Nature's Outing

by Francesca

Author's disclaimer: Nothing's mine but the words, everything else belongs to Pet Fly...

Author's notes: This thing has gone through more drafts than Dylan Thomas on a bender. Melissa, Cynthia and Paulette all gave advice on early drafts, and then Miriam came in to bat cleanup — I really couldn't manage without her. Thank all of you! Anyway, there's a great whopping sequel to this that's gonna be posted soon, so if you've got questions, comments, feedback or requests-this is the time to speak up! (And plus I love hearing from you!)

"Yo! Hairboy!"

Blair Sandburg looked up from his comparative study of baseball bats to see Henri Brown grinning at him. Brown lifted his beer bottle in a mock toast. "Get out there and show them that size isn't everything!"

Blair grinned and hefted the bat he had selected. "Bite me!" he returned cheerfully, and went to await his turn at bat.

Blair took a couple of mock swings as he watched Megan Connor at the plate, swinging for real. Ball two. Well, no problem: the PD was already ahead of the fire department, 6-4.

"Don't stress it," he called to her. "Just wait for one you like!" Megan flashed him a smile, adjusted her footing, and waited for the next pitch.

Chris Harrigan, 6'5" and a ten year veteran of the CFD, jerked his cap down over his eyes and flexed the muscles on his large frame, trying to intimidate Megan.

It didn't work: Sandburg whooped as Megan bunted unexpectedly and ran for first base. Harrigan lumbered forward, encumbered by his bulk as he scrambled for the skittering ball.

And missed it.

"Go!" Sandburg screamed, and Megan, who had stopped at first, took off like a shot for second and was safe well before the ball finally thudded into the baseman's mitt.

Blair threw his fist into the air and grinned as Megan returned the gesture from second base. He turned around to share the triumph with the Major Crimes bullpen, but the dugout was oddly empty. O'Hara and Reynolds were there, waving in sympathetic victory, but where was everybody else? Where was Jim?

Blair absently scanned the park; the other detectives were clustered around the Major Crimes picnic tables. Well, that figured, Blair thought, grinning. Follow the food and you'll find the cops. You couldn't blame them, really: Joel Taggert was on chef duty, manning a portable barbecue, and he always marinated his hamburgers with some secret stuff that, even Blair had to admit, made the meat taste fucking fantastic.

"Sandburg! Move it! We haven't got all day, here," Harrigan yelled. Blair was jerked back into the reality of the game and quickly stepped up to home plate. Harrigan glanced over at the picnic tables, following Blair's eyes, and then smirked. "Don't worry — your boyfriend'll be back in a minute."

Blair flashed him a tight smile, desperately trying to remember how you responded to this sort of macho bullshit. It was a hell of a lot easier to be snappy about it when it wasn't, in fact, true. He quickly ran through a bunch of possibilities in his head, dismissing, "Your mother sucks eggs," and "You're rubber, I'm glue," as hopelessly lame before deciding on, "Shut the fuck up and throw already."

Harrigan laughed and pitched the ball at him, and Blair swung too fast and missed, eliciting a chorus of derisive hoots from the firemen in the field. "Aww!! Too bad!" Harrigan tsked with mock sympathy, and Blair indulged himself in a very gratifying, ten-second fantasy in which he was a foot taller and a hell of a lot less civilized and he personally introduced the pitcher to his mound.

"Better pull it together, Hairboy," Harrigan was saying. "I wouldn't wanna hear what your other half says when you lose the game on him."

"Not gonna lose," Blair shot back, taking a couple more practice swings.

"Oh yeah?" Harrigan asked. "Why not?"

"Because you guys suck!" Blair yelled, digging his heels in.

Harrigan geared up for the pitch. Blair flexed his muscles and was about to swing —

— when the bottom fell out of his stomach. He shuddered, and gasped, tightening his grip on the bat as the world swam before his eyes.

Wherever he was, James Joseph Ellison was way stressed out; Jim was sending out waves of anxiety and Blair was picking them up like a radio antenna.

The ball sailed right past him — thankfully, it was high.

"Ball One!" the umpire yelled.

Blair jerked his head to the left, eyes searching desperately for Jim. He narrowed his eyes, but couldn't pick his partner out of the crowd of cops. Okay, this was beyond food — something more than lunch was happening over there.

No amount of burned barbecued beef could upset Jim that badly.

Across from him, Harrigan tensed, preparing to throw, and Blair quickly held up a hand and stepped back from the plate to collect himself. "Hang on!"

Harrigan sighed and put a hand on his hip in an exaggerated stance of patience. "Take your time, Sandburg. We've got all fucking day, here." The other firemen sniggered.

Blair made a face at Harrigan, then coughed into his fist. <Jim,> he said, pushing his words across the park, <are you okay?">

The answer floated back to him after a few moments. Yeah. Jim was okay. Or, more accurately, Jim was claiming to be okay.

Blair rubbed at his mouth with the back of his hand to cover his moving lips. <You need me?>

Negative! — Man, that was fast: Jim was projecting a great, big, fat no to that question.

Blair blinked with surprise, feeling almost offended.

Well, fine, Blair thought irritably. Be that way. It wasn't like he had nothing better to do — hell, he was up with a 1:1 count, fergodsake!

He snorted and stepped back onto the plate, hefting his bat.


"You ready?" Harrigan asked with snide courtesy.

"Yeah, I'm ready," Blair returned.

"You sure?" and Blair let the bat droop and showed Harrigan his middle finger, in no mood for this sort of bullshit.

"Okay, okay," Harrigan said, tensing to throw, and Blair raised the bat, and waited for the pitch, and wham!, the ball was flying at him —

— and boy! Jim was one fucking unhappy camper over there! Blair sliced wildly at the ball, trying to concentrate on the game even though his body was registering one hell of a distress wave from out Jim's way.

Needless to say, he missed. Strike two.

<"What the hell...?"> Blair yelled aloud, yelled at Jim.

Apologies. The next emotional bulletin featured apologies: Jim was sorry. Well, great — fat lot of good that was gonna do them when they were washing firetrucks next weekend.

<What is going on?> Blair muttered, taking a deep breath and trying to calm himself down. His nerves endings were firing like mad; his fingertips were tingling. He was glad he was wearing his cap — he was sure his hair would have been standing on end.

And everyone was staring at him — it was like one of those dreams where you find yourself suddenly naked in class. Jesus, he must look like an idiot. He felt like he was surrounded by giant, grinning firemen, like something out of a Stephen King novel — "Firestopper" or something. Blair swallowed hard, and then caught a glimpse of Megan's concerned face, projecting sympathy to him from second base.

It didn't help: he could hear his own heart pounding. He couldn't focus, he couldn't concentrate, he needed to be over there, with Jim, needed to be with Jim —

He saw Harrigan winding up for another pitch, and tried to prepare himself. God, he was sweating. He tried to swallow, and his breath caught in his throat. He couldn't breathe. Dammit, Jim, he thought wildly — stop laying your panic on me!

