Detective James Ellison let out an explosive sigh and hunched further over his keyboard, squinting almost angrily at his computer screen. It was his first day back on restricted desk duty after assassin Karl Zeller had shot him in the leg, and he found himself wishing he'd just stayed at home.
His life had been hectic after the release of his unofficial partner's dissertation, which had announced to the world that he was a Sentinel, a man possessing five heightened senses. He had reacted badly and he knew it. He'd shut Blair out, hadn't given him a chance to explain or to make things right. And Blair, feeling that there was no other option, had declared himself a fraud in order to protect his Sentinel.
Jim felt a rush of...something...when he thought of it. He couldn't quite place the feeling. It wasn't happiness, not with Blair's life in such turmoil, but it didn't seem to be overly negative, either. He sat back in his chair, trying to sort it out. There was guilt, for pushing Blair to such a drastic act; pride, that the young man had possessed the courage and strength of character to throw away the degree he'd been working toward for fourteen years, just to help a friend; anger, since Blair had been careless enough to let it all happen in the first place (and a little more guilt just for being angry); there was sadness, knowing that Sandburg's hopes of getting that Ph.D. may have been permanently damaged; but a goodly part of it was love, though he'd never admit that out loud. No one in his life had ever cared for him the way Blair did, and he doubted anyone ever would again.
Blair, meanwhile, as payback for his selfless act, was sitting at home in the loft, flipping through the employment section for a job in a fast food restaurant or a mail room, some place where they wouldn't mind that he was a self-confessed fraud.
Jim felt a scowl twist his lips. The kid could be so stupid, sometimes. There had to have been a better way to go about it. Why hadn't he just said it was a novel or something, and then sued the pants off that asshole, Sid Graham, for releasing parts of it without the author's express permission? Luckily for Blair, several higher-ups at the university had been dissatisfied with Chancellor Edwards' conduct during the whole affair, and were looking into ways to help Sandburg receive his Ph.D. using another dissertation topic. Sandburg didn't know about this yet, and Jim had no intention of telling him, just in case it didn't work out. Blair's mentor, renowned anthropologist Eli Stoddard, had been fairly certain that something could be worked out, especially once Jim had finished telling him the whole story, minus some key points. He just couldn't bring himself to admit, even to Blair's trusted mentor, that he was anything other than a normal man.
It had been much too easy to keep the information from his partner, since Blair had taken to avoiding the telephone since his press conference. As it was, Jim had almost decided not to return Dr. Stoddard's call, but something in the man's voice indicated that he would be willing to listen to the whole story before making snap judgments.
All of that aside, it had been a long month. Blair was a shell of his former self, trying hard to pretend nothing was bothering him and failing badly. He sat around all day watching talk shows and soap operas, quietly and resignedly changing the channel at the mention of fraud of any kind--even though press coverage of his own "fraud" had died out after the first week. Jim had tried to be supportive. He had made himself available if Blair ever wanted to talk about it (he didn't); helped Blair clean out his office at the university, standing stone-faced at the door and scaring away any curious gawkers who might have made a bad thing even worse; and basically just hovered over his friend, trying to think of anything else that might help. Of course, the idea of admitting publicly that he really was a Sentinel did occur to him, but both he and Blair had agreed that it probably wouldn't be a smart thing to do.
The ringing of his phone snapped him out of his thoughts and he jumped, glaring as Detective Henri Brown began to chuckle. He snapped up the phone. "Ellison."
There was silence on the other end. Immediately on alert, he stretched out his hearing to determine if this was something he needed to have traced. When he heard the familiar sound of Blair's breathing and heartbeat, he felt his heart drop into his stomach. "Sandburg? ...That you?" Still nothing. "Chief, what's wrong?" He stood, his fingers clutching the receiver hard enough that his knuckles turned white. "Are you hurt?"
"Come home." The voice was so soft, so flat, that he didn't even hang up the phone before he was running toward the door and grabbing his coat.
"Jim?" Joel Taggart grabbed his shoulder, staring at him in concern. "What's going on? Where are you going?"
"Something's wrong with Blair," he answered, his voice choked.
The response was immediate as all activity in the room came to a halt. The men and women of Major Crimes had stood by both Jim and Blair when everything had fallen apart, many of them working extra hard to show Blair how much they cared about him after their ill-timed joke in which they had bowed down to him, chanting, "We're not worthy." It was only later that they realized how much it had hurt the young man, and their guilt pushed them to try and make things right. Since his press conference, almost all of them had made sure to stop by the loft every once in a while to say hello and to lend their ears if he wanted to talk. But Blair never took advantage of their offers, and they all grew more and more concerned as he withdrew completely, unable to look anyone in the eyes. Now, they watched in stunned silence, afraid to wonder what else could possibly go wrong.
Joel Taggart took charge. With Captain Simon Banks still out on medical leave after being shot by Zeller, Taggart had been asked to fill in and was doing an admirable job. He had the respect of his fellow detectives and was a good friend to Jim and Blair, as were all of the other detectives of Major Crimes. "I'll drive," he offered, placing a calming hand on Jim's back and guiding him toward the doors.
