The moment Jim walked into the loft and Blair hunched in a defensive way over…something on the coffee table, he knew what it was Blair was hiding. Well, not what it was in detail; just in general. A Christmas present for him, had to be.
Smiling, smug, because his gift for Blair was wrapped and hidden and had been for a week, Jim magnanimously pretended not to notice.
They didn't do presents. Not officially. They'd agreed not to do them that first year, but Jim had seen something that he knew Blair would like and hadn't been able to resist getting it because the kid had been looking wiped out from studying, and wouldn't you know it, Blair had got something for him, too. After that, they'd just done it as a matter of course. Never much, never anything expensive, but it was nice, Jim found, to have someone to buy for. His shopping list was pretty short.
"You saw it, didn't you?" Blair said accusingly.
Jim held up his hands, warding off Blair's glare. "Saw what, Chief?" He put his hand over his eyes. "Want me to keep them closed? Or go upstairs while you, uh, tidy up?"
"No." Blair's voice was cheerful again. "I might just as well give it to you now."
"It's Christmas Eve," Jim protested, tempted but guilt-ridden by a few memories of peeking early and then not being able to sleep, convinced Santa would know and skip their house -- or even worse, just skip him.
"Well, I don't really do Christmas," Blair reminded him. "And we're going into work tomorrow, aren't we?"
"Just for a few hours," Jim said. "I got us the afternoon shift." He didn't mind; more important for the officers with families to have the day off. If the city behaved itself they'd get up a poker game, most likely, and it wouldn't be too bad.
"So, have it now," Blair urged with the seductive lilt of a siren.
"You don't want to wrap it, do you?"
"Not my strong point," Blair confessed.
"Huh." Obscurely reassured by the way it was now presented as him doing Sandburg a favor, Jim nodded.
Blair smiled, lit up and bubbling as he pushed Jim down into a seat. "You're going to love this, man. I saw it and I was just --"
"Saw it where?"
Blair's eyes went blank for a moment, opaque and blind. "Some shop… no, a stall in the market down on Dale and Third. There was this English guy…"
"Well, now, don't you look like a young man of taste."
Blair grinned at the man behind the stall, holiday spirit making everything glow brighter. "Hey, English! Cool. And right now, all I can taste is lunch."
The man's mouth, thin and wide, twisted ruefully. "You sampled Mary's curry, didn't you? The stall on the corner?"
Blair fanned the air and nodded. "Whew. Hot. And I always thought I could take it spicy, but that was incendiary."
"Indeed, it is." Dark eyes gleamed. "She seasons it with some herbs and spices that are a little… shall we say, irregular, but if I might hazard a guess, that shouldn't trouble you."
"Don't let the hair and the earrings fool you," Blair told him. "These days, I'm the law-abiding sort."
Because if he got busted now he had a shield, Jim would kill him. Or kick him out, which would be worse.
"No, he wouldn't."
Blair blinked at the soothing, knowing words. "What?"
"I should introduce myself." The noise of the market was fading to a distant, busy buzz, and for some reason, this stall wasn't attracting customers, even though Blair had been instantly drawn to the entrancing jumble of glitter and tat. "Ethan Rayne."
A little surprised, but willing to be friendly, Blair extended his hand to clasp the one Ethan was extending, and shook it. "Blair Sandburg."
A small, fiery stab of pain made him yelp and snatch back his hand.
"Oh, dear," Ethan murmured, sounding quite distressed. "Did my ring catch you? Dreadfully sorry…"
Blair sucked his hurt finger, tasting a trace of blood. "I'll live."
"You do tend to make a habit of it, don't you?" Ethan's expression warmed with amusement and something else. Something hungry. Blair felt his cheeks heat even as he puzzled over the man's words. He'd had older lovers from time to time, learning something from them, some richness of approach, some measure of patience. And they were the ones who let him indulge himself, exploring long-held fantasies, sometimes leaving them desiccated husks because the reality had ruined them, sometimes making his fever dreams flower into musky, lush blooms. The first time he'd allowed himself to be tied up it'd been with a woman twice his age; his first threesome had been with two men with more than fifteen years separating them.
Ethan, though -- late forties?-- was just not his sort. Too threadbare elegant, the drawl of his voice salted with satire. Someone Blair would have liked to talk to, though, if he wasn't busy -- God, why was he standing here, when he'd promised to cook and it was getting dark --
"Relax," Ethan said. "I'm sure whoever you think is waiting for you at home, is in fact fighting the abominable traffic." His thin face creased with a smile. "And you wouldn't want to go home empty-handed, now would you?"
He swept his hand out, a majestic gesture. "Look. See what calls to you."
And Blair had looked and seen --
Intrigued, Jim tried to peek around Blair and got a smack on the shoulder. "I saw that. Wait."
"You said I could have it," Jim protested.
"Stop being logical." Blair stepped aside, waving his hand like a magician expecting a rabbit. "It's just… it's us." His voice lowered, became a little wistful. "Well, us as we could be, but I guess you're still not ready…"
Shocked to silence, Jim stared at the carving. Two figures, rendered in a dark wood -- or was it stone? It looked old, but maybe timeless was a better word for the activity…
Two men. One standing, head thrown back, one kneeling, mouth… busy.
Sandburg thought it was -- he was -- Jim's thoughts stumbled and skidded around his brain like a kid on roller skates for the first time, colliding with certainties (he's straight, has to be, or he'd have -- and I'm…he knows I'm… does he know? Did he guess? Fuck) and bouncing off.
"Look at it." Sandburg's voice held the cadence of a dream, lulling, lilting. "I envy you. I've been looking at it since I got home and I keep seeing details I've missed, but you -- you can just get so much out of it. Touch, too; I bet it's going to feel so good when you touch it…"
Jim swallowed, feeling the muscles of his throat ripple, the action too close a match to what he was looking at to be reassuring. The man standing had his hands in the hair of the figure kneeling. Long hair, sure, but a man. Jim could see the thrust of an erection; almost, if he concentrated, see a hint of shine and gloss at its tip. Hands deep in hair, but the figure kneeling; were those tears on his face? From nothing worse than a too-deep thrust, Jim was sure, because the kneeling man's hands were tight, possessive, around the standing man's ass, holding him close.
And now that he looked, the man standing was brushing those tears away with his thumbs, soothing, loving.
Yes, it looked a little like them, he supposed, but their faces were passion-twisted and Jim didn't know what he looked like when his dick was getting sucked and he sure as hell didn't know what Blair's mouth looked like rounded and filled like that.
