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"You know," Jim Ellison said casually as he chopped the vegetables, "the guys are beginning to realise that you're more than just a pretty face."
Blair Sandburg said, "Huh? How'd you make that out, man? I overheard one comment just yesterday - "
"I did say 'beginning to realise', Chief. You've made a pretty damn good showing since you shoved yourself into my life - even Simon admits that, and Joel won't hear a word against you. I'll grant some of them - the ones we don't know all that well - still see you as an over-educated geek, but everyone in Major Crimes who's heard anyone say that is coming right out and pointing out you're not. That you're pretty damn practical when you want to be.
"You do an extremely good job of disguising what you really are, and you know that even better'n I do."
Blair shrugged. "To be honest with you, Jim, I'm not sure myself what I really am. Anyone brought up the way I was... Naomi was just a kid herself, a rebellious kid, bringing up an even younger kid, and with about as much idea of how to do it... I lived with a succession of uncles - some lasted a few days, some a few weeks, none of them longer than six months. Soon as one of them said 'stay with me?', soon as Naomi even thought the word 'permanence' she got out. Some of them were pissed at having to provide for another man's bastard; some of them were pretty good to me, taught me a lot. I soon found out that I had to learn fast, though - next week Naomi'd be restless, wanting to be on the move again. I'd seen half the countries in the world by the time I was twelve.
"I love her - but even I have to admit that as a role model she's a non-starter."
Jim Ellison put down the knife and studied his partner for some moments, wondering if Blair would take offence if he said what he was thinking. Finally he did, saying softly, "Even a poor role model can be of value if you know that's what you don't want to be."
Blair flashed him a grin. "Oh, there was a lot in our lives I enjoyed. I didn't have any formal schooling though till I was twelve - Naomi taught me to read, and pretty well all I knew I'd learned from reading. Never did catch up maths, though. Not really. Geography - well, I know that from, like, visiting places, but a lot of what I know is not in the geography books.
"I liked meeting people, seeing new cultures - going into anthropology was pretty well a given for me, given the background in travel I'd had, all the races I'd seen - Naomi went mostly for the pagan races, the Oriental... the meditative religions. I was surprised when she came back to America, stuck me in a school here and semed to settle down for almost a year. That was when I learned something about my own religion instead of just the eastern ones.
"I think that was the longest she stayed anywhere... though she had... oh, six jobs during that year. When she moved on again she left me behind - she'd arranged for the people we were staying with to look after me. They were OK - they weren't unkind, they did what they'd agreed with her, gave me a roof and my food, but that was all. I'd only my books for company. Lucky I was happy with that.
"I had to take weekend jobs, holiday jobs, to earn pocket money. Learned quite a few skills that way, too. Amazing how many places will give underage kids work. Course, they don't have to pay them much."
"Didn't she keep in touch at all?"
"Much the same way she does now. There would be the occasional letter, the odd phone call. She visited once when I was fifteen, asked what I wanted to do with my life, and when I said study anthropology, she just shrugged and said, 'Fine - go for it, then'. So I did. Seemed to me she didn't really want me around by then; she loves me, but she loves me most from a distance."
Jim looked at him. "You don't sound bitter at all."
Blair shrugged. "Why should I? Even when I was with her I had to be self-sufficient. She doesn't really want anyone in her life who actually has to depend on her. I always knew that. Why do you think I'm an only child? She made a mistake with me - her excuse was she was young, ignorant - she was barely seventeen when I was born. After that she made sure she knew about contraception. She told me that once, when I wasn't quite five. I'd hurt myself and went to her for comfort; that was when she told me it was time I learned to look after myself, pointed to the kids in the village we were in, and it was right enough - even the five-year-olds there all had their assigned chores. She said she loved me, but that five years was long enough to pay for making a mistake, and now I was old enough to be a man. From that day, that was how she treated me."
"Bitch," Jim muttered.
"She just hadn't grown up," Blair said softly. "Come to that, she still hasn't. She's still a child of the sixties. She's still a teenager at heart. Having me around... it meant she had to admit that she was getting older. She was never prepared to admit that."
"She robbed you of your childhood," Jim said softly.
Blair looked at him. "Like, you had a brilliant childhood?"
Jim hesitated, remembering what it had been like living in a house ruled by a domineering father who seemed unable to care for anyone. "At least I had a childhood, Chief. For all his faults, my father never expected me to be a man when I was just five."
