For a smart guy who'd lived with a detective for three years, Blair Sandburg was pretty dumb about hiding a problem from one.
If, for instance, he'd banged the door open (as usual), let his backpack fall to the floor with a heavy thud (as usual), dumped the usual pile of books on the kitchen bench and then flicked the stereo up to full volume on his way into the shower where he wouldn't hear it anyway, well... Jim probably wouldn't have noticed a thing.
Oh, okay, but eight times out of ten he would have just stayed upstairs and grouched quietly, and the other two times he would have yelled something rude over the railing, because he needed to maintain the illusion that it was still his loft.
But this whole business of shutting the door quietly, putting the backpack into the bedroom, the books on the desk, then slipping into the bathroom and running the shower to hide whatever sounds he was making at the basin, well...
Jim tuned into his guide's breathing, and noted that enforced calm had replaced Blair's usual semi-breathless emotionality. Groaning to himself, he marked his place, put the book down, and went downstairs.
If anything else was going to convince him that something was wrong, it was that Blair jumped when Jim opened the bathroom door. Not that Jim was in the habit of opening the bathroom door while his male roommate was in there with the shower running, and not that he'd even considered his guide's reaction to him doing such a thing, but jumping up, swearing fiercely, and kicking the door shut in Jim's face wasn't quite the reaction Jim would have expected.
He stared into the semi-gloss paint for a minute, disoriented by the grubby fingerprints which were in sudden sharp focus, then shook himself as he remembered why he was standing here - because Sandburg was acting with a concern for modesty and privacy which was way out of league for somebody who was suited to life with a sentinel like a fish was suited to life in water.
"Chief, is something up?"
He's being quiet, he's being secretive, and, worst of all, he's swearing... in English. Jim wondered if he should call Naomi to see if she knew any good exorcists. Then, pondering the possible consequences of that phone call and figuring it would be considerably less agonising in the long run, he put on his most reasonable tone of voice and asked, "can I come in?"
"No. I said, fuck off."
A second later, there was a hiss of pain clearly audible despite the pounding of the shower, so Jim panicked and kicked the door in. It splintered violently out of the doorframe and struck the side of Blair's face with an impressive crack. Blair's scream of pain and fury reverbated loudly in the small room. The door rebounded harmlessly onto Jim's shoulder, then with a whine from the twisted hinges, it hovered half-way between them, as if trying to emulate an innocent bystander at a ghastly crime scene.
Jim watched, frozen and horrified, as Blair's hands raised to clutch his head while he crumpled in slow motion. He watched even more horrified as the tape reversed and speeded up, and one very angry academic straightened up, lunged at him ("that wasn't even fucking locked you fucking-") and smashed a tense fist into his face.
"Are you fucking high on fucking floor wax or something? What the fuck were you thinking?"
"I'm not talking to you until you can say something other than 'fuck'."
"What the fuck else is there for me to say?" Blair stopped pacing for long enough to glare at him punishingly, then touched the carton of yoghurt ("I'm not putting a fucking inch-thick slice of an innocent animal on my fucking face, Jim") back onto his forehead.
"You can tell me what the hell is wrong with you," Jim said from his corner of the couch, doing his level best to return the dirty look whilst pressing the aforementioned slice of innocent animal to his pounding cheek.
There was probably some diabolical inbuilt guilt-trip, he fumed, which kept a sentinel from dialling down any pain rightly inflicted upon him by his guide. He opened his mouth to say as much, then clamped it down, thinking better of whining about his senses at this particular moment.
Blair stopped again, glared again, and Jim wondered if disappearing under the carpet was an option right now. The bruise on his roommate's forehead was already showing, black mottling with purple around a faint indentation from eyebrow to hairline. But Blair normally took pain like he took everything else unpleasant in life - with cheerful equanimity and a dash of academic fascination. No, the injury was not, in and of itself, a problem.
Nor was the split on Sandburg's lower lip, with lush red shining across the sullen pout where blood was seeping from the wound. Nope, it was Jim's insistently growing erection which was making him want to crawl into a hole and die.
As unobtrusively as possible, he pulled a cushion onto his groin and pressed down hard, trying to convince his oblivious cock that Blair was not the right person - and even if he were, now was definitely not the right situation - for it to get excited over.
"Okay, look," Blair began, stopping his erratic pacing fast enough to make Jim's head spin. He parted his blood-sticky lips a little, looked at Jim with imploring eyes, and then whirled around again, kicking the couch as he ("fuck") stomped past.
But too late, that exquisite image was imprinted on Jim's eyelids - wide blue eyes glittering a myriad of feelings, gleaming all the brighter in comparison to the ugly colour spreading above them.
Jim pressed the steak harder into his face and the cushion harder into his groin, wishing desperately for some heretofore undiscovered sentinel powers of invisibility to protect him until this particular storm of insanity had abated. He'd just given his roommate probable concussion and he was sitting here, hard. What was his dick thinking?
"Just tell me," - uh oh, this was going to be difficult, Sandburg had slipped a veneer of academic inquiry over his acid tones - "why you kicked the door in. What trigger, what catalyst," he gestured toward the demolished bathroom door with the yogurt, "could have brought on such an unprecedented display of overreactive, unnecessary fucking" - that's better, he's losing his reasoning ability again - "extreme fucking violence, not to mention some wanton property destruction which is, like, totally the fuck out of character for a -"
"Don't talk to me about 'out of character', Sandburg. Not until you tell me what's going on with you. And don't tell me nothing's going on."
