Nature's Sacrifices

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!) If you're not over 18, or you don't like this sort of thing, please go away!

Summary: In which there is a lot of banter and a poker game and some serious office gossip, and in which Blair makes some big decisions and pulls a rabbit from a hat and Jim finally gets something that he really wants. And nothing will ever be the same for either of them.

Warnings: None.

Notes: Part of the Nature Series, available at South of Cascade, and thus part of a particular universe in which, yes, Jim has healing powers, and the guys are sort of telepathic, and Blair gets visions when really really bad shit is about to go down, and Megan Connor can pitch out firemen, and other improbabilities, and if none of this sounds familiar you might want to check out the earlier stories first, because I'm tired of trying to work all this exposition gracefully into the narrative.

Thanks to everyone who's been sending me feedback — please keep it up, or just write me already — I hate sending stories into a void.

When he opened his eyes the first thing he saw was Blair Sandburg's face, which was, all things considered, ample compensation for being woken up early in the morning.

"Sorry," whispered Blair, who was bent over him, head propped on one elbow, long locks of hair escaping his ponytail after a night's sleep. "I didn't mean to wake you. I just wanted..."

"You just wanted?" asked Jim Ellison huskily, reaching out for his lover.

"No," said Blair, and Jim's hand stopped in midair, and he frowned. "I didn't mean — " added Blair quickly, grabbing Jim's hand and pulling it to his lips. "Not that I don't — It's just that right now — I just wanted — "

Jim looked at Blair with raised eyebrows, questioning, waiting.

"I just wanted to look at you," said Blair softly. "When things were, you know, calm for a minute."

"When I'm unconscious," said Jim blankly.

"Well, that helps, yeah," said Blair, smiling with what Jim privately thought was the most wonderful smile in the world.

"Uh huh. Okay. Why don't I pretend to be asleep, and then you can look at me," said Jim, closing his eyes.

"You're ruining my mood here," said Blair, but his voice wasn't angry. "I was having this nice, early morning reverie with myself — "

" — and me, unconscious, don't forget me — " murmured Jim.

" — yeah, and you, unconscious, and then you had to wake up and ruin it."

"I'm sorry," said Jim honestly, opening his eyes and squeezing the hand that still held his.

"S'okay," said Blair, looking down at him. "I just thought I would look at you, maybe touch you..."

Jim took in a deep breath, felt a shiver run down his spine. "Okay," he said softly, pulling his hand away from Blair's and laying him arm down, purposefully, at his side. "Okay," he repeated softly — and suddenly he closed his eyes again, unable to watch, unwilling to look. Blair bit back an affectionate laugh, knowing that Jim would take it the wrong way, knowing that giving up control, of any kind, was hard for Jim. He understood what Jim's gesture of surrender meant, knew — better than Jim knew — how deeply it frightened him. But still, it was sort of funny to see the tension etched into Jim's face; it was as if he were a small child, waiting for a shot.

Blair spread his hands across Jim Ellison's chest, feeling his lover's heart pound, hearing the tense rasp of nervous breathing. He moved his palms in wide circles, trying to smooth the fear away, wishing his hands communicated better, wishing that he had Jim's talented hands, just for a few minutes. He let himself enjoy the feel of Jim's soft skin and hard muscles, then moved his hands up over his lover's face, tracing the high cheekbones and the angular jaw, and then bent down to kiss a muscle that was twitching on his cheek. He let his lips rest softly against Jim's face for a moment, feeling how badly Jim wanted to reach out and touch him, appreciating how hard it was for Jim to keep his hands down, passive, and still.

Blair raised his head and looked intently at Jim's face, ran his thumbs once gently over Jim's closed eyelids, and felt familiar, strong stirrings of desire and love.

"You are so beautiful, Jim," he murmured softly, running a finger over Jim's lips.

Jim's eyes flew open, and this time Blair did laugh. "Don't look so surprised, there, Jim," he said. "You are, you know — beautiful, incredible, unbelievably fucking sexy." He leaned down and roughly swiped over Jim's left nipple with his tongue.

"I'm not — " stammered Jim, incredulously, bending to sit up. "You — "

" — are a masochist, is that what you think?" said Blair, pushing him down flat again. "Or blind? Just indiscriminate, then? Do you think you're only the best table leg I've found? Or some sort of mercy fuck — screw the old man, he'll only be around for — what, fifty years — and then hey, I get the apartment? Do you think I do this for research? — "Please Mr. Sentinel, let me follow you around and take notes and in exchange I'll let you fuck me silly?" Jim, you're a wonderful person and all that, and I'm glad you're a Sentinel most of the time, but good God, Jim. You. Turn. Me. On."

Jim groaned as Blair leaned in to gently tongue his navel. "I jumped you, remember," said Blair, rubbing his roughened cheek against Jim's washboard abs. "I had to," he said, raising his face up, letting his hands slide lovingly along Jim's smooth hips. "It was either that or go blind from masturbation." Blair's appreciative hands glided up again, ran over strong biceps, stopped, squeezed, massaged. "You think you're the only one who gets jealous, who feels possessive — like you're the only one who feels desire. I'm entitled to my own lust, Jim." He suckled Jim's neck intently, heard Jim gasp softly. "I'm old enough, I've earned it." He sat up.

