Nature's Trials

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: In which Blair tries to eat soup, and later attempts to wrestle a sofa. Jim gets some telephone calls. (Can you tell I hate writing summaries?)

Warnings: None. Maybe language. I've got a fairly foul mouth, sorry.

Notes: Again, thanks to all you LoC writers. What do I have to do to get the rest of you? ;) This takes place after Nature's Training.

"Hello?" said Blair Sandburg, picking up the telephone. Jim looked over at him from the kitchen, where he was stirring soup. "No, hold on a minute, I'll get him," said Blair, meeting his lover's eyes. He extended the phone to Jim, and they had a quick, irritated conversation with their eyes: "Who?" "I don't know!" "All right, already!" and then Jim handed Blair the ladle and took the phone and held it against his ear and said, "Hello?"

"My God, he's still there," the voice said raggedly, and Jim felt his stomach clench.

"Carolyn?" he whispered, and Blair's head shot up and Jim looked at him quickly and then turned his back to him and strode across the room, away from the kitchen.

"I should have known," said Carolyn, and she suddenly sounded as if she were about to cry.

"Carolyn, please," said Jim softly, not knowing what he was pleading for, not really knowing what he wanted to say to his ex-wife.

"God, this explains everything," said Carolyn, and then Jim knew suddenly that she was crying. "I should have figured," she hissed, and then she stopped and Jim could hear her sucking wetly for breath. "I just called to tell you that I got the notice," she said, after a moment.

"Carolyn," said Jim hoarsely.

"From the life insurance people. That you took me off the policy." She drew in another deep breath, and Jim could hear her wiping her face, could hear the soft scrape of a ring against his ex-wife's cheeks. "You put him on, didn't you. Don't lie to me, I know you did."

"Carolyn — "

"You bastard. Were you ever there at all? Did I ever mean anything? Was the whole thing just a lie the whole time?"

"Oh God," murmured Jim.

"I'm so stupid," she whimpered, and then she coughed and swallowed hard, and Jim could hear her pounding her fist against the wall.

"Carolyn, I'm so sorry," moaned Jim.

"Yeah, well, thanks for nothing," choked Carolyn, and Jim winced at the sudden loud click and needed to take a deep breath himself before he could lower the phone and press the "off" button.

He turned around, saw Blair looking at him with a concerned expression, absent-mindedly stirring.

"Carolyn," he said, moving to put the phone back in its cradle.

"Yeah, I figured," said Blair softly, chewing his lip.

"Is the soup ready yet?" asked Jim.

"Hmm?" asked Blair, who had forgotten that he was stirring soup. He blinked, and looked down with a rather surprised expression. "Soup. Yeah. Ready," he said, and switched off the stove, turned to get two bowls.

"There's bread, if you want some," said Jim, drifting into the kitchen. Blair nodded once, dished out the soup, brought it to the table. Carrying the loaf of bread and two beers, Jim followed, and they sat down.

Jim ripped off a hunk of bread, tore it into pieces, threw it into his bowl. "Aren't you going to ask?" he said suddenly, looking at Blair.

"Who me?" replied Blair, glancing over his shoulder.

"Yeah, you," Jim said.

"No," said Blair, reaching his hand out for the bread.

"No?" asked Jim.

"Okay, yes. Are you all right? What's going on?" asked Blair, the words tumbling out in a rush, and Jim smiled tightly and nodded to himself. "Look, don't make fun of me, I'm not trying to pry, I can't help it that I care, it's not fair to — "

Jim reached out and grabbed his hand. "Shhh. It's okay," he said softly.

"What happens to you matters to me, you know that," moaned Blair. "When you're unhappy, I'm unhappy, its the fucking Guide thing — "

"Blair, shut up," said Jim.

"Okay," said Blair.

"I took Carolyn off my life insurance policy," said Jim. "I kept her on after we were divorced...well, I don't know, basically out of guilt, I guess. And there wasn't anyone else to put on," he said, looking hard at Blair.

"Jim! — " cried Blair.

"Shut uuuppp!" said Jim. He blew out a long breath. "I didn't think they would notify her or anything," he said. "I never even told her that I kept her on — I didn't think anyone would tell her that I took her off."

