Not mine, don't sue.
This story first appeared in The Sensual World last May. I'd love to thank my beta, if I could remember who it was. A year is a long time.I really should write stuff down.
The day that Jim first noticed the music, he proceeded to get hammered beyond reason.
When Blair came home and discovered him, he was a pathetic lump on the couch, moaning about how he couldn't do this all over again. Because it was almost like discovering his senses all over again; the suspicion of being insane, the fear of being out of control. Most of all, a sense of dread. What would this bring? He was happier than he'd ever been with things the way that they were.
He'd looked up through alcohol blurred vision, seen Blair's concerned, curious face, and realized with disappointment that he hadn't succeeded in making it go away. The music played on, and Blair's presence only added a sensual, seductive element to what he was hearing.
The Music. The sweet, steady, low music that he now realized existed in his head alone.
He had tried to listen to it, to break it down so that he could tell Blair, but it became indecipherable, slipped through his fingers, and he wasn't smart, like Blair, he thought. He had no words for those kinds of abstractions.
The drums he was sure about, always the drums. They kept beat through the rise and fall of the voices, and the voices...they were something else altogether. They suggested knowledge of all things mysterious, and had the ability to lull him off to sleep, or to propel him into full Sentinel mode, sending adrenaline racing through his body. This was how he described it when he imagined himself describing the music to Blair.
Who was he kidding? He couldn't let Sandburg know that he was insane, hearing things...so he let the music take him, a language he didn't speak, yet he knew exactly what they were saying, they lyrics so smooth and powerful that he didn't even hear them so much as feel them. That familiar, familiar cadence...
Blair somehow got him upstairs, undressed, and into his own bed, and when he woke up, there was the music.
After several months, though, he grew accustomed to the continuous rhythm, and actually found comfort in it. He'd given up on trying to figure out the words; it no longer mattered. He knew them as well as he knew his own name. It was a part of him now, and not the worst aspect of being a Sentinel, that was certain. His own Sentinel soundtrack. The truth was, he'd never felt so sure of who he was. Powerful and primitive, the music suggested that it was all right to be these things, and much more.
"Give me some of your ketchup," Blair said, reaching for the sole remaining packet of ketchup on the seat between them. Jim slapped his hand away.
"No way," he mumbled, his mouth full of lunch. "The line is drawn here. I've already given you a place to live, out of the goodness of my heart. The last of the ketchup is asking too much."
"Not really the goodness of your heart, man," Blair argued slyly. "It's sacred Sentinel duty to provide a dwelling for his Shaman. Can't argue with history." He shrugged, and went back to his food.
"It is not," Jim argued. He studied Blair's waiting, patient face for a moment, suddenly doubting.
"Is that really true?" He'd been swayed now. Of course Blair was telling the truth, he decided. Until his partner burst into laughter.
"You're so easy, Jim!" he crowed, still chuckling and shaking his head. "I could tell you any old crap, and you'd just go along with it."
Blair jostled his arm, and he managed to send a half-hearted smile his partner's way, to show that he could take a joke, but there was a nagging truth to what Blair said.
"Yeah, you could," he agreed, shoving his wrappers into the paper bag their food had come in, feeling unexpectedly vulnerable. A long silence followed, until Blair finally cleared his throat , and stated,
"No, no. I know," he quickly agreed. "So, if you ever tell me that the Sentinel has to rub the Guide's feet while feeding him grapes, or something, I'll have to report you for abusing your position."
Blair snorted, looking up from his food at Jim in disbelief. "God, Jim, what an image." Who knew that a picture like that lurked behind Jim Ellison' thick skull.. "Is that what you think I'd do? That's the next logical step after asking you to share your ketchup? Foot rubbing and grape peeling?"
He wadded up Blair's wrapper and shoved it into the paper sack, too. "Feeding, Sandburg, not peeling."
"I was feeding you grapes, not peeling them," he explained, starting up the truck. They'd been sitting there for at least a half-hour.
"Never mind. We need to get back to work."
The sound of the ignition and engine starting was completely overshadowed by another awareness that he'd grown familiar with. The drums grew loud and insistent, the urgency unmistakable. Danger, he thought, even before he heard the screams.
"Something's wrong in there," he frowned, already unfastening his seat belt. "Come on."
Blair followed quickly, quietly, his eyes wide and focused on Jim the whole time. He didn't wonder for long what they were rushing back into the restaurant for, because as soon as they pushed through the front doors, he saw what was happening.
A large man dressed in a business suit had a hold of a much smaller, cowering man, and was proceeding to beat the tar out of him. Blair got his first view of the scene just as a fist connected with the smaller man's face, sending a spray of blood onto the businessman's clean white shirt. The crowd that had gathered cheered collectively at that move, the same time that a couple of construction workers grabbed the assailant from behind, trying to pull him off of the futilely flailing victim.
Jim made his way through the crowd with an authority that never failed to impress Blair. Seeing that his partner would soon easily have things under control, he allowed himself to momentarily admire the easy way that Jim moved, powerful legs shifting beneath his slacks. He found himself amazed all over again, that this man, the Sentinel, who was now jerking the outraged man to his feet, needed him, Blair Sandburg. No one knew it, but he was necessary, vital to the partnership. Jim knew it, though, and that was all that really mattered. He watched, never failing to be fascinated as Jim cuffed the assailant in one, fluid motion.
"Sandburg, you want to help me out here?" Jim was asking, giving his partner a funny look. "unless you want to take this lowlife down to the station in the truck-" he tossed Blair his cellphone, and Blair caught it, speed-dialing a squad car down to the scene.
As he scooted onto the seat of his truck, Jim was vaguely aware of the music changing again. Or rather, normally, he would be vaguely aware. Today, for some reason, he had a vivid awareness of the change. He knew this shift well, the shift from whatever flow the song had been taking into a slower, sultry, much, much more dangerous arrangement.
He was well acquainted with what was happening. Sometimes, Blair would just turn to him, and the song would start. The drums began to slow, a sensual rhythm playing out, the voices invoking feelings in him that he knew he shouldn't be feeling. These notes stirred something in him that might ruin his friendship with Blair, so he suffered through, ignoring the music, ignoring the inexplicable erection in his jeans and the way his hands shook afterwards.
There was a comfortable Blairsong, too, one that wasn't all that bad to have floating through his head. Most times that they were in the loft together, or working together, it was the comfortable cadence of friendship that was there. He loved this one the most, but refused to acknowledge that fact, because of his terror that at any moment, it might turn into this- the bad Blairsong.
His biggest fear was that at times like this, it would cause him to do things that he should do, but, dammit, what was he supposed to do with Sandburg sitting there next to him, and that powerful seduction soundtrack swirling around in his head. The only option at times like these was to force. The music. To change.
"Jim, Jim?" Blair peered over at him, worried, patting Jim's leg in uncanny synch with the pulsing of the music.
His hand was pushed away immediately and Jim turned the key in the ignition. "Time to move, Chief, we were due at the hospital a while ago. We want to do those interviews while they're still willing to talk."
He drove harder, faster, more recklessly than usual, willing the music to become the Sentinel Cop on the Job medley again, and eventually, it did. If Blair noticed, he didn't say anything.
"I hate these damn tests!"
Jim's words were accompanied by a sweep of his arm, sending coins flying everywhere. Blair shielded his face, then turned back to Jim.
"What the hell was that?!" he demanded, surveying the results of his interrupted project. "We hadn't even done anything yet." He wasn't angry, just perplexed. Curious. Despite the detective's reputation, displays of anger like there were actually pretty rare. Jim was a master of many things, including self-control. So, for Jim to lose his temper like this, it indicated that something was wrong, much more than just a distaste for Blair's experiments.
He sat back on his heels and watched Jim, who was obviously distressed. He was breathing hard, and appeared to be trying to block a sense, instead of just turning the dial down.
"Dial it down, Jim."
"I can't dial this down!" he snapped, his eyes closing, head falling back to rest on the couch. Dial down the music. If only. "I...I've tried. It's fine now, Chief, sorry about all that."
Blair scooted closer to his partner, sitting next to him on the floor, their backs against the front of the couch. He wanted to ask what had just happened, but knew better by now. Sometimes, Jim allowed him to pry things out of him, but other times it was pointless. Frustration welled up inside, escaping as a loud sigh.
