Point of Contact

by Jane Davitt




Author's Note. This story, and I, owe a debt to T Verano, who beta read it and improved it in so many ways with her insightful and thorough comments.  A chaptered version can be read here.



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, and wedged 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 extra."

Blair stepped back, face scarlet, and dragged the man with him. "You're from the agency?" He let go of the handful of leather jacket he'd grabbed, and smoothed 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 smooth, practiced maneuver, and felt 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, then buttoned it up and tucked it in on his way over to the small couch by the mini bar. "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, he poured them both a generous measure. "Cheers." He raised his glass and took 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 savor. 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 skepticism but he nodded. "I'll deal with it." Taking a sip of his drink, he set it aside and pulled out a cell phone. He turned it on, tapped a single button, and gave Blair a reassuring, if distant smile.

"Hi, it's me… No, it's okay, don't apologize… 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 realized after ten that pretty soon Jim was going to be told exactly what he'd asked for, in excruciating detail. At fifteen seconds he realized 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, not waiting, 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 disappeared into Jim's pocket. Jim met Blair's eyes, his face slightly flushed.

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 labor 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 night, 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 during the hour. 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 apologize." 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, then reached for his glass and took 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. 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 which nearly convinced Blair he meant it. "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, and 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, and looked 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. "You'd 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, walked over to a wall, and rapped 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 leaned against the wall. He looked 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, umm. 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, which brought 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 realized 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 whisky 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. He grabbed the small recorder and tossed it over to Jim so he could see for himself that it wasn't running. "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 humor 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, and he left 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?"

"Feels like it, yes." 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 favors 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 bathroom with the door closed that he realized 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 came before; he'd 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, 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. He perched 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, and tasted 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 when you're fantasizing?"

"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." He wasn't sure where that had come from, but it didn't matter. It was true.

Jim nodded, and a smile appeared. "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."

"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, and his hand moved in restless sweeps over Blair's arm, his chest, then paused to rub once, hard, against Blair's nipple, the one he'd thought about getting pierced but he hadn't dared. The touch made 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 by 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 do 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, and slid 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 immediately defending himself, and 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, and 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's hand rose, covering Blair's hesitant one, and he 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, now sat 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, and gave 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 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 from me, God, I just suck at this --"

"Blair." Jim's hand 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 realized the silence that followed was expectant. "Just do it."

He felt Jim's hand move lightly across his hair and then under it. Fingers stroked the back of his neck and made 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, and shifed 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 realized 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 color 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 that he'd spat out at some point, he got handed a few Kleenex. "Blow," Jim said succinctly. He grabbed another handful of Kleenex and gave 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 and 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. He began to get dressed but paused 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 okay?"

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 whisky glass. "Mind if I--?"

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

"Take a bath," Jim said absently, and sat on the couch. "Not too hot."

"The bathtubs 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, and knew what was going to happen next. He forestalled it by standing 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 patted his cheek gently. "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."


*****



Jim left the break room, chased by the high, indignant wail of a baby who'd had enough of the faces thrust at it and the cootchy-coo fingers. He had a slightly goofy smile on his face, he could feel it. Babies weren't really his thing, but little Anne was adorable and watching Rhonda's smile was worth…

He sniffed at his sleeve.

Okay, nothing was worth getting baby puke all down his fucking arm.

He could still feel the surprisingly solid weight of the baby, nestling against him, blindly searching for warmth, milk; a reassuringly familiar smell. He'd only been able to give her the first; no wonder she'd been upset.

He kept a change of clothes at work; they all did. You never knew when you might get called out. These days, for him, it was just the basics, but there had been a time when his section of the long wardrobe running across one wall of the supply room had included a varied selection, from a tux to leather pants. Would he even fit in those pants any more?

He shook his head, peeled off his shirt and threw it at the laundry basket. He didn't regret giving up most of his client list. Not really. It took its toll on you after a while and those that mattered the most, well, he hadn't lost them.

Buttoning a clean shirt, he went back to the main office, still deserted, and checked that there were no lights flashing on any of the answer machines. He was on his way back to his own desk when Rhonda's phone rang.

"The Ellison Agency; how may I help you?" He snagged a pen and a piece of paper, and waited for the person on the other end to decide if they were going to go through with it or not. Often, the answer was 'not'. His agency did have a team of men and women who were escorts without any extras included; personable, intelligent, and capable of playing whatever role was required. Usually, though, the people who hung up were looking for something a little less legal and getting cold feet.

"Jim?"

Diffident, hopeful… Jim found himself smiling as he identified the voice immediately.

"Blair -- Mr. Sandburg, I mean. How are you?"

"You got it right the first time," Blair assured him. "And I'm good, man. More than good."

"Glad to hear it," Jim replied, keeping his tone courteous rather than friendly with an effort. "How can I help you?"

And wasn't that a question he wished he could dictate an answer to. He let himself dwell pleasurably on what he'd tell Blair to beg for, his thoughts circling a central image of Blair kneeling, looking up at him, cock hard, hands bound, neck --

"Any chance of me getting a house call tonight? Or is this, like, way too short notice?"

Jim smiled, already shredding his plans to have Simon over for company while he watched TV. "I think that could be arranged."

"She's feeling better then?" Blair sounded puppy dog eager. "I waited a week or so because you said her shoulder was hurt…"

Thinking fast had saved Jim's life in the past and it wasn't a skill you lost, but forcing something out fast so that Blair's words didn't echo against a sticky silence cost him.

"Sam, you mean? Oh, she's much better. And what time did you have in mind?" He winced. It was Sam's night off, which was why he knew she was free, but she wasn't going to be happy about this.

He'd keep her company.

"Nine? Sure… An hour? Perfect. Well, enjoy yourself, Mr. Sandburg."

"Jim?" Blair's voice caught and held him. "You sound… You told me she was who I should have had. Said she was good."

"Yes, I did, didn't I?" And I told my brother the dollar under his pillow was from the Tooth Fairy and I thought I was right then, too.

"And I need to just see… Before I try any of those places you told me about… I need to know what I want. Who I want."

He wasn't being fair. He didn't even know why he was taking this so personally, but Blair was a client and one who'd been fucked about enough already. Christ, he should never have stayed. He should have gotten out, not let the charge go though, let Blair organize a second appointment himself, preferably with another agency.

But he hadn't. He'd drunk Blair's whisky (and God, he'd have kicked the ass of anyone working for him who'd drank on duty) and he'd forced the guy to expose himself in every way possible and jerked him off when Blair wasn't sure how he felt about men, and let's not even go near that fucking embarrassing dash to jerk off himself because Blair had been so --

"Yeah. Yeah, you do and that makes sense. I'll… she'll be there, okay? And she's the best. Trust me."

"I do."

He couldn't take much more of this. "Fine. Good bye, Mr. Sandburg. Thank you for choosing the Ellison Agency."

He put the phone down before Blair could protest his formality and took a couple of slow, deep breaths, the kind that were supposed to calm you down, but they never did. After a moment, he picked up the phone again to call Sam and bribe, beg, and plead with her to do something he didn't want her to do.


*****



Sam came into the office at four the next day, a folder tucked under her arm. Jim watched her walk over to her desk, and eyed her with an attention he didn't usually give her. Sam was beautiful, elegant, and cold. She made him think of steel and swords and blood, and her habit of dressing in deep shades of red did nothing to change that.

He'd never slept with an employee and never would, but even if she hadn't been on his payroll, he wouldn't have approached Sam. Respect, yes, she'd earned that, but there was a wariness between them rather than the warmth he shared with Simon. They both wanted control too much, he supposed.

He let her get settled and clear some of her paperwork before cracking.

"Sam?" She lifted her head, and gave him a polite smile. "Could I see you in my office? With Mr. Sandburg's file?"

He made sure to keep his voice pleasant but he saw her eyes widen. He didn't use his office much; sometimes a new client would come to the office in person and discretion demanded he interviewed them in private -- and they expected him to have an office of his own. Most of the time, though, he worked at a desk in the main office, enjoying the company.

Sam would be wondering if she was in trouble. Somehow, that thought didn't bother him as much as it should. He chastised himself as he walked in and ushered her to a chair, choosing to lean on his desk rather than sit behind it.

"It's okay," he said immediately. "I just wanted to know how it went, that's all."

She stared at him. "Why?"

The single word was said with enough emphasis to make it clear that she wasn't going to let him get away with hustling her. He could have pulled out the boss card, but that would only piss her off, and she'd done him a favor the night before, after all.

"You know how we fucked up his first appointment."

"Yes. So?"

"It was --" Jim sighed. "It wasn't just a standard assignment, Sam. It was his first. It was him trying to find out about himself. It was important and --"

"And you did a good job with him," Sam interrupted. One rounded nail, the red polish mirror bright tapped against the folder she'd placed in her lap. "I read your report. You handled him perfectly."

That report had been carefully edited so he didn't feel too gratified by her approval.

"Thanks. I still --" He met her eyes and caved. "I liked him, Sam, okay? I want to know how it went. I'll read your report, but I want to hear it from you. In detail."

She gave him a level look and then nodded. "I arrived at his house at nine precisely." No surprise there. Sam was never late. "He lives on Mountainside; you know it?"

"Sure; which part?" Mountainside, unimaginatively but accurately named, was a road that curved and looped about a third of the way up the closest of the mountains ringing Cascade. The views were spectacular; the houses an eclectic assortment of mansions and cottages.

"It took me twenty minutes to get there; it's about halfway up." She looked mildly amused. "It's not his; he lives with his mother."

That didn't seem to fit what he knew of Blair, but before he could comment, she continued, "She's never there, though; inherited it from her father along with a nice chunk of cash, I'd guess, and she spends her life… flitting." Sam made a dismissive gesture with her hand which showed what she thought of a lifestyle that purposeless. "She's in Hampshire, England, meditating in a field where three ley lines cross and trying to avoid the cowpats."

"He told you all this?" Jim interrupted. "You went there to get him naked and get him off; what's with the exchanging life stories?"

Her eyes widened with affront. "Excuse me?"

He wasn't going to back down but he tried to be fair. "Did you encourage him to talk for some reason?"

"I was this close to hauling out a gag!" she snapped, holding her thumb and forefinger an inch apart. "The only thing that stopped me was that we still had a lot to get through. So, no, Jim, I didn't encourage him. He just told me. At length. In detail."

Jealousy wasn't an emotion he'd felt for years, but it was unmistakable when it hit. Jim swallowed down a comment that would have had Sam walking out and said softly, "Do you think he was nervous?"

"It's possible," Sam allowed.

"What happened once you reminded him you were on the clock?"

"I would never do that." Sam raised the folder, her tone exasperated. "It's all in here, you know."

He twitched it out of her hand and dropped it on the desk. "Thanks. Don't stop talking."

"Fine" Sam rolled her eyes and settled back, her expression turning introspective. "He offered me a drink that I refused, asked where I wanted to go, and then took me to his bedroom --"

"What was it like?"

"Big, but…" Sam frowned. "Big but full. Crowded. It was as if that was where he lived and the rest of the house wasn't his to use. It's hard to explain. Books. Lots of books. The bed was a double, though." She pulled a face. "Too small."

Jim tried to picture it; Blair inside a shell, crammed with all he owned, his space within a space.

"Once we got in there, I took control before I went deaf." She smiled, secretive, satisfied. "I told him to kneel and he did, but not without this pause; you could tell he thought it was funny."

"He wasn't taking it seriously?" Jim felt a small stab of disappointment at that. Amateurs did that.

"I think he saw it as a little clichéd," Sam said thoughtfully. "And it's difficult for some people to go deep, to forget themselves. He was busy watching it happen, if that makes sense, not really applying it to himself as the subject."

"He didn't see the sense in kneeling to you when it wasn't real." Jim remembered Blair's anguished words as they lay in bed together. "He thinks too much."

Sam shrugged. "By the time I was done with him he'd stopped smiling or thinking, trust me."

He took a slow, deep breath. "Oh?"

"Jim." It was amazing how much she could fit into that single syllable, that solitary word. "He's a natural sub. He didn't want to get away with it."

"I suppose," Jim said reluctantly. He knew he wouldn't have let Blair keep smiling, either, but he could just picture the mischievous, knowing, shared look of amusement Blair would have given him and it was hard to feel good about wiping that look away.

"I made him strip. Gave him some encouragement. " Jim knew how. He'd seen Sam work, that slender, vicious crop of hers flicking and stinging vulnerable, bared skin. "By the time he was naked he was gone, lost."

His hand was hurting, the fist it had formed tight and hard. He felt as if the skin on his knuckles was about to split and bleed from no more than this relentless, self-inflicted pressure.

Blair. Not hers to see. Not like that.

Sam wasn't looking at him now, thank God, lost in a reverie. "He's so damn responsive," she said reflectively. "I'd love to work with him more, see how he dealt with, oh, being on display, or collared."

Jim choked, swamped with emotion he didn't have time to break down into anything resembling logical thought. "You're joking. His second session and you're -- What did you do to him? Exactly?"

Sam gave another shrug. "Stripped him, made him stand there while I looked him over for a while -- he was shaking, about to break, just from that -- and then I --"

Jim held up his hand. "You know what? I'll read it in your report."

"Good idea," Sam murmured. She stood and smoothed her skirt down with a careful hand. "Just don't assign him to me again."

"Huh? Why not? What happened to him being responsive and you being curious?"

Sam's scarlet lips pouted. "He wouldn't come for me, and I didn't have time to make him. And besides…" A frown marred the smooth forehead. "He asked for me; he was expecting me, but --"

"Yeah?"

"When he opened the door, he looked… disappointed."

The door closed behind her and Jim walked around his desk to sit down, already reaching for Blair's file.

He didn't know what the hell she'd done to him but he was going to find out.

And then he was going to see Blair and do it again, and do it right, do it better.

Disappointed?

Why --? Oh.

Oh, fuck.

He'd got it wrong again.

"You're so going to pay for this," he muttered, as he flicked open the file, a grin he couldn't get rid of curving his mouth. "Your ass is going to burn, Mr. Sandburg."

He didn't even bother worrying about whether or not Blair would call again.

He would.

And this time Blair was getting who he needed, not who he'd asked for.

Sam's words came back to him; Blair, naked, standing, shaking, desperately trying to keep still and not turn his head, anticipating, dreading the merciless, teasing flick of the crop that would have left marks, ripening, then quickly fading…

He shuddered, just as Blair must have, close to picking up the phone and breaking every rule they had and calling Blair. All that kept his hand from reaching out was that it was busy pressing down hard, to quell his erection.

And he'd fucked up enough already.

He had to wait.


*****



Blair lit a candle, white, unscented, and sank down in front of the table it stood on, the steady light level with his eyes. He needed this quiet space of time. Had to calm himself down before he picked up the phone and called Jim.

Jim. He snorted. Maybe he should start thinking of him as 'Mr. Ellison' as the guy had gone back to calling him 'Mr. Sandburg'. He said it under his breath a few times, and made it a mantra. It didn't work.

'Jim' did, though.

He heard himself solemnly chanting it and started to laugh, which ruined the mood so completely that he gave up, and blew out the candle with an impatient puff of air.

He watched the smoke spiral upwards, visible, intangible, dissipating quickly.

The marks Jim's hand had left on his ass had been visible and pretty damn easy to feel for a while, but they'd been gone by the morning. He'd hoped there'd be something left when he woke, but no.

The crop Sam had used to goad and prod him into doing things her way, at her speed, had hurt more, but it hadn't been the right kind of hurt. He felt his body heat with the embarrassing memory of those humiliating, dismissive flicks and the look on her face when he hadn't come.

Yeah. Like that was a new experience for him. When it came to disappointing women, he was an expert.

He wanted to blame her for the failure of that whole, disastrous encounter, but he couldn't. He'd asked for her, after all. Jim, though, who'd said she was just what Blair wanted; oh, yeah, he could blame Jim…

He spent a few minutes doing just that as the kettle boiled and he made himself some tea using a dubious looking teabag from a selection his mother had brought back with her from Guatemala. He sniffed the steam cautiously and took a small sip before pouring it down the sink with a shudder and getting himself a beer.

He'd asked for Sam and meant it when he'd told Jim why. Part of him was still trying to process the whole sex with a guy deal. He couldn't argue with the fact that it had been spectacular, but how much of that was down to the spanking? He'd needed to find out.

And he had. Sam's slender, bony lap had been about as appealing a resting place as wet concrete and she was just so… small. He'd made no protest about being told to lie on his bed instead, a pillow under his hips. And if his skin hadn't been stinging in a dozen spots from that fucking crop of hers he might have been able to concentrate on her hand and what it was doing, but it had and he hadn't and it had been an annoying assault more than anything. Something to be endured.

And once she'd gone and he'd calmed down he'd realized that the main problem about Sam was that she wasn't Jim. Somewhere between the phone call to the agency and the knock at the door, he'd gone from wanting to see Sam -- who had, oddly enough, looked just like he'd imagined her -- to expecting to see Jim.

Jim smiling down at him and murmuring something about another mix-up, and did Blair mind --?

He'd even made sure he had the whisky they'd shared out on the table, ready to offer Jim a glass. Fuck. Pathetic of him. The man wasn't going to deliberately get it wrong again. Not someone who took that much pride in his organization.

And if Jim had sounded weird on the phone once Blair had mentioned Sam's name, it'd been because he'd come on too strong, telling Jim to call him by his first name, babbling…

Yeah. Women; men -- it didn't really make any difference; he could send both sexes backing away fast. Go him.

He chewed down on his lip. Was there really any point in blowing another five hundred dollars? And given his performance -- or lack of it -- with Sam, were those places and numbers Jim had sent him really worth pursuing?

"Give it up," he whispered into the silence of the house. "Forget it. You can't use a kink you don't have as an excuse. You're just a loser who can't get a date."

He might have listened to himself if he hadn't come a few hours later, tipped over the edge by a single flashback to Jim's hand over his mouth and Jim's husky voice drawling, 'That's it? That's all you thought you wanted?'

If it had been, it wasn't now.


*****



When he heard the knock, he knew it was Jim, fitting the sound to his memory of the rap at the hotel room door and finding it a match. It sent him hurrying down the hallway, his mind busy, chaotic, filled with disjointed thoughts.

Three. Third time, three letters in his name, three times he hit me -- God, like that matters, like it's important -- what will he do, what will I do if this doesn't work again --

Jim, framed against a rhododendron bush in full bloom, one of dozens that lined the driveway and shielded the house from the road, this one a deep, dusky pink, looked real and solid and concerned.

Concerned? Why --oh.

"Breathe, Blair," Jim said. He stepped close and patted Blair's cheek.

"I didn't stop!"

"You did." Jim was grinning at him now, the tension Blair had noticed only when it began to slip away, gone completely now. "Lucky for you I'm a trained medic and mouth-to-mouth is a specialty."

"You were a medic? When?"

Jim made a show of looking around him pointedly. "Is this whole not inviting me in deal going to be something we do every time?"

The implications of that struck Blair with as much force as the sight of Jim had. 'Every time' meant Jim was expecting another time after this one.

He figured if he ate noodles and drank water he could afford Jim about once every three months, but he wasn't planning on sharing that information.

"Sorry. I was just -- Come in. Please."

"Just?" Jim asked, as Blair ushered him through to the family room. Jim was carrying a small sports bag, made of black leather. It looked both practical and expensive, and just imagining what might be in it made Blair's body react predictably. "You were thinking again, weren't -- oh, God, I love the view."

Blair smiled, pleased, but not surprised, and followed Jim across the long, wide room to the expanse of windows that showcased the mountains and the city, the blue sparkle of sea a distant glimmer. "You should see it when a storm hits. Or a clear night with a full moon."

"I can imagine," Jim murmured, as he stared out at something Blair had never taken for granted. "Is that an eagle?"

Blair stepped beside him, and sighted along the line of Jim's pointing finger. "Where?" He squinted and made out a small speck, floating lazily in an updraft, lost in a dazzle of late evening sunlight. "Man, you're good."

A shoulder lifted in a shrug. "Good at getting distracted, anyway. I'm sorry."

"Hey, don't be." Impulsively, Blair put his hand on Jim's arm, and felt the muscles jump and tighten through the thin jacket and shirt. "It's nice to see you again."

Jim stepped back and lifted the bag. "Yeah. Do you want to get started?"

"Wow." Blair licked nervously at his lips. "Even that Sam woman wasn't this --" He waved his hand around, trying to think of the best word choice.

"Abrupt?"

"Yeah."

"You've only got an hour," Jim reminded him, sounding tired.

"From when?" Jim blinked at him, a frown deepening the creases around his eyes. Blair hurried on with words, locking them both in place, here, in a room with no beds, with that bag of Jim's still closed, zipped. Safe. "Not from when you left the office, because the traffic at this time of the night, hell, I wouldn't have time to get naked, never mind get off. From when I opened the door? Because you're the one who went sightseeing, man, and don't get me wrong, look all you want; hell, I'll give you the guided tour, if you like, but that's on your time, not mine."

He came to a breathless halt, worried that he'd been rude, but prepared to do worse if it extended the time he was in the same room as Jim, soaking up details about the way he looked and sounded. Stuff he'd been too freaked to notice in more than a peripheral way last time, imperfectly absorbed, so that later, in the days that followed, he'd been unsure of the exact shape of Jim's ears, but able to recall the precise shade of pink they'd gone when he'd been talking to his friend Simon.

"I'd like the guided tour," Jim said after a taffy-stretched silence. He moved in. Looming. Definitely looming. "Why don't we start with your bedroom, Mr. Sandburg? I hear it's interesting."

"Oh, God, you talked to her," Blair blurted out, too horrified at that revelation to protest the use of his full name. "You shouldn't have done that."

Jim gaped at him, and looked seriously bewildered. "I shouldn't have talked to her? Or read her report? Are you kidding me?"

"Report?" It had been six years since his last panic attack and he'd thought he was over them. Apparently not. "An in writing report with words?" Okay, that was clear as mud. He pushed on regardless, getting up into Jim's face. "With pictures? No, no, I'd have noticed her doing that." He shook himself. "She grade me, too? What did I get for pissing her off? 'F' for 'failed to come'? 'D' for dickless wonder? Huh?"

The air he was sucking in wasn't doing anything. Empty air. No oxygen. Nothing but empty --

"Stop it." Blue eyes. Blue like water. Like sky. Water had oxygen. You could still drown in it, though. "Blair, I mean it. Listen to me or I start the fucking clock, you hear me?"

He swallowed and felt the plastic around him, clinging, suffocating, rip and shred to nothing. He filled his lungs, and breathed the way he'd been taught. Jim's hands were on his shoulders, kneading them soothingly. "I'm okay. You can stop that."

"I don't want to stop touching you." Jim sounded shaken. "Blair --"

"Don't ever call me Mr. Sandburg again," Blair said, interrupting him. "I really don't like it."

"But Blair's good?"

"Blair's fine."

"Is he?" Jim rolled his eyes and amended it to, "Are you?"

"I guess."

Jim patted Blair's shoulders once more and then moved back a little. Blair glanced down and saw that the leather bag was on the floor, tracking back until he remembered the thud of it landing, lost in the heavy, fast beat of his heart.

"I'm going to start over and I want you to listen, okay?"

"Okay," Blair said agreeably. He was submerged in shame, at saturation point, and that brought with it a certain calmness. The exhilaration of despair. He couldn't possibly fuck this up any worse, which meant the worst was over. "Go ahead."

"Can we sit down?"

"Here?"

Jim shrugged. "Wherever you feel comfortable, Blair. It's your house."

"My room."

"Sure." Jim picked up the bag and tilted his head expectantly. "Right behind you, Chief." He pursed his lips. "Sorry."

"No, that's okay," Blair told him, as he led them out into the hallway. "I don't mind that."

In his room, with the door closed, he felt better. The rest of the house was comfortable, inviting even, scattered with interesting, often beautiful objects his mother had picked up on her travels, but his tastes and hers didn't always overlap. And this room, an L-shape; sitting area leading into bedroom, bedroom into bathroom, was all his. A large room; a small home.

He sat on the couch, and angled his body sideways to invite Jim to join him there, rather than on the only other chair in the room, a recliner set in front of the window. Blair sat there to read, the sunlight pouring over him, glancing up now and then to see the shadows race over the forests below as the wind took the clouds across the wide sky.

Jim set the bag down -- Blair eyed it with a growing, burning curiosity but didn't comment -- and took the seat beside Blair, keeping his gaze on Blair with what looked like an effort.

"You can look around," Blair offered. "It's mostly just books, though."

"I like books." Jim didn't look away. "Maybe later. I'd rather look at you."

"Thought you wanted a guided tour."

"I do." Jim smiled slowly, amused by a joke Blair wasn't getting. "You just misunderstood what I wanted to get a closer look at." His gaze wandered, lingered, dragged over Blair. "Starting to get a clue now?"

"Oh, we've started?" Blair said, belatedly catching on. "Sorry, I didn't -- uh, you want me to get undressed?" His hand went to the top button on his shirt, but Jim reached out, covered Blair's hand with his own and stopped him.

''Started'?" Jim repeated. "Huh?"

"Tick-tock?"

"No," Jim said. He exhaled, leaning back. "Look, this is just not going the way I expected it to."

"Do you plan it out in advance?" Blair asked, genuinely interested. "Is that what the reports are for?" He found he could think of them without freaking if he thought of their purpose instead of what they contained.

"Sometimes. And, yes, partly, but that's not what I meant." Jim smoothed back his hair, an unconscious gesture Blair remembered him making in the hotel room. "Look." He stood, took off his jacket and slung it over the back of the couch. Then he rolled up the sleeves of his dark green shirt and unfastened his watch strap. "No watch," he said, and put it on the coffee table in front of the couch. "No ticking. Your time hasn't started and it won't until we get a few things clear."

"Like what?"

"Like what happened to you last time."

"With you? Or with --"

"I know what happened when you were with me." Jim sounded grim. "With Sam."

"Oh, man." Blair twisted around, thunked his forehead against the back of the couch, and moaned, hamming it up a little, laughing at himself to save Jim the trouble. "I blew it. Big time. But you know that if she wrote about it."

"That's not what she wrote. That's not what she said." The pad of Jim's thumb rubbed the place on Blair's head that was throbbing mildly and Blair shivered. "Don't do that again."

"What?"

"Hurt yourself." A smile flickered across Jim's face, slightly pained. "You're paying me to do that, remember?"

"It's not the same thing."

"No. It's not." Jim raised his eyebrows. "I got you to talk last time, so we know I can do it; do you mind saving me the hassle and giving me what I want?"

"Be specific." Blair waited and grinned when Jim got it and pulled a 'you think you're so fucking clever' face at him. He was feeling better now; not the false calm of earlier, but something with more foundation to it. His space… Jim in it…nice.

"Okay. I want you to answer me with detail, complete honesty, and doing your best to help me." Jim waved his finger warningly. "No distracting me. No bullshit."

"How do I distract you?" Blair asked, really wanting to know.

Jim inhaled sharply, and his mouth tightened. "You just do, okay?"

"'Detail… complete honesty…'" Blair smiled at him, and made it a challenge. "Works both ways."

Jim looked uncomfortable but Blair gave him credit for not backing down. "True. Okay." He tapped his finger against his bottom lip. "There. On you. You bite it. Nibble at it. Drives me crazy. I want to --" He flushed but continued, his voice steady. "I want to see what's so goddamn tasty about it."

"You'd have to get closer, then." Blair felt the ground drop away, but he was flying, not falling, flirting, not -- "Put your mouth on me. Right?" Please?

"I could," Jim said, his voice tight, his hands locked together, resting on his knees. "And I would, yes. I will if you tell me on a scale of one to ten just how distracting you're being right now and the honest answer's under five."

There was a pause. "Seven?" Blair said cautiously.

"Eleven."

"No way."

"Doesn't matter." Jim grinned, a savage slash of smile. "You're over five. Moving on."

"Bastard."

"Oh, sweetheart, I get worse than this."

"I can believe that," Blair said.

"I bet." Jim patted Blair's leg. He did that a lot, Blair noticed. Touched him as reassurance or reward. And it felt good through clothes, but on his bare skin it would feel better. Blair let the shiver that thought brought on race through him, and waited for Jim to start talking.

"What happened last time that you didn't like?" Jim propped his elbow on the back of the couch and leaned his face into the cup of his palm. "This isn't meant as a criticism of Sam; she's my employee and she has my unreserved trust and support, but clearly it didn't go well between you. Why?"

"I was expecting it to be you at the door." Okay, he hadn't been going to admit that. "You can laugh all you want --"

"Blair." Jim kicked Blair's shin in a gentle reproof. "Not going to happen. I have to tell you that again and it's going to start counting against your time."

"How much?"

"One minute," Jim said immediately, scowling at him. "And two if you distract me, so don't."

"Okay, okay!" Blair returned Jim's scowl and grimaced. "So. I was nervous about her and like I said, I got this dumb idea that you'd know that, which you wouldn't -- I mean; why would you? -- and that you'd come instead -- and hey, you shouldn't have to deal with me at all, I know that. You're retired and even if I decided I didn't want a woman and you know, I think I have -- unless you think I should try one more -- but not Sam, okay, because we didn't --"

"Stop talking." Jim held up his hand. "Wait." He closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them. "One. You're on my client list. Mine. You can use another agency, of course, but I don't care who's available, the only person from my agency you get to deal with is me from now on."

"Why?" Blair asked weakly. "I'm that much trouble?"

Jim smiled, his eyes gleaming. "Oh, Chief, you have no idea how much." He chuckled. "Joking. I think." His smile faded. "Is that a problem?"

"No. Totally not a problem," Blair assured him. "I don't want anyone but you." He cleared his throat. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded."

"It sounded like you were happy with the service you were getting from me," Jim said bluntly. "That's not something I mind hearing."

Service. Blair wondered how different it would be if he had to actually hand money over at the end of the hour instead of trusting whoever did the accounting at the agency to bill his credit card. Maybe the separation of money from the event itself increased the illusion of intimacy… interesting… He made a note to explore that at some point in his book and surfaced to find Jim giving him a patiently long-suffering look.

"Two, if I'm not interrupting anything," Jim said caustically, "I'm not a mind reader and besides, you were right; you did need to try it with a woman. It didn't work. You might think it was the particular woman, and I'm not ruling that out, but don't be too quick to close doors. Any of them."

"I won't," Blair said meekly. "Is there a three?"

"Three is you answering the original question clearly and concisely," Jim told him. "I've read your book; I know you're capable of --"

"Wait, wait, you've read it?" Blair stared at Jim. A reader. Of his book. Wow. "Did you like it?" he asked eagerly. "You don't think it dragged a little in the middle? I wanted the section on dowries but my editor said it --"

"Two minutes," Jim said.

"What? Oh, shit." Blair contemplated pouting, which someone had once told him looked cute, a compliment he'd treasured without really wanting the word applied to him, but decided against it. If it worked, Jim would probably call it distracting and dock him another couple of minutes. "Fine." He shoved his hair back with both hands and tried to organize his thoughts.

"She looked great."

"Yeah, she does." Jim sounded amused. "Like she walked out of your fantasies, right?"

"Big time." Blair sighed wistfully. "And I got turned on, no problem there." He'd been in therapy enough that really, this kind of conversation wasn't new territory for him. He wasn't sure why he was making life difficult for Jim by being so scattered.

"None at all?"

"No." Blair shook his head, giving Jim a conspiratorial smile. "She made me kneel down and that, well, it was cheesy, you know?"

"No." Jim pointed to the floor, his face cold. "In fact, how about you kneel for me now. It might focus your attention on what we're doing here."

"What?" His composure shattered, Blair looked from Jim's face to the thick rug. "You're serious?"

Jim inclined his head in a slow nod. "I'm waiting. I'm not very fond of that, by the way. I might start taking off more time to make myself feel better."

"Shouldn't you be doing that anyway? If I kneel, aren't we --?"

"You'll know when I do. One minute, and let's up the stakes a little." Jim stared at him, blue eyes burning into him. "One extra at the end from whatever I'm using on your ass by then."

"I might like that."

Jim eyed him and then said dryly, "Trust me, by then you wouldn't." He shifted so he was facing forward and without looking at Blair again, snapped his fingers, a clear, crisp sound, and nodded down at the floor. "In front of me, please. Close enough that I can touch you if I want."

Fighting back a sound that even unvoiced he knew would emerge as a nervous chuckle, Blair got off the couch and knelt in front of Jim.

"Still feel like smiling?" Jim inquired. He leaned forward so his face was close to Blair's, his hands on his thighs, his knees spread.

"No," Blair admitted. Now he'd done it, now he was here, at Jim's feet, following a direct order, well, he was getting off on it.

Still thought it was cheesy, though. Which reminded him…

"You tell me to call you 'master' and that might change," Blair warned.

Jim nodded. "Duly noted."

"Unless you want me to?" Blair frowned. "Should you be letting me say stuff like that to you?"

"It's a problem. One I'm beginning to see Sam's side of."

"A problem? I'm a problem?" Blair felt a familiar sinking certainty that he was doing it all wrong again.

"Not you. It's just…" Jim sighed and stroked the side of Blair's face, looking frustrated. Blair leaned into the touch without thinking, rubbed against the warm, caressing fingertips and saw the surprise in Jim's face. Jim stared at his hand as if he hadn't realized what it was doing and pulled it back, his fingers curling tightly.

"Just what?" Blair asked. His voice sounded different. Lower. Careful. He squirmed as his dick woke up and stretched and then noticed Jim register the squirm with a faintly disapproving glint in his eyes and froze.

Jim chewed his lip. "This. All of it. You don't have a clue what you want and by the time you figure it out you'll have paid for my next vacation. That's not fair on you. You should be getting an hour of what you want, sixty minutes of sizzle and sex. Not a conversation." Jim's mouth quirked slightly. "Not this kind of conversation, anyway."

"Talking about it is helping," Blair told him.

"You can afford to spend five hundred bucks on a conversation?"

"Not really."

"Thought not." Jim stared at him. "This isn't what you need, Blair. No. Let me finish. What you just asked; if we were doing this for real, you'd call me what I told you to." He paused. "Well. We'd have discussed it before, maybe, but no, you wouldn't get to argue like that, not when you were on your knees. God." Jim shook his head. "No wonder Sam -- never mind. What I'm trying to say, though, is that this isn't real."

"No," Blair said flatly. He'd known that. Nothing good ever was.

"You're paying me to please you. It confuses everything. If you don't want to call me 'Master' then I should know that and I'd never ask you to. Because you're the client and you get what you want. All the power is with you and that's just not how it works with this scene. It's never that one-sided."

Jim stood up, and paced around the room, his movements controlled but his agitation clear. Blair watched him as much as he could without turning his head and waited. It was like meditating. He wasn't focusing on a candle flame, but that fierce heat coming off Jim. He felt his heart slow and his breathing settle and he arched his back and split his knees wider, wanting Jim to notice and comment.

God. This was doing a lot more for him than he'd expected. Experimentally, driven by curiosity and a spike of arousal caused by nothing more than bending his head forward in a classically submissive baring of the back of his neck (if you ignored the fact that his hair still covered it) he put his hands, crossed at the wrist, in the small of his back.

Ooh. Nice.

Jim was still stalking around, still talking, but Blair wasn't listening. He got it, and Jim was right; it didn't take much intelligence to see the inherent paradox of a Dom bought and paid for by a sub. He was fairly sure other people made it work, but as Jim had pointed out, they probably had a better idea of what they were doing than Blair did.

