The ceremony was brief but heart-wrenching. With his daughter Jade in his arms, Jim stood silent and stoic. The toddler, her fluffy brown hair tied up with ribbons, clung to her father, refusing to let her older half-sister take her. Although she didn't really understand what was going on, she was sensitive enough to know it was bad and that it made the people she loved sad.
Jasmine stood on Jim's left, her face and body radiating anger. The last three months of Alexa Ellison's life had been marred by the anger between her daughter and her husband, as she herself slipped further into despair and had begged Jim to release her from the agony she suffered as her cancer spread. At last he had agreed and helped her sign a 'do not resuscitate' order. Her greatest sorrow had been leaving her young daughter, naturally, whose birth had quickened the spread of the disease that killed her.
With a high salary and all the perks that came with being the next supermodel, Jasmine Tate had hired lawyers to fight her mother's decision only to see the issue dropped before it reached court, when Alex coded and died weeks before the doctors had predicted. Now she blamed Jim completely. There had been other options, radical procedures that conventional doctors weren't willing to try. Refusing to believe that her mother was tired of the fight and ready to die at the young age of 39, she had decided in her mind that it was really because Jim was tired of caring for her and encouraging her.
The hell of it was that Jim wasn't sure himself. The past year had been so damned hard, literally hell on earth. He had wondered many times how God expected anyone to go through this, as an individual or a family. Chemo, surgeries, vomiting, fevers... on and on until there was nothing but a frail skeleton left of the woman he had loved. And in the midst of it all he'd had to deal with Mom-mom's death and her funeral and the new baby that needed attention he didn't always have the energy to give while dealing with a dying wife. And his salvation had been a phone call away the whole time.
On his right was Blair Sandburg. Standing right at the edge of the cliff, looking down into the valley that spread beneath them. Best Friend, Guide, Lover.Their relationship was poised on the brink of a major breakthrough as Jim struggled to choose his path. Years ago he had told Blair that he couldn't live as a gay man, and Blair had accepted that without judgement, had gone out and built a good life for himself apart from Jim. Always forgiving, never condemning, even from that very first night when Jim had taken him with force, in anger.
They had called it their dirty little secret.
It had become Jim's salvation and Blair's unfulfilled dream.
As the years passed it became less dirty and less secret. The mother of Blair's children knew, as did those children themselves, now standing silently behind their father, showing respect to the dead as their heritage taught.
Many of their friends from the old days knew, but none passed judgement, having learned that the situation was far more complicated, and yet more simple, than it appeared to be on the surface.
Now they had a second chance. The price was terribly high, but it had been paid. Her death had been sought by neither of them and was grieved by both.
Could Jim now, facing the last part of his life, with a successful marriage behind him and years of raising Jade ahead of him, admit to the world that he belonged with Blair and live that life?
The one he had known he was supposed to have since he first met the younger man.
Blair's hand touched his arm, the Guide seeking to center and comfort. Jade shifted, fretful, and Jim saw Jasmine's eyes, red-rimmed and swollen, glaring at him with unconcealed hatred.
"You okay?" A hushed whisper, Blair not even looking at him, as the minister opened the urn and began shaking Alex's ashes into the light cold breeze. Having an unreasonable but common fear of being buried alive, she had asked to be cremated and on his own Jim had decided that her ashes would be spread here in the mountains they had both loved, if for different reasons. He was sure they would have talked about this eventually, but even though her condition had been terminal, everyone had thought they had more time.
Jasmine had wanted her mother embalmed and buried in a crypt where she would have lasted a long, long time. The very thought made Jim shudder with revulsion. Cremation was cleaner and felt somehow purer. The Vikings had known that, and many other peoples from times past. He wasn't going to argue with their conclusions and Jasmine had been infuriated when he told her what he was planning.
He would bring Jade here and tell her about her mother and teach their daughter to love the mountains as well.
But he suspected Jasmine was going to cause trouble there as well, perhaps even try to gain custody of her younger sister. Even before Alex's death Jim had consulted a lawyer and they had discussed various scenarios, most of which were comforting. Unless Jim did something really stupid the model didn't have a chance to take his daughter. Even moving in with Blair was acceptable in today's political and social climate.