Jim heard Blair's sigh, and was ashamed. But not enough to do what he knew Blair wanted. How could he tell his partner that he had been hearing phantom music, and if even if he could convince Blair that he wasn't going insane, how would he explain the changes in the song, how it burned like delicious fire, inside him, at times.
Times like tonight, with Blair placing a heavy hand on Jim's cheek, gently leading him through these tests that he had so carefully planned.
He just hadn't been able to take it anymore, Blair's warm breath, just inches from his face. The music had only stoked the fire, making Blair seem irresistible, necessary, a delightful temptation that grew harder and harder to resist.
"Listen, Sandburg," he began. Might as well tell him sooner than later. "The thing is, I'm not sure how much I really need you to actually guide me anymore."
This was the only way. Keep Sandburg from being in such close proximity all the time, and the bad Blair music would never revisit. He stubbornly ignored all the times that it had come to him in his dreams, or that he had summoned it himself with his own treacherous thoughts.
"Oh?" He heard Blair's heart lurch, but mostly he seemed amused.
"Yeah, see, you've done a bangup job here with me, with my senses, but I've got something else going on, now. I don't think that I need that kind of help." And it was true...sort of. The music was very much like a guide, because a zoneout was nearly impossible with that distraction, and he knew how to recognize the danger notes of the music now, too. Even Blair's instincts weren't that good.
"Something else." Blair repeated, tilting his head up and turning it so that he could see Jim's face.
He thought it safer to say nothing.
"And are you going to tell me what this something is?" Blair asked quietly, politely, even though Jim knew that inside he'd completely sent his friend spinning into some kind of seeker's frenzy, desperate for this new, withheld information.
"No. It's not important. It doesn't change anything, really, Sandburg, just...no more tests. And you don't have to watch my back so much. Think how much free time you'll have, now, for things that you want to do." He added.
Because as he'd said before, he couldn't go there with Blair.
Compromises. That was the topic on Blair Sandburg's mind as he rode out of Cascade's city limits. People made compromises all the time, but no one ever really wanted to make them. They compromised their values, their careers, their reputations...anything that could be compromised, people readily put it on the line. But Naomi had always said: "No one who truly loves you will let you compromise yourself on their account."
She always said that a lot after one of her relationships ended.
And it was for that reason, an unwillingness to compromise, that Blair found himself on the 4:30 bus to Seattle. A few weeks with old friends who lived there would do him some good before he headed for his final destination: Fort Riley, Kansas. If being a consultant to the police department had freaked out Naomi, then he couldn't even imagine what she'd think about him consulting with the military police. Yet, they wanted him and were willing to pay, which was all he needed
Staying in Cascade, no matter how much he wanted to, was an impossible dream. Staying in Cascade would mean not only compromising his lifelong dreams, but more importantly, compromising Jim's career, whether his friend chose to admit it or not. Becoming a detective? That hadn't ever been an option, not really. Too many compromises. For both of them.
There'd been a time when Blair wouldn't have dreamed of leaving. God, he had felt so incredibly lucky and privileged to be the one allowed to guide this Sentinel, but the guide was what he wanted to be.
Not a detective. A detective would be fine if he were necessary for Jim. A slight compromise, but knowing that Jim needed him made it acceptable.
I've got something else going on, now. Think how much free time you'll have.
Why couldn't he stop hearing those words?
He turned the phone around and around in his hand, heavy with the knowledge that he had to make the call soon, before he lost his signal. If only Jim weren't so stubborn, so full of such volatile emotions, then he could've explained it all in person. But then he never would've gotten on the bus in the first place. Never left Cascade, never left Jim at all.
And now it was time. Blair quickly ran over the words he'd prepared for the machine and then dialed.
He paused, taken aback completely when the phone was not only answered, but snatched up before the first ring had been completed.
"-Chief, thank God it's you. Listen, something's happened, it's- I'm pretty sure it's a Sentinel thing. I need you at the loft, how soon can you get here?"
"I...uh..." He tried to say no, but the urgency and fear in his partner's voice was so compelling...it pulled at him, drew him home.
"Where are you?"
"I...I'll be there," Blair conceded, wondering if he'd ever really possessed the strength to leave. Maybe he'd wanted Jim to pick up, wanted Jim to talk him out of going. "Give me an hour, two hours tops."
He cut the connection before Jim could ask him where he was. Making his way to the aisle, he popped open the baggage compartment overhead and pulled out his tote bag, then maneuvered his way through the feet, knees and purses blocking the aisle to the front of the bus.
"Hey, I need to get off," Blair told the driver, trying to look as apologetic as he felt.
"Next stop's in eighty miles." Like his eyes, his reply was clipped, curt and disinterested.
"Yeah, yeah I know," He shifted the bag on his shoulder and leaned over the driver, holding onto a pole for support. "It's an emergency. I have to go back."
"We're not near any rest areas or gas stations." At least now the driver was glancing over as he spoke, acknowledging him.
"That's okay, I...I'll manage. Please," he added desperately. The air on the bus was stifling. His t-shirt was beginning to stick to his skin, damp with sweat.
Though the man didn't reply, the bus squealed and groaned as the brakes were applied, and gravel flew up and hit the windows when they came to a stop on the shoulder.
"You got stuff underneath?"
"No, no. This is it. Thanks, man," Blair said gratefully, hurrying down the steps before people could start complaining about the delay.
It had been a while since he'd hitched a ride, years, really, but things like this didn't change much, so he crossed the highway and waited for a willing motorist to happen along. And, as he had predicted, eventually an old man in a pickup stopped for him and unlocked the passenger side. Just in time, too, because his fingers were beginning to go numb despite the wrinkled but thick gloves he'd dug out of the bottom of the hall closet.
"Going to Cascade?" he asked hopefully, wiping his nose on his sleeve, and hopping in the cab. And Luck was on his side that particular moment because the man sized him up for a moment, turned up the heat, and replied a gruff,
"Me too. I'm Blair," he offered, but the man seemed more comfortable riding in silence save for a short speech about how at one time, he, too had been down on his luck. In less than an hour Blair was pointing out a street near the loft and thanking the stranger for the ride. And only a few minutes later he was standing on the street, looking up at the loft.
So much for a clean break.
Blair stopped outside the door and groaned. He'd left his key on the counter in the kitchen. In Kansas, he wouldn't have needed Jim's key. As much as he'd been tempted to keep it just...to have it for some reason he couldn't explain, leaving it had been the right thing to do. A sort of punishment to himself, for doing this to himself, and to Jim.
He hadn't even knocked yet, when the door was practically ripped open, and strong but shaking hands reached out for him, pulling him inside.
"What did you do!?" he loomed over Blair, still holding onto him. Blair blinked and dropped his bag. Anyone else would probably interpret his friend's behavior as deliberate intimidation, but knew better. He knew better than anyone, so then why was he leaving, again? that Jim was just afraid.
"Jim, just calm down. I didn't do anything. Now, why don't you sit down and-"
"Don't lie to me!" Jim thundered, looking about as though searching for something. His hands went away from Blair, to his head in a gesture of pain and confusion. It felt so damned wrong.
"It's gone! Sandburg, just tell me what you did, and we can fix it, please."
"What's gone?" He took a step toward the Sentinel, till they were almost touching again. "Jim, are you all right? Your jeans are torn, you're bleeding." Jim followed his gaze down to his knee where, sure enough, there was a gaping, ragged hole in the denim, the whole area smeared with blood.
"I..." he trailed off, looking back up at Blair. Then he remembered.
"It's gone!" he repeated, growling and taking a step toward Blair. "Sandburg, so help me, if you did anything that can't be fixed-" he grabbed Blair's shirt in bunches, bringing him close. Blair's heartbeat was out of control now, all that Jim could hear. It was So. Damn. Loud...and to his horror, a sob was suddenly there, right in his chest, wanting out. No. He growled, forcing it down.
"Jim." Blair said calmly, "Please. Just tell me what's gone, and I'll help you find it." He covered Jim's hands with his own, feeling the trembling firsthand.
"Okay." He forced the word out, and then nodded jerkily.
"Blair, there's something that you don't know. About me. I think...It's a Sentinel thing." He cleared his throat loudly. "I think I told you that on the phone."
He was stalling, now, of course. Blair patiently watched the familiar process: the handsome, frowning face, staring at some invisible spot on the wall, brow furrowed. Then his hands came up and rubbed his face, and he squared those broad shoulders, stiffened, and took a deep breath.
"I hear music."
Jim cringed at what had been blurted out so poorly, because now Blair was looking around the loft, tilting his head, listening carefully.
