Warning #1: Ren, this isn't it, hon.
Warnings #2: This story is #3 in the Birthright series. It might not make sense if you don't read the other two stories first.
Warning #3: After my last story in this series, I was asked "not to take the easy way out" with Simon finding out about Jim, Blair and Steven being brothers. So if you don't like the direction this story went, blame Bruce *weg*
This story is dedicated to Laurq because she asked for it, publicly might I add.
Rating: R (A few bad words at the beginning)
Acknowledgments: Many thanks, as always, to Lola for catching my mistakes. However, I always tweak after I send a story to her, so any mistakes are my own. Also many thanks to Laura for her insights.
Disclaimer: You know the routine. Not mine. Never will be. No money was made.
"So Jim says, 'What's with the duck?'. Then I say, 'Surely, you don't call that negotiating? I mean, maybe the duck has a name. Maybe he's trying to rescue a pet or something," Blair Sandburg said, waving a hand for emphasis.
Tears streamed down Rafe's face as he gasped for breath. "So... so what did Jim say to that?"
"He said, 'Goddamn it, Sandburg, who gives a fuck if the duck has a name or not?' He then shouts at the perp. 'The fucking duck doesn't have a name, does it?' And the perp is standing there all wide-eyed because he can't believe we're actually arguing about the duck and says, 'Actually, his name is Harold.'"
Rafe clenched his fists, pounded on the table, and screamed with laughter. Blair couldn't help the smile that found its way to his face. He looked down at his check, trying to ignore the stares and grins being sent their way by the other customers in the restaurant. Six-fifty, plus a dollar fifty tip. He looked in his wallet and calculated the expenses for the rest of the day. Good, he'd still have enough to buy Jim a slice of Alice's apple pie.
"A slice of apple pie to go, please," he quietly told the waitress when she came by to pick up their money. She looked over at Rafe, smiled the way people do while watching someone make a fool of themselves, then turned to get the pie and their change.
"Why are you getting pie to go?" Rafe asked, sniffing and wiping the tears from his eyes.
"Jim had a deposition at eleven. I figured if you took this back for him it would appease the foul beast that will be coming back to the bullpen."
"You two are so married."
"What? Like you and H aren't? Give me a break."
Rafe shrugged and chuckled under his breath. "So who's the chick you're meeting here?"
Blair looked out the window and noticed the lady in question get out of a car in front of the restaurant. "Just someone who's stolen my heart."
Rafe sputtered as the front door opened. "Uncle Blair! Uncle Blair!" an excited voice squealed in delight. Blair barely had time to scoot from the booth and stand before he was catching the blonde haired angel flinging herself into his arms.
"And how's my favorite lady this fine afternoon?"
"Good. Wonderful. Fantastic. I've been good all week. Mama said we can have the whoooooooole afternoon together!" the cherub declared, throwing her arms around Blair's neck and squeezing him hard.
"Air. Help! Air," he teased. When she finally let go, both leaned back a bit then rubbed their noses together. "Hey, Claire," he greeted Steven's wife warmly, and kissed her on the cheek. "You know Rafe, don't you?"
Rafe scrambled from the booth and graciously took Claire's outstretched hand. "Of course. It's so nice to see you again, Claire. What brings you and Annie by this afternoon?"
"Hello, Brian. I have a meeting this afternoon and Blair has graciously offered to watch Annie for me," the beautiful blonde woman replied as she sent an affectionate smile toward Blair and her daughter. "In fact," she murmured, looking at her watch, "I'm running just a tad bit behind."
"Don't worry, I got your back, sis. I'll bring Annie home after dinner." Then growling lowly, he nuzzled the eight-year-old in his arms. "Or I could just have her for dinner."
Annie squealed with laughter as Blair tickled her. Claire shook her head again, darted forward and gave both her daughter and Blair a kiss. "You two behave, you hear?" she warned, trying for ominous but her smile ruined the effect. As she ran for the door, she called out, "You have my numbers; right, Blair?"
"Yes, now get out of here." He laughed and shooed her away with the flick of his wrist.
The waitress returned with their change and the pie.
"You'll make sure Jim gets this, right?" Blair asked, giving the detective the evil eye and keeping the Styrofoam container just out of reach. "Because I know a really interesting Haitian curse..."
