Blair smiled at Jim and walked into the bathroom, already stripped down to shorts and a T-shirt.

"Big date, Chief?" Jim called after him, barely lifting his head from the magazine he was reading. Sandburg wasn't due to leave for another hour which meant --

"Could be."

One-night stand. Jim translated silently. He'd seen this before. The amount of effort Sandburg put into his preparations was inversely reflected in his success. Pleased with a conclusion he planned to save and share the next time Blair teased him about his own less than sparkling love life, he turned the page with a satisfied rustle, giving an article on a new brand of fish bait his full attention.

From the bathroom, an off-key hum that Blair would probably try to tell him was atonal, or a native chant, or something, was audible over the rush of water. Distracted, he glanced up, noticing with a put-upon sigh that the bathroom door hadn't been closed properly and was slowly, silently swinging open.

Until it hit what Jim guessed was a heap of discarded clothing and stopped.

Blair knew that if he showered with the door open the loft filled with soap-laden steam and it made him sneeze, dammit. Jim had spent a weekend installing an extractor fan to deal with Sandburg's marathon showers.

And other bathroom-related issues.

Tsking to himself, he tossed the magazine aside and started to get up, intending to close the door with a slam and a few pointed words Sandburg would pretend he hadn't heard because he wouldn't want to ruin his pre-date buzz with an argument. The flash of a reflection, dazzling to life over to his left, halted him and he froze, leaning forward, absently zooming in on it, getting too close so that all he saw in the glass of a photograph of himself grinning out at the world, his arm slung around the shoulders of an army buddy, was a fuzz of pink and brown. He blinked and it resolved into a soaped-up, naked Sandburg, caught by some freak of angles and light and, yeah, a shower curtain left half-pulled so the floor would be wet.

Odd that he was focusing on the danger of Sandburg slipping when he got out, arms flailing, when that thought was occupying a fraction of his mind, a tiny, infinitesimal part.

The rest was given over to a dry-mouthed lust, sharp as lemon, bright as fire.

He'd faced this temptation before. Had stood on the patio roof one night, depressed and angry with something that had happened at work, something trivial enough in retrospect that he'd forgotten it now, his sight taking him spiralling down through a thousand windows, into a thousand lives. He'd seen… things he had no business seeing, drunk on it, giddy, darkly exultant.

Blair had found him zoned, hands gripping the rail, body rigid and still. There had been drool hanging  from his mouth, in a spun-out thread, mouth hanging open on a cry of something he couldn't remember saying because he'd seen --

It had been disgusting. He had been disgusting. He'd lost his enhanced senses for two days after that, Blair's patient questions drying up, his frown deepening, until Jim had confessed, an obscure need to repent, be shriven, driving him. He'd wanted to see his guilt confirmed in Blair's clear eyes as a just, well-deserved rebuke but instead saw understanding, shared guilt, as Blair told him, in a whisper, halting and awkward, of how he once… twice, yeah, it was hard not to, you know, you lived in these places with thin walls, you couldn't avoid hearing… and sometimes you didn't try… And then Blair had launched into an infinitely comforting bullshit lecture on voyeurism that had left them both laughing, sheepish and uncomfortable but reassured, and Jim had dreamed in kaleidoscopes that night, fragments of faces coalescing into one face, one, and it was Blair, and woken with his senses restored.

And now he was doing it again, watching Blair cleanse his body, skin and hair, so that some girl -- they rarely qualified as 'women' for Jim, too young, too green-apple fresh for that -- could snuggle close, a smile inviting a kiss as she told Blair how much she loved the way he smelled. She'd get a grin back, practiced and yet sincere, Blair's specialty, and he'd tell her what he smelled like in detail, courtesy less of the label on his shampoo and gel and more Jim's Sandburg-trained nose.

Which she would decide was either geeky but cute or just plain boring.

Jim perversely, selfishly, hoped for the latter without examining the reasons for the hope because there wasn't much to be gained from dwelling on his shortcomings as a friend.

Blair's hands were scrubbing and rubbing, the water hot enough to be pinking his skin, drumming down with an insistent beat on the brief upper curve of his ass with a smack and a splat of heat.

A foamy slither coursed down Blair's back like an exploring finger, faster than Jim would have done it, finding a path across broad planes of skin and muscle to the groove of Blair's spine as he arched back, turning his face up blindly into the spray.

