Lost and Found



"Chief? Are you making lunch or not?"

Blair, close, so close to finishing this chapter, so fucking close, nerves taut and tight the way they got when he was in his own particular version of a zone, took a moment to consider the question.

Was he making lunch?

Well, no, Jim, I'm not. That would require my ass being in the kitchen and instead I'm over here typing away, like you don't know that because you're wincing every time I tap too loud. Will I be making lunch? Well, that depends. Let's see… I could stop now, losing all momentum, and go into your tidy little domain and make something you'll stare at, maybe poke, and sigh over, as if it's got feelings you can hurt, before you eat it, each bite grudging, each chew sullen, each swallow a fucking effort. Or I could continue working because it's going well, really well.

Hard choice, but no, Jim, I'm not planning on it. Of course, if I say that I'll get the lecture about how if I'm living here I need to pull my weight, followed by the threat to draw up an actual work rota, which, newsflash, been there, done that, but I was ten years younger.


"I've got a headache, Jim. Think I'll skip eating, you know? Maybe later."

"I'm hungry, even if you're not."

Patient voice that didn't match the words. Danger sign, but Blair was too wound to care. "Jim -- headache, remember? Get your own food, will you?"

He could feel the weight of Jim's gaze. "You don't have a fever," Jim observed, his voice neutral, careful. "And if your head's aching maybe you should stop staring at that computer screen."

Blair stared at the screen anyway, just because, and found he couldn't remember how he'd been going to end the chapter. He read the final, incomplete sentence over in his head, once, twice; nothing. He reached the last word he'd written: 'impression' and smacked into a wall of blankness.

Fuck.

Rage, scalding and irrational boiled up and over. This happened to him sometimes. Not often, and thank God for that, because it often ended, literally, in tears, as if his petulant anger required a correspondingly childish reaction as a coda.

He didn't think he'd be crying today, though. This felt more like one of the times he hit something. Someone, even, although that was rare -- but the object of his rage was right there

Okay, that would be bad. No hitting his research subject. Bound to skew the data. Besides, he didn't trust Jim not to retaliate; no reason why he wouldn't, after all. Blair was shorter and lighter and younger, but he didn't think Jim would consider hitting him back to be bullying.

But he had to do something…

He got up, kicking his chair out of the way, loving the violent clatter it made, the pause as it teetered; the crash as it fell to the ground. Yes. Noise, damage, destruction. All good right now, all helpful.

He planted himself in front of Jim who had straightened out of his annoyingly nonchalant lean on a pillar and was about to start yelling, and grabbed one of Jim's big hands.

"See?" Blair smacked Jim's palm against his forehead and held it there, daring Jim to take it away. "Headache," he hissed out.

"You don't feel hot, Chief." Jim's mouth was a firm, unyielding line of stubborn.

"No?" Jim's hand felt cool, even refreshing; that had to mean something. Blair moved it, not stopping to wonder why Jim was letting him do this, and put it against his cheek. "How about here?"

Jim shook his head, a spark of amusement in his eyes. Oh, you don't get to laugh at me, Jim. Don't make me hurt you.

"You feel fine, Sandburg."

Blair slid that hand round to the back of his neck, under his hair, pressing it against his skin. "Well?"

Jim's fingers flexed a little in what felt close to a gentle, possessive squeeze but was probably just an assessing touch. "You're sweating a bit, but it's warm in here. Still nowhere near a fever. Look, if you don't want to cook, just --"

"I want you to take my word for it when I say I'm ill," Blair snarled. "Not diagnose me with your fucking senses! It's my body and I know how I feel, dammit." He yanked up his T-shirt and pulled Jim's hand down, around, and then it was resting, fingers spread wide, on his belly and he'd almost, nearly, gone too far.

Jim was too cooperative, too docile. He was being humored and it was the last fucking nail in Jim Ellison's coffin as far as Blair was concerned.

"Last chance. Do I feel hot?"

"I thought you didn't want me to use my senses."

Blair laughed in his face, scornful and goading. "Anyone can do this, man, Doesn't take a Sentinel to tell if someone's sick. Ask a mom."

Again, Jim looked at him just a shade too carefully and Blair could almost feel his body being scanned. He didn't know exactly what Jim did when he dived that deep; Jim probably didn't, either. Blair had notes on the obvious stuff like heartbeat and temperature rises, but a lot of it was probably instinctive, happening too fast to break down and analyze.

Jim didn't give an inch. "You're upset over something, I get that, but you're not sick, Blair."

The use of his name, rare enough to be noteworthy, totally unwanted when they were arguing, was all the excuse he needed to get nasty. Slowly enough that Jim couldn't say he hadn't had chance to avoid it, Blair dragged Jim's hand down to cup the fervid swell of his groin and that was it, he'd gone far enough that Jim would have to do something, have to attack and give Blair the opportunity to -- do something himself.

It occurred to him, just a fraction too late, that annoying a man holding your balls was the definition of 'idiot' but Jim didn't take advantage of the chance to inflict some pain.

He just stood there, waiting, his hand curved in the shape Blair had formed, Blair's fingers hurting him as they dug in without really doing anything to hold Jim's hand in place. The guy could have broken Blair's grip with a single twist of his wrist, after all, or just stepped back.

Why aren't you stepping back, Jim? Why?

Between one quick, angry breath and the next, Blair realized that Jim wasn't going to do anything but stand there until Blair came to his senses.

And because Jim was human, there was a trace, just a smidgen, of a smile on Jim's face because, yeah, Blair was looking like an asshole here, uncontrolled, unreasonable, and with an entirely inappropriate erection coming into play which he knew was a reaction to adrenaline but which Jim could misinterpret as  -- well, why not?

He gave the smallest of hip shimmies, a blatant grind against Jim's palm, plastering on a smirk that he knew was guaranteed to piss off an angel, let alone Jim. "Just stay like that, will you?" he murmured, making it filthy-sweet and sordid.

The next moment, the world spun and swung and Jim was hauling him across the room, Blair's arm pushed so far up his back his desperately clutching fingers were catching on his hair, Jim's other hand forcing his head down so low he was bent double as he stumbled along, trying to keep his footing.

"Jim -- what the fuck?"

"Got a fever, Chief " Jim sounded bored and furious. It wasn't a reassuring combination. Kind of weird, actually, and peculiarly Ellison. "Got to bring it down. Let's see now… oh, yeah. A cold shower should do it."

