Doubt by alyjude
He'd been watching him--covertly--when he could, when they were together, since they'd returned from Sierra Verde. It wasn't boring work, in fact, it was rather nice work, except for the reason. The reason for his secret looks wasn't nice at all.
If only he could go back a few weeks and undo the reason that kept him watching his friend in the first place. On the other hand, what would be the use when he was constantly asking himself where he'd gone wrong.
All right, time for some soul-searching honesty here. And he didn't even need to search because where hadn't he gone wrong was the more honest question.
Another cough ripped through Blair and he almost stuffed his fist into his mouth to stop the sound from surrounding him. There was no one to hear it, which was a blessing, but still, practice was practice. The bronchitis had really caught him by surprise. He'd felt fine in sunny Mexico, other than being habitually worried, on the run and camping in a damp rainforest. Once home and back in his little room under the stairs, he'd felt truly fine, but then wham, a tickle in his throat, a hoarse voice, and his lungs were filling up. Or maybe filling up more would be the accurate way of saying it.
He turned and looked blearily up at the student standing in his doorway. "Hey, Cory, what do you need?"
"I finished that extra project for Jennings and hoped you'd look at it before I turned it in."
"Sure, sure. Have a seat and let's take a peek."
This wasn't what he'd planned for his student-less afternoon--a nap being more his speed right now--but hey, it was his job. Well, one of his jobs, anyway.
Two weeks later
More covert looks. Television on, lights off, and quick glances at a face eerily lit, thanks to the flickering picture on the screen. His friend seemed all right--normal even--and was enjoying the program, smiling sometimes, when not clearing his throat, which was a weird, odd habit of late.
Maybe they'd never have to talk about it. Maybe everything would go back to normal--completely normal. No awkward silences, restrained emotions, or looks that weren't. It was possible at this rate. And then he wouldn't have to keep stealing worried looks, let alone face the truth.
The hell he wouldn't. He was facing the truth every day. But he wouldn't have to admit it out loud. Say it if they talked. Admit how he'd failed his friend.
Except... he needed to... needed....
He wasn't the right person for this whole sentinel thing. He knew that now. He'd failed the partnership in the jungles of Mexico, and he'd failed it right here in Cascade.
He'd failed his friend even if his spying looks were revealing a perfectly normal man.
"When did that start?" Jim asked as he lounged against the doorframe.
Blair swallowed a gulp of sparkling water, sighed happily as the carbonation soothed his throat, and finally said, "A couple of weeks ago."
"And you didn't say anything? And how the hell have you managed to hide it?"
"Cough syrup. Really good cough syrup," Blair said with a lopsided grin.
"And I thought you were just sucking on a lot of cherry--"
Jim looked surprised. "Grape?"
"Grape." Blair dropped the washcloth he'd been holding in his other hand and shot Jim a disgusted look. "And when were you going to tell me about your senses going haywire?"
"They're not. So I mixed up my grape from my cherry, so what."
"That's a big so what, Jim. But it's your so what, so I'm going to bed. See you in the morning--"
"Probably not. Court. I told Simon I'd be in early to get some paperwork out of the way before I head over to the courthouse."
Blair nodded. "Right. The Overton case. Forgot." He gave Jim a little look that said "Move it or lose it," and Jim, grinning, stepped back and out into the hall. Blair moved past him and headed for his room. It was time for another dose of medicine, which was working pretty damn well.
"We haven't seen much of each other lately, have we?" Jim asked.
He paused, turned back around, and said, "School for me, the PD for you. I have a lot to make up for at Rainier; a lot of markers to pay back. You, Simon and Megan are in the same boat. Not so surprising."
Jim gave a little nod in the general direction of Blair's chest and said, "You're seeing a doctor, right? And he knows about--"
"My attempt to clean up the fountain by diving for quarters? Yeah, she knows."
"Cute, Sandburg. Cute."
"Don't worry, Jim. It's just a cold. Hot steamy jungle to frigid Cascade, you know?"
"Of course. So get to bed already."
Blair smiled, turned, and walked into his room. He was about to shut the French doors when he caught a glimpse of his friend.
All those covert looks and not once had he seen an expression like the one he was witnessing now.
Jim had never looked so lost. So god-damned lost.
Blair closed the French doors--after he stepped back into the living room.
"We need to talk, Jim. We've both been putting it off long enough and while this will be hard on us, we need to do it."
"Oh, shit," Jim said as Blair walked into the kitchen. "We were so close to getting by without this, Chief.
"Close only counts in horseshoes, Jim," Blair said as he got down two coffee cups. The coffee was still hot, but before he poured it, he added a shot of Jim's whiskey to each mug.
"Chief, you allowed to drink that?"
"Sure. Probably help considerably," he answered with a cheeky grin. He handed off one of the mugs and walked over to the couch. Sitting down, he patted the cushion next to him. "Come on. The dreaded talk needs to commence, muy pronto."
