It’s really not his fault. At least that’s what he tells himself.
He’s got a perfectly good reason for being in Jim’s upstairs closet—he wants to get a quick look at Jim’s shirts, because he’s thinking of buying him one for his birthday and he wants to know what colors he already has, and get an idea of what he might be missing. Something between battleship gray and navy blue is what he has in mind.
Anyway. He opens the door so that he can scope out the shirts, and that’s when the album falls on his head. Which hurts like a sonofabitch, and after he’s done checking for gushing head wounds and skull fractures, he figures he’s earned the right to peek inside.
And besides, some of the pictures have fallen out, sliding across the gleaming hardwood floor, so he has to look at them to figure out where they go.
There are times when logic and intellect fade in the face of powerful adolescent urges. This is one of those times.
Because he’s starving, here. Jim’s been gone on stakeout every night, and since Blair’s been going to the Academy he’s ridden less and less with Jim, even though studying how to be a cop after doing it for three years is a joke of cosmic proportions. No, Jim’s keeping him at arm’s length for a different reason, as though maybe he’s trying to tell Blair something, tell him, Think this over, Chief; is this what you really want? And Blair is just as happy Jim hasn’t been around lately, because seeing that nervous and guilty look in Jim’s eyes one more time might lead Blair to bash him repeatedly with a blunt object.
He’s already hungry to understand Jim, and so the scattered photographs lure him until he’s sitting cross-legged on the floor. Even though he spent years prying Jim apart, he’s more interested now in putting him back together, and this is as good a place to start as any.
The first image is of a tall, gangly boy with a protective arm around a smaller one, both of them looking far too solemn for what appears to be a gorgeous summer day. And then Blair realizes who’s probably taking the picture, and the starched un-kidness of these kids makes sense. How old would Blair have been then? Four, maybe five; way too young for a mature man of eleven to take him seriously. Never mind that he was reading The Hobbit by five. Jim wouldn’t have given him the time of day. He had no time to spare.
Even then, he was probably too busy thinking of ways to run.
He opens the album, finds a blank spot surrounded by other family photos, and restores the slightly faded children to their rightful home.
Next comes a much more recent one, taken while Jim was still in Vice, no doubt. Three cops Blair doesn’t recognize and one he sort of does are lined up to his right, and they’re putting on their best Mannix don’t-fuck-with-us faces. Thin blue line, hell, this line is invisible. But Jim, despite his attempt to match their hard-boiled expressions, looks—the only word for it is haunted. Blair is reminded of the time Jim woke up in a cold sweat from a nightmare he didn’t want to talk about, and then suddenly did, the words ripped from him, every one bleeding, strained.
She was so little, so little, Blair—
She was a prostitute, on the street nearly a year before she was murdered. Body found in a dumpster, discarded like a rag doll, a forgotten plaything. Twelve years old. Jim transferred out of Vice three weeks later.
Oh, yeah. Now he remembers the guy he sort of recognized. Jim went to his funeral last year. He blew his brains out with his service revolver.
Think this over, Chief; is this what you really want?
Open the album and find a hasty place for that one; so what if the angle isn’t quite straight?
The next one startles him, because it’s of him. He remembered the day it was taken—the Major Crimes gang had an Aussie-style barbecue at Megan’s a couple of months ago, and they’d ended up sprawled in her back yard, sated and sticky with sauce. Blair had taken his shirt off, which was unusual for him, but then it was hotter than hell, and hey, those nights at the gym were starting to pay off, so he didn’t feel quite so much like the weedy little academic who’d ended up on Mount Olympus. He wasn’t quite up to Hercules status, but he could definitely qualify as a minor deity.
The women on the staff seemed to agree with him, because he got a lot of attention from them after that, when they’d always mostly treated him like a pretty mascot. Megan snapped a few beefcake pictures of him, and they made the rounds at the station, along with a few ribald jokes.
But this one he doesn’t remember. It was taken in late afternoon, and it's only of his face. Megan is a pretty good photographer, her images landing somewhere between snapshot and art, and this one is no different. She captured him in the middle of a belly laugh, his hair crazy, his eyes bugging, his mouth wide open, making him look something like a suffocating chipmunk. But there’s a wild, youthful energy there he recognizes, a component of his personality he thought he’d lost somewhere along the way. It surprises him to see it resurface after all this time. Or maybe he’s just forgotten how to look for it.