"You know, sometimes you look at me, you treat me — well, like I'm some poor waif out of Dickens. I'm not, you know. I'm pushing thirty, man, pushing hard," he said, running a hand over his head. "I've been around the block a couple of times — I remember John Travolta's original career, okay?" He smiled reflexively as he saw Jim's lips curl up. "Yeah, I saw Star Wars in its original release, I wasn't a fetus or anything. So don't mess with me, man!"

"Not even a little?" whispered Jim hoarsely..

Blair grinned. "Well all right, a little, you can mess with me a little, if you're good and — Jesus, Jim, you really know how to put the dick back in Dickens!"

Jim burst out laughing, shot up, pushed Blair's hand away. Blair launched himself at him, grabbed him tightly, and attached him lips firmly to the side of Jim's face, happily biting and kissing and sucking.

Jim struggled with him for a moment, still laughing, then threw him down on the bed, turned his face and kissed him hard. When Jim pulled his head back, Blair could see delight shining in his eyes; he cupped Jim's face in his hands and murmured, "Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful..."

"I love you," said Jim suddenly, panting with laughter and desire. "You're just — you're just everything, you know?"

"Oh, I'm everything and more, Jim," said Blair, and then, "Oh, shit," as the alarm clock went off.

Jim groaned. "Blair, I'm sorry — "

"No no no no no no no no no no," said Blair.

"I can't, it's not work, its court, and I have to be there."

"Please say you're kidding," whimpered Blair.

"All right, come on, Sandburg," said Jim, sliding out of bed, "this morning interlude is officially over now. Move along, move along, nothing to see here!"

"Oh, I have to disagree, Jim," said Blair earnestly, and Jim blushed, and pulled the sheet off the bed and wrapped it around his hips. "Five minutes," Blair pleaded. "Four. Two and a half?" he called after Ellison as he shook his head and walked down the stairs. "Oh man, I talk too damn much!"

When Jim Ellison entered the bullpen that afternoon, he was greeted with spontaneous applause from the majority of Major Crimes. "What?" he asked suspiciously, pulling his suit jacket off and hanging it up neatly.

"You're our hero," said Rafe. "Taggert can't host poker night tonight, and we suddenly all just remembered that there's someone else who's been, uh, well, shall we say a little bit lax about hosting us?"

"Yeah," said Brown, "we haven't been over your place in forever."

"So what time do you want us to show up?" said Rafe.

"And what should we bring?" asked Megan.

"Whoa, whoa, wait a minute," said Jim, putting up his hands, thinking furiously. He made a decision, blew out a breath. "All right, listen, let me just check it out with Sandburg, okay?" Ignoring the significant glances his co-workers exchanged, he leaned again his desk and picked up the phone. If he was going to out himself to Major Crimes, he thought, might as well start here.

"Blair Sandburg."

"Hi, its me."

"Hi, I still hate you," said Blair, shifting in his office chair. "Did we win at least?"

"Yeah," said Jim. "The verdict came back in fifteen minutes. Twenty-five years to life."

"Well, at least it was for a good cause."

"Listen, that's not why I was calling." He lowered his voice, watching as everyone in the bullpen pretended to be busy. "I'm at work, they want us to host poker night tonight."

"Oh," said Blair, thinking of the bedroom that was now, too obviously, an office.

"Yeah, exactly," said Jim. "What do you think?"

"Hell, I don't know," sighed Blair.

"Thing is, we haven't done it in a while."

"Tell me about it," said Blair. "And this morning didn't help none."

"Sandburg — " Jim warned.

"Okay, okay, all right, we'll host. We have to sometime, I guess. And they're supposed to be our friends."

"I don't know if I like this role reversal thing," said Jim in a low voice. "I'm the one who's supposed to be all negative. You're Mr. Sunshine — I never imagined you had such a cynical streak."

"Yeah, well, I fought pretty hard for respect over there." He sighed. "Whatever. If I did it once I can do it again. Is there something in particular you want me to pick up on my way home?"

"What, like a nude poster of Michelle Pfeiffer?"

"Jim, did you just make a joke? Oh, come on, man, you've got to warn me when you do that. I want to turn on the tape-recorder!"

"Just stop being an anthropologist for a minute, will you?"

"All right, I'll pick up avocados, make guacamole, do some quick and easy Mexican stuff," said Blair, making a note to himself on a Post-It.

"You don't have to," said Jim.

"No, I will, I have the time. But you owe me."

"Yes," said Jim, sincerely. "I'll see you later."

"Okay. I love you," said Blair.

I love you too, thought Jim, but his mouth just said, "Yes." He hung up.

"All right, people!" said Jim. "Poker, my place, 8:00. The almighty Sandburg says Mexican, so bring beer, bring tequila and triple sec and lime juice if you want margaritas, otherwise just bring your money and be prepared to lose it!"

It was seven thirty when Jim came through the loft door, and threw his keys in the basket. Blair was sitting at the kitchen table, working at his laptop, chewing a pencil.

"Stuff's all ready," he offered, waving in the direction of the kitchen. "Chicken's marinating. I just need to double-check this and print and then I'm done for the night. You look nice," he added, looking at Jim appreciatively.

