Not mine, don't sue.
"Ready to go, Chief?"
Jim grabbed his keys from the hotel dresser and watched Blair make a few final adjustments to his bow tie.
The younger man stared into the mirror, smoothing back his hair, his mind obviously not on his appearance but somewhere else entirely.
"Nervous?" Jim approached from his left side and took a moment to enjoy their reflections, side by side in their black tuxes.
"Nah," he replied, then echoed Jim's exact thoughts. "Damn, we look good."
"That we do, partner." They grinned at each other in the mirror, soaking in one another's happiness.
Jim couldn't help remembering the events that had led up to this moment. It had come as a surprise to them both several months back when an old student of Blair's had called from an expedition in South America. Over the choppy static of the phone, Blair had gotten news that made his heart skip a beat.
The team had found something. Years ago, Blair had gathered information from natives and done as much research as possible on a tribe that showed no evidence of actually existing. References were rare, but like Sentinels, he alone believed in the lost tribe of Htungi, as he called them, and wrote a brilliant paper on all that he'd learned, as well as his own speculation.
Jim had watched uneasily as Blair frantically packed, but weeks later when his friend returned home, tan and satisfied and positively glowing, he put his worries aside. Blair had proven his theory, his tribe had existed, and Blair, in the eyes of the anthropological world...was a star.
Now they were in Los Angeles at a banquet honoring Blair's achievements, and Jim's anxiety had lessened considerably. Instead of worrying that Blair might go away, he was filled with pride. After all, Blair deserved this award twice over, even though no one but the two of them knew it. He thought about mentioning that fact to Blair, but it seemed that their thoughts were on the same track tonight and Blair spoke first, saying,
"You know...it's weird. I always thought that when I received this kind of attention, it would be for the Sentinel thing." He sounded more than thoughtful; almost wistful.
"Are you sorry about that?"
"No, no...it just feels different than my fantasies, you know? Maybe because the Sentinel project is what I truly care about. When I imagined winning an award for my Sentinel work, you were always standing up there with me. It affirmed both of us." Blair shook his head at the inanity of his admission and patted his lapels. "Of course, those fantasies are the very thing that made me realize that I couldn't ever go public with the Sentinel thing."
"Well, I won't be up there with you but I'll be in the audience." It was the right thing to say, and Jim was pleased to see Blair's high spirits returning.
"Thanks, Jim. We'd better go before they give the award to someone else." The image displayed in the enormous rectangular mirror calmed Blair's nerves, and he took one last look at Jim's familiar face before turning away.
"Congratulations, Chief. You've made us all proud." Jim turned him, hugging fiercely for a second before stepping back and straightening his tux.
Blair graciously accepted a plaque and check that evening, but when he looked back on it, it was always the few quiet moments in the hotel room that stood out, and Jim's absolute approval.
"There's a situation out at the Eighth Avenue Savings and Loan, Chief." Jim barely gave Blair a second glance during his cursory explanation. Simon, Joel and Rafe were rushing to leave Major Crimes, their words colored with urgency, pulling on shoulder holsters and pulling on Kevlar vests with a purpose.
"We leaving now?" He threw his backpack onto the floor behind Jim's desk.
"Sorry, Chief. Invitation only." Jim's face showed his displeasure. His movements reflected how pissed he was as he shoved a magazine into his backup weapon and charged it forcefully. "You can't come."
"But...this looks dangerous, Jim. What if you zone out? No way. I'm coming." He followed Jim and the group of other detectives as they stalked down the hall, clicking and rustling in their heavy gear.
For a brief second, Jim's eyes lighted on him with worry and then he nodded. "Fine. But you stay outside the perimeter and if anyone tells you to do something- you do it."
Blair nodded wordlessly and hurried anxiously after his partner.
At the scene, he found himself banished to a position all the way across the street from the action, watching Jim carefully from behind the questionable safety of a dumpster. Detective Stanley, a friendly officer that Blair had always liked, spotted and joined him, making small talk until things started moving.
"There," Stanley whispered. "There they are, inside." He lowered his binoculars. "Hopefully we'll get them this time. The most notorious cop-killers in the country, these bastards."
Blair silently agreed, distracted as he watched Jim observe the activities inside. What if he zoned? It was unlikely, but he'd been using sight for nearly twenty minutes now, a tiring task for even an experienced Sentinel.
A blur of movement caught his eye coming around the corner of the building from the back. All in black, three gunmen moved stealthily, purposefully toward the cluster of cops who were keeping the building under surveillance. Blair's mouth opened with a click as they drew their weapons, and the gasp that was emitted as he saw where they were aiming-
Jim, deep and unprotected in the inner rooms with three steel barrels pointed in his direction-
-morphed easily into a scream, a scream in the form of his partner's name, warning him back-
And as quickly as the gasp became a scream, the gunmen's impassive aim turned furiously toward the source of the sound. Detective Stanley, thinking that Blair was having some sort of psychotic episode--did not notice.
And he never noticed, never even saw the gunmen, because before he could comprehend the situation his body was being pumped full of angry bullets.
The shots triggered a storm of shouting and gunfire and minutes later, after the smoke cleared, one officer lay dead on the ground, three wounded and bleeding. None of the gunmen survived, Jim noted hastily before pushing through the chaos, racing across the street to the source of the scream that had started the mayhem.
"Oh god, oh god oh god..." Jim could hear the familiar, frantic mantra even before his partner was in his line of sight. When he made his way around the dumpster to his friend he recoiled, overwhelmed by the scent of Blair and blood, a frightening combination.
Horrified eyes stared up at him from a tangle of darkly soaked limbs. Horrified, but alive. Jim squatted and brushed a hand across Blair's red-splattered face. "Any of that yours, Chief?"
"N-no...just, help get him off me, man!" his last words were tinged with hysteria, and Jim pulled at Stanley's torso, dislodging the listless officer with a grunt. Blair's hand felt sticky against his own as he pulled his partner to standing.
There was no need to check the downed officer's vitals. Together they looked down at the body, momentarily untouched by the chaos around them. "Christ, Sandburg," Jim muttered, shaking his head, wiping his hand on the side of his pants, "You are in some serious shit."
Jim took in the utter shock reflected in the blue of Blair's eyes. "What do you mean, 'What'? Your hollering blew an intensely covert operation, tipped off the gunmen and single-handedly started a firestorm that left at least one cop dead." Something in Blair's face, possibly the sudden pallor, made him stop. Pausing, he put a hand on one of his partner's slumped shoulders; a peace offering. "Why don't you just tell me what went down, all right?"
"Oh man..." Blair's color wasn't improving much despite the deep breaths that he struggled to take in. "They were coming around the corner and you were completely engrossed in...Sight, I think."
Jim nodded. "I was trying to take inventory of their arsenal."
"Okay, and they had their weapons pointed right at you, Jim. Right at you!" He shook his head, reliving it and trembling with frustration over the knowledge that there hadn't been anything else to do. No other options but to warn his partner. "No one else saw them. I had to say something, I just couldn't let them kill you."
"You put yourself in danger, Sandburg. You shouldn't have done that." But the reproach was softened by the arm he slung around Blair's shaking shoulders, leading him away from the scene. Blair shivered gratefully inside the security of their partnership and wisely let Jim do the talking when Simon approached with the inevitable questions.
"Sandburg!" he boomed. Jim didn't flinch, but Blair stiffened; ready for reprisal. "What the fuck did you think you were doing! Do you have any idea the shit that just went down?"
"Did we get them, sir?"
With a distracted frown, the angry Captain muttered, "Yeah, we got the bastards," and gestured shortly with a hand, which then rubbed at his face in aggravation. "But we've also got a hell of a lot of trouble on our hands. Four officers down...do I even need to ask about Stanley?"
"Sorry, sir." Jim tried to keep his gaze from the bullet-riddled dumpster, but for reasons he couldn't explain, it drew him. Sandburg had been behind that dumpster, Sandburg had saved him- and risked himself- yet gotten another officer killed, an impossible tradeoff. The kid was probably driving himself crazy in his head over this.
But before any of them could work out what to do next, Blair was wrenched from Jim's side by violent hands and pushed to the ground.
Blair blinked up at the small crowd that had gathered around him, biting back a plaintive 'Jim,' because that was all that Jim needed right now. No, just get up, he told himself but when he attempted to do just that, a heavily booted foot pushed against his chest, hard.
"What the fuck!-" he could hear Jim bellowing in the background even as his vision blurred under the pressure and lack of oxygen. Somewhere in the scuffle, a kick jarred his ribs, then another and then Simon's huge hands were pulling him up and holding him upright.
"Ugh," he grunted. His side ached, but at least now he could breathe. "Thanks, man."
The scene hadn't by any means settled down. Jim was locked into a messy struggle, sweating and cursing with a member of the SWAT team while at least twelve detectives looked on coolly. His nose dripped with blood, but Blair noticed that the other guy had already caught several punches in the face.
And Simon just stood there, not moving to put an end to the fighting. Blair followed his gaze when he muttered a deep, "Oh, goody," and understood immediately. Toward them strode the rather irate-looking Chief of Police.
"Ellison! Sanders!" the Chief wasted no words and didn't spare Blair so much as a glance. Jim pushed Sanders away roughly and snarled one last threat before obeying, approaching the Chief with as much dignity as possible for a man with ripped clothing and bloody face.
