He opened the door, his hand shaking slightly. The guy – or maybe it was a girl, with that hair – who was gyrating in place to that wailing grunge crap turned, and the sight was like a punch to his sternum.
It was the kid from the hospital.
Damn it! His throat tightened, and the sudden surge of despair made his body feel heavy and thick, like he was moving underwater. He couldn’t believe he’d been such a fool. He’d let himself hope that there really was an answer, that this Sandburg guy would know what the hell was wrong with him and what to do about it.
You know what’s wrong with you, said a quiet, nasty voice at the back of his head. You’re nuts. Off your rocker. Crazy; a freak. That’s why they kicked you out of the army, isn’t it? Oh, they called it something else, something nice – giving a hero who was missing in action a dishonorable discharge doesn’t make for good PR, after all – but we all know the truth, don’t we?
His palms were slick and he could feel the dull burn of anger in his chest. The kid was still talking, and it was too much. He was too much. Too raw, too open. That wild hair; those tremendous eyes; his hands flying around passionately; talking a mile a minute, God, the mouth the kid had on him...
...his former partner in Vice would have had a comment about what that mouth was good for, and it wouldn’t have been to explain things.
The light in the room and the kid’s jabber made his head pound. His fists clenched and unclenched convulsively. He wanted to teach the kid a lesson; wanted to see that mouth tremble, wanted to see fear dawn in those big blue eyes. Scare him a little, teach him not to go fucking around with crazy ex-military cops who were hearing and smelling and seeing things that they shouldn’t.
“...throwback to a pre-civilized breed...”
His frustration boiled over, and before he could stop himself, he had the kid up against the wall, hands knotted in his shirt, hissing out any and every threat that he could think of.
To his surprise, though, the kid’s mouth stayed firm. Apprehension flickered in his gaze for a moment, then was overcome by a blaze of determination. And that mouth just kept going.
The anger drained out of him like water, leaving him empty and unsettled. He let Sandburg go and stepped back grudgingly. You had to respect someone who stood his ground like that.
“...Peru and it has got to be connected to what is happening to you now. Now, let me just show you...”
He trailed after Sandburg, a tiny spark of hope igniting in his chest. Maybe this was going to turn out okay after all.
This shouldn’t have happened, Jim thought. At least not to him. The cops, we were the ones shutting the ring down. We were the targets. He was just an innocent bystander.
But it had happened, and it had been happening more and more, ever since the day they’d met. Sandburg; threatened, in danger, because of his work with Jim. Kidnapped, held at gunpoint, beaten up, shot at. Kincaid, Lash, Brackett, Carasco. It was enough to make anyone call it quits. And yet... the kid kept coming back for more. It was one of the things Jim admired...
...about him. He’d met few people more tenacious than Blair Sandburg.
Blair needed every ounce of that tenacity now, to fight for his life. This Golden was insidious stuff. Blair had stopped breathing twice in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, with Jim able to do nothing except grip the dashboard of Simon’s car, muttering prayers under his breath – to whom, he wasn’t sure – and clinging to the sound of Blair’s heart like a lifeline.
But Blair was stable, now, and hooked up to a bunch of machines that rhythmically beeped and clicked and rang. The doctors had been cautious, but hopeful. The crisis seemed to have been averted.
Except that Jim found himself getting more restless by the minute. For the hundredth time that day, he cursed the stupidity and carelessness on his part that had lost him the use of his eyes. Strain as he might, he could see nothing but a golden haze with shifting patterns of golden light within. And the persistent chuk-whoosh of the ventilator was like a white noise generator to his hearing – it completely drowned out the sound of Blair’s heartbeat.
He shifted irritably in his chair. The rational part of his brain knew that Blair was okay, knew that, if something did happen, there would be alarms and people rushing in and orders being shouted over his head, staccato-fast. He knew that. But the sentinel in him did not. The sentinel needed to sense things to know them.
He reached out, his fingers fumbling blindly over the thin cotton blanket until they found Blair’s arm. Blair’s skin was slightly cool and damp, and Jim slid his hand down until he found Blair’s wrist and the pulse point there. The thump against the pads of his fingers was reassuringly strong and steady.
It wasn’t enough, though.
Carefully, he pushed himself up from the chair with one hand and, bracing his knee on the side of the bed, leaned over Blair and inhaled deeply.
At first all he got were typical hospital smells. Antiseptic, plastic, saline, bleach. He leaned closer, positioning his nose where he thought Blair’s face must be. Golden, still strong and so bitter that he wrinkled his nose in disgust. Charcoal, and a sharp medicine-like odor that must be whatever they were giving him to help him through this. And, then, very faint... something else.
