Jim rolled to his side and nuzzled at the nape of his lover's neck. The fact that the hair there was now short still tended to take him aback at times. For most of the six years he'd known Blair, he'd had long, curly hair. He'd even gained permission not to cut it when he'd gone to the Police Academy a year and a half ago. Then suddenly, just after he and Jim had become lovers, he'd gone out one day and come home with it cut.
Jim had been stunned almost to speechlessness at the time but Blair had been casual and nonchalant about it, simply replying, when Jim asked him why he'd done it, that he was over thirty and a detective to boot and no longer wanted to have to worry about caring for long hair.
Blair had laughed when Jim had come over and run his hands through the dark waves that were all that were left of Blair's once-abundant curls, kissed Jim on the mouth quickly and said, "Get over it, man. It's just hair."
And it was, Jim soon realized. Appearances had never meant much to Blair and beneath it all, he was still just Blairpartner, best friend, lover and Guide.
Blair snuffled a little as he woke and turned onto his back, grinning sleepily into Jim's face an inch above his own. "Morning," he said, his voice still husky from sleep. He stretched and Jim ran a hand down the center of his lightly furred chest then bent his head and tongued a nipple suggestively.
"Sorry, babe, I've got to get into work early," Blair said apologetically. "Rafe wants me to look over that profile he's been working up on the Simmons' case before he calls in the Feds."
"Spoilsport," Jim said, a mock-pout on his face. "Okay, I'll get up, too. We could save time if we showered together." He gave Blair a theatrical leer.
"Don't know how much time we'll save," Blair murmured, sitting up and swinging his legs out of bed. "But if we're quick "
Jim leapt from the bed with alacrity, his arousal already showing. "I can do quick," he said, smiling. "I love quickies."
"You just love sex," Blair replied, swatting him on the rump as he passed. "Which is fine as long as you love me too."
Jim grabbed his robe and pulled it on then headed down the stairs behind Blair. "Which you know I do," he said, copping a quick feel of Blair's naked backside on the way down. "You go ahead and get the water hot, Chief. I'll turn on the coffeemaker and then I'll be right in. Don't start without me."
He watched Blair go into the bathroom and heard the shower start. Quickly he refilled the coffeemaker and replaced the grounds and the filter and switched it on. He was just about to head for the bathroom when someone knocked loudly on the front door.
"Carolyn!" he blurted in complete surprise as he opened the door.
"Hi, Jim," his ex-wife greeted him enthusiastically. She stepped forward and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Are you going to invite me in or are we going to have this reunion in the hallway?"
"Um," Jim glanced over his shoulder toward the bathroom where he could still hear the water running, "sure. Come in."
He stepped back and let her pass just as Blair opened the bathroom door and poked his head around the jamb.
"I thought you were going to join me," Blair began. He stopped suddenly as he registered that they had company and then blushed furiously as he realized just whom their company was. "Carolyn," he said, his voice at least an octave higher than normal. "I'll just finish up my shower."
The door slammed shut and Jim turned to look down at Carolyn.
Her face was tight, in contrast to the wide smile she'd worn just moments earlier. "Well," she said, her voice cold," looks like you've been keeping busy while I've been gone."
"No, you listen, Jim. I call in to see my ex-husband whom I still care about, only to find that there's a really big secret he's been keeping from me. Namely, that sometime during the past year or so, he suddenly became gay and starting fucking his roommate!"
"It's none of your business, Carolyn," Jim said, endeavoring to keep his voice steady. "You and I have been divorced for a long time. Whom I see or sleep with is nothing to do with you."
Jim, for God's sake, you're straight. Are you going to tell me you suddenly woke up one day and decided you liked guys? I always suspected Blair batted for both teams but you"
"It's none of your business," Jim repeated. "Look, I'm sorry you found out like this. Maybe you should have called first. This isn't a good time to talk. I have to get ready for work. How long will you be in town? Maybe we could have lunch before you leave?" he offered.
"I'm back in Cascade to stay. Things didn't work out in San Francisco. Look, Jim, I'm just a little shocked, I guess. I'll call you in a day or two. We can get together then," Carolyn replied, appearing to accept his olive branch with surprising equanimity.
"Okay." Jim walked her to the door and closed it behind her then went across and opened the bathroom door.