"Banks, get Mr. Sandburg up to an interrogation room and don't let him go anywhere, am I understood? Ellison, Sanders, get cleaned up and wait outside. We're going to get statements from every person here and no one's going home until it's taken care of."
"Yes sir," answered four voices in unison.
Blair took his place next to Jim at the sinks in the washroom, grabbing a handful of paper towels on the way. The water splashed into and out of the stained porcelain basin despite the lack of water pressure, and Blair swirled an idle hand around, testing the temperature.
Together they worked, side by side, cleaning off the sticky remains of the afternoon tragedy from their faces and clothes.
"Your soap dispenser work?"
"Yeah. Want some?"
"I'll get it."
Blair shivered as Jim leaned past him to reach the soap, and noticed the swollen red knuckles. "Jesus Jim, what the hell went down with you and Sanders? You guys are friends."
"Hardly." Jim worked the slippery pink substance into a lather and rubbed it onto his face with a good amount of water. Anything to get the blood off. "He was an okay guy right up until about the time when his boot developed an intimate relationship with your kidneys."
"Oh. That was him." A few strands of his hair clung wetly to his face, tickling. He sniffed and pushed them out of the way so gently, as though he couldn't stand offending anyone else today, not even a few pieces of hair.
"This is crazy, Jim."
"I know." Sentinel sight zoomed in as he scrubbed his hands under the scalding tap. "You did the right thing, though, Chief. It was a hard call to make."
"No." Blair's suddenly loud voice reverberated through the bathroom. "No it wasn't a hard call, Jim. What's to decide? To let you die? Do you think we'd be here right now waiting for IA to show up if I were...a real cop? That's what partners do, but because I'm not a cop, I wouldn't know the first thing about being a partner, right?"
"I don't think that."
"No. But they do."
The drain gurgled noisily as they left, the Sentinel following behind his Guide.
"So, Mr. Sandburg. Can you tell me again why you thought that the best course of action would be to give away the entire operation by yelling out your location?"
For nearly an hour they'd been at Sandburg, chiseling away in hopes of finding the cracks they needed to prove their point. Jim stood tensely watching and wondering how Blair could sit there with such calm, answering and re-answering every question they fired at him.
"I told you-"
"Yes, you did. But what gives you the right to decide that Detective Ellison's life is more important than Detective Stanley's?"
"Stanley had cover," Blair insisted with as much conviction as he'd shown the first time they'd asked this question.
"Apparently not enough cover, wouldn't you say?" Detective Prichard's comment was meant to cut deep and succeeded, judging by the way Blair blinked, dumbstruck.
"Yes," he said quietly. "Not enough."
"And where were the shooters when you yelled for your partner?"
"They'd just come around the corner, and were aiming right at the team in front, including Detective Ellison."
"That's not what some other Detectives on the scene have told us."
Jim exchanged a dark look with Simon, who shared his watching place from behind the double mirrors. He'd hoped that it wouldn't come to this, Blair's word against the rest of the force.
"Then they're either mistaken or lying," Blair replied, and Jim recognized all of the signs that his heretofore cooperative partner was about to deteriorate into obstinate indignation. It was about time, too. If these assholes thought that a guy who looked like Blair wouldn't give them fight...they had no idea how wrong they were.
"Hmm." Prichard leaned back in his chair, which squeaked in protest to the man's beer gut. Jim willed him to fall but, sadly, Sentinel senses only went so far.
"That's it," he snapped. "I've had it with your 'hmm's' and your entrapping questions. If you don't have any new questions for me, then I'm gone. Are we done here?"
And Jim wanted to applaud when Blair didn't wait for an answer but just pushed his chair away from the table and stalked off, the air currents of his huffy departure sweeping Prichard's notes off the table. He didn't talk or look at anyone until they were safely in the truck, driving out of the parking garage.
"Tell me what they're saying."
Jim studied the side of Blair's face, trying to gauge exactly what his motivation was for asking--and whether or not he would be able to handle the truth right now. The sun had long since set since they'd been in the building, and passing shadows made a secret of his partner's feelings.
"They're tired and want to go home, just like us."
"No, what are they saying about me."
He didn't know what to say. Stretching out his hearing, which he really shouldn't be doing while driving anyhow, he could hear bits and pieces of talk about Blair--all negative, some frightening in the intensity of hatred behind the words.
"That they saw you sucking me off in the stairwell last summer."
Blair jerked his gaze away from the window to Jim. "Who said that??" he demanded.
"Evans. The guy in personnel who lost your paperwork that one time."
"Oh, yeah." His frown deepened. "Damn. I talked to him at the Civil Servants Banquet the other night. I thought he was starting to warm up to me, especially when I introduced him to Senator Phelps."
"Mmm." Jim pulled back his hearing and focused instead on Blair himself. Every aspect of his physical state radiated anxiety, fear and sadness. Not exactly sad, Jim mused, not like when Maya had left him, but more of a disgust. And who could blame him? The whole situation was disgusting...and downright insulting. But they'd been here a million times before, in seemingly hopeless situations, and they always passed.
They always went home, showered, ate, talked. Normal things that kept their lives normal and suddenly, Jim felt a thrill of smug relief run through him. He was going home with Blair and together they'd work out what had happened. Most of the men from this afternoon would go home to either an empty apartment or a family that had no way of understanding.
When they arrived back at the loft, the answering machine blinked manically in a way it hadn't been since Blair's initial success, and they were both reluctant to play the messages. Instead, Jim tactfully went through them while Blair was in the shower and jotted down the significant information. A grunt of pain from the bathroom brought Jim to the door, hovering in concern.
"My fucking ribs. Do we have any more of that tape?" The toilet flushed, hamper lid slammed shut and Blair was emerging in a cloud of steam. Jim blinked, unsure whether or not he'd just zoned.
"Uh, yeah. In the right hand drawer. Grab it and I'll fix you up."
"Did Michael call?" Blair asked with a sucked-in breath. With all the aftermath of the day, he was finding it difficult to sit still for Jim. Normally he'd find the rub and press of his partner's fingers soothing, but not today, not with these raw nerves.
Jim frowned, flicking at a stray thread from the tape. For an insane second, he'd been tempted to say that no, Michael hadn't called. To preserve the sanctuary of the loft, the peace and quiet of the evening that he'd been anticipating. Instead, he sighed and continued wrapping his friend's bruised ribs.
"You have that look."
"I don't know. You've had it a lot lately."
"Maybe it's just the way I look, Sandburg." He leaned back on his heels to survey his work. "You should probably take some aspirin or something."
Blair gingerly rose from the couch and took Jim's advice, washing down the pills with a glass of juice. "Did he say for me to call him back?" he asked from the kitchen.
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Jim asked sharply.
Aha. Finally, even Jim Ellison couldn't keep something bottled up indefinitely. Blair crossed his arms and leaned against the counter, the picture of pressed patience. "In regards to what?"
"You know what I mean."
"No, I don't."
"Chief, I'm sure I don't have to point out the fact that Michael..." Jim looked around uncomfortably, searching for the right words, words that wouldn't offend or sound silly. "He has this thing for you. He looks up to you like you're some kind of...of god or something. And every time that you let him tag along or return his calls, it encourages him."
"C'mon Jim, we're just interested in the same stuff. And if he's a little enthusiastic, it's because he's impressed with all the attention I've been getting at the university." Blair waved off the suggestion with a nervous laugh. "Geez, Jim. You're getting paranoid about him. I told you that I'm not interested."
"Tell it to Michael," Jim shrugged doubtfully.
"Yeah right, I'm going to tell him that I can't hang out anymore because you think that he has the hots for me. Are you serious?"
Jim turned away sullenly. Yes. "No," he grumbled. "Whatever. Just...try to get him to take it down a notch, okay?"
Blair's laugh broke the tension. "I guess he can be a little over the top at times," he agreed. "It's just this whole thing," he gestured around in circles with his arm. "It's crazy Jim, I'm telling you. People who never used to pay me any attention, now they fall all over themselves just to get the chance to talk to me. But that's the thing...it's not real."
"What do you mean? You earned it, Chief." Jim was immensely pleased that Blair was aware that his success had drawn many insincere people. At least Michael seemed genuine in his affection.
"That part's real. But these people are the same ones who kicked me out to the curb when I stood up for myself over the Ventriss thing. It was as though everything I'd done at the University meant nothing."
"You're still hung up about that?"
They'd gone over this a million times, and Jim never seemed to fully grasp the way that the case with Brad Ventriss had affected him, something that exasperated Blair to no end. "Forget it," he sighed, defeated. "Hey, at least I don't have to worry about you treating me any differently."
"Damn right. And just to prove it, I'll let you take out the trash tonight. So, you gonna call Michael back?"
Blair considered this for a second. On one hand, being around someone who hadn't witnessed today's misfortune was tempting. It might prove a nice escape, having his ego soothed by someone whose eyes were, as Jim had said, always filled with affection and admiration. But a simple flex of his muscles reminded him of the abuse his body had taken. An evening on the couch was in order, especially since Jim would be completely accessible, judging by his expression and earlier actions.
He'd saved Jim's life today.
Suddenly, his legs turned to rubber and his body shook. If Jim had gotten his way and left Blair behind at the station, he would be dead. Instead of trying to decide whether or not to return phone calls, Blair would be deciding whether or not Jim would've wanted to be buried in the blue or black suit.
