Nature Vs. Culture
Disclaimers: Nothing's mine but the words; everything else belongs to Pet Fly. No infringement is intended, and I'm not makin' a dime. (Who needs money when you've got love?) (Well, okay, but I'm still not making any money!)
Summary: Nature and culture are warring for control of James Ellison, and Blair's future hangs in the balance.
Warnings: heavy angst (violence & betrayal), but I'll make it up to you, I promise!
Notes: This is my first Sentinel story, so I need feedback of all kinds! Please let me know what you think, like, hate, whatever! This story is for Miriam, who turned me on to The Sentinel and got me writing fiction again. Thanks, Miriam!
Blair Sandburg lay on his side in the narrow hospital bed, staring blankly at the whitewashed wall just a few feet away. His eyes were glassy and unfocused, his face expressionless; his thoughts circled round and round, cutting painful patterns into his brain. <I'm an anthropologist,> he thought ruefully, and an empty smile suddenly curled one corner of his mouth. The smile contrasted harshly with the hurt in his eyes. <I should have known better. Should know better.> A brief rasp of a laugh seared his throat and the jerking movement made his side ache; Blair screwed his eyes shut hoping to block out the pain in his head, his side, and his heart.
It was a matter of nature vs. nurture, biology vs. culture, and he, an anthropologist, should have known better. For god's sake, it was his proclaimed area of expertise. Amateurs got it wrong, he knew; they weighed nature and nurture and plumped for the power of nature every time. "It's just nature," they mewled earnestly. "You can't change nature." Leopards and their spots, just can't do nothin' 'bout 'em. Biology as destiny, blah blah, and all that jazz.
All that crap. Blair bit back another laugh, willing his body to relax, knowing that in his case, laughter was not the best medicine, that laughter hurt. He laughed bitterly because he was a scientist, and he knew damn well that, contrary to popular opinion, the human race was brilliant at messing with nature. Vaccines. Heart transplants. Sex-change operations. They were cloning sheep, for god's sake. So why not spotless leopards? Nature was easy to trick, twist, outwit, manipulate.
But culture — -ah, now culture was a bitch.
And, as an anthropologist, culture was Blair Sandburg's business. He had always thought it funny when the amateurs dismissed culture. "It's only culture," they said. Only culture, only nurture, only your upbringing, only society. Amateurs thought that you could change society, but not nature. Blair Sandburg knew from experience how much more likely it was to be the other way around. "Mere" culture was like the Parthenon, the Great Wall, the Pyramids — man-made, yes, but try to move them and you would find yourself in major pain. Now Blair Sandburg was in major pain. <We'll have three-headed sheep,> Sandburg mused, breathing deeply, trying to ride out the sudden sharp twinge stabbing his side, <three-headed sheep will be gamboling round the Pyramids, and the Pyramids will not have budged an inch.>
<The point is,> Blair thought weakly, breathing more shallowly as the pain subsided, <that people will keep saying that you can't change the spots on a leopard long after it ceases to be true. And that's culture, man... and culture has nature by the balls.>
And this was really basic stuff, here. This was, like, Anthro 101. Respect for culture. This he knew. So he should have known better. But with his brain suddenly awash with longing, he had forgotten. Maybe he had wanted to forget. Blair's skin grew clammy and he shivered. Jim Ellison had taught him that lesson again. Blair Sandburg took a sudden breath. Coughed. Sobbed. Jim Ellison had taught him that lesson with his fists.
Jim's birthday. The day was marked in Blair's datebook, and every time he glanced at it, circled in red, his stomach twinged. What could he possibly give Jim for his birthday? What kind of gift was appropriate in a situation like this? What did one give the man who had given one everything that one lacked and desperately needed — a home, a role, a friend?
More prosaically, what did he have to offer Jim? His knowledge, yes. His loyalty. His enthusiasm. His labor. Yes, yes, yes. Blair gave all that, but Jim deserved all that like he deserved air to breathe, and breakfast in the morning, and to have the sun shining down upon his face. It still didn't help in the matter of a birthday present.
One evening when Jim was working late at the station, Blair decided to attack the problem with concentrated mental energy. He sat cross-legged in front of the fireplace, closed his eyes, and thought hard — really thought. Two hours later he was still sitting there, and the fire had burned low in the grate. As he heard Jim's keys jangle in the lock outside, his eyes flew open, and a sudden smile lit up his face. Suddenly he knew what to do for Jim's birthday.
He would show Jim Ellison a hell of a good time.
Ellison muted the eleven-o-clock news and looked up at Blair, who stood bouncing from foot to foot in the kitchen. His eyes narrowed. "What?"
"What are you doing on your birthday? Any special plans?"
"Oh." Blair let out the breath he'd been holding. "Well then, pencil me in, wouldja? I'll take you out. We'll go out," he amended quickly. "Have a good time." He took a few eager steps toward the couch, enthusiasm brightening his features. "Whattd'ya think?"
Jim put down the remote control. "What kind of a good time?" he asked warily.
Blair's face split in a bright smile. "A hell of a good time," he said, waggling his eyebrows. "No, no," he added quickly, laughing at the sudden look of desperation that crossed his partner's face. "Just a good time. A regular good time. Nothing weird. Your sort of a good time. You know, just going out and having a good time. You know." Blair had crossed the few remaining steps toward Jim, and laughed as Jim raised a skeptical eyebrow. "A. Good. Time." he said, pronouncing each word distinctly. "You have heard of the concept," he said, voice laced with sarcasm.
Ellison nodded heavily. "I've read about it." The side of his face twitched briefly as though he might smile.