And then Harrigan was pitching and the world was going white and the ball was flying at him, flying toward him, and he needed to be with Jim, where was Jim, where was —

— and he didn't even realize that he had swung until he heard the crack of the bat hitting the ball, and the loud sound made him jump. And then he saw that the firemen were all looking up, craning their necks, and so he looked up, too — and there was the white speck of the ball...flying away...out of the park...bye-bye...

"Blair!" Megan yelled, and he turned toward the sound of her voice, and she was rounding third, and she was signaling wildly for him to go — go — go, already! So he went, jogging around the bases in a daze, and then he jogged back to home plate and kept right on jogging, off the field and toward the picnic tables to see what the hell was going on over there.

He slowed as he approached. He didn't want to look weird — he just wanted to look like a normal guy enjoying the Fourth of July holiday. And not like, say, a panic-crazed Shaman trying to track down his Sentinel.

The buzz of conversation reached his ears before he could really process what it meant. "No, really, you look terrific — " "This is such a surprise!" "How's the corporate world?" "You must be raking it in." Blair shoved his way through the crowd of cops, wanting to see who the hell they were talking to.

It was Carolyn, formerly Ellison, nee' Plummer, and she was sitting atop one of the tables, drinking a white wine cooler out of a bottle.

"Oh boy," Blair thought grimly, instantly setting his face into a smile.

Carolyn was accompanied by another tall redhead, and on a nearby bench, Jim was talking quietly to a little red-haired girl. The resemblance was clear: if this wasn't Carolyn's sister and niece, then Carolyn was seriously narcissistic in her choice of friends.

It 's a fucking family reunion, Blair thought, and smiled wider.

Carolyn suddenly took notice of Blair's arrival and flashed him a smile as bright and theatrical as his own. "Hi, Blair." At the sound of Blair's name, Jim glanced up at him, his expression oddly unreadable. The Major Crimes detectives abruptly fell silent.

"Hi, Carolyn!" Blair replied with as much normal cheeriness as he could muster. His body was still singing with the remnants of Jim's anxiety — -but now he was working up a respectable batch of his very own.

Under different circumstances, he probably would have gone over and given her a hug; under the current circumstances he suspected that such a gesture would not be welcome. So he stood there and sort of waved at her, feeling like an idiot.

Blair shot a quick look at Jim, who immediately averted his eyes. Blair turned back to Carolyn, feeling at a loss for words. "You're looking well," he said finally, and it was true: Carolyn looked great. She had grown out her hair so that it brushed her shoulders, and she was wearing a pretty summer dress and sandals. She looked relaxed and younger than Blair had remembered her being.


"Thanks," she replied; her gaze was oddly assessing. "I hear you're a real cop now."

"Yeah," he admitted, shifting from foot to foot nervously. "It seemed like the thing to do, you know?"

"Yeah," she said, slowly. "I bet."

They stared at each other for a long moments, and then suddenly the detectives all burst out chattering, filling the awkward silence.

"Doesn't she look terrific?"

"Of course she does — she's not pulling the shitty hours we are."

"Or eating the shitty food."

"And San Francisco can't hurt."

"Though we miss you, here, Plummer — you did a hell of a job for us."

"You like it down there, Carolyn?"

"Yeah," Carolyn said, smiling, "I like it fine," and then she was off and talking about the joys of San Francisco. Blair took a step toward Jim.

"Hey," Blair said quietly.

Jim looked up at him with that oddly unreadable expression still in place. "Hey," he answered. "Blair — this is my niece, Mandy. Mandy is Cheryl's daughter. Cheryl is Carolyn's sister." He stopped and looked up at Cheryl, who was hovering near her daughter protectively.

Jim opened his mouth to make the introduction, and for a moment Blair wondered exactly what was going to come out. Harrigan's "boyfriend" comment came to mind, and he winced, not even remotely able to imagine that word coming out of Jim's mouth. My Roommate? My Guide? My Sandburg? Oh yeah, great: "My Sandburg — everybody should have one."

Niece-daughter-sister-wife-husband-Sandburg: oh brother, pardon the pun. Kinship systems were admittedly messy things, but this was a whole new world of complicated, here. The other labels were easy, uncomplicated — but he'd never fit in anywhere easily, ever, and he supposed it was too late to start now. Niece-daughter-sister-wife — no, ex-wife, he reminded himself quickly. Ex-wife and ex-husband, and he wished he had a copy of Jim's divorce decree as tangible proof.

Jim said, "Cheryl, this is my partner — Blair Sandburg," and Blair exhaled in relief. Yeah — Partner was a good one: it expressed so much with just the right level of plausible deniability, a man's best friend.

Cheryl smiled thinly at Blair, her cold eyes indicating she knew exactly who he was. So much for plausible deniability. Blair tried to meet her stony expression with some warmth, but it was difficult.

"Mandy, this is Blair," Jim was saying, and his affection for his niece was evident in his voice.

"Hi, Blair," Mandy said. She smiled up at him and extended her hand with a formality that made Blair smile.

Blair took the small hand in his, shaking it solemnly. Jim had had to sit down to converse with the little girl; he himself had no such difficulty. The kid was tall for her age,(or something, he thought with a little cough), but he was glad, suddenly, to have at least one person in the group who wasn't glaring down at him. "Hi, Mandy," he said, warmly, one short person to another. I'm your mother's sister's ex-husband's current boyfriend, he thought, glancing nervously at Cheryl.

"Mandy's seven, aren't you, Mandy?" Jim asked.

"Seven and ten months," she corrected.

Jim nodded, and looked up at Blair. "Seven and ten months," he repeated, taking the correction quite seriously. "And last time I saw Mandy, she was..." Jim raised his hand about a foot off the ground, and Mandy covered her mouth with her hands and giggled.

"No!" she protested. "I was not!"

"You were, too!" Jim replied.

"Nooooo!" Mandy repeated, laughing.

"Yeeees!" Jim repeated; one corner of his mouth turned upwards.

And then Cheryl was grabbing at Mandy's hand and saying, "Come on, hon — let's go see the puppet show." Cheryl shot a quick glance from Jim to Blair. "There's a puppet show," she explained unnecessarily. "Over by the concession stands. They do it for the kids every year... "

Jim nodded slowly. "Right. Well. See you later, Mandy."

"'Bye, Uncle Jim!" Mandy waved at him with her free hand, and he waved back. Cheryl stopped to tell Carolyn where she was going, and then she was pulling Mandy with her as she strode off across the grass.

"Nice kid," Blair offered.

"Yeah," Jim replied vaguely.

"Hey guys! Guys!" Blair looked over his shoulder and saw Megan Connor running toward them. "The game, remember?" she called out, gesticulating back toward the baseball diamond. "We're on the field! Move it!"

The Major Crimes detectives grabbed their gloves off the table and moved it, running back toward the dugout. Jim hesitated, glancing at Carolyn, and then said to Blair, dully, "Get Simon to cover first base for me, will you?"

Blair frowned. "Um...yeah. Okay."

Jim met Blair's eyes, and for a moment Blair could see a flash of Jim Ellison, team captain. "Make sure you beat those guys."

"Right," Blair said, nodding. "No problem," and then he turned and walked back to the field, heart pounding.