"Really? I don't hear anything. Where do you think it's coming from?"
"No-no." he gritted his teeth. The Quechua lilt of his next words stirred up a reluctant recognition in Blair.
"Ihaadu riway. I hear it...all the time. In my head. It's like...drums. And chanting. I was used to it, you know, and now it's gone, and Sandburg, I swear you'd better not make me regret telling you this."
One look at Blair's concerned but otherwise blank expression put him a little more at ease. It felt good, actually, to share this secret, to have this part of his life out in the open. The music was something that had become as much a part of him as...hearing Blair's heartbeat, at night. And he'd lain awake more than one night, trying to find a way to tell Blair about this possibly shameful aspect of being a Sentinel. Shameful not because of the music itself, but because of the way that he wanted it, needed it, expected it in the way that he needed Blair's touch on his arm.
Both things that he would never admit.
And part of him, the part that was a detective first...the Jim Ellison that had existed before Sentinels and panthers and Guides... had sent him sneaking into Blair's room to examine the Richard Burton manuscript, and he had searched the document for any mention of music, chanting, drums, insanity of Sentinels in general, anything. But there had been nothing. That old insecure part of him was what had kept him quiet, because his first lesson in life, from his father, had been that people would think him a freak, and even with all of Blair's admiration and support, he was just too...afraid.
"Music." Blair said, stunned.
"Yeah, it sounds-"
"-I know how it sounds, Jim," Blair cut him off, and Jim didn't even frown, didn't argue at all at the interruption because he was too busy noticing that Blair was...angry? No, not angry, but...unhappy with him for sure. Only, now he was laughing, shaking that mane of spiraling hair and chuckling. "Of course. Of course!" he shouted, the shout seeming chillingly inappropriate to Jim, at the moment. "And you couldn't have said anything about this to me?"
Jim blinked. He hadn't even considered that Blair might know about it already. He crossed his arms, feeling the need to defend himself. "What was I supposed to say? I thought I was alone in this!" The words came out bitterly, not because he was angry with Blair, but because he just wanted it back again.
Blair nodded thoughtfully, taking a deep breath. He could understand that. That way of thinking was so Jim.
"You're not alone in anything, Jim. I hear it too," Blair said, and the Sentinel began to shake his head no. No, no, no. That couldn't be true. Just for once, he wanted, needed some privacy. Nothing hidden from Blair, and there were all too many things that he wanted to keep from him. "I've heard it since I laid eyes on Incacha."
"Yeah," another humphing sound, but Jim could feel Blair's frustration beginning to fade. "He told me that you'd catch on eventually, but I was starting to wonder."
"Oh, he told you that?"
"Don't get all suspicious on me, man," Blair warned, standing firm under Jim's suspicious glare. "Yes, Incacha told me...in a vision." He added.
Jim paused, thinking. So, Blair heard the music, too.
But not in the way that he did.
Maybe he heard the steady Sentinel rhythm, but there was no way that it affected Blair in the same way. He had to get away from here, now. Pushing past Blair, he reached for his coat.
"Don't go," Blair asked, still calm. Jim had asked for his help, and he was going to offer whatever help he could. As far as he was concerned, it was in his hands now, to do with as he thought best for both of them.
"I have to." Jim replied firmly. "Don't wait up."
"You called me back here, man, I thought that you wanted-" the door slammed on his words, and Blair rubbed his face in frustration. Damn Sentinels. He hadn't come back to Cascade only to sit here waiting for Jim.
Okay, he needed a plan. The music. Jim was freaking out because he didn't hear it, so the first item on the agenda: Arrange it so that Jim could hear the music.
Jim wasn't even out of the building yet when he stopped, bumping his arm on the wall, elbow stinging, ears ringing. That noise, it was- it was...the music! Frantic hope surged up in his chest, but quickly, he realized that no, it wasn't. It was--
Blair, chanting the words, but not just the words to the music--oh no. Leave it to Sandburg to have chosen the dangerous arrangement, the one that sent his blood running hot and cold, the one that always played when he, in his mind, had his Guide sprawled beneath him, naked and eager.
Blair was saying the words, the ones that had caused him to tremble and burn for the past months, and saying them out loud, loud for anyone to hear. These things that should never be spoken out loud. It was his shame, his humiliation that Blair was declaring, something private that his Guide had somehow stolen from him.
And he couldn't bear to hear those heated, lascivious words coming from Blair's mouth, beating the words out with enthusiasm, sounding- God, Jim shuddered- sounding as though he meant every utterance. The words that Jim somehow had always thought he himself had created with his wants and needs.
Barging through the front door once again, he saw Sandburg sitting on the stairs, his eyes heavy lidded, heavy with knowledge, that lush mouth moving, chanting even louder now that he saw Jim.
"Stop it!" Jim ordered, starting toward him, willing to do anything to stop that cruel invasion. His body was already responding hotly to the tempo, the powerful rhythm, just as it always did.
"No." Blair stood defiantly, then continued. As the song flowed from him, he almost sounded like a different person, with his hair wild about his head, his eyes blazing, and the song of the ages rumbling out of his chest.
"You don't know what you're saying!" Jim accused, charging after Blair, willing to do whatever it took to stop him. How dare he! This was something private, something that even Blair wasn't supposed to know about; the solitary guilty pleasure that he kept from his friend.
But Blair was already up the stairs, pacing around Jim's room, fully caught up in the moment. He could see how angry Jim was, but hey, he rationalized. He could hear this music just as clearly as Jim could, and that gave him as much a right as anyone to repeat it anytime he wanted. Besides...Jim was the one freaking out about losing it, so he should be thanking Blair right about now.
He'd said that he wanted to hear it.
"I do know!" he insisted, panting as he took a momentary rest. "I know what it means, all of it." A small obfuscation, but best to let Jim feel like he had the answers. He'd come to the conclusion long ago that the music might be supposed to be some sort of constant reminder to him of what he was. Shaman to the Sentinel of the Great City. You can't exactly forget your duties with the drums beating a rhythm inside your head day in, day out. A mark of sorts, but instead of on his body, it was on his mind, in his head, invisible to the everyone but himself
"You wouldn't be here if you knew. You don't know what it does to me!" Jim growled, pacing on his side of the room, trying desperately to figure out a way to make Blair stop, before he lunged at his best friend. Before he grabbed a handful of silkysoft hair and forced those full lips against his, putting an end to the chanting and to easing that coil of tension in him that was straining, stretching, wanting to be released.
"This is what you hear, isn't it, Jim?" Blair's eyes had never looked so open, so innocent, even as he taunted his partner. He didn't know what he was doing, of course he didn't know. Jim nodded in response, then shook his head.
"Blair...you have to stop."
The music had power, but Blair had a power all of his own, and combined with the frenetic, primitive rhythm coming from his Guide, Jim didn't stand a chance against it. Stubbornly, Blair continued, and pushed to his limit, Jim couldn't take it anymore. He rushed into his friend, knocking them both onto the bed, pinning the one who taunted him so mercilessly underneath him.
His elbow dug into Blair's ribs, and when Jim heard the gasp of pain, he eased up- but not enough to release him. Why would he let him go, when his Guide was here, hot, his skin burning, strands of hair sticking wet to his forehead. Wild, he looked wild, and Jim had to find out wild he was.
Blair waited for the right moment to struggle, but with Jim's weight heavy on him, the moment never came. He wanted to laugh-Jim was doing all of this because of some sort of misplaced selfishness? Because he didn't want Blair to hear the music, it was supposed to only be for Sentinels? Ha. Served him right to lose what he was unwilling to share.
Jim closed his eyes when he felt Blair's steamy breath on his face, and fought the need to taste the mouth that lingered enticingly just a few inches from his own. He moaned in frustration, and felt his self-control slipping.
"Stop it. Stop, now, damn it!" he commanded hoarsely. "You know about it, you hear it, I believe you. I'm sorry I didn't tell you, all right? Please." He begged, but Blair continued, blatantly defying what he asked.
Blair made the decision to stop, he really did. But it was so wickedly thrilling to be like this, to be out of control like this, to push so hard and get such an extreme, bizarre response from his partner, he couldn't stop. Jim had specifically said that he wanted and needed the music back, and now he couldn't seem to bear to hear it.
He was almost...afraid of it.