Sandburg wavered for a moment, and for a moment the angry face tightened into an expression which Jim recognised from a thousand interrogations - Blair was weighing up his options, and telling the truth was only one of them. "There's nothing going on."
Jim laughed at him, not nicely. "Sandburg, I kicked the door in because you were stressed, apprehensive and in pain. That's not nothing."
"Don't start pretending you fucking care."
"What, I can't be concerned?"
"You could, but why would you change the habits of three years now?"
A sick feeling was congealing in Jim's gut; it lurched at this. "Yeah, that's why I came downstairs to ask what's wrong, because I didn't care and never have."
"Yeah, like fuck you do." Blair snarled, striding forward to thrust his bruised forehead before Jim's eyes. "Forgive me if I fail to recognise your imitation of a territorial savage for the caring gesture that it was."
"If you want to think I'm that, go ahead," Jim replied, stung. "I might care, but I can't convince you if you don't want to believe it." This was beginning to feel like the dying days of his marriage, and the similarity scared him.
"You haven't done a fucking thing to convince me."
"You're so obsessed with proving what you believe about me," Jim snapped, "that you'll twist everything I say and do to make it fit. But sometimes you are so goddamn wrong."
Sandburg screeched in fury. "The only mistake I ever fucking made, Jim, was trusting you to trust me!" The effort of yelling seemed to hurt him more, because he sagged against the kitchen counter and touched the yogurt gingerly back to his head, breathing shallowly.
Jim opened his mouth to reply, and then closed it.
Guides had an inbuilt guilt-inducing talent, that was established fact already. Sandburg always knew the exact way to drag up the exact mistakes which would make him feel low as a worm and a lot more brutish.
It wasn't as if Blair ever said anything. He just shivered, sometimes, when they walked past a fountain, any fountain. And Jim's clumsy attempts at an apology were brushed off, not because he was forgiven, he knew, but because whatever he'd apologised for, it wasn't the right thing.
Guilt was mounting like bile in his throat now, blending with a bigger mistake, a worse overreaction, until helplessness and regret were strangling him. His jaw hurt, his stomach felt like something was rotting in it, his cock ached. He buried his face in the seat and moaned again, as the sweet, intimate smell of Blair invaded his nostrils.
"Oh, feeling bad, Jimmy Boy? Now we're getting somewhere." Jim could hear the nasty smirk in Sandburg's voice. It sounded like a side of Carolyn he'd rather forget, and that horrid, blundering feeling was closing in on him. Sometimes Jim felt so big, felt that whenever somebody got close, he couldn't move without hurting them. A boot nudged his side and Jim looked up into a tight face.
"Things aren't going real well for us, are they, huh? I take a little swim, you take a little walk on the wild side, and then what? We come back to this?"
"This? This? You're the one who brought this home." Jim gestured at the door with his steak. "And I mean that now and then."
"Fuck you, man. Just because you can't -"
"It wasn't until you didn't trust me that I earned your distrust!" It felt good to finally say it, even though every bone in his body was screaming, wrong, wrong, wrong.
"No, I trusted you and what did it fucking get me?"
"Don't lie to yourself. You didn't then and you're not now," Jim said, resisting the urge to get up and shake him.
Blair whirled on him. "I'm not gonna start this again, man. There's nothing fucking wrong with me. You're the one going fucking psycho here."
"Don't bother trying to snowball me with your accusations, Sandburg. I was fine until you came home and started this little flipping-out routine."
"Not to mention the charming personality you've suddenly developed. Because, you know, maybe my memory is failing me, but I don't think your vocabulary is usually this juvenile."
"Go to fucking hell."
"And if you ask me - and I know you don't fucking ask, already - this is the reaction of a wounded animal, not an intelligent and, usually, reasonable person."
"Fuck off, Jim, just shut the fuck up before I fucking kill you. I've got enough of a headache without listening to a door-bashing caveman pretending to be nice."
"Don't start that shit," Jim yelled, losing his patience. "The door hit you on the right side of your face. Your lip is split on the left. I'm not the first bad guy in this scenario, so stop trying to blame me and tell me what the hell is going on."
Blair stopped short, and took a deep, sinister breath. "Fuck." His face was flipping between expressions of agony and fury and plausible denial and speedy calculation, and another one which seemed to say "how the fuck?", and one more which told Jim he would soon be in deep shit for going on the offensive over a tiny, insignificant split lip, when he'd caused the big, nasty, guilt-inducing bruise.
Those lips tightened, then quivered, and then Sandburg bared his teeth as he kicked a plant across the room with a scream which, for all its duration and unintelligibility, no doubt consisted of a single four-letter word.
Now that it had actually been confirmed, the fact that somebody had hurt his guide started to sink below Jim's defences, shocking him anew. Concern won over the anger and confusion and fear, and he grabbed Blair's arm and led him back to the couch. This knowledge went right into the animal part of him, the part which wanted to clutch his guide possessively to his chest while he pelted rocks at people who tried to get near.
In a modern sentinel, that impulse was refined into a cold fury which would wait until his guide was fixed before he hunted down the offender and tore him into bite-sized chunks. Jim was still quite tempted to do that to Blair right now, but it would be ultimately more satisfying to do it to the person who had started it, and Jim was nothing if not the man with the long-term plan.