Megan fell into step at Blair's side as he walked. "What was that all about?" she murmured. She glanced back over her shoulder at Jim, who had moved to sit next to Carolyn. "Who's that?"

"Carolyn Plummer," Blair answered glumly. "Jim's ex."

Megan did a double take. "That's Jim's ex?"

"Yep," Blair said, adjusting his mitt on his hand.

"Shit," Megan sympathized. "Hey — are you okay?" She stopped Blair with a hand on his arm.

Blair sighed. "I feel a little like the second Mrs. DeWinter," he confessed, rubbing at his forehead with the back of a dirty hand, "but other than that: I'm fine."

"No worries, mate," Megan assured him, squeezing his arm affectionately.

"Yeah, yeah," Blair muttered, heading off for his position between second and third base. "Tell Simon he's playing first base."

Megan nodded and headed for the mound, gesturing to Simon Banks as she went. A reshuffle of players followed, and when the dust cleared, Simon was on first base, Brown on second, and Rafe on third. Blair was playing shortstop, as usual — O'Hara and Reynolds were in the outfield, and Joel Taggert had been pulled away from the barbecue and drafted as catcher.

As luck would have it, first up was none other than Chris Harrigan. Megan grinned at him broadly. "Well, well, well — who have we here?"

"Stuff it, Connor," Harrigan retorted. He swung his bat with some force, clearly nervous about being on the other side of the plate.

"Let's see what Mr. Bigshot can do," Megan dared, and then she threw one of her gentle-looking but deadly pitches. Which Harrigan missed.

Blair found it hard to keep his attention focused on the game; he felt like a kid again, relegated to right field and praying that the ball didn't come anywhere near him.

He couldn't help but look over to where Jim was sitting with Carolyn. He couldn't help but monitor Jim's emotional state. They were talking, it seemed — or at least Carolyn was talking to Jim and...

"Strike Two!" the umpire yelled, and Blair snapped his attention back to the game.

You go, Megan, Blair thought, crossing his fingers. You just keep pitching those bastards out. He watched as Megan did just that — Harrigan swung and missed her third pitch, and then threw his bat to the ground in frustration and stalked off the field.

Megan grinned. "You're too quick out of the gate, Harrigan," she called after him. "Like most men!" Harrigan shot her a dirty look and Blair grinned admiringly. Megan's English may have been accented, but she could speak macho bullshit like a native.

He fidgeted nervously on the field. One guy out. Two more to go. Then two more innings, Blair thought irritably. Dammit — he wasn't going to make it through this game.

Way to ruin a perfectly good Sunday afternoon.

The next fireman stepped up and waggled his bat at Megan. She threw the ball, and he popped it up over center field. Brown jogged backwards and caught it easily.

Two outs. God, these guys really did suck. Blair grinned at their looks of consternation: strength, they were prepared for, but not subtlety.

The Major Crimes team was long on subtlety.

The annoyed faces of the CFD cheered Blair immensely. Hell, it was a pretty nice day, really — Blair stopped and tried to see it, tried to really appreciate it. The sun was shining and the grass was green, and it was warm for a change — they only got a few good days like this in Cascade, sandwiched between the spring and fall rains.

A beautiful day to run around the park and hit a ball around. Except, of course, that Jim was over there with Carolyn, and not on the field with the rest of them...

It was only the collective shouts of Major Crimes that alerted Blair to the fact that the ball was coming his way. He focused quickly, and saw that it had been grounded out toward him; he darted forward and scooped it up, and hurled it toward Rafe at third.

But he'd been slow to react: the CFD had a guy at second, now, dammit.

Rafe drifted toward him as the next fireman came up to bat, keeping his eyes firmly on home plate. "Blair, you all right?"

Blair sighed. "Yeah. I'm sorry, man — little distracted, here."

"I figured," Rafe admitted. "Listen — just try to hang on till the end of the inning, okay?"

"Yeah," Blair said. "I will." And he tried to, honest he did, but a glance back at Jim and Carolyn revealed that the two of them were deeply engrossed in conversation. What the hell were they talking about? What was going on over there...?

And then the ball was bouncing across the field toward Rafe, who grabbed it, and tagged the guy heading for third. Three outs — beautiful — and Blair sighed with relief as CPD headed back to the dugout.

Blair jumped as Rafe slung an arm around his shoulder and guided him straight toward the dugout's cooler. "I think you need a beer," Rafe said.

"You shouldn't drink when you exercise," Blair objected.

"I think you need a beer," Rafe repeated, reaching into the slushy cooler and pulling out a dripping bottle.

"I think I need a beer," Blair admitted, and Rafe grinned and popped the top and handed it to him. "Thanks," Blair said. He lifted the bottle to his lips and took a long swig.

Rafe sat down on the bench in the dugout and watched him with the concerned air of a doctor checking on a worrisome patient.

Blair finally took the bottle from his lips and wiped his mouth off with the back of his hand.

"Better?" Rafe asked.

"Oh yeah," Blair said, throwing himself down on the bench beside him. "Thanks, man. I needed that."

Rafe grinned at him. "No problem."

Blair sighed and gestured off toward the picnic tables with the bottle. "So that was a surprise, huh?"

"Oh yeah," Rafe agreed. "Especially for Jim, I think. You should have seen the look on his face..."

Blair made a face and nodded — yeah, he could imagine the look on Jim's face. Hell, he'd gotten the overflow of Jim's shock right there on home plate.

"She's here visiting her sister," Rafe explained. "Or so she said," he added, crossing his arms and leaning back against the dugout wall.

Blair was curious. "So she said? What — you don't believe her?"

"Oh, I believe her," Rafe said. "I mean — I believe she's in town to visit her sister. But the fact that they just happened to take Mandy to the park today..." Rafe shrugged and pulled his cap off, and Blair was amused to note that even after seven innings, Rafe didn't have a hair out of place or a bead of sweat on his forehead.

And Rafe's team shirt was spotless — how the hell did he manage that? Blair looked down at his own shirt, which was streaked with grime from when he had bodysurfed into home plate at the top of the fourth.

"I mean, frankly, Blair — we've been having these games for years," Rafe explained. "Carolyn's played in them — she was pretty good, too. She knew damn well she'd find us all here. But when she saw us, she was all like, 'Oh! What a surprise!'" Rafe rolled his eyes. "Like she'd forgotten, you know? I knew Carolyn pretty well — she's a very smart lady, and not likely to forget something like this."

"Yeah," Blair mused. "Not likely at all." He took another swig of his beer. "So what's going on, you think?"

Rafe shrugged. "Well, she wanted to see us, I guess. " He coughed slightly. "Or see Jim, anyway."

Blair blew out a nervous breath. "Right. Right."

Rafe patted Blair's leg and reached across into the cooler. "Here — have another beer."

"I'm not finished," Blair began, and then he looked at the bottle and realized that he had. Rafe smiled and took the empty bottle from his hand, and replaced it with a full one. "Thanks," Blair mumbled.

"It's probably just curiosity," Rafe theorized, looking across the field to where Jim was still sitting with Carolyn. "She probably just wanted to see how he's doing."