"I'm a mess," said Jim, looking down at his rumpled suit, at the tie that was hanging out of his coat pocket. "What's that, your dissertation?" he asked, moving toward the stairs, and he stopped suddenly, hearing Blair laugh.

"No," said Blair. "Something far more important. Grant proposal," he added wryly, and Jim nodded and went upstairs. "The grant proposal of my life," he heard Blair murmur under his breath.

"What do you mean, 'of your life'?" he called down from the loft.

"Nothing," said Blair, moving the computer into the office and plugging it into his printer. "I'll let you know if I get it."

"It doesn't involve travel, does it?" Jim asked worriedly.


"Well, okay then." He yawned. "I'm going to lie down for a few, okay?" he said, stretching down on the bed.

"Okay," said Blair, sticking his head out from the office. "I'll wake you when they start coming."

"Okay, thanks."

He woke up to catch the tail end of a conversation between his partner and his captain. " — it's not a lie, Sandburg," Simon Banks said, firmly.

"Feels like a lie," Blair was murmuring.

"Well, it isn't. I wouldn't do it, if it were. I wouldn't let you do it. It's just...well, a version of the truth."

"An obfuscation?" Blair asked, and Jim could hear the smile in his voice.

"I guess. But they've tried stupider things," said Simon. "Much stupider. This isn't a bad idea on its own merits. Honest."

"Well, I figure if I can just push him into accepting the big lie, then the little lie should go down easy."

"It's not a lie, Sandburg!" Banks growled.

"Okay, okay. Suit and tie?"

"Jacket and tie. Don't overdress. I'll pick you up at 8:30." There was a knock at the door, and Jim heard his partner walk over to answer it.

"Beer!" he heard Rafe and Brown chorus, and he heaved himself up off the bed.

"Great," he heard Blair say. "Thanks," and then: "Jim!"

"Yeah, I'm coming!" said Jim, sliding his feet into shoes.

"Well, if it isn't Sleeping Beauty," said Simon.

"Are we off the clock?"

"Yeah," said Simon.

"Then shut up," said Jim, smiling. "Blair, do you need help with anything?"

"Yeah, grab those bowls, get everyone a drink — and answer the door," said Blair, bending over the oven.

Jim opened the door and admitted Megan Connor and O'Hara. "Sandy," said Megan immediately, moving into the kitchen. "Here, I brought margarita stuff," she said, handing a bag to Blair, "and just some extras — tortillas, chips, salsa — these guys eat like pigs."

"Thanks, Megan," said Blair, gratefully. "I'll make us some monster margaritas."

"Connor, I live here too, you know," said Jim.

"Yeah, whatever," she said, smiling ruefully.

"Are we playing cards or what?" asked O'Hara.

"Yeah, cards and chips are — in the desk," said Blair abruptly, turning intently to unpacking the bags.

Jim glanced at the office door, which he now saw was closed. Nodding, he went inside, fished the cards and chips out of the desk drawer, and took the out to the table, resolutely leaving the door open.

"Simon, shuffle and deal, will you?" said Jim, moving into the kitchen. "Who wants beer — beer? beer?"

"Okay, call me chickenshit," Jim heard Blair mutter, Sentinel soft, as he pulled a cold six-pack from the back of the fridge.

"Stay cool," said Jim. "You want a beer?"

"No thanks. I'm going straight for the hard stuff, myself," said Blair, unscrewing the tequila.

"Sandburg, are you in or out?" asked Simon, dealing.

"I'm out until the chicken's done," replied Blair, pouring the tequila liberally into the blender. "You all go ahead."

"Okay, everybody, sit down and ante up," said Simon.

In the middle of the next hand, Jim shot out of his chair and was in the kitchen before anyone else had even registered Blair's suppressed yelp.

"My hand slipped," hissed Blair as Jim took it in both of his and shoved it under the faucet. "Stupid, stupid," he chanted, wincing.

"Sandburg, are you all right?" asked Simon, standing, the others on the edges of their seats.

"Yeah, I'm just an idiot, that's all," answered Blair, watching as Jim caressed his burned hand under the cool water, knowing that it was the caress, and not the water, that was helping. "It's nothing, you'll see," he added, and sure enough, a minute later it was nothing, as Jim silently patted his hand dry with a dishtowel.

"Dinner's ready," called Blair. "Serve yourself!" He looked at Jim and mouthed "thanks" silently. Jim nodded and began to fix himself a burrito.

Four margaritas later, Jim touched Blair's arm. "Sandburg," he said softly, "you either need to stop drinking or you need to stop playing. We can't afford it," and Blair shot him a surprised look at the plural pronoun, but grudgingly cashed in his few remaining chips.

"Here, me too," said Megan, pushing her chips forward.

"No, you shouldn't," protested Blair, "you're ahead."

"Exactly," said Connor, smiling. "I'd like to keep it that way, thanks. Shall we have another?" she asked, getting up.

"Sounds good to me," said Blair from his new position curled up on the couch.

Megan came over carrying two margaritas, handed one to Blair, sat down next to him.

"So," asked Megan, nodding gently at the open office door, "big day, huh?"