"Yeah, yeah, just gimme the pie, Sandburg."
"Thanks, Rafe." Blair handed his friend the container, then gave his full attention to the angel in his arms. "What do you say to us blowing this joint, Princess?"
"I'm down with that," she said, then pointed imperiously toward the front door. "Uncle Blair?"
"How come you haven't changed your name yet? I think Ellison is such a pretty name."
Blair shot a look back at Rafe, but the detective was still by the table putting on his jacket. "Well, you see, hon, it's like this..."
"Hey, H," Rafe quietly greeted his partner as he took off his jacket and spread it over the back of his chair.
"Hey, man, what's up?"
Rafe looked nervously around the bullpen, then stared pointedly at Ellison's desk before he looked back at his partner. "You know the age old question of 'are they or aren't they'?"
Henri's eyes automatically flicked to the empty desk across the room. "Yeah?"
"I'm pretty sure they are."
"No way, babe. No way."
"Way. So way."
"Bri, you can't be--"
Rafe held up his hand, cutting off his partner's protest. "I haven't said anything to anyone, other than you. But, H, I just got back from lunch with Sandburg."
"He had me bring a piece of pie back for Ellison."
Henri shook his head. "That don't mean nothing. The boys are tight. You know that. In fact, why in the hell didn't you bring me back a piece?"
Rafe laughed at the mock growl. "There's more."
Henri looked around the empty bullpen once again. "So, spill."
"Sandburg called Claire 'sis.' And," he paused dramatically, "I heard Annie ask him why he hasn't changed his name to Ellison yet."
"Think about it, partner. They're still who they've always been, but don't tell me you didn't notice a shift in their dynamic about three months ago. I mean, Ellison has always touched Sandburg, but now it's like he can't keep his hands off him; and Sandburg's been wearing a look of contentment lately... like he's won the lottery or something."
Henri rubbed both of his hands over his face and up over his bald head. He let out a long slow breath. "So?"
"So, nothing. I just... I don't know... feel better now that I know."
"Know what?" Joel Taggert asked, as he walked by their desks on the way to his own.
"I... uh... er... that is..."
Joel stopped suddenly in his tracks and grinned, almost ferally, at the two younger men. "Ohhh, office gossip. Come on, spill."
Rafe looked desperately over at his partner, who merely shrugged.
"Well, you see, Cap, it's like this..."
Simon Banks let out a long repressed sigh and closed his eyes against the shudder which wracked his tall frame. It had been too damn close this time. Just way too damn close for his peace of mind. After four years of this unusual partnership, one would think it would get better, easier somehow, but it never truly did.
What cosmic karma was revisiting Ellison and Sandburg? They must have been truly horrible men in a previous life if they were working so hard to overcome everything thrown at them in this one. Aw, hell. He shook his head in disgust. He was beginning to sound like Sandburg.
By all accounts, the latest round of cosmic nip and tuck had been a Mexican standoff, with Ellison in the hot seat this time instead of his partner. Some whacked out tweaker decided he needed to score some cash before he came crashing down to Earth again. How better to grab some easy green than to rob a convenience store? However, the perp hadn't counted on some of his hostages being cops. He apparently had decided to make a surgical strike and take out the largest man in the store, hoping to intimidate everyone else into submission.
Unfortunately, the largest man in the store was one James Ellison. A witness who had been standing in line to pay for her gas said there had been no warning. One moment she's smiling over the antics of the two men in front of her, she said they reminded her of her sons, and the next a shot had rung out and blood was blooming over the front of Ellison's shirt.
In the seconds of confusion that followed, the perp had a gun dug into Ellison's temple and was basically keeping Jim on his feet by the chokehold he had around the detective's neck.
At the same time, Sandburg had his gun drawn and pressed against the perp's forehead. After Blair had obtained his doctorate and been made an official consultant to the department, the Chief had insisted that Blair take weapons training and be given a sidearm. Simon closed his eyes. While Sandburg grumbled about the gun, it may have been the only thing that saved Jim's life this day.
