Jim took a crisply tingling swallow of icy hard cider and felt his throat sing a hallelujah. Apple juice for adults. Eggnog was too crowded a taste, too rich, too creamy, too laden with spices, but cider was simple; a carryover from fall, with all the sweetness of the summer sun.
"You look like you're enjoying that." Blair was drinking his cider in small, careful sips, as if it was medicine. "Me, I think my lips are numb." He twisted them experimentally in a rubber-faced grin and nodded. "Yep, numb."
"You've got no appreciation for the finer things, Chief," Jim said lazily, watching the flames leap and crackle in the fireplace. "Either that or you can't hold your drink."
Blair narrowed his eyes, clearly resentful of the slur on his manhood. "Do you know how they make cider?"
Jim waved an airy hand. "Apples. Juice. Fermentation. My glass. I don't need the details."
"Windfalls, worms, rotting, pulpy flesh," Blair said with relish. "The good apples get eaten; the rejects get crushed into cider. The farmers say using the bad apples is what makes it taste so good." He took a gulp of cider and swilled it around his mouth. "I can't taste the maggots, but I bet you can, huh, Jim?"
Blair was evil. Pure, unadulterated evil. Jim choked as the fresh, clean taste in his mouth mutated into something that belonged in a morgue.
"Thanks," he said, his voice as bitter as his drink. He strode, glass in hand, to the sink but Blair beat him to it, his own glass clutched in his hand, his expression one of shamed regret.
"Jim. Jim, don't do it."
"It tastes wrong now." He sounded about three years old, but he couldn't help it.
"Huh." Blair wrinkled up his nose in thought and then smiled, sunny-side up. "Got it."
Such certainty, such utter confidence.
"Your cider tastes wrong to you."
"Right," Jim agreed.
"But that's because you're a Sentinel. It'll taste fine to me." Blair deftly appropriated Jim's glass. "Now, my cider, on the other hand, tastes delicious." He took a sip and smacked his lips. "Grade A goodness."
"I think that's eggs."
"Doesn't matter. It tastes good." Blair's gaze bored into Jim's eyes, laser-like in its intensity. "You trust me on this, Jim?"
Mesmerized, Jim nodded.
Blair brightened. "Great! So, you take my cider, I take yours, and problem solved."
Jim frowned. Even with a buzz from the cider, he knew that made no sense at all. "Chief," he began.
Blair pushed his glass into Jim's hand, and smiled serenely, stubbornly, sweetly. "Cheers."
Accepting defeat, Jim clinked his glass against Blair's and waited until Blair had a mouthful to reply, "Back at you, my little apple maggot."
And when Blair had finished snorting cider out of his nose, Jim, smiling, took a sip of Blair's cider and found that Blair was right; it tasted good.
Or maybe that was the revenge.
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