Our Synergy

BY : Shigure-san
Category: S through Z > Sentinel
Dragon prints: 227
Disclaimer: I do not own The Sentinel TV series, any of its characters or trademarks. I make no money from this story.

Title: Our Synergy

Author: Shigure-san

Fandom: The Sentinel TV Series

Pairing: Jim/Blair

Rating: Explicit/18+

Warnings: Slash, Gay Sex, Anal, Rimming, Slight D/S, Primal Jim, Sentinel/Guide Bond, Spiritual Bonds, Bonding, Switching, Angst, Romance, First Time, Primal Sentinel, Primal Behavior, Warm Fuzzy Feelings

 

Summary: An alternate ending to the series that picks off right before the conference in Season 4 Episode 8: The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg. Stepping into the conference room, Blair is accosted by federal agents that seem to have a vested interest in preventing the world from realising the truth about sentinels. Right under the eyes of the media, he’s swept away and used as bait to lure Jim after them with a sensory trail in their wake.

 

Author’s Note: This was a self-indulgent one-shot that got a bit out of hand. I just wanted to share it in case anyone else could find even half the enjoyment in reading it as I did in writing it during a very difficult time. The idea just wouldn’t let me go and I’ve never written for The Sentinel before so I hope it’s alright ;)

 

Also, I also made two music videos for Jim/Blair. Please take a look if you have a moment:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNEEcZa_LzI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tp-bVrthR4w

 

Please enjoy.
 


 

Chapter One

Tracking

 

 

 

It felt as if the self-effacing mental thrashing he’d been giving himself were a physical assault. His insides ached as if bruised. He felt nauseous with it all, with the realisation of what his carelessness had brought upon his friends. Blair hesitated at the sight of the largest conference hall at Rainier University crammed full of people, of members of the press, university staff and countless renowned faces from the Cascade grapevine. A surge of acidic bile bubbled in his gut as he stared down his future. The path to his dreams wove right through that din of excited bodies, the ravenous wolves that were waiting to rip Jim’s life apart in exchange for Blair’s success.

 

 Jim. Blair dragged fingers through his hair, impatient, lost and panicked. Ironic that right at the moment he needed Jim most, at the turning point of both their lives, he could not be with him. Because I messed up, he thought self-deprecatingly, nodding at the Dean as she tried to hurry him into the conference. He’d messed up and now there was only one way to try and frantically claw back everything Jim had worked so hard for. By giving up everything he had worked for.

 

 Stepping into the room, the cameras whirled to him and the sickness he’d felt churning his stomach since this whole mess started lurched into his throat. “Here goes nothing,” he breathed to himself, wondering if Jim was watching. Wondering if he’d ever be able to earn back Jim’s trust even after this, the greatest sacrifice he could make. It was all he had to give and he wasn’t sure it was anywhere near enough.

 

 The cameras and reporters pressed in but as he moved further into the room where he would throw it all away, a large hand gripped his arm. He glanced up, years of working with Jim making his reactions sharper. The man stood head and shoulders over Blair, who shoved his elbow hard into his ribs, winding him, only to stumble back into another impeccably dressed stranger. They wore similar suits and sunglasses, clean shaven with the same smooth hair. Not twins by any means but Blair had met enough of these people to make an educated guess. Feds.

 

 “Listen, I don’t know what this is about but I’ve got something to do,” Blair said roughly. The man he’d winded clasped his shoulder now in a feigned display of camaraderie. He smiled with eerily perfect teeth. Talk about Matrix Agent Smith, Blair thought with a pulse of foreboding, just as Agent Two stepped in close behind him, a small gun pressed into the small of Blair’s back, conveniently hidden from those around them. For all the display of warmth, surely no one could mistake this for what it was?

 

 “Mr Sandburg, we know what you are planning but trust us, there is another way,” Agent One said curtly, his voice slightly roughened by the blow to his ribs. He urged Blair back out into the hall swiftly but smoothly, his partner sliding to Blair’s other side with the hidden gun now pressed into his armpit.

 

 Blair glanced back at the press that were fighting each other in their urgency to get out of the door, unwittingly stalling themselves in their battle. Still he caught sight of the foremost reporter’s camera and hoped, prayed Jim was watching.

 

 “What are you talking about? Who the hell are you and what do you want with me?” he snapped as they lead him away from the din and out the fire door to the right of the building. An unremarkable black Mercedes was waiting in the alley between the two buildings. Blair froze on the threshold, struggling despite the gun in his side. “Look, if you’re pissed about all this exposure to the force because of my thesis, I was about to tell everyone; I’m a fraud. I did it to get the good story but it’s all bull–” His words cut short as Agent One pushed him hard into the doorframe, face first, twisting his arms behind his back and securing them with cuffs at his wrists.

 

 “We don’t want to do it this way, Mr Sandburg but if you insist on fighting,” Agent Two said with an air of resignation, gesturing with his gun to the car. Blair glanced at the vehicle, then at the two men.

 

 “Look, you’re feds, right? You can’t just take me away in front of all those people; the government doesn’t want that sort of show, surely?”

 

 Agent Two arched an eyebrow above the rim of his dark glasses. “We are part of a very particular specialist division. One of our team is now informing the press that you will reschedule at another time after you’ve taken the advice of our…well, our organisation. They are being made aware that your protectiveness of Detective Ellison is clouding your judgement and you need a short while to recover your renowned equilibrium.”

 

 Blair stared at them, dumbfounded, panicked, trying to keep them talking as long as possible on instinct. He wriggled with his cuffs. They were on tight. He winced as the edge of the mechanism caught on his skin but then pressed more firmly. Blood. Surely Jim could follow that? Find that?

 

 If he comes. If he was watching, a small voice whispered.

 

 “Those were live news feeds in there. People have seen you take me!” Blair protested.

 

 Agent One smiled in genuine pleasure. “Perhaps people from the Cascade Police Department?” he suggested. “Perhaps Detective Ellison, is that what you mean? Mr Sandburg, we are counting on it.”

 

 Blair’s stomach sank. “You’re using me to get to Jim. I’m just a pawn or something, right?”

 

 “Oh no, you are equally as important as Detective Ellison in this,” Agent Two said, glancing around them. “After all, what is a sentinel without his guide?”

 

 Blair’s eyes widened. He tried to step back into the hall but Agent One urged him down the steps carefully toward the car. “Look, I told you, my thesis, it was all lies. Jim Ellison is just a good cop with a good heart and I took advantage of him, I used him to get my fame but all that stuff about his senses, it’s–”

 

 “Our knowledge of sentinels and their partners far precedes your own, Mr Sandburg. We know now that Detective James Ellison is indeed one of our genetically enhanced few. We’ve had our suspicions about him since his time in Peru. We are always looking for those who may present as true sentinels, it’s just usually easier to pin them down once they present of course – they never usually find their guides without our help. Your assistance has kept him off our radar until now.” With that, he urged Blair into the car, tucking his head down and shutting the door once Blair was in.

 

 When both agents took the front seats of the car and pulled it away from the university with a sharp screech, Blair struggled to control his panic. He felt sweat beading down his face, his heart pounding. “R-Right so – so what is this then?” he asked quickly, voice slightly higher than usual. “What do you mean you’re always looking for people who present as sentinels? Do you collect them or something? Lock ‘em up in some asylum?”

 

 Agent Two chuckled from the front passenger seat. “Do you think Mr Ellison and yourself are the only ones to realise how formidable enhanced senses are as tools in protecting our country? We’re not in the business of locking valuable members of society up and throwing away the key. Unless one considers Ms Barnes, of course.”

 

 Blair felt his already wrenching insides clench tight at the memory of Alex Barnes and closed his eyes. Sometimes, even now he could see her above him. Whenever he got a bit tight of breath in the chest or got water up his nose in the bath his body trembled with the memory. He could see Jim leaning toward her lips…

 

 “Oh God, man, you gotta let me out. Just for a second, I’m gonna…” The movement of the car was the last straw. He’d ridden in faster pursuits with Jim but everything in the last few days exploded in his near-empty, bile-coated stomach like a bomb. At the last second the car jerked to a stop and Agent Two wrenched open the door from the outside, just in time for Blair to wretch up the miserable contents of his stomach on the pavement.

 

 “Oh man,” Blair moaned, his trembling hand barely supporting him on the handle on the inside of car door. He felt the world spinning. Don’t be pathetic, Sandburg, suck it up! He winced as one of the passers-by honked loudly, irritated with the Mercedes for causing traffic.

 

 “My apologies,” murmured Agent Two, “I should have realised Ms Barnes’ name would bring up bad memories for you. Perhaps even lingering post traumatic stress symptoms? Once this is all over we have a therapist on board that specialises in sentinel/guide mindsets. She should be able to help you with that. We aren’t the enemy here. We aren’t corrupt cops or federal agents covering up a new conspiracy. We want to help people and we help sentinels and their partners so that they can do what they were born to do. How many more would be like Alex Barnes if we weren’t there to help new sentinels when they present? How long would your sentinel have lasted if he hadn’t found you?”

 

My sentinel?” Blair murmured woozily without really meaning to.

 

 “Yours, Guide Sandburg.” That mantel, it was given with an air of reverence, of respect that belied the kidnapping and the voice was earnest now, a bit less distant and ghostly. It made Blair swallow heavily as he tried to steady himself. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he dragged himself up until he was resting on his side against the backrest. He forced himself to look up at the agent.

 

 “Look man, you want Jim, you want me, why do it like this? You’re feds, right? You could’ve grabbed us both together before, as soon as my thesis went public and you realised Jim was the real thing. Why in front of all those people? Why risk it?” His voice was rough and not as strong as he’d like but he had to keep talking, stalling.

 

 “This is all part of the process,” Agent One said from the driver’s seat. “The press conference must wait until after you are fully bonded with your sentinel.”

 

 Blair leant fully back against the headrest so he could meet the first agent’s eyes – or look at him anyway, since his shades were too dark for his eyes to be seen. That unnerved Blair more than anything else. He was good at people, at getting a feel for them, connecting with them. By hiding their eyes from him it seemed like they were trying to cloud his heightened ability. The one that so often led him wrong and yet the one Jim seemed to appreciate most.

 

 “Fully bonded? What does that even mean?” he demanded, voice a little weary now. He’d read everything there was to read about sentinels and even the little that was written about guides. None of it mentioned bonding, full or otherwise. “Look, Jim and I can be reunited in five minutes if you take me back to Rainier. If he saw you hauling me away from the conference he’ll be there any minute.”

 

 He hoped, anyway.

 

 “We have no doubt of that, Mr Sandburg, but that is not the way it works. We appreciate you know a lot about sentinels for a civilian. More than any outsider, but there are still things you can only learn from our experience and knowledge. Trust us. It has to be this way.”

 

 “You stuck a gun in my side and handcuffed me!” Blair snapped, a little of his fire returning. “Why the hell would I trust you?!”

 

 “A sentinel’s abilities and their bond with their guide manifests only under certain situations. The incident with Ms Barnes no doubt opened a doorway in your partnership that neither of you expected?” Agent Two looked down at him meaningfully, his glasses slipping enough for Blair to glimpse dark brown eyes filled with such sincerity so determined that it threw him.

 

 The blue jungle flashed through Blair’s mind, Jim’s hands on him, his voice calling him back. A large sleek black cat and a wolf leaping toward each other with a blinding light…

 

 Sirens sounded. Agent Two gave a wince at the small puddle of vomit but did not seem displeased. “That will be your sentinel, Guide Sandburg. We’ll leave this for him to follow,” he said, closing the door on Blair and resuming his seat up front. The car pulled back into traffic, bolting through the lights ahead just as they turned red.

 

 Blair watched the streets of Cascade flying by, his mind racing in tandem with the rapid sights and sounds. The siren was getting further and further away. Jim. Following. Shit. He thought he understood. “You want him to follow me,” he said, his words distant but not a question. He just knew. “There’s no way he can find you using his skills as a cop. He’ll have to try and use his sentinel senses to track me down or…” Or not at all, a treacherous part of his mind whispered.

 

 “Have some faith in your sentinel, Guide Sandburg,” Agent One said lightly. “He has displayed the furthest reach and strongest control of his senses out of any of our recruits since our records began.”

 

 Blair was only half listening. He’d seen Jim do amazing things with his senses but track him through a huge city like Cascade using only smell or whatever? He bit the inside of his mouth. It was just impossible. “Look man, Jim’s good but he can’t possibly track me through a city this size – not even if I didn’t wash for days. And if he were to try he’d probably zone out completely.” He watched Agent One glance at him in the rear-view mirror.

 

 “You scratched up your wrist quite nicely on the edge of the cuff’s mechanism, enough to leave a nice trail for him. We’ve seen sentinels with much weaker bonds do impossible things for their partners, Mr Sandburg. He’ll come. Just sit tight; we know what we’re doing.”

 

 That was the most worrying thing though. Blair had the suspicion that he and Jim were in way over their heads.

 

*                            *                            *

 

 “GET OUT OF THE GOD DAMN WAY!” Jim snarled as he tore the steering wheel to the side, sending the truck careening through the oncoming traffic that was either oblivious to or ignoring his sirens. His vehicle nicked the passenger corner of a sedan that failed to stop but he kept on going, heart pounding. The sound of another siren grew closer and closer as he pulled into the university. He could hear a commotion as people exited the main building, the press clearly displeased with the loss of their big story. He tried to filter it all out, pushing through them all in near-blind determination, like a beast on the scent, oblivious to all else.

 

 Head throbbing in negation as he forced his senses to focus, he followed Blair’s scent into the wide alley between the two buildings. He ran his hands down the frame of the door that stood ajar, struggling to steady his furious heart and the pounding in his head, clouding everything with a foreboding echoing haze. He winced, rubbing his hands over his face. “Come on, pull it together, Ellison,” he muttered impatiently, dragging his hands down the door frame once more.

 

 Nothing.

 

 He turned to face the alley, stopping short as he made to descend the small steps down onto the concrete. He lowered himself, brushing his fingertips over the small bead of blood that lay there. He didn’t have to sniff it closer to know it was Blair’s. He smelt it every time things got a bit heavy on a case, or when the kid caught himself shaving or nicked himself in the kitchen with the vegetable knife.

 

 With the smear still staining his fingers, Jim stepped further into the alley. There were obvious tire marks there that seemed too clumsy for feds. But then, abducting the subject of the talk of Cascade from a live conference also seemed a bit too clumsy. He rubbed his bloodied fingertips together as he stared out onto the road the alley lead onto. Following the scent still clinging to the alley, the one that filled his nose most hours of the day, he reached out, straining past the deafening sound of the sirens and the people and the city…

 

 “You want him to follow me…”

 

 Jim exhaled roughly. That was it. He could hear Blair’s voice, distant but present. He was alive and he couldn’t be more than a few blocks away. The sirens were deafening. His head screamed.

 

 “He’ll come. Just sit tight; we know what we’re doing.”

 

 Suddenly, the sirens pierced his hearing like a lance and Jim snarled in pain, clamping his hands over his ears as he tried frantically to reel back the reach of his hearing. Joel’s car pulled in front of him, and before the man could get out, Jim made a beeline for the passenger door. “Drive,” he said quickly, rolling down the window so he could still strain for the steadily weakening scent of blood and…vomit?

 

 “We all saw it, Jim,” Joel insisted as he pulled back out onto the road, audibly biting his tongue and heading left when Jim gestured impatiently with his hand. “What do the feds want with Sandburg?” He glanced at Jim when his question went unanswered.

 

 Jim clung to the acrid, bitter smell of bile and the metallic tang of blood. No matter how far he reached his hearing though he couldn’t find Sandburg’s voice again through the city sounds. They were getting away. He gestured again at the next junction for a confused looking Joel to follow the scent.

 

 “Stop!” Jim snapped suddenly and Joel, jumping at the barked order slammed on the breaks. The car behind only narrowly missed colliding with their bumper. It veered round them and the driver gave them the finger as he sped off.

 

 “Son of a bitch,” Joel swore, “Any other day and I’d…”

 

 Tuning out the other man’s words, Jim pulled open his door and stared out at the sidewalk adjacent. The smell of vomit was powerful and he winced at the proximity. “They want me,” Jim murmured, distant but loud enough for Joel to hear. “They’re leaving me a trail.” He gestured to the small puddle of sick nearby before pulling the door closed sharply. He could smell blood too, but not that much of it. “They’re getting away. We have to move.”

 

 “At least Sandburg must be alive if he puked up all over the sidewalk,” Joel breathed, watching Jim out of the corner of his eye with uncertainty Jim didn’t have the luxury of worrying about right now. He was gesturing again rather than talking, reaching out with his senses.

 

 

 Minutes passed with urgent hand gestures and the slight flaring of nostrils the only obvious sign of life. They were leaving the metropolitan clean cut buildings and following Jim’s nose into a rough warehouse district.

 

 “Isn’t this the same district you and Sandburg tracked Lash to?” Joel asked, an eerie feeling rising up in him as they drove further in between the worn warehouses. When Jim didn’t answer he looked over fully. The man was still as stone, eyes unfocussed and not even reacting when the sun peaked between two buildings and shone directly into his eyes. “Jim!” Joel shouted, “Jim, don’t you go catatonic on me now!” He pulled the car into park roughly and hesitated.

 

 The last few days had been insane with the press and Zellar and whatever the hell was going on with Jim and Sandburg. He’d seen the conference, he’d seen this ‘sentinel’ media crap and kept an objective distance but Jim had tracked Sandburg to this place with a glazed look on his face and now seemed to be dangerously close to losing it. “Jim!” He cried again and on a latch ditch effort, punched him hard in the jaw. The grunt of pain that followed had never been more appreciated.

 

 

 “What the hell?!” Jim snapped, wiping at the line of blood that wept from his lower lip where his teeth had caught it in the blow. He jerked to face his colleague but then froze, staring around them. He’d lost the last few minutes. Last he knew he’d seen the warehouses as they turned the corner and now…

 

 “Thanks,” he said roughly, cuffing the blood from his lip again before reaching for his gun. He could smell Sandburg close by, but couldn’t hear him. The blood was nearly gone – probably from only a small cut. “I need to move before I lose it,” he said distractedly. The scent was so faint.

 

 “Hey, wait!” Joel barked, grabbing his arm. “I don’t know if this superman sentinel stuff is real, Jim, but I just watched you pull some pretty super sensory stuff to track Sandburg this far.” His face was unreadable and for a moment, Jim found himself watching that expression with anticipation. This sentinel thing was the cause of everything. Megan and Simon were in intensive care, Zellar was still at large and if it weren’t for his abilities, the chances were that Sandburg would’ve probably been at his side and not ripe for the taking by federal agents. At the very least he wouldn’t have had to face it alone. Yet here he was, using those abilities to track his friend down, when the last thing he’d said to him was that he wanted to forget they existed.

 

 “Whatever is going on,” Joel said at last, “we’re in this together, Jim. Those feds up there are laying a trap for you.” The easy dismissal of the unknown was a relief, however short-lived, a welcome reaffirmation in the men he worked alongside before reality slammed back into gear.

 

 “Exactly,” Jim said hurriedly. “Joel, they can make all three of us disappear if they want us to. I need you to come up with a way so that can’t happen but I need to go now or we’ll lose them.” He held his friend’s dark gaze. “I’m trusting you, Joel, make sure when I find Blair they can’t make sure both of us stay lost.”

 

 There was a long pause, a painfully extended moment and then Joel nodded and Jim was out the door, following the fading trace of metallic blood, sandalwood incense and a barely there hint of coconut and jojoba conditioner. He stretched his hearing as far as he dared as his legs carried him across the concrete to the warehouse at the furthest end of the block but he still couldn’t hear Blair. Not his heartbeat, not his voice. He swallowed hard and threw himself against the wall of the building for cover as he checked his gun.

 

 He’s alive in there, he told himself firmly. Hold it together. This place put a bad feeling in him though. Joel was right; it was the same district, the same damn warehouse even! Definitely the work of someone who could access the force’s files, how else could they have known the relevance of this place for both of them? How could they anticipate the foreboding that filled his lungs like the wretched stagnant pond water nearby that Lash had wanted to drown Blair in?

 

 On instinct he glanced to the pond he could see just in the distance, but there was no sign of Blair this time. No Sandburg face down in the water. There wouldn’t be a repeat of that day. Not now, not ever. He swallowed hard again, testing his hearing a final time. There was nothing in the building behind him except the low creak of the wind against the broken panes of glass and a worryingly familiar emptiness.

 

 White noise generators. No wonder he couldn’t hear Blair or the agents. The presence of the generators all-but guaranteed they were in there. At least he couldn’t smell anymore blood. But weren’t there many things they could do to Blair without drawing blood?

 

 Not if you move your ass!

 

 He drew in a breath and edged to the left. The white noise drowned out everything. He couldn’t hear anything inside but he sniffed as he pressed his side to the door. There were no particular scents he could cling to. Not even sweat or breath-mints or cologne.

 

 Shit these guys are good, he thought, but there was nothing for it. He had to move in.

 

 Backing away from the door he kicked hard. The rickety wood splintered and the remains rocked backward, ricocheting off the warehouse wall as Jim edged inside, gun ready. He scanned the lower floor. It wasn’t the same as when Lash had been here. Everything had the same grey industrial emptiness but the ceiling had been repaired and the floor was clear. He could see the stairs at the far side, open and ascending up out of sight. He made a beeline for them, quick and quiet as a shadow, but as he cautiously aimed his gun up the stairwell, the dim light from the floor above caught something on the hand rail.

 

 Reaching for the cuffs, he brought them close to his nose without really needing to. Dried blood. Blair’s. He ascended the stairs, reaching out with his senses as he did so. He reached the middle floor, finding himself in a corridor with what had been Lash’s ‘trophy room’ still fully formed, the same wall dividing most of the floor, the same door. He edged toward it. The white noise generator was humming inside. He licked a droplet of sweat from his upper lip, dialling down his touch to eradicate the distracting irritant. This was it.

 

 He threw open the door, a rush of apprehension surging up as it rebounded off the wall and he realised it hadn’t been locked or blocked in any way. But then he’d known it was a trap. If he hadn’t then the sight of Sandburg sitting on a wooden chair in the middle of an otherwise empty room would’ve told him so. Everything was tinted slightly orange by the lights, the same colours, the same haunting tones that’d been here with Lash. Blair wasn’t bound in the same way but the sight of him there still made him freeze.

 

 “Jim, it’s a trap, get out of here!” Blair warned in a voice that trembled slightly. Jim started forward.  Only a few steps in something hard collided with the small of his back, sending him crumpling to the floor. A gun pressed into his neck and he stilled on instinct, eyes focussed on Blair’s wide ones.

 

 “You okay, Chief?” he asked roughly as his own gun was knocked from his hand.

 

 Blair gave a slightly hysteric little gasp of a laugh. “I can’t believe you’re here.”

 

 I can’t believe you came, Jim heard and frowned, even as his arms were bound behind his back. Was that doubt in his abilities or doubt in the knowledge that he would try to rescue him?

 

 “Jim, I messed up so much. This is all my fault. If it weren’t for me they’d never have known about you. They would’ve left you alone.”

 

 “You didn’t ask for any of this, Sandburg.” He held that gaze carefully, willing him to read him now as well as he usually did. “Let’s not do this now, alright? This isn’t your fault.” He watched as Blair swallowed, searching him for signs he was alright.

 

 “Mr Sandburg, would you help Detective Ellison to his feet and into the chair you are occupying?” said Agent Two in a smooth, unconcerned voice. One that told Jim everything was going according to their plans.

 

 Blair rose uncertainly, keeping an eye on the two armed men. Once it seemed they weren’t going to do anything, he reached for Jim, helping to take his weight as Jim struggled to push off his knees without the aid of his arms or hands. It was awkward, Jim had a good few pounds on him in muscle but once he was upright he pretty much made his own way to the chair. Even so, Blair’s fingers remained knotted in his shirt at the small of his back even as he moved.

 

 “You got a plan to get us out of this?” Blair whispered.

 

 Jim made a show of limping, no harm in letting them think he was hurt more than he was. He slowly eased into the chair. Under the instruction of their captors, Blair used spare rope to tie Jim to the chair, pulling it across Jim’s feet, his hands and across his torso. Agent One stepped in to check the knots were sufficient before offering Blair a thick blindfold. Blair hesitated, meeting Jim’s eyes.

 

 “Do it, Mr Sandburg,” Agent One demanded sharply, pushing the blindfold into his hands.

 

 Jim watched those straight teeth worry that lower lip as Blair came to stand in front of him, his coffee scented breath coming out in rough pants. “Don’t give ‘em an excuse to hurt you, Chief. C’mon.” He gestured his head in resignation and Blair swallowed again, leaning forward to slide the blindfold into place. It didn’t even have a little give. Everything was completely black. Jim struggled to keep his own panic in check as Blair’s fingertips smoothed over his hair after tying it in place. Blair was holding out here, he had to at least try to do the same.

 

 He felt ashamed at how relieved he felt that Blair remained by his side, slender fingers sliding over his shoulder and lingering there, gripping the fabric of his shirt a little. A grounding force in the centre of all this madness. The warmth even through his shirt was more calming, more of a focus than any meditation Blair had managed to teach him over the years. He’d never really taken note of how tactile they were. It had always felt natural that the chemistry between them just translated in other ways. Blair’s proximity put him at ease.

 

 These bastards knew that. They knew it and they waited for the muscles in his shoulders to loosen before surging forward. Blair was ripped away from him. The butt of a gun struck Jim in the back of the head. Blair screamed and swore and the already dark world faded utterly away from his perception.

 

 

 

 “GET OFF ME!” Blair snarled as Agent Two dragged him bodily from the room. Blair snagged hold of the door frame, trying to leverage himself back in even as he watched Jim’s head slump on his shoulders. Unconscious. Not for the first or last time he wished he had the senses that could reach out and check if his friend was alright. Agent Two thumped his elbow hard into Blair’s fingers until he let go of the doorframe and dragged him up the next flight of stairs. Blair stared at the last glimpse of the door that Agent One closed before following after them.

 

 When Jim awoke he’d be blinded and near-enough deafened by the white noise generator. He struggled harder as he realised what was about to happen but both agents were pushing him up the stairs now. “The isolation technique, right?” Blair demanded breathlessly as they released him at last on the roof of the building, shutting the door behind them. “What’re you trying to do? Send him crazy? You want another Barnes on your hands is that it? That’s the type of man you want working for you with hyperactive senses?” He’d thought he’d had these two figured out but now he was right back where he’d started – without Jim and without a clue.

 

 “This isn’t some experiment!” he continued when the men said nothing. “You have no idea how this kind of isolation can affect someone with senses like Jim. He’s not a damn lab rat!”

 

 Agent Two sighed and pulled up one of the worn garden chairs to sit on himself, gesturing to some of the furniture on the otherwise deserted roof. “Take a seat, Guide Sandburg, we have a long wait ahead of us.” He holstered his gun but Blair had no doubts as to whether he could take even one of them on, much less both. He bit the inside of his mouth and dragged a hand through his curls, wishing he’d tied it back earlier. It always got on his nerves when he was worked up like this.

 

 “Is this how you get your federal sentinels on board? Kidnap them and torture them in isolation until they comply?”

 

 Agent One laughed as he holstered his gun as well. “Of course not. We rescue our sentinels from sensory and mental breakdowns, we introduce them to potential guides until they find one that they have chemistry with and then together we all teach them to control and use their senses for the greater good. We told you before; your sentinel is a special case.”

 

 Blair dragged a hand through his hair. “He’s not my sentinel. He’s my friend. Not a pet, not a thing. And I don’t care if you’re working for – his abilities don’t make him a pawn in your little war games.”

 

 “This is a necessary evil but an ultimately harmless one. Take a seat, you’ll need your strength when your – when Detective Ellison gets out, you’ll need it.”

 

 That at least made Blair pause. He glanced at the door, at the abandoned roof around them. It certainly didn’t seem the place for a comfortable stake out of any length of time. It was starting to cool off as the sun began to set as well. He rubbed his arms distractedly over his flannel shirt sleeves. He struggled to keep his head, just like Jim always praised him for doing in these kinds of situations. “Right so…so how long ‘til he does get out then?” he managed, looking between the two men.

 

 Both agents hesitated. In the end it was Agent Two who answered, apparently having nominated himself for the ‘good cop’ role. “That depends on how well Detective Ellison holds up against this taster of sensory deprivation.”

 

 Blair groaned, sinking into one of the rickety garden chairs. “Come on, you can’t do this. Just talk to him if you want something from him!”

 

 “Detective Ellison is an anomaly. We told you, he’s the only sentinel we’ve ever come across to find his own competent guide. But his bond with you is unstable because of the way he so frequently denies his instincts.”

 

 Blair winced inwardly at the logic in that, at least the part about Jim denying his instincts. How frequently had he said he didn’t want his senses? Not trusted them unless Blair pressed him to?

 

 Words dragged Blair back from his reverie and he realised Agent One was stating flippantly, “…of our recruits suffered very real sensory torture as a prisoner of war for three days. His bond with his partner negated a lot of the symptoms as soon as they were reunited. It was as if the incident had never been. Even now we aren’t sure how but we do know this won’t have as detrimental effect as you might think.”

 

“There you go with that ‘bond’ stuff again, what’s that all about?” Blair snapped roughly.

 

 Agent Two smiled in resignation. “You certainly have insatiable curiosity. It’s the connection between you, the very one that allowed Detective Ellison to draw you back when you began to pass on.”

 

 Eyes widening, Blair was forced to realise just how closely this federal organisation had been watching them. He shifted in his seat. “There’s no way you can know about that. Jim and I never told anyone–”

 

 “Reports of the scene all stated you were proclaimed dead despite attempts to revive you – until Detective Ellison touched your face. We’ve worked close enough with sentinels and their partners to know about these things. Detective Ellison met you on some spiritual plane, somewhere that took the shape of a place that you have a strong mutual connection to. He brought you back to yourself, in the same way you bring him back from a zone except more intense, am I right?”

 

 Blair said nothing. He didn’t have to; he knew it was written all over his face.

 

 “It would be interesting to know what shape the spiritual plane took on for you both,” Agent One said.

 

 Blair snorted. “Bet it would,” he grumbled. It still felt too raw to speak about that moment were Jim had drawn him back, the moment he’d died. The shock of these suited government agents talking about spiritual planes and bonds and sentinels was only aggravating it. Hold it together, he told himself firmly.

 

 “An incident like that should’ve triggered the bond to finalise but most likely Ellison’s cynical nature stopped it from settling into place. He doesn’t believe in this, not the way you do, does he?” Agent One continued.

 

 “You don’t know anything about Jim. You can read reports and papers but it doesn’t mean you know him,” Blair growled defensively, even though it was the truth. Jim accepted his senses, his abilities but if Blair ever tried to talk about the spiritual or mystical side of it, he would shut him down.

 

 “With our help, you and Detective Ellison could expand your awareness of each other, one that would allow him to hone his senses, expand on them with just your proximity – given time,” Agent Two replied. “He would never risk catatonia by over-reaching himself. If you think he is capable of amazing things now, imagine what he could do then? He already tracked a few beads of your blood across a busy city through sheer determination.”

 

 “So why can’t you teach us that anyway? Why all this?”

 

 “Given our study of his resistance thus far to the more mystical aspects of his abilities, this procedure is the only way to give the sentinel instincts and senses the final push they need toward the completion of your bond – toward distinction. We can’t help you until this happens.”

 

 Flushing slightly at the casual way in which these men discussed his complicated relationship with Jim, Blair twisted his fingers together in his lap. “There must be another way. Jim’s a reasonable man–”

 

 Agent Two smiled widely this time. “Not when it comes to you, Mr Sandburg.”

 

*                            *                            *

 

 When Jim came to there was only darkness. There was an irritating, scratchy blindfold over his eyes but beyond that, the orange-hued lights of the room had been long extinguished, effectively blinding him. “Sandburg?” He called out, his voice echoing in the increasingly cold darkness. He listened but all he could hear was his voice echoing off the walls, the soft blankness of the white noise generators drowning out everything else. Tugging at his bonds, he struggled hard, but could not escape the chair, felt only the burn of the ropes on his skin as he twisted his arms.

 

 “Blair!” he shouted again. The feds, they’d used Blair to lure him here. Whatever the purpose, surely now Blair was expendable? Was he even still alive now he’d outlived his usefulness as bait? Jim’s throat and chest tightened and he clenched his eyes shut despite the blindfold in an attempt to banish the images of what those cold suits might’ve done to him.

 

 “Dammit, Chief,” he muttered, even though he knew no one could hear him. Somehow it was worse, being able to hear nothing but his own voice, his own sounds and nothing beyond the room – worse than not being able to hear at all. His hearing had swelled like everything else and even his own breathing scraped across it like nails on a chalkboard. He swallowed, trying to focus. What was it Blair was always trying to get him to do? He stilled in his seat, the memory of rich, husky words flowing over his senses. Breathe in through your nose. Hold it deep. Out through your mouth. That’s it, again. Relax…

 

 The blindfold itched like crazy, gnawing at his concentration like an insect on a horse’s neck. He grinded his teeth, trying again. In through his nose. Out through his mouth. In. Out. In. Out.

 

 As some semblance of calm returned, he wriggled his wrists again, pulling at the rope but it was strong, itchy hemp and all it did was irritate his skin the more he struggled. They weren’t going to give. He tried the breathing again. The rope tightened around his chest with each deep breath. He swore it was getting tighter, as if being cinched by an invisible captor. His senses were reaching out, dialling up high in survival instinct and his sense of touch made the irritation and constriction of the ropes burn through him as if he were wrapped to the chair with wire rather than rope.

 

 Wincing in pain, he struggled to bring it down. His senses weren’t going to help him find out if Blair was alright. They weren’t going to help him out of this chair. He breathed again, slow and steady, trying to bring it all down. Blair’s scent clung to the room, the rope he was bound with, his jacket fabric. Shit where was he? How long had he even been out? He couldn’t dial it down. The ropes and the pressure of the wooden chair at his back were so painful now his eyes watered. He gritted his teeth, turning his head into his shoulder to try and rub the itchy fabric of the blindfold off his face. It was like sandpaper.

 

 No. Stop. Breathe. He stopped. Breathing. Slow, steady. He righted his head in an attempt to disconnect from the unbearable scrape of the fabric. Even his clothes felt like they were made from increasingly prickly fibres now. It was as if the longer he was deprived of his senses, the higher they rose in desperation. Steady. Easy there, Jim. He knew this technique; it was a classic of the government. Trying to concentrate on a long thought process would be impossible, it would only panic him further each time he lost his train of thought. Small ones though, little things. Blair’s voice. He breathed slowly.

 

 Joel knew where they were, how long could it take him to return with backup? Not more than a few hours. He could hold out a couple of hours. He’d faced worse. He wasn’t going to break.

 

 Time passed and cold sweat began to bead down his itching, inflamed skin. These were feds. What if they pulled rank on Joel somehow? What if they stopped him in other ways? He swallowed. If they were government, there wasn’t much he could do against that. Jim swallowed again. His throat felt raw and dry. How long had it been now? It felt like hours but he knew better than to trust his body clock under this much pressure.

 

 Time slipped by him. The once calming hiss of the white noise generator, the noise he associated with Blair’s bright, happy face on discovering it would help Jim’s senses when they went haywire, now that sound was like a freight train rushing through his skull. When it started to scream, so did he. Demands for what they wanted, where Sandburg was, to let him free, they turned into senseless snarls of bile and in the end into raspy, dry-throated cries of pain.

 

 His skin was on fire now. Every drip of sweat and scrape of rope or fabric against it was torture. He turned his head, trying to rub the blindfold off again, trying to wrench his arms free, his feet. His muscles screamed at the strain and eventually when his throat did too, he stopped screaming. Could they even hear him? When would they think to check on his condition? How would they check? He tried to come up with a plan but any attempt at forming his thoughts into anything coherent was more maddening than the itchiness that rippled like biting insects through his skin.

 

 No amount of army or police training, meditation attempts or even sheer bloody-mindedness could stop him from losing all logic when it started. If he’d been coherent he would’ve called them hallucinations, maybe, but all he knew was that after he’d long given up screaming or rubbing or struggling, the itchiness started to turn into something else.

 

 He still couldn’t see, still bound and blindfolded but now he was in the jungle again – he just knew it. He was bound on the forest floor, the birds in the canopy above shrieking, laughing at him like jackals until his ears bled. Thousands of insects were crawling over him. His every hair, every pore was on fire from their poisonous bites, angry, ravenous, sucking pincers that drove him mad. He struggled, trying to shake them off but more came, pincers clicking, biting, scratching. He didn’t dare scream in case they went in his mouth. The birds’ chorus was deafening, mocking laughter.

 

 Then suddenly a gunshot ripped through the air, stopping it all. Everything was still. Dead. Agony bloomed in his torso. The gunshot had caught in his bullet-proof vest and the impact was spreading with bruising force across his torso. Again. Again and again. He did scream this time from the impact. Had he been wearing a vest even? Maybe. He grit his teeth around his next cry as a bolt of aching pain slammed into his chest again. His shoulder. Blooming through his legs.

 

 Who was shooting him in the jungle? Had they shot the birds too? The insects? He snarled at the next blow. It was constant now, a non-stop throbbing agony in his every limb. Did they think he was an enemy? An animal? He was growling like one wasn’t he? Yes. His every grunt was like a panther, wasn’t it? The panther. Panic seized him, making his tight chest heave under the ropes as he called out, voice torn and rough and desperate.

 

 “I’m a man!” He snarled, but it was still so animal. They were going to kill him. Kill Blair. Where was Blair?

 

 Suddenly, in the blackness he saw it. It was blinding with its sudden light in the dark. Piercing blue eyes surrounded by grey fur. No. “NO!” He cried out, struggling harder. “He’s not a wolf! He’s my partner!” His throat burned, everything did but he had to make them understand. The pain immobilised him more than the ropes. “I’m a cop! He’s my partner, stop don’t shoot him!” He couldn’t see anything but the wolf. The wolf that was loping through the dark toward the shots, away from Jim.

 

 “Don’t go!” He shouted until he swore he felt something in his throat tear. “He’s not a wolf! He’s my guide! I’m a sentinel, don’t–” But his next words morphed into a roar of the panther. There was a final bullet, a canine yelp and Jim surged forward, falling, spiralling. He wasn’t the cop anymore, or the man. He was a panther screaming out like an animal as he fell forever, his sleek obsidian coat melding into blackness.

 

 Jim’s face and chest slammed into something hard and blood bubbled in his mouth. He coughed, some of the metallic fluid burning his throat on the way down. Instinctively he reached up to swipe at the blood that flooded down his lip but he froze as his hand actually touched his face. He started, pushing the blindfold off. He was on a freezing concrete floor, with loose ropes and the shattered debris of a wooden chair all around him. Frantic, heart pounding he scrambled away from the wreckage, shedding the ropes like they were leeches and didn’t stop until his back was against a cold hard wall.

 

He could hear nothing. It was dark too, almost too dark but he could just make out the mess of the chair, ropes and blood. On all fours he leant forward, crawling toward the wreckage and sniffing. Yes, his blood. He shrank back onto his haunches and scanned the dark room, tasting the air. It stunk of fear, sweat and dust. And his guide. He started at the memory of the wolf’s yelp and glanced around again but there was no trace, nothing but a faint scent. He followed it, stealthy and cautious in the dark, long limbs stretching out like the panther his mind still perceived him to be.

 

 Touching fingers to the door, he let them slide over the grooves of the wood, up and up until he was standing on two legs, feeling deep gouged marks in the upper frame. There was a tiny fleck of blood there where the wood had dug under the flesh of nail and the sentinel knew, his guide had tried to claw for purchase as he was dragged from here. From him.

 

 Grumbling low under his breath, Jim felt his senses flare to life, higher than before but never more in his control. His nostrils flared and he backed up, slamming hard into the door. It jerked and groaned but did not fall. He slammed his shoulder into it again. Pain blossomed with his senses so high but he didn’t stop. Again, again. His shoulder jarred that final time and he snarled with determination and agony, rocking back onto one foot and kicking out hard with the other. The door splintered and he shoved the useless remains out of his way.

 

 As soon as he was out in the hall the white noise generators lost some of their power. He heard the distant city sounds, heard the wind on the old worn building. He winced but did not dial down, could not. He sniffed, trying to let his scent carry his hearing.

 

 “…because I’m really not so good with heights, man – I’m serious! LET ME GO!”

 

 His guide. Panic, fear. He grumbled darkly, letting his senses hone in on the sound, zoning out the others. His primal instincts surged to the forefront, using his senses the way they were meant to, to protect his guide. His tribe. He found himself up at the top of the building. Now he could hear a mechanical, squeaking sound, his guide’s pounding heart, his breath, struggling as if it were restricted somehow.

 

 “STOP IT!”

 

 That final scream had him shoving hard. The long bar of the fire escape door let him shove it open with little difficulty and then he was out there. The city roared louder than the beasts of the jungle in his ears, the wind howled like the wolf had done when it had fallen and he winced, slamming his hands over his ears, squeezing his eyes shut. His nose felt clogged, burned with the smog and the cloying scent of fear. His guide’s fear.

 

 “Jim!” The wolf called to him and he squinted his eyes open, staggering toward the sound without really daring to open them all the way. He wanted to tell his guide to keep talking, to give him something to shut out the rest with, but he couldn’t remember words and the low growl in his throat didn’t seem to be enough.

 

 He stopped and forced himself to look. It was dark; there was no moonlight, no stars, only dark cloud. That helped. He focussed on the metallic squeak, his guide’s pounding heart and what he saw when he managed to find his wafer thin control made his insides churn. His guide was suspended from some sort of winch, hanging over the edge between the two rooftops, fear making his eyes bright and shiny in the dark.

 

 “Jim! God, help me! Get me down!” His guide cried desperately, but as he spoke, the winch groaned and jerked and he dropped several feet. A rough scream of fear ripped through the air. Whatever his guide was suspended from was failing and he could hear by the way the wind whisked against his already oversensitive skin that it was a long way down.

 

 Bolting forward, instincts drove him across the roof. His own breath caught in his chest as the rope tied around his guide’s wrists, suspending him above a chasm of darkness creaked and frayed. With an animalistic snarl that made his guide’s eyes fly wide and clench shut seconds later, he launched himself off the roof. He slammed into his guide’s body, sending them both careening across the chasm, landing hard on the roof of the opposite building, just as the rope snapped.

 

 

 

 A hard grunt crashed out of Blair’s lungs as he collided, hard with the concrete roof of the next building, Jim’s weight crushing him, winding him so that he struggled for breath. Heart still pounding wildly, Blair struggled to sit up but only managed to get up onto his elbows, Jim’s body still trapping him. He gasped for breath and met dilated blue eyes, smiling raggedly. “Oh my God, Jim, I’ve never been so glad to see you,” he half-laughed, half-choked, leaning his head forward on instinct to rest against Jim’s forehead, comforted by the warm, clammy pressure on his ice-cold skin.

 

 “Man, I’m so sorry. I know…this is all my fault. If it weren’t for my stupid dissertation these guys never would’ve even noticed you and you wouldn’t have had to go through all that…” He trailed off when he realised Jim hadn’t spoken. When he tipped his head back in an attempt to get a better look at him, Jim gave a harsh growl of negation and a large hand clasped the nape of Blair’s neck, holding him in place, their foreheads together, their noses almost touching.

 

 Blair swallowed. He could hear Jim’s breath, rough and harsh and tumbling over his lips in a way that wasn’t quite…human. His grasp was firm at the back of Blair’s neck, his left hand splayed on the concrete to support him over Blair’s body, but also to trap him. Glancing up, at this proximity all Blair could see were dark blue eyes, focussed with such intensity on him that it made his mind stop, slam to a halt in the middle of the adrenaline that still pounded through his veins.

 

 “Jim?” he asked, questioning now. “Jim is that…?” He stopped as Jim’s left hand rose, callous fingertips gliding almost curiously over Blair’s jaw, his cheek, his chin. The hand at the back of Blair’s neck allowed him back a few inches, only enough so that Blair could see Jim’s shadowed face fully as the fingertips of his left hand traced Blair’s mouth, lingering feather-light over the place he’d split his lip earlier. Dried blood clung to it and Blair winced, hand coming up to grab Jim’s but as he did so, there was that growl again and he froze.

 

 “Jim, are you…you?” Blair asked, voice cautiously soft as the first knuckles nearest those fingertips traced up his nose, his brow, sliding into his hair and following the curly, tangled strands down until they brought a few rogue curls up to Jim’s face. Blair watched, frozen as Jim sniffed, hungrily, as if he were water for this man starved. He swore he saw the strands make contact with Jim’s mouth too, but it was a fleeting glimpse before Jim leant in, pressing his nose just above Blair’s ear.

 

 Flushed and panicked, Blair laid both his hands, still bound together on Jim’s chest, trying to push him away. “Jim? What are you doing, man? It’s me, it’s Blair!”

 

 A growl that was hunger and irritation rumbled against his ear and heat rushed through Blair’s frozen body like electricity coursing through his blood. He gasped and pushed against the solid wall of muscle, squirming, trying to avoid contact of his rapidly hardening groin with Jim’s body. He felt and heard Jim sniff his hair deeply, his nose trailing over Blair’s flushed, hot ear and down to his neck where his pulse throbbed – not just in fear now.

 

 Jim would be able to smell that. Blair swallowed. “Oh God,” he murmured, a hand holding him firmly in place as Jim’s nose dipped down to his collarbone.

 

 “He’s in the most primal state, Guide Sandburg, the place he needed to be before imprinting,” Agent Two called across from the other building, but Jim didn’t even twitch, as if he’d blanked out everything except him.

 

 “Imprinting?” Blair repeated in a panicked, quiet voice, not knowing what Jim would do if he shouted back.

 

 “It’s the full bond. Let it happen, we’ll be over there shortly,” Agent One called, and Blair craned his neck to watch, panicked and embarrassed as they headed back toward the door of the opposite building, casual and unconcerned. They intended to walk down and walk back up into this building? And leave them like this?! After they’d fucked up Jim’s senses so much he was pawing at him with more hunger than he’d ever done Alex or Laura or any of them?!

 

 “Jim, man, I’m not what you want, come on,” he tried gently, but the smelling had stopped and the hand on the back of his neck tightened in his hair, tugging just enough to draw his head back. Blair struggled to hold his breathing steady, a struggle he rapidly failed as warm lips smoothed over his adam’s apple, tongue flicking out to tease it when he swallowed a gasp.

 

 “Jesus, Jim, you’re…” Imprinting. Touch, scent and now taste. He couldn’t help it, he groaned when that mouth traced his jaw and the place on his neck that always drove him crazy whenever women bothered to pay attention to it. But when that hot mouth slid up and a tongue flicked against the shell of his ear, he jerked against his will under Jim’s body and swore as his throbbing, confined cock pressed into one of Jim’s thighs, leaking a sticky, thick pulse of pre-emission in his jeans. He heard Jim sniff, felt his own face glow in mortification as he realised Jim knew what had happened, swore again when Jim started to follow his nose.

 

 “Jeez, Jim, stop,” he panted, his voice unconvincing to even his own ears but he managed to get a handful of Jim’s shirt and this time, Jim caught his wrist, forcing him to stare straight into Blair’s eyes. That gaze tugged at Blair’s cock until he was panting like a teenager and he felt himself drawn in deeper, as if seeing something in shadowed, glossy blue eyes that made it all make sense. Slowly, not wanting to startle this primal creature, he reached out, smoothing his fingertips over Jim’s slightly parted lips. Taste. Right. That gaze held him, pinned him more effectively than the paws of any jungle cat as Jim used his hold on Blair’s wrist to guide his fingertips slowly back and forth across his mouth in a hypnotic display.

 

 Those lips found their way down Blair’s slightly clammy palm, tasting sweat and then Jim’s tongue teased at the scraped, dried blood left from the cuffs earlier, grumbling low and indecipherable when he’d tasted his fill. Then his wrist was being pushed gently but firmly to the concrete, the rest of Blair born back into it until he was flat on his back and Jim had both his wrists under one of his hands. Blair’s eyes shuttered closed, unable to bear the intensity of Jim’s gaze as he mouthed the skin of his forearm that was cold and exposed by his shirt. Fuck. He sniffed at Blair’s underarm through the fabric, brushed his free fingertips across the skin exposed on his belly as his shirt hiked up.

 

 Blair jerked and groaned, eyes flying open as fingertips splayed over his stomach, rolling over the trail of hair there until his muscles tensed and clenched. It wasn’t one sense after the other, Blair realised, it was all of them, all at once. All of Jim’s senses were dialled up to their peak and fixated on him, at first in rescuing him and now in determination to imprint him fully so they could never be separated again.

 

 The hand on his belly lay flat there as Jim leant down, close to Blair’s face. Blair’s breath stuttered, thinking for a moment Jim’s mouth was about to press to his, but when Jim did nothing more than watch, his eyes tracking Blair’s mouth when his breathing turned ragged, he realised. Jim was listening to his breathing, his heartbeat as they pounded an approving, acoustic rhythm just for him.

 

 Letting his eyes flutter closed again, Blair struggled with the unfairness of how right it felt and yet how wrong it was that Jim wasn’t coherent enough to realise what he was doing. A victim of his own senses, of some underground government organisation. What would Jim say when he came out of this and realised what had happened, how their friendship had changed? Pain lanced Blair’s chest at the prospect of ever seeing his friend’s face torn with betrayal because of him again. No matter how right this felt, how good, he deserved better.

 

 “Jim, c’mon, it’s me,” he breathed roughly, emotion choking his voice. He swallowed hard, trying to control it. He wanted to reach up and touch that face but Jim’s grip was inescapable. Eyes still closed, Blair could feel that face so close to his and didn’t dare open his eyes. “Jim. It’s your senses, don’t let them control you. This is all from the trauma of what they did to you. They wanted to force you to…to fully bond with me, or whatever but you don’t want that, right?”

