Blair slouched in the passenger seat, trying to convince himself that he was deluded, that he hadn't looked into Jim's face and seen something beyond affection there in those angular features, in the anxious pull of Jim's eyes.
But Blair's heart just went on with believing in spite of his brain. Because he'd felt it. For a moment there, he could read Jim like a book, like a favorite old volume he'd read a hundred times. Jim cared about him. More—Jim was worried, really worried, about what Blair thought of him, and had been downright scared he might be disappointed in him.
Blair wasn't. No way he could be. He couldn't understand how Jim had managed to survive the things he had and still continue to care so damned much about the people around him—the good people who'd suffered hard times, if not the bad ones who'd chosen the wrong path.
Naomi would have a hissy, but Blair found himself agreeing with that particular dichotomy.
"This is great," Jim said as he turned a corner. "I mean, your car is a junk heap," he shot Blair a wicked look, "but driving—boy, I really missed driving."
"Can't afford a junk heap of your own?" Blair cracked.
"No, I just couldn't trust myself to drive." Jim's voice was distracted. "Worried about the vision thing. But it's all under control now. I suppose I could get a car. A truck, I think, for doing the grocery run. Betty will be glad to have me take that on."
Blair swallowed hard. It seemed there was no end to the things Jim had given up because of his senses. "I haven't met Betty yet."
"You will. She'll be at Joey's welcome back bash. I assume you're coming?"
"Oh, I'll be there. I'm going to make my world famous guacamole."
"World famous, huh?"
"Might be a little spicy for you, though."
"Oh, right." Jim pulled up at the Kitchen and turned his head. "This was great. Thanks for letting me drive, Chief."
"No problem. So..."
"So." Jim met his eyes for a second then looked away. "Will I see you tonight?"
"Yeah, man." Of course, Blair had other things to do. Laundry piling up, papers to grade. And he had notes to compile from various interviews he'd done with the folks at the Kitchen. Not to mention he needed to schedule some interviews at the shelter on Bryant Street.
"I'll be back by six," he said.
"Good. That's good." Jim smiled out the window.
Sandburg did come back, which surprised Jim, but didn't. It surprised Jim that in spite of his strangeness, in spite of the burden he placed on Sandburg by being such a wimp about his senses, in spite of the hardness inside him, the unkind part of his soul he'd revealed, that anyone would come back. But it didn't surprise him that Blair did, because Blair was...Blair. The kid was gold, and that was all there was to it.
What surprised Jim even more, though, was Blair kept coming back again and again over the next few weeks, drilling Jim in exercises and meditations, testing his ranges to get what he called a baseline of Jim's abilities. Sandburg was very serious about the senses. He was treating them like a skill Jim had.
And, weirdly enough, Jim started thinking of them that way, too, now that they were no longer making his life a constant misery.
He still had spikes, as Sandburg called them, and reactions to foods or chemicals that seemed unavoidable, and he still had times when he could barely lift his head for the leaden pain, but those days were further and further between.
And he was discovering something new every day, finding endless ways to use the senses. Even for something stupid like smelling a box of cereal to pick the best one. And, boy, did he get razzed by Sandburg about that. Apparently using his senses for sniffing out Crunchberries was an insult to the ancient Sentinel tradition.
But it was Blair's fault for getting him to enjoy having them, using them. Jim could've kissed him for that, if kissing weren't entirely off the agenda.
Ix-nay on kissing the guy.
It wasn't that Jim was uncertain of his reception. Jim could feel the subtle pressure between them every time they were together. He could tell Blair was waiting for him to make the first move, but Jim was too afraid to upset the status quo. He barely had his feet back under him. He already needed Sandburg in a way he'd never needed anyone before, too much to risk Blair dumping him because Jim had fucked up.
But he had to admit, every time they brushed elbows, or Blair turned those deep blue eyes on him and praised him for some new trick he'd mastered, that there was definitely a tempting heat between them. And wasn't that a kick? Young, beautiful guy like that, interested in an old, burned-out vet like Jim?
There had to be something wrong with the kid.
But the idea of it—of them—continued to percolate on the back burner of Jim's mind.
Joey was recovering well, and together he, Sandburg and Jim attended Scalia's preliminary hearing. Webster, the redhead, had already pled guilty on two counts of assault. The third thug, Daley, was still in the hospital. He'd regained consciousness, but was brain-damaged.
Jim tried to feel guilty and failed.
The judge at the hearing was an older, harsh-looking woman, her pale face stark against the black robes. Scalia slouched in through the door as if he owned the place, and Jim looked away, scanning the room, afraid if he looked at Scalia he would lose control of his temper.
