Rituals and Roles
Rated: SAFE
Written for Patk for Moonridge 2006

Jim opened the door to the gun shop, the smell of powder and oil and steel forcing him to concentrate on Blair's apple scented shampoo. These days, Sandburg would buy pretty much anything on sale, so Jim had grown used to finding generic crackers in the cupboard or 99 cent bottles of odd-smelling shampoos in the shower.

Maybe now that the academy was over and Blair would be starting in Major Crimes with a detective's salary, the man could afford a new razor or two. Jim flinched every time he spotted the dull blade Blair used, and lord knows that Jim had offered his own razor many times, but Blair just laughed and pointed out that he didn't have a sentinel's sense of touch.

"Man, this is surreal," Blair breathed as he looked around the gun store. Racks of rifles and assault weapons were hung like prize fish behind the counter. A glass display with ivory-gripped pistols and chipped World War I handguns stood to their right. Various pistols lined the counter shelves.

"Surreal," Blair repeated, and Jim used a hand on Blair's elbow to guide him toward the near end of the counter. Under the glass, Beretta compacts and sub-compact semi-automatics lay in neat rows.

"Can I help you gentlemen find a weapon?" an older man asked as he came out from the back room.

"We're looking for a police weapon," Jim said as Blair stood staring down at all his choices, fingers pressed against the glass. Since Blair seemed too distracted to notice the man's tense suspicion, Jim pulled out his badge and held it out for him to see. Glancing over at Blair's long hair hiding his face and his fingers pressing to the glass like a kid in a candy store, Jim could see how his partner didn't look like the sort to be buying a weapon, so the store owner had a right to get a little nervous.

"Thanks," the owner said as Jim closed up his wallet and put it back in his pocket. "Feel free to look around," he offered. Jim nodded, but Blair had already started looking around before the invitation.

Jim ached for the man. When it came to the academics of the academy, Blair had thrown himself into his studies with reckless abandon. He would read the required text on search and seizure rights, and then go download the pertinent supreme court cases, research the search and seizure laws of a few other countries, and then dazzle the instructors and other recruits with a rant about the impossibility of providing a true standard which could both protect the rights of citizens and allow officers enough personal discretion in order to do their jobs well.

Hell, one of Jim's classmates from the academy, who had gone on to teach after taking a bullet too near a nerve in his leg, had called Simon and asked whether the kid could transfer to teaching at the academy after his required two years in the field. Jim still smiled at the idea of two high-profile divisions both wanting Blair. So much for his fears that the kid wouldn't fit in.

But now Blair had to face the one part of the job that still made Blair flinch when he thought no one was watching. Blair might like the adrenaline, but now he had to carry. He had to be willing to pull a gun and threaten another human life.

While Jim had no doubt that his guide would fire a weapon in defense of Jim or anyone else, what really scared him was that Blair wouldn't have a chance to… that Blair would freeze in that crucial second… that he would doubt his own judgment and hesitate on the trigger. Even getting Blair to come down and choose his own weapon, like most cops did, had been a chore. Jim rarely had to resort to nagging as a tactic, but he hoped that Blair might find a gun that didn't make him flinch as much as the standard-issue Smith and Wesson M&P did.

"Ah, the sub-compacts are quite nice," the store owner said as Blair stared down at brown-handled Beretta Cheetahs and CZ 75's. Small guns. They wouldn't seem as out of place in Blair's hand. Or at least they wouldn't look as out of place.

"Not really what I'm looking for," Blair said as he worked his way down the counter. An absent-minded hand pushed his long hair back from his face as Blair stared down at the gun buffet.

"The Beretta is a good weapon, Chief," Jim suggested as he stayed at the end of the counter. "Magazine capacity of eight, and under seven inches total."

"Spoken like a man who knows his guns," the owner complimented Jim as he focused in on him. Of course, with his hippy hair and bright vest, Blair didn't look like the typical police graduate looking for a sidearm. "Would you like to see that model?" the man asked as he reached for his keys, pulling them off his belt with a rough jangle of metal.

