by Francesca

Author's disclaimer: Not mine, all theirs, blah blah.

Author's notes: OK, I guess that everyone's got a S2P2 story in them, and here's mine. I was fine with the ep, but Candy's posts afterwards (and her story) really got me thinking, and I wanted to try to *address* some of that. So this story is dedicated to her.

Large wet sloppy thanks to Miriam for helping me *tell* the story — she's my daydream believer and my homecoming queen. (g) Great thanks too to Paulette for really smashing beta work as always.

Jim Ellison stopped suddenly in the midst of making dinner, noticing that his partner, Blair Sandburg, was eyeing him intently from his position on the living room couch.

He nearly dropped the spatula.

Because the look on Sandburg's face —

Well, he had never seen a look like that on Sandburg's face.

Sandburg was looking at him like —

Like —

Like he was considering selling him on the open market.

And wondering how much he'd get.

Jim felt suddenly self-conscious, and quickly he glanced down at himself — sweater, khakis, loafers — but everything was fine. No stains or anything. Fine.

He looked back up questioningly at Blair.

And saw him.

And blinked.

Because suddenly, he was seeing Blair Sandburg — well, not as Blair Sandburg, friend, guide, familiar presence, but rather as...

well, as...

well, as this guy sitting on his couch.

The guy was wearing a pair of badly ripped jeans and a faded gray plaid flannel shirt; his hair was wild around his face; two earrings dangled from his left ear; his legs, defiantly crossed on top of the coffee table, ended in a pair of old black Keds.

And it just seemed so strange, suddenly, and he couldn't suppress the thought:

What the hell is this guy doing in my house?!

And Blair just stared back at him, and he seemed to be having similarly dislocated thoughts; his gaze was speculative, assessing, and his eyes only narrowed further as he noticed that Jim was now aware that he was watching.

Jim coughed. "Sandburg?"

Blair didn't even blink. "What?"

"What what?" Jim replied irritably, feeling that Sandburg should know exactly what he meant, that he should just answer the damn unasked question already. Admittedly, Sandburg had been noticeably terse ever since he pulled his Lazarus act at the fountain, but single word answers? He sighed.

"Why. Are. You. Staring. At. Me?" Jim asked, pronouncing each word distinctly for Blair's benefit.

"I'm thinking," Blair replied. His voice was conversational, but his gaze never wavered.

With a concentrated effort, Jim turned his attention back to the burgers he was frying, flipping each of them neatly over in the frying pan. "What are you thinking?" Jim asked, feeling Blair's eyes on him, burning into him.

Blair didn't answer, and so Jim ventured another look in his direction. He was still sitting there, still staring with that damn hypnotic look on his face.

"Sandburg?" Jim prompted.

And this time Blair did blink, and then he shook his head slightly, as if to clear it. "Sorry, what?" Blair asked, and Jim gritted his teeth.

"What are you thinking?" Jim repeated tightly.

Blair's eyebrows flew upwards in surprise; again, he didn't answer, at least he seemed to be actively considering the question.

And then Blair crossed strong arms over his gray flannel covered chest, and said, "I was just thinking about how full of shit you are," he said, and again it was in that calm, conversational tone.

Now it was Jim's turn to stare. "What?" he asked incredulously.

"You asked what I was thinking," Blair replied, meeting his eyes. "That's what I was thinking. That you're full of shit." He stopped for a moment, considered. "Of course," he added thoughtfully, tilting his head slightly, "I'm a moron, but that doesn't really stop you from being full of shit."

Jim began to speak, bit the words back. Then tried again. "Why are you a moron?" he asked.

"For listening to you," Blair replied evenly. "For forgetting how stupendously full of shit you really are."

Jim turned back to the burgers, turned the heat down slightly. "Them's fighting words," he said, but really, what was weird about this whole conversation (okay, there was a lot weird about this conversation, everything was weird about this conversation) was that somehow it *wasn't* a fight. Blair had just said that he was full of shit, but he had said it like he was talking about the weather, or like he had just noticed that they were out of milk.

Blair seemed to be reading his mind. "No, not really," he said meditatively. "Just descriptive."

And then Blair took a deep breath, as if he had suddenly made up his mind about something. "Jim, turn off the burgers," he said, and Jim frowned at him. "Turn them off," Blair repeated, and Jim exhaled, and snapped the gas off with a flick of his wrist.

