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Air to Breathe

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from underneath the wheels of passion
i keep my faith, in my fashion.
-- sting, "when we dance"


Maybe it was stupid to come back from the Other Side and then spend the rest of your life in bed in a crappy South American hotel, but Blair didn't care. He was getting his strength back, he explained. He was resting. And it had been true, for a while. After that, he'd just wanted to be asleep, because he hadn't wanted to think about how soon he'd have to go back to Cascade.

Because something had happened out there in the jungle, and it had changed everything, and Blair knew that when he tried to settle back into his old life, in the loft, at Jim's side-- it wasn't going to work. Something wasn't going to fit. And he didn't want to face that. Not quite yet.

He'd slept through the redeye flight home. Getting closer and closer to a place where he wasn't sure if he belonged, anymore. And now here he was. Here they were, rather. Jim was taking a shower before bed; he hated airport grime. Blair was lying on his futon in his T-shirt and boxers, trying not to think dangerous thoughts.

But somehow over the past week or so he must've caught himself up on a lifetime's sleep debt and then some, because it wasn't working any more. Finally he sighed and slid out of bed, lifting the duffel bag he'd taken to Sierra Verde. Keep busy. There was a plan. Busy all day, then sleep all night. None of that unnecessary thinking. Of course it was nighttime, so if Blair started seriously keeping busy now, he might throw off his schedule for the rest of his life, but-- too late now.

By the time Blair heard the shower shut off, he'd mostly finished unpacking his duffel bag. Stopping for just a moment to pull his hair back into a ponytail, he moved on to the boxes.

Grunting, he dragged a heavy box to the center of his room, settled down beside it and began pulling things out and setting them on the floor. Books. A coffee mug. A sweater. Oddly, he had never been all that pissed at Jim for throwing him out. He hadn't understood shit at the time, but he'd thought Jim was going through a hard time, and so he'd been willing to give him a little space. And now that he understood a little more... well, at their most civilized, people were still territorial creatures. Jim, being a Sentinel, was more so. He had been, almost literally, a wounded animal when Alex had arrived in Cascade. Blair was an anthropologist, not a zoologist, but he knew that when you cornered a wounded animal, things could get pretty ugly.

The door to his room swung open. "Leave the boxes, Sandburg. It's late."

Blair looked up, feeling a newly familiar ache swell in his chest. Even clad only in a black bathrobe, wet hair plastered to the sides of his balding head-- even alone with his best friend in the middle of the night, Jim's mask was on. It was like a layer of bulletproof glass. It was physical, in the way he held himself, the coolness in his eyes. It was psychological, too: the control Jim constantly struggled for, the ironic, detatched way he appeared to view the world.

"I can't sleep," Blair said, and Jim raised an eyebrow.

Blair looked away. Well, sure. Of course he'd noticed Blair's little crawl-under-the-covers-and-stay-there maneuver.

"It doesn't work any more." he explained.

"Oh." said Jim.

"So I'm just, you know, unpacking. My stuff." Blair mumbled, looking into the box.

"Fine, just... keep it down?" Jim asked, pressing a hand to his forehead. "Or maybe wait till tomorrow, huh, Chief?"

Blair smiled to himself, because this wasn't about Blair making noise and Jim trying to sleep. It was about Jim wanting to help. He wanted to fix things, put them back in their place again. And Blair knew it, because the mask didn't work any more. It didn't fool him for a second.

He'd seen beneath it.

It had taken a dose of psychoactives, some funky mystical shit and a primitive sensory deprivation tank to rip away the Sentinel's civilized facade, to reveal the man's most primal instincts, the core of his character.

It had been deeply fucking scary.

It was a love that could touch madness, and reach beyond the grave.