His erection was getting insistent, clamouring for a touch, but he could see out of the corner of his eye that Jim had circled around and was watching him and he didn't dare to move.

Damn. He reminded himself to never put his hands behind him again and sweated it out. Jim had to stop the Hamlet impression soon and notice that he was fucking dying here….

"What the hell are you doing?" Jim demanded in a stifled, rasping whisper that dragged a shudder out of Blair.

"Kneeling. You told me to." Blair paused and then with the utmost meekness, certain that it would get a reaction, added, "Jim" with the exact inflection he would have used if he'd said the M-word.

Jim stopped dead and then advanced on him. Not a stalk. A prowl. "Right. I did. I didn't tell you to do it like this, though, did I?"

"No," Blair admitted. "It just feels good."

"Not cheesy?"

"I don't care." Blair arched his back some more. His nipples ached, tight and hard, pebbled as if he was in a cold shower. Nipples. You didn't really notice them most of the time. He was noticing his now. "Can I say something?"

Jim sat down in front of him again, slumped forward. "Sure. Go ahead. I'll try and get this on track before midnight."

"I'm not going anywhere," Blair assured him. "You?" Jim shook his head and Blair frowned at him. "Your social life has to be better than mine."

"I don't know what yours is like."

"Non-existent."

"It's better than that, yes, but I still don't have plans for tonight."

"I don't know how to say this…"

"Just spit it out. I do have to be at work by nine tomorrow."

"Why did you make an exception for me?" Blair took a quick breath and continued talking. "You're retired. You said you still saw some old clients but it was personal; I don't get that; do they book you? Pay you?"

"Less formal than that," Jim told him. "And we're talking…" He screwed up his mouth in thought. "Three men, two women. I see them maybe a couple of times a year in my, ah, professional role."

"You socialise with them?"

"That goes beyond what I'll share, Chief." Jim's tone was friendly but there was a clear warning there. "And I don't know where you're going with this."

"I'm not sure, either," Blair said slowly. "I suck at this. At relationships. Any kind of relationships. It doesn't make that much difference to me that I'm paying you to be here; I fucked up with Sam just as fast as I did with any woman I've ever dated. I get what you're saying, too, by the way and you're right. I just don't see a way around it except to ask you to do this for me as a friend. Do it properly and that's… yeah. Insulting. Because this is your job and you don't know me and -- oh fuck --" Blair stared directly at Jim, a sick feeling quenching his arousal. "Are you married? Dating? With someone?"

"Divorced, sometimes, not currently." Jim wasn't looking disgusted or scornful. He should have been. Halfway through his speech Blair had realized that what he was asking for was a free ride. Literally.

"What makes you think I want to do this on my own time?" Jim stared at him, barely blinking, voice steady. Blair was the one trembling, sweating, but he still felt as if he was the calmer of the two of them. There was something about the line of Jim's shoulders, stiff and tense… "What makes you think it's even my kink outside work?"

Blair licked his lips wet enough to make words. People didn't always like it when he shared what he'd noticed. "Two things. You told me you'd love spanking me and I know you weren't lying about that. How far you go with all of this through choice, I don't know. I don't know how far I want it to go yet, either. The second…" He let his hands slide apart and brought hem around in front of him, rubbing one wrist absently. "Well, you're hard. Harder than me. I can't think of a good reason for that --"

"Want me to tell you?" Jim interrupted. He sat up straight and glared down at Blair as if that, out of everything Blair had said, had annoyed him.

"I'd love that." Blair looked at Jim. "Or you could just tell me to strip and get over your knee again. Or tell me how I can make you come because I will. I want to." He bit down on his lip, deliberately, slowly, doing it hard, then eased off so that Jim could watch his lip redden and swell.

"Stop that." Jim's voice was surprisingly mild. "It doesn't work when you do it on purpose." He pursed his lips and visibly reconsidered. "Well, not as much, anyway."

Blair sighed and settled back, making himself comfortable, or trying to. His feet were getting pins and needles.

"You can get up if you like," Jim said.

"Don't you like seeing me like this?"

"Not when you're wriggling," Jim said with a brutal frankness. "Get back up here."

"Okay. And I wasn't wriggling," Blair added with as much dignity as he could. "I was restoring circulation to my extremities."

Jim snorted. "I could do so much with a line like that, but I'll resist the temptation."

"All of it?"

Jim's hand ruffled Blair's hair until Blair's indignant snarl made him stop. "Blair -- I owe you something. You enjoyed it, but fifteen hundred dollars for one spanking is a rip off." He smiled, his eyes warm. "Fifteen hundred and a tip. Thanks for that, by the way."

"I didn't -- oh. The roses." Blair beamed at him, pleased. He'd sent them and then spent the night worried that it would seem weird. "Did your friend like them?"

"Yeah. I liked them better." Jim rubbed at his forehead. "I want you to get what you came to me for. I can't figure out a way to do it on the clock, but there's no way we're doing what you just said."

"Yes," Blair agreed. "Sorry. I can't stop doing that."

"Doing what?"

"Asking people out when they're like --" Blair waved his hand over his head and gave Jim a companionable smile. "You know. Out of my league. But sometimes it works. I think I shock them into saying yes."

"You're seriously lacking in confidence, aren't you?"

"No. I just recognise a truth once I've had my nose rubbed in it."

Jim shook his head. "Not by me."

"You won't consider dating me," Blair pointed out. "I didn't even get a chance to fail. That's worse."

"You're too young, too inexperienced, too …" Jim faltered, and his gaze dropped away. "No. That's not it and I won't lie to you about it. I don't care about the first and the second's more of a turn on than you know."

"It wouldn't be for long," Blair said, and resorted to pleading. "No one's ever lasted for longer than, uh, five dates, and I'm not sure you can count the fifth because she stood me up."

"What do you do to them?" Jim asked, looking bemused.

"I don't know!" Blair couldn't help laughing because Jim's expression was so bewildered. "They just don't stick around. I swear I don't do anything gross in public or serenade them in the moonlight. I just… I'm just me, I guess and they don't like it."

"You don't ask hookers for dates, Blair." Jim sounded kind. "It's not something that ends well. Think about it."

He didn't have to; he was finding it all too easy to stay in step with Jim and understand the man's point from just a hint or a few words. Jim might not see many clients, but he was still available to them and Blair couldn't see that changing. And his mother would freak, for all her surface tolerance of alternative lifestyles. Dating a man; that, she'd go along with; even applaud given that she was as aware of Blair's dead in the water love life as he was. Dating a man in Jim's line of work… not so much.

"You have to have a personal life," he argued. "It's a job, like any other. It doesn't stop you seeing people; you told me that much yourself. Or do you lie to them about what you do?"

"Sometimes," Jim said, his voice cool, barriers up.

"No need to lie to me." Blair tried to find the words he needed to keep Jim in his life a little longer. He was going to stand up, walk out any minute now. "Jim -- " He couldn't get past that single word. "Jim," he repeated, helplessly. "Fuck. Turn me down and where will I go?"

"Lots of places. I gave you a list." A muscle twitched in Jim's cheek.

"Okay. I'll go there. I'll… I'll cruise, get picked up, go into a back room with someone, let them do what they want to me, nasty, dirty, fucking perfect things." Blair could hear himself screaming the words in his head but they were coming out in an intense whisper which had to be why Jim was leaning in, so he could hear them, his breath warm on Blair's face. "Does that get you hard, too? Is that what you want me to do?"

"No. Fuck, no." Jim jerked back. "Shit."

Shaky, triumphant, knowing he'd won, even if he didn't know why, Blair pointed at the bag. "Open it. Get what you need. You do it. You."

"Do what?" Jim asked him.

Blair slid down to his knees, facing away from Jim, and positioned himself how he'd been when he'd got the standing ovation from his dick. He let his head sink down low. "I don't know, man. You're in charge now."

He felt Jim gather his hair and push it aside and waited for a kiss on the exposed nape, knowing he was going to jump and quiver even expecting it as he was.

Jim's teeth sank in, savage, sweet, sucking and hurting, licking at the skin his teeth had captured, moaning against it, his hand tugging Blair's head so that the bow of Blair's neck was angled to suit him. He held Blair like that, balanced between the two contact points of his hand and his mouth until Blair broke and cried out a warning because he was going to come and he couldn't, not from that, not just from that.

Jim's other hand swept up across Blair's chest, something to lean into, something to hold him up and then he was pulled back against Jim, who was kneeling behind him. He turned his head to get kissed, his body startled, electric, alive.

"Hell of a first date," Jim said into his ear.



*****



"Is that what this is now?"

Jim considered that as he breathed in a noseful of Blair. He smelled of soap and water and shampoo. Jim would have put money on Blair leaving his shower to the last moment to make sure he was squeaky clean and then running out of time after it to do more than swipe deodorant under his arms. He didn't smell fancy and he didn't smell expensive.

Just clean. And his hair was still damp underneath; strands of it clinging to his neck when Jim had pushed the weight and wealth of curls aside to get at skin to kiss.

And then he'd bitten Blair instead, giving way to an impulse, a need to show Blair that this wasn't all fucking moonlight and roses. Blair was safer being a client. Jim wouldn't have bitten a client.

He didn't want to hurt Blair, but marking him where it wouldn't show wasn't hurting him. And he'd needed to see how Blair would deal with it. Christ, he'd felt the reaction rush through Blair, like wind through an open window, and been left breathless himself. Blair had tensed, then melted; made this sound, all shock, all pleasure, this grateful, happy sound… fuck, Blair hadn't been the only one close to coming.

Close; no more than that. Jim had been in this line of work for too long to come accidentally or early. Control was what got you the big tips, the return clients, and even now, it was a habit he'd have to make an effort to break.

"No," he said finally, and soothed Blair's instinctive jerk and retreat with a nuzzle into the soft, fragile skin below and behind Blair's ear. He knew just where he could find more skin like that on Blair's body, in hidden hollows, dark, secret, sun-shy places. Sensitive places. Press hard enough on them and it hurt; lick and breathe on them and you got, well, different reactions. He'd put money on Blair being vocal in a quiet way, all shamed, stifled whimpers, bitten-back moans.

It would be fun to teach him that screaming was okay sometimes. To hear him stammer something sweet and stunned in a hoarse, raw whisper after coming harder than he ever had. Jim wasn't sure it was worth trying to get Blair to be silent without a gag to back up a command. He knew his limitations.

"I don't get it."

Jim's jacket was out of reach which meant he was going to have to move. With a final, indulgent nip at Blair's earlobe, velvet skin, taking his teeth in soft, swiftly vanishing dents, pink, white, red, peppermint candy canes… okay, he had to focus before he said any of this aloud.

He eased Blair away, not bothering to hide his reluctance, and got his jacket. A flicker of disappointment crossed Blair's face, then changed to resignation too fast for Jim's peace of mind. "I'm not going anywhere," he said by way of reassurance, as he took out his phone. "Just need to call the office."

Blair settled down with his back against the couch, stretched out his legs and wiggled his toes. "Why?"

"Because." Blair rolled his eyes and Jim grinned, only a small part of his attention on the burr of the phone ringing; the rest on Blair. He wasn't going to be saying anything he minded Blair hearing, so he could move closer, maybe sit beside him, maybe… Blair smiled back at him, open and friendly, and Jim turned away. What the fuck was he doing?

"Ellison Agency."

Simon. It would be Simon.

"It's me."

Simon who knew where everyone was at any given time and would know --

"Something wrong?"

Jim could use a code word in the next sentence. Could get backup, a cleaning crew, hell, given some of their connections, the police, if needed. Simon wouldn't have panicked, that deep voice remaining calm until the crisis was over, when he'd be the one bellowing as Jim winced, placating him, soothing him.

Simon was the best business partner, the best friend Jim could have wished for, but he wasn't going to like this.

"No. I just need you to cancel a transaction for me. The details should all be in the file."

Blair moved, stood. Jim heard the sounds, matched them to actions, and turned to see Blair walking toward him, his expression determined. Jim held up a single finger to warn him to stay quiet and turned his attention back to Simon.

"Yes, for the client I'm with now. Simon, just --" He rubbed his hand over his eyes. He felt tired. That meant he needed a bed. A bed with Blair in it. Blair not wearing baggy jeans and a plaid fucking shirt but skin, bare skin. His hand remembered the feel of it, heated, hungry skin. "I don't want to discuss this."

"No? Well, I do. What happened this time?"

"Tomorrow, okay? Simon, just cancel the fucking charge, will you?"

He heard tapping, brisk, angry, loud. "Done," Simon said. "Mr. Sandburg's now enjoying the pleasure of your company for free."

"Good." Jim said, and added a belated, "Thanks."

"Don't mention it." Simon sighed. "I'll see you tomorrow, Jim. Just be careful, okay?"

"I'm always --"

"No," Simon said flatly. "You're not."

He ended the call before Simon could start giving examples, names, and dates, and tossed the phone onto the couch beside his jacket after turning it off.

"You didn't have to do that."

"You wanted a date. Now it can be one."

"And if you're giving me the illusion of one as part of my time then I should be paying."

"You know I'm not." Jim took in the flushed, troubled expression on Blair's face and sighed. "Blair, it's okay. It's not a big deal."

"You can afford me?" Blair said dryly. "Hey, look at it this way; I'm costing you five hundred bucks now." The flush deepened but he was trying to smile. "Not sure you'll get your money's worth."

"That is not the way it is," Jim told him. "Shit." He rubbed at his mouth, where he could still taste Blair, and wanted more.

"So." Blair hesitated. "Can we still have sex?"

"You have to ask?" Jim studied him. Yeah, clearly Blair did.

"It's a date now," Blair said, as if that explained everything. "I'd like to tell you that my dates all include sex, but then I'd be lying and I don't want to do that."

"But we decided to make this a date so that you could have sex." Jim felt the situation begin to slip away from him again. He'd thought it would get easier, but it hadn't.

"Yes, but if we're on a date it shouldn't be all about me," Blair said. "And I don't want you to do something you don't want to do."

"I don't make a habit of it, so relax." Jim shook his head. "How about we just get naked and take it from there?" he asked, trying for casual.

"Naked? Both of us, you mean?" Blair swallowed audibly. "Okay, that was stupid, even for me. Can we pretend I didn't say it?"

Jim wished he could. He was flying blind here, certain only of the attraction he felt. A one-sided attraction if Blair was shying away from something as basic as looking at him naked -- no.

Pushing him away.

Insecure, needy, and self-aware to a scary degree.

Jim thought it over, trying to figure out the best way to handle it, gave up, and went with the not that subtle hint of Blair nearly coming from a single bite.

"No. And it wasn't stupid; you're scared. I get that. It just hasn't stopped you this far so I don't see why you think it will now. Bed. Get naked and get on it. Now, please."

He turned away before Blair had chance to reply, and picked up the bag he'd brought with him.

"Am I going to get to see what's in there?"

Jim gave Blair a pleasant smile. "If you don't do as I told you, I can guarantee it."

Blair took a step back and then another, fumbling at his shirt.

Thank God. Really, really bad shirt… be nice to see it go. Jim refused to let himself admit that his relief was mostly down to Blair obeying him. Every instinct he had for this game was screaming at him not to let Blair analyze and argue them out of sex.

And it didn't make any difference what he wanted, because they were things Blair seemed to do as naturally as breathing.

The bed was the double Sam had complained about, made neatly, in contrast to the crowded shelves, where books were stacked in no order that Jim could see, though he had the feeling that Blair knew exactly where each one was and wanted it there. The cover was a huge blanket in a deep rich red, soft and thick, that draped over the bed and brushed the carpet.

Blair gave the bed an uncertain look, as if he'd never seen it before and couldn't imagine who had put it there, and then finished stripping, doing it fast and clumsy and without any attempt to make it sexy.

Jim, who had once spent an hour sitting fully dressed in a chair, giving a beautiful woman standing a few yards away precise instructions on how to strip for him without ever touching her or raising his voice past a cool, low murmur (she'd come twice, pausing momentarily, trembling, her eyes sliding closed) made the first of many mental notes and kept his mouth shut.

Blair finished, looking at Jim for an approval he was going to have to earn, and then at the bed. He was half-hard, no more, shivering slightly. "How do you, uh, want me?"

Jim tossed the bag on the floor at the foot of the bed after taking out a couple of condoms and a small bottle of lube. "Kneeling." He worked his top button undone and lost his shirt, shoes, and socks, moving as quickly as Blair but without any of the fumbling. He left his pants on and joined Blair on the bed, where he pushed up the pillows and leaned back against them. He stretched out, watching for a flicker of relief that he wasn't naked, and didn't get it.

Ah. Oh, well; he'd learned in the army that you could make mistakes and get away with them, but indecision got people killed. His pants would have to stay on. He put the condoms and lube on the nightstand beside a Kleenex box and a bottle of water and felt Blair's gaze track his hand.

"What is it?"

"Do we need them?" Blair nodded at the supplies. "I, uh, I'm still not sure I want you to, uh…"

"Anytime you tell me something's a red light for you, you're going to have to tell me specifically when that changes, so don't worry." Jim flicked the edge of one packet. "Those are if we get around to blow jobs, unless you want to hold off on that, and the lube, well, that's just handy for a lot of things." He shrugged. "To be honest, I was just on autopilot there."

"I've had blow jobs without a condom before," Blair objected.

Jim bit back a comment that would have emerged as a snarl. "Not from me."

"I trust you."

"Good way to catch a lot of interesting diseases," Jim told him. "Look, I'm clean; I didn't stop getting tested when I retired; sets a good example to the staff. Anyone working for me gets blood work done regularly and if they're doing drugs, they're gone and if they're sick, they're taken care of, but they don't work for me again. I'm healthy and I stay that way because I'm careful." He eyed Blair sourly. "You're an idiot if you've been fucking people without one."

"I haven't!" Blair protested. "I always did. Always. Just not for blow jobs." He blushed. "And I got tested, too. After that first time with you." He fidgeted with the blanket, pinching it up and then smoothing it down. "I'm fine, not that I thought I wouldn't be." He looked up, his expression anxious. "Not that I thought I'd caught anything off you, I didn't think that, I didn't, really, it just seemed like a good idea."

"It was," Jim assured him. "And I'm glad you did. I'm just still not letting you blow me without one and I really don't want to talk about it now, okay?" Blair's naiveté didn't surprise him, though Blair's trust left him in a cold panic when he thought of those numbers and addresses he'd handed over. Shit. No way Blair was going anywhere on that list with an attitude like that. No fucking way.

Blair frowned, and studied his thumbnail with an unconvincing intensity before biting at it. which Jim could have told him never worked out. Time for a distraction. Jim spread his legs wide enough to make space for Blair and nudged Blair's knee with his bare foot. He patted the bed and then crooked his finger. "Come here."

He swore he could hear Blair's heartbeat kick up a notch, but Blair moved -- silently, which was freaky -- and knelt between Jim's legs as far up as he could get.

Jim grabbed another pillow and shoved it behind him, more or less sitting up now.

Okay.

He drew up his legs and brought them in close enough to rub against Blair's body, watching Blair's face and keeping his own expression calm. Blair's hands were cat-claw flexing against his thighs but that didn't matter; Jim planned to give him something else to do with those hands very soon.

"You remember what to say if you want me to stop?"

"Are we still doing that?"

"Yes. You can pick another word but we're still doing it."

"What's yours?" Blair countered.

Jim chuckled. "That's not a bad idea as long as you don't mind me using it when you start talking when you should be not talking."

"I like asking questions," Blair relaxed when he was talking; the tension in his shoulders eased away, and his hands moved in a visual accompaniment to his words. Translating those expressive gestures wasn't always easy; it meant not watching Blair's mouth reshape itself and that was a sacrifice.

"Questions are good," Jim allowed. "Running commentary on the other hand…"

"I'm used to thinking aloud."

"I've noticed that." Jim shrugged. "Red works for me, too."

"So what now?" Blair began. "Are you going to --?"

"I'm going to get to know you," Jim said. "That's what people do on first dates, right?"

"I guess." Blair gave him a doubtful look. "Doesn't that mean a lot of talking?"

"No." Jim pushed his hands slowly through Blair's hair, fitting his fingers to the shape of Blair's skull and his thumbs in the shallow hollows of his forehead. Warm. And the tangled curls parted easily, sliding against the backs of his hands with a silky tickle.

Blair's eyelids sank down in a drowsy flutter and he tilted his head back into the cradle of Jim's palms, making an appreciative murmur as Jim's fingers began to move in small, firm circles. He liked being touched? Good. Keeping one hand in place, cupping the back of Blair's head, Jim used his free hand to explore Blair's features, one finger following the curve of each eyebrow, then the bridge of Blair's nose, before he gave in to temptation and put the tip of his index finger against Blair's mouth.

Blair opened his eyes, went cross-eyed briefly, as he squinted down at it, and then gave it a tentative lick. Curious, Jim held it there, wondering what Blair would do.

He tilted his head back again.

Oh, nice. Jim approved the subtlety of that as much as the damp drag of Blair's bottom lip against the pad of his finger. Blair's lip was forced to curve out by the downward pressure of Jim's finger, his tongue slicking it with spit and a second, more lavish lick before his lip tugged free.

"You're enjoying this," Jim said, not troubling to hide his amusement. He rubbed his finger dry on Blair's chest, trailing it through the dark hair to a nipple but stopping short of touching it. "You can, uh, get to know me, as well, if you like."

Blair nodded and then gave Jim's hair a speculative, mischievous look. "Don't say it," Jim warned him.

"Has it always been short?" Blair asked. He chose to run his hand up Jim's arm, pausing to squeeze at muscles Jim kept solid through habit and pride.

"Yeah, I guess. What about you? You grow it long at college and never get around to cutting it?"

"No." Blair shook his head and Jim let his hand slip from Blair's neck to his back, scratching at it, taking his cue from the way Blair arched and writhed and nailing as many hot spots as he could. "In college it was short."

"You don't do anything the easy way, do you?"

"I was sixteen," Blair told him. "I hadn't had time to grow it."

"You were at college when you were -- no, forget it; I believe it."

"Where were you at sixteen, Jim? Here in Cascade? What high school?"

Blair's hand reached Jim's shoulder, paused, and then slid behind Jim's neck, pulling him forward before he could answer the swift patter of questions, a swift tug with Blair's head bobbed forward at the same time. Jim resisted out of surprise and then regretted it because Blair let go at once, moving back, breaking position, his face flushed. "Sorry, I just -- sorry."

"You wanted to kiss me?" Jim reached out and grabbed Blair's arm, stopping him from scrambling off the bed. "Hey. Hey"

"This isn't going to work."

"Red," Jim said through gritted teeth. "Red, scarlet, fucking crimson and --" He scanned his memory of a hundred crossword clues and came up with a final one. "Vermilion!"

"That's an orangey-red," Blair said. "And I don't think you can use more than one word or it gets confusing."

"You are one deliberately annoying son of a bitch, you know that?" Jim pounced on Blair and got him pinned to the bed without much trouble, his hands locked around Blair's wrists, shoving them up above Blair's head. It was a position he could get used to, especially when Blair's cock was hard and the head of it was pressing into the skin around Jim's navel, a blunt, hot push. "You want to kiss me, do it."

He rolled them over, reversing their positions, but kept a tight hold on Blair's wrists, holding them out to the side so Blair's weight was full on him. "Kiss me," he said softly. He stared up at wide blue eyes and felt the tremors running through Blair's body. "And because I just know you're going to ask me where, I'll tell you. My mouth. Shut me up, the way I've been doing to you." He had to be hurting Blair, the way his fingers were clamped, bones shifting as Blair's hands made fists, relaxed, bunched up again.

Had to be.

He didn't let go and he didn't look away. And when Blair's mouth came down on his, open and rough, he let himself be kissed; passive, his lips quiet, until Blair sobbed, a single sob of pure frustration, and then he put Blair under him again and kissed him back.

Kissing Blair, once he'd settled into it and there was less spit and teeth involved, was distracting enough that it took Jim a while to realize that once again they were off track.

Which led him to the next revelation; that yes, he'd had the whole thing planned and could probably have predicted to within two minutes just when Blair would climax. Hell, he would have put money on being able to make Blair come whenever he wanted him to.

That was on the cold side. It would have been good for Blair-- Jim would have made sure it was -- but for all the wrong (professional pride, little bit of arrogance, lot of showing off) reasons.

And it wouldn't have been all that good for him, which was what Blair had been trying to tell him, but he hadn't listened, and now Blair, tongue busy, hands clawing at Jim's pants as if he thought he really could shred linen, was showing him.

Pride stung, Jim lifted himself up and unbuttoned his pants one-handed. "You want these off?" he demanded.

Blair nodded and Jim got off him, lying flat on his back. "Do it."

The lick Blair gave his lips before his fingers grasped the tag of Jim's zipper was arousing enough to make his job that much more difficult, but to give him credit he was careful as he tugged it down and eased the pants over Jim's hips and off. Eager, but careful.

Jim watched a two-hundred dollar pair of pants sail through the air and comforted himself with the reminder that linen was supposed to look creased.

Blair didn't move after that. Jim hooked a finger in the waistband of his shorts and raised an eyebrow. "Well?"

Another lip lick. "I need to know what you see us doing tonight," Blair said, with a bluntness Jim guessed was based in habit. "If I know, I can get used to the idea."

So much for unscripted… Jim propped himself up on his elbows and stared down at his erection, which, even hidden behind white cotton, was hard to miss. He knew what it was going to look like when -- if -- his shorts came off and he didn't think he could will it soft again.

"I see me getting out of these, with or without your help."

"I'll do it if I can take my time," Blair offered unexpectedly.

"Knock yourself out, Chief." Jim snagged a pillow for his head and put his hands behind his neck, well aware that he looked good like that but more interested in looking cooperative.

Blair got between Jim's legs again, kneeling but crouched over, his hands on either side of Jim's waist. He stared down, holding his position for long enough that Jim, who could outwait a cat, gave up trying to see Blair's face and let his gaze wander around the room, picking out the odd book he had on his own shelves and waiting patiently for Blair to get around to touching him, maybe.

The wet heat of Blair's mouth, soaking through the cotton a moment after the contact had been made brought Jim's attention snapping back abruptly.

"Hey, you don't have to --" he began, but Blair had already stopped, his teeth releasing the shaft of Jim's cock which he'd bitten gently, head tilted sideways, the bite of a mama lion carrying a cub.

"Shush," Blair said absently doing it to one of Jim's balls and smiling when it jiggled free, chasing it and kissing it briefly before -- yeah, he was sniffing him. Jim felt a spasm of panic -- was he sweaty, stinky, what? -- but Blair must have liked it because he gave the head of Jim's cock a smooch and a lick through the shorts.

Jim tried to think when he'd last had a blow job wearing his shorts. Still on, with his dick pulled through the split, sure, but like this? No. The cotton was getting damp, clinging, sticking, dragging, and Blair's exhalations sent tiny shivers through a puzzled length of stiffened flesh.

Cat licks. Neat, precise, distanced, and, when Blair leaned over far enough, Jim had to deal with the brush of Blair's hair on his thighs, each strand doing its best to get every hair on Jim's body to stand up and wave.

It had been a while since he'd had a blow job. When he was working they were rare; most people liked getting, not giving, and Jim gave good ones…and not many clients were all that bothered about getting him off.

He remembered one guy who had wanted to kneel for him, his hand busy in his lap, his mouth full of Jim's cock. The guy hadn't been too bad at it and Jim had been moaning, hips rocking carefully, feeling some kindness toward all mankind, when the son of a bitch had come, took his mouth away and jerked off all over Jim's fucking shoes, eyes closed, oblivious to the fact that Jim had been seconds away from coming, his balls tight, his cock throbbing.

It shouldn't have bothered him as much as it did. It was all about the client, always. His own arousal was nice if he didn't have to fake it, but if he did, he could, there were ways. And some clients didn't want him to come while they were watching. What he'd done in the bathroom of Blair's hotel room, well, it wasn't the first time that had been necessary.

But that guy… jerk, pure and simple. He hadn't been enjoying controlling Jim, or getting off on depriving him of a climax; Jim would have been fine with that. No, he just hadn't thought of Jim as anything worthy of consideration, as if he was some up-scale blow-up doll. Jim remembered peeling the condom off with hands that were shaking with the need to punch a wall, a face, himself for being stupid, his arousal wiped away by sheer disgust.

He hadn't seen a client for two months after that. Had handed in his resignation to Jack, the owner of what was just called The Agency back then, and spent a lot of time drinking in the dark.

Jack had tried to talk him around, offering him inducements, encouragement, advice. It'd been nice to feel wanted, but he'd said no until Jack lost patience with him and then there was nothing to do but hand over the key to the apartment that came with the job and pack.

It had taken him under three hours to do that, most of it spent in cleaning the place, and it took two trips from the apartment to his car to empty the plush, snazzy space of all he owned. He didn't mind traveling light but that wasn't much to show for a man his age.

It would take him longer now; the loft he'd moved into, bare, unpretentious, with a view he never tired of, the city and the water, had filled up over the years.

Not that he'd expected to be there for long when he'd moved in; it had been an impulse buy, a deliberate attempt to start over in a new part of the city, but he'd made those kind of changes before and they'd never stuck.

And in some ways, this one hadn't either; he still had the loft but his job, well, he'd gone back to that, more or less…

Blair licked along the place where the waistband of Jim's shorts met his stomach, a wavering line of wet, sometimes on skin, sometimes cloth. Jim automatically sucked in his belly, thinking about doing some more of that rolling around with Blair on him, under him, against him, kissing him.

No expectations. No pressure. Except he wanted to make this the best sex Blair had ever had -- and he was back at the no pressure, because it wasn't going to be difficult and how pitiful was that?

Blair pulled back. Jim's shorts were damp enough in places for the flush of skin to be visible through the fabric. "Tell me something I can do that you like," he said when Blair hadn't moved for a long ten seconds, staring at the upthrust outline of Jim's cock and frowning slightly. "Or you can take a picture of my dick and I hope the two of you are very happy together."

"I'm sorry." Blair looked up. "I just haven't ever seen… well, mine, obviously, but from up here you can't see it the same, you know?" He gestured down at his own erection, which meant Jim could look at it, too, without feeling that he was making Blair uncomfortable. Nice. Average length and thickness, cut; Jim's wasn't much different. Maybe a little bigger than Blair, but who, apart from teenagers, measured? If you wanted them big, you usually wanted them huge; most agencies had at least one guy who qualified. For the majority of clients, Jim was more than enough and his ass was more of a selling point anyway.

Speaking of which, he liked Blair's ass. Oh, yeah. Really did.

"I suppose I could have looked in a mirror," Blair went on.

Jim grinned. "You mean you never have?"

"Man, that never occurred to me." Blair gave him an inquiring look. "Have you?"

"Sure, back when I was a kid," Jim said easily. Embarrassment about sex wasn't really part of his world anymore. "So you approve of the way I'm put together?"

Blair knee walked across the bed and grabbed a bottle of water on the nightstand, half empty. "Cotton mouth," he said to Jim, who snorted at the pun and delivered a reproving kick to Blair's foot.

After a few gulps, Blair turned back, his gaze speculative and focused. Bottle in hand, he got close again and then said in a soft murmur, "Can I --?"

Jim said 'yes' without thinking, without realizing what Blair was going to do, and yelped as a stream of water, cool enough to be shocking, was drizzled over his cock from tip to balls. It should have killed his arousal, but it didn't; not when Blair was looking at the blatantly displayed shape of Jim's cock, more naked than naked, the cotton close to transparent, and making a long, throaty moan of appreciation.

"God, you look --"

"Wet," Jim said, not willing to let Blair get away with that even if he had technically asked first. A trickle of water ran back behind his balls and he shuddered. "Fuck. Soaked. Fuck. You --" He stripped off his shorts, not caring if Blair hadn't finished looking, and balled them up, then tossed them away.

Then he saw the glint in Blair's eyes and nodded slowly. "I see."

"What?" The amusement in Blair's eyes was crowding out the blue.

"You want me to spank you." The eyes widened. Blair shook his head, and edged back. "Oh, you really do," Jim said with a pure, deep satisfaction that he was going to get his revenge.

"Jim! Hey! I'm sorry, I didn't…"

Jim paused, tapped the cover of the bed, the bright, deep red cover, which was a color that would look really good on Blair, and raised his eyebrows.

Blair got it. He got it fast, shaking his head still, but not for the same reason. Putting his mouth close to Jim's ear, he murmured, "Green, but you want my ass, you're going to have to work for it, okay?"

It took sixty seconds maybe, a wild flurry of a fight, with both of them grinning, wide, peeled back grins, a silent fight, real enough to leave a few bruises on Jim, real enough that he had to try hard to get Blair over his knee, and once there it took some effort to keep him there, but when the first smack landed, Blair stopped fighting.

Or maybe just changed his tactics.

He wasn't positioned right and Jim had no intention of letting it continue like this, but there was something about the sound his hand made connecting with Blair's, well, not his ass; he'd zigged and it had landed on his hipbone which had hurt Jim's hand more than Blair's ass. Something addictive, compelling.

With Blair suddenly compliant, his back rising and falling with quick, hungry breaths, his heart hammering against Jim's imprisoning arm, administering a second slap, right where he wanted it to go, on that place, there, where the skin, tinder dry, caught fire so easily, a palm print already blazing, burning as the second one landed, was just too tempting to pass on.

But after those two, Jim stopped. That got him a stifled, frustrated wail from Blair and his thigh worried by Blair's teeth.

"Stop that," Jim said mildly. "Those three were for getting me wet. We're even." Because he didn't want Blair to think he really minded, he added, "And I was playing. You want it for real, you've got to ask for it."

"I want it." Blair twisted his head so that Jim could see him. "But I want to make you come. Not just me."

"I'm planning on it," Jim said, amused and a little touched. "Come up here." He helped Blair to stand and then got up too. He wrapped his arms around Blair and kissed him. Naked. Both of them hard, Blair's body straining against his, eager and hot and strong.

"You just don't hold back, do you?" he said, the words mumbled against Blair's mouth because he didn't want to lose contact with it. "Want to see you lose it, Blair. Want to make you scream."

He felt Blair's hands brush his ass lightly, then with more assurance. "I don't scream. But I'll beg."

"You'll do both," Jim promised. He grinned. "In fact, sweetheart, I can have you begging to scream."

Blair snickered. "Yes, Jim," he said demurely.

Jim allowed Blair to think he'd got away with that. He'd been smiling, but he hadn't been joking; he'd let Blair find that out for himself.

"So you wanted to know what I'd brought with me?"

Blair pulled back a little, looking up at Jim. "Yeah, Mary Poppins. Show me."

"Blair," Jim said, opening the bag and turning it upside down so that the contents scattered across the blanket like an X-rated piñata. "Pissing me off before I spank you is a terrible idea. Want to know why?"

Blair shrugged, chewing on his lip. "Uh, I'll be sleeping on my front for a week and eating standing up?" He didn't look like the idea bothered him.

"No. You just won't get spanked until I stop being pissed because I won't lay a finger on you when I'm angry, and by the way, I hold a grudge better than anyone." Jim smiled at him. "So. Now we've got that misunderstanding cleared up…"

Blair's attention got diverted to the bed. "Oh, wow."

Blair was close to coming, Jim noted with an interest that was still a little professional. Just from looking. In fact, he bet he could make Blair come using that flogger he was gaping at, the one with the soft, wide strands, without ever actually cracking it against his skin, just from ordering Blair to touch it, maybe trailing it over his open, gasping mouth or along his spread thighs, maybe wrapping each strand around Blair's dick, fucking his mouth with the handle, slowly, slowly…

Blair reached out a hand to touch, and, yes, he was going for the flogger, his fingers outstretched, when he froze.