Blair nodded grimly and swigged at his beer. He was beginning to feel nicely buzzed.

"And Blair?" Rafe said abruptly, looking hard at him. "He's doing great." Blair blinked, taken aback by the compliment. "I mean," Rafe continued with deadly seriousness, "we don't really talk about it much but we all know, you know? Jim's the detective to beat, and he's not half the asshole that he used to be. We all know that's you."

Blair grinned helplessly and pressed the cold beer bottle against his flushed face. "Hey — pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," he said, and Rafe burst out laughing.

"Sandy!" Blair looked over to where Megan was sitting in the grass and grinned: she was sitting with Sarah, his friend from Rainier's anthro department. They were both gesturing wildly for him to come over.

"Hang on," he said to Rafe. "I'll be back." Blair clambered over the railing and jogged over to where the two women were sitting. Sarah got to her feet with a smile as he approached.

"Hey!" she greeted him, and Blair gave her a quick hug. "How are you?"

"Shitty!" Blair replied cheerfully, pulling back. "Yourself?"

Sarah grinned at him. "Oh, I'm okay. I was working on my dissertation but then Megan called me up and told me to get my sorry ass down here."

Blair looked from her to Megan and then grinned. "Aw. What a lovely invitation!"

"I thought so," Sarah agreed, and they sat down cross-legged in the grass next to Megan, who was lying back on her elbows, taking the sun.

"So why are you so shitty?" Sarah asked.

Blair made a face. "Because Jim's over there with his ex-wife."

Sarah's eyebrows shot up. "Really?"

"Yeah," Megan confirmed. "Over by the picnic tables," and Sarah craned her neck to look.

"How long have they been talking?" Sarah asked.

Blair glanced at his watch. "Thirty-two minutes, 41 seconds," he replied, and Sarah smiled.

"Not that you've been paying attention or anything," Sarah said.

"Hardly noticed," Blair replied, stretching out backwards in the grass.

"Seriously, Sandy, what do you think is going to happen?" Megan asked, sitting up. "You think she's going to convert him back to heterosexuality in thirty-two minutes?"

"And..." Blair glanced at his watch, "fifty-two seconds."

"In thirty-three minutes?" Megan amended, jumping the gun on him.

"Well," Blair considered, "Jim's pretty suggestible."

"Nobody's that suggestible," Megan snorted.

"You don't know Jim," Blair answered.

"Yeah, but I know you," Megan replied genially. "I'd put my money on you over Carolyn any day. She can't possibly be as pushy as you are."

Blair's blinked: that was a little too close to the bone to be comforting.

"Well, you know what they say," Sarah interjected. "If you love someone, set them free. If they don't come back to you, they were never really yours in the first place."

Blair propped himself up on his elbows and glared at her. "Oh, shut up."

"Sorry," Sarah said, not seeming the slightest bit sorry.

"I refuse to take any advice that appears in a Sting song," Blair said firmly. "It's one of my deep seated principles."

"I didn't know you had any," Megan teased.

Blair made a face. "I have a ton of them. I have a veritable cornucopia of deeply seated principles."

"They say he can keep it up for six hours," Sarah interjected.

"Yeah, who says? Sting says," Blair snorted.

"Yeah," Megan agreed. "I don't know that I'd believe Sting."

"I mean, what's Sting going to say? 'I come in five minutes?'" Blair argued.

Sarah shrugged. "He didn't have to say anything at all. Plus, the Tantra has a long history — "

" — now totally bastardized, like most of the new Easternism — " Blair objected.

" — and if you guys are going to turn a simple discussion of pop culture into a four hour anthropological argument, I am outta here," Megan interrupted.

Blair and Sarah looked at each other and shrugged, then turned to Megan apologetically. "Sorry," Blair acknowledged.

"It's easy to get carried away," Sarah added in explanation.

"I know," Megan said, crossing her arms. "That's why its important to nip it right in the bud."

"Well, personally it doesn't matter to me how long Sting can keep it up," Sarah volunteered. "I just thought it was a fun fact."

"Factoid," Blair amended. "I wouldn't put it on the level of fact."

"Oh and by the way," Megan interjected, "speaking of, um..."

Blair grinned. "Of keeping it up?"

Megan smacked his shoulder. "No. Of Sarah not caring whether or not Sting keeps it up."

"We were speaking of that?" Blair asked.

"Sarah was speaking of that," Megan replied.

"Well, what about it?" Blair asked.

"Well — just that I've been putting it around that Sarah's interested in you," Megan confessed, with a little cough of embarrassment.

Blair sat up: goddammit, could his life get any more complicated?

Sarah turned to Megan and said, "You've been doing what?"

"Hey, look," Megan said defensively. "The 'we're just friends' thing was getting old! I had to say something to explain — "

"Megan!" Sarah was stunned. "I mean — you might have asked first!"

"I didn't think Sandy would mind." Megan turned to him with a pleading expression on her face. "I mean, you don't mind, do you? You're just as invested as I am in not — "

Blair opened his mouth but was immediately cut off by Sarah. "I wasn't talking about Blair," Sarah said, angrily. "Blair's a whole other problem — I was talking about me. You might have asked me."

"Sarah, you know how important my career is to me," Megan said desperately. "You know that." Blair frowned: he was having the funniest feeling of deja vu.

"Of course I know that! But you might have discussed it with me. I mean — that was bit high-handed, don't you think? Blair," Sarah, said, turning to him, "don't you think that was a bit high-handed?"

Blair opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by Megan. "You weren't there," Megan explained, crossing her arms. "Look — somebody mentioned to me that they had been seeing a lot of you at PD events and so I had to say something! So I said that, yeah, we were good friends, and I thought you were interested in Sandy!"

"Well, anyone who really knows Sandy isn't going to buy that, are they?" Sarah retorted.

"Hey!" Blair interjected, offended.

"Well, what should I have said?" Megan demanded. "'Yeah, gee, that is a coincidence — I don't know why she keeps turning up?'"

"I'll have you know that I can play straight very persuasively," Blair declared to no one in particular.

Sarah snorted. "Yeah, right, Blair — to the blind."

"No, it's true," Megan said in Blair's defense. "Half the department thinks that he's in love with Candi the receptionist. "

"Hah!" Blair said, glaring at Sarah.

"Yeah, the dumb half," Sarah replied.

"Granted, the dumb half," Megan agreed.

"Probably the same half that thinks that you'restraight," Sarah said. "And Irish."

"No," Blair said in Megan's defense. "Really, mostly everyone thinks that Megan's straight."

"Hah," Megan said, glaring at Sarah.

"Look, if you two are going to gang up on me," Sarah began.

Blair interrupted her. "Hey, I'm not ganging up on you. I happen to think you're right." He looked at Megan. "You should have discussed it with her."

"Yeah, you should have," Sarah echoed.

"But," Blair said, turning to Sarah, "you have to understand how nerve-wracking it is for people like us at the PD. It's not like at school — it's an incredibly stressful scene."