Blair fought, kicking back, lashing out, but Jim just moved his grip a crucial inch until pain, hot and sickening, radiated out from Blair's wrist to his fingertips. Compliance bought him numbness in its place as Jim's grip eased and then he was a shivering, regretful heap in the tub, with cold water raining down on his head, after being frozen in place by the warning hiss of the approaching water.

Jim stood and watched him, blocking an exit Blair had no intention of using. He felt his clothes absorb the water and drag his limbs into pathetic, drooping shapes; felt his skin protest and then accept the relentless, noisy beat of water.

It was humiliating to crouch there, silent and wet, but he couldn't look up at Jim and say whatever it was that would make Jim forgive him.

Shame bowed his head and yeah, he was crying now, but even Jim wouldn't be able to tell that some of the water slipping over his face was warm, that some of his involuntary gasps and whimpers weren't related to the chilly, clammy cling of saturated clothing. He let his head sink down on his knees and he waited for it to be enough.

Then the water stopped running and Jim walked away, out of the bathroom, out, after a pause long enough to put on shoes and grab a jacket, of the loft, and Blair stared blankly at the towel Jim had tossed on the floor, close enough for Blair to reach without getting out of the tub and dripping everywhere.

Considerate son of a bitch --

***

Jim came back so soon after Blair had given up and gone to bed that it was impossible not to think he'd been waiting nearby and listening, except Jim had always been very insistent that this was his place and he had an access all areas pass, all the time. Maybe not to Blair's room… but tonight that might not apply. There was enough noise made for Blair, lying tense, hardly blinking, in the darkness, to wonder if Jim was drunk. The fridge door creaked open and clunked closed, and he heard, distinct in the quiet, Jim swallowing greedy gulps of something that had to be water because they were out of beer -- yeah, it'd been Blair's turn to get it -- and no one could drink that much orange juice without stopping.

Especially as they were almost out of that as well.

He heard Jim bang against the table, mutter under his breath, and then head for the stairs, kicking his shoes off untidily, each one going in a different direction.

Blair realized he was mapping Jim's every move as a mouse does a cat. Which was ridiculous because Jim would never hurt him.

Just scare the crap out of me, because, man, he's strong and he knows how to fight dirty and I knew that, I did, I've seen him do it. Just never thought he'd do it to -- oh, fuck it, I deserved it. Naomi would say that was the victim in me talking, but I don't think so. It's just… I wasn't being fair. I hate that. Hate admitting it, I mean, but it's true.

And that meant Jim was owed an apology and hey, maybe he'd want to say sorry, too, just for the hell of it, and they could kiss and make up in a way that didn't involve kissing because that would just make everything worse --

Yeah.

Blair got out of bed, wearing shorts, which he still wasn't used to after years of sleeping bare, but couldn't find his robe. Never mind.

He walked up the stairs to Jim's bedroom, finding his way easily enough because the loft never got all that dark with the reflected light of the city filtering in. Jim rolled over in bed and switched on a lamp which he wouldn't have needed but which dazzled Blair, as he supposed it was meant to, making him blink away wetness from squinched-closed eyes. "Ow."

"What do you want?"

Blair got enough of his vision back to see that someone had done a number on Jim's back and flinched, wondering if it'd been him. No. No way. He wouldn't have been able to reach and those scrapes were from nails on bare skin and Jim had been wearing a sweater when he -- yeah. That.

Jim pushed a pillow up behind him and leaned back against the railing, the sheets draped across his lap.

He'd been bitten, too, just above his left nipple, a dark, bruising suck of a bite which looked painful and sexy. Blair couldn't look away, riding a swell of emotions.

Let's see, Jim; you've been away ten hours; how long did it take to find her, persuade her? Or did you buy this one? And what excuse did you give her when you left? Or did she kick you out when your time was up? Why did you let her do that to you? Or did you make her? And why the fuck are you making sure I see it?

Jim saw where Blair was looking and met his gaze without any of the smugness Blair was braced to deal with. He looked tired and resigned, as if this was something he had to do.

Rub my nose in it? Well, why not. Make sure I know the way things are? Sure. It's either that or kick me out -- or does he think this will make me leave?

Blair supposed he should think about it, maybe offer at least, but he'd already outstayed his welcome by so long it had stopped mattering. Had stopped feeling as though he was a guest.

"What do you want?" Jim repeated.

The apology was there, formed, well-rehearsed, just waiting to be spoken. It was a good apology, one of his best. Jim would melt, give him one of those blinding, slow smiles, maybe ruffle his hair, punch his shoulder lightly…

"You went out and got fucked after fighting with me? Man, that's just --" Blair shook his head, unable to get across how that made him feel (flattered, intrigued, a spicy dash of disturbed) with words that wouldn't get him slammed up against a wall. He had some fond memories of Jim doing that a few times, but he'd had all the hands-on action that ultimately led nowhere that he could take for one night.

"What I do and who I do it with is none of your business." Jim rubbed at his mouth as if it itched. Part of Blair was automatically running through possible reactions to lipstick or lip balm; the rest was one solid lump of bitterness. "It never has been. Haven't we had this discussion before?"

"Yes." And it still sucked, that reticence of Jim's. Sex was a major part of being human and for someone like Jim, physically aware in a way few others were, to imagine he could excise that piece of the picture and still expect Blair's work to be complete was ridiculously annoying.

"And yet you still don't get it."

"Oh, I get it. Loud and fucking clear." Blair turned his back on Mr. I-got-lucky, deciding to go before he leaped on him and added a few more marks to that armor-plated skin. His bare foot kicked the T-shirt Jim had been wearing under his sweater and got tangled up in it. The thin black material reeked of smoke and something else. Without thinking much about it, nag-trained by Jim to not leave his clothes lying around, he stooped and picked it up. The smell intensified. Not perfume. Not feminine at all. Not aftershave, though… Lacking Jim's senses and the impressive memory that went along with them, he buried his nose in it and took an inquiring snuffle.

"What the hell are you doing, Sandburg?"

Familiar. God, yes, of course, it was. "This smells of deodorant."

"So?" Wary. Defensive. Oh, this was good dirt then…

"My deodorant. Which you like the smell of but can't use because you get that nasty rash, remember. Which means you weren't wearing it, but whoever you were with was, and you were up close and personal enough for it to have rubbed off on you. And you'd taken off your sweater or the smell wouldn't be this strong."

