Lessons Learned: a story in three parts by The Amazing Maurice
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Author's Chapter Notes:
Warnings: Unbeta'd, like all my work. Angsty. Ridiculous. Contains swearing, and my opinions of Naomi Sandburg's philosophy, though there's nothing too vitriolic in there. Also features my version of the meaning of life, which is my answer, what is mine, hah hah hah. Ahem.

Part One: In which Blair is sloshed.

Women, Blair reflected, were strange and horrible creatures. Ashley Lowell, she was worst of all.

They were like jellyfish. Or stingrays. Or octopuses. Octopi? Octopodes. He was sure it was octopodes, 'cause octopus meant 'eight footed', didn't it, so the plural of feet would be... feet. Wait, so did that mean that octopus was both the singular and the plural form? Like sheep and fish and... and...

Where was he?

Women. Jellyfish. Right.

Blair managed to unlock the door on the third try, and, after remembering that his Sentinel was working late tonight, he gladly took the opportunity to slam the door quite hard; he threw his jacket to the floor, and tossed his keys in the general direction of the basket where they nevertheless landed squarely and with a satisfying crash. Thing was, he reflected, women were fascinating creatures. They were frequently beautiful and sometimes unearthly, and so you'd be paddling happily in your warm and shallow world and you'd reach for one and then all of a sudden you were being hauled out of the water by paramedics who insisted that the only help was an economy- sized bottle of vinegar on the affected area.

Yes. That was a very apt metaphor.

He decided he wanted water – a) it was the practical thing to have right now, b) it would soothe and refresh him, c) it was unlikely to call him a scumbag faggot and leave him with the bill, and d) was many other reasons it wasn't like Ashley. This in mind, he hurled himself towards the kitchen.

Then he tripped over his jacket and, cursing, remembered to turn on the lights first.

At last he had his Evian in hand, and he sat down right there on the kitchen floor with his back to the faithful fridge. He wanted nachos now. Big, greasy corn chips covered in salsa and beans and sour cream and melted cheese. Yup.

He took a big gulp of cold, sweet water and licked his lips. It wasn't, he reflected, that he wasn't a scumbag faggot. He was, he had been for some time, and he thought it uncharitable of Ashley to be the one to bring it to his attention. Such revelations should be made at the appropriate time and place: gazing soulfully at the object of your affection across a crowded room and feeling a sudden, inexplicable wave of tenderness, say, or laughing at a private joke and realizing how much in love you are. Most definitely not, he thought, having it thrown in your face by an angry girlfriend at one of the most romantic restaurants in the whole of Cascade and coming to a sick, cold realization even as you deny it.

Blair let his head fall back against the door, making a thunk noise that echoed through his skull; he was bizarrely comforted by it – the reassurance that his brain was not, in fact, going to spill out all over the floor if he moved. He wanted Jim. No, he didn't want Jim, actually, because if Jim came in the door right now, he wasn't sure whether he'd jump him or throw up on the man's shoes, and neither possibility appealed.

But he loved Jim. Of that, he was certain. Blair Sandburg, son of Naomi Sandburg, world-renowned procrastinator, obfuscator and Lothario, was in love with a six-foot tall ex-army ranger, scourge of every criminal within ten miles of Cascade, cop-of-the-year, filler of prisons, protector of mankind, a man so straight-laced and upright you could split him open, turn him inside out and call him a whalebone corset. He hoped to God his mother never found out, 'cause it was bad enough that he was already living and partnered with the man. He was even attending the academy, about to become a real, honest-to-God pig himself.

Okay, so maybe Naomi wouldn't freak. It wasn't like this was any worse than what had already happened. And finding out Jim was a Sentinel, that seemed to have eased the tension a bit. Now she was convinced he was only in it for the research – the matter of the press conference, in which Blair had denounced his dissertation and totally ruined his chances of ever being taken seriously by the academic world, seemed to have become the victim of Naomi's selective memory. He didn't grudge her that. It made his chest hurt to think about, even now. So he didn't grudge her that.

Okay, maybe a little.

But this... This made everything scarier. This brought home just how up in the air everything was, brought it home and begged to keep it, in fact. A sudden tectonic shift had taken place tonight, previously solid ground suddenly splitting into two equally uncertain futures, and whichever choice he made, he could never go back. Either Blair did something about this, told Jim, maybe, maybe subtly brought it to his attention and dealt with the consequences, or... or he packed his bags tonight, and started fresh somewhere else. Cut the strings completely.

