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All But Branded

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All But Branded

by Tangent

Author's disclaimer: They're not mine and never will be, no matter how many falling stars I wish upon.

Blair didn't often come to the loft smelling like the inside of a beer bottle, so when he did, Jim noticed. It helped that he'd kind of been waiting for the kid and that Blair was singing a little under his breath as he fought with the key and lock, but Jim would have noticed anyway.

He rose from the couch a little slowly and made dutiful use of the cane as he headed for the door, but still got there long before Blair had managed to unlock it.

For a second after he opened the door, Jim was surprised by the the kid's state. He'd never seen Blair get this close to stumbling drunk like this before but recognized the signs--he was flushed and sweating a little sourly, his hair had gone wild and was bobbing around his head and his eyes were somehow paler than normal, with pupils the size of saucers. His smile was sweet and innocent when he met Jim's gaze.

"No gun in my face," he said, sounding half-amused and half-surprised. "A definite step up, Jim." It took less than a second to process that remark, and then he reached out and grabbed Blair's shoulder more fiercely than he probably should have, considering how unsteady on his feet Blair was. There was a little bit of a scuffling street fight air to the kid's entrance, and Jim regretted that as soon as he shut the door and leaned Blair up against it.

His senses were dialed almost all the way down and he hadn't caught the scents that were under the sweat and smoke, but as soon as the kid was actually in the loft, Jim caught something else, something hospital-familiar and home-dangerous; antiseptic and blood and the heat of a new wound.

Just like that, all of his senses were dialed up and Blair was being scanned, checked over, shaken a little as he tried to slide to the floor but found his arms caught tight in Jim's big hands.

"Where are you hurt?" Jim demanded fiercely, shaking Blair again, feeling a little wild because the kid just dangled from his hands like a half-grown kitten--stocky and boneless and somehow lanky all at once.

"Hurt?" Blair blinked owlishly, then smiled again as if nothing was wrong in the world. "I'm not hurt, Jim. Not at all. I've never felt better, in fact, and that seems kind of a shame considering the fact that your knee probably hurts like a bitch and I'm definitely, certainly, surely going to have a headache in the morning--"

Jim shushed him rather violently and for once the kid responded to a warning. His head tilted back, thudded gently against the door, his throat stretched out and arched like some kind of offering. Jim scowled. There were no bruises that he could spot, no evidence of a fight or anything like that, but now that he'd noticed the scent of blood, it was all he could smell, all he could taste in the air.

And it really pissed him off that Blair seemed totally unaware of the danger he had been in--or could be in, if he kept his throat exposed like that to a man who was half protector and half predator.

"Where. Are. You. Hurt?" he asked again, and Blair's head popped up like he was startled. Like he'd forgotten all about the fact that he was mostly hanging from Jim's hands and being subjected to intense scrutiny. Then he reached out and patted Jim's sides, laughing, as if it was all just a big game.

"Hey, Big Guy, where you been all my life?" he said, then laughed harder, like that was the funniest joke he'd ever told in a long and varied history of joke telling. Jim was not amused and let Blair know with a growl that was surely too deep for humans to hear--to even make. Then Blair's eyes cleared a little, his brain obviously beginning to process the danger signs somewhere and respond accordingly. "Oh, I'm not hurt. I'm fine. Just fine. Peachy keen and Jim-dandy--get it, Jim-dandy?--and most assuredly a little drunk."

The little drunk part, Jim got. But when he listened to Blair's heart beating--a little fast, but it was always a little fast--and didn't get the feeling the kid was lying, he was confused as hell. The bloodscent was there, too rich on Blair's skin to have come from someone else. It didn't add up.

He couldn't just stand there holding Blair against the wall all night, so after a few more minutes of trying to find the wound and just not seeing it, he dragged his half-floppy and half-clingy friend over to the couch and dumped him on the cushions. Blair slithered down until he was lying flat on his back and began to tug at the sleeves of his jacket. He didn't manage to get it off, mostly just tangled himself up in it, and Jim watched him fight the slippery nylon until he was worn out and trussed up in a crazy tangle of arms and hair and sleepy eyes.

"Help me out here," he said, wiggling, and Jim sighed. It took him a few minutes to work Blair free, considering that he wouldn't stop talking and how could he talk without waving his hands and reaching for the words as if they would appear in the air before him? But eventually Jim managed it and tossed the jacket over the foot of the couch.