"Blair?" Detective Brian Rafe had picked up Jim's discarded phone and was speaking into it, hoping to hear Blair's voice and know that he was all right, but he only shook his head and slowly hung up the phone. "Nothing. He's already hung up."
"I'll call in and let you know what's up," Joel assured the worried detectives. Then he turned back to Jim, moving his hand to his shoulder and squeezing it reassuringly. "Let's go."
They headed much too slowly to Joel's sedan, Jim silently cursing his bad leg every step of the way. He was sure that if he was at full strength, he could have been halfway to the loft by now.
They spent the ride in silence. Jim kept trying to call the loft, to get Blair to answer, but he never did and the phone just kept ringing. He called back five, ten, fifteen, twenty times and more. Oh, God, what if he was hurt? He could be lying unconscious on the floor, or worse...
"Please," he begged Joel, staring blindly out the window. "Please, just...drive faster."
Joel put on the siren and pressed down on the gas.
He burst into the loft like a man possessed, every sense alert. It was almost a letdown to find Blair sitting on the couch watching the Rosie O'Donnell show. "Chief, what the hell...!"
Blair didn't even turn his head. He just lifted his hand to Jim, showing him something. A piece of paper. Jim limped over, a worried and confused Joel at his heels, and stared down at the small slip of paper, uncomprehending. "What...?"
"It's a lottery ticket," Joel pointed out helpfully.
Blair's voice was just as soft and flat as it had been on the phone. "I think I just won 46 million dollars."
Jim blinked. "You...you think...?" His knees suddenly felt weak, and he sat down heavily on the couch next to Blair. "You call me at work, scare the shit out of me, bring me racing home, afraid you're hurt or dying, and you tell me you may have just won 46 million dollars!"
Finally, Blair turned to face him, his eyes as dull as his voice. "Forty-six million dollars Jim."
"Forty-six million dollars." Jim put the lottery ticket on the coffee table. Blair was back to watching Rosie. "Holy shit."
Joel Taggart called the station.
By six o'clock that evening, word had gotten out. Jim had called the local lottery office once he was over his shock, and now their phone was once again ringing off the hook. Most of the calls were fair-weather friends wanting to congratulate Blair, and there were a few calls from reporters--the same reporters who had ripped him apart after his confession of fraud--who wanted to interview Blair about his "alleged" lottery win. One of them even went so far as to ask snidely, "Are you sure you didn't fake this, too?" Taggart had barely been able to restrain Jim from throwing the answering machine through the balcony windows.
As it turned out, Blair hadn't won $46 million dollars. He'd won $49 million dollars, which was nice. Every detective in Major Crimes, and a few officers from other departments, had rushed to the loft as soon as their shifts were over. Those still working were among the well-wishers who continued to call them at home. Simon Banks and Megan Connor had come as well, insisting that while they were not yet recovered enough to work, they could most certainly celebrate with a friend. Joel Taggart had faithfully gone back to the station not long after dropping Jim home, saying mournfully that a captain's work was never done, but they knew he would have been there if he could.
Blair Sandburg, however, did not seem fazed by the numerous phone calls and parade of visitors streaming in and out of the loft. He appeared to be in shock, staring at the television and ignoring most of the attempts made to draw him into conversation. Jim was pretty much in shock, too, but he liked to think he was dealing with it better. He was at least being a relatively good host. He'd even poured the chips into a bowl rather than just letting people take them out of the bag.
Finally, after several hours of silence, Blair spoke for the first time since his calm pronouncement. "Jim?" he asked, his voice hoarse.
"Yeah, Chief?" The whole room got quiet, except for the perpetually ringing phone, as they waited to find out what the shell-shocked young man would have to say.
"I really won, didn't I?"
"Looks like it."
"Forty-nine million dollars."
"Forty-nine million dollars." Blair seemed to be trying the words out in his head, rolling the syllables on his tongue.
"That's a lot of money."
Blair was quiet again for a moment. "What am I supposed to do with $49 million dollars?"
Jim shrugged. "Buy stuff."
"I could fix my car."
"Fix your car."
"What's wrong with Sweetheart?" Jim seemed about to take umbrage at the implied slight to his beloved truck.
"What does this mean?"
"Doesn't mean anything, Sandburg," Simon answered when Jim couldn't come up with an answer. "You're still the same person you always were, you just have a little more money."
Simon shrugged. "Okay, a lot. But it's just money. It doesn't have to change anything, unless you want it to."
"Yeah, man," Henri agreed. "We were your friends before this happened, and we'll most certainly be your friends now!"
"Right." Megan nodded decisively. "Don't worry, Sandy. I guess it must be pretty overwhelming, but look at the bright side. You already know who your true friends are, so it's not like it'll cause any new confusion."
"Right." Sandburg gave a bitter smile. "I guess the university will probably come crawling back now, huh?"
Jim cleared his throat. "Actually, umm...they already did."
Blair finally turned to face him, deceptively calm. "What?"
"Dr. Stoddard called early last week." Jim found himself unable to look his Guide in the eyes. "He said a bunch of people there were working on a way to let you graduate, with a different topic. They've been leaning on the board, drafting a proposal."
"Uh-huh. And you didn't tell me because...?"
"I didn't want to get your hopes up, in case it didn't work out. I'm sorry, Chief, I... I should have told you."