"Yeah," sighed Blair, glancing over at the game. "God, Megan, I'm terrified."

"So would I be in your position," teased Megan, nodding at Jim. "Makes me glad I'm gay."

Blair laughed. "Oh, come on, he's not that bad. His idea, this," added Blair, nudging an eyebrow toward the office.

"Really?" said Megan.

"Mmmmm," answered Blair. "I'm the one dragging my feet. Any word?"

"Well, I think they all know, but they don't really talk about it. The overt reason — to protect you guys. They don't want to start a rumor mill." She met Blair's eyes. "You know that you two would be separated?"

"Oh, I know," said Blair.

"Well. The underlying reason? Who knows. Who knows what they really think?"

"Mmmmm. Doesn't much matter," said Blair, sipping his drink. "As long as there's no trouble."

"I heard someone in Narcotics call you 'Ellison's pretty boyfriend,'" smiled Megan.

"Better than being 'Ellison's ugly toad,'" remarked Blair. "Have to look on the bright side." He fixed amused blue eyes on Megan. "Narcotics hasn't cottoned on to you, yet," he returned.

"Yeah, sometimes sexism is useful," sighed Megan.

"How's Susan?" asked Blair, and Megan bit her lip and shook her head.

"She doesn't like the hours," replied Megan. "It won't last."

"What you need," said Blair, "is someone who appreciates the extra free time."

"Like an academic?" teased Megan.

"Don't laugh, I've got two lined up. Just say the word." They sat there a moment in silence, as Ellison crowed triumphantly and gathered the pot.

"Which two?" asked Megan.

"Sarah, brunette, 34, Anthro, works on Amazons, would you believe?" he asked, meeting her eye significantly. "We're not paid much, at least we should enjoy the work, right?"

"Oh, absolutely," said Megan.

"And then there's Kelly, blonde, 30, English — Victorian novel, I think," he said, frowning.

"Oh, I think I'd have to go for Amazons over Victoria," said Megan.

"Don't jump to conclusions," said Blair, "Victorianists can be pretty wonky, all dark underbellies and repressed desire."

"We're talking about my kinks, Sandy, not yours."

Blair laughed and sputtered, nearly choking on his drink. He looked up at Jim, knowing that his partner had noticed his explosive laughter. He met Jim's eyes, knew that now he was listening.

"Shhhh," he hissed to Megan, waving with his hand.

"What, you think he's listening?" whispered Megan. "What's he going to hear — that I'm a lesbian, that you worship the ground he walks on — for some completely unfathomable reason?"

"Megan, please," said Blair.

Megan looked at Blair, looked at Jim, who seemed focused on his hand, looked back at Blair.

"You really think he can hear you," she said softly. "Amazons, huh?" she mused, turning back to stare at Ellison.

"Megan," pleaded Blair.

"And so what part of your work do you enjoy, really?" asked Megan quietly.

"Big buff cops," lied Blair, meeting her eyes daringly.

"That's not you," said Megan firmly. "You run deep, Sandy, don't you?" She sighed. "How many secrets do you have, anyway?"

"The hardest part is keeping my stories straight," admitted Blair. "I am so deep in so many closets, I'm like in Narnia — God, why do I drink tequila?" he asked, raising his hands to his head.

"Ten to one, they won't offer to help clean up," said Megan.

"Oh they will. Jim will," said Blair assuredly.

"You should go to sleep," said Megan. "You look tired."

"Oh yeah, right," said Blair, rolling his eyes and nodding upward at the loft.

"You said he wouldn't mind," objected Megan.

"He wouldn't. I would," said Blair.

"I still can't believe that," said Megan.

"Believe it," said Blair. "I don't know, maybe if I had those extra five inches and ten years on the force, I wouldn't mind either."

"They do like you," argued Megan. "They respect your work in the department."

"Well they'd better," said Blair, leaning toward Megan. "I've got something up my sleeve," he whispered, waving his arms around like a magician.

"Something else?" teased Megan. "What?"

"You'll have to wait like everyone else," said Blair, leaning back and closing his eyes. "I'm not sure yet if I can pull this particular rabbit out of this particular hat." He sat for a moment, resting, and then said: "Game's breaking up. Jim's tired."

At the end of the hand, Jim Ellison stood up and stretched. "All right, everybody out of my house. I'm tired, game over."

"Not fair," said Brown. "You've got all the money."

"Life's not fair," said Jim, bending over to collect his winnings. "Good. Bye."

Blair stirred on the sofa, moved to get up. "No, don't, Chief," said Ellison. "I'll take care of it. Stay put."

"Here, I'll help," added Rafe, and Blair looked at Megan triumphantly as plates and glasses were swept up and cleaned.

"You've got him trained," said Megan, getting up.

"No, he's got me trained," said Blair, not moving. "I would have left them. You've got some stuff backwards."

"So I'm beginning to understand," said Megan wryly. "Thanks, everything was great, as usual. Are you coming in tomorrow?"

"No," said Blair.

"Okay, Monday, then."


"Goodbye, everyone," called Megan, reaching for her purse.

"I'll see you, Connor," said Jim, coming over; and then he stopped in surprise as Megan reached up and kissed his cheek unexpectedly. "See you tomorrow, Jim," she said, and waved vaguely at the rest of the room as she left.

