More Than Attraction
Part 9 of the Life Is A Bridge series. Epilogue for Attraction. Many thanks to Annie for the beta, massive encouragement and not so subtle nudging to write something already!
Blair Sandburg steered his car smoothly into a parking space opposite his apartment building, immensely relieved that his notoriously unreliable classic had made it home. He felt good for other reasons too. He’d just had a second date with a gorgeous young woman he’d met at a coffee shop not far from the university and they’d hit it off really well… really well!
After what had happened with Maya, the first woman he’d honestly fallen head over heels in love with, he’d resolved to just lay low on the dating scene for a while, or maybe forever. Maybe become a monk. He actually knew a couple of monks and they were pretty cool guys. Didn’t seem to bother them being celibate, but the minute he’d laid eyes on Hannah, all thoughts of celibacy or even just avoiding the dating scene for a while had evaporated. She was pretty, she was smart, and she was just a really nice person. They got on like a house on fire within minutes of her mopping the coffee she spilled on his shirt, apologizing profusely all the while and then insisting she buy him a new shirt. Blair told her he’d settle for a latte as long as she was free to join him. She was, and the rest as they say, was history. They’d been seeing each other now for two weeks and tonight, she’d finally asked Blair to stay a while after he dropped her home.
He’d stayed for a little more than a while. He smiled at himself in the mirror. Life was looking pretty good right now. He felt relaxed and mellow and he couldn’t seem to stop smiling. Not that he wanted to.
The week before, he’d felt as much of a total failure as he had when he screwed things up so badly with Maya… and with Jim, by becoming way too involved with the subject he was supposed to be surreptitiously watching in order to get evidence against her father. That had been bad, more so for him than anyone else. He’d been taken captive by Maya’s father, knocked around and then Maya had left, saying while she loved him, she hated him too for having a hand in getting her father arrested. Blair didn’t blame her. She’d discovered that the father she’d adored was a criminal, a murderer and gun runner and Blair had helped to put him away.
It was over and done. Jim had forgiven him for screwing up and almost letting Carasco escape, no doubt making the decision to never let Blair work undercover again. That part was Jim’s fault though. Blair had refused… until he’d laid eyes on Maya. Okay, they were equally guilty on that count.
Blair sighed and got out of the car, locking the door before zipping his jacket closed against the chill air. “Enough already, Sandburg,” he admonished firmly. “Maya’s the past. Now, Hannah…” He did a little silly dance as he headed for the apartment building, as much to warm himself up as anything, grateful there was no one around to see at this time of night.
The elevator jerked and shuddered its way slowly up to the third floor and Blair used the time to review what had happened during the last case he’d worked with Jim. Who knew a sentinel could sense pheromones so strongly that the allure of them could cloud his judgement and have him acting like a horny teenager instead of a seasoned detective tracking down a gang of jewel thieves?
Deep down, Blair thought he should have known. He was, after all, the foremost authority on sentinels, as far as he knew. Lately it seemed like he knew far less about his dissertation subject than he should. He’d convinced Jim he could help him control his senses and yet it seemed he was failing far more often than he succeeded.
They’d joked about it after the gang of thieves had been arrested but Blair knew that Jim was as embarrassed about his lack of control with Laura McCarthy as Blair was about his lack of knowledge and inability to help. More and more often Blair found himself doubting his place as Jim’s partner and just as often wondering if Jim felt the same way.
By the time the elevator opened on the third floor and Blair made his way to the front door of the loft, the happy mood he’d been in since seeing Hannah had dissipated like so much dust, leaving him feeling as deflated as a child’s worn out balloon.
Jim was seated on the couch, flipping through television channels and didn’t even look up when Blair walked in. Blair hung up his jacket and was about to just go to his room but hesitated. He could be about to ruin everything by doing this but anything was better than continuing like this, constantly second-guessing everything he did or thought.
Taking a breath, he turned to look at Jim. “How was your night, man?”
Jim glanced over his shoulder at him, shrugged and looked back at the television. “Okay. The game got pre-empted for some reality show. Nothing else on. In fact…” he stood and stretched “…I was about to turn in. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Oh, that’s a shame… about the game, I mean. Um, I’m free until around 2 tomorrow, if you want me to come into the station with you.”
“Nothing much happening,” Jim replied. “Just got to finalize the reports on the jewel thieves, ready for the D.A. Why don’t you sleep in, get some work done on your diss?”