"Jim? Do you --?"

Jim was already moving to scoop up everything and jam it back in the bag, metal jangling, leather whispering, old habits kicking in fast. "A car? Yeah. You order pizza?"

Pants. Where were his --? Oh, there…

"No."

"Expecting visitors?"

"No."

Jim finished zipping his pants, going commando because his shorts really were just too damn wet, and grabbed his shirt. "Any ideas?"

Blair reached down and gave his waning erection a regretful pat. "It's Naomi. Has to be."

"Your girlfriend?" Jim paused mid-sock. "Blair --"

"My mom, damn it." Blair wasn't bothering to get dressed. He pulled on his shorts and then a robe, and tied it with angry tugs. "She wasn't supposed to be back for days."

"Hey." Fully dressed and presentable, Jim walked over to Blair and cupped his face, then let his fingers drift over the bite mark on Blair's neck. He pressed on it gently. "It's okay. We can do this another time."

"Sure," Blair said flatly, and jerked his face away. Outside, what must have been a taxi was reversing and Jim could hear a key being fitted to a lock.

And see the despair in Blair's partially averted face.

On impulse, motivated less by frustration than sympathy -- and selfishness because he didn't want the night to end any more than Blair did, Jim said, "How long will it take for you to get her settled in? She'll have jet lag, right? Be exhausted?"

Blair laughed without amusement. "Naomi? Are you kidding? She'll probably shower and be at a party in an hour. She'll want to see me and make sure I'm okay, but she won't stick around."

"Then there's no problem." Jim shrugged. "Get dressed, say hi, and let's go."

"Go where?" There was a puzzled, expectant look on his face now.

Jim checked his watch, ignoring the first call of Blair's name in a musical voice, sweet and giddy. "It's only nine. We can go anywhere you like." He picked up his bag. "Or you can come back to my place and pick up where we left off." He grinned. "Want to sleep over, Chief?"


*****



Blair knew Naomi wouldn't walk into his room. She had, once, and caught him jerking off. The embarrassment he could have dealt with; the way she insisted on talking it through was harder to cope with. She'd continued to wander in, convinced that they'd worked past the issue, and only stopped when he'd bought a lock for the door and asked her if he needed to use it or if she'd respect that it was his space.

You just had to use words she understood.

'No' wasn't one of them and 'please' didn't work that well, either.

Blair also knew that she would've seen Jim's car and getting them out of the house without an introduction would only work if they climbed out of a window.

"I'd like that," he told Jim. "But you don't have to -- I mean, I don't have to stay the night."

"I'd throw in pancakes," Jim said. "Round ones."

Blair looked from Jim's smiling eyes and studiously serious mouth to the white splash of Jim's shorts against the red blanket. Okay. He got dressed and packed his toothbrush, a change of clothes, and, from force of habit, the book he was reading. He was going to do this. He'd fuck it up and Jim would serve him those pancakes out of politeness and they'd exchange the usual empty promises to call that were so threadbare and shoddy, they couldn't be accepted at face value by even the most optimistically deluded, but he was going to do it.

"I have that book," Jim said. "Enjoyed it. But I really hope you don't plan on reading much of it tonight. I've got other things for your hands to hold and your eyes to look at."

Blair grinned. "That sounds too neat to be off the cuff."

"Busted," Jim said lightly. "I've got a list of seduction lines memorised. That was number five."

"You don't need to seduce me," Blair said. "I'm hooked, remember?"

"You keep wriggling." Jim was close enough that Blair could almost smell the frustration simmering off his skin, a salt-sweat musk that made Blair want to fall to his knees without anything as superfluous as an order and go to the source.

That reminded him of Jim's insistence that they stick to using condoms for blow jobs. Blair knew all about the risks -- and in his opinion, considering everything, this wasn't much of one. Walking over to his desk, he took out his blood test results, scarily comprehensive, and gave them to Jim, who accepted the form with a puzzled frown until he saw what it was and his face cleared.

"Okay," Jim said a moment later, handing them back. "Thanks. But I believed you before."

"I haven't had sex, apart from with you, in, uh, eight months," Blair said. "I'm safe to suck and so are you."

Jim's mouth twitched in what might have been a grin. "'Safe to suck?'" he repeated. "Want to put that on a T-shirt?" He reached into a side pocket of his bag, that bag -- God, Blair couldn't believe his mom's timing, seriously fucked-up, seriously -- and took out his own version of Blair's form.

Blair read it because it was words and reading them was automatic, but he didn't need to. He couldn't imagine Jim lying to him about something that would put him in danger.

"So?"

Jim tucked the form away and sighed. "It's not just you and me. It's whoever we're with next. I can't put any of my clients at risk."

"It wouldn't be one," Blair argued. "And I thought you didn't do that anymore."

"I came here tonight, didn't I?" Jim's eyes matched his mouth now and the coldness seemed to be genuine. "Blair, I can get you off when you're suited up; don't worry about it."

"Okay," Blair said. "But when I return the favor, I want you bare. There's no risk to you that way and it's my choice to make."

"Do you ever stop?" Jim said after an incredulous, furious glare had lasted longer than Blair thought one could. "Ever?"

"No," Blair admitted. "Get used to it or, well, do what everyone else did."

"Oh, no." Jim smiled, thin and sharp. "When I walk out of here, I'm taking you with me. Now tell me what cover story you want me to use with your mother."

"I wasn't planning on telling her anything but the truth." Blair sighed. "Sorry; I should have discussed that with you first; maybe you don't want her to know what your job is?"

"And you do?" Jim's hand was back on Blair's face again. He did that a lot, Blair thought distantly. "Blair, she went away thinking you were single and straight; she comes back and finds you dating a man who makes a living selling sex and I'm guessing no matter how liberal she is --"

"You have no idea," Blair put in.

"She's still not going to like it." Jim's voice was firm but gentle as his hand slipped away. "Tell her I'm a friend and you were showing me something in here. Lending me a book, maybe."

"That's probably not going to work, but even if it did, it would only work once." Blair looked away. Okay, that had to be the lamest plea for a second date ever.

"True." Jim grimaced. "Break it down. Are you sure about coming out to her?"

"Why not?" Blair shrugged. "That's not going to bother her. She's mentioned it as a possibility before."

"But you're not sure how she'll react to my job."

"She… won't like that," Blair said slowly. "But she doesn't need to know tonight."

"She'll find out eventually," Jim said. "If you keep me around." He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "But maybe we should keep it simple for tonight."


*****



"Mom, this is Jim. He's my…"

"Your?" Naomi repeated, still smiling from the kiss Jim had given her hand. Jim had made it seem as natural as the look of frank appreciation in his face when Naomi had rushed over to them, fresh from a shower, her red hair a shade darker, a flutter of apple-green silk revealing, not concealing, her body.

Naomi was beautiful. Blair could appreciate that fact objectively; he just wished so many of his friends hadn't felt the need to tell him how hot or awesome she was. It wasn't something a twelve-year-old needed to hear. In fact, it wasn't something he ever wanted to hear. He waited, resigned, for Jim to get added to the list of her admirers.

"Blair and I…" Jim let his sentence trail off, arched his eyebrow, and gave Naomi a conspiratorial smile. "We met when you were away, and, well…"

"Oh…" Naomi drew the word out in a long, startled gasp that gave her time to decide how she wanted to react. Blair had seen her do that a hundred times; it was a trick he'd picked up himself; let your mouth move and say nothing much while you give yourself time to think. Naomi's gaze flicked over Jim, summing him up efficiently and ruthlessly now.

"Oh," she said softly, her smile wide, delighted. Jim got a butterfly-light kiss on his cheek and Blair a hug that transferred some of her vibrant, humming energy to him. "Well, that's wonderful news."

"I think so," Jim said pleasantly.

Okay, that had gone well, but all Blair's instincts were telling him that it was time to go. Naomi would start to ask questions soon, and she'd want answers.

"Mom, I hate to do this when you've just got back, but Jim and I had plans and we're running late."

"Well, don't think of changing them on my account," she said firmly.

The nice thing was that she was sincere about that. Blair gave her a hug and a kiss on her cool, rose-scented cheek. "I'll be back tomorrow sometime; I'll see you then and we can catch up, right?"

He got an apologetic moue. "I might be out, sweetie; I promised to take some organic honey over to Drew and Justin. But when the time is right to talk, we'll both be here, I'm sure of it."

Blair grinned at her, feeling a familiar surge of affection. It wouldn't surprise him to come back and find her already planning another trip -- or even already gone. "Whenever," he said.

"Whenever," she agreed. She turned to Jim. "And I want to meet you properly very soon, Jim."

Okay, maybe this time she would be sticking around. Blair shoved the twinge of worry away. It wasn't likely that Jim would have to face her curiosity, after all. A date. Singular.

Jim smiled and inclined his head. "I'll look forward to that, Naomi."

They watched her walk away, a comment about meditating to restore her balance after the flight drifting back like the thin spiral of smoke from a joss stick, and then Jim ran his hand from the nape of Blair's neck to the base of his spine, an unhurried, possessive caress that made Blair's body scream out for more, and his arousal flare brightly again.

"Run?" Jim murmured into his ear. "Before I destroy that good first impression?"

"I don't think you could," Blair murmured back. "You were very, uh, polite."

"She's easy to be nice to." Blair tilted his head obligingly, and gave Jim's mouth access to the side of his neck. Warm, tickling kisses… "And if you're sure bending you over the couch would go down well…"

Blair snickered. "You wouldn't."

"Yeah, I would," Jim said seriously. "If I thought you wanted it, I'd do it. But it wouldn't be a good idea. Let's go, huh?"

Blair stopped staring at the couch with an effort of will. "Um, yeah, sure." He took a few steps and then stopped and shook himself like a dog emerging from a river. "God."

Jim didn't ask for an explanation but the expectant, focused look in his eyes was lightened by a flicker of amusement.

It didn't take long to make the drive into the city, not when it turned out that Jim lived on the edge of it, down near the bay. Jim drove fast, but with too much competence for Blair to feel concerned. He relaxed against the black leather seat and played with the settings on it until Jim reached over and slapped his hand away. "Stop that."

"Sorry." Blair gave him an unrepentant grin. "Nice car." Cars weren't his thing, but responding to the sleek lines of the sports car and the subdued growl of the engine wasn't difficult.

Jim shrugged. "It's the agency's, not mine. Well, I suppose that makes it mine, but it's one any of us can drive. Makes a good impression. I'd have used my own to come to see you, but it's in for servicing."

"What do you drive?" Blair asked, thinking along the lines of something Italian, expensive, lean, and low.

Jim smiled, took a turn with a squeal of rubber and raised his hand dismissively to someone who objected to him claiming the right of way. "1969 pickup truck. Needed some work so I got a good deal. I wanted to restore her myself, but I don't have all that much time so I found a mechanic instead."

There was something wistful in Jim's voice but before Blair could reply, they pulled up outside a small, private underground parking lot. "I live over there," Jim said, nodding toward a row of shops with what looked like converted warehouse space above them. "Third floor. Not safe to park this outside, though, so I rent a space here. Hop out and grab your stuff and I'll just leave this with the attendant."

As he waited, Blair looked around. It wasn't a rundown part of the city exactly, but it wasn't what he'd expected. The tang of saltwater was strong enough for him to guess that the bay was close, although it was too dark to see it, and overlaying that was a spicy smell he tracked to a Thai restaurant a few hundred yards away.

An old woman, her face wrinkled like a winter apple, ambled by, pushing a cart full of… stuff. Blair waited to be hit on for spare change, and felt through his pockets for some as unobtrusively as possible. She just gave him an incurious look that blossomed into a smile as Jim appeared, his bag in one hand, his other hand vanishing into his pocket.

"Jimmy!"

"Hi there, Mrs. DeLuca." Jim bent over and submitted to a hug that lasted long enough for him to slide a folded dollar bill into the pocket of her coat. It was done smoothly, but as she trundled her cart away, Blair saw her pat her coat, head cocked as if she was listening for a reassuring crackle of paper.

"Friend?" Blair asked politely.

Jim shook his head. "She found out I was called Jim; she's got it into her head I'm her son's cousin or something. Keeps asking if I've seen Mickey today."

"And he's not around?" They crossed the street, dodging a kid on skates, arms windmilling wildly, and headed for the entranceway, next to a dress shop.

"I asked a cop friend of mine; he's doing ten to fifteen for holding up a store and shooting the owner in the leg." Jim led the way up some stairs, talking back over his shoulder. "With him gone, she lost her place, but she won't let anyone get her an apartment. Just wanders around with that cart."

"That's terrible," Blair said.

Jim rounded a corner. More stairs. Blair was beginning to wish they'd taken the elevator but he supposed Jim had his reasons for avoiding it.

"She manages," Jim said briefly. "I'm not the only one looking out for her, not that I do much."

He didn’t seem to be out of breath at all. Blair was feeling the effects of too many hours spent hunched over a keyboard typing away and the stairwell was hot, the walls painted a long time ago by the look of it.

"Have you lived here long?" he asked, just as they came to a front door.

Jim fished out a key and opened it. "Few years," he said uncommunicatively. "I bought it last year."

"Oh?" Blair stepped inside and blinked. "Wow."

Jim closed the door and took Blair's overnight bag from him, dropping it on a chair and putting his own on the floor. "Thanks."

Blair stood in place, letting his gaze wander. Compared to Naomi's place, it wasn't that much, maybe, but the airy, open space… he felt as if he could breathe here. He proved it by taking a deep, contented breath. He registered the fact that Jim had been a customer at the Thai restaurant recently, and then wandered in deeper, after kicking off his shoes. Something told him that Jim wouldn't mind.

"You can see the water," he noted, when he'd finished scanning the books shelved here and there, doing his best not to stare openly at the photographs, although one which had Jim in a uniform of some kind had been difficult to skip over. It really didn't fit his image of Jim.

The loft was furnished with some furniture that looked expensive but comfortable, although the pale fabric on the couch made Blair feel like avoiding it.

 Jim opened the balcony doors and they wandered out onto the small patio. Blair brushed his fingers over a glossy leafed plant in a huge ceramic planter, and traced the deep dent in the leaf that funneled the water to where it was needed.

"I sit out here a lot," Jim said. He leaned on the wall. "Watch the boats… listen to the gulls… It's quieter than you'd think."

"I like it," Blair said. "The mountains are quiet, too, but you're kind of distanced up there. Looking down on everything. Not part of it."

"It's good to be part of something," Jim said. He looked as if he was going to say something else, then hesitated. "Want a drink?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know," Jim repeated, sounding bemused. "Why don't you know?"

"I don't know if that's your way of saying you've changed your mind." He'd decided not to waste time being tactful or bashful. There was a clock ticking so loudly in his head he felt as if everyone in the building could hear it, checking off the moments before he ate the last syrup-drenched, buttery bite of the perfect pancakes Jim would cook for him, accompanied by freshly squeezed juice, expensive coffee beans ground and turned into fragrantly kick-ass coffee. He'd chew, swallow, and leave, and that would be that.

"About what?" Jim studied him, which shouldn't have made Blair's mouth dry up with pure, panicked lust, but it did. "Bending you over something?" His eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Maybe later," he decided. "Can we just get naked and come and take it from there? Because I don't know about you, but I can't take much more of this. I nearly ran the car off the road because I couldn't stop looking at you. And if that light at Franklin hadn't changed when it did, I'd have had no choice but to see it as a sign from above and start kissing you."

"Why didn't you?"

"I start and I won't stop." Jim sounded definite about that. "Why do you think I've kept my distance since we got here?"

Blair swallowed. "You don't need to. You can start anytime. I want you to start. I want --"

"Then go inside," Jim said, his eyes never leaving Blair's face. "Go in, go up the stairs, get naked and kneel on my bed. And I won't stop. I promise I won't. And I won't let you stop us with talking or questions or anything else." His teeth dug into his lip. "You need me to back off, and you know what to do, but other than that --"

"I'm going," Blair blurted out. "God, I'm doing it, okay?" He turned and took four stumbling, eager steps before Jim was on him, arms around him. Jim's mouth and teeth found the place on Blair's neck he'd bitten earlier, and sucked and licked it until Blair felt as if the skin there was going to thin and shred and yield, breaking him open for Jim. He was making sounds, meaningless, incoherent sounds, soft and anguished and desperate.

Jim's hands found their way to bare skin, Blair's skin, and stroked it with hard, demanding passes of palm and heel and fingertips that still managed to be frustratingly not enough. He wanted Jim on him, lying on him, weight bearing him down, Jim's thigh wedged between his legs, close, heavy, there.

"Not fast enough," Jim whispered against, into, Blair's neck, the words soaking his skin with heat. "Trying to tell me something? Want it here? Want to be fucked on the floor, get come all over it, that I'll make you clean up by the way, get bruises off it, ones that'll be there for days? I will, you know I will." He pulled away, and left Blair surrounded by aching emptiness until Jim's hands came to rest on his shoulders. "Or you can get your ass upstairs."

"I was," Blair said, the words hard to fashion from the spark and sizzle going on in his head. "Jim… I was."

"Not fast enough," Jim reminded him. He gave Blair a gentle push. "Go on."

Blair watched Jim walk quickly to where he'd left his bag and then realized that he wasn't moving. He made it up the stairs to an open area with a wide bed, right up against the railings that would, he hoped, stop them from falling out of bed and plunging to the floor below. He felt exposed, stripping in a place so open, but he did it anyway.

Jim arrived just as he was kicking his way free of his jeans, and gave him a vaguely disapproving look that made him flinch. "What? What did I do?"

Jim's expression went from puzzled to enlightened to guilty. "Sorry. Nothing. It's just…" He waved his hand. "The way you do that, it's not very seductive."

"I'm getting undressed," Blair informed him coldly. "I'm getting naked. That's plenty seductive for most people."

Jim looked as if he'd been hit when he wasn't expecting it. "I didn't mean -- "

"You meant it wouldn't be good enough if I was working for you, right?" Blair demanded. "I don't measure up to what you're used to?"

"Blair…" Jim took a deep breath. "There's no one that you have to compare yourself to."

Blair walked over to the bed, got on it, anger giving him all the strength he needed, and knelt, facing Jim, his spine a stiff line, his hands tight fists on his thighs. "Okay. I won't. But you want me to do something differently, just tell me. Hell, make it an order; spank me if I get it wrong." He frowned. "Or right; I'm not sure how that would work as a punishment because I'd like it, wouldn't I?"

Jim sighed. "I could do it so you wouldn't. Look --"

"No. I wasn't done." Blair licked his lips, and noticed that Jim seemed to like that, his tongue passing over his own lips in an unconscious echo. "Do that. Tell me. Train --God, yes -- train me, just don't ever look at me like that. Like I've disappointed you. Let you down. I can't take that from you. Everyone else. Not you."

Jim got undressed. From where Blair was kneeling it didn't look any different from his own clumsy rush, and then Jim was on the bed with him, holding him, in a way that was more like being clung to than held. They fell sideways; Jim was heavier than he'd expected, but as Blair kicked and squirmed until he got them just how he wanted them, he didn't really care.

"You're fucking with my head," Jim said and this time it was Blair's hair that got the words, tangled up in the strands, stuck there like gum. "I keep wanting to -- and you won't let me. You just don't."

"I'll let you do anything, Jim." There was a shoulder to kiss right there, smooth skin over so much bone and muscle it would take a long, long time to cover every inch. Blair settled for one particular inch, the one that made the exclamation point of Jim's dick and balls jerk and quiver just a little bit when his mouth fastened onto it. "You know that."

"Right… right…" Jim turned his head away and buried it into a pillow, scrubbing it across the softest cotton Blair had come across. The sheets were clean and smelled of fresh air. Blair wanted them to reek of sex and sweat, wanted to rumple and crumple and crease them. Wanted to leave his mark on the pristine perfection of this loft with its white on white walls, its copper panned kitchen, its honey-toned wood floor.

He knew where it was all coming from; this need to leave a sign that he'd been there that would last. It was coming from his fear that Jim would dismiss him as soon as the sheets had been stripped from the bed, the breakfast dishes tidied away. And really, the only marks he could leave were ones that would damage, mar. Jim's skin was barely touched with a freckle and he wanted to leave claw marks, bite marks, bruises? That was just freaky.

Better to ask Jim to leave those marks on him, so that he could remember, as he was the only one who was going to want to.

Yes. That would work. He just couldn't think how to ask for it and now Jim was kissing him, and he couldn't talk, and Jim was moving against him, a slow, relentless rocking that meant Blair's cock got the tiniest bit of friction every third stroke or so, and always in the perfect spot, right beneath the head, but not enough --

He sank his teeth into Jim's shoulder, already missing the kiss, and let the bite anchor him as he pushed up, writhing, wriggling, graceless and desperate. "Want to come, need to come--"

He was snarling. Biting, snarling, like a dog, like a fucking dog, his cock red and hot and needing something to touch it.

"Stop biting me." Jim's voice sounded calm in comparison but there was a ragged edge to it. "Blair --"

He threw his head back, distantly aware that those snuffled, harsh grunts were coming from him and not caring. His nails raked down Jim's back, and he willed Jim to get it, to see that he was giving what he couldn't ask for because he didn't know the words.

Hurt me, mark me? They sounded crazy things to ask a near-stranger and he wasn't even sure he wanted that exactly.

He keened out his frustration, and then turned his face into the pillow and found it damp in places. Jim hissed, and arched away from Blair's nails. "Stop it."

"No. Make me. No -- just -- please, Jim, please --"

Jim rolled away. Blair froze, mouth open on a plea, and screwed his eyes closed so he couldn't see Jim walk away. God. No. Fuck.

Then the bed dipped slightly under Jim's weight and Blair found out what the railings were good for as his wrist was cuffed, the link looped over a metal bar and the second cuff wrapped closed a second later.

Jim stared down at him. "Chief, you've got to find a better way to ask for what you want." He rolled his shoulders and winced. "Yeah. You really do."

Blair thought about apologizing but he couldn't make it sincere. The cuffs were leather, lined with sheepskin, a long chain linking them. Play cuffs, but they felt secure. He tugged on them experimentally and then harder. Held. He was held in place. Not going anywhere.

Cuffed to Jim's fucking bed.

"Velcro fastenings," Jim told him. "You okay with them?"

"I don't know," Blair said in a husky, urgent whisper. "Are you okay with me coming if I pull on them one more time?"

Jim looked surprised and then intrigued. "You like them that much?"

"Hell, yes," Blair told him fervently.

"I wanted you to come," Jim reminded him. "Take the edge off."

There was something subtly wrong about that. Blair thought back, and replayed Jim's words until he tracked down the revision. "No. Both of us."

"Watching you come will probably do it for me." Jim shook his head, and gave Blair a look that was bewildered and almost resentful. Blair could sympathise with that. Jim was taking his control away so easily it was scary. "God. You're just so…"

"So what?" Blair demanded, and held himself still with an effort.

Jim's face lost any softness, all taut lines and hard, bright eyes. "Enough."

Blair opened his mouth to ask for clarification on whether that was an answer or an order and was silenced by Jim's hand. "I can gag you, you know," Jim said. "Easy to work out another signal for red. Do you want that?"

Blair thought about it and didn't get a buzz from the idea, let alone another lazy ripple of heat lapping over him, sweet and heavy. He moved his head in as clear a 'no' as he could and Jim took his hand away.

"Look at me," Jim said. He moved to kneel between Blair's legs, and then pushed them wider with his hands, keeping them in place for long enough that when he took them away Blair was left with palm-sized patches of warmth on his skin. "Take a good look."

Jim naked and kneeling bore no resemblance to the way he probably looked when he did it, Blair decided. Jim wasn't sucking in his gut to firm it up; you could probably bounce pennies off it, for God's sake. And he was kneeling with a perfect assurance that didn't hold a shred of submission in it.

Blair stared at Jim, from his face, emotionless by a clear effort of will, to his chest, smooth, bare, hard, to the jut and thrust of his cock and the heavy roll of his balls underneath. Male. Good-looking in a way that crossed gender lines when it came to appeal.

Or maybe it was just Blair who was hardwired differently than most men -- he was too much Naomi's son to do more than consider, then reject, 'wrong' -- but it didn't matter how anyone else saw him, saw Jim, saw them. It only mattered how they saw each other.

"Way out of my league," he said.

"I don't think so." Jim didn't take his gaze away which meant Blair couldn't either, captivated by the cool blue above him.

But he wanted to; Jim's hands were moving over his own body now with an easy familiarity and Blair wanted to look down, just a little, and see what effect those clever, strong hands, those knowing, self-aware caresses, were having on Jim's erection. Wanted to see it twitch and harden and sway with every breath, wanted to watch the head get slick, glaze over. Wanted to taste.

He moaned, and caught himself before he tugged against the cuffs, but it was getting to the point where the soft rub of the lining was almost enough just by itself.

"This is -- it's doing a lot for me," he said, stuttering through the words because he felt drunk now, swimming, floating. He could feel his body, all of it, all at once, a comprehensive totality of arousal, so that his attention wasn't moving between the beat of blood in his nipples (hard, needing a twist and tweak to make them harder) to his imprisoned wrists, or curved arms; wasn't forced to choose between that maddening tickle on the inside of his left knee, or the incipient cramp in his right calf.

All of it. And all of it was waiting for a single word, a single touch.

"I can see that." Jim's voice was quiet, reflective and his gaze finally moved away, skimming Blair's spread, captive body. "You're chained to my bed."

Good to know that was as much a source of wonder to Jim as it was to him.

"I've never done this here," Jim went on. "Never once brought a client here, not to fuck, anyway."

"I'm not --"

"But you were." Jim's hand came down far enough that the head of his cock bumped his wrist. He glanced down, as if surprised, smiled, and began to jerk himself off, using the same perfectly timed strokes Blair remembered. He knew what that hand felt like on his cock but it had been too long --

"Touch me," he begged, and really that was the only word to use, the only one that fit. "God, Jim --"

"What would you let me do?" Jim asked. He leaned forward a little and his hand slowed, his face showing what it cost him to do that. He must have decided it was better to stop; he took his hand away and licked reflexively at a smear of precome at the base of his thumb. "Would you have done that?"

"Yes." Blair had tasted his own come out of curiosity in the past, as he imagined most men had, and found it something he could go a while without wanting to try again, but it hadn't tasted unpleasant, just outside his frame of reference. He didn't feel any reluctance about the idea of tasting Jim's.

"And you'd suck me," Jim mused. "Let me come in your mouth."

Blair didn't bother to answer that.

"You haven't done that before," Jim said. "I'll show you how I like it done."

The idea of that was both erotic and ridiculous; Blair's mind split into two, half quivering, about to send out the message to come, right the hell now, the other half wondering just how Jim could tell him how to lick and suck and move if Blair was doing anything like a good job of it. Blow jobs, the few he'd had, tended to reduce Blair to a gratefully babbling mess.

Somehow, though, with Jim looming over him, the still small voice of reason was a barely audible dying whisper.

"You still haven't come," Jim noted. "I'm going to turn you over when you do and I'm going to use my hand on you and then that flogger you couldn't take your eyes off. It's going to feel good and you're going to try and stay quiet, try and lie still, but you won't be able to. Not even if I tell you I’ll stop. Not even if I tell you I won't fuck you unless you do. Because I think you want that more than my cock in you, don't you?"

Blair stared at one of his choices and felt his body split into pieces again, just waiting for Jim to put him back together.

"Want both," he said distinctly against the seashell roar of blood in his ears, and he struggled deliberately against the cuffs Jim had fastened on him and let the affirmation that he was held securely tear the climax out of him because he couldn't wait any longer.

He closed his eyes and felt his body convulse in an orgasm strong enough to leave him weak. He let Jim see it as it would have happened if he'd been alone, even if he couldn't quite make himself watch Jim watching, sharing it with him because Jim didn't seem to want to do more than --

A hand closed around his cock, moving fast and strong, just when Blair thought he was done, and worked him until he cried out, one final last spit and spurt of come leaving him.

Then he lay there and panting, his fingers curling, twisting, trying to get free so that he could reach down and touch Jim. Jim's hand was loosely wrapped around the soft, lax curve of Blair's cock, his head pillowed on Blair's hip, his mouth kissing the hollow of skin there, his deep voice murmuring reassurances Blair didn't think he needed until he listened to the sounds he was still making and realized how close they came to sobs. Jim was being careful not to look at him until they stopped, giving him space, giving him the mistaken kindness of privacy.

"Red," Blair said, getting Jim's attention at once, a startled jerk of his head, a verging on painful squeeze of his fingers.

"Blair?"

"Get these cuffs off me so I can --" They were ripped open before he'd finished speaking. Jim stared down at him, frowning, worried. "It's okay," Blair said. "I just -- you were down there and I couldn't touch you. I wanted to touch you."

Jim's frown didn't disappear. He grabbed some Kleenex and used them on Blair's face and then lower. He wiped up the sticky trail of come across Blair's stomach without comment and tossed the balled-up tissues at a small bin in the corner. They hit the side and bounced, which was obscurely comforting.

"Don't you want me to?" Blair said doubtfully. "I know some people don't --"

"God, Blair --" Jim hauled him against him, and then kissed him more softly than Blair had expected after that impatient snarl. "Shut up, will you?" Jim's lips clung to his, the kisses sweeter, open mouthed, relaxed, even though Jim hadn't come yet and Blair could feel the body he held shake, infinitesimal shivers his eyes couldn't track but his skin could.

"Just… shut up…" Jim whispered intensely. "For five minutes, while I kiss you, and I swear I'll make you come like that again as often as you want before you fall asleep. Just give me five minutes to kiss you first."

He started to say please but that was more than Blair could take. He laced his hands behind Jim's head and pulled their mouths together until he found something better for his hands to do, tracing the scratches his nails had made on Jim's back, letting Jim take five minutes, ten, as long as he wanted.

He couldn't hear the clock ticking now. Just the soft, hidden beat of Jim's heart and his own name on Jim's lips.


*****



Blair seemed to like being kissed. If Jim moved his mouth away for a moment, just to catch his breath, maybe pull the back of his hand across his lips to dry them because he loved the drag of skin on skin and the spit made it all too smooth, too easy, Blair gave a disappointed whimper that had Jim's mouth back on his a second later.

Kissing wasn't something he did at work, not often. Sometimes, sure, if they looked like they expected it, but mostly they didn't. Your fingers inside them, your cock deep and hard, yes… but they didn't want a kiss. Too romantic.

This wasn't work, though. Jim wanted Blair's mouth and it was scaring him how close he'd come to begging for it.

He ran his hand down Blair's back, distracting himself from the warning throb and tightening in his balls -- too much waiting, too much wanting -- with an exploration of the curve where Blair's back became his ass. Which was more of an added spur than a distraction, but it split his attention so that he wasn't totally focused on how it felt to have Blair's tongue on his, sliding over and in, warm and friendly.

Blair tensed, caught between Jim's body and his hand. Jim felt him pull back instinctively, pressing his ass against Jim's palm, which had moved down an inch or two, and then jerking forward which gave Jim's cock something to butt up against, blind and hungry.

"Blair?" Jim solved Blair's dilemma by shifting his hand to Blair's hip, holding him in place with a little piece of empty space between them.

It took the novelty of Blair's silence to spark understanding.

"I told you I wouldn't do that until you were ready."

"Yeah. And you said you wouldn't mention it, but you have and I didn't stop you, did I? I might even have let you think I was down with it -- and I'm still not sure…"

Jim sighed, resting his forehead against Blair's. Blair had sounded sure in the heat of the moment, but that wasn't really the point. "I did, didn't I? I'm sorry."

Want to be fucked on the floor…? Christ, it'd just slipped out, sincere, yes, but a line he'd used before, other men, other times. It wasn't something he should have said to Blair. Blair deserved new words, freshly minted and bright.

"I don't mind you saying it."

It was the first time he was sure Blair had lied to him. Jim closed his ears to the insistent beat of his own arousal and tried to salvage the situation.

"When I said I wanted to bend you over the couch, it wasn't so I could fuck you."

"Then why would you want to --?" Jim raised his hand and let it fall with a soft, emphatic smack against Blair's ass. "Oh! Oh, right…Spank me like that." Blair squirmed restlessly, his cock twitching, hardening against Jim's leg. "God…"

"But I did forget later. Downstairs and here in bed." Jim chewed his lip, the confession hanging like fog between them, more words needed to dispel it. "Okay, I blew it. I wouldn't have done it, I wouldn't have touched you; you don't need to worry about that. I just got… carried away talking dirty to you. If I do it again, call me on it. Hell, feel free to do some bending over couches of your own."

Blair chuckled, relaxing against Jim, snuggling close. "That's not my thing, man. Or yours. And I'm not ruling it out for ever, okay? Not even close. I've just got a lot to process here."

"I get that."

Blair stroked his hand over Jim's chest, then scratched it lightly, abstract patterns heading south. "So talk about it -- about fucking me -- all you want. If you want. And put your hand back where it was. I like it there." Blair's hand went lower and a single fingertip, with a short, blunt nail scored a line from the root of Jim's cock to the crown. "And tell me what you want me to do with this."

Jim rolled away to his back, staring up the slanted ceiling. His empty hands closed around the sheet beneath them, gathering it up, crushing it until his fingers ached in protest.

"Jim?" Blair's uncertainty was showing in more than his voice; Jim turned his head enough to see Blair's hand hovering and his face twisted with concern. "Did I hurt you?"

He shook his head and let his cramped fingers relax, reaching for Blair's hand and bringing it down, cupped in his, to rest against his chest. "No. That didn't hurt."

"Then tell me what to do," Blair demanded. "You're not going to just jerk off again, are you?" He pursed his lips, clearly giving that possibility some consideration. "I want to watch if you do."

Jim smiled, getting back a measure of control over himself and the situation. "You're going to do more than watch."

"Okay…" Blair flexed his hand within Jim's in a question, a promise. "Just tell me."

"No." Jim put his hands behind his head again and spread his legs in invitation. "Do what you like. I'm close enough that you won't have to work at it, so just… have fun."

"Isn't that a little one-sided?" Blair objected, his hand already trailing down Jim's stomach, the back of his knuckles blunt points of welcome pressure.

"Maybe. But it's how I want it, so unless you've got any objections…"

"No," Blair murmured, leaning over and kissing Jim's stomach with a precision that had Jim squinting down at the kissed spot wondering why Blair had picked it. "I can do this."

He sounded sure of himself and, remembering that little trick with the water, Jim wasn't inclined to doubt him. Blair was an unpredictable mixture of bold and shy but he didn't seem to mind experimenting. Curiosity would tend to drive him harder than arousal.

"Right now, a stray breeze could do the job," Jim said by way of reassurance and warning. "Feels like I've been hard for hours." He rolled his eyes. "Hell, I have."

"And you're not used to that?" Blair's hair was hanging down, obscuring his face. If Blair decided sucking Jim was something he enjoyed, Jim was going to have to choose between making Blair tie it back so that he could watch Blair's mouth get round and wet and filled or having it stay loose, a silky tickle against his skin.

Or he could put Blair on his back, kneel over him, and have both the view of industrious mouth and the hair, spread over the pillow for his hands to tangle in.

Choices, choices… but that last one might be more than Blair was ready for.

"Not really. Good at waiting, but even I have limits, and I'm close to passing them."

