The Pretender by Silk

The Pretender - Silk

Blair Sandburg cradled his face in his hands and drew what sounded like an impossibly heavy breath. His voice, when it became audible, was shaky, as though it was dangerously close to slipping free of whatever tenuous control he still had. "I didn't have anything to do with that."

"So you say, but I'm not hearing a decent explanation yet."

"You're treating me like a perp."

The accusation rang in Jim Ellison's ears. He didn't need the senses of a Sentinel to hear it either. Blair felt betrayed. But he had to know that Jim was just doing his job. He was very attached to his job. Not like...

"What?" Blair was staring at him, his blue eyes wide and incredulous.

Did he say that last part out loud? Jim coughed nervously. No, dammit, he wasn't nervous. What did he have to be nervous about? The fact that the way his very definitely male partner was getting under Jim's skin was nothing new. From day one, Blair Sandburg had been a thorn in his side that refused to be ignored.

"You want I should talk to Simon, Chief?"

Blair almost growled in response. "I'm fluent in several languages, Jim, some of them all but extinct, but you think I need an interpreter?"

"Just saying the circs look mighty suspicious. Couldn't hurt to put in a good word," Jim offered. Why did he feel like the tables had been turned? Why was he on the defensive? Blair was the one who was--

"I don't need you to take care of me, Jim!"

"Sandburg!" Simon's deep voice carried across the room from where he stood in the doorway. "You want the entire squad to hear you? God, the two of you sound like you're married!"

Jim froze and cast his eyes down to the floor in an effort to avoid Sandburg's accusatory gaze. But he needn't have bothered. Blair was shaking his head at the police captain. "I had nothing to do with the theft at the University, Simon."

"I know that, Sandburg. Nobody's questioning your story--" Suddenly Simon narrowed his eyes and took note of the younger man's obvious distress. Sandburg was like a team mascot. No one messed with the mascot. Unless they wanted to take on the whole team. "Did Jim--is Jim interrogating you?"

"Sir--"

"Shut up, Ellison! I'm speaking to Blair."

"Oh, great, now--"

"I said shut up, Jim! You've got more stubborn than a pack of mules." When Jim attempted to protest one more time, Simon silenced him with a wave of an angry finger.

"Blair, did he hurt you?" Simon asked softly. He knew how sensitive Blair was, and how easily Jim could wound him with words. God, for a smart man, Jim Ellison could be incredibly bereft of common sense.

In answer, Blair palmed his face again. This time when his voice came, it was strong, almost stentorian. "Jesus Christ, what is it with you people?" He leaped to his feet and started pacing back and forth. In such a small office, however, there was not much place to go.

"I didn't have anything to do with the theft." When Jim started to interrupt, this time it was Blair who did the silencing with a single non-verbal gesture. "Fuck you, Jim," Blair spat, as he made his way back to his partner. "For not believing me the first hundred times I said that."

"Blair!" Jim tried to grab Sandburg's arm as he passed, but Blair shook him off angrily. "Do I look like I need your help?"

"No, I--"

"You don't get to speak," Blair ground out, anger giving way finally to something else. Something Jim couldn't quite read in those eyes. He cocked his head at an angle, uncaring that he had the look of a man both troubled and puzzled by what he saw. "You...did enough," Blair finished huskily, but all of a sudden Jim was sure that he had been going to say something else.

"Sandburg," Simon began tentatively. He had a great deal of respect for the younger man. He never thought a field anthropologist would turn out to be such an asset to the police department. But he had to be honest. Blair Sandburg was good for Cascade. Good for Jim, too. God knows, that had to be a thankless job, looking after Ellison. Unless...

"I'm not a kid," Blair whispered.

"I know," Simon agreed.

"I deserve better--"

"You do," the police captain nodded.

"I want a new partner," Blair declared flatly.

It was hard to tell who was more surprised by the younger man's declaration. "You're not, I mean, technically, you're not a cop, Sandburg."

"So what good am I, right?" Blair asked rhetorically.

"No, it's just, nobody's going to want to, you know, poach on another man's--"

"Wow," Blair said, but the single word had the power of a swear. "Does everyone think we're sleeping together?"

"Not...um," Simon trailed off. This was a damn awkward conversation to be having, and he blamed Ellison. "This is your fault!" he shouted at Jim. "Fix this!"

But Jim didn't know how, and he had a feeling that Sandburg knew it. "I'm sorry, Chief."

Blair tightened his mouth and nodded. "You probably are."

"What should I do?" Jim hated the need in his voice, but the truth was, he didn't know if he could function without Sandburg, Blair, in his life.

"I can't tell you that, Jim." For the first time, Blair's voice cracked, and Jim could see the strain on his partner's face.

"Why the hell not? Is it a secret?" Jim demanded.

