Nature's Reversals

by Francesca

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!) Please go away if you're under 18!

Summary: Blair loses his innocence, and then Jim gives Blair his. (Paulette writes much better summaries than I do, see!) (I would have written, "Blair shoots, Blair scores, and then they go for bad Mexican food" — but then, hell, I've got no class!)

Warnings: Violence. Maybe language.

Notes: Okay, quite a few notes here. First of all, thanks to my marvelous betas, Paulette and Miriam. So many of the good things in this story are due to them — any remaining mistakes are entirely my own. Secondly: regarding the progression of this series. When I began the Nature series I had a bit of an arc in mind — I wanted to get Jim from the point of homosexual panic (that horrible punch in Nature vs. Culture that so many of you have blocked out) to the point where he would bottom for Blair. (The rest, as Sandy noted to me in an LoC — has been just so much smoke and mirrors — stuff for Blair to do so that he's not just standing there, tapping his watch, waiting for Jim to emotionally evolve.) Anyway, it's taken me nine stories and well over a meg to do it, but I finally got there. ;) Slow and steady wins the race, as they say. So in a way, the arc is over — I should really stop right here. The thing is, I kind of like this universe, so I've decided not to stop — I'm leaving the door open and I plan to continue to add stories (in fact, there'll be another later this week.) However, if there's anyone who doesn't read stories that are in parts, this is as good a place as any to consider it closed — you can read parts 1 - 9, and consider it sort of a miniseries. Thirdly and finally, relating to the violence warning above: anyone who has major issues with Blair Sandburg carrying or using a gun, please be warned! Though I will give you my assurance that this issue is not over at the end of this story (hmmm, <sniff, sniff> I smell another arc...)

As always, feedback is sought, welcome, held dear to my heart. Yes, even the complaints (and I am braced for 'em!)

Dr. Blair Sandburg, arms rigidly extended and elbows locked to accommodate a long column of awkwardly stacked books, decided to cut around the back of Hargrove Hall toward the library, furiously thinking about how to scam his way out of what would by now surely be financially crippling overdue fees. As he walked unsteadily through the trees, constantly adjusting his speed over the dirt path relative to his tenuous hold on the twelve thick hardbacks, his mind rapidly cobbled-up and rejected a series of truths, half-truths, obfuscations and downright lies.

He heard a soft moan and glanced sharply over to his right, knowing, from personal experience, that the area of thickly clustered trees and shelter-giving boulders was a lovers' lane of sorts, and he felt a momentary wave of nostalgia for college, for those first fabulous years at Rainier when his lingeringly adolescent physique had finally caught up with his more adult desires. Hoo-boy!, he thought, smiling, that had been fun, and as he turned his eyes back to the path he got a glimpse of a thin, white ankle being drawn up behind the generous cover of a large rock, and he raised a eyebrow wickedly and shared a dirty joke with himself and hurried on, wondering now if the simplest way out of his current dilemma was to pick the most likely librarian, male or female, and just flirt like mad. Surely Jim would understand if he flirted his way out of the fines — hell, he thought, readjusting the stack, he had to owe something along the lines of three hundred and fifty bucks

— and then he stopped, and twisted his head back, his face creasing into a frown, and he wondered if he had gotten it wrong, if he had gotten it really, horribly wrong, because as he replayed the image of the ankle moving against the boulder it suddenly seemed as if it had not been drawn up but dragged...had it been dragged?...and he stopped, torn between going on and going back, arguing with himself, telling himself that his recent police training had given him an overactive imagination, and besides how embarrassing if it were just two undergraduates happily fucking, and he took a step forward, toward the library and stopped again, shaking his head back and forth to the rhythmic chant of "Dr. Sandburg — Officer Sandburg — Dr. Sandburg" as he tried to decide what to do and which he was, and he wished not for the first time that he had Jim's powers and could just hear what was going on back there behind that rock — but he didn't, and he couldn't, and so, hell, he was going to have to go back and look.

He turned around and walked back up the path and then cut left along the rough ground toward the boulder, beginning to rehearse a surprised face and a speech that began, "Hey, sorry kids!..." and he took a deep breath and peered around the rock and saw the girl's red, anguished face and her ripped clothes and the sock stuffed in her mouth and the knife — and the rapist looked up at him and Officer Sandburg leaped back and dropped the library books, and then he bent to grab one in each hand and he hurled them forward — and the man let out an "oooof" as the unexpurgated MYSTERIUM CONJUNCTIONIS of C. G. Jung hit him in the head quickly followed by THE TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD, OR AFTER-DEATH EXPERIENCES ON THE BARDO PLANE — and clearly this sudden exposure to high culture didn't suit the man at all and he grabbed the frightened girl and whipped her around and pressed his knife against her throat — harder, harder, god, he'd draw blood in a moment! — and her eyes pleaded mutely with Blair and he raised his hands and backed away, then dived out of sight behind a large tree.

