Recovery Epic

Cycle Two: New Paths

New Chances

031. Sunrise

Blair leaned back into the cool boulder, tiny rough edges digging into him through his sweatpants as he watched the sun climb the mountain peaks to the east. Funny, he used to hate mornings, but now he abandoned the warm nest of blankets every morning in order to watch the sun turn the desert vibrant shades of pink.

The haloed mountain glowed in the dusky air of pre-dawn, and Blair took a deep breath of the freshest air of the day. For the hundredth time he wondered why he hadn't settled farther away from the city with it pollution and crime, but he had grown used to both during his time in Cascade.

As the harsh rays of the sun finally slid up and over the mountain, Blair resumed his jog, anxious to get back down off the mountain before the brutal heat started rippling the air. He had started his ritual run as a way to escape the dreams and the guilt, and now he found he couldn't concentrate on his work without it.

Running until his legs trembled and his lungs ached was the best way to forget the screams of the panther that chased him in his dreams. Running. He'd gotten good at that. He thought he'd given up that skill when he'd met his holy grail, but time had shown that nothing learned is ever unlearned. He should have remembered that from his psychology classes.

Blair made a detour to avoid the spot where he'd seen a rattlesnake the day before. The thing was probably long gone now, but no use taking any chances. His foot slipped on some loose rock for a second, but he recovered his balance and continued his trot down the path.


Blair walked into the station with his gym bag of dirty clothes flung over his arm since he didn't have a locker yet.

"Sandburg," a voice bellowed.

"Cap?" Blair asked as he came in the office and took a seat across from the huge metal desk overflowing with files.

"Got a detective from Cascade comin' down. Seems like one of their serial killers might be heading our way, and since that's your old precinct…" Roth let his words trail off, but Blair knew his captain still wondered why Blair had left. When Roth called Simon for a recommendation, Simon had only good words, but a cop normally doesn't just leave the men he's learned to trust at his back just for a change of weather.

"Who's coming?" Blair asked with false indifference.

"More like who's here," Roth corrected with a nod out toward the bullpen. With his heart in his mouth, Blair turned to see Jim standing in the middle of the sea of desks. "Banks said you two used to be partners."

"Yeah," Blair confirmed as he stood up and headed for the door. The question now was whether Jim was here or whether it was the Jim-shaped clone that had taken Jim's place after the news conference.

"Jim," Blair offered as he closed the distance between them.

"Blair," Jim offered back, and Blair stopped dead in tracks. Okay, that would be Jim-shaped clone. To Jim he was Chief or Romeo or Darwin or Genius or just 'Sandburg.' Only the clone called him 'Blair' in that perfectly reasonable tone that suggested that he had no emotions.

"So, you brought the file?" Roth asked, and Jim gave a nod as he passed Blair without even a touch on the arm or handshake. Blair closed his eyes for a moment before he followed Jim into his captain's office.


An hour later, Blair's in-box had grown by one file, and he sat at his desk with Jim uncomfortably perched on the seat normally reserved for witnesses or guests. Jim didn't fit either category. However after looking at the case file, Blair understood why Simon had sent Jim. This guy needed to be caught or no one was going to be safe.

"I didn't expect," Jim waved a hand toward the desk and files.

"What? For me to get on with my life?" Blair snapped. He knew he was only making things worse, but it's not like it was going to make any difference now. Three months of silence had made Jim's position pretty damn clear, and from his conversations with Simon, Blair knew that Jim was handling the senses just fine. Funny, he'd had some fantasy where Jim needed him as guide, but he had processed through that and realized he didn't want Jim or the Jim-clone tethered to him by the senses.

"I didn't expect you to be a detective," Jim shot back, and Blair was caught off-guard by an honest answer. Jim usually steered the conversation away from the truth when it came to any subject related to the aftermath.

"I'm good with clues, I like helping people, and I get the whole adrenaline rush," Blair shrugged. "I wouldn't want to walk a beat, but this," Blair waved toward the bullpen as he tried to decide how to end that sentence. "It's where I can do the most good," Blair finally finished.

"You cut your hair." Jim said in a strange non-sequitur, and Blair blinked twice before he could find an answer for that.

"Oh man, if you lived in 115 degree heat, you'd understand why." For some reason, Blair suddenly felt self conscious about his short curls and he ran his fingers through them. "So, let's go hit a few places," Blair suggested as he picked up the brown messenger bag that had taken the place of his ubiquitous backpack. "We should probably start down on Van Buren, hit a few of the less upscale bars."

"The dives," Jim clarified.

"Oh yeah, there are places down there the rats won't be seen dead in," Blair said with a half-laugh before the smile died on his face. God, it was just so damn easy to fall back into the same old pattern, but in the old pattern, Jim's hand would have been on his back or his shoulder, and this Jim just stood carefully outside Blair' personal space. Right, time for work.


032. Sunset
It was well after dark before Blair dropped Jim off at his rental car and headed for home. Wondering what the hell was wrong with him, and knowing the answer in exquisite detail, Blair went through a Burger King window and ordered enough saturated fat to clog his arteries. The pain of losing Jim had just started to heal, and now the man had to show up again.

All the way home, Blair's thoughts revolved around what they had once shared, the companionship and trust and gentle touches. He'd watched the sun slipping out of the sky and felt more alone than he had when he'd been alone. As he watched the brilliant oranges and reds streak across the cloudless sky, he supposed it was like a person who never saw a desert sunset not knowing what they were missing. But he'd had four years of learning to love that sunset, and now he had to give it up.

He knew now what it meant to have and lose a best friend. He'd never had another person inside his life the way Jim had been, and when Jim emotionally stepped back out of his life, he hadn't known what to do. He'd tried meditating, talking, screaming, falling silent. Nothing made any difference to the Jim-shaped person living in the loft. That's when he'd quit Major Crimes. Living with the Jim-sized reminder of a Jim he'd lost was more than he had the strength to endure.

033. Too Much
It was all entirely too much for Blair to process at once, and his night had been filled with a year's worth of dreams. The next morning Blair was on the mountain early. His dreams the night before had been filled with Jim's blue jungle. The screams of the jaguar had come closer than ever before, and Blair felt the pull. Problem was that once he got there, he wouldn't be able to help; he'd tried that path before. Even on a spirit walk, Jim Ellison refused all help, and Blair had more than once woken drenched in sweat after being spiritually mauled. So instead he had walked the familiar territory while ignoring the growls and calls of an animal he couldn't face any more.

Now he attacked the mountain with all the frustrated desires the dreams always inspired. The dreams were a reminder that he and Jim had once been close spiritually and emotionally. Blair had even at one point hoped that the relationship might go a little farther; Burton had certainly included certain crude innuendo about the Sentinel and his companion. But instead of time pulling them together, they had pulled apart at the seams until Blair felt himself starting to fray at the edges. And now Jim had appeared to start pulling at the loose threads of his soul, to remind him that he had utterly failed as Jim's Guide and Shaman.

Blair drove his legs faster until the loose rock rattled off the trail in his wake. How dare Jim show up now when he was starting to get his life back together. He was making a difference in people's lives, supporting them through difficult times and helping them find closure even when he couldn't catch a suspect. Blair panted hard for air as he turned the final bend to the spot where he would watch the sunrise. As he cleared the boulder, he stopped short.

"Jim," he nearly whispered into the dark air. With only wisps of light dancing around the mountain, he couldn't see the features clearly, but Jim's large frame and square shoulders were unmistakable. He turned around, and Blair still couldn’t see his face.

"Blair," he said softly, and Blair flinched at one more piece of evidence this wasn't his Jim.

"Oh hey, what are you doing up here?" Blair closed the final few yards walking, suddenly unsure about his footing.

"Captain Roth said I might catch you up here."

"Oh. Right." Blair didn't have anything else to say, so he leaned back against his rock and waited for sunrise as he tried to catch his breath. Many mornings he shared the mountain with hikers and dog walkers and joggers, but with Jim standing there looking at him, for the first time, Blair felt like his sacred space had been violated. He started considering other spots where he could have his morning meditation.

"I didn't think you'd stay on the force," Jim finally offered after an eternity of silence as the sun framed the mountain in pink.

"I'm good at the work," Blair pointed out as he cocked his head and really looked at Jim. This was twice that Jim had brought up his job, and Blair could feel something moving right under the surface. He thought he knew, but he had made so many mistakes in trying to understand Jim that he wasn't willing to go into that minefield again.

Jim turned and watched the sunrise without any further comment.

"So, is that why you came all the way up here?" Blair asked cautiously. Jim remained silent and motionless in the growing light. In the past, Blair would have pushed, but he had lost that right the day Jim came home to find Blair busily packing everything he owned. Jim hadn't even commented. He had opened the refrigerator, grabbed a beer, and headed up to his bedroom. Blair had finished packing with his eyes stinging, but in the end, he had chosen to leave Jim.

"Megan told me I'm an asshole," Jim finally offered, and Blair couldn't contain a snort of laughter. He could even imagine the tone of voice the Aussie would have used.

"She did, huh?" Blair answered even though he had more than once fantasized about turning to stone and refusing to talk to Jim the way Jim had once frozen him out. However, when push came to shove, he couldn't fake emotional constipation as well as Jim could live it.

"She told me that I was so busy trying to make sure you had choices that I didn't give you the choice to stay." Jim had turned so that the sun light illuminated half his face, and Blair was struck again by the man's stunning beauty. Jim stopped but he looked as if he was searching for words so for once Blair just shut up and waited.

"She said I was a drongo, and I'm guessing from the context that isn't good," Jim finished.

"Oh man, you really got the Megan Special."


"You agree with any of it?"

"Some." Jim's honesty shocked Blair. As long as he'd known the man, Jim avoided any sort of emotional admission of blame; Blair had learned to accept an oil change on the Corvair as an apology from Jim.

"We both screwed up," Blair admitted as he squinted and turned to face the trail. The bright disk of the sun cleared the edge of the mountain so that the rays of light now created long shadows that fell across the mountains. Blair eyed the trail as he considered just walking away. He knew if he did, Jim would turn back into Jim-clone and he wouldn't ever have to deal with this again. "I made mistakes," Blair said instead.

"Chief, can't we go back to being friends." Jim's voice sounded strange, husky, and Blair turned to see an expression of pain that was completely unfamiliar on Jim's face. It came close to the expression when Danny Choi had died in Jim's arms.

"Oh man, don't do this now. You'll open up and drag me back in and then you'll shut me out the minute I get close to any of those Ellison sore spots."


"I can't Jim." Blair struggled to control the panic attack that he could feel rising; this was just all too much. "I can't walk this damn tightrope where we're okay as long as no one says anything important."

"I love you." Jim blurted the words out in a rush, making them sound like one, long jumbled word. For his part, Blair stood with his mouth open struggling to even decipher that series of vowels and consonants. After several minutes, Jim turned his back and started walking back down the trail."

"No, no, no, no, no. You do not get to say something like that and walk away," Blair practically screamed as he started after his one-time partner.

"You obviously don't feel the same way, Blair. Let's just work the case and get out of each other's lives."

"Don't tell me what I do or don't feel, James Ellison. I loved you for so damn long that I couldn't see straight. I put up with your house rules and your bad moods and your fucking silence for so long that I started questioning my own sanity. But then you'd touch me or I'd wake up in the hospital with you watching over me or you'd change the fucking oil in the car, and I'd tell myself that you loved me and that made it okay."

"I did love you, do love you," Jim interrupted, "too damn much to let you do this," he whispered to the desert air, but Jim didn't turn around and the trail was narrow enough at this point that Blair couldn't stand at his side. Instead Blair reached out and put a hand on Jim's broad back.

"Why did you have to give up your whole fucking life for me?" Jim whirled at the touch, and the despair had disappeared under anger, no more like cold, deadly fury. Blair involuntarily took a step back.

"Fear-based reactions," he whispered, and Jim's belligerence vanished like a popped balloon.

"Fuck you," Jim declared tiredly before starting down the trail again.

"Oh the great Sentinel of the city running away from anything that scares him. Great, man. Just great. But you brought this up and I'm not dropping it. First, I didn't give up my whole fucking life. I gave up a career in anthropology."

"Which was your whole life."

"Man, I am not so boring that my whole life fits into one slot. I loved the expeditions and the excitement, but I get that now. Instead of putting together clues on a two-thousand year old puzzle that only a handful of people will read about in some academic journal, I'm putting clues together in a way that makes a difference in people's lives. And you know full well that I loved the excitement of police work. Even when I had guys shooting at me, I felt jazzed—alive."

"Damn it." Jim slapped his hand against a rock and stopped on the trail so suddenly that Blair actually did bump into him. "I shouldn't have pulled you into this life. You should be safe on some expedition."

"Right, would that be safe as in the Kombai tree people trying to stick spears in me or safe as in getting caught in a civil war in Eritrea?"

"Blair," Jim's frustrated tone didn't stop Blair for a second.

"But you're so busy thinking that you have all the power over me, that you can make me do things I don't want to do, that I would let you trap me in a life I didn't want. News flash James Joseph Ellison: I speak up when I'm not happy. If I didn't want to be a cop I would have said so right in the middle of the station. I don't keep everything bottled up until I hate myself. I'm not fucking you." Blair stopped. Oh god, he had never intended to let that much out, but now the words hung heavily in the air. Jim's back trembled as though an electrical current had run through it, but other than that he stood motionless, blocking the trail and staring off into the distance. Blair thought he might have even zoned.

"Jim, just fol…" Blair stopped as Jim started down the mountain without a word in response. Great. It was just like old times. Blair silently followed with the healing wound in his soul bleeding profusely.


Blair typed notes into his laptop, holding the computer firmly as Jim took a left turn far more aggressively than he had to. It was amazing how well Jim spoke with actions. Right now the white knuckles on the steering wheel and the aggressive driving screamed "angry" or maybe "betrayed." Jim had obviously come to make peace, and Blair had refused to go along with the Ellison sweep it under the carpet method of dealing with emotions.

As the truck merged with the traffic on I-17, Blair started typing again. He could have told Jim that people referred to this highway as the I-17 Parking Lot, but he hadn't been asked, and Jim was navigating from a map. Blair silently hoped he choked on the thing. Pulling out a cell phone, Blair started making calls on his latest rape case: the trace evidence lab, the hospital where she had been admitted, the girl's parents, and even a couple of witnesses who had been at the party.

With the car limited to 30 miles an hour, he had time to gather enough to convince him that he had four or five favorite suspects. He typed names into the computer and used his wireless connection to pull up records. Three were clean, college boys at the university. One had a petty theft arrest. The last had been convicted of aggravated assault. Blair pulled up that record, and read about how the suspect had nearly beaten a man to death with a stool. Blair put that man on the bottom of his mental list. If someone with that much trouble controlling his aggression had attacked the girl, she'd be in the morgue, not the hospital. Blair's money was on one of the three college boys: studs attracted by ASU "party school" reputation. That would match the injuries to the girl which seemed more accidental than intentionally abuse.

"Working a case?" Jim asked, the first time since the mountain the man had said more than two words at a time.

"Yeah. Rape case," Blair answered as he scrolled through the public records he could access on the boys. He would visit them later.

"Hate those cases." Jim said, and Blair was struck by the fact that Jim was trying to make small talk and that Jim really didn't know how to talk to Blair any more, hence the short, choppy sentences offered in clipped tones.

"Yeah, man. There was a felon at the party, but my money is on the three college boys who were circling her all night."

"Not the felon?"

"Definitely. The felon would have seriously messed her up if his record means anything, but her injuries were sustained from her clothes being ripped from her and a fall where the guy landed on top of her. That sort of stupidity screams drunk college guy."

"No description?"

"Oh man, I wish. He caught her outside after the party, and the streetlight was broken. She didn't see anything except the ground."

"Tough case to make." Blair resisted cheering Jim on as the man went from two and three word sentences to a whole four words.

"Yeah," he agreed quietly instead.

"Want me to take a look?" Jim's voice was uncertain, as though he was breaking some great taboo to even make the suggestion, and Blair ran through a number of possible reasons, none of which actually made any sense to him.

"I'd love it. I know I don't have the experience you have," he answered, careful not to seem too enthusiastic while still letting his gratitude show. Oh yeah, he was falling back into old patterns right on schedule.

"No problem, Chief." Jim navigated onto the main roads as he headed for the sleaze strip they had worked yesterday. If their murderer followed pattern, he would spend several days working himself up in some cheap strip bar before making a kill. "Do you really like…" Jim waved a hand toward the laptop as though he had run out of words.

"The rapes, no," Blair said dryly as he rolled his eyes at Jim's inability to talk. "Helping catch the rapists, hell yes. Making people believe that someone cares, oh hell yes. I'm good at my job even if I'm not the best."