Blair stared at his profile for a long time before turning away and directing his gaze to his own fisted hands. "Oh."
"This should be a good thing, Sandy," Megan said hesitantly. "Why aren't you happy?"
"I probably should be, huh? Funny."
And with that, he stood and walked slowly into his room, closing the door behind him. The loft was silent and empty not long after that.
Blair Sandburg finished counting the tiles on his bedroom ceiling and started over again, just to make sure he hadn't miscounted. Outside his closed door, he could hear Jim moving around, cleaning up whatever mess had been left by their now-departed guests. He supposed he should have been more animated--they'd all been in the mood for a party when they'd shown up--but he couldn't bring himself to pretend. As a result, the gathering had seemed more like a wake than a celebration.
Jim was worried about him, that much was obvious. He knew he'd gone about it all wrong when he'd called him at the PD, but he'd sat there for the longest time just staring at the winning ticket, trying to figure out what to do, and the only thing that he could think to do was Call Jim. So he had, but he hadn't been very specific and Jim had rushed home in a panic. As soon as he got his thoughts sorted out, he'd apologize for scaring him.
Right. Now that he'd made a decision, he could try to figure out what was going on. He'd just won $49 million dollars, which would normally make a body pretty damned happy. It didn't take an anthropologist to know that in this society, where money was so important, this was a huge deal. But for some reason, nothing was happening inside. Nothing really had, ever since his press conference.
It was probably depression. Having minored in psychology, he knew a lot about the disorder even though he'd never actually experienced it before. He'd never really understood what they meant when they talked about how it was manifested physically, making your limbs feel so heavy that you wondered if you might never move again, but there it was. He made a half-hearted effort to lift his arm and didn't much care when he failed.
But if it was depression, and he had pretty much decided that it was, shouldn't winning a shitload of money make it lift? Even a little bit? And even if that didn't do it, shouldn't the news that all may not be lost on the Ph.D. front be a very, very good thing?
"Jim?" he said quietly, not bothering to raise his voice since Jim would hear him anyway.
Sure enough, there was a quiet knock on his door before it opened, and Jim was standing in the doorway, leaning against the wall to help support his bad leg. "Yeah, Chief?"
"I really want to be happy," he admitted, still staring at the ceiling. "I just won $49 million dollars and I might get my Ph.D. and I really, really want to be happy."
Jim limped up to the bed and sank down on its edge, placing a warm hand on Blair's arm. "Maybe you just need time," he suggested. "You know, to, uh...process. Find your center."
They sat together in silence for a while, and then Blair huffed out a deep breath and forced himself to a seated position next to Jim. "Your leg's pretty sore." It was an observation, not a question.
"Yeah." Jim didn't bother to deny it; he'd been limping pretty obviously all night.
"Lie down, I'll massage it for you."
And as he worked the worst of the knots out of Jim's spasming muscles, he could feel the fog lifting just a little with every satisfied groan and sigh. Hmm, apparently helping other people was a good way to cure depression. Maybe he'd write a paper on it.
Jim lay quietly, eyes closed, as Blair's talented fingers danced across his legs, pinpointing each tight spot and massaging it away. He knew he'd been working the leg too hard after the shooting, but had been unable to keep still. He was naturally an active person and found it hard to sit still and let it heal. Ordinarily, Blair would have forced him to take it easy--he was probably the only person in the world who could order Jim Ellison around and expect to be obeyed--but he was in no shape to pull off the mother hen routine. Blair was more concerned with just holding it together while he watched his life fall apart.
Jim flinched as Blair hit a particularly sore spot. "Sorry," the younger man muttered, immediately yanking his hands away.
"S'okay," Jim grunted, and the hands returned, softly rubbing warmth into the area before continuing their motion with a little less force. "Thanks for this," he said after a few more minutes of silence. "Feels nice."
"No problem," Blair answered, his voice a little bit stronger than before. "We should have been doing this before. I'm supposed to be taking care of you. I'm sorry."
"You've had a lot on your mind," Jim said by way of forgiveness. "It hasn't been easy, these past few weeks."
"You had to concentrate on yourself for a while. I understand."
"You shouldn't. You were shot, Jim, and it was because of something I did. The least I could have done was--"
"Hold it right there, Sandburg." Jim started to twist away, to sit up, but Blair's hands tightened on his leg and he subsided. "All right, all right, I'm not moving. But you just cut it out with that kind of talk, you hear me? None of this was your fault."
"No? I didn't take the necessary precautions, Jim. I left your name in, all over the place. I didn't encrypt or even password-protect the file. I might as well have just handed it to Sid Graham myself!"
"That's just not true, Chief." Jim sighed, raising his upper body up on his elbows and twisting his head to try to look Blair in the eyes, but his roommate was stubbornly concentrating on his leg, refusing to meet his gaze. "Chief... Blair, look at me."
Blair hesitated, but finally looked up with a sigh. Then he smiled slightly. "That can't be comfortable, Jim."
