Blair held Molly in his lap on the way home, trying to keep her warm, rocking her gently, trying his best to be comforting. Be okay. Be okay. Be okay. He could no longer feel her thoughts in his mind, but if there was still something left of their connection and he could give her some of his energy and strength, then he wanted to do just that. He held her tightly and focused on getting her well and strong again. There was a part of him that truly knew she would be all right. He could distantly sense her consciousness, retreated far within herself to recuperate, but undamaged. Still. She was so motionless and pale, and her skin was still icy. Eyes closed, face showing her exhaustion, she looked especially young and defenseless. And besides, it was in his nature to worry. Be okay. Be okay. Please be okay.
It had occurred to him more than once already that the events of the past twenty-four hours were beginning to strain even his enthusiasm for extreme possibilities. And that coming from a person who had built his life around some obscure references in a notoriously unreliable adventurer's writings. It was in his nature to believe. But still.
It seemed almost impossible that just yesterday afternoon he'd been standing in the quad talking to Molly like any other teacher with any other student. What could possibly have prepared him for the truly unusual turn his life had taken?
Not a blessed thing.
He so needed some time to process it all. Yeah. Okay. Well, no time like the present, right? Good. Right. Where to begin? He looked down at Molly's pale face. Molly. Okay. That was as good a place to start as any. So she was his sister. Okay. That was an odd but good thing. Right? He loved her. She loved him. They were family. Yeah. Definitely good. But then there was the weirdness about her also being Jim's sister. That was nothing short of freakish. No two ways about it. Of all the people in the world his long lost father could have had an affair with, it turned out to be Jim's missing mother. Still, as completely bizarre as it was, it wasn't a bad thing, was it? No. Of course not. Together they had made Molly, and he'd already established her as a blessing. And it gave Jim and him one more thing in common, even more of a family bond between them. And he loved Jim. Totally and completely. So what could possibly bother him about sharing a sister with him? Nothing. Except that it had become virtually impossible to believe in any kind of happenstance anymore. At least not where he and Jim were concerned. "Meant to be" seemed to have its sticky fingers all over everything.
And then there was what happened on the rooftop. Where to begin with that?
"Hey Chief? You okay over there?"
Jim's voice startled him. "Yeah. Just thinking. And worrying a little, I guess."
Jim frowned. "About Molly? Is she getting worse? Should we head to the hospital?"
"No, man. She's okay. The hospital wouldn't do her any good anyway. I don't think they have a diagnosis for this in any of their medical books. And I have the feeling Molly likes hospitals about as much as I do. I don't think she'd want us to get her pumped full of drugs that aren't going to help anything."
"What should we do, Chief?"
"I'm afraid all we really can do is wait. And get her warm and comfortable. She's going to be okay, Jim. Honest. She just has to recover naturally, in her own good time. Not that I have the foggiest idea how I know that. But I really do feel it."
Jim smiled, a little strained, but a smile nonetheless. "I believe you. You're getting pretty good at that empathic thing."
There was something in Jim's glance...what was it?...that made him blush ever so slightly. Appraisal. Appreciation. And he felt his color deepening. Oh man, Jim was looking at him with sensual awareness.
Because Jim was his lover. Jim Ellison. His lover. He was forced to add that to the growing list of extreme possibilities that had become reality.
All right. Time to process, remember? So take it out and examine it. He and Jim were lovers. Just a few short hours ago, they had been naked together, in Jim's bed, loving each other in every way possible. And it had been mind-blowing. Who could have imagined that kind of pleasure existed? Or that their relative inexperience would make so little difference. Okay. So Molly's paper had gotten him to thinking and hoping a little, and he'd done some research, read a few books, gotten the basic principles straight. Or not so straight. Whatever. Looking back on how easy and comfortable their first time had been, he had to wonder if Jim had done the same thing. Not that he could quite imagine Jim hanging out in the "Gay and Lesbian" section of the local bookstore.
Nothing they'd done together had seemed to shock or appall Jim. Or even make him hesitate particularly. Jim had been game for everything. And he did mean everything. He couldn't help blushing again. If it hadn't been Jim, whom he loved more than life, whom he had watched and wanted and waited for since the beginning of time, or so it seemed sometimes, he would have been rather embarrassed about some of the details of their lovemaking and especially some of his more...um, enthusiastic responses. But it was Jim. It could never have been anyone else. And that made everything right. No. Better than that. It made everything exquisite.
He caught Jim's eye, and the look on his lover's face made him half afraid he could still hear what was happening in his head. Or maybe Jim had also been recalling their lovemaking. That possibility made him blush even deeper. He could see Jim trying to fight it, but the corner of his mouth insisted on turning up. Now there wasn't just appraisal and appreciation in Jim's expression, but smiling triumph. And something more intense than that...something more like...possession.
It was thrilling and just a little bit terrifying too. All the things he'd been trying to work out for himself about how he could share his life with Jim when he had no experience with commitment seemed like elementary school now. Forget worrying about being Jim's life partner. He was way beyond that now. He was Jim's territory. He knew there was something in Jim, the panther spirit alive in the man, that wanted to claim him, mark him, own him, body and soul. And there was something in him that wanted to be claimed, marked, owned, imprinted by his mate, indelibly, foreverand in that way to claim, mark, own Jim.
Molly stirred a little in his arms, her eyes fluttering open. He watched her frown, struggling to speak. He pulled her closer, brushing the hair out of her eyes, trying to reassure and comfort her.
"Don't try to talk. You've been through a lot, but you're okay now. Everything's all right. We're on our way home," he soothed.
"Jim?" she croaked, searching for her other brother, but not quite able to focus her vision.
"Right here, kiddo," Jim reassured her, reaching over to press her hand with his.
She nodded slightly and then closed her eyes again.
"It's okay, big guy. She's come out of it, and now she's asleep. I mean she's gotta be exhausted.
