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Jim is used to Blair taking the lead when it comes to processing emotions and the like. Blair prods Jim to talk about his feelings, and the past, and what it all means.

 

In a way, Jim relies on Blair to push him into doing things that he wouldn’t normally do, like talking, like starting a relationship with his best friend and roommate, and he has no idea what to do when that push isn’t forthcoming.

 

They split laundry duties, and Blair cleans while Jim changes the oil in both their vehicles. They order a pizza that night, rather than cooking, and they sit down to drink beer with the football game on in the background.

 

Blair’s reading an academic journal, because he can’t turn off the scholar just because he wears a badge these days, and Jim waits for him to ask what’s coming next, or what they’re going to do, but there’s nothing.

 

Apparently, if Jim wants to move things along, and take it to the next level, he’s going to have to be the one to push. He thinks it over, and finally asks, “You want to take a trip down the coast with me?”

 

Blair looks up from his article. “Where are we going?”

 

“Lady G has entertainment on the weekends,” Jim says. “We’ve missed the pros tonight, but Fridays are amateur night, and I’ve been meaning to make a trip down there for years.”

 

Blair lights up at that. “I’d love that. After your stories, I’ve gotta meet her.”

 

“She’s going to love you, Chief,” Jim replies. “She’ll be relieved I’ve finally found a nice boy to settle down with.”

 

“Could have been a nice girl,” Blair points out.

 

Jim shrugs. “My luck with women hasn’t been great.”

 

Blair grimaces. “Okay, point, but has your luck with men been any better?”

 

Jim raises his eyebrows. “I might be single right now, but as far as you knew I was straight. Are you saying my taste in men is just as bad?”

 

Considering that he’s interested in Blair, Jim can’t help but tease.

 

“What? No!” Blair says immediately. “I’m just saying… Okay, stopping now.”

 

Jim smirks. “To answer the question you didn’t ask, there were two guys before you, and both breaks were amicable.”

 

Jim can see Blair holding back, and he tunes into the game, wondering just how long it will take Blair to ask the questions that are clearly burning in his mind.

 

“But when?” Blair finally blurts out. “You said you weren’t out at the station, and with you being in the military—”

 

Jim shrugs. “I had a boyfriend in college. We were both in ROTC, so we kept it quiet until we shipped out different places and called it off. Same when I first joined the force, before I met Caroline. He was a fire jumper, and he got work down in California. We opted to break things off.”

 

Blair blinks. “Okay, so you dated another military guy and a firefighter?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Your taste in men is worlds better than your taste in women,” Blair comments.

 

Jim shrugs. “There were a few drunken hookups in the back rooms of bars, but if I’m going to date a guy, I have to be able to trust him not to out me.”

 

Blair maintains a thoughtful silence as they finish watching the game, and Jim is content to let it ride. He has his fair share of skeletons in the closet, but Blair knows about most of them by now.

 

Jim can wait to find out about Blair’s.

 

~~~~~

 

Blair pushes through the crowded party, trying to get to the keg on the far side of the room to refill his empty glass. There’s some kind of punch, too, but judging from the fumes coming off it, it’s not something he wants to drink.

 

He fills up his plastic cup and then heads back into the crush. He skirts around a few knots of people, looking for anybody he knows. At eighteen, he’s just able to pass for old enough to drink, and he’s finally getting some play with the ladies.

 

Turns out, it’s a real mood killer for girls to find out he’s under eighteen and a genius.

 

Oh, sure, there had been a couple who had been interested in spite of his age, but they had a predatory air that had turned him off.

 

“Hey, Sandburg,” someone calls, and he turns to see Nick waving at him. Nick is in a couple of his anthro courses and has gone up against him for a fellowship, which Blair narrowly lost, mostly due to his age. This year, Blair thinks the odds will be in his favor.

 

“Nick, hey,” Blair says. In spite of the competition between them, Blair likes Nick. He’s a decent guy, and pretty easy on the eyes with his tall, lanky build, dark hair, and hazel eyes. Blair likes the ladies, but he’s experimented a few times and had enjoyed himself.

 

In his experience, guys are easy; guys are all about getting their rocks off. Girls take more finesse, and are more of a challenge.

 

Blair likes them both, although he’s been called enough names to play up the liking girls part.

 

There’s something in the warmth of Nick’s smile, though, in the way he leans close, that tells Blair that Nick might be interested in more than just a friendly conversation and some mutual trash talking.

 

“You enjoying your classes?” Nick asks over the pounding bass of the music.

 

Blair shrugs. “Yeah, sure, what’s not to love? Fall is my favorite season.”

 

“Such a nerd,” Nick says, but there’s an edge of affection to his tone. “If you keep kicking ass, you’ll be top dog, and you’ll be the one getting the plum assignments next summer.”

 

“That’s the plan,” Blair teases. “I look forward to you losing out to me for a change.”

 

Nick laughs. “Come on, we both know I got that assignment because I was a legal adult and you weren’t. No hard feelings, though, right?”

 

“No hard feelings,” Blair agrees. “And this year, may the best man win.”

 

“You want to get out of here?” Nick offers. “Maybe get a cup of coffee?”

 

Blair congratulates himself on not reading the signs wrong. “Yeah, that would be great. I’m not really in the mood to party.”

 

He doesn’t have a car, and neither does Nick, so they walk to the coffee shop just off campus. On Friday night, it’s fairly crowded with couples out on dates, and academic types who apparently aren’t interested in the party scene.

 

“Snag a table and I’ll get our drinks,” Nick says. “You want coffee, tea, something different?”

 

“I’d take tea,” Blair replies. “I’m not picky.”

 

He finds a table that’s a little exposed if they’re going to have a private conversation, but this is a first something. Maybe a date, maybe not, but they’re two anthro students having a drink together. No one is going to give them a second look.

 

Nick joins him, and his knees jostle Blair’s as he sits down, putting Blair’s cup in front of him. “Thanks for joining me, man. I was just not feeling the crowd tonight.”

 

“Me neither,” Blair admits. “Lotta jocks there for my taste.”

 

Nick quirks an eyebrow. “I don’t know. They make for some nice eye candy.”

 

Blair has been in on conversations like this before, and he can tell when someone is feeling him out, trying to decide whether he’s straight or open to experimentation, a homophobe or someone who’s open minded enough not to get upset by a come on.

 

Blair shrugs. “I don’t know, Nick. They open their mouths, and most of the time that just kills it for me.”

 

Nick’s expression turns a little shy. “So, what doesn’t kill it for you?”

 

“A brain?” Blair suggests. “An intelligent conversation?” He pauses, knowing full well that Nick plays the guitar. “Someone who appreciates music and culture?”

 

Nick smirks. “Those sound like turn-ons to me.”

 

“I guess you’ll have to find out,” Blair replies with a smile.

 

~~~~~

 

The sun is making its slow descent when they leave the next day, and the drive south is made in a comfortable kind of silence. After the upheaval of the last few days, Jim is grateful for the quiet.

 

“Not to bring up a sore subject, man, but do you think you’d know another Sentinel if you saw one?” Blair asks.

 

Jim should have known the quiet was too good to last. “I have no idea.”

 

“But you sensed something was up with Alex?” Blair presses.

 

Jim grimaces, not liking to think about that time. “I knew something was wrong; I couldn’t have told you whether she was a Sentinel or not until a lot later.”

 

“If we went back to where it happened, do you think you could find her?” Blair asks.

 

Jim sighs. “It’s not like I can just hone in on a Sentinel through some kind of magical know how, Blair.”

 

“What if you could somehow sense her spirit animal?” Blair asks.

 

Jim refrains from rolling his eyes, but just barely. “I don’t know, Blair. You know the spiritual stuff is more your thing than mine.”

 

“But you agree we need to look for her,” Blair says.

 

“Yes, I’ve said so, haven’t I?” Jim asks. “What’s this about, Blair?”

 

“Just—thinking,” Blair says. “Sorry.”

 

Jim glances at him. “What’s this really about?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

Jim raises an eyebrow but doesn’t ask any questions. He’ll get it out of Blair eventually. Jim suspects he’s deflecting for some reason, trying to turn Jim’s attention from—

 

Ah. Yesterday’s conversation about Jim’s ex-boyfriends, plus Blair sleeping in his own bed last night, probably. Blair hasn’t offered up any stories of his own, and he’s probably concerned that Jim’s going to ask or push for more.

 

Since Jim has been waiting for Blair to push, the turnabout is telling.

 

“So, you want to have that conversation now, or later?” Jim asks.

 

“What conversation?” Blair asks.

 

Jim smirks. “We’ve discussed my past boyfriends. In fact, we’ve discussed my past quite a bit the last few days. I’ve probably told you more than I’ve told just about anyone else. You didn’t date guys while we lived together.”