 

 Suddenly, the hand holding his wrists captive slid down and cupped his neck, tenderly lifting it so that the brush of Jim’s breath over his lips made Blair’s eyes fly open. He just knew somehow Jim was mapping every eyelash, then staring at his own slightly parted lips, as if focussing on the sound of his voice emanating from within.

 

 “Jim, I love you man, don’t do this to me,” Blair all-but whispered, not knowing when his own hands had found their way to Jim’s face. He didn’t have any faith in his ability to make the selfless decision here. He stroked the bloodied smudge that smeared over Jim’s mouth and wondered, frowning slightly. “This isn’t a fantasy I want recognised with you practically catatonic and two feds on their way up.” His voice was soft and husky even to his own ears. When the hand at his belly slid up to lay flat over his heart, the rest of Jim shifted to lay against him and Blair felt the telltale weight and heat, hardness of Jim’s cock against his thigh.

 

 The way his heart thudded madly, his breath harsh, his stomach twisting and quivering as if it were made of jelly, none of this was new. He hurt when Jim hurt. His stomach flipped when the taciturn, grumpy ass smiled at him, when he nagged him about his house rules. When he shut him out he ached. When he saw betrayal or hurt in those eyes he felt like dirt. His sun rose and set with thoughts of this man, his world focussed around him and he’d been prepared to step into that conference and throw away his entire career for him. Because his career had been second to Jim for so long now, he hadn’t even needed to think about it, not really. It would’ve have even been a sacrifice if he could’ve stayed with him, if Jim could’ve forgiven him.

 

 “You’re my life, Jim, I don’t want to fuck this up,” he choked, one hand gripping Jim’s shirt, scrunching the fabric just above an equally pounding heart, as his other hand lay over his sentinel’s throat, thumb lightly brushing his slightly stubbly jaw. Jim’s brow furrowed, as if Blair’s distress confused him.

 

 If they did this, no one could ever separate them again. Nothing could. Blair had gathered that much from what the agents had told him and he knew they were telling the truth, just knew somehow. Not even another Alex Barnes or the press or the government could come between them. He ached for that. He would’ve been happy to be Jim’s partner for the rest of his life; he’d known that for a long time now, he’d stalled his dissertation because of that knowledge. But it hadn’t been until the leak and his whole world with Jim had been threatened that he realised the extent of it all.

 

 “I don’t want anything to separate us,” he managed. He never wanted to leave Jim. He wanted this, more than a stupid doctorate, more than a book deal and a teaching tenure. More than the next breath in his lungs.

 

 “Yes.”

 

 He startled at the sound of Jim’s voice, rough and almost unrecognisable, only a soft brush of air over Blair’s open mouth.

 

 “Jim?” he whispered. But as he spoke, as his breath drifted through the mouth parted and hovering over his own, they both jerked as if erupting with a thousand volts of electricity, like bodies on a resuscitating table.

 

 Everything exploded into blinding light, then they were greeted by the eerie blue glow of the haunting jungle, the sounds of the birds ahead singing with joy, the muggy heat rustling the trees. Blair blinked at the intimate touch of that warmth, watching without fear as shapes emerged from the shadows of the surrounding trees. A panther he recognised morphed into view, along with a man he would recognise even if someone took every one of his senses. He stepped forward to intercept them and when he darted a glance down saw the wolf at his side, equalling his strides, barefoot and naked across the moist, leafy ground.

 

 When he reached his partner who was as bare as him, two strong hands gripped his arms, holding Blair at their length. Blue eyes pierced him, seeing straight down to his soul.

 

 “You’re afraid,” a voice said from around them, their only warning before Incacha stepped into view, circling the four of them with slow, unconcerned steps. Neither Jim nor Blair looked away from each other, but the wolf and the panther fidgeted, impatient, as if eager to continue what the secular parts of Blair and Jim were reluctant to.

 

 “Yes,” Blair and Jim said at the same time, voices low, eyes holding each other. Blair reached up, his own hands clasping Jim’s arms too now, thumbs rubbing against his bicep comfortingly. It was his Jim he could see in that face now. It was relieving. Here at least, he knew Jim could understand him, be sure he knew what was happening with their physical bodies.

 

 Incacha stopped at their side, stroking his hands over the heads of both the wolf and the panther in warm encouragement. He smiled. “You both believe this is a great leap onto foreign land, but this is a choice made long ago. This is only another step down a path you have both carved without realising. You fear the other’s reaction, but you both know how the other feels. You fear change but you know what is to come. You know what you want, inside.”

 

 Reaching forward then, Incacha lay a hand on both of their chests, a tingling, light heat burning bright and hot where he touched them. A soft glow began beneath his palm and Blair gasped, eyes widening as it only grew brighter.

 

 “Many things to fear, many demons to face, but not here,” Incacha said, “Here you know each other better than you know yourselves. When you return, you must remember what you learned. The bond was something you both chose long before you knew what it was.” He withdrew his hands, yet the glow continued to bloom where his hand had been, in the shape of his handprint, ever-brighter until Blair had to squint at its brilliance. Jim’s soul, he realised and his own, rising and burning hotter until they consumed each other, born again as an unconquerable inferno that no darkness could snuff out.

 

 The forest shifted around them, the wind turning icy, spiralling up around them as the white fire of their souls surged up, burning hot and bright against the onslaught. The leaves and branches of the forest built into a harsh wind, like a twister circling around them. The storm was made of them, of every hardship, every memory – good and bad, ones they’d shared and ones they’d lived long before they knew each other.

 

 Blair heard Jim’s father calling him a freak, felt Jim’s brother’s tears in his neck as their mother left them. His own chest exploded with emotional anguish as he buried his men in the jungle. His heart fluttered with every happy memory and he felt tears streak his cheeks at every miserable one. At the same time, he caught glimpses of his own, of his own pain at leaving so many friends behind, of learning how to connect with people without ever connecting. He saw Jim flinch when one of Naomi’s boyfriends told him not to call him dad. The storm roared up and pressed in until they were pressed together in the eye of the storm, until the light between them burned so hot that they both gasped as they were consumed by it.

 

 Blair’s next gasp was of sharp, cold air and he felt Jim’s dust his cheeks, felt the hard concrete at his back and Jim’s body against his own. Panting as if he’d run a marathon, Blair gripped Jim’s arms harder, more desperately. “Jim?” he managed, still hearing the wind in his ears, but now it was cold and harsh. He blinked, confused at the wetness on his face, at the coldness all around them, until he realised. It was raining, hard. Droplets ran down Jim’s face, catching on his nose, on his lips before dripping down onto Blair’s cheeks and chasing each other across his skin.

 

 Warm hands cupped his jaw and Blair hesitated. Had he lost Jim in that jungle? His tongue darted out, tasting the rain drops that had touched Jim’s skin.

 

 “I’m here, Chief,” that blessed, hoarse voice assured him. Blair smiled, relief rising up in him so profoundly that it choked him. He couldn’t speak, only shook his head and squeezed the arms braced against the concrete around him. It was a protective embrace now, punctuated by soft caresses of fingers against his cheekbones, a thumb against his mouth.

 

 Staring up into eyes that were nearly black with the pupil’s expansion in the darkness, Blair found what he needed for his breath to even out at last. “You saw what I saw, right?” he managed huskily.

 

 Jim tilted his head, eyes flickering to Blair’s mouth as he spoke, as if studying the sound of his voice before drifting back up to his eyes. “I saw,” he affirmed quietly. “It’s alright.”

 

 Blair closed his eyes tight. Jim knew. He understood. They were never going to be separated again and Jim said that was alright. The only difference in them was the warmth spreading through him wherever Jim’s body touched his, the flush burning in his face while his sentinel studied him so close he could taste his breath. But there was something else too, a subtle hum in his skin, an awareness of Jim like another sense that’d slotted into place. It wasn’t what he’d expected when the agents had been talked about it.

 

 He couldn’t read Jim’s thoughts, he couldn’t even feel what he felt or see what he saw but he felt him, even on the places they weren’t touching. Almost like Blair knew he could stretch his hand out in the dark and know exactly where it was, he knew where Jim was. With his eyes closed he could feel his movements without seeing, without touching, as if he were an extension of his body.

 

 “Oh, man,” he whispered in awe without really meaning to. He’d realised that he loved this man more than anything else but he hadn’t realised how much he hungered for this, for something he hadn’t known was possible until now. He was connected to Jim in a way no one else ever could be. He felt glorious relief and gave a slightly hysterical laugh. The thumb at his lip tugged gently, as if Jim were subconsciously trying to follow the sound, still dazed by hyperactive senses driven to the limit.

 

 “I know,” Jim said and Blair met his eyes once more, seeing his Jim smile awkwardly before leaning down to span the diminutive gap between them.

 

 Suddenly, the door to the roof they were on opened, the screech of unused metal making Jim snarl in pain and roll off Blair to the side, hands slamming over his ears. Blair rolled onto his knees, staring between the approaching agents and his fallen sentinel, one hand scrambling to lay on the man’s arm, to reach him.

 

 “We knew we just had to let things run their course. If brought to the forefront, a sentinel’s instincts will follow the right path,” Agent One said, looking between Jim and Blair, before holding out a pair of handcuffs.

 

 “You think this was natural?” Blair hissed angrily. “You tortured him; you risked our friendship to force something on us we may not have wanted, all so you could turn Jim into some weapon.

 

 “You’re a smart man, Mr Sandburg,” Agent One said lightly, gun in hand. “But you’re an appalling liar. Your world revolves around Jim Ellison; don’t think you can deny it. Don’t complain about getting exactly what you want, a connection to him that no other can ever dream of rivalling.”

 

 Flushed, embarrassed and angry, Blair gripped Jim’s arm tight, only to release him when Jim winced in pain. Shit, all his senses were spiked, ready to trip at the slightest thing.

 

 “Well you’ve got what you wanted,” Blair sidetracked. “So what now?” He blinked when Agent One pushed the handcuffs at him again. “His senses are out of control after your sensory deprivation experiment, I’m not putting those on him, they’ll drive him insane.” But one look at the gun in the other agent’s hand and he knew he had to do something. Shit. He ran a hand through his wet hair in frustration before shrugging off his outer flannel shirt.

 

 “Here, Jim,” he said soothingly, helping Jim up to his feet, waiting for him to steady before pulling his arms behind his back. “Sorry, c’mon,” he said, “don’t let them put their handcuffs on you; your wrists are already burned raw. He winced at the sight of the inflamed skin and carefully tightened the fabric of his shirt around his arms. He shivered in the icy wind, rubbing his bare arms, even colder now in just a t-shirt.

 

 After checking Jim was secured, Agent One slapped the handcuffs on Blair’s wrists and tugged him toward the door. The reaction to the agent’s hand on Blair’s bare forearm was immediate. Jim slammed hard into the man’s side, even as he struggled to cope with his sensory overload, sending the agent staggering. “Don’t touch him,” he growled warningly, careening sideways into the doorframe, steadied by Blair’s cuffed hands on his clothed elbow.

 

 “Dial it back, Jim,” Blair tried, “Breathe through it and dial it all down low, yeah?”

 

 Jim shook his head. “I can’t. It’s too much.”

 

 “Come along gentleman, the sooner we get to our secure facility the sooner you can help Sentinel Ellison recover,” Agent Two said, gesturing with his gun down toward the blissfully dimly lit stairs.

 

 “Another prison to lock us up in until we comply?” Blair challenged. “To help Jim recover from something you did to him?”

 

 “I’m getting tired of your little freedom speeches, Mr Sandburg,” Agent One bit out, “you’ll have to curb your non-conforming impulses now you’re a Federal Guide.”

 

 “We’re not federal property,” Blair retorted warningly, but the sharp gesture of Agent One’s gun was somehow more convincing than Agent Two. Good cop, bad cop, Blair remembered as he made his way down the dim stairs. He glanced back, realising Jim still had his eyes squinted shut against the dim fluorescent light, yet he was following easily. He paused on the first landing down the spiralling stairs.

 

 “Chief?” Jim questioned warily, voice ragged still.

 

 Blair smiled, even though he knew the man couldn’t see it. “Like tracking the movements of your own arm in the dark, man,” he mused. For a moment, he wondered if Jim could hear his smile rather than see it, because he saw a reciprocal flicker of one touch the man’s blood-smeared mouth before he continued downward.

 


 

Chapter Two

Ecstasy

 

 

 A big black SUV was waiting outside this time and Blair hesitated at the sight. He’d seen in Jim’s memories that Joel knew this as their last location. He had yet to return with the cavalry. If they left before he got here, he’d never find them. Glancing to Jim, he saw that with no light to irritate his eyes, they were open again, squinting but easily tracking their surroundings. He gravitated to Blair’s side without seeming to truly realise it.

 

 “What have you done with Joel Taggert?” Jim asked, his roughened voice sounding menacing in the darkness.

 

 The agents had torches but they kept them down away from Jim’s eyes. “Our people have only stalled him at the department. The lock-down on Cascade PD ended when we called in our mission’s success. No doubt your revered Captain will be on his way soon, but we will already be gone,” Agent One said, gesturing with his gun again, the flicker of light catching on his gun enough for Blair to see.

 

 “Into the car, Guide Sandburg,” Agent Two said lightly, “perhaps if you set the example your sentinel won’t cause a scene that requires more…brute force.”

 

 “I thought you knew,” Blair said, not as bravely as he would’ve liked. “I’m a non-conformist.” They didn’t have to converse to know what to do. Blair ducked just as Jim slammed his shoulder into Agent Two, sending his gun flying, kicking out to swipe Agent One’s legs from under him.

 

 Blair scrambled for the fallen gun, blindly feeling for it in the dark. Above him, Jim was wrestling for the gun in Agent One’s hand. Blair’s fingers closed around the gun and he struggled to his feet and aimed it. “Alright freeze,” he panted. When neither of the agents listened he shouted again. “After all the crap you’ve pulled tonight if you think I won’t shoot to get out of here you’re even more stupid than you look!”

 

 Everything did stop then. Both agents rose slowly to their feet, eyes on the gun in Blair’s hand. The first agent was the only one who’d maintained hold of his torch, the only light for the three ungifted in the darkness. “Let’s get moving, Chief,” Jim panted, making his way toward Blair with his face still burdened with discomfort.

 

 Before either of them could react, Agent One jerked the torch upward, sending Jim’s vision into an explosion of agonising light. He reeled backward and Blair surged forward, distracted, only to receive the barrel of a gun against his neck. Jim froze as if he felt it against his own skin, even as he pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes.

 

 Agent Two snatched the gun from Blair’s hands, shooting off a bullet into the sky and they all watched as the sentinel crumpled under the sensory attack. “No more games,” Agent Two said, seeming to address all three of them. “Get in the car, gentlemen.”

 

 Blair tentatively stepped toward Jim, guiding him into the back seat of the vehicle. Before climbing in himself. When he was seated, Agent One jerked his cuffed wrists toward him.

 

 “Don’t touch him!” Jim snapped, some of the panther clawing at his voice but the gun was still in the agent’s hand.

 

 “I have orders not to hurt you, Detective Ellison, but Mr Sandburg can function just as well as a guide with a bullet hole in his leg,” Agent One spat impatiently, attaching Blair’s cuffed wrists with a second set to the handgrip above the door. “One more incident before I sign you over to management and I’ll make sure Mr Sandburg is the one to pay. Or maybe even you.” He stepped back, drawing a small silver whistle from his pocket and blowing.

 

 Blair heard nothing except a soft hissing that was drowned out by the agonised howl of pain from the man beside him. Dog whistle. “Stop it!” Blair struggled. “You’re overloading him he’s going to break!”

 

 “Enough!” Agent Two spat and his partner lowered the whistle, slamming the door of the car and settling in the passenger seat, the gun still in his hand.

 

 The car pulled away smoothly but the engine still seemed to grate at Jim’s ears, the small jostles caused by the journey making him hiss with pain. “Your senses are still spiked too high,” Blair whispered gently, audible only to the man at his side. “They’re at their peak because of the isolation, you need to lower them. Touch first, alright?”

 

 Jim said nothing but Blair had to continue, there was no other choice. He moistened his dry lips, tasting blood there – Jim’s, his own. “C’mon man, breathe for me. You’re a pro at this. One notch at a time. Turn down that dial.”

 

 Jim gave a grunt of pain as the engine purred louder when they pulled onto a busy highway and reached out, fingers grasping at Blair’s denim clad thigh. It had to hurt, the rough fabric on his fingertips but it seemed he couldn’t let go. Expanded pupils searched and focussed on Blair’s face, looking for something. “I can’t,” he whispered roughly, fingers digging deeper into Blair’s muscles. “It’s too much, I can’t think. Just like in that damn room my thoughts are…” They made a turn onto the busy road and the lights of the streetlamps, the headlights of cars flashed through the tinted window and Blair watched as Jim zoned out completely.

 

 “Jim?” he gasped, panicked. “Jim?!”

 

 “Leave him be,” Agent Two said as he drove. “The journey will be kinder to his overloaded senses if you let him stay submerged. Do not worry. Now the bond is complete you can call him back without even touching him.” When Blair said nothing he glanced at him in the rear-view mirror. “I apologise for my partner’s impatience. He’s had a long day, as have you. But we are not the enemy, Mr Sandburg. Wake your Sentinel if you wish, but I think you know he’ll suffer less if you let us get him to our secure facility, built specifically to cater to his needs, before he wakes.”

 

 Blair looked down to where Jim’s form was hunched at his side, paused in his curl of pain but with the side of his head resting on the backrest by Blair’s shoulder. Those blue eyes staring vacantly at him were unnerving. He couldn’t bear it but nothing could be as bad as seeing Jim completely lost to pain. Strong, reserved, taciturn Jim Ellison crying out in pain. No. Blair set his teeth.

 

 Awkwardly, not caring that he was being watched, he shifted. Disregarding the pull in his bound wrists he tilted his head to rest next to Jim’s and closed his eyes. He couldn’t touch him, he was just out of reach, but he knew whatever catatonic state Jim had zoned to, he would feel Blair’s breath on his face, feel his closeness as if it were a caress to his sensitive skin.

 

 “I expect you’re wondering why we chose that place as a staging area,” Agent Two said, his eyes soft and almost apologetic in the fleeting lights of the world beyond the SUV when Blair blinked to look at their reflection. He closed his eyes again and said nothing, trying to zone in on his sentinel but Agent Two continued to talk softly. “It had to be a place of great trauma to you both, somewhere your sentinel would feel threatened and associate with losing you, a place you were once at risk. Out of all the places he has saved your life that is documented in the records, this was the easiest to take control over.” There was a long pause and then. “I am sorry, Mr Sandburg. I hope you will understand, in time.”

 

 “Even if I do, Jim’s trust once lost is lost forever,” Blair said, his voice subdued.

 

*                            *                            *

 

 Jim had fallen out of awareness at the blinding light flashing in the dark, at the crash of the gunshot and his senses had spiralled in a tornado of sensory pain. But it was as if he’d blinked and now everything was calm. He blinked once, twice at the gentle, muted light of the pastel green room. He sniffed and his nostrils didn’t burn. His body ached but was supported by a bed so soft it was like floating on a cloud. He heard nothing but a distant, gentle hum-hiss and the soothing pulse of a heartbeat not his own.

 

 Jerking up in panic and lack of awareness, Jim drew in a breath as a gentle but firm hand splayed on his chest, stilling him. He looked sharply to the side, the movement sending a twinge of pain through his head. Adrenaline was already pounding through him but the face he saw there, framed by an array of damp curls, halted the rise of alarm.

 

 “Jim?” Blair said softly. “You scared me for a second there, man. I mean, they said I’d be able to call you back easier but I really didn’t think…” Blair swallowed and Jim tracked the movement of his adam’s apple, followed the sound of the saliva down his dry throat. His senses were still hyperactive, zinging back and forth but there was an air of calmness here and all he could smell was Blair and him and… He sniffed.

 

 Blair’s smile broadened, soothing, familiar and dazzling. “Sandalwood. They had a wide range of scents to choose from, that was the only one I knew your senses were acclimatised to.”

 

 “Mmm,” Jim said, leaning back against the bed, covering his eyes with a forearm, breathing slowly, trying to take stock of his sense levels. “Smells like you,” he breathed gently, without really meaning to. He heard Blair’s heart stutter and jerk, somehow sensed the flush that rose up without looking. A long few moments passed in gentle silence. When Jim lifted his arm, testing his control, he found things high, sensitive but bearable if he was cautious. Looking over, he found Blair in the same place, kneeling next to him, staring down at him on the bed.

 

 Reaching up on instinct, without processing the thought, he brushed his fingers over Blair’s mouth and jaw, his neck. Blood was smeared there but it was his own. He’d tasted blood when he’d broken the chair by tipping over backward in the warehouse, he just hadn’t realised he’d practically painted Blair with it when they were…

 

 He cleared his throat but didn’t draw his hand back, letting it rest against Blair’s shoulder and neck where the thickest smattering of blood lay. “Nice war paint, Sandburg,” he chuckled roughly. His voice sounded like hell. His throat burned like he was swallowing sandpaper.

 

 Blair grinned sheepishly. “There’s a bathroom thing attached to our…errr…suite but I wanted…” He hesitated, lost for words which was an unnerving first for him. It made Jim’s own heart jerk uncertainly. “I didn’t want to leave you zoned any longer than necessary. How’re you feeling?”

 

 Jim pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers for a moment, before massaging his eyelids gently again. “Wrists are pretty torn up from where I struggled free of the rope.” He supposed Blair hadn’t tied them as tightly as he could have and the agents had been satisfied with that. “My muscles are cramped because of staying the same position for so long back there and my senses are spiking on and off,” he replied. “My throat hurts like a bitch but everything else is…bearable.”

 

 “It’s this room. It’s one of the suites designed specifically for sentinels,” Blair explained. “You were tied up in that room for nearly six hours, man. I’m not an expert on sensory deprivation torture but it messed with your senses and your head enough to cause this kind of reaction. It might take a while to get back in control, even with the…the err…you know, bond thing.”

 

 Jim glanced at Blair and saw the subtle burn of heat in his cheeks. Slowly, tentatively, he pushed up until he was leaning against the cushioned headboard. “Six hours? It felt like days.” He rubbed his forehead, exhausted and frustrated. What a pussy, Ellison, he sniped at himself. “I couldn’t even hold out that long, huh?”

 

 “Don’t, Jim. Even people without your abilities can start hallucinating and worse after a few hours. That’s why it’s called torture,” Blair consoled him, but then he noticed the raw, torn, rope-burned skin on Jim’s wrists and caught his forearm to carefully bring it closer to him. Blair’s fingers hovered over the injury without touching but Jim shuddered anyway, feeling the way Blair’s fingers disturbed the air close to his flesh.

 

 “Sorry,” Blair muttered, climbing off the bed and reaching for a jar off the nightstand and popping the lid. “They left us this. It’s something for injuries that should be ok for sentinels. Guess they took stock of you better than I did.” Dipping his fingers into the thick salve, he reached for Jim’s wrist only for them both to freeze, as if they’d both just remembered.

 

 “Do you wanna do it?” Blair suggested, tongue pressing at the cut in his own lip as he contemplated Jim’s uncertain expression. Jim watched the movement of that tongue, his stomach knotting and he exhaled raggedly. He’d always been hyper-aware of his partner’s movements, his little tells and his quirks but he didn’t know if they’d ever affected him like this before. He hadn’t felt a pull toward someone for so long, not since Alex Barnes and he didn’t want anything like that ever again, especially with Blair. He didn’t want to not know the difference between genuine feelings and a tug through his sentinel instincts.

 

 Blair had always been attractive, important. He’d been the most important thing in Jim’s life for so long Jim couldn’t remember what his purpose had been before him. Was that all the same, all linked to this heat coiling like unsettled serpents in his belly now? The way he felt himself zoning out on the thin slice in Blair’s lower lip?

 

 Unlike before, he felt himself slipping, felt himself zoning without the need for Blair to remind him to be careful. He felt the awareness of Blair in his skin like another limb, grasping for it and gripping tight when he felt the pull of his senses. The connection, the bond, whatever the feds had called it, it was working.

 

 “Whoa,” he gasped as he hauled himself back to reality without ever really slipping. He’d felt for Blair’s connection without Blair needing to take action and he’d been able to use it to ground himself. Blair could act as his guide without ever needing to touch him, maybe not even having to be in the same room. Embarrassed at the scrutiny of blue eyes on his face, Jim swiped his fingertips over Blair’s instinctively to transfer the salve onto his own fingers, but as they touched, a tingling heat pulsed through his fingers.

 

 Their eyes met again, the heat sparking, a musky smell rising in the room between them. Jim quickly turned his attention to his wrist, tentatively working the numbing cream into his raw skin until even his senses could only feel a soft tingle. He knew Blair was still watching him as he worked it into his other wrist and wiped his hands off on the sheet. But when he was done he could hide no longer and Blair was still watching him.

 

 “Don’t pull back from me, man,” Blair said, his voice deep and undecipherable, even though Jim could sense the fear and attraction both pulsing through his blood.

 

 “Chief,” Jim began but Blair cut him off with a gesture of his hands.

 

 “We shared the same vision again, just like when I…when Alex…” He gritted his teeth and struggled for words, a tribute to the seriousness of the situation. “But it’s different this time. You can’t hide from it. You can’t pretend it didn’t happen just because it can’t be explained by modern science.” He reached out then, fingertips resting next to Jim’s on the bed, close but not touching, enough for them both to feel the soft, pleasant buzz of proximity. It was almost like a subtle vibration. Jim watched Blair close his eyes for a moment, apparently gathering himself before fixing him with an inescapable gaze.

 

 “You can feel it too, I know you can,” Blair said and his tone reached right down through Jim’s belly to every private place and squeezed until his lips parted in an inaudible gasp.

 

 “Yeah,” Jim admitted. “I just don’t know what it means.”

 

 Those eyes were dark azure pools that glistened with the muted light, silently demanding that Jim not deny him. “Yes, you do,” Blair replied and tentatively extended his fingers so the tips brushed against Jim’s. The contact on Jim’s sensitive skin made him tense, not in pain, but at the excruciatingly intimate gentleness that stole his breath. Before now their everyday tactile relationship had been a comfort, a pleasant anomaly to their respective busy and yet lonely lives. Surrounded by people and yet alone in the crowd, never letting anyone come close until their worlds had collided.

 

 This was better.

 

 The fingertips traced the ridges of the tendons on the back of his hand before dipping back in to brush against the teasing slither of palm that they could reach. Jim let him, unable to move even if he wanted to, hypnotised by the feeling of Blair’s skin on his now that he knew what it meant to him. Blair had been his partner in every sense of the word for so long but he’d been so afraid of change and of risking what they had that he’d unwittingly avoided analysing how deep those feelings went.

 

 They were in the middle of some secret government facility and yet he’d never felt more at peace. Everything else had fallen away.

 

 “Nothing’s changed,” Jim said, “it’s like…I always knew it was there but I’ve only just turned around to face it.”

 

 Blair’s fingers paused over Jim’s then, his smooth brow furrowing. “What?”

 

 “You and me,” Jim confided, flexing his fingers to capture Blair’s with his own, gripping his hand as firmly as his oversensitive skin permitted. In spite of the anchoring touch, he felt as if he were floundering in all the things that needed to be said, all the things he needed to ask and that Blair needed to hear. But the fingers in his squeezed back and he was awarded one of those dazzling Sandburg smiles.

 

 “Later, Jim. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that, you know?” his partner assured him.

 

 Jim nodded, at ease somewhat to know Blair wasn’t expecting him to articulate everything. Not right now anyway. But he should’ve guessed as much, this man knew him better than any, after all. “Is it safe?” he asked, even though the trepidation and fear that had filled him all night couldn’t have seemed like a more distant reality. It was as if this room were a bubble that no one else could penetrate.

 

 “I think we’re as safe as can be expected. They’re going to leave us alone for now at least. You know what I know,” Blair said, seeming equally unperturbed by their situation. That was the drug of the connection they’d forged tonight, he supposed. It felt like they could take on the world. “But you missed the man in charge while you were zoned. Man is he a force to be reckoned with. Makes Simon’s outbursts look like a calm sea breeze, you know? Once he saw the state of you he sort of lost it at our two favourite agents. Before he dragged them off to his office he said we wouldn’t be disturbed in here and that we should try and, you know, recover. Connect.”

 

 That final word was another intimate squeeze in the fire of Jim’s belly and he fidgeted but didn’t release Blair’s hand. “Connect,” he repeated, closing his eyes for a second as his vision magnified the fibres of the soft white sheets beneath them out of his control. When he breathed to steady himself though, Blair was there, everywhere and it took him only a few moments to open his eyes again and find Blair with that excited academic look.

 

 “Why do I think you can’t wait to perform a few experiments of your own, Darwin?” Jim mused.

 

 Blair beamed sheepishly. “Well, you know. You pulled yourself out of a zone twice by yourself now. It’s an amazing–”

 

 “I didn’t do it by myself,” Jim corrected, wincing as saliva stung his raw throat when he swallowed. “It’s all you, Chief, it’s just…you don’t have to try so hard anymore. It’s like I can just feel you there, doing what you need to do. Reminding me.”

 

 That obviously didn’t dampen Blair’s academic intrigue any, but there was a pleased warmth emanating from him now. Sense of touch under control, for the moment at least, Jim squeezed his fingers a little more firmly. “So we’re alone and safe for now,” he continued, his voice unable to find a plain of level-headedness, completely swamped in emotion. “What now?”

 

 There was another of those little fluttering pauses, where both their hearts thudded in the steady calm of the room and the musky smell of attraction rose higher. Jim drank it all in appreciatively and watched as Blair’s face drew closer, tilted slightly, taking the gamble the risk onto himself in search of the next step. At the last moment, but a few inches apart, Jim reached out, catching Blair’s damp hair at his nape with his free hand and halting his movements.

 

 That brow furrowed with hurt and confusion and those eyes searched him. Jim gave a reassuring minute smile, fingers luxuriating in the feel of the glossy curls they gripped. He wouldn’t make his guide take a risk for him again, wouldn’t be a coward, not in this. Eyes fluttering shut, he spanned the gap between them, tugging Blair to him as he moved so their mouths slid together. He tasted his own blood and Blair’s on those smooth, closed lips, his guide’s spittle and the clean, rain-dappled splendour of his skin.

 

 His mouth tingled at the feel of its partner and when he groaned softly, Blair’s tongue flickered out, boldly teasing his before retreating. He tasted, felt, heard Blair’s relieved, hungry panting and chased his tongue back into the moist heat of his mouth, massaging his partner’s scalp and hair as he deepened the kiss. Their tongues flicked at the tips then slid together, wet and slow and learning and Jim never knew his tongue, his lips could feel so good. He groaned into the parted lips against his and tilted his head, prying them open with his own so he could taste deeper; drown himself in the prickling heat Blair was inciting within him.

 

 Blair’s free hand reached up between them then, fingers sliding gently over Jim’s bruised jaw and Jim flinched, cried out against that mouth. Blair drew back, concern flashing over his face through the fog of arousal and need. The sharp pain in his jaw was back, Jim realised bitterly. His sense of touch surging up and up until the pressure of his cock against the zip of his jeans was agony.

 

 “Are you alright?” Blair breathed and Jim nodded, trying to compose himself.

 

 “Yeah…just…touch, s’gone haywire…”

 

 Looking thoughtful for a moment, Blair hesitated before reaching for the buttons on Jim’s shirt. “Take your clothes off,” he urged huskily, lips kiss-bruised and perfect as Jim helplessly watched them. For all his insistence, it was Blair’s fingers that pressed apart the buttons of Jim’s shirt, though Jim swore he could just about see them shaking.

 

 When Jim gingerly shrugged off his shirt, his sense of touch still hadn’t calmed. It was if it were surging up with the need to feel its guide in all his glory with no reduction in sensation. Blair’s hands slid down his bruised, abraded torso and his skin hummed but those touches were careful, avoiding the most inflamed areas and God, it felt so good. Jim reached for him without thinking, crashing their mouths back together harder this time. Teeth met briefly and he grunted an apology but did not release his grip on Blair’s neck, demanding his mouth hungrily this time.

 

 “Off,” Jim agreed dragging, kisses away from Blair’s mouth to the corner so he could speak and taste at the same time. “Take it off, my jeans are…” He didn’t need to finish. He knew Blair understood. When those hands clumsily tugged open his belt and fly he grunted in discomfort but sucked at the cut on Blair’s lip in appreciation even still. The grate of denim down his thighs was torture and he had to stop, for a moment everything scratching and clawing at him, especially when he couldn’t lose himself in the taste of that mouth.

 

 But then suddenly a final clumsy jerk tugged his lower clothing off him and before he could take stock of the relief of that, Blair’s mouth was the one taking his. He teetered dangerously close to zoning on that perfect heat tasting him now but it seemed Blair could sense when it was about to happen. Every time he risked zoning or even overloading on a particular sense, Blair’s touch or taste or God, even his smell drew his attention sharply to another sense. He gripped that hair again, urging Blair downward so those fingertips splayed against his chest, tentatively stroking before bearing some weight. Blair’s clothes scratched but Jim was spiralling, chasing a trace of his own blood down Blair’s chin.

 

 “Man, you’re a fan of hair right now, aren’t you?” Blair chuckled breathlessly, his words silenced by a hard, demanding clash of lips and teeth that grazed his swollen lower lip enough to make him arch into Jim’s body.

 

 “Always have been,” Jim answered without thinking, tugging gently on the strands to punctuate his point, enough to make Blair’s head fall back and expose his adam’s apple to questing lips. Taste was pulsing powerful and perfect in his mouth. He luxuriated in it, in the hot, light Sandburg taste as he slid the fingers of his free hand into the top of Blair’s shirt, tugging the first few buttons open, enough to tease at the surprisingly soft springy hair beneath. “Jesus, Chief,” he panted appreciatively against a perfect collarbone, dragging his fingers through it until Blair’s breath hitched. Then he tugged more urgently at the next few buttons, wanting the shirt off and away from him before his sense of touch spiked again.

 

 Jim slid his hand down to grab a fistful of the shirt at the waist of Blair’s jeans and pulled, the action letting his fingers skirt just under the fabric, Blair jerked. The musky sweet taint of pre-come filled Jim’s nostrils for the second time that night and he smiled breathlessly, dragging the shirt away and tossing it aside. Drawing back enough to watch Blair’s flushed face and full lips, pink from his attentions; Jim studied him as he skirted his fingers just inside the waistband of Blair’s jeans, teasing a slither of hipbone and stomach. He felt the soft muscle pull taut at his touch, a sharp intake of breath and then Blair was grinding into him on instinct.

 

 The drag of denim against his bare skin was too much and Jim hissed, recoiling, a rush of irritation at his out of control senses for ruining the moment pulsing through him.

 

 “Sorry,” Blair said quickly, but rather than slink back with embarrassment or annoyance, Blair practically fell off the side of the mattress onto his feet, toeing off his shoes and socks and pulling at his zipper. He shoved his jeans down and away but when he reached for his boxers, Jim grabbed him, seizing his forearms and rolling him onto the bed beneath him, one hand flat on Blair’s belly to keep him from pressing up again, the other instinctively pinning two wrists above his head into the soft mattress.

 

 On realising what he’d done, Jim hesitated, unsure. They were both men here and that was disorientating and new. He didn’t know if the same rules applied, if the same things that made the women he’d shared his bed with swoon would threaten Blair’s masculinity. “Sorry,” Jim said this time, lightening the pressure on Blair’s wrists, making to pull away, stopping when Blair pushed up into him, arms flexing under Jim’s grasp.

 

 “S’all good,” Blair assured him, “Don’t stop now, c’mon just…just go with your instincts, yeah?” His voice sounded cloudy, hazy with lust and Jim was right there with him. He nodded, pressing firmly on Blair’s wrists again, dragging blunt nails through the trail of hair that lead down his guide’s stomach. Very different to woman. Hard and tight but smooth and soft, smatterings of hair and the heavy smell of sweat and cock. It was nothing he thought would ever make him so hard that he leaked across Blair’s lightly haired thigh, yet it was.

 

 When he lowered his head this time the kiss was soft and tender, a question. It was answered with a flick of hungry tongue and ardent lips. He pressed a little harder on Blair’s wrists, dragging his nose down, feeling and smelling Blair’s neck, chest, underarm, down to his side. Blair squirmed when his hand skipped down over a hipbone, testing the fabric of Blair’s underwear. It wasn’t as gentle to the touch as Jim’s clothing was but it was soft and washed with the same sentinel-friendly detergent he used on his own things.

 

 Even with his nose resting at the softly fuzzy solar plexus of his partner, Jim could smell the intriguing scent of their laundry detergent and pre-come and it was enough to make him groan softly, mouthing at the light sprinkling of hair under his lips. Only the hand he pressed into Blair’s hip kept him from pressing up. He squirmed under Jim’s strength, testing it, only growing hotter with every squirm that was thwarted.

 

 “Oh man, lemme touch you, I’m going crazy,” Blair groaned, pushing up with wrists and hips and not budging an inch. He tilted his head to try and meet Jim’s eyes, just about managing to catch them.

 

 Jim caught another smattering of hair, this time lower, just below Blair’s navel and tugged. He smelt another pulse of pre-come before lifting up enough to say roughly, “Not ready for you to touch me yet.” He’d imprinted his guide earlier but this was like acclimatising himself to him. He thought if Blair grabbed him again before he was ready he’d burst; burn up like he’d glided too close to the sun.

 

 Glancing down, he saw a dark patch in the light blue of Blair’s boxers and inhaled through his mouth, testing the smell on his tongue this time. He’d not had much time to worry about how different or similar this would be to the women he’d had, but he was sure he wouldn’t have been disappointed even if he’d had time to forge expectations. It was different, primal, perfect.

 

 He teased at the hipbone again, skirting just under the elastic there before pulling down slowly. He dragged the material down to Blair’s thighs and watched the thick, flushed cock jerk up against the man’s pubic bone, laying pink and hard across a bed of dark hair thicker than the curls on his torso. It twitched against a stomach that was clenched in barely restrained need and heaving breathlessness and it was mouth-watering.

 

 Jim edged his hand inward, fingers teasing the crease of Blair’s groin, pressing greedily against the artery as he dragged just the pad of the thumb up over the hot hardness. It was so hot his own cock throbbed in sympathy. Blair pushed hard against the hold on his wrists and groaned in impatient approval, dragging Jim’s eyes up to him. The face Jim found was almost as pink as his cock and his eyes were dark with need.

 

 “You’re so sexy,” Jim murmured, pushing Blair’s underwear down far enough that Blair could kick it off and away as Jim knelt over him. Jim slid their lips together once before pressing his forehead against Blair’s drawing an extra breath, an extra whiff of his partner for courage before daring to let his weight ease down, his cock dragging against Blair’s smooth hip.

 

 “Oh shit,” Blair panted, fingers clenching and unclenching as he rolled his hips up, pushing his own cock against Jim’s thigh and rubbing Jim’s erection with his skin simultaneously.

 

 “Slow, slow, slow,” Jim said, fast, rough, husky and panting, even as he rocked his hips too, lost in the twin heat of his cock pressed between their bodies and Blair’s leaking against his thigh as they undulated together. It was overwhelming and so close to the edge but as inevitable as the tide.

 

 “Slow, too much,” he ground out but he couldn’t stop and pressed harder, faster. Touch was spiralling up, up and dangerously out of his control but it felt so good his skin was on fire. He cried out in anguished pleasure when Blair kicked his right leg free from under him and used the knee to drag his hips up until their cocks slid together.

 

 “You’re alright, go with it,” Blair moaned, craning his neck to catch Jim’s mouth, swallow his anxious yet delighted cries. “C’mon, give it to me.” He caught Jim’s hips with his knees, arching up. He’d seemed content, if impatient with Jim’s tentative adaptation to the intimate touch with his senses running haywire, but now he was demanding, hungry, taking as much as he was being taken. Giving. He held Jim to him with the muscles in his legs and pushed up with his wrists, challenging Jim to keep him down as he kissed hard. He grinded his cock up into Jim’s until a slick, sticky sound of their shafts slipping together in pre-come and sweat reached Jim’s ears.

 

 “Too much,” Jim grunted out against his mouth, tasting deeper, scenting sweat and come and arousal until he was dizzy with it, hearing their bodies meeting, Blair’s thundering heart and rapid breaths. It was so overpowering and yet irredeemably wonderful. Even if he had been coward enough to flee from the frightening strength of it, he couldn’t, they were locked together with it and there was no escape now, even if he wanted to. “Don’t stop,” he added to his previous words, feeling the smile in the kiss and answering it with his own, spittle locking their lips together whenever they drew back for breath.

 

 “Jim,” Blair said in warning. He rolled his hips up and the head of his cock caught deliciously on the underside of Jim’s shaft, right under the tip. Jim swelled, throbbing with feeling just as touch rocketed up skyward out of his control. He pressed his forehead hard to Blair’s, breaking the connection of their mouths as his cock pulsed thick and creamy release across Blair’s erection and stomach. Coating him with the shuddering orgasm, he groaned just inches from Blair’s lips as he squeezed his eyes shut. Too good. So good. He was sure he’d die from it.

 

 He kept rolling his hips through it, smearing semen across his lover’s skin, shuddering from the feel of sticky claimed skin against his. Touch was so high he felt dizzy now and it peaked at the point of painful just as awareness of Blair’s voice distracted his brain from the spike, calling his focus to his sense of hearing.

 

 “…t’s it, you’re good. You feel amazing. Just feel it,” Blair was whispering practically into his mouth, apparently sensing the spike in his sense of touch enough to realise not to move an inch under him now, just to let Jim steer as his voice guided him back toward a safer plain. Jim tilted his head so it was nearly beside Blair’s, so he could drag his nose across a smooth-shaven cheek and bask in the scent. Blair smelled of him, claimed and still aroused and sweetly sweaty. He liked it. His spent, oversensitive cock throbbed as he dragged it away from the mess he’d made on Blair’s stomach, until he was lying on his side, propped up on one arm, surveying the state of his guide.

 

 Blair was flushed all over, still hard, having not yet come and the hair above his cock and his belly was coated in…Jim. The animal or the sentinel or whatever primal instincts were inside him crooned in delight at that. He wondered if he did make some sort of growling noise in appreciation, because Blair shuddered and turned his head to look at him, arms still lying above his head where Jim had left them, despite the pressure of his weight now gone.

 

 Jim smiled, feeling oddly shy as he dragged his fingers up Blair’s sweat damp thigh, testing his sense of touch. Sensitive, tingling with the aftermath of overload but deliciously so. He smoothed his fingers higher through the mess on Blair’s cock and gripped him firmly. Blair groaned and one arm flew down to catch Jim’s forearm – careful not to touch his sore wrist.

 

 “You don’t have to,” Blair managed, voice raspy, “I know you’re not…you know…” He didn’t need to elaborate.

 

 “I am for you, Chief,” Jim assured him, squeezing lightly as he stroked. He couldn’t help but watch his hand, watch the sticky pink head of Blair’s cock pump in and out of his fist. He could feel the heat of it swell in his palm, feel the blood pumping through the hard shaft until it was solid in his grasp, the way the ridge of the swollen helmet caught on his fingers with each push through. He didn’t have to ask to know it felt good. Blair’s heart was hammering again, his hips rolling up with each twist of Jim’s wrist.

 

 The hand dug deeper into Jim’s forearm but the pressure felt good, grounding as did the pressure of Blair’s forehead against his as he coiled up, curling tight in on himself as he apparently fought away and yet ached for orgasm at the same time. Every muscle and tendon was pulled taut like elastic and Jim drank it all in, every sight and smell and sound. “You look so good, smell so good,” he murmured, stroking harder, faster, letting his thumb sweep across the sensitive slit to spread their mingled fluids around his next stroke.

 

 “Yeah?” Blair asked hazily, a flicker of that goofy smile Jim loved lingering there behind the mist of ecstasy.

 

 Jim shifted so he could drag his fingers against Blair’s head, touch him every way he could as he spiralled closer and closer to release. He caught the curls and tugged gently, delighting in Blair’s groan of approval, the way he pushed his hips up more frantically at the touch. “Love this hair,” Jim groaned, the heat coming off Blair’s skin so perfectly he wanted to wrap it around him.

 

 Blair made an urgent, needy, masculine sound in his throat, fucking Jim’s fist with abandon. “More, keep talking, keep–”

 

 “What do you want me to say?”

 

 “Oh God, anything just don’t stop, don’t…!” His blunt nails dug into Jim’s forearm hard then and Jim hissed.

 

 “Blair. C’mon. ”

 

 Everything in the body below snapped and he watched, smelled, felt hot sticky come burst across his hand, adding to the mess on Blair’s own body in hard, sharp pulses that ricocheted through the limbs below. He felt every pull, felt his own body sing with the relief and satisfaction. The tingling of his own post-orgasm throbbed more ferociously, the awareness of Blair’s bliss like heat injected into his every pore.

 

 Eventually, he slid back to the sheets, still on his side, waiting uncertainly but finding relief when Blair turned into him, face tucked against his chest as his breathing slowly steadied out. Jim carded his clean hand over Blair’s hair, resting his head on top, thinking. Blair and Carolyn had been right when they said he had issues with intimacy – the sexual kind and the relationship kind. He’d liked to hold Carolyn after they had sex but it’d never felt like this, not with her or anyone. It felt like completion. Like balm on a wound he hadn’t known he’d carried until now.

 

 Closing his eyes, still overwhelmed by it all, his sticky hand gripped Blair’s hip and held him close. He could do that without even thinking now, he was entitled to it and Blair was his and it felt good. He didn’t know if he drifted for a moment or not but the next thing he knew Blair was fidgeting, squirming out of his grasp and ruining the blissful peace. When he scrambled to the edge of the bed, his hair was everywhere and he was glowing, bright-eyed and sheepishly reaching for the bottom corner of the sheet.

 

 “That was seriously hot,” he said, wiping his stomach and cock off on the sheet, “but I don’t want all that to dry on me, man.”

 

 Jim smirked, relieved at how easy it was, the light banter, even after something as earth-shifting as that. He wiped his own soiled hand off then watched as Blair crawled up to the top of the bed, laying there and watching Jim with content thoughtfulness. “Senses still haywire?” he asked after a moment and when Jim didn’t move he raised an eye-brow. That look of innocent eagerness touched Blair’s face again as he lightly patted the bed beside him.

 

 There were some similarities between being with a man to being with a woman then. There was still the need for closeness after. Blair would probably talk to him about endorphins and hormones or something very scientific but he wasn’t babbling like usual. He found himself missing it, only to realise that Blair was still waiting for an assessment of his senses, most likely being considerate of his hearing until he got his answer.

 

 “Uh, yeah,” Jim said, taking stock. “Bit better now though.” What they’d just shared had been better than meditation for relaxing. He shifted up to lie next to Blair. It was nicer than he’d thought, lying so close, head resting on the same pillow as they faced each other.

 

 “Yeah?” Blair asked lightly, bringing a hand up to tentatively stroke down Jim’s shoulder to just above his wrist. “You had me worried for a second there.”

 

 “No worries, just…intense. In a good way,” Jim assured him, breathing in the satisfying scent of them and sex. “Perfect.” There was that smile he’d come to love without realising. “Things are still a bit sensitive, a bit crazy but it’s like they reached burning point – like the height of a fever and now they’re settling down, you know?”

 

 Blair nodded, looking down at him and then back up, as if taking his own stock. “That’s new,” he noted. “D’you think that’s cause of the sensory deprivation or…me?”

 

 “Both,” Jim said, saying what he felt was true, going with his instincts like Blair was always saying. “The sensory deprivation sent them crazy. You manipulated them, and then…well like I said, burnt off the fever-like spikes. I’m not sure you could’ve done it unless we were…” The word bonded stuck in his throat. He didn’t care for it. It sounded spooky somehow, unreal, so far from what he felt humming softly, tangibly between them. “It’s like an awareness. I don’t think you’d have been able to play them off against each other and drag me back and forth between them, stop me losing myself in a particular one if you hadn’t been so…aware of me.”

 

 Blair nodded slowly. “The connection. I didn’t really think about it I just followed my instincts.” That sheepish smile again, followed by a flicker of uncertainty. “Jim, the connection you don’t think…?” He trailed off.

 

 Jim stared into those blue eyes, lit by the muted light. “It’s been an insane, pretty traumatic night, Chief. I feel like I’ve been run over by a freight train and we’ve been captured by some federal sentinel agency or something that forced us into this.” He hated the way that face fell with hurt and hesitated only a moment before flicking that chin up with his thumb. “But it’s the force that bothers me, not the end result. Not the connection. Not you.” Their casual touches, their closeness was still easy but the more romantic actions like still felt tentative. He didn’t know what was allowed in terms of this. But at the contact, he heard Blair’s heart give a kick and leant in, brushing their lips together softly, before drawing back. “No regrets.”

 

 Relief made the body beside his relax and he smiled, wondering if Blair realised what an anxious, self-deprecating little head case he was beneath the extrovert, confident exterior. Blair knew people so well, integrated himself easily with strangers and yet he was just as bad at intimacy as Jim was, when it came down to it. Sex yes, but intimacy? They’d have to figure that out as they went along.

 

 Glancing around, stretching out his still frayed senses as much as he dared, Jim found that still there was nothing beyond this room. “It feels wrong to feel this relaxed in enemy territory,” he said distractedly. A shudder rippled through him at the soft touch to his chest, Blair’s hand creeping across his sweat-sticky flesh to lie over his heart. Casual touching was always a part of their friendship he’d treasured before, especially since he’d been so shut off before. But this was different. Better.

