Say Forever For Me

Last Year

Valentine's. Blair shifted nervously at his desk. Tomorrow was Valentine's day. Glancing towards the phone, he thought about trying to work on a paper. He had an outline for one paper ready to be filled in -- but that would require visiting the library for some books. Besides, he knew he wouldn't be able to concentrate. There was no way he could do *anything*, he realised, except sit here and wait.

He glanced at the phone again.

"Blair, what are you doing?"

He looked up, surprised and a little embarrassed. "Hey, Jim, what are *you* doing here? I thought you were working tonight?" He was surprised to see the other man here; Ellison grumbled often enough when they worked together about the type of man his Guide turned out to be. But for some reason he kept spending his time off in Blair's company. Blair shrugged it off -- probably needed the comfort of being around someone who understood the strangeness of his Sentinel senses.

The other man shook his head, and made himself comfortable on the one chair he made Blair keep empty. "I traded off with Sanders. He wanted tomorrow night off -- got a new girlfriend last night."

"Oh. Who's Sanders?" Blair hadn't heard the name before, knew he wasn't one of the many cops in Major Crimes that he'd met in the short time he'd been an Observer for the Cascade Police.

"Ricky Sanders? He's Homicide, on loan to us for a couple months."

"Oh." Blair didn't say more, not feeling up to having an actual conversation with his partner. He was too distracted; he didn't know what he was going to say when the phone rang. He hadn't known before Jim had shown up, and he certainly didn't know what he could say now, in front of him. He wondered if he could get Jim to leave before the call came.

"Thought I'd come by and see if you wanted to grab a bite to eat." Jim didn't appear to notice that Blair wasn't really listening. "You up for some Thai food?"

"Huh? Uh, I can't, Jim. I'm waiting for a call from--" The phone rang. He scooped it up, heart pounding. The static told him this was, in fact, the connection he'd been waiting for.

"Blair Sandburg's office." In case it wasn't....

"Hi, Blair." The tentative voice wasn't at all what he'd expected. That didn't stop the brillant smile from exploding onto his face. He'd forgotten how much he missed that voice!

"Hey, I was hoping it'd be you! You're almost an hour earlier than usual." He saw Jim pick up a book -- picked at random, no doubt, as it was a freshman anthro text -- and begin flipping through it.

"Really? Glad I didn't keep you waiting, then."

Blair found himself bouncing one leg -- he wanted to jump around the room screaming. "Figured you'd call about midnight, you know?" he teased, remembering the conversation they'd had about making this month's call right before Valentine's Day.

"What? Oh, right, it's February, isn't it? Oh god, Blair, I'm sorry."

"Don't be, I'm just glad you called." I miss you, he wanted to say. But something kept him from it. Jim?

"No, I mean..." There was a long pause. "Blair, sweetheart, I have some news."

Blair frowned. "This doesn't sound like it's good news."

"Well, it is. Sort of. For me, anyway. You see, I've got an offer to go to England."

"That's great! ...isn't it?"

"It means I won't be back to the States for a while."

"How long a while?" This didn't sound good. It had been too long, already, Blair thought. But he didn't say it out loud. One thing he'd learned a long time ago was never complain about someone being gone.

"Another year."

Blair felt his heart scream. He closed his eyes, not thinking about how long it had already been. "You'll be in London for a year?" His own project would still be here for him in a year's time. "That's not so bad, I could meet you--"

"No, I'll be going to London in April, for about a month. Then back to Kenya, and up to Somalia until next summer."

"Oh." Blair didn't know what to say. Something occurred to him. "You've already accepted the offer?"

"Uh, yeah." Blair gripped the phone tight, screwing his eyes more tightly closed. He waited -- there was more. "Look, Blair -- I know this is unfair, and all. My being gone so long. Maybe it's best if we... you know, if we don't wait."

"Don't wait?" Blair repeated, certain he could *not* have heard those words. That they did not mean what it sounded like.

"Yeah. I'm sorry, Blair. But I've got so much going on here, and it really isn't fair to either of us. I just.... You know how important this is to me."

"Yeah, I know." Blair knew he was crying, but he wouldn't make a sound until he'd hung up. Wanting to know how official this was, he asked, "Are you going to call me next month?"

There was another pause. Then, "It's really kinda hard to get down here, Blair. I can--"

"No, that's all right. I understand." He was numb. It was Valentine's Day, or nearly. This wasn't supposed to happen.

"Look, I'm really sorry, Blair. You know I love you and all, but offers like this just don't come along every day." For all that the apology was sincere, Blair didn't hear love in the 'I love you'. Not like he'd heard it so many times before. He realised he hadn't heard it last month, either.

"No, I understand. I'm happy for you. I'm glad... you're getting what you want." He was glad his voice sounded so calm. Didn't want to show how much this hurt.

"Thanks, Blair. You're really sweet, you know? I really am sorry to do this, but I think it's best. Look, I have to run. I'll... well, take care of yourself, okay?"

"Yeah. You too." After a pause, Blair heard a click, and the static was gone. For a moment he didn't move. Then he opened his eyes, seeing the clutter of his office. It looked dusty, and messy, filled with nonsense that no one cared about, castoffs from other projects and trash that anyone else would have burned.

He hung up the phone and noticed that his hands were shaking. He wondered why.

"Chief? What happened?" Hands curled around his forearms. He stared own at them, and remembered his partner. He looked up, saw Jim squatting before him, concern clearly written all over his face.

Blair opened his mouth, not knowing how to say 'my life just ended'. Swallowing, he tried. "I just got divorced."