He bent down farther, and caught an eddy of breath. The ventilator was doing most of the work, but there was still some leakage, a scant trace of the air from Blair’s lungs being expelled from his mouth, past the machine. He drank it in gratefully. It was warm, and a little moist, and imbued with Blair’s unique scent, which he hadn’t realized that he’d known until just now. It reminded him of something exotic; like Thai food, fiery and sweet. His restlessness and anxiety drained away.
(wonder how he would taste)
Simon’s voice rumbled in the hallway, greeting the nurses, and Jim scrambled back to his chair. Even with Simon in the know about the senses, he didn’t really want to explain why he’d been crouched over his partner’s body, sniffing at his mouth like a cat. Though it did seem that that was the appropriate animal metaphor. The corner of his mouth quirked wryly and he fumbled for a magazine as Simon entered the room.
He hadn’t really believed the bastard would do it.
Time slowed to a crawl. Rachins’ grin stretched defiant and desperate across his face, and Jim’s heart clenched, unable to take his eyes away from the horrifying sight of Rachins’ thumb pressing the button on the remote detonator.
He heard the explosion coming, felt it thundering beneath him, gathering force, and there was a moment when he wondered if he could outrun it somehow, block it out, somehow not sense it, as if not sensing it would make it not real, not happening – and wasn’t that a question Blair would like...
(not Blair, please, not him)
...if you don’t sense something, does it really happen? But it was happening, and he felt the building tremble...
(or was he trembling)
...as the force of the explosion traveled through the girders. Then the sound caught up, and the roar was deafening, vibrating in his bones, and then there was a noise like a brief burst of static, and then nothing but silence, echoing in his ears and his heart.
Rachins was talking, his mouth moving in slow motion. Jim couldn’t hear him, but he could see. See how it was going to play out, as clear as day. He saw himself gripping Rachins by the shirt, walking him backwards to the shattered window. Saw himself picking Rachins up and tossing him out. Saw Rachins falling thirty-seven floors down.
Maybe he’d lose his badge. Maybe he didn’t care. Maybe he’d go out the window after him. No reason not to, really...
(now that he’s gone)
A shriek shattered the bubble of quiet around him, a war whoop laced with infinite joy. Then a cacophony of voices, rising in frantic, ecstatic chatter... but all he could focus on, all he was tuned into, was that first one, rising above the crowd like a prayer.
Relief hit him so hard he gasped, almost staggering. Time lurched into normal mode. His heart started beating again. He knotted his fist into Rachins’ shirt and snarled something suitably cop-like, although he was sure the effect was diluted by the enormous grin spreading across his face.
He hauled Rachins into the stairwell for the long journey down, keeping his ears turned to the music of his partner’s voice.
“Come on, Chief!”
Metallic. Artificial. Flat.
“Breathe, damn it!”
Chlorine. Fluoride. Copper. Lead.
This wasn’t what he’d wanted. When he’d told Blair to get out, this wasn’t what he’d thought would happen. He’d thought he was protecting Blair, not putting him in harm’s way.
Obviously she had had other ideas.
“Come on, Sandburg!”
“Don’t you go!”
And then Incacha was there, and for once Jim didn’t argue or talk back, but just followed orders, and after what seemed like an endless length of time Blair sputtered, and coughed, and spit up a lungful of dank, smelly water, and Jim rolled him to his side, and patted him on the shoulder, and said something reassuring. Then the EMTs came in, and he moved back to let them work, and he said more reassuring things to Simon and Henri and Rafe, and felt his breathing return to normal, and his heart rate begin to slow.
But the taste still coated his mouth like a shroud.
His leg was aching, and he rubbed at it, annoyed. It hurt enough to keep him awake, but not so much that he was willing to brave the stairs and go get the painkillers he’d left on the kitchen table. God, he hated getting shot. Although, on reflection, it wasn’t the actual getting shot that bothered him as much as the recuperation.
He remembered Blair’s face as they’d ridden in the ambulance to the hospital. Pale and grim, with dark circles under his eyes. The wound wasn’t that serious, but Jim guessed that Blair had seen too many people that he cared about shot by Zeller in the last few days. And then, of course, there was that press conference...
The tide of guilt that rose at that thought threatened to choke him. Jesus, what an idiot he’d been. How could he possibly have believed that Blair would betray him like that? Sure, he’d been angry. Angry, and – let’s be honest, here – scared. But, still...
When he thought about it now, it was like he’d been in some kind of dream. A dream where his reactions were all out of proportion and control; a dream where he’d watched himself act like an asshole to someone he cared about and felt powerless to stop it.
He swallowed, blinking hard against the sudden moisture in his eyes. He just hoped that Blair was being straight with him about there being no hard feelings.
