Point of Contact
Part One

b


The knock at the door brought Blair to his feet but he didn't move to answer it until the rap, more of an impatient drumming this time, had been repeated.

Reminding himself that he could back out of this any time he wanted, with no cost but money, which wasn't much of an issue, and soul-searing embarrassment, which was, he opened the door and gave the man on the other side a puzzled, relieved smile.

"Sorry. I was expecting… never mind." He relaxed, still smiling. Why not? The stern faced man eying him appraisingly wasn't smiling back, but it didn't mean Blair had to be affected by his negativity. Not when his mind was singing a chorus of halleluiahs. He'd get rid of this guy, dive for the phone, and cancel the hooker. There were other ways to do this, better ways, and --

"Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair edged the door closed a little, wedging his body in the gap. "Yes?"

The man didn't roll his eyes but he looked as if he wanted to. "I'll play this any way you want, but most people invite me in first. Unless sex in public is what gets you off? Because that's going to cost you--"

Blair stepped back, face scarlet, dragging the man with him. "You're from the agency?" He let go of the handful of leather jacket he'd grabbed, smoothing it nervously before snatching his hand away. "God, you can't be."

The man took the 'Do Not Disturb' sign off the inside door handle, dropped it neatly in place on the outside knob, closed and locked the door, and slipped off his jacket. Blair gaped at the clearly well-practiced maneuver, feeling vaguely as if he should applaud or hold up a scorecard.

"You can request a replacement under the terms of the agreement but I'll be perfectly frank; Saturday's our busiest night and you'll be lucky to get anyone until midnight." Thin, well-shaped lips curved in a cool smile. "By which time, you'll be their third customer of the night at least, and let's just say you won't be getting your money's worth." The man began to unbutton his crisp white shirt, tugging his tie loose with a flicker of relief that was the first unstudied reaction he'd shown since Blair had opened the door. "You're my first, by the way."

"First ever?" Blair swallowed the squeak and tried again. "You're new to this?"

Blue eyes blinked at him and then the man said with a dry, polite patience. "My first client tonight, sir."

"Blair," he said automatically. The tie slid free and he waved his hand frantically. "No, look, stop! There's been --"

"A terrible mistake?" The tie landed on the same chair as the leather jacket. "Right. My name's Jim, but you don't have to use it. I'll answer to anything, although I can't guarantee my reaction if you go for 'Percy'."

"Why not?" Blair asked involuntarily. The shirt slid off wide shoulders revealing a perfectly proportioned, muscular chest, smooth and intimidating as hell. Blair sucked in his stomach without meaning to and then gave up even trying to compete. With a small stab of spite he reflected that at least he had more hair on his chest -- and head -- than this guy did, before admitting that as comforts went it was a small one.

"You have to ask?"

"No, I guess not," Blair conceded. He shook his head. "And, yes, terrible mistake, so would you stop stripping? Please?"

He got a flat, unfriendly look. Weren't hookers supposed to be polite? Tell you that you were wonderful with a purr in their voice?

"I'm booked and paid for. No refunds. What's the problem?"

"I booked and I paid, yes, and I don't want a refund," Blair assured him, "although I was having second thoughts… but I booked, paid for, and now don't want, a woman." He glanced down. Oh, yeah. Seriously intimidating package, uh, Jim had there. "You're a man."

Jim looked down, too. "Well, when the hell did that happen?"

Blair snorted and was mildly pleased to see Jim's mouth twitch with an answering amusement. "Really. I asked for a woman who would -- never mind."

"I do mind," Jim said. He glanced at his discarded clothing and shrugged his shirt back on, going over to the small couch by the mini bar as he buttoned it up and tucked it in. "Look, why don't we sit down and get this sorted out?"

Blair perched on the bed as Jim took the couch, the two of them very close because the room wasn't that big, and then jumped back up. "I -- do you want a drink?"

Jim shook his head, giving the mini bar a jaundiced look. Blair wondered how many times Jim had sampled the predictable contents and in how many hotels.

"I don't use them," he told Jim. "Too expensive --" Oh, way to sound cheap, Blair. "I have my own supplies." He gestured to a bottle of single malt beside the bed and when Jim smiled approvingly after squinting at the age on the bottle, poured them both a generous measure. "Cheers," he said, raising his glass and taking an unwisely large gulp. When he'd finished coughing he found Jim giving him a bemused, tolerant smile.

"You sip it, Chief. Eighteen years old. Sip and savour. You're not used to drinking, are you?"

"As it happens, I am. I just swallowed the wrong way."

"Hazard in my job, too."

Blair choked again and strove for composure. "I suppose it is. I hadn't really -- I really did ask for a woman, you know."

Jim sighed. "Blair -- you wouldn't be the first man to decide he wanted to jump the fence and changed his mind. But before you do anything final, let me assure you that my -- the agency is one hundred percent discreet. No one we've dealt with has ever been the subject of blackmail and all the employees are vetted, not to mention undergoing weekly physicals--"

"I've heard good things about you," Blair interrupted, surprised by the pleased expression that flashed over Jim's face. "And believe me, if I wanted a man, I'd have had no trouble in asking for one. I wasn’t brought up to be uncomfortable with accepting what I am, and if I was gay, it wouldn't have been an issue. I'm just not. And I was nervous, I'll admit it; I've never paid for sex before, but I asked for a woman and someone at the agency obviously made a mistake."

Jim's eyes still held a trace of scepticism but he nodded. "I'll deal with it." Taking a sip of his drink, he set it aside and pulled out a cell phone, tapping a single button and giving Blair a reassuring, if distant smile.

"Hi, it's me… No, it's okay, don't apologise… Look, it's not your fault, okay? And it's good for me to keep my hand in…. No, that wasn't a … Save it, will you, sweetheart? Go to Rhonda's desk and pull up the client list for tonight… Yes, my client, who else? Thanks." The warmth in his voice faded and he murmured, "Just bear with me," at Blair, his fingers tapping idly on his leg.

It took the nameless woman thirty long seconds to pull up Blair's file. Blair realised after ten that pretty soon Jim was going to be told exactly what he'd asked for, in excruciating detail. At fifteen seconds he realised Jim already had to know; he wouldn't have just turned up unprepared, would he? At twenty he decided to change his name; by thirty he was choosing a country to emigrate to.

Or maybe another planet.

How did people do this? Deliver their innermost desires and fantasies into a stranger's hands? Desperation, maybe? He supposed that accounted for his motivation in part, at least; desperation, curiosity… boredom.

With his thirtieth birthday and a well-timed, well-placed bet providing the final spur and the means.

Jim was listening now, looking disturbed, the phone pressed up to his ear. His other ear was pierced, a thin silver hoop catching the light. Blair watched the ear turn red at the tip and moaned quietly, his hands squeezed together in an agony of mortification. Jim was being told Blair's requirements; had to be that. Whatever mix-up there had been had extended to more than the sex of the escort required and Jim had probably come here expecting to deliver a quick blow job or something.

