The new exhibit was something that Blair had been looking forward to for a long time and, even though Jim was determined not to spoil it for the other man, he was bored out of his skull. It wasn’t often that they couldn’t find middle ground on something, not after six years together, almost two of those as lovers, but ancient artifacts still put him to sleep. Add to the a lecture in a room way too small for the number of bodies in it and Jim was driven somewhat crazy trying not to overload on body odor and people clearing their throats.

Every now and again, Blair pinched him as if to make sure he was still awake, which was a good thing. Not that he was sleepy, far from it with his senses overreacting, but it kept him focused. About ten minutes from what he hoped was the end of the lecture, Jim’s jaw dropped as he recognized someone in the front of the crowd.

As if sensing his shock, Blair glanced up at him and frowned, murmuring, “What is it?”

“Nothing, don’t worry about it,” Jim answered back, just as quiet.

Blair continued to frown, but returned his attention to the lecturer.

Looking at the profile of the man sitting three rows up and across the aisle, Jim knew that he wasn’t mistaken. The years hadn’t changed Lt. Beck, even if he wasn’t in uniform any more. If anything, he was even more massive than the last time Jim had seen him at least fifteen years back. Possibly feeling eyes on him, Beck shifted discreetly to scan the room, dark eyes meeting Jim’s from across the way. He knew the moment he was recognized by the faint frown that marred the rugged features and offered a brief smile. Beck hesitated, but then smiled in return and went back to paying attention to the lecture.

Blair pinched Jim’s leg again, harder this time, and Jim hissed a little at the sting. Glaring at his lover, he nonetheless made a show of staring straight at the little old man at the podium. Fortunately, the man only went over his time limit by ten minutes. Jim was on his feet the second the applause wound down, wanting to get hold of Beck before the man disappeared. Though he wasn’t military any more, he did want to know just what the hell had happened to cause the other to vanish on a mission.

Giving Blair a firm look, he ordered, “Stay here. I have someone I need to talk to and I don’t want you in the line of fire.”

“Jim…”

“Stay put, Chief. I mean it.”

Blair grimaced, but nodded.

Jim strode down the main aisle of chairs and called out, “Beck!”

To his surprise, a young man beside Beck flinched and gave Beck a worried look. Beck himself, though, turned to face him, standing between Jim and the unknown young man. Those dark eyes met his once more as Beck questioned, “Going to turn me in, Captain?”

Jim held up his hands, even as he shook his head. “It’s Detective now, not Captain. The Army and I had a falling out some time ago.”

“And you live here now,” Beck guessed. “No, you’re from here, aren’t you?”

Nodding, Jim confirmed, “Born and raised, much as that hurts to admit sometimes. You never struck me as the Greek artifact type.”

“He isn’t, I am,” the young man cut in, stepping out from behind Beck. Smiling and brash, he thrust a hand at Jim and continued, “Travis Walker, good to meetcha, Detective…?”

“Ellison,” Blair finished, coming up behind Jim. “Hey, Travis.”

“Oh my God, Blair!” the young man exclaimed, rushing forward and grabbing Blair in a bear hug. “What the hell? Where you been all this time, man? Geeze, it’s like you fell off the face of the planet!”

Blair hugged him back, grinning, but reminded ruefully, “Small matter of my dis, remember?”

Travis waved a hand, dismissive. “You mess up one little paper and go running? What’s with that? Come on, man, you’re brilliant! You need to show up these stuffed shirts! Give them a run for their money! You would not believe the trouble I managed to get into while I was down in Brazil. I’m talking about an entire town leveled. Although really, most of that was Beck’s fault. The man has issues with guns. Seriously. Hey, you know what? I’m hot on the trail of this ancient Chinese artifact…”

Bemused, Jim watched as Travis led Blair away from them, talking at at least double the speed that Blair usually did.

“You get used to it,” Beck sighed.

Jim chuckled, taking in the resigned expression. “Come on, Beck. I’ll buy you a beer.”

“Sounds great, Ellison.”

*  *  *  *

An hour later in the restaurant next to the museum, Travis was still talking a mile a minute about some ancient Chinese artifact and seemed to have completely drawn Blair into the tale. Jim, meanwhile, had found out that Beck was less of a talker than he was, unless it came to food or sports.

Since Jim had his own secrets, he wasn’t inclined to pry.

“Good gig here as a cop?” Beck asked, sounding mildly curious.

Jim nodded. “Good enough. The Captain covers my ass and pays for whatever Blair manages to destroy.”

“I heard that,” Blair warned, looking over at them briefly.

Jim grinned and continued, “We take down the bad guys on a pretty regular basis and have time to go fishing one weekend a month.”

Beck half-smiled. “Sounds nice.”

“It is,” Jim confirmed. “How about you?”

He left his tone noncommittal and was a little surprised when Beck answered, “We don’t stay in one place too long.”

“Because of the Army?”

“You could say that.”

Definitely an evasion.

Beck shrugged and finished, “Travis has his work to keep him occupied and that’s good enough for me.”

Jim hesitated before asking quietly, “Can I help?”

Pinning him with a sharp look, Beck measured him up for a long moment before relaxing enough to shake his head. “Thanks, though. We do okay.”

“If you need somewhere to crash for a while, the offer’s there,” Jim told him.

The man had, after all, saved his life once upon a time.

Beck’s lips twisted as he looked at Travis and said, “Come on, Travis, time to go.”

“I’m not done talking to Blair!”

“You can call him from the road.”

“Beck, I am not…”

“Option A or Option B, Travis.”

“Damn it, Beck!”

“What’s it going to be?”

“Friggin’ control freak. Sorry, Blair, I gotta go. Hey, it was great talking to you! You’ve got my email, right? Right. Cool. And my cell changes pretty often, but that’s okay because I can call you now. Not too often, because ow! Damn it Beck, leggo!”

Jim hid a grin as Beck physically hauled Travis out of his chair by gripping the back of his neck and pulling. There was no actual damage, and Jim could see how careful the grip was, so he just watched as Beck propelled Travis away from the table.

“If you ever treat me like that, I’ll kill you,” Blair informed him flatly.

But Jim saw more than Blair did. He saw the way Beck constantly scanned for threats and kept himself between Travis and points of egress. He saw how Travis walked close to the bigger man, as if that were his natural place, with one hand on Beck’s hip. He also saw how Beck guided Travis outside and into the car after checking for possible hostiles within the vehicle.

Blinking his vision back to normal, Jim looked over at Blair and replied, “I wouldn’t be so quick to judge, Chief. There’s a lot of people who think that way about us. And I seem to recall you liked my caveman routine, once upon a time.”

Blair flushed and glared at him. “So not cool, man. I have a momentary lapse in judgment and you never let me forget it.”

Finishing off his beer, Jim agreed comfortably, “Nope. Come on, Sandburg, let’s head out. There’s still a few dusty corners of that museum I know you want to get into.”

Blair grinned as he stood up, good mood restored. He slid an arm around Jim’s waist and promised softly, “And if you’re a very good Sentinel and don’t look at your watch every five minutes, you’ll get a special discovery when we get home.”

Chuckling as he tossed money onto the table, Jim put his wallet away and headed towards the exit with Blair at his side, but slightly behind, out of danger.

Where all Guides belonged.