Ellison stood by the door, holding it open. "Not to rush the rest of you, but — "

"What's your hurry, here's your hat," said Brown, grabbing his jacket. "See you," he said, and Rafe and O'Hara and Banks were on his heels.

Suddenly Blair leaped off the couch. "Wait, Simon, wait!" he called, and he darted into the office and rushed back with a manila envelope. "Revised draft," he said, breathlessly, handing it to Banks.

"Okay, right," said Simon, taking it. "I'll look it over. See you both. Thanks for hosting."

"What the hell was that?" asked Jim, closing the door.

"Just wait, Jim," said Blair, grabbing his arm. "Please. Twenty-four hours, that's all I ask. I'll explain tomorrow, one way or the other. Right now I'm tired."

Jim set his mouth, thought, relented. "Okay," he said. "There's no danger, nothing stupid?"

"No danger," said Blair firmly. "Stupid, I don't know yet."

"Okay. What's with Connor — what were you and she nattering about?"

"She's good people," said Blair, going into the bathroom to wash up. "She bats for the home team."

"Not a great batter — good pitcher, though," said Ellison, sitting down.

"All right, she pitches for the home team," said Blair from the bathroom. "Have it your way."

"She suspects the Sentinel thing."

"Yeah," said Blair, coming back into the living room, "but she won't force us on it. She understands privacy."

"So I gathered," said Jim.

"I'll be in bed," said Blair, coming over to Jim and kissing him. Jim ran a hand over Blair's thigh, gripped it once, tightly, then let go.

"Okay, I'll be with you in a minute. Thanks for everything, tonight."

"It's okay. Happy to do it," said Blair, climbing the stairs.

Blair woke up in the middle of the night, knew that Jim was hovering above him, became aroused as he felt Jim's hands grasp his thighs and pull them gently apart.

"Blair, I want you, need you, please," said Jim hoarsely.

"Oh yes," murmured Blair. "Yes, Jim," and that was the end of the conversation as Jim fucked him urgently, passionately, silently, in the dark.

"Oh shit," said James Ellison as the alarm went off and Blair squirmed out from beneath him.

"I call dibs," said Blair blearily, hauling himself out of bed.

"Fine," said Ellison, rolling over. "Wake me when you're out."

"Okay, I'm out," said Blair what seemed to Jim a moment later, but the smell of soap and shampoo and toothpaste told him that time had indeed passed. "Can I borrow your red tie?"

"Tie?" asked Ellison, sitting up groggily.

"Yeah, tie," said Blair, poking around in the closet.

"Jacket and tie," murmured Jim, and Blair spun around and fixed him with a look, then turned away, muttering, "You sneaky, eavesdropping — "

"I can't help it," said Jim, and Blair looked back at him, regretfully.

"I know," he said. "I didn't mean it."

"So will you tell me — "

"No," said Blair, attempting to tie Jim's tie around his neck. "Tonight. Not now. Come on, help me with this, its too long, it looks stupid."

Blair stood by the side of the bed as Ellison adjusted the tie, surveyed him critically, adjusted again.

"Okay?" asked Blair, holding his hands up.

"Okay," said Jim. "I'm going to shower."

"I'll be gone when you get out," said Blair, taking Jim's head in his hands and brusquely kissing him. "I'll see you tonight, okay?"

"Okay," said Jim, watching him pull back his hair, remove his earring, fumble for his jacket and quickly descend the stairs.

When Simon Banks didn't show up in the bullpen by noon, Jim finally couldn't resist asking after him. "Where's Simon?"

"I don't know," said Brown.

"I thought you would know," said Rafe. "Isn't he at some meeting with Sandburg?"

"Really?" asked Megan. "I'm the last to know anything."

"What meeting?" asked Brown.

"I don't know," said Jim, frowning, and he went into Banks' office and peered down at the Captain's desk calendar. "Sandburg, 8:30," it said under Friday, with a line drawn through the entire day. "It doesn't look like he's coming in," said Jim.

"Didn't Sandburg mention it?" asked Rafe.

"Yeah, I think he did, I mustn't have been listening," replied Jim.

"Not bloody likely," replied Megan very softly, grinning broadly when Jim turned around to stare at her. "Case in point," she murmured, looking down at the papers on her desk.

Jim Ellison left work precisely on the stroke of five.

The loft was empty when he got home. He knew from the street below that Blair wasn't there, and climbed the stairs to the third floor irritably. Finding himself unexpectedly with time on his hands, he pulled some cleaning supplies from under the sink and began to give the loft a quick once-over. He stopped and quickly shoved the supplies away when he heard Blair emerge from the elevator.

"Hey, you beat me home," said Blair cheerily, coming in.

"I'm going to beat you with a stick," replied Ellison. "Where the hell were you and Simon today?"

"Just let me change," said Blair.

"No changing. Talking. Now."

"Okay, okay, sit down, sit down," said Blair, tugging off his jacket and pulling his shirt-tails out of his pants.

"You're not sitting," said Jim.

"You sit, I'll pace, you know the drill," said Blair.

"Okay," agreed Jim, sitting down. "So."