Blair opened his mouth, got a warning look from Jim, closed it, then opened it and said quickly: " — Jim I don't want to be on your life insurance policy — " and snapped his mouth shut and put up his hands to ward off Jim's anger.

Jim stopped, looked at him, then shook his head. "It's like fighting the tide," he said wonderingly.

"You surf," shot back Blair.

"It's not about the life insurance, Sandburg," yelled Jim. "She knows you're here — she knows what's going on — and she's hurt, okay?"

"Okay," said Blair quietly. "I'm sorry."

"What the hell are you sorry about?" asked Jim angrily, and Blair rolled his eyes and made a face that said: "Hell, isn't it obvious?"

"No," said Jim. "This isn't about you."

"Oh, yeah, right!" said Blair.

"Yeah, right," said Jim. "This is about me, this is about me messing someone else's life up, that's what this is about."

"It wasn't your fault," said Blair.

"I'm not saying it was my fault," said Jim. "I'm saying that I hurt her, doesn't matter whether or not I meant to, okay?"

"Okay," murmured Blair.

"Eat your soup," said Jim, and they ate for a moment in silence.

"I still don't want to be on your life insurance policy," said Blair, after a moment.

"You know, I honestly don't recall asking you what you think," said Jim, banging his spoon down.

"It's not necessary," said Blair, staring down into his bowl.

"Look, Sandburg, maybe you won't feel like jumping off the cliff after me that week," yelled Jim, getting up, "so why we just wait and see what happens, okay?"

"You should leave that money to someone who'll need it," insisted Blair.

"You know, you can be such a moron, do you know that?" said Jim, whirling around. "Do you think I like that idea? You're the one who's theorizing this whole thing — what do you think your Blessed Protector thinks about this, huh?"

"I don't remember asking you what you think," said Blair quietly, looking up at him, and Jim clenched his fists and then he was standing over Blair and trembling with rage and he reached out and pulled Blair up by his shirt and Blair met his eye challengingly and then Jim grabbed his lover's hair roughly and pulled him into a brutal, painful kiss. Blair gave back as good as he was getting; he seized Jim's hips with strong fingers and yanked violently, pulling Jim's groin hard against his, and Jim stumbled and pushed Blair against the side of the table and Blair slid and sat back on it and wrapped his legs against Ellison's waist tightly, pulling him close, and Jim bent Blair backwards on the table, one arm shooting out in an arc and sending the bowls, plates, beers crashing to the floor.

Blair tightened muscular legs around Jim's waist as Jim seized his wrists and forced them flat against the table on either side of him. Blair suckled hungrily at Jim's mouth, using his legs to thrust himself against Jim's erection, to pull Jim's erection hard against his. And then suddenly Jim let go of his wrists and withdrew from his mouth and grabbed at the waistband of his jeans, pulling Blair up suddenly off the hard wood table and then setting him down again with a bump as his fly slid open, and Jim was ruthlessly tearing his jeans off, stripping the fabric down over his hips and then Jim was bending to take Blair's cock into his mouth and Blair's hands flew up and grabbed Jim's head, and he was moaning in passion and love and despair.

Jim sucked him furiously — hurling him up up up on ragged, whitecapped waves of pleasure and then shoving him brutally over the edge, crashing him down into the hard, cold slap of surf. Blair screamed as he came and pulled at Jim's hair; Jim grabbed his wrists again, stilling them, and when Jim finished swallowing he released Blair's cock and yanked Blair's arms hard, pulling him up, dragging him upright like a rag doll, and crushed him in an embrace against his chest.

Blair's face was pressed hard against Jim's breast and the strong arms were wrapped tightly, protectively, around his head and he could hear Jim's ragged, tense, breathing pounding in his ears. He brought his arms around Jim and locked them behind his waist and let himself relax against his lover, waiting for his own strength to return, waiting for Jim to calm down.

Finally, Jim relaxed his arms a little, giving Blair some space to move, and then he saw Jim twist his head to look down at him. "Are you all right?" Jim whispered.

"Uh-huh," said Blair, and turned his face up so that Jim could see.

"Okay," said Jim, resting his cheek on the top of Blair's head, and he moved his hands along Blair's back, comforting, touching, enjoying. "Blair?" he asked, after a few moments.

"Uh-huh?" said Blair.

