Author's Notes: I'm really not sure about this one. At the very least, I claim the right to rework it someday. Until then, thanks to Helles for the beta and to Starfox for insightful comments, giving my stories a home, and generally being wonderful!
Warnings: After TSbyBS. Coarse language.
'I'm in hell.'
Earlier it had seemed an almost bearable loss, like missing the sun on a cloudy day. Now his whole body hurt; his sense of loss having increased until it felt like oxygen he was missing, and not...
There was no scent of him in the office. No fingerprints on the files, no lingering warmth on the corner of the desk or the chair where he would have sat. No taste of some fruity, tree-hugger tea lingering in the air, no sound of him chattering, always talking, fidgeting perpetual-motion beside him. Beside him, no voice.
In the cacophonous office, there was not one thing he wanted to sense. Rafe was joking with Brown, laughing at his own asinine attempt at a joke, and Conner was wearing a new perfume that stank of alcohol. Speaking of stench: the sickening waft of well-gummed cigar pressed on his sinuses like depression. Driving like a nail into his skull, the steady click of Rhonda's nails on her keyboard shoved him toward madness. He was drenched in the cloying stickiness of human humidity, the exhalations and excretions of people in close quarters; he had the sudden urge to scrub his skin down to blood...
Anything to remove the constant clinging filth of humanity from his body, block out the reek and clangor of it all.
Jim stood abruptly and lunged for the door, never noticing the quick scattering of coworkers to let Hurricane Ellison pass. No one to intercede for him now, to apologize and smooth over. No one to guide him. Nothing but the rapidly fading sound of murmured complaints as he strode out of Major Crimes and made his way to his truck.
'Home. It wouldn't hurt so much...it couldn't. At home there'll be...something. Home, just get me home, let me go home. Just let this be over, let it be...let it not be.'
He ran up the stairs to the loft, and it was okay that there was no sign here because these were the stairs, everyone used them, no reason for there to be, but in the loft...in the loft there should be, and he closed the door behind him, leaning against it as if he had been running from something instead of to it.
The loft was quiet. He could faintly hear the hum of the refrigerator, vaguely smell the bacon he had eaten for breakfast, but there was no...
'Dear god, even here--nothing.' He looked around, taking in the sight of the ceremonial masks and brightly woven wall-hangings. But the visual cues he was most hoping for, desperately searching for...no long bright hairs clinging, curling, catching the light in the corner of his eye, no faint heat-residue in the infrared spectrum from a recent human presence. No scent of skin and hair. But hell was again created and continued by the aching emptiness of sound. No breathing, no muttering, no movement, no voice.
Jim knew he was approaching a dangerous state; he felt his heartbeat speed up, the sharp edge of panic tainting his breathing. He could feel the adrenaline pumping through his system, leading his reactions, forcing his senses. Reach out, searching, something, taste, scent, sight, touch, sound, footsteps, behind...footsteps, Behind you, Sentinel!
He spun around with a half-feral snarl, knocking the man behind him backwards into the wall. He pressed his prey against the cool plaster, careful not to dig in his fingers although the temptation was almost overwhelming. The temptation to reach in, to touch bone and blood, to feel...
And smell the scent of nervous sweat, not yet tinged with fear, but close. See the blue eyes widen, the anxious lick of the lips. Hear, god yes, beneath the babbling, beneath the questions and exclamations, the heartbeat. Beating fast, but strong, sure, perfect smoothsoft rounded edges of sound, the beat echoing lushly in the chambers of the heart, through the cavern of ribs and chest, muffled and enriched by layers of muscle and skin. That first of all human reassurances, mother to child, life to life. He wanted to hear it without the overlapping sounds--yapping!--so he tightened his grip slightly, shaking his burden...but gently.
The chatter obligingly ceased. Jim rewarded the response by loosening his grip again, letting go but maintaining contact, stroking his fingers lightly, in two-inch lengths, across the well-worn cotton over the wide shoulders, strong sturdy arms. He stepped in closer, replacing one form of physical intimidation with another.
"I don't want to do this, Sandburg."
A quick gasp of breath was his warning of impending lecture, and he raised his hands--gently--to the shoulders again, in warning. The lecture died unborn.
he leaned in
hands moving now inwards
thumbs trailing delicately over collarbones
and now fingertips brushing with butterfly sensitivity over the pulsepoints of the throat
The last word was emphasized so that it almost required physical punctuation, but Jim refrained. There was no scent of fear from the man he held, and he could not bear it if that changed as a result of his tenuously controlled actions.
Leaning in the last few inches, he rested his forehead gently against his guide's shoulder. "Please, Chief. No more."
"Oh, man." Whisper soft words tickled his neck. "No, I promise, man. What's wrong? We'll fix it, whatever it is, but what?"
"The test." Jim felt the pulse beneath his fingers jump.
"Ah, Jim. Damn it. It wasn't supposed to...if it got bad, why didn't you just stop it? It was just a stupid test, for god's sake. Not some sort of...trial."
"I don't want to test that again."
"No, man. Don't worry. This was a bad idea, and we are not going to repeat it. Stupid--I guess I never thought how difficult it would be to block out a single source of sensory input...I wanted to see if you could do it, in case there was something specific you needed to tune out-and hey, Iím the obvious choice, since Iím following you around again like I did back in the beginning--but I just didn't think about how it would affect everything else. Did everything else get more to compen--never mind, weíll deal with that later. I'm so sorry, Jim--are you okay? Do we need to work on your senses now? I can't believe I was so thoughtless--"
"Not that." Jim stepped away. "Don't do that, Chief. You know you do a great job. Don't second-guess it, run yourself down..." he trailed off, rubbing a hand reflexively over his face as he sighed. "It was a good idea. I should be able to do that. But it was..."
