Written by Annie & Lyn
Cover by Patt
Artwork by Lisa, Romanse, Nicci, Patt & Peter
Jim watched Blair clearing up the dishes from dinner and couldn't help smiling. His partner was bouncing around the kitchen, mouthing the words of some unknown song, a small smile lighting up his face from time to time. He looked better than he had for a long time, though Jim wasn't entirely convinced that all was back to normal. Blair still looked entirely too pale to sentinel sight. His clothes still hung too loosely on his slender frame, despite the slow return of his appetite, and, when he wasn't keeping Jim awake the past few nights with the cough he seemed unable to shake, he was tossing and turning, muttering incomprehensible ramblings. Still, he seemed happy enough, had acquitted himself well on their last case, and seemed eager to get on with the job he'd chosen as his new career.
They'd heard from Laura MacKenzie's parents, too. A brief phone call had let them know that Laura was well on the way to recovery and about to begin physical therapy on her ankle. That news had lifted both their spirits and erased some of the horror of that night on the mountain. Jim still found his mind drifting back at odd moments, his imagination and Simon's description providing images of what Blair had done to bring him back from the brink of death. He still believed what he'd told Simon. That it must have been the intervention of their spirit animals that had given Blair the apparent ability to heal his Sentinel but and there always had to be a but when it came to anything to do with the Sentinel stuff, Jim thought ruefully. Blair had been right; neither of them had seen their spirit animals this time. Eventually, when his thoughts started to circle in his head and began to tail end each other, Jim decided to just give up worrying it to death. He was alive and Blair was on his way to recovery. That was what really mattered.
Jim was feeling more at ease within himself too. He'd expected, when Blair found out that he planned to throw his job away, that Blair would opt to do the same thing; he'd been startled when Blair had merely turned to Simon and demanded a new partner. Looking back now, Jim thought the vacation in Hawaii had given both men the space they needed to think things through and make independent decisions about their lives without the pall of previous failures hanging over them. A few weeks ago, they'd both been ready to give up and throw it all away, not wanting the other to suffer any longer. Now, things seemed clearer, more promising.
Pottering around in the kitchen, Blair was well aware of Jim's scrutiny of him. He wondered if it was still Jim's somewhat overprotective habit kicking in or whether he had picked up on Blair's nervousness. Maybe Jim could smell it! Jim had told Blair once that if you were a Sentinel, you really could smell fear. He'd described it as a sour, unhealthy taint that heightened a person's body odor. Blair frowned, remembering the smell he'd picked up emanating from Lacey. That hadn't been fear though, just pure evil. He still wasn't entirely sure what all that had been about, or the incident on the mountain. Had it been some weird mirroring of Jim's Sentinel abilities, like when Jim had revived Blair at the fountain, or had it been some kind of psychic phenomenon because Blair had wanted so desperately to bring Jim back? He'd read plenty of stories where people had been able to lift cars off loved ones - the flight or fight syndrome. Was that what it had been? He hadn't seen the panther or the wolf that night. Still
He sighed. Here he was, going over and over it again and, even from here, he could almost see Jim's pupils dilating as he picked up Blair's slowly elevating heartbeat, trying to figure out what had Blair so excited this time. Best to get back to what was really bothering him. How to tell Jim
"So, Chief, what's this news that's had you bouncing around all day like the cat that got the cream?" Jim asked when Blair tossed aside the dishcloth and came into the living room. He smiled when Blair sat on his lap and placed a chaste kiss on his lips.
"Simon wanted to talk to me today," Blair began. "Apparently, the Commissioner is really happy with our solve rate in the last couple of cases we've worked " Blair's voice trailed off and, giving a sigh, he slid off Jim's lap to sit beside him. Picking up Jim's nearest hand, he stroked gently over the back of it before entwining their fingers together.
"He should be happy," Jim said. "A lot of that success came from you and those observational skills of yours. Especially the Davis case, last week." That last assignment had been a tough one - a serial killer with no apparent M. O. It had taken Blair's innate talent at picking up the clues and turning them into a coherent whole that had allowed them to pick up Davis' trail and foresee his next step. "You had Davis down to a T," he said proudly. "The profile you came up with matched him down to the last detail." He gave his lover a full body nudge. "So, he going to give you a medal?" he joked.