He turned Blair's cheek to examine the split up close, while making soothing you-can-tell-me noises and vaguely wondering when this mirror universe had replaced his "I-Don't-Want-To-Hear-It" own. His mirror-universe cock leapt and squirmed happily at the sudden proximity to the object of its desire, forcing Jim to realise that in standing up, he had been only slightly less stupid than he had been in seating Blair back onto the cushion he needed more than anything else right now.
Well, he needed that cushion more than anything except losing his erection, rewinding the past twenty minutes, getting his non-swearing guide back ("don't touch that, moron, it fucking hurts") and returning to his normal universe.
And invisibility. Invisibility would still be a very useful sentinel ability.
But it was a sad fact of Jim's life that what he needed was rarely handed to him. So now he had to deal with an inexplicable, undisguised boner and a viciously bad-tempered (sexy) guide who would shortly figure out why he had jumped back and retreated to the kitchen.
Jim stared longingly at the door, but his cock seemed to be calling all the shots now, and turned him to stare longingly at the figure who was watching him carefully (dangerously) from across the room. Enticing curls framed magnetising eyes in a pale face, the dark red of blood drew attention to his full lips, that seraphic beauty was starkly emphasised by the bruise which marred it...
...something really sick was going on here, Jim realised.
A pre-emptive distraction seemed in order - distract himself from his very distracting erection, distract his menacing roommate from noticing it, distract the goddess of bizarre behavioural situations, who seemed to really have it in for him tonight. He started rummaging through the kitchen, hoping something, anything, would suggest by its availability an effective strategy.
He had a broken egg beater in his hand and was running through its possible uses when Blair snatched it from his hand and hit him on the head with it.
"Will you fucking stop that?" He looked really pissed.
"Stop what?" Jim asked, grabbing the egg beater back and deciding that a pointless fight over a broken cooking utensil was just the distraction he was looking for.
"Stop jumping around and fucking changing your mood every ten seconds and," he took the egg beater again and waved it before Jim's eyes, "trying to change the fucking subject!"
"Would that be the same subject" Jim said, pissed at losing his diversion, "that you refuse to discuss?"
Blair snarled in his face, very wolf-like. Jim hissed back at him. Damn, that was sexy. Blair would no doubt hate being told that he was sexy when he was mad, though. Jim gave it serious consideration... because it would also make a hell of a diversion from -
Oh, from Jim's desire for Blair. Which, come to think about it, was a hell of a diversion from Blair's problem, or problems, or whatever catastrophe in his guide's life was causing this latest madness.
Jim narrowed his eyes. Blair wasn't turning him on deliberately, was he? He sniffed the air, carefully, uncertain whether he wanted his arousal to have a reasonable explanation if that explanation included deliberate manipulation. But there was no tell-tale scent of pheromones, and on dialling up to the level needed to detect emotional scents, Jim scented pain; much more than Blair was showing, in fact. The door really must have hit him hard. And that other smell was... fear. Not the adrenaline-soaked terror of gunfights and plane crashes, but more the churning anticipation he'd smelled on people whose long-lost crimes were close to surfacing. Blair was scared of something which hadn't happened yet.
"Chief," Jim said, not sure exactly what fear he was meant to be reassuring, "I want to help."
"There you go again," Blair snapped, flinging himself onto the couch and putting the yogurt back on his face with a grimace. "I can't fucking communicate with you when you keep changing your attitude like that."
"But you're not even trying to communicate," Jim said, calming down to the point of mere exasperation. "You're attacking me at every turn to avoid it."
Blair sighed, a sound of pure misery, and squirmed deeper into his corner of the couch. "Okay, okay, I know." Jim paused, the tentative feeling of a breakthrough cautioning him to silence. "I'm sorry, okay?" Blair muttered, finally, sentinel-quiet. "I know you're really freaking out, and it's my fault."
The exception to that rule about not being handed what he needed had, for several years now, been Blair Sandburg. Jim put down the egg beater and returned to the couch to hear the rest of the explanation, more concerned with getting this incident finished and forgotten than he was to preserve his dignity.
Waiting for Blair to continue turned out to be more difficult than would have been expected, since Blair didn't continue. Instead, he traced the patterns of the cushion in his lap while Jim thought helplessly aroused thoughts about those fingers - several of which had smears of blood on them - and the fact that the cushion had been in his own lap only minutes before. He was working himself into quite a fit of lust-filled envy for a square of stuffed fabric before realising that the silence had stretched into minutes and seemed inclined to continue indefinitely.
"Who gave you the split lip, then?" Jim asked, surprising himself at how naturally the question came out into the unnatural silence.
Blair sighed despondently. "Megan."
The too-brief moment of calm shattered as Jim slid from the couch onto the floor - trying unsuccessfully to smother his laughter - prompting another lungful of profanity from his guide. Blair leaped up and resumed pacing, kicking him in the ribs on the way past, hard enough to make Jim shut up and wish he'd remembered the guide-inflicted-pain problem before reacting. It felt like a firecracker had exploded against his side; Jim had to bite his tongue against the need to scream. Struggling up to his feet and then to the fridge, Jim grabbed another steak and shoved it under his shirt, not even bothering to wrap this one first. What an ungodly waste of prime rib this night had turned out to be.
"Sandburg, if you hit me one more time I'll toss you off the goddamned balcony."