"No." The decision left him drained. "I'm gonna crash for a while."
"Good idea." Jim agreed quickly, seeing an opportunity to call Simon and get a better feel for what was happening. "I'll wake you when it's time to eat. I put the Motrin on your dresser; might want to take some before you go to sleep if you want to be able to walk when you get up."
"Thanks." Blair tried to cover his limp, knowing that Jim was watching him all the way into his room. Only when he closed the door did he allow himself to fall onto the bed, allowing the pain to course through his battered limbs until he found sleep, inviting, dark and pain-free.
"I'm not saying that I don't want him at the station, Jim." Simon was nearing the end of his patience after the day he'd just had, and his most headstrong Detective wasn't making it any easier. "I'm saying that it's not the best place for him right now. People aren't happy; they blame him. He got a man killed, for Christ's sake!"
"Simon, you don't believe that!" Jim took a second to make sure Blair was still sleeping. "He saved my fucking life."
Simon exhaled loudly, a weary sound. "Ellison, listen to me. We've got differing eyewitness accounts, and until it's all sorted out, it would be in his--hell, in both of your best interests if he stays away. Got it?"
"Yes, sir," Jim ground out.
"Oh, and one more thing. Try to prepare yourself for nasty comments and everything that goes along with something like this? You lose your cool even one time and I'll place you on involuntary leave."
"You'd do that."
"To cover your overprotective ass, I would! You can't go around attacking everyone who makes an inappropriate remark about Sandburg, because believe me; it's going to happen. Even in our department. I'm sorry."
Jim put the phone back on the receiver and sank onto the couch. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to be feeling at a time like this, and was even less sure that he could name what it was that he was feeling. Work without Blair? He could do it, yes, but didn't want to.
Major Crimes without Blair. Interviews without Blair. Stakeouts without Blair. The very idea was contemptible, yet it was impossible to believe that Blair wouldn't be pleased with the opportunity to spend more time at his real job. It made sense that his partner would be relieved at a convenient excuse to throw himself into his first love. Anthropology.
For the past few weeks, Jim had been nursing the secret fear that he would lose Blair to this more glamorous, appreciative lifestyle and now that police work had proved ultimately thankless and deadly, that fear was about to become reality.
He set about cleaning the dishes in the sink.
"Have a good day at work, dear?" Blair batted his eyelashes coquettishly as Jim walked through the door and received a good-natured thump on the shoulder for his troubles.
"Yeah," Jim said, and threw a stack of folders onto the counter. "So great of a day that I brought some of it home with me."
"Did you at least get that witness on the Dodge Street arson?"
"Two," Jim nodded. "And that case, my friend, is officially on Simon's desk and out of my hands now."
"Congratulations." Blair watched Jim kick off his shoes and place them in the corner. "Want a sandwich?"
"Sounds good. I'm starved."
After Jim ate, they sat down in the living room and Blair worked on a paper he was writing while Jim looked through case files. Every once in a while, they'd exchange comments on their progress or the events of the day. After being away from the station for two weeks, Blair wanted to know every detail of what had been going on, and Jim obligingly filled him in on all the new cases, leaving out the parts where people approached him full of bitter words to deliver to Blair. He told Blair about Megan's new, somewhat sexist partner, a situation that had already produced dozens of laughable anecdotes, and omitted the part of the day during which he'd had to meet with IA and answer two hours worth of questions about the Eighth Avenue Savings and Loan debacle.
When he'd told all there was to tell, Blair stood to fetch some beers from the kitchen and said, "It sounds like you've got a really heavy case load, Jim. When I come back to the station..."
Something in Jim's face stopped him, something wary and apologetic that sent a bolt of fear down his back. He let Jim grasp his shoulder in a gesture that failed to be reassuring.
"Chief, sit down for a minute. We should probably talk." He let his hand slide down Blair's arm and took his hand, tugging him toward the couch. When they were both seated, Jim faced him squarely.
"Blair, I think that we need to face some facts," he said. Gentle, he reminded himself. He had to word this the exact right way, which was why he'd been dreading this conversation for days.
"Okay..." Blair forced a smile.
"They're not letting you come back to the station," he said, and the words dropped like bombs between them, deadly and final. "We're not going to work together at the PD anymore. I'm sorry."
It killed him to deliver this news, and killed him a little bit more when Blair's head bowed deeply, his hands coming up to cradle his pale face before Jim could catch a glimpse of whatever naked emotion that Blair wanted so much to hide.
"Believe me, I tried," he continued. "But after all these years, after all that's happened, there aren't many favors we haven't called in."
"Bullshit!" Blair's vehemence emerged in a whisper, clearly heard through the shield of his hands. "It's they who owe you, not the other way around." He shook his head, elbows digging painfully into his knees.
"Be that as it may, it's a done deal. Which leads me to what I've been wanting to say for a while. We owe them, they owe us...none of that is really important. It's me. I owe you, Chief. Don't argue, just listen for a second, okay?" He could hear the stiff discomfort in his own voice, and hated it, but bleeding out from that uneasy combination was something that quieted Blair, and urged him to listen.
"I know that in the past few months it's been hard for you to juggle the Anthropology stuff and the police work. It's always been hard, but lately, even more so. And the PD is my gig, Chief. You should be able to devote as much time to your work as you want to. I've been holding you back, and in a way, I hope that this is a bit of a relief for you."
"Yeah, you can do anything you want to now."
"Anything I want," he snorted. "So, that's just it? No more working together with absolutely no warning?"
"I wouldn't say there's been no warning, Chief," Jim said carefully. "For weeks now, you haven't been allowed at the station. We've both known that the fallout would be big."
"What about your senses?" he demanded.
"My senses are fine." Jim squeezed Blair's arm, using those very senses to fully experience everything he could in that brief moment. "It's like what you said a couple years ago about having enough data for ten dissertations, remember? I've had my senses under control for a while now, but just got spoiled, I guess. Used to having you with me. I didn't want to rock the boat and go back to working alone again, but it's not about my senses anymore."
"This is hard for me to hear, Jim," Blair admitted. "But I'm glad it's you telling me, and not Simon." He shook his head, still dazed. "Wanna hear something funny?"
Although he somehow thought that it would most likely not be very funny, Jim nodded in agreement.
"For a while now...even with all of my Anthropological success...I've always thought that I'd end up..." the set of his suddenly still mouth told Jim that his friend was working to keep tears at bay.
"End up...?" he prompted gently.
"Being a cop," Blair quickly finished, keeping glittering eyes averted. It was the closest Jim had seen him to tears since the entire ordeal had begun. "I thought I'd be a cop and that we'd be real partners. I even had this sort of ridiculous fucking fantasy where Simon would say, 'I want my best team on this case- Ellison and Sandburg', and when we got there nobody would say 'You're not a cop.'"
The raw confession stunned Jim into silence. He'd never have imagined that Blair had entertained these kinds of thoughts. Thoughts of being a cop, a real cop and most of all...being with Jim in a long-term kind of way.
"And now I can kiss any likelihood of that good*bye*, can't I," he mused bitterly. "I'll be lucky if I don't go to-"
"-Stop it!" Jim interrupted the negative thought before it could be completed. "Don't even say it. You are not going to go to jail. It wasn't your fault." But Blair just turned away with a disbelieving shrug.
"Doesn't matter. And it was my fault, technically. As far as everyone but you is concerned, I blew the bust and got somebody killed. They hate me."
Hearing the pain behind those words was nearly more than Jim could take. His chest constricted with the deepest empathy for his partner. It wasn't fair; Blair had saved his life and was repaid in turn with accusation and disgust.
"They hate you because they don't know what happened, damn it. I wish that you'd stop acting like you did something wrong! And all that talk about prosecuting is just that. Talk. They won't do it and even if they do, we'll get you the best lawyer in Cascade."
"That's nice, Jim, but you know what lawyers cost. Something like this would be big bucks. Thanks anyway."
"I'd rather be broke with you here, than rich with you sitting in prison."
"Thanks." Blair chuckled, shaking his head, but his anxiety seemed to lessen. The moment seemed to warrant a physical show of affection and he reached for Blair, but a clanging sound was making its way up the stairs. He pulled back.
"Michael's here, and he's even more wound up than usual."
"I don't know if you can handle that, Jim. You want me to stall him while you climb down the fire escape?"
"Thanks Chief, but I think I'll just do what I always do."
"Pretend he doesn't exist?" Blair extended a hand and let Jim pull him up from the couch right as the bell buzzed. "Let me tell you something, man. Flamboyant does not equal dumb. He knows how you feel about him, and I am hard pressed to convince him that you're not a raging homophobe."
Jim shrugged. He leaned against the kitchen counter sipping a bottle of water and watched the door fly open as a flurry of high-pitched energy consumed the loft, barreling into Blair and taking him into a tight embrace.
"Blair! Oh my God! Oh my God!" A piece of paper flapped in his hand and he waved it in front of Blair until finally, Blair laughed and plucked the paper from his grasp.
Jim rolled his eyes, his opinions about Michael reaffirmed.
"What's this?" Blair was saying. "Sheila McClure," he read. "I don't know-"
"-People!" Michael squealed, grabbing Blair's hands and shaking them up and down like a fourth grade girl as he led Blair in a frenetic dance of joy.
Jim couldn't look away.
