by Josephine Darcy

Rafe and Officer Janette Laurence announced their engagement late afternoon in the bull pen. It wasn't entirely unexpected--the two of them had been dating for a while--but it still caught all Rafe's friends off guard. Congratulations were abundant, and Simon invited the two of them and all off duty officers down to the local Pub for a drink to celebrate.

Jim, just coming off a long boring afternoon of paperwork, was grateful for the reprieve. He followed the rest of his co-workers down to the pub with enthusiasm. Once there, he excused himself from the group to call Blair, hoping to catch the young teaching fellow during a break in the chaos of end-of-the-year finals. He wanted the young man to join them at the pub--knew he'd be disappointed at missing the party.

"Hey Blair," Jim greeted when the young man answered his office phone.

"Jim! Hey man, what's up? You okay?" Blair sounded concerned and even over the phone Jim could hear his slightly accelerated heart rate. He could also hear the shuffling of other people in the room.

"I'm fine, Chief," Jim smiled, warmed by his Guide's concern. "Rafe and Janette announced their engagement today. We're having a drink down at the pub. I thought maybe you'd like to join us."

"Oh, man, that's great, Jim! I wish I could," Blair replied and Jim could clearly picture the smile that would be lighting up his Guide's expressive face. "But I have an office full of students with me. I'll be lucky if I'm out of here by midnight."

"Don't let them keep you too late, Chief," Jim told him good-naturedly, despite the fact that he was disappointed that Blair couldn't join them. He missed the kid when he was so caught up in his school life like this.

"I'll try to get home at a decent hour," Blair assured him. "Give my best to Rafe and Janette. That's so cool for them!"

They said good bye and hung up. As Jim returned to the bar he found himself thinking about the kid. Three years ago he probably wouldn't have even come to the party himself--now not only was he here, he was disappointed that Blair was not present. He'd come a long way from thinking Blair was some neo-hippie witch-doctor punk. But then the kid had grown on him rather quickly.

Several people asked where "Hairboy" was as he returned to the party, and he realized he wasn't the only one who missed the kid. Seemed he'd grown on a lot of people. He gave them all Blair's apology and heartfelt congratulations to Rafe and Janette.

Simon handed Jim a glass of champagne, and they all toasted the happy couple in between cheerful ribbing. In a rather contemplative mood, Jim found himself listening in on various conversations, drifting from topic to topic rather than joining in himself.

It was Rafe and Brown who caught his attention finally.

"So what made you do it?" Brown asked Rafe. "What made you pop the question?"

"Just a realization, I guess," Rafe shrugged. "You know--that my life would be so much better with her than without her."

"How so?" Brown asked in amusement. "No more hanging out with the guys, no more wild parties, no more carefree bachelor days."

"Yeah, like I was a party animal before all this," Rafe snorted in amusement. "No, I'm serious. A little while ago, Janette told me she was having some work done on her house, and she needed to find someplace else to say. So I let her move in with me for a week. She was only there for a short time, but in that time she managed to turn my apartment into a home."

"Domestic, huh?" Brown asked.

But Rafe shook his head. "No, not like that. No Suzy-Homemaker or anything. Actually we're both pretty sloppy when it comes to cleaning, and truthfully I love to cook. It was something different. It's about coming home at the end of the day to someone who welcomes you--someone who wants to share your day with you. Or having someone you can just do nothing with and still feel like you've accomplished something. In any event, when she left, everything just felt kind of empty, and I realized I didn't want to go home to an empty place every night for the rest of my life. I mean what's the point in doing anything if there's no one there at the end of the day to tell about it. It's like she validates my life."

"Well, jeez man, get a dog," Brown told him. "That's not really a reason to get married.'

Rafe frowned. "I'm not really explaining this right. It's not about just anyone--it's her, you know. I mean I tried inviting people over, hanging out with other friends and family and stuff, but it wasn't the same. They didn't make the place feel like home. Only she did. You know?"

"You sound like a romantic," Brown teased, but he seemed to accept Rafe's explanation and they drifted off into another topic.

Jim frowned, thinking about Rafe's words. He was right--so many cops went home to empty apartments. They ended up throwing all their attention into their jobs and having nothing left of a private life. He had been no different--after Carolyn had left him, he only went home to sleep and change his clothes.

Come to think of it, even while he'd been married to Carolyn that had been typical for him. One of the reasons his marriage had broken up.

His house growing up hadn't felt like a home; the military had never felt like home--but then it wasn't supposed to. And life after Peru had been one long feeling of discontentment. . . he had never felt like he belonged anywhere. He had hated going home. Hated wandering around his empty loft, trying to find something to distract him from the nothingness around him. And with Carolyn, he'd avoiding going home to distract him from the lack of connection with her. Oddly enough having her in his house had made the place feel even more empty.

It had always been that way---at least until. . . Blair.