"You what?" Jim looked shocked, but over that Blair could still see -- sympathy, and concern. "Blair, I'm sorry."

"He said he got an offer to study in Somalia for another year and that he doesn't want to wait for me. Says I shouldn't wait for him. He doesn't love me anymore." Blair latched onto the one thing he hadn't heard, and the one thing he knew beyond a doubt.

"He?" Jim remained where he was, balanced on the balls of his feet. Then more softly, "I didn't realise you were married, Blair."

Blair fixed his gaze on Jim's face. "He's been in Africa for almost a year. He got a grant to go... I couldn't swing a grant to go with him, so we agreed we'd wait... I thought we'd agreed.... We were together a year before he left. He's the one who said we should get married -- he said he loved me...." He shook his head. "Jim, why doesn't anyone like me enough to stay with me?" He felt his chest begin to shudder -- was he crying now? Was he going to? He couldn't tell.

"Oh, christ, Chief..." Jim suddenly pulled him out of his chair, into his lap, and sat back onto the floor. He embraced Blair, tightly. Blair found himself sobbing loudly, and couldn't rein the ache back in. With the escaping pain came words. "Why do they do it, Jim? Why do people tell me they love me when they don't mean it? Why do they keep saying 'I love you'? Why can't anyone just tell me the truth? God, I don't ever want to hear those words ever again.... They're always a lie."

He gripped Jim's sweater, stretching the cotton. His friend held him, not saying a word, only gently rocking from side to side. He stopped trying to fight it, and let himself go limp, crying too hard to hold himself upright. Jim held him, though, closely, and Blair was very, very glad he'd been here. He didn't worry about how Jim would react to hearing his new partner was queer -- couldn't afford the attention to worry. He hadn't before now told Jim about Matthew, the subject had never come up on its own and it rarely occured to Blair to volunteer, out of the blue, information about his life.

It simply hadn't seemed necessary to say 'I'm married', in the few short weeks since he'd met Jim. He'd been looking forward to introducing them, though, and seeing what each thought of the other. He'd been looking forward to seeing Matthew again. He'd... Blair buried his face against Jim's shoulder. He'd never see him again. He stopped thinking, then, and simply cried.

Jim held his young friend, not at all sure what to say. He'd never suspected Blair of being married -- to a man or a woman -- and was surprised that he had never mentioned it. Apparently Blair didn't talk about things that were important to him.

He held Blair closer, feeling him shake harder. He hated hearing the sounds of the other man's pain, but knew there was nothing he could do. He knew how much losing someone hurt, but at least he'd known that his marriage was falling apart before it happened. Blair had been blindsided.

He felt the fibers of his sweater being stretched as Blair dug his fingers in. He didn't say anything, didn't try to move away; all he could do was hold on, and hope it would help. Listening to the sounds as Blair cried, he could only think one thing.

Never tell him you love him.

Jim watched his partner's face as Naomi drove away. It had been an unexpected, wonderful surprise to meet Blair's mother -- she'd told him a lot of things about his best friend, things he imagined neither Naomi nor Blair realised he'd learned. He hoped he'd get a chance to talk to Blair about some of them.

But for now, he was watching the expression on Blair's face. He'd told Jim that he hadn't seen or spoken with his mother in over a year, and that before that visit it had been nearly seven months. Jim inferred that such long stretches were normal. Blair didn't even seem to mind. Jim didn't really understand why, since it was obvious Blair and Naomi got along fabulously -- more like two old friends, than mother and son. Perhaps that was it, he mused, as Blair suddenly turned and began walking back up to the loft. Old friends could go for years without speaking, and pick up right where they left off. Parents and children were more...possessive, and required constant touch to feel the family connection.

Did that mean Blair didn't feel that sort of connection with his mother? Jim thought it over as he followed Blair upstairs. As Naomi had shared stories about Blair's growing up, Jim'd had a nagging feeling. They weren't the usual childhood stories, as Naomi hadn't given Blair a normal sort of childhood. Moving constantly, having boyfriend after boyfriend but never the same one for very long, and long summers spent either traveling abroad together or leaving Blair behind with friends -- it didn't give Blair much chance for a "normal" childhood.

The stories were often the same as for any young boy -- breaking an arm falling from a tree, hitting baseballs through windows, stealing a girl's backpack on the bus and returning it with required amphibian inside. But the details made it clear that things weren't normal. The girl and the bus had been in a place called Shikarpur, in Pakistan. The baseballs had gone through windows in Italy, Montana, and Hawaii. He didn't know where the tree had been. But though he'd laughed at all the embarrassing stories and delighted over the photos, he'd been bothered by something, underneath.

Naomi had never sounded much like... well, much like his own mother had, when she'd done the same for Carolyn. Nor like Carolyn's mother, who had hounded her little girl to 'hang onto' her catch and berated Jim for any imagined slight that would stand between her little girl, and her little girl's happiness. Possessive, maybe that *was* the right word. As if the mothering didn't end with the age of majority. Maybe Naomi was just more liberal in her parenting, than he'd ever met before.

Maybe she was what mothers were *supposed* to be like, when their kids grew up. Jim conceded that he wished his mom would treat him like an adult, instead of a seven year old. However, there was still something about Naomi that bugged him. She'd sounded more like she was recounting tales of her own childhood, and those of her childhood friends, than of her son's. Sounded like she'd *always* treated him like a friend, rather than ever as a son. Jim wondered if *that* was such a bad thing.

