The huge rocks stood as silent guardians that the ocean waves pounded against. As Blair wandered the rocky beach, tiny pebbles crunched beneath his shoes, so he walked slowly, keeping his pace in time with the rumble of the waves against the shore to create a slow-moving symphony. The long grasses lining the edge of the isolated beach waved gently in the morning wind, and Blair wondered whether Sentinel ears would catch the rubbing of one blade of grass against another or hear the sharp calls of the gulls he could only vaguely see dancing between the curtains of fog that marked morning in Scotland.
Eventually, Blair reached his stopping point: a fallen tree placed so that he could rest as he considered the world around him. Even weeks into this particular exercise, he couldn't seem to put aside the pain of leaving Cascade in order to find his center.
As the morning set fire to the fog, highlighting it with the reds and oranges of sunrise, Blair slipped off his shoes and let his bare toes dig into the cold, damp ground. With a brief shiver, Blair shrugged off first his backpack and then his shirt. Finally, he pulled off his pants and underwear at once and laid them on the trunk of the tree as he considered the ground around him.
A few years ago he would have felt right at home with nature, but now he considered the sanity of sitting on the ground bare-assed, and the dissenting voice sounded suspiciously like a grumpy detective who didn't like the thought of dirt in cracks that, according to him, weren't meant for dirt.
In retaliation, Blair took a couple of steps closer to the beach where the soft green grasses disappeared and sat on the edge of the beach, dirt, sand, small pebbles and all.
Sighing, Blair realized that doing the opposite of what Jim wanted really wasn't any better than going along with everything Jim asked for. Both allowed Jim to take control of him, and Blair needed to take that control back. As he breathed out steadily, he tried to allow the damp air and the crash of waves and the image of those rocks standing strong to wash through him, replacing all the negative energy he'd soaked up for the last few years.
Reaching behind him, Blair snagged the strap of his backpack and pulled it closer so he could reach the candles inside. He lit each of the three white candles and then set them around him. For a second, he watched the small flames dance and bend in the wind before allowing himself fall into the meditation. One by one he pulled out those objects which helped him center himself.
First came a small arrowhead and he rubbed the familiar ridges with his thumb. He allowed himself to remember the curly-haired child who'd run back to his mother with the stone clutched in his chubby hand. Blair tried to open himself to the joy he'd felt at discovering the world. Silently, he thanked the universe for being so wondrous.
Then Blair pulled out a wooden flute. The carvings on the surface had worn down until the curling spirals and figures nearly vanished into the smoothly polished wood, and Blair traced a rune with a finger as the sun continued to rise. The instrument had once belonged to one of the tree people Blair had studied, and Blair allowed himself to think of all the people he had met who had taught him to respect differences. He gently placed the flute next to the arrowhead in the sand, squirming a little as sand did work in places he'd rather not think about.
Finally, Blair pulled out a small piece of black plastic. The pin had long ago fallen off the back, but the white letters carved into the surface still had the crisp edges of something new: Dr. J McCoy. All of Blair's calm abandoned him as he felt the raw edge of pain rip away all the lies he told himself about getting over Jim and needing to build a new life away from the man.
Still clutching the plastic, Blair pulled his legs up. Resting his forehead on his knees, he cried. The sound of the waves covered his sobs as he let himself curse and mourn the day he realized he'd lost Jim Ellison without ever truly having him.
"Broken window," Blair said as he reached under his jacket for his sidearm. He might not like guns, but faced with the possibility of getting shot by a suspect, he pulled his weapon.
"I don't hear anything," Jim said from the other side of the door. The glass panes lined up in the country-style back door of their witness' house didn't provide much cover, so the two plastered themselves to the wall on either side.
"Man, you haven't been hearing much of anything since taking those allergy pills," Blair snapped back. Jim didn't answer; he just glared.
"Stay behind me," he ordered as he reached down to the doorknob. The metal made a high-pitched whine as Jim turned the knob and pushed the door open. After a few inches, the sound of glass sliding across the linoleum with a soft ripping sound interrupted the silence. Jim just kept pushing the door with his foot while he kept most of his body shielded by the house.
With his gun pointed down, Blair watched the yard carefully. The prosecution expected Shawn Harrison in the grand jury after lunch, so Blair had three guesses about the broken window. One: Butler found out his partner was turning state's evidence and sent someone to remove the problem. Blair flinched at the fit Jim would throw in that case. He had vocally argued with Harrison about moving to a safe house. On the tapes Major Crimes had gathered, Butler referred to his frequent hits as stain removal, and Harrison might have become one more stain. Two: Harrison could have decided the deal, which included a couple of years for fraud and extortion, wasn't worth it. He could have staged the break-in to cover for his own disappearance. Three: some random thief could have broken into the house.
Blair didn't trust coincidence, so when Jim darted into the kitchen, Blair shifted over to the spot Jim abandoned, preparing to follow his partner into the house. The echoing boom of two gunshots sent Blair to the ground, flattening himself to the concrete of the back step with the raised door jam pressing into his chest and a shard of glass in his elbow.
Ignoring the minor pain, he spotted Jim's legs, splayed out on the green linoleum, and Blair's stomach turned to stone. With his weapon aimed at the arch, he grabbed his radio off his belt and gave the code for an officer down. When the dispatcher's calm voice repeated the all-too-familiar numbers, Blair pushed himself up onto his knees and shifted so that his back was to the inside kitchen wall and he could better see the dining room with its twisted pillars guarding the arch that led to the living room.
Slowly, Blair edged forward, ducking down to avoid presenting his back to the kitchen window. A shadow darted from the giant fern in the dining room through the twisted pillars and toward the front door.
"Freeze, Cascade police," Blair yelled as the footsteps echoed against the hardwood floors. Blair glanced down at Jim who had his ears covered with his hands and his eyes sealed tight. The front door opened, crashing into something that shattered into a million pinging fragments, and Blair made up his mind.
Crouching down next to Jim, he put a hand on Jim's shoulder and started whispering even while he kept his weapon and his eyes focused on the other room.
"Come on, dial it down, Big Guy. Find the dial for hearing and turn it down until the sound fades." Rubbing small circles on the muscular arm, Blair continued to offer the same advice as the curled body slowly relaxed.
Then Jim snapped into action. Grabbing his gun from under the kitchen island where it had slid, Jim took off toward the front door like a sprinter off of the blocks. Blair hurried after him, concerned about any additional suspects still in the house. By the time he reached Jim on the street, the detective had holstered his own weapon and stood in the middle of the street with his jaw muscle bulging.
"Oh man, he got away," Blair mourned as he stared down the empty street. Jim didn't answer as he turned and stormed back into the house.
"What happened, people? How did Butler find out about Harrison's testimony?" Simon demanded as he slammed through the office door. Blair sat at the conference table and looked at the crime photos spread across it. Harrison's body hung off the edge of the bed, his head an inch above the carpet and his hand palm down on a stack of car magazines, some of which, their slick covers sticky with his blood, he had flung across the room in his final struggles.
As Blair looked at the new cars and half dressed women obscured with irregular blood stains slowly turning to a rusty-brown, he couldn't help but see the scene as some sort of sick performance art. He considered the possibility that he was getting a little too jaded at the sight of death. Once upon a time, he would have been horrified.
"Good question," Jim answered tightly, his voice as brittle as glass.
"And the hitman?" Simon's asked as he stood over the table looking down at the photos.
"He got away," Jim growled when Blair didn't immediately offer an answer.