'I'm sorry," said Jim, and Blair looked up at him and smiled suddenly and Jim said: "What?"

"Nothing," muttered Blair, smile widening.

"What?" asked Jim.

"I just thought — well, I'll have to add that to the list of things you can't handle," said Blair, trying not to grin.

"Blair, I can't handle it," said Jim, seriously, hands tightening on Blair's shoulders.

"Yeah, yeah, Jim: I figured that out, okay? Look, you made a mess," said Blair, amused, "plus I'm sitting on the kitchen table with my dick hanging out — how's that for a clue?"

"Blair, I'm sorry — " said Jim, stepping back.

"That's the third time you've said that tonight, will you please stop it with the martyr complex, already? I'm not broken, I'm very happy, in fact," Blair added. "And if it means so much to you, fine — insure me, okay? It doesn't matter — I'll have to make a will, anyway — "

"BLAIR!" roared Jim.

"Well, I will, Jim, when I join the department, just like you had do when you joined — okay, okay, we won't talk about it, all right?" he said, raising his hands as Jim prowled around the living room. "It's on the list now of Things Not To Be Talked About With Jim, okay, so calm down! You have really gone into protector overload, here — just take a pill, okay? Sit down."

"I know, I know, I can't help it," said Jim, throwing himself down on the sofa, "it's just — just — "

"Instinct, I know, I've got a chapter on it," said Blair.

"Why are you so sure — so sure — " said Jim, unable to finish the thought, let alone the sentence.

"Jim, I thought we just said we weren't going to talk about it," said Blair, sliding off the table and pulling up his pants.

"Okay," said Jim, closing his eyes and sliding to stretch himself out lengthwise. "God, Blair," he said a minute later, unable to let go, "do you really think — ?"

"Yes, Jim, I really think," said Blair, fumbling in the broom closet for a mop.

"Leave that — I'll do it," said Jim, sitting up jumpily. "Do you think or do you know?" he pressed.

"I think, okay? I just think it. How would I know?" said Blair, dragging over the mop and the trash can.

"I don't know, maybe you had another vision or something," said Jim, irritated.

"No, just the one," Blair replied, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

"Well, thank God for that," said Jim. "But you think it," he added.

"Yes, Jim, I think it. That's what I think. That's the thinking done by me. I've had that thought." He sighed. "Dollars to donuts, Jim, I'm betting we're hardwired. Together. But I'll know when you know, ok?"


"Just drop it: come over here and help me clean this up."

"Okay," said Jim, getting up and coming over. In silent cooperation, they cleaned up the smashed remains of dinner. As Blair washed his hands at the kitchen sink, Jim came up behind him and slid his arms around his waist. "Tell me it isn't an issue," said Jim into his lover's hair. "Tell me we're both going to live for another fifty years."

Blair sighed and turned around. "Well, let me put it this way, Jim: with all the care that's gone in to the evolution of the Sentinel-Guide thing, it would be pretty stupid if we didn't. But you never know, Jim — I haven't got those kinds of answers."

"Blair, if something happened to me, I would want you to be happy," said Jim.

"Would you be happy?" asked Blair, exasperatedly, staring at him. "Okay, then," he said, pushing past him to the stove, turning it on again. "So shut up."

"But Blair — "

"Okay, okay, I'll be happy! I'll have a party, in fact!" said Blair, throwing his hands up in the air. "With BALLOONS! A big bowl of punch. Maybe a clown, how would you like that?" He grinned as Jim burst out laughing, pleased that he had finally gotten Jim to lighten up. "I could invite the neighborhood children," he added wistfully. "We'll play games and sing songs. I'll put Simon in a paper hat."

"He'll look good in a paper hat," said Jim, leaning against the kitchen wall, trying to breathe.

"Oh, absolutely! And then I'll marry some curvaceous blonde named Lola. And we'll have fourteen children. All named Jim — even the girls. And at night, when I tuck Jim and Jim and Jim and Jim and all the other Jims into their own beds in their own rooms in my huge house, courtesy of your insurance money, I'll make sure to tell each of them a good-night story about how there once was a Sentinel and I used to be his Guide, and how much happier I am now! How's that, would you like that?"

"I think I'd like some soup," said Jim.

