"Yes, but, Jim..."
How often a week -- a day -- does he get that from Sandburg? Or the subtly different and equally annoying, "Yes, Jim, but…" which always gives him an extra syllable of hope that this time, this time, Blair's going to do as he's told.
He wonders if Blair thinks all Jim will hear is the 'yes' and be fooled into thinking he's won. Wouldn't put it past him.
And it's not like it's always life-threatening, sure. It can be something as trivial as the toothpaste left uncapped, so it all --
And they share a tube of toothpaste, now, and how… intimate is that? He never did with Carolyn; she had this stuff that tasted of nothing and Jim always liked the kind where the mint was so strong it left your eyes watering and your teeth scrubbed into submission. But now, there are only a few brands that don't make the inside of his mouth feel hot and scratchy, and one of them Sandburg liked, too, umming enthusiastically over it, and it made no sense to have two tubes of the same stuff cluttering up the already messy bathroom.
So they share and his hand fits around the deep squeezes Blair's fingers have left and smoothes them out carefully.
-- oozes out over the sink, and he guesses he can live with Blair's "Yes, Jim, but the phone rang, remember? And I couldn't just let it ring and when I'd finished talking I forgot I had to go all the way back into the bathroom to put the top back on the tube of toothpaste and turn it carefully, not cross-threading it, not doing it too tight because hey, we're only going to be taking it off again tonight, right? And I'm very sorry that I…"
No. No, he can't live with it. He wants to smack Blair when he gets like that, the gleam in his eyes telling Jim just how much he's enjoying making Jim look ridiculous.
But when he tells Blair to stay back, stay safe, and Blair gives him attitude, which, to be fair, isn't often, but once would be too much, once might be all it took to get him killed, then Jim can't deal with it well, no, not at all.
Blair never gets the full brunt of Jim's anger, though. He senses that it'd be a hollow victory, more of a weapon for Blair to use against him. He settles for minatory frowns, acid asides, sometimes, when he's really burned up, a bit of public mocking in front of someone who'll back him up at the station, disguised as humour.
Yeah. Petty, crappy stuff that leaves Jim feeling like shitty and going to extremes to make it up to Sandburg when it's really Sandburg who should be hanging his head.
And each time Sandburg does it, Jim gets through the flash and smouldering burn of anger by promising himself that next time, oh, yeah, next time, he's going to give Sandburg hell and damn the consequences because he's had it.
Then one day he decides that for real. A fucked-up day, a rapist left free to walk because of an administrative screw-up, and a blinding, pounding headache. And Sandburg says it, says that and smirks, the tiniest up curl of his full lips, and Jim, cold, now, ice-cold, stares at him in silence and nods.
And it's sick, but he's dying for it to happen. Anticipating it with an impatient, fevered longing. And naturally, of course, Sandburg behaves himself. One day, two, and Jim's on edge, waiting, hardly letting Sandburg out of his sight, when it occurs to him that really he's the one in charge here, and all he has to do is give Sandburg an order at home, where no one's around to see them fight, and make it one Sandburg can't let slide, not and still look himself in the mirror and feel good.
"You're doing this… this thing where you just throw the cutlery in the drawer and I want you to take your time, put it away properly, okay?"
Blair frowns. "Yes, but, see, Jim, when you --"
And that's close enough, that's good enough, that's enough and he barks it out, saying it aloud, with a twist to the meaning, hearing his father's voice rip out his throat, leave it aching, leave it raw.
"That's enough, Sandburg!"
He's not touching him but he's swung around fast so that Blair's backed up against the counter and Jim's a foot away, crowding him. He places his hands on the counter, on either side of Blair, and leans forward. It's easy; natural; part of his interrogation technique. Get in close, in their face, while they're pinned to their chair and can't do more than turn away, but somehow they rarely do, they just meet his eyes with a dull, trapped fear showing.
Blair just licks his lip, a quick swipe, and continues talking. He never has scared Blair. Not once. Not ever. He likes to think it's because he's never tried.
"What's it going to take to get you to do as you're told?" he asks, fitting his words over Blair's smooth stream of words like a sheet of ice.
"Why should I?" Blair counters, quick-flash-smart.
"Because." Which is ridiculous and yet somehow the best answer, the only answer he's got.
"Give me more than that and I might consider it."
Blair's relaxing now, even though the edge of the counter has to be digging into him. It's hitting his back at the place where his ass begins to curve out and Jim's sure there'll be a mark there when Blair walks away, hidden under clothing, but there, a red slash of skin, warmer than the flesh around it. He'll be able to feel it fade if Blair stays close enough.
There's a glitter of amusement in Blair's eyes which is unendurable.
"Because you're pissing me off. Because keep it up and I'll throw your ass out of here, Blair. Go back to living here solo--"
"You wouldn't." The flat certainty -- is Blair trying to get Jim to punch him?
"Try me, Chief."
He stares Blair down like he would any criminal, anyone caught transgressing. He's been told he does it well.
"Fine, I'll go. I'll pack, I'll go. I'll be out of your hair --"
His fingers flex on the countertop as he tries to keep them from fisting in Blair's hair and keeping him just where he is.
Okay, he's lost this one.
"I don't want that." He swallows. "Can we forget I said that?"
Blair gives him an odd look. "Sure. So you don't want a Blair-shaped space in your life; so what do you want?"
Jim exhaled. God. Humiliating. "I don't know," he admitted. "Just for you to not argue. Just do stuff when I tell you to."
"Control…"Blair said thoughtfully. "You want control over me."
