A Reason to Stay
Thanks as always to Annie for the beta and support, and my little bolt-hole when I need to escape RL.
Blair stared down at the check in his hand in open-mouthed astonishment. The lawyer William Ellison had insisted on hiring for him, at no cost to Blair, had told him the amount of the settlement from the university and the publisher but it hadn't truly sunk in until now. He didn't think he'd ever seen that many zeroes after a dollar sign ever in his life. Sinking down onto the sofa, the dinner preparations forgotten, Blair took a slow deep breath, closed his eyes momentarily then looked again.
He fingered the hole in the knee of his tatty jeans. New clothes. New shoes! No more waiting until the soles almost fell off his feet before he could afford to replace them. He'd buy himself another pair of Nike Severes. He'd never told Jim just how long he'd had to scrimp and save before he had enough to buy the last pair - that had then been handed over to Sneaks.
He could replace his glasses. He'd long ago given up trying to replace the tiny screw that fell out whenever he took his spectacles off. Now the frames were held together with a small piece of clear tape.
No more juggling bills and loans, wheedling an extra week's rent out of Jim until payday. Hell, he could go buy his own place
Granted, he'd been living here at the loft for over four years now. The one week thing had never been mentioned when the deadline came and went, so Blair just stayed and if Jim minded, he never said anything.
Jim could be the most annoying, frustrating, anal, neat-freak roomie on God's green earth but it felt comfortable living here. More than that, it felt like home. Blair, more than anyone, understood that Jim's concerns about cleanliness, and noise late at night, about color-coded tupperware and dusting every week were more than just silly fixations. They were habits ingrained from a time when it had been a living hell for a person with uncontrolled heightened senses to live in a normal world.
Blair liked to think he'd had a big part in making things more tolerable for Jim, that his guidance had meant Jim could let some of those old routines slip. Some had, some had remained, though Blair often thought some of the 'house rules' were more designed to yank Blair's chain than be truly enforceable.
Blair had heard the 'how's the little wife, Ellison' remarks and the whispered rumors that he and Jim were more than just roommates and had let them all slide right over his head, because at the end of the day, he secretly wished it was true. He'd ogled Jim Ellison the first time he'd laid eyes on him in the exam room at Cascade General. Had surreptitiously checked him out when he came downstairs, wearing nothing but his boxers, had secretly hoped that the towel Jim wore, slung low on his hips when he came out of the shower would come loose, just once. Could admit to himself, if to no one else, that when they'd been on that rig and Jim had showered off the oil he'd been pushed into, that he had looked quickly. And he liked what he saw.
It wasn't just Jim's body that turned Blair on. He'd become aware of a more spiritual link between them as sentinel and guide ever since Incacha had passed the way of the shaman onto Blair. He'd dismissed his growing perception of the bond between them as just a romantic notion that was not even mentioned anywhere in Burton's writings, until he'd drowned in the fountain and Jim, with Incacha's guidance, and that of their animal spirits, had brought him back to life.
But it was still more than that. Blair wasn't sure if he could even articulate his feelings for Jim, except in the most basic of words. He loved Jim, heart and soul, body and spirit. He'd also told himself that it was okay that Jim didn't love him in the same way; that having Jim beside him every day was enough. But now, that would all end. No reason at all now for not moving out. Jim would be ecstatic at the thought of getting the loft to himself again.
"What's for dinner, Chief?" Jim asked, hanging his jacket up on the hook. "I'm starved."
Blair was so immersed in his disquieting thoughts that he hadn't even heard his partner come in.
"Problem, Sandburg?" Jim asked, strolling into the kitchen to pull a bottle of water from the fridge.
"What?" Blair looked up and blinked in surprise. He looked down at the check in his hand and contemplated stuffing it into his pocket. Maybe he could just give the money away and Jim would be never the wiser Wouldn't work. Jim knew about the settlement and he was bound to ask about it sooner or later. Sooner, probably.
Then he'd be free again. No more worrying about Blair's mess, about him typing late at night, about him bringing girls home - though he couldn't actually remember the last time he'd had a date.
