by Cinel Durant
Author's disclaimer: Disclaimer: These characters belong to PetFly Productions and UPN. No promises were made, no money was exchanged, and no profit is in my future.
He was lighthearted, yes. Most times. And outgoing, and gregarious, and friendly. But Blair wasn't a whirlwind of activity all the time. He wasn't. I couldn't live with someone who was; I *wouldn't* live with someone who was. And I liked sharing my life, and my home, with Blair. The transition had come easily, little things like living habits aside.
Blair could be nearly invisible. Well, not invisible. Still -- that was a better word. Still. Focused on a project, a chant, a paper, a book . . . or on me. Singularly centered. When he focused on something besides me, I got a chance to observe him and turn our arrangement on its ear -- the formal one and the informal one -- watching the man who watched me.
It was a fascinating way to pass the time, and an honest one since the first time I tried it and was caught out. I was going for 'surreptitious' and missed it by a mile. Me, former Vice cop. Unlike Vice though, there hadn't been anything at stake, not really, and that's the secret of deep cover: never forgetting what's at stake. After that, I never tried to hide my regard again.
It wasn't just important, having my fill of him free of self-consciousness. It was a gift.
Sometimes, Blair was so preoccupied, that he nearly forgot I was there, but sometimes he didn't. His mouth would quirk a bit, or he'd shoot a look my way and meet my eyes. Gifts granted openly.
Tonight I was tired, I was home, and I was looking forward to an uncomplicated evening with my partner. But the air smelled wrong before I reached the second floor. It felt like . . . loss. Exact in its darkness, it wasn't the silence, the lack of light, or the stillness. It was more than that.
I don't have an overdeveloped sixth sense. Frankly, I had always been glad not to. But even without that advantage, I sensed Blair hurting, turned inward, holding on, and holding himself together. What had gone so wrong, so quickly, to wound him so completely?
I didn't need calculations. We'd been apart less than an hour. Nothing unusual had marked our day, just different schedules that necessitated arriving at the station at different times in separate cars. About 5:30 or so, Blair looked up and gave me his 'it's Miller time' smile and we headed to the garage.
The first time I told him that's what I'd nicknamed that grin, he just laughed at me. Then his eyes went all soft, the color actually deepening. He'd muttered something even I couldn't make out, and I pretended to hear what I wanted to hear, that the smile really was his 'it's Ellison time' smile. His next words were 'but if you need to associate it with a beer commercial', which only made me laugh.
Anyway, my needs were simple, and despite conflicting interpretations for the smile, I was always glad to get home.
I hoped for that again tonight. I knew how tired I was. I knew Blair would take one look at me once we were alone -- a good, probing, personal look -- and insist on working every bit of tension out of my back and shoulders. Earlier, around 2:30, after an exhausting interrogation of a rape suspect, just the thought of those hands on my body had worked better than any deep breathing exercise he'd ever taught me.
That smile might not mean what I'd like it to mean, but there was nothing bad about what it did mean: contentment.
But instead, tension and sorrow greeted me. That last bouncing off of every sense I had, and the dread that began to build within me was so strong I had to work not to choke on it.
His emotions worked like a depth finder where I was concerned, covering the distance between us until they located me and echoed off my senses. Without a doubt it was the most intimate way in which he resonated in my life, and the only part of my being a sentinel that he had never wanted to test. He joked once about the impossibility of finding an objective standard to measure against, and it immediately reminded me of his 'therapy all my life' statement.
I never let on just how sad I found that admission. But this wasn't about sadness; it was about fear. That line about objectivity? That was textbook Sandburg. Oh, he was technically correct. It just wasn't his reason for refusing to do the tests. I wasn't the only one with my share of fears. We both knew it; by mutual, undeclared agreement, however, we didn't talk about it.
Just inside the door, I stopped to orient myself in the darkness. Blair sat on the couch, crammed into a corner, rocking with his arms clutched around his middle. He must have heard me but didn't acknowledge me standing behind him, frozen in the dark. My trepidation worsened. At first glance, he was incapable of acknowledging anything, including me.
His naked grief, the openness of it, that more than anything else told me that some thing or event or person had rushed in and done him damage.
I know Blair, if the situation were reversed he'd be telling himself to stay calm, so I tried that. I'd already figured out that the threat wasn't something cop instincts could wrestle into submission. That switch turned itself off the minute I noticed Blair and didn't notice anything even remotely forensically significant about him or the loft.
No evidence of a crime. But there was harm.