The courtroom was about half-full. Most of the people had that dim, weary loser aspect, family members of people coming up for hearings. Jim's eye caught on a tall, brown-haired man who seemed out of place. He was wearing a dark suit and white shirt and tie. Something about him made Jim's nose twitch.
The man turned his head and met Jim's eyes with a cold, gray stare.
The judge's gavel sounded, and Jim turned forward again.
The proceedings were dull, full of kibitzing from the lawyers and stern reprimands from the judge. Joey shifted impatiently next to Jim. Blair, on the other hand, seemed riveted. But then, Blair found something interesting in almost everything.
Scalia was remanded back to prison to await trial with no bail set. Jim could feel Blair's grin of triumph, as if on a special wavelength. It was scary how in tune Jim was with Sandburg's emotions. With his heartbeat, for crying out loud.
They all shuffled to the end of the bench and started filing down the central aisle. Jim was directly behind the brown-haired man, and his nostrils flared again, pulling in, processing...hair gel, deodorant, a subtle, expensive cologne-smell, and underneath, a cold, damp scent, like mud—no, not mud, but the slate taste of cement.
Brown joined them as they hit the tiled corridor outside the courtroom. Jim thought, what the hell, and nudged him with an elbow, saying, "Take a look at that guy. He was there for Scalia's hearing." The man was now standing by the bank of payphones near the entrance.
"Well, this is gonna sound weird, but he...he smelled like cement," Jim got out in a rush. He could feel heat on his neck. Circus freak, a voice in his head sneered.
"Cement, huh?" Brown seemed to take it in stride. "Like he works in construction? He doesn't look it."
No, the suit didn't fit a laborer. And that cologne definitely wasn't working-class.
"Isn't it great?" Blair said suddenly at his side, "No bail!"
"Yeah! Great news, huh? Not that you can't take care of yourself," Brown said hastily to Jim, obviously afraid of offending him.
"No reason I should have to, though, if the system does it right."
"Yup. And I've got news: we got some pretty interesting results from forensics on that knife. They say that particular artist's work is only available via special import from the Philippines. Only a few suppliers out here, and we've obtained customer lists from them. Oakland isn't on it, though." Brown's face fell.
"What about the martial arts studios?"
"Same deal. There are three gyms here that teach Panan-andata," Brown stumbled over the word, "that we know of. No connection with Oakland. But—"
"Did you guys cross-check the customer list against the gyms?" Blair asked.
"Smart kid," Brown said approvingly. "Yes, indeed. There was one match. A Mr. Brion Regan bought an onyx balisong, custom import. He's also half-owner of Swann Martial Arts Club, where they teach mellower stuff like Jiu-Jitsu and kick-boxing, along with—"
"Pananandata." Blair had no trouble with the Filipino word this time.
"Got it in one."
"So, the punk has a mentor," Jim said thoughtfully.
He looked back at the phone bank, but the gray-eyed man was gone.
Plans for the party heated up. Vanetta was in charge, and she kept bossing Blair around, getting him to take notes for the menu and the guest list, making him offer up his car for supply runs.
Blair didn't mind. He was spending more time at the Kitchen now than he was at the university. He didn't mind that, either, and should maybe have stopped to think about what that meant—he was definitely letting some things slide, such as a piece he'd wanted to write about the new pre-Colombian exhibit that was arriving in town.
But he was where he wanted to be—working with Jim, taking piles of notes on his Sentinel's ever-increasing abilities. The night before, Jim had actually piggybacked his sense of vision on his hearing and described perfectly who was in the dining room and exactly where they were all sitting. Just amazing.
It was all worth the incredible frustration Blair felt being so close to Jim, touching him in their exercises or when Jim went into a zone, seeing Jim just out of the shower, his robe too small to close across his smooth, muscular chest—
Time-out. Blair needed a time-out.
Jim looked healthy. Jim looked good, that was the thing. And he was relaxed around Blair in a way he wasn't with other people. So Blair would just give it time, even though patience was not his number one personality trait.
Maybe, after a while, Jim would finally realize it was okay to have good things in his life, like driving a car, chopping onions, and having sex with Blair.
Blair knew he'd make sure Jim wouldn't regret it.
The day of the party was the first day of summer break, but Blair had to go to Rainier anyway to turn in his homeless article for review. He'd learned some surprising things working on it—that the staff of Bryant Street and other city shelters had a very classist approach and considered many of their clients to be 'beneath' them, that the homeless themselves seemed to accept it meekly, even reinforcing the social hierarchy with their behaviors.
Joey's Kitchen was a direct contradiction of that trend. In fact, Eddie, once he'd gotten out of the V.A. Hospital, had asked if he could help out at the Kitchen, and was now a quasi staff member. His mental health was miles improved; weirdly enough, the attack had benefited him, because once he was back in the hospital, his psychiatrist was able to try him on a new medication that seemed to have stabilized his condition.