He felt an irrational regret that he'd missed the sweater coming off. Watching Jim undress, his movements easy, relaxed, muscles flexing, skin on display, was one of the perks of living with him. If he'd been able to pay Jim anything like a decent rent, Blair would have willingly thrown in an extra twenty a week for the privilege. He also knew just how long a look he could grab while Jim's sweater was blinding him as he worked it over his head. At least he hoped thick wool did a good enough job of blindfolding a Sentinel. Maybe he should make that their next experiment, assuming Jim ever let him do another.

"Fine, Sherlock. I'm applauding. Now get the hell out of my --"

Blair pulled a long, curly brown hair off the fabric and studied it without coming to any useful conclusions. Could be a man's, more likely a woman's -- and not necessarily belonging to the person Jim had been with. You could pick up a lot of lint and crap pushing through a crowded bar. Still… two plus a possible one meant something more than zero and he was back in the mood to goad and tease. "You got marked up by a man?"

"And we're back to the part where you're crossing a line."

"Whatever." Blair slipped the T-shirt over his head and ran his hands down his chest, smoothing the fabric. It was tight on Jim, which meant it was loose on him, and long enough that when he took off his shorts, his slowly stiffening cock was covered. Barely. Jim made a puzzled, shocked sound without using words and Blair turned on him. "All the men in all the bars and you went after one who smelled like me and had hair like --"

"He didn't."

"What?"

"Smell like you." Jim did smirk then, a sour smile. "Chief… you think the goop you smear under your arms is the sum total of how you smell? To me? Think again."

The confirmation of his suspicions, however oblique, rocked Blair's certainty more than being wrong would have done. He yanked off the T-shirt, balled it up tightly, and threw it at Jim, watching it settle, in an unsatisfactorily peaceful flutter, on the end of the bed.

Jim just stared at him. He was naked in Jim's bedroom, and Jim was staring at him like he was wallpaper. Jim should have been getting angry, but he wasn't, not really, and Blair felt his own temper flare up again, as if Jim's restraint was fuel for the fire charring his good intentions, turning them into flaked gray ashes, feathery and soft.

"Don't."

"Don't what, Chief? Have a life that doesn't revolve around your fucking moods?"

"That is bullshit." Okay, Jim had sounded a little pissed off there. Good. Good. "Total fucking bullshit. I have one day when I'm a little off my game, a little on edge, not all smiles --"

"You've been pushing me for weeks. Today I just got tired of it." Jim narrowed his eyes spitefully. "Cooled off yet, have we?"

"You got off on doing that," Blair accused him, sidestepping the issue because, yes, it had worked for a while, taken him down off the ledge, but not for long, not when Jim hadn't stuck around to finish the job.

One of Jim's shoulders lifted in a shrug that seemed to admit it without caring but which, if called on, he could always say had been incomprehension. He did that a lot, leaving Blair caught between hope and doubt. His eyebrows rose, too, in an unmistakable question: Did you?

Blair bit his lip which seemed to be all Jim needed by way of a reply because he sighed and rolled his eyes, staring off to the side the way he did when he was unhappy with something.

Blair didn't like being what Jim was unhappy with. "You need to get something on that bite. And your back."

That got him a surprised look. So him offering to help was a shock? Since when, dammit? Jim fumbled in a drawer of the table by the bed and brought out a tube of antiseptic cream, the end rolled up neatly. He squeezed some onto his finger and daubed it over the bite, his gaze fixed on Blair. Blair watched it glisten white against the bruise-dark skin and then sink in before moving over to the bed and stretching out his hand.

Jim tossed him the tube and went to his stomach, his arms folded under his chin. In silence, as that seemed to be safest right then, Blair painted each scratch with cream using the tips of his fingers, stroking as gently as he could across the abraded skin. When he'd finished, he sat back, opening his mouth to say something because the quiet was getting to him, and touching Jim like this, even just this, had calmed him to the point where he could be civil. Jim's foot thrashed out purposefully and the covers slipped down to mid-thigh.

Blair looked, as he'd been meant to, and swallowed whatever he'd been going to say. No point in asking if Jim wanted him to deal with these scratches, too; the message was pretty clear.

Four welts on each cheek, as if someone had dragged their nails down in a vicious arc. They didn't look friendly scratches somehow, given in the heat of the moment. They looked deliberate, evenly spaced. The skin wasn't broken but it was reddened enough that it looked as if it had been close to bleeding.

This close, Blair could smell Jim's body. He'd showered at some point since leaving the loft and having sex; there was a trace of dried soap on the dip between his cheeks and he didn't smell of come or sweat or smoke.

Blair wanted to lick the scratches clean, like an animal would do for its littermate, not cover them with the chemical stink of antiseptic. Wanted it so much his hand was trembling as he smeared the cream on Jim's ass and his cock was up and ready even though he'd jerked off twice since Jim had left. Twice. Once in the tub, sobbing still and smacking one hand against the side of it, the pain driving him on as much as what his other hand was doing. Once right here on this bed, hours later, knowing Jim would smell it in the air and not caring because Jim had been gone so long and he'd known what Jim was doing, he'd fucking known --

He finished, capped the cream, and dropped it into Jim's waiting hand as Jim turned, propping himself up on an elbow. "Thanks, Chief."

"Welcome."

The drawer closed with a squeak and a slam and Jim hitched the covers higher.

"Are we done here?" Blair asked, annoyed by the faint tremor that'd crept into his voice.

Jim sniffed suddenly, as if some stray scent had caught his attention, inhaling deeply, making a big deal out of it, wrinkling his nose and giving Blair's dick a pointed look.

Oh, yeah, like that wasn't the first thing you noticed when you came up here…

"Sandburg, do we have to discuss boundaries? As in my room's off-limits?"

I just had my hand on your butt, Jim. I'm sitting on your bed, ass bare, and dick hard, which we're obviously not going to discuss because we don't do that, do we? No, we pretend and we cover up and we -- So you tell me where those lines of yours are these days because me, I'm lost.

"I don't know what you're talking about." He made the lie blatant enough to be a clear challenge not an attempt to cover up what he'd done.

"Yeah, you do." Jim sounded confident but it was all bluster and show; those long fingers of his were kneading the sheet, flexing nervously.

"No. Tell me."

"Fuck you, Sandburg." Jim's face was flushed now, his tongue stroking out across his lower lip, something Blair had seen him do when he was nervous and angry and aroused, and he didn't know for sure but he was guessing all three applied now. He just didn't dare glance down and check on the last one through the thin sheet across Jim's hips.