"It's not, so listen closely, because I'm only saying this once. It. Was. Not. Your. Fault. You had no way of knowing that Naomi would send that document to anybody, much less a publisher. You had no way of knowing that Graham would release bits of it to the press even after you told him to forget about it. You had no way of knowing it would become so big, and you had no way of knowing it would interfere with the investigation. Yes, you should have been more careful with it, but Naomi should have shown more respect for your wishes, and Graham should have acted in a professional manner. And...And I should have been a lot more understanding. I failed you, too, Chief, when I blamed you for all of it. I should have stood by you, and tried to help you find a way to fix it. Instead, I shut you out and forced you to come to a solution on your own. We both screwed up, and it backfired, big time. You'd think we'd have learned, after the whole mess with..." he had to force himself to say the name, "Alex Barnes. We did the same thing then, we didn't communicate, we broke down. Well, no more mistakes. From now on, we're in this thing together, no matter what happens. I swear to you, I'll listen when you have something important to say, and if I try to blow you off, you have to promise to make me calm down and pay attention. We get into trouble when we're not together on things, so let's never be apart again, okay?"
Exhausted from the long speech, his arms shaking and his neck aching with the effort of holding that awkward position for so long, Jim collapsed back to the bed with a grunt.
"Whoa," Blair breathed, a smile audible in his voice. "That's the most I've ever heard you say at one time!"
"And I'm never doing it again," Jim agreed. "I'll just stick with caveman grunts and growls from now on."
Blair chuckled lightly and scooted up, moving from Jim's legs to his neck. "You twisted this a bit, didn't you, looking back at me like that. Let me help."
Jim sighed in relief as Blair's warm fingers settled on the back of his shoulders. "Thanks."
Blair worked quietly for a few minutes before he started talking. "You know, the guilt isn't everything that's...that's hard to deal with. It's also the loss of most of my friends. I don't think there's anybody at the university that's still talking to me. I mean, I know now that some people are working to let me get my Ph.D., which is great, but...but all of the other TAs and most of the students must be pretty disappointed in me. I tried to call someone the other day, and when he heard my voice, he...he hung up. That hurt. A lot.
"I know the guys in Major Crimes are still talking to me, but there's no way I can really hang out with anyone there without raising eyebrows. Plus, the other cops all hate me, so I can never go to the station. I can't be your partner anymore, because that would make it too obvious that you really are a Sentinel, and now that I've been kicked out of Rainier, no other school would ever touch me with a ten-foot pole. Even if I can get my Ph.D., chances of my going on anthropological expeditions, publishing...you know, anything associated with academia, are pretty slim. Everyone would always wonder if I was making the stuff up. I dunno, maybe I'm overreacting about this--maybe it won't be all that bad--but...it's just hard, you know? Having money won't change any of that."
Jim waited for him to continue, but Blair seemed to have finished, so he tentatively added his own comments. "Well, I don't want to trivialize what you're feeling, or anything, but you do realize that most of that is completely wrong?"
"Is that so?" Blair didn't sound angry at his presumption, so Jim decided to continue.
"Yeah. About the guys at the PD, it's not just Major Crimes that's still with you. All kinds of people have asked about you, and if you'd been paying any attention to our phone messages, you'd know that a lot of them even called here to give their support. See, most folks figured out the truth when they heard the first excerpts from your diss, and they weren't mad at you, they were mad at me, for keeping it from them. I also got a few scathing lectures for letting you take the fall on my behalf."
"You got lectured?" Blair's fingers stilled on his neck, flexed once, and then continued. Jim wished he'd been able to see the look on his face, but he wasn't about to try turning around like that again.
"Yup. Minnie Sykes still isn't talking to me. Now, I don't know anything about your so-called 'friends' at Rainier, and if you tell me the name of the guy who hung up on you, I'll shoot him for you, but as far as the PD is concerned, you're the best friend a guy could have. The Sandburg Appreciation Society has members in every department."
"Sandburg Appreciation Society?" Blair chuckled. "Do you guys have T-shirts?"
"No, but that's a good idea, I'll bring it up at the next meeting."
Blair lightly patted Jim's back to indicate that he had finished up with the neck massage and slowly stretched out next to his friend, resting on his stomach with his arms folded beneath his head. "Thanks, Jim... For everything."
"No, thank you. My leg feels great, and so does my neck. I don't think I can move."
"Don't worry about it." Blair's voice was slurred as he slowly succumbed to sleep. "You c'n sleep here."
Jim smiled to himself, content to lie there watching and listening as Blair's breathing and heartbeat slowed in his slumber. It wasn't until his friend started to snore that he quietly got to his feet and guided Blair under the covers, tucking him in gently. "Good night, Chief," he whispered, placing a chaste kiss on Blair's forehead. "Sleep well."
He tiptoed out of the room and locked up the loft before heading for his own bed, every pain-free step directing his thoughts to Blair. He fell asleep with a smile on his face.
Blair was awakened by the ringing of the phone. He moaned and rolled over, pressing his face into his pillow. Now that he was alert, he realized it was a lot brighter outside than he might have expected. He squinted at the clock. Oh, 11:12 a.m. No wonder it was kind of bright. Jim, of course, was at work, which would explain why he hadn't picked up the phone.
He lay there for several more minutes with his eyes closed, feeling somewhat wired and not knowing why. Then it came to him. Oh yeah, the lottery. Forty-nine million dollars. That would be why the phone kept ringing.