Jim watched as Blair headed for his room as soon as they got inside the apartment. He considered going after him, and talking about it now. But he wanted to pin down what bothered him about the way Naomi had raised her son.

He went to the kitchen with that thought and prepared two mugs of tea. Normally he waited for Blair to cajole him into taking a mug of the 'boiled twigs and grass'. But he wanted to meet Blair on Blair's turf, and something familiar would help relax his skittish friend. Blair talked easily and enthusiastically about lot of things, excepting only those very things Jim wanted to discuss now. When the tea was ready, he carried the mugs into Blair's room, glad his roommate had left the door open, making it easier to intrude.

He lightly kicked at the doorframe. "Hey." Blair looked up. He walked over to the desk, and handed Blair the second mug. "Your mom's quite a lady." He leaned back, out of Blair's personal space, against the bookcase behind him.

Blair smiled. "Yeah... but don't get any ideas, Jim." The threat was given lightly. "She won't be back for months. Plenty of time to fall in love with someone else." He sipped at his tea, and with a nod of his head, told Jim he appreciated it.

Jim couldn't help smiling, thinking how he'd done so already. Too bad that wasn't what this conversation was about -- but he couldn't have hoped for a better opening. Carefully, he asked, "Don't you mind? That she won't be back for a while?"

Blair shrugged, as if the question confused him. "Why should I?"

"Isn't it the only time you talk with her? When she visits?"

"Yes, so?" Blair smiled easily. "Jim, it's no big deal. I'm used to it -- I kind of like knowing that no matter how long it's been, she can drop into my life and... fit in, as if she'd never left."

"You don't miss her?"

This time Blair turned away, looking down at the open book on his desk. "Everyone has to live his or her own life. Everyone has to leave sometime. There's no point in trying to hang onto them."

It worried Jim that his partner sounded as if he truly believed it. He remembered the phone call, just a few months before, when Matthew had broken up with Blair. A serious relationship -- the most serious Blair had ever had, Jim guessed from the things he'd said afterwards -- and a week later Blair was back to normal. Acting as if he'd expected nothing more, and that it didn't really hurt.

Everytime Jim wanted to wrap his arms around his friend and tell him how he felt, he remembered those bleak, staring eyes he'd seen the one time Blair had told him how it felt to be left yet again. "It's just what happens, man. It's all I ever get."

He was worried that someday Blair would leave and for too many reasons he couldn't bear to let that happen. He didn't want to tell Blair the real reason he needed to stay -- Jim suspected that would frighten him off faster than saying nothing. Cautiously now, Jim broached the question from what he hoped was a safe topic. "What about us? Do you think there'll come a time when I won't need you as my Guide anymore?" He was relieved to note he'd sounded unworried, so Blair wouldn't suspect how important this was.

"I dunno, Jim." Blair shrugged again, brushing a lock of hair behind one ear. "When you get your senses under control, and I get my dissertation finished... eventually, yeah, we'll move on." He sounded -- almost -- as if he didn't mind.

Fidgeting, Jim placed his mug down. "What about the zone-out? I mean, even if I get my senses under control, won't I still be subject to those? Didn't you say a Sentinel had a Guide with him whenever he went out into the jungle? Even when he was supposed to know what he was doing?"

For a moment Blair didn't answer, and Jim watched as the other man thought it over. He wondered if Blair suspected the reason he'd brought this up -- offering a perfectly reasonable excuse to promise to stay, for as long as Jim wanted him. To promise to stay, with no actual idea of when, if ever, he would leave. Finally Blair nodded, slowly. "Yeah, I guess there is. I never thought..." He looked up at Jim, eyeing him closely. "You realise what that means? I'd have to stick around for as long as you're working as a detective."

"I hadn't thought of that." Except every night, for the last how many weeks? Thinking of being with you forever. For the last how many months? "I didn't think about what this would mean to you. Being my Guide, that is," he apologised. He wasn't at all sorry.

"Hey, it's all right. Guess you'll just be stuck with me for a while." Blair grinned. "Can't leave a Sentinel without his Guide, can we? It goes against all the folklore."

Jim looked at him sharply. Was that relief, or regret he heard trembling behind Blair's voice? "You'll stay? As long as I need you?"

Again a pause while Blair thought it over, then, "Yeah, Jim. I'll stay."

Jim couldn't control his relieved smile. "Thanks, Chief. I... I don't mean to be roping you into something you don't want... but I really...." his voiced dropped. "I really need you, you know?"

He couldn't believe the delighted, shy smile that brought. "I won't take off, man. Not until you tell me to take a hike."

Jim returned the smile, and picked up his mug. He felt like shouting for joy. Despite all his expectations to the contrary, he felt like he'd just taken a giant step forward in getting the man he loved, forever.

Blair suddenly laughed. "Naomi shook you up, huh?"


"The way she breezed in, breezed out... made you think I might do the same?"

"Yeah, sorta." Jim shrugged now.

Blair shook his head. "Not me, man. I'll be here."


"You're welcome."

Jim fiddled with his mug for a moment, then, feeling the need to lighten this conversation up a bit -- and pump an acquiescent Blair for information, he moved to the bed and sat down.

"Was there something else, Jim?" His guide sounded as if he didn't mind the intrusion.

"Yeah, sorta... I'm just not sure how to ask."

Blair's eyebrows went up. "You did pretty good with asking me to stick around." His voice was soft, serious. "What is it?"

