Not mine, making no money, intending no copyright infringement.
Thanks to all whose comments on the shorter version of this piece sparked the "extended edition"!
This story is the expanded version of a challenge response in the LiveJournal Sentinel Thursday community, with the theme of "photograph." Rated R for language and not for sex, so be warned. :-)
"Hey Sandburg, my wife got double prints of the pictures she took at the picnic -- thought you might like these."
"No sweat. Catch you later."
"Yeah," Blair replied absently as he began flipping through the pictures.
First was one of Jim at bat in the softball game. Nice action shot, Blair thought as he checked out the angle of Jim's follow-through, and put it at the back of the stack. Next came one of himself telling a gaggle of other people's girlfriends some story or other -- he barely remembered it, but here was the photographic evidence, him caught in mid-gesticulation with everybody watching him. He put the second behind the first.
The third was another candid group shot: he, Jim, Simon, Henri, and Megan standing around the keg. Blair laughed quietly at the memory of the "discussion" that Jim and Megan had had about the merits of American vs. Canadian vs. Australian brews. He tucked that picture behind the others and looked at the last one.
And stopped breathing for a moment. Oh shit... oh shit, do I really look like that? The shot was of just the two of them, standing together holding plastic cups of beer and talking. Blair looked closer at the photo. Oh god, look at me -- it's just a camera trick, right? He couldn't really have been standing there, in front of all their friends and colleagues, staring up at Jim like he was... was... Great, not only do I look like a lovesick puppy, but words now fail me? What's next?
He wasn't sure that lovesick was the right word, but there was a definite air of adoration about the Blair in the picture. Like I'd do anything he told me to, except maybe 'sit, stay.' Like I'd follow him anywhere, fetch his slippers, run to greet him with tail wagging, barking madly... Is that how it looks --how I look -- to everybody? Because that's not what I --
The pictures fluttered to the floor out of Blair's loosened hold. After a stock-still moment, he bent to pick them up, his mind racing through an increasingly-impressive string of curse words in multiple languages.
His shock finally wound down, and he ended his mental tirade by voicing a hearty, plain-English, "Well fuck!", startling the passing records clerk and sending her scurrying faster down the hallway where Blair still stood.
That is what I do! Did I somehow not notice that? Everybody else must already know -- I mean, there's *proof*! He glared at the picture of the two of them. I've got some kind of pathetic crush on the guy -- this is horrible! How embarrassing! Why did I not know this?
But as he continued to stare at the picture, a different light began to dawn. He looked at himself, staring up at his partner. Then he looked closely at his partner, staring down at him. And he finally realized what the picture was really showing him. It wasn't that he had a crush on Jim.
We love each other, Blair thought with a smile. We love each other -- we're just being blind and stupid. But look -- I've got photographic evidence!
He headed down the hall to his desk at a near-run, and called Jim's cell phone to leave a message on his partner's voicemail. "Hey Jim -- can you come straight home after you get out of court? I've got something to show you!"
I had been planning to hit the gym before I went home, but Sandburg's message had me curious. You never know with him... he gets excited about everything, so there was no telling what the something he wanted to show me might be -- priceless artifact he picked up for $28 on eBay, intriguing mold formation on leftovers we haven't been home enough to eat, it's all fascinating to my partner.
I amused myself while stuck in some rush-hour traffic by imagining silly things for him to show me.
"Look, Jim, a ritual dagger from the" -- actually I couldn't come up with a suitably bizarre and exotic name for some lost Pacific tribe -- he's the creative one, not me -- "something-something tribe!"
"Look, Jim, I got a new shirt -- don't I look authoritative and cop-ly?"
"Look, Jim, Mrs Danuka downstairs made us bread!"
"Look, Jim, the African violet finally bloomed!"
"Look, Jim, I sold my first article on the fine art of police report-writing!"
"Look, Jim, I got my navel pierced!"
OK, I was almost home, better not think about Blair showing me any body parts.
The point is that I had all sorts of ideas -- big, little, crazy, profound -- about what he might have to show me, so I was surprised to find that it was only a few pictures from the annual Homicide/Major Crimes picnic that somebody at the station had given him. A lot more mundane than I was expecting, I guess, unless somebody decided to go topless after we left or something... but we'd have heard that story a hundred times by now, if it were true --
"Jim! Come on, man, look at the pictures!"