Jim nodded, but he didn't move his hand from hers. Blair put his hands on top of Jim's, and they rode the rest of the way to the loft connected that way.
Jim parked the truck as near the entrance as possible, came around to the passenger side and lifted Molly out of Blair's arms to carry her inside. He slid out of the truck and locked the door. The morning colors were beginning to break through on the eastern horizon, violet and orange and pink. The sun would be up soon. Dawn. What did that make him think of? Something he'd read somewhere. A quote. "Morning is when I am awake, and there is a dawn in me." Thoreau. Yeah. Now he understood what it meant. That's what it felt likethe dawn of something different inside him, the first morning of a new self. All the worries he'd been carrying for so many months, for years really, dissolved in the early morning air. This is your home. This is where you belong. It was as if he could hear the words carried on the wind. A simple truth. What he should always have known.
"Chief? You coming?" Jim called.
"Yeah sure, man. Be right there."
They took the elevator up to the loft. He held the door open, while Jim carried Molly inside. They took her to her bedroom and laid her down on the bed.
"Grab some clothes, man. Something warm."
Jim found a pair of sweats, a fleecy sweatshirt and a pair of thick wool socks. Blair quickly pulled the clothes on her, and they settled her beneath the covers. Jim sat down beside her and laid his hand lightly on her forehead.
"She's still really cold, Chief."
"Get some more blankets. I'm going to make up a hot water bottle."
"And maybe we should get out the heating pad."
"Yeah, man, good idea. And I'm going to put a little antiseptic and a bandage on that cut on her face."
By the time they were finished, Molly was settled warmly, piled high with blankets, the hot water bottle and heating pad slowly bringing her temperature back to normal. There was nothing more they could do, but they hung around anyway, aimlessly, unwilling to leave her alone. Finally, Blair sat down on the edge of the bed. Jim pulled up a chair beside him. And they sat there, silently, hovering, waiting, watching, the time slowly ticking by.
"Mhmmm," Molly moaned.
"Molly!" Jim jumped up from his chair, instantly alert.
"Are you all right, sweetie? You need anything?" he fussed over her.
"S'okay. You guys...were great," she smiled weakly. "But..."
"Oh God, what? Are you in pain? Are you hurt?" he fretted.
"Damn it! I knew we should have taken her to the hospital," Jim said.
"You've got to quit watching me sleep. It's making me nervous. Go make out on the sofa or something." This time her smile had just a touch of the devil in it.
It took him a moment to process what she was saying, but that still left plenty of time to enjoy the changing expressions on Jim's face. And they were all priceless. Worry giving way to surprise giving way to a blush he would never have believed possible for a former Vice cop.
"Well, I guess we got our marching orders, big guy," he laughed. "We'd better listen to our sister and hit the couch."
Jim shook his head.
"Come on, man. Molly's right. She's okay, and she needs her rest."
"I don't know, Chief. Maybe one of us should stick around. Just in case."
Molly smiled at Jim and took his hand. "Monitor me with your senses, big brother. If I need anything, you'll know it before I do."
Jim still looked hesitant.
"Come on, big guy," he urged.
Jim bent down to kiss her forehead. "I love you."
Molly smiled drowsily. "Love you too."
She was asleep again before they even made it out the door.
"You want coffee?" he asked, heading for the kitchen, brushing away a few tears.
He had always known that Jim was a man who could love, passionately, deeply, if he would only allow himself to unfold that part of his spirit, if he would give expression to all the beauties of his nature, the person Blair had recognized in him long ago and had fallen in love with. It was his flagging optimism that he'd ever be allowed to see and share in that aspect of Jim's soul that had sent him off to Madagascar. It seemed cowardly to him now, giving up on his friend. But somehow it had also crystallized both their resolves, the break having, in some strange way, brought them closer together. And he had been rightJim's love was a luminous, beautiful thing. It was the sun in his sky. It warmed and nourished the people it touched. And he had the good sense to recognize just what a lucky man that made him.
He brought the mugs with him to the sofa and settled into Jim's arms. They drank their coffee and gazed out the terrace doors, enjoying the beautiful safety of the morning.
"Chief, do you have any idea what happened on that roof tonight? I mean, I saw it, but I still don't know what 'it' was."
"Right back at you, big guy." He laughed softly. "You know, you'd think I'd be used to the unusual by now, what with your senses and all. But Molly seems to be a heavy duty mystical phenomenon."
"What was that light, Blair?"
He could only shrug. "I don't know, man. I mean, some religious beliefs do envision divinity as a kind of intense, pure light, energy vibrating at an extremely high rate. Not so much a deity, as a kind of pristine orderliness that permeates the universe, that is the universe. And there are certain innate laws, a natural sort of justice. Everything you do has a logical conclusion. What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. Karmic debt. Action/reaction in Newtonian physics. Molly seems to have been a channel for that energy, for the delivery of a sort of divine justice. The universe righting itself in a certain sense."
"And we helped with that?" Jim raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah, I know. I don't quite get that either. Somehow it's not quite so hard to believe Molly had a hand in creating something that incredible. There's always been something about her, something I sensed that I could never quite put my finger on. But me? That just seems freaky. And there was that...I mean, do you remember hearing us talking in your head?"
"Yeah. God, I'm glad to hear you say that, Chief. After it was over and I couldn't hear you anymore, I thought maybe it had all been my imagination. I mean, things got pretty hairy there for a while. I don't know...I guess I started to think maybe it had all been some really psychedelic kind of zone."
"But was there chanting? I swear I heard chanting. And it was coming from me. Well, sort of. Geez, I don't know."
"No, but you're right, Chief. I definitely remember chanting. And I knew the words. Even though I don't know the words. I couldn't tell you what they were now if my life depended on it."
"Very, very strange."
