The world dropped out from under Gault as Blair's words sunk in.
Died. Blair had - died.
Heart in his throat, he said quietly,"Tell me about it."
Blair's head turned slowly back towards the view of the bay.
"Long story - short. I made a colossal series of blunders and paid for them with my life. And now, I'm alive again, but have no life. Is that ironic or what? Downright paradoxical, if you know what I mean."
Gault couldn't even begin to understand, let alone appreciate the paradox Blair refered to, but he did understand that the depression Blair had been teetering on the edge of, had swallowed him whole.
"How did you die, Blair?"
"I was - murdered."
The tone, the unearthly calm behind the word - murdered, sent chills racing up and down Gault's spine. Small beads of sweat broke out on his upper lip. He didn't say anything, too shocked to question further.
Blair's voice spoke through the fog, pain hiding behind every word, "I hurt someone, you see. I allowed a darkness into our lives, allowed it to hurt the one person I love more than my own life. I betrayed him. And now, it's over."
Tortured blue eyes fixed on Gault. "I had no idea how entrenched in Jim's life I'd become, Willy, and now, I've nowhere to go." He gazed back over the bay and his voice was now a mere whisper as he said, "I thought dying was enough punishment, but I think I'll be paying for my mistakes for the rest of my life."
Gault still didn't understand everything, but one item stood out clearly; Blair didn't hurt people. Especially people he cared about.
The scene at the airport flashed in front of him, the tensions, the unspoken words, Blair's voice as he'd introduced Ellison...
"Jim Ellison. You love Jim Ellison."
Blair nodded, his hooded eyes still staring sightlessly out to sea.
"How could you have hurt him, Blair? What could you have possibly done that would destroy your relationship with him?"
"I forgot him."
Gault shook his head, trying to clear his mind. Blair's words making no sense.
"How could you have forgotten him?"
"i don't know." The words, spoken softly, said that Blair had been asking himself the same question again and again.
"I need more information, Blair. Tell me everything."
The words came out then, halting, choked with pain, with held back tears, but Blair left nothing out, not even Jim's uniqueness. He told it unvarnished, no excuses. When he described the feelings that Jim had been subjected to with regard to Alex Barnes, his voice finally broke and silent tears slid down his cheeks.
"he tried to save her, at the end. but it was too late. and i couldn't help him. i broke whatever bond we had. whatever chance we had."
By now, Blair's voice was the merest of raspy whispers, the tears leaving damp spots on the blankets to rival the fog. His voice had hitched several times as he related the events leading to this moment and each time, Gault had felt his own tears threaten.
The complexity of Blair's life with Ellison, the project they'd undertaken together, the responsibility of it all, nearly overwhelmed Gault. How had either of them managed all this time? How had Blair known what to do for his friend?
Oddly enough, through all of Blair's words, living vicariously through the events of the last days, a few things stood out clear and unfettered. But first, he had to get Blair indoors. "Blair, would you let me take you inside now?"
Maybe it was the surprise that this was Gault's first response to all that Blair had shared that got the younger man up, or maybe the fact that Gault could care about his health after hearing all that Blair had said, but either way, Blair allowed himself to be led indoors, over to the couch and down, his legs lifted gently and the blankets tucked in around him.
As he coughed, Gault hurried to the bedroom and picked up the medication bottles, measured them out, took the water glass and headed back to the living room.
After making sure Blair took them and drank down the water, he settled beside him, lifting Blair's legs and settling them back on his own.
"I don't have any answers for you, Blair, but I have a couple of observations. A couple of thoughts you might consider." He looked at his son, waiting for some response. The shattered blue eyes lifted, accepting, but not anticipating.
"All right then. First off, I'm stunned by all that you've shared and I'm still swimming my way through it all, but a couple of things did jump out at me. Like, maybe the bond isn't broken at all? Stretched, yes, but not broken."
Blair blinked, but remained quiet.
Gault sighed and decided this was going to be difficult. Very difficult.
"Blair, you've told me a great deal about Ellison over the years and everything you've told me says he isn't quick to trust. He's been hurt and gives his trust slowly. Am I close?"
The slightest expression of acceptance crossed Blair's face as he nodded, then he shut down again.
"Okay. A man who's been through all that Ellison has, is bound to keep his emotions in check. He expects people to ultimately let him down. But he sets impossible standards for himself, yes?"
Again, the nod, this time, more thoughtful.
"So, isn't it possible, given Ellison's background, that while you sit here, full of guilt, that he sits in Cascade, feeling the same guilt? You went after him, he knows that. You left your hospital bed to be with him. And yet - he finds himself drawn to the woman responsible for your death. He tries to fight it, you try to help, but ultimately, this battle is between Ellison and this other sentinel, correct?"
A small frown creased Blair's forehead.
"yes --- yes."
Gault found himself nodding in time with Blair's nods, mirroring them. "Yes." He pinched his nose and added carefully, "Blair, you two have been operating from opposite ends of the same pole. Maybe it's time you two met in the middle?"