Oooh, if looks could kill, well, Blair wouldn't be the pacifist he claimed he was. Not that he'd been in any way non-violent tonight. An unpleasant thought occurred to Jim, as his brain caught up with the information buzzing in his ears. "Have you been this shitty all night? What did you do to Megan to earn a punch in the mouth?"
Blair froze like a deer in headlights, confirming the unthinkable worst in Jim's mind. Not that Megan was exactly a fragile flower, incapable of defending herself from an aggressive Blair Sandburg (fresh blood was seeping from the split), but if he had done anything to...
"Jim! Jim, slow down, man. Stay calm." Sandburg backed away slowly as Jim strode toward him, his posture so submissive and unthreatening that Jim had to stop and worry - a normal Blair would be in his face, ordering him to relax and relax now. Rubbing a half-frozen hand across his sore jaw, Jim sighed. The fact that Blair was not behaving normally had been apparent the moment he'd walked in the door. On cue, Jim's erection twitched, and he nearly moaned again.
Jim put his hands on Blair's shoulders, making one last, desperate attempt to get some answers before he had to resort to phoning Naomi.
"Look, Chief. You're obviously freaking out about something, and you're making me freak out. Why don't we sit down and talk about this?"
Blair laughed, a dry scared sound. "Yeah, right. You're talking about your feelings? You want to sit down and talk? I don't think so, man." He ran for his backpack. "I'm outta here."
Jim crossed the room in four steps, reached out one strong arm and brought him up short. "And leave me in the dark about all this? I don't think so, Chief. You're staying here until you and I are sorted out."
"Nuh uh." Twisting and ducking, Blair managed to stab two fingers into Jim's sore ribs and break free, running for the door.
"Don't make me come after you!" Jim roared, getting really and truly angry. Not to mention horny - Blair writhing against him had been a bit much for his un-dial-downable touch.
"Fuck you, asshole!" Blair yelled, and hurled the tub of yoghurt at Jim on his way out.
Sandburg had put him in some pretty ridiculous situations in the past, Jim knew. But nothing, not their first meeting, not Blair's crazy mother, not even Larry the whatever-he-was monkey, came close to this.
The bathroom door could wait - getting splinters in the bathroom was nothing new. The tragic remains of Jim's peace lily and its ("authentic Guatemalan ceramic") pot were everywhere, but the smell of fresh earth and crushed leaves wouldn't bother him too much. If pressed, Jim would even leave the two steaks - one leaking meat-juice through the plastic wrap, the other oozing it freely - on the floor where they had recently landed.
His real dilemma was: chase his guide now, or wait until he'd cleaned up the all-natural unsweetened guava yogurt which had splattered in a wide arc across the entire living room. Whether or not to change out of yoghurt- and meat-stained clothing, and whether he should jerk off now or later, also needed consideration.
After a fruitful sixty seconds of grinding his jaw and deliberately not swearing, Jim grabbed his jacket and slammed out.
He would have trawled the whole city if he had to, turning hearing up dangerously high and then homing in on him - in fact, relishing the thought of shaking his guide until the answers fell out of him. But Sandburg was crunched up on the steps in front of 852 Prospect, shivering and trying to act like he wasn't cold.
"I know, I'm sorry, I will. My behaviour has been inexcusable. It's just that when I tell you, this will really become the worst day of my entire life."
He was so miserable, Jim was taken aback. "You don't have to. I mean -"
"No, I have to."
Blair really was cold. The bruise and the lip were shockingly dark. Already pale from pain and stress, the winter evening had sapped all the colour from his face. It was starting to scare Jim, remind him of soft skin chilled by icy water, white without oxygen. In his mind he could taste the bitter chemicals from the fountain water. His heart twisted at the same time as his cock throbbed, and Jim's anger ebbed away as he recalled, too vividly, the last time he'd flown off the handle about something Blair wasn't telling him.
He sat down on the steps and put his jacket around Blair's shoulders, and Blair shivered his appreciation. Jim let his arm linger there, rubbing the hunched back gently, not caring about whether this was the kind of thing he would normally do. Blue eyes met his, electrifying with their colour, their expressiveness, their life, and Jim's skin crawled. He was so turned on, this was so surreal, Blair looked so fucking good but he didn't he didn't he didn't....
"Jim, hey, are you okay?" Blair slipped his arm around Jim's waist and pulled him a little closer, his own problem apparently forgotten the minute Jim winced. Typical Blair - if you hadn't very recently kicked a door into his face, he was the sweetest guy.
At that corny thought, Jim winced again, and felt the erotic pounding of blood through his body and Blair's, as the movement pressed them close. He cringed once more as his arousal soared.
"Jim? You look like hell, man."
"It's a headache, Sandburg, forget it." But actually, his headache was waning, the pain in his side draining away until it was a mere discomfort; the clenching of his stomach was easing up.
They sat there for a long moment on the cold steps, Jim buzzing quietly with the closeness and warmth between their bodies.
"Okay, so I had this fight with Megan," Blair said. Jim held his breath. Blair squirmed in their semi-embrace. "This is a really long story, and I think we could just forget about today and never speak of it again. What do you think?"
Kiss me. Let me taste your lips without chlorine. Kill me now. Suck me, please. "I think I need you to tell me," said Jim, finally.
Blair moaned. "Hell. Uh, okay. Here goes." He pulled away and then changed his mind, moving closer as if insisting Jim couldn't push him away. "I told Megan not to make any plans regarding a long-term relationship with you."