"Tell me what you think I did," Blair repeated stonily. It was easy to be brave in the unreality of this situation -- naked, on Jim's bed, naked and hard and Jim was fresh from fucking or being fucked and it'd been a man, for God's sake, a man, and he'd known, hadn't he? Known for so long now and that was why -- that was --

"You came up here. You were on this bed. My bed."

Yes. Dressed, his hair still damp close to his skull, feeling the thrill of being somewhere forbidden because although he'd come up here before, lots of times, even borrowed Jim's clothes from time to time when his laundry had stacked up and he was out of options, without getting more than a half-hearted rebuke, this was different.

He'd lain down on the smooth covers and nearly come just from letting his head roll into the hollow Jim's had left in the pillow.

"You jerked off on my bed," Jim said, finally forcing the accusation out with reluctance.

Carefully, catching every drop. It was his way of forcing a test onto Jim, he supposed. And he'd come violently, body locking in a spasm, then jerking wildly, uncontrolled, as his cock spat out a message into the waiting, smothering Kleenex.

"So which of us is Goldilocks?"

"You think this is funny, Sandburg?" Jim knelt up, his face close to Blair's, his breath hot, beer-sour. Not drunk. Just in that state where it was easy to exaggerate emotions and responses and not quite realize it.

"I think it's fucking hilarious."

And that was the most honest he'd been in months.

"Do you see me laughing?"

This close, in this mood, Jim was elemental. Primal. Blair half expected a well-timed clap of thunder, a lightning strike.

"I see… you. I see you terrified and I'm wondering when you're going to ask for help."

Honesty was addictive.

"Help with what?" Jim shook his head. "I don't need your help with anything but the Sentinel stuff, Sandburg. And even that's --"

No. Don't go there. Blair willed Jim to stop and he did, as if even here, at this cusp, there were some truths Jim wouldn't admit. Like the one where he didn't need Blair the way he used to.

Oh, he should. They should be pushing, learning more, getting to explore all kinds of stuff. Jim would need him for that. But it wasn't happening, and when Jim was coasting along, confident as hell, no, he didn't really need Blair. Jim was a fast learner.

"What do I need you for?" Jim repeated and for a moment it was a plea, not a gibe and Blair reached out and touched the bite mark, barely brushing it.

Jim's hand came up and took his wrist in a loose grip and Blair spread his fingers so that they lifted up just a little and waited.

"You're wondering why it wasn't you."

"Yeah. Kind of." Blair met Jim's gaze. "Wanted it to be."

"I know."

It was galling to realize how comprehensively Jim would have known and how early on in their relationship, Blair's body betraying him, screaming aloud what he'd tried to keep secret.

"So why not, man? You can't tell me it wasn't something you wanted."

"You need me to tell you?" Jim's thumb was rubbing over the pulse in Blair's wrist making it speed up obediently. "Your research, my job… two reasons right there."

"I haven't been objective about you for years. Ever. I'm part of this, not an onlooker. And as you're so fond of telling me, I'm not a cop."

Jim pushed Blair's hand down and away -- gently, very gently -- and placed it on the bed, his own hand covering it lightly, just for a second, before moving away. "Just as easy as that? You can admit all your work's been wasted?"

"It's not wasted." Was. Was suspect. Was flawed. Was words in a row tainted by love and admiration and lust until they were a paean to a flawed hero, not a study of a man.

"Whatever." Jim looked abruptly exhausted. "Blair --"

"This can't go on." Blair cocked his head. "That what you were going to say? You're right. It can't. So we change something."

"We fuck?" Hard to tell what answer that blunt question wanted.

"We… don't have to." Blair eyed the bruise on Jim's chest again. "Not sure now I've got what you want."

"This isn't exactly normal for me, Chief." Jim sketched a gesture that took in his damaged skin. "Things got a little out of hand."

"Want to tell me about it?"

"No."

"Fair enough." He was consumed with curiosity but he knew when to push Jim for details and when not. Even if he was coming up with some scenarios so lurid even he was shocked. "It's not about you and me getting physical. There's more than that involved in the way I feel about you."

Jim rolled his eyes and the world shifted a degree closer to what it should be. "Sandburg, you get drool down your front every time I look at you."

He let his mouth gape open in pretended outrage, going along with the artificially easy because it was easy and they both needed a break. "I do not! And I'm not the one wandering around making breakfast in see-through shorts."

"I don't own any --" Jim flushed. "See-through?"

"The white ones? At the right angle? Totally."

The conversation ground to a halt and Blair sighed. "I want you. Yeah. Given our track records, it wouldn't last long, but I'd always be wondering if we didn't. But it's more that I'm so sick of you not acknowledging it's there between us. You're such a fucking coward sometimes, you know that?"

"Why was it up to me to say anything?"

Good point.

"I don't know," Blair admitted. "Your place, your inhibitions…"

"Do I look all that fucking inhibited to you?" Jim's voice was rough with irritation. "You're naked and you're… happy, and I'm not commenting, am I? Not telling you to get dressed before you put someone's fucking eye out?"

"And you think that makes you the poster child for something?" Blair hooted with laughter. "I don't think so, man! And that whole pretending not to notice shit is what's being driving me crazy."

"I noticed the crazy," Jim said. "Trust me, Sandburg, I noticed that."

"Notice more," Blair said flatly. "Tell me to back off. Tell me to stop fucking drooling. I jerked off on this bed --" He smacked his hand down on it, jarring his wrist. "Came on your bed, thinking about you and what you did to me and the best you've got is to tell me your room's off-limits?" His voice was rising, getting louder. "Is that all you've got? What do I have to do to get a reaction? Bring home someone hung like a horse and fuck him here in front of you?"

"You'd do that?" Mildly curious, no more.

"Jim, man, you don't know what I'm capable of when I get like this. Yeah, I'd do it. I'd regret it later the way I think you're regretting what you did --"

"Which part?" Jim interrupted him to ask. "I don't regret anything I did before I left. It needed doing."

"And after?"

Jim rolled his shoulders, wincing as if his back hurt. "Maybe. It didn't help, if you really want to know."

Yes, I want to know, you --

"I do want to know, Jim. You don't have to tell me, but yeah, I want to know. That's what I've been trying to tell you. I want some… some communication going on. That's all."