 

“Bad experience,” Blair replies with an unhappy slant to his mouth. “Plus, I hate playing to type.”

 

Jim raises an eyebrow. “What type?”

 

“You know, long-haired, hippy freak, must be a fag, too,” Blair says bitterly.

 

“Hey!” Jim says sharply. “None of that language. I never have cared for it. You got a problem with a relationship with a man, now’s the time to say it.”

 

Blair sighs. “I don’t mean you. Like I said, bad memories.”

 

“You don’t have to talk about it,” Jim replies. “I know all about memories you don’t want to face.”

 

Blair sighs. “Like you, I had two boyfriends, but with pretty much the opposite result. One of them broke up with me after we both got gay bashed, and one ended badly.”

 

“All relationships end until one doesn’t,” Jim says philosophically. “What happens shapes us, but it doesn’t have to define us.”

 

Jim can feel Blair staring at him. “What?” he asks irritably.

 

Blair shrugs. “That was almost poetic, big guy.”

 

Jim clears his throat. “Yeah, well. You live long enough, maybe you learn something. Tell me what you want when you want. We’ve got time. Play our cards right, we might get fifty years.”

 

“Only if you lay off the Wonderburger,” Blair jokes. “I have to say that I’m concerned about your arteries.”

 

Jim smiles. “Now that’s more like it.”

 

“I’m not worried about you,” Blair says in a rush. “We’ve been through a lot together, and we’re solid. I just—what if people at the station find out?”

 

“You’re just thinking about that now?” Jim asks.

 

Blair leans against the door of the truck. “You’ve already thought about this.”

 

“Sure,” Jim says easily. “Been thinking about it for a while now. I’ve been interested for a while now.”

 

He can see Blair’s eyes widen. “Since when?”

 

“Since before I left for what was supposed to be a solo fishing trip,” Jim replies. “I went to get my head screwed on straight, and you and Simon followed.”

 

“Oh.” Blair is quiet. “So, that’s why you were so…”

 

“Grouchy?” Jim suggests. “Touchy? A total bastard to live with?”

 

He hesitates. “Yeah, something like that.”

 

“You didn’t date any guys while we were living together,” Jim points out. “You didn’t show any interest until fairly recently. I figured I was barking up the wrong tree and needed time to wrap my head around it.”

 

“I had no idea,” Blair murmurs.

 

Jim snorts. “That was the point, Chief.”

 

Blair’s a good detective, and Jim watches his expression as all the pieces fall together. “That’s part of why you were so freaked out.”

 

“Sucks to fall for someone who isn’t interested, and sucks even more to feel betrayed by them,” Jim admits. “When you asked me to test the water, I’d already figured out the invitation wasn’t the one I wanted.”

 

Blair is silent for a long moment. “Were you ever going to tell me?”

 

“I never wanted to lose you,” Jim admits. “I didn’t want to make it weird.”

 

Blair opens his mouth, probably to argue, and then closes it again. “Yeah, it probably would have made things weird. Or weirder.”

 

Jim hitches a shoulder. “I was your research subject, and your friend. That was complicated enough.”

 

“Yeah, I guess.” Blair pauses. “It’s in the past now, right?”

 

The past is prologue, Jim wants to say but doesn’t. He wonders if Blair is going to have a problem with this relationship, and he’s fairly certain that no one would have pegged it, not even him. Jim is perfectly comfortable with a relationship with a man, and keeping it on the down low. Blair doesn’t seem to feel the same way.

 

Jim isn’t too worried. After so long together, Jim doesn’t doubt Blair’s loyalty. While he wishes he’d figured it out sooner, mostly because he’d hurt Blair badly, Jim trusts Blair’s commitment to their partnership. Whatever Blair’s issues, they’ll figure it out, the way they’ve figured out every other problem presented to them.

 

Blair falls asleep shortly after that, and he sleeps the rest of the drive down to Lady G’s place. She calls it “Lady G’s” appropriately enough, and it’s located just outside Portland, a few hours south of Cascade.

 

He calls softly, “Hey, Chief. We’re here.”

 

Blair doesn’t wake, stirring fitfully and muttering, and Jim puts a hand on his shoulder, wanting to nudge him awake gently.

 

Blair’s hand comes up suddenly to grab Jim’s wrist, twisting violently. Jim reacts out of instinct, breaking Blair’s hold and holding both of his wrists. “Hey,” Jim says quietly. “It’s okay. It’s just me. We’re safe. We’re okay.”

 

Blair comes around immediately, drawing in a sharp, audible breath, and then he forces a smile. “Sorry, Jim.”

 

“No apology necessary,” Jim assures him. “You good to go?”

 

Blair nods sharply. “Give me a minute.”

 

“Take all the time you need,” Jim replies, releasing him.

 

He pretends not to notice Blair breathing deeply, in through his nose and out through his mouth. The last case would have given anyone nightmares, and Blair had that bastard’s hands around his throat.

 

“Okay, I’m good,” Blair says, pasting on a smile.

 

“Maybe this was too soon,” Jim says, worried.

 

Blair frowns. “Jim, man, we’re here. We’re not going back home without going inside.”

 

“Okay, then, let’s go,” Jim says, figuring that Blair’s a grown man, and he’s given him an out.

 

Jim isn’t really sure what’s allowed and what’s out of bounds, but no one here knows them, and they don’t have to worry about being outed at the station, so he puts a hand on the small of Blair’s back as they walk inside. Blair’s smile tells Jim that he made the right call.

 

Lady G’s is a wall of sound when they step inside, and Jim moves a little closer to Blair. The place is packed, and Jim can hear Lady G’s voice as they move towards the bar.

 

It’s a mixed crowd, more mixed than most places Jim tends to go—he can see gay couples, apparent from the public displays of affection they might hesitate to indulge in elsewhere, groups of women, and a few singles, including some folks who are probably trans. It’s an eclectic bunch, and Jim relaxes even further.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s amateurs’ night!” Lady G announces. “I know you’ll give a warm welcome to all our contestants.”

 

G is looking good. She’s still built, wearing an electric blue dress that shouldn’t work but does, and leopard print platform heels that give her another few inches. Jim’s secure enough in his own sexuality to admit that she’s fucking gorgeous—all six foot, six inches of her, including the heels.

 

She walks across the stage to a small set of stairs, and some guy offers her a hand as she descends gracefully. Jim instinctively moves to put himself in her line of sight, and he watches as she scans the crowd, skips over him, and then gives him a second look. A grin takes over her face, and she moves easily through the masses, stopping to say hello as she moves towards him.

 

“Jim Ellison, as I live and breathe,” Lady G says with a delighted smile. “I didn’t think you’d ever come down.”

 

“Caught a couple of days off, and thought I’d introduce you to my partner,” Jim replies, accepting the kiss on the cheek she offers with good grace. “You’re looking fantastic, Lady G.”

 

She smiles smugly. “And don’t I know it.” She looks past him to see Blair, and smiles smugly. “I told you that you should find a nice boy to take home.”

 

“Boy or girl,” Jim reminds her. “But I’m not disappointed. Blair, Lady G. G, this is Blair.”

 

“It’s a pleasure,” Blair says warmly as he shakes her hand. “Jim’s spoken very highly of you.”

 

“Knowing Jim, you had to pry it out of him,” Lady G says knowingly. “But if he brought you here, you’re good people. Come on. First drink’s on me.”

 

Jim opens his mouth to protest, and G holds up a well-manicured hand. “Don’t you start with me. I still owe you.”

 

Jim shrugs. “We’ll have to agree to disagree on that front.”

 

She shakes her head. “Did this big lug here tell you he saved my life the first time we met?”

 

Blair glances up at Jim, clearly amused. “Well, he said there was a group of thugs.”

 

“Hm,” Lady G says. “He probably didn’t tell you that he made it a point after that to come by my place, always heavily armed. It sent a real message.”

 

“Jim’s pretty good at sending messages,” Blair says. “Tell me more about when you knew him.”

 

Jim sighs, knowing this is exactly what he’d been getting himself into, but less put out than he appears.

 

After all, if Lady G is telling the stories, he doesn’t have to bother.