Blair wriggled his backpack off and pulled it around, hearing the man whispering savagely to the girl — "Get up! Get up! Come on!" — and he opened it and started rifling through it furiously, past books and seminar papers and notes and his filofax and highlighter markers and a missing X-ray from one of Jim's cases that he didn't even remember he had and half a sandwich and his cell phone and he was cursing "shit shit shit" as he fumbled for the gun, the gun he had hidden, half knowing he was hiding it, at the very bottom of the backpack, the gun he didn't want to see, wanted to pretend he didn't have, that he had buried beneath the detritus of his academic existence — and then finally, blissfully, his hand brushed the leather of the holster and his palm closed around the butt and he pulled it out, hearing the rapist and the girl begin to move off through the trees, away into the woods, away from him, and he took a deep breath and cleared his mind and prepared himself to call out for Jim, to push his words to Jim, to let Jim know that he was in a situation, here, and a little backup would be welcome, please —

— and then Blair gasped, and his free hand shot to the small of his back, and whammo, he had gotten one hell of a bulletin on how Jim was feeling —

— as the suspect swung the hard metal chair into the small of Jim's back and Jim went flying, cursing, into the two-way glass of the interrogation room, seeing the small body flying out the door and knowing that there was no one there to stop him because no one had thought he was any threat — he was no-one, he was a punk — and as Jim pushed himself backwards, finding his feet, one hand pressed to the small of his back, he regretted not remembering that even small animals can be dangerous when they're cornered and frightened, and he tore out the door after the kid —

— as Blair bit his words back, breathing hard, tried to build a wall around them, keep them in. He couldn't worry Jim now, Jim had his own problems, Jim was in pain — he had to get to Jim! — and Blair got to his feet taking only his gun and his cell phone, and he stepped out from behind the tree and started surreptitiously following the rapist and the girl, who was bound and stumbling, barefoot, over the rough ground, slowing them down, thankfully slowing them down.

Blair Sandburg knew the campus well; he was, at least, very much on his own turf, here. Rainier had been the one constant in his life since he was 16, it was his intellectual and physical playground, and he knew every inch of it. He skillfully threaded his way from tree to tree, staying out of sight, knowing that if they kept on in this direction they would come out at the South parking lot by the tennis courts, and Blair let them gain a little distance on him and then opened his cell phone, placing a more conventional call for backup to the station — available units please to go to the South parking lot —

— as Jim sped down the stairs to the fourth floor of the station, following the kid to the Records Office, tracking his desperately thumping heart easily, and when he opened the door he was greeted with cheerful commotion and the laughter of the clerks, and he saw the kid skittering across the floor under the desks and he sighed and drew his gun and said, "Winters, you're making a big mistake here, just come on out — " and he wished he had Blair with him because Blair was good with people and would have been able to calm the kid quickly before he did anything stupid, but Blair wasn't there —

— he had folded up the cell phone and slid it into his shirt pocket and now he grasped the gun with both hands, determined not to lose them, determined not to do anything unless it seemed like the girl was about to get hurt, and he sped up, hoping they would reach the parking lot soon, and that the backup would be there, and this would all be over —

— and the kid now began to do stupid things, darting up suddenly in front of a wall of large filing cabinets and yanking open each of the top drawers, and the clerks were milling about and laughing at the excitement, not finding the small, scraggly kid threatening, but Jim heard the small creak and knew that the weight of all the open drawers was making the metal structure unstable and impossibly top heavy and Jim heard the sound of a bolt giving and knew it was ripping itself out of the wall, was about to go over and he rushed forward and pushed a giggling clerk out of the way before she got hurt, and with a massive CRASH! the wall of high, metal boxes fell over and Jim leaped out of the way but the top corner hit his ankle —

— and Blair tripped, falling face down into the dirt, and he winced and smothered a cry and reached down for his ankle. He gritted his teeth, massaging his leg — god, what a fuck-up, what a fuck-up this all was —

— and Jim was on the floor, hoping his ankle wasn't broken, feeling the heavy pressure on the fragile bone. He pulled his leg out from under the cabinet, and the metal edge scraped his skin and he ignored it, and the laughter had stopped at the sudden crashing disaster, and the clerks were huddling nervously together, and Jim got to his feet and groaned, because the kid was out of control now — he had swiped a letter opener from a desk and held Mary, tiny, blonde, fragile Mary, by the wrist and he had the point of the letter opened pressed to her throat, and he was crying, "Just back off, man! Let me out of here — I'll cut her! really I will! I'll stick this thing into her fucking throat!" and Jim limped over slowly, raising his gun —

— and Blair forced himself to his feet and rubbed the dirt from his face and stumbled on, not wanting to lose them, and then he froze, because up ahead the rapist had stopped, he was turning right — dear god, he wasn't going to the parking lot, he was looking for a more secluded spot, he was going to continue, he was going to rape that girl! — and Blair picked up speed, heart pounding —

— and he pointed the gun at the kid's head, grimacing, because Jim didn't want to kill the stupid kid, but he was leaving him no reasonable target except his head, and now he was threatening to kill a hostage, and where the hell was Blair?? This was Blair's fucking territory — this wasn't a bad kid, he was exactly the sort of kid that Blair could have pushed into submission in about three seconds flat, dammit! Now I'm going to have to blow his fucking head off, thought Jim, and then he took a deep breath and lowered his gun and thought he'd at least try to do this Blair's way —

— and Blair inhaled violently as the rapist shoved the girl down at the base of a tree, and she struggled and screamed stifled screams, tears flowing down her face, and the rapist raised the knife and hovered over her, forcing her knees apart —

— and Jim tried to smile reassuringly, which made his face hurt, and he tried to imagine what Blair would say. His own inclination was to threaten, to draw the kid a vivid picture of exactly what was going to happen to him in prison — but he forced that away. Ask a question! he thought suddenly. Blair was always asking questions. "So," he began, ignoring the pain in his back, his ankle, his face, "what exactly is the problem, here?"

"They'll kill me," said the kid desperately, keeping the letter opener pressed hard into Mary's throat. "They find out I talked to you, man — they'll kill me — "

— and Blair watched in horror as the rapist positioned himself between the girl's legs, obviously getting off on her fear, on the fact that she was choking on the thick wool, terrified, hardly able to breathe, and Blair quickly made a wide circle around the two so that he could approach the rapist face to face, so that he could look into his eyes, and then he stepped forward out of the trees and allowed himself to be seen, and the rapist looked up at him, startled, furious, feral —

— "So okay," said Jim, as reasonably as he could manage. "So maybe they don't have to know. So maybe we can keep this quiet." And Jim could hear the terrified pounding of the kid's heart.

