scribblinlenore: (General: Classic Slasher)
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Inferences and Innuendo: Secrets And Lies
Fandom: The Sentinel
Pairing: Jim/Blair
Rating: R
Summary: Simon asks Blair to look after Jim while he grieves. Blair doesn't know if he still has the power to give comfort after recent revelations and events have come between them.
Warning: Not for people sensitive about issues of consent



Inferences and Innuendo: Secrets And Lies
by Lenore

It was one of those heart-in-the-throat moments that had become sickeningly familiar over the past three and a half years. Blair shifted his weight uncomfortably. It didn't matter how many times he'd done this. Standing over a dead body would never be anything but unnatural. Watching Jim lose someone he loved would never be anything but excruciating.

He looked on helplessly as Jim knelt on the floor beside Veronica's body. His partner was as pale and blank as the marble tiles beneath his knees. Someone else might have interpreted this as a lack of caring or perhaps a state of shock. But Blair knew Jim, and he knew this expression for precisely what it was. Total devastation.

"Should I call for an ambulance?" Simon asked, more out of respect than any real hope.

"I don't think that will be necessary," Jim said, pulling himself to his feet. "I just need…"

He shook his head, as if there simply were no words, and then walked off. Blair watched him go. He recognized this taking-off-alone thing, too. Jim became claustrophobic when the emotions got too big inside him; in those moments, he couldn't stand to be stuck indoors or surrounded by too many people or trapped in his own skin. During the worst of his grief, Jim tended to stay outside and in motion, as if he subconsciously believed that the simple process of osmosis could help lessen his burden, that somehow his grief might dissipate in the great emptiness of the world, that he could burn off his pain like calories.

Simon attended to all the details of the crime scene. He gave orders and directed people. Blair watched him and waited, trying to give Jim enough breathing room before he went after him.

Finally, the captain finished up everything that needed his attention. He motioned to Blair. "Let's go see how Jim's holding up."

Blair hesitated. He knew it was too soon, but he also knew that Simon didn't understand Jim's patterns the way he did. He would go track down his detective whether Blair went with him or not.

"Okay," he finally said, giving in to the inevitable.

They found Jim standing at the edge of the terrace, staring over the backyard as if he expected to find something out there. He had unconsciously assumed a stance that Blair recognized as parade rest. Old habits die hard. Jim's body was hardly relaxed, though. His back was stiff, and his shoulders were rigid, almost reproachful. Blair could easily read their message: It's too early, Chief. I'm not ready to face the two of you. You know me. You know that.

He regretted, not for the first time, that the rhythms among the three of them didn't always fall into the most natural syncopation.

"You okay, Jim?" Simon asked.

"Yes, sir," he said, but he didn't turn around, didn't give up his contemplation of the flower beds.

"We…uh, finished up inside. We can go now," Blair said.

"Why don't you guys go ahead? I'll catch up to you," Jim said. And then to Simon, "You can take Blair with you, can't you, sir?"

Simon hesitated a moment as if he might argue, but in the end, said simply, "Sure. If that's what you want."

"I'd appreciate it, Simon."

"Jim?" Blair said, knowing his partner would hear all his questions in the way he called his name.

"Please, Chief? I just need to… I don't know. Just feels like I could use some space and some time alone."

He tried not to be hurt by that. He tried to remember who he was talking to. He tried to reassure himself that it had nothing to do with him. It was just Jim's way. He mostly believed this. Well, sort of.

"I'll see you at home then," he said.

Jim nodded, but still didn't turn around or make eye contact. Blair sighed and trudged back to the house with Simon.

They headed out to the captain's car. "How do you think he's really doing?" Simon asked.

He shrugged. "I'm sure he'll get over it. Not today, not tomorrow, maybe. I don't know when. But some day, some time."

Simon screwed up his face. "Sandburg, sometimes you sound just like an old movie. At least, a sad imitation of one." He chuckled.

That's right. Get a good laugh at Sandburg's expense. That always lightens the mood. He sighed. Usually, he accepted Simon's ribbing with good humor. Today, it grated.

They both settled into the car and buckled up.

"You parked at the station?" the captain asked.

He shook his head. "I rode in with Jim, today."

"I'll take you home then."

"Thanks, man."