"Didn't he?" Blair asked softly. "If I'm out of line here, Jim, say so, but the impression I got was that you were expected to have the self-control of an adult long before that - like, almost before you were out of diapers."
Jim's eyes gazed past his partner. "If you like anyone and he knows it, it will give him power over you. If you see that someone likes you, you can use him for your own benefit." He was clearly repeating something he had heard often; his voice was very distant. "He saw that my mother was impressed by him - thought his aloof behaviour was strength - and married her, not because he loved her but because she was someone decorative that he could show off, who could give him an heir. After Steven was born, I guess she realised that she was just as much a possession as his house, and as expendable." He was silent for some moments then looked straight at Blair. "I like to think that she wanted to take Steven and me with her; that the only reason she didn't was that she knew he would let her go without a second thought, but not his sons - not because he loved them, but because they were a symbol of his success; they showed his virility."
"Do you know what happened to her?"
Jim shook his head. "I was forbidden to mention her; before long it began to seem that the woman called 'Mother' was just a figment of my imagination. I tried to track her down after I joined the PD, but after more than twenty years... the trail was long cold."
Blair's mouth twisted in an unamused smile. "We make a pair," he said. "Not even Naomi knew who my father was - or if she did she wouldn't admit it. So I never knew a father, you virtually never knew a mother, and each of us with a surviving parent who isn't really a parent to us - the only difference is that I do love Naomi and I know she loves me. It's no surprise that your marriage didn't last, with the role model you had; it's no surprise that I've never really thought of marriage - I doubt I'd trust any woman not to decide to move on inside six months, just the way Naomi always did. Short-term relationships - that's me."
"You are bitter," Jim said softly.
Blair sighed. "Not really. Just... stability has never been a constant in my life. I learned early never to look for it." There was a slight, very slight, note of desolation in his voice, only audible to someone with sentinel hearing.
"How long did you ever stay anywhere?"
"Well, I'd three years with the folk Naomi first left me with, but I know they hadn't expected her to leave me there that long. When she visited, the time I was fifteen, she moved me to other friends - I don't think she was given much choice, I think they told her to take me away. At least they never blamed me for it, never told me to move out, though it was pretty clear to me after the first year that they'd have liked to; that was when I started taking holiday jobs away from them so the stay was a bit broken up - even though I was illegally young to be doing some of the jobs I got. The time I've been at Ranier is the longest I've stayed in one place," Blair said quietly. "The time I've been here is the longest settled home I've ever had. I know, I pushed myself into your life... but it was so much what I grew up with. You pushed in, stayed till you'd outstayed your welcome... you learned to see the signs as soon as they began to appear. When you saw the signs, you grinned, said thanks and left before they actually told you to go. When Naomi left me that time, I couldn't move on - I was too young. You've been more patient with me than I expected - I thought three months max and I'd be out of here, even if I was still working with you."
Jim said nothing for some moments. Then, quietly, "I've never admitted it before, but I realised by the end of the second day that having you here was good for me. After I came back from Peru I was a loner - I'd made myself a loner; it was the only way I could live with myself without being overwhelmed by my senses. I was like... like a dog that had never really been properly socialised. You were socialising me right from the start, in a way Carolyn never could. When I was in a mood she walked on eggshells, tried to give me space, when what I needed was someone who would ignore it, carry on as if everything was fine - or else give my butt a good kick - well, a metaphorical one. You were exactly what I needed, even though I hadn't realised it."
"So you're not going to tell me to get lost just yet?"
Jim looked at him. "You want to put down roots, don't you?"
"Yes, but it's no big deal, man." He grinned. "I'm not sure I'd know what to do with roots if I grew them." But Jim could hear the tension in his voice.
"Well, Chief, I'm not sure what I'd do if you were to walk out. I'm not really good with words - all I can say is I still need you."
Blair looked at him. "Truth?" Jim could detect the trace of a quaver in his voice.
"Truth. I can't see a time when I won't." He hesitated. "You're my best friend, Chief. This is your home for as long as you want it - and if you ever try to walk out, I'll pull every dirty trick in the book to keep you here."
"Thanks." Blair's voice was so quiet that even Sentinel hearing could barely make out his words. "So - it's us against the world, huh?"
"Us against the world," Jim agreed.