Jim opened his eyes and watched, mesmerized, as the moist flesh of Blair's lips moved-chanting, chanting. It was a seduction that his Guide had no idea he was carrying out, Jim told himself, commanding his body to relax. But Blair kept on, his body thrumming with the primal beat, and when the younger man stretched out beneath him, Jim found that the friction of his captive's thigh against his own needy erection sent sparks of pleasure flying through his groin and entire body.
He grunted, pressing clumsy, desperate fingers against Blair's mouth, trying to stop the words from coming. But please, not the music, which he wanted, needed, was driven by. And his hips were driven, as well, in tempo with the now silent drums, silent to him, but Blair heard them and he rocked back and forth against his Guide.
"Yes, yes, uhmm, Blair..." He buried his face gratefully in the damp flannel that rose and fell with every breath that Blair struggled for, and took the material in his teeth, shaking with the force it took to hold back.
The magic moment that had been seemingly been set apart from real time suddenly shattered, and the real world was cold, bright, and silent.
A violent shove from Blair sent him, unresisting, off the bed, crashing onto the floor where he stayed, relieved, disappointed, and shuddering with need. The carpet was scratchy against his forehead as he brought his arms up to cover his head and face.
He stayed perfectly still, waiting.
Blair was just as still, but Jim could sense the storms gathering in the long moments that his Guide sat stunned on the edge of the bed. Silence, more silence, and then-
"What the hell!?" Blair demanded, springing to his feet. "What was that?" He rubbed his hand against the wet spot on his shirt where Jim's mouth had been.
He received no answers from his partner, who lay silent on the floor. Had his Sentinel really been... He shook his head in denial, but the proof was in the way he could still feel the ghost sensation of a hard erection pressed against his thigh.
"I, uh..." Blair had no idea what to say, because it was painfully clear that he had, partially at least, caused this to happen. He shifted nervously from one foot to another, pushing his hair back.
"I guess...so, I guess that I didn't know exactly what was going on. I'm sorry, man, I didn't know about the-" He broke off with a harsh bark of laughter.
Misery. Jim shivered, his entire body tight with dread, almost paralyzing. Not only was the music gone taken from him?, but he'd just possibly angered his Guide and definitely humiliated himself, revealing something that Blair apparently hadn't known all along. He wanted to apologize, to ask Blair for help as his dials moved out of his control, but that would be too much. A man needed to keep at least a little pride, and to do what'd he'd done to his Blair and then ask for help...would be unthinkable.
Damn him, anyhow, with his overzealous, over-the-top approach to everything. Hadn't he begged Jim for it, egged him on with the singing, the taunting, all over this goddamned thing for which he held no understanding? Jim slowly sat up.
"Jim, no." Blair's agitation had begun to abate, all traces of his earlier shock having vanished as surely as the music. "You've had a major trauma here, losing the music so suddenly...it...distorted things. Confused you. Like-the time you had your ears cleaned, and needed the white noise generators, remember?" He brightened, pleased with the theory that was forming as he spoke. "And, let's face it Jim, you've never reacted well to anything mystical," he practically snorted, and shook his head.
Jim shut his eyes. It was so easy, so easy to just let Blair do this. To let Blair think that his actions had been the result of some supernatural freakout. To let Blair be wrong. But for Blair to be wrong would also mean preserving their relationship, keeping it whole, safe, and unchanged.
"So..." Blair faltered, only able to bring them so far without Jim's agreement that Yes, this had been a terrible mistake, and even possibly something to be laughed about later, but was under no circumstances what it had seemed.
"You think so, Chief?" he asked, head down. He could feel Blair's eyes on his skin, studying every inch of his empty, needy body. Could imagine them wide and bewildered as he tried to sort out what had just happened. Could imagine the disgust that might be taking root, even as Blair stood, watching his partner.
"Yeah, yeah I do." The movements that Blair made in order to lean in, bend down, and tug at Jim's hand were blissfully free from disgust and any kind of judgment.
"Come on, get up off the floor, man. Let's go downstairs, talk about this." The easy forgiveness that Blair had granted him made it easier to allow Blair to help him to his feet, lead him down the stairs.
When Jim was seated at the table, Blair plunked down a pencil and notebook in front of him before turning to boil some hot water.
"Write down everything that you did today, and mention anything that was different, even slightly different, than usual," he instructed.
Jim shook his head and pushed the paper away from him. "It's not me, it's you," he told Blair, drawing a nervous, faux-skeptical look from his Guide.
Blair leaned against the counter, eyebrows raised. "Why are you so sure that it's me that did this, Jim?" But at the same time he asked this, he was super-aware of his duffel bag sitting where it had fallen by the front door, and the glint of his key that lay flat and shiny on the counter. He turned so that Jim couldn't see, and tucked it into his pocket. Shit.
Of course Jim was probably right, his very basic intellect told him. It didn't take a genius to figure out the cause and effect process that had occurred today. Guide leaves and Sentinel loses his ihaadu riwa.. Whatever the hell that meant. He had no right to suggest to Jim that it was a sensory thing. Not with the way that he was looking right now, so miserable and abandoned, and...damn it.
"Jim," he sighed, "come here," And he led him to the couch where he sat looking at his friend's drawn, worried face. While he hurt for Jim, and wanted nothing more than to take the pain away, it was a relief, almost a joy, really, for this to have happened. A relief because he was needed, he could stay, and neither of them would have to make any compromises at all.
A whole new mystery to explore, and Jim would need him to help him through it. And all he needed...was to be needed by Jim. And the fact that he was discovering a heretofore unknown Sentinel aspect, well...that was icing on the cake.
He blinked, not having heard Jim the first couple of times that he'd said Blair's name- - because he'd been light years away, imagining a future Sentinel being calmed by a guide who said, "Relax, what you're going through is perfectly normal. Blair Sandburg wrote about it in chapter eight, and here's what he said about dealing with it..."
"Yeah, sorry," he grinned sheepishly, "I want to know what you're feeling, how you're feeling right now...are there any symptoms that you think are related to what happened today?" he paused, then added under his breath, "besides becoming a dominating asshole."
"Funny, Sandburg." But it really wasn't funny. He hadn't felt so helpless since...since he'd gotten the senses in the first place. Then, after a long silence,
"Empty," and after an even longer silence,
Blair sat back, his hand planted on Jim's leg out of an inexplicable kind of necessity, and closed his mouth. He didn't know what to say...that admission had cost Jim a lot, especially since he, Blair, had just treated it so flippantly.
"You...you still hear it, right?" he asked, and Blair could see that he was practicing restraint, for some reason...and that the answer to the question meant more to Jim than the Sentinel would care to admit. And just like every other of the few times that he'd seen Jim broken down, torn open and vulnerable like this, Blair had to swallow over a lump in his throat in order to answer.
He answered with a squeeze to Jim's thigh and an encouraging smile. "Yeah, I hear it."
"Good," Jim sighed, and his relief fascinated Blair. Perhaps there was more to this music than he'd originally thought.
But then Jim was pulling away from him, standing, and looking once again like his normal, Jim self.
"Let's go to bed, Chief, and see what this looks like in the morning."
Blair agreed, but stopped at his bedroom door, in a moment of clarity. "Jim?"
"Yeah." Answered Jim, who was wearily walking up the stairs.
"This is the 'something else' that you were talking about a while ago, isn't it?"
It wasn't what he'd wanted to say. It wasn't the remedy to Jim's inner turmoil, nor the comfort that he knew that a guide should offer. But he had to know. All the nights he'd lain awake, planning his departure and wondering what could be so enormous that it took his 24-7 place in Jim's life. What or who could possibly care for Jim the way that he had. In a way, he felt as though he were Jim's...creator. The one who had discovered him, shown him how to be a Sentinel. But of course he wasn't Jim's creator. He wasn't his father, his son, his superior or subordinate. Their relationship was harder to define than that.
But sometimes, during those same late-night musings under his ransacked covers...they were Sentinel and Guide in a clearly defined way, partners in all ways, in all things.
"Yeah, it is, Sandburg." Jim answered, surprised that Blair remembered his words. "At least...it was."
The next day didn't bring any further insight about the music. Instead, they spent the day waiting to testify in a trial that was delayed even further than it had already been. Jim hated days like this, and would've given anything to just enjoy the simple pleasure of letting the "I'm a Sentinel-Cop, look out world" version of the music wash over him as he made swift, confident strides down the hall back at the station. Arrogant, yes.