Simon drove, and he stared out the window. After a few minutes, the captain began to shift uneasily in his seat. He turned on the radio, fiddled with the station, but couldn't find anything he liked and turned it off again. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. He cleared his throat and even coughed a couple of times. Blair rolled his eyes. No one ever knew what to do with him when he was quiet.

"So I guess you were right all along. About Veronica," Simon finally said.

"I guess."

"How'd you figure it out?"

He shrugged. "It just fit, you know?"

Simon nodded. "Yeah. I guess I do."

Blair went back to watching the scenery. Simon continued drumming his fingers on the dashboard. Eventually, they turned onto Prospect.

Simon pulled up in front of the building and turned to him. "You will see Jim through this, won't you?"

He blinked a few times, not sure what to make of this request. "I'll do whatever I can," he finally said.

For some reason, that seemed to relieve Simon. He let out his breath, and Blair could see the tension in his shoulders ease a little.

"Call me if I can do anything," he said.

Blair nodded, got out of the car and watched Simon drive away. He went up to the loft. It felt weirdly empty. He hung up his coat and sat down on the sofa to think.

Simon's bizarre confidence in his ability to help Jim never failed to astonish him. In most other areas of life, Blair felt certain the captain still had his doubts about him. Hell, there were some days Simon didn't seem completely convinced he could make it to the bathroom by himself. But when it came to caring for a wounded Jim, whether it was Sentinel senses gone crazy or an actual physical injury or a metaphorical knife to the heart, he put a lot of stock in Blair. In the past, he had possibly even deserved some of this faith. But why can't he see it's not like that anymore?

It hadn't been like that for months, in fact, even since before it happened. That was as close to the fountain and the boxes and the beach and the grotto as he could ever get, even in the safety of his own thoughts. It. But it hadn't been the start of it all. It had simply been the outcome, the logical conclusion. The beginning had come three and a half years ago when he lost sight of the greatest truth of all, the one anthropologists everywhere banked on: that the past might be obscured at times, but it could never be effaced completely. There would always be some mark, some sign, some indication where to dig for the bones.

Three and a half years ago, he'd thought there was no reason Jim would ever have to know. No reason at all. Except, of course, that life simply didn't work that way. Lies always unraveled. Secrets always saw the light of day. This was the most basic Physics. This was Anthropology 101.

And he was a scientist. He really should have known better. He should have dealt with it way back then, knowing that the bones would be unearthed, someday, somehow, sooner or later. He should never have tried to bury the truth in the first place. Then maybe none of this ever would have happened.


THREE MONTHS EARLIER…"Chief, I need your help on something."

Blair had been half slumped over the dining room table, trying to pay attention to the endless droning of his students' exams. What is it with me and essay tests, anyway? What? I'm some kind of intellectual snob? I can't give multiple choice and short answer like the next person?

However, at the sound of those words, I need your help, he quickly snapped to attention. Some people prospected for gold. Others staked out trees in pursuit of red belly sapsuckers. He slunk around hoping for a Sentinel in need and some way to be of use.

This was especially significant in light of the whole dissertation fiasco. They had only just begun to get back on an even keel again with each other. That Jim wanted his help and he was eager to give it seemed like a hopeful sign. Just maybe things would work out okay between them.

"Sure, I'd be glad to help, Jim. What's up?"

"These break-ins we've been working on? We finally got a lead. It seems all the victims hung out at this one place. The Fandango. You heard of it?"

He paled. "Yeah. I've been there. Although it was called something else then."

"Club Doom," he said.

Blair nodded, his discomfort growing.

"Where I told you not to go looking for Lash but you did anyway."

He nodded again.

"And found information that helped us solve the case."

He shrugged.

"I need you to do that again. I need you to go with me. I'm hoping I can listen in on some conversations and get a clue who's behind the robberies. But I can't do it without you there to help me focus."

"I'm sorry, Jim."

And, oh God, he really was. This was like dropping your gold pan after catching a glint of something shimmering at the bottom of it or falling out of the tree right as the sapsucker alighted on the branch beside you. He would have done anything to help Jim. Anything. Except this.

"Chief—"

"I can't go back there."

"Look, Chief, I know the place has bad memories attached to it."

"No," he insisted, his voice more strident than he meant it to be. "You do not know."

