"Oh man!" Blair sat back, relieved and surprised to find he had been dreaming. It had seemed so real. Even the pounding...he could still hear that. Sleepily he pulled his legs out from the tangle of sleeping bag and stood, rubbing his eyes and pushing the hair away from his face. "Jim?" he could tell it was daylight through the thin curtains in the kitchen, but there was no window facing the front of the house. Blair followed the sound through the front door and out to the front of the house, where he found Jim playing basketball, alone in the driveway.
"Hey, Chief. You ready to get to work?" Jim caught the ball as it rebounded from the side of the house, having missed the old metal hoop attached to the eave.
"How long have you been up?" Blair stood there, barefoot, trying to suppress a yawn.
"Long enough to get bored." He set the ball down and walked towards the house. "Hit the shower, Sandburg, and let's get some painting done."
Blair stood there as Jim passed him and walked into the house. He couldn't believe he'd slept through Jim getting up, showering, and going outside, in the confines of that tiny house. Yet he had. Must have been the dream, he thought. I gotta shake this off. Blair followed Jim into the house and found the older man in the kitchen, taking out a pan from one of the boxes.
"Is there hot water?" Blair asked as he walked down the short hall to the bathroom.
Should be. Well, if there wasn't, he knew he had no one to blame but himself. How he had slept so late, he didn't know. The shower started off warm enough, but just in case, Blair made quick work out of his routine, settling for just one rinse of his hair, as he was going to have it pulled back all day anyway. When he got out and toweled off, the smell of eggs and coffee greeted him from the kitchen. The fire had long since gone out, and there was a morning chill in the house, so Blair added Jim's sweatshirt over his shirt when he dressed, then joined his partner in the kitchen for breakfast while standing at the counter. Jim seemed quiet this morning, and Blair found he had to keep up some small talk about the house and the view to keep from feeling uncomfortable. He'd seen Jim moody once before, when Jack's car had been discovered in the river, but never again since then. What on earth could be bothering him, Blair had no clue. But for the first time in a long time, he began to feel selfish for having been so moody himself. He was just working up the right way to ask Jim what was up when his partner looked at him and set his coffee cup down, rubbing both hands together and smiling slightly.
"Lets get to work."
"Painting?" Blair asked, raising his eyebrows.
Jim nodded. "Painting. I'll get the plastic from the truck."
Before Blair could comment, Jim left the house and walked out to the truck to retrieve not only the plastic, but several rolls of masking tape he had left out there. When he returned, he merely tossed Blair the tape and started to unroll a sheet of plastic. Blair caught the tape and started at one end of the living room, taping the wood trim as Jim had taught him in the loft. They each fell into a quick routine, laying out the plastic, taping up anything Jim didn't want to get paint on, then setting out the paint gallons, trays, and rollers. Blair took the roller and started on a wall, leaving Jim with a brush to do the follow up detail work. The house was so small, they had the living room and hallway done in less than an hour, and had moved into the bedroom. Neither one spoke as they continued their routine in the last room, and Blair found the silence both comforting, and unnerving. He enjoyed the fact that they could work on a project with such practiced ease as to warrant no questions. But at the same time, he was becoming more and more aware that Jim seemed to be thinking about something. Something he didn't want to talk about.
They finished with the bedroom in record time, so Blair set about removing the tape. When he reached the closet door he stopped, noticing the door trim pulling away from the frame. He was just about to mention it when Jim stepped over and took a look at the wood.
"Hold that there, I'll be right back." Jim pushed the trim back in place and held it until Blair put his hands up to hold the wood. He watched as Jim left, then turned around so he was standing inside the closet, facing out, and could hold the wood trim in place. Jim returned quickly with a large pneumatic hammer and plugged it into the wall socket next to the closet door.
"Just hold that still while I set it in place." Jim checked the hammer, then positioned it next to Blair's right hand. "Whaddaya think? Place cleans up pretty well."
Blair glanced around the room, nodding. "Not too bad. You aren't having a change of heart, are you Jim?"
"Nah, it's not worth the headache."
Blair nodded again, gazing at the fresh white paint glistening off the walls of the room. He heard, and felt, the hammer quickly set three nails in place near his right hand. Too near. He looked down quickly as Jim moved over to the left side, noticing the nails that had pierced his sweatshirt near the wrist, now holding his arm in place against the wood frame. "Jim!" Before he could react, three more nails were in place, securing his left wrist to the opposite side of the doorway. "What the hell?"
Jim stepped back and set the hammer down, nodding. "Now, you and I are going to have a talk."
