Author's disclaimer: Nothing's mine but the words...
Author's notes: Right, so mucho thanks to Anne aka Sigrid the H, Owlet aka Janette, and Miriam aka Miriam. There's another story right behind this one, and we're two stories away from the end of this arc. If you've been trying to guess what I'm up to, this is essentially your last chance: the next story will reveal all. Feedback craved, s'il vous plait.
Forty, Jim Ellison thought, staring up at the dark skylight, looked a lot better when you were getting fucked on a regular basis. Okay, so maybe he hadn't exactly anticipated that how often he got fucked would turn out to be a significant plus in the personal audit that was part and parcel of his mid-life crisis — but fuck it, life was a strange and wonderful thing. He'd learned that much in forty years, anyway.
Getting fucked regularly — every morning, or every other morning, Blair willing — had turned out to be the single greatest mitigating factor as he contemplated his life, his body, and possibly his mind going to shit in the great downward swoop that the next forty years would likely represent. But goddammit, he was alive now, and at something resembling the peak of his faculties, and he intended to use it all before he lost it, age be dammed.
The trick was to focus on the positive — he had a flourishing career, a paid-off apartment, a pretty cool truck, near-total control over an array of supernatural powers, and a thirty-one-year-old boyfriend of astonishing intellect and virility. Not bad for an Irish kid from the 'burbs. And okay, maybe the minus column of his life included thugs, whackos, a renegade FBI agent, and the need to keep a careful eye on his cholesterol level, but all and all he felt like he was pretty much ahead.
He fidgeted within Blair's arms, trying to wake him up, but Blair just snuffled against the back of his neck and lay still. Jim carefully nudged backwards with his hips, and bumped up against Blair's cock. Wake up, Blair...baby...wake up...
He looked up through the skylight at the dawning morning and allowed himself a moment of smugness — it had taken some doing, getting himself into this enviable position. It had taken patience and strategic planning — but those were his strengths, after all. And the recent change in Blair's sleeping patterns — well, that had been a golden opportunity.
Historically, Blair had been a restless sleeper, a tosser-turner. Blair's side of the bed was usually a disaster area in the morning, as if he had spent the night fighting some sort of low-budget guerrilla war. Then again, in a way Blair had — because by morning Blair was in triumphant possession of each and every pillow, including, rather incredibly, the one that had been underneath Jim's head the night before. It was a talent of sorts — snatching the pillow from underneath the head of a sleeping Sentinel. Not the sort of thing you could put on your resume, but a talent nonetheless.
However, recently — in the last month or so — Blair had taken to sleeping tightly wrapped around him. The change had disturbed Jim's own sleep patterns — he had woken that first night to find himself immobilized, Blair's arms encircling him protectively. At first he struggled, trying to get Blair to loosen his grip and roll over. But Blair's arms were like steel bands, and Jim finally gave up and just went back to sleep. It wasn't worth waking Blair up about, and if Blair was comfortable sleeping like this — well, hey, he could live with it. It was nice, actually, having Blair spooned up tight behind him — even if he couldn't move at all, even to scratch his nose.
It took him a couple of days to realize that their new sleeping arrangement was making him — well, extremely horny. At first, he wasn't sure exactly why — all he knew was that he was waking up diamond-hard and sex-obsessed. And then he felt Blair's flannel-covered morning hard-on brush his ass, and he realized that Blair had been pressed up against him all night long, hardening and softening, hardening and softening. He was being subjected to the elaborate tease of nature while he slept, and it was driving him crazy, driving him wild.
So he began to plan.
Phase one — get rid of those damn flannel boxers.
He supposed he could have just asked, ("Hey! Blair! could you lose the shorts?"), but where was the fun in that? Instead he began to give Blair sweet little hand jobs or blow-jobs before bed — anything to get those boxer shorts down his legs and off him. This worked spectacularly well as a strategy. It was
a) fun, b) got rid of the boxers, c) put Blair out like a light; and d) set Blair up to feel like a little reciprocity was in order.
Phase one — check.
Phase two — get himself prepared. This, he soon realized, had to be done at night before bed, because regardless of how zonked-out Blair was after being blown or fondled, he always recovered enough to roll over and put Jim back into the immobilizing body-lock of doom. Whatever, he could work with it — and so he took care to prepare himself before bed, so that he was ready for Blair's cock in the morning. Chance apparently favored the well-prepared — uh — mind.
Phase two — check.
Phase three — well, this was phase three right now. And god, it was good — good to tease himself on Blair's cock in the early morning light, knowing he was getting Blair wild before Blair was even conscious. It was like he was getting a little of his own back — why should he be the only one who woke up with his throat dry, his gut aching, wanting it bad, bad, so bad...
He shifted slightly against Blair, and was rewarded with a mumble and a sleepy kiss to the back of his neck. Bingo. He pushed back more intently, and one of Blair's arms loosened around him. A palm stroked his chest affectionately and then slid downward; Jim took a deep breath, anticipating it closing around his cock. But Blair bypassed his cock and caressed his hip instead — then held on to it, anchoring himself, as he pressed forward.
Oh, yes yes yes, Jim thought, and pulled one leg up slightly to give Blair better access. He shivered as he felt Blair's cock slide against his cheeks, and then move unerringly toward his center — they hadn't fucked like this, on their sides, for so long. Too long.