Jim sipped his champagne thoughtfully as he pictured his Guide in his mind. He hadn't really noticed before, but Blair had changed his entire life. Truth was because of Blair, he now *had* a life. And he realized that everything Rafe had said about Janette applied equally to Blair. Blair made the loft a home, gave him a place to return to everyday where he felt wanted and needed. Blair made him feel loved. . . .

That thought caught him off guard. Loved? Cared for---yes; but loved?

He thought about his recent fishing trip alone and about how Blair and Simon had followed him. He'd told both men he loved them--maybe not the most 'guyish' thing to do, but the sentiment had been understood. They were all friends; they cared about each other. Nothing terribly shocking in that revelation.

But he wondered now if maybe there might be more with Blair. Blair was everything to him that Rafe had just said Janette was to him, and Rafe was marrying Janette. Of course, he reasoned, in that relationship Janette loved Rafe right back. Not that he thought Blair didn't love him--of course he did. They were best friends. But still. . .

He glanced over at Rafe again. Janette had moved to his side, and the two of them were standing very close together, frequently touching. Well, that's the difference of course, Jim smiled. The touching.

Unbidden the memories of all the times he'd touched Blair sprang to mind. He touched him a lot--patting his shoulder, nudging his arm, clasping his hand, stroking his hair.

Stroking his hair? My God, thought Jim in shock, he knew exactly what Blair's hair felt like. Which meant he had in fact touched it on one or more occasions. He didn't know what Simon's hair felt like--but Blair, no question at all.

Okay, so he did touch him. But that didn't mean anything. There also had to be a certain sense of aesthetics involved in a relationship like Rafe's and Janette's, an appreciation of beauty--and lastly a sexual attraction.

He breathed a sigh of . . . not exactly relief, but more a sense of order. Everything in its place.

He grinned to himself in amusement, thinking Blair would laugh his ass off if he knew the direction his thoughts had momentarily just gone. He wondered what his Guide was doing at that moment. Probably talking a mile a minute, his expressive face lighting up the room. No one could brighten a room like Blair could. He was easily the most captivating person Jim had ever known. Sometimes he found himself just staring at the kid, held in zone-bordering fascination by the way he talked and moved, the way those soulful blue eyes of his filled with emotion, the way his full elegant lips formed words sprung from a mind more complicated than any he'd ever known. Once or twice he'd even found himself slipping into a full zone-out when his eyes had been caught by the shimmering of light on his Guide's sable curls, and he. . .

Jim frowned at that training of thought. Wait a minute, he exclaimed in silent shock. Captivating? He found Blair captivating? Hell, women were supposed to be captivating. . .you might find your friends interesting; but captivation was something far better reserved for a date. And yet. . .

No, he shook his head. Didn't necessarily mean anything. Okay maybe that sense of aesthetics he'd been thinking about earlier did apply to Blair--no sense in denying it. Blair was one interesting and very beautiful man. Most people, male or female, would admit to that. But then there was a number of movie stars Jim could probably say the same thing about.

So aesthetics didn't have to mean anything at all--not without the sexual awareness--and that wasn't going to happen. They were both straight. Never mind the fact that there was something about the kid's mouth and the soft fullness of those elegantly shaped lips that Jim found somehow. . .seductive. If Blair were a woman he'd jump the kid's bones in a second.

Jim nearly choked on his champagne. What in hell was he thinking? He liked Simon too, but he wouldn't even in his most bizarre of dreams imagine what he would or would not do if Simon were female. But for some reason he couldn't quite fathom, with Blair the gender lines were blurred.

"Something wrong, Jim?" Simon's voice broke through Jim's reverie. He looked up to find his captain watching him in concern. "You zoning out there?"

Jim shook his head. "No, Simon. I was just thinking."

"About what?"

"Rafe and Janette," Jim explained. "Marriage. What makes it work."

"Heavy subject," Simon grimaced. "I sometimes wonder if cops are cut out for it."

"Sure they are, Simon," Jim reasoned. "Lots of cops are successfully married. Just because both of our marriages didn't work out, doesn't mean others won't."

"Yeah, I suppose you're right," Simon nodded wistfully. "I think about what went wrong with mine a lot."

"And?" Jim pressed, curious about what Simon thought had gone wrong with him and Joan.

"We weren't friends," Simon explained with a shrug. "When it comes right down to it, your wife has to be your best friend. And ultimately Joan and I just didn't have anything in common."

"You think that's what it takes to make a marriage work?" Jim asked. "Friendship?"

Simon nodded. "Friendship, and love of course. If you're not in love then there's no point after all."

Which of course had been his problem with Carolyn. They had the friendship part down just find. But somehow he'd managed to mistake attraction for love. In the end there had been no mistaking the fact that he had never really loved her--he'd never even come close to feeling the all consuming affection, protection, and heart-felt need for Carolyn that he felt for his Guide. And the comparison seriously disturbed him. Carolyn belonged in the girlfriend/wife category--Blair belonged in the friend category. And male friends were not supposed to cross that line.