The kid was wearing what looked like seven sweaters so it wasn't really clear why he'd been wearing the jacket at all, but Jim had long ago decided that Blair was built for tropical climes and would probably never adapt to the eternal coolness of Cascade. It was strange, then, that he had adapted so well to his life in the city, but Blair was a strange person, and there were some mysteries Jim didn't really want to examine too closely.

As far as Jim knew, asking direct questions of a drunken Blair wasn't going to do any good. Somehow he'd have to circle around the topic and hope that Blair would spill the information he wanted before Jim was forced to take him down to Interrogation or, worse, strip him down and check for injuries with his hands.


Jim shoved that thought aside and scowled down at Blair, whose eyes had closed. His breathing was slower, as if he was on the verge of falling asleep, so Jim nudged him awake again.

"You left with Naomi more than eight hours ago, Chief," he said casually, as if he was just making a little conversation. "What have you been up to?"

Blair hummed in his throat and tapped his fingers against his abdomen. "Naomi says that she's got this intuition thing going, that you and me, we got to have a nice long conversation. But I told her you don't do conversations unless you damn well want to and I'm a little too tired to push the issue these days, so don't worry about that."

"I'm not worried about that at all," Jim murmured, and it was definitely true--he'd finally figured that they were long overdue for a conversation that didn't revolve around him or some long-lost tribe from Southern Brazil, and who was he to argue with Blair's mother's intuition anyway?

"Then I went to Rainier," Blair continued, and now his hands danced in the air above his head as he mimed something, probably reliving the whole cleaning-out-his-desk thing, and Jim scowled a little harder. It hurt, physically hurt, to think about Blair being kicked off the campus he'd centered his life around so long, and it made him almost unbearably angry. Sure, it was great for the department that Blair was going to put aside the whole doctorate issue and be a crime-fighting anthropology expert, but he wasn't so sure that it'd be a great change for Blair.

If the kid hates it, he told himself, we'll figure something out. This is just a trial run.

That thought physically hurt, too, so he blocked it off and focused on Blair again, on watching those elegant hands draw the recent past out in the air.

"There were like, nine students that came in when I was almost done, and they were mad, they were so mad, but not at me. Not at me at all, Jim, which was amazing. They were all pissed that I was leaving, and they were threatening a strike. And I was like, no guys, this is all a political thing between me and them and you don't have to get in the middle of it, but they wanted to. Really wanted to, you know?"

Jim had to smile at the wonderment in Blair's voice. "I know, Chief," he said gently, then worked on sitting on the table without making his knee throb like a bitch while Blair kept on talking. Didn't take too long to find the right question, the right prod to make the kid talk, he thought while he settled himself, and then he tuned back in.

"--finally had them all talked down, talked out of it, and they started telling me how much I'd meant to them, which was totally cool but made me get all teary-eyed, so finally Brian just said, screw it. And they dragged me out drinking."

Here he sighed, his whole torso expanding, and his chin quivered just a little bit, just enough to register on Sentinel senses. "I told them no, that I had to come back, but they were all saying, Blair, Detective Ellison is totally on his own for a minute here, and I thought that maybe you did want to be, you know, alone for a while--" He looked over at Jim, his eyes huge and sad and capable of making Jim feel like he'd kicked a puppy or picked on a nun.

"I'm glad you went out and had fun, Sandburg," he said, then smiled a little, trying hard to make the expression believable. "I would have been just as glad if you had come home...."

Blair had winced when he said 'home', so Jim shut up. There was silence for maybe thirty seconds before he started talking again, with more hand choreography/storytelling/reaching for words to accompany his voice.

"The last thing I really remember," he said a little dreamily, "was this big bar. Somewhere. And then someone was talking about getting a tattoo, you know, as body art and didn't I kind of like the idea? And I did like it, so we all stumbled out of there and went looking for a parlor."

Jim blinked, surprised, and then sniffed the air again. Now that he was looking for it, he did catch the scent of ink mingled with the scent of blood. How had Blair gone from Somber-and-Serious-and-Driving-Naomi-to-the-Airport to Drunk-and-Giggling-and-Getting-a-Tattoo?

"I just told you how," Blair said impatiently and Jim blinked again, having been unaware that he had spoken out loud. He coughed into a fist and considered his partner--a tattoo was actually a very Blair thing to have. But he'd never seen one stamped on the kid's skin, and he'd seen plenty of that skin, so this must be the first one.