Blair nodded approvingly, and he was wearing an expression of almost unearthly calm. "Come here," he said, and Jim hesitated only a moment before turning and walking into the living room.

He stood above Blair and crossed his arms, waiting.

"Sit down," Blair said, gesturing to the chair opposite, and Jim crossed to the chair and sat down.

And now Blair was almost smiling. Almost.

Blair took his feet off the coffee table and set them on the floor, bending forward intensely, hands clasping his knees.

"Do you know why you're full of shit?" Blair asked conversationally.

And Jim wanted to get angry, but somehow — somehow — he just couldn't. "No," he replied, finally.

"Too bad," Blair murmured. "A to A-. Well, do you have any idea what I'm doing here?" he asked, tilting his head to the side inquisitively.

"What do you mean?" Jim asked tensely.

"I mean what I say. Do you know why I'm here? Here in this house? Here on your sofa?" Blair asked, gesturing to it with a fluttering hand. "I mean, have you thought about it?"

"You're here because you need a place to live," Jim answered tightly. "And I'm nice enough to give you one," he added, looking at Blair significantly. "*That's* why."

And Blair did smile then. Smiled and shook his head no. "You're down to B+," he noted. "And you are so full of shit," he added softly, almost to himself.

And now Jim was angry. "Now look here, Sandburg," he said, "you keep on like this and — "

" — and what? You'll throw me out? Ooooh, grade's falling. B. And so early in the semester, too. You *can't* throw me out," he added abruptly, switching gears. "I won't go. Not now. I mean, I almost did — I almost split when we came back. I came close,, not now. I've made up my mind now."

"You what?" Jim asked suddenly. Blair's words seemed slow to penetrate. "You almost left? Why would you leave?"

"Why would I leave?" Blair repeated incredulously, and then he laughed almost merrily. "Well, put it this way — wouldn't you seriously re-evaluate a lifestyle that actually led to your own death? I mean shit, I know you're not real introspective, Jim, but come on!" he teased.

Jim fidgeted in his chair; he didn't actually like to think about that. Sandburg's death. Sandburg's death. "So what changed your mind?" he asked quietly.

"Nuh-uh, nope, I ask the questions here," said Blair, leaning back into the sofa cushions. "Do you know why you went for her?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest again. "Miss Tall, Beautiful and Deadly?"

Jim looked away. "I told you, I didn't — I didn't feel like — there wasn't any choice," he muttered. "I just had to."

"B-," Blair murmured. "Why did you join the army?" he asked next.

"What the hell is this, Sandburg, 20/20??" Jim exploded.

"Do I look like fucking Barbara Walters to you?" Blair shot back, and Jim stopped, and stared at his partner, jolted by the unfamiliar vehemence in his voice.

Blair closed his eyes; sighed deeply. "Just answer the question," he said softly.

"I wanted to get away from my father," Jim replied, looking away.

"Your father was dominating?" Blair asked.

"Yes. Very."

"So you joined the army?" Blair asked, and there was satisfaction in his voice. "What, for a little freedom? Somewhere you could really let loose and be yourself?" He shook his head. "C+," he whispered.

Jim leapt to his feet. "Fuck you," he spat. "Fuck you, Sandburg — who are you to judge me? To grade me?"

And then Blair was on his feet. "Now you're getting there!" he cried enthusiastically. "You're close! Warm, warmer, hot!" he yelled, and he was grinning.


"Sandburg, what the fuck — " Jim hissed, and he was shaking with anger, and his hands were clenched into fists.

"That's the question!" Blair said encouragingly. "That's a good question, Jim. Who am I to judge you? Who am I to judge you? So who am I? Now think before you answer," he added, raising a warning finger.

Jim could hear himself breathing; he was breathing hard with anger and confusion and rage and helplessness. "I thought you were my friend," he said tightly. "I thought — "

"You thought wrong," Blair corrected, and he was staring again, and his eyes were wide — wide and oh so blue. "I'm not your friend. This isn't friendship. I made that mistake too," he added kindly. "I told you: I'm a moron," he explained ruefully.

"And I don't know shit," Jim said angrily. "You're a moron and I don't know shit: is that it?"