Put like that, it should've sounded weird, demanding an instant no, but it just sounded appealing. Restful. "No, of course I don't --"
"Yeah, you do. You totally do." Blair didn't seem bothered by the idea, which bothered Jim. He was staring through Jim, eyes clouded with thought. "Control… how much?"
"We're all controlled by stuff, Jim." Lecture mode. Hadn't he been punished enough? "Events, people, society…expectations. The only freedom lies in how much of what you relinquish is your own idea."
"I suppose." What a crock.
"Total control?" Blair is looking up at him now, through his lashes, a small, secretive smile on his face. The little fuck is flirting with him. "Is that what you want, Jim?"
And it isn't about sex, so Blair's got that wrong and Jim wants to crow like Peter. He's got no desire to fuck or suck him, no intention of putting his hands and mouth on Blair and watching him come apart on a cry, a sigh.
He pretends to a shock and bewilderment he doesn't feel. Blair likes that; he can tell. "I don't -- why are you --?"
"We're all controlled, Jim. I just told you that. It's just a matter of degree. Take Simon, for instance. He controls the cases you work on, so indirectly, I suppose you could say a good third of your life is Simon-dictated. But he doesn't tell you what to eat for breakfast, what book to read, what movie to watch…"
"I guess," Jim says uncommunicatively. "Where are you going with this, Chief?"
"You want more control over me than you have now -- which is quite a lot, I just don't think you realise that."
"I don't." He sounds flat, angry, and Blair looks just a little concerned.
"Well, trust me, you do. But if you want more…" Blair does something that put him on display, a subtle shift of position, an arch of his hips… all such small adjustments to his posture that he barely moves at all.
To Jim, it's as blatant and energetic as a hula.
Jim brings a hand up to rub roughly through Blair's hair, smiling kindly at him, dropping the act, letting Blair see him naked, in a manner of speaking. "Nice. But no, thanks. If I wanted that from you, I'd have said. How many times do I have to not say for you to get the message?"
Blair flushes. Oh, now that's nice. Jim could get used to that. Mortification, no, it wasn't that; Blair is too used to being turned down; he just shrugs and goes on to the next mark. But he looks discomfited.
"Fine." Blair's mouth tightens. "Just control for the sake of it? Even kinkier. Okay. Control me. Totally. But hurry up because I'm going to need to breathe soon and I can't do that until you tell me, can I? Go on, Jim; tell me; inhale, exhale… tell me before I turn blue."
"Can I assume I have permission to breathe, then?"
Jim pushes back, giving Sandburg space to move away if he wants to. "Do what the fuck you want, Sandburg. You just proved incapable of following a simple instruction and I think that proves my point."
"You can't do it. Can't just say, Yes, Jim, period, no backchat, no arguing, nothing. I told you to shut up and you kept on flapping your jaw."
"But I didn't know we'd started --"
"I did." Jim smiles. "Want a grade, Sandburg? F is for fail."
"Why don't you want to have sex with me?"
Sandburg spreads his hands. "I'm your type."
"You think so?"
"I know so."
Nice to have that much confidence, Jim thinks sourly. "So what do you have I like?"
"An ass? A mouth? A dick?"
He can't help wincing. "Yeah? Well, from here, you're just an asshole, Chief."
"I'll do it," Blair says quietly as Jim turns and heads for the fridge and a beer. "It'll be interesting to see what effect it has on you when you're in charge, completely, totally. Who knows? You might lose the attitude and you know, Jim, I've been close to packing myself a few times lately."
It's a lie but it's enough of a threat to make Jim hesitate. "I meant it when I said I didn't want you to go."
"Like you meant it when you said you didn't want to fuck me?"
Jim gets out a beer and flicks Sandburg a look. "C for comprehension. I said I wasn't going to; not the same."
"No, no, it isn't, but I don't see why --"
"Shut the fuck up!" Jim feels the bottle top grind into his palm, deep and hard. "Will you just stop talking? You said you'll do it; if you meant that, nod your goddamned head."
It takes a while -- two, three seconds, easy -- but he gets the nod. It's not reluctant; he has the feeling Blair waited just to make it look like he was thinking it over, when in fact, Jim knows Blair had made up his mind way back in the conversation.
"Fine. We'll try it for…" His head aches and yet it's clear and sharp and bright in there. Snow off sun and every breath hurts. "An hour. Just an hour." He glances at his watch and shows it to Blair. "Eight o'clock. We do it till nine."
And he can see Blair wanting to tell him that it's 8.03, can see the words quivering, but they go unsaid.
"Okay. You can talk. Ground rules. You say 'Yes, but' and I kick your ass, Blair. And I mean that literally. And it hurts. You don't know how much that can hurt when someone knows how to do it right." Blair swallows, a pulse beating thick and fast in his throat. "And, just so we're clear; this isn't about sex. It isn't a game. It won't end with us naked, it won't end with us fucking. Nothing I tell you to do will be anything you couldn't do in front of… well, let's say Simon." Blair clears his throat and Jim arches his eyebrows. "Yeah?"
"What good do you think this will do, Jim?"
"It'll help me stay sane, Blair. That enough reason? You're driving me fucking crazy with your second-guessing and your arguing."
"Even though sometimes I'm right?"
"Yeah. Even though."
He half expects Blair to back out now Jim's exposed himself as being in need of therapy but Blair just nods, looking like his fingers are itching to reach for pen and paper and make notes.
"So what do you want me to do now?" Blair asks in a voice that's schooled to polite and sounds nothing like him.
Jim smiles. "You can clean out the fucking cutlery drawer, Blair."
He's got just enough time to dial his hearing way down before the crash as Blair -- a silent, not-speaking Blair -- turns the drawer upside down over the table and lets the contents fall.
Music to his ears.
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