Coals of Fire

by Jane Davitt




The lingering amusement from the good-natured wrangling on the drive home about his possible tattoo faded as Blair walked into the loft behind Jim. Too many memories. The damage Lash had done had left scars; new wood on the door frame, a missing vase, a subtle sense of disarray.

He'd been dragged out of here unconscious, fear following him into drugged darkness, screaming Jim's name and knowing nothing was emerging but a whimpered whisper.

"Chief? Are you okay?"

He blinked, shook his head, and gave Jim a bright, false smile. "Sure. Just starving. What's for supper?"

Jim let him get away with it after a sharp look and for a couple of hours they moved around each other in a stilted attempt at normality; cooking, eating, cleaning up.

By the time they'd finished the dishes, Blair was ready to retreat to his room, exhausted by the effort of hiding just how pathetic he was from Jim. Because Lash was dead -- Jim had seen to that -- and Blair was completely safe, so the bouts of shaking, sweat popping up on him, were just --

"Sit."

"What?" Blair followed Jim's pointing finger to the couch and shook his head. "I think I'll just crash, if it's all the same to you."

"Sit," Jim said with a growl breaking the surface, a shark's fin poking out of a wave. "I can't take much more of you like this. You're jumpy, twitching -- it's not my idea of a fun way to spend the evening, but we're going to discuss this."

"I'm fine," Blair insisted stubbornly.

"You're not."

Blair slammed his hand against the wall, his emotions needing a physical outlet before they ate him hollow. "Dammit, Jim, I'm fine. Leave me alone."

"I do that and bad things happen." The snap had left Jim's voice now and he looked uncomfortable, guilty even. "Sandburg, you're damn lucky you're an observer; I'm going to get hauled in to the shrink for a mandatory session about my fucking feelings over shooting that son of a bitch. If we -- if we -- talk, then maybe --"

"It'll make it easier for you?" Blair ventured.

"Could be."

Blair sighed and pushed away from the wall. "Jim, man, you've got to learn how to ask for help. It's what I'm here for, and not just with the senses. We're friends, right?"

A frown creased Jim's forehead, but he replied with a simple "Yeah."

"So we talk," Blair said. "Because, okay, yeah, maybe I'm not all that fine." He sat down on the couch with Jim beside him and poured out a carefully edited, comforting version of how he'd felt, stressing how little of it he'd been awake for and how much he didn't blame Jim for anything and how grateful he was that Jim had saved his ass --

"Enough." Jim raised his hand. "This is bullshit," he said calmly. "You're scared to be here, you think you fucked up -- and you know I did -- and you're so tangled up in it all that you're forgetting one point."

"What?" Blair asked torn between resentment that Jim hadn't bought the tale he'd spun and admiration of the way Jim had deduced the truth; detective training or Sentinel skills? Or both? Hmm…

"None of this would have happened if you'd done as you were told." Jim's eyes were cold with disapproval now, no sympathy evident.

"Huh?"

"I told you not to go to Club Doom," Jim clarified. "You went, you found something out, you came bursting in on that meeting, lit up like a Christmas tree, and you got Lash's attention. Made him want to be you."

Blair gave an uneasy chuckle. "Jim, that's ridiculous --"

"No." Jim leaned forward, his hands flexing on his knees, long fingers digging in. "I saw you and I saw him. You were…you were everything he wanted to be. Intelligent, alive, confident, good looking --"

"Hey, thanks for the compliments, but --"

"They're not compliments," Jim said flatly. "They're the truth. You're appealing when you want to be, Chief. I think you could seduce just about anyone you set your sights on and get at least a night out of them and you reeled him in."

"Now wait just a fucking minute --"

"You disobeyed me -- disobeyed a direct order -- and it's ended up with you so spooked I've been expecting you to tell me you want to move out to get away from the memories here." There was a raw pain in Jim's voice that shocked Blair and made the walls he'd built crumble like sand.

"Jim, I don't want to go anywhere. I don't want to leave you." The attraction he'd felt for Jim from minute one, not as a Sentinel, but as a man, he'd made damn sure to keep hidden, but he let something of his feelings show as he leaned in and put his hand over one of Jim's. It felt warm, the bump of knuckle bones pressing up through the skin. "Until you kick me out, you're stuck with me."

Jim twisted his hand from under Blair's, hesitated, and then patted it awkwardly. "I'm not kicking you out."

Their gazes collided, locked, and Blair held his breath at what he saw in Jim's eyes. Oh, God, it wasn't just him. Jim wanted him, Jim was going to lean in, kiss him with more of that endearing awkwardness, and Blair could show him -- show him --

"But we're dealing with your disobedience."