"I noticed. What I don't see is why," Simon said, slapping the file down on the table. Blair glanced over at Jim, wondering whether he would confess to the spike brought on by his lack of control over hearing brought on by the allergy pills that Jim took because he refused to work on his sense of smell or meditate or listen to Blair's fucking warnings.
"I went down, Blair stayed with me instead of pursuing the suspect," Jim said tightly. Blair opened his mouth to defend himself, but in the end, that was exactly what happened. He had chosen to defend his partner before going after a suspect.
"Went down? I don't see that in the report." Simon lowered himself into a chair, his attention focused on Jim so Blair could go back to studying crime scene photos.
"I had a problem with my hearing. I'm fine."
"But if you were incapacitated, procedure requires…" Simon didn't get a chance to finish.
"I wasn't shot," Jim snarled as he got up and paced over to the window. "I wasn't injured, and Blair let the killer walk out of there."
"I followed procedure and stayed with my partner," Blair protested as he took his eyes from the gruesome scene on the table.
"You let a murderer walk."
"I identified myself as police and tried to catch him without leaving you alone and unprotected."
"I didn't need your protection, Sandburg, I needed backup." Jim pushed himself away from the window, his face tight with frustration as he headed for the bullpen. Blair sat, Jim's outburst pinning him to his seat with a familiar feeling of failure, but then he pushed himself up and headed right out the door after Jim.
A quick look around the bullpen showed that Jim had left, and Blair hurried toward the double doors. If Jim were really that angry, he'd head for the stairs, only Blair didn't intend to take the insult silently this time. Running, he headed for the "Exit" sign over the stairwell and pulled open the heavy doors. He could hear the echoing steps charging down toward the lobby.
"Jim Ellison, you cranky bastard, get back here," Blair yelled as he started down the steps two at a time. Holding the cold railing for balance, he raced down several floors, glimpses of Jim's blue shirt below him giving him inspiration. He caught Jim when the man had one hand on the handle of the lobby door, ready to leave.
"Don't even think you can spew that shit and then walk away. I was backing you up, and you know it," Blair panted as he crossed his arms and did his best to glare right back at his Sentinel.
"Sandburg, drop it." Jim jerked the door open and headed into the crowded lobby with stiff, wooden steps that had none of the natural grace that usually commanded Jim's body.
"Not dropping it," Blair insisted as he followed Jim out into the floor with uniformed officers wandering out one door and in another, civilians sitting on the two long benches, and reporters gathered in a corner around the payphones and internet hookups.
"Einstein," Jim growled his favorite insult… a pet name he generally used when he meant just the opposite of what it sounded like.
"Still not dropping it," Blair whispered as he matched his pace so that they walked side by side. Jim stopped, and Blair took an extra step so he had to turn and face his partner, who stood with his arms crossed and a cold _expression.
"I'm not having this conversation." Jim's jaw tensed and cords of arm muscles surfaced and then sank back down under the skin. Blair could feel the aggression, and a little voice in the back of his head suggested backing down… hell, the little voice was toying with the idea of running for his life. Instead Blair crossed his own arms and mimicked Jim's body language.
"If you won't talk, man, I can't help that, but you can listen. I fucking followed procedures, and I would do it again."
"I needed you to do your job, only I can't trust you to do that, can I?" Jim snapped, "You screwed up, and now you're going to stand there and try and cover your ass." Jim stopped--the icy expression still pulling his face into tight angles. "I don't want a partner I can't trust," he said in a voice barely above a whisper.
Blair stood in shock, his stomach twisting as he remembered boxes packed and waiting for him in the loft. Jim may have promised never to do that again, but looking up at Jim's face, Blair wasn't so sure his Sentinel remembered that vow. Blair opened his mouth, but he didn't know the words to either heal that blow or strike back hard enough to make Jim ache as badly as he did. Since words failed him, he simply stood in the stuffy silence of the room and waited.
Jim made a disgusted sound and then jerked into motion, pushing past Blair as he headed toward the front of the building where they'd had to park the truck today. For the first time, Blair turned and noticed the eyes that watched him. Two reporters with computers balanced on their knees stared openly. A half dozen uniformed officers looked at him until he met their eyes, and then they hurried to continue their various tasks. The civilians lined up on the benches didn't even bother to hide their interest. In the long boring waits for bail and paperwork, he made a nice distraction, and Blair started blushing as he noticed the audience.
Nearly trembling with some emotion he couldn't even identify, Blair darted for the bathroom.
"Chief, you want a bagel?" Jim asked, shouting over the sound of the shower. Blair tightened his fist around his washcloth and tried to shove down the anger that still clung to him. He recognized the offer of food as Jim's way of apologizing. Apologize. Interesting word. The root word apo meaning "away from" and "logos" meaning "word" or "idea". The Greeks used apologia to mean words used in defense of yourself. Oh yeah, Ellison knew that meaning. Blair took a deep breath of steamy air.
"No thanks. I'll grab a shake before we leave," he yelled back. He slowly scrubbed himself, wondering if Jim was standing in the hall taking the rejection of a bagel as proof that Blair was still angry as hell. Then again, he could have wandered back to the kitchen, dismissing the whole conversation as meaningless. Blair let his forehead rest on the warm, slick tile in front of him as he wondered if Jim ever picked apart their friendship. He wondered if Jim ever felt so helpless and angry and trapped.
Blair pulled the shampoo off the shelf in the shower, snapping the lid open as he considered the idea that he did feel trapped. If Simon or Rafe or even Naomi had ever publicly humiliated him, Blair would have walked… started looking for a new job, a new apartment, or a new retreat with a spare cot for him.
Instead he stood in his shower considering the etymology of words: words like love. Storge—the Greeks' term for familial love. Blair had always considered the Greeks a little obsessive for having both storge and phileo, a love that existed between families and friends. But now, Blair understood storge, the all-encompassing instinctive love: the love that drove a mother cat into a burning building to save her kittens, the love that made a father throw himself in front of a bullet, and the love that drove him to stand by Jim when every bit of reason told him he needed to leave.
The longer he stayed, the more often he ended up having mini-breakdowns in the shower. Pretty soon they were going to have to get a bigger hot-water heater. Sticking his head under the cooling spray, Blair rinsed his hair and prepared to get on with his day.
"I'll take the back," Jim whispered as he moved toward the alley. Blair opened his mouth to suggest that they wait for backup, but Jim vanished into the shadows. Blair stared at the crumbling edge of the red brick building where Butler did his business from the back of a local bar.
Sighing, Blair leaned against the sun-warmed brick and waited for Rafe and Brown to show up. At least he'd gotten Jim to actually call for backup, Blair mused as he glanced again at the brown Toyota that belonged to Butler's deadliest lieutenant. Geza Jokai had way of killing that made the coroner blanch every time one of his bodies hit the morgue. And the sheer number of kills made even the Major Crime detectives shake their heads in shock, and they weren't an easy bunch to shock.
A crash from inside the bar made Blair's hand dart back to his weapon. The dirty windows and dark interior made the glass look black, and Blair felt his heart pound as he stood frozen to the ground. Bars meant dropped glasses and tilted chairs that could fall and roughhousing and pool cues and bar fights.
Blair took a step toward the door and froze again. If it was a normal bar type crash, he would alert Butler and Jokai before backup got there and Jim … Jim would be right in the path of their retreat. Jim who told him to watch the front would have an aneurysm. But maybe the crash meant they had found Jim and dragged him in. Or, what if Jim had burst through though the back door, hearing something that made the detective believe he had to rush the arrest? What if Butler and Jokai were about to come crashing out the front?