"No thanks," Blair answered distractedly as he stopped over a silver Beretta 92, a full eight and a half inches long and a serious weapon. Blair blinked down at the weapon and then pulled his hand back from the glass, leaving a lacework fingerprint behind that Jim could trace as dust settled in the oiled ridges.

Jim remembered the first time he'd shoved a gun at Blair, telling him to cover the door on that cursed train ride. Or was that the second time? It suddenly bothered Jim that he couldn't remember whether he'd given Blair the gun on the bus with Veronica Sarris or whether Blair had taken it from him. And Jim really tried to not focus on the fact that both times Blair had lost the weapon. Then again, on the losing the weapon front, Jim didn't have the best record himself.

"Chief, come check out a CZ 83," Jim suggested as he tapped the glass above the silver and black weapon. The storekeeper smiled as he unlocked the case and pulled it out.

Reluctantly, Blair turned toward them, wandering back toward where the shop keeper laid the seven inch weapon out on black velvet.

"9 mm Browning or .380 auto rounds, total clip capacity of 12 and a steel frame. She's a nice weapon," the shop keeper agreed, but Jim knew that Blair wouldn't be convinced by numbers. He couldn't let Blair choose some huge weapon just to prove that he could handle owning a gun, so Jim picked up the CZ and held it butt-out for Blair to take.

"How does that feel?" Jim asked. The gun was nearly an inch shorter than the standard issue, and Blair took it in hand and brought the weapon up in the classic pose of a target shooter. With the gun pointed at the back wall, Blair made an unhappy noise.

"Oh man, I'm just not sure," he said as he let the barrel fall so that he pointed it at the ground.

"There's a lot to choose from. Is there something that's caught your eye?" the shopkeeper asked as he finally caught on that Blair was the customer and not Jim.

"Some of those look nice," Blair nodded toward the far end of the counter as he put the CZ back down on the tray. The shopkeeper slipped it back into place and he happily followed Blair into the more expensive models.

"That one's nice." Blair pointed and Jim nearly swallowed his tongue. While he understood that Blair felt like he had something to prove, that particular weapon was going above and beyond in the point proving department. The Wildey Survivor was about nine and a half inches, and Jim had a flash of Blair putting that on his hip only to topple over sideways from the weight of it.

"Chief, that has quite a kick," Jim said in his most neutral tone. He definitely didn't want Blair feeling like he had something to prove and getting it just to spite him.

"It takes a strong hand to keep this baby in line," the shopkeeper agreed with an affection a man normally reserved for his first born child or his dog.

"Pretty bad, huh?" Blair asked as he picked up the large gun and sighted down it. "I don't think having my own gun kick my ass is the impression I’m trying to make here," Blair laughed tightly, and Jim clenched his jaw as Blair confirmed his suspicions.

How could he make the man understand that he didn't have anything to prove? He didn't need to carry some Dirty Harry weapon just to prove that he was capable of carrying. Yeah, Blair had lost his gun more than once, but he'd proved more than capable of covering Jim. Blair took out Veronica Sarris. Blair used anything from tennis balls to fire hoses when it came to getting the job done, and Jim had no qualms about Blair at his back. Obviously, Jim had failed in some way as a friend because that message didn't seem to be getting through.

"This one doesn't have quite the kick," the shopkeeper suggested as he pulled out a black weapon, probably eight and three quarters of deadly steel, slightly larger than Jim's own Beretta. "Smith and Wesson 1911, eight plus one rounds, single slide" the owner offered as he held the gun out.

Blair picked up the weapon, and Jim found himself wishing that he could promise Blair that he would never have to pull his weapon, that all this struggle to find a sidearm that wouldn't make him less Blair… that it wasn't important. Jim couldn't. In another city, with another partner, Blair might be one of the lucky majority to never pull his weapon, but Blair and Jim both knew that wasn't likely here.