 

 “You’ve been through a lot tonight Jim, you need to rest and hopefully by the time someone comes to check on us you’ll be recovered.” His mouth twisted wryly, “How about I be the sentinel tonight and you can sleep for a bit?”

 

 Jim turned onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, glad for the warm tingling body against his side. Blair didn’t move away awkwardly. It seemed now he’d gotten the green light his mischievous, intrigued hunger was back, if tinted a little by nervousness. It only made each touch or word or expression sweeter.

 

 “Is it even still night time?” Jim wondered aloud but he closed his eyes all the same. Oh yeah, grinding against Blair’s skin until he came was way better than any meditation as far as his senses were concerned. “I’ll just close my eyes for a bit,” he grumbled. “Wake me if I drift off, yeah?”

 

 

 

 Blair didn’t wake him, he watched the frown lines smooth out into nothingness and then continued to watch as he slept, breath sweeping gently, deeply through slightly parted lips. Knowing how fidgety he could be and not wanting to wake his partner, Blair tucked both arms in front of himself and just lay beside him, wondering what would happen the next time the door opened.

 

 In the end nature’s call summoned before Jim woke and Blair crept carefully off the bed, casting a final glance at the door and on impulse grabbing the chair and shoving it under the handle. He moved into the en suite and emptied his bladder, looking at himself cautiously in the mirror as he washed his hands. He looked the same, except for the slightly swollen look to his lips and the purpling bruise at his neck, and the one just below on his collarbone. That, and of course his hair had gone a little frizzy from the rain last night.

 

 Curiosity winning out he checked the cabinet behind the mirror to find aspirin, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors and soap. He brushed a thumb under his chin as he considered Jim’s sensory spikes last night while they’d… He swallowed. Jim’s mouth had been hard, slightly bristly from stubble. While the startling grating sensation had made his own pleasure peak, Blair thought about easily irritated sentinel skin and plucked up the razor, carefully removing the shadow brewing there before brushing his teeth.

 

 Checking that Jim was still asleep, he closed the bathroom door and jumped in the shower quickly, relieved on finding conditioner and shampoo. Damp and clean with a towel round his waist, he made his way back into the bedroom, wondering at the state of his clothes but as he entered, he found Jim standing there, eyes unreadable.

 

 “Morning,” Blair said brightly, dragging a hand through damp curls. “I felt gross and you were sleeping, but not deep enough that an intruder wouldn’t have woken you, so you know.” He gestured to his make-shift alarm of the chair under the door handle then back to Jim. “I err...wasn’t sure what state your senses would be in. Thought you might appreciate me spic and span if they were still sensitive.

 

 All through his babbling Jim just watched him. Only when Blair finally stopped talking did he realise there was a familiar look of fond exasperation on Jim’s face. He stepped closer, closer and Blair’s heart stuttered, only to throb with disappointment when Jim set a hand on his shoulder, squeezing comfortingly as he passed into the bathroom. The telltale tinkle said nature called for Jim too and Blair relaxed, looking around for his clothes. Everything was wearable, he supposed, but his t-shirt and flannel button-up had flecks of blood on them. He was still holding them up critically when he heard the bathroom door open.

 

 Jim was brushing his teeth and glancing at the door calculatingly, apparently deep in thought. When he returned to the bathroom to spit and decant his toothbrush Blair managed to find a clock tucked away in the desk in the corner. 13.30. Afternoon then. Wow. He must’ve slept too at some point then.

 

 “It’s been nearly twenty-four hours since they grabbed me,” Blair said conversationally when Jim returned, turning to face his partner. He was as bare as he’d been last night and Blair couldn’t help but look. He didn’t think Jim minded if the smirk was anything to go by. A plus for them both being guys, he supposed. They both had their heads in the gutter, even in the circumstances.

 

 “If they haven’t come for us by now it’s likely they won’t come ‘til dinner time. Standard captivity tactics are gain the prisoners’ trust with food,” Jim thought aloud, apparently weighing the odds. There was a mini bar tucked away in the corner though. Blair was a bit hungry and thought Jim must be too but then a mouth touched the corner of his, fingers dancing along the towel at his waist. He groaned, eyes fluttering. He snaked his arms round Jim’s shoulders and pulled him close with relief. There wasn’t going to be an awkward morning after or change of heart. Thank God.

 

 “You shaved,” Jim noted, punctuating the point by brushing his lips along Blair’s without really kissing him, just feeling the smoothness. “And showered.” He was inhaling subtly.

 

 Blair laughed. “I do that sometimes, you know?”

 

 Jim’s fingers dipped down between his taut stomach and the knot of the towel, knuckles brushing against his flesh. He tensed and gripped short hair firmly, dragging his forehead against Jim’s chin and resting it there as he struggled to breathe.

 

 “You still smell of me, you know that?” Was the soft, unexpected and appreciative purr against his forehead. Blair groaned himself in answer, cock throbbing beneath the towel, knowing Jim could smell that too. It was so humiliating it was arousing. He never thought that’d been a turn on for him before now. The next embarrassing words cut straight through that arousal like sheet ice, however.

 

 “How come I never smelled men on you before?”

 

 Blair tipped his head back to regard Jim with surprise. It wasn’t really something you expected your partner to say when he had his hand hovering an inch above your cock with only a towel between them. He shrugged. “Well, you know, there were a few guys in college. Believe it or not, being one of the youngest students at Rainier, I attracted attention. Some of it was bad, some of it was good. Some of it was real good.

 

 “I was young and finding my own flow without Naomi and I went with whatever felt good, you know? There were a few times with guys, yeah, but then only women. I assumed it was a phase. Besides once I started helping out at the police department, I think a lot of guys gave me a wide berth, you know? They make assumptions at the U.” He shifted, letting his fingers feather down the back of Jim’s neck. “You know, about me and you?”

 

 Jim’s hand hadn’t moved and he was staring into Blair’s eyes as if trying to read between the lines. After a moment he nodded, understanding. His fingertips continued to graze his skin beneath the towel, sliding along the edge back and forth in mesmerising torture. It was still a pleasant novelty to be able to touch each other like this, Blair got that, he was still feeling it himself. And at least Jim wasn’t running scared about that revelation. The Cascade PD staff respected and revered their partnership; the university was full of student rumour and hungry gossip.

 

 “Guess they knew before we did, huh?” Jim said at last, stepping forward, bearing Blair against the door and gripping the knot of the towel firmly, his free arm bracing his weight against the door. “This is still weird, Chief,” Jim admitted breathily. “New. Uncharted territory. But I don’t want to stop.”

 

 Blair wondered if Jim realised just how often his instincts made him unwittingly offer up these power displays, these acts of dominance to him. He thought asking would be a good way to tarnish the blooming intimacy between them so he kept his mouth shut for once. Besides, whether he had his own instincts or was just reacting to a sentinel in his prime, he quite appreciated the power show. As long as Jim didn’t think he was going to roll over and take it complacently. If he wanted to be with a man, he could have it, with all the trimmings. Sometimes Blair would slide to a puddle of ooze at his feet but right now…

 

 Shoving at Jim’s shoulders he pulled them round until Jim was the one against the door. Dragging his fingers down over Jim’s torso, he scraped them over his nipples and pushed their mouths together once more, hungry and fierce this time. Demanding. When he felt Jim reach for the towel he pushed at his forearms until they were against the door either side of Jim’s hips and just pressed his towel-covered cock into Jim’s thigh, relishing in the moan against his mouth. He felt Jim’s arms tense under him, felt his erection harden at the proceedings, arousal and confusion warring as he experienced, probably for the first time, someone giving it to him as good as he offered it.

 

 “Those guys in college,” Blair murmured impatiently, confident enough in Jim’s senses now to risk grazing his lower lip with his teeth. Even though the action at this position put a little strain on his neck and Jim had to crane his down to meet him a bit, it was perfect. Careful of the still sore skin, Blair brushed his thumbs over the captive wrists, knowing Jim could push him off if he wanted but also knowing he liked it in spite of his obvious surprise. “I only ever went all the way once, you know? And when I did I was the…” His thought process cut short as Jim tilted his head to escape a kiss, instead capturing his ear, tongue flicking against the two loops there in a way that made him buck and curse and lose his grip on Jim’s arms.

 

 Blair found large hands ripping the towel away, hauling his hips up so his cock grinded into Jim’s and he had to quickly grip those hips with his thighs to keep from falling. Jim walked them backwards, both of them tumbling onto the bed, sprawling across the length of it with reaching, gasping undulations against each other. “You were the leading man, right?” Jim finished for him, tongue flickering against the shell of his ear as his hand found his way between them, fisting their cocks together.

 

 “Never taken the supporting role,” Blair confirmed, equally breathless and grazing his nails experimentally over Jim’s muscular shoulders. When his sentinel only shuddered and bit at the unmarked side of his throat, he rolled his hips upward in approval. Last night he’d had to be cautious because of the sensory overload, now he was free to push back and urge Jim into responding more and more. He slid his hands down then between them, pressing against Jim’s chest until the man got the message and stopped. Their cocks throbbed in negation but it was important that Jim realise another reason why things were different between two men.

 

 “But I’ll do it for you,” Blair said, “I want to. Both ways. Every way.”

 

 Lust-blown blue eyes stared down into him, hazy as if lost in some great epiphany but when Jim’s lips moved toward speech a firm knock sounded at the door. They both froze, then scrambled apart, both watching the chair under the door as they pulled on their clothes. “Just a minute!” Jim snapped as he found his shoes. They’d drifted so far into the illusion of the safety bubble of this room they’d forgotten where they were, had let their guard down. They had no idea what they would face once that door opened.

 

 Whoever was on the other side heeded Jim’s words, however, for the knocking stopped and Blair met Jim’s eyes warily as he toed on his own shoes, snatching up his flannel shirt from the side and longing for a hair-tie. Nothing said ‘just fucked’ like his hair right now, he could feel it, didn’t even have to see it to know. Those fuckers would know exactly what they’d been doing in here – if they hadn’t been spying the whole time. His face burned. “Oh God,” he groaned, dragging a hand through his still damp hair, tousled from Jim’s fingers earlier.

 

 “Take it easy, Chief,” Jim said, carefully and quietly removing the chair from under the handle before gripping the handle itself and nodding to his partner. With a sharp yank he pulled it open wide and stepped back simultaneously, putting his body between Blair and the men in the doorway. Agent Two was there, sans shades along with a familiar silver-haired man that stood with his arms folded behind his back. A smile lit the face of the older man as he caught sight of them both.

 

 “Ah, Sentinel Ellison, Guide Sandburg, you both look much better this afternoon. I apologise again for the behaviour of my men yesterday. They had orders to bring you in with a proviso that you’d be our toughest case yet, Sentinel, but their methods were most certainly not authorised. I hope that we can make it up to you.” When he received no answer, he offered his hand to Jim. “I realise how traumatic it must’ve been for you, please, let’s start this again. Director Lawrence. Pleased to meet you.”

 

 

 

 After a moment, Jim shook his hand, brief but polite and then there was silence for a long time. Jim noticed that ever since he’d awoken last night Blair’s heartbeat was what his hearing seemed to centre on in the silence, as if searching for it in reassurance. It was nervous now and he shifted to the side a little, just so all parties knew. This time, if anyone touched Sandburg, he’d tear them apart. His senses wouldn’t stop him this time and he could take both of these guys. But then, he supposed that’s what this little display was about, them showing they meant no harm or the illusion of that anyway. Jim remained wary and still as stone, even as Blair (typically) fidgeted behind him from foot to foot.

 

 “Agent Ayres,” Agent Two confirmed at last, “Director Lawrence and I would very much like to speak with you both, perhaps clear up any misunderstandings from last night. Would you allow us to come in?”

 

 Jim looked around. “So now you respect my territory, huh? In my prison cell?” he asked derisively. “Where was that respect yesterday when you kidnapped my partner from his place of work and used him like bait on a fishing line to haul me in? You think I was too lost in sensory spikes to remember, Agent? You and your buddy hung my partner over the edge of a damn building just to give my instincts a good enough show to make me come get him, to force us into some mystical connection. Am I missing anything here?”

 

 Ayres, to his credit, didn’t dare attempt to justify himself, not in the face of raw, unbridled anger. Jim’s face was flushed with it, his entire body tensed, on fire. He felt Blair’s hand on his shoulder and shrugged it off, gesturing back with his hand to tell Blair to keep a safe distance without ever taking his eyes off the feds in front of them.

 

 “I don’t know what your little government sentinel squad dogs do, probably roll over for a belly rub every time you snap your fingers but I won’t. And if you try to use Sandburg to make me, you’ll regret it.”

 

 Rather than look afraid or even insulted, Lawrence beamed. “Now that’s the man I anticipated meeting here today,” he proclaimed, pleased. He wandered into the room, at ease, either not noticing or not caring that Jim kept his body parallel to his the entire time, keeping himself between him and Sandburg, eyes trained on him like a bomb about to go off.

 

 “I’d worried your army background would affect your ability to speak your mind in the face of authority,” Lawrence continued, taking the chair that had been under the door handle only moments before. He rested his hands on his thighs and looked up at Jim and Blair.

 

 “I’ve read all of your files but you certainly exceed even your astounding reputation. You’re a man that commands respect and yet is not corrupted by it. And your young Mr Sandburg, he’s a force all of his own. That is why we had to bring you in when we realised you were a true sentinel, Mr Ellison. You are both extraordinary men but together you make a formidable team, one that we need to ensure this department continues in the right direction.”

 

 Jim listened for the tell of a lie in Lawrence’s heartbeat or scent but found nothing but almost boyish eagerness and respect. For all that though, the man seemed to carry an air of authority about him, his lined smile belying the hard, otherwise formidable image. Jim glanced to the side to see Blair trying to meet his gaze, held it for a second. Neither of them knew what to make of this.

 

 “You abducted us and you’re trying to offer us a job?” Jim clarified, bemused. “Are you insane?”

 

 “My partner got a bit overzealous yesterday and I was no better,” Ayres said, “I apologise, but please don’t let that taint your vision of this department. We do good work here. Our sentinels, we rescue them from the kind of sensory overload you would’ve fallen prey to if you hadn’t met Mr Sandburg. We help them find a guide they can connect to and then they do real good in the world, Mr Ellison. Think of all the people you’ve used your senses to help, that’s us too, here. We have a sentinel and guide pairing in the fire department, another two in the major hospitals, one up in Washington Police Department. We have a pair up in mountain rescue and we hope to have two more finish training shortly to head into the army.”

 

 Blair stepped close to Jim then, speaking for the first time since their false safe haven had been invaded. “So you want us to, what? Drop our lives and enlist? Are you crazy?”

 

 “If you think Sentinel Ellison was a force to be reckoned with before he is unstoppable now, you can do real good in the world with our help,” Ayres urged him, his voice pleading, honest.

 

 Jim shook his head. “We were doing good without your help. Sandburg has helped me save countless people. We don’t want to be a part of this circus show you’re putting on here.” He moved passed both men and headed toward the door, but when Blair made to follow, Jim felt Ayres grab Blair’s arm. It wasn’t an aggressive move, more a pleading grasp but to Jim’s instincts it felt like a threat. He whirled round, slamming his forearm into Ayres’s neck and pinning him to the wall. “Don’t touch him!” he spat, eyes livid, head spinning, incensed. “Ever. The next person that touches him loses their arm, am I clear?”

 

 “Jeez, Jim,” Blair said gently squeezing his shoulder. “I’m alright, man. C’mon.”

 

 Jim gave Ayres a final glare before backing away, calming a little at the feel of Blair’s knuckles brushing against the back of his hand in subtle but soothing repetitive strokes.

 

 “You should know better, Ayres,” Lawrence lamented. “You’ve threatened a sentinel’s partner. Tread with caution.” He met Jim’s gaze then. “He’s a good man, Mr Ellison. A lot like you, he just wants to do the right thing, to do his job, as well. But I think you’re a little misguided. I don’t want to enlist you as one of our recruits. Not exactly.”

 

 “Well then tell me exactly what you want so I can refuse and get the hell out of here,” Jim demanded darkly. Neither of these men seemed to be overly concerned that Blair was nearly holding his hand. But then, they didn’t seem fazed by the obvious love bites or sex-mussed hair of his partner either, nor the unmistakeable scent of sex that even a non-sentinel nose couldn’t miss. They’d expected their closeness, their intimacy, they’d seen it before and they did seem to be telling the truth, Jim had become an expert at detecting lies but it didn’t mean he trusted them.

 

 Ayres seemed to be watching Blair with a fixation Jim didn’t understand or like, either. It made his skin prickle, as if he were the one being stared at. He glared at Ayres, who seemed to remember himself and looked away in deference.

 

 “With your leadership skills and your unsurpassable abilities as a sentinel even in the face of great trauma, we would like to invite you to head this division with us. We want you to take part in decisions with the welfare of our sentinels and their cases, their training, their partnerships with their guides. To offer your insight, help teach them, help us to be better aids to them,” Lawrence continued, a passion for his work evident in his voice. He looked to Blair now.

 

 “And Mr Sandburg, we think he will be invaluable for that, especially in helping to prepare both sentinels and guides for what they might face. Last night is proof that our staff are flawed, even though their hearts might be in the right place. Help us to rectify that, to make this work better. Who knows what we may be able to achieve with you both on board, at the helm, as it were. Please, help me and the staff to help the sentinel/guide teams help others.”

 

 Blair’s heart was racing and Ayres was looking at him again. Jim dragged a hand over his face in exasperation. “You want Blair and me to be partners with you in this little government operation?” he said, just to be sure.

 

 Lawrence rose to his feet. “My good man, no other sentinel or guide could possibly give us what we need, give our sentinels and their partners what they need, nor our staff better training.” When Jim and Blair both said nothing, Lawrence hastily added, “You wouldn’t be giving up your lives. We are but a short drive from your apartment at Prospect, gentlemen. You could remain in your home; you could remain at the police department and continue your good work there. It is not a full time management position we need but your guiding force, your insight.”

 

 He sounded as hopeful and desperate as Ayres now, not at all what Jim had expected when he’d torn that door open. He’d expected manipulation and threats and inevitable violence when he failed to toe the line. Feds were renowned for their sly backhanded ways. This man didn’t fit. It made him off-balance, uncomfortable.

 

 “My schedule is pretty full, Mr Lawrence – and Blair’s, he already balances his work at Rainer and with me and–”

 

 “Not anymore,” Blair interjected, voice tinged with sheepish dejection. “You know, after the exposure, I mean…at that conference…” He avoided Jim’s eyes and rubbed the back of his neck. “The only way to fix my mess is to tell them I made it up, tell them I’m a fraud, Jim. That’s the only way you can carry on with your life, do what you do,” his voice had raised. He was on a roll now and couldn’t stop as Jim watched, his gesturing, mobile partner expressing himself as if being silent the last few minutes had caused a build up.

 

 “And once I do, Rainer will boot me out on my ass and so will the police department. It’s over Jim; my old life isn’t out there waiting for my return.” His eyes were shining but only enough for Jim to notice and he felt his chest ache as if it’d been cleaved open with a pickaxe. He wanted to pull Blair to him but he couldn’t, not with these men watching and he ached all the more because of it.

 

 “Chief,” he tried consolingly, “We’ll fix it, alright? I’m not…I’m not mad about that, not anymore.” Not after nearly losing him, not after that last vision trip where they’d shared everything, where no misunderstandings were possible. “We’ll figure something out.”

 

 “Jim,” Blair said, admiring but miserable, “You can’t fix everything. You just…can’t.”

 

 There, that was what Ayres had been staring at Blair for, that was why Jim’s usually animate, unstoppable partner had been so sullen and quiet since Lawrence and Ayres had entered. He’d had a good guess at what Blair was at that conference for but he hadn’t really realised what it meant until now. Blair had been the one to give up everything for him, always, all along.

 

 Blair had passed up trips with Eli Stoddard and his other post-graduates to exotic excavations, experiences of a lifetime. He’d put off his thesis and sacrificed his reputation at the university by putting his work with Jim before Rainier, even after all the times he’d been hurt just by being his partner. He’d risked everything to be with Jim, always and before these men had captured him he’d been about to throw away everything he’d ever hoped and dreamed for – for him. For a man who’d been too macho and too scared to admit he’d loved him all along.

 

 His own breathing ragged now, Jim stared at his partner, dazed, struck dumb by the realisation. Blair would follow whatever he decided to do, would accept his decisions and remain at his side but he was right, there was nothing else out there waiting for Blair to return to. Nothing but him. He swallowed.

 

 “If I may,” Lawrence said gently, looking between the two of them. “I am sure as police you’re aware of the more manipulative abilities of the federal government. We aren’t proud of our capabilities but sometimes things need to be…adapted for the greater good. Our sentinels for example, must always be partnered with their guides and that often involves a little bending of the rules or procedures from our part but we manage it. Why, our medicinal sentinel/guide pair are the trickiest to place, especially with patient confidentiality at work, but it has been done.”

 

 He met Jim’s self-loathing gaze and gave a small, completely un-federal smile. “After last night, it is the least we can do to fix this little predicament for you. Mr Sandburg will be free to return to the University and to work as your partner – permanently, without any questions asked.”

 

 Jim bristled, his self-repugnance, guilt and awkwardness, inadequacy pulsing through him and finding the only escape route out of him. Anger. “So it’s bribery now, is that it?” he challenged darkly. He hated how quiet Blair was right now. It was unnatural. “You fix this for us if we come work for you?”

 

 Lawrence looked panicked. “No. No, of course we hope but this…think of it as a peace offering, Mr Ellison. Reparation for the way you were treated last night.” He glanced at Ayres, apparently bewildered, as if he hadn’t expected things to go this way.

 

 Jim didn’t know how he thought it was going to play out after last night. He was tired and unbalanced and off-kilter here. His instincts hummed unhappily. He wanted back in his territory, he wanted his guide safe and fed and bubbling with his usual vitality. He wanted out.

 

 “I have no reason to trust you, Mr Lawrence, especially not enough to put our lives in your hands,” Jim said, a final glance at Blair sealing his decision. There was nothing left to lose, he supposed. “I’m not going to be your whipped dog to summon at your beck and call. I don’t want anything more to do with you,” he sighed. “But my guide does.”

 

 His guide, he’d never called him that, never used the word at all to his memory. His guide, his partner, his Blair was so trusting, so ready to believe these people, to reach for a solution with desperate hands and immerse himself in a sentinel culture. Despite knowing for a fact that Lawrence wasn’t lying, it all filled Jim with nauseating unease.

 

 Blair’s head lifted and Jim carefully avoided looking at him. Helping sentinels, studying them, helping their guides, teaching, they were things that Blair lived for. Blair wanted this, even if he was as distrusting of them as Jim was right now, he dared to hope, to see the good in people. It was enough to take a chance on, at least. The world they’d left outside was in tatters regardless. Jim swallowed, set his jaw. He couldn’t live on fear-based reactions any longer, not and avoid making the same mistakes over and over.

 

 “I’m completely fried. I want out of here,” he said seriously. “I want you to make good of your word and fix the mess my abilities made of my partner’s life. I want you to use your manipulative skills for something good and maybe…maybe then Blair will trust you enough to try and work with you.”

 

 Lawrence blinked, stunned, glancing between sentinel and guide as if he didn’t dare believe his luck. “Of course,” he assured Jim, “of course, we will do everything we can to…” He hesitated. “Perhaps, if we win your partner’s good favour, you might reconsider an advisory position here, Sentinel Ellison?”

 

 Part of Jim didn’t quite understand how a man as soft as this could be a director in any federal department. Perhaps Sentinel/Guide relations required a more sensitive hand but this man was just the polar opposite of what he’d expected. He could almost see a little of Blair’s good-natured hope in those aged eyes. Then it clicked. Shit, the man hadn’t put a foot wrong since he’d stepped in here, Blair had said he was livid at Agent One’s treatment of them yesterday…

 

 When Jim sniffed subtly, he could smell it, a claim that lay there beyond one of two lovers.

 

 “You’re a guide,” he said. It was not a question. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Blair’s head whip to the side in shock and they both watched Lawrence’s lined face twist in a wistful smile.

 

 “Well done, Detective, yes,” he admitted lightly. “I had wondered if you’d realised. My wife was the sentinel.”

 

 “Was?” Blair asked tentatively.

 

 Lawrence nodded. “She died – an accident in New York Police Department where she worked. It was before sentinels came on the radar of the government, so no one could position me at her side to help her. She experienced sensory catatonia–”

 

 “Sandburg calls them zone outs,” Jim interjected thoughtfully.

 

 “Yes, accurate. She zoned and was shot,” his smile, though sad was a hopeful one. “So you see, Detective, I do know a little of what our sentinels need. I’ve got some perspective of what needs to be done. I just need a little help to do it right. My input is a little…one-sided.”

 

 A thick, cloying scent of sadness filled the room, almost covering the overwhelming smell of sex and Jim’s already aching chest throbbed at the thought of Blair, lying face down in the fountain, lost because he hadn’t been there to help him. He wouldn’t wish that on anyone. “If you’re a guide,” Jim said, voice slightly rough, “then you know what it means to be part of…this,” he added the last bit sheepishly, gesturing between himself and Blair.

 

 Lawrence’s smile spread a little, warmth and fond memories in his eyes. “He is precious to you.”

 

 Jim swallowed, discomfited, feeling Blair’s eyes on him. “He is,” Jim confirmed. “So you know. You have to work hard to earn the kind of trust it takes to offer something that valuable up to the sort of risk you pose.” He felt Blair tense, probably displeased with being talked about as if he weren’t there, as if his opinion didn’t matter. For the time being though, he kept quiet, most likely distracted by the soft hum of pleasure that had begun emanating from him at the word ‘precious’.

 

 Lawrence offered his hand to Jim again, shaking it when he took it. “I intend to do just that, Sentinel Ellison, you can be sure of that. Please, join me in a late lunch with our newest sentinel recruits while I contact Captain Taggert? He has been most emphatic in finding you, causing quite a stir in downtown Cascade. If Ayres gives him a call now he can come pick you up after lunch. If you wouldn’t mind offering some assistance with our latest sentinel, Alice? She was quite the academic in spite of her poor home life before her senses overwhelmed her; I think it might do her some good to see both you and Guide Sandburg…”

 

 Feeling generous Jim nodded and gestured for the man to lead the way, half listening as Lawrence continued to talk enthusiastically about their youngest charges in a way that reminded him of Blair. Ayres gave them an apologetic nod before heading off in another direction, most likely to contact Taggert, leaving Jim to follow after Lawrence, cautious but attentive. Blair walked close to his side, his proximity a calming warmth. When he brushed his knuckles against Jim’s fingers again, Jim looked over at him, seeing a subtle yet adoring smile he didn’t feel like he deserved.

 

 Without giving it too much thought, he swung an arm round Blair’s shoulders and hauled him in closer to his side as they walked.

 

 


 

Chapter Three

Connected

 

 

 

The food hall was clean and bright but not glaringly so. The walls were a soft pale green and the food smells were pleasant but not overwhelming, the scent of cleaning product just there enough to ensure gentle cleanliness. There was a barely there hum of expensive extractors and air conditioning that was practically silent. Sentinel friendly, all of it.

 

 Jim surveyed the long table and the staff in soft grey overalls, serving the three people at the table. A girl and two boys, the former no more than seventeen, the boys somewhere in their early twenties. The boys were talking, strained and tired looking, showing symptoms of slowly improving sensory overload but the girl was silent and withdrawn, sitting a few seats away from the boys and wincing as she cut into her food.

 

 Blair followed his line of vision and patted Jim on the back before taking a seat next to the two boys. Encouragement but freedom to interpret it the way he willed, Jim was used to that from Blair and he hesitated, considering his options. He didn’t want to be involved in this; he didn’t trust these kinds of operations, even if he felt an emotional pull. But then one of the boys laughed at something Blair said and the girl’s face scrunched up in agony, hands flying to her ears under her lank, unwashed brown hair. His decision was made for him. He took the seat between her and Blair and when she glanced fearfully at him, making to push up out of her seat, he firmly but carefully laid a hand on her arm, over her sleeve to minimise the impact. She froze.

 

 “I’m Ji….Sentinel Jim Ellison,” he said, the mantel sounding so odd in his ears, the admission. He’d long since come to terms with his abilities but outright calling himself that felt so bizarre. He’d said it before so rarely, hadn’t he? “You’re having some trouble,” he noted, voice soft, feeling for her reactions until he found a volume he thought she could handle. “I can maybe…help, if you’d like?”

 

 She dropped back into her seat but glowered at him sceptically. “I know who you are, we have a TV in the rec room here. I saw you and your guide being hassled by the press before I overloaded and had to go back to my room.” She sounded sullen, miserable, more so than most teenagers and Jim wondered what she’d been through so far to be at this stage so early in her life. Maybe if he hadn’t suppressed his senses he would’ve reached breaking point as early as seventeen, especially without Blair to rescue him from them.

 

 “Then you know that I deal with challenges to my senses every day, especially working in central Cascade. Gun shots, cars, people, spicy food,” he listed, folding his hands on the table in front of him. “If I can do it, so can you.”

 

 The girl, Alice, just looked him up and down then glanced over his shoulder, still cynical. Jim remembered feeling like that himself.

 

 “You have your guide, that’s why you can do it,” she challenged, scrubbing her hair back from her face. “I can’t even wash my hair because even the sentinel friendly shampoo makes my scalp burn.” She pushed her mostly full plate away. “Everything tastes weird. Every potential guide they bring to meet me can’t even get close because even a scent or word or touch can overload me.”

 

 Jim felt Blair shift beside him. He was still talking to the boys but his hand had stretched out across the tabletop where it lay to rest against his. Breathing shallowly, Jim covered it with his own. What would he want to hear, if he were a sentinel on the edge with no hope for better? “Blair helps me, he grounds me but it’s me that has to listen to him, to do the homework. He taught me some things to learn control. That’s all you need, Alice, control. Then you can do whatever you want with your life.”

 

 Alice dropped her gaze to the table, fingertip tracing the grain of the wood. “I don’t have a life,” she said darkly. “Don’t pretend old Lawrence didn’t tell you. I was a runaway. I couldn’t cope and neither could my parents. I ran until my senses completely took me over and the SGD found me in a dumpster trying to pump heroin into me to try and cope with the sensory explosion.” She shuddered, fingertip digging into the grain a little more.

 

 “SGD?” Jim asked softly.

 

 “Sentinel Guide Division,” she sighed impatiently. “The heroin didn’t help, it only nearly killed me. Them getting me off the stuff didn’t help. Nothing helps. Eventually they’ll realise I’m a hopeless case and that I’m not worth the effort just like my folks did.”

 

 “Hey,” Jim said, firm but careful. “You’re worth it, kid. You’ll feel so much better when you get some control over these gifts you have–”

 

Gifts,” Alice snorted and Jim beamed, seeing a little of himself in her, his sceptical attitude from years ago when this had all come back to bite him.

 

 “I used to think it was a curse too, but Blair taught me the truth. Your guide can teach you the truth too but the rest will be up to you. They could hand you the most competent guide in the world and it wouldn’t do you a bit of good if you didn’t listen to them. They can talk you off the edge, bring you back from a zone but you need to follow that voice.”

 

 Alice glanced at him hesitantly before focussing back on the wood grain again. “I…I can’t I’m… It hurts too much…” She winced. “I can’t…” She was quiet for a moment, staring at the table but when that moment extended, Jim noticed the change in her heartbeat, heard it slowing and knew she was zoned.

 

 “Shit,” he cursed, tentatively shaking her arm. She didn’t respond. “Hey, Alice. C’mon, don’t do this, kid…” He felt Blair move and come to kneel in front of the catatonic teenager, his back against the side of Jim’s thigh, his hands grasping Alice’s and pulling her so she faced him. Her eyes were still distant, unresponsive and Blair cursed before sliding his fingertips over the pulse points on her wrists, rubbing in slow circles as he stared up at her.

 

 “Hey, Alice, honey, you can hear me. I know you can hear me and I know everything hurts right now but they can be better. C’mon, focus on my voice. You’re going to be alright.” Jim watched Alice’s pupils retract a fraction.

 

 “She’s responding,” he whispered to Blair, setting a hand on his shoulder, squeezing. He heard Blair’s relieved smile.

 

 Blair was rubbing gently at her pulse points again, letting his voice roll in time with the steady beats. “That’s it, listen to me, Alice. You’re going to be fine.” At last, Alice jerked and blinked, surprised to see Blair on his knees with her hands in his. That dazzling Sandburg smile made her flush and shift awkwardly when she realised what was happening and that everyone, the boys, Lawrence, the staff and Jim were all watching them.

 

 “Hey, welcome back,” Blair said in that gentle, utterly non-condescending tone of his that had allowed him to integrate into even the most reclusive of cultures. “You guys do any herbal teas here? Camomile based ones are best,” he asked as Lawrence came to stand at Jim’s shoulder. Lawrence nodded and gestured to one of the staff members, but did not move away himself, seeming transfixed, like everyone else. Blair, it seemed, with his non-conforming, naturalist, worldly approach knew a few tricks these scientists and government experts had yet to discover.

 

 “Alice,” he said at last, “how is your sense of touch?”

 

 Alice blinked, looking down at Blair’s hands that still had hers in a gentle hold. Upon realising, Blair let go but as he did so, she grasped for him frantically. Jim tensed but pushed back the unreasonable swell of territorial tension as he watched her hands, bitten-nails and all, trace the back of one of Blair’s hands in awe. The saline smell of tears filled the room long before they pricked her eyes. “I haven’t been able to let someone touch me for so long,” she choked, meeting Blair’s gaze. “How did you do it?”

 

 Blair smiled and patted her knee gently before carefully extracting his hand. “I just got you to relax a bit. You responded to my voice, calmed down and you’ve got a little control back. For now. I’m not saying it’ll be this easy all the time but it can be, with practice.”

 

 Alice glanced frantically from Lawrence and the boys to Blair and Jim. “Will you help me?” she pleaded, tears streaking her young face, making her look even younger than she was. “Please. Help me.”

 

 “Hey, you’re alright,” Blair said gently. “Look I’m…” He swallowed audibly, blatantly uncomfortable with her tears but also (Jim knew somehow, just knew) with the memory of their last meeting with a sentinel pulsing through his head. This girl wasn’t Alex Barnes, her presence didn’t fill Jim with a suffocating irritability and sense of claustrophobia, but she was still a sentinel and it felt wrong somehow to both of them. Blair must’ve felt Jim’s barely restrained territorial spike for he reached up to cover the hand on his shoulder reassuringly. Alice followed the movement and her entire body seemed to sink with defeat again, the glimmer of hope that’d briefly been in her eyes snuffed out.

 

 “You can’t help me, you’re someone else’s guide,” she whispered.

 

 Blair’s lips parted. “I’m…I’m Jim’s,” he agreed, his voice cracking a little in a way that made Jim’s stomach clench. That sounded good, right. I’m Jim’s. He was his. He wondered if Blair had used those particular words, simple and concise because he knew they were what Jim needed to hear. “But I don’t have to be your guide to help you. I helped Jim for a long time before either of us felt any kind of pull or anything.”

 

 Jim felt the little kick of Blair’s heart as he made that little lie of omission. They’d both felt the pull, the chemistry from the start but they hadn’t realised what it meant until now. Still Alice didn’t seem to have noticed so he let it go. “That’s why Blair is here, Alice. He’s dealt with probably the most difficult, resistant case of repression – he can teach you control, enough so that you can find the guide you’re…you know, meant to be with.”

 

 Hazel, tear-shiny eyes blinked at Jim disbelievingly, not daring to hope. “You really believe there’s a guide for everyone?” she asked, her voice a near sob. She sounded so young and vulnerable in that moment that Jim hesitated. He didn’t really believe in one person for everyone or destiny but his time with Blair had taught him that everything happened for a reason and that Blair was the only one for him, that somehow in spite of their vastly different worlds they’d found each other in the midst of chaos.

 

 “I do,” he said, honestly, watching the hope light up in the girl before him. He’d had his heart broken and he’d been lonely for a long time, but hadn’t it all lead to this? He didn’t know if he believed in souls or mystical soul-bonds for that matter but he’d felt his world shift and re-work itself around and Blair last night. If it wasn’t his soul that was bound to the man beside him then it was everything else besides, more real than any solid, tangible thing in his life. “If a stubborn, bad-tempered, introvert ass like me can find his then a pretty girl like you is bound to find theirs.”

 

 After a long moment she nodded tearfully, seeming to remember her audience as a spike of embarrassment filled the air. “Can you guys stop watching me now though? You’re both…kind of intense.” Ah, the embarrassment wasn’t entirely because of the audience then. The little twitch of approval in the middle of it told him her teenage hormones appreciated the sight of them together. It was startling, knowing this girl thought they looked good together. It brought back memories of that morning that he was entirely uncomfortable reliving with three sentinels able to smell his stimulation if it peaked.

 

 Slowly he turned back to the food on the table in front of them. “Let’s try this again then, huh?” he offered to Alice, who pulled her plate toward her sheepishly and proceeded to wolf down her food like a starved animal. Jim smiled, catching Blair’s eye as his guide resumed his seat at his side. Even out of their comfort zone and entirely out of their depth, they made a good team. Maybe they could help these sentinels, help them to help others. Just maybe.

 

 Jim took a swig of the coffee and nearly choked.

 

 “You alright, man?” Blair asked, patting his back as Jim set the mug down. Jim winced.

 

 “God, that is bad coffee, forget Maxwell House, we’re talking sewage,” Jim griped, snatching up Blair’s glass of water and downing it in one. When he caught sight of Lawrence he gestured toward the mug, “That right there, Director is the first thing you need to change. We serve better stuff than that to criminals in custody.”

 

 Director Lawrence smiled warmly.

 

*                            *                            *

 

 A deep sigh of relief left Jim’s lips as he and Blair watched Joel’s car pull away from them outside Rainier. Blair stroked Jim’s arm and smiled up at him. Apparently they’d both felt on edge in that car ride, even Joel had seemed tense. It seemed just a little too good to be true that they’d be allowed to just drive out of the SGD on their own steam.

 

 On their way out Jim had discovered that the SGD was a huge circular building wrapped around a courtyard garden space, but from the approach it looked like a sparse military base, complete with a tall metal fence that reached for the sky. It was to keep others out and away from vulnerable sentinels, they both knew that but it still made Blair shiver to think of it and it’d still felt like they were waiting to be taken out as Joel drove them carefully out of the precinct and back toward central Cascade.

 

 A quick stop at the hospital had found Megan and Simon in much better condition. Megan was unconscious but out of danger and Simon was awake, doped up to the eye-balls but coherent enough to glare at them all. In the end he’d groused that they looked like crap and dismissed them rather insistently.

 

 After taking them back to Jim’s truck at Rainier, Joel had hesitated, apparently verging on speech as they climbed out of his car. After a moment he seemed to shrug it off and just regarded them plainly through the open window. “We can handle Zellar, you guys should take a few days, do…whatever it is you need to do.” He held Jim’s gaze for a moment longer, as if daring him to argue with the condition they were in, with what they had been through and then pulled away. The silence he left behind carried with them to Jim’s truck and all the way back to 852 Prospect.

 

 “Joel seemed quiet,” Blair noted as they turned to head into the building, forced to take the stairs with the lift out of order again.

 

 “I think he was just glad to see us back alive and in one piece,” Jim said, “We had him worried there. What else would prompt him giving us 48 hours compulsory respite? I don’t think it’s because he wants our caseload. Especially all that crap with Zellar, they need everyone on board but he doesn’t want us anywhere near it…”

 

 Blair nodded, digging around in his pockets for his keys to get the door open. He could hear the guilt, the helplessness in Jim’s tone and hastened to distract him. Joel was right, neither of them should be anywhere near the Zellar case right now. Major Crimes was filled with talented detectives and the only thing he or Jim could offer their colleagues to help wrap it up now would be guilt-laced stubbornness. They’d be a disruption at best. “You know, I think Lawrence is a good man who was telling the truth, but even so, I was a bit surprised to be rolling out of there on our own steam.”

 

 With the door open they both moved in, Jim closing the door behind them and locking it audibly. He moved slowly, circling the apartment in an unhurried stalk, reclaiming his territory maybe. Blair walked into the centre of the great room and turned slowly, just taking it all in. It never ceased to amaze him how good it felt to come home, his first real home. It just didn’t feel real to be back here with Jim after their whole world had been turned on its head.

 

 A prickle of awareness at Jim’s increased proximity warned him enough that Blair didn’t jump when warm, muscled arms slid round his torso, pulling him into a hard chest. Relieved that their intimacy wasn’t going to vanish now they were home, Blair leaned back into him and covered the arms wrapped round his middle with his own.

 

 “You had that dopey look on your face again, Chief,” Jim said in his ear. His voice was still a little rough from screaming himself hoarse yesterday but it was improving and Blair relished in it as readily as the heat he felt through their clothes against his back. “What’s that all about?”

 

 “Just wondering what’s going to happen, I guess,” he admitted, staring out the glass that lead onto the balcony. It was going to rain. The sky was darkening and there was that fresh, moist scent that even he could pick up, still clinging to them from the outside.

 

 Jim’s fingers slid up over his stomach, making Blair shiver in appreciation even through the fabric of his shirt. “You don’t think Lawrence can fix things?” he asked, hot breath against Blair’s neck.

 

 “I think he can undo the damage Naomi did,” Blair assured him, “But things still won’t be the same and you know, I’m not sure I want them to be.”

 

 

 Jim hesitated to answer, not sure where Blair was going with this. He didn’t smell or feel distressed but there was definitely something momentous going on in that busy little head of his. More than the usual babble. “Yeah?” Jim asked in the end, deciding to let Blair pave the way. Joel hadn’t been the only quiet one in the car on the way home, Blair had been uncharacteristically withdrawn and that bothered him more than anything else that had gone on last night.

 

 “You know it used to be my dream to be published and get my doctorate and even tenure,” Blair said, turning to face Jim but not trying to pull away from him when Jim’s arms remained around his waist. “But you know, then I met you and everything I thought I wanted changed.” He smiled that stunning smile that left Jim breathless for a moment. He caressed Blair’s back with his thumbs as he studied him, seeing the truth there, the adoration and worship he couldn’t remember doing enough to deserve.

 

 Not even his parents had ever put him at the centre of their universe, much less revolved around him and been glad for it.

 

 “I love teaching and working alongside people like Eli Stoddard, hell I loved working with indigenous cultures and I mean, I’m not even thirty and I’ve seen so much, more than most people ever get to see in a lifetime,” Blair continued, his spark rekindling, fidgeting slightly where he stood, gripping the fabric of Jim’s jacket rather than gesture emphatically. “I’ve loved my life but now I want to do something different and I think…I think that’s okay.”

 

 Jim nodded thoughtfully. He’d felt like a bit of a drop-out, a quitter when he’d left the army but he’d long since realised that sometimes one door closes for a reason and that didn’t mean you were giving up on your dreams. He didn’t smell a hint of uncertainty in his partner’s scent and that appeased any doubt he had. “I just don’t want you to feel like you have to give up everything for me,” Jim said roughly, “You deserve better than that, Chief.”

 

 Blair’s smile twisted in fond amusement at the corners. “It’s not giving up on the big book of life, just a new chapter,” he assured him, buzzing with that characteristic excitement that chased away the last of Jim’s reservations. Blair gripped his jacket more urgently. “I saw how we helped that girl, Alice, today. I want to study sentinels, I want to help them, Jim, I want to…you know, make a difference – both at the police department with you and out at SGD with them. I think I can make more discoveries and have more impact on the world doing this. I want to.”

 

 Nodding again, Jim let his hands slide up Blair’s back then down again, stroking his hips thoughtfully. “So you’re just going to hand in your resignation at Rainier?” he asked.

 

 “Nah, I’ve been stalling my thesis for years, Jim, I can push to get it finished and, you know, hopefully get my doctorate before I go,” he lifted his eyebrows. “Dr Blair Sandburg is just within reach, I can do it easy. No problem. If the SGD fix this mess enough, that is. I dunno what they have in mind but my whole plan kind of hangs on me still being able to use my thesis. I’m not sure if I’d be allowed to submit it as it stands.” He frowned then, apparently uncertain but before Jim could say a word the sharp digital trill of the phone cut through the conversation.

 

 Giving Blair’s hips a final squeeze, he headed for the phone and lifted it from the stand. “Ellison,” he muttered distractedly, shrugging off his jacket simultaneously.

 

 “Jim,” Joel’s voice barked down the phone. “As soon as I got in they told me to ring you – turn your set on – sharp!”

 

 Frowning, Jim gestured at Blair toward the TV as a ripple of anticipation bled through him. Blair took the hint, turning on the set. He was about to ask Joel what channel they should switch to when he realised the question was redundant. A female reporter, one he recognised from harassing him and Blair before was on the news. “…Sandburg’s mysterious disappearance at the conference yesterday. Chief Krauss came forward earlier to put our minds at rest concerning this matter.”

 

 The screen flicked to the same conference room Blair had been dragged from yesterday, but now with none other than Director Lawrence at the podium, apparently under the guise of another city official. Jim stared with his jaw slightly open, coming forward to rest his hands on the back of the sofa Blair had nearly collapsed onto, also staring at the TV set.

 

 “…it’s a great crime,” Lawrence said, rolling effortlessly on a convincing, sympathetic tangent. “The thesis stolen and butchered, the facts, names and some of the very subject matter tampered with and then ‘leaked’ in an attempt to do damage to the reputation and careers of both Mr Sandburg and Detective Ellison.

 

 “We are not certain right now if this was an act of a jealous colleague at the university, the sabotage of a criminal trying to cause a distraction from a live case we are working on, perhaps even an attempt to discredit the evidence that brought down a prisoner Detective Ellison apprehended. All we know for certain is that the interference caused by this so-called ‘exposure’ has caused chaos to the professional and personal lives of both these men, who many citizens of Cascade owe their lives to.”

 

 “Mr Krauss!” cried a reporter from the crowd. “Are you saying that everything in that publication was a lie regarding Detective Ellison? That Blair Sandburg never wrote that thesis on him?”

 

 Lawrence lied easily; convincingly disappointed in the imaginary perpetrator. “I am indeed. Blair Sandburg’s thesis was completely different to the one that was leaked. I have seen the original and I hope that Rainier University will overlook this tragic attempt at sabotage and allow him to submit the modern exploration into ‘sentinels’ as he had originally planned. Rules have been broken, certainly but not by Mr Sandburg. A man who has given so much to the community deserves more than this and he has our full support in finding a resolution for this.” He gave a winning smile and many of the crowd tittered in appreciation.

 

 Lawrence was a natural politician, a master of the people if ever there was one. Jim wasn’t even sure if it was his words so much as his manner, his entire disposition that just urged you to believe what he was saying. He was doing it. He was making good of his promise. Behind this little display Jim had no doubt the feds at his disposal were tampering with evidence at Rainier and Cascade PD both, fixing things to their liking. It was so corrupt and such a classic example of how easily distorted the truth was by the government but this time, it was in their favour. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He watched with bated breath.

 

 “But Mr Krauss, it is fact that Blair Sandburg acts as an observer to the police department. If what you’re saying is true, that someone bastardised his thesis to cause trouble for him or Detective Ellison and the subject matter is nonsense, then what is Blair Sandburg doing there, if not making observations for a thesis?”

 

 Lawrence looked serious. “Blair Sandburg did write a paper related to the police department. It can be found in Rainier University Library and revolves around I believe, social structure within the closed society of the police department.”

 

 Blair’s head whipped up to Jim before refocusing on the television. “Oh my God, that…I did write that but it was just something I churned out, never published, never showed to anyone. It just sat on a disk on my desk at the U. I never even submitted it for… Man, do you think his people dragged it up and used it as cover?” He dragged a thumb over his lips, over and over and Jim watched him for a while, still listening to the TV.

 

 “After his invaluable contribution and outstanding work with the department, it was brought to the attention of myself and others at the Cascade Police that Blair Sandburg could be a useful member of the department. We believe his skills in anthropology give Major Crimes the edge they need when dealing with the individuals involved in their cases. He has had a permanent residency as Detective Ellison’s partner with full credentials for some time now and he has more than earned them.”

 

 “Mr Krauss!” A female reporter called this time. “At this time, who do you personally believe is behind this? A criminal with something to hide, a convicted perpetrator with a grudge or a jealous academic?”

 

 Lawrence nodded thoughtfully. “I honestly couldn’t say without more evidence. Whoever the culprit is, they must have had incredible resources to access Mr Sandburg’s secured documentation. Currently there are a few suspects that were on Detective Ellison’s case load who we believed he was closing in on; this may have been a clever act of desperation. We are looking into it as we speak…” He continued, spinning a clever web that grew more in depth and realistic with every word, until Jim even found himself half believing it all.

 

 “Clever little liars, these feds,” he said with half-hearted admiration. It was a dangerous appreciation, not unlike the grudging appreciative respect he held for Gustavo. He shook his head, fingers gripping the back of the sofa. “So that’s it then? You just tweak your thesis so it looks different enough to the original and then submit it? I can go back to work? It’s all smoothed over?” It seemed too good to be true. There would always be people who doubted of course, who suspected but with the majority believing it was an elaborate hoax and with the idea of heightened senses so fantastical in itself, it couldn’t pose much problem, especially with someone like Lawrence on their side.

 

 “Man you saw him, they ate it up,” Blair said distractedly, thumb still gliding over his lower lip, probably thinking of all the University staff that had been silenced. Some people must’ve seen outlined or drafts for Blair’s actual thesis, after all. Jim could see Blair considering the lengths Lawrence had gone to visibly registering in his expression. At least he thought he did.

 

 Jim frowned, coming around to take a seat on the coffee table and set his hands on Blair’s knees. “Hey, Chief, what’s with the face?”