Even directed at someone else, it was too much. It had brought Blair down like a ton of bricks. He wasn't unfamiliar with wanting Jim. From the very first day, the very first glimpse in the doctor's office as Jim put his shirt back, well, there had been some appreciation. There had been some lust. And certainly Jim knew that there was lust, had probably caught on pretty quickly, although Blair never knew exactly when he'd figured it out. Because Jim had never really seemed worried about it. Besides acting a little amused, a tad flattered, he'd never really seemed to mind. It had impressed Blair. Like: wow, he's really open-minded. For a cop.

It had been a long time since Blair had thought of Jim as just a cop. Or just a beautiful body. And now this-- this *love* that he had seen in the Temple of the Sentinels-- it had lit something up in Blair, like a wildfire. This, this friendship and admiration and pity and need-- it made his most intense lusts seem pale and insubstantial. And the thought that Jim had always cared this much, not just for one person but for everyone, the tribe, all his life-- well, it made Blair feel, for lack of a better word, small.

How did he do it? Blair had often wondered. How could a man be anything but cynical when he'd been betrayed and abandoned so many times that it hurt Blair even to think about? Was he just being naive, or perhaps just intentionally blind? Why did he keep trying? How could he still believe?

He was beginning to understand. Did Jim believe that other people had hearts like his? Was that how he'd spent his life-- trying to find a light to match his own? Blair smiled slightly. Somehow, that was it, the right phrase. That was it exactly. Inner light. 'And the light shall cast out darkness.'

"What?" Jim said, and Blair glanced up to see Jim's eyes wide, his hand white-knuckled around the doorknob.

"What?" Blair blinked, realizing he'd spoken aloud, but still puzzled by Jim's reaction. Planting a hand on the floor, he pushed himself to his feet. "Oh. Nothing, never mind." He shook his head. "Sure, Jim, it can wait for tomorrow."

"No," Jim said urgently, "no, what was that? What did you say?"

Blair blinked at him, and repeated "'And the light shall cast out darkness.' Sounds Biblical, doesn't it? I don't know, man, it's just something that popped into my head." Concerned, he crossed to Jim's side, laying a hand on his arm. "What is it?"

Startling them both, Jim's head snapped downwards, and he stared at Blair's hand as though he'd never touched him before, as though no one had ever touched him before. With obvious effort, Jim dragged his glance up to Blair's face, and then he stared at Blair as though he'd never really seen him before, either.

"Jim." Blair said softly, and Jim moved in suddenly, wrapping one strong arm around Blair's waist, clamping one around his shoulders, pulling Blair close. And Blair felt Jim's bare foot against his own, felt his arms, shaking, felt, somehow, through the layers of one T-shirt and a bathrobe, Jim's heart racing, thundering. Instinctively Blair folded his arms around Jim, pressing his face into the smooth black material of Jim's bathrobe. "Jim, what? Did I say something? Come on, man, what?"

"I don't know!" Jim said. "I... I think it was a flashback." Clumsily, he released Blair just as suddenly as he'd embraced him, moving back a few inches till he bumped against the door. "For a second, you sounded like-- Incacha."

"Oh," Blair said, "oh," and somehow, that just made it worse. Because that was the problem, or part of it anyway, that was the big thing that Blair was trying not to think about-- his place in Jim's life, or rather, his sudden, complete and disorienting lack of one.

Passive observer? That had been shot down sometime in the first year, when he'd begun to realize that not only would Jim Ellison die for him, Jim would install French doors for him, would come to the University and talk to Blair's stupid freshmen for him, would go downtown to the only vegan deli in Cascade for him when he was having a bad day. Blair would dare any anthropologist in the world to remain impersonal, living with Jim Ellison.

Doctoral thesis researcher? Blair had gathered enough data for three dissertations already. The Sentinel's partner and guide? Jim just didn't have that many problems with his senses any more, and sensory spikes and zones happened less and less. Simon had always helped in a pinch, and now that Megan also knew about Jim's senses, she was perfectly capable of backing him up, too.

