A Mile in Your Shoes

by Jane Davitt

A/N This fic was written for Moonridge 2007 for Bluebrocade in return for a very generous donation; thank you so much for the donation, the prompt, and your patience.

Many thanks also to T Verano for a wonderfully thorough beta reading and her support as I wrote this.

Blair woke up on the wrong side of the bed. The pillows were too high, the warm body he was happily accustomed to using as a hot water bottle was over there, not over here, and --



His fingers curled and clutched and squeezed. Yep. Attached to him. Definitely, and by the way, ow. But not his. And yet familiar…

"Jim," he said without opening his eyes because he really didn't want to look. "There's something wrong with my --"

Voice. His voice was wrong. Pitched differently and the words were emerging in a low, grumbled growl.

With a dismayed wail, he let go of his morning erection, melting like snow in the face of his panic anyway, and flailed through the tangle of sheets and comforter to get to Jim. Jim was a hunched hump in the side of the bed farthest away from the stairs -- wrong, wrong, because that was his place, his, because Jim wanted to be the first line of defence in the, sadly not unlikely, event that someone came up those stairs with blood in his eye, and Blair knew better than to even try to argue with that kind of instinctive thinking.

"Jim! Wake up."

"This had better be good, Sandburg."

Sandburg. Jim never called him that in bed, not since the time he howled it as he came and Blair was so ticked off that he hadn't, being too busy lecturing Jim briskly. "Intimacy issues. Respect. A time and a place, Jim, and balls-deep in me you call me 'Blair' or --" Jim had opened his mouth, most likely to suggest an alternative that would turn sugar sour by comparison, and Blair had cut him off. "Or I'll remove said balls and choke you to death with them!"

"You turn me on when you're angry," Jim had replied, annoyingly calm as he rolled to his back with the smugness of a man who'd gotten to come. "I think it's the way your nose twitches like a cute little bunny nose would -- hey!"

It'd all gotten a little physical after that -- though with a happy ending for Blair's dick at least; Jim had been walking carefully all day, his ass well and truly nailed -- but Jim had taken it to heart once he'd stopped grinning, and after that, during sex anyway, he stuck to 'Blair' or a rare, muttered, heartfelt 'babe'.

Accepting that Jim was going to be pissed at being woken early on a Saturday when he wasn't working, Blair forgave him the slip, fully prepared to make it up to him. He'd been dreaming, that was all, and Jim would tell him that he was an idiot, pull him close and kiss him, then --

The sheets were pushed back, Jim turned to face him -- and Blair felt the world spin the wrong way and lurch sickeningly.

Not Jim. Him. His own face, sleep-blurred and grumpy, hair wild, mouth sulky. Jim always kissed him when Blair pouted like that and they were alone; just leaned in and planted a hard, teasing, stinging bite of a kiss on Blair's mouth until it softened enough to be kissed into a smile. Sometimes Blair did it on purpose just because he liked that kind of kiss now and then. It always worked. He was sure Jim knew the difference between real pouts and fake, but when it came to kisses, Jim usually indulged him, and Blair, still astounded, astonished, amazed, aroused -- hell, all of the above -- to be Jim's lover, was happy to be indulgent back.

"Jim?" he quavered, and fought the urge to close his eyes again. "Jim."

"Oh, my God."

Okay, that was good. Jim was freaked out, too. No, wait. Not good.

"Jim --"

"Stop saying that," Jim interrupted. "It's not helping."

"You. Me." Blair gestured between them.

"Mm-hmm." Jim was pressing his lips together tightly but that dam couldn't hold for long. "What in the name of God did you do?"

"Me? Me?" Bat-squeak high was hell on the throat, Blair discovered, no matter whose body you were in. "Jim, I didn't do anything. I woke up and my dick had shrunk and I panicked."

"You aren't bigger than me, Chief; you know that." There was a rustle of sheets as Jim's hand went south and Jim's face acquired a thoughtful expression. "Thicker, maybe, from this angle. A little bit."

"Focus, Jim."

"It's not happening," Jim said confidently. "So why should I? And it's my day off." He raised his eyebrows and Blair frowned. His eyebrows looked… patchy. Fluffy. Odd. "Feel free to help me out, if you want. If I'm fantasizing, I'm damned if it's going to be about jerking off."

"Jim, this is real," Blair said, summoning his best reasonable tone. "It's insane, I know, but as far as I can tell, it's happening. We're in each other's bodies. You're me; I'm you; we're screwed."

Jim sighed. "You couldn't just wake me up with a blow job like you normally do on my day off? It has to be a hallucination. Was it something in the stir fry you made last night? Level with me, Chief; did you add a little spice to it? The kind that gets you five to ten if you get caught?"

"No!" Green peppers, onion, chicken; ginger, garlic, soy… the fridge hadn't yielded much in the way of food and it'd been raining hard enough to make a trip to the store unappealing. He'd used what they had, and if it'd been a little boring, well, it had been hot and Jim had eaten a second helping. "No," he repeated. "It was all just regular food, I swear."

Jim turned pitiful eyes on him, his attempt at composure visibly flaking away to reveal the turmoil beneath. "Blair -- please tell me this isn't happening."

"Jim, I know it's a lot to take in -- hell, I'm just, man, I'm so beyond freaked right now, but we've got to hold it together."

Jim nodded slowly and then looked exasperated. "How you do cope?" he said, clawing at his face. "Your hair's getting in my mouth every time I breathe, and it tickles."

"I thought you liked it." Blair felt hurt. "You like playing with it. If it looks like a haystack right now, it's because you were running your freaking fingers through it last night, remember?"

"I do like it," Jim said without a shred of self-consciousness, because, as Blair had discovered, once committed to something, Jim didn't hold back, and that included relationships. "It suits you, and I'm used to it now. But I like it on you, not me. I'm used to something a little more streamlined."

"Yeah. I can feel the draft around my ears." Blair hesitated. They were joking around, but there was more than a hint of panic in their voices. Somehow, they'd gotten close enough that another shift in position would bring their bodies together, but neither of them seemed willing to move that final inch.

But they wanted to. Blair needed Jim's arms around him, holding him tight, and he craved that embrace like air. He really didn't think Jim felt any differently. They stared at each other, their words petering away.

"Blair?" Jim whispered a long moment later. "Can we just close our eyes and pretend this isn't happening?"

Blair could do that. Hugging himself felt strange, but skin on skin, a mouth on his, frantic kisses that were all about reassurance, not arousal -- they helped. If somewhere in the huddle they both lost it for a moment, when it was over, they pulled back, clear-eyed and calmer.

Relatively calmer.

"Okay." Jim swallowed hard, with an audible gulp. "It's real. So we deal with it like we deal with all the weird shit in our lives and we approach this logically."

"Logically is good," Blair said cautiously. It wasn't how he'd describe their usual modus operandi, but if it made Jim feel better to call it that, he'd play along. "And logically, you're going to ask me to state for the record that I don't have a clue what happened and why, and I'm going to swear I don't. Nothing I've read about sentinels and their shamans has ever included anything like this."

"I don't recall Incacha ever telling me about it, either," Jim said. "He had plenty of stories about Chopec sentinels who didn't listen to their shaman and came to a nasty end, but I think body swapping would have stuck with me."

"Some kind of illusion?" Blair asked doubtfully. "Someone slipped us something that's fucked with our heads?"

Jim pursed his lips. "We need to get Simon in on this and find out if he sees us the way we do."

"Simon?" Blair asked and tried to keep the pique from his voice. This wasn't his fault, no, but it was more his area of expertise than Captain 'If I can't poke it, it doesn't exist' Banks'. In his opinion, Jim was jumping the gun bringing Simon in on this. "We look the same; we sound the same -- and we know each other well enough to copy each other's mannerisms. We tell him what happened and he's going to think we're doing April Fools' Day early. He'll fire you and insert my observer's badge somewhere painful."

"Well, you know I'll kiss it better, sweetheart." Jim's hand caressed Blair's ass and then jerked back. "That feels so wrong when it's my own butt I'm touching," Jim muttered. "Look, Simon knows we wouldn't pull something like this on him. If he needs convincing, I'll just have to come up with something Simon and I know that you don't. Something personal, or classified, that I wouldn't have shared with you no matter how close we are."

Blair grimaced. "Yeah -- if Simon buys that there's anything I wouldn't be able to get out of you if I really wanted to."

"You'd have to know it was there to dig for first," Jim pointed out.

"True," Blair conceded and got over himself. An outside perspective would be useful and Simon was rock-solid when it counted. "Okay, call him and, oh, I don't know -- invite him over for breakfast. Maybe in an hour? We need to shower and air the place out. It smells of beer, garlic, and sex, and with only the two of us here that last one's going to take some explaining."

"Sure." Jim hesitated, his gaze not meeting Blair's. "Blair?"

"Yeah?" Blair was running through a mental list of books he wanted to check, most of which were at the university. There had to be something; some precedent. At the moment, all he was coming up with was Freaky Friday and somehow, from what he remembered of that book, it was never really spelled out how the swap was made by the mother. Besides, today was Saturday. And there was no way Jim was behind this and was faking his shock; the guy had been trembling during that hug.

"You haven't mentioned --"

"What?" Jim bit his lip and Blair sighed. "Spit it out, man."

"My senses," Jim snapped, his face flushed. "Because I'm just -- I'm deaf and blind here, Blair and it's -- I don't know anymore. I don't know what's happening, or how you're feeling -- but you do." His hands gripped Blair's shoulders bruisingly tight. "Tell me."

"Your senses?" Blair swallowed. He hadn't thought about them, but if he had, he would've assumed that they'd gone with Jim when he took over Blair's body. "You don't have them?"

"I have your senses," Jim said tightly. "Normal senses. It's like being wrapped in cotton wool."

"Well, I don't have them either!"

Jim's mouth hung open for a moment in shock. "That's not possible."

"It's not something I could miss," Blair snapped. "I can't hear your heartbeat, I can't smell -- no, forget that; I can smell you, but it's just Jim-smell --and that's weird, because you should smell like me, but you don't. Maybe I'm just too used to my own smell and I ignore it? Anyway, I can't break it down like you can." He sniffed experimentally. "I think you're coming down with a cold."

Jim craned his neck and looked down into the loft. "Everything's fuzzy."

"Put on my glasses."

Jim fumbled for them on the nightstand and then put them on, clumsily pushing his hair out of the way of the arms. Blair found himself trying -- and failing -- to remember how he did it. He was sure he didn't make that much of a meal of it. Glasses in place, Jim gave his surroundings a sweeping glance. "It's still nowhere near what I'm used to."

Blair had to agree. Even with the sentinel senses conspicuous by their absence, he was aware of the fact that Jim's sight was a perfect 20/20. Nice. "You'll get used to it."

"I don't want to get used to it." Jim's mouth -- Blair's mouth -- thinned to a hard line. Blair had never seen what he looked like when he was angry. It was about as menacing as a spitting kitten. "I want my body back. And I want -- I miss --"

"Your senses?" Blair poked Jim's chest with his finger and overdid it; Jim yelped. "Sorry. But when I think of all the times you've complained about them…"

"Not recently," Jim said. "Not since they let me save you."

"Jim --" Blair's words faltered to silence.

They didn't talk about the day Blair had died and Jim had brought him back; no need; actions spoke louder, after all. And Jim and he had expressed everything they needed to with eagerly roving hands and kiss-silenced mouths.

Unexpected? Yeah. Blair still didn't know why, after three years of keeping his distance, and a week or two of awkwardness once they'd returned home from dealing with Alex, Jim had suddenly turned to him, opened his mouth, shaken his head in exasperation when nothing had emerged in the way of intelligible words, and hauled Blair to him for a kiss that had left them both somewhere new, somewhere good.

Unexpected, or not, for the last couple of months, it'd worked. And now this.

"Jim… do you think it's connected to that? To me dying?"

"How the hell would I know?" Jim got out of bed and then stared down. "Jesus, Sandburg, can't you tell it to behave? Sex is the last thing on my mind."

Blair grinned. "You always could get me up just by looking at me."

Jim turned before Blair had a chance to decide for himself if his ass really was as bitable as Jim claimed. He had a feeling Jim just liked sinking his teeth into it, but as it didn't really hurt, and Jim was -- generally -- careful about not leaving slow to fade marks, Blair didn't mind the occasional love bite, no matter where Jim decided to place it.

"Since when?" Jim demanded.

"Since day one," Blair said, a belated confession without shame.

"We wasted a lot of time," Jim said.

"Yeah." Blair got out of bed, too, and swayed. Okay, this was going to take some getting used to. It was like losing the training wheels on his bike and discovering just how hard it suddenly was to ride in a straight line. Moving carefully, he shrugged into Jim's robe. It was thinner than his and he shivered. Jim, snuggled up in Blair's robe, glanced over and then walked around the bed and hugged him.

"At least it's us in here," he said, his voice muffled against Blair's chest. "Could have been worse; we could have hopped into a stranger's head."

Blair smoothed back Jim's mass of hair so that he could put a kiss on the hollow at Jim's temple. He loved being kissed there and he was curious -- yeah, Jim liked it, too, judging by the soft exhalation and the way he pressed closer.

"You know," Blair said slowly. "We should think about what we can do with this. Make lemonade out of --"

"Chief." Jim was suddenly a foot away and glaring. "Do not even think the word 'test' or I swear I'll kick your butt down the stairs."

Blair flexed his arm and felt the muscles bunch, but went with his usual strengths when it came to responding. "Think about the skin you're in, Jim. That's tantamount to admitting I can take you in a fight."

Jim snorted. "If I was in the body of a seven-year-old girl, I could still bring you down, Sandburg. It's all in the attitude."

"So why do you spend so much time at the gym?" Blair challenged him.

"I get off on the smell of sweaty socks," Jim said. "Now call Simon and pretend to be me, will you? I'm going to shower." He paused at the top of the stairs, a beatific smile spreading over his face. "And I can use whatever the hell soap I like. And eat what I like. And --"

"Hate to burst your bubble, but in case you hadn't noticed we use the same soap and shampoo and toothpaste these days," Blair pointed out. "But knock yourself out with the pickled jalapenos in the fridge."

"I just might do that."

Blair narrowed his eyes and then followed Jim down the stairs. "When I get my body back, I want it in good shape, you know; raging indigestion wouldn't be fun."

"Right back at you," Jim told him. "Tonight I was planning to work out at the gym."

"It won't hurt to miss one session," Blair said to Jim's retreating back.

The bathroom door closed and a moment later was flung open again. Jim looked slightly disturbed. "You need to pee."

"After all that beer last night? No kidding, so get a move on, okay… oh!" Blair was torn between amusement and the same reaction as Jim. "Well, it's not like you're in a female body, Jim; you know how my plumbing works. And, ah, I usually do more than pee after breakfast, just to warn you. Got to love those algae shakes; I'm regular as clockwork."

"Oh, God." There was a dull thud as Jim began to methodically bang his head against the doorframe until he stopped after a meaningful cough from Blair. "Sorry. It's just that wiping your ass isn't high on my to-do list."

"What if I was sick or something?" Blair asked, genuinely curious.

Jim looked surprised. "That's different. I've been a medic, Blair; I've wiped up every bodily fluid you can imagine. It's not that I'm squeamish, it's just…"

"It's okay," Blair said, letting him off the hook. "I get it. It's weird. But I'll be going through it, too."

"Yeah, I guess, but if you think that makes me feel better, it doesn't." Jim sighed. "I'm going to, uh, take care of business. Put on the coffee and then call Simon, okay?"

"Sure," Blair said, and hid his amusement because Jim really did look disturbed.

Simon arrived forty minutes later into the middle of a simmering bristle of a silence, his puzzled, pleased smile fading three steps past the threshold. "Look, if you two brought me here to settle some argument you're having, I'm out of here. I listen to you squabbling plenty at work; I don't need it on a Saturday, too." He frowned, looking at them with an appraising eye. "What's with the way you're dressed?"

"Good question," Blair snapped. He poured Simon a cup of coffee to nail him in place for as long as it took Simon to drink it. Jim closed the door and guided Simon over to the table, three settings laid, with food keeping warm in the kitchen. "Jim decided it'd be funny --"

"Chief," Jim said warningly. "I mean, uh, Jim…" He scrunched up his face. "Fuck."