"So," said Blair. "Simon and I went down to the Police Commissioner's office to meet with the program review board and the city council for the final stage of proposal approval." He strode into the office, came out again with a thin document bound in a black cover. "That," he said, putting it in front of Jim on the coffee table with a thwack. "The proposal," he added, continuing to pace, rolling up the sleeves of his Oxford shirt. "Written by Simon," he said as Jim picked it up. "Ghostwritten by me."

"Your lips are moving, and I hear sound..." said Jim, shaking his head in confusion.

"I've proposed — well, Simon's proposed — a program. Based on my success in the department. Our success. Your success with me. Whatever. What I've proposed," continued Blair, "is the experimental pairing of qualified experts from the humanities and social sciences with police officers for the purpose of exploring channels of and techniques for non-violent conflict resolution. In an era of increasing concerns about police stress and possible brutality," said Blair, now frankly quoting himself, "the possibility of having routine back-up duties performed by qualified individuals who are technically civilians but professionally trained to be aware of the diverse social and cultural systems which can promote the rapid escalation of hostilities between suspects and law enforcement officials," said Blair, pausing for breath, "should be explored and might produce beneficial results, as it has in the case of Ellison and Sandburg." He took a deep breath. "Or so goes the boat I was trying to float."

Jim blinked. "Did it float?"

Blair grinned hugely. "Oh, it floated, man. I mean, I had to give them all a little pushyou know — " Jim knew, knew all too well, what the guide voice could do " — but they were 95% there anyway. I thought I was spinning a mighty tall tale, but Simon genuinely seemed to think it was a good idea — he pointed out that you guys have had the social workers and the psychologists on board for a while, so why not the sociologists and the anthropologists? Most of those guys don't know one 'ology' from another, anyway." His grin widened even further. "So they funded the program, man — and guess who's first on line? Yeah, me, and the best part is that, once I've jumped a few hoops, I'm gonna get a check, benefits, health insurance, the whole enchilada. I'll be your partner, like, for permanent. All legal and legit. You do want that, don't you?" he asked suddenly, frowning.

"Yes," said Jim, feeling overwhelmed. "Yes. What's the catch?"

"No catch, really — just hoops, like I said. First of all, they want me to go through what's essentially basic training — self-defense, physical stuff, learning to fire a gun." He made a face. "I pointed out that that was sort of ironic for someone who was hired to be a non-violent conflict resolution facilitator like myself, but they were pretty insistent. I probably could have pushed them out of it," he added, shoving the air with his hands, "but then I thought, well, maybe that wasn't that smart. They mean well, they want to protect me — if I don't pass, I don't get the job, and that holds for any other potential applicant."

"Okay," said Jim after a moment. "What else?"

"Well, the other thing is that I've got to get my PhD, like, yesterday. So that I can be Dr. Sandburg, be this expert that I sold in the proposal. That Simon sold. Whatever. So I went to the university and scheduled my defense. My advisor was terrifically pleased — I think she was getting ready to string me up. I mean, I was ABD at 26, and then wham! I shut up like a clam. She hasn't seen bubkis from me. I think she was starting to believe that I went to the dissertation boneyard. Which in a way, of course, I did."

"Defense?" asked Ellison, picking out the key word.

"Yeah," said Blair, going back into the office and returning with another black binder. "I'm submitting this on Monday," he said, tossing it at Jim.

"This?" asked Jim, turning the slim volume in his hands. "What is this?"

"That? That should win the all-time world prize for obfuscation. That is some serious academic fraud, there, my friend."

Jim opened the cover, ran his eyes over the first chapter, then flipped through the inch-wide volume, eyes searching. "Where's the chapter I read?"

"Gone," said Blair. "Cut. You're not my primary dissertation subject anymore, Jim. I am. Though I don't say its me, wherein the fraud. I'm asking me a lot of leading questions, and you should hear some of the answers I'm giving me. The questions are mostly about you, of course. I mean, you're there, its all about you. Except that in that, you're not you. You never left Peru. You died there last year. I'm still your guide, except I'm not me, I'm someone else. I survived you, and came back to the States, which is convenient for me in doing these interviews with myself. But I'm seriously depressed — in fact, I'm a little worried about me. I'm not taking your death very well. But still, I like talking about you, which is convenient, since I have to ask myself all those leading questions about what you can do and how the Sentinel thing works. Of course, I'm pretending I don't know half of what I do, so I don't come off as very smart." He tapped the side of his nose, knowingly. "However, I'm giving myself some very suggestive answers, just pushing myself gently in the right direction, and someday I'll be smart enough to figure me out. Maybe in my next book. Thankfully, I'm also fanatical about not having my true identity revealed. In more ways than one, obviously. And you're dead, so we don't have to worry about that. Though I met you just before you died, when we went to Peru that time, and you were very nice to me, Jim, you'll be glad to know, and completely cooperative about my tests and experiments. So you know its fiction from that alone. Jim? Jim?"

"You're killing me, you do know that, don't you?" said Jim weakly from the sofa. "My head is going to explode, right here."

"No it won't," said Blair. "Don't be a baby."

"All those years, all those tests — and you do this?" he said, waving the flimsy volume.