"Actually, he wants me to go to Seattle and do a profiling course," Blair said quickly, not looking up. "I told him I'd have to think about it, but Simon really thinks I'd do well. He said it's a great opportunity and there's no one else he thinks would be better suited for the job -"
"Simon spoke to you about it without talking to me too?"
"Well, yeah. I mean, I'd love to do it. I'd be getting back into anthropology sort of, and Simon said the department could really use a full time profiler." He smiled. "Of course the paycheck's pretty good too."
Jim pulled his hand away from Blair's and sat forward. "It is a great opportunity, Chief. I just thought you'd want to discuss it with me first."
"I am - now," Blair replied. He reached up and rested his hand on Jim's shoulder, squeezing gently. "You don't think I should go? Don't you think I'd be any good?"
Jim covered Blair's hand with his own. "I think you'd be great. It's just ." He sat forward and clasped his hands together on his knees, staring straight ahead. "I'm not sure you're recovered enough yet from the camping trip. You've still got that god-awful cough and -"
"Jim! Stop!" Blair ordered firmly. His hand wasn't gentle this time as he reached and shook Jim's nearest arm. "Enough with the Blessed Protector routine. I was checked out by the doctor and passed as fit for duty. We just finished the Davis case and got the Commissioner's attention -"
"You did," Jim cut in and allowed a grin to slip past when Blair whacked him on the head then smiled back.
"I'm fine," Blair repeated. He leaned back on the couch, his eyes sparkling again with the excitement that Jim had missed seeing for so long, a satisfied smile curving his lips. "I'm gonna be sitting in a room in the PD in Seattle, doing stuff I've been doing half my life - listening to lectures and taking notes." His face grew serious. "I want this, Jim."
Jim nodded, understanding. "I just I figured that we'd talk about it before you gave Simon your decision, that's all. If you pass the course, you'll be on loan to the whole department -"
Blair shook his head. "I've thought about that and Simon said we can work around it. After all, a lot of the time, a profiler doesn't work through the entire case with whatever team's investigating. All I'm required to do is get the details of the crime and write up a profile of the perp. That still means I can concentrate on doing my more important work."
"And what would that be, Darwin?"
Blair grinned. "Keeping your ass out of trouble, man."
"Funny, Sandburg, real funny."
"Anyway, if I'm the only profiler here, it stands to reason I should be partnered with the best detective in Cascade," Blair said smoothly.
Jim smiled, then a small frown creased his brow. "How long will you be in Seattle?"
"Shit." Jim dropped his head and rubbed at one eye with the heel of his hand, disappointment warring with happiness at his partner's obvious excitement.
"I don't want to be away from you for that long either," Blair admitted. He shifted closer to Jim and leaned against him, again taking Jim's hand in his, stroking gently over the knuckles. "This relationship is so new, I don't want anything getting in the way of us. It's all starting to come together; this - " he squeezed Jim's hand firmly " - feels so right. And my first thought was how you would be - your senses, I mean - but you've got pretty good control these days. I know you'll be okay."
Jim grinned at that. "A compliment, Chief?" He rested his hand on Blair's forehead. "You sure you don't have a fever?"
Blair slapped his hand away, laughing. "Let's be serious for a minute, okay?" When Jim nodded, he went on. "I'd really like to give this a shot, Jim. I think I'd be good at it and knowing that you believe in my ability to do it, helps more than you know. Besides, I get to come home every weekend -"
"You didn't mention that."
"I didn't want to until I found out how you felt about it." Blair shrugged. "Moot point if you don't want me to go."
"You're a grown man, Sandburg, you don't need my permission to do anything," Jim said gruffly.
"But I do want your blessing," Blair replied.
Jim sat forward, unlinking their hands and folding his arms across his chest. "All right, if you want my blessing then let's talk rules."
Blair's mouth dropped open. "Rules? You just finished telling me I'm a grown man and now you want to talk rules."
"You're still losing weight," Jim said, "and don't think I haven't noticed the odd meal you're skipping or the fact that you're still not sleeping well "
Blair solemnly raised his hand. "I promise to eat regularly and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Good enough?"
