Jim could hear Blair's mantra as soon as the elevator doors thunked open. He detoured past the doors to Major Crimes as he headed for the men's room. Blair's voice trailed after him.
"How am I supposed to tell him? Oh man, he is going to kill me."
Jim assumed that he was the "he" in question, but for the life of him, he couldn't come up with any reason why he might kill Blair, at least not anything in the last month or so. Jim pulled himself out and aimed at the urinal, sighing as he pissed out 24 ounces of coffee. Blair's midterms had saved him from a horrible stakeout.
Someone must have said something to Blair, because he went back to his mantra of no's. Shaking himself dry, Jim tucked everything away and headed for the sink. He might as well save his silly guide from any more self-flagellation. Knowing Blair, the kid had signed them up to play Santa and elf at the orphans' party. As soon as Jim got into the hallway, he could hear Brown start.
"Buddy, I'll come to your funeral, because I'm thinking Ellison is going to turn you into a grease spot on the floor."
"Brown, shut it," Megan snapped. "Sandy, Jim's not going to blame you."
"It was my friend who screwed us over! Oh man, he's going to freak, and I don't even know how the hell I'm supposed to tell him."
That made Jim pause. Okay, maybe he'd just grab a candy bar and pick up some intel before breaking in on Blair in full panic mode. He passed the doors to Major Crimes and headed for the vending machine.
"I say leave the magazine on the desk and then run for it. I figure you've got about a fifteen minute head start," Brown offered. While Brown was clearly joking, his voice had an edge to it that made Jim pause before dropping his quarters into the machine.
"Bite your bum, mate!" Megan growled.
"See, and I would just assume that Jim could track you. I'm voting for the confess and pray approach," Rafe suggested. As Jim ate the candy bar, he reviewed possible offenses that Blair's friends might have committed. His buddy with the marijuana habit might have gotten arrested, but Jim had predicted that months ago, so it wouldn't exactly be a surprise. In terms of potential mayhem, Sam in forensics had some potential, but Jim had known Sam longer than Blair. He just wasn't masochistic enough to date the woman.
"I just don't think you need to get so twisted up. It's not like Jim's going to spit the dummy because of one little lie."
"Yeah, right," Brown immediately answered.
Jim dropped the candy wrapper in the trash before heading for the squad room. Whatever was going on, he was only going to find out about it by confronting his guide, hopefully without giving Blair a heart attack. Now that he was just outside the doors, he could hear Blair's heart chugging furiously.
"Hey, Chief," he said as he pushed through the doors. Blair stood by Jim's desk, a rolled magazine clutched to his chest and a wide-eyed, deer about to get hit by a Mac truck expression.
"Now, Jimbo, don't go getting too upset," Megan started, holding her hand out toward him as though trying to keep him from Blair. Of all the people in the squad room to calm him down, Megan wasn't the one to do it. Her ability to put Blair in dangerous situation put her on the 'tolerate with prejudice' list. Looking toward the others, Jim became even more suspicious when Rafe quickly turned away to dig in a random file cabinet and Brown watched, smirking. More than a few uniformed cops loitered around the room with expressions that varied from expectant to open hostility.
"And what am I not getting upset about?" Jim asked as he detoured around Megan. Blair backed up, still crushing the glossy magazine in his damp hands.
"Oh man, I am so sorry. I never would have invited him to stay at the loft. Seriously, I don't know what he was thinking," Blair babbled.
Okay, clue one: it had something to do with the Bohemian 'writer' who'd lived on Jim's couch for a week before the thought of a room full of cops playing poker had driven him back out again.
"What did hippy-dippy boy do?" Jim demanded.
"Neil," Blair corrected automatically. Then his upper lip disappeared as he sucked it between his teeth and stared gnawing at it.
Jim rolled his eyes and made a sudden grab for the magazine. Blair scrambled to defend it, but he ended up with just the back cover. With a loud ripping sound, Jim managed to confiscate the rest of it. His eyes went wide when he spotted the cover: Melissa Etheridge on a motorcycle under the banner of The Advocate. Okay, this wasn't quite what he expected.
"What's up with this?" Jim asked, holding up the gay rights magazine.
"Page forty-one," Blair muttered. Jim could hear a dozen whispered conversations, and he flipped open the magazine feeling like he had just walked into the middle of one of his childhood nightmares. When he opened the right page, he stared blankly at the top of the page with the small picture of himself in dress blues accepting his badge when he joined the Cascade department. Near the bottom, he and Blair stood in the middle of a stream, fishing. Blair's hat tilted wildly and strands of hair stuck to his lips as he struggled with a fish fighting at the end of the line while Jim smiled. Simon had caught that shot right before all hell had broken loose that trip. He read the headline. "Hero Cop Doesn't Hide his Partner or his Love." Jim blinked.
"Oh man, I know this looks bad." Blair reached out for the magazine, and Jim surrendered it as he listened to a dozen conversations behind him.
"Ellison'll show the little fairy the door now."
"Do you think they might be… you know?"
"I always knew Sandberg was gay, but I'm shocked about Ellison."
"I've seen the way they touch, no surprise to me."