"You're lyin'! You're fuckin' lyin'!" yelled the kid and he stepped backward, pulling Mary with him, and she started to cry and Jim raised his gun again —

— and Blair raised his gun, and met the rapist's eyes, and he let loose with the guide voice, and said, full-blast, "Stop. Stop it. You don't want to do this — "

— and Jim smiled suddenly, and he said, "Yeah, I'm lying. I'm a liar. So I'll make up a lie for you. I'll make up a story. I could say that you did this. You don't actually have to do it. I could say you escaped the department. You could be a hero in your neighborhood! I could put out an APB for you. No one needs to know that you talked to us. How would that be?" and Jim lowered the gun and limped forward with as much calm confidence as he could muster —

— and the rapist just smiled and Blair despaired, suddenly realizing that he was one of the untouchable ones, that he couldn't be pushed, that he was too evil, too determined, too resolved to be pushed, and he swallowed hard as the rapist slid the knife caressingly against the girl's throat and murmured to Blair, "Back off, man — back away from this — you don't want to be responsible for this — "

— and the kid just stared at him as Jim took the letter opener from his hand, and Mary pulled herself free and rushed across the room, crying, into her girlfriend's arms, and the kid's face crumpled and he looked as if he would cry and Jim murmured, "It's gonna be okay. Cooperate and everything will be okay, I promise — "

— and Blair's mind went blank and he thought, "No, I don't want to be responsible for this — "

— and then the kid did start to cry —

— and Blair fired —

— and Jim took his upper arm and guided him out of the room towards the elevators, assuring him that the police would protect him and his reputation if he just cooperated —

— and a rose bloomed on the rapist's head, and the knife fell gently from his fingers, and he stared, with dead eyes, at Blair for what felt like forever —

— and Jim rode the elevator with the kid to the seventh floor, and as the door opened he saw Simon, and Simon stared at him and said, incredulously, "Sandburg called for backup!" —

— and then he flopped forward onto the terrified girl —

— and Jim said: "What? — "

— and then Blair was rushing forward, and he shoved the body off the girl roughly, and he dragged her away, and knelt beside her, and pulled the sock from her mouth, and she started screaming screaming screaming —

— and Jim handed the kid over to a uniform, and he and Simon stepped back into the elevator and together they plummeted down toward the garage, headed for Jim's truck, and Simon got on the radio as Jim pulled away and heard that there was no sign of trouble at the South parking lot at Rainier —

— and Blair clutched the girl tightly in his arms, rocked her back and forth, and murmured, "It's okay, it's okay, it's okay — "

— and Jim put the siren on and sped across town —

— and eventually the girl quieted, reassured by the soft rhythms of the guide voice, and Blair whispered, "You're fine, you're whole, he can't hurt you any more — "

— and the truck pulled up, screeching, next to the three marked police cars, and Jim and Simon got out and Jim winced as his ankle hit the ground and Simon noticed but thought there was no point in saying anything —

— "you're strong, you can let go of the fear, you can let go of the pain, you don't need it any more — "

— "He's in the woods," said Jim, heading in, and Simon followed and the uniformed officers followed —

— and the girl looked up at Blair Sandburg with wide eyes and said: "I'm fine, I'm whole, he can't hurt me any more — "

— and Jim picked his way unerringly through the trees, grunting as his ankle was jarred on the rough terrain —

— "I'm strong, I can let go of the fear, I can let go of the pain, I don't need it any more — "

And when Jim emerged through the trees he stopped suddenly, and took in the picture before him. His guide rocking the pale, blood-spattered girl. The corpse sprawled on its side in the dirt. The hole torn through its head. Sandburg's abandoned gun. The smell of gunpowder —

— and Blair Sandburg raised his head to look at James Ellison and his eyes reflected —

— hell.

And then there was the normal professional confusion as the crime scene was marked, and the ambulance came, and the social workers took charge of the girl and the guys from the morgue took charge of the corpse, and evidence was gathered and Blair gave statement after statement and signed off on form after form. Jim slid a reassuring hand down his partner's back in passing before disappearing silently into the woods.

Blair was leaning exhaustedly against the truck in the South parking lot when Jim emerged through the trees with Blair's backpack slung over one broad shoulder, and Blair smiled weakly at him as he loped over. Jim handed him his backpack and Blair didn't ask about the library books, knowing that Jim had taken care of it, somehow, and Blair tossed the backpack through the open window of the truck.

"How's your ankle?" Blair asked.

"Forget my ankle," replied Jim softly. "Simon!" he called across the lot. "Are we done here?"

Simon Banks strolled over to them, removed his cigar from his mouth. "I think so. Go on home, the both of you. Take tomorrow off — "

"We'll take tomorrow off," said Jim, nodding for Blair to get into the truck. He pulled the driver's side door open and then stopped. "Listen, that kid at the station," he said. "I made a deal with him — "

"The kid'll keep, Jim," said Simon. "I heard about his stunt in Records — we're keeping him in custody. He can cool his heels for twenty-four hours."

"Okay, okay," said Jim, getting into the truck. "Fine."

Simon walked around the truck to the passenger side window. "Sandburg, are you okay?" he asked softly.

"Yeah," replied Blair.

"You'll go to counseling, first thing, day after tommorrow, all right?" and Blair nodded. "It's procedure," Simon added.

"Okay," said Blair quietly.

"Nice work, today, Sandburg," said Simon through the window, as Jim started the engine, and Blair nodded again and turned away.