Blair pulled his weapon and hesitated for another second before he moved toward the door. Keeping his weapon flat against his leg, he tried to look like some Average Joe wandering in for a drink.
Stepping into the dark, Blair blinked and fought panic as he placed each person in the room. Realizing that the light from the door made him a prime target, Blair took another step inside and stood with his back to the wall as he studied the room. Jim stood near the back door, Jokai stood near him, but neither of them had any weapons showing. Butler sat near the south wall at a table littered with glasses and bottles.
"Mr. Sandburg, I should have known you wouldn't be far behind your partner." Everyone in the room remained frozen, the bartender keeping both hands on the top of the bar and two men drinking beers near the television shifting nervously, their heads swiveling from Jim and Jokai to Blair.
Blair didn't answer as he looked from Jim to Butler. At his side, his hand sweated so that his gun felt suddenly glassy-slick, and Blair tried to catch Jim's eye and silently beg his partner to let him in on the plan. Instead Jim focused on Jokai with a deadly _expression. The wiry assassin, his dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, glared right back, so Blair's gaze slid back to Butler, who sprawled a little too comfortably in his wooden chair.
"Are you gentlemen going to take a seat? Maybe I could offer you a drink," Butler said with a smile that made his football-hero charm ooze. Blair remained standing, his gun pointed to the ground as he tried to decide whether he had cause to point it at either of the two men.
"Jim?" Blair asked, and Jim's eyes flickered toward him. In that instant, the universe shifted. The dim, muted room exploded as Jokai grabbed for the back of his jeans. Blair pulled his gun up, but then changed his aim as Butler pushed the table away with a horrible shriek of wood across tile. Throwing himself to the side, Blair shielded his body with an oversized planter that probably wouldn't even stop a paint gun missile as he yelled for Butler to surrender.
Butler started toward the front door, obviously seeing Blair as less of a threat than Jim who still grappled with Jokai, but before Blair could squeeze the trigger, new voices identified themselves as police. Outnumbered and in grave danger of being shot, Butler dropped his gun.
Blair turned toward Jokai and Jim, but the hitman was obviously not going to give up as easily. He blocked Jim's punch, yanking at his boot, probably for some weapon, and Jim pulled back his arm and delivered a blow that sent Jokai crashing into the wood paneling hard enough to make the entire wall shiver.
"Old man my ass," Jim snapped at the unconscious suspect. Of course, Blair also noticed that Jim rubbed his left hip, the one that often acted up after Jim had done something incredible stupid like wrestle a hit man half his age.
"Good job, Chief," Jim said as he wandered past the two beer drinkers who now crouched behind a chair in a spot with even less cover than Blair's poorly chosen spot behind the plastic fern. "We nailed the bastards this time." Jim clapped a friendly hand on Rafe's back as the detective cuffed Butler. When Jim passed Blair without even a touch, Blair tried to ignore the curling defeat in his stomach. He made the best guess he could about what would make Jim happy, and it obviously still didn't make Jim happy enough.
"Simon, it's over," Blair said again as he slumped forward in the chair and for the first time wished for his long hair back. He could have let it trail down in front of his eyes so that he had some privacy.
"Look, Sandburg, if this is about that squabble you and Ellison had downst—"
"This is about the fact I can't do my job, Simon."
"Kid, you're a good cop, and if you ever repeat that, I'll—"
"I froze," Blair blurted.
Blair noticed that Simon wasn't brushing him off with a casual wave of his hand as he read the computer. Now the captain turned in his chair and looked right at Blair.
"Simon, I stood outside that bar and I wondered what Jim wanted me to do. I wasn't thinking like a cop."
"Jim's a good detective, it's normal to follow—"
"Damn it." Blair jumped up from the chair, turned his back to his captain and studied the clouds out the window. They were grey with flat bottoms and angry black edges. Blair tried to find some center that would allow him to describe his feelings the way he could describe the sky or some anthropological truth that didn't rip at his heart. "I'm not just following his lead, I'm distracting him, and I'm doubting myself," Blair finally whispered, aware of what the admission meant. Behind him, Simon remained silent. "I don't trust myself, so I stood on that street and I tried to figure out what Jim would want, what would keep us from having the same damn fight… again."
Blair rested his hand on the cold glass and tried to gather his fraying emotions. Simon, like Jim, wasn't one who wanted to deal with emotional vomit. They didn't approve of spewing feelings and public processing.
"Jim has been on edge since—"
"Since the diss, since Alex, since fucking Peru and since the day he told us that he needed time alone and he didn't want us around for fishing. Man, we're just slow on the uptake," Blair said softly.
"Am I going to get to finish any of my sentences?" Simon asked, and Blair turned around with a wry smile.
"That's captain to you, Sandburg. But this Jim… this is the Jim the rest of us have lived with since he transferred over here. Yeah, he's a short tempered, sarcastic bastard, but he gets the job done, and he cares about you. More than that, he trusts you, Blair, or he wouldn't have you as a partner."
"That's not what he said the—"
"Sandburg, he trusts you. Now if you don't mind, your partner is probably waiting for you and if you really have time to waste standing around here talking, I'm sure I can find you another case or two."
"He shouldn't," Blair closed his eyes and leaned back against the window. He knew he was saying goodbye, so he let himself smell the heavy Colombian coffee and the subtle traces of cigar that hung on Simon and the sound of Simon's old-fashioned clock ticking.
"Sandburg, I don't do riddles," Simon finally said, and Blair let himself start missing the deep, frustrated tones. He couldn't afford to miss Jim, at least not until he had somewhere safe to fall apart, so he missed Simon instead. Opening his eyes, Blair looked at his captain who currently had a deep furrow across his forehead as he looked up in surprise.
"He shouldn't trust me. Man, I don't trust me. I don't even know me anymore. If any other cop in here admitted to freezing during a shootout, you'd send them to the shrink."
"Sandburg, if I thought for a minute that your judgment was impaired, I would."
"Simon, you have no idea how impaired my judgment is. I stood outside a suspect's place of business and debated what to do… not because I was making a threat assessment or trying to gather information, but because I didn't want my roommate to yell at me again. I'm resenting every cop in Major Crimes because they can make a mistake and have it forgiven, and everything I do, mistake or not, gets used as ammunition. I take shit that I used—. Look, if I looked at our relationship from the outside, I would label it dysfunctional and codependent. One of us has to do something, and I'm electing myself. Simon, I'm not safe on the streets, and I'm not good for Jim. I just bring out something dark and ugly in him, and I can't keep doing this."
Blair watched as Simon studied him, his teeth moving as through he had a cigar between them.
"Maybe you two could work something out. He needs you, Blair."
"He needs someone who doesn't bring out his mean side. He needs backup who isn't so afraid of pissing him off that they screw up."
Simon snorted. "Most of this building is afraid of him, Sandburg."
"Not the same, man. He's a nicer person when I'm not around to be the center of his temper. How many times in the last year has he accused me of not being trustworthy?"
"He doesn't mean it," Simon quickly pointed out.
"But he says it," Blair shot back, and Simon dropped his eyes to the desk. Blair took a deep breath to avoid crying at that bitter victory. "He's not working with me on Sentinel problems, and I'm not safe to be his work partner, not when I don't trust myself any more."
"You want another partner? With Brown moving over to Homicide, Rafe needs someone to keep him from getting distracted by some passing mirror … or woman," Simon looked back up and smirked, and Blair appreciated the attempt. Reaching under his jacket, he pulled out his weapon with one hand and snapped his badge off his belt with the other.