Staying calm wasn't working. It abandoned me just as I realized that he was wearing one of my shirts. He likes my shirts. It started innocently enough when he borrowed one to wear over a few of his own and under a jacket or two. I hardly mind. I didn't then, I hadn't since. Why would I mind giving him any part of me when I'd like to give him all of me? Such a small thing, a shirt.
He would fall behind with the laundry or need an additional layer, or just want to wear that particular color. I still remember the first time he actually admitted to the color thing. It both surprised and pleased, it was so personal. That he'd even ask on those grounds, that alone seemed indicative of how involved we were in each other's lives. It was almost . . . dear. There'd never been any chance that I would say no to that request, none at all. If he needed something of mine to look good for whomever he wanted to look good for, well, wasn't there some small satisfaction to be had from that?
The shirt he wore was the softest shirt I owned. He'd given it to me on my last birthday. Yes, it came from Blair and was one of my favorite colors. But it was also Egyptian cotton and it felt like velvet against my skin, lush and warm.
I was giving some thought to whether he'd deliberately sought out that shirt when I noticed that he'd drawn his hands into the sleeves and the cuffs were undone. Without the aura of his attitude -- the one that had gotten him into college at 16 and earning a master's degree about the time most kids graduated college; the one he'd used to talk his way into my hospital room; the one that had asked a virtual stranger if he could stay for a week -- without that aspect, that confidence, my partner, friend and roommate looked . . . vulnerable. Not weak or frail or delicate. That's not Blair. He's not one of the strongest people I know, he's just strong enough when he has to be. We should all do as well.
I slipped out of my own jacket, unbuckled my holster, and moved towards him. He was trying to be strong, giving it everything he had, and I wanted to destroy whatever required that kind of effort. Break it before it could break him. There was still no sign that I existed -- that he existed -- just rocking, and harsh breathing. Wet, labored breathing that stuttered a little. I couldn't see his face or his hands, but his feet were tucked in near his bottom, the toes curled tightly inside thick socks. As he got smaller and smaller before my eyes, withdrawing, my worry grew.
He shuddered, when I tugged him against me, and the arms that had been damming it all in locked around me fiercely.
I took a deep breath and came away with a new discovery. Years of living together, and it could still happen. Right there, in the small huddle that we made, there were Blair's scents, and my own, and a new one that blended the two: a layered spice. Not the natural, faint overlap always present in the loft; this was more potent, more exclusive. These were not the bare residual traces of him that lingered on anything of mine once he'd worn it: those clung to shirts and sweaters even after Blair made sure they'd been cleaned and returned.
This was one hundred percent Blair and one hundred percent me, and together we added up to some outrageously exponential number infinitely greater than two.
What a strange series of events. I'd slipped that shirt on just that morning, then decided to change pants, and subsequently the shirt. A fluke, because otherwise it would have been hanging in the closet untouched, and this olfactory cocktail would have never been created. It kept drifting in and out of my awareness. I'd register it and then focus on something else and then come back to it. It was addictive and I knew, unequivocally, that I would never have enough of it.
Its only imperfection was the fear spiking it -- Blair's fear -- and the specter of the situation, whatever that was. Instinct tickled the back of my neck and seeped coldly down my spine. Like a shadow, it colored the otherwise sweet pleasure of the fragrance that was our scents combined.
Whatever was wrong, it went deep.
He had crawled into my shirt for comfort and waited, wearing his pain openly when I walked through the door. And he hadn't said so much as a word yet. Not a word. If talking would help, there would have been a 'Jim' the minute I crossed the threshold and Blair would still be at it. I knew that. So, he didn't need to talk. He didn't need to explain. He didn't need to be questioned. He needed me. First the comfort of something of mine, and then his blessed protector in the flesh. It was obvious from the first moment I touched him, but if there'd been any doubt . . . well, there just hadn't been.
We'd been here before, but we hadn't been here before; only in each other's arms, like friends sometimes are when life overwhelms.
I remember the first time. I'm not likely to forget a double homicide that happened before my eyes and sent me spiraling out of control. I was scared, and vain enough to worry about what he would think of me but needing him anyway. I should have known better. How many men did I know who could actually say 'it's about friendship' and mean it? Most of them took friendship for granted, but Blair lived that credo to the best of his ability.
We built a bridge that night, a novel connection that neither of us will ever abandon. It has its place, there when we need it, and we have several times since. Yet this was different. Fear and adrenaline hang in the air differently from bitterness and loss.