Jim sighed. "Okay, you're right. I don't. But I can guess. Look, I understand that it's not easy going back there knowing it's where Lash tracked one of his victims, but I really need your help. And maybe doing this, confronting the past, will help shake some of those demons."

God, Jim, you have no idea what you're saying. Mental pictures flew at him. The Marine's sneer when he insisted he wasn't gay. The slightly repulsed look on his students' faces when they realized he'd gotten into the situation at least partially of his own volition. How hard his hands shook as he struggled to get the damned car door open.

"You just don't get it," he said, impatiently, angrily.

Jim put his hands on his hips, digging in. "Well, clue me in then, Chief. Because I'm feeling lost here."

"Look, man. I said I can't do it, and you're just going to have to accept that. Okay? I wish I could live up to your standards every time, but the fact is, I can't. So if what I can do isn't good enough for you, then you'll just have to find yourself a new damned sidekick."

Jim stared at him. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about my not being the kind of man you think I should be. Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I can only be who I am. That's all I have to offer."

"What the hell?" Jim said, both startled and confused. "Where did that come from? You know I don't think… You know you're… Shit! What's all this about, Blair? Huh? What's going on here?"

He felt himself turning red, and he stared down at the floor. "I just can't go back there."

"Why?"

"I…uh…"

"Did something else happen there that I don't know about?"

His face turned hotter.

"What happened?"

"I don't want to talk about it," he whispered.

Jim watched him appraisingly. "Maybe not. But I think you need to," he said, sensibly.

"It's nothing," he insisted.

"I don't think so."

"It was years ago. There's not point in rehashing it now. Really. I've dealt with it already. It's over, done with."

"Stalling isn't going to work here, Chief. Not on me. And from where I'm standing, it doesn't look especially dealt with and it definitely doesn't appear to be over, whatever it is."

"I just had a bad experience. That's all."

"Could you be a little more specific?"

It was like standing on an impossibly steep precipice, looking down at all the jagged rocks below, knowing you were going to have to jump. His throat constricted with the sense of inevitability. He had no more hope of resisting Jim when he was bent on getting to the bottom of things than any of his suspects ever did. He was going to have to say it. Jim was going to have to know.

"Um…well, there was this person I met up with one night… I…uh, ran into some trouble."

Jim frowned. "You mean something went wrong with some woman you met there?"

His mouth was so dry. "It was a guy."

All the color left Jim's face, and his eyes went hard. "What kind of trouble?" he asked, his voice strained, every muscle tense.

"The guy…he was a Marine…I guess he just wasn't real used to taking no for an answer."

The hardness in Jim's face gave way to fear. "What… Were you… Did he…"

"No, but he tried."

"What exactly did he…"

"Don't. Please. I don't want to have to say it."

"I'm sorry. God, Blair, I am. But I need to know."

Anger and revulsion and pure dread of Jim's reaction all battled for control of him. He crossed his arms over his chest, as if somehow that would protect him. "He wanted me to suck him off. Okay?" he blurted out.

"God."

"When I wouldn't, he tried to force me."

"Shit!"

"He took me by the hair and pushed me to my knees and tried to make me service him like I was his bitch."

"Jesus, Blair."

"He whipped it out, and he held me so tight I couldn't even turn away. I was staring right at it and the smell was…hell…I felt so… Shit!"

He clutched his stomach, certain he was going to puke.

Jim moved to stand beside him. "Blair…"

"Don't, man. God, please. Don't."

"But Blair…"

"Don't say it, Jim. I know what you must think of me, and I deserve it. I know that. But don't say it. Please! Just don't say it."

"Blair!" Jim took him firmly by both shoulders. He flinched at the touch, and Jim jerked his hands back. "God, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking. But please, I need to know. Did he hurt you?" he asked frantically.

"What?"

He turned to look at Jim, and Jim's eyes were wild. "God, Blair, did he hurt you? Did he…"

He shook his head. "No, but I thought he was going to."

"I'm so sorry, Chief. God…" Jim looked like he wanted to throw up, too. "I'm so, so sorry that ever happened to you."

"I was scared, Jim. I was so fucking terrified. He said…"

"What? What did he say?"

"He said…"

"It's okay, Chief. Just take your time."

"He said that he'd…"

Jim hesitated a moment, then started to rub his back very gently. The touching felt okay now, and he tried to concentrate on Jim's hand, the way it moved so soothingly over the fabric of his shirt..