"Smart man," said Blair, reaching for another two bowls. He ladled out some soup, offered the bowl to Jim, and then suddenly pulled it back. "You're going to eat this one, right?"

"Yes," said Jim.

"Because I start self-defense tomorrow, and I really need to eat now, okay? I need all my strength."

"Okay," said Jim and Blair handed him the bowl. He moved to the table and sat down.

"Okay," said Blair, taking his own bowl to the table.

"So, Blair, in this fourteen bedroom house of yours — " said Jim, in between spoonfuls.

"Fifteen," corrected Blair. "You forgot me and Lo-la," he added, wiggling his eyebrows.

"Okay, fifteen," smiled Jim. "So do you think you could decorate the rooms with large pictures of me? Maybe posed like Stalin?" he said, demonstrating.

"Sure, why not? Consider it done," said Blair, laughing. "Communist dictator is a good look for you."

"I missed my calling," said Jim.

"You found your calling," said Blair, waving an admonishing spoon.

"Yeah," said Jim, "I did, didn't I?" and Blair nodded.

"Hey," said Jim after a moment, "why don't you ever talk about your police training?"

"I'm never going to get this soup in my mouth, tonight, am I?" Blair groaned, dropping his spoon with a clatter.

"All right — eat. Eat," said Jim, eating. "Though it's really weird for you to not to talk about something," he added, and Blair glared at him. "Okay, okay," he said placatingly. "Eat." Blair picked up his spoon. "This isn't on that list, is it?" asked Jim. "Of Things Not To Be Talked About With Jim? It is, isn't it?" and Blair put down his spoon, picked up his bowl in his hands and drank it down.

"You'll make yourself sick," said Jim.

"You make me sick," said Blair, putting the bowl down and shoving it away.

"You're going to tell me, you know," said Jim.

"Hey, Stalin, it's fine, okay?" sighed Blair. "I'm doing fine."

"Well, that's succinct," said Jim. "I don't trust succinct from you," he added menacingly. "It's not in your nature."

"Jim, it's fine," said Blair. "Look, they're being a little hard on me, nothing I can't handle. — Please, please, Jim, no more Blessed Protector stuff tonight, okay?" he pleaded, seeing Jim's expression. "They're not hurting me — they're just making me prove myself because they know I'm not a cop and they don't really want me to be one and I've got long hair and all that. What they're doing is perfectly reasonable, considering. They're protecting their community, their image, their hierarchy, all of that. But I'm doing fine, its just two more weeks, and I'm going to pass, so don't worry about it. Okay?"

"Okay," said Jim. "You want some pie or something?"

Blair blinked. "That's it? No more questions?"

"No more questions," replied Jim, smiling at Blair's expression. "What you said makes sense. They're giving you a hard time, you can take it, you're not hurt, two more weeks — okay, fine. I want pie," he said, getting up.

"I don't believe it," said Blair.

"I know cops," explained Jim. "That all sounds about right. You just could have said, so I don't worry."

Blair's raised his eyebrows. "Uh...all right, I'm sorry," he said, bewildered.

"See, you had the wrong things on the list," teased Jim. "Pie or no?"

"No," said Blair. "All right, so I got it now. Life insurance on, cop angst off."

"Right. Are you sure? This is good pie," he added, sitting down and digging in.

"I'm sure," said Blair, resting his head on his hands and watching Jim eat. "I never know where I am with you," he said.

"Don't you?" asked Jim, meeting his eyes.

"I try to," murmured Blair.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" asked Jim softly, after a moment.

"Because I ate my soup too fast and now I feel sick," said Blair, smiling. "You're a detective, what do you think?"

"I think," said Jim slowly, "I think I like it when you look at me like that."

"Is that what you think?"

"That's what I think. That's the thought I'm having," replied Jim, smiling.

"Jim, fuck the pie," whispered Blair. "Come upstairs with me."

Jim stared silently at his partner for a moment, then grinned. "Blair, it's really good pie...."

"Jim — "

"Yes," Jim said, scraping his chair back. "Consider this pie well and truly fucked," he said, tossing his fork onto the plate.

"I want you," said Blair as Jim walked around the table.

"You have me," said Jim, standing by his chair.

"I think you're just wonderful," said Blair, looking up at him.

"Wonderfully overprotective, repressed, and generally fucked-up," said Jim ironically.