Oh yeah. OK, me batting in the game -- I think that was the at-bat where that little kid from Homicide tagged me out at first. I swear he looks like he's 14.
Next, Sandburg entertaining the ladies. I think the guys count on him for that -- it gives them a little breathing room to just relax with a beer and shoot the shit with the other guys without getting in trouble for not paying enough attention to their SOs. They know he's safe to leave their women with, and he seems to enjoy the attention, so it's a win-win I guess.
He was telling them a mixture of highly-edited case stories (bad form to scare the wives and girlfriends of cops with real life) and "you wouldn't believe what Jim did" tales. I minded, once, but that was a long time ago.
I think Blair is getting frustrated at how long I'm taking -- he's got that look he gets, where it looks like he might stamp his foot soon. I have practice at not laughing out loud at it. "Look, Sandburg, you wanted me to look, I'm looking! Reminiscing -- it was a nice picnic."
"That's great -- but keep going!"
There are only four pictures, I don't know what he's so frantic about.
The third picture is of a bunch of us Major Crimes types at the keg -- I remember Blair was really laughing at my attempt at educating Connor on beer, so I played it up for him. It gets tough on him sometimes, all the crap we see on the streets, without that other life at Rainier to help balance things out, so I try to help him relax when I see the opportunity. I'm not as completely oblivious as he thinks -- at least not all the time.
I can hear his heart speed up as I get ready to flip to the last shot. I can't stop myself from looking at his face before looking at the picture, and I see a lot of different things chasing themselves there -- he's scared, I realize, but really excited too, and other things I can't even identify.
What the hell is this a picture of? I'm almost afraid to look, but the suspense seems to be killing him, so...
...what? Good grief, Sandburg, what is the big deal? It's us, standing around drinking beer and talking. I skipped my work-out for this?
"Um... it was a nice picnic, Chief..."
"What?!" He seems scandalized.
"I'm sorry, Sandburg, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say. See. Whatever."
He growls at me -- whatever it is, it's obviously important to him. "Look closer," he says. Oh... is it something Sentinel-related? We're long past the "I've got a test for you" stage... but I examine the picture in minute detail. I learn a lot about the surface of the photo paper, but not much else.
I look back at him helplessly, and he slaps the arm of the sofa where we're sitting.
"What do you see?" he asks. Great -- it is a test.
"Well... us... we've probably just come from the keg, because our cups seem full... we're talking... it's getting late, but it isn't dark yet..."
He doesn't say anything.
"Come on, Chief, help me out here," I ask him.
The words suddenly burst from him. "I don't know how you can't see it! Look at us! Look at how close we're standing! Look at our body language, how we lean toward each other! Look at our faces, man! Don't you see it? Everybody else must see it, and now I see it, you have to see it! Look at it --"
"Blair!" I interrupt. "Breathe, Chief. You know me, you have to be really clear when you want me to understand." Well, not exactly, but it should calm him down a little, appeal to his teacher and guide instincts. "Now tell me what you see."
He looks at me like I'm some kind of traitor, but at least his vitals have slowed down a bit. He takes a deep breath.
"We love each other."
"We're in love, man!"
"No, I mean 'yeah?' as in, 'your point is what?'"
"Do you hear me, Jim?"
"Jeez, Sandburg! First I can't see, then I can't hear? Of course I can hear you. I just don't get it."
"Of us. At the picnic."
"Of us, in love, at the picnic."
"Fine -- of us in love at the picnic."
We're obviously missing each other's points here. We each wait for the other to explain. He doesn't, so I try.
"Look, Sandburg, I don't really get what the fuss is about. It's a decent picture of us at the picnic --"
"-- in love at the picnic --"
Argh! " -- in love at the picnic. But how is this different from any other picture of us? Are you saying we don't love each other in the other pictures?"
"Sandburg, you're making me crazy here! So yeah, we look more couple-like in this picture, but we aren't any different inside than we are in the other pictures. I don't see your point. You can't be afraid of people noticing?"
It's a good thing he's already sitting down, because the way he slumps against the back of the sofa would be alarming in a standing person.
He looks at me accusingly. "You knew!"
"Damnit, Jim, don't be obtuse! You knew about the love thing!"
"Well, sure." Oh my god -- he can't be saying what he seems to be saying, can he?
"Well, why didn't you tell me?" He sounds outraged and amazed and can he really be saying what it sounds like?
"Sandburg, are you really saying what it sounds like you're saying?"