"So Simon," Jim began, attempting note of levity in his voice. "If you were to meet someone right now who was beautiful and intelligent, someone you could be best friends with, someone who understood you better than you do yourself, and someone you loved more than anyone else in the world, what would you do?"

"Hell, Jim," Simon laughed. "If I met someone like that, I'd marry her in a second. She sounds wonderful. Anyone I know?"

Jim just shrugged. "Just a hypothetical question, Simon." Mostly hypothetical in any event, since the person in question wasn't a 'her'. Baring that, Blair would be the perfect mate.

And if the gender didn't matter, Jim asked himself. If there were sexual attraction between them, something neither vague nor ambiguous, what would that mean? The idea was at once terrifying and wonderful.

"Sure would be nice, wouldn't it?" Simon mused quietly.

It took Jim a moment to realize Simon was talking about his hypothetical female. He nodded in agreement. Yeah, he though to himself. It would be nice to no longer be alone. Blair was there for him now, in his house, his life, supporting him with all the Sentinel nonsense he went through, and as his friend. The kid made his heart glad--always had--but for the first time in the three years he'd known him he was beginning to realize that he still wanted more. He wanted someone in his heart, someone he could love who would love him in return. Someone to claim his soul. And male or female, he was beginning to think that maybe his soul believed that someone was Blair Sandburg.

He congratulated Rafe and Janette one last time, trying hard not to notice that the easy camaraderie between the two of them was very similar to the camaraderie between him and Blair. Then he headed home to the loft, caught up in a quiet introspective mood that made him poor company.

He tried to imagine it; God knew he and Blair already spent all their free time together. They enjoyed each other's company. But he certainly couldn't imagine himself buying flowers and candied hearts for Blair, or going out dancing with him--hell, who would lead?

He snorted at the thought, amused. He would argue that he was bigger, more dominate, definitely the alpha male. Blair would argue that he was the Guide, quicker, smaller, and a hell of a lot better on the dance floor. Jim would argue that the younger generation just didn't know how to dance any more. Blair would point out that you couldn't waltz to Santana.

Jim found himself laughing at the notion. Besides it was a silly idea anyway--truth was he couldn't remember the last time he'd even asked a woman out dancing. Most of his dates with women consisted of dinner and a movie. And he and Blair did that nearly every weekend. So ultimately he was avoiding the real issue here. It wasn't the flowers or the candies or the dancing he had a problem with--it was the sex. He couldn't imagine ever having sex with Blair.



He couldn't, could he?

Jim frowned. That was the whole point of this little mental exercise, he told himself. To attempt the imagining just to prove to himself once and for all that he couldn't possibly be in love with his Guide. Love, yes. . . no question there. *In* love. . . not a snowball's chance in Hell.

Of course, El Nino being what it was, global climate changes and all, who knew what sort of chances a snowball might currently have in Hell?

"Shit," Jim cursed as he pulled his truck into the parking lot. As Blair would say, "This is *so* not happening!"

He locked up the truck and then took the stairs to the loft, reaching out his senses, instinctively looking for Blair. He found the place empty, however, and he took out the sharp stab of disappointment and examined it carefully. Yep, he sighed, he missed the kid when he wasn't there. No denying that.

He tossed his keys in the basket and then went to the kitchen for a beer. Then seating himself on the couch, he attempted a brief--very brief, he promised himself--exercise in creative visualization.

Sex with Blair.

Hell, he didn't even know where to begin. What did two guys do together anyway?

"Why am I even thinking about this!" Jim exclaimed, rising swiftly to his feet and pacing restlessly around the loft. It had been a stupid idea to begin with. It just wasn't going to happen.

Of course maybe he was trying too hard. Sex between two guys wasn't really the issue. This was about Blair, discounting anything more. He already enjoyed his Guide's physical presence.

He smiled, inhaling deeply as he sifted out the scents in the room. Blair's scent permeated everything here--a subtle mixture of spice and earthy exoticism. There was something alluring about that scent; it grounded him, warmed him, gave him a sense of peace and belonging. It smelled like home.

It was all a matter of senses, he supposed--just more than he was used to, an abundance of sensation. Well, smell was not a problem. He loved the way Blair smelled. Sight--he'd already determined he found Blair aesthetically pleasing. Sound--no problem there either; Blair's voice was his anchor in reality, a melding of music only a Sentinel could fully appreciate.

Which of course left taste and touch, and that's where the whole sex thing became a problem. Sure they touched--a lot now that he thought about it--but not sexually. And taste hardly applied--though scent definitely was close enough when you were a Sentinel. Still both implied at the very least kissing. And at that thought, Blair's enchanting face sprang to mind. Those full luscious lips--what would it be like to touch them, taste them, or feel them move against his own?