"He said that if I did a good job he'd…he'd take me back to the base and… and…" His voice broke. "And he'd introduce me…to his…his friends."

He couldn't help it. He started to sob. Not even the threat of losing Jim's respect was enough to keep it bottled up inside him anymore.

"He said that? He said…"

Blair nodded.

"He was going to… They were going to…"

He nodded.

"To you? They were going to do that… That prick and his sick ass buddies, they were going to…they would have… To you?"

He nodded again. He was more than ready to move on from this, but he did understand the difficulty. He would not have been able to fathom the concept of gang rape in relation to Jim, either.

"That bastard!" Jim started to pace. "That sick, sick, fucking bastard." He stopped and turned back to Blair. "What's his name?"

Blair shook his head. "Don't."

"I'm just asking his name, Chief."

"No, you're not."

"Okay, you're right. But tell me anyway."

"No."

"Shit, Blair! If anyone ever deserved…"

"I never knew his name."

"So tell me what the asshole looked like," Jim said, refusing to give up.

"You can't go beat him up. They'll throw you in jail. Besides, it was more than three years ago. He could have been discharged or transferred or any number of things by now. He's probably long gone."

Jim stared at him incredulously. "Three years. This happened while we knew each other, while we lived together and I never knew about it?"

"Uh…yeah."

"How?"

"I didn't come home right away. I went to my office. To pull myself together, get cleaned up. I wanted to get the smell off. I wanted to get it all off me."

"But why?"

His lip trembled. "I didn't want you to know. I didn't want you to think less of me."

There were tears in Jim's eyes. "God, Blair, don't you know how I… Don't you know you're… Damn it! You could have told me. Did you at least tell someone?"

He shook his head.

"Never?" Jim asked, his voice raw and pained.

"No."

"Oh, hell, Chief." Jim had never looked more devastated. "But why? Why go around all these years alone with it? So you didn't feel like you could tell me. Okay. I wish you knew you could tell me anything. But sometimes it's hard between guys to talk about stuff. I know I'm not the easiest person to have a conversation with. So I guess I can understand why you might not have been comfortable telling me. But wasn't there anyone you felt you could turn to?"

He shook his head. "No," he said, hoarsely.

"But you've got so many friends…"

"You don't understand!" His voice trembled, and he was mortified to find himself on the verge of tears.

"No, I don't. Can you try to explain it to me?"

"I asked for it," he said, softly.

Jim looked horrified. "No!" He shook his head vehemently. "Don't say that. Don't even think it, Blair."

"It's the truth. I did."

"God, Blair, someone attacked you, tried to assault you, threatened to…to have his friends… How could anyone possibly ask for that?"

"I…I came on to him," he stuttered. He kept his eyes glued to a spot on the wall just over Jim's shoulder. He couldn't stand to look into Jim's eyes. "I noticed him when he first came in. I kept looking over at him until he approached me. I let him buy me a drink. I flirted with him. I made him think that I wanted it…and I did, but then I didn't, only it was too late by then."

"It's never too late. You can say no at any time. Shit, Blair. You work with cops. You know this stuff."

"Yeah, well, I also know that the letter of the law and the realities of life are two different things. If I'd told people, I'm sure they would have made all the right sympathetic noises. But in the back of their minds, they'd be thinking that I really should have known better."

"No way, Chief."

"Yes, they would have, at least if I'd told them the whole story."

"What do you mean?"

Blair sighed tiredly. He felt like the blackest, filthiest sludge at the bottom of the most disgusting dirt heap. "I let him kiss me, touch me—hell, even half undress me. I did lead him on. I didn't mean to. But that doesn't change the facts. In some measure, I did have it coming."

Jim's jaw worked overtime. Finally he managed to say in a choked voice, "Frustration is no excuse for hurting someone. So the guy didn't get what he was expecting. He had no right to get violent with you."

"I should never have gotten into a situation where I couldn't take care of myself."

"So maybe you could have been more careful about the kind of person you chose. That still doesn't make this your fault." Jim hesitated a moment. "Chief? Can I ask… Are you gay?"

He had been expecting the question, but his face went hot anyway. "Uh, no. I just kind of…got curious. I wanted to see what it was like. I guess I got my answer."

"This was one situation. And why a military guy? Not particularly your best bet for finding the kind of understanding you'd need to experiment safely."