As soon as he admitted the likeness existed, it intensified. He could pick out scars both of them bore, faithfully rendered, see, if he focused just right, the tangle of curls springing up from Blair's forehead on the left, spiraling wildly, just as it did on the man beside him.
It was them and they looked…
"I want that, Jim." Blair's voice was hushed, imploring. "It's waiting for you any time; you know that, right? I meant it."
Meant what? When had Blair ever offered this? Jim felt a brief surge of anger because shouldn't he have known this? Known it explicitly, been told? He wanted to look at Blair but the statue held all his attention.
And now the hands in Blair's hair looked cruelly tight and he was wrong; Blair's hands were on his -- that other Jim's -- hips, trying to push him away.
"No." Jim shook his head, rejecting that, sickness filling him. "God, no, Blair, I would never --"
He'd dreamed of Blair sometimes; he spent too long with him for Blair not to star in both dreams and nightmares and that was before they got into the whole Sentinel and shaman deal. The dreams were usually a jumble of random events but sometimes, not often, they turned sexual and Jim had learned to accept that without obsessing over it too much. It could get awkward facing Sandburg over breakfast but by the time they were out of the door, he'd usually forgotten what wasn't more than a hug lasting longer than normal, an ache of desire, once, a kiss, Sandburg's chattering mouth silenced and soft.
If they'd ever involved him forcing himself on Blair, he'd have woken screaming.
Blair's sigh of disappointment brought Jim's gaze to his face, although it was an effort. "Chief, you can't tell me that's what you want."
"Why not?" Blair's forehead furrowed. "Jim, you've resisted the spiritual aspects of the Sentinel abilities but after what we did -- you brought me back from the dead, man! We shared a vision. You don't walk away from that. Well, I don't. I'm still dealing with it; I just don't mention it much around you, because you shut me up faster than you do Rafe when he's trying to get a twenty out of you before payday."
"Blair…" Jim squeezed his eyes shut and then opened them, blinking until he was sure they were clear. "There's something wrong."
"What, besides the fact you haven't said thank you?" Blair reached out to pick up the statue. "You know what? I'll put it in my room, okay? Get you something else. Or just not bother."
"No!" Jim grabbed Blair's wrist, not sure of anything but that there was danger here and Blair wasn't getting hurt if he could help it. "Don't touch -- oh, God."
"What?" Blair sounded as close to snappy as he got; usually when he was angry he skipped over the intervening steps between calm and incensed and just blew up spectacularly, unrestrained, elemental.
"It's a jaguar and a wolf."
"Yeah." Blair's mouth was tense. "And you hate it. Hate being reminded of all the mumbo-jumbo stuff. I get it, Jim."
"It's a jaguar…" Jim repeated wonderingly, still holding Blair's wrist. Stretched out on a low branch of a tree, attached to a tree trunk which tapered upwards into a suggestion of more, one paw dangling down, playfully swatting the head of the wolf who sat below, tongue lolling out in a grin, relaxed and content. Unlikely from the perspective of anyone who knew both animals; familiar to Jim, whose hand had curved and gently cuffed Blair's head too many times to remember, getting just that look of friendly exasperation back.
It was as recognizable as them as the two human figures had been.
"Jim, you're freaking me out here." Blair gently eased his hand free and let it settle on Jim's knee, a warm, solid weight. "Yes, it's a jaguar. So?"
"So it wasn't before," Jim said grimly.
"Uh…" Blair visibly debated tactful responses to that and then shrugged. "You do some drugs on the way home, Jim? Because all the cool kids just say no."
"All I did on the way home was curse the traffic."
Blair's eyes widened. "He said you were having problems with the rush hour and all the last-minute shoppers. Wow. Although, I guess anyone could've predicted that today."
"Who said, Chief?" Jim didn't know why he was panicking; this would turn out to be a reaction to something and Blair would deal with it, same as always. No need to panic. None at all.
"The guy who sold me this." Blair's eyes went vague again. "At least, I think I bought it. Don't remember paying, though; too busy hoping I wasn't bleeding over the stuff on the stall."
"Bleeding?" Jim inhaled, a sharp sniff, his nostrils flaring. He could smell it now, yes, but there was something else, something smoky and overly sweet, something that he didn't like. He had the urge to strip Blair naked and scrub him clean. Okay, his first thought had been 'lick him clean' but that wasn't all that practical…
"His ring cut me…" Distracted voice now; Blair thinking hard.
"What the fuck?" Jim snarled, cold with fear and a sudden, scrabbling need to hurt and kill and protect -- He took in a breath, making it deliberate, not automatic, trying to remember the calming exercises Blair had drilled into him.
"Ethan. Weird English guy at the market," Blair said patiently. "What do you mean, it wasn't before? What did you see?"
"I can't tell you," Jim said after a long moment of trying to find words that were safe and polite and failing miserably.
"Yes, you can."
"No, I --"
"Jim." Blair's hand moved up to touch Jim's shoulder and he realised that at some point he'd slid to his knees beside the table, kneeling against the couch, so close to Blair, so close. "It’s me. You can. Everyone needs someone they can say most stuff to, and for you, I'm it. Who else do you have? So talk. And remember, you know plenty of my dark and dirty little secrets so this is just evening the score."
"I saw…" Jim did it fast, jumping into cold water, cannon balling in, with a heart-stopping, skin-searing shock of sensation. "Us. You and me."
"Well, so did I."
"No. Us. Human. And we were…" Okay, maybe he was dipping his toe in, after all… Blair's expression was calm, settled, patient. It helped. "Naked."
"Naked." Blair absorbed that and then nodded. "Okay."
"You were on your knees sucking my -- me," Jim said, flinging the words at what had suddenly become an irritating calm, wanting it to shatter. "You were enjoying it."
"And that bothered you?" Blair cleared his throat. "Because, yeah, I probably would have been. I like doing that. I'm good at it."
"That didn't bother me," Jim said, the approaching words spiked and heavy in his throat. "It surprised me, but it didn't -- it was what came later. What it looked like a few seconds later."
Until Blair asked, the impossibility of that hadn't struck home. "Yeah, it did… I thought I was just seeing more detail, and I was, but it was changing, too."
"No… it felt…" Frustrated, Jim slammed his hand down on the table, jarring it and making the statue rock. "Different. And what bothered me was that you'd stopped enjoying it. I was forcing you. God. Making you do that to me. Fuck." He shuddered, feeling the greasy sickness of self-loathing slick his mouth.