"It's just... and you don't have to answer this, 'cause it's probably none of my business. But I was wondering... some of the things Naomi said -- how she said them, what she *didn't* say... Blair is--" It was ridiculous. The hints he'd put together, didn't have to add up to this. It wasn't any of his business if they did. He was about to brush it off, unsaid, when Blair spoke up.

"You're wondering if she's my real mother?"

Jim looked up, saw Blair staring at him calmly. "Yeah. I mean, the pictures she was showing me, they all started when you were four. And all the stories, she didn't say anything about you as a baby."

"That's because she got me when I was almost four years old." Blair didn't look away, and Jim was struck by how he spoke. In a tone that he'd never heard before -- he suspected it meant Blair was telling a truth he didn't often reveal. "My parents left me to her."

"Oh." He didn't know what to say next. "Left you to her?" It was an odd expression. If they'd died... did it mean they knew, beforehand?

Blair turned away again, and Jim could see him trying to control his fidgeting. Finally he just nodded, and said, "Yeah."

Jim decided not to push. He was grateful that Blair had answered his questions honestly so far -- he knew it was rare for the other man to be so forthcoming about himself. He moved the conversation back onto safer, but no less intriguing, topics. "Naomi's an incredible person."

The relieved grin told Jim he'd made the right move. "Oh, yeah. She's great. I really... I really love her, you know?"

"Yeah, I know." Jim smiled. Apparently it *was* possible to convince Blair that love could be real. That was the most important thing he'd learned from Naomi's visit. Blair had trusted her, when she said 'I'll be back' and 'I love you'. If he was patient, maybe someday he'd be able to say those words, too.

Jim watched his young partner walk ahead of him into the loft. For a change, watching Blair was not accompanied by the urge to take him in his arms and hold him, or the need to tell him a thousand words of confession, or the distraction of lust that, well, needed no explanation. He simply watched Blair move, grateful that he was *here*.

When he'd recognised Maya he'd felt a kick to his stomach. He knew how Blair had felt about her -- how much pain he'd been in when, yet again, someone he'd cared for had left him. Seeing her again made Jim want to scream. Joy that she'd returned to Blair -- perhaps that meant she wanted to love him? Anger that she'd invaded his life, would steal him away? He'd kept a close eye on his partner, waiting for signs of what Blair was feeling. That vigil had quickly ended when Maya's tricks were revealed.

"Jim? You okay, man?"

Jim realised with a start that he'd been standing in the entryway, not moving. Blair was standing before him, in full Guide mode -- Jim heard the echoes of Blair's voice, reaching for him when he'd zoned. He gave Blair a sheepish smile. "I was thinking. Guess I zoned out."

Blair smiled. "That's normal, at least."

Jim watched as Blair turned away, hearing the undercurrents in Blair's tone. Normal? Had Maya's deception upset him that badly? He had had the impression that Blair was no longer in love with Maya. That wasn't to say Blair couldn't have been hurt.... Remembering the first time Blair had watched Maya leave, he followed the other man into his bedroom. "Chief? You okay?"

"Huh?" Blair just blinked at him, as if he hadn't expected the inquiry. Then he nodded. "Yeah, man, I'm fine. Tired, that's all." Blair grimaced, and shook out his hand. "I think I'm going to give up those left hooks, though."

"Let me see." Jim forgot about the words he'd been trying to form, words he'd been unable to find last time to reach Blair and let him know someone was there for him. He ignored Blair's protests and held the injured hand gently in his own. Running his fingers lightly over the skin, he felt for signs of injury. Bruises, nothing more. He looked up to say so, and stopped. "Blair?"

Blair was staring at him, breathing slightly laboured. "I'm just tired."

Jim let him take his hand away. "Nothing's broken except some blood vessels. You can put some ice on it--" Something besides his conscious mind was speaking, because all he could think about was the feel of Blair's hand. Warm, soft... he wanted to take it up again.

"I'm okay, Jim. I just want to get some rest, all right? I'm gonna read for a while. Why don't you call me when it's time for supper?"

Jim just nodded, letting Blair make his escape. He turned and, moving into the living room, let the thoughts take over. You are my love, you are the power in my life and the force that drives me to live it. You are my joy, my delight, my sorrow, my fear -- everything inside me is tainted with you. Painted with you.

Why can't I tell you? Why can't I explain to you that this is for real? For ever?

"Technically, bullshit is a form of male bonding."

Jim didn't realise, at first, the implications of his partner's claim, dismissing it as a joke. Then it occurred to him -- it went both ways, lying and being lied to. JIm gave Blair a close look. Do you really believe that? Bullshit as a form of male bonding -- does that mean that the people who mean the most to you, lie to you? Is that what you believe? Is that what you've learned?

Jim wanted to yell in frustration. How could you tell someone the truth when all they seemed to hear were lies? He turned his attention from the distraction of teasing Blair and watched as Joel moved to the roof, to defuse the remaining bomb. It was a sight many had not expected to see again, and it was thanks to Blair that the man was back on the job. How could one man be so much? So good to those around him, and yet the recipient of so many of the worst things humans could do to each other?

Out of nowhere -- or maybe not 'nowhere' -- Jim heard Blair's voice. "A thank you'd be nice." How often did Blair say what he really felt? How hurt had he been to make that one admission which Jim had brushed off, too distracted by his overloading senses to think about anything else? He looked at Blair, now reclining against the truck's hood. Jim walked over and gave him a nod. "You did a great job with Joel. Over the years he's saved a lot of lives. Thanks to you he'll be able to save a lot more."