"Okay, okay," Sarah acknowledged, raising her hands. "I grant that. Look," she said, turning to Megan, "I just wish you had consulted me, okay? We could have come up with something together. Because I..." Sarah ran a hand through her short brown hair. "Well, look — I was going to ask you to move in with me."

Megan blinked, and Blair laughed aloud and fell backwards into the grass. "You were going to what?" Megan asked.

"I was going to ask you to move in with me," Sarah repeated angrily.

"What a lovely invitation," Blair murmured, staring up at the blue sky.

"Oh Sarah," Megan breathed. "Oh jiminy..."

"I was, anyway, before you started acting all uptight and controlling," Sarah said.

"Uptight and controlling is part of the cop package," Blair observed idly from his supine position. "You can work with it."

"I didn't — I didn't mean...Megan said. She reached out for Sarah and then stopped suddenly and snatched her hand back, looking around the park nervously. "Goddammit," she said softly, sadly, "why'd you have to bring this up here?"

"I'm sorry," Sarah replied sincerely. "It's just that now with your stupid cover story..."

Megan looked around again, and then whispered to Sarah, "Listen, I love you, and I really want to talk about this. But we can't talk here — I'm not free here..."

"I'm starting to hate this holiday," Blair murmured.

"Power, brother," Sarah answered him, sighing.

"God, how am I supposed to go out there and pitch?" Megan whined.

"Beats me," Blair muttered. "This is not a good day for the home team."

"It's just two more innings," Sarah offered helpfully. "And you're still ahead, 9-4."

"Right," Megan said, rubbing her face. "We're ahead. We're way ahead." She looked down at Blair. "How much damage can we do in two innings?"

"Don't ask," Blair said, and then he raised his arm and glanced at his watch. "God...forty-eight minutes," he moaned. "Don't tell me they're still talking!"

Megan glanced over at the picnic tables. "Okay," she sighed. "I won't tell you."

"Shit!" Blair muttered. "What the hell are they talking about?"

"They're probably picking out names for the children," Megan deadpanned.

"That is so not funny," Blair said, tensing. "I am so not amused by that right now."

Megan pulled Blair's arm into her lap and rubbed it soothingly. "I'm sorry. I was just kidding."

"Hey, I thought I was the one who was supposed to be in love with him," Sarah objected with a grin.

"He's got two arms," Megan replied, grinning back at her.

"You didn't see him with his niece," Blair muttered to himself, yanking his arm back from Megan. "The guy totally loves his niece."

"So — what — you don't want him to love his niece?" Sarah asked. "It's nice that he loves his niece."

Blair sighed. "Of course it is. Of course it's nice. I'm just wigging, here."

"You're overreacting," Megan said firmly. "They haven't seen each other in — what? — two years?"

"Three," Blair admitted.

"So okay," Megan said. "So they're catching up. There's nothing unusual about — "

And suddenly Blair took a deep, hitching breath and twitched violently in the grass. Megan and Sarah stared at him, startled; Megan touched his arm gently. "Sandy?"

"Holy shit," Blair said softly; he was shaking.

He saw Sarah and Megan's concerned faces looming over his, but he found it hard to speak; he was hyperventilating, suddenly. " okay?" Megan prompted nervously.

"Yeah," he hissed, rolling over onto his side and curling into himself a little. "Yeah. Fine." Except he wasn't fine: he was overcome with the overflow of Jim's emotions.

Jim was hurting. Jim was hurting bad.

"Blair, what is it?" Sarah asked nervously. Blair groaned slightly, and brought one hand up to his neck protectively, then slid it into the V-neck of his t-shirt until his fingertips touched the scarred flesh over his heart.

"You're not — having a mystical moment or anything, are you?" Megan asked nervously.

Sarah shot Megan a look. "A what?"

"She's fucking with him," Blair muttered, fingering the design etched over his heart. "Shit — she's really laying into him."

"How do you know — ?" Sarah asked, confused.

"He knows," Megan murmured to her.

"Just gimme a second," Blair hissed. "I'll be fine."

"Should we get a doctor?" Sarah asked Megan anxiously. "Does he need a doctor?"

"I don't think so," Megan answered, frowning. "I mean, he never seems to."

"I'll be fine," Blair repeated, trying to calm himself.

"Was it the hotdogs?" Sarah asked him.

"It's not the hotdogs," Megan answered firmly.

Blair took a deep breath and pushed himself into a sitting position. "I'm cool," he said, swallowing hard. "I'm cool — don't worry."

"Are you sure?" Sarah asked, frowning at him. "You're looking sort of white."

"I gotta go over there," Blair said, pushing himself off the grass and rising shakily to his feet.

Behind them, the firemen were coming off the field en masse. "But Blair — we're on, now," Megan protested. "The game — "

"Fuck the game," Blair said. He yanked off his hat and tossed it and his glove to a surprised Sarah. "You're in — welcome to Major Crimes."

"But — " Sarah protested, but Blair was already stalking off across the grass toward the picnic tables. "But Blair!..."

Blair ignored her and kept walking.

Carolyn, as he suspected, was doing all the talking. Jim was just sitting there, statue still, listening, staring down at the grass. But his expression of stony calm was belied by the waves of anxiety he was sending out.

Blair, on the receiving end, wasn't fooled for a minute.

Enough, Blair thought with determination. This ends now. He glanced at his watch.

Time called at one hour, four minutes.

"Hey there!" Blair called out as he approached, wanting to disrupt the conversation. Jim's eyes flicked up briefly to meet his; Carolyn jerked her head around to stare.

"Blair," she said, flashing him a smile that was all teeth.

"Just thought I'd see how you guys were doing," Blair replied. He stopped by Jim's side and dropped a casual hand on his shoulder.

"Could you just...uh...give us a minute?" Carolyn asked, her voice clearly strained with the effort to be polite.

"Sure," Blair replied easily. He looked to Jim for confirmation. "Jim...?"

Jim stared at the ground, not answering for a long moment that stretched out and became awkward. And then he raised his arm and covered Blair's hand with his own. "No," he said finally. "Don't."

Carolyn reacted as if she had been slapped. "Jim?"

"I'm sorry," Jim said quietly, not looking up. He tightened his grip on Blair's hand, squeezing gently. "I think I've had enough."

The small movement seemed to catch Carolyn's attention: she stared blankly at Jim's hand clutching Blair's.

And then she took a deep breath, and her eyes narrowed into pin-pricks. "You never really left the army, did you?" she accused. "You never got over it — the discipline, the routine, the hierarchy. You never wanted an equal partner — your fragile ego just can't handle it. You don't want equality — you want that," she spat, shooting a look of disdain at Blair. "Standing a respectful two steps behind you. Hierarchy," she repeated, and then her voice grew soft and deadly. "You like having men underneath, you, don't you, Captain?"

You had to hand it to Carolyn: the woman had balls. If you're gonna call your ex-husband a switch hitter to his face, why not do it in Cascade Central Park at the top of the eighth?

Hell, it was going to happen eventually — Blair knew that, although a part of him had been hoping, well, that maybe it didn't have to happen after all. Cause he could really have done without this conversation. And certainly Jim could have done without this conversation.

