi had at some point inherited quite a lot of money from someone, though she was always a bit vague about just who it was - and gave me a pretty generous allowance; but scatterbrained though I have to admit she sometimes seemed to be, she'd always been careful with money and taught me to be careful too.
During my student years, Naomi left me pretty much to myself. She phoned two or three times a year, I could depend on getting a letter on or around my birthday, and on the rare occasions I actually saw her, she allowed her maternal instinct to surface and - I have to admit - sometimes embarrassed me quite considerably by acting as if I was still a child. But nothing ever came close to the monumental mistake she made when she sent the first draft of my dissertation to Sid Graham.
The chapter I'd actually submitted had been properly edited, and named no names; but I'd allowed my pride in Jim to influence me and I'd left his name on the rest of it, knowing I'd remove it before submitting the whole thing but not really sure of the best way to do that while maintaining the integrity of my research - because my source material primarily came from one person, though I'd included data from my earliest subjects and some references to Alex Barnes. I knew I'd be wise to remove my own name, too, make the whole thing completely third person objective and imply more major input from my secondary sources if I wanted to maintain Jim's anonymity.
So when Naomi sent it in its unedited form to Sid, and he decided against my protests to publish it, the fallout was... nasty. I suppose I could have handled my denial of it in another way, but at the time it seemed the best thing to do was claim I'd made up my facts. Claim that the whole thing was fraudulent. Knowing as I did that my academic career was finished.
Not that I'd really wanted to teach, anyway; although I wasn't a bad teacher, my time as a TA showed me that it definitely wasn't what I wanted to do with my life, even as a known and respected field anthropologist who was no longer young enough to be happy with the rough, sometimes very rough, living conditions that typified many expedition camps, but was still too young to retire. And I'd known I couldn't go off on lengthy expeditions and leave Jim, even though by then his control was close to a hundred percent.
I hadn't actually had any plans for my future.
When Simon offered me the badge it seemed to be the answer to everything. I'd have a job working with Jim, a job I was sure, from my four years ride-along, I'd enjoy -
But then I began to think; and I realised that if I stayed, living with Jim, working with him, when I'd used his name on my little piece of 'fiction', some people would inevitably start to wonder if there wasn't some truth to it after all. And as Jim said right at the start - he didn't need the bad guys to know he had an edge. It would automatically make him a target. Well, in a way cops are always a target - I should say it would make him more of a target.
And so I left, even though I knew he still needed me.
Oh, I didn't just walk out without giving Jim prior warning. I discussed it with him first. He didn't like it, though he saw my point; but when he tried to persuade me that it was something we could deal with, I knew what I had to do - for his sake. For his safety. That was when I walked out.
I waited till he had gone to work, then packed up the few things I really needed, scribbled a note, and left it - with Burton's book - on the coffee table, and left. I left my car parked beside the loft, and walked several blocks before getting a cab, taking it to the airport and taking the first plane available on standby without caring where it went.
'Obfuscation' is my middle name. Like I said, I learned the art of it when I was nine. What I wrote to him was the truth - but truth worded in a way calculated to mislead.
I told him that in addition to the problems I'd foreseen if I stayed, I'd grown up as a nomad, and four years was far longer than I'd ever spent in one place; we'd had a great time together, but it was over - as he had said, my research was done, and it was time for me to move on to someting else. I didn't know where I was going, I'd never forget how much our friendship had meant to me, and that if I ever returned to Cascade I'd contact him.
Not that I ever meant to go back to Cascade.
I was a little more forthcoming in the letter I sent to Simon - I thanked him for the offer of a job, and went into a little more detail regarding the problems I could see if I stayed. I admitted that while Jim was prepared to face those problems, I didn't want him to, so I'd let Jim think I was selfish and had left because I'd just got restless. I asked him to help Jim as much as he could; and then sealed, addressed and mailed the letter before I could change my mind and just leave it to Jim to tell Simon I'd gone.
For several months after that, I travelled. Extensively. Trying to recreate my carefree childhood, I suppose. I went to Europe, and toured Britain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Greece; from there I went to Egypt; then to India, with a quick side trip to Nepal, where I knew Naomi was at a retreat, only to find I'd missed her by two days. I moved on to New Zealand, one of the few countries I'd never been to as a child though we'd spent time in Australia, and then two days ago I came back to America because Naomi finally got in touch with me and suggested we meet up.
And I hated it. Hated the travelling, the living out of a suitcase that had seemed so adventurous when I was a child. Hated going to sleep on a bus or a train or a plane and waking up somewhere else. Hated not knowing where I'd stop, hated living in the featureless sameness of hotel rooms, hated having to decide when to move on, hated not having any specific destination in mind, no particular reason for going anywhere. Sometimes I even decided which way to go from the direction of the wind, letting it blow me to my next stop.
I hated not having anything specific to do. Always before, when I travelled, I'd been observing - as a child, just absorbing things, later, as a student, still observing but also taking notes, thinking about the possibility of writing an article about some aspect of what I saw. I could still take notes, of course, but who now would ever want to publish anything I might write?
And I began to wonder if Naomi was really happy, if in fact boredom with the aimlessness of her life was what drove her to link up with men some of the time, drove her to spend time in retreats...
The only thing that kept me going was knowing that I was doing it for Jim's sake - for I knew that if I did stop, did settle somewhere, no matter where it was, somehow he would find me. Because I knew, without knowing how I knew, that he was looking for me. And I couldn't allow him to find me.