"People, People, People!" he chanted with glee, and the whole scene skidded to slow motion for Jim as Michael tucked his face into the crook of Sandburg's neck and giggled.
The glint of sun off of Michael's shiny, golden hair momentarily blinded Jim, the whole world narrowing down to the excited thump of the young man's heart for a breath, and when Jim blinked again, the whole scene had distorted to something unsettling. A view that forced into focus the curve of Blair's fingers into the flesh of Michael's bare shoulder, the smooth slide of skin as he petted his friend's arm, bringing him down to a more tolerable energy level.
"...me?" Blair was saying, his eyes wide, and his eyes sought Jim's across the room, and Jim breathed finally, released from the bizarre sensual web.
"Yes!" crowed Michael. "She said that they want you, Blair Sandburg, in their 50 most beautiful people issue. I gave her your home phone number and she said that she'd call tonight or tomorrow."
"Jim," Blair said, obviously wanting a reaction, but the only thing repeating itself over and over in Jim's bewildered mind was the whisper of Michael's breath that had ghosted over Blair's lips. Blair hadn't felt it, but Jim could almost swear that in that moment of heightened senses, he had.
"Sounds good, Chief," he managed. "Congratulations."
Until then, apparently Michael hadn't known that Jim was even in the room, because his posture stiffened as he turned. "Hello, Detective Ellison," he said carefully.
"Jim," Blair corrected out of habit, then studied the paper in his hand. "This is great," he said slowly, "but Michael, I'm not sure that I'll even be able to do this. Something, um. Happened. When I was working with Jim a couple weeks ago, and I don't think that People will want me once they find out what happened."
"What happened?" Michael asked, his young, pretty face darkened by concern for the first time Jim could ever remember. "You didn't kill anyone, did you?" The nervous laughter died on his lips when no one spoke.
Blair stared at the paper and began to close his hand around it, watching it crumple in on itself. Jim watched the same thing happening to Blair himself.
"No." Jim put his water on the counter. "He didn't kill anyone. He saved my life. And he should do this. Whether or not they decide to use Eighth Avenue against you, you need to try, Sandburg. I want to see you do this."
"Nope." Jim held up a hand in refusal. "Besides, Michael's probably told all of his friends that he knows one of the fifty most beautiful people in America, and you don't want to make him a liar, do you?"
"He's right," Michael chirped, and shot Jim a strange, approving glance. "There's no getting out of it now."
And even the unsettling nature of the past few minutes couldn't take away from the simple pleasure that Jim felt when Blair looked up, smiling and admitting defeat.
Jim kept getting the feeling that he should say something, but the problem was that he couldn't get a handle on the new balance of things. The only thing he knew was that Blair was handling everything in an incredibly mature manner.
"Blair Sandburg?" Two young women approached Jim and Blair while they were downtown, and the one with wire rimmed glasses touched Blair's shoulder hesitantly. She and her friend were Anthropology majors at Washington University.
"We're studying your work in class," she gushed. "And I saw you when you did Anthropology Today. Chrissie doesn't have cable," she motioned toward her friend, "so I taped it. And when we saw you, we just had to come over."
"Wow," Blair said to Jim, when the girls were gone. "Wild."
"Yeah." Jim agreed, staring at Blair intently. He didn't tell Blair that it wasn't entirely wild, because now he could see the thing that would make people stop Blair on the street just to meet him. For Blair, celebrity would come as naturally as breathing.
Jim felt a little star-struck, himself.
"Who the fuck is this!?" Jim growled into the phone. He'd come home and found Blair standing motionless, holding the phone and blinking slowly.
Jim grabbed the phone from his hand, but the caller was gone.
"Same shit as last time?" he asked.
Blair hated it when people didn't like him. Jim knew that, because when someone didn't like Blair, he smothered them with attention until they finally gave in and talked to him, which naturally meant that they ended up adoring him. People couldn't help themselves. But now there were a significant number of people who not only did not like him, but despised him as a killer.
And then, the threats.
"Hey," Jim said. As an experiment, he tried to look at Blair in that way, to see him as a corruption to the PD, a fast-and-loose tagalong who got someone killed, but it didn't work. He ended up taking Blair out to dinner instead, at a place that he knew Blair would be sure to be recognized as someone brilliant.
It turned out that People Magazine didn't care about Blair's current legal situation. If anything, it seemed to make him more attractive to them, and Blair suspected that they'd been worried about having enough interesting information to go in the short half-page article that would accompany his photos. He told Jim so in the truck on the way to the grocery store the next day.
"They said that it makes me 'controversial,'" he snorted, "how very hip of me to be on trial for manslaughter, right?"
Although it was exactly what might be happening, Jim hadn't thought of it in those words, and nearly ran a red light.
"They always have a few obligatory academics or humanitarians, so as to not seem shallow," Blair continued in explanation, and Jim listened distractedly.
On Trial. Manslaughter. "So, when do you fly out for the photo shoot?" he managed to ask without choking on his regret and fear.
"A week from tomorrow. Actually, they're giving me two tickets. Bring a guest and all that..." he trailed off uncertainly. "I thought that if things aren't too busy at the station, maybe Simon can give you a few days. New York, man! So what do you say?"
"I say it sounds like fun. Thanks, Chief. But are you sure you wouldn't rather take Michael?"
"No!" Blair couldn't believe Jim had even asked. "God, Jim. You're my best friend. My first choice, whether you want to be or not," he added. "I like Michael, but the university assigned him to me to get my papers in order. And even if my friendship with him was important enough that I would think to bring him with me on a vacation, I wouldn't, because like you said, he has a thing for me, and that's not right. So, will you come?"
"Sure," Jim said, thinking that he and Michael weren't so different after all. "I'll ask Simon tomorrow. It shouldn't be a problem."
"Thanks! We're gonna have a blast. And, free," he added, knowing Jim well enough to know what angle to sell him on. "We don't even have to share a hotel room like we did in Denver."
Jim pulled into the first empty parking spot that he could find at the supermarket. "By the way," Blair said as they walked through the automatic doors. "I'm going out tonight...with Sam."
Jim grabbed a shopping cart and pushed it into the first aisle, looking for his brand of cheese. "Sam from the station?"
"The one and only."
"Because, I was under the impression that she wasn't in your fan club." She was one of Blair's more vocal critics at the station.
"No, no. I know. It's not a date, just coffee or something. And I have to admit, it was nice to talk to someone from the station. I've been cut off lately and to be honest, I was starting to think that they all hate me."
There was no possible way for Blair to know of the tense, sometimes explosive climate at the station, and as far as Jim was concerned, he didn't need to know. Jim hadn't ever seen the PD so divided over an issue, and the human relations department had chosen now of all times to launch a morale campaign that promoted the unity of cops and had a distinct "Us vs. Them" spin to it. In any other circumstances, it would've been a morale booster for everyone, but now it simply alienated Sandburg even further.
"Your real friends have always stood behind you. Everyone else can go fuck themselves." He picked up a mango and turned it around in his hand, checking for ripeness. "Want some of these?"
"Yeah, get four." Blair nodded. "And don't go telling everyone to fuck themselves, okay, Jim? Your career isn't worth throwing away over some jerk who thinks I'm a screwup."
Jim just grunted, sliding the mangos into a plastic bag and tying the ends. He wasn't about to make any promises.
Jim checked the window again. No Volvo, no Blair, and no sound of either anywhere in a ten block radius. And he was just too tired to stretch his hearing beyond that.
There had been a vague nagging in the back of his mind ever since Blair had mentioned the date, and it was more than his long-enduring dislike for the woman. He sighed, leaning toward the window. No headlights in the parking lot. He poured himself a cup of coffee with resignation. It was obvious that it was going to be a late night, so he decided to take a shower now to save some time in the morning.
He'd barely gotten wet when an unexpected sound assaulted his ears, a sound that send him stumbling slick and dripping out of the shower. He nearly killed himself trying to get his boxers on, leaving them twisted uncomfortably on his hips in his rush to get to the source of the sobbing breaths that were no longer muffled by the shower. With the sense of danger, he dialed up until he smelled Blair and blood, and blood was never good so he didn't walk but ran from the bathroom to the front room, which was where he found Blair.
At least, it looked like Blair. But Blair wasn't in the habit of coming home from a date at eight o'clock, and Blair didn't make sounds like this, no matter how hurt or sad he was. Crying sounds. Blair kept his hair and clothes clean so this couldn't be Blair, and if he hadn't been a Sentinel he wouldn't have believed it until the stranger looked up at him with swollen eyes and blood-smeared skin.
It was frightening that anyone so abused would appear so happy.
Blair blinked, and the ceiling turned. His hands flailed in impotent defense, but when he settled, it wasn't on rough bumpy gravel, so he sighed and left his eyes closed. It was only Jim, who had hastily deposited Blair on his bed.
"Shit, Chief," he murmured, running his hands over his partner's body. He stopped here and there to assess the damage, keeping a silent inventory on the injuries as he went along. He swiped his finger along the inside of Blair's lip to check his teeth, and swore anyhow when he found them all intact, because Blair's eyes were wet, sticky moisture drying in the curve under his eyelashes.
Throughout this process, Blair had nothing to say.