"See you, Simon," said Jim, and he pulled the truck out of the lot.

"Nice work, Sandburg," Blair repeated softly to himself, staring out the window. Jim darted anxious glances at him, wanting to ask if he were all right, nervous about asking such a stupid question.

"Nice work," mused Blair, turning the phrase around on his tongue. "'Nice work if you can get it.' 'How was work? It was nice.' 'It was nice work, Sandburg.' 'I'm in a nice line of work.' Nice, Jim?" asked Blair suddenly, turning to look at him. "Was that nice work?"

"The girl wasn't raped or killed," replied Jim stolidly, meeting his eyes. "That's nice work." Blair nodded and returned to staring out the window.

"I couldn't push him, you know," said Blair, after a minute.

"I figured."

"I did try."

"I guessed you had," said Jim, staring at the road ahead.

"The thing is, you know, that I don't feel sorry. Should I feel sorry?" asked Blair, turning around.

"You should feel how you feel," replied Jim.

"I don't feel sorry," said Blair. "I killed a guy, I should feel sorry. But I just don't."

"Then don't."

"But I feel sorry about not feeling sorry," Blair explained.

"That sounds like you," said Jim.

"I didn't think it would be like this," admitted Blair. "I thought it would rip me apart — I thought I wouldn't be able to live with myself. But here I am — living away, feeling fine." He chewed on his lower lip thoughtfully. "He was a really bad man. And maybe I've seen too many dead bodies to be sorry. But at the same time I'm really sad about it. I think I'm — grieving for my sorrow. The sudden, surprising lack of it. It feels like I've lost something. Does that make any sense? Does that happen?"

"That happens," Jim confirmed softly. "That's what happens."

"So what the hell happened to you, today?" asked Blair, looking up at him.

"Stupidity happened to me," replied Jim.

"What do you mean?"

"Just — stupid," said Jim, pulling up onto Prospect. "This kid hit me with a chair, and I fell under a filing cabinet — whatever," he said, and parked.

"Oh," replied Blair, and they got out of the truck.

Once upstairs in the loft Jim headed for the bathroom to bandage his strained ankle, to clean and disinfect the scrape on his leg, and then he heard Blair playing the answering machine —

— and he heard the message that began, "Blair, sweetie," but the tone was not all that sweet, and he heard Blair mutter, "no, no, no, not now, please not today!" and Jim quickly plastered the bandage over his leg and came out and saw his partner's exhausted, pale face as he listened to his mother describing the newspaper clipping she held in her hand, the picture of Special Officer Blair Sandburg in his uniform, and how she was on her way, how she was coming over, how they were going to have a long talk and straighten all this out — and Jim stopped the machine and grabbed Blair's arm and said, simply, urgently: "Pack."

"Pack? replied Blair, incredulously.

"Pack," repeated Jim. "Pack now. We are outta here. We are going. We are splitsville — "

"Jim, we just can't run away from my mother — "

"Blair, we can absolutely just run away from your mother. In fact, we're going to run away from your mother. Move it!"

"But Jim!"

"Ten minutes and we're gone — " said Jim, rushing up the stairs to the loft.

"But where are we going?" said Blair, following him up.

"I don't know. Camping. We'll go camping," said Jim, throwing clothes into a dufflebag. "I've never been lucky with mother-in-laws, not ever," he muttered savagely to himself.

Blair looked staggered, and Jim turned to him and fixed him with a look. "Do you want to be here?" Jim asked challengingly, and Blair blinked and said, "All right, shit, let's hurry, she'll be here in a minute — " and he tore into action and began pulling things out of his drawers. Jim rushed down the stairs and threw his bag onto the sofa, and then went to the closet and pulled out the tent and the sleeping bags, piling the stuff up quickly, efficiently, and then Blair was beside him, helping — and then they stopped suddenly, and looked at the pile of gear.

"Shit, is that it? Is that everything we need?" asked Blair, and Jim raised his hands and said "Shh — shh, let me think," and he thought for a second and then said, "Yeah, okay, that's everything. Get our jackets — " and then Jim opened the door and froze.

"Shit, she's here, she's pulling up, she's parking!" he whispered.

"The stairway — take the stairway — she'll take the elevator!" hissed Blair, and they scrambled and whisked the stuff into the stairwell, and Jim did a quick run around the loft and checked that everything was off, and then he locked the door and together he and Blair carried their gear down the stairs, and at the bottom Jim held up his hand for silence, and he listened to Naomi breathing and waited until he heard the elevator door creak open and then creak shut carrying Naomi upwards to where they weren't, and then they burst through the door and quickly loaded up the truck and jumped in and took off, and Blair stared out the back window and watched their building recede, and then they turned the corner and were gone, and they looked at each other and laughed.

"I can't believe we're doing this," said Blair. "This is seriously childish."

"When the going gets tough, man..." grinned Jim, heading out of the city, heading for the open road.

"...the tough go camping," finished Blair, smiling back. "And I thought you were the brave one. Army Ranger and all that."

"You know," said Jim, "there's brave and there's stupid."

"I hear that," said Blair.

"There's a time to stay and fight, and there's a time to run like hell," said Jim, prosaically.

"We're going to have to tell her," said Blair, reasonably. "We're going to have to explain — "

"Who's we, kimosabi?"

"We is me and my Blessed Protector, who is going to stop Naomi from killing me — "

"And who's going to stop her from killing me?" asked Jim. "I'm the pig, remember? I'm the bad influence, here — "

"Yeah, yeah, you're right," said Blair, blowing out a long breath. "Maybe we could send her a letter?"

"Gotta be one hell of a letter," replied Jim wryly.