The shower was off now and Blair was sitting on the closed toilet lid, his head slumped against his chest. He looked up as Jim came in. "I am so sorry, man," he said.
Jim knelt beside him and reached out a hand, cupping his jaw. "What do you have to be sorry for?"
"If I'd known she was here, I wouldn't have"
"I'm the Sentinel, remember, not you. Anyway, she may as well know about us. I'm not ashamed of you, Chief, or of our relationship. Caro and I are old news. I've moved on. I thought she had too."
"Has she?" Blair asked hesitantly. "Why is she back in Cascade?"
Jim shook his head. "I'm not sure yet. She said things didn't work out in San Francisco. I'll make some calls, see what I can find out." He leaned in and kissed Blair's mouth, opening it gently with his tongue. "Weren't we going to have a shower together?" he asked, standing up and dropping his robe to the floor. He reached into the shower cubicle and turned the water back on then stepped inside, holding his hand out to Blair, who stood and shed his towel and followed him in.
Jim pulled him close and nuzzled at the line of his jaw, arousal spiking as Blair lifted his chin to give him more access. "It'll be fine, babe," he murmured, his hands moving down Blair's back to cup his buttocks. "It'll be fine."
They made love with the warm water cascading over them and for now, at least, Jim was able to believe that it would be.
* * *
"Blair, hi. Um, is it okay if I come in?"
Blair stared at Carolyn, momentarily non-plussed by her appearance back at the loft after the day before. "Jim's not here," he replied.
"That's okay. I really wanted to talk to you anyway," she said, giving him a small smile.
"Yeah, all right." He held the door wide and let her enter then ushered her through to the living room. "Can I get you a drinkcoffee, tea?" he asked as he sat on the chair opposite her and watched her warily.
She shook her head. "No, I'm fine. Look, Blair, I was kind of in shock when I left here yesterday. I mean, I just didn't expect I mean, Jim's always been straight"
Blair shook his head but spoke cautiously, not sure how much of Jim's past was his to reveal. "You and Jim were only married for a couple of years, Carolyn. Maybe you didn't know everything about him"
"That's crap! I know how he was with me and I saw him with women after he and I split up. What about Beverley Sanchez, and that doctor from the CDC that ended up going out with you? And I've heard there have been a few others since then." She stopped, and grinned disarmingly at him. "Yeah, I know. We're divorced but I still have friends in Cascade and I hear things."
"I had girlfriends too," Blair responded mildly.
"Yeah, but I always thought you were bi. Sam told me you were, anyway."
"Oh." Blair couldn't think of much else to say to that. It was true after all.
"I'm just worried about him, Blair. Jim's not gay or bi. I just think that maybe if you hadn't stayed here, he would have settled down with one of the women he's met in the past couple of years, but having you here right under his roof"
"I'm no Svengali, Carolyn. Jim's where he wants to be and with whom he wants to be. I love him and I'm not going to turn around now after all we've been through and tell him he should find himself a nice little woman to marry," Blair shot back.
"Fine. You're leaving me no choice then." She stood and grabbed her bag from the floor at her feet then almost ran to the door.
"No choice but to what?" he asked, following her and grabbing her arm.
She twisted out of his grasp. "There are department rules about fraternization, Blair. You've left me no choice but to go to Simon about my concerns."
"What?" Blair let his hand fall from her arm to hang loosely at his side. "You'd do that to us, to Jim? Jim needs me with him, Carolyn. If you do this, we'll be split up as a team, and Jim can't work without me."
"Oh for God's sake, Blair. You going to try to tell me that all that stuff about Jim being a Sentinel was the truth now? You said yourself that you'd falsified your thesis." She glared at him, her eyes icy. "If you ask me, you propagated that line of bullshit right from the beginning just to get in with Jim. When it looked like going public and you knew you couldn't prove anything, you held that press conference to win back Jim's support. You're a user, Sandburg, and I'm going to stop you using Jim."
Blair could only stare after her in horror as she raced out the door, slamming it in his face.
* * *
Ellison looked up to see Banks motioning him into his office. He stood, shrugging across at Blair who gave a small encouraging smile back.
"You too, Blair," Banks said.
He waited till they were seated in front of his desk before beginning. "Carolyn came to see me last night."