"Not sex. Just talking. Right…" Jim said, drawling the last word out disbelievingly.

Blair chewed on his lip, trying to salvage something. "Both?" Jim opened his mouth and Blair waved him to silence. "Stop focusing on the sex. It's not --"

Jim's hand closed around Blair's cock, warm and firm. His fingers shifted, settled, and gripped a little harder. Blair exhaled sharply, the air leaving his lungs in a rush. "Uhnh."

"What?" Jim shifted a little closer, propped up on an elbow, his wrist flexing slightly, accommodating the eager rush of blood that had left Blair's cock harder, thicker. "I'm noticing that you're turned on. I'm not ignoring it. That's what you wanted, right?"

"Kind of…" Blair said warily.

Jim thumbed the head of Blair's cock, smearing wetness around in a contemplative sort of way. "Do you want a running commentary on what I'm noticing? Do you want to take notes or will you remember?"

Blair struck out, knocking Jim's hand away, his breath coming fast and thick in his chest. "Stop it, you fucking asshole. God, just stop it --"

Jim sucked his thumb clean, which came right out of at least three of Blair's fantasies, and wiped it dry on the covers. "Make up your mind, Blair."

"And what? You'll give me anything I ask for? I don't think so."

"I'll know what you want," Jim corrected. "Right now, all I've got is that you think we don't talk enough -- you and Carolyn been comparing notes or something? -- and you can't decide if we should fuck to relieve the tension or not fuck because it'd be a disaster."

Blair pursed his lips, feeling like a hooked fish. Jim was back in control of this and that meant he was running out of time. "Okay, say you're right; what about you? What do you want?"

"A peaceful life."

"Seriously."

"I'm being serious, Chief." Jim lay back, staring up at the skylight. "In case you haven't noticed, I've got a lot going on in my life. My job, the Sentinel thing… I need a place where I can just… I don't know, lick my wounds. This place used to be it. I'd come home, and sure, it was lonely, but I don't mind that. And I didn't mind you moving in, not once I got used to it. We clicked pretty well." Jim turned his head. "We did, right?"

Blair nodded mutely, starting to shiver in reaction to a growing fear that he was about to get kicked out. Jim's face softened. Weakness did something to Jim. It wasn't that he admired you for it; more that he tended to assume if you showed it you had to be in a bad way and needed helping. And he liked helping. Obviously. His life was dedicated to it. Blair's was more a chase than a quest. "You're cold, Chief. Get some clothes on or get under the covers, will you?"

It was like being petted, like being stroked, when Jim fussed over him. Blair put his hand on the covers, hesitated, and then pulled them back and slid in beside Jim, feeling the heat radiating from him although he was careful not to let their bodies touch. Jim pulled the covers up, tucking them in, and they lay side by side, staring up.

Very weird. Very. But it was Jim and he'd always been anxiously out of step, if covering it well, and Blair had gotten used to it. It wasn't as if his own life was full of normal. So if Jim thought they could go from fighting to groping to this, Blair was willing to try and follow where Jim led.

Ellison's shadow. Oh, yeah, he'd heard that one. Compared to some other words that followed 'Ellison's' when people were talking about Blair, 'shadow' was friendly. He didn't have to ask if Jim heard the murmurs and the rumors; his own name? That would have snatched at his attention. And as Blair had never seen any of the worst offenders bleeding and crawling to him on their bended knees to apologize, he had to guess Jim had never confronted them. Least said…and if he were to be honest, nothing they said was wrong in a theoretical way. He'd suck Ellison's cock and kiss his ass on demand if Jim had ever asked him to. The snigger-wink-nudge cops were just anticipating a little, that's all.

Which didn't mean that he didn't mind.

Blair had some fantasies that didn't include Jim naked and the ones that made him feel guiltier than the sexual fever dreams, had Jim wading in, fists flying, defending him. Stupid. Stupid. He could take care of himself in so many ways, quick-talking, quick-thinking Blair Sandburg. Maybe it went back to all those recesses spent huddled in a corner with a book hoping no one would notice him and want to… play. God, a friend like Jim back then… except it was boys like Jim who'd made his life hell until he mastered the art of amusing them, buying immunity.

"You're quiet."

"Just thinking."

"You never stop."

"You said we got on well." Blair swallowed. "We still do, right, Jim?"

"It doesn't feel like it used to." Jim's profile was coin-sharp, beautiful, remote. "I want it to."

"I don't know if we can go back to that," Blair said reluctantly. "You know stuff. I know stuff… We could maybe get the hell out of this rough patch and move on."

"How?"

Jim asked the simple questions as if he thought they really were that simple, that easy to answer, like a kid wanting to know why his puppy couldn't not be run over any more, Mommy.

"I don't know. Why do you think I know this stuff, anyway?" Blair rolled over and poked Jim's shoulder with a finger, hitting muscle and feeling a throb of pain in his finger. "Relationships aren't exactly my area of expertise, in case you hadn't noticed the string of one-night stands."

"I've noticed them." Was that a disapproving sniff?

"And they've bothered you? What? Tell me."

"Bothered me?" He could almost see Jim turning the idea over in his head. "Not exactly."

"Not exactly means it did."

"You have a different dictionary to the rest of us, don't you, Sandburg?"

"It bothered me when you got lucky."

"Again, got to say you see my life differently than I do. I meet someone, and if I care, it all ends badly; if I don't care, it ends even faster. That's lucky?"

"It hasn't ended with me."

"We haven't done anything yet."

Blair shook his head. "Are you kidding me? Foreplay, man! Years of it. Has to count for something."

Jim pursed his lips. "Not in my book. You're, ah, virgin territory as far as I'm concerned."

"Oh, that is so not -- you're joking, right?"

"Maybe." Jim's smile was smug but at least he was smiling.

"So what now?"

"To use your excuse; what makes you think I know?" Jim finally turned his head. "It's out in the open between us; that should make you happy."

"Is it?" He could still see the gaps, tantalizing missing pieces.

"Well, you know I went out, picked up a guy in a bar, and got blown in an alley."

"No, I -- God, Jim. You? In an alley? No, I didn't know! I thought maybe an old boyfriend, their place… You'd showered."

"I called by the gym. And you know now."

"He messed you up pretty good."

"Yeah." Jim's jaw set hard and then relaxed. "Like I said; that's not usually the way I go. You just made me --"

"What?" Blair punched the pillow in sheer frustration when Jim didn't reply, feeling his fist sink into softness and needing the crunch a wall would have given him. "Made you what?"