So I gave him what I had, waiting for him to give me a clue about what, or who, had hurt him. Dusk grew into night and coaxed out the moon and a full curtain of stars, and still I held him, rubbing small circles low on his back and thinking, *It's okay . . . not going anywhere . . . I'm here . . . I'll always be here . . . I'll always . . .* There was so much I wanted to tell him, so much more. Yet I chanted those promises silently, letting my fingers say what I knew Blair needed to hear.
It was so quiet, as we sat there, but I respected the strangeness. Blair had demanded that consideration when he'd pressed himself against me with such need and fear and emotion, but without explanation. Words wouldn't help now, at least not any from me. He was tense, as if an unspeakable something lay in wait to attack him, and all he could do was shore himself up for a powerful blow. If he needed my strength to add to his own, it was his for the taking. Whatever he needed, for as long as he needed it.
I might be his anchor, but obviously he was still very much in danger, struggling to stay afloat in an unforgiving sea.
When another sound finally split the air, Blair jumped. I looked from him -- from the curtain of hair that surrounded his face -- to the table, where I was surprised to see the phone had been all along. By the time the third ring ended, he had it in his hands. His voice surprised me, so soft but firm.
"Yes, this is Blair . . . Yes, Naomi Sandburg's son . . . Are you sure? . . . Yes . . . I'm sorry to keep asking, but are you sure?"
Understanding hit me so hard I had to actually flat-line my senses. It was reasonable to feel Blair's hand on me; he's always guiding me, although he didn't look at me or interrupt his caller. This was the type of reaction I have the hardest time with, when emotion sends me spiraling out of control.
*For the love of God, not his mother. No, not that.*
I reached out blindly, my eyes still closed, feeling for Blair. I found his shoulder and it was enough as I slipped my hands over the corner of it, working the hand back and forth, letting his hair graze my knuckles whenever they neared his neck.
I didn't hear him disconnect the call, didn't realize he'd begun rocking again. I was still fighting to process his reaction -- the one I could feel beneath our joined hands, the virtual song that sang through him with its energy -- when the unwelcome sound of the phone came again, followed by the small beep as Blair pressed the 'talk' button.
I caught Naomi breathing harshly.
"Blair? Hi, honey. . ." Her voice was scratchy as if she'd been screaming, and I detected small tremors in her speech as she tried to talk. "I'm okay. I'm okay, Blair."
"Oh God. Thank God. Damn it, Mom," he said, his voice shaking.
Two insistent voices in the background broke through.
"The doctors have to set my arm. I can't talk long. I'll call you back--"
I listened as Blair pleaded, hurting, and it cut me to the bone.
"I promise, Blair."
"Tonight, Mom. I won't be able to sleep . . ."
*God, Naomi . . .* It was all I could think as I heard Blair's added 'please?'.
"I promise." She stopped, having a hard time ending the conversation, too. "I love you, Blair."
His 'thank you' came so softly that it broke my heart. There was one more sigh, and 'I love you,' and then Blair ended the call. The phone slipped from his fingers and I watched it slide out of his lap and onto the floor.
The instant he'd whispered 'Mom' my senses were back online one hundred and fifty percent, but now I closed my eyes again. I didn't need sight, sound, or anything but a moment to pull Blair back to my side.
Soundlessly, I cried into his hair, my tears falling as if they belonged there. It was more than appropriate, because Blair was entitled to fill every last inch of space we lived in with his sobs, and he did.
He was both relieved and furious, and I took the brunt of that destructive paradox. His hands jerked against me violently, and I knew there would be dry welts across my ribs from where he'd dragged his fingernails against me. The possibility, the belief that he'd lost his mother -- for however short he'd held it -- had given him rage to spend and he was frantic. As angry and forlorn as he would eventually be restored and secure.
By the time the street below quieted to the occasional late night rattle, we had worked ourselves back to silence and a clasp that wasn't as desperate, though no less fast.
I couldn't stop touching him: fingering his hair, razing his arm lightly with my knuckles. The idle motions soothed us both until I could find the words I needed to offer him.
"Whatever you need . . ."
There wasn't an immediate response beyond the fact that he relaxed even more against me. Then he said, "My blessed protector?"
He had told me about that custom not too long after I met him. We'd joked about it, but it was true that I felt a certain responsibility for him. Aside from the fact that he wasn't trained as a cop but was often in harm's way, he was my friend, and I didn't want to see him injured. He was also my link to a world of knowledge and insight that I'd benefited from for the last several years, and that meant something to me.