Jim had never really been tempted to get a tattoo, even after all that time spent in the military where a tattoo or three was actually encouraged by his buddies, his friends, his fellow soldiers, and he was dead-certain that if he tried to get one now his senses would drive him crazy. But the more he thought about it, the more it seemed to suit Blair to have that kind of permanent body art, a display he could take with him no matter what jungle or tundra he found himself in--

As long as it wasn't something horrible, like a skull and crossbones. Maybe some kind of Celtic thing, those popular and almost omni-present bands and markings available for fifty dollars and a few inches of skin.

"What kind of design did you get, Chief?" he asked, curious, relieved. Blair sat up fast, bounced up really, and started stripping off all seven of the shirts he was wearing--which actually turned out to be three, two of which had underlinings sewn in to look layered. Before Jim could even begin to pile the shirts up on Blair's jacket, the kid was reaching out and grabbing his wrist, looking at his watch without really seeming to comprehend what the dials and numerals meant.

"Time, Jim," he demanded impatiently, and Jim told him. Blair frowned, flexed his hands like he was going to count on his fingers, then smiled. "They told me not to take off the bandage for two hours, but it should be ok by now," he explained, and then turned his back. He looked over his shoulder and raised his eyebrows, seeming infinitely more sober and maybe a little nervous--and definitely cold. It was warm in the loft and he was flushed with alcohol, but there were still goosebumps rising on his back and arms. "Take it off, all right?"

Jim nodded, swallowed, and then reached out to grab the edge of the bandage in his hands. It was snowy white except for a rough circle lightly stained with blood and some kind of antibacterial lotion, and Blair held perfectly still while he worked the tape free and peeled the bandage off.

Then he sat back and stared while Blair began to babble about how he'd designed it himself and Naomi was going to be angry because she was still religious enough to want them both to be buried in a Jewish cemetary and no tattoos were allowed there for sure, but he was thinking maybe there was some kind of tribal precedent because a lot of tribes had tattoos, or other ways to mark themselves, and did Jim have any vitamin E lotion around, because if he didn't, Blair was pretty sure there was some somewhere in his room--

In a roughly fist sized circle of his back, dead set between his shoulder blades, a patch of skin was raised and red-angry, irritated. But Jim could still make out the design, could tell that Blair had designed it because where would he find a tattoo depicting a jaguar lying down, bright blue eyes half-closed, an equally blue-eyed wolf lying behind him with ears pricked curiously forward and head resting across the jaguar's back? Who else would think to have the wolf half-panting, half-smiling? Who else would know to make the jaguar's pose sleepy and yet also fiercely protective? Who would know but Blair?

Abruptly, he became aware of the Blair saying his name over and over, and realized that he had very nearly zoned out on that tattoo, maybe had zoned out. He cleared his throat and awkwardly folded the cotton bandage that he was still holding in his suddenly too big and oddly shaped hands.


"Inspired the design?"

"Well, I know what inspired it, Chief," he snapped, and then sighed. "I just don't understand why you...what made you...."

Blair turned around again, braced his forearms on his thighs and bent his head. Those dark curls tumbled over his shoulders, hiding his face, and Jim wanted to brush them aside so that he could see what was going on with the kid, but didn't.

"Brian got this tattoo on his shoulder, this fierce looking little eagle. And Maria, she got a butterfly on her ankle, so it looked like the theme of the day was animals. But the bird and the butterfly, they didn't really mean anything, you know? When those two look back on their first tattoo, they'll be wondering why the hell the tattoo artist let a bunch of drunks in the shop, right? And I just wanted...I wanted something...that meant something to me, you know?"

"Means everything," he heard Blair say but Blair's lips had stopped moving and not even Sentinel hearing was that good, so Jim grabbed the cane and headed for the French doors and the outside, where there were a million things to focus on and none of them were Blair-like and important--and were therefore safe.

But Blair followed him out, a little clumsy but not so drunk as he had been before, stood beside him in the dark and ozone smelling night, and Jim knew they were both welcoming the thought of a storm without having to question it; that was something they'd always shared without ever talking about it.