"It's over," Blair repeated as he dropped the items on Simon's desk. "I sent an email with my resignation."
"And what does Jim say?"
"I guess you'll know before me. I just put a few things in my backpack, and I'm heading to the airport from here."
"You haven't told him," Simon stood, and Blair wished again for a few extra inches as the man came around the desk and towered over him. Blair fought the urge to flinch back; he'd expected anger since, in the end, Simon was Jim's friend and not his.
"I have a long tradition of taking the coward's way out, Simon. This isn't any different."
"And the rest of your stuff? You have someone over in Jim's place cleaning out the loft while you two are here?" Simon was angry now, his lips pressed together tightly and his hands curled into fists. Blair could feel the man's need to hit him, but he also trusted the man's control.
Blair thought about the loft: the masks he'd hung on the walls and the South American blanket tossed on the couch and the hand-made basket perched on top of their cupboards. Blair imagined Jim having a giant bonfire in the street as he cleansed his life of the guide who abandoned him. Blair had no illusions about Jim's reaction or the fact that Jim would never let him back in again. They could recover from Jim throwing him out; they couldn't recover from Blair walking out. He wondered for a moment what that said about their relationship, about him.
"Those things belonged to Blair the anthropology student. They aren't mine any more than that badge is mine," Blair gestured toward the desk where his shield and gun lay side by side on the polished edge of the desk. "He can do what he wants with them." Blair could feel the tingling pressure in his chest that warned of coming tears, and he started around the far side of the table. By the time he got to the other side, Simon stood in his way again.
"And where are you going to be?" he asked.
Blair considered lying, but that would imply he expected Jim to come after him. He knew Jim and his abandonment issues well enough to know how Jim would take this, and he needed to let go of the illusion of a Jim who hadn't existed for years now. "Maybe California, I have a friend at the Shadhiliyya Retreat there, maybe Scotland where there's this monastery that I could stay at, maybe Dorje Denma Ling up in Canada. Mom went to that last place and she said it really helped her accept the idea of having a son who's a cop. I gotta tell you, that's pretty major."
"Sandburg," Simon said, but Blair shook his head to hold off any more words.
"I've talked myself out of this too often. We both need this." Blair didn't wait for a response as he walked out of the office.
"Chief," Jim said in a neutral voice empty of the affection and teasing it had once carried. Now the pet name was little more than habit.
"Hey, Jim," Blair managed. Jim's head snapped up from the report as he stopped in the middle of the aisle to look at Blair. Blair paused, desperate for any reason to not pick up his backpack. Aching with the need to stay and make things work. He turned the decision over to the universe while praying for any sign from Jim that they were still in tune with each other's needs. He prayed for Jim to be concerned about him or suggest they have lunch together… even if it meant Wonderburger.
"Carter deposition at 3, and the prosecution wants one of us there to compare her testimony to the interrogation. I've got a witness interview, so can you handle it?" Jim asked, his eyes dropping back down and studying the file in his hand.
"Sorry, man, no can do," Blair said while his stomach rolled with nausea. He turned his back and aimed his steps toward his desk, unable to truly see much as he blinked back tears.
"Junior, someone has to make sure this case—"
"Jim, I'll send Rafe, he worked the interrogation, too," Simon interrupted. Blair turned around, his backpack in hand, and looked past Jim to the captain who had taken a risk on a self-professed fraud. Instead of looking angry, he just looked tired. Blair understood the feeling. Slinging one strap over his shoulder, Blair headed for the door.
"Be good, Jim," he called over his shoulder before he pushed through the swinging doors. It was the closest he would allow himself to saying goodbye.
Breathing out, Blair tried to let the morning mist take his pain, but just like every morning since he'd started this ritual, the mist dissipated and he sat on the stony beach blinking as the sun off the water threatened to blind him.
"Starting to think I'm screwed here," Blair whispered to the breeze as he gathered his few belongings and shoved them back into his backpack. He rose and dressed as quickly as possible as tide rose. Half of the beach already lay below the water, and Blair knew that in an hour or two, the water would lie inches from the turf, the small waves surging in to the base of the grasses.
Rather than risk having to walk over the long, sweeping blades and crushing the delicate plants, Blair broke into a trot that made his backpack with its mementoes bang against his ribs. He reached the crumbling blacktop that led up the hill to the monastery when the water had cleared half the distance to the grasses, and he slowed to a walk as he started up the hill.
The old road crumbled at the edge, and so Blair walked in the middle and let the sun warm his back. In terms of processing, he could admit failure. Each morning remained just as painful as the morning before. When Blair reached the monastery, he pushed in through the double doors and looked around the dim room, stone walls reaching up to a tall ceiling. The leaded-glass windows with colorful Biblical themes filtered the light into pools of red and blue and sea green that spilled across the stone floor.
"Did you find any peace?" a soft voice asked.
"Not today, Brother Daniel," Blair admitted as he shifted his pack from one shoulder to another.
"Perhaps you're nae looking in the right places." Daniel offered as he walked beside Blair. Rather than risk another version of a familiar conversation, Blair hurried up the wide steps to the cells. The older man panted a little keeping up with Blair who charged up two steps at a time, but he didn't stop.
"Man, I have considered that," Blair admitted. A part of him wanted to go try and find peace in Cascade, but he knew any peace he found would have to be away from the city where he'd lost himself so completely. "I'm going to change before I hit the garden," Blair said as he reached the door to his cell… a tiny room with a tall, narrow window and wooden shutter, stone walls, and a cot. Blair dropped his backpack to the floor and pushed it under the bunk with his foot. Only then did he notice the Bible lying open on his bed.
"Brother, I appreciate your efforts, and not to, you know, dis the faith, but this isn't something—"
"Blair, why did you choose our small monastery for your healing?" Daniel interrupted him. Blair shrugged uneasily.
"Already admitted that it was the first place I could get a ticket to. Man, I would not have wanted to be in Washington when Jim discovered I'd done a runner."
"And you saw the timing as significant? You spoke of trusting the universe and going to the retreat that the universe favored?" Brother David asked, tucking his hands under the brown robe.
"Yeah, I guess I did," Blair admitted as he glanced again at the Bible. "But man, that was just coincidence... you know, letting the universe take me wherever."
"You may speak of the universe and listening to your vibes, but you expect your universe and your… vibes… to do the same things that my God does. Trust that your universe had a reason for sending you to us. Take the afternoon to think on your life, and I'll have Brother Nehemiah bring you lunch."
"But—" Blair didn't get any farther before David turned his back so that Blair could only see the grey hair and portly backside as the brother closed the heavy door. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Blair touched the edge of the Bible and considered David's words. Turning to the book, he wondered if Brother David had chosen Proverbs 12 or whether the book had simply fallen open. Blair read.
. . . . . . Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, But he who hates correction is stupid.
"Oh man, Jim, why didn't you tell me. This is like… huge!" Blair bubbled as he followed Jim into the loft.
"Cool it, Junior. You have not discovered the philosopher's stone."
"I might as well have. Man, I can't believe you never told me that you could feel body heat through a wall. That must have been like twelve inches thick of brick and drywall. Man, that's like… amazing. I can't believe you never mentioned this before."
"It wasn't causing a zone or a spike. Look, Junior, I'm tired and I just want to get some dinner." Jim threw his keys and cuffs on the small table by the door, and Blair stopped and really looked at Jim. The man's back was stiff and his movements mechanical as he lumbered toward the kitchen and pulled open the refrigerator door.