Blair glanced down at the Hawaiian shirt he'd found at the back of Jim's closet and put on in retaliation for Jim dressing his body in the shirt and pants he saved for interviews. Jim had come out of Blair's room with a smile lurking in the corners of his mouth, and Blair had found out that he looked even dorkier in them than he'd realized, which had stung. But this was no time to be petty, and if he was honest, he suspected that the two of them had chosen an argument as a good way of putting off dealing with the main issue.

That it had worked didn't make it a good plan. He slipped away upstairs and compromised by pulling a sweater on over the shirt, then spent a few moments admiring himself -- Jim's self -- in the mirror. He was as disturbed by this as Jim, but it didn't mean that he wasn't looking forward to getting to know Jim's body from the inside. God, was it wrong of him to picture how good sex would be when they were in their own bodies again, armed with the knowledge of each other's hot spots? He felt Jim's cock start to twitch and harden, and blinked. If that had been his doing, he wasn't aware of it. Jim had to have a hair-trigger if a brief speculation got him going like this.

Blair frowned downward. "Behave," he whispered sternly and found it didn't help at all. After tugging the hem of the sweater down as far as it would go, he rejoined the other two and discovered that they were sitting in a stiff silence. Simon might not have known what was going on, but he was too good a cop not to pick up on the fact that something was wrong. Jim was staring into his mug of coffee, his forehead puckered, and the fingers of one hand tapping restlessly -- annoyingly -- on the table.

"Mind telling me what's going on?" Simon asked.

"It's why we asked you over," Jim replied. "You see --"

"No." Simon nodded at Blair as he pulled out a chair and sat down. "I know you, Sandburg; you'll dance around it until my coffee's cold. Jim?"

This was getting confusing. Blair opened his mouth and then pointed at Jim. "He's Jim, Simon. I'm Blair. We woke up and we were in each other's bodies."

Jim pursed his lips. "You know, that has to be a record for you, because that was actually pretty concise."

"Just because we're all off duty doesn't mean I can't suspend you for any number of good reasons," Simon said ominously, his attention all on Blair. Reminding himself that in Jim's body there wasn't much physical harm Simon could do to him, Blair returned his glare.

"Simon, this is me, Blair. Look past Jim's chiseled fucking jaw and use your instincts."

"I don't have instincts," Simon growled. "I have eyes, and I see you, and you look like Jim Ellison to me."

"Does he sound like me, sir?" Jim asked. "Blair, talk to him. Tell him about a tribal custom or your views on gun control."

"Spare me," Simon said flatly. "I don't know what you two think you're doing, but it's pissing me off."

"Simon --" Jim jerked his head to the side and stared into space, a move Blair had seen him do countless times. Watching Jim use his body to do it in was beyond strange and he saw it register with Simon, who blinked, screwing his eyes up as if he didn't trust them. "Look, it's insane, but we're right there with you; we've only had an hour or so to come to terms with this ourselves, so we're not exactly on top of the situation, either."

"I can't accept this." Blair noted with interest that Simon was addressing his words to Jim now, no matter what body he was in, as if on some level, at least, Simon was beginning to accept the truth. "I've gone above and beyond with the sentinel deal -- my mind's so open my brain's getting chilly -- but this is too much."

He began to stand up and, without thinking, Blair reached out and stopped him with nothing more than a hand on Simon's forearm and some downward pressure. Jim's muscles weren't bionic man strong, no, and Blair prided himself on being in better shape than he looked, but he didn't have Jim's body mass or bulk.

Well… he hadn't in the past, anyway.

"Do you mind?" Simon said coldly, his gaze flicking down to Blair's hand.

"Simon," Blair pleaded. "You're right; you've been good over the sentinel abilities -- but that was because you saw it for yourself, right? Jim can prove what he can do, and he has, more times than I can count."

Simon sat down and shook Blair's hand off him. "Your point would be?"

"Let us prove this," Jim said softly, staring at Simon. "Any way you like until you believe us."

"That would be never."

"No." Jim shook his head and then paused and reached up to finger the earrings threaded through his earlobe as if he hadn't noticed them before.

Which reminded Blair of something he'd noticed the day he'd met Jim and teased him about from time to time: one of Jim's earlobes was pierced, too. Hmm. That had possibilities, if the hole hadn't healed over yet. He could dress up Jim to fit every fantasy he'd ever had. Jim in leather, that pierced hole filled and stretched by a metal hoop or a stud… mmm. Yes. He filed that thought away for later and waited for Jim to continue.

Jim let his hand drop down to rest on the table. "No," he repeated. "You'd have to be stubborn to the point of stupidity to reject proof, and you're one of the most intelligent men I know, sir."

There was a long moment where both men did nothing but exchange glances; searching and angry on Simon's part, steady and a little sad on Jim's. Simon broke first; Blair wasn't surprised. Damn, he really did have that whole puppy dog look down, didn't he? He watched himself with an objective admiration and then felt -- God, what the hell? No. No, this wasn't happening. He was not getting turned on looking at himself, because that was a whole new order of freaky.

It occurred to him, amid the welter of confusion his brain had become, that sex with Jim was, in fact, not going to work all that well while they were in each other's bodies unless what he was feeling now -- a residual, purely physical response, most likely, continued. His body would be willing, but his mind would be backing away. He'd be happier jerking off, and wasn't that a depressing thought so soon after hooking up with Jim. Blair had gotten addicted to sleeping next to the solid heat of Jim Ellison's body, with touch and grope privileges over every inch of it. Going back to sleeping alone because the shell Jim was in was Blair's own body -- He moaned, overcome with the myriad paradoxes of the situation, and sighed when the two men with him gave him very familiar matching, exasperated frowns.

"Sorry," he murmured meekly. "I was just thinking some stuff through. Man, this has to get put right soon or my head's going to go boom, you know?"

"Blair, go out on the balcony," Jim said. "Let me tell Simon a few things that should convince him."

"He can stay," Simon said unexpectedly. "That way I know for sure at least one of you is Ellison."

"Yes, but --" Jim protested.

Simon interrupted Jim with a steely glare. "It isn't up for debate. And wouldn’t he be able to hear me anyway? Or did the senses go with you?" He smirked, a lemon-sour twist of his lips. "Listen to me fall for your bullshit."

"Neither of us have the senses," Jim said patiently. "We don't know why, but they're missing, either temporarily, for good, or until we swap back. And it's easier to prove someone does have them than doesn't, so can we focus on who we are, not what we can do?"

"It's your dime," Simon said with an elaborately careless shrug. "You wanted to tell me something? Then go right ahead, Jim; tell me. Or, if you're Sandburg, repeat whatever dirt it is you weaseled out of Ellison."

"On your head be it," Jim said, annoyance thickening his voice. "Christmas party, men's washroom, stall at the end, you and that typist from…"

"Shut. Up." Simon was breathing fast, his face set in stone. "I don't want to hear another word."

"What happened?" Blair said without thinking. He caught himself. "Never mind. I don't need to know."

Simon stared at Jim. "He told you, didn't he, Sandburg? I suppose the two of you enjoyed laughing at me when she wouldn't give me the time of day once she sobered up."

"I'm Sandburg," Blair said, and tapped his -- Jim's -- chest. "And I didn't know anything about it, until you just told me. Simon, if Jim gave you his word that it would stay between you, then you know he would've died with it still a secret! This is Jim Ellison we're talking about."

"Fine," Jim said intently. "Wrong approach; not a secret, but something trivial that there's no way on earth I'd have ever shared with Blair, because why the hell would I? The Jackson case, my first few weeks in Major Crimes; remember it?"

Simon frowned in thought and then nodded, his hands in tight fists on the table.

"When you gave me the file in your office, I didn't get hold of it right or you let go too soon -- whatever; it fell to the floor, papers everywhere, and we both bent over to grab it and knocked heads." Jim smiled reminiscently. "I was still being a fucking pain in the ass on the outside back then, all piss and vinegar, but I was furious with myself for doing something that clumsy when I was trying to impress you."

Simon was still nodding slowly and Blair found himself crossing his fingers, a superstition he usually had no time for. "You just about turned the air blue swearing…"

"And don't think I didn't replay that moment over a few times later, in between kicking myself."

Simon pursed his lips. "Okay, that's -- yeah, that's good, but let me ask you one. One you couldn't predict or get ready beforehand."

Jim spread his hands wide. "Go for it, Simon."

After a few seconds of thought, Simon said, "Joan. The first time you met her."


"What was she drinking?"

Jim frowned. "Uh, it was a barbecue at your place, right? And she was… she was on antibiotics for something. Root canal, I think, and she was drinking some herbal tea her friend swore by and it smelled like wet hay."

"Jim, that's amazing," Blair blurted out. "Your memory for details is just --"

"It's a cop thing," Simon said dismissively. "We're trained to notice and remember."

"Yes, but Jim does it better," Blair said. So he was proud of Jim; so what?

The look Simon gave him was the friendliest since he'd been told what had happened. "Now, that sounds like you, Sandburg."

"So, do you believe us?" Jim asked.

Simon sipped at his coffee. "I don't think you're giving me much choice. Let's say I do; how are you going to fix this?"

"I don't have a clue, sir." Jim sounded tired. "I'm still getting my head around it. You think you've had a shock? Think about us."

Simon chuckled. "Yeah, waking up in Sandburg's bed must have made you wonder what you'd been drinking."

Blair could see Jim, incurably honest Jim, begin to answer that statement with a correction. It was like watching someone trip, a priceless vase flying out of their hands, and launching yourself forward to catch it, knowing you wouldn't make it. They'd agreed to keep their relationship private; not a secret, no, just… private. Easier. Simpler. And Jim was all for simple.

"Hey, waking up in the wrong place wasn't easy for me, either," Blair said quickly. He could lie easily and convincingly; it sometimes got him in trouble, like the time he'd talked his way into a seat on a chopper as a hostage… but it usually got him out just as fast. Flew Apaches. Him. That one still made him roll his eyes, years later, over the pilot's gullibility. Now it was going to be lying by omission to a friend, and that sucked, man, it really did, but Jim came first.

Jim mattered most; in every part of Blair's life, personal, professional, social, there was Jim in the number one spot, head and shoulders above any competition.

Simon gave a bark of laughter, sitting easier now, his body language shifting from hostile to comfortable. "Given your love life, I'd have said it was what you were used to."

Jim looked pained, but the moment passed and Blair allowed himself a private moment of triumph that he knew Jim wouldn't be sharing.

"Ready to eat, Simon?" Jim asked casually. "Or have we ruined your appetite?"

"If a month-dead floater couldn't do it, nothing you two tell me will," Simon assured them. He sniffed the air. "Smells good. Sausage?"

"You bet," Blair said, knowing relief was making him too chirpy. "Want more coffee, too?"

Simon smiled at him and Blair felt a premonitory chill course down his spine. Okay, maybe Simon was just biding his time, because that smile looked predatory. "Why, thank you, Blair," he said, with just a tad too much stress on Blair's name. "Don't mind if I do."

Not wholly convinced then, not yet. Never mind; hopefully this would be temporary and it wouldn't matter. Of course, then they'd have to convince Simon that they were themselves again.

"We need some way to prove we're us when we're back in our own bodies," Blair announced when they were all at the burping stage, too full for even Jim to start clearing the table.

"Oh? Such as?" Simon sounded as mellow as two plates of eggs, bacon, sausage, and hash browns with all the trimmings could make a man.

"I don't know," Blair admitted.

Jim got up and cuffed the back of Blair's head lightly. "My partner, the genius, people."

"You come up with something then," Blair challenged him.

"I can't, not right now." Jim shrugged and headed for the coffeemaker. He topped up his mug with some sludgy dregs and then, after one mouthful, tipped the mug out into the sink. "Simon? Want to wash or dry?"

"I'm taking Daryl to his grandparents," Simon said without troubling to hide the blatancy of the excuse. "Going to have to eat and run."

"Next time, Simon gets the burned bacon," Blair said under his breath.

"I like it crispy," Simon said placidly. "I can't say it was a pleasure, not with how the meal started, but thanks for feeding me. And the other thing…" He rolled his eyes. "I'm just going to file it with the rest of the strangeness that is your lives."

"Good plan," Jim said. "About work…"

"Oh, shit." Simon chewed on his lip. "Do you have any court appearances?"

"Not this week."

"Good. Well, keep out of the office as much as possible and be discreet. You know how to do that, don't you?" Did Simon's gaze flicker up to Jim's bedroom? Blair couldn't decide. "Yeah," Simon said, half to himself. "I guess you do."

When he'd gone, Jim remained over by the door, his face blank.

"What?" Blair asked.

"How do you stand it?"

"What?" Blair said again.


Blair refused to say 'what' for a third time, but he wanted to. "Huh? Jim, I like Simon. So do you."

Jim flapped his hand impatiently. "No. I mean, yes, I do, but he's --" He gestured up over his head. "He's huge."

"So are you," Blair said dryly. "It doesn't bother me; why would it? As far as I'm concerned, I'm the right height and you two are freakishly tall."

Jim walked over to him and tilted his head back. "You're not a freak, but it's a different view from here." He considered Blair in silence for a while and then said thoughtfully, "I can see up your nose."

"Welcome to my world."

Jim had the grace to look a little shamefaced. "Sorry." He waved at the door. "I think that went well, don't you?"

"Oh, yeah. Real well." Blair shook his head in exasperation. "Jim, Simon walked out of here still not convinced, not deep down. We've got to come up with more than we did."

"No, we've got to come up with a way to fix -- oh." Jim stopped talking, his eyes glazing over.

Panic filled Blair, as well as an unexpected loneliness, as if Jim had abandoned him. "Jim? Don't zone on me. It's not fair if you lose the senses and keep the zones. Jim?"

Jim turned worried eyes on him. "Blair -- suppose this is a test?"

"It wasn't me; I told you that. Jesus, Jim, how many more times do you want me to say it?"

"No. Not you. Just," Jim gestured with his hand, "them. The spirits, hell, whoever runs this thing."

"I don't think it's quite like that."

"No? Then tell me what it is like, because I'm a cop and all the evidence is that when I come to a -- a crossroads, I get a vision and I get tested. I lose my senses." Jim swallowed. "Last time, I lost you."

Blair went into Jim's arms, uncaring about any kind of weirdness. He was hugging what was inside the body, not the body itself, that short, compact, hairy body that Jim's hands and mouth loved to touch and praise silently. He was hugging Jim and Jim was hugging him back and standing like this, locked together, they were invincible. He had to believe that, and so he did.

"You got me back," he said into the silk and tickle of hair. Jim was right; it did get everywhere. And it didn't smell like his hair now; it was infused with the scent Blair associated with Jim.

"I did, yeah. We -- we --" Jim paused. "I can't say it," he confessed.

Blair lowered his head and bit Jim's shoulder by way of rebuke, just where he liked it to be bitten by Jim, because he wasn't really cross. "We merged. Our spirits became one. That's all."

Jim snorted, the sound a soft explosion against Blair's chest. "All? Right. Just a quick resurrection from the dead. Nothing to get excited about."

"No," Blair said. "It's huge. It was the most incredible experience of my life."

"Yeah, well, they usually come with a price tag," Jim said, and broke free of Blair's hug. "I think today's our due date."

He went to the balcony doors, staring out across the city. Blair trailed after him -- some things didn't change, no matter what body he was in -- and followed Jim's gaze.

"I can't see anything," Jim said softly. "Just buildings. I can't see into them."


"Is the test to see if I can live without the senses, or are we supposed to get them back?" Jim continued.

"Man, I wish I knew."

Jim turned, his eyes fierce. "You do know, Chief! You always know." He slammed his palm over Blair's heart, fingers spread. "Look inside you."

The air was hard to breathe when Jim looked at him with that level of intensity. Blair dragged in some oxygen and wet his lips. "Okay. Okay. Look inside myself. Right. Well, I do that when I, uh, meditate. Maybe we should try that. Both of us meditate, try and induce a trance and see what happens."

A frown appeared on Jim's face, as if that wasn't what he'd expected, but to Blair's surprise, he went along with it, giving Blair a resigned nod.

"Not right now," Blair said. "I'm so full, the only thing I'd tap into is my belly noises. Tonight. We'll fast the rest of the day, take a shower --"

"Stink up the place with candles…"

"Smoke some --"

"Do not go there," Jim warned him, even though the swat that landed on Blair's ass was a playful one. "Arresting my partner would raise eyebrows."