"You have good instincts, you'll become the best," Jim said confidently, and Blair could only blink in surprise as Jim pulled into a parking space next to the Red Cock bar where a neon Rooster blinked merrily. Blair wondered how drunk someone had to be before that joke seemed funny. His thoughts were completely derailed as he came around the car with his messenger bag slung over one shoulder, and Jim's hand found the indentation on the small of his back and rested there comfortably as if the past year with its betrayals and misunderstandings hadn't happened.


034. Not Enough
Blair had thought they might talk once they reached the station. The uniformed cops had put the suspect into the back of a patrol car, according to Jim's sense of smell, the DNA evidence would confirm that the man was the Cascade serial killer, and all that was left now was the paperwork. However, the minute they reached the precinct, Jim had disappeared with some muttered excuse that Blair didn't catch since he didn't have sentinel hearing.

Today had seen the return of the real Jim who touched Blair until several of the beat cops were whispering rumors that would probably haunt Blair long after Jim went home. It felt so damn right, but it wasn't enough. Blair wasn't sure how he was going to go back to living a life of 'not enough' after tasting just a little of their friendship for one last time. However, Blair now remembered that the real Jim could be just as much of a closed mouthed bastard as the Jim-clone, just for different reasons. So Blair sat at his desk and typed up the report about finding the suspect in the Red Cock bar.

Usually Blair got a spike of adrenaline every time he caught a suspect, but as he typed words into his computer, he just felt tired. The case was over. Jim still wasn't talking to him. And somehow knowing Jim was back to the friend who hovered over him and rolled his eyes and always found some reason to touch him didn't make him feel any better. Leaving the Jim-clone had nearly killed him, but knowing that the real Jim was about to leave him made things even worse. He wondered if a person could die from a wounded soul because his was quickly bleeding out, and Blair was ready to declare a soul-death by exsanguination.

"Hey, Chief. Got the report done?" Jim asked cheerfully, and Blair felt an overwhelming urge to hit the man with his computer. Problem was Ellison had such a thick skull, he'd probably just break his laptop.

"Almost. Have to attach a 94-10 since I had a non-Phoenix ride along on the bust." Blair's fingers paused as he considered that Jim had become the ride along. Life was funny.

"Want me to look over that rape case?" Jim asked, either not noticing or not commenting on Blair's phrase.

"Sure," Blair pulled a file out of his in-box and slid it over to Jim who opened it and started scanning every note, every picture, and every piece of trace evidence. "Oh here, add these," Blair said as he pulled pink copies of lab reports out of his incoming mail stack. Quickly sorting through the papers, Blair found the ones relating to the rape and handed them over. Without a comment, Jim added them to the bottom of the file and kept reading. Blair pulled out an erasable pen and wrote on a section of his desk, "Sum. add rpt. Yelson."

"You're writing on your desk, Chief."

"It's erasable. I just won't erase it until I add the new lab reports to the summary sheet for the Yelson rape file there. Can't screw up the paperwork." Blair watched as something shifted in Jim. The man slumped a little farther into the desk, his shoulders lost some tension, and Blair really wished he had some sort of user's manual that would give him a hint as to why his writing on his desk made Jim relax.

"Sandburg, Ellison" Roth boomed from his office door, and Blair pushed his computer back. 94-10's would have to take a backseat to bellowing captains. Blair only realized that the universe had reversed itself when he took lead on the way to the captain's office, Jim following behind. But then this was Blair's captain and Blair's precinct, not Jim's.

"Well Banks was certainly right about you two. Two days to catch a serial killer who's been on the loose for six months. Good job,"

"Thank you, sir," Blair smiled his appreciation for the compliment as he sank into one of the chairs in front of Roth's desk. Instead of taking the other chair, Jim went and leaned against the window. Blair narrowed his eyes at the sudden signs of tension in his Sentinel's body.

"Can't say that I wouldn't like a little more of that magic. Your paperwork came through Ellison, and I can't offer you anything now, but in a few weeks Riller is retiring. I'll have a spot for you then. We don't have enough space in the locker room though, and Sandburg gets the next available locker, so you'll have to do without.

Blair opened his mouth several times as the significance of the words slowly sank into him. Each time, he closed his mouth without uttering any one of a hundred phrases that ran through his mind like "what the fuck?" or "have you lost your mind?" Opening his mouth again, Blair finally managed a quiet, "Could you give us a second?" Roth looked at him for several seconds before silently deciding something and nodding his head.

"Need to go yell at Tyler in records anyway," he shrugged as he stood and left the office. Blair noticed that on his way out, Roth gave the one set of open blinds a twist so that Jim and Blair would have privacy.


035. Sixth Sense
"If you don't want me here, Chief," Jim started. Blair could hear Jim's offer to go fuck off without the words ever being spoken. They'd always had that sixth sense with each other, except that Blair couldn't come close to understanding Jim much less reading his mind.

"Oh man, you take the cake. Had you even considered *talking* to me first?"

"Talking's not my thing, and quite frankly, it's not yours either. I've never know someone who could speak so much without actually talking." Blair stopped dead as he tried to process that comment. He opened his mouth to protest but found he couldn’t in good conscience.

"Yeah, I know," Blair finally said as he slumped in the chair and tried to sort through the wide range of emotions that were dodging through his brain like flashes. Talking might not be their thing, but they needed to start if they wanted to change anything. Blair took a deep breath. "Okay, I'm thrilled that you want us to work together and I'm furious that you couldn't bring yourself to talk to me and I'm fucking scared that we're just going to end up doing this whole insane push-pull thing all over again, and I just don't have the strength to keep picking myself back up after you push me away."

"I know, Chief." The familiar words and warm tone pulled at Blair's soul until a part of him didn't even care what the future held. A part of him just wanted Jim back even if it only lasted a while. Another part of him knew he couldn't let go a second time if things went bad again.

"Tell me what's changed. I can't do this again if we're going to walk the same damn path," Blair whispered.

"I kept thinking that you were unhappy, even if you didn't say it. I kept thinking that your life would be better without me," Jim said, and a part of Blair had always understood that even as he couldn't break through the barriers Jim put up to keep him away. It's why he hadn't left earlier.

"And now?" Blair asked quietly.

"I'm taking you at your word. You like police work and I didn't fuck up your life," Jim said with a shrug and then he turned to look out at the busy street. "If you don't want me here, that's okay too. I still have my job in Cascade."

A new thought suddenly crossed Blair's mind. "Cascade is your territory, man. You can't leave your tribe."

"Chief, you were always wrong on that. When I was in Peru, Incacha's tribe was my tribe. The minute you became my guide, Cascade was my home because it was your home. A guide or shaman has a territory, a Sentinel has a guide," Jim said quietly and then he turned back so that Blair could see the open vulnerability in those eyes. "All a Sentinel has is a Guide."

"Jim," Blair said softly as he felt his eyes itching with the need to cry.

"Blair, I can't…" Jim stopped, but Blair heard the words anyway. He realized that he this sixth sense that meant he could always hear what Jim left unsaid, but sometimes he just didn't listen.

"Butch and Sundance together again, huh?" Blair asked as he stood up and walked toward Jim. Large arms opened, and Blair stepped into the embrace. Jim's head rested on the top of his head, and Jim's arms trembled as they held him tightly enough that Blair took shallow breaths.

"As long as you don't try to convince me to go over a cliff," Jim whispered without loosening his hold. "Because if you do, I'll probably go along," he added in a rough voice. Blair closed his eyes and leaned into Jim's chest as tears of relief slipped past his defenses. Instead of answering with words, Blair just slipped his own arms around the small of Jim's back and held on as he realized the disaster was finally over. The storm had passed, and he was safely with his Sentinel again.

"I love you, too, man," he whispered. The arms holding him just tightened as Jim offered the only answer he knew how to give. It was more than enough.




Lost Balance Found

036. Smell

"Geez, Chief, your mother been visiting you lately?" Jim asked between sneezes.

"Oh man, sorry about that," Blair said as he hurried to open the patio doors despite the heat. He had the sliding glass door to his sun-baked patio half opened before it occurred to him that it was his apartment, sage smoke and all.

"No problem. You don't need to leave that open," Jim quickly added, and Blair realized the Jim was just as uncomfortable as he was. Suddenly Blair wondered whether this was such a good idea. He wasn't the same person and Jim was leaving his home and Blare could think of a thousand reasons why this was such a bad idea.

Blair stood with a hand still on the glad door handle, the warm summer air slowly drifting in through the screen door. He had no idea what to say next, and for someone who always had words, this was a new experience.

037. Sound
Blair rolled over as the strange sound demanded his attention. The sound was soft and muted, unlike Mrs. Kanelli's dog which was doing its morning yap duty. Pushing himself up on one elbow, Blair listened to the sound of the series of decreasing thumps, the first one clearly audible, and then the trailing sound repeated in ever softening echoes.

The sound came again, and Blair narrowed his eyes as he tried to identify it. The third time, Blair figured out that the sound was his cheap cupboard doors bouncing closed as Jim searched the cabinets. Finally the sound of metal scraping against metal as Jim extricated a pot or a fry pan. He was fixing breakfast.

Blair had missed Jim horribly for the month they had spent apart, Jim closing the loft and finishing up his cases in Major Crimes. When Jim appeared at his door asking if he could crash on the couch, it had felt familiar and right. Now though, Blair realized that for all the similarities, it wasn't the same. Now Jim was searching an unfamiliar kitchen for one of Blair's Salvation Army pots, and Blair knew that Jim was probably raising an eyebrow at the peeling Teflon.

Well, time to see if their friendship could survive Salvation Army dishes. Blair swung his legs out of bed and wandered into the kitchen as the first rays of the sun started casting a glow against the curtains hanging in front of the sliding glass door.

"You're up early, Chief," Jim said, an egg in one hand and Blair least beat up pan in his other. "I hope I didn't wake you up."

"Nah, I usually get up and take a morning run," Blair answered, rubbing his hands through his curls.

"Yeah, I guess you do now. Never saw you as the sort for a morning run."

"People change," Blair answered, suddenly feeling the distance between them like a physical force. He crossed his arms and tried to come up with something lighthearted and familiar to say.

"Oh man, Roth got a hold of your file and he's like bouncing off walls over getting you for his department." Blair's words just made Jim look at him strangely, and Blair bit his lip.

"He seems like a good man," Jim answered slowly, and again the sound of silence overpowered their ability to talk. Jim put the pan on the stove and cracked the egg. At least now the spitting of the egg white on the hot surface interrupted the quiet.

"You want some breakfast?" Jim asked.

"Sure," Blair answered, and Jim cracked more eggs, not even asked how Blair liked his eggs. Then again, Jim already knew he liked them easy over. As the eggs cooked, Blair slipped by Jim in the tiny kitchen to put bread in the toaster.

"Where are the plates?" Jim asked.

"Above the dishwasher," Blair answered as he buttered the first set of toast and Jim handed him one plate. Jim lifted two eggs from the pan and slid them onto a plate before setting it down next to Blair. Blair added the toast and watched the toaster for the second set.

"You want jam?"

"Yeah, that'd be good. Got strawberry?"

"Yep." The last set of toast popped up as Jim handed him the second plate. Blair took both plates and headed for the table as Jim opened the refrigerator.

"Bottom shelf in the door," Blair offered and Jim snagged the jar. Jim had already found the silverware drawer, and now he grabbed forks and knives as he followed Blair to the table. Dropping the mismatched silverware on the mismatched plates, the metal against the ceramic made a familiar dull ringing sound. Blair grabbed a fork and smiled as he took his first bite of Jim-cooked eggs in nearly six months. At least some of the sounds were exactly the same even if the silverware and dishes were new.


038. Touch
"This is interesting," Jim commented as he gestured toward the victim's desk. The man was lying in Good Samaritan hospital with multiple broken bones and a bruised liver claiming he had no idea who had jumped him in his pawn shop, but the suspects hadn't stolen anything and the victim had a bad history of carrying stolen merchandise.

Blair walked over and leaned against the edge of the counter as he looked at the second inventory list Jim had placed on the desk. Oh yeah, interesting was the word.

Blair felt the heat of Jim's hand resting on the middle of his back as Jim looked over his shoulder.

"Looks like someone had two sets of books," Jim said with that smile he got anytime he cracked a case.

"Which means someone has a whole lot of not-so-nice business partners," Blair said. Blair smiled back at Jim, but then Jim's face shut down, the righteous glee disappearing under an emotionless mask and the hand on his back yanked away. Blair turned around to try and understand why Jim had…

Right, the two crime scene guys stared at them across the room with shocked looks. Blair rolled his eyes at the idea that two guys couldn't touch without it being somehow sexual.

"You okay, man?" Blair asked as Jim walked to the other side of the desk with the cold efficiency of a robot.

"Yeah. Never meant to make the rumor mill here start up," Jim whispered so softly that Blair had to bite his tongue to avoid pointing out that he didn't have Sentinel hearing. Blair stopped at that thought and considered Jim's straight back and tight expression. How much had Jim heard with that Sentinel hearing of his?

"It bother you?" Blair asked.

"Me?" Jim looked up in surprise. "I don't care," he answered honestly. "I just thought you—" Jim stopped.

"Like I give a damn about their assumptions," Blair snorted as he rested one hand on Jim's broad back and the other on the desk as he looked at the second ledger.


039. Taste
"Oh honey, I never knew you had such good taste. I would have invited you to the club a lot sooner if I'd known you were going to bring Beefy there," Miss Rose Gentle said in a deep silky voice. Ironically, Miss Rose Gentle was not gentle, smelled nothing like a rose, and didn't medically qualify for the term "miss." Blair gave the cross dresser an amused glare.

"Oh man, you are going to get seriously messed up talking about big bad Army rangers like that," Blair pointed out.

"Chief, I somehow doubt Miss Gentle would mind a little rough housing," Jim said with a hint of amusement.

"You volunteering to find out?" Miss Gentle moved forward, her wide body slinking and shimmying as she walked.

"Oh, I'm vetoing anyone finding out anything other than what can go into a report," Blair said as he stepped between the two men. Chocolate Babe and Honey Girl started laughing as they leaned against the bar in their evening dresses and fake boobs.

"Our little Frizz is all possessive. I always knew he had some nice queer genes in that solid little body," Honey Girl said playfully.

"Hey, I'm here for an investigation," Blair protested, and he could feel the heat in his face as the teasing continued. When Jim's large hand rested on his shoulder, the gesture, which Jim no-doubt intended as comfort, became almost painful in its intensity. Blair swallowed around the lump that had grown in his throat. "We need information on someone who might have been stalking down here," Blair said as he concentrated on the gay bashing case they'd been assigned and not the heat from the hand that rest familiarly and comfortably on his shoulder.

"And we do always appreciate it when you're the one to… handle… our problems," Miss Gentle winked at the word handle, and Blair crossed his arms and tried to glare. It obviously failed because the transvestite laughed.

"Some guy's been making rounds, beating up transvestites pretty seriously," Jim announced in a dark and threatening tone that sent a shiver through Blair. This was the Sentinel guarding his territory.

"Oh Honey, there are always some crack heads who think our sex lives are their business. Trust me, *my* sex life will never be any business of theirs. Now you… you're another story all together," Miss Gentle took a final step so that she was inches from Blair, but her height meant that she was eye to eye with Jim while Blair had to look up as the two locked gazes. Okay, this wasn't awkward at all.

"Sorry, I'm already taken," Jim said seriously as he stood at Blair's back. Blair had to admire the man's ability to lie well because Miss Gentle stared for a few more seconds before shrugging and backing off.

"Can't blame a girl for trying," she sniffed. "But I have to say I admire your taste in men."

Blair blushed even harder as Miss Gentle's look made it clear who she thought Jim meant. Blair opened his mouth to protest, but Jim's hand on his shoulder tightened, and Blair got the message.

"Can we just talk about the case please?" Blair pleaded without correcting the mistake.

"For you, anything." Miss Gentle said as she waved them over toward the bar where her two friends were finishing up counting the day's receipts.


Bonus: "Bandage"
Written for Patty1h for Moonridge 2006
"Blair? I smell blood."

Blair turned to see Jim in just boxer shorts poised at the arch to the kitchen, his body tight as he scanned the small room.

"Cut myself," Blair admitted as he pulled his finger out of his mouth. The cut between the first and second knuckles started bleeding right on cue. Blair grabbed a paper towel and pressed it to the deep cut.

"Chief, you really did a number on that. Where's your first aid kit?"

"It's just a cut," Blair protested, but when Jim stood there with his determined expression, Blair nodded toward a cupboard. "In there."

Jim grabbed the kit and popped it open, pulling out gauze pads, white tape, and antibiotic ointment. "Let me see," he ordered as he held out his hand, and Blair surrendered his hand. Jim peeled back the paper towel and made a small wince.

