Treeline Series (i)
thanks and apologies to Pet Fly, and proceeding under the assumption that
forgiveness is easier to ask than permission ...
tale takes place after "The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg." It was written in response to a "Dark Obsenad"
challenge on the Senad mailing list.
-- A zone where the normal growth of trees is limited.
Cold temperatures often combined with drought form the upper or arctic
treeline. Species that grow as an
erect, single-stemmed tree at lower elevations are characterized by a dwarfed
growth pattern due to desiccation and physical damage caused by wind and blowing
looked up from his work, brushing an errant strand of hair from his face.
It was growing out again, but unevenly, and the leather hair tie still
couldn't capture and hold it all. He
let the axe fall, let the weight of the head drive the blade into the chopping
block, and straightened, stretching until he felt his bones pop. It hurt. The
cracked ribs had healed long ago, but the memory of pain seemed sealed in them.
He didn't care about that either.
stood still, waiting, listening to the sound of a big engine in low gear and
tires negotiating tight turns, and finally spotted a glimpse of deep blue
through the trees. A few minutes
more and the SUV was in full view, dusty and bug-spattered, jouncing over the
last few yards of pot-holed road and into the yard.
It pulled to a stop; the engine was cut, the driver's door swung open,
and in the next moment Blair was wrapped in strong arms and drawn in close to a
allowed the embrace for a few moments ... he needed it, needed to feel less
alone, even if only for a breath or two ... then pulled back.
He felt Simon's disappointment in the way the big man let him go slowly,
you all right?"
Simon. I'm fine.
sighed again, and let his eyes roam the treeline, as if he was trying to decide
what to say. In the end, the words
right. Let's unload the
they did, and together, bags in hand, they walked up the shallow slope to the
small stone house. Deftly, Blair
pivoted on his good leg and used the weaker one to push the door open.
The coffee pot was perking in anticipation of the expected guest, and
Simon inhaled deeply and smiled. Blair
saved the last of the hazelnut you brought last month."
filled two stoneware mugs and both men sat at the small table, enjoying their
coffee and putting off their monthly conversation for as long as possible.
The second cup was poured before Simon began the ritual.
He reached inside his windbreaker, pulled out an envelope, and placed it
on the table. The paper was
yellowed and wrinkled, as if it had been handled a great deal; one word was
printed carefully on the front. "Chief."
always, Blair pushed it back across the table, unopened.
young man closed his eyes for a moment, and Simon hurriedly made his assessment.
The face was thinner, the circles beneath the lashes were darker, the
lines at the corners of the eyes and the mouth were deeper, and did not run in
directions that spoke of laughter. Rolled-up
denim sleeves exposed tanned and leanly muscled forearms.
The old scars that slashed across both wrists were stark white against
skin browned by the sun.
caught him looking and his eyes flashed with anger, but Simon did not apologize.
"Everyone asked after you. Joel
wanted to come; he was hurt when I told him no."
anger disappeared as quickly as it had come, washed away by regret.
"I'm sorry. I just ...
I can't. Tell them ... whatever you
want to help, Blair."
what you said to me. You were
pushed back his chair and walked to the sink.
His hands trembled and the stoneware mug he held chipped against the
enamel. Memories replayed behind
hell of an Academy cadet who was also a pariah, graduated into an uneasy
partnership too fragile for two damaged men to hold together.
A murderer set free because a cop's testimony had no credibility after
the defense cited his tarnished past. A
lawsuit by the university on whose board the exonerated murderer sat, charging a
disgraced ex-grad student with fraud and requesting immediate repayment of
thousands of dollars in grants and student loans. A jail term, with no bail allowed, because posting bail might
jeopardize the offender's ability to repay the misappropriated funds.
partner who watched it all happen, powerless to stop it, imprisoned by his own
regrets, and shut out by a man who ensured estrangement by withdrawing from the
risk of it.
terrible things that had been done to that man in jail; the terrible things that
he'd done to himself there.
