They aren't mine, I'm not making any money etc. etc.
Thanks to the Sen-Betas and a special "Thank you" to Alyjude for helping with this story. Feedback of any kind is welcome.
While I always picture Jim and Blair as a couple, there isn't something explicitely slashy in here. Feel free to interpret the state of their relationship however you like it.


von Pat

"So what's it gonna be?"
"I choose to stay, Naomi."
"Hmm. I hear that."

When Blair spoke those words to her, back in Simon's office more than two years ago, she'd known history was about to repeat itself and she hadn't liked it.

Cynthia Hellinger shoved her almost empty cup of coffee to the side and glanced at her watch. It was a few minutes to noon. "You know, Naomi," she addressed her traveling companion, "we still have four hours left before our connecting flight to..."

"He gave me up."

"What?" Leaning back in her seat, Cynthia looked up into the face of her old friend, her features clearly showing that she hadn't the slightest clue what Naomi's out-of-the-blue remark was supposed to mean. "Who?" Slightly confused, her eyes followed the direction of Naomi's gaze to the other side of the noisy airport cafe shop, through the glass doors leading to a hallway and the restrooms, finally stopping on the figure of her old friend's son. "Oh, you mean Blair?"

Naomi shot her a brief glance, accompanied by an equally brief half-smile, before she continued to watch her offspring standing outside and dialing on his cellphone. "No, not Blair. Sean." Absentmindedly, she played with the tiny sugar package that had come with her own coffee.

"Oh... Sean..." There was a moment of awkward silence, when Cynthia didn't know how to comment on that. Mentally searching for an appropriate remark, she settled for watching Blair, too, observed him lifting the phone to his ear and casually leaning back against the wall, obviously waiting for someone on the other end of the line to pick up.

Bringing her attention back to the woman next to her, she cautiously tried to broach the topic. "You never told me what happened to Sean." The hesitation in her voice indicated that she wasn't quite sure how to ask the question. "Between one day and the next, he just vanished from the picture and you never mentioned him again."

Naomi sighed softly. "Yeah, I know." Turning away from Blair, who was just frowning and trying another number, she eyed the pack of cigarettes on the table. "Do you mind if I take one?"

"Naomi!" The shock in Cynthia's voice was only half mocking. "You stopped smoking... what... almost thirty years ago? What's with the sudden craving for nicotine?"

A short-lived grin flickered over Naomi's features. "I stopped on the afternoon of May seventh, in sixty-eight, as you very well know."

Cynthia gave a low chuckle. "Of course I remember the day. You gave up cigarettes, grass and alcohol and even tried to eat meat after Dr. Goldmann congratulated you on your first pregnancy. All for the good of..." she waved a finger in Blair's direction, "this 'little seed growing in the heart of my femininity'."

"Ouch." Using one hand, Naomi covered her face in mock embarrassment. "Don't remind me of that. I was really a little out of it back then. And trying meat was the stupidest thing I could've done -- almost puked my guts out after that."

The 'little seed' in question meanwhile talked on the phone and apparently wasn't too happy with the information he received because he quickly disconnected and dialed for the third time, rolling his eyes in not quite serious irritation.

Still shaking her head a little at the memories, Naomi pointed at the pack. "Anyway, if you don't mind..."

Following Naomi's nervously-fiddling fingers with her eyes, Cynthia slid her cigarettes across the table. "No, of course not. Go ahead."

The topic seemed to be more than a little difficult for Naomi. Her hands shook minutely when she picked a cigarette out of the package and fumbled with the lighter. She took the first drag and coughed a little, waving away the smoke in front of her before inhaling again, this time more successfully.

Cynthia raised her eyebrows, then gazed back at Blair just in time to see a sudden, genuine smile light up his face. She was just able to read a mute "Hi, Jim" from his lips before he turned away slightly and started to talk animatedly into the phone.

"Seems he finally reached this Jim," she mentioned casually.

Expecting an answer, the silence caused her to glance at her friend, noting how Naomi stared through the glass doors and struggled to school her expression into an impassive mask.

Inwardly sighing, Cynthia busied herself with stirring the already-cold coffee. "So, what happened to Sean?"

Naomi took another nervous pull on the cigarette, flicked a nonexistent piece of ash into the ashtray, and tried to look anywhere but at her friend's face. "He vanished in Vietnam. MIA."