Blair's fingers tightened on Jim's hip as he thrust forward, entering him carefully, gently, steadily. Jim groaned softly as he was filled — god, Blair wanted to do it slow this time. Or maybe Blair was just exhausted, and this was all he could manage. Didn't matter — it felt so good, so good — and he closed his eyes and felt Blair's fingers grip and relax, grip and relax at his hip while they rocked slowly together — in and out, in and out...
Dimly, through the fog of sensation, Jim heard the telephone ringing softly. He ignored it, preferring to focus on the way Blair was stretching him, on the pleasure-pain of flesh and muscle stretched to capacity. He bore down on the hard, hot thing inside him, wanting to feel it — the hard hot thing that was Blair. Blair abruptly stopped all movement with a sudden, quiet inhalation — holding still, obliging him, letting Jim just pant and feel, pant and feel it...
(and the answering machine went off)
...hot and hard inside him, and if he closed his eyes he could picture it: Blair behind him, sleep-rumpled and dark-eyed with lust. Clutching him, fucking him...cock jutting out hard, so hard...
(and he could hear it even though it was turned down low, turned down to nothing, hear the beeeeeep....)
He thrust back, suddenly wanting more, wanting to feel every inch of Blair inside him. And again Blair obliged him, pushing forward roughly and rolling them both forward. Jim found himself flat on his stomach, and Blair was on top of him, behind him —
("Jim, it's me. It's Stephen — ")
— hands holding him open and Blair was going deep now, and the prostate massage was like a ringing in his head, a tingling in his cock, and he listened dizzily, just listened — -
(" — and I'm in town for a few days, and I need to talk to you. I mean, I want to see you, anyway — but there are also some things we need to talk about.")
— to the sound of Blair's ragged breathing and soft exhalations. Or vocalizations — Blair was into it now — really, really into it: "...uhh...uhh...ohh...oh god..."
("So call me, okay? I'm at Dad's. Let's make a date to meet somewhere — somewhere private where we can really talk.")
"...oh god...uhh...uhh..." and Blair'd lost his rhythm, now, was losing it, and Jim could feel the muscles in Blair's arms twitching and spasming. Blair was gonna come any second now, any second —
(and he could hear the soft click and the whirr of the machine rewinding)
— and now Blair was — Blair's cock was — Blair was — trembling and muscles shuddering deep within him — Blair calling out, sound ripped out of him, Blair's voice sounding so vulnerable and lost in climax that it would have been embarrassing to hear, was almost embarrassing, except it wasn't. Except the sound of Blair, helpless and lost in climax, thrilled him and pushed him over the edge of his own orgasm.
The world grew fuzzy for a while as his senses cut in and out on him, until finally things sharpened and he realized that he had a lot of hot, sweaty Blair sprawled over his back.
"...nnyuhcalla..." Jim muttered, finally.
"...gaphyiruhh..." Blair replied, and promptly fell asleep on top of him, arms snaking around to hold him in the immobilizing body lock of doom.
Blair shifted the Volvo into neutral at the next red light, then turned to Jim with a curious expression on his face. "Tell me again why you wanted me to drive?"
Jim sprawled comfortably in the passenger seat. "I'll be getting a ride home."
Blair's eyebrows flew up. "Oh yeah? From who?"
"From my lunch date," Jim replied casually, determined not to smile and give the game away.
"Lunch date?" Blair's voice thrummed with mock-jealousy. "You've got a lunch date?"
"I've got a lunch date," Jim confirmed, playing along. "I mean, I can have a lunch date, can't I?"
"Maybe you can." Blair's eyes narrowed. "And maybe you can't."
"Oh, so I have to have your permission, is that it?" Jim asked, allowing himself a faint smile.
"Like I said — that depends," Blair replied authoritatively. "Who are we talking about?"
"You'll just have to wait and see," Jim said, brushing the subject away with a wave of his hand.
"Someone from work?" Blair pressed.
Blair shot him a surprised glance. "No?"
"No," Jim repeated, enjoying this.
"Army buddy?" Blair asked.
"No," Jim said.
"Man or woman?" Blair asked, turning the Volvo left toward the station.
"Man," Jim replied.
"Man?" Blair repeated.
"Man," Jim confirmed.
"A good looking man?" Blair asked, and Jim let out a laugh.
"Very good looking," he answered, grinning openly now. "We're talking some excellent genes, here."
Blair made a face at him. "All right, all right — who is it? Inquiring guides want to know."
Jim shrugged. "You'll just have to wait and see."
"You bet your ass I'll see," Blair promised, as Jim's cell phone began bleating loudly.
Jim pulled the phone out of his jacket pocked and flipped it open. "Ellison," he said, conscious of the way Blair's eyes flicked toward him, at Blair's sudden posture of cop-readiness.
"Jim, we've got a hot crime scene," Simon said. "Body's still there. Allen between Third and Fourth — street address is 455 Allen. Rafe and Brown are already on it, but I thought you should run your eyes over the place before it gets trampled."
"Right — we're on our way," Jim said, flipping the phone shut. He turned to Blair and said. "Hot crime scene — Allen and Third," and Blair nodded and made the first possible U-turn.
455 Allen Street was a small A-frame house in the middle of the block. They didn't need to check the address — the front of the house was cluttered with police cars. Jim recognized Rafe's unmarked black sedan among the others as Blair pulled the Volvo to a stop, and the two of them got out quickly and headed for the front door, hoping to get inside before the scene was hopelessly contaminated.