Jim retrieved a washcloth and bowl of hot water from the bathroom and returned to Blair's bedside. His partner still hadn't moved, and seemed content to leave things in Jim's hands, giving himself over to the care of his partner. Taking the extra effort toward comfort this time, he dabbed at the blood on Blair's face over and over, changing the water twice before he was clean, then moved down his body. A soapy hand slid down the inside of Blair's forearm until it reached a tightly clenched hand. Using a carefully forged mixture of force and gentleness, he pried the blood-crusted fingers open, one by one, and peeled the stained, tattered tissue from his friend's raw palm. There had been blood on the door, he realized, and squelched the compulsion to go cleanse it immediately.
Exhaling an expletive, he brushed the tiny remnants of gravel and dirt from the wounded flesh, then trickled fresh water over it, again and again until the water ran clear. He'd obviously fallen on gravel, caught himself with his hands more than once. Pushed down.
"This is gonna sting, Chief," he warned, but Blair didn't tense a muscle even as Jim applied the antibacterial spray to every spot he deemed necessary.
Jim sat back and took measure of his work. His body was going through the motions but his mind had taken off on a vigilante mission. Had Sam done this? Who? He took note of every scratch on his partner because the person who'd done this would receive exactly that...tenfold. "I'll be right back," he said. "Ice. You'll need it for that...face."
Blair stared at the ceiling through swollen eyes. It didn't matter, ice didn't matter, neither did his face- pain wasn't an issue, not anymore. The only thing that hurt, somehow, was the way that the Jim's touch so starkly contrasted with the cruel taunts and blows from the past hour. If only Jim would raise his fist, bring it down mightily on him...any part of him. Sam hadn't wanted to see him. She hadn't missed having him around, like she'd said.
"Liar," he whispered, but it sounded nothing like what he'd intended.
In the kitchen, Jim poured the dirty basin water in the sink and picked up the phone. Within a few minutes, he had Simon filled in and on his way over.
There was no telling what was going on in Blair's head, so Jim returned immediately and sat on the edge of the bed. He'd left the room with blurry vision, shaking with rage, but had returned with self-contained composure.
"Hey, buddy," he said, and placed his hand on top of the covers, over the lump that was Blair's thigh. "I know you don't feel like talking right now, but I need you to tell me who did this."
Blair grimaced, turning away. "Jim, no," he mumbled over his swollen lip.
"Yes. Give me names."
But Blair only gave him the side of his face in refusal.
"Sandburg, I want to help you, but you've got to give me something to work with. You know that eventually you're gonna tell me, so let's do it now while the evidence is still fresh."
After a long silence of thoughtfulness, Blair cleared his throat. "Off the record. Sanders. Mackelroy. Atkins, and...Sam," he said to the wall.
"Son of a bitch. Do you need to go to the hospital, Chief?"
Jim waited for a while, waiting for Blair to say something, but eventually Blair's breath deepened, and he slept. Jim stood, tugged the blanket up to his shoulders and left the door open.
When Simon arrived, his expression mirrored Jim's own.
"How is he?"
Jim shrugged. "He's all right for now. They worked him over pretty good, though. Four on one; those unbelievable cowards."
"Does he want to press charges?"
"No. He wouldn't even talk to me about it when I asked, either."
Simon pinned Jim with a thoughtful stare. "That's probably for the best. Internal Affairs won't take kindly to having a case like this dumped on their desk while they're still working on the Eighth Avenue thing. Their objectivity would go right out the window."
"Objectivity!?" Jim exploded. "Are you talking about Prichard and his group? They had Blair labeled as guilty that first day, before they even interviewed him."
"You think I don't know that? That's out of our hands, Jim, and there's no sense in aggravating them before it's over."
"I know, you're right. But I don't know what to do, Simon," he confessed. And it was a hard-faced truth. For once, he didn't have any idea of what he should be doing, or what even needed to be done. He did know, however, that this beating was a catalyst of sorts for Blair, and that their tenuous balance of living had just been upset for good.
This opinion was affirmed the next morning when he sneaked into Blair's room to check on him.
"Hey," Blair said, and yawned. "I'm not asleep, you can sit if you want."
Jim sat and studied Blair's discolored face. He contemplated the slow flip of his stomach that occurred whenever he looked at it, but that didn't stop him from doing it over and over, until he felt nauseous like he had when he'd ridden the tilt-a-whirl with Blair at the State Fair.
His hand went to rest on Blair's shoulder and he studied the picture that it created, as well. His own, familiar hand against Blair's smooth, tanned skin. It didn't have the same youthful splendor that had appeared and struck him when Michael touched Blair, but it looked good, Jim decided. Better.
"Do you need anything?"
"No. I'm just so tired of all this." And he looked tired, Jim realized. Flat. It should've been an emotional time, especially for someone like Blair who became impossibly riled up over the injustices of the world, but his voice lacked inflection or feeling of any kind. "I'm going to do the smart thing and walk away."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I can start by doing both of us a favor by getting my own place," he said. "That will help you with people at the station...and give me some distance from. People who want to kill me."
"No one wants to kill you," Jim quickly said. Blair was tired now, and hurting, making knee-jerk decisions. He wouldn't move out, because they'd just turned the storage closet into a small office. That had meant something permanent because it'd taken two weekends and Jim had ruined his favorite pair of jeans while laying the tile.
Blair made a sound of skepticism, then yawned and flopped onto his side, propping himself up with an elbow. "Yes, Jim. Sanders says that I should be dead, not Stanley. That he could fuck me up and everyone would turn their head because I'm a cop-killing fairy."
Jim knew that Blair had enough intelligence, self-esteem, and respect for his partnership with Jim to never buy into that, but he could tell that the words had made an impact.
"We can't go on like this," Blair insisted. "Things have gone from bad to worse, to even worse. You don't want to live like that, and neither do I!"
"This isn't the way. Do you really want to let them win? They want to split us up, Chief."
Blair thought this over, staring darkly at the bedcovers. He hadn't known that Jim was aware of certain people's desires to see the two men part ways.
"I know." His frustration finally emerged as bitter sarcasm. "It's just a little hard for me to accept this kind of treatment from people. Even though I'm not a cop, and therefore am an insignificant piece of shit. I've put myself on the line for these people, Jim, you know that. It's fucking thankless, and I've got to admit, immersing myself in my life at the university is looking pretty good right now."
Jim closed his eyes. It was clear that this was one of those moments in his life, one of those moments that he later looked back on and could see his mistake. Usually he made the mistake of not saying enough- or anything at all- but sometimes it was saying the wrong thing, and this was a time when he couldn't let that happen...but he wasn't sure how to stop it. Blair was waiting, he could tell, and Jim could feel the moment passing him by, being formed in sharp stone so that when he later remembered it, he would be cut, wounded again by his own blundering silence.
The end of Blair's welcome at the station had backed them into a corner of sorts, but Jim felt that he was only on the precipice of understanding what that meant. It was more than going their separate ways professionally, that much he did know. He needed to do something now, be proactive while he still could in order to prevent something from happening.
He wasn't all that sure what he was supposed to be preventing.
"Chief," he said carefully, opening his eyes. Blair had turned onto his back and stared up at the ceiling miserably.
"Please don't move out. Not yet. I mean, I think we've got a pretty good thing going here, don't you?"
"Jim." Blair said. The word was soft, and he pinned his partner with an indescribable look. "I don't know what kind of thing we've got going here. Not anymore."
And that statement could've meant so many things that he didn't want to delve into, that Jim just nodded, a jerk of his chin, and left Blair to his well-deserved wallowing.
Blair didn't move out. He didn't even mention it again after that, and Jim thought that maybe, for once he'd said the right thing. He still felt his back against a corner, and knew that everything hadn't been resolved, but Blair wasn't leaving. He decided to have a long talk with Blair while they were in New York. The magazine was flying them out first class.
"Oh, no way," Blair murmured from his wide, comfortable seat on the airplane. He chuckled, looking through the packet of information that the magazine had sent him.
"What?" Jim reached for the top sheet.
Blair slapped his hand away and tipped his head back on the headrest, still chortling to himself. "I'm supposed to share part of my beauty routine. Like, one or two tips on how I keep myself...uh, whatever."
"What's the matter, don't want to share your secrets with the rest of us?"
"Please, Jim. They're serious here. I'm supposed to say something about my exercise regimen, or the way I get this healthy glow." He grinned cheekily and it was a welcome sight, in Jim's eyes. Getting away was good for them, even if the powers that be decided that Blair was too unlovely at the moment to grace the pages of their magazine.
Jim cast a sidelong look at his partner. At first, he'd considered this honor one of the many that Blair had received in recent months, an honor gained because of his research and brilliance in the field. Only now did was he realizing that the thing to catch the magazine's attention had not been any of the papers that Blair had published, or his scholastic career at Rainier.
The thing to make some reporter or editor sit up and pay attention had been the smooth curve of his cheek, the fullness of lip and abundance of soft, springy hair. The fact that he looked as good in a pair of jeans as he did in a tux had bumped him right past whoever had actually won the Nobel prize in science this year.
Blair wasn't just smart, he was dead sexy. Other people had been seeing it for years, judging by Blair's many admirers, but it was only in the past weeks that Jim had begun seeing glimpses of the things that made Blair so physically exquisite.
And like other aspects of Blair's life, it intrigued him. Jim frowned, and decided to put off the talk until dinner.
Blair stared down at the sidewalk from his tenth floor view and touched his fingers to a still bruised cheekbone. As soon as he and Jim had arrived at the magazine, an assistant in a red pantsuit had escorted them to a beautifully decorated room, all done in red, and told them to wait. She closed the door behind her, which Blair had found unsettling.
