LRH Balzer

(sequel to "Sentinel Too")
Note: This is the second of a trio of short stories that make up my sequels to the Third Season cliffhanger.
1. Primary Focus; 2. Movers and Shakers; 3. A Different Way of Seeing

Author's note:  This story takes place in the middle of the previous story "Primary Focus", the morning after Blair wakes up for the first time.

Saturday, May 23rd, 9:00 a.m.

Cigar held firmly between his teeth, Simon Banks unlocked the door to the loft, standing back for Taggart and Brown to enter before him. "Thanks for meeting me here. Sorry I was late; I picked Jim up an hour ago and dropped him off at the hospital, then checked in at the station before coming back here." He walked across to the balcony windows, opening the blinds and letting the morning light in. "As you can see, most of the apartment needs to be moved," he added with a short laugh, waving his arm at the loft.

"Wow." Brown stared at the near empty rooms. "I mean, you said Jim had moved all the furniture out, but I thought-- Well, I didn't realize-- Wow," he said, slowly turning around, shaking his head. "Wow. What was the man thinking?"

"How's Jim doing now?" Taggart asked, setting a bag of groceries on the counter.

Banks shrugged. "Last night, Sandburg finally woke up -- at least briefly -- and said a few words to Jim, so if he's getting better, that means Jim will be on the road to recovery as well."

"So the kid's okay? He's going to be fine?" Taggart grinned, exchanging hand slaps with Brown, who then moved into a little dance routine.

"Hold on -- He's come out of the coma, but he hasn't been awake enough for them to check him out fully. Physically, he seems to be getting better, but we don't know if there's been any brain damage yet. There's also a concern about motor ability, coordination, and lung complications. He's not out of danger yet." Banks shrugged again, apologetically. "Sorry to dampen your celebration but--"

"Well, he's breathing, his heart is beating, and he spoke to Jim. We can celebrate that, right?" Brown said stubbornly. "So where's this stuff we need to move?"

"Downstairs. Through here." Simon moved along the short hallway to another door which lead down the back stairs to the basement storage area that belonged to the suite. "Where's Rafe? I thought he said he was going to help, too." He turned on the stairwell light and started down the narrow steps.

"We got off shift at eight, then he left to change his clothes and meet up with Megan. They're going to the motel to get Hairboy's stuff." Brown followed him into the basement, stopping to whistle when he saw the jumble of furniture blocking the bottom few steps. "How far back does this go?"

The police captain shrugged as he turned on another light. "About twenty feet. Jim started moving all the small stuff first, then needed more and more space upstairs so he ended up dragging everything down here."

"By himself?" Joel paused on the step above them, peering into the dimly lit space. "Any idea why he felt he had to do this?"

Simon scratched at the back of his head, trying to come up with a reasonable answer, but ended up shrugging again. "I can't really explain it. Neither can Jim. He's been under a bit of strain lately--"

"No shit, man," Henry muttered, hoisting the stereo cabinet. "Grab hold, Joel. Might as well get started with this."

Simon helped them maneuver the stereo cabinet up the stairs and set it in the middle of the floor. "I've got to get back to the station. If there's any other heavy stuff, just wait for Rafe."

"Forget Rafe," Henry said, wiping his forehead. "Megan can bench press more than my partner or I can."

Joel snorted and took off his jacket, draping it on the cabinet. "We'll be fine, Simon. Megan and I are on afternoon shift so we'll be in at four o'clock; I'll see you then and return the key."

"Oh, Jim left some money on the counter for you all to order in some pizza for lunch. He's a bit overwhelmed by the whole situation, but wants you guys to know how much he appreciates what you're doing."

"Tell him, no problem, man," Henry said, smiling good-naturedly. "We'll take care of it. Not to worry."

"Right," Simon muttered and closed the door behind him.

Rafe and Megan stood on the sidewalk and stared at the Shady Lane Motel. The motor inn had obviously seen better days. It was badly in need of painting; the wooden stairs leading to the second floor held only the faintest hint of color. With thirty rooms total, most of which claimed to have a fully-equipped kitchenette and cable television, the motel was dubiously listed in the telephone book as one of Cascade's long-established inns. What had once been an outdoor swimming pool in the courtyard, had several years previously been reworked into a skateboarders' haven, although neither detective could figure why anyone would believe such an amenity would be a draw to a tired traveler.