Jim shook his head slightly and stared over the Captain's left shoulder, his jaw clenching furiously.
"Why am I not surprised?" Blair said, shaking his head. "I knew she was pissed when she left yesterday but"
"What?" Jim swiveled his head back around to look at Blair, surprise on his face. "You didn't tell me she'd come back to the loft."
Blair raised his hands, palms up, in an apologetic gesture. "I'm sorry, Jim. I was going to but you were wiped when you got home and then I guess I just forgot"
"What did she want?" Jim interrupted hotly.
"Gentlemen!" Simon stood, holding up his hand for silence as both men turned to look at him "You can continue your argument at home. For now, let's just get on with what I called you in here to discuss."
"I think we can guess, sir," Blair said quietly.
"Well, at least give me the privilege of playing captain for today and let me tell you," Banks rejoined, sitting down again. "She wants me to go to the Chief about you two being partners both in the professional and personal sense. Uh-uh!" He held up a hand again as Blair opened his mouth. "Let me finish, Sandburg. Me Captain, you Detective, remember?"
Blair nodded. "Sorry, sir," he murmured.
"Okay, first, I'd like to say that my hands are pretty well tied on this. If I don't go to the Chief and recommend you be split up, I have no doubt that she will"
"Oh, come on, Simon." Jim stood and leaned over the desk, his eyes blazing fire. "You can't do that. You know I need Blair with me on the job. Granted, my senses are under better control than a couple of years ago but that's because he's with me, guiding me and grounding me."
"You know that and Blair knows that and hell, even I know that, Jim, but if memory serves me correctly, Sandburg here denied you were a Sentinel a year or so ago, so what reason do I give the Chief for you two needing to be paired up on the job even though you're domestic partners? How's that gonna look to Matt Saunders out there?" Simon nodded his head in the direction of the bullpen. "He and his partner made a damn good team too until they fell in love and Beth got transferred over to Narcotics when they decided to get engaged. Remember?"
"Yeah, I remember," Blair said quietly. "Matt was pretty cut up about it, Beth too. There has to be a way around this though," he added.
"There is," Simon said. "The way I see it, you have three choicestalk Carolyn into letting this go." Jim snorted derisively, showing what he thought the chances were of that happening. "Give up your personal relationship." Jim shook his head firmly at that one. "Or you come out as a Sentinel to the Chief, and probably the public, and explain that as Blair's your Guide, the fraternization rules need to be relaxed in your case"
"Jim, no, you can't do that!" Blair was standing, his face pale. "It negates everything I did back then, everything we went through. I understood why you couldn't do that back then. It's why I made the choice I did. I threw away my career so you wouldn't have to do that, man. No way! For one thing, it'll make you a target for every crazy like Brackett that's out there and like you said at the very beginning, you can't do your job properly if the perps know you have an edge." Blair shook his head forcefully. "I won't let you do that, Jim."
"Look, calm down a minute, the pair of you. Let's try option one first, all right?" Banks said.
"What do you mean?" Jim asked, sitting down again and pulling Blair back down as well.
"I've invited Carolyn to have dinner with us tonight," Banks told him, a small grin touching his lips.
"Us?" Blair queried.
"Yep, you, me, and Jim. But before we do, there's something you need to know about why she's back in Cascade." Simon frowned. "It's not a happy story, Jim." He reached out and picked up the unlit cigar resting in the ashtray on his desk, twirling it slowly in his fingers. Finally, he sighed and put it back. "Carolyn got involved with a cop in San Francisco. Word is she was warned he was bad news but Carolyn being Carolyn wouldn't listen. Within a few weeks of her moving in with him, she started showing up to work with bruises on her face. She told everyone she was just clumsy, made excuses, you know the routine."
Jim was leaning forward in his chair now, a look of anguish on his face. "Shit," he murmured.
"Yeah. Anyway, apparently he went after her one too many times and Caro moved out and then applied for a transfer back here. She told me she had hopes of you two getting back together, Jim."
"What?" Jim straightened in his seat. "We've been divorced for years. Look, Simon, I'm sorry she had it so rough down there and I'll do whatever I can for her but even before Blair and I got together, there was no chance of Carolyn and me " His voice trailed off as he shook his head.
"I can understand now why she was so bent out of shape over finding out about us, though," Blair said. "Poor Carolyn." His voice was filled with sympathy.