Oh, God, he wasn't that much of a freak that an experienced escort was shocked, was he? Blair had read about some kinks that made him feel sick to his stomach but he'd never classed what he wanted as being among them.

Stupid, stupid… stupid and arrogant and maybe everyone felt that way, felt normal when they weren't, when they were weird, disgusting…

The phone was clicked off and slid away in Jim's pocket. Jim met Blair's eyes, his face flushing slightly.

He's good-looking, even handsome, Blair thought, with a detached, still-functioning part of his brain, but I suppose he'd have to be. Older than I'd expected, though… or maybe there's a call for that, sometimes?

"I am so sorry," Jim said, sincerity dripping all over the place.

Blair closed his eyes. Humiliation wasn't his kink but if it was, he'd have probably come from just that sentence. This was hell. Pitied for his fantasies. "Can you please just leave? Charge a tip, whatever's normal, to my card and just --"

"Rhonda's daughter went into labour today and I'm guessing you were the phone call she dealt with as she was leaving. It's not an excuse, though don't even try to make me yell at her, because I won't --"

"What?" Blair opened his eyes. "I booked a hooker with a grandmother?"

Jim grinned, which, Blair discovered, made you want to grin back at him. Jim looked different smiling. Younger and less polished. More real. Less for sale. "Rhonda's not one yet; she'd have called me. So, technically…"

"Even so. Man, that's just…" Blair failed to come up with a suitable description of what it was and lapsed into silent dismay again.

"She's not exactly silver-haired and sweet," Jim told him. "She's got a blue belt in karate and her chocolate chip cookies suck."

Blair gathered together every bit of self-possession he possessed and managed a pleading look from Jim to the door. Jim ignored the hint.

"So, yes, she took down what you said, no problem there… but when she put it into the computer, she must have pressed the wrong button, don't ask me how, and what got scheduled for you was, well --" Jim spread his hands in a graceful gesture. "Me. Or not me, because I don't usually… but we don't let people down and so I…"

"Wait." Blair frowned at him. "Who are you?"

Jim smiled, serene and placid. "Me? I own the agency. I'm the boss, though we're not all that formal around the place."

"So you don't normally, uh, turn tricks?" Was that the right phrase? Had he just been insulting? Or, worse, hopelessly out of date?

Jim was definitely laughing at him now, though his mouth was set in studiously serious lines. "Not these days. I'm a little old for it, don't you think?"

"No." Blair reconsidered, too agitated to be polite. "Maybe. I don't know where you fit in the time to retire scale. A soccer player, it's around 35 maybe, a politician when the coffin lid closes…"

"I haven't been involved in this end of the business for about five years," Jim said. "Not since I took over the agency. I'm still in contact with a few regulars from time to time but that's strictly personal." He shrugged. "We were busy; Saturday, three conventions at this hotel alone… Rhonda should have passed you on to another agency we have a good relationship with, but as I said, she was distracted. And, thinking about it…" Jim's eyes went distant. "Given what you wanted…." Blair felt a wash of scalding heat drench him. "Yeah, she'd have had Sam in mind -- Samantha, that is," he elaborated. "And she's available but she's got a pulled shoulder muscle so, hmm…"

"I'd changed my mind, remember?" Blair said hastily

Jim shook his head. "Doesn't matter. We got it wrong, we let you down, and what can I say but offer our apologies and a refund, of course, plus, if you're still in town tomorrow --"

"That's really not necessary."

He got a reproachful look. "On the house. Compliments of, well, me. I don't want you going home and telling people there about how we failed you."

"Cascade is my home," Blair said, not sure why he was sharing that information when he could have easily faked a life in any one of a dozen cities. "I live here, I just didn't want -- at my house -- it didn't seem --"

"I get it," Jim said kindly.

"No, I'm not sure you do," Blair said. He took a deep breath. "I paid for the night."

"So it seems," Jim said. "It's probably why Rhonda wasn't eager to pass you over; most people go for an hour." He looked reflective. "You can do a lot in an hour. It's more than you need, really."

"I thought..." Blair grimaced. "I'm new to this," he confided.

"Really? I'd never have guessed."

"Oh, shut up."

Jim looked at him, a hint of interest showing. "You know, you're not what I expected at all."

"Well, I wouldn't be, would I?" Blair raised his eyebrows. "If it doesn't break your confidentiality rules, who were you expecting?"

"A man…" Jim said slowly. "A simple in and out, and, no, not a pun. He wanted me to get here, strip, get down to business fast, and talk as little as possible. One of the just an hour ones. I wonder who he got instead of me?"

"So you usually go for men?" Blair gestured at the pocket that held Jim's phone. "That woman you were calling 'sweetheart' isn't your girlfriend or wife?" Jim wasn't wearing a ring, but, then, he wouldn't, would he?

"What makes you think it was a woman I was talking to?"

Jim sounded curious not hostile but it didn't stop Blair smacking himself in the forehead. "Man, I am so not happy with myself tonight. I just assumed and I'm sorry."

"No need to apologise." Jim leaned over and patted Blair's knee. "That was Simon. He's my… sleeping partner, I guess you'd call it." He looked expectant, as if he was waiting for Blair to do some more leaping to conclusions.

"I'm not going there, man," Blair said. "I'm just not. Either way I take it, I'm going to be wrong the way my luck's going tonight."

"Business," Jim said, letting him off the hook. "Simon's an old friend but it doesn't go further than that. I call him sweetheart mostly to piss him off."

"Mostly?"

Jim gave him what Blair was starting to label his real smile again. "Hey, I love the guy, okay? So it slips out now and then; sue me."

"This is a very strange conversation," Blair said, the unreality of it rushing in on him.

"It's not what I'd normally be doing halfway into my time with someone," Jim agreed. He glanced at his watch. "Gearing up for round two or hitting the shower." He shifted in his chair, reaching for his glass and taking a sip. "This is nice; very different nose to the twelve-year-old. I'll have to treat myself to a bottle."

It struck Blair that Jim was a very restful person to be with. He felt some of the tension leave him which gave him enough confidence to continue. "Like I said; I paid for the night and -- oh. You weren't expecting to be here that long --" The tension came back and he got off the bed, sitting still just not an option. "Have you got to be somewhere? Someone else booked after me?"

Jim shook his head, leaning forward and taking Blair's hand, tugging on it until Blair sat down again. "Relax. You were it. And I'll stay as long as you want, though I'm not sure why you want me to." He turned his hand palm up, gesturing at his jacket over by the door. "As you can see, I didn’t come prepared to stay the night, and I certainly don't have any of the equipment I'd have needed to give you what you wanted -- what? What did I say?"

Blair tried to keep his voice even. His body was reacting in ways he hadn't expected to this calm discussion. His skin felt… thin, and each word Jim said that touched on the reason he was here seemed like a touch, a caress, a blow. "Jim, I'm feeling very uncomfortable sitting here with you when you know what I wanted, okay?"

Jim frowned. "I'm getting that and I understand, I guess, although, trust me, what you wanted was really --" He cleared his throat. "Don't take this the wrong way?"