"Hmmph," was all the reply he got. Blair rubbed his hands together. "Okay, my turn. No zoning -" He held up a silencing hand when Jim opened his mouth to speak. "No turning into Badass Ellison and tempting everyone into taking transfers to the Vice Squad; Simon would be so pissed if that happened. And be nice to Megan."
"Sandburg!" Jim growled warningly. "You know what Connor's like. It's like she knows how to press all my buttons - "
"Ah-ah," Blair said warningly. "Do we have a deal?" He held out his hand.
Jim sighed and made a show of thinking it over then shook Blair's hand. "Deal, but I tell you, Chief, I think you got the easy part."
"So," Blair said slowly, getting back to the previous discussion, "are you saying that if you were offered a promotion, you would come straight home and talk to me before you accepted it?"
Jim gave him a glare but couldn't sustain the impatience. "That's different," he said finally.
Blair sidled closer. "Why?"
"Because a promotion doesn't mean I have to go away for four weeks."
"Only a week at a time, and think of the welcome home I'll get every weekend." Blair smiled and wiggled his eyebrows. "Ow!" He feigned a grimace when Jim elbowed him in the ribs. "I know - table leg." A small smile tugged at the corners of Blair's mouth, turning it upward and a mischievous glint appeared in his eyes. "Are you saying you'll miss me?"
Jim groaned and scrubbed his hand over his eyes. "Jesus, Sandburg you know I will."
Blair's voice was a suggestive growl. "Prove it."
No further invitation was necessary. Jim pushed Blair onto his back and took his mouth in a deep, demanding kiss. "I'll miss you," he acceded.
Blair's hand crept up under Jim's shirt and stroked over his nipples. "Don't tell me," he commanded. "Show me."
Captain Simon Banks looked up at the knock on his office door. "Come in," he called, surprised when he saw Sandburg's head peek around the corner.
"Um, excuse me, Captain, do you have a few minutes? Jim and I need to discuss something with you." Blair's voice was quiet.
"What do you want, Sandburg?" he asked.
Blair turned and grabbed his partner, who'd been standing uncomfortably behind him. Hooking Jim's arm, he dragged him into the captain's office. "Why do you think I want something, sir?" he asked, a smile tilting his lips.
"Well, now, let's see, Sandburg - you knocked politely on my door, you said, 'excuse me', and just now you called me 'sir'. I think that's proof enough. I repeat, what do you want, Sandburg? I'm a busy man. Let's hear it," Simon said with a hint of exasperation in his voice, all the while trying to subdue the grin that was trying to replace the scowl on his face.
"I told Jim about the profiling course in Seattle," Blair began, sitting down in one of the chairs in front of the desk.
"You are going to do it, aren't you, Sandburg? It's a great opportunity for you and I know you'll be good at it," Banks said gruffly.
"Thanks, Si-, I mean, sir," Blair answered, his face flushing at the unexpected praise.
"So, Jim, you okay with this?" Banks looked over at the detective, realizing Ellison had yet to say a word.
Jim nodded. "Sure; it's what Blair wants, and you're right, it is a great opportunity for him." He smiled at his partner. "One he deserves."
"Jeez, guys, enough with the mushy stuff. I'm gonna get a big head here." Blair grinned back at his lover.
"Too late for that, Sandburg," Simon grunted but he smiled, taking the sting from his words. "Good, now that's settled, what did you really want to see me about?"
"I want you to partner Jim with Megan while I'm gone." The words rushed out of Blair's mouth, tumbling over each other.
"Fine," Simon replied.
"What? No way!" Jim exclaimed at the same time. "You can't be serious, Chief! I'll manage just fine on my own."
"Of course, I'm serious, Jim. You need someone who at least understands some of this Sentinel stuff while I'm not here. Megan's not going to take my place as your Guide. I just want her to keep an eye on you, make sure you don't zone, or if you do, there's someone around to pull you out, just like she did when I was at the Academy," Blair insisted.
Simon spoke before Jim could say anything further. "Sorry, Jim, I'm gonna side with Sandburg on this. You told me back when this Sentinel thing started that you needed a partner to back you up. It's how we ended up with Sandburg here, in the first place." He glanced at Blair, causing the younger man to smile at the sheer affection in that look.
"Well, yeah, I know," Jim said, capitulating. "But Connor?"
"Hey, remember the deal, man," Blair broke in. "Be nice to Megan, okay? She's just going to be trying to do her job and doing me a favor by keeping your ass out of trouble while I'm away."