"So will dressing my body in a suit, so knock that shit off on Monday, huh?"

Jim pursed his lips. "You know, you'd look good in leather pants…"

The echo of his earlier fantasizing painted a blush on Blair's face that Jim would've had to be blind to miss. "Oh-ho."

"Don't go there," Blair begged.

"You share, and I won't," Jim promised.

"There's nothing to share. I just, I wondered, purely hypothetically, what you'd look like dressed as a biker, maybe. You said you were into bikes once, and I just --" Blair regained control of himself. "I pictured it," he finished with dignity, and drew himself up so that he was really looming over Jim. "You have a problem with that?"

Jim's mouth quirked into an amused grin. "Knock yourself out, Chief. Just as long as you keep it between your ears and, what was it? Hypothetical."

"I'll dry, you wash," Blair said, refusing to commit himself while determined to kick Jim's borrowed ass if he tried to squeeze it into leather pants. On him? He'd look ridiculous. "You always do it too slowly and I run out of places to put the clean dishes."

"And you always put the dishes away still wet," Jim countered.

"Yeah, yeah…"

Some things didn't change.


By evening, Jim was on edge and finding that Blair's body responded to stress completely differently than his own. He would have sunk into immobility, a brooding silence; this body he was wearing wanted to pace, talk, move. If he hadn't watched Blair meditate in the past and seen the utter stillness Blair could achieve, he would have thought the man incapable of sitting without squirming.

His mind conquered the conditioned responses enough to let him restrict the pacing to wandering around the loft once or twice an hour, and as Blair wasn't staring out of the window at the lit up city, but setting out candles after an hour's research on his laptop, fingers tapping away briskly, he supposed Blair's mind had done the same.

They were still themselves. Still Jim, still Blair. Just… in the wrong places.

"Ready," Blair said and shook a box of matches in a way Jim never would have done, because a bigger kid had told him once about a boy who did that, and the box had set on fire and burned the boy to a cinder.

Jim hadn't really known what a cinder was at the tender age of six, but he'd dropped the stolen box of matches into a trash can and abandoned his attempt to build a fire and make s'mores. Looking back, he guessed the boy had been trying to keep him safe by scaring him into an awareness of danger, but at the time he'd just sweated through flame-decorated nightmares for weeks and hated him.

The candles were white, most showing signs of being used before, thick dribbles of wax marring the smooth sides. Jim brushed a finger over one pillar, craving the feel of the wax against his skin, remembering how it should feel, remembering -- and got no more than a dull, greasy drag against his fingertip.

"Maybe we should strip," Blair said.

Jim had showered, a brief, prosaic wash, his hands traveling lightly over some parts of Blair's body; scrubbing impersonally at others. He'd stared at the tiled wall throughout, and kept his mind blank. He'd shared a shower with Blair in the past -- once -- and it hadn't been a success; no room, elbows bumping, Blair's attempt to initiate sex met by his own refusal. One of the few times he'd ever turned Blair down, but good though Blair had looked and felt, his skin flushed and heated by the water, dark hair dripping down his back, the slippery layer of soap an intriguing barrier, Jim couldn't face the awkwardness. He was still too unsure of himself with Blair to feel able to laugh at the inevitable disaster it would have been. When he confessed that reasoning to Blair later, Blair had stared incredulously and pointed out that a mutual hand job wouldn't have been a problem and hell, all Jim had to do was lean against the wall and try to stay upright while Blair blew him. He could stand up, couldn't he?

Put like that, Jim had been tempted to drag Blair back into the bathroom and show him just how good certain parts of him were at standing up, but one thing had led to another and they'd used the bed because it was there and never gotten around to sex in the shower.

That hadn't made it easier to wash Blair's body.

"Strip?" He stared at Blair. "What the hell for?"

Blair lit a candle, the flare of the match and the wavering flicker of the kindled flame both no more than flat, crayon colors, yellow and red, not a vivid coruscation, a myriad shades in a single flame.

"Our bodies are what we need to get back into. Clothes would just get in the way."

Jim snorted. "However this was done, I don't think it was a physical exchange, Chief. We could do it in a wetsuit, or hell, a tux."

"We were naked when it happened," Blair argued.

"So?" Jim shook his head, the ends of his hair whipping back and forth, sending a whisper of a breeze across his face. "I'm having trouble with the whole idea of meditating; I'm not doing it naked." Blair's mouth turned down in a disappointed pout that looked ridiculous. Jim decided that he really didn't have the right face for Blair's wiles to work. Well, that might make his life easier.

Three minutes later, when he'd discovered that no matter the body, Blair always won, he sat, wriggling uneasily, his bare butt scratched by the woven rug Blair had put down, the smoke from the candles tickling his nose.

"Close your eyes," Blair murmured. "Think calm thoughts."

Blair didn't sound all that relaxed himself. Discovering that Jim's legs didn't do pretzel imitations hadn't gone down well. Jim smiled down at his own neat half-lotus and closed his eyes.

The loft didn't go away when he slipped into a vision. Jim had been expecting it to, but when the fog in his mind cleared, all he saw was the candle flame, burning blue now, and Blair beside him, still meditating.

Blair. He saw Blair, all long hair and familiar features.

"Chief, it worked --" The words were in his head, but they stayed there because Blair's eyes opened and they were animal eyes. Wolf eyes. A growl trickled out of Blair's throat; a warning, a greeting; Jim wasn't sure what. It didn't sound angry but neither did it reassure him.

And he wondered what his own eyes looked like.

Blair rolled out of his cross-legged position and onto all fours, the low rumble still sounding. He shook his hair loose over his face and crawled forward. Jim shifted so that he was crouched, ready to defend himself or attack, his gaze fixed on Blair's face through the fall of hair masking it.

The growl died away and Blair scented the air, his nostrils flared wide, his mouth open. Jim snarled, and had his question answered; part of him at least wasn't purely human if he could make a sound like that. He went to his hands and knees, as Blair had done, and moved toward Blair, the two of them wary but attracted, if the heaviness between his own legs as his cock filled and swelled was any indication.

Blair's cock was already hard, standing up from the wiry cloud of dark hair at its base with a challenging thrust. Jim's mouth watered, filled with soft, thick saliva he had to swallow, tasteless, bland, when what he wanted to taste was Blair's come, ripe and earthy, the smell of it there in every breath he took, the slick warmth coating his tongue and throat.

His surroundings were getting vague now, furniture vanishing, blurring, only the clear blue light remaining, everything else just -- not there.

Everything gone but Blair.

Jim got closer and sniffed Blair's throat without letting their bodies touch. Blair growled softly and held still, but Jim whined, the sound as plaintive as if Blair had backed away. The scent wasn't strong enough there. He wanted it saturating his senses. Wanted to lose himself in it. He ducked his head and nosed the shallow hollow of Blair's armpit, the thick, silky hair tickling his nose so that he pulled back and sneezed, which put a grin on Blair's face. Playfully, his teeth sharp, Blair nipped Jim's shoulder, hard enough to leave a sting of pain; not hard enough to draw blood.

Jim purred, the sound loud in the space, and surprised himself by offering his throat to be bitten, tilting his head and sighing with pleasure as Blair's teeth sank into his neck below his ear, a tingle of arousal sparking through him. He tried to tell Blair how good it felt and nothing but another purr emerged.

Their voices had been taken. He considered that for a moment and then dismissed it. It didn't matter. Just this. Jim rolled to his back in a lazy sprawl, and exposed his belly, trusting Blair completely. Blair moved over him and bent his head, teeth snapping, tugging, never breaking skin; just hard enough to make Jim grunt or whimper happily.

Then it was his turn to get scented, with Blair doing a more thorough job of it than Jim had done, nuzzling into every place where sweat and scent collected, his tongue lapping delicately, leaving behind wet skin, warmed by Blair's exhaled breath. Jim submitted patiently, allowing Blair to turn him over and then splitting his legs wide in an invitation Blair didn't need as his tongue was already a warm, wet wriggle on Jim's balls and moving up towards Jim's hole.

They hadn't done this before, not to each other, anyway. Jim had a vague memory of doing it years before when he was drunk; a bitter tang, a flash of distaste and the woman beneath him squirming on the sheets, moaning his name, luckily unable to see his screwed-up face.

He couldn't see Blair's face, but the memory of that long-ago night was enough for him to tense up for the first time. Blair didn't like that, if the reproving nip Jim's ass got was any indication. Blair didn't seem inclined to use his hands, which meant that to give Blair the access he needed, Jim had to spread his knees wide and arch his back, ass up high. It should have felt undignified, even ridiculous, but when he did it and felt an eager, approving lap from Blair's tongue across skin he knew he'd scrubbed clean an hour earlier, he relaxed.

Then tensed again; the ass he'd scrubbed had been Blair's. Blair had been the one cleaning this body, and who knew how thorough he'd been? A moment later, he pushed his misgivings aside for the final time. Blair wouldn't be doing this if he didn't want to.

Jim was still hard, and he was sure Blair was, too, but there was very little sexual about what Blair was doing. It wasn't impersonal; quiet moans and whimpers broke the silence and felt like Blair's attempt to reassure Jim in some way, but it wasn't erotic, either.

It was just… Blair getting to know him. Comprehensively, if quickly. After only a few, mostly fruitless, attempts to delve deeply with his tongue into Jim's ass, Blair tested the taste of the skin at the base of Jim's spine and then moved up to mouth at his shoulder blades. Jim relaxed into the soft kisses that had replaced the bites and scenting, lulled by them and the way Blair's body heat and scent were soaking into him.

Then Blair's cock nudged him in a plain warning and a moment later pain ripped though him, and stole his breath so his scream was a choked gasp from a nightmare.

The pain wasn't from anything Blair had done; after that first press forward, with the head of Blair's cock lodging against his opening but going no deeper than that, Blair had paused and waited.

No, the pain was everywhere, intense, violent, wracking his body as he pounded his fists on the floor and fought for breath. Blair's hands were on him, fluttered caresses, accompanied by sharp, concerned yips that somehow managed to convey a message as well as words would have: did I hurt you? Are you okay? Jim!

The blue light faded and dimmed and Jim tasted tears and blood and fell into the waiting, welcome darkness.

And when he opened his eyes, it was to stare up into his own anxious, guilty face.

"Jim, I'm so fucking sorry."

He swallowed through the dry thickness his throat had become. "It didn't work."

"Well, no." A frown marred Blair's forehead. Blair's frown; Jim's face. It didn't look right. Blair might be in his body but he wasn't using it the same way. He must've been out of it for a while; Blair had gotten dressed again and the candles had been blown out, the air full of the sweet reek of melted wax. "But that's not --" Blair stopped talking, closed his eyes, and took in a deep breath. Jim watched his chest expand under Blair's shirt and reflected that he really didn't look too bad for a man pushing forty.

Then Blair spoke and the flicker of vanity died.

"I'm a sentinel. The senses are back and they're with me." Jim felt his mouth sag open as he absorbed that, but it wasn't all Blair had to say. "And I think… Jim, I think you gave them up to me. In the vision."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Ignoring the dizziness, he sat up, and pushed aside Blair's outstretched hand. "There was no one there! No one to ask -- we couldn't even talk! I didn't agree to anything. I just…" His voice faltered and Blair nodded, wincing.

"You submitted to me. You gave in without a fight. You -- Jim, you just let me take them. The sex was… well, symbolic."

Jim stared at Blair and watched his mouth move, the words barely audible through the dull rush in his ears. Blair was talking quickly, theorizing, expounding, pulling what ifs out of his fucking ass, as far as Jim was concerned, but the bottom line seemed to be that Jim had blown it. He hadn't wanted the senses enough and Blair, for some reason, had.

To the victor the spoils.

Jim got to his feet and began to get dressed, his back turned to Blair. He refused to answer the increasingly agitated questions, and shrugged Blair away when his arm curved, placating and hopeful, around Jim's shoulders.

"Jim… man, you're being so fucking childish about this!" Blair snapped. His arm fell to his side. Annoyance made him look bigger, somehow, which did nothing to help improve Jim's mood.

"Yeah? Well, I'm in your head, so I guess you're rubbing off on me." Jim walked over to where their coats hung and rifled through the pockets of his coat for his keys. He left his wallet where it was after removing the money from it. The driving license in the wallet didn't match his face any more; let Blair have it. "I'm going out."

"I don't think that's such a good idea."

Jim took Blair's wallet from the jacket he'd shrugged into, extracted all the cash -- less than Jim carried with him, way less -- and tossed it onto the kitchen counter. "That's yours."

"Don't do this, man."

"What? You want my money as well as my body and my senses?" Jim asked, deliberately misunderstanding him. "Sorry, Chief -- no, better make that Jim, but I need enough to get drunk on and what you have wouldn't buy me more than a couple of beers."

He thought he heard Blair call his name once more after the loft door had slammed behind him and he was running down the stairs, but he was probably wrong.

There was some distance between them, after all, and a thick door; and it wasn't like he had super hearing, now was it?


Blair stood in the middle of the loft and listened to Jim walk away, his stride lengthening as he began to run, his footsteps clear, distinct booms in Blair's ears. He refused to let himself worry about Jim leaving. They shared a tendency to deal with hurt by walking off to lick their wounds and he hadn't really expected the changes in their relationship to alter that basic fact.

He concentrated on the footsteps and felt a cocky exultation filling him as he registered the change in the sound as Jim's boots struck sidewalk, not stairs. Not so hard, after all, to interpret the data he was being given.

Except… the footsteps were louder now than they had been when Jim was walking down the hallway, which didn't make sense.

Too late, he realized that in his unacknowledged desperation to keep the tenuous connection between them alive, he'd diverted all his concentration to one sense. So soon after the emotional trauma of the vision, he didn't have the mental stability needed to control his new abilities.

"Breathe," he told himself, his hands clamped over his ears to block out the echoing slams. "Pull back --"

In a swift punishment for his arrogance in believing he could master the senses because he'd watched and helped Jim for a few years, his hearing continued to expand, blotting out every other sense until his world consisted of nothing but pain and the reverberating boom of each angry step.

He sank to the floor, rocking back and forth, moaning.

Hurts… God… Hurts…

If it was a test, he was failing it.


The first bar Jim came to was smoky, the music loud. He hesitated in the doorway and then snorted, went in, and let the door close behind him. It didn't matter now. He wasn't going to end up with his eyes burning, his throat raw, and a headache pounding away. All the people inside, drinking, chatting, flirting, could handle it, and so could he.

He made his way to the bar, vaguely aware that people weren't getting out of his way as much as they usually did, and after a few attempts to catch the bartender's eye, waved a ten-spot in the air as an attention-grabber.

Beer in hand, and a chaser he'd drunk immediately, searing its way down to his gut, he looked around for a quiet corner to begin a determined slide into a drunken haze. This place didn't do quiet. It did people, lots of them, all on display, all looking for… something. Most were younger than he was.

But not that much younger than Blair.

In this crowd, wearing Blair's clothes, that double glint of silver in his ears and the cloud of hair, he fitted in, more or less. People hadn't cleared a way for him, no, because Blair just didn't project 'cop' and 'dangerous' but it didn't mean they weren't paying attention to him. As he walked through the bar, he got looks; appraising, appreciative, mostly from women; some from men.

He returned them all with a stony indifference that made smiles die on lips and heads turn away. He was angry with Blair, hell, pissed at the world, but it didn't mean he was going to pick someone up just to get a petty revenge.

He was angry with Blair; that didn't mean that he didn't still love him.

In fact, that was why he was so pissed -- God, how could Blair have done that? Have taken something that was part of him, unacknowledged, unwanted, forgotten for much of his life, sure, but still… He'd been born a sentinel. It was what he was. It was something that went with the -- with the soul, not the body. No matter what body he was in, the senses, like a loyal dog, should've tagged along with him. He felt a deep, unreasoning resentment that they'd stuck with his body, not him, and ignored the fact that they'd actually hung in limbo and waited to be grabbed.

He found a small table in the corner of the room and proceeded to get drunk; paying for each drink he was brought so that he could leave when he wanted to. On the way back from the restroom, his vision and hearing blurred by alcohol, his movements deliberate and careful because he was starting to lose control, he saw that while he'd been gone the overly efficient waitress had cleared his glass away. He'd made sure he'd drained it before he walked away, as there was no way he'd have drunk from a glass he'd left unattended, and given the empty table and the crush of people, the inevitable had happened and his table had been taken by a couple now deep in conversation.