Detached with love.

Something huge and horrible suddenly gave way in Blair's chest, and he dropped the bottle of water on the floor, where it spilled the rest of its contents and rolled to a stop a few feet away. Panic was overwhelming him, suffocating him like a slab of stone on his chest. It hurt to breathe, and it hurt to think, because just thinking about leaving Jim hurt so much that he thought it was going to kill him and he was drunk and he was jobless and he was in love with Jim and oh god

it hurt

it

oh, fuck, it

...


Part Two: In which Blair throws up, and finds the answer to the meaning of life.

"Sandburg? Chief! Oh, Jesus... Blair? Blair, come on—"

His head hurt very much. So did the rest of his body. The voice, though not unwelcome, was coming from very far away.

"BLAIR!"

He opened his eyes.

Jim was crouching in front of him, looking scared and furious and scared, and also not the right way up. Blair realized that this was, in fact, because he was curled up on his side in a foetal position on the cold kitchen floor. There was water in his hair; something stinging and gritty burned his eyes and cheeks.

Oh, he said, inaudibly.

"What?" Jim said, hauling him upright.

"Oh," said Blair again, in a very small voice.

As he watched, from some distance away from himself, Blair saw anger win out over confusion and concern. "Mind telling me just why the hell you're on the floor drunk out of your tiny mind, Sandburg?"

Blair didn't answer. He just stared at Jim, reflecting that, these days, Jim usually called him by his last name when he was pissed. Therefore, Jim was pissed at him now, and therefore, Blair was a little upset. He never meant to piss Jim off; he'd caused the poor guy enough trouble. Maybe starting fresh really was better for everyone. He sniffled and looked at the floor.

"Sandburg?" Jim sounded uncertain. "You aren't going to throw up, are you?"

Blair shook his head.

"For God's sake, Chief, say something!"

It was the worried tone creeping into Jim's voice that made Blair look up, and when he did, he almost started bawling again, because it was just so unfair. Beautiful blue eyes stared at him from a handsome face, more familiar than his own, beloved and shining with ill-disguised concern. How could he leave Jim? On the other hand, how could he not? It was so selfish to stay, but Blair had always been selfish; he saw that now.

"I'm sorry, Jim," he mumbled, head hanging. He couldn't think of anything else to say. Blair Sandburg was by nature loquacious, garrulous, talkative even, but words failed him now. The weight was still squashing him, constricting his breathing. The void gaped beneath him, sucking down all his pretences. It was time.

"What?"

"I'm sorry." He awkwardly tried to back away, but Jim gripped his arms fast.

"Jesus. Look, come here, Sandburg, you're drunk. At least sit down – not on the floor! Come on." And Jim dragged him, wet hair, tear-tracks, hangdog expression and all over to the couch, where he curled up against a cushion and, to his own embarrassment, started crying again.

"Jesus," Jim repeated. "Chief, what's up with you?"

"Why?" he said.

"Why what?"

"Why are you so nice to me?"

"Blair, what the hell are you talking about?"

"This!" he wailed. "After all the shit I put you through, you haven't kicked me out, and now I have to leave anyway!" His voice cracked. "I could have ruined everything, and you're making me your fucking partner, and I can't, Jim, I can't do this—"

Jim cut him off. "Oh, Goddammit," he sighed. "I thought we were okay with this. Blair, you'll be a fucking great partner, okay? The best. Everyone knows you're my partner."

"I'm not talking about that!" Blair cried, and he couldn't help it, he was babbling incoherently. "You're going to find out. You're going to find out, and I have to leave, Jim, I have to go, I have to go. Dammit, I can't stay with you hating me!"

Jim leaned back, presumably out of the blast radius of Blair's hysteria, looking totally bewildered and a little hurt, which made Blair feel even worse. "What the hell are you talking about, Sandburg?" he husked. "I don't hate you."

"But you will!" he gasped, scraping angrily at the tears on his face. "That's the point! You should now, I don't know why you don't, but this is worse than anything, and I didn't even know about it 'til tonight, but you really won't want me around now and... and... I... oh, God, man, I don't know..."