Jim sighed theatrically then grinned. "Yeah, yeah, okay. Don't get your shorts in a twist, Chief. I'll play nice with Connor. Just don't blame me if you have to come back from Seattle and help me hide her body." He smiled down at the young man. "All right?" he asked.
"All right," Blair agreed.
"When are you due to leave, Sandburg? Don't forget you promised to upload that new software for me before you leave," Simon said. His eyes took in Ellison's still rigid demeanor, but he restrained himself from commenting for now.
"I leave in the morning, sir, and so I'll get that program up and running for you right after my partner here takes me out and buys me a goodbye lunch - my choice of cuisine," Blair replied, laughing as Jim groaned at his words.
"Good, then why are we still standing around, people? Get going already." He sat down as the partners began to leave. "Sandburg Blair, good luck. You'll do good, kid."
Blair turned and gave his captain one of his trademark, whole-face smiles. "Thanks, Simon, for everything."
"You're welcome, Blair. Um, Jim, could I just have a word with you in private before you go?" Simon said evenly, giving Blair a reassuring grin.
Banks waited till the door closed behind Sandburg then pinned Ellison with a hard glare. "So, what's your real problem with this, Detective?" he asked.
"Look, Simon, it's a terrific offer and Blair will do great at it but he hasn't exactly been himself lately," Jim replied hesitantly. "He's been overtired and run down. I just don't know if he's up to it."
"So that was why you wanted to quit? You know, Jim, I'm still pretty pissed that you didn't at least come to talk with me before mailing your badge to me. I thought we were better friends than that." He put up a hand as Jim began to interrupt. "No, Jim, just let me ask you one thing. You remember how guilty you felt when Blair sacrificed his anthropological career for you?"
"Of course I do, Simon. It was the last thing I wanted -"
"Aah!" Simon's hand came up again. "Listen to me, Jim. If you're so worried about Blair, why the hell would you want to burden him with the same guilt? Don't you know how bad he'd feel knowing you gave up your career for him? You'd be laying the same guilt on him as you felt when he did it for you. Do you really think he needs that sort of burden right now? Listen to him, Jim. He's excited about something for the first time in I don't know how long. It's almost like having the old Sandburg back. Don't take that away from him. He'll be good at this. Put your own need to keep him close on hold for a few weeks. Give the kid his wings, Jim. He needs this. And so do you."
Jim sighed loudly then nodded. "Okay, Simon. If it's what he really wants, I won't stand in his way."
"And?" Simon queried, one eyebrow raised in interrogation.
Jim nodded in defeat. "And I'll make sure he knows that I support him in doing this one hundred per cent."
"Good." Simon flashed a victorious grin. "Now get out there and make sure your partner has a real software program for me. None of that 'Virus 'r' Us' stuff, okay?"
"Yeah, okay, Simon. Thanks."
Blair watched as Jim pushed his chair back from the dinner table and walked out onto the balcony. He waited a couple of minutes then pushed back his own chair and followed his lover outside.
Jim was standing with his hands resting on the railing, his eyes fixed somewhere on the distant horizon. Blair walked over and reached around him with both arms, pulling himself close against Jim's back, resting his face against its warm strength.
"You okay, Jim?" he asked softly.
Jim turned within his arms and kissed the top of his head. "Yeah, you know, just thinking how much I'm gonna miss hearing you snore next to me at night." He chuckled at Blair's outraged glare.
"Me snore?" Blair laughed as well. "You know I'm gonna miss you just as much, don't you?"
Jim frowned a little. "I know that. Look, Chief, I just need to ask you something. Don't get all bent out of shape over it though, all right? I told you I want you to do this and I do, really I do. I guess I just got a little thrown by the fact that you jumped at the chance of being away from me for four weeks -"
"What?" Blair pushed himself out of Jim's embrace. "That's not it, Jim. Jesus! You really think I want to be away from you, for even a day, especially after what we just went through? I thought I'd lost you for good, man -"
"Blair, no, that's not what I meant. Shit! I'm screwing this up. I want you to do the course if that's what you really want. I just wish there was some other way around it than you being away for so long -"
"You think if I can't cut this either, that I'll just slink away somewhere and hide because I won't be able to face you, is that it? " Blair asked, his voice demanding honesty.