His witness, one Sharon Brand, had described the chilling scene. "It was as if time stood still and only these three men existed," she had whispered to him, long after the ambulance had left the scene. "No one, and I mean no one, blinked or even breathed. The druggie tried to sound calm, but his voice was shaking badly, like he was starting to crashing. He told the young man if he didn't lower his weapon, he'd kill his friend.
"But the young man didn't lower his weapon. He said in a voice so cold that goosebumps actually raised on my arms, 'If you take what's mine, I'll destroy you.' Before the robber could speak again, the young man added, almost casually, 'After I kill you, I'll go to your home. One of the advantages of working for the cops is that I have access to all of its databases, so finding it will be childishly simple. Once I get to your place, I'll kill your dog. He'll probably be happy to see me, since you haven't been home for a while; so he won't understand the knife I'll use to gut him. Then, I'll wait until your old lady comes home. I'll let her find the body, then I'll use her until she'll think you were god's gift to all men. She'll die screaming your name, but it will all be for nothing, since you died in a stupid robbery attempt. Afterward, I'll leave her beside the dog.'
"I swear, Captain, I have never been so frightened in my entire life. The punk was starting to come down to earth in a big way. He started yelling about how he was a cop, but the young man said he wasn't a cop, that he was a civilian consultant. The tweaker was shaking up a storm, terrified out of his mind, no doubt. It's one thing to say someone's crazy, it's another to actually experience crazy.
"He started begging the young man to take his gun. The boy did, then he made the robber gently lay his friend down before he cuffed him and had the clerk call 911.
"He then gathered his friend in his arms and started talking about dials, and hanging in there. He told the older man that he loved him and that he'd better not leave him alone. It was quite a contrast to see love pour out of the same young man who minutes earlier had been so cold and ruthless."
Simon hadn't been particularly surprised that Sandburg had used psychological warfare on the perp. What had surprised him though was how good the kid had been at it. Even hearing the story second hand was enough to make him shudder.
What had happened to the happy-go-lucky kid who could be counted on to make even the crankiest curmudgeon's smile? The only explanation he could come up with was that the kid had been truly scared, but had somehow realized that he had to control the situation. How better to take charge than to scare the crap out of your opponent? That, no doubt, he had learned from Ellison.
Joel walked up to Simon shaking his head as he went over his witness notes. "Remind me never to get on Sandburg's bad side," he said, grinning up at Simon.
"The kid did good," Simon agreed, knowing he was going to have to tell Sandburg as soon as an opening presented itself.
"The cause was just, but..."
Simon frowned. "But what?"
"Nothing." Joel shook his head, looking like he had said too much.
"Look, it's not my place to say anything about the way you run your department, Simon. I mean, you're a good man, an excellent captain. Hell, I'm enjoying being a worker bee under your direction."
"But," Simon prompted, when his friend fell silent.
"Do you really think you should let them ride together anymore? I mean, times have changed and the old prejudices are falling by the way side. But when Tomas and Dale came out, it was decided to pair them up with other partners. There's just too many--"
"Wait! Wait! Come out?" Simon sputtered. "What in the hell are you talking about?"
"Oh, man. Do we need to talk."
"Hey," Blair Sandburg said softly, when he noticed the light blue eyes blink open. "How's your pain dial?"
Jim opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Guiding a straw to Jim's lips, Blair let the older man take a small sip of water, letting the liquid moisten his parched throat.
Blair put the glass on the small rolling table, eased himself onto the bed beside his brother, and gently caressed Jim's forehead. "What's your setting, man?"
Jim swallowed hard, but the tension in his face began to smooth away. "Three," he whispered.
Nodding, Blair said, "Leave it there. Don't go down any further than that. You need to listen to what your body's telling you, but don't let it go any higher than that either. If you need help, tell me immediately; no suffering stoically. Do you understand?"
"Stealing my best shtick," Jim whispered.
"Speaking of stealing, I thought we had a deal. I get to play hostage, you get to do the white knight crap. I don't like these last minute understudy switches. They totally suck, man," Blair whispered, his hands continuing to stroke Jim's face and chest.
"Gotta... think on... feet."
Jim tried to smile reassuringly at him.
