THE MATRIX OF FRIENDSHIP
DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Di Meo, Bilson, Petfly and Paramount. This fanfic was written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.
WARNINGS: M/M sex, Violence, Language.
SPOILERS: The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg, Sentinel Too.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This was written for Sally for the Moonridge Auction 2003. Thanks so much, Sally for supporting this wonderful cause. I do hope you'll like the story I've written as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
To Alyjude, thanks so much for a brilliant idea, and I look forward to being involved again next year.
To my sister, Annie, thank you for a stellar beta and for all your support in these last difficult months.
THE MATRIX OF FRIENDSHIP
"We are not separated from each other by our differing experiences, but, rather in some strange way, closer. Is this just a miracle of understanding? Or simply love? Or do we really both of us now stand at the same point, at the end of something, at the beginning of something?
Both of us are groping and a little lost, but we are together." - From "War Within and Without" Anne Morrow Lindbergh
"Chief, you got a great opportunity here," Jim said, one balled fist lightly bouncing off Blair's shoulder. Blair shuddered; there was no affection in the action. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime play," Jim continued, his tone blatantly sarcastic. "Go for the brass ring. Good luck, huh?" Turning on his heel, the detective stalked off, leaving Blair gasping.
"Jim, wait up." Blair broke into a trot in an effort to catch up with Jim's angry long strides. "What about us?"
Jim didn't falter, waving Blair's question away with a wave of his hand. Blair slowed, then stopped, watching his lover until he disappeared from sight. "What about us?" he muttered. Turning, he headed back the way they had come, giving a soft drink can that had the temerity to be in his way a savage kick and watching with satisfaction as it sailed into the water. Sunk, just like his relationship with Jim.
He and Jim had been partners for four years now. Though Blair's official brief read that he was a civilian observer with the Cascade PD, Blair had become a hands-on partner from pretty much his first day. Walking into a siege by a group of terrorists had given him a crash course in survival and from then on, it became accepted that if you asked for Ellison, you got a two-man deal. There had been some grumbling. Simon Banks had received his share of complaints from detectives in other departments as well as his own, but when it came to the crunch, everyone had to admit that Ellison and Sandburg were a formidable team. It had worked pretty well to now...
They'd been lovers for six months. There hadn't been an earth-shattering epiphany, no talk of Sentinel/Guide bonds, though Blair had to admit he was sure there was at least some evidence in his notes that hinted at such a thing. The relationship had evolved so naturally that neither man really knew when their close friendship slipped into a casual sexual association - some mutual hand-jobs and an occasional buddy-fuck when the tension got too much. Blair hadn't asked if he could move upstairs and share Jim's bed. It just seemed that he started waking up there more often than not, and they'd both simply accepted the changes.
They were a committed couple now, though Blair had a moment's concern about Jim's fidelity when Veronica Archer had appeared back in his life. When she died though, shot down by her partner, Jim had been so grief-stricken that Blair had simply opened his arms and welcomed him back. That Blair had done so without question or accusation was the final step needed for them to commit to each other completely. For the first time in his life, Blair felt secure and loved... until his mother came back into town, and in a misguided attempt at helping her much-loved only son, turned their world on its head.
Naomi sent Blair's just finished first dissertation draft to her friend, Sid Graham, a publisher. Jim's sentinel abilities were out in the open, and worse, he believed that Blair, his partner, his soul-mate had sold him out.
"Damn her to hell," Blair muttered as he hurried along the street toward Bartley's office. "Half of my life, I can't find her when I need her, and whenever she decides to make an appearance, she screws things up." He sighed, knowing Naomi's intentions had been pure enough, that she'd only had Blair's best interests at heart, and if there was any blame to be laid, then it was at his own feet. It hadn't been an intentional act, but he was more brainless than Naomi in this. The document had not even been password protected. He'd become so comfortable in the lie he and Jim lived that he'd never even considered the need for such a safeguard.
Dragging himself from his black thoughts, he looked up and realized he was about to walk straight past Bartley's office. Jim's truck was parked beside Simon's. At least he'd be able to get a ride home with the captain at the end of the night, though he wasn't entirely sure the loft was home anymore.
"Where have you been, Sandburg?" Simon growled when Blair walked into Bartley's office.
"Sorry," Blair replied, aiming a glare at Jim. "I missed my ride."
Preoccupied with the case at hand, Simon waved Blair's excuse away and turned back to Bartley. "This is the man who's been contracted to kill you."
Bartley gave the picture a cursory glance. "So, what are you going to do about it?"
"Well, at this point," Jim said, "the best thing to do is to keep you locked up until we find him."
Bartley shook his head. "The ratification vote is two days away. I've got to hammer this thing out with each of the locals or it's not going to fly."
Blair's cell phone rang and flashing an apologetic look at everyone, he turned away, stepping over to the doorway to answer it. "Hello."
"Mr. Sandburg," said an unfamiliar voice. "My name is Don Gordon. I'm a reporter with Channel Four. I thought you'd like to know that we're running a story on the noon news about you and your incredible claim that Detective Ellison is some kind of superman with heightened senses. We wondered if we might get a comment from you."
Blair's heart lurched. "What? No, you can't do that!" he hissed into the phone.
"Then your claims are true?"
Blair groaned. "No! There's nothing to tell. It was a misunderstanding. Now, please, don't call me again." He stabbed the off button viciously and slid the phone back into his pocket. A sudden wave of dizziness assailed him as he turned and he grabbed at the doorframe, closing his eyes briefly. Nausea roiled in his stomach and he thought for a brief moment he was going throw up on Bartley's carpet. Desperately trying to regain his composure, he waited until Bartley hurried past him before he spoke.
He cleared his throat and glanced first at Simon, then Jim. "Uh, I think there's something you should know. I tried to put a stop to it but, uh, the noon news is going to run a story about Jim and me."
Jim's eyes widened in shock, then a look of utter disgust crossed his face. "That's..." His voice trailed off. Shaking his head, he pushed roughly past Blair and stormed out.
Blair's lungs seized up. He couldn't breathe, could feel sweat breaking out on his brow. Simon's voice came to him as though through a tunnel.
"What is this all about, Sandburg?"
Blair shook his head, unable to find the words to explain. "My diss," he finally croaked out. "It got leaked to the press."
Blair stood nervously in front of Chancellor Edwards' desk. He watched the noon news, horrified at just how much of his dissertation had been released. His opening paragraph, for Christ's sake, was quoted chapter and verse. He'd been on rocky ground with the university ever since he'd started riding with Jim. Absences due to injuries and the trip to Peru to rescue Simon and Daryl, not to mention a month off recovering from the drowning and the chase after Alex in Mexico had not sat well with the powers that be. He felt exhausted and ill, and all he really wanted to do was crawl under a rock until it all went away, but it was time to face the music.
"I know that this, uh, situation about my thesis has got to be really embarrassing for the university..." he began, studying the polished wood desk with rapt attention.
Chancellor Edwards waved an elegant hand. "That's why we asked you here. We couldn't be more proud of your accomplishments."
"We only wish you had given us a chance to read it first," Sidney added.
Blair's eyes widened in disbelief, but before he could say anything further, the Chancellor pressed a button on the intercom.
"Please send them in," she instructed.
"Sid, you can't go through with this."
"We're on a roll, Naomi."