His stomach twisted up. "I, uh… You know, he just happened to catch my eye."

He looked away, but he could feel Jim studying him.

"It's okay if you don't want to tell me," Jim said.

"Thanks, man. I don't, actually."

"But you can tell me."

"That's what you think," he said, under his breath, not thinking.

"Yes, you can. Look, Chief, I don't know what I've done to make you think you can't share your life with me. Ah, scratch that. I do know. There have been lots of times when I should have listened to you more carefully than I did, but I never meant to give you the impression that I don't care or that you can't trust me."

"I trust you, Jim. It's you who won't…"

"What?"

"Nothing, man."

"No way, Blair. You can't just leave it like that. This is important. I won't what?"

"Back off, Jim. Seriously."

"I can't do that."

"You do not want to know this. Trust me."

"Why don't you let me decide that for myself?"

He finally snapped. "Fine. You want to know why I picked up that Marine? I'll tell you. Because he reminded me of you. There! Satisfied? Huh? Are you glad you know?"

Jim didn't answer. He looked like someone had kicked him in the stomach.

"Ah, shit!" I really shouldn't have done that.

Jim just stared.

"Oh, Jim, man, I'm sorry I said that. I just kind of lost it there for a minute. I never meant to unload that on you."

But it was too late. Jim looked downright grief-stricken. Like he lost his best friend. Blair felt that like a blow to the gut. Fuck!

"Please, say something," he begged. "Yell at me or throw me out or something."

"Sorry," Jim could only manage, his voice ragged.

"Jim," he pleaded.

"I'm sorry, Chief." He started backing toward the door. "God, I'm sorry."

Blair had never heard him sound like that before, distraught to the point of becoming unglued. This is the way the world ends. He felt like crying.

"You don't have to go," he managed to say. "Really. I'm the one... This is my fault. It's your house. I'll go. Just give me a minute and I'll..."

"No!" Jim cried out. "Don't go anywhere. I don't want you to leave. I mean that. I just can't right now. I can't... I'm sorry."

Before Blair could say anything further, he was gone. The reverberation of the slamming door faded away after a few seconds, and then the loft sounded huge in its silence. He stood in the middle of the living room and wrapped his arms around himself. He didn't know what to do. This was not anywhere he ever expected to be, alone in the loft, the bottom dropped out of his world. He'd always found it so weirdly, wonderfully consoling here, and now all that warm comfort was gone. And he was the idiot who had ruined it.

Eventually, it seemed stupid to just stay stalled there, and he roused himself enough to drift into his room. He took an uneasy look around and thought about packing. But Jim said not to. He grasped onto that with both hands. Jim said. There was no part of him that wanted to go, not even one stray, inconsequential, little cell that wanted to leave Jim. Ever. But he did dearly wish he could take time in his hands and roll back the skein, just a little, just enough to avert this disaster. What the hell is wrong with me? Why do I always have to talk?

He sank down onto the edge of the bed. And why can I plan to tell a lie with scary efficiency and panic in the moment like I don't even know the definition of the word obfuscate? He began to feel even more weighed down. He stretched out onto his side and covered his face with the crook of his elbow. I drove Jim away from his own home. God. He would have cried over that, whether it was a girly thing to do or not, if he could have. But even his tear ducts felt glazed over somehow.

Time passed, but he realized it only in the most abstract way. He was still breathing, so time must be marching forward. Extreme misery was a lot like one of Jim's zoneouts—nothing from the outside world registered in any concrete way. I wonder where he is, he obsessed. I wonder when he's coming home. If he's coming home. Although I guess he will, eventually, sometime. I mean, he does own the place. He writes the checks. He can't exactly just wander off and never come back…can he?… He lost himself in free-floating despair and before long, he was asleep.

When he finally came to, it was only because the world was shaking.

"Blair?"

<shake>

"Chief?"

<shake>

He sat bolt upright, his heart pounding. He had no idea how long he'd been out. He swivelled around to look out the window. It was dark. Shit! Jim had been gone for hours.

His Sentinel perched near the end of the bed. "I'm sorry to wake you up, Chief. I just thought it was important for us to talk. The sooner the better."

"Uh, yeah. That's probably a good idea." He swallowed hard. This was it.

