Author's disclaimer: Not mine, all theirs, etc.
Author's notes: Ok, basically for some reason this tiny story took, like, a year and as a result I've got a goddammed Oscar's speech to make: thank you to Em Brunson, Miriam, and Owlet for serious whup-ass betaing and to Hope, Kira, and Justine for being my focus group. Bless you all. Now to business. If you haven't noticed, I suppose I should mention that we're now two stories into the third arc of the Nature Series. There's a big ugly story right behind this one. Hold onto your seats — it's winter break, y'all! And please feed me back if you've got a minute.
Jim tightened his fingers on the rifle and stared across the parking lot at the bank. "I think I'm going to have to shoot them."
Instantly Blair was scrabbling at his arm with icy fingers, hair blown back by the cold December wind. "No, wait — don't!"
Jim sighed and yanked his arm out of Blair's grasp. "I'm not seeing any other way, here, Chief."
"Jim, man, I mean it," Blair said urgently. His cheeks were ruddy from the cold. "We haven't exhausted all our options yet — so chill out, okay?"
"They've got guns." Jim held up his own high-powered rifle as an illustration. "Big guns."
Simon Banks suddenly frowned and pushed himself away from the black and white patrol car against which he'd been leaning. "Hang on a minute." He crossed his arms and stared Jim down. "You can see them?"
Jim nodded wearily. "Yeah, I can see them." He turned back toward the bank and focused his eyes until he had a clear view of the two men at the window — and then he abruptly raised his rifle and sighted them over the hood of the patrol car.
It was a clean shot, about thirty yards away. The two guys were checking out the developing emergency response — and the sight couldn't have been very reassuring. The perimeter of the parking lot was littered with police cars, SWAT team vans, and a veritable convention of Kevlar-suited officers.
"Don't shoot," Blair said quietly.
Jim sighed and took his finger off the trigger. "There's hostages."
Simon squinted across the concrete lot at the bank windows, trying to follow the line of Jim's gun. "Jim — where are they?"
"Near the window," Jim replied.
The window took up most of the front of the building, and the SWAT team was setting up to storm in from the side entrance, through the drive-thru. It was a lousy plan — sure, the teller door led right to the main floor, but the team would end up with fifteen hostages between them and the perps. They had to take them now.
Jim lowered his gun. Two shots and it would be over. "This might be our only chance. They're nowhere near the hostages."
Simon sighed and adjusted his black canvas SWAT team cap. "Okay, Jim. If you think you can do it — do it."
Blair shook his head. "Give them another warning."
"They've had warnings," Simon snapped. "Another warning and they might shoot the damn hostages!"
"They're nowhere near the hostages! You heard the man!"
"The SWAT team's plan is a mistake," Jim added. He glanced over at the men: getting into position, now. "It'll be a bloodbath."
Simon glared at him. "And you would suggest — ?"
"Call them off," Blair interrupted. "Let me try." He reached for the red and white bullhorn in Simon's hands.
Simon shook his head. "That's pointless, Sandburg — we're past that, now."
"Captain — please." Blair brushed his hair out of his eyes impatiently. "C'mon — please?"
"Drop it, Sandburg," Simon growled.
"Let him have it," Jim murmured.
Simon stared. "Let him have it?"
"He wants to try, let him try." Jim shrugged, trying to look casual. "What could it hurt?" Blair nodded enthusiastically and reached out again for the bullhorn.
Simon looked irritated. "But you just said — "
"He wants to try, let him try."
Blair looked expectantly at Simon, who groaned and shoved the bullhorn into his hands. "Okay, fine. Here. Knock yourself out."
"Thanks." Blair took a deep breath and seemed to concentrate, then raised the bullhorn and aimed it toward the bank. "Now listen to me," Blair said firmly — and Jim shivered as the Guide voice gripped his spine. He was listening — he would always listen to that voice. "I want you to put your weapons down. Come out slowly with your hands on your head. You don't want to do this. Just come out and everything will be all right."
