In The Pink

Joel slowly headed towards the bedroom after his shower. The day had been long, the week even longer, but finally the bomb specialist had what he most wanted - a bomber behind bars and a day off. Now he was ready to sleep for twelve hours solid. Granted, he'd enjoyed spending the last few hours in his office, doing paperwork as it always gave him a chance to unwind after being on call and in the field for several days running. But nothing, truly, was better than sleep at the end of a long week.

If only he knew he wouldn't dream. He'd tried to think things through during supper, and his shower, but had been unable to find a reason for the distrubing dreams. It might have been stress from the job -- most of the dreams involved bombs going off when everyone thought they'd been disarmed, innocent people killed or worse, fellow officers who'd trust him when he'd given the All Clear. Friends and better dying because of mistakes he couldn't understand.

He kept telling himself that in a few days, if things didn't improve, he'd go visit Tully but deep down Joel knew he wouldn't. The therapist had been recommended to him after Taggart had refused to visit the department shrink and there was probably no reason not to trust the man. Something kept him from it, though. Maybe fear, maybe just a sense of privacy to be held inviolate. Whatever it was, the police captain knew he would do no more than come to his bed at night and wait for the dreams.

If Blair and Jim had been in town, he'd have gone straight to the young observer and told him all. Let him work his verbal magic and help him find the reasons and the solutions. But the two were on vacation, far off in the southeast visiting Sullivan's Island where no Friends of Cascade Villains could find them. Joel wished them well, hoped they were having a great time and planned on being at the welcome back to servitude dinner Simon was organizing in honour of Blair's new position at the station. Taggart had even stolen -- er borrowed, Simon had lent him the key to the loft for an hour -- some of Blair's favourite recipes, and had spent the week practising, hoping to find at least one he could turn out with some success.

Maybe he should do that know, he thought, instead of trying to sleep. Perhaps an hour or so in the kitchen of his tiny apartment would calm him down. He shook his head. That wasn't the problem. He felt calm enough, and certainly exhausted enough to fall asleep as soon as he laid down. So why was he standing here, beside the bed, staring at the opposite window? Maybe the kid could help him, anyway.

Sandburg had taught him some simple meditations to use, both when he had his bomb scare and afterwards, to help him deal with the day to day stress. He used them infrequently, but knew they could work. With a quick flick he turned out the light and sat down in the midle of the bed. He crossed his legs, glad now as ever that he had been able to shed those extra pounds if only for the freedom of movement it gave him, to say nothing of the way it got Dr. Harper off his back.

Closing his eyes Joel let himself settle, breathing slow and deep until he heard in the reces of his mind, a slow resonating mantra sounding. He repeated it for several minutes until he noticed himself settling into a deep meditative state. Part of his mind was surprised it had come so easily but that part quieted quickly. So now what? he asked himself, when he realised he had achieved the state. Relaxation or answers? He'd forgotten to decide beforehand, and he woke up slightly in trying to decide on the question. Not wanting to lose the state he'd found he chose answers and let himself drift again.

An image began to form, a place he found comforting and safe. A cave set in the mountains, surrounded by high peaks and snowy plateaus. Stepping forward he heard a scuffling, and looked over. Blair had warned him that sometimes a spirit guide will come unbidden, and though Joel had never met one before he knew he was looking at one now. How else would Blair be standing here?

"Blair," he heard himself say.

The other man grinned. "Hey, Joel. What's going on?"

"I was hoping you could tell me," he answered, not moving towards the man - the spirit guide. Instantly the man's face composed into a worried attentiveness. Joel found he didn't even need prompting, to speak. "Why do I keep dreaming about killing you? About all of them?"

Blair-spirit shrugged. "I don't know. What would you rather be doing?"

Joel was startled, but remembered Blair's warning that spirit guides were unpredictable. He stared a Blair, Blair's face, he reminded himself and thought about the question. He stepped closer and was startled to find Blair morphing into something else. He knew somehow it was his own mind reaching out, and waited for the guide to take its new shape. He felt his mental jaw drop when a large, pink ostrich stared back at him.

"Blair?"

The bird shook itself, and looked back. It said nothing, but Joel wasn't sure that it could. He stepped forward, though, when it becamse obvious the bird was waiting for something. It stared down at him, large eyes blinking rapidly and then settling on him in a stark gaze. Joel reached out, wondering why his brain was sending him this image and felt the warm skin of the ostrich's neck.

It was perfect, really. Blair's own recipe had called for fresh meat, and the chili recipe was the only one Joel had been close to replicating of Blair's own. Smiling he brought back the hand and moved again, carving a slice from the animal's flank. Turning, Joel placed the meat into a large pot which had appeared, sitting on a fire. He chopped it and added it to the mixture, stirring hopefully. Maybe this time it would turn out.