Muted voices came from the waiting area and Blair turned in disbelief when he recognized Naomi's voice. She swept into the room, accompanied by a middle-aged man with short, graying hair, and a veritable troop of camera-wielding people. Naomi looked tense, her face pale and her brow creased into a frown. She grasped the unknown man by one arm as though trying to delay him.
"Sid, I don't want you to until..." she said desperately, shooting Blair an apologetic look.
"Mom, wh-what's going on?" Blair stammered. Stupid question, he berated himself silently. It was pretty damn obvious that the shit was about to hit the fan.
Naomi gave him a strained smile. "Uh, uh... Blair, this is Sid Graham. He flew all the way from New York. I wanted him to meet with you alone first but he..."
Sid Graham stuck out his hand and grasped Blair's unresisting one. "Blair, I'm determined to publish your book," he said with a cheery smile. "I can now offer one million dollars from Berkshire Publishing and I've already had inquiries from several studios for the movie rights."
Blair felt himself reeling at the words, but his brain seemed to have shut down and he couldn't process the information. "A movie, that's... that's incredible."
Sid nodded. "There's more, but I agreed to let the TV crew handle that."
At these words, the television crew surged forward, a microphone was pushed into Blair's face and he felt an instant of suffocation, his heart beginning to pound painfully in his chest.
"We've been informed that due to the efforts of your mother, Naomi, the Nobel Prize committee is considering your research for its science award," a reporter Blair recognized from the earlier news story said.
Blair stared at his mother in open-mouthed astonishment. Anger coursed through him at the pleased and proud expression on her face. "Nobel, that's... that's unbelievable. Excuse me. Mom?" He grasped Naomi's arm and pulled her into the corner of the room. He was aware of Chancellor Edward's close scrutiny. Blair glared at Naomi. "Mom, this is "doing nothing"?"
"I... I did this before you told me not to do anything," Naomi said, her smile beginning to waver, "and then, all I did was... I talked to Lars when he called."
Blair shook his head in disbelief. Just who the heck hadn't she told? "Lars? Who's Lars?"
"Lars," Naomi said brightly. "He's the masseur for one of the members of the committee. I asked him only to slip..."
Blair shook his head and held up both hands, palm outward in an effort to halt the flow of words. "Mom, stop, please. Please, I can't hear anymore. Stop."
He glared as the TV crew descended on them once more, like vultures coming in for carrion. An apt description, really, he thought, once Jim heard about all this.
"Would you say you're overwhelmed?" the reporter asked.
Blair thought a moment, wondering if there was any way to save the situation. Denying the dissertation would only add fuel to the fire, he decided. "Uh... is this live?" he asked.
"No, we're recording for the 11:00 news tonight."
Thank God for small mercies. "I have nothing to say." Blair pushed his way through the throng without a backward glance at his mother. As he stormed toward the exit, he could hear her behind him, calling his name and begging him to stop. Finally, he sighed and paused at the expanse of lawn in front of Hargrove Hall. His gaze flickered toward the fountain and he swallowed back a sob. Was this place going to be the scene of the death of his partnership with Jim too?
Naomi came rushing up, breathless, one hand clutching her chest. "Blair, Blair, I...Oh, I'm sorry."
"It's a little late for that, Naomi," Blair replied bitterly. "Do you realize what you've done? Do you understand now why I asked you to leave it alone? Why don't you listen!"
He felt instant shame when her beautiful eyes filled with tears. "So, it's true?" she whispered. "About Jim?"
Blair didn't bother to reply. His gaze shifted back to the fountain, so innocuous looking in the brilliant light of day.
"Will you lose your observer's pass because of this?" Naomi prodded.
"That's the least of my worries," Blair muttered. He took her hand and gently stroked the back of it. "I think I've already lost Jim." He choked on the words and coughed, feeling a headache burst into life in his head.
"Oh, Blair, no." Naomi closed her fingers around his. "Jim loves you. He would never..."
"He thinks I betrayed him," Blair interrupted. "It's too late." He leaned in closer and kissed her cheek. "I have to go to the station, talk to Jim about all of this, see if I can find a way to at least keep him out of it. Do you need a ride somewhere?"
Naomi shook her head and brushed an errant tear from her cheek. "I think a walk will do me good. Maybe I could talk to Jim..."
"No!" Blair uttered sharply. "Just leave it be, Mom, please."
Naomi sighed but nodded. "All right, sweetie. If you think that's best. I love you."
"Me too." Blair turned and hurried toward the parking lot before his emotions could take hold. He felt like he was falling, and he knew this time there was no safety net there to catch him; no Blessed Protector to save him; in all likelihood, there was no relationship left to go back to.
Blair was painfully aware of the curious looks that followed him as he made his way up to Major Crime. Entering the bullpen, he was disappointed to see the room was crowded with cops, and every gaze turned his way when he walked in. He sought out Jim who was seated at his desk, staring into space. His lover's eyes turned toward him then quickly shifted away. Blair's heart clenched at the impassive look on Jim's face. Before he could make his way to Jim's desk, Henri Brown called out to him.
"Hey, Sandburg, who's playing you on the sentinel TV show? I know, Adam Sandler." Brown chuckled at his joke, causing the others to join in.
Joel Taggert took up a swaggering pose. "Listen, I hear Denzel is playing me."
Blair impatience flared at the inane comments. "There isn't going to be a TV show, all right?"
Rafe stepped in front of him, his handsome face wreathed in a wide smile. "Just a Nobel Prize," he said with obvious admiration in his voice.
As one, the entire bullpen began bowing down, chanting, "We're not worthy."
Blair felt his face heat with embarrassment. He looked to Jim, hoping the detective would come to his rescue but Jim looked away and, with a surge of anger, Blair pushed through the small crowd and strode back to the elevator. He stabbed at the button with more force than necessary. The doors opened and Blair saw the car was full.
"That's him," a female voice whispered from the back.
With a muttered curse, Blair turned and fled for the stairs. His foot slipped as he tore down the steps and he landed awkwardly, hot pain flaring up his leg.
"Shit!" he exclaimed. He balanced on his good leg and drew the other one up to rub at the sore spot. Hobbling painfully, he headed for his car and drove home, hot tears of shame and regret stinging his eyes.
He knew the set-up for Zeller was on for that night but when Jim didn't come home, Blair drove there himself. Megan Conner was waiting in front of Bartley's office and Blair could tell by the look on her face that she was determined to find out what was going on. He suspected the savvy Australian detective knew about his and Jim's relationship, though thus far, they'd only told Naomi. To her credit, Megan had never mentioned it and Blair realized suddenly that he desperately needed someone in whom he could confide.
As he stepped out of his car, Megan came forward and gave him a hug. "Sandy. I'm so sorry for what's happening, especially between you and Jim. Have you talked about it?"
"He yelled and I listened," Blair replied morosely. Keeping abreast, they headed for Bartley's office. "I don't blame him." He shook his head mournfully. "This will never end. He thinks I've deceived him and, now, this crazy Sid Graham's got the offer up to three million dollars. I mean, that's everything I've dreamed of, but it's also my worst nightmare."
"It's an extraordinary accomplishment..." Megan said, sounding sincere "...but I hate to see what it's doing to you and Jim." Blair looked up at her quickly but her expression remained merely sympathetic. "Look, Sandy, if you know you're doing what's right, then you can move on with a clear conscience. So can Jim."