"Good. Time to turn knowledge into experience." He sat down on the sofa. "So mark it down," he said, turning to look at the pictures flickering across the television set, head whirling around to look for the remote control.
"Sandburg, what are you planning?" Jim asked, eyes following his guide.
"Don't know yet. Dinner. Something for after dinner. Drinks. Whatever. Don't worry, it'll be fun. Trust me." He spied the remote, and unmuted the television.
Jim considered this for a minute, head cocked. "You know," he said conversationally, "I hate it when you say that."
And yet, Jim admitted to himself halfway through his birthday dinner, he was, in fact, having a good time. Sandburg had found a small, French restaurant which, tucked away in an unexpected part of the city, provided gourmet food and a relaxed atmosphere for half the price of more pretentious places. He and Blair sat and ate and talked, and Jim found himself delighted and surprised by the complicated but complementary flavors of both the food and the conversation. He and Blair also managed to polish off almost two bottles of very good red wine. Jim found himself feeling warm and comfortable, more relaxed than he'd felt...well, ever...as he spooned up the last bit of some very good chocolate mousse. He looked up at his Guide as he pushed his bowl away, and Blair smiled, and pointedly licked his very full lips. Reflexively, Jim mirrored his action, realizing as he did that he had chocolate smeared across the corner of his mouth. He swiped his lip more thoroughly, then reached into his lap for his napkin. Watching him, Blair laughed. "So," Blair said, head tilted to one side. "Phase one. How're we doing?" Jim couldn't quite place the look in Sandburg's eyes.
"We're great," Jim heard himself say, and then he smiled and leaned back in his chair. "That was fun. Thank you."
"You're welcome," Blair replied softly. "Almost ready to go?"
"Phase two," Blair smiled.
Phase two was a bit nerve-wracking at first. Blair drove them into a distinctly dangerous looking part of town that had all of Ellison's senses on alert. Jim tensed as the Corvair coasted into the parking lot of what looked like an abandoned factory; however, a glance at his guide told him that Blair was relaxed and confident, that he knew what he was doing. Jim got out of the car and followed Blair across the dark expanse of broken concrete to a big wooden door. Blair knocked and they were admitted to a small, but intimate nightclub.
It was dark inside, but Ellison's eyes adapted almost instantly. A glance at the stage made him do a startled double-take — drums, saxophone, trombone, trumpet — no, that wasn't, couldn't be — him on trumpet! But it was, and Jim followed Blair in a daze, instinctively, to a small table on the left side of the club, eyes glued to the dark, lined, expressive face of one of the jazz greats. The man's cheeks puffed gently, and a soft sound gripped James Ellison by the spine and slowly traveled up toward his brain. Ellison sank into his chair, mesmerized, Sentinel senses picking up soft sighs of appreciation from the aficionados scattered around the club.
He blinked five? — ten? twenty? — -minutes later, having gone into a relaxed zone-out of sorts. He tore his gaze away from the stage and turned to look at Blair, who was curled into his chair, head resting on one raised knee, staring at him. He smiled as Jim met his gaze, and then reached out and took a sip from his drink. Ellison looked down and found a drink in front of him as well. He picked up the glass and made a toasting gesture in Blair's direction, took a long draught and turned his attention back to the stage, seized by the warm, mellow sounds of the brass.
There was supposed to have been a phase three, but they never got there. The musicians kept playing, and contrary to common sense, got increasingly energized as the hours trickled away. Blair found himself swept to his feet as the tempo surged, and hugged himself, bobbing up and down to the siren sounds of multiple trombones He laughed joyously, and turned to find an answering laugh on Jim's face. Blair tightened his grip on himself, feeling like he might actually burst open with emotion if he didn't physically hold himself in. The room had turned into a gently seething mass — heads nodding, toes tapping, limbs swaying, hips rocking. Blair closed his eyes and gave himself over to the music: he was having a hell of a good time.
It was four o'clock in the morning by the time they finally walked back through the big wooden door. The cool night air brushed over Jim's face and he shivered, and stumbled slightly, but Blair was beside him, and he felt his guide pressed up against his side, open hand firmly lodged on his back. They walked back to the Corvair, Jim feeling drunk and happy, the beautiful notes still echoing in his head.
Once settled in the car, Jim let his head fall back against the seat; Blair, who had switched to iced tea midway through the evening, shifted gently into drive and turned the car toward home, careful to keep the ride smooth and relaxed. He glanced at Jim's face, open and expressive in sleep, suddenly lit, suddenly shadowed, as the car passed under streetlight after streetlight. Blair pulled up and parked in front of the loft and turned the engine off. He looked at the sleeping Sentinel, then put a light hand on his arm.
"Jim," he said softly.
Jim didn't answer, but he lifted his hand and put it on top of Blair's. Blair stared at Jim's hand, which clenched to caress his, and when he moved his gaze back to Jim's face he found himself staring into Jim's open eyes.
"Hey," Jim said simply.
"Hey yourself," Blair answered, smiling. "Think you can make it upstairs?"
"Mmmmmph," said Jim, and giving Blair's hand a final squeeze, he stirred and sat upright. Blair got out of the car quickly and came around to help Jim out; Jim was a big man, and it was a small car, and Jim found it awkward to get in and out even when fully awake and sober.