"Don't worry." Jim approached him from behind and gave the view only a passing glance. "If they decide to cut us loose, we'll hit the city, get some food."
"Sounds good," Blair murmured, then seemed to snap out of it. "There's this exhibit that I wanted to see at the Natural History Museum. Actually, we should go see it whether or not I do the interview, because they've got some South American stuff that you'll want to see."
"Yep." Blair nodded definitively and crossed his arms, grinning. His attention shifted as he began to lose some of his nervousness, allowing him to appreciate his surroundings. "Check this out." He admired the plush couch and let himself sink into the luxurious cushions. "It's like the inside of a genie's bottle." He'd never seen this much red in one setting.
"Pretty fancy for a waiting room," Jim observed, opting to stand.
"Lounge," Blair corrected, remembering the sign outside. "Famous people don't wait, Jim, they lounge." He struck a pose on the sofa and Jim rolled his eyes, amused.
Only a few minutes later, the red-suited assistant entered, leading an important-looking woman with a clipboard who turned out to be Sheila, and a tall, skinny man dressed all in black. Introductions hadn't even been completely made yet when the man's face turned troubled.
"Oh, dear," he fretted, motioning toward Blair's face. "Oh no, what's...what is this?"
"Mr. Sandburg," Sheila said, "This is Trevor, one of our photographers. I brought him along for a pre-shoot consultation, so he'd have an idea of what he would be working with." She stepped back and tapped her black heel on the carpet. "But this is definitely not what we'd expected."
"I know," Blair said quickly. "There was a..."
And he didn't even know what to call it. The whole thing suddenly seemed embarrassing, pathetic. Things like this just didn't happen to the Beautiful People, and it was possible that he'd been fooling himself all along in thinking that he belonged here.
"Is this about your involvement in what happened to Detective Daniel Stanley?" Sheila asked abruptly, looking from Blair to Jim, then back to Blair.
"What do you know about Detective Stanley?" Jim asked, stepping forward in full intimidation mode. He knew that Blair had only given her the bare bones of his problems with the Cascade PD.
"I'm writing an article on Mr. Sandburg, Detective Ellison," she replied. "I do my research."
Both men waited stiffly for some kind of ball to drop, but she remained completely professional and motioned for them all to sit. Trevor took the corner of the sofa, shooting Blair wounded, melodramatic looks every so often.
"You're supposed to have your photo shoot tomorrow," Sheila said, still tapping her foot compulsively. "And let's face it. You look like you were caught in a prison riot."
"I know." Blair nodded.
"So," she said.
Trevor let out a little sigh that might have been a sob.
"So, bottom line, can you use him or not?" Jim had never extended much patience or good will toward reporters and photographers, but the fact that Blair was blushing and practically squirming under their eyes shortened what little patience he'd had.
"Maybe," she said thoughtfully. "I still want him to come to the shoot tomorrow, but right now I'd like to just ask a few questions."
"Sure." Blair relaxed, relieved.
"This might seem rather personal, but then again, these profiles are usually personal. Under the surface, beyond the glamour, that sort of thing."
"Okay." Glamour. He carefully avoided Jim's eyes.
"What happened to you? You've obviously been beaten."
"Yes, I was. A lot of people are very angry with me about what happened...a lot of cops are angry, and some of them jumped me about a week ago."
"At the police station?"
"No, I'm not partnered up with Jim anymore. It would be too disruptive if I went back, and things are kind of..." Blair swallowed hard. "So I've been able to devote a lot more time to Anthropology."
"I was hoping to do a shirtless shot," Trevor blurted suddenly, still sulking. "You know, an Indiana Jones type thing. Are you marked everywhere?"
Jim stared. Indiana Jones? This was worse than the ideas Wendy Hawthorne had been coming up with when he and Blair had been on True Crime.
"Not too badly," Blair answered slowly, and Jim groaned. It was obvious that the idea appealed to Sandburg, who was probably already picturing himself cracking a large whip, wearing the teeth of a wild beast around his neck.
Still, Trevor seemed unconvinced. "This could be tricky," he said, and studied Blair some more. "Come to my studio. We'll be just a moment," he told Sheila and Jim, then stood and led Blair from the room.
Once they were gone, Sheila smoothed her black suit and turned to Jim, pencil in hand. "So. Do you have anything to add to this story?"
It seemed right. He hadn't been planning on saying anything, but she asked and the truth was, he had a whole lot to add.
"Yeah," he said, nodding. "I do."
"It was wild," Blair said over dinner the next evening. "I never thought it was possible to spend like, four hours getting your picture taken."
It had blown his mind, the whole process. After Trevor and Sheila had spent about fifteen minutes whispering in the corner, Trevor had returned with a fire in his eyes, like he'd been consumed by his art. He stalked around Blair like an animal, staring deep into him, and then began experimenting with different lights and poses. Blair had felt strange, emotionally stripped and completely exposed with that kind of intensity focused on him, but Trevor's enthusiasm kept him from outright mortification.
What did you do while I was in there?" He asked, picking the snow peas from his stir fry. Jim had insisted on accompanying him to the shoot, even though he hadn't been allowed in the room.
"I spent some time with Sheila." Jim watched his partner eat. There were still traces of eyeliner around his eyes, and his lips were red against the silver of his fork. Jim's fascination itched at him like a scratchy tag in his shirt, because his sudden interest in Blair's mouth seemed too much like the people who'd come flocking to his partner over his recent success.
But he was nothing like them.
His own newfound interest had nothing to do with his partner's recent success, and if he were honest with himself, more to do with the great sacrifices that Blair had made on his behalf. Those sacrifices had created a foundation of trust, leaving Jim comfortable enough to explore the remaining emotions with an open mind.
"Doing what?" Blair was on his second glass of wine, and as relaxed as Jim had seen him in months.
"Talking," he waved the topic away with an impatient hand, and asked abruptly, "Do you wanna go out tonight?"
"We are out."
"I mean, somewhere with music. The night life, Sandburg. I'm sure you're familiar with the concept."
"Yeah..." Blair pretended to think hard. "I do seem to recall that there are places with music, and booze, and scantily clad women."
"So I've heard."
"Are you serious?" Blair's face was flushed with wine, and Jim wanted to brush his fingers across a cheek, just to see if the warmth reached the surface. That would be inexcusable behavior, even though Blair was one of the most Beautiful People, and therefore imminently touchable. He didn't, and instead called for the check.
"We're on vacation. I think we could both use the chance to unwind."
"I saw this club just down the street that looked perfect for us," Blair said. "We could go down and check it out. Night life!" he chirped, energized.
Blair was right about the club. It was perfect for them; not too wild, and not too subdued. The music made Blair want to dance, and the first girl he asked said yes. After a while, he came back and dragged Jim out, who was pretty compliant after the couple of drinks he'd had.
"We never go dancing!" he shouted over the music. "Why not?"
"Maybe because you work two jobs," Jim shouted back.
A thoughtful expression crossed Blair's face and Jim thought for a second that maybe he'd said the wrong thing, brought up a reminder of unpleasant things, but Blair just threw up his arms, wiggled his ass and said, "Not anymore!" Sandburg was a big ass-wiggler on the dance floor, Jim had learned over the years. It seemed less funny now.
When Sandburg joined him again, and began throwing back whiskey sours like there was no tomorrow, Jim watched his friend with affection. He'd gotten lucky. Surprisingly, undeservingly lucky, by the fact that someone as fun-loving and warm as Blair had sought him out and made himself a permanent fixture in Jim's life.
After a few hours, Jim was about ready to call it a night. They needed a cab, and some sleep. "Hey, Jim. That redhead is checking you out," Blair said, leaning in too close, and speaking in too loud of a whisper. He was drunk.
"I think I've learned my lesson about redheads, Chief," he chuckled, patting his friend's shoulder.
"Good thing, too. Maybe next you'll learn about blondes."
Jim winced at the dig, but Sandburg on booze was Sandburg on truth serum.
"Maybe you should go dance with her instead," he suggested, paying the tab with three twenties. "After all, you're one of the beautiful people."
"Yeah, good idea." Blair gazed up at him and hooked an arm around Jim's waist as they readied to leave. "Everyone loves me, right?" Suddenly his tone turned sour. "Everyone fucking loves me."
"I love you," Jim whispered, and it wasn't meant for Blair to hear, spoken so quietly that he didn't know if Blair had somehow heard or just had impeccable timing, because Sandburg blinked up at him with razor sharp eyes and said,
"Will you love me when I'm in prison?"
The words left Jim breathless for a moment, with all of their impact, but Blair's mood was already changing, and he clung to Jim, weak with giggles.
"I'll finally be able to do that study on closed societies!" he said into Jim's chest as they emerged into the cool, drizzling night.
"Sandburg, you crazy bastard," he murmured against damp curls. "You're not going to prison. You've got a Sentinel on your side."
He wasn't sure what he'd been trying to say, but it worked, and Blair's giggles stopped. He seemed to appreciate a deeper meaning in the words. Their cab pulled up and Jim helped Blair in, sliding next to him. He hummed something that Jim couldn't quite make out, and was snoring softly by the time they reached the hotel.