"Yeah." Blair didn't believe that for a moment, and the thing was, he didn't want to move on. He wanted to stay in the here and now; in Jim's arms, in Jim's bed.
Jim and Simon were already with Bartley when they walked in. Jim stood at the window, gazing out on the crowd gathering below.
"There's more press than there was before," Jim said. "The hyenas are probably ready for somebody to try and kill him so they can get a Pulitzer prize-winning photo."
The comment was like a knife in Blair's gut.
Simon rolled his eyes. "Nobody's spotted Zeller yet."
Jim turned from the window, giving Blair only a cursory glance. "Bartley's speech starts in five minutes, Captain."
Simon nodded. "Well, you better get down there."
"On my way. Mr. Bartley, it's time for you to get into position." Jim crossed the room, brushing by Blair without a second look. "Pardon me," he said pointedly.
Simon stared at Blair. "What are you doing? Go with him, Sandburg."
Blair's words stuck in his throat. "He doesn't want me with him."
"I need you with him." Impatience made Simon's tone tight. "Help him focus." He pointed to the door. "Now, go."
Bartley gave Megan an appraising look. "Babe stays here though, right?"
Megan rolled her eyes and gave Blair's hand a surreptitious, comforting squeeze. "I might shoot him myself."
Blair couldn't hide his grin at that comment. Taking a deep breath, he turned and went to join Jim.
It took Blair a moment to find Jim, who was prowling the perimeter of the large, excited crowd. Making his way closer to the detective, Blair weathered Jim's sullen glare and placed a hand on his arm. "All right, now, you know he's not going to make it easy on you, so you should probably start by trying to isolate sounds."
Jim shook Blair's touch off and scanned the crowd as he spoke. " I know what to do, Chief, all right? I know the drill. You don't have to quote me chapter and verse. Why don't you save that for your interviews?" With that, he strode off, pushing his way through the onlookers and news crews.
Blair looked away quickly, swallowing his hurt at the angry words. A portly man standing on the podium announced that Bartley would be out soon. Hesitantly, Blair began to follow Jim. He paused for a moment when Jim pulled his radio earpiece from his ear, then seeing the familiar tilt of Jim's head, indicating he was extending his hearing, he hurried forward.
"Hey! Hey, it's the sentinel!" A female reporter's shout had the crowd surging toward Jim, and Blair rushed into the fray, pushing back the converging bodies.
"Come on, come on, leave him alone!" he growled, not caring whether he trod on toes or pushed people over. A sharp blow to his cheek from a microphone stunned him for a moment. Shaking his head, he chanced a look at Jim, who seemed dazed, a frown of pain creasing his forehead. With his hearing up, in the middle of a shouting crowd, cameras flashing, Jim was going to have one heck of a headache, Blair surmised.
A shot cracked out, just barely discernible over the noise of the mob and Blair ducked automatically. Lifting his head a little, he looked for Jim. The sentinel climbed onto the podium, his keen gaze searching the crowd, his face a mask of fury.
The man at the podium looked up at the window of Bartley's office in shock. "Jack's been shot! Get a paramedic in here!"
"Jim?" Blair snagged the sleeve of Jim's coat as they hurried up the stairs to Bartley's office. "Please, we need to talk."
Jim faced him, rolling his eyes in impatience. "Not now, Sandburg, all right? I've got a job to do."
"I thought that was 'we'," Blair commented sadly. Jim frowned, and Blair rushed on. "It's not about that. It's about us. Where do we go from here?" He waited, his heart hammering.
"I don't know," Jim replied. "Quite frankly, I'm having enough trouble dealing with the fallout from all this shit. I haven't had time to think about anything else."
Blair bit his lip. "After Alex, I forgave you."
Jim gaped at him. "I thought you said there was nothing to forgive. That it was a sentinel thing."
"I'm sure it was, but I didn't mean for this to happen either." Blair leaned in closer, the feel of Jim's broad chest touching his own intoxicating, almost overwhelming him. "I didn't sell you out, Jim, and I'm not taking any money from that publisher or anyone else."
Jim pulled back and Blair mourned the loss of his nearness. "That really doesn't matter any more, does it? It's out there. I'm public property."
"It matters to me," Blair responded hotly. "I didn't betray your trust." He studied the garish carpet beneath his feet. "Are we finished?"
Jim sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. He looked as exhausted as Blair felt. "I can't think past this other stuff. Let's get this thing with Bartley sorted first, all right. Right now, I'm not sure of anything. Hell, I might not even have a job by the end of the week."
Blair's eyes widened in surprise. "You're kidding!" he hissed, pressing himself against the wall as two uniformed officers hurried past. "You think they would fire you because of your senses?"
"If it we can't keep it under wraps, I'm not sure I want to continue," Jim said. "I'm thinking it would be more trouble than it's worth." He turned away and stared up at the landing above. "Maybe it's time you finished up."
Blair took a deep breath, willing his voice not to break. "I can do that," he said as firmly as he could. "I just don't want to lose you."
Jim glanced back at him, a flash of sorrow flickering in his eyes. "Maybe it would be for the best."
Blair stood rooted to the spot and watched Jim go. A lump of dread sat in his stomach like lead. He turned to head back down the stairs, then stopped. Squaring his shoulders, barely holding himself together, he resolutely ran the rest of the way up until he reached Jim's side. Jim looked at him but didn't speak.
"Let's at least finish this," Blair said.
"That the bullet?" Jim asked an officer leaving Bartley's office.
"Yeah." The man held a small evidence bag out. "You want to take it in?"
"Yeah, thanks." Jim held the bag up, examining the projectile closely. He walked into the office and looked over at the window. Bartley was being carried out in a body bag as they entered, muttering muffled imprecations at the indignity of it all.
"The bullet went through the dummy, this wall and lodged into a filing cabinet across the room," Jim reported. He held up the small plastic bag. "It's got a teflon coating. Not even a vest would stop it."
Simon nodded. "Better get that to ballistics A.S.A.P."
Jim turned on his heel and left, leaving Blair floundering, wondering whether to go or stay. Deciding there was nothing to be gained with rehashing everything, he said his goodbyes and walked out to his car. He drove aimlessly for some time, Jim's words replaying over and over in his head. Not wanting to go home to a loft that resounded in silence, he thought for a moment about taking up Naomi's offer of a bed at her hotel, but decided he couldn't bear to listen to her abject apologies any more. Sorry or not, there was no going back, no changing what had been done. He had a small folding bed in his office, useful for when he pulled all-nighters grading or studying and didn't want to disturb Jim. This was certainly one of those times. Steering his car in the direction of the university, trying not to remember the last time he'd spent the night in his office and Alex had... He shook his head firmly. Nope, not going there.
His cell phone rang just as he was finally drifting off to sleep. He debated for a moment turning it off, then recognizing Simon's number, activated the call. "Hello."
"Sandburg, it's Banks."
"Oh, hey, Simon." Blair sat up on the side of the cot and attempted to stretch the kinks from his spine. "What can I do for you?" he asked around a yawn.
"I was talking to Jim. He said you didn't go home with him."
"Ah, no. I had a lot to do here. Did you want something?"
"How are things going with you and Jim?" Simon asked.
Blair sighed. "How do you think, Captain?"