Reluctance literally pouring off of him, Jim nevertheless took the spot next to his friend. He also took a healthy swig of his spiked coffee.
"I'll start," Blair said.
Almost sputtering, Jim said, "You'll start? Shouldn't I?"
One eyebrow rose dangerously. "Jim? This is a talk between Ellison and Sandburg. That means Sandburg does most of the talking while Ellison cringes, looks absent, goes all granite-jawed, and lives happily in denial while Sandburg goes hoarse."
"Oh, right. Go ahead," Jim said even as he lightly smacked his partner on the side of the head.
Rubbing the spot, Blair said, "Okay, here goes. I... I've been thinking about this whole sentinel thing and our... you know... weird-assed partnership, and I think I might be doing you more harm than good. Trouble is, I'm not sure what to do about it, you know? It's not like there's a lot of people out there who've been studying folks with heightened senses, let alone Burton's monograph. Hell, to my knowledge, I'm pretty much alone in this, you know? But still. This last time it was too damn close. You could have died, or ended up like Alex, or mphm--"
A hand was clamped over his mouth and he could feel his eyes bugging out as he stared at Jim, whose face was redder than a beet's.
"Sandburg, I swear, you're insane. Chlorine must have had a very bad effect on your brain." Jim dropped his hand from Blair's mouth and, looking sheepish, said, "Anyone ever tell you that you talk too much?"
Licking his lips, Blair said, "We're having a talk, Jim. Hello? Do I need to do another definition?"
"I get you drowned and then kiss the fucking looney-tune of a female sentinel that killed you and you sit there and blame yourself? That's not talking, Sandburg. That's insanity."
"Jim, I should have known what was going on. I should have trusted my instincts but I kept trying to rationalize everything, put it into explainable boxes--"
"You have definitely been around me too long. Explainable boxes?"
Blair shrugged. "What can I say? I try to figure out ways to explain things to you and this time... I failed. Miserably. And you walked right into a situation that you couldn't, in a million years, have predicted. I mean come on, tests? For a sentinel?"
Frowning, Jim scratched the back of his head. "You do tests all the time, Sandburg."
"Well, ye-ah. But since when do the... do the... you know, whomever is in charge of sentinels, test you? You told me you made the choice back in Peru when we went after Simon, and again when Incacha came to Cascade, so why test you with Alex?"
"Like I know?"
Blair shrugged and said, "Well, anyway, I'm thinking... maybe... well, it could be time to... you know."
Dread snaking its way through his insides, Jim said, "No, I don't know. What? Time to what?"
Blair felt a cough coming on and he quickly took a sip of the whiskey-laced coffee in hopes of staving it off. It worked. He put the mug down, took a couple of shallow breaths and said, "Time to," he waggled his head, "move on, you know?"
Jim cocked his head. "Move where?"
"Me. Move. On." Blair threw up his hands as he said, "I'm not what you need, Jim. In fact, since Sierra Verde, you don't need anything. You're solid within your... sentinel-ness now and I think I've done all I can do for you without doing more harm than good. So I think you can... you know... do your job without a certain tag-along shadowing your every move."
"No, no. Don't say anything else. Just... don't say anything."
Jim got up and walked to the windows. The move didn't surprise Blair. Jim was about to go into his granite-jaw stage.
"You know I'm right, Jim. I handled everything wrong. Three years with you and I missed Alex's little penchant for being a criminal. I figured out nothing. I did nothing. Except screw up. But by the very fact that you succeeded, well, that's what told me that this is over for me. You're okay--better than okay. You don't need any help, Jim. You passed the test and I failed. Not that there was any test for me--other than my own."
Jim stared out the window and saw nothing. Strange for a sentinel, he thought. Blair was still talking and Jim took it in, but in an abstract way. He'd done a great deal of thinking since their return from Sierra Verde. He supposed he was going to have to share those thoughts with Blair now. He wasn't looking forward to it--searching one's soul and then sharing the findings had never been his thing. But if he was going to have any chance of keeping Blair Sandburg close, that was exactly what he'd have to do.
"Blair, you may have made decisions that in retrospect you'd like to have changed--hell, that I'd have liked you to have changed--but I really don't think such errors in judgment hold a candle to my screw-ups. I reacted in typical Ellison fashion and held you at arm's length when I should have held you close to my side. Instead of communicating, like a good sentinel should to his teacher, I kept my mouth shut, thus keeping vital information from you. Information so critical, that, had you known, well, I suspect things would have turned out vastly different. And I know you'd never have taken your little dive in the fountain. I know that as surely as I know that I blew it big time. I blew it as a sentinel, and--more importantly--as a friend."
Jim had been expecting several types of responses from Sandburg. But uproarious laughter, which he was hearing now, hadn't been one of them.
Jim wondered if he'd ever understand Sandburg. Or their partnership. On the other hand, what he did know was that he didn't want to live without it--or Sandburg.