Jolted out of a warm fog of arousal and with his cock half-hard, Blair blinked in surprise. "Huh?"

"You heard me." Jim's mouth was tight with annoyance, no sign now of the desire and longing that had heated those cool blue eyes a moment earlier. "You had your fun playing cop and putting yourself in danger; don't you think it's time you paid for the ride, Chief?"

His thoughts confused, chaotic, Blair could only gape at Jim. "Uh, hello? Kidnapped, drugged, chained up --"

"That was between you and Lash," Jim said. "I'm talking about what's owed to me."

Blair pushed his hands back through his hair. "Oh, man. You want an apology?"

"It's a start," Jim said uncommunicatively.

"Well, I could say it, but I'm not sure I am," Blair said with a burst of honesty. "I helped, Jim. I cracked a big part of the case --"

"I could have found out what you did." Jim nodded as Blair opened his mouth to protest. "Oh, yeah. I don't fit in there the way you do? Too old, I scream cop? So fucking what? I've got a badge and people would've talked to me. I could have connected the dots as well as you did and somehow, I can't see Lash fixating on me."

"Why not? I have," Blair muttered sullenly.

Jim smiled. "Yeah, I'm seeing that now, and we'll get to it later, but this is separate, don't you see?"

Blair swallowed. "No?"

Jim sighed, but his voice was patient. "I can't handle you going off playing cop without me and getting hurt. I don't like you doing it and I want to make damn sure you don't do it again. With me so far?"

"Right up to the part where you make sure I don't." A weird fizz of excitement and apprehension had chased away Blair's jitters about Lash's ghost haunting the loft. "Just how do you plan to do that, Jim?"

Jim leaned back, deceptively relaxed. "I could try what worked on me when I fucked up."

Forming words was starting to get difficult. "What worked on you, Jim?"

And he knew, before Jim held up his hand, studied it with a detached curiosity, and brought it down hard on the cushion between them, Blair knew. "That," Jim said succinctly. "My father used his hand until I was ten, and after that a paddle, but I'd prefer to use just my hand on you."

Blair wanted to close his eyes and contemplate the images swirling through his head like oil on water. Jim, ass bare, over someone's knee, bent over a chair, holding onto a desk, a younger Jim, no, Jim as he was now, his face twisted in pain, holding back tears until the shadowy figure behind him compelled him to shed them --

He wanted to retreat inside himself and watch those images, work out why they were resonating so deeply, with something that wasn't just sympathy or outrage, but he couldn't take his eyes off Jim's face, calm, impassive, waiting.

He didn't bother to ask if Jim was serious; he already knew that Jim was.

Trying to match Jim's calm, he said, "You really want to do that to me?"

Jim's mouth curled in a brief smile, not all that kind. "It's crossed my mind a few times since we met."

"Sort of kinky, don't you think?" Blair said, unable to resist the dig.

Jim grimaced with amused distaste. "My dad might have blistered my ass from time to time, Sandburg, but he never tried to fuck it."

Heat suffusing his face, Blair stammered out a flustered apology. "No, of course -- I never meant -- shit, Jim! You know what I'm saying! You doing -- doing that to me would be kinky, I mean."

"Why? Do you get off on it?" Jim countered. "Because it doesn't do anything for me."

"No, I don't." Blair rubbed his hand on his jeans, a nervous, jerky gesture. "Doesn't do a thing for me giving or getting. I had a girlfriend who was into it, but when I tried to do it to her, I just couldn't do it right. Hurt her feelings when I laughed. Frustrated her when I couldn't do more than give her a few playful swats."

Jim nodded. "So," he said. "It wouldn't be kinky for either of us."

"It doesn't mean it's normal," Blair said, the words coming from a long way off, his ears buzzing. "You. Spanking me. That's not normal between two adults. It's not."

"Normal?" Jim raised his eyebrows. "You rubbed my nose in the fact that I'm not normal the first time we met, Sandburg."

"What? Oh…but the Sentinel thing, that's different," Blair said. He was sweating, dizzy, and he didn't think that it was the after-effects of the drugs Lash had given him. "That's different, Jim."

Jim shrugged. "I don't think so. Protect the borders. I do that. I think about taking a vacation and I get this feeling…this voice telling me I shouldn't leave the city. And today you came out with that stuff about protecting you, and, yeah, you're right. I want to do that, too. It feels right. For me, it feels normal. So does what I want to do to you right now."

"Smacking my ass feels normal?"