"Now, that would never happen," Blair said firmly. "Ever. You know it; I know it. Forget it. And if I ever got lucky with you, I'd be --"
"Got lucky?" Jim stared at him, offended at the idea of being attached to Blair's list of conquests. "That's how you'd see it? Got lucky, like I'm some fucking prom queen you get to third base with?"
"I mean I'd be lucky to have you." Blair shrugged lopsidedly, one shoulder hunching up, keeping his hand on Jim's leg. "Any way I can. That's all I was saying, so stop getting bent out of shape. I don't say it often; maybe I should, the way we keep getting shot up, but being your friend, your partner, it's… yeah. I'm lucky."
"I can't see it that way," Jim said after a moment, meaning it. "And I don't think you and me like that is a good idea." He didn't feel like a good friend. Not after the hideous communication breakdowns of recent months. And Blair wanted something more? Was the man a sucker for punishment or something? A friend could hurt you, sure, but a lover could savage you, wound you until you were bleeding out and gasping for breath.
Love was power, and power corrupted.
Blair gave him an amused, fond look. "You don't have to see it, Jim. It's just the way it is for me. And I'm not pushing that on you, as well as the mystical stuff, don't worry. Just… if you needed to be told it's an option, which somehow I don't think you did, well, now you know."
"I did know…" Jim couldn't have said when he'd known that was true, but he did. "It's just not safe."
"I could hurt you."
Blair's gaze left Jim's face and turned to the statue, not answering Jim directly. "It changed. Concentrate on that, not freaking out over your insecurities." Ouch. Well, he supposed he'd deserved it. Telling your partner, a man who'd never backed down from anything or anyone, that he was vulnerable and needed protecting verged on insulting. "When did it change? Exactly?"
Jim replayed it in his head, the reconstruction of events simple enough to picture. It was something that came in handy for work and Blair had trained him to do it well. "When you tried to touch it. No; when I touched you."
Blair flexed his hand where it lay on Jim's thigh, sending a faint tingle of arousal through Jim, one he put down to the fact that it'd been a while since he'd been touched in anything but a casual, impersonal way, even by Blair. "And we're still touching and I've never seen it as anything but the animals. Want to try an experiment?"
"We're going to do it anyway." Blair's mouth was set stubbornly. "And no matter what you see, hang onto this thought, Jim: I trust you. Totally. And I love you, as a friend, if anything else bothers you. Across the board green, okay?"
Jim nodded, grateful for the reassurance even if he still wasn't able to quite accept it. The ease with which he'd accepted the burden of guilt for something he hadn't done personally was another sign of how fucked-up he was these days. He might not have been so ready to shoulder it if he hadn't got so much of a buzz out of the original appearance of the statue. Blair's mouth… on him… oh, God, yes. "I hear you, Chief." He took Blair's hand, prolonging their contact a little longer, and on an impulse he couldn't explain, raised it up and kissed it, his lips nuzzling against the bumps of Blair's knuckles.
"Jim..." Blair looked at him levelly. "Don't take this the wrong way, but that crosses a line and I'm not sure you're serious, so just stop until you are, will you?"
He could taste a dozen different traces on Blair's skin; sweat and salt and spices; gas -- Blair must have thought ahead for once and filled up his car -- and that oddly challenging alien scent.
"Sorry, Chief." With a reluctance born of more than apprehension, he let their hands slip apart and turned to look at the statue.
"It's -- God, yes, it's -- we're human --"
Blair winced. "Still bad? Still…?"
"No…" Jim felt his heart rate slow to normal. "We're just… kissing now."
"I wish I could see it." Blair grimaced. "I'm still just seeing the animals."
"Jaguar on a branch?" Jim waved his hand vaguely. "Sort of patting the wolf?"
Blair nodded, a grin flashing over his face. "Same old you."
"This is just nuts," Jim said flatly. "And I've had enough." He got up. "Let's go and see this joker."
"Yeah…" Blair stood, but he didn't look happy about it.
"You're going to want him to take it back."
"I'm not..." Jim sighed, feeling frustrated. "Blair, there's something so far beyond normal going on here that I don't know what I want."
"I do." Blair's voice was quiet but perfectly audible. "Me. Like that. With you."
"Crying? Begging? Yeah, Chief, it's on my wish list, too."
Blair's eyes blazed with sudden irritation. "Don't dodge the issue. You just said it'd changed and we were kissing."
"You want me to kiss you?" Jim heard his voice rise with temper, craving the release of shouting at Blair. "Well? Do you?"
"It'd be a start."
Blair's mouth had never looked less ready for kissing, set in a compressed slash of whitened skin, tight and obdurate. Jim reached out, hauled him closer, and had his hands in Blair's hair a moment later, his spread fingers snagging on the tangles the wind had woven, feeling each strand, alive with static and curl.
He took Blair's mouth in a bad-tempered press of lip on lip, lacking any tenderness, any sweetness, and felt a fierce flash of triumph when Blair opened his mouth to him without hesitation.
The bite that followed shocked him out of complacency and into contrition. Licking at a stinging patch of skin, he murmured an apology against Blair's cheek and tried again.
This time, their noses bumped and he was pretty sure there was way too much spit involved.
"Give up," Blair whispered, the command a challenge.
"Thought you wanted this."
"I thought you'd be better at it."
Jim smiled, refusing to let that sting as much as the bite. "Sandburg, I can melt the enamel off your fucking teeth but let's rain check it until we find out what the hell's going on, okay?"
Blair sniffed. "Whatever you say, man."
"Oh, for God's sake --" Jim flung his arms wide. "You do it, then."
"It's supposed to be a joint effort." Blair's acid words were sweetened by a forgiving glint in his eye. He moved in, took Jim's face in his hands and planted a kiss on him that went from almost friendly to incendiary in the time it took for Jim to work his tongue past Blair's teeth. As kisses went, it proved that third time was the charm as far as Jim was concerned.
They parted, gasping, eying each other.
"Okay, that worked better…"
"You don't sound too sure about that, Chief. Want to do it again?"
"No." Blair scrubbed at his face with the heel of his hand. "No. We've got to stay focused and we're not and I don't like that." He waved his hand over in the direction of the kitchen. "The packaging -- Jim, there might be something in there. I just ripped into it; I didn't really look at it."
Jim didn't want to look at cardboard and paper. He wanted to look at Blair, naked, over him, under him, in him. Arousal, violent and uncompromising, was drenching him, drowning him and he couldn't think, couldn't --
A dull pain radiated out from his shoulder and he rubbed at it, blinking down at Blair. "Did you just hit me?"