Fuck. He frowned at them and contemplated making a fuss, and then shrugged. He'd find another bar. The music in this one was too loud even for normal ears.

He studied the press of people between him and the door and decided to just start walking in a straight line and the hell with anyone in his way. That worked for about three bumped shoulders and then a startled shriek told him that he'd made someone spill their drink. He turned, an automatic apology rising to his lips, and met the brown eyes, irritation already turning to indulgence, of the woman Blair had broken it off with to be with him. Jen was bubbly, bright, and bouncy, a combination that had made Jim feel tired, but under the giggles was a solid core of intelligence and kindness. He was just glad that she'd taken Blair's inadequate and necessarily incomplete explanation about why he had to stop seeing her with equanimity. Hell, she'd come over to collect some of her belongings and kissed them both goodbye with a cheerful grin.

"Blair!" She shook her head. "That's a little obvious, even for you."

"I don't know what you mean." The stonewalling was automatic.

"You can pick me up once that way, but twice?" She tsked. "You did that on purpose."

"No, I --" He swayed and grabbed her arm to keep himself from staggering into the path of a waitress with a tray of glasses.

"Oh, God, you're drunk!" A concerned frown wrinkled her forehead. "That's not like you, Blair; is everything okay? Do you want me to call Jim?"

"Why would I want you to do that?" It came out as a snarl and he regretted it as he saw the hurt flash over her face. "Sorry. It's just… that wouldn't be a good idea, right now. I'm fine. I'll go home. Sleep it off."

"You argued with him, didn't you?" Jen sighed and patted his face, the affection behind the gesture clear. "That sucks."

"Yeah," he admitted. "I did and it does."

"Mmm." She glanced back at the group of friends she'd been with, who'd gone back to chattering once they'd seen that Jim wasn't a stranger. "Do you want to talk about it?"

He shook his head. "No. But thank you. It's just… complicated."

"I totally get it." Jen finished what was left of her drink and nodded. She wasn't entirely sober either, Jim realized. A slight slurring to her voice, and she was blinking too much. "He's a cop; they don't like people who wander off the straight and narrow." There was enough meaning layered over the words to make it clear she knew that Blair wasn't exclusively interested in women, and possibly suspected that her replacement had been a man.

"You'd be surprised," he said. "We're not all fucking bigots, you know."

"You think of yourself as one of them now?" Jen's eyebrows rose. "Wow, that's… Jim really has you under his thumb, doesn't he?"

Jim held up his hand and studied it. "Nope. Nothing attached to these babies."

"What?" She looked at him as if he was insane. "That doesn't make any sense."

He replayed it in his head and had to agree with her. "I have to go," he said abruptly. With a nod, he turned away, ignoring her when she called out Blair's name. Let Blair deal with any backlash from the encounter; talking to her was just too risky and right then, he couldn't trust himself to handle it if she continued to criticize him and who he was; what he did.

It hurt; a small sting compared to the burn of betrayal, but even so. He'd always thought she liked him.

The air outside was cool and refreshing but it didn't do anything to sober him up. Nothing ever did but time; he'd found that out as a teenager. It didn't matter; he didn't want to lose the buzz. Not yet. He was petty enough to hope that they would get swapped back during the night, so that Blair would be the one dealing with the hangover, but the shamed pang that followed on the heels of the thought made him realize that his anger was fading.

He wasn't drunk enough to have lost the ability to see himself objectively; it looked like maudlin was next on the predictable list of emotions, because he was starting to think about Blair, left alone with the senses.

"Didn't leave you alone, did he?" he muttered, needing to say the words aloud and the hell with the funny looks he was getting from the people passing by. He began to walk back to the loft, his steps veering slightly now and then. "Scary when it starts. Scared me. Might not scare him. Blair's brave. And he knows what's happening." He considered that. Yes. Blair knew. It would make a difference. Blair was probably okay.

He still kept walking as fast as he could, which wasn't very. Too many things in the way. People, trashcans, lampposts. The streets were a cluttered fucking mess. And somewhere, he'd gotten turned around, because he was going the wrong way. On foot, which he wasn't often, it all looked different.

And he needed to piss. Again. He was damned if he was going to use a wall in an alley, and he didn't feel like the bright lights of a coffee shop, so that left a bar. There was one up ahead with a group of people leaving. All men. Not unusual, but… oh, he knew where he was now. The bar wasn't exclusively for gays, but it had enough of a reputation as a safe place to go with your same-sex partner that he'd refused when Blair had suggested they try it. Too risky. They might get seen. People might think the worst. He hadn't had to trot out any of the tired excuses circling in his mind; he'd just shaken his head firmly. Blair had stared at nothing for a moment and then shrugged and taken him to a place very similar to the bar Jim had just left, which was punishment enough for being so fucking craven.

Tonight, hidden behind this mask, he could go wherever the hell he wanted and it didn't matter who saw him. Blair answered to no one, and the rules that hemmed Jim in were loosely wrapped around his partner.

He bought a drink first, out of politeness; another shot of whisky. Less volume. Swallowing it in a single gulp was easier than sipping at it, so that was what he did. He tossed money and a tip onto the bar and scanned the room, looking for what he wanted. It wasn't any quieter than the last bar and it was just as busy. Christ, didn't people have homes to go to?

He spotted an arrow on the wall pointing to the restrooms and made his way over to it, his own tendency to stride, and the alcohol, giving his walk a swagger Blair's didn't usually have. He was getting looks here, too, but they were more direct. He didn't feel vulnerable, but he did feel an itch of awareness flare awake. Someone was watching him and not looking away. He didn't glance back.

Business taken care of, he stayed in the restroom, giving whoever it was time to make a move. When a couple entered and gave him a curious look before going to piss, he began to wash his hands with a methodical care that meant they were leaving when he was still rinsing off.

The door took too long in closing; someone had slipped in as they'd left. Jim stared into the mirror with a feigned casualness. He'd found something to sober him up now. A man appeared behind him, taller than he was now, but younger than Blair by a few years, with soft, silky brown hair and gray eyes. He had wide shoulders but he was skinny with it, not built.

No threat, but he could have a weapon --

Jim pivoted on his heel, trapped between the man and the sink, and fuck, he wasn't as sober as he'd thought, because he stumbled, off balance. A hand caught him, supported him, and drew him closer.

"Blair…" The man smiled and bobbed forward to plant a kiss on Jim's cheek. Jim turned to avoid it and, because his timing sucked tonight, just sucked, the jerk of his head brought their mouths together.

As kisses went, it was a failure; fast, fleeting, and fumbled, and most definitely one-sided, but the man pulled back and beamed. "God, it's good to see you again! How are you?"

Feeling violated, thank you.

"Fine," Jim said uncommunicatively. "You?"

"Oh, God, you just don't want to know!"

Got that right.

"So how long has it been since we saw each other?" the man continued. He paused, clearly expecting some response.

Jim shrugged. "It seems like forever, man."

Had that sounded like Blair? Close enough.

"You are so right." The man shook his head ruefully. "We should get together sometime."


"Still living with your cop?" Cue humorous eye roll. "Did he ever get a clue?"

"About what?"

"Duh? You?"

"Jim knows all about me," Jim said grimly.

"I'm sure he'd like to think so."

"Tell me one thing you think he doesn't," Jim challenged.

"Well, I hope you didn't tell him about what we did on his bed."

"Refresh my memory," Jim said into a tension-filled silence.

"Bounce, bounce?" The man sighed. "I thought you were going to hit me the way you reacted when I went up there."

"Jim's a very -- he doesn't like people messing with his stuff." Jim was thinking back and remembering, oh, yeah, he was remembering all of Blair's muttered excuses about going up there to nap because all of his sheets were in the wash. He'd made a big deal out of stripping the bed and Blair had looked hurt.

And it hadn't been because they smelled of Blair, because that wouldn't have bothered him, not really. Instinctively, he leaned in to sniff the man, wanting to confirm that this was the source of that long ago alien scent, but all that got him was a whiff of stale tobacco and sweat -- and arms going around him, as his movement was misinterpreted.

"No!" He pushed free. "Look, I'm with someone now, okay? And if you grab me one more fucking time --"

"You never used to mind being grabbed." The words were cool, distinct. "Fine. Piss off, then. Or stay and watch me piss, if you want to remember the good times."

"You've got to be kidding me."

With a studied indifference, a zipper was pulled down. Still facing Jim, not the urinals, the man tugged his dick out and held it cupped in his hand. "Well?" He was half-hard and as Jim watched, he pumped it slowly in a lewd invitation.

Jim found himself reaching for a badge he didn't have. Fuck. Arresting this slime for anything he could throw and make stick was so very fucking tempting, but it just wasn't a good idea.

He settled for a contemptuous stare at the growing length (nowhere near as big as his, in either body, nowhere fucking near) and then raised his eyes, his lip curling. "You've got nothing I want."

He made it out into the fresh air and turned toward home, hurrying now.


Jim walked into the loft, words of apology already planned out and ready to be spoken. He closed the door quietly, in case Blair had gone to bed, worn out by everything that had happened to them both, and glanced around. The lights were on, but Blair was -- oh God. The floor. On the floor, not moving, on the floor, eyes wide open, hands clamped to his ears, on the floor and hurting --

He couldn't break down the seconds that passed between seeing Blair and moving forward. He found a bruise on his thigh the next day and the pain of colliding with the corner of a table flooded back, as sharp as when it'd happened, but at the time, it failed to register. Reality snapped back into focus only when he was cradling Blair in his arms, his hands passing over the short hair in frantic, frightened caresses.

Zoned. He pulled Blair closer, and felt the strength of his former body in a way he'd never been aware of when he was wearing it. His body was solid, heavy, and with Blair out of it like this, close to an immovable object. He heard himself sob out Blair's name and took a deep breath. That wasn't helping.

Blair's hands now hung loosely, but they'd been over his ears, which meant sound had been the trigger for the zone. Jim kept his voice low and said, in as normal a tone as he could manage, wondering bitterly if the reek of alcohol on his breath would jar Blair from his zone, "Blair? Wake up, sweetheart. It's Jim. Come back to me. You're safe. Come back."

He kept talking and touching Blair's skin, punctuating his words with kisses to Blair's forehead and cheek, until a shiver ran through the body he held and Blair's open eyes filled with an awareness of self, the glassy, blank stare fading away.


"Was I this much of a pain in the ass when I was talking you through dealing with a zone?"

Jim shrugged, his gaze focused on the glass of water he held. "Yes?"

"God." Blair exhaled, an impatient huff that didn't come close to conveying his feelings. "Well, somehow I doubt it. Jim, it's not working. I lost it. Completely. And I don't know if I've got the nerve to try again."

The admission cost him, but he had to make it. He curled up in his corner of the couch and realized that Jim's longer legs didn't fit the available space very well. With another sigh, he propped his feet on the coffee table and then took a sip of the green tea with mint Jim had brewed for him. It tasted like hot water.

"You've got everything turned down low, haven't you?" Jim asked. Blair nodded. "That means you're controlling them," Jim pointed out. "High, low, or in the middle, you've still changed the settings." Jim gulped down some water, grimacing as if it was medicine.

Blair didn't need sentinel senses to spot that Jim was still less than sober. He was tempted to comment on the etiquette of taking care of borrowed bodies, but he approved of the water and nagging Jim right now wasn't going to be all that productive.

Tomorrow. When Jim had a hangover and was finding out the hard way that Blair didn't drink much for a reason.

"I suppose so."

"Not that I do that whole dial thing anymore," Jim said.

"What?" Blair set his tea down. "Since when?"

"Months." Jim waved his hand vaguely. "It was a good starting point, but once I'd gotten the hang of it, I kind of… personalized it. You know."

"No, I don't know," Blair said coldly. "Maybe because you never told me!"

"I didn't think you'd be interested. The principle was the same; I was just, uh, using a different approach." Jim finished his water. "Look, it's getting late; want to leave this until the morning?"

"Not a freaking chance." Blair poked Jim in the arm. "Tell me now. Because you might say I'm doing stuff, but it doesn't feel like I am and I'm -- I'm --"


Blair rested his head against Jim's shoulder. "God, Jim, you don't know what it was like. The noise… And I couldn't make it stop. I thought I was going insane and it didn't help that I knew what was happening. It was like being in the middle of a tornado; the wind doesn't care that you know all about how weather systems work and you've read The Wizard of Oz a dozen times."

Jim was stroking his hair again, the slow, gentle strokes that he used when he brushed Blair's hair sometimes, patient, careful, loving. "I do know what it was like. And I know how terrifying it can be. God, I can't believe I walked out and left you like that. I'm sorry, Blair."

Blair kissed the prickle of stubble along Jim's chin. "I get why you needed your space, man. The walk probably did you good, though I can't say the same for the drinking."

"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

"It won't tomorrow." Blair straightened. "So what do you use?"

Reluctantly, Jim said, "I wanted something more…flexible. Less black and white. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it's a -- a spectrum. So I see it as notes on a scale, high to low; or colors, like a rainbow. Red is top end, blue is about where you are now, and mostly I'm in the yellow."

"More nuanced…"

"If you say so."

Blair tried to visualize it, but his mind was too chaotic to be able to focus.

"You're trying to work with all your senses at once, instead of one at a time."

"How do you know?" Blair asked.

"Because it's what I did."

"We're not necessarily going to follow the same path," Blair pointed out. "I've got three years or so of study to build on."

"Tell me that isn't what you were doing, and I'll take it back." Jim looked entirely too smug, but Blair couldn't lie to him.

"I guess. So maybe just one to start with?"

"Yeah. Not hearing or sight; I don't want you left blind or deaf." Jim tapped his finger against his mouth in thought. "Smell," he decided.

"Okay." Blair sniffed experimentally. "I can't smell anything much," he reported.

"So move the dials, or whatever, and get back to normal."

"Well, what should I be smelling?" He gave Jim an inquiring look. "What can you smell?"

"Um…" Jim took a turn at sniffing the air. "Stuff. Your tea. Smoke on my clothes. Are you getting any of that?" Blair shook his head. "Wait here."

A moment later, Jim returned from the kitchen holding a lime in one hand, a dense, deep green in color, and in the other a zester that was nominally Blair's. Jim had bought it after coming in one day to find Blair whimpering in pain after grating his knuckles along with an orange in an attempt to make a fancy dish to impress whoever the hell he'd been after that week. Blair remembered the agony of the orange oil sinking into the shallow cuts and the way Jim had pushed his hand under the tap and then picked out every remaining shred of peel, his eyes intent, his forehead creased. The zester had been beside Blair's plate the next night, expensive, safe, never used since, but appreciated.

Jim sat down beside him and raked the zester across the lime, curls of green peel flaking away to reveal white pith. "Smell it."

Blair inhaled and felt something tickle his nose, a zing of citrus. "It smells prickly."

"Go higher. Turn it up."

"How?" Blair demanded. "I can't -- I don't know how to."

"You just do." Jim's expression mirrored the frustration Blair felt. "You reach for your tea without thinking about how to make your muscles move; it's the same thing."

Blair stared down at the lime. Without taking it out of Jim's hands, he ran his fingers over the torn peel and felt the shallow channels the blades had carved. Then he brought his fingers to his nose, breathed in --

green, intense, smoky, sharp, sour, greengreengreengreen -- lime

"Lime. I smell lime. I do, I smell it, Jim." He choked on saliva, welling up in an automatic reaction. "God, it's all I can smell."

"Too much," Jim said authoritatively, Mr. Expert at work. "Ease back, Chief."

"Better stop calling me that," Blair said and with that distraction, the world snapped back into focus -- a sentinel's focus, everything clear and intense, vibrant and pitch-perfect, singing to him.

"Oh, my God," he said quietly. "Jim, this is unbelievable. I can --" He held up his hand and saw the wavering line of a bitten fingernail like the teeth of a saw, fretted, intricate, without losing his awareness of the rest of the room. "I can choose what to see, how to see it, I can -- God, I can do anything." He grinned, exultant, delighted, suffused with power. The edge was taken off his joy when he saw Jim's expression; hunger, desperation, like a starving man looking at food through a window, out of reach. "Jim, is this what it's like for you?"

Jim didn't even try to pretend that he didn't know what Blair meant. "No, not always. Sometimes, yes, it just… balances. It doesn't last long; something will happen and it'll come crashing down, but when it's like that, it's -- it's good."