"Geez, Sandburg, are you trying to take off a finger?"

"Very funny, man. I slipped slicing the mushrooms," Blair said as Jim held his finger under water in the sink.

"No more knives for you," Jim said as he pulled open a drawer and pulled out a clean towel. When he pulled the finger out of the running water, he held the finger tightly with the towel.

"Man, you're going to ruin the towel," Blair complained.

"Not my main concern right now," Jim said. "Hold this a second," he said, and Blair held his own finger as Jim open a package of gauze and put antibiotic cream on it. He silently pulled of lengths of tape, ripping them off and hanging them from edge of the counter before taking control of Blair's finger again, pressed the medicated square to the cut and holding it while he wrapped tape around it.

"All better. Now try not to cut off any other limbs," Jim joked as he gathered up the trash. Blair looked down at the careful bandage and then at Jim whose hair stuck out and who wore only the briefs he normally wore to bed. As Blair watched, Jim yawned and then reached up to rub the sleep from his eyes. Then he stretched his neck to one side and then the other, a gesture Blair recognized from their camping trips: it was the first thing Jim did every morning after sitting up in bed. Every morning except this morning.

Looking back down at the white tape wrapped tightly around the white square on his finger, Blair felt a pressure in his chest that made him take a deep breath. In that moment, he decided that he wouldn't leave Jim again. If Jim went back to Cascade, he'd face Simon and the other rather than risk losing Jim forever.

"Are you okay, Chief?" Jim asked, pushing the door shut on the garbage.

"Yeah, I'm just fine," Blair answered as he turned back to the counter. "Want an omelet?"

"Does it come with your blood?"

"Ha ha."

"Why don't you go get rid of the bloody shirt, and I'll finish up the omelets, Chief," Jim said with a push.


040. Sight
Damn Jim's apartment was a lot nicer than his. Of course Blair spent a chunk of his money on several charities and his bank account still grew every month, but the view of the shadowy mountains at the far edge of the city made Blair start considering nicer digs. Of course he could keep doing what he had been doing, spending most of his free time in Jim's apartment.

"Something interesting out there?" Jim asked as he came up behind Blair on the small patio.

"Oh man, those mountains. They're beautiful," Blair said as he watched the late sun set the distant slopes on fire with red and orange.

Jim didn't answer, he just leaned on the railing, a beer bottle in one hand, as he looked at the distant mountains beside Blair.

"How far can you see?" Blair asked curiously.

"Haven't tried." Jim said before falling silent, but the look of concentration on Jim's face told Blair that the Sentinel was trying now. Blair laid his hand on Jim's arm and waited.

"Can see cars driving the road up the lower slope, but I can't see make or model, just a hint of color on a moving form and the dotted green plants against the rock," Jim finally answered. Blair gazed at the distant, featureless feature with his mouth literally hanging open.

"You can see that? Oh man, that must be twenty miles away. That's—" Blair couldn't even come up with a word that matched his shock and excitement.

"Yeah, can always see farther when you're here," Jim said as he turned to go back in. The autumn air didn't have the brutal heat of summer, but Jim still preferred the air conditioning to the ninety degree weather.

"Really?" Blair asked. He followed Jim, but the expression on Jim's face made it clear that Jim didn't intend to discuss this any more.

"Long day today, you want to camp out in the guest room?" Jim asked as he tossed his beer bottle in the garbage under the sink.

"Sure," Blair said gratefully. He really didn't want to drive back to his apartment when every muscle in his body ached from chasing that damn gay-basher over the back fences of Fillmore Street.

"Sheets are in the closet," Jim said as he nodded toward the hall that led to the main bathroom.

"Thanks, man." Blair got up to get the sheets when he caught Jim's eye. The Sentinel's eyes were large and dark, the pupils dilated the way they did when Jim was trying to see something distant, only Jim was looking right at him with a strange expression. "You okay, man?" Blair asked.

"Fine," Jim answered as he came over to the couch, their shoulders brushing as Jim went to the couch and dropped down at the same time he hit the remote for the television. Blair watched Jim watch television for a good minute before he turned to go make the bed in the guest room. Some days he just didn't understand his Sentinel




In Shape

Ficlet for Ponders_Life
Bets pushed a thick file back and cracked her neck. Without some piece of luck, Thomas McBain would walk on extortion charge number three. Some days she really hated this shit.

"Man, I can't believe you did that," Frizz laughed as he breezed through the door. Frizz's shadow followed two steps behind, not laughing but smiling. Bets leaned forward and watched the pair.

She disliked Jim most of the time. He would walk through a room and dismiss everyone with a simple passing glance that made it clear that he didn't care about a damn person here. He stormed through cases as though everyone from the M.E. to the trace lab should drop everything in order to process his paperwork. And the worst sin was his ability to solve cases with clues and hunches that seemed to fall out of thin air.

The rest of them celebrated when they could keep a solve rate above 50 percent, and he barely acknowledged his 83 percent solve rate. No celebration, no crowing, just this quiet acceptance as if everyone should have stats like that. Newsflash: none of them could measure up.

Russo shoved his chair back and headed for the door. Bets watched, waiting, and yes… there was the obligatory shove. Jim stood by Frizz's desk, his eyes focused on Frizz as Russo accidentally put an elbow into his back while reaching for a dropped paper. Frizz glanced up, his blue eyes going from Jim to Russo and back to Jim. Russo waited a half second for any reaction before walking out.

"Hey, Bets. We totally nailed the kids doing those smash and grabs down on Van Buren," Frizz announced happily as he held up a thick file. Bets smiled at him and raised her cup of lukewarm coffee in salute.

"You're the one who tracked down the homeless witness, so this one's all yours, Chief," Jim offered as he reached over and ruffled Frizz's hair. Jim looked down and smiled so widely that small lines formed at the side of his eyes. Knocking Jim's hand away with an uncomfortable laugh, Frizz ducked his head.

"Just doing my job," he insisted with a shrug, but then Bets had never heard Frizz accept praise without either deflecting it or distracting the person offering the compliment.

"No, you're doing your job well," Jim said with same smile, that smile that showed pride and joy Bets rarely saw one man offer another.

Frizz glanced up. "Thanks, Jim," Frizz nearly whispered with a smile that shifted his whole face, a smile that made him look like a child who has just discovered chocolate. In that moment, Bets saw a Frizz she'd never seen before.

Maybe Jim wasn't so bad after all.


041. Shape

"If you want, I can arm wrestle you for him," Jeff commented as he walked through the bullpen where most of the other detectives were working desks. Funny how one of Arizona's famous thunderstorms that flooded streets and turned playgrounds into rivers could make detectives suddenly worry about paperwork.

"I don't think so," Jim answered in that dry voice that only Blair recognized as his amused tone.

"Come on, he was my regular partner before he was yours. Besides, I have this weird assed case, where my main eyewitness is an absolute loon who thinks aliens have been experimenting on his intestines." Jeff's voice now took on a petulant whine.

"Not going to happen." Jim's words made Blair smile. Rafe or Brown or Megan knew that Blair was Jim's primary partner and would never challenge that, but when he and Jim had come back from a routine call, Jeff had made the made the mistake of asking Blair to go along on his call without even acknowledging Jim.

Jim had gone silent and stone-faced, and Blair knew that Jim expected him to leave with Jeff, especially since the whole case was weird-assed. For one second, Blair considered turning around and leaving Jim with the paperwork while he chased this new case, but something in Jim's face stopped him. Hell, he knew the something that stopped him; it was the way the jaw muscle flexed and popped.

For weeks, Jim had remained painfully neutral on every topic, and now Jim was showing a clear desire, and the desire was to have Blair stay with him. Blair was man enough to admit that he was more than a little complimented. So Blair had deferred to his partner, and Jim had quickly fallen back into the old patterns. Blair was his partner and no one was taking Blair out of the station except him. Blair suspected that he should have been offended, but it was actually nice to see the old possessive Jim back in control.

"What? You think I can't take you?" Jeff asked in a tone that was only half playful, and even Blair gave the man a strange look at that one.

"I know you can't take me," Jim commented in this time he actually gave a small laugh.

"Guys, come on, don't be like this," Blair complained as Jeff's face took on the sharp defensive expression that the man so often wore around Captain Roth. Jeff opened his mouth to continue the exchange, but then Jim physically stepped back and Jeff closed his mouth, and Blair thought the moment had passed. Blair thought wrong.

"Jeff may not be able to take you, but I'm willing to lay odds that I can," Russo chimed in, from his side of the room. Blair watched as Russo pushed his chair back and stood, straightening his jacket over his wide shoulders in a rather amusing dominance display.

Jim looked over at the second detective, and Blair could tell from the relaxed slope of Jim's shoulders and the amused grin that Jim didn't feel intimidated at all. Unfortunately, Jim's amusement only seemed to annoy Russo even more.

"Unless you have a whole lot of friends around the corner that I don't know about, I know I can take you," Jim commented as he crossed his arms over his chest.

"Big talk from the new guy," Russo said darkly as he crossed his arms over his own chest and glared. What Russo didn't take into consideration was that Jim's glare was twice as lethal.

"You know, my gym has a boxing ring, we could settle this very quickly." Russo pushed his lower lip out with his tongue in an expression that Blair had learned meant that the man was about two seconds from shoving a cuffed suspect face-first into the nearest wall. The man had been challenging Jim for so long that Blair should have known it had to come to a head at some point. For weeks, Jim had stepped aside for Russo as Russo physically shoved past him at the station. Jim had ignored muttered insults that the sentinel could clearly hear. For weeks, Jim had been building up his own frustration, and now that the actual challenge had been issued, Jim's face lost all playfulness.

Blair opened his mouth to suggest just how foolish that would be, but then again, he didn't think Russo would listen to him in the first place. Instead he just kept his mouth shut and watched the most blatant display of posturing he'd seen since he was sent out to study the behavior of adolescent chimpanzees in the wild. He was caught somewhere between fascination and amusement and horror that this was about to get out of hand. Of course he wasn't going to compare them to chimps out loud. He didn't think they would actually kill him, but he'd been wrong before.

So instead he moved to the side of the bullpen where he could watch Jim and Russo glare at each other viciously while Jeff stood with his hands on his hips in frustration at being ignored by the two larger men. Of course, it could be worse. Jim certainly had more immediate ways to prove his physical superiority, and no one would be *actually* hurt by a small boxing match. Hopefully…. Maybe. Blair looked from one to the other as he tried to judge just why Jeff's pestering had made the two men react so strongly.

"I suppose I can use the exercise," Jim countered quietly. Quiet Jim was dangerous Jim, but only Blair knew that.

"Oh man, you two did not just make a date to be beat the shit out of each other, did you?" Blair interrupted since this little contest over who was in better shape was starting to get out of hand.

"Oh for God's sake just flip a coin or something." Bets complained loudly from the other side of the room where she sat at her desk with narrowed eyes frowning at the whole room. "I swear to god I am so sick of dealing with men and their egos that there are days I just want to spit. If you both wanna work with Frizz, then flip a coin or something, but from where I sit, I don't really give a shit which one of you is in better shape." Bets glared until Russo and Jim both lowered their arms and dropped the aggressive body language. "I think the whole point of this job is to work together against the criminals, not to beat each other up every other day try to prove who has the bigger cock."

Bets immediately went back to her paperwork, and Blair could see the shock on Jim's face as he opened his mouth to shoot a comment right back to her. But then Russo turned his back and wandered to his desk, and Jeff gave up on the idea of getting Blair's help with his recalcitrant witness and snorted his frustration before leaving.

Blair wasn't sure whether it was that the other men had backed down so quickly to Bets or whether it was that Jim simply respected the fact that he was on her territory, but Jim closed his mouth without saying a word. Jim turned and went back to his desk, a large hand lingering on Blair's arm for a moment at he passed.

Blair really needed to get together with Bets and figure out how she managed to get the toughest man he'd ever met to back down without a fight. With scary superpowers like that, it didn't even matter who was in better shape.



Old Patterns

042. Triangle

Blair sat at the conference table nearly getting a headache as he watched the various alpha males all trying to establish dominance. It was like having a dozen male wolves all pissing to mark territory, but the problem was that all these male wolves were in the same small room, and Blair was getting a headache from the smell of metaphoric piss.

Jim's jaw muscle twitched again at the FBI agents as he thumped the map in the middle of the table with his thumb.

"Any suspect has multiple escape routes," Jim said in a tight, controlled and barely human growl.

"This is the best vantage to watch the drop-off point without risking being seen. We'll have agents at every escape route," the older of the two agents insisted, and from the way his lips tightened to a thin line, Blair guessed that the man wasn't far behind Jim in sheer frustration. The second agent leaned back in her chair and just glared at Jim.

"They're too far away."

"If we get any closer we're going to scare the kidnappers away," the second agent responded quickly.

"I'll be a lot happier with being that far away if we actually put money in the drop," Jim now stood up and crossed his arms. "If we lose the kidnappers, they're going to be left with a bag full of newspapers and one hell of a bad attitude. I understand not requisitioning real funds for this, but since we don't have funds we need to make sure that there's no chance of the kidnappers walking away from this drop." Jim struggled to make his point through his anger, Blair could see that in every muscle of Jim's body. He gave Jim credit for making it this far without cursing someone out.

"The girl is probably dead *now*," the agent pointed out and Jim's jaw muscle twitched again. Blair could imagine just how much self-control Jim using to keep from hitting the man. Now Bets had a different approach. She was just looking at the agent like he was some sort of bug that had crawled in the room and gone belly up and died with its legs kicking in the air. The agent didn't seem particularly impressed with either of them.

Look, you people are part of a community-based program; I appreciate the fact that this kind of unit works when you're dealing with college pranks and local crime. However, this is a major crime and your people have more experience in dealing with vandalism and drunk college students passing out in the road than any real crime."

The agent directed his words towards Roth, who sat at the end of the table frowning. Blair was just happy that no one considered him alpha dog enough to actually attack because it was getting a little tense.

Even Blair was having trouble telling who backed who. The alliances were shifting fast with Bets occasionally siding with Jim against the FBI agent, leaving Roth spluttering. Other times, Bets seemed to side more with Roth, especially when the agent started attacking the unit. And right now Bets was clearly siding with Roth, physically sliding her chair closer to the Captain as she scowled at the two agents. Jim opened his mouth to continue his attack, and Bets sent her death glare over to him.

Jim sat back and clenched his teeth while Blair just tried focusing on the ugly pattern of green and black dots on the carpeting. Blair had thought it was uncomfortable back in Cascade when it was the feds against the department, but this department versus department versus feds was even *more* fun. Hell he could get a whole slew of dissertations out of the social behavior he was observing in this room.

Roth was the next one to break the silence. "This program has worked for a long time, and we deal with homicides, rapes and narcotics as well as those drunken college boys and vandalism. So don't go talking about my people when you haven't seen our stats. We have some of the best statistics in the unit."

"I assume you mean *after* you had three of your officers removed for accepting bribes and illegal activities." The older agent's sarcastic and snide tone made his opinion of the units entirely clear. Now it was time for Roth to clench his job tightly enough that the jaw muscle popped. Blair figured that in this one room alone, there was at least $5,000 worth of dental repairs to be had. Once again Jim leapt into the battle.

"None of this is getting us anywhere with this. I'm telling you right now I've seen dozens of drops, and that Parks Service building is not a good vantage point," Jim interrupted the pissing contest. Or rather he shifted the pissing contest back to the original source of the piss, which was the kidnapping case they were all trying to work together.

"And I'm telling you we're not getting any closer than that," the older agents insisted darkly. Blair shot a curious glance over to Jim, and Blair recognized that expression all too well. The great Sentinel of Phoenix was not going to let this drop. Jim pushed his chair back as he stood.

"If you're not interested in my expertise than I really don't know what I'm doing here," Jim snapped as he started towards the door, and Blair quickly stood to follow despite the incredulous looks of both Roth and Bets. Jim was the only one not surprised as he held the door open for Blair before slamming it soundly. Of course, why should Jim be surprised? Only Jim knew that Blair was his guide. Blair realized that no matter how much he loved being a cop in this department, being a cop didn't define who he was. It didn't define him any more than being an anthropologist had defined him. The fact is his first job would always be Jim's guide.

"Chief, if they keep their agents that far away, there is not going to be time to respond when something blows up in their face."

"Oh man, I assume we're assuming that something is going to blow up in their face?"

"Doesn't it always?"

"There is that," Blair admitted

"Well I'm not about to let a young woman die because that man has his head so far up his ass he can't listen to good advice," Jim snapped as they got in the elevator. Blair couldn't argue with that logic.

"So what are we going to do?"