As Jim stood up and pushed the car door shut, he startled Blair by reaching out and pulling Blair close into his side. After the briefest of moments, Blair relaxed and returned the hug, giving Jim's torso a friendly squeeze. Jim responded by gently caressing Blair's head, tucking Blair's hair behind his ears with the lightest of touches. Then Jim set off toward their apartment, pulling Blair along with him, keeping the younger man pressed firmly against him as they trundled up the stairs and down the hallway to the loft. At the door Jim reached into his pocket for his keys, which he promptly dropped. Blair reached down to retrieve them, and heard a groan of disappointment from Ellison at the loss of contact; as he stood up, Ellison pulled him firmly back into his personal space, resting his chin lightly atop Blair's head.
Even though he was sober, Blair had to use all his concentration to get the door open. He and Ellison practically fell into the apartment, and Blair gracefully kicked the door closed behind them as they maneuvered for the couch. Jim sighed as he and Blair sank down into the cushions, and he pulled Blair snugly into his armpit as he closed his eyes.
Blair was silently stunned; he had never seen Jim like this. His heart beat nervously, but he liked it: boy, he really liked it. He took a deep breath and snuggled into Ellison's side, not knowing what was happening, but thinking it all mighty fine.
"Blair." Blair's eyes opened at the sound of his name. "This was great," Jim murmured. "This is great. It was a hell of a time, like you said."
"You're welcome," Blair said, turning so that he could look at Jim's face. He ended up with his chest pressed against Ellison's side, is head on Jim's shoulder, Jim's crooked arm cradling his head. "Happy birthday," he whispered.
"Thanks," said Jim softly. He didn't open his eyes, but his hand began to move. He massaged Blair's shoulder, and pulled Blair's face to rest against his chest.
There was no way that Blair was going to calm himself down now. This was so...intimate, so natural, so right. This, Blair thought, was a signal. His heart pounding, Blair took a deep breath and tentatively put one hand on to Ellison's chest. Jim sighed contentedly. Blair gasped; the sound went straight to his chest, and thence to his cock. He felt himself beginning to harden as he touched Jim's chest less tentatively, and began to move his hand in small circles, into a definite caress.
Jim purred under his fingers, and Blair found himself struggling for oxygen. Could this possibly be what it seemed? How far would he be allowed to take this? He had loved Ellison almost immediately, and after their first year together his love had reached such an intensity that he found himself having to re-evaluate his definition of the word. Blair had discovered that he would kill for Jim Ellison, die for Jim Ellison — more than that, he would live for Jim Ellison. Was that love? The word seemed inadequate. But Blair Sandburg was a realist, and had never expected that his love — or whatever it was — would be reciprocated. Not like this. Sure, he knew that Jim loved him — as a friend, a brother, a partner — but never suspected that Jim might want him as Blair had always wanted Jim, as a lover.
It just wasn't in his nature. Or was it? After all, Jim was genetically a Sentinel, and Blair was his guide. Was there a biological bond that drew Jim to him, a bond that could override Jim's childhood, his straight-laced upbringing, his military training? Was the impossible possible after all? Had he been wasting precious time repressing his feelings, stuffing his love — or whatever it was — back down into his heart, holding in what he should have expressed? After all, he was the guide — maybe Jim was waiting for his suggestion, his direction.
Blair shuddered from head to toe as Jim's hand moved up and down his side, tracing larger and larger patterns. Blair felt a wave of indescribable longing wash over him, and he reached up and undid the top two buttons of Jim Ellison's shirt. He slid his fingers over the soft skin of Ellison's chest, and heard Jim's breath quicken in response; Blair's erection was now so hard it was painful. He traced his fingers up toward Jim's neck, skimming his collarbone, lightly touching his jaw, his ear, the softness of his hair. Jim, eyes still closed, moved his hand up into Blair's hair, threading his fingers through it, grabbing a handful of the soft curls in his fist.
Blair Sandburg stopped thinking.
He turned and raised himself into Jim's lap, straddling him so that they were chest to chest. He pressed his face into Jim's neck, and heard Jim grunt softly — and then strong arms were wrapped around him and Blair found himself held in an embrace of such warmth and affection that he didn't know whether to come or cry. He reached out and clutched Jim to him, holding on for dear life, and heard Jim laugh drowsily.
"Thank you, Blair," said Jim. Somewhere in the back of his mind Jim Ellison knew that he had said this already, but it was all he could think to say. He wasn't thinking clearly, but he felt terrific, and he knew that Blair Sandburg was responsible for this, had orchestrated it, and moreover, had been orchestrating it for three years. He knew that he never told Sandburg how much he appreciated him. Jim knew that he had a tough time with words. But suddenly, the dinner and the wine and the music and the warmth made Jim feel as if his fingers could talk. He had always communicated most clearly through touch, but suddenly he felt as if his hands spoke not only English, but French, German, Spanish and Japanese. He had had the best birthday of his life, and he wanted Blair to know how much he valued him, his partner, his guide, his best friend.
Blair Sandburg was not feeling at all like a best friend. Blair Sandburg was more turned on than he had ever been in his life; he was panting, his heart was pounding, but Jim Ellison's mind was drifting, and he wasn't paying attention. Blair was in torture. This was the best, slowest, most intimate foreplay he had ever had in his life, but he didn't think he could take much more. He was going to die, right here, and die happy.
He couldn't wait.
Blair's lips skated over Jim's throat, up the side of his neck. He placed the lightest of kisses on Jim's ear, then whispered breathlessly, "I could show you a hell of a good time." The words floated through Jim Ellison's brain, and he let out a soft low rumble of a laugh. Blair, pushed far enough, took Jim's face gently in his hands and kissed him for all he was worth.