For four years I'd been happy... but nothing ever lasts. Something always happens to prevent it - and the worst 'something' is the well-meaning interference of someone who thinks that what they're doing will help you.
She had to have thought she was helping me. She couldn't have done it to get me away from Jim, from working with the 'pigs' - could she? She seemed accepting enough when Simon offered me that badge...
No. She had no idea what my dissertation was about. She really did think she was helping me... It was a typical example of how she never listened to what I had to say, a typical example of how she thought that what she wanted for me was best for me.
God, who am I trying to convince?
During the four years I spent with Jim, every time I saw her she tried to persuade me I was making a mistake, that I didn't really want to be there, that it was time for me to move on, even if 'moving on' just meant finding another place to stay while I finished my studies. Surely I had enough material to write my dissertation without staying with the PD any longer.
About six months before the shit hit the fan, she reminded me it wasn't as if I needed to work; if I wanted to, well, that was one thing, but I didn't actually need to work; and at that point she doubled the already more than adequate allowance that was paid into my bank account every month - the account Jim didn't know about, that I mostly didn't touch. She could, she said, understand that I wanted to get those three letters after my name - however, I don't think she understood why I wanted them.
Though as I said, I'm not sure what I planned to do with the doctorate once I got it. All I knew, while I was working for it, was that I had to get it; it would be proof that I did amount to something.
Naomi was right about one thing, though; I had more than enough material for ten dissertations, but hell, I enjoyed working with Jim.
I've always been a loner - from necessity much of the time. When you're the only kid in a bunch of adults, you soon learn how to entertain yourself, be happy with your own company, and I was always happy with a book. Even when there were other kids around, I rarely found I had anything much in common with them - and there was no point in trying to make friends, no point in thinking of anyone as a person I was ever likely to see again, because in a few days or weeks Naomi would move on, with no guarantee she'd ever go back there. Even in my more settled years as an undergraduate, I was so much younger than everyone else that nobody wanted me along. I'd totally resigned myself to never having any friends; acquaintances that I called 'friend', yes, guys I did favors for, that I could call on to help me out, especially as I got older - but it was always because they owed me; I never took the chance of asking a favor from anyone who didn't owe me, and I never, never looked for complete reciprocation - they owed me half a dozen favors, I might call in five of them but never, ever the sixth.
Yes, I suppose in a way I was buying friendship.
Even the girls I went out with - I never felt they'd bother with me unless I dined then in some kind of style, gave them presents... Yes, I went through girl friends fast, none of them lasting very long - but it wasn't because I was shallow or a womaniser; I was looking for one who would want me for me. Okay, maybe I didn't give any of them long enough to get to know me; it's possible. But even if something about them attracted me in the first place, when it came down to it I found most of them pretty uninteresting. Sex on its own isn't a good basis for a lasting relationship, and as I got older I didn't even have sex with most of them, though I know Jim thought I did.
I wanted love. With or without sex.
Sex without love, just to get my rocks off, I could get any time I wanted from my right hand, with no risk whatsoever of picking up STDs.
Jim was my first ever friend, the first person apart from Naomi I ever wanted to stay with... No, that's not quite accurate. Children can outgrow their parents, want to leave the nest, so to speak, and by the time I was sixteen and a student at Rainier I no longer needed Naomi the way a pre-teen needs Mom. I love her dearly, but...
I'm thirty one, damn it! And she still doesn't see me as an adult able to make my own decisions, even although at some point in my early teens I began to stop depending on her and began to think it was my job to protect her. Sending my dissertation to Sid Graham was just the last in a long string of things she did under the guise of 'helping' me because "that's what mothers do". Oh, they weren't all disasters by any means, but she never once stopped to wonder what I might want to do, what I thought might be best for me. She just barged on, never listening to what I said -
Though that's not quite accurate either. She heard the words and usually even went by the letter of them, but not once did she go by the spirit of them.
Like the dissertation; I told her not to read it, so she didn't; but it didn't occur to her that it was a breach of trust for her to send it to Graham, for him to read. It didn't occur to her that I didn't want anyone reading it until I'd gone over it again.
I should have known, though, that she'd do something like that. It was exactly the kind of 'act first, think later' thing that she's excelled at for most of her life, and most of the time she's either been able to walk away from the consequences or been able to get someone else to minimise them.
I was one consequence she wasn't able to walk away from - well, I suppose she could have given me for adoption, and it says a lot for her that she didn't. And because of its lasting repercussions on me, this last little exploit is one she won't forget in a hurry either.
I just wish I could think that she learned something permanent from it... in the same way that she learned the value of contraception once I happened along.
So here I am, sitting in another anonymous hotel room, this time in San Francisco, having come back to that one inescapable fact. Jim is absolutely the only person I've ever wanted to stay with for the rest of my life. And he is the one person I must never see again, for his own safety.
Blair put down his pen, and reread what he had written.
Since he learned to write, he had always kept a journal, finding that writing things down was a useful way of consolidating what he learned as well as steadying and centering his thoughts, and letting him work through anything that was worrying him. However, during the past months setting pen to paper had seemed to be too much of an effort; this was the first time he had written anything at all since leaving Cascade, and he had begun in the hope that as usual it would clarify his thoughts. He wanted to remind himself how much he had enjoyed travelling when he was younger, hoping this would reconcile him to the lonely aimlessness that his life had become. Instead, it left him feeling even more depressed.