 

~~~~~

 

Blair isn’t sure how deep he wants to get with Nick. He likes the guy, and they have a lot in common, but Blair worries about what people are going to think if they find out he’s bisexual.

 

He wants to be open minded and cool about things—he does. In theory, he’s open to love in all its forms, male, female, or anybody. It’s the inside, not the outside.

 

His mom had drummed that into his head over the years, but Blair still remembers the casual insults—fag, fairy, queer, cocksucker, bastard. He tries to ignore it, but it’s impossible. He should be above that sort of thing, but he’s not.

 

With every insult, Blair wants to shout, I’m not gay! But in reality, he’s also not straight, and biphobia is a thing.

 

And the beating he got, and the nasty break-up, probably didn’t help.

 

So, yes, he likes Nick, and he’s attracted to Nick, but his previous relationship makes him wary in a way he doesn’t like and doesn’t want.

 

But Nick is a fun guy, and they have a lot in common, so Blair finds himself getting in deeper by the day.

 

“So, are we at the point where we’re exclusive, or are we keeping it casual?” Nick asks at the end of a late night study session for their Anthropology of Religion course.

 

“Is this a trick question?” Blair asks. “Because I’ve found that’s usually a trick question.”

 

“There’s no wrong answer, so long as you’re honest,” Nick replies with a lopsided smile.

 

Blair sighs. “I really like you.”

 

Nick’s dimples flash as he offers a quick grin. “I really like you, too.”

 

“I had a boyfriend before I started here,” Blair admits. “We weren’t in the best location to be out, and things ended on a shitty note.”

 

His expression turns sympathetic, his brown eyes widening. “I’m sorry, Blair. How old were you?”

 

“Fifteen,” Blair admits. “Young enough to believe that love made everything okay.”

 

His mom’s general philosophy probably hadn’t helped either. She tended to believe the best of everybody, and had passed that along to him.  Blair wishes he had her faith in humanity.

 

Blair loves people, he does, but he’s lost a bit of his naivety.

 

“That sucks,” Nick replies. “But Rainier is a progressive place, and we can be as public or private as you like if it makes you feel better. I don’t want to lie to people, but we don’t have to be particularly free with the truth either.”

 

“You don’t mind?” Blair asks.

 

“Well, if I thought you were ashamed of me, that would be one thing, but you have a pretty good reason to want to keep things on the down low,” Nick says. “I mean, I hope you’ll be comfortable enough to be a little more open eventually, but I really like you. I’d like to see where this goes.”

 

Blair bobs his head. “Yeah, me too.”

 

Nick reaches out with one long-fingered hand to touch Blair’s cheek. Blair can feel the calluses from playing guitar, and he leans in.  Nick’s a good kisser, a little demanding, but not too pushy, his stubble scratching Blair’s skin a little bit.

 

“I’ve been wanting to do that forever,” Nick admits. “Had to wait until you were legal first.”

 

“I’m definitely legal now,” Blair replies, leaning in for another kiss.

 

The kiss grows hot and heavy quickly, and Blair moves around the table to sit astride Nick’s lap. Nick grips his thighs, fingers brushing his ass, holding him in place.

 

Nick’s hands are hot through the denim of his jeans, and Blair pushes his fingers into Nick’s thick, dark hair.

 

It’s nice, Blair thinks. He hasn’t had much play over the last couple of years, and Nick treats him like an equal. They just kiss for long, unhurried moments in the tiny nook of Nick’s studio apartment.

 

“Stay over tonight?” Nick asks when they pause to catch their breaths.

 

Blair can feel his flush deepen. “Yeah, but I—haven’t done much.”

 

“Let me blow you,” Nick suggests. “I’ll make it good for you.”

 

“I believe you,” Blair replies. “And I don’t know anybody who’d pass up a blow job.”

 

Nick pulls back slightly. “Okay, but does this mean we’re exclusive? Because I need to know the ground rules before we get started.”

 

“I’m not seeing anybody else right now, and I’m not planning on it while I’m with you,” Blair replies sincerely.

 

“That’s all I needed to know,” Nick replies. “Let’s take it to the bed. I want to make this last, and my knees won’t thank me if I try to do this kneeling on the floor.”

 

“Works for me,” Blair says.

 

~~~~~

 

The live entertainment turns out to be an amateur drag queen show—as well as a few women dressed up like guys, and Jim’s not entirely sure if they’re drag kings or still drag queens—lip syncing to pop music.

 

It’s not Jim’s usual scene, but it’s entertaining. The costumes are fairly elaborate, and the performances range from nearly professional to awkwardly earnest. Mostly, he revels in the opportunity to put an arm around Blair and leave it there.

 

They won’t be able to be out at the station, not and stay partners. Simon’s policy is fairly liberal—as long as they deliver results, and their relationship doesn’t interfere with the job, Simon’s not going to look too closely. But there’s a difference between not asking questions and being asked to ignore the rules outright.

 

Here, though, no one knows them other than Lady G, and no one is going to bat an eyelash at the public display of affection.

 

Blair leans into him, so he must not mind.

 

They close down the bar, staying after last call at Lady G’s invitation, and Jim appreciates the chance to get caught up. “So, tell me what you’re up to now,” she says. “I know you got out of Vice and into Major Crimes.”

 

“It’s been a few years now,” Jim confirms.

 

“And the two of you?” Lady G asks.

 

Jim glances at Blair. “A few years ago we partnered up. I was having some health issues, and Blair got me through it.”

 

Lady G glances at Blair, and Jim suddenly knows that she’d seen Blair’s press conference, but she’s too polite to bring it up first. “It’s good that you had someone to look out for you,” she says. “Or that you could look out for each other.”

 

“I think Blair deserves most of the credit,” Jim says.

 

“Hey, no way!” Blair protests. “You’ve saved my life just as often if not more than I’ve saved yours,” and he points to the bruises just visible under his shirt collar.

 

“A side effect of a recent case?” Lady G asks.

 

Jim hitches a shoulder. “Serial killer. Brought me back to my first case on Vice.”

 

G sighs. “Then I suppose that’s what brought you here.”

 

“I’ve been meaning to come down for a while now,” Jim protests. “But I was telling Blair about you, and things changed, and I wanted you to meet him.”

 

Lady G smiles softly, reaching out to pat Jim’s cheek. “You’re a good man, Jim Ellison. Always were.”

 

“You’re just biased because I rescued you from a beating,” Jim replies.

 

Lady G hitches a shoulder. “And I still maintain that it takes a truly decent person to stop something like that from going down, particularly at risk to their own skin.”

 

“That’s Jim,” Blair says easily. “Always saving people.”

 

“And perhaps you’ll keep him from being stupidly self-sacrificing,” Lady G replies. “It was great to meet you, by the way.”

 

That’s their cue to leave, and Blair lets Lady G usher them out. “You take care of our boy,” Lady G says, kissing Blair on both cheeks. “Be good to each other.”

 

“We try,” Blair promises. “We will.”

 

“And you take care of him, too,” Lady G orders Jim, hugging him tightly. “I know you will.”

 

“Not planning on letting him go,” Jim admits.

 

Lady G pats his cheek. “I’m glad you’re being smart about this, Jim.”

 

“I may have a hard head, but I try to learn from my mistakes,” Jim replies. “We’ll see you again soon.”

 

“You’d better!” she replies. “I know where you live.”

 

They climb into Jim’s truck, and Blair says quietly, “That was really fun. Lady G is great.”

 

“She is,” Jim replies. “Ready to turn in?”

 

“Yeah, man, I’m exhausted,” Blair admits.

 

Jim gets a hotel room with two beds, not sure that he’s ready to take things to the next level yet. He and Blair have a few things to talk about, and a few things to work out before then.

 

He’s not surprised to see the relief on Blair’s face when he realizes what Jim’s done. “Thanks,” he says softly. “I wasn’t sure—”

 

“We’re solid,” Jim replies. “Whatever we do next, we’ll do it on our time, and our terms.”

 

Blair shoots him a grateful smile. “Yeah.”

 

As late as it is, Jim has no problem dropping straight off to sleep, waking near dawn to whimpers. Jim is out of bed before he can really think about it, although he hesitates to wake Blair up.

 

He sits down on the edge of the bed, shaking the mattress in hopes of waking Blair gently. When Blair keeps making the same distressed, muted sounds, Jim rests a hand on his ankle.

 

Blair comes up swinging, and Jim moves back, out of range of Blair’s fists.

 

“Hey, you’re okay,” Jim says. “It’s just me. It’s Jim.”

 

Blair is breathing heavily as his hands drop, still clenched into fists. “Sorry.”

 

Jim hesitates, and then crawls up the bed to stretch out next to Blair. “Come on.”

 

“I’m fine.” Blair’s tone is flat, and he doesn’t move.

 

“I know you are,” Jim says persuasively. “Come on.”

 

He coaxes Blair to lie down, to put his head on Jim’s shoulder, and he feels Blair go boneless after a few tense minutes. “Shit.”

 

“I have my own nightmares,” Jim says softly.

 

“I know,” Blair buries his face in Jim’s shoulder. “It wasn’t the last case this time.”