Maybe that was why he'd been stripped of the music in the first place. Because he'd enjoyed it too much. He'd thought of himself as the star of his own movie, a star moving along to the theme song that puffed him up with pride. And now, he realized, of course that wasn't the purpose of the music, it was obviously meant to serve as some sort of Sentinel-tool, not as a self-indulgent ego-builder. And...if that was true, he thought with an even lessened notion that things would work out all right...if that were true, then perhaps this was his punishment for allowing the music to distort his relationship with Blair. For being aroused by it, for wanting to pound into his partner in rhythm with the drums that had been there for him for such a long time.
But were no more.
He'd been a fool. Jim sat down, hard, at his desk, barely noticing the people and things around him. He'd thought that the music had been some sort of fucking perk to being a Sentinel. Obviously, such a thing didn't exist. It had been a test, or as usual, some sort of duty. And he'd failed, and subsequently been stripped of the privilege.
Blair watched Jim from across the room. Unusual, that Jim hadn't noticed his arrival. Normally, his keen eyes were already trained on the door before Blair even walked in.
Today, he hadn't. Blair had been standing there, having been held up at Connor's desk as she complained to him about being stood up last night- "A blind date, Sandy!" she had said, her forehead wrinkling up in disgust. "Who stands up their blind date?"
"I don't know," he'd said distractedly. Jim still hadn't looked up, and now Blair was talking. And...his face looked funny, darkness coloring his cheekbone and temple on one side of his face.
"Megan, maybe you should give him the benefit of doubt...maybe there was an emergency, or..."
"Riiiight," she said, disappointed. Wasn't this the part where Blair was supposed to flirt and maybe even leer a little bit, and walk away leaving her feeling all self-assured and attractive? "I doubt it," she sighed, then smirked. "Now, if you'd stood me up, I'd definitely be checking emergency rooms."
Jim still wasn't looking up.
Blair started to smile, flattered that she thought so highly of his dating etiquette, then frowned. "Hey, wait a minute-" but she was already on her way out, laughing at him over her shoulder.
Jim didn't notice Blair at all, until Blair flopped down into the seat next to Jim's. "Hey, man."
The detective loosened his tie, then untied it, draping the restricting item around his neck.
"You didn't, um, hear me come in?" Blair leaned in closer, but Jim was suddenly finding the paper clip in his hand exceptionally fascinating. Bend, twist, bend, twist.
"Do you know why?"
"Yes," Jim said, throwing the paper clip into the uncharacteristic jumble of his desktop. "For the same reason that I zoned today, during interrogation. On a cup of fucking coffee."
Blair winced, not only from the unusually strong language from Jim, but because he knew that Jim prided himself on control, and zoning on something like a cup of coffee...ouch.
His jaw clenched tightly, "Yes."
"Simon saw me going down. He jumped in, but not before I made an ass of myself."
Blair winced when Jim turned his face to show off the extent of his injury.
"Not here, Sandburg! You know I'll tell you, so just leave it alone." He was already halfway out the door, taking long, angry strides. "You coming?"
"Uh, yeah man. I'm coming."
Blair trotted along behind his partner, watching the detective's broad shoulders bob and sway as he moved. He was surprised that he could walk at all; that he wasn't paralyzed by his own blossoming guilt.
Had he done this to Jim?
Even though Blair should've been paying attention to the road, what with Jim having trouble with his senses again, he stared blankly out the window, and was surprised when they pulled up at the loft.
"Jim?" But Jim was already out of the truck, and Blair had to run to catch up with him.
"If you're going to ask why we're home, it's because I've taken a leave of absence."
"You mean you're taking a few days off until you get comfortable with what's happened?" Blair asked; stunned.
"No. A leave of absence. I can't go back in, Sandburg, not like this. Everything is so..."
"What, Jim?" He waited as Jim unlocked the door and threw his stuff down on the counter.
Finally Jim answered, his hesitancy to reply giving away the enormity of it's importance. "It's different. Everything seems too loud, too harsh."
He lowered himself wearily onto the couch and closed his eyes. "And that's not even what I really care about." He exhaled after that, as though it were a relief to have out in the open.
"What is it that you care about, then?"
Jim didn't respond.
Maybe he was asleep, but Blair doubted it. It was at this point of their conversations that things usually stalled. He knew, though, that now wasn't the time to push him. Gradually, the Sentinel's breathing evened out and his body sank into the cushions as genuine sleep welcomed him.
Blair left him and retreated to his own bedroom. His Sentinel could rest in peace, because he had an idea. The answers to what was happening were proving to be too elusive, and he wouldn't find them on this plane.
Dreamwalking. Sometimes shamans could do this and find answers to things unknown, but could Blair? He had to try. He'd read about it, but never felt quite worthy enough to try. And there had never been what seemed like a 'good enough reason' to make the attempt. Now, however, it seemed appropriate.
After getting settled, and about thirty minutes of deep breathing, he began to drift off, and he dreamed.
*He pulled his coat tighter around him; it was cold here on the plains, and he was standing by water. A river, to be exact, with the bed consisting of large flat stones. The water only covered the stones by a couple of inches. It would be easy to walk across, even in his shoes.
Oh God...Blair shivered. Something was wrong. Horribly wrong. Then he knew what it was. The river.
It was flowing the wrong way. Somehow, impossibly, it was. And that wasn't the worst of it. The stones were shrieking, wailing in pain, pain that he instinctively knew was because of the unnatural flow of the water.
Then he was filled with the absolute knowledge that all of this was his fault. That his very presence was causing this anomaly. Guilt, sharp and bitter, cut him deep inside, filling his heart, his belly...his lungs so that he couldn't breathe. He couldn't look away from the sight of it, it was so horrific, moreso than the massacre he'd come across while on an African expedition, more than some crime scenes that he'd seen, more than...dying. Because this was suffering, pure and concentrated.
A voice rang out, a voice that was powered by the heavens. God? The River? The Earth? Whatever it was, it knew. Knew of his crime.
"Why do you do this?" it thundered, if not out loud then in his head. "why do you torture us so?"
Knees buckling, he fell to the ground, pawing the earth with his hands, pleading for some comfort in this unfriendly place. "I don't know!" he replied, "I didn't mean to come here. I'm just a Shaman, I was looking for...something."
He'd gotten it wrong, terribly wrong. How humiliating, shameful to fail so miserably at his first attempt to get the much needed answers. And hurting people-God, that was against everything he'd ever been taught, everything he'd ever known. Yet here he was, on a quest to right a wrong he'd done his beloved partner, and now everyone was hurting. His gut clenched, and his stomach threatened to heave. Worthless, he was sinfully worthless and had caused a multitude of grievances, against the river and his Sentinel.
"Please, forgive me, please..." he pleaded, tasting nothing but dirt and rocks and dust in his mouth. "I want to find...."
"We know what you want to find," the voice reprimanded. "You shouldn't be here. You already know what must be done. Give your Sentinel back what he needs. Give it to him, and be done with it."*
Gasping, he came awake only to find that the dark, frightening feelings he'd experienced in the dream had carried over with him. He didn't sleep the rest of the night.
The next few days, Jim was difficult to catch up with. He kept away from the loft most of the time, and when he was there, he threw himself into household projects. The first day, he built new shelves into his closet, and the second day he did Blair's. By the end of the first week, he'd done that, reorganized those closets as well, and retiled the bathroom floor, claiming mold and mildew.
Blair watched him learning to cope, and tried to stay out of his way. It was just so damned hard seeing Jim hurting, though. And his friend was hurting, all Blair had to do was look at the sentinel's face to see evidence of too little sleep and too much worry. The worst thing by far was the sad, almost pathetic feeling that he got...that Jim was waiting for something. That he had become so utterly lost that he was biding his time until the music returned.
Finally, about a week later, he found Jim slumped on the couch, his skin alight with the remnants of the late evening sun. He'd probably had enough of the running around and had decided to take a break, which he fully deserved, thought Blair. His sweatpants were thin, Blair noticed, from years of wear, and they bunched up around his crotch, distinctly outlining what was hidden beneath. Nice. Blair's eyes flickered over the sight with interest as he approached his partner.
"Can I join you?"
"Sure." Jim scooted over , his legs still taking up half of the couch. He'd been watching this movie for a while now, and was fairly involved.
And the good part was just coming up, Blair noted, taking an interest in the program himself. The heroine seemed set on seducing the leading man. So far no one had gotten naked but, hey, it was cable, and he knew it was coming by the look in her eyes and the soundtrack.