Shaman of the Great City? Oh, that was even more of a laugh. He'd actually bought into that one for a while-- well, just long enough to snap Jim out of the little funk he'd been in at the time, really. But after that he'd never really done anything about it. Hadn't known how. Recently he'd been wondering if maybe he should have tried harder. Maybe then Jim wouldn't have been so thrown by his visions when Alex showed up. But that was all irrelevant now. Who needed a relief-pitcher shaman, when it seemed that the original had never stepped down?

Which only left one thing: being Jim's friend. Though it could be a trial, it was amazing, sometimes humbling and usually a hell of a lot of fun. But at this point, Blair knew he needed more than that-- knew it like he knew he needed air to breathe-- and that was no fucking cliche.

"Maybe I shouldn't unpack." Blair said quietly. He felt the same calm darkness washing over him that he'd felt in his office, when Alex had lifted her gun. It was over. He knew he was sick, and tired, and traumatized, but it was true, wasn't it? He wanted more than he could have, more than he could live without, and since he couldn't have Jim like that, well, there didn't seem to be much point.

"What?" Jim said, and lifted Blair's chin with his fingers to look straight into his eyes. "Why?"

Blair trembled at the touch, and for a moment, let himself dream. God, what would it be like to be with Jim? To be able to tell him yes, make him feel safe, hear him moan with passion? And, hell, if he was going to be leaving anyway-- why not just give it a shot? Maybe it would make the leaving easier on the both of them, in the end.

Frowning, Blair went up on his toes, closing his eyes tightly. Abandoning his usual subtlety, he flung his arms around Jim's neck and kissed him hard. Stunned, Jim didn't resist, and desperately, Blair held the kiss, worked it until his strained lungs began to burn and his muscles, tense from fear and frustration and sleeping on a plane, began to twinge and cramp.

Gasping, he broke away, slumping, dropping his head onto Jim's shoulder. Arms hanging loosely around the other man's neck, he breathed heavily, and waited for the end of the world.

It didn't come. Jim's hands lifted, landed gently on his shoulders, and rested there.

"Why did you do that?" he asked, stunned.

"I love you." Blair said, staring at the floor. "A little too much, I think."

Jim took a short breath, and repeated, "Why?"

"Because I can't stay here and just be your friend. Not any more." Blair growled. "God, Jim, I'm sorry. I'm *sorry--*"

"No, no--" Jim said, and Blair stopped. "Why... why do you love me?" he asked, and sounded as bewildered as Blair felt.

"Because... Because I can. Because you're *there.*" Blair said with a rueful grin. "Hell, Jim, I don't know."

Jim stared at him. "When did this happen?"

Blair turned away. "When I saw you holding Alex. Pretty fucking pathetic, huh? To watch your best friend with a woman and realize right then that you're in love with him?"

"Blair--" Jim said.

"Believe me, man, I tried to be pissed." Blair laughed. "I tried to be jealous, resent you, what-the-fuckever, but I couldn't. I can't do that any more, either."

"Sandburg..." Jim said, more quietly, and for a moment, Blair seriously thought he was getting a share of Jim's talent for visions-- because he saw it, clear as glass, clear as Sentinel sight, what Jim would say if Blair let him. And furthermore, he saw that Jim would mean it in the kindest and the most loving way, and he knew more than that even-- that it would split them apart as irrevocably as death.

And yeah, he'd been planning to let go. To detach with love. But something-- something just wouldn't let him do it.

So he didn't let Jim say it.

"Do you trust me?" Blair interrupted.

Jim took a breath.

"Don't you trust me?" Blair said, more sharply this time.

"Yes." Jim said.

Slowly, Blair reached for Jim, and his hands slid across the front of the black bathrobe. His fingers curled, clutching the lapels, and he slid a foot backward, then another, keeping eye contact as he pulled Jim back towards his bed. "I can do it, you hear me?" he said softly. "I can be it, Jim. Whatever you want, whatever you need, I can be that. I want to."