He looks down and won't meet my eyes.
"Blair, are you telling me that you didn't know?"
He doesn't answer right away. When he does, he sounds remarkably little-kid-like. "How was I supposed to know?"
It's my turn to slump into the sofa cushions. You march along through your life thinking you have some idea of what the hell is going on, but like clockwork, something comes along to prove "Hey Ellison, you dumb fuck, you don't have a clue!".
Part of me wants to yell at him, but part of me suddenly feels tired. "Blair, you're a genius, you know everything else, how can you not know this?"
"You didn't tell me!" He still sounds like a spoiled child.
"Blair, honest to god, it never occurred to me until 30 seconds ago that there was any way on earth that this fact had escaped your notice. For years I've assumed --"
"Years?!" He sounds panicked, and my frustration starts to lessen. I mean, I do love the guy, even if he's proving to be a complete moron here.
"I've assumed," I continue as if he hadn't interrupted me, "that the reason we weren't taking things further was because you had thought it through and decided that it would be a bad idea. I thought that I was giving you what you wanted, that we were just going to stay best friends who loved each other but didn't intend to consummate it."
Hmm... he's still panicking, but I can tell that he's finally starting to see what this all might actually mean, and it's getting his juices flowing, so to speak. Damned handy, Sentinel senses.
"Isn't that part of what you're talking about here? I mean, you have to have known that we loved each other at least in a platonic way, right? After all these years, all the crazy shit we've been through?"
"Yeah..." He doesn't sound too sure. Hmph.
"Blair." I will him to look me in the eye, and when he won't maintain eye contact I lean closer and turn his face toward me with my hand. "You called me, remember? You're not trying to tell me that you don't want this after all, are you?"
"No! No... I don't know. It's all happening so fast..."
I can't help it, I have to laugh. Fast? "Sandburg, this has been the slowest courtship in history! It's been almost five years since that day I threw you up against the wall and you threw me under a truck. It's always been physical, this is just a slightly different kind of physical." I'm still holding his chin in my hand, and I squeeze it lightly, then stroke his cheek with my fingers. He shivers. "You'll have a hard time convincing me after all this that you don't want it," I tell him, and he shivers again.
"But if you thought I knew, why would I have not wanted to do anything about it before?"
"I could think of a lot of reasons, and I figured that you'd done some careful analysis, made a spreadsheet on your laptop or something" -- I smile -- "and decided that all the risks outweighed the added benefits. I mean, messing with the status quo is always dangerous, and there was the matter of getting even closer to your research subject than you already were, and the possibility that you might lose your ride-along if we were known to be together, all kinds of things. Big things, little things... What would happen if it didn't work out?"
"Oh my god..." Oh shit, he looks petrified now, almost sick -- I forget that he hasn't actually spent years thinking about this like I have.
"No, no, relax, Chief. A lot of that doesn't matter anymore -- you're a detective now, all the school stuff is over with, for better or for worse, and yeah, technically we shouldn't be partnered if we're, well, partners, but do you really think Simon would split us up? Besides, you said it yourself -- everybody knows by now anyway. Most of them assume we've been doing it for years. Now we're just getting around to doing it for real." An awful thought strikes me. "I mean, you are planning for us to do something about this, right?"
"Oh yeah -- you gave me more credit for self-control than I deserve when you thought I could have held this in for years!"
Oh, Blair. Don't you get it? You have held it in for years. And you say I'm repressed? Still, I guess it was a big step for him -- it was probably harder for him to get used to the "Jim's not going anywhere" part than the "Jim's another guy" part... neither of us have the best record when it comes to meaningful and long-term relationships, romantic or otherwise. I shouldn't be too hard on the kid -- especially since I've been throwing roadblocks of my own in the way along the line.
"Well, you've got the photographic evidence now, pal -- we can't ignore it anymore, right?" I grin at him, and the smile he gives me is blinding.
"I'm sure I can make it worth the wait, Jim," he says in a husky voice that I've never heard directed at me before. That sound alone is enough to convince me that this is all for real, that we've really moved on to the final stage of our relationship that I hoped for but never expected us to reach.
"Oh yeah, Chief, no doubt about it," I tell him as we reach for each other. I could never have guessed that this was the way it would all work itself out, but you're not hearing any complaint from me, not with Blair finally in my arms.
End Photographic Evidence by ainm: firstname.lastname@example.org
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