Jim Ellison felt that he had slipped into the warmest, most soothing bath of his life. Instinctively, his arms tightened around Blair, and he leaned into the kiss. He opened his mouth and sucked in Blair's tongue, swimming in the taste and touch of his Guide. Finally, Blair broke for air, and let his mouth drift up Jim's face, eventually resting his lips high on Jim's forehead.. One hand on the back of Jim's neck, Blair licked slow, soft, tender strokes over the area where Jim's skin met his hair. His other hand traced down Ellison's chest and landed in his lap. Groaning, Blair gently but firmly ran his fingertips down the length of Jim's erection.
And then the world ended in a blast of fire and searing pain.
In a millisecond, in the time it takes for a heart to stop beating, in the time between a slap and a scream, Jim Ellison suddenly sat up ramrod straight, the generous body which had just been so soft, so warm, so yielding, metamorphosing under Blair's gentle fingers into cold, hard, unforgiving steel. In the space of a single gasp, Jim Ellison's arm muscles tightened into rough cords and flew up, breaking Blair's grip, smashing against the embracing arms and throwing them up in the air. Blair slid backwards and flailed, overbalancing, and in that second of distraction, of vulnerability, Jim Ellison's face tightened into something incredibly ugly, and he punched Blair Sandburg full in the face.
His stunned face already wet with tears, Blair slid backwards off Ellison's lap, propelled by the force of the punch. He hit the coffee table with his lower back before it suddenly gave way and skittered two feet across the living room floor. Blair landed with a painful jolt hard on his ass. Screaming inside, Blair shot into a fetal position, one hand across his abdomen, the other moving to protect his face. As Blair rolled into a ball, Ellison blurred upwards, standing, his harsh rasping gasps of panic slicing through the air of the loft. Blindly, enraged, out of control, Ellison drew back one shod foot and kicked Blair hard in his side, instinctively striking the only unprotected area available to him. Blair gasped in agony, and the hand curled around his abdomen shot into the air, fully extended, toward Jim, fingers splayed. His arm spasmed from the tension. Stop. Stop. Oh, please stop. Stop.
And hurled himself into the bathroom, toward the toilet, and threw up, heaving, convulsing, his body tearing itself apart.
Blair's arm dropped heavily to the floor and he pushed his face into ground, sobbing like a child. Dying. Wanting to. Hoping to. Oh, gods.
Blair's mind swirled as he struggled for breath, thoughts making the first painful cuts of the pattern that would grow sadly familiar, a pattern that would become seared into his brain. <Should have known should have known should have known should have known should have known should have known too good too good so good too good couldn't be can't be couldn't be couldn't be couldn't foolish foolish foolishfoolish foolish foolish foolish oh god god god god should have known should have known should have known...>
And then, finally, the chant of life, of hope. <Pull it together, pull it together, pull it together.>
With a wrenching gasp, Blair Sandburg stopped his tears. Rolled himself into a sitting position. Took deep breaths. Dared to glance toward the open bathroom door. Silence from inside. Wondered if he could make it to his room. Collected his energy. Listened. Crept a few inches. Listened. Marshaled his strength. Grabbed the sofa arm. Pulled himself to his knees. Got his feet under him. Glued his eyes to the open bathroom door. Listened. Moved into a crouch. Clutched the sofa back. Forced himself slowly upright. Fell back against the sofa. Choked back a gasp of pain. Silent. Must be. Silent.
Slowly, silently, Blair crept across the loft to his room. Got inside. Locked the door. And slid downward against it, too tired, too demoralized to move. Dead. Dead inside. Gently, he lay his body across the floor by the door, his agonized mind desperately seeking unconsciousness. To not be there. To not be. He passed out.
Inside the bathroom, Jim Ellison sank weakly to the floor, clutching his head, a spike of pain threatening to split his head apart. <How could he? How could Blair do that?> he thought furiously and then, unbidden, the completing, surprising thought. <How could he not? How could we not?> Waves of anger, regret, loss broke across his body, his heart pounded loudly in his chest (...thrumthrum, natureculture, natureculture, natureculture...) and he could not find resolution, could not find peace. Slowly his battered mind shut down as he took refuge in sleep, cheek pressed against the cold bathroom tile.
Blair woke up a few hours later and had a few blissful seconds before the painful memories flooded him, before he felt the pain in his head, his side, his heart. But he was resilient, and his brain sent him a telegram, short and to the point. <Out. Out. Out.> He was conveniently dressed, having never undressed. He staggered to his feet, ignoring the sharp pain in his side, and swiped his "I'm outta here" backpack from under his bed, where it had lain, unneeded and unwanted, for three long years. Out. He moved to the door and listened intently for a few seconds. Cracked the door. Took a brief surveying glance. And headed out out out.
He tried to focus on driving, on ignoring the growing pain in his side. He could not get into an accident, he had to get to his office safely. Had to get safe. He drove along his familiar route to the university, mind blank, black — then suddenly blinked and slammed on the brakes, realizing that he had passed out behind the wheel. He doubled over on the seat, hearing a screech of brakes and an long irritated horn honk from the car behind him, which had been forced to swerve to avoid hitting him. He screwed his eyes shut, and got on top of the pain.
Blair Sandburg was resilient. And it was time to face facts.
He needed to go to the hospital.
He reached up and used the last of his energy to depress the car horn, knowing that someone would come, that help would come.
And then hands were lifting him out of the car, putting him on a stretcher, sliding him into an ambulance, and the kindly young paramedic was holding his hand, trying to soothe him, telling him not to talk as they raced toward the emergency room. But Blair tried to talk, gasping out a spuriously manufactured story. His friend's birthday. Too much to drink. A drunken fight in a nightclub. Didn't think he was hurt. The paramedic shushed him, stroked his arm, told him not to worry, he was going to be fine.