Cynthia's eyes went round. "But... that's not possible! Are we talking about the same Sean here?" Of course, the question was purely rhetorical. "How the hell did that happen? He wasn't even a soldier. I can't even count all the anti-war demonstrations we marched in together. No way would he end up in Vietnam... not such an uncompromising 'make love, not war' guy like him. He was almost..." She ended on a somewhat helpless note, not quite finding the word that would show how much anti-war Sean had been.

With more force than necessary, Naomi thrust the barely touched cigarette in the ashtray and grabbed for another one. Anger and unresolved grief fought on her face. "Yeah, I know, especially about the 'make love' part." Her bitter voice showed that she never had made peace with this part of her life, that she still was rebelling against something she couldn't change anymore. "That's when Chris entered the picture." She inhaled deeply and forcefully blew a grey-blue cloud up in the air. "He took Sean away."

A half-laugh escaped Cynthia's mouth. "That's ridiculous. You can't simply take away a guy against his will." The words slipped out before she could stop them. Knowing that she had failed to find the right tone of voice, she tried to rescue the situation by making light of it. "After all, Sean wasn't exactly a blushing virgin who couldn't defend himself."

"Oh, no, no, no..." Naomi answered bitingly, "it wasn't as if Chris had to drag him away by his hair. Quite the contrary. In the end, Sean couldn't enlist fast enough to follow his buddy down to Indochina. You see..." she took another deep drag before continuing, "they were on different sides of the fence, so to speak, when they first met in late '67. Chris was all gung-ho for the chance to finally 'serve and defend his country' on whatever front the government would send him. He was determined to become a soldier; a hero for his country."

With a derisive snort, Naomi shook her head. "Sean argued with him, tried to convince him how wrong this idea was and to explain how there were better ways to serve his country, tried to show him how stopping this war was the right way to 'serve' the U.S. I lost count of how often they argued all night long over bottles of beer. It didn't work because in the end, when Chris left in April of '68, Sean went right along with him." With an impatient motion Naomi wiped away a tear that threatened to roll down her cheek. "He simply went along with him. Imagine that! I never understood it. He just said it was something he had to do, stated that he couldn't help it, kissed me on the cheek, so to speak, and left. They never came back."

Naomi fell silent, leaving out the part where Sean had cried, in the middle of their last night, swearing he loved her but couldn't do anything but go with Chris. Despite the fact that what they were about to do was against everything he believed in, despite the fact that he didn't think he could kill a man, despite the fact that he didn't even know for sure that he would actually end up in Chris' unit. He couldn't explain it to her. All he could do was to declare again and again how sorry he was but that he had to go and try to stay at Chris' side, that he didn't even understand it himself.

They didn't part on the best of terms.

She barked out a short, rough laugh that held no happiness. "It was crazy. He said his place was with Chris. Claimed it was what he was supposed to be."

Cynthia raised her eyebrows at the odd wording. "Where. He meant 'where' he was supposed to be?"

A joyless smile twisted Naomi's lips. "No, Cyn, not 'where'. He actually said 'what'; to quote him: 'It's what I'm meant to be'." With a seemingly careless shrug, she continued, "It's hard to argue with someone who believes he found his 'destiny'." The last word was spat out with bitter sarcasm. "Too bad it didn't include anything of his former life." She stared at the table, wordlessly. A few silent seconds passed before she had to cover her mouth with one hand to stifle a pained sound that was about to escape her throat. Rapidly blinking a few times, she managed to reduce the upcoming tears to only a wet rim around her eyes, leaving her lower lashes a little spiky. It needed a few moments for her to regain her control and continue in a hoarse whisper. "That's when I knew I'd lost."

Her eyes searched for the figure of her son, who was still talking on the phone, watched how his gestures froze in mid-motion and a slow smile spread over his face.

"I'm sorry about that," Cynthia replied in a low voice, at a loss for the right words. "I knew you were hurt, but I didn't know what was going on, aside from the fact that Sean suddenly wasn't there anymore. I remember how hard it was for you to raise Blair on your own, especially the first two years when you still stayed with us. I guess he missed his father a lot, didn't he?"

"Oh. Well, not too much," Naomi answered with insincere ease. "Since he didn't know him, he didn't miss him all that much."

The falsely cheerful note in Naomi's voice raised Cynthia's suspicions. "You didn't tell him anything of the story?"

The fact that her old friend was still avoiding her eyes confirmed her guess.

"No, I didn't. I claimed not to know who his father was. That stopped his questions pretty efficiently. And later... let's just say the matter never came up again."

Cynthia glared at her. "Naomi, you lied to him. Why on earth did you do that?"