"I've just got to sell it right," said Blair, brow creasing. "Play up the subversive angle. Get her on our side. Emphasize the unconventionality of it. Star-crossed lovers, that sort of thing — "

"All right, hang on a minute, Juliet, where are we going?" asked Jim as they approached the highway. "Mountains, river, ocean, what?"

"Mountains," replied Blair. "Let's go to that place we went time before last."

"Okay," said Jim, taking the ramp going east.

"And stop at a supermarket somewhere, Romeo — your guide is fuckin' starving."

And evening found them a hundred miles away, sitting on their sleeping bags before a blazing fire, having set up their camp, having cooked and eaten dinner. Blair cupped a mug of hot tea between his hands and moved to sit between Jim's legs, and he felt Jim wrap his arms around him and he leaned back into Jim's chest, felt Jim kissing the side of his face, and he relaxed into Jim's kisses and watched the bright flames dance.

"I worry about you," Jim murmured in his ear. "I get so frightened for you, Blair."

Blair put down his tea, ran his warm palms over Jim's arms, instinctively soothing. "It's okay," he assured.

"I've pulled you into my violent world — "

"Your world," said Blair, "is where I belong." He smiled suddenly to himself in the darkness. "Besides," he added, "you're in my world, too."

"I'm under your influence," corrected Jim. "That's not exactly the same thing. I've separated you from your world. From the rest of the world. From the tribe, I guess," he murmured. "Pulled you out on the periphery with me. Because I need you."

"I'm all right," replied Blair softly, turning around to face him. "I'll be all right. Just love me," he whispered. "Do you love me?"

"I love you," breathed Jim, and he leaned forward and kissed him, and Blair moaned and pulled Jim down beside him on the sleeping bag, and they kissed each other gently and slowly wormed out of their clothes and touched each other tenderly, mouths pressed together, fingers skating over smooth flesh, talking by touch alone, and then Jim pulled back and he lay on his side and looked at Blair and he said, quietly, "I love to be outside with you."

"Me too," Blair whispered back.

"I like the feel of the open air," murmured Jim. "On my skin. And the smell of it. And you," he said, reaching to touch Blair's chest with a finger. "The feel of you — the smell of you — are you mine?" he asked suddenly.

"Yes," replied Blair softly. "I'm yours, you know I'm yours..."

And Jim frowned, and sat up, and Blair watched him, and wondered what he was thinking, and then Jim tugged on Blair's arm, and Blair sat up and let Jim reposition them closer to the fire, let Jim push him down again on his back. Jim pulled Blair's hair tie from his head and ran his fingers through Blair's hair, spreading it out around his head, over the sleeping bag, and Blair's heart started to pound because he knew Jim was doing something, was moved to do something, and there was an odd kind of intensity in Jim's expression as he reached for a bottle of water and deliberately spilled some at the edge of the fire, over the ashes, and then Jim reached out and touched the damp black ashes, and Blair watched the orange firelight flicker across Jim's naked body as Jim bent down over him and drew a dark line across his cheek with his finger, first under Blair's right eye, and then under his left, and Blair was mesmerized and he suddenly understood what was happening.

Jim reached back to the ashes and started to draw in earnest, brow furrowed in concentration, first on Blair's neck, above his leather necklace, then on his chest, and Blair watched Jim's finger move and watched rough gray symbols appear across his body, down his abdomen, across his stomach, and then Jim focused his attention on Blair's arms, and drew an incredibly elaborate swirling design that went down his left arm from his shoulder to the leather bracelet he wore around his wrist, and then Jim again touched the ash and the symbols he drew on Blair's right arm looked like writing, but Blair didn't recognize the language, and he watched as Jim scrawled character after character quickly down his flesh, as if he were taking notes to himself and he wanted to get everything down before he forgot.

And then Jim wrote upon Blair's hips, and his thighs, and the tops of his feet, and then he sketched broad, dark stripes around Blair's ankles, wrists, and neck with rough swipes of his finger, shadows of the leather jewelry he had already put there. And then Jim stopped, and looked down at his handiwork with confused eyes, and Blair sat up and looked down at his own body, and then up at his lover, and Jim dipped his finger in the ash one final time and traced a pattern on Blair's forehead, and then he drew his hand away and let it fall to his side.

"I don't know," said Jim, suddenly, softly, in response to the unasked question. "I don't know — "

And then Blair reached out and dipped his own finger in the muddy ash, and, not knowing what he was doing or why, he drew one simple symbol across Jim's chest, over his heart: he drew a horizontal oval, and then he bisected it, lengthwise, and then he added another small radius from the center to what would be ten o'clock on a clockface, and then Blair slowly pulled his hand back and looked at it and Jim looked down at himself and frowned, and then looked up at the identical mark he had drawn on Blair's forehead.

And then Jim reached out and took Blair's face in his hands and hungrily pulled him forward to kiss him, to taste him, suddenly needing his taste, and then he pulled back slightly and murmured against Blair's soft mouth: "Cheqaqta munawankichu?" <Are you mine?>

And Blair was surprised to have understood and even more surprised to hear himself answering, but his lips seemed to know the right response and he breathed his answer into Jim's mouth. "Ari. Kaypuki, reqsisqayki kaypuyki," <Yes. I'm yours, you know I'm yours,> and then Jim kissed his lips, softly, once, and Blair shivered.

"Pusakulay," <My guide,> said Jim, still holding Blair's face.

"Ari, kapuyki," <Yes, yours,> replied Blair, meeting Jim's intent blue eyes with his own.

"N~oq'a qoyuymi kichaqonki. Qam, pasukulay," <I submit muself to you. You, my guide,> said Jim. "Cheqaqta munawankichu?" <Are you mine?>

"N~oq'a kapuyki," <I am yours,> replied Blair tightly, covering Jim's hands with his own.