"It's inconsiderate of you to end up in the hospital, you know? I mean, when I got shot, all I had to do was go to the clinic. And yet, you and Steven made my life hell for nearly two weeks. You know what they say about payback, man. It's a bitch, and now it's named Sandburg."
"You're going to do what I say when I say. You hear me? No more of this grumpy bastard act. I won't tolerate it anymore." Blair's voice caught and he cleared his throat, ignoring the tears stinging his eyes.
"I mean it, Jim. You'll eat what I say. You're going to let me drive, and you're going to be goddamned content to sit in a freaking chair and relax."
"Come here, Blair," Jim whispered, raising his left hand and gently sliding it beneath Blair's hair. Blair tried to resist the unspoken command, but when Jim hissed in pain, he allowed the older man to pull his head down until they were forehead to forehead.
"I'm okay," Jim said, his voice barely audible at all.
"You were lucky."
Shaking his head, Jim said, "You did a great job taking care of me."
"No, I didn't. I let you get shot."
"Shhhhh." Jim moved his head and pressed his lips to Blair's forehead.
"Oh, shit," Blair whispered brokenly. "Is this how Steven felt? Remind me to apologize to him, okay?"
Jim crooned softly to him, his hand lightly scratching Blair's back.
"I mean, your job's always been dangerous, but this... there wasn't any warning. Nothing to prepare for. It shouldn't be, but it's different now. It is and I can't help... I can't..."
"I know. I know." Jim pressed his lips into Blair's hair. "I'm okay. We'll get through this. We will, Chief. Hey, Simon," he greeted their captain as the older man opened the door and peered into the room.
Blair slowly pulled back from Jim. He rubbed his eyes with his sleeve cuffs and sniffed once before he turned to face their captain. "Hey, Simon."
"How are you feeling, Jim?" Simon asked softly as he moved further into the room.
"Wet," Jim said in a teasing voice, smiling tenderly at Blair.
"Laugh it up, Chuckles. I called Steven. He's flying home even as we speak."
Jim frowned, but instead of the intense warrior Blair knew his brother could be, he said in what could only be described as a whiny tone, "Hey, you made Steven give you a whole week before anyone told..."
"Shut up, Jim."
Simon chuckled. "Well, it looks like Sandburg has everything well in hand."
Blair smiled briefly at the captain, but moved to the window, giving the older men at least the illusion of privacy.
Simon moved to the side of Jim's bed and carefully sat on the edge. "So, Jim, honestly, how are you feeling?"
"I'm doing okay, Simon. The bullet went straight through. It's actually a miracle it didn't hit Blair on its way out. I'm just not looking forward to being assigned to desk duty for the next month."
"Well, it certainly beats the alternative."
Blair turned and noticed his captain's gaze intently studying him. Blair frowned, then moved to Jim's bed, opposite Simon. "What is it, Simon?"
The older man dropped his gaze.
"Simon?" Jim asked, as he, too, studied his captain's face.
Simon sighed, wearily. "This isn't the time or place to discuss this."
"What do you mean?" Blair asked, confused.
"Look, Si-Captain, Blair didn't do anything wrong. I know what he said was a bit extreme, but he controlled the situation. No one else got hurt," Jim said quickly, even as he tried to sit up.
Blair ignored his captain for a moment and placed one hand in the middle of Jim's chest, effectively keeping the older man pinned. "Stay put, Jim."
"I mean it. Stay down. I knew what I was saying was extreme even as I said the words, but I'm prepared to deal with the consequences, man. You getting yourself riled up and aggravating your injuries isn't going to help anyone, so stay down," Blair said, his voice getting stronger and more authoritarian as he spoke.
Jim reluctantly complied, although he turned his head to stare accusingly at Simon.
"There was nothing wrong with the way you handled the situation, Sandburg. In fact, you did an excellent job," Simon said quietly. "It's almost impossible to deal with a hopped up tweaker, but you managed to break through his drug haze without any further injuries to yourself, Jim or any of the civilians."
"So what's not to discuss?" Jim asked, confused, although he didn't move.
Simon pinched his nose under his glasses and closed his eyes for a moment, then dropped his hand and looked at both men. "I thought we were friends."
"You are. We are," Blair said, hastening to assure him.
"Then why didn't you tell me about..." Simon waved a hand between Jim and Blair.