Jim rolled his shoulders uneasily, looking so uncomfortable that Blair almost relented but it was too late; Jim was talking. "Feel like you do now, I suppose. Worked up. Ready to pop if I didn't get rid of some of it, you know? I could have got the same result by picking a fight, but that was too risky and I didn't want marks where they'd show. Hard to explain a black eye to Simon. But he can't tell from looking that I got a blow job. At least, I hope not."

"And you didn't…?"

"Return the favor?" Jim rubbed at his forehead, looking stressed. "Is there anything you don't get out of me eventually? No, I didn't. He took care of himself while he was down there."

"I like that I got you that worked up," Blair confessed, part-payment for Jim telling him that he hadn't gotten fucked.

"You like that I was ready to kill you?" Jim said incredulously. "And that I felt so fucking guilty about what I did that I wanted --"

He ground to a halt. "Absolution?" Blair suggested. Ha. So much for no regrets.

"Oh, for -- yes. I suppose. Yes."

"And instead you got a blow job." Welcome to Jim's world; the guy landed feet first, always.

"If you want to know, that did a pretty good job -- no, that wasn't a pun -- of making me feel bad."

"Then he wasn't very good at it."

"He was okay," Jim said indifferently. "He just wasn't you."

"Oh, wow. That's -- " Blair pushed his hand through his hair, trying to distract himself from the wave of flattered lust lapping gently at his ego. "Don't say that. Just don't."

"Why not?"

"You do that on purpose, don't you? Because you know I always answer questions and it saves you having to."

"I don't mind talking for once. Not if it gets you out of the pissy as hell mood you've been in recently." Jim took a deep breath looking satisfied, as if he'd proved a point. If he had, Blair had missed it. "So where are we? No, I'll tell you." He reached over and tapped Blair's mouth with a finger. "Button it." Blair snapped at the finger and grazed it with his teeth, getting a chuckle out of Jim. "Nice try."

"Get on with it, asshole."

He should've remembered that Jim didn't like being called names…

"Okay. You want to nail my ass. Which shows your good taste. You think I wanted to do you but didn't have the guts to admit it, so what with jerking off over me every time I wandered across one of your fantasies --"

"What?"

Jim's face was unreadable. "You think I don't notice?"

"Don't notice what?"

"I'll do something, something I'm not even aware of, and you suck in a breath, look like I've just offered you a season ticket to the Jags, and disappear into the shower or your room for a little quality time, if you know what I mean." Jim looked moody. "And when I try something on purpose, you just look right through me and say, "That's nice, Jim" and I can tell you're not seeing me. Drives me fucking crazy."

Blair felt breathless, excited. And because he was who he was, just a little disappointed. Jim as unattainable was safe and at the same time hot. Jim making moves on him was something the Jim in his head would never do. That Jim didn't ask, or entice; he just took. "Whoa. Wait. You try stuff? Stuff to turn me on?"

"Maybe."

"Tell me one time you did that." I was asleep, right? Unconscious? Had to be…

"Tell me why you got a boner over me talking to you about grocery shopping last week," Jim countered.

"I did not!" Blair felt his face heat, the denial automatic.

"Tuesday. I'd just got the part about not buying apples from that corner shop even if they are organic because they went moldy in two days and you did a disappearing act. Why?"

"I remember it now," Blair said reluctantly. "And, yeah, I did do... that."

"I know," Jim said patiently. "I always know. We just pretend I don't, but, hey, you don't want that anymore, do you? And I think I'm entitled to know."

"You're not entitled and it's embarrassing, man!"

"You think it's easy for me to tell you I had sex tonight with a guy whose name I never got around to asking?"

"No, but that was something I needed to know and don't ask why or I'll -- I needed to know because that's why you did it, right?"

"Unbelievable. You really think I had sex --"

"Safe sex?"

"Yes, Mother."

"Apart from the scratches."

"Blair. Shut up."

"Or what? You'll gag me?"

"No, of course I won't…" Jim's eyes narrowed. "Okay. Interesting reaction from you there. Do you want me to?"

Panic bloomed and blossomed. "You're reading me now? Jim, you can't do that! Dial it down. Dial all of it down. That's cheating, man. That is so out of line."

"You're the one getting kinky, Chief. Me, I'm a meat and potatoes kind of guy."

"Yeah, right," Blair muttered. "And for the record, no, I don't want you to, at least, it's not a for real deal, you know? Just a …"

"Fantasy?"

"Yeah." Blair gave away a little ground grudgingly. "And not a gag; why would you want my mouth out of action anyway?"

"To give me chance to get in the occasional word? Although I take your point. Not a gag. Right. But something connected?" Jim looked amused. "Cuffs? That's it, isn't it? Chief, how very clichéd of you… You don't think every cop doesn't get asked that?"

"Fuck you," Blair said distinctly. His ears were burning he was blushing so much.

"It's looking more -- or is that less? -- likely, isn't it?" Jim cheated again by tucking a strand of hair behind Blair's ear just as he noticed it was tickling him. Sweetness from Jim disarmed Blair, left him open, vulnerable. "Tuesday. Tell me. Please?"

Surrender was easier. It wasn't always, because it felt like losing, but this close, Jim was verging on irresistible. Something about the way he loomed. Blair caved. "It was where you were standing. Leaning on that wooden support."

"I get the symbolism, Chief, but…"

"You cuffed Gustavo to it a while back."

"I'll admit he's got a certain charm but I really don't see him featuring naked in my dreams any time soon. Still not getting it."

Blair closed his eyes to make the next part easier. "It's me you cuff there. And you leave me."

He opened his eyes. Jim was… looking at him, mouth hanging open a little. He didn't look stunned, just thoughtful. "I leave you? I don't think I would."

"Hey, my fantasy; butt out," Blair snapped. "And you don't leave as in walk out." Like today. "You just continue as if I wasn't there. As if everything was normal."

"Are you naked?" Jim asked seriously.

"Sometimes. Sometimes, no, you just stop me doing whatever it is I'm doing -- watching TV, reading, writing -- and you walk me over there and cuff me to that beam without a word, you just do it and you -- there's this -- oh God, I can't do this. Please, Jim."