"Tell me about it."
They lapsed into silence, and Jim stroked his hair gently, seeming to enjoy the feel of it between his fingers. He relaxed and leaned into the caress.
"Blair? You know, we never did get a change to talk about it afterwards...how it was...the two of us together. I just wanted to make sure...I didn't hurt you, did I? I know I got a little out of control there. I just...I would never want to hurt you."
He kissed Jim on the cheek. "I know that, Jim. And last night was the most wonderfully sensual and loving night of my life. Nothing hurt. Everything felt good. It was perfect. But you know, you weren't the only one who went a little primal. I hope I didn't hurt you. I want everything between us to feel good."
Jim smiled. "You gave me quite a workout, baby. But it was wonderful. All of it. The best I've ever had."
He couldn't help looking pleased. "Really Jim? The best? You're not just saying that?"
"The best, Chief." Jim's fingers moved in loving patterns across his cheek.
"Me too," he said, lowering his voice, feeling suddenly shy.
"I'm really, really glad, Blair. I always want it to be that good between us."
"Somehow I just don't think that's going to be a problem, big guy."
Jim laughed along with him for a moment but quickly became serious again. "Unfortunately though, it's not always going to be just between us, Chief. There's going to be hard stuff ahead. We have to think about how we're going to handle it."
He couldn't help sighing. "I know that's the reality of the situation, but it sure does interfere with the honeymoon feeling I'm trying to have here. I guess I want to keep things as centered on us as we can right now. And work out how or if we're going to tell people later. I realize it's a big deal what we decide about coming out at the station. I know it's dangerous to be a cop and be out. I think we should concentrate on our relationship and see how we feel about public declarations down the road. It's so new now, and I feel kind of protective and jealous of that. Even if there weren't going to be problems, I'd still want to keep things between us."
Jim took his hand. "I feel just the same way, baby. I do think we should tell Simon though. It wouldn't feel right not telling him. I think he'll understand. Hope so at least. But otherwise, let's keep it between us as much as possible for the time being."
He snuggled closer to Jim. "That sounds good."
"Even though I'd really love to scream how much I love you from the top of the tallest skyscraper in downtown Cascade."
"Hey, I kind of like the sound of that. Let's not rule it out entirely. You know, down the line somewhere."
"Of course, you would like that," Jim teased. "You know we didn't talk about your moving back in here. You will come home, won't you?"
"God, that sounds good. Home. I'm so glad to be back. I missed you so much."
"Never again, big guy. Okay?"
"No way. We're together to stay. Forever. I'm not ready though...I know we could help Molly find another place. There'd be more privacy that way. But I don't think I'd really be okay with that. It's important to me...I really want both of you here."
He couldn't help grinning. "So you can watch over us 24-7?"
Jim look sheepish. "Is that way over the top? More overprotective than even you can stand?"
He kissed Jim's hand. "Nah. It's actually kind of sweet in a weird Sentinel sort of way. I'm cool with it. I certainly want to get to know Molly better. It's a little tricky that she's in my class, but hell that would be tricky anyway. She's my sister, for God's sake. But she's already getting an A anyway. Maybe I can have my TA take care of her final grading. But of course, it's gotta be up to Molly whether she can put up with us or not. People in love can be hard to take. And I do really love you, you know."
When Jim smiled, it was like all the light in the world came into his face. It was very beautiful, and he had really missed it.
"I love you too, Chief," Jim said. "And I'll convince Molly to stay. Everything will be right then. Molly will still be here in the loft where she belongs, and you'll be in my bed where you belong."
He blushed but was actually quite pleased. "Sounds good to me."
They grew quiet and thoughtful, lost in each other's presence and the joy and relief of the new day.
He felt Jim tense against his back. "What is it?"
"Simon. Pretty pissed off too, from what I can tell."
He sighed. "Well, I guess that was to be expected with the way we left things."
And, in fact, Simon was not remotely happy when he appeared at the door.
"Ellison! Sandburg! What was that crap back there? I had to come all the way over here for the explanation you owe me, and I expect it to be a good one."
"Come on in, Simon. Coffee?"
"Don't be cute, Sandburg. I don't find it any more amusing than I did before you left."
"It's nice to see you again too."
"Okay, so welcome back then. How's Molly?"
"She's all right," Jim said. "Still sleeping, but she'll be fine."
"Good, good. Now tell me what you did with the body. I'm not criticizing here. I know what he was going to do to Molly, and I would have done the same thing in your position. But I've got to produce a body. And what is all this about a sister? Who has a sister all of a sudden?"
"We both do, sir," Jim explained.
"It's a little complicated, Simon," Blair said. "You might want to sit down for this."
Simon sank heavily onto the sofa. "Why does everything with you two have to be complicated? Things aren't complicated for other cops. Or other anthropologists either, I suspect. What is it with you two?"
"A whole lot of stuff, actually," Jim said and explained about Molly's relationship to them.
Simon looked dumbfounded through the entire thing. "So you and Molly have the same mother. And Molly and Sandburg have the same father. But I thought...sorry, Sandburg, I just didn't realize you knew who your father was."
"I didn't. Until Molly told me."
"But how did she...no, never mind, never mind, I don't even want to know. Well, I guess congratulations are in order. You've both gotten a hell of a sister. Oh, but Molly. Poor girl, she'll have Jim looking over her shoulder like you're her father, and Blair acting like her mother."
"Hey!" Blair protested.
"I am not that bad," Jim insisted.
Simon only rolled his eyes.
"You're not giving my brothers a hard time, are you, Simon?" Molly padded out to the living room and curled up on the sofa next to Blair.
Blair hugged her. "Feeling better?"
"You're sure?" Jim asked.
"You're sure you don't want to go lie down some more?"
"No, I'm all right."
"You still look pale."
"See what I mean?" Simon asked, sighing heavily.