As if his thoughts had taken form, he heard Blair’s door creak open, heard the soft pad of Blair’s feet as he crossed the loft. Then the rattle of pills in a plastic bottle, a cabinet opening, water running, and, finally, slow, careful steps up the stairs to Jim’s room.
With a wry grin, he struggled upright, swinging his legs over the side of his bed.
Blair’s head rose into view, followed by the rest of him, dressed in his usual nighttime boxers and undershirt. He smiled when he saw Jim waiting for him, although there was something hesitant and apprehensive in his eyes. “I figured you might want these,” he said, holding out the pill bottle and a glass of water.
“Thanks, Chief,” Jim said gratefully, taking the proffered medication. He put the empty glass on his bedside table, noticing, as he did, that Blair was still standing next to it, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other. “Something on your mind?” he asked.
“Why do you want me to be a cop?” The words came out softly, but quickly, as if Blair was afraid he’d lose his nerve halfway through the sentence.
“Sandburg – Blair – look, you’re going to be a good cop. You’ve got great instincts about people, you want to see justice done, you–”
“No, why do you want me to be a cop?”
That was the twenty-five thousand dollar question, wasn’t it? Blair had been at his side for over three years. Three years during which, although valuing Blair’s contributions, both he and Simon had rarely missed an opportunity to remind him that he was, in fact, not a cop. At no time had either of them ever thought to help make Blair a cop. So why now?
Blair’s eyes were huge in the dim light, lambent with anxiety, and he was gently worrying his bottom lip with his teeth. Jim swallowed, feeling as though the words were jammed in his throat. “I... I need... need you,” he stammered, feeling a flush of shame at his awkwardness.
“For the senses.”
Jim opened his mouth to agree, but stopped. It wasn’t the truth, and he knew it. He’d known it ever since he’d watched his partner and best friend destroy himself on national television just to keep his secret.
Be honest, a voice within him said, and he took a deep breath. No, he’d known it ever since that day at the fountain. You didn’t marshal ancient spiritual forces to prevent the death of someone you had lukewarm feelings for.
But did Blair feel the same?
“No.” Jim wasn’t entirely sure whether he’d said it aloud or not. But he must have, because Blair came closer, his look still wary. “Not just that.”
For answer, he reached up and ran his fingers over Blair’s bottom lip, gently soothing the creases left by Blair’s teeth. The skin there felt like raw silk, warm and rough-smooth, and he caressed it slowly. A sigh escaped him. He’d been wanting to do that for so, so long.
Blair shivered and his eyes closed briefly. When they opened, the hesitation was gone, replaced with a look that made Jim’s heart leap and fire burn low in his belly. “I was hoping you’d say that,” Blair murmured.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Wiseass,” Blair said, and he leaned in and kissed Jim.
As good as it had been to feel Blair’s mouth with his fingers, it was ten times better with his mouth, and he thought he might have zoned a little bit, dizzied by the throng of sensations that enveloped him.
A stab of pain from his leg jerked him back into awareness, and Blair was on his knees, but shying backwards, and muttering, “Sorry, sorry, forgot about the leg... my fault....”
He reached for Blair, murmuring “S’okay, don’t worry about it,” wanting nothing more than to return to that incredible embrace, but Blair, with a shamelessly wicked grin on his face, pushed him on to his back and gently tugged his boxers down his legs, being careful to avoid the bandage on his thigh.
Jim’s breath caught in his throat and his hands clenched at the sheets, because it didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what Blair’s intention was, and... oh, Jesus, God, did that feel good; that incredible, sensual, talented mouth wrapped around his dick and... and....
After an embarrassingly short period of time he felt the rush and pressure of his climax, and then all his senses were a little muffled for a while. He thought he might have shouted something in the heat of the moment; he hoped it hadn’t been something weird or sappy. But when he opened his eyes Blair was lying on his side next to him, his head propped up on one arm, looking entirely too pleased with himself, so he supposed whatever it was hadn’t been too bad.
Later, after he’d repaid the favor – twice – and thoroughly wiped that smug grin off Blair’s face, and they lay twined together, relaxed and drowsy, Blair poked a finger into his ribs. “Took you long enough, Ellison,” he said in a mock grumble. “I was starting to think I was never gonna get you to notice me.”
Jim chuckled. “I noticed,” he said, his arm tightening around Blair, “I just didn’t notice that I’d noticed, if you know what I mean.”
He’d expected a sarcastic rejoinder, but apparently Blair was too tired, because he just huffed a little and settled in closer against Jim’s side. “Well, I’m just glad you finally noticed that you noticed.”
“Me, too, Chief. Me too.”