Blair stared at him, mouth gaping open for a split second. Then it was replaced by a small smile. "Thanks, Jim." He turned his face to look up at the roof. Jim said nothing more. He had felt Blair relax the moment he'd heard Jim's words. Jim could feel Blair's happiness, curling into the air around him like smoke. For now, that was enough.

Later, Jim offered to make supper. They stopped by the Farmer's Market -- Blair had addicted him to the fresh foods and cheap prices -- and picked up some things for a Greek meal. Jim noticed that Blair's energy level was not only completely back to normal, but was entirely unfeigned. It was good to see, and he discarded the notion that perhaps they ought not be acting like kids in public.

Kids, or something else? He shook his head. Then he noticed what Blair was holding. In his best cop voice he said, "Sandburg, put the rhubarb down and no one gets hurt." There was no *way* he was going to eat something which resembled big, red, celery.

Startled, but with a quick grin, Blair responded, "Hey, man, I wasn't doing anything."

"Put it down and back away slowly."

Blair set it down, but leaned close. "Mm... rhubarb and strawberry cobbler... vanilla ice cream... mmm...."

"With tabouli? Chief, where's your--"

"Sense of decorum? Of adventure?"

"Taste." This was the man who'd lectured him on meals with cohesion, instead of the mismatch of 'whatever's in the fridge will do'.

"I dunno, you never offered to taste me."

Momentarily stunned, Jim watched as Blair continued examining the vegetables, apparently unaware of the reaction to his words. From across the cart of peppers, though, Blair looked up at him with a serious expression. Jim still hadn't moved. As he watched, it appeared as though Blair would say something and he focused his hearing in tightly. But the other man remained quiet, and moved away to get the bread.

Nothing more was said about the comment as they finished their shopping and headed for home. Thoughts were buzzing in Jim's brain and he had to forcibly warn himself not to zone out on them while driving. 'Don't think and drive' was a new motto, it would seem, as he only noticed the red light in time to slam on the brakes and squeal to a stop.

He ignored Blair's look of concern, instead attempting to rein in the chaos in his head. Finally he shook his head. Whatever Blair had meant by the comment, by the look he'd given him afterwards, Jim couldn't tell. He'd never been given any indication that Blair felt anything of that sort for him -- and god knew, he'd been watching closely enough to see it. A joke could be brushed off, but that look... that serious, staring into his heart look afterwards could not be so discarded.

Finally, as he parked outside their building with no more near mishaps, Jim made his decision. Actually, it was a decision he'd made a year ago; now he had to find a way to do it. A way that Blair would either have to believe, or at least... accept. He had to make this real for someone whose past experience would scream that this was not truth, that the words were lies and the actions a facade. In a year he'd considered and rejected a thousand scenarios. As he entered the loft, Blair trailing silently behind him, he chose.

The bag of groceries were left on the kitchen counter; Jim went into the living room. He heard Blair say his name, but didn't answer. He turned the stereo on and selected a CD he had in the changer - track number memorised, from all the times he had listened to it when his roommate wasn't home. He picked up the remote and turned around, moved to the middle of the living room. Blair was still watching him.

All or nothing, Ellison. This is it.

"Blair... I don't know how to convince you that what I'm about to say is true. I don't know how to tell you what I feel so that you'll believe me. All I can do is show you, say the words regardless, and hope to god you trust me -- I've never lied to you, Blair. I never will." He smiled, sadly. "Of course, if I did lie I could say I wouldn't, easily enough."

Blair echoed the sad smile, but moved closer. "What's up, Jim?"

Instead of replying, Jim hit 'play', then, in the seconds before the music started, he set the remote down on the endtable and took Blair into his arms. The young man started in surprise but as the song began, let Jim lead him into a slow, swaying embrace.

                              KISS FROM A ROSE
                                   by SEAL

                      There used to be a graying tower
                              alone on the sea.
                            You became the light
                           on the dark side of me.
                   Love remained the drug that's the high
                              and not the pill.
                              But did you know
                             that when it snows
                            my eyes become large
                   and the light that you shine can't be seen?

              I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grave.
           Ooh, the more I get of you the stranger it feels, yeah.
                       And now that your rose is in bloom
                    a light hits the gloom on the grave.

                     There's so much a man can tell you,
                             so much he can say.
                            You remain my power,
                                my pleasure,
                                  my pain.

          to me you're like a growing addiction that I can't deny.
                  Won't you tell me is that healthy, baby?
                              But did you know
                             that when it snows
                            my eyes become large
                   and the light that you shine can't be seen?

              I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grave.
            Ooh, the more I get of you the stranger it feels, yeah.
                       Now that your rose is in bloom
                    a light hits the gloom on the grave.

                  I've been kissed by a rose on the grave.
                  I've been kissed by a rose on the grave.
                  I've been kissed by a rose on the grave.
                  I've been kissed by a rose on the grave.

                    There is so much a man can tell you,
                             so much he can say.
                            You remain my power,
                                my pleasure,
                                  my pain.

          To me you're like a growing addiction that I can't deny.
                  Won't you tell me is that healthy, baby?
                              But did you know
                             that when it snows
                            my eyes become large
                   and the light you shine can't be seen?

              I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grave.
           Ooh, the more I get of you the stranger it feels, yeah.
                       Now that your rose is in bloom
                    a light hits the gloom on the grave.

           Yes, I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grave.
               [...I've been kissed by a rose on the grave...]
            Ooh, the more I get of you, stranger it feels, yeah.
                       Now that your rose is in bloom
                    a light hits the gloom on the grave.

                       Now that your rose is in bloom
                                   a light
                               hits the gloom
                                on the grave.