"Oh?" Blair laid down a line of kisses that took his mouth close to the head of Jim's cock. Force of habit made Jim murmur, "Wait…" twisting to fumble for a condom in the nightstand, but to do that he had to turn toward Blair, arching his hips, and that was all the invitation Blair needed.

Jim's bare cock slipped into Blair's mouth like a key into a lock, sliding home with an easy familiarity.

Shock took the edge off Jim's response, freezing him in place when he wanted to push deeper, but his erection was way past the point of paying attention to anything that led it away from a climax. As Blair's tongue darted out, flickering across sensitized skin with a delicacy born of inexperience that managed to feel like the most calculated of sophisticated teases, Jim felt himself start to come, that final hardening, the lurch of excitement and anticipation, because it was always good but sometimes it was special and maybe this time, maybe --

Blair's hand clamped down on Jim's ass, holding him in place, his upper leg kicking out wildly as he tried to rub off against Jim, caught up in a renewed arousal.

Jim struggled to break away from him and got a graze from Blair's teeth that hurt enough to break through the dark haze of his approaching orgasm. His growl of pain was loud enough to do much the same to Blair and his cock slipped out of Blair's mouth, spit-wet, thick and heavy. Too late to be safe now, really, already too late, but he didn't care; Blair wasn't getting what he wanted. Not like that. Not when Jim had told him --

He got Blair pinned to the bed with a move that his body had never quite forgotten after years as a civilian, straddling him, his knees grinding into the inner crooks of Blair's elbows.

That could hurt if he chose to let it but he had most of his weight elsewhere and Blair did no more than grimace a protest he didn't voice.

"I told you not to do that," Jim said, his voice cold and steady, need screaming through him.

Blair's head moved in an indeterminate way that didn't translate as a yes or a no and he licked at lips that were a shade darker than usual, glossy and lush. Jim could picture them streaked with come, his come, and knew Blair would lick them clean just like that, with calculatedly slow sweeps of his tongue.

Blair had the capacity to be one sensual little fuck, given the chance.

"I'm going to come now," Jim told him, "because if I don't I'll do something stupid like punching a wall, and you're going to lie there and be come on and I don't want you to move or say anything unless it's your word."

He was breathing hard now, voice a savage growl by the end. Losing it. Totally. Blair under him, a small frown creasing the skin between those dark, uneven eyebrows, a flush staining his cheeks -- Blair not struggling at all, not from the moment Jim had laid his hands on him and positioned him with an economical, thorough use of force.

Blair submissive without true comprehension or a sensible fear, waiting --

And he had to punish him; by any rules of this game that was a given, but he couldn't think of how to do it. This wasn't a game he played often and never with someone so fucking new.

He thought about Sam, which helped in more ways than one. She wouldn't have let Blair get away with a disobedience this blatant and she would have found a way to deal with it that would be a true penalty… he was damned if he was going to do less for Blair than she would have.

So. Hurt him, but not physically, no. No spanking for Blair, no gratification, no straws he could spin into gold. And even with disappointment in Blair chilling him, he rejected the thought of the cruelest, simplest method which was to give Blair his clothes and kick him out.

I want to watch if you do.

Well, okay.

Ignoring the puzzled look flashing across Blair's face, Jim got off him, rolled Blair to his belly and grinned, a tight, savage grin, as Blair's ass lifted an inch or two, an inviting, revealing response, and then tensed, the muscles bunching, as Blair's mind caught up to his body. Part of him was glad that Blair trusted him enough not to struggle, even though Jim knew, hating that he knew, that if he'd wanted to fuck Blair, there wasn't a lot Blair could have done to stop him. That made him move fast, giving the best reassurance he could, kneeling across Blair's back, not between his thighs, high enough that most of the tension left Blair. Jim shoved one hand through Blair's hair until he hit skull and then pushed down, making sure Blair's mouth was clear of the pillow but applying enough pressure that Blair wouldn't be able to turn his head.

He wasn't going to give Blair the chance to disobey him again. That had been a mistake -- another one, shit -- and it was on his head, not Blair's, which might buy Blair some forgiveness in a few minutes but right now, oh, right now nothing mattered but the hair and bone against his fist and the hot jerk and spit of his cock as his hand closed around it and stripped it, worked it, made it give it up.

When he'd finished and his come lay in thick streaks on Blair's back, there, on the flat wing of a shoulder blade, with some spattered drops against Blair's hair, he let his clenched jaw ease, and allowed himself a single grunt of relief with very little pleasure in it. Blair answered it with a plaintive, questioning murmur, rolling his shoulders as if he thought he could shrug off the cooling wetness marking him.

"Don't ever do that again," Jim said with a sort of tired finality.

Blair moved. Moved with raw determination and surprising strength, bucking Jim off and twisting to his back, which, Jim supposed, going with trained, never forgotten speed from a sprawl to kneeling up, took care of the mess. Well, transferred it to the sheets, anyway.

"I won't get the chance, will I?" Blair snapped.

"Okay, one, you weren't supposed to move --"

Blair sat up with a jack-in-the-box jerk. "Until you came on me. Which you did. Which means I can move now if I want to."

"Two, you don't get to be angry." Jim smiled thinly. "I'm the one who's angry."

Blair looked lost and totally confused, his aggression melting away. "I don't see why. You said I could do anything I wanted and I wanted to do that. I thought you'd like it."

"And three," Jim said, his hands on Blair's shoulders, gripping them, shaking him once, a sharp shake that Blair rode out, his gaze fixed on Jim. "You're staying and eating those fucking pancakes and if I've calmed down enough to spank you, you'll eat them standing up because your ass is going to be raw, dammit."

Blair's lower lip, full and curved, strong curves, ones Jim wanted to bite blurred, pushed out in something close to a pout. "Forget it. I'm not in the mood now."

Jim's hands fell away from Blair, still warm from Blair's skin for long moments afterwards. "Fine. No sex. So what do you want to do? Watch TV? Eat? Can I get you a drink?"

He was just the perfect fucking host, wasn't he? Unwillingly, he remembered the last date he'd had, who'd come here, sipped chilled Chardonnay as she lectured him on a play they'd just seen -- it hadn't come close to being a conversation -- and then continued to bore him when they'd made their way up to his bed. He'd been courteous, considerate and made her come with easy, smooth, well-practiced moves, her control cracking for a single, brief instant as her climax shattered it. And her cat-green eyes had still glazed over with dismissal as soon as she'd finished getting dressed, because whatever she'd been looking for, she hadn't found it in him.

He'd fallen asleep in a freshly made bed, smiling sourly as he wondered what she would have asked him for if she'd known what he did for a living. He'd followed her verbal instructions and let her ride him, her full breasts filling his hands -- and overlooked every cue that she wanted, well, more or less what Blair did, because she'd irritated him in half a dozen petty ways.

Blair didn't irritate him. No. Blair was just driving him insane with baffled lust, confusion and an anger he couldn't sustain when Blair was looking at him with that much hurt astonishment in his eyes.

"A drink? No! I want to find out what the fuck I did wrong."

"Huh?"

"What did I do wrong?" Blair repeated, his voice tight enough that the words sang like a twanged wire. "If you tell me, I'll try not to do it again, but, man, you've got to tell me, not just go off on me like that. I didn't like it, okay? Anger's a really negative emotion."

"I told you if you did that we couldn't do it bare," Jim said, wondering why Blair, who came over as scarily intelligent in some ways, was having trouble working out what he'd done to piss Jim off.

"Yeah, and we agreed I'd wear one but I was willing to take the chance when it came to you," Blair said impatiently. "Is that it? God." He gave Jim an exasperated look. "You really are a --"

Jim cut him off because he didn't want to hear Blair's opinion of him right then. "No, we didn't."

"Yes, we did."

He abandoned the pointless back and forth and stared hard at Blair. "Tell me what you think happened when we discussed it."

Blair shrugged, the movement dismissive. "Sure. You said you could get me off if I was wearing one and I said, okay, but when it was me doing it to you, I'd do it without, and you said…" He screwed up his face in thought. "Yeah. You said something about me never stopping and I said it was what put people off and you said --"

"Enough." Jim held up his hand. "Okay. You think that was me giving in? It wasn't. It was me commenting on your water on stone technique."

"Oh." Blair fell silent and then tentatively offered a way out. "We were both right?"

"No, we were both wrong," Jim told him wearily. "Failure to communicate, and I don't like that when we're doing this kind of scene."

"You still pissed then?" There was a studied calm about Blair that didn't quite ring true.

"No. It was my fault. I didn't make it clear back at your place, and I didn't give you chance to explain just now." Jim took a moment to brace himself and then said stiffly, "I'm sorry."

"Wow," Blair marveled, his voice edged. "That was hard for you to say. Is it that big a deal for you, apologizing to someone?"

"How big an asshole am I, you mean?" Jim said wryly. "No, it isn't. I wouldn't have said it if I didn't want to. I am sorry, Chief. I just…" Blair's clear-eyed gaze hooked the words out of him until they lay, wriggling, writhing, dying of shame. "I say it and it means I fucked up. I don't like doing that. The fucking up, not the apologizing."

Never had. He hadn't been brought up by a man who viewed failure as forgivable and the army hadn't been all that tolerant of it, either.

"Fucked up implies unfixable and hey, we fixed it, so it's not. Just a mistake, that was my fault, too."

"Is it fixed?" Jim tilted his head questioningly. "Have you changed your mind?"

"No." Blair smiled at him. "Stubborn, remember? Either I don't do it at all, or I do it my way. You choose. It's your dick on the receiving end and it's not such a big deal now, after all."

That didn't make a lot of sense, but Blair seemed to think it did, so Jim left it for the moment. "Well, it still leaves us with options, but they're getting limited." He sighed, resigning himself to nothing much but hand jobs and rubbing off for the foreseeable future and trying not to let Blair see more than the surface layer of frustration. It wasn't pure selfishness by any means; he'd been looking forward to reducing Blair to a state of speechless and sated bliss and having fun doing it.

He still could. It was just going to be more of a challenge. That lifted his mood. He didn't mind those.

Blair frowned. "It's only for one night, Jim, and we've already come once, so..."

"You think I'll change my mind by the morning?" Jim shook his head. "I'm stubborn, too. Maybe in a few weeks…but don't count on it."

That got a reaction. Blair closed his eyes, muttered something that Jim was suspiciously certain he'd learned from his mother because it sounded flaky and foreign, and then said softly, "Jim. If we're dealing with miscommunications, I have another I'd like to mention. When you made this a date -- it's just for tonight, right? A date. Or did you plan on a few more until, well, until the usual happens and we go our separate ways?"

"I planned on as many as it takes. Can't say I had a set number in mind." He gave Blair an incredulous look, letting some hurt show deliberately. "You're breaking up with me? After a couple of hours? I think that's a personal worst for me."

It wasn't, but Blair didn't need to know that.

He overplayed it enough to coax a smile from Blair. "You know I'm not. I just didn't… I wasn't sure. Mostly sure, but I still feel like you're doing me this huge favor."

"I'm not." Favor? Favor? Jim shook his head. "Blair, I know dating was your idea, and, yes, it's kind of an insane one, but I could have said no. I didn't. Which makes me insane, too, but we don't have to tell anyone that. And if you think you're some sort of fucking charity case for me, forget it."

Blair stared at him, looking a little astonished. Hearing the echo of his vehemence in his head, tinged with the last of his anger, maybe, Jim wasn't surprised by that.

"Okay." Blair licked his lips, looking a little uncertain. "I still think I'm getting more out of this than you, but, okay." He smiled awkwardly. "We don't have to do anything besides the sex -- I mean, like going out for dinner and all that stuff."

"We've got to eat," Jim said reasonably. "Doing it together, in public or here, isn't a problem, is it?"

"People might think…" Blair's voice trailed off. "Jim, come on. Look at you." He gestured at the custom-built wardrobe that ran along one wall. "I bet that's full of designer suits, silk shirts. I bet you know all the right places to go, all the right people --"

"Yeah," Jim said. "I know some of them really well. It doesn't mean they wouldn't get indigestion sharing a table with me. Blair, I'll take you anywhere you want to go and trust me, I'll fit in anywhere you take me. I'm good at doing that."

"Good at faking it?"

Jim smiled without warmth. "The best. So start thinking about where you want to go on our second date, if we're counting them."

"I don't really go anywhere," Blair said. He pushed his hair back off his face and laughed. "God, that sounds pathetic. It's just -- I'm busy, you know? I get writing and it's like the world disappears and that really pisses people off when I'm supposed to be somewhere." He looked at Jim, frowning. "That wouldn't bother you, though, would it? You work weird hours and you probably get to go out a lot when you're seeing clients."

"I told you, I don't see many nowadays, but eating in a restaurant or going to a club isn't that much of a treat," Jim admitted. "And, yes, the agency's open twenty-four hours, seven days a week. Simon, Rhonda, me, a couple of others you don't know… we work eight-hour shifts, try and arrange a day off every five…"

"And I bet there's not much happening in the day?"

Jim laughed. "You'd be surprised. No, the graveyard shift's the third one, two in the morning to nine. Gets busy at the start and the end, not so much in the middle."

"I'm usually still writing around four," Blair said. "Don't ask me why, but I seem to do my best work then."

"You should come and keep me company next time I'm on that shift," Jim said. "The place is dead after three and it's all I can do to stay awake. Plug your laptop in and write away."

"I'd love to," Blair said, his face lighting up. He gave Jim a mischievous smile. "It's a date."

"Ha-ha."

A silence fell, comfortable enough that Jim didn't try to break it. Blair fidgeted a little and Jim reached out instinctively and ran his fingers through Blair's hair, untangling it as carefully as he could until he hit a snarl and Blair murmured, "Ow," and stopped him.

"So…" Blair said. "This condom issue…"

"Blair…"

"We're clean, Jim. And I don't see more than one person at once -- not that I've ever had a choice about that, but I think it's a pretty shitty thing to do and I wouldn't even if I could --" Jim wondered how many people had used Blair as a fallback date, dropping him when something better had come along, for him to sound that bitter about it. "So if you stay clean, which you would for your clients anyway, I don't see why I can't --"

"Fine," Jim interrupted, giving in and knowing it was guilt-prompted and he'd regret it. "God, just stop talking, okay? You can do it."

"What? Really?" Blair's eyes widened.

"You bite me again, and I'll double-bag it," Jim threatened him and watched Blair's face glow with satisfaction, though he had the sense not to gloat. Testing the waters, he added, "And I suppose, until I see another client, I might as well do the same with you."

Blair looked pleased but didn't react to the mention of Jim seeing clients. Curious, Jim pushed a little harder. "I don't spread myself around when I'm dating, either --" He didn't need to. They didn't last long enough for him to get restless. "But if an emergency comes up -- like you a few weeks ago, well, you've got to understand…"

"I know. It's cool. It's your job." Blair's head bobbed in a quick nod. "It's not the same as seeing someone else. I'd never make a fuss about that."

Jim couldn't help leaning in and kissing him, quick and soft. He back-pedaled a bit. "Clients when we're fully-booked, well, I'd usually pass them on, not deal with them myself. Simon doesn't think it's good for the agency's image to have the boss out there working, and I agree, but that night when we met was just chaotic." He flicked Blair's chin lightly. "It turned out okay, right? And the few I still see… nothing's arranged for the near future. Don't worry about it for now, okay? If something happens and I have to take a client, I'll tell you and I'll let you decide how you feel about it then."

With a cynicism based on past experience, he gave Blair credit for good intentions but guessed that the reality of knowing your date was fresh from fucking a stranger would put a chill in the air. They could deal with it when it happened. Or Blair could; Jim didn't need to. He'd been able to see his job as just that from the start.

It wasn't that likely Blair would still be around the next time one of the people on his personal list got to missing him, anyway. Jim had listened to Blair's litany of woe about his love life and very carefully bitten back the, 'You, too, huh?' that had risen to his lips. Different reasons, maybe, but since his divorce he'd found himself discouragingly unable to get any momentum going when it came to relationships. No shortage of candidates, though, and it wasn't as if the sex was terrible, it just wasn't worth the effort.

He couldn't even remember the face of that last woman, not without making an effort. Green eyes, long red hair… that was about it.

Okay, he was getting old. Had to be.

Blair cleared his throat. "Moving on…You owe me."

"An apology? You got one. Two's a bit excessive."

"More than just an apology. Restitution." Blair sounded definite. "You admitted it wasn't my fault, right?"

"I suppose…" Jim said cautiously.

"But I got punished, anyway." Blair looked flushed but resolute. "That's why you came that way. You weren't letting me watch because I'd said I wanted to."

"Oh, shit, Blair…" Jim wondered how the hell Sam did this, because he felt like a complete bastard. "If I say I was doing it for a lot of good reasons, will that help?"

"No."

"Well, I was."

"You still need to make it up to me." Blair rolled his shoulders. "Start by scratching my back, will you? It's itching as it dries and it's driving me crazy."

"Want to take a shower?"

"Maybe later." Blair flopped onto his stomach. "Scratch me."

"Yes, sir," Jim murmured, lying on his side next to Blair, propping himself up on one elbow, and starting to pick at what was left of his come, pale flakes of it stuck to skin. "This is on the gross side, you know."

"Hey, you put it there." Blair shook his head, his words muffled. "It sounds hotter than it is. Well, no. It was hot when you were doing it, even though I was kind of freaking out because I didn't know why you were so pissed, but now I know what the clean up's like, I'm wondering if it was worth it."

"It wasn't your call," Jim reminded him absently, abandoning his chore and starting to play instead, writing words on Blair's back and waiting for Blair to get what he was doing. "It was mine."

He'd got to the 'h' of 'pushy' when Blair snorted with laughter. "Yeah, I am. Guilty as charged."

"Then I guess I need to hand down a sentence."

Blair gave him a look over his shoulder, the mood turning sultry just like that. "Or you could ignore what I said about not wanting to get spanked and we could pick up where we left off at my place."

Jim nodded, pleased with the shift back to familiar ground. Flirting, he could do. "Yeah. We could. If we're done talking."

"We're dating, oral's cool without latex, my ass is off limits unless you're turning it red, and you still owe me but I'm thinking about how you can make it up to me." Blair stuck the tip of his tongue between his teeth and grinned, looking impish and cute. "I'm done."

Jim was still feeling mildly guilty himself -- though it was wearing off fast -- but that didn't stop him landing a crisp slap on Blair's ass, the sound followed by a yelp as Blair bit down hard on his tongue. "Yeah? I'm just starting. Don't move."

He took the flogger out of the bag and some quick-release straps, sparing a grateful thought for whoever invented Velcro. They wouldn't work for a lengthy session, because the unlined leather would chafe, but he didn't plan on using them for long.

And he wanted to see leather wound around Blair's wrists and ankles.

Blair's gaze tracked between the flogger and the long straps before he raised his eyebrows questioningly.

"I'd like you held in place," Jim told him. "It's safer. You move suddenly, and you might get hurt more than you want to be. I don't want that to happen and I don't trust you to stay still yet. Okay?"

Blair nodded, his words dried up, his throat working as he swallowed. Jim watched him and smiled. Blair was lying on his stomach but Jim would put money on him being mostly hard again already.

"Roll over."

And if he wasn't, he would be soon.

"Huh?"

"No, Blair," Jim said, delivering another hard, open-handed smack on top of the earlier palm print. "When I tell you to do something, you just do it. Or you can say, 'yes, Jim,' if you're not gagged."

"I just -- I thought you were going to --" Jim sighed and raised his hand and Blair turned over fast. Oh, yeah. Hard.

He let Blair wait for a while, until Blair was fidgeting, his legs close together, his fingers flexing, small, quickly halted attempts to cover himself that left Blair's hands flat on his thighs, framing, not concealing.

Jim smiled, put the flogger where Blair could see it, and drew the straps across his hand, enjoying the feel of them, the weight and the smell. He liked leather. Call him a traditionalist, but there was nothing quite like it. "Tell me what we're doing here, Blair."

"Not much," Blair muttered. "Waiting?"

"You," Jim said, letting three of the straps drop to the bed, "might be waiting. I've already started."

"Watching me is something you like?"

"I guess," Jim admitted, automatically keeping his voice low so that Blair had to listen, had to concentrate. "And what we're doing is finding out what works for you, remember? And you haven't figured it out by yourself, so let me try, will you, and stop holding back. Stop being clever. Stop… watching yourself and analyzing it." He flicked the end of the strap against Blair's leg and noted the quiver that ran over Blair and the throat-caught moan. "See? It's simple. I do stuff, you react, I find out what does it for you."

"What about you?" Blair was still too restless for a man who had a dozen candles and a meditation mat in his bedroom. "Tell me something that turns you on. Don't make this all about me. I feel… exposed here."

Jim considered that obvious truth and decided to indulge him. Up to a point. "Stay still, and I will. Because I like looking at you naked and you need to get used to that."

"It isn't easy." Blair put his hands flat on the bed. "Can't you… can't you just tie me up first?"

"If we were in a rush, I might, but we're not." Jim felt his mouth quirk up in a smile he couldn't contain. "And it might distract you. Fun over fast. It did last time."

"Are you laughing at one of my kinks?"

"No." Jim shook his head, serious now. "Never."

"Just at me."

"Not even that." Blair had relaxed as they'd talked, his palms turned up, fingers curled loosely, gracefully, his legs parted, his breathing regular. Jim moved to the head of the bed and attached the strap to a railing. He missed having proper anchor points, but he'd never really needed them here. "I just get a kick out of the way you react to all this."

"Huh." Blair didn't sound too impressed by that, but he subsided, not even turning his head to watch as Jim attached all four straps to the bed, using its legs for the ankle tethers, grateful that the straps were long ones.

His hand wrapped around Blair's ankle, Jim said slowly, groping for the strap, searching for the words he wanted to share, "You know, this isn't my kink, not really. I like it enough that I can do it and do it well, but I don't need it the way you do."

Blair stiffened in alarm. "Hey, don't do it if you don't want to! I mean it, Jim."

Jim squeezed Blair's ankle. "Calm down. I said I didn't need it, and I don't, but there's a big gap between that and not liking it. I just want you to be aware that I'm not Sam."

"Done," Blair said with a fervor that made Jim decide to read Sam's report again. "No danger of mixing you up. Really."

"She's good," Jim said patiently. "This isn't just her job; she lives it, 24/7. When she isn't working for me -- and we don't always have clients for her, because we don't specialize in this, but that's the way she likes it -- she's down at Club Z. She might even be one of the owners… she's not big on sharing and I never asked."

"That club was on the list you gave me." Blair sounded intrigued. "Is that somewhere we could go some time? Just to… I'd like to just see what it's like."

"I don't know. Maybe." Jim tried to put Blair against the background of the club, plaid against leather, and grimaced because it just didn't work. They'd let Blair in, though. He'd mention Sam's name, mention Jim… they'd take one look at him and see that mouth, those eyes, that need blazing off him…. God.

"If you don't want to take me, I could go by myself," Blair offered meekly.

"I'll take you, if you promise me you won't go within a block of it without me."

The meekness disappeared. "Jim, I don't need a babysitter, okay? And I might find someone there I could interview --"

"Chief, they're not there to talk to outsiders. They're there to watch, show off their toys, play and be played with… and you go there and that'll be you, too. You'll be part of it, not looking on, and you're not ready for that, but I said I'll take you and I will. Just -- don't go there by yourself, okay?"

"I -- okay. I won't. But will you tell me about it?"

Jim fastened the first strap around Blair's right ankle and put his hand over the leather until it was warm. "Later, Blair. Later. How does that feel?"

Blair stared down at his ankle without answering and tugged at the bond. It held. Jim did a visual check on the strap, told Blair to tug harder, and checked it again, by touch. It was worrying him how easily he was falling into the routine but he'd done this so many times…

He drew his thumbnail over the sole of Blair's foot, got a protesting murmur and did it again, slower, harder, marking the tough skin fleetingly, his eyes on Blair's.

Blair swallowed and was silent. He didn't move his foot into position but when Jim took hold of it to slide it across the bed to the waiting strap, there wasn't even a slight resistance.

Jim stroked the shallow hollow at Blair's anklebone with the tip of his finger, then leaned down and traced its shape with his tongue, feeling the skin go taut as Blair's toes curled hard. He gave the damp skin a kiss and glanced up.

Blair's hands were above his head, wrists crossed, his teeth digging into his lip.

"If you want it to hurt when I kiss you, keep doing that," Jim said. Blair eased his lip free and licked at it reflexively. "And if you want me to kiss you, just do that again."

Blair grinned and did it. "You like that."

"Yeah." Jim crawled up the bed and onto Blair, one hand resting on Blair's wrists, the other taking enough of his weight that Blair could breathe. "Like watching." He brought his hand down and cupped Blair's cheek, then rubbed Blair's mouth dry with his thumb before licking it wet again. "Like doing it, too."

Blair moaned, a startled, eager sound, his lips pushing up to meet the return of Jim's tongue as it lapped over, dipped between, his hips arching strongly.

"Stay still," Jim murmured, the answering thrust of his own hips making it impossible. "Or I'll make you."

Blair's crossed hands moved apart instantly, reaching out for the straps, his fingers grasping blindly.

Jim reached out lazily and snagged one of the straps, holding it up. "Want this?"

Blair's gaze flicked from the strap to Jim's face, his breathing uneven as he nodded.

"Should have stayed still," Jim said, not unkindly, tossing the strap out of reach. "Now you'll have to earn it back." He got off Blair and the bed, doing it smoothly, performing, because he didn't know how to turn that off, not really. This deliberate distancing after close contact, this prowling stalk around the room as his client -- partner -- watched; it was theatrical but effective.

He didn't let himself think about how much he wanted to be back on the bed, Blair's body strong and warm under his. Simple. When had it last been simple?

After placing the bag onto the bed between Blair's spread legs, he rummaged through it and took out a single tweezer clamp, the ends encased in black rubber. He tossed it in the air and caught it. "Ever use one of these?"

Blair eyed it warily. "No."

"Let's change that. Hands by your side for now."

Blair obeyed him but his expression was doubtful. "I'm not sure I want -- uh, yellow?"

Jim nodded and dropped the clamp onto Blair's stomach. "Okay. Sit up. Look at it. See how it works. Try it out on your hand, if you like."

Blair struggled up, his hand closing around the clamp as it began to slide off him. "Don't they hurt?"

"That's the idea," Jim said, tapping Blair's fist until it opened, the black and silver of the clamp winking up at them, catching the light. "You can control it. See this ring? Push it in and it grips tighter."

As Jim had thought he would, given the chance, Blair began to experiment with the clamp, his eyes bright with interest now. "How long would you leave it on me?"

"For moving?" Jim considered that and then shrugged. "A minute, maybe."

"Oh."

Guessing from the slightly disappointed tone that Blair had been expecting much longer, Jim grinned. "You'll want me to take it off by then. And it hurts after it comes off, too."

"You do it first," Blair said firmly, holding out the clamp. "Show me."

"What?"

"I want to see."

"You want to see," Jim repeated flatly.

Blair reached out, his fingers brushing lightly over Jim's right nipple. "That one."

"Blair, I'm not going to--" Jim took a deep breath as his nipple hardened, tingling slightly. He got out a second clamp, holding it up and raising his eyebrows. If Sam found out about this, she'd freak…"How about we both do?"

"That could work," Blair said approvingly. Little shit. "Okay. Green."

"You do realize you'll pay for this -- all of this -- later, don't you?" Jim said blandly, putting the clamp on and pushing the ring in as far as it would go, feeling the clamp bite down. It had been a long time since he'd used one on himself, but the breathtaking jolt of pain felt familiar. He let Blair see how much it hurt, not hiding it, and then took the other clamp from Blair's hand.

"Tell me what it feels like." Blair reached out, tracing the pinched, reddening skin with one finger, his eyes intent, his touch gentle.

"At first? Hurts like hell. It's vicious and sudden and it doesn't stop…" Jim took hold of Blair's wrist and drew Blair's hand up to his mouth. He licked a broad stripe across Blair's palm and then pressed it against the clamped nipple, grinding skin against metal and gasping through the wave of sensation radiating out.

Blair looked worried, his face crumpling with distress but before he could speak, Jim tugged Blair's hand down until it was against his cock. "And it's got me hard again, see? Because you can take that pain and use it."

"To do what?" Blair whispered, his fingers exploring in maddeningly tentative touches, his attention mostly on Jim's chest. "How can you even think about anything with it on?"

"It's not that bad," Jim said, shrugging and regretting it instantly. "These are light clamps and they're adjustable. And you use it to… focus. To lose yourself. To… hell, I don't know, Blair. What do you use a candle for when you meditate?"

"All of those," Blair said absently. "Mm. I get it. Okay. I'm ready."

"Lie back, then," Jim said. "And… I'll take it off if you tell me to, but give yourself chance to get used to it, okay?"

He waited for Blair to get into position and then crouched over him, licking and sucking until Blair's nipple was a slippery, solid bump against his tongue. Then he attached the clamp and tightened it just enough to make it grip, catching hold of Blair's hands as they rose off the bed and pinning them down until he stopped struggling.

"God --" Blair was panting, his eyes wide and startled. "Fuck."

Murmuring encouragement and ignoring the constant throb from his own squeezed flesh, Jim licked around the clamp, blowing on the wet skin to cool it, reaching over to tease the other nipple and finding it hard.

He didn't bother counting seconds but when the clock in his head told him it'd been about a minute, he drew back. "Going to take it off now. Want to feel it, first? Tight as it gets?"

"Yeah…" The single word was an exhalation and then Blair cried out, his next breath catching in his throat, his eyes closing, as Jim moved the ring inward in one smooth, relentless push. He held it there as Blair fought to stay still, battling, Jim guessed, not the pain, but the arousal threatening to take him over. He had one leg thrown across Blair's and the wet-tipped cock nudging his hip was reassuringly hard but he took a moment to press a sympathetic kiss on Blair's chest before taking the clamp off.

Blair whimpered then, as the crushed flesh protested the inrush of blood. "Fuck… ow. Hurts."

Jim unfastened his own clamp and grunted an agreement, resting his forehead against Blair's shoulder. "Wish you'd stayed still."

"Is that a question or a statement?" Blair gritted out. "Okay, that wasn't -- wasn't exactly like I'd imagined…"

He'd pinched and tweaked them, Jim guessed, picturing it idly and deciding he wanted to see Blair do that for him sometime, but he doubted Blair had ever done it hard enough to come close to the impersonal bite of a clamp. It was difficult to hurt yourself, no matter how much you wanted to.

"You liked it. And, yes, that was a statement."

"Mmm." It sounded like agreement and Blair's mouth was curving in a smile.

Nipple clamps, check.

"Now tie me up." Blue eyes narrowed. "You promised."

"I said I would," Jim corrected him. "It wasn't a promise. But I will."

"So do it." Blair reached out and poked Jim's arm. "Jim -- come on! Do it, man."

Trying to picture the fallout if Blair had poked Sam like that occupied -- and amused -- Jim for long enough to make his next words calmer than they would have been. "Do you know what the two most important factors in a relationship like this are?"

"I know you're about to tell me what you think they are."

"Respect and trust," Jim said, meeting Blair's grin with a cool stare until it faded. "And until you give me both, you're getting nothing."

There was a sticky silence and then Blair flushed. "I do that," he said, his voice low. "Mouth off when I'm nervous. I'd say ignore me, but --"

"I can't ignore it," Jim said. "It isn't doing you any favors if I do, and why the hell should I? I get why you're doing it, but that's not going to stop me dealing with it."

"Would it help if I said I was sorry?"

"Try me."

Blair transferred his gaze from the ceiling to Jim's face. "I'm sorry, Jim. Really."

"Okay," Jim said, a moment later when Blair still hadn't looked away, his face embarrassed but resolute. "I guess it did."

He reached out for a strap but Blair stopped him, putting his hand on Jim's leg. "Do you get those things? From your clients, I mean?"

Jim threaded the strap through his fingers. "Sometimes. Not always." Not often.

"Do you give it? I mean; people like me; don't you see us as losers?"

Jim captured Blair's hand and fastened the strap around his wrist. "No." The half-truth didn't make it past Blair's radar judging by the snort. "Sometimes," Jim snapped, goaded into it. He finished tying Blair down and got off the bed to admire the sight. "Not always, and what is this anyway? I feel like you're interviewing me for your fucking book, Chief."

"That's something I want to do." Blair smiled at him. "In fact, if you want to make it up to me for earlier --"

"I never said I did --"

"You can let me interview you."

"Forget it."

"Jim, it would be a really good way for me to get to know --"

"I said, no."

"Please."

Jim already knew that Blair could put a lot of appeal and persuasion into a single word but this one was stripped bare of artifice, devoid of demand. It was close to the way Blair would sound when he was brought to a place where that word was all that was left for him to say.

He picked up the flogger and walked from the foot of the bed to the head, trailing the wide, soft strands over Blair's body as he went, watching the skin tense to meet it and flush with warmth as it passed.

When the leather lay across Blair's mouth like dark fingers, he bent over and kissed him through them, and murmured, "Okay. But later. Not now."

"What happens now?" Blair said, still without any force behind the words, as Jim stood again, the handle of the flogger fitting snugly into the curve of his palm, his thumb rubbing against it.

Jim looked him over. "Try and get free."

Blair tugged, gently at first, then hard enough that the muscles bunched in his arms and legs. "I can't."

"What happens now, Blair?" Jim asked gently, kindly, smiling.

"I guess that's up to you."

"Right answer," Jim said approvingly and let the first stroke land on the tender, pinched-red nipple.

"Can I -- can I talk?"

"What do you want to say?" Top of Blair's thighs.

"Harder?" Blair followed it with a twitch of a smile.

Jim paused. "How long do you want the marks to last?"

"You're the only one going to see them, no matter where you put them."

"Not planning on swimming? Sunbathing? Wearing shorts?"

"No."

Jim relented. "This won't leave marks, Blair." It could, it just wasn't going to. "None that will be there in the morning."

Stomach, low enough down that one edge of one strand flicked the tip of Blair's cock, making him gasp. Jim put the next one on Blair's cock, and the next and the next, light strokes with nothing but the weight of the leather behind them, barely pinking the skin.

Blair was still making shocked little whimpers, trying to twist away. Location, location, location…

"Trust, remember?" Jim told him. "They're not hurting you. Accept that. Trust me. Lie still for three of them and I'll turn you over and you can see what this feels like on your ass. Harder."

Indecision twisted Blair's face. Jim watched him reason himself to calmness, which took less time than it would have taken Jim in a similar situation, and then nod and relax.

Better than an apology.

The three strokes wouldn't have popped soap bubbles but Blair was shaking by the time the last one landed.

Shaking but not moving.

Close enough.


*****



Blair didn't know what to expect the following morning but Jim actually cooking the promised pancakes, in a pair of faded blue PJs, the top unbuttoned, the sleeves rolled up, wasn't it.

He sat at the table and watched Jim who cooked in an unhurried, efficient sort of way. His own contribution had been to put juice into glasses and set the table; the kitchen wasn't really big enough for two when one of them didn't know where anything was and the other seemed intent on avoiding any physical contact, including a meeting of eyes.

Outside, the sky was gray, an unrelenting rain falling with a persistence they were both used to. Cascade was well-named. Cascade was wet.

The coffee finished dripping through a machine Blair had blinked at in sleepy confusion and left to Jim to handle. He stood to get mugs -- those he could see, hanging on hooks under a cabinet -- and watched Jim do a deft sidestep while flipping a pancake.

"Wow. When I try that I lose my nerve halfway through and they end up decorating the floor."

Jim smiled. "Yeah. It's all about showing it who's boss. It helps I worked in a diner one summer, earning money for a motorbike."