"I haven't done it yet," Jim pointed out. "But I think it would make me feel better about what happened, if that's what you mean."

Blair was left with nothing to say. He opened his mouth; closed it. Lifted his hand imploringly; let it drop. "Shit," he murmured finally. "Jim, you're something else, you know that?"

"I know it," Jim said his voice tight, strained. "Blair, I want -- I need you safe, okay? And I need you with me, and God knows my life isn't safe, but still, I want you there… So I've got a problem."

"You're conflicted," Blair said dryly.

"No kidding." Jim swept his hand over his pale, drawn face. He looked like a man about to throw up but he didn't back down. "I want to do this. I think you've earned it and I think -- I hope -- it'll teach you a lesson."

"And I think you're full of shit," Blair snapped, even as something in him wanted to yield, bow his head, admit that yeah, he'd crossed a line. Surrender was tempting, but innate stubbornness and a real fear of what this would do to his relationship with Jim, held him back. "Spanking me -- spanking me, Jim -- that just isn't a solution. We can talk about it; we can discuss it like adults --"

Jim's eyes met his and he faltered, held in the intensity of that blue gaze. "There's nothing, nothing you can say that will be enough. I thought you were dead. I thought I'd failed to keep you safe. You. I went through hell. And it was all your fucking fault for going against a direct order."

"So you can't forgive me?" The hurt he felt was enough to snatch his breath. Jim, mad at him; that he could deal with. Jim unforgiving, turning away…not so much. "You need to do this to get us back where we were, to balance the books?"

Slowly, Jim nodded. "I think I do."

"And if I don't agree? What happens then? You haul me over your knee anyway? God knows, you could. You threw me up against a wall once, remember?"

Jim's eyes narrowed. "I could, but I never would. Thanks for that vote of confidence, Sandburg."

"So I've got to be willing," Blair said, pushing Jim because he had to see where the lines Jim had drawn lay. "You need me to bare my ass and bend over your knee voluntarily?" The final word emerged as an incredulous squeak because he couldn't, he really couldn't see him doing that.

"You can keep your pants on," Jim said levelly. "And it doesn't have to be over my knee, but basically, yeah."

"Oh, no," Blair said thickly. "We do this, you're gonna see what your hand is doing to me."

Jim gave him a startled look. "You'll do it?"

"I don't have any fucking choice," Blair snarled. "Do I?"

Jim gave that some consideration for a moment. "Actually, yes. If you don't agree to it -- and I mean agree freely, because I won't do it unless you give your consent -- then you still have a place to stay, you can still sleep with me, and I hope we can still be friends."

"But?" Blair asked. "Come on, Jim; where's the catch?" Jim gave him a pitying, come on, you know the answer, Chief, look, and Blair felt panic claw at him. "No. No fucking way."

"I'm sorry," Jim said and sounded regretful enough to be convincing.

"You'd cut me off from the Sentinel thing? No research, no observing, no helping you?" Jim's silence was answer enough. "That's just -- that's blackmail. That's low, Jim, that's really fucking low."

"Blackmail? No." Jim's hand slashed the air between them, underlining his words. "It's a -- an inevitable consequence. What you did was a breach of trust. I need that breach fixing. I need you to make it right between us and this way…this feels right." Jim studied him. "You don't feel it?"

"No!" Jim waited, still projecting patience like a weapon and Blair felt his throat tighten. "No," he said again, but the force behind his rejection was weakening.

"Oh, yeah," Jim said, his voice filled with certainty. "You do." He stood, tall, strong, the embodiment of Blair's dreams on every level, personal, professional, emotional -- out of reach. "Just think about it. Let me know what you decide."

"What, just like that?" Blair shook his head, the abrupt end to the conversation jarring. "Except I guess sex is off the menu until I bend over, right?"

Belatedly, he realized that he could've phrased that better, but after a wry smile, Jim shook his head. "You want to sleep with me, well, you know where my bed is. You want to do more than sleep when you're in there, that's fine, too. I told you what I wanted to do wasn't connected to sex or us being friends. Just the Sentinel deal."

"You'd fuck me, but you won't let me work with you? That's even more insane than wanting to spank me."

A look of weariness mingled with frustration passed over Jim's face. "Cut me a break, Sandburg, okay? It's been a hell of a week and if you think I'm happy with discovering what it's going to take to scratch this itch, well, think again. I've never done this to someone and my memories of being on the receiving end aren't all that happy."

"So why --"

Jim cut him off. "You know why. And you know you deserve it. And I'm done talking about it. You think it over." He turned toward the bathroom. "Want me to leave the light on for you when I go up?" he asked without looking back.