Eddie was just one example. The way Joey and Vanetta worked within the community, the kids being tutored at Miss Van's house, the parents who then had time to seek out work and a better living situation, all of it contributed to a better model than the city-run system. The difference ended up being the focus of Blair's thesis.
And looking at them now—Eddie, Jim, and Vanetta, all crowded into Blair's tiny Volvo with piles of party groceries in the back—Blair couldn't imagine a similar scenario playing out at one of the shelters.
Blair pulled up in front of the Kitchen. "Ahh, the pimp spot," he said with satisfaction.
"What's that?" Jim had a half-smile on his face.
"You know—best parking place, right in front. The pimp spot."
Jim shook his head and cuffed him on the arm. "Come on, Shaft, let's go have a party."
Jim, loaded to the gills with grocery bags, had to ask Sandburg to reach into his pocket for the keys. Now that was an interesting sensation for the notebook—Blair's deft fingers squirming inside his pants near his groin...
Blair got the door open, and Jim went through first, on a beeline for the kitchen to put down his bags. And hide his sudden flush of arousal.
But all other thoughts flew out the window when an elusive scent hit his nose. Suddenly, for the first time in weeks, a massive spike hit him, centered on smell. The kitchen was suddenly crowded with odors, maxing out his intake.
Jim stumbled to the prep table and dropped the bags, then drew his fingernail harshly along his arm just like Blair had trained him. Touch was engaged, sharply, and the spiking stopped. He took a tentative sniff.
This time he identified the scent of cologne, familiar from the courtroom. The gray-eyed man. Jim's back went stiff—he could actually feel his hackles rising. Under the cologne was another smell he hadn't thought he'd ever have to smell again—C-4. Plastic explosives. He felt like he was dreaming as he skirted the table and, following the scent trail to the stove, peered behind it—
He turned and sped to the dining room in a pure, panicked rush and hauled Blair to face him. Blair gave him a startled look that turned to careful concern.
"Jim. Stop. Breathe."
Stupid. We're so stupid. All four witnesses in one convenient location.
"Get them out," Jim said in a harsh whisper. "Get everybody out. Take them through the back door as quietly as you can. Lead them down the alley away from McAllister. Then call 911 and tell them there's a bomb. It's on a wireless trigger."
He'd thought Blair's eyes couldn't get any wider, but they did.
"Call Joey and tell him to stay away from here." Jim took a breath. "Do it now, Chief, protect them—" he said urgently, and then he clasped Sandburg's wrist, holding it tightly—too tightly, because he could feel the bones shifting under his grip, but Blair stood firm, his eyes locked on Jim's. "Take care of yourself, Blair," Jim pleaded. "Be safe."
"But, Jim, what are you going to—?"
"No time. Get them out. Now!"
Trusting Blair to handle things, Jim sped out the kitchen door and then down the alleyway before circling around the long block to approach again from the east. Every sense was on total, hair-trigger alert. He stood just around the corner scanning carefully up and down the street, his ears, eyes, and nose all in play. He was blanketed by input, and put one hand on the brick wall to ground himself.
He finally zoomed on a shadowed lump in the driver's seat of a nondescript sedan parked halfway down the block and across the street, but just then his ears picked up the most unwelcome sound in the world—Joey's car giving its usual asthmatic gasp as the engine shut down. Joey was already there. As soon as he walked inside the Kitchen, the bomber was sure to blow the place.
Jim started running down the block. He was too far. Too far. Joey was already out of the car and moving toward the front door—
—and suddenly Blair appeared from the alleyway, saying something in a low voice. He had his arm casually wrapped around Joey's shoulders, halting him.
The delay gave Jim just enough time to reach the driver's side of sedan. He took a split second to identify a square device in the man's hand, and then—no time, no time—Jim hopped and kicked, punching out with his boot and smashing through the window before dropping back to his feet.
The man had raised his arms automatically to cover his face, and Jim reached in and plucked the device from him with his left hand, his right reaching through to grab the man's collar, his tie making a convenient handle for Jim to haul him halfway out the window and snarl in his face, "You son of a bitch!"
The gray-eyed man stared up dazedly, and Jim shook him once, then pulled him out of the car to dump him face down on the ground. He then put his boot on the back of the guy's neck.
"Move, and you're dead."
Sandburg ran up, wild-eyed, with Joey trailing more slowly behind.
"You really shouldn't kill him, Jim," Blair said, sounding eerily reasonable despite being out of breath. "We should maybe let the cops have a little talk with him, first."
The man closed his eyes.
The bomb squad arrived first. Jim carefully handed over the remote detonator and told them where to find the bomb. Brown showed up soon afterward—either Blair had told the dispatcher to contact him, or the detective was tuned in to any occurrences in the neighborhood.