He walked over to the couch and stood looking down at the still-laughing man and--he couldn't help it--he grinned.
"Chief, I swear, you never cease to surprise me."
Holding his sides and trying to catch his breath, Blair said, between snorts, gasps and breathing, "It's just... and you and me... and both of us... thinking the... same thing... and if only... we'd talked... shared... but nooooo, not us... and we were... both right and we were... both wrong, and we both ... blew it and it's just so... damn funny, Jim. Don't you get it?"
Oh, he could see the humor, all right, but somehow it tended to fade to black when he thought of Sandburg, Alex and the fountain. Not so funny, their miscommunication, not in the face of that particular memory.
He sat down and, realizing that Sandburg was still trying to catch his breath, started rubbing small circles on the man's back. It was an almost unconscious action, but one that gave him comfort, oddly enough.
Finally Blair calmed enough to notice the rubbing. He was bent over and now resting his arms on his thighs. He looked sideways at his friend, noticed the absent, but strangely content look on his face, and said, "Jim?"
"You're a weird man, Chief," Jim said while still rubbing.
"So are you. So there."
"No argument, Chief. No argument."
They were silent as Jim rubbed and Blair let him. Neither man said anything when Jim moved his hand to the small of Blair's back. And they remained silent when his hand traveled further south. Eventually, Blair gave out with a small sigh and Jim thought it sounded... satisfied.
"We'll never get it right, Chief," he finally said, his hand warm and happy.
"No, but we'll have a helluva lot of fun trying. Besides, right is highly overrated. Life is rarely right--but it's always fun."
"Now that's something we'll have a lot of, Sandburg. Fun."
Leaning back and trapping Jim's hand, which had somehow slipped below the waistband of his jeans, Blair said, "Oh, yeah. Especially now. The real fun just became a real possibility."
Jim squeezed. "Possibility, Chief?"
Grinning, Blair said, "Okay, a sure thing."
"Haven't I always said you were easy?"
"That isn't going to get you any further in your explorations, Jim."
"Easy in a good way, Chief. I meant in a good way."
"There's a good way?"
"Sure. Easy with... me. For me. Just me."
"Ah. In that case--I'm one easy lay."
Jim, one hand still squeezing, grabbed Blair's shirt with his other hand and pulled. The effort rewarded him with a Sandburg in his arms. He dropped back against the arm of the couch, Blair now blanketing him, half his body between his legs. He brushed hair from Blair's face and said, "Ditch the doubts?"
Looking into Jim's eyes, dark now with emotion, Blair murmured, "Save that discussion for later."
Jim shook his head. "Nope. Big step here. Need to know you understand this thing between us."
Blair looked down and said, "Oh, I know exactly what's between us, Jim. And they're both eager to get down to business."
"Listen, Horndog--okay, my horndog--this is important. We can't just jump each other's bones if you've still got doubts about your place in my life and mine in yours. And we certainly can't go further if you still doubt your ability to help me."
"Jim, you're a guy, I'm a guy. The world could be ending and we'd be able to 'jump each other's bones', okay? Now shut up and let's--"
Blair dropped down onto Jim's chest and moaned. "What, already?"
"They're still there, okay? I'm still not sure if I'm the one--"
"What if I'd been honest and shared what was happening to me? Do you think you'd have figured it out?"
Cheek plastered against Jim's shirt, Blair closed his eyes and sighed. "I don't know. Maybe. Possibly."
"So how 'bout cutting yourself some slack here, okay? Neither of us were at our best. Let's learn from it and move on and... upstairs."
Blair lifted his head, blew hair out of his eyes, and said, "Hello? Who are you?"
Chuckling, Jim said, "I'm a horny thirty-something guy who hasn't had any in way too long, that's who. So kick the doubts already and trust us, okay?"
Incredulous, Blair said, "Trust us?"
"Yeah," Jim said softly as he caressed Blair's cheek with the back of his hand. "Trust us."
Blair stared at him for a moment, and finally said, "I can do that."
Seeing a kernel of disbelief in Blair's eyes, Jim said, "Seems funny me being the one saying trust us, eh?"
"Maybe. A bit. Mr. I-Don't-Trust-Anyone-Fox-Mulder Ellison."
"I trust you. I just had to realize that I did. Do. Love and trust and know that my life is safe in your hands."
"Whoa. Talk about pressure," Blair said with a grin. "Pressure is not something I need right now, you know? Performance anxiety already being a factor and all."
"You? Performance anxiety? I don't think so." Jim lifted his head and captured Blair's lips. When the kiss--the very hot kiss--ended, he managed to say in a husky voice, "Nope, not a problem."
"You know, I could get to love you, Jim Ellison."
Just before attacking Jim's neck, Blair said, "Now."
"Good... uhm... yeah... very good."
Blair stopped just long enough to say, "See how talking helps?"
Jim pushed Blair's head back down. "Shut up and go back to doing what you were doing, Mr. Winfrey."
"I can do that."
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