"No, that's not what I think, Chief. For one thing, I know you can do this. I also know you wouldn't do that, leave like that. I guess I'm just a little worried that being apart for days at a time, when our being together is so new, is going to put a strain on our relationship. This is a time when we should be spending more time together, not less."
"I'm your guide," Blair cut in. "I want need that to come back to. That's part of why I'm doing this, so I can come back and be what you need me to be."
"I'm sorry, Blair, I'm not doing this right. I'm lousy at explaining this sort of stuff, you know that." Jim looked at Blair, the desire for his lover to understand eloquent in his eyes.
"I know what you mean, Jim. I just need you to understand that this is important to me too and that wanting to do this doesn't mean that I'm saying being together isn't important too. I'm going to be here every weekend, man. And it's just four weeks. Then after that, everything will be back to the way it should be." He put his hand up as Jim stepped towards him, contrition and apology on the Sentinel's face. "I'm sorry, too. I'm tired and I've had a lot to think about. I'm probably not explaining myself any better than you are. I've got an early start in the morning, Jim. I'm gonna take a shower and get some sleep. You mind if I leave the dishes to you?"
Jim shook his head, his face telegraphing his anguish. He reached a hand out toward his lover but Blair simply turned away and walked inside.
Blair let the warm water cascade over his head and back, trying to calm himself by breathing deeply and slowly and concentrating on the sensation of his muscles relaxing beneath the spray. He reached out for the shampoo but felt his hand grasped gently.
"Let me," he heard Jim whisper.
Blair dropped his hand and stood docilely as Jim took the shampoo and massaged it through his hair, rubbing gently into his scalp with firm fingers. Then his head was tilted against Jim's chest and his hair was rinsed clean, Jim's fingers tangling through it gently. Then the process was repeated with the conditioner.
Blair picked up the soap and handed it wordlessly to Jim.
Jim leaned forward, his head pressing against Blair's dripping curls, his breath hot against Blair's wet skin. "I'm sorry," he breathed. "I'm so sorry. You're right. I'm afraid of losing you, losing what we have."
Blair turned and placed his hands either side of his lover's face then he leaned in slowly and kissed Jim's eyelids. "It's okay. I know you're afraid, Jim, but nothing is going to change what we have. You won't ever lose me." He kissed Jim's mouth sweetly. "Trust me."
"So, you sure you've got everything, Chief?" Jim asked, placing a hand on Blair's shoulder and handing him his boarding pass.
"Yeah, everything I need except for the one thing I can't take with me," Blair said quietly, staring studiously at his shoes. He put one hand up and swiped furiously at his eyes. "Dust," he muttered, "Must be getting to you too, huh, Jim?"
"Yeah, it is," Jim whispered, swallowing hard. "Hey, let's go over here for a minute." He grabbed his partner's arm and pulled him into a secluded niche that concealed the short hallway to a custodian's closet. Seeing no one around, he pulled Blair against his chest and then tipped his head up so he could see his face. His thumbs wiped softly across his lover's cheeks, mopping up the traces of moisture he could feel there. Then he bent forward and placed a tender kiss on each of Blair's downcast eyelids and another on his mouth. Straightening up, he pushed Blair away from him slightly. "All right?" he asked, waiting for the hesitant nod. "I love you, Blair."
Finally Blair looked into Jim's eyes, his teeth clenched down hard on his quivering lip. "I know," he murmured, taking a deep shuddering breath and squaring his shoulders. "I love you, too." He pressed the tips of his fingers against Jim's mouth briefly then turned and moved away from the booth. "I'll see you on the weekend, man," he called over his shoulder, not looking back.
"Don't forget to call tomorrow tonight," Jim yelled after his retreating back.
That brought a halt to his partner's hurried departure. Blair turned, a wide grin on his face this time. "Never," he said. "I'll never forget to call you." His smile turned whimsical. "I'm gonna miss you, Jim," he whispered in a voice meant only for sentinel ears. Then he waved, adding in a louder tone, "I'd better not come back and find plastic on the furniture." He turned and raced toward the boarding doors.
Jim left the bus depot as soon as Blair disappeared from view. He couldn't watch the bus leaving. He knew Blair would understand.
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