The ambulance had radioed ahead, and Blair Sandburg was quickly ushered into surgery upon his arrival. A routine operation, removing a burst appendix.
Jim Ellison woke with a start, every nerve fiber alert, brain sharp with animal instinct. He looked around the bathroom, startled; then stilled, head cocked, senses rapidly scanning the area for the source of his unease. Looking for a presence. A presence. No.
Blair was not in the loft.
Jim Ellison started to hyperventilate, brain suddenly crackling in a lightening fast picture show of images. Blair in his lap, arching above him. Flash! The gentle roughness of Blair's tongue caressing his temple. Flash! Drowning in Blair's warm, sweet mouth. Flash! Blair agonized, Blair gasping in pain, Blair's fingers open and pleading, more eloquently than words: no, no, no.
He had hit his guide. Hurt his guide. Hurt Blair.
Blair at dinner, raising a glass of red wine to his beautiful lips. Flash!
Jim Ellison bent over the toilet, dry heaving. He was a monster. A phrase...biblical?...floated through his aching brain. Returned evil for good. He had returned evil for good. Had met goodness face to face and battered it. Had met an angel incarnate, and had broken his wings. Blair had given him love, and Jim had paid him back in pain. Why? why had he done it? The image of his fist flying into Blair's face swam in his vision, and his stomach heaved again.
Blair called him his Blessed Protector.
Ellison forced himself to stand, and leaned against the bathroom wall for support. He thought of getting his gun, thought of blowing his head off.
No. Not yet, anyway. His blood raced through his veins, through his brain (...thrum thrum, nature culture, nature culture, nature culture, lub dub...) What would his guide tell him to do? Jim listened to the rhythm of his heart, of his pulsing blood. He tried to center himself, let his instinct guide him. Instinct. Guide. Blair. Absence.
<And do what?> the rational part of him screamed. How could he face him? What could he say? He forced the panic down. He would know. He had to know. One step at a time. Don't think. Find Blair. Instinct. Guide. Blair. Absence.
James Ellison stepped out of the bathroom, and crossed the loft to the balcony. He breathed deeply and dialed up his sense of hearing further than he had ever attempted before, truly grateful for his Sentinel abilities for the first time ever. He was determined now to use them, really use them, to find the familiar, reassuring, desperately needed sound of Blair Sandburg's heartbeat.
Blair Sandburg lay on his side in the narrow hospital bed, staring blankly at the whitewashed wall just a few feet away. His eyes were glassy and unfocused, his face expressionless; his thoughts circled round and round, cutting painful patterns into his brain. He closed his eyes and tried to calm himself down, tried to soothe himself by listening to the rhythm of his heart, to the gentle course of his own pulsing blood.
Simon Banks sighed with relief upon hearing that Blair Sandburg was fine, and was in his room recovering nicely from his burst appendix. The beat policeman who had overseen the towing of Sandburg's abandoned Corvair had recognized the car, and had phoned Simon at home with the news, thinking he would want to know. Damn right. Banks scanned the emergency room, looking for Jim Ellison. Not finding him, he turned back to the nurse to inquire about Detective Ellison's whereabouts. The nurse's answer surprised him: "Detective who?" she asked.
Moments later, Detective Ellison passed through the hospital doors. He strode purposefully toward the elevator, toward the increasingly loud sound of Blair's heartbeat. He was so focused on the rhythmic, calming sound that he stood right next to Simon Banks, himself waiting for the elevator, and didn't noticed he was there. Simon grabbed his arm.
Ellison blinked hard, saw Simon, shook his head to clear it. "Simon."
"There you are. Where've you been? And where's the body?" he added, noting Jim's grim expression.
"Yeah, the body," answered Simon. "Of the guy who hit Sandburg."
Me, thought Jim.
The elevator doors opened, and Simon and Jim stepped on. "I read the report," Simon said as the elevator lurched upward. "I never pictured Sandburg as a brawler. Maybe I underestimated him. Hell of a birthday," he added, sympathetically.
Jim didn't know what to say, so said nothing. His heart soared with joy, tightened with fear, at the increasing intensity of Blair's heartbeat. He was close.
"The nurse says he's stable," Simon continued blithely. "Recovering nicely. Hell of a thing, an appendix. What's the damn thing for, I ask you? Nothing but trouble." Ellison stood silently, listening to the reassuring lub dub of Blair's heart.
The elevator doors opened, and Banks sped up to keep up with Ellison's long-legged stride toward Sandburg's door. Jim reached it, and stopped dead. He didn't know what to do. Simon looked at him questioningly. "Aren't you going in?" When Jim didn't answer, Banks reached for the doorknob himself. Stepping into the room, Banks was surprised that Jim hovered on the threshold, just outside. Ellison had raced to get up there: why the hell had he stopped? Too weird.
Deciding to ignore Jim's strange behavior, Simon turned to stare at Blair Sandburg's back. Blair was lying on his side in the narrow hospital bed, his face turned away from the door.
At the sound of Simon Banks' voice, Blair slowly turned his head. His lips smiled; his eyes didn't. "Hi, Simon," he croaked, and coughed to clear his throat. He rolled carefully on to his back.
"How're you feeling?" asked Simon.
"Been better," Blair replied. His eyes suddenly slid past Simon, focusing on the shape of Jim Ellison in the doorway. His brain surged with conflicting emotions. Fear. Longing. Regret. Desire. Hurt. Denial. Anger. He blinked back a tear, and thought suddenly, stupidly, <Yesterday was so nice. Well, most of it. Foolish. Should have known should have known should have known...>
Simon turned his head to look for Jim. "Jim, what're you doing?" he bellowed, suddenly irritated.