 

 Blair blinked, finally releasing his lip. “Sorry I just…” His heart kicked with excitement. “Man, did you hear that? Permanent. I can…we can work together, permanently. I can get my doctorate. I can work with you even after it’s finished and I can study sentinels and do some real good. No going back to the merry-go-round, I’m on the full-speed rollercoaster all the way, Ellison style.”

 

 He was beaming and fidgeting even where he sat, swiping his hand through the air in a rollercoaster impression. When he caught Jim’s bemused expression though, he grinned sheepishly and dragged the gesturing hand through his hair. “Man, sorry I just…for so long I’ve put the thesis on hold because I knew, I knew the second I submitted I’ve have to stop working with you. I thought for so long that I might lose you and now, well…” He trailed off, a little embarrassed apparently now his rambling had ceased, his cheeks colouring a little.

 

The danger was over – or at least lulled into soft submission in a dark corner to grow dust for now. This was all that mattered.

 

 Jim watched the colour suffuse Blair’s cheeks and gripped his partner’s knees a little more firmly, sliding forward so his hands were splayed on his denim-clad thighs. He could feel the heat even through the fabric and he saw Blair’s eyes flick to his mouth, then back to meet his gaze again. “Now we can’t be separated,” Jim finished for him, voice low, leaning forward slightly.

 

 In the background Lawrence was still charming the world into believing his pretty lies, an engine stuttered to life on the street below and cars rolled by, low, humming, rhythmic. Above it all he could hear Blair’s heart thudding just a little faster than normal, his breathing sounding different as it reached out toward him at the same time Blair moistened his lips.

 

 The tiniest fleck of moisture clung to Blair’s upper lip as he parted them slightly, then vanished. The light from the balcony silhouetted around him, the dark backdrop of the stormy sky a thick, smoky-grey that still played soft, coppery hues across Blair’s hair. “Turn the TV off,” he murmured to Blair without moving an inch himself. He watched those blue eyes, darkened with desire blink once, twice, lashes dusting those cheeks before Blair seemed to process his words, fumbling for the remote and turning the TV off.

 

 Outside, thunder rumbled its warning and rain erupted from the skies, pounding pleasantly against the glass. The smell of rain clearing the air whisked through his nose, filtering through sandalwood, shampoo, coffee and everything else that made up Blair’s scent. Jim leant in, tasting his scent before finally tasting those lips, a slow, sensual slide. He massaged that mouth with his own, bearing Blair back into the sofa, setting a knee between his thighs on the edge to balance himself and bracing an arm on the backrest.

 

 Blair’s tongue flicked out, challenging him. The storm outside grumbled in approval, like the beast that lurked in Jim’s dreams and he made a soft groan of appreciation back as Blair’s hands tugged open his shirt. They slipped into his trousers, just enough to tug his shirt out and push it off Jim’s shoulders as their lips continued to massage the other with wet, perfect fluidity. His shirt shuddered to the floor in a ripple of fabric that made Jim shiver and those fingers grazed his shoulder-blades, his back, as if learning the muscle and flesh there and committing it to memory.

 

 Lightning flashed outside, followed by a roll of thunder and Jim felt his world fade, felt sight swamp him with that fleeting explosion of nature. Before everything bleared into that yellow-tinted flash, Blair’s fingers slid round his waist, tugging at his belt for the second time in twenty-four hours, drawing him back. Blair’s gaze was turned down, focussed on caressing the flesh of Jim’s stomach as he worked his belt open. He either hadn’t noticed the zone and his mere proximity had easily called Jim back without effort or even conscious thought, or he’d known his closeness would bring Jim back and he hadn’t been concerned. Any musings were dashed from Jim’s mind as Blair tugged his jeans open enough at last, palm brushing against his boxers and massaging his swollen cock still trapped within.

 

 “God, Blair,” Jim groaned, the sound sending a tremor of musky pleasure through his partner, who finally looked up at him again. He stroked him harder through his underwear, arching enough that his own clothed cock grinded into Jim’s thigh. Jim caught a few curls with the hand braced on the back of the sofa and let the smooth silky texture dance in his fingertips as he shifted so Blair could ride his thigh. At the same time, he rolled his own hips into the feel of Blair’s hand.

 

 The lightning flashed again and he didn’t even notice this time, dipping to catch Blair’s mouth in a swift but urgent kiss, as if he’d forgotten what he tasted like for a moment and couldn’t bear it for a second longer. Even though that was impossible. He could never forget. He’d remember this man’s smell, his taste even if he forgot his own name. Sighing in relief at having him here at last in their own territory, Jim, forced himself to draw back, enough to kick off his shoes, socks and jeans. As he reached for the waistband of his boxers, he gestured with a nod of his head to the stairs. “I want you upstairs.”

 

 A pulse of musk added to the philtre of scents and Blair moistened his lips again before bolting to his feet. He whipped from sight and Jim pushed down his boxers, inhaling sharply, reaching out with every sense into his surroundings. When he opened eyes he hadn’t remembered closing, he followed his instincts round the perimeter, listening out, scenting the air, tracing every possible threat as he circled the apartment until he found himself at the base of the stairs. A trail of Blair’s clothing lead upward. At the back of his mind, he knew that should irritate him but it only reminded him that this was Blair and he only wanted it more.

 

 Ascending the stairs, he let his palm trace the balustrade, feeling the traces left behind by Blair’s skin, smelling fire and thickening arousal as he reached the top of the stairs. Candles burned along the ledges. They were always present, used more for meditation or relaxation lately than anything else but he wondered how long he’d been prowling the perimeter if Blair had had time to light them all. They cast a warm glow on the upper floor thanks to the murky weather outside. A flickering dance of shadow and light played across the canvas of the bed and Blair’s bare skin, even with the muted light the clouds hadn’t snuffed out coming in through the windows.

 

 Blair was lying back against the sheets, watching Jim with pleasure-lidded eyes and intrigue, apparently not in the least bit put off by Jim’s little instinct-driven detour. On the contrary it seemed to please him, infinitely. They’d have to talk about that later. Much later.

 

 “You undressed,” Jim noted.

 

 Blair rolled onto his knees at the edge of the bed and threw an arm round Jim’s neck, pulling him in and down until they were crashing back onto sheets that only smelled of candles and their fabric softener. There was nothing between them now. Lightning flashed again, painting the room in all its glory before vanishing. Jim smoothed his hand down Blair’s face, brushing the wayward curls from it and then stroking them in their turn.

 

 “You really have a thing about the hair, man,” Blair mused breathlessly but obviously pleased. Jim smirked, not denying it, dipping his head down to taste the smooth-shaven jaw, to follow the hard lines up to mouth tauntingly at an ear that sent heat rushing through his partner’s body. Blair jerked and scraped his fingers at Jim’s chest, at his scalp and at the same time Jim dragged his fingertips through the soft chest hair, following the trail down, down.

 

 Fuck. It was all lean male hardness, hair-smattered flesh that tickled and dark nipples and subtle muscle tone among it. He stopped short at Blair’s abdomen and felt it jerk with desperate breaths. His best friend’s cock was throbbing right next to his hand, so close he could feel its heat and it was so startling still, so new and terrifying but it didn’t make him ache for wanting it any less. He felt fear still his own movements, but Blair didn’t smell of fear. It was all Jim. He felt fear at how much he wanted his best friend and how spectacularly it could go wrong in so many ways. Fear-based life choices, Blair had said that’s what he’d made before, hadn’t he? They weren’t an option now.

 

 Blair groaned in impatience. “Man, you dick, don’t…don’t tease,” he panted and Jim smirked, tongue toying with the loops in his ear before lowering to prod at the sensitive bruises he’d left last night. He liked that. A little too much. Marking his territory. Blair’s hand gripped his short hair firmly and he grunted at the small spark of pain, dialling up touch a little so he could test his enjoyment of the pleasurable burn.

 

 Every inch of Blair’s body was alive under him, contorting with need for him. He revelled in it. He was still expecting a ripple of unease or awkwardness at touching a man but it never came. Instincts, adrenaline and the intimacy-high from the out of body experience they’d shared had carried them over any hesitation the first time and now it was nowhere to be found. Just Blair, who he’d always touched more than anyone else, with whom he had no need for personal space.

 

 “What do you want?” Jim asked, his hand flat on Blair’s stomach as he moved lower. His mouth found a hard tanned bud and Blair cried out, reaching for Jim’s cock and stroking with clumsy but ready strokes. Needy, wanting. Jim sucked hard then grazed his teeth over the stiff peak, tongue flicking out to soothe the scrape before biting again. His lips trekked across a trail of hair to the other nipple. “Tell me what to do,” he urged his partner. He was full of want and hunger but he wanted more, wanted direction.

 

 Blair pressed a thumb across the leaking slit of Jim’s cock, spreading the moisture across the shaft with his next stroke and fisting him urgently. Jim cried out against his skin, muffled and guttural.

 

 “I want…” Blair panted for a moment, apparently losing his train of thought briefly. He tugged more firmly on Jim’s erection, this time with insistence and Jim followed it, moving up at Blair’s silent instruction until he was kneeling between Blair’s legs, their cocks aligned and pressed together in the grasp of Blair’s fingers. Instinctively, Jim’s hand slid across the sheets to grasp Blair’s free one, nose dragging across Blair’s cheek and this time it was Blair’s mouth that found his pulse at his throat.

 

 “Bring your sense of touch up for me,” Blair urged huskily, mouthing at Jim’s neck. As Jim did as he bid, a zing of electric fire rushed through him from the place those lips caressed him, where a hot tongue taunted and lips sucked. Firm. Possessive. He punched his hips forward into Blair’s hand, feeling those fingers, that hard, throbbing hardness against his, soft but firm and perfect. His mind spun.

 

 “Chief,” he managed roughly, “Blair…”

 

 “Mmm,” Blair replied nonsensically, his heart thundering. He stroked both their cocks harder now. His mouth rested against Jim’s chin. “Have you got…you know, anything?” He whispered against the stubbly skin.

 

 Through the fog of arousal, Jim frowned. Then realisation struck. He had a vague idea of where this was going, though he wasn’t entirely sure of which direction. His body thought either way sounded pretty good right now as long as Blair didn’t stop. Thunder rumbled, that, the rain and the world outside the perfect background symphony.

 

 “I…some massage oil, in the drawer it’s…” His words veered off into a groan as their bodies rolled together, squeezing their cocks between them. He didn’t want to think about what he’d used that oil for with other women. “We can use it,” he managed. Blair’s amused but aroused chuckle vibrated just under his mouth, the tickling sensation tempting Jim’s lips down to claim it. When Blair’s tongue flicked against his, dragging along the length before teasing the tip, Jim shifted. His hips settled just right to rut against Blair’s cock, their damp bodies pressing in tight, Blair’s thighs gripping his hips hard, the scrape of the light hair there wonderful against Jim’s skin. For that moment, for this time, he knew what he wanted, needed.

 

 “You said you’d…play the supporting role for me?” Jim murmured against that mouth, tasting the groan that danced over them in response to his words. It wasn’t the right term, it didn’t sound quite right. He didn’t think Blair would be any less significant or less masculine for being in that position, but Blair had used that phrase earlier with such a playful light in his eyes and Jim didn’t know how else to phrase it without making it sound crude. “Let me lead?” he tried huskily. That felt a bit better on his tongue.

 

 “Yeah?” Blair asked, the question carrying so many emotions within. “You want…?” Still so oddly unaware of his own self-worth, Jim noted, even now. He kissed Blair soundly, rocking his cock against the sticky shaft beneath his a final time before reluctantly pushing up. Blair’s body shone with a light sheen of sweat in the candle-light and Jim watched his chest rise and fall, his cock hard and swollen against his stomach, eyes bright, before reaching for the side table and pulling out the bottle within.

 

 “You’re seriously asking if I want to fuck you?” he asked teasingly, eyebrows lifting as he warmed the bottle of oil in his hands.

 

 Blair pushed up onto his elbows, shameless and eager on the bed, eyeing the lines of Jim’s body with thoughtful hunger. “It’s not…not everyone wants to, that’s all. Plenty of guys have sex without doing that. I wasn’t sure if you’d want to.”

 

 Jim studied him. “You want to?” he asked, just in case he’d misinterpreted.

 

 Blair beamed. “Man, I want to,” he assured him. “Do you, uh, know what to do?” he asked carefully.

 

 “I’ve done it to a woman before,” Jim said with a shrug. Blair made a face. “Sorry,” Jim said, leaning down over him, tipping some oil into his hand before sealing the bottle and laying it on the bed. He dragged his slick hand over Blair’s needy, flushed cock and felt it pulse, felt the heat and need there, felt Blair relax a little as he manipulated the little line of flesh beneath the head. “I just meant I know what to do. I won’t hurt you.”

 

 Blair rocked his hips up into that hand, letting his body loose and roll with every admiring caress. “I… You know what a prostate is, right?” He evidently saw Jim’s frown, even through the haze of arousal because he laughed softly and shook his head. “You’ll know what I mean. Just…take it easy, I’ve never been on this end of it before.”

 

 “Only for me,” Jim remembered, far too pleased with that, but at least a flicker of the Sandburg smile told him Blair was pleased with that too. The soft laughter still ringing in his ears made this easier somehow. They were intense, intimate, connected but their initial playful chemistry was still there as well. Stroking that thick, cut, heavy shaft a final time he slid his hand down, cupping swollen balls briefly before dragging oily fingers up and down the crease beneath. Blair shuddered. Jim groaned at the heat of him, the tight furl of muscles clenching. He’d thought it would be weird but it was just another part of Blair and he wanted all of it.

 

 “God,” he breathed, stroking his finger across the tight muscle – testing, teasing. His own cock pulsed in reaction, in appreciation, every bit as much as it ever had for any girl he’d touched between her legs. Only more, because he’d never felt for them what he felt now. “Blair.” It was still startling, the depth of those feelings out in the open.

 

 Blair was surprisingly smooth down there. Jim shifted onto his belly between Blair’s legs, inwardly purring in approval as they opened readily for him. He held that gaze briefly, before letting his nose trail against Blair’s stomach, sniffing, nuzzling the little soft hairs there before moving down over the length of his cock.

 

 “S-Shit, Jim!” Blair cried out, hands fisting in the sheets and hips tensing as they struggled not to punch up. Jim smiled against him, dragging his nose and lips up and down in maddening repetitive motions, at the same time circling the tight bud of muscle with an oil slick fingertip. It shuddered at his touch and smoothed, sucking him in eagerly when he pushed just a little.

 

 The heat was overwhelming. It sent a rush pulsing through Jim’s entire body and he groaned as he sank the digit in with a slow, continuous movement, burying himself to the knuckle. He panted as if he were the one being invaded, sliding the fingers of his free hand down Blair’s side, eliciting little goosebumps on the flesh he caressed on his way down. Finally he grasped Blair’s cock, stroking firmly, lifting his head to hold that gaze as he guided it to his lips.

 

 Almost obsidian eyes flared and those lips parted with a groan as his tongue circled the exposed, purple tip. It was a subtle, musky, clean taste. Blair’s fingers slid into his short hair, nails grazing his scalp encouragingly and Jim closed his eyes, feeling oddly exposed and vulnerable. His tongue curled under the glans as he twisted his finger, drawing it in and out with debauched wet sucking noises that only he could hear.

 

 Blair’s heart spiked for a moment and his fingers tightened in Jim’s hair, if only briefly. Jim dared to blink up at him again. Blair’s eyes were shut now, face flushed, relishing in the pleasure Jim was giving him and apparently oblivious to all else. Jim studied him, all senses reaching out as he sank his finger in again, spreading the oil deep, then curling it back.

 

 There.

 

 Blair’s heart gave a spasm, his cock leaked a sticky bead of pre-come onto Jim’s tongue and his fingers twitched against the back of Jim’s head. There it was. He stroked an oily fingertip back and forth across the minute indentation, circling teasingly, caressing, dragging out rapid bursts of breath and gasping cries barely audible even to him. He dipped his head, lifting it back up again in time with his slow thrusts, not awkward any longer or caring about being exposed, not when Blair’s body was singing under his.

 

 The tight heat around him softened, even as it clenched greedily with each glancing caress to the knot inside. The next time Jim drew his finger back, he sank two back in. Blair didn’t tense, but his thighs tipped in either side of Jim’s shoulders. The light hair there dragged perfectly against his skin. Jim gave a surprised groan at the rush that sign of masculinity sent through him and he sucked greedily at the shaft in his mouth, all while his fingers urged Blair to open to him.

 

 Jaw aching, Jim let his tongue flutter against the invisible but pulsing veins at the underside as he drew back, letting his hand stroke the perfect hardness instead, slick with his spit.  Blair was watching him again and the look in those eyes made Jim’s own neglected erection leak messily against the sheets.

 

 “Have you ever…?” he asked, voice rough and low. The image of Blair’s full lips around his cock was nearly his undoing.

 

 Blair beamed, the expression lazy with arousal. “Man, I’d do you like a pro right now if I could.”

 

 Jim smirked, stroking him faster, fingers twisting a little more firmly now as the muscles softened easily, wet and ready. One more. He slowed the movement of his wrist when he felt Blair’s muscles tense as his orgasm approached, sliding three fingers in, slow but deep.

 

 Blair did tense this time, all over but he still smiled lazily back at him, thighs gripping Jim’s shoulders, fingers sliding down the side of Jim’s face in assurance. “I’m not used to just…lying here,” Blair admitted and Jim considered him. He didn’t seem worried or upset, perhaps a little out of his depth. Jim understood how he felt. They were both floundering in unfamiliar water, gripping each other frantically, trying to stay afloat and not drown each other. He swept his thumb across the leaking slit of his prick in reward, ensuring the next slow, sinking push of his fingers glanced the place that made Blair’s heart stutter.

 

 “Sometimes it’s nice. Maybe next time you can show me what it’s like,” he promised huskily.

 

 Blair’s ass clenched around him.

 

 “Oh man, that image…” Blair groaned, rolling his hips into Jim without reservation now. It hadn’t been discomfort in being on the bottom then, at least not entirely – apparently just a niggling fear that Jim wasn’t on the same page as him. They’d shared so many thoughts and uncertainties, fears and memories in that spiritual plain that it almost felt foreign to have misunderstandings between them. All the tension seemed to drain from the room. They understood each other completely. They were partners, equals, even in this. Blair fucked his cock into Jim’s fist a final time before groaning in equal parts pleasure and resignation as he turned, enough to dislodge Jim’s hand from his cock but not enough to stop the steady, inevitable push-drag perfection spreading the oil inside his body.

 

 Jim groaned at the sight and feel of lean muscles tight and turning, then Blair was on his knees, resting his forearms on one of the lower horizontal bars of balustrade the bed was pressed up against. He glanced back over his shoulder at Jim, hair in wondrous disarray, the muscles in his shoulders tight. “C’mon, man. Give it to me.” That low baritone made Jim’s breath come out ragged as he shifted up to his knees behind Blair.

 

 When he drew his fingers back, he watched with hunger as the flushed pink hole clenched around nothing, open, shiny with oil and waiting. He dragged his fingers across Blair’s cheeks, spreading him, feeling him, watching him. The storm rumbled outside, like the beast inside and he squeezed, enough to leave little white marks on Blair’s skin.

 

 “Jim,” Blair whispered, his fingers white-knuckled on the railing now. His cock hung between his legs, throbbing and aching. Jim felt that all the way through his bones. He slid his hands up Blair’s back, tracing the sweat-damp skin up to his shoulders and then back down his sides until he gripped Blair’s hips. An edge of almost feral desperation dragged at the next word to leave Blair’s lips, to echo into the hollow formed between his body and the sheets. “Hurry.”

 

 Jim reached for the side drawer again and Blair made a low, desperate sound.

 

 “Don’t sentinel senses have a hard time with those things?” Blair asked, voice all fuzzy round the edges. When Jim didn’t answer, Blair craned his neck so dilated eyes fixed on him. “I’m safe if you are.” It was a redundant statement of course, Jim would’ve sensed it if there were any danger, he wondered if Blair realised that? It was just habit, to suit up and common sense in most cases. But sometimes they did make getting off a struggle, did distract him, sometimes (depending on the brand) even hurt him and if Blair wanted

 

 Jim swallowed, running his thumb across the puckered, pink entrance waiting for him once more. He didn’t want anything between them, least of all the itchy scrape of cloying latex. He snatched up the bottle of oil, spreading some over himself. The exquisite wet caress made him shudder and he stroked his foreskin up and over the slick head, back and forth. Blair shifted his knees wider and when Jim looked up, dark eyes were watching him hungrily. He smirked playfully at his audience.

 

 “Like your view, Sandburg?”

 

 “Man, I am so over clichés but I’m not sure you’ll fit,” Blair gasped, only half-joking, if the tone of his voice was anything to go by.

 

 Jim’s expression was feral at the challenge and he dripped a thick trail of slippery oil down the valley between Blair’s cheeks, watching his entrance clench at the teasing slide. Jim’s pleasure and senses spiralled as he watched the clear fluid slide down, drip over Blair’s full, heavy balls. Leaning forward, he brushed the swollen head of his cock against them, catching the drip and dragging it back up, rubbing it into the quivering orifice. He groaned at that moist heat against the tip of his prick and let the oily hand not guiding his cock up and down over Blair’s hole reach out to splay down his side.

 

 “You’re so hot, Chief,” Jim murmured, pressing just enough so he could feel Blair’s muscles stretching, pulsing around his glans. His skin was on fire, his insides were burning up. Blair groaned and pushed back, head bowed again but arms steady and strong, all the leverage he needed to sink back and swallow Jim up with a steady, slow push.

 

 “Fuck,” Blair groaned, low and strained but appreciative too. Jim’s hand scrabbled at his hip, gripping hard and stopping him half-way down.

 

 Tight, impossibly soft heat enveloped him, strong and slick and he felt everything spiral out of his control. Digging his fingers into that skin, he tried to ground himself, his cock throbbing, Blair’s insides shuddering at the overwhelming intimacy of the invasion. Blair was breathing hard. Jim could see his fingers tightening in the sheets.

 

 “Am I hurting you?” Jim managed through the fog of sensation, concentrating all his lingering awareness on flattening his palm and caressing the small of his partner’s back. “Blair?”

 

 “Uhhh,” Blair groaned huskily, shifting his hips side to side slightly. “Yes, but don’t stop, want…” He shifted back again, taking the last few inches in and panting as he did so, his muscles clenching then relaxing, welcoming Jim inside with greedy reverence.

 

 “God, Blair, baby that’s…” Jim’s voice was not his own and it cut off as he found himself pressed tight against the firm round globes of Blair’s ass. He didn’t know if he collapsed or if he was driven down over Blair’s back in sheer need. His fingers scrambled in the sheets to wrap around Blair’s, entwine them together as the oily fingers of his other hand slid up that neck, tilting Blair’s head to the side at an angle that drew his throat taut and let Jim catch his mouth in a desperate fumbling of tongue and teeth.

 

 They started moving together without anything more between them. Jim barely withdrew, just rocked his hips against Blair, drawing back the barest amount before grinding back in again. His chest slid against Blair’s oil-smattered back, nipples hard and pressed into those shoulders that seemed to try and roll back to catch him as well as hold his cock inside. There wasn’t even air to separate them. Jim’s fingers gripped Blair’s throat on instinct, firm but gentle, holding him to their kiss and Blair groaned into him, the vibration carrying through Jim’s fingers. He bit at Jim’s lip in firm approval, rocking his hips back harder.

 

 Whenever one of them parted to gasp for air the other would drag them back in, Blair’s arm reaching back to loop around Jim’s neck and holding him there when he allowed more than a few breaths of air to come between them. The noises coming from the body below Jim sounded as feral as he felt, lost completely in a cloud of need to be buried inside each other in every way possible.

 

 At last the awkward angle broke and Blair chased a line of spittle down Jim’s jaw, grazing the flesh with his teeth and lips before sinking down until his shoulders were pressed against the sheets. The position pushed his hips hard up against Jim, who gripped his hips again with one hand, knotting the fingers of the other in dishevelled dark curls. Blair’s pleasure spiked at the grip and Jim gripped harder, enough to turn his head to he could still catch glimpses of his face as he continued to move within him.

 

 Blair was grinding back onto him hard now, Jim drawing back a little more so dirty, perfect sounds of their bodies meeting filled the air loud enough for Blair to hear. His thrusts were longer, faster. Then Blair shifted his knees, pushing his ass up high into Jim’s hips and when Jim plunged into him again a guttural masculine cry ripped through the air, echoing softly through the loft.

 

 “There, there, there,” Blair grunted with a desperation so intense it sounded as if he’d fall to pieces if Jim didn’t comply. “Oh man, there, don’t you stop, Ellison.”

 

 Growling back, heat tightening his belly, Jim ground his hips in and down, the pulsing head of his prick gliding against a little bump inside that Blair was fucking frantically against him. He could feel it so clearly now, just as he could feel Blair hungry, ferocious and insatiable. He cored Blair open with every thrust, pounding into the place that was unleashing the beast in the man beneath him, until they clashed together on this plain and the next.

 

 “Right there?” Jim taunted back, driving them hard and fast toward the edge. He put some of his weight on the hand knotted in the hair at the nape of Blair’s neck, just enough to let him feel it and grinned breathlessly as moist inner muscles clenched around him in approval.

 

 Suddenly Blair pushed up onto his hands again, shifted until he was kneeling up with his back flush against Jim’s chest, scrambling for grip on Jim’s neck. Awkward, desperate sideways kisses punctuated his words. “Need…want to…on your back,” he managed, even though he made no move to separate them to make it possible. Their bodies were still undulating together, shallow now because of the angle, muscles sticking with perspiration.

 

 “My back?” Jim breathed against a flushed ear, tonguing the loops there in the lobe and sucking gently. “Why don’t you put me where you want me, Sandburg, if you can?” he challenged huskily. The reaction was instant. Blair gave a throaty groan before catching one of Jim’s wrists, pushing back hard until they moved one hundred and eighty degrees. Jim landed roughly on his back on the sheets Blair had just been face down in. Blair knelt over his hips, breathing hard as he reached back, guiding Jim back inside him with simple efficacy and sinking down in one long movement, letting gravity pull them together.

 

 Blair’s head tipped back for a moment as they rejoined and Jim reached up to trail his fingers over his exposed throat. Grasping either side of his partner’s face, he dragged him down to lock their mouths. Only when their mouths clashed with mutual grunts of satisfaction, Blair’s hands caught his and pushed them back into the sheets, bracing all his weight on them. Blair beamed down at him devilishly and rocked against him.

 

 Everything spiralled. Jim tensed his arms but didn’t try very hard to escape, not when Blair was fucking hard down on him, taking every inch of him as if he had the right to. He did. Jim gave him that right with pleasure. He arched up into him, meeting every one of Blair’s movements. He felt when he glided over that place that made Blair’s pulse sing and pushed hard, deep fast up into it. The legs around his and the arms pinning him down were trembling slightly, their mouths barely touching as they panted against each other.

 

 Blair’s brow was furrowed with desperation, his hips gyrating without ever really lifting now, concentrating on the heated swell of pleasure within and burning him and Jim up along with it. Giving a snarl of lust, Jim threw off one of Blair’s hands, reaching down to grasp his lover’s purpled, leaking cock where it slapped against his stomach. He twisted his wrist, stroking, urging Blair’s peaking orgasm from him.

 

 “That’s it, give it up for me,” he panted, tugging at the tender line of flesh beneath the glossy head, squeezing his palm around the glans with each swift thrust.

 

 Blair’s eyes flared before slamming shut and his hips gave a spasm as he tried to fuck Jim through it. His inner muscles, slick and pliant gripped Jim tight as his cock spat his orgasm over Jim’s fist. He couldn’t seem to stop moving, milking himself dry, not wanting it to stop and yet shaking with it. Jim pushed him over without breaking contact, bearing him into the king-sized bed and chasing his own orgasm deep in Blair’s body.

 

 Groaning heavily, he sucked at the already bruised throat, sliding in fast, deep, relentlessly. Their bodies were touching from neck to foot as they twined together tight, Blair still panting out his post-orgasmic bliss into the loft. Jim’s senses were shuddering as if charged with electricity. They reached out, touching the tendrils of thunder still lingering on the edge of the city, all the way back to the centre of his universe, the rapid heart, uneven breathing, sweaty male skin, semen and Blair. Sucking hard, Jim felt it all tighten like a noose around his core before bursting at last, letting him pour into the body beneath him until they were limp and sated, useless on the bed.

 

 The rain pattered lightly on the windows now, the candles crackling. Jim hummed as he slid off Blair enough to pull him over onto an unsoiled side of the bed. Blair moved with him readily, everything steadying slowly in jelly-like limbs. “Whew!” Blair exclaimed, his voice tired but bright. “That was something, Jim.” He glanced over his shoulder at Jim from where he lay on his side, back to Jim and the expression on his face ensured Jim that contact was as welcome as it ever was with women after sex. He slid his arm round Blair’s torso, hand flat over Blair’s steadily thudding heart as he pulled him back against his body until they were spooning tightly together.

 

 “Man you smell good,” Blair added, head resting on Jim’s upper arm, relaxed and stretching his muscles as if testing for soreness. Jim relished in the little ripple of movement against his body for the sake of it, dragging the hand that’d been hovering near Blair’s head through messy curls.

 

 “Likewise,” Jim promised, “are you hurt?”

 

 “Mmm, nah, sore but…well it’s a good kind,” Blair said, a small smile audible in his words even with his back to Jim. “I’ll show you next time.”

 

 “You bet,” Jim agreed softly, sleepily. Whether it was his blessed protector instincts or the rush of endorphins or something else, he’d always liked contact after sex like that but before he had always relished in quiet contact. This was intimacy of its own kind, him quietly tracking every sound, sight and sensation from Blair’s body, drifting slowly back down while Blair, of course, chattered. He smiled and stroked that hair back from Blair’s face as he listened.

 

 “…because I never thought it’d be that good, being on the receiving end, you know? But then, maybe it depends on the partner,” he finished wistfully.

 

 Jim squeezed him in answer. Then realised the following silence meant that Blair wanted a little something more by way of reply. “I’ve done a lot of things with a lot of girls, Chief and none of it can even compare to that. Either it depends on the partner or you’re Casanova.”

 

 Blair laughed. “Ah, you know all my secrets,” he mused, rolling onto his other side so he could meet Jim’s eyes. “Well, one you probably didn’t know was that I can’t stop talking you know, after, which girls generally dig but guys…”

 

 “You? Talkative after sex? What a complete shock.”

 

 That Sandburg smile answered his teasing sarcasm. “I wonder if your senses and our connection made it more intense for you, you know? I mean I’m not even the sentinel here, I’m just the guide and I thought my whole world was on fire there for a second. Of course some of that could be sensation of orgasm multiplied through prostate stimulation but…” He stopped short as Jim flicked gently at the underside of his chin with his knuckle, dragging his attention to his eyes. Their gazes held for a moment before Jim leaned in and silenced his chattering lover.

 

 The kiss was different. Languid, slow and tender, a gentle massage of lips for the sake of the closeness more than anything else. When they drew back, Blair’s eyes were dancing in that way and for once, he seemed utterly speechless. Jim’s lips quirked in a near smile. “I’m flattered, Chief, but you’re not just a guide,” he assured him, flicking at his chin a final time. “You’re still goofy, babbling Sandburg, even after sex, I’m glad,” he added.

 

 “And I’m glad you’re still a dick,” Blair retorted, rolling up until he was kneeling over Jim, he stared at him for a long moment, a thousand thoughts fluttering visibly in his eyes like a swarm of flighty birds before he leant in, pressing their foreheads together. A second later, he was swinging his other leg carefully off Jim and heading toward the stairs.

 

 Jim propped himself up on one elbow with a frown. “Where are you off to, Casanova?”

 

 Blair glanced back, hair completely hopeless but his smile endearingly awkward. “I’ll be right back,” he said evasively, but when Jim moved as if to follow he added reluctantly. “This is such a mood-breaker but…man I’m leaking you out of my ass, okay? Let me go…deal with it.” The blatant admission was enough to stun Jim into compliance and he watched Blair vanish down the stairs out of sight.

 

 Recovering his equilibrium, he kicked the soiled top sheet off the bed so that only the duvet remained, using tissues from the side table to wipe any lingering oil or come from his body as he waited. Lying back against the bed that smelled of Blair, him and sex, he listened to the sound of running water and then a towel across damp skin, Blair swearing softly as he dragged a comb through his hair. Jim laughed to himself and rolled over onto his stomach on the edge of the bed. The teasing, the laughing, that had been almost as perfect as the intense intimacy before it.

 

 Not much later, the soft patter of bare feet on the stairs, then small huffs of air as Blair blew out the candles sounded. Then the bed dipped and Blair was crawling up behind him, laying half over him, skin cooled from the world outside the bedroom. “You’re cold,” Jim complained without meaning a word, “and heavy.”

 

 He heard Blair’s smile. “Nah, you’re tough, you can take it.” He let his head rest on the pillow just behind Jim’s, his breath tickling softly at Jim’s neck. They lay in comfortable silence for a long while, sleep tugging at their senses after an exhausting twenty-four plus hours. But just as Jim was drifting, he heard Blair mutter sleepily.

 

 “S’nice. Like this bit too.”

 

 Jim smiled and let sleep take him.

 

*                            *                            *

 

 The sound of the rain was still there when Blair blinked blearily up at the ceiling of the loft high above him, but the thunder was long gone. The damp clearness that rain brought filtered in through the windows and Blair breathed it in deep as everything came back to him with warm, perfect clarity. He stretched out, finding himself on his back on the bed with the sheets coiled round him in knots from where he’d been fidgeting as per usual.

 

 A sharp breeze from downstairs whisked up across his bare skin and he shuddered, struggling up onto his elbows. The bed was empty but the smell of coffee on the breeze told him exactly where his bed mate had vanished to. Ambling down the stairs, he winced at the sore muscles in his thighs and ass, relishing in the intimate ache of it. His clothes had been picked up from where he’d shed them earlier on his way upstairs and he smiled at that, the expression widening (and he didn’t care how dopey he looked) when he spied Jim decanting coffee from the pot into two mugs – wearing only his boxers.

 

 He was sort of glad Naomi had made her graceful, quiet exit before he’d left for the conference after she’d received his forgiveness. Even though he knew it was more out of guilt than anything else, her way of distancing herself from negative vibes, he was glad for the chance to concentrate on just this, just him and Jim finding their footing together without any third party audience.

 

 “Well this is very domestic,” Blair said brightly, making his way over to the opposite side of the counter and leaning forward onto it with his elbows. Jim’s lips twisted in that affectionate way that made Blair’s heart stutter – and now he knew exactly how much attention Jim paid to that. He reached forward for his cup. “I like it,” he said, just in case.

 

 Jim smiled fully this time before hiding it in a sip of coffee. “You sore, Chief?”

 

 Spying a hair tie on the counter Blair reached for it and swept his wayward bed-hair back into a ponytail. “Oh man, all over,” Blair grinned, “Never felt better.” They stayed in their comfortable silence, sipping coffee, Jim glancing over toward the balcony where the doors stood open, welcoming in a refreshing breeze, probably cleansing the air of stale sex for sentinel senses. But when Blair looked down at the coffee cup then back at Jim again, those blue eyes were focussed on him.

 

 “So you’ve got a lot more stuff for that paper of yours now. If you’ve got to tweak it anyway to make it different enough from the original you’ve got that chance,” Jim said in a would-be casual voice. “I mean this stabilising of the senses when the sentinel bonds with their guide, that’d round it up, wouldn’t it?”

 

 Blair held that gaze steadily for a moment. The Ellison temper was renowned across the city and he knew a wrong word could break the intimate atmosphere between them. He fingered the rim of his coffee cup thoughtfully. “Jim, if this thing has made me realise anything, it’s that there are more important things than my doctorate and my book. I mean, I know I was going to go back and tweak some things but you were right when you said some things were personal. As your friend I should’ve remembered that. I thought I was just being objective but I owe you more than that.”

 

 Jim set his mug down. “But you said it too, Chief, this is our lives you’ve documented. Our story.” Jim leant elbows onto the counter and stared at him unwaveringly as his fingers covered Blair’s, stilling the nervous movements over the surface of ceramic. “You’re not the only one who messed up. So did I.” His eyes shimmered with guilt, adoration and so much more. It made Blair’s throat feel tight, especially when those thumbs stroked the back of his hands gently.

 

 Blair had felt everything when they’d connected on that rooftop, Jim’s fear and uncertainty, how it’d made him lash out under the guise of anger. He’d felt and seen every poignant moment of Jim’s past too but filtered in through that most prominently had been his regret in not doing what he considered the right thing by Blair, his helplessness at watching him step into the conference to throw away everything he’d worked for.

 

 Blair realised his last breath had come out as a little, rough gasp when Jim’s thumbs skirted over his knuckles a little more persistently. Jim’s eyes crinkled in the corners as he smiled at him almost indulgently. “Finish the story, Blair.”

 

 With only a hitch of breath, Blair reached up and caught Jim’s neck, pulling him down and across until their lips met. Jim tasted of coffee and Blair hummed softly against his mouth, sliding them gently together until the unyielding edge of the counter between them forced it to end. They parted, lips spittle-shiny and Blair saw those eyes rove his mouth for a moment, knowing Jim was watching the moisture part and dry on his skin.

 

 “You know you’re eager to go all scientist on me about this new development anyway,” Jim teased, dragging the knuckle of his forefinger down Blair’s chin before drawing back to swig the last of his coffee.

 

 Blair watched him, moving lightly from foot to foot, glancing around and spying his notepad and snatching up a pen. “Over dinner, yeah? I’ll buy. No Wonderburger though.” He turned, eagerness driving him across the loft. Jim clearing his throat stopped him though and he whirled round, finding amusement on his partner’s face.

 

 “Aren’t you forgetting something?” Jim asked, coming toward him, making an obvious twitch of his eyebrows. When Blair didn’t reply, Jim gave a huff of laughter and dipped a finger beneath Blair’s boxers, pinging the elastic against his stomach by way of explanation.

 

 Blair laughed. “Right, clothes.”

 


 

Chapter Four

Stereotypes

 

 

 

 It felt odd, walking into the outside world after everything that had happened between them. It felt as if the rest of the world should’ve changed too, but everything was the same, right down to the waitress that batted her eyelashes coquettishly at Jim when he and Blair slid into a booth at the diner a few blocks from 852 Prospect. As soon as his backside hit the seat, Jim watched Blair tear the notebook open, scribbling frantically across the page. Jim sighed and glanced up at the waitress who was blushing and grinning winningly at him.

 

 “Two root beers and two menus, please,” he said, before turning his gaze back to the man across the table from him. He reached over, laying his hand flat on the page, successfully drawing Blair’s gaze back to him. “Got a lot to write about, huh?”

 

 Blair tapped the pen against his chin. “Man, upstairs was just the tip of the iceberg! I can’t write about that exactly but I’m sure it was the culmination of the bonding, you know?” He blinked up, pausing as the waitress came back with their drinks.

 

 “Just let me know when you’re ready,” she said sweetly, big brown eyes all for Jim as she swept back behind the counter. Jim smiled and shook his head as he opened his menu.

 

 “She digs you,” Blair said in an attempt at dismissive.

 

 Jim glanced up to see him determinedly looking at his menu. He kicked lightly at Blair’s foot. “I thought the sentinel was meant to be the territorial one. You wanna pee on me, Chief, just in case?”

 

 Blair kicked back playfully. “You’re such a dick. Girls check you out all the time and I don’t fly off the handle do I? Even though you know I’ve maybe felt threatened by some of them…”

 

 “Jealous?” Jim suggested, grinning. Blood thundered through Blair’s nervous heart. “I seem to remember a few notches on Casanova Sandburg’s bedposts too.”

 

 Blair ducked his head into his menu. “Yeah, well I couldn’t just wait around for you, now could I?” he muttered. There was no need for an awkward conversation of ‘how long have you felt this way?’ or ‘where is this going? What are you looking for?’ They’d already felt that, seen it in each other’s minds as they’d merged into two halves of the same soul. He knew Blair had felt this way for a long time and had pushed it aside to preserve their friendship, while he himself had been too blind and afraid to notice the feelings creeping up inside him for what they were. He also knew what Blair wanted, what he wanted but Blair Sandburg was a man of words after all. He more than deserved them.

 

 Laying his arm subtly on the table, palm up, fingers extended slightly in unspoken invitation, Jim studied Blair’s face carefully, watching that brow knit in confusion. “You don’t have to wait in line behind any girls,” he said, the tense wall holding up his vulnerable pride easing when Blair at last slid his fingers across the proffered palm and gripped softly. Jim couldn’t resist, he smirked. “You’re the only girl for me, Chief.” He gripped Blair’s hand more firmly when he tried to pull away but the sound of laughter soothed any unease.

 

 “Like I said, total dick,” Blair mused, but didn’t try to remove his hand. He bit at his lip as he read the menu though. It was different, scary but thrilling and though Jim’s own heart was pounding in his chest, he didn’t let go of Blair’s hand. He felt a firmer squeeze and knew Blair felt the same.

 

 Shortly after, when Jim was tucking into his steak and Blair into a lasagne, Jim found the courage to voice something that had been niggling at him ever since he’d woken with Blair sprawled spectacularly across his bed.

 

 “This doesn’t…this doesn’t feel the same as when I lost control with any of the others,” he said. He kept his voice low but the soft music in the diner was good enough cover. “With them I wasn’t able to think rationally but with you I’m still…me, you know?” It couldn’t just be a chemical reaction to pheromones or some sort of inexorable pull between sentinel and guide. These were his feelings, he knew they were, he’d felt both and he knew the difference.

 

 Blair smiled reassuringly. He shifted his foot forward to rest against one of Jim’s under the table and gestured with his fork as he spoke. “I spoke to Lawrence about some of his sentinel/guide pairings before we left, you know? You were pretty distracted with Alice I guess but…well, Jim three of the pairs they work with have only platonic relationships. One of the sentinels has a guide who is her sister. I think…I think the sentinel and guide need to have some sort of chemistry for them to connect and work together, to bond but it’s clearly proven that it doesn’t have to be sexual.”

 

 Another few mouthfuls of lasagne and Blair cocked his head to the side to regard Jim, chewing carefully before he spoke again. “I know it’s scary, especially when you’ve had women take advantage of your sensitivity to pheromones before, but we were drawn together platonically because we had chemistry and I became your guide because of that, long before either of us felt…anything else. The rest came later because of who we are, not what we are to each other.”

 

 Jim swallowed. The steak was perfect but if he concentrated he could still taste an aftermath of Blair’s coffee kiss from earlier. He gave a minute nod. “It’s just us,” he said, ashamed of how relieved he felt to hear Blair say that using many more words, to explain it in that rational academic way of his. The foot resting against Jim’s rubbed gently at his shin.

 

 “Hey, I’m completely out of my depth here too,” Blair admitted sheepishly, “I just talk more when I’m piss my pants scared and read–”

 

 “-And write,” Jim finished, gesturing to the notepad, though he didn’t really mind at all. It felt good to see some of the old Blair back; he didn’t want that to change just because other things had. “I don’t see how you can work the whole bonding souls on a spiritual plain into an academic paper though,” Jim admitted. “I mean, we saw things that should have been impossible to see. I know things about you I never could’ve found out about even subconsciously.”

 

 That Sandburg smile was back. “Jim Ellison, giving into the mystical possibilities,” he approved, finishing off clearing his plate and sipping at his root beer. “You brought me back to life too. None of it can be explained by science. Your sentinel senses are a biological throwback but this,” he gestured between them, “this can’t be explained away by that. It’s spiritual, Jim. You’ve lived enough crazy, unexplainable things in the last few years to know that doesn’t make it less real.”

 

“I know,” Jim said. “I know it’s real. I can feel it. I know it’s real and I’m not brushing you off again but the mystical stuff…it’s always been hard for me to process.”

 

 Blair nodded. “You’re a cop. A man of tactile evidence and logic, that’s natural,” he said easily. He’d picked up his pen and scribbled a little more before tapping the end across his lower lip. “We have this awareness of each other now. Do you realise how useful that could be, especially in the field? Not to mention the fact that you can probably bring yourself out of a zone without me needing to physically touch you or speak. I’d like to do some controlled tests, maybe see how great a distance this awareness we have of each other’s presence can reach?”

 

 “That’d definitely be handy the next time you get kidnapped,” Jim said, only half joking as he sipped at his drink. Anything Blair had been about to say in retort was lost, however, as two people came to stand at the side of their booth.

 

 “Hey, if it ain’t Starsky and Hutch,” Henri said as he slid into the booth next to Jim, leaving Rafe to take the seat next to Blair.

 

 “Do I even ask what that means?” Jim said, bemused and pulling his plate away when H reached for what was left of his fries.

 

 “Well Hairboy over there went and got himself subtly abducted on live TV and you go tearing after him, Taggert shows up at the PD and starts organising a military operation until these guys in suits come in and confine him to Simon’s office,” H said, tone light and playful as ever but clearly curious.

 

 Rafe tipped his head to the side and gave a small sigh. “What I think my colleague is saying is, welcome back guys – let’s not do it again.”

 

 H leant back against his seat. “Don’t pretend you’re not as interested as me,” he protested, looking pointedly at Jim. “It’s something to do with that fake dissertation someone leaked in Blair’s name, right? Someone’s out to distract you both, get you off the scent of some big bust? I get that, what I don’t get is why the feds got involved.” He looked at both Blair and Jim in turn.

 

 Rafe, Jim thought was looking a little too thoughtful to be believing that story entirely, but somehow he knew Rafe wasn’t about to share his thoughts on that. Jim gave him a small smile before turning his attention to H.

 

 “We can’t say much guys,” he began, feeling the solid pressure of Blair’s foot between his, the heat of his hand resting just a few inches from his on the table top. “All we can say is the feds stepped in because somehow the leak was related to one of their projects, but it’s over now and Blair can hopefully get his doctorate and continue working with me once this is all over.”

 

 Rafe quirked a brow at them both silently, while H was more vocal.

 

 “How’d you swing that man?” he exclaimed. “I know you do some good work together and Blair, you’re one of the brothers, you know? But once your diss is finished there’s no excuse for you to observe, right?”

 

 Blair cleared his throat uncomfortably. His fingers flexed on the table distractedly. “While working together through this, the suits saw how beneficial my input was to the department and decided to speak to the higher ups, ensure that we can stay partners.” He glanced at Jim, evidently uncomfortable with the differences between obfuscation and lies. “Apparently it’s not unheard for someone like me to become a permanent partner, an advisor to a member of the force. They see it all the time and…well, we do make a pretty good team, huh?” He met Jim’s eyes again. His own were shining.

 

 Jim couldn’t help but smile in response. His fingers twitched near Blair’s but didn’t move to touch him.

 

 “Well after all the inconvenience of this, you deserve it as a little compensation,” H said brightly. He slapped Blair on the arm. “You so know Simon is gonna make you sit the academy though, right?”

 

 “As long as I can keep the hair, man I’m up for it,” Blair said eagerly. Then waved the waitress over. “Hey, another two root beers for our friends please?” The waitress nodded and when she returned, slid the beers onto the table with another coquettish smile at Jim before wandering away.

 

 “That girl is all about you, Jim,” H said elbowing Jim in the side. “C’mon, celebrate your narrow escape from the feds. Go get her tiger.”

 

 Jim shook his head good naturedly and took another sip of his drink. “I’m good, H.”

 

 Henri sat back in disbelief. “You’re wasting a good thing,” he whispered conspiratorially. “You’ve been all about the job for too long. Go get her, brother!”

 

 Blair fidgeted, sipping from his drink probably just for something to do in which to hide his awkwardness and to try to avoid looking at Jim. Jim’s fingers resting perilously close to Blair’s free hand twitched though and he brushed his foot up against Blair’s shin gently in reassurance he couldn’t vocalise right now.

 

 “H, shut it before you lose your foot completely,” Rafe warned casually. Henri paused at that, looking confused, like he knew he was missing something suddenly but he wasn’t sure what it was. He stared at his partner, apparently willing him to reveal his perceptive observations.

 

 Jim met Rafe’s eyes again, the tension in Blair’s hand so close to his and the slight elevation of his heart rate telling him that Blair suspected the same thing. Rafe knew. He was quieter than his extrovert friend sometimes but as a result he saw more. Jim looked at his partner, who was watching him apprehensively, nervous of his reaction to potentially being found out.

 

 They hadn’t spoken about it, they hadn’t even anticipated being discovered but apparently the easy intimacy hadn’t gotten past Rafe. He wondered what exactly had given them away. They hadn’t done anything different. He and Blair had always been tactile, close, had always done nearly everything together…

 

 “Oh,” Henri said at last, his tone surprised. “Oh.”

 

 Sitting back in his seat, Jim levelled his gaze at them. He was glad he’d finished his meal now because his stomach was twisting warningly, uncertain how their friends would react. They hadn’t had time to talk about or even contemplate what to tell the outside world about them, if anything at all. They’d been so lost in the relief of the truth in their new connection that they’d just floated down here as if on a high, as if the rest of the world neither mattered or existed.

 

 Jim cleared his throat uncomfortably, casting a covert glance at his partner to try and gauge his thoughts. He could sense anxiety pulsing through Blair’s veins as readily as he felt his own but that didn’t help him find his words. He felt as if he were choking on them. The fact of the matter was, while these were their friends and co-workers, they were still people. Even good people sometimes held certain opinions on men who had relations with other men, much less a gay cop.

 

 Frowning, Jim inwardly squirmed at the label, because he didn’t have relations with men, just Blair. He didn’t know if that made him gay or not. Maybe. He’d been so busy denying his feelings and then realising them that he hadn’t come to terms with that yet. He wasn’t likely to here with both their friends and Blair waiting for him to speak though. Never good with words, he floundered until Blair’s blessed loquaciousness scrambled to the rescue.