Jim's hand drifted up to cup Blair's cheek. "Just so you know, I'm hard. I'm telling you because I know you are and you don't know I am, because you haven't checked me out, and that doesn't seem fair. And it's partly because of what you're saying even though I really don't think I'd ever -- but I could. So far you're not going past what I could do." His hand felt good on Blair's face, it fitted, as if every bone was curved to cradle it. "I'd really like to hear what happens next."

"Good," Blair whispered. "Because I'm going to tell you."

Jim's mouth was so close and he'd never kissed it and Jim was going to lick his lip and Blair would come, all over the sheets, all over himself, maybe some on Jim and it would be messy…

"You pat my ass. It's this little approving kind of pat and it's nearly all it takes but I don't let myself come. And you go back to whatever it was you were doing and you can't even see me, not directly, but you're you and you could see me reflected in something if you wanted, and you can sure as hell hear me, smell me." He turned and nuzzled his nose and mouth into the waiting palm of Jim's hand. "I'm always naked around you."

"More or less," Jim agreed, his voice thick, unsteady.

"And I'm there for hours, at least it feels that way, and you get up and you act like I'm… I don't know, artwork. A decoration. And you brush past me, get a drink, and on the way back you stop and it depends on how close I am what you do next. Maybe you pat me again and I moan, maybe you stand in front of me and I slide down to my knees for you. Maybe you kiss me, hands all over me and I'm locked in place, can't touch, can't touch --"

"Hey…" Jim looked a little disturbed now and no wonder. Way to spill his fucking insecurities… "I don't want you feeling that way." The analytic part of Blair, the part that never slept, registered the datum that being deprived of a sense troubled Jim. It wasn't exactly a light bulb moment but it did make him move a few ideas to the 'never going to happen' list. "You want to touch me, you can."

"I know. And I do. Just not in that fantasy," Blair assured him.

"I meant now," Jim clarified. "You can touch me now."

"I think we should keep on with this conversation, Jim. We're making real progress here."

"Chief --" Jim's face twisted. "I'm going to do this with or without you --"

"What? Oh!"

Jim turned to his back, his hands disappeared under the sheets and he came hard and fast, his face red, eyes closed, his shoulder muscles bunching.

He was close and I didn't notice? That turned on and I didn't even know? What the fuck is wrong with me? Observer? Yeah, right. God, so hot, so fucking hot…

Jim's eyes didn't open again. He looked as if he was hoping when he did Blair wouldn't be there or would be struck with amnesia.

"You are the hottest thing on the fucking planet, you know that?" Blair said conversationally, itching to pull the covers down. "They should name volcanoes after you."

Oops. Maybe not the best comparison for someone who'd just had his own mini eruption…

Jim moaned, still giving off strongly mortified vibes, and Blair gave into temptation and eased the sheet down, watching Jim's skin shiver as the cooler air stroked it. Opaque streaks of come lay smudged and splattered over Jim's stomach and his cock, still hard, lay in the protective grasp of Jim's hand.

Blair peeled Jim's fingers away, one by one, until he could see. The pungent, familiar smell of come was doing all sorts of things to him on an instinctual level he supposed -- arousal was in the brain, after all -- but he was more interested in the physical reactions he was having with his face inches away from Jim's groin. He wasn't going to do more than look; Jim might have showered, but Blair was still seeing a stranger on his knees in front of Jim -- taking Blair's place, dammit -- and it was going to take a while for him to get over that. Jim was going to need to scrub a layer or two off before Blair put his mouth where someone else's had been. Jim was going to need to fucking exfoliate his fucking dick --

He breathed out, warm and moist, and Jim's hips lifted, arched, imploring and wildly optimistic.

"Not going to," Blair told him firmly. "You have nameless man in alley cooties, Jim."

That got Jim's eyes open. "I didn't ask you to do anything. Get off me, will you?"

"You get me off." Blair moved to straddle Jim, feeling damp, hot flesh against his ass and thighs. "If you'd waited, I'd have done it for you."

"Even when I have cooties?" Jim said sourly.

"I'd have forced myself."

"You're such a giver, Chief."

"Touch me," Blair demanded without feeling that he was asking for more than he was owed. He saw Jim's expression and sprinkled on some sugar. "Please, Jim. Just put your hand on me somewhere."

"While you jerk off on me?" Jim's voice cracked with outrage.

"You're going to have to clean up anyway," Blair pointed out. "And skin cleans easier than sheets."

He dropped his hand to his cock and paused, eying Jim expectantly. Jim sighed, long-suffering and noble with it, and smacked his hand down painfully on the top of Blair's thigh. "Okay?"

"It'll do."

He wasn't sure he could do this. He was enough of an exhibitionist that he'd done it before, but never with someone he hadn't already fucked. Sex had so much potential for being ridiculously embarrassing that you both needed to be involved to save face.

Still, Jim had gone first…

Not letting himself think too much about what his hand was doing, the slow, gradual build of speed and tightness, the application of pressure there and oh, yeah, there, feels so good there but it's the third time today and hey, little tender, little chafed… he concentrated instead on Jim's hand.

It was a source of heat, matched by the burn in Jim's eyes, and it was moving, sliding over his leg. Blair whimpered at the sensation. Jim had touched him countless times, brief, friendly touches, but this was deliberate and didn't stop.

Then Jim dragged his left hand through the come streaking his stomach and without asking, without even hesitating, put his hand on Blair's chest.

A low, desperate keening sound was about all Blair had by way of response. The actual feel of cooling come on his skin verged on the gross but he was an anthropologist for God's sake and the symbolism, the gesture, enchanted him, moved him.

"Jim, God, yes --" Such nonsense he babbled at times like this, whipping himself up deliberately with a string, a stream of filth and fervor. He couldn't do that now; couldn't plead for harder and faster when Jim was just touching him, both hands still now, couldn't beg to be fucked when it wasn't going to happen, when his dick was slippery and ripe and about to --

Jim's gaze, which had been anywhere but on Blair's cock, dropped and he inhaled sharply, his expression intent.

He knows. He knows I'm going to come, he knows and I didn't, I wasn't sure, but Jim knows, so I must be, I'm going to come with him watching -- because he's watching, he's making me come, going to come, come on him, on Jim, come --

"Now," Jim whispered, urgent, confident, sure. "Now, Blair."

Blair made a sound he'd blush over later, more of a wail, really, and did as he was told, hips busy, hand flying, spunk shooting.