"This isn't a "we" thing, Junior. If something goes wrong, we don't have Simon to cover our asses. If something goes wrong, this could ruin our careers. So before you just say 'yes,' you need to think about what you've built here." Jim pressed the button and then turned toward Blair with a serious expression. Blair looked up at his partner's face and opened his mouth immediately to protest the idea that he would let Jim do this alone.

"I'm serious, Chief. Think this through."

"Man, there are days that you really are as thick as a brick wall," Blair protested as he crossed his arms over his chest. "What I've built here doesn't mean anything compared to my job as your guide. So if you're going to do something to get your ass fired, I'm going to be right there next to you."

"Chief, are you sure about this?" Jim asked seriously.

"Oh yeah, absolutely."

"Glad to have you on board then." Jim flashed a quick smile and slapped Blair on the arm. "So Roth and Bets can work the kidnapping angle and give support to the fibbies, the feds can handle the money drop, and we'll be the one to break the case open," Jim announced confidently just before the elevator doors opened.

"Just like old times," Blair quipped as he followed Jim down the hall to the squad room.


043. Square
"Um, Jim man?"

"Yeah Darwin?" Jim answered without moving; he had his eyes focused firmly on the chipped blue trash can in which an agent in plainclothes had just placed a stack of newspapers inside a briefcase inside a black trash bag.

"Isn't that Kendra's father?" Blair asked as he nodded toward a man pacing just this side of the park's restroom. Blair watched as the thin nervous man snatched off his glasses and rubbed his hand across his face before shoving his glasses back on impatiently.

"Fuck," Jim swore.

"Yeah." The kidnappers had insisted that the father not be near -- a request neither Jim nor the FBI could figure out. Now the man paced nervously, looking one pocket protector short of complete geekdom. Blair had trouble seeing this nerd as the father of the fuchsia-haired and pierced kidnap victim.

"Shit. The fibbies don't seem to have spotted him," Jim swore again, and Blair didn't remember Jim swearing so much back in Cascade.

"Have our guys spotted them?" Blair asked.

"Nope, no one." Jim's voice revealed his frustration. Blair really couldn't blame Jim since he felt the same. Since they were stationed on top of the tall stone building that stood next to the duck pond, they couldn't exactly radio their guys. Of course stationed might be the wrong word considering they had snuck up here before the FBI set up a perimeter. Radioing would involve Roth finding out that two of his detectives had refused a direct order and were camped yards away from the pickup site. Blair was all for avoiding that unless, like Jim had predicted, the drop went bad. Then Jim and Blair could spring into action and their insubordination would be cheerfully forgotten.

Even though Blair had gone behind Simon's back more times than he cared to remember, going behind Roth's back made him feel slightly nauseous -- especially when he remembered all those nights Roth had spent with him down at the firing range. Blair opened his mouth to say something, but he closed it again. Jim was right about the FBI mishandling the case, and it was a little late to argue now anyway.

Various FBI agents wandered the park in the brown uniforms of park maintenance workers or the Phoenix Suns T-shirts of locals out for a day of feeding the ducks.

Bets and Jeff and Russo were at the park's north entrance coordinating the police cruisers that were hiding in the local parking lots ready to catch anyone who got past the FBI.

Jim and Blair lay unobserved on the top of the building ready to jump in if needed. They were close enough to simply grab anyone getting near the trash can, triggering a lockdown of the entire park.

And now Kendra's father darted away from the bathroom building toward the trash can. Oh yeah, Blair feared there were too many cooks in the kitchen for this to end well. Before Kendra's father reached the trash can, the agent who had dismissed Jim's suggestions came trotting across the park lawn.

Just as the agent was pulling the father away, Blair heard the whine of distant dirt bikes growing louder. Blair slipped his hand onto Jim's back to anchor his Sentinel as the high-pitched sound increased dramatically. Over a dozen dirt bikes came around a pile of huge boulders that separated the main park from the trail that led up the mountain.

The agent started running back toward the FBI base in the distant park service building, towing a clearly protesting father with him. The dirt bikes left the trail and now darted across the green grass of the park straight at the trash can.

Blair could feel his adrenaline flow. God, there were too many of them, and no one had equipment to chase them up the mountain. And the helicopter would never be able to track so many people. Blair watched in horror as nearly 20 bikes flowed around the trash can in a huge melee and the roar of revving engines. It took Blair a second to realize that the helmeted figures were using the trash can as a marker. The riders circled the can and then raced back towards the mountain trail.

One rider turned too sharply and slid to the ground, his bike careening into the paths of two other bikes, and those riders went down too. Blair pushed himself up on his elbows, but Jim's hand on his arm kept them still.

"Wait for it," Jim said softly, his eyes still focused on the can. Two of the three fallen bikers had gotten back up and rejoined the race.

Suddenly Jim surged forward. "Stay here. Call for backup, green bike." Jim yelled as he slipped over the side of the roof and dropped to the dumpster below with a metallic thud.

Blair scrambled to pull his radio from his belt as he followed. "Ransom taken. Green bike. Black helmet. Westbound toward the mountain," Blair yelled into the device, ignoring the confused and angry voices that came back to them from the other end.

Once on the ground Blair ran toward the fleeing bikers, thanking God that the pack had to pass him on their way back to the mountain. Bikes parted and dodged as Jim charged toward the green bike, but the rider reversed direction to avoid him. Blair was only vaguely aware of yelling voices and agents with drawn guns hurrying toward them.

Rather than try to target the green bike, Blair went for a domino effect as he grabbed the jacket of a random rider, pulling him down to the grassy ground. The motley bike with its front fender painted red and black with the rest in primer gray spun out of control and took out a second bike. Blair repeated the maneuver with a black bike, and now a half dozen riders went down as the field became an obstacle course. The man on the green bike tried to dodge north. The detour allowed Jim to reach out and neatly pick the figure right off the bike.

"What the fuck is your problem, dude?" an angry voice demanded. Blair turned around just in time to see the punch aimed at his face. Blair was saved from further pummeling as armed agents started yelling for everyone to get to the ground. Since Blair was already lying on the ground, he just pulled his badge as the agents came up.

"Oh fuck. Dude, I hit a cop," the one guy complained as he went to his stomach with his hands above his head. "That's like entrapment or something. You fucking hit me first," the kid complained as the agent started handcuffing him. Blair couldn't actually argue with that logic. He had hit first, but the suspect from the green bike was face down in the grass so the black eye didn't really matter.


044. Circle
Blair looked around at the circle of angry faces and the discomfort he'd felt earlier was magnified by about a thousand as he felt at Roth's fury aimed at him through the deadliest death glare Blair had ever seen, bar none.

"... interference in a federal investigation. I have half a mind to file federal charges," the lead FBI agent hissed softly enough that the cameras on the other side of the police line couldn't pick up the argument. But Blair had no doubt that the man meant what he said.

"Now wait one minute!" Roth interrupted. "Their actions were unforgivable, and they will both face disciplinary action, but they will receive credit for arresting Kendra Rence for trying to extort money from her own father."

"There is *no* way..." the agent began.

"Ellison grabbed her, he and his partner get the arrest." Roth crossed his arms over his chest and Blair watched as the dominance displays began again. This time Jim clearly took himself out of the running as he leaned against a tree managing to look frustrated and sheepish at the same time. Jeff looked from one face to another and Bets was actually reading something she'd previously written in her small notepad. That left Roth and the agent staring at one another in a silent battle that would've made a gorilla proud.

"I expect them to be disciplined," the agent demanded tersely.

"Oh they will be," Roth promised, and Blair realized that his Captain meant to keep that promise. "You two head back to the station and get your paperwork done," Roth ordered. Blair didn't even bother to apologize. He took one look at Roth's barely contained anger and decided to wait until they were in private where Roth could rip them a new one without an FBI audience.

"Yes, sir," Jim answered for both of them and Roth's body stiffened even more as his lips pressed into a tight line. Blair followed Jim back to his truck.

"Oh man, Roth is seriously hacked off," Blair commented once they were the privacy of the truck.

"He'll get over it, Junior. We made the arrest," Jim pointed out. Blair couldn't dispute that despite the fact that it didn't ease his guilt in the least. Jim started the truck and pulled out onto the traffic on 19th Ave.

"You're going to have quite the shiner there," Jim commented, and Blair reached up to explore the edges of his injury with his fingers. Jim was right -- he was going to have one hell of a black eye.

"I thought I told you stay on the roof?" Jim complained mildly.

Blair looked over his partner. Oh yeah, they'd come full circle now. What bothered Blair was the thought that when you walked in a circle, you never got anywhere.





045. Moon

Blair hadn't visited the blue jungle since Jim had moved to Phoenix, so at first he didn't realize he was in a dream. Even then, he didn't immediately recognize it as a Sentinel dream until he saw the cat's shadow darting through the trees.

Blair started walking, climbing over broken logs as he moved toward the familiar temple. The eroded carvings and stone blocks were as familiar to him as his own face in the mirror, but as he continued down the path, the familiar landscape and angles distorted. As he grew more and more and comfortable, Blair hurried towards his goal. The faster he walked, the more the jungle loomed unnaturally large over him.

Blair closed the last several feet and reached out to touch the cool stone which always felt so good in the uncomfortable jungle heat. That's when his hand slipped into the groove formed by the first carving, Blair realized his dream self had shrunk until his whole hand disappeared into one carved curve. This temple steps loomed over him, so tall that Blair couldn't reach the top of the first one even if he stood on tiptoe and pressed his body to the cold stone. Blair started to panic at the impossible task of climbing the gigantic structure. And yet, but he knew he had to.

Unwilling to give up, Blair turned around to look for a ladder or an elevator, a thought which seemed strangely logical in the dream state. Instead Blair found himself fascinated with the giant yellow moon that hung in the sky. It was so close Blair could see the various features of the beautiful orb: -- Cantor crater and Oceanus Procellarum.

Blair reached out toward that hanging globe, only slightly surprised to his fingers managed to touch the sandy surface. He used his fingers to rearrange mountains and carve new valleys in the stark landscape. Blair was still playing with the moon when the alarm woke him.

Blair sighed and hit snooze before rolling over and going back to sleep. He didn't have the energy to go for a run this morning. He needed to save his energy for the meeting with Roth.


046. Star
"What the hell were you even thinking?" Roth hissed, and when the big captain when from yelling to this hoarse sibilant whisper, Blair worried.


"No, don't say it. I swear if you say one word I will boot you off the force so fast your head will spin. I expect this shit from Russo or Ellison or even from Jeff in some lesser form, but *you*?!? What were you thinking?" Roth took a deep breath. "What were you *not* thinking?" Roth slammed his hand down on his desk, and Blair jumped. His eyes went to the door where the closed blinds kept him from seeing Jim although he had no doubt the Sentinel could hear every word of the current ass chewing.

"I know the others are aggressive sons of bitches who take their jobs too seriously and see every case as a challenge to their manhood or their honor or some other shit like that, but I trusted you to have more common sense than that," Blair looked back to his captain in order to see the open fury his inattentiveness had triggered. Blair rearranged his face with the same contrite mask he had used to survive so many rounds with Rainier administration. Roth sighed.

"Jim is a damn good officer, but he sees the rules as applying to other people and I trusted you to either keep him from walking too close to the edge or to at least letting me know when he was getting out of line," Roth said, and the disappointment bothered Blair more than the yelling or the hissing or the anger.

"Captain I really--"

"Really fucked up? Because unless that's what's about to come out of your mouth, you have missed the point."

"I know we should have--"

"You should have done a lot of things, but get that 'we' out of your sentence. You should be telling me that 'I should have' and the fact that you aren't tells me that you're still fucking up. Damn it Blair, you are one of the up and rising stars in the department." Roth's words made Blair duck his head. This man had taken a risk by hiring him, stuck by him through the investigation into the shooting, gone to the range to help Blair get over his new fear of firing his weapon. This man came closer to being a father than any other man in Blair's life ever had. Roth sighed again heavily. "You work well with people, you have a sharp mind, hell, you can talk an Eskimo out of his coat..."

"Inuit," Blair interrupted

"Isn't it what?" Roth's voice which a moment ago had been heavy with disappointment now just sounded confused.

"Eskimo isn't the name of the people, that's what white people call them. They're the Inuit people," Blair shrugged.

"Have I mentioned that you are able to talk your way out of trouble with frightening regularity?" Roth said dryly, and Blair decided that his captain definitely didn't fit into the category of most people. Roth continued after a brief moment of silent glare. "You are a damn good cop with damn good instincts, and yet your ex-partner walks in and you're suddenly Mr. Follow Along. Either you get yourself together or one of you is out of my department. Am I making myself clear?"

"Yes, sir."

"For God's sake, Sandburg, why didn't you say something?"

Blair had to really stop and think about that. "I thought Jim knew best."

"Damn it, Jim did think best when he was talking about the coverage at the drop. I can't fault the man's strategy, but Jim's judgment went right out the window when you two went rogue. You would have been better off turning that charm on the FBI idiot and getting him to listen to Jim. Or maybe you should have turned that charm on your partner to get him to work inside the system. Damn it, Blair. This is not going to look good on your record."

"I know sir."

"It's going to look worse on Ellison's since he has any number of violations of this nature."

Blair flinched at the idea that Jim could lose his job. In Cascade, that never felt like a real possibility, but here it did.

"So if you want to help your partner, stop assuming the man is always right."

"I just…"

"Blair, you better get your head on straight. Jim is damn good at what he does, but you're just as good at what you do. Funny enough, in that meeting with the FBI, I didn't see you do anything. You and your partner out there need to figure out why that happened."

Blair opened his mouth to protest, but really there wasn't anything he could say to that. Roth made a dismissive gesture toward the door while he sat down heavily. Blair left silently.


047. Heart
"Hey Jim," Blair said as Jim opened the apartment door. Jim stood just looking at him for several seconds before standing aside so Blair would walk in.

"Sandburg," Jim answered as he picked up his beer bottle from the end table before dropping onto the couch.

"It go that bad?"

"Simon yells louder," Jim shrugged as he focused on watching the Suns lose a basketball game.

"It go that bad?" Blair repeated, refusing to be thrown off the track this time. Jim's head fell back against the sofa so that the sentinel was staring up at the ceiling.

"I shouldn't have come. You had made a new life, and within a month or so you go from being the up and coming star to the maverick cop who can't be trusted."

"Oh man, it's not that bad," Blair paused as he silently reviewed his own ass-chewing. "Is it?" Blair sat on the arm of the couch farthest from Jim.

"I would say yes. Roth had me sign off on an agreement of 'do and don't's that if I don't do something on the do list or do do something on the don't list, I'm out of there."


"Yeah. He get that serious with you?" Jim rolled his head to the side, and now Blair could see the ache in Jim's heart shining out his eyes.

"Nah. He just yelled. It felt like being home; I haven't been yelled at like that for a while."

"And you wouldn't have been again if I hadn't come," Jim added.

"No, no, no. I made the decision to go along with your idiocy."


"Yeah, well it was pretty idiotic, but I agreed so I'm just as big of an idiot as you are."

"At least you'll be an idiot with a secure job," Jim said, but Blair could hear the unfamiliar uncertainty in Jim's voice. He wondered if Jim was uncertain about his own future or worried for Blair's. Blair slid down so that he was sitting cross-legged on the couch, one of his legs pressed again Jim's outside thigh. If he needed proof that Jim was upset, the lack of complaints about shoes on the furniture was proof enough.

"Really? He's that mad?" Blair asked softly.

"Oh yeah, Chief. I'm just glad you didn't catch the worst of it."

"Yeah. He just ripped me a new one." Blair paused as he considered how to bring up the next part. Jim had been right when he'd said that neither of them really liked talking about things like feelings, at least not when it really counted. "Roth suggested that we needed to have a heart to heart," Blair finally announced.

"Another time, huh Chief? I'm really wiped out here."

"Oh man there's nothing more I would like to do than just let this drop. I'm just not sure we can afford to."

"I didn't say drop it, I just set another time, Chief." Jim's voice took on the brittle hardness that warned Blair that he wasn't kidding. This time, Blair refused to take that warning.

"Problem is if we don't talk about this now, it just gets easier and easier did not talk about it all."

"What you want? You want me to put on a hair shirt and beg forgiveness?" Jim snapped as he sat up and jerked away so that their legs no longer touched.

"Man I never said anything close to that."

"But what the hell do you want to talk about? I screwed up. I get it. Now drop it." Jim spit his words angrily, and Blair felt his own temper rising up to overshadow his good intentions. He took a deep breath to avoid snapping something he didn't really mean, or even worse, snapping something he did mean.

"I would drop it if that would fix anything!"

"Dammit, I shouldn't have moved down here at all." Jim pushed himself up and started pacing the room.

