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by PsychGirl

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Not mine, sadly. And no money involved, either.
Written for the Sentinel Secrets challenge on LJ. The prompt was "He couldn't even begin to understand what he'd done to deserve this."

This story is a sequel to:

He couldn't even begin to understand what he'd done to deserve this.

This was one of the worst days that he could remember since his senses came online. He hadn't slept well the night before, and had woken up early, and irritable. And it had been raining. And they were out of coffee. Again.

Thanks to an overaggressive defense attorney, he'd had to spend the morning being cross-examined on his testimony in the Robinson case, a case that was supposed to have gone to the jury a week ago. Of course, since the cross-examination was so extensive, the DA wanted to do some fairly lengthy redirect. He'd ended up spending the entire morning in court.

Which wouldn't have been such a big deal, except that something was wrong with the sound equipment in the courtroom, and the microphone on the witness stand was emitting a high-pitched whine that set his teeth on edge. The tech guy had claimed that he couldn't hear it; he had checked the equipment out, but said he couldn't find anything wrong with it. He tried to dial down and screen it out, but then he couldn't hear the questions the attorneys were asking. Consequently, by the end of the morning he had a pounding headache.

The headache wasn't improved any by the barrage of flashbulbs that met him as he left the courtroom, either. He hadn't really been paying attention to the kind of coverage the case had been getting, and he wasn't prepared for the number of photographers that would be outside once he left. He'd had spots dancing in front of his eyes for nearly 30 minutes.

That was when he'd discovered that he'd left his wallet at home. Rather than truck all the way across town to get it, he decided he'd just make do with whatever was available to eat at the station. He'd been pleased to discover some bagels and cream cheese in the break room, but that had quickly changed when he found out that someone had mislabeled the jalapeno cream cheese as "plain". Now the inside of his mouth and his tongue were throbbing in a nice counterpoint to the pain in his head, and he'd lost his appetite.

Which was all to the good, really, because when they'd gotten the call that Frank Carson, the serial bank robber they'd been after for the past three weeks, had been spotted over by Cascade Tower, he certainly hadn't anticipated that he and Brown were going to have to follow him into the sewers. Nor had he anticipated that Carson was going to fire at him and miss, nicking an overhead line and drenching him in raw sewage. Oh, well. On the plus side, at least he hadn't had anything in his stomach to throw up.

So now here he was, standing ankle-deep in sewer water, soaking wet, the blue silk tie that Sandburg had given him for his birthday ruined. He wondered which deity or deities he had pissed off, and if he could get Sandburg to figure out some way to appease them. Because he really didn't think he could take too many more days like this.

Brown stuck his head down through the manhole. "Hey, Jim! We got him, we got Carson!" His cheerful smile was replaced by a look of dismay as Jim sloshed over to the bottom of the ladder. "Whoa, man, what happened to you?"

"What do you think happened to me, H?" He started to climb the stairs.

Brown drew back, pinching his nose between his thumb and index finger. "Phew! You smell pretty rank, man. You should go get yourself a shower."

Jim glared at him. "Yeah, thanks, I'll do that," he snapped.

He stood under the shower at the station for nearly an hour, and scrubbed until his skin was red, but still the foul odor lingered at the back of his throat. And now he was itching all over and it looked like he was breaking out in some kind of rash. Great.

He was putting on an old, soft pair of sweats and a t-shirt that he kept in his locker at work when his phone rang.

"Ellison," he answered wearily.

"Hey, Jim," came Sandburg's bright, cheerful voice. "Listen, some of the TA's are going to go out for a drink, kinda celebrate the end of the semester, and they asked me to go with them. I just wanted to let you know that I wasn't going to be home until late, so don't wait dinner for me."

"Okay," he said, finding it difficult to hide the disappointment in his voice.

Blair's voice immediately shifted from bright and cheerful to low and concerned. "What's up, Jim, are you okay?"

"Yeah. Just been a hell of a day."

"Are your senses giving you trouble?"

"No, no, nothing like that," he lied quickly. He wasn't going to do it. He and these damned senses had co-opted enough of Sandburg's life; he wasn't going to ruin his night out.

"Are you sure, man? I mean, I can take a rain check with the TAs."

That clinched it. "I'm fine, Sandburg," he said, trying to put a little growl in his voice. "It's just been a long day. I'm probably going to heat up some soup, crash early. Try not to make too much noise when you come in, huh?" Not that he ever did. Come to think of it, it had been a long time since Blair had been out so late that he had needed to be quiet coming home. "I'll see you in the morning."

"Okay, buddy..."