Faded letters spelled out the motel's name, traced by neon lights which were burned out. Only the word "VACANCY" was still lit in flourescent red, but it seemed to have acquired a tick of some kind, and regularly sputtered, threatening to burn out at any time. Three marigolds sat clustered together in the middle of a weed-filled flower bed -- either the last survivors or someone's ill-fated attempt at gardening.

"This place is disgusting," Megan whispered. "Why would Sandy stay here?"

"It's halfway between the loft and the university. Besides, where else could he go in the middle of the night on such short notice?"

"Anywhere else." She tilted her head slightly, wrinkling her nose at the smell from the garbage dumpster in the side lane. "So why didn't he ask one of you guys if he could stay with you for a few days?"

Rafe shook his head. "I guess with all his stuff in boxes, maybe he was too embarrassed or something. With our varying shifts, he may not have known who to call." He squared his shoulders and took a step toward the manager's office. "Come on. Let's get this over with. I want to get Sandburg's stuff and get out of here."

"I'm with you, bro'," Megan said, applying a playful slap to his arm.

"Bro'? You've been hanging around with my partner too long already," Rafe muttered. "You're already talking like him." He swung open the main door and stepped into the poorly lit office. No one was in sight. They walked to the counter and waited, then Rafe read the cardboard sign and tapped the little bell beside it 'just once'. Still no one came. "Hello?"

"Hello, is anyone there?" Megan called, a bit louder.

From the partly open door on the far side of the counter, they could see a glimpse of the manager's living area and a very large color television set. A radio in the background was competing with the dialogue between two of the television's morning talk show hosts. A waft of cigarette smoke curled from the room, through the open doorway, and neatly circled the "No Smoking" sign in the outer office.

"Hello?" Rafe called again, resisting the temptation to tap the little bell a second time.

Megan had no such restrictive feelings and tapped it about ten times in succession. "Could someone please help us out here?"

"Yeah?" came a gravelly voice behind them.

They both spun around to see a tall, broad-shouldered, middle-aged man standing in the doorway. He was wearing jeans that looked as though they had been washed only once in the calendar year, a dark T-shirt with rolled-up sleeves that beautifully showed off multi-tattooed arms, and worn, black cowboy boots with scuffed heels. A cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth. His gray hair hung in a limp ponytail. A frayed and stained beard hung halfway down his chest. His belly hung over his wide leather belt.

"Are you . . . the manager?" Megan asked carefully.

"Yeah. Want a room?"

"No. No, thank you." Rafe produced his police ID and held it out in front of him. "I'm Detective Rafe with the Cascade Police. I believe you have a man registered here by the name of Blair Sandburg."

"Why are you asking?" The manager took a slow drag on his cigarette, then added to the toxic-smoke level in the office.

"We're here to collect his things." Megan tucked her hair primly behind her ear.

"Yeah? Got a warrant?" the man drawled.

"Actually, we have a letter of authorization from his roommate, who is Mr. Sandburg's Power of Attorney and a letter from the Cascade Police Department." Rafe unfolded the papers and held them out to the manager, who didn't take them.

Instead he took another drag on his cigarette and leaned against the door frame, trapping them inside. "And have you considered that just maybe Mr. Sandburg doesn't want to go back to his former residence?"

Megan's eyes narrowed. "Why should it matter to you? We're here to pay his bill and collect his things."

"Let's just say that Mr. Sandburg is a friend of mine, and if Mr. Ellison dares to show his fucking head in my establishment, I'll personally escort him to the edge of my property." The manager pushed off the door frame and moved past them to stand behind the counter, dropping the cigarette butt into an overflowing ashtray.

Rafe rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Look, we're friends of Blair's, too, and we're trying to do him a favor. He's in the hospital right now--"

The manager got ugly. Well, more ugly, Megan noted. His huge fist slammed down on the counter, jiggling the ashtray and sending a cloud of ashes over the colorful brochures of Mount St. Helen. "He's hurt? What did Ellison do now? I swear, if he so much as laid a hand on that young man--"

"No!" Rafe said forcefully. "No. Jim saved his life. He's been with him for the last three days."

"Oh, God. Is he in serious condition?" the man asked, transforming yet again. "Damn it, I knew something had happened when the kid didn't come home Tuesday night. I waited up for him, but finally had to go to bed. I warned him about getting messed up with cops," he muttered, half under his breath, wiping the tears from his eyes. "Poor kid. He's had to deal with so much this last year. What happened now?"

"He almost drowned." Megan exchanged glances with Rafe, then gingerly patted the manager's hand. "He pulled through, though."

