"Hey, Chief, how did it go? Did you get it?"
"Eh - yeah, yeah actually, I did. Not sure I'm gonna take it though."
Jim frowned in disbelief. "You're joking, right? You've done nothing but talk about this audition all week. Why would you turn down a part you've been - how did you put it? 'Waiting all your life for'."
Blair threw his keys into the basket beside the door and hung up his jacket. Immediately, he headed for the kitchen, and, tugging open the refrigerator, he found the beer Jim had left for him. He took a deep swig of the cool beer before coming over to stand next to the sofa, one hand shoved into his jeans pocket.
"It isn't exactly the part I thought it was, okay? Can we leave it at that?"
Jim scooted over, patting the soft cushion until Blair reluctantly sat down beside him. He had been fully prepared to offer his condolences if Blair had failed to land one of the leading roles in the play but he hadn't been prepared for this. Blair's unhappiness confused him.
Never having actually seen Blair perform in anything, he had no idea if the man could really act or if he was just another wannabe. He felt a little guilty at not having more faith in his friend's acting abilities, but Blair had proven himself by getting the part so why wasn't Blair floating on the ceiling?
"Blair, what happened? I've never seen you as fired up over anything before. You said you would never forgive yourself if you didn't give it your best shot."
"And I *did* give it my best shot. They gave me the role of Jody. Look, Jim, once I started really reading the script, I didn't think I would be able to carry it off, okay? It's no big deal. I'm just not the guy for this part."
"He's gay, all right?"
Jim frowned again. He felt like he'd entered the Twilight Zone. Or perhaps that should be the 'Sandburg Zone'? "Who is?" he asked.
"The character of Jody is gay. I didn't realize that when I went for the audition."
Jim chuckled and then laughed out loud. He couldn't help it. This was priceless. He tried to control himself, but despite his best efforts, the occasional snort escaped. "I don't get it, Chief. What's your problem?"
"At the beginning of the play, I have to kiss another guy. Passionately. I just don't think I can do that...Hey, what's so funny?"
"Man, I can't believe it. With your upbringing and Naomi as a mother, I would have thought..."
Blair's jaw tightened, and Jim thought he could hear the sound of his teeth grinding together. It took Blair a moment to regain his composure. "What? What would you have thought? That maybe I swung both ways? Is that what you thought, Jim?"
Jim reached out and took the bottle of Bud from Blair's white-knuckled grasp. "Blair, calm down. I just didn't figure on you being so uptight. I mean, it's only acting, right?"
Blair shot up from the sofa and began pacing in small tight circles. Now both fists were hip deep in denim, his loose curls flying wildly around his face as he whirled. Jim was sorry about teasing him now. In all honesty, he had never thought Blair would be this gender conscious. Maybe the kid had been a victim of homophobes in the past, making assumptions because of the way he looked, which might, incidentally, have made him all the more determined to prove his own heterosexuality. It would certainly explain the exorbitant number of women he dated. Blair stopped pacing and glowered down at Jim angrily.
"Oh yeah, sure, it's only acting. No big deal?"
"Wrong! If you were in my place, could *you* do it?"
Jim grabbed hold of Blair's wrist and tugged him back down onto the sofa. He plastered an amused grin on his face and made another attempt to get the conversation back onto a light-hearted track.
"First of all, Chief, I wouldn't *be* in your place. I'm not the one with the burning desire to become a thespian."
"Jeez, I wish I'd never told you about that stupid childhood dream."
It had been over eight months ago, after an evening spent watching sports, drinking too much beer and indulging in a little male bonding, that Blair had admitted that he had always wanted to be an actor. Jim had encouraged him to enroll in acting classes and, before too long, Blair became part of an amateur dramatics group. He hadn't let his hobby interfere with either his work at the University or the station, but lately he had grown dissatisfied with the quality of his group's work.
When this role came up with another, far more professional group, Blair had jumped in with both feet, and, it seemed, little preparation. The role was ambitious and would have been very demanding; a true test of exactly how much Blair wanted to act.
"Blair, everyone needs to have goals in life to strive towards. I'm sorry about teasing you, okay? I think it's really great that you're giving this a shot. Even if it turns out that you suck at the acting thing, at least you tried. That's admirable."
"So you're saying you admire me?" Blair asked dubiously.
Jim tried to keep the huge grin from breaking, but the strain showed in his voice. "I do. I really do. I just don't envy you. Unless the guy you have to kiss is seriously *built*, of course..."
Blair would have jumped up again were it not for the strong fingers wrapped tightly around his wrist. "Sorry, sorry. Kidding. Sorry." Deep down, Jim knew he should stop teasing, but sometimes, it was just so easy to push all of Sandburg's buttons.