 

“You want to talk about it?” Jim asks.

 

Blair snorts.

 

“I feel like I’ve been getting better,” Jim protests. “I told you about Lady G, and about Vice. Do you know how many people I’ve told about either?”

 

“One, including me,” Blair says.

 

“Got it the first try,” Jim replies. “So?”

 

Blair sighs. “It was about my second boyfriend.”

 

“It ended badly,” Jim says quietly.

 

Blair holds him tightly. “You could say that.”

 

~~~~~

 

Blair knows himself well enough to know that he falls in and out of love a lot. He gives his heart entirely, and then he finds out that the other person doesn’t feel the same way. He falls in love, and finds out they’re not quite what he thought they were. He weathers the first throes of passion and comes out the other end with a mild case of like, not love.

 

Nick is different. Nick gets under Blair’s skin the way no one else has before. He’s kind and funny and smart. They share a taste in music and movies, and they take a lot of the same classes.

 

From the outside, they probably just look like good friends, a couple of guys who share the same professors and vie for the same research spots. From the inside, it’s the perfect relationship.

 

At least at first.

 

Blair goes home with Nick that Christmas break after the first semester on Nick’s invitation. “Come on, my parents won’t mind,” Nick cajoles. “The dorms will be closed, and you’ll need somewhere to go, unless you’re going to see your mom.”

 

“Christmas isn’t Mom’s thing,” Blair says. “Plus, she’s on some spiritual retreat in Nepal with her new boyfriend. I was just going to couch surf.”

 

“So?” Nick presses. “Come home with me. My parents would love to meet you, and they never mind when I bring friends home from school.”

 

Blair frowns. “They don’t mind that you’re bi?”

 

“Mind?” Nick asks. “They were the first to figure it out. They knew before I did! Mom’s brother is gay. Nobody in my family cares.”

 

Other than his mom, Blair doesn’t have a lot of experience with families, although his high school boyfriend hadn’t been out to them.

 

“If you’re sure they won’t mind,” Blair begins.

 

“Are you kidding me?” Nick replies. “Come on, I hate thinking of you spending Christmas here alone.”

 

Blair smiles. “You do know I’m Jewish, right?”

 

“Fine, the holidays, generic,” Nick qualifies. “Please come.”

 

Blair is helpless in the face of Nick’s pleading look. “Yeah, sure. If you insist.”

 

Nick is from a small town in Oregon, so they drive down together, the back of Nick’s Honda Civic hatchback stuffed full with gifts. Blair doesn’t have a lot of money, so his gifts aren’t all that special. He has a rare Hendrix record that he knows Nick will love, and at Nick’s suggestion, wine for his mom, whiskey for his dad, a box of candy for his younger sister and a graphic novel for his younger brother.

 

Blair has heard a lot about all of them, but he’s never been in a relationship where he’s been asked to meet the family before, let alone spend the holidays with them.

 

Nick’s family lives in a house out in the country, on a couple acres of land, and is about as hippy as a family can get and still own property. It’s a rambling one-story with multiple additions, and charming in its eccentricity.

 

Blair immediately feels at home.

 

Nick’s parents come out to greet them as soon as they pull up. His parents both have Nick’s dark hair and eyes, although his mom’s features are sharp, almost elfin, and his dad has a heavy forehead and broad nose. Nick falls somewhere in between them.

 

“Nicky!” his mom says, her arms outstretched. “Let me look at you.” She hugs him tightly. “Oh, you’re too skinny. Aren’t you eating?”

 

“All the time, Ma,” Nick replies. “I just have a hollow leg.”

 

She frowns. “Then you need to eat more and fill that up as well as your stomach.”

 

Nick laughs. “Ma, this is Blair Sandburg. Blair, my mom, Maria, and my dad, Daniel.”

 

He pronounces it the Italian way, and Blair holds out a hand. “It’s pleasure to meet you both. Thanks for having me.”

 

“You’re very welcome, Blair,” Daniel says. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

 

Maria smiles. “And you’re too skinny as well. We’ll feed you both up while you’re here.”

 

Blair laughs. “I don’t think I’m that skinny.”

 

“Don’t argue with her,” Nick says. “Ma thinks all her kids are too skinny if we’re not eating her food on a regular basis.”

 

“That’s because you are,” Maria says definitively. “Don’t argue with me, Nicky.”

 

“Do I ever?” Nick replies with a grin.

 

“Always,” Daniel mutters.

 

Nick laughs, and Blair laughs with him, appreciating the joke even if he doesn’t understand the full context. “Come on in,” Maria says. “Dinner is nearly ready. You have just enough time to get settled.”

 

They’re staying in Nick’s old room, apparently. His younger brother has been relegated to the couch, although at 12, he doesn’t seem to mind that much, too engrossed in his book to do much more than say hello.

 

“Brian always has his nose in a book,” Nick says with a smile and a headshake. “But pretty much fiction only. Mom and Dad have threatened to ban him from reading anything but non-fiction if his grades drop.”

 

“How much older are you?” Blair asks, a little fascinated by the idea of siblings, and seeing them up close and personal.

 

Nick shrugs. “Eight years. He was an oops baby, but Ma always says he was the best possible surprise.”

 

The room has extra-long bunk beds, and Nick asks, “Top or bottom?”

 

Blair smirks. “Bottom, at least in this case. I don’t like heights.”

 

“No problem,” Nick replies with an answering smirk.

 

“Dinner’s ready!” Maria calls.

 

Nick’s younger sister, Addy, is a year younger than Blair, a fresh-faced high school senior who’s apparently a little shy, because she doesn’t say two words to him. The table is a heavy oak that would be difficult to move, scarred and stained by years of what’s apparently a lot of hard use.

 

Dinner is a thick fish stew loaded with tomatoes, potatoes, and chunks of white fish in a delicious broth, served with thick slices of garlic bread.

 

“This is really delicious, Mrs. Costa,” Blair says.

 

“Call me Maria,” she insists. “And thank you. It’s one of Nicky’s favorites. Maybe next time you come, I will make your favorite.”

 

“I’m sure whatever you make will be my new favorite,” Blair replies with a smile.

 

Daniel snorts, and Maria laughs. “Such a charmer, this one.”

 

“He certainly tries,” Nick replies with a wink at Blair.

 

“Nick said you were Jewish,” Maria says. “But he assured me that you don’t keep kosher, and didn’t mind celebrating Christmas.”

 

Blair smiles. “Mom and I were never very religious, and I’m open to celebrating all holidays, particularly when they’re important to the people I care about.”

 

“Good answer,” Daniel says approvingly.

 

Maria smiles. “We go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. You can join us or not, your choice.”

 

“I’ll go,” Blair says. “I don’t mind.”

 

That night, they play Scrabble, and even Addy displays a cutthroat competitive spirit in going after points. Looking around, it’s pretty obvious that there’s no TV, and no computers or gaming devices. They’re in the middle of nowhere, and they’ve got a landline and not much else, and they’re all incredibly smart.

 

Blair likes these people, and he even feels a little bit at home here, as welcoming as they’ve been.

 

“Your family is great,” Blair says later that night when they’ve retired for the evening. “Really great.”

 

“They really are,” Nick agrees with a sigh. “Thanks for coming with me, Blair.”

 

Blair leans in for a kiss. “I should be the one thanking you.”

 

Nick’s eyes crinkle at the corners, and his dimples flash. “Then let’s just say we’re even.”

 

It’s just too bad that things don’t stay that good.

 

~~~~~

 

Jim’s the jealous type, no question about it, but this is Blair, and they’ve been together in one way or another for years. Blair hasn’t dated much, if at all, since taking the job with the PD, and Jim hasn’t either.

 

Maybe there’s a part of him that’s known for a long while that Blair is it for him.

 

Blair starts to tell him about his second boyfriend, Nick, and Jim can hear affection and pain in his voice.

 

“He sounds like a good guy,” Jim says softly when Blair falls silent after describing that Christmas.

 

Blair sighs. “He was.”

 

Jim wants to ask but decides to wait for Blair to continue. “You don’t have to tell me anything.”

 

“Bottom line, he started using,” Blair says. “And when he used, he turned into someone I didn’t know anymore, and I didn’t much like.”

 

Jim holds him a little tighter. “I take it he didn’t start out that way.”

 

“Maybe a little pot once in a while,” Blair admits. “Alcohol on occasion. He was never much of a drinker, though.”

 

“Drug of choice?” Jim asks, because he’s a cop, and that will tell him a lot.

 

“Coke, when he had the money,” Blair says. “Speed, when he didn’t.”

 

“Rough drugs,” Jim murmurs.

 

Blair sighs. “You can’t help someone who won’t help themselves, Jim.”