When the song ended Jim picked up the remote and stopped the player. He let his other arm fall away from Blair, and waited. What could he say? He still didn't know. Nothing could be stronger than the words he was afraid Blair wouldn't believe. If they weren't enough....

Blair stood still. Cocking his head to one side, he said carefully, "Jim, are you telling me you're in love with me?"

He could only nod. Much as he wanted -- needed -- to say it out loud he couldn't risk it, couldn't stand doing anything which would make Blair expect the worst.

"For how long?" The question was whispered.

"I'm not certain. It feels like... since we met. Since we became friends. Since the first time I saw you upset, and wanted to tear the world apart and make everything all right for you again."


Jim saw Blair's stunned look and waited to discover what it meant. He felt his body tingling -- suddenly realised that he'd held his friend close, held him tightly, danced with him to the song that he'd listened to a thousand times while he imagined making love. He raised a hand; Blair bolted. Jim froze, and listened to his world break.

The door to his bedroom slammed behind him but he barely heard it; he'd trained himself to be quiet as possible, out of deference to his friend's heightened senses. The shut door hardly offered him privacy anyway, but he was acting on instinct and instinct said get away, close it off, make it stop.

He loves me. Oh god! How could he?

One hand shot out, grabbing the doorframe before he could open the door and take the fire escape down. Standing in shock, he didn't question it, listening only to the voice in his head.

How could he say it? How could he do this to me?

Jim was Blair's best friend. They had everything going for them -- worked together, lived together, respected each other and learned from each other. They fit together in ways Blair never imagined he had places to be fit into. That night Jim had asked him to stay, after Naomi had visited, Blair had felt a sense of relief so great he'd thought he might faint. Handed an excuse to stay right where he wanted to be, stay for *years*, when he'd been waiting for that casual 'looking for a place to live yet, buddy?', had been almost more than he could believe.

But Jim had been proving himself to be different. From the second Blair had met him, he'd been proving himself different. Maybe it was being a Sentinel, maybe it was just Jim. Maybe -- just slightly perhaps -- it was something about Blair's being his Guide. Everything that Blair had done which had always before been the last straw, only made the man smile, shake his head in exasperation, then simply... accept.

Blair admitted that he'd done a few things deliberately, trying to provoke the man into losing his patience and throw him out. Everytime Jim would brush it off as Blair being Blair and though he'd yell sometimes or lay down silly rules, he never really seemed to mind. For goodness' sakes, he'd *helped* Blair decorate the loft with masks and tribal fetishes and odd assortments of collectables.

And now he had revealed the reason. Why he'd put up with the nonsense, the absurdity, the annoyances. He was in love.

Oh god why did he have to be in love?

Blair noticed his hand still grasping the doorframe and promised he would not run. His hand let go, and he moved away from the door. This is odd, he thought. My body doesn't want me to leave. Who's controlling my body, then? He sat down on the bed, wondering why he couldn't force himself to do what had always been second nature.

It wasn't that he didn't love Jim. He rather liked being in love with Jim. He could have all the benefits -- save one -- and none of the risk, by being in love but not being loved back. So why did Jim have to ruin things by saying it? By being in love with him? Blair found that he was rocking back and forth on the edge of his bed, crying silently. Now that he's said it, he'll leave. Now that he's admitted what he feels, everything will change and someday, maybe even very soon, he'll leave. If he just hadn't ever said those words, hadn't ever realised how he felt, things could have remained as they were. Friends, partners, nothing at all. Which meant... what?

He tried to calm himself down. In the last year he'd spent a lot of time thinking things through, examining the purpose of things -- real things, not abstracted academic scenarios. Usually it was in trying to make sense of Jim's experiences, so he could guide him through them. Now he found himself applying a few of those techniques to himself. Relax, calm down... think about this. What does this mean?

He suddenly realised this was the first time he'd ever asked that question. For all that he'd known, since he was four, that people who said 'I love you' eventually left, he'd never found himself asking how to convince *himself* to stay. He shook his head, and stood up. He needed to talk this out, otherwise he wouldn't be able to understand it. Maybe it was ironic that he was going to talk it out with Jim, but the man was the only one he trusted with this -- with his heart, with his sanity.

Jim looked up as Blair walked into the living room. Blair saw the fear and hurt on his face, replaced quickly by hope and unease. Blair knew he was waiting for an answer, but he didn't have one. He needed help finding it. He was shocked to find that something inside him wanted to find a reason to believe.

"Blair, I didn't--" Jim started to apologise.

With a shake of his head, Blair interrupted. "Jim, I need to understand something. I want..." He felt something inside him break free as he made the decision. "I want to believe you so badly. That your telling me this doesn't presage your taking off and leaving me behind. But I... can't...."

He saw the horrified look appear on Jim's face. "Blair, I didn't do this to hurt you. I know you have reasons to disbelieve, but... I'm not leaving you. I have every intention of being with you for the rest of my life, and beyond that if I can manage it. All I need is you in my life -- and I don't care how. Blair, I'm not asking for you to do or say anything. I know," Jim's voice caught, and he continued in a slightly softer tone, "you expect this to lead to the end. For whatever reason, you think that someone loving you is bad, that it can't last. I don't know how to prove otherwise to you, except by being here. And that's going to take time. Blair, please... give me that time."

Jim had stepped closer, until he was standing before Blair. He raised his hands and gently cupped Blair's face. Blair could feel himself shaking, knew his friend could too. "Jim...." He didn't know what to say. He wanted to run, but he couldn't bear to feel the pain of losing... of leaving. Being left hurt so much.