"I should have known," Carolyn continued, staring hard at Jim, but not really seeing him. She was muttering now, as if maybe she didn't need them there at all. Which would have been, Blair thought glumly, infinitely preferable. "I mean, Jesus — I should have checked your form. A guy with your history? Locker room, barracks, bullpen — I can't believe I didn't see it. No place for a woman there. That's what my mother always said, but oh no, I thought I could fit in."

Blair had a flash of sympathy for her: he'd been there — hell, he was still there...

"Stupid, stupid," Carolyn berated herself. "Fit in? How could I — I never had the right equipment," she added, spitting the word at Jim nastily. "I could be a cop, I could be your gambling buddy, but god help me if I tried to get close to you — unlock that heart you claim to have. But I don't have the right key, do I? I never had what you wanted..."

"It wasn't like that," Jim protested quietly.

"All those medals — but you could never perform for me, could you?" Carolyn laughed harshly and Blair flinched; she turned to stare at him. "Is he any good for you?" she asked meanly. "Or does that even matter? He has so much more to offer, doesn't he..."

"Stop it," Jim warned her, standing up quickly. "Don't go there." Blair frowned, confused — where was Carolyn going? Blair glanced at his partner nervously — Jim knew Carolyn better than he did, and Jim had just abruptly switched emotional gears. Instead of anxiety, Blair was suddenly flooded with waves of hot-blooded fury.

Blair murmured Jim's name, trying to get his attention, but Jim didn't meet his eyes, seeming not to see him anymore. Blair took a deep breath and swallowed, thinking that throwing up on his shoes was not the way to go, here. And maybe all this anger was directed at Carolyn, but it was making him sick...

"Come on," Jim growled, gripping Blair's arm tightly, "let's go — "

"Academic job market not real good right now, is it?" Carolyn asked sweetly, looking up at Blair. "No matter — you seem to have landed on your feet. Bet you always do, don't you? I mean, hey — free room and board and a shiny new police badge — I bet you impress the hell out of the other kids at show and tell, don't you?"

Blair opened his mouth to defend himself, but Carolyn cut him off. "What does he make you do for all that, Sandburg? Cook his meals? Laugh at his jokes? Does he make you play soldier-boy?"

Blair stared at her, slack-jawed, and felt Jim tugging hard on his arm. "Come on," Jim muttered, but he was frozen, paralyzed, rooted to the ground.

A gust of wind carried Carolyn's perfume to Blair's nose. Peaches. Roses. Something sweet smelling, anyway — Jim would know — and it was amazing how she could smell so sweet when her words were so poisonous.

"Your hippy dippy shit doesn't fool me, Sandburg. Peace and love," Carolyn snorted. "You're a parasite — and I know it even if he doesn't."

Blair, stung by the word, took a fumbling step back; Carolyn, pressing her advantage, rose up off the bench, and immediately Jim was interposing himself between them.

"You haven't earned anything," Carolyn cried, pushing forward to glare at Blair around the bulk of Jim's body. "Or maybe you have," she added, meaningfully. "Maybe you're working a lot harder than I think — "

"That's it," Jim said, blocking her with his body. "This conversation is over."

Conversation? Blair boggled. Is that what this was? Jesus H. Christ — if this was what Jim and Carolyn called conversation, what the flying fuck were their fights like??

"Jim, for god's sake — what do you see in this pushy little prick?" Carolyn demanded. "Or have I just answered my own question?" she sneered.

Jim surprised him by saying, "Yeah, well, maybe you have."

And for the first time, Carolyn looked at a loss for words: as if, despite everything, she had expected Jim to deny it.

"Look, this is pointless," Jim said, taking a step back, inadvertently bumping into Blair, who was standing two paces behind him. "No one meant to hurt you, but you go on and believe whatever you need to."

Carolyn took a deep breath and stepped back. "Yeah, well, maybe I need to," she replied, softly. "You live your lie," she added, glancing pointedly at Blair, "and I'll live mine."

"Deal," Jim murmured. Carolyn nodded slowly and then she turned and walked away across the grass.

"Jesus," Blair breathed, sitting down hard on the bench.

"Yeah," Jim replied, watching as Carolyn disappeared across the grass.

"Don't take this wrong, man," Blair said, looking up at him, "but now I see why you got divorced."

Jim shrugged. "It wasn't all like that."

"Oh no?" Blair asked skeptically.

"Nah," Jim said, shaking his head as if to clear it. "We had a really good week in back in September of 1992."

"Oh," Blair said, faintly, not quite able to work up a smile for that.

Jim took a deep breath. "Look — I'm sorry you had to get in the middle of that," he muttered.

"Story of my life," Blair murmured.

Jim nodded vaguely and glanced over at the field. "I think we're winning," he said, after a moment.

Blair followed Jim's eyes. "We were last I checked."

"Good," Jim said slowly. "Good." He watched the game for a moment and then asked, "Who's playing shortstop?"

"Sarah," Blair replied.

"Oh," Jim said. He stood watching for a few moments longer, then turned to Blair and said, "You want to take a walk or something?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah, sure. A walk would be good." He heaved himself up off the chair and followed Jim across the grass to the dirt path which led around the park and away from the diamond.

They wandered together through the trees as the park grew dusky with twilight. Jim was unnaturally quiet, even for Jim.

"It's funny," Blair said finally, breaking the silence, "but I was really worried for a few moments there."

Jim harumphed. "I was worried for more than 'a few moments.'"

"No, I meant earlier," Blair explained, idly kicking at a rock on the path. "You know — just seeing you and Carolyn together — "

Jim's audible snort interrupted him. "Don't be stupid."

"That's what Megan said," Blair admitted.

"Yeah, well, at least somebody had some sense," Jim said. He looked over at Blair, then blew out a long breath and shook his head disapprovingly. "For a smart guy, you can sure be stupid."

Blair nodded, acknowledging the truth of this. "But, well, she looked really pretty and everything..."

"Yeah," Jim said, looking away. "If you like that sort of thing."

"Don't you?" Blair asked quietly.

"Used to," Jim said.

"Oh." They kept walking through the trees, toward a small brick building set into the landscape. "It's getting dark," Blair said, after a while.

"Yeah," Jim answered. "Wonder if we won."

"Bet we did," Blair ventured.

"Hope we did," Jim muttered.

"Yeah, me too," Blair said. He stopped near the public restooms and looked up at the sky. "Fireworks'll probably start soon."

Jim groaned theatrically. "Oh, great. Just what I need. More explosions."

"You can handle it," Blair reassured him. "Fireworks sound just like gunfire — and you've learned to deal with that. " Blair smiled suddenly. "Just pretend it's the mother of all bad days in Cascade." Jim's lips twitched, and Blair's smile widened. "Or pretend that you're back in the army and — "

Blair stopped short, wanting to snatch the words back. Jim's face had gone suddenly blank, and he knew exactly what Jim was thinking:  "You never really left the army, did you?"

He took a sudden step toward Jim, needing to apologize, to comfort. "Jim — "

Jim raised a hand and took a step away from him. "It's okay," he said brusquely.

"Bullshit!" Blair exploded. "It is not okay — you've been saying 'it's okay' all afternoon!"