Then Blair quietly asked, "Does it freak you out, Jim? If it does, I'm sorry. I just--"

"It doesn't freak me out, Sandburg." He turned to look at his partner, watched as Blair tilted his head back again and seemed to absorb the electricity in the night air. Wondered for a moment if that was where the kid got his energy from, if he absorbed it from oncoming storms, but then dismissed the thought as fanciful. "It's beautiful," he continued. "Really good work, and that's a surprise considering that no one gets a good tattoo if they go in drunk. It's just...."

"It's just a symbol of a bond that you don't really want to have, right?" Blair threw up his hands and shook his head, then smacked himself in the forehead. "Too expensive to have it removed even if that's what you and Naomi would want, too painful, too--hell, I don't care if you don't want to acknowledge--"

"Chief, it's not any of that," Jim said, surprised. "It's just that I'd thought you were so pissed about this whole lying-to-the-world thing and thinking I was the world's biggest asshole. I never would have thought you'd get something to remember me by, so to speak--"

"I was pissed. Got something to remember you by," Blair repeated quietly. "Right." For a couple seconds, his mobile lips formed silent curses and then they firmed, thinned. "Brian offered me a room in his apartment," he said a little combatively. "And I told him I'd take it."

Not just surprised, not just shocked but also suddenly hurt, Jim stared, then shook his head as if those words had been buzzed by a gnat in his ear and not by his friend. "Excuse me?" he said quietly, intense. "How did we go from you getting an amazing tattoo to you moving out? And did I give you some reason to think that you could move out?"

Now it was Blair's turn to blink in surprise. "'Could' move out? Like what, now I need your permission to go? I'm not allowed to leave unless you kick me out?"

Jim weighed the wisdom of telling the truth of lying politely, and decided that the truth was probably the best option. "Exactly," he growled, and then reached out to grab Blair's arm when the kid made the mistake of laughing and turning to go back in the loft.

Blair shoved him but there was no strength behind it--probably more a matter of alcohol still in his system than any desire not to hurt. "Jim, quit it, all right? I made it a couple decades without a father and I don't--"

Jim shook his head, almost amused. "Who ever said I wanted to be your father, Blair?"

"Listen, so ok, I know that you'd have put me up for adoption, maybe named me Foundling and let it go at that, but that doesn't mean--"

"Foundling?" Jim laughed at that, now fully amused, but his grip on Blair's arm stayed strong. "Christ, Chief, you're insane."

Blair tucked his chin down into his chest and Jim frowned suddenly, noticing not only that the kid was starting to shiver but that his shoulders were slumped, and for the second time that night he hustled his partner over to the couch and pushed him down. This time, he draped the blanket across those smooth, defensively lowered shoulders and sat beside Blair, not on the table.

"You don't have to go anywhere, Chief," he said, studying that familiar profile. "I know I was being a real dick about the whole dissertation thing but even if you hadn't held that press conference, I would have gotten over it."

Blair was shaking his head. "No," he said, stubborn to the end. "It's not that. It's just--we'll work together at the station and all of that, be partners full-time, no more me running off to the university and you doing your solitary detective stuff, and you'll get sick of me living here sooner rather than later and then I'll have to go and it will only be harder for me."

"So you'd better go now and save yourself the hurt?" Jim didn't quite understand this train of thought but that much seemed pretty obvious--and patently ridiculous.

"And save you the whole annoyance thing, which might just save our partnership some day," Blair insisted, not looking him in the eye.

"Jesus, Chief." Jim shook his head. "How'd you get to be so smart but so frigging insecure?"

Blair was silent, and Jim sighed, thinking about it, thinking about when he had kicked his partner out and finally, finally realizing what damage that had done.

"Blair, you have to understand. Every time I saw you that week, there was this sense of imminent danger. And I was having that vision, the one where I was out hunting the wolf." He paused, wondering how best to explain, wishing he had Blair's way with words and really wishing that there was no need for explanations at all. "I didn't realize that I was picking up on the danger to you from Alex. I thought it was me, that I would be the one to hurt you."

"So you kicked me out and hurt me anyway."

"So I kicked you out thinking that you were in danger from me and that was the best way to protect you."

"Yeah, well, you know, I figured that out a while ago. Made sense in a strange Jim-way, but screw it." Blair said bitterly, and Jim clenched his jaw--how did the kid always find a way to steal his thunder?

"You know that, but you still have this...this..."

"I understood but it still hurt. And I sat in my office, waiting for you to show up, just knowing that it would be Alex who got to me first, this feeling in my chest that the end was near and all that grim stuff, and I was ready for it. Like it was just time to let it all go and let her have you or whatever the hell was in the works."