Molly smiled. "It's okay, Simon. I don't actually mind."
"What?" Jim asked defensively. "I can't ask my sister who just had a very traumatic experience if she's all right? That's overprotective?"
"No, it's very sweet, and I appreciate it."
"See! She appreciates it."
"Run screaming, kid. Run screaming. Jim's been fussing over Sandburg for years. It's never going to stop."
"Simon, wasn't there something you wanted to talk to us about besides Jim's overprotectiveness?" Blair changed the subject.
"Thanks for reminding me, Sandburg. So who wants to tell me what really happened up on that roof tonight?"
Blair exchanged looks with Jim and Molly.
"It's just like Jim said, Simon. The guy kidnapped Molly. We went after her. There was a freak storm. Kaboom! And that was pretty much it."
"I'm not interested in the edited version, Sandburg. I want to know what really happened."
"Don't 'but Simon' me. The odds of what you claim actually happening are about one in hell freezing over. I checked with the local weather station. There were no reports of electrical storms in the area last night. And I talked to the ME who said that even the most powerful bolt of lightning wouldn't cause total incineration. So spill it before I get even more of a headache than I already have."
"Molly, do you want to try to..." Blair asked hesitantly.
"I don't know. I can't...there are holes in my memory. I can remember him breaking in, coming into my room, taking me. There was a van, and we kept driving and driving. And it felt like we were driving forever. And then he took me up onto the roof and...and...started doing the ritual...and..."
She started to cry, and Blair put his arm around her.
"Don't make her do this," Jim hissed.
"I'm sorry, Jim. But I've got to have the story. You know that. Molly, I understand that it's upsetting. But can you tell me what else you remember? It's very important."
She wiped away her tears. "Okay. I'll try. So he tied me down and started chanting and drawing on me with the oil. And then Blair and Jim got there. And I was really afraid that the man would hurt them. So I told them to stay hidden. And then...we had to...well, it was like...I'm sorry I don't know how to put this."
"Just tell me in your own words," Simon prompted.
"Well, we kind of prayed."
"Sort of. We invoked the Spirit. I mean, I assume we actually did it. The last thing I remember was saying the chant and focusing my energy and then there was a light in the sky and then...well, the next thing I remember after that was waking up in the truck on the way home."
"I know it sounds crazy, Simon. But that is how it happened. Molly led us in this chant and there was this light and it seemed to take over Molly's body. I mean, it was her, but it wasn't really. And then she...or it?...I mean, does the Spirit have gender? I don't know...'it' held out its hands and kind of...zapped...the guy with this really bright light. And poof! There was nothing left."
Simon just stared silently for a long moment, jaw open, before turning to Jim, a desperate expression in his eyes, begging him to tell a more reasonable story, something, anything else.
Jim just shook his head. "It's all true, Simon. Not that we exactly know what 'it' was. But that's how it went down. The perp is dead. And there really is no body. It was just sort of...vaporized...by the light."
"Ellison, are you trying to tell me that the perp was struck down by the wrath of God?"
"More like the Goddess," Blair corrected.
"Sandburg! Don't fool with me right now. Is it, Jim? Is that what you're telling me?"
"I'm afraid so, sir. I think you can see now why we preferred to describe the event as a lightning strike in our official report."
Simon squinted and rubbed his temples, looking like his infamous headaches had turned into a migraine.
"Lightning. Well, I guess the Mayor and Commissioner are just going to have to buy it. I'll find some way to sell it to them. If only I had a body..."
The three of them shook their heads.
Simon held up a hand. "I know. Poof."
They all nodded.
"All right, all right. I'll take care of it. Somehow. Is there anything else you need to get off your chests before I head back down to the station?"
Blair and Jim exchanged a look and nodded at one another almost imperceptibly.
"Ah, no. Come on, guys. You're killing me here. You were supposed to say 'no, Simon, that's it, Simon.' I've already had a perp turned to ash through an act of God. What else is there?"
Jim cleared his throat. "Well, actually it's about..."
"Do you want me to go...clean my room or something?" Molly asked, scooting off the sofa.
Jim reached out for her hand. "No. That's okay. You can stay. I know you already know, but you should hear it from us. Besides, it's not like there's anything in there to clean. Not like when Blair lived there.
Blair elbowed him in the ribs. "Hey! Watch it, big guy."
Jim smiled and ruffled his hair affectionately. "Just kidding. Okay, so not really. You know cleaning isn't one of your top priorities in life, Chief."
"Why don't we talk about this later when we don't have company?"
"Fine. I'm just saying..."
Simon whistled loudly. "Hey you two, over here. So you had something to tell me?"
"Oh yeah," Blair said, working up his nerve. "Well, you know how I went to Madagascar? So things were really hard there. I was pretty unhappy. Miserable, actually. And a lot of that had to do with missing Cascade and all the people back here and you know things down at the station and all and so I came back but I still was having...some unhappiness and I met Molly and she was great and you know we had a lot of interesting discussions and this one in particular...you see I'd been trying to decide what to do about this situation I had been having for a while before I left and man, I was all confused about it and I was really worried because there was this really important friendship at stake and I didn't want to do anything to mess that up but I couldn't get my head to stop coming up with all these possibilities and before you know it I was pretty much back where I started...all confused, but then Molly invited me to a party here at the loft and I jumped to the wrong conclusion and thought she and Jim were...and now that's really kind of a disgusting thought...but anyway so I got all freaked out and pissed off and upset and depressed, but in the end it turned out to be a good thing, because I finally realized that Molly and Jim weren't...don't even want to go there, but they weren't, needless to say...and I got all happy because it wasn't too late and I didn't actually have any reason to be broken hearted and there was still time and I hugged Molly and kissed her on the cheek because I was so just so...man, was I ever happy...but Jim had come to the university to pick Molly up and he saw me kiss her and he jumped to the wrong conclusion and thought Molly and I were...well, you know, we hadn't found out yet that she was our sister...but Molly knew and somehow she knew about us...you never did say how you knew about that and I want to hear it sometime...but anyway, so she made us get together and talk it out and we both realized we wanted the same thing and it was just like...oh man, Simon, it's really just the best. I've never been so happy."