Blair shook his head, mute, braced for condemnation.

"Standard."

"Huh?"

"What you wanted was like walking into a five star restaurant and asking for a glass of water and a piece of unbuttered toast." Blair absorbed that, feeling slightly indignant, which was ridiculous. It must have shown on his face because Jim sighed. "Sorry. That wasn't very tactful of me."

"No, it's all right." Blair bit his lip. "I was all geared up to have you call me a freak; being called boring, well, it's --"

"Worse," Jim said, his voice rueful. "Look, now you know I'm not shocked -- I don't think you could shock me, even if you tried -- do you want to bounce some ideas off me? Over the phone, in a rush like she was, Rhonda just got the basics -- and she would have trusted whoever came to be adaptable and encourage you to go into detail. They're intelligent, intuitive, imaginative people, all of them, or they wouldn't be working for me. Sam would've hung up her flogger before she started a scene with you this unsure and nervous."

Jim leaned in again, his knees brushing Blair's, his expression earnest. "It's nine. You've paid for my company until eight tomorrow, though I won't be charging you --"

"I want you to," Blair said. "The mix-up wasn't your fault and you've been very, uh, understanding."

"Well, good, but that's not what you wanted. And you don't have to pay for someone to be nice to you."

Blair met Jim's eyes and felt a fierce stab of pride in himself because he didn't look away. "You do if you're a short geek with an off the scale IQ who can't stop babbling about what he's into and boring people to death."

"You're not boring me." It was the response Blair had expected, a little cynically, to hear, but Jim said it casually, almost indifferently -- convincing Blair he meant it. Almost. "I'll tell you if you do. As I was saying; I'm yours for the night --"

Something very much like arousal sent a familiar tingle through Blair and he took a deep breath. Weird. So not his thing, so why --? He was used to thinking quickly, connecting stray details into a cohesive whole but applying that skill to his own reactions was something he shied away from. He didn't want to own Jim, not even in a fantasy; the man was too…capable. Too sure of himself. Jim belonged in charge. In charge of him? Blair bit off a startled moan as his body was hit with a surge of lust, something, somewhere, telling him 'yes, yes, yes' forcefully, urgently.

He gave Jim a doubtful look. Still male. Still not what he'd asked for. Still not what he wanted…maybe.

"So let's use it to work out what you want and I'll make sure you get the perfect person to give it to you tomorrow or whenever it suits you." Jim swept his gaze around the hotel room. "Just not here."

Wariness obliterated the burgeoning arousal. Was this a scam to lure him somewhere? Film him, blackmail him, rob and kill him?

Jim's eyes widened. "Are you okay? You look pale."

"I haven't got anything you'd want," Blair blurted out.

Jim smiled, looking him over with a leisurely interest that left Blair shivering and hot at the same time. "Yes, you have. Plenty. I can get specific if you ask me nicely."

The flattery cooled Blair down. He couldn't see it as anything but giving him what he wanted and that annoyed him. "I mean, I'm not going somewhere and letting you -- it's not safe. How stupid do you think I am?"

Jim frowned. "I'm hurt, Chief. I can see where you're going with this, but that's not the way I work. You said you'd heard about us; if we operated like that, we'd have been shut down by now. We're safe. You'd be safe."

"How do I know that?" Blair demanded.

He got a shrug. "Guess you have to trust me. But what you want -- yes, I can guess at most of it -- you're just not going to be able to do in a hotel room." He stood up and walked over to a wall, rapping his knuckles on it. "Thin. No sound proofing. You'll have security knocking on your door and that's never good." He turned and Blair took a quick, unsteady breath because Jim's gaze was intense, searching. "It's up to you, Chief. How much do you want this?"

"I don't know," Blair said. "I was having second thoughts even before you knocked."

"That's common," Jim said, leaning against the wall and looking very tall, very solid. "But I bet you'd have regretted it when you woke up. And I bet you'd have picked up the phone and tried again. It would have been easier the second time around."

"Maybe," Blair admitted. He pointed at the couch. "Sit down? You're looming."

"You don't like that?"

"I don't…" Blair took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes, then put them back on. "I don't know. I don't know anything, just that I can't -- I need something. I need to know, to find out --" He looked up at Jim. "Okay. Talk. You can go home after; you don't have to stay. Talk and then go back and laugh about me all you want --"

Jim walked over to him and crouched in front of him, big hands heavy on Blair's knees. "Not going to happen. Anyone who did that to one of their clients would get their ass kicked out the door, no second chances, no regrets."

Blair swallowed hard, dimly aware that Jim was close, really close, breath warm on Blair's face close, able to count freckles close, kissing close, not that he wanted to, not that he was going to --

Jim's mouth opened on a sigh. "I wish you wanted me. I'm not as good at this as Sam but I'd take good care of you, Chief."

"Not gay."

"If you want to get picky, neither am I." Jim looked calm, relaxed. "I used to have clients of both sexes; was even married for a few years and incompatibility in bed wasn't why we split up. Most of the people working for me are… flexible. It makes things easier. And what you wanted doesn't have to involve sex, you know. At least…what I mean is; I could spank you and that would be it. I'd do that, no more. You might come, but I wouldn't be directly involved. Some men like women to fuck but don't like being spanked by them; it's not unusual."

Blair processed that, slotting Jim into his fantasies and finding that it worked better than he'd expected but went out of focus and fuzzy very soon after the main event. "I'm not --" Blair took a moment to consider what he was about to say. He'd put his foot in it enough for one night. "I've never been attracted to anyone who wasn't female," he said carefully. "So far."

"So far." Jim made the words a question, less with his inflection than the look in his eyes.

"I've never -- it wouldn't have occurred to me," Blair explained, wanting Jim to get it. "No one's ever asked me to consider it before now. Hell, I have a hard enough time getting dates with women… what have I got a man would be interested in?"

Jim's eyebrows shot up. "Uh, do you want me to answer that?"

"No." Blair grimaced. More flattery he couldn't accept as at all sincere? "Look, Jim, I appreciate what you want to do tonight and I'd like to talk, I think. Yeah. Yeah, I would… but there's another reason I asked for the whole night."

"Mmm?" Jim rocked back on his heels and leaned against the couch, supple as a cat and, Blair noticed, no longer looming, in fact, in a position where he had to look up at Blair. Blair knew without asking that Jim had done that because he'd been told not to loom. That was… that was nice of him. Considerate.

"I wanted to ask whoever came some questions after we'd.... About her job and what made her become an escort, what her job was like --"

Jim stiffened, his expression hardening. He looked dangerous. Capable of more than Blair felt happy imagining. "What?"

"No, nothing to do with her, uh, clients," Blair said hurriedly. "I'm writing this book, you see. I did one on mating rituals and my editor thought one on prostitution would be a great follow up, and --"

Jim went from lounging to standing in one smooth, fast lunge, bringing Blair to his feet in an instinctive effort to lessen the height differential.

"So I've been listening to you talk and getting to kind of like you and all you want to do is pick my brains on what it's like selling sex? Selling myself? Is that it?"