"And that's the kind of thinking that got us in trouble in the first place! Shit it's like were in this rut and we're not getting out of it."

"So I'll get us out of it," Jim shouted as he started walking toward the bedroom. Blair suddenly had a flash of what Jim meant.

"By leaving?" Blair demanded as he stood up to follow Jim.

"You did it."

"Yeah, and it didn't turn out particularly well either."

"I don't know, it seems to have worked out pretty well for you," Jim countered as he opened his closet door and started pulling shirt off hangers one at a time, folding them and then stacking them on the bed.

"It didn't work out at all. I spent every damn day missing you. Every time something happened I wanted to pick up the phone. I kept having those god damn blue dreams," Blair took a deep breath before he humiliated himself by crying, not that he hadn't done that in front of Jim before. "Nothing worked out," Blair practically whispered in his desperation.

"You've made a home here, a home I don't fit into."

"Shit. We just have to talk through this. We can't just go back to the old patterns where you tell me to stay in the truck while you go break every rule."

"We're guys. We're not supposed to talk things through," Jim pointed out, but at least he had stopped folding shirts. Instead he stood in the middle of the room with his arms hanging at his side as if he couldn’t figure out what to do. Blair understood the feeling.

"Yeah well Naomi raised me better than that. I'm not supposed to get caught up in the testosterone shit," Blair answered tiredly.

"Newsflash, Chief, you're a guy. You have testosterone issues."

"Yeah, I'm figuring that out."

The two of them stood in silence in Jim's bedroom. Blair knew this feeling -- this desperate empty feeling like things were sliding away and he couldn't do anything about it. "God, I can't… " Blair lost his words again. "I can't do it again. I can't lose you like this," he finally admitted in a harsh and ragged voice.

"Chief, you aren't losing me. I'll never stop being your friend." Blair had closed his eyes, so the strong arms wrapping around his shoulders and pulling him to Jim's chest were a surprise. He allowed himself to lean into the warmth as he tried to catch his breath. "We're both tired and wrung out. Look, we have a few days off to think about things. Let's take a little break and try this again."

"I'm starting to think we're helpless at the heart-felt talks," Blair said with a small laugh. He wished he could just stay right here, held in Jim's arms. Even without talking, this felt right.

"Yeah. I noticed." Jim answered, and Blair felt a weight rest against the top of his head. He realized it was Jim's cheek, and that made him struggle even harder against the tears. He wouldn't lose this, not again.

"So we don't talk," Blair said with sudden inspiration.

"I thought that's what got us in trouble in the first place," Jim said, pulling back just far enough to look Blair in the eye with suspicion without actually letting go.

"So we write it all out. We take the three day suspension to figure it all out and write it down," Blair suggested. He waited for Jim to protest having to write out feelings, but to Blair's surprise, Jim nodded slowly.

"I can do that, Chief." Jim's arms tightened for a brief moment, and then Jim let him go. Blair could have cried in relief when Jim started taking the shirts from the bed and putting them back in his closet.


048. Diamond
Blair fingered his own envelope nervously as he wondered why the hell he had suggested they do this in public. Maybe Blair just figured it would be less likely for either of them to make a fuss in public. Opening his letter again, Blair unfolded the handwritten pages filled with crossed out words and cramped writing in the margin. Just one more read through, Blair told himself as he read the words that had flowed from his heart. Reading back over them now, Blair realized that he had ignored his heart for far too long now.

Dear Jim,

I love you, man. Really! When I became a cop, I hoped I could join you in your world, but the longer I was in the academy, the more I doubted it myself. Yeah, a couple of the instructors were real assholes, but the bigger problem was that I didn't believe in myself enough to ignore their shit.

And then you got all distant. Looking back, I see that you only pulled away when I started to drive you away, but I couldn't see that back then. I never wanted to lose you, and I don't want to lose you now.

I love being a cop, but I'm afraid that when I'm around you, I go back to being the guide and observer, not that there's anything wrong with being the guide because I love that part of my life. I'll always be your guide, man. But I'm not an observer now. I can't go back to following your lead when it comes to police work and waiting in the truck while you go out and catch the bad guy. And yeah man, I know it's my fault too for falling back into the old patterns, but I can't seem to break free without some help. So I'm asking for help.

I figure if I smack you every time you treat me like the sidekick and you smack me every time I go and get insecure about not being half the cop you are, we can get through this. If not, one of us can transfer over the 29 because I don't want to lose you was a friend again -- it hurt too much last time.

Blair looked at his words and wondered if they would be enough. He felt so off-balance that he knew something had to change.

Blair took another gulp of the weak Denny's coffee and waved off the waitress who approached with a fresh pot in hand. He was nervous enough without adding more caffeine to his system.

By the time Jim appeared next to the gaily painted door announcing the $2.99 breakfast special, Blair was physically bouncing in his seat. His wide smile slowly faded as he considered Jim's grim expression. Jim walked past the hostess who tried to seat him without a word.

Blair fingered his letter while staring at the plain white envelope in Jim's hand. Jim put his envelope down in front of Blair and then stood there as if trying to decide whether or not he wanted to sit. Blair swallowed nervously before pushing his own envelope across the table and picking up Jim's. They stayed that way for several moments, Jim looking increasingly uncomfortable and Blair afraid to take his eyes off Jim as some deep instinct told him they were walking an invisible edge that neither one of them could risk falling over.

"Oh man, please," Blair whispered, and Jim jumped as if surprised. But at least it was movement, and Jim sat down across from Blair as he picked up Blair's envelope. Blair waited well Jim unfolded the lined paper before he pulled the neatly typed sheet from the envelope Jim had handed him.


I never meant to make your life more difficult. You had a good life here, and these people respect you. I won't ruin that for you. I called Simon and it looks like I can get my old job back.

Blair felt his heart speed up and his eyes flew to Jim's emotionless face. Jim didn't give him any more than a glance before concentrating on Blair's writing again.

My apartment has a six-month lease. If you want, I will pay the difference in price between your apartment and mine until the end of the lease, and you can sign a new lease. I put you down as a tenant when I moved in, so there's no problem with you staying.

I'm sorry.

Blair read the words again in a state of shocked disbelief that made the the noises in the restaurant fade to a distant murmur.

"Jim, man?" Blair had so many questions and accusations and fears running through his head that he couldn't get out more than those two words.

"Chief, you don't want me to..." Jim's voice trailed off and confusion.

"Oh man, for an intelligent, college-educated man, you're a complete moron," Blair exclaimed.

"Maybe we're right for each other then because you have no reason to forgive me for screwing up your life over and over and over again."

"Hey, I'm perfectly capable of screwing up my own life, thanks! I've was doing it years before I ever met you. But this," Blair held up the letter, "sounds more like a divorce agreement that a heartfelt feeling"

"Give me a break chief. I don't do this sappy shit."

"Do you want to stay?" Blair blurted the words afraid of the answer and afraid he'd made too many assumptions. Jim stared at him with unblinking blue eyes that left Blair squirming uncomfortably.

"Yes," Jim finally answered.

"Then will be okay. After all, you know how the old saying goes... that which does not kill us makes us stronger."

"Chief, if that's true, as much pressure of we've been under in the past year, we've got to be pure diamond by now," Jim said with a familiar exasperated tone and a quick smile.

"Only if we were coal to start with."

"Well you're small enough for Santa to stuff you in a Christmas stocking," Jim pointed out in a tone that someone else might have mistaken for Jim being serious.

"Oh man, low blow! Besides I'm not the one who's all shiny on top like a diamond," Blair retorted. The joking was still a little stiff, but at least Blair could feel the rough edges of frustration and guilt start to smooth out. Blair laughed as a foot kicked his chair leg hard enough to scoot it back several feet.

"You know we're both going to keep screwing this up, don't you?" Jim suddenly asked in a more serious tone.

"Yep," Blair shrugged unconcerned. As long as they stayed together, he could handle the rest.


The Obligatory Gar Bar Scene

049. Club

"I asked for you two special," Miss Rose Gentle said as she walked across the empty club swinging her red sequined butt. "Told Roth I wanted Frizz and his big buff bodyguard."

"Oh man, I appreciate the vote of confidence, especially now. But a couple of uniforms could do this," Blair pointed out. He loved the trannies who ran the Queen Land, but his lack of height seemed to make every gay weight lifter in the bar assume he was a bottom boy looking for a big daddy. Even the joy of finally being back on a case with Jim didn't make up for an evening of getting groped.

"Oh please," Miss Rose gentle sniffed dismissively. "The asshole who keeps writing these letters would be a lot happier if he would just suck a little cock." Blair choked a bit and just avoided running into a chair in shock at Rose's words. Jim's hands on his shoulders saved him at the last second, guiding him around the furniture.

"These threats sound serious this time, and we've had two clubs firebombed." Jim pointed out. Blair felt the heat of Jim's hand resting on his shoulder as Miss Rose stopped at the bar.

"Sugar, maybe you should listen this once," Chocolate Babe said from behind the counter, her deep voice unmistakably male despite the impressive breasts and immaculate makeup. One black hand nervously tapped long red fingernails on the bar.

"Babe, I said the cuties could stay here and watch, but I won't have homophobic pigs in uniform wandering my club. This is *my* world and *my* sanctuary."

Blair could hear the desperation in Miss Rose's voice, and it bothered him more than he could say. Miss Rose never let the hate get to her, but that was before these letters from the serial arsonist. The details he included made it clear that he had been inside the club. To keep Miss Rose and her club safe, Blair would risk a night of getting his ass groped.

"Well let's just get you two cuties into something that blends in a little more with the atmosphere," Miss Rose suggested.

"I can blend just fine on my own," Jim insisted. Blair had to suppress a smile at the thought of what kind of get-up Ms. Rose would consider "blending in." This job might have a few perks that made getting manhandled worth it.

"Oh, come on, Jim. Where's your sense of adventure? After all, the whole point of community-based policing is to fit in with the community." Blair could feel his lips twitching in suppressed laughter. From the droll expression on Jim's face, Jim could see it just as easily

"Oh honey, I'm glad to hear you say that. I have the most darling outfit for you." Blair turned horrified eyes toward Miss Rose as he considered just what she might make him wear.

"Miss Rose, I'm not wearing anything that makes my ass hang out. Some of the outfits I've seen in here… I'm not entirely sure they're legal."

"Oh sweetie, for a man with a nipple ring, you're being awfully judgmental." Blair opened his mouth in shock as he considered how Miss Rose knew about that nipple ring. Blair glanced down but his shirt hadn't formed any spontaneous holes. He looked back up to find Miss Rose smiling mischievously. "I promise you that you will not have any naughty body parts dangling -- at least not unless you have enough to drink that you choose to make them dangle yourself." Miss Rose winked at him, and Blair felt like the rabbit about to get eaten by a wolf on a National Geographic special.

"There will be no drinking." Jim's voice took on that tone that normally made people shake in fear, but Chocolate Babe started laughing, and Miss Rose joined in with her own deep laugh.

"I guess Frizzy isn't the only one with a jealous streak." Miss Rose said as she slapped Jim's arm hard enough that the sharp sound of it made Blair flinch. "You two make my heart feel good; I didn't think there were any one-man boys still out there."

"And they look so cute together," Chocolate Babe offered, "who would want to get between them anyway? "

"Now hold on one second," Blair started complaining.

"Give it up, Chief. They're going to believe what they're going to believe."

That earned Jim one very strange look from Miss Rose, but Blair didn't have a chance to ask what she might mean by it. Honey Girl walked in carrying an armful of clothing. Well, maybe armful was overstating it, since there really wasn't enough fabric there to make Blair happy.

"Oh no, just no! Whatever you three have cooked up, it's not going to work," Blair insisted as he smelled the set up. The glances that the three trannies shared over his head didn't make him feel one bit better, either.

"And what happened to that sense of adventure of yours, Chief?" Jim asked with barely contained laughter.

"You suck, man." Blair snapped, and Jim gave an answer, but it was too soft for Blair to hear. Meanwhile Honey Girl had spread out three or four outfits across the bar. None of them look like they would cover as many body parts as Blair preferred to have covered at all times.

"Come on, Miss Rose, I thought you liked me?" Blair tried for boyish charm, but Miss Rose just pinched his ass hard enough to make him jump toward the bar. Fortunately, Jim moved up behind him, one hand resting on Blair shoulder and glaring at Miss Rose with his best Blessed Protector face. Unfortunately, Miss Rose just winked at Blair anyway.

"Oh Babe, you have no idea how much I like you. However you have to get rid of the khaki pants if you don't want to end up looking like a cop. Those pretty little beaded vests of yours are not enough to make you fit in here. The kids in this place like to play dress-up, and if you really want to be able to look around without being spotted, you're going to have to dress-up with the rest of us."

"She has a point, Chief," Jim pointed out. Blair crossed his arms in considered whether this was one of those times that he needed to have the strength to veto Jim. However, his common sense was telling him that Jim was right this time and he needed to suck it up and embarrass the shit out of himself if he planned to catch the arsonist.

"I hate it when you guys are right."


050. Spade
"Hey, Sweet cheeks, feel like a dance?" Blair turned to look at the enormous mountain of a man who was hitting on him. The guy was dressed in leather pants, and a leather harness that covered absolutely nothing, certainly not the large beer belly hanging out over the pants. Blair had an unwelcome vision of himself getting crushed under such a large weight.

"He's taken. Go fish somewhere else," Jim snapped peevishly. Blair wasn't sure whether the peevishness came from the loud music and flashing lights of the club, or whether Jim was just tired of having to defend his partner's honor.

"Thanks, man," Blair sighed as the mountain moved away.

"No problem, Sweet cheeks," Jim said with an evil twinkle in his eyes.

"Don't you start, Jim Ellison."

"What? Your ass is pretty sweet in those leather pants. They really don't leave much to the imagination do they?" Jim looked down Blair's body, and Blair felt himself blush from the top of his head all the way down to the waistband of those leather pants. And since he wasn't wearing a shirt, but rather the thinnest, skimpiest leather vest that Blair had ever seen in his life, his blush was completely visible.

"You're one to talk. At least my vest covers something; that harness doesn't cover you as much as it does draw attention to you."

"Yeah, Chief, but I've got some good stuff to draw attention to." Jim laughed as he flexed his arm, making the muscles stand out, and Blair had to admit that Jim did have a seriously impressive body. He looked at the way one muscle disappeared into another on Jim's arm, the curves creating a form of art work. Oh shit, he couldn't figure out what the hell had been wrong with him lately. One thing he did know, cops did not think about other cops' bodies as if they were artwork. It was time to get his head back into looking for the arsonist.

"Geez, who would've thought you'd have an exhibitionistic streak, Ellison?"

"Hey, when you got it, flaunt it!" Jim dropped a familiar arm over Blair shoulder, and Blair appreciated the defense against the piranha that seemed to have been circling him all night. Jim bent down so far that his warm breath tickled Blair ear. "Have you seen anything yet?"

"About a dozen cases of lewd and indecent behavior in public," Blair shrugged. He had seen plenty of illegal activity, but none of that had anything to do with the arsonist.

"Same here. This doesn't fit the pattern. At every other club, once he mailed the letters, he firebombed that next night."

"Maybe he's getting smart, "Blair suggested. Jim shook his head.

"Maybe, but I doubt it. A spade is a spade, and this guy wants to firebomb the place tonight. If he doesn't show up, it means something or someone stopped him."

"Maybe his signature is evolving. It could be that he's going to take more time between the letters in the firebombing in order to enjoy the build up," Blair whispered into Jim's ear. Jim's arm around his shoulder tightened pulling Blair in even closer so that no one else would be able to hear their conversation.

"Profiling's outside my range. You have more experience in psychology than I do. Do you think that's what's happening here?"

"No." Blair sighed in frustration as he looked across the sea of dancing bodies. "If he was changing his pattern, something would've changed in the letter, but the letter was identical. I don't know what the hell is going on."

"Join the crowd, Chief. Something stopped him, though."

"If that's your way of being supportive, we can safely say *that* skill is out of your range too."

"Yeah, but I look pretty," Jim teased with a wink. Blair rolled his eyes, and tried to remind his body that Jim was just joking.

By the end of the night, Blair had counted a dozen violations of decency laws, observed two new sexual positions, and decided that he was never going to use a public bathroom in a bar ever again. However, they had not discovered any arsonist as they stood in a now empty bar. There were days that Blair really hated police work.

"So are you two cuties coming back tomorrow?" Miss Rose asked with a smile.