"Oh, yeah, Sandburg — thanks, that's a big help," Simon snorted.
"Shut up," Jim murmured, staring down at the concrete.
Simon turned slowly. "What did you say, Lieutenant?"
"I said leave him alone and let him work!"
"I'm not seeing any work here, Lieutenant," Simon said dangerously. "And you are on very thin ice. So you had just better — "
"They're coming," Blair said, a moment before the crowd of uniforms reacted, shouting and pulling their guns and ducking behind their vehicles. Blair raised the bullhorn to his lips again, this time aiming it at the cops. "Hold your fire!" he called out. "Hold your fire!"
The door to the bank opened and a thin man in torn jeans and a white windbreaker walked out slowly, hands folded on top of his head. He had long, lanky red hair, and a scruffy red beard to match, and he walked slowly across the lot, straight toward Blair Sandburg.
"What the..." Simon said slowly, raising his hand to adjust his glasses.
Blair rocked on the balls of his feet, fingers white where they gripped the bullhorn. "Only one," he muttered under his breath. "Only one, Jim — there's only one..."
But Jim was already looking past the thin redhead to the window, because he could hear the other man screaming and stomping across the bank's marble floor. There was a flash of dark hair behind the blinds.
"You fuck!" the other guy yelled. "You fuck! — you crazy bastard fuck! — goddammit!!"
And then it was like a slow motion movie. Everything slowing down: the dark-haired guy at the window, face contorted. Ugly, raising his gun —
Jim brought his rifle up and flicked off the safety.
Blair inhaled violently, his body jerking.
— splatter of red across the front of the redhead's white windbreaker, the exit wound perfectly round, like a dinner plate —
Jim tightened his finger on the trigger and aimed at the window.
— redhead still walking, still walking to Blair —
The bullhorn crashed to the ground.
— now, on his knees, the red stain spreading —
Jim focused on the ugly, contorted face.
— then falling backward, twitching nerves and bleeding flesh —
And then Blair was in motion, on the move, hurtling around the patrol car and out onto the lot in a blur of hair and leather, into the no man's land, into the sights of the ugly man with the gun, the mountain racing toward Mohammed.
— at the window, a swivel of the barrel, a swivel of the barrel toward —
— Blair, the dark-haired man falling backward, a bright red flower blooming on his forehead, hostages screaming, screaming — chaos —
"What the hell is he doing?" Simon yelled. "That stupid — "
The rifle clattered on the concrete and Jim practically leapt over the patrol car toward Blair, who was on his knees next to the redhead, clutching at him, working him over furiously, trying to staunch —
Simon's voice, blown ten times as large by the bullhorn. "Hold your fire! All clear! All clear, God damn it!"
— the wound, but it was hopeless, blood everywhere, and the fire was dying in the man's pale gray eyes as they stared up at Blair. The SWAT team swarmed around them, headed for the door, for the hostages. And Blair sat there helplessly, holding the dying man's hand tightly and whispering "...peace...peace, my brother...peace..." until the gray eyes closed for good.
Afterward, when the bodies of the two men had been taken away in black zippered bags, while the hostages were wrapped in warm wool blankets and taken away to be examined for dehydration and shock, Jim wandered around the perimeter of the crime scene and listened as Simon Banks ripped his partner a new asshole.
"What the hell did you think you were doing out there? That was an active special tactics situation, Sandburg — and you just can't go running out into the middle of an active situation, do you hear me? You could've gotten your dammed head blown off! Jesus H. Christ — you ought to know better!"
Jim kicked at a piece of loose concrete.
"I ought to put you on desk-duty! I ought to put you on official goddamned reprimand!"
Jim glanced across the lot at his captain and partner. Blair was just standing there, nodding grimly, face pale and strained, accepting the rebuke. His hands and the front of his shirt were stained with blood.
Simon took a step closer to Blair and lowered his voice. Jim dialed up his hearing. "For god's sake — you know you're up for promotion. And then you pull shit like this. In front of everybody. Jesus Lord — you know they're gonna resent you, and now you look incompetent. "
Blair nodded again and then raised his head to meet Simon's eyes. Jim waited for his explanation — but Blair just stood there silently, not saying anything.