But Blair was no longer listening. His eyes seemed to be a planet away, his head still nodding, seemingly of its own accord. His lips started to move, but he wasn't talking to Gault.
He was talking to himself.
"but - Jim didn't do anything wrong. this isn't his fault. I let him down. I'm the one who couldn't help, who left my friend, Jim Ellison, out of the equasion. I screwed up. Not him."
Blair's hand began to tap nervously on the armrest, his right leg soon joining.
"I have to talk to him, explain, make sure he knows that he didn't do anything wrong. Have to talk to him now, have to make him see. I let him down, I know that. Oh, god, what if he's alone right now? What if Simon.....", Blair stood abruptly, the blankets pooling on the carpet around his feet. He started to the phone, but a cough erupted, doubling him over.
Gault was up and by his side instantly. "Come on, lets get you to bed."
Blair waved him off and pulled away to lurch toward the phone. Gault stopped him long enough to slide an arm around his waist and help him. Blair picked up the phone and punched in the number, then with a shaking hand, held the receiver to his ear.
<<You've reached 542-6181, leave a message>>
His fingers clenched around the plastic as he realized that Jim had changed the phone message - Blair's message. He dropped the receiver back in its cradle.
As he stared at the phone, he could see Alex's face, Jim's kiss, in the temple, the way he pleaded with her, and held her.....
"fuck." His knees buckled and if Gault's arm had not been around him, he'd have fallen to the floor.
The older man struggled with the suddenly boneless body, finally lifting Blair into his arms, frightened by the sudden pallor and complete loss of awareness. He carried him into the bedroom and set him down carefully, then covered him. In spite of the chalkiness of his skin, his body was warm. The fever was back.
"Blair, can you hear me? You're running a fever again. You're going to need to take some aspirin, okay?"
"you were wrong."
"We'll talk about that later,okay? Rright now, we've got to get a handle on this fever."
Blair turned over on his side, away from Gault.
"it can't be undone. never undone. i destroyed her and jim's chance at happiness. i was supposed to help them both. he knows that."
The words made no sense but their significance had to take a back seat to Blair's health right now. Gault went into his own bathroom, got another glass of water and brought a bottle of aspirin back.
He popped open the cap and shook out two Extra-Strength Excedrin. Knowing that Blair would be no help, he knelt on the bed, pulled Blair's pliant body to him, cradled his head and coaxed his mouth open to receive the pills and water.
His brain said to take Blair to the hospital, but instinct said - wait.
He pulled up the reading chair and settled in.
Darkness had finally come to his hilltop but he didn't move, didn't turn on a light. He just sat close, one hand on Blair's arm as Blair mumbled the same words repeated over and over again....
"can't be undone, never undone."
Jim threw his only piece of luggage into the back seat of the rental car, jumped in and unfolded the map he'd collected from Avis.
He doubled checked his route, refolded the paper and set it down on the passenger seat.
It had been a simple process, finding Gault Willoughby, and his address. The difficulty had been in getting up the nerve to follow-through as planned by Simon. But here he was, approximately forty minutes from Blair.
He backed out from the stall and headed out.
As he crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, the city of San Francisco behind him and the fog in front of him, he prayed for the words, for the inspiration needed to speak the truth and clear the air between he and Blair. And he prayed for the guts to say three simple words.
Fog presented no barriers to the Sentinel as he negotiated the small marina streets or the narrow hill roads that led up to the address he sought.
He made his left into the driveway and parked behind a Lincoln Towncar.
One light shone from within. There was no sense of welcome.
The watchman exited his car and walked up the brick walkway, crossed the small redwood bridge and stopped at the front door.
The Sentinel fled, to be replaced by one nervous detective. Jim Ellison raised his hand and knocked.
Inside, Gault roused himself as he realized someone was at his door. He lifted his head from his hand and debated ignoring the visitor. Then he remembered that it could be Naomi.
He stood, bent down, placed his hand on Blair's face and frowned. Still too warm.
He walked through his house to the front door, hit the porch light and prepared himself for his first glance of Naomi Sandburg in over twenty years.
Except - it was Jim Ellison.
"Mr. Willoughby. Is Blair still here?"
All right, maybe all prayers weren't answered, but this one had been.
Ellison had come to Blair. Gault smiled and waved him in.
"Please, come in."
He stepped aside and allowed Jim to precede him. Closing the door, he sent up a thank-you to the heavens above.
"Blair is asleep, Detective Ellison. He's ill." He let that soak in and watched the man that his son loved. The concern that immediately wiped out the granite expression told Gault more than words could have.
"Yes, I'm afraid so. He was doing better, but he sat outside today, in the fog and his fever is back. The cough sounds worse too. The hospital gave him several heavy duty medications and I'm plying him with them every few hours."
"You took him to the hospital?" Jim's impatience was obvious to Gault, his body strung tighter than a drum.
"No, I mean the hospital in Cascade, Jim. He had the drugs with him in Sierra Verde, but didn't take them. Everything caught up with him here. As you can imagine."
Cool pale blue eyes met determined green ones.