His anxious thoughts trailed off when the minister began a final prayer and everyone bowed their heads.
Friends came up and repeated the condolences Jim had listened to for so many months. As always he thanked them, and smiled politely, and wished they would go away. Simon offered no words, only a firm hug, Daryl and his wife had come to pay their respects and Jim thanked them and meant it. Then the minister told him it was a blessing that she no longer suffered and he agreed, seeing Jasmine's beautiful eyes flash hatred at him as the words left his mouth.
Then it was just them. Jim, Jasmine, and Blair. And the children.
"We'll meet you back at your house." Blair said, his boys flanking him. Wide-eyed, Nathan had an arm around his father's leg, while Joseph held his hands clasped behind his back, almost at parade-rest. His heavy black hair hung past his shoulders now, but no one would have mistaken him for a girl. The angled planes of his jaw and the width of his shoulders marked him as Blair's child despite the dark skin and extremely high cheekbones. "Do you want me to take Jade so you can have a few minutes to say goodbye alone?"
"I'll get her." Jasmine spoke up. "She should spend the night with me, to give you peace and quiet, Jim."
The sky was already darkening with twilight. Jim had asked for a ceremony at sunset because Alex had loved romantic sunsets, and they had shared several special ones; on their honeymoon, when they watched it set over the ocean in Acapulco, the one that had broken across the sky the night he closed a dangerous case and barely escaped with his life, and that first on with Julia between them, admiring the amazing new life they had miraculously created.
Reflexively his arms tightened around the toddler, who wrinkled her brow and considered crying.
"Jade stays with me." His voice rough, Jim swallowed against his own tears. He'd shed enough already. "Blair, take her with you, please." His statements would have been a contradiction to anyone, but his Guide understood.
"You got it, man." Handing Joseph the keys, Blair took the little girl, dressed warmly in a zippered snowsuit of pink and yellow, from Jim's arms, and she came willingly, responding to his natural affinity for children. "Joey, go start the car for me."
"Yes, Da." The pre-teen trotted down the path gracefully.
Passing Jim, Blair patted the taller man on the shoulder, Jade riding on his hip, with Jasmine glaring daggers at both of them.
"We'll have dinner and stuff."
"Okay. I'll be there in a bit." The touch sent a shiver through Jim. Blair had been in town for two weeks, to help out, and they hadn't touched each other sexually during that time, despite the need that had grown between them.
With Jim's child in his arms, Blair left his sentinel to his thoughts and returned to the home Jim had shared with his wife of five years.
Jasmine rubbed her eyes with her fists, a childlike gesture that reminded Jim of Blair.
But her words were vicious and accusatory.
"I always thought he was strange, Jim. Especially the way he hung on you and the way you paid more attention to him than Mom when he was around. But I never thought you'd replace her so quickly."
Shaking his head, Jim looked out over the valley, feeling the bite of the wind on his face. He imagined he could feel the softness of Alex's ashes and thus her touch.
"This isn't the time or place, Jaz. Have some respect for your mother."
"Maybe not. But this isn't over."
Turning to face her, Jim looked her up and down. The stress of the past week had upset her diet and she'd gained a few pounds, he remembered when she was a teenager in their home, she had always eaten when she was upset.
"Don't you have to do a show in Milan tomorrow?"
"And I'm on a plane tonight, but I could have dropped her at Mom's house before I left."
"Waking her up and putting her back to bed wouldn't have been good for her. Keeping her to her normal routine has been the only way to keep her from getting too upset."
"Well, you don't seem too upset. You're cold, Ellison, cold and cruel. I'm sorry my mother ever met you."
"Just because I don't have histrionics in public doesn't mean I'm not upset, Jaz." He tried to be gentle with her. Once they had had a good relationship, friendly, even close.
"It doesn't matter what you say." She crossed her arms over a too-thin chest. "You let her die."
"It was time."
"She wasn't ready." Her voice rising, the tall young woman stepped closer. "She wasn't ready, dammit!" Jim winced.