"Yes, Jim. And you know I wouldn't have done it unless I had to, so get over it and get your ass over here."
Biting back a curse, Jim went to the kitchen area, rolling his eyes as Blair rooted about in the trash before dumping a cardboard box and some packing -- a few sheets of newspaper -- on the island. "That's all of it. See what you can do with it."
Giving a soggy area of the box a wide berth as he didn't want to get two-day-old Chinese noodle sauce all over him, Jim did his best to flatten out the packing. "The newspaper he wrapped it in is old. Really old; the date's December 24, 1931. Was the statue displayed inside anything? A case, maybe?"
"No. It was in the middle of the stall, and that was covered with cloth. When he gave it to me he…" Blair frowned, his eyes going distant. "He didn't touch it. Not directly. He brought the box up and put it in front of him and then he sort of scooped the statue up with the paper already in his hands, and wrapped it and then put the statue inside." The lines deepened on Blair's forehead. "The paper… it was… it fit. You know; like it was what he'd used before."
"Except, who keeps a newspaper nearly seventy years old and then uses it like this?" Jim shook his head and began reading the paper, skimming his gaze down the dense paragraphs. "I'm seeing nothing…"
Blair came around beside him and began to read. He was close enough that it felt natural to slide an arm around him but when Jim did, Blair jerked in surprise, giving him an astonished look. "Jim… what's with you?"
"I don't…" Jim traced a pattern on Blair's side with his thumb, knowing just how hard to press to stop it being ticklish. "Do you mind?"
"Yes and no."
"Oh, well, that's useful."
"I mind because I'm not sure why you're suddenly all over me when you've managed to be oblivious to my charms for the last few years." Blair didn't move away but he was clearly uncomfortable with being held in the circle of Jim's arm.
"You asked me to kiss you," Jim reminded him.
"Yeah…" Blair gnawed at his lip. "Which really wasn't the right moment for that but I just -- it seemed like the right thing to do, you know?"
"I know." Jim took a deep breath and let go of Blair. "Okay. Something's -- someone, maybe -- is fucking with us. Agreed?"
Blair nodded reluctantly. "Yes. But don't go thinking I didn't want to kiss you, because I did. Just not --"
"When I'm seeing things," Jim finished. "Because that would come first with you. I know that."
"I'm not sure I'm that professional and dedicated," Blair muttered. "But, yeah, our timing sucks."
Jim turned the sheet of paper over and continued reading. "Or it's just right…"
Jim tapped his finger on the paper. "A couple found dead in their apartment. Lovers' quarrel. Except they were both men so it kind of dances around that. Calls them business partners. Who were in the habit of sleeping naked together until one strangled the other and then shot himself."
Blair swallowed, looking queasy. "That's not a nice way to go."
"Gutshot?" Jim winced, reading between the guarded words. "Or lower. No, it's not."
"What makes you think it's connected, though?"
Jim stared at the grainy picture of the murder scene, and what stood on the table beside the bed. A statue. Two men. One on hands and knees getting fucked… and rearing up, struggling, because hands which should have been on him, caressing, loving, were locked around his throat, throttling him.
"Oh, it's connected, Chief. I just don't know why." Turning away, he grabbed at his coat. "Come on."
"To the market?"
"Yeah, we'll try there, but I doubt that guy --"
"Ethan Rayne," Blair supplied.
"Rayne, yeah, I doubt he'll have hung around."
"I don't know," Blair said thoughtfully, reaching out to stop Jim, his eyes suddenly wary. "If he knew what he was doing, and I think he did, he'd want to see what happened. He'd want to be close."
"Close?" Jim closed his eyes, waving Blair to silence and letting his sense of hearing sift through every sound around him.
Easy, this, now. Easy to discount, discard, linger briefly over the quick, unsteady breathing of an agitated Blair… He weeded out everything that didn't matter, from the hum of the fridge to the off-key carol someone in the street was singing under their breath and was left with a silence broken at intervals by a heartbeat and a rapid, excited one at that.
Oh, he was close. Really close.
Keeping his eyes closed, Jim took one step, two -- then launched himself forward, trusting to his senses, even if one of them, his sight, was telling him lies, and ignoring Blair's yelp of shock and warning. His clutching hands closed around an arm and he fell, eyes open now, a squirming body under him, kicking and fighting.
"Jim, what the hell --" Blair's voice changed. "God, I can see him now! He's --"
The man wriggled free, almost, almost, and Jim lost his temper, driving a vicious blow deep into Rayne's stomach that had him turning an interesting shade of greenish-white and going limp.
"Was he invisible?" Blair sounded awed which irritated Jim for some reason. And the memory of the solid air twisting to reveal a body was disturbing on many levels.
"I don't know. Why don't we ask him?" Jim hauled Rayne to his feet, making sure his grip on him was secure, and gave him a shake. "Well?"
Sucking in a whoop of breath, eyes watering, Rayne shook his head. "Not… exactly," he gasped.
"Cuffs. My bedroom," Jim said curtly.
Blair took off and Rayne summoned a smile. "How well-equipped you are."
"I'm a cop."
"Oh. How disappointingly banal."
"Save it," Jim told him, taking the cuffs from Blair and snapping a link shut around one of Rayne's thin wrists before pushing him down on a chair and attaching him to it with the other cuff. "Before I read you your rights --"
"For what crime?" Rayne protested.
"Breaking and entering, for one."
"I walked in; uninvited, perhaps, but through an open door."
"You followed me back here," Blair said, his voice indignant.
Rayne smiled a little tiredly. "How astute of you. And yes, I was taking care not to be seen. A small charm, no more. Anyone really looking could have seen me, but so few people truly see the world around them."
"He does," Blair said, nodding at Jim.
Rayne studied Jim thoughtfully, his dark eyes curious. "So he does. How… unexpected."
"I don't have time for this," Jim announced. "You've had your fun and now you can pay for it."
"Consequences," Rayne said, nodding. "You know, I always found them frightfully tedious."
"I bet." Jim loomed over him, then bent, putting his hands on the back of the chair and pushing his face close. The smell that had bothered him intensified and he tracked it down to an inside pocket on Rayne's jacket and a knotted bunch of leafy twigs and bone, bound with sinew. He dropped it hastily. It smelled of blood. "What the fuck is that?"
Blair came to his side and peered down at it. "It looks like a gris-gris but not quite…"
"A man of discernment." Rayne gave Blair an approving smile. "I tend to… adapt magic. I'm rather good at tweaking it to suit my purpose."