Jim's mouth was a straight line, his eyes blazing, his voice icy. It was like standing on the edge of an erupting volcano and getting hit by a blizzard.

"You liked me?" Yeah, right…

"I was starting to. I've stopped now. Something to do with finding out you're a lying fraud."

"God, you're so touchy!" Blair looked nervously at the recorder on the bedside table, tucked behind a box of Kleenex. He hadn't turned it on yet but he'd planned to have it running as well as taking notes. Now he was wishing he'd left it in his suitcase.

Jim turned his head, saw the recorder, and gave a sound close enough to a growl to make Blair yelp in a panicked response.

It was all he had time for before Jim had grabbed him, swung him, and slammed him against the wall.

My feet aren't touching the floor, Blair thought, dizzy and fighting for breath. He's holding me up and God, he's got to be strong to pin me like this.

He was hurting. Jim's knuckles were grinding against his collarbones and suspended like this his rucked-up clothes were sawing against skin. He felt helpless, held. And he was getting an erection. He'd never realised how treacherous his body could be, how incomprehensible.

And if he'd doubted Jim when he said he found Blair attractive, he didn't doubt the sincerity of Jim's anger now.

"You fucking pervert," Jim said through his teeth, his face inches away from Blair's, just bare, scant inches. "You think we're there to be picked at, cross-examined, pitied? Think because you buy our bodies you're entitled to more? You get my mouth, my ass, my hands. You get to hurt me within limits I set, except that's not your thing, is it, and you get to come. No more than that. You're not even entitled to know my name and I wish I could take that back. And you're not going to get any of that from me because I'm out of here and you know what? I am going to charge you for being a pain in the fucking ass."

The panic stopped centering around the not very likely fear that Jim would throw him through the window and focused on Jim's imminent departure.

Blair didn't want Jim to go. Not yet. Jim was doing too much to him that was new and confusing. The researcher in Blair was insisting that he worked this out, made sense of it.

"Not entirely," he said.

Jim eyed him suspiciously, clearly thrown by Blair's response. "What?"

"I didn't do this just for the book. Not entirely. What I asked for; that was real." Blair poked Jim's shoulder, which jarred his finger. "And it's my birthday, you asshole, so you can fucking put me down and save the caveman routine for someone who gets off on it."

Jim looked down and smiled, not very nicely. "I did."

"Oh, man…" His feet landed on the floor as Jim released him and he ran his hands through his hair, pushing the long mass of curls back from his face. Stupid hair…why hadn’t he tied it back? "You can't assign any significance to a purely physical reaction to being threatened."

"I'm all about the physical reactions, Chief." Jim was looming again. "You could say I'm an expert in body language."

"Can we go back to sitting and talking?" Blair felt that he wanted to sit down. Needed to. "I won't ask anything until you say I can."

Jim chewed at the inside of his cheek and then gave a curt, grudging nod. He sat down -- on the couch, back straight -- and gave Blair the kind of X-ray look that Superman would have envied.

Blair refilled their glasses, ignoring Jim's headshake of refusal because it stung a little that Jim wouldn't drink with him anymore, and took a long sip, needing the heat of the whiskey to settle his nerves.

"It's my birthday," he said again. "Thirty. And like a lot of people, there's something about milestone birthdays that get me thinking, looking at where I am and what I'm doing."

"And?"

"Spinning my wheels, man."

Blair put his glass aside and without thinking about it much curled his feet up, sitting cross-legged. "The first book did okay. Non-fiction, yeah, but it was about sex and that sells. This one -- I've been researching prostitution for about six months but I knew I was going to have to go out and talk to people and tonight was going to be my first interview."

"Ever occur to you that you were compromising your objectivity by fucking your interviewee?"

"Yeah." Blair looked down at his hands, linked in his lap. "I don't know why I didn't just arrange an interview at your office. But --"

"I would have turned you down," Jim said. "I can't think of many places that would have let you through the door." His voice hardened. "And you know, I don't think that's news to you."

"Maybe." Blair looked at Jim again. "It doesn't matter. I wanted the rest of it. The interview let me persuade myself it was okay to do this, and then I won this money on a race and it was like a green light, you know?" He frowned at Jim. "Your rates, man, they're sky-high and it's not like I can claim this against my expenses…"

"My people are worth it," Jim said evenly. "We're not your run of the mill agency. We're good at what we do."

"Guess I'll never know," Blair said. He sighed. "I fucked things up on both fronts, didn't I?"

"Yeah." Jim nodded at the recorder. "That thing on?"

"No." Blair stretched out across the bed and made a long arm, grabbing the small recorder and tossing it over to Jim so he could see for himself that it wasn't. "I would have asked before I recorded anyone."

Jim turned it over in his hand and then put it beside his untouched glass. "Well, that's something."

"You can go now," Blair said after a moment when Jim did nothing but look off to the side, his face bored, closed-off. "I just wanted you to know that I wasn't… all those things you said I was."

"Why?"

"What?"

"Why do you care what a complete stranger thinks?"

"You're not." Blair smiled, no humour in it. "You know more about what gets me off than any of the women I've ever been with. We're not friends, but we're not strangers, either."

"True." Jim arched an eyebrow. "Your birthday? No bullshit?"

Blair got out his wallet and held it open so that Jim could see his driver's license and date of birth.

"And you wanted a spanking. That's so very --" Jim's lips curved in a slow grin, leaving his sentence unfinished. "Sorry, Chief."

"Standard?"

"Yes. Even for people who don't usually go for it." Jim looked reflective. "And it's surprising how many do, giving or getting or both."

"Do you like it?" Blair asked without thinking. Jim looked at him warily and he shook his head. "No. I'm not trying to trick you into telling me stuff for the book. I'm just wondering how difficult it is for you, a man, to do something you're not into and still manage to -- oh, God, I am interviewing you, aren't I?"

"Little bit." Jim shrugged. "I can't say I like being on the receiving end of one but it hasn't happened often. It's not doing a client any favours to send them someone who hates what's being done to them and doesn't have much experience in that role. Giving them, well, yeah. I do."

"So you wouldn't have minded --" Blair licked his lips, feeling the words dragged out of him, hooked out of him by Jim's blue eyes. "Spanking me. You wouldn't have hated doing it?"

Jim smiled at him, slow and hot, leaving Blair's heart hammering in a frantic rush of terrified arousal. "Are you kidding me? I'd have loved it." He flexed his right hand, the movement drawing Blair's attention. "And so would you," he added.

"I told you I wanted it from a woman," Blair protested. He could hear the lack of conviction in his voice.

"Yeah… about that." Jim gave him a thoughtful stare. "Are you sure?"

If he said 'yes', it was going to come with a question mark attached, he just knew it. Blair stood up, looking for an escape route. "I'm just, uh…going to the…?"

It wasn't until he was in the small en-suite with the door closed that he realised he hadn't moved until Jim had nodded.

Until Jim had given him permission.