Gault studied the man in front of him, understood that the detective was sizing him up, but something flickered in the depths of the eyes regarding him and Gault realized it was jealousy. He bit back the smirk.
"Can I get you something to drink? Maybe you're hungry?"
"No, I'm fine. Could you direct me to a hotel nearby? I don't want to wake Blair and I can come back tomorrow morning."
Oh, no you don't, Detective Ellison.
"I have a spare bedroom, Jim. May I call you Jim? You can bunk here for the night." He decided to prolong the explanation of his place in Blair's life. Let the great Ellison mull it over, worry a bit.
"I don't want to put you to any trouble."
"No trouble. Do you have an bags?"
"Yes, one, in the car."
"Well, why don't you get it, and I'll throw something together, food wise, and we can get to know one another a bit. Sound good?"
"Sounds fine. Be right back."
Jim went outside and fetched his bag, thoroughly confused. Who the hell was this man? What did he mean to Sandburg? Was Sandburg in his bedroom? In his fucking bed?
And could Jim Ellison blame Blair Sandburg? Could he undo any of this? Repair any of the damage? Bring Blair home? Fuck this shit. He slammed the door and stalked back up to the house.
The two men ate silently, the kitchen sink omelette hitting the spot for both of them.
As Jim sat in the large kitchen, he had the ridiculous sense that he was in the middle of one of those sensible British comedies that Carolyn used to watch. The ones where everyone is civil in the midst of destruction. Like Cary Grant and Robert Mitchum in The Grass is Greener.
And Blair was what? Deborah Kerr?
Jim snorted into his coffee. More like
Jimmy Cagney. The squirt.
So, was he Cary Grant? Or Robert Mitchum?
How the fuck had that movie ended anyway? Hadn't there been some kind of duel? He put the coffee cup down and decided on bluntness.
"So, how close were you and Sandburg?"
Gault choked a bit, recovered, and sputtered out, "Close?"
"Yeah, close. How close were you?"
Gault appreciated the tense. Were you. Good, Ellison, very good. Put the rival right where he belongs. Except, of course, Gault wasn't a rival.
"Blair and I are very close, Jim. There's no one I care more about."
Except maybe - his mother. But he wisely left that out.
Jim sat back in his chair, feeling hopeless for the first time. "Maybe staying isn't such a good idea. I should go."
He started to stand and Gault said, "I think staying is a very good idea, Jim. I was priviledged to almost be Blair's father at one point and I know him. He won't handle it well if you leave without seeing him, or talking to him. And you two really need to talk, don't you think?"
Jim's body sunk back into the chair, blue eyes wide.
"Almost his father?"
Gault grinned. "Yes, but I still think of myself as his dad. I was part of his world for over eighteen months. The best eighteen months of my life. He was ten when Naomi - decided it was time to leave. We've kept in touch. He never mentioned me, did he?"
Jim shook his head, still too dumbfounded to say anything.
"I'm not surprised. He's learned some hard lessons in his life. One being that the people he loves either leave him, or he's taken from them." He favored Jim with one of his more direct looks and asked point blank, "Are you going to leave him, Jim?"
Jim finally found his voice. "Not if I can help it."
"Good. Why don't you let me clean up while you slip into his room? He's still asleep but I'm betting you need to see him, right?"
Jim could only nod.
"Second door on your right as you go down the hall."
Jim paused at the half shut door. Inside, he could hear Sandburg's breathing, could hear the congestion rattling in his lungs. Bad, but not as bad as it certainly could be. He pushed the door the rest of the way open and slipped inside.
Blair was on his side, blankets tangled around his body, one leg on top of the covers, one arm dangling over the edge of the bed.
Jim laid his hand on Blair's forehead and breathed a sigh of relief. Stil feverish, but lowgrade. Blair mumbled something and Jim dialed up his hearing and managed to catch the words.
"never undo - can't undo."
Jim knelt down beside the bed and gently shook the arm in front of him.
Can you hear me?"
Blair stirred slightly, then his eyes opened.
"Yeah, buddy, it's me. I'm here."
Blair started to move, but Jim stopped him. "No, stay down. Go back to sleep."
"no, get up....", he tried to rise, but Jim gently pushed him back down. "I'm not going anywhere, Blair. I'm here and I'm staying. In fact, that bed looks pretty comfortable, mind if I slide in?"
"delirious. you'll be gone in the morning."
Jim smiled gently. "Yeah, delirious. Go back to sleep."
He toed off his sneakers, took off his sweater, slipped out of his jeans, walked around the bed and climbed in behind Blair. He slid his arms around him, pulled him to his chest and decided that this not thinking thing was good.
Tomorrow, Sandburg might kick him out, but tonight, he would hold him.
But this time he didn't squint, didn't try to shut it out, but he did try to move, to get up and was surprised when he couldn't. His mind was fuzzy and there was an empty feeling in his soul, but still - he should be able to get up, right?
He felt the rumble in his chest and let the early morning cough erupt, hearing the congestion breaking up as his body strained against whatever was holding him down.
In the back of his mind, something nicked at him, something about yesterday....