Why has Jim kept this picture? Why did Megan give it to him? The questions chase themselves in his head, finding only more questions.
“Blair? What are you—”
Jim’s head appears above the floor, and Blair starts guiltily, fingers scrabbling at the photo album like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He opens his mouth to say something, some bullshit line that will convince neither of them, when Jim’s gaze zooms in on the picture in Blair’s hand. And then Blair watches about a dozen emotions fly across Jim’s chiseled face, and his liver changes places with his spleen for no good reason.
Jim manages to talk first, and that sets another bunch of alarm bells ringing. “Megan, ah, gave me—” he gestures helplessly at the picture.
“I figured,” Blair says, smiling more than a little nervously, not quite believing that Jim isn’t reaming him a new orifice for obviously snooping in his private photos.
His private photos.
Inside Blair’s brain, gears begin to turn.
“I, uh, the album fell on my head while I was—” shit, shit “—uh, while I was looking for my green tie,” he finishes awkwardly. “Thought maybe you’d borrowed it.”
Jim looks toward the closet, then back at Blair. “No,” he says simply. Not Chief, I wouldn’t borrow that puke-colored rag of yours if it were the last tie on Earth.
Something’s really…wrong here.
Blair tries to unknot his legs, but realizes they’ve fallen asleep. He sets the album aside and starts tugging at his knee.
Jim chuckles then. “Problems, Chief?”
“Yeah, would you mind—?”
And suddenly a strong hand is pulling him up, and his legs straighten into something resembling their former shape but when he tries to make them support him they fold like a card table under an elephant’s ass.
“Hey, whoa, c’mon!” A band of iron wraps around his back, and he’s pulled up hard against Jim’s body. It’s like some bad romance novel, the fainting damsel with the too-tight corset.
Jim’s body is warm and solid and he’s not letting go, holding on until he knows Blair can stand on his own.
But then what?
He raises his head and sees that Jim looks—
—scared. Like he wants to run as far and as fast as he can.
It’s now or never.
“Why did you want that picture?” Blair asks, suddenly, because that suddenly he knows Megan didn’t foist it on him, knows Jim asked for it, knows Jim picked it out himself.
Jim’s body jerks infinitesimally against his. “Looks like you,” he says finally. His pupils are huge against his ice-blue irises, and Blair realizes they’re losing the light.
“You see me every day,” Blair points out. He tests his legs, figures they’ll hold him. Jim senses the shift and releases him; Blair steps close immediately, not letting him escape.
Jim shakes his head. “Not like that.”
“Like I used to be?” Blair asks sharply.
Jim doesn’t answer in words, but his jaw muscle leaps. Boldly, Blair lays a hand over the spot, and Jim’s eyes widen.
“I’m still here,” Blair tells him. “I’m still me.”
Jim’s gaze roams over his face. “You sure?” he whispers.
“I wasn’t, until I saw this,” Blair admits, brandishing the photo. “It’s ah, pretty conclusive evidence.”
Jim stares at him for an eternity, as if he can't believe they're talking about the same thing, and then as if he's scared shitless they might be talking about the same thing, and then even that dissolves into a kind of tentative relief, and Blair releases the breath he doesn't know he was holding.
Jim's mouth twitches. “It's conclusive, all right. Undisputable.” He shifts, leaning closer. Brushes the hair back from Blair's face with one big, gentle hand. As his eyes follow the progress of his fingers, there’s one last shadow that flits across his face, a final echo of the question Jim shows to everyone he dares to love:
Think this over, Chief; am I what you really want?
Blair’s smile finds its freedom now, radiating light. His thumb moves to the corner of Jim’s mouth, catches slightly in the juncture of lower and upper lip. He turns Jim’s hand palm-up with the other hand and places the photo on the platform it makes, the first offering on a brand new altar. “You think you can get a conviction with this?”
Jim’s heat is palpable. “Yeah,” he murmurs, mouth descending to Blair’s. “He’ll get life for sure.”
Jim’s body as it covers his blocks out the dying rays of the sun, but Blair doesn’t mind a little shadow now and then.
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