"Yeah?" Blair smiled back, feeling encouraged. Conversation and anecdotes. This was good. "What did you get?"

Jim's smile didn't dim, it just… went away. "I didn't. Summer ended, I started to look for one, and my dad took the money out of my room and banked it. Said it was for college."

"Oh. Well…" Blair searched for something to say. "College is important, and it's not cheap…"

"He could afford it three times over," Jim said flatly. "And the money had been there since I was a kid in a trust fund my grandfather set up. He just didn't want me to have the bike."

"They're dangerous, I guess…"

"Why are you defending him?"

"I don't know." Blair put the mugs down on the counter and filled them. Coffee. If he drank enough, this morning and the night before might start to make sense. "Maybe because I don't like to think of him having no other reason but being a control freak?"

"That describes him well enough." Jim sent the pancake flying high again and caught it in the pan with a flop and a sizzle before it was added to the two keeping warm on a plate. "Sit down, Chief. This stack's yours."

By the time Jim sat down with a stack of pancakes of his own, Blair was full, his mouth sticky with syrup and his fingers buttery. He sipped at his second cup of coffee and watched Jim eat, his eyes sandy with sleep.

"Don't you like them?" Jim asked, gesturing at Blair's far from empty plate. "Too burned? Too dry?"

"No, they were great," Blair assured him. He rubbed his stomach. "I'm just not used to being awake this early. Seven thirty in the morning? I'd forgotten it even existed."

"Yeah. Sorry I had to wake you." Jim looked uncomfortable even though Blair had kept his tone light. "Like I said; I've got to be at work by nine."

"And you don't want to leave a total stranger roaming around your place." Blair took a chance and patted Jim's hand. The flinch he got could have been because of the stickiness of his fingers, but he didn't think so. Fuck. To infinity. "I get it," he finished.

"It's not that --" Jim began. He paused. "It's a little because of that. But not much; I trust you, Blair. You're not the kind to wander off with the silverware I don't own."

"No, I'm not. And I wouldn't poke through your stuff, I swear, but I can see why you'd feel uncomfortable."

"I just wanted to cook for you." Jim slathered butter on his last piece of pancake, stared at it, and shoved his plate away. "I promised I would and the only way to do that was to kick you out of bed." He smiled, a sunrise grin. "Hated to do it. You looked cute all snuggled up and snoring."

Blair didn't even try to defend himself from the snoring accusation. He had bigger fish to catch, gut, and fry. "Jim, call me cute again and we're going to fight. I mean it." He took a gulp of coffee. "Unless we already did when I was asleep and I missed it?"

"Huh?"

"You're acting weird for someone who sent me to sleep wiped out from coming so hard it hurt."

Jim met his matter-of-fact phrasing with what looked like relief. "I'm suffering from nerves, to be honest. Didn't realize it showed."

"You're kidding me."

"No." Jim finished his juice, the swallow drawing Blair's gaze to Jim's throat, pale skin, unmarked, all the kisses Blair had given it invisible, lost. "Don't do the morning after deal all that often. Anyone stays the night and they're usually out the door as soon as they've dressed. Sometimes before I'm awake."

Blair took a last, unwanted bite of butter-drenched pancake to make Jim feel better and then edged his plate away. "They're missing some kick-ass pancakes, man."

"I don't recall ever offering them any."

"Hey, a compliment for me!" Blair raised his eyebrows. "It was, right?"

"I seduced you with batter? If you want to take that as a compliment, go right ahead."

Blair kicked Jim's shin under the table and pasted his best, who me? look on his face when Jim's eyes narrowed.

"How's your ass?"

Okay, good revenge. Blair flushed but answered him. "Feels fine. You didn't really hurt me, you know."

"I know." Jim scrubbed at his fingers and chin with a piece of the paper towel they were using for napkins. "Didn't need to, did I?"

Blair stopped himself from squirming in his seat as he was assaulted by vivid memories. It had hurt last night. By the end, when the leather had been falling against his skin with the same relentless pattering of the rain, it had hurt. And if Jim had stopped, and asked if he should continue, Blair would have begged him to, but Jim hadn't stopped and Jim hadn't asked and Blair hadn't begged. Not aloud, anyway. "I guess not."

"So what do you have planned for today?"

Jim's abrupt change of topic left Blair floundering. "Well, I don't have a car because I came in with you. I might take advantage of getting up early and hit the books. There are some I reserved waiting for me at the library downtown, the one on Franklin, and I could get some work done." He glanced over at the rain-spattered windows. "If you're going that way, I'd appreciate a ride, but if not, I'll walk or get a bus."

"I'll take you anywhere you like that lets me get to work by nine." Jim tilted his head. "Want to meet me for lunch? The library's about four blocks away from the agency; we could meet up at Zigzag without getting too wet if it's still raining."

Blair hoped he didn't look as conflicted as he felt. "Uh, Jim, that place is, well, it's…"

"If the word 'league' is about to pass your lips, you'll --"

"Eat lunch standing?" Blair gave Jim a wry smile. "I think I've figured out that as threats go, that one's an empty one. And, no, I don't think it's that. It's just over-priced, over-rated, and I'd be under-dressed."

"Have you ever actually eaten there?" Jim leaned back in his chair. "Because Roberto would prove you wrong on everything but the first one. Though, if you were with me, we'd get the special rate and I think you'll find it's more reasonable than you think. Besides, you'd be my guest."

"Wait." Blair shook his head. "This is the same place that told the mayor he'd have to wait in line? The one people make reservations for weeks, months in advance? The one --"

"Yeah." Jim waved a dismissive hand. "It's all for show. I eat there a couple of times a week; you can get in if Roberto likes you and he likes me." He pursed his lips. "Are you worried he knows what I do? Concerned he'll think you're a client? Gay? A new employee?"

Blair snorted. "Right. Like anyone would pay to have sex with me. No, none of those. It's just not somewhere I'd feel comfortable -- and you can't tell me the clothes I was wearing last night would get me past the door."

"If you're with me, you could walk in there naked and get served." Jim chuckled. "Okay, maybe not naked, and maybe not for dinner, but at lunchtime he's not going to care." He folded the paper towel in half with more care than the action warranted. "He knows who I am. What I do. He's a friend." He shrugged. "And I bring him a lot of business. We take clients there."

"I still wouldn't feel --" Blair studied Jim's face, impassive now. "I'm sorry. You asked me out, didn't you? And I wasn't very gracious about saying --"

"'Fuck you, I'd sooner go to Wonderburger'?" Jim said lightly. "No, you weren't, but I'm not going to hold it against you." He picked at the paper towel, small shreds of it fluttering to the table. "So no lunch."

"I didn't say that!" Blair protested. "I'd love to have lunch with you."

Jim's gaze met his, a cautious look clouding his blue eyes before he nodded. "Fine. You pick a place."

"I, ah, when I'm working at the library, I just grab a sandwich from the cafeteria in the basement," Blair confessed. He tried, and failed, to fit Jim into the plastic and clatter of the Book Nook café and gave in. "If you'll let me borrow a tie, I'll meet you at Zigzag."

"Can I let you borrow a shirt, too?" Jim said hopefully.

Blair kicked him again. "No. My shirt is fine. What's wrong with my shirt?"

"It's plaid." Jim stood and then began to clear the table. "Do you want me to go into more detail than that?"

"I don't really care what I wear."

"I noticed. I suppose I should be grateful for that." Jim swept the butter dish from under Blair's outstretched hand. "Wearing something that showed off your assets would have worked wonders for your sex life, you know."

"So you're glad my clothes sense sucked before we met, but now I'm dating you I need a makeover?" Blair shook his head. "You got me sleeping with men after ten minutes with you, Jim. Leave it at that."

"Man," Jim corrected. He paused, his fingers hooked inside Blair's juice glass. "Just me. Right?"

Blair nodded slowly and watched Jim's expression clear. "Just you."

"If that changes, tell me," Jim said, casually enough to erase a question from Blair's mind that had never really formed.

"Sure." Blair stood. "Hey, can I grab a shower before I get dressed in my rags?"

Jim stacked their plates in the sink. "Help yourself." He glanced back. "Not sure if the hot water will hold out for two showers; mind some company?"

"Is this a ploy to see me wet and naked?"

"Absolutely."

"I really have to pee."

"I think I could stand to miss that part." Jim gestured at the table. "I'll finish up here and join you, okay?"

"Okay." Blair felt his face warm with embarrassment. Oh, way to go, Blair. So seductive. So much savoir-fucking-faire.

He'd used the bathroom the night before but the gleam of white tiles and a sink astonishingly free of toothpaste streaks hadn't made much of an impression. He'd been too busy muttering "Oh, my God," in an awed whisper when he'd seen his back and his ass in the mirror. It looked normal today, maybe slightly pink, with one faint bruise on his hip that he'd done himself, bumping into a table at home.

Nothing to show for the previous night, beyond a headful of memories.

And, as he stepped into the bathtub and under a powerful, stinging spray of water, a cock already hardening when he thought about Jim getting into the tub behind him, naked, solid. They wouldn't be able to play games; no time, no toys, but he didn't think Jim would pass up the chance to do something now the awkwardness had gone.

The something he hadn't done when they'd woken. Blair had expected him to; he'd known Jim was hard, and he sure as hell was, but Jim had eased away from him after one brief kiss that had landed around Blair's ear. Blair had been left in a bed that they'd remade at two in the morning and that still smelled of sex and Jim.

His hand dropped to his cock, an automatic caress that felt better than usual. His skin tingled as the hot water teased a faint echo of each stroke from it, from shoulders to thighs. His nipples, dark, a little swollen, were aching, not for a soothing touch, but a pinch he wasn't going to give them. He didn't want to do it himself; he wanted Jim.

His head dipped down as his hand tightened, a whimper parting his lips. He'd wanted harder and Jim had given it to him toward the end but he'd had to wait. Jim had worked him over, talking to him, touching him, trailing the ends of the flogger over him in long, slow sweeps between sets of ten strokes. Blair remembered turning his head to the side when he was on his stomach and feeling the leather across his mouth. He'd licked at a single strand, caught it between his teeth; hung on until Jim, after silently waiting, had freed it, with a consoling brush of his thumb over Blair's lip.

The next set had felt different; not all that more painful, although his skin was tender and hot, but easier to bear. The last of his self-consciousness had left him; he didn't try to hold back the sounds he was making and he stopped tugging at his bonds, accepting that they were there.

Trusting them. Trusting Jim, who'd given a sigh Blair could barely hear over his own ragged breathing, and dealt out ten sharply sizzling strokes that did all they needed to.

He felt a gust of cooler air and heard the door close.

"Did I say you could start without me?"

Blair leaned back against Jim's chest and let his hands fall to the side. "Take over, man. Knock yourself out."

He felt Jim bite down on his shoulder and closed his eyes. He'd reached the point where he craved something visible on his skin, a mark he could run his fingers over, proof of being wanted. "God, I love it when you do that."

"What? Bite you?"

"Yeah."

Jim chuckled and nipped at Blair's earlobe. "Good to know."

"I mean it," Blair insisted. "It just…"

"I know." Jim nuzzled and licked his way down Blair's neck and threw in a bite every inch or so. "So where do you want biting, Blair?"

Blair turned, moving so that the spray hit Jim's chest, glittering on the broad, flat planes of muscle and trickling down the flat stomach to the dark tangle of hair. He glanced down at his own chest and let his fingers hover above his right nipple, flexing restlessly. "Here. Both of them. God, they feel like they're burning."

"Biting won't help with that."

"I don't fucking care." Blair pushed his soaked hair back and leaned against the tile. "Please, Jim. Need --"

"What?" It didn't sound like a test or a tease. "What do you need?" Sounded kind of anxious, actually.

"Your mouth, Jim, God. On me." Which was so hard to say face to face, with the tile cold against his back, and the taste of maple syrup in his mouth.

Jim leaned in and put his hands flat on the wall, bracing himself so that when his mouth found Blair's that was the only point of contact between them. Obedient to an order he hadn't been given, Blair kept his hands by his sides when he wanted to fill them with the heat of Jim's skin, curl them around muscled arms, the point of elbows, the jut of hips and cock. Jim's body was known to his eyes but far from familiar and he wanted to glut himself on it with greedy, possessive glances and kisses.

"Stay still," Jim whispered and dragged his hands down the wall. He bent over and then flicked his tongue over Blair's nipple, a quick caress, the warm wetness lost in the spill of water from the shower as Jim's shoulders deflected it, sent it coursing over Blair's chest.

The dig of his teeth as they mimicked the clamp was enough to wipe out the hours of sleep and take Blair back to the place he'd been in after the final stroke had landed. He rocked his hips forward and got a little friction on the head of his cock courtesy of Jim's thigh.

Not enough, and now Jim's teeth were worrying the bruised skin around Blair's other nipple, the soft laps of his tongue a counterpoint to the sharpness of his teeth.

Blair moaned, his fingers scrabbling at the tile, going up on his toes trying to get more, more of the biting, more of the sucking, more of the pain.

He got a final swirl of the tip of Jim's tongue and then Jim went to his knees in a graceful slide that even viewed through Blair's lust-blurred eyes looked slick and practiced.

That didn't stop him enjoying what Jim's mouth did on the way down but it took the edge off his arousal. He'd come to terms with what Jim did but the shower seemed on the crowded side for a moment.

Then Jim's lips formed a perfect seal and his cheeks hollowed and nothing existed for Blair that didn't have its origin in Jim; his fingers wound through Blair's, pinning them against the shower wall; his mouth pulling and tugging and sucking, and his hair, wet and sleek, rubbing against Blair's skin. Blair stared down as Jim angled his head, perfect angle, perfect, and ran his tongue from root to tip, as erotic a visual as Blair had ever seen, Jim's face flushed, his eyes half-closed, his nostrils flared.

Blair got one hand free and stroked Jim's head with an unsteady hand. "Jim -- not like that. Just you. Show me how you do it, okay?"

Jim's gaze met his, puzzled, even hurt, and it killed him that he could put that look in Jim's eyes, but he loved that he could even more.

He continued stroking Jim's hair in an agony of doubt. Fuck. Best blow job he'd ever had, all the fuss he'd made, and then he said that, was he crazy? Had to be crazy. He worked his other hand out of a suddenly loose grip and cupped Jim's face, dropping his other hand to his cock.

With as gentle a pressure as he could, he guided Jim's mouth back, and rubbed the head of his cock against closed lips. "Please, Jim, please, I want you to, I do."

A shudder ran through Jim and he turned his head away, a kiss pressed into Blair's palm, Jim's mouth lingering there. Blair felt a jolt of need, sweet and dizzying. He slid two fingers into Jim's mouth on impulse and gasped as Jim sucked on them, his tongue furled around them.

"Oh, man, that feels good."

Jim's hand knocked Blair's away, cupping his balls and then jacking him with a rough impatience, his mouth still warm and tight around Blair's fingers. The primal urge to move built until Blair gave in, arching his hips into the circle of Jim's fingers, fucking Jim's mouth with his fingers, not caring when they met teeth.

Jim was making noises now, breathy grunts, his own cock hard, emphatic and eager, his free hand clamped on Blair's ass, fingertips digging in. He twisted his head away, mouth spit-wet and open, lips chafed red, and said Blair's name with a clarity that carried even over the hiss of water.

Then he dragged Blair down into the tub in a sprawl of legs and arms, his hands shifting to cushion the worst of the impact and Blair put his head back, hooked his leg over the side of the bathtub and let Jim do what the hell he wanted because he'd asked for this and he'd got it and he was going to keep on asking, never stop asking, because this was real.

It had to be real. It hurt, bathtubs being on the unyielding side. He tried to ease into a more comfortable position and then froze, breathing, speaking, thought all closing down, inessential, as Jim put both hands and his mouth to use.

This wasn't careful, this wasn't even close to professional. This was the sort of blow job Blair would have given if there was no one to stop him, enthusiastic and sincere. Jim was licking in places Blair had never expected to get licked, pausing a couple of times to scrabble impatiently at a hair stuck to his tongue and then going back to a futile attempt to get both Blair's balls in his mouth at the same time. His hands roamed Blair's body, fondling it, exploring it, pinching, scratching, caressing while Blair did his best with what he could reach of Jim, pushing through the water-heavy hair to find the hollows behind Jim's ears, the nape of his neck.

When Jim finally swept his hands down to cradle Blair's cock, rubbing his cheek against the length of it, letting the head bump his chin, his nose, grinning and then capturing it gently between his teeth, Blair lost it. "Oh, God, Jim, suck me, begging you here…"

Jim didn't answer but Blair didn't really want him to.

He came in Jim's mouth fifteen seconds later, held down by Jim's hands, enslaved and enraptured by Jim's mouth, howling up into the cooling spray of water and letting it wash over him and take the sound away.

Jim pulled away, his hands on the sides of the bathtub, chest heaving, head down, still hard.

Then he reached out and traced a small circle on Blair's hip bone with a fingertip. Blair made an interrogative grunt and Jim shook his head, his eyes hazy. A moment later, his tongue repeated the circle and then he took a deep breath, exhaled and bit down, sucking hard at the skin until Blair felt the throb of a forming bruise, his spent cock twitching optimistically.

"Oh, fuck, oh, Jim, that's -- ah, that's good, yes --"

He was babbling, squirming, hammering his fist against the tile, but Jim didn't stop until he was ready.

Then he knelt back and brushed his knuckles over the bitten skin, and smiled. "Looks good."

Blair reached up and turned off the shower, flinching from the sudden silence. He looked at the blood-dark skin and nodded a sincere agreement. Whole new world he'd woken into. "Looks great."

Jim got out of the tub and then grabbed a couple of towels. He tossed one at Blair, who caught it and used it to wipe his face dry. Standing up on legs that wobbled wasn't easy but he managed, leaving the slippery sanctuary of the tub and going straight into Jim's waiting hug.

"You're dripping everywhere."

Blair stepped back and toweled his hair vigorously, droplets flying. "Like I care right now."

"Good?"

"Amazing." Blair snuck a peek. "Uh, Jim. You didn't…?"

"No time," Jim said. He flicked Blair with the towel. "Which I'll make you pay for later."

"How?"

Jim smiled. "However you want me to. Think about it while you're reading. Be creative. Be inventive. And be at the restaurant at twelve, or even I won't be able to get us a good table."

Blair fingered the mark on his hip and watched Jim's eyes darken. "Guess I'm properly dressed now, huh?"

"You could say that," Jim agreed. He cleared his throat. "I'd still like to lend you a --"

"Tie," Blair said firmly. "Just a tie." He chuckled. "And, man, anything of yours wouldn't fit me; think about it; totally different sizes."

Jim's lips twitched in a grin even as Blair began to realize what he'd said. "Thanks for the compliment, but lube works wonders. Now get dressed; I'm already in enough trouble with Simon without being late."


*****



Simon was waiting for him when he arrived at the office, which was exactly what Jim had expected. He nodded a greeting to him, and gave the room of busy people a wide, brimful of happy smile.

Even if his dick hated him, he was feeling good this morning. And his mouth was watering just thinking about lunch. Be fun to see how easy it was to get Blair aroused, the evidence south of the belt hidden by one of the heavy linen napkins Roberto used, white and stiff -- and the hazy eyes and flushed face, the licked lips and unsteady voice less easy to disguise.

There were places he could take Blair afterwards. Safe places, discreet… equipped. He liked the prospect of Blair's mouth on him, still sweet from dessert, still hot from coffee.

His turn to come.

He headed for his private office to check the availability of the one closest to the restaurant, a restored, late nineteenth century house, all conservative elegance and indulgent comfort. One of the bedrooms had a wide, high bed, solid and sink-into soft. He thought about spending the afternoon there, one slow drowse of an hour after another, letting the day work hard around them while he listened to Blair talk about anything and nothing, his spanked ass burning against Jim's hand, his heartbeat still frantic from everything Jim had done to him.

There was a school room crossed with a nursery at the top of the house, kinky as hell and just slightly creepy, though some people got a kick out of it; ornately dressed dolls and a rocking horse staring glassy-eyed at a much larger horse, bolted to the floor, all straps and leather; a blackboard and teacher's desk in front of a short row of old-fashioned student desks.

Jim had used that room once when he was an employee of the agency rather than its owner. Sam had set up a scenario and needed him to play the widowed father to her governess while the clients, a married couple, played the rebellious teenagers in need of some discipline.

That one hadn't been easy, even with every move supposedly arranged beforehand. You couldn't predict a client's reaction with complete accuracy and you couldn't turn them down when they decided that they wanted something as straightforward as getting fucked. Hell, Jack would've had him working the graveyard shift for weeks, earning next to nothing, if he'd even tried to say no.

Fucking what was supposed to be his daughter while she screamed and wept, some of the tears real because Sam had been as efficient as always…well, no matter how much she and her watching husband got off on it, it wasn't his idea of fun. He'd hung onto an erection through an effort of will -- and a little chemical help -- and managed to smile when the clients had praised him afterwards, but… okay, maybe not that house. Maybe the ultra-modern apartment over on Bloor, with the closet full of enough restraints and floggers, whips, and canes to make Blair's eyes go wide and his knees go weak…

Jim -- not like that. Just you.

He frowned, second-guessing himself. Maybe they could just go back to his place? Or maybe just --

"Jim. Got a minute?"

Simon walked in and closed the door without waiting for Jim's reply.

Jim eyed him blandly. "Well, this is unexpected. Have a seat, Simon."

Simon snorted and sat down on the loveseat along one side of the office, owning it immediately, his arms spread across the back, his long, powerful body framed by the dark-green leather. "Asshole."

"You know you love me." Jim gave Simon his best puppy dog look and grinned when Simon rolled his eyes in disgust.

"I know I care enough about you to say something when I see you making a mistake," Simon corrected him. "And dating a client -- Jim, Jim… tell me I got that wrong?"

"No."

"I'm going to want more than that," Simon said after a short pause.

Jim sighed and walked over to the coffee machine in the corner, where a pot of Columbian coffee stood waiting. He poured them both a mug, and added cream and sugar to Simon's, leaving his own black. "You've read his file." It wasn't a question.

Simon took his coffee from Jim, placed it on the low table in front of him, and nodded. "Seems harmless."

"You ran a deep check, didn't you?"

That level of background check was usually saved for clients who wanted something extreme or expensive; Blair didn't qualify, and when Simon shrugged and nodded, Jim felt a stab of annoyance.

"That wasn't necessary."

"Could be Vice. Undercover."

Jim stared at Simon, incredulity replacing irritation. "You think I wouldn't spot a cop? And he's come back three times, Simon; don't you think once would've been enough to nail us? Besides," he sipped his coffee, smooth and hot, "when have we ever had any trouble from Vice? They know we're clean. No drugs, no underage clients or workers; everyone's healthy…"

"They know there's worse out there, that's all," Simon corrected him. "And they use limited resources to target them first. We're not safe from investigation and prosecution, Jim, and don't ever think it. No matter who we have on our client list."

Jim grimaced. "I know, but…"

"And stop changing the subject," Simon said. "What the hell were you thinking? Cancel his fee? I suppose you want me to give him a refund, too, for the first two sessions?"

"No," Jim said. "Those, he pays for. But not last night."

"Why?" Simon said, a growl through gritted teeth.

"Because I don't let my dates pay to screw me," Jim snapped. "Christ, Simon, is a personal life too much to ask for? You're the one who told me it'd make a difference owning this place; that I wouldn't feel like the piece of fucking meat I did when I left. You keep on like this and hey, stick a fork in me, I'm done."

"Jim, you've got clients you still see, ones you've gotten friendly with --"

"Yeah? So?" And three of them were among the ones who kept the agency safe; high-placed, influential people.

"You still charge them," Simon said bluntly.

"Because they're still clients! Blair's different."

Simon sighed. "He's a kid. Wet behind the ears and as far away from what you normally go for as it gets. Not your type."

"He's thirty, he could probably make you blush with one of his stories about wedding rituals in some obscure culture, and he's meeting me for lunch and I plan to make it a long one, so if you don't mind, can we drop my fucking social life and get on with some work?" Jim said coldly. His type? What type? He didn't have a fucking type. He just had disasters and worse disasters. "What's happening with that new escort you interviewed last week? Did she check out?"

After a moment when he thought Simon was going to push him on this and take them somewhere Jim really didn't want to go -- arguing with Simon just didn't feel right -- Simon nodded. Neither victory nor surrender; just a breathing space. Simon could be relentless in pursuit of something he wanted.

"Laura? She's looking promising. Interesting, classy, and, well, you've seen her. One fine-looking lady. Not interested in being more than an escort, but that's not a problem. She's going out tonight with Diana; dummy run, though she doesn't know it."

"What's the set-up?" Jim asked absently. He had to call and book a table. A secluded one; he didn't want Blair on display, with people staring at him. Something told him they'd both react badly to that, for very different reasons.

"Two businessmen who want company because they're in town overnight and don't like eating and clubbing without a pretty girl on their arm."

Jim nodded. It was a standard way to test a new employee and see how well they behaved in public and how they handled the common hazards of their job. The businessmen would be agency employees Laura hadn't met who would get steadily drunker and more obnoxious and push for sex.

If Laura couldn't handle a jerk with Diana there to provide backup and a good example, or fend off advances that went beyond what she could legally offer, well, they needed to find that out before she met with a real client.

It was amazing how many people they interviewed for the sex side of the agency said primly that no, they wouldn't ever, not ever, what kind of a person do you think I am? and then demonstrated their willingness to go to their knees for a fifty extra on the tip when they were hired as escorts instead.

And that just wasn't allowed.

The escort side of the business was just that; nothing more, ever. Anyone who forgot that and got found out -- and they always did -- got no second chance, no reprieve.

"Sounds good," Jim said. "We done here?"

Simon stood. "Assuming he sticks around, you plan to introduce me?"

"He tells me no one ever gets past four dates without ditching him," Jim said, smiling at the look that got him.

"And what number is lunch?"

"Second one," Jim said. "But I don't have any plans to cut Blair loose, Simon."

Their gazes met and locked.

"I'm getting the message," Simon said dryly. "You've got a new hobby. Or is he an obsession?"

"He's --" Jim paused. "I like him, Simon. You will, too."

"Sam doesn't," Simon said. "She says he needs a gag and a few lessons in manners." Jim raised an eyebrow and Simon began to chuckle. "Maybe I will like him. Anyone who can piss Sam off that fast has to have something going for him."

"She said he had a lot of potential, too," Jim said. "Natural sub."

"Yeah?" Simon considered that. "Are you going to take him to her club?"

"He wants to go," Jim admitted.

"Of course he does." Simon picked up his coffee and drained it. "Might be a good idea."

"He's not ready. He'd freak out."

"Like I said." Simon put his mug on Jim's desk with a decisive click. "Might be a good idea."


*****



Jim sat at the Zigzag bar, where he could keep an eye on the door, and took a sip from a weak whisky and water, given to him that way because it was how he always had it here. You didn't get drunk when you were with clients, but you made them think you were having fun with them. He was too used to it to even notice the taste.

Roberto walked over to him and gave him a conspiratorial wink as he fussed with an arrangement of flowers that was making Jim want to sneeze. "Your table is ready whenever your guest arrives," he murmured. "And I can't wait to see him."

"Remember what I told you," Jim said. "He's not interested in people fussing over him."

Roberto nodded sagely. "Authors. Painters. Creative types. They're like that sometimes. I understand. They deal with fame differently than, say, actors, who want the world to look and admire them."

"He's not famous," Jim said, back-pedaling a little. "I told you; one book and he's working on his second."

An airy wave of the hand dismissed his attempts to be honest. "Nonsense. He is dining at my restaurant with my favorite customer --" Roberto patted Jim's arm and relented. "Fine. He's an unsung genius."

Jim grinned reluctantly. "Closer. Just don't look at him."

"What?" Roberto dropped the affectations and most of his accent. "I can't look at him? I have to greet him and escort him to the table with my eyes shut?"

"I mean," Jim clarified, "one of your special looks. The ones you give the people you don't think meet your standards. I don't want him getting indigestion or hiccups; and you even think about correcting his pronunciation or raising your fucking eyebrow at what he chooses, and I'll --"

"Jim, Jim!" Roberto was wide-eyed and indignant, his short dark hair rumpled by an agitated thrust of his fingers through it. "I would never!"

"Oh, yes, you would," Jim said, mildly now. "And you do it to him and I walk and we take our clients somewhere else, you got that?"

For a moment, real anger passed over Roberto's face and Jim began to mentally phrase an apology. Shit. What the hell was the matter with him? Then a knowing smile replaced the annoyance and Roberto began to chuckle. "Oh-ho."

"No," Jim said, beginning to sweat. "No, Roberto."

"Oh, but yes," Roberto said in a sing-song voice. "Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. Mr. Ellison is enraptured, infatuated, ready to be quite astonishingly rude to a dear friend --"

"Roberto, I'm sorry. I apologize. Grovel, even." Jim tried a chuckle of his own. "Can we just forget I said anything? It's just -- first dates, you know how it is --"

"I forgive you because you brought him here, to me, to my restaurant," Roberto said magnanimously. "And because of the friendship I bear you."

"You're a star," Jim said. "And you know if you served breakfast I'd never eat anywhere else, ever, right?"

"Breakfast?" Roberto said faintly. "People really do that? Consume food while they're still half asleep?" He shuddered and Jim wasn't sure that was put on. Roberto was rumored to exist on coffee until the restaurant closed, when he sampled every dish served that evening and made notes on it for his long-suffering staff.

Before he could assure Roberto that, yes, people did, and his Sunday mornings would be blighted without hash browns and pancakes on the menu, Blair arrived.

It was still raining and he'd obviously walked from the library; his hair was dark and plastered to his skull, his jacket damp, and his glasses were dotted with raindrops. He stood beside the reception desk, smiling brightly at the woman giving him just exactly the kind of look Jim had known he'd get, and took off his glasses, polishing them dry on a handkerchief.

"No," Roberto said, echoing Jim's own plea, his gaze following Jim's intent stare. "No, Jim."

"Be nice," Jim hissed. "Or I'll hurt you."

Roberto's eyes narrowed as Blair slid his glasses back on. "He has nothing, Jim. Nothing."

Blair said something to the woman, who was probably trying to persuade him to leave, and then turned to peer into the restaurant and saw Jim. His smile, relieved, pleased, left Jim dealing with a twist of tenderness that recalled the time a three-inch thorn had embedded itself in his foot. Being happy shouldn't be this acutely painful.

"Oh…" Roberto said, with a wealth of meaning. "Now, perhaps, I see, a little. But Jim, this first time I allow, but never a shirt like that again. Please. You will tell him, yes?"

"I will tell him, no." Jim muttered, as Roberto surged forward, a hand extended dramatically, pitching his voice so that it carried. No one had to teach Roberto that when faced with a potentially awkward situation, half-measures were rarely effective.

"Mr. Sandburg! An honor. Please, this way, follow me."

A ripple of interest ran around the room, with people who, Jim was cynically certain, had been expecting to see Blair leave, tail tucked between his legs, reevaluating him in the light of Roberto's effusive greeting.

Except you couldn't do anything much with what Blair was wearing. He looked scruffy-casual, and by habit, not design. The borrowed tie made it worse and Jim cursed himself for thinking it would help.

He caught Blair's eye, smiled, and tapped his own impeccable strip of silk before shaking his head slightly. Blair looked baffled for a moment and then nodded back. By the time they reached the table, the borrowed tie was a (creased, crumpled) bulge in one of the many pockets of Blair's coat.

Coat off, even when that revealed rolled up sleeves and more of the plaid shirt, Blair looked better. Roberto gave him an indulgent smile and said simply, "I will see to your drinks myself. Jim, my friend; another whisky?"

"No, this is fine," Jim told him. "Blair? Would you like a drink before we order?"

Blair shook his head and tapped his finger against his water glass. "Water's good, thanks. I'm thirsty." He gave Roberto a friendly smile. "I've been in the stacks all morning. Man, you wouldn't believe the dust."

Some of it lay in a smudge across Blair's cheek. Jim saw Roberto notice it and do a good job of ignoring it. Roberto clicked his fingers and a waiter appeared, filling their water glasses with a discreet gurgle and not a single splash.

"Thank you," Blair said politely.

Roberto snapped his fingers again, accepted two menus and the wine list from a second hovering waiter, and passed them out with a flourish. "Enjoy your meal," he said, his attention drifting to the door and a new arrival. He turned to leave, but paused and gave Blair an appraising look. Blair didn't notice because he was already reading the menu, his eyes widening.

Jim gave Roberto a 'get the hell out of here' glare that was met with a mocking smile before Roberto walked away to welcome an elderly man. He was rumored to be related to European royalty, which Jim doubted, but if it made Roberto happy to believe it...

"Jim," Blair said in a low voice, delivering a gentle kick to Jim's ankle. "Fifteen dollars for soup?"

"Don't make me take that menu away from you," Jim warned him. "And you've got --"

"What?"

"Here." Jim waved his hand vaguely at his own cheek. "Dirt or something."

Blair, predictably, rubbed at the wrong cheek, and Jim sighed, licked his thumb, leaned over, and took care of it, gripping Blair's chin with his other hand to hold him still.

"That was about the most humiliating experience, ever," Blair hissed when he was released. The kick that followed really hurt.

"Then you should have taken the time to look in a mirror before you got here," Jim said without a trace of apology. Seeing Blair here, at a table he'd sat at with so many clients, so many times, the conversation easy, urbane, was disconcerting. He couldn't -- he couldn't talk to him. He was floundering between conflicting emotions and the overpowering need to touch Blair any way he could get away with.

"I was running late," Blair snapped.

"Well, I can tell you were running…" Jim let his gaze linger on Blair's heated face and tangled hair.

"Oh, man…" Blair tossed his napkin on the table where it fell into starched peaks and folds, a white splash against a white cloth. "I don't need this. I'm out of here. I'm gone."

Jim closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. "Blair. I'm sorry. And you make three."

"Three what?" Blair was poised on the edge of his seat and they were getting inquisitive, sidelong glances from the diners around them.

"Three people I -- three people I've pissed off today."

"Who were the other two?" Blair sounded interested now. Piquing his curiosity seemed to be the best way to calm him down. Jim filed that away and continued repairing the damage.

"Simon, back at the office, and Roberto just before you got in."

"Something happen?" Blair subsided into his chair, which was enough to make Jim relax, and took a gulp from his water glass. "Because you were in a good mood when you dropped me off."

"Yes," Jim said. "The day started off just the way I like it. And then you left and it went downhill."

Blair chuckled uncertainly. "That sounds like another line."

"It might, but it's the truth." Jim sipped his whisky. "The ache in my balls didn't help, either."

Blair snorted with laughter and hid his face in his menu. "I can't believe you just said that in public."

"I can't believe I was so fucking conscientious about getting into work on time," Jim told him. "I walked into a lecture from Simon I could have done without and a --"

"A lecture?" Blair put the menu down. "About me?" His eyes were anxious. "Jim, I told you that you didn't have to cancel that charge. If it's going to get you into trouble --"

"Relax, Chief," Jim said as a waiter began to walk toward them. "I'm not in trouble."

They ordered, with Blair refusing a starter and choosing an entrée at what seemed like random, his focus on Jim. Jim had what he always had; steak and a salad. The menu prettied them up but that was basically what they were.

When they were alone again, Jim braced himself for more questions, but Blair seemed absorbed in splitting and buttering a roll, giving the task more attention than it deserved, his eyes downcast.