 

 “She’s just not really Jim’s type, you know,” Blair tried, hand rising to sweep his hair back – even though his hair was pulled back already in a ponytail and nowhere near his face. A sign of discomfiture.

 

 Rafe shifted, brow raised. “Why do I get the feeling Jim’s type changed since I last looked?”

 

 Blair drew in a breath that was audible only to Jim as he drew back in his seat, the hand that had been resting near Jim’s retreating cautiously. The flash of barely concealed hurt in those eyes was enough for Jim’s hand to catch Blair’s on instinct, covering it subtly, smoothly with his own and keeping it in place as he fixed his sight on their friends in clear challenge. He just hoped he’d read Blair right.

 

 “What is that supposed to mean?” Jim asked, deadpan, not moving his hand from Blair’s.

 

 Rafe’s eyebrows shot up ridiculously. “Are you serious? Come on, Jim, it’s just a shock alright that you’re…” He made a disgruntled face. “You’ve always had all the girls after you, that’s all, you never seemed interested in guys.”

 

 Jim’s fingers tensed over Blair’s. “I never have been interested in guys, I’m still not, only Blair,” he said honestly, bristling a little on realising how that last bit had sounded. Blair’s heart beat out a staccato against his rib cage. Jim swallowed, shaking his head slightly as Henri found his voice.

 

 “That sort of makes sense, you know, Blair’s got that sort of androgynous look,” he tried, hurriedly continuing when Blair sat up ramrod straight. “Hey, don’t get offended, Hairboy, you know it’s a good thing. Chicks dig you, guys dig you…”

 

 “So you’re shocked that Jim might be attracted to me but not that I’m attracted to Jim?” Blair challenged unwaveringly. “Because I’m not a stereotype apathetic beef-fed macho cop? Someone like me can be with a man but someone like you guys can’t?” His voice had raised a little and Jim squeezed his hand once in warning.

 

 Henri’s hands flailed in panic. “Hey, chillout on the offense! It’s just that you’re the spiritual free love, love the one you’re with, no holds barred, non-conforming, colour outside the lines type, you know?”

 

 “I think Henri means,” Rafe began, placing a calming hand on Blair’s shoulder, “Blair, you go with the flow, wherever the heart goes or something like that.”

 

 Blair gave a small smile and seemed to be appeased by that in spite of himself. The casual hand on him, far and away from a hesitant touch of someone who was afraid homosexuality would rub off on him probably helped, Jim thought. In the army he’d seen better men than Rafe become awkward and uncertain how to act around a man suspected of playing for the same team. It was worse than the abuse from lesser men, at times.

 

 “So you’re straight with what, a little Blair on the side?” Henri asked, trying for casualness but curiosity winning out.

 

 “Not on the side,” Jim said as casually as he could, stroking his fingertips along Blair’s as he released his hand at last to snag his drink, downing the last remnants as if he came out to his colleagues every day over food. But his defensive isolation of emotions had already kicked in. Never show anyone how worked up you are or how they affect you, especially when they have power over you.

 

 His pride was a thick, immoveable object in his throat, ready to be crushed by their hands if they so chose. God he was not ready for this. He hadn’t even considered all this. All he’d wanted was Blair, not all the drama that came with it. The nervous fluttering of Blair’s pulse suggested he felt the same.

 

 “Exclusive?” Henri clarified with unveiled surprise. The word made Blair’s adam’s apple bob instinctively, which filled Jim with amusement that settled his frustration and anxiety somewhat.

 

 “What, did you think we were, friends with benefits?” Blair managed to get out, his voice slightly higher than usual with disbelief.

 

 Rafe looked uncomfortable again suddenly, his hands folded in front of him. “Well, you know what the PD is like. Ever since that case with the golden, rumours have been flying around about you two. You work together, you live together, you go on vacation together. You’ve got that whole bond of brotherhood thing going for you and you’re all…” He gestured helplessly with his hands this time. “Tactile, you know?”

 

 Jim met Blair’s eyes, both of them apparently thinking the same thing. They hadn’t realised just how obvious it had been to everyone but them. How cliché was that? Talk about stereotypes. Jim dragged a hand down his face with a small defeated groan. He was an intensely private person and yet he’d unwittingly been broadcasting his affections everywhere they went.

 

 He remembered the Golden Case, remembered the sheer terror that had rushed through him when he’d seen Blair out of control with that gun, the relief and rightness when he’d pulled him into his arms. Had it really been since then that he’d felt this way? The realisation hit him like a slap in the face.

 

 Yes. He had. That long. Shit. His face burned and he moved to drink from his beer, just for something in which he could hide his embarrassment at being so obvious when he realised his bottle was empty. A soft scrape alerted him to movement and he tentatively looked up to see Blair pushing his own bottle toward him, offering him a distraction without being asked with a small smile.

 

 “Look at it this way,” Blair said with a mixture of resignation and relief in his words, “if most people already think we’re doing it then it won’t be so much of an issue, huh? You always have trouble from dicks who’re jealous of you or feel wronged by you and stuff, it won’t be any different.”

 

 Jim closed his fingers around the bottle of Blair’s drink but didn’t look away. “It’ll be different because the things they say will be true and because some of it’ll be aimed at you, Chief, not just me.”

 

 Blair gave small laugh. “Hey man, you think I got through being the youngest, lowest guy on the University food chain without a bit of trouble? My roommate found me jacking off with the U’s star lacrosse player and I was ‘that fag’ for the next two years! Sticks and stones and all that, seriously, don’t worry about me. You’re the one with the pride and the reputation.”

 

 Drinking deeply, trying not to think (or worse zone) on the lingering trace of Sandburg on the lip of the bottle that swept into his mouth along with the beer, Jim looked at their friends once more. “This really doesn’t bother you?” he demanded in disbelief.

 

 Rafe shrugged. “You’re a good guy and you’re good at your job, that’s all that should matter. I know it doesn’t work that way for some people but I think you know me better than that.”

 

 “As long as you don’t go checking out my ass I’ve got no problems, my man,” Henri assured him, raising his bottle to Blair to share the sentiment before drinking. “Some of the folks at the PD might be an issue but like Hairboy over there said, you’ve always had issues with some of them. As long as you don’t go making out in the bullpen or anything I think you’re safe.”

 

 It was Blair’s turn to flush. “Making out in the bullpen? What are we? High school kids?”

 

 Henri howled with laughter. “Hey, you guys have always been intense enough without the sex. Just keep it clean, alright?”

 

 “You dick,” Blair said without bite, but the air was cleared and though Jim could still feel the rough heat of embarrassment, he knew they were all alright. The conversation bled steadily back into casual ground. They’d managed to catch Zellar striding into the PD, apparently on a last ditch attempt to get Bartley. The story of his anti-climactic take down that ended in three shots to the chest was interspersed with ready banter that continued readily, until they all left the diner together, hovering just outside.

 

 “We better get back, we just wanted to give you the lowdown on the Bartley case and make sure you were both good after all that crap with the feds,” Henri said, gesturing over his and Rafe’s shoulders. “Duty calls.” As he and Rafe rounded the corner and out of sight, Jim swung his arm round Blair’s shoulder to steer him toward the direction of the loft.

 

 “What’s going on up there in the Sandburg Zone?” he asked, fingers tapping on Blair’s temple before sliding away.

 

 Blair seemed to come back to himself from wherever he’d drifted as they’d been leaving the diner. “Nothing, just…you still surprise me, you know? I thought I had you all figured out and I was all prepared to do whatever you wanted to keep us a secret and then you out us to our friends.” That blazing, slightly embarrassed but stunningly happy Sandburg smile made Jim’s mouth dry up a bit.

 

 “I think we outed us without ever realising, Chief,” Jim said, a little dazzled.

 

 “Sounded like it, didn’t it?” Blair mused as they walked. No closer or further apart than usual, because they’d always been close, intimate, all of it. The only thing that had changed between them was that they weren’t lying to themselves any longer. There was such freedom in that that Jim felt almost dizzy with it. Blair’s knuckles brushed against his and when he looked over, Blair’s lips still carried the leftovers of a smile.

 

 “You know, we’re both each other’s main beneficiary and emergency contact and next of kin. We’ve been practically married for years and never realised.”

 

 Jim bumped his knuckles against the back of Blair’s hand as they reached the door to their building, pulling it open for him with an overly chivalrous sweep. “Well then, Mrs Ellison, you won’t mind being the one to tell Simon about us next time we see him, will you honey?”

 

 Blair’s eyes widened. “Oh man, you are not leaving me with that one.”

 

 Jim smirked as he made the way toward the stairs. “You can make dinner too, since you’re the wife and all.”

 

 “You are so the wife, with all your mood swings,” Blair muttered, pulling out his keys as they reached their door. “And you never say what you mean. And you’re a neat freak with all these house rules…” He continued to list Jim’s wifely qualities all the way into the apartment. Jim relished in the banter but as he shut the door behind him, found himself needing to reassure Blair, just in case.

 

 “Hey,” he said lightly, “jokes aside, you know there’re no wives or girls or whatever between you and me, right?”

 

 Blair looked up at him in surprise from where he’d lowered himself onto the sofa. He looked too astonished to speak for a moment, before that smile flared again and he said, “And you give good foot rubs,” he teased, though more often than not it’d been him that’d given Jim a platonic back massage in the past. The continued playfulness drew Jim irresistibly forward to sit on the coffee table. Jim didn’t protest when Blair toed off his shoes and put them on his thighs. He watched Blair’s innocent, playful expression, absently capturing the soles of his socked feet as he spoke.

 

 “I mean it. There are gonna be some people at the PD who have a lot of things to say, names for you and me and what we are to each other. But that’s all they are, names. I don’t think you’re my bitch or anything. We’re equals, Chief. You know that, right?”

 

 Blair cocked his head and the toes in Jim’s grasp wiggled slightly. “Like ying and yang, man,” Blair said easily, relaxed and pliant, unconcerned about the world outside.  Jim drank in the sight of that relaxed smile and started to massage the arch of one of Blair’s feet with strong fingers. The already calm body sank further into the sofa and Blair tipped his head back a little onto the backrest, eyes fluttering shut for a moment.

 

 Jim felt the tendons and muscles smooth under his fingertips, the drag of warm clean cotton under his fingers no match for his senses. He chased the tension until his partner resembled a puddle on the furniture, then moved to the other foot. The relinquished one rubbed against his wrist affectionately and he realised Blair was watching him again. How long had they been doing that? Watching each other, stepping around each other and revolving around each other like a dance, like they were finding their own orbit?

 

 “I can’t believe you told them,” Blair said, voice soft and warm and resonating. “I thought, I mean I’d just assumed that you’d want to have everyone else believe nothing had changed. You’re such a private guy, you know?”

 

 Jim thought they’d both done a pretty good job of outing each other over the last few months, according to Henri and Rafe, but he knew what Blair meant. He hadn’t fought it, he’d gone with it. They’d been thrown that surprise and he’d instinctively known what had to be done, only hoped Blair felt the same way. The bond was an awareness of body and emotion but not of mind, that was something only their time together had given them.

 

 “Denying you felt…wrong,” Jim said, discomfited with the idea. “I’m not the kind of guy to go screaming what I feel from the rooftops, but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna go through the rest of my life lying.” He set Blair’s feet down then and leaned forward, clapping his hands to Blair’s thighs, just above the knee, squeezing slightly so he could be sure Blair understood. “You’re too important. You always have been.”

 

 Blair’s smile looked wistful now. “It’s not going to be easy. Some days we’ll probably wonder what the hell we’re doing.”

 

 Jim didn’t think anything anyone could say or do would make him regret it, not when Blair looked so happy. No one had ever put Blair first, he realised. Even his own mother had chosen her freedom over him his entire life. Jim would lay down more than pride and respect of his co-workers if it meant Blair would look at him that way again.

 

 Clasping his hands either side of Blair’s face, Jim moved in until their foreheads rested together. He closed his eyes, breathing Blair in and exhaling the words, “Everyday I’ll choose you, Chief, always.”

 

 Blair grasped the back of his neck and guided their lips together.

 

*                            *                            *

 

 “I feel like everyone passing by knows somehow,” Blair said sheepishly as Jim pulled away from the lights, heading towards Rainier. It was Blair’s first day back at the university and his fingers were white-knuckled around the edge of the folder containing the new copy of his dissertation. He knew Lawrence must’ve smoothed over any doubt as to his ‘original’ dissertation but it was still nerve-wracking, about to walk back in there after everything that had happened. That and the world outside the loft just felt ethereal somehow. He’d expected it to feel different now him and Jim were together, but it was exactly the same.

 

 The same people sounded their horns impatiently in the race to work, the same people weaved in and out of each other, disappearing into the delis and the coffee shops as they drove by. The world hadn’t stopped while he and Jim had spent a long weekend wrapped up in each other, with the exception of survival essentials and Blair frantically trying to edit his paper as much as possible. It’d been a strange escape from reality and now they were back.

 

 Together this time though, he thought, remembering the last time he’d travelled this path, how he’d thought he was on the cusp of losing Jim entirely after losing his trust. Perhaps that’s why Jim had offered to drive him to the university this morning – it was certainly why Blair had accepted, after all. He wasn’t ready to let Jim go yet and the drive would postpone the moment they’d have to.

 

 “I thought you didn’t care what people thought about the whole seeing a guy thing?” Jim asked, confused but not hurt, thankfully.

 

 “Of course I don’t,” Blair said, fidgeting where he sat so a pleasant throbbing ache pulsed through him from overused muscles. He exhaled roughly and saw Jim’s hands tense on the steering wheel through peripheral vision. “There’s just something about having your ass reamed that makes you think the world just knows.” He didn’t think he’d ever had this much consecutive sex in the space of four days in his life. He felt utterly sated, sore and dazed with it.

 

 Jim gave a low chuckle. “Too much for you, Chief?” He was just too smug.

 

 “That’s it, stroke your own ego,” Blair said with a smile, “I’m having your ass tonight, man.”

 

 “If yours needs a rest,” Jim conceded, still smiling, “I’m an awful lot to handle, I guess.”

 

 Blair shook his head and dug around in his shirt pocket for a hair tie, scraping his wayward, shower-damp hair back into a ponytail. Best not to look too scruffy if he had to face the faculty after all that drama. He tapped his hands on his folder nervously all the way there, until they pulled up and Jim flung a hand out to still his, wincing slightly.

 

 “Sorry,” Blair said, “nervous.” They were in the nearly empty car park. Blair had wanted to arrive early so he could hand in his paper before the class he had to give. He worried the inside of his mouth, only to feel Jim’s knuckles tap his jaw in the offending place, drawing his attention back to him. The morning sun was crisp and bright, illuminating Jim’s sharp features and Blair smiled in spite of himself. “You realise this is the first time we’re going to be apart more than a few feet since…” He gestured with his fingers in a mystical motion between them to signify their connection.

 

 Jim’s lips quirked. “Sandburg, if you can’t say it then you really shouldn’t be doing it.”

 

 “You are such a dick,” Blair complained half-heartedly. Jim’s hand had somehow snuck round his back covert-ops style, and Blair willingly let himself be pulled forward by it a few inches. Jim’s heat felt good, even through his clothes, the light tingling awareness of their connection soothing him somewhat.

 

 “It’ll be interesting to see how we handle being separated for the first time, especially after such a traumatic event,” he said once he’d found his voice, the scientist in him winning out. “I wonder if there’ll be any symptoms of separation anxiety or even a weird pull? There’s so little documented on guides, it’s hard to say.”

 

 “You write down all your findings and we can talk over lunch. I’ll come pick you up at one, alright?” Jim said appeasingly. He ran his fingers through the curls of Blair’s ponytail. “I know you wanted to do some experiments with this connection, right? Well consider this the first one.”

 

 Brightened by that take on it, Blair nodded, resolute and suddenly ready for what was to come. A few more cars were beginning to pull into the car park, signalling he should probably leave. He sighed, but as he made to draw back, the hand that’d been toying with his hair slid round to cup his neck, drawing him in until their lips met. Blair shivered at the gentle brush of lips, Jim’s nose gently nudging his in affection before he tipped to lock their mouths together a bit harder. It was brief but no less intense, no less glorious.

 

 Blair hummed almost inaudibly as Jim sat back. “Oh man, you kiss nice,” he breathed, eyes roving Jim’s lips in consideration.

 

 Jim smirked. “Babe, you’re pretty hot stuff yourself.” He picked up the folder that Blair had dropped at some point during the meeting of their lips and dropped it on Blair’s lap. “Hit the road and get that diss handed in before the rest of the U arrives and I have to arrest myself for public indecency.”

 

 Blair gave him a winning smile and slid out of the truck. He couldn’t help the goofy smile that crept across his face as he crossed the car park toward the building. When he reached the door, he risked a glance back to see the truck hadn’t moved. He flushed when he realised Jim could probably see every inch of his sappy expression and struggled to compose himself as he walked through the doors. When they closed behind him, he felt the tingling awareness (similar to when you felt someone behind you without even looking) begin to recede. His awareness of Jim was still there but stretched, reaching further and further away as, presumably the truck carried him toward the police station.

 

 It wasn’t painful or overwhelming, but it was definitely noticeable. Like a phantom limb being stretched out by another person against his will and forced to carry out a task he could somehow feel even though, without seeing, he couldn’t know what it was. He frowned as he let his feet carry him toward the office. He wondered how Jim was dealing with this and hoped his senses weren’t acting up as a result.

 

 After the ethereal dream-like act of that spiritual trip on the roof, he’d expected a more supernatural feeling to being separated, to being joined but it wasn’t like that. It was natural. Like Jim was a part of him. They didn’t have a psychic connection or even super communicative powers, just that same awareness that had flickered like a flame to life between them on that rooftop, still there, still burning, prickling less brightly, filling him with less of that prickling warmth but definitely still there, eternal. He could still feel Jim there, like an echo of his hand on his skin except it was a handprint on his heart that was left behind. He wasn’t alone, he never would be again.

 

 His steps carried him more confidently round the corner and as he did so, he tilted his head, seeing if he could feel the direction in which Jim had gone. With no one around, he paused in the hallway, turning one way, then the other. There was a slight pulse in that tingling echo of warmth in one direction. He smiled to himself. Yes, he could definitely feel Jim more in one direction than the other. They’d have to explore that at some point. He didn’t have time now.

 

 Giving a knock on the office door he waited, drawing in a deep breath when a voice bid him enter. He’d scarcely closed the door behind him when he was barraged with a firm but worried, “I didn’t expect to see you back so soon, Mr Sandburg! The authorities told us you’d likely need more time to recover. Those criminals…it’s bad enough they fill our streets with their desecration but to use our university as a means of cover to escape?”

 

 Blair schooled his expression into one of matching outrage and disbelief as he took a seat on the opposite side of the desk and set his folder on top of it. Yes, he could do this.

 

 Apparently the faculty were so embarrassed that they hadn’t ‘realised’ the dissertation was ‘clearly not his work’ that they glazed over many of the facts Blair had been worried they would call him on. Lawrence’s connections or influence or whatever he had used had obviously done the job. Such was the level of corruption in the government – Naomi would have a fit.

 

 A few hours later saw him walking out of the class he was due to give with the usual spring in his step. His dissertation was handed in for review, the class had gone well and though he’d returned to his office to find any reference to Jim erased from his files and references, he couldn’t find it in him to mind. He should be worried, should be apprehensive about their thoroughness and power, but he’d encountered underhanded government officials so often in the last few years he wasn’t even shocked anymore. At least this time it was in their favour and somehow, for some reason, he trusted Lawrence. Maybe it was a guide thing.

 

 He walked out into the sunshine and decided, sore backside or none, if he cut across the park he could meet Jim at the police department before he’d even left. Feeling lighter than he had in a long time, he let his feet carry him in the direction of the distant echoing hum of their connection, feeling it grow warmer, more precise with each step he took.

 

*                            *                            *

 

 As Jim had guessed, Rafe and Henri hadn’t said a word about what they’d discovered when they’d met him and Blair at the diner the other night. Nor did they act any different. They both greeted him with the usual when he walked into the bullpen and then got on with whatever case they were working on. Jim took his seat at his desk, staring at it for a moment, dragging fingertips along the keys of the computer with feather-light motions.

 

 He could smell Blair here, as easily as he could at home. The niggling stretch of their connection was somewhat appeased by that, or perhaps it was just mind over matter. He booted up the machine and while he waited, reluctantly lost himself in reading through the report Rafe had left him on the resolution of the Zellar/Bartley case.

 

 The world definitely had continued to turn while he’d been lost in the Sandburg zone. Rafe and H had managed to wrap it up nicely in his absence; he hoped they got the credit for it they deserved. He felt slightly guilty that he’d left them in the loop with that one, especially with Megan and Simon still in hospital, albeit out of the danger zone. When he’d seen those feds ‘escorting’ Blair out of the conference room he’d just forgotten about everything else.

 

 Megan’s dazzling presence was absent from the bullpen and Simon’s office was empty, the door open as the temp had left it on their way to an early lunch but everything else was exactly the same. He drank deeply of his coffee and cracked his neck as he sat back from the paperwork that’d built up over the last few days, staring momentarily at the ceiling. His world had been turned upside down and yet the foundations were the same.

 

 Once Simon and Megan were back in action it’d be like nothing had happened at all to disturb the flow of their existence here. It was just the same. The world hadn’t gone mad just because people had almost found out he was a sentinel (although that had been a near thing). It hadn’t stopped spinning because he’d met others like him, because he’d realised he was in love with a man. A man that happened to be his best friend.

 

 Testing the connection, he felt along it, concentrating on the heat of it rather than the distance that diluted it. Blair was still there, just out of reach but perfectly within Jim’s range. He couldn’t feel emotions or thoughts but he got a general sense of well-being. He wondered vaguely if Blair were ever in danger if he’d be able to sense it – he hoped he never had means to test that…

 

 “Ellison! My office!” Simon’s voice jerked him back to reality and Jim automatically slid to his feet, grateful for the excuse to escape the position he’d almost locked into over the last few hours. Then he realised he shouldn’t have been hearing Simon’s voice at that moment, not here.

 

 Joel was wheeling Simon into the office, the smell of a sterilised wound, painkillers and hospitals ripe in the air. Jim blinked, stunned as his captain fixed him with his usual glare, in spite of being rolled into his office on Joel’s strength, not his own. “Do I need to repeat myself, detective?” Simon challenged in that way that told him not to say a word about any potential weaknesses.

 

 Jim snapped his mouth shut around the protest that Simon should be in the hospital and walked into the office after him. Joel gave him a small nod before passing him on his way out, closing the door behind him and leaving them alone in an odd, uncertain silence. Jim perched on the edge of the meeting table facing his captain. He looked like death but Jim was so relieved to see him being his cantankerous self in his own office that it negated most of that.

 

 “It’s good to see you, Sir, did they kick you out early?” he asked, rubbing a hand over his stiff neck to work out the knots. He thought he saw the flicker of a smile on his friend’s lips.

 

 “I’m stabilised. I can get better rest in my own bed than I can in that place,” he said with distaste for hospitals that Jim sympathised with all the way. Jim swore he could smell a trace of perfume on Simon’s clothes too and smiled privately, wondering if a certain nurse called Amy had anything to do with his discharge. Simon had been seeing her for a while now.

 

 “Someone at home to take care of you, Sir?” Jim said, trying for serious. Simon’s glare told him he had not succeeded. They both knew what Jim meant.

 

 “That’s not your concern, Detective,” Simon snapped, shifting with a wince, clasping his side. “Aren’t you the least bit curious as to why I’m out of bed when I’ve just discharged myself AMA after a gunshot wound?” There was an odd edge to his tone and Jim frowned as he readied himself for whatever was coming.

 

 “My temporary cover accompanied Joel to my hospital room this morning – just as I was discharging myself as a matter of fact. She’d just received an interesting package and an even more interesting phone call she just had to discuss with me,” Simon said, expression unreadable. He was holding what looked like a pass in his hands, a rectangular card of some kind in a plastic wallet with a clip, the same kind Blair wore with his observer’s pass. Simon kept the face carefully averted though so that Jim couldn’t see.

 

 “Interesting, sir?” Jim asked, confused. With a glare of impatience, Simon flicked the pass across his desk, where Jim stood to intercept it.

 

 Jim frowned. “It’s Sandburg’s observer’s pass,” he said, but when Simon only stared at him hard he looked again properly at the official type between Blair’s photograph and the Chief of Police’s signature.

 

Dr Blair Sandburg

Permanent Advisor to the Cascade Police Department

3201-003

 

The number was a random allocated ID number apparently issued to identify Blair in lieu of a badge number. But that wasn’t the only startling thing there in that handful of text. “Doctor Blair Sandburg,” Jim re-read aloud.

 

 “Guess The Powers That Be are pretty confident in your partner getting his doctorate, but then he was always a sure thing,” Simon said, with an air of a man waiting for Jim to catch up.

 

 Jim looked up at him. “Permanent Advisor,” he said and there at last, Simon nodded.

 

 “The call my temp received was from a Director Lawrence, pretty high up as far as law enforcement goes, Jim. He’s got his fingers in all sorts of pies. He informed her to tell me that Blair Sandburg was to have a position as your partner and full permission to work with you in any capacity that entailed, for as long as he wants it.” Simon lifted a cigar to his lips then but did nothing more than worry the end thoughtfully as he surveyed Jim. He was probably remembering his injury and likely imagining the lecture he’d receive from Amy if he went home smelling of cigar smoke. He sighed regretfully before continuing.

 

 “That’s the Chief of Police’s legit signature, Jim. The head office has signed off on this. They pretty much made a position for Blair and when the temp tried to ask why, she was told she didn’t have the clearance for that information. So are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

 

 Jim glanced out through the window into the bullpen. He could feel the tingling presence of Blair drawing steadily closer now, not imminently near but he could feel the difference. Something in him rose up, almost vibrating with excitement, as if longing to run and hide or chase down his guide as he might in the wilderness. Shaking his head clear of those thoughts he straightened up to meet Simon’s gaze.

 

 He told him about the agents, about them using Blair as bait and about cutting off his senses, goading him into a primal state, leaving out just how primal the bond that followed was. He told him about Lawrence and the sentinels and everything the man had promised. When he was done, Simon had nearly chewed straight through his cigar.

 

 “You trust this man, Jim?” Simon asked worriedly after the world’s longest silence, setting down his cigar.

 

 Jim ran his fingers along the edges of the PVC pass holder. “I trust that he respects sentinels and his heart is in the right place, I don’t know if I can trust him more than that.” He hesitated, feeling the warm glow growing brighter in his veins, like someone had turned the heat up. “But Blair does. He’s going to work with us and with the SGD after he’s finished his doctorate. I’m trusting his judgement on that.”

 

 An odd little smile twisted the captain’s mouth. “As long as you remember where you belong when you inevitably get drawn into sentinel duty for the SGD, don’t let me lose my best man, Ellison.”

 

 Jim smiled. “Never, sir.” He looked down at the pass in his hands. “I know Lawrence has fixed Blair’s position here as permanent with all the proper channels, but what do we say when the people round here want to know why this position was dreamt up especially for him?” He was surprised to see Simon so unconcerned about that actually. He was obviously still stuck on the image of a department full of working sentinels and what that could mean for the country, especially with someone like Blair helping them.

 

 “That’s why I wanted to be here – as well as getting an explanation from you. I’ll make an announcement later to Major Crimes, saying after services rendered the Chief has decided to make Sandburg a permanent advisor to our department. It’ll come better from me than from some temp who takes lunches longer than my fishing trips. Sandburg has helped more than just you in the last few years, Jim. Brown, Taggert, Connor, Rafe they’re just some of the people that’ve worked with him and have come off better for it.”

 

 He sighed then. “You won’t have anyone in Major Crimes doubting the kid deserves the position, or that the Chief might’ve seen what an edge he gives us, but you’ll still get the usual outside troublemakers, especially people who’re already a little sore about your cop of the year image.”

 

 Jim tucked Blair’s new, permanent pass into his pocket, wondering if it mattered that the Doctor wasn’t official and probably wouldn’t be for a few weeks yet. Probably not, if Lawrence had asked they put it on there. Maybe Lawrence thought it’d give Blair a much-needed boost of confidence after nearly losing everything he’d worked so hard for. Maybe he just thought it’d make things look more official.

 

 “No one can possibly guess the real reason behind it, which is all that matters, we can deal with a few jealous meat-heads, Simon,” Jim said confidently, glancing toward the window that looked out onto the street from across the room now. He could feel Blair’s presence buzzing with relief and excitement. It was like a breeze through his senses, refreshing and grounding. Empowering. He swallowed.

 

 “Simon,” he began, feeling brave. “Were you aware of some of the rumours that’re apparently floating around about me? And Sandburg?” he added, watching Simon squirm a little uncomfortably.

 

 “Jim,” Simon replied, exasperated. “Things like this always fly when a cop has a record like yours. It’s jealousy, that’s all, you know that? You must’ve heard worse stuff when you were in Vice? Don’t let it get to you or the kid, alright?”

 

 Jim stared at his friend, grateful for his easy dismissal, attempts at reassurance, his belief in him but knowing he deserved better. He drew in a steadying breath. He was loathe to put labels on himself or Blair for that matter and was even more uncomfortable about outing his personal life to the world but as he’d realised with Rafe and Henri the other night, the idea of denying Blair went against every instinct that ran through him – both sentinel and man.

 

 He didn’t plan on screaming it from the rooftops but if the world find out, he wasn’t going to spend the rest of his life hiding who he was, not after Blair had been so willing to give up everything he was for him. Not after the epiphany on the rooftop that had opened his eyes and to ask Blair to do so would smother his vivacious, exuberant partner.

 

 “Jim? Have you zoned on me?” Simon’s voice dragged him back again.

 

“No,” Jim said, “No, Simon I was just wondering what you might say.”

 

 “Say to what?” Simon asked with thinly veiled suspicion.

 

 “If…some of the rumours turned out to have some foundation,” Jim ventured as casually as he could, covertly studying his friend’s face. He’d never seen his captain so stunned, lost for words, so completely out of his depth. One of the things that made Simon such a good captain was his ability to think on his feet, to always know what to do, even in crisis. Apparently he’d found his match.

 

 “Simon?” Jim prodded when he hadn’t responded after a good minute.

 

 Simon blinked. “Are you saying…you…you and Sandburg?” he managed.

 

 Jim stared hard into his face, unyielding. He nodded, discomfiture filling him. This was the most he had given of himself, of his feelings to anyone besides Blair in a long time. He felt like a man drowning and even the soft pulse of Blair’s imminent presence didn’t help him flounder for breath. Simon’s opinion was probably the one he cared about most here. If he reacted badly Jim would handle it, somehow, but it wasn’t something he was sure he could handle well.

 

 “Jim I know he’s your partner in this sentinel thing and he’s helped make you a stronger person without a doubt, a stronger cop, a better man, a better friend, even,” Simon said at last. “He comes from a different world to you, a different decade almost but there’s no denying you have this…” he winced as he struggled for words, apparently as close to drowning as Jim. “Chemistry, I guess. I love the kid and I knew you did too, it’s sort of hard to miss but I didn’t realise it was…”

 

 That kind of love, Jim’s mind finished for him. Knowing Simon felt as awkward as he did right then, Jim stepped toward the desk and gave a small, knowing, sheepish smile. “We don’t have to talk about this, Simon,” he assured him. “I think we both know heart-to-hearts aren’t my strong point. I don’t need to vent about this, I already know what I feel I just…wanted you to know.”

 

 Relief so profound it was nearly amusing touched every inch of Simon’s façade. Jim would’ve laughed if he hadn’t felt equally relieved. His insides were humming gently with the strength of it. He hadn’t realised how worried he’d been about Simon’s reaction until his friends had come through for him again and accepted him once more, even when he didn’t fully understand.

 

 “How long has this been going on?” Simon asked with a grimace. He really didn’t know but had to ask. Morbid curiosity was a killer.

 

 “When the feds put me in sensory deprivation, I suppose I realised that he was the most important thing, then I realised why,” Jim admitted, again, as casually as he could, hands sliding into his jeans pockets in a show of what he hoped was convincing nonchalance. He didn’t think he could bullshit Simon for one second. “The old cliché of not knowing what’s right in front of you ‘til you almost lose it. Well I had to nearly lose it twice, I guess.”

 

 “So it’s not a sentinel thing,” Simon said, clearly trying to understand. The mystical side of Jim’s sentinel abilities had always been something he struggled with.

 

 “Anyone with Blair’s knowledge and skill could have been my guide. I think Incacha even acted as a guide of sorts in Peru. Anyone could’ve guided me…” How could he say the next bit without sounding like a complete sap? His fingers tightened in his pockets and he reached out instinctively, feeling Blair’s proximity. He was in the building now for certain, Jim could sense it. The same way he could feel his right arm coming toward him even with his eyes closed in the dark.

 

 He exhaled roughly. He was in too deep now, he had to just say it. “Anybody could’ve guided me, it’s the way I feel, the chemistry and all the rest we built up by ourselves that made him my guide. He has been for a long while without either of us realising, the other night just…clarified it.”

 

 Simon was staring at him, visibly processing. “Uh huh,” he said slowly. “And this connection, any side effects I should be aware of? Anything that could interfere with your ability to do your job?” If he was thinking of the job he was processing better than Jim had expected.

 

 “We’re not gonna be doing any primal mating rituals around the bullpen, Simon,” Jim said in almost offended exasperation. He scrubbed at the back of his stiff neck again distractedly. “We’re going to be the same. Professional. The only difference we can tell so far is that he can pull me back from a zone before it even gets that far. Simon, the other night he felt the zone before it even started. It looks like I can use this awareness we have of each other to pull myself back from one without him needing to even speak or shake me out of it. Hell, I can feel him coming up the elevator as we speak. I can reach my senses out without risking losing myself as easily. This can only make things better.”

 

 “You can feel him?” Simon repeated, impressed but discomfited at the same time. Before either man could speak again, Jim turned to look out of the glass into the bullpen. Simon’s gaze followed his and they both saw, a few moments later, Blair striding in through the door to Major Crimes, waving cheerfully to Henri who was on the phone and swinging over to Jim’s desk. He sat in Jim’s chair automatically and dropped his rucksack before starting to glance through the files on Jim’s desk.

 

 Jim watched as Blair looked from the topmost paper to the computer, obviously seeing where Jim had left off typing up the report and continuing from there. How had he missed how perfectly they fit together all this time?

 

 “I take it Einstein out there wants to run some tests on these nifty new abilities of yours?” Simon said, using the arm on his uninjured side to awkwardly roll the wheelchair closer to Jim’s side. He looked so weak, even given the return of his brusque personality. The fact that he was using the wheelchair at all was a tribute to how much he still suffered, how close he had skimmed passed death.

 

 Jim nodded, squeezing his friend’s shoulder, grateful for his presence, hoping he understood how relieved he was that he was still here. “You guessed it. He’s probably spent all morning thinking about ways we can test the new limits before we try them out on the field.” He met Simon’s eyes. They were warm as ever. The last of Jim’s uncertainty evaporated. This man was his best friend besides Blair, he felt like a dick for doubting his reaction for even a moment. Perhaps Blair would suggest it was his own surprising insecurity that was to blame, not his faith in Simon. Maybe he’d ask him later. Maybe. Maybe it didn’t matter now.

 

 “Thank you, Sir,” Jim said with a small nod, heading toward the office door.

 

 “As long as you keep it clean in the office, Jim, no one has any right to judge you. Or Sandburg,” Simon said simply. Jim could tell his friend was buzzing with a thousand awkward, far too personal questions they both were too closed off to even consider voicing aloud, but the things that mattered were out there in the open. That’s all two men like them needed. Jim gave him another nod, then returned to his desk, offering a smile to Blair when his head tilted up automatically on his approach, fingers still touch-typing across the keyboard.

 

 “Good day at school, Chief?” Jim asked playfully, sliding onto the edge of the desk to watch Blair punch a hole in his paperwork. “I thought I was going to pick you up?”

 

 “Ah, the weather was so good it seemed a waste to drive. I finished early so I thought I’d meet you here and we could walk down to the deli,” Blair said easily. His entire vibe was light and practically bouncing with energy. It was as if he’d somehow found himself beneath all the worry, misunderstanding and uncertainty that’d plagued them both for so long. They’d both realised in the last few hours that their worlds hadn’t come crashing down around them, things were only just beginning.

 

 It was a new chapter for sure, one certainy not to be free of conflict but it wasn’t anything they couldn’t handle. Jim frowned, realising that the typing had stopped and that Blair was looking up at him curiously from behind the glasses he’d donned at some point.

 

 “Thinking hard there, man?” Blair mused. “Looks like it hurts.”

 

 Jim laughed and clapped his hands either side of Blair’s face briefly. “You’re a dork,” he said cheerfully, before pushing to his feet. “Finish up there quick, Sandburg or you’re buying lunch.”

 

 Lunch was delicious and the atmosphere between them even more so. Nothing was really different, they tormented each other and laughed with each other the same as they always had, yet it felt as if a weight had been lifted. Whether that weight was their unrecognised feelings or ever-looming knowledge that Blair’s dissertation would one day be finished and their time together cut short, it felt like the tension had blown away like dust in the wind. It felt like freedom and it was so exhilarating, intoxicating that Jim couldn’t resist reaching out and brushing his fingers against Blair’s where they rested around his glass at lunch, just enough to make Blair’s eyes dance in that way he loved.

 

 “So when can you officially call yourself Doctor Sandburg?” Jim asked conversationally as they bought two coffees to go at the end of their meal.

 

 Blair looked surprised. “Err, well they’ve got to review my dissertation, then I have to defend it. I think they’re so grateful I finally finished the thing that they just want it done. All being well I should have my doctorate next month, if I defend it well enough, that is. Why?”

 

 Jim shook his head with a smile, taking both coffees with a nod of thanks to the waitress before heading back out onto the street.

 

 “You know,” Blair began cautiously as they made their way back along the street toward the station. “I know the mystical bond spirit walk thing sort of eradicated most doubts or insecurities a lot of c–” He cut himself short, lips frantically snapping shut around the word ‘couple’ before it could spill forth into their all so new relationship. He looked up at Jim uncertainly before hastily continuing, “That a lot of people have when starting out. I know we saw things, automatically understood things about each other without the need for words. But I’m still sort of waiting for you to freak out.”

 

 Jim heard the tentative fear in his partner’s voice and struggled to reign in his defensiveness. He handed one of the double walled paper cups to Blair, something to fill those nervous hands before they started gesturing and drank from his own, scalding his tongue a little. He relished in the sharp burn as a distraction. “To tell you the truth, Chief, so am I,” he admitted, his lips quirking into an embarrassed half-smile. “Do you wanna know what set off my commitment panic with Carolyn?” he offered up before he could think too much about it.

 

 Those eyes gleamed with joy, as ever, whenever Jim offered up a snippet from his past. The whole package, that was what Blair had always wanted. Blair had said it himself once that he was the person that knew him best, he always hated when he was right.

 

 “Commitment panic?” Blair chuckled.

 

 “Hey, you wanna know or not, Sandburg?” Jim protested. He watched Blair sip innocently at his coffee, apparently the signal that he’d be quiet and listen.

 

 “It was just after I’d asked her to marry me. Things were great, you know? For the first time I had someone I could share my life with. She started to move her stuff in, of course, made sense. But one morning I was rinsing my mouth in the bathroom and set my toothbrush back in the holder right next to hers.” He paused, glancing at Blair, waiting for him to get it.

 

 “That’s it?” Blair blinked, “a toothbrush? You asked the woman to marry you and the sight of your toothbrushes next to each other in the cup made you freak?” He was almost laughing, valiantly holding back.

 

 Jim scowled. “It just struck me, I guess. The domesticity of it. I got over it, obviously.” Carolyn had never taken his bullshit. She’d sorted him out straight, they’d moved in together, gotten married and the rest was history. “What’ve you got that dopey smile on for, Sandburg?” he demanded, expecting Blair to offer something of himself in reciprocation but only finding that dazed giddy look on Blair’s face. “How about you let me into the Sandburg zone? It looks fun up there,” he said impatiently.

 

 Blair drank deep of his coffee, making a pleased, shuddery face at the bitter, almost too-hot liquid. “She forgot the cream,” he said mournfully, but then conceded. Without looking away from their path ahead he said calmly, “It’s nothing. It’s just that we’re already pretty domestic, Jim. Have been from the start.” He stole a glance at him that Jim easily caught. “My toothbrush already sits next to yours – heck, I’ve even used yours by mistake a few times.”

 

 “You what?”

 

 “We take turns making dinner,” Blair continued, not missing a beat, “you know how I take my coffee. I do your laundry. You tidy up after me in the bathroom and mutter about my slovenliness the whole time. You’ve held my hair back for me when I’ve puked and made me soup when I was sick. You even stoke the fire up high in winter, even though you never feel the cold.”

 

 “Is there a point to this? Besides admitting to using my toothbrush?” Jim asked stiffly, taking the cup from Blair’s hands and swapping it with his own. He could drink a black coffee, in fact he thought he needed it right about now. Blair would sip at it, not wanting to waste it but he wouldn’t enjoy it. As the liquid swept into his mouth he tasted the slight edge of Blair on the plastic lid and realised that it was just another extension of their domesticity and he didn’t mind at all. God help him, he liked it. His face burned.

 

 “The point is, we’re already pretty domestic,” Blair said, apparently missing Jim’s flushed expression. He sipped gratefully at the milky coffee. “I’m not sure there’s much that I can do at this point to freak you out.”

 

 Jim smirked. “You sounded almost disappointed there.”

 

 “Nah,” Blair said dismissively. “I’ve always kind of liked the illusion of the old married couple. You know, someone who worries about you even when you tell them not to, who notices when something’s up with you – someone to come home to.” He added the last with a small shrug and Jim remembered the memories he’d been privy to, a steadily growing Blair getting involved with the numerous cultures his mother introduced him to but never having a place to call home.

 

 Naomi had been a free spirit who nurtured her son’s independence. When Blair had screwed up or gotten in too deep, Naomi had always been dancing through her own freedom, oblivious to Blair’s need for support and guidance. Ironic, that his guide had once been so lost. Jim wondered if Naomi ever realised her son craved more, a home, stability, family.

 

 A memory stuck in Jim’s mind, a young pre-adolescent Blair with messy short curly hair curled up alone in an armchair staring at a clock with red-rimmed eyes. His lip had been split in the aftermath of a stupid childish fight with some other kid from the reservation they’d been visiting. Sometimes Jim had caught glimpses of that hurt, stubborn child, looking hopefully between the clock and the door, waiting to be rescued from solitude that he feared more than anything. It made the sentinel instincts rise up in determination to never see that expression again.

 

 “Jim?” Blair’s voice was concerned, questioning. Jim threw an arm around his shoulders reassuringly. Blair probably didn’t even realise that the reason he’d thrown himself into anthropology was his desire to integrate himself into people’s lives. He could find a place in even the strangest of customs and he was good at it because deep down, he was still full of the desperation to be surrounded by people, in hopes it might chase the loneliness away.

 

 You won’t be lonely anymore, Chief, he thought, hauling Blair in for a brush of his lips against his friend’s hair, as easy and carefree as any slap on the back he’d ever given him. He felt Blair’s smile without needing to see it.

 

 “Aren’t you going to ask me about my best commitment panic?” Blair asked as they strode through the door to the station and into the lift.

 

 “Don’t need to,” Jim said simply, confidently.

 

 “Oh yeah? Think I don’t have my own commitment issues?” Blair challenged curiously, part amused, part surprised. This was so different to the argument they’d had about intimacy, what seemed like a lifetime ago now.

 

 “Oh, I know you’ve got them,” Jim mused, “but you’re good at the game, Chief. I know you’ve never let anyone close enough to fear the force of commitment. Tell me I’m wrong.”

 

 Blair sucked in his lower lip for a second, visibly surprised Jim had read him so well. The ‘mystical rooftop experience’ had shown them many things about each other, but small details like that, those had slipped through. They were something they’d already known about each other, things they hadn’t needed to see.

 

 At last Blair seemed to relax, sipping at his coffee. “I’m not afraid of commitment,” Blair said easily, his heart steady. He wasn’t lying. Maybe obfuscating just slightly. “All those people I’ve seen over the years, I kept them at arm’s length because I knew before we started that it was never going to be it for me, not with them. But I still wanted intimacy, connection, you know? I wasn’t going to deny myself that just because I knew we weren’t going to ride off into the sunset. Every single one of them knew that.”

 

 Jim heard the wistfulness in his tone and smiled, reaching up to grip the back of Blair’s neck gently but firmly. It was an instinctive, possessive gesture, but one of comfort too, one he was sure came from the sentinel and not from the man in him. He liked it and if the way Blair’s muscles smoothed out under the touch in acceptance was any clue, he did too. He rubbed gently at the tendons there. “You like it when I give into the instincts,” he said, voice lowered an octave. He heard Blair swallow.

 

 “I…I didn’t like the little territorial display you gave me when Alex was here,” Blair managed. “Or how you turned into a dick and pushed me out whenever some girl who was completely wrong for you caught your eye.”

 

 Jim gripped his neck harder, rubbing more firmly, finding a knot there and pressing it out. Blair groaned softly and rolled his neck in appreciation.

 

 “Some of it, though,” Blair almost whispered as the elevator continued to rise up slowly. “Some of it I do like…”

 

 Jim felt a primal heat surge through his veins at the huskiness to that voice. He met Blair’s eyes, letting his vision dial up until he could see the individual flecks of darker blue in light azure. Every time they vanished behind a curtain of thick dark lashes he watched the moisture and reflection spread through them like ripples in an ocean. He swallowed now. “Which bits do you like?”

 

 Blair smiled broadly. It told him that was not a conversation to be having at the station. Reluctantly, Jim released him, letting his hand trail down Blair’s back before falling limply at his side.

 

 “So am I ‘it’ for you, babe?” he murmured heavily.

 

 Blair shuddered, only slightly, but enough for Jim to notice. “Man, you’ve been it for me from the start. If you knew how many dates I blew off just so you and I could go to a game or how many chances I missed to get laid so we could go fishing?” Blair was laughing now, the intimate heat washing gently with the tide of that beautiful sound into something softer, easier, much more appropriate for work. “Even the little things with you were always better than the full trip with them. There was never any doubt what I was waiting for.”

 

 Jim raised a brow. “And what if I’d never gotten my act together and realised?”

 

 Blair shrugged easily. “Then we’d have still gone to ball games and gone fishing and eaten take out while we argued about the chores or what to watch on TV. That was enough for me, even without the rest, even if I would be second best to someone else.”

 

 “You’ve never been second best, Chief,” Jim said without hesitation. The door to their floor opened then and they walked out, but before they made toward the bullpen Jim caught Blair’s arm until he faced him. “So, now you’ve got all the rest too?” he asked, needing to hear it directly from Blair’s mouth for some reason.

 

 Blair cocked his head to regard him fondly. “Man, I’m set for life.”

 

 Jim saw a familiar warm flicker in those eyes, knowing it was a sign of Blair wanting to kiss him and knowing he wouldn’t, not here. Instead Blair clapped his upper arm, squeezing, rubbing gently before turning and leading the way into the bullpen. He pulled up his usual spare chair next to Jim’s desk and pulled the stack of reports to be typed up toward him, putting on his glasses.

 

 Busy organising his other documents into folders ready for filing, by the time Jim looked up the office was full and busy again. He hadn’t even noticed the noise. It was as if he’d automatically dialled down his hearing until it was tolerable. He didn’t think that’d ever happened before. Blair chose that moment to pass him a sheet of notes without ever looking away from his typing and Jim imagined the excitement on that face later when he told his partner of the latest development with his senses. It’d be like a dog with a new bone, he could see it now.

 

 “If I could have everyone’s attention for a minute,” called Simon clearly as he rolled out of his office on Joel’s steam. Everyone cheered at the sight of him, especially Blair. Their captain accepted the loud and raucous delight for a moment before gesturing for them all to be quiet. “Don’t get too cheery, I’ve got a few weeks of bed-rest ahead of me after this. I just wanted to get things in order for your temporary captain and make an important announcement.

 

 “I received a phone call from head office today regarding our very own Mr Sandburg. Over the last three years his assistance to many of you has resulted in otherwise impossible arrests and the saving of lives that would’ve been lost without him. It seems his presence has made the higher-ups realise a little insight and skill from another perspective can be invaluable with daily investigations…”

 

 Jim risked a glance at Blair, who was frozen solid with surprise and flushing at the praise. He’d had very little in the way of recognition for all the help he’d given over the last few years and the glow it gave suited him. Jim squeezed his shoulder. The position had been created by Lawrence because of what he and Jim were to each other, but the praise Simon was offering was real and heartfelt and so was the general buzz of agreement through the room. He hoped Blair knew that, judging by his blush, he would guess so.

 

 “…and so I hope you’ll all join me in welcoming Mr Sandburg as a permanent advisor to Cascade Police Major Crimes,” Simon finished and as he did so, Jim pulled the pass out of his pocket and put it on the desk in front of Blair.

 

 Blair’s heart beat rose as a small round of applause filled the room and he fingered the PVC pouch thoughtfully. Jim watched his adam’s apple bob with a nervous swallow before the man’s voice seemed to return to him.

 

 “But I’ve not got my doctorate yet,” Blair whispered to Jim, apparently transfixed on the letters and official signature.

 

 “You will be soon, Chief, until then it’s all technicality and you have your old pass to use ‘til then if it really bothers you,” Jim murmured back. He watched Blair’s thumb trace the signature. Evidently he’d realised that the Chief of Police at least agreed with the sentiments Simon had announced. Even the stiff suits realised his value. That must’ve been a nice feeling. Jim ruffled Blair’s hair. “C’mon say something,” he urged, amused as the applause died down at last.