"Oh, man, it's just --" Blair shook his head and then reached out for Jim, reaching past the barrier of his own body, not caring that his hand was caressing his own face because that was Jim in there, behind that too-familiar flesh and bone, and it was Jim he was touching. "Kiss me. Before it goes away. I want to know how good it can be for you. I want to know if you've ever felt like this when we were making love." A flash of something like guilt answered his question, and he moaned. "Oh, man, you have? Details, Jim, I want details, but right now --"

"Shut up, Sandburg," Jim interrupted, and grabbed him, dragged him close. Blair relaxed willingly into the rough hold and waited for an equally demanding kiss, but it didn't come. Without hesitation, but with the utmost precision, Jim licked Blair's lips with the point of his tongue, a fine line of warm and wet that left them fizzing, sparkling, as the moisture evaporated and the skin cooled. The scent of Jim's saliva wafted up, rich and subtly different from anything Blair ever remembered tasting in his own mouth.

But it would be, of course. Anything and everything would taste different now.

No one had ever licked his lips like this, deliberate, purposeful. It was erotic and strange and left Blair hard and yet with most of his attention focused on his lips, not his dick. His arousal wasn't centered there, but wherever Jim was touching. Jim was the source of it all, and Blair, barely breathing, accepted what Jim was giving him; let himself be guided through a world Jim knew and was exiled from.

Jim's grip loosened, as if Blair's continuing acceptance without struggle (why would he struggle?) or attempts to reciprocate (he'd like to do that, but he'd give Jim this moment, he'd let him drive) had reassured him.

Once licked, Blair's mouth remained unkissed. The absence of kisses hurt, but Blair kept his protest unvoiced. It was all about trust.

"Upstairs," Jim said, his voice quiet, peaceful. "Get undressed. Let me show you."


The sheets were cool against his skin. Jim's skin. He had to remember that. This wasn't his body. Borrowed body, sneak peeks at Jim's life, except Jim knew, so he wasn't sneaking --

"Stop thinking." Jim's hair was loose around his face and his neck was bent. Strands of hair were brushing across Blair's chest, stirred by air currents, nothing more, because Jim wasn't moving. Blair's nipples were tight, pebbled and aching, smarting as if they'd been chewed on, whipped, clamped; as if seriously kinky things had been done to them, when all that they had endured had been this random soft touch from hundreds of individual hairs, tiny points tickling.

"I --"

"Don't talk. Feel." Jim sounded dreamily drunk, which Blair supposed he still was, but this intoxication wasn't physical. Jim was remembering. "You could come from this. I do this to your dick and how long do you think it would take? But I won't, because I know the answer. Not long at all, and I don't want this to end yet."

Blair didn't either, but he wasn't sure he could handle much more. He'd once told Jim to dial up touch when they were fucking and Jim's expression, exasperated, baffled, as he shook his head hadn't made much sense. It did now.

Jim sat up and reached over for the half-empty bottle of water on the nightstand. Trust began to shred away. If Jim poured that over him --

He didn't. He dripped it. Off the end of a finger, after warming a small puddle of it in his cupped palm. Blair's eyes -- sentinel sight at work -- tracked each drop as it fell, elongated, curved and complex, fell like a tear to splash against skin. The cup of his throat, each nipple, his closed eyelids… He was shaking by the time the third one struck; moaning by the fifth. He opened his eyes when no more drops fell, blinking away wetness. Jim got out a hair tie from his jeans pocket and pulled his hair back into a lopsided, but effective pony tail. Then he bent his head and drew his tongue along the track the water had taken after it had struck. Five meandering trails and Blair's skin was burning, fever-hot. Jim smiled, pursed his lips, full lips, juicy, lush… yeah, they looked good, Blair knew it. The cool stream of exhaled, directed air followed the path the water and then Jim's tongue had taken and Blair screwed up his face and writhed.

"God, how do you stand it? All those times I've clawed at you, chewed on you --"

"I control it," Jim whispered and even words were too much. Blair could hear them, feel the air they displaced and stirred, smell Jim's breath, alcohol-laden and, God, yes, he could see them, whisky-gold and amber…

He wanted to be held, cuddled, comforted, but like Midas, his precious gift had turned sour. If Jim's delicately teasing, barely there caresses had reduced him to this mewling mess of arousal and discomfort, a hug would kill him, would blast his brain to a cinder.

"No, it won't."

Blair blinked up at Jim. Okay, so he'd been babbling aloud, because telepathy really wasn't one of Jim's gifts or Blair would never have made it past his first week in the loft without getting punched. His thoughts about Jim's body as it passed him coming out of the bathroom, towel-swathed, had verged on pornographic.

"It will." He knew it would.

"Trust me."

"They really are scary words, aren't they?"

"Not when I say them," Jim said firmly. "Make me part of you. My skin, your skin; no difference. Accept me."

"Always, Jim." Wow, this was quite a moment they were having here. Was that really what Jim did when he was on the receiving end of one of the hugs Blair bestowed upon him without warning or permission? Because if so, man, that was flattering. And poetic. And sweet. And --

Jim got off the bed, leaving a hole in the air, and undressed. Blair watched Jim's fingers, clumsy at times, as if the body shaping the clothes made a difference when it came to pulling down a zipper. Or maybe Jim just didn't want to do anything to damage that serious looking hard-on he was sporting. Blair viewed it objectively. Nice. He'd suck it.

Jim got into bed, naked, hairy, short. Blair couldn't help summing himself up that way now that he was in Jim's body, although he never usually felt that the last two applied to him. He was the norm; the people around him were judged accordingly; too-tall, too-short, just right. Without a word, even when Blair for the first time ever, cringed back from one of Jim's touches, Jim wrapped himself over and around Blair, blanketing him with warm skin, furred in places, bare in others.

And Blair felt his borders expand to engulf Jim and let him in.


"Oh, yeah." This was bliss. This was even, heresy though it was to think it, better than sex. Of course, he hadn't had sex yet, not in this body, not feeling like this…

"Okay, so now I want to know why you ever let me get dressed, why you ever let me leave this bed."

Jim chuckled. "I'm sometimes tempted to keep you in it naked when you feel this good to me, but I told you; it doesn't last. And I'm not sure I'd want it to."

"You're kidding me."

Jim moved against him, a delicious friction, skin on skin, subtle and erotic. "There's more to life than sex, even with you, Blair. I've got a job to do, remember? And besides… you get used to anything, even this, and I don't want to. Not ever."

"I hear you," Blair said reluctantly. "But, God, right now I don't think I have the willpower to let go of you."

"I'm not asking you to." Jim's hand began a slow, gentle stroking that went from Blair's shoulder to his hip, over and over, leaving contrails of sensation behind. "Enjoy it while it lasts."

"How many times has this happened to you since we started seeing each other?"

Jim nuzzled Blair's chin, a flush rising in his cheeks. "Come on, Chief. Don't tell me you can't work that one out yourself."

Blair closed his eyes and groaned. "God, of course I can! Shit, I thought I'd never be able to sit down without a cushion again."

"Worth it?"

"I thought so at the time." Blair kissed the top of Jim's head, breathing in the scents trapped by the intricate maze of hair. "And my only regret was that my ass was too tender for us to do it all again the next night."

"Tender?" Jim snorted. "You were fucked raw. I'm the one who put half a tube of ointment on you and in you afterwards, remember? That's another reason I don't want to be like this all the time. I'd -- I'm not sure how much control --"

"You didn't hurt me, Jim." Blair put his hand on Jim's face and met his gaze. "Okay, there was a little bit of blood, but that's not unusual, and you know I didn't tear. A few days of sitting carefully and, yeah, some pretty painful moments in the bathroom, but the sex was unbelievable and now that I know how it must have felt for you, well…"

"I'd offer to roll over and let you do it to me, but it'd still be your ass getting pounded," Jim said ruefully.

"Good point." Blair eyed him, tempted. "It's good, though? Really good?"

"The only way I could remember my own name was because you were screaming it every few seconds." The flat delivery of the words didn't hide a certain pride. Blair could understand that. Jim had been…yeah. Primal. Untiring. And he'd surrendered to that strength without hesitation for once. Usually, he'd have fought back; playfully, sure, but offering a genuine resistance to Jim rolling over him, all muscle and dominance. He loved getting fucked, but he made damn sure Jim did it without any hint that he was in charge of events, with Blair no more than a passive recipient of seven or so inches of cock and, eventually, a healthy dollop of spunk.

Partners. Two-way street. Always.

But that night… oh, he'd let Jim have him. No, he'd let Jim take him, conquer him, possess him, getting off on the novelty of it and reveling in it without particularly wanting to do it again often. Just then, it had suited his mood and it sure as hell had worked for Jim.

He'd put it down to a full moon, or Jim's spirit animal getting restless; in other words, he'd shelved the reason without thinking about it at all, half-embarrassed by his own uninhibited reaction. Screaming Jim's name was only too accurate a description, and he never screamed, fuck, why would he? But he had that night; hoarse, desperate, delighted cries every time that solid length of cock had slid home and made his body its sheath. Now he wondered how he could have missed the clues that Jim was on a different plane of existence when it came to his senses. Some sentinel expert he was.

He didn't want to get that wild and wanton, not when it was all so new, but he was hungry for the experience, too.

"Oh, do it." Jim sounded resigned. "Just use plenty of lube and don't get too carried away."

"You think you're spoiling the mood, but you're not." Blair knelt up on the bed and moved his hands over Jim with possessive touches. His body, under his hands. His body that he knew, inside and out, head to toe, top to bottom…

"Tell me something that you like I don't, or the other way around," he asked.

Jim's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why?"

"Because I want to do it to you and see what happens; see if the body or the mind decides if it feels good."

Jim sighed. "Only you," he muttered. After a moment, he said, "Back of my knees. You love it when I kiss you there; it drives me crazy because it tickles."

"I discovered that when you kicked out and made my nose bleed, remember?" Not a night that he recalled fondly. Jim had felt guilty over the blood pouring from Blair's swollen nose because of his reflex action, which had taken them both by surprise, and -- unreasonably, in Blair's opinion -- annoyed by the mess. They'd gone to sleep an hour later, sex most definitely shelved, and barely speaking.

Jim went to his stomach without being told and pillowed his head on his folded arms. Blair cleared his throat and moved down, then, ready to duck, kissed the hollow at the back of Jim's knee, his body tingling with a memory of how it felt, goose bumps rising. Jim was tense, giving him nothing in the way of a reaction. Blair waited for him to relax and then did it again.

"It's… it's like they're canceling out," Jim said. "I want to say you're tickling me, only you're not, but you melt into a puddle when I do it to you, and that's just not happening."

"Hmm." On impulse, he sank his teeth into the meat of Jim's buttock, something Jim had only discovered he liked himself when Blair had done it playfully one night, a sharp nip, no more. By the end of the weekend, Jim's ass had been starred with bruises and his newfound kink had been explored as thoroughly as Blair's imagination, and what was left of Jim's inhibitions, permitted. They'd never taken it that far again, partly to keep it fresh; mostly because, as Jim had pointed out wryly, not being able to shower at the gym until the marks had faded had been, no pun, a pain in the ass.

Jim cried out sharply, a startled howl. "God…" His ass rose off the bed in a clear invitation for more, but Blair settled for an apologetic kiss on the place he'd bitten.

"Guess that answers that; when you're not expecting it, your mind processes the stimulus the way it's used to."

"But it's your body, and you don't like it all that much." Jim sounded baffled. "You don't hate it, but it doesn't…" His voice trailed away.

"Doesn't leave me drooling, no." Blair ran his hand consolingly over Jim's back. "The mind interprets the data, Jim; your body doesn't care; it just reports something new."

"So if you did it again, it wouldn't feel as good?" Without waiting for an answer, Jim groaned and banged his head against the pillow. "Don't do it," he said, his words muffled. "When I'm back in my own body, I want that to still work for me."

"No reason to think that it wouldn't," Blair pointed out.

Jim turned his head and gave him a baleful glare from behind a tangle of hair. "You don't know that for sure and I'm not risking it. Keep your teeth away from my ass, okay?"

"Just my teeth?" Blair sucked his fingertip and watched Jim's glare become a narrow-eyed stare of appraisal. He let his finger slip free -- man, Jim had long fingers -- and ran it, slick, but drying fast, down the cleft of Jim's ass. "Fingers allowed?" God, he could feel the softness of close to invisible hairs, the roughness of a tiny patch of dry skin… so much to feel that he was in danger of missing the obvious; his finger, Jim's ass, Jim spreading his legs and arching up…

"They're allowed." Jim sounded as if he was having trouble remembering how words worked; Blair looked away from Jim's half-hidden face and discovered that his exploring finger had remembered what to do with Jim's ass just fine by itself. Circling, probing, a gentle push…

My asshole. Mine. How does it feel? Different? No; I've done this before, after all… but now I don't know what it feels like for Jim; am I hurting him? Digging in? Do I need lube? Hell, you always need lube…

He got lube and a condom and put them where they'd do most good. The condom clung unpleasantly to his erection, a clammy shroud, and he shivered and lost the edge of his arousal. Then Jim moaned and moved restlessly against the bed, and he sucked in a sharp breath and got it back again, a driving, relentless ache of lust, leavened only by love. Primal wasn't all that kind a state of being; he could see why Jim backed away from it.

"God, Jim, I --"

"Don't think about it. Just do it." Jim glanced back, his lips peeled back from his teeth. "Do me. Now."

He didn't let himself hesitate or over-think it; breathing in shallow gasps, he eased inside Jim, inch by inch, and felt his body shudder and sweat. Heat. The world was heat and he was burning.

Pleasure shouldn't come like this, in such extravagant, lavish amounts. It was too much, too good, much too good, much too much. Flames licked at the base of his spine, the drawn-up tautness of his balls. He could feel a single drop of sweat rolling over his shoulder blade; the crisp pinch as his nipples hardened. He could hear Jim's breath, noisy, wordless, but still eloquent to Blair's senses which could interpret each gasp, each whimper. Jim wanted him to stop being careful and drive into him with the long, hammering strokes Jim loved. Did Jim read him this easily during sex? And if he did, why didn't he always give Blair what he was begging for? There had been times when he'd been close to biting a hole in the fucking pillow because Jim wasn't going deep enough or at the right angle. If that had been deliberate, Jim was a dead man.

He was generous and gave Jim what he wanted, partly because he knew he couldn't last long like this. Even through the condom, he could feel -- oh God, the thrum of Jim's blood, the beat and pulse of it, hidden behind such a thin, fragile layer of skin so that every stroke he felt it surge and try to break free. Should be careful; didn't want to be, should slow down, and that, yes, that he wanted because this would end soon and so good, so fucking good…

He was crooning that to Jim, his hands clutching the strong body beneath him (was he this strong? Was he? Was it Jim's strength, not his, he could feel, bracing against every slam-thrust, rocking into them greedily, demanding more?)

He flexed his hands and the muscles in his arms tightened too, hard, useful, muscles, earned in hours at the gym, paid for in sweat and pain. Blair's muscles now, just like Jim's senses were his.

Jim arched and cried out, guttural, blissful, and came, his body jerking wildly, fucking air and taking Blair spiraling down with him into a star-dusted darkness Blair's body chose as the easiest escape route from the ecstasy tearing him apart.

There was no time for a final thought in a neat scroll of words against his eyelids, linear, organized; it came in a flung splat, a gestalt.

I want to learn how to control this. I don't want to lose the senses. Not yet. Not -- Jim's senses, I mean, they're Jim's, sure they are -- (not yet).


There was something bothering Blair. It didn't matter what body either of them was in; when Blair was chewing something to pulp trying to decide what it was made of, Jim could tell.

He'd just learned over the years to wait and let Blair tell him what it was, because Blair didn't react well to being -- what was it he'd called it last time? Interrogated like I'm a suspect, Jim, and I'm not guilty, so back off, okay?

Blair had been interrogated before, by that stupid fuck Aldo, so Jim couldn't even give him a pass on the grounds of ignorance. If he had grilled Blair, for real, the kid would've cracked like a coconut, watery milk leaking out.

So he let the morning go by, learning to wear Blair's body, letting it move how it wanted to and trying not to get lost in it, not to forget --

Shit. "Blair!"

"Better get used to calling me Jim."