"N~oq'a kichaykipay. Cheqaqta munawankichu?" <I entrust myself to you. Are you mine?>

"Wi~naypaqki," <Ever yours,> replied Blair in a fierce whisper.

"Atiwankimanchu guiayta? Cheqaqta munawankichu?" <Will you take me? Are you mine?>

"Win~aypaqki," <Yours, always,> said Blair, and he reached out and took Jim's head between his hands and kissed him, and Jim opened his mouth and let go of Blair's head and submitted, invited entry, and Blair slid his tongue between Jim's lips and kissed him deeply, tongue-fucking his mouth, and Jim moaned softly and lay back pulling Blair on top of him. Blair slid his lips over Jim's face, down his throat, to his chest, and he sucked Jim's nipples furiously, one at a time, exploring them, stimulating them with his tongue, until they were hard and reddened, and then Blair moved slowly down, trailing his tongue down the hard muscles of Jim's chest and abdomen, tracing their contours, learning their planes and angles. And then he moved lower still, and took Jim's cock into his mouth and sucked on it, laving it, releasing it only when it was wet and glistening with his saliva and then he pulled Jim's thighs open, and they opened easily for him now, opened wide for him, and Blair's breath caught in his throat at the view of Jim spread out for him, so exposed, lying patiently, passively, for Blair to pleasure him and Blair bent his head and licked at Jim's opening, then kissed it as he had kissed Jim's mouth.

Jim murmured soft incoherencies and affirmations as Blair gently opened him with his tongue, kissing deeply, invading and withdrawing, and Jim had come to love the intimacy of this, had learned to crave it, and he could feel Blair's tongue darting in and out of his body, and he could feel the wet trace of Blair's tongue in his mouth, on his nipples, on his cock, as the cool night air blew across him, and he loved to be outside, loved the erratic waves of heat from the fire and the erratic waves of cool breeze across his skin, and he loved his guide. He loved his guide.

Jim closed his eyes and let Blair stretch him, felt slick fingers testing, felt Blair's mouth return to him again, and again, until he was shaking with desire and anticipation, and his eyes flew open and he stared up into the night sky, and watched the stars swirl over his head. And then Blair raised his head for what Jim knew was the last time and Jim looked at him and saw the firelight glinting across his guide's body, casting flickering, shifting shadows over the designs he had inscribed on Blair's chest, over the flexing, twisting muscles in the tense arms, across the pale hips, and Blair looked at him, wanting a sign, a final sign, and Jim murmured, "ari — n~oqa munaniki — ari — allichu," <yes — i want you — yes — please,> and Blair inhaled a long ragged breath and positioned himself between Jim's legs, and Jim urged him on, extending his hands to him, "pasukulay — pachayki — munawanki — kaniyoq — " <my guide — your place — mine — with me — > and Blair pressed himself forward, and Jim gasped, and screwed his eyes shut, hissing "hamuchuki, allichu hamkipuway, hamuchuki kunan," <come, please come to me, come now.>

He could feel Blair's cock sliding into him, slowly, gently, and he hadn't expected — dear god, he could feel Blair throbbing within him, could feel Blair's blood rushing within him, could feel the beat of Blair's heart within him — that desperately reassuring sound, the sound that organized his universe — and it had never been this close before — and then Blair grabbed his extended hands tightly and clutched them, threading their fingers together as he sank all the way into Jim's body, and Jim could feel the blood coursing through his guide's rough, square fingers, through the tight grip of his hands, the same reassuring lubdub that was buried within his body, making his ass spasm with pleasure, and it was a flood of rhythm, a tidal wave, a tsunami, and with a jolt Jim's breath caught in his chest as his heart jerked! skipped! aligned its beat with Blair's and then pounded along in happy synchronicity — finally, ultimately, corrected — and Jim went limp for a moment, overwhelmed by this physical demonstration of what a guide was, of how much power he had, and he laughed and opened his eyes, realizing that Blair Sandburg had always had the power to make people adjust to him, accommodate him, march to the beat of his drum — dear god, how literally! — and he had watched as people forgot their first, rather alarmed, reactions to the long-haired, neo-hippie, witchdoctor punk and came to accept him as a part of the natural landscape, the way one accepts an oft-seen river or mountain as just, well, solidly there — and that, Jim reflected ruefully, was because that's what Blair Sandburg was. A landmark, pure and simple.

And on James Ellison's map, the center of the universe.

You are here.

Blair squeezed Jim's fingers tightly, and Jim looked at him, could see the orange of the firelight shining through his hair, and he squeezed back and then Blair groaned and started to move within him, and Jim had never imagined that anything could be this good — his own engorged erection throbbed to the rhythm of his heart, which was attuned to the beating of his guide's heart, which he could feel running through his fingers, sliding lusciously into his ass — and he knew that Blair was being gentle with him, and gentle was the one thing he didn't think he could take right now. He gripped Blair's hands almost brutally and met Blair's next thrust encouragingly and he heard Blair softly gasp "Your back?" and he managed to choke back, "Forget it — munaki, khuyayki, kunan pachi — " < — want you, need you, now — > and he meant it, and did everything he could to indicate to Blair that it was all right for him to let loose, to let loose on him and in him, and then Jim shuddered as Blair made a soft, primal sound that seemed to have been wrenched from his throat and Jim knew his guide would let go now.