He knew that he had changed in the years since he first went to Ranier; although in his time there he had loved going on the short expeditions that had been available to the students, had enjoyed taking holiday jobs that enabled him to learn new skills, for the past four years he had lived a relatively settled life.
Now he realised he had changed more than he had thought, more than he could have believed possible, in those four years. He had put down roots, far deeper roots than he had ever suspected he owned. Pulling them up had left a massive festering sore in his psyche that he doubted would ever heal.
Sighing, he closed the journal. All he had gained was a greater awareness of what he had lost.
He checked the time. This was the day Naomi had said she would arrive, and she would soon be here, and he suddenly found himself unwilling to see her. If she hadn't interfered...
He stood abruptly, checked that he had his key card, and left his room. He ran down the stairs, too much on edge to wait for the elevator, and walked briskly out into the late afternoon sunshine. Pausing for a moment, he glanced up and then down the street, not sure which way he wanted to go.
There was a sudden loud bang somewhere very close, and a car swerved out of control onto the sidewalk, its front right tire in shreds. Blair moved, pushing two women out of the way of the car as he, too, tried to dodge it, but he was too late. It hit him, knocking him out of the way before its nose rammed the wall to one side of the hotel doorway.
From somewhere far away he was aware of a woman's voice screaming, "Blair!"
'Blair'. Oh, yes - that was his name... He should answer, but answering somehow didn't seem important. It briefly crossed his mind that by not responding he was being unnecessarily rude, but he couldn't force himself to care. In that moment, falling asleep seemed far more important...
Naomi walked down the street, dragging her wheeled case behind her. Although she was tired after a long flight, she had left the cab bringing her from the airport two blocks away, half aware it was a delaying tactic.
Although she refused to admit openly, even to herself, that she was nervous, almost reluctant to see him, her body knew it; her pace slowed as she approached the hotel where she was to meet her son.
'The road to hell is paved with good intentions.' God knew her intentions had been impeccably good.
She was well aware that her actions had destroyed Blair's academic life; since the dissertation fiasco, time spent in retreats, in meditation, had forced her to accept that. The only good thing that had come out of it was that Blair had decided to sever his connections with Cascade PD. Granted, it was a pity he had had to lose his friend as well, but that, in Naomi's opinion, was a small price for Blair to pay when it ensured his safety.
After all, she reflected, Blair didn't have to work; teaching, anthropological expeditions, writing, would all have been in the nature of a paying hobby for him. And he had already returned to the travelling life he had so loved as a child. She had enjoyed his company when he was young, although his presence then had been a slight restriction; there were places she couldn't take a child, although she had often been able to find someone to babysit him for a week or a month while she went to them. Perhaps now he would join her, travel with her again, and she would have the company of an adult when she went to them.
She was getting close to the hotel when she saw Blair leave it and pause; he glanced both ways, but she knew instantly that he hadn't noticed her, half hidden as she was by a man in front of her. Then there was a loud bang, and a car careered onto the sidewalk; she saw Blair pushing two women clear, and then it hit him before carrying on and coming to a stop against the hotel wall.
She dropped the handle of her case and rushed forward, pushing her way through the crowd that was already gathering, pushing past the men bending over her son.
"Get an ambulance!" she screamed. "Blair! Blair!"
"Someone in the hotel already called for an ambulance," one of the men said as he made way for her. "You know this man, ma'am?"
"He's my son," she managed before her throat tightened too much to allow her to speak without breaking down.
While they waited for the ambulance to arrive, a woman brought her case over; she stared at it for a moment before she registered what it was.
"Thanks," she managed. "Could you... could you take it into the hotel, please? I have a room reserved there - my name's Sandburg. If you leave it with reception and tell them I'll be in some time later. My son arrived earlier - "
"That's all right, Mrs Sandburg," a quietly confident voice said. "I'll take it."
Naomi glanced up. A woman of about her age, wearing a hotel name tag that said 'Elaine', was standing there.
"I'll get it taken to your room - you can register when you get back from the hospital. I saw what happened and came out to give the paramedics what information I could about Mr Sandburg, but of course I'm not needed now that you're here."
"Thank... thank you," Naomi stammered as an ambulance drew up.
Elaine smiled. "I'm sure he'll be all right," she said encouragingly.
One paramedic knelt beside Blair while his partner went to see to the driver of the car.
A police car pulled up behind the ambulance; the police went first to the crashed car, where the paramedic was checking the unconscious driver, having first gone back to the ambulance and called in; then they crossed to where Blair lay.
"Did anyone see what happened?" one of them asked.
A babble of voices answered him. He held his hands up, and looked at Naomi, who had moved back a little to allow the paramedic access to Blair. "Ma'am? Can you tell us?"
"The car swerved onto the sidewalk," she said. "It hit Blair, then carried on and crashed."
"My son. Blair Sandburg. We'd arranged to meet here, at the hotel; I was maybe fifty yards away when I saw him come out the door - he may have been looking for me, my flight was delayed by half an hour so I was late getting here."
"He pushed my sister and me out of the way," another voice broke in. "If he hadn't, he'd have been able to get out of the way himself."
"I think a tire blew out," a man put in. "There was a bang - and then the front tire was in shreds."
Meanwhile, the paramedic had been tending to Blair. Now he straightened. "Tom - let's get this guy into the ambulance. What about your one?"