But Jim remained just outside the door, leaning against the wall, still focused solely on Blair's heartbeat, eyes closed. He was following his instincts, and his instincts were telling him that he could, would, should spend the rest of his life here, standing guard over his guide, being cosseted, fed, and comforted by the soft, regular beating of his heart.
Simon Banks turned to Blair in exasperation. "What the hell is the matter with the man?? Fix him, will you, Sandburg?"
And this time Blair really did smile. <Fix him.> his mind echoed, and he giggled. As if he were a car mechanic. A repairman. Mr. Fix-It. The idea tickled him. Particularly as he realized, ruefully, reluctantly, that despite the soreness in his face and the great spreading purple bruise decorating his side, that that was exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted, still, to fix Jim, to heal him, help him. He couldn't help himself, the compulsion was overwhelming. He gulped and wondered briefly what that meant in terms of his self-esteem. Exactly how pathetic was he, anyway? But maybe, just maybe, Blair thought wryly, this was not the time for introspection. Hell and damnation, he was still an anthropologist, a guide, a shaman. Wasn't he?
Blair Sandburg looked at Jim sadly and sighed. "Jim," he said softly, his voice shaping his Sentinel's name into a coax and a caress.
Jim Ellison instantly turned his head in Blair's direction, and took a shy step forward into the room. His eyes raked over the small body in the bed, taking in the bruised, beautiful face and the bulge of bandages over Blair's side, under the sheet. His face contorted, and Blair could see the self-loathing in his eyes. An image flashed unbidden into Blair's mind — Jim Ellison with a gun. No. "Jim!" he called again, the word becoming a plea and a benediction.
Drawn by his guide's voice, Jim Ellison approached the bed, eyes growing deeper and more sorrowful. Lines of anguish cut across his forehead, and Blair studied his face curiously, wondering how Jim was going to process what he had done, wondering how they would ever get past this, or through this. How could Jim possibly be his Blessed Protector now? His eyes grew moist as he contemplated the depth of his loss.
Blair watched as Jim raised a hand and gently slid away the sheet covering his injury. Jim looked down at the dressing, and then instinct moved his hand and he removed the white covering, revealing the torn flesh underneath. "Jim!" Banks yelped, taking a step forward, but he was stilled by a quick sharp glance from Blair Sandburg. He stopped midstep, mouth still open.
Simon Banks boggled as he watched Ellison put one palm gently over Blair's stitches, and moved the other to rest softly against Blair's bruised cheek. Jim closed his eyes, relaxing, and then leaned over, bending his head and laying it lightly against Blair Sandburg's chest.
At the center of the universe.
Jim smiled peacefully. It was like sleeping in the sun.
Blair raised his hand to touch Jim Ellison's head, wishing to comfort — and then shivered suddenly as he felt the skin at his side, on his face, tingling sharply. He could feel his blood under Jim's palms coursing faster, soothing his bruises; he could feel the flesh on his side knitting together.
He was healing.
<Well, bully for nature,> Blair Sandburg thought abruptly, eyes opening wide. He stared up at the ceiling, his features wearing a look of the purest astonishment. Wham, bang! and the Pyramids were moving, sliding smoothly like flesh on silk over the warm Egyptian sands. Launched by the gentlest nudge of Jim Ellison's hands.
Blair blinked hard as his paradigms shifted. Hell, maybe the amateurs had a point. God. Wow.
"Sandburg!" growled Simon. But Blair wasn't listening — he was lost, like Jim, in the sound of his own rushing blood, in the feel of Jim Ellison's soft neck beneath his fingers.
Simon Banks turned away from the strange tableau in front of him. "I don't know what the hell is going on," he said aloud, to anyone who would listen. Which was no one. "I give up," he muttered, and went to stand outside, massaging his temples.
"What the — "
Jim Ellison blinked, and raised his head, propelled into movement by the gentle prodding of Blair's fingers. He turned to look into Blair's face, and met the expression in his eyes with an answering look of equal warmth and intensity. Both men smiled, and then Jim straightened and stepped back from the bed.
The doctor scooted beside him in a flash of white. She looked down at the removed dressing and her face colored darkly in anger. "Who the hell — " and then she stopped and stared hard at Blair's incision.
Which had healed a week's worth in, oh, roughly twenty minutes.
Frowning, she grabbed at Blair's chart. Read it. Reread it. "Well," she said softly, finally. "You heal fast." . Blair burst into laughter, his mind racing. He did heal fast, had always healed fast, surprisingly so, since he had met Jim Ellison and had started being pummeled by police work. God, he had missed it completely. Some scientist. Some anthropologist. What a hoot. "Jim," he gasped, laughing hard, wanting to share this excellent joke with him. Couldn't breathe. Too funny. "Missed it," he choked..
Jim was beside him in an instant, his cool hand stroking Blair's forehead. "Shhhh," he said.
"But Jim — "
"Yes," said Jim simply.
"Mr. Fix-It," Blair burbled in delight.
"Shhh...yes," said Jim, hands moving over Blair's face, speaking French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and a smattering of Esperanto.
"Oh yikes," Blair sighed. He stared up at Jim's face. "Home," he whispered softly.
"Can I take him home?" Jim asked the doctor instantly.