"Oh, man. You're gonna hate me for this. She was going to work on you. She had her target sighted."
Jim laughed at him. "You're delusional."
Shifting again, Blair said, "you really have no idea about women, do you?" Before Jim could respond to that, he rushed on, "I mean, it's not your fault, I mean Carolyn told me -" at the look on Jim's face he furiously backtracked, "but that's not my point, Jim, my point is that she had plans for you and she's your type, she's smart and she's ambitious, she probably would have succeeded."
Blair seemed to be wanting some kind of response. Jim didn't know what an appropriate response was supposed to be, but sitting this close, he seemed to have been enveloped by his guide's aura, possessed by it. It was surprisingly hard to refuse him anything. "Well, she's really something," he offered, finally. He was rewarded with the first genuine smile from Blair this evening.
"There, see, I was right."
"I didn't say I'd marry her, chief," Jim objected.
Blair laughed. "I did. I said that." He laughed again, and Jim could hear a thread of something in the sound - not quite hysteria, but something akin to pain. "How dumb am I? I told Megan not to pursue you, because she would succeed."
"Uhh, okay. And then she hit you?" Even catch that she was, Jim was keen to get past this him-marrying-Megan bit of the explanation. The thought of marrying anyone left a bad taste in his mouth, somehow.
"Uh. No, not quite." Blair sighed, and then pressed his face into his hands. What he mumbled was unintelligible, beyond Jim's ability to interpret. Something about being a total dumbass something-or-other fruitcake, and he was never something-something with his mouth again. Jim felt his cock deflate a little at the last bit.
Blair lifted his head and stared out into the street. "I told her she'd only get hurt because... Okay, this is the bit where you start yelling," he said, finally, then bit into the inside of his cheek while he thought a bit longer. Jim could hear the edges of his teeth dig into the flesh, the slow sounds of it tearing. He thought of kissing Blair, tasting the hint of fresh blood past the tender swollen lip. He thought of killing himself if Sandburg didn't hurry up with this and get to the explanation which would put an end to these disgusting (tempting) thoughts.
"There's a part of my research which you haven't seen yet. I didn't want to tell you until, well," Blair bit gently on his lip for a second, "until you had already figured it out. But you obviously haven't yet, so I guess I have to tell you."
Few statements could have struck more fear into Jim Ellison's heart. The implication that he was ignorant of some crucial facet of Sentinelness which his Guide was reluctant to tell him... And when that apparently made marrying him a bad thing... Jim went ice cold inside.
"It's not another sentinel," Blair said. "I wouldn't do that to you again."
Jim took a slow breath. "Oh." He took another one, since he seemed to need it. "So tell me what it is, then."
Fiddling with the sleeves of Jim's jacket, Blair started biting his lip again. Jim watched, fascinated, as the soft flesh was punctured by smooth white teeth. He felt himself zooming in on it until it filled his vision like an extreme close-up from a "Weirdest Animals Have Sex" documentary. But then the skin split with a soft snap, and blood welled up, staining the teeth, but the teeth didn't retreat and Jim zoomed back out to notice that tension was drawing Blair's face tight across his skull, turning his face white and scaring him all over again. He brushed his thumb over Blair's lip, nudging the teeth away.
"Chief. Chief. Don't worry, okay? I won't get mad. I promise." Blair rubbed his finger absently over the injury, and Jim restrained himself forcefully from sucking the blood smeared on his own fingers.
"Sorry." The pinpoint pupils in Blair's eyes made Jim realise: this is what he was afraid of. The fear Jim had smelled earlier was over this.
Not sure now how to react, Jim just tugged on a wayward curl affectionately. "No secrets between us. That's what started the last lot of problems."
"Okay," Blair sighed, and his guilt at that seemed to flutter past, motivating him into speech. "The problem is," he started, reluctantly, "I don't really have any evidence which can prove or disprove what I believe to be the case."
Jim knew procrastination when he heard it, but nodded encouragingly.
Blair seemed to consciously put himself into lecture mode; Jim could almost see the ghost of his glasses in the intense facial expression. "The fragments and myths I've uncovered give examples, but even when the practice was contrary to tribal tradition, sentinels were usually afforded a shaman-like stature and their actions were not, as a consequence, as strictly proscribed as for other members of the tribe. So it may be that they were cases of personal preference, simple expediency or an overriding tradition rather than any kind of proof."
In other words, sentinels did, even if the rest of the tribe didn't. Did what was the million dollar question. Jim grabbed the thread of argument and hung on grimly, knowing that it would be easier to sift the truth from a barrage of obscure deductions than it would be to make Blair tell it straight up.
"The absence of any evidence at all in Burton is, if anything, a confirmation of this. He was a fine academic with a fascination for the physicality of human relationships, but his wife was conservative, even by Victorian standards, and known omissions in his other works are a relatively certain indication that there were those same aspects in the sentinel's mating habits which she presumably removed from his study."
...Burton wrote about some very juicy stuff, Jim knew that already, but it hadn't occurred to him that there was anything kinky or bizarre about Sentinels. But, Blair was apparently saying, Burton's wife had probably removed the juicy stuff from the sentinel research. The phrase "mating habits" had Jim clenching his fists to keep from demanding immediate answers, but he was careful to keep his face blank so Blair would go on without fear of being understood.