"Can I go first?" Jim asked, running a hand nervously through his hair. "I just… I have a list. It would help if I could just run through it, then you can say anything or ask anything or whatever. Is that okay?"

He nodded. "Sure. I guess so."

Jim looked relieved. "Thanks." He took a deep breath. "First, I'm sorry I ran out of here earlier. I need you to know that it wasn't anything about you. It was me. I just couldn't… Well, it doesn't really matter. I needed to think. That's all. I don't want you to misinterpret it."

He took another deep breath. Blair waited, still nervous.

"Second, you're my best friend, and I like to think that I'm yours."

"You are."

Jim smiled, a little sadly, but it was still a smile. "Thanks, Chief. That's nice to hear. Anyway, if you're ever in trouble, I just hope you know you can come to me. Because you really can. Truly." Jim held his gaze. "Third—and I wish I could get you to believe this—what happened at that club is not your fault. You did not ask for it. You certainly didn't deserve it. You're a good man. You deserve only good things. Sex can be…well, really confusing sometimes, and everyone gets into situations...well, where they really wish they could change things. Everyone. Deciding you needed to back away from that Marine when you did, that wasn't some kind of capital crime. You did nothing wrong."

"He called me a cock tease," Blair said, softly.

Jim's face turned red. "Bastard!" He took a big breath and let it out. "You can't take that to heart, Chief. You've got to consider the source. We both know that guy was an asshole. You can't take anything he said seriously."

"I know," he said hesitantly. "But it's hard."

Jim nodded. "I know it is. But try to let it go, huh?"

He nodded. "Okay, I guess I can try to do that. So...uh, your list?"

"Right, let's see…" Jim counted on his fingers. When he got to four, he said, "Oh, yeah. I never want you to leave your home here. Please. Unless, of course, it's of your own volition because there's somewhere else you'd rather be. But not because we get into an argument. Okay?"

He nodded, and he couldn't remember feeling that relieved in such a long time.

"Good. Then, last…there's nothing wrong…nothing to be ashamed of about trying to figure out who you are. If you need to…uh, explore your sexuality, then you should do that. Don't be worried… It won't change who you are to me."

"Are you sure?" He chewed on his lip.

"I'm positive. Like I said, you're my best friend. That's not going to change. Ever."

"Thanks, man." He smiled, so relieved.

"But if you do…um, get involved with guys, I just hope you'll be careful. Not everyone… Some men aren't exactly happy to be attracted to other men. They'll take it out on you for making them want you." Jim put that phrase in quotes with his fingers. "Some of the more macho guys, especially, can have a pretty twisted way of thinking. If they hurt you afterwards, it's like the sex somehow doesn't count. Like they're not really gay."

Blair stared at Jim and felt his face growing hot. In a weird way, it was like having the talk with your father. "So I guess you picked up all this when you were working Vice, huh?"

Jim's jaw tightened. "Yeah. I guess you could say I found out a lot of shit back then."

"I'm pretty sure I'm through with guys, anyway," he said. Unless it's you. He kept that to himself.

"That's up to you, of course. I just want you to be prepared if you give it another shot."

He nodded. "Yeah. I appreciate that."

Aren't you going to say anything about the other thing, the important part.

Jim breathed out a sigh. "So that's it for me. Your turn, Chief."

He wavered. "Uh…I guess that pretty much covers it." Coward!

Jim stood up. Blair's heart dropped a little.

"Okay, Chief. Well, I'm glad we cleared the air. I feel much better now."

"Yeah," he said, trying not to show how half-hearted he felt about this resolution.

"I'm really glad nothing… that he didn't… that you're…" Jim swallowed hard. "Ah, hell!"

He gathered the sides of Blair's face between his hands and pressed a kiss firmly to the top of his head. Blair stopped breathing. This was more than affection. It was something large and reverent. The touch of Jim's fingers on his skull made his bones feel precious. The play of Jim's breath against his hair felt like a holy benediction.

"I love you, Chief," he murmured, so softly it almost got lost in the curls.

But Blair did hear him, and his heart hiccuped in his chest.

"Jim, I…" His mouth couldn't keep up with his emotions. "I…"

But Jim was already pulling away, removing those reassuring hands, stepping back.

"So I was thinking maybe we could just order in some Chinese tonight. What do you say to that, Chief?"

All Blair could do was stare at him. Love. Chinese food. What?