Truth was He swallowed convulsively. He couldn't say it. Couldn't open his mouth and say, "Geez, Jim, hope you don't mind but I've decided to stay and keep on upsetting your perfectly ordered life. I'd go but I love you and I want to be with you - forever."
"You look like someone just ran over your dog," Jim said, sitting opposite Blair and taking a swig from his bottle.
"Don't have a dog," Blair said morosely.
"So, what's got you so down?"
"Nothing." Blair sucked the disappointment up and stood, stretching. "Whatcha want for dinner? Lasagna or chicken stir fry."
Jim shrugged and leaned back in the armchair. He looked tired, Blair thought. "Whatever, Chief."
"Stir fry, it is." Blair turned toward the kitchen then casually thrust the check out at Jim. "Oh, this came today."
Jim glanced idly at the piece of paper then his eyes widened and he took it from Blair's hand, giving a low whistle. "That's great, Sandburg!" he said. He smiled up at Blair. "And you deserve every cent and more."
Blair couldn't help smiling at the genuine pleasure in Jim's voice. The debacle over his dissertation had almost torn their friendship apart. Blair knew, even if he'd never received a cent, that he would do it again. Their friendship was worth much more than any amount of money. "Thanks." He paused a moment then said, "Actually, why don't I spring for dinner? We could go to Mariachi's."
"Let's wait till the check's been banked, all right?" Jim smiled up at Blair and handed him back the check. "Stir fry's fine for tonight."
Jim sat on the sofa and tried to concentrate on the news on TV, but his gaze kept wandering to the kitchen where Blair was cooking dinner in uncharacteristic silence. He hadn't said a word since he started slicing and dicing. Usually, Jim was issuing frustrated ultimatums at all the chatter that fell constantly from Blair's mouth when he cooked.
Jim knew he should be happy for Blair. Damn, he was happy for him. The utter grief and devastation he'd seen etched on Blair's face the day of his press conference had almost done him in. Later, it seemed Blair could barely drag himself around, the sorrow replaced by a kind of weary acceptance that tore at Jim's heart as he tried to find a way around the mess and prove to Blair that the trust that had been misplaced was Jim's.
The badge offer had gone a long way to shoring things back up and Blair had attacked the firearms course at the Academy with his usual enthusiasm, proving himself to be a handy shot - not surprising after all the training he'd had in the past four years. He'd graduated at the top of his class and returned to be Jim's official partner. Jim still caught him occasionally gazing longingly at his books and notes and he still sometimes surfed the net and perused journals for some mention of others with heightened senses. But he seemed to have accepted that it was in the past and the here and now was what they had to concentrate on. They made a good team, he and Blair, but then, that was one thing that hadn't changed.
Now, Blair would be able to regain the respect he deserved. Perhaps get back on track with his thesis, though this time of course, there would be no mention of sentinels or Jim's abilities.
So, why did Jim feel so damned unhappy? If anything, he was the one who felt like his dog had been run over.
Because Blair was going to leave and Jim didn't want him to go.
Say it, he admonished himself as he watched Blair pulling vegetables from the refrigerator. If you can't say it out loud to him, at least admit it in your own mind. I love you, Blair.
See? Wasn't so hard. Now go over there and say it to him. Make him believe you.
Jim placed his beer on the coffee table and stood. Come on, feet, walk!
Kitchen, good. "Sand - Blair?"
"Mmm?" Blair looked up from the writing pad he had been absorbed in scribbling on. He grinned at Jim. "What's up?"
"I You want a hand chopping those vegetables?"
"Nah. I got it, man." Blair waved him away with the hand holding the pen. His eyes looked over-bright and slightly red, as though maybe he'd been crying. Jim's gaze returned to the writing pad and automatically adjusted to take in the words written there.
Pots and pans Furniture New laptop!
Jim pushed down the disappointment that welled. Blair was excited, that was all. Excited and happy about moving out.
Why me? Blair bemoaned silently as the meaty arm around his neck tightened further and the muzzle of the gun held in the perp's other hand ground excruciatingly into his temple. Do I have some sign on my forehead, saying hostage for hire? I mean -
He gasped and tried not to choke, his fingers tightening convulsively around the wrist that threatened to crush his windpipe, as Jim took a step closer, his weapon held surely in both hands and the thief dragged Blair back against his body. Blair fought not to gag at the rank smell of sweat that wafted from the man holding him prisoner.