Jim shook his head. "I'm sorry she's had such a rough time too, Chief. But that doesn't excuse what she's threatening to do now. Carolyn knew long before she went to San Francisco that there was no chance of her and me getting back together. I get the feeling that even if I'd been with a woman, she still would have been bent out of shape. This isn't about Carolyn being upset that I'm bi, this is about Carolyn not getting what she wants."
* * *
"What's going on, Simon?"
All three men stood up as Carolyn approached their table. She tossed her purse down and remained standing, her eyes questioning. "If you think you can gang up on me"
"Nobody's ganging up on you, Caro," Simon interrupted quickly, pulling out a chair for her. "Come on, sit down."
"All right." She sat down and folded her hands primly on the table in front of her, turning her head away from Jim and Blair.
"Look," Simon said in a patient voice, "you said you were hoping to have dinner with Jim and this is the only night both he and Blair are free."
"I said, I wanted to have dinner with *Jim*," Carolyn emphasized. "Blair's being free or not had nothing to do with it."
"I don't go out to dinner without Blair," Jim put in quietly.
"Jim, that's not entirely true," Blair jumped in, seemingly desperate to lighten the mood. "What about that time you went out to dinner with Simon on my birthday last year?"
"We went to a Jags game and had burgers afterwards, Sandburg. You had the flu." Simon chuckled and shook his head.
Carolyn turned and smiled a little at Jim. "Guess you haven't changed that much after all. Remember our second wedding anniversary?"
"Jim, tell me you didn't forget," Blair said, sounding shocked.
"I didn't forget, Chief. I just forgot that Caro had planned a quiet, intimate dinner for two and"
"He invited the whole MC gang round to play poker and celebrate our anniversary," Carolyn finished for him.
Blair buried his head in his hands and gave a mock-groan. "Guess there's no hope of romantic dinners in my future then."
Simon almost groaned for real as Carolyn's mouth tightened and her eyes flashed. "Guess not," she replied.
"Why don't we order?" Simon suggested brightly, almost biting through his lip in frustration.
"This won't change anything, Simon," Carolyn muttered sotto voce to him as he passed her the menu.
Simon shook his head. "Let's just have a nice night. Then, if you still want to go ahead with your plans, I can't stop you," he replied softly.
"Fine," she replied through obviously gritted teeth. She handed the menu over to Jim along with an over-bright smile, bypassing Blair who already had his hand held out for it.
'This is gonna be one hell of a night,' Simon thought to himself morosely as he called the waiter over and ordered himself a double scotch on the rocks.
They made desultory small talk over dinner, none of them broaching the subject that was at the forefront of their minds.
Eventually, when they'd finished eating, Carolyn leaned across the table and put out her hand, resting it on Jim's. "Jim, I'm not trying to cause trouble for you."
"No?" he said, his voice laced with disbelief. "Then why do this? Why blow back into Cascade and try to break us up?"
"You know as well as I do that the fraternization rules are there for a damn good reason," Carolyn said, straightening up and pulling her hand away. "It's dangerous to have partners who are involved, working together. They lose focus, become more concerned about their partner's wellbeing than the job"
"Jim and Blair have been working together for six years, Carolyn," Simon broke in, "and they've never been anything but professional on the job. They've got the best solve rate in Major Crime, hell, in the entire PD."
Carolyn was shaking her head. "That's not all it's about, Simon." She lowered her voice in deference to the other diners. "Jim's not gay," she whispered, her cheeks flaming red. "Then Anthroboy here comes along and suddenly Jim's more interested in what he's got between his legs than in a pair of nice boobs."
"Settle down, Caro," Simon said, his own voice soft. "Whether you like it or not, Jim has made a commitment to Blair, and I'm happy for them."
"Oh, come on, Simon, how many times did you tell me you wished Sandburg would get the hell out of Jim's life?"
Simon flashed a stricken look across at Blair, who simply gave him a small smile and a shrug.
"That was a long time ago. I've come to know Blair well. I consider him as much a friend as I do Jim. He's saved my life more than once, and my son's, and Jim's too, for that matter."