For a long time those were my only reasons.
I shook my head at the first answer that came to mind. It seemed like the worst possible thing to say. I knew Blair would tell me otherwise, believing that the first instinct was usually the best, but these things weren't as easy for me as they were for Blair.
He peered at me and asked, "What?"
When I couldn't answer him he repeated his question, looking at me with an artless expression from which it was impossible to hide. So I told him. I tried to draw on every bit of tenderness I felt for him as I answered; it not only softened my voice when I finally spoke, it softened me. "I am blessed to protect you, yes."
He took a deep breath, not closing his mouth completely, and when he exhaled, his breath filled the short distance between us. It spurred me to obliterate the distance, brushing my lips against his. I stopped suddenly, not at all sure we wanted the same thing. Like never before, I needed reciprocity. Or surety. Or to not be the only person in the room lost in emotion.
He moved against me, bringing us in contact again and I opened my mouth, hoping he'd fall in and stay forever.
Not 'Jim, are you there'. Obviously I was. Not 'Jim are you crazy', though there was an argument for that point of view. Not just 'Jim' as in 'thank you, I'm glad you're here'. But 'Jim, do you mean . . .?'
I didn't move. The truth was already widening his eyes, and there was no question that he knew for sure after he shook his head and leaned into me, head down and lips away but body flush, burying his face in my chest. I waited on him. What was another minute, or hour, or two compared to the years I had to look forward to?
He was close, close like in my imaginings, where no amount of detail or heart-engineered desire had felt as good as he did in that small instant. Blair. Better than I'd ever dreamed -- and that was saying something. I tilted his head up, struggling for calm, for control, for something less than giddy, and smiled at him. Training has its advantages, and when I spoke, it was with a deceptive simplicity. "'Oh' works, Sandburg. Very nicely."
But he didn't say anything, raising his chin a bit to look at me more directly. I let my hand fall away, but he grabbed it and laid it against his cheek where he pressed into it, rubbing against it gently.
"Blair . . ." I began, but stopped when he shook his head without ever losing contact with my hand. My first opportunity to breathe his name when the meaning was for the two of us alone, and Blair felt it too. For once he was content not to talk, sighing back against me, nestling in, and breathing deeper once I enveloped him.
Another gift. Communication more instinctive than verbal. And then, I had that, too.
"I love you, too."
I'd known that. Really, I had. But I hadn't been sure *he'd* known. Hearing it for the first time still sent a jolt right through me, and a small gasp fled my chest. Blair tipped his head up and pressed a kiss against my lips, and I slid a hand up to keep him there for the several breaths it took me to absorb the blessing of a dream actually coming true.
"Jim . . . "
It was the easiest thing he'd said all night. It just slipped free, looking for me, looking for home. I could feel it and so could he. What he wanted was written all over him. He slipped onto my lap and said it again, breathing it against my lips, pressing into my body.
It wasn't a long kiss, just long enough to set our lives on a new course. One we'd begin just as soon as Naomi called and the sound of her voice and the chance to ask the questions again and hear the answers again dispelled the last bit of shock that was still feeding the random shiver in Blair.
*Whatever you need.*
Oh God. It was too much, on top of worrying about Mom. Just too much. And Jim? How could he know what it would mean to hear that?
I have to tell him now, tell him all of it, and that will be so hard. Three days ago, I didn't have to tell him about Naomi (the advantages of living with a sentinel), but I'll have to tell him this.
*Jim, I had a dream. No, not a dream, a premonition. Vague, but horrible.*
Yeah, yeah. That was a good start. I'd have to be more forthcoming, though. It had been more than just a premonition, it dogged my sleep for several nights running, waking me with the same uneasiness morning after morning, but without any memory of specifics. Only a feeling: a sinking, stomach-blown-out sensation that could only be associated with complete devastation.
*When the call came, I understood my dream.*
I nodded to myself, that sounded good. Direct and to the point, a good foundation for what was to follow. That I had justified my new sensitivity as part of the responsibility Incacha had passed on to me. And I was okay with that, being some sort of metaphysical conduit. It wasn't like I was hard-wired for every signal in the universe. To the contrary, it had only happened once, and more than one educated hunch led me to believe the formula required people I care for the most.
I chewed on that for a moment, pleased with how the ideas were taking shape. The hypothesis appeared valid since in my dreams I never associated my feelings with an individual person. I just knew with absolute certainty that it was going to hurt like nothing else ever had. That left only two possibilities: Mom and Jim.