"What do you think, Jim?" Blair asked as he turned to him, the gun pointed down. Jim glanced back at the smaller weapons, the ones that wouldn't be so intrusive, the ones that Jim wouldn't notice whenever he put his hand on Blair's back. Then he focused on his partner.

"If you're comfortable with it," he smiled tightly. "Maybe you should try it out. They have a basement firing range," Jim suggested.

"Cool," Blair answered. He turned to talk to the shopkeeper, and Jim tuned them out. He preferred to just watch Blair and pretend that his friend hadn't given up his life and now a chunk of his ethics just to stick by Jim.

Blair followed the shopkeeper down the stairs, the weapon in one hand as he carried the earmuffs with the other hand.

"Hey, Jim, how's your headache? You okay being down here?" Blair asked as he looked back up the stairs toward his partner. Jim smiled tightly.

"I'm fine."

Oh yeah, like that was convincing. Blair waited a second for any additional hints about whether Jim could handle the noise. Right, the big guy was in a non-sharing mood today.

Since he wasn't getting much from his partner, Blair focused on the gun in his hand. When he'd first picked it up, the gun had been cold, but now his fingers had warmed the metal. God, he couldn't believe he was thinking of spending $700 on a gun, especially since the police department would issue one for free. Sometimes Blair had trouble understanding the norms used by a group to determine membership, even as an anthropologist. However, Jim insisted that all 'real' cops bought their own weapons, so off to the gun shop they went.

"Standard load?" the gun shop owner asked as he unlocked a door and ushered Blair into the target range, a long basement room with cinderblock walls, and targets at the far end. Blair stepped up to one of the lanes.

"Sure," he agreed, not really understanding what he was agreeing to, but the nice thing about living with Jim was that he could admit to his cluelessness later and get all the information he wanted. Jim might not always be comfortable talking about himself, but he would go over any detail of police procedure or even some bizarre, unspoken rule of the culture—like all real cops buy their own guns—without ever complaining about Blair's constant questions.

The gun shop owner handed over a clip, and Blair put the clip and gun down on the table so he could put on the ear protection. He benched it, he mentally corrected himself. New culture, new lingo. Actually, Blair was shocked that the owner didn't hand him eye protection, but maybe Blair didn't look like the kind to shoot his own eye out.

Blair smiled at Jim, checking to make sure the other two had on their ear protection before he stepped to the line. He snapped the clip in and aimed.

The first shot went a little wild, and Blair laughed nervously. Turning, he could see Jim give him a small smile. Blair could practically hear his partner saying, 'That's okay. It's a new weapon. Take a deep breath and try again.' Following his partner's unspoken advice, Blair did that.

The target at the far end fluttered as the bullet tore though it. Oh yeah. Blair felt the victory of the hit. Blair sent off three more rounds, each one coming closer to the center. The gun had kick, more than the ones he'd practiced with, but he was comfortable firing it.

Unloading the weapon, Blair benched it and pulled off his earmuffs.

"Man, that's a serious weapon," Blair said admiringly.

"She's a beauty. The 1911 is a real classic," the gun shop owner agreed as he took back the clip. He left the gun lying on the shelf, and Blair resisted the urge to smile at the sales tactic. Make the customer carry the merchandise and they'd be more likely to buy.

"Give us a second?" Jim asked, and the gun shop owner nodded and headed back toward the stairs. They waited as the echo of his footsteps disappeared up the stairs.

"So, does it meet with your approval?" Blair asked as he touched the gun. As far as phallic symbols went, Blair kinda liked this one.

"You know I trust you at my back, right Chief?" Jim asked. Blair looked up, not expecting that in the middle of the shooting range.

"Totally," Blair agreed, not quite sure when he'd lost track of the conversation.

"You don't have anything to prove."