Whispering, Jim leaned forward. "I love you." He placed a soft kiss on Blair's lips, then he moved away, leaving his hands in place. "Tell me how to convince you, Chief. Tell me how I can convince you that I'm telling the truth."

Blair could only shake his head. Asking for placations would only tell him that Jim was willing to play his game. Getting something you'd asked for wasn't a sign of love. It was a sign that someone wanted to devote a little energy to keeping you around.

"Somehow Naomi convinced you. How did she do it?"

Blair swallowed. Oh god, he didn't want to have to say this. Jim would decide it wasn't worth it. Steeling himself, "It took her forever. I was almost 12 when I decided she was telling the truth. Eight years of her telling me, of doing nice things like not leaving me behind when she traveled or leaving some guy she really liked because he didn't like me and I was her son now and she chose me over him -- I finally decided she was telling the truth."

Jim was giving him a look he couldn't decipher. Blair waited to hear the words -- that's too much, give me something easier. Jim reached up and wiped the tears from Blair's cheek. "If you'll let me, I would be happy to spend *eighty* years telling you I love you."

It was then Blair realised Jim was crying, as well. Something in his head was screaming "trust!" and he wanted to, so badly. He couldn't move, frozen in between saying yes, love me, and ripping himself away and running to where this couldn't happen again. His brain had stopped and Jim was silent and he couldn't make himself move, either way.

He remembered he'd promised to stay. He'd promised that he wouldn't be the one to leave. Jim needed him, as a Guide if nothing else. Could he sacrifice himself to the chance that Jim would stop loving him, to keep that promise? A very clear, calm voice suddenly spoke up. That promise might mean keeping Jim alive. Losing a man's love was not to be compared.

As he gave himself the way out, he found himself relaxing. Still scared, but... it had worked, once before. Naomi had found him, given him her name, and loved him like her own. Twenty four years later she still loved him. Maybe it would happen again.

"I won't leave, Jim." He almost stopped, at the look of joy on Jim's face. How could *he* make another person so happy just by being around? "I can't promise anything, except that I won't leave. I love you, too." He waited. Jim just smiled at him -- relief and pleasure and love all evident now. But Jim didn't say anything, didn't make a move. Blair frowned.

Immediately Jim looked concerned. "What?"

"Aren't you going to do something?"

Jim gave him a slow, sad smile. "Blair, I don't need anything more than for you to be with me. For you to let me say that I love you. *I love you*. I don't need anything else."

Shaking his head, Blair thought once again -- this man is so unlike anyone I've ever met. "Don't you want to have sex with me?"

Jim's smile widened. "Yes, I want to make love to you. You've been the only one I've wanted, for a long time." Then he stopped smiling. "Blair -- would you make love to a man you loved, if you thought he was going to leave?"

He hesitated, not certain where this was going. "Yeah."

"Does that make it harder, when he leaves?"

"Yeah." He felt something inside him cry. Leaves. He said 'when he leaves'.

"Then I can wait. Blair, I don't want to hurt you. And I don't want you thinking I'm going to hurt you. I can wait, until you're sure."

Weirder and weirder, this man gets. "Jim... don't you want to--"

"Blair," Jim had the sound of a man with infinite patience, despite his having interrupted. "I have loved you for almost a year. How often did we make love in that time?"


"Then why do you think I need to make love to you now, to stay in love?"

"I thought... why'd you tell me you love me, then?" Blair's thoughts were whirling. I don't understand this. What is he doing?

Jim shrugged. "Because I need you to know. You'll never believe me if I don't start saying it."

"Oh." Blair shifted, from foot to foot. "You... that's it? You wanted to be able to say it?"

"Yes." Jim just looked at him.

He seemed... satisfied. He seemed... sincere. Blair started rocking slightly. He acts like he means what he says.


"Yeah?" He felt like he was asleep, most of his brain shut down and only his body still reacting.

"Are you okay?"

The soft words touched him. He nodded. "Maybe."

"Do you want anything?" Blair heard such tenderness in the other man's voice.

If this were Naomi, if this were someone I knew loved me, I know what I'd ask for.

He looked closely at Jim. He could ask, Jim would do it. That wasn't the problem. The problem was liking it. The problem was needing it. Slowly, he shook his head. "I'll let you know." Blair turned and walked back into his room. Behind him, Jim was watching. And that was okay.

It had to be.

Not a thing in the world could be wrong at times like these. Snuggled deep in his beloved's arms, eyes closed and mind adrift, he could forget that anything other than this feeling existed. Warm, loved, content -- all those hallmark sentiments that everyone talked about having but few acted like they actually had. It was this sort of embrace that he could only get from someone who loved him. For years only Naomi had made him feel this way. Now, sometimes, in Jim's arms he could feel it too.

If he could feel this all the time, he'd... he didn't know what. Probably explode. He tried so hard to let himself feel the trust and love he knew he had for Jim, then when he *could* feel it, it either threatened to overwhelm him or disappeared just when he was beginning to accept it. The feeling now was already fading. With a sigh, he opened his eyes. A hand rubbed gently at the back of his head.

"What's wrong, love?"

Blair knew better than to say 'nothing'. He looked up at Jim and smiled. "Just trying to hang on. It keeps vanishing on me."

Jim returned the smile. Blair knew he understood, they'd had this conversation so many times before. "Don't worry about it." He gave Blair a kiss on the head. "Someday you'll feel it as often as I feel it."

"How often is that?" He knew, but he wanted to hear it again.