The uniform stationed there gave them an inquiring look that immediately vanished as they waved their badges at him. "Right, go on inside, detectives," the officer said. "Straight back to the kitchen." They passed into the dim front hall and made their way down the corridor to the back of the house.
Henri Brown was standing there, alone, regarding a man's body on the floor. The body was wearing a blue bathrobe with a large red stain on the front — the man's hairy arms and legs protruded from the terrycloth fabric in the awkward angles of death. Henri looked up at them and said, "Hey, guys — Simon wanted you to take a look at this."
"Who've we got here?" Jim asked, stepping closer.
Henri glanced at his notebook. "John Sands. Worked at Crandall Brokerage. Forty-five, married, two kids. Wife Linda away for the week to visit her mother."
"Oh yeah?" Jim asked, taking another step closer to the body and letting his senses dial up. "Where's the mother?"
"Seattle," Henri replied — and what was that? his fingers were tingling, what the fuck was that? Jim felt a wave of dizziness — and then felt Blair's hand on his back, sliding down his back, one finger poking through his belt loop, another moving under his polo shirt to press gently against the small of his back.
His head cleared.
"Not real far, Seattle," he heard Blair say from beside him, and Henri nodded in grim agreement. They all knew that the first suspect in a case like this was gonna be the wife — marriage was a decidedly unromantic institution from a cop's point of view. Husbands killed wives, wives killed husbands, time and time again — it was enough to make you sick.
"We've got somebody on that," Henri said, "tracking her down, breaking the news. We'll find out if she has an alibi."
"I hope she does," Blair said quietly.
"I hope she doesn't," Henri snorted, glancing round the kitchen. "If she doesn't, we can probably clear this whole thing up real quick."
And what was that? Jim wondered, closing his eyes and letting the sensations wash over him. He felt...itchy...he felt...he smelled...stinging, astringent...clean-smelling, just —
"Is there a weapon?" he heard Blair ask.
"No," H. said slowly, "and that's weird, isn't it? I mean, it's a knife wound — it's a kitchen — you'd expect it to be here..."
Jim opened his eyes and looked at Henri. "The dishwasher was just on," he said.
Henri looked at him as if he were crazy. "What?"
"The dishwasher. Was just on," Jim repeated, not bothering to explain, unable to explain, anyway. But he could feel the heat rising off it, and he watched as Henri approached the appliance and lifted the stainless steel handle with his latex-covered hands.
"It's warm," H. reported, shooting another incredulous look at Jim. He pulled the door open, revealing two wire baskets. The top one contained six or seven mugs and a few dessert plates; the bottom one had some larger plates, a stainless steel pot, a few forks and spoons in a separate side basket — and a large butcher knife.
"Oh, you've got to be shitting me," Henri muttered, drawing the knife out carefully. "Well, I guess we can hand it over to forensics, see if they can match the size and shape of the blade to the wounds..."
"Jim," Blair murmured to him, as Henri carefully bagged the knife, "is there anything else? Have you got anything else?"
Jim considered the question — opening his senses for anything else that was interesting, suggestive, unusual. Nothing — nothing except the heat, and the smell, the faint, clean smell, was it dishwashing detergent? Or vinegar, maybe — balsamic vinegar. But there was no bottle of balsamic vinegar to be seen. And vinegar was a pretty strong smell, anyway...
He sighed and shook his head no, to answer to Blair's question, then stepped away to show that he was feeling better, was under control now.
"Who found the body?" Blair asked.
"The lawn guy," H. answered, jerking his head toward the back door, which led off the kitchen. "Apparently the Sands are either home, or they leave their shed door unlocked for him. But it was locked up tight this morning, so he came over to knock and saw this mess." He gestured to the body.
"Where is he?" Jim asked. "We might as well talk to him."
"Rafe's got him in the living room," H. replied. "Down the hall, last door on the right."
Jim nodded and he and Blair moved back down the hallway. They exchanged glances at the closed door to the living room, and then Blair stepped forward and knocked quietly.
The door was opened by another uniform — a tall, black woman who gave them a sympathetic look as she nodded them inside. The atmosphere in here was tense. Rafe sat talking in low tones to a bewildered-looking guy in overalls on one side of the room. On the other side of the room a woman was crying softly, while a man in a rumpled suit paced tensely in front of the large bay windows, clenching and unclenching his fists.
Rafe looked up at them as the officer shut the door behind them, and then waved them over. "Mr. Ortiz — this are Detectives Ellison and Sandburg. They might want to ask you a few questions."
But Jim found himself not wanting to ask Mr. Ortiz any questions — his attention was drawn to the other two people in the room: the crying woman and the rumpled, pacing man. The woman was rebuking the man softly as she sobbed: "You see? You see? You work all the time — leave me alone — and there are crazy people around here! Killers! I could be dead! I could be dead and see if you'd care!" Her words were punctuated with wet, hitching gasps. "Just as long as you win the case! Just as long as you get the goddammed deposition in on time..."
Jim stared at them for a moment, then looked at Rafe. "The Scotts," Rafe replied in answer to the unspoken question. "Next door neighbors — they were the Sands' closest friends. Mrs. Scott is the one who told us that the wife and children are away..."
I bet, Jim thought dully, turning and crossing the room toward them. Friends, he thought obsessively. Closest friends.