He knew he had sat up with Jim for a while the night before, massaging the older man's sore leg, so at some point he must have stopped and sent Jim off to bed, but he honestly couldn't remember. Maybe he'd fallen asleep on Jim; the fact that he was wearing the same clothes as the night before certainly supported that theory. That brought a tiny smile as he tried to picture himself collapsing over Jim's body and having to be tucked in like a child. And then he smiled even wider when he realized he was actually smiling.
Was the depression gone? He thought about that and decided that, no, it wasn't, not completely. But it wasn't as bad as it had been last night, which was nice. Having a Ph.D. would be nice. Having $49 million dollars would be nice. Though he'd really only have about 16 million once the government took their share and he gave Jim his half. But still, 16 million was a nice, tidy sum. He snickered, wondering what Jim would say when he found out he would soon be 16 million dollars richer.
Hey, there went a little more of that depression! Neat.
He finally sat up and allowed himself a long, luxurious stretch. He took his time with his morning routine, taking a bath instead of a shower and putting extra conditioner in his hair. By the time he shuffled out into the living room it was past 1 p.m. and he was very hungry. The phone kept ringing--more fair weather friends, more reporters--as he fixed himself a cup of tea and a bagel.
A glance at the answering machine confirmed that the tape was not yet full, which was strange. Jim must be checking messages from the office, he observed. Nice of him. He decided to call Jim as soon as he finished his bagel. Just as he was washing off his plate, one of the phone calls picked up by the answering machine caught his attention.
"Blair," came the jovial voice of his mentor, Eli Stoddard, "I hear you've had some excitement! Wonderful news, the Lottery. Everything seems to be falling into place for you, hmm? Well, anyway, I spoke to Jim--that is, your detective friend--wonderful fellow. I spoke to him just a moment ago, and I'd like to take some time to speak with you as well. Give me a call, I have a temporary office at Rainier--"
Blair snatched up the phone. "Eli?"
"Blair, you are there! I was hoping so. Jim told me you were screening calls."
"Since when are you on a first name basis with my roommate, Eli?" Blair sat back with a grin, glad to finally speak with a true friend from the academic community.
Stoddard laughed. "Wonderful fellow, once he got over his suspicion. He's terribly protective of you, Blair. I envy you that."
"He's a nut," Blair confirmed. "So what's up, Eli?"
"What is 'up,' my boy, is that we've done it. Jim told me he'd finally told you about our efforts at Rainier?"
"Yeah, last night. Under duress."
"Don't be too hard on him, lad. He was afraid it would fall through and you'd get your hopes up for nothing."
"That's what he said. Don't worry, I won't let him suffer too much. A few days of groveling ought to cover it."
"Hah! I'm sure he'll appreciate it."
"I'll bet. So what's the news, Eli? I guess it's good, since you sound so happy."
"Wonderful news, Blair, wonderful news! The committee met this morning and decided almost unanimously to allow you to complete your dissertation and to reinstate you as a teaching fellow!"
"Eli, are you shitting me!"
"Hah! No, I most certainly am not!"
"But...but how? I faked my--"
"You completed a dissertation that had some elements in it that may have been untrue. However, you did not turn in that dissertation, and in fact made every effort to stop its release. I made that very clear in my presentation, as did Detective Ellison."
"Jim?" Blair's shock rendered him momentarily speechless. "Jim testified for the committee?"
"Oh, yes, in person! I'd say his testimony was what convinced the last holdouts."
"You said it was almost unanimous?"
"Yes, yes. There was one person who, after he heard 'through the grapevine' that you had won the Lottery, felt that to reinstate you would reflect badly on the university. He feared that it would appear that you had been reinstated purely because of monetary reasons. Which," he added, "on the heels of Chancellor Edwards' shameful behavior during the Ventriss affair, is not a baseless fear. Luckily, however, the rest of the committee felt that it was not a reason to deny you your degree or your fellowship."
Blair thought about this. "What about the press?"
"What about them?" Eli's disdainful shrug was almost audible in his voice.
"If this one person thought about that, the press will, too. Won't that make trouble for Rainier?"
"No. We plan to produce the proof at our press conference that this process was in the works before your Lottery win. We'll nip that silly idea right in the bud. As it were."
"And what about Chancellor Edwards? I can't believe she would just agree to this."
"Oh, didn't I say? There were some questions about her conduct in this affair and many others, most recently that Ventriss mess. No, you needn't worry about her. I believe they're looking for a new chancellor. I might even be persuaded to apply for the position myself!"
"Oh, man! Eli, that'd be great! I can't believe this... Are you sure?"
"Positive! Congratulations, Blair. I just want you to know that I didn't believe a word of that press conference. Jim wouldn't confirm or deny anything and, of course, neither will you, as well you shouldn't! You did the right thing, and I am very proud to count you as one of my friends. You can always come to me for anything, Blair. Name it."
Blair had to clear his throat of the tears that suddenly choked him before he was able to speak. "Thank you, Eli. That...that means a lot to me."
"Think nothing of it. Now, I must prepare for this press conference. We'll most likely be holding it sometime tomorrow; I'll call you with the time so you can be ready to watch the subsequent press coverage. You'll want to think about calling a conference of your own, to respond to all of this."
"I'll think about that. I...I've been a little overwhelmed with everything, lately... It's good to know you were on my side."