He could feel it coming back. Panic attack. He hadn't had one for ages, but now he was going to have the second one in the same night; he felt nausea rising that had been absent previously, and he wanted to run somewhere – he didn't know where, just as long as he didn't have to see the terrible, inexorable realization dawning on Jim's beautiful face.

He staggered to his feet, batting away the hands that grasped at his arms, and managed to make it to the bathroom before he lost everything he'd eaten that night and quite a bit of stomach lining too. Leaning over the bowl, he felt cool, gentle fingers lift his hair out of the way, and then hold it at the nape of his neck and rub comforting circles between his shoulder-blades as he retched violently.

When the fit had subsided, he stayed stooped over for a few seconds while his stomach settled and his eyes stopped streaming, and then he slid down the bathroom wall with his eyes shut tight, and felt a strong arm slip around him. His breathing evened out, almost involuntarily; because no matter how terrible it was, no matter how he tried to hide it, he couldn't help but feel calm and happy when Jim touched him. He sighed a little, shuddered a little, and looked up.

Jim gazed back at him with calm, warm eyes, slightly crinkled in the corners from the smile he was hiding. Blair couldn't comprehend it. Where was the coldness? Where was the disgust? Jim refused to read his mind and answer these questions, however, and just passed him a damp towel and a glass of water. So, very confused and still trembly, Blair dutifully rinsed out his mouth and wiped his face, and then stared at Jim, waiting for him to do something.

What Jim did was smile very tentatively at him, and exit the bathroom so Blair could brush his teeth and undress (because, what with one thing and another, it was indeed time for bed), leaving him to wonder what the hell was going on. What it felt like – and Naomi had always taught her boy to follow his feelings – was that he had just been tossed bodily over the chasm, that the decision had been made for him, quite possibly by Jim, and the problem was that Blair had no idea which he'd chosen. For all he knew, Jim might be packing Blair's bags right now.

It had happened once before.

Oh, God-Christ-fucking-dammit. He was not going to start crying again; his ego couldn't take it. Whatever happened, he would take it like a man – he was very good at falling on his feet, he was the grand master fucking champion at the hundred-mile flee. He'd find Naomi, maybe, start his world travels all over again. Hell, he could be in New Delhi tomorrow, shacking up temporarily with some sweet young thing and finding spiritual enlightenment in the nearest ashram. He snorted gaily at the thought, and then froze, wondering when that life had become such an abstract joke to him.

When he fell in love with Jim. That was when. He didn't know when that'd happened, just like he didn't know exactly when the loft had become his home, and the rest of the world a nice place to visit once in a while. Naomi said they were citizens of the world and as such couldn't possibly have a permanent home, and that such a concept was hopelessly Establishment anyway and a product of the so-called American Dream. Blair suddenly (mutinously, chillingly) thought of Naomi's succession of boyfriends and wondered if his mother had ever known actual love in her life. He knew that a year ago, even a year ago, he couldn't have conceived of the idea, but now he had it, he couldn't deny its plausibility. Everything she'd taught him, everything he'd grown up doing and believing to be the only way of conducting his life, had all been blown away by Jim's lack of pretension like a gust of cold wind clearing a smoke-haze.

He couldn't cut and run, not anymore. He would damn well face the music, he'd clean up the aftermath and when he left it would be with a clear conscience and at least a dozen phone numbers and e-mail addresses that he would actually use, regularly, not just when he suddenly needed a convenient place to stay.

Looking back, his life four years ago seemed hopelessly bleak and shallow. There was no such thing as detaching with love. He knew that now. The only love there was for you, and if Jim had taught him anything, it was that your life was expendable compared to that of another person. It was strange, actually. If you studied religions the world over, if you actually stuck with them and didn't just use them for a quick spiritual fix, they all had the same hidden message, buried under a mass of stories and taboos and esoteric details, and it was: Do right by other people. Work hard at being a good and generous soul, and your reward will ultimately be that you are a good and generous soul. That was true enlightenment.

He could teach or be a detective, here or in, you know, the Yukon, depending on how the next half-hour went; but nowadays it was for other people's gain, not for his.

"Give me a psychopath any day," He said to the mirror, and nodded in satisfaction.


Part Three: In which there is, in fact, a happy ending.

Blair cautiously opened the bathroom door, and ventured out. "Jim?"

"Hey," Jim said. "You okay now?"