He closed his eyes, imaging what it would feel like, the heat of his Guide pressed against him, that ever-moving mouth silent now as he tasted those lips, silk against silk, taking that spiced scent into himself, feeling the powerful pulse of his heartbeat. And the sound--God, the sound--the catch of breath, a soft moan, the whisper of a name turned to fire in a moment of passion.

The idea slammed through Jim with such force it nearly knocked him off his feet. He found himself trembling, his heart pounding, his skin flushed, his body aching for a phantom touch, his cock growing hard and hot and heavy. He gasped in shock, fighting to shake off the grip of sudden and unexpected desire---desire which left him with but one unmistakable conclusion. He really was in love with his Guide.

Jim sank down on to the couch in shock, breathing hard as he fought to control his body's reaction to the fantasy. Impossible! This couldn't be happening? He wanted Blair. . .wanted him sexually? No. . it couldn't be. . .but once unleashed, the images just did not want to go away. They took on a life of their own. . .kissing Blair, touching him, seeing that dear, beloved face wanton with desire.

Hunger raged through him, need spiking his sense off the chart as he searched for some source of relief in the empty apartment. All he could find was Blair's scent, and without knowing how it happened, he found himself in Blair's room, clutching Blair's pillow to his face as he breathed in deep gasps filled with his Guide's seductive scent.

He recognized the start of a zone out, and he shuddered and trembled, fighting to come out of it. Painfully, he forced his hands to release the pillow, forced his legs to carry him out of the bedroom. He went then to the bathroom and stripped off his clothes, climbing swiftly into the shower. Cold water hit him full in the face, making him yelp in shock, but it did the trick. It washed away the scent clinging to him, doused the fever in his body, and gave him a chance to catch his breath and control his imagination.

"Damndamndamndamn," he whispered over and over again, only barely resisting pounding his head against the tile wall--mostly because he didn't want to have to explain to Blair why he had a bruise on his forehead.

"What in hell did I just do?" he cursed. He felt like he'd released a genie from its bottle, and he wasn't certain how to put it back in now. Somehow his quiet, simple realization that his relationship with Blair was similar to Rafe's and Janette's had quickly gotten totally out of hand. And he didn't have a clue what he was going to do about it.

Two hours later he wasn't any closer to figuring it out. He'd ordered Chinese food for dinner, and had spent the rest of the evening parked in front of the television set watching old movies as he tried to keep himself from thinking too hard about what had happened earlier. He didn't have a plan of attack, didn't have a plan of retreat either--he was just going to not think about it for as long as he possibly could. Blair, he was certain, would handle something like this so much better than he did. . .but then that was part of the problem. He and Blair complimented each other far too well. . .and this wasn't something he was willing to share with his Guide at the moment.

He heard Blair's car pull up outside, and the instinctively reached out with his senses to cling to something of Blair's. Maybe he couldn't taste him, but he could smell him. And maybe he couldn't feel Blair's heartbeat pounding against his own flesh. . .but he could listen to it. The soothing cadence was almost enough, and he found his own heart pounding with sudden nervousness. He wondered if Blair would know, if he would sense a change in Jim and call him on it. And what would happen if he did. . .what would Blair do? What would Blair say?

It occurred to him suddenly, that his own epiphanies aside, .none of this would really matter as far as Blair was concerned. Blair was one hundred percent heterosexual. . .a virtual babe-magnet. And he probably wouldn't appreciate finding out that his aging, anal-retentive, cop roommate was fantasizing about him. The shock of the discovery was suddenly dampened by the very real fear of total rejection.

Blair entered the loft, tossing his keys in the basket. "Hey, Jim!" he greeted with a smile, his bouncy enthusiasm somewhat dimmed by the sheer exhaustion on his face. "How was the party?"

And to Jim's utter relief, words came easy to him. "Good," he replied. "Rafe and Janette looked really happy. I think they'll be good together." He didn't bother adding that he thought two other people might be rather good together as well.

Blair smiled, and the sheer beauty of the man sliced through Jim's heart, bringing back not just passion, but longing--something he had no defense against. How could he want something so badly that three hours ago he hadn't even conceived of? Maybe, he whispered to himself, because he'd wanted it a lot longer than three hours? Every single aspect of his relationship with Blair had been about needing the young man, wanting him, keeping him close. He wondered now why he'd never really explored too closely his decision to let him live here in the loft for so long? One week, he'd told the kid when he'd first requested the arrangement. . .it had been the quickest damned week that he'd ever experienced, and he never wanted it to end.

And now, because he'd looked too deeply, explored too sharply his own reasons behind letting the kid stay with him, he was left with this whole unrequited love thing that he was fairly certain was going to drive him to distraction. And he had no one to blame but himself.

And Rafe.

Yeah, he could definitely blame Rafe. . .if Rafe hadn't gotten himself engaged to Janette. . .if he hadn't decided to 'open up' to Brown and discuss his private life none of this ever would have happened! Private lives were supposed to stay. . .well. . .private. And having a private conversation about a private relationship with your closest friend while there was a snooping Sentinel around just wasn't something Jim could easily forgive Rafe for. . .and damn, Blair looked good in that burgundy sweater.