"Always, my boy."
"Thanks." Blair smiled widely, wiping the last of the moisture from his eyes. "Can we have lunch sometime? Catch up on things?"
"Most definitely! And of course, you're paying..."
Blair laughed out loud for the first time in weeks. "But of course!"
Detective Jim Ellison was having a very interesting day. Officers and fellow detectives had been approaching him all day, asking if Blair Sandburg had truly won $49 million dollars in the Washington State Lotto. To each inquiry, he answered in the positive and managed not to react as person after person cracked jokes about borrowing money or "always liking that kid." Amazing how so many of them obviously thought they were being original.
The detectives of Major Crimes watched this parade of moochers and well-wishers, not even attempting to hide their smiles. Acting Captain Joel Taggart, though he knew how much a distraction the visitors were causing, didn't bother to attempt to dissuade them, knowing it would do no good. Jim just pasted a smile on his face and forced his irritation to the back of his mind, filling out his paperwork and checking the phone messages at the loft during the lulls.
When his phone rang just before two, he briefly considered not answering it, but a warning look from Joel changed his mind. Reporters aside, he was still a detective and had a responsibility to answer that phone. "Ellison," he barked with only a fraction of his usual ire.
"Sandburg, how you doin'?" He noticed the other detectives perk up at their desks, shamelessly listening in to his side of the conversation.
"Pretty good, man."
"Yeah, you sound...better."
"I am. I think I was just in shock last night. But, hey, I got some good news just now. I don't suppose you know anything about it?"
"News?" Jim tried to sound innocent and failed miserably.
"Yeah, I've been reinstated at Rainier! I get my fellowship back and I get to turn in a new dissertation. But you knew all about that, didn't you, Jim?"
"Why, whatever do you mean?" Jim's pasted-on smile widened into the real thing and he leaned back in his chair, feeling some of the tension that had built up during the day drain away.
"When did you find the time to testify in front of the committee? And how in the world did you manage to hide it from me?"
"Eli told me about it and I asked if I could have my say. The whole thing went down on Monday, and I was able to go during lunch. And, Chief, it wasn't that hard to hide; you've been kind of...distant, lately."
"Yeah, I guess so..." Blair trailed off, his voice thoughtful. "Well, anyway, thanks. I feel like everything's just...everything all right again, somehow. It's weird. A couple of days ago, I thought my life was over, and now, bam! I get a new start!"
"And $49 million dollars."
"Right, that, too." Blair's laughter was audible in his voice. "And speaking of that, I'm actually venturing out of the house today."
"Really? Where you going?"
"I've got to actually claim the money, Jim. I've got to go to the, like...Lotto headquarters and fill out forms. All of this fanfare was kind of preliminary, you know?"
Jim was suddenly alarmed, not wanting Blair's newfound hopes to be crushed so soon after the happy news. "Is there any doubt...?"
"Nah, no doubt. Breathe, man."
Jim took a deep breath, chuckling to himself. "Right."
"And besides, even if I couldn't claim the money for some reason, I'd still be pretty happy right about now. The university's going to hold a press conference and everything, Jim! Restore my professional reputation... Naw, I'd still be happy even if I didn't win the Lotto. That's just, like, a perk."
"Right, Chief. Only you would call $49 million dollars a perk."
"Welcome to the Sandburg Zone, Jim. Anyway, I'm headed out. I just didn't want you to worry if you came home early for some reason and I wasn't there."
"No worries, Darwin. Just drive safe."
"I will, Mom. See you later!"
Jim's desk was immediately surrounded by several Major Crimes detectives and their temporary captain, all talking over one another to ask about Sandburg. But now, for some reason, he didn't really mind the chaos.
Blair pushed his way into the Seattle Lottery offices, resolutely ignoring the many reporters surrounding him and shouting out questions. Once he got through the doors, it was much quieter; apparently, the vultures weren't allowed inside the building. He glanced at the building's directory and headed down the hall to suite 106, where he walked up to the reception desk and cleared his throat to get the attention of the young woman stationed there. "Um, hi, I'm Blair Sandburg. I...well, I won."
"Hello, Mr. Sandburg, I'm Sheila," she greeted him, smiling warmly. "I recognize you from the news. You've been busy lately!"
"Um..." He felt himself blushing and hated himself for it. "Yeah. I, uh...I have the ticket, here."
He pulled it out of his pocket carefully and handed it to her, suddenly nervous. He hadn't been lying when he'd told Jim he would still be happy even if he couldn't claim the money, but, man, that would be a bummer.
Sheila looked the ticket over carefully, then nodded and reached into a file cabinet behind her desk. "Fill out this form," she told him, placing a long sheet of paper in front of him. "Read the whole thing, okay? And fill it out completely, don't leave any information out. I'll need your driver's license or some form of picture ID, too."
He handed her the requested materials, barely looking up from the paperwork.
"Did you know," she asked him conversationally, "that your jackpot has broken the state record? The last big win was $32 million, and that was split up between three people."
He looked up at that. "Really?"
"Really. Nice, huh?"
"Yeah. Oh, yeah."
When he finished the form and handed it back to her, Sheila handed him another form. "You'll need to decide whether you want 50 percent of your prize in one lump sum, or if you want the full amount over 25 years with annual payments."