"What? Oh, yeah." He regrouped and cleared his throat. "Uh, 'Jim' --"

"Yes, 'Sandburg'." Blair said, mimicking Jim's tentative use of his name with a sarcastic inflection that Jim didn't think was warranted.

"I have to go into work."

"No, you don't; it's Sunday."

Jim was already putting his shoes on. "Travers case," he said succinctly. "I've just had an idea."

Blair blew out a gusty breath. "Man, that case…"

Paul Travers had been found dead in a deserted warehouse earlier that week, his head smashed in. He'd looked -- and smelled -- like a homeless person, one of the shadows who walked the city, ignored, forgotten. He'd turned out to be a wealthy businessman suffering from Alzheimer's. Travers had walked out of his mansion, which he shared with his daughter-in-law Sheila, and his grandson, Damian, as well as a small army of servants, four weeks earlier and hadn't been seen since. Missing Persons had been all over it, but Jim had been involved in a messy case involving multiple homicides at the time and it hadn't registered with him. Once Travers had been identified, his family had begun clamoring for answers. Answers that Jim, who'd been assigned to the case on Wednesday, hadn't been able to give them yet; the trail was cold.

"Yeah," Jim said. "Messy."

"So?" Blair asked. "What idea?"

Jim screwed up his face. "More of a memory," he said slowly. "Something I noticed at the time but it didn't register. Remember the day we were at the warehouse?"

"Sure. It was raining and you wore white socks. Narrow it down any?"


Blair was chastened enough by the rebuke in Jim's voice not to belabor the use of the wrong name. "Sorry. Uh… it was raining, though; you slipped in some mud and went flying. One of the uniforms snickered and you ripped him a new one --"

"Yeah, yeah," Jim said, impatience filling him to the brim because Blair wasn't getting it. "I slipped. In mud. Mud that was inside the warehouse."

"Which had a leaky roof and a dirt floor where the wooden one had rotted away." Blair shrugged. "I got a drip right down the back of my neck. Jumped a freaking mile. That water was cold."

"Yes, you did." Jim smirked. The uniform hadn't been the only one snickering that day. "Now, that was funny…"

"You had a point somewhere, Chief?" Blair asked.

Jim felt a chill course down his spine, courtesy not of an errant raindrop, but the way Blair had just called him 'Chief' without the slightest hesitation. His shoes were big enough that Blair's feet would fit in them, but it didn't mean that Blair had to treat them like slippers.

"My point is that as far as I can remember, the leaks weren't where that puddle was, so what made it? Maybe it wasn't rainwater…"

"You'd have noticed that, wouldn't you?" There was a spark of interest in Blair's eyes now, his curiosity engaged as it always was when Jim's senses were involved.

Jim shook his head, the weight of Blair's hair still registering, but dimly now, a fading prickle of awareness. "I wasn't trying to identify it, and with the stink in there from the body and God knows what else… I'm only human, Bl -- Jim."

"True." What Blair didn't say hung in the air between them. True now.. "So, you want to go back and get samples? It's been four days, so the liquid will have evaporated or sunk in, but Forensics can work wonders with soil."

"I -- you -- can send some to get tested, sure," Jim said, "but this case is cold and I want to warm it up again. Tests take time. I want to know what you can find out."

"Me?" The startled squeak soothed an irritation Jim hadn't realized was chafing him. Sandburg sounded panicked, and if it was galling to hear his voice pitched like that -- he hadn't known that he could squeak -- it was worth it to have the complacency scraped away from Blair.

"Yeah, Ellison." Jim shrugged his jacket on and threw Blair's coat over to him. "There's only one sentinel in the room and that would be you."

"But, Jim --"

"Blair." Jim met his pleading gaze with a stony stare. The single word could have been taken a few ways, he supposed, but he didn't elaborate. Didn't need to; Blair bit his lip and nodded.

"Blair," he echoed obediently. "Okay. Let's go." Blair put on his coat and then reached out to touch Jim's arm. "But you're going to have to walk me through it. Every step of the way."

Jim nodded, his less admirable emotions fading, replaced by concern and a tug of tenderness. Blair so rarely asked him for help. "I'll be right there." He kissed Blair's mouth, not caring that he had to tilt his head back to do it, and felt it soften, yielding up sweetness.

"Can't the mud pies wait?" Blair asked wistfully when the kiss ended. "An hour at least?"

"Tempting, but no." Jim swatted Blair's ass, his good humor restored. "We're back on duty, Chief -- and yes, I know, wrong name, but I'm too old a dog to learn new tricks. In public, I'll remember, I promise."

"I can think of some tricks you've learned really well," Blair said, a wealth of innuendo present in his voice and the sparkle of his eyes. "Like the best way to reduce me to whimpers with one finger. Want to learn some more like that? Or teach me some of yours?"

"Later," Jim said and felt the blush that betrayed Blair so often rise in his face.


Blair looked at dirt and saw… dirt. He was conscious of Jim standing patiently a few feet away, very carefully not studying the patch of damp earth, and then everything but the earth began to fade.

"Stay with me, buddy." Jim's hand patted his cheek, his hands gloved, like Blair's. Blair shuddered at the cool touch of latex and jerked back from the edge of a zone. "Open up, but not too far. Control the data flow."

"I wasn't even trying to analyze it," Blair admitted. "I guess -- suppose it gets too much again?"

Jim shrugged. "That's why you've got me."

Blair chewed his lip. The warehouse was dank, and he could hear the skitter of rats -- could feel the noise of their purposeful scurryings as if they were running over his skin. It stank, too, a miasma of urine and damp, and nameless things rotting. Jim could have named them, when he had the senses, Blair didn't doubt that for a moment -- but why would anyone want to?

"Okay," he said after a moment and squatted down. He began talking to distract himself from his surroundings. Stating the obvious could be oddly comforting at times. "The puddle's gone, but it's too damp in here for the moisture to have disappeared completely." When they'd scooped up some samples a few minutes earlier, the earth had been visibly wet an inch down, three shades darker and glistening.

"Should be enough to go on," Jim said, his words both encouragement and nudge.

Blair reminded himself that it couldn't all be fun and games and really good sex, and inhaled, his face close to the earth. It smelled damp and musty, no more than that. He tried again, and made an effort to relax, as if he was meditating. Smell, he told himself, just smell -- and I am not going to taste it unless I have to. And if Jim tries to make me, well, he'll end up with a puddle of puke to analyze…

He inhaled slowly. Oranges. Sugar. Sweet and distant, watered down… no, not sugar; glucose. And wrapped around it, ginseng and --

He put a pinch of it on his tongue and closed his mouth.

"Hey!" Jim looked startled, which made Blair feel better. "Don't."

Blair spat out a mouthful of grit and saliva, and took care to aim away from the damp earth. Cop instincts didn't come naturally to him -- why would they? -- but not contaminating crime scenes had been drummed into him by one Detective Ellison and he'd been a fast learner.

"Energy drink," he said briefly. "I didn't get enough to identify every ingredient, the way you would, but I got enough to know it was mostly orange and ginseng flavored water."

"Son of a bitch," Jim said, his face twisted in a fury that suited Blair's features just fine, thank you. "The grandson? Damian?"

"He's the only suspect we have who spent the interview drinking a mega-sized bottle of over-priced soda."

"'I'd offer you some, detectives, but it's from Europe, and I'd hate to tell you how much it costs.'" Jim's mimicry of Damian Travers' affected, smug voice was perfect. "He said you couldn't buy it here. He gets a friend in Paris to ship it out to him, which means it ends up more expensive than champagne, most likely." Jim shook his head. "I remember the smell of it but I can't --" His hands flexed as if he was trying to grasp the memory. "I can't access it."

"We can't prove anything," Blair said. "You know we can't."

"From damp dirt? No. But if his bottle spilled… Chief, this warehouse was searched, but for something that could have been used as a weapon. It's littered with --"

"Litter," Blair supplied with a grin. "Yeah… a plastic bottle wouldn't have gotten a second glance. But do you really think he would've been dumb enough to leave something behind with his fingerprints on it?"

Jim shrugged. "Sure. He struck me as the kind who thinks in the now; he'd make a lousy chess player. He'd have been careful to take away whatever he hit his grandfather with, but the bottle would’ve been on the ground, just another piece of trash. I doubt he even thought about taking it away. Cleaning up is what servants do." He waved his hand around the warehouse. "At the most, he picked it up and tossed it out of sight. And if he hid it, we can find it."

Blair stood when Jim did, rocking up onto the balls of his feet and back, his expression eager. "Yeah, we can. I can follow the scent of it --"

"After all this time? There are limits to what you can do," Jim warned and wondered if that was true. Would he have been able to do that? Was he clipping Blair's wings because his own flying days were over?

"On the air, sure, nothing will be left, but there's bound to be some residue in the bottle and that I can home in on, I know I can."

Blair began to prowl around the space, his face creased in concentration, sniffing the air. Jim waited and then shrugged and went in the opposite direction, using his eyes and some logic. Damian would've left through this door and he was left-handed -- something that matched the angle of the blow to Travers' head, although that was circumstantial evidence -- so he'd have had the weapon in that hand and the bottle in his right… Jim headed toward a heap of rubble and torn up flooring. Glass shards stuck up like blades of grass, vicious and hard to see in the dim light, and damp, moldering cloth covered part of the mound.

"Chief," he called, not going any closer. "Try over here."

"You've got something?"

"This just feels like the right place," Jim replied, as unable to explain why his cop instincts told him that, as he was when Blair quizzed him about how he interpreted the data from his senses. Blair joined him and he added, "Watch it; there's broken glass all over the place."

"I can see it sparkle," Blair said absently. He was snuffling the air again, his eyes half closed. "The smell's stronger here. Good job, Jim."

"Why, thank you," Jim said and tried to make it sound light, not sarcastic.

He expected Blair to scramble over the rubble, but Blair stayed where he was, studying it carefully. Jim squinted, but a plastic bottle was impossible to pick out using Blair's less than perfect eyesight and he'd left Blair's glasses at home. They gave him a headache.

"I see it," Blair announced and took an evidence bag out of his pocket, shaking it open as he walked forward.

Jim watched Blair home in on the bottle and pick it up carefully after marking its position with a stick. He should have been the one to do it, he supposed, but they were both wearing the thin gloves a crime scene required and did it really matter who got filthy scrambling over trash?

Blair returned, the bag held high, a triumphant smile on his face. "Got it!"

Yeah, it did matter. And later, when they -- when Blair -- arrested Damian, who caved spectacularly at the first sight of the bagged bottle, and confessed, instead of playing it smart and waiting for a lawyer, it mattered even more.

He couldn't say anything, though. Not when Blair was grinning with delight at solving a case and then sobering to deal with Damian's mother, Sheila, whose stunned, uncomprehending face was tear-wet as the cuffs clicked closed around her son's wrists. Not later, either, in Simon's office, where Simon's brief words of praise were, automatically, Jim guessed, directed at Blair, not him. In Blair's body, Jim was starting to feel almost invisible to Simon. He didn't like it.

No, he couldn't spoil it for Blair by griping, and what was important was that Damian Travers wasn't going to benefit from his crime. He told himself to focus on that, even when Blair, eyes twinkling, stuck him with the paperwork, something Jim had done to Blair a few too many times in the past.

Case closed. Right.


Monday was always a busy day for Blair at Rainier. There was just no way he could do as Jim had suggested and call in sick. Tired from a restless night lying beside an unmoving, unresponsive Jim, who was faking sleep so poorly that it had to be deliberate, Blair was in no mood to be tactful when he discovered that Jim's sulk hadn't vanished overnight.

The discussion on Sunday evening had been heated.

"You've got to go in," Blair had insisted. "I've missed too many days helping you out; my ass is on the line here. I've got a meeting at nine about departmental funding, a lecture at ten, a student coming in after lunch to discuss a paper that would have disgraced a ten-year-old -- I mean, seriously, Jim, you should've read it. Logical gaps you could drive your truck through, unattributed quotations… Here, I've got a copy of it --"

"Sandburg!" Jim backed away, his hands held up. He looked hunted but determined. "I can't do it. No fucking way. I don't know the names of the people you work with or the meeting agenda, and a lecture? Are you out of your mind? The last time I tried that, a smoke bomb went off, in case you've forgotten. Let's call it a sign."

"Like I didn't know you were only too happy to have an excuse to call off your talk," Blair snapped. The man could face bullets without flinching and a roomful of students gave him hives? "I can coach you on the background for the meeting and you do know them; you've met all of my department at one time or another and you're a cop; a trained observer. Funding is funding; you know all about that."

"Simon deals with crap like that, not me. And I'm not trained to lecture some snot-nosed kids about rites of passage, dammit."

"That's not what we're studying right now." Blair sighed. "Oh, hell, they'll hate me, but just for you…"

Jim brightened at once. "You'll take the sick leave?"

"No. I'll give you a pop quiz to last the hour."


"They had one just two weeks ago, so they'll complain," Blair warned him. Understatement of the year. The decade. "But just channel your natural authority and they'll behave."

"I thought I was supposed to be acting like you," Jim said sourly.

"I have authority." Blair felt indignation stir. His classes were well-attended and lively, but he didn't have any problems keeping order.

"You charm 'em, Chief. Me, I'll probably just want to arrest them."

The discussion had gone downhill from there and now Jim was sipping coffee with a moody, put-upon air about him.

"I'll call you," Blair said.


"And I'll clear your desk for you; Simon won't send me out, so I'll have plenty of time to get you all caught up on your paperwork."


Determined to get more than a monosyllable out of him, Blair snuck a quick look at his watch. Shit, he had to go in ten minutes -- oh God, he was going to have to take Jim's truck -- He cleared his throat. "I've been doing some thinking about why this happened," he began.

Jim stood. "I know why, Sandburg. To piss me off. And it's working. I'm taking my truck, by the way."

Telepathy was starting to look like a very real, and scary, problem. Or maybe Jim just knew him too well and had a clear sense of priorities. "I don't think driving the truck's a good idea, Jim."

Jim's hand slammed down on the table, hard enough to make his mug of coffee jump and teeter. "I'm taking it. Make up a reason why you're not in it if someone asks. You've got a fucking parking permit, so why do you care what vehicle you drive?"

"We're supposed to be pretending to be each other; keeping this quiet. No way would you let me drive your truck; no one's going to buy it."

"Like we're supposed to be keeping it quiet that we're sharing a bed? And you're one hundred percent correct, Sandburg. No fucking way."

"What?" Time was running out, but there was no way Blair was leaving this discussion to fester. "I haven't told anyone about us."

"I know." Jim smiled, all teeth. "Don't want to lose your street cred, huh? Judging by the attitude of your friends, finding out you were doing a pig --"

Blair's anger boiled up. "Jim, I don't know what the hell is wrong with you, but I have never called you that. Ever. Never thought it --"

"Your mother uses that word. You grew up hearing it."

The conversation had gotten out of control. Blair was a kid on that bike again, no brakes, heading down a steep, steep hill and screaming for help. "Well, yes, but that doesn't mean that I -- what friends?"

Jim's lower lip was pushed out, and he looked stubborn as hell. "I told you I saw Jen in the bar. Why didn't you tell me that she felt that way about me?"

This didn't feel like crashing; this was a skid on an icy road, wheels spinning, no control. The crash would come, but right now, he was flailing for balance. "Jen likes you, Jim," he said carefully. "She's not a fan of the police, because she got arrested protesting and they roughed her up, but you, personally, she has no problem with."

"Bullshit. You didn't hear her." Jim looked tired suddenly, the hurt showing through. Except Jen didn't matter to Jim, not really, and he'd been called worse and shrugged it off.

Blair moved closer and cupped Jim's face in his hands, halting Jim's attempt to pull away with a pleading look that he tried to make irresistible. "She's an idiot. Forget her. Can we get back to why this happened?"

Jim stood in Blair's shadow, his gaze fixed on Blair's chin now, giving nothing away. "No. Because if we do, I'll be late for your meeting." Blair let his hands fall away and Jim glanced up at him, a fleeting look, and then stepped back.

"I'll call you," Blair said, needing to confirm the connection between them in the face of the gulf opening up. "And if there's anything you want to know, anything at all --"

"Pop quiz is in here," Jim said stonily, tapping Blair's case. "Photocopier at the end of the hall. Don't ask Professor Benson a question in the meeting because he'll take twenty minutes to reply, and don't let Tony snow me into giving him an extension on the rewrite; he's got until Wednesday like everyone else."