"Jim?" Simon asked, not quite sure he'd heard what he thought he had.
"Sandburg and I are together, as in a couple. And we're very happy. It's really new right now, and we're not ready to share it with that many people, certainly not with the guys down at the station. But we did want you to know. Since you're our commanding officer. And our friend."
The silence threatened to deafen them all.
Simon shook his head. "I just can't believe..."
Jim set his jaw grimly. Blair held onto Jim's arm. Molly glared at Simon, ready to defend her brothers.
"...it's taken you two all this time to figure it out. Congratulations!" Simon said, laughing deep in his chest.
Jim and Blair just stared at him in disbelief. Molly's face dawned with pleased understanding, and Simon winked at her conspiratorially.
"Had you going there, didn't I? Ellison, Sandburg, how blind do you think I am anyway? Never mind, I take that back. I don't want to hear the answer. Anyway, needless to say I am glad for the both of you."
"Simon, I don't know what to..." Jim began.
"Thanks, man. I can't tell you how much..." Blair said.
Simon held up his hand. "It's a relief, believe me. Watching the two of you dance around each other was really beginning to get on my nerves. And when you were gone, Sandburg...oh lord, that was unbearable. Jim was just impossible. Well, he got somewhat endurable again when Molly showed up. But it's good to see you both happy."
"How long have you known?" Molly asked curiously.
"Let's just say I've suspected for a quite a while now, but Jim's black mood when Blair left was pretty much final confirmation."
Molly smiled. Blair and Jim were still struggling to recover.
"Man, this day just keeps getting weirder and weirder. I thought you'd come around eventually, Simon, but I didn't exactly expect you to be happy for us. I thought you'd at least accuse me of perverting your best detective."
"Well, kid, that's probably what some people will think. Unfortunately. Are you sure you're prepared to handle it?"
"Blair's not going to have to handle anything," Jim said insistently. "We're in this together. Anyone has a problem with him has a problem with me. And I'll take care of it."
Simon rubbed his eyes tiredly. "That's just what I'm afraid of, Jim. Look, I don't have to tell you how it is. The two of you have some real friends down at the station, and I'm sure they'll be behind you. But police departments are not bastions of liberal idealism. There will be plenty of people who aren't going to like it very much. I'm sure you'll get your share of comments, and with your hearing, you'll know about all of them. I can't have you flying off the handle every time someone says something you don't like about Sandburg."
"We're all assuming that I'm coming back to the station. But Jim's been doing okay without me. I mean, Simon, I taught you and Rafe everything I know about keeping him from zoning. No, listen a minute, Jim. I know you'd like to have me back at work with you, but we'll have our time at home. I don't want to cause you any problems with your job. If I'm not at the station, it'll be easier to keep our relationship to ourselves."
Jim pounded his fist into the back of the sofa. "No way, Chief. I don't want us to have to make those kinds of sacrifices. You know the crazy hours I work. If you're not on the job with me, we'll hardly ever see each other. And you do good work down at the station. You're an asset to the department. And anybody who can't see that is an asshole."
"He's right, Sandburg. As much as I may hesitate to admit it. We could definitely use your help. I'll understand if you decide it's easier not to bother with it. But I'd hate to lose you."
Blair looked stunned. "And just when I think this day has reached maximum freakishness. Simon Banks wants me down at the station."
"Yeah, well," Simon grumbled and Blair couldn't help grinning. "Anyway...I've been holding your credentials for you while you were gone...yeah, I kind of had a feeling we'd be in this situation at some point. You're welcome down at the station whenever you want to come back. If that's what you decide. Either way, I'll understand. Look, Blair, Jim, I know it's going to be hard at times, but the department does have an official equal opportunity policy and serious sanctions against any sort of harassment. You'll have my full support. I won't hesitate to enforce the rules to the full extent of my authority."
Jim's face was deadly serious. "You know we appreciate that, Simon. But as much as I want Blair with me, the anti-harassment policy isn't going to do us much good if we're in the middle of a shoot-out and some asshole guns down Blair and claims it was all just an accident, a case of friendly fire."
"Or they could do the same thing to you," Blair insisted. "We don't know how people are going to react. Some of them may blame me. But others might take it out on you since you're the cop, one of them, and you're breaking their code."
"I'd like to think it wouldn't come to homicide."
"So, would I, Simon," Jim said. "But we both know it could very well get dangerous. At least I'm a cop. And a Sentinel. I'd have a pretty good chance of hearing them coming. But I don't like the idea of what might happen to Blair when I'm not around to watch his back."
"How often is that, big guy?"
"It happens, Blair. I don't want to take any chances."
"The two of you do have friends. You wouldn't be alone. There would be other people to back you up."
"I don't know," Jim hesitated.
"We're not going to come out right away, big guy. I'd like to come back to work with you, at least until we're ready to tell people. Then we can see how it goes and take it from there. If it gets bad, then I can always quit."
Jim set his jaw. "Then we'll quit."
"Jim" Simon protested.
"No, Simon. Blair's my partner and my guide. I can't be anywhere he's not welcome."
"But big guy"
"No, Blair. My mind's made up."
"You love your job. It's what you were made to do."
"That's one way of looking at it. The way I see it I love you. That's what I was made to do. If I can't do that and still be on the force, then it just wasn't meant for me to be a cop. There are plenty of other things I can do. But you...there's only one you."
Blair just held Jim's hand, blinking back tears, unable to say anything.