"Oh, Rafe is gonna be so pissed he missed this," Brown said to Jim. "His kid is having a Chuck E. Cheese birthday." The detective bent down and cuffed the bomber.
"Well, Mr. Regan. Fancy meeting you here," Brown said as he lifted him to his feet and started patting him down. "Mr. Regan here was apparently a demolitions expert at Hobart before he moved up in the organization."
"You don't say," Jim said through bared teeth, with an effort keeping it from turning into a growl.
Brown read Regan his rights, then pulled him over to the cluster of squad cars blocking the street and handed him to a uniformed officer. Then they all trudged back to the Kitchen. At one point, unaware he was doing it, Jim had slung an arm over Blair's shoulder. He dropped it as they approached the front door.
Captain Banks was standing there in a long brown overcoat, and he greeted them all with a flick of his lit cigar. "You want to tell me what's going on here, Henri?"
"Well, sir, it seems, from appearances only, mind you, that Mr. Regan decided having all four witnesses in one location was too good an opportunity to pass up."
Jim looked over Brown's shoulder into the window and hissed. "Joey's in there!"
"It's all right," Banks said. "Bomb Squad has removed the device and done a sweep with the dogs."
"Maybe you should do your own sweep," Blair said under his breath, and Jim nodded.
"Sir, I'd like to look in on Joey. This was a lot of excitement for his first day back."
"Just don't go anywhere, Ellison. I want to hear the story straight from your lips."
It was such a familiar attitude—Jim's superiors had always wanted their own, separate debriefing—that Jim had to suppress a grin. He liked this Banks.
"Yes, sir. Not going anywhere."
Blair raised his hand to push open the door, and Jim noticed a bruise on his wrist. With a pang of guilt, Jim realized he'd been the one to put it there. And then he remembered how Blair had disregarded his instructions.
"I thought I told you to keep out of sight," Jim said.
Blair gave him an impatient look. "I heard Joey pull up. No way was I gonna let him walk in there, Jim."
"No," Jim said slowly. "You're right. You did good, Chief. I guess I—it bothers me to think how you could've been killed. If Regan had set off the bomb, the whole front of the store might've blown out on you."
"And Joey," Blair said quietly.
"Yeah. But if you hadn't stopped him, I wouldn't have had time to reach Regan. He thought we were all still inside. He was ready to do it—" The nearness of the thing struck Jim hard then, and he found the closest bench and sat down heavily. Joey and Vanetta came over, both frowning with concern. He felt Blair's comforting warmth behind him. In the kitchen, he could hear Betty teasing Eddie.
All of them. Everyone he cared about in the world was in this small space. And he might've lost it all today. They might all be dead or terribly injured, his home destroyed.
A fine trembling began to take him, making his hands shake, and he clenched them together under the table.
"Jim? You okay, pal?" Joey's hand was on his shoulder.
"Adrenaline reaction," he muttered.
Eddie walked in, a cup in his hand. "I made you some of that stinky tea you like, Jim."
Jim heard Blair chuckle behind him and laughed a little himself. "Thanks, Eddie. You're tops." He took the tea and sipped it while the rest of the gang continued, incredibly, with the party preparations.
"Looks like we have more to celebrate than we expected," Vanetta said, shrugging when Jim questioned her.
Soon Captain Banks came in with Brown, who pulled Blair aside to get his statement. Banks nodded down at Jim.
"Is there someplace we can go to talk privately?"
Jim nodded. "I have a space downstairs." He stood and showed the way.
As he opened the door to his room, it occurred to Jim how different it looked now since Blair had come into his life. The heavy curtains were pulled back except in the mornings before Jim woke up. His desk was now covered with Blair's books and notes. The place looked less like a jail cell and more like a dorm room. Jim smiled.
"Please, have a seat."
He took the edge of the bed, and Banks pulled up the armchair to sit across from him.
"I checked you out," he said bluntly. "You kept popping up, and I don't like unknowns."
"I understand," Jim said softly.
"Read that News article about you, and your academy records came up in a search. This where you've been hiding since then?"
"Hiding is a good word for it," Jim said slowly. "Something happened to me in Peru. When I left the service I had...weird medical problems. I made it through the academy okay, but then it got worse. Headaches, nausea—"
"You seem okay now," Banks said.
"Because of Sandburg." Jim took a deep breath. This would all come out anyway when he tried to explain what had happened today. Might as well get it over with. "Sandburg figured it out. What I have isn't a medical condition. It's a genetic thing. My senses—sight, hearing, smell, all of it—are enhanced. I can see stuff other people don't, hear things from further away. It gets to be overwhelming, which was causing the sickness. Sandburg helped me figure out how to control it, how to use it."