"How is school going?" Jim asked.

Blair grabbed a beer from the fridge. "I have a stack of blue books on my desk at the office that need to be graded by tomorrow afternoon--and I've still got to give one final tomorrow morning. I just came home to grab a shower and a couple hours sleep. I'll head back to the office later on and get it all done early this morning. . .or at least that's the plan. Either way, it all has to be finished by tomorrow at five."

"And then you're done for the semester?" Jim asked, trying not to sound so anxious at the idea of having his Guide's attention all to himself. He had always disliked sharing Blair with the university.

Blair dropped exhaustedly down onto the couch beside Jim. "Yep," he agreed with a grin. "Then I'll be all yours."

The words hit Jim in a most unexpected manner, and he found himself growing hard with arousal. He got quickly up off the couch, putting some distance between the two of them. He strode over to the balcony doors, distracting himself with the sight of the night's sky.

"Something wrong, Jim?" Blair asked uncertainly, and Jim hated the sound of disappointment in Blair's voice. He'd obviously been expecting a more enthusiastic response to his joke.

"No, nothing's wrong," he said quickly. "I mean, that's great, Chief. Why don't we go celebrate?"

"Celebrate?" Blair's voice picked up, and without turning Jim knew he was smiling.

"Sure," Jim nodded, risking one glance over his shoulder at the young man. "After you're all done tomorrow, we'll go out to dinner. My treat. I'll take you someplace really nice." Great, he told himself in disgust, he'd just asked his roommate out on date! Of course, he doubted Blair would see it like that, and the disappointment flaring within him was irritating to say the least.

"Cool," Blair breathed. "Thanks, man, That would be fun!" And the matter was settled when Blair yawned loudly. "I better grab that shower and get to sleep."

"Good night, Blair," Jim nodded, watching wistfully as the young man headed off toward the bathroom. He still didn't want to think about what was going on in his crazy head, but he was beginning to wonder seriously just what he was going to do about all this.

Eight o'clock the following evening, the two of them were seated at a window table in a five star restaurant. Making a decision to treat this, at least in his own mind, as a date, Jim had made reservations at the most expensive restaurant he could afford. On hearing the name, Blair had reacted with delight--and had fallen into the spirit of the evening by getting dressed to the nines. He'd come home that evening with a new, dark blue silk shirt that had quite taken Jim's breath away when he'd seen it on his Guide. The color brought out the deep blue of Blair's eyes, and the sparkle in them kept distracting Jim all night.

They fell immediately into their typical good-natured bantering--arguing over first who would do the actual driving to the restaurant. Jim had won. . . mostly because Blair's car was acting up and Jim rarely let anyone drive his truck. Then they'd argued over what wine to order. . .Jim had conceded that point to Blair's good taste. . .again because he was the one driving and wouldn't be drinking much, and he saw a bit of an advantage in the possibility of getting his friend somewhat drunk.

They teased and joked over a fantastic meal, Blair as usual carrying the bulk of the conversation as he chatted about various stories from his vast repertoire. It wasn't the first time the two of them had spent an evening together like this--but it was the first time Jim had pictured it in regards to a date. He'd been so stupid not to see it before this. Everything about Blair was perfect. . .from the way he Guided Jim with the Sentinel abilities, to the way he entertained him with his stories, to the vast stores of unexpected knowledge that helped out the police department so many times in the past. Even the way they argued together like an old married couple. . .and yet another argument over who would leave the tip for the waiter finally made Jim chuckle out loud.

Blair had conceded the meal's check to him, mostly because this had been Jim's idea in the first place and Blair just couldn't afford a restaurant like this on his budget. But Blair's sense of fairness had insisted he leave at least the gratuity at the end of the evening.

"What's so funny?" Blair demanded, eyes shining in the candlelight.

"I was just thinking, Chief," Jim replied, still laughing. "I'm thinking it's a good thing that guys as a general rule don't dance together. You and I would spend all our time arguing over who would lead."

"No we wouldn't, Jim," Blair grinned. "There are rules for situations like that. . .and I already know there's no point in getting you to walk on the wild side and break a few rules. You're too anal retentive for that."

Jim ignored the barb, but only barely, mostly because it really was rather funny. "Rules? Oh come on, let me guess. . .you know of some ancient lost tribe that set down rules about how men should dance together?"

But Blair just shrugged. "No, nothing like that. . .though actually when dealing with ritual dancing such as in a tribe or a clan, most dances involved the entire group. All the men would dance together in one circle and the women in another--so there was never an issue over who would lead. But I was thinking more along the lines of homosexual couples dancing together. . .male or female, of course. In a situation like that the rule is simple. . the tallest person leads."

Jim frowned at him. "How would you know that?"

"I asked," Blair replied with a smile. "It's amazing what you can find out if you're just willing to ask a few questions, Detective."