"No," said Blair. "Just wonderful." He stood up, close to Jim, and Jim felt his heat warming the air between them.

"I can't say I see your point of view," said Jim, pulling Blair closer.

"Can't you?" said Blair, raising his hands and skimming Jim's chest with his palms. "Don't you?" and the look in Blair's eyes as he raised his head made Jim shiver, and he took a sudden step back.

"I don't know what to do with that," he said.

"Wear it for a while," said Blair. "Break it in, get comfortable with it." He took a step forward, again closing the distance between them. "I want you," he said again. "They're wonderful words, 'I want'," he added, " — like magic, if you know how to use them."

"I'm trying," said Jim, softly.

"I want you to go upstairs now," said Blair. "Will you?"

Jim nodded, turned, and went up the stairs. Blair watched him go, then slowly followed. Jim sat down on the side of the bed, watched Blair arrive, opened his arms in invitation. Blair stopped at the top of the stairs.

"I want you to take off your clothes," said Blair quietly. "Will you?" Jim froze for a long moment, then dropped his arms and began unbuttoning his shirt, revealing the broad, hairless chest; he pulled the shirt back off strong, muscular shoulders, down off smooth, well-defined arms.

Blair made a small sound and then said, "Yes. More," and Jim kicked off his shoes, pulled off his socks and stood up, moved his hand to he waistband of his pants, unbuttoned them.

"Blair, it feels funny," he said suddenly.

"What, to be wanted?" asked Blair.

"Yeah," said Jim. "I guess."

"You want me," said Blair darkly from the other side of the room.

"Yes, I want you," said Jim. That was easy — even easy, now, to say.

"But you don't want me to want you?" asked Blair.

"No," said Jim, suddenly. "I do."

"Say it," whispered Blair.

"I want you to want me," said Jim, and he unzipped his fly and slid his pants and boxers down over his hips, pushed them to the floor, stepped out of them.

"Oh, I do," said Blair, eyes moving down over the tight abdominal muscles, the smooth hips, the rising erection, the long legs and heavy thighs. "So much," he added, and when Jim again raised his arms in invitation he quickly crossed the few steps to the bed.

Fully clothed, Blair stood in front of Jim, intentionally leaving a few inches between them. He raised his hands to Jim's chest and then slid them up to his neck and bent his head forward o kiss a nipple, and then he was moving his hands, moving his lips, trailing his tongue over shoulders, chest, arms, hips, cock, thighs.

Jim shuddered as Blair licked, laved, loved the length of his body, and his breath caught in his chest when he heard Blair whisper against his thigh, "I want you to lie down."

Jim closed his eyes, felt his pulse throbbing against his eyelids, and stepped back. He sat down on the bed, slid himself backwards, and lay back, heart pounding in anticipation, in fear, in excitement.

Blair stood up and pulled off his clothes carelessly, then crawled onto the bed. Jim looked up at him, raised a hand to his square jaw and caressed it gently, and then Blair bent over him again and repeated his journey down Jim's body — shoulders, chest, arms, hips, cock, thighs — with more intensity, fingers pressing more firmly, lips sucking and biting — until, by the end of it, Jim was panting hard, hands gripping the sheets at his side. Finally, Blair lay his cheek against Jim's thigh, and then turned his head and kissed the twitching flesh. "Jim," he said softly, "I want you to open your legs for me. Will you?" For long minutes Jim didn't move, and Blair could hear his nervous breathing above him. He waited patiently, feeling the blood rush through his own aroused body.

Eventually, Jim's began to spread his thighs apart, and Blair drew in a tense, excited breath and repositioned himself so that he could lick and suck at the newly exposed areas of Jim's body, at his inner thighs, at the bottom of his balls, at the smooth skin underneath. "More," he murmured after a while. "More," and he heard Jim groan and then spread his legs open wide, shifting his hips, pulling up his knees. Blair clutched Jim's thighs, bracing himself, and lowered his head to kiss the dark ridges of Jim's anus.