Her face churned as she began to say, "No. No. Definitely not. No way," and then she looked down again at Blair Sandburg's side, and up again at James Ellison's intent face and she suddenly desperately wanted three things: a cup of coffee, a cigarette, and these two men out of her hospital. "Yeah, whatever. Fine. Great. Take him." She whirled and walked out the door, looking for normal patients. "I don't need this," she muttered, as she strode off down the hall, and she missed Simon Banks' sympathetic reply. "You said it, sister."
Jim Ellison wheeled Blair Sandburg out of the hospital, leaving Simon Banks softly pleading with the desk nurse for an aspirin. Jim stepped away from the wheelchair to open the truck's passenger door, then swooped down and lifted Blair bodily into the truck. Blair laughed. "I can walk, man. I feel fine. It just twinges a little." But Jim was not in the mood for arguments.
The sun was setting slowly over Cascade as the truck pulled up in front of the loft. Jim turned to Blair and raised a warning finger which Blair correctly interpreted as: "Don't move." The older man slid out of the driver's seat and darted around to the other door. Again he extended his arms for his guide, and, cradling him tightly, he carried him up to the loft.
Blair noted with surprise that the door to the loft had been left wide open. Jim carried him in and kicked the door shut behind him, unconsciously mirroring Blair's action of the night before. And, like Blair the night before, he steered the two of them toward the couch. But as Blair saw the disturbed sofa cushions, the out-of-place, askew coffee table, his body tensed. James Ellison, a man who had trouble with words but spoke fluent touch, instantly swerved to bypass the living room, and carried Blair directly up the stairs to his bedroom.
<I'm a stranger in paradise,> thought Blair giddily. He felt he was weightless; he was soaring through the air.
Jim set Blair down gently among the pillows on his bed, but Blair refused to unlatch himself from his neck. Sighing, Jim settled in next to him, nestling his face in the long curls which framed his guide's face. They rested peaceably for a few moments, and then Jim let out a loud groan which sent chills running along Blair's arms.
"Blair." The word was drawn out and painful sounding, spoken directly into the younger man's ear.
Jim Ellison pressed his face firmly into the side of Blair's head. "I'm sorry," he whispered breathlessly.
"I love you."
Despairingly: "I don't know what — "
"But I do want you. Always want you."
"Yes." The word was soft, but firm and solid, and it hung in the air between them.
"I want," Jim said, propping himself up on one elbow, looking down at Blair's face, at the beautiful soft hair spread out on his pillows, "to show you a hell of a good time." He smiled, and ran one finger gently down Blair's nose.
"Jim," Blair said earnestly, staring up at him, dark blue eyes twinkling, "I really think you should do what feels natural." Oh yes.
Jim bent over and pressed his lips softly against Blair's. Blair's lips parted and they sucked each other's mouths hungrily. Blair could feel Jim's hands sliding down his chest, undoing the buttons of his shirt, caressing his chest, finding his nipples and rubbing them into sharp points. He found Jim's touch electrifying, and his brain began spinning.
Jim moved his mouth off Blair's lips, and trailed his tongue down his neck, stopping to play in the hollow of his collarbone. Blair ran his fingers over Jim's soft, short hair, moaning softly. Jim then moved his mouth further down, and began licking Blair's chest in long strokes, concentrating on the area directly over his heart. The animal tenderness of the gesture stunned Blair, who had to keep reminding himself to breathe.
Hands moved down his torso, pulled his shirt tails out of his pants, caressed his sides. Blair smiled as he felt his wound tingling again under Jim's circling touch; his cell regeneration speeded, obliterating the last visible traces of damage. Then Jim took Blair's nipple ring in his teeth and Blair arched up off the bed. This, Blair thought, gasping, was his idea of health care.
Suddenly energized, and gripped with passion, Blair launched himself upward and fastened his lips on Jim's neck. He sucked the tender flesh there hard, hands scrabbling to open the other man's shirt. He felt Jim's hands unbuttoning his pants, pushing them down over his ass, and squirmed lithely out of his clothes. Finally naked but for one sock, he pushed Jim backwards onto the foot of the bed, and, tugging his pants down over his hips, started licking Jim's cock reverently from base to tip. He swirled his tongue around the head, and then sucked it into his mouth.
Jim Ellison moaned. "So...wonderful, Blair.......feels — oh, incredible!.... Overwhelming....Unbelievable... " Under the loving ministrations of Blair Sandburg's soft, wet, expert mouth, Jim Ellison discovered the joy of polysyllabic words. Then the world went monochromatic and slowly dimmed into ever-darkening shades of gray as great crashing waves of pleasure spiraled out from his groin and rolled through his limbs, up his spine, and flooded his brain. His hips bucked upward helplessly, and he could feel himself surging for release. He came explosively, and the world went black, and there was nothing in the universe besides him and the omnipresent heartbeat of his guide.
Jim floated through a starless void, cocooned within the sound of Blair's heartbeat, which had become a physical pleasure to him, the rhythmic thump of sensation stimulating every nerve in his body, every inch of his skin. He was blissfully, finally whole — all the disparate strands of his life, all the fragments of his being, gathered up and held tightly in Blair Sandburg's square, strong, dependable hands. Drifting, he listened to Blair's heartbeat for long minutes in the dark....then heard it begin to pick up speed, making his world rush faster-faster-faster, sending his own heart pounding in sympathy, making his blood surge, his skin tingle, his cock harden —
— and when the world suddenly snapped back into his vision, he found himself bent on hands and knees over Blair, their mouths glued together, one hand curled around Blair's erection and pumping hard, his own tongue fucking Blair's mouth to the racing, thudding rhythm of his strokes, of the heartbeat, of the universe...