 

“No question about that,” Jim replies. “He should have chosen you, Chief.”

 

He laughs wetly. “Yeah. I didn’t feel so bad about that. He didn’t choose his family either.”

 

“You still talk to them?”

 

“Used to,” Blair replies. “His dad would come to Cascade every few months to look for Nick after he dropped out, and he’d see me, mostly to check if I’d seen Nick. I swear, Jim, Nick’s parents aged a decade in a few months.”

 

“Grief does that to a person,” Jim says.

 

Blair sighs. “I tried to get through to him. He stole from me.”

 

“Junkies do that.”

 

“I didn’t know that back then,” Blair says. “I felt like an idiot after the fact.”

 

Jim runs his hand through Blair’s rough curls. “Yeah, we usually do the first time someone takes advantage of us. It just gets worse after the first time. How many was it?”

 

“Four,” Blair admits. “I’m a slow learner.”

 

“Hardly,” Jim says. “You just believe the best of people, and you were in love with him.”

 

Blair goes still. “How did you know that?”

 

“I know you,” Jim says. “You went home with him for the holidays, the way you talk about him—you were in love.”

 

Blair is quiet for a long moment. “There’s probably a part of me that will always love him. It’s the same part that will always wonder what would have happened if he’d never taken that first hit, you know?”

 

“Yeah, I know,” Jim says. “Every failed relationship leaves us with some regrets, and the deeper the cut, the more acute the regret.”

 

“That’s pretty much it right there.” Blair pauses. “Can we not talk about this now? I promise, I’ll tell you everything, just not right now.”

 

“Whatever you want, Chief,” Jim agrees.

 

Blair pushes himself into a sitting position. “I know we should probably take things slow, but I want to forget, Jim.”

 

Jim hesitates, knowing that they haven’t brought supplies, but there are other things they can do. “You’re clean?”

 

“Yeah, I got tested as part of my last physical,” Blair admits.

 

“Same,” Jim says. “Let me take care of you.”

 

He gets Blair out of his boxers without much trouble, and Blair skims off his t-shirt. Jim wraps a hand around Blair’s still-soft dick, keeping it light. As Blair starts to respond, Jim makes his touch a little firmer. When he’s fully hard, Jim takes him in his mouth, humming in satisfaction at Blair’s startled shout.

 

The vibration makes Blair whimper a little, and Jim does it again. It’s been a while since he’s given a guy head, but Jim knows he’d been good at it, and he puts all his skills to use.

 

Blair’s hips begin to stutter, and Jim holds him in place, not because he minds the pressure but because Blair wants to feel good, and he’d asked Jim to make him feel good, so he’s going to set the pace.

 

Jim is going to draw it out, and that’s what he does, keeping the suction light, using his tongue sparingly, until Blair is cursing.

 

That’s Jim’s signal to suck harder, and his hands squeeze Blair’s ass. Blair comes a few moments later, and Jim swallows easily, sitting back on his heels and wiping his mouth with a grin he knows is probably smug.

 

“Shit,” Blair mutters. “I think I saw stars.”

 

Jim flops down on the bed next to him. “Yeah?”

 

“Okay, I know you weren’t on the receiving end of that spectacular blowjob, but you have to know how good you are at that,” Blair says with a half-hearted glare.

 

Jim’s smile grows. “I’ve never had any complaints in that department, although I’m always willing to take instruction.”

 

“No, no direction,” Blair says. “Pretty sure you sucked my brain out through my dick. Maybe next time I’ll have a few pointers.”

 

Jim decides to throw him a bone. “I won’t lie, the heightened senses don’t hurt.”

 

“Okay, and I’ll probably want more info on how you use those senses during sex later, but I think I’d rather just know about how it works with me, so you’ll need more data points,” Blair says. He takes a deep breath. “Give me a minute, and I’ll return the favor.”

 

“No need,” Jim says, and shoves his boxers down so he can wrap a hand around his dick.

 

Blair’s hand joins his shortly, and Jim—who was pretty close to coming just from sucking Blair off—comes a few seconds later.

 

“Senses?” Blair asks.

 

Jim hitches a shoulder. “Sometimes I’m a little more sensitive.”

 

“Bad or good?”

 

“Depends on the day,” Jim admits. “It’s one of the reasons I haven’t been dating. It’s hard to explain why I’m sometimes into it, and sometimes every touch is too much for me.”

 

Blair strokes his chest. “No explanation needed.”

 

“That’s one of the things I like about you, Sandburg,” Jim says, giving him a quick kiss before rolling off the bed to get cleaned up.

 

A few swipes with a washcloth, and Jim’s clean enough to go back to bed. “Join me?” Blair asks.

 

“Sure,” Jim replies, and crawls in next to Blair. “Check out isn’t until 11, Chief. We can sleep in.”

 

“Sounds good,” Blair says sleepily.

 

And Jim gets the pleasure of having Blair close by.