The phone call.
The answering machine.
He shut his eyes tight, forcing back the tears of frustration. That would serve him right, listening to a psychologist, to words of such seemingly rightness that Blair had allowed himself to believe...
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
Even if the psychologist was Gault.
He tried to move again, forgetting for a minute that he hadn't been successful just moments ago. He found the same resistance but this time, he glanced down.
An arm --- no, not an arm --- Jim's arm.
Jim's arm. Around him.
Blair's eyes widened, flicked away, quickly darted around the room as he reassured himself that he was indeed, still in Sausilito.
He quietly lifted his hand and let one finger touch the warm skin ---
"I'm real. I told you that I'd be here when you awoke and I am."
Blair pulled the finger away as if it had just been burned.
"The great Sandburg - speechless. And it only took me three years to accomplish this feat."
The great Sandburg was rapidly *re*- gathering his wits. And somehow, he was finding anger welling up inside of him. Hard cold anger.
Purposefully, Blair lifted the arm still draped over him and dropped it down behind him.
Without looking back, he slid out and up, glad that he had on a tee shirt and sweat bottoms.
He was shaky on his feet, and the room swam around him a bit, but by biting down on his lower lip, he managed to stay upright.
In a fought for neutral tone, he said, "I suppose you could have climbed into my bed anytime in the last three years."
Okay, that jolted him. Well, at least Sandburg hadn't hit him, but other than that, nothing had gone as planned. Not that Jim had ever had a plan.
He turned over, got out of bed and walked over to the chair. He took his jeans from the back and quickly pulled them on, uncomfortably aware of Blair's scrutiny the whole time.
"Getting into bed with you last night seemed the right thing to do - at the time." He searched for his sweater and found it on the floor behind the chair. Slipping it over his head, he was almost glad that his view of Sandburg was temporarily obscured.
As his head reappeared, he found Blair staring at him with a look of such disbelief that it actually chilled the older man. Because it wasn't the kind of disbelief that said, "hey, man, you're lying", rather it was the kind that said, "are you crazy?"
Three words. That was all he needed. Three words.
He pulled the sweater down and faced his friend.
"Blair, I'm sorry."
Not even close, Ellison.
"Why are you here?"
Try again, Ellison. Three fucking words.
"Because I'm sorry."
Who knew three words could be so damn hard to say?
Blair sat down on the edge of the bed. Sorry? Jim was here because he was sorry?
Somehow, that put everything into perspective for Blair. The unaccounted for anger was leeched from his body leaving him alone and afloat in a wide, empty sea.
"You have nothing to be sorry for, Jim. Truthfully. Nothing."
Ellison had been unobtrusively searching for his shoes when Blair spoke and the sudden absence of the controlled anger he'd been facing, or any emotion for that matter, brought him back to his friend.
Three words, god damn it. Just three fucking words.
"You don't think my behavior of the last weeks requires an apology? Or perhaps my problem in Sierra Verde?"
Blair wearily shook his head. "No, I don't. Everything was out of your control, Jim. You were being moved by emotions and forces neither of us could begin to fathom. Not your fault."
Jim took a step back toward the bed, with no desire stronger than to shake off this strange apathy of Blair's. Lowering his voice, letting an edge creep in, he challenged, "I ruthlessly threw you out of your home, Sandburg."
"No, you told me to leave your home, Jim. There was an unaccustomed threat, something you couldn't identify and somehow, on a subconscious level, you knew that I was part of that threat. That I'd been in contact with it. With - Alex."
Blair's voice was so - tired. Just listening to it, gave Jim a sense of hopelessness.
"Blair, in a time of trouble, I sent you to live in some rathole. I dumped you. Brushed you off as if the last three years didn't count."
"Megan. Simon and I visited the Lamplighter Inn and rescued your luggage and the Volvo."
Blair shrugged. "I've lived in far worse, Jim. Or have you forgotten the warehouse? And the point is, it wasn't you, you were going through something neither of us could get a handle on."
"What, you're saying that I'm not responsible for my actions?"
"You said it yourself, on the-beach." He stumbled over the word, beach and for the first time, looked away from Jim.
"And what about the loft? You don't see it as your home? That I kicked you from your home?"
"No, I don't. And no you didn't. Jim, the loft is your home, not mine. You never believed in me, my work or had faith in me and you were right."
Something flickered in Blair's eyes and his expression changed. The look on his face, the look of sympathy was enough to pierce Jim's heart. But before he could respond, Blair went on.
"I think that maybe, after three years, it's time for some honesty between us."
He stood and held his arms out to his side, palms up. "I'll start."
Letting his arms fall back to his side, he met Jim's gaze with his own.
"Number one, Alex may never recover, Jim. You have to face that. But I'll do everything and anything I can do to help. Number two; I have no intention of ever turning in my dissertation. I've known that for quite some time, Jim. But, I didn't want," he waved his arm aimlessly about, "this to end."
He took a deep breath and continued. "Number three; I couldn't help you with Alex because I'm thinking that combined with my total ignorance and my own shortcomings, there was an innate failing in me. In this case, I was too angry and too ashamed. And too - jealous. Which leads to number four."