Jim stood up, grabbing his coat from the back of the chair. "Forget it, Simon, she's not going to listen. Look, I'm sorry about what happened to you in San Francisco and I'd've been happy to be there for you. But we can't just pick up where we left off because you're coming off a lousy relationship. Do what you have to do, Carolyn. Just stay away from us. Blair, let's go."
Blair stood up, and held out a hand to Carolyn, which she ignored. Shrugging, he turned and headed after Jim, hearing Carolyn's high heels tapping behind them as she followed.
It was pitch dark when they reached the parking lot, the sky looming blackly overhead.
Suddenly, the lot was awash with light as a car directly in front of them turned on its spotlights.
Blair saw Jim's hands go up to shield his face, his head turning away from the over-bright assault on his sight. He took a step forward, ready to brace his partner then stopped in shock as a man stepped from the car and aimed a gun at him.
"You whore, Carolyn," the stranger growled.
Blair turned to look for Carolyn and found her right next to him.
"Tony, it's not what you think" she began, sounding terrified.
"Carolyn, get out of the way," Blair said, trying to keep his voice calm. "Move behind me." He cast a quick look over at Jim, groaning as he realized the Sentinel must have dialed his sight up as they exited the restaurant because of the darkness and had been temporarily blinded by the spotlight.
Jim stood as if frozen in place, his only movement a frantic rubbing of his eyes with his hand.
Blair watched in horror as the man swung his gun over to the helpless detective then back to aim at Carolyn. He saw the man's finger tighten on the trigger and he swiveled, hitting Carolyn hard with his hip and sending her spinning down to the concrete. There was a blast of sound and a fierce burning pain in his shoulder and then he was down too, the ground wet and cold beneath his chin and the world looping around him dizzily. He heard someone shout, "Freeze! Cascade PD!" and recognized Simon's gruff bark. His mind consumed with worry for Carolyn, despite the pain in his shoulder and the nausea that threatened, he managed to get himself woozily to his feet. He bent double for a moment as his vision greyed out and felt a firm arm grip his waist and support him.
"Blair, you all right?" Simon asked worriedly.
"Carolyn? Is she okay?" he managed to grit out between clenched teeth as he got his shaky legs locked under him.
"Yeah, she's over there with Jim. Sit down, Sandburg, I'm calling an ambulance."
"Where's the guy?"
Simon pointed to where the gunman lay on the ground, obviously unconscious. "He's out of it for now. Hit his head on the ground when I tackled him." There was a measure of satisfaction in Simon's tone. "Don't worry, he's cuffed. I haven't always been a Captain, Sandburg. I do know how to secure a prisoner."
Blair chuffed out a small laugh. "Help me get over to Jim. I think the spotlight blinded him. Think he had a sensory spike. I can ground him, help him turn down the dials."
Simon gave him a dubious look. "I don't think you should be moving, Blair. You're bleeding pretty good."
"I'll stop moving when you get me over to Jim," Blair replied.
Simon sighed. "Yeah, all right."
They made their way across the lot to where Jim now sat, knees bent up, his head pillowed on his crossed arms.
"Just find Blair for me, Caro," he was saying, his voice tense. "Is he okay?"
"I'm fine, Jim," Blair said, managing to keep the quake from his voice. He made it to his knees with Simon's help and placed a shaky hand on Jim's shoulder. "Jim, listen, your sight is spiking. You must have dialed up when we left the restaurant." Carolyn gasped sharply next to him and he looked up, giving her a slight smile. "Guess the cat's out of the bag, now," he said. He turned his attention back to Jim. "I want you to take a deep breath in then let it seep out slowly through your lips and as you do, I want you to gradually turn your sight all the way down."
"Down?" Jim asked dubiously. "I'm blind now, Chief. How's that going to help?"
"Because once it's all the way down, we're going to turn it back up to normal again, okay?"
"Yeah, okay. What would I know? You're the Guide, I'm just the Sentinel."
Simon snorted a laugh at that and then Blair took Jim through the steps, counting down then up, his hand resting on Jim's shoulder to ground him.
It took a few minutes but finally Jim rubbed a hand across his eyes then blinked a few times and nodded. "I'm fine now. Thanks, Chief." He looked across at Blair ad his eyes went wide. "Shit, you're bleeding!"
"Yeah, I told him that too," Simon said. "There's an ambulance on the way."