 

 Blair apparently had nearly forgotten their colleagues watching and hesitantly got to his feet. “Thanks guys, Simon. I was worried once I had my doctorate I’d be forced to leave and I’d never have the chance to help you make the streets a safer place.” He fidgeted where he stood, perpetually moving as ever. “I even had a few points where I wondered what I was doing for a while, my work here became almost more important than my work at Rainier. I think it still sort of is. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to work alongside you,” he said the last bit to Simon, who waved him off, almost as uncomfortable as Jim with feelings and emotions.

 

 “Thank the head office, Sandburg. It’s no coincidence that Major Crimes has had the best record in three decades since you arrived. Let’s keep it up. If you ever want to take the fire arms training we may even be able to make you a full detective.” With that, he awkwardly let Joel roll him back into his office, leaving the team to congratulate and welcome Blair into their permanent work force one by one. By the time they all filtered back to their desks, Blair’s hair was completely mussed and his clothes dishevelled, cheeks pink.

 

 Jim tucked the new pass into Blair’s shirt pocket and patted the fabric, before patting Blair’s face. “Well done, Chief,” he said, before turning back to his paper work.

 

 Blair tugged the hair tie out of his mussed hair and ran his hands through the curls, letting them fall loose and hopeless. “I didn’t do anything, Jim, it was all you,” he said good-heartedly.

 

 “And you think I could’ve done anything without you? I would’ve been locked up in some nut house if it weren’t for you or worse,” Jim murmured softly, “Equals, right? Partners. Everything Simon said was bang on the money. The world continues to be a better place because of you, partner. Got it?” That word ‘partner’ made Blair’s eyes bright and Jim knew the rest had hit home. He remembered Blair’s face the first time he used it.

 

 Blair nodded. He looked lighter than air.

 

 “Good. Let’s get back to work. We’ve got this case on a murder at a shooting range…”

 

*                            *                            *

 

 Blair leant his head back on the edge of the tub and stared up at the ceiling as the steam rose from the hot water he was submerged in up to the neck. The tea tree bath oil made his skin tingle and he breathed it in. He’d lit a few candles on the edges of the bath so he could turn off the glaring main light overhead and fully relax in the dimness. His mind was processing everything still, but more calmly now, at peace with it. It was a shock, after all.

 

 It was everything he’d ever wanted. He would soon have his doctorate, he had a place at Jim’s side, had a job that he’d never even considered as a kid or even a teenager but he’d come to love anyway. He had a place helping others like Jim, so many opportunities to help use what he knew to make the world better. It felt like Simon, Lawrence, Jim, they’d laid a world of possibilities at his feet and it had been overwhelming. Amazing.

 

 “You’re gonna turn into a prune if you stay in there much longer,” Jim’s voice called through the door.

 

 Blair smiled up at the candlelight flickering shadows across the ceiling. “It’s good for the soul,” Blair called back. He closed his eyes for a moment and listened. There was nothing but silence for a long moment, then…

 

 “Blair?” Jim sounded quieter than usual, the hesitation in his voice making Blair draw in a small breath he somehow knew Jim had heard.

 

 “Yeah?”

 

 “Can I come in?”

 

 Blair’s eyes flew open. He moistened his lips. “Yeah.”

 

 The light that stretched in from the great room spilled into the dim sanctuary, silhouetting Jim in the doorway. To his credit, Jim lingered only a moment there before stepping in, shutting the door behind him. Drawing closer in the softly lit sanctuary, Jim finally took a seat on the closed lid of the toilet, right next to the bath, the candlelight reflecting in his eyes, across his jaw. Blair’s stomach twisted in appreciation at the sight, wondering what Jim saw and if he felt even half of the pleasure he did right now, just seeing him, knowing he was his.

 

 “You okay, Chief?”

 

 Blair’s mouth twisted. “A lot to take in but yeah, I couldn’t be happier, man. I’ve got everything I ever wanted. I guess part of me is just waiting for the catch, you know?”

 

 Jim nodded, understanding, leaning forward so his elbows rested on his knees. “You were ready to give it all up for me not even a week ago; it must be a shock to have the world within your reach again.”

 

 Blair thought back to what he’d been feeling as he’d stepped into the conference room. Everything had been simple then. He wasn’t sure he deserved all this. He’d worked hard for his doctorate, he’d worked hard with Jim too but he wasn’t sure he’d ever feel he’d earned it. It was all just…everything he’d dreamed and more over the last few years. The kind of pipe dreams an idealistic teenager might hope for before they’d tasted the real world. Reality didn’t just fall into place like this, surely?

 

 Jim was looking at him like he could see right through every thought and Blair drew in a breath, ducking his head beneath the water to wet his hair before resurfacing.

 

 “This self-deprecation doesn’t suit you, you know,” Jim said as the water trickled down over his face. Blair swept it away as he studied Jim’s meaningful expression. Jim reached forward until his fingers were wrapped around the edge of the tub. “I’m only gonna say this once more, because you obviously didn’t listen to me earlier. Lawrence hasn’t done anything but undo the mistake your mom made by sending your diss to the publisher, Chief. No one has made anything easy for you. You’ve been the best friend, the best student, teacher, the best partner I could’ve asked for. You’ve been the best cop I’ve ever had the priviledge to work with, even without a badge. You’ve done all this, Lawrence just pushed through the paperwork.”

 

 Blair looked away but his gaze jerked back when Jim’s fingers slid into the water and brushed against his arm. “Jim…”

 

 “I’m no good with words, Chief, don’t make me say it again,” Jim implored, eyes beseeching, smile fond.

 

 If there was any part of Blair that hadn’t loved this man before, it had fallen in line then, until he was aching with it. “You’re doing a pretty good job,” Blair assured him, reaching up with a wet hand to grip Jim’s sleeve, neither of them caring about the spreading damp spot. When Jim didn’t move, just continued to stare into him, the steamy air between them growing warmer, Blair’s hand slid up higher, tugging Jim down until their mouths slid together, slow and subtle.

 

 “I won’t fit in that tub with you, babe, I barely fit it in by myself,” Jim whispered against his lips.

 

 Blair didn’t let him go. Jim may not have been a particularly loquacious man but the things he did say made Blair’s insides squirm with the warm huskiness. “Tea tree would make your skin go all weird anyway,” Blair managed.

 

 “Smells good though,” Jim replied distractedly, spreading his fingers in the water again, testing it before drawing back, apparently agreeing with Blair because he dried off his hand on his trouser leg, reluctantly standing up. “You stay in here as long as it takes to get this self-castigation out of your system. When it’s all gone, I’ll be out here,” Jim said in almost challenge as he went to pull the door shut behind him.

 

 Lifted, Blair said quickly, “What’s for dinner?”

 

 “Stir fry, so you’d better get over yourself quick, partner,” Jim replied lightly, leaving the door ajar as he strode back into the great room. Blair was out and joining him in time to help serve it up onto plates.

 

 


 

Chapter Five

Fear

 

 

 With stomachs full and dishes cleaned, they found themselves sprawled in front of the TV, Jim laying half-reclined along one sofa while Blair sat on the rug between him and the coffee table, scribbling in the notebook Jim had come to recognise as the sentinel journal. Focussing on the game he’d found, he lowered the remote and let his fingers stretch out to run through damp curls. Blair’s head tilted back into the touch a little. There was nothing at all scary about this delicious intimacy, domesticity, whatever it was he loved it and he didn’t care how that made him sound. No one else but Blair would know in any case.

 

 Anyway, physical intimacy had never been a problem for him; it’d always been the deeper stuff that’d made him clam up. No need to fear letting someone in now, Blair Sandburg was in as deep as it got and he was still here.

 

 “You’re plotting experiments, aren’t you?” he asked. Blair tensed. Jim sighed. Busted. “Go on then, what’s on the lab rat regime?”

 

 “We don’t have to, man, if you really don’t want to. I mean…the thesis, it’s never going to be published. But it’s ours and it’s done, any further tests are just for our knowledge. I just figured we could test your limits now, see how the connection has extended your abilities…” He was rambling, his tone tinged with a little nervousness but still academically excited in that way Jim had started to find irritatingly endearing. Jim carded his fingers through those damp curls again.

 

 “As long as there’s no weird sex experiments,” he said, dead serious, even though when Blair craned his neck back to look at him, his guide was smiling.

 

 “None that I intend to document, anyway,” Blair promised devilishly. With that, notebook in hand he turned so he was kneeling facing the sofa, notepad propped open against Jim’s side. “I’m thinking we should test this sensory awareness we have of each other now, not just you, me too. It could be really useful to just know where the other is in the field–”

 

 “Especially with the way you attract trouble like a magnet,” Jim cut across. A dismissive flip of Blair’s hand silenced him.

 

 “We need to see how well you can pull yourself out of a zone without me being right beside you. Even though I subconsciously seem to recognise them now before you even get there, there might be times I won’t be there, or not able to stop you in time,” Blair continued, reading through his notes. “Maybe once we know your limits on zoning we can see if you can extend the reaches of your senses too, bigger, better, faster stronger, you know?”

 

 Jim couldn’t help himself. As much as he hated being the lab rat, Blair’s infectious excitement was back and he was glad of it. He hadn’t lost himself in all of this.

 

 “It could be helpful for my work with the sentinel kids at the SGD as well,” Blair added when Jim hesitated a bit too long. He had that innocent, hedging, persuasive look in his eyes.

 

 Jim sighed. “Alright, alright,” he pushed fully upright until he was sitting with his legs swung over the couch, staring down at Blair with thinly veiled impatience. “Sensory awareness of you, right? How exactly do you want to test that, Doc?”

 

 Blair beamed, setting his notebook down and rushing to the door. Jim stood quickly when he saw Blair toeing on his shoes and pulling on a jacket. “Hey, where are you–?”

 

 “You gotta give me a head start or it’s not a fair test,” Blair was saying as he reached for his keys. To Jim’s dismay he had the door open without reaching for his phone.

 

 “Hey!” Jim called, rushing toward him, slamming a hand against the doorframe in front of Blair, stopping him from moving over the threshold. His heart was thudding in his ears, his chest tight. “It’s late, you can’t go rushing around playing hide and seek in the dark with no cellphone and no–”

 

 “Hey, man,” Blair said, surprised, running a hand up Jim’s other arm consolingly. “Nothing is going to happen to me. You’ll be right behind. Just dial your senses back, no using them to cheat, and just…feel me, right? Follow me through this awareness we seem to have.”

 

 “What happened to a scientist’s controlled environment,” Jim muttered, scowling down at him. “With all the things you’ve seen happen in this city, Chief, you know better than to go rushing off on your own in the dark,” he said solemnly.

 

 “So I’ve never been to the movies on my own when you’ve had a hot date? Or walked myself home when the Volvo gives out?” Blair challenged now. “I’ve walked that street countless times alone.” He studied Jim carefully for a moment and took a step back into the apartment, the motion making Jim relax enough that Blair could move his arm and close the door without much trouble. Jim stared down at him, not knowing what had come over him or how to stop it.

 

 “Is this like…a post-bond anxiety attack or something?” Blair asked softly, fingers reaching up to run thoughtfully down the buttons of Jim’s shirt. “I know I asked you to drop me to the U this morning, but you were glad for it, weren’t you? Is this like…?” When he swallowed, Jim could just see the movement of his adam’s apple and without thinking he reached up to brush his knuckles gently there, liking the soft vibration when Blair spoke.

 

 “Lawrence said you might feel an increase in protectiveness for me, that it’s been noted through all pairings, even the ones without a sexual relationship there along with it,” Blair said, fingers gripping the fabric of Jim’s shirt now as he held his gaze. “So what’s the difference between letting me go to the U this morning and letting me leave right now?”

 

 Jim spoke without thinking. “This morning I left you in a safe location, tonight you’re about to walk into the unknown, alone.” The words struck him as ferociously as they struck Blair and he drew in a deep breath of Blair to steady himself at the same time as Blair’s fingers slid up to rest on his chest. Embarrassed and ashamed, Jim looked away. “It’s like being a needy child,” he said with distaste. “I don’t want you to leave.”

 

 Blair’s fingers gripped his shirt again. “Hey, have you forgotten already? Lawrence, he said that the first week or so would be an adjustment. I bet Lawrence has some documentation on the subject but it’s probably a throwback to tribal sentinels, I bet they would spend time in isolation to strengthen their relationship, to assimilate – synergy, you know? Find each other’s wavelength. I mean we’ve been together for years but not like this – it’s different. We spent a long weekend together but it has to take longer than that to find our flow, right?”

 

 His fingers caressed Jim’s temples, then back down to his chest. “We sort of bared our souls in some spiritual plain, we have this awareness, a connection, so much going on even aside from any regular human anxieties we feel about going into the world after making the jump from friends to lovers.”

 

 Before he could stop himself, Jim winced at the last word, realising too late that Blair might be offended by his distaste for it. To his relief, when he met Blair’s eyes again, his partner was smiling.

 

 “You don’t like that word, do you?” he laughed, clapping Jim on the chest.

 

 Jim smiled despite himself. “I don’t like labels,” he said awkwardly. “Guess it’s the privacy thing.”

 

 “Right,” Blair said distractedly. “So…if I’m not your wife or your lover...?” His grin was devilish.

 

 “You’re my partner,” Jim replied with a voice softer than usual, covering one of Blair’s wrists and brushing his thumb lightly against the pulse so he could feel the soothing beat against his skin. He felt the rush of anxiety that’d filled him as Blair had made for the door finally begin to calm. A mixture of relief and self-loathing swelled in its place.

 

 “Hey,” Blair murmured soothingly, seeing the Ellison barriers slamming down around them. He patted Jim’s chest. “Are we going to handle this?”

 

 Jim swallowed, forcing himself to meet those eyes. He knew what the question really was. They were both very independent men, headstrong, with their own needs to meet outside their relationship. Were they going to let this new spiritual bond invade upon that? No, they weren’t. They’d resent each other for it in the end, if they did.

 

 “Don’t shut me out, man,” Blair implored, voice rough, eyes on Jim’s mouth. The vulnerability of that open gesture offered to Jim so brazenly made him freeze for a moment in shock. He gripped Blair’s upper arms and as if drawn by a magnet, their heads tilted, his down, Blair’s up and their mouths slid together, brief but tender. Blair’s breath spiked as he pushed up and kissed harder when Jim made to pull back.

 

 Blair’s tongue swept across the seam of his lips, teasing just inside, lips prying his apart so that he could taste at his teeth, his own tongue, only drawing back when Jim’s fingers gripped his arms tighter. Blair’s eyes were shining and dark when he met them next. “Don’t shut me out and don’t…don’t let your fear push you away.”

 

 Jim bristled and stepped back but Blair moved with him, gripping his shirt and stepping forward until he’d backed Jim against the door, expression defiant. “What is so hard about admitting you’re scared?!” Blair snapped. “After everything we’ve been through. You think my opinion of you will change? You think you’re less of a man to me? What about all the times I’ve nearly lost it, huh? Does that make you think less of me?”

 

 “Of course not, Sandburg you don’t get it–”

 

 “I think I’m the only one of us who does get it,” Blair argued. “You’re the sentinel, the great protector, you can’t be afraid or you fail, right? Well I’ve got news for you, buddy, even the king of the jungle knows fear. It’s what keeps you sane. Makes you human. You’re always telling me you’re not a damn superhero, aren’t you? You saw every significant moment in my life, you can feel when I’m close or too far, you think that doesn’t scare me? Of course it does but that’s not the only thing I feel, Jim. It doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere and it doesn’t mean I’ll let you pull away, back to your castle tower or wherever it is you go when you freak out.”

 

 Jim shoved at him, feeling trapped in his own skin but Blair held on and Jim couldn’t shake him off without hurting him. “Alright Doctor Sandburg,” he retorted sharply, “You’re the expert. Tell me what Sentinel Ellison feels on the cusp of your latest experiment.”

 

 Blair stiffened but did not back off and did not let go. “Jim Ellison has a vulnerability complex a mile long. He’s been hurt in the past, he’s lost people, some he blames himself for, some he blames his sentinel senses for. But now he’s been handed the last part of himself he was looking for, something he’d been denying all along – the spiritual aspect to his sentinel abilities.

 

 “Now he’s seen how easy it’d be to lose the man he is by embracing that and he’s terrified. He’s terrified and instead of admitting he’s pee-his-pants scared and asking for help and talking about it, he turns into macho military dick and tries to pull away from me like he’s done every other time we hit a nerve. My subject’s a clever guy, smarter than I think he even realises but he still hasn’t clued it together than the only person who gets hurt when he tries to shut me out so I can’t see his vulnerability is me.”

 

 That angry, hurt proclamation hung in the air between them for a long time. Heavy, cloying, suffocating like an overpowering air freshening spray. Jim felt his lungs clog with it and he set his jaw, the immovable wall that was Blair staring hard at him, not allowing him to escape this time. Their awareness, their connection thrummed ferociously with unease. He felt Blair’s apprehension as fervently as his own, but when he concentrated he could also feel the feather-light brush of affection and what he could only assume was respect, things that hadn’t changed after all they’d been through together and would never change.

 

 Still he could not force himself to speak, to surrender or to bend, be anything other than uncompromising as steel. As brittle as ice. But then he remembered the rush of the tornado of sensation that had encompassed them both on that spiritual plain, remembered that Blair had seen all of him, the way no one else had and he was still here. He’d still wanted him, he’d stayed. An anomaly in Jim’s life to begin with, someone sticking around no matter what.

 

 Unconditional love had never been something he’d had. Until now. It hurt to recognise that. He felt his world slide, the way it did when you spun around too fast and then tried to stand. A soft tug at his consciousness before the feeling grabbed hold of him made him realise he’d been slipping into a zone and he’d caught himself at the last minute.

 

 Blair was watching him, face still hard. Jim squeezed his eyes shut again as if seeing that uncompromising look caused physical pain. It almost did. Blair had obviously assumed their days of Jim shutting him out as safety measure were over. Jim had too.

 

 When Blair spoke again his voice was that low, tender soothing hum, the one that’d calmed his haywire senses so many times. Familiar. Right. His. “Some part of you is still that boy in the woods with Bud’s body at your feet, the soldier who had to bury his men with his bare hands in the middle of the jungle and still find the strength to carry on with the mission,” Blair murmured. “You built these walls around yourself so you can carry on, man, but a fortress is a lonely place if you don’t let anyone else in there with you.”

 

 Jim’s throat felt tight. He didn’t open his eyes. “I trust you, Chief.” His voice was rough. “You have to know that I do. This has nothing to do with you.”

 

 “Then tell me the truth, Jim,” Blair insisted. “And we can build the fortress together, yeah? Come on.” He let his grip on Jim’s shirt loosen, then he took his arms and tugged him toward the seating area. As they manoeuvred round between the sofa Jim tended to frequent and the coffee table, however, Jim froze, his rigidity making Blair turn to face him. Jim kept his eyes on the coffee table but he knew Blair was watching him with puzzlement. He hastened to let the words bubbling at his throat like magma in a volcano erupt before he swallowed them back to the bedrock of his soul, never to be found again.

 

 Something inside him burned, raw and so wretchedly vulnerable and human.

 

 “I’m scared of losing myself, Chief. I don’t deny I’ve become a better man, less closed-off since you came into my life and that wouldn’t have happened without the sentinel thing. I’m…at peace with the whole sentinel thing now. Or I think I can be–”

 

 “Now that you’re accepting the spiritual side of it as well,” Blair agreed, “you can finally accept it fully, not just when it works for you.”

 

 Jim grit his teeth but nodded. Surely this shouldn’t be so damn hard? Blair talked about everything he felt. His feelings had never been a forbidden zone, there were right there for everyone to see but Jim couldn’t ever remember being like that. Not even as a child. How did this come so easily to him? He did this as easily as breathing and Jim felt as if he were choking on it.

 

 “But I can’t accept it changing who I am,” he murmured as last, the words a rough whisper. “I don’t want you to have to change to suit it either. I’m…afraid of losing this life I’ve managed to scrape together. If I can’t stand for you to walk out that door our independence is gone and the landslide starts here.”

 

 Blair reached up then, his hand clapping to the back of Jim’s neck, cupping it, fingers caressing the short hair just above until Jim reluctantly did the hardest thing yet, met those eyes with everything bare for his partner to see. Blair didn’t flinch away; he didn’t even blink, just stared into him, as easy as breathing. Jim was still asphyxiating but somehow oxygen seemed less important than the slightly cool hand at his nape. “So let’s deal with this together, right? That’s what partners do. That’s what sentinels and guides do. You’re freaking out about something we can fix so easily – that’s partly what the experiments I wanted to do were for, you know?”

 

 Jim didn’t say anything. The feeling of choking to death on his feelings was so potent it was like swimming against the tide. He was reminded of his fear of open water and stiffened at the sensation of being dragged further and further out to sea. He snapped his eyes shut again, not to shut Blair out this time, but to gather some form of composure.

 

 The next thing he knew the hand on his neck was pulling him down and Blair’s lips crashed into his, hard and unyielding this time, demanding, taking, forcing him to feel. Blair’s free hand flew up to grasp his jaw, blunt nails scraping slightly against his jaw and his sense of touch rocketed upward in the moment, making him gasp slightly. Blair’s tongue took the sound, mouth swallowing it greedily and pushing harder until he swore he felt his lips bruise, the slight, barely-there bristle on Blair’s jaw grating deliciously. Blair’s body pushed into his too, the angle and weight awkward enough that they both tumbled to their knees on the rug, grunting at the impact, teeth clashing, kiss still moving with hunger and desperation that intensified with each moment.

 

 Blair’s fingers on his neck scraped and gripped, his heavy breathing vibrating though Jim’s mouth as the other hand dipped to tug at Jim’s shirt. “You are not pulling away,” Blair almost growled against him between rough, demanding kisses that scratched and bruised, tongue tasting deep. “That’s one thing that is going to change.” Because, Jim realised, he’d always given up everything for him, always when it mattered and Jim had always offered so little in return. He’d spoken of them being equals and if that were to be true, he’d have to at least let the landslide carry him down to the level field where Blair was waiting for him.

 

 “Yes,” he managed, kissing back, letting his fingers grip those curls, the feel of them over his hypersensitive fingers making him groan as Blair’s head tipped back and hard up into him. He shuddered as his shirt slithered off him at Blair’s insistent touch, scarcely aware of Blair shrugging off his own shirt while awkwardly trying to keep their lips together. That heart was loud and throbbing, breaths raspy and furious with need. Blair’s bare chest slid against his own when their bodies came back together but while Jim’s fingers massaged at his scalp, tugged at his hair, thumbs brushing against his jaw, Blair’s hands remained busy between them, tugging at Jim’s belt with clumsy, urgent pulls.

 

 “Would you take any of my shit if I tried to shut you out?” Blair demanded, mouth sliding down to Jim’s jaw when Jim gave a grunt at the final tug that opened his belt, then his trousers.

 

 “I’d kick your ass, Sandburg,” Jim replied, so easily now, twisting his head to catch that mouth again before it dipped determinedly to his throat. Teeth and lips alternately worshipped the steadily heating skin there just above his hammering pulse, then moved to the hollow just beneath his ear. He jerked against Blair’s body. Sensitive. So hot all over now.

 

 “That goes both ways, man, I’m your guide. No getting rid of me,” Blair breathed against the shell of his ear, mouth wet and so soft against him as he pushed Jim’s trousers and underwear down to mid-thigh with urgent movements. He flicked his tongue inside and Jim shuddered again, gripping Blair’s hair tight, Blair’s hand flat against his taut stomach and sliding lower to tease at the lines of muscle that dipped down into his hips, his pubic bone.

 

 Fingertips scratched at his pubic hair, skin brushing against his neglected erection and everything was buzzing overwhelmingly. He’d been with assertive women before but this was different, empowering as it was humbling. He felt the steady control he held over everything shatter as Blair gripped his cock, stroked him firmly, commanding control from his grasp and liberating him with it. The rush of it was so startling and powerful it made a rough whine-gasp tumble over Jim’s lips.

 

 Blair smiled against his ear, tongue dipping in again to make Jim pump his hips against him, fucking Blair’s hand. The other hand kept a firm grip on the back of Jim’s neck, holding him close, keeping him grounded. The sound of Jim’s own gasping sounds were thunderous in his own flushed ears, eclipsed only by Blair’s raspy breath and the wet noise of his tongue inside, lips sucking at the lobe. He could still taste Blair even though he’d been starved of his mouth for what felt like an age, his skin on fire, muscles shuddering, lights dancing behind his eyes as he squeezed them shut, ashamed of his surrender.

 

 “That’s it,” Blair urged huskily, stroking faster, sliding his thumb wetly against the slit with each push up, making Jim’s body shudder against him. “You’re so strong, aren’t you? You’ve got all this power and you have to keep control.” His voice was soothing, coercive, longing, knowing Jim better than anyone ever had before. The hand he used to grip Jim’s neck was gentle now, stroking him like a startled colt as his mouth moved against his jaw again, damp and loving.

 

 “But not with me. When I’ve got you like this, you let go.” There was a forceful demand behind that soft platitude and Jim groaned roughly, fucking Blair’s hand with abandon now, reaching out frantically scraping for Blair’s trousers, needing to touch him, to anchor himself, to feel him, do something. Anything but kneel here and take it. When he reached for him though, everything shifted. A dangerous hungry dominance flared in Blair’s eyes and Blair swatted the questing hand away, twisting Jim until he found himself bent over the seat of the sofa, his elbows bracing him against the cushions, cock leaking against the edge of the fabric. Blair’s half-clothed body curved over him and pinned him in place.

 

 “You let go, Jim,” Blair breathed insistently, fingers sliding beneath to grasp his cock again, stroke it, rub it against the material of the sofa.

 

 Jim arched and stretched but Blair was the immovable one now, pressing him tight and waiting for surrender, not letting him withdraw back now. They’d come too far. The fabric of the sofa was soft but sentinel-heightened skin burned at the delicious friction of it and Blair’s fingers. His cock was drooling and something terrifying was rising up to smother out the panicked control he was trying to scramble back. Even as he tried to fight the free-fall into relief, however, he felt Blair’s heat and knew he wanted it too, in spite of the fear. His groan was almost a dry sob this time, answered by Blair dragging his lips over his shoulder.

 

 “That’s it, come on, equals, right? There’s no shame here, only me. Show me…” Blair shifted away then, leaving Jim panting and hard and spiralling into peaceful oblivion, blessed exemption of responsibility. Pushing up onto his elbows, he felt a hand splay across his back to hold him in place but when Blair’s body pressed back over him, it was perfect bare flesh that slid over him and his own skin burned with appreciation.

 

 He was on fire, that volcano again only now the inevitability of eruption was not as terrifying, not with the warm balm of skin and love and the hard cock sliding against the valley between his cheeks. He panted. Up and down, sliding between his buttocks so nice with the glide of pre-come and sweat. He’d never been able to just let go like this, not with anyone, let go of everything and just feel until he burst.

 

 “I’ve got you,” Blair assured him roughly, a smile audible in his voice when Jim arched back, grinding back into him, helping Blair grind between his cheeks. The hand that had been stroking his back slid down to join its twin in spreading Jim open, widening the channel for Blair’s hardness to glide up against. He could feel the flared head catch on his perineum, graze over the tight furl of muscles above and he choked on the sound that tried to leave him, scrambling to reach back even though he felt so good that he knew he was leaving a stain against the sofa. This surrender, it was so dizzyingly good he was drowning, burning, freezing and the humiliation and reticence at having his arsehole bared to Blair’s eyes, to the hot steel of his cock was too much. He was free-falling again, dragged in the landslide down, down, down

 

 “You don’t have to be strong, come on,” Blair coerced. “You look so good, Jim. Let me…?” Without releasing his grip on Jim’s buttocks, Jim felt him reach out to press gently at the head of his cock so he could guide it a little harder just above Jim’s hole, teasing the nerve endings there. The slick of his pre-come was being worked into Jim’s wrinkled skin there like a brand. Then he heard Blair spit, adding to the fluid between them and he jerked at the welcome mortification of it. Sweat beaded across his back and he arched, shifting his knees apart in spite of himself, wanting the surrender before his mind could claw back any kind of reticence.

 

 “Blair,” he breathed, so low he didn’t know if his partner would hear. But Blair’s breathing roughened and he pressed one more time against Jim’s hole before drawing back. A whisk of cool air covered Jim and he shivered, shifting uneasily as the buzz of awareness dulled a fraction. He squeezed his eyes shut so tight they hurt and didn’t dare lift his head to see where Blair had gone. If he roused from the dream-like space now he’d never allow himself to come back, he knew that. He concentrated on the hum of Blair’s warmth, letting his senses roll back until he felt numb all over, inside and out and just felt along their connection. Blair was only a few feet away and then growing closer, closer.

 

 He was so far gone he nearly didn’t feel the hand on the base of his spine. That low voice was pulling him back gently and moist fingers were circling between his cheeks. He jerked again, feeling stupid, embarrassed and fighting the pull of surrender.

 

 “…just needed the lube, man, you need plenty of it, you’re so uptight,” Blair murmured and Jim tensed, moving to push up. The hand on the small of his back shot up and pinned his shoulders, bearing Blair’s full weight as his partner leant back over him, at the same time sliding a finger deep inside. Jim clenched around it and groaned. Blair pressed his nose into his neck.

 

 “Yeah, that’s it, let it go. You’re not strong right now, ok? You’re just mine…” The finger inside circled, smearing the cool gel deep inside and making Jim grit his teeth. Too much. Way too much. The finger drew back, a second sliding in with it and Blair was almost bent in half over him, chest against Jim’s back. He could feel his nipples, taut stomach, the curls of his chest hair.

 

 “Dial it down, Jim, a nice low hum, yeah? Not all the way though. That’s it…”

 

 Blair had been right up there with him the last few days, fighting back when they had sex but this was different. Blair was in complete control and it was as if the final piece of Jim’s soul had slid into place. He didn’t have to be in control all of the time, or even playfully battling for it, that was what Blair’s partnership with him meant. Blair’s hair hung over his shoulder, tickling, the smell the main sensation he clung to as touch dialled out of existence almost altogether. He was floating down the landslide now, the tide dragging him out with slow, gentle but persistent tugs.

 

 Then a wet noise filled his senses and he groaned in mortified relief, the three fingers gliding in and out of him paused, until Blair seemed to realise what he’d heard, what had made him tense up. To Jim’s relief, Blair let his fingers draw back, the sound of the damp digits gliding up and down hard flesh his only warning before Blair was up over him, cock sliding between his cheeks again with the same slow, teasing rhythm.

 

 Jim reached back with his sense of touch until he could just feel it, horrified at the way his body shook, tense, hard thick muscle reduced to nothing as Blair pressed in. That hand was back but this time gripping his hand, pressing hard to pin it, knotting their fingers together and bearing Blair’s weight as he pushed into him, just the tip, prying him open and withdrawing with small, spreading twitches of his hips. In and out, dipping in enough so Jim’s lowered touch could feel the soft burn, the heat of Blair’s prick and then back again, only to return, wetter and deeper this time. He shuddered with cold sweat.

 

 “Show me all of you, Jim,” Blair urged huskily, deeper now, then out, wet sounds and a thudding heart and a thick pulse in his cock that he pushed in with one long stretch. Jim arched. Blair squeezed his hand, the other (finally free from guiding his cock in) now griping his hip. “Show it to me. Give it to me.” Blair was slimmer than him but still toned and tight as he pressed against Jim, stilling inside, buried so deep his hips rested against Jim’s cheeks. He dragged his mouth against Jim’s shoulders over and over, as if he were the one about to lose it.

 

 “Fuck…God…Fuck,” Blair breathed, his fingers trembling slightly. Jim’s sensitivity spiked until everything hurt everywhere. His skin where it grated against the sofa and Blair’s chest hair, his fingers tight between Blair’s, his throbbing hole clenching muscles around the invasion until he had to grit his teeth around the cry that wanted to break loose. The endorphin rush was like nothing he’d ever felt before. It made his eyes sting and everything else quivery and useless as Blair pushed back enough to rock against him experimentally. The sound Jim made was almost wounded, shaking and useless and Blair, understanding, kissed the side of his neck, hair spilling over Jim’s skin as he did it again, rocking in and out without really withdrawing at all, just slight, subtle twitches of his hips.

 

 “Talk,” Jim ground out against the cushions. “Jesus Christ, Sandburg, talk…”

 

 Blair pushed up so his chest left Jim’s back, but he kept hold of Jim’s hand, kept those invasive barely there thrusts deep inside. His free hand stroked Jim from hip to shoulder, soothing the shudders there. “It’s the endorphins, Jim, the rush of giving in, of your body coping with your hyperactive tactile sense. Emotion and discomfort. Don’t fight it,” he murmured raggedly, panting. Then his hand squeezed between Jim and the sofa and grasped his half-hard cock. “C’mon, just go with it. Push back into me. You’re not in control and that’s fine, yeah? Move with me.”

 

 Jim grunted, this time trying to cling to the deep blissfully dark place that was way out of his control, knowing he wasn’t ready to leave until this was over. They’d come too far. He reached down with his free hand to cover Blair’s fingers over his prick, guiding his strokes hard and slow until he was throbbing again, squirming for a different reason despite the now lengthening thrusts steadily coring him open.

 

 “That’s it,” Blair nearly whispered against him, rocking just right, slow, deep lunges. “Dance with me. Just like that.”

 

 When Blair pulled out nearly to the tip his body clenched around empty space, disconcerted and he frowned. The grip on his cock urged his hips up a fraction and he followed, dropping his hand and just fucking the firm, slick grip of Blair’s fist, focussing everything he was on that perfect pressure. Blair slid back in again, this time only an inch or so, grinding shallowly until Jim felt the rush of electric, clenching heat spiral up inside him. He cried out in startled bliss. 

 

 Blair’s only answer was a breathless gasp of relieved laughter and he twisted his hips again, again, again, bolts of tight coiling desire bursting in Jim’s body until he wasn’t sure if he was fucking back into Blair’s hand or his cock. He pushed up onto his elbows, releasing Blair’s hand and feeling both of them grip his shoulders, using the purchase to tug him back hard. He hung his head forward, relishing in it, in every sound Blair made, in the smell of sweat and lust and the tension in the man behind him that he had created.

 

 “So soft in here and so hard everywhere else,” Blair panted nonsensically, pounding Jim hard and fast now, the noises of their bodies meeting striking flashes of lightning lust instead of shame. Jim shifted higher on his knees, undulating with every dive into his body so he could guide it where he wanted. Except now the sensitivity was back and lingering perfectly, exactly as he wanted, making the erogenous zone in his lube-slick channel spread until everything back there was on fire with need.

 

 “So damn hot,” Blair dry-sobbed, pressing in a final time and spilling scalding release into Jim who felt every pulse of it. It was almost primal in the effect it had over him. The groan that he gave out into the cushions was more of a growl and the shuddering relief of Blair all around him, inside him, deeper than anyone had ever touched made everything spiral wonderfully into flashes of heat and pleasure. Touch and smell and sight froze him and Blair’s clumsy, post-orgasmic hand gave a final twist and he lost himself in a writhing, undulating oblivion.

 

 Orgasm had never been such a cathartic experience. It didn’t matter that he was a sentinel or that those abilities he’s once blamed for everything going wrong now had brought him and Blair closer. What mattered was that they were connected in a way no one else could be, that he was Blair’s and Blair was his, including their flaws. It was as if the final wall had crumbled between them and they fell together the last few feet of the landslide until they found themselves in a heap on the rug, Blair’s head pillowed on Jim’s shoulder, both of them panting and damp with sweat.

 

 As the fog of orgasm cleared, Jim smoothed a hand through Blair’s hair, the need for contact spreading through his skin as everything settled slowly, bit by bit back into something that passed for normal. By the time his breathing had settled, so had his senses, so that even Blair’s hand tracing the line of his sternum up and down was only a pleasant tickle. He covered the hand all the same, gripping firmly. It had been cathartic, relieving, liberating but it had also been exposing. No one had ever seen him that out of control and the one person he’d been so afraid of seeing him like that, his ‘blessed protector’ reduced to shuddering animalistic cries, he’d seen it.

 

 “I…I didn’t think it’d be like that,” Jim managed, voice low and rough. He felt Blair’s head shift on his shoulder to look up at him but kept his eyes closed, still threading fingers through that mess of curls. “Overwhelming.”

 

 “It’s not always that intense,” Blair said, his voice a bit dopey as it always seemed to be after he came. “You’ve seen it yourself with me, right? Our first time was intense, man I thought I was going to combust. But you know…that time in the shower? It was fun, right? Lighter, playful and this morning when I woke you up, you know, that lazy, half-asleep thing? It’s all different but all good.” He pushed up then enough that Jim knew he was looking at his face. He forced his eyes to open, vision too sharp for a second but automatically softening so he could look at Blair properly. That face was all post-orgasmic softness, flushed glow and love.

 

 Blair tapped his fingers against Jim’s chest, trapped between Jim’s hand and his softly beating heart. “I know you’re bad with the words so I’ll say it so you get it, just this once,” Blair said firmly, “You letting go like that, of this control you have to have all the damn time, it was amazing. Purifying for me and you, intimate. You trusted me enough to hold you together when you let go and I know I’m not the only one that feels like this weight has been lifted. And you know what? You’re still the same guy that I woke up with earlier. The same cop that saved me from Lash and Chapel and all the rest of them.” Then his smile was back again, eyes bright and playful. “You’re still the man, Jim.”

 

 Jim couldn’t help himself; he snorted with amusement and clipped Blair’s head with his palm, tugging it back down to his shoulder so he could rest his on those messy curls again. Relief chased away any lingering doubt. Blair still looked at him exactly the same. He’d lost his rigid control and they’d come out of the other side unscathed, whole, perhaps stronger than before. Maybe when things inevitably spiralled out of his control again, it wouldn’t be so difficult for him to come to terms with. His anger and helplessness on this last case with Zellar and with the media had been a prime example. He didn’t want to feel like that again or push Blair away because of it.

 

 “Maybe this means next time you’ll feel a little easier about letting me in,” Blair murmured, evidently thinking along the same lines as him.

 

 Not wanting to have to find fancy words or linger on heavier emotions, not when he felt so lightened by the recent release, Jim just nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll do my best, Chief.” He knew Blair would make sure he did. They lay together in a sticky mess of loose limbs for a long time, Blair pulling the throw blanket off the sofa and over them when their damp bodies started to cool. Jim shifted, testing his sore muscles and dialling down low enough to enjoy it. The smirk he felt against his skin told him Blair knew exactly what he was doing and loved it.

 

 “You know earlier, in the bullpen, when the noise level rose it was like my hearing automatically dialled down without me needing to consciously do it. I usually have to concentrate but this was instinctive,” Jim said, staring up at the ceiling, knowing soon they’d have to move from the nest of warmth on the rug. Especially with Blair’s intolerance to cold.

 

 “Yeah?” Blair asked eagerly, far too enthusiastic for a man that just fucked him the way he had. He propped himself up on his elbow, the blanket sliding down off his shoulder slightly as he looked at Jim. “That could be good if we can start getting your senses doing that all the time. Then you’d only have to concentrate to dial them up when you need them, we wouldn’t have to worry about sensory spikes. Except maybe when you were sick or something…” He sounded thoughtful and Jim gave a tolerant smile. He could practically hear his partner plotting the exercises and tests they would work on toward that particular goal.

 

 Suddenly, Blair was moving, sliding up to brush their mouths together before pushing to his feet, pulling on each piece of clothing as he found them scattered around the living area. Jim sat up, wincing at the pressure on his tender backside. “What’re you doing?” he asked warily, watching as Blair fastened his jeans and pulled on his shirt. “Blair.” Usually when he said that name it was with affection or even lust, now it was filled with apprehension.

 

 “I’m making good on my promise not to let you feel like you’ve lost yourself. Starting with our independence,” Blair said brightly, moving to the door and snatching up his jacket again. “That’s what freaked you out, right? That we wouldn’t be able to be apart at all?”

 

 Jim was up and searching for his own discarded clothing even as he kept one eye on Blair. But he was right. As right as all this felt, as appreciated as their relationship was, it would turn sour swiftly if they couldn’t also live their independent lives. If Blair couldn’t so much as leave the apartment without Jim’s sentinel instincts growling in negation. Even as he thought that, Blair set his hand on the doorknob and Jim, wearing only his boxers vaulted the sofa and rushed to his side.

 

 “Two birds, one stone,” Blair said, far too cheerful and coherent for a man who’d just come as violently as he had. “This anxiety is unfounded – mostly anyway. We need to prove that to your subconscious or whatever drives the sentinel instincts and we need to test your ability to find me using just this awareness we have of each other.” He squeezed Jim’s naked shoulder. “So dial everything down, no cheating and give me a give minute head start, alright?”

 

 Jim said nothing. Infinitely more relaxed than he had been earlier, the rational part of him was more in control. He wasn’t filled with a sense of dread or lack of control for what could happen when Blair opened that door. Maybe in times of stress it would flare up again, like when his senses would freak out if he was under a lot of pressure, but if Blair could guide him down as he came apart like he had a moment ago and still respect him after, still looked at him the way he was now, then they could take those difficult times as and when they came. If they could still live their lives the way they wanted to in between those darker moments then that was all that mattered.

 

 “I’ll find you too quickly in five minutes,” Jim said after a long moment, “Take fifteen.” There was that academic excitement of that Sandburg smile again, just a flash of it before Blair slipped out the door, closing it behind him. Jim stared at the spot he’d vacated, trying to whittle down his senses until they were at what he considered average. He could still smell the musky scent of male sex and sweat but even Blair would, he thought wryly, washing quickly before pulling on his clothes and keeping one eye on the clock as he cleaned the mess they’d made of the sofa and rug.

 

 He was out the door and pulling his jacket on in seventeen minutes. At the bottom of the stairwell he had to concentrate to reel everything in, to stop his senses from automatically reaching out the way they were wont to do. His eyes automatically tried to find shapes in the dark, ears trace the sound of Blair’s heart and he wrestled with them for a good few minutes before they stayed down. This automatic adjustment mode they’d seemed to have adopted was useful in every scenario, except Blair’s damned scientific experiments. Grumbling to himself, he stepped out into the chilly evening and zipped up his jacket, feeling tentatively along the line of their connection.

 

 It was a warm thread of static in the breeze and Jim turned his head to the right. With practice, he’d probably be able to gauge exactly how many feet or even miles Blair was apart from him in comparison with the intensity of this feeling. It shifted just a little higher as he began to follow it down the street, full of people heading back from evening meals or even late shifts at work. It was dark but not dangerously late and Jim wondered where Blair might go before he remembered detective work wasn’t the point here. When he came to the crossroads he hesitated, turning his head in consideration before taking the left.

 

 The increasing sensation of closeness guided him four blocks away and it was then that he realised the connection was remaining that distance no matter how far he walked. He remembered then that his guide could feel the distance between them decreasing, realised that he was using that to maintain it. He was running. Feral excitement lurched in Jim’s stomach. The chase was on.

 

 Ever since the incident with the pheromones with Laura, he’d always had a lingering fear of letting the man in him and the sentinel converge, of not being able to separate if what he was feeling was real or some instinctual throwback to his sentinel senses. If Blair had taught him anything in the last few years, over the last few days, despite his resistance, it was that there was no separating them. The moment he’d been reunited with Blair on that rooftop he’d known it. Upstairs when his lover had taken his tightly reined control he knew. He knew it now as surely as he knew blood was rushing hot and hungry through his veins.

 

 Sometimes the primal sentinel in him intensified his feelings, his emotions, sometimes to the point where they made him do things he wouldn’t normally. But that didn’t make them real. That knowledge was more freeing than the key to any shackle or door a man could trap him with. He moved faster, sensing the pull drawing him on but ignoring it, side-stepping it, knowing his territory, herding Sandburg toward the new-build apartment blocks that backed onto a dead end alley. No escape.

 

 His breath was steady and deep, his skin humming as he grew closer and closer. This was what being in perfect harmony with the sentinel could feel like. He parted his lips slightly, tasting the air, sharp and fresh on his tongue. It dialled up without his permission so he could taste excitement on it that matched his own. He swallowed it greedily and slid into the darkness of the alley, stalking, seeing the surroundings with his eyes but not looking for his prey that way. He didn’t need to.

 

 The lights from the apartment windows and the street lamps cast an orange, soft glow on the alley. The sounds of the street and the people passing filled it enough to keep any ominous air from it. Anticipation was pulsing through his veins now and he took a moment to relish in it as he reached the end of the alley, the unconquerable black-brick wall that stood before him. Eventually, with expectation making his mouth dry, he turned and glanced up at the shiny black metal of the fire escape that ran up the side of the apartment block to the left. There was no sign of movement or scent his dialled down senses could trace, no evidence without pushing for it, but he knew anyway and he grabbed the grabbed the lowest rung of the ladder, swinging up onto it and making his winding way up, silent as a shadow.

 

 Jim hesitated as he reached the top, fingers gripping the lip of the roof as he balanced on the railing on his toes. He waited, biding his time, feeling the minute shift in the pull anchored deep in his chest, feeling it intensify just fractionally before he hauled himself up, lunging off the rim of brick and pouncing on the man just a few feet from the edge. They stumbled, the slightly cool body careening to the side but catching both of their weights just.

 

 A flash of blue eyes, painted almost midnight in the darkness and a glimpse of lips moving in preparation for speech was all he knew before he grasped cold cheeks in his hands. He pressed his forehead against Blair’s, letting all his senses lurch forward at once to catalogue every inch of him. It was as if the primal force that he’d let himself slip into needed reassurance that he could still feel, taste, hear, smell, see the man before him. He sniffed deeper and when Blair’s hands cupped his neck reassuringly he swore the almost inaudible groan of approval that flooded from him was more of a growl. It felt good, so good. It was like accepting who you were and coming home and making love and eating your fill all at once.

 

 “Jim, man,” Blair breathed and Jim reeled back his sight from the deep flecks of Blair’s irises to look at him at the proper range. He was flushed despite the cold. Jim smiled. Blair’s breath caught. “Wow, you’re…” The sight of him in this state was evidently still a shock, but not an altogether unpleasant one, if Blair’s increasingly personal excitement was anything to go by. “You’re with me, right?” Blair whispered.

 

 “I’m here, Chief,” he assured him, wondering how to put into words that he always would be, that this was him. That he’d found some sort of peace between the two sides of himself he’d struggled so hard to control and separate. “This is just me. All of me.” It’s just taken me this long to realise, he thought, somehow knowing Blair had heard despite him not saying it aloud. “I can do this.” He could do the sentinel thing, the cop thing, the Jim Ellison thing – all at once. For the first time, he just knew it. Because they were all one in the same.

 

 The hands on his neck slid slightly before gripping, as if afraid he wasn’t real or that he’d slip away. Teeth worried the lower lip tantalisingly close to Jim’s own. “That’s…that’s so good,” Blair said with a relief so profound it made his voice slightly ragged. Jim pressed his nose into Blair’s a little, enjoying the subtle vibration of Blair drawing in his own slightly elevated breaths as he let his senses settle back down to somewhere normal. They stayed like that for some time, long after the traffic below dulled to a hum and the wind around them grew softer.

 

 “So,” Jim murmured eventually, his voice still low but with a playful edge now that made Blair blink up at him as they drew apart enough to look at each other properly. “The primal sentinel thing does get you pretty hot, huh?” The heat radiating from Blair’s face was a welcome sting. Jim smirked.

 

 “I…” Blair swallowed. His lips were still full from the pressure of Jim’s lips against them earlier. It was mesmerising and Jim didn’t realise he’d reached up to brush his thumb against them until Blair drew in another breath. “I think it’s just the primal Jim thing, actually,” he admitted sheepishly, gesturing vaguely to Jim’s body. “You know. Just you, driven by your base sexual urges, just…taking what you want, animal instincts loosed from that iron-clad control. It’s hot, Jim.” He scrubbed a hand through his wind-swept hair. “Just seeing you like that, acting like that and knowing it’s just for me is really hot. I don’t think there’s even a scientific way of saying that.”

 

 Jim kept a vacant expression even as he preened a little on the inside at the compliment. “Only you make me lose control, Chief,” Jim assured him, letting his arm drop around his shoulders to guide him toward the fire escape. They really should get off this roof before someone spotted them and called the police, he didn’t really want to have to think of a viable excuse for why they were up here. He paused as they reached it when Blair tensed. Then he realised.

 

 “I can’t believe you climbed up here with your issues with heights,” he said with a frown, glancing down into the alley below. It was five stories. Blair had faced bigger heights but still…

 

 Blair’s heart gave a little kick and he curled his fingers on the stone of the roof’s ledge. “I didn’t even realise how high, I didn’t look to be honest it was sort of…” Those eyes flicked sideways, watching Jim with peripheral vision. “It was like an adrenaline rush, you know? The chase, the way the awareness grew hotter and more insistent the closer you got? It was exciting and, yeah, completely primeval. I was in the moment and when I found myself trapped in the alley I just…went with it you know?”

 

 Jim didn’t often allow himself to wonder about primitive sentinels or his ancestors, but he did wonder then if sentinels back then would’ve had a chase such as this, a ritual hunt of sorts for their guide. It just felt right somehow, to have followed him like that, to chase him down. Now he had, he was filled with an odd satisfaction, like a job completed and completed well. He could see a frown brewing in Blair’s brow too which suggested he felt the same. “I think it’s something for your notes, Chief, something for other sentinels to know, to experience,” he said, swinging over the ledge onto the fire escape. It was quite a drop down onto the first level and it wasn’t until he looked back up to Blair that he realised how far.

 

 “You…what?” Blair whispered, frozen in place not just from fear but shock too, it seemed.

 

 Lips quirking, Jim gestured with his hand for Blair to follow after him. His guide didn’t move. “I think it’s important. I’ve never really thought about what the sentinels of yore or whatever used to do but I think this chase thing, I think that was something they did. I’m sure of it somehow. I think you need to share that with your little protégés at the SGD.” The apartment that lead onto this landing of black metal was empty, thankfully but he still thought they should get moving, he lifted both hands now and gestured a little more insistently for Blair to move.