"No." Blair got up, too, ignoring the throb of interest from his dick at the invitation and the tug of longing that had very little to do with sex. He didn't want to sleep alone, not tonight, but he was damned if he was crawling into Jim's bed and using him as a security blanket. "I'm going to be too busy thinking this over to be able to give you the attention you deserve," he said with as much sarcasm as he could cram into the words. "I get that you think I'm a crappy partner; I'd hate to disappoint you as a lover, too."

He saw Jim flinch as if he'd taken a hit, but Jim just nodded and walked away.

Well, fuck.

***

Blair woke in the night, crying out, incoherent words spilling from his lips, his arms and legs threshing futilely against the tangle of sheets. A shadow appeared in the doorway, but he knew it was Jim even dream-caught and scared.

Jim came over to him and sat on the bed, murmuring reassurances in a low voice, his hands sure and gentle as they pulled Blair close into a hug. Shaking with reaction, his arms heavy as if they were weighed down by chains still, Blair wrapped his arms around Jim, his hands screwed up into tight fists, and kept the tears he'd never been taught to hold back from falling by an effort of will.

"Dreaming about Lash," he said, his cheek pillowed on Jim's shoulder, his breath gusting over Jim's face, stale, acrid with fear. His mouth tasted foul. "Under water. Sinking. His face above me, watching me die…"

Jim rocked him, stroked his back, and pushed Blair's hair back off his face. Put his body between Blair and the demons.

"I died," Blair choked out. "I drowned, I held my breath, but I couldn't -- it hurt and I breathed and the water went inside my mouth, inside my body -- I can taste it, God, I can taste --"

Jim's finger brushed his lips and Blair parted them to let it slide in, sucking on it frantically, tasting skin and salt and Jim and feeling spit fill his mouth and chase away the staleness. Jim pulled his finger out, patted Blair's cheek, and went back to rocking him, nuzzling the top of Blair's head from time to time.

It dawned on Blair after a while, that Jim was trembling, too, no, Jim was -- fuck, Jim was crying silently, hot splashes of tears working their way down Jim's face and falling onto Blair's hair.

"I'm sorry," Blair mumbled into Jim's neck. "Jim, I'm so fucking sorry, okay?"

Jim had told him that words wouldn't work, but they made Blair feel better. He repeated them, and got nothing but a shake of Jim's head.

Not enough.

He closed his eyes. Do it, he told himself. Now, here in the dark, where we can pretend it never happened, call it a dream. Now, while you only have to push down your shorts, now, when you're sitting in Jim's lap anyway --

He wriggled clear of Jim's slackened embrace, stood, knowing Jim could see him, and shoved his shorts down and then kicked them off.

"Give me something to lie on," he said, his voice husky, rasped hoarse by crying out in his sleep. "Make a lap."

Jim went still for the longest moment and then moved, turned, planted his feet on the floor. Blair got back onto his bed, kneeling, turned and, grabbing onto Jim for balance, draped himself across Jim's knees, ass up, teeth clenched.

Jim's hand stroked his back, warm through the thin cotton of Blair's T-shirt, and then moved lower. Blair tensed, but the slow pass of Jim's palm over his ass wasn't threatening or even a caress; Jim was touching him with a Sentinel's thoroughness, mapping the shape, the texture of his skin, each flinch and tremor.

"Relax, Chief." Jim sounded calm, even dreamy. "I've got you."

"Just do it," Blair said, his voice tight. "Get this over with."

Jim's hand patted once, twice, in a signal or a warning; Blair wasn't sure which. Maybe a thank you; something told Blair that he was forgiven now, already, that what was to follow was a formality, needed, yes, but not as important as putting himself over Jim's knee. Knowing that he'd made things right between them helped.

The next time Jim's hand touched him it fell with a rush of air to announce it and a flat crack of sound that reached Blair before the sting did. It hurt, but he could handle it. He set about doing just that, taking this with dignity, calmly, a far better thing than I have ever done, a willing sacrifice to the dissertation gods, a friend helping a friend, a -- a -- God, it was starting to hurt!

He squirmed away from the metronome regularity of the spanks, or tried to; Jim's free hand pressed down firmly in the small of his back and Jim's leg, with a worryingly smooth expertise, hooked over Blair's flailing, kicking legs and pinned them in place.