"It was true," Carolyn whispered. "Why did you say you lied?"
"Because I love him and I needed to protect him," Blair replied, suddenly feeling unutterably weary. The world was beginning to eddy around him again and then Jim was next to him and easing him down to the ground.
"Take it easy, Chief." Jim's words whispered gently across his forehead and Jim followed them with his lips. "You're going to be fine."
* * *
He could see her watching him covertly from the corner of her eyes, her body still stiff and drawn in upon itself. Eventually, he couldn't stop himself. "Relax, Carolyn, you're gonna snap a bone or something."
She turned to him, her eyes red-rimmed and swollen. He hadn't realized she'd been crying, so focused had he been on Blair, but the evidence was there. "I'm so sorry," she said softly.
"For what?" Jim asked. "For trying to tear me and Blair apart, for destroying the one good thing I've had in my life in the past six years?"
She shook her head. "I didn't know. I thought I believed his press conference and when I needed to come back to Cascade to get away from Tony I thought he wouldn't even be here anymore. I know how much you value honesty, Jim. It was one of the things that broke up our marriage, remember?"
He nodded. He remembered too. The late night calls that said she was working late and then being able to smell the other men on her when she finally came home. It had been as much his fault as hers. He realized that now. He'd never been there for her, never been enough for her, too focused on his job
"It's different with Blair," he found himself saying. "He's taught me so much."
She nodded. "I can see that. I just I wish I'd known about all this before. I would never have " Tears trickled down her cheeks and Jim did the only thing he could, pulling her forward into his arms and massaging her neck gently with his palm.
"I'm so sorry for what he put you through," he murmured. "Carolyn, I'll help you in any way I can but you have to understand that Blair is my life. I love him. Please don't"
She pulled away from him and sat up straight, her hand swiping the tears from her face. "I know. I saw what you mean to each other. I still can't believe he threw away his career to protect you." She reached out and cupped his face gently within her hands. "Jim, you are so lucky. You've found what most people spend their entire lives searching for." She leaned forward and placed a chaste kiss on his mouth then stood and walked to the door.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"For now, back to my hotel. I'm beat. Then Colorado, as soon as the court case is over," she said, tossing him a smile. "Mom and Dad moved there a year ago and I think I need to be with family for a while. Get my head on straight. Tell Blair I'm sorry, and you two take care of each other, okay?"
"We'll do our best. Bye, Caro. Take care of yourself."
She turned a bright smile on him. "I will. I think I'm finally on my own path."
* * *
"So, you think she'll be okay?" Blair asked softly. He wriggled a little backward till he could feel Jim's warm body pressed up against his back.
"She'll be fine. Caro's strong when it counts. She'll make it." Jim traced his hand gently over the bandage on Blair's shoulder then bent his head and kissed the back of Blair's neck.
"What about us?" Blair asked.
"What do you mean?" Jim replied, nuzzling into the short hair on Blair's neck, inhaling the scent of his lover.
"How long do we have to keep hiding what we are to each other? Beyond partners on the job, I mean." Blair's voice was wistful, as if he already knew the answer.
Jim rolled him gently onto his back and leaned down, kissing him sweetly. "I don't know," he admitted. "I'm prepared to go talk with the Commissioner, tell him about my senses"
"You sure you want to do that?" Blair asked.
"I think I do," Jim replied. He gave each of Blair's eyelids a soft caress with his lips then pulled back, leaning on one elbow. "I think it's time, don't you? I don't want to have to hide our relationship away like it's some dirty little secret, Blair. I think maybe we could talk to him, let him now how important it is to the job that my senses be kept out of public knowledge, and how important it is for us to be together on the job, despite our personal relationship."
"I'm pretty good at convincing people," Blair said. He slid a hand down Jim's chest and smiled as Jim moaned at the touch. "I convinced you to keep me around, didn't I?"
"Yeah, Einstein, you did that." Jim leaned in and captured his mouth again, rubbing his cock against Blair's thigh in a rhythmic caress.
Blair moved against him and pulled Jim in closer, turning himself so he could meet Jim's thrusts. "Then let's do that," he murmured. "Tomorrow or whenever "
Jim snaked a hand down between them and grasped Blair's penis in his hand and began a long, slow stroke up and down. "Less talk, more action, Sandburg," he whispered.