He was. Truly, he was, one way or another. This was going to hurt like a motherfucker, bone-deep, but at least he'd learned his lesson. It had been one hell of a ride.

"Yeah," he said. "Jim, can I talk to you?"

Jim actually looked a little nervous, standing there in the dimly lit living room. Blair couldn't blame the poor guy; he wouldn't want something like this suddenly dumped on his lap either. But he looked Blair square in the eyes, beautiful – had he used that word already? – and so kind, and said, "Sure. Come here." Blair hesitated. "Come here, Sandburg," he growled.

So Blair came, uncertain as to what Jim intended to do, and was surprised (almost to the point of tears again) when Jim enfolded him in a gentle embrace. Fuck, Blair thought, and buried his face in Jim's neck, even more surprised when Jim let him do it. A hug. That was what he'd needed right now. Trust Jim.

At last, and with reluctance, they parted, though Jim's hands still rested on Blair's shoulders. "You dumbass," Jim said, glaring at him. "What did you think I was going to do, throw you out?"

Blair was a little thrown by that, and didn't know how to respond, so he merely stared at the man, squashing a tiny surge of hope while simultaneously committing Jim's face to memory so he could treasure it, in secret, forever. But Jim raised an eyebrow, clearly waiting for him to say his piece, so Blair said, "I really am sorry. For the... freak out, as well." He sighed, and waited for the blow to fall.

"You really are a dumbass, you know," Jim murmered, and Blair could only smile ruefully, and shake his head and laugh a little as he continued, "not to mention paranoid, and clueless, and a scaredy-cat."

"Guilty," Blair whispered. "But I can't stay here, Jim."

"Why not?" Jim said, equally soft.

Blair looked at him with pain. Surely Jim could understand? "Why not? Jim, don't you get it? I can't turn this off, this isn't a... a thing, I... I only realized it tonight, but it's been like this for ages, and I can't just stop. I'm sorry. I can't stay with you. It wouldn't be fair to you, and it'd hurt too much for me, and... I just can't. You know it wouldn't work."

The other eyebrow went up, and Jim actually began to smile. Blair didn't know whether to deck him or smile, too. "Add to that, presumptuous, and lacking both self-esteem and faith in me."

"Huh?" Blair said eloquently.

His heart began to hammer, just a little. Jim wasn't making sense. At least, not to his heart, which was carefully steeled against bitter disappointment. That little flicker of hope, however, was staging a fucking insurrection. The hope was arguing that it made a lot of sense, actually, if you thought about it, came at it from an entirely different angle.

Shut up! thought Blair, mentally renaming the hope 'foolish optimism'. This is going to be bad enough without you!

Actually, said his brain, which was beginning to side with his foolish optimism, why is it going to be bad? You think of him as your home, your world. He's your best teacher and most eager student. Why is it so unfeasible that he feels the same way about you?

Because, thought Blair, as the last of his defenses crumpled. Because I'm not an optimist, no matter what everyone else thinks. Because things like this don't happen to me. I attract sociopaths and criminals like shit attracts flies, I've never had a relationship that lasted longer than a month, I've never had a real home, not before this one. My entire life is a succession of coincidences and pure luck, and I know when to count my blessings and when to accept that sometimes you just don't get your way. The last four years were the best of my life, and I always knew it couldn't last, because things this good don't happen to me.

A finger on his jaw startled him out of his contemplation of the floor, and Jim snared him with those eyes. He looked searchingly at Blair's face for a moment, and then he chuckled softly. "Boy, I'd hate to be in your head right now. Blair, look at me."

And at the mention of his name, spoken so fondly and tenderly, Blair couldn't help but look up and entertain the notion that it might have happened; the moment was long enough for him to croak, "Why are you being so nice to me?"

Jim shook his head impatiently. "Don't you get it, Sandburg? This is just like everything else for us."

Blair gave him an exasperated look and said, "Spell it out for me, okay, Jim?"

"It works both ways, Chief," Jim murmured, drawing him closer. "Just like everything else."

And then he kissed him.

...


Blair learned three things from this experience: a) that it is foolish to doubt your Sentinel, especially when he's also your roommate and your best and most beloved friend in the entire world; b) that one kiss can in fact make the entire universe a completely new place; and c) that, with the right motivation, and an appropriate amount of petting, Jim really would curl up in your lap and purr.

END
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