I like challenges, really, I do. I must, since I keep throwing them out to people, who then are nice enough to take me up on them and write stories for everyone. Well, back over Easter weekend, I set forth a challenge to write a story. So far, only Dawn Capp has answered it, so I'd better get busy, don't you think?

Me, too. This is also going to answer the challenge I put forth to the folks at D.L. Witherspoon's chat on Sunday. The only warning is a scissors alert.

This is for D.L Witherspoon, DawnC, Bonnie (Stargazer) Heintskill (Hope I spelled that right) and BJKira, whose stories I'm looking forward to reading (explanation is at the end)

Never Is Only A Word


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"Sandburg, can I see you in my office for a minute?" Captain Simon Banks called softly across the quiet bullpen. Everyone knew what it was about. It had been coming for days, and they had been waiting with varying emotions for what was obviously about to finally come down. Ellison's jaws were clenching, the muscles flexing in his frustration at his inability to shield his friend and partner from what he knew was coming. Unable to even give him any encouraging sign, he stood stiffly as he watched his best friend head for the confrontation with their captain.

Blair cast a nervous glance around at the concerned faces of the rest of the members of Major Crime, seeing worry on Joel's face, grins from Megan and Brown, and a 'thumb's up' from Rafe. Taking a deep breath, he steadied himself and started across the endless distance from his desk to the captain's office.

Simon stepped aside to allow the smaller man entrance, with a glare for the rest of the detectives, he gently closed the door...the blinds were already closed to prevent anyone from watching.

Immediately, the detectives all gathered around Jim's desk, excitement on their faces. Jim just glared at them as he sat heavily in his chair, his hearing focused on the closed-off office.

"What's Simon saying, Jim?" Megan hissed in a whisper, trying not to distract him from his concentration.

"Nothing that concerns us." Jim bit back. Blair was his partner, his friend. What was happening had very little to do with anyone but Blair, and Jim by extension. He studiously ignored his fellow detectives and picked up a file and pretended to read it.

"You know why I called you in here, don't you, Sandburg?" Captain Banks towered over the smaller man by a good eight inches and was carefully invading the younger man's space, purposely intimidating. Too bad, Blair had been dealing with the tall captain for nearly four years and was fairly immune to his towering presence.

"Yes, sir. I'm perfectly aware of the purpose of this meeting." He snuck a quick glance up at his friend/soon-to-be-boss-for-real. "What if I refuse?" He already knew the answer, he just wanted to hear it.

"You don't go to the academy, you lose your observer status, you don't become Jim's official partner, Jim loses his guide on the job and maybe zones out and gets himself or someone else killed." Simon shifted back to his side of his desk. "The choice is all yours, Blair. You know what we want. Not just Jim, not just me. The whole crew wants this. You belong here. You're part of the team. We need you and, we want you." He added the last few words with emphasis. He watched the younger man as he stood in fair imitation of a soldier stiffly at attention. He observed as his words impacted and saw the minute wilting of the shorter man's stance. "The choice has always been yours, Sandburg. I just need to know what it is?"

Blair's eyes flickered up into the concerned gaze of the tall captain and saw only concern and hope...hope that he would make the 'right' decision. The only decision that would allow the guide to remain working beside his sentinel. He drew a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. There never had been any other choice; not really. Not if he wanted to keep his best friend alive and functioning. He'd just put this off until the last minute, much like a student with a... no. He wasn't going back there; never again. And that was possibly the hardest part. He had worked so long... No. He'd made his choice, the decision was made, his bridges burned. It was time to face forward and get on with his life. The life he'd actually been heading for all along, had he but known it. Drawing another deep breath and gathering his courage, he spoke: "It's been so long, Si...Sir. Do you have any suggestions on where I should go?" There was resignation in his eyes and sadness in his heart, but he knew that it was the only way to hang on to the most important things. Besides, it really was a small price to pay after all. When he'd denounced his work as fraud, he'd expected it to be the end of everything; his friendship with Jim and the other officers of Major Crime as well as his academic career. It hadn't quite turned out that way. His friends had come to his rescue and made the very tempting offer of officially becoming one of them. He wasn't as afraid of guns as he had been to begin with, but still disliked the idea of using one except as a last resort, but had learned that the rest of the officers he worked with tended to agree with him. That had been something of a surprise, to say the least. There was only one thing that he had left to give up, and even that was only temporary. Simon had promised that he didn't have to keep it that way, just for the academy...