"Hey, you started the ball rolling here, Sandburg! If your mother hadn't sent your dissertation…" the captain barked.
Blair winced and held the phone away from his ear for a moment. "You think I don't know that?" he said finally.
"Look," Simon sounded resigned and weary, "the only reason I'm calling is to ask if you can go down tomorrow morning and give Jim and Connor a hand with the Gunderson files."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"There's press crawling all over every cop in the precinct at the moment," Simon said tightly. "Everyone wants an inside scoop. Now, I need as many hands and eyes as I can get going over those files, and I need you with Jim. With all of this, I'm not so sure he's concentrating too well. You seem to be able to help him with that."
Blair laid back on the bed and rested his forearm over his eyes. "Used to."
"Will you be there or not?"
"Yeah, Simon. I'll be there."
"Good. Get some rest."
Blair thumbed the phone off and rolled over, staring wide-eyed at the shadows across the room. "Yeah, right."
Blair lingered over his morning preparations a couple of hours later. He felt foggy from too little sleep, and he ached from the night spent tossing and turning on the inadequate camp bed. His nerves were frayed, his patience with the whole situation thinning, and he was feeling more than a little apprehension at seeing Jim again. They'd had arguments before, but they had mostly been inconsequential, words of exasperation over the mess Blair left in the bathroom or his defiance at staying behind Jim at a bust, tempers flaring as they were wont to do when your job kept you on a knife-edge of tension. But this was more, the gulf between them now seemed too wide to cross, the wall Jim was erecting around himself impenetrable.
Then again, there was nothing more to say, Blair decided with a sigh as he gathered his backpack and headed downtown. It was time to just concentrate on the case, then they could decide if there was anything of the relationship left to salvage.
He stood outside of Gunderson Shipping with his arms wrapped around his body in an attempt to ward off the chill, though his arms were little use in staving off the icy glares being sent his way by Jim. Megan stood between the two men, in what appeared to be a deliberate ploy to deflect some of the sentinel's ire.
"These Gunderson files are going to take days to go through." Megan looked from Blair to Jim and sighed. "Although things might move more quickly if you two would speak to each other."
Jim's gaze had shifted to the opposite side of the road, though he didn't seem to be focusing on anything in particular. "There's nothing to say, Conner," he said tightly.
Megan shot Blair a glance before protesting. "Sandy didn't do this on purpose."
Jim glared at her. "Oh, no?" He looked at Blair then and took a step toward him. "Hey, Chief, let me ask you something. How did you intend to protect my identity and still keep your research valid?"
Blair took an involuntary step back before his aggravation flared. Squaring his shoulders, waiting for the explosion he knew was coming he shook his head and answered honestly. "I don't know."
Jim gave a triumphant hoot at that, his face becoming a leering, sarcastic mask. "Ah! You don't know. That's a good answer, Chief. You couldn't have. You knew that, and went ahead and wrote it down anyway."
Blair gave a groan of frustration. Shit! He didn't want to go through all this again. He tried for a reasonable tone, disappointed when his voice came out sounding pleading. "If I was going to help you understand your abilities, I had to track your development in a scientific manner and you know that, man."
Jim looked away again and Blair's guide radar went up. He recognized the familiar tilt of Jim's head as he extended his hearing, saw the tightly focused expression in Jim's eyes as he dialed up his sight. "What is it?"
Jim ignored him. "Conner, we got a 211 in progress."
Blair watched the two of them race across the street, Jim's blatant dereliction of him feeling like a punch in the gut. His heart pounded and he took a step forward off the curb when he heard Conner shout that the man had a gun. He sagged in relief when the bank robber pulled a pen from his pocket. He didn't need to hear the words. The grim set of Jim's jaw, the irritated glance in his direction told him that the sentinel thing had once again raised its ugly head.
Blair dropped his head to his chest and turned back to where the boxes of files were being loaded into a van for transport to the PD. He tried to push Jim's hurtful words out of his mind and concentrate on the task Simon had given him. The way things were heading, it looked as though it might be his last job for Major Crime.
They'd spent four silent hours, poring over the Gunderson reports and had still come up empty-handed. Megan had finally conceded defeat and left, giving Blair a small sympathetic smile before walking out of the bullpen. Blair watched Jim surreptitiously as the detective stood and stretched, then reached for his jacket.
"I think we're done for today, Sandburg. Might as well head for home."
"I could stay at my office, if you want," Blair offered in a voice he barely recognized as his own.
Jim shot him a sharp look. "Is that where you stayed last night?" At Blair's nod, he shook his head. "No wonder you looked like something the cat dragged in this morning." He gestured to the door. "Come on, let's get out of here."
Relief warred with defiance, but eventually Blair nodded and pulled his jacket from the back of the chair. They drove to the loft separately and made their way upstairs in silence. Both were startled when they found the door unlocked. In an unconscious gesture that formed a lump in Blair's throat, Jim pushed his partner behind him and dialed up his senses. He had his weapon partway out of its holster before he relaxed and gave Blair an exasperated look. "It's Naomi."
Naomi handed a mug of tea to Jim, her fingers lingering momentarily over his own, and her deep blue eyes piercing his. "Didn't surprise me to learn, Jim, that you had this... gift. I always sensed a special energy about you." She smiled sadly.
"Very kind, Naomi. Thank you," Jim replied tersely.
Blair shivered, the atmosphere in the apartment was as cold as ice.
Naomi nodded and walked away to stand in front of the fire. "I'm just terribly sorry at how all this has turned out, especially when I see what's happened to you two."
"Naomi, I know you were just trying to help Blair," Jim began. The unspoken accusation hung heavily in the air despite Jim's words.
Naomi shook her head, her jaw squaring. "You two, listen to me. You cannot let this tear apart your friendship."
Jim handed her the mug. "Things happen, Naomi, you know?" He looked at Blair. "People change. You've just got to go with it."
Blair looked away, blinking back tears. Not me, Jim, he thought. I haven't changed. I still love you.
"This whole sentinel thing has just gotten too out of hand," Jim continued, pacing the living room. "I can't take this attention. That's not me. I just want to go back to the way things were."
So do I, Blair wanted to say. Instead, he said, "You can't just turn it off."
Jim stared at him. "Sure, I can," he replied confidently. "There's got to be some way for me to let them go dormant. Some meditation you can give me or I can find somewhere to tune out and turn all this off. I'm just done with it."
"That's not who you are," Blair pleaded.
Jim strode over to Blair then. "Well, you tell me who I am then 'cause I have no idea. At one point, I had a reputation of being a pretty decent cop. Now, people look at me and they... they perceive me as some goofball comic book character." He shook his head and walked to the door. "People are calling my father and my brother, asking them what it's like to live with the freak. Now, how would you like that, huh?" He pinned Blair with a frustrated look. "If I ever want to go back to being a good cop and live a simple life, it ain't going to happen this way. Your research is done, Chief. Why don't you just let it go? Thanks for the tea." Snatching his jacket from the hook, Jim wrenched open the door and left before Blair could think of a suitable reply.
"Go after him," Naomi said. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
"It won't help," Blair replied, dejection hunching his shoulders, weighing him down.
Blair rounded on her, his despair firing his words with a hard edge. "Just leave it, will you, mom? Enough already!" He stalked to the balcony door and threw it open. The chilly air was like a frigid blast, stinging his cheeks, and abruptly extinguishing his temper. He turned back to his mother. "Naomi, I'm sorry."