*And then the phone rang and I was face-to-face with my fear. I started to regret this . . . thing, being warned, knowing whatever it was that I knew. And just as swiftly I was regretted my regret. If this ability, or whatever it was, came from my involvement with you, how could I turn my back on it, or question Incacha's faith in me? He saw the nexus between us instantly, and he trusted me. And here I was disavowing it? What right did I have?*
I worried that I'd ever be able to explain it to Jim. I mean, I couldn't even say it to myself out loud.
"How could I disavow you?"
There I'd done it, and it hurt just as much as I thought it would, as it had that night, even knowing the reason why.
*Because I would have rather not known. I would have rather just come home and been blindsided, and not have had that razor sharp awareness that for all the forewarning, there had been nothing I could do.*
*That's what you walked in on. Not just grief, but agony. For a moment I wanted to be free of you, for you to be free of me, and it terrified me. Denying others was one thing. Denying you was too . . .*
"Blessed? You have no idea, Jim. No idea at all." But I finally did. "Love you."
That might work. It sounded good to my ears. If I asked him to let me finish before he said anything, I might even get it all out.
"Blair . . ."
I wheeled around at that simple entreaty to find Jim leaning against my doorframe, his eyes warm with love and understanding.
"Sta--, station . . .?" I stammered. So much for preparation. "I thought you were at the . . . I . . . shit."
"It's almost 6:30." Oh, of course. Then, "I couldn't help listening."
"You heard me?"
"All of it, I think. You were talking it through out loud, you do that sometimes without realizing it."
What a time to find that out.
"'S okay," he said softly.
I looked up as he nodded in encouragement, saying it again. I wanted to move and I didn't. Jim's eyes were dark and guileless, and they held me in a way that made me want to sink into him body and soul.
"Wanna hear the last of it?" I finally managed after a long time. It had taken forever to get my heart back under control.
"That night . . . when you came in . . . I realized I . . ."
I was learning just how elusive control could be, but Jim didn't seem to mind.
"Take your time," he said softly.
". . . I was where I was supposed to be, with the only person I'd choose to be with. The dreams weren't about Naomi at all, they were about denying that."
Jim crossed the room until he was close enough to touch, but that last bit of distance was mine to conquer. He waited as I shuffled closer and slid to rest against him without qualm. It was the right place to spend the rest of our lives.
He held me there a long time, then eased the embrace, catching my hand in his and slipping them between our warm bodies.
"You missed something," he said.
What could he mean?
"You taught me to read the symbolism in my dreams, but this time, you got it wrong."
I started to interrupt him, but all I got was a soft 'shush'.
"You were afraid you might deny me, but you never did. When the call came about Naomi, you just assumed the foreshadowing was a result of your connection with me, which it was, but then you leaped to the wrong conclusion, that wishing you hadn't known, meant wishing you didn't love me."
I wanted to believe him. I needed to believe him.
"Think about it. You crawled into something of mine, something that smelled like me, and then you hunkered down until I could find you. You knew I was coming home because we left the station together. You could have left the loft, or barricaded yourself behind your door. But you didn't."
"You mean, I locked on to the one person I needed the most and hung on? Subconsciously?"
He nodded against my temple and I was at loss for what to say. Maybe I didn't need words after all.
Jim drew closer, if that was possible, and spoke for both of us. "There were blessings all around," he whispered.
"It's Ellison time."
Caught unexpectedly, pleasure warmed more than the ear Blair breathed into while ostensibly leaning forward to slip a case file into its rightful place on my desk.
When I told him about my fantasy last night, he just grinned at me the only way you could when your lover was whispering secrets into the valley between your shoulder blades after hours of kissing, tangled limbs, searching hands, and clothes not-quite-half off.
Or when you knew you had all the time in the world to appreciate every new frontier that might unfold, and you weren't afraid to say 'can I just hold you tonight?' with soft anticipation the way Blair had in the early, cloistered hours of the morning.
Or when you looked forward to exploring all the small intimacies, not unlike that uttered phrase of a few seconds ago and the warmth of his breath on my skin.
I glanced up and Blair's expression made me laugh, although it wasn't exactly the type of sound usually heard from me at work. Blair reacted to that, the playfulness fading from his eyes as it was replaced with another kind of brillance, the mischief with a another kind of yearning.
"Home?" he asked softly.
It was so easy I smiled, a smile not in the least bit open to interpretation.