"I meant it," Jim said gently. "Hell, I own the place, remember?"

"But he's your partner, right?" Blair broke off a piece of roll and ate it. "He has a say in the way you do things and I bet he's not happy about all this."

"Well, no," Jim admitted. "But it's more that he's surprised and he doesn't like that. He likes things planned and orderly. Likes it tidy."

"Who is he? How long have you known him?"

Jim leaned back. "Simon? About ten years. He was my commanding officer when I was in Special Forces."

"Wow," Blair said blankly. "Special Forces?"

"Oh, come on, Chief," Jim teased. "I saw you looking at that old photo of me in uniform; did you think I was paint-balling or something?"

"No," Blair said slowly. "It's just both of you ending up working together and in a job like this… you've got to admit that's out there."

"Lots of army buddies do it," Jim said defensively. "They trust each other, know they can work well together; their families are close…"

"And you trust Simon?"

"I took a bullet for him once and I'd do it again." Jim swallowed the last of his whisky and greeted the wine waiter with a grateful smile. "Hello, Francis."

"Mr. Ellison," Francis murmured, giving him a deferential smile and Blair a speculative look. "I think you'll like this Shiraz. The '94 is a little more robust, perhaps, but the '96 has a charm of its own."

"It's fine," Jim said, barely tasting it. Blair sipped his without commenting.

"Don't you like it?" Jim asked when Francis had walked away.

Blair shrugged. "It's okay. I don't drink wine much, to be honest. I worked at a vineyard one summer and, man, I could tell you some stories --"

Jim raised his hand. "Don't. Because I do drink it."

Blair grinned, quick and mischievous. "I want to, but I won't. Really, I like it. Nice berry overtones and a good nose." His grin faded. "Bullets. Scary stuff."

"It isn't at the time. Afterwards, maybe, but by then you're safe, so..."

"What about the next time? Before the fighting starts?"

Jim shrugged, glancing off to the side and uncomfortably aware that Blair had unerringly targeted the worst time to have an attack of nerves. "You wanted to know if I trusted him. I do."

"I still don't know how the two of you went into this line of work." Blair sounded tentative but Jim sensed the same quality that Simon possessed; a stubborn determination to get answers.

"I'll tell you later," he said. "Not here."

Blair nodded, accepting that rebuff more easily than Jim had expected. "So, should my ears have been burning this morning?"

Jim smiled. "It's possible. Mine were getting chewed off, if that's any consolation." He fiddled with the position of his knife on the tablecloth for a moment before saying casually, "He thinks I'm, uh, infatuated with you."

He glanced up to catch Blair's expression and saw nothing but a waiting expectancy.

"That doesn't seem to be news to you."

"Well, no," Blair said. "I'd already worked that one out for myself."

"Uh…"

"And I don't like it, but it's not like I can change it --"

"Wait, you don't like --?"

Blair took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. "It won't last. You want to fix me up and either you will and then you'll lose interest, or you won't and you'll get frustrated and walk away. I'd sooner you just kind of liked me and we could build on it, but you don't, do you?" He replaced his glasses and Jim was hit by a resigned look that cut deep. "You're crazy about me. I always thought that would feel good, to be wanted, but it doesn't. Not if it won't last."

Jim opened his mouth, about to deny it, deny it all, when a plate was slid in front of him and a pepper grinder was flourished under his nose.

By the time they'd dealt with one hell of a lot of solicitous inquiries about the food they'd barely had a chance to taste, he was almost certain Blair was kidding.

Almost.

Because it wasn't like that. It really wasn't.


*****



Outside the restaurant, with a watery sunlight seeping though the clouds, Jim waited for Blair to say something. The flirting over the meal, the slow simmer of seduction he'd planned, just hadn't happened. Blair and he had talked, argued, and lowered the level in the wine bottle, but they hadn't arranged to see each other again or made any plans for the future and he felt an unfamiliar uncertainty eat away at him.

Blair stood in front of him, his hands in his pockets. "Thanks for feeding me. Next time, it's on me, okay?"

Next time. Jim smiled. "Sure," he began.

Blair interrupted him. "Do you have to… yeah, you do, don't you?"

"Have to what?" The wind was blowing down the street, waltzing with a sheet of newspaper, and Blair's hair, dry now, was across his face one moment, lifting to expose the line of his neck the next. Under the jacket, under the clothes, he wore a bruise from Jim's mouth and teeth on his hip, imprinted heat from Jim's hand on his ass, but those were hidden, secret, safe, and Jim was standing a few feet away, his hands empty.

"Go back to work?" Blair sighed. "Yeah, you're late, already, aren't you? Should've skipped dessert."

"The way you were staring at the profiteroles on the next table?" Jim said dryly. "I'm not that cruel."

"I'd choose you over chocolate." Blair peered up at him. "That was a compliment. They were really good profiteroles."

"I'll take your word for it." He didn't do desserts. Every year, staying fit took more effort and he didn't need the extra calories. "And you didn't need to choose. You can have both. There's time for…"

"A nooner," Blair said reflectively and accurately. "I've never done this before. Do we check into a motel or something?"

"Do you want to?" Jim toyed with the idea of installing a fake motel room in one of the agency's houses and dismissed it. You couldn't fake the sleaze and the thin walls, or the slick grease of sordid over everything.

"I want…" Blair shook his head. "Just somewhere no one's watching. Somewhere we can get naked." His head tilted, he stared at Jim. "Somewhere I can take care of that pissy attitude for you, because, man, you need to get laid, don't you?"

Jim wanted to groan an agreement, wanted to unzip right there and let Blair take care of him against the nearest wall, coach him through it, make him gag and choke and keep on coming back for more because he couldn't get enough of the taste of Jim's cock and the feel of it against his tongue, his lips. He settled for a sigh, quiet enough that only Blair's slow smile let him know it'd been heard.

"Oh, you want it," Blair murmured, and it was Jim getting seduced now, aroused by a carnal mouth, sticky-sweet, and a bare handful of words he wanted to eat like cherries, sucking the tart, red flesh off the stones.

"Follow me," Jim said, wondering that he could say even that much without telling Blair the rest of it. He guessed Blair could see it on his face and he covered the raw, naked need with a grin. "My little obsession, my chocolate-coated infatuation, my --"

"Hey," Blair protested, falling into step beside him as Jim walked away. "Keep that up and I'm changing direction and walking away from the crazy man."

"No, you won't."

"You sound sure of that."

"I am." They came to a halt, waiting for the lights to change, the two of them invisible in the crowd, letting Jim speak freely, though he kept his voice low. "Because I might be obsessed, but you're addicted."

Blair's breath caught, a choke of shock Jim could hear over the roar of traffic and the baby screaming in a stroller beside him. "I -- I'm not."

They crossed the street and Jim took advantage of the press of people to slip his hand around Blair's shoulders. He guided them into a quieter side street and then let his hand fall away. "Yes, you are. Do you think I didn't see the look on your face when we were waiting for the check? You wanted to be out of there so badly I could taste it. You were jittering like you were the one with the espresso, not me."

Blair's face was averted, the shielding sway of his hair a barrier Jim wanted to draw aside. He wasn't sure how he felt about Blair's hair. He'd never had a male lover with long hair and it was distracting, disconcerting.

And he was getting tired of kissing Blair and ending up kissing hair instead. The damn stuff got everywhere.

But Blair only had to tie it back for his hands to itch with the need to free it so that they could play with it, cat's cradle for adults, with Jim pushing his spread fingers through it slowly, past snarls and tangles, silky, static-sparking strands clinging to the back of his hands, his wrists, until he was cradling the curve of Blair's skull.

He wanted to brush Blair's hair, Blair on the floor, leaning back against the bed, his eyes closed, a dreamy look on his face. Wanted the rebellious hair to lie smooth under each slow dragged pass of the brush, only to spring back as the brush completed the stroke. Wanted to smell it, feel it, clean and damp from washing, brush it dry, watching it lighten, snap-crackle-popping at him.

Wanted to drop the brush into Blair's waiting hand and make him crawl to put it away, his hair slipping forward over bare shoulders, his movements slow, languid, a pampered, spoiled pet.

Now that was a fantasy for the Victorian house.

"What would you have done if I'd said I had to go back to work?" Jim said, his tone harsher than he'd planned. "Accepted it? Pouted, pleaded, begged?"

Blair swung around to face him, his expression challenging. "It didn't come up. Because you wanted it just as much as me. You stood there on the sidewalk and I could see how much you wanted me to stay. I stepped back and you followed me. You thought I was leaving and you swallowed and your eyes, God, Jim --"

"I'm going to fuck -- no," Jim corrected himself, "I'm going to have you on your knees sucking me as soon as we're behind a door that locks. That's a promise. Still want to come with me?"

"I'd do it now if you told me to."

Jim smiled at hearing the echo of his earlier thought. "I wouldn't -- that's not taking care of you -- but I appreciate the offer."

"Fine. We'll wait." Blair glanced around. "Uh, where are we? And where the hell are we going?"

Good question.

Jim pulled a key ring out of his jacket pocket. "Pick a key."

"To what?"

"They're houses we own. Places we take clients. That first night I told you I could take you somewhere you could be noisy, remember? That's what I meant."

And Blair had freaked out. That seemed like a long time ago.

"The closest place will do."

"Then you'd better hope you pick that one." Blair had to learn to obey, not argue, but Jim wasn't holding his breath.

"But I don't know -- oh, this one." Blair tapped a silver key, hanging off to the left of the bunch. "Now tell me it's clear across town and watch me cry."

Jim started walking again. "It's close; they all are, but I have to make sure it's free."

"How many of them do you have?" Blair asked curiously as Jim waited for Rhonda to check, the phone against his ear, his steps slowing because if it was being used they'd have to turn around.

"Five," Jim said. "But some we share with another agency -- oh, thanks, Rhonda. Take it out of the system until four and send a cleaner over at three thirty, will you?"

He turned off his phone and smiled at Blair. "So, on the one hand no rush, on the other…"

"Walk faster?" Blair asked, grinning.

"I'm not sure you're going to get to come," Jim said mildly. "Maybe you need to learn how to wait. Sam's big on delayed gratification; I'm sure she'd approve."

"Fifteen years wasn't long enough?" Blair shook his head. "And if you want me to give Sam another whirl, well…"

"Sam doesn't want you," Jim said. He put his arm around Blair and pulled him against his side without breaking stride. "I, on the other hand, do. And I don't share."

"Possessive," Blair said. He stayed within the curve of Jim's arm for a few more steps, a strand of that damn hair finding its way across Jim's chin, and then moved away. "I'm not used to that."

"Better learn," Jim said lightly, meaning it.

Blair gave him a quick, hard to interpret look, and smiled slightly but for once didn't answer.

Jim had run out of things to say, anyway. He knew which of the houses on the street was their destination, that one, there, four steps leading up to a door painted his favorite dark green; shuttered windows managing, because of the flowerboxes beneath them, not to look forbidding.

The street was mostly business, not residential, the neighbors unlikely to be curious if the outside was well-kept -- and it was -- and the noise level low --which it also was. In the time that the agency had owned it, the houses on either side had seen a steady turnover in tenants, anyway; small businesses, optimistically certain they could pay the staggeringly large rents.

And they were almost there, the key warm in his hand and Blair's quick, uneven breathing a match to his own.

"That door?" Blair asked as Jim turned and began to walk up the steps.

Jim glanced back. "Is that a problem?"

Blair licked his lips, which meant that if it was, Jim really didn't care. "Only if the key sticks, because I'm not sure I can wait much longer."

"It won't." To prove it, Jim slid it home and turned it. The door swung open and he stepped inside, tapping out a four-digit code on the keypad as it began to beep a warning.

By the time Jim had disabled the alarm, the door had been closed and locked and Blair was on his knees. His eyes had the distant, hazy look Jim was starting to recognize as Blair so turned on he could barely speak. Something else Blair needed to be trained out of. Jim wanted Blair there, with him, participating. Passive didn't do a thing for him, never had.

Jim leaned back against the door and unbuckled his belt, shoving his jacket wide without bothering to take it off. He thumbed open a button, slid down a zipper, and eased out his cock and balls with a practiced scoop of his hand, never taking his eyes off Blair.

Then he jerked his head in a signal and watched Blair edge forward the few inches needed, which was good because Jim wasn't sure he could speak without his voice shaking.

Blair put his hands on Jim's thighs, fingers spread wide, the warmth of his palms hotter on Jim's skin than he'd expected through a layer of fabric, making his skin prickle with sweat. Blair's eyes closed and he leaned forward, rubbing the side of his face and that silky mess of hair against Jim's cock, the strands catching on the rougher hair surrounding it, the darting, sideways lick of his tongue unexpected. It drew a deep, harsh moan from Jim that he heard in his head as Blair's name.

Blair's hands flexed without moving upward and he continued to let the glossed-wet head butt against his cheek, his closed lips, his chin, licking it at intervals, sometimes snatching a taste of the precome shining like ice on holly berries against the deep red flesh, sometimes running his tongue along the length, finding places that made Jim shudder and jerk.

He endured it for a long minute, his hands by his side in an effort of will only he would ever appreciate, and then he whispered, "Open your damned mouth, Blair," as tenderly as he could because his hands were full of Blair's hair and he couldn't be gentle, not now, not with his hands, not with his body, not when Blair was sucking him eagerly, appreciative hums and moans and those damn hands hot on him, so hot.

Jim came before he'd planned to, three seconds early at least, cheated out of one more thrust into Blair's welcoming mouth because he looked down as Blair looked up and that did it for him. No one should look that good with a cock shaping their mouth round, lips wet, slicked, smeared, eyes bright, cheeks flushed.

Blair strained forward, fighting Jim's grip on his hair in an attempt to keep as much of Jim's cock in his mouth as he could. Had to hurt because Jim didn't slacken his hold. Couldn't, right then. Jim felt his hips jerk forward, back, once, twice, then froze, deep in Blair's mouth, as he stopped thinking for a moment, vision gone, body jolted by the kind of climax that hit hard and left you breathless.

He tipped his head back, staring up at the ceiling, and tried to make his body remember how to inhale and his fingers to relent, release their hold on Blair's hair.

He managed it when Blair made a small, plaintive sound and rocked his head slightly in an unspoken request, but he couldn't do more than that. Blair eased his mouth off Jim a moment later and Jim shivered as the wet skin on his cock met the air-conditioned air, cooling fast.

He looked down. Blair hadn't moved. He knelt at Jim's feet, his hands sliding over Jim's thighs, a few inches up, then back to where they'd started, the repetitive action helping to bring Jim back because it was vaguely irritating as much as it was soothing.

Blair sighed, rested his forehead in the hollow of Jim's hip for the space of a breath, and then brought his hand over to wipe at his mouth.

Jim found the energy to smile at that and stroked Blair's head. "You okay?"

Blair nodded and Jim felt a damp kiss against his stomach.

"Good," Jim murmured. He reached down and slid his hand between Blair's hand and his leg. Blair's fingers clutched hard and Jim ran his thumb across Blair's knuckles. "Right here, Blair."

Blair exhaled. "That was --"

"Yeah."

Jim didn't want to talk about it. He was too busy looking at the stairs and the open doorway at the top of them even as his hands petted and calmed.

A bedroom, a bed. Right there.

And he wouldn't have made it. Couldn't have waited that long (ten, fifteen seconds, an agony of need making them endless).

He brought Blair to his feet and pointed at the stairs. "Up. And don't get undressed yet. This time you're doing it my way."

"But I get to come, right?" Blair glanced back over his shoulder, already halfway up the stairs. "Jim? Tell me I don't have to wait."

Jim hung up his coat and tugged up his zipper, leaving his belt unbuckled. He was going to be taking it off soon. A closet full of everything you'd ever need to inflict a smart, a sting on waiting, willing flesh, and Blair could look all he wanted at paddles and whips, but he was getting Jim's hand and the belt Jim would slip back through the loops on his pants.

"Maybe and yes, definitely."

The feeling of panic following his loss of control was fading with every muttered complaint from Blair.

As he walked slowly up the stairs, easing his belt free, Jim was smiling.


*****



Blair didn't know what he'd expected, but the bedroom looked disappointingly normal. Large, yes, luxurious, yes, but… normal.

Jim's hand came to rest on his shoulder, squeezing it and not moving away. "Look again," Jim said, a hint of amusement in his voice.

He wasn't sure if it was good that Jim could read him that easily. Useful in some ways, sure, but…

"Look closer," Jim advised, leaning in. His breath stirred the air beside Blair's neck and set off a chain reaction, a localized shiver.

And just like that, he saw normal shred away, because most bedrooms didn't have a hook set into the ceiling above the bed.

The bed was higher than most, and there was a discreet key pad, wall-mounted, within reach of someone lying down. "Adjustable," Jim murmured in his ear. "Hell on the back if you want to fuck someone while you're standing and the bed's too low…"

Blair stared at the bed, all white pillows and dove gray covers, muted, elegant, a neutral canvas. He tried to picture Jim, naked, his hands gripping slender hips; a faceless, beautiful woman moaning, long hair brushing the bed as she was fucked.

Except it wouldn't always be like that, would it? It might be Jim on his hands and knees, mouth making sounds he'd been paid to make, a man behind him, older maybe, with a body showing the effects of too many lunches like the one Blair had just had, a sweaty, red-faced, grunting man --

"You're not looking happy." Blair turned and saw that Jim was holding his belt in one hand, the dark strip of leather dangling. Jim saw the direction of Blair's gaze and coiled the belt loosely before tossing it onto the bed. It lay against the pale fabric like an ink-drawn spiral. "You said you didn't mind me talking about it."

"I don't." Blair licked his lips and caught himself doing it. Doing it again, because ever since he'd risen from his knees, lips warm and numb and wet, he'd been licking at them, chasing the taste (new, different, had to show; had to be like lipstick, there for all the world to see…).

The only reason he wanted to stop doing it was because each time the flavor was fading, going away.

He tried again. "I don't mind. I just -- I was thinking of you. Doing that." Having it done to you.

"Oh." Jim stood in silence for a moment. "I've never -- not here. Not in this actual room." He glanced around, frowning. "I don't think so, anyway."

"It doesn't matter," Blair said. He couldn't let it matter. And in a weird, fucked-up way, it aroused him; not the idea of Jim getting fucked, no, but the wave of possessiveness that followed the thought. He liked the mantra of 'mine' it set off in his brain.

He studied the room with more attention now. Jim's place. Jim's space. Jim's workplace. And Jim was looking vaguely proud now that Blair thought about it, standing there and watching Blair wander around something he'd created.

"Close the door?" Blair asked.

"No one else will show up," Jim told him. "But sure." He pushed it closed. "Want me to lock it?"

"Yeah, I do. Do you mind?"

"No."

He supposed he should feel panicked, claustrophobic even. The windows in the room, two of them, were blind, hidden behind heavy drapes, and the room was quiet. Alone in here, he might have felt trapped, but with Jim there, arms folded across his chest, leaning back against the locked door, the room felt like a refuge.

There were places on the headboard where metal and wood had been rubbed shiny. Places where anchor points had been added. Blair found himself absently stroking his wrist, remembering how it'd felt to be tied down.

"I don't suppose there's a Gideon Bible in the nightstand."

"If the cleaners did their job -- and I'm sure they did, they're in-house and well-trained -- there are three bottles of assorted lubes and five boxes of condoms in various styles and sizes, plus, well, other stuff." Jim grinned at him. "Go and check for me and I can call this a working lunch; part of my job is random inspections of the rooms."

Curious, Blair opened a drawer. The bottles and boxes were small, reminding him of the usual hotel giveaways of toiletries. "Looks like it's all there," he reported back. "All new, too. The lubes haven't been opened."

"Well, sure." Jim sounded perplexed. "Once they're opened, they're disposed of at the end of the session."

For some reason, that mundane detail brought home to him where they were more than anything else. His own bottle of lube, sticky, half-empty, tossed under a heap of junk in his own nightstand drawer, had been there for months.

He closed the drawer and turned, gesturing at the closets, two of them, flanking the doorway to the bathroom. "What's in there?"

"Equipment," Jim said. "Want to see?" His mouth twitched in what Blair guessed was an attempt to hold back a smile. "Of course you do."

"Maybe I do," Blair said. He managed to keep a grin off his face for about three seconds before surrendering. "Oh, you know I do."

He walked over to the closet nearest the window and tugged at the doorknob. Locked.

"You can't open it without using this," Jim said, joining him by the door and pointing at yet another keypad set into the wall. "And clients never get told the combination, and neither will you, but for different reasons." Oh, way to make his throat close up, lust choking him as he worked through the implications of that. Jim liked being in control, but not as much as Blair liked being held in place… and if he didn't get to come soon, really soon, he might have to see how easy it was to beg Jim into being merciful. "Close your eyes."

"You're joking, right -- oh!" Jim's large hand covered his eyes, a warm, effective blindfold, and Blair heard the light tap of a finger entering a four-digit code, and then a soft click.

"You can look now."

Jim's hand fell away and left Blair staring at the contents of the closet. Neat. Tidy. Organized. Not alphabetically, no, because dildo came before flogger -- unless it was a crop? No, that was over there, hanging from a hook…

"Uh-hmm." Jim sounded satisfied by Blair's reaction, even if it'd consisted of one sharp breath and a lot of stunned silence. "The other closet's got costumes, harnesses, that sort of thing. Nothing I want you in."

"Collars?" Blair asked, surprising himself. "Because, you know, I think I'd like to try --"

Jim brushed the back of his hand over Blair's throat. He didn't look pleased. "No."

"No?"

"Two things. No, three. One, you wear a collar -- my collar -- and it's going to be one I had made for you, not something a fucking client -- not something anyone else has ever touched."

"Fine --" And I was a 'fucking client' until last night, Jim…

"Second, I'm not sure I want to take this that far --"

Then why are you still touching my neck, Jim? Why are you looking at me like you did when I was on my knees, mouth full of your dick?

Blair tipped his head back instead of asking what he thought were two excellent questions, and felt Jim's fingers slide up the side of his neck, one finger finding the hollow behind his ear and pressing into it. When the finger moved away, Blair could still feel the insistent pressure there, radiating out until the skin around it felt heavy with the weight of their mutual need.

Because Jim might have just come, but it hadn't been enough for him. Blair could tell.

"And third…" Jim kissed the corner of Blair's mouth. "You're not ready for one. Nowhere near ready."

"Hey!" Frustrated, Blair slammed his hand against Jim's chest and pushed, succeeding mostly in propelling himself backward, because Jim didn't budge. "That's my call to make."

"You think it’s just a fashion statement?" Jim's eyes were remote, cool. "Something you can wear for the hell of it and take off after you've come? You think it's something you can ask for without earning? You think you can wear it while you've got all these limits in place?" Jim shook his head. "Not that I'm saying you're wrong to have those limits, but -- it just doesn't work like that, Blair." His voice softened marginally. "Look, trust me on this, will you? Don't rush it. Don't push yourself or me." He reached out and hooked his finger under Blair's chin, bringing Blair stumbling closer with a small tug. "I promise you we've got time, okay?"

Blair jerked his head, freeing himself, and nodded. "Okay."

As responses went, it was pitifully inadequate, but it was all he had. He felt humiliated, his needs and weaknesses exposed.

And still hard. God, so very fucking hard.

Limits… yeah, he had those, didn't he? And he could see what Jim meant; he wanted the toy without eating the cereal. And maybe thinking about it as a toy wasn't something Jim would like, either.

"Fuck me today," he offered impulsively, the words spilling out. "Get it over with."

"What part of not rushing are you failing to get, Blair?" Jim shook his head, looking bemused. "You're something else, you know that?"

Blair opened his mouth to refute that, and got distracted by something on the third shelf. "Jim? What -- oh, God, it's an arm." A clenched fist and a forearm, to be exact. The thought of it inside his ass was enough to make every muscle he had go into spasms. "Shit, it's just… way to make me feel inadequate," he muttered, trying to cover up his reaction.

"Hmm?" Jim turned his head. "Oh…" This time his lips tightened but the amusement was still visible. "Well, as arms go, it's not that big."

Blair chuckled. Fisting wasn't on his to-do list which meant that impossibly sized object was something he could observe objectively after his first, instinctive flinch. "True. And compared to you, it's on the small side." He ran his hand over Jim's forearm, gratified by the way Jim froze in place. "The bright purple's a bit much."

"There's probably one in a different color in another room if you want me to get it," Jim said softly. "Or maybe we could just stop sightseeing now?"

"Works for me," Blair agreed, registering the way Jim's voice had gone quiet and recognizing it as a signal that Jim was done playing. "So what do you want --?"

This time, the hand went across his mouth.

"I want you to stop talking. I want you to do what you're told without hesitation, without commentary. I see you smile or roll your eyes and you're taking care of this little problem --" Blair gasped as Jim palmed the heavy ache of his dick, the casually rough caress perfectly timed, Jim's hand gone before Blair could arch and rub against it. "Single-handed," Jim finished, the final word ominous.

Jim smiled unexpectedly. "And I want you to learn how to get undressed for me the way I like it." He pushed his thumb past Blair's lips and pulled it back wet from the lick Blair hadn't been able to stop himself giving it. "You're a quick study. It's not a lesson I expect to have to repeat."

Jim dropped his hand and arched his eyebrows, waiting for a response. Blair knew these games from a dozen movies about soldiers in training and he'd gotten off on them even as Naomi had exclaimed in horror at his choice of entertainment. And Jim had been a soldier, hadn't he, so this was something he'd have endured for real...

So. He hadn't been asked a question, which meant he had to keep his mouth shut -- unless maybe Jim wanted him to acknowledge the instructions, in which case did Jim want him to say 'sir' or something?

"You do quiet the way other people make speeches," Jim told him. "Just nod, okay?"

Blair nodded.

"Right," Jim said, with a sigh of relief. "Now we're getting somewhere."

'Getting somewhere' meant taking fifteen minutes -- fifteen, and Blair didn't believe Jim when he said it could take four times that, because you could only spin out taking off a sock for so long -- to do what Blair, motivated by what was going to happen once he was naked, could have accomplished in as many seconds.

It meant Jim lounging back in an armchair, fingers tapping idly at his mouth, his gaze never leaving Blair, his eyes cool, appraising.

It meant Blair feeling his arousal wane somewhere around the third button on his shirt, refastened and undone four times before Jim was happy with the way he'd done it (it was a button, for God's sake, a freaking button…) -- only for it flare up, burning bright and hot, when Jim stood, walked over, bent his head and kissed the bared skin on Blair's chest, a single, slow kiss, and then glanced up, meeting Blair's eyes.

"Take that long on the next ones and you won't get to come at all," Jim said pleasantly.

Bastard.

"Don't worry." Jim's next words were whispered into Blair's hair, quiet words in a quiet room. "I'll still spank you, sweetheart."

Diabolic bastard, Blair amended silently, biting back a despairing whimper at the threat of a spanking with no climax. Or worse, coming anyway, as he wasn't sure it was something he'd be able to prevent, and Jim doing… something to him by way of punishment that he wouldn't like.

Jim went back to his chair, nodded, flicked his fingers, and Blair slid the next button free, one handed, his gaze fixed on Jim's face, his other hand resting against his thigh, fingers spread, pointing down.

"Better."

Jim's commentary wasn't helping his nerves, but it was better than doing this into an unresponsive silence. Maybe.

Blair was sweating, a graceless, blushing mess, but under Jim's steady gaze he produced something that was barely adequate, although he wasn't confident of his ability to remember the order his clothes had to leave his body -- right sock before left and both before his pants, for example -- and some of the details Jim was insisting on were just too fucking stupid --

And it didn't matter, did it? The realization hit him at the same time as his shirt reached the floor after sliding down his outstretched arms, his back arched in a wordless offering of his finally naked body.

It only mattered that Jim was telling him what to do and making his obedience perfect by not accepting anything less -- or as close to perfection as Blair could get, because this wasn't easy. He'd thought that it would be -- that arousal and an erection would carry him over any awkwardness toward the ultimate goal of sex the way he wanted it, with someone hot. He'd even, more or less, gotten over the shock of discovering that men did more for him than women when it came to this kind of sex.

Maybe any kind. He wasn't sure about that; but until Jim left his life, it was a theoretical question.

He hadn't gotten over the twist of pure need in his gut every time he looked at Jim and found him looking back, that grave, considering smile on his face. Didn't want to.

But it wasn't easy and he was wondering why he'd ever thought it would be.

He stood, positioned by words, held in place by his own determination, and felt himself lose it between one breath and the next, shaking, his teeth chattering, warm tears gathering in his eyes, because he was naked and Jim wasn't looking at anything but his face, and he could feel the blood heat it and even if he managed to keep these stupid fucking tears from falling, his nose would start to run soon, always did, and Jim had told him not to move and sniffing was so not seductive…

Jim nodded, made an indeterminate sound of approval, and walked past Blair to the bed, pausing for long enough to shove a handkerchief into one of Blair's hands. Blair used it, balled it up, and after looking around, left it on a table by the window, next to a glass vase filled with nothing but air, the glass a smoky mix of purple and gray.

Jim undressed to the waist in a matter of seconds, placing his discarded clothes on an upright chair against the wall. Blair watched, resentment that Jim got to do it the easy way lost in appreciation of Jim's chest and arms -- God, if Jim didn't say to him soon, lick me all over and do it slowly, he was going to suggest it himself -- and a dawning awareness that even when he stripped quickly, Jim still made it look better than he had done in that endless quarter of an hour.

Jim kicked his shoes off and then, still wearing his pants, got onto the bed and patted it, settling down on his side. "Come here."

Blair took a step forward and then paused, lost without the instructions that had rained down on him when he'd undressed.

"Just do it," Jim said. He smiled. "Do it so I can't take my eyes off you."

Blair didn't think that was much of a challenge. Jim hadn't stopped looking at him since he'd walked into the restaurant. He considered his options and went for simple. He walked to the end of the bed, bent and put his hands flat on it, and then crawled over it until his head was level with Jim's shoulder. He stopped, head down, his hair falling around his face, and held that position.

"Oh, that was nice," Jim said approvingly. "Stay like this."

He stared down at the bed, his eyes blurring. Jim edged a little closer and began to fondle him, his hand stroking Blair's back and side, exploratory, possessive touches.

"Don't like your hair like that, though," Jim murmured, tucking Blair's hair back behind his ear on the side nearest Jim, exposing Blair's face. "I want to see you. Is that a problem?"

Blair shook his head. Jim's hand swept down his spine and cupped his ass. "You answered too fast," Jim told him. "But I don't think I'd have listened if you'd said it was." His thumb grazed down the split of Blair's ass, going shallow and slow. Blair shivered and found his knees edging wider, his hips tilting up. God, he was going to be begging Jim to fuck him soon, because that single teasing touch had left him trembling and it hadn't been anywhere near his --

He forced himself to think, ignoring what Jim's hand was doing to the back of his thigh with an effort of will. He was past freaking out about sex with a man. He was. He was turned on by Jim to the point where the man could get him hard just by existing; that didn't go with freaking out, it just didn't.

And yet he only had to imagine Jim sliding one slicked-up finger into his ass for his face to crumple into a squeamish grimace. Stupid; Jim was inside his head, for God's sake; his ass was off-limits, but his mind wasn't?

But logic didn't mean much to muscle groups, and even as he spread wider, feeling his knee nudge the cool leather of Jim's belt, he tensed up.

His half whispered, half wailed, 'Jim' came a heartbeat behind Jim's 'What is it?'.

He collapsed onto his stomach, scrubbed his face against a clean, cool pillow, and waited for Jim to read his mind and make it better.

"Uh, Blair…"

"Mmm?"

"Get your head out of that pillow, would you?"

From bemused to bossy in two sentences.

Blair turned his head and stared up into blue, blue eyes. "Have you ever wanted something you were terrified of?"

"Sure," Jim said promptly. "Parachuting. I wasn't scared the first time, but the second… God. See, I knew what it was like… and I loved the freedom, the feeling that I was flying -- nothing like it -- but it scared the shit out of me, too." He pushed Blair's hair back again in a move Blair was starting to anticipate. "What am I doing wrong?"

"Nothing. It's me."

"You're doing just fine. I'd tell you if you weren't."

"See, that's just it. I'm only doing what you tell me to. Take you away and I'm lost."

Jim was back to looking bemused again. "Blair, you need me for this. Or it's called masturbation and I think you've had enough practice at that."

Blair swatted Jim's hip indignantly. "Hey! Don't tell me you don't jerk off."

"Oh, I do," Jim assured him. "But since I met you… well…"

"What?"

"I missed you," Jim said obliquely. "Put it this way; that time in the hotel bathroom wasn't the last time I jerked off thinking about you."

"You've been thinking about me when you…?" Was that flattering or … no, it was flattering. It was really, really…

Jim didn't have the grace to look even a little self-conscious. "Only when I'm in a hurry."

Blair absorbed that and decided to do come confessing of his own. "God, I only have to think about you and I go off like a rocket."

"Yeah? Me doing what?" Jim asked. Jim didn't sound as if he was fishing for a compliment Blair doubted he could frame in anything but stammered incoherencies; he sounded more like a doctor asking about symptoms.

Blair shook his head and lied, just a little. "Nothing specific. Just you. Spanking me. You know…"

And kissing the back of my neck, and holding me, and getting hard over me, over me

"Mmm." Jim looked unconvinced, but he let it go, which disappointed Blair in some ways. "So what's wrong?"

Blair rolled to his side, facing Jim. "I think about you fucking me and I can't go there. Then you touch my ass and I'm -- it feels good and I want it and I start to think I can… and then I'm back on the image of your fingers in my ass and I'm just --oh, man."

Jim blinked at him in silence for long enough that Blair's erection began to wilt. "I see."

"Glad one of us does, because I can't figure it out," Blair muttered.

"There's nothing to work out. You don't want it, we don't do it."

"You say that now."

Jim's fingers were suddenly tight on Blair's chin, holding him in place. "I say that now, yes. I'm not going to change my mind. Do I want to fuck you? Yes, because I know I'll like it and I think you would, too. I do. But it's not a condition of being with me."

"What is?" Blair asked quietly.

"I don't know. That you don't lie to me. That you don't hide --" Jim pushed his hand through Blair's hair, freeing it from behind his ear without letting it fall forward to shield his face. "With me, why would you want to? I know your deepest, darkest secret, right?"

Good point. "Habit."

"Break it."

"Yes, sir."

"Smartass," Jim said affectionately and kissed him.

Blair stiffened in surprise and then got into it as Jim didn't show any signs of stopping or being in a hurry. The cloth of Jim's pants was smooth against his legs and he edged back a little because he was hard again. Those pants looked expensive.

He didn't ask Jim to take them off, though; he'd already worked out that Jim preferred to spank him when he was naked and Jim wasn't, and he could appreciate the power dynamics at play there.

Jim paused. "Feeling better?" His hand reached down and stroked Blair's erection. "Oh, yeah, you are."

"Not really," Blair said without thinking. Jim frowned and he pushed himself to explain before Jim began to ask questions. "I'm still all --" He wiggled his hand. "Indecisive."

A flash of frustration passed over Jim's face before his expression changed to studiously calm. "Then we deal with it. Don't overthink it, just tell me to start with what is it that you like about the idea?"

"Like? Oh, man." Blair shook his head. "The physical bit -- you touch me and I just -- I don't know what you do, but it's good. And I trust you."

"Okay…"

"And I like the idea of being…" Blair swallowed, but he'd come this far, he could do this… "I like the idea of being taken by you. Just feels like the ultimate submission, right?"