Rafe clicked the file drawer closed and watched out of the side of his eye. Brown just stared.
"No biggie, Chief," Jim shrugged. He turned and looked at each of the uniformed officers. Suddenly people who had found a dozen reasons to hang out in Major Crimes decided they needed to be elsewhere. The room emptied out fairly quickly as Jim glared them out the doors.
"See, told you he'd understand," Megan said, but she sounded more confused than her normal cocky.
"What's to get upset about?" Jim asked with a shrug as he dropped into his seat. Blair just continued to stand as if he'd forgotten how to move, but if Jim lost his cool, everyone in the station would take that as a green light to go after Blair. Jim wasn't putting up with another round of Blair-bashing. He'd had a couple of quiet talks with patrol officers in dark corners when Blair started, and he wasn't having it again.
"Oh buddy, the whole station saw that," Brown broke in. "They don't know you like we do, and they're falling for this shit. They're all down there saying that you're… you know." Brown had a slightly disgusted expression, and Jim looked up in surprise.
"That I'm what? Gay?" Jim asked. Blair made a strangled sound.
"No way, no one thinks that," Blair said, but it had the tone of a man who wanted something to be true rather than the one who believed what he said.
"Exactly," Brown exclaimed, poking the air with his finger. Jim felt a familiar annoyance brush up against him.
"And that would be a problem because?" Jim asked darkly.
Brown froze with his mouth open.
"No worries, mate. It doesn't change the way anyone sees you just as long as you take care of Sandy," Megan broke in. Blair choked.
"Why would you think I'm seeing Sandburg? I'm usually on a first name basis with anyone I'm dating," Jim quickly corrected her. While he might enjoy wiping the smug expression from Brown's face, he didn't want to drag Blair into the mess with him. "Neil just made all that up," Jim finished.
"Before you finish that, I'm warning you, if a stereotype falls out of your mouth, you will be sorry," Jim interrupted Brown who stood with his mouth still open.
"Live and let live, that's our motto," Rafe interrupted as he put a hand on his partner's arm.
"Man, that is not cool," Brown barked as he shrugged off the restraining hand. "I've been a church-going man my whole life, and this ain't right," Brown waggled a finger from Jim to Blair.
"Blair doesn't have anything to do with this. I told you that Neil is a bald-faced liar." Jim's voice had grown tight, and Megan instinctively moved back a step even as Blair slipped forward just a bit.
"It's unnatural. Bible says that homosexuals do not inherit the kingdom of God. It's not right."
"And it's so not our business," Rafe broke in before Jim had a chance to explode at the bigotry. "Jim's a big boy, and he's old enough to make his own decisions." Rafe emphasized the word "big" as he got between Jim and Brown. Before, Brown had locked gazes with Jim, but now he looked around. Jim could feel the heat as Blair stood at his shoulder. Megan had taken a step forward and had her hands fisted as though ready to hit someone, and Rafe continued to push his partner back and away.
"Just saying what I believe," Brown said mulishly.
"We have a problem here?" Jim asked as he stood up suddenly. His chair scraped across the floor in the perfect silence of the room. For a second, Brown stared back, and then he held up his hands in surrender.
"Your life, your business. I just don't ever want that around me," Brown turned around and went back to his desk.
"He's just, you know," Rafe offered with an apologetic smile. Jim could feel his skin itch with a need to pull the prejudice out so that he could hit it, hurt it. But now, it would come at him, and not Blair.
"Oh man, just let it go. You just caught him off guard," Blair hissed.
"That was the point," Jim offered with a smile and wink as he sank back down into his chair.
"That was… what?" Blair voice rose nearly an octave.
"I hate that kind of prejudice. Brown and some of those uniforms thought that this was the worst thing that could happen to a man." Jim thumped the magazine that Blair still held to his chest. "Newsflash, Darwin, this isn't that big of a deal."
"So, you just… all that just to prove some point?" Blair demanded. Jim smirked as he glanced over toward Brown. Maybe he'd given the man something to consider before making assumptions about people.
"And I think my point is made," Jim answered. "I just need to drop this off with Simon, and then I'm headed home for some serious sleep. Are you riding with me?" Jim turned to his computer and pulled up the reports he'd typed while sitting in the back of a dimly lit van for eight hours. Between sleep deprivation and Brown, his head throbbed.
"Uh, sure," Blair answered. Jim started a quick and dirty edit of his paperwork while Blair gathered up papers from the desk.
During the walk from the elevator to the garage, Jim kept his hearing up high, listening to a dozen conversations all centered on his sexuality. Even with the dark undercurrent of homophobia, he felt pretty damn good as he strode to the truck, Blair trailing behind.
"Man, I'm so sorry. So, are you going to set them straight tomorrow?" Blair asked as they turned the corner to the employee parking. This time of day, the garage was so silent that the sounds of voices from far away echoed against the cold concrete. For a moment, Jim was so lost in the echoes of the faint conversations that he didn't process the question.
"Not a big deal, Chief. The only person who should apologize is Brown for his attitude."
"Yeah, who would've thought," Blair agreed. "So, you really aren't furious?"
"Chief, you can't control your nutty friends," Jim slowed a bit so that Blair would walk beside him. "Besides, it's not like he made it up the stuff about us out of the blue."