The sound he made shocked him as much as the way his face contorted. Involuntary, raw…he'd never seen his face when he did it before; always been staring up into the dark, his hands moving on his body, squeezing, stroking hot, damp skin, his mind full of a fantasy he'd used so often he'd reduced it to a shorthand of faceless flesh, painless punishment, flash, slap, uhn.

He ran cold water, letting it course across his wrists, thanking God he didn't really need to pee as he was too hard to manage it easily. He took off his glasses and let the cold water pool in his cupped hands and splashed it over his face. It didn't help.

His dick was hot, solid, obscenely visible against the worn denim of his jeans. He'd gone for the casual look after taking one horrified glance at his reflection dressed in his only suit.

When he'd thought vaguely that looking like this he'd have to pay someone to have sex with him, it'd taken him a moment to catch up to the joke and he hadn't laughed.

There were water droplets caught in the tangle of his hair, darkening the brown to black. His eyes looked darker, too, their usual blue drowned by emotions he couldn't name or tame.

Out there, Jim was waiting for him to come back. Waiting to talk to him. Wanting to --

Blair held onto the edge of the sink and rode out another wave of longing and lust.

This was so not happening. Not.

He rubbed at his armpit, where his shirt had cut in deeply, and went back into the room before Jim told him to come out, leaving his glasses behind. He didn't want clarity and sharp edges.

It looked different in his room. Jim had turned off all the lights apart from the one by the door, a soft glow, more nightlight than true illumination, and a lamp in the corner. It looked too dark and Blair hesitated, instinct holding him in place.

"It's all right." Jim was sitting on the couch still but his feet were bare and he'd rolled his sleeves up. "I thought this would make it easier."

 Blair let his eyes adjust and made his way back to the bed, perching on the edge, facing Jim. "You want me to tell you what gets me off. Nothing's going to make that easy, man."

Jim stood and walked along the bed, getting onto it and moving behind Blair who made an inarticulate sound that cut off when Jim's hands fell onto his shoulders and began to knead them. "Don't talk yet," Jim said. He settled down, sitting far enough back that he could work at muscles Blair could feel were rigid with stress now they were being touched, his spread legs bracketing Blair's. Jim wasn't pressed up against Blair's back, but their thighs were touching and it couldn't be classed as anything but an invasion of his space.

Blair held himself very still, trying not to breathe too deeply, and then caught sight of his reflection in a mirror.

His and Jim's.

Jim's face, seen in glimpses, was lit with a serenity Blair envied and full of a confidence he craved. Jim looked like a man who knew exactly what he was doing and was enjoying it. Blair watched himself sigh as Jim's fingers worked and saw Jim's lips part in a silent echo of his sigh, a sensual, inward expression crossing his face.

The massage stopped and Jim's hands slid around and began to unfasten the buttons of Blair's shirt, his movements slow enough not to disrupt the mood without being overtly seductive.

"What are you doing?" Blair asked in a whisper.

"Getting this godawful shirt off you so I can do this properly." Jim sounded matter-of-fact enough that Blair gave in, allowing Jim to tug his shirt away and doing no more than shiver when Jim's hands fell against his bare skin again.

Touched. How long had it been? It didn't really matter that the hands on him were male; they were human, they were warm, strong, kind hands.

They weren't his hands and he didn't have to pretend that; it was true.

"How long have you wanted it?"

Blair scrabbled for the floating, dreamy contentment of a moment ago and gave up. Jim hissed reprovingly until Blair let his hunched up shoulders relax and then rewarded him with a kiss on one shoulder, so light and fleeting that if Blair hadn't seen Jim's head dip down in the mirror he might have thought he'd imagined it.

"Always. Since I was old enough to get turned on, that's done it for me."

"But you've never tried it?"

Blair gave a stifled laugh. "You're kidding? I have a hard enough time getting a date without scaring them off telling them something like that."

"You'd be surprised, Chief," Jim said, the words soft. "If you'd looked in the right places, I can guarantee you would have been fighting them off." There was another kiss, this one lasting long enough for Blair to feel his skin heat under the press and sweet, damp drag of Jim's mouth, as if his acquiescence to the first kiss had licensed Jim to go further.

"I don't know where to look," Blair said, frustrated, aching, remembering trying to find --

"I can help you with that," Jim said. "Names, places… Once you know, once you're sure…"

His hands didn't stop. Shoulders, shoulder blades… until Blair leaned forward, sacrificing the mirror image for the bliss of Jim's hands running over the bent bow of his back.

"Why a woman?"

"I'm supposed to…" He sounded drugged, out of it, Blair thought distantly. He pictured Jim's fingers painting his skin, something exotic soaking into his skin, permeating each pore, something to make him fly…

"You like fucking women, Blair?"

Said soft, said casual, it seemed like such an easy question to answer. Blair opened his mouth and paused. "Let me think."

"Sure." Jim's thumb traced the length of Blair's spine, top to bump, bump, bump, bottom. "Take all the time you need. I want honest, not quick."

"I could lie…" Another question, another test…

"You don't strike me as unintelligent, Blair, and that would be really, really stupid." The kiss was in the same place, on a burning, tingling, lucky bit of skin. "Think about it, then tell me. And the only thing you're supposed to do tonight is what you want to do."

"What you want me to do."

Jim's hands swept up Blair's back, a friction burn of skin on skin. "Later, maybe. If you need it to be like that." Blair felt Jim whisper 'shhh' into his hair and then Jim stopped talking, his thumbs making small, deep circles at the base of Blair's neck.

Blair went through each woman he'd ever slept with and forced himself to remember each time he'd disappointed them. He heard Jim sigh and knew he'd tensed up again but he couldn't help it.

"I'm not good at it with them…" He swallowed, tasting the bitterness of each climax with the woman under him, over him, either being kind and faking an enjoyment he knew she hadn't felt, or barely waiting to roll away from him before her silence had conveyed a dismissal.

"You never even thought about trying it with a guy?"

"No."

"Giving it any thought now?"

"You know I am."

"Yeah." Jim pushed Blair's hair back and Blair shuddered as his earlobe was taken, nipped, licked. "I'm making you think it. Doesn't mean you're not into women, though; could be you've just never found one who had what you wanted."

Blair twisted around, not surprised when Jim's arm was there to support him. "What do I want?"

"I don't know." Jim shrugged. "You haven't told me yet." His free hand ran up Blair's arm and cupped the back of Blair's neck, squeezing it lightly, firmly. "Tell me. Doesn't matter who's doing it -- you don't really care, do you? All that matters is you, getting what you want, finally, getting to come, come so hard it all goes away, stays gone for a good, long time." Jim's mouth was shaping words and it was -- he'd kissed Blair with it -- The hand on his neck tightened warningly. "Tell me, Blair. What's it like?"

"I'm naked…" Blair whispered. "I'm naked and you're not."

"Doesn't have to be me," Jim whispered back. "Doesn't have to be anyone. This is for you."

"I want it to be you." Okay, he wasn't sure where that had come from but it didn't matter. It was true.

Jim nodded, a smile appearing. "Okay. Okay, then…"

"I'm over your knee and you're going to spank me."