 

 Slowly, Blair exhaled, a long slow breath that vanished into the night air as he gingerly swung himself up onto the ledge, legs dangling like a hesitant child about to jump from a tree. Jim smirked at the image. “C’mon, Chief. You jumped off a cliff once, remember? This is nothing to you.”

 

 Blair shifted an inch forward and shut his eyes; Jim could see that even with the shadows covering his face. He parted his lips to call to Blair softly once more, wondering if he’d have to climb back up and get him when Blair pushed himself off and landed clumsily with a loud clang on the iron platform, staggering into Jim with his heart pounding and eyes wildly searching the ground below. Jim clapped him on the shoulder and reached out, hoping no one had heard the noise. The apartment below had the television blaring though and they hadn’t seemed to notice.

 

 “Let’s get back,” he said, feeling the chill that nipped at his partner’s skin when his fingers strayed to caress the side of his neck briefly. “You’ve got notes to write up from that little test.” He wondered if Blair realised that even though his original thesis would never receive the credit it deserved, it and his knowledge would help so many people, who would then in turn help hundreds, maybe thousands more. He climbed down silently first and tipped his head up when he hit the pavement to watch Blair gingerly follow after him. He thought Blair got it alright, if his returned enthusiasm for research and tests were any clue, a part of Blair’s quirky personality Jim had never thought he’d miss, yet he had.

 

 “What’s up?” Blair asked as he followed Jim back out onto the street, pulling his jacket up round his neck to hide from the cold. “You’ve got a weird look on your face.”

 

 Jim thumped him lightly on the arm as they walked. “Just glad to have you back,” he said simply, sensing Blair’s confused but affectionate smile more than seeing it.

 

*                            *                            *

 

 Jim squinted. They were at least a mile from shore, maybe more and though there were no waves as such, the gentle rocking of the boat when his vision was zoomed in this far was more pronounced. He reached out a flailing hand to grasp the railing along the back of the cruiser to steady himself, to try and alleviate the sensation that he was falling. He closed his eyes and breathed hard, trying to relax the way Blair had always taught him.

 

 Cold fingers covering his on the safety rail made him grunt in affectionate impatience. “You couldn’t have staged this little test on a stable platform, Chief?” he grumbled.

 

 “We tried it from the roof of our building and the reach of your vision has nearly quadrupled!” Blair said excitedly. “I wanted to give you more of a challenge. Sometimes the bad guys aren’t always going to be standing still for you, man, and you have to cope with distraction and instability.” Blair’s fingers stroked his reassuringly. “Don’t focus on the movement the boat gives your vision, okay? Youi’re reaching for the target with your sight. Forget everything else, yeah?”

 

 With a sigh, Jim squeezed open his eyes again, struggling to push beyond the nauseating sway of the boat and find the target Blair had left for him back on the nearly deserted marina. The more he’d practiced over the last few weeks, the easier it had become. Now there was only the slightest strain as he reached the peak of his vision, feeling for Blair’s presence along the thread of their connection when he felt himself losing it. If he grasped at it, he could almost feel Blair’s anticipation, the pride rolling off him and it distracted him enough from his maximised sight that he kept himself lucid.

 

 The target was easy to pick out. The brightly coloured can of Pepsi Blair had downed before they’d boarded the boat. “I see it,” Jim confirmed. “On the dock, just next to the moored white and yellow jet ski.”

 

 Blair gave an excited laugh and slapped him on the shoulder before hastily scrawling in his notebook. “Wow just…wow. And you didn’t even zone! I didn’t even feel you dip toward it. That’s incredible, Jim!” He swept his hair back from his face when the wind whisked it across his vision as he wrote. Jim reeled back his sight enough to admire the image, the way the wind-swept strands shone almost red in the intensity of the sunlight as it peeked from between the cover of clouds. When Blair gave another impatient swat at his hair Jim reached forward, pushing it back with strong fingers and bunching it up at the nape of Blair’s neck.

 

 Blair’s head tipped back to meet him, visibly swallowing, heart skipping, bright blue eyes drifting over Jim’s mouth briefly before returning diligently to his own eyes. “Oh,” was all he could say.

 

 Jim smirked. “It’s quite the accomplishment to make you lost for words, Dr Sandburg,” he mused, giving the curly ponytail a final tug before releasing it, heading toward the engine of the boat. Ever the scientist, Blair hesitated, finishing his notes before joining him.

 

 “The SGD haven’t seen my notes yet,” Blair said, propping himself against the side as Jim took a swig from his bottle of water. “But I’ve seen theirs. On all their registered sentinels and guides. Jim, their abilities don’t even have half the reach yours do. Most of them, they have all five elevated senses but yours are all stronger than what I’ve seen documented.”

 

 Jim heard the awe in his partner’s voice and shifted awkwardly to face him. He felt a little sheepish at the unprecedented praise. “Well, I bet none of them had a guide that was an expert in the field before they even got started,” Jim replied, offering the bottle to Blair before returning his attention to the instrument panel. They should start heading back soon if Blair still wanted to visit the SGD this afternoon.

 

 “I…I’d really like for you to come with me one afternoon,” Blair said then, as if reading Jim’s mind, taking a swig of water to postpone his next words. “I know you still don’t trust Lawrence and the rest of them, not fully. Hell, I don’t blame you, but I think it’d be good for the sentinels to see you. You know…I had a theory, about why you didn’t respond to them as threats the way you did to Alex? You see, they’re all on the same level, they fight for dominance among each other all the time but when you show up, you’re like the alpha male, you know? They immediately know whose boss so they don’t need to challenge you and you don’t feel threatened by them. The one time you were in the room with them, they behaved themselves. Every time I’ve seen them since they’d ripped the crap out of each other verbally or physically – sometimes both.”

 

 “Alpha male?” Jim mused, starting up the engine. Blair hadn’t once asked Jim to go with him to the SGD, though he knew Blair still had hope. Jim brought the boat around. Lawrence had made good of his promise to help them, more than good and he clearly valued Blair’s insight into sentinels but Jim was still reluctant to let himself fall into their hands, not after how this had all started.

 

 Blair laughed. “You heard me; I’m not stroking your ego anymore than necessary. Look there’s a meeting in a few days with the kids and a sentinel guide pair from Washington. They’re bringing some potential guides with them. I was…” Blair took a swinging step closer, until Jim could feel his warmth through the chill of the sea air. “I was hoping you’d come with me then. The kids really respected your authority before, I think it could help them focus, see if any of these guides could be what they need.”

 

 With a sigh, Jim stared at the shoreline as they drew steadily closer. “Chief, I know Lawrence made good of his promise and I appreciate that,” he began, not meeting his partner’s eyes. “But government bodies aren’t known for their trustworthiness.” It was bad enough that Blair was involved with them. He’d never been a particularly possessive or controlling person, but whenever Blair made one of his visits to the SGD his skin prickled with the instinctive urge to stop him. If he asked, Blair would probably do it, which was probably why he hadn’t asked.

 

 They’d recovered their relationship quickly after the fiasco with Alex Barnes, but the closer Blair had drawn to finishing his dissertation the more distant he’d become, afraid of what would happen when his excuse to be at Jim’s side would be torn away. This Blair, the one bouncing with academic excitement, the one rambling a mile a minute about sentinels was the one he’d met in that shabby storeroom office that day, the one he’d unwittingly fallen for. He didn’t want him to lose that eternally youthful thirst for life and knowledge that made him almost innocent in spite of the horrors he’d faced.

 

 “They just…they abducted you and used you as bait to lure out the sentinel in me,” Jim continued at last. The memory of the dark, silent nothingness they’d kept him in was still vivid enough to make a shudder run through him, one he disguised as a stretch of his shoulder. “I know that they never intended for either of us to be hurt, but that’s just it, Chief. With them it’s always just part of the job, no matter what. They’ll risk everything to get the job done.”

 

 Blair leaned back against the centre console and looked at him, hair blowing in the sea breeze, wild and boundless, flecks of red catching Jim’s gaze until he forced his senses back from the zone that nipped temptingly at his mind. “And you wouldn’t? Within reason?” Blair asked lightly, but with a hint of challenge.

 

 Jim sighed again. “Within reason, I wouldn’t risk lives and I wouldn’t compromise my moral turpitude.”

 

 Blair’s lips twisted. “That’s a big word for you, man,” he teased, earning himself a thump in the shoulder. “Hey, I’m kidding, you know that. But look, Jim, technically I risked my life every time I got in the truck with you. I was up for it, I would’ve beaten you down if you’d tried to resist but I was there, ok?”

 

 Jim glared, unable to believe that was being thrown in his face. Looking back, it had been a stupid decision, reckless, selfish. He’d let Blair, an enthusiastic but naïve civilian into his world so he could control his senses but he’d put Blair in the grasp of death so many times. Right from day one with the Switchman case and yeah he’d always offered up an initial protest at a particularly dangerous case but he’d only ever given a half-hearted argument when Blair insisted he follow alongside him. Because it felt natural for him to follow me, his mind supplied. Because it was instinct to allow him to be at my side. Because that’s what makes sense. To the sentinel at least, if not the man. His guide was meant to follow him into danger, that was how they worked.

 

 “Hey, don’t get that face,” Blair said, voice gentler, hand coming up to rub Jim’s arm apologetically. “I didn’t mean it that way. Jim, nothing you did ever put me in danger. It was meant to be this way, right? I knew that the moment you stepped onto that roof after me and this…connection or whatever it is first made itself known for what it was. I won’t let you blame yourself for every scrape I get myself into, alright?”

 

 Jim wasn’t convinced and really, while it was true he couldn’t help the way they were drawn together or the way they fit so perfectly, the way he was genetically hardwired to need Blair’s assistance, his choice to be a cop did put Blair in danger. But that wasn’t what this was about. “You were knowingly consenting to the dangerous scrapes you got into, with me. With them you were dragged into it against your will, the SGD knew that and didn’t care. It’s not the same.

 

 Blair frowned. “I know. I know it’s not the same I just…” He was getting tongue-tied, which wasn’t like Blair at all. He swept his hair back in frustration. “I just wanted you to understand that it’s not about Lawrence or the government or anything else. It’s about the sentinels. It’s about…taking your rightful place. You’re the senior protector here – and man don’t pull that face, it’s not a crack about your age. You’re the superior sentinel, you could show them so much, allow them to help others. I know the SGD can’t be as flawless as they make themselves out to be, heck, I think I saw that first hand the night we met them but that doesn’t matter, it doesn’t mean what they’re doing is bad. Cascade PD is pretty messed up and corrupt in places, does that mean it’s all bad?”

 

 Jim didn’t answer that, he knew he didn’t need to. He scowled at the shoreline, at the sense his partner was making. Blair allowed him his brooding silence nearly all the way back in. Just a little ways from shore, however, Jim heard Blair shift, felt those arms come around his waist and a chilly forehead press between his shoulder blades. Jim tensed. It’d been a few weeks but sometimes it was still startling to feel someone reach out to him with such surety, such firm comfort. He pulled the boat into the mooring and cut the engine, covering Blair’s arms with his own for a moment.

 

 “You’re…not wrong,” Jim admitted softly without turning, without moving. He knew deep down the work was important, that it did some good, that was the only thing, besides his respect for Blair that allowed him to just let the most precious person in his life walk in there every week. He tightened his grip over Blair’s arms briefly. “Just give me some more time, Chief?” He felt a small nod at his back and then Blair was sliding away from him, drawing back. He turned to see Blair grabbing the mooring rope and scrambling gracelessly onto the dock to tie it off.

 

 Together, they worked silently to secure the rented boat and then Blair reached down to give Jim a hand onto the shore. That done, he gave Jim a brief smile before turning. Jim reached for him without thinking, spinning him round and diving beneath those curls to cup the back of Blair’s neck. He squeezed gently. He held dazzling blue eyes, even bluer with the reflections of the water within, knew somehow that he had to say something, wanted to, even. He reeled Blair in and rested their foreheads together. “You know…you smell different when you’re happy,” he murmured.

 

 Blair blinked up at him in surprise. “In a good way?” He looked torn between flushed appreciation and academic interest.

 

 Jim nodded, drawing back a little but not releasing him. The sea breeze whisked Blair’s scent up to greet his nose and he inhaled deeply. “Yeah, the same except warmer… sweeter.”

 

 

 Blair cleared his throat and brought his hands up, squeezing Jim’s forearms gently through his roll-neck jumper. “Jim, you really can’t say stuff like that when we’re out in the open, man,” he panted, glancing around. The dock was deserted for now but one of the many positives they’d discovered in the last few weeks together, was that Jim’s sentinel senses made their more intimate moments together…intense. So intense that it was contagious. It was if the whole world tilted and jerked out of focus, leaving only them.

 

 The next thing Blair knew, he’d been backed into an open, empty container in the shadow of another and he was being born into the cold side of steel, Jim’s body on him. He gasped and Jim’s nose dragged against his cheek, lips brushing his jaw in an odd, slightly parted yet sensual slide. “Jim, what’re you…” Jim sniffed subtly just behind his ear, dragging lips along the column of his throat and he blinked up at the shadows of the container. Their ragged breathing echoed in the confines of the metal.

 

 Jim had done this before, in fact he’d done it the morning they’d woke up in bed together, knowing they had to face the real world for the first time since becoming…together. Jim had pinned him down to the bed, just like this and dragged his lips and nose all over his skin. Scenting him, marking him imperceptibly and then sniffing gently to ensure he was thoroughly imprinted. God. He brushed his fingers gently against Jim’s short hair. God help him he was so hot for this, this side of Jim and he knew Jim could sense it.

 

 His fingers gripped Jim’s jumper, sliding up from his arms to knot in the fabric at his shoulders. As if this made his scent spike somehow, Jim turned his head to brush the corner of his mouth against Blair’s knuckles, his strong fingers. Blair gave a breathy moan that drew Jim’s eyes to his, indigo in the low light. He flicked a fingertip along Jim’s mouth. It was like every inch of exposed skin needed to be scented.

 

 “Is this a pheromone induced possessive sentinel streak or a guide thing?” Blair managed roughly. Jim’s eyes narrowed as if thinking was hard. He smoothed a hand over Blair’s wind-swept hair.

 

 Jim visibly swallowed. “Neither,” he managed, but anything else he’d been about to say cut short as he shoved away from Blair quickly, straightening his partner’s clothes before urging him back out of the container. Blair, confused, just followed the movement, letting Jim steer him round the corner just as a man approached from the opposite side.

 

 “Afternoon,” Blair greeted with a tip of his head at the man, who passed them, nonethewiser. His heart was pounding and his face flushing all the way back up to the office where they handed in the rented key and returned to the truck. Blair buckled himself in only to see that Jim was seated behind the wheel, running a hand over his face. “Uh, Jim?” he asked hesitantly. He didn’t sense any distress but it still felt odd. Then Jim’s hand slid up to smooth over his own short hair and Blair caught sight of an embarrassed smile.

 

 “Chief, you make me feel like a horny teenager. That is so bad for the image,” he said with a rough laugh as he turned the key in the ignition.

 

 Blair laughed back, relieved. “Cop of the year, caught necking his partner in a dock container.” He slid a casual hand over Jim’s thigh as they pulled out onto the road. One of the nicest parts of this development in their relationship was that the casual touching was still such a solid part of it. His fingers kneaded Jim’s denim clad thigh as he drove and whenever they moved onto a clear uncomplicated stretch those longer fingers would slid down to cover his in distracted easy affection.

 

 “It’s not like a pheromone high,” Jim said as they drove toward the edge of the city. “Not like with Laura. It’s not a guide thing either, not entirely anyway.” His fingers slid between the gaps of Blair’s as they pulled safely onto the highway that would take them to the secluded, vast plot that the SGD used as their base. “It’s…it’s almost both of those, I guess. I’m affected by the pheromones alright and protective of you because you’re my guide, but this feeling never came over me before and those things were both still there. It’s intensified, it’s…it’s because you’re…mine.” The last word was a husky but slightly sheepish murmur.

 

 Blair squeezed his hand and smiled. James Ellison didn’t share often so the times that he did were even more special, especially when he did so willingly. “You’re a closet romantic, Jim Ellison,” he said with gentle teasing. Jim glared at him briefly before focussing his eyes back on the road but he didn’t seem too upset by Blair’s response. Blair rubbed his thigh apologetically. “I think I know what you mean,” he agreed resolutely, looking to the road as well, easy, relaxed. It made sense. His pheromones were attractive to Jim on some level and he watched out for him because he was his guide, but all that could only have the power to affect Jim on the level that he went all primal when they happened in conjunction with each other, neatly rounded off by the fact that..

 

 “It’s because you love me, man,” Blair said easily. It wasn’t a thunderclap or a resounding crash, it was just another stretch of that awareness, a part of Jim he thought he’d always known and just never seen for what it was before. He smiled and glanced over just in time to see a flushed-faced Jim looking quickly back on the road. “From the research I’ve seen, a platonically bonded sentinel feels the same level of primal protection and even some residual effects from their guide’s pheromones but not sexually,” Blair continued, rambling easily. “This primal state must rise up in you because all three contributing factors bring something out in you in times of stress or arousal or–”

 

 “Chief,” Jim said firmly, cutting through the chatter. He sounded a bit irritated, not unusual in itself but something felt off. Jim glanced over at him and their eyes met briefly. Blair saw the hurt there barely concealed behind the Ellison stonewall and realised his lack of sensitivity.

 

 “Hey,” he said soothingly, in that voice that seemed to make a little ripple of calm roll down Jim’s spine. “I love you too, you know that, right?” The slight ease in the tension in his sentinel told him he’d been right about Jim’s reaction. Jim spoke better with actions than words but he needed the words just as much as most sometimes.

 

 “So romantic, Chief, is that how you got into the panties of all those ladies?” Jim offered, his tone lighter now.

 

 Blair grinned. “When the science didn’t get you going I had to pull out my best moves,” he said jauntily. “I know you hate the sentinel science babble, it’s just so interesting in an academic sense. Your reception to the pheromones and your instincts to protect me converge with your feelings and cause this primal surge. If we could discover what sets it off, fear or anger or arousal... You know the first time you got like that with me it was the morning we were heading out into the real world again? And just then…what was it that time?”

 

 Jim was silent for a good long moment, concentrating, apparently as he pulled off the main road and onto one of the side dirt tracks, the one that lead down toward the SGD base. “I was thinking about you heading into the SGD alone, I guess,” he admitted quietly.

 

 Nodding, Blair reached for his backpack and pulled out his journal, scribbling something down on the pad inside. “So it’s the protective instincts. But I’m your guide and you also love me in a non-platonic, amatory sense and that makes the protective instincts take over for you. Hence the scenting, I guess. You need to take control back in a potentially hostile situation, scent me, secure me, reassure your heightened senses that I’m still yours, safe, not going anywhere. We already know the sentinel isn’t just senses, it’s the visions, the instincts, the complete package. This is just another part of it.

 

 “When your feelings are at their peak, we’ve seen how your instincts rise up and manifest to help you cope or just cut out altogether sometimes. It’s happened before when you’ve been feeling anger, guilt, sadness, even arousal, right? Oh, right,” he snapped his fingers as it all came back to him, “and we even saw some sensory reaction to Lila before, because of your feelings for her. Only this is exacerbated because I’m your partner in every sense of the word – to the sentinel and the man in you, so it’s having a more profound effect on your senses. It’s sort of like…how endorphins are released to help us recover from stress or pain, you know?”

 

 Jim pulled up outside the gates of the SGD with a jerk that made Blair fling his hands out on the dash to steady himself. Jim turned to look at Blair with hard eyes. “I realise this is a very exciting development in your field of study, Dr Sandburg, but your prized chimp isn’t too keen on his feelings being talked about like some chemical function.” He wrung his hands on the steering wheel and when the gates buzzed, showing that whoever was watching the security from the inside had cleared them, he revved the engine. The gates slid open and he jerked the car forward.

 

 Chastened, Blair stowed his notepad in his backpack and brushed his hair behind his ear self-consciously. He didn’t move when Jim pulled up at the side entrance Blair had used before. One of the black suited agents would appear soon and let Blair in but Blair wasn’t even looking at the door, he was watching Jim close down, shut him out section by section, arms and hands locked into position around the steering wheel, not moving, not looking at him. When Blair reached up to touch his arm though, Jim grabbed his wrist, firm but not hard.

 

 “Look, you of all people should know love isn’t something that comes easy to me and when it does, it doesn’t tend to stick around for one reason or another.” He still wasn’t looking at him and he dropped Blair’s hand, the rejection making Blair’s chest ache. “You know me better than anyone,” Jim continued stiffly, “and to hear you talk about my feelings like it’s just a scientific response pisses me off.”

 

 It occurred to Blair that this was their first argument since they had moved from friends to lovers, but the years of friendship behind them had given him understanding of this complicated, stoic man. Guilt gnawed at him and he reached up, ignoring the way Jim flinched and to cup his face. He studied those eyes, let his gaze take in that hard expression and leaned in. Their foreheads rested together and Blair exhaled roughly as the bridges of their noses touched.

 

 “C’mon, don’t shut me out, Jim. I’m sorry.” He kept them connected, didn’t move except to let his fingers curl slightly, drag down Jim’s face with urgency. It’d been this way since nearly the beginning, when Jim hurt, he hurt, to almost unbearable depths, he couldn’t bear it, especially to know he’d caused it.

 

 Mostly. Jim was strong but he was insecure too and afraid, afraid of opening himself up and being hurt. A few times in the past he’d let himself open up a crack only to feel the burn. Blair himself had hurt him and it’d always resulted in the same thing, this hard retraction, this solid wall and Blair couldn’t let it happen anymore. “I’ve always been in awe of what you are. I’ve always had you on this pedestal and whenever we make a new discovery I let my excitement get the better of me and I sort of speak before I think.” He tried to give Jim a winning smile. “Hard to believe, huh? Smooth talker like me and when it comes to you, I just…get myself into trouble.”

 

 There was only their mingled breathing and Jim’s warm skin, the slight flicker of his eyelashes against Blair’s and then those fingers stroked over his hair. Blair stifled the sound of choked relief that caught in his throat.

 

 “You’re not as smooth as you think, Sandburg,” Jim murmured, so close to his mouth.

 

 Blair laughed softly. “Hey, loving you makes my brain do crazy things, Ellison. I’ve never been able to be objective when it comes to you, no matter how hard I try.”

 

 Jim grunted. “Good. Good to know I can make even Doctor Casanova weak at the knees.” The playful edge so swiftly renewed after that near shutdown made relief bloom in Blair’s chest and he blinked hard. “I tend to overreact when it comes to you,” he offered, meeting Blair half way, probably sensing the despair slowly receding from him. He stroked against Blair’s neck through his curly mane soothingly.

 

 “I was out of line,” Blair began to protest but the fingers in his hair tensed warningly and he silenced, drawing back enough to look into those eyes but not enough to make the hand at his nape retreat.

 

 “I don’t like the way you do things sometimes but your research, the way you process things, it does help sometimes. Sometimes,” he repeated warningly when Blair beamed at him. “It’s good to know that it is just manifested because of my feelings. You know better than I do that I need to hear that, I guess.” He had come to terms that he was the sentinel, that it and him were one in the same, his instincts and his human feelings intertwined to the point where they were one. That knowledge was what had enabled him to embrace this finally, once and for all. He knew it logically, even deep down inside but on occasion it was just human nature to worry. That was where Blair came in. He gave a small exasperated smile. “Sorry, I’m just…this place, knowing you’re here makes me uneasy. Sets me off.”

 

  Blair smiled back and pressed in to brush their mouths together. Jim was so at peace with himself nowadays, but a part of him would always occasionally rise up in times of frustration and question the way of things. That was what made him human. That was one of the many reasons a sentinel needed a guide. Blair cupped Jim’s neck in the same way his was being held. Movement caught the edge of both of their vision and they looked up to see an agent looking very uncomfortable at the door, doing his best not to look at the car.

 

 “Sure you don’t want to come with?” Blair asked gently. “My car is still here from where you picked me up from here the other day though so don’t feel, you know, obligated or anything.”

 

 Jim sighed, shook his head, probably feeling exactly what Blair was. It felt wrong to part after that argument without something more tangible to secure both of them, but it couldn’t be helped. “Just keep your nose clean, babe. I’ll wait up for you,” he said in a gentle dismissal, “make that chilli you like, maybe.”

 

 Blair beamed, that smile stunning him momentarily. He shook his head then too, a little flushed, pushing his hair back from his face with a slightly embarrassed grin. “Man, when you say that like that it does things to me.”

 

 Jim cocked his head, glancing briefly at the guard by the doorway before losing himself in those eyes. “Say what, Chief?” he asked, an octave lower. He let his fingers skim the delicate skin just inside Blair’s wrist, no doubt feeling the pulse humming gently there in a way that was so breathtakingly intimate the air caught somewhere in Blair’s throat.

 

 “When you say the things I’ve heard you say to all those women,” Blair murmured with a little shift that was almost a squirm. “I watched you a few times with them, you know? Saw… Well, let’s just say I knew you kissed nice long before I got to find out first hand.” Blair looked out the window then and sighed. “I won’t be late tonight.”

 

 “You’d better not be, Sandburg,” Jim said, forcing his voice back up to their normal camaraderie as Blair reached for the door. He flashed Jim a final smile before slipping out of the truck.

 

 

 Jim watched him go, tracked his heartbeat and the light, easy conversation he carried out with the guard long after he’d vanished into the building. He sat there and listened for some time, feeling their connection stretch easily. His senses breached even these steel walls and focussed solely on the easy-going chatter of his partner until the uneasy feeling of leaving him here abated enough for him to turn the engine back on and start the drive back to the precinct.

 

 He may as well get some of his work done while Blair was busy here. The idea of going back to the loft and finding it empty was not as appealing as it may have been just a few years ago. Funny how things changed. He smiled softly as he turned the radio on to chase away the quiet of the truck and pulled back onto the highway.

 

 


 

Chapter Six

Challenge

 

 

 

 Jim wasn’t sure if it was the interview for the case he’d been following up on or knowing Blair was at the SGD that had him on edge. It was a draining interview, one that left him with a headache. One whiff of Blair’s coat that had been left on the rack on the way back into the bullpen stopped the uneasy throbbing in his senses at least. Resuming his seat at his desk, he stared thoughtfully at the coat before turning his gaze back to the computer screen.

 

 He wondered if Blair was leaving little scent trails for him on purpose, he was the expert here, after all and there was a scarf left in the truck that Blair hadn’t worn for a week. It was one of those little quirks to Blair’s character that only served to endear him further, one that could easily be mistaken for Sandburg sloppiness to anyone else. Jim shook his head with a small smile and managed to focus on his work for the rest of the afternoon.

 

 That evening as he lifted the lid to the lid of the pot to check on the chilli, he felt tentatively along their connection. Blair’s proximity had shifted closer. He was on his way home. Sure enough, living the separate portions of their lives hadn’t grown any more difficult. It wasn’t uncomfortable to be apart when they needed to be as he’d feared but he thought Blair visiting the SGD might always be the exception, it would always make him a little unsettled. He didn’t think even a normal man could be blamed for that, given the circumstances.

 

 Their lives outside the loft were much the same, with the easy coming and going but without the tension that had loomed with the oncoming release of the dissertation. Everything was lighter, freer, including his senses. A part of him morbidly wished for a trying case or a taxing situation so they could see how well his protective instincts for Blair, as well as his senses performed when put to the test. He didn’t like living with the unknown, the waiting for potential disaster. His senses were finely tuned, stretching further every day but they hadn’t tried his ability to pull himself back from a zone or prevent one entirely without Blair at his side in a stressful situation, or his otherworldly instincts to protect his partner.

 

 He wished someone could lay it all out for him in black and white – probably he was too used to Blair being able to do just that. This, however, was something they’d have to embark on together, learn and cope with as it came at them. He was sure that would come soon enough, he shouldn’t be wishing for hardship.

 

 Laying the table, he turned back to the pot and turned down the heat. It was pretty much good to go. He set the lid back on as he felt the increase in soothing awareness, subtle vibration, the change in the air as Blair entered the building. The lift was working, he could hear its movements. He stretched further and heard a heartbeat thudding easily, a rustle of fingers through hair and the clink of those same fingers snagging keys out of a denim pocket. Jim sniffed, reaching beyond the warm scent of chilli and cleaning spray for the musky heat of the man just as the door opened.

 

 Jim turned to face him, still drinking in the smell of him but stopped short as he found something else overlaying the mingled scents of him and Blair and their home, the air freshener from Blair’s Volvo. He cocked his head, watching Blair shut and lock the door behind him, drop his keys on the table and shrug off his jacket.

 

 “Hey Jim,” Blair said warmly, tossing his jacket over the back of the sofa as he made his way over to the kitchen. He tucked his wayward hair behind his ear, brushing a palm against Jim’s back as he moved passed him to lift the lid of the pot. “Smells good, man. Just gimme a second to wash up, huh? I was helping Alice and the others identify the difference between varying sediments blindfolded, sand, soil, salt, you know? The beginner stuff we started with. I think they really…” He trailed off as he made to move away and Jim caught his arm firmly, stilling him where he stood.

 

 Jim studied him carefully. Nothing looked or felt out of place, but there was definitely something else there, something that filled him with an odd sense of nostalgia and foreboding. He drew in another breath through his nose and the smell of another sentinel was unmistakeably there. Not one of the kids, those scents on Blair had never filled him with this apprehension before. This flash of Alex and yet different somehow. It reminded him of finding Blair face down in the fountain, of being suffocated by a presence he hadn’t even been aware of to begin with, the sense of losing himself. He shook his head and took a step forward, crowding Blair against the worktop with his eyes shut, just focussing on breathing.

 

 “I can smell her on you,” he managed roughly, fingers splaying down Blair’s shirt-front, as if his senses were automatically trying to ascertain how far his territory had been encroached on. He swallowed, trying to control himself. He felt like he couldn’t breathe without this scent cloying at his nostrils like cotton bunging him up. It was definitely a she. He didn’t realise his face was pressed into Blair’s neck until a hand patted his shoulder gently, curls tickling his face.

 

 “Hey, Jim,” Blair said carefully, “It’s because she’s a potential challenge, not like the kids. She’s a mature sentinel, one who hasn’t deferred her position to you. She came to sit in on a session with me and the kids today, I should’ve realised you’d be able to smell her. Here, lemme go wash up and leave these clothes in the hamper and… Oh God…” The latter was a soft, husky groan, punctuated by a hard swallow. Blair turned his head to press his cheek against Jim’s, to pant into his ear. His fingers tightened on Jim’s upper arms as Jim tugged at his belt.

 

 “Let me do it?” Jim murmured against his neck, dragging his lips over the perfect scenting spot. “I feel like I need to.” Because he was still in control, it was strained but not difficult, but he wanted to let go. He wanted to let it all go and just follow the flow of instincts – that was the luxury control had afforded him, choice. He wanted to take it, but it had to be Blair’s choice too.

 

 “Uhh,” Blair groaned, fingers sliding up over Jim’s bicep to the hem of his sleeveless vest, feeling skin greedily. “You so know you don’t have to ask, right? This,” he pushed his cheek against Jim’s at the same time as he moved his hips in silent consent to the hand on his belt. “This is all so good. It’s just…it’s you. I’m the only one you get like this for. Go with it, man.” His voice was so breathy near the end and Jim tugged his trousers open, pushing them down and then immediately reaching for the shirt, eager to shed the offending clothes that were tainted by the other sentinel in their territory.

 

 “That gets you hot, doesn’t it, baby?” Jim asked, pushing the shirt to the ground and then tugging the hem of the t-shirt beneath up over Blair’s head. When Blair’s face came back into few his eyes were dilated with arousal, scenting peaking with it. Jim grasped his neck, tilting gently so he could see the pulse race a little faster beneath a stretch of tanned skin. His mouth watered. His nose still burned though with the invader’s scent and he shook himself, pushing Blair’s jeans and boxers down and urging him forward out of everything until he was leading him away from his clothing. He stopped then, leaving Blair standing naked in the middle of the great room.

 

 “Er, Jim?” Blair asked, confused as Jim snagged up the discarded clothing and tossed it into the hamper just inside the bathroom door. He hesitated for only a moment before depositing the entire hamper out on the balcony and shutting the door firmly behind it. When Jim turned back to Blair, his partner’s lips were twisted in an amused, knowing smile.

 

 “You better hope it doesn’t rain. It’ll take like three washes to get the damp smell out of that lot,” Blair said, but then Jim was on him, kissing him hard, unrestrained and pinning him to the wall beside the stairs. Jim’s fully clothed body pressed the length of Blair’s naked form, bearing him into the cool brick. His tongue delved deep, sweeping across Blair’s latent one and slaking his frantic sense of taste. Only then did he allow his fingers to release the urgent grip on his partner’s neck and begin to satisfy the tingling need to imprint touch again on his fingers.

 

 “Just let go,” Blair whispered between messy, damp kisses. “C’mon. It’s just you and me here. That’s it.” Those words were more arousing and endearing than any pet names or filthy platitudes. Jim groaned against him, the pads of his fingers tickling deliciously as they grazed over soft chest hair, stroked the hard peaks of a warm, hard chest he knew better than his own. His hands traced back up over Blair’s collarbone, then down Blair’s arms and pinned them to the wall so he could trace every individual fingertip.

 

 “Oh God, so fucking…” Blair’s words trailed off nonsensically as Jim’s fingers slowly made their way back in, stretching over Blair’s nipples again, down to count every sweeping rib beneath supple, slender muscle. “Jim,” Blair tried again, his words disturbing the air with hot pants in ways only a sentinel could fully appreciate. Jim could feel arousal spreading through every scant inch of flesh, every vein below that.

 

 “Getting off on this, Sandburg?” he murmured, only the very tips of fingers feathering down Blair’s clenched abdomen and skirting down his lightly haired thighs. He felt each little hair prickle and rise with goosebumps under his touch. “You want me like this?”

 

 “Any way I can have you,” Blair groaned, tipping his head back against the wall in surrender and just breathing, because Jim accepting himself as a sentinel, relishing in it and embracing it so freely was his biggest kink. When Jim let his nose trail over chest hair that was clinging to pheromones and a light sheen of sweat, he groaned and pressed in tighter, dragging his nose and tongue down until he was nuzzling with animal fervour into the apex of Blair’s thigh, just beside his pulsing, untouched prick.

 

 “Jim!” Blair gasped out, fingers cupping Jim’s neck, stroking his short hair in placation. “C’mon, man, bed, yeah?” His lips parted wetly as he tried to control himself, Jim heard it and he nosed into dark pubic hair with relish. When he inhaled loudly, tasting the smell on his tongue and drinking it in through his nostrils, all male arousal and heat and Blair, he sensed the trickle of pre-come gathering at the slit and did it again.

 

 “Seriously,” Blair grunted, tugging on his hair now. “Bed.”

 

 Jim tipped his head back. At some point his trail of scenting, claiming had lead him to the floor and he found himself on his knees, looking up at Blair whose face was framed by wayward curls. A thumb brushed against his mouth as Blair stared down at him, awed, throbbing all over with need. He traced Jim’s lips as if considering the possibilities, looking a little dazed and wonderfully dishevelled. Jim held his gaze and caught the edge of his thumb between his teeth.

 

 “You’re right there, aren’t you?” Blair moaned, skirting his thumb against the tip of Jim’s tongue before reluctantly sidling away. Jim watched him go without moving, just following him with the slightest of movements of his head and eyes. He saw Blair take this in, study him with excited anticipation, a thrill of the unknown that chased his arousal higher and higher as he edged toward the stairs. When Jim still didn’t move, just watched him with predatory hunger, he hesitated on the bottom step.

 

 “You look like a big cat that’s gonna eat me,” Blair said with a thoughtful, flushed smile, edging back up the stairs, knowing the game, not turning his back on Jim. He kept a hand on the rail as he made his way up, gaze never leaving his. The anticipation built in both of them, heavy and throbbing in time with Blair’s heart-beat, musky and warm, a soft tattoo like the beat of indigenous drums. Jim watched Blair hesitate near the top, watched him swallow, reach out to shut off the lights.

 

 Darkness fell but he could still see Blair perfectly. The lamp on the bedside table above was still alight, filling the bedroom above with a soft glow. Blair studied his shadowed shape for a moment more, perhaps drinking in this game of chase just a little longer before he stepped back, up onto the landing and turned. The second he did so, Jim moved. He sprung up before Blair could even take another step toward the bed above, bolted up the stairs and crashed into the man above, sending him sprawling forward onto the sheets.

 

 Blair grunted at the impact with the mattress, squirming, arms flailing. Jim caught them both behind his back, leaning in to press his forehead against the back of Blair’s head and breathe in the curls. Blair groaned in appreciation and arched his body, trying to rub himself against him. “Stay,” Jim murmured against his hair, “just like this.” He drew back, hand lingering a moment longer over Blair’s crossed wrists to ensure he would do so, before pulling back entirely. He shrugged off his own clothes hurriedly, at the same time watching every twitch of muscle, every heaving breath, every nervous, greedy shift the man on the bed made.

 

 When he was as naked as his partner, Jim returned, hands grasping his ass possessively and kneading the firm cheeks until Blair cried out again into the sheets. He squeezed and then pulled them apart, spitting between them before guiding his cock along the spittle-slicked valley between. A guttural sound of need dragged over his lips as he slid against the cleft of Blair’s ass, rutting hungrily as the rest of his body pressed onto the body below, grasping Blair’s upper arms and just pinning him, grinding into him. He heard Blair’s cock drag against the sheets below, smelled the sticky residue left behind and grinded into him harder.

 

 “Always…wondered what’d happen if we met another Alex,” Blair managed, turning his head to the side and panting for breath even as he arched into every movement Jim made. Even so, Jim felt the pulse of appreciation when he took a moment to nose aside the fan of curls that’d covered Blair’s face. Lifting his head enough to see Blair’s expression, Jim smoothed his hair completely out of the way with a careful hand that belied the animal rush of want overcoming him, needing Blair to know once and for all…

 

 “That won’t happen again,” Jim assured him roughly, guilt making his passion harsher. “I felt suffocated by her presence before I knew–”

 

 “Her residue on me, made you feel threatened,” Blair cut across him breathlessly, “Not your fault, you didn’t know what you know now. You didn’t know how to deal with it or what was… Oh God…” His voice tapered off as Jim grazed his teeth over his ear, breathing roughly against the lobe before taking that too, punctuating the attentions with his tongue. In reality, back then, he hadn’t wanted to know what was happening or how to deal with it, back before he’d accepted what he was and his odd feelings for Blair along with it. He’d deliberately hidden from the truth and Blair had suffered because of it. But now wasn’t the time for self-pity. Now he knew the truth, now he knew everything, now he was right where he was meant to be.

 

 “Never again,” he promised with rough finality, meaning so much more than that in ways only Blair would understand. We’re in this together now. That was the most treasured thing their connection had given them since that bond on the rooftop – this feeling that they were woven together at last with seamless links, unable to be separated by anything that might come their way, even their own demons. His hand stole between them to grasp Blair’s trapped cock, stroke him awkwardly between the weight of their bodies and smear the pre-ejaculate up over Blair’s chest, drawing his hand back to inhale the scent of his fingers when he was done. Blair groaned, alternately humping the mattress and pushing back into Jim’s still rocking hips.

 

 “Love you like this,” Blair whispered, “love you, can feel you everywhere, all over me. God, more, c’mon, more…” His urgent, husky babble made Jim’s insides pull taut with need. The instincts were rushing in his ears with all the ferocity of a freight train but so was everything of Blair’s, every vital organ, every breath, every ripple of skin and muscle and droplet of freshly gathered sweat. It was surrounding him like a crescendo of living colour and he leapt into it readily, the world beyond the bed dropping away into greyscale.

 

 Pushing back, he grasped blindly at the tube of oil that they left on the bedside table now and spread some clumsily over himself. Blair pulled his knees under him, hips high, shoulders resting on the bedspread still, putting himself on shameless display. There was a flicker of embarrassed eagerness but no hesitation, no awkwardness. Blair wasn’t a shy wallflower. He knew what Jim liked, everything exposed and offered so readily as if he too were overcome with primal urges. Jim leaned over him, his larger body making it so easy to curve over Blair raised hips, bend right over him and finger the entrance to his body as he rested his forehead against the exposed side of Blair’s temple.

 

 “Never knew,” Jim murmured nonsensically, oily fingertips pinched together and dragging round and around the tight, twitching ring of muscles, teasing strokes around and around then straight across the centre of the heat before flicking out again.

 

 “Knew what?” Blair panted into the sheets, reaching back and up to grasp awkwardly at Jim’s neck with hungry fingers.

 

 “How good it could feel.” To let go, to embrace everything he was and just feel. He didn’t think he’d ever be able to explain to Blair how he’d never felt like this before, not ever. But then, he was pretty smart, maybe he’d figure it out. He was proficient in understanding the way Jim meant things without saying them. As if sensing his thoughts, those hips pushed up, knees shifting apart to welcome him into every intimate crevice of his body, accepting all of him, everywhere.

 

 Sliding two fingers in, Jim moaned in appreciation at the heat and drew back, gathering more of the oil, massaging into the tender, sensitive tissues around the clenching ring before diving deeper again, caressing every scant inch of hot, pulsing flesh within until he felt, heard it all undulate wetly. His cock pulsed, damp where it hung against Blair’s thigh. The beast within growled hungrily and he slid the third finger in, feeling Blair give inside, muscles remembering, tight and firm and gripping hard but soft and pliant at the same time. With a grunt Jim dragged his fingers out, splaying them slightly wider as he did so, pushing up off Blair enough that he could watch the way the tender flesh stretched and twitched, not quite closing all the way when he pulled back.

 

 “Fuck,” Blair squirmed, reaching beneath himself to stroke his cock with strained slowness, fidgeting on his knees.

 

 Jim snatched up the bottle of oil again and tipped it up, watching a clear stream of it flow down, splash against the very base of Blair’s tailbone and slide sensuously over honey-hued flesh to glide straight inside. The oil dripped right into Blair’s body. Jim saw the muscles clench, the action making it spill back, ooze out and drip against Blair’s balls. Transfixed, murmuring softly, Jim swept his fingers through it and pushed it back in, all of it, until arousal was thudding deafeningly in his ears, all his senses wide open and drowning happily in everything.

 

 Pushing up onto his knees higher, Jim shifted until the swollen, purpled crown of his cock kissed Blair’s weeping entrance. Just the slightest push and he sank straight into the grasp of wet, supple muscles, into the body he loved more than anything. Buried right to the hilt, his hips pressed tight to Blair’s ass, Jim smoothed his hands over Blair’s sides, up over his shoulders, relishing in the strong, hot grip before letting his hands brace his weight on the bed just above Blair’s shoulders. He couldn’t stop. Breathing heavily, he arched his hips, grinding deep, hard, fast, feeling his senses zing back and forth toward zoning and then effortlessly back to another part of Blair’s being, his skin, his smell, his heat. Jim was pounding into him with audible clashes of their bodies when he felt Blair’s hand on the back of his sweaty thigh, grasping.

 

 “Jim,” Blair panted, voice thick with pleasure but also tight, as if overwhelmed, gasping in a way that wasn’t all good. “Jim, slower, slower…” His words jerked slightly with the continuing movements of their joined bodies, distorted by breathlessness but Jim heard them. Understood them, even through the throng of sensation and instinct – human and superhuman. He slowed, brushing his knuckles against the nape of Blair’s neck and letting the next softer, slower slide into Blair’s body turn into a rocking movement, kissing the tight gland inside just and nothing else. Slow, leisurely, even though his every muscle was pulled tight like a cord of strained elastic.

 

 “Sorry,” he murmured gently, apologetically, concentrating on the muscles straining to adjust to him, soft, yielding but still new and accepting. He concentrated on shallow motions, closing his eyes and just feeling every slick centimetre, coaxing the muscles to relax around him as they always did, stoking little bursts of flame up from the gland buried just there inside his partner’s body to make him fidget again on his knees.

 

 “You feel so good,” Jim managed, by way of compliment and justifying his haste before. He heard Blair’s breathless smile and let the hand not bracing his weight slide under to stroke at the lightly haired chest and stomach, long, appreciative sweeps of oversensitive fingertips. His senses tingled as they reached out fully; feeling Blair’s body soften and relax, drink him in with undulating, slick muscles.

 

 “Mmm,” Blair agreed dazedly, rolling with him now instead of just accepting, one hand covering Jim’s on his belly and urging the stroking motions to continue. “Yeah. Faster.” He pushed back when Jim pushed in now, fucking himself on the thick hardness. Jim’s bracing hand clenched in the sheets just above Blair’s shoulder and he jerked his hips in a little harder, a tribute to the control Blair had somehow taught him in spite of his initial resistance. He was so close to zoning on every molecule in Blair’s body, every bolt of pleasure that rippled through his own and yet he wasn’t. He was falling fast to instinct, pleasure, torn between perfect control and utter release, freedom. A dizzying, white-hot paradox that sent his head spinning perfectly. They could do anything.

 

 Blair’s other hand urged his down to his prick and together they grasped it, stroking clumsily as they writhed together on the sweat, oil and pre-come dampened sheets. Their bodies were gliding together, fingers, hips, legs, everything tangled deliciously. Everything in Jim’s skin was buzzing as if he’d been plugged in, vibrating with Blair’s need as well as his own. “Oh, Chief, can feel you,” he breathed roughly, stroking Blair faster, letting his thumb sweep over the swollen head to smear the moisture into every caress. Blair’s hips were rolling into his hand and his hips alternately, haphazard now with tormented pleasure. His slick walls squeezed with every little twitch against his prostate, against the swollen tip of his cock.

 

 “Can feel you squeezing me, feel your skin burning up under me, around me…” His voice was rough and torn with each gasping breath. Blair’s racing pulse stuttered hard at his words.

 

 “Fuck, Jim,” he murmured, dragging his cheek against the bed as he tried to fuck himself back on Jim harder, shifting his thighs further apart.

 

 “You like me talking to you?” Jim asked. His only answer was a rough groan. How many men and women had Blair indulged in that kink with? His blood sang with possessive adoration that he let loose, no holds barred and thrust into his partner with savage pounding of his hips. “Just my voice or will anybody do?” he challenged hoarsely.

 

 Blair grinded back into him with abandon. “Just you, big guy. It’s always been you. Fuck, that’s it, right there, there, there, there.”

 

 Jim could practically feel the tension in the thighs that were spread open for him, muscles and tendons strained as they worked back against him with everything they had. He could see the lean muscles moving beneath Blair’s golden, sweaty skin on his back, feel those fingers tighten around his. The cock in his grasp was wetter than any cunt he’d sank into and a low, appreciative grumble vibrated in his chest at all of it. Blair squirmed at the sound of it.

 

 “I’m going to find out your every kink, Sandburg and ruin you for everyone else.”

 

 “Jim,” Blair moaned longingly. Warningly.

 

 “But the sentinel is your biggest kink, isn’t it, Chief? This animal instinct in me, that gets you hotter than anything else, doesn’t it?”

 

 “Yes,” was the ragged, soft whisper partially submerged in the sheets.

 

 “And me embracing all of it, what you’ve tried to help me come to terms with, that makes you just about cream yourself, doesn’t it?” He wondered if his voice had always had this affect on Blair. He let his senses sweep Blair from head to toe, toes that curled tight, like his belly, like his aching, heavy balls as his orgasm closed in fast and hard. He tilted his hips to graze against the sticky gland inside, gyrate against it until Blair tossed his head and fucking writhed like he was instinct driven with heightened senses on the sheets, like something inhuman, tortured, tied down and plugged into a live current.

 

 He’d never be able to explain to Blair how liberating it was to give into all of this, to let his gifts loose and embrace it all, let them drive him into the higher peaks of pleasure and drag Blair up there with him to. To utterly come apart inside this person he cared for most and have it not matter that he was completely out of control. He felt his senses zing sharply and then back into control again, nearly zoning on every sense of Blair.

 

 “Come on, babe, that’s it, give it up for me, let me feel it,” he urged huskily and twisted his wrist, feeling Blair’s fingers slip and grip his wrist as he fisted him through the onslaught of convulsions. Blair was shaking with spasms around him as his orgasm burst across his still stroking fingers. Pulse after pulse noisily slicking his movements, Blair’s hoarse cries buried in the sheets only for his hearing. The convulsing walls gripped him tight, like every other muscle in Blair’s still shuddering body. Jim milked his partner dry before releasing his spent cock, smearing come across his lover’s back as he slid it down to grip his hip, hold him tight to his own.

 

 The heat from Blair’s skin, from inside him was so sweltering, so mouth-wateringly good he felt like he was melting, burning up. Sweat beaded across his own taut muscles and he gripped the fingers still locked with his above Blair’s shoulder as he surrendered fully to it all, burying his body, his soul, all five senses into the man beneath him and relishing the harsh, blinding collision with white-hot pleasure. His orgasm jerked out of him, sending him sprawling forward, still gripping Blair’s hand, the other releasing his hip to brace against the bed. His thrusts pushed Blair up higher, pinned him flat on his belly. Jim buried his nose in the sweat-damp curls of that hair as he fucked his orgasm into him, laying flat against him, writhing against his ass and back, spilling himself inside.

 

 When the shudders that took his limbs released him, he slumped almost boneless against Blair, forearms bracing his weight off him. He breathed slowly, determinedly, trying to calm himself. Listening to Blair’s stuttered breathing, his gradually began to calm and he sniffed deeply at his neck. He hummed at their combined scents he found there, sweat and come and warm affection and spent arousal. There was a hint of Blair’s shampoo there too and his, Jim’s fabric softener. It was just theirs and no one else’s.