"Oh man, just because I have long hair and can occasionally express my feeling—"
"Wasn't talking about you, Chief."
"I… what?" Blair stuttered to a stop, which was a first for him. Jim cocked an eyebrow as he waited for Blair's brain to catch up. "You mean… You really are… " Blair blinked fast, and Jim had to resist smirking. He rarely got to surprise Blair, and he enjoyed the rare treat of his guide looking absolutely flabbergasted.
"But… Carolyn and half the female criminals in Cascade," Blair paused, "And I did not just say that because that's such stereotypical shit that I'm a little horrified it's rattling around in my subconscious. Lots of people like both, but man, I really didn't think you fit into the category, especially given your choices lately." Blair leaned back against a silver car, the color draining from his face.
"Yeah, and if I did show interest in some guy, how exactly would I explain you? Hey, he's just my roommate who lives with me, vacations with me, works with me, and goes to all the Jags games with me? Come on, Chief, no guy is going to buy that. It was just easier to date women."
"Whoa… wait… I think I slipped into an alternative universe. You dated men? Not just the feelings but actual dating?"
Jim didn't answer; however, he couldn't hide a small smirk as he shrugged. "Never marched in a gay parade, but there were men I liked. I'm more interested in the personality."
"What? Criminal?" Blair shot back. Jim blinked in surprise at the sudden frustration he could read in every tight muscle in Blair's body.
"No," Jim answered cautiously, "strong. I liked Caro because she was intelligent and definitely had her own opinions."
Blair crossed his arms over his chest, all the nervous energy bottled under a layer of anger that Jim couldn't quite decipher.
"Right. Strong and opinionated." Blair stopped, his mouth a thin, taut wire.
"If you have a bug up your butt, spit it out, Chief."
"Man, I'm your roommate, how could you have never mentioned this?"
Jim's smugness melted away as he confronted Blair's anger. In his most irrational moments, he feared that Blair would find out and turn on him as other friends had, but he had always dismissed that nightmare. He had learned to trust that Blair wouldn't hurt him, but now… Jim set his jaw as he waited for the attack.
"You have a problem with me liking men?" Jim demanded, bracing for whatever followed.
"Man, you suck," Blair managed after several seconds of faint spluttering.
Part of Jim wanted to turn it into a joke, to point out that under the right circumstances he had no problem sucking. Jim might have done it, except that Blair's anger stung so much more than the condemnation of… fuck, just about anyone. He didn't give a damn if Brown thought he would go to hell, but he wanted Blair's approval about as much as he wanted his father's approval, which explained why he still hadn't told the old man.
"It's been a long day, so let's just drop it," Jim suggested coldly.
"Drop it?" Blair voice rose to a near squeak. "Drop it? Oh man, not a chance. I mean, if you aren't into guys, that's fine, but you're into guys and you still—" Blair snapped his mouth shut as he turned his back and started stomping toward the truck.
"Hold on there, Chief," Jim took a couple of running steps to catch up with Blair, catching his guide by the arm and turning him back around. Jim was shocked to see the profound misery on Blair's face.
"Oh man, just… I just need some space right now."
"Chief? Talk to me." Jim felt the familiar panic that curled around his spine every time Blair hurt.
Blair stood silent, shaking his head with an indecipherable expression on his face. "It's my problem. I just need some time to process, that's all."
"You aren't upset that I'm bi." Jim said slowly as a theory formed based on the miserable expression on Blair's face. Blair just kept shaking his head as he pushed against Jim's arm. Jim tightened his grip on Blair, reeling him in until Jim could feel the heat from Blair's body. Gripping Blair's arms, he held his guide still as he looked down into tear brightened eyes. Blair turned his head as he took a deep breath in an obvious attempt to control his emotions. "You aren't upset because I like men."
"Of course not," Blair answered softly. "It's just that… look, it's stupid." Blair strained against Jim's embrace, but Jim just held tighter.
"I was afraid," Jim blurted against every instinct he owned. Blair stilled, and Jim tugged him closer so that he could slip his arms around Blair in a hug. "You never know how friends are going to react." Jim gave a short snort of bitter laughter considering the scene in the squad room. "I couldn't risk losing you."
Jim sighed, his own eyes growing warm as Blair's arms slipped around his waist. "Big, stupid sentinel," Blair muttered into Jim's chest as he tightened his hold. "Loved you the first time you smiled at me."
Jim sucked in a breath as the fear he'd carried curled in his guts evaporated. Laying his cheek on Blair's head, he just let himself enjoy the feeling of Blair in his arms. "Then I loved you first." Jim teased.
Blair poked him with a sharp finger in the ribs. "If this is going to turn into one of those pointless arguments, can we have it at home?" Blair pulled back, and this time, Jim allowed him a few inches of freedom so that he could see his guide's face.
"Home sounds good, Chief." Jim ruffled Blair hair before letting him go. Just like always, Blair made his grunting noises of frustration as he slapped Jim's hand away and tried to save his hair.
"Your geek," Blair said with a smile before he turned and headed for the truck. Jim smiled and followed. Oh yeah, home sounded really good.