She waved away his apology and fled into the kitchen, her shoulders shaking as she sobbed silently.
With his back to the street, arms straddling the wall behind him, Blair watched his mother pottering about the kitchen. It was a trait Blair had inherited from her. When either were worried or upset, they pottered... cooked, cleaned. There were some things meditation couldn't fix, and this mess went way beyond it. It would be like taking an aspirin for a bullet wound.
Everything happened so fast that Blair was still having trouble catching his breath. As much as he wanted to stay away, there were still more files to go through. Blair kissed Naomi, dried her tears and apologized again before heading to the station. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders a second before stepping into the bullpen. A sharp cracking sound and a fiery sting on the back of his neck made him jump and he looked up in surprise when Megan cried out and collapsed to the floor, blood blossoming on her top and spreading rapidly.
Reacting automatically, Blair hurried across the room and dropped to her side. She was still conscious, her breath labored and gasping. Blair pressed a hand to the wound in her chest, and grasped her searching hand tightly.
Chaos erupted. Over Megan's moans of pain, Blair heard Jim's voice, panicked and loud, coming from Simon's office. "Captain! Medic! Medic! Just keep breathing. Come on. Relax."
Joel ran past Blair, heading for the captain's office. "Oh, my god," he breathed.
Blair looked over his shoulder as a shocked Rafe ran in. "Get a doctor, quick!"
Megan's eyes were wide with fear and pain, her face white and strained. "Sandy..."
Blair pressed her hand more tightly, his heart pounding painfully in his chest. Oh God, Simon too? He didn't resist as he was pushed aside by the medics, feeling numb and shocked by the suddenness and brutality of the events. Jim hurried past him, keeping pace with the stretcher that carried an unconscious Simon.
Once Megan was ready for transfer to the ambulance, Blair stood and ran along beside them. The paramedic gave him a questioning look as he climbed into the back, then nodded. "Stay out of the way, all right?"
Blair sank onto the small bench and tried to stop his insides from trembling. He swallowed the bitter bile that touched his throat as he looked down at his hands and saw the blood staining them. Looking over at Megan, her face pale beneath the oxygen mask, he silently exhorted her to keep breathing.
They waited for hours before getting word on their friends. Jim and Blair stood together silently at the doorway to Simon's room, watching the nurse check the myriad of tubes and wires that were attached to the captain's unconscious body.
"Hey, guys. How are they?"
They both looked up at Joel's question.
"Doctor says they're both in serious condition," Jim said quietly.
"Yeah, they've got to go into surgery soon," Blair added.
Joel nodded, his normally jovial face solemn. "I thought you should know that the bullet is a titanium alloy with a teflon coating, like the one that hit the dummy."
"I figured," Jim answered dispassionately.
"Listen, I'm going to give blood and I've got the next shift with Bartley," Joel continued, screwing up his face at the mention of the teamster's name. He shook his head sadly, his gaze shifting back to Simon. "Never should have happened like this."
Blair watched him leave. "No one was expecting this."
"I should have been," Jim said angrily. "I'm so off my game, Chief, with all this media crap. That bullet was meant for me."
The use of the endearing nickname warmed Blair's heart. Blair grasped at the chance of conciliation like a dying man. "Don't... don't block out your senses. This is when you need them most and I can help you."
Jim gestured at Simon with a stabbing finger. "Take a look at that man. That happened because of me." He shook his head. "I don't think it's a good idea to be around me right now. The only chance I got of getting Zeller is if I'm on my own." Not giving Blair a chance to reply, he turned on his heel and strode off.
There was no sense in remaining at hospital. Blair headed back to the loft. Sitting on the balcony, he turned the pages of his thesis, not really focusing on the words within. The dissertation had brought him to Jim, had kept him by Jim's side, and Blair supposed in a sense, had been the catalyst for their love. It had also been the weapon that had destroyed their relationship. Jim had been right. It was over, but there was one final thing Blair knew he had to do before he left. His own career might be over, but there was one way to liberate Jim from the havoc this one mistake had caused.
He heard Naomi open the door and step outside. She hovered for a moment uncertainly, then came over to join him.
"Will you ever forgive me for making such a mess of things?" she asked hesitantly.
Blair smiled up at her. "That's okay, Mom. We're all going to be fine."
His answer didn't seem to console her. "Do you still love me even with all this?"
Blair's heart broke at the words. Putting down his thesis, he stood and wrapped his arms around her tightly. "Oh, mom. Come on. Don't be silly."
Naomi swiped at the tears on her cheek. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Of course I do. Always," Blair assured her. "I mean, we were all doing what we thought was right. Right? Nothing happens in this universe randomly. It's all for a reason." He gestured at his thesis. "That's part of what I was writing about. I always wondered if my work would ever amount to anything. If it's taught me one thing, it's taught me that Jim is right." He smiled, though it wavered a little. "I got it all. I got it all right here. The brass ring. And now I know what to do. So, why don't you go call Sid?"
Naomi took a shaky breath gave him an answering, watery smile. "Yeah."
Blair watched her leave, then sat down. Pulling his notepad and pen from his folder, he began to write.
‘I close my eyes
Only for a moment
And the moment’s gone
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind’
Blair strode over to the radio and switched it off. He'd hoped for some gentle music to soothe his nerves before walking out to face the cameras, but the words to that particular song were just too prophetic.
He closed his eyes and tried to steel himself against the memories battering his mind. He knew it would take no urging for him to turn around and walk out of the room before the press conference began.
He still remembered that awful day in the precinct when Jim had told him that he’d lost faith in him after learning about Alex.
"I don’t know if I can get past this. To me, it was a real breach of trust," he’d said.
Now, Blair had betrayed him again. It might have begun as a simple unthinking mistake, but when everything was said and done, he should have seen it coming, should have planned for such an event.
When Jim had learned of Alex’s presence in Cascade, Blair had reasoned that he had kept her existence to himself, until he could have the two Sentinels could meet in a controlled environment.
In a sense, it was true, there were no precedents here, he’d never imagined discovering one Sentinel, let alone two. Examining his conscience though, he knew he had been overwhelmed at that very notion and had clutched the secret to him jealously, like a child with a new toy. That had been before they'd fallen in love, though even then he'd owed Jim at least that much honesty. "Idiot," he berated himself, kicking at the leg of his desk.
Blair knew that this final act, exposing his partner’s Sentinel abilities to the world, whether of his own making or not, was the final nail in the coffin of his relationship with Jim.
He took a deep breath and swallowed convulsively past the lump in his throat. He may have lost track of his friend and lover before, but now he knew there were no choices to be made. It was simply something that had to be done. Regaining Jim's trust and love no longer entered into it. He realized with a startling clarity that the words he had said to Jim so long ago meant more than even he knew then. "It’s about friendship. I just didn’t get it before."
He laughed a little hysterically as the final piece of the jigsaw slotted into place. This was where it had always been destined to end. Finally, he'd opened his eyes and taken a good look at the whole picture. If this was all he had to take with him, then it was enough. There was no sacrifice here, just a gift of love.
There was a soft rap at the door. "They’re ready for you, Mr. Sandburg."
Blair nodded and after taking a final, long look around at where the journey had begun, he strode from the room.