All over Jim. Belly, chest, fuck, his chin, no, just a trick of the light… Drained, exhausted, he slithered off Jim and buried his face in the pillow, panting out incoherencies that turned into ragged breaths interspersed with moans until Jim poked his shoulder and shut him up.

"Sandburg, are you always like this afterwards? Because it might explain why you don't get many people coming back for more."

"Like what?" Blair turned his head and surveyed Jim though a tangle of hair. Jim was wiping himself down with neat, precise movement using Kleenex from the same box Blair had raided earlier.

"Noisy." Jim didn't meet his eye. "And, I don't know, self-absorbed?"

Blair examined that adjective for a while, long enough that Jim had time to toss the tissues, roll over with his back to Blair, and generally give the impression of a man who was done talking.

"I'd like to turn out the light, Sandburg."

Apart from hinting that he wanted the bed to himself.

"You want me to go?" No more wondering. He had something he wasn't sure about, he was asking Jim. No more guessing. He sucked at guessing. Guessing had got him years of lusting; asking had got him, well, in all kinds of trouble, but the payoff had been… interesting.

"Yeah, I want you to go." Jim sounded annoyed and defeated. "Been a hell of a day and I've got to get up in six hours."

The scratches on Jim's back looked sore and they were still all covered in gunk, even if a lot of it had probably rubbed off on the sheets, but Blair moved in close and licked the top one anyway, the one that ran across Jim's shoulder blade.

"What are you doing?"

"I don't know," Blair admitted, swiping at his tongue with his hand. Yeah… didn't taste good. "One of those impulses, you know? Spit's very antiseptic."

"No, it's not."

"Mine is."

"You're so full of it." Affection. Was that affection there? A gentle warmth instead of an icy freeze?

Jim rolled over to face him. "Look, I'm just not used to sharing a bed, okay?"

"You're used to me."

The corners of Jim's mouth turned down as he considered that. "Yeah. I guess I am. It still doesn't mean --"

"None of it has to mean anything more than I'm settled and sleepy and don't want to move."

"It's messy now, isn't it?" Jim murmured. "And no, I'm not talking about the bed."

"It always was."

"So what now?" Jim rubbed at his eye and yawned. "Okay, you know what; not tonight."

"No, you asked," Blair said. "You'll sleep better knowing."

Jim grunted something that might have been a go ahead.

"Did it ever occur to you that you put up with all my shit just like we were a couple but you didn't get the one thing that makes it worthwhile?"

"Someone doing my laundry? Which you don't."

"Sex, Jim. It's the oil that greases the wheels of two people living this close."

"I wouldn't advise repeating that around Reynolds. He lives with his mom in a place half this size."

"You get what I'm saying. When two people who are, let's say, attracted --"

"Moth to a flame, babe."

"Which am I?" Blair said, momentarily distracted.

Jim smacked the top of his head, which hurt but had the benefit of being familiar ground. "Focus, will you? And for the record, I like having you here and you don't have to put out to sweeten the deal."

"Suppose I want to? Suppose I'm a moth who just can't get enough of singed wings?"

"I won't let you get hurt, Chief." Jim's hand caressed where he'd hurt and yeah, it felt good when he did that. "We can try it, I suppose. Anything's better than the way it's been. And I could do worse."
 
"No," Blair said, feeling the urge to be honest. "I'm not that reliable. You know what I'm like."

"I don't share." Jim's hand found the back of Blair's neck and made it impossible for Blair to look anywhere but at Jim. "You can call it quits any time you want, but you tell me before you --"

"Hey!" Blair jabbed at the bruise on Jim's chest. "I'm not the one who -- who --"

"I won't do it again." Quiet. Earnest.

"You won't need to. Any time you want that I'll go to a bar and let you pick me up."

Jim looked horrified at the idea of anything that creative. "Sandburg, please be joking."

"I'll blow you any time, any place," Blair promised recklessly. "Just not tonight."

"God, no." Jim rolled his eyes. "Running on fumes here."

"Three times since you left," Blair said modestly. "Bath, your bed, just now…"

"No," Jim corrected him. "Twice since I left. Once since I came back."

That was… yeah, that was almost romantic. At least, it felt romantic.

"I'm glad you came back, man."

"Where else would I go?"

Good question.

"So I can stay up here for now?"

"Do I ever get to win? Ever?"

"No." Maybe Jim wasn't such a fast learner.

Jim grimaced, sighed, and caved. "You can stay, just… not every night, okay? I need to get used to this."

Once you find out how I can wake you up smiling, you'll never want to sleep alone again.

"Sure thing."

"And now go to sleep. I mean it."

Jim snapped off the lamp and settled down. Blair waited a reasonable amount of time and then poked him. "Hey!"

"What?"

"No kiss?" Blair demanded.

"You want kissing." Jim sighed. "Of course you do."

"As long as you've brushed your teeth since, you know. Him."

"I didn't kiss him. And I wasn't planning on kissing you."

"You plan kisses?"

"Sandburg, with you, I need to think ahead. Will you go to sleep if I do?"

"It might happen during," Blair admitted. "I'm tired, too."

"It won't," Jim said, amused enough to chuckle over that. "Pucker up, sweetheart."

Blair opened his mouth to protest just about everything Jim had said and was silenced by a kiss that, while it wouldn't win any awards as he hadn't been ready, dammit, was still one to remember if only for the implications.

"You really will do anything I say, won't you?" he said when Jim had pulled back with a pat that missed Blair's shoulder and smacked painfully against his nipple ring.

"Shut up."

"Anything at all. Hey, Jim? Will you bring me breakfast in --?"

Jim's hand, large and heavy, descended across Blair's mouth. "I mean it, Blair. Please. Enough."

"I love you," Blair mouthed against the silencing skin, barely exhaling, barely moving his lips.

"That won't work."

Blair jerked his head sideways, dislodging Jim's hand. "Why?" It always worked. Which was why he never said it. He felt outraged that the one time he had, it'd failed.

"It's words. Just words. Easy to say. I love you, Blair. See? Even I can do it." Jim tapped the end of Blair's nose. "Actions speak louder. Prove it by shutting the hell up so I can sleep or I'll kick your ass downstairs, and you know I'm not bluffing."

"Goodnight, Jim," Blair said, meekly.

"Goodnight, Blair."

He got one last, unprompted kiss, delivered to the corner of his mouth, and then Jim pulled him in close like a teddy bear and fell asleep and Blair cautiously renegotiated his share of the covers and did the same.



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