 

~~~~~

 

The first sign of trouble comes just after classes start again, when Blair finds out what kind of load Nick is taking.

 

“Seventeen credit hours?” Blair asks. “With a lab? What the heck, man?”

 

“I want to do a semester as a research assistant and just focus on that, but I need to graduate in four years,” Nick explains. “This is the only option.”

 

Blair leans back in his chair. “I guess we won’t be seeing much of each other this semester.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Nick says earnestly. “I didn’t tell you because things were going so well, and I didn’t want you to think I’d lost interest, or that I was trying to avoid you.”

 

Blair frowns. “I never would have thought that, but I’m wondering about it now.”

 

Nick’s eyes widen. “No, don’t think that! Blair, I love you, and I’ll still spend as much time with you as I can. It’s just not going to be as much time as I’d like.”

 

Blair isn’t sure whether Nick is telling the truth, but he has no reason to doubt him. “Okay, then I guess we’ll spend as much time together as we can, and maybe I’ll pick up another class. I wouldn’t mind finishing a little faster myself.”

 

“Hey, we can finish together,” Nick replies. “Maybe even go to the same grad school. It’s just a couple of years away, Blair. It will be hard, but worth it in the end.”

 

Blair’s reassured by Nick’s view of the future, and the fact that he pictures them together. “Definitely worth it.”

 

So, while Blair isn’t expecting to see Nick much that semester, it’s worse than he’d anticipated. Nick is unavailable five nights out of seven, and a good part of the weekend.

 

As far as Blair can tell, Nick really is that busy, but they go to a party in February where he starts to suspect that something isn’t right.

 

Nick is tired before they leave, the circles under his eyes dark and deep, and Blair says, “We don’t have to go. If you just want to stay in, maybe have a beer and watch TV—”

 

“No way,” Nick says immediately. “I’ve been staring at a book or the four walls of my studio for way too long. I need a break. I need to get out of my head for a while.”

 

“Yeah, sure,” Blair agrees, happy just to be with Nick, and not opposed to hitting a party.

 

It’s a raucous event, and Nick says, “Hey, grab a couple of beers for us, okay?”

 

Blair shrugs and begins to make his way through the crowd towards the keg, remembering the party last semester when they’d first started seeing each other.

 

He gets a couple of Solo cups and fills them up, moving back through the main room of the frat in search of Nick, who has disappeared into the crowd. Blair turns around, looking for his boyfriend, and someone bumps into him.

 

“Watch where you’re going, fag,” one of the frat boys mutters, and Blair wonders why he’d come again.

 

Sure, he wants to spend time with Nick, but he doesn’t want to deal with the abuse from the stupid frat boys who think being gay—or bi—somehow makes him less of a man.

 

He doesn’t see Nick anywhere, and he curses his height, wishing he were a little taller, or that Nick was easier to see above the crowd.

 

The beer is starting to get warm by the time Nick pops up next to Blair. “Hey, man! Thanks for that.” He takes the cup from Blair with a grin. “Sorry to have kept you waiting.”

 

“No biggie,” Blair says, noting Nick’s bright eyes and slightly manic demeanor, a far cry from his earlier exhaustion. “You okay?”

 

“Sure, why wouldn’t I be?” Nick asks.

 

Blair hesitates. “You were pretty tired a little bit ago.”

 

“It’s just a pick-me-up,” Nick says dismissively. “I’ve been working hard! I deserve a night to party.”

 

“No question,” Blair says immediately. He’s not one to judge drug use unless it gets out of hand, and recreational use is no big deal. Blair’s been around it his entire life, and if Nick wants to blow off steam, he’s not going to protest.

 

But there’s just something about the situation that strikes Blair as off, and it’s not until later—years later, when he’s honed his cop instincts—that he recognizes it for what it is.

 

Sometimes, the subconscious recognizes problems before the conscious mind does.

 

They have a good time at the party, in spite of the homophobic frat boys and Nick’s mania. When they go back to Nick’s place, Nick does his best to make Blair forget about everything that had happened with a very memorable blowjob.

 

It works, because for the next few days, all Blair is really thinking about is the blowjob, and not the rest of it, but that swiftly changes.

 

Nick has a good explanation for the first time he doesn’t show up for a date—big project coming due, and he lost track of time—and the second—study group that went long.

 

Then he shows up for five dates in a row after Blair tells him that his feelings were hurt, and Blair forgets that Nick flaked on him.

 

And then there’s another date Nick misses, and this time, he actually remembers to call Blair before he stands him up. “Sorry,” Nick says. “I’m really sorry, but I’ve got a study session, and we have a big project due soon.”

 

Blair’s hurt, but at least Nick called this time. “It’s okay. I understand. School has to come first.”

 

“We’ll catch up soon,” Nick promises. “I’ll call you.”

 

That lie might have held up if Blair hadn’t run into Nick’s study group at the library when he decides to get some work done. Even then, he might have assumed that Nick had just knocked off early, or maybe that he’d gone to the bathroom, or was taking a break.

 

“Hey, Blair!” Simone calls softly as he passes their table, planning to only wave and move on. “Is Nick okay?”

 

Blair pauses. “Why do you ask?”

 

“He said he wasn’t feeling good, and when I asked if he wanted us to stop by, Nick said you were going to take care of him,” Simone replies, sounding puzzled.

 

Blair has no idea if he’s supposed to cover for Nick or not, but he’s leaning towards “not” at the moment. If Nick had asked him to cover, Blair would have happily done so, but he’s had no warning.

 

“I haven’t seen Nick in a couple of days,” Blair admits. “And he said he was studying with you tonight when he ditched me.”

 

There are some snickers at that, and Blair suspects that they’re amused by the vicarious exposure to a lovers’ spat.

 

“What do you want me to tell him?” Simone asks sympathetically.

 

“Tell him that when he pulls his head out of his ass, he can call me,” Blair says bitterly, before he can think better of it.

 

Simone reaches for his hand and squeezes. “I’m sorry, Blair. Nick’s been squirrelly all semester.”

 

Blair shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll work it out.”

 

He really believes that, although he’s too angry that night to call Nick to straighten things out. Instead, he goes back to his room, crawls into bed, and pulls the covers over his head.

 

Blair might have stayed there for the next day or two, but around 3 am, someone starts pounding on his door. “Hey! Blair! Hey!”

 

It’s Nick’s familiar voice, and Blair groans and rolls out of bed, not wanting anybody to call campus security with the noise violation.

 

A moment later, Blair stumbles back as Nick shoves the door open. “Way to throw me under the bus, asshole!”

 

“What?” Blair asks, brain still fuzzy from sleep.

 

Nick slams the door shut behind him and shoves Blair hard. “What the fuck? You told my study group I flaked on them, and you didn’t know where I was?”

 

“If you wanted me to cover for you, you should have said something!” Blair protests heatedly. “Instead, I got taken off guard. You’re the dick who lied to me and to your friends.”

 

Nick sneers, an ugly expression on his face. “Maybe I needed a break from your clingy ass, and the daily grind.”

 

“If you think I’m that clingy, then maybe we need a break,” Blair snaps.

 

“We don’t take a break until I say we’re on a break,” Nick snarls, his forearm against Blair’s throat.

 

Blair suddenly realizes that this is serious, and that this isn’t Nick. This isn’t the man he’d fallen in love with; it’s a stranger.

 

“Hey! Stop!” Blair manages to shout before his words are cut off, and Blair struggles against his hold.

 

He’s not sure what triggers it—the pounding on his door, their shouting—but campus police pound on his door just as Blair’s vision starts to gray out.

 

“Police! Open up!”

 

Nick releases Blair at that and says, “Tell them it was an argument.”

 

Blair’s still trying to get his breath back. “Tell them yourself,” he gasps.

 

“I’m sorry,” Nick says just as the door bursts open.

 

The police officers have their Tasers out, and Blair holds his hands up. “Whose room is this?” the lead officer demands.

 

“Mine,” Blair says.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Blair waffles for a moment. “It was just a disagreement.”

 

The officer doesn’t appear convinced. “If you say so. I need names and identification from both of you.”

 

Nick produces his immediately, and the officer looks at it while Blair digs for his ID. “Mr. Costa, we’re going to give you an escort home to let you get yourself under control, and come down from whatever you’re on. If we have more trouble from you, you’re going to get a lot more than a warning.”

 

“I’m not on anything!” Nick protests.

 

“Pull the other one,” the officer says wearily. “Mr. Sandburg, don’t let this happen again, okay?”

 

Blair can feel himself blush. “Yeah, sorry about that.”

 

“Son, I don’t care if I have to come and break up a domestic,” the officer replies. “I’ll just care if I have to do it again.”

 

Blair gets the message then, and he nods. “Yes, sir.”

 

“Let’s go, Mr. Costa,” the officer says. “I’d suggest that you not show up here again, at least unannounced or uninvited.”

 

“I’m his boyfriend!” Nick shouts.

 

“Lock up for him,” the officer mutters, and rummages in his pocket for a card. “Mr. Sandburg, call me if you need me. And Mr. Costa, a relationship doesn’t give you license to act like an asshole.”

 

When Blair looks at the card, he sees the name, “Myron Cole,” and he remembers the officer as one of the really decent police officers he’s met. Someone who showed that he cared about Blair, even though it was just a domestic.

 

And that, too, is something Blair won’t understand until later—that there’s never “just” a domestic.

 

But Myron Cole plants a seed that comes to fruition when Blair wears a detective’s shield.

 

~~~~~

 

“Okay, I think we need to hit the area where that teenage Sentinel was before we go back to work.”

 

They’re on the way back to Cascade when Blair makes that statement, and while Jim doesn’t disagree, he’s not sure how they’re going to find her.

 

“How do you propose we do that?” Jim asks.

 

“You found Alex,” Blair says tentatively. “You could, I don’t know, hone in on her.”

 

“Alex was after you,” Jim counters. “You hypothesized that Sentinels are territorial. This girl is not a threat to my territory.”

 

Blair glances at him. “Because she’s a kid?”

 

“Because she’s not after you,” Jim reiterates. “Keep up, Sandburg.”

 

Blair hesitates. “What if she needs us, Jim?”

 

“Then we’ll find a way to help,” Jim replies. “If we’re together, we’ll be fine.”

 

Blair twists to look at him. “How are you so chill with all of this?”

 

“Easy,” Jim replies. “I’ve got everything I want or need.”

 

“It’s that easy.”

 

Jim smiles. “What’s the matter? You never seen a secure Sentinel before?”

 

Blair blinks. “Uh, actually, no. Or yes, but I’m just now realizing it. You were focused on our last case but not out of control.”

 

“Kelly deserved justice,” Jim replies, still feeling a pang at the thought of her death. “Losing control wouldn’t have done any good.”

 

“Come to think of it, you’ve been remarkably relaxed since I started at the Academy.”

 

Jim hates to admit that he hadn’t completely trusted that Blair had his back and wasn’t going anywhere until after he’d fallen on his sword and agreed to take the badge. “You had enough to deal with without dealing with my shit, too.”

 

“Is this about me being a cop?” Blair asks.

 

Jim sighs. “Not directly.”

 

“I still can’t believe you didn’t trust me,” Blair mutters.

 

“I trusted you! I trust you,” Jim protests.

 

Blair snorts.

 

“I just always figured you would leave,” Jim admits.

 

Blair mutters something about abandonment issues, but Jim doesn’t quibble with that assessment. Blair isn’t wrong.

 

“You already knew this about me,” Jim points out.

 

Blair leans against the door. “Granted.”

 

“So, we go back to where you saw the girl and wander around,” Jim suggests, deciding that a change of subject is in order. “Maybe she’ll find us.”

 

“It’s worth a shot,” Blair replies.

 

They get back to Cascade midafternoon after stopping for lunch at a roadside diner where Jim orders a burger and Blair a club sandwich. Once they get back to the loft, they unpack and then head out again.

 

Jim suspects that Blair is avoiding another conversation with him where he might have to talk about his past again. Something about remembering his past with Nick has put Blair on edge.

 

Or, hell, maybe it’s Jim, who has had his share of mood swings and outbursts. Maybe Blair is worried about whether their relationship is going to stand the test of time; maybe Blair is worried that Jim’s going to fly off the handle, or hurt him.

 

Jim trusts Blair, but maybe Blair doesn’t entirely trust him.

 

“Describe her again,” Jim says as they start walking through the area where they’d found the killer.