"Drowned? Are they watching for lung complications? How long was he without oxygen? Do they have him on antibiotics? Was the water clear or contaminated?" The manager sank down into his well-worn office chair. "These things happen so fast. One minute we're discussing the ecosystems of the Lakpolic Indians of Bolivia, and then next minute, news like this."

"So . . . you know San-- you know Blair?" Megan asked.

"Just met him a few days ago when he came looking for a room. Didn't have any money on him, so I spotted him some cash, gave him one of our lesser-priced rooms, and said he could pay me later. Nice kid. We had a long talk until the wee hours of the morning after I helped him cart all his boxes in. Shared a bottle with him-- I think he just needed someone to talk to."

"Thanks, uh -- I never caught your name," Rafe prompted.

"Clarence Eugene Reginald," the manager said absently, still shaking his head. "But you can call me Bob." He took a deep breath, and exhaled. "So you're here to take his stuff?"

Rafe stared at him, at a loss for words until Megan's sharp elbow impacted with his ribs. "Uh, yes." Again he held up the letters. "Blair's a friend of ours. If you need to confirm this, feel free to contact the Major Crimes Section of the Cascade Police. Our captain will vouch for us."

Bob stood up and peered at the letters. He scratched his bearded chin for a minute, then the back of his head, then his left armpit. "I guess that's okay. Here's the key to his room," he said, scratching his chest and then his stomach, the key dangling from his hand.

"Thank you," Megan said, swiping the key from his hand before he could scratch any further south. "Shall we go?" she asked Rafe, as she left the office.

"After you. We won't be long," Rafe added, with a backwards glance at the manager. "We'll return the key when we're done."

"Last door on the end. I gave him a room away from the traffic. It's gets noisy at night sometimes, since they put the new truck route through here. Need help at all? Be careful with the artifacts. I put a red 'X' on that box so Blair would remember which one it was."

"Thanks. Really.  You seem to have gone out of your way for him. Thanks."  Rafe turned and left, not knowing what else to say.

Megan had already matched the key to the right door, number eight, by the time Rafe joined her. "At least, it's ground floor." She opened the door, carefully pushed it open, then peered behind it to see why it wouldn't open all the way. The light switch by the door didn't work.

"It may be ground floor, but we still have to walk through the swimming pool area-- make that the skateboard area." Rafe started to follow her in, stopping when he realized she wasn't actually entering the motel room. "What's wrong?"

"The door is blocked." Megan slid through the door to land on the creaking bed, skittering across it to turn on the lamp by the bedside table. "Come in this way."

Rafe turned around and backed into the room, sitting on the sagging bed and swinging his legs around the door. When his eyes adjusted to the dim yellow light, he saw the narrow floor area of the room was taken up by about six large packing boxes and another stack of smaller ones further in. On top of one box was an open suitcase, a few clothes and shaving kit on the box beside it.

This room had neither a kitchenette nor a television. The bed was covered in a nondescript patterned bedspread, the drapes covering the window in a different, uncomplementary pattern. There was no door on the bathroom and from what Rafe could see, only a shower, toilet and basin. Even the mirror was missing. "I wouldn't rate this place even one star."

Megan nodded, not trusting her voice as she looked around the room. She sat on the edge of the bed, holding a small brown bear, her hand resting on one of Blair's notebooks that had been left on his bed. "Among other things, it smells mildewy in here." She gave the bear a little hug, then got up and placed it in the battered old suitcase, gathering the few clothes lying around while Rafe cleared out the bathroom. "This must have been excruciating for him, to be here. I'm glad he was able to talk to Bob, though. One redeeming thing about this place."

"Yeah. I guess." Rafe cleared his throat, trying to ease the growing pressure on it. There were times when he found it inconvenient being a police detective. He automatically catalogued everything, from the new but half-empty antacid bottle on the edge of the sink, to the tissues filling the trash basket in the bathroom. The bedside table had another collection of tissues, along with an empty can of soda, a wrapper from McDonalds, and a container of aspirin. Blair preferred herbal remedies; everyone at the station knew that. But here, the luxury of mixing his own concoctions wasn't available. It didn't look like he had ever crawled between the sheets of the bed, deciding instead to sleep on top of the bedspread, the pillows bunched beneath his head.

A quick glance at Megan, and he saw she was thinking the same thing. "Let's take this stuff back," he said softly. "He needs to go home."

Rafe and Megan drove the two miles to the loft in silence, feeling the heaviness of the situation.  It had been too easy to picture Blair curled on the bed in that small, oppressive motel room, alone and abandoned, his heart and life shattered.  If he had died without them ever healing that rift . . .