"Hear that?" Jim mumbled, and Blair almost didn't reply, because now the woman was doing a slow striptease.
"Do you hear that music?" Jim repeated, still staring at the TV.
"On the television?"
"Yeah. That's what it was like."
It took him a minute to figure out what Jim was even talking about, but when he did- huh. Now Blair was intrigued. The black lacy bra on the tv screen held no interest for him as he turned to stare at Jim.
"You mean, you heard a saxophone in your head?"
"No," Jim's scowl made it perfectly clear: Make fun of me and this conversation is over, as well as any future conversations that you plan on having. "The same idea, though."
"Strip music?" Because he didn't know what else to call it. Jim heard strip music? Why?
"Yes, Sandburg." He was still watching the screen, but Blair knew that he wasn't following the plot, which incidentally involved a lot of panting and 'oh, yes!'es"
"All...all the time?" Well this certainly was interesting. The things you never knew about people.
"No," Jim said, trying for casual but coming across more as a guy who was desperately trying for casual. "Just certain times. It's not important when. That's just what it's like...sometimes."
"Well." How come I never get the strip music? He wondered, then said, "No wonder you miss it."
With a shrug, "That's not what I miss, not really."
"You said that before. What is the part that's bothering you so much, then? What do you miss?"
Blair studied Jim, noting how his face was suddenly suffused with color. He didn't want to tell. "It can't be that bad," Blair reminded him. "Not after...you know." Not after the startling scene in Jim's bedroom.
"It's- it's about you," Jim warned, but Blair just nodded, his heartbeat quickening.
"What about me?"
"It made me feel close to you. When I was hearing it, you were with me. Almost...inside me." Another blush, then a scowl. "Not like that," he added quickly. "And it's not like I need it," he added. "I just liked it."
"That's understandable, Jim," Blair said, and Jim closed his eyes, preparing for a litany of unlikely explanations. There was only the sound of the rain, and Blair's breathing, though. When he opened his eyes, Blair wore an amazed, almost tender expression, his whole face softened by emotion.
"It was like that for you?" he asked, his normally smooth voice filled with gravel.
"It sounds wonderful."
"We'll fix this, Jim," Blair said resolutely, more determined than ever to solve this for Jim. It was the least he could do. He'd start with restoring the music, and go from there. He'd be the most attentive guide that Jim could ever want, and if that meant becoming a detective, then that's what he would do. It was clear, now, where his path was meant to go.
The rain fell as they sat together, and Blair only hoped that Jim might find the sound soothing, as well as Blair's new sense of peace. Maybe Jim would, on some level, indirectly receive some of the providence that Blair had just found.
Eventually, Blair excused himself to take a shower, giving Jim what he hoped was a reassuring pat as he left the room. The shower was always a great place to think, and he stood under the hot spray for almost thirty minutes, reflecting on the situation.
Thirty minutes of reflection- zero ideas.
When he finally emerged, damp and refreshed, the loft was dark, save for one lamp that Jim had left on, probably for him. When he went to turn it off, though, he noticed the flicker of the stereo lights. Whoa, the master of energy conservation had left something on? Blair chuckled at the hard time he'd be able to give Jim tomorrow. Weird, he thought, taking a closer look. The stereo was actually playing, but was turned down so low that no one could hear it.
No one but a Sentinel, that is.
Curious now, he pushed the volume lever up and up, until he could make out what his roommate had playing. The knowledge hit him like lead in the stomach. Oh, Jim...
The tune was vaguely recognizable. Drums, chanting...a poor imitation of the music that he, himself heard. The thought was heartbreaking, really. The thought of Jim using this method to comfort himself. He pictured Jim, searching record stores, going painstakingly through album after album, trying to find something that sounded familiar.
"Sandburg, leave it alone."
Oops. Like Jim, with his hearing turned up enough to hear at that volume wouldn't notice Blair downstairs fiddling with it.
"Man, you shouldn't have your hearing turned up like that when you're going to sleep." He scolded, trying to keep his voice steady. "If there were a sudden loud sound...you'd be toast."
A surge of protectiveness had risen up inside him, making him want to take Jim in his arms, protect him. His instinct was to hold him tightly, so tight that Jim could somehow absorb the music through him ...
Absorb the music through him.
Blair knew what he had to do.
Confidence carried him to the stairs and up, and when that wavered, his desire to help his friend took him the rest of the way, into the darkness of Jim's bedroom.
"Hey," he said softly. He'd never known it was so dark up here at night, especially with the sky so full of rain heavy clouds. "This is getting a little out of hand, don't you think? I don't know for sure, but if you'll let me, I think that I might know how to make this right again."
Jim hesitated a second, his eyes scanning quickly over Blair, who he could see perfectly. T-shirt and sweatpants, thick white cotton socks. He'd dried his hair after his shower, and Jim could smell the shampoo even across the distance that Blair kept between them.
"What's your big plan, Chief?"
"Hear me out before you say anything," he said, looking nervously down at his friend. The bed creaked as Jim shifted, leaning back and stretching out his long legs. He raised an eyebrow, but replied,
The younger man rubbed his hands together and took a deep breath. "Do you remember the reaction you had when you first lost the music?"
Jim frowned. "I was a little freaked out," he admitted.
"Yes, you were, but do you remember what happened," he gestured at the bed where Jim sat, and swallowed hard, "here?"
"No, wait! You said you'd hear me out." Blair said, shepherd's voice gentle but commanding. "That was your first reaction, it was instinct. What you and your body, subconsciously at least, thought could get it back for you. And so maybe we should take a clue from instinct."
He took time to breathe now, fairly certain that Jim wasn't going to interrupt, or flee, and then continued. "It makes sense, Jim. Considering what you just told me, and the way that things already work between us...it makes sense. Then things can be," he gestured broadly, and shrugged. "Might be able to be...the way they used to be."
"What exactly are you suggesting?"
Uh oh. Blair had heard him use that same tone before with Stephen, with his father, with exceptionally rotten suspects just as he was about to read them their rights. He felt the heat of an unwanted blush spreading up his neck onto his cheeks.
Jim's cell phone rang out, the interruption only adding to the mounting tension between them.
"Ellison!" He was still looking at Blair.
"Jim, I need you on a case. Starting tomorrow." The deep-voiced Captain didn't need to introduce himself.
"No can do, sir." He said tightly. "I'm on a leave of absence."
"Well, you're off it, now. It's an undercover thing, shouldn't take more than a few-"
"-is this another one of those bullshit cases?" Jim demanded.
Blair winced. Since the dissertation, even with the press conference, Jim and Blair had found themselves on a few questionable assignments. People in high places pulled a few strings and Cascade's finest was wasting his time busting high schoolers for pot possession, or tracking down a stolen watch, valued at only three hundred dollars.
Simon sighed into the phone. "Someone called in a few favors, I guess. Wanted the 'superman cop' on the case, and like it or not, that's you."
"Damn it, Simon, I'm not up to it! Ask Sandburg. He knows. It's out of the question."
"What's out of the question is you not showing up in the morning, ready to go on whatever assignment that I send you on, Ellison. Now, let me talk to Sandburg."
"He wants to talk to you," Jim growled, handing him the phone and settling back onto his pillows.
"Sandburg, I'm going to need to you to come along on this one. I'm thinking that Jim will be putting his senses to special use."
"No problem, Simon." Blair waved away Jim's furiously shaking head. Jim was saying something that sounded vaguely like "are you out of your mind, Sandburg?" the same time that Blair was saying his goodbyes to Simon, and then they were back where they had been before the phone call. In Jim's room, on his bed, solemnly regarding one another.
"This sucks, Chief," Jim groaned, rubbing his face tiredly.
"I know. But it doesn't have to. I'll be there with you, and when this is all over with, we'll take care of it, together."
As Blair started to leave, Jim stopped him with a halting, almost shy, "Did you mean it, when you said that you've figured out what's going on with me?"
"I didn't say that I exactly have it all figured out, but I do think that there are some um, things that we can try, to solve it."
"That's it? 'Not exactly, and we can try?"
"Jim, I'm doing the best that I can! I've been researching my ass off these past few weeks. Have you seen me doing anything else? No. I even sucked it up and went down to the university to use what paltry resources they have." It was true, he'd endured the looks, the whisperings and even a few blatant insults in order to take a look at some of the anthropology and shamanic archives. It had been his first time there since the press conference.