"Why?"

Blair frowned. "Because I want it."

"Why?"

"I don't know. It just feels right…" Blair felt his throat close, not with panic, not with tears, just with a vast disappointment that he couldn't give Jim what he wanted. "I'm sorry."

"That, you don't need to be," Jim said decisively. His hand moved to cup Blair's face. "Hell, I don't know why the thought of my hand on your ass makes me feel like it's my fucking birthday, not yours; it just does."

"It can't be that simple," Blair objected.

"It's not simple, not really, but it doesn't have to be complicated, either." Jim's face was too close to be in focus. Blair blinked at it, then leaned back against Jim's arm. "If I spank you now, it won't be quiet. I'll want to hear you make noise for me, want to hear you beg and cry and whimper."

"Oh, God."

"Yeah." Jim exhaled, his hand moving in restless sweeps over Blair's arm, his chest, pausing to rub once, hard, against Blair's nipple, the one he'd thought about getting pierced but he hadn't dared, making it tighten, stick out in a mute plea for more attention.

"You could gag me," Blair offered.

Jim grinned. "Would you like that?" The question was serious and the pinch Blair's nipple got was a reward of sorts.

"I don't know."

"Want to find out?" Jim's smile turned wicked, teasing and Blair was lost for words. Then Jim did something, the action too fast, too smooth to be broken down as it happened, and Blair landed on his back on the bed, Jim over him and Jim's hands came down on him, one across his mouth, the other palming his dick. "Do you like being gagged, Blair?" Jim murmured, the hand crushing back any response Blair could make staying just where it was.

Blair tried to answer and gave up after the first keening whine was absorbed by the salty clean skin of Jim's palm, letting the frantic arch and grind of his hips doing it for him.

"Going to take that as a yes, and how the hell you didn't know that about yourself…" Jim shook his head, sliding his hand away from Blair's open, gasping mouth. "What else don't you know?" Blair moved his head against the pillow, his attention mostly on Jim's hand. The one that hadn't moved. The one shaped to the curve and thrust of Blair's dick.

"Spanking..." Jim said reflectively, drawling it four syllables long. "That's it? That's all you thought you wanted? Oh, babe, you have no idea…"

"Don't want…" Blair made an effort, his mind filled with an uneasy, queasy slideshow of whips and chains and blood. "Don't want to be… really hurt."

Jim's eyes were kind eyes but not kind enough for Blair to hate him and there wasn't a shred of pity anywhere on that good-looking face. "Too late."

"I'm okay," Blair said, comprehending and then defending himself, his life, the response automatic.

"Not really."

"Sex isn't everything."

"Maybe not." Jim's hand moved up to Blair's shoulder. "But it's something."

"You'd have to say that," Blair told him. "It's your job."

"I don't have to say anything," Jim said absently, his attention, as far as Blair could tell, focused on winding some of Blair's hair around his finger and letting it slide free. "And yes. It is. Just like yours is writing books."

"That's not a job," Blair said. "More of an addiction."

"See?" Jim said. "Not so different."

Blair started to object that apart from a few cases, sex wasn't addictive, but then reconsidered. It drove society, occupied people's thoughts, was at the root of most art, most advertising, many crimes… He'd devoted a chapter to that, dammit, and if he didn't believe it, he shouldn’t have written it.

"When you think you go somewhere really far away, don't you?" Blair felt a tug at his hair and surfaced to find Jim giving him a quizzical look.

"Sorry. I was just thinking about what you said."

"Well, I suppose I can't mind that."

Blair eyed him. "You're not used to people being in bed with you and not paying attention to you, are you?"

"No," Jim admitted readily. "Do it when I'm naked and I'll really start to worry that I've lost it since I retired."

"You haven't," Blair told him. "At least… I can't imagine anyone not wanting to -- with you, if they were into --" He let the fumbled attempt at reassurance die and said instead, impulsively, "Can I -- is it okay if I --" He brought his hand up, hovering, not touching.

"Touch me?" Jim nodded, no surprise showing. "Sure. Anywhere you like. And I mean that. Want me to undress?"

Blair shook his head. "No, don't take it the wrong way, but I think that would freak me out." Jim started to smile and Blair willed his fingers to trace that ready, wide smile but couldn't do it.

Jim brought his hand up, covering Blair's hesitant one, and brought their linked hands to touch his face, his chest, the jut of his hip. "Anywhere," he said softly. "I told you what you could do, remember?"

"And then you said I couldn't."

"I was about ready to punch you. I'm in a calmer frame of mind right now."

There was something gratifying about being the reason a man as in control as Jim got angry. Blair pushed that thought aside to deal with later, wondering instead if Jim was hard yet or if it was naïve of him to think that he would be. It wasn't as if Jim had to get hard to spank him, after all, or get hard doing it. This was a job, not Jim's choice.

Hell, maybe Jim wasn't into it at all, any of it, and was just pretending… Blair made a small, unhappy sound, and tugged his hand free.

"What is it?"

"This isn't real."

"In what sense?" Jim tapped his own chest. "I'm real. I'm here."

"Because I paid you to be."

"Doesn't mean anything that happens to you doesn't count." Jim ran his hand over his short, dark hair, ruffling it more than smoothing it, and sighed. "Don't talk yourself out of this."

"Again."

"Yeah. Again." Jim sat up. "Enough waiting. I want to try something. Strip. Get off the bed, stand where I can see you, and strip." When Blair didn't move, Jim leaned over and said, each word distinct, clear and sharp, "Do it, Blair, or this ends now."

That made the choice easier than Blair thought he deserved.

He turned his back on Jim and got off the bed, then walked around to Jim's side of the bed and took off his socks, his jeans, and then, carefully, his shorts. He couldn't look at Jim for long; he couldn't keep his gaze from going back to Jim, who was sitting on the side of the bed, his hands resting on his knees, a faintly approving smile on his face. The first time Blair's eyes met Jim's there was a moment where he wondered what the hell he was doing, but it didn't last long.

He knew what he was doing.

He was doing what Jim had told him to do and he was doing it as well as he could.

Naked, he ran out of ideas, giving Jim a look he knew was panicked. God, this was his fantasy and he wasn't enjoying it, not really. Too scared…

"You look --" Jim's gaze took in Blair's body in a careful, thorough way. "Terrified. Why?"

"Going to do this wrong." His teeth were chattering. "Going to make a fool of myself."

"There's nothing for you to do but what I tell you to," Jim said. "If it's something you can't do, that will be my fault, not yours. I don't know you, so we'll play this by ear and you'll have to forgive me in advance if I fuck up, okay?"

"You're trying to make me feel better, aren't you?"

"Yes. But I can do that without lying. You have to trust me." Jim shook his head. "I want you closer." He crooked his finger, casually imperious. "Come here."

Blair took the two steps needed to put himself inside Jim's reach, his erection waning through nerves. Jim didn't comment on that and didn't make any move to touch Blair.