Jim thrashed violently beneath him, but Blair dug his fingers deeper into Jim's skin and held on, kept his lips pressed against Jim's opening and ran his tongue across it. Eventually the bucking and heaving subsided into smaller movements, a gentler twitching and rocking beneath him, and Blair let his fingers relax and gently began to circle the hole with his tongue, hearing the panicked gasps above him mutate into moans of pleasure. Eventually, even the involuntary rocking became cooperative thrusting, and Blair responded by firming his tongue and pushing into the outer ring of muscle.

Jim gasped as Blair's tongue penetrated him, and his hands flew to his nipples and he pinched them hard and then rubbed them in time with the gentle thrusts of Blair's tongue in his ass. This, this was...he didn't have words for this, knew he would never have words for this, this was beyond his imagination and his vocabulary, this was beyond anything: it had simply never occurred to him that he could ever feel this safe. He could feel Blair tense and straining beneath him, could feel the passion pouring from Blair's fingers and spreading up his body, and wondered that he should have such a lover, that he could ever feel like this, that he could ever feel so much.

And then Blair lifted his head and looked up at him, and Jim keened softly in disappointment and then whispered, "Blair... fingers... please," and Blair nodded and eased a finger into the wet, reddened pucker and watched, rapt, as Jim's handsome face tightened and twisted with desire, and the muscles in the strong stomach rolled and spasmed. Blair shivered and he began to slide his finger in and out of his lover's body, feeling drunk on Jim's reactions, on the beautiful, hard body writhing before him. He sped up his strokes, stretching deep within Jim, and then he added a second finger and Jim's cry gripped his spine.

"Jim — touch yourself," he hissed, suddenly afraid that he would come before Jim came — before he could see Jim come. He wanted to watch Jim come, wanted to watch pleasure play across that much beloved face, caressing it, blurring it, distorting the familiar features. He gasped when Jim's hand obediently circled his cock and began stroking, when Jim suddenly thrust back hard on his hand, and he desperately angled his fingers hoping to hit Jim's prostate, hoping to send Jim spiraling over the edge before his own, building orgasm crashed.

He heard Jim's sharp cry as he brushed the small gland, and then Jim was furiously fucking himself, furiously stroking himself and Blair sucked in a great whooping breath trying to stay in control and then it was happening, Jim was coming, and Blair watched with wide eyes, wanting to imprint it all on his memory, wanting to be wrapped and buried within the memory, and then he couldn't help himself and he reached down for his own cock and brought himself off quickly, yelling sharply as he came.

Blair sagged backwards, then he let himself fall over on his side and curled into a fetal position. His breathing sounded loud to his own ears, and it took several minutes before he could speak.

"Jim?" said Blair from the foot of the bed.


"I think I want a cock ring," said Blair and he heard Jim groan loudly and say, "Please Blair, no more, I can't take any more," and Blair smiled, and raised himself on his hands to look at his lover. "No, I didn't mean it as a — I meant it practically," he amended earnestly. "You don't know how much I like to look at you but it makes me want to come almost instantly and — " Jim groaned again, louder still, and Blair said, "okay, okay" very softly and rolled away and up, climbing out of bed in search of a washcloth.

"Hey! hey!" yelled Blair as he bounded through the door late the next evening. Jim looked at him from the kitchen, where he was unpacking a bag of groceries. Blair's face, he noted, was tired, but his eyes were shining happily.

"Hey yourself," he replied.

"How was your day, Blair?" said Blair, tossing his knapsack on the sofa and coming over for a quick kiss.

"Looks like it was good," replied Jim, smiling. "I don't think I have to ask."

"It was good — it was great — and I really needed a good one," said Blair, pacing around the apartment. "I really did, Jim — I mean, can take it and all, but I really needed to have a good day, here."


"So first of all we did these really cool things in self-defense — the self-defense teacher is great — he's like my age and Chinese and he's got this great tattoo on his leg and he's, like, from LA, so that was OK — and thank Allah, man, because I just don't know if I could have handled another one like my sergeant, you know? He's the fucking gym teacher from hell, I swear, and he hates my fucking guts — always, 'Give me twenty more Sandburg,' and 'Betcha don't think you're so smart now, Sandburg, ' — you know, like that's really clever, like I'm supposed to be impressed by his witty banter. 'Yeah, you're right, sir, guess I'm not so clever now — you dick!' Anyway, Alan — the self-defense teacher — he's not like that, plus he's really philosophical about the art of self-defense in a really cool, 'yeah I did drugs in my twenties and so what' kind of way, which was excellent."