"God thought she was." He resisted the urge to shout back. Truly, all of his anger had been drained from him. There was a hollow feeling in his soul, and only one person was going to fill that up. Speaking with what felt like the last of his strength, he sighed. "Go home, Jaz. Let me mourn in peace today. The next time you're in town you can yell at me, if it makes you feel better. Alex would want me to do everything I can to make you feel better and I will. But another time."
"You're a coward, Ellison." She sneered. "A cruel, cold coward who let his wife die when he could have saved her. Because she was too much trouble at the end, wasn't she?"
"I didn't see you changing bedpans or cleaning up vomit for months," he snarled back suddenly, enraged, and waved an arm dismissively. "Get out of here. Go! NOW!"
With a jerk Jasmine seemed to realize that she'd gone too far, and turned to leave. It was clear, though, that she didn't consider this over.
"I'll be going to my apartment, I don't want to be in the same house as that hippie creep and his weird little bastards."
Feeling the anger drain away again, leaving him empty and so, so tired, Jim let her go without a parting shot.
It was much later when Blair finally heard Jim's truck pull into the driveway. Rising from the couch, where he had been watching the news, he went first to check on Jade, sleeping peacefully in her crib, and then his sons. Joey and Nate were playing video games in the den, keeping themselves occupied. Blair kissed each of them on the head.
"I'm going to spend some time alone with Jim. There are sandwiches on the table if you get hungry, so put yourselves to bed, okay, guys?"
"Yes, Da." Joey leaned back to give him a one-armed hug. "I hope Uncle Jim decides to live with us. It would be nice to have a sister."
"Me too." Nate agreed, eyes glued to the screen as he negotiated a particularly challenging section of the vivid game. Blair watched for a moment and then shook his head. Frances hated these things and didn't allow the boys to play them when they were with her, but they still spent the majority of their time in his care despite the disagreements that had lately developed between them on childcare.
Blair went upstairs, into the guest bedroom, where he had been sleeping since taking a leave of absence from his school and coming to help. In the bathroom he listened and heard the door that led from the garage to the kitchen, it hit the wall when opened unless you were really careful, and Jim was coming into the house.
The older man had slept in the bed he'd shared with Alex since she died five nights ago, but Blair knew he would be coming to the guestroom tonight. So he prepared himself with lubricant, wanting to give Jim what he needed as quickly as possible.
It reminded him of the early days again, when they alternately resented and yearned for their encounters, and planned them like military maneuvers.
Tonight he hoped he and Jim would make a decision.
Finishing, he washed his hands, and then turned on the water in the shower but didn't get in.
He stripped and began shaving.
Jim entered just as he was rinsing the shaving cream from his face. The Sentinel was already nude, already hard. Turning, Blair saw the pain in his eyes and the hunger in his face, both emotions directed inward, and he turned away again, hands on the sink countertop, and spread his legs slightly, offering himself.
"Blair." Groaning the name, Jim came up behind him, grabbed his hips, and entered him roughly, leaning to bite Blair's shoulder, hard.
Stifling a moan, the younger man held on tight to the counter as Jim pounded into him. He knew Jim needed this, needed to lose himself in the physical sensation, drown himself in the connection with his Guide, but it had been many months, and this hurt.
Fortunately it only took moments for Jim to climax, fingers digging into Blair's hips, bruising him, teeth clenched on Blair's shoulder. The heavy blasts of Jim's breath alternately warmed and cooled the skin there.
He pulled back with a grunt.
"Did I hurt you?" His voice was hoarse, he eased out of Blair as gently as he could, noting the wince his lover couldn't restrain.
"I'm fine, Jim." Turning, Blair opened his arms. "C'mere." He leaned back against the sink, the sharp edge digging into his lower back, and held Jim tightly.
Holding on fiercely, Jim tried to pout all of his love and rage and pain into that grip.
"Let's shower." Blair eased away from the sink and led Jim into the shower. The water was still running warm and he tenderly washed the big man, Jim keeping a hand, both hands, on him at all times.
When they were finished and blair was turning off the water, Jim spoke softly.
"I love you." Blair replied just as softly. "I'm happy to give you what you need."