"He'll need to be cut out. I've called it in."
Even as he spoke another ambulance arrived. The crew nodded to Tom and his partner then turned immediately to the wrecked car.
The first two paramedics lifted Blair carefully onto a stretcher, wheeled him across the sidewalk to the ambulance and fastened the stretcher firmly in place.
"You can sit in front, ma'am," Tom said.
Naomi nodded and climbed into the front passenger seat. She was beginning to shake as she realised that this most recent injury was nothing to do with Jim Ellison or the work of the Cascade PD.
Blair had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time - or the right time, if you looked at it from the point of view of the sisters he had pushed to safety.
At the hospital, Naomi gave Blair's details while her unconscious son was whisked off by an attendant. She went through name and age easily. Asked for his address, she hesitated for only the fraction of a second before saying, "852 Prospect, No 307, Cascade, Washington."
"And his profession?"
"At the moment he's taking time out to do some travelling. He was a student, and working with the Cascade PD as a consultant."
Little though Naomi had liked his involvement with the cops, it seemed that the nurse taking his particulars was impressed.
It seemed a very long time before a doctor came to the small room where she waited with as much patience as she could muster.
It was a measure of her anxiety that she didn't take time to correct him. "How is he, Doctor?"
"He's been X-rayed, and there are no broken bones, no sign of any serious injury that we can detect, but he hasn't regained consciousness. Obviously I'm having to admit him."
She nodded, not surprised. "When can I see him?"
"We'll have him settled in about half an hour."
Naomi sat by Blair's bed for nearly an hour, but he remained deeply unconscious. Finally she admitted to herself that he was unlikely to waken that night, and that she was exhausted - both from the flight and the shock of seeing Blair knocked down at the point where she would have been glad to lie down for half an hour. She paused at the door, looking back, then went to the nurses' station. "If Blair regains consciousness, would you tell him I've been here, but I've gone back to the hotel to get some sleep."
"Yes, of course. Oh - would you like to take charge of the things that were in his pockets? His wallet, for example?"
Naomi nodded, and was given a plastic bag containing several things; she signed for it, then turned and walked wearily down the corridor.
She paused at the main exit, looking round for a cab. A few seconds later, one drew up to drop off two passengers; she moved forward to claim it.
Only a few pieces of shattered glass showed where a car had crashed into the wall of the hotel not too long before. Elaine was no longer on duty; the receptionist's name tag identified her as Sharon.
"Can I help you?"
"I don't know if Elaine mentioned me? Ms Sandburg - I have a room reserved, but my son was involved in an accident and I went to the hospital with him. Elaine took my case... "
"Yes, she did tell me. Your case has been taken to your room. How is Mr Sandburg?"
"There was no sign of any serious injury, but he was still unconscious when I left the hospital. I'm half asleep - there didn't seem any point in staying on when he didn't even know I was there."
"I'm sorry." She sounded as if she meant it, and Naomi decided that Blair, who she knew had arrived a couple of days earlier, must have been doing some quiet flirting.
She signed in, took her key card and headed towards the elevator.
She sank down to sit on her bed, kicked her shoes off and lay back; but now that she was lying down, she found herself unable to sleep. Her mind kept replaying that endless moment when she realised Blair was in the path of the out-of-control car, and after a few minutes she sat up again and swung her legs off the bed. Crossing to the kettle, she put some water in it, and boiled it to make coffee, choosing the decaffinated variety from the bowl of small sachets sitting there.
It didn't help. Exhausted, she was still too wired to relax. Perhaps if she checked through Blair's things?
His wallet - plenty of money in it, with some loose change clinking in the bottom of the plastic bag. A photograph - Blair with Jim, obviously a candid camera moment with both men unaware they were being caught on film as they shared an animated conversation. Something about it...
She had known for long enough that they were friends, that Blair mentioned Jim frequently and in enthusiastic terms, but she had never been quite sure that the friendship was totally two-sided or even how deep it was on Blair's side. Blair, as she had good reason to believe, was like her; he developed quick and easy, but usually shallow, friendships with most of the people he met; over the years, he had rarely commented, let alone complained, about losing friends he had made. It was the example she had given him. Be friendly, but don't give anyone the chance to break your heart. Leave before they do.
From this photo, however, it was clear that Blair trusted Jim completely; and that Jim regarded Blair with considerable affection... with far more affection, in fact, than Naomi had believed the matter-of-fact cop of being capable of feeling.
She studied the photo for a little longer, registering Blair's obvious happiness, Jim's obvious content, beginning to realise just how badly she had misread their relationship.
Naomi put the photo down, picked up Blair's keycard and looked at it for a moment.
Afterwards, she was never sure why, having picked up her own keycard, she left her room and went to Blair's. At the time she was half aware of thinking that perhaps if she lay on Blair's bed she might be able to sleep.
Inside his room, she stopped, looking around, noting the atypical neatness of the place. Blair had been there for two days - long enough to stamp his presence on the room in little ways as he had always done, even as a child. Yet here, he had apparently chosen not to. The only thing that marked this room as his was a large notebook that lay on the worktop in front of the mirror.
She picked it up and opened it, instantly recognising Blair's writing. This, then, was his current journal. Somewhere, she knew, he had stored all the filled journals from the preceeding twenty-odd years.
In the past she had always respected the privacy of his journals, if only because she believed she knew exactly what he was writing in them - details of their travels, a record of the things they saw, possibly his reactions to those things. Now she wondered, for the first time, if that was all he had written.