Simon sighed and shook his head. "I don't know what the hell I'm gonna write in my report."
"I understand, sir," Blair said. "I'm sorry. You do what you need to do."
Simon stared at him for a moment, and then took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Get outta here, Sandburg. Get outta here. Go home."
Jim turned abruptly and strode back toward them. Blair was nodding and drifting across the lot toward his new Volvo. "Hey," Jim called to him, "you want a lift? We can get your car later."
Blair turned to look at him, face utterly expressionless. "Nah," he said neutrally, waving a hand in the air. "I'm cool. I'll take my car, meet you at home."
Jim opened his mouth to say something, and then snapped it shut. He stood there, watching, as Blair crossed to the old green Volvo, got in, started up, and pulled out.
He was so focused on the receding vehicle that he didn't hear Simon come up behind him. "What the hell was that all about?"
Jim turned to look at him.
100 percent closure. Gossip at the U. They've noticed. Nevada. Narnia. The Shaman. Responsibility. Redemption. Getting it from both ends. Fire people. The problem of evil. Blood on Blair's hands. Tough decisions. Shotguns and bottled water. Living in this world and the next.
But Simon wouldn't understand any of that, even if he could articulate it clearly, which he was sure he couldn't. He sighed and looked into his friend's concerned eyes, and settled for, "Trouble, Simon. It's big fucking trouble."
When he got home Blair was already there, walking around the dimly lit living room as if he didn't know what to do with himself, where to put himself. Jim gave him a quick once-over as he took off his coat. Blair's hands were still stained with blood.
He hung up his coat next to Blair's, and moved into the kitchen.
"You want a drink?" Jim glanced over at his partner, who had wandered over to stand by the balcony doors. "Because I want a drink."
Blair didn't turn around. "Have a drink, then."
"Right." His first thought was beer, but it wasn't a night for beer. He reached for the bottle of scotch, poured himself a shot in a water glass. Amber liquid burned his mouth, burned his throat, burned good.
"You shouldn't have done that," Jim said, staring across the room at Blair's back.
Blair's head jerked around, eyes blazing. "Don't start with me, okay?"
"I'm not starting anything," Jim said thinly. "I'm stating a fact. It doesn't help anybody if you get yourself killed — "
"No, no, right — it's much more helpful to do the killing." Blair's generous mouth was pinched into a thin line.
Jim slammed his glass down hard onto the countertop. "He was gonna shoot you, you asshole! You ran — unarmed and unprotected — into the sights of an armed felon!"
"Don't you give me cop-talk!" Blair said harshly. "I've had enough fucking cop talk for one day!"
"You'd better get used to it, Detective," Jim shot back.
"Don't you dare Detective me! Don't you fucking dare! God, I expect this shit from Simon, but not from you." He paced angrily away, across the hardwood floor, and then wheeled back around, bloody hands flying in the air. "What the fuck was I supposed to do? Just let him die there? "
"What was I supposed to do? Just let him kill you?"
"I was trying to save him!"
"I was trying to save you!" Suddenly he was moving around the kitchen island toward Blair, and Blair was coming toward him, hands clenching with rage. Shit, Jim thought — we're really gonna fight here.
"So I shoulda just let you shoot them, is that it?" Blair stared up at him, defiant to the last inch. "Two shots — bang bang! — then out for nachos?"
"They died anyway," Jim said flatly. "Didn't they?"
The air around Blair practically crackled. And then he grabbed Jim hard with both hands. Muscular forearms —
Jim blinked and flashed back to five years ago. It suddenly seemed impossible that this man in front of him — this angry, broad-shouldered man with the dark circles around his eyes — was that same skinny kid in the electric blue vest. Open curiosity in his eyes, enthusiasm in his eager hands — and now the bloody hands were clutching at him, and the eyes were blue-black, and knowledgeable, and pained — -and had he done this to Blair? What the hell had he done?