Banks was frowning, but he hadn't yet called for the guys in the white coats, so Jim continued.
"That's what happened today. When I came into the kitchen, I smelled the guy's cologne, the guy from Scalia's hearing. Then I smelled the C-4, and followed it to the bomb. There was no way we would've known, otherwise. Same thing with Eddie. I heard them working him over from two blocks away." Jim stopped and set his jaw, waiting for Banks' reaction.
Banks rubbed his hand over his face with a sigh. "You know this is nuts, serious crazy talk, Ellison."
"You have a son," Jim said quietly. "Unless you like working on model airplanes, because I smell—" Jim sniffed. "Plane glue, model plastic, paint. Also, you had an omelet for breakfast with green peppers and sausage, and some flavored coffee. Hazelnut. You store your long coat in a cedar-lined closet."
Eyes narrowed, Banks reached into his pocket and pulled out another cigar.
Jim nodded toward it, "You use a butane lighter. You sprayed some on your hand when you refilled it recently."
Banks dropped his cigar, then sighed and bent to pick it up. "Crazy black magic stuff."
"It's not magic," Jim protested. "This is the natural world. Smells stick around. Sound travels further than you think. For example," Jim cocked his head, "Brown just asked Sandburg where we got off to. He should be coming down here soon."
"Then we should talk fast," Banks said, seeming to recover from his shock. "I can't have you putting it in the report that you smelled the C-4."
"Why not? It's the truth."
"We'll just have to put down that you accidentally saw the bomb," Banks said, ignoring him.
"Behind the stove?"
"Yeah, behind the stove." Banks' voice was flat. "Fortunate, the way you accidentally dropped something back there."
Banks' eyes sharpened at that. "You know, we could use someone like you, Jim. Now that you have the problem under control—"
"With Sandburg's help," Jim put in. "It's not totally under control. Sometimes I space out, I'm listening so hard or whatever, and he pulls me out of it. He helps me focus and filter the input, too."
"So. You're a team."
"No buts. No wherefores or how comes, either. Okay? We're a team."
"Yeah. We're a team. Except, he's a student at the university. I can't ask him to change his whole life—"
"Seems to me every time I've seen you he's been there stuck like glue." Banks grinned. "Sometimes, being a cop isn't something you choose. It chooses you."
"Maybe," Jim said doubtfully.
Banks slapped his leg. "Anyway, think about it. You've done the academy training, and I could pull you right into Major Crime if I wanted to. They give me a pretty free rein with hiring. Our closure rate is that good. I could pair you up with a senior partner to begin with, because you need on-the-street training."
There was a knock at the door, and Brown stuck his head in.
"Uh, sir? I'd like to get Jim's statement."
"He's all yours." Banks rose, his head close to brushing the low ceiling. "Give it some thought, Ellison."
"I will, sir."
Blair was having a terrific time. The rest of the cops were gone by the time the party kicked off, but Brown stuck around and helped chip away at the spread the crew had prepared. Craig had shown up carrying a massive cake with Welcome Back, Joey inscribed on top.
"Miss Van said you liked chocolate," Craig said. "So this is nothing but three layers of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting in between."
"Be-yootiful," Joey crowed.
Paulie and Helen were there, and most of the neighborhood showed up through the course of the evening. Everyone had a clap on the back for Joey, and warm smiles for Jim, who stood a couple of minutes of it before retreating to the kitchen. As far as Blair could tell, he spent the rest of the evening there washing dishes or sending more food out.
It was late by the time the extra guests were gone and the tired crew gathered at the main table. There were only scraps left.
"Some party," Joey said. He had a huge grin on his face, the same one he'd been sporting all evening.
"I didn't get any cake," Jim said mournfully.
Blair and Vanetta shared a look, and then Vanetta reached behind her big handbag and pulled out a square of chocolate cake on a paper plate. She placed it in front of Jim and stuck a plastic fork into it with a flourish.
"Blair made me save you a piece," she explained.
Jim raised his eyes from the plate and gave Blair a soulful look. "Chief, have I ever told you that I loved you?"
Blair laughed with the rest of them, but inside his heart gave a funny twinge. "Not since I brought you that stinky tea, Jim."
"Well, I do," Jim said fervently. "No greater friend hath a man than one who will save him cake."
Van soon started making scolding noises about the hour, and Joey grumbled but hoisted himself up. "C'mon Eddie. We're for home."
"But first you'll walk a lady to her door, I hope?" Van said, tucking her hand under Joey's arm. They started to stroll out.
"You been staying with Joey, Eddie?" Jim asked.
"Yeah, Jim. He's been real good to me. Says we gotta stick together, watch each other's backs."
"That's good." Jim smiled and clapped Eddie on the shoulder.