"What are you doing?!" Blair tried to pull his arms free, but couldn't. He stared back at Jim who was standing several feet away, watching him.
"There are a few things we need to discuss, that's why I brought you out here. And neither one of us is leaving until we get this worked out."
"Get what worked out? Jim, there is nothing to work out. Just get these off." Blair pulled against the nails again, but couldn't budge either hand. Jim had pulled the sweatshirt tight, and set the nails close to each wrist, harmlessly but effectively pinning his hands in the sleeves.
Jim shook his head. "No, not until I get this over with."
"Get what over with?" Blair was beginning to worry, ever so slightly. "Jim, if you wanted to talk, we could have sat on the couch and talked."
"No, I don't think so." Jim replied, shaking his head and touching his chest. "Me, sure, I could sit on the couch and talk." He gestured then to Blair. "But you, you have this habit of taking a walk when things get hairy, and I need you to stay put. Besides, you've been sulking about something all week that you won't talk about, and I'm tired of it."
Blair sighed, rolling his eyes. "Fine. I'm staying put. Just what's so important, anyway?" Please, God, don't answer that question.
"That's what I'd like to know," Jim replied, raising both hands in the air. "What's been eating at you lately?"
Blair swallowed, shaking his head and shrugging as best he could with both sleeves nailed to the wall. "There's nothing bothering me, Jim, I'm fine."
Jim shook his head and gazed around the room. "Okay, fine. I'll go first."
Blair shifted on both feet and felt something inside tense up. He couldn't help but feel like a kid who was about to be told why he couldn't do whatever he wanted by an adult who thought if he explained the reasons, he'd understand. He looked up at Jim, and a part of his mind prepared to shut off at the first sign of trouble. "What's on your mind?" he asked, trying to sound casual.
"I told you I'd explain something a while back, and it's about time I did," Jim replied, standing in the middle of the room, looking Blair straight in the eyes. "When we came back from Peru, you asked me what happened. I wasn't ready to talk about it then because I wasn't sure if you were ready to hear it."
Jim paused, and Blair raised both eyebrows, "What do you mean, if I was ready?" Alarms began going off inside his head. Alarms that readied his nerves for the expected shut down he was tensing up for.
Jim looked thoughtful for a moment, glancing at the wall before turning back to Blair. "Before we left, before we heard about Simon and Daryl being lost, you told me you were leaving. Going to Borneo for a year."
Blair shook his head, "I said I was thinking about it." he corrected.
"Exactly," Jim replied. "You said you were thinking about it. Which to me meant you weren't taking this partnership seriously." He paused again, and Blair swallowed hard, but forced himself to maintain eye contact. "Before I had a chance to deal with that, we were on our way to Peru, and my Sentinel senses began to disappear. Then that panther showed up, and I started to think I was losing my mind all over again. It was just like when these senses first started coming out. I had no control, I had no idea what was going on, and no one to explain it to me." Jim began to pace the room just slightly, taking a few steps towards the wall, then back again. "And there it was, happening all over again. You were leaving, my senses were leaving...I didn't know what the hell was going on."
Blair listened, watching Jim pace back and forth. Old guilt began to blossom, pushing out thoughts of retreating into himself. He never thought Jim would have equated the loss of his Sentinel abilities with the idea of him leaving. Just as he had never thought Jim would be so interested in having him stay. Or, that someone could be so concerned about his emotional well-being as to resort to physical restraint in order to make him open up. Blair wasn't used to someone wanting him around permanently, and he still wasn't used to it. Jim's views on stability and dependability baffled him. It was a view of life that he hadn't seen before, and he found himself fascinated by it. Intrigued by it. And strangely attracted to it.
"But your senses came back."
Jim nodded, and stopped pacing. "Yes, they did. But I had to make a choice. It was going to be all or nothing. He said it would require my soul."
"He?" Blair asked suddenly. "Who?"
Jim shook his head. "I can't explain it, not very well." he said.
"Well try, Jim," Blair insisted. He'd told Jim to follow a panther. Who had he found? Oh God, was it...?
"I followed the panther, like you said, only when I caught up to him, or rather he let me catch up to him, he sort of..." Jim hesitated, then shook his head. "He turned into a man."
Jim stopped and looked up, as if he expected criticism. Blair nodded, slowly, trying to take it all in. "Yeah? Then what?"
Jim shook his head again and made a face, turning to pace a little again. "He said something about how my abilities were a test, and taking them away from me was a way to force me to make a choice. I could either go on, back to life as a normal man, with no Sentinel senses, or go forward, and commit to them completely." He paused again, glancing at Blair.