"On the other hand, there is a logic to it which segues nicely with both tribal structure and the operation of natural selection. Obviously both sentinel and guide were possessed of unique combinations of recessive genes, or else they would have been far more common. When examining the relative likelihoods of those genes being passed on, it is apparent that their offspring would not have been significantly more likely to have that combination than the offspring of their recessive-gene-bearing relatives."
It's not a strictly hereditary thing, it's more a pot-luck gene pool thing, which explained why neither Jim nor Blair had any known Sentinels or Guides in their immediate family. So there was also no reproductive imperative to pass on Sentinel/Guide genes. That's no big deal, Jim thought. Why hadn't Blair told him this?
"Confounding that is the close bond needed between sentinel and guide. Personal attachments to other tribe members would have compromised such a relationship. The sentinel's role as protector of the whole tribe rather than any individual members, and the guide's necessarily constant focus on the sentinel would both be impaired by attachments to any other tribe members, and the survival of tribes whose sentinels and guides mated and were active in childrearing thus diminished."
The tribe was better off if neither sentinel nor guide formed permanent relationships with other tribe members, and they didn't raise children. If they did, the tribe died out, and the gene pool with it. Getting closer, Jim thought, with a fair idea of where this was leading, and Blair was getting swept up by his favourite topic... resistance was down. Jim dared a small half-nodding frown which said, he hoped, 'I'm confused but I'm listening'.
"And finally, it is the only explanation I can provide for the fact that, without exception, every sentinel-guide pairing, in every culture and every time period, was same sex. Non-reproductive partnership is the only reasonable conclusion in the face of such a statistical unlikeliness. Since, where evidence exists and even when contradictory to tribal custom, this partnership is sexual and monogamous, it is reasonable to assume a hardwired impulse for Sentinel and Guide to mate for life."
Jim's jaw dropped. Blair peeked up at him and shouted in fury when he read the understanding on Jim's face.
Instinctively Jim grabbed Blair's arm, just in time to keep him from fleeing again, and felt his pulse hammering furiously, muscles tensed for fight or flight under his gripping fingers. He levered Blair back down beside him, and thought for a few long minutes.
"So," he said, as mildly as he could, "I'm genetically programmed to fuck you and only you? You are saying that, right?"
Blair flinched, minutely, as he nodded.
Jim took a slow breath. He was really stuck for an appropriate reply. "And you told Megan that?" he said, finally.
"Um." Blair looked at Jim carefully, as if evaluating him for mental instability, or perhaps re-evaluating him as a much calmer person than he'd obviously feared. "In so many words. I said you'd end up with me someday."
"Ah," Jim said. "And then she hit you?"
"Well. There was a bit more after that, but once she'd called me a self-obsessed, jealous psychopath, and I'd called her a cheap, pretentious, conniving whore, the, uh, the talking part of the conversation was over and-"
Jim covered his mouth, struggling not to laugh because he feared more violence.
Blair stopped and glared until a chuckle escaped him. "Yeah, I know, calling Megan a whore was so not the smartest thing I've ever done." He touched his lip ruefully, making Jim shiver in-between snickers. "Simon broke us up and sent us home and told me that from now on I'm not allowed at the station without you there."
Jim broke into outright laughter. It washed down on him like rain, clearing the lingering expectations of tension and awkwardness which should have followed such a revelation.
He was feeling about a dozen things - buzzing with their closeness, still, horny as ever, sharp tingles in his face and side where the pain had been so bad, amused at the thought of Simon breaking up a fistfight in the bullpen, giddy with the revelation Blair had made. Worried a little, actually, now that the significance was sinking past the shock.
"You're not saying that I'm not going to give you a choice, are you?"
Blair looked at him, weirdly. Jim sighed, thinking he really should shut up while the going was good and the evening had, against all expectations, taken a turn for the saner. Although sane was relative, and the calm he was feeling was no doubt some perverse version of insanity. "I mean," Jim said, with exaggerated patience, "you're straight, you love women, I don't want to make you give that up."
"No, no, man, it's nothing like that. I know it will be great. It will be the relationship of my life. I'm really looking forward to it," he smiled up at Jim, such clear honesty in his eyes that Jim had to smile back, "but I'm not a monk, man, I don't want to, like, sit at home embroidering linen for my dowry while I wait for the right time."
"Embroidering?" Jim made an ancient Mayan sign to ward off evil, one he'd learned from Blair, and Blair laughed. "So, you're, ah... just happily waiting for me to catch a clue and propose, is that it?"
Getting it off his chest seemed to have made Blair dizzy; he was still laughing lightly. "There's no hurry, man. At least, not until I've scored at least once with Hayley from the office."
"It'll never happen, you might as well move upstairs now," Jim told him, but felt every bone in his body screaming at him to make it not a joke. Hard-wired, indeed. Apparently, with knowledge of it, the gate had been opened, and Jim's dungeon-like subconscious was releasing another prisoner to him.
The idea of it, of Blair and him, always staying together, becoming everything to one another... well. Stupid as it sounded, Jim had to admit, it had its appeal. A lot of it, in fact, the appeal of a profound understanding and affection and companionship which Jim had never had, so never consciously bothered seeking. But there was an emptiness in Jim's heart that he suddenly felt keenly, and now that he knew it didn't have to be that way, it wanted to be filled.
Blair leaned back on the steps and looked at the street again. The colour was back in his face, Jim noticed with relief. "So, really. You're not mad? Not freaking out? Not railing against the travesties of sentinel destiny or anything like that?"