Jim tried to imagine it. . .tried to picture Blair just arbitrarily walking up to a gay couple and asking them a question like that. It wasn't something he'd ever conceive of doing, but with Blair you just never knew. "You just walked up to two strangers and asked. . ."

"Not strangers, Jim," Blair insisted. "I mean I do have some tact. . .not much, granted. But give me a little credit. No, I asked Professor Talard."

Professor Talard? It took Jim a moment to picture the man. . .and then he remembered meeting him in Blair's office a few months ago. He was fairly good looking man--in his early forties, Jim guessed. Blair had mentioned him being extremely well liked by the students and faculty. "He's gay?" Jim questioned, finding himself a bit surprised by the revelation.

"Yeah," Blair nodded somewhat perplexed. "I introduced you to him and his lover a few months ago. Don't you remember?"

Now that Blair mentioned it, he did vaguely remember a young man with Talard that Blair had introduced to him. But Jim hadn't really paid much attention to either man. "Guess I never really noticed," Jim shrugged. "Isn't it a bit dangerous for him to be seen on campus with his. . ..boyfriend though?"

"Dangerous?" Blair scoffed. "No, why? The university has a really open policy about things like that. . and no one I've ever run into cares one way or another. Professor Talard is one of the most brilliant teachers around. The administration would never do anything that might drive him away. Not that he's particularly open about it or anything, but even if he was, it wouldn't matter much."

"We'll he was obviously open enough for you to know about it," Jim pointed out. "Even if I didn't see it."

Blair just grinned at that, and actually had the grace to blush. "Oh, that's just because he asked me out when we first met."

It took a moment for Blair's words to sink in, and when they did, Jim blanched in shock. Professor Talard had asked Blair out? On a date? His Guide! It was one thing for him realize that he was in love with his Guide; it was quite another thing to realize that he wasn't the first guy in the world to notice how wonderful Blair was.

"Jim?" Blair broke through his shock with the concern in his voice. "Hey, man, you alright?"

"Yeah," Jim shook it off. "He asked you out?"

"Yeah," Blair shrugged. "Don't look so surprised. I mean it isn't the first time a guy has asked me out you know."

Jealousy knifed through Jim. Not the first guy. . .then there were more than just the one. He seriously felt like pounding someone to a pulp. "What do you mean. . . are you telling me that you're frequently asked out by male professors and students?"

"And cops," Blair added. "But no, not frequently. Just every once in a while. And they back off quick enough when I tell them I'm not interested, so it's not a big. . ."

"Cops!" Jim nearly choked on the word. The very idea of any of the male cops he worked with going anywhere near his Guide with such an idea made him see red. This was the first he'd ever heard about it. . .but now thinking about it he wondered how he could have been so blind. Blair was beautiful and exotic looking and he radiated an undeniable sensuality. Why wouldn't other men have noticed it as well. . .other men who weren't afraid what Blair's reaction might be and who had a hell of lot more experience in these matters than Jim did? He realized suddenly just how tenuous his hold on Blair really was. He didn't stand a chance. Apart from the fact that even if Blair was interested in a man--which he'd just said he wasn't---Jim could hardly compete with the competition. He certainly didn't stand a chance against the female competition. . and knowing that had been bad enough. Now realizing that there was male competition was unbearable.

"Yeah, cops, Jim," Blair shrugged. "Come on, surely you knew there were gay cops on the force. Homosexuals make up at least ten percent of our society, and in any given cross-section of the community, you are going to find. . ."

"What did you say?" Jim cut him off. He didn't really want a lecture on the make-up of a cross section of the community. He wanted to know what Blair had said to the men who'd dared approach his Guide.

"Huh?" Blair asked with his typical flare for the brilliant.

"What did you say when they asked you out?" Jim pressed.

Blair frowned and just shrugged. "Thank you but no thank you. What does that have to do with anything? As I was saying, there are always. . ."

"And they accepted it?" Jim continued.

"My refusal?" Blair nodded. "Yes, of course they did, Jim. Wait a minute, is this the Blessed Protector in you coming out and getting ready to go medieval all over these guys for besmirching my honor or something?"

Jim swallowed uncomfortably. "Yeah, I guess, something like that."

Blair grinned at him. "As I said Jim, it wasn't a big deal. I mean personally it's not something I have any sort of problem with. So there was no besmirching going on--real or imagined. Truth of the matter is I've just always gotten along so well with women, there wasn't any point in even consider their offers. I mean, I figured if I was going to even bother going through that sort of dichotomy shift, it would have to be for someone really special. . .you know someone I was already best friends with. And all of my male friends are straight."

Dichotomy shift? That's what Blair saw this as. . .a dichotomy shift? Jim didn't know if he should be hopeful or terrified. What precisely did that mean? Did Blair just say he would consider it if it were his best friend asking? His heart raced out of control, and he fought for something to say.