"I'll go make the call," Jim said and headed out to the living room.

Blair sat frozen on the bed. There were too many things going through his head. Oh, love that way and How could I possibly be so stupid to think anything else and But I went looking for you, Jim. What do you think has possibly changed since then? Except that three years ago I only thought I loved you and now I know for sure.

And finally, Aren't we ever going to talk about it?

In the other room, he heard Jim ordering cold noodles with sesame and moo shu vegetables and all his other favorites. It sounded distinctly like a consolation prize, and he was pretty sure he had the answer to his question.


PRESENT…Blair shook his head whenever he remembered it. It might have been Jim's idea to sweep it all under the rug, but he blamed himself. Jim's first strategy was always to repress and deny, and it was his job to keep him honest and see that he didn't. But he'd been feeling so fragile and splayed open and so damned grateful to have survived the admission in one piece that he hadn't wanted to force the issue. He half hoped the pretending-like-nothing-ever-happened thing might work for once, and they could go on like before. It was not nearly as good as Jim reciprocating his feelings, but it was far better than the two of them knocking their shins against his unrequited love all the time.

That hope had been short-lived, though. The tender-handed, understanding, list-of-things-to-say Jim from that afternoon was quickly replaced by a taciturn stranger. Blair would sit down to breakfast with him or join him at the precinct, and Jim would barely acknowledge his existence. Blair would find himself thinking things like: Playing the part of Jim Ellison today, we have a slab of granite. It wasn't funny, not really.

At night, he had the same recurring dream. He was on board a ship pulling out of port. Through his telescope, he could see Jim standing on the docks, watching his ship—not waving, not trying to get his attention, not reacting in anyway, just watching him go. As the ship went further and further out to sea, Jim grew smaller and smaller, their friendship finally receding into complete nothingness.

Afterwards, Blair would always wake up in a cold sweat, and for one brief moment he would think just a dream and feel so relieved. But in the next second, he would think no, it's my life—and the despair would hit him all over again.

By the time Alex came along, all Jim needed was an excuse, and she was handy that way. It's not that Blair doubted having a rogue Sentinel in his territory had played havoc with Jim's instincts. He knew that it had. But when he thought back to the boxes, he couldn't help but feel that there had been a sense of relief for Jim in evicting him under those circumstances. He wasn't throwing Blair out for loving him. He was "getting rid of the distractions." He was just doing what Sentinels had to do, not breaking his word.

Then it happened. When he woke up afterwards in the hospital, he could still feel Jim's essence inside him, the last tingling sense of their amazing connection. It gave him a brief, glimmering hope. If Jim could bring him back from the dead, how hard could it be to fix their relationship? But when Jim came into his room, awkward and weirdly remote for someone who's soul had just co-mingled with his, when he made his tired little joke about nurses and back rent, even though Blair knew what he was trying to say, he felt the hopefulness in him quickly deflate. I don't know if I can go there with you, Chief. Yeah, well, big surprise there.

He had gone back to the loft, not because anything was better or different, simply because he was a hard-headed idiot who couldn't learn his lesson to save his life. Quite literally. Jim remained remote, although he did try to be more polite about it. He asked him to please not leave wet towels on the bathroom floor and thanked him for not playing his music too loudly and left post-its, for God's sake, on the refrigerator to apprize Blair of his comings and goings, with a heavy emphasis on the going part. They hardly spent any time together anymore. When they did, it was like they were walking on eggshells around each other. Yes, that's exactly what they had become. Eggshell people.

And now, Simon was expecting him to put the million and one Jim-pieces back together after Veronica had smashed him so brutally, and he had absolutely no clue how he was supposed to do that. He wasn't even sure it was possible. Not for him. Not now.

Blair sighed heavily and wondered for the zillionth time where Jim was, what he was doing and when he might come home. Finally, he went into his room and took out one of his anthropology tomes. He didn't expect anything he read to actually register, but he figured it would help pass the time.

And eventually, he did hear the long-awaited turning of the key in the lock—after what felt like decades, but was really only a couple of hours. His immediate impulse was to leap up and run to Jim. But timing was everything, and he knew enough to wait. He listened to Jim hang up his coat and lay his keys on the table. He heard his heavy footsteps going up to his room, the creaking of the bed springs. Then there was nothing but the silence of Jim's grief.