"Nah, you're okay. You're nearly 'really something'." He grinned, and then taking a quiet breath, the before-I-leap-from-this-burning-plane quiet breath, Jim said, "I might just have a last fling or two and then get back to you."
The unbelievable stupidity of saying such a thing was more than compensated by the look of utter astonishment on Blair's face. He didn't often get to render Blair speechless, but there were very few things in life he enjoyed more.
"See, your trust in me is entirely justified," he said, smirking.
But the fact was, Blair was looking at him with a combination of fascination and terrified disbelief, as if he'd grown a second head and the second head was saying they should have this conversation on the Jerry Springer show. Acceptance seemed to throw him further off-balance than anything else had tonight. So Jim reached out and touched a cold cheek. "Chief, since the thing with fountain, I've felt, um..." How to explain it? A sense of unease? Of incompleteness? A vague and unrealised urgency about something which was very, very wrong. "I don't know. But this feels right now."
Blair took a deep breath, not just like a weight had lifted from his chest, but a lung-deep gasp like he was reviving. "Oh, good, good, me too."
Jim sighed, immensely relieved that, although he would apparently never return to the universe he'd lived in before Blair had shut the door softly that evening, life here was going to be okay. "And where does my sudden fetish for your bruise and split lip fit into the theory?"
Jim bit his tongue. The sick feeling returned to his stomach and swelled up toward his throat; sounds and sights started jangling. His headache surged back into his skull.
Blair stood up slowly, all traces of relief erased and replaced by the tightness of hurt and anger. He stalked down to the sidewalk, paused as if deciding which way to go, and then spun around to face Jim. Jim belatedly concealed his erection.
"You sick fuck."
"Wait, no, Sandburg, you said-"
"You. Sick. FUCK!" Blair screamed at him; picked up a nearby soda can and threw it at him, hard. "I was talking about partnership, Jim. Love. About life! Not about you bashing me over the head with a handy piece of wood and then fucking jerking off over it!"
Jim pictured a dial for visibility, and turned it all the way down. He pictured a dial for the last sixty seconds, and wound it back as hard as he could. He pictured a dial for his life, and clicked it over to "Normal Universe". Repeatedly. Without success.
Blair kicked him - the other side this time, and twice as hard - on his way up the steps and into the elevator.
The pain was so bad, lights were flashing behind his eyes. It took Jim several minutes of dry-retching before he could think clearly enough to even stand. Waiting for the elevator was worse than the worst endurance test he'd ever undergone. And it was only when confronted by his own locked front door that Jim remembered his keys were in the jacket Blair had on.
He banged on the wood with both fists, hard enough for Blair to know he wasn't amused, not so hard that he couldn't hear the "fuck off!" yelled from Blair's room.
With the roar of a cold, angry, tired, wounded sentinel in heat, Jim kicked the door in.
"I'm fucking calling Simon. You are tripping way the fuck out of your fucking tree, man!"
Jim grabbed the phone from Blair's hand and hurled it across the room. "You can't tell me you're hot for me," he shouted, "then panic because I've got a hard-on, and then kick me in the ribs, and then lock me out of my own home!"
"Obviously fucking not!" Blair gestured at the broken front door with the box of frozen dim sum he'd been holding to his forehead. "Or was that a deliberate plan? Should I apologise for not standing on the other side of it? You missed out on a real masturbation moment there, you know." His voice was cracking. "With better timing you could have plastered my brains across the entire loft." He slid down the wall until he hit the floor, and pressed the frozen dim sum between his head and the knees he was hugging.
"It's not like that, Chief, I swear," Jim pleaded, dizzy with pain and weary with emotion and surprised, in an Alice-in-Wonderland way, that he was very close to tears. "I don't know what it's about but if you're hurt, I'm scared. And I love you, and you turn me on in a good way too. I'm glad when you're okay. It turns me on that you're alive." He lowered himself to the floor beside his guide and took his hand, gripped it tightly. "Please. Be with me. That's what I want."
Blair yanked his hand away and lifted his head to face him, his own eyes red, lips tight with suppressed fury. "Are you telling me you were not just willing to sleep with me, you're willing to jump headfirst into a permanent homosexual relationship, based on the fact that you're aroused by my injuries?"
"Yes! I mean, No. I mean... I don't know. I just want to be with you!"
"What happens when I'm healed, then?" Blair snapped, "and you're not turned on anymore?"
"I will be," Jim assured him. "It's not that. It won't be like that."
"Oh, and what the fuck will it be?"
Jim stopped and rubbed his face. His head was hurting, and spinning, and hazing over. "Do we have to worry about what happens then? I mean, can't we just, you know, if it's hardwired, go with it? Like your place blew up and you moved in here for a week. Like you only needed a subject and I only needed some control over my senses. We've never had anything turn out wrongly before. So won't this just be like everything else is with us?"
"Great reasoning, Jim, I'm really fucking reassured," Blair snarled.
"Look, Chief, you know me -"
"I fucking thought I did."
"You know me," Jim insisted gently, "better than anyone. And you know Sentinels, better than anyone. So I think you already know that it's going to be alright."
Blue eyes stared into him with chilly appraisal. Jim smiled, an expression which started in his groin and warmed his stomach and tightened his heart and finally broke out onto his face. "Better than alright, even."
The tiny upward curve of Blair's lips was like sunshine slipping through a sky of black clouds. "Okay, alright," he said, grudgingly. "Can this discussion be over now?"