She flicked through the pages, noting the dates. Sometimes the entry was short, half a page or less, sometimes it was several pages long. A glance showed her that these entries mostly involved either his work at Rainier (the short ones) or at the PD (the longer ones). Finally she came to a page with that day's date, and realised immediately that the preceding entry had been some months previously. It was, in fact, just before her last visit to Cascade.
And that was strange. Over the years, Blair had sometimes let a day or two pass between entries, depending on where they were or what they were doing, but never had he let as long as a week go past without adding something; this was a gap of months.
Why, having apparently stopped filling in his journal, had he suddenly chosen to make an entry on this day? Curious, she began to read.
By the time she reached the end, she was blinking away tears.
How had she so misread her son?
Because she had assumed she had successfully taught him her mistrust of relationships?
There had been a few times she had tried to overcome that mistrust, but...
She thought back thirty two years. Colin Jessop, the man she had met and fallen hopelessly in love with. Her first - last - love. Only when she told him she was pregnant, expecting him to marry her, had she learned the truth. He was already married, amusing himself with the silly little sixteen-year-old who had so flattered him by falling in love with him - and no way was he willing to risk his marriage.
"I'll tell your wife!" she threatened, and he laughed.
"You don't know where I live. You don't even know my real name!" he told her, and walked out.
Her parents had been reasonably understanding, but not particularly supportive. They were rich, they were happy to continue giving her an adequate allowance, but they were not prepared to face the shame of having it known they had an illegitimate grandchild. If she planned on keeping this child, they said, she was not welcome in their house unless she visited without it.
She never saw her parents again, although she wrote to them from time to time, keeping them up to date on where she was, what she was doing, and her mother always wrote back; and when they were killed in an accident four years later, she, as their only child, inherited everything. She arranged for their house and possessions to be sold - she had no wish to return to her childhood home.
After Blair was born, she had not lived celibate - she enjoyed sex - but it was always on her terms. She had never again been able to trust any man with her heart, even although she sometimes thought she should at least try. But when it came down to it, she had never been able to risk her heart, her happiness, again. She knew she had hurt some of the men she had loved and then left - though always she had left before she made them any promises.
Of course, as she was forced to admit to herself, Colin hadn't given her any promises - her naive sixteen-year-old self, in love and in love with being in love, had made assumptions based on a fairy tale concept of happy-ever-after that she had come to realise rarely, if ever, existed.
And Blair had enjoyed their nomadic lives, to the point where she wondered if he would be able to settle at Rainier.
Now she realised that she should have seen the signs then; seen the first indication that Blair hungered for a settled life, in the one single fact that he had chosen to stop travelling, had chosen to go to university, when he was just sixteen - but that hunger had been hidden by his various trips, study-related though they were. Another sign, she now realised, was the way he had remained in touch with one or two of the 'uncles' and 'cousins' she had provided for him over the years.
Or perhaps she had just chosen not to see the signs, assuming - once more assuming - that her lifestyle was the best one for him, as well; that her values and insecurities would also be his.
He had wanted a home, and he had found one; a home where he was happy - and her actions had destroyed it.
In one thing, at least, he had been wrong; there had been no deliberation, no malice, in her actions. Yes, she had tried to persuade him that he no longer needed to hang about with Jim, with the cops, but that had been for his own safety; and when she sent his dissertation to Sid Graham it had been with the best of intentions. She had been surprised, but very pleased, at Sid's reaction, puzzled by Blair's.
Once she realised what she had done she tried to show Blair that she supported his decision for his future, whatever it was - even if he had decided to accept Simon's offer of a badge; but she had been pleased when Blair let her know he had left Cascade. In her blindness she assumed he had remembered her teaching, outgrown his unnatural interest in police work, finally outgrown his attachment to the city, ignoring as irrelevant the doctorate he would not now receive. In that, at least, he had been correct; she had never understood why he wanted it, although she would have been very proud of him had he become Blair Sandburg, PhD.
She put the journal down where she had found it and returned to her room.
There was no change in Blair's condition the next day. Naomi tracked down hs doctor.
"Why is he still unconscious?" she demanded. "You said he wasn't seriously hurt."
"We don't know," the doctor - Fordda according to his name tag - admitted. "There's no sign of serious injury, no sign of head trauma. There's no obvious reason for his continued unconsciousness. I would certinly have expected him to be awake by now. It's almost as if for some reason he wants to remain unconscious - tell me, do you know if he has suffered any serious emotional upset recently?"
"A few months ago," she admitted. "But he's always been the kind of person to bounce back from... well, anything." But not this time, her thought continued. Not if what he wrote in his journal is anything to go by.
Dr Fordda's words echoed her thoughts. "Perhaps what happened a few months ago was more upsetting for him than you imagine."
She sat at Blair's bedside all afternoon, speaking to him, trying to remind him of all the things he had enjoyed as a child, things that were again open for his enjoyment, knowing as she spoke that these were no longer things he could value.
About seven o'clock she gave up and went back to the hotel. In her room, she took out her mobile phone. Fingers poised over the numbers, she hesitated. What if she was too late? What if Blair was unforgiven, would never be forgiven?
She put down the phone and went to Blair's room. There, she picked up his journal and took it back to her own room, wondering as she did why she hadn't just brought the phone with her.