Blair held Jim's eyes with his own unwavering gaze as he held up four fingers. "Okay, number four - but it's tied to number two and three. I couldn't leave you, couldn't tell you about not ever finishing the disseration, and I was jealous because - well, I love you."
Three little words. Just. Three. Little. Words.
That's all he had to say...
"Blair, I love you."
Blair let his exhausted body drop back onto the bed as he shook his head and tried patiently to answer Jim.
"No, Jim, you don't. You love Alex."
Ellison stepped closer to Blair, shaking his own head at the complete stupidity facing him. "Is that your minor in psychology talking? Because if it is, we're all damn lucky you only minored in it. And you want honesty? Fine, here's a few of my honest items for you."
He held up his right hand and ticked off one finger. "One, I've loved you for approximately a year and a half. Ever since the Wilkenson Tower fiasco. I think I knew it while I was kneeling on top of that stupid elevator, listening to you murder the Makarena. But I knew for certain when Gallileo pushed that button and I heard the explosion."
Blair looked up stupidly and asked, "You couldn't tell me this a year ago? Six months ago? Two months....."
"I get it, Sandburg. And evidently not. And don't ask me why, I don't know. But you know me better than anyone, Blair, you know my problems and you love me anyway." Then he cocked his head and asked, "We're going for real honesty here, right?"
At Blair's stunned nod, he continued.
"All right then, number two, I may have been in love with you for the last year and a half, but I've been in lust with you since you walked out the door to search for Larry. We're talking major lust and very pornographic thoughts about my roommate and best friend."
He took another predatory step towards Blair and ticked off another finger. "Number three, I want to take that journey with you now and I want to jump your bones big time."
Blair's mouth was open, his eyes unblinking as he tried to take in Jim's words. Which left Jim waitng, heart in his throat, vulnerable, no control, at Blair's mercy.
Blair's mouth closed and he blinked.
"Am I supposed to go all goo-goo now? Get all mushy?"
"No, but a hard-on would be nice and you could attempt a toncillectomy on me. Oh, and Sandburg? I have never believed in anyone or anything except myself --- until you. And as for faith? Well, I have faith in our future, in this Sentinel thing and in us, because I have faith in you."
God, how Blair wanted to believe. But those moments on the beach, in the temple. Jim and Alex. The tenderness Jim had shown her, a tenderness never extended to Blair.
He shook his head and kept shaking it, leaving Jim without a clue how to get through to him, how to convince him.
But then - the pools came back to him. His visions, the light that was - Blair. His light. His guide.
"Chief, I need you to think clearly right now, to use that brain of yours, okay?"
Something flared in the sapphire depths and Blair nodded.
"Okay. If you were to use one word or phrase to sum up my behavior before Sierra Verde, what would it be?"
Ellison realized that if they were going to get through this, he'd have to be the guide. A word he'd always appreciated, since hearing Brackett use it to describe Sandburg.
"Please, Chief? Help me out here, okay? What would that one word or phrase be?"
Sandburg rubbed his face as he tried to think back, to organize his mind. Finally, he glanced up. "Territorial, Jim. We already discussed that, at the station."
"Territorial. That's it?"
"Possessive, protective, you wouldn't let anyone in, no one could touch your stuff, everything bothered you."
"And all this after the shooting, right?"
"You know that, Jim. Nothing new there."
"Go with me, here, Chief." Jim turned and started to pace. "Okay, the day you came home and I greeted you with my gun. Why?"
"Jim, I told you, you perceived me as a threat. Isn't that what I've been saying?"
"But why then? Why not in the hospital? Why not when I first came home? Why did I hear the spotted jaguar when it was only you outside the door?"
"Jaguar? Jim, you never told me you heard a jaguar outside the door."
"Well, I did. My hackles rose, my skin began to tingle, and not in a good way and I only knew that I needed my gun, that there was danger outside that door. Now why?"
Blair's hands started to wave about as his shoulders moved with his head. "I don't know, Jim. Unless ---- ."
"Unless? Unless what, Sandburg?"
"I was with her, before coming home. At the station, you know? Gave her my card. Her scent must have been all over me. You sensed her."
Jim walked back excitedly, took the chair opposite Blair and leaned forward. "But I pulled a gun, Blair. I pulled a gun. Why? And in the liquor store, I sensed another threat. And in your office, I saw her, at your desk and all I perceived was a threat. To me, to Cascade and to you. And when we went to her place, I was cold, could barely suppress my instincts."
"What instincts? What instincts, Jim?"
"You won't be angry? Won't take it wrong?"
"Oh, you mean, the pull. You felt the sexual attraction. Jim, it's not as...."
"No, you asshole. There was no attraction in that apartment. Come on, Chief, at one point, Alex tried to kill me, would have succeeded if not for Megan. No, the instinct was to - put you behind me. To protect you. To keep you away from her, to get you out of there as quickly as possible and then to rip out her throat."
He smiled an experimental smile and added, "I didn't want your male bravado ruffled by my admitting that."