Shifting uneasily from foot to foot, Blair squinted past the camera flashlights and found his mother. She smiled at him encouragingly and he nodded and stepped up to the podium. "Hi. Thank you all for coming. I just have a short speech prepared here. Um... In our media-informed culture, a scientist receives validation by having his or her work published and after years of research there is great personal satisfaction when that goal is reached. However, my desire to impress both my peers and the world at large drove me to an immoral and unethical act." Blair paused to take a breath, then rushed on before his courage deserted him. "My thesis "The Sentinel" is a fraud. While my paper does quote ancient source material, the documentation proving that James Ellison..." A memory flashed unexpectedly into his mind, taking him unawares…waking in Jim's bed, his lover's strong arms wrapped around him, their linked fingers resting over Blair's heart. A discreet cough from the rapt audience pulled Blair back, and he blinked, looked down at his notes and went on "… actually possesses hyper-senses is fraudulent. Looking back, I can say that it's a good piece of fiction. I apologize for this deception." He looked again at Naomi who gave him a tremulous smile of approval. "My only hope is that I can be forgiven for the pain I've caused those that are close to me. Thank you."
Gathering his notes, Blair fled from the room, Chancellor Edwards' angry voice following him, though he had no idea what she said. He felt like the hounds of Hell were after him. Making his escape down a flight of back stairs, he could hear the clamor of voices from the reporters. Picking up his pace, he ran to his car, climbed in and locked the door. He burned rubber out of the parking lot and drove to the hospital, hoping at least the news there would be good. Once he'd parked, he gave into his sorrow. Resting his head on the steering wheel, his fingers clenched white-knuckled around it, Blair grieved.
Simon, unconscious, and still looking gray with pain and shock, was being wheeled back to his room when Blair arrived at the ICU. He made to follow the gurney but stopped when his name was called. Turning, he hurried back to meet the surgeon.
The gray-haired portly man held out his hand. "I'm Doctor Masters. Captain Banks will make a full recovery," he said, "though it may take some weeks before he can return to duty."
Blair smiled weakly. "That's great news, Doctor. What about Inspector Connor?"
"She was treated by a separate surgical team, but I believe she'll be fine. She was lucky, the bullet passed through her shoulder but missed any vital organs. If you wait until the nurses have them settled, you can see them for a short time."
Blair nodded. "Thank you." He watched the doctor walk away and was about to make his way to Simon's room when he saw Jim arrive. Swallowing his nervousness, Blair crossed over to him. "Hey. The doc said the surgery went well and the bullet missed major organs on both of them, but… he said they can leave in about a week or two."
Jim closed his eyes briefly. "Thank God."
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Blair tried desperately to think of something to say. "So, I heard you guys probably got Zeller."
Jim shrugged, his gaze roaming the hallway, never resting on Blair. "I don't know. Somebody probably got him. We've still got Bartley to contend with. I don't know which one's worse." He finally looked at Blair, his expression serious and sad. "I saw your press conference."
Now it was Blair who couldn't return Jim's gaze. He dropped his eyes and studied the floor. "Oh, yeah, you saw it?" He shrugged. "It's just a book."
"It was your life."
Blair forced his words out past the lump in his throat. "Yeah, it was. You know, you were right. I mean, I don't know what I was expecting to do with it, and... I mean, where did I get off following you around for three years pretending I was a cop, right?"
Jim shifted a little closer, his eyes crinkling as he smiled. "This self-deprecation doesn't suit you, you know?" he said teasingly. "You might have been just an observer, but you were the best cop I've ever met and the best partner I could have ever asked for. You've been a great friend and you've pulled me through some pretty weird stuff."
"Thanks." Overwhelmed and still saddened by all that had befallen them, and not entirely sure if Jim's words meant there was any hope of their relationship continuing, the one word was all Blair could manage.
Jim nudged his arm, disrupting his thoughts. "Are you ready to get busy?"
Blair took a deep breath, then nodded. He took his place at Jim's side and together they headed for the precinct.
Joel shook his head in exasperation at the sight of Bartley seated in Simon's chair, barking orders into the phone. "You want to tell me when I can get the captain's office back?"
Jim shrugged nonchalantly. "He said he just wanted to use the phone." A small smile played on his lips. "I'd say, just about the time his rally starts."
Blair grinned back. It felt good to have something to laugh about, if just for a moment. He gestured at the scowling Bartley with his thumb. "Now, is it just the acoustics in that room or does everybody behind that desk automatically get loud?"
Jim slapped Joel sympathetically on the back before crossing the room to answer his desk phone. "Ellison. ... You sure about that? ... All right, thanks." Hanging up the receiver, Jim turned to Blair. "That was the coroner's office. They got a positive I.D. on the body at the hobby shop. His name was Roger Haber. He was the owner."
So Zeller was still out there somewhere. Blair shivered involuntarily. "I tell you what -- I volunteer not to be the one to tell Bartley his rally's off."
Jim tapped his chest and screwed up his face. "That'll be me."
Blair chuckled and made a grand sweeping gesture. "Go get 'em." He watched Jim enter Simon's office and talk to Bartley, then the unmistakable sound of machine gun fire ripped through the silence. Blair dived behind Jim's desk, risking a quick look out in time to see Jim tackle Bartley and throw him to the ground. Fear for his own safety warred with his desire to get to Jim, to keep him safe, but before he could act, Zeller started shooting again. Blair ducked as chips of wood spat at him, the sound of glass shattering and the frightened, horrified sounds of people shouting and crying out deafening.
Joel was shouting out commands. "Everybody get out. Come on, come on, lay down!"
Blair heard Jim's voice from Simon's office and breathed a sigh of relief that his partner was uninjured. "All right, take cover back there! Stay low! Come on! Stay low!"
Joel stood, looking unsteady, his gaze casting frantically about the devastated room. "Jim? Jim? Anybody seen... Blair, you seen Jim?" He appeared to be in shock as he took in the sight of a bloodied Rafe being attended to by Henri. "Anybody seen him? Where is he? Anybody hurt? Jim? Jim? Jim?"
Movement in the doorway to the bullpen caught Blair's eye and he saw Zeller enter. There was no time to think. Blair moved before his brain caught up with his actions. A shot rang out as he dove headlong and shoved Joel to the ground with a full body tackle.
Then there was silence, save for the moaning of the injured. Blair lay flat, his body still covering Joel's, struggling to get air back into his winded lungs. He rolled off as Joel shifted and sat up.
"Blair! Are you all right?" Joel asked, running his hands over Blair's body, in an action that was reminiscent of Jim's Blessed Protector style.
"I'm fine," Blair said, standing and offering Joel his hand. "Just winded." He looked around. "Where's Jim?"
"Gone after Zeller. Rooftop," Brown ground out.
Blair took off, ignoring Joel's shout. He wasn't going to lose Jim this way. He ran up the stairs, flinching at the sound of gunfire from above. Opening the door to the roof, he kept low and looked out. Jim was crouched behind a grill, a dark patch of blood staining his pants. With his heart in his mouth, Blair hurried over to him. "Jim. Jim, you all right?" He gently touched Jim's leg, wincing at the bullet wound he could see beneath the torn cloth.
Jim grimaced in pain, but nodded. "Yeah... I'm all right. Zeller went over the edge."
Blair sagged onto his butt in relief. "Yeah, no kidding."