"You don't know why you joined the army. You don't know why you went for Miss Deadly. You don't know why you've got a longhaired hippie living in your spare room. But you know who you are?" he asked with deadly soft irony.

And suddenly Jim found he had closed the distance between them and he had Blair's soft flannel shirt in his fists and Blair's face pulled up close to his. "I know who I am!" Jim yelled. "I don't need you to tell me who I am!!"

"Oh yes you do!" Blair yelled back, shoving Jim hard backwards, sending his hands flying. "You so fucking do! That's why I'm here — don't you get it already? I'm — I'm — I'm your own in-house intellectual," he sputtered. "I'm your fucking extra brain — and believe me, you need an extra brain! I'm the one who explains you to yourself. I'm your fucking soothsayer, your dreamweaver — your personal scientist, team-leader and coach. I'm the friendly in-house critic, I'm your Encyclopedia Brittanica, your answer-man, your storyteller, your myth-maker, your theorist, analyst, therapist, spindoctor, and PR man! I'm Lazarus, man, and I'm as good as it gets. I'm your shaman." Blair stopped for breath, and fixed intense blue eyes on Jim. "I'm the Guide."

"You told me you knew who you were," Blair continued softly, pressing forward. Jim frowned and took an instinctive step back. "And then you threw me out. And I believed you, Jim. I actually believed you for a while there.

"But I was stupid," Blair murmured. "Totally fucking stupid." He was close now, and he tilted his head up to stare at Jim earnestly. "I believed you and look what happened. That was all my fault. I need you to know that, okay?. That was all my fault." He stared up at Jim with desperation in his eyes. "I just somehow forgot that you're so full of shit," he said simply.

"I — I — " Jim stuttered. But Blair didn't give him a chance to figure out what he was going to say.

"You are a Sentinel," Blair explained quickly, the words coming too fast for Jim to interrupt. "Your role is to serve and protect. You serve a higher power." Blair reached out and gripped Jim's biceps. "That makes you deeply vulnerable. You are forever waiting for orders. And I — " and suddenly Blair looked pained. "I left a vacuum at the top," he finished softly. "But not anymore. Not anymore, Jim."

"You've got this all figured out, haven't you?" Jim said shakily. He tried to pull back, to pull away, but Blair just tightened his grip on Jim's arms.

"I believed you when you said you didn't need me," Blair said softly. "It was my nightmare scenario, and I just crumbled. I didn't think I — I just didn't think I knew enough. I didn't think I was it, you know?" he asked desperately, the words tumbling out. "I kept waiting for someone else, for the real shaman, for the real thing to come along and show me up. And when you said — when you said you didn't need me — well, I believed you. Because that was what I always thought — what I always feared — maybe what I always hoped, even." Blair was nearly hyperventilating now. He stopped, took a deep breath, and fixed Jim with his eye. "Except I was wrong. Except I was so fucking wrong. Except now I've had a real damn good look around and there ain't no one else here but me, man. And when I backed off — that bitch stepped in. And she didn't know shit, and she never cared fuck-all about you, or about being a Sentinel, or about anything. So maybe I'm not perfect, and maybe I don't know much, but it looks to me like I'm the only one who's even got a ticket for this here clue bus, and so now *I'm* driving, okay? I'm finally driving, now, Jim, you hear me?"

"Sandburg — " Jim said tightly, grabbing Blair's arms and trying to push him back, push him away.

Blair gritted his teeth and held on tenaciously. "I'm driving, Jim," he repeated.

"Let go — " Jim hissed.

"*I'm* driving," Blair said softly, tightening his fingers on Jim's arms, shifting slightly on his Keds to evenly distribute his weight, to get his balance. Jim struggled a little in Blair's grip, trying to gauge how much strength he needed to use to push him away without hurting him.

And then Blair suddenly yanked hard on his arms —

(he's gonna hit me!)

— and Blair's face was before his, looming, blue eyes wide and intense —

(shit he's gonna hit me shit I'm going to have to hit him)

— and kissed him. Hard.

(whatthe — !!)

Blair's lips were pressed against his and he kissed him back for a half second, instinctively. Because that's what you did when someone kissed you. And then he woke up again and pushed Blair hard away from him, hard enough that Blair stumbled backwards but looked somehow nonplused, unbothered.