Blair leaned forward, his expression warring with his words. "That protectiveness was sorely missing in Sierra Verde, Jim. And the attraction was very definitely there between you."
"I know and that's what I'm getting at. We," he pointed a finger at Blair, than waggled it at himself, "you and I, we bonded, at the fountain. Our souls merged. Wasn't that what you experienced?"
"Yes," Blair said carefully, wondering where this was headed.
"I didn't imagine that. I was the jaguar and you were the wolf. And we blended into one being for a fraction of a second, right?"
Again Blair gave a cautious nod.
"Okay, what if in the hospital, what if I had wanted to take the trip with you then? What if I'd acknowledged the bond?"
"I don't understand where you're going with this, Jim."
"You keep saying you failed me, well, try this on for size; the Sentinel failed his guide. In the hospital, I failed to accept the journey, the bond. Call it my fear response, call it whatever you want, I screwed up. And I changed the rules of the game. What was at first a simple territorial battle, became another kind of journey for me, a more difficult journey, one that I had to take alone."
"And Alex?" Blair whispered.
"The battle between two sentinels became a choice for one - me. Both of us, Alex and I, were being drawn to the Temple, we know that, but I think it was orginally a battle of wills, of strength, but Blair, I had to be led back to the light. And that's why I went to Sierra Verde." He was up again, pacing, looking every inch the panther. "Don't you see, Chief?" He demanded.
"In the pools, I made another journey, back to you. But once out of the temple, so much was forgotten, I was wading through so much guilt that once again - I ignored the message, ignored the journey."
"Now, I want that journey more than anything else. I want both journeys."
One eyebrow rose and Blair asked, "Both?"
"Both. The journey you and I will take as Sentinel and Guide and the journey we'll take together for say, the next fifty years. The Jim and Blair journey."
"The Jim and Blair journey?"
Jim moved quickly from the chair to the bed to kneel before Blair, not
touching him, but his hands on either side of Blair
"Yeah, the Jim and Blair journey. The one where we spend all our free time boinking like bunnies, where you move upstairs with me, where we grow old and fat together. The journey where we drive both Simon and Naomi crazy, where you never stop talking and I almost never stop repressing, where I might just be persuaded to actually drink an algae shake and where you occasionally lapse and eat a big, thick, juicy steak. That journey."
"Oh - that journey. You know, Jim, I never once, in three years, envisioned your use of the word boinking."
Jim gave him his best leer and said, "Blairboinking, a favorite fantasy, until now."
"You're making some pretty heavy assumptions here."
Jim smiled gleefully and nodded. "Yep."
"So this is where I go all mushy?"
"And pliant, don't forget pliant."
"So, just like that, the bond is reforged?"
"Well, we could help it by utilizing the time-honored tradition of....."
"That is one time-honored tradition, yes."
"I vote for tradition number two."
Jim leaned back, a suspicious look creeping over his features. "What number two tradition?"
Looking completely satisfied with himself, Blair held out his right hand. "We shake on it."
Pale blue eyes narrowed as the Sentinel regarded the offered hand. Then his own satisfied gleam lit up his eyes as he stood slowly and lowered the zipper on his jeans.
"Right, shake. I like that one, Chief."
Blair Sandburg had been through hell and back. He was tired, still sick and his mind was reeling from all that had happened just since waking up that morning. But one look at Jim's face and then watching those fingers lower that zipper-
--- and he lost it.
His deep, congested guffaws rolled out from his chest as his body dropped back onto the bed, shaking uncontrollably, as his laughter rocked him.
Jim stopped, smiled, and listened.
God, what a great, wonderful sound. His grin widened, his eyes crinkling in mirth, as let his entire body immerse itself in the laughter of his best friend, his guide, his partner.
Unfortunately, the laughter soon turned to coughing and Jim was by his side, rubbing his back as tears of mirth coursed down Blair's face. Blair brought his hand up to cover his mouth as the coughs tore through him and Jim looked frantically for water. He spotted the half-full glass on the nightstand and quickly reached across Blair.
"Here, take some water, then try to catch your breath."
Blair drank gratefully and as the coughing and laughter subsided, he looked at Jim and gave a helpless shrug. "couldn't help it, sorry, really, couldn't help...."
"Ssh. I know."
"....you pulling down, I mean, and then me shaking....and you saying ---- blairboinking and it was all I could do to stay....."
"I know." Jim's grin was back and as Blair raised a hand and pointed at him, as his words tumbled over one another.....
"....sane and --- then the zipper, and all I could see was me......," he hiccoughed, "......shaking hands with - with - you know, and saying, "a man's shake is a man's bond....."
.....they both lost it.
Shallow pants, heaving chests, two men staring up at the ceiling.
Their laughter had driven them both back and down, arms winding around each other for support as they laughed, but now, finally quiet, Blair found himself tucked into Jim's side, Jim's arms wrapped around him.
Jim turned slightly so that he was gazing down at Blair. "We needed that, uh?"
"I'd say so."
"Chief, are we okay?"