With that, Blair turned on his heel and left. For a long moment, Jim just stood there, contemplating what the hell happened to his nice, normal, bland, Jim, don't forget bland, he added mentally, life.

"Well?" Simon growled.

"Sir?"

"Go after him!"

"But the case--"

"Forget the case, Ellison! Some things are more important!"

Jim blinked. Was everybody drinking the koolaid with lunch today or what? Jim strode impatiently towards the doorway, his long, lean legs rapidly closing the distance between him and his partner.

He was on the prowl, one purpose in mind, though he hadn't even admitted it to himself.

He had to find Sandburg before--

Before what?

Keep going.

Thinking was what had gotten him into trouble in the first place.

***

He wasn't home.

Weird, Jim mused, how the damn loft didn't look like home when Sandburg wasn't there. Where'd he go in such an all-fired rush, anyway? If not home, where?

If he only knew...

***

Blair growled deep in his throat. Sex wasn't supposed to be frustrating. Sex was supposed to be a release. A relief. A...

"Dammit, harder!"

"Easy, Tiger," the young man on top of him chided.

"Fuck me!"

"I'm starting to have second thoughts about this whole deal--"

"Argh!" Blair cried out, cheated one more time of achieving climax. What was it with him and sex lately? He couldn't get there on his own, and now, God help him, he couldn't get there with help. A lot of it.

The bemused young man rolled off Blair and mopped at his groin with the edge of the sheet. "Well, at least one of us came."

Blair regarded the other man with winter in his normally bright blue eyes. "Funny."

"I hope you keep your end of the--"

"Yeah, yeah, you'll get a fucking A."

The nameless lover laughed softly. "You really shouldn't fuck your students, you know. Might give you a bad rep."

Blair pointed in the direction of the sole bathroom in the hotel suite. Without another word, his erstwhile student stood up, allowing the sheet to fall to the floor. He stood there for a second, obviously posing provocatively, his hip akimbo, but Blair didn't even see him. He was too far inside his own head.

When he reached the doorway, the student gave him a puzzled look and asked, "Who's Jim?"

"What?" Blair stared at the other man in disbelief before burying his face in his hands. Shit. Shit. Shit.

When Blair didn't answer, his student smiled crookedly and said, "That's what I thought."

***

"You said to find a way to work through this, this problem I have!" Blair shouted.

"Yelling at me won't make the problem go away, Blair."

"I--" Suitably chastened, Blair nodded. Talking to his therapist usually put him into a good space, if not a great one. But now there was no peace. None at all.

"Why did you sleep with one of your students?"

"I-I don't know."

"Yes, you do. For someone as open-minded as you, Blair, you have a remarkably strong sense of morality. Probably developed as a result of your mother--"

"Could we please leave Naomi out of this? She didn't make me gay!"

"Well, no, that wasn't my point--"

"I don't know what the point is, anymore, that's the problem." Blair tore the fingers of both hands through his already severely tousled hair.

"All right, let's put aside the obvious ethical concerns of sleeping with a student for a moment. Who do you really want to sleep with?"

"What?"

"You do that a lot, Blair. Not a very adaptive way of deflecting the question, however. You couldn't satisfy yourself with your student. Either because you knew you were misusing your position, which clearly didn't bother you at the time, or...you were intentionally using him as a substitute. So I repeat. Who do you really want?"

"Nobody," Blair muttered, his heart wincing as he sliced off yet another piece of it. In service to what? Protecting someone who didn't care if he was protected?

"You said something last week about," his therapist glanced quickly at his notes, "your work partner. He's a cop, right?"

Blair nodded mutely.

"Is he the one--"

"No! Jeesh! I mean--" Blair was so startled by his therapist bringing up Jim that he jumped out of his seat.

"I was going to say," the doctor continued, his baleful glance sentencing Blair to return to where he was sitting. "Is he the one you called The Pretender?"

"Oh. That. Yeah."

"You said that he's very closed off, that he acts as though he--"

"--doesn't have any emotions, yeah. I remember what I said."

"So? Does he?"

"Does he what?"

"Have any emotions, Blair."

Blair closed his eyes and thought about what happened in Simon's office. "No," he said huskily, "he doesn't."

"This bothers you."

Blair shook his head. "Not anymore."

"Blair--"

"He can't help being who he is, Doc."

"Neither can you, Blair," the doctor responded softly.

"This man," he waved off Blair's attempted protest with an airy hand gesture, "who doesn't have any feelings, who you claim not to care about, has somehow managed to break your heart. That's the real problem, isn't it, Blair?"

"It's not his fault," Blair whispered.

"Now who's pretending?" the doctor said, not without compassion.

***

Jim lay awake in the dark, waiting for a sound, any sound, to tell him that Sandburg had returned. It was impossible to sleep anyway, even with his superior skills of avoidance. Thoughts of Blair kept intruding, overwhelming him. It seemed that when it came to one blue-eyed anthropologist, his defenses were finally down.