"You're having trouble telling me what you want," Jim said. "The one thing I know you want, I can't do the way I'd like, not here, but I can do enough to find out if it will work for you outside a fantasy. Okay?"

When Blair didn't answer, Jim sighed. "Got to have a yes or we don't do this, Blair. Let's break this down. Do I have your permission to touch you?"

"Where?"

"Good," Jim said approvingly. "You're thinking again. Keep it up. The deer in the headlights look isn't good on you."

Blair laughed, which surprised him, and Jim grinned back. "Yeah. Much better. Where? Anywhere. Give me any no-go areas and I'll respect that."

"I don't want --" Talking was something Blair had mastered at an early age. His mother would tell people fondly that Blair had begun talking in complete sentences months before other babies had got past 'goo'. He suspected she was exaggerating slightly but he was articulate and good at pouring out his thoughts in a swift babble.

Jim had gagged him as effectively with a question as he had with his hand.

"I can't say it --"

"Okay. Step back again, will you?" Blair obeyed, wondering if Jim wanted a clear path to the door, and then took a quick shaky breath as Jim stood up and walked behind him.

"I'm going to start at the top and you tell me what's off-limits. Just say no, or shake your head."

"Okay." The words burst out of him. "Man, I'm sorry, you must think I'm a total flake, I just didn't think it'd be like this, didn't think you'd need this much, God, I just suck at this --"

"Blair." Jim's hand was clapped against Blair's mouth again for just long enough to quiet him. "That's not what I want to hear. Concentrate and relax."

"Both?"

"Both," Jim confirmed. "And if you want to call the whole thing off, just say, uh…"

"Oh, right," Blair said, eager to get something right. "A safeword."

"Got one in mind?"

Blair's mind went blank. "No."

"Traffic light code?" Jim suggested after a moment. "Easy to remember; green means you're okay, yellow means you want a timeout to talk or tell me something, say 'red' and it all stops right then."

Blair fixed his gaze on the wall. "Okay."

"I'm going to touch you."

"Green," Blair said when he realised the silence that followed was expectant. "Just do it."

He felt Jim's hand move lightly across his hair and then under it, fingers stroking the back of his neck, making him shiver, his dick thickening again.

"If you like it, tell me that, too," Jim murmured.

"I like it there. On my neck."

"Mmm…" Jim hummed approvingly and Blair felt a kiss go where the fingers had been. His nipples were hard and he was clenching his hands into fists and relaxing them, over and over.

Jim's hands skimmed over Blair's arms and briefly clasped Blair's hands, giving them a reassuring squeeze. Then he turned his attention to Blair's back, bringing another shiver from Blair because Jim already knew where felt good on Blair's back and the discovery that Jim had been paying that much attention was a revelation.

Blair got caught up in repeating, "Good, yeah, oh…" and then there was a small thud as Jim went to his knees and Jim's hands passed over Blair's ass, making him freeze and then step forward. "Sorry, sorry… not a red, just, you just startled me," he babbled. "Do -- do it again? Just not -- not…"

"I should make you say it," Jim told him. "In fact… spread your legs." Blair moved his feet an inch apart, felt a gusty sigh tickle his thigh and gave in, shifting his feet wider. "Okay. Start telling me green, green… until it isn't. Going to use one hand."

Blair grabbed Jim's other hand as it took his and then murmured 'green' obediently as what felt like a single finger began to move slowly across his ass, leaving horizontal lines of tingling skin. He jumped when it got ticklish across the top of his thighs, and heard Jim chuckle softly.

"Green, green, green --no!"

Jim's hand, palm up, the hand that had slipped between Blair's legs to cup his balls, wasn't pulled back but it was moved down, so that it wasn't touching Blair's body. He still knew it was there; could feel the warmth radiating off it. "Is that yellow? Or red?" Jim asked patiently. "I'll save us some time and tell you that I wasn't planning on putting my finger, hell, anything at all, inside your ass, but I need to know how careful I have to be when you're over my knee."

Blair felt his face heat. "That was… that was all I didn't want you to do," he admitted. "I just didn't want to say it. Everywhere else is fine, uh, green, I mean."

The hand moved. "Sure about that?"

Blair wailed in shock, staring down at his dick, hard now, and encircled in a firm grip. "God, Jim, please…"

"Please, what?" Jim asked. "Blair? Use your words, will you?"

"Green, green, green! Fuck!"

Jim's hand vanished and Blair stood, swaying, shaking. Jim appeared in front of him, sat back on the bed and nodded. "Okay. Good. We're getting somewhere." He smiled at Blair. "Tell me, without blushing, stammering, or looking away, what it is you don't want me to do."

"I thought we'd done that," Blair protested.

"If we were doing this properly, that would earn you a few extra," Jim said evenly. "I don't like repeating myself when I know you heard me, so I won't say it again."

Blair opened his mouth and then realised he could do this. "I don't want you to penetrate me. With anything. Maybe I'll change my mind, but right now that's too much and I just don't want it."

"That's still a little unspecific."

"God, you don't give up, do you?" Blair bit his lip. "I don't want you to put your fingers or dick in my asshole, okay?" Belatedly realizing he'd left a lot of options open, he added hastily, "Or any, uh, toys or your, uh, oh, fuck, your tongue. Nothing, okay?"

"Got it," Jim said solemnly.

"Asshole," Blair muttered.

"Yours or was that directed at me?" Jim gave him a shit-eating grin. "Don't bother answering that. But you might want to time the insults a little better." A finger beckoned again. "You know where I want you, Blair."

Oh, yeah. He knew.

The logistics of it were a little awkward and somehow that helped calm Blair down. Jim muttering something in a language Blair didn't recognise when Blair's elbow dug into Jim's belly helped a lot.

And then he was settled, face down over Jim's spread apart knees, feeling the carpet against his toes, and the fabric of Jim's pants against his chest and thighs, and nothing but air against his cock, heavy and full and waiting. He couldn't work out what to do with his hands and he had a feeling that if he'd let Jim do this his way, maybe laps and knees wouldn't have been involved because this wasn't all that comfortable. He opened his mouth to suggest that maybe they --

And Jim's hand came down on his ass and patted it gently, once, twice, and Blair sucked in a lungful of air, his body surrendering, finding a space to inhabit within the confines Jim had set, a shape to make with bone and muscle.

Jim's hand came down again, a near-silent, painless tap, his other hand still and warm in the small of Blair's back, one of the confines, one of the anchors.

Again and again, a patter of skin on skin, a slow, growing sting and burn because Jim was striking the same place and even light slaps like these left a mark.

Blair wasn't making much noise. He could hear the sound of someone showering in the room next to them; hear the crash and clatter of the ice machine in the corridor. This wasn't a safe place to scream but that wasn't what he wanted to do, anyway.

What he wanted to do was just this, for ever. Lie over a lap, Jim's lap, and endure the time when he wasn't being touched for the sake of the time when he was, Jim's palm striking his skin, leaving a smart, a burn, a colour Blair could feel deepen.

"Three, hard, now, Blair," Jim said, the meaning of the quick, low words lost until the first blow landed.