"I can't say it feels that way for me when I'm bent over," Jim said, a slight edge to his voice. "But if that's what you think you'd get out of it, well, it's your dime, Chief."

He wasn't going to back down no matter what issues Jim had. "Yeah. It is. I've been letting you inside since we met; that would be just more of the same."

Something softened in Jim's eyes. "I guess. Okay; so that sounds like you want it here --" he tapped Blair's forehead, "as well as down there. Move on to what's holding you back."

"Messy, painful, and just not what I'm used to," Blair blurted out, the words running together like rained-on wet paint.

Jim wrinkled up his nose, looking bewildered. "Huh?"

"You asked."

"'Messy'," Jim repeated. "Blair, it's sex. Sex is messy. You don't let it stop you and if you mean what I think you mean --"

"You know I do," Blair muttered, his ears hot.

"Well, I could point out a lot of things, but why don't we just go with 'shit happens' and you cross that one off your list of hang-ups because it's sure as hell not on mine." Jim sighed. "And it won't hurt. I wouldn't let it."

"Mmm," Blair said tightly. "Fine."

"Has it hurt before?" Jim asked tentatively.

"Before?" Blair stopped reciting the alphabet backward in his head to distract himself from the single most embarrassing conversation he'd had since the first time he'd met Jim, and blinked. "Jim, you know I've never done this before."

"Not with someone else, no," Jim said, "but when it's just you, I mean."

"What?"

Jim's breath hissed through his teeth. "When you jerk off, Blair. Or are you telling me you've never slid a finger or two inside to make things interesting -- oh, God, you haven't, have you?"

"No, Jim," Blair snapped, his humiliation reaching heights he hadn't known it could and tipping over into rage. "Sorry, but at the age of twelve, I had enough to deal with on the outside to think about sliding a finger up my ass, or my ear, or my fucking nose for that matter . It wouldn't have occurred to me, and since then I've just gone with what I knew would work." He sat up, needing to be able to glare down at Jim. "What, did I miss a memo on the Ellison-approved method of getting off? Have I been doing it wrong all this time? Do I fail at that the same way I did at getting naked?"

"Blair --"

"No, you asked, and I'm telling you. I never have. Virgin territory. And, yes, I guess I could change that with five minutes alone in that bathroom over there and one of those bottles in the top drawer, and maybe I will, but you don't get to look at me like I'm -- like I'm -- fuck."

Into the stunned silence that followed his final snarl, Jim dropped a single word. "Sorry."

"Yeah, well," Blair muttered, unwilling to give up the lifejacket of righteous anger and just sink. "Now you know. I'm a repressed, fucked-up, sad --"

"You didn't see them, because they're in the other closet," Jim interrupted, "but this room's equipped with a variety of gags."

"Make your mind up." He was aware of the fact that he was behaving badly, but stopping was harder than starting. "First you make me talk, then you --"

"No," Jim said. "You're the one who wanted to spill, and I'm glad I made you. I get it now and so do you. You're scared. You've been scared since you opened that hotel room door and saw me, and you've dealt with all of it really well, but you've reached your limit. I get that, Blair, I really do." He smiled. "Simon would be amazed at how reasonable and understanding I'm being. I fake it for clients, but with friends, well, I've been known to come on a little strong. I'll have to tell him you're a good influence on me."

"I'm not scared."

Jim turned and Blair heard a drawer slide open. A moment later a bottle of lube, a paper-thin surgical glove, and a flat package of Wet Wipes landed on the bed. "Prove it. Here, with me watching, or in the bathroom alone, if you like."

"You want me to…" Blair felt hot and dizzy and oddly eager, which must have shown on his face, because Jim's lips curled in a small smile. "Jim, I don't think so. I will, but not now."

"Okay." Jim's smile vanished and he looked -- oh, God, he looked disappointed. Anger, Blair could have met with a matching heat; disappointment had him looking for a way to make it better.

"What happened to it not mattering?" Blair demanded. "What happened to it being my choice when it happens?"

"That hasn't changed. I'm not going to fuck you. It won't even be my finger. I don't even need to be here when you do it. But if even that's too much, too soon, fine."

There was a pause as Blair digested that piece of Jim-logic. In the end, though, it wasn't Jim's now well hidden disappointment, but the memory of the tingle of anticipation he'd felt with Jim's hand on his ass, just before the panic had hit. Pleasure or panic; one of those emotions had to win out, and if it wasn't an easy choice to implement, he knew which option he preferred. Enough of his life had been lived under the shadow of self-doubt and apprehension; enough time had been wasted while he tried to pretend that he could get by with fantasies.

"Green," he said finally. "You wanted me to tell you when things changed, right? So, for this, it's green, but I want you to do it, not me." He picked up the glove, stared at it for a moment as it lay limp and empty across his palm, and then tossed it off the bed and onto the floor. "Don't need that." He picked up the lube and held it out. "But you do need that, right?"

Jim hesitated and then took it from him. "You're sure about this? Me doing it, not you, I mean?"

"You didn't want me to overthink it," Blair reminded him. "And, yes, I'm sure I want it to be you."

Jim knew what he was doing, for one thing.

"Okay. But we do it my way."

"So what's new?"

Jim grinned at him slowly. "You really believe that, don't you? Blair, you have no fucking idea how wrong you are, but let it go."

Jim stood up and got out of his pants, dropping them over the chair that held the rest of his clothes. He was wearing boxers in navy silk, dark against his tanned skin. "Get a towel from the bathroom," he said without looking at Blair.

"Why?" Jim turned his head and Blair got off the bed fast when he saw Jim's expression. "Towel, right."

He grabbed the first one he saw in the bathroom, white, fluffy, thick, and walked back across the bedroom. Jim nodded at the bed. "Put it there." He was holding his belt between his hands, doubled over, and a pillow had been moved to the center of the bed. "Facedown," Jim said.

"Jim…" Blair said uncertainly.

"I'm going to get you relaxed, Blair," Jim said. He raised the belt. "And I promised myself I'd use my belt on your ass, so you get that first, because I'm feeling selfish. Then you're going over my knee -- which is what the towel's for, because if you come, I don't want to be wearing it all day -- and you get my hand." He gave Blair something Blair decided was meant to be an evil smile but really, Jim looked as if he was having a good time, and it showed. "And then a finger or two."

Blair lay down on the bed without answering, his legs already relaxed to the point of being incapable of holding him up, suddenly calm. He'd heard what Jim had said, but that was far off and distant, a future happening.

The belt in Jim's hand was now.

It flicked his thigh, a snap and a promise, and he exhaled slowly and waited for Jim to get something and tie him down.


*****



Jim got what he needed from the closet, his mind still processing what had just happened. Jesus, the kid was one surprise after another. His mouth shaped 'messy' soundlessly and he choked back laughter that would have hurt Blair's feelings and held more than a little incredulity.

Because, really, if anything had been needed to drive it home, bang, bang, just how much distance there was between them, it was that.

Not when it came to sex. No. Just… life. He'd spent two days in the jungle wearing a uniform where blood from three men, shit and piss and puke and God knows what else, had dried stiff, and had stunk so badly he'd come close to stripping it off and leaving it until his nose shut down. And he'd been glad of the shit smeared down his arms and stomach because it had fouled the scent of blood, and made him less of a target, but that was a rationalization he'd come up with later. At the time, he'd been a shell-shocked zombie, stumbling through undergrowth and suffering from a few wounds of his own, concussion, and, until he'd found water, dehydration.

He remembered falling into the water, a small, swift-moving river, and letting it take him, cleanse him, cool his fever, and he remembered strong hands pulling him out.

And he remembered a room like this one where a woman had wanted him to piss on her, craving a degradation a world away from Blair's simpler need to submit, but he wasn't sharing that story with Blair and not only because it wasn't his to tell.

Messy.

He was stranded between tenderness and impatience, but when he turned, his hands full of leather and steel, and met Blair's gaze as Blair glanced back at him and smiled, the impatience was lost.

He got Blair tied down, moving quickly only because of the clock, ticking away the time they had here, and found himself wishing he hadn't told Blair what he was going to do because really, right now, Blair was ready. Blair loved this. He was testing the restraints, sure; Jim could see the muscles in Blair's arms and legs tense and relax; hear the creak of the bed as Blair used what limited leverage he had to tug, but he wasn't fighting them. He just got off on knowing how well he was held.

Jim could have told him that he was held perfectly because he was damned if Blair was ever going to have anything less, but Blair needed to find out for himself that he was safe.

And after, Blair was as graceful in the placing of his head and the arch of his body as he'd been clumsy at undressing. Maybe next time, Blair could strip blindfolded… might work for him… or maybe it'd make it too easy…

He eyed the round, solid curve of Blair's ass and wondered what Blair would do if he just got between those widespread legs, parted that ass and let his tongue lap and push inside. It wasn't something he did often -- never with a lover, only a client -- but for Blair, yeah, for Blair…

Blair made a small, protesting, inquiring sound and Jim snapped out of his reverie. "Just admiring the view," he said by way of an explanation.

"My ass?" Blair sounded too… connected for Jim's liking. Too calm, too reasonable. "It's worth looking at?"

"Oh, yeah." Jim nodded, even though Blair couldn't see him. "Shame to mark it up."

There was a pause measured in heartbeats. "Really?"

Scarlet skin, and dim purple bruises rising… Jim wound the buckle end of the belt around his hand and drew the leather through the fingers of his other hand, checking for sharp edges, flaws.

"No. Not really."

Blair's cry, startled, exultant, as the leather struck skin -- Jim was half hard before the second stroke landed, aching for release by the last one.

And Blair was sobbing, pleading now. Not for Jim to stop, not that, no, but for a permission to come he wasn't going to get, because when Blair came, Jim wanted to see his face or at least be holding him.

He knelt on the bed, undoing Blair's restraints, unable to resist locking his hands around each freed wrist and ankle for a moment once the cuffs had been removed. The skin was hot against his palm, roughened slightly, and Blair moaned when he was touched and curled up, reaching out blindly for Jim.

"Come here," Jim said, remembering to drape the towel across his lap as he sat on the edge of the bed, and wishing he didn't have to put that barrier between them.

Blair crawled into Jim's lap, instead of across it, wrapped his arms around Jim's neck, his legs around Jim's waist, and stared at him with a dazed intensity. His cock was jabbing into Jim's belly, wet-tipped and hard, and he was shaking. "Fuck."

Jim held him, one hand sliding down to trace the welts on Blair's skin. Blair's eyes widened. "Don't --"

"Can't help it," Jim whispered back, fiercely.

"I'll come," Blair warned him, his voice husky, his hips jerking. "Jim, I'll come on you --"

Jim felt his world narrow to those words, already anticipating the slick heat against his skin, the noises Blair would make. God knows what he looked like, but he felt -- felt --

Like he had in the shower that morning. Unsure, with no clear idea of what he was doing, and, at the same time, confident that he couldn't do anything wrong.

He mouthed Blair's neck, licking at damp skin. Blair's hair was damp, too, with sweat now, not rain, strands of it clinging to his face, dark and lustrous. His eyes were glittering and his face was flushed and he wouldn't stop moving --

Jim shifted his hold on Blair and pushed down. "Over my knee," he whispered. Blair stared at him and then did it, tensing slightly as Jim's hand brushed over hot, sore skin.

He groped for the lube, bringing it closer and flipping the top open, and then dropped it beside him. He studied Blair's ass, assessing the damage. He'd been careful, though he wasn't sure Blair would agree. The skin wasn't broken and it was stinging like hell, most likely, but the pain would already be starting to fade to heat and a throb. "You can take more," he said. Blair moaned in response, already arching up to meet the promise of a slap.

Oh, yeah. Blair could take it, would beg for it, if Jim teased him with a delay -- but Jim knew that his own control was weakening. His erection was as insistent as it'd been when he'd walked into the house, pressing against the silk of his shorts, rubbed by Blair's hip when Blair wriggled.

He took a deep breath and brought his hand down, three times on each cheek, hard, as hard as he could, not holding back as he had with his belt, and then Blair started to sob and writhe, struggling.

He murmured something soothing, something sweet, and made Blair take two more, his free hand clamped down in the small of Blair's back, pinning him in place.

Blair wailed, hips jerking, and Jim grabbed the lube and one-handed, not fumbling because he'd done this before, God, so many times, squeezed out a puddle of it into his palm, dropping the bottle and tilting his hand until his fingers caught the downward spill.

Then he pushed a single slick finger inside Blair, slowly, carefully, holding him down. Blair stiffened, silenced by that, and Jim eased his finger in and out, going deeper each time, so much lube, so easy, so hot and tight in there, and Blair was panting now, and yeah, there, there, Blair was pushing back, wanting more, that was what he'd wanted, that was what he'd been waiting for --

Jim couldn't wait any longer. He got Blair off his knee and onto the bed on his back, rotating his wrist with a dexterous twist and keeping his finger deep inside Blair's ass. He wasn't losing that connection between them. Blair lay sprawled out, gasping, his chest heaving, his hands clutching air and then clawing at the covers. His cock was rigid, dark, his balls drawn up and tight.

Jim grabbed one of Blair's hands and held on tight, then slid half off the bed, taking Blair's cock into his mouth in a greedy, avid swoop, choking as it nudged the back of his throat and not caring. He sealed his lips around it and sucked hard, using his tongue, his teeth, and matched the thrust of his finger with the bob of his head.

He could taste Blair and smell him, musky, pungent, male; could hear him cry out, wordless, frantic, and feel the answering squeeze of Blair's hand as he clung to him. It wasn't enough, God, it would never be enough. He pushed a second finger inside Blair, fucking him fast now, driving his fingers deep and feeling Blair struggle to take them deeper.

He came a moment after Blair did, his climax triggered by Blair's startled, awed 'oh' and the warm spurt of come spilling over his tongue in a smooth rush, the taste of it catching at his throat, intense, intimate. Came without warning, the spattered silk clinging to him as Blair's fingers loosened and slipped away.

He turned his head slowly after giving Blair's cock one final, gentle lap, and kissed Blair's thigh as he eased his fingers free.

The room felt crowded with silence but Jim didn't want to speak. Not yet. He picked up the towel that had fallen to the floor and wiped his mouth, his hand, Blair's skin, not giving them more than a token clean because when he was able to walk, which he wasn't right then, he was heading for the shower and taking Blair with him.

His shorts were soaked. Fuck.

Blair slid down off the bed to join Jim on the floor, moving into Jim's arms as if he belonged there.

Jim waited for Blair to comment on the fact that Jim had come in his fucking shorts like a goddamned kid, but Blair just passed one hand lightly over the outline of Jim's cock, still half-hard, and sighed with what sounded like a sleepy satisfaction.

Jim smiled and kissed the side of Blair's head. "You okay, Chief?"

"Oh, yeah. Very much okay," Blair assured him.

"Good." Jim realized that he was petting Blair the way he petted Simon's cat when it climbed onto his knee and settled down to purr. He cleared his throat. "Hate to make you move, but --"

"Oh, God, no." With a gratifying reluctance, Blair burrowed in closer, his hands hot on Jim's skin. "Don't wanna."

Jim grinned and slapped Blair's thigh -- gently. "I don't, either, but --"

"But what?" Blair grumbled.

"We need to shower --"

"Some of us more than others."

Jim made his next slap on target and got a yelp of protest followed by a sound, husky and provocative, that he knew damn well Blair wouldn't be able to make good on. "Behave, or I won't apply some TLC to your backside."

"Mmm. Going to kiss it better?"

"No." God, he wanted to. Wanted to spread Blair out on the bed and lick his way across every inch of skin he'd marked. "Got some cream; it'll cool it off, help with the bruising."

"I don't want it cooling and I want the fucking bruises."

Jim raised his eyebrows at Blair's petulant tone. "I don't recall asking your permission."

"I want something to remember -- to -- something I can see afterwards so I know it was --"

"Real?" Blair didn't answer and Jim sighed. He touched the bite mark on Blair's hip. "You've got that."

"It'll fade."

"Then I'll give you another." Jim pushed his hand through Blair's hair and tilted Blair's face up. "Blair -- I'm not going anywhere. You want to carry something that lets you accept that, I'll give it to you. But you let me take care of you after a session, okay? That's not negotiable."

Blair sighed. "Okay. Sorry. I'm just --" He shrugged, looking a little lost. "That was kind of overwhelming, you know?"

"For me, too, and I know you noticed," Jim said dryly. He cupped Blair's face. "So…?"

"Yeah. I liked it," Blair said, answering the question Jim hadn't needed to ask. "And I guess that wasn't hard to miss."

"Nope."

"No more limits."

"One less limit," Jim corrected him. "Now get your ass in the shower, will you?"

"Sir, yes, sir." Blair murmured, getting to his feet and walking away, leaving Jim to follow him into the shower, crowding close and kissing Blair's smiling mouth as the water rained down.


*****



"Sweetie?"

Blair pushed the front door closed behind him and called back an answer. "Hi, Mom. Be right with you, I just have to --"

"I just want to give you a hug," Naomi said reproachfully, meeting him at the door to his room. Her gaze went down to the plastic bag he was holding. "You've been shopping?"

"Umm. Yes."

"What did you get?"

Blair resisted the urge to put the bag behind his back and say "nothing" the way he had when he was eight, smuggling in a GI Joe, complete with rocket launcher, that he'd bought with his birthday money. "Just some stuff, nothing important."

For a moment, he thought she was going to push for an answer, maybe even make a playful grab for the bag he was gripping so tightly that the plastic was slippery and hot against his hand, but she patted his face and turned away. "I'm on the balcony with a bottle of wine if you want to join me."

"Sure. Just give me a minute."

She paused and glanced back. "Blair? What happened to your overnight bag?"

Crap. "I, uh, I left it…"

Naomi smiled knowingly. "At Jim's."

Yes, but it hadn't been deliberate, the way her smile implied; they'd just left in a rush, and when he'd mentioned it, Jim had smiled and shrugged, before murmuring, "So?" which seemed to say it all really.

Naomi hummed, sounding amused, and continued walking. She was wearing a plain linen tunic over matching, tailored pants today; elegant but business-like -- for Naomi, anyway. She was going to be asking questions. Blair couldn't blame her; he'd given her a lot to think about when he'd introduced her to Jim, and then left immediately, but it didn't mean he was looking forward to her gentle, remorseless style of interrogation.

He got safely inside his room and sighed as he tossed the bag onto his bed. The cover was rumpled, and he smoothed his hand over the red blanket and remembered Jim lying down on the bed watching him, his eyes promising everything Blair had ever wanted. It didn't seem like less than twenty-four hours had passed since then.

Everything was moving really fast.

He sat on the bed, took a deep breath, and emptied the bag. After Jim had gone back to work, Blair had gone shopping. Cascade had plenty of stores that sold sex toys; cheap, tacky places, with blacked-out windows and the letter "X" featuring heavily in the store name. It also had a discreet, somewhat classier place aimed mainly at women, tucked away down a side street but still close to the main shopping area. Blair had browsed their catalog online a few months before, but had stopped short of ordering anything.

There hadn't seemed much point in buying something he needed a partner to use, and everything that had caught his eye had fallen into that category back then.

That afternoon, riding the confidence that came from the sting and burn of his ass with every step he took, he'd been ready to walk in through the front door. He'd taken out some cash, he knew exactly what he wanted, and if Jim could probably have supplied it for him, well, he wanted to do this himself.

He'd walked around the store, half-hard, his face flushed, his gaze flickering from one sight to another. The room he'd spent the afternoon in had been an eye-opener, but Jim had been there to make it all seem reasonable, even normal. Solo, his assurance was ebbing with every aisle he walked down.

Salvation had come in the shape of an assistant, a woman in her mid-twenties, bleached hair short and spiky but looking soft enough that Blair was reminded of a baby hedgehog. If hedgehogs went in for multiple piercings, that is. She'd been matter-of-fact and sympathetic, which he'd appreciated, and had encouraged him to spend one hell of a lot of money before whisking him up to the checkout and dealing with him herself.

He looked at what he'd bought, spread out on his bed, and hoped she got paid commission, because she'd earned it. New lube -- he made a mental note to throw the old bottle away -- nipple clamps, the closest he could get to the ones Jim had used, and two dildos designed, as Anna had told him while nonchalantly smacking one gently against her palm, for anal play.

Play. That sounded innocent, fun. Blair stared at the dildos, one finger-slender, the other much thicker, and swallowed a moan. God, this was just -- He gathered it all up and put it back in the bag, then locked the bag in his desk.

He paused, his hand on the key. He shouldn't have to lock it away. He shouldn't have to worry that it would be found.

"I want my own place," he said aloud, tasting the words. He'd fooled himself into thinking that that was what he had; that with Naomi away so often, with the house so large, he had independence. He paid rent, he contributed toward the bills…

He remembered Jim's loft down in the city, and felt a sudden pang of longing for somewhere like that. He was never going to be able to invite Jim to stay the night here; never going to feel relaxed when Naomi could walk in on them or overhear them.

He could hear Jim saying that he wanted to hear Blair scream. Not going to happen here.

He put the key in his pocket and went to find his mother.

A breeze was ruffling her auburn hair and the late-afternoon sun was streaming across her face, upturned to the sky, her eyes closed. "Help yourself to wine," she said, her voice dreamy, contented.

He poured a glass and sat down at the table, glass and copper, the metal weathered to green, matching the thick glass top. A friend of Naomi's had made it, a young girl, with vacant, dreamy eyes. Blair hadn't thought of her for a long time; the table was just there, part of the house.

"Naomi? What happened to Sandy?"

Naomi's eyes fluttered open. "Who?" Blair tapped the table and her eyes widened. "Oh… I don't know, sweetie. Why?"

"No reason."

He sipped his wine while looking out at the valley, and wondered if the eagle Jim had seen was out there circling. Every time he swallowed, he felt a frisson of arousal, recalling the way the muscles in Jim's legs had quivered against his hands as Jim had come, the unfamiliar taste that had lain heavy in his throat.

He was sitting with his mother, half-hard, fantasizing about giving a near-stranger head. God. He escaped to the railing, his back to Naomi, and broached the subject that was hanging in the air in the hope that he could control the direction it took.

"So… Jim."

Okay, that probably wasn't the most decisive opener.

"He's lovely," Naomi said warmly, sincerely. "So good-looking and so well mannered."

Wait for it, Blair thought silently.

"How old is he?"

Oh, there it was. "He's about seven years older than me, Mom. It's nothing."

"No, of course not." Naomi laughed, the rich ripple of amusement that hadn't changed in all the years he'd known her. "Blair. A man… I sometimes wondered --"

"Did you?" It came out flat and accusing; he hadn't intended it to, but it did.

"Well, darling --" She came over to join him and slipped her arm around his waist. "I'm truly just glad to see you happy. Even if this Jim isn't the one, if he's opened your eyes to what --"

Blair wrenched himself out of her loose embrace. "Why do you say that? Not the one?"

"You've only just met him."

"Yeah? So?"

Her gaze was unwavering. "Where did you meet him?"

He didn't allow himself the telltale of a steadying breath. "By chance, in a hotel. I was supposed to be interviewing someone for my book and they didn't show. We got to talking, and arranged to see each other again. Which is why he was here last night."

All true; all lies. For a man who'd supposedly been brought up by a woman with whom he could be completely frank and open, he was good at twisting the truth.

"So you don't really know him at all," Naomi murmured, her eyes thoughtful.

"I know I like him and I want to keep seeing him," Blair said.

"What does he do?"

He'd known that question would be asked at some point.

Shame he and Jim hadn't gotten around to deciding on what to give as an answer.


*****



"I'm thinking of -- no, I'm getting a place of my own."

The journey of the salsa-loaded chip on the way to Jim's mouth came to a standstill and the salsa began to drip. Jim caught the drip, shoved the chip in his mouth, and after some crunching and a gulp of beer, licked his hand clean.

That would have given Blair enough time to draft an Oscar-acceptance speech, but when Jim finally replied, it was only to repeat Blair's words in a reflective tone of voice. "A place of your own."

"Yeah. Here in the city."

"Mmm."

"You don't think it's a good idea?"

Jim shrugged. "Sure."

"I'm thirty. You don't think I'm a bit old to be living with my mom?" No one was as good at putting Blair down as himself.

"I think you've been too old to be living with her for the past twelve years," Jim said with a frankness that verged on brutal but still didn't sting, lemon juice in a paper cut, the way Naomi's obliqueness and hesitations had. "Are you going to keep on using your birthday as an excuse to do stuff you've always wanted to?"

Blair absorbed that dig and then sighed. "No. But I'm on a roll now; might as well keep up the momentum."

Jim smiled slightly, his attention back on the TV. The Jags were winning, which Blair only cared about because every time they scored, Jim had given him a delighted grin or touched him; a squeeze of his arm, a pat of his leg, a ruffle of his hair.

Blair liked basketball, but a lifetime of being picked last for the team had left scars. He wasn't even all that bad at it, if he was playing with people, not giants; he was quick on his feet and stubborn, which were assets of a sort.

"Then you should do it," Jim said a few minutes later, resuming the conversation. He picked up the remote and muted the TV as a commercial break began. "What does Naomi think about it?"

Blair winced. "She said I was the one point of stability in her life and she could travel with a light heart knowing I was watching over the house, always there when she got back."

"Ouch," Jim commiserated. "Hell of a guilt trip. Maybe you just picked the wrong time to tell her?"

"No," Blair said, shaking his head. "I picked the perfect time; she'd just asked me what you did."

"Ah."

"I told her you were ex-Army and you'd gone into business with your former CO --"

"You make it sound so respectable."

"Yeah… and when she opened her mouth to ask for more details, I hit her with the moving deal."

"You're living dangerously, sport." This time, he got a one-armed hug that ended with him close to Jim, breathing in the light, expensive scent of his aftershave and the catnip-addictive combination of a dozen other smells that added up to Jim. Blair sighed, and tentatively stretched his hand across Jim's broad chest to hold onto his arm. Jim murmured something that sounded approving and turned his head. This close, the blue of Jim's eyes was startlingly bright. Blair blinked, dazzled, and watched Jim smile at him.

The game had started again, had to have, but Jim didn't seem to care. Their lips met in a kiss with an inevitability Blair didn't want to fight. Jim's mouth was warm, moving slowly, gently, to meet Blair's, encouraging Blair to kiss him back, his hand threaded through Blair's hair and holding him in place.

"So when are you going to start looking?" Jim said a few moments later, his words slurred against Blair's throat like syrup-sticky fingers dragged over it. "God, I want to bite you just here, but it'd show…"

"Do it," Blair said. "Do anything you want to -- uh, right away? Before I change my mind. Which you've got to stop me doing, okay?"

"No," Jim said. "Not where it shows. I don't want anyone else seeing it but me…." He bit down, anyway, the flash of pain arrowing through Blair to his cock; which jerked, expectant, delighted. "Stop you? Right. You try to move back in with Naomi and I'll cuff you to my bed."

Blair grinned and let Jim push him back until they were lying on the couch, Jim's weight supported partly by his elbow, partly by Blair. "You know, as threats go…"

Jim chuckled. "I'll try and dream up something more effective, don't worry." His hand slid down to cup the side of Blair's ass. "How is it? Still tender from yesterday?"

"Umm…" It was ridiculous to be blushing, but he was. "Yes and no."

"Clear as mud, Chief." Jim's hand moved and began to tickle Blair's ribs with a merciless accuracy. "Tell me in English, or I'll look for myself. If I was too rough on you --"

"You weren't," Blair said quickly, squirming and trying to get the words out between yelps and gasps for breath. "God, stop. Please! I don't like it."

Jim dropped a kiss on the end of Blair's nose. His hand had, Blair realized, already been moving away before Blair had spoken. "Sorry."

Blair caught his breath and gave Jim a grateful look. "You know, you're the only person I've ever met who's stopped when I've told them that. Most people think it's hilarious and keep on going."

"I was about to stop anyway," Jim told him. "Because unlike those jerks, I can tell when someone's enjoying themselves and when they're not." He raised his eyebrows. "Well?"

Confession time, because Jim might have stopped tickling him, but he didn't look as if he'd lost interest in getting an answer to his question. "I -- yesterday, I went shopping after -- and I got some stuff, and I tried it, them, out, and I, maybe I -- overdid it."

"Oh." Jim looked as if he was filling in the blanks between the stuttered words without much difficulty. "Blair, I could have given you anything you needed; top floor of each house, there's a supply room with duplicates of everything in the rooms themselves." He shrugged. "Sometimes, clients like something and want to buy it to take home."

"Thanks, but I wanted to do it myself, you know?" Blair found himself, not for the first time, losing his embarrassment in the face of Jim's utter lack of that same quality. "I got this assistant to talk me through what I needed, and she told me to start off with something small, so I got this one about finger-sized, in silicone…"

"Yeah?" Jim's voice was a little too perfectly neutral but Blair continued.

"And it was, whoo! God, I just --" There was enough room between their bodies now for Blair to be able to clap his hands together, the sharp crack echoing. "Bang."

"Sounds like you had fun."

Lots of room…

"No kidding. But I guess I should have left it at that, because I tried the bigger one, too, and, yeah, think I was pushing myself a bit with that one --"

"How big?"

Blair tried to remember, but the dimensions, like the strangely chemical smell of the silicone and the wet slipperiness of the lube, had been lost in the haze of pure sensuality. He'd lain on his bed, in the darkness, lightheaded with tiredness, his body demanding more, nothing mattering but the pursuit of one more ecstatic shudder, one more climax. God, he hadn't come that often, that close together, for years…

"It's dark purple and it does this vibrating thing. Three speeds."

Jim started at him, opened his mouth, closed it again, and then put his forehead against Blair's chest and began to laugh. After a while, Blair kicked him to make him stop. "Cock-sized," he said coldly. "Smaller than me."

"And me," Jim said, lifting up his head and giving Blair a look that just dared him to disagree.

"Well, duh," Blair agreed, giving Jim's face a placating pat. "Because you're a giant among men, a mighty stallion, a --"

"Stay here."

Blair wriggled. "Do we have to? The bed's more comfortable, and I think the game's over."

"Stay here while you look for a place," Jim said, enunciating each word clearly. "It makes sense."

It didn't make much sense to Blair, but then, people inviting him to be their houseguest was as new as last night's activities had been.

Jim sat up and Blair propped himself up so that he was less horizontal himself. "What can you afford?" Jim asked.

"Nothing like this," Blair said, gesturing around the loft. "But I can afford something a step up from student digs."

"Places like that will go fast," Jim said. "You need to be here, on the spot, so you can go to see them. Don't rush into putting down a deposit, but you do need to make sure you don't miss out on something good because you're stuck in traffic trying to get down from your mountain."

Blair bit his lip. "Jim -- I move out and I can't go back. I'm not saying Naomi's not going to let me; she'd love it, it's just that it'd feel like failure and I probably wouldn't try again."

"I can see that. So?"

"So, if I don't find somewhere fast, well…" Blair gave Jim a smile he knew was anxious. "I'd be imposing on you."

"I don't think so." Jim shook his head and leaned over, giving Blair a kiss that left him feeling like ice cream in the sun. "A week or so, Blair; come on. Go home tomorrow, grab what you need, and come and stay here while you find the perfect place."

"A week… Jim, that might not be long enough…"

"If it takes longer, it takes longer." Jim kissed Blair's collarbone, pushing back his shirt. "God, I think I'm turning into a vampire. Stake me now."

"Very funny. Jim --"

"No." Jim glanced up. "If you don't want to, just say that, and I'll drop it. But believe me when I say I want you here, okay?"

"Okay," Blair said, his voice shaking. "Okay. Tomorrow. I'll come and stay. It's just --"

Jim bit him for those last two words and then glared at him. "Just what?"

"Are we moving a bit fast here?"

Jim chuckled easily. "Blair, within thirty seconds of meeting me, you got to see me strip to the waist. I'd say we started out at a sprint and we're slowing down."

"I told you to put your shirt back on," Blair said, remembering.

"Yeah…" Jim stretched. "You did."

"I wouldn't do that now," Blair told him.

"No? What would you do?"

"I'd tell you to take it off." Blair swallowed, a dark excitement filling him, coming from nowhere, summoned by the husky, murmured invitation in Jim's voice and the heat blazing in Jim's eyes. "Do it. Remind me."

Jim grinned, a quick flash of teeth, before his expression changed, closed down. He slid to his knees beside the couch, his body forming an L-shape, and began to undo the buttons of his shirt with a slow, teasing twist of his fingers. Blair watched the smooth planes of muscle and skin ripple as Jim shrugged out of his shirt, making it look easy, making it look like another invitation; to touch, caress, taste.

Jim held Blair's gaze and then lowered his eyes submissively. "Sir?" he murmured.

Blair scrambled off the couch and landed on the ground facing Jim, in a less exact copy of Jim's pose. "You want me to do it that way?"

Jim shook his head, relaxing. "Takes years of practice, babe. In my dreams, you do it that way, but for real? Don't see it."

"You are so full of it."

"Yeah… and you could be so full of me --"

"If I hadn't overdone it last night," Blair said glumly. "What is it when it's green light but it's still not going to happen?"

Jim laughed and wrapped his arms around Blair in a hug. "A pain in both our fucking asses, but don't worry about it."

"Thanks," Blair said, realizing that he hadn't gotten around to saying that. "For asking me to stay, I mean."

"Got some rules," Jim told him.

"Oh?" His knees were aching, so he leaned back against the couch, taking Jim with him. "Like what?"

"Clothes." Jim ran his hand under Blair's T-shirt and up to pinch a nipple. "You wear too many."

"Ow!"

"Huh?"

"I, uh, got some clamps as well," Blair confessed. Those, he'd really left on too long…

Jim shoved Blair's T-shirt up high enough to be able to survey the damage. "Jesus. Look, Blair, will you do me -- us -- a favor, and stop experimenting solo?"

"It's my body," Blair objected, more to see what Jim would say than because he disagreed. "I need to find out my limits."

"You need to take better fucking care of yourself!" Jim growled. He licked the ball of his thumb and pressed it against the red, swollen flesh around Blair's nipple. "God, that feels hot."

"It did last night, too," Blair said, in a feeble attempt to lighten the atmosphere.

"Upstairs," Jim said ominously. "Naked on the bed. Now."

"What are you going to do?" Blair asked, the words "to me" unspoken but audible to both of them.

Jim's scowl deepened. "I'm going to take care of you, since you did such a fucking bad job of it yourself. And then you're going to stay there and sleep, because you look like you need it."

"Oh." Blair digested that and then nodded meekly. "Okay."

Jim smiled, the frown vanishing. "Agreement? Without too much argument? Excuse me while I savor the moment as you get your ass upstairs."

"Asshole," Blair said and did as he was told.


*****



Blair drew a neat circle around an apartment listing in the local paper and then turned to look the address up on the street map spread out on the kitchen table. When he found Williams Street, he sighed and the circle got turned into an X. Well inside one of Jim's no-go zones.

The map was sprinkled with them; irregular shapes drawn, once he'd wrested the marker from Jim's hand, with a pencil, delineating the places Jim had told him weren't suitable addresses. Blair had objected with some vehemence at first. "Jim, that one there, it's like two blocks from this great bookstore -- what's wrong with it? I don't need a penthouse, you know."

"Chief," Jim had replied, his eyes amused, his expression inflexible, "if my people worked street corners, which God forbid, those are the kind of streets they'd be standing on. And some of the places that look okay, well, you'd be surprised what goes on and who lives there. Trust me. No."