"Hell, after all this, I sure as hell hope so."
Blair turned his head up and nodded, his eyes bright. "Partners."
Jim took one hand from Blair's arm and wiggled it. Sandburg smiled, lifted his and let his hand slide into Jim's warm, welcoming one.
Still holding tightly, Jim asked, "Partners in all things, Chief?"
"I wouldn't have it any other way, Jim."
Jim let his gaze roam over the incredible face below him as he said, "You know, there is another time-honored way to seal a bargain, Chief."
"Yeah, this." He leaned down and rested his mouth against the rough, fever chapped lips.
Jim lifted his head and licked his lips.
"Sorry. Hey, at least I showered yesterday."
"Yep. Shampooed your hair too."
Jim let his fingers move through the waves, one finger captured by an errant curl. He watched it, noted the different colors, different shades and asked, "You wouldn't ever cut it, would you?"
"Well, I can't see me with long hair at, say, forty, can you?"
"Yes. I see you at seventy with it still long, like George Carlin, you know? The skinny ponytail, balding up front...."
"The only baldy in this relationship will be you, Oh, Sentinel of the Great City."
"Undoubtedly, but sparse on top means...."
"More to shake below?"
Jim's chuckle vibrated against Blair's temple and he grinned.
"Yeah, way more to shake and more shaking power too."
"yeah, yeah, in your dreams."
"No, soon, in yours."
"God, the ego in this room."
"Fact is not ego."
"This from a grown man who says, boinking?" "Uh, huh." Jim's finger was rubbing the hair against his thumb and suddenly he brought it close to his mouth.
"Hey, what are you.....JIM! Yuck! Jim,no, jim,no....UGH....you're --- tasting my HAIR!?"
"Ummm, yeah, tastes - good. Always wanted to do that."
"This a heretofore unknown Jimkink?"
"um yes." The hair slipped away to drop against Blair's cheek.
"Wet, my hair is wet, Jim. Jimslobber. oh, um, jim? my EAR? You want to taste my ear NOW?!, oh, well, yes....right there, um, god, yes, feels good, okay, real good, um --- IN MY EAR!?! EEEP!"
"um, jim? jim? why don't we.....um, oh, that works....i, um.....my shirt? oh, over my hmph, wlsmumph, and why not? Oh, nice throw, jim."
"you like my chest hair too? --- oh, yeah, you do...yeah, i like that - aaaaw god, yes....yes, that nipple is a bit more ---- ummmm, more-uh, sensitive....oh, yeah, sorry, did I hurt you? Good, yes, um, that works, hold me down....."
"oh...you're moving down....sorry, did I buck you off? oh, yes, your hands there....um, shit, oh, my sweats and shorts, yeah, gone, bye-bye, 'nother good throw...You're not....oh, you are....you like THAT hair too!?!?! guess you do."
"your tongue, just --- there ---- aaaw, gaawd....never knew......such a
way---with your---mouth.....and --- OHGAWD, you fingers....THERE?! yes,
more, deeper.....coming, coming ---"
The sturdy body bucked again and again, filling Jim's mouth and he swallowed and wondered about the sudden silence....then he was releasing the spent cock as the hands that had held his head let go and dropped. He looked up to see dreamy, half-closed blue eyes smiling at him.
He crawled back up the spent body and dropped his mouth back down over the slightly parted lips. His tongue darted in, letting Blair taste them both, then out to swipe along the bottom lip, then back in, then out to scrape over the stubbled jaw, down to the delicious adam's apple, then back up to the eager mouth.
"Jim, what-about you?" Blair managed to gasp out.
That mouth descended again and Blair mumbled into it, "youmph."
Jim lifted his head and looked at the rumpled face, the glassy eyes and the already swollen lips and grinned. "you, i want you."
Blair nodded and rasped out, "condoms?"
Jim's face crumbled, then brightened. "Yep, hang on." He jumped up and as he made his way across the room, he unzipped, stepped out of and discarded his jeans and underwear, then his sweater, letting it drop behind him.
In the corner by the door, his bag sat where Gault had set it late last night.
As Jim moved, Blair watched the wonderful, oddly graceful, impromtu strip act and marvelled at the fact that he was the one lying on a bed waiting for someone to find a condom and that that someone was Jim, now gloriously naked, handsome butt swaying. And damn, whether with a male or female, he'd always been the one making the mad, desperate dash for protection.
This was so cool.
A moment later a huge body dropped onto him and he groaned in appreciation. A mouth latched onto his and he moaned out, "gault...."
"gone, left early, after checking in on you-knew you were in capable hands."
"....very capable....hands, mouth....."
"um....is this healthy for you?"
Blair jerked up as Jim's mouth clamped onto his left nipple.
"want to do this? want me to continue?"
"stop you die"
Jim started to lift Blair's left leg, but the younger man beat him to it as both legs practically leapt up to wrap around his waist, gripping hard and urgent.