"Yeah, sorry. I can make something," Blair offered, following Jim into the kitchen and putting his hand on Jim's back as he leaned around Jim to see the options for dinner. Almost immediately, Blair could feel Jim tighten even more, his arms flexing as he slammed the refrigerator door shut.
"Personal space, Sandburg," Jim snapped, spinning around on Blair and moving forward fast enough that Blair's instincts had him backing away before he even had time to think. "Stop getting in mine."
Blair stopped breathing as Jim's jaw bulged before the man turned back around and headed for the bathroom without another word. Blair put out a hand and leaned on the counter as his flight or fight reaction kicked in. His legs trembled and his heart pounded heavily as he looked toward the bathroom, wondering what had set Jim off. Surely the man wasn't that upset about being touched. Blair touched Jim all the time… nearly as much as Jim touched him.
Not wanting a big scene, Blair pulled his keys out of his jacket pocket and headed for the door. He'd just pick up something at Martinelli's and give Jim some time to cool off. That, and in the future he would try to avoid Jim's personal space. Maybe he was a little too close to Jim; maybe they both needed some space.
. . . . . The words of the wicked are, “Lie in wait for blood,”
"Well, Hairboy, are you game for this?" Brown asked, smiling as he nodded toward the pair of women hovering near the vending machine.
"Oh man. The red-head… definitely the red-head," Blair smiled broadly as he looked at the two women chatting amicably.
"What trouble are you two finding for yourselves today?" Jim asked as he leaned into the wall next to them.
"Shhhh," Brown warned with a nod toward the lobby. "Got a couple of live ones on the line, and I have a five on Blair getting shot down in flames in the next five minutes.
Jim glanced toward the lobby and then made a dismissive grunt. "Easy money," Jim said with a small laugh. "You willing to lose ten, Junior? I've got a five right here that says you'll go down in glory."
Blair's face froze in a smile as he turned to look at Jim. The man had a strange expression on his face, his brows lowered and an intent look that made Blair hesitate. But then the features shifted into the more common 'bored' expression Blair saw so much of lately.
"Man, I am so in," Blair whispered as he ran his fingers through his hair.
"Brown, the man would do a table leg, and there's a reason for that. You should see some of the women he's brought home. Better yet, you should run a criminal check on them."
"Not fair, Jim. It's not like you're doing great in that department," Blair pointed out, trying to ignore the rising frustration.
"Yeah, but I don't date predators, Sandburg. The only women you get on the hook come with their own handcuff and whips. Since she's not under arrest, I'm guessing I'm about to make an easy five bucks."
"Whoa, no need to get personal," Brown interrupted, and Blair turned his back on the two women as he focused on his roommate.
"I've dated plenty of good women," Blair defended himself. Okay, so it wasn't technically true, and he had suffered a small dry spell for the last … oh, four or five years, but it wasn't like Jim was making it out. He shoved down the hurt feelings and reminded himself that sexual teasing was simply a part of macho culture.
"Stick with the table legs, Junior; they treat you better than the women who are willing to date you."
Blair couldn't control the flash of shame that made his face hot. An expression raced across Jim's face, and Blair blushed even more when he realized Jim looked satisfied with himself.
"Never had a date try and frame me for murder," Blair pointed out nastily, his face still hot.
"Yeah, but at least I got laid, Chief," Jim shot back before turning and walking away. Only then did Blair notice that Brown had slipped away during the exchange. He was left standing alone in the hall.
. . . . . . A prudent man conceals knowledge
Blair pushed open the loft door and dropped his keys in the basket. Behind him, Jim carried two sacks of groceries and the gold badge that Blair had put down on his desk after accepting everyone's congratulations.
"So, dinner?" he asked carefully. These days his very voice seemed to aggravate Jim, and he was too tired for another round.
"Let's just grab sandwiches," Jim answered as he put the sacks on the counter and started unpacking the groceries. Blair nodded without answering and wondered whether he should have insisted his mother stay with them. At least then he could blame Jim's general pissiness on the sage.
"So, the badge," Blair said carefully. He closed his eyes as the memory of standing at that podium sent a shiver of nausea through him. He needed the job, but with his friendship circling the drain, he wasn't sure seeing more of him would improve anything with Jim.
"What about it? Look, if you don't want it, just say so. I'm not interesting in playing these guessing games, Sandburg," Jim snapped as he turned around with a block of cheese in one hand and a knife in the other.
"Whoa, no games," Blair held up his hands to hold off the anger he could feel building in the room. "If you remember, four years ago, you said I'd have to go to the academy, and the only condition I had was that I wasn't going to cut my hair. I love working cases, figuring out clues, helping people." Blair took a deep breath as he struggled to figure out how to say the next part.
What had Jim said to him before the news conference? Oh yeah, that he didn't trust Blair. After working with the Major Crime guys for nearly four years, Blair knew that nothing would repair their friendship or their working partnership if there wasn't trust. Jim went back to work slicing cheese, and Blair wondered when words had become so difficult for him.
"I just," he started. Jim looked up, his eyebrows raised in an expression that suggested the clock had started and Blair had a limited amount of time before Jim lost patience and left. "Do you *want* me as a partner," Blair asked.
"I wouldn't have offered the badge if I didn't." Jim cut the next slice with more enthusiasm, making the knife slam into the cutting board with a dull thud.
"I'm just worried about the trust between us."
"Shit," Jim stopped, slamming the knife down on the counter. "Sandburg, you're good with cases, you're helping with the senses, and Simon and I went to a lot of trouble to get you that badge. If you're looking for an excuse to not take it, don't bother. You don't have any obligation here. If you want the job, I'm not going to run around reassuring you that you're wanted every five minutes."
Blair flinched back from the aggravation as he wondered whether Jim was right. Maybe he was seeking too much external validation. Since he was sixteen, the university had been part of his identity, and now, without that foundation, maybe he was too emotionally needy.
"Man, I didn't mean that to sound, I don't know, pathetic. I just don't want you stuck with me out of guilt. I really do want the job, and it would be nice to have enough money to pay the rent," Blair added. Jim didn't answer, but his body tensed. Blair told himself that Jim's day had been just as long and exhausting as Blair's had been. He told himself that, but he didn't believe it. He could feel their friendship sliding out from under him like mud on a slope he tried to walk up.
Blair stared down at the page through tears. He knew Jim. Jim cared more than he ever let anyone see; he felt things deeply. Blair had watched Jim cry over a fallen friend and rage against the evils in the world. Looking back, Blair wondered why the connection between them had frayed so badly.
He remembered standing on that beach in South America and seeing Alex and Jim kissing on the beach. When Alex pulled a weapon on him, it had been Jim's weapon. And as he stood with his hands up in surrender, he watched as Jim stared back passively for several seconds before forcing Alex's hand down. Blair remembered those seconds, and he remembered wondering whether Jim would allow Alex to kill him… again.
He remembered later, kneeling in the temple after the last gunmen died. He'd knelt, too shocked to even stand, when Jim had taken the canister away from Alex and then sat on the stone edge soothing her while Blair remained tied up. Yeah, Megan was tied too, but Blair knew Jim could hear his heart stutter as he verged on panic at being in the same room with Alex. And he knew Jim could hear his wheezing lungs from the pneumonia brought on by his recent death.