"Oh," Blair said quietly.
Jim brought his good hand up and rubbed it over his own face. "Truth be told, Simon, we're still trying to get used to the idea ourselves. We didn't mean to keep you out of the loop or anything. It's just that it's still hard for us to believe, let alone trying to convince anyone else."
"Well, I don't think you're going to have any problem convincing anyone else. Everybody already seems to be on board," Simon said, trying hard to keep the sarcasm from his voice.
"What?" Blair asked, shaking his head in confusion.
Simon rolled his eyes. "Come off it, Sandburg. You two have been glowing for three months now. You work with detectives, for God's sake. It's not like they weren't going to eventually put the clues together. Anyone who stands within ten feet of you guys can tell that you love each other."
"Well, of course, we love each other. What sort of stupid thing is that to say?" Jim asked, frowning. "We always have, it's just that now--"
Simon growled. "You have the freedom to act on the feeling. I know. I get the picture."
"Oh my God." Blair murmured, then looked into Simon's solemn face. "Oh my God." He tried hard to fight down the giggle that rose in his throat, tried to school his face in a mask of seriousness, but failed miserably. The giggle escaped, and grew in to a chuckle, then into a full out guffaw.
Both Jim and Simon glared at him, which only made him laugh harder. He fought for nearly a minute to stop his laughter, finally having to turn away from both men to do it. When he gained control, he turned toward Jim, focused on the headboard above his brother's head without really looking at the man himself, and absolutely refused to look at Simon.
"Jim," he whispered, biting back the giggle which threatened to consume him again.
Jim took his hand, trying to get him to make eye contact, but Blair just shook his head, indicating that he couldn't just yet. "Jim," he repeated, wincing inwardly at the slightly hysterical tone in his voice. "Si... Simon thinks... he thinks... hethinkswe'relovers," he rushed out, letting the laughter spill over him again.
"What?" Jim asked, stunned.
Blair wiped the tears from his eyes, nodding, even as the laughter erupted from him.
"He... he thinks we're..."
"Doing the horizontal mambo," Blair's voice raised higher and higher, as he gasped to breathe, but was unable to stop the gales of laughter from wracking his body, "knocking boots, doing the wild thing, slipping each other the pickle, playing--"
"All right! All right! I get the picture," Jim tried to say sternly, but the smile on his face took out any sting there might have been in his words. Looking at Simon, he asked, "So what makes these detectives think we're doing the wild thing?" A small chuckle escaped him and he absolutely refused to look at Blair.
Simon sighed explosively. "For God's sakes, man, you were kissing him when I walked into the room."
"You were, Jim," Blair agreed, barely keeping a lid on his mirth.
"And?" Jim demanded, still refusing to look at Blair.
Simon shook his head. "And Sandburg said 'If you take what's mine, I'll destroy you.' Plus you two can barely keep your hands off each other anymore. And Rafe heard Annie ask Blair why he hadn't changed his name to 'Ellison' yet. What are we supposed to think?"
Blair felt the laughter die in his throat. "Shit, you're serious, Simon. The guys really think we're... unfuckingbelievable, man. This is just unfuckingbelieveable."
"Don't 'now, Chief' me, Jim," Blair ranted. "This is serious. If they think we're lovers, they can break us up. Reassign us. I won't stand for that."
"You mean, you aren't?" Simon sputtered, then demanded, "What--what in the hell is going on here?"
"No, we're not!" Blair said angrily as he stood and faced his captain across the bed. "We're..." but he stopped suddenly.
"You still can't say it, can you?" Jim asked softly, taking Blair's hand in his own and holding it to his chest.
"Of course, I can say it, Jim." Blair sat on the edge of the bed again, and lowered his forehead until it once again touched Jim's. "But it's our secret. It won't be special if--" Unshed tears welled up in his eyes. "If we tell Simon, or the guys, then everyone will know."
"It doesn't change things between us, between Steven," Jim whispered reassuringly, while his good hand fisted and unfisted gently in Blair's hair.
"Shhh," Jim crooned softly, gently guiding Blair's head to his shoulder. Blair could feel Jim lift his head to look up at their boss, but couldn't bring himself to do the same. "We're brothers, Simon."