This was confirmed by Blair's next thrust, which was harder, deeper, and to Jim, blissfully satisfying — and so it must have been for Blair, who quickly set a stronger, harsher, rhythm. Jim accommodated him, helped him build the rhythm by meeting his thrusts, knowing deep in his bones that what was good for Blair would be good for him, that Blair was incapable of steering him wrong, that to adjust himself to Blair's pattern was the natural order of things — and this theory was quickly validated by Blair's first, pounding contact with his prostate — which, from Jim's inexperienced position, felt like a miracle, a bolt from the blue — and he had been utterly, completely unprepared for this much pleasure — the feel of Blair's fingers and Blair's tongue had been a pale shadow, a mere echo, of the pleasure he was taking from Blair's cock, from having the strength of it within him, from watching his guide's stocky, muscular body straining above him, straining into him, and Blair's unerring instincts led him to ream Jim's prostate againagainagain and Jim sobbed and came, and coming felt like drowning, like dying, and he convulsed violently, trying to keep his head above the surface, to get to the air, and he heard Blair howling above him, felt Blair shooting hot come deep within him, and then Blair collapsed on top of him, and Jim raised his hand and slid it across his partner's broad, sweaty back.

They lay together, heaving, for long minutes, and the only thing real for Jim was the pressure of Blair Sandburg's weight across his body, and the only thing real for Blair was the press of Jim's flesh against his face, his nostrils, his eyes.

"All right, all right, all right," said Jim, suddenly, into the air.

Blair lifted his head to look at him. "All right what?" he asked incredulously.

"I'll talk to your mother," said Jim grudgingly, and Blair thought that was the single goddamn funniest thing he had ever heard.

"All right," said Blair, staring at the menu, "I guess I'll have the chicken arroy — " and Jim stretched a long arm across the table and tapped Blair's hand. Blair looked up, and Jim shook his head no, and Blair smiled at the waiter and said , "I'll just have a salad," and Jim looked up and said, "Nachos. And two Dos Equis." And Jim took the greasy plastic menu from Blair's hand and gave it back to the waiter, who moved away. "That bad, huh?" whispered Blair.

"Oh yeah," said Jim.

"Bleeeh," said Blair, looking around the restaurant. "We could just push on, try to find somewhere else."

"Not much else around here. Just eat something to keep you going — we'll eat for real when we get home."

"Home," sighed Blair. "Home sounds good. Hey, with everything that happened yesterday, I didn't get a chance to tell you. I got into a bit of a fight with my Chair yesterday morning."

"You're getting downright belligerent," noted Jim proudly.

"Yeah, well, he wanted me to move out of my office," said Blair. "Can you believe it? He said since I was only part time now, I should move into the adjunct room."

"So what did you tell him?" asked Jim.

"I told him to bite me," said Blair, and Jim laughed. "I did, I told him to bite me hard." The beers arrived, and they nodded their thanks.

"You pushed him," said Jim, grinning. "Tell the truth."

"Yeah, I pushed him," said Blair, trying to control his smile. "I pushed him halfway to South America. I'm not leaving my office."

"You're a monster," said Jim.

"He's a monster," replied Blair. "I'm a force for good in the universe."

"And it's a nice office," teased Jim.

"It's a very nice office," conceded Blair. "And they ain't gettin' it back. Ever."

"Getting territorial, Chief?" asked Jim, swigging his beer.

"Very funny," said Blair. "So maybe I am. So what? I have a territory now — I have an office and a home and a lover, and I intend to keep them all by whatever means necessary."

"You should save that speech for Naomi," said Jim.

"Ah — no, no, no, no — you said you'd talk to Naomi. You did say that, Jim."

"I did say that," admitted Jim. "In the heat of the moment — "

"No way — you are not allowed to have postcoital amnesia, so just forget it — oh, you know what I mean," said Blair.

"Generally, yes," said Jim. "Look, howzabout the united front approach? Both of us, together."

"Can I get a lawyer to help me rehearse my testimony?" asked Blair. The food arrived, and Blair looked down at his salad glumly. "This is seriously unexciting," he said. "Iceberg lettuce, for god's sake."

"Trust me, you didn't want the chicken," said Jim.

"Oh, I trust you," said Blair, "believe me."

"Here, pick on these," said Jim, pushing his plate of nachos forward.

"Thanks," said Blair, extracting a salsa and sour cream-laden chip delicately and stuffing it into his mouth.

"So, united front?" asked Jim.

"Okay," agreed Blair, swallowing. "United front."

"My feeling is that we should stick as closely to the truth as possible," said Jim, and Blair laughed.

"Why would we do that?" asked Blair. "Takes all the fun out of it."

"What is it with you and the truth, anyway?" asked Jim.

"Truth is sticky, man. Fiction is reliable," replied Blair.

"Jesus, if they don't turn down this music, I'm going to have some sort of an attack. Could you turn it down, please!" he called to the waiter irritably. "The music! Down!" he added, miming a twisting motion with his hand.

"They're trying to convince us that we're having a true Mexican experience," said Blair. "Iceberg lettuce and rotten chicken, aside."

"Oh, thank god," sighed Jim as the volume was lowered. "What were you just saying about truth?"

"I was saying that I don't really know what truth is," said Blair, picking a tomato out of his salad. "There isn't truth, really — there are only explanations," he said, popping the tomato into his mouth.

Jim frowned. "I think I've been living with you for too long."

Blair looked up, startled. "Why?"

"Well, because that makes sense. I'm actually finding that kind of profound, really."

"You're kidding," said Blair.

"No, really. I mean, that's detective work in a nutshell — no truth, just explanations. Which aren't at all the same thing."

"Yeah, but explanations have real power — " said Blair.

"No, no, I get it, I'm not stupid," said Jim. "It's like court. We give one explanation, the defense attorneys give another. And there are real consequences for the defendant either way."