"So you'll try it," Simon said. "And I'll do everything I can to make it work. I wouldn't want to lose either one of you. All right then, enough of that for now. Who's starving besides me? Let's go out for breakfast and celebrate. Jim and Blair are together again. Molly's safe and sound, and reunited with her family. I'll be getting a much less grouchy detective at his desk on Monday morning. Life's pretty good."
Molly smiled brightly. "That's a great idea. I'll go and change."
Ten minutes later, they were on their way out of the apartment, Simon and Molly leading the way.
"So, Molly, how on earth were you so patient while you were trying to get these two back together? Didn't it just drive you crazy that they could be that dense?"
"It wasn't easy, I'm afraid. I thought it would be a week or two project at the most. Not four months. Every time I thought I'd made some headway, one of them would get stubborn. It was tough."
"Okay, guys. We get the point. We were a little hard-headed. Okay? We admit it. You can drop it now," Jim objected.
"Definitely stubborn. I hear you on that, Molly. I really hear you. All those months with Sandburg gone to Madagascar or Malaysia or wherever it was, I tried to talk to Jim about it. Tried to suggest that he could at least write Blair. Do you think he ever listened?"
"I'm guessing probably not."
"I'm glad to see you all are bonding here and everything, but do you think we could change the subject?" Blair asked.
"You got it, Molly. He never listened once. Sometimes it's just impossible to get something through that thick head of his."
"I found them both fairly obstinate."
"That's a very nice way of putting it."
"Well, they were unhappy. I thought it best to be gentle."
"That was probably the right approach. You never want to push someone who's already close to the edge."
Jim held up his hands. "Okay. Enough already. We admit it. We were stupid. You were right. You knew better than we did. Can we go eat now?"
Simon and Molly burst out laughing.
"Sure, Jim. We're ready anytime you are," Simon said innocently.
Jim shooed them out of the loft. "You know, I've always really regretted introducing the two of you. You coming, Chief?"
"Ready, big guy."
Jim slid an arm around his shoulders, pressing a kiss on him, whispering in his ear, "I love you, baby."
"I love you, too."
"Hey, are you guys gonna take all day?" Simon called from the elevator. "Cause Molly and I are hungry."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Coming, Simon."
He locked the door behind them, marveling over the prospect of Simon Banks taking them out to celebrate the start of this new development in their relationship. Extreme possibilities were just getting redefined by the minute.
The house spirits were feeling particularly playful this morning. Molly sighed, hiding her face in the crook of her arm, trying not to let them see her smile. It only encouraged them. Too late. They skittered around the room, jabbering busily, urging her to get up and quit wasting the day.
"Good morning to you, too," she said.
It was after ten, and Jim and Blair had gone into the station hours ago. She padded into the bathroom for a shower. The steamy spray made her smile as she climbed into the tub and reached for the shampoo. The new hot water heater certainly was an improvementJim's answer to her offer to move out and get her own apartment.
It's not like she'd ever really intended to stay, not after she'd helped get them back together. The whole time she'd been living in the spare room she'd been so conscious of Blair's absence, that the loft was the place he belonged. And now that her brothers were reunited, she wanted to give them the time and space necessary to unfold their relationship. She knew that love was its own deeply involving universe. She never wanted to get in its way. Not that she would have gone far. An apartment near the university, maybe. Or one of the dorms. Even Blair's old place.
But Jim would have none of it.
She'd insisted on going to look at Blair's old apartment anyway, thinking the easiest thing would be just to take over the lease from him. Jim's eyes had glazed over before they even got out of the truck.
"I don't like it," he said.
"You haven't seen it yet," Blair protested.
"This neighborhood isn't safe enough for Molly. Or for you either, for that matter, Chief. I'm just glad that I never knew you were living here. I would have...well, I would have come over here and dragged your butt back home. That's what I would have done."
Blair rubbed him arm comfortingly. "Take it easy, big guy. It's not a bad part of town, Molly. Really. Don't listen to him."
"It looks nice actually. Families and kids and dogs and stuff."
"Sure. In the middle of the day," Jim insisted. "But what's it like after dark? And who's the cop here, anyway? I know about neighborhoods."
"Let's just go in and look around. Okay?" she said.
But the interior didn't convince him either.
"This door's not secure," he said, jiggling the lock. "And anybody could reach those windows from the ground. It's just a miracle no one broke in while you still lived here, Chief."
Blair rolled his eyes, and she couldn't help smiling.
"What? Did I say something funny?" Jim demanded.
"No, big guy, not at all," Blair said, kissing him on the cheek. "I love you."
"Yeah, well," he blushed, pulling Blair into his arms for a quick hug. "But this place still isn't safe enough."
"I'm going to go look around anyway. Okay, Jim?"
He just crossed his arms.
She wandered into the bedroom, empty now, all Blair's things returned to the loft. She tried to picture her life here, imagining new paint, pictures on the walls, plants, throw pillows, knickknacks. But something got in her way, and she had trouble seeing anything in it beyond the current emptiness.
The window looked out over a small park, and she gravitated toward it, staring out at the trees and benches and children playing. It was a nice view, and the sun streamed in, cheering up the room. Not so bad, she thought. Actually, I kind of like the idea of waking up to this view.
"This was always my favorite thing about the apartment," Blair said, joining her by the window.
"Yeah. It's really great. Especially seeing the little kids down there on the swings and the slides. They sound so happy."
He smiled. "I thought you'd like that. So what do you think of the rest of it?"
"It's nice. I like it."
"You could definitely do worse. Although it's not as...I don't know...warm as the loft somehow. That's what I always felt at least."
"That'll come in time, I think. After it's been lived in more."
"Maybe. I mean, you could definitely fix it up, make it more personal. Or then again, you could just come home with us. You know that's finally what's going to make everyone the happiest."
"I don't want to be in the way."
"You're not. You couldn't."