Since that day, Jim had pushed him farther and farther away. Sitting on the edge of the cot, Blair finally cried. He cried so hard that his head hurt and his nose ran and he lost his breath as he stared out his window over the rocky land and wild ocean. Knowing that he'd lost Jim, he mourned for Jim, for himself, and for a friendship that he had once thought unshakable.
A knocking on the door interrupted his self pity, and Blair struggled to catch his breath before calling, "Come in."
Brother Nehemiah stood in the door with a small plate of food. His round figure barely fit through the narrow cell door, but he pushed in, putting the plate on the wooden chair, the only other piece of furniture besides the bed.
"The world, it is cruel," Nehemiah offered as he picked up the Bible and sat on the bed with the Bible in his lap.
"People are cruel," Blair corrected him as he wiped his face. "They change when you don't want them too."
Nehemiah only nodded. "You had a message from your friend in Cascade."
"Brother Marcus?" Blair asked. The white-haired member of St. Sebastian's monastery had given Blair the name of this place and was, as far as he knew, the only person who knew where Blair had gone.
"Simon Banks," Brother Nehemiah corrected him as he handed over a piece of paper. "Brother Peter says you may use the phone in the office since Mr. Banks insists this is an emergency that warrants disturbing your retreat."
Blair took the paper with trembling fingers, feeling strangely disconnected from the life he'd left just weeks ago.
Ignoring the nurses that hurried down the antiseptic hall, Blair pushed open the pine door. Jim lay in bed with his eyes closed. An IV draped down one side, disappearing under the blanket, and a half-eaten lunch still sat on the table beside the bed.
Blair slipped into the room and let the door whisper shut behind him. Even asleep, Jim looked worn, but then he'd been shot, so Blair hadn't expected him to look good. Okay, he expected him to look a little better than this. Lowering himself into a familiar plastic chair, Blair squirmed into a good spot to settle down for a long wait.
"Blair," Jim said almost instantly, his voice calm and his eyes still closed. Blair felt a new flash of pain as he realized that Jim had never been asleep.
"Hey, how are you feeling?" he asked, twisting his fingers into the hem of his shirt. This was such a bad idea … monumentally bad.
"Like I was shot," he said with classic Ellison sarcasm. He sighed. "I'll be fine."
Blair scooted forward on his chair, practically feeling Jim pushing him out the room with his voice.
"I was worried. Simon called and he said that a street thug strung out on meth managed to shoot you in the back, and if you were having trouble with your senses, you should have…" Blair stopped before he finished the sentence.
"Should have what? Called you at the number you left me after we had a long conversation about our partnership?" Jim asked, and now he opened his eyes. Blair flinched at the cold fury he saw.
"You should have told Simon you were having problems and had Megan go with you for backup," Blair shot back. "And don't do this, man. Just don't turn this into the attack-the-guide show here."
"Nice, Sandburg, I’m laid up with a hole in my back, and now you want to talk about how you feel attacked."
"Jim," Blair held up a hand as he got up, backing his way toward the door. "Nevermind. I never should have come. If you're having trouble with the senses, we can talk before I leave."
Blair was half way out the door when he heard the soft words, and the heavy door had sunk nearly closed before Blair had a chance to process the meaning. Jim wasn't having trouble with the senses. Blair's hand shot out to the wall as the strength left his legs. Jim wasn't having trouble.
Blair slammed his palm on the door, shoving it open as he stormed back in. This time Jim's eyes opened in surprise.
"You aren't having problems with your senses?" Blair demanded. "Were you dialed down?" Holding his breath, Blair prayed for Jim to say yes, but the man just shifted his eyes back to the ceiling before closing them.
"Blair, I'm tired, so unless you plan on boring me to sleep with your Wonderburger lecture…" Jim let his voice trail off, and Blair sat heavily in the chair he'd just left, his stomach expanding until he could feel a pressure at the bottom of his throat that made him want to be ill all over the thin hospital blanket coving Jim's legs.
"Oh fuck. You weren't dialed down. You didn't make a mistake. You fucking ass; you didn't make a mistake," Blair hissed.
"Oh, I made several," Jim corrected him without opening his eyes.
"What? You picked a meth head who couldn't shoot straight?"
"For one," Jim agreed.
Blair opened his mouth, but couldn't even breathe much less form words or even thoughts. The world shifted as he tried to connect the tired man in the hospital bed with the Jim Ellison he knew… the one who had survived more shit than Blair could imagine.
"Visitors hours are over," Jim said in a voice devoid of emotion.
"No way. No way am I walking away now," Blair breathed weakly, reaching out to touch Jim's leg.
"You already did, remember?" Jim snapped, tilting his head to glare. Blair actually preferred angry-Jim to the emotionless man who obviously no longer cared about life, but he couldn't push down the anger that made him want to hit this Jim-imposter until his friend showed up again. His Jim wasn't this angry, this tired, this willing to throw his life away.
"I left, I didn't walk away. Well, I did walk, but I had a whole lot of pushing, and now I'm wondering why you would push. Man, what is going on with you?" Blair demanded, anger making him curl his fingers into the hospital blanket as he tried to hold his own emotions.
"Don't blame me for your choices."
Blair jerked his hand back as the words slapped him. He knew Jim would react this way to his decision, so he didn't know why the words sliced so deeply. He had left, but he'd had to in order to avoid both of them turning into twisted versions of themselves. Blair studied Jim's carefully neutral face, and it suddenly occurred to him that Jim was doing it again … saying the one thing that would push him away, only now Blair knew what would happen if he walked.
"You selfish son of a bitch," Blair hissed. "You'd push me out of here and then let me hear that you'd finished the job by eating your own gun?"
"I would never," Jim growled as he pushed himself up on the bed. As the blanket pooled around his waist, Blair could see the white bandages taped around his midsection and the spectacular bruising across his upper chest. A deep purple, irregular line crossed just under his nipples with blue and green bruises radiating out like abstract art.
"What, you'd wait until you had another chance to let someone do it for you?" Blair demanded, his anger making him curl his fists. He felt an ironic need to hurt Jim because Jim had let someone else hurt him. Jim stared back without emotion, and Blair couldn't hold his anger. "God, Jim," Blair said as he reached up to touch the bruised chest. Jim intercepted his hand, holding it tightly for a brief second before pushing it away.
"I told Simon not to track you down." Jim sounded so tired that Blair couldn't help reaching out again. This time, when he curled his fingers around Jim's arm, Jim didn't object.
"God, Jim, just talk to me. Whatever is going on, talking can't be worse than this," Blair begged as he looked at the machines and tubes tethering Jim to the bed.
"Chief, just … I've made my mistakes, and you've made yours. It's time to just move on." Jim closed his eyes again, shutting Blair out, and Blair tightened his hold on Jim's arm.
"What mistakes did you make, Jim?" Blair asked softly. He knew Jim well enough to know that the man shut down in the face of only three fears: abandonment, loss of control, and letting his friends down. However, Blair was through making assumptions.
"It doesn't matter," clone-Jim said with no emotion.
"No no no no no. I am not falling for this again. Push all you want, but I'm not going anywhere this time. I really thought you needed a break from me, but after this, consider me glued to your side." Blair crossed his arms and dropped back into the chair.
"Talk. Either that, or I have a wide range of lectures I can use. If all else fails, I can just tell Simon how you aren't having any problems with your hearing—how you heard that shooter coming up behind you." Blair watched Jim flinch. Both of them knew what would happen if anyone knew Jim were suicidal. A little part of Blair felt guilty hitting Jim's fear-based button #2, control, but he had run out of options.
"Damn it, Blair, after what I've done, you should just fucking walk away."