With the last of the spices stirred in, he bent to taste it. Just like Blair's. He smiled.

"That's some imagery, there, Joel." Blair's voice came from behind him. Joel spun, and found Blair standing there once again, whole and human. "Either it's very flattering, that I should be nuturing you that way -- feeding your soul, as it were -- or you're doing a damn good job of hiding the desire to eat me for real." The spirit winked, and Joel felt himself blushing. The chili disappeared and Joel could only stare at the ground. "Well?" Blair prompted.

"So why do I keep dreaming I kill you?"

"Well, think about it, Joel. You can handle disarming bombs a lot better than this. Or at least you *think* you can."

"No... it doesn't matter, though. I mean, regardless of what I want. Blair doesn't want me."

He heard the spirit guide step closer. "Why not? You're a good looking man. Got a regular paycheck and you don't snore more than he does."

Joel looked up, frowning, and saw Blair grinning. "Because he has Jim. You're right, I can handle bombs more easily than I can handle knowing I'm in love with someone I can't have."

"What if I told you they aren't lovers?"

"I'd say I was dreaming."

Blair shook his head. "Joel, haven't I taught you anything? Never accuse a spirit guide of being pretend. We get snippy and demand human sacrifices -- tell him you love him or I'll go away mad."

At that point Joel decided he'd rather have a dream about exploding cars and funerals, than try to figure out what was happening.


Three days later Joel found himself approaching the Major Crimes office. Blair was at the university today, and Jim was in alone. The party the night before had done nothing to soothe Joel's ragged nerves, nor did the continuing dreams and lost sleep. Finally he'd decided he should, like any good cop, check out the evidence before commiting to a conclusion.

He went in and found Jim at his desk, fingers typing haphazardly across the keyboard. Joel grinned, hiding his nervousness. "Still can't get the hang of it, eh Ellison?"

The other cop looked up, the beginning of a defensive growl on his face which cleared when he met Joel's smile. "I don't know why they got us these new keyboards. I was finally getting the hang of the old one."

"Well, you heard what they said. Reducing physcial stress, preventing long term disability..." Joel looked down at the split, ergodynamic keyboard. It would have looked like something from Star Trek, except they didn't have buttons anymore.

Ellison snorted. "Like a cop is going to care about carpel tunnel syndrome. At least Sandburg's happy with it, he said he wouldn't complain about working here for at least three weeks."

Joel smiled, and told himself now or never. He moved closer, and lowered his voice. "Speaking of Sandburg... can I ask you something?"

Ellison looked at him seriously, eyes narrowing. "Sure, Taggert."

This wasn't going to be easy, but at least this morning he'd finally figured out the best way to find out. "This is going to sound a bit strange, but... is he seeing anyone right now?" He tried his best to maitain a 'asking for a shy friend' casual stance, giving the other man the careful out -- or rather, the careful not-outing should he so chose.

Ellison shook his head. "No, actually he isn't. Hasn't been for almost a month -- that's gotta be a record, I think."

"He isn't?" Joel didn't hide his surprise. "You sure he isn't seeing someone he might not have told you about?" Could the guide have been right? Joel still wasn't ready to consider that squarely.

"No, I'm sure. Far as I can tell -- and I usually can, given the way he never shuts up -- he isn't even interested in anyone right now." Ellison suddenly gave him a look. "Why?"

Somehow Joel knew that he was caught. Denying it would get him nowhere, and a sense of recklessness and exhaustion told him he had to ask the final question. "Do you know if he's ever dated guys?"

Ellison's expression told him all he needed to know. Joel wanted to faint, or at least bluster his way back into a reality he'd been living in for a long time without any -- much -- discomfort. But now there was no turning back. Ellison smiled, ever so faintily, an expression of friendship and acceptance in his face. "Yeah, he has."

Deciding he should leave before he blurted out more than then either of them wanted to know, Joel nodded and started to turn away. A hand on his arm stopped him, and he looked back. "I'm supposed to be picking him up on campus tonight at six, but Simon wants me to cover for Jacobs. Would you mind swinging by and getting him?"

All Joel could do was nod. His legs got him out of there and back to his office, his brain didn't kick in until he'd stared at the door for several minutes. Jacobs had been assigned a stakeout, his shift was to last until 12 am. That meant Blair would have... would be.. he could...

Joel dropped his head in his hands, took a deep breath, and let it go. He picked up the phone and dialed a number he hadn't called in months. He listened to it ring between the loud thumps of his heartbeat.

"Gia Angeli's."

"Hi, I'd like to make a reservation for two..."