Falling silent again, Jim allowed himself to be dried and then taken into the bedroom, where Blair tucked him in and cuddled him close, Jim's head pressed to his chest.
Although sore, he wasn't that tired, and so he talked to Jim, filling the air with the Guide's voice and soothing his Sentinel to rest.
"I fed Jade some of the stew I made and she ate pretty good. Then Joey and I gave her a bath and the boys read to her. She went down without a fuss. And the realtor called and left a message. She said she's found the place for me. A house I would really like. If I want to move back here. The board at Rainier will give me two more weeks to decide if I want the position they offered me, but they would really like my decision sooner."
He paused and stretched his neck to kiss the top of Jim's head.
"Frances sent you some flowers, I put them on the desk in the den. Did I tell you she's seeing someone? A Arapaho, he's a teacher on the res. I get the feeling it's serious, and I'm happy for her. She's been much more content since she gave up teaching and started doing research full time."
Looking down, he saw that Jim's eyes were closed and the other man was breathing deeply, evenly. His features were relaxed. Running his fingers through increasingly sparse hair, Blair smiled and kept talking.
"The realtor said that the house needs work, it's definitely a fixer-upper. You'd get a kick out of that, we could work on it together and the boys would help, they need to learn that stuff. It has four bedrooms, so the kids could all have their own and we could share or the boys could share and you and I could have our own. To keep up appearances. If that's what you want."
He was growing drowsy, his unsatisfied arousal finally giving in and dying down.
"Either way I think I'll go look at the house. It's time for me to come home. Back to you. We don't have to be together like that, but I need to be here. Eventually we'll find out if Jade is a Sentinel and you'll need my help raising her if she is...."
Still mumbling, he drifted into sleep. The boys woke him briefly, he wasn't sure what time it was, they told him they were going to bed and kissed him and the sleeping Jim as well.
The next thing he knew Jim was kissing him awake and he could taste tears on the older man's face.
"Mm, there ya go." Sighing and stretching beneath Jim's weight, Blair moved his hips into the intimate caress of Jim's hand stroking his cock. "I guess you're awake now."
"I was awake earlier, or at least partly." Jim said, rising over him on hands and knees. "I heard most of what you said." The stroking hand slipped lower, two fingers penetrating Blair's passage, still slick from earlier, wet with lube and Jim's semen.
"Mmm." With his cock hard and his breath starting to come in gasps, Blair spread his legs wider so Jim could kneel between them. The fingers inside him searched for his prostate and found it, drawing a groan of pleasure.
Looking down at him, one hand stroking Blair's panting stomach and the other fingering him deeply, Jim waited for Blair to open his eyes, and then smiled.
"Hi yourself. Don't stop." Moving his hips, Blair fucked himself slowly on Jim's fingers. "I want you."
"Don't want to hurt you." Jim said softly.
The smile softened and Jim's free hand began to touch Blair' cock, just brushing his fingers over it.
"I want to move in with you in your fixer-upper house."
The words distracted Blair from the way Jim was making his body feel, and he stopped moving, reaching for the larger man, pulling him down closer.
"But I have to wait a while." The light blue eyes begged for understanding. "A few months. Maybe a year. To give Alex the dignity I owe her."
"I'll wait for you." Blair's mouth was right under Jim's, fractions of an inch separating them. "I'll wait as long as I have to."
"I loved her." Face twisting with renewed grief, Jim's voice was thickened with remorse. "You know I loved her."
"She knew too." Lowering one hand, Blair took Jim's cock and guided it to his stretched pucker. "She knew, Jim."
"But you - Ah, God, Blair! -" Sliding in smoothly, Blair's legs coming around his waist, Jim moaned, "- You'll always be the best of me. I've always known that."
He began to thrust, slowly, pulling out as far as he could without leaving the haven of Blair's body and then sliding back in to the hilt. Their lips were fractions apart, sharing breaths.
"We have a second chance," Blair panted, his body responding enthusiastically to the Jim's touch.
"We're going to take it." Jim promised, gathering the smaller man close, his mouth closing over Blair's.
The decisions were made, the circle closed. What had begun in anger was now finished in the love that was always meant to be.