Blair had followed him back towards the couch. "What, Jim?"
"It was like losing everything."
"Everything meaning...? You felt like you were losing your senses? Even when you were only blocking one thing?"
"Sure. Whatever. Look, Sandburg, could we just drop this?"
Interpreting the fleeting silence that followed, Jim resigned himself to the fact that there was no way they were dropping this. Blair took a deep breath, held it for a very obvious count of ten, and then calmly moved to sit on the couch at the opposite end from Jim.
When he spoke, his voice resonated with the kind of studied calm you find among bomb-squads and soldiers who have just pulled the pin.
"Jim, you've got to work with me here at least a little. I mean, I'm working for this, right? I'm trying to figure out what's going on, that's my job, right? I've been through anxiety and regret and confusion in the last five minutes alone, so maybe you can consider my emotional down-payment to be made here, man, and spare me any more shit!"
Sitting through this conversation was obviously not a viable option, and Blair scrambled off the couch to relieve his ire with some brisk pacing. "This was a simple test, Jim, one which we agreed had a definite and useful purpose. You spent the day being an absolute ass to me and gradually becoming more and more obnoxious to our coworkers...until, of course, you stormed out of the office, leaving me behind and scaring me to death."
He stopped in front of his partner, who seemed to be paying at least token attention to his tirade. "You have no idea what kind of inspired obfuscation I had to lay on Simon to cover your sorry self. So now that we've revisited old times by throwing the punk up against the wall, maybe we can--Jim?"
Jim thought distractedly that it was helpful that his guide was at least as adept at reading his silences as his speech. At the sight of the muscle that jumped as he gritted his teeth, Blair sat back down next to him and laid a hand on his knee.
"No...no Jim. Not like that. I know you don't mean it, and you never hurt me. Could never hurt me; no one could ever make me believe it. Not--I'm not freaked about that. Just...Jim, you could have quit the test, you know? Tell me it's causing you trouble, and we can figure out another way of doing this, sometime when you're not under stress. But we're partners now, man, for real...plus, I need to know this stuff on a guide/shaman, gonna-kick-your-ass-for-keeping-secrets level, too."
He waited and obviously read at least some attention into Jim's silence. "I let you get away with way too much, Jim, when I shouldn't have, when keeping things from me as your guide could have gotten us both killed," he gripped Jim's wrist to forestall the automatic reaction. "And maybe I didn't feel like I had the right to pry, but I needed to then and I need to now...I'm not going to get into a whole discussion on trust and partnership now, man, 'cause you're way too stressed to listen. But I do need to know what's going on right now. Why did you keep going with something that was causing you that much trouble? I just figured you were having a rotten day, it was that time of the month for Sentinels, you know?"
Grimacing briefly, Jim batted him on the head. "Bite your politically incorrect tongue, Sandburg...I don't want to clean up what Conner would leave if she hears that kind of crap."
They shared a grin, the atmosphere still strained but with the tight knot of conflict unraveling slightly.
"I didn't want to quit."
Blair waited for a moment, hoping that wasn't the extent of Jim's explanation. A long pause later, he gave up and prompted, "What, is this some kind of ranger thing? Quitters never win? 'Never give up, never surrender!'?"
Jim smiled at the quote. "Didn't want to admit to myself that I couldn't." He waited, knowing that Blair would help him by pushing him just that little bit further to revelation.
But Blair just sighed. "Okay. So we'll work on it till you can--don't worry, not tonight! Tonight we're going to order in pizza and veg out, okay? I think after today we need that."
As Blair stood up to go over to the phone, Jim almost called him back. Surely they weren't done...sure Blair could see that there was more here...
But Blair was ordering a large meat-lover's, which was an apology. And Jim didn't quite know why Blair was apologizing--couldn't he see that Jim was still lying to himself and to him?
'Of course, if I realize I'm lying to myself, I'm pretty damn close to telling myself the truth, aren't I?'
So Jim accepted the misplaced apology along with a beer. And he laughed when Blair told him to eat, build his strength up, because all of Major Crimes was going to be lining up to kick his ass tomorrow. And throughout the game, he tried desperately to repress what he had finally admitted to himself.
He thought back to Blair's original statement: "You know, man, this'll be a good practice run, in case there's something that's interfering with your senses--something you have to work around. Plus, itís a good reminder that you can handle this if I'm not around."
And he wondered how long it would take for Sandburg to realize the truth that was now so sentinel-clear. That Jim wasn't going to be doing this alone. That he couldn't.
The gift came and left with the guide.
And wasn't that a shitload of guilt to lay on a friend.
He sighed, and Blair glanced up from his third slice. "Okay, man?"
He looked at his guide, eating pizza cross-legged on the couch, breaking all the rules. Intruding on his life, changing his home and his ways.
And he smiled. "Better than good, Chief." Blair smiled fondly in return, and Jim was forced to add, "You're right. The water's fine."
Blair's eyes widened, and he froze for a long moment. Then he nodded. "All right, then." Slowly, sweetly, a look of pure relief crossed his face. "Good."
Better than good.
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