"What did you do to me?" Blair asked. Yeah, he had his own list, but he had a feeling he'd missed something somewhere.
"In South America. With Alex. She killed you, but if she had forced me to choose, I would have picked her over you. I would have let her kill you. Damn it, you should have walked away from me when I did that." Jim raised his fist and hit the wall above his head hard enough that the boom filled the small room.
"Okay, I was hurt. But we'd seen your pheromones run away with you before… Laura, Lila, Veronica. Oh man, we've got a long list of reasons why you weren't in control."
"That's just it. I couldn't let that happen again. I couldn't let my body hijack my common sense any more."
"Jim?" Blair looked at the tight lines around Jim's eyes as Jim pressed his eyes tightly closed. "Jim, what did you do?"
"I made sure no woman could ever use my senses against me again." Jim pulled his fist up to his face, staring at the knuckles that had left four small dimples in the hospital's wall.
"Oookay, that is sounding more than a little ominous. What did you do?"
"I locked in on your scent," Jim practically whispered. Blair struggled to put together the pieces, but they didn't seem to fit.
"You lost me."
"I locked in on your scent. I…" Jim paused. "I don't have English words for it. Incacha explained it to me even though we never completed the ceremony. It's a way of telling the Sentinel in me whose pheromones to acknowledge. It's why Veronica and Alex could totally hijack my judgment and Laura had less power over me. It's why Lila didn't have the influence over me that any of the others had. I was locking in on your pheromones, and so they couldn't manipulate me as well."
Blair leaned back in his chair and looked at Jim. Control-freak Jim. Jim who didn't believe that anyone would stick around forever. Jim who had done something chemical, something permanent that connected him to Blair.
"So, this scent thing… are you finished? Are you locked in on my scent, my pheromones?" Blair asked.
"Yes." Jim's voice was a whisper, his eyes closed.
Blair stopped again as he considered what each of the women mentioned had done to Jim. How these women had, to one degree or another, pulled the Sentinel-driven primitive part of Jim to the forefront. A new thought wormed into his consciousness as he thought about all the times Jim had struck out at him, all the sarcasm, all the complaints about personal space.
"So, the way you reacted to those women—"
"Yeah," Jim interrupted him. Blair sat in the chair, absolutely stunned, as he considered the power these women had held over Jim at various times. He remembered how Alex and Veronica both made Jim turn his back not only on Blair but on Simon and his job.
"With me?" Blair finally managed to ask in an unsteady voice.
"I think we covered this part, Einstein," Jim snapped.
"And you've been doing your best to push me away because of how you're feeling? Because the pheromones sent you out of control?" Blair asked.
"Shit. Do I need to spell this out for you? Every time you're near, I want to touch you. Every time you get upset about something, I feel like I've done something wrong. Every suggestion you make, I have to fight a need to obey. Every time you touch me, I feel the same overwhelming fire I felt with Alex on that beach. It's everything I can do to hold myself back near you, so it's better for you to just leave. Go live your life somewhere far enough away that I don't have to control myself whenever you walk in the room."
Blair watched Jim's hands curl around the silver bars on either side of the bed, his knuckles turning white as he squeezed.
"And if I leave, you'll finish what you started with that meth-head."
"Chief," Jim said, his voice clearly begging Blair to let it drop.
"And if I stay, you're going to keep trying to fight your own needs, meaning you're still going to act like an ass." Blair watched Jim closely, and the small flinch told him just how much his words touched Jim. How many times had he made some off the cuff comment that had cut Jim just as deeply as Jim's sarcasm had cut him?
"Not many answers," Jim said, uncurling his hands as he sagged back onto the white hospital sheets.
"I'm going for door number three."
Jim turned his head and blinked at Blair.
"Stop fighting your senses."
"Blair, you don't know how hard this is. You don't know what I want to do to you, for you."
"Do you think I would do something to use your senses against you?" Blair asked.
"No," Jim snapped.
"But you've been betrayed before. So when you thought I'd sold the dissertation…"
"I could feel this need to be with you even when I thought you'd done that behind my back."
"Chief, I'm not going to jump your bones. At least, I'm trying not to. That's why I wanted you as far away as possible."
"But…" Blair struggled with how to phrase the next bit. "If I don't want to go away. If, now that I know what you've been thinking… if I forgive you. Oh man, I don't want to leave."
"Chief, you don't know what it does to have you near."
"Yeah, I think I do. I remember seeing you with Veronica and Alex. I remember how jealous I was," Blair said as he stood and moved closer to the bed. Jim looked up at him in surprise. "So, let's make a deal."
"A deal?" Jim repeated, his eyes darkening as his pupils dilated. Blair smiled as Jim's heart monitor registered a sudden increase.
"I'll remember how… how it's different now, and you stop acting like an asshole," Blair said as he took Jim's good hand, holding it as Jim tightened his own fingers in response.
"I can do that," Jim said. Blair felt Jim let go, and he loosened his own hand. Then Jim ran his fingers up Blair's arm leaving a trail of shivers until he stretched out his arm with his fingertips at Blair's neck. When Jim pulled weakly, Blair lowered his head until he hovered just over Jim.
The first touch of their lips sent a shiver through Blair as Jim claimed a kiss. He would have rated himself a fair to excellent kisser, but Jim clearly outclassed him as lips and tongue moved hungrily against his mouth. When Jim's mouth finally released him, Blair braced himself on the cheap hospital blanket and panted, both from breathlessness and from need. His cock throbbed insistently, and he looked down at an equally lustful Jim.
"Oh god, Chief, I can't believe what I've done," Jim breathed as he pulled Blair down again. Even though he expected another kiss, Blair found his head pulled down to Jim's shoulder. "I should have told you, Chief."
"You're right," Blair agreed. "Now that I know that *my* cranky Sentinel has this self-destructive streak, I'm going to protect him from himself. And I'm going to make you happy again if I have to tie you up and torture you with balloons and Jim Carey," Blair threatened as pushed himself up.
"I knew you had an evil streak," Jim said with a smile.
"Yeah, but you love me anyway," Blair said with a wide smile.
"Don't have a choice now, do I?" Jim shot back. Despite the harsh words, Blair could see the playful smile that had been missing from Jim's face for so long.
"You never did," Blair answered, and then he leaned over to claim his own kiss.
"Take it slow," Blair muttered as he backed up the stairs and silently cursed the broken elevator. He watched as Jim reacted by slowing the painful motion of lifting his left leg to put it on the next step.
"I still say you should stay in my guest room," Simon grumbled from right behind Jim. Blair stopped and looked at Jim's strained face. Part of him wanted to do it, to push the limits of his ability to keep Jim safe. His Sentinel looked up with sweat forming at the edges of his hair, and as their eyes met, Blair knew he couldn't take advantage of Jim's senses the way so many others had… the way Alex had.
"Jim doesn't tell me to stay in the truck any more, and I'm not going to deny him a good night's sleep in his own bed. Besides, we're closer to the top than the bottom," Blair dismissed Simon's suggestion as he braced himself so that Jim could use his grip on Blair's arm to pull himself up one more step.
"At this rate, he's going to be sleeping on the stairs," Simon pointed out. Jim moved up one more step, not hurrying his pace at all as he kept his gaze focused on the floor.
"If you want to help, go arrest the landlord for felonious elevator maintenance," Jim ground out between clenched teeth.
"And let you go tumbling? Not on your life, detective," Simon said as he moved up a step with Jim, wide brown hands braced on either side of Jim's waist high enough to avoid the wound.