God was in his heaven, and all was right with the world. Every star was in its proper place above him (or beneath him) and Jim heard the throbbing, building heartbeat as an affirmation: Yes. Yes yes yes yesyesyes yes yeeeees! He felt Blair spasm beneath him, that beautiful body seizing, every muscle surging as Blair's come sprayed through his fingers. Blair's body surged off the bed and his warm flesh made contact with Jim's cock; Jim raked his tongue along the roof of Blair's mouth, shuddered and came again. Blair's heartbeat suddenly skipped alarmingly, and Jim moved his mouth away from Blair's and gently tilted his guide's face toward the air so he could breathe. He slid one hand over Blair's chest, and with one finger gently but firmly prodded the flesh over his heart — -and Blair arched up, sucking in great gasps of air. When Blair's breathing had calmed, Jim lay back against the headboard and pulled the limp younger man on top of him. He ran his hands gently over Blair's soft, creamy back, encouraging him to settle down into his own, large, welcoming frame.
It was a while before Blair could make sense of anything. In his first, real moment of awareness he found himself held in an embrace of such warmth and affection that he didn't know whether to come again or cry. He reached out and clutched Jim to him, holding on for dear life. He heard Jim laugh drowsily.
"Thank you, Blair," said Jim.
"Thank you, Jim," answered Blair, softly. He lay his head on Jim's shoulder and felt Jim's hand come up to smooth his hair. His mind drifted over the events of the last twenty four hours, his hand instinctively drifting down to investigate his side, where there was now no trace of a wound. He reached for Jim's hand, and pulled it over to where the wound should have been.
"Jim?" he murmured.
"You clean up all your messes, don't you?" A tease, but Jim tensed, seized with regret. "Shhhh...shhh...it's okay," soothed Blair. "I forgive you."
"Shhh, yes. Yes." Blair intertwined his fingers with Jim's, and together they gently moved their hands over where the wound should have been, Blair softly caressing the hand that caressed his side.
"If you have the power to do this..." Jim's mere presence had sped his previous recoveries, and his touch on Blair's body was white hot. The bond was presumably strengthened or diluted by distance, he thought, slotting the information into place in his brain. Amazing. "...well, Jim, what else can you do?"
"We." Blair shook his head. Jim sighed, irked at having to articulate. "We do. Hell," he said, squirming. "'If we have the power to do this,'" he said quickly, parroting Blair, "'then what else can we do.'" He cleared his throat awkwardly. "Um...the question."
Blair lay against Jim's shoulder like a rag doll, body limp, mind racing.
"So...uh...what else can we do?" Blair reached out to steady himself as Jim's chest rumbled with laughter.
"Well, Blair," Jim said, his deep voice infinitely amused, "I think we've already figured out some of the things we can do."
Blair's face split in a smile. "That's not what I meant. I meant mystical things."
"Actually, Chief, that was all pretty mystical for me. Though you might argue its just cause I haven't gotten any for a while."
Blair's grin widened, and he pinched Jim's arm. "Stop. You know what I mean. Other things, other amazing things." But it was all just too damn suggestive, and his face flushed bright red as his brain danced with images of all the other amazing things that he and Jim could do.
"Jim, I'm serious here!" said Blair, reaching up to caress Jim's face.
"Well, I'm not!" answered Jim, leaning into Blair's touch. "I'm not in the mood for experiments....okay, scratch that," he amended instantly, blushing, "I am in the mood for experiments, just not your experiments, just not those experiments — -god, I sound like you," he muttered. "The world must be ending..."
"Jim, I feel great!," Blair said, sitting up. "I feel powerful — "
"You do feel great," said Jim, honestly, hand moving to cup Blair's ass.
"No, I mean really, Jim. I mean, listen, if you touch me and my skin heals, we can see that, right? But what's happening when you touch me that we can't see?"
It took Jim Ellison a moment to work out what Blair was saying. "I don't know, Chief," he said. "But I like the question. And I might not mind those experiments."
"Maybe there's some reason that you touch me," mused Blair, chewing his lip thoughtfully.
"Oh, there's a reason..." murmured Jim, pulling Blair back down against his chest.
"Maybe you need to."
<Oh, I need to.>
"Maybe this is all building toward something...incredible." Jim's hands were moving again, circling over his back. "Something we haven't anticipated. Something...well...something entirely new." Blair began to find it difficult to think as Jim's hands ran with more force and speed over his body, as Jim began to softly kiss his neck. But something was happening to him. He had lost his appendix today, a useless organ, a vestige of one of nature's older, outmoded designs...and had gained, was gaining, exactly what? Nature, Blair thought hazily, reaching out blindly to touch Jim's face, may be down, but certainly wasn't out. Nature, he thought, grinning, had turned out to be one tough cookie after all.
Blair moaned as Jim sucked his fingers. He wondered if Jim's touch was changing him, activating? releasing? tapping? some previously unknown, unused source of energy and strength, if Jim's long, graceful fingers were gently picking the lock of some ancient genetic code. He fell backwards, losing control of his body as pleasure gripped him, felt himself caught by Jim's strong arms. His head fell back, hair flying, and felt Jim's hand come up to support his neck. He stared at the ceiling of Jim's bedroom, and felt as if he were suspended in mid-air.
What would he do with his power? He closed his eyes as Jim's rough tongue flicked over his nipple. God, if he had more strength and energy, what else would he ever want to do but this? Blair's last clear thought was that he and his conscience were going to have to sit down and have a little talk about social responsibility and moral duty and the obligations attached to miracles.
But not now. Not now. Not now.