"I even dreamwalked, Jim. Something that on a personal stratum, I didn't feel I was ready for. And even though I came back with a few vague answers, I'm not sure that I was supposed to do it. But I did it anyway...for you. So I'm sorry if what I came up with isn't enough for you."
"Blair, I didn't mean-"
"No, don't. I know, Jim. We're just tired, and this whole thing has been hard. Harder than..."
Alex. For Jim, at least, and they both knew it. Not for Blair, who'd been irrevocably damaged inside and out by that whole episode with the other Sentinel. But for Jim, who still couldn't admit to himself that he had become too attached to the elusive diapason that he feared would never return.
Blair stood for a few more seconds at the top of the stairs, and then when it was clear that there wasn't anything else to say, retreated to his bedroom.
"Good night, Chief."
"Are we there yet?" Jim asked. He grimaced, thinking that the last time he'd uttered those words, he'd been about eight years old.
Blair snickered. "Almost. I told you to go before we left the loft, man."
"Very funny. I hate not being able to see."
"Ah, ah ah. Don't even think about dialing up. You're supposed to be blind, and you might as well get used to it if you're going to be convincing."
Jim had been almost completely silent for most of the ride out to the testing lodge where they would be spending the weekend. Apparently the someone who had pulled the strings to get Jim on the case had a blind son who had been 'groped and offended' by a staff member at a company that paid handicapped persons to test out products made for their particular special need.
"It's not going to work."
"Come on, Jim, haven't you ever been in a focus group before? Just use the products and tell them how efficient or non-efficient you find it. Be honest. If someone gropes you, arrest them.. Besides...they're paying you two hundred bucks."
"I can hear you smiling, and I know that it's that smartass grin."
"I'm hurt, Jim. Talking to your own brother that way," Simon had decided that it would be less suspicious having Blair accompany Jim if he went as Jim's brother, and Blair had been throwing himself into the role with glee.
"You don't have a brother, Sandburg, right?"
"So, you don't know that brothers, unlike partners, don't think twice about putting one another into a headlock and beating the shit out of them."
"Really? I'll have to remember that for later," Blair replied. "For when your complaining starts to get on my nerves."
"Could you please stop being so amused by this, at least?" Jim growled, groping around fairly effortlessly for the phone. "Ellison...no, Simon, we're not there yet. Not that I would know. Sandburg could be driving me to Mexico for all I know....yes, I'll let you know when we get settled in. Bye."
When they finally were all settled in, though, in a room that Blair described to Jim as "cozy," meaning the walls were that awful wood paneling and the beds were small as basic training bunks, they didn't have time to call Simon.
The management rushed everyone to a meet and greet time, in which they were introduced to the other 'guests' and given a rundown of what they would be testing this weekend: voice synthesizers and an integrated speech friendly software package, among other things.
Nothing was going on except for a bunch of bored people sipping tepid apple juice from paper cups, and eventually, Jim said that it reminded him too much of the support groups that met downstairs at the station every Tuesday and Thursday evening and went back to their room. Of course Blair followed. He didn't mention that he liked dropping in on those support groups and had even helped form one of them. He stayed completely focused on his task; watching Jim, because even though he'd done exceptionally well the last time he'd been without sight...he hadn't been dealing with the whole ihaadu riway issue back then.
"We should sit with that group of young guys tomorrow," Blair said, thinking out loud as they got ready for bed. "For breakfast, and then during the first testing. They would know if anyone's been acting inappropriately....Jim. What's wrong?"
Jim started undressing, tossing his dirty socks onto a chair and quickly donning a clean pair. "Nothing. Just- that room, all I could smell was dog." He made a face and pulled his shirt over his head, managing to flex almost all of the muscles in his upper body, in the process. Blair flopped down on his bed to shamelessly ogle the unintentional striptease.
"Those were seeing eye dogs, duh, man. And they were clean. If you smelled them, it was because you have scent turned way up, and if that's the case then you need to make sure that you have all of your dials set to normal tomorrow, for the testing. Except for sight." He grinned. Jim had dropped his pants and was now kicking them off his feet, then bending over to retrieve them. Shake, fold, pat. The man deserved a medal for neatness, really.
"Hey, Jim, when did you start wearing those?" Blair asked, without thinking. He'd only seen Jim in boxers before, yet here he was in a navy blue pair of boxer briefs.
Blair had always thought when he'd seen them in stores, that they looked dorky, but you learn something new every day. And Blair Sandburg's thing to learn for today was that form-fitting cotton molded over a finely muscled bottom and thighs could never be mistaken for dorky.
"Are you watching me?" He asked, indulging Blair even further by turning to face him. Nice package, Blair thought, great abs, smooth chest...everything appeared the same as usual, except not, when seen in light of what he knew he was going to offer Jim this weekend.
"Well, you're the one standing there undressing right in front of me. We were talking...it's considered rude not to look at the person you're talking to. Besides, we've changed in front of one another plenty of times. Why would you just now become self-conscious?" His audacity and hypocrisy shocked even himself.
"That was different, Sandburg." Jim tried to ease his way back onto his bed without seeming too unnatural. Music-less, blind, and in his underwear. Just wonderful. Perhaps he could add to it by getting some disgusting kind of rash, as well.
"Okay, fine. May I be struck by lightning if I look at Jim Ellison in his underwear again."
It was more comfortable once Jim could hear the sounds of Blair getting undressed, as well, and brushing his teeth in the bathroom. The pillow was uncomfortable, the feathers inside feeling like dozens of tiny needles in his neck. The Princess and the Pea, he thought. What would Blair think if he suddenly announced his princely nature? He chuckled at the thought. Maybe later.
"You gonna watch tv?" Blair was just sitting on the other bed now, he could tell. Maybe he wasn't ready to go to sleep yet. Maybe he wanted to talk about what they'd been discussing in the loft before their last-minute assignment. Please, let him want to talk about that. His palms went clammy. No, please let him not.
"No, don't feel like it." Blair swung his knees over the side of the bed. Was he getting up? Jim strained to follow his movements. "Unless you do."
"No," he winced when his voice came out too loud. Damn. Now Blair knew that he'd been messing with the hearing dials again, and Blair knew that he knew Blair knew.
"Jim," and suddenly his heart was beating in time with his partner's: much, much too quickly.
"What?" He was suddenly grateful for the protecting darkness. It made things easier, took the accountability out of his hands, and placed it in the hands of the only one he would ever allow to have such control.
"About the music...I had this insight. I can't promise that it will work, but right now it's the only thing that I can think of..."
Blair continued in a pedantic explanation of his theory, but Jim didn't hear any of it. He was suddenly, horrifyingly wide open-sight was blocked, but hearing, scent and touch were scrambling to compensate. He could hear in excruciating detail every wet gulp that Blair took in between words, and smell the nervous, excited scent that his guide so exuded. It was too much, and he shifted away from the onslaught, but the fabric of his underwear grabbed at his crotch smoothly, sliding like the most intimate caress against his penis, hugging his balls gently to his body like a deliberate, lover's touch. Oh shit. He hadn't even noticed the dials inching their way up and up and up.
Suddenly, he noticed that Blair had stopped talking. And started this 'i'm gonna get laid' heavy breathing thing that he always did before a hot date. Chagrined, he wondered what he looked like to Blair, lying half propped up on the bed, his brow and neck beginning to glisten with anxious perspiration and an undoubtedly conspicuous erection filling his briefs. He heard Blair wetting his lips to speak.
"You know what I'm going to suggest, don't you?" Blair said softly, sympathetically.
He nodded, two tight jerks of his head. Blair couldn't know that Jim had felt the very breath he'd expelled with that one brief sentence. Breath that floated across the space between them and raised goosebumps on the Sentinel's bare skin.
"And you're, um..." Hard, Jim. You're hard. Like you were the day that you called me back to Cascade, that day up in your bedroom...
The blessed, blessed darkness, somehow kept it from being unbearably humiliating. Humiliating, yes, but not as much as it might be in the exposure of light, having to witness his own overeager reaction.
"So, can we try this?" Blair moved over to Jim's bed, sitting next to him.
"I'm sorry, Blair."
"Why are you sorry? If anyone should be sorry, it's me. The day that you lost the music, when you called me, I was on a bus, leaving Cascade. I was going for good. I don't think that it's a coincidence, and you knew that. You said right from the beginning that it was about me, but I didn't want to believe that it was true...didn't want it to be my fault."