Eddie smiled and turned to Blair. "Thanks for-for earlier. Okay. I was scared for a little when you made us leave. But it was all good." Eddie suddenly grabbed him in a hug.
Blair hugged back and felt his throat close up. Eddie had been frantic when Blair had pushed him out into the alley. The threat of a bomb had apparently almost triggered a flashback. Blair ended up using the same technique he used on Jim when he was having a spike, and had talked Eddie calm again.
"No problem, Eddie. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay. Bye. Bye, Big Jim."
"Eddie, get your ass in gear," Joey called from the door, and Eddie hurried out.
"Big Jim?" Blair said, turning.
Jim pinked a little. "I don't know why he calls me that," he mumbled.
Blair held back a totally inappropriate comment. "How's your head?" he asked, changing the subject.
"It's good. Oh, I forgot to tell you, I had a spike. Smell. Right before this all started."
"Nope. I used the trick you taught me." Jim grinned, but it faded quickly. "That's how I managed to get it together and smell the explosive. Otherwise, Jesus, who knows—"
"Horseshoes and hand-grenades, Jim."
Jim's eyes widened. "My old sergeant used to say that. 'Close only counts...'"
"We're all okay, Jim. Thanks to you."
"And you, Chief."
Blair shrugged. "And Brown says now they have a lever to use to get Oakland, maybe. Regan won't want to go down alone."
"I know. It made me think about..." Jim stopped and rubbed his hand over his short hair.
"Well. I thought, now that we've got it all straightened out, my senses and everything, I might try...I mean, before all this went bad, I went to the police academy, took the abbreviated course, did all the paperwork, and then I had to give it up. But now—"
Blair pushed. "But now?"
"I'm starting to think I could do it—be a cop."
He said it like a kid afraid to say a wish out loud or it wouldn't come true.
"No reason why not," Blair said carefully.
Jim exhaled loudly, almost like a sigh.
"Of course, you'd need a partner. Someone crazy enough to ride along with you and make sure you didn't zone out or anything."
"Yeah?" Again, with the one syllable answer that Jim did so well, putting so much in there. Hope, and longing, and more. So much more.
Jim considered it for a moment, then shook his head. "But you're a student, Sandburg."
Blair shook his head. "I've been a lot of things, Jim. But no matter what, I always follow the feeling, this pull I get—I've learned to recognize it. It's like life saying 'do this thing', and I listen and do it, and it's never steered me wrong. I find a place to be, that needs me, and I stick with it.
"And, anyway, I could still work on my dissertation on the side. Hell, no matter what I'm doing I'm always still learning."
Jim was silent for a while, and then he said softly, "Well, I'd like that—the two of us covering each other's backs. Captain Banks implied he might be willing to find a couple of slots for us. Can you see it? You and me?"
"Yeah, I can see it, Jim." Blair stopped, his throat dry, afraid to say more.
But Jim tilted his head attentively, and then he smiled, an odd smile, and took a step closer. "Sometimes I can hear your heartbeat, Chief. Did I tell you that?"
"No." Blair cleared his throat. "That's amazing, Jim. Really, I should stop being surprised at your abilities, because you always—"
Jim's hand closed on his shoulder, and then he nodded. "Right then, just there, it did it again."
"Did what?" Blair whispered. Jim's hand was so warm.
"Beat funny, like a little kick."
"Oh, yeah?" All the air had been sucked from the room when Blair wasn't looking.
"You and me," Jim said again, his voice low, and his hand had moved to Blair's neck—Blair wasn't sure when, because he was focusing on the air problem.
But Jim pulled away a little. "I had a friend in the Army," he said, sounding a little distant. "My buddy Gordo. It was me and him a lot of times, getting into bad spots. We were tight." As if in demonstration, Jim squeezed him gently. His voice dropped. "We started...being together, you know?"
Blair nodded mutely.
"And I started to freak a little, worried about losing him, I guess. Somehow it suddenly seemed unacceptable to be risking him like that. So, I broke it off. I broke us off." Jim frowned. "And, you know what? He died anyway just a few months later, and I wasn't even there when it happened. I wasn't near him. I couldn't stop it."
Blair had to ask, "Why are you telling me this, Jim?"
"I think...I've learned my lesson. I want to be with you, Chief. We could be pretty dangerous together. But I want it anyway. I want...us. If you do."
Blair slipped his hands around Jim's waist, linking them behind the small of his back. "I'd like that, Jim. I'd like that a lot."
Jim gave a brilliant smile. Then he leaned down, his hand sliding up beneath Blair's hair to cup his head, directing him against Jim's soft lips. Soft, but mobile, seeking the perfect angle, finding it, locking against Blair's lips and tugging.
Blair's heart kicked again, up to a higher gear, and he felt Jim's lips lift in a smile against his.