But he was alive.  There was time to redeem the relationship.  They entered the apartment determined to help, but the loft was echoing with an argument already in progress. Taggart and Brown were standing in the living room, waving their arms as they made their various points.

"The love seat went along the length of the room, the couch along the width. I know what I'm talking about."

"It's the other way. What kind of a detective are you? Listen, Brown, I've been here more often than you. I know where it goes. I was here for dinner not too long ago."

"You were wrong about Jim's bed, though. Why can't you admit you're wrong about this, too?"

"I am not phoning Simon again. Okay, I forgot Jim had moved his bed from the back wall to along the edge of the railing. When Blair and I searched his room when he was missing last year, it was along the back wall. All the furniture in his room was in a different place, in fact."

"Well, I told you the dresser was at the top of the stairs. He pushed it down the stairs onto that mental patient, remember?"

"I wasn't part of the investigation. How was I to know that? He used to have the metal shelving there."

"Well, open your eyes. You sit and play poker with us sometimes. I told you I could see the bed from where I sat."

"Maybe I'm concentrating on my cards. Which is why you always lose, Brown."

Rafe raised his hands, breaking up the argument. "Sorry to interrupt-- but could you guys help us carry up some boxes? We've got one of the department vans downstairs with Sandburg's stuff in it."

"Sure thing."

"No problem."

The two men disappeared out the door, still carrying on their argument, and Megan deposited the battered leather suitcase on the floor outside Blair's bedroom. "Have you been here often?" she asked, walking through the kitchen and staring at the vaulted ceiling and windows.

"A few times. We've played poker once or twice. Watched a hockey game here once. One or two basketball games." Rafe glanced over to the living room, frowning at where the television had been placed. "They've got the TV wrong. It's where the yellow chair should be." He took his denim jacket off, rolled up his sleeves, and started moving the furniture around. "What about you?" he asked, noticing Megan heading up the stairs to Jim's bedroom. "You been here?"

"Just once," she answered, distracted. "With Sandy."


She paused on the stairs, turning to look down at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Rafe shrugged, then went to open the door for Joel and Henri. They left the boxes with him and headed back to the van.

"Rafe?" Megan prompted, still waiting on the stairs.

"Nothing. It means nothing," he said, moving out of her line of vision to set the boxes outside Blair's bedroom door.  He busied himself opening them to check the contents.

"Rafe, come up here for a minute."

With a sigh, he looked around the loft, but finally put his frustration aside and went to see what Megan wanted.

She turned as he started up the stairs, holding up a creased jacket.  "This is what Sandy was wearing, wasn't it?"

"Where did you find it?"

"On Jim's bed," she answered

"Better leave it where it was," Rafe said, feeling uncomfortable being in his friend's bedroom.  "Everything's finished up here.  They've put everything back."  He turned and went back downstairs.

"Do you think they put the jacket there?" Megan asked softly.

"I don't know.  Jim probably just wanted something of Blair's around.  Give me a hand, okay? They don't have the furniture in Sandburg's room yet."

"Sure." She craned her neck to see the layout of Ellison's room -- pure curiosity, he figured -- then joined Rafe, helping him move the tall bookcase through the French doors.

"So where does this go?" Rafe asked, once they were in Sandburg's room.

"How should I know? There was no furniture in the loft when I was here. It was completely empty."

"I thought you were here with Sandburg once."

"I came here with him to see what was wrong with Jim last week." She glared at him, irritated. "Let's just put the bookcase down until Henri and Joel get here. Maybe they know where it goes."

"Sorry," Rafe mumbled. "That was poor form."

"It was." Megan looked around at the natural flooring of the bedroom. "No scuff marks. Jim even swept the place clean to get the dust out. Now why would he do that? I'm totally baffled by all this. Why would he throw Sandy out? Has he ever done anything like this before?"

"Not that I know of. Maybe. Simon's known him longest."

"I was surprised he tossed him out like that. I haven't known them that long, but there's something about them that after a while you can't imagine one without the other. I admit, I was surprised when I heard they weren't only partners, but lived together. I figured maybe they were-- you know--"

"Yeah. A lot of people think that at first."

"Well. It was just the togetherness between them. They obviously care about each other. I think they'd die for each other. And when Jim thought Sandy was dead--" Megan stopped, caught up in the memory of that horrifying few minutes by the fountain. "Damn it," she whispered, walking out of the room, wiping the tears from her cheeks. "I'm sorry." She pulled a tissue from her jacket pocket and blotted her eyes.