"Oh, poor Linda," Mrs. Scott was saying, and this remark seemed to bring forth a fresh shower of tears. "Poor, poor Linda — what's she going to do? Oh, poor Lisa, poor little Jeremy..."
Mr. Scott stopped pacing abruptly as Jim neared. "Detective Ellison," Jim said, extending his hand to the man, who looked exhausted, drained.
"Carl Scott," the man replied, gripping his hand. "My wife, Susan," he added, gesturing at the woman on the sofa, who looked up at him with watery brown eyes.
"It's so terrible," Susan Scott whispered, looking up at him. "So terrible. Such a tragedy."
Jim nodded and slowly sank down on the sofa next to her. "It is," he replied quietly, taking a deep breath, inhaling the slight vinegary smell. "It is," he repeated, taking the soft, pale hand that she offered him. His own hand tingled from the contact — her hand, he noticed, was well scrubbed, and he could see the marks of a nail brush in the blistered polish of her nails. They'd still been tacky when she washed them...
"Why'd you do it?" he asked finally.
She just stared at him, her small hand clutching at his large one. Jim was conscious of the room going still — of Carl Scott's soft gasp of shock, or maybe it wasn't shock. Of the one step Blair had taken toward them — Blair, always right on the edge of his peripheral vision. Of the way the officer at the door was reaching for her gun; of the way Rafe was coiling, tense and ready.
"What?" Susan Scott was barely breathing.
"Why did you do it?" Jim repeated, though of course that was a stupid question. He knew why she did it — she essentially already said why she did it. You work all the time — leave me alone. I could be dead! I could be dead and see if you'd care!
"He was going to break it off," she said, and like a flash her lawyer-husband gripped her shoulder with a strong hand.
"You don't have to say anything, Susan," Carl Scott said.
She yanked her shoulder away, and said, "Fuck you, Carl. He was going to break it off," she said more clearly, sad brown eyes rising to meet Jim's, "and I couldn't let him — I just — couldn't — " And her face crumpled, and she was sobbing raggedly into those pale, scrubbed hands, tipped with those damming blood-red nails, as Rafe slowly crossed the room toward her, holding his handcuffs.
"Good god..." Blair sighed, dejectedly pouring himself a cup of coffee from the pot in the breakroom. "What a morning. I'm totally bummed out, here."
Jim nodded, and sank down on the old sofa. "Yeah, some days it's really tough."
"You said it." Blair gestured at Jim with the half-full carafe, and slid it back onto the old metal burner when Jim shook his head no. "Days like these, man, I get real nostalgic — used to be that the biggest bummer of the day was, I dunno, plagiarism, or, like, somebody checked out the book I wanted." He shook his head and sank down into a cracked red vinyl chair. "I'm on a whole new scale of bummed out."
The break-room door opened and Henri Brown came in, a huge grin on his face. He shot an admiring look at Jim and blew out a slow, admiring whistle. "You, my man, are the shit," Henri said.
Jim waved that away wearily.
"No, I mean it — that was the fucking dope there, this morning," Henri said, heading for the coffee machine. "You'll be happy to know that everything's fallen into place — the knife matches, they found the nail-polish bottle — apparently she tried to gussy herself up that morning in order to — "
"All right, all right, enough," Jim snapped, not wanting to hear any more about Mrs. Scott's desperation. "Congratulations, H."
"Hey — congratulations to you, man," Henri said, grabbing a powdered donut out of the box next to the coffee machine. "Damn fine sleuthing there. You sure you don't want any credit on this bust?"
"We're sure," Blair said instantly, putting his coffee cup down hard. "Thanks, anyway."
Henri glanced at Blair, then looked back at Jim. "Is that right?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah, that's right."
"Hey, whatever you guys say," Henri said, heading toward the door. "But something like this would only add to your perfect record."
"Yeah, yeah, we know," Blair muttered.
The door shut behind Brown only to open a moment later. Simon Banks's secretary, Rhonda, held the door open and popped her head in. "Jim?"
"You've got a visitor," Rhonda said, and instantly Jim sat up straight on the sofa. "Should I bring him in here?"
"Mr. Excellent Genes, huh?" Blair snorted, sitting back in the vinyl chair and crossing his arms. "I'll expect an introduction."
"You've already met him," Jim said to Blair, and then he turned to Rhonda. "Yeah, point him this way, willya? Thanks." Rhonda nodded and disappeared again, and Jim scrubbed at his face. "Man, I totally forgot...my brain must be going."
"You did great work this morning," Blair said quietly. "Amazing work. Your brain's just fine, Jim."
Jim flashed him a smile, and was going to respond when the door opened and Stephen Ellison walked in. Jim got up quickly and moved to greet his brother, smile widening at Blair's soft muttered, "...oh, duh..."
"Hey, there, you," Jim said, pulling his brother into a brief, rough hug.
"Hey yourself," Stephen returned, pounding Jim's back once or twice before taking a step back.
They regarded each other critically for a moment, and then Jim said, with a grin, "You look like shit. You're pretty pale, there, my brother."
Stephen nodded and lifted a pale hand, turning it round to show it off. "That's London for you," he explained, with a shrug. "I was so excited to be posted to Europe — thought it'd get me out of the fucking rain..."
Jim laughed and gently smacked Stephen's cheek with the back of his hand. Stephen grinned at him. "You, on the other hand, you're looking great. For forty," he added with studied casualness. "I mean, for forty, you're looking pretty good..."