"Constantly. Sometimes I forget to notice what it is, but whenever I think about you I feel it. Sometimes I find myself feeling happy and I don't know why -- I realise it's because of you. Because I love you, because you love me."

With a sniff, Blair wriggled against Jim's chest. The feeling was almost coming back. Maybe if he closed his eyes again, he could bring it back. Being here, alone, listening to Jim's heart beat, hearing him say things like that... it was almost easy. He could almost recapture the sensation. "Talk to me, please. I want to hear your voice."

Jim squeezed him tightly, then began talking. "Two months ago I thought I'd lost everything. I couldn't keep from telling you how I feel but I was afraid you wouldn't be able to hear it. I love you so much. Losing you would have been the worst thing to happen to me." There was a short pause. "Sometimes I see you watching me, and I know you're still thinking that I'm going to leave you." Blair opened his mouth to deny it, reassure the other man, but Jim kept talking. "When I can say I love you whenever I want... it's like being able to breathe pure oxygen. It fills me up and makes me lightheaded--"

"Makes you squeak when you talk?"

"Imp. That's helium."

Blair laughed. "I know. We had a cylinder of it... nevermind. I don't think I want to confess *that*."

With another kiss on the head, Jim continued. "I love the way I feel right now. Free, safe, as if everything that has ever gone wrong in my life doesn't really matter because right now, in this moment, everything is right. Everything that is important to me is here in my arms."

"Oh." Blair pressed his face into the soft fabric of Jim's shirt. In the last several weeks Jim had spent a lot of time talking about his love for Blair, explaining what it felt like, what it meant to him. Trying to show and reassure him that his love was not going to allow him to leave. At times like this, Blair realised that deep down part of him believed. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." They sat in silence for a while, watching the fire dance in the fireplace. Blair felt Jim shift slightly, and knew it meant he was about to speak again. A moment later, he did. "Blair, can I ask you something?"


"You don't have to answer this, if you don't want to."

"Tonight I feel like I couldn't deny you anything. I don't *want* to say no. Ask me anything, I'll give you an honest answer."

There was silence, and Blair knew the hesitation came from Jim trying to decide whether to take advantage of the admission. Then he heard Jim's voice, in a soft tone, "Blair... why does someone saying 'I love you' mean to you that you'll lose them?"

Blair sighed. He thought over his answer -- having just promised to answer, he realised he hadn't anticipated this particular question. He knew he would tell Jim. It was just that he hadn't told anyone since he was eight years old. He grabbed onto Jim's arm with one hand, held it tightly. Jim pulled his arms closer around Blair. "I was four when Naomi... you know that she took me in."

"Yes. Your parents left you, is that why...?"

Blair heard the soft repetition of the same words he'd used before, and the rise in tone that meant Jim had figured it out. Some of it, at least. "Yes. That's why... but it isn't..." He felt something squeeze his insides, making it hard to speak. "When I say they left me, I mean... they left me." His voiced dropped to a whisper. "They sat me down at a booth in a diner... I don't even know where, what state, what town. Ordered me a couple of hot dogs and told me to eat, they'd be right back." His body was tense, he could feel Jim's hands pressing against him. He came as close as he could to saying it. "They weren't." Without warning he found himself saying more, explaining, because it was very important that Jim not misunderstand. "They abandoned me there. Sat me down and walked away and drove off and I never saw them again. Naomi checked -- they weren't in any sort of accident. They just--" He broke off, crying too hard to continue.

"Oh god... Blair." Arms tightened, he felt another long kiss fall on his head. "I'm so sorry." The whisper was so close to his ear.

"I don't even know what my real name is. Naomi called me 'Nicky' until we got to Sandkirk and she enrolled me in school. She asked me what name I wanted to put on the enrollment card. I asked if I could use hers, and... I don't really remember where I got 'Blair' from. But she told them that was my name, and they never asked. They... no one ever knew I wasn't her son." Blair looked up, needing to see Jim's face for this. "She never officially adopted me. When I was 16 I needed a birth certificate, Naomi asked a friend to draw one up. She didn't say why, he didn't ask."

Jim was looking at him with an expression he'd only seen before on Naomi's face. He remembered it clearly, in fact, from the first time he saw her -- standing over him where he sat, waiting miserably for those he knew even then weren't ever coming back. She'd asked him where his parents were and he'd told her. She'd watched him for a second, then held out her hand. He'd taken it and gone with her. Now, Jim was looking at him with the same mixture of love, sorrow, and anger. He shivered.

Jim's eyes went wide. "Love?"

He smiled. "I love you, Jim. I haven't told anyone about this in a very long time. I'm glad... I feel like..." He put his head back against Jim's chest, warm and strong, "like I'm safe here."

"You are, love. You are."

Blair sighed, this time in relief. "I never asked Naomi where she found me... you could, if you want."

Jim was obviously surprised by the offer. "Do you want me to ask for you?"

"No. I don't need to know," he answered carefully, knowing that as much as it had hurt, only putting it past him had ever helped. But Jim might not be able to. With his need to protect and need for control he might have to find out everything he could. "If you do, don't tell me. Okay?"

"Okay," Jim's reply was awkward. After a moment he asked, "'Nicky'? Was that your first name?"

"Yeah." Blair tensed, suddenly. Then Jim made his fears disappear.

"I love you, Blair." Another tight squeeze. "I'm never going to leave you."

Blair closed his eyes. He pressed his lips to Jim's arm, the closest body part to his mouth. "I love you, too." At times like these, nothing in the world could possibly be wrong.