Rayne shrugged, gesturing elegantly with his free hand. Jim found himself wishing that he had a spare set of cuffs. "I… amuse myself, while paying tribute to Chaos. It works well for both of us."
"I don't know what you mean and I don't care. You tried to kill us and I want to know how the hell that's supposed to be amusing!"
Blair touched his shoulder. "Jim… calm down, man. We're not dead."
"No, you're not." Rayne smiled kindly. "I'm glad about that, believe it or not. You're quite an interesting pair, you know that?"
"Oh, we're a laugh a minute," Jim told him sourly.
"Will you accept that in allowing young Blair to acquire his… gift, I wasn't automatically dooming you both?"
"No," Blair said before Jim could reply. "You know we've seen the newspaper."
"Ah." Rayne pursed his lip. "It's not necessarily a bringer of death, you know."
"Which is why you were so careful not to touch it, I suppose," Blair said.
"I could have touched it quite safely," Ethan told him, stiffening slightly. "I have no… partner. Not now. Not for many years, in fact. Only Chaos, and I think as forces of nature go, she's immune to this particular item's allure."
"What does it do?"
Ethan shrugged. "It shows you what you fear." Jim licked dry lips, remembering the look on the Blair figure as he'd knelt. He didn't mind being scared of the thought of putting that look on Blair's face. "If you're weak, that is," Ethan continued, his tone delicately scornful. "Or unwilling to commit." He darted a knowing glance at them both. "And the men who died before were both, and unfaithful to boot. They really deserved--"
"No, they didn't," Blair said through his teeth. "No one deserves that and Jim isn't --"
"Yes, he is," Ethan said positively. "He's lusted after you for years -- not that I blame him because you're really very charming -- and done nothing about it. He might think that makes him strong but you know, I doubt you see it that way, do you?"
Blair flushed, sending Jim an appealing, apologetic look before giving Ethan a considerably harder glance. "I didn't say anything to him, either and I didn't see anything but us together, happy."
"So I heard." Ethan raised an eyebrow. "I suppose you haven't quite given up hope. How sweet."
"I've had enough," Jim said. "Look, buster, I'm taking you in and we're running your prints. I'm betting we find a rap sheet a mile long and I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few outstanding warrants, too."
"I really doubt it." Ethan smiled. "I'm good at covering my tracks and what I do tends to be… overlooked. People are so slow to believe the evidence of their own eyes, don't you find?" He studied the fingernails on his free hand. "I'm really looking forward to you telling them how I was in your home, invisible, for almost an hour."
Jim wasn't. He could already hear Simon's incredulous bellow.
"I'm not letting you go."
"Yes, you are." Ethan sounded bored. "I'll escape if you don't. Release me, put me in your debt, if you like, and perhaps I'll help you."
"We don't need your help," Jim said.
Ethan leaned back and smiled up at the ceiling. "Oh, yes, you do. Unless you know a decent cleansing ritual and a way to destroy an artifact that's been knocking around for longer than you can possibly imagine."
"'Cleansing'? Are you telling me we're infected?" Jim demanded.
"In a manner of speaking, yes. You might have overcome the initial attack but the effects are quite insidious. Now that you've had a taste of him, you know you'll want more and do you really want each precious moment of passion blighted by the nagging worry that you might kill him as the uh, climax to your pleasure??"
Jim flushed. "That wouldn't --"
"He wouldn't," Blair said, the casual, dismissive tone more convincing than anger would have been. "You don't know him. What he is or what he's capable of."
"I know he's killed. Many times," Rayne replied. "And will again."
"Sure. He's a cop and ex-army." Blair smiled, utterly confident. "But he wouldn't hurt me. Ever."
"You say that after what he's done to you so short a time ago?" Ethan shook his head. "I can see the betrayal. Trust me; to a lover of Chaos, it screams out to be heard."
"He's right, Chief," Jim said reluctantly. "I did. Alex… and then your book…"
Blair rounded on him. "Have I ever said they were betrayals? Ever?"
"No, not exact--"
A finger poked his chest painfully. "Then don't you say it! If I feel betrayed, I'll let you know, okay? When have I ever not told you when you've pissed me off? Sure, we've had some moments… but you weren't yourself and you had your reasons and the hell with you, man." Blair whirled around to face Rayne, his face twisted with annoyance. "You don't know as much as you think and you know what? It's going to stay that way. I can whip up a cleansing ceremony that'll leave us squeaky fucking clean and as for that, that thing, I'm guessing running water will work and there's a whole bay of it right over there. We'll burn it, or melt it down, take it out in a boat and dump the ashes."
"Won't work," Ethan said positively.
"Then what will?" Jim demanded. Had Ethan flinched just a little as Blair had been speaking? He dialed up everything, concentrating on the man. "Blair, run down a list of things we can do to that statue to break it or whatever."
"What? Oh… right." Blair closed his eyes in thought for a moment and then began to recite a list of surprisingly inventive -- some positively vicious -- ways of disposal. Jim was fond of the ones that involved Ethan in some way, while doubting that they were all physically possible.
When Blair got to burning again, Ethan's heart rate spiked.
"Burning." Jim nodded slowly. "Thought so. Throw it on the fire."
"I don't think it's going to be that simple…" Blair began. "It would take a really hot fire, maybe special wood…We don't even know what it's made of…"
"No?" Jim said. He strode over to the statue and picked it up, ignoring Blair's alarmed cry. The statue was wood; he could feel the grain. Too heavy, though… there was something in the centre, something weighing it down…
"It's metal at the core," he announced, putting the statue down and repressing the urge to wipe his hand on his jeans. "Chief, don't you have a friend who makes stuff out of glass? With a furnace that gets really hot?"
"Oh, don't bother," Ethan said sulkily. "I can take care of it if you release me."
Jim chuckled. "Cop. You really think I'll buy that?"
Ethan stood, the cuff dangling from his wrist, his smile a little smug. "I told you that you couldn't keep me for long."
"Shit…" Jim moved toward Ethan but Blair got there first, wrapping his arms around Ethan as the man began to chant something in a language Jim didn't know, the words crawling inside his head like scurrying beetles.
Blair clapped his hand over Ethan's mouth and was sent flying as the air around Ethan suddenly burst into a cold blue fire, crackling audibly, like cat fur in a storm.
"Blair!" Jim tried to get to him but the blue fire was arcing out unpredictably in thick weaving tendrils, sparks flying. One struck his hand, burning like ice and leaving a slash of blood behind.