"Breathe, Sandburg," warned Jim and Blair sucked in a deep breath before continuing.

"So I get him in the morning for the next two weeks — hoo-ray! — and then in the afternoon Sergeant Dodgeball took us over to the firing range and — wait, look, look!" said Blair, rushing over to his knapsack and returning with a large rolled up piece of paper. He unrolled it and slammed it up against the kitchen cabinet, banging it hard three times with his fist excitedly. "Look at that — dig that!" he said triumphantly, and Jim studied the rough human figure on the paper, noting the large hole in the center of the chest. "Six bullets," crowed Blair, "all milli-fucking-meters away from each other." He grinned. "I got an A+ for that, man! The shooting instructor just loves me."

"Aw," said Jim, looking fondly from the target to Blair and back again. "We'll have to put that on the fridge," he said, and attached the large sheet to the fridge door with a magnet.

"Very funny," said Blair, "but I needed that, badly, Jim. I wish we'd done shooting earlier — all of a sudden all the other academy trainees looked at me differently, you know?" He laughed. "I think a couple of them were even a little afraid."

"They should be," said Jim gravely. "Very, very afraid."

"And the shooting instructor was really impressed — he asked me if I could give the class some pointers, which of course I couldn't. I mean, I can't very well say, 'well all you have to do is relax and let the bullets be guided by the spirit of ancients', right? — that's not a technique that's gonna work for the average bear, now is it? — so I ended up having to make up some story about a cousin in Texas who taught me to shoot while I was working summers at his ranch — oh, man!" he said, bringing his hands up to his head, "I really hope I can remember what I said! I've never even been to Texas."

"What, there's somewhere on this earth you haven't been?" teased Jim.

"Well, I was in the Dallas airport once, but I don't think that counts," Blair said, pouring himself a glass of water. "It certainly isn't going to help with my ranch story. Maybe we can rent some Westerns."

"I'm surprised you're so pleased about having shot a person through the chest," said Jim, looking again at the target sheet and Blair stared at him, shocked.

"That's not a person, Jim, that's a target — a piece of paper — and yes, I am pleased, okay? It's school, isn't it? — cop school, and I need to feel I'm doing well, its a habit. I did hear what you said at the cabin that time — I do listen to you, you know — and so I decided to do what you said: pass the test and forget it." Blair put the glass down. "I've already decided that when I get the gun, I'll take the bullets out. Carry it unloaded."

"Ah, no, see, you fucked up again, said Jim, conversationally, slapping his palm against the countertop for punctuation.. "That should have been on the list. Things Not to Talk About With Jim. Because there is no way on God's green earth that I am going to let you carry an unloaded gun. Forget it. The subject is closed."

"But Jim — "

"But Jim nothing. You can put the safety on. You can choose not to use it. You will not carry it unloaded — you need to have it there for you if you need it."

"I won't need it —

"I. Will. Not. Permit. It. Period."



"Jim — "


"But — "

"Period, Sandburg."

"All right, all right, all right, all right, all right," replied Blair. "I'm going to take a shower."

"I was going to say," teased Jim, and Blair looked down at his grungy gray sweats and shrugged.

"Whattya want, I was working. Hey," he said, pausing on the way to the stairs, "we did this move today, where your opponent grabs you and you do this Zen thing and let his weight make him trip and — " Blair went into a sudden crouch and leapt at the sofa from behind, grabbing the back of it and miming a fierce struggle.

"Great, Sandburg — show that sofa who's boss," said Jim, turning to answer the ringing phone. Blair made a face at him and went upstairs.

"Hello?" said Jim. "Yes, this is he. Uh-huh," he said as Blair came down the stairs carrying clean clothes. "No, look, let me talk to Mr. Hartman, okay?" he added, waving Blair into the bathroom and moving into the office. "Yeah, Mike," he said, listening to the sudden hissing sound of the shower. "Jim Ellison. I can't do it tomorrow, what about Friday? All right, I can do it at lunch. Will you have the papers ready by then? Yes, just draw everything up — the will, the deed to my place, all of it. I can just sign it quick. Yes. Right. S-A-N-D-B-U-R-G," he said softly. "B-L-A-I-R."  

The End