Rafe followed her into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around her. "He's alive, right? They'll make it. Whatever caused all this, I think they'll work it out. They've come too far to let it all go." He rested his cheek against her hair, feeling his own eyes brim with tears. The past four days had been exhausting and the lack of sleep was catching up on him.

"But why did it all happen, Rafe? Why did Jim suddenly start getting so territorial? Why did he throw Sandy out? Why did he move all the furniture away? It doesn't make any sense. Is he mentally unstable?"

Rafe laughed, patting her arm awkwardly as he released her and returned to the boxes. "Jim? Mentally unstable? No. Sometimes, though, things happen differently for them. They don't move through life the same as other people. It's hard to explain," he added, pulling out some books and piling them on the floor by the kitchen island. "We don't ask a lot of questions."

"I've noticed some peculiarities," Megan admitted, looking at him as if she were wondering whether or not to say anything more. Joel and Henri's return distracted her, and she went to the door to hold it open for them. "Do either of you know where the bookcase goes in the bedroom? We want to get started putting the books away."

All four stood at the open French doors and stared at the small floor space. "The bed went along that wall," Joel said, finally, glancing to Henri and Rafe to see if they agreed with him.

"Okay, let's move the bed in." Henri led the way through the maze of furniture and boxes and with Rafe and Megan's help, they put the futon bed back in the room. Joel had found a box of bedding and pillows that were unanimously agreed to be Blair's, and together with Megan, they put the sheets and comforter on while the other two men brought the rest of the boxes from the van.

"What about the dresser, the desk and the bookcase?" Rafe asked. "I've only ever seen a glimpse of Blair's room, and the bed is all you can see from the door."

Brown stared carefully, then pointed to the far door. "To get out the door to the basement, you wouldn't want anything to block it, so my guess is the bookcase is along the wall beside the door, with the dresser beside it, under the hall window. That leaves the desk to go on the wall at the foot of the bed."

They all studied the remaining pieces of furniture and agreed that given the layout of the room, and the wealth of doors and windows for such a small space, there was no other option for the furniture. "But where's his closet?" Megan asked, turning in circles once the bookcase, desk and dresser were in place. "If the door on the brick wall goes to the outside fire escape, and the other door goes to the back hallway and downstairs, where's his closet? I've seen Blair wear a suit jacket before, so he's got to hang it somewhere."

"I know this one," Rafe said with a smile. "I came back here after going to court with them one day, and Blair took off his suit jacket, sprawled on the couch, and fell asleep within twenty seconds. Jim griped about him leaving stuff lying around, but picked up the jacket, went through the rear exit to the loft and hung it up in a closet in their back hallway, the one that leads to the stairs to the basement."

Megan walked through Blair's room and pushed open the door, peering around the corner to the closet. "Isn't it rather open?"

"Not really. The back hallway is only for their apartment. It goes downstairs to the basement or out the emergency exit to the back lane."

"Why two doors to the same hallway?"

"Originally there was just this one, in Blair's room.  A previous owner added the other one, by the bathroom, and blocked this exit.  When Blair moved in, they unlocked it so Blair could use it as an exit. It's come in handy, but it's also been a security problem."

"Whatever works for them." She picked up a box of clothing. "Anyone come across any hangers?"

Henri spun around and pointed to a box under the loft stairs. "Over there. I'll bring you some."

They kept working for another hour, placing all the furniture, putting books on bookshelves, dishes in the cupboards, and towels in the bathroom, finally admitting they had done all they could. What they were left with was a stack of items outside Blair's bedroom, consisting of a bizarre collection of bows, arrows, masks, and pictures. A quick call to Simon hadn't answered their questions. He couldn't advise them on where any of it went.

Joel looked across the room at his dejected fellow workers sitting sprawled on the couches. "Hey. What's this about? Let's just do our part, guys. We can't undo whatever happened, but we know Blair belongs here and wants to be here, and Jim wants him here, and therefore, we're putting him back here. It's up to them to sort out the differences and make it all right. They need to do some housecleaning of their own."

"I suppose you're right," Megan said with a sigh. "I had just hoped we could have done more."

Rafe nodded, yawning. "I'm beat. I'm going home; it's been a long night. Henri and I got off work at eight this morning and it's now after three.  I need my rest before going in again at midnight.  I hate night shift."