Jim's eyes quickly darted left and right, checking for the presence of other people. "Blair, please, not here. This isn't the time or the place to — "

Blair surprised Jim, and himself, by yanking on Jim's arm and dragging him through the shrubbery to the back of the building. So far today, it had been the right time and place for Rafe to tell him that Jim was "great," for Sarah to practically propose to Megan, and for Carolyn to — well, everything. Beneath the whole rah-rah, patriotic, all-American, baseball-playing surface of this bullshit holiday, some pretty wild shit had been going down. Maybe it was time for him to claim this holiday — to make a real declaration of independence.

"Blair, come on," Jim said, disentangling himself. "Look, I'm not lying to you: really, I am okay..."

"Bullshit," Blair said softly, and then suddenly he pressed forward, forcing Jim back against the wall, and kissed him, grabbing Jim's t-shirt in his fists.

Jim kissed Blair back for a moment, and then pushed him off. "Hey," Jim said, "I thought you had a rule about public affection in the park."

"I do. I'm breaking it," Blair said, taking Jim's mouth again in a furious kiss.

Jim gave a sort of a groan and then Blair felt Jim's hands grasping his hair, pulling him closer. Blair leaned forward, feeling Jim's chest hard and solid against his own, and gave himself over, letting Jim kiss him, letting Jim take control of the kiss.

And Jim seemed happy to take control — Jim kissed him and tugged him around until Blair's back was pressed up against the brick wall. Blair shuddered: Jim's hands were all over him, caressing his shoulders, tracing the shape of his biceps...

"She doesn't understand," Jim murmured into his mouth between kisses.

"No," Blair agreed, yanking Jim close again, gluing their mouths together.

"She doesn't understand how I feel about you," Jim muttered darkly, moving his lips to suckle the side of Blair's neck. Blair found himself breathing hard; Jim's tongue was tracing the small hollow at the side of his jaw.

And then Jim was sliding to his knees, and Blair gasped. Jim tugged Blair's t-shirt up and began dropping slow, open-mouthed kisses on his stomach — and then he felt Jim's hands curling around his ankles, cupping them gently.

Jim's cool, dry hands slid up his calves slowly, feeling the muscles there, fingertips brushing the light dusting of hair on his legs. Blair let his head fall back against the wall: Jim was caressing his legs, Jim was nuzzling the front of his grimy t-shirt, Jim was — Jim was smelling him...

"Beautiful boy," Jim muttered.

"...oh god..." Blair breathed; God, Jim was caressing his legs...

"I love your muscles," Jim whispered into Blair's t-shirt. "I love the way you smell..."

And Blair shivered, because Jim was turning himself on with — was being turned on by — well, his guyness. And hell, maybe Rafe never broke a sweat, and maybe Rafe could keep his team shirt spotless, but Jim seemed to be seriously getting off on the smell of his sweat, the dirt streaks on his shirt...

Jim seemed to be fucking relishing it after the smell of peaches and roses.

And Jim's hands skimmed his knees, and were working their way up to his thighs. Jim's hands were exploring the muscles there — muscles that were a hell of a lot more developed after four years of running around with the Cascade P.D.

Blair took a deep, shuddering breath — he hadn't ever realized that his legs were such an erogenous zone.

Jim was gently grasping Blair's leg muscles with his palms, feeling the ligaments and the tendons, testing their strength as Blair flexed them involuntarily, trying to steady himself, to keep himself standing.

And then Jim bent his head forward and traced the shape of Blair's erection with his lips — and Blair grabbed Jim's shoulders and shoved backwards.

Independence was independence, but this was maybe taking it a little too far...

"Okay, stop — I've regained the use of my mind, now," Blair declared. Jim pushed forward against his hands and Blair had to really strain his arm muscles to keep him at a distance. "Look — you just can't blow me in a public park, okay? A public park full of cops, remember?" Blair added breathlessly.

Jim tilted his head upward and a frown crossed his face as he considered the problem — and then suddenly he was on his feet, and he had a hold of Blair's hand, and he was dragging Blair around to the front of the building.

"Oh God," Blair exhaled nervously, squeezing his eyes shut as Jim pulled him through the door into the men's room. "...oh god, I've created a monster..."

Jim pulled him inside and dragged him toward a cubicle, then pushed him inside ahead of him and then bolted the thin door shut, sliding the steel lock home with a loud click.

Blair swallowed hard. While he considered himself sexually adventurous, relatively speaking, he'd never really been turned on by the threat of discovery. Ok, whatever — he'd had sex in cars now and then, but only in relatively isolated places, or places where the possibility of interruption was minimal.

Whereas this — this was the men's room at a baseball field where two teams of six foot tall civil servants were currently drinking a ton of beer and battling it out. This did not fall within the parameters of acceptable risk.

Plus, it was none too clean in here, either. Wouldn't Jim — didn't Jim — wasn't Jim bothered?

But Jim didn't seem bothered. Jim's eyes were dark with desire; Jim was looking at him like he was a porterhouse steak — and geez, Jim looked hungry.

Jim reached out and took the fabric of Blair's shirt into his hands, and then maneuvered them so that they exchanged places, with Blair's back to the door. Blair stared at Jim's eyes, which had darkened to a midnight blue, and tried to keep his breathing steady...he felt drunk on Jim's emotions, drunk on Jim's desire.

And then Jim took a step backward, pulling Blair with him; Jim sat down on the toilet seat and pulled Blair between his legs, and then tugged Blair's shorts down, and his underwear with them. Instinctively, Blair raised his hands and braced his palms against the walls on either side — god, he was going to pass out, he was close to hyperventilating.

Jim's hands slid around Blair's waist and then he was yanking Blair's hips close, pulling Blair's erect cock into his mouth...

Blair squeezed his eyes shut, feeling Jim's mouth on him. Jim's hands were gripping Blair's sides, tightening on what Blair was trying very hard to convince himself were not the beginnings of inevitable love handles. Jim was pulling him steadily forward, pulling him deeper into his wet, hot mouth. Blair pressed his palms hard against the walls, and he could feel his arm muscles twitching under the strain of keeping himself upright. Because Jim's tongue — Jim's tongue was stroking the underside of his cock...oh, god, Jim was hungry, Jim was eating him alive —

— and then he felt one of Jim's hands sliding down his abdomen, fingers raking down his right thigh, and then Jim's hand was cupping his balls, and he took a couple of wet, hitching breaths and thrust his erection helplessly into Jim's mouth, sliding it against Jim's lips, Jim's tongue. Once, twice — desperate short strokes, and then Blair bit back a cry of pleasure and came, cock twitching and shooting its load into Jim's mouth...

His own breathing sounded loud to him, pounding and echoing against the white tile walls, in the cavernous, empty space. He couldn't seem to control his desperate panting, couldn't seem to get enough air into —

— and then Jim was shoving him backwards and he would have tripped except that Jim had grabbed hold of his shorts, which were hugging his legs just above his knees. And then Jim was urgently pulling the shorts up over his hips, redressing him, and Blair barely had the wherewithal to say, "Wha — huh?" when suddenly the front door to the men's room was banging open and there was the sound of male voices. Jim immediately jerked Blair forward by his waistband and pulled him into his lap.