Relieved, Jim nodded.
Blair shifted minutely in the sudden pause, but Jim was seeing the future with sentinel vision.
[trading wet, sexy kisses in a harshly-lit stairwell]
Every sight and sound and scent in his mind struck him with the force of a hundred suppressed fantasies and a thousand forgotten dreams.
[Blair sated and sleepy on the couch, wearing Jim's shirt]
Jim stared into Blair's liquid eyes, reaching out a hand to soothe away the pain from the battered forehead...
[grating cheese for pizza with possessive hands resting on his ass]
[twined up in bed on a cold morning, wallowing in the contentment on his sleeping guide's face]
... his hand drifted down the cheek to caress the exposed neck, then traced the lips, lingering on the wound, the flaw in his guide's surface where the truth had seeped out.
[a reluctant "see you Wednesday", followed by desperate sex against the door]
[Blair crawling onto him in the middle of the night, talking slut-dirty with perfect rosy lips]
With another hand Jim grabbed Blair's soft, ragged t-shirt and pulled it up. He leaned down and tasted the stale sweat and deodorant, sweet as honey; felt the velvet of rough chest hair against his aching cheek; inhaled the precious odours of man and food and study and city. He shifted around a little, sliding uncaring through splashes of half-dried yogurt, until he was kneeling with his legs either side of his guide, running hands across skin and denim until they rested on Blair's hips.
[rimming Blair slowly and thoroughly, soaking up the deep moans and urgent sighs]
He nuzzled into Blair's neck, moving ever closer, pressing his cock against the warm body wherever he could make contact.
[making out during commercial breaks in the superbowl]
[waking up to enthusiastic morning blowjobs]
[watching Blair watching him change out of sweaty gym clothes]
"Jim, snap out of it. Hey, stop it, will you?"
Jim crawled on top of him, stripping off his shirt and letting it fall onto the yogurty, meaty, earthy, splintery floor.
"For fuck's sake!" Sandburg shoved him off, none too kindly considering he hadn't apologised for first and second lot of sore ribs.
With despair that nearly crushed him, Jim pulled back and waited for the next outburst. "But I want you. And you said-"
Blair paused in standing up, sagging against the wall in weariness and sorrow. "Yes. I know, okay? I want you too."
Jim took Blair's hand and kissed it, running lips across the palm, nibbled at his wrist. "Why don't we start now?"
Pulling his hand away, Blair sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Please, Jim, not tonight. I've got a headache."
Not that Jim had ever been on his knees, half-naked in a trashed loft, asking Blair for sex, and not that he'd ever considered Blair's reaction to him doing such a thing, but if there was anything Jim didn't expect Blair to say in such a situation, that was it.
"I'm sorry," Blair whispered, "but this is too important to screw up, and I'm really not in the best mood right now."
Jim groaned, but in exasperation rather than despair. Without sex to distract him, he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep until he'd cleaned the entire loft. Apparently some things didn't change no matter what universe it was.
Blair placed the box of dim sum carefully across Jim's lap, kissed the top of Jim's head with infinite tenderness, and stumbled into his room....
...closing the door gently behind him.
Jim kicked the door in, but gently this time.
Blair still leapt out of bed, hair wild and haggard face absolutely livid, and charged at Jim shouting, "Fuck. FUCK! Jesus FUCKING Christ, Jim, this is the last goddamn fucking time -"
Jim just smiled at him. "It occurred to me in the middle of mopping the floor," he said, conversationally, as he caught Blair's flailing hands and brought them down to his side, "that since we've never, ever, gotten anything off to a good start between us -"
He slung one arm around Blair's waist, bent over and got the other one behind his thighs, and before Blair could do more than splutter in surprise, carried him out of his room. "- and it's never done us any harm, there's no reason why we can't start this now." Blair struggled uselessly in his tight grip, and then glared at him, furious.
"If you want this to start badly, you are even fucking sicker than I already think you are."
"Well, this way, there'll be plenty of room for improvement," Jim told him, quite pleased with his logic.
"No." Blair twisted viciously, but Jim held on as he started up the steps. Blair used his free hand to grab onto a railing and jerk them to a halt half-way up the stairs.
"Put me down or I'll kick your fucking head off," he swore, and Jim wisely changed his hold on Blair's legs so that he couldn't. Blair twisted, trying to get the leverage he needed to kick, and failing. "Put me down," he yelled, going red in the face with fury. "I can't believe this! You're such a fucking neanderthal!"
"And you're a nasty little punk," Jim replied blithely. He turned Blair upside down until the strain made Blair release his grip with a string of guttural profanity. They made it up the stairs and Jim dumped Blair unceremoniously onto the bed, then dropped on top of him before he could get up. "In fact, you're the biggest pain the ass I've ever known. But I'll always love you."
Blair brought his knee up into Jim's groin, but Jim was ready, and dodged it. After a few fruitless punches to Jim's arms, and a savage bite to Jim's shoulder which tore shirt and skin but failed to move him, Blair gave up and sank back onto the mattress, glaring. Jim kissed his forehead.
"I will always love you."
"And I'll always think you're an asshole," Blair snapped.
"Good," said Jim. He stared down at Blair, stroking his face and smiling. "So are we on, Chief?"
After a long, angry moment, Blair rolled his eyes and sighed in exasperation, then pulled him down for their first clumsy kiss.