Blair sighed and let his head fall against the back of the sofa. Jim's iron grip loosened and finally slipped away completely. Blair let his eyes drift closed. "Actually, as far as that goes, why don't you be the judge? He'll be here shortly. When he saw how nervous I was, he offered to come round and rehearse with me tonight."
"He's coming here? To rehearse *kissing* with you? And you were going to tell me this - when?"
"I'm telling you now, Jim. His name's Liam and he's Irish. Oh, and he's also gay. That won't be a problem for you, will it?"
Jim thought he could detect an element of smugness in the younger man's tone. "No, Chief, but then, *I* won't be the one kissing him. You will."
Blair gasped. He wondered why he had ever imagined that he could turn the tables on Jim Ellison, master interrogator, breaker of criminal minds and undisputed king of the 'high arrest rate' stakes.
"Man, you are so *not* helping here. I'm even more nervous than I was before. I'm gonna call him and cancel. This was a stupid idea."
As Blair reached for the phone, Jim ran a hand over his face in resignation. This had been fun, but he wasn't prepared to jeopardize his friend's chances in the name of one-upmanship.
"Blair, don't cancel. I'll go shower then go out for the evening and give you a little privacy."
Blair nearly dropped the phone. "NO! I mean, I need you to stay, Jim, okay? Liam is...well, he's *interested* in me, if you catch my drift. I could seriously use a chaperone tonight, man. Fuck! This is SO embarrassing. I'm gonna cancel. The stand-in really wanted the part."
"Did he want it enough to kiss the Irish gigolo?"
"Enough to give him a blow-job if it got him the part," muttered Blair under his breath.
He dialed the number scribbled on the back of a napkin. "It's ringing," he whispered. Jim shrugged. Leaning back against the sofa, eyes drifting shut, he listened to Blair make his excuses.
"Hi, Liam? It's Blair, yeah. Hi, man. Listen, something's come up, I can't rehearse tonight, sorry...Tomorrow? Oh! Maybe...Sure, I'll give you a call. Thanks man, appreciate it. Bye."
Blair breathed out loudly with relief and Jim cracked open one eye to regard his friend. "You can't keep putting it off, Blair."
"Oh, listen to the voice of experience over there. I suppose you've kissed *hundreds* of guys, huh? No? Well, until you've done it at least once, you should keep your sarcasm to yourself."
Jim had no idea why he said what he said next. It just slipped out. This was not a conversation he had ever imagined having with Blair Sandburg. At least not when he was sober.
"Well, I wouldn't say *hundreds* exactly."
"What makes you so sure I haven't kissed a guy?"
Blair turned his head to stare disbelievingly at his partner. Jim had a strange look in his eyes. Not quite shock, not quite hysteria. Panic seemed the most fitting description. Blair didn't want to ask but he *had* to. He had to know if his perceptions of his best friend were way off base. Because if there was even the faintest chance he had been wrong about Jim...
Jim was silent for a very long time. Blair watched as his friend gulped several times, watched his Adam's apple bob, and watched him chew his lower lip. Then, finally, Jim snorted and shook his head.
"Okay, no, I haven't. But it can't be *that* different from kissing a woman, right?"
Blair seemed to sag a little, but he soon rallied. "If you make a habit of kissing women with whiskers and a dick, then no, I suppose not."
Jim's heart was hammering. He was glad that *he* was the Sentinel here and not Sandburg. Actually, it was quite possible Blair could hear the frantic tattoo even without enhanced hearing. Jim was beginning to sweat. Like a wild rollercoaster, the conversation continued to thunder towards the inevitable disclosure. He had almost done it, almost admitted his darkest secret to his partner. Oh, this was not good! Jim made another attempt at levity.
"Come on, Sandburg, you just close your eyes and think of one of those blonde co-eds you date and bingo, no problem."
"Jim, Liam is about the same height as you, and twice as broad. There is no WAY I could pretend he was a co-ed. And like I said, this kiss has to be *passionate*. Even the most accomplished of actors would have difficulty with that. I'd like to see *you* do it."
And once again, Jim Ellison's mouth answered without checking in with his brain. "Okay, sure, why not? Close your eyes."
Blair scrambled backwards across the sofa as Jim leaned closer.
"Your point's valid, Chief. I have no right to call you a chickenshit unless I'm willing to put myself in your shoes. So pucker up, baby."
The impact of the sofa's arm on the small of his back forced Blair to stop retreating, but he raised both hands quickly, bracing them against the rapidly advancing chest.