Jim thumbed the phone off and sighed. He'd just wanted to go home; he was sure that Blair would have some suggestions that would make him feel better. Not that he would let him know that right away. No reason for him to start feeling cocky.

In truth, though, this was no less than he deserved. He didn't exactly have the purest motives where Blair was concerned. He took an almost...unseemly...pleasure in those few times they touched; when the job gave him an excuse to put his hands on him, pull him to safety; when Blair was concerned about him or trying to help him settle his senses. What he felt for Blair...well, it was complicated, and it was a hell of a lot more than friendship.

But it was a moot point, because he wasn't going to tell him about it. In the first place, Sandburg was about the most aggressively heterosexual guy he'd ever known. He'd dated more women since Jim had known him than Jim had talked to in his entire life. He was clearly not into guys.

But that wasn't the main reason. And it wasn't out of concern that Sandburg would freak out. Christ, the guy was an anthropologist. He breathed, ate, and slept dealing compassionately with other cultures. In fact, if he did tell Blair how he felt about him, he'd probably get a long and impassioned treatise on how bisexuality was perfectly natural, and had been documented in all sorts of primitive and ancient cultures.

And that was where his real fear lay. It wasn't that Blair would be upset. It was more that he would...try. That he'd, yet again, suborn his own preferences, his own needs, to Jim's. He'd make a game stab at trying to be what Jim wanted, needed him to be. But his heart wouldn't be in it. And Jim didn't think he could take that.

He sighed again, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck, trying to subdue the pounding in his head. Suddenly he wasn't feeling so eager to get home, a home that would be quiet and cold and dark. He wondered if he had any of those painkillers left from three months ago when he'd hurt his back chasing a suspect. Otherwise he couldn't imagine how he was going to get to sleep tonight.

He made his way up to the bullpen, and worked dutifully on his report of Carson's arrest for about an hour and a half. He didn't get very far on it, however, as his skin was starting to feel like it was on fire and he was having difficulty concentrating. Finally he gave up and grabbed his coat. He glanced over to Simon's office, thinking he'd go in and say goodnight, but Simon was on the phone. He knocked gently on the door and raised a hand, and Simon raised a hand in return.

He trudged up to the door of the loft wearily and let himself in. The scene that met him on the other side of the door was completely unexpected. The loft was dimly lit; just a few lamps on low, and candles scattered around. There was classical guitar music playing softly, and a faint, soothing scent that Jim couldn't place.

Blair came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a dish towel. "Okay, come on, off with the jacket," he said, reaching up and starting to pull Jim's coat off.

"Sandburg, what the hell is this?" He didn't mean to sound so annoyed and ungrateful, but he was feeling a little dismayed that his lie apparently hadn't worked. "I thought you had plans tonight."

Blair waved one hand negligently. "Eh, no big deal. I'll hang out with those guys some other time." He directed a level gaze at Jim, and Jim found himself fighting the temptation to zone on those sapphire-blue eyes. "You weren't exactly straight with me, man."

Jim slid his coat off and hung it up. "How'd you find out?" he asked, grudgingly.

"Simon heard about the sewer thing from Brown, and he called me, `cause he was worried you might have some bad side effects from that." As Blair was talking, he was shepherding Jim down the hallway towards the bathroom. "And Rhonda told me about the cream cheese when I called Simon back."

Blair ushered him into the bathroom. There was a pile of towels on the sink and some clean sweats folded neatly on the toilet seat. The bathtub was full, but the liquid inside looked odd. "Okay, clothes off, into the tub. I'll be back in a minute."

He peered suspiciously into the tub. "Sandburg, what the hell is that?" he asked.

"It's an oatmeal bath." Jim raised an eyebrow at him, and Blair laughed. "It's really, really good for soothing itchy and inflamed skin, and it has the added benefit of not having any chemical additives. I made this stuff myself." Jim hesitated, and Blair put a hand gently on the small of his back. "Come on, just try it. I guarantee you'll feel better." He left the bathroom and Jim could hear him moving around in the kitchen.

He stripped and stuck an experimental toe into the bathtub. "It's cold," he complained.

"Oh, come on, you big baby, just get in," Blair's voice floated in from the kitchen. "It's not cold, it's lukewarm, and that's best for skin rashes. I bet that hot shower you took at the station didn't help at all. In fact, it probably made things worse."

He couldn't really argue with that, he thought, as he slipped into the tub. And he had to admit that Blair was right. After he got over the initial temperature shock and the weird consistency, it actually did feel very soothing. He closed his eyes and put his head back against the rim of the tub, his muscles relaxing for what felt like the first time all day.