"I don't think the Captain is going to pay us to come to the club every night," Blair said with a grimace. He wasn't sure what was worse: the idea of leaving Miss Rose here exposed to the arsonist or the idea of the Captain sending them back in. He'd discovered that there was a worse torture than having large men randomly grab his ass. It was called Jim Ellison. Having a half-naked Jim draped around him for most of the night had been just about more that his self-control was capable of handling. Blair understood that Jim was a very physical man who tended to touch his guide all the time. However, Blair's cock was getting entirely too excited about it.

"Too bad--you two are a cute couple in those outfits," Miss Rose insisted, and Honey Girl smiled widely from behind the bar where she was counting the evening's profits.

"You do know that we're not actually a couple, right?" Blair sighed in frustration at his inability to get Miss Rose to understand that he and Jim were not an item. But then again, he couldn't exactly explain sentinels and guides and the ever-present need to touch that existed between them.

"Oh darling, I call a spade a spade when I see one," Miss Rose insisted as she gave them a wink and went to help Honey Girl count the evening's money.

"Come on, Chief. Let's get out of these clothes before someone from the precinct shows up." Blair followed Jim to the back where they had left their street clothes. As much as he felt ridiculous in his own leather outfit, he had to admit that a small part of him was sad to see Jim take off that leather and brass harness. Jim had been right about one thing; those who had it certainly should flaunt it.




Lucky Break

051. Water

Blair stared across the water to the expensive condos on the other side of the wide pond complete with fountains. It was so out of place in the desert that Blair wondered why these people lived in Arizona at all if they were going to waste the precious water trying to make their new living room view look like Minnesota.

"Frizz, you with me?" Bets asked.

"Oh yeah, sorry. Wandered away for a second," Blair admitted as he turned his attention back to the evidence he was supposed to be gathering.

"Anyone I know?" She asked mildly, but Blair could hear the edge in her voice, and he knew exactly who she meant.

"The people in those lakeside houses," Blair answered as he bent down and started going through the piles of trash again. The growing stack of blank and shredded driver's licenses, birth certificates, social security cards, and green cards made it clear that the coyotes used his rented house to both smuggle people and forge documents. The small but growing pile between Bets and Blair would put these guys away for a lot longer than the 68 illegal aliens found inside the house.

"People live here for all sorts of reasons. Some fit in, some move away, and others," Bets gestured toward the expensive houses and condos, "they just try to turn this place into something it isn't. Those people are always going to be unhappy no matter where they go." Bets shrugged as if she had no time to waste thinking about such people.

"Oh buddy boy, that's just kind of a sad thought." Blair brushed a stray curl out of his face, and thought back fondly on the days when he could have simply tied his hair up in a ponytail.

"Yeah, it is." Bets paused. "You know, the last couple of weeks, I've missed working with you," Bets said conversationally.

"Oh no. No. No. No. If you're going to do the guilt thing that Jeff did, don't." Blair rocked back on his heels and considered Bets with his best determined glare.

"What, you think a sistah doesn't have the right to send your sorry ass on a guilt trip?"

"I think," Blair shot back quickly, "that we didn't go out together that often. So it's not like I've been neglecting you too."

"Yeah, but with Mr. Boy-Scout hogging you, I get stuck with Russo a lot more than is good for my blood pressure," Bets pointed out with a rather unamused laugh. "Besides who you think listened to all Jeff's whining?"

"Man, if I take out a huge 'I'm sorry' billboard on the I-10, would you guys stop with the guilt already?" Blair begged plaintively. Some part of him had known that he had been too wrapped up with Jim, but he had no idea that the guys had gotten so cranky over it. He supposed he should consider it a compliment, but right now he just needed the guilt to stop.

"Nope," Bets said in an entirely too cheerful voice. Blair was on the verge of describing the woman as evil, but he just went back to sorting his half of the garbage pile.

"You guys suck!" Blair complained halfheartedly.

"And you expect us to believe you don't?" Bets demanded as she gave him a downright salacious look. Blair opened his mouth to ask what she meant by that, but a glance at the paper in his hand distracted him. All other thoughts left his mind as he smiled in triumph.

052. Fire
"Cap, I got 'em!" Blair practically shouted as he rushed through the open door with a digital image of that piece of paper stored in his cell phone's memory.

"Sandburg, have you ever heard of knocking?" Roth demanded as he looked at Blair's phone, the image zoomed in on the names. For a moment Roth's face remained blank, and Blair opened his mouth to remind his Captain of the one case Blair had refused to ever relegate to the dead files. Then Roth started to smile.

"I'm glad to see that Sandburg fire back," Roth said as he nodded slowly. "Do we have a date?"

"Three days," Blair said as he bounced slightly on the balls of his feet. "Oh man, I can't believe this is the same group of coyotes."

"I can. Running illegals is big business, and these gangs are jealous of their territories," Roth answered. Blair sat down in one of the seats across from Roth's desk for a moment, but he couldn't stay down. Before Roth had even finished his sentence, Blair was up and leaning over his Captain's desk again. "Are you sure the runners are the ones who raped her last time?" Roth asked.

"Almost sure. Anytime I mentioned her brothers, she clammed up. I want them! I don't want to see Saundra Lopez in the hospital again," Blair said as he clenched his fists.

"The coyotes may just drop off the brothers and grab the money," Roth pointed out.

"No way man," Blair shook his head. "They figured out she's not going to talk no matter how rough they are. They'll want more."

"You willing to bet some free time on that?"

"Hell yes," Blair nearly shouted.

"Who do you want to partner with on stakeout?" Roth held up a hand, palm facing Blair. "And before you answer, keep in mind that it's your job to get them to agree to be paid if and only if you get a bust."

"Jim," Blair answered without hesitation. Roth had started filling out the paperwork, but his pen hesitated as Blair said the name.

"Can you two play by the book?" Roth asked, the pen motionless against the paper.

"Captain, I know I screwed up, but I will not risk my conviction on this case. Jim's the best there is at surveillance. His covert ops training makes him perfect." Blair felt only a small twinge at not adding that Jim's Sentinel abilities made him the best possible partner for this job.

"And you'll be lead detective?" Roth's sharp tone made it clear that only one answer would be acceptable.

"Yes sir."

"Then talk him," Roth answered, and the pen started moving again as Roth approved the stakeout of the Lopez home on the grounds that a gang of rapists were about to track down one young woman and demand payment for bringing her brothers up from Mexico.


053. Earth
Blair crouched next to Jim, each of them pressing their bodies to the cool rock-littered earth. The Arizona winters could never compare with any place that had an actual winter, but Blair still felt the chill of the November night through his jacket.

There was a slight shifting next to him and then the length of Jim's body pressed up against his left side. At first, Blair felt only the pressure, but then the warmth soaked through his jacket and Blair could relax his jaw without having his teeth chatter loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear.

"I can't believe you're cold in Arizona, Chief," Jim teased softly.

"Man, deserts lose all their heat at night. It's scientific fact," Blair whispered back.

"Whatever you say, Chief. Any movement on your side?"

Blair used the binoculars to check the street to the north. Nothing. "Man, maybe this is just wishful thinking. Maybe the Lopez brothers got dropped off somewhere else and we're wasting our time here," Blair admitted as he looked at the deserted street.

"Maybe," Jim said cautiously, and Blair felt embarrassment warm his face as he considered that Jim had spent all evening pressed to the side of an artificial hill in a rundown playground waiting for bad guys who might never show. "I sat a lot of stakeouts that didn't amount to anything, but I think your instincts are right on this one. If they aren't," Jim shrugged and Blair could feel the movement as their bodies pressed together, "we'll just have to wait for another break."

Even though the streetlights had been broken long ago, Blair kept his eyes on the road and his face turned away so that he didn't make a fool out of himself. Sometimes having a partner with Sentinel sight was rather inconvenient because he didn't need to let Jim see just how much he'd needed those words. He wasn't a kid who needed praise, and yet Jim's words warmed him just as much as the warm body pressed to his side.

Unfortunately Blair's body started reacting to the warmth in rather embarrassing ways. Blair focused his mind on what the coyotes had done to Saundra Lopez -- the broken ribs and wrist, the bruised kidneys, the black eyes and damaged vagina. Oh yeah, that worked. Blair's body lost all interest in pursuing things it shouldn't be interested in.

"Heads up, Chief," Jim hissed and Blair watched an old white panel-van pull up in front of the Lopez House.

"Telling the press that the documents were burned worked like a charm," Jim whispered happily as three middle-aged men got out of the panel van and slammed the doors closed behind them.

"Call for backup or wait?" Blair asked. The men's voices were so low he couldn't hear them.

"Wait," Jim said. "They want to have a talk with Saundra Lopez, and I think we need to hear it."

"Oh, yeah. They are so busted," Blair said happily. Jim started to get up and had taken a step or two, but he stopped when Blair didn't follow.

"I'm calling for some units to stay on the perimeter ready to come in," Blair explained as he waved Jim on. By the time Blair had called in the back-up units, Jim had gotten in place below a back window that stood open to the cool night breezes. Blair kept low and ran for the side of an old Ford sitting 50 feet away from Jim's new location.

As Blair knelt on the curb with his weapon drawn, he could feel the need to rush in and save the young woman whose trauma he had witnessed first hand, but he also knew they needed enough evidence to put the men away for good. Blair watched, and suddenly Jim's back stiffened.

"Move in, move in," Blair called quietly but desperately into the radio before he shoved it back onto his belt. Jim stood and ripped the screen from the window as he identified himself as Phoenix PD in a thundering shout. Since Jim had his part under control, Blair angled his weapon to cover the front.

Sure enough, two of the suspects came barreling out the front door. "Phoenix, PD! Hands up!" Blair shouted, the adrenaline in his system making his voice rougher than usual. One, a thin man with heavy features froze in indecision.

"Don't do it. On the ground! On your stomach!" Blair yelled as he kept his weapon steady. The one dropped to his belly with his arms stretched out, but the second suspect made a run for the van.

"Freeze," Blair yelled, even though he knew the man wasn't likely to respond, and policy really didn't let him shoot a fleeing suspect, not even in the leg, not even if the man was a rapist. It actually kinda scared Blair that he would rather shoot the guy than let him get away. Luckily, he wasn't faced with that choice because two patrol cars came around the corner, blocking the van's escape.

The suspect rolled out of the van while it was still moving, but two uniformed officers gave chase as soon as the one officer had slammed their car into park in the van's path. Blair turned his attention back to his suspect, trusting the back up team to catch the third guy.

"Chief, you okay?" a familiar voice asked. Blair turned to see Jim with his hand on a cuffed suspect's arm and Saundra Lopez crying behind him. For a moment, Blair wondered why Jim had to ask, and then Blair realized that his heart was pounding madly.

"Oh hell, yeah. Two in the bag and one getting run to ground. Shit I love this job," Blair answered happily.


054. Air
"Good job, guys," Jeff offered the next morning.

"Oh man, that was my oldest open case, and I'm flying here," Blair answered, thrilled both with the arrest and Jeff's tentative olive branch toward Jim.

"Credit goes to Blair on this one," Jim answered. The answer seemed to please Jeff because he relaxed a bit and gave Jim an expression that almost approached a smile. Almost.

"Well, as long as those bastards go way for a long, long, long damn time, I don't care who gets the credit." Blair's smile was wide enough for both men, and both men smiled back at him.

"Listen, Jeff. I'd like to clear the air here," Jim started.

"Well you know what the cartoon cat said, put your past behind you," Jeff shrugged as he started to turn away. "No harm no foul."

"Well, I may have been a little possessive of Blair," Jim said, and Jeff stopped and turned so that he half-faced Jim but kept his body angled away. For a long moment, Blair was afraid that the silence was becoming another one of the strange contests that Jeff and Russo and Jim would so often start. Instead Jim took a breath and talked.

"I lost one partner, and I almost lost Blair to a psycho. Makes me little twitchy about watching him walk out of here with someone else. Anyone else." Blair glanced over at Jim, and realized from his tight expression that he was telling the truth. It wasn't that Jim didn't trust him -- Jim was just afraid of never seeing him again every time he walked out. Oh great, that made Blair feel a whole lot better about walking out on the man in the first place.

"Blair told us the story about the drowning after we gave him Alex," Jeff said quietly. "I didn't know about your other partner. I'm sorry."

Blair shifted from one foot to another as he looked at the two men. Every cop understood the fear of losing a partner, but Blair hadn't expected Jim to share that pain and that fear. The awkward silence continued.

"Alex?" Jim finally asked in a bewildered tone of voice. Blair suddenly realized that he had never introduced Jim to his normal desk-mate.

"Oh man, that's right. You never met Alex. She got loaned out to one of the gals and forensics who was having a hard time," Blair said with a bounce. He couldn't wait to see the expression on Jim's face when he saw the stuffed purple monster. "Man, she's been gone a long time. I guess I should go get her back,"

"You want Alex back?" Jim asked in an even more confused voice, but at least the awkward silence had passed, and Jeff gave Blair a conspiratorial grin while Jim just continued to look wonderfully confused and mildly alarmed.

"Oh yeah man, I miss her purple hide."

"I don't know. That girl always gave me the creeps," Jeff complained with a shudder, and now and Jim looked even more confused.


Jeff laughed as he walked off toward the squad room leaving Jim and Blair to go retrieve Alex.

"Oh yeah man. Totally purple. In fact, let's head to forensics now. I really miss my girl."



Comfort Food

055. Spirits

Blair groaned in frustration as he looked around and saw the blue jungle around him. For the umpteenth time he wondered whether these were Sentinel dreams or whether his subconscious had simply chosen to turn any dream that involve Jim into a visit to this blue jungle that Jim had described so many times. Blair had described both options to Jim, and as usual Jim had been a little less interested in exploring the options than Blair had. As far as Jim was concerned it didn't matter whether the messages came from Blair's own subconscious or some mystical beyond: they were important. One nice side effect, however, was that Jim was far more willing to talk about his strange dreams now that Blair was tormented by his own.

Tonight the dream seemed to feature the Spirit animals. Blair rarely saw his own wolf in the streams; Jim's cat was a far more normal feature. However now the cat and the wolf slowly circled each other in a clearing. Blair walked through the trees and approached the two animals.

"Have you guys ever considered just coming right out in telling us what's important?" Blair demanded wryly. As he expected the animals didn't answer. In fact they continued their circling as if Blair wasn't even there. Blair sat down on the top of a fallen log and watched them.

If this was a mystical message from beyond, Blair was missing it. The only thing he noticed was that the two animals really had no business being in the same environment. Of course, the irony of his own spirit animal being a cold-loving wolf wasn't lost on him either.

Blair watched as the sleek, black cat darted to one side, and the wolf lowered its headed and whined. The cat darted back the other way, and now the wolf's whine took on a more pathetic edge. Blair rolled his eyes. He did *not* sound like that! Blair pulled his legs up under him and sat cross-legged on the log as he waited for the animals to do something interesting enough to be worth spending his evening with.

God, now he understood why these things annoyed Jim so much. Blair wondered if he was asking too much to just wish that either the mystical beyond or his own subconscious would spell things out a little clearer. These blue dreams inspired a sort of desperate need, but without a clear message, that feeling was really more frustration than any sort of useful motivation. Even though Blair had forgiven Jim for kicking him out of the loft, Blair never really understood it until he started having the damn dreams for himself.

The cat darted around to the side again, and the wolf was clearly growing more frustrated. Blair tried comparing this to their current situation, but it didn't make sense. For the first time, he and Jim were finally working together as partners and as equals. When Blair came up with a strange theory, Jim listened instead of rolling his eyes. And when Jim insisted that something was true, Blair turned his gift of persuasion on everyone else in the room. They weren't working together exclusively any more, but over half of Blair's cases had Jim as the second detective. So really, there was nothing for the wolf to get frustrated about in the cat's frantic jumping didn't seem to have anything to do with Jim.

Now the cat was acting like it had gotten into catnip, racing toward the wolf playfully and then bounding away. The wolf made little puppy sounds, but it didn't try and follow the cat's antics. What the hell were they doing? This certainly didn't look like anything National Geographic ever recorded.

The wolf finally seemed too tired to even react when the cat nipped at it. It sat down and whined unhappily. Then, seemingly out of energy, wolf flipped over to its side and showed its stomach. Blair stared in horror at what he saw. Well it didn't take Freud to figure that one out, especially when Blair's spirit animal was so well endowed.

Blair turned his attention to the cat, getting off the log and crouching down so that he could try and see between the animal's legs. The cat took another run at the wolf, and Blair got a nice full frame image of exactly what he was looking for. Great. So now he just needed to decide whether this was some message about his Sentinel from the beyond, or if this was some Freudian wishful thinking bubbling up through his dreams. As Blair watched the cat play, he wondered how the poor thing could even move with that hard on.