Simon heaved a relieved sigh. "Well, it kind of depends, I wouldn't advise you to go anywhere near Jim's but maybe Rafe's? I'm sure his would probably be willing to work with you." Now that he'd gotten the kid to capitulate on this last hurdle, he was somewhat at a loss.

"I'll ask him." Blair relaxed, now that the 'confrontation' was over. "I don't suppose you've ever cut Daryl's hair for him?" He asked, just a bit less than nonchalantly.

"Oh, sure. All the time, until he hit his teens. I was pretty good at it, I think. Just used scissors and a razor for the neck." He stiffened and stared at the smaller man, "Why?" Suddenly suspicious.

"Well, Daryl mentioned what a good job you did with his hair when he was little, and I just thought..."

"Oh, no. There is no way I'm going to cut your hair, Sandburg. You can just forget that idea, right now." His hands rose involuntarily in a defensive gesture.

"Why not? I trust you, Simon. You wouldn't do anything horrible." He lifted his face with the most pleading expression...

It was the puppy-dog eyes that did it. How did Ellison ever say 'no' to this kid? he wondered to himself. Taking a deep breath, he replied, "But Sandburg...Blair." His voice softening and dropping in volume, "your hair is nothing like Daryl's. I could really screw it up for you. Daryl's hair is a lot different from yours."

"Not so different. My hair's really curly when it's short. Even tighter than it is now." His pleading eyes stayed focused on the older man's, much like a child pleading with a parent...Simon shook his head, trying vainly to remove that particular picture from his mind.

"But yours is soft, whereas Daryl's is more like a brillo pad..."

"But it's just as tightly curled, unless I plaster it down with gel or some other gunk. Please, Simon?"

It was the quivering jaw that did it. Even knowing that it was just a ploy, he still couldn't resist the younger man's plea. Thirty years old and the kid could still finagle anything he wanted from people. Well...

"All right." Simon sighed in resignation. Then got a wicked gleam in his eye. "Do you want to keep a lock or anything for a memento?"

Surprise flashed in Blair's eyes as he watched in astonishment while the tall captain opened his center desk drawer and pulled out a pair of scissors, then opened a lower desk drawer and pulled out a shaving kit. His jaw dropped open in shock.

"Uh...I don't think so, Simon." There was a squeaky quality to his voice as he watched Simon set his tools out on his desk and then cross over to get a towel from his credenza. "Uh, Simon? You seem awfully well prepared for this." There was a frisson of something awfully close to fear that shivered through his body.

"Well, I keep some towels and a couple of blankets in the credenza for working out downstairs in the gym and for emergencies. The same with the shaving kit, and the scissors, well, I seldom need them, but it's part of the desk supplies." Seeing the shock on the soon-to-be-shorn man's face, he chuckled. "Don't look so scared, Sandburg. These are a pair of those Dura-Sharp scissors. Cut just about anything. Relax. I've done this before." He tried to keep a straight face, but couldn't quite succeed. "Come on, Sandburg. Let's get this over with."

"You won't do anything crazy, will you, Simon?" There was a pleading tone in his voice as well as on his face.

"I promise, Blair." All traces of humor gone. Understanding how traumatic this was for the kid...man. "I'll do a good job. Do you want your hair wet first? I never did with Daryl, but the texture's different."

"Dry is fine. My hair is nearly as curly as Daryl's, just not as stiff." Wrapping the towel around his neck, he sat straight in the chair, closed his eyes and steeled himself for the upcoming shearing.

"Blair? Do you have a brush or a comb I can use?" Simon asked. Blair shifted and pulled a small, folding brush from his jacket pocket.

"I've got a bigger one in my backpack, if you want me to go and get it." He offered.

"No, this is fine. Try and relax, Blair." He began by brushing out the long, curly mass, somewhat surprised to discover that if pulled straight it came almost to the short man's shoulder blades. The soft, silky texture fascinated him and he spent several minutes just brushing the soft mop of curls.

He'd always enjoyed having his hair brushed by someone, the feel of fingers stroking through his hair, only it was usually a woman doing this, not a man, and certainly not a man who was about to actually take a pair of scissors and cut his hair. The sound of the first strands being snipped off had him fighting to keep from throwing up. He kept his eyes tightly closed and was taking deep, gasping breaths to try and keep from hurling.