"Move and let me do this," Ethan said, his eyes black, standing straight, every muscle rigid. "Or I'll go through you."
Jim went to his knees without hesitation, every instinct he had sending him there, and the tendrils merged into a thick strand, whipping out to engulf the statue and raising every hair on his body as it passed over him.
There was a small, impressive explosion and Jim's coffee table was left in pieces, smoldering quietly. The statue had gone.
And so, when the fire had been put out, and Jim had made sure Blair was in one piece, had Ethan Rayne.
An hour later, damp and shivering from a shower which had run cold, Blair yelping a protest, his hands continuing to scrub at Jim's skin, they sat in a circle of candles and chalk.
"You're sure this will work?"
Blair had called Naomi, speaking in guarded words that had still alarmed her, and had been given a number to ring in a part of the world where it was tomorrow, something Jim had always seen as magical as a child. The woman he'd spoken to had dictated instructions in a mellow voice Jim, listening in, had found reassuring, although some of what she was saying was anything but.
And now, cleaned physically, with both of them reeking of the herbs Blair had crushed into paste and daubed on them in wavering, swirling lines, they were kneeling naked in a chalked circle Jim was glumly certain would be a pain to clean off the floor.
Assuming the candles didn't set the place on fire. His ears were still ringing from the frenzied squawk of the smoke alarm after Ethan's little fireworks display.
"It won't if you don't let it." Blair took a slow, deliberate breath, his eyes closing. "I can feel you resisting."
"I'm not resisting, I'm just…"
He'd found out something about Rayne. Not much, but something. His inquiries had dead ended abruptly, as if someone had taken care to wipe the records clean. It wasn't the first time Jim had seen that happen but somehow he doubted Rayne was covert ops for any government and he sure as hell wasn't the type to be in a Witness Protection program. Not that Jim had any difficulty in seeing Rayne betray a fellow criminal but he had too much pride to vanish and from what Jim had discovered, he was using his real name.
He still didn't know what the point had been behind the whole thing, nor why Ethan had, in a way, saved them. He just knew that Blair was upset to the point of withdrawal and that the need for this ritual was about all that was keeping him in the loft.
Jim could understand that. He felt pretty upset himself, though none of his anger was directed at Blair and he wished he could make Blair see that. The gift might have been cursed but seen through Blair's eyes it had, right up to the end, been a representation of the two of them together. He couldn't feel unmixed gratitude because it'd shown his own limitations too clearly, leaving him half resentful, half defensive.
"You need to be quiet, Jim." Blair didn't open his eyes but his hands, palms upturned, resting on his thighs, tensed, fingers crooking.
"I can't do this until I tell you --"
Blair's eyes opened, dark in the candlelight, the blue lost. "You don't need to tell me anything."
"What, you can read my mind now?"
"More or less. Your poker face isn't that good."
"Neither is yours," Jim reminded him. "Blair, this wasn't your fault. You tried to give me something --"
"That would push you somewhere you really didn't want to go," Blair interrupted. "I'm not blaming myself for putting us in danger -- I couldn't have known; fuck, I can barely believe it happened -- but if you think I was being anything but a pushy, selfish, impatient --"
"That's not how I see it." Jim shifted forward, already feeling the ache in his knees. "Do we have to kneel?" he asked irritably. "I'm getting pins and needles."
A flicker of amusement banished some of the bleakness on Blair's face. "You could sit cross legged."
Changing positions, uncomfortably certain that he'd been giving Blair a lot of new territory to look at, Jim continued. "He was right. Eth--"
"Don't say his name in the circle," Blair warned him. "Names have power."
"Yeah, right," Jim muttered. "Okay. No names. But he was still right. I was the weak spot, not you. I was the one who didn't have the guts to tell you how I felt when I realised there was something to feel."
"Just out of curiosity…"
"A really long time ago, Chief. Really long." Jim tried to think back, but he couldn't pin it down. Hell, it might have been that first day. Blair had gotten to him from the start, annoying, persistent, elusive, there.
In his face. In his home, his life, and, yeah, though he'd never say it, his heart.
And now, maybe, his bed. Which wasn't as inevitable as it seemed, no matter what they'd both been feeling, because hell, it would complicate things so damn much…
"You don't have to. We can go back to the way we were yesterday."
"Mind reader and time traveler? You're a man of many talents." Jim gave him a regretful smile. "You know we can't. And I don't want to."
"And it's all about what you want."
There was enough bitterness in that to make him wince, but he welcomed it in a way. He deserved a few digs and Blair wasn't likely to pass on the opportunity to deliver them. The man was human, after all.
"No. Or it shouldn't be. I don't want it to be." Jim reached out, sliding his hand into Blair's. "We can try something new. If you want?"
Blair's hand tightened. "Oh, I want. I'm just not sure you do."
"Then I'll make you see just how sure I am." Jim let Blair see him staring openly, his gaze drifting down Blair's body, appreciative, admiring. Wanting. "Can we do this cleansing when we're thinking about sex?"
The soft, unassuming curl of Blair's cock began to thicken and swell, matching Jim's own evident arousal. "I don't know. The only other time I did anything similar to this I was nine and it wasn't really an issue."
"Nine?" Jim questioned, wondering what the hell had happened to that younger Blair.
"I'll tell you later," Blair said. "Right now, we need to do this, Jim. I can feel it on us, sinking in… We're still poisoned, man. We have to get it out of us." His grip became painfully tight. "Forget about fucking me. Forget about wanting me, hating me, loving me, all of it."
"I don't --"
"Sometimes you do. I've brought a lot of changes to your life and you don't deal well with that. But it doesn't matter. You're a Sentinel, Jim. You've got powers of your own and you're connected to the earth in ways he isn't. Chaos. Yeah, that's part of the whole, it's needed, it's even good, but your roots go deeper. Follow them. Do it. Do it --"
Blair's final word echoed in a familiar place, the blue-lit jungle Jim no longer felt surprised to see. He was in his animal form now, sleek and black, feeling the rough scratch of dirt and stone under his paws and snuffing at rich air, ripe with decaying vegetation and brimful of new life.
He set out along a trail a human wouldn't have recognized as such; a sinuous winding between trees and bushes, leaves brushing against his fur like dry fingers. He could smell the wolf and the scent called to him, a confusing mix of prey and mate. He wanted to catch the wolf, here in his territory, his domain, but after that… he wasn't sure.
And overhead, watching, cawing in a thoughtful cackle, was a bird, blue-black feathers glossy, head tilted in an inquiring, impudent question.