056. Breakfast
Blair watched as Jim wandered the kitchen in his boxers, stirring the scrambled eggs slowly with one hand while he added chopped peppers with the other. Because he'd grown up wandering from one commune to another, Blair had never really had a close male friend until Jim, and Blair wondered whether males normally ran around the apartment in boxers.

Blair sighed in frustration because it wasn't a question he could go around asking people. He had woken up with a determination to find out whether Jim was interested in him, but faced with a life-sized Jim cooking in his boxer shorts, Blair realized he couldn't tell the difference between normal and interested.

"Chief, you planning on setting the table or standing there with the plates in your hand all morning?" Jim's voice broke Blair out of his thoughts and he hurried to put the plates on the table just as Jim came walking over with the pan.

"What's up with you this morning?" Jim asked as he used the spatula to dump a pile of eggs onto each plate.

"The Bray case," Blair quickly obfuscated. That case was bothering him, but not nearly as much as the casual way that Jim's arm brushed his as Jim went back to put the pan in the kitchen sink.

"Is that the assault case?" Jim asked as he ran water in the pan and looked over his shoulder.

"Yeah," Blair answered as he pulled a bowl of cut cantaloupe pieces out of the refrigerator. The apartment kitchen was much smaller than the loft's kitchen, and Jim's hip bumped his as Jim passed him. With the refrigerator door open, there really wasn't much room to get by without the hip bump so Blair wasn't sure whether to count that as a hint or not.

"Who are you working with on the case?" Jim asked as he sat down to breakfast, and Blair followed, putting the bowl of fruit on the table as he sat down.

"Russo," he said. "I think the man was ready to beat the hell out of the two mechanics at the shop across the street," Blair admitted with a disgusted sigh. "I know those guys are covering for someone, but threatening to bury them under the jail if they don't talk is not the best approach."

"Oh, I don't know. I've used that approach several times myself," Jim pointed out. "With the right guys, you can leave them begging to tell you what they know."

"Yeah, but these two? Oh man, they look like rejects from Conan the Barbarian, and the more Russo growled, the more they got their backs up." Blair rolled his eyes at the other detective's antics.

"So go back without him," Jim said around a mouthful of eggs. Blair looked up in utter shock and disbelief. He had only earned Roth's trust back so that he and Jim were working cases together on a regular basis instead of being permanently separated at work.

"Or not," Jim quickly added with a shrug as he looked at Blair expression.

"You know, it's really weird to be the rule following one here," Blair complained. "I was always the one trying to slide around the rules."

"People change, Chief."

"Yeah, I guess," Blair said, suddenly disquieted by the realization that, in some ways, he was more a part of the cop culture in Phoenix than Jim was. Entirely too weird.

"So, how are you going to handle Russo's permanent case of testosterone poisoning?" Jim asked.

"I figure I'm just going to tell him he's a Neanderthal and tell him to just stay back." Blair didn't expect Jim to start laughing.

"What?" Blair demanded.

"I'm just remembering that first day when you called *me* a throwback," Jim admitted.

"Well, hopefully he won't slam me into a wall," Blair laughed. He watched as Jim reached down to scratch himself. Okay, was that a signal or just a stray itch?

"He better not," Jim said as he continued scratching.

Blair resisted the urge to roll his eyes again, but even though he had meant the Blessed Protector comment as a joke, Jim really did take the idea of protecting the guide to heart. Since he couldn't come up with an answer that didn't either condone Jim's over protective streak or sound bitchy, Blair just ate in silence.

Jim was putting breakfast away at a good pace, his eyes going from the newspaper laid out next to his plate over to Blair and then back down again. Blair tried to remember if Jeff and Russo did that... kept taking small glances at him. He didn't think so. That went into the hint column.

Jim finished his food and stood and stretched. As Jim's arms rose up, the boxer rode down low enough for Blair to see a few stray hairs trailing from Jim's belly button down to the waistband of his boxers. When Blair looked up and saw Jim looking at him with one eyebrow cocked, Blair realized he'd been staring. He opened his mouth to come up with some excuse, but Jim started talking first.

"You done with your plate, Chief?"

"Um, yeah," Blair managed to get out. He held up his plate and Jim snagged it on his way to the kitchen. Okay, if Jim was trying to hint, wouldn't catching Blair staring at his groin be a good time for a few hints? So, were the lack of hints there a hint?

"Since it's my morning for dishes, you have 10 minutes if you want to use the shower first. Otherwise, I'm getting in there whether you're finished or not," Jim called from the kitchen. Blair stood in the apartment's dining room looking at Jim's back at the sink. Okay, had Jim just said what Blair thought he just said?

Blair hurried for the bathroom as he considered the evidence. At this point, he was starting to form a hypothesis, but he couldn't afford to be wrong here. As Blair slipped his robe off and got under the spray of hot water, he smiled. He would do what all scientists did when faced with a hypothesis. It was time to do a little testing.


057. Lunch
Blair slid into the seat across from Roth.

"So, this is new -- having lunch in the middle of a workday. What's up?" Blair asked as he picked up the menu.

"What? Do I have to have a reason to invite one of my detectives to lunch?"

"Oh man, am I going to be in trouble if I say yes?" Blair laughed as he started scanning the various menu items. He was having trouble finding anything that wouldn't trigger an instant heart attack. It was funny, he'd spent months in Mexico on various expeditions, and Mexicans ate quite healthy, but for some reason when Americans made Mexican food, they managed to make it about as healthy as Wonderburger.

"Nice, Sandburg. I try to invite you out for a little small talk, and this is what I get." Blair would have been a lot more upset had Roth not had an amused expression on his face. Countless hours on the firing range together meant that Blair could read Roth nearly as well as he could read Jim.

"Hey, as long as I'm not in trouble again, we can have all the small talk you want. I'm not, am I? In trouble I mean." Blair clarified as he looked up.

"Have you done something that you should be in trouble for?"

"No way man!" Blair insisted as he put his menu down.

"Good to hear. Something's come up, and I wanted to talk to you about it." Roth waited a half beat, just long enough to let Blair know this was serious.

"They're looking for somebody to head up a new unit out of the downtown precinct, and normally I would say you didn't have nearly enough experience. Normally, that is, but this might be a real opportunity for you. The brass wants to set up a special crime unit modeled after some unit they have in New York: A unit that would handle rape and sexual abuse cases exclusively." Roth stopped to take a drink of water and gesture at their tardy waitress. It didn't work.

"You have one hell of a reputation in that area," Roth finally continued. "Better than any other cop I know. The question is, whether you want me to throw your name in the hat." As Roth's words sunk in, Blair stared at the man in utter shock. From the minute he had taken the badge from Jim in Simon back in Cascade, he knew he could do the job. Somehow though, he didn't actually expect to be this good at it. And in truth, he had no idea what to say, which is pretty much what he then said.

"Wow, Cap! I mean, I really don't know what to say. I totally appreciate you even considering me, but I don't know if I'm ready for something like that."

"Son, you're as ready as you're going to be. The only question is whether you want it. Some people, like Russo, want the promotions but they'd never be able to handle the administrative work. Others, like Jim and Bets, would be great, but they don't want to move up. They're detectives, and they don't want to be anything else. You're a little harder to figure out though. I know you can do the job, I just don't know whether you want to. So, when Daniels from downtown asked for names, I told them I have to talk to you."

"Captain, this means a lot to me after some of the crap I've had flung at me in this last year or so. But I don't know whether other people are ready for a cop with more experience in anthropology than police work."

"They're ready, Sandburg. Why do you think Daniels called me in the first place? Trust me, I don't have another detective who can deal with sexual assault cases the way you can. Every other detective in my department hides in the bathroom when it comes to rape cases. And I can't blame them since those cases are the ones little tear you apart as a cop. But you take every damn one. You do the job right, and the brass knows that."

"Oh man, I really have to think about this," Blair admitted. He had endured so much change in the recent past that he wasn't sure he was ready for more. But then again, he'd always thrived on challenge, and it was a challenge.

"You need to talk to your roommate?" Blair shot Roth a sharp look. His Captain hadn't said anything when Blair had changed his address to Jim's apartment, but the tone of voice Roth used just now made it clear that some bug had crawled up Roth's butt. Blair just wasn't sure which possible bug had committed the crime..

"Jim would support me whatever decision I made. As long as he gets to run down criminals, he's not actually all that picky where he works." When Roth's expression changed to one of shock, Blair had to parse his own statement. When he looked at it from Roth's point of view, he could see how strange it seemed.

Blair realized that he implied that not only would Jim accept his decision but that Jim would go along with him. Blair frowned a bit at the realization that he and Jim might be letting the pendulum swing a little too far back the other way. He didn't have the right to make decisions for Jim anymore than Jim had a right to make decisions for him. Blair had never been very good at relationships, so he didn't have that many healthy or long-term relationships to compare to, but he wondered if everyone had this much trouble keeping a healthy balance.

"Well, give it some thought. Daniels needs to know within two weeks who's willing to take the job so that he can do the background research and present the mayor with some recommendations."

"Captain..." Blair started, but Roth interrupted him.

"Save it, Sandburg," Roth said. "Don't ruin my appetite with any of your great emotional revelations."

"Oh man, you totally need to get in touch with your emotional side."

"Some of us don't want to be that in touch, Sandburg."

"You're going to die of emotional constipation, you know."

"Most men do, Sandburg." Roth answered as he picked up his menu, his smile only half concealed. Blair glanced and saw the waitress headed their way, and he picked his own menu up as he went back to the task of trying to find himself the meal that was least likely cause permanent heart damage.


058. Dinner
Falling down onto the couch, Blair sighed in frustration. He'd had a heck of a time ditching Russo long enough for his little side trip to the video store, but now he was stocked up. Time for a little hypothesis testing. Since Jim wasn't home, Blair started preparing for his evening.

He started by actually cleaning up the living room, shoving his various piles of case notes and National Geographic magazines and half finished crossword puzzles back into his room. Jim was getting better about biting his tongue, but Blair knew that he still got annoyed on occasion, and Blair needed to make sure than any reactions tonight were from the movie and not from Blair's work scattered across the room.

Blair tucked his messenger bag with the three video options between the couch and the side table since he really didn't want the titles showing. The goal was to find out if Jim was interested, not announce his own interest. Okay, on to step two. Blair went to the dining room where he had dropped plastic bags full of supplies from the grocery store.

By the time Jim came in the door, Blair had a nachos grande sauce warming on the stovetop, bowls of chips on the dining room table, and both chairs on the side of the table that would let them watch the television.

"Hey, Chief, what smells so good?" Jim called as he stuck his head in the door. Blair looked up with red swollen eyes from cutting onions.

"Nachos," Blair said with a smile as he struggled not to wipe his eyes. Since he was cutting jalapeño peppers, touching his face with his hands right now would be a very bad idea.

"Smells great," Jim said as he leaned over Blair to look at the pan of cheeses and refried beans and tomatoes and onions and peppers and ground beef and spices.

"Hope so," Blair said as he sniffed. "Making it really clears the sinuses."

"Yeah, I can see that. Go wash up and I'll finish the jalapeños," Jim offered. For one second, Blair thought about the fact that he wanted Jim to be in a good mood and a Sentinel who got jalapeño on his skin would be a cranky Sentinel, but then Jim took the knife from his hand and pushed Blair to one side with his shoulder. Blair really did want to wash the pepper from his hands and blow his nose, so he abandoned Jim to finish up while he went for the bathroom.

When Blair reappeared four hand washings later, Jim had set the table and the nacho sauce sat between their two plates.

"Something good on TV tonight?" Jim asked curiously, probably because of how Blair had moved the chairs.

"Karen down in records recommended this movie that came out a few years ago," Blair answered as he walked over to his bag and flipped the top open. His hand hovered over the three choices before he settled on "Wedding Banquet" and popped it in the VCR.

He and Jim sat and dipped chips into the same bowl as they watched the young, male Wai-tun collect his rent from his tenants before going home to his young, male lover Simon. Or actually Blair watched Jim as Jim watched the movie. Was that a grimace? If so, was Jim feeling sorry for Wai-tun whose parents didn't know their son was gay? Was Jim disgusted by the fact Wai-tun and Simon were getting a little handsy? Was that smile because the movie was damn funny or had Jim figured it out and was he laughing at Blair's little experiment?

Jim continued to tear into the nachos as he watched Wai-tun's parents show up from Taiwan. Blair was almost sure that Jim rolled his eyes at Wai-tun and Simon moving Wai-tun's stuff to the basement so they could pretend to be just friends. Blair was feeling pretty good about the whole experiment until he noticed Jim starting to squirm a bit in his seat. Jim's eyes wandered away from the screen as Wai-tun had a sham marriage to try and please his parents.

When Jim got up to take his dishes to the kitchen in the middle of Simon and Wai-tun trying to find a little private one-on-one time, Blair was truly confused. He just wished that Jim would be a little more consistent as a test subject.

"Do you want to turn the movie off?" Blair asked and then he tried not to hold his breath. He didn't need for Jim to get suspicious, especially if Jim wasn't dropping hints and Blair had just imagined the whole thing.

"No, it's fine," Jim insisted as he came back out. "Go ahead and watch; I'm just going to do a little paperwork."

"If you don't want…"

"Sandburg, watch your movie. I just can't get into something with subtitles."

"It isn't all in subtitles," Blair pointed out. Jim just gave him one indecipherable glance as he settled in on the couch and proceeded to do his paperwork while ignoring the movie. Blair cursed silently as he realized that was what he got for not controlling all the variables. Blair considered switching over to Jeffery since it didn't have subtitles, but two gay movies in one night might be a little suspicious, and Blair really did want to find out what happened to Simon and Wai-tun. Blair sighed and moved to the opposite end of the couch so he could watch the rest of the movie.


059. Food
Bets' laugh filled the whole room as Jeff told the world's stupidest joke. Blair wasn't sure whether she was laughing at the joke or Jeff, but he found himself laughing along. The break room was done in plastic cornucopias and ugly orange streamers. Blair would have accused one of his coworkers of having wretched taste, except the decorations were so old that he suspected that they predated any of the detectives in the room. A table on the far side of the break room held the various dishes that different detectives had brought for their mini-Thanksgiving celebration. Looking at the buffet, Blair realized that he could tell a lot about the people from the food that they brought.

Russo had brought nachos, but not the type that Blair had fixed for Jim. No, his red plastic bowl was filled with a concoction that Blair suspected was made up of equal parts refried beans and Velveta cheese. Maria was clearly the homemaker of their crew. Blair didn't go out with her often, but when he did he had gotten hints that she had survived a rough life, and now she was determined that her children have better than she did. Being a cop was hard, being a cop and a single mother and a damn good single mother -- that was a lot harder. And even though Maria's time was at a premium, she had taken the time to make homemade tamales wrapped in corn husks.

Jeff, who always tried his best, had brought a cake. However, from the perfectly even frosting, Blair suspected that it had come straight from Fry's grocery store. Betts had brought fried chicken, a recipe she said came straight from her grandmother. She had also made various and colorful threats against the first person who made a comment about a black woman bringing fried chicken while glaring at Russo. Captain Roth had brought a green bean salad that had probably been made by his wife. Blair wondered if he was stretching the metaphor by pointing out that Roth had brought food good for the unit.

Last but not least, Blair's eyes fell on the dish at the end. He wondered what it revealed to others that he and Jim had brought chicken stir-fry.


060. Drink
Blair wandered over to Roth while Jim and Russo argued sports teams either amicably or close enough to amicable to fool Blair. "So, you know that offer you made earlier," Blair said as he leaned against the wall next to his captain. Roth turned and looked at him.

"Yeah?" Roth asked.

"I think I'm going to say 'no'," Blair said as he watched Russo playfully punch Jim's arm. Jim gave Russo a suspicious look that led to Russo punching Jim's arm again.

"Is this your decision or his?" Russo asked.

"I didn't even tell him the offer was on the table," Blair honestly answered. "I just don't think I want to trade in my life right now," Blair admitted.

"Well, you can lead a horse to water…" Roth let his voice trail off. "Daniels wants you, ya know. The chance to move up this fast just won't happen again."

"And that's okay. Man, it's never been about the money or the position," Blair pointed out as he watched as Jeff jumped in on the conversation between Russo and Jim. Jim rolled his eyes in exaggerated dismay, and Jeff shook a finger toward Russo.

"If you're sure...."

"Oh yeah, I’m sure," Blair answered as he reached around Roth to snag a bottled water. "I'm already where I want to be. I don't really want to be led to any new water."


061. Winter
"You know," Blair offered as he followed Jim with the remains of a chicken stir-fry, "one Native American legend says that the great creator made winter to punish the people for complaining about the heat." The sun had set while everyone had stuffed themselves from the buffet, dishes from the support staff, the custodial staff, and the technical staff added to the detectives' offerings of food as the day went along. Precious little work actually got done, but Blair figured the crime rate in Phoenix wouldn't skyrocket because of one day of communal rest on the day before Thanksgiving. Besides, Wednesday wasn't a big crime day.