The back of his legs hit the bed, and Blair sat down on the edge, pulling Jim down next to him. "I promse you, it's okay," he said, lifting a hand, and stroking Jim's face. Jim flinched, but his eyes were open, and he didn't look angry-- which, with Jim, meant he wasn't too scared. "It's all good."

He leaned in, and this time, Jim met him halfway-- tentative, almost shy, but willing. Blair encouraged him joyfully, brushing his tongue against Jim's and then retreating, taking a swift breath and returning to the kiss. "I don't want to go." Blair whispered, and kissed him. "I want to stay. With you."

It was an effort, but he managed to kept his hands inactive-- hanging on to Jim's bathrobe for dear life. Jim was kissing him almost enthusiatically now, and Blair felt safe enough to leave his mouth, to rain kisses on Jim's cheeks, his eyelids, to nibble his earlobe, to kiss his neck at the intersection of bathrobe and skin. With a barely-audible groan, Jim tilted his head back, and then his hands rose-- fastened gently around Blair's curled fists, holding them in place, holding them closed.

And then, slowly, he pulled Blair's hands apart, and the bathrobe slid off Jim Ellison's shoulders and crumpled into folds around his elbows and waist. Blair trembled, flashing sparks of lust leaping through his whole body. Lowering his head, Blair laid his mouth on Jim's left pectoral, pressing a kiss over Jim's heart, feeling Jim's back arch. "Love you," he whispered, "Jim."

And Jim took a breath, staring up at the ceiling. And he tightened his hold on Blair's hands, and then slowly but surely, he pulled Blair's hands away from his body. The bathrobe fell away, and Jim was naked before him. Naked and aroused. To Blair, it was frightening: a moment of terrible, defenseless intimacy, just like in the Temple of the Sentinels. But this was better than that, a thousand times better, because this time Jim was with Blair, and this time, Jim had chosen it. Chosen to lay himself bare for Blair's scrutiny, Blair's understanding, Blair's love.

Blair gasped, and looked up to meet Jim's gaze-- matching a look of stunned realization, of acceptance and need.

Slowly, Jim let go of Blair's hands, and reached for the edge of his T-shirt. Breathing hard, grinning helplessly, Blair raised his arms. Jim lifted the shirt carefully over his head, then ran one hand matter-of-factly over Blair's furry torso. Blair's breath caught in his throat, and he put his hands on Jim's knees, sliding them slowly up his thighs, letting them rise up the sides of Jim's sculpted six-pack, his pecs and broad shoulders.

And he brought his hands back down again, lowering his head slowly, and he carefully ran his fingers from the base of Jim's erection to the crown, feeling his way, then licked his palm and wrapped his hand around the base of Jim's cock. And he kissed the crown of it, and Jim gasped and got harder and reached for the back of Blair's neck, fumbling with Blair's hair-tie. Blair grinned, reached back and tugged it off, shaking his hair down, letting it brush against Jim's belly, and Jim moaned as Blair sucked his cock. "Oh, Christ, oh Christ..."

And everything was going great, and then Jim's hands curled around his shoulders and pushed him away, wrapped an arm around his waist and rolled over onto the middle of the bed, ending up on top of Blair, tugging at Blair's boxers. Blair tried to help, clumsy with need and urgency, and finally he kicked them away, and Jim took his mouth again with no hesitation, his hands taking the initiative as well, searching over Blair's body unashamedly. Blair gasped aloud as their heated erections finally made contact, bucking into Jim, blinded by pleasure.

"Jim, please," he gasped, hooking one leg over Jim's hip, bringing their bodies into a sweeter alignment. The heat built, the pleasure sparked, and Blair rode it and fought it at the same time, wanting to draw it out, wanting this to be good for them both.

Jim came hard, clutching Blair's shoulder and waist in a bruising grip-- crying out Blair's name. And Blair thrust against him, into the warm slick moisture spreading across Jim's belly, and he let it go, could feel his fear and insecurity spinning away, could feel Jim's incandescent warmth singing through his entire body, rode the pleasure, clutched it, let it go...