"Me, too," his partner agreed.  "We don't have to do it very often, though.  It's just the case we're on."  He stood up, reaching a hand to Rafe. "Come on. I'll drive you home. Megan, can you take the van back to the station?"

"Sure. I'm doing the afternoon shift. I want to grab a salad first; that pizza's sitting rather heavy on my stomach. Need a ride, Joel?"

"I came here with Henri, so I'd appreciate a lift in. I'll take Simon the key before I start my shift." Joel followed them to the door. They paused before leaving, all glancing around the refurnished loft.

"It's not quite right, is it?" Rafe asked.

"No. But it will be," Megan answered, fiercely determined.

"If we have anything to say about it," Henri agreed.

10:30 p.m.

Jim Ellison opened the door to the loft and stepped inside the dark interior. Simon Banks reached in and flicked on the light, apologizing softly to Jim as he flinched. "Sorry. I forget sometimes."

"It's okay. Listen, Simon, I'm fine here. I'll just make some soup and go to bed. I'm tired." Ellison shrugged off his jacket and hung it on one of the coat hooks. "You don't need to stick around."

Simon looked around the loft, nodding in appreciation. "They did a good job."

"What?" Ellison looked behind him, frowning as he saw the furniture in place. "Oh, right. I forgot they were doing this. I should have given them a floor plan."

"They were close, though, weren't they?"

"Hmm..? Yeah. Pretty close. I can make any changes later."

"Tomorrow," Banks said firmly.

"Right. Tomorrow. Why don't you go? I'll heat up some soup and go to bed."

"Are you okay with that?"

"Yeah, I'll sleep fine tonight. The talk I had with Sandburg helped answer a bunch of questions I had running around in my brain."

"Did the kid sound okay? The doctors were concerned about possible--"

"I heard. No, he's fine. Blames himself for everything, though -- I threw him out and he says he's the one responsible. -- But for the most part, he sounded fine. He's got to get his strength back."

"Does he remember what happened?"

"He mentioned Alex coming to his office. He doesn't remember anything from then until waking up in the hospital."

"At least he woke up tonight and spoke to you. That's a start." Simon moved back to the door. "If you're sure you're okay, I'll get going. I'm tired. I'd like to get home at a decent hour."

"Thanks, Simon. I'll see you tomorrow. Same time?"


"I'll be ready."

The door shut behind his captain, and Ellison moved to lock it. He avoided looking at the rest of the suite while he rummaged through the kitchen and managed to locate a pot; he opened the can of soup, heating it quickly. He sat down to eat, but got up from the table half a dozen times to fix this or that, to switch the couches, to move the stereo cabinet a foot closer to the stairs, to adjust the pictures on the wall. All little things, but they made the loft seem foreign to him, not just empty. Empty wasn't furniture or no furniture. It was Blair or no Blair.

The amount of work done in the loft since he had left that morning was impressive and he didn't know how he was going to repay his co-workers for what they had done, for the incredible act of friendship that had been extended to Blair and him.

He turned the lights out and used the bathroom, then came out and once again paused outside Blair's doorway. Something drew him in and he sat on the futon mattress, taking the scruffy bear from the bed and holding it in one hand as he looked around the room. Nothing was quite right. Books weren't in the order Blair kept them. The pillows on the bed were arranged differently. The small items on the window ledges were missing, still sitting in a box outside the room, waiting to be put back. He brought the box into the room and laid out all the unplaced items on the dresser, but after thirty minutes, he had a raging headache and still had no idea where they went. He picked up a few bows and stared at the numerous hooks on the walls, but he had no idea which bow went where. He vaguely remembered the significance of one or two of them, but not where Blair would have displayed them in his room. Exhausted, he gave up and sat back on the mattress and reclaimed the bear.

He almost stood up and took it to the hospital. It had offered Sandburg comfort once, maybe it would again.

But he had promised he would stay in the loft until morning. Studying the bear, growing more tired, he spoke to the inquisitive brown face, his voice rough with emotion. "I see these things every single day, Silver, but I can't put them back because I've never paid enough attention to see where they went. I took him for granted. I took his presence here for granted." The bear's face disappeared into a shimmer of tears. "But he talked to me today. He doesn't want to leave me. He wants to stay." A choking sob followed and he lowered his face to one hand, letting the pent up emotion break over him until he was too exhausted to do anything but rest his head on Blair's pillow and close his eyes.

When morning's light streamed into the loft and touched his face, he was still lying on the narrow bed, asleep, holding onto the little bear, holding tight to the fragile connection to his Guide.

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