"Yeah, you wait," Jim shot back. "You just wait, kiddo..." Jim heard the scrape of a chair and realized that Blair had stood up behind them; he turned and waved his hand between brother and partner. "Stephen, you remember Blair, right?"
"Yeah, yeah," Stephen said, stepping forward and shaking Blair's hand warmly. "Of course I do. I hear you've been busy..."
"You don't know the half of it," Blair replied with a laugh.
"You're actually a cop now?" Stephen asked curiously.
"Yep." Blair slid his hands into the pockets of his khakis and leaned back on his heels. "Long, strange trip, man."
"I don't think it's that strange," Stephen said with obvious sincerity. "I mean — you know — you're a natural. You were, even back then."
Blair blinked rapidly, and Jim could see surprise and pleasure chasing each other across his partner's face. "Hey, thanks," Blair replied, grinning helplessly. "That's just — " He stopped, suddenly becoming self-conscious. "Well, I oughta go," Blair said sheepishly. "Some of us have paperwork to do — and you guys probably have a lot to talk about. And this guy needs lunch," Blair added to Stephen, poking Jim in the ribs with his elbow as he moved toward the door.
"I'm on it," Stephen said to Blair.
"I hope I'll get the chance to see you again before you leave," Blair said to Stephen as a parting shot.
"You'll see me," Stephen promised. "We'll go out for a beer one of these nights."
"Sounds great," Blair replied. "Count me in. You," he added, grinning at Jim, "I'll see later."
"Right," Jim said, and Blair passed through the breakroom door and disappeared up the hallway. He turned back to Stephen as the door swung closed. "So."
"So," Stephen echoed.
"Wanna go eat?"
"Yeah, definitely. I know this great place near the water."
"Let's hit it," Jim said.
Half an hour later, Jim found himself comfortably ensconced in a private booth with a view of the bay. He'd never even heard of the restaurant Stephen had selected — only went to prove that there were different Cascades for different citizens. No wonder he'd never run into his brother when he'd lived in town.
"So this is pretty private," Jim said to Stephen, pulling the linen napkin from his empty water glass and draping it across his lap.
Stephen nodded, admitting the truth of this. "Well, I mean — we've got some pretty private stuff to talk over."
Jim frowned. "We do?"
"Yeah. We do."
At that point the waiter came over, bringing the bottle of red wine that Stephen had ordered. Stephen recommended that they both have the prix fixe lunch, which he claimed was excellent, and Jim deferred to his educated opinion.
"So okay," Jim began, once the waiter had moved off. "Lay it on me — I'm all yours."
Stephen leaned forward across the table, one hand clutching his wine glass. "Well, it's basically these two questions that I have. One — who's this Ziegler guy? and two — when the hell did you come out to Dad?"
Jim became suddenly conscious of the feel of the cut crystal wineglass in his hand, of the weight of the linen on his lap, of the air currents on his skin, of the smell of the special of the day — some sort of salmon, apparently. He heard a low thrumming sound and realized, a second later, that it was his own sound, that he was — laughing.
"What...? How...?" Jim managed to say, finally. "Surely Dad didn't — I mean, did he actually, like, communicate?" He tried to picture his father saying the words: "Steve, my boy, I have some unfortunate news. Your brother's finally cracked — he's fucking that hippie grad student." Impossible...
"Nah. It was the 'ahem'," Stephen explained, grinning widely. "You know — Dad's famous 'ahem'. Every time he says Blair's name. 'I talked to Jim and — ahem Blair, and — '" Jim burst out laughing again, so hard that his abdomen hurt, as Stephen coughed hard into his hand. "'Jim and — ahem Blair came over for dinner the other night. Jim's fine — he and ahem Blair just caught some serial rapist; it was in all the newspapers...'"
Jim had nothing to say to this; he couldn't really breathe, let alone talk.
"So I take it it's true," Stephen said, more as a conversation filler while Jim regained the power of speech than as a real question.
"Yeah," Jim got out, raising a hand to wipe at his eyes. "It's true. Completely true."
"Well...congratulations." Stephen was watching him closely, Jim realized, like he was trying to read some sort of truth on his face. "Are you..." Stephen began, and then he seemed to fumble for words, and his brother's fingers tightened and whitened around his wineglass. "You know..." Stephen finished finally, averting his eyes from Jim's. "Happy?"
Jim felt unexpected moved by the question. "Yeah," he answered, after a moment, wondering if this was the truth that Stephen had been searching for. "I mean — yeah. I'm very happy." His throat felt tight, and he reached for his glass of water. "Very, very happy, actually," he added, taking a sip.
Stephen looked back at him then with that same studying look — and seemed to like what he saw. "I like Blair," Stephen said, apropos of nothing.
Jim was unable to suppress his grin. "I like him too."
"He's a good guy."
"No argument from me."
"Although I have to admit, I was surprised," Stephen confessed, looking embarrassed.
"It's okay — I was pretty surprised myself," Jim assured him.
"And you...you know...really like it?" Stephen asked, and Jim noted that his brother was averting his eyes again.
"Yeah," he repeated, surprised at how easy it was to say. "I really like it."
"Well, great," Stephen said, and then laughed self-consciously. "Well, that was easy enough — one sensitive subject down, one to go."
Jim was brought up short — he'd been so overwhelmed by Stephen's second sensitive topic that he'd completely forgotten about the horrible implications of the first. His mind was definitely going...