And Jim suddenly had the urge to kick the shit out of him and wipe that smug smile off his face. It didn't matter that Blair hadn't hit him after all because now Blair had really done it, and he had to hit Blair back, 'cause he sure as hell wasn't going to kiss him back.

But he didn't hit him.

"What the fuck was that?" Jim exploded.

"Dunno. What'd it feel like?" Blair asked, and he sounded calm, reasonable, like this was just another of his damn experiments.

(Scientist. Team-leader. Coach. *Bullshit!*)

"You're running out of lives, Sandburg," Jim said, his voice hoarse, and Blair flinched as if he'd been slapped. And he almost rushed to apologize, realizing at once what he'd said. And it was not what he meant. He didn't mean that. Blair had to know he didn't mean that.

Blair had to know that he wouldn't really hit him.

But Blair just took a deep breath and nodded vaguely. "Yeah, I know. That's the problem. I'm running out of lives, and we're running out of options, here." He took another breath and seemed to steel himself, and Jim frowned as he noticed the effort.

And then Blair was coming closer again. "So we've got to work this out. Here. Now."

"There's nothing to work out," Jim said defensively, and he could see the flash of irritation cross Blair's face.

"Haven't you been listening?" Blair yelled. "For god's sake, Jim — you're on the verge of failing! *We're* on the verge of failing!" And the stupid bastard was coming closer — closer again! "Play it out again, dammit! Play it out again and what? I'm dead, you're taking your orders from some psycho-bitch and South America's covered in nerve-gas! It's unacceptable, Jim!" And in a few steps Blair was front and center again, blazing, though his face was white and strained.

"It worked out fine!" Jim yelled back.

Blair looked shocked for a moment. "Maybe for you," he said quietly. "But in any case, it's called dumb fucking luck, Ellison — and I don't like it. Because I know better. Because I'm the expert around here and I. Know. Better!" He reached out and grabbed two fistfuls of Jim's sweater, and Jim wanted to swat his hands away but couldn't. Because under the anger Blair looked suddenly weak. Suddenly frail.

"You tell me who," Blair said abruptly.

"Chief, you need to sit down," Jim said softly.

Blair ignored him. "If not me then who?"

"Chief — Blair. Please."

"Are you waiting for Incacha? Because Incacha's not coming — Incacha's dead, do you understand that?" Blair swayed for a moment and then blinked suddenly and refocused.

"Blair, just sit down." Jim reached out and grabbed Blair's arms again, afraid that he was going pass out, or fall over. Too soon — it was too soon for this. Too soon for Sandburg to be expending this sort of energy.

But Blair wouldn't move. "Is it me or someone else?" he demanded.

"Let's just sit down on the sofa and talk there," Jim suggested quietly, and then he jumped as Sandburg suddenly thumped hard fists against his chest.

"Don't patronize me!" Blair shouted. "You answer my question! Do you want me or someone else?"

And Jim stared at the pale, angry face before him, felt the small, sturdy frame shuddering in his hands, and knew that Blair was on the edge again, at the end of his rope, at the end of his arguments. He knew that the fight was almost over.

Because Blair was nine rounds in and looking shaky and exhausted here in the tenth, and if he held out just a bit longer Sandburg would be going down again, going down for the second time, going down to the mat again —

again — -

going down to the mat again for him

("She never cared fuck-all about you, or about being a Sentinel!")

(Blair did — Blair does)

and suddenly

(Blair does — Blair is)

it was as if something in him snapped

(Blair is the real thing)

(Blair is the real thing)

(Blair is the real thing)

and Jim pulled Blair hard against his chest and murmured "I want you" into the mass of dark hair. And he could hear the gasp of relief, feel the fight draining out of Blair's body, and he tightened his arms, holding Sandburg close, holding Sandburg up.

"I want you, okay?" Jim whispered urgently. "I need you and I want you. I want you here, with me, in-house, 24/7."

And Blair was heavy and clumsy in his arms, muscles twitching as the tension ebbed out of them He took a few deep breaths and then slowly raised his face to Jim's.

"You don't make this job half difficult, do you?" Blair asked earnestly, and Jim laughed and hugged him tightly, and then suddenly kissed him back. Warmly. Finally. After all.  

The End