"Jim? You okay, man? You look like you're zoning," Blair's voice dropped low again, taking on the Guide tone that always brought Jim back to the present.

"No, I'm fine Chief," he said quickly. "I just. . .you just amaze me sometimes that's all."

The compliment lit Blair up like a Christmas Tree and his smile warmed Jim clear to his soul. "Thanks, man," he murmured with a pleased blush. "But I'm still going to pay the tip. Distraction only works so well." He reached for his wallet, but Jim caught his hand, stilling the motion. Blair looked up in surprise.

"No, Chief," he said gently. "This night was my treat, remember. Just this once give in without arguing about it, okay?"

For a moment Blair said nothing, his eyes searching Jim's face. Finally he just sighed. "Alright, man. Thanks. But next time it's on me okay?"

"Agreed," Jim nodded, feeling somewhat better at the thought that there would be a next time. . .even if this hadn't been an actual date. It was at least a start. . .at least he hoped it was. Though he still had no idea where to go from here.

They left shortly there after, the long week finally taking its toll on Blair's body. His energy level dropped, the expensive wine he'd drunken making him sleepy and relaxed. He sighed contently as they headed home, and it was all Jim could do not to reach out and pull Blair into his side as he drove. He settled for glancing frequently over at the young man as he talked softly, drifting now from subject to subject with no real rhyme or reason.

By the time they reached the loft, Blair was pretty well out of it, and the two of them goofed around and teased each other with playful stumbling as Jim attempted to wrestle Blair from the cab of the truck. One semi-drunken stumble brought Blair up against Jim's side, and the younger man wrapped an arm around his Sentinel's waist to keep himself upright. Jim gave into the contact, slipping his own arm around Blair's shoulder and leading him slowly toward the elevator. Blair, relaxed in their camaraderie, snuggled into Jim's side with a sigh of contentment, no sign of self-consciousness at all in his manner. To Jim the act was both torture and ecstasy.

He could feel Blair's body heat soaking into his side, could feel his Guide's heartbeat thrumming gently within him. Blair's scent surrounded him, his softly murmured sighs sending shivers down Jim's spine. As they rode up in the dark elevator, wrapped in each other's arms, Jim couldn't help himself--he raised his hand to Blair's head, letting his fingers tangle in his Guide's silken curls.

He nearly zoned on the sensation. The sable locks slipped over his skin, the sensation so seductive it sent fire racing through Jim's blood. He wanted to bend down and bury his face in that hair, inhale that deeper scent the same way he had with Blair's pillow. And then he wanted to taste his Guide, touch his lips to the soft skin just below his ear, run his tongue along the graceful line of his throat, drink deeply of his mouth. He stifled the groan that attempted to escape his lips, and found himself instead running his fingers gently along Blair's cheekbone, tracing the warm skin with the softest caress.

Before he could realize what he was doing, before he could withdraw his hand so that Blair would not notice the sudden breach in behavior, his Guide moved---Blair sighed softly and turned in toward Jim's caresses, nuzzling Jim's hand with his cheek as a faint smile played about his lips. That single action sent Jim's heart rate rocketing, his breath catching in his throat with the hunger that burned suddenly through his body. Oh, God, he thought in shock, did Blair know what he was doing? Did he know what that had seemed liked. ..that his innocent caress had just sent Jim's hormones into overdrive?

"Blair." The whisper came out hoarse and filled with all his shock and need.

Blair froze instantly, his eyes fluttering open, and Jim heard his heart rate suddenly spiking. He stood there for a moment as if realizing what he was doing--standing there with his arms around his partner, nuzzling his hand and turning in to receive a caress that might not have been intended. His eyes widened in alarm. "Jim, God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean. . .I mean, I thought. . .I don't know what I was thinking. I didn't. . .I'm sorry. . ." The elevator door's opened, and Blair bolted, heading swiftly down the hall toward their own door and opening it.

For a moment, Jim stood stunned inside the elevator, his body reacting far faster than his mind could, trying to processes all the sensations burning through him. He didn't know what was happening, didn't know what was going through Blair's mind--he just knew that he couldn't let it end like this. This couldn't be over. . .his body wouldn't allow it to be over.

He moved then, swiftly, chasing after his fleeing Guide. Blair already had the loft door unlocked and had proceeded inside, heading directly toward the relative safety of his bedroom. Jim didn't let him get that far. Slamming the door shut behind him as he entered, he crossed the distance to Blair's side and caught hold of his arm, spinning him around. Then sinking one hand deliberately into his Guide's hair, he kissed him, claiming his mouth as swiftly and as suddenly as everything else in their lives.

His Guide tasted like heaven. The moment for hesitation was gone, and Jim's forced the young man's mouth open, tasting him as thoroughly as he'd cataloged every other sense about him. He traced his tongue over Blair's lips, slipping it inside to slide like fire across Blair's own. And he heard his Guide groan in shock. . .and then deeper still something more. Blair might have fought him for an instant, might have struggled or frozen in confusion for the briefest fraction of time, but then he was kissing him back, sucking hungrily at Jim's tongue as the two of them desperately tried to claim each other's souls.