Naomi simply shrugged, trying to appear cool and failing miserably. "Hey, I probably didn't even really lie to him. With all the men back then, I really couldn't be sure who his father was." She tried for cheerful, but only sounded defensive.

"Pepper", whispered Cynthia, using Naomi's old nickname, "don't try to bullshit me. I know you too well for that. You loved that guy more than anything and he broke your heart when he vanished. You wouldn't even talk about it. It was only after Sean that the whole parade of one-night stands started. You and me, we both know perfectly well who Blair's dad is."

"So, yes, I lied to Blair." Naomi's voice rose aggressively. "So what? It was the best for him! I didn't want him to develop a case of hero worship for soldiers and get the wrong ideas about loyalty, just because his father suddenly lost every bit of common sense for whatever reason. That isn't what my son is meant to be. I took all the necessary... measures to make sure he didn't go down that road, didn't end up where his father ended, rotting in an unmarked grave -- if he even got a grave -- just because some other nutcase felt the need to play hero and took him down with him. I won't let that happen! Not to my son!" She ended on a slightly hysterical note that left Cynthia more than vaguely concerned.

Holding up her hands, Cynthia didn't know what to say to this or where to look. Too much time had passed since she'd been really close to Naomi. Her eyes roamed around somewhat helplessly, looking for something -- anything -- to help her reply to that, finally stopping again at the sight of Blair just letting out a sincere, carefree laugh on the phone. His voice couldn't be heard, but at this moment it wasn't necessary. His stance and facial expression clearly radiated happiness. Hastily, she clutched at this straw. "That was a long time ago, Naomi. You should let it go." She dared a tentative smile, nodding her head in Blair's direction. "Look at the outcome, what you still have left from Sean -- a great son who's apparently very satisfied with his life."

Naomi stared incredulously at her face. "You don't..." Abruptly, she stopped herself from continuing, reminding herself that Cynthia, usually living on the other side of the country, wouldn't know much about the whole mess regarding Blair's dissertation. At least, not much more than the little Naomi had told her this morning on their flight to Cascade. After all, it had only made the local news, nipped in the bud before it could attract the attention of the nation's tabloids and networks. By her own son's actions. Her honourable son's actions. Her oh so loyal son's actions.

Her spur-of-the-moment-idea, her improvised 'measure', hadn't paid off. It hadn't panned out as she had hoped. Not at all. Quite the contrary.

She took a deep breath. "Yeah. Right." Slowly she stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray, carefully making sure that it went out completely, and Cynthia suddenly had the distinct feeling that she had just put her foot in her mouth, big-time, but couldn't quite figure out how and why.

From where she stood, Blair looked perfectly at ease with his life, missing dad or not. Oh well, it would probably be best to abandon this topic now, all the more so since Blair had finished his call and just clicked his phone shut.

A few moments later he reached their table, his pleased smile still lingering, hands buried in the pockets of his black parka.

"I caught him. He just finished interviewing a witness and will be here in about half an hour to pick us up. We can have lunch together at Pancho's and, on the way back to the precinct, we can drop you at the airport in time to catch your flight." He bounced a little on his toes, excited about his perfect plan for fitting his mother's surprise appearance into his day's schedule. "So, what do you think?" He looked at the two women with expectant enthusiasm.

Naomi plastered a glowing smile on her face and clapped her hands. "Oh yes, sweetie! Any idea that means I can spend an additional hour with you is a great one."

Blair's smile broadened into a full grin. "Great, Mom. I'll just get rid of the jacket. It's much too warm for it in here." Turning to the coat rack, he shrugged out of the parka, needing a moment to look for a free hook under all the other coats already hanging there.

Naomi stared at the back of Blair's head, concentrated a second on the color and texture of his hair before her gaze wandered to his shoulders. Broad, male shoulders, accentuated by the checked pattern of his shirt. He wore his shirts tucked in all the time now; said it was to keep the shirttails from getting in the way at the wrong moment. Not her little boy anymore.... When did that happen? But still... her boy. Her gaze stopped there, focusing intently on the seam that stretched horizontally over his back, like a dividing line between the shoulder part and the rest of the shirt. She didn't allow her gaze to cross this line, to travel further down to the small of his back. She didn't want to look at this part of him, didn't want to look at what he wore there, although it was already within the range of her visual field. She didn't want to have to see it. It was enough to know it was there, this... thing.

This substantial proof of her failure. This proof that Blair, despite her best efforts, had turned out to be -- truly -- his father's son.

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