"Slow, deep, breaths, Sandburg." Simon softly reminded him, recognizing the early stages of hyperventilation. "It's going to be all right. Nothing to freak out over." He kept his voice soft and low, calming the smaller man from his incipient panic attack. He never flinched nor showed any surprise when there was an anxious knock at his door. "He's all right, Jim. We'll be out in a few minutes." He called out, knowing perfectly well who was there. "Why don't you go and pick us up some lunch from the Marco's Deli?" He turned and set his scissors on his desk, along with the brush, then went to the door, pulled his wallet from his back pocket and took out a twenty-dollar bill. Cracking the door open, he thrust the bill out to the worried sentinel on the other side.

"Sandburg's fine, Jim. Go get us some lunch. I want a hot pastrami," turning to the towel swathed man in the straight-backed chair, he asked, "What would you like, Sandburg?" Seeing the kid's eyes were still screwed tightly shut, he turned back to the kid's partner.

"Well, you know what he likes. Get yourself something, too. Take your time." He'd kept Ellison's view of his partner blocked, and knew perfectly well how agitated the big man was, but maintained his position. "Go on. He'll be just fine." He stifled a grin and a chuckle as he saw the pleading look on his best detective's face, but managed to maintain his stern expression.

"Go on, Detective. Sandburg and I just have a few more things to discuss. Go!" And with that, he closed the door in his friend's face.

Turning back, he shook his head at Sandburg, who still sat, motionless, eyes screwed tightly shut, hands gripping the arms of the straight-backed chair, knuckles white with tension, his mouth pressed tightly closed... He shook his head again and came back, picking up the brush and scissors and continuing where he had left off. He carefully continued to clip off sections of the long, curly hair, carefully setting each cut lock of hair aside, just in case the kid changed his mind about wanting to keep any of it.

Snip, snip-snip. Snip! Blair had to fight to keep from screaming 'NO! STOP!' Even knowing that this had to be done and that a friend was actually doing it... It had been his one point of pride. The one thing that had always given him definition, said who Blair Sandburg was...was. Well, he wasn't 'that' Blair Sandburg any more. He probably never would be, again. He swallowed convulsively, partly to keep the bile down, partly to keep the tears at bay. He realized that Simon was talking and started to listen...

"I can't imagine how much this hurts, Blair. Everyone knew who you were, some of them thought you were a narc, others thought you were some kind of hippy, well, I used to be one of them, I'll admit. But you made a space for yourself, you made yourself fit in, belong. No, not everyone liked you, but you certainly found yourself a spot here, in Major Crime. I have to admit that I'm looking forward to being able to officially assign you as Jim's partner; God knows no one else can handle him. You've taken that cold, mean, sorry son-of-a-bitch and turned him into someone human, someone who cares, again. Someone likable. You've never really seen what he was like before you came along. Proud, surly, cocky, a real loner. I don't want that Jim Ellison to ever come back. You've given him something I doubt he's ever had, before. You care about him whether or not he acts like he gives a damn about you. You give him so much," He felt the slight shifting of the man in the chair, fortunately in time to keep from snipping at the wrong moment and messing up the haircut. Good. He had the kid's attention, now.

"I know that none of us say it nearly often enough, Blair, but you've been a big help to every one of us. Not just making Ellison back into a human being."

"He was always a human being, Simon. Just one who was hurting and didn't think that anyone would or could like him." Blair said softly and insistently.

"But it took you to see it, to care enough to do something about it; to show the rest of us what you saw and understood. I thank you for that. It was hard, being Jim's friend before you came along. It generally takes a long time to gain his trust, but you did it that first day." Simon pointed out.

Blair chuckled, softly, "Yeah, all I had to do was keep him from becoming road-pizza."