"Annual payments," he answered immediately.
"Well, you have 60 days to decide, so you can--"
"No, I've already thought about it. Definitely annual payments. But if I, y'know...die, or something, before the 25 years is up, what happens?"
"Oh, you don't have to worry about that, do you? I mean, not to pry, or anything, it's a good question. It's just that usually, I only get asked that by the senior citizens who win."
Blair smiled wryly. "I'm kind of accident-prone."
"Uh-huh. Well, should anything happen to you, the remainder of your winnings will be paid to your estate."
"Wow, I have an estate now, don't I?"
Sheila laughed out loud. "You most certainly do."
Blair did some calculations on the way home. $49 million, split up into 25 annual payments, translated into $1,960,000 per year. That went down to $1,411,200 after taxes, which meant he and Jim would each be getting approximately $705,600 per year. Not bad at all!
He made a mental note to tell Jim that night of his plans to give him half of the winnings. Normally, he would have just done it without saying anything, but he wanted to make arrangements for the money to be deposited directly into their bank accounts. Then, with that thought, he made another mental note to start up a savings account into which he could arrange for a portion of his share to be deposited. He'd never bothered with a savings account before, since he was always living from paycheck to paycheck, but now he'd be able to think more about his future.
So, with the first payment, he could pay off his maxed-out credit cards and his student loans in their entirety. Once that was done, he'd cut up all of the cards except one and try to start fresh. He'd do some work on the Volvo; maybe replace all of its parts and get a fresh paint job. He'd do something really nice for Naomi, maybe send her to the retreat of her choice with some spending money. And if she had any outstanding bills, he'd pay those off, too. Then, he'd put whatever was left into a savings account. That would wipe out the first year's winnings, but since he'd just discovered he still had a job at Rainier, that didn't worry him.
The other thing he'd have to do was to find himself a lawyer and write up a will. Jim and Naomi would be his beneficiaries, and he'd also leave a nice-sized chunk to the Cascade Police Department. Eli would have to get some, too; maybe a lump sum that could finance an expedition or two. 'Ooh, and what about a scholarship in my name at Rainier! That'd be cool.'
He found himself humming as the Volvo pulled up to the loft. Even the reporters still staking out the building didn't bother him; his mood was too good. He noticed a few familiar faces from outside the lotto office--apparently, they'd deliberately rushed to beat him home. Quelle suprise.
"No comment," he sang cheerily, unable to wipe the grin from his face. "Noooo comment."
"Mr. Sandburg!" Someone leapt in front of him and shoved a microphone in his face. "What do you say to the people who think you didn't deserve to win the lottery because of your recent fraud?"
He just rolled his eyes and made sure to enunciate very carefully. "No. Comment." And with that, he made it inside the building and to safety.
Jim was waiting for him at the top of the stairs. "Hey, Chief." He sounded worried.
"You heard that, huh?"
Yup, definitely worried.
"I'm fine, Jim. I'm not a fraud, so their comments don't make any sense. Even if I had made the whole thing up, I wouldn't be a fraud, because I didn't turn it in and try to pass it off as true."
"Preaching to the choir, Rabbi." Jim slung an arm around his shoulders and walked with him into the loft. It was warm and smelled like freshly baked lasagna.
"Yeah, well...I guess I didn't realize that until very recently. I mean, I did, in my head, but my heart was...confused. I kept hearing people call me a fraud, and I got used to being treated like a fraud, and then I guess I forgot what the truth really was."
"So, you didn't feel worthy or something?" Jim handed him a beer and started to set the table.
"I think so, yeah." Blair decided that if he couldn't make himself useful, he at least ought to get out of the way. With that thought in mind, he took a seat at the table and waited to be served. "I was disappointed in myself, you know? It was a horrible feeling."
Jim took the bubbling lasagna out of the oven and placed it on the stove, beginning to cut large slices of it for their dinner. "I know what it's like to feel that badly about yourself. I'm glad you've dragged yourself out of that funk."
"Me, too. I really think things are going to work out now."
"Great." Jim finished dishing their dinner and took his seat. "Okay, dig in, Chief. This is Joel's recipe, so it's bound to be delicious."
"It smells great. Thanks, Jim." He took a small bite and closed his eyes in ecstasy. "Oh, yeah."
Jim made a soft noise of agreement, but didn't speak. They spent the rest of dinner in companionable silence.
After they'd each had two-and-a-half helpings and were barely able to move as a result, they retired to the couch with a bottle of beer each. Jim turned on the television and they had been watching for a few minutes when Blair decided to give his news. "So, I went to the Lotto office, claimed my prize."
"Uh-huh. So where's the money?"
He chuckled and smacked Jim's arm. "I don't get it yet, you moron. First they have to process all kinds of paperwork, and then they'll deposit the first payment in my bank account."
"Yeah, I'm getting it in 25 annual payments. I could have gotten a lump sum--half of the total winnings--but I didn't really want that."
"When would you get the other half?"
"I wouldn't. You either get half as a lump sum, which means you lose the other half, or you do the annual thing."
Jim looked puzzled at that. "Why the hell would anyone want to lose half of it?"