Blair could feel the bed shake with the larger man's denial. "What?" he finally demanded.
"Naomi and my father had an affair in 1968. Although we don't know the details, she left him before Blair was born. When dad died, he left Blair a videotape admitting paternity and providing for him like he provided for Steven and myself, although not quite as generously."
Blair put his hand on Jim's chest to stop the angry words. Blair knew it still rankled Jim that their father had basically given him a pittance. But Blair understood that William would have had to do major restructuring of his assets to split them equally three ways, a risky thing to do considering that Blair might not have been able to accept the truth and could have squandered what he was given or given it away to competitors in anger. William had worked too hard to see his empire destroyed, and Blair couldn't begrudge him his strategy. Besides, the interest on his accounts were more than enough to keep him in a comfortable lifestyle. He would never have to work again, if he so chose.
Taking a deep breath, he pushed himself off the bed and looked his boss straight in the eyes, noticing the confusion in the older man's eyes as he tried to reconcile what he thought he knew with the truth.
"Brothers?" Simon finally sputtered.
Both Jim and Blair nodded. Blair smiled and shook his head slightly, drained by the extreme range of emotions which had run through his body in such a short period of time.
"Steven knows," Simon said with certainty.
"Yes," Jim agreed, then frowned in confusion himself at Simon's apparent certainty.
"When Blair was shot, Steven called dispatch and said his brother was still in the store," Simon explained. "When it was routed to me, I thought maybe something had happened and you had come back from your conference early. Later, I just assumed..."
"That he meant brother-in-law," Jim finished for him.
Simon nodded, then frowned as a small chuckle escaped the older detective. "So the touching--"
"Jim's always been tactile, Simon; has always communicated through touch and needed to be touched. The sentinel in him just sort of magnifies that need. It helps ground him. You know that," Blair said quietly.
"And once you found out you were brothers--"
"There were no restrictions on touching him," Jim admitted quietly.
"We didn't tell anyone else," Blair said quietly, finally understanding why people were jumping to the wrong conclusion.
"Henri and Rafe think you looked like you won the lottery," Simon said to Blair when the silence between them grew.
Blair nodded. "I did."
"So did I." Jim squeezed his hand. "And so did Steven."
Simon stood. "This is a lot to absorb."
"Tell me about it," Blair admitted quietly, looking at his brother and grinning.
"Okay... well then," Simon stuttered. "Do you need anything? Anything I can bring you from home?"
Both men shook their heads. Simon nodded, tried to say something, then shook his head and left the room.
Simon walked up the stairs of 852 Prospect, grateful for the first time that the ancient elevator was once again out of order. It delayed the inevitable for a couple minutes longer.
Jim had been out of the hospital for four days and both he and Sandburg -- Blair, could he even think of him as Sandburg anymore -- were scheduled to return to work the next day.
He semi-expected the door to be opened when he reached the third floor and wondered if maybe they had gone for a walk, as both vehicles were downstairs. But even as he had the thought, he heard footsteps thundering down the stairs inside the loft. Try as he might, he couldn't prevent the smile from finding its way to his face. Sandburg was like a big puppy, all enthusiasm and feet.
He started to raise his hand to knock on the door, knowing it was expected of him, but the door flung itself open before he could connect with it.
"Sorry, Simon, I was upstairs putting away some clothes for Jim," Blair explained, stepping aside and waving his captain past him.
"What? Jim couldn't get his ass off the couch?" Simon teased as he walked into the living area.
"I've been threatened with bodily harm if I even make the attempt," Jim explained, smiling as he pointed to the chair beside the couch.
Simon grinned at him as he sat. "Weren't you once a Ranger?"
"He withheld ice cream from me last night, Simon. He's absolutely ruthless." Jim shot his brother a grin.
Simon turned in time to see Blair stick his tongue out at the older man and cross his eyes. Simon shook his head in amusement.
"So to what do we owe this unexpected visit?" Jim asked.
Blair came into the room and handed Simon a beer and Jim a glass of iced tea. Jim frowned, but Blair ignored him. The smile on Simon's face faded and he swallowed hard.
"The guys in the pen were relieved to know that their detecting skills needed a little honing."