The thought of Blair just waiting to die silenced Jim more effectively than anything in the world ever could have, hurt him somewhere so deep that he zoned out trying to find it, trying to find that one little clump of cells in his body that was capable of taking words like blows and he finally found it close to his heart, which seemed to be beating a little more sluggishly than it should have.

When he came out of it, Blair was tapping him on the face, more than a pat and less than a slap, and saying his name over and over. For a minute he just stared at Blair but then this wild instinct seemed to rush through his body.

In less than three seconds, before Blair had time to do more than open his still-dazed eyes wide, Jim had him flat on his back and was over him, settled down and doing his best set-in-concrete impression.

"You're not going anywhere," Jim said, growled, putting his big hands on Blair's shoulders and holding him off the couch a little, which only served to press their chests together tight but underneath the free-flow of anger Jim was feeling, there was the knowledge that Blair had what basically amounted to an open wound. He had to be careful of that.

Blair just stared, then shook his head as if to clear it of the remaining alcohol in his system, the surprise of finding himself in such close contact with his partner. "Jim, Brian's a good friend and you and I will still be working together, so--"

Jim ignored the pain in his knee and moved more fully over Blair, still operating on his instincts, listening to the part of his brain that was screaming at him that his Guide must not leave. "I don't care what kind of friend Brian is, Chief. I've given you a home and you're going to stay in it."

That stopped Blair's wriggling for a second, and Jim saw his eyes suddenly fill with comprehension. "Oh, oh, ok. I get it now. Forgive me for being a little drunk and stupid, Jim, I would have seen this sooner but really, five beers and a little vodka just soaked my brain cells for the night." He pushed at Jim's shoulders, as if expecting that understanding would gain him freedom, and rolled his eyes when Jim did no more moving than a mountain might have if Blair had shoved it.

"Come on, Big Guy," he said, chuckling a little nervously. "You know I can't think if I can't move." So Jim sat up with extreme reluctance and watched Blair as he shrugged off the blanket and bounced off the couch, moving around the coffee table with long quick strides and hands that were plucking at the air again.

"All right. So, we're an old-fashioned kind of Sentinel/Guide pair, out patrolling in the jungle, and it's time to settle down for the night. The Sentinel picks a spot that's perfect even by his admittedly picky standards--good cover, good-sized space, proportionately the way he likes it, and that's it." He paced a little unsteadily over to the kitchen and back, his brow furrowed with thought, his hands still flying, and then he smiled and stood in front of the couch again.

"That's where they're bunking down, no arguments, because the Sentinel is the one who knows protection when he sees it." He nodded to himself, curls flying everywhere and hands clasped together now like he was on the verge of applauding. Jim eyed him closely, partially amazed because now that the kid had said the words, that was exactly what it felt like, partially accepting that of course Blair would know exactly what it felt like. That was Blair's job, really, understanding why people do this and not that, why they went here and not there.

"Safety," Blair continued. "That's the Sentinel's ultimate goal, safety for the two of them and ultimately for the tribe; he's keeping the tribe safe by patrolling and keeping the Guide safe by, well, by putting him in a defensively perfect area and then making sure that he stays there. Or she stays there. Whatever floats this particular Sentinel's boat."

Jim nodded, kind of wondering at the whole boat floating thing but definitely not intending to ask. His partner beamed at him as if he was a student who had just managed to surprise Blair with his intelligence, then shrugged back into one of his shirts, talking from underneath it as he struggled to get his arms in the sleeves.

"So, that also explains why I came home and found all of my stuff exactly where it had been before you had your Sentinel-sized panic attack, because you'd gotten used to it--and me--being right there where it had all been put before. Everything all safe and part of the camp, really."

"You found yourself and your stuff back here," Jim said quietly, feeling a lot calmer now that it sounded like Blair understood and wasn't going anywhere, "because I never should have done anything with any of it. Because I wouldn't have if...."

"If you hadn't been afraid." Blair tugged his hair out from under the collar of his shirt and sat on the coffee table, reversing their positions from earlier in the evening in a way that made Jim smile a little.

"All right, yes. If I hadn't been afraid."