He didn't know what to say. He wasn't good at revealing his heart. Until Blair crept inside it, he wasn't even certain he had one.

But that didn't matter. Nothing mattered. Except Blair. This was about him. And whatever he wanted.

Even if it was a future that no longer included Jim.

***

Blair let himself into the loft, hoping that Jim was well and truly asleep by now. He couldn't stand another confrontation like the one they had yesterday.

"That you, Chief?"

Blair grimaced. Of course, it was just his luck that Jim seemed to be lying in wait. "Yep," he said curtly, trying not to encourage further conversation.

"Come on up."

Startled, Blair slid his eyes slowly up the stairway to Jim's bedroom. "Up there?"

"We need to talk."

"Can't we, um, do that down here?" In the living room, Blair added mentally. Where you aren't half undressed.

"Are you afraid to come up here?" Jim put his hands on his hips, but that just emphasized the breadth of his naked chest and shoulders. Thank God for boxers, plain, unrevealing boxers, Blair thought. He closed his eyes for a long moment, but his imagination was too good not to see the trail of hair arrowing down below the waist of those shorts. He opened his eyes with a visible shudder.

"Um..."

"Blair." It was his name, but different. Jim never said his name. He always called him something else. Chief, pal, buddy. Never Blair. And not in that tone. That was a tone Jim reserved for a hot babe. A chick. Not...

"Come here."

Blair felt like he was sleepwalking up the short stairway. His body was responding of its own volition. Didn't his brain get a say in this? And what about his heart? His poor, tortured, much maligned heart. Shouldn't he be running the other way? Fast? This could just be another installment of The Pretender. Except for the quiver that rippled throughout Blair's body.

"Don't hurt me," Blair whispered. He couldn't help himself, standing this close to Jim, his body trembling like a boy's. But he didn't have to let Jim take advantage of the one thing he had left in his control. Blair's love for the older man made him vulnerable, but Jim didn't know that. It was good that he didn't. He couldn't use it against him. The way Blair was using it against himself.

"Don't want to hurt you, Chief."

This was awkward. Blair didn't know where to look. Into Jim's eyes? That was like begging for a kiss. Down the length of his hard as steel body? That was begging for something else entirely, and Blair knew that Jim didn't go there.

Didn't he?

Jim lowered his head and nuzzled the side of Blair's neck, as if just inhaling his scent was powerful enough to send him into a zone. Blair's eyes closed involuntarily, and a sigh escaped him. Just a tiny sound. But it was enough to provoke something in Jim. Jim's teeth scraped his skin. Not hard. Curiously possessive.

Oh, God, Blair thought, he's not the pretender, I am. Pretending I can live without the simplest of touches? I could give up sex forever if he just did that one more time.

Then Jim's lips touched his ear. "I don't want you to go, Chief."

Go? Where was he going to go? "G-go?"

"I know I've been chasing you away lately--"

Blair nodded without thinking, and suddenly Jim's hands were on him. On his shoulders. On his face. He could feel Jim's breath on his mouth, and he thought, kiss me, kiss me, please, so I know this is real.

"I'm not good with words, Chief."

"I don't need any," Blair responded, his entire body throbbing with equal parts appetite and apprehension.

"Yeah, I think you do. I think that's why this whole thing's been happening."

"What thing?"

"Us not getting along."

Blair moistened his lips. He could feel the pressure of Jim's stare on him, in places that he couldn't possibly see, but then he remembered. Jim was a Sentinel.

"We get along, Jim. It's just--"

"Not enough anymore," Jim finished. "You want to belong to me."

"I already do," Blair whispered back.

Jim brushed his fingers through his partner's unruly hair. "Can I kiss you?"

"If you don't, I might die," Blair said huskily.

Jim's fingers tightened against Blair's cheek. He lowered his head, grazing the side of Blair's mouth with his before taking it in a full-blown kiss. The intensity of the kiss took both of them aback. Blair could see that in Jim's eyes. He didn't know. He didn't know how good they could be together.

"Before this goes any further--"

"Blair, I don't want to talk right now--"

"You need to know something, Jim."

"What?"

"I love you. So if this is just your way of "fixing" things or getting Simon off your back, stop--"

Jim kissed him again, robbing him of breath and momentary sanity. "Go back to the first part."

"I love you?"

Jim sighed as though he had been holding his breath a very long time. "Come to bed."

"With you?"

"Yes, with me, Sandburg." He smiled, then kissed Blair again. "Chief." Another kiss. "Blair."

"Do you promise to keep doing that all night long?"

Jim sat down on the bed and pulled the younger man into his arms. "All that and more."

Forever words. What he needed to hear. What Jim needed to say. To banish the pretense.

Once and for all.

The end

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Acknowledgments: Thank you to Patt for the cover art.