"Fuck off or I'll shoot you," he hissed. "I know where you keep your gun."
"Oh, come ON, Blair. It's perfect. Think about it. You get comfortable with kissing a guy before you have to do it on stage in front of an audience, and I get to experience the final part of the puzzle."
The tone of Jim's voice had gone from slightly panicked to downright sultry in a matter of seconds. Blair's arms began to shake with the effort of keeping his friend at bay. "Puzzle? What puzzle?"
"Call it a 'Sentinel' thing. Over the last year I've been sampling the Blair Sandburg experience. I know what my guide looks like..." Jim's eyes tracked searchingly over every detail of Blair's face.
"...I know what he smells like..." Jim buried his nose in the soft curls where they rested on Blair's shoulder and inhaled loudly.
"...what he sounds like," Jim moved his head so that his ear was pressed firmly against Blair's heart.
"...and what he feels like." He straightened, lifting one hand to caress Blair's cheek. His voice dropped even lower, taking on an almost feral quality, "But I always wondered what you would taste like."
As Jim's tongue slid out to wet his lips, Blair finally managed to make himself squeak. "Oh! No WAY! You are SO bullshitting me, Ellison. Ha, ha, very funny."
"Close your eyes, Blair," the Sentinel purred.
"Ha! Hahah, yeah, right! I close my eyes, you run off leaving me sitting here like an idiot, or you..."
"Chief, I'm gonna kiss you now, okay?"
"You wouldn't *dare*, Ellison."
Jim held Blair firmly by the shoulders, leaning close, close enough to feel the waves of heat rising between their bodies. Blair was breathing erratically through barely parted lips, his expression reminiscent of a deer caught in the headlights. They had arrived at the moment of truth, the moment that could change things forever and Jim still wasn't sure how it would end.
He knew how he *wanted* it to end; horizontal, on the floor, without clothing, and involving copious amounts of sweat, but Blair was still in shock. Jim couldn't tell if his guide's heart was pounding in fear or desire. He moved in closer, a small smile forming as Blair's eyes fluttered closed in a gesture that screamed surrender to the Sentinel. Still smiling, Jim extended his tongue and drew it upwards from Blair's chin, over both his lips and up his nose.
Blair's eyes shot open again. "Ewwwww - Jim! You *licked* me. That is disGUSTing! Oh! Oh God, what the fuck are you doing now?"
"Licking your neck. It's another 'Sentinel thing'." As he spoke, Jim nuzzled upwards, covering Blair's throat and jaw line with tiny biting kisses.
"No. Don't go any higher! No higher! Jim! J'mpph!"
Jim found the perfect way to shut Blair up once and for all. The kiss went from curious to ravenous in about three seconds. Jim felt a bolt of liquid heat shooting from his heart to all his extremities like a lightning strike, and he moaned into the willing mouth of his guide. Blair stopped pushing at Jim, letting his hands slide slowly over the massive chest, his fingers glided over the knotted neck muscles and finally buried themselves deep in soft springy hair as his body relaxed against Jim's.
Jim's tongue pushed against Blair's lips until, with a tiny gasp, the younger man let him in. Soon their hips were moving in tandem with the rhythm of darting tongues and gasping moans of pleasure. It was Jim that drew back, albeit reluctantly, to hold Blair's face between trembling fingers.
"Okay, that was...intense." Jim whispered.
Blair groaned, his eyes screwed firmly shut. "Ohgod."
"I think I got a little carried away there, Chief."
"Might have zoned, actually. Blair? You okay, buddy?" The dazed look on Blair's face worried Jim. He had hoped Blair might look a little less terrified and a lot hornier after the attempted tonsillectomy.
"Oh. My. God! Jim, you fucking *kissed* me!"
"Relax, Blair. It was only a kiss. And you did say you wanted me to do it."
"I...I didn't *mean* it, Jim, not literally!"
"I'm only sorry I got so intense. It won't happen again."
"You're not going to kiss me again?"
Jim wondered if he was imagining the faint trace of disappointment in his friend's voice. He decided he wasn't imagining it and reached for him again saying, "Not unless you ask me nicely, no."
But Blair evaded him easily, the shocked expression on his face giving way to one of confusion. "Aggggh, don't touch me. Stay back. Who are you and what did you do with my roommate?" Blair seemed to be trying to bury himself under a pile of cushions.
"I do NOT believe you kissed me. Oh man, what were you thinking? I mean, Jeezus, Jim!"