"No, Jim," said Blair, disappearing into the office for a third time, "I did that — " and with a BANG a much larger binder, four inches wide, crashed onto the coffee table, and Jim started. "But that is going to land us both in an underground bunker in Nevada, Jim, and so I'm defending the other one."

Jim heaved the real dissertation off the coffee table, opened the cover. "Volume One?" he asked incredulously.

"I got tired," said Blair simply. "I figured the rest could wait for Volume Two. What the hell's the rush, anyway?" He sat down and rubbed his eyes under his glasses.

"Wait wait wait wait wait wait," said Jim, and Blair waited. "Blair, are you sure you want to do this?" asked Jim, looking back and forth between the real dissertation and the fake one.

"Yes, I'm sure. It's not bad, Jim, really," said Blair, "fraud aside. It's within the expected parameters, asks some provoking questions, has nice concluding chapter comparing tribal organization to police hierarchy, just to prove I was paying attention. Really, it's good work, except for being almost totally made up. The surface narrative, I mean — the underlying truths are real. It's sort of, well, an allegory, let's put it that way. That sounds nicer than 'total piece of bullshit', doesn't it?"

"But what about this?" asked Jim, gesturing at the real dissertation.

"I told you, that can wait. I'm a scholar, I'm used to thinking in the long term."

"But Blair, you're making some heavy decisions about your career, your future. I don't know if I can handle this responsibility, this sacrifice you're making —

"It's really not a sacrifice, Jim. First of all, even if you broke up with me tomorrow, threw me out, renounced me as your guide, I'd still have to do the same thing. I realized that some time ago, that's when I started keeping two sets of books, so to speak. I mean, think about it, Jim. 'I met this Sentinel, became his Guide, we became lovers, he can heal me, we communicate telepathically, I'm having visions — " no, no, no, man, I'd end up in a rubber room and I am way too hyper for that. There really isn't any other choice, I was just too stupid to see it at first. Secondly, that," he said, pointing to the thinner volume, "complete piece of — allegory — that it is, really really isn't bad. It's good enough to get published, good enough to get me a job. I can get back on track if I ever want to. Except I don't think I'll want to, is all."

"" said Jim, struggling, "so then why haven't you defended before?"

"Wow, you have no idea how this works, do you?" sighed Blair, slumping. "Because of what comes after. Because once I defend, I'll be expected to make a national — maybe international — job search. To go work at Columbia or Duke or Podunk State University. Whoever will have me. Except I'm not going to, because I've just taken a job with the Cascade PD and I'm going to continue adjuncting at Rainier. Except I only just thought of that. It gives me an excuse to resist the job search — its an honor, of sorts, to be the first participant in a new city program, and its a job that requires an advanced degree, so I won't raise as many eyebrows as I would choosing to, say, be unemployed and work in an unpaid capacity with my gorgeous cop boyfriend."

"Jesus, Blair," whispered Jim, admiringly. "Jesus, how'd you think of all this?"

"You don't want to live in my head, man, I promise you that," said Blair, grinning.

"When did you think of this?" asked Jim, picking up Blair's proposal.

"After that thing that happened at the airport," replied Blair. "I mean, that all went pretty well, all things considered, and it suddenly occurred to me that if I could make what we do sound — well — dull enough, prosaic enough, bureaucratic enough, we might be able to get it formalized, institutionalized. So I sat down to describe the Sentinel-Guide thing using the most boring, pretentious, PC, corporate, jargon-laden language I could think of. Four syllable words and the passive voice the whole way, man. And they ate it up like cake."

"You're brilliant," said Jim, and Blair beamed. "You're an absolute fucking genius." He got up and hauled Sandburg to his feet, whirled him around. "You're a miracle, Sandburg, I swear to God."

"Thanks," said Blair, laughing. "Will you help me prepare for the physical part?

"Chief, you will pass the physical part if I have to pick you up and throw you over the fucking wall myself."

"What wall?" asked Blair, smile vanishing abruptly.

"Don't worry about it now," said Jim, pulling him close and kissing him. "Don't worry about anything. You've already done everything. Come on, I'm taking you out to dinner," and he practically dragged his lover out of the loft.

Blair woke up in the middle of the night, absolutely wracked with need, aching with it, heart pounding, breaking — and it took him a minute or two of staring up into the blackness to realize that he had been jump-started, that his body was responding sympathetically, vibrating like a tuning fork, to the waves of intense feeling pouring off his lover, who was lying in bed next to him, quite still, utterly silent, in the dark.

"Jesus, Jim," said Blair, barely able to get the words out for the tightness in his throat, for the sadness and the fear that crushed his chest, made his ribs feel as if they were cracking. God, did Jim feel like this? how often had he felt like this? He rolled over, agonized, and lifted himself up so he could peer into his partner's face; he squinted into the darkness, willing his eyes to adjust to the blackness so that he could see.

"Blair," said Jim, and he sounded to Blair as if he were strangling.

Blair groped for and found Jim's hand, gripped it tightly, felt it warm and strong in the darkness.

"Touch me," breathed Jim, almost inaudibly, desperately, and Blair gasped, nearly choking with desire as he felt Jim shift beside him in the darkness and move their intertwined hands down over his body, past his erection, coming to rest between his heavy, open thighs.