 

Blair shrugs. “Maybe fifteen or so, thin, brown hair, didn’t get an eye color. Caucasian, a little over 5 feet. Clean enough that I don’t think she’s actually living on the street.”

 

“Well, that doesn’t narrow it down at all,” Jim complains.

 

Blair glares at him. “What do you want from me, man? We were tracking a serial killer, and I had other things on my mind.”

 

Jim raises his hands in surrender. “I’m just saying that it’s going to be a little difficult to track—” He stops. “Hang on.”

 

“Wait, can you sense her?”

 

“I can sense something.” Jim isn’t sure what he’s feeling, but he allows instinct to guide him as he moves a little faster.

 

There’s a girl at the end of the alley, three boys surrounding her. She has a broken board in her hands, and she looks like a feral cat.

 

“Hey!” Jim shouts. “Cascade police!”

 

The boys stiffen and immediately start to back away. “We didn’t mean anything by it.”

 

Jim pulls his badge, along with Blair, and flashes it. “These boys bothering you?”

 

She sneers. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

 

“I think you boys better get lost if you don’t want to spend the night in a cell,” Jim says. “And if I catch you making trouble again, I’ll haul your asses into juvie.”

 

The boys scatter, and the only reason Jim lets them go is that the girl appears to be unhurt, and they’d come to find her, not arrest a few miscreants.

 

When they’re gone, the girl lowers her board but doesn’t drop it. “What do you want?” she asks suspiciously.

 

“Why don’t you do the honors, Chief?” Jim asks. “You’re the one she’s already met.”

 

Blair rolls his eyes. “I’m Blair, this is Jim. The last time we were here, you helped me.”

 

Her eyes go to Blair’s neck. “You were hurt.” She looks at Jim. “You shot him.”

 

“I had to protect my partner,” Jim explains. “That’s what I do.”

 

“You hungry?” Blair asks. “We can get you something to eat.”

 

She shrugs. “I got a place to sleep, and food to eat.”

 

“But are you hungry?” Jim asks. “Because that’s a different question.”

 

“I could eat,” she admits.

 

“You got a name?” Jim asks.

 

She hesitates. “Names have power.”

 

“You have our names,” Jim counters.

 

“True,” she admits. “Mira. That’s my name.”

 

“A very pretty name,” Jim replies.

 

She doesn’t want to get in the car with them, which Jim understands and even approves of, so they find the nearest diner. Mira orders a burger and devours it in quick bites that make her look that much more feral.

 

Jim orders a cup of coffee and a piece of peach pie, and Blair does the same. They’re quiet, and Jim feels that sense of stillness he gets when he’s on a stakeout, or when he was sniping.

 

He’s waiting for his prey to come to him; she’s a Sentinel, and he understands that she needs to be the first to make a move.

 

“You’re like me,” she says, her hazel eyes fearless as she meets Jim’s gaze.

 

Jim nods. “Yeah, I am.”

 

“I thought I was alone,” she admits softly.

 

Jim smiles. “Yeah, so did I.”

 

~~~~~

 

Blair opens the door, blinking at the familiar face of his visitor. “Mr. Costa. Hi.”

 

Daniel Costa looks like he’s aged ten years in as many months, the lines around his eyes and mouth deeper, and more gray in his hair. “Blair, please, call me Daniel.”

 

Blair sighs. “You’d better come inside.”

 

He offers the desk chair to Daniel and sits on his bed. “I had to come,” Daniel explains. “Have you seen him?”

 

Blair shakes his head. “No, I’m sorry. Not since—not since I left for my dig in May.”

 

Nick had apologized profusely after he’d come down, and while Blair hadn’t been ready to forgive and forget, he’d agreed to see Nick—as long as he was sober. That requirement had been a little too much for Nick to handle, and Blair had broken up with him for good in April.

 

The last time Blair had seen Nick was when he’d let him stay the night because Nick had said he didn’t have a place to sleep. Even though there had been things missing from his room the last three times Blair had seen his ex, he hadn’t been able to say no.

 

The person he loved was gone; Blair had the summer to get used to that fact.

 

It doesn’t look as though Daniel has accepted it yet, not that Blair blames him.

 

“I’d hoped…” Daniel trails off. “Maria wishes you the best.”

 

Blair smiles. “Thanks. I’m sorry I couldn’t keep him from going off the deep end.”

 

“It’s not your fault,” Daniel replies. “And we certainly don’t blame you, Blair. Nick made his own choices, and we all have to live with them.”

 

Blair feels that’s probably the most accurate way of putting it—Nick might be making poor choices, but the ripple effects cause them all to suffer.

 

“If I see him, I’ll tell him you’re looking for him,” Blair promises. “And I’ll tell him to go home.”

 

“I appreciate it,” Daniel says, getting to his feet. “Well, I won’t take up any more of your time.”

 

Blair desperately wants to say something—do something—to prolong the moment. He had loved Nick, had even entertained the idea that they might spend the rest of their lives together, and he’d loved Nick’s family, what little he’d seen of them.

 

For a brief time, Blair had been able to picture himself as a part of it.

 

“Thanks for stopping by,” he finally says, unable to come up with anything else. “If you ever need anything…”

 

“Thank you, Blair,” Daniel replies.

 

When Daniel leaves, Blair collapses on the bed with a sigh and wonders if he should go looking for Nick. Maybe he’d be able to find Nick where his father can’t.

 

But Blair doesn’t know the first thing about where to find a guy who’s caught up in serious drug use, has dropped out of college, and has completely disappeared.

 

He just wishes he could help.

 

~~~~~

 

“Do you have a place to stay, Mira?” Blair asks when she’s sucked down her second milkshake.

 

“Dad works, Mom left,” Mira says simply.

 

Jim leans forward. “But you have a place to sleep? Enough to eat? You’re in school?”

 

She shrugs. “School sucks. They say I’m special ed.”

 

“Maybe someone should set them straight,” Blair suggests. “Do you need help?”

 

Mira shakes her head. “I’m fine.”

 

“If that changes, you can let me know,” Jim replies, handing her his card. “And if you want to talk about what you see or hear, I’m always available.”

 

Mira fingers Jim’s card. “Is it normal?”

 

“It’s normal for us,” Jim replies gently. “And if you work at it, and you learn how to control your senses, you can do a lot of good.”

 

“Like catching a murderer?” Mira asks.

 

Blair smiles. “Like that, or helping find someone who’s lost, or sensing a disaster before anybody else. There are a lot of things you could do.”

 

“What if I want to be normal?” She sounds wistful.

 

Jim shrugs. “We all want that, and nobody ever really is, even when it seems that way from the outside.”

 

Mira tucks the card away. “I gotta go.”

 

“I’m going to have to insist on making sure you get home safely,” Jim says. “It’s my duty.”

 

Mira shrugs. “Yeah, okay.”

 

Jim drives her home and stops in front of a large apartment complex located about a mile from the diner. It’s a little rundown, but Jim knows it’s an area that’s heavily patrolled, and is relatively safe.

 

Mira tumbles out of the truck, and then looks back over her shoulder. “I’ll call you.”

 

“So, that went well,” Blair says brightly.

 

Jim shrugs. “She isn’t going to trust us easily. It’s going to take time to convince her that we can help. It doesn’t sound like she has a lot of people in her life she can really count on.”

 

“Sounds like someone else I know,” Blair replies.

 

“I have one person I can trust,” Jim says with a smile. “Two, if you count Simon.”

 

Blair smiles back, but it feels reflexive to Jim. “Thanks, man.”

 

“You want to talk about whatever’s bothering you?” Jim asks. When Blair doesn’t respond, Jim asks, “Did you want to try to find Nick?”

 

Blair sighs. “Trust you to see to the heart of the matter. I found him a couple of years ago. I ran into him in a club.”

 

Jim turns the truck towards the loft. “Let me guess, he was clean.”

 

“He said so,” Blair replies. “He looked clean.”

 

“He was with someone else?”

 

“Girlfriend,” Blair says briefly. “He introduced me as an old friend. I’m guessing he wasn’t out to her.”

 

Jim shrugs. “A lot of guys don’t tell their girlfriends that they’re bi.”

 

Blair sighs. “So, what? You date somebody else, and you don’t tell her your old roommate was also your boyfriend?”

 

Jim gives him a sharp look. “You planning on breaking up with me?”

 

“No, of course not!” Blair says quickly.

 

“Then why the hell would you say something like that?” Jim demands. “If you want to be out at the station, we can be out, but we won’t stay partners. Is that what you want?”

 

“No, dammit!” Blair snaps. “I just—God, Jim.”

 

Jim is silent for a moment, his hands clenching around the steering wheel. “What do you want from me?”