"Man, considering how often one of us is injured, we really need him to get that thing fixed," Blair agreed as he braced himself for Jim to make another step.
"Less talk, more work," Jim panted. Blair and Simon exchanged a concerned glance, but didn't say anything else as they worked up one step at a time in the dingy hallway.
Blair remained silent until they reached the loft. Jim gestured toward his pants, and Blair slid a hand in to retrieve the keys as Jim braced both arms on the wall.
"Remember when Bracket asked if you wanted me to fish the wire out?" Blair laughed quietly as he pushed open the door to the loft. He found himself rooted to the spot as he found tribal masks still hanging on the wall, colorful blankets disturbing the neutrals in the living room and woven baskets perched with giant pots on top of the cupboards.
"Jim." Blair continued to stare as a heavy arm draped over his shoulder and Jim leaned into him.
"So, one more set of steps?" Simon said as he detoured around them and looked at the stairs up to the top of the loft.
"Yeah. I want my own bed," Jim agreed.
"Yeah, but in the morning, you're not going to want to use the bedpan, and I don't like the thought of trying to get you down the stairs alone." Blair pointed out.
"Like he'd even call for help. He'd get up in the middle of the night and convince himself that a bullet through the liver is nothing more than a scratch," Simon snorted.
Blair felt Jim tighten. "Fine, I'll sleep on the couch," he said sharply. Blair looked up at the unhappy expression and realized that Jim would have pushed the point with Simon, but the Sentinel couldn't argue with his guide.
"No need for that. We'll just set you up down here, and then Simon and I will move the bed down to the living room," Blair said cheerfully.
"We'll what?" Simon demanded, but Blair saw the small smile on Jim's face. "You know, some captains don't have to put up with this from their detectives," Simon grumbled, but he also started up the stairs. Blair helped Jim to a chair.
"We'll be right back," Blair promised, and then he held Jim's hand, not wanting to let go of that warmth.
"I'll be here, the lord of the manor watching the underlings tend to his needs," Jim answered with a smile.
"I heard that, detective," Simon yelled from above, and Blair laughed back as he hurried up the stairs.
"It feels good to be home again," Jim sighed. Blair smiled as he picked up the glass of water and headed over to the bed in the middle of the living room.
"No joke, man. I lived here longer than anywhere else in my whole life. I missed home."
"At the risk of sounding sappy, it wasn't much like home without you here," Jim pointed out. He stretched out his arm and Blair slid into bed with him, both of them dressed in nothing but boxer shorts. The warmth of skin against skin made Blair sigh this time.
"I missed you. I didn't miss the sarcastic, bitter imposter who wandered around the last few months, but I missed you."
"Blair, I'm so—"
"No. No more apologies, no more sorries. We both screwed up and hurt each other, and we won't do that again. If I'm doing things that make you uncomfortable, you let me know. And if you're acting like an ass, I'll tell you to knock it off with the donkey impressions."
"Funny," Jim offered, a distant expression on his face. "When Alex or Veronica took over, I didn't notice when I lost control, but with you, the more the Sentinel side came forward, the more terrified I was."
"Why?" Blair asked, resting his chin on Jim's healed chest and letting his fingers reach over to trace the bandage Jim still wore over the hole in his side.
"I didn't want to hurt you. I didn't think you'd want me lusting after you; I didn't think you wanted to know I was jerking off to the sound of your heart beating below me in bed."
Blair pushed himself up onto an elbow. "Oh man, you mean you…" Blair tried to imagine Jim doing that, but somehow he just didn't have the imagination for it.
"Oh I really did," Jim laughed as he reached with his free hand down toward his shorts.
"No, let me," Blair said as he intercepted Jim's hand and slipped his own hand into Jim's shorts. Beneath his fingers, Jim's cock twitched to life, and Blair smiled as Jim's eyes fell half shut. Slowly, Blair let his fingers explore the uneven skin, and the ridge around the head of the cock and then down into the tight curls at the base. He pushed farther in and felt the balls with their loose skin sliding over the tight testicle curled in each.
Jim groaned and spread his legs. "If this is some sort of coma, make sure I don't wake up," he whispered hoarsely.
"Oh, I'm thinking I'm going to ravish you awake every morning," Blair muttered into Jim's neck as he placed a kiss and then started to slowly suck the sensitive skin. Jim pressed up into his hand, bucking off the bed weakly.
"Oh no. You're injured, and your doctor would have tied you to the hospital bed if he'd known you walked stairs today. So, consider this your guide officially telling you to stay still and let me do this," Blair warned as he pulled back from Jim's neck and made eye contact with Jim. For a second, he could see Jim stiffen. "Please, just let me take care of you," Blair said in a softer voice, in his guide voice. Jim relaxed under him, moving his arms away from his body and letting them rest against the bed.
"It's your show, Chief," he said slowly. Blair could still see the stress in the wrinkles around Jim's eyes, and he briefly wondered if letting go with a male was harder for him, given his history with being betrayed by men. Then again, Jim had been betrayed by more than a few women. Either way, Blair planned on proving that Jim never had to worry about betrayal again.
"I'll be back," he said with a quick brush of his lips against Jim's. "Need lube," he pointed out before dashing for the backpack he'd brought with him. He grabbed the tube and raced back to bed, stopping himself right before bouncing into it. Instead, he slipped in carefully and popped the tube open, putting a large amount on his hand before slipping back into Jim's shorts.
This time Jim remained fairly still as Blair traced the vein down into the dense curls and them up to circle the head. With quick, little movements, Blair teased the slit at the end of Jim's cock, and the man squirmed and fisted his hands into the sheets.
"You feel so good," Blair said as he nuzzled Jim's neck, kissing and sucking and nipping his way over the smooth skin even as he started sliding his hand up and down on the hard shaft in Jim's boxers. Multitasking … always a good life skill.
Jim threw his head back and started panting. "Have you ever dialed up touch, turned it up so you can feel every stroke, every touch, every cell hardening with need?" Blair asked idly as he kissed his way down the smooth chest. Slowly, he curled his fingers into a loose fist that slid up and down on Jim's cock, caressing the head at one end and diving into the hair at the base of his cock at the other.
Jim made a noise that sounded like it might be some alien form of speech. Blair smiled before closing in on a small, dark nipple. While keeping his stokes slow and gentle enough to tease, Blair sucked the nipple between his teeth and carefully worked it. Using his tongue, he rolled the hardened skin between his teeth carefully. Jim made a noise that didn't even come close to language, and Blair could feel Jim's legs stiffen.
"God, you're just so perfect," Blair offered as he worked his way back up to a flushed face. Jim's mouth hung open and his eyes were tightly closed, so Blair went for the exposed lower lip, sucking on it as he increased the speed of his strokes.
When Jim started to gasp, his fists white as they gripped the sheets, Blair took pity and tightened his grip. Jim made a strangled cry and then Blair felt the warmth as Jim came. Continuing to stroke, Blair felt as Jim's body slowly melted back into the sheets. Only then did Blair reach into his own shorts, not getting in more than two desperate, hard jerks before he came in his own shorts.
Blair let his weight setting in on Jim's healed side, and a strong arm came up around his waist.
"Welcome home, Chief," Jim muttered, already half asleep. Blair considered getting up and cleaning them both up… considered it for a full two seconds before he laid his head back on Jim's chest and closed his eyes.
"Welcome home, Jim," he answered as he tiredly grabbed at the sheet and pulled it up over both of them before falling asleep.