But she knew why. For as short a time as she had spent in it, her room bore her signature; Blair's bore no signature at all. She would be able to say the words more easily in her room than in this sterile, anonymous one.
She opened the journal at the last entry and reread the last paragraph.
So here I am, sitting in another anonymous hotel room, this time in San Francisco, having come back to that one inescapable fact. Jim is absolutely the onlyperson I've ever wanted to stay with for the rest of my life. And he is the one person I must never see again, for his own safety.
Then without giving herself time to reconsider, she picked up the phone and punched in the numbers she remembered so well.
"Jim, it's Naomi."
The silence lasted for less than a second, then, "Blair isn't here, Naomi. He left several months ago." His voice was very flat.
"I know - that's why I'm calling. Jim, do you know why he left?"
"I know why he said he left. But what he told me, and what he told Simon, didn't quite match. Naomi, if you know he's not here, why are you calling?"
"Because I think he needs you."
"You think?" There was anger in his voice. "If he wants me, he knows where I am. Does he know you've called me? Naomi, haven't you interfered enough in his life?"
"There was an accident. He's in a hospital in San Francisco. He's been unconscious for twenty-four hours. The doctor doesn't know why, but he suspects the cause is emotional."
Yes, she thought. He cares. She explained briefly, then went on. "I... looked in his journal to see if he'd written anything that might explain an emotional problem. Jim, the last thing he wrote, not long before the accident, was 'Jim is absolutely the only person I've ever wanted to stay with for the rest of my life. And he is the one person I must never see again, for his own safety.'
"He never wanted to leave.
"I don't pretend I can understand that, because I'm a wanderer; I've never wanted to stay long in one place, never found one place where I'd be happy to stay, one person I'd be happy to stay with. From the last entry in his journal, though, he had.
"Jim, I think he's still unconscious because he can't face the life he's been living this last few months any longer. He won't come back for me; he might come back for you."
"Where are you?"
She gave him the name of the hotel, then added, "But Jim - don't come unless you truly want him back and are prepared to convince him that you do. Anything less wouldn't be kind."
"Yes," Jim said quietly. "I know. I want him back here where he belongs, Naomi. Never doubt that. It's probably impossible to get a flight tonight - I'll get one tomorrow, somehow."
"I'll arrange for you to share Blair's room - it's number 458. I'll wait here for you; tell reception to call me when you get in."
"All right. And Naomi - thanks."
Naomi took the journal back to Blair's room, then went down to reception to arrange for Jim's stay. After that she went to the hotel restaurant. She wasn't particularly hungry, but knew that she should eat something - her last meal had been the day before, the airline's idea of lunch - and it gave her something to do to fill in half an hour of the evening.
When she returned to her room, she phoned the hospital.
There was no change in Blair's condition.
Jim put down the phone, his mind racing.
Blair, unconscious in the hospital. Well, bringing him back from unconsciousness surely couldn't be any harder than reviving him after he drowned in the fountain! The trouble was... he had never been quite sure how he'd done it.
He picked up the phone again. Simon first, to tell him he was taking time off, and why, then the airport to see how quickly he could get a flight to San Francisco.
He was in luck; there were a few seats available on the last flight to San Francisco that night. He booked a seat, paying for it with his credit card, spared ten minutes to throw some underwear and a couple of shirts into a small case and gather up the garbage; he secured the loft, took the garbage downstairs, then got into the truck, throwing his case into the passenger seat, and headed for the airport.
He pulled up in the long-term parking lot, took his case, locked the truck and headed briskly for the terminal; made his way to the appropriate desk and claimed his ticket; found the gate and sat down to wait the call to board.
It was late when he reached the hotel. He had half expected Naomi either to have forgotten she was to arrange a room for him, or to assume she wouldn't need to see to it until the morning, but no - he was expected. He signed in and was given a keycard for room 458.
"Can you tell me the number of Ms Sandburg's room?" he asked as he took the keycard.
"She's in room 462, sir."
It was late enough that he decided not to disturb her that night. Instead, he went to his - Blair's - room.
The first thing he saw when he walked in was the book.
He had to know...
He reached for it and quickly found the final entry.
"Oh, Chief," he whispered as he finished reading. "What am I going to do with you? You haven't been thinking straight since Graham first contacted you about publishing the dissertation, have you?"
He put the journal down, kicked his shoes off and lay on one of the beds. Still wondering how best to help his friend, he drifted into sleep.
Blair sat on a rock absorbing the peace of the view in front of him - if it could be called a view.
Everything he could see was in shades of black and grey and silver and white. In front of him, the long reflection of a full moon shimmered on the almost still water of a long, narrow lake. The snow-capped tops of the mountains surrounding the lake shone pure, pure white in the moonlight, the slopes beneath the snow a deep black contrast. He was close to one side of the lake, and the trees growing sparsely along the shore showed as grey shadows against the darkness of the ground behind them. The sky was cloudless, but the brilliance of the full moon outshone all but a very few stars; the brightest was low, low in the sky, just above the eastern horizon where the mountains were lowest, and he guessed that it was a planet, either Jupiter or Venus. The air was cold, but it was a dry cold that somehow didn't chill him; instead, he found it pleasant, invigorating, a cold that, unusually, he welcomed.