Blair flailed, kicked, the air rushing out of him as he tried to yell. Hurt. Had hurt. That had hurt and he couldn't move, couldn't stop the next one and he was going to --

Something was wedged between his teeth and he bit down on it as Jim's hand landed with a smack, landed with a crisp, apple-bite, lemon sharp slap, right on top of all those many gentle, merciless spanks.

He ground his teeth through the wadded folds of a handkerchief, feeling his spit-dry mouth protest. One more. One more and the sizzle of skin on his ass wanted to shrink away and hide and Blair arched his back, feeling Jim's hand settle into place again on his back, and begged with his body for one more, please, right there, God, hard, hit me hard, make it hurt, make me feel it, make me…

It fell, a cool rush of air and a flat, uncompromising meeting of hand and ass. Jim's hand. His ass.

And then Jim rolled him over, blue eyes searching his face, concern fading to relief and Jim's hand, that hand, hot and red, came down on Blair's dick and rubbed it, squeezed it, worked it until Blair came, holt jolts of come streaking his belly, tears marking his face, Jim's arm cradling him, his chest there for Blair to hide his face against because it was too much, too much to give, too much to ask to let Jim see him like this and he couldn't stop whispering 'thank you'.

It couldn't last for ever but it was Blair who ended it, not Jim.

"I'm getting you messy."

"Yeah." Jim didn't sound as if it mattered, but when Blair sniffed wetly, sat up, and groped for the handkerchief, he got handed a few Kleenex. "Blow," Jim said succinctly, grabbing another handful of Kleenex and giving Blair's belly a deft swipe or two before dealing with whatever had got transferred from Blair to him in the last few minutes.

Blair eased off Jim's lap, kneeling up because that seemed safest. He felt... exposed, embarrassed, yeah, in spades. And he was grinning, a wide grin, one that hurt his face. "That was…"

Jim gave him a sidelong glance, tossing the damp tissues in the general direction of the floor. "Yeah."

Blair felt some of his elation diminish. He looked around, listening. "Did I, uh… do you think we made too much noise?" The person next door had the TV on loud enough that he doubted it, but maybe he'd turned it on to drown them out.

"No."

"Oh. Well, good."

Jim stood up, not meeting Blair's anxious look. "I'm just --"

Blair watched Jim disappear into the bathroom without saying anything else, scooping up his socks and shoes on the way, moving quickly, stiffly. "Are you okay?" he called out, starting to get dressed and pausing to twist and stare at his ass, reflected in the mirror. Too dark to see it properly… He was going to need a shower so getting dressed wasn't all that sensible, but somehow he didn't want to be naked when Jim came back out.

"Jim? Are you --?"

Jim's quiet groan, cut-off, bitten-off, familiar, was all the answer he got. Indignation took him to the bathroom door and he hammered on it hard. "Hey! If you're doing what I think you're doing, you could have --"

The door was flung open. "I could have what?" Jim snarled, the rasp of his zipper a harsh punctuation to his words.

"Let me watch," Blair said, standing his ground.

"Not what you asked for," Jim said, pushing past him. "Are we done here?"

"Sure," Blair said flatly. "Don't let me keep you." And don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out, he added silently.

Jim came to a dead halt. "This was business, Blair."

"I know that."

"We're not friends."

"No."

"Then stop trying to make this more than it is."

"You were the one hugging me," Blair pointed out.

Jim turned. "You needed that. I gave it to you. Part of the service."

"I did, and I already said thank you." Amazing how he could go from a limp, quivering mess to sounding this calm. He'd changed. Everything had changed.

Jim nodded. "Yeah, well…"

"I didn't expect you to get hard." Jim opened his mouth and Blair continued, talking fast. "I thought you were… not lying, no, just being tactful. Doing your job. Yeah. I didn't really think it was something you were into and like that, the way we had to do it… I got off on it but I didn't think you would."

He got a shrug, irritable and grudging.

"You didn't have to take care of it yourself."

"You're the customer, not me."

"Like I said," Blair told him, letting his voice get cold. "I might have wanted to watch. Or something."

"'Something'. Christ." Jim shook his head, his shoulders slumping. "Chief, I wouldn't have lasted long enough to make it worth your while. I barely got my zipper down before I was coming." Jim gestured at his whiskey glass. "Mind if I--?"

"No, of course not." Blair went to get his own glass, beaming at Jim in a friendly way and sitting down on the bed without thinking. "Ah…ow."

"Take a bath," Jim said absently, taking the couch. "Not too hot."

"The baths in hotels have those anti-slip strips," Blair said. "It'd hurt. I'll pass, thanks. A shower will do."

They sat in a silence that became comfortable by degrees. Blair watched Jim relax, lean back, sip appreciatively at his drink, and forgave the son of a bitch for ruining the moment. Especially as he was still coming to terms with what Jim had said. That turned on? That much? By him? Wow.

Or just by the act itself, maybe… but it was still the most positive endorsement Blair had ever had after sex and he was basking, dammit.

"I'll give you those names and places," Jim said finally.

Blair nodded, going over to his jacket and taking out a card. "E-mail me."

"And I'll ask around. See if anyone's interested in being interviewed." Jim pinned him with a look. "On their own time, but you pay them."

"Sure, and that'd be great; thank you." Blair watched Jim drain his glass, knowing what was going to happen next. He forestalled it by standing up and offering Jim his hand. After a moment, Jim stood and took it, holding it rather than shaking it. "Thank you," Blair said again.

Jim smiled, released Blair's hand and reached up to pat his cheek. "My pleasure, Chief." He walked to the door, picked up his jacket, and then glanced at his watch. "Told you an hour was long enough." He looked back over his shoulder. "And yours is just up."

Blair smiled. "I'll remember that for next time."

Jim chuckled. "You won't need to pay for it again, Blair, trust me."

The door was just about to close when Blair called out. "Jim?"

Jim paused.

"When you e-mail me… tell me how Rhonda's daughter did?"

***

Rhonda gave the pink roses on her desk an ecstatic sniff. "Jim, they're beautiful! But you really shouldn't have."

Jim walked over to her desk and removed the card from the arrangement. "May I?"

"Of course." Rhonda frowned. "They're not from you? Simon, maybe?"

Jim tossed the card down. "Nope. They're from a new client." He tapped the file on Rhonda's desk. "Him."

She picked up the file, studied it and then gasped. "Oh! Simon told me what happened but with all the excitement -- did I tell you how long it was between the waters breaking and the --?"

"Yes," Jim said hastily. "Twice."

"I am so sorry about the confusion," she said earnestly. "I should be sending him flowers…" She walked over to Sam's desk and dropped the file on Sam's in-tray. "There."

Jim shook his head, took the file, and dropped it on his own desk. "Here."

"Oh!" Rhonda smiled knowingly. "One of yours?"

"Yes," Jim said. "One of mine."




Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

Part Eight

Part Nine

Part Ten

Part Eleven

Part Twelve

Part Thirteen

Part Fourteen

Part Fifteen

Part Sixteen

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