"Funny, I always assumed winter came from the rotation of the Earth," Jim said dryly.

"Ha, ha, man," Blair answered. "Seriously, it was a whole moral about people being punished for not appreciating what they have."

"Considering we live in Arizona, I appreciate winter very much," Jim pointed out as he unlocked the truck door and took the bowl from Blair. He reached in and used an old sweatshirt to brace it on the seat so that it hopefully wouldn't tip over.

"Yeah, there are a lot of things in my life that I appreciate," Blair said.

"Yeah, Junior. Me too." Jim turned around and let his hand fall on Blair shoulder. Blair stood there in the dim light of the streetlamp feeling the warm pressure of Jim's hand and he smiled up at his partner. Jim smiled back and then stepped past Blair, his hand sliding down Blair's arm and disappearing as Jim walked around the truck. Blair got in the truck and buckled up as Jim climbed in the driver's side. Oh yeah, no matter where their relationship did or didn't go, Blair appreciated it.


The Sound of the Other Shoe Dropping

062 Spring

"Frizz, if you need me to hold those damn IA guys down so you can work them over, just give me a call. I'll be happy to hold 'em for you," Russo announced as soon as Blair walked in the bull pen. Blair dropped his bag next to his desk and picked up his coffee cup. He suspected he needed caffeine to deal with... well with whatever Russo was going on about.

"Um, thanks?" Blair said uncertainly.

"No problemo. None of their damn business if you're a fag." Blair's coffee cup shattered as it fell from his trembling fingers. Blair stood in the bullpen with ceramic dust scattered across his shoes as he opened and closed his mouth soundlessly.

"Hey, Frizz, you alright?" Russo asked, and Blair struggled to collect his thoughts.

"I'm what?" Blair managed to squeak. Okay, he had been thinking of switching teams lately, but he certainly hadn't made that announcement to anyone, and when he did decide to talk, he wasn't planning on Russo being his first stop.

"Shit, don't go all PC on me, Frizz. Fag, gay, homo, whatever. Look, the important part is that I don't care what you and Ellison stick where, and I'll go to bat for you with IA." Russo's words only managed to confuse the issue even farther as Blair tried to figure out if he'd been dropped into some alternate universe. He took the two steps to his chair and dropped down heavily. "Frizz? You okay?" Russo stepped up to his desk and looked down nervously.

"Oh man, I am like entirely not okay. What the hell are you talking about?" Blair finally demanded.

"The IA investigation. They called me in for a statement about you and Ellison last night. Asked if I've every seen anything improper. I told them to go be improper with their own dicks." Russo said the last part with great satisfaction. Ever since IA had tried to link Russo to his dirty ex-partner, the man had taken every chance to strike back. Blair could just imagine the expression on Russo's face as he had said that.

"This is not the way to spring this on me," Blair complained as he tried to organize his thoughts. "And Jim and I are not lovers," Blair said, carefully avoiding the fact that he wouldn't mind if they became lovers.

"What? You guys aren't... you know?" Russo demanded suspiciously, and his arms came up to cross over his chest.

"No," Blair insisted.

"You guys touch a lot."

"Touching is not sex, and we do *not* have sex."

"You look at him like he's last candy bar in the world," Russo pointed out.

"I do not!" Blair snapped, and he could only hope it was the truth.

"He looks at you like you're the last damn cold beer on Earth," Russo added.

"We're not lovers. We've never been lovers. IA is not going to find anything if they're trying to make a case against us." Blair looked up and Russo still looked skeptical.

"If you're not lovers, why are you white as a ghost, Frizz?"

"Because I just walked in here and you sprang this on me like some sort of ambush." Blair leaned back in his chair and tried to calm his breathing. Okay, IA couldn't find something that didn't exist, Blair reminded himself. He glanced toward Russo and caught a hurt expression on the other man's face that disappeared the moment Blair looked over.

"Geez, Sandburg. Just offering my support," Russo frowned.

"Man, I appreciate that. You just caught me off guard," Blair offered. Russo started walking away without another word. "Hey Russo," Blair called, "if IA tries to make something up, you can hold them while I beat the crap out of them." Blair watched as Russo turned, a wide smile on his face.

"That's a deal," Russo agreed before returning to his desk. Blair looked at the shattered cup scattered across the floor and he got up to search out a broom. He really hated it when life managed to spring these little surprises on him.


063. Summer
Blair sat on one side of the conference table looking at the woman sitting on the other side. Somehow he wasn't comforted at the thought that his legal advice was coming from a bleach blonde in a tweed miniskirt. The fact that she was named Summer Chapman didn't make it any better.

"So, let me just make sure I get this," Blair started. He could hear Jim grinding his teeth, and he didn't think that he had long before Jim got up and stormed out of the room. "Internal Affairs suggests that the fact we're roommates makes us automatically gay." Summer opened her mouth to protest, but Blair held up his hand to hold her off since he didn't want to discuss the many affidavits that testified to their 'inappropriate' touching at work.

"And if we say we're gay, the Gay Alliance is willing to pay the legal costs involved in fighting this." Summer nodded, her sun-streaked hair bouncing a bit as it hung down to her shoulders.

"But if we claim that we're not gay, the Gay Alliance won't cover us and the union recommends that we accept the reprimand and any other consequences IA wants to throw our way?" Blair finished. He was definitely getting a headache.

"The union is constrained by the fact that policy forbids fraternization of officers in the same unit. The Gay Alliance is willing to argue that the policy discriminates against gays. It's the perfect case. The cases you two work together have a higher close rate than any other officer or partnership in the entire department. We could force the department to admit that you are effective," Summer brought he small fist down on the file that lay in the middle of the table, and Blair glanced over at Jim who still had a faintly ill expression on his face.

"Chief, this is getting out of hand," Jim said softly.

"Exactly," Summer jumped in. "It's absolutely unforgivable for them to target you just because of your sexual orientation. Your partnership in your personal life doesn't preclude an effective professional partnership."

"We're not lovers," Blair snapped, and Jim's flinch was so small that Blair was sure that he was the only one who would have noticed it.

"But if you continue to take that position, the Gay Alliance certainly can't be connected with people who deny that homosexuality is a natural expression of love and nothing to be ashamed of."

"Hold on one second, lady," Jim finally jumped in. "He never said anything against homosexuality. He just said that we aren't actually homosexual." Blair had to admit that Jim was doing a good job of keeping the growling to a minimum. Summer seemed to have a different opinion as she scooted her chair back a fraction of an inch.

"You have to admit that the evidence--"

"Is crap. Two men can be close friends without sharing a bed," Jim insisted, and at that Blair looked sharply over at his Sentinel. Blair found it ironic that everyone else was so sure they understood Blair and Jim's relationship when Blair was finding it more and more difficult to figure out.

"Well, I think I've made our position clear," Summer said as she stared back at Jim. She would have seemed much more fierce without the pink shoes.

"So, we either lie and get help or tell the truth and get hung out to dry," Blair summed it up.

"If that's how you chose to interpret it," Summer shrugged.

"I'm out of here," Jim said as he stood suddenly enough to send his chair sliding backwards. Jim walked out, and Blair rested his forehead on his hand as he considered just how messed up things were becoming.

"Look, I know how hard this is. It's not easy to be yourself in this type of environment," Summer waved her hand at the conference room. "And I think it sucks that they've targeted you. I get the feeling this was personal, maybe because you two are so good and that offends their homophobic assumptions or maybe because of some internal cop thing. I want the chance to take them down." Summer's words made Blair look up. She had an earnest expression that made Blair suddenly see the warrior inside the small feminine body.

"We really aren't gay," Blair said apologetically. Summer stood up and held out a card.

"Give me a call if that changes," she offered before she left. Blair sat in the empty conference room as he tried to figure out how to get out of this mess.


064. Fall
Blair leaned back against the warm rock and watched as the reds and golds of sunset turned the city below into a mirage of shadow and light.

"Thought you might be up here," a voice said, and Blair didn't even bother turning. He knew the voice as well as he knew his own. Better maybe.

"Oh man, I needed to get away from all the bad vibes down there," Blair said as he gestured toward Phoenix.

"How do you want to handle this?" Jim asked as he leaned against the same rock.

"I am so out of answers," Blair admitted.

"Don't have any here myself, Chief. Do you want..." Jim stopped, and Blair suspected he knew what options Jim would suggest. After all, the man's first instinct always seemed to be to throw himself on the grenade when it came to anything approaching emotions.

"If you say you'll leave I'm going to kick your ass all the way back down the mountain," Blair threatened. Jim just gave a soft chuckle.

"You and what army?" Jim asked.

"Russo'll help," Blair shot back.

"He probably would," Jim said in a far more serious tone. "But I was actually going to suggest taking the Gay Alliance up on their offer. If no one stops IA, we could get fired or assigned to departments on the opposite sides of town on opposite shifts. Of course, if that's what you want...."

"Man, you are so busy trying not to push me into something that you haven't said one word about what *you* want. Do *you* want to have Summer on the case?"

"She looks like an escapee from 'Legally Blonde'," Jim complained, and Blair smiled.

"The Great Sentinel of the City avoiding the issue again," he pointed out as he crossed his arms.

"Chief, I'm so out of my league here I don't know what I want."

"What did you want before the IA started pissing all over our lives?" Blair asked. His plan of slow and steady research into Jim's sexuality suddenly tossed out the window.

"I never want to push you away again," Jim said, which was really the same as not saying anything, but then again, Blair had no room to criticize in this case. He may have his whole "plan" for figure out whether Jim was interested in him, but he hadn't exactly confessed his feelings openly. More like he had hidden behind his scientific method.

"You couldn't ever push me away," Blair said as he tried to figure out a way to get his tongue to say the real words he was struggling to say.

"Good." Jim threw an arm over Blair's shoulder, and Blair realized that he was going to have to talk if he ever wanted Jim to.

"I don't want to be the great gay spokesmen of the police force," Blair admitted.

"Miss Rose would be thrilled, but there are people who wouldn't talk to us. We wouldn't be as effective," Jim mused.

"Man, you suck at the whole feelings thing," Blair said as he leaned his body into Jim's. He was just so damn tired that he wanted to lie down and sleep.

"I'm trying, Chief." Jim's arm tightened around Blair's shoulder and Blair let himself be pulled in to Jim's side.

"I'm afraid that everything I built here is circling the drain," Blair suddenly announced, "just like in Cascade."


"No, I need to say this. I'm having visions of myself having press conferences as the great gay role model when I'm not even sure I'm gay."

"You're not sure?" Jim's body stiffened, and Blair bit his own tongue.

"I have an idea," Blair said quietly, not sure that he really wanted to deal with this on top of everything else.

"What idea might that be?"

"I think I might be falling for someone," Blair admitted, stepping carefully out onto a precipice that if he guessed wrong could send him flailing into the void.

"Funny, I fell a long time ago," Jim answered. Jim's arm tightened, and Blair leaned his head on Jim's shoulder. He would have thought that the sudden admission that their embrace was more than friendly support would make the universe move, make him feel weird or change the way Jim's arm fell across his shoulder, but it felt just like it had three minutes earlier.

"This really doesn't change anything, does it?" Blair asked.

"It means we can take Summers up on her offer without being liars," Jim answered. Blair watched the light fading from the sky. This spot had a much better view of sunrise than sunset, so he didn't get to see the sun as it dipped behind the mountains leaving shadows behind. He only watched as lights blinked on in the fading dusk. They really needed to start moving if they wanted to get off the mountain before dark.

"We'd be freaks... both of us," Blair answered, and he could feel Jim's body jerk under him.

"Yeah, Darwin, we would."

"But if we leave, I feel like we're running away from a fight."

"So, do you want to stay? We can fight these IA guys until they're sorry they ever heard our names," Jim promised with a fierce scowl.

"And if we lose?" Blair asked. He knew the politics in Phoenix well enough to know that that was a pretty safe bet.

"Then we'll probably both be looking for new jobs."

"Oh man, even if we win, we're screwed, aren't we? I mean, those mechanics that Russo was getting in a pissing match with, they never would have described that assault suspect if they'd seen me on the evening news as the great gay hope."

"Probably not, Chief. I doubt we'd be able to work in the field." Jim sighed heavily. "Shit, I doubt we'd be able work at all. Cops have an unwritten 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy, and showing up on the evening news... well it wouldn't make life easy. No matter how a judge decided the case, we probably wouldn't be able to effectively work together. If we split up and went to different departments where people didn't have to see us together, people might be willing to forget, but that sort of defeats the purpose of fighting this in the first place." Jim scrubbed his face with this hand, and Blair reached out to touch his arm. "We could just take our lumps and let them separate us," Jim offered, and in the tone of voice Jim used, Blair suddenly recognized Jim's fear, either of losing his guide or losing his job. Both were possible here.

"Neither one of us wants that. And I like working with you; it worries me that when you really need to go deep into your senses you still need a guide."

"I always need a guide, Chief," Jim answered. "I made it through those months in Cascade without you, but it wasn't easy." Blair bit his tongue to avoid asking Jim to start cataloguing symptoms. Old habits weren't going to help here.

"It's not going to work here, is it?" Blair asked.

"We could try and make it work." Jim's words made Blair think of those people who turned the desert into a lake so that they could try and make things into something they weren't.

"No," he whispered. "We can't. So maybe we need to find some place where we fit in without having to try." The two of them stood in silence as more lights blinked on below and the shadows slowly blended together into night.

"I can call Simon," Jim said quietly. Blair felt an ache when he thought about Simon and Brown and Rafe. He remembered Taggart's support when he first started and Rhonda's willingness to bend the rules to help him and even Megan's relentless teasing and nicknames. The problem was that he knew now that he would miss Bets' brutal honesty and Russo's rude comments and over-protectiveness and Jeff's sharp wit. And Roth. The older he got, the more he didn't understand Naomi's ability to detach from people who she loved.

"Will they... oh man, I don't want to go through all this back home," Blair said. "I mean, with us being *more*."

"They won't care, Chief," Jim promised.

"How can you be sure?" Blair demanded with the threads of panic starting to weave through his brain.

"They thought we fell for each other a long time ago," Jim confessed.

"They... really? And you think they'd want us back?" Blair asked. Of course everyone would want Jim back, but Blair had walked out. He hadn't even said goodbye, and now he was crawling back and asking that they give him back the job he had walked out on. He couldn't help but feel a little unsure.

"Oh yeah, Chief. They want us back. Let's just get down off this mountain before it gets any later, huh?" Jim started toward the trail, and Blair realized he couldn't see much in the dark. Slipping his hand around Jim's waist, he let his Sentinel start to guide him toward the trail back down to the cars.

"So back to where it started?" Blair asked.

"If you want." Jim's voice had taken on a cautious edge to it.

"Man, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I do miss the rain," Blair confessed. "Rain and decent coffee. These people think Starbucks is the epitome of coffee making," Blair complained. "And clouds," he added. "I am so sick of getting blinded by this desert sun every time I walk outside."

"The low humidity. I get nose bleeds at least once a week."

"Oh man, the pollution. Every time I walk the mountain, I see that brown cloud hanging over the valley and think about the fact that we're breathing that every day."

"And the hicks."

"Oh hell yeah, like people who take guns into Denny's after a Sunday hike in the desert," Blair agreed.

"The worst has to be the damn sports," Jim groaned unhappily.

"They do really suck, don't they?" Blair asked.

"Yeah, Chief, they really do."

"Sounds like a good reason to move," Blair said as they walked down the dark mountain trail. With anyone else, walking the trail in the dark would be an invitation for a broken leg, but Blair walked at Jim's side through the darkness and trusted that they'd be just fine.


065. Passing
Like the twilight in the road up ahead
They don't see just where we're goin'
And all the secrets in the universe
Whisper in our ears
All the years that come and go
Take us up, always up

We may never pass this way again

Blair sang to the mountains as he followed Jim's truck up the steep incline. He remembered coming down this same road more than six months ago feeling totally alone, but now the world had changed. He'd fled Cascade thinking that he had lost something that he could never replace.

Now as he followed the old blue truck that Jim refused to trade in, Blair realized that all the downs he'd gone through really had still been leading him up. Even now as he considered the pain of Jeff's sullen farewell and Bets' threat to come up and kick both their asses if they didn't call and Russo's promise to stop calling gays "fags" and Roth's quiet acceptance and Maria's tears, even now Blair knew he was still going up. He was going home. Looking up at the red mountains with their streaks of grey and dots of green trees, Blair had a feeling that he had finally listened to the universe whisper.

"Thank you," he whispered back.


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