The tiny moment of introspection was his undoing. The hands on his arms shoved, and he stumbled back against the pillar. "Yeah," Blair whispered. The light in his eyes was terrifying. "They died. And exactly what do you have to say about that?"
Jim wasn't sure what he was going to say until the words shot of his mouth. "They were fucking with my tribe."
Blair shoved him again. "They are your tribe!"
"Used to be," Jim retorted. "Not today. Not any more."
Blair was sputtering with rage. "The one — the guy — "
"He had a gun!"
" — he wasn't like the other one!"
"He lost his rights!" Jim insisted, grabbing Blair by the shoulders and shaking him. "He lost everything — forfeited! — you shouldn't have — "
"You don't understand!"
" — taken that kind of a risk. Not for him. Not for — "
"It's my fucking job!" Blair yelled into his face. "Don't you — "
" — that sort of scum!" Jim yelled back, raising his voice to match Blair's. He tightened his hold on his partner's shoulders, resisting Blair's attempt to push him away. "Not for him, you hear me?! I won't risk you for him!"
"WHO DIED AND LEFT YOU — " and then suddenly Jim lurched forward, because Blair was suddenly tugging forward, yanking him forward, and he stumbled and Blair's mouth was on his, kissing him brutally, arms wrapped around him in what was nearly a stranglehold. He grabbed Blair by the sides, dragging their bodies together, and tried to thrust his tongue into Blair's mouth.
They careened a few fumbling steps backwards and hit the side of the sofa. Blair tilted awkwardly, flailing with one hand to remain upright — -and then they were falling, sliding against the padded arm, crashing hard to the floor.
Blair landed on top of him, heavily, knocking the air out of his lungs — and still Blair was kissing him furiously, hungrily, like he was trying to eat his face. Jim reached up and grabbed a fistful of Blair's hair and heaved upward, trying to get on top of him.
They rolled, and Jim let his full weight crash down upon Blair, trying to pin him to the floor. He scrabbled to capture Blair's wrists, but Blair was struggling violently underneath him — jabbing upward with an elbow just as he bit at Jim's lower lip.
Jim gasped at the pain of it and almost fought back, but grimly pulled his punch before it made contact. Instead he grabbed Blair's sides, fingers digging in to hold Blair beneath him as he struggled to get away. Blair was squirming, writhing, thrusting up against him — and Blair was hard, Blair was hard, Blair's erection was hot and hard, burning through the layers of denim and cotton that separated them. Blair was gasping and frantically humping up underneath him, and Jim moaned and dragged his trapped dick — once, twice — over Blair's, and then Blair was yanking his arms free, and Blair's hands were holding Jim's head, and Blair was moaning softly into his mouth.
Blair's heavy, wet tongue caressed Jim's torn lip obsessively, and then slid into his mouth. Jim sucked on it helplessly, submitting —
— and then abruptly Blair tensed beneath him, and grabbed at his hips, and flipped him over with a grunt. Suddenly he was flat on his back, and Blair was hovering above him, looking angry and passionate and desperate. Blair's hands flew down his chest, roughly undoing his shirt buttons, fumbling open his trousers, yanking his zipper down.
Jim groaned and made a grab for the hem of Blair's shirt, but Blair slapped his hands away and then clutched him, pulled him up, rolled him over. Blair yanked Jim's shirt down his arms, shoved his pants over his hips and pushed him face down onto the carpet.
Jim grasped at the knotted wool, rough and dusty under his fingertips, as Blair forced his legs apart and then kneeled on the back of his thighs, holding him down. And then Blair was fumbling with the buttons on his flannel shirt, on his jeans, shoving the denim out of the way.
Blair's strong hands were prying him apart, holding him open, and then he could feel the smooth, rounded tip of Blair's cock rubbing slick against his asshole. Jim shuddered, and Blair grabbed his arms and forcibly stilled him.