His orgasm jolted him, rocked him, and then left him trembling, limp as a wrung-out rag on the bed. Panting, Jim rolled away, one long leg hanging over the edge of the bed. Blair stared at the ceiling, and concentrated on just breathing for a while. After a while, he looked over at Jim, who smiled. Reaching over, he tangled a hand casually in Blair's hair.

Blair nuzzled his palm. "So?"

Jim snorted, caressing Blair's cheek with his thumb. "You're the smart one, what do you think?"

"Oh, man." Blair said, laughing. "Look-- you're not going to freak out in the morning, are you?"

"No, for two reasons. First, I'm gonna sleep till noon." Jim said, and closed his eyes. "Second," he said, and took a breath. "Do you really want to know?"

"Yes." Blair said, and Jim rolled over on his side, pulling Blair closer.

"This scares the hell out of me." Jim murmured into his ear. "I'm too damn old to be figuring out all this shit about myself, stuff I should've figured out twenty-five years ago-- no," he said before Blair could interrupt, "no, I don't even know how to begin to deal with this. So tomorrow, yeah," he sighed, "it's probably going to be the usual. But you'll be here. And you help," Jim confessed, and Blair inhaled sharply. "Jesus, Blair... no matter how hard I try not to need you, I still do."

"I'll be here, Jim." Blair said earnestly. "I'll help. I promise."

"You love me." Jim said quietly, stroking Blair's hair. "That scares me too. Matter of fact it scares me *more.* I can't-- I can't afford to lose you, understand, Sandburg?"

"Yeah-- yeah," said Blair reassuringly. "I know."

"Hell, you know I love you," Jim said urgently, "right? You knew, didn't you?"

"Yeah. I know. It's okay." Blair murmured, his throat tight. "Jim?" he said hoarsely.

"Yeah?"

He sat up, gesturing at the slick mess smeared across his belly and Jim's. "I'm just going to get some tissues or something."

"Yeah, I did just take a shower, didn't I?" Jim muttered, but didn't open his eyes.

"Bitch, bitch, bitch." said Blair. "You stay here. And stop trying not to need me."

"Well," Jim said, and sighed, "I might as well."

Blair patted Jim's face, picked up his bathrobe from the floor, and slipped it on, leaving it open in front. He turned off the bedroom light when he left, and closed the door gently.

On trembling legs Blair walked into the bathroom, wetted down a towel and cleaned himself off, muffling a hiss as cool water encountered heated skin. He splashed water on his face, and scrubbed the back of his neck, underneath his hair. And then he looked up into the mirror-- and he hardly recognized himself.

The tears stung as they trickled from his eyes, warm water mixing with the cool wetness already on his face. He gripped the sides of the sink tightly, breathing through his mouth, trying to sound calm and normal in case Jim was still awake, in case he was listening.

Eventually, Blair stopped shaking, and went back into the bedroom. Folding Jim's bathrobe gently, he left it on top of the unpacked box, and smiled. Jim was still awake-- he pulled back Blair's covers and lifted an arm, and Blair slid in next to him, curling up spoon-fashion. And Jim wrapped an arm around his waist and pulled him close, nothing but warm and welcoming. For a second, Blair wondered irritably if Jim had cleaned himself off with Blair's T-shirt, and then he snuggled back into Jim, because he didn't really care. He adjusted himself, feeling Jim's chest rise and fall as he breathed.

After a while, Jim kissed his ear questioningly, and Blair turned his head. "What?"

"I think everything happens for a reason," Jim said tentatively, and Blair snorted.

"I know that-- how many times have I tried to tell you that?"

"Yeah yeah, cosmic convergence, blah blah blah." Jim said, and squeezed him roughly. "I'm just saying."

"Yeah," Blair said. "I know." He let his eyes drift closed, let himself be soothed by the gentle rhythm of Jim's slow breathing. Eventually, he slept without dreaming, breathing the same air as Jim.