Blair studied him intently, one hand pulling at his bottom lip, his brows drawn together, still sending out waves of heat and the faint scent of alcohol but apparently clear-minded now. Jim slouched back against the couch, worn out, feeling like he had just stepped off some bizarre carnival ride designed to induce heart attacks. His skin was prickling because the storm he'd sensed while standing on the balcony was right overhead and ready to strike, tingling because Blair had gotten a tattoo that was nearly as forthright as one that said "Jim and Blair 4-eva", just a little more subtle, drawn tight with relief because Blair was there and maybe not intending to leave.

"Actually, when I think about it, it's kind of surprising that you're ok with me being downstairs and you being up," Blair said, definitely sounding a little puzzled. Jim shrugged.

"I can listen for you as easy as look for you," he explained simply and Blair nodded. Then he inched forward on the table, nudging his knees between Jim's legs, and leaned towards him.

"I'm not going to leave," he said, and Jim had known that but it was still a huge relief to hear it out loud. "But you and me, Jim, we still need to have a couple discussions, work some stuff out--"

Jim studied his partner while he was talking, no longer listening to the words but absorbing the tone, then leaned forward and laid his mouth gently over Blair's.

For a second there was just stillness between them, surprise, then Blair opened his mouth and his taste was such a shock to Jim's system that it almost sent him into a zone.

He'd gotten a hint of it before when he sipped from Blair's coffee cup or ate something off the spoon Blair was using for taste tests and he'd thought he'd gotten the real, full Blair when he'd tried to breathe air back into still and empty lungs, but this was real. This wasn't a hint, wasn't layered with sauce or coffee or cold water and copper from the pennies floating in the fountain, this was just...Blair. Blair, who understood when Jim was freaking out and knew better than to push but pushed anyway, who did something Naomi would hate not just because he was drunk but because it meant something--

Blair, who was amazing. Just...amazing.

When he finally leaned back, Blair reached out as if to hold on and made Jim smile, but he didn't go back for more. "Get some water," he said instead. "You'll feel better if you don't wake up tomorrow dehydrated."

Blair nodded, a look of utter confusion and distraction on his face, and then he rose. "Yeah, ok," he mumbled, then hesitated, looking almost shy, before he backed away and nearly ran for the fridge.

Jim rose too and started turning off the lights, noticing that the rain had finally started, that lightning was beginning to flicker in the distance, probably past where Blair could see it, right at the edges of his own vision.

"Go to bed. You've had kind of a busy day, Sandburg, and I'll see you in the morning," he said steadily when he sensed Blair on the verge of moving towards him again, not wanting the kid to just respond, wanting him to think about it because that was his strong suit and if Blair had it all puzzled out before it began, things would be easier on them both.

With a jerky nod, Blair headed for his room, opened the door and slid inside very quietly, as if afraid to draw attention to himself. Jim grinned, turned out the last light, and went to stand by the French doors to watch the rain fall down.

A busy day indeed.

Jim climbed the stairs to the loft, got ready for bed and slipped beneath the covers, then checked on Blair. He sighed when he discovered the kid mumbling to himself, talking things out since his room was too small and cluttered to pace in. He knew what was coming, welcomed it, prepared for it, and settled down to wait.

It wasn't long before he heard Blair's doors open, heard him creep across the floor downstairs and then head up to the loft, and he turned his head to watch his partner hover on the last step. He didn't say anything, just lay quietly and waited, and after a minute Blair smiled.

"I'm still a little drunk so this doesn't seem like a bad idea," his partner said, almost apologetic, and now it was Jim's turn to smile. He moved over on the bed, rolled onto his stomach, and patted the mattress next to him. Blair didn't hesitate, just climbed in and settled down, sighing, then grimaced and rolled over, kind of draping himself across Jim's back.

"The tattoo hurts," Blair whispered and Jim felt the words more than heard them, nodded. He didn't mind the contact, was soothed by the rhythm of Blair's chest expanding and contracting every time he breathed, by the quick, steady beating of the kid's heart. Good to feel it, he thought dreamily. Much better than just listening for it.

Then Blair tucked his cheek in the hollow between Jim's shoulder blades and relaxed, utterly limp and boneless; Jim relaxed too for the first time since Blair had come through the door smelling like alcohol and blood. Since the first time he'd seen a reporter who knew what he was and sensed that his life was out of his control. Perhaps for the first time since Blair had come in smelling like Sierra Verdi and maybe a little bit like despair.

This feels good, he thought. Feels...right. Then he closed his eyes and let the rain and Blair's night rhythms lull him into sleep.