 

 After the intense explosion of his senses had lulled back to normality, his buzzing skin calmed to a gentle tingle that only sex with Blair gave him, he eased gently out of him. Taking a moment to watch Blair stretch to test his exhausted limbs, he reached across him to the side table. He set the tissues down next to Blair’s hand and took a few to wipe himself down, tossing them into the waste basket just the other side of the bed. He rolled onto his side, watching Blair gingerly wipe himself before sending the tissues to join the others in the waste basket. There was something very beautifully domestic about watching his partner clean himself down after he’d come inside him, watching him try to tame his sex-mussed hair and give up, before dropping loose-limbed beside him.

 

 Hauling Blair in close, relishing in the feel of the air cooling their skin, Jim rested his forehead against Blair’s and just breathed. “That one for your book, Chief?”

 

 Blair gave a small snort of laughter, hands coming up to thoughtfully caress, palms flat across his chest. It was soothing, affectionate, calming, Jim liked it. “It was a territory thing,” Blair said, his voice sounding so good, slightly sleepy and slightly roughened from sex. His hands slid up to Jims shoulders, rubbing gently before sliding back to cup his neck, brush the tips of his fingers against Jim’s short hair. “Cascade will always be your territory and no sentinel is allowed to venture into it, Lawrence assured me of that. You’re the big cat here, Jim, you don’t need to worry. I know you can’t exactly tell your senses to chill but, I just wanted you to know, you know?”

 

 Jim let a small smile crinkle his eyes, saw Blair beam hazily at the sight. He slid a hand to the small of Blair’s back and stroked the slightly sweat-dampened skin there, gliding over the dip of his tailbone and back up again. “It’s not just a territorial thing, Chief,” he promised affectionately, willing him to understand. Their connection was still vibrating satisfactorily, replenished and fulfilled for now. Blair’s smile was still brilliant in the dimness.

 

 “Man, I’ve told you, I am so not complaining. I like it, Jim. Love it, even and you love me. I can feel it, that’s pretty much the most fundamental way of showing someone that, the way you…” He let his eyes drop, even with their foreheads still touching, it was an endearing display of uncharacteristic awkwardness that made Jim’s heart swell a little. He watched Blair moisten his kiss-bruised lips before continuing.

 

 “You make a guy feel it, you know? At least you do with me. That’s what it feels like, like you loving me so much you just have to have me, reaffirm what we are to each other, not just sentinel and guide but the rest of it too. The best bits. The human bits,” he was babbling and his face was glowing and heart thudding and he was so, so sweet, as sweet as a man nearing thirty could be. Sweeter than any girl Jim had ever had regardless.

 

 “You’re showing it to me in the most instinctive, physical way possible. The way the man and the sentinel know how to best. I can handle it, Jim and I want to. I love it, you embracing everything, baring yourself to me and…” His chatter silenced as Jim brushed a thumb across his mouth, eyes shining.

 

 “Alright, tough guy, I got ya,” Jim mused tenderly. “I’m a beast and you’re a little horn dog, I’d say we’re perfectly matched.

 

 Blair chuckled roughly, pressing his forehead into Jim’s more firmly before snatching a kiss and then rolling away to turn off the lamp. When he returned to the warmth of Jim’s arms, he remained on his back with one of Jim’s arms under his neck, fingers combing lazily through his hair, pausing occasionally to test the feel of a silky curl, while the other hand lay across his chest. His eyes were closed, dark lashes on his cheeks perfectly visible to Jim’s gaze in the bedroom, chest rising gently with contented, calm breathing.

 

 “I’m counting on you making good of that promise to re-enact all my kinks,” Blair mused softly into the darkness.

 

 Jim smirked. “Down boy.”

 

 “Mmmm,” Blair said, stretching slightly, testing his abused muscles in the way Jim now knew he relished in.

 

 Jim let his fingers trail down across his torso, all the way down to his pubic bone, then back up to his shoulders, down one arm to his fingertips, then the other, mapping every inch of him reverently. He felt Blair relax further under his touch and smoothed his lips across that smooth, high brow before carefully extricating himself and sliding from the bed.

 

 “Hey,” Blair complained, rolling on his side to watch him pull on a pair of boxers and his cotton robe. Jim turned to look at him as he approached the stairs. Blair was frowning, confused. He looked stunningly ridiculous with his hair all mussed like that. “Where are you going?” Blair partner prodded.

 

 “To do the laundry,” Jim admitted, thinking of Blair’s clothes in the hamper, still smelling of another sentinel. He wanted that smell cleaned out before dinner. Dinner. “You can dish up the chilli, Chief, it’s good to go,” he added, “Just give me a sec to cleanse the aura.” As he headed down into the bathroom to snatch up the hamper, he heard Blair muttering a playful but exasperated monologue about ‘cavemen’ and ‘cloudy auras’. But when Jim came back upstairs with the clean laundry folded in the hamper, the food was laid out and Blair had lit natural scented candles around the loft. He frequently told Blair he was the best friend, the best partner but he really was the best guide as well. Jim closed the door behind him and smiled as he took his seat opposite him at their table.

 

 Blair lifted his fork. Before he could dig in though, Jim nudged his shin gently with one foot. “Hey,” he said softly, drawing those stunning eyes up to him. He drank in the sight of them, of the warm contentment on that face before he said, “Love you, Chief,” in that self-conscious but painfully honest way he did.

 

 Blair cocked his head and nudged him back with his own foot. “You too, man.”

 

*                            *                            *

 

 It was amazing what finally embracing what he was and actually listening to what Blair had been telling him all these years could achieve. When they pulled up outside the SGD and Jim climbed out of the truck, he stared up at the insurmountable building, tall grey and imposing in the vast flat landscape around it. It filled him with unease every time he saw it, especially now that he was about to step foot inside again. This understanding he’d found of himself though, it let him know why he felt this way, made it easier to take. Easier not to snap at Blair in irritation at his pumped up territorial superiority complex.

 

 He was in relatively unknown territory, out of his comfort zone but once he had control, had established his control and extended his territory into this place, he’d feel better. Blair had talked him through it this morning after breakfast, when he’d nearly choked his partner to death on his coffee by announcing he’d go with him to the SGD today.

 

 Once recovered, Blair had chattered animatedly, the way he’d always done from the start with no holds barred about his suspicions as to why Jim found the SGD so intolerable, outside of their past experience there. For once, Jim listened and agreed. Blair had nearly choked on his bagel as well at that.

 

 “Feeling alright there, buddy?” Blair said as he stepped round the truck to Jim’s side, rubbing his arm lightly through his jacket.

 

 Jim nodded, not tearing his eyes away from the building. The fact that it looked very much like the first army base he’d served at should have comforted him. It only made him more determined to set the boundaries, show them just who was in charge here. Lawrence wanted his insight, his input, wanted him to help run things, then he’d get that and more.

 

 “Remember,” Blair said as they approached the door. “No one is challenging you, man. They want you here, okay? They’re not a danger. You’re in charge. Just be cool, okay?”

 

 Jim gave a curt nod as two security guards stepped out, giving both of them respectful inclinations of their heads before leading them inside. Once in, the guards, to Jim’s surprise, locked the doors then dispersed, leaving Blair to lead the way down the maze of corridors with practiced ease. He was vibrating with excitement, Jim could feel it and it was oddly soothing to his senses, to his muscles, all tensed and on high alert as he scanned their surroundings.

 

 “…they have to keep the building secure but I have pretty much free run of the place inside. I’ll give you a tour later. They have a gym and even a pool with sentinel friendly chemicals. It’s amazing, Jim! You have to try it all out some time. When’s the last time you got to go for a swim?”

 

 “Depends if you count jumping off that helicopter onto Ventriss’ speed boat,” Jim said lightly, only half listening as they made their way down another corridor toward noises and smells he guessed must be the sentinel recruits. They smelled familiar and the noise was the kind only hormonal, insecure teenagers trying to establish the pecking order could create. He winced, reeling back his hearing a little.

 

 There was something else out of place here though, something that made him feel closed in, almost claustrophobic. He shrugged off his jacket and was surprised when Blair reached and took it from him. They stopped at a door and Blair smiled up at him as he folded Jim’s jacket once and hung it over his arm. He didn’t need to explain himself. Jim knew why he’d done it; it was the very same reason why he felt a little easier for Blair holding it. His own scent was entwined pretty tightly with Blair’s already but the added scent coming off his jacket tipped the scales a little, making the possessive, territorial streak in him settle back onto its feline haunches. Feeling a little abashed at being read so easily by his partner, Jim rolled his shoulders, unsettled.

 

 “Those are the kids’ bedrooms,” Blair said, gesturing to the doors running along the opposite wall. “Down the end is the dining area we ate in before but in here is the rec room.” Even he winced at a particularly loud chorus of shrieks from inside. “They sound in high spirits today,” he said brightly, pushing the door open and leading Jim inside.

 

 Everything was clean and open, lots of wide empty space but with a breakfast bar next to a tea and coffee set, complete with cookie jar and bean bags and a sofas and a wide bookshelf covering one entire wall. The walls and furniture were all pastel colours, the lighting was soft, almost natural without any stinging glare and the room seemed to have a white noise generator running constantly, or a few of them even, a different one in each different area of the expansive rec room. It would allow a sentinel to have their down time if they wanted, help them tune out the others if it all became too much. He nodded to himself but Blair must’ve noticed and read him because he reached out and tapped one of the machines sitting on the coffee bar.

 

 “My idea. I mean, they had them in the bedrooms but that meant the kids would hole up in there alone which is kind of not the point here. So I told them about how we used the one at your desk in the bullpen, suggested a few dotted around and it’s really made a difference.” They turned and looked at the large L shaped sofa the kids were all sprawled on, shrieking at the large television where they were all enraptured in a racing game of some kind.

 

 Alice, to Jim’s surprise and joy, was kicking their asses. It wasn’t until her car skidded across the finish line and the boys had thrown down their controllers in dismayed defeat that they seemed to notice their visitors at all.

 

 “Sentinel Ellison,” one of the boys called as he caught sight of them out of the corner of his eye. He was olive-skinned and all dark, cropped curls – Matias, Jim remembered, as he stepped forward and shook the kid’s hand.

 

 “Just Jim,” he said but the kid shifted uncomfortably, apparently discomfited by that. Funny, he hadn’t struck him as the type to fear the police when they’d met last time.

 

 “It’s good to see you again, Sir,” Noah, the mousey-haired boy, older of the two said, shaking Jim’s hand more readily than Matias before sliding his hands into the pockets of his hooded sweatshirt. “We were hoping Dr Sandburg could convince you to come.”

 

 Jim raised a brow at that. “You did, huh?” he asked distractedly. Sentinel Ellison and Dr Sandburg. He knew he’d introduced himself as that last time but still, it was odd. It’d take some getting used to. He looked to Alice then, who was bright-eyed now with straight, clean hair hanging over her shoulders. She looked so young still, so vulnerable but definitely stronger than last Jim had seen her, he offered her a smile. “Hey Honey, you’re looking a lot better.”

 

 She blushed, returning his smile back as she circled the couch to stand with them all. She was all legs in a summer dress with a soft looking cardigan round her shoulders, so painfully sweet. Her, a sentinel, really? Jim swallowed uneasily as he looked at her, then the boys. They were all so damn young and soft and he felt…Jesus, he felt protective over them. Blair had theorised that the reason he hadn’t felt threatened by them was because they were yet to mature to sentinel standards, still too young to recognise as threats but it was more than that. They felt like his responsibility, his charges, his little sentinel recruits.

 

 “Blair mentioned you were having a sort of…mixer with some potential guides, thought I could come and see you guys through it,” he offered, trying for casual. The boys grinned eagerly, while Alice only managed a reserved grimace.

 

 “Could you…that is…?” Noah dragged a hand through his hair awkwardly. “How do we know the one when we see them? I mean guides aren’t genetically hardwired like us, are they? They could be anyone, right? How do I know which one of them will suit me best?”

 

 Jim glanced to Blair, who’d just crashed into his life at exactly the right time to save him from himself and had just clicked into place. He’d never let anyone in past his defences, not even his wife but somehow this chattering, overexcited, alternative ball of energy had made a place for himself before Jim had even really realised what was happening. How could he put that into words? The rightness, the way things just slotted into place? Before he could even try, Matias was asking sheepishly…

 

 “What…what if my guide is a guy? I mean, no offense but I’m really not gay.” He looked away uncomfortably and Jim stared at them each in turn. Just kids, thrown into this like he was, except for them it’d be different, for them they wouldn’t be made to feel like freaks, made to suppress everything in a vain attempt to feel normal or please parents who would never truly understand them.

 

 “First off,” Blair said, sharing some of the burden of their expectation, “I’ve told you guys before, not all sentinel/guide relationships develop into a sexual relationship. The Hawkins’ that we spoke about the other day, the doctors? They’re siblings and I was reading up on the file of another sentinel pair in mountain rescue who are both married to other people and work just fine. So don’t start having a coronary if you fit with a guide who you don’t connect with sexually. It’s not always the way it works, alright?”

 

 That seemed to bring a lull to the flare of panic in Matias’ scent, in turn easing the atmosphere between everyone else in the room. Jim wondered if letting them all feed off each other’s fear and uncertainty with their senses was such a good idea, but then, looking at the three of them, he thought not being shut away was the best thing, really. It seemed like the camaraderie and order saved them from the kind of overload Jim had felt when he’d first encountered Alex too.

 

 This was what they needed. They needed to know they weren’t freaks. He almost wished he’d had the chance to be somewhere like this instead of under his father’s thumb. It was that startling thought that let him moisten his dry lips and find his voice at last.

 

 “It’s not like…like a lightning bolt,” he said, turning to the kitchenette and sniffing at their coffee pot dubiously before pouring himself a cup. He added a heaped sugar because that’s how Blair liked it and then took a few sips before canting his hip against the breakfast bar to look at them. “You aren’t going to be able to pick someone out of a line-up, so don’t be expecting that.” He sipped again and looked at Blair. “What’re you doing?” he asked, realising Blair was scribbling in the journal that had been reappearing a lot lately. Blair made his way over, writing faster now he was leaning on the counter but didn’t look up.

 

 “Notes, man,” he said easily as he scribbled. “There’s literally no material for reference on what you’re talking about. I need to pay attention, keep going, keep going,” he gestured with his pen. Jim watched him for a second, taking another sip before pushing the mug of sweetened coffee toward Blair. When he glanced back to the kids, they were watching their exchange curiously. Jim straightened. Sometime in the last few minutes he’d found himself more at ease and he wasn’t exactly sure why that was.

 

 “You’ll have to talk to them, spend time with them. Yeah a guide can be anyone with the knowledge and know-how but your guide will only be the one that fits you.” He drew in a small breath, just knowing these kids could sense his discomfiture and not liking it, so he decided to tackle the elephant in the room.

 

 “Me and Darwin here don’t exactly look like the perfect fit from the outside. I’m stiff upper-class-born, ex-army and anti-social at best, or was, anyway. He’s a nomadic little hippy love-child academic but he slipped into my life and one week turned into nearly four years.” He realised he was blushing and Blair had stopped writing to watch him. Jim hastily looked away from those deep blue eyes.

 

 “What I mean is, there was no reason for us to connect at all. He just started out doing his thing, helping me and I think if he’d been anyone else he’d have done just that and been on his way but he wasn’t. He fit into my life somehow and it all grew from there. Maybe you’ll have something in common with all of these guides, maybe you’ll have nothing in common at all, but whoever it is, they’ll just…they’ll make sense, you’ll feel at ease with them. You’ll feel some sort of chemistry and it’ll be as easy as breathing.”

 

 There was a long silence, heavy with thought and feeling and no little embarrassment from Jim. It was blissfully halted by the scrape of ceramic on tile as Blair pushed the coffee cup back toward him. It was nearly empty after Blair had drunk from it. Jim met his eyes briefly, thankfully before picking it up again, grateful for something to hold, to distract himself with, to hide behind.

 

 “Do you guys have any idea where you want to go once you’re out of here?” he tried, wanting to change the subject. “That might be a good way to start with this mixer thing.”

 

 “Army,” Noah said, surprising Jim with his resoluteness. “That’s where I was headed before my senses came online and messed everything up. It’s what I’ve wanted for a long time, it’ll be good to finally get out there, take some of my future back, you know?”

 

 Jim nodded, remembering the freedom the rangers had given him in escaping his father’s roof. He may have even stayed with them, if the incident in Peru hadn’t changed him so irrevocably in more ways than one. “I hear that,” he offered, touched by the pleased look on the young man’s face at his support.

 

 “I’m not sure yet,” Matias said with a shrug, “I never thought I’d have a future until a few weeks ago.” He glanced at the computer then though. “I like cars though, you know, mechanics? I’m not sure if that’s a very worthwhile cause or not but it’s what I’ve always been interested in.”

 

 “Hey,” Blair said, folding his journal shut and tucking it into his rucksack, before slinging it over his shoulder. “Any career that’s important to you is worthwhile. Just because some sentinels are cops or soldiers or doctors doesn’t mean you have to be. There are things your senses will help you do with fixing a machine that no everyday mechanic could achieve. Don’t kick an idea just because it won’t be helping the masses in the most obvious way.”

 

 Matias seemed a bit less restless at Blair’s words but he did glance to his two fellow recruits, then to Jim, as if looking for further blessing. Jim had never really had a way with kids, not like Blair did. He dragged a hand over the back of his neck and downed the rest of the coffee. “It’s like Noah said, once you’re out of here, you can finally take your future back. It won’t be your future unless you’re doing what you want to do. Your senses can be useful in so many ways, don’t try and pigeon-hole yourself, alright?”

 

 Matias hesitated, seeming to mull his words over before giving a resolute nod. “Yes, sir.”

 

 It was the army vibe, Jim decided, that’s what had them all standing to attention. He sighed and gave a small smile as he turned to wash his cup up in the small sink.

 

 “What about you, Alice?” Noah prompted, the squeak of his sneakers audible as he shifted awkwardly where he stood. “You’re always thinking about everything. You must have some clue.”

 

 By the time Jim turned back to them, Alice was watching him with bright, unreadable eyes. “I dunno,” Alice said, her dulcet tones still soft but stronger than when they’d first met. She looked between Jim and Blair and smiled. “I have absolutely no idea. Maybe if I find my guide they can help me figure out who I am, where I’m meant to be.”

 

 Jim thought about her words. “That’s exactly what your guide is meant to do,” he assured her warmly, sensing his and Blair’s connection tingle with appreciative warmth as well. He’d known he was in the right place, in the right job – he’d always been a good cop even before Blair, but it wasn’t until Blair stumbled into his life and turned it upside down that he’d realised exactly who he was.

 

 A knock at the door sounded then and a familiar face, sans sunglasses poked in. “Sentinel Ellison, this is a pleasant surprise,” Agent Ayres said as he opened the door more fully. He offered his hand to Jim, who didn’t move to take it right away. Instead he surveyed the man carefully, memories of their first meeting vivid and painful in his mind. He shifted slightly in front of Blair and stared hard.

 

 “You had me in sensory deprivation and hung my partner off a building after kidnapping him,” Jim said stiffly.

 

 Ayres retracted his hand and glanced uncertainly to Blair, but as he did so, Jim tensed. “My esteemed partner actually hung Blair off the building, for which I apologised and will continue to do so, Sentinel Ellison. As for the rest,” he winced, “it was all regrettable, a panicked attempt to get you to complete the bond. We saw no other way but that does not make it right.”

 

 Jim felt Blair’s hand on his arm but did not tear his imposing gaze away, not even when Blair rubbed gently at his forearm. “C’mon, man,” Blair said gently, “like Naomi says, let go with love.” He knew Ayres could only offer his feeble (but honest) apology and nothing else and that hanging onto his anger was just as much of a punishment to him, but some habits died hard. Ellisons could hold a grudge like the best of them.

 

 “Maybe,” Jim said in consideration, cocking his head to look at Ayres, who wisely took a step back. “Maybe one day, I don’t think you’ve paid your dues of grovelling yet, have you, Ayres?”

 

 Ayres bowed his head slightly, wincing, pride evidently catching in his throat. “That would be up to you, Sir,” he said simply, before heading for the door. “Sentinel Curtis and Guide Dobriev have arrived with the potential guides. They’re just on their way in now,” he said and with a respectful nod to Blair, he was gone.

 

 Troubled by the announcement, Jim stretched out his sense of smell. Definitely a small cluster of new scents approaching and two familiar ones too. Curtis and Dobriev? The feeling of being closed in swelled, made him think of Alex Barnes and he winced, not wanting to lose it now, not with the kids watching him like he was going to lead the way. He set his jaw, concentrated on Blair’s slightly rough fingers dragging gently against his forearm and the soft, easy heartbeat that accompanied it.

 

 “Deep breaths, big guy,” Blair murmured gently. “Your territory, remember? Keep it cool.”

 

 Jim turned his head from the door he hadn’t realised he’d been watching with growing trepidation and focussed on intent blue eyes staring up at him. He stepped forward, right into what remained of his guide’s personal space and inhaled steadily, felt Blair’s breath catch in his throat. He lifted his hand and brushed Blair’s hair off his neck at the same moment as Blair caught his wrist.

 

 “Hey, Jim, you with me?” Blair’s warm, deep voice asked.

 

 Jim blinked. Once. Twice. But as his lips parted to respond, noise filled the room. About a dozen or so people were stepping into the room reeking of curiosity, excitement and anticipation. There were men and women, ranging from early thirties to late teens, all smiles, talk and vitality. Jim stepped back, the counter pressing hard into his back, a firm standing point to take in the newcomers to his territory.

 

 Blair’s fingers remained around his wrist, a steadying heat, the pulse in his thumb reassuring against Jim’s own in his wrist. He let himself focus on the little thump, thump, thump of it as the potential guides mingled with the sentinel recruits, drawn into the welcoming space of the room’s core, leaving two more people in the doorway, a man and woman.

 

 The suffocating feeling soared and Jim tensed further, feeling Blair squeeze gently but not daring to blink, not moving. He set hard eyes on the man and woman that apparently knew better than to just stride in. There was a long, drawn out moment there completely worlds away from the excited chatter in the middle of the room. Jim focussed hard on the familiar scent filling his nostrils and the hard, dark brown eyes that met his unflinchingly. Challenge. His throat tightened.

 

 The woman had dark red hair in a pixie crop with high cheekbones and full lips that remained drawn in a tight line, as if barely withholding a snarl. It was her scent Jim recognised most. She was a fully-fledged sentinel with the same barely contained wildness Alex had in her eyes, the same aura of strength about her. Jim felt as if he couldn’t breathe with the claustrophobic weight pushing at his chest and finally drew in a breath to try and quell it. He stepped forward and shrugged off Blair’s grip.

 

 This woman was the sentinel he’d smelled on Blair the other night. He felt the claustrophobia spiral up like a tidal wave over his head and without truly realising, he moved even further forward, right into her space, until all he could smell was her. He stared down the few inches between them into her eyes. She was just a bit taller than Blair and she met his gaze and challenge, unflinching. Jim vaguely noticed the tall, muscular body of the man beside her but he was still, as immobile as his sentinel and he was not anywhere near on Jim’s radar right now.

 

 Jim and this invader, they were almost nose to nose. His nostrils flared, lips tightening. He registered a spike of fear, of…jealousy in the man behind him, felt Blair grip his shoulder, smelling musky and like him, like home. Jim held a hand back to still him, to keep him at a distance but then those fingers dug almost painfully into his shoulder and he gave a grunt of pain. Blair’s panic was palpable, like a second current crashing over the waves roaring inside his chest.

 

 The panic didn’t go unnoticed by anyone else. He watched as the invading sentinel flicked her brown eyes to Blair and that was it. He surged. Slamming his forearm hard against her windpipe he pinned her to the doorframe. He heard Blair cry out, heard the large man at his side order everyone back but all he was focussed on was the rapid thump of the sentinel’s heart. She was afraid. She was embarrassed and startled by his sudden movement, caught off guard. Their eyes met again, hard as before but this time, after an elongated eternity, she flicked her eyes to the side.

 

 Slowly, Jim stepped back from her, only allowing his head to turn as he watched her tentatively sidle into the room a little more. He moved then, circling her, making almost a full circuit. Her eyes never quite met his again, only tentatively watched him from peripheral vision. By the time he came back to stand at Blair’s side again, the perimeter was clear, the boundaries set. Everyone in the room was deathly silent. Everyone knew that the authority, the territory had been conceded to him.

 

 Slowly, the suffocating feeling receded from him and Jim covered Blair’s hand with his when it squeezed just inside his elbow.

 

 “It had to happen,” the warm, deep drawl came from the large man in the doorway. Jim finally looked at him. He was as tall as himself and built with an array of dark coppery hair, a slight foreign twang to his otherwise perfect American accent. Evidently realising Jim was back in the room, the man offered a smile, shutting the door as he stepped in and moved to his sentinel’s side. He was the guide. He was huge and built like a tower block but he radiated such cool, gentle calmness that it seemed to project to everyone else in the room – a lot like the calmness that Blair’s coaxing voice tended to emit.

 

 “You needed to establish the Alpha Sentinel or whatever, am I right?” Blair noted. The larger guide gave a small nod. Beneath Jim’s hand, Blair’s slackened a little, as if he were about to let go, but he gripped it, holding it in place against his skin, thumb stroking distractedly over the back of Blair’s hand. He was sure he felt a little pulse of confusion along their connection but Blair didn’t pull away.

 

 At last, the female sentinel shook back her hair as if breathing new life into her and looked at everyone in the room in turn before focussing back on Jim and Blair with a gentle expression. It seemed like a weight had been lifted. “No wonder Lawrence wants you to have the final say in the serious shit sentinels get involved in. Chief Advisor or something I think he wants to make you,” She said, evidently trying for a light tone. She took a small step forward then and offered her hand. “Kimberly Curtis with the Washington Police Department – it’s good to finally meet you, Sentinel Ellison.”

 

 For a moment her hand hovered between them, untouched. Jim stared at it, then her and drew a small breath, shook it briefly. For some reason, he felt Blair’s anxiety spike further at the contact, felt him tense as well as saw it out of the corner of his eye. He gave him a curious glance before focussing back on the female sentinel. “Blair said you were in charge of bringing in the guide recruits,” Jim said in his pleasant business voice, a little strained but trying. Curtis smiled, evidently sensing his effort.

 

 “That’s right,” she confirmed. “Only Misha and I bonded when we were children, I don’t really remember much of it. We thought you’d be the best one to help the kids out with this.” She glanced to the large man at her side who gave a gentle smile that utterly belied the build of him.

 

 “We shared a connection before Kim really fully came into her abilities,” the man agreed, “We knew what we were to each other long before we knew what she was. Everything sort of fell into place without us realising.” His eyes sparkled with curious gentleness so much like Blair’s despite the difference in their eye colour, these a dark, glittering grey. “I’d be interested to hear what you have to say as well by way of advice, so we can help the future generations.” He glanced to Blair. “Guide Sandburg takes notes like an honour student but he’s so secretive about his writing.”

 

 With brows raised in surprise, Jim felt his partner tense again at his side, using muscles that had never really relaxed.

 

 “Hey, let’s get this show on the road then, shall we?” Blair said with his usual enthusiasm increased by anxiety. He bounced away from Jim’s side, the distance between them pulsing uneasily with another matured sentinel so close by, but with his position secured as the alpha in this scenario, it was bearable. He watched like a hawk as Blair made his way toward the stereo system beside the television and turn on some music. An easy, casual indie beat pulsed gently through the speakers spaced strategically through the room.

 

 Blair moved easily through the small group gathered in the centre of the living area and Jim watched him the entire time. He watched him dive straight into the thick of things, encourage conversation and cultivate interaction until all the recruits were slipping into flowing, if tentative banter. The boys seemed to find it easier, Matias grinning winningly as he engaged with a few of the female guides and Noah entertaining them all evenly. Alice seemed to struggle, awkwardly staggering through a conversation with one of the tall, older potentials and glancing surreptitiously to Blair often.

 

 “…I work in a facility for sick children. That’s where Sentinel Curtis found me – did you know she could tell just from being near the children where they were hurting, give us some idea of how we could help them? One child she helped us on the road toward a cure before I came up here with her.” The older man smiled gently at Alice, patiently engaging her.

 

 “That’s…I always liked kids,” Alice offered quietly, sweeping her glossy brown hair behind her ear as she finally met the man’s eyes. “I used to watch my neighbour’s twins for her for a few dollars sometimes when he worked overtime…”

 

 “Has it settled yet?” Curtis’ voice dragged Jim’s hearing to the woman who had stepped a little closer to his side, but his eyes remained focussed on Blair, so effortlessly encouraging the conversation on when Alice’s shyness stalled it. Even if Blair’s own mood was still flickering with unease. Jim glanced to Curtis and frowned.

 

 “Settled?”

 

 She smiled, lips full and shiny with natural gloss. Cocking her head to the side, she gestured toward Blair. “Your bond.” She must’ve seen Jim cringe at that word because she gave a small laugh. “You don’t call it that?”

 

 Jim shifted slightly, letting his gaze drift back to Blair. “We call it a connection,” he said. “Bond sounds so…” He grimaced.

 

 “Mystical,” Curtis finished for him, beaming. He couldn’t help it, Jim smiled a little back because that was exactly it. Curtis laughed. “I’m not really into the whole spiritual side of what we are either. Misha is, maybe that’s part of the guide’s make-up? I just know that when we need each other we can find each other, even sense what the other is feeling. I can pull myself back from a black-out just by tugging on the bond between us, he doesn’t even have to be there and let me tell you, that’s saved our asses more than once.”

 

 Blair was moving onto the small group with Noah now, but as he engaged with them, he glanced up and Jim felt the tension in his body from all the way across the room. What the hell was it?

 

 “…being a cop?” Curtis asked.

 

 Jim blinked at her. “Sorry, what?”

 

 She beamed knowingly. “I was just saying, if your connection has settled to the point where you can track each other across a distance, pick his voice out of a crowd a mile away, completely rule out zoning then…well you’re unstoppable, am I right? Have your senses increased in range?”

 

 “Yeah. Yeah they’re stronger than ever.” Jim was torn, trying to focus on what she was saying and biting at confusion as to this unsettled panic in Blair’s scent. Nostalgia throbbed at his chest as if it were his own. His frown evaporated as realisation struck. He’d seen that look of confused pain on Blair’s face before.

 

 “Blair and Lawrence tell us they’re off the charts as far as SGD research goes,” Misha interjected, stepping closer and brushing the full flat of his palm gently against Curtis’ arm. In doing so, he pulled her gently into his space and out of Jim’s. It wasn’t a possessive gesture but a correcting one, correcting for Curtis. The relief Jim felt, both his own and Blair’s was immediate, further cementing his theory.

 

 Seeming to realise how close she’d stepped into Jim’s space, Curtis flushed a little. “Sorry. Instinct,” she said sheepishly. “We’re sort of hardwired to challenge each other’s space, so I’m told. It’ll get easier now we’ve established the pecking order.” She spoke so easily, so freely of sentinel issues as if they were nothing. With a pang of longing, Jim realised that this is what he could’ve been like if he’d accepted what he was long ago.

 

 One day, he thought wistfully, turning his focus back across the room to the man that was making that a possibility, the man who was casting surreptitious glances at him and Curtis whenever he thought he could get away with it. Jim watched Noah elbow Blair gently and knew the sentinel recruits could even feel the tension.

 

 “It’s alright,” Jim told Curtis and Misha after a moment, “I didn’t feel…threatened. I feel better since the…” He winced uncomfortably. The face-off was what he’d been about to call it, but that seemed rude and peculiar besides. The look on Curtis’ face told him he didn’t need to elaborate though. “The last time I encountered another mature sentinel things ended badly. It’s something Blair and I never really dealt with.”

 

 Curtis nodded but Misha was the one who spoke, words just flicking with the echoes of an accent nearly forgotten. Russian, Jim guessed. “But your bond is strong. Settled, far-reaching. If you have reached the point where your senses are stable and maximised then that means it’s fully established.” He squeezed Curtis’ arm at his words and smiled easily at Jim. “You feel it, don’t you? The calmness, the collectedness? You know you can do anything, am I right?”

 

 Jim said nothing but it seemed he didn’t have to. These two had been through this part at least; they knew what was going through his head. He did feel at peace with himself as he had never been in his life, and that inner peace gave him strength and an assuredness he didn’t think even Alex Barnes and a whole tub full of that weird sentinel temple elixir could shift.

 

 “We’re untouchable,” he said, without really meaning to. His face burned a little but the other two didn’t seem embarrassed or awkward, only understanding.

 

 “Blair just needs to be shown that the conventional way, not the sentinel way,” Misha offered gently. “He can feel some of what you feel, feel where you are but that’s as far as his supernatural sensations go. You need to guide him in this. It’s a partnership.”

 

 That was the most sensible thing anyone in this building had ever said, Jim thought and with a polite nod, he moved toward the pull of nervous energy now locked in the conversation with Noah and the three around him. He came to stand alongside them, Blair’s head twitching just a fraction toward him without really looking at him. Perhaps he was trying to gauge something without being obvious? Regardless, he was failing because everything he did was like a beacon now, projecting exactly what was going on in that busy head of his. He still had Jim’s jacket casually over one arm. It smelled right near him. Jim brushed his fingers against the arm that hung near his, felt Blair tense then relax infinitesimally.

 

 When the conversation was flowing easily between the young sentinels and their potentials, Jim hooked a finger under Blair’s elbow to get his attention and gestured toward the door. Blair blinked, surprised for a moment before following him out into the hall. Jim shut it behind them, testing the low buzz of the white noise generators on his senses before turning to face his partner. There was still some tension and uncertainty clouding his scent. He had to fix that.

 

 “Curtis was the one you met with the other day,” he said casually. That wasn’t what he’d meant to say. His jaw set in frustration at himself, at being unable to just come out and say it. Blair cocked his head, no doubt knowing that wasn’t what Jim had intended to open with.

 

 “Yeah,” Blair replied and slid his hands into his jeans pockets distractedly. Of course, he offered the branch out, he always did. “I guess I had theories, about what might happen when you two met. I knew of course there would be some sort of territory issue, that you’d need to come to some sort of face off but I wasn’t sure to what extent. You both have official partners of course so it was bound to be different, you know? I wasn’t sure if…” He lifted his eyes to Jim’s. “If what happened before would happen again.”

 

 Jim exhaled roughly, grasping onto the figurative branch with both hands. Another reason they made perfect sense despite outward appearances, was that he couldn’t talk about things and Blair’s entire life had been spent coaxing people out of their shells, drawing them to a place where they could use his infectious empathy and chatter to find their own way of communicating. “You thought I might react the way I did with Alex in Sierra Verde.”

 

 Somehow he knew Blair was more worried about that than being kicked out of the loft again. They’d never really discussed it, the way his territorial anger had turned to blind passion and some deep connection with Alex, with Blair’s murderer. Looking at his partner now, ripe with apprehension, he saw how stupid he’d been not to realise how deeply it had all affected Blair. He swallowed and it was a tight squeeze. It hurt.

 

 “I know the sentinel is me, my base instincts, whatever you want to call them,” he said steadily, “she was attractive to me on a base level. But that was all it was, like with Laura.” He hadn’t realised he’d stepped forward until he felt Blair make an abortive move to touch him, hands reaching for him then dropping uselessly. Jim grasped them firmly, feeling the pulse in Blair’s wrists under his thumbs as he held them, brushing them against his skin as if to reassure himself that Blair hadn’t stayed dead in that fountain. He was here. It was alright.

 

 “Maybe part of it was because...” Jim winced because it grated on his pride to admit but he needed to get it out. “She was the alpha sentinel back there, Chief. She dragged me into her dreams and she came into my territory and she made it all about her. She wanted me, for whatever reason and I fell in with that, let her cloud my judgement because by then the senses and the instincts were so hyped up, especially when I was distanced from you.” Physically and mentally, with a thick slather of guilt bonding it all together like gorilla glue.

 

 At some point he’d pulled Blair’s hands up without thinking and now they rested on his chest, fingers curled lightly into his shirt. Blair was staring at them, a light frown wrinkling his forehead as if he were struggling to make sense of the raw, unexpected truth in all of this.

 

 Jim kept going, before he stopped, because he didn’t think he could start again if he did. “It wasn’t love or anything more substantial than chemistry and some throwback to sentinel ancestry. Maybe that’s the way sentinels did things back then, to…you know…”

 

 He could practically hear Blair rambling about mating rituals and battles between a male sentinel’s guide and a female sentinel looking to mate. He could already hear his musings that it was likely (as with most cats) to be a brief meeting of passion before the female returned alone to the jungle. He’d leave the theorising up to Blair once he’d gotten this all out. He didn’t want to hypothesize or compare himself to jungle beasts or pre-civilised men. To him it didn’t matter.

 

 “It was all pheromones and animal attraction and not even a little bit of me, of the parts of me that really matter, you know?”

 

 Blair’s head did jerk up a fraction then, eyes blazing and painfully open. His fingers dug slightly into the fabric of Jim’s shirt, lips parting moist and soft before he found his words. “The stuff that’s mine,” Blair confirmed. Jim nodded, even though he didn’t really need to because he could feel that Blair understood.

 

 Back in the roaring twister of the connection on that roof they had felt their understanding of each other, of the bond of their feelings for each other and what was happening so that there had been no room to misinterpret anything. This, however, was a cloud that had loomed in the background completely separate and Blair had deserved this, an apology and more for a long time now. He deserved it with words as well as everything else.

 

 “I’m sorry,” Jim said, voice awkward and rough but honest. He squeezed Blair’s wrists gently. “I sweep important crap under the rug because I don’t want to talk about it or analyse it but you deserved an explanation.”

 

 Blair shook his head with exasperated fondness. “Jim, it’s fine, man, really I’m not… Just seeing you with another fully fledged sentinel brought it all back I guess.”

 

 “I’ve only got eyes for you, Chief,” Jim said firmly, a little embarrassed but more certain than anything else and needing Blair to see that. “Alex Barnes, Kim Curtis, they’re not even blips on the radar. I wasn’t ready to take that trip with you back in that hospital room, after you coughed up that fountain water but we’ve opened that door now and everything’s in tune to you, senses, instincts, the rest of it, the important stuff.”

 

 Blair’s breath was low, barely audible but definitely a rush of surprised, relieved, happy air that rasped as it was dragged back in. “Love, right?” he asked.

 

 Jim’s eyes crinkled with a smile and he let go of Blair’s wrists to cup his head. It might’ve been the same brotherly way he’d done it so often before to an outsider but the feeling of anchoring himself to this man, who was the most important thing in his life was evident between them. Their connection pulsed warmly. “Yeah, Chief.” He’d only said it once outright and never without the heavy, comforting, protective freedom that sex left over his reserved nature. “And then some. All the bits no one else was stubborn enough to wriggle out of me.”

 

 Blair beamed, exposed and free and so fucking beautiful. His. “I think the power rush of that might go to my head,” Blair mused, then his eyes turned mischievous. “So… Everything? That means I still get the pheromones and animal attraction too, right?”
 

 Jim laughed shortly, exasperated and unbelievably in love with this infuriating man. “I think you know you do. Stop fishing for compliments, Darwin, we’ve got sentinel recruits to assist.” He brushed his thumbs across Blair’s cheekbones before releasing him, turning back to the door. Blair whirled him round with a firm grip on his shoulder until they were facing again. This time there was academic intrigue bright in his eyes.

 

 “I’ve got this theory, after seeing your exchange with Kimberly and you know, seeing it with clearer vision, in hindsight, I think you were right. Alex was the alpha out of the two of you but you were the one that drank that stuff and bathed in the pool and took the vision trip in the temple of the sentinels. You were the one that survived it intact, you took control after that and since then, let’s face it, your senses have been better all round. I know you still needed my help until we connected but they were steadier and stronger than they’d ever been. You came out on top and you are the alpha sentinel now, man. The others, they recognise you as their leader, they defer to you. Even Alex didn’t have a hold on you once you came out of the trip, am I right?”

 

 Jim stared at his partner’s literally bouncing enthusiasm and thought hard. That last time, when he’d watched Alex fall into a well of fire that she would never recover from, he had pulled her into that vision, into that waking dream. At first she’d tried to lure him in with the same fiery need she’d harnessed him with before but he had controlled her instead, forced her to surrender even when she’d been at breaking point. He’d talked her down from opening those canisters because he’d surpassed her. Blair was right. It must’ve shown on his face because Blair was beaming again and gripping his upper arms excitedly.

 

 “That’s it, isn’t it?” Blair continued in a rush, “That’s why the kids respond to you so well, why everything’s so much easier when you’re here and why you don’t feel so out of it like you did when Alex came to Cascade. You’re the top dog here, Jim. Err, Lieutenant Chief General or whatever,” Blair added hastily at Jim’s grimace at his animal reference.

 

 Somehow as the truth in Blair’s words registered, Jim knew, just knew that whatever happened with Lawrence or the SGD, the other sentinels would follow him. They would not allow themselves to be used by anyone. The power in that was humbling, but it was also security. He felt so much easier all at once, the way the cop in him did whenever he heard the sounds of back up on a pursuit. He felt safer about being here, being involved didn’t fill him with daunting suspicion. It felt almost like…belonging.

 

 Without really thinking, he pulled an arm round Blair’s shoulders and hauled him in, other hand still resting on the door handle. He turned his nose to lightly sniff at Blair’s temple, as if sealing that sense of belonging with the scent that soothed him most before he flushed, realising what he was doing and gently letting go. Blair looked confused, but pleased nonetheless.

 

 “C’mon, Chief, the troops need us,” he said and pushed the door open. On their return, it looked as if Alice still needed a bit of help mingling and for reasons that came from both the sentinel and the man in him, Jim made his way over to her with a reassuring expression on his face.

 

*                            *                            *

 

 “You’ve started writing in the journal again,” Jim said in an attempt at casual, eyes on the road as he drove them home that evening. The smell of Thai food from the bags in Blair’s lap rose to fill the truck with a pleasant aroma.

 

 “Yeah, just like you suggested, remember?” Blair said cautiously, “Look if you’re having second thoughts… I know I can’t publish it. It’s just good to have a reference when the kids come to me with something and the notes are as much about them and the other sentinels as they are about you. I…I’m going to be more careful about my notes this time. Maybe get a safe or save up for a more lightweight laptop…” He was rambling, defensive, pre-empting an obvious attack.

 

 “That’s good practice,” Jim said agreeably, “but I wasn’t… I meant it before when I said I wanted you to continue writing it. Expand it how you want, you know, within reason. Personal details excluded. Just stop treading on eggshells around this thing when I’ve told you to go for it. You’re good at your work, Chief. That’s what makes you valuable to Lawrence and the SGD beyond the guide thing. You’re probably the specialist in this whole thing and there are a million reasons why you should do what you do best here.”

 

 Blair fidgeted uncomfortably beside him. “Jim, I know what you’re saying and what you said before. I appreciate the sentiment but there are very good reasons why I shouldn’t too,” he said quietly, mind evidently drifting back to the Zeller case and the media storm that got mixed up in it.

 

 Jim slid a hand across the seat and gripped Blair’s denim clad thigh. “I won’t be a cop forever,” he said in a low, warm voice. There was still a flicker of doubt there but overwhelming that was a sense of rightness. “When I’m not, I want you to live your dream, be recognised for some of your talent. I don’t know when it’ll be and I’m guessing the SGD will have some final say in it but I want you to publish it.

 

 “The world isn’t ready for sentinels yet, but it’s coming. Probably sooner than we think. I think Lawrence knows that too, that’s partly why he stepped in and did what he did, rescued your reputation without dismissing your dissertation outright. Slowly but surely, a foundation for it all, you know?” He could feel Blair staring at him open-mouthed but he kept going because he knew somehow, just knew it was right, everything he was saying. “When the world is ready for this, you deserve to be in the front seat and your work, your book, it’s our life but it’s bigger than us too. It can help kids like Alice, Matias and Noah; help them not feel so scared to be different.”

 

 “Jim!” Blair almost gasped, “Jim, slow down man, you’re doing sixty-five in a forty!”

 

 Excitement had obviously caught up with him. If not excitement then eagerness, exhilaration at the knowledge that in the end, Blair would still get to live his dreams, not have to give up anything for him, not really. It made perfect sense with a burning clarity that was as intense and unrefined as the sun. He knew it like he knew a vision of the blue jungle was real. He slowed sheepishly, trying to school his face into a mask of nonchalance as he reached a more suitable speed and didn’t speak again on the ride home.

 

 He could hear Blair’s thoughts as if they were words, hear this heart and his breathing lift, his pulse a little elevated as his mind raced loudly. By the time they reached the loft and Jim was digging out his key at their door, Blair was almost bursting with processing it all. It had been a shock apparently. Jim smiled to himself as he let them in, shutting the door behind them. Blair made his way into the kitchen to serve their take away onto plates and grab some cutlery. Jim watched him from across the kitchen counter, trying to gauge the point all those thoughts would explode from that rushing mind like a geyser and wasn’t disappointed.

 

 Blair set their food on the table on plates but the cutlery practically fell from his hands, which were apparently shaking. Jim made his way over, watching as Blair pushed his palms flat against the table top to steady himself. Slowly, Jim covered them with his own, curved around his partner, silent and firm behind him. He waited.

 

 Slowly, those muscles seemed to loosen, to calm and lean back and Blair turned his head enough to snatch his lips in a rough, awkward-angled kiss, fingers clawing lightly at Jim’s jaw to hold him deeper into the open-mouthed caresses. It was firm but slow, tongues flicking out to just touch at the weird angle and Jim’s hands slid up Blair’s torso to ground him in whatever spiralling thoughts he was wound up by.

 

 “A few decades ago, guys like me and you would’ve been arrested just for being like this,” Jim breathed against parted lips, soothing the potential bitterness of those words with another brief pass of his mouth. He held Blair tighter. “We’re going to have a battle on our hands with that one alone when some of our colleagues at the PD find out. I know it’s still an adjustment and there’s still stigma, homophobia but times have definitely changed. I think by the time I’m retired the world will be ready to start adjusting to sentinels too.”

 

 Blair’s hands slid down to cover his, forehead resting against Jim’s chin. The food smelled so good and so did Blair, in this home they’d made together in spite of all they’d had going against them. They were unstoppable, he’d been right about that before.  

 

 “I realised a long time ago that my obsession with the sentinel thing was mostly an excuse to hang onto you,” Blair whispered, a bristle of embarrassment in his tone.

 

 Jim smirked wistfully. “Mostly?” he teased.

 

 Blair pressed a little harder with his forehead. It felt good to be wrapped together like this. “Mostly,” he admitted. “It’s important in its own right, you know, with how it’s helped us to save so many people? But the book, I won’t spend the rest of my life in regret if I can’t publish it, Jim, as long as we can spend it like this.”

 

 Jim chuckled, kissing his partner’s temple impulsively before gently extricating himself and taking a seat at the table, picking up a fork. Blair slid into his chair beside him and took a few mouthfuls of food before Jim spoke again. “Write the damn book, Sandburg. Listen to your partner on this one, alright?” He felt tension retreat from Blair’s body and shovelled a forkful of food into his mouth, chewing before adding, “Do me one favour though? Lose the notebook, I’ll help you upgrade the laptop if you put a password on it.”

 

 Blair ducked his head and devoured a few more mouthfuls of his own food before replying, fork lingering midair as he considered his words. “You really mean all this, don’t you?” he asked.

 

 “You deserve it, buddy,” Jim said simply. “And it’s not a case of guilt or even being fair. It’s just...” He hesitated, wanting to say it right. “That’s how this thing works, isn’t it? It’s give and take, it’s compromise. Am I ready for the world to know about me? No, but we’re not taking the public by storm tonight. We’re doing it on our terms – and the SGD’s partly, I guess – when the time is right.”

 

 It was so easy to say it now, after seeing the truth in Blair’s commitment to him beyond the sentinel abilities when they’d committed on that otherworldly plain. He’d seen Blair Sandburg inside and out. What was more, Blair had seen him and chosen him in spite of it all. Faced with that gift, faced with all he’d seen at the SGD with those struggling kids who he felt they had a responsibility for, he knew this was right. For once, saying what was right felt easy, felt good. It wouldn’t always feel this way, be this simple, of course it wouldn’t but whenever that trouble came in the future, it wouldn’t make this any less right.

 

When Blair shook his head with a disbelieving smile that almost completely obscured the flicker of hope, Jim set his free hand on Blair’s across the table, wordlessly urging him to meet his eyes.

 

 “The world is gonna know eventually and when that time comes, no one should be at the wheel except you. This is our story, I want you to be the one to tell it, when the time is right.”

 

 After a long moment, Blair shook his head again, eyes bright, curls framing his face, lips twisting with that amused, fondly infuriated smile they both shared with each other so often. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk so much in one night, big guy,” Blair said, amused, relieved, as hopeless and in love as Jim felt.

 

“Yeah well, maybe you’re rubbing off on me, Sandburg,” he countered.

 

 Blair’s eyebrows lifted suggestively. “Not right now, but later, for sure,” he offered wickedly.

 

 Jim levelled a failing nonchalant gaze at him. “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

 

 “Oh, I can do that later too,” Blair retorted quickly, swallowing before adding, “Swallow before you speak, Ellison House Rule Number 303.”

 

 Rising from the table, Jim went to the fridge to grab a couple of beers, offering one to Blair as he returned to his seat and drank deeply. “I think I’ve officially entered the Sandburg Zone.”

 

 Blair set his own bottle down, a little of the alcohol’s moisture clinging to his lips in a way only a sentinel would notice as he said, “Come on in, man. The water’s nice.” His eyes were such a soft, dark blue in the gentle light of the loft and there was the lightest shadow of hair at his jaw.

 

 Jim smiled. “Love to.”

 

THE END



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