Jim could see that his roommate was working himself up into a fit. He needed a quick distraction and the only thing he could think of might get him in even more trouble with the younger man. However, his options were severely limited here. Sliding from the sofa onto his knees, Jim's face became serious and he spoke in clipped, theatrical tones.
"I was thinking it's about time you opened your eyes and looked at me. *Really* looked at me. I've waited for you long enough. Godamnit, man, can't you see I'm in love with you?"
Blair was absolutely speechless. For about a nanosecond.
"Jim, I ah, I don't know what to - Oh! Oh,you bastard! Those are Liam's lines. You read the fucking script, didn't you?"
Jim had the good grace to blush. All night he had been waiting for his friend to come home so he could tease him to within an inch of his life about this. He had wondered how long it would take Blair to realize what he was taking on.
"You left it lying on the table the other night. I just took a quick peek..."
"You knew! You knew about Jody, didn't you?"
"Looks like I read a little more than you did, Chief." It occurred to the Sentinel, that if he kept his cool here, maybe he could convince Blair that the last ten minutes had all been one big, huge joke. "How did I do, by the way? Think I have a future in acting?"
Blair's eyes dropped to stare at Jim's shirt buttons. "Maybe. You sure had me fooled for a moment. I almost thought..." he trailed off, refusing to make eye contact.
"Well, duh! You didn't think I was being serious, did you, Chief? I mean...you're straight, I'm straight, we're both very, very straight, right?"
Finally, Blair managed to drag his gaze away from the fascinating shirtfront and up to meet Jim's sparkling blue eyes. His smile lacked its usual easy grace.
"I guess they cast the wrong guy as Jody. It's a shame you have no thespian leanings, Jim. With acting skills like that, you would have walked away with it. Now if you don't mind, I think I'll hit the sack. Been a long day, you know?"
Blair stopped walking towards his room but didn't turn round. Jim sighed. He really had to learn how to control his big, fat mouth. Left with an embarrassing gap in the conversation, Jim filled it with an apology of sorts.
"About the part, Sandburg. I should have warned you. I thought I could get a laugh at your expense and I shouldn't have done that."
Blair glanced over his shoulder at the older man. "No, you shouldn't. But then, you had no way of knowing how badly I would react, did you?"
Jim threw himself onto the sofa and patted the cushion invitingly.
"Wanna talk about it, Blair?" he asked softly, the teasing tone of earlier completely gone.
Blair turned slowly, the lights from the kitchen throwing his face into silhouette. Jim dialed up his night vision and caught the fleeting look of pain as it washed over Blair's shadowy features. With a deep sigh, the younger man surrendered to the inevitable and came to sit next to his friend.
"Jim, all my adult life, I've been getting hit on by guys. I mean, look at me man; it isn't so surprising, right? But I never once encouraged it. I swear to God, Jim. I didn't. I dated girls in high school, but the guys said it was probably just a cover. So I dated more and more, tried to pull off this whole macho, big man, womanizer gig. The harder I tried to kick off the rep, the more they accused me of being in denial.
"By the time I got to college, I had this whole 'gigolo' image to uphold and it became a bit of a habit, but even then, people still assumed I swung both ways. Basically, Jim, I was pinging gaydars all over the campus."
Blair fell silent for a moment and Jim felt his heart sink lower. If the conversation was heading the way he thought, it was a very good thing indeed that he had not actually admitted to Blair how he felt. Hell, he didn't really understand it himself. All this time he had been watching and waiting for some indication from Blair that he might feel the same way. Now, it seemed, he had his answer. Wisely, he remained silent, and soon, Blair began talking again.
"Anyway, I've spent a great deal of time and effort to convince everybody that I'm not gay. Taking on the role of Jody in this play could really screw it all up."
Jim shifted uncomfortably on the sofa. "It really bothers you that much, Chief? I mean, these days, who cares, right?"
"I care." Blair whispered softly, so softly that only a Sentinel would hear the words. Jim smiled sadly. There was absolutely no chance of a future for him with this man. He could see that clearly now. Friendship was the best he could hope for, and it had to be enough. He wondered why he had ever even contemplated anything more. Resorting again to humor, Jim plastered a huge shit-eating grin on his face.
"Fair enough, Chief. But if you ever change your mind about men, I could write you a letter of recommendation. The way you kiss is..."
Jim could see that it had been the wrong thing to say the moment stormy blue eyes whipped round to meet his amused gaze. Blair looked absolutely devastated.
"Don't Jim, just please, don't."
"I'm sorry." It was all he could think of to say.