Blair had been timing his breathing to the smacks, seeking a refuge in the heat and tumult of the spanking, a carved out space where nothing mattered by the exchange of used air for new. In the space of one sobbed-out breath, he lost the rhythm and never got it back. The slaps were arriving with the same force, the same speed, but he couldn't match them, stumbling, not striding, along this path Jim was breaking for them both.

And it didn't stop. His ass felt raw, flayed, tender, but Jim didn't stop. Why hadn't he asked how many of these slaps there would be? Why hadn't he made Jim limit them, give him something to count off, some numbers to wrap his head around, cool, shining numbers, instead of this haze of hurt, this wince of expectancy.

Rush of air, crack of hand on skin, burn, baby, burn -- but the burn was building and really it hurt just as much when he wasn't being spanked as it did in the moment that Jim's curved, hot palm -- oh. No. No, it didn't.

He wailed, distressed, lost, and somehow found words because communicating was what he did, what he did well. "How much -- how many -- Jim!" No, that hadn't left his head; not even Jim would have heard it. He licked his lips, rode out the next jolt as Jim's hand connected, and said clearly, quickly, "Enough, that's enough -- Jim? Is it enough?"

Jim's hand moved from Blair's back to his face and Blair closed his eyes as Jim brushed fingertips over his hot, dry cheeks and answered him with a series of slaps that landed with hateful precision on the same spot.

Blair yelled, and tried to get away from that punishing hand, his sweaty skin sticking to Jim's thighs, his hands, which had gathered up fistfuls of sheet to grip, aching dully.

He was going to cry. It wasn't going to end until he cried. The two thoughts arrived at the same time and collided, careening around inside his head.

Let go.

It was the hardest thing he'd ever done. He released the sheets, folded his arms, and relaxed. Jim's hand hesitated, a noticeable pause, before flying down through the air, and Blair took the swelling rush of pain and let it fill him, let it in, opening up to it. The tears that poured out of his eyes were shed to make room for it, as were the sounds he made, the helpless grind of his hips against the hard, muscular legs he lay on --

He sobbed, he wept, he felt salt and snot drip and smear over his face and then Jim's hand returned and two fingers slid into his open, gasping, wailing mouth and Jim's other hand was still. He sucked Jim's fingers with his wet eyes screwed shut, whimpered around them, bit them, laved them, and then Jim took them away, said clearly, "Last one, Blair," and his world turned scarlet and bright.

The room was quieter when the spanking was over. He hadn't realized how noisy getting spanked was and not all of it had been from him. There had been the slaps themselves, echoing flatly; Jim had grunted, his breathing labored; the bed had squeaked and creaked…now, there was just Jim's calm, steady breathing and Blair's gasped, sobbing gulps of air.

The pressure against his stomach became unbearable and he shifted, helped at once by Jim, who got him onto his front on the blessedly soft bed. Jim disappeared and came back with a washcloth from the bathroom, wrung out in cold water. Blair let Jim wipe his face clean and gritted his teeth against the shock as Jim draped it over the blazing, burning skin of his ass.

With a delicacy of touch that was impressive given how Jim's hand was shaking, Jim peeled wet strands of hair from Blair's face and ran his hand over the soaked, lank mass of Blair's hair.

Blair shut his eyes. Sleep was close and Jim was closer. A stray thought surfaced and he cleared his throat. "Jim?"

"Mmm?"

"There's some arnica cream over on my desk. Good for bruises."

He felt the bed rock as Jim prepared to move. "Use it on your hand, too."

"Okay."

Jim smoothed the cream over Blair's ass without commenting, carefully, but not lingering. "Feel better?"

"No." Blair turned his head and looked up at Jim. Still dark, but his eyes had adjusted and he could make out a smile on Jim's face. "Asshole."

"Yeah, I am," Jim said.

Blair huffed into the pillow. "Don't do that again."

Jim put a kiss on his shoulder, light enough that it shouldn't have made Blair shiver with longing, but it did. "Don't make me have to."

It was a warning and a question: I might have to; what will you do?

Blair wasn't ready to commit to this as a regular deal. The room was empty of demons and ghosts and Jim's relieved, grateful happiness surrounded him like sunlight, but his ass throbbed and burned and he was wiped out, exhausted.

"Blair?" Jim sounded anxious, tense, and Blair sighed and let Jim keep what he'd given him, instead of snatching it back

He groped for Jim's hand -- that hand, hot and rough, and squeezed it, then brought it to his face and kissed it once, twice until Jim made a soft, pained sound as if what Blair was doing was too much, too much --

Suck it up, Blair thought and placed a final flurry of kisses in the center of Jim's palm, coals of fire, tasting arnica cream and tears.



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