"Uh, yeah." Blair felt helpless. "It sounds as if you've got it covered."

"Does it?"

The door slammed before Blair could tell Jim to wait so that they could leave together. He stood in the echoing silence and listened to Jim's footsteps recede, stretching out his senses, cautiously this time, to follow him. When Jim had driven away, he relaxed. Jim hadn't muttered anything under his breath that would give a clue about his mood, but his voice had been cordial enough when he'd replied to Mrs. Delaney's greeting, so it was Blair he was pissed at, not the world in general.

"But I didn't do anything," Blair said aloud, because he needed to hear it. "This isn't my fault."

He waited for the universe to agree and when it didn't, he grabbed his coat and left. Mrs. Delaney was still polishing the brass numbers on her door, her face placid, and her movements leisurely. Blair smiled at her as if this was a normal Monday, just as Jim had done, and kept on smiling at people Jim knew until he was at Jim's desk, sitting in Jim's chair, holding Jim's pen, and contemplating the risks involved in drinking coffee from Jim's mug, clean enough but sacrosanct.


Jim waited until lunch to call Blair at the desk they shared, only to get his own voicemail. He listened to his recorded voice telling him to leave a message with a melancholy wistfulness. He missed the sound of his own voice. When Blair said something, it didn't sound the way Jim thought it should.

He didn't bother trying to get Blair on his cell; Blair was probably out with Simon somewhere, stuffing his face and Jim's body with tofu and fucking sprouts. So much for being available.

He'd navigated Blair's day so far feeling like a man with no map in the middle of a maze, who'd been blindfolded and spun until he was dizzy, but the meeting was over, the pop quiz had been completed by forty-three students whose looks of stunned betrayal had been balm to Jim's own resentful mood, and all that was left was the appointment with the student.

And then he was going to walk away from Rainier and head for his desk -- his real desk, in his real office -- and take some deep breaths of the bull pen air, stale and reeking of coffee and smoke, and do his real work. It occurred to him that Blair's ass would be snug in Jim's chair and he scowled. It felt as if Blair had stolen his life and left him with nothing, rather than a straight swap, his life for Blair's. This job wasn't one that had ever appealed to him; he'd liked school and college, sure; he had no bad memories of being bullied and he'd been academically bright enough to get by and athletic enough to get noticed; he'd had friends and dates… and he'd walked out after graduating without looking back.

Blair, who had to have gone through hell being a boy genius, had stayed. Why was that? Like a lot of what Blair did, it made no sense to Jim.

He stared around the cluttered office and the shelves crammed with books and artifacts -- another word for junk -- and felt stifled. So much Blair. Blair's belongings surrounding him, as Blair's body, skin and bone, hemmed him in. A week ago, he'd have walked into this room to talk to Blair and felt at home, welcomed by Blair's smile. A week ago, fucking Blair, he'd felt he couldn't get close enough, couldn't get deep enough into Blair's body.

He was in deep now. Drowning, as Blair had done.

He ran his hands through Blair's hair, sick of it around his face, brushing his cheeks. It was too thick to be tucked behind his ears; it stayed there for a moment and then spilled forward again, irrepressible. Jim rummaged through the desk's drawers and found a hair tie. He'd watched Blair loop them around his hair many times, but the knack eluded him. He was sweating by the time he'd achieved a lopsided result, but at least the damn stuff wasn't in his mouth.

A brisk knock on the door signaled the final hurdle he had to clear -- and it was final. No way was he doing this tomorrow.

"Professor Sandburg?"

He gave the student in the doorway a look he'd perfected in the interrogation room and pointed silently at the chair on the other side of the desk. Tony smiled, all charm, and expensively battered leather jacket, and dropped a folder on the desk, papers sticking out of it, creased and dog-eared.

"I can explain about the paper, and I'm sure once I have, we can come to some arrangement about an extension," Tony said as he sat down. "You see --"

"You can tear it up, start over, and do it right," Jim said, cutting him off. "And I want it handed in by Wednesday. If it's late by so much as a minute, you get an F." He watched the easy confidence dissolve like soap in hot water and yawned as Tony began to babble excuses, which made him stop.


"What? Oh, sorry. Late night and you were boring me."

"I was what?"

Jim leaned over the desk. "You wrote a paper I wouldn't use to line a litter tray with and expected it to be enough to get maybe a C. I know you can do better and I'm not going to let you settle for just good enough. I get a C grade paper from you and I'll give it an 'F' because that's what it is. A failure. A failure by you to give me something worth reading. You waste my time like this again and I'm going to --"

"I won't!" Tony snatched the folder off the desk, his face burning with color. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? I never -- you really think I could get maybe an A?"

Jim thought back to what Blair had said. It'd been irritated enough that he thought the kid probably stood a chance; if he'd been mediocre, Blair wouldn't have been so pissed. He shrugged. "I think you can; whether you will depends on you."

"Right," Tony said eagerly. He pulled out one of the pieces of paper. "So, can I just ask you about this one point you made in the lecture last week? About the evolution of tribal customs when it comes to rites of passage?"

Shit. If he'd been getting a mildly sadistic buzz out of seeing Tony squirm, he was about to pay for it now. He bluffed his way through an increasingly awkward five minutes with Tony looking puzzled but attentive and then invented an important phone call he had to make.

Which wasn't entirely a lie; he wanted to talk to Blair before he met him in the bull pen and find out how Blair's day had gone. When he still got no response from the desk phone, he rang Blair's cell.

It was answered within a few rings and he smiled and settled back in his chair. "It's me. I just wanted to --"

"Really not a good time," Blair said, his voice tight, crackling with what sounded like anger and impatience. "I've got to go, okay?"

Jim stared at the phone as if it held an answer for why Blair had hung up on him, but it just buzzed blandly. What the fuck? He slammed it down, resentment rising. For all Blair knew, he could've had a problem he needed help with. Hell, for all Blair knew, Jim could've jumped into someone else's body, as Blair still hadn't figured out what was causing this fucked up mess of a situation.

In fact, given how much fun Blair seemed to be having in his borrowed -- stolen -- body, maybe Blair wasn't even trying to make it right. Maybe Jim was going to be in this alien shell for the rest of his fucking life, a few years younger, sure, but shorter and out of shape, with fuzzy eyesight, fuzzy hair --

On cue, the hair tie slipped free, the loose knot he'd tied surrendering to the exuberance of Blair's curls. Hot. His head felt so fucking hot with this mop attached to it.

His head. Yeah, it was, wasn't it? Possession was nine-tenths and all that crap. If Blair could refuse to go to the gym -- there hadn't been much time to work out, granted, but Jim had seen the look in Blair's eyes when he'd brought the subject up and there was no way Blair was prepared to put the hours in -- well, maybe Jim could make a few changes in routine himself.

He left campus with a new destination in mind.


Blair put his key in the door and stared at his hand with a dull fascination. Long fingers, the nails a different shape, the pattern of hair dusting the back familiar, but not when seen from this precise, particular angle… Jim's hand. And he was making it move, and how often had he sat beside Jim on the couch and willed Jim's hand to shift just a few inches closer so that the side of it was brushing his thigh, or felt it pat his shoulder and wished it would stay there, pressed against him, anchoring him to Jim? He could make that hand touch his former body now if he wanted to, and he could pass it over the solidly muscled body it belonged to and feel the slide of fingertips on skin, but it wasn't the same.

He wanted Jim to be driving. They'd had such a short time together and he was still not used to Jim touching him freely, intimately, with purpose. He liked it. Loved it. And now --

His brain played with the paradoxes, flinching away from thinking about anything else, like the day he'd had. Later. He'd think about it later.

The key turned (fingers twisting it, pulling it free with a practiced jerk; the body remembering) and he walked inside the loft.

Jim was rummaging in the fridge, the makings for salad set out on the counter, steaks cooking under the broiler. The smell had drifted out into the hallway, Blair realized, but his clothes stank of smoke, so it hadn't registered. It did now. Cooked meat, sizzle of fat and blood -- his empty stomach twisted, rebelling, but he had nothing to be sick with and so he swallowed and pushed the door closed.

"Hey," he said, forcing himself to fake normality in the hope that he'd fool himself into believing it was real.

"Are we out of blue cheese dressing?" Jim said. He straightened and the fridge door swung closed with a thump. "Never mind. I found some ranch."

He stood facing Blair, bottle in hand, a sheepish, defiant expression marring his face.

The air around Blair thinned to emptiness, his heart pounding. "You cut my hair."

Jim raised his hand and passed it over his head, smoothing down what was left of Blair's hair. "Yeah. Like it?"

The severe, drastic cut wasn't that unfamiliar a sight; long hair on a field trip didn't work that well and Blair had often worn his as short as it was now. It grew back fast. To Jim, though, who'd only known Blair with long hair, it must have seemed like the perfect slap in the face, and it was that petty cruelty that hurt.

Blair passed his tongue over his lips and tried to frame a response that would expose Jim's childishness for what it was and leave Jim nothing to do but grovel. Nothing came out but his voice saying softly, "Why did you cut my hair, Jim?"

"It was getting on my fucking nerves," Jim said casually. "Sorry. I didn't think you'd mind."

He'd never wanted to hit Jim more. His fists were clenched, his body preparing itself for battle, a chilly calm descending. "Is that so."

Jim gestured at a scrap of paper beside the wooden salad bowl. "Hey, the woman who did it gave me her number after she'd finished, so don't go all Samson on me, Delilah; you've still got what it takes."

Blair stalked over to the counter, picked up the paper and screwed it into a tight ball. He threw it at Jim, who jerked back, so that it flew past his face.

"What the hell is wrong with you, Sandburg?"

He was bigger than Jim now, in a body that knew how to hurt and kill. Blair was sure he could access those physical memories if he didn't try too hard and let instinct take over, and even if he couldn't, he could still throw a punch that would leave Jim bleeding, bruised.

Except that was his face he'd be punching and that was the definition of stupid.

"Or are you still too busy to talk to me, huh?" Jim continued.

"Too busy?" Blair said blankly. "You think I hung up on you because I was busy?"

"Well, weren't you?" Jim tilted his chin up with an aggressive jerk. "Have fun playing cop for the day?"

He hit out then, regretting it even before the blow landed but not doing anything to prevent it. Drove his hand, Jim's hand, his hand now, into the wall and felt skin split and knuckles crack as he yelled out "fuck!", needing to voice the anger he felt. The blood he smelled then was fresh, copper-bright, overwhelming the stink of the cooked meat.

"Jesus, Blair!" Jim's voice, shocked, horrified, forced its way through the haze of pain wrapped around Blair. He cradled his hand to his chest and groaned, knowing he was going to have to flex the fingers soon to see if he'd broken any; dreading the fresh burst of agony that would explode in his hand and head when he did.

"Blair," Jim said again and then he was there, his arm around Blair, leading him over to the sink.

"Not yet," Blair said thickly as Jim turned the tap on.

"You need to do it, babe," Jim said. He rubbed his hand over Blair's arm and hugged him tighter. "Trust me on this; it'll hurt like hell, but you've got to do it."

Blair lowered his face into the crook of Jim's neck and let Jim guide his hand under the rush of cold water, and ease his fist open with a careful series of movements. He wanted to scream, but darkness was pushing at him and stealing his voice. He gave in and let Jim do everything he wanted to do; let Jim blot away the blood and clean the ragged, ripped skin. Let him anoint and bandage and ice. Swallowed a painkiller and the water that came with it in numb silence.

And finally, when the steak was a charred mess in the trash, and Jim had settled him on the couch, a blanket tucked around him, he met Jim's eyes, which were filled with guilt and worry, and smiled at him wanly.

Jim exhaled and sat down on the edge of the couch. He took Blair's uninjured hand in both of his and drew it up to kiss it. "I wish you'd hit me, instead."

"I did."

"You know what I mean." Jim's thumb stroked Blair's knuckles, a slow, sweet drag, lulling him like a crooned song. "You won't believe me, but this hurts me more than a punch would've done. Seeing you like this and knowing it's my fault for being an asshole…" He winced. "I am so fucking sorry."

"I know." Blair felt guilt well up and squashed it. Jim deserved to feel like shit. The only trouble was, when Jim found out what had happened, remorse would eat into him like acid, punishing him more than he'd earned, and Jim wasn't the only one who suffered when someone he loved was in pain. "Jim -- I didn't mean to blow you off on the phone, it was just the world's worst timing."

Jim looked up from his study of Blair's hand. "Yeah? Why is that?"

"First, tell me how your day went," Blair said. Postponing the inevitable wouldn't work for long, but it would give the painkillers time to kick in, at least.

"What? Oh… pretty good." Jim grinned, a quick twitch of his mouth. "You're not fired, anyway."

"Glad to hear it." Blair flexed his fingers under the cold weight of a bag of rapidly thawing peas and then concentrated hard on not throwing up.

"Dial it back," Jim said. "Nothing's broken, is it? It's going to hurt, but you're white as a sheet."

Belatedly, Blair realized that his senses were all over the place, contributing to his discomfort. "Oh… right." He tried to get a handle on them and failed. "There's too much going on. I can't --"

Jim kissed his temple. "Sure you can." He took a slow breath and gave Blair an expectant look. "Come on; this is what you always do with me," he prompted when Blair stared at him blankly. "Breathe, relax, focus…"

It was easier to try than to argue. Blair matched his breathing to Jim's and closed his eyes. Inner peace… right. His head was full of salt tears, burned flesh, and screams, but there had to be somewhere in there where he could hide away from it all, where it wouldn't follow him.

He fell asleep on the couch, still trying to find it, and woke when the phone rang, reeled in from his sleep by the hook and line of Jim's voice without troubling to comprehend the words. His senses felt dulled and blunt anyway; the room was dark with shadows and Jim's voice was a distant mutter. His hand felt a little better, throbbing in a quiet, busy way, as his body set about healing the damage he'd inflicted.

Jim hung up and glanced over at him.

"'M awake," Blair said and when it emerged as a croak, cleared his throat and said it again. "I'm awake."

"That was Simon," Jim said. He didn't move closer. "He told me what happened."

Blair didn't know whether to be glad or not. Simon would have been terse (good) but would have held nothing back (bad). Being spared a recital of the events, though…that, he could only feel relieved about.

"Blair --" Jim's voice cracked and broke, splintered like a dead branch.

"She wouldn't stop screaming no matter what I said," Blair told him. Jim moved then, closing the distance between them and going to his knees beside Blair. "The mother, I mean. The little girl -- I could hear her, but I don't think anyone else could. I wanted to stop listening, Jim, but I couldn't leave her to die on her own."

Jim's hands were hurting him, his fingers digging into Blair's back, but Blair didn't mind. He was alive to feel it. Stephanie's mother would have hugged her like this if the firemen had gotten to her in time; hugged her hard enough that Stephanie would have wriggled and protested, her smudged face wet with tears but smiling. He let himself picture that, knowing that he shouldn't because it was going to hurt when he stopped.

He was soaking Jim's shoulder with tears and snot, and his fist, the one he hadn't smashed into brick, was pounding Jim's back and that felt good and Jim let him do it.

"She kept screaming," he choked out. "For her mother, always for her, and she was standing right by me, Jim, and I was holding her back and she didn't know -- I couldn't tell her what Stephanie was saying --" He tilted his head back and met Jim's eyes. "I could smell her burning, Jim -- oh God, I'm going to be sick --"

He threw up onto the floor, a vile burning gush of acid, and sobbed with sheer revulsion and exhaustion. This was hard, moving another body around, so fucking hard.

"I want this to stop," he said and heard it as a whimper. "I don't want this, Jim --"

"We'll fix it, sweetheart." Jim's hand was cool against his face. "I swear we will, but not tonight. Tonight, we take care of you, okay?"


"We had to answer the call, Jim; we were two blocks away." Simon sounded tired, the way he got when a kid was involved. Those cases always hit the hardest. "We'd had lunch and Blair was talking my ear off about your… situation. The call came in, suspected arson, and we had to --"

"He's not a cop, Simon! He didn't belong there."

"No, but you did," Simon said pointedly. "And it's not like it was the first crime scene, or the first fire he'd been to. I thought he could handle it."

"Well, you thought wrong." Jim kept his voice low, pointless if Blair was trying to listen; even through the rush of bathwater running, Blair would be able to hear not only him, but Simon on the other end of the phone. Old habits… "He's a fucking mess, Simon. Do you know what happened, what he heard?"