"Don't — " Jim whispered urgently, suddenly clenching Blair's hand so hard that Blair thought it would break, "Don't let me zone," he begged, and Blair felt panic, fear, longing like a blast of hot air across his face and he squeezed Jim's hand and whispered, simply, "No."

Jim eased his grip on Blair's hand somewhat, but didn't let go, and Blair shifted his body and lay his head and torso sideways, over Jim's abdomen, felt Jim reach down with his free hand and thread his fingers into his hair, felt him hold on tightly.

Slowly, reassuringly, Blair moved his other arm so that he was able to wrap his free hand around Jim's cock. He held it in his fist tightly, and then tried to disentangle his fingers from Jim's.

Jim let his fingers escape, then turned his hand and grasped Blair's wrist, and Blair knew that Jim was not yet ready to relinquish control, knew also, however, that Jim wanted to relinquish that control, wanted Blair to fight him, to wrest it from him.

Dragging Jim's hand slowly along with his, Blair moved his fingers along the side of Jim's thigh, and then slipped underneath, skimming over a muscular buttock, until finally he was able to rake a finger gently over Jim's opening. Jim sent him a decidedly mixed message — his hand closed again, painfully, over Blair's wrist, but he also heard Jim's gasp of pleasure and felt his lover spread his legs wider. After a few seconds Jim's grip on his wrist eased, and Blair pulled his hand to his lips and wet his fingers. He then slid the moistened fingers back to the opening of Jim's body, and caressed the puckered outside of the hole, sliding his other hand along Jim's erection as he did so.

Jim sobbed with pleasure beneath him, and Blair withdrew his hand from Jim's cock and licked his palm before replacing it, at the same time intensifying his touch against Jim's anus, and the sounds that Jim was making were unlike any he had ever heard from his lover, and they gripped his guts and he shifted again and took his lover's cock into his mouth as he gently probed Jim's opening with a finger.

Jim cried out, and shivered, but did not move, body torn between wanting to thrust up into Blair's mouth, down upon his finger. With his free hand, Blair gripped Ellison's hip tightly, holding him down as he sucked on his shaft, worked his finger deeper into his lover's body, past the muscle to the smooth tight heat beyond.

As Blair's finger slid deeper into him, Jim seemed to relax suddenly, profoundly, and Blair gently sucked his erection, knowing that the counter-stimulation would keep Jim from zoning. When he felt Jim had calmed beneath him, Blair again began to intensify his movements, concentrating now on bringing his lover off, on making it good.

Blair began to move his finger in and out of Jim's body as he took Jim's erection deep into his throat. Jim's reaction to being finger-fucked was electrifying — the air practically crackled with pleasure and Blair felt his own body convulsing sympathetically and he had to fight desperately for his own control, to keep his thoughts together, to not lose himself in his lover's heartfelt moans, and when he finally stretched deep inside Jim to rub his prostate once, twice he felt Jim suddenly explode beneath him, shoot come into his mouth, spasm erotically around his finger, and Blair felt he was being drenched in physical pleasure, absolutely soaked in the heavy, natural warmth of it and he came responsively on the strength of the feeling even though his own cock, his own ass, had not been so much as touched.

Blair lay drowsily across Jim's belly and swallowed and sucked and eventually let Jim's softened cock slide out of his mouth; he withdrew his finger but kept it pressed gently against the outside muscle, occasionally touching, caressing, unwilling to relinquish this new intimacy that Jim had so suddenly, unexpectedly, offered.

His own words of two days ago, "I just thought I would look at you, maybe touch you," floated through his mind and he smiled ruefully into the dark, realizing that he must have lit some sort of fuse in Jim's brain or his libido. That hadn't been his intention; he had wanted to touch Jim because he had wanted to touch Jim; he had wanted to touch Jim while he was asleep because Jim awake was likely to touch back, and Blair found Jim's touch intoxicating, exhilarating, all-controlling — which, while heavenly, was not conducive to the controlled, appreciative pleasure in Jim for which he sometimes yearned. The idea that Jim might have wanted — have ached — to be touched, unable to articulate it, mutely hungering for it — had frankly not occurred to him, and his failure to perceive it saddened him. Should have known, he berated himself, and not for the first time. And Blair buried his face in Jim's stomach and gently fondled Jim's opening and whispered into the darkness, "There's time."

In response he felt Jim tighten his grip on his hair, and Blair knew that the possessive gesture meant "Thank you" and "I love you" and "I know" (such expressive hands) and they lay peacefully resting in the darkness together, breathing quietly, in unison.

As Blair began to slip away into sleep, lulled into unconsciousness by the sound and feel of Jim's even, regular breathing below him and around him, he heard Jim speak quietly, calmly, into the darkness.

"The last time I got something I really wanted," he mused quietly, stroking Blair's head, "was in December of 1971. I got this skateboard for Christmas. From Marta. The maid." He stopped, and Blair listened to his thoughtful silence. "It was orange, and it had a white racing stripe down the middle." Again he paused. "I think it was a Thursday," he added sleepily, and soon he was away and dreaming of flying under blue suburban skies.  

The End