He slid off his bed and went upstairs.

"I don't want to talk about it, Chief," Jim warned, as he reached the top of the steps.

"Yeah. But I think you probably need to," he said, sensibly.

Jim lay sprawled face down on the bed like a worn-out rag doll. "There's nothing to say."

Blair went to kneel by the bed. "I'm sorry," he said.

"I should have listened to you."

"You trusted her."

"Yeah." His voice caught in his throat.

Blair hesitated a moment. He wasn't sure if his touch would be welcome or not, but it was the only way he knew how to reach Jim, to comfort him. He brushed his fingers tentatively across Jim's shoulder. He felt the muscles tense reflexively, but then relax. This was good. He could work with this. Maybe there was hope yet.

He began to rub Jim's back in comforting circles.

"So, you…uh, loved her, huh?" he ventured.

Jim knitted his eyebrows together. "I thought so at one time. I don't know now."

"She wasn't what you thought."

He shook his head against the pillow.

"That must have been really disappointing, huh?"

"It's the worst," Jim said, his voice shaky. "It makes me feel like I couldn't possibly have loved no matter what I thought I felt because I never even really knew her."

"Mmm," Blair said, concentrating on pouring all his care and concern into the hand moving over Jim's back.

"Wouldn't you feel that way?" Jim asked.

"What do you mean?"

"If you thought you loved someone and then found out…that they could do something so terrible, you wouldn't love them anymore, would you?"

Blair's hand stilled for a moment. He had the distinct impression they were no longer talking about Veronica.

"Depends," he said.

"On what?"

"What the terrible thing was, I guess. How long ago it happened. Why the person did what they did. How they dealt with it afterwards, how sorry they were, what they learned from it, what they did about it." He paused a moment, thinking. "But probably, most of all, it would depend on how much I cared for the person. Real, deep, true love has a way of softening the way you see things."

"You think?"

"I know."

"I wish I felt that way."

"Maybe…"

"What?"

He locked eyes with Jim. "Maybe it wasn't real, deep, true love with Veronica."

Jim didn't look away. "No. I guess it wasn't."

"I think it would be different if it were."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

He kept his touch gentle and steady, but his mind was working furiously. All these months, he had assumed he understood what had happened between them, what had gone wrong, but now he wasn't so sure.

"Jim? Can I ask you something?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

"What is it with you and these women?"

He felt Jim tense for a moment. "I honestly don't know, Chief."

Blair's heart pounded in his chest. He knew what he wanted to say, but he was afraid. Then again, no good had ever come from sweeping things under the rug. Recent history had been the biggest testament to that.

He finally worked up the courage to ask, "Don't you think you might be happier if you looked elsewhere?"

Jim blinked at him. He seemed so terribly vulnerable. "Maybe," he said, his voice very soft.

"Well, I think you would be. I think there's a reason these relationships keep going so wrong."

Jim suddenly seemed afraid. "You do?"

He nodded. "Yeah. I don't think you're being true to who you are."

Jim let out his breath in a soft whuff. "Oh."

"What do you think?"

"I think you're probably right, Chief. You usually are."

"So maybe you should make a change, huh?"

Jim nodded, but his eyes were growing heavy. "Uh-huh. Just don't think I can think about it anymore right now, though, Chief. I'm so..."

Blair rubbed his shoulder. "I know you're tired. Go to sleep now. We'll talk more about it later."

"Stay?"

"Sure, Jim. I'll stay until you fall asleep. I'll stay as long as you want me to."

"Never leave," he murmured drowsily.

"If that's what you want," he whispered.

"Mmm."

"Then I won't."

"Just hope you still feel... when..."

"When what, Jim?"

But Jim's eyes were already closed, his mouth open. His breath had slowed, now coming in long, steady puffs. He was fast asleep, worn out from everything that had happened that day and some things Blair suspected had taken place long ago.

He pressed a kiss lightly to Jim's shoulder, then to his cheek and his forehead. "I'm serious, Jim. We will talk about this later," he whispered.

He quietly got up from the floor and pulled a throw off the nearby arm chair. He carefully, tenderly covered Jim up, then sat down to keep vigil over his exhausted Sentinel. He knew he couldn't really do anything for him while he slept, but Jim had said stay and so it seemed like the right thing to do.

He figured it was probably just what Guide's did.

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