"Whoa, you got two pages!" Michael crowed, astonished. "They never give unknowns an entire spread. Oh my God." His hand pressed to his mouth. "These pictures."
Blair wasn't certain that he wanted to look. Trevor had offered to send a bunch of the proofs to him, but the last thing he wanted was to see his beat-up face in all it's full close-up glory. Now he wished that he had, to lessen the shock in case it was truly something hideous. He'd thought that photographers had special tricks they used to improve people's looks, even to change them drastically, but judging by Michael's expression, something unsightly must've slipped through the cracks.
"How many did they use?" he asked, closing his eyes.
"Two," Michael said absently. He was engrossed in reading the article, his brow furrowed the way it always did when he read. "Oh, wow," he said again. "Have you seen the article at all?"
"No," Blair shrugged. "I gave them all my basic information. It should be pretty short, not so much an article as a blurb, really. So, break it to me. What does it look like?"
"The photos? God, Blair, they're gorgeous."
"They must've touched up my injuries. Remember how awful I looked?"
"It's okay," Blair laughed. "Just admit it, I was repulsive. Everyone I passed on the street stared at me."
The magazine was flipped around, leaving Blair with a full color view of the spread.
"Does this look repulsive to you?" Michael demanded, and Blair stared into a reflection of his battered self from weeks ago.
Only...it wasn't how he remembered looking.
Somehow, Trevor had created a mysterious, ethereal creature that peered out through carefully placed shadows with crystal clear eyes. The darkly shaded places on his face cast him as someone wise and wounded. The swollen, split lip added a touch of vulnerability. He was a scorned hero; a fallen child.
That photo was large, and took up an entire page. The article, flanked by a smaller photo, sat on the opposite page.
"Did you know that they'd interviewed Jim?"
Blair skimmed the article, noticing how often Jim had been quoted. "No, not really. I mean, he said that he'd talked with Sheila, but I didn't know that they were talking about me."
"What's wrong, then?"
Blair shook his head, and reluctantly removed his gaze from the magazine. "Nothing," he told his friend. "It's just not what I expected." He gestured at the article. "They made me..."
"Likeable? You've been hanging around those policemen for too long, Blair. In the real world, people admire you. They like you, and if that comes as a surprise, then I don't know what to say."
"No, no, I know. I guess it's..." he sighed, suddenly tired. "I'm not used to the whole Eighth Avenue thing being put in a positive light. Most people at the station don't believe me, and those who do aren't allowed to say so."
"I'm sorry." Michael leaned in for a quick hug, and picked up his backpack. "I think you need to be alone, so I'm outta here. Do you want me to leave this with you?" He pointed to the magazine.
"Yeah, if you don't mind. Thanks, Michael."
When the door was shut and locked, Blair retreated to his bedroom with the article and all of his doubts. Sometimes the small room felt as though it was full to bursting when his thoughts were like this, and he'd escape to the couch for the rest of the night, but tonight it suited him just fine. He needed to reread the article in the privacy of his own space. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he opened the magazine to page 24, and began to read.
Blair Sandburg began his career in Anthropology at the tender age of 16, when he enrolled at Rainier University, Cascade WA. With over twenty field expeditions under his belt, he earned his Master's degree and began working toward his doctorate. The crowning achievement of his career came earlier this year, when he gained worldwide acclaim with his discovery of the lost Htungi tribe of South America. These are all admirable achievements, but what sets him apart from the rest of his successful peers? We believe that the answer lies in his project of the past four years: Police Observer at the Cascade Police Department.
A study on closed societies within the Police Department brought Sandburg to the Cascade PD, and to the desk of Police Detective James Ellison.
"We've been partners for four years," says Ellison, "and we have the highest solve rate in the entire department. Sandburg brings a lot to the table intellectually, but you'd be surprised. Since he's been with me, he's been kidnapped, shot, and...a lot of other things. He has more courage than anyone I know."
But glowing recommendations like this don't necessarily exempt Sandburg from scandal. Six weeks ago, Sandburg was involved in a bust gone wrong, and summarily accused of being responsible for the death of a detective. Since then he's broken ties with the PD while waiting to hear whether or not the DA will decide to prosecute. Detective Ellison had more to say on this topic.
"He did nothing wrong," he says adamantly. "He saved my life that day. If he hadn't yelled out, I'd be dead. My whole team would be dead. Some people have never wanted Blair at the station because he's different, and they're using him as a scapegoat."
And different he is. Perhaps that's why, when he was recently ambushed and beaten by men he alleges are members of the CPD, that the attackers went unpunished. "I had to let it go," Sandburg says with a shrug. "I want to do everything possible to put this all behind me."
A charitable attitude, especially for someone who's taken so many hits so recently, but one who knows Sandburg wouldn't be surprised. A regular routine of meditation is just one of the ways that he stays grounded and stress-free.
We've covered controversial, intelligent, and successful, but what makes Blair Sandburg beautiful? Some might credit his luminous blue eyes or those pouty lips, but there seems to be something deeper that makes people take notice of Sandburg.
Detective Ellison says it best when he points out, "He's a mess right now, all banged up...but that doesn't diminish his beauty. You all still wanted to take his picture. Because you know that others will see it, too."
Jim had defended him many times since the shooting, and several of those times had been in his presence, yet Blair found himself moved by Jim's words and weak with relief for the public and written declaration that Jim Ellison, top Cascade detective, believed in the innocence of Blair Sandburg.
A shallow part of him hoped that everyone he knew would read, and see that he wasn't the fuck-up that the CPD had made him out to be. He knew in his heart that the people who believed in him were the only ones who should matter, but it still hurt to see sidelong glances of skepticism or accusation. Like Jim had told him, he deserved respect and appreciation for all he'd done at the PD, and after Jim had drilled it into his head for the fiftieth time, he'd actually started believing it.
After a few minutes of dwelling on that aspect of the survey, Blair moved on to the rest, an amused smile on his lips. Jim would cringe with painful remorse over those last remarks of his that had been put into print. It was hard to imagine Jim Ellison even saying those things, but it was a national magazine. Blair stared at the curved quotation marks thoughtfully. No doubt they had Jim on record saying just that. He's a mess right now...all banged up. But that doesn't diminish his beauty."
And he wasn't quite sure what to make of it.
Jim found out at four minutes after three. As he made his way down the hall, he passed a group of people huddled together, looking at something that had them captivated, and the word "Sandburg" was clearly overheard. The magazine. He knew immediately that this was going to cause a stir and was grateful that he was on his way up to Major Crimes, a safe haven from Sandburg-bashing.
His department remained magazine and fuss-free for approximately seven minutes after he sat down at his desk, until Connor burst breathlessly through the door with a stack of People magazines in her arms.
"You'll never believe what I've got!" she announced, then, as Jim caught her eye, scolded, "You! You've been holding out on us, Ellison." He shrugged as she began to distribute the magazines to anyone who showed interest.
Henri and Rafe bent their heads over their copy and hooted with appreciation for the smaller Indiana Jones-style photo that Trevor had insisted on doing, while the women cooed over the larger, more striking photo.
Jim was trying to avoid eye contact with anyone, when a copy of his own was tossed onto his desk, already open to the spread. A long, dark finger tapped on the page.
"Don't think that you won't be answering for these comments."
Jim stared at the page. Simon's finger tapped the glossy edge of Blair's temple, but he hardly noticed. He was too taken with the photographer's portrayal of Sandburg. Somehow, he'd managed to capture Blair as Jim sometimes truly saw him. He hadn't know it was possible, had always chalked it up to an overactive Sentinel's imagination, when Blair had stood near the window and caught the light a certain way in his eyes, but here it was in black and white. Real.
"Yes sir," he replied, scanning to see what remarks had been printed. He hadn't been a fool, hadn't said anything that could land him in trouble or mess up Sandburg's case, and Simon knew it.
"Damn," the captain was sighing ironically, always ready to give a hard time where the opportunity presented itself. "And here I thought I was working with an average Anthropologist. I never took the time to appreciate his luminous eyes."
"Or his full lips," Rafe chirped, feigning a swoon.
"Or his nice tight rear end," Megan added, smiling knowingly.
"That wasn't in the article, Connor."
"I know." She winked at Jim and he frowned, turning his attention back to the article. Would Blair be pleased? Probably. His main worry had been looking foolish, with the bruises and his banishment from the PD, but this article put him in the best light possible.
"I'm going home." He announced. He'd finished his work, and wanted to show Blair the magazine.
"Tell Blair congratulations for us," Simon said. "And thanks for letting us know about this in advance."
"Blair didn't want to draw attention to himself, sir." Jim himself had wanted to tell everyone, especially at the station where Blair's reputation was in need of repair.
"Uh huh. Well, detective, in spite of the fact that you have been less than forthcoming with me, I'm going to give you a heads up. Tomorrow they make a decision on whether or not to prosecute. I've heard rumors, everything from reckless endangerment to involuntary manslaughter- which is ridiculous- to rumors that there will be no charges filed. I just want you to be prepared, stick close to Sandburg tomorrow, all right?"
"Thank you sir." Simon clapped him on the back, and the two men shook hands. "I'll do that."
Blair had dozed off on his bed while thinking about the article, and woke to the sound of a quiet knock on his door. Jim probably thought that it strange that his door was closed, he realized, and called out for him to come in, rubbing the sleepiness from his face. He was still lying down when Jim opened the door.
"Are you sleeping?"