"He's a cop," Marty Ferrell crowed. "When I get to prison and they hear I killed me a cop, I'm gonna be famous!"
"He's my partner," Jim said firmly though Blair was sure he could hear a quaver in Jim's voice, "and if you kill him, you won't make it to prison."
Panicking now as he struggled to drag in air, black spots encroaching on his vision and a high-pitched ringing in his ears drowning out all but the frenzied hammering of his heart, a final surge of adrenaline had Blair squirming, his fists flailing uselessly. The gun barrel slammed against the side of his head and he slumped bonelessly in his captor's grip, his vision graying out. There was an explosion of sound close by but even that failed to rouse his reeling senses and he felt himself falling into oblivion.
"Blair? Come on, Chief. Wake up for me, huh?" Something tapped gently at his cheek and he batted it away irritably, knowing full well that opening his eyes would only mean a return of the agony.
His eyelids ignored him and fluttered upward, taking in a vista of white. A hand cupped his cheek, carefully turning his head a little and Jim's face swam into view. A groan scraped past his throat as his head seemed to split in two and Jim's thumb rubbed soothingly along his jaw.
"S'all right, partner. You're gonna be fine."
"You?" Blair managed to get out. His eyelids closed again and he found he couldn't fight the darkness claiming him.
"Good. Love you."
As the shadows swept in and took him off, Blair was certain he heard a whispered, "Me, too," and felt a feather-light touch of lips against his own.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Sandburg can't come to the phone right now. Can I take a message?" Jim rolled his eyes as the woman on the other end of the phone sniffed and announced herself airily as Ms. Terri Wilson, a real estate agent for Harbor Real Estate.
"It's the best condo in the estate," she said breathily. "I'm sure Mr. Sandburg will love it here."
"Sorry," Jim said. "Mr. Sandburg's no longer interested in the property. He's found something else." He hung up the phone before she could reply.
Jim turned slowly to find Blair staring at him, a confused look on his face. The bruise surrounding the bandage on his temple had darkened to a virulent purple, making Jim's gut churn, knowing how much worse things could have turned out.
"Why did you ?" Blair made a waving gesture toward the phone.
"Because you have a home with me." Jim finally took his courage in hand. "I don't want you to go. I love you and I want you to stay." He walked over to Blair, keenly aware that his legs were shaking.
Blair reached up and cupped Jim's cheek, his fingers stroking over the rough bristles there. "You only had to say so. I've been wondering where all the real estate newspapers have been disappearing to."
"Trashed 'em." Jim reached up and grabbed Blair's hand, bringing it to his lips, kissing each knuckle in turn before clasping their hands together and resting them against his chest. "Even after you told me the other day, I still couldn't bring myself to tell you I felt the same way. Until I realized that if I didn't, you were going to walk out that door."
Blair's brow furrowed in puzzlement. "I told you?" Then his cheeks flamed a bright red. "Oh, right. Well, I was a little concussed at the time."
Jim's disappointment returned anew. "You - you mean you didn't " He dropped Blair's hand and took a step back. "I'm sorry. I thought you meant -"
"I did," Blair said, his voice sounding sure." He smiled and shrugged. "I don't think I've been trying too hard to find a new place," Blair admitted. "I knew where the newspapers were. I guess I just hoped that, if nothing else, you'd ask me to stay. This is home to me, Jim, whether you love me or not. I didn't want to leave."
"Then stay home."
Jim sighed and drew his attention away from using his heightened sense of taste to explore Blair's body. Looked like Blair was going to talk as much during sex as he did the rest of the time. "Blair?"
"Would you at least let me redecorate a little? I mean, I did do a short course in Interior Decorating and the Feng Shui in the loft seriously sucks -"
Jim scooted up and captured Blair's mouth in a demanding kiss. Pulling back for air, he batted his lover gently on the side of the head. "Blair?"
Blair grinned. "Jim?"
Blair gasped as Jim went back to mapping his entire body with his tongue. "Yes, Jim," he managed to get out. "Shutting up."