Jim's vision blurred and shook and he took a swift, harsh breath, forcing himself to look away from the imperfect reflection which couldn't have held as much as he'd thought it did even if his mind was full of images that felt real, felt seen.

When Blair came out, still humming, he had a towel around his hips and one in his hand which he lifted up to pat at a dripping section of hair. Jim waited, his mouth saying something about laundry and baskets, his eyes watching Blair's stomach contract as his arm lifted, watching the towel slip, the tucked end untuck…

He got a glimpse of Blair's cock, pinkly curled against dark hair and an unapologetic oops from Blair as he clutched at the falling towel and held it against him in a nod to modesty ruined by the fact that as he turned to go into his bedroom, Jim was treated to a two-second long look at his water-red ass.

Blair didn't bother to close his bedroom door. Why would he? Jim was over on the other side of the loft. And Jim knew if he walked over and started a conversation with Blair, Blair would dress in front of him without caring that he was half-naked, covering his body with clothes that begged to be taken off him again, soft, threadbare jeans, comfortably baggy yet still managing to delineate the divide of his ass with admirable precision and cup his lax, heavy groin like a lover; layer upon layer of candy-wrapper shirts.

Jim had an open invitation to stare at a naked Blair.

Open, that was, as long as he never used it. He had a feeling what Blair would accept from a straight, temporarily between girlfriends, Jim was different from what he'd take if he knew just how much Jim wanted to nail his delectable ass. And if he stood and watched, Blair would know.

He gave in to temptation of a lesser sort instead, letting himself hear the rasp and wrench of a comb forcing its way through tangled hair, the squeak of wood as Blair tugged a drawer open releasing a cloud of scent from clean clothes that still smelled of Blair despite being washed.

From where he sat, Jim could picture each item as it went from held to worn. And, because he knew what Sandburg owned, and he knew what Sandburg considered suitable for a first date, he could predict what Blair would be wearing when he left with a pretty fair accuracy.

And he didn't care.

That wasn't important.

It wasn't for him.

Whatever Blair was doing right now (trying to snip a loose thread with his teeth, muttering crossly as the thread unraveled and a shirt button came free, falling to the floor with a tiny ting, rolling away, out of sight, out of reach, shirt discarded) he was doing for someone else. To impress them, lure them in, attract them.

Jim stopped listening, stopped trying to guess from a dozen auditory cues what stage Blair's preparations had reached.

Smiled at Blair when he emerged, wearing his second-best shirt, and nodded indifferently when Blair told him he probably wouldn't be back.

"Thanks, Chief, but believe it or not, I wasn't planning on waiting up."

The door closed, Blair's footsteps sounding quick and eager. In the morning they'd drag, lassitude slowing them, and Blair's clothes would reek of smoke and sex to the point where Jim couldn't get close to him without his throat closing. Blair's skin would be grubby with touches, grimed with kisses, sometimes scratched. Jim had seen Blair's back once, as he dozed sprawled out on his bed, bare from the waist up, scarlet-scored by someone whose manicured index nail had snapped halfway down, whose nail polish had flaked off and embedded itself in skin. He'd stood in the doorway, a cup of coffee cooling as he catalogued each tear, each fine-curled scrap of skin, each drop of dried blood.

Blair had woken, stirring with a sensuous wriggle against the rumpled sheets, a reminiscent moan caught in his throat, and Jim had stepped back warily, guiltily, the coffee slopping over his hand and dripping down.

Blair had rolled over, blinked at him sleepily, warmly. "That for me?"

Sometimes, just sometimes, Jim felt suspicious when Blair flung out a line like that. Mostly, he just dealt with them at face value. He'd sooner Blair thought of him as depressingly literal than deal with the alternative; a fake flirtation, swapping double entendres accompanied with spreading grins until one of them cracked up and began laughing.

Except his amusement would be as fake as the flirting.

He continued reading the magazine, letting the shadows fill the loft and fight with the silence.

Before he went to sleep, he went into Blair's room, breathing shallowly, carefully, not wanting to lose himself in the myriad scents and found the button, placing it where Blair would see it once his room was sunlit, a black circle on the floor, dust-coated and dull.

It felt like the least he could do to atone.

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