"Sweet," Jim murmured, his knuckles rubbing softly against Blair's cheek. "You're so sweet." He pulled back. "What's a sweet kid like you doing with an old burn-out like me?"
"I'm not a kid," Blair said, shoving mock-angrily at the wall of Jim's chest. "I'm twenty-six. I've been living on my own since I was sixteen."
"But not anymore," Jim said softly.
"Nope. Not anymore." Blair's mouth opened when Jim's descended again, and this time Blair got aggressive, pressing in with his tongue.
It turned out Jim was the sweet one, because he tasted like chocolate, and was so soft and smooth inside. Blair ran his tongue along the even surface of Jim's front teeth and then past. Jim's tongue twined with his strongly, playfully, and Blair felt heat rise along his neck—he always got a little red when he was turned on, and Jim was turning him on something fierce with just the urgent movement of his tongue and his fingers stroking Blair's scalp.
"I need," Jim said between kisses, "to take you downstairs to my pathetic excuse for a bed."
"Sounds like a plan," Blair said, because his hand was caught in the waistband of Jim's pants, and he needed to see this guy naked and spread out. The thought of it made his knees wobble, so he pulled away and went for the stairs before he lost his ability to walk. He could feel Jim stalking behind him, a big wall of heat.
Jim's bed really was pathetic—a double, and narrow for one. But it was soft, which was a plus, because Jim stripped Blair as soon as he got him inside and then lifted him and just dropped him onto the center of it.
"Sorry," Jim said while he quickly shed his own clothing, but he didn't sound sorry, and Blair sure the hell wasn't, especially when Jim knelt between his legs, lifted his hips, and started kissing his way down Blair's thigh. Jim's dog tags clinked softly against Blair's skin, and Jim took a moment to swing them over his shoulder and out of the way before ducking down. Blair's eyes locked on the dark-furred skull and the way Jim's eyes were closed tight with pleasure as he nuzzled Blair's balls.
Jim looked up. "I haven't done this in a while," he said, his voice low and shaking. "Tell me how to make it good for you, and I will."
"You're doing fine," Blair gasped.
Smiling, Jim tongued the base of Blair's cock, which stiffened fully in response.
Blair groaned. "Jim, come this way. Turn around."
Jim lifted his head and seemed to consider for a moment. Then he shook his head. "No room, Chief." He positioned Blair on his side and then stretched out on his hip on the edge of the bed, one elbow planted by Blair's knees.
Blair saw what he was after a moment later, as the new angle allowed Jim to take Blair's cock into his mouth, deep, in a hard, sucking rush. Blair cried out and shoved with his hips. Jim pulled away a little and used free hand to coax Blair into a good, fast rhythm.
"Oh, God, Jim. Yeah. Your mouth is so good," Blair murmured. He felt it as Jim tried to mumble something.
Talking with his mouth full, Blair thought hysterically. Jim's tongue was making him insane. Jim's tongue was moving hard, stroking, then going flat and soft and letting Blair fuck against it and the back of Jim's throat. And Jim's mouth was vibrating with his moans, as if he were enjoying it as much as Blair was.
Maybe he was. Who knew how a Sentinel felt giving a blowjob? Only Jim.
Blair looked down at the curl of Jim's body. His head blocked the view of his mouth, but his hard cock was standing stiffly from his lap. Blair wanted his mouth on it, he wanted to suck Jim, taste him in his throat, get it even harder and then have Jim fuck him with it.
The image stuck in his brain and sent his body into overload. He yelled Jim's name and put his hand on his head, holding him still, and then Blair came into Jim's mouth, his hips jerking in time with the pulsing of his cock.
Jim groaned around him, and Blair opened his eyes. He felt Jim swallow, and then Jim's cock suddenly twitched and started spurting while Jim shook all over.
Blair reached down quickly and caught the head of Jim's cock, the slick spunk spilling against his palm as he stroked the crown. Jim lifted his head and groaned, "God. Blair."
Okay, so apparently giving blow jobs was really different for Sentinels. Or maybe it was just Jim.
Or maybe it was just them.
Jim pushed Blair over and sidled up behind him on the bed. His cock was still hard, poking Blair in the back of his thigh.
"You're still hard," Blair observed brilliantly. All his brain cells were on vacation in Hawaii, apparently.
"Yeah. That's another recent development I've noticed..." Jim said.
"It's sense related? Really?" Blair twisted over and met Jim's rueful grimace. "Because—"
Jim kissed him suddenly—shutting him up, Blair suspected, because a second later he pulled back and said, "This piece of information is not for inclusion in your notebook, Chief."
"No! Of course not. But it is an important data point."
"Oh, yeah? Why?" Jim asked warily.
"Because I really, really want to suck your cock."