Suddenly Blair leaned forward over him and bit his shoulder, kissing the bite just as his cockhead slid into Jim's ass. Jim gasped for breath and helplessly clamped down on it, ripping a howl of pleasure out of Blair, who dug his fingers painfully into Jim's arms.
Jim thrust back violently, going onto his hands and knees, savoring the feel of the soft velvet head pushing into him. Behind him, Blair was panting hard, straining forward, working himself inside with groans and grunts, grasping Jim's hips to steady himself. Jim shoved backward again, shoved hard, shoved Blair the rest of the way into him.
And then Blair was fucking him — fucking him hard — and he had to brace himself with his arms or Blair would have shoved him right back down on the floor. He groaned and struggled to meet the thrusts, slamming himself backwards, unable to find the rhythm but wanting it like he had never, ever imagined he could want it. Blair's balls were slapping against him, spanking him, and Blair was moaning in frustration and fucking away at him desperately. And he felt that desperation, too, felt that same sense of failure, and he tilted his hips, slammed backwards, tilted again, seeking the angle, wanting, wanting, smashing —
— there! god! yes! — and Blair's hands tightened on his hips, holding him there, holding him fast, and Blair's pleasure noises were mixing with his own and they were working together again, building something, and they were still alive, Blair was still his, Blair was alive and inside of him —
— and tugging him up onto his knees, and Blair's arms were now locked around his chest, holding him upright, holding him close. Blair's face was pressed between his shoulder blades and Blair was panting hard against his skin and scattering kisses across his back. And then Blair's hands were moving down his chest, roughly caressing his pecs, sliding down over his abs, tenderly carding through his pubic hair. A strong, blood-stained hand closed around his cock, and another cupped his balls, fondling and rolling them gently.
Jim felt the world spinning, and he squeezed his eyes shut. Falling, he was falling — but Blair was holding him up, supporting his weight. Blair's hips were moving again, pumping hard cock in and out him — and Blair's hands were touching his balls stroking his cock probing his slit and —
Crying — Blair was crying harshly, face pressed up against his back. Sobbing "S-sorry...S-sorry...S-sorry..." with every ragged thrust until the word ceased to make sense, until the word was just a hiss of loss against his skin.
And then suddenly Blair was sucking desperately for air, and grabbing at his waist, and he felt Blair's cock jerking erratically in his ass and Blair was coming — coming — knees buckling — and then they were falling together, crashing onto their sides, onto the floor, still spooned together. And Jim found himself desperately writhing in Blair's arms, on Blair's still-erect cock, and he twisted and jerked back and felt Blair's smooth cockhead press hard into his prostate — and that did it: the world blazed white behind his eyelids and he was coming in a shudder of perfect ecstasy.
The world was silent except for the sound of respiration, and Blair's arms were twined around him, holding him in place, weighing him down. He shifted, trying to get comfortable, but Blair only tightened his hold, the press of his muscular arms digging into the bruises that were beginning to raise over Jim's back and sides. Blair's sweat made the scratches along his shoulders sting, and there was something profoundly right about the pain of Blair holding on, and he shivered, allowing Blair to press closer to him, wanting to feel more, closer, still.
He felt Blair's lips brush his neck, heard Blair whispering. "Jim. I'm sorry."
"I know," he said.
"I just wanted to save him."
"I think maybe you did save him." He stared across the dark room, not wanting to dial up. "But I wish you hadn't."
Blair's arms tightened around him. "I couldn't walk away."
"I know." Jim squeezed his eyes shut. "God, I know." And suddenly he could feel tears stinging his eyes, and he felt Blair clutching at him, murmuring urgent, desperate promises not to do it again, never to do it again, not ever ever ever Jim —
And then he heard his own voice, faintly, as if from a million years away. "When my mother left, I heard her telling my father that she woke up one morning and didn't know where she was." He stopped and took a wet, hitching breath. "She told him that she never wanted to be Mrs. William Ellison, mother of James and Stephen." Jim clenched his hands into fists, feeling his fingernails cut into his palms. "I hated her," he said. "I hated her," he said. "I admired her — I admire her so fucking, fucking much."