"No, I mean he went over..." He grasped Blair's hand, squeezing it lightly before gesturing to the roof edge. "Hey, give me a hand."
Blair stood and wrapped an arm around Jim's shoulders, steadying him when he wavered a little. Together they limped to the edge. A rope dangled over the side. Nervously Blair risked a look over the edge. Zeller hung in space, both hands gripping the rope. His face was a red mask of fury. Blair grabbed the rope below Jim's hands. "What are we going to do?" he asked. "Pull him up or knock him off?"
In a blur of motion, Blair saw Zeller let go of the rope with one hand and pull his weapon, aiming it straight up. "Look out!" Blair fell back, dragging Jim with him. Red-hot agony blossomed in his chest, stealing his breath. He gasped and curled up, his hands going to the wound that was already pumping out blood at an alarming rate.
"Blair? Oh God, no."
Jim's voice sounded muted and far away. Blair felt himself being shifted onto his back, Jim's large hands pressing against his chest. He gasped as the pressure increased the fiery agony, raising his own hands to pull at Jim's.
"No, Chief. Leave it. I have to stop the bleeding."
"Hurts," Blair managed to get out.
"I know." Tears ran freely down Jim's cheeks, mixing with spatters of blood. "Just keep breathing, okay, Blair? Keep breathing."
Blair thought he managed a nod, but he felt himself growing weaker, darkness encroaching at the edge of his vision. Cold was seeping into his bones, stealing his strength. He lifted a bloody hand and weakly grasped Jim's. "Sorry," he whispered. "About everything."
Jim shook his head. "Nothing to be sorry for, Chief. You did nothing wrong."
Blair smiled, feeling his consciousness fading. He licked dry lips and coughed weakly, hearing the air wheezing from his lungs. He coughed again, choked and tasted blood in his mouth, felt it dribbling down his chin. "Love you, more than life."
"I love you too," Jim croaked. "Always. You stay with me now, all right?"
Blair nodded, though he knew he was unable to do what Jim wanted. His eyelids drooped and the darkness took him.
Blair floated in a white nothingness. There was no sense of place or time, no pain. He had no urge to return to where he had been; to face again the agony of hurt, both physical and emotional that had besieged him for so long.
Jim's voice though, plagued him. At first beseeching him to stay, to be strong, to fight. Eventually the urgency of those pleas softened to words of love, of understanding, telling him it was all right to go.
Blair could resist the beloved voice no longer. His place was at Jim's side, through pain and suffering, love and loss. As Sentinel and Guide, partners, friends and lovers. Slowly, he began the journey back.
The moment he opened his eyes, he was assailed with pain so great that he wished desperately for the oblivion that had sheltered him. A rough moan escaped his lips and immediately a shape loomed over him, a gentle hand stroking his brow.
He tried to smile when he recognized the familiar voice, tinged with concern, but his lips twisted with a grimace and he couldn't hold back another groan at the fiery agony that sheared through his chest.
"Shh, it's all right," Jim soothed. "Lie still, the doctor's on his way."
Blair reached up with a shaking, questing hand and found Jim's, enclosing the big hand in his own. He brought both to rest on his chest and blinked a couple of times to dispel the fuzziness from his vision.
Jim looked awful. His face was pale, dark rings circled his eyes, and his jaw clenched tightly as it always did when he was distressed or angry. Then he smiled and the shadows lifted from his face. "You had me scared to death," he whispered.
"What happened?" Blair asked. His mouth was as dry as a desert, his tongue felt swollen and caked with an unpleasant chalky texture. "Water?" he asked hopefully.
Jim shook his head and squeezed his hand gently. "Not yet. Let's see what the doctor says."
Blair nodded, disappointed. He looked around but the room was dim. Lights flashed and a soft rhythmic beeping sounded from the machines beside his bed. Several IV's hung on a stand above him, their tubes leading to a needle in his wrist. He tried to move carefully, but as soon as he tensed his muscles, the pain was back, stealing his breath. Something tugged in his chest and he could feel thick bandages beneath his hand.
"Lie still," Jim commanded. "You've got a chest tube in."
"Feels strange," Blair answered. He wiggled again, splinting his chest with his hand, relieved to find the pain dissipating somewhat to an uncomfortable but bearable ache.
"You got in the way of a bullet from Zeller," Jim replied, answering Blair's first question. "Luckily, it wasn't one of his specials. All the same, it did some damage." He closed his eyes and when he spoke again, his voice was rough. "Tore a hole in your lung. It was touch and go. We didn't know…" He opened his eyes and swiped at the tears dampening his cheeks. "But you fought, came back to me."
"Never leave you," Blair said softly. "You okay? You got hit," he remembered.
"Just a nick. Doctor says I'll be back at work in a week."
"Simon. Megan? Everyone else?"
"Simon's gonna be laid up for a week or two yet. Megan's going home tomorrow. Everyone else is fine." Jim leaned forward, removing his hand from Blair's grasp and placing it once more on Blair's brow, stroking gently. "Rest."
Blair felt weariness begin to overwhelm him once more, his eyes closing though he fought to keep them open. The last sensation he felt before he succumbed to healing sleep was the gentle touch of Jim's lips against his own.
"Jim, stop hovering," Blair whined as his bag was snatched from his hand on the way into the apartment building elevator. "I'm fine."
"You're exhausted," Jim countered, "and in pain, I can tell."
Blair's eyes crinkled a little in amusement. "Oh yeah? How can you tell?" He attempted to school his face into as neutral expression as possible.
"Your face scrunches up, like this." Jim did a fair imitation of the very face Blair had pulled getting out of the truck and Blair chuckled.
"Jerk," Blair said.
Jim pulled him to his side, almost overbalancing on his walking stick, and gave him a gentle hug. "Your jerk," he reminded Blair.
Blair gave a loud snort that had him bent over, clutching at his barely healed wound, and bitching about damn doctors who used garden hoses for chest tubes. Jim leaned with him, rubbing his back solicitously and when the elevator doors opened, led him to the apartment door with one arm still wrapped about his waist. They both stood for a moment in the doorway, appreciating their homecoming, grateful that the nightmare of both the dissertation and Zeller was behind them, though not without cost.
"Why don't you go upstairs and get some rest," Jim said finally.
"I said I'm not tired," Blair countered mulishly. "At least not too tired for this." He reached up carefully and placed two kisses on Jim's eyelids, "or this." A chaste one on Jim's lips. "Come to bed with me?"
Jim pondered the invitation for a moment before returning Blair's kisses with a more passionate one of his own. "I don't know…" he began, his voice rough with need.
Blair ran a hand lovingly over Jim's chest, feeling his lover shiver beneath his touch. "It's been so long, Jim," he whispered. "No marathons, just some gentle loving. I need this."
"You didn't give Simon an answer, about the detective offer," Jim said quietly.
"I don't want to talk about that right now," Blair replied. He squeezed Jim's waist. "Not now. I just want to appreciate being home again, being with you again. We can talk tomorrow."
Jim didn't answer but grabbed Blair's hand and led him upstairs. Blair sat on the bed and stripped quickly, Jim's smoldering gaze arousing him further. He lay down against the pillows, running his hands over his chest as he watched Jim strip. Carefully, wincing a little at the pain of his own bullet wound, Jim lay beside him and touched one finger to the puckered scar on Blair's chest.