"No, I needed to get up. I didn't mean to sleep at all, but I guess I just drifted off."
Jim caught sight of the magazine on the side of the bed. Blair had seen the spread.
"So, what do you think?" he asked.
Blair rolled over onto his back and stretched sinuously, his t-shirt hitching up over his stomach for Jim's viewing pleasure. His hair was tumbled from sleep, a mess of soft curls that accentuated what Jim thought of as his partner's rarely seen vulnerability.
Blair scooted into a sitting position to make room for Jim on the bed, and uselessly ran his hand over his hair, trying to tame it. He picked up the magazine and trailed a finger thoughtfully over the cover.
"I was pretty surprised," he admitted. "The things you said..."
Jim looked up, surprised, and caught Blair's eye. "I'm sorry," he blurted. "But they wanted to know the real story."
"No, Jim, the things that you said were incredibly flattering, are you kidding? The whole thing exceeded my expectations by far, and you had a lot to do with that. Thank you."
"Trevor really knew his stuff. You had the ladies at the station swooning, Chief."
"I'm serious." Jim held his gaze. "So, why are you holed up here in your room? Shouldn't you be out celebrating?"
"Yeah...there's a thing at this pub later." Blair glanced at his clock. "I just wanted to be alone for a while." Jim thought that he could read a hint of sadness in Blair's features.
Shaking his head, Blair smiled wryly. "It's weird, Jim. It feels like people are looking at me differently, now."
"They're just impressed. They want to be around you, but get nervous because they admire you so much." He'd seen it a lot since Blair had become so successful.
"Yeah." Blair cleared his throat, and his voice turned shy. "Not just other people. You, too. You've been looking at me differently."
And he was caught. He couldn't deny that his thoughts were much different these days whenever they turned to Blair. "What if I am?" he asked. "Would that be all right?"
"Yes," Blair granted, and the space between them seemed to grow warmer, softening and drawing them together.
"So," Jim leaned into that space and touched the curve of Blair's neck under the pretense of brushing away wayward locks of hair. He'd wanted to touch that spot for weeks. "Does that mean that I can look at you like this?"
Blair didn't question what he meant, because he'd never seen Jim's eyes this liquid and focused- not on him, at least- so he just nodded wordlessly and tipped his head back. Jim stroked over his quivering pulse with the lightest touch.
"I-" Blair swallowed.
"What?" Jim asked, but Blair just closed his eyes in embarrassment, shaking his head. "Tell me."
"I was just wondering if you wanted to do more than just look."
"I did. I do. Can I?"
"Jim..." And Blair was shaking, his eyes still closed, but his arms reached out for his partner. Jim was right there, taking the embrace and surrounding Blair with as much of himself as possible.
It was strange, Jim thought, because Blair's room smelled the same and had the same dim lighting as ever. The covers felt soft and worn like they had the other hundred times he'd sat there, but this time Blair was pressing down on top of him, pressing him into those sweet-smelling blankets.
When Blair parted his lips and raised his mouth to Jim's, he took that as well, savoring the initial tentative caresses of lip, and then the wet inferno that he found inside. Blair kissed like someone who hadn't been kissed in ages, and looking back, Jim supposed that it had been equally long for himself.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Blair asked, tucking his head into Jim's neck and panting there until goosebumps raised up all over Jim's body.
"I didn't know," he admitted. He ran his hands over Blair's ass and shivered at the reaction that he could feel pressed between them. "Then everything changed so much, and I couldn't figure out where you were going."
He'd been moving restlessly underneath Blair, but the heat building between them was too long-neglected, and Jim moved his palm against Blair's backside, pressing them together in a slow-building rhythm until gasping, Blair rolled away and pulled at the fly of his pants, unzipping with speed.
"I'm getting more comfortable. You, too," he instructed, shimmying out of his jeans and yanking off his t-shirt.
Jim wasn't sure that he was ready for full nude contact, but it was too late for that, and when his bare skin was pressed up against the length of Blair's, his doubts vanished. They kissed again, openly and with the needy sounds that proved how long they'd both been waiting.
When he began to thrust against Blair, moving toward a definite goal, Blair pulled away, his eyes dazed. After a little more fidgeting on the bed, Jim thought it was a coincidence that they ended curled up backwards around one another, but later remembered Blair mumbling something that sounded distinctly like "Sixty-nine, yeah."
"Yes," Jim hissed, when the softest, hottest sensation he'd ever felt began tugging at his erection. There were hands everywhere, too, cupping his balls and exploring between his ass cheeks. It was so good, he almost forgot about his side until Blair's cock bumped against his face.
"Please," Blair gasped wetly, pulling his mouth from Jim for only a moment.
Blair was already so hard, red and glistening with moisture all over the head, that Jim wasn't surprised when he wrapped his hand around the shaft, pumping lightly, licked across the head with a wide, flat tongue and Blair was spilling everywhere, all over Jim's hand and crying out deep in his throat. His finger twisted deep inside Jim, and Jim climaxed hard, while still licking Blair's come from his lips.
"Shit," Jim groaned. "Blair, I knew it."
"Knew what?" Blair turned, clambering lazily over Jim until they could hold one another face to face again.
"That you'd feel like this. That you'd kill me if I ever got you in the sack." He felt the rumble of Blair's laughter against his chest. "I love you," he whispered. It sounded exactly the same as when he'd said it in New York, and he realized that Blair had never taken him anything but literally.
"I wish you'd have tested that theory sooner," he said, and kissed Jim again. I've loved you for a long time, but never thought it would happen...until recently. If this stuff with the PD hadn't happened, maybe I wouldn't have ever known."
Blair loved him. Jim blinked, stunned. He'd thought as much, but it was different hearing it and feeling the breath of Blair's words against his cheek. "Simon talked to me this afternoon," Jim said, remembering the captain's words. "He said that tomorrow they're making their decision."
As he'd expected, Blair stiffened against him and went quiet for a while. "I'll be glad when it's over," he finally said.
"It almost is," Jim assured him. "There's nothing we can do about it now. Don't you have a party to go to?"
"A party. WooHoo," Blair said bitterly. "I'd rather stay here with you," he said, his voice turning husky. "I can't believe we're together, like this."
Jim agreed. His feet were twisted up in Blair's covers. Blair's covers, Blair's bed. He was starting to think he had a fetish about Blair's bed, Blair's room...maybe it was just Blair. His hands hadn't stopped their slow exploration of Blair's body since they'd been lying there, and he was starting to feel a solid nudge against his stomach.
For several minutes, he went over different ways in which he could ask Blair to fuck him without sounding like an idiot, and finally, when he decided that making love with Blair was more important than his pride, he opened his mouth, "Blair, I-"
And the loft exploded with sound, the pounding on the door accompanied by a bellowing bass that could only be one person.
They were both upright and pulling on clothes instantly, laughing so hard they couldn't breathe because of the ridiculousness of being grown men terrified of being caught.
"I'm coming!" Jim yelled, pulling his belt through the proper loops on his way to the door. Simon barged in the moment he undid the deadbolt, and glared at him. "What the hell took you so long, Ellison?"
"I was taking a nap." He glared back.
"Where's Sandburg, I want him to hear this, too."
"He's, uh." At that moment, Blair hurried out of his room, his hair even worse than it had been when Jim arrived home.
"Sorry, Simon. I was taking a nap," Blair said brightly. "How's it going?"
Simon raised an eyebrow, but shook his head. "I have news. I would call it good news, but the whole thing is a damn fine mess."
"Is this about the case against Blair?"
Simon took a deep breath. "There is no more case against Blair. Some of the suspects form the Eighth Avenue Savings and Loan heist have caved, saying that their statements were coerced and that they'd agreed to lie for detectives who wanted them to incriminate Blair. They told their stories and what they supports everything that Blair says happened."
"No way." Blair had hoped to not be arrested, but he'd never expected to be completely exonerated.
"Yes. The station is a media circus, and we're going to have to do some major housecleaning, by the looks of things. But for the two of you, and for the rest of us at major crimes, this is good news. Congratulations, Sandburg, for what it's worth. I know that this won't make up for everything you've been through."
"No, it's...it's fine." He'd been worrying about this for so long that it felt strange to not have anything hanging over his head.
"Those bastards." Jim said grimly.
"At least they'll never work in law enforcement again," Simon agreed.
"Neither will Blair!"
The three men stood around, letting the tension flow between them until finally Blair sighed a long sigh, and smiled a genuine smile.
"You know what? It doesn't matter. Simon, Jim and I were about to go to a party in my honor, and we'd love for you to come."
Simon started to refuse, but Jim slapped him on the back. "Come on, Simon. Blair deserves tonight. He's one of the beautiful people, you know. They're tempermental."
"That's right," Simon said, nodding. "I don't know how I could have resisted those luminous eyes-"
"Fuck off!" Blair said, laughing. "I'm taking a shower."
When Blair had disappeared behind the closed door with towels and fresh clothes, Simon turned to Jim thoughtfully. "I'm surprised that you're not in an uproar about the whole Sanders thing."
Jim shrugged. "I guess I'm just mellowing out in my old age," he said.
"Uh uh." Simon nodded, scratching his chin and eyeing the hickey on Jim's neck. Jim Ellison had never been able to hide the fact that he was in love. "Well, it suits you."
End The Edge of Beauty by Lily: firstname.lastname@example.org
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