“About that,” Blair said and plunged on when Jim merely raised an eyebrow, “my dissertation. I know I said I’d help you control your senses and work on any hitches that came up with them and I really meant it. I just didn’t realize one of those hitches was going to be a hypersensitivity to pheromones.” Blair took a couple of paces away from Jim then stopped and looked at him, yanking at his hair in frustration. “I’ve researched and researched and I can’t find a thing about it anywhere, man. I’m sorry. I’ll keep looking—“
Jim held up a hand, interrupting the flow of words. He looked a little red in the face. “I’d rather you didn’t, Chief,” he said. “It’s something I’d rather not think about anymore. I made a fool of myself in front of my captain and others. You may have noticed it was not my finest hour.” He grimaced. “Let’s just forget it ever happened, okay?”
“What if it happens again?” Blair asked in a hoarse whisper.
“Then you’ll recognize the symptoms sooner and pull me out of it, get me away from her before I get hooked.” He smiled but it looked strained. “Go to bed, Chief. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“What if I keep screwing up, like I did with Maya and with the pheromones? What if I’m not able to help you with your senses as much as I said I could?”
Jim frowned. “You saying you want out, Sandburg?”
“I don’t know. No, but… I guess what I’m asking is ‘Do you want me out?’”
“You able to promise you’ll never screw up again?”
“Of course I can’t! I wish I could but lately I seem to screw up more than I help you so if me admitting that means you want me to go then I guess I should start packing.” Blair turned toward his room. This talk hadn’t gone at all the way he’d hoped. He’d thought Jim would just tell him not to worry about it and things would go on just like before, only this time he would promise Jim he’d never let him down again. Instead, here he was getting ready to move on, to leave what had become his home, and probably to lose the man who’d become his best friend.
“Hold on a minute there, Chief,” Jim said. He pulled on Blair’s arm, until Blair turned to face him. “Seems to me I’ve screwed up and let you down as much or more than you have. I should have come to you when things got so out of control with Laura—” He held up a hand for silence when Blair opened his mouth to speak. “Hear me out, Sandburg. I didn’t get to you in time when Lash attacked you. You told me it wasn’t my fault, right?”
“Because it wasn’t, Jim, and you got to Lash before he… got to me.”
“And for a little light relief, what about when you told me not to take the Nyquil on the train?”
Blair nodded. “That one I will concede was pretty dumb. You really should have listened to me, man! I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s going on with you!”
“Aha!” Jim raised a fist in what looked like triumph. “I rest my case, Sandburg.” He reached out and rested his hands on Blair’s shoulders. “What we have here is a partnership and partnerships work both ways or they don’t work at all. Quid pro quo, remember?”
Blair nodded, some of his guilt dropping away. “I remember.”
“Good.” Jim dropped his hands then gave Blair a gentle whack on the head. “Go to bed, huh? I want to be at the PD by 7.”
“7? As in AM?” Blair shook his head then headed into his bedroom. “You are a slavedriver, Ellison.”
Blair woke suddenly and looked at his alarm clock. Almost 5am. His t-shirt was damp with sweat and his heart was racing. He had a whisper of memory of the dream that had dragged him from a deep sleep, remembering just enough of it to feel rattled and freaked out, knowing there was no way he’d get back to sleep now. Climbing out of bed, he pulled on his dressing gown and walked quietly into the kitchen to make tea.
Sitting at the kitchen table, he blew on the hot brew, watching tendrils of steam whisked into the air by his breath.
Was it possible there were other sentinels out there? He’d searched for years and only ever found Jim, and even that was pretty much by accident. But if there was one, there could be more, right? And if there were more, was that what Jim’s hypersensitivity to pheromones was all about? Was it a way for sentinels to seek out those who were the same, and if they did, would they be attracted or threatened?
“Way to go, Professor,” Blair muttered and took a careful sip of his tea. “Make yourself feel even more of a failure by adding to what you really don’t know about sentinels.”
There was a clattering of footsteps down the stairs behind him and he turned to see Jim running down, dressed in his gym clothes. “Thought I’d get a quick workout in at the gym before work,” he said. “Want to join me?”
Blair waved away the invitation with alacrity. “All yours, man. I’ll cook breakfast while you’re working up a sweat.”
“Your loss.” Jim headed for the door then stopped and looked back at Blair. “You okay, Chief? Everything okay?”
“Yeah, man, everything’s great.” Blair picked up his mug and walked into the kitchen. He busied himself creating the best cooked breakfast he could muster up, determined to keep his disquieting thoughts at bay.