"How do you know about Ziegler?" Jim asked quietly.
Stephen sighed, and grew grave. "He called me," Stephen said, lowering his voice to match Jim's. "Out of nowhere. In London. He called the flat — twice," Stephen continued. "The first time he spoke to my girlfriend — " and at this, Jim's eyebrows flew up. Stephen smiled, brightening. "Elaine," he announced to Jim, and if it was possible to read truth on someone's face, then the truth was that his baby brother was very very happy with Elaine. "She's a systems analyst," Stephen continued. "Smart as anything. And a real English rose," he added, growing slightly red around his starched white collar.
Jim smiled, thinking that it was — well — cute. And then he reminded himself that Stephen was now thirty-six years old, and well beyond the stage where his love-affairs could be called cute.
Still, though, it was cute. Stephen and Elaine, Elaine and Stephen. And maybe they'd have pale, beautiful children who actually liked the rain.
"But that's neither here nor there," Stephen said with a small cough. "Point is — this guy calls out of nowhere, speaks to Elaine, tells her he wants to talk to me about my brother. To be honest with you, I freaked out when I got the message — I thought you were hurt...or worse, you know?" Jim nodded: he knew. "I was about to call you, but then the phone rang and it was this guy again — and whatever, I was a little short with him, because I just wanted to know if you were okay and — well, anyway," Stephen said, breaking off and reaching for his water glass. "He wasn't the bearer of bad news — he wanted to do some sort of fucking survey about you. About us, really. Did we get along? How well did I know you? How well did I know Blair Sandburg? Had I ever seen you — well — do anything special," Stephen said quietly, and lo and behold, again with the averted eyes. Stephen would never make it through a standard CPD interrogation, that was for sure. "To what," Stephen said, now staring out over the bay, "did I attribute your astounding success as a Ranger and as a detective?"
"And you told him...?" Jim prompted quietly.
"I told him to fuck himself with a broomstick," Stephen replied with a vehemence that took Jim by surprise. "And I slammed down the phone. And then I called Dad." Stephen's face was contorted with emotion now. "And I say — 'Dad, I just a call from some guy called Ziegler' — and Dad goes ballistic on me, and yells, 'Not on the phone!' and hangs up."
"Oh geez," Jim muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"Not on the phone, he says," Stephen repeated incredulously. "I'm in fucking London — the phone's all I've got! But whatever — I've got a business trip in two weeks, takes me to L.A. So I get the company to route me through Cascade — and viola, here I am."
Stephen paused as the waiter approached with a large silver tray. Salad, some sort of broiled fish — Jim stared at the waiter impatiently, willing him to just put the food down and buzz off.
Finally he buzzed off, and Stephen continued again in a low voice. "'So, Dad,' I say, like the minute I'm through the door, 'What the hell's going on with Jim?' And Dad just stares at me, and grabs my arm — and drags me out of the house and into the middle of the backyard." Stephen stopped, shook his head. "And then, after all that — nothing! I mean, he doesn't really know anything — or he just won't tell me. Paul Ziegler's an FBI agent, he says. Interested in your brother, he says. A little too interested, he says, but Blair seems to be on top of it — just Blair, mind you, not ahem Blair, and then I know something's wrong."
Stephen stopped talking, and his face was growing redder still — except it wasn't about Elaine this time. It wasn't love — it was anger, frustration — and it was so strange to see those emotions play across his brother's face. His baby brother, who would never withstand a CPD interrogation, never ever.
"It doesn't help," Stephen said, tightly, "that this whole thing seems to revolve around that thing we don't talk about. Not like we talk about anything else, either, excuse me," Stephen instantly amended, voice hard. "Around one of the many things that we don't talk about, that we've never talked about. So all I know is that ahem Blair is helping my ahem cop brother deal with some ahem FBI agent who is interested in him for ahem goddamned reasons — god, London isn't fucking far enough away..." Stephen reached angrily for his wineglass.
"Hey," Jim said softly, pulling his chair closer.
"...from all this bullshit, it's just all bull..." Stephen stopped, and looked at Jim, and laughed suddenly. "Even in fucking England," he whispered with harsh amusement, "they're less repressed than my family! The English," he continued, and he was grinning wildly now, "are warm and fucking fuzzy compared to you people..."
Jim reached out and gripped Stephen's arm affectionately, grinning back at him, sharing the joke.
"Stiff upper lip my ass," Stephen said, and then they were laughing, and they nearly knocked all the wineglasses over, because they found themselves shoving the fucking prix fixe dinner aside, and reaching for the wine, and toasting repression! and England! and God Save The Queen! — which only brought on another round of out-of-control laughter, during which Stephen nearly pulled the entire tablecloth off the table.
"It's different, now, you know," Jim said, wiping his eyes, his face — god, his whole face was sticky. "Or it's getting different. Dad's old, I'm gay — only the rain's the same," he said, philosophically.
Stephen nodded, sagely; he was leaning on the table with his elbows, one hand propping up his head. "So what's it about?" he asked, looking at Jim with eyes that weren't young, weren't cute — they were thirty-six fucking years old and had had enough, had had maybe too much. "Can I ask that? Will you tell me?"
"Sentinel," Jim heard himself say, and they were both leaning forward now, nearly forehead to forehead. "Blair calls me a Sentinel — that's how it started. That's how it all started," Jim said, and just kept right on talking.