It wasn't real.
He knew that. Knew that all of this was a construction, symbols, jumbled and often as sense-free as dreams. Knowing that helped and hindered him. He could almost hear the husky growl of Blair's voice urging him to let go… immerse himself… but an innate caution held him back.
Find the wolf.
He padded on silent, heavy paws into a clearing with a pond and the tree from the statue close by. The wolf turned from drinking, tongue lolling out, fur sprinkled with water, a low growl rumbling through his chest, one the cat answered with a howl, territorial and possessive.
But it wasn't directed at the wolf.
The bird was swooping down between them, larger than it had seemed when in the trees, its beak curved and sharp, powerful talons raking the air. He leaped up, paws slashing the air, and got nothing but a soft, mocking caw of amusement from the bird.
The wolf was growling louder now, a continuous warning that left him unsettled. Pacing, his head tilted up, he eyed the taunting bird, the interloper, looking for a weakness.
The wolf shimmered into Blair, dressed in his usual jeans and layered shirts, hands loose at his side. "Jim… he's not going to let you catch him. He's the Trickster, the Loki. He's the ultimate con-artist and you can't beat him." Blair stared at him. "He's not who you need to fight."
He shook his head, baring his teeth, feeling his tail lash angrily. The bird. All his fault. All of it…
"Look, Jim. Look."
The persuasive voice Blair used was too familiar to ignore no matter what form he was in. And when Blair walked over to him, sliding his hand fearlessly into the thick, dense fur at the base of the cat's skull, he let the man lead him to the pool.
"See?" Blair asked gently. "That's always who you have the most problems with."
He watched the reflection in the water change to his human face and batted irritably at it with his paw, shaking the water from it and growling as the image remained in the rippled, disturbed water.
"Yeah, it'd be nice if it was that easy." Blair sounded amused. "Jim, I'm here and I think we're sharing this vision but ultimately, this is your place, man. I'm a guest, just like I am in the rest of your life."
No. There was something really wrong if Blair still thought that but like this Jim couldn't tell him… With a grunt of effort, he willed himself into human form, feeling a disconcerting dizziness as his awareness of his surroundings shifted to accommodate the change. Humans experienced the world differently. He tended to forget that.
"You're not a guest." He put his hands on Blair's shoulders and felt the shiver that ran through Blair as if it was his own response. "You're part of my life."
Easy to say it here…
"I know that."
"No, Chief, I don't think you do." He hesitated. "Will we remember this?"
Blair grinned. "You always ask me like I know this stuff."
"If you don't, no one does."
"Well, I don't." Blair shrugged, not enough to dislodge Jim's grip; in fact it felt more like a sensual shift of his muscles as if Blair was enjoying the weight and contact of Jim's hands. "We did last time. You usually do, right?"
"How would I know if I didn't?" He thought it was a reasonable question but Blair rolled his eyes and groaned. "I just… if I say this once it's going to be a miracle, Chief. I'm not sure I could do it again."
"If you don't remember, you won't know you did and if you say it again, it will be the first time," Blair pointed out.
Jim gave him a pained look. "That's just a little too metaphysical for me."
"I don't… I don't know what to say." Jim felt foolish and verging on desperate. An annoyingly derisive squawk from the forgotten bird didn't help. "What the hell is he doing here?"
"I don't know." Blair moved closer, slipping his arm around Jim's waist and joining him in staring at the bird. "I think he's still watching."
"You want to see us fight?" Jim said, addressing the bird. "Not going to happen. You want to see us die? Not going to happen, either."
"Jim…" Blair murmured. "We're here to cleanse ourselves."
"There's a pool of water right there."
"You want us to take a swim?"
Blair nodded. "It feels reasonable."
"I'm not getting naked in front of that bird," Jim said flatly.
"I, ah, don't think he's going away."
"I could --"
"No, Jim." Blair stopped him as he bent down to scoop up a rock. "I really don't think that's a good idea. And I still think the barrier is your own issues and doubts. About me, I guess."
"You don't like that, do you?"
"Being the source of so much confusion and stress?" Blair pursed his lips and then grinned mischievously. "Uh, maybe. A little? I kind of get off on knowing I have that much effect on you."
"You would, you son of a bitch," Jim said without heat. "Well, you do. But not for much longer."
"Whoa." Blair stepped back, his hands up. "Jim, don't do anything hasty, here."
"I just mean, I'm not confused. Not now."
Blair arched his eyebrow skeptically. "Come on, Jim. This is you we're talking about. I've seen you take ten minutes to choose a breakfast cereal in the supermarket; you're telling me you've decided to give us in a relationship a try in the space of a few hours?"
Jim considered that and then shrugged. "Sure. A few hours… plus a few years. Dammit, Sandburg, just go with it, will you?"
"Then get naked and in that pool." Blair crossed his arms over his chest, his feet --bare, Jim noticed suddenly -- planted firmly in the thick grass. "And once you're in there, I have a feeling we're going to be doing more than splash."
"You want to have sex in a vision?" Jim blinked at him. "While our real bodies are back in the loft?"
"This is real, too." Blair reached out and slapped Jim's arm, hard enough to sting. "See? It's a different version of real, that's all."
"You couldn't have proved it a less painful way?" Jim grumbled, rubbing at his arm.
"I'll kiss it better any time you want." Blair looked at him without the flirtatious, easy charm Jim had seen him use a score of times before, his expression calm, his voice forceful. "I'll kiss you from head to fucking toe, Jim, if that's what you want. There's nothing I wouldn't do if you asked. There's nothing I wouldn't let you do to me, either, just so we're clear."
"That's a lot of trust there, Chief."
"You've earned it."
"I don't know how."
"I do." Blair nodded at the pool. "Enough talking, Jim. It's time to end this."
Jim gave the watching bird a final glare, daring it to squawk again, and started to strip off his clothes before deciding not to bother doing it the hard way. Hell, it was his vision, wasn't it? He stepped toward the pool, giving Blair's naked ass an appreciative, sidelong stare, and was bare by the time his feet struck the warm water.
Blair waded in waist-deep and then gave a whoop of laughter and dived forward, splashing Jim as it was definitely more of a belly-flop. Jim watched him swim under water for a few yards and then surface way too far away, his hair sleeked back, dark and heavy. Water coursed down, over his chest, over his belly and down, the rivulets tracing patterns over skin Jim had never touched, never tasted, leaving the hair flattened against the smooth skin, Blair's nipples tight and hard.