Jim couldn't keep up with whatever Blair was babbling because he was still stuck on the "I was leaving" part of the explanation. "Leaving? Why?"
"That's not important because it's not going to happen." Blair was sure of this, if nothing else.
Jim turned toward the sound of Blair's voice. "What is going to happen?"
Blair was ready for this, so ready that he only gave the briefest pause before touching Jim's face with gentle, exploring fingers and saying with absolute assurance, "This."
Jim's eyes fluttered closed in response to Blair's quiet answer. He was already in darkness, so it was more symbolic than practical. A surrender, an indication to Blair that he could do as he liked, with the Sentinel's willing consent and total trust.
His fingers were warm on Jim's face, and even warmer on the quivering flesh of his neck. By the time they slid down to his chest, they were burning hot and growing bolder, too. Unsure about his technique, Blair touched his lips to Jim's at the same time he palmed his hardness, to distract him. And Jim liked either one or both of the moves, because he made a sound that Blair had never heard him make, and pushed with his hips against Blair's hand.
Then Blair was gone, and Jim waited, listening raptly to a series of rustles and scrapes until his partner rejoined him on the bed, bringing with him the electrifying sensation of bare skin, which he gave freely, stretching himself out on top of Jim; a gift of corporeal comfort from one who loved enough to go this far, and further, if the need be.
While he moved smoothly against the solid body under his, Blair licked at Jim's lips, taking his time until finally, the moist, firm lips parted with a loud inhalation. What the hell? Sure, he wasn't offering any resistance, but he sure wasn't kissing back, either. Blair froze.
"Jim?" he asked against Jim's mouth.
"Is this okay? Is there something that you'd like me to do differently, or..." But he could feel the thick, hard erection against his thigh. He realized that he was still rocking against Jim, and stilled himself abruptly.
"No, it's..." Strong arms came around Blair's back, caressing long patterns up and down the leanly muscled surface. "I just don't know what to do," he admitted.
The words 'you don't have to do anything at all,' were on the tip of his tongue when Blair took a sharp left turn and replied, "Tell me about the music. Tell me what it was like when I was around...you didn't tell me the whole truth earlier."
"No," Jim said, and Blair thought that he was refusing, but it was an agreement. "I didn't tell you...but it seems like you pretty much figured it out anyhow, Sandburg."
"Yeah, but what...what was...it like." Blair smirked around the nipple that he was working on methodically, nip, lick, suck- repeatedly, while artfully working Jim's underwear off with his hands.
Jim groaned deep in his throat and thrust against Blair again, then again. "Sometimes, when you'd come near me, and touch me...it would start up and all I could think about was being the way we are right now. It wasn't me, though, it was the music."
"Uh huh." Blair paused to move his tongue languidly in and out of the eager, willing mouth that welcomed him in. God, Jim was getting so hot, like he couldn't wait anymore, like he was going to break any second, and devour Blair in either an act of lasciviousness or violence. Perhaps both. Both of his hands were firmly grasping Blair's ass, pulling against him rhythmically.
"So, you stopped feeling that way when the music stopped, then?"
"God damn it, Sandburg!" Jim growled, taking over the kiss, transplanting his hands from Blair's cheeks into his hair. "No, it didn't stop. Does it look like it's stopped?" What the hell was wrong with this kid, that he couldn't stop researching even when he was getting off?
Blair slid his own leaking cock against Jim's wonderfully hard abs one last time before breathlessly saying, "No, as a matter of fact, it doesn't," and then he shut up and lifted himself off of Jim, because he had better uses for his mouth. He turned somewhat awkwardly, and Jim sighed because finally, finally Blair was taking him directly in hand, one hand teasing between his legs while the other held him and a talented tongue stroked and tasted the head of his penis.
"Do me, too, Jim," he heard his guide's muffled voice saying, while a lovely, Blair-scented erection appeared miraculously at his lips, bumping gently, begging entrance.
I'm not going to last long this way, Jim thought. This was definitely not the most stamina-inducing position for a Sentinel, with the heady taste, touch, and scent of Blair so very concentrated all at once.
But he complied, opening up and sucking, holding onto Blair's twitching hips to set his own rhythm. Blair followed his rhythm, and before long he was frantically pulling at Blair's hips, fingers digging in, fast and faster, urging his guide to go down on him in the same frenzied pace, and Blair, so desperately trying to keep up despite the haze of passion that he was melting within was the first to lose it, bucking uncontrollably into Jim's mouth and keening helplessly around Jim's erection, which in turn began to jerk in long spurts into Blair's sucking, moaning, panting mouth.
"Oh. My. God."
Blair was the first to speak, in broken, hitching syllables. "that was...Jim, that felt really good," he said lazily against a solid and what he found to be extremely touchable thigh.
"Yeah." Apparently Jim wasn't a big talker after sex. But a cuddler he was, because work-rough hands were smoothing over Blair's ass and the backs of his thighs, the urgency of lovemaking gone, but the want remaining.
"You look sad." Blair said over his shoulder, nearly lost in the caresses, but not enough to miss the vague air of melancholy that was mixed with the tenderness. It created a dissonant, flat chord in his own ihaadu riway. For Jim to be sad, while he himself was so blissed out, was just wrong.
"Jim," he said, alarmed. He sat up and stilled Jim's hands by covering them with his own, pressing them against his chest. "Tell me."
There was more silence and Blair shivered. Finally, Jim replied, with resignation, "I am a little sad, I guess."
"Why?" Blair stared, almost not wanting to hear the answer. Hadn't he done well so far, hadn't he done everything that he could think of to bring the music back to Jim? Maybe Jim hadn't wanted this, or it wasn't what he'd hoped it would be.
"Because I wish that this were real," Jim bit out reluctantly, trying to pull his hands away. Blair wouldn't let him.
Oh, Jim. Yet again, Blair wondered how he could've almost left, could've thought that Jim didn't care, didn't feel and didn't have the capacity for...whatever it was that he was seeing in those pained eyes right now.
Whatever had brought them to this point was of no consequence. The only thing that mattered was taking away that pain, and giving Jim back what he'd caused him to lose. He held the hands even tighter to his chest, against his own heart.
"This is real," he whispered, and when Jim began shaking his head, not believing, he forced him to listen, turning Jim's face with a gentle hand. "It's real." It was a promise.
So much wanting to believe, but terrified of hoping too greatly, Jim put himself once again in Blair's hands. "Show me," he whispered back furiously.
It sounded like an order...hell, everything sounded like an order coming from Jim, but Blair could see in the rare unguarded vulnerability of his friend's face that it was a request.
He pulled until Jim was in a sitting position, and then molded their mouths together, trying desperately to give him what he needed, an effusion of love and stability, an outpouring of his own interpretations of the drums. This was it, his apology, his redemption and it had to work.
After long, breathless kisses, they pulled apart at the mouth but remained in a close embrace. Blair didn't want to let go. Not now, when Jim was feeling so vulnerable. If they parted now without talking about things, there was a very good chance that his friend would close up completely and things would fall apart between them.
"Jim, I don't know what you're feeling, but maybe it will help if I go first." Hmm. Up close he could see a few freckles on Jim's shoulder, where he planted a small kiss. "This was the only way I could think of, my way of giving back to you after I inadvertently caused you to lose something important. But...for me, at least, it was more than that."
"Me too." Jim nosed around in Blair's curls, inhaling deeply every few moments.
"I mean," Blair paused. "I wanted it so bad-" his voice cracked a little and he cleared his throat. "I wanted you so badly, and then there you were, all ready and..."
They both laughed. "Yeah, that too," Blair chuckled, relieved. "And don't forget able."
"Definitely able," Jim boasted, nudging Blair's chin up in order to nuzzle his neck.
"But the question is, will you be able to read those tactile knobs for electrical appliances tomorrow?"
"Ugh, don't remind me. I never thought I'd be hoping to be groped. Being undercover is one of the few times that you actually pray for crimes to be committed just so that you can be done with it."
"Hoping to be groped, huh?" Blair leered at him.
When Blair scooted closer, and Jim was mouth to mouth, breathing in his guide's sweet breath, he whispered with an indecipherable smile, "Guess what?"
Blair frowned, puzzled at first by what Jim was doing, tapping out a rhythm on Blair's leg, tap tap tap, kiss, tap tap tap, kiss, until his face broke into a joyous grin of understanding.
It was in perfect sync with his own inner song.
End Caesura by Lily: email@example.com
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