"I do," Simon said carefully. "Other people, though… There were a few things said back at the station about him throwing up -- you know how it goes. No one meant anything by it, but he's going to get ribbed about it for a while."

"Not if I'm there to hear it," Jim said coldly and didn't bother adding a colorful threat because he didn't need to; Simon knew what he could do -- would do to anyone who pulled shit like that around Blair.

Simon gave a gusty, put-upon sigh. "Yeah, like that's going to help," he muttered. "I'll see what I can do to stop it, but you know --"

"Yeah, I do," Jim said. "If I was Sandburg, I'd give you a lecture about coping mechanisms, but I'm not, so I'll just deal with the sons of bitches my own way, okay?"

"Not okay," Simon snapped. "However this thing plays out, having a civilian observer defend the cop of the year is just going to make things worse for that cop." He let that sink in and then added more gently, "I'll stop them by reminding them about that little girl, Jim, not by telling them to lay off teasing you. No one who was there will be anything but supportive -- he wasn't the only one affected by it -- and word will get out."

"Did you catch the boyfriend?" Jim asked. The bathwater had stopped running and he wanted to be in there with Blair, but this mattered too. Being able to tell Blair that the person who'd set the fire was in custody was small comfort, but it was all he had to offer.

Simon grunted. "In a bar, bragging about how much insurance money he was going to get."

"You're kidding me," Jim said flatly, rage filling him like dirty water.

Simon sighed. "He swears he didn't know she was in the house and I think that's true; she was supposed to be at her friend's for a play date, but she fell out with her friend and walked home without telling anyone. Her mom had already left for work so Stephanie let herself in and fell asleep in her room. He's pretty shaken up but as you can imagine, he's getting no sympathy."

"He doesn't deserve any," Jim said and got a murmur of agreement.

Blair appeared in the bathroom doorway, fumbling with the buttons on his shirt. He gave Jim a helpless shrug and spread his hands.

"Got to go, Simon," Jim said abruptly.

"What did he want?" Blair asked as Jim hung up in the middle of Simon's startled good-bye.

Jim hesitated and then told him, making it quick because he wanted to get the words spoken and done with.

"He did it for the money?" Blair shook his head, his face troubled. "Oh, man. That's just --"

"I know." Jim went over to him and began to unbutton Blair's shirt. "Tricky one-handed?"

Blair held up his good hand and wiggled his fingers. "They're not working right. Feel sort of numb. Don't worry about it; you went through it when Danny died, remember? All of the senses are fading in and out. You sounded like you were whispering earlier; now you're shouting."

"It's stress-related," Jim said, pitching his voice at a lower volume, and then rolled his eyes. "Like you didn't already know that." He eased Blair's shirt off and then matter-of-factly stripped him down to bare skin. "Bath."

"Sounds good." Blair sniffed himself. "Even with scent dialed down, I can smell the smoke."

"I'll wash your hair," Jim offered, knowing that it would take more than one shampooing to get the lingering smell out even for his more limited sense of smell.

"Well, it won't take you long to do mine or yours now," Blair said dryly.

Jim felt a moment of bewilderment before he remembered what he'd done. Sitting in the chair as the woman snipped away, chattering about how thick his hair was, how curly, was he sure he wanted it cut short… answering her with his eyes looking anywhere but the mirror, flirting a little, using some of the lines Blair used -- used to use.

"About that --"

"Oh, we're going to talk about it," Blair told him, with a welcome flash of indignation breaking through his apathy, sunlight through clouds. "That crossed a line, Jim, and we both know it." His shoulders slumped. 'But it's just a fucking hair cut and it'll grow back. It's not important right now, so save the apologies, okay? I just want to get clean and crawl into bed."

"Our bed? Upstairs? With me?" Jim asked, stumbling through the questions that meant, 'Do you still love me, even if I'm the biggest jerk on the planet?', something he couldn't bring himself to ask directly.

Blair shook his head and gave Jim a clumsy one-armed hug, his injured hand hanging by his side. "Yes, yes, and yes. Always. Even if you are an asshole."

Jim let himself get hugged, breathing in smoke and sweat and not caring because beneath it he could smell Blair. "Thanks, I guess."

"Any time, little buddy." Blair hesitated and then his hand, light, tentative, stroked Jim's head, fingering the short strands. "Feels soft."

Tears stung Jim's eyes. "Yeah. It does."


"What time did Simon say he'd be over?" Blair asked. He tossed a marked paper onto the completed pile and picked up another. "God, this pop quiz seemed like a good idea at the time, but I'd forgotten I'd have to mark the answers." He held up his unbandaged hand. "Left-handed, too."

"I told you I'd do them," Jim said. "You could just dictate the comments to me, or something." He scowled. "Why the hell you didn't make it a nice, easy, multiple-choice, I don't know."

"Because it's too easy to guess the answers," Blair said patiently. "Stop thinking like a student, Jim."

"Whatever." Jim was prowling around the loft, restless and edgy, and making Blair feel twitchy himself. "Simon said he'd be here by six, seven at the latest. If you're hungry, we can order in now; I know what Simon would choose off any menu after all these years."

"I'm good," Blair said, distracted from Jim's atypical behavior by the sheer idiocy of Kathy's response to question 12a. What was she thinking? He scrawled a comment in red and added an exclamation point by way of emphasis.

"There's one good thing about yesterday," Blair added. Jim paused and gave him an inquiring look. Blair shrugged. "He really believes us now about the body swapping. No way you would have tossed your cookies the way I did."

Jim, who was still being nice enough to make Blair wish profoundly that he would get over his guilt and be the Jim he knew and loved again, looked as if he was about to say something that would have made Pinocchio's nose gain a foot in length, but they were both spared that by a knock on the door.

"Looks like Simon got off early," Jim said. "Or he used his siren to get past the rush hour traffic."

"Simon wouldn't do that," Blair protested. He tossed his pen down and got to his feet. A beer sounded good -- Jim's body tolerated alcohol better than Blair would've expected, given the senses -- and Simon's arrival changed it from being too early to start drinking to the polite thing to do. Got to love the rituals of hospitality.

Jim opened the door and then stepped back, his hands rising up in a classic surrender pose. Blair paused on his way to the fridge. What the hell? "Jim?"

"Get out of here," Jim said, his voice level, conversational, even as he continued to back away from the door. "Run."

Blair turned his head and saw, not Simon, but a woman with a gun, her face twisted by grief and anger.

Damian's mother, Sheila. Oh, fuck.

"I don't want you," Sheila said to Jim. "I want him." The gun swung around until it was pointing at Blair, and then, as Jim moved forward a careful step, she aimed it back at him. "Don't move! No; get over there; back away from me!"

Jim, reluctance pouring off him, moved back, but stopped as soon as Sheila trained her attention, and the gun, on Blair.

Blair had never gotten used to being in the line of fire. Bullets hurt. Bullets killed. He really didn't like being threatened by guns.

"We can talk about this, Mrs. Travers," he began. "I know you're upset by what happened, Sheila, but --"

"You took my son away!" she screamed, the polished, sophisticated mask splintering to reveal something far more primal. "He did nothing and he's in jail like a common criminal, in jail, and they'll hurt him -- my boy, my baby --"

He killed a senile old man. His grandfather, Blair wanted to say. Lured him out of the house, and when the streets didn't kill him, took care of it himself and left him to die in filth, alone. He settled for a less honest response. "We can arrange for you to see him --"

"No. No." Her lips, the lipstick on them smeared, drew Blair's gaze and he focused on the smudged line of coral pink over the pale skin below, until it filled his vision.


The crack of the gun firing came from nowhere; the shocked gasp from Sheila, and the thud as she dropped her gun, echoing oddly in the rush of silence that swept over Blair.

Then there was pain and footsteps, receding, approaching, and he was on the floor, the back of his head throbbing because he'd gone down like a falling tree, and nothing made sense right then.

He needed his red pen. Sheila got an F.


If Sheila had left with her gun, Jim might have followed his training, pursued her, and taken her down. Too risky to let her leave with a weapon that, in her unstable mood, she might use to eliminate potential witnesses to her flight. But her gun was on the floor, a dark shape against the wood, and he dismissed her from his thoughts and went to Blair.

"Sandburg! Stay with me, buddy, it's going to be all right --" Calm voice, reassuring words, and he knew the drill, he could do this. He tore open Blair's shirt and saw the wound, high on his chest. Okay, that was bad, but not fatal. Just… that was a lot of blood… He applied pressure to the hole and Blair cried out in pain.

"God -- hurts -- Jim…"

Jim cursed himself for not grabbing the phone. He couldn't stop applying pressure but he needed to call 911. Indecision clouded his thoughts but he fought to keep it at bay.

Then Simon appeared in the doorway and Jim felt relief like a cool hand on a fever-hot forehead.

"I heard the shot," Simon said briefly, blessedly not wasting time with questions. "Saw the woman running and I called it in. Ambulance and back up are on the way. That was Sheila Travers, wasn't it? She was in my office earlier, screaming about harassment."

"Yes," Jim said, letting Simon talk, because as Simon was filling him in, he was getting a clean dishtowel from a drawer and bringing it over, folded into a pad; was bringing the blanket from the couch and covering Blair, who was shivering.

Simon's hand cupped Blair's face and Jim felt his awareness of self split briefly, as if he could feel those long, elegant fingers on his own face, gentle and kind. "Just a graze, Sandburg. They'll stitch you up good as new and you'll be flirting with the nurses by morning."

Blair's eyes glazed over, a remote, distanced expression settling over his features, and Simon sucked in a quick breath and turned his head to catch Jim's eye. "I'll go down and meet the EMTs," he said. "Brief them on the way up."

Jim nodded and then Simon had gone, with a quick, strong squeeze of Jim's shoulder, and he was alone with Blair.

This was wrong. All wrong. Blair was hurt -- just hurt, not dying, Jim wasn't even going to admit that there was a chance of that -- and --

"It should be me," he whispered, feeling the blood against his skin, warm and sticky. "I'm the cop, I'm the one she wanted, not you."

Blair's eyes were open but seeing nothing. Jim bent his head, and felt the faint brush of air against his face as Blair exhaled. He wanted to kiss him, force air and life back into Blair's failing body. He wanted --

He pressed down harder and with his free hand touched Blair's mouth and then the spreading stain of blood on Blair's chest. He brought his wet fingers to his face and drew them down his cheeks, painting his skin. Then he licked his fingers clean.

Blood. His blood, calling him home.

He kissed Blair then and felt him struggle to escape, trying to breathe. He held Blair's head still and forced the kiss onto him, driving his tongue deep.

Make space for me. Get out of that body, damaged, hurt -- fuck, you don't want to be in there, Chief, you really don't. Come home, back to where you belong. Let me come home, Blair, let me -- help me!

He closed his eyes and fell, spinning, dizzy, disorientated, into the waiting darkness, his hand still pressing down on Blair's wound, stemming the blood.

Fell and watched the world turn blue and felt the brush of leaf and fur. He didn't know if he was man or animal, but it was clear what had to happen. Everything was always clear here -- but he needed help. He couldn't do this alone. He could feel his throat trying to form words, but as before, his voice had been taken.

Pain took him suddenly, welcomed, embraced, because that meant it had worked and Blair was safe. He closed his eyes and watched red wash away the blue. Hurt so fucking much --

He shaped Blair's name, followed by a reluctant good-bye, filled with regret that they'd had so short a time together, and felt a warm, wet tongue swipe reprovingly across his face. The pain receded slowly until it was a memory, not a sensation, and from a distance, Jim heard the rumble of a panther purring and a wolf's triumphant howl.

Then he opened his eyes and stared up at Blair's anxious, blood-daubed face.



Jim was eying a grape with a sour look on his face. Blair sighed and put the second half of his egg salad sandwich on Jim's plate. "Happy now?"

Jim was already two bites in. "Mmm," he said thickly. "Thanks."

Two days since the shooting and Jim was already home, his range of movement limited, but a full recovery promised. The bullet had torn up flesh and muscles, and he'd been weak as a kitten from loss of blood, but Jim healed quickly, something Blair had noticed before. It made sense that a sentinel would be resilient, but Blair didn't make the mistake of confusing 'resilient' with 'invulnerable' and the news that Sheila, like her son, was in jail was a huge relief.

"So?" Blair asked when Jim had been reduced to dabbing his finger on the plate to capture errant crumbs.

Jim beamed. "There's a little bit of curry powder in the mayonnaise, the egg was free-range, and the bread was from the bakery on Franklin, right?"

"This is just too easy," Blair said.

"Dream up something harder," Jim said with a calm satisfaction. "Test me on anything."

"This freakishly cooperative attitude is going to wear off the same day that I think you're fit enough to be really tested, isn't it?" Blair said. "No. You can play with the senses all you want, but no tests. You've got them back, and that's good enough for me."

Jim put the plate down on the table beside the couch. "Me, too, but…"


"We never found out why." Jim's hand covered Blair's and tugged him a little closer. "Suppose it happens again?"

"I don't think it will."

"You don't know that."

Blair shrugged. "I feel it," he said simply. "It was -- I don't know what it was. I'm going to need longer than a day or two to process something this major. Punishment, reward, test; maybe just a reminder of what you are and what I am."

"What's that?" Jim asked.

Blair smiled. "A team, man. What else?"

Jim grinned back, his eyes filled with a contentment that had been there since they'd swapped back to their proper bodies and showed no signs of fading. "A team. Right." His smile faded. "Do you miss them?" he asked as Blair stood. "The senses, I mean?"

Blair froze in place and then very deliberately reached out for Jim's plate. "No," he said lightly. "Super senses? You can keep them."

He felt Jim's unwavering regard on him as he carried the plate to the kitchen, washed it, dried it, and put it away, but Jim didn't push him.

Jim didn't need to; he knew the answer.

And Blair let himself remember what it had felt like in those hours when it had all balanced so perfectly. He closed his eyes on the flat, black and white world around him and saw a memory of bright, rich color, deep and vivid.

Jim had taken the senses back and Blair would only ever have memories, which would tarnish over time.

He'd surrendered them without a fight, not to save himself, no, not that. If he'd lived and Jim had died, it would have been more than he could bear. It had just been the right thing to do; if he wanted them, and he had… well, Jim needed them. They completed Jim.

He felt a hand on his arm and leaned back into Jim's embrace, angling his body to rest his head against Jim's good shoulder.

"I need you," Jim said quietly. "I couldn't deal with the senses without you."

"I know," Blair said. "Believe me, now I know."

Jim feathered a line of kisses down Blair's jaw and then left a final one on the corner of his mouth. "Now, we're a team."

"I miss them," Blair said abruptly, needing to confess, and turned so that he was staring at Jim. Staring up again, not down. "I would have -- I'm not sure I would have given them back if I'd had a choice. I'm sorry, Jim."

Surprise widened Jim's eyes. "Just how do you think I got them back, anyway?"

"You just -- you took them," Blair said, feeling confused. "To make sure you were the one inside the body with the bullet -- I know that was why, don't worry, and thank you, by the way, but you took them from… why are you shaking your head?"

Jim looked at him with a fond exasperation. "Blair, you gave them to me. Pushed them at me when I was panicking and desperate. They were yours and you gave them to me. I saw us in that jungle. Saw our animal spirits, and don't think I'm used to us having animal spirits, because I'm not, but I saw them."

"Yeah?" Blair said, his voice a whisper because he was remembering now; he'd been there, too.

"Tell me who was injured, dying, Blair," Jim said, his voice gentle but firm. "Which of us needed the help? Who saved who that night?"

"The panther," Blair said and the world shivered blue around him for a moment. "Fur torn and bleeding and I licked its wound and watched it close up -- "

"You saved me," Jim said. "Like you always do. You didn't need the senses to do that; you never have." He put his hand on Blair's face, his fingers spread, the warmth of the touch soaking into Blair like sunlight. "You've always been stronger than me."

Blair looked at him. A black and white world… but Jim's eyes were blue and if he stared into them for long enough, he could feel the world spin and settle, perfectly balanced, perfectly --

Jim patted his face and Blair jerked back, startled. "Don't zone on me, Sandburg. Or drool."

"Asshole," Blair said. He hadn't drooled. Much.

Return to Home

Click here if you'd like to send feedback