Blair sat on the arm of the couch beside Jim and smiled at him, although Simon could see it didn't quite reach his eyes. "The mistake was an easy enough one to make, I suppose."
Simon nodded. "However, lovers or brothers, the dilemma I find myself in remains the same."
Jim put his glass on a coaster and gave Simon his full attention. "How so?"
"Departmental regulations state that lovers, significant others or family members can't ride together."
"What?" Blair asked, startled. "What are you saying, Simon?"
"Come tomorrow, Sandburg will be reassigned."
"No," Jim said simply.
"I'm sorry, Jim. I have no other choice. It's not that bad actually. He's a consultant. His desk will remain where it is. It's just that he won't ride exclusively with you anymore." Simon closed his eyes briefly, preparing himself for the battle to come.
"Simon, Jim's a sentinel. I'm... I'm his... guide for lack of a better word. You can't break us up. What about his zone-outs?"
"Jim hasn't zoned in ages," Simon countered, opening his eyes.
"Only because I ground myself in Blair," Jim said quietly.
"That's not entirely true and you know it, Jim." Simon looked at both men intently. "Blair has always worked at the university, while he was doing his ride-along and even now while he's teaching. You've never been together 24/7. You'll still be able to connect at the office, but I can't let you two ride together any more."
"Why not?" Blair asked, and Simon tried to ignore the desperation in the young man's voice.
"Because in order to stem the rumors that you two are lovers, I had to let the truth be known. I can't let you two ride together when others are denied the same privilege." Simon set his beer on the table, careful to find a coaster, then stood and began to pace. "Look, Joel has practically figured everything out about Jim's senses anyway. I'll assign him as Jim's partner and you two can consult about how to keep Jim grounded in the field."
"Jim," Blair whispered, and Simon shut his eyes against the fear he heard in the young man's voice; not a fear for himself, but a fear for his brother whose care had been entrusted to him.
"No, Simon," Jim said, his voice angry.
Simon turned and stared at his friends. "You don't have a choice, Jim. I can't go to the mat with you on this one. I burned up all my favors keeping Sandburg as a ride-along as long as I did before he got his doctorate and I could hire him on a part-time basis."
"We'll go to the Chief and explain the facts of life to him," Jim said with determination.
"No, Jim." Blair put his hand on his brother's shoulder, keeping the sentinel seated.
"Sandburg's right, Jim. Even if the Chief agreed, based on your abilities, the union would never allow it. And if too many people discovered your secret, think about the nightmare. Criminals demanding retrials. IA investigations. No, you can't risk it."
Simon watched as Jim drew in energy like an angry cloud about to burst, but Blair stopped him by gently taking his chin and forcing the older man to look at him. "He's right, you know. The consequences of your abilities getting out is too dangerous. I can't allow you to expose yourself like that."
"Sand... Blair, I can't do this without you."
Blair stood and walked to the balcony windows. "Yes, you can, Jim. I've been nothing more than a crutch for a while. You've already learned how to ground yourself in a second sense while focusing your energies on another. Maybe... maybe it's time to let you fly on your own."
Simon watched the younger man try to mentally pull himself back together so he could face his brother with confidence.
"Besides," Blair continued, "you'll probably be on desk duty for another month. It'll give us some time to come up with a plan, to bring Joel into the circle."
Jim closed his eyes for a moment as if turning Blair's words around in his head, as if trying to find the truth. Simon bit his lip as he watched Blair struggle to keep the pain from his face.
"It'll work, man," the younger man finally said, when Jim remained silent.
"Jim, listen to the kid," Simon encouraged, but gulped down his next words as Jim's light blue eyes pinned him like a bug.
"No, you listen, sir. Blair's not some action accessory I can just do without. I won't work without him."
Despite wanting to give in, Simon knew he couldn't. "Then you need to look into taking the captain's test because you're going to be sitting behind a desk otherwise."
"Then I respectfully quit, sir." Jim stood and moved into the kitchen and removed his badge and gun from a drawer.
Blair, who had been paralyzed by the drama unfolding in front of him, stumbled into the kitchen and tried to take the items away from his brother. "Don't be an idiot, Jim. You're a sentinel. You have to protect the tribe. It's who you are, what you are."