He put his hand on her back. "I want you there. I'm sure you haven't missed the fact that Jim wants you there. If this is about your independence, then I'll help you find a place where you'll really be comfortable and I won't let Jim pressure you about it. But if it's something you're doing for us, then don't. Because we'd much, much rather have you with us. We can work out the time alone thing and the privacy stuff and all the rest of it."
"I do want to stay. But there's a part of me that somehow doesn't feel like it would be the right thing to do. I don't know. Maybe it's just that I never really felt at home before. Maybe I don't know how to do it."
"Yeah, that seems to be a common problem in our family. But you could learn how to do it. Jim and I could help you with that."
She hesitated a moment. "I think I'd like that."
He hugged her tightly.
"It can hard giving up that sense of not belonging," he whispered, "But it's really all right to let it go now, Molly. You do belong. You are home."
That broke her restraint, and she cried. She wasn't even quite sure why.
He rubbed her back in circles, making reassuring sounds. "Never forget that I love you. That we both love you."
And she cried harder. As much as her grandmother had cared for her, she could never recall being told she was loved. It felt too good to hear. It hurt like hell.
Jim hovered in the doorway, watching her cry, looking alarmed. "Chief?"
"Molly just decided that she'd rather stay at the loft with us."
Jim looked torn between being pleased and being worried.
"But that's a good thing, right Molly?" he asked, a little confused, a little uncertain.
She nodded her head vigorously.
He joined them by the window, resting a hand on her back, putting an arm around Blair. "Well, good then. How about we all go home now."
That had been three months ago.
She got dressed, made breakfast and took it out to the terrace, settling into a chair, propping her feet up on the railing. In those three months, she had learned a great deal about what home meant. She had found that home was many things, both simple and profound. Home was a moment like this, a quiet breakfast beneath the summer sky. Home was coming back from work, school, an evening out, a trip to the store and having someone ask you how it was. Home was fighting over the remote and waiting for the bathroom. It was lively conversation and companionable silence. It was being accountable to the people whose lives you shared. It was them worrying about you and you worrying about them. It was shared celebration, grief, annoyance, anger, pain, joy. Home was the safe base that gave you courage to venture out into the world. It was the one place you always wanted to return to.
Home went far beyond any geography. It was a serene sense of belonging you carried within you, a companion for wherever your journey might take you.
She finished her breakfast and took the dishes inside to wash them. The house spirits tumbled and frolicked around the kitchen, teasing and flattering her, at once sprightly and solicitous. They got a bit giddy at times, pleased with the way things had turned out, Blair's return to the loft, the generally sunny outlook of their three humans. They liked to show their appreciation, indulging her much as one might spoil a particularly well-loved pet.
As it had turned out, the details of living in the loft with Jim and Blair had been relatively easy. Relationships with family outside the loft had proven more problematical. Naomi had come for a visit in June, on her way to a retreat in Canada. The four of them had gone out to lunch. Blair had already broken the news to her about finding his sister and learning who his father was, as well as the change in his relationship with Jim. On both scores, she seemed to take the news with resignation, peppered with just a little denial. She wished Blair and Jim well but changed the subject when they tried to talk about anything remotely intimate between the two of them. She listened sadly to the news of her lover's long-ago death, but wasn't comfortable talking about him.
At the end of lunch, Molly had been glad she'd gotten to meet Naomi. She saw so much of her in Blair. And Naomi had been genuinely kind to her, asking her all sorts of questions about her studies and future plans, telling wild stories about her own travels, making them all laugh. Still, she had gone away with the uneasy feeling that Naomi would really have preferred never knowing who Blair's father was, and that made her sad.
The evening with Jim's father was even more strained. Mr. Ellison had invited them, along with Stephen, to dinner at his house. Jim and his father carefully navigated one another, trying not to set off any land mines between them. Stephen and Jim awkwardly worked at making conversation. She tried to get to know her other brother, wanting to answer his questions about their mother, but realizing how deeply it pained William to hear. Blair and Jim concentrated on keeping their hands off each other, not yet ready to reveal their new relationship to Jim's family.
The air had grown thick with all the things no one dared say.
And William's reaction to her had brought out all Jim's protective instincts. When his father had met them at the door, he had stood there dumbstruck, staring, barely able to invite them in. All through dinner, he'd watched her, looking embarrassed whenever he caught her eye.
Jim did not like it a bit. He monitored them like a hawk, his jaw twitching at every glance. When William invited her into the study to look at childhood pictures of Jim and Stephen, he'd insisted on going with them and sat there like a piece of stone while they flipped through the pages of the album. He wasn't comfortable with William talking to Blair either, and every time they fell into conversation, he interrupted and pulled Blair away. Finally, she had to drag Jim off to the kitchen with her under the pretext of getting more wine.
"You have to stop that," she told him. "He's not going to hurt us."
He pulled a bottle of Chardonnay out of the refrigerator and searched the nearby drawers for the corkscrew.
"I don't know what you mean," he said, putting on his favorite blank expression.
"Yes, you do. He talks to me, you glare. He sits beside me, you hover. He looks at me, you grimace. He smiles at me, you scowl. And the same thing with Blair. If you held up a sign that said, 'Get away from them, you bastard!' you could not be more clear."
"So? I don't want him near you. Or Blair."
"I know. That's why I'm trying to tell you that he's not going to hurt us."
"I'd kill anyone who tried to."
She rubbed his arm comfortingly. "I know, big brother. But I need you to consider that this isn't really about me or Blair. Your father's curious about me, because I remind him of our mother. He's curious about Blair, because he senses the connection between the two of you. And you don't want him around us, because he hurt you as a child and you don't trust him. You perceive him as a threat. But he isn't, not anymore at least, not to you or us."
"He ruins everything he touches," Jim said very quietly. "I want to protect you both from that."