Blair covered Jim's hand with his own. "It's all right," he said. "It's over. I'm fine, you're fine."
Jim flopped over onto his back and covered his eyes with his forearm. "It almost wasn't," he replied. "After everything, I thought I'd lost you, before I had a chance to tell you I still loved you. Before I could make it up to you."
Blair leaned up and cupped Jim's face in his hands. "So show me now." He took Jim's mouth firmly, his lips opening and his tongue surging forward to taste his lover.
Jim groaned, his hands fisting in Blair's curls then ever so gently rolling them both until he loomed over Blair. "I love you, Blair."
Blair smiled and closed his eyes, his arms going out wide, his entire body relaxing. "Show me." He sighed as soft butterfly kisses were peppered over his face and neck, progressing to moist licks over his chest and nipples. Jim's tongue dipped into his navel, swirling around and causing him to shudder a little at the sensation. A warm, large hand cupped his balls and he arched up off the bed with a moan of desire. One of Jim's hands found its way to his hip, anchoring him against the mattress, the other nudged his thighs apart, and he opened his eyes in time to see Jim settle his body between Blair's outflung legs. Jim looked up at him, his eyes dark with passion and then he lowered his head and swallowed Blair's straining cock.
"Oh God, Jim," Blair groaned. Jim's mouth was hot and wet, the touch of his tongue barely there as he laved Blair's penis. Blair tried to buck up, needing more stimulation, and Jim's hands were now reaching under Blair's ass, lifting him slightly, one finger stroking gently along his perineum to ghost over his hole.
Blair settled for lunging up into Jim's mouth, then down onto the finger that just penetrated him, slowly stroking a circle of maddening sensation just inside the entrance. "Not enough," Blair groaned. "Jim, please."
Jim stretched up over him and Blair moaned at the loss of the finger inside him. Jim kissed him deeply, a small smile curving his lips as he shifted back again. "Okay, Chief, no more teasing." He rested back on his heels, pumping himself slowly for a few minutes, his eyes closing in pleasure.
Jim opened his eyes, and pulled Blair toward him, lifting his buttocks until they rested on Jim's thighs. He reached for Blair's cock, gripping both erections in one big hand, the precum from each smoothing the way as he stroked. Leaning forward, he slid a finger back into Blair's ass, pushing deep, twisting the digit as Blair bore down upon it. A single touch to Blair's sweet spot and Blair was coming, a cry torn from his throat as he rocked on Jim's finger, thick, salty cream spurting from him to mix with Jim's own, spattering both of them.
Jim gentled Blair through the aftermath of his orgasm, his finger still stroking gently, soothingly in Blair's channel. When Blair finally collapsed back onto the bed, panting, Jim pulled his finger from within and dropped onto the bed beside Blair, his own chest still heaving. He pulled Blair into his arms, settling the curly head onto his chest, one hand massaging Blair's skull, the other stroking lightly down Blair's back. "Now, will you go to sleep?" he asked teasingly.
"Sleeping, sir," Blair whispered and chuckled at the swat to the head the comment earned.
Daylight was just beginning to lighten the loft through the skylight when Blair woke. He was surprised that he'd woken before Jim; the day before had been exhausting in the extreme despite his protests to the contrary to Jim.
After being discharged from the hospital, Blair had insisted on returning to the PD for one final look around the place he'd come to consider as welcome to him as the loft. It had been then that Simon, fresh out of hospital himself had offered Blair the opportunity of partnering Jim officially, as a detective.
Blair still didn't know what to do. He knew well enough that he wanted to stay at Jim's side, but as a cop? Regardless of Jim's compliments at the hospital, the thought of actually wearing a badge, carrying a gun still gave Blair pause for thought, and a queasy feeling in his stomach. Jim had been reasonable enough not to enter into a discussion about his decision on the way home the night before; Blair knew he wouldn't be as easily put off today. The worrisome thoughts had kept his sleep uneasy and dream-filled, even after his post-coital satisfaction.
He turned to his side and studied Jim's sleeping face, resisting the urge to stroke a finger down the chiseled jaw. Sometime during the night, Jim had retrieved his white-noise earplugs and sleep mask and still slumbered deeply. Moving carefully, Blair climbed out of bed and descended the stairs. Setting the coffee maker going, he wandered to his old room and paused for a moment at the door, remembering all the changes that had come to pass since he'd first met Jim in the hospital four years ago. So many memories, good and bad, but he knew he did not regret a second of it. He walked into the room and picked up the folder containing his dissertation. Lowering himself onto the futon, he slowly turned the pages and began to read.
"Think there's another chapter in all of this, Chief?"
Jim's voice startled him, and Blair raised his head, hot words firing his tongue. They died quickly when he saw the fond, almost sad smile on Jim's face. Placing the folder on the bed beside him, he clasped his hands in his lap and shook his head. "Nah, man. Just thinking about what could have been, if I hadn't been so stupid."
The bed dipped as Jim sat down beside him. "Not stupid, just naïve. I guess we've both been that. I don't know how long I thought we could keep this sentinel thing a secret. We've had some close calls in the past where it's almost come out."
Blair nodded, remembering Danny Choi.
"Have you thought about Simon's offer?" Jim asked.
Blair's shoulders slumped as though the weight of the world was upon them. "No… yes… I don't know, Jim." He stood and paced to the door and back, then faced Jim. "I know I always said I got a buzz out of all the cop stuff, the adrenaline rush and all that. I know I can hold a gun, but when the chips are down, what if I couldn't shoot to kill?"
Jim stood and placed his hands on Blair's shoulders. "I told you I thought you were the best cop I've met," he said, "and I've seen you handle a gun when the chips were down."
Blair shook his head emphatically. "What if your life depended on me shooting to kill and I couldn't? I couldn't live knowing you died because I hesitated."
Jim leaned in and kissed Blair's mouth. "I also told you you're the best partner I've ever had, and I meant that, whether it's on the job or as my life partner. Maybe there's another way around this. Like as a consultant… or something. Profiler. You'd be damned good at that."
"Jim, I'm a fraud. What university is going to accept me?" Blair asked, his despair beginning to fray his tightly held control.
Jim gathered him close, his head dropping to rest in the crook of Blair's neck. "You're not a fraud! I don't ever want to hear those words from you again."
"So what do I do?" Blair asked bleakly. "I can't get any job worth shit, except as a cop, and I've got to admit I don't like my chances there with what they think is my history. No job, I can't even pay rent."
"We'll work it out," Jim said solemnly. "I promise. I'll speak to Simon and the Chief." He snuffled a little laugh into Blair's neck. "Hold 'em to ransom if I have to. The Chief doesn't like the idea of having a superman on his force." He squeezed Blair's shoulders painfully. "Just don't leave, please."
"I won't," Blair assured him. "I won't."
They stood together for a long time, taking comfort and being comforted, then Blair lifted his head and swiped away the wetness on his cheeks. "You know," he began, in a shaky but conversational tone, "we've never made love in my bed."
Jim smiled at him and kissed his forehead. "I do believe you're right." He glanced over his shoulder at the futon. "Don't know how comfortable it'll be though."
"Let's find out."
Jim turned and swept the colorful cushions from the bed, then picked up Blair's dissertation and laid it reverently on top of them. Pulling back the comforter and bed sheets, he lay down and held out a hand.
August 20th 2003