Simon, a force of nature powered by deep love and righteous fury and empowered
by debts owed him by men in high places, called in and repaid.
Finally. But too late.
looked at the scars on his wrists, took a deep breath and kept his face turned
away. He spoke quietly, evenly, but
the effort it took to do so was evident in his voice.
... you know how grateful I am. You
tried to keep me on after the Begelman trial.
You and Taggert found Canton, got the ... fraud ... sentence overturned,
got me out of ... got me out. And
took care of me after, when I couldn't take care of myself.
Joel found this place, this job ... Megan and Brown and Rafe and Rhonda
all tried to help. I'll never be
able to thank you enough. I'll
never forget what you did.
I can't forget everything that happened, or why.
And Jim will never be able to, either, no matter what he thinks.
No matter what he says."
an ex-con, Simon!" Pain fueled
the anger now, and Simon knew it, and let it flow over him.
"'Exonerated' fraud, but who remembers that?
Not the Vogels, who only know that the man who raped and killed their
daughter walked free because the cop who brought him in should never have been
given his badge! They'll never
I hurt a lot of other people. too. My
professors, and my students. You,
and the people in MC. My ... my
mom. And ... and Jim."
The voice was breaking now. "And
I can't make things right ... I can't ever be ... not after...."
couldn't bear it any longer. He got
to his feet and crossed the small kitchen in two long strides and gathered Blair
to him, holding him fast. This time
Blair didn't resist at all. He was
silent, his eyes were dry, but he shook violently within the circle of Simon's
arms and Banks let his strength hold the young man for as long as he would allow
wasn't long enough for either of them, and when Blair made a move to pull away,
Simon didn't release him.
he said fiercely, "no one who knows you blames you for anything.
And we all love you, very much. I
love you like a son. Do you hear
me, Blair? I love you as much as I
love Darryl, and anything I would do to care for or protect or help him, I would
do for you." The arms around
Blair's body tightened, the voice softened.
"And Jim loves you, too. Loves
you in the way you've always wanted him to.
And hates himself for not knowing it, not acting on it, when you could
still believe that it was true.
won't be Cop of the Year this year, Blair.
He's barely hanging on ... at work, at home ... he's going down, slowly
but surely. He needs you.
you need him."
murmured answer was toneless, too weary to be bitter.
"You're wrong, Simon." Blair
did pull away then, and looked up at Banks with blue eyes startling in the
pallor of his spare face. "It's
too late for both of us. I'm not
the person I was ... before. And if
I did go back, what would I do? How long would it be before I let him down again?
How long would it take for him to change his mind ... about everything
looked down, then raised his arms, wrists up.
Simon shuddered at the scars; the memory of those wounds when they were
fresh was all too vivid. And the
realization that Blair's eyes were as bleak and hopeless at this moment as they
had been then slammed into his heart and branded fear there.
shouldn't have brought me back the first time, Simon.
And you shouldn't have brought me back the second time."
couldn't listen to the words, couldn't let Blair believe them.
"Oh son," he whispered, and reached for the young man, but
Blair stepped away.
for you to go, Simon," he said. He
lifted his gaze over Banks' shoulder and pointed through the screen door to the
treeline, where a gray wall of thunderheads was creeping over the shoulders of
the mountains. "That storm
will take the road out below Pacheco. That
kind of storm always does. Go
wind gusted and rattled the screen in its frame; it blustered hard and cold
through the kitchen, lifted the envelope that lay on the table and blew it to
the floor. Blair bent to retrieve
it and held it out to Simon, but Banks shook his head and zipped up his
windbreaker in refusal.
see you next month, son," he said gently.
He let himself out and walked briskly down the path to his truck.
As he wheeled the vehicle around, Simon looked back at the little cabin
and saw Blair standing in the doorway. The
envelope was still in his hand, a small patch of white in the darkness that
thought of angels, and hoped that they were real.
- 30 -