He knew this place, he realised. He had been here once before, years previously. Strange that he could remember that, although he didn't remember where it was. At the time it had struck him that this was one of the most beautiful, peaceful places he had ever visited - but the next day, in the sunlight, it had been completely different, still lovely but in a totally different way; it was the moonlight that had made it so striking. And that day, or the next, he had moved on. He hadn't thought about it, hadn't remembered it, for a long time... until now, when he found himself there once again.
There was just one difference from the scene he remembered; back then there hadn't been a wolf lying at his feet.
Yet it seemed natural that the wolf should be there.
For a while the silence was absolute; then it was broken by a distant buzzing, and he frowned slightly; somehow he knew that moths were the only night-flying insects here, and moths flew silently. But the wolf showed no sign of alarm, so he dismissed the noise as unimportant. And after a while it stopped and everything was silent again.
That was when he realised that although he had been sitting there for quite some time, nothing had changed; the moon was still high in the sky, its reflection exactly where it had been. The planet still hung low on the horizon although it should have been climbing higher.
It was, he decided, nothing to worry about; caught in this endless *now*, nothing could hurt him, he had no responsibilities - somehow he knew that before he arrived here he had had responsibities, at least one of which weighed very heavily on him.
Sitting here... He couldn't, he decided, describe himself as *happy*, but he wasn't *unhappy*, and that seemed to be an improved emotional state. *Content*, he thought, might be the most accurate word to describe how he felt.
In the back of his mind he was aware that he would at some point have to move, that he could not sit here for ever; but he was in no hurry for that moment to come. He would stay, he thought, as long as the wolf did. When it moved off, so would he.
And so he sat, relaxing, enjoying the moonlight.
The pressure of a full bladder woke Jim. He dealt with it, then checked the time. Just after 7 - how soon, he wondered, could he let Naomi know he had arrived?
His dreams had been confused; he had been searching for something, following something, that had remained obstinately out of sight, but it hadn't been clear to him what he'd been following. Now he realised he had spent that night, as he had spent many nights in the last few months, looking for Blair.
He washed and shaved, then picked up the hotel phone and punched in the numbers 4-6-2.
He was answered almost immediately. "Naomi Sandburg."
"Hi, Naomi. Did I waken you?"
"Jim. When did you get here?"
"In the middle of the night," he said. "I managed to get a fairly late flight last night - got here far too late to waken you.
"Now - when do you want to get breakfast?"
"I'm not really hungry," Naomi said.
"I'm sure you're not, but you have to eat," Jim said.
"I told myself that last night, and had some dinner, but I had to force myself to eat. I'll force myself to eat something again tonight, but it seems a waste - of money, of food - to do that more than once a day."
"Naomi, it would worry Blair if he knew you weren't eating, you know that. I won't insist you eat much, but you've got to have something."
"What about you?" Naomi demanded.
Jim grinned wryly. "I haven't been very hungry either, since he left, but I haven't been skipping meals. I'll come along to your room in - what? Quarter of an hour? and we'll go for breakfast. Okay?"
"All right. Quarter of an hour."
Jim put the phone down and picked Blair's journal up again. He opened it at random and began to read.
Fourteen minutes later he put the book down, left the room and walked down the corridor to Naomi's. As he reached it, the door opened and she stepped out.
They turned and walked back along the corridor towards the elevator.
"Thank you," Naomi said as he pushed the 'down' button. "For coming. And Jim - I promise this will be the last time I interfere in Blair's life." She gave a weak smile. "You read his journal?"
"Blair was right, you know. I've always been impetuous, acted first and thought later, and usually walked away from any problems I caused. But I really have learned a lesson this time." She sounded very subdued.
The elevator arrived - this early in the morning, it was empty, the odd businessman staying there already at breakfast, the folk on vacation mostly still in bed. "From what Blair said to me, his dissertation needed editing - "
"It did, but it needed Blair to do it, not anyone else," Jim said as he pushed the button for the first floor.
"I realise that now. But at the time I thought it was just basic grammar and such like he was worried about, and that a professional editor would be the best person to advise him - or reassure him that there was nothing wrong."
"Naomi, even if that was what it needed, didn't it occur to you that it would be cheating? That the dissertation was supposed to be *Blair's* work, maybe rewritten with advice from his advisers, but not Blair's professionally edited work?"
The elevator doors opened, and they walked out. "This way," Naomi said. After a moment, she went on. "I just asked Sid to give him some help so that the second draft would be better. Just general advice, nothing more. I never expected Sid to be as enthusiastic as he was."
They fell silent as they entered the restaurant, a silence that lasted as they both choked down an unwanted bagel and filled up on coffee.
Afterwards they went back to Naomi's room. She phoned the hospital, to be told there was still no change in Blair's condition.
As she put the phone down, she said, "I thought... if you came, it would be all right. But how will he know you're there, if he's unconscious?"
"He'll know," Jim said confidently, then, more uncertainly, "The question, rather, is - will he choose to waken? Because if he doesn't, there's not much I can do."
They reached the hospital mid-morning.
The nurse smiled a welcome at Naomi, looked twice at Jim, smiled invitingly, then on getting no reaction from him, became briskly businesslike again.
As soon as he entered Hlair's room, Jim forgot Naomi, forgot good manners and courtesy in his anxiety to get close to his friend. He pulled a chair close to the head of the bed and sat in it, leaning over Blair; he reached forward and stroked Blair's face the way he remembered doing beside the fountain, and suddenly found himself standing in a cold, moonlit world.
Somehow he had expected to be in a jungle.