Something was wrong here. Something his Sentinel senses couldn't help him figure out. He stopped thinking like Jim Ellison, cop of the year, and began to think like a man. Mixed signals. Yeah! That was it. Blair had been giving off some very mixed signals all night. His mouth said one thing, but his body was saying something entirely different. Jim wanted to pull him closer, offer him the reassurance of his embrace. He could also see that Blair wouldn't accept that from him. Not now.
"Blair? I'm sorry I kissed you, okay?"
"Don't be. I'm not."
"Not gay, yeah, I got that, Chief."
"No, not sorry."
They sat in silence; Blair staring at his fingernails, and Jim staring at Blair. Inside his head, the theme music from the Twilight Zone began playing again. What exactly was Blair saying here? Sometimes he made Jim feel like the archetypal 'big dumb cop'. He really needed more evidence before he made the bust though.
"So let me get this all straight. You're not sorry I kissed you, you don't want me to make a joke of it, and you are NOT gay. Did I leave anything out, Chief?"
Blair took a deep breath and dazzled Jim all over again with those twin laser beams. "Yeah, you seem to have totally left out the fact that I'm in love with you."
Stunned silence. Jim felt his mouth fall open, but he couldn't have closed it again with a block and tackle. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...! Blair loved him? No. Blair was IN love with him. Oh. My. God. Right now, Blair looked very much like a man on the edge. Jim frowned.
"Is this in the script, Sandburg?"
Blair shot to his feet, this time managing to evade Jim's restraining hold. His hair bobbed about his face, as he spun back towards his friend, impacting helplessly against the irresistible force of Jim Ellison's broad chest. Two large hands gripped his face and held him in place.
"Sandburg. You're straight, right?"
"And so am I."
"But, you're in love with me?"
"And I'm in love with you."
Blair went down like a sack of potatoes, his knees buckling under the weight of that little nugget of intel. Jim followed him down, grabbing his shoulders in an attempt to soften the landing. They wound up in a heap on the floor. Suddenly, Jim's earlier fantasy about how he wanted the evening to end seemed a step closer. He could hardly believe it. One minute he was contemplating a lonely life full of cold showers, and the next he was declaring his undying love for his roommate.
Maybe, they had wasted a lot of time trying to hide from each other, or maybe, they had just been laying down the foundations for their relationship. Either way, Jim didn't need enhanced senses to see that they were finally on the same page here.
Life with 'hairboy', as Brown called him, would never be easy, but it was definitely going to be interesting.
"Jim, don't make jokes, okay? I'm baring my fucking soul here, man. I don't know what to do anymore. I've been trying not to let it slip, but then you have to go and kiss me, and tell me you fucking love me..."
"...and Jesus, that was the most *amazing* kiss, *ever*! I can't believe you love me too? I mean, Jim, how long? When did you first think..."
Jim leaned forward again, slipping his fingers through Blair's hair as he spoke, almost too softly to be heard.
"Shut up and kiss me again."
Jim hurriedly dialed down his hearing as the crowd went wild around him. People were jumping to their feet and applauding like mad, and Jim Ellison happily joined them. He couldn't keep the huge grin off his face, as Blair took his curtain calls like a trouper. Beside him, Simon wolf whistled loudly with little sympathy for his lead detective's sensitive hearing.
"Holy shit, Jim, he was good," the captain enthused as the curtain closed for the final time. Jim nodded, rendered absolutely speechless by his partner's performance. The boy could act.
As soon as the crowded auditorium cleared, the two men began heading for the dressing rooms, with Simon laughing all the way. "When he locked lips with that guy in the opening scene, I nearly died of a heart attack, Jim! The boy's been holding out on us. No WAY was that the first guy he's ever kissed."
Jim risked a sideways glance at his friend, but could see only amusement in the sparking brown eyes. They arrived at the dressing room and Jim knocked softly. The door flew open right away, and he found his arms full of a totally hyped-up Blair Sandburg. Blair flung his arms around Jim's neck and proceeded to suck his tonsils out, his joy at having brought the house down, blinding him to the fact that his partner had not come alone.
Jim tried to shake the younger man loose, but it was a little like trying to dislodge a limpet from a rock. Blair broke away momentarily with a victorious whoop of delight only to grin and dive right back in with renewed determination a second later. It took him a full minute and a half to actually spot Simon, looming over Jim's shoulder, and he released his lover like a hot potato.
"Well," Simon grinned cheerfully into the embarrassed silence. "Much as I'm enjoying the spectacle, I think I'll go let you boys 'rehearse' for the next show. Bye, bye. Oh, and Blair? Break a leg."
As the dressing room door swung closed behind them, Simon was sure he heard Jim say, "Talking about breaking legs...where will I find the Irish gigolo?"