Jim's expression was priceless. Blair had to kiss him for it, and then he started working his way down Jim's chest to play with his nipples. Jim almost fell off the bed at that point, so they got repositioned, Jim flat on his back, and Blair continued down. He got to suck Jim's cock, although he didn't get fucked as he had planned because Jim came like crazy a few minutes later.
Still, that was just fine. Blair figured there'd be plenty of other opportunities.
They fell asleep mashed front to back, Jim's hand pressed against his chest.
There was a foul taste in Jim's mouth, an ugly kink in his shoulder that threatened to turn into an unholy cramp, and too much heat blanketing up against him in the form of one hot, hairy Sandburg.
Jim was in fucking heaven.
Part of it might have been the fact he hadn't been laid in as long as he could remember, but that was only a small part of it. The much bigger part was the way Blair had touched him the night before. Jim hadn't been touched skin-to-skin in so long—doctors and nurses most definitely didn't count—and it had been even longer since that touch was from someone who really cared, who showed it with every careful stroke of his fingertips across Jim's sensitive skin.
Still, Jim really had to take a piss, and Sandburg was a solid guy. Jim had to squirm to shift himself out from under.
Blair gave a garbled protest before snuffling down into the pillow. Jim grinned and threw on his robe before heading upstairs to the bathroom.
He took a quick shower, brushed his teeth and shaved, started the coffeemaker, and then headed back downstairs.
Sandburg was still sacked out, his hair half-covering his face. Jim sat on the edge of the bed and took a curl between his fingers, testing the silky texture, focusing his sight deep, so he could see the curves bending the shafts.
The night before flashed through his mind in a dizzying deluge of sensory recall: the texture of Blair's cock beneath his tongue and the low-pitched moans that had sent shivers up Jim's spine. Waking in the middle of the night to find Blair's hand on him. Blair sprawled on his stomach beneath him, his legs spreading wider, his ass tilting up like a plea. Jim pushing into the silk heat of him and losing his vision in favor of the pure pleasure of Blair snug around him and whimpering. The band of muscle straining to accommodate him, and then the quick flutters as Jim's cock struck over the sweet spot deep inside.
Blair coming. Blair coming and twisting and moaning like a cat.
Jim raised his eyes, his fingers still tangled in curls, to find Blair staring at him. Then Blair's gaze dropped to Jim's groin and he gave a lazy smile.
"Oh, no," Jim said. "No way. You'll wear me out, Chief. I'm an old man, remember?"
"Could've fooled me," Blair said, stretching. Jim's eyes fell on the silver ring threaded through Blair's nipple.
"Now this was a surprise," Jim said, reaching out to give it a gentle tug.
"Untold depths." Blair reached up and tugged Jim's dog tags.
"Uh-huh." Jim gave Blair a light slap on the thigh. "C'mon. I've got the coffee going."
"Mmm. Okay. Sold. But later..."
"Yeah?" Jim stood and tightened his robe around him.
"I wanna plumb your untold depths."
Jim seemed to be having a little trouble getting up the stairs after Blair issued his promise. But that was okay, because it gave Blair more time to peek at that perfect ass.
They bumped around the kitchen together, getting in each other's way, Blair loving every second of it. Until finally Jim gave a little growl and slammed him back against the freezer and laid a kiss on him that made Blair's hair even curlier.
He looked up, out of breath, and Jim's eyes changed. He stroked a thumb below Blair's eye—God, Jim was touching him so tenderly it actually hurt, gut-deep.
"Everything okay?" Blair asked softly.
"Five-by-five," Jim said, but his thumb still rubbed gently, obsessively, moving down Blair's cheek to stroke his lips.
There was a lot they still hadn't talked about, a lot of details to straighten out now that Jim was healthy and they weren't in danger anymore. But the only thing Blair really cared about was the look on Jim's face. Suddenly, seeing that unbearable tenderness, Blair felt like he could ask about the one thing that really mattered.
"When I was a kid," he said, and Jim's eyes popped up to his, "Naomi—that's my mom—she used to drag me around a lot. Place to place, country to country. Every time we'd stop, we'd find someone to crash with, someone to take us in, you know?"
"Doesn't sound like much fun for a kid," Jim said, frowning. His hand rested on Blair's throat.
"Well, it wasn't that bad. I saw some amazing things, and we stayed with some really interesting people. But I always remember wishing we had somewhere to be that was all ours, just ours, you know? I wanted...I wanted..."
"Yeah." Blair exhaled, suddenly apprehensive. His pulse thumped.
Jim smiled, a small, sweet smile. "You've got a home now, Blair. For as long as you want it. It's yours."
Blair swallowed, unable to speak. Jim's hand moved down and settled on Blair's chest, just over his heart. Blair could feel it beating against Jim's palm.
"And mine will be right here."