Blair, surprised, sat down hard, legs straddling Jim's hips — and then he was even more surprised when Jim suddenly gripped his legs and yanked them upward, off the floor. Blair gasped nervously and braced his sneakered feet on the back wall of the cubicle, and Jim nodded approvingly and mouthed, "S-h-h-h."

" — really can't believe how bad those guys are," Rafe was saying.

"No strategy," Brown declared, the triumph of victory still in his voice.

"Well, think about it," Simon Banks said, banging into a stall and bolting it. "They're firefighters — how much strategy does it take to fight a fire? I mean, the fire's there — it's not trying to outwit them or anything."

"Though it probably could," Brown crowed.

Blair swallowed hard and mouthed, "S-h-i-t!"

Jim grinned quirkishly and nodded, listening intently.

"Yeah," Rafe said. "But Megan's pitching doesn't hurt, either."

"That's true," they heard Simon say, and they could hear the grin in his voice. "Don't tell her."

Blair's eyes went wide as Jim suddenly called out, "I think you should tell her — she's the best pitcher we've ever had."

"Ellison?" Banks called back. "Is that you?"

Blair held his breath. "Yeah," Jim said. "It's me."

"Jim — where the fuck were you?" Brown demanded, and Blair jumped as H. banged playfully on the stall door. "We had to win that goddamned game without you."

"Sorry — I had other things on my mind," Jim replied wryly.

"Yeah, well, Sandburg deserted too," Brown noted. "He put some girl in for shortstop and took off."

"That's Megan's friend," Rafe said.

"I thought she was Sandburg's friend," Brown countered.

"No, she's Megan's friend," Rafe said.

"She's both, you nitwits," Jim corrected. "Her name's Sarah."

"Yeah, well Sarah was shitting bricks out there," Brown said. "I don't know what Hairboy was thinking."

"Jim," Rafe interrupted. "You should probably go find him, you know? He was a little freaked out, I think..."

Blair exhaled quietly and let his chin fall forward against Jim's shoulder; Jim splayed a warm, reassuring band across his back and rubbed it gently, in small circles. "Yeah, I will," Jim said. "I'll find him."

They heard a loud flush and then Simon was heading toward the sinks. "Not for anything, Jim," Simon said over the sound of running water, "but did you see the looks she was giving him?"

"Who?" Jim asked.

"Carolyn," Simon said. "Sandburg. The looks Carolyn was giving Sandburg."

"Hey — I was too busy dodging the looks she was giving me," Jim said, and the others laughed.

"Yeah, well..." Simon said, sounding briefly sympathetic before taking refuge in gruffness. "Look — this year was special circumstances, but next year I want you back on first base, okay?"

"You played first base just fine," Brown pointed out.

"I don't care," Simon said irritably. "I hate first base. I'm the catcher."

"Joel was a pretty good catcher," Brown teased.

Simon snorted, switching the water off and heading for the door. "Yeah, cause I told him to pretend that ball was a turkey sandwich. Jim," he added, "are you coming? How long are you going to be in there, anyway?"

"Simon, I've just spent the afternoon with my ex-wife," Jim shot back. "How long do you think I'll be in here?"

"Okay, okay," Simon said, chuckling. "See you at the barbecue."

"Later, Jim," Rafe called, following Simon out.

"Later, man," Brown said. "Don't drown in there — " and then they were gone.

Jim started laughing softly, and Blair raised his head. "Jim, this is so not funny."

Jim disagreed. "It's pretty funny."

"It is not," Blair said, dropping his legs to the ground and standing up.

"Is too," Jim insisted.

"When did you become Mr. Sense Of Humor?" Blair asked.

Jim struggled to his feet with a groan. "About the time you moved in with the monkey."

"Ape," Blair corrected. "And that was totally different." He shuddered suddenly, only now able to process the magnitude of the threat. God, if they'd been caught...if he'd been caught in there, with Jim's mouth on him...

Jim' pushed past him and unlatched the stall door. "Let's get out of here."

"What about the barbecue?" Blair asked, following him out.

"Fuck the barbecue," Jim said. "Let's go home and watch fireworks from the roof."

"Aren't you hungry?" Blair asked, and Jim spun abruptly and kissed him once, hard, stealing his breath away.

"Yeah," Jim murmured. "So let's go home and watch fireworks from the roof, okay?"

"Oh," Blair said. "Okay."

Jim flashed him a lopsided grin. "We on the same page now?"

"Yeah, I think so," Blair said.

"I love you," Jim said, "but subtlety's not your long suit."

"Oh yeah," Blair snorted, raising his hands to caress Jim's sides, "like this whole scene was subtle."

"Hey, I'm just trying to speak your language," Jim replied — and then he muttered, "Shit," and shoved Blair's hands off him, pushing him away.

"I feel like a yo-yo," Blair complained as the men's room door opened and Joel Taggert came in.

"Hi, Jim; Hi, Blair," Taggert said, quickly disappearing into a stall.

"Hi, Joel; Bye, Joel," Jim said, grabbing for the door ; "See ya, Joel," Blair called, following Jim out the door.

It was dark now as they walked down the path toward the parking lot. Blair stopped suddenly and said, "Shit, Sarah's got my mitt and stuff."

"She'll keep it for you," Jim assured him. "Come on — let's go already: they're gonna be starting soon."

"Okay, right," Blair agreed.

They crossed the lot to the truck — Jim's truck, Blair reminded himself. When they got there Jim tossed him the keys: Jim didn't drive on the Fourth of July. The fireworks started when they were almost halfway home: bright pink and purple and gold supernovas exploded upwards, expanded, faded. Blair glanced over at Jim, who was slumped in the passenger seat, staring out the windshield at the sky. The colors played over Jim's relaxed features, illuminating them in flashes; without looking over, Jim extended his hand and rested it on Blair's thigh, instinctively steadying himself against the barrage of sensory input.

Blair smiled and turned his attention back to the road, trying to feel the weight of Jim's hand on his leg, trying to anticipate the pleasures of the upcoming evening. They would spread a blanket out on the roof, they would lie together in the cool night air, they would make out under the fiery display, to the sound of explosions, and if he were lucky — well, if he were lucky...

It would be a little like having sex in a war zone, but hell, that was pretty much the way their relationship worked anyway: metaphorically, you couldn't beat it for accuracy. And Jim seemed to like fireworks, too, oddly enough; he seemed to enjoy reaching out for Blair in the midst of sensory chaos...

Jim apparently had a sense of metaphor, too.

So that would be cool, Blair thought. He took one hand off the wheel and dropped it on top of Jim's, twining their fingers together tightly. He tried to focus on the warmth of Jim's hand, tried to plan what he was going to do to Jim tonight, up there on the roof — after all, he owed Jim one — he could show Jim exactly what sensory overload was...

Blair pressed his foot down on the accelerator, trying to think about all of that good stuff, and not about the word that the fireworks seemed to be spelling out in neon colors on his abused retina.


The End