"Yeah, that's exactly it," said Blair. "So what's the truth? The most convincing explanation, that's all. I mean, for all intents and purposes, anyway."

"And you're a master at inventing 'convincing explanations', is that it?"


"Which is to say, lies."

"Or truths," said Blair. "Slice that apple however you want."

"So, what do you want to tell Naomi?" asked Jim.

"I don't know yet," said Blair. "Something convincing. I mean, look, what would you say the truth is, here?"

Jim ate his nachos and considered this. "Well, that you're my guide. And my lover."

"Same difference," interjected Blair, smiling.

"Yeah. And I need you with me. And so you've become a cop because that will keep you with me. Because...well, because we're Sentinel and Guide and that's what we do. How's that?"

"Convincing. To me, anyway. But to Naomi?" Blair licked sour cream from his lips, shook his head. "Not her language. I need to tell her....mmmm, that I'm a man of moral purpose. Who feels compelled to act as a positive force in my community. Which is what she always wanted me to be. And while I enjoy teaching, and the impact I can have there, I need to take a more active role. I need to — to get my hands dirty," he said and paled suddenly, the horrors of the day before suddenly flooding him. Jim reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing reassuringly. "I need to confront my fear of moral gray areas — of hard choices," Blair stammered, forcing himself to keep talking, trying to drown the girl's echoing screams beneath a torrent of words. "I can't keep my hands clean, anymore — and dropping out is no longer a viable option. So I'm dropping in — I'm going to bring my subcultural experience to bear on the mainstream. Naomi raised me on the margins, and now I'm going to step up to the plate and use that experience to shift the center. Shaw says — " he added breathlessly, " — Shaw says that society cannot be saved until either the Professors of Greek take to making gunpowder, or the makers of gunpowder become Professors of Greek."

"You're going to quote Shaw to Naomi?" asked Jim, smiling.

"Why not?" asked Blair, calming his breathing, pulling his hand away. "Shaw would have loved the idea of an armed anthropologist. Poor bastard sat around waiting for the evolution of the superman — too bad, he missed you by a mere ten years or so. It never hurts to cite a reputable source in an argument — and Shaw's a good one, if you're doing the political-intellectual explanation."

"If you say so."

"Then again I could do the emotional explanation — a life on the margins having led to a deep-seated need for security and structure, if only to resist against — feeling lost, needing a concrete role, a sense of belonging — having the desire to test the resiliency of my self-identity and my ideals in a hostile environment like the police force, blah, blah — I could probably even bring Freud into it, though in my experience he's best left out of it."

"Oh please leave Freud out of it," said Jim.

"Or then there's the romantic explanation: I've fallen in love with you, want to build a lifelong relationship with you, but that's impossible without mutual respect, and because I was raised in an anti-authoritarian environment my position of abstract moral superiority vis a vis the grittier realities of police work was a potential issue between us, a block to deeper love and understanding, and so we've both agreed to make the sacrifice of entering each other's worlds, taking on each other's burdens, so that we can develop a profound experiential acceptance of each other's lives, forge a connection so that we can share — "

"Where do you get this stuff?" Jim interrupted, holding his head.

"I've had more therapists than you've had hot dinners," replied Blair. "Only child of a single mother — a hippie, yet? I've done the social services tango in every town I've ever lived in. We'd be there two days, then — knock, knock, 'Hello, Miss Sandburg, I'm from child welfare, I'm here to talk to you about Blair' — blah blah blah blah blah. I had the questions memorized, but they'd never let you cut to the chase: you just wanted to say, 'yeah, lady, everything's fine — no, I'm not abused, no, I have no issues about my absent father, no, I don't have any major complexes — can I go back to my book now?' But that wasn't their language, and so you had to explain it to them in their terms — 'yeah, I'm happy, I like sports, I have lots of friends, no, mommy doesn't touch me in bad places' — uuuuccch, god, I'm so glad I don't have to do that anymore," said Blair, rubbing his face with his hands. "You wanna talk pressure to think on your feet — one wrong answer, man, and you're in foster care with pig farmers in the Midwest who fit some bureaucrat's definition of a normal, happy heterosexual nuclear family. Because they scored, like, 98.9 on some test that the government developed. And actually, the husband's a drunk and beats his wife who's zonked on Percodan, and they're fucking the pigs, but the test never asked them that. However, if you tell them that you're living in a commune and eating only fresh vegetables and reading lots of books — well, then alarms go off in a basement room in Washington. It's a fucked-up country, man."

"Wow," said Jim.

"Wow?" replied Blair, smiling.

"Yeah. Wow. Shit. Wow," said Jim. He leaned over the table and took Blair's hands in his. "Listen, you can say what you like. You go ahead and give her the intellectual explanation or the emotional explanation or the romantic explanation or whatever other fucking explanation you want. But I'm going to knock on her door and tell her this. 'Miss Sandburg, I love — I'm in love — with your amazing, wonderful son. And I need him in my life. And somehow, miraculously, your amazing, wonderful son loves me. Enough to be in my fucked up life. Because he's — well, amazing and wonderful. Which has got to be your doing, somehow. So thank you, Miss Sandburg, for producing such an amazing, wonderful son.' And that's it: that's my story, Blair, and I'm sticking to it."

"Well, that might work," said Blair, coloring with pleasure.

"Is it convincing enough for you?" asked Jim intently.

"Oh yeah," whispered Blair. And then he smiled. "Jim, you do realize that we're holding hands in a public place?"

"Blair, are we ever, ever going to eat here again?" asked Jim.

"Hell, no," said Blair, grinning.

"So shut up," said Jim, and he pulled at Blair's hands and leaned over the table and kissed him.  

The End