They realized as one what they were doing. . .and drew back marginally in stunned amazement, staring deep into each other's eyes. Jim could see a dozen emotions flashing through his Guide's blue eyes--confusion, fear, desire, shock---as Blair went through in a single instant the gambit of realizations that Jim had spent all of yesterday afternoon exploring. With his arms still clasped tightly around Blair's body, Jim felt the young man start to tremble, and he tightened his grip, refusing to let him go.

"Jim?" Blair whispered in confusion, his kiss-swollen lips beckoning Jim back toward them.

"Yes, Blair?" Jim asked, barely recognizing his own voice with the strain of desire running through it. Blair shivered again.

"What did we just do?" Blair whispered, his eyes begging Jim to answer him, explain it to him.

"I kissed you, Blair," Jim replied, running his thumb lightly over Blair's lips. God, the kid looked so beautiful. . .how had he ever waited this long? "You kissed me back. Blair. . . I'm going to kiss you again."

He moved in slowly, giving Blair plenty of time to protest or move away if he really wanted to despite the fact that every instinct in Jim was screaming at him to take him, claim him, and never give him a chance to protest. But this wasn't just about hunger, this was about love. . .and Jim needed Blair to understand that.

Their lips touched, lightly at first, and Jim moved his mouth slowly against Blair's own, teasing him with the softest of caresses, letting his tongue flick out quickly to taste Blair's silken lips. He whispered Blair's name against his mouth, seducing him with every action, silently begging Blair to put them both out of their misery. And even when Blair's lips parted, his heated breath tormenting Jim with need, Jim kept the kiss light, wanting Blair to make the final decision in the end.

And then he felt it. . .so tentative at first.. .the touch of his Guide's tongue against his own lips. It was enough. Jim groaned his passion, and pulled Blair hard against him, and their kiss turned instantly to something so deep and overwhelming it left both of them spinning out of control.

More sensations rocked through Jim, the heat of Blair's body, the pressure of Blair's arms locking tightly around his shoulders, pulling him closer, holding him in place, letting him know that he wanted this as desperately as Jim did. Jim slid one hand down his Guide's back and pulled the young man's hips against his own, discovering that Blair's need mirrored the fire raging through his body. Their erections, swollen and demanding, came into contact, unmistakable through the material of their pants, and they both gasped in shock at the sheer stab of ecstasy that speared them both. It was too much and not enough, and they ended up clinging to one another, breathing hard against each other's necks as they trembled with a hunger neither of them had ever expected.

"God, I love you," Jim whispered against Blair's skin, tasting the salt of Blair's flesh and knowing he'd never again be content with the taste of anyone else. "I love you." There was no fear in those words any more, no terror in the realization. . .not with Blair here in his arms.

"That's what this is, isn't it?" Blair asked in awe, and he drew back far enough so that they could look into each other's eyes. Blair's face was filled with wonder, amazement replacing the confusion and fright. He touched Jim's face, and Jim leaned into the caress the way Blair had in the elevator. He kissed his Guide's palm. "This is love, isn't it, Jim?" he whispered again.

"Yes," Jim nodded, too choked up to say any more.

"We're in love," Blair continued, and his words sent Jim's heart soaring. He'd been right. . this wasn't one sided. His Guide loved him as much as he loved him back.

"Yeah, Blair," he grinned. 'We're in love."

"How long has this been going on?" Blair asked incredulously, trailing his fingers over Jim's lips in amazement.

Jim kissed his fingertips. "Forever, Chief," Jim answered, and he realized he meant it. He had loved Blair forever---didn't matter which direction in time he wished to travel, forwards or back, Blair had always been there in his heart.

"Why didn't we notice before?" Blair laughed, his eyes filled with joy.

"Just blind I guess," Jim grinned at him.

"What do we do now?"

Jim laughed and shrugged, still keeping his arms firmly locked around Blair's body. He wasn't going to let go tonight. . .perhaps not for days to come--he knew that much. "I have no idea, Chief."

"I have a suggestion, if you're interested," Blair whispered shyly, and the heated blush that suffused his face sent Jim's heart spiking again. He felt fire pool in his groin, and knew Blair could feel the insistent pulse of need pressed against him.

"I'm always interested in your suggestions, Chief," he whispered hoarsely.

Blair pressed himself against Jim's body, his own erection answering the fire in Jim. "We could go upstairs to bed and make love to each other," he murmured.

Jim groaned, closing his eyes briefly to control the storm building within him. "I like that idea, Chief," he gasped. "You have any idea what precisely we're supposed to do though?"

"Haven't a clue," Blair confessed. "But I'm sure we'll figure it out."

And like always, the Sentinel and Guide figured everything out. . .it just took them a lot of practice.



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