"Sometimes people need a nice sum of money to do something," Blair laughed. "I dunno. Maybe I wanted to start my own business."
"Oh. So when does it come through?"
He shrugged. "Sheila said maybe a couple of weeks."
Jim raised an eyebrow. "Sheila?"
"Hey, she told me her name, man, and don't make any comments about table legs because I did not ask for her phone number, okay?"
Jim didn't even bother to respond, he just smiled into his beer.
"Shut up. Anyway, um...I decided I'm gonna give you half."
Jim's beer sloshed all over his pants. "What!"
"Yeah, um...you know, what's yours is mine, and all that jazz. So, half the money is yours. $700,000 a year for 25 years. Do with it what you will."
"Sandburg... Blair, I can't accept that, it's too much!"
"No, it's not. You're my best friend, Jim, and you gave me the first real home I've ever had. You're like a big brother to me. Family. It is not too much, it's not enough."
Jim didn't have a real protest for that. "Thanks, Chief," he said quietly.
"You're welcome." Blair felt a sudden and undeniable urge to make a joke and relieve the emotional tension. "You realize this means no more lame jokes about back rent, right?"
Rainier University held its press conference the following morning. Immediately afterward, all of the local channels--along with a few national ones--were airing a related story. Now, instead of a power-hungry and greedy fraud, Blair was being portrayed as a diligent student betrayed by an unscrupulous publisher and a too-eager university. They were singing his praises for having been willing to give up everything to help a friend and to make everything that had gone wrong right again. Chancellor Edwards was now being subjected to the same venomous treatment as Blair had been, her dismissal announced gleefully by sadistic correspondents reporting live from outside her home. Publisher Sid Graham, too, was being dogged by determined New York reporters--his irritated responses of "No comment!" being broadcast live by satellite all over the world.
Eli had called Jim at work immediately after having notified Blair of the time of the conference, and the word had spread quickly. Cops all over the building had gathered around the few available television sets and were watching with glee and pride as Blair's sacrifice was rewarded. Jim Ellison could not stop grinning and many of his coworkers were heard to remark under their breath that they'd had no idea he was capable of making that face.
Taggart finally took pity on Jim and allowed him to go home early. Jim arrived at the loft to find the place staked out by reporters--not a big surprise--and Blair's Volvo in its usual space in front of the building. He pushed his way past them, ignoring their attempts to get his comments. Blair was waiting for him at the door to the loft, a large grin on his face. "Hey, Jim."
"Chief," he greeted, biting back his own grin. "So..."
"So." Blair gestured to the TV, which was still on, currently broadcasting the scene outside the loft, along with a voice-over announcing the dismissal of Sid Graham from his position at the publishing company. "This is nice, huh?"
"That's one word for it." Jim clapped his friend on the back and led him to the couch, where they sat comfortably, side-by-side. "You gonna make a statement?"
"Yeah. I thought I could go out there, you know...throw 'em a bone."
"You know what you're gonna say?"
"Well..." Blair considered that for a long moment. "Kind of. I have the basic idea, you know? I could do it now..."
"You want to?" Jim glanced at the television, noting the large crowd waiting for a response. "I could go with you, kind of be your bodyguard..."
Blair shrugged. "Okay. Let's go."
Jim had to scramble to catch up with the younger man as he sprang to his feet and made his determined way to the crowd waiting outside.
"Mr. Sandburg, Mr. Sandburg, do you have a statement?" The shouts started before they had even exited the building. The cameras and microphones pressed close to Blair's face, flashbulbs blinding him.
"Okay, okay, get back," Jim warned them, gently shoving them away. "He's got a statement, but you've got to give him room; let him breathe!"
The crowd quieted almost immediately, and Blair shot Jim a look of gratitude. "Well," he began, squinting out of flash-burned eyes, "I, um... First of all, I want to thank Dr. Eli Stoddard and the administration at Rainier University for reconsidering my case. My announcement that I had committed fraud was really kind of a split-second, panicked decision, after I saw that all the press attention had put my colleagues in the Cascade PD in danger. Because of that, I...I overstated things and I just made a lot of trouble for myself. I don't regret it, though, because it cleared up all of the misconceptions about Detective Ellison's abilities. Um...I'm definitely going to work on a new dissertation and complete the work toward my Ph.D. I will also seriously consider Rainier's offer to reinstate my teaching fellowship, though I haven't really made a decision about that yet."
"What would you do, then," one reporter interrupted, "if you won't be teaching?"
"Are you just going to sit back and enjoy your lottery winnings?" another added.
Blair smiled as he shook his head. "No, actually, I'm thinking about the possibility of attending the police academy and joining the Cascade PD as Detective Ellison's official partner."
The reporters once again exploded with questions, but Blair hardly noticed them. His attention was on Jim, who was staring at him with wide, shocked eyes. "Sandburg...?"
"That is," Blair added shyly, "if you'll have me."
Someone must have noticed the drama because the noise once again ceased and all attention was on the two of them. "Detective Ellison?" prompted a columnist from the Cascade Times, pen poised over paper.
Jim smiled, his eyes never leaving Blair's. "Blair Sandburg has been my partner for the past four years," he said, loudly enough for all of the reporters to hear him. "But it would be nice if he made it official."
His words made headlines all over the world.