 

“Nothing,” Blair says. “Everything. Just what you’re giving me. Look, I’ve got some baggage here, maybe more than you do. I gave up on having a boyfriend after Nick, and now here we are, and I never expected this. I never thought you’d want me like this, and you do, and I don’t know how to deal with it.”

 

“You realize that we don’t really have to sneak around, right?” Jim asks after a moment.

 

Blair frowns at him. “What do you mean?”

 

Jim snorts. “We already live together. We hang out. We’re physical with each other. We aren’t changing anything. The only thing that’s changing is us having sex, and I wouldn’t be talking about that at the station anyway.”

 

“What if people ask if you’re dating someone?” Blair asks.

 

“What if they ask you?” Jim counters. “I have terrible luck with women, and I haven’t found the right one yet.”

 

Blair smiles. “Yeah. Same here, I guess.”

 

“So, we good?” Jim asks.

 

“We’re good.” Blair sighs. “You were really good with Mira tonight.”

 

Jim shrugs. “If I can make her life easier, or make her feel like she’s not a freak, I’m going to do it.”

 

“You’re a good man, Jim Ellison,” Blair says.

 

Jim smirks at him. “I’ll show you just how good I am when we get home.”

 

Blair groans. “I can’t believe you ever got play with lines that cheesy!”

 

“Not a line,” Jim replies. “Besides, I know you’re a sure thing. I don’t have to be smooth.”

 

“No, you don’t,” Blair says with a soft smile. “I like you just the way you are.”

 

~~~~~

 

Blair moves through the club, feeling a sense of uneasiness. It’s been a long time since he’d been out like this. His classes at Rainier keep him pretty busy, as does Jim and Blair’s work at the station. Not that things between them are all that great right now.

 

Ever since Alex Barnes, and since Jim had seen the first chapter of his dissertation, things have been strained between them. Blair just wants a few hours out, away from the loft, away from Jim, to try to regain his equilibrium.

 

He orders a beer at the bar and finds a clear spot to survey the room. Blair hasn’t decided whether he’s interested in dancing or just people-watching, and he sips the cold beer with pleasure. The club is a little too warm, and he’s already sweating, although not as much as those gyrating on the dance floor.

 

Someone knocks into him, and Blair apologizes reflexively. “Sorry, man.”

 

“Blair?”

 

Blair hadn’t really looked at the person who bumped into him, and he glances over, expecting to see someone from school, or maybe from the station, unlikely as that seems. He’s definitely not expecting to see a ghost.

 

“Nick?” Blair says incredulously.

 

Nick looks good—maybe a little too thin, but otherwise good. His eyes are clear, his cheeks are flushed with warmth and good health, and he bears little resemblance to the man Blair had last seen.

 

“Looking better than the last time you saw me, huh?” Nick asks ruefully. “I probably should have found you before now and apologized. I’m still working on the ‘making amends’ part of the program.”

 

Blair wants to ask him if he’s clean, but thinks the answer is obvious—and if he’s not clean, Blair isn’t sure he wants to know. “It’s okay,” he says immediately. “I’m just glad to see you looking so well. Have you, um, seen your family?”

 

Nick nods. “Yeah, they were my first stop when I was trying to make things right. Dad said he saw you a few times.”

 

Blair wishes that someone had thought to inform him that Nick was doing better, but maybe it’s not so surprising that no one had. Nick burned a lot of bridges, so they don’t really have friends in common anymore, and Blair hadn’t made much effort to stay in touch with Nick’s family.

 

“Yeah, a few times,” Blair admits.

 

“Nick, who is this?” The question comes from a woman about Blair’s age who inserts herself under Nick’s free arm.

 

Nick flushes slightly. “Polly, this is Blair. He’s an old friend of mine.”

 

Silently, Nick’s expression begs Blair to be cool, to not out him, and Blair smiles and switches his beer to his left hand. “Nice to meet you. Nick was kind enough to give me a place to crash over the holidays one time. I never forgot it.”

 

Polly laughs, clearly pleased. “He’s generous that way.”

 

Blair finishes his beer in a few quick swallows. “Nick, it was good to see you again, but I’ve got to get moving. Polly, great to meet you.”

 

He gets out of there as quickly as possible and thinks that Nick is probably happy to see him go. Blair is a man who knows too many of his secrets—secrets that he clearly doesn’t want his girlfriend to know.

 

Even if she knows about the drug use, it’s clear she doesn’t know that Nick had played for both teams at one point.

 

No matter how grateful Blair is that Nick is apparently clean these days, it’s clear that Blair had nothing to do with it. Nick hadn’t loved him enough to choose Blair over the high, or to not hurt Blair, or to not steal from him.

 

Blair wants to just be grateful that Nick is okay, but he can’t. He hurts too much, especially with everything going on with Jim.

 

When he gets back to the loft, he pauses just inside the door to take a deep breath.

 

“Blair?”

 

He doesn’t need this. He doesn’t need any questions from Jim, because Blair doesn’t want to deal with explaining that he’s bi, or that he’d just run into an old boyfriend who had beat him up and robbed him blind.

 

“You okay?”

 

“Fine.”

 

“You don’t sound fine,” Jim says, and he sounds genuinely concerned.

 

Blair clears his throat. “Ran into an old flame. You know how that goes.”

 

“I do, but I don’t think that’s all of it,” Jim replies, and when Blair looks at him, his expression is unreadable.

 

It’s the closest Blair’s felt to Jim in weeks now, and he wants to prolong that connection. And yet, he’s not sure he can trust him.

 

“Sandburg,” Jim prompts.

 

Blair shakes his head. “You ever realize that you weren’t enough for someone? That they didn’t choose you, the person they loved, over something that was destroying them?”

 

He realizes too late that he’s used gender-neutral pronouns, and that might give him away.

 

“Anybody who doesn’t choose you is an idiot,” Jim says, and Blair thinks that might be the nicest thing Jim’s ever said to him. He clears his throat. “You want a beer?”

 

And that’s all Jim’s going to say, apparently. “Yeah, I could go for a beer.”

 

“You want to sit out on the balcony?” Jim asks. “It’s a nice night.”

 

The evening air is a little cool, but Blair can’t disagree. It is a nice night, and the cool air is a nice change from the overheated club.

 

“Yeah, that would be great.”

 

It’s the last really good night they have for a while, but it’s a memory that Blair treasures.

 

~~~~~

 

When they enter the loft, and Jim hears Blair’s sigh, he suddenly recalls with startling clarity the night when things had been strained between them and Blair had come home, his expression devastated. He remembers the question Blair had asked, too.

 

“You want a beer?” Jim asks.

 

Blair shrugs. “Sure.”

 

“It’s too bad that it’s a little cool tonight,” Jim says. “We could sit out on the balcony.”

 

Blair gives him an odd look. “I’d rather start a fire if it’s all the same to you.”

 

“You get the beers, and I’ll take care of the fire,” Jim replies.

 

He sets the kindling, tinder, and a couple of logs, and then nurses the small flame carefully until he’s sure it takes. Blair brings their beers and sits down on the couch, sprawling out. “Nice. You think Mira will actually call?”

 

“I do,” Jim agrees. “I think we’re probably going to be her only option at some point, and then she’ll call.”

 

“Yeah, I guess so,” Blair agrees.

 

Jim isn’t quite sure how to broach the topic, but he decides that the direct approach might be best. “I remember, you know.”

 

“Remember what?” Blair asks idly.

 

“That night when you came home, and you looked like your world had ended, and you asked if I knew what it was like for someone not to choose you,” Jim supplies.

 

“And you said that anybody who didn’t choose me was an idiot,” Blair says fondly.

 

Jim looks at him intently. “I’m not an idiot.”

 

Blair blinks, and then a smile blooms over his face. “I never thought you were.”

 

“Oh, I have my moments,” Jim admits readily. “But I’ve learned a few lessons.”

 

“What lesson is that?”

 

“That I’d be an idiot not to choose you every time,” Jim says. “I’m not going to lose you.”

 

And Blair tilts ever so slightly so that he’s leaning against Jim. “No, you’re not.”

 

Jim slings an arm over Blair’s shoulders and hauls him close, and he presses a kiss on the top of Blair’s head. “What do you think about sharing a bed tonight?”

 

“I think I’d be insulted if we didn’t,” Blair replies.

 

“Then bring your beer and come to bed,” Jim says. “And let me prove to you that it’s always going to be you.”

 

“No proof necessary, Jim,” Blair replies. “I believe you.”

 

Jim thinks that might be the benefit of having gone to hell and back with each other. They’ve already chosen each other over and over again.

 

He has to believe that they’ll always choose each other.