"Even though the tribe doesn't want me?"
"It wants you, Jim. You haven't been listening to what Simon said. He's not firing me, or you for that matter. He's just saying we can't be exclusive, that's all."
"We don't need the money, Chief. It's not like we have to work in order to survive. Steven wants us to join him at the company full-time. You know that."
"But what about the tribe, man?" Blair countered, his breath hitching, even as he slid the badge back into the drawer. "What about the tribe?"
Simon thought the younger man's words were reaching his brother, but Jim gently pulled Blair to his chest and looked at Simon with hard eyes. Simon knew what was coming even before the words were spoken.
"Just so there are no more misunderstandings, let me be perfectly candid about my feelings on this subject." Jim released Blair and took his chin, forcing the younger man to meet his gaze. "As a sentinel, I cannot work without my guide. I will not work without him. I may be able to function without him on some level, but understand this. I won't." Then speaking as if Simon wasn't even in the room, Jim said quietly, "You complete me on levels I never thought were possible, Blair. You tore down my walls and guided me not only with my senses but led me back into the world again. You helped me make peace with our father before he died and you brought Steven back into our lives. If we can't be policemen, then we'll be private detectives, or we'll work with Steven or be mercenaries-for-hire. But don't you dare think for a moment that I can live without you by my side."
Blair swallowed hard and whispered, "But being a policeman is who you are."
Jim shook his head. "No, being a sentinel is who I am, just as you are a guide. If we can't serve the tribe through the police, we will find another way, side-by-side."
"Side-by-side," Blair repeated in a whisper.
Jim opened the drawer again and withdrew his badge. Blair swallowed hard, removed his own badge and gun and gave them to his brother. Jim smiled and pressed his lips to Blair's forehead, then turned to face Simon. "I'm sorry, sir."
"There'll be paperwork to fill out," Simon quietly informed them.
"We'll be in tomorrow to fill them out and to make sure any cases which haven't already been reassigned due to my injury will be."
"You'll still be needed to testify in some court cases," Simon added.
"It won't be a problem, sir."
Simon sighed, then waved at the equipment. "Then give them to me tomorrow when you come in."
"Very good, sir."
"Jim," Simon started, then stopped, closing his eyes briefly, before opening them again and trying one more time. "You know that if it were up to me--"
"We understand, Simon. We do," Blair said quietly, when Jim remained silent.
Simon nodded, then left the loft, feeling a hundred years older than when he entered.
"So, private dicks, huh?" Blair asked with a small grin, his feet resting on his brother's lap, as Jim's feet were resting on his.
Jim popped one of Blair's toes and tried to look indignant. "Private investigators, please."
"I guess I should look into licensing in the morning."
"Probably wouldn't be a bad idea."
"Are you sure you want to do this, Jim?"
"Yeah, I think I do. The politics at the PD have been getting harder as the years have gone by. I've never liked the idea that you could be used against me as some sort of leverage by the higher ups."
"So being private di-investigators means..."
"We'll be our own boss. We'll follow our own rules. Hell, we can even help Steven out from time to time with the company and not worry about using personal leave."
Blair released a long slow breath. "I can't believe you quit, Jim. You shouldn't have done it."
Jim sat up and removed Blair's feet from his lap, and pulled the younger man across the couch toward him. "Entreat me not to leave thee behind, or to return from following after thee. Be my guide, and I will be thy sentinel."
Blair leaned back against the solid chest, letting Jim's arms enfold him. "You're mixing up your verses, man," he teased softly, smiling when he felt Jim shrug behind him. "You realize," he said after a moment of silence, "that Simon had no choice, right?"
Jim remained quiet for several minutes and Blair knew he was wrestling with his emotions. "I know," Jim said at last.
"'Cause if we're going to be investigators, we're going to need all the police support we can get."
Jim nodded, but said nothing.
"And we're going to give two weeks notice so we don't leave anyone in the lurch or lose our benefits."
"And we'll call Steven tonight and let him know what's going on."
Blair turned to face his brother. "And, Jim, just so there are no misunderstandings, I will be thy guide and you will be my sentinel, for now and until I breathe my last breath, no matter where you go or how you choose to serve the tribe."
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