"Oh God, Jim," she said, reaching out for him. "Is that how you feel? Ruined? Because it's so not true. Your father may have driven parts of you underground. But it's all still in there, intact, good and honorable and loving. It's in the way you feel about Blair. It's in the way you look out for me. It's in the way your protect this city."
"I worry about being like him," he admitted in a shaky voice.
"I know you do. But you're not like him, Jim. You're a very good man and much, much wiser than he'll ever be. He certainly knows that, and he's a little in awe of you, actually. He's not the powerful one here anymore, Jim. Think about that when we go back in there. Really look at your father, not as his son, but as a detective. Notice how age has changed him, made him more vulnerable and sadder. Realize that he's not someone who can hurt you anymore. Or me. Or Blair. Or anybody."
He held her for a moment longer, before pulling back.
"I'll try," he said, his voice tight with emotion.
"So you say he knows about me and Blair."
He nodded. "Okay then."
Not that it was exactly carefree, but the evening did get better after that. Molly sat down beside William, and Jim only flinched slightly. He took a seat next to Blair, who was talking to Stephen, and reached out for his hand. No one but Blair looked shocked.
"Are you sure, Jim?" he whispered.
Jim nodded, smiled for the first time that night and put his arm around him. It was the most relaxed he'd been since they'd arrived. The rest of the evening passed in the safe shoals of small talk, the latest movies, interesting articles from the paper, Blair's anthropology adventures, Stephen's stock tips, even a joke or two from Jim. Everyone was terribly relieved.
At the end of the evening, they parted on basically amicable terms, William standing in the doorway, waving good-bye to them all. Walking to the truck, she suddenly remembered something she should have done.
"I forgot something. I'll be right back," she said and ran back to the house.
"Molly?" Mr. Ellison looked surprised.
"There was something I wanted to tell you."
"What is it?"
"She forgave you."
It took a moment for her words to penetrate, and then his mouth tightened with emotion. "Are you sure?"
"Thank you," he said, his voice breaking. "I'm sorry. It's just...oh, God."
She put her hand on his arm. "It's okay."
"You look just like her, you know."
She smiled. "I kind of figured."
"I hope I didn't make you uncomfortable. I just...I couldn't get over the resemblance. I know it bothered Jimmy. I'm sorry about that. You'll tell him, won't you? Tell him I'm sorry."
"You take care of yourself, Molly. And Jimmy, too. You and Blair. You'll take care of him, won't you?"
"Good. That's good then. Maybe I'll see you again sometime. Maybe we could all do it again soon."
"I hope so."
"Thank you again, Molly."
"You're welcome, Mr. Ellison. Bye."
In the truck, Jim wouldn't look at her.
"You were listening," she said.
"He doesn't deserve forgiveness."
"Maybe not yours. There are some things that are simply unforgivable. Maybe he didn't even deserve her forgiveness. I don't know. But the truth is that she did forgive him. And I just felt he had a right to know that."
"Are you okay, man?" Blair asked softly.
He shook his head. "I don't know what to do with all this."
"We'll work on it," Blair said.
"How could she forgive him, Molly?"
"I don't know, Jim. She just did. Forgiveness is like that. It just steals over you sometimes, even when you're not trying for it."
"Why do I have the feeling that's never going to happen to me?"
"Hey man, you never know," Blair said. "You really never know."
Jim regarded him with a skeptical look, but he didn't say anything more.
Since then, they'd gotten together a few more times, and each occasion had gone a little more easily than the last. She and Stephen were working on becoming friends. They had a standing symphony date with each other, every third Tuesday. They went to Jags games and movies and dinner. They liked each other.
Jim and his father had reached a truce of sorts. Mr. Ellison had grown used to how much Molly reminded him of her mother, and that made things easier. He was always extremely respectful to Blair, and that also helped. Forgiveness did not seem to be looming on the horizon, but they could at least be in the same room together without casualties. And that was progress.
Molly gathered up her school books and loaded them into her backpack. She had an afternoon class and needed to swing by the library beforehand. She cast a backwards glance at the loft on her way out, focusing her sight, looking for all the beautiful colors of the love expressed there. She had thought it intense before, but now there was no comparison. It had built to a wild swell, filling every corner of the apartment. And the bonds encircled her too now, blanketing her in the security of familial love. And that gave her the warmest, most cherished feeling she'd ever had.
She locked the door and waited for the elevator. The strange connection they'd shared on the roof that night had not returned, even though Blair had made them do test after test to see if they could reestablish it, until even she was tired of it, not to mention how cranky it made Jim. The most that could be said was that she had a sixth sense about when her brothers needed time alone. She just seemed to know when it was a good idea to study a little longer at the library or go shopping before heading home. So far, she'd managed not to walk in on anything too terribly intimate. Although there was that incident with the food fight in the kitchen one afternoon when they came home early and she hadn't been paying careful enough attention to her intuition. Fortunately, a gal could always close her eyes and pretend to have seen absolutely nothing.
She supposed it wasn't especially surprising that they hadn't been able to mindlink again. The prophecy had said it would come to them in their times of greatest need, and this epoch in their lives had been thankfully calm.
She was very grateful for that. It had given her time feel settled, in a way she would never have imagined possible. It was as if she had traveled deep within herself to find the bedrock of her spirit and had begun building a new life there, on that solid foundation. Still, a feeling came over her every now and then, a certain sort of restlessness, a curiosity. She had been looking for herself and her family and a home for most of her life. Now that she'd found those things, she felt secure enough to wonder what lay beyond, what was out there in the wild world, what adventure, what mysteries, what unimaginable knowledge. She knew enough of herself to understand that although her journey began in Cascade with her brothers and the sense of home they held for her it would not end there. There were many places to see. There were many things to do. There were so many things yet to know.
She stepped out into the strong golden light of the summer afternoon and smiled.