He ended up taking a cab home, and shoving Steven in one, too — because by the time he'd explained it all they'd had three bottles of wine, and were drained and exhausted and on the verge of seriously drunk. Jim was sure he hadn't ever talked so much in his entire life — and Stephen had hung on every word like he'd never heard anybody talk before. Which in a way, of course, he hadn't.
"I knew it," Stephen had burbled, necktie askew around his neck as Jim had shoved him into the back seat of the cab. "I just didn't have a name for it. Thank God Blair found a fucking name for it..."
Just remembering that made him smile. He fumbled in his pants pocket for the loft keys, dropped them on the floor, crouched down to pick them up — and then heard Blair cross the room and open the door.
"Man, what train hit you?" Blair asked, looking down at him.
"The lunch train," Jim said, straightening up, and Blair took a step back to let him into the loft. "It was a long lunch."
"Sit down, sit down," Blair said, waving him over to a kitchen chair. "Jeez, have a glass of water or something..."
"I told him," Jim said, obediently sitting down.
Blair looked up from where he was pouring the water — and the water sloshed over the edge of the glass. "You what?"
"I told him," Jim repeated. "Everything. The whole damn thing — the Sentinel thing, the gay thing, the whole damn thing — every word."
"Uh..." Blair said, putting the pitcher down clumsily.
"He wanted to know. He needed to know. And I think I needed to tell him — I mean, I think I needed to," Jim tried to explain.
"Uh-huh," Blair said, bringing the glass of water over. "Right, yeah, I can see that."
"I thought you'd be glad," Jim said, and he could hear the accusation in his voice.
"I'm glad," Blair repeated vaguely, sitting down in an adjacent chair. "Thrilled. I like Stephen," Blair added, apropos of nothing.
"I like him too," Jim said.
"Just — you know — maybe right now wasn't the best time," Blair offered quietly.
Jim slammed his hand down on the kitchen table — the water sloshed in his glass. "It was the only time. It was the time he was here. He's my brother..."
Blair raised his hands. "Hey, I see that. I mean, I do see that. Just — whatever — I'm a little paranoid right now, okay? I'm sorry." Blair leaned on the table with his elbows, one hand propping up his head — it was an eerie imitation of Stephen just a few hours before. "I'm sorry, okay?" Blair said again — and Jim noticed, suddenly, that Blair looked tired, and apologetic, and...vaguely guilty — and that brought him up short. "It's just been a very strange day," Blair said, shaking his head. "The case this morning, and Stephen, and then there was this whole other weird thing this afternoon..."
"What weird thing?" Jim asked, frowning.
"Just...a weird thing," Blair said, suddenly evasive — and goddamn if Blair wasn't doing Stephen's averting-the-eyes thing, which was totally unlike Blair. "A case," Blair added, leaning back in his chair and brushing the subject away with his hand. "It's over. Megan handled it. Just some fucking crazy woman..."
What crazy woman? Jim was about to ask — and then he bit the question back, because Blair's neck was suddenly reddening — just like Stephen's had. Stephen and Elaine. Elaine and Stephen. Some woman — and what crazy woman was this...?
But then Blair looked at him, and smiled, and he felt suddenly stupid — he was completely fucking stupid. Blair leaned forward for a kiss, and Jim kissed him, and Blair's mouth was sweet, so very sweet...
"I was gonna make you a proposition," Blair said breathlessly, when he had moved his sweet, sweet mouth away.
"I accept," Jim said instantly, with a smile.
"No wait, hear me out first," Blair said, heart suddenly pounding. "It's nuts — I know it's nuts — but I think it's what I want."
"Anything you want," Jim said, raising his palms in surrender. "You're the Guide — we'll do whatever you want."
"I want to go on expedition," Blair announced. "With you," he added.
"Expedition?" Jim repeated, incredulously.
"Yeah," Blair said excitedly. "Peru. Six months. Out in the wilds, sleeping in grass huts, eating avocados fresh off the trees, man — "
"Wait, wait, whoa," Jim said, feeling overwhelmed.
"Just you and me — and well, a team from the university," Blair added quickly, " — but mainly just you and me. Deana took you for an independent scholar, and why not? Why shouldn't she? — why shouldn't it be true? You know more about South America than anyone I know — and it's just like detective work, you're a natural for it, Jim! Deductive power, eye for detail, intellectual objectivity — god, what an anthropologist you'd be..."
This was like some weird, alternate universe — Jim had the strangest feeling that he ought to just get up, walk out, come in again. "Well...I mean...how long are we talking about?" he asked, stalling for time.
"Call it six months — Simon would give us six months leave, Jim," Blair argued. "After I talk to him, he would," he added cryptically. "We could just go, just do it, just — "
Jim felt lost. "When?"
" — get the fuck out of town! Out of the fucking rain!" Blair leaned forward and kissed him again, heatedly, intently.
Between the red wine, and the long day, and Blair's kisses — his head was swimming, he was drowning, he was fucking swamped. "But when?" he managed to ask, when Blair had stopped kissing him, stopped giving him those intoxicating kisses. "I mean, it sounds great...just..."
"Soon. Now. This weekend." Blair's hands were gripping his shoulders. "Let's get the fuck out of here, man. What say you?"
"This weekend?" Jim repeated. "We can't go this weekend..."
"Why not?" Blair demanded.