"I know that." Blair cocked his head and looked up at his partner. Jim really looked bothered by whatever he had rattling around in his brain, but Blair knew him well enough to know that asking questions would only drive the man away, so he waited in the echoing silence of the basement as Jim shifted uncomfortably.

"Blair." Jim stopped again, and what scared Blair the most was that Jim had used his name.

"Oh man, you're freaking me out here. What?"

"Blair, I just don't want you to think you have to prove something." Jim stopped shifting and took a hesitant step toward Blair, his face serious.

Bewildered, Blair watched Jim, struggling to put the words in context. His hand, which was resting on the shelf, brushed the gun, and Blair suddenly understood.

"You think I'm trying to prove to you guys that I can carry by buying the biggest gun I can," Blair suggested.

"Blair, you tried to buy a Wildey Survivor." Jim had that tone, the one that suggested that Jim was trying to explain something as obvious as the sky being blue.

"Well, yeah," Blair agreed. "It's a scary looking gun."

"And you don't have anything to prove. Has someone at the academy suggested that you can't handle the job?"

Blair smiled; he could practically see the Blessed Protector ready to come roaring out of its corner.

"Man, I don't have anything to prove to you or the guys at the academy; I earned my spot with them. But I'm not some alpha dog. And sometimes, that's really cool. I can go places where you would scare the witnesses into shutting up. I can slip into the back of a crowd without having my body language scream 'cop'!"

"I'm not that obvious, Sandburg," Jim pointed out dryly.

"Of course, you aren't," Blair agreed, not even pretended to sound convinced. "But sometimes we're going to have to use threats and intimidation. And man, I am not good with threats and intimidation. You scowl at some guy, and he's peeing his pants. I just can't pull that off."

"So the gun?"

"I do not want to have to shoot someone. In the animal kingdom, the males whose dominance fights are least likely to cause death or injury are the ones with the biggest displays. Elk, bighorn sheep… they put on big, impressive shows of manliness so that they can get out of doing each other serious damage." Blair picked up his new weapon. "Consider this my antlers. Since I can't scare some perp with my 'pre-civilized breed of man' scowl, I'll just have to scare him shitless with my big-ass gun," Blair smiled.

"Antlers?" Jim asked, but the confusion had been replaced with amusement.

"It's a metaphor, work with me here," Blair complained. Jim rolled his eyes in that familiar expression of his that was somewhere between amusement and resignation. Then Jim closed the distance between them, a hand slipping into place at Blair's back, urging him toward the stairs.

"You aren't going to mount it on wood and hang it over the fireplace, are you?" Jim asked in mock horror.

"Stop being such an ass," Blair challenged his partner, poking the man in the side with a finger as he headed him back up the stairs to the main shop.

"Not that it would be any worse than the masks you have hanging up now."

"Those are priceless artifacts."

"Only because no one would actually pay a price for them, Chief."

"Very funny, but at least I don't hang other people's advertising on the walls."

"That poster is art," Jim frowned as they reached the cash register.

"Give me a break. It's an advertisement for fish hooks."

"It's graphic design. Now pay the man, so we can go get something to eat," Jim complained as he leaned against the counter, a smile teasing the edges of his lips.

"It's not over, Ellison," Blair threatened as he handed over the weapon. The shop owner pushed a stack of paperwork Blair's way, a confused look on his face.

"Make yourself useful," Blair said as he pushed half the paperwork in Jim's direction.

"Pushy. God, let a guy get a big new set of antlers, and he just thinks he can start pushing all the other deer around," Jim teased, and now the shop owner looked outright concerned that he might have two crazy people in his shop. Blair glared at Jim, but the man only reached over and popped Blair on the side of the head.

"Bully," Blair complained as he settled in to fill out the endless paperwork required of a weapons purchase.

"My antlers aren't as big as yours; I have to prove my manliness somehow," Jim agreed in an amused tone.

"You're never going to let me forget that, are you?"

"Not a chance, Chief," Jim happily informed him. "Not a chance."

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