"Hey, whatever works, OK?" Simon agreed, smiling. "I'm just saying that you're important to every one of us in Major Crime. Remember how you helped Joel get over his fear problem? Or what about the times you've helped out the rest of us? Always eager, always willing. Well, now, after a little training," he was careful not to use the word 'schooling', "you'll belong for real, complete with paycheck." He stepped back to look at his handiwork. Not bad, even if he did say so himself. He tilted Blair's head forward and snipped off the few straggling hairs at the nape of his neck, then used his electric razor to taper the hair and clean up the edges at the hairline. Finally finished, he ran his fingers through the now regulation appearing haircut, thinking that with Sandburg's curls, he could easily get away with slightly longer hair (which he had carefully shaped to hide the fact that it was a bit more than three inches long on top), and then stepped away to look at the now short-haired Sandburg...and realized that he looked like a child, even with his heavy beard already shadowing his cheeks.

"I'm finished, Blair." He said, carefully pulling the towel from around the younger man's neck, folding the carefully saved locks within the towel.

Blair looked up, his enormous eyes fighting the panic. Swallowing convulsively, he asked, "Uh, y-you got a mirror?" Shivering with the unfamiliar draft on the back of his neck.

"Sure," Simon pulled a small mirror from his shaving kit and handed it to him.

Taking a deep, steadying breath, Blair looked in the mirror, and stared. For more than a minute, he stared. "I...I look like a kid." He complained, softly.

"Yeah, you do." Simon agreed, his expression serious. This was no time for levity or teasing. This was important. He waited, knowing that more would be forthcoming.

"Is it regulation?"

"Close enough." Simon told him. Blair looked askance at him and he explained. "It's maybe half an inch longer than regs, but no one should notice, and if they want to pull it up and measure it, you just make sure you yelp loudly when they do it, and tell them that if they measure your hair, they have to measure everyone's hair, no exceptions. I don't think you'll have a problem, though, it curls pretty tightly." He returned Blair's grateful smile.

"Thanks, Simon. It looks OK?" Still hesitant and unsure.

"It looks fine, Sandburg. One thing, though."

"Yes?" Uncertainty thickening his voice.

They were interrupted by another knock at the door. Simon looked at the kid (and he had never looked more like a child) and motioned that it was time to face the rest of the group. Blair nodded and stood up, straightening his shoulders, preparatory to facing his friends and colleagues. Simon opened the door and stepped out first, the entire squad was hovering, waiting to discover what had gone on, after all, they had only expected a lecture, not this obviously long, drawn-out discussion.

There were gasps as Blair exited behind the captain, a soft moan from Ellison, but that was quickly drowned by the cheerful and encouraging comments from the others. For Blair, the slaps on the back and comments on how good he looked were nothing, his eyes focused on the agonized blue eyes of his best friend, and waited for the only opinion that mattered to him.

He looks like a child Jim thought. Looking into the expectant countenance of his best friend, he was totally at a loss for words. He had to say something, if only to take away that expression that was rapidly moving down from expectant through disappointed to... "I-it looks good, Chief." His voice thick with inexpressible emotion. Tentatively, he reached out a hand to gently touch the tightly curled ringlets. "It's...it's..." words failed him. His pain for his friend showed through his eyes as he tried to communicate the anguish he felt, that his friend should have to give up even this last bit of self for him. "I'm sorry, Blair." He whispered. He was met with his friend's brilliant smile. Jim blinked in consternation.

"It's OK, Jim. Blair whispered, sentinel soft. While the rest of their colleagues played with his just-shorn hair and loudly praised the new look and the Captain's skill at hair styling, Blair did his best to reassure his partner.

Simon watched closely, seeing Ellison's white-knuckled grip on the bags from the deli, the anguish in the blue eyes, the reassurance in Sandburg's. After letting everyone gush over the hair for a few minutes, he made the announcement he had started to give Sandburg just before the knock at the door.

"OK. Listen up, people. I have an announcement to make. Sandburg?" he smiled as the group became expectantly silent.

"Yes, sir?" Blair asked, certain that he wasn't going to like this one little bit.

"Just as soon as you finish at the academy and start here full time, I want you..."

"To shave his head?" Brown asked, howling with laughter, quickly followed by similar comments from the others, all except the still stoically silent Ellison.

Simon stifled his smile and managed to frown at the members of his squad. "Actually, I want you to grow it back. I don't want anyone accusing us of hiring children to work here. We don't need the flack." There was a moment's silence from the men and women of Major Crime, followed by nearly hysterical laughter from everyone...except Jim and Blair. Jim looked from his partner to his captain and managed a faint smile of gratitude, then turned his attention back to his friend. Blair was smiling.