"And?" Blair asked, urging Jim to go on. His mind was racing with possibilities, but no clear vision of what had happened.
"And I hesitated."
"Why?" Blair asked quietly.
"Because, I couldn't take that step alone. And I still thought you were leaving." Jim looked thoughtfully at Blair and slapped one hand into the other, then rubbed the back of his hand. "And I couldn't make that commitment for you. I didn't have the right."
Jim stopped and Blair furrowed his brow, confused. "For me? Jim, what commitment? What are you saying?"
"I'm saying, Chief, that I can't control these senses without you. The reason I seem in control is because you and I are working so well together. I wasn't too sure about this Guide business at first, but then I realized, the only way I can keep pace with these senses, is when you're around." Jim stopped again and shrugged a little, trying to find words for something he was having trouble explaining. "Is any of this making sense to you?"
Blair was quiet for a moment as he tried to digest what his partner was saying. It was sinking in, slowly, but he needed to be sure. "So, you're saying...you need me?"
Jim laughed a little, shaking his head and glancing at the ceiling with a slightly incredulous look on his face. "Didn't you tell me every Sentinel needed a Guide? Look, Chief, I didn't realize what I was getting into when this whole sensory thing took over, but you did. Now, I have to admit, the thought of having you around wasn't my idea of a good time, at first." Blair rolled his eyes and made a face, and Jim chuckled. "But I'm willing to admit I was wrong about you. You really knew what you were talking about. And with you around, these senses seemed to fall into place." He got serious again and faced Blair. "But, when you said you were leaving, my senses left, too. I had to realize it was no coincidence."
Jim paused again and Blair looked at the ground. The implications were both flattering and frightening. But, if Jim had that kind of faith in him, a man who took trust and commitment so seriously, maybe Blair should too. "I don't know what to say."
"Well, that's a first," Jim said, smiling with that sideways grin he used when he felt he had just gained the upper hand. "Listen, I made a commitment that day, to stick with this whole Sentinel thing. I knew I couldn't do it if you left, but something inside said maybe you wouldn't. Maybe you'd see the value of what we've got going here and stick around." Blair raised his eyebrows and nodded slowly. "Either that, or I could chain you in the basement until you saw the light." Blair rolled his eyes again and Jim laughed. "Now, the reason I didn't want to talk about his when we got back was because I didn't think I had to. You said you were staying, and everything was working out just fine."
"Sure, Jim, but..."
"But what? It's about Simon isn't it? That's what's been bugging you? Worried that Simon is going to kick you out or something?"
Blair glanced around the room, sheepishly nodding. His worries seemed so unfounded now, in light of what Jim had said. "Yeah, sort of. I mean, he's going to one of these days, isn't he?"
Jim shrugged, "I don't know. But when he does, IF he does, we'll deal with it. Listen, Chief, Simon doesn't understand that the reason I'm in control of this Sentinel stuff is because you're around. Hell, he doesn't understand much of this at all. But we've got a good partnership going here, and I'm bound and determined not to lose it. Sure, I used to work alone. But I also used to be in Special Forces. Things change, Sandburg. People change. I could no more go back to being the man I was than you could join the police academy." He stepped closer and held up both hands. "So, are we okay now? No more worries? No more anxiety attacks?"
Blair laughed a little then, "Hey, no promises. I thrive on anxiety attacks, man." He shook his head and Jim rolled his eyes, putting on his best I'll-never-understand-you face. "I just...had a moment of insecurity, I suppose."
"More like a week or two."
"Okay, maybe a week or two." Blair shifted again, his nailed sleeves completely forgotten. "Listen, I panic now and then, no big deal."
"No, Chief, it is a big deal. There's nothing to panic about. As long as you understand that this Guide business is a permanent job."
Blair laughed again lightly. "Yeah, well, if you think you can stand me that long..."
"Hey, I'm your Blessed Protector, remember? It's my job to keep an eye on you for the rest of your life." Jim grinned, glancing around. He seemed to spot something at the far end of the room and stepped over to the wall.
Blair looked back at his shirt, assuming Jim was going for the hammer to pull out the nails. When he looked up, Jim was standing in front of him, paint brush in hand. "Oh, Jim. No way man. Not again." He tugged at both sleeves but couldn't free either. "Jim..." He was standing there, smiling with that same damn sideways, big-brother grin. It was a smile that spoke volumes regarding Jim's frame of mind. That, and the paint, spelled trouble for Blair.
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