Jim swam over to him, not taking his eyes off Blair, and then got to his feet. The water lapped against him, gentle smacks as the water settled. He ran his hand through it, then caught up a scoop of water in his cupped palms and let it spill out over Blair's head, making sure it didn't get in his eyes. He repeated the gesture, pouring the water over Blair's shoulders, his back, circling him as he stood silently, watching the clear liquid splash and cling and run in droplets and streams over Blair's skin.
He was hard without caring about it. He couldn't be this close to Blair, this aware of his body without being aroused, but it wasn't important.
"I have to get you clean," he murmured, gathering more water, more, seeing Blair shiver, his skin roughening as it cooled.
"Am I?" Blair asked, breaking his silence. "Look at me, Jim. Am I clean? Are you?"
Jim came back around to face Blair, taking a step back and studying him. If he closed his eyes just a little, focused just right… He could see Blair's skin glow, but there were dark spots still…
Without thinking about it, he leaned in and put his mouth on one, in the hollow of Blair's collarbone, licking at the cool, wet skin, tasting the emptiness of the water and the richness of Blair's scent. Blair moaned softly. "That feels… God, it almost hurts but it feels good…"
Jim pulled back. He'd left a red mark, but the darkness was gone. He let his gaze wander. There… and there… He fell to his knees, sucking hard at the places his senses told him were stained, random scattered flaws on Blair's body. He couldn't see a pattern; they weren't all in places he would have normally kissed; some, like the one in Blair's armpit left Blair squirming, even kicking out, as Jim's mouth fastened hungrily onto sensitive flesh.
And the heavy fullness of Blair's balls and cock were clean which left Jim feeling almost cheated until he moved around, lying in the water, and found that he had a final place to deal with in the center of Blair's left cheek. Ducking underwater and ignoring Blair's pained yelp, he grinned and damn near chewed the skin clean, leaving it scarlet.
"That's going to bruise," Blair told him.
"I wanted it to."
"Is this some primal, Sentinel --?"
"No." Jim splashed Blair with a final handful of water and glared at him. "It's just me, okay?"
"Fine," Blair said. "You're kinky and possessive. I get it. I like it. As long as you stay away from the ticklish bits."
Jim quirked his eyebrow. "You have ticklish bits, Chief? Can't say that I noticed, so if I hit some by accident…"
The look Blair gave him told him that he wasn't going to be getting away with that.
"What about you?" Blair licked his lips, doing it deliberately enough that Jim noticed and reacted just as he was supposed to, with a dull, sweet ache of lust in his balls. "Where do you need some TLC?"
Nowhere, from what Jim could see of himself. He had a feeling that just walking into the water had been enough for him; that had been a huge deal although Blair probably hadn't realized it.
"Oh, let's see…" He frowned and tapped his chest, an inch away from his right nipple, figuring that was safe. "There."
"You're cheating." There wasn't an ounce of doubt in Blair's voice. "Totally lying to me."
"Chief," Jim protested. "As if I would."
Blair grinned. "I didn't say I minded." He ducked his head and gave the indicated place a swirling lick of a bite. "And I didn't say I wouldn't play. But are you sure?"
"I'm sure," Jim told him. "And since I'm busted…" He tapped his mouth. "Here. Please?"
"Oh, man, you just…" Blair ended the game before it had began, wrapping himself around Jim; arms and one leg, his foot rubbing along the back of Jim's calf, his hands caressing Jim's back and ass. "Going to take care of it," he said against Jim's lips. "Going to…"
The kiss was perfect this time. Jim didn't think that was necessarily going to carry over to the real world -- although they'd been getting the hang of it, definitely -- but he didn't care. Something to aim at was good and this was just… oh, yeah. Blair tasted… right. Blair's spit was fucking turning him on which was a whole new level of disturbing. And the soft fur of his chest hair, rubbing against Jim's smoother chest was, too. And the noises he was making, encouraging, appreciative murmurs deep in his throat. And Blair's fingernails, God, they were driving him insane, scratching and digging in and perfect, perfect…
"I'm going to come from kissing you," he muttered against Blair's hair, wet and cool and tucked behind an ear he'd licked and bitten until the skin was hot and pink. "And you'll never respect me again."
"You got that right."
"Really?" Jim pulled back to look down at him with as close as he could get to what he called Blair's puppy dog eyes. He obviously needed to practice because Blair snickered heartlessly.
"Jim, you come before I even touch your dick --"
"You are touching it." Jim shimmied his hips, feeling the head of his cock slip-side across Blair's belly which was as close to self-inflicted torture as he'd ever gotten. "See?"
"That doesn't count."
"It counts, Sandburg, believe me, it's counting."
"So this isn't going to take long?"
Jim groaned, feeling Blair's fingers trace a maddeningly indirect path from his ass to his stomach. "Not if you keep doing that."
"I'm hardly doing anything."
"I know. It doesn’t matter."
"You're too easy."
"I won't be for ever," Jim warned him. "I'll be exacting, fussy, picky as hell, hard to please…"
"But right now, I'm gonna blow as soon as you touch me."
"Thought I was…"
Blair's hand dropped, circled, clutched and dragged in a mercilessly loving caress. Jim came before Blair finished his sentence, feeling Blair huddle closer, moving against him with an urgency that showed how near he'd been himself to a climax which followed Jim's within moments, Blair's teeth finding Jim's shoulder, his body jerking and rigid.
The clear water was clouded briefly, come spreading in opaque filaments through it and then dissipating. Jim held Blair to him and let Blair hold him up, until they were leaning like fallen trees, a fragile, co-existing balance.
The bird was cawing somewhere overhead, flying away, the beat of his wings loud in Jim's ears. Blair was panting, soft, harsh gasps, his chest heaving, his hands moving over Jim's back in quick, stuttering strokes.
"Sshh…" Blair was solid and real and Jim wanted to tell him he loved him, while he still could, before they went back to a world where it wasn't something he'd be likely to say easily, but he wanted Blair with him again, not lost in sensation. "I've got you, Blair."
"Always do, man. Always do." Blair lifted his head, his eyes hazy but clearing. "Love you."
"I was going to say that."
"I'm not stopping you."
Jim chewed the inside of his cheek, feeling the indentations there. He did that too much. And he had to hurry.
He still kissed Blair first before he said it, though.
He had to hurry, but it didn't mean he was going to rush it.
Not his style.
And he was going to remember this, and if Blair forgot, he was going to tell him.
Over and over, until it was clear and settled between them, like the water they stood in.
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