"Thanks, Simon." He had to raise his voice over the laughter and comments of the rest of the group. "I'll do my best to comply with that order just as soon as I can."

Simon managed to separate Jim and Blair from the rest of the group and steer them toward his office, he still wanted his lunch, and with the final admonition "Don't you people have any work to do?" Smiling as the rest of the group stopped laughing and with cheerful grumbles returned to their desks to continue whatever tasks they had been working on before.

Knowing that the partners needed a few minutes to themselves, Simon simply motioned them to set out lunch at the conference table and mumbled that he'd be right back. Closing the door behind him, he turned to find Joel waiting for him.

"What is it, Joel?" Almost certain he already knew the answer.

"I think Jim's taking this harder than Blair." Joel followed his friend as he headed for the restroom.

"I noticed. He's finally realized just how much the kid has given up for him. The hair was the last thing that marked Sandburg as Sandburg and nobody else. Now, he looks like any other cadet, and I think Jim's feeling guilty."

"Yeah. That why you left them alone?" Joel asked.

"Yeah. I hope Jim can get his tongue untied long enough to say something." They shared gentle smiles and Joel chuckled and slapped his friend on the back.

"I hear that." Still chuckling, Joel continued on past the restroom and headed down to forensics, his original destination.

"I'm sorry." Jim couldn't bring himself to look at his friend. He automatically began to use the towel on the conference table to wipe it down, felt something in it and carefully opened it, only to see the carefully preserved locks of hair, he sat down heavily, his hands trembling.

Blair watched his friend, surprised by the emotions flickering across his face.

"Hey, Jim. It's OK, man." He looked down at the hair carefully preserved in the towel. Seeing it there, he had a moment of epiphany. "It's just hair, man. It will grow back, you know. I mean, Simon said I had to grow it back. The long-missing bounce was suddenly back. Jim looked at him in surprise.

"Blair?" Concerned at the silly expression on his friend's face.

"It's OK, Jim. It's going to be just fine. I start at the academy on Monday and, once I've finished, I get to come back here and be your partner for real, paycheck and everything." His grin reflected his goofy mood.

"I-I-I thought that this would be harder for you?" Jim asked, uncertain of his friend's sudden change of mood.

"It was. Was being the operative word, here, man. I just realized that everything's going to be all right." He focused his attention on his friend. "Really, Jim. I'm fine. I'm ready for this. I can do this, man. It's OK, really." He placed his hands on his friend's slumped shoulders, bending down to reassure him. "It's OK, Jim. I'm OK. We're OK. Everything's going to be just fine." He looked up as Simon re-entered his office.

Simon was unsure whether they had had enough time to work things out, but seeing Sandburg's smile, he was reassured and closed the door behind him. Pouring three cups of coffee for them, he sat down at the table and pulled open the bags from the deli. Checking the first sandwich, he was pleased that he had found his pastrami on the first try.

Looking at his friends, he asked, "So, is everything all right with you two, now?" He waited while Blair sorted out their food and settled down in the chair next to Jim.

"Yeah. I think so." Blair began, only to be interrupted by his partner.

"How can you be so sure that everything's all right, Chief?" His voice was raspy with emotion.

"Simple, Jim." Blair's beaming smile shown across at his friends.

"How's that, Sandburg?" Simon asked, taking a sip of his coffee, just as Jim took a bite of his sandwich.

"Because you told me it would be, Simon." Blair beamed at them.

"What's that got to do with anything?" Simon asked as he got ready to take the first bite of his sandwich.

Jim swallowed and cast his curious gaze on his friend.

"Hey, everybody knows that you have to do what 'Simon Says'." Blair's smile turned into a full-bodied laugh as his companions groaned and Jim wadded up his napkin and bounced it off his giggling friend's forehead.

The End

OK, the Easter Challenge was a story about 'Simon Says', and the challenge from D.L. Witherspoon's chat was 'Blair Gets His Hair Cut for the Academy'. This is my take. I really think that Jim is going to take the loss harder than Blair will, after all, it will grow back. If you wonder what his hair would look like short (and un-gelled, like those pics from when he was younger) just take a look at his father, Brandon Maggart, in Vow of Silence.

So, ladies, now that I've fulfilled my part of the bargain, I'll be looking forward to your versions.

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