This place was beautiful, in an otherworldly sort of way, a panorama of black and white... and lit by the relatively faint light of the moon, rather than the warmth of the sun. Was this how Blair was seeing life right now? A life that had lost all its warmth, all its colour because he had lost everything he valued?
And where in it was Blair?
A soft rumble sounded at his side, and he glanced down. A black jaguar stood a few yards in front of him, almost invisible in the shadows. Once it knew it had caught his attention, it turned and padded away. He followed it.
It was heading towards a body of water.
And then a wolf appeared, rising to its feet beside an oddly-shaped rock. It took him a moment to realise that the shape was due to the hopeless slump of the man sitting on it. As the wolf moved the figure straightened, half turning to watch it, and Jim ran forward.
Jim couldn't have begun to name the emotion that stabbed through him at the uncertainty in Blair's voice.
He threw his arms round Blair, pulling him into a tight embrace that combined relief, protectiveness, comfort and an overwhelming affection, and after a moment of resistance Blair relaxed into it, his own arms coming up to cling desperately to Jim.
After some moments, Blair whispered, "I know I'm dreaming, Jim, that this is all I can ever have, but the memory of it... being able to pretend, for just a little while... "
"It's not a dream, Chief. At least - well, maybe it is, but I'm really here. I'm real."
"As real as this dreamscape." There was a note of bitter acceptance in Blair's voice. He raised his head, pulling back a little to look at Jim, and Jim promptly lowered his head to kiss Blair's forehead lightly.
Jim raised his head again. "Come home with me, Chief," he murmured. "There's nothing we can't face as long as we're together."
"It's too dangerous for you," Blair said sadly.
"There are ways round it," Jim replied. "I promise you, there are ways round it."
"There are?" His voice was still full of uncertainty.
Jim smiled reassuringly. "Yes. And Blair, I need my partner. Need him and want him beside me." Here, in this unreal world that existed only in a dream, he was not afraid to express himself, and for a moment he wondered if this was how Blair had always seen him - as more emotionally open than he actually was. "I want him working beside me, sharing the loft with me. Come back?"
Blair blinked several times. "Yes."
Jim found himself back in the chair beside Blair's bed, his hands still cupping Blair's face. He saw a movement out of the corner of his eye, and looked up quickly, to see Naomi still carrying a chair over to the bed. From the expression on her face, he knew he had only been gone a matter of seconds.
He looked down again as Blair's eyes flickered open. "Hi, there."
"Jim... you are here. You really are here."
"Yes, I'm here, and so's your Mom. You had her worried, Chief."
Blair turned his head, frowning as he tried to gather his thoughts. "Mom... Yes, we were meeting... " He paused for a second, then went on. "There was a car... It swerved onto the sidewalk... "
"And you pushed two women out of the way and were hit yourself. I saw the accident," Naomi told him. "The doctors said they couldn't find anything wrong, you weren't badly hurt, but you wouldn't wake up."
Blair glanced at Jim, then back to Naomi. "And you called Jim?"
"I want you to come home," Jim said, repeating what he had said in Blair's dream.
"It's too dangerous for you - "
Jim shook his head. "Not really. I went to Chief Warren and explained that yes, I have slightly better than usual sight and hearing - nothing that some other people don't have - and that was why you used my name on the novel you had written. I forced Chancellor Edwards to admit, publicly, that you hadn't submitted it as your dissertation; that although your dissertation was on sentinels, the chapter you had actually submitted dealt with historical sentinels and only speculated on the possible value of sentinels in today's world. I followed that by saying that although you'd claimed attempted fraud in your press conference, in fact there was no fraud because you hadn't submitted the 'fictional' chapters as your dissertation - that you were nervous in front of the cameras and what you had meant to say was 'apparent' thesis. It helped that you left behind a lot of your notes on the work of the PD and I was able to say that your introductory chapter was meant as a lead-in to the work of the PD as the modern 'protectors of the tribe'.
"IA investigated a couple of my cases when the men involved appealed on the grounds of illegally obtained evidence, and I was able to prove that the evidence that convicted them was obtained by 'normal' investigative methods.
"As far as the world is concerned, I'm just an ordinary cop with a slightly better than average conviction rate. As far as Chief Warren is concerned, you decided to take a few months off to get away from the notoriety. As far as the academic world is concerned, calling a novel your dissertation was someone else's mistake. I'm sorry I couldn't persuade Edwards to reinstate you - too many unauthorised absences gave her a valid reason to dismiss you - though she did agree that if you presented a full dissertation inside a reasonable time, they would consider it; but the offer of a badge is still open, Chief - all you have to do is pass firearms training."
Blair stared at him. "I... walked out on you, and you did all that?"
Jim grinned at him. "I read between the lines of the note you left me, and Simon showed me the letter you sent him - did you really think he wouldn't?"
"I don't think I was thinking at all," Blair said weakly.
"Now," Jim finished, "let's get the doctor in to see you and get you out of here."
It wasn't quite as easy as that, of course. The doctor insisted that Blair stay in the hospital for another twenty-four hours for observation, but when he showed no sign of lapsing back into unconsciousness inside that time, he was discharged.
Jim, Blair and Naomi spent that afternoon sightseeing, including taking a boat trip to the Golden Gate Bridge, then after a leisurely meal they went back to their respective rooms.
And back in Cascade, Simon, in response to Jim's phone call letting him know the situation, was busy arranging for Blair to become an official, paid member of the Cascade Police Department.