"Because!" Jim was stunned. " Because a thousand reasons — "
"What if I wanted to?" Blair asked, blue eyes burning into his. "What if I really really wanted to go? Would you come with me?"
Alternate universe, this was an alternate universe...make it stop, he wanted to get off. "I'd come with you," Jim answered, instantly. "Of course I'd come with you. But not at the drop of a hat..."
Blair's face was suddenly angry. "I've done things for you at the drop of a hat. And there's an expedition leaving this weekend — this weekend, Jim..."
"Blair, if you want to go, we'll go," Jim said helplessly. "We'll catch up with them, we'll go through the channels, apply for leave, arrange our business like normal people — "
And suddenly Blair was Blair again; the anger had drained from his face. The crazy world had stopped; they'd gotten off. Somehow. Thank god. "I told you it was nuts," Blair said, casually, as if he hadn't just been arguing as if his life depended on it. "I knew it was nuts. It was worth a shot, anyway."
"I...um..." Jim said, not knowing what to say.
"Sometimes you just have one of those days," Blair said, getting up, going into the kitchen for a beer. "Last one," he added apologetically, brandishing the bottle at Jim. "I call dibs. Hell, you smell like a vineyard anyway..." Blair popped the top and took a swig. "Listen, man — don't you mind me and my bullshit, okay?" Blair wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "I'm just a whacko right now. I'm tired and cranky and irrational and I've done far too much paperwork today. I've also been sleeping like shit," he confessed a moment later, and Jim groaned inside, realizing that was true, realizing that he already knew it was true...
And what had he done — he'd turned it into an opportunity to get laid. God damn it...
"Believe me, I'm happy about your brother. Happy you had a nice lunch and got it all off your chest. I'm just being a weirdo again," Blair said, ruefully. "That happens sometimes, as you well know."
"Maybe we should just go to sleep early," Jim sighed, massaging his eyes with both hands. "Right after dinner. Get as much sleep as we can — really rest the fuck up. All in all, today's been...a bit much."
"Man, you said it," Blair agreed. "Much too much. Okay, it's a plan — we'll eat something light and hit the sack. Believe me, man," Blair said with a shake of his head, "I could really use the sleep..."
Blair slept. But he himself couldn't sleep. He'd foregone giving Blair a hand job or a blow job, contenting himself with just a little pre-nocturnal necking — and Blair had gone out like a light in the middle of it. Fifteen minutes later, totally asleep, Blair had rolled over with a grunt, and put him right back into the immobilizing body lock of doom.
He sighed and stared up through the skylight at the stars, phrases circling obsessively through his head, like the slow steady motion of the stars.
I've been sleeping like shit. Days like these, I get nostalgic. Used to be that my biggest bummers were plagiarism, somebody checking out my books. What if I really, really wanted to go?
Let's get the fuck out of town! Out of the fucking rain — to Peru! Except it rains in Peru, it always rains. I know more about South America than anyone, after all. Let me make you a proposition. An expedition. Avocados, fresh off the trees, he said. We can't go — no, not for a thousand reasons. Were there any real reasons? I get real nostalgic, days like these...
What if I wanted to go? He was going to break it off. I'm the only guy you've ever slept with, I'm not the be-all, not the end-all, damn it all. I can have a lunch date, can't I? Well, maybe I can and maybe I can't. He was going to break it off — you might really like sleeping with someone else, he said. No basis for comparison, he said. Some fucking crazy woman...killed the bastard and put the knife in the dishwasher. Now those are house rules. Now that's perfect closure.
It's a whole new scale of bummed out. Because I told him — I told him everything. Told him the whole damn thing — the Sentinel thing, the gay thing — you ever think about seeing other people, Jim? Maybe right now wasn't the best time. Just go, just do it — (I couldn't let him) — just get out of the fucking rain. But the rain's the same, it's the only thing that's the same. Here. In Peru...
And he must have fallen asleep finally, because when he woke up he was out of the body lock, and Blair was sitting straight up in bed. Sitting up in the dim light, heart pounding lub dub, lub dub, lubdub, lubdublubdublubdub — and the last time this had happened, an airplane was gonna fall from the sky, and the last time this had happened, the plane had already begun its fatal descent. And it was a sign — there wasn't any time, now. They were at zero hour, now, and counting backwards...
He sat up and touched Blair's pale, white arm — pale in the moonlight that cast a cold white glow on his skin. Blair was cold, and his arm goosepimpled when Jim touched it.
"Blair, what is it?" He dreaded the answer; he braced himself.
Blair turned to look at him, blue eyes wide in the darkness. "I..." Blair stuttered. "I... "
He shook Blair gently, hoping to shake his words loose. They were wasting time, here — they had to get there in time — get somewhere in time..."Blair, what do you see?"
"I don't see. I can't see — can't see anything."
"Then what?" Jim asked softly.
"I feel...cold. I feel...death."
Jim shivered at the word, at the clear, distinct sound of the Guide voice. "Okay," Jim whispered hoarsely; his own voice sounded like sandpaper, felt like sandpaper. "So what do we do to stop it?"
Blue eyes stared at him — blue eyes, dark like the bottomless ocean. "Nothing."
Panic rose in his throat, threatened to choke him. "Nothing?"
"Nothing," Blair confirmed blankly. Slowly he settled back down again, onto his pillow, turning to the side and pulling the covers up around his shoulders. His voice, soft as it was, cut through the gloom of their darkened bedroom. "We die, I guess."