There was a soft rap on the door, and Jim opened his eyes. Blair came in, carrying a steaming mug in his hands. He put it on the floor next to the tub. "What's that?" Jim asked, eyeing the mug dubiously.

"Ginger tea," Blair replied. "The ginger will help settle your stomach, and the tannins in the tea will soothe the burn in your mouth. Let it cool a bit, though. It's pretty hot right now."

"Thanks, Sandburg," Jim said quietly, feeling a little churlish, now, for the way he had reacted initially.

Blair gave him a brilliant smile. "No problem, man. How's the head?"

"Better," Jim admitted.

"Good. Well, look, stay in here as long as you want. When you come out, I've got something that'll help with the headache, and then I've got chicken soup from Abe's Deli for dinner."

"Okay," he said, his throat suddenly tight. Blair left, and he closed his eyes and rested his head against the tub rim again, drinking the cooled tea and feeling absurdly grateful to have Blair Sandburg as a friend.

When he came out of the bathroom, dressed in the clean sweats, Blair was standing in the kitchen, stirring a pot on the stove. He looked up, saw Jim, and grinned. "That oatmeal bath did the trick, didn't it? I told you it would help, man."

Jim smiled, a little ruefully. "Yeah, you were right, Chief."

"Okay, one more thing, and then we'll eat. C'mon over here." He covered the pot on the stove and went over to the couch, Jim following him. Blair sat on one end of the couch, facing the other end, and crossed his legs. He put a pillow on his lap and patted it invitingly. "Lie down, head here, and close your eyes." Jim did as he was told, and Blair started to massage his face, his strong, warm fingers stroking gently across his forehead and rubbing his temples, his thumbs pressing along his cheekbones.

Jim sighed involuntarily, and relaxed into the comfort of Blair's touch. After a while, he realized that the sewer odor that had been lingering at the back of his throat was almost gone, replaced by the faint scent he had noticed upon entering the loft. "What's that smell?" he asked.

"Lavender," Blair replied. "Should be calming. Is it too strong?"

"No, no, it's fine. It's good," he said. His headache was completely gone, and as Blair finished and patted his cheeks lightly, he reached up and grabbed Blair's wrist with one hand. He opened his eyes and looked up into Blair's face, hanging upside down over his. "Thanks," he said, sincerely.

Blair smiled upside down at him. "You're welcome."

"I'm sorry you had to cancel your plans tonight, though," he confessed. "I hate that this crap messes up your whole life."

"Jim, you are my whole life."

Jim looked up at him, startled. He saw Blair's eyes widen, felt him stiffen, and then he was pulling his wrist out of Jim's grasp, sliding off the couch, and bolting into the kitchen. He could hear him muttering under his breath, "Stupid, stupid, stupid..." and a soft thumping noise that sounded like he was banging his head lightly against the refrigerator door.

He got up off the couch and walked over to the island, staying on the far side. Blair was leaning on the counter, his back against the sink, arms crossed and eyes on the floor, a grim expression on his face. "What did you mean by that?" Jim asked him softly.

"Look, man, it's no big thing, okay? You don't usually let me do that much for got a little carried away. Just forget about it."

"And if I don't want to?" Sudden hope stirred in his chest.

Blair's eyes met his in a look that was half-defiant, half-resigned. "Look, I didn't say anything before `cause I didn't want you to freak out, okay? But, yes, I've got...feelings for you."

"And what about all those girlfriends of yours, Chief?"

Blair glanced down, pink staining his cheeks. "Well, um...a lot of that was just talk, man. Trying to throw you off the scent. I mean, I do like women, you know....but..." He met Jim's eyes again; the defiance was gone, and the look went like an arrow into Jim's heart. "I just...I thought it would make things awkward, and I...I didn't want anything to change between us."

He was hard-pressed to suppress a grin as he moved around the island and stepped close to Blair, crowding into his personal space, bracing his hands on the counter on either side of him. "You didn't want anything to change?" he asked, his voice low, his gaze holding Blair's.

He saw awareness dawn in Blair's eyes; read the love and desire in their depths. He saw Blair smile and couldn't stop the answering grin that broke out on his own face. "That's too bad," he murmured, tilting his head and finding Blair's mouth, "'cause I do."

Moonlight shone through the skylight, limning the warm, sturdy body sprawled across his. He looked down at Blair tenderly, raised his hand and pushed a lock of hair behind his ear, stroked his cheek lightly with his thumb. Blair sighed and shifted, muttering something, and his arms tightened around Jim. Jim smiled, suddenly, incongruously thankful for the day's disasters and the revelations they had prompted.

He couldn't even begin to understand what he'd done to deserve this.


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