Blair's hands were everywhere but Jim needed something else. He captured the much too active hands, wrapped his fingers around the wrists and pushed them over Blair's head. He raised himself up a bit and grinned down at his captive. Much better and by the look on Blair's face, much better for him as well. The eyes staring up at him were a velvety black now, with only the minimum line of blue surrounding the darkness.
God, how he'd dreamed of seeing Blair Sandburg like this; below him, wanting nothing but him, needing only him, giving and taking, his breaths coming so fast that one could not be distinguished from another....
He dropped back down, his tongue already flicking out, and the mouth opened to receive even as he positioned himself against Sandburg's rear, felt the welcoming thrust back as Blair's mouth closed over his tongue, as Blair's tongue fought for dominance, and he was sinking in, muscles clenching around him, driving him deeper as Blair moaned against him.
He let go of Blair's wrists and the hands came up, slid under his arms to grip his shoulders, to pull him down, to pull him in. Kisses were rained over his face, his neck, teeth bit down and Jim jerked hard, hitting Blair's prostate in the process, sending the younger man up, a yell escaping.
Jim was pounding now, Blair's legs clenching, his muscles tightening and untightening, driving Jim over the edge and he cupped Blair's head, lifted, his fingers wrapped in sweaty, soft hair and kissed him hard as he fell from the precipice.
"new cure for the common drowning."
Jim's sweaty head was resting on Blair's equally sweaty chest and the words, spoken only with love, rippled over his cheek.
"Better than that fucking merge."
One hand waved aimlessly in the air over Jim's head. "Oh, merges have their place, I suppose. Certainly got me up and around, uh?"
"Yes, it did do that."
Blair's fingers were scraping up through the back of Jim's head, moving across his scalp.
"No, you did that. You got me up and going. The merge was just window dressing. Probably to satisfy my weird bent."
"You definitely have a weird bent. But it felt - good, moving through you like that."
"As good as...."
"No, not as good, but good. In a different way."
"In a weird bent kind of way?"
Jim licked Blair's chest. "I love bent."
Gault let himself into the house, listening for any sounds that indicated his houseguests were up and about.
He walked quietly through his home to come to a stop before Blair's bedroom door. He hesitated, but hearing nothing from inside, pushed it open a bit and had to bite back his surprise.
Legs and arms, wrapped around each other, two bodies indistinguishable, from one another, quiet breathing.....
....he closed the door and walked away.
He didn't feel the least bit guilty about looking, either.
Jim disentangled himself and sat up. He swung his legs over the edge and stared out the window.
He and Blair had been in bed all day - literally.
And he desperately needed a shower. He wrinkled his nose and grinned.
Ripe, very ripe.
He stood, gazed down at Blair and just - kept looking.
His breathing was good and the fever was gone. He looked - like some sort of satyr. Only all man, no goat in sight. He grinned again. God, he's beautiful.
All hair, muscles, his soft cock surrounded by more curly hair, pale skin broken by Jim's teethmarks and fingerprints, lips swollen and slightly red, chest rising and falling evenly, with only the occasional hitch that bespoke the bit of congestion remaining.
Jim tore his gaze away and walked into the bathroom. He started the water, waited until it was the right temperature and stepped in. He soaped up, rinsed off and for a few moments, let the water sluice over his body.
He shut off the faucet, grabbed a towel and stepped out. After rubbing himself down, he checked the mirror and wasn't surprised to find his own body nicely marked. And unless he was badly mistaken, he even had a heel print on his upper back.
A lifetime of this. He had a lifetime of Blair Sandburg.
Jim Ellison had finally come home, had finally found what he'd lost.
He took two washcloths, wet them in warm water, grabbed two large dry towels and walked back into the bedroom.
He knelt down on the bed and began to gently and tenderly bathe the still sleeping man. As he ran the washcloth up the inside of Blair's left thigh, a sleepy voice said, "mm."
Jim kept up the motion of bathing, swiping the cloth gently over skin as Blair watched from under half-closed lids. He watched the tender movements, the way Jim's expression changed as he worked, the way love, so many facets of love, skittered across the handsome features and Blair knew.
Jim loved him. Deeply.
The tenderness he was exhibiting was as far removed from what Blair had seen given to Alex as to be night and day.
"You were trying to save yourself," he said in wonder and sudden clarity.
Jim was drying him now and barely glanced up. "What?"
"You, you were trying to save Alex, but you were really trying to save yourself. You were afraid, afraid that it could have been you."
"I thought we already established that, Einstein."
He folded the towels and set them on the floor, the washcloths on top.
"We established that you each made choices, that she lost her way, but it was more, in the temple. So much more."
The sun's last hurrah was playing over the skin that Jim had just bathed and he let his eyes have his fill as he answered.
"Yes, you're right. If I could save her, anyway I could, then someone could save me."
Blair sat up, shattering the play of light over his body. He was suddenly real, his warm hand on Jim's arm. The older man glanced down at the hand.
"You could never be her, Jim, don't you know that? No one needs to save you. No one will ever need to save you."
"You're right about one thing, Chief. No one will need to save me now. Thanks to you. I know my path and I take it gladly, as long as you walk it with me."
"No other path, man, no other path."