It had reduced the city to a scattered few areas; most, thankfully, close to the main library, if not Rainier -- the university wasn't in that good a neighborhood by Jim's standards, which made sense when you thought about it -- and all not too far from Jim's loft, which neither of them had mentioned.

Blair pushed his glasses up and studied the next listing. No pets, not a problem, and the square footage was impressive for the rent -- though that was something that made him suspicious after only three days of searching for somewhere to live, rather than optimistic. He was interrupted from his hard stare at the listing by a knock at the loft door, an imperious rap, in fact, that brought him hurriedly to his feet.

Opening the door when Jim wasn't there felt weird, but he did it anyway, and put a welcoming smile on his face that wasn't visible to the man in the doorway until Blair had tilted his head way back.

Tall. Broad shouldered. Doing a good impression of a storm cloud, his mood as dark as his skin, from what Blair could tell.

Simon.

"Oh." Blair kept the smile on his face. "Hi. You must be Si -- Mr. Banks. Jim's not here, I'm afraid, he's --"

"I know where Jim is," Simon interrupted, raising his eyebrows until Blair, flustered, stepped back so that Simon could push past him. "He's at work, where he should be. It's you I came to see."

Blair closed the door and then turned. "Right. So I don't need to introduce myself?"

"You're Blair Sandburg," Simon said flatly. "Jim's latest."

Anger rose but Blair didn't let it show. "Latest what?"

Simon studied him. "Why don't you tell me what you think you are? User? Loser? Both?"

His heart was starting to hammer with the lurching, relentless beat that meant he was stressed out. Confrontations did that to him, especially when they were unexpected. Jim's loft had felt safe --

He tried to find words, but in the face of Simon's disapproval they shriveled to a dry sharpness in his throat, choking him.

"Sit down," Simon said abruptly. Blair stepped back involuntarily as Simon advanced on him, but the man just guided Blair back to the chair he'd been sitting on and pushed him down into it with the same brand of gentle force Jim used. A warm hand tapped the back of his head. "Between your knees," Simon ordered. "Breathe nice and steady, that's it."

Blair obeyed until the sparks of light dancing in front of his eyes receded and then sat up. A glass of water appeared in front of him and he took it and sipped at it in silence, eying Simon warily.

"Feeling better?"

Simon sounded brusque again, so Blair guessed he was looking better, anyway. "I'm fine," he snapped, setting his glass down hard on the table. "And Jim's past the age where he needs a babysitter, so why don't you get the hell out of here?"

"So you do have teeth," Simon said. "Huh."

"You just -- I don't like surprises," Blair told him. "And I don't deal well when people try and push me around."

"No wonder he's having trouble with you."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Blair heard his voice rise, but if Jim had been talking to Simon about them --

Simon sighed and rubbed his forehead with long, well-shaped fingers. Blair tried to picture them holding a rifle, Simon's suit replaced by a uniform. He couldn't. The man sitting across from him was a world removed from the man in the photograph with Jim, a photograph Blair had studied in more detail since he'd come to visit. The two of them had been smiling, but their eyes had been shadowed and the arms slung over each other's shoulders had looked like an effort to keep upright rather than two buddies hamming it up for the camera.

"Most subs don't mind getting ordered around was what I meant, but I was out of line. You mean you don't like being bullied, right?"

After a short, horrible pause in which Blair dealt with the fact that yes, Simon knew about his kinks, he nodded. "Right."

"Sorry."

"It's okay." It wasn't, but Blair didn't really want to fall out with Jim's best friend. Even if said best friend was a complete fucking asshole.

"Going to offer me a drink?"

"You're staying?" God, that had come out sounding really horrified….

Simon grinned at him, a charming grin, making him look younger, even friendly. "If Jim's got beer, I am."

Beer. Yes, Jim had beer. Somehow Blair thought Simon knew his way around Jim's kitchen just fine. He got two bottles from the fridge and then hesitated. "Do you want a glass?"

"Sure."

Okay, this was a test, wasn't it? Blair stared at the cabinets and then walked over to one. It contained neat rows of cans, mostly soup, with a lone can of coconut milk Blair was willing to bet Jim had bought for a recipe he'd never gotten around to trying.

"Second one over," Simon said placidly.

"I've only been here a few days," Blair muttered.

"And it looks like you're planning to move out already?" Simon took the beer and glass from Blair and nodded at the newspaper and the map. "Jim know about this?"

Blair took an unwisely large gulp of beer and had to mop up the overflow as it foamed up out of the neck of the bottle. He wiped his wet hand on his jeans and sat down. "Sure. Look, if you've gotten the idea that I've moved in or something and I'm mooching off Jim, you're wrong. Jim's letting me stay while I look for a place of my own, that's all. It was his idea."

"Sure it was," Simon said blandly, pouring his beer into his glass without spilling a drop.

Blair put his beer down. "You don't believe me."

"I think Jim's not always that perceptive about people when he likes them," Simon said. "He misses their flaws."

"Yeah," Blair said dryly. "I've noticed he thinks you're close to perfect."

Simon absorbed that for the time it took for him to swallow a mouthful of beer and then he started to laugh; a deep, rumbling chuckle. "Nice. But I'm the exception."

"Whatever."

"I'm just looking out for him," Simon said, his voice losing its amusement. "It's become something of a habit."

Blair met Simon's eyes. "I'm not a threat to him, honestly, I'm not. I only just met him, for God's sake! We -- we've gotten to know each other really well, in an incredibly short time, but I don't fool -- I'm not letting myself think it's going to last -- I mean -- Jim, he's --"

"A hooker?"

"What?" Blair gaped at Simon. "No! Well, yes, he is, but that's not -- look, he's special, okay? And I'm not. I'm just not. A user, no, I don't think so, but loser? Yeah, Big time. Always." He picked at the label on his beer bottle. "You don't know what he sees in me? Well, neither do I. I'm just waiting for him to see me the way everyone else does and then it'll be over and you can relax."

"If it isn't you, it'll be someone else," Simon said. "Jim's a sucker for a pretty face and a sob story."

"Fuck you," Blair said distinctly. Pretty face? Huh? He decided that Simon was just trying to insult him and kept going. "And you're wrong about Jim."

"I've known him for years and you met him, what, three weeks ago?" Simon nodded. "But you know him better than me. Mmm-hmm. Sure you do."

"What's your problem?" Blair demanded. "Do you do this to all of his dates, then? Must keep you busy if he's picking up stray dogs on a regular basis."

"Maybe I exaggerated there," Simon admitted. "He dates people, but you're the first in a long time that he's sounded serious about."

"How long?" Blair asked, the question popping out before he had time to censor himself.

"A while," Simon replied uncommunicatively. "I need Jim sharp. On top of his game. You're messing with his head, kid."

"I'm not a kid."

"Look like one to me," Simon said. "A damp-eared kid, needy as hell, the kind who's going to take looking after. What did you say? Babysitting? Sounds about right."

"You obviously know something about me and how I met Jim," Blair said, keeping his voice steady. "You know I'm new to all this and curious --"

"I know Jim's running himself ragged trying to stop you from hurting yourself or getting in over your head." Simon pursed his lips. "And he's not that good at controlling people he likes. A client, sure, he can give them just what they want, doesn't turn a hair. But he wouldn't find it that easy with you."

"I don't make it easy," Blair confessed, the words just slipping out. He always did this, he reflected bitterly. Tell him he'd done something wrong; disappointed someone, and he started babbling out more sins. His therapist would have told him it was guilt seeking absolution through verbalization of a perceived error, because she wasn't allowed to come right out and call him stupid. "Not always."

"I know that, too," Simon said, not unkindly.

"But that's something for me and Jim to work through," Blair said. "It's nothing to do with you." Simon frowned, but Blair was past being intimidated. "Jim kicks me out, I'm gone. Jim tells me he's bored with me, well, it won't be what I want to hear, but I'll get out of his way. But Jim's got to be the one telling me, not you." Blair shook his head. "Not you," he repeated softly.

"You don't know him," Simon said, sounding tired. "Has he told you much about himself?"

"Not really." Not anything.

"Yeah…" Simon hesitated. "He says you're writing a book?" He grimaced. "About prostitution?"

He hadn't done much work on it since he'd met Jim, but he supposed, technically, yes, he was. "That's right."

"Well, any of this shows up in it and I'll kick your baby ass bruised and bloody, you got that?"

"Hey!" Blair leaned across the table and poked Simon in the chest, which hurt his finger. "Back off, buddy. Physical threats aren't cool, and that one's not even believable."

"It wasn't a threat. It was a promise. And you poke me again and I'll feed you that finger."

"You're not listening to me," Blair said, frustration boiling up. "I hate it when people do that," he muttered.

"Suppose you listen to me, instead." Simon didn't phrase it as a choice.

"If you stop with the stupid male posturing, I will." Blair studied Simon. "Is this because you and Jim -- he said you were straight?"

Simon blinked at him. "You think I'm jealous? Hell, no! I love the man like a brother, but I don't want him that way. Never have."

"You must be straight," Blair said without thinking.

That got him an unexpected smile. "Yeah, he cleans up good, doesn't he? Back in the day, I'd walk into a room with him and he'd turn heads. People would stop talking and watch him, wondering who he was going to walk over to, who was going to get lucky." Simon shrugged. "He had quite the reputation. Still does: if he ever takes you to Sam's club, you'll see what I mean."

"He said he would, but he hasn't yet."

"I wonder why," Simon murmured under his breath.

"I don't know why," Blair said. "Maybe he thinks I'd be shocked or something. He says it gets pretty wild there."

"Maybe. Or maybe he thinks you'd like it just a little too much." Simon finished his beer. "And maybe he knows just how many heads you'd turn."

"Me?" Blair frowned, suspecting sarcasm. "I wouldn't turn any." Defuse it, admit it yourself, give them nothing to attack you with…

Simon stared up at the ceiling. "Oh, my. Poor Jim."

"Do you want another beer?" Blair asked in an attempt to change the subject away from the way he looked, as hopeless geek went bone deep, and he'd more or less come to terms with that. Jim didn't agree, or said he didn't, but that wasn't something that reassured Blair much; he'd noticed the expressions of pretty much everyone at Zigzag and seen a unanimous verdict; Jim could do better.

Jim had to know that, and pity had a short shelf life.

"Another beer sounds good," Simon said. His gaze was back on Blair again, assessing, cool. "So are you going to listen to what I have to say?"

"I want to know about Jim," Blair said, bringing Simon another beer. His own was still half-full. "But -- don't take this the wrong way -- I don't want to do it behind his back. I want to hear it from him."

"He won't tell you. He'll say he will, but it'll never be the right time, or he'll distract you --" Simon's gaze traveled over Blair. "Yeah, wouldn't take much, would it?"

"No. It wouldn't." He wasn't going to get embarrassed by the fact that Jim only had to snap his fingers to get him hot and hard. In fact, the thought of Jim doing that even here, now, with Simon a disapproving presence a few feet away, was having an effect.

"And you'll never find out what you need to know," Simon finished.

Blair shrugged. "I'm not going to listen to you spill his secrets. I won't tell you to go; you've got more right here than me, I know that, but I can go somewhere until Jim gets back from work, and I will."

Simon smiled, thawing slightly. "I can see why he likes you. I didn't think I would, not a chance, but you're growing on me."

"Gee, thanks."

"You're not good at sarcasm, kid."

"I'm not a --"

"You're not good at sarcasm, Blair. That better?" Simon rolled his eyes. "You're a persistent kind of guy, aren't you?"

"It's been said."

"I bet." Simon chewed his lip in thought. "I could tell you how I got into the business."

"It'd involve Jim," Blair said promptly. "Cheating. And why are so you so eager to tell me?"

Simon's gaze wavered and Blair's eyes widened in comprehension. "Oh… you think it'll scare me off. Disgust me. Get me out of the way. Got it. Nice."

"I think if you're going to stand any sort of a chance with Jim, you need to know," Simon said gently. "Without knowing what happened to him, you won't be able to deal with him when he remembers it. And he does. Sometimes, he does."

"I… okay." Blair cleared his throat. "I've never been in a relationship with someone that lasted much past finding out her star sign. I'm not used to coping with the rough spots because I barely get to the smooth parts. But it doesn't mean I'm going to bail on Jim. You don't need to worry about that."

"You like him."

"Jim?" Blair shook his head. "Doesn't come close to what I feel, even if it has only been a few weeks since we met."

"No." Simon leaned over the table, his expression intent. "You're talking about lust, and maybe, if you're romantic and good at fooling yourself it happens this fast, falling in love. I don't care about that. I want to know if you like Jim."

"What?" Blair opened his mouth to answer and then thought about it. The answer stayed the same. "Yes, I do. Man, I can see why you're doing this, because if he was my friend I'd be just the --"

"If?" Simon repeated. "Isn't he your friend?"

"I want him to be. It's how I see him; I just don't know if it goes two ways," Blair said. "And it should, right? If it's real friendship, it has to. I know he's focused on me for some reason, and believe it or not, I'm as freaked out about that as you are because I don't see that lasting, and when it fades… well. But you don't know what it's like to have him be that interested in you. You don't know what he's like." He stared at Simon, and refused to back down. "You can't know."

"Oh, God," Simon said. "Spare me. I'm sure he's a maiden's dream." He stood. "Jim's going to be home soon. Tell him I came by to say hi."

"Okay." Blair chewed his lip and decided to go with frank and the hell with being tactful. "Do you want me to tell him why you came? Or is that going to piss him off? I don't want to cause trouble between you."

He meant that. He hadn't known Jim long, but even at their first meeting it'd come over just how close Jim was to Simon; the last thing he wanted was to disrupt that.

"I don't keep secrets from Jim, and it's not something I'd advise you to do, either." Simon was back to looking disapproving. So much for trying to help. "Tell him everything. He'll yell at me, but he won't be surprised I came by."

Blair started to reply, but the phone rang. "Excuse me." He answered it, watching Simon tidy away the two bottles and the glass he'd used, moving around the kitchen as if he knew it well.

"It's Jim."

"Jim? Hi!"

Simon turned sharply and then shook his head, looking resigned.

"Put Simon on."

"What?"

"I know he's there. Put him on, will you?"

Jim sounded grim, his voice a tense, harsh rasp. Blair waved the phone at Simon and mouthed "Jim. For you."

Simon sighed and came over to take the phone. "Jim?"

Blair watched Simon's expression go from wry to surprised as he listened. "No, I didn't… what? I was going to, but he wouldn't let me… huh? Jim… No, he won't. Fuck, you tell him, all right?"

Simon thrust the phone back into Blair's hands and headed, not for the door, but the armchair in the middle of the room.

Blair said tentatively, "Jim? Tell me what?" Don't break up with me when Simon's watching, he prayed silently. Don't do that to me.

"Simon wants to fill you in on all our sordid little secrets, doesn't he?"

"Um…"

"Let him. If you really want to know -- and you do, don't you, Chief? -- he'll tell you, and he was there for all of it. Just do me a favor and don't talk about it tonight. I mean that. One word, hell, if you even look like you're going to bring it up, and I'm gone."

"I won't," Blair said, stumbling over his quick reassurance. "He doesn't have to tell me anything, Jim. I don't need to know this. Not now. It's too soon."

"I want you to know." Jim didn't sound too certain about it. " I just can't go through it all again. I've got to go, Chief. Busy as hell here today and I want to get away on time." Jim's voice changed, turned husky. "Tell Simon he's got an hour, and if you can be naked and in bed when I get back, I'd appreciate it, because I've been thinking about you all day and --"

"Jim --" Blair protested uneasily, wondering if Simon could hear any of Jim's side of the conversation and hating the way Jim sounded, slick and practiced. Jim's voice sharpened with annoyance.

"Do you want me to tell Simon to gag you before he leaves?"

"What?" Blair swallowed. "He wouldn't."

"Oh, he would." Jim was back to matter-of-fact now and Blair was getting whiplash from trying to work out what Jim's real mood was. Unhappy was probably a safe bet. "He'd get you naked and tied down for me if I told him to, and watch over you until I got back, then slip out of the door, leaving you for me to deal with. Or maybe he can tie you up right now, and you can wait for me like that, so when I walk in you're so fucking hot from being cuffed you'll come as soon as we're alone and I say your name." Jim's voice was caressing, cruel, making Blair's heart hammer painfully because it was what he wanted wrapped up in barbed wire. Did he want to wait naked and bound for Jim to walk in? Yes. Did he want to do it with Simon silently watching over him, an unlikely guardian angel? No fucking way. He could hate Jim, just a little, for even offering it.

Jim chuckled, as if he knew how conflicted Blair was, struggling with an arousal he didn't want to deal with, not with Simon close by. "Well, sweetheart? You want that instead of a long, and I have to warn you, fairly boring story?"

He'll distract you…

"Sure," Blair said evenly. "Let Simon tie me up. Why not. I'll tell him to do that -- after he's finished talking. See you later, Jim."

He put the phone down in the middle of Jim saying, "No, wait --" and turned to Simon. "If it rings again, or he tries to get you on your cell, ignore it, okay?"

Simon was looking a little wide-eyed. "What the hell did he just say?"

"He said --" Blair shook his head and went over to the couch opposite Simon's chair, collapsing onto it. "He did what you said he would. Tried to distract me. Said I should tell you to strip me, gag me, tie me to his bed, and wait until he got back." He glanced at Simon. "Would you really do that?"

Simon nodded, relaxing as if he'd expected something more outrageous. "Sure. For as long as it took. Basic rule of bondage; you don't leave someone alone."

"I don't mean the waiting," Blair said, letting his exasperation show.

"Oh, that." Simon shrugged. "No problem."

"It's not a problem?" Blair controlled his voice. "Stripping me isn't a problem?"

"I'd make you do that," Simon said.

"You're straight!"

"Don't recall sex with you being part of any of Jim's plan," Simon said calmly. "I usually work with women, but you wouldn't be the first man I've tied up."

"Oh, God," Blair said, finally getting it. "You're like Sam."

Simon smiled. "No. I'm worse."

"Fuck."

"Even if I wanted to, Jim wouldn't let me." Simon's smile turned bland. "You should see the way he's been glaring at Sam since you and she had your little encounter. That man never did learn to share. Good job on pushing his buttons just now, even if it does mean he's going to spend the rest of his shift doing nothing but fume and bite people's heads off."

Blair had to admit that the idea of Sam suffering was sweet, if undeserved, but Simon seemed to be doing as good a job of Jim at veering away from the topic. "You're supposed to be telling me… stuff."

"So I am." Simon folded his hands in his lap and sighed. "Okay. But I'm not dragging this out. Jim's not the only one who wants to leave some rocks where they are."

"I'm sorry." Blair gave Simon an apologetic look.

"Why? You didn't ask me to do this." Simon moved restlessly in his chair and then began to speak, his words halting at first. "We were in the same company. You knew that, right?"

"He took a bullet for you," Blair said, remembering.

Simon snorted. "Boy exaggerates. You see any scars on him? Little-bitty scratch on his shoulder, that's all."

Blair tapped his own right shoulder. "Here." A white line of scarring he'd licked, feeling the edges of the raised skin against his tongue.

"Yeah…" Simon looked thoughtful. "Course, if he hadn't pushed me out of the way and used me to land on, the bullet would've gone through my skull, and it's hard, but it's not titanium. He saved my ass, not for the first time."

"Warrior bonds are fascinating. Did you know…?" Blair swallowed nervously at the glare that comment got him. "I'll just shut up now."

"I could always get you the way Jim wants, gag and all, and then start talking," Simon said ominously.

"I wouldn't be listening if you did," Blair retorted. God, that idea was… he wasn't sure what it was.

"Figures. Button it, Blair. I mean it. As I was saying, we served together for a while. Got to know each other, not real well, because I was his superior officer and it doesn't do to play favorites, but -- yeah. Friends. So he came out of the jungle down in Peru, after a mission went wrong, everyone dead but him, and they put him in the hospital for everything from vitamin deficiency to a raging infection from a cut on his foot. I went to visit him when I could; the hospital was on base -- we took care of our own -- so it wasn't difficult. Jim was a mess emotionally. You don't want to know what he was like when they found him. He'd buried the soldiers who'd died, shallow graves, and given his own injuries, I'm not sure how he managed even that, but thank God he did, or we'd have had no bodies to take back to bury properly."

Blair repressed a shudder, both at the thought of Jim scraping at earth with nothing but bare hands or a stick, and covering up the still-warm bodies of his friends, and the idea of the bodies being ripped apart by scavengers.

"What happened next, we don't know. Jim still doesn't. He tried to follow a river, we think, but he was going in circles, delirious. Another day and he'd have been the final fatality of the mission."

"God…" Blair murmured, painfully aware of the inadequacy. "But once he was in the hospital he started to get better, right? Mentally, I mean?"

Simon snorted. "Not so you'd notice. It didn't take me long to see Jim was getting hot and heavy with one of the nurses. That happens a lot; you're surrounded by death and bullets flying, up to your neck in sand or a swamp, and then you're somewhere clean, somewhere safe, and you latch onto the person you see smiling down at you, telling you you're a fucking hero because they're clean and safe, too, and you want that, you need that -- "

Blair opened his mouth but never got to comment because Simon was still talking, staring through Blair at his memories marching by.

"Only this nurse wasn't a pretty little girl, all curls and a giggle and a wiggle. No. He was a nineteen-year-old, slick as they come, and he looked sweet as sugar candy at the hearing, voice shaking, giving Jim these sidelong, pleading little looks, but he was poison, I tell you." Simon hammered his fist against his knee, a solid thump that made Blair flinch. "Fooled Jim. Fooled me, too, until I asked around the bars -- but it was too late by then. The kid -- Owens, his name was, Lee Owens -- got what he wanted; kicked out, his father's name tarnished -- did I mention his old man was a general? -- and he didn't care that he took Jim with him."

"So he had a reputation?" Blair demanded. "If people knew, then why didn't he get into trouble before that?"

"People look the other way," Simon said. "Most people. He wasn't on active duty -- not sure how he'd got the transfer to the hospital, though I can guess -- and people just ignored him or used him. But he was making it hard to ignore him. It wasn't just the sex; there were rumors he was dealing drugs, too. Jim's infatuation just gave him the chance to speed things up and stage a nice, dramatic outing right there in Jim's hospital room." Simon rolled his eyes. "Idiot. And, yes, I do mean Jim."

"Why did he do that?" Blair was lost in pity for Jim. "God, how could he do that to Jim, to his father?"

"Twisted little fuck, spoiled rotten by his mother," Simon said succinctly. "The general pushed him to enlist, pulled strings… the kid just wanted to party away his trust fund. So Jim went from being a hero to getting a dishonorable discharge -- might have been a prison sentence but I cashed in every favor I had and the general wasn't entirely stupid; he knew better than any of us what his son was capable of, and he didn't insist on anything more than Jim's career ending. Well, it had to; you get caught on your knees, the way Jim was… never mind."

"That's so wrong," Blair said with conviction. "Other countries have gays serving openly and --"

Simon's upraised hand halted him. "Don't. If I wanted a lecture on equal rights, I'd -- well, I don't. I know. Doesn't change anything. Jim was out. And three months later, so was I."

"Protesting the system?" Blair asked doubtfully. It didn't seem Simon's style. He came over as the pragmatic sort.

"No. I stuck my neck out for Jim. Repercussions, consequences… they took a while coming, but when they did…"

"But you're not gay," Blair said. "Did they really think you'd helped Jim because you were?"

"Wasn't that." Simon looked indecisive and then sighed. "You know what I am. How I like to play. Back then, it was something I did when I could, which wasn't often, but I'd left myself vulnerable. I was discreet, but it wasn't safe. After I got divorced, maybe I stopped being as careful to cover up as I should have been."

"Your wife… did she… was she…?"

"No." Simon smiled thinly. "Why do you think we split up?" He held up his hand. "Don't say it. This is about Jim, not me. So I got a warning from a friend that some people high up were looking my way and I got the hell out with my pension intact. And I went searching for Jim because I hadn't heard squat from him and I didn't like that."

"And you found him."

"Singapore." Simon looked reflective. "Three months. I think he'd spent them trying to fit inside a bottle and when he wasn't doing that, he was earning money to buy the bottles."

"Doing what? Oh, you mean --?"

"No. Don't think that would've occurred to him. Why would it? He was a soldier. Trained to fight. He went with that. Hired himself out as a bodyguard to someone with a lot of enemies. He'd have been a splash in the harbor if I hadn't found him; people really wanted his boss dead, and Jim was stubborn enough that they'd have had to go through him to do it."

"God." Reduced to silence now, Blair stared at Simon, trying to reconcile his words with the Jim he knew. Simon seemed to be waiting for more; so, with an effort, he said, "But you got him out?"

"Hell, yes." Simon grinned, quick and savage. "I kidnapped him. Want to see the scar Jim gave me before I finally knocked him out?"

"Uh, maybe another time." Blair leaned forward, caught up in the story. He knew it had a happy ending, after all. "So you brought him back here and dried him out?"

"You make it sound nice and simple, but, yeah, more or less."

"And then what happened?"

Simon got up and walked over to the balcony doors and stood there, staring out at the water. "We went to a party…" he said slowly.

"A -- excuse me?"

"Jim wasn't an alcoholic. He was just depressed. Once I'd gotten him back to thinking life wasn't that bad, well, by then, we were both tired of the pity party and ready for the real thing." Simon turned to look at Blair. "My kind of party. Jim wasn't really interested, but he was willing to try it out -- nothing heavy; he wouldn't have been allowed in to one of those without someone to vouch for him, and back then, I didn't qualify. I'd told him there'd be people there who were just looking, like him, men and women." Simon looked amused. "And he was interested in getting laid, which I took as a good sign."

"I guess so."

"I know so." Simon bit his lip. "And we met Jack. He owned the agency. Big player. I'd met him once or twice; knew him to speak to. Halfway through the night he came up to us, took us into a private room. Offered us a shitload of money for us to go to this woman's house for a scene, lasting from Friday to Sunday. She was at the party and she'd been watching us. We'd stuck close together and she'd gotten the idea we were a team, even lovers. Jim's always been a tactile kind of guy and we'd gotten close while I'd been looking after him. Still wasn't interested in him, or any other man, sexually, but I knew his body as well as if we were together. Even if that was mostly because he was too far gone to wipe his ass or remember to bathe."

"Oh, God -- I just can't see him like that. It's -- God, it's -- how could they do that to him?"

"The army?" Simon shrugged and sat down again. "I don't know. I'd say Jim did it to himself, but he wasn't himself. They made sure he was physically fit to stand trial, but he should have had counseling after what went down in Peru and he never got it. He was out of his head. Vulnerable. You have no idea…"

Blair stood, needing, as Simon had done a few minutes earlier, to release some of his emotions in movement. "But he's strong," he said. "To come back, to let you help him."

"Yes, he is." Simon's voice was soft. "But he was still vulnerable. And it didn't take much to persuade him to take the job. I should have stopped him, but he wanted the money. Said he'd sponged off me for long enough…" Simon grimaced sourly. "That should show you how screwed up he was, because he never stopped to think he was dragging me along, too, and maybe I didn't want to do it."

"You did it so he could stop feeling like he owed you." Blair met Simon's eyes, feeling a flash of admiration, because he'd have wanted to do that for Jim, too, but he wasn't sure he would have been capable of going through with it. "That was -- man, that was --"

"Don't make me out to be a hero," Simon told him. "She was a nice lady. Older than we were, but not by much. Rich. Hell, her place was an honest to God mansion."

"What did she want you to --?" Simon's eyebrows went up and Blair flushed. "Sorry."

"Yeah… we don't share. Doesn't matter. What did matter was afterwards, when the time was up. She thanked us. Total change in manner. Came back down, got talking to us. We could've gone home; should have gone, I guess; most people don't want you hanging around…" Simon shrugged. "We didn't have a clue about the rules. We'd been there the whole weekend; gotten to know her, I guess, so we talked, opened a bottle of wine, and it got late. Ended up with her between us on the couch and damned if we didn't go one more time just because we wanted to." Simon chuckled fondly.

"Is she one of the people Jim still sees?" Blair asked, not sure if that was crossing a line or not. He retrieved his beer from the kitchen table and sat down again.

Simon pursed his lips as if he was wondering whether that was betraying a confidence, and then nodded. "Yes. Both of us do."

"And after that, you started working for this Jack guy?"

"No. After that, Jim met Carolyn." Simon blew out a gusty breath. "Grabbed her when her heel broke crossing the road, scooped her up in his arms like something out of an old movie, and bam. Hearts and flowers, birds singing, and they were married a few months later."

"And she knew about…? It didn't bother her?" Blair couldn't think of a tactful way to ask how Carolyn had reacted to Jim's past.

"Didn't tell her."

"Ouch."

"Yeah…" Simon looked pensive. "We didn't lose touch after that, but I didn't see as much of him. He got an office job, some nine to five crap, and he had this college trust fund from his grandfather; he hadn't used it for college, so he had to wait a few more years to get his hands on it, but it was a nice chunk of change. I invested it for him; always been good at that, and it was how I was making my living. Things just… went along. Peaceful. Quiet. Jim even started talking about seeing his old man again, thought maybe he and Carolyn would have kids, and it'd be nice for them to be on speaking terms with their granddaddy."

"But it didn't work out?" Blair found himself wincing in anticipation.

"Jim started having flashbacks. You can bury the past but it's got a way of working its way up to the surface again. Carolyn did her best, I'll give her that, but waking up to find Jim screaming a man's name, and it wasn't one of the men who'd died in Peru, well…" Simon shrugged helplessly. "Jim told her everything one night in the middle of a fight, which included my part in it, too, and she laid down some ultimatums, which Jim didn't take kindly to -- one of them was never seeing me again -- and the next thing I knew he was on my doorstep, dead-eyed and drunk, and we were back to where we started."

"That had to have hurt," Blair said softly.

"It did. I thought we'd both gotten somewhere good and it was a shock." Simon shifted restlessly in his chair. "Should've known better…By then, I was playing a lot more; I had the time and the money and I wasn't looking over my shoulder the way I had when I was in the army. Jack and I saw a lot of each other socially and when Jim asked about working for him, well, I tried to stop him, but he wanted it and I've never been good at telling him no."

"Why did he want it?" Blair asked. "I'm sorry, I know it's what you two do, but you've got to admit, it's not the career choice most people go for."

"Who knows with Jim? He remembered that first time and he'd enjoyed it; it had its awkward moments, sure, but he had a talent for knowing what she wanted, somehow; hard to describe. He took care of her -- and of me, because having sex with another man there, well, it wasn't easy. Not really. If it hadn't been Jim, I'd have lost my nerve."

"He's good at that," Blair said. "He -- I get stressed out and he just -- he knows what to say, what to do."

"Yeah. Well, like I say, he had these rosy-colored memories, and he was hating himself and the world right then. Self-destructive, bitter… and he'd been fired, because he kept showing up late and with an attitude I wouldn't have put up with for a minute if he'd still been under me, so he needed to do something…" Simon held up his hands and let them fall. "And he went for what Jack offered. He soon got his nose rubbed in reality, but it still wasn't that bad. Jack marketed him. Priced him high. Spread the word that Jim was choosy, special." Simon chuckled without much humor. "All bullshit; Jack would have had Jim working his ass off every night if he could, but it went down well."

"And Jim liked it so much, what, the two of you bought Jack out?"

"No. Jim came to his senses. He'd had a bellyful of being treated like -- well, like a hooker. There was this one client -- never got the details, but Jim just told Jack he was through, and the next thing I knew, Jack had kicked Jim out of the apartment the agency had given him and Jim had moved in here."

"Wow."

"Yeah… Jim's all about the big changes." Simon looked at his watch. "God, I feel like I've been talking for hours."

"I feel like I've been listening to you talk for hours." Blair smiled at Simon. "Luckily for you, I'm good at listening. Have to be, for my job."

"The writing? Yeah, I guess you interview a lot of people, don't you?" Simon pointed his finger warningly. "All this? Off the record. Remember?"

Blair held up his hands. "Hey. Chill. I do."

"I'm going to wrap this up fast," Simon said abruptly. "Jim's going to be here soon and I don't want to still be telling you this when he arrives. So. Jim quit, Jack got pissed. And Jack got further down the hole he was digging for himself because Jack liked to gamble and he didn't always win. In fact," Simon studied his fingernails, "Jack was about to go belly-up. And I wasn't pleased with him and the way he'd been bad-mouthing Jim. So I got some backing -- that lady I told you about for one -- and I bought Jack out, and asked Jim to take over. Equal partners, put it in his name. Do it right. Make it the --"

"Best little whorehouse in Texas?" Blair supplied.

Simon started to laugh, a deep, happy sound. "Yeah, something like that. And you'll have to ask him sometime why he agreed, but he did, and that's about it."

They sat in silence for a while but it was too much for Blair to process and he needed to do it alone. Simon had stopped feeling like a threat but he was, if not a stranger, not after this, still someone new.

"You'd better get moving," Simon said after a few minutes. His voice was deeper, somehow, calm and sure.

"Huh?"

Simon nodded at the bathroom. "Go and take care of what you need to."

"What? Oh. I don't need to." Blair gave Simon an exasperated look. "I can decide little things like that for myself, you know."

Simon rolled his eyes. "If you call a timeout for a bathroom break an hour from now, Jim's going to be snarling, the mood he's in. Take care of it and then you'd better get your ass upstairs."

Blair felt his cheeks stain red as he remembered what he'd taunted Jim with. "Simon -- I was annoyed with Jim, but I didn't really mean I'd do that. With you. Let you do that. To me."

"Incoherency and you're blushing. Sweet." Simon smiled, not nicely. "Bathroom, Blair. Go."

The beer he'd drunk was going to make the trip inevitable at some point in the next hour, so Blair, after a final, muttered, "Not going to do it…" went into the bathroom, giving Simon a backward glance before he closed the door.

Simon was still smiling.

When Blair came out, the smile had gone. "You all set?" Simon inquired.

"Yes, but -- "

"But you're not mad at him now? You're feeling sorry for him? Want to hug him, kiss it better?"

Blair ignored the sarcasm and nodded. "Pretty much. When you're gone, I'll, uh, I'll go upstairs and I'll, I'll be waiting for him, but the whole bit where you tie me and the rest of it? I don't think so."

Simon gave him an amused look. "I don't think so, either. Though I have to say I like the idea of Jim's expression if I did do it."

"I don't want Jim pissed off at me," Blair objected.

Simon grinned. "He wouldn't be. Not at you. At me. For getting an eyeful of you."

"Why would that bother him?" Blair asked curiously, less on edge now that Simon was treating the idea as a joke. "It's not like you'd enjoy it."

"I'd enjoy tying you up. I'd enjoy gagging you. I'd really like seeing you lie there, waiting for Jim."

Robbed of words, Blair stared at Simon in silence, tempted suddenly, seeing Jim's face…not angry, not with either of them, just staring at him as he lay there. God, naked, bound, hard on Jim's bed with the two of them watching him…

"Yeah, you'd like it too, wouldn't you?" Simon patted Blair's cheek, the contact fleeting, impersonal. "Go and wait for Jim. And don't be too nice to him. He doesn't need that."

"What does he need?" Tell me, because I'm so freaking confused right now…

"Right now? It looks like you." Simon gave Blair an appraising look without any of the appreciative heat that was always in Jim's eyes when he looked at Blair, but without his earlier animosity. "You're really not what I expected."

Blair took that as a compliment of sorts given that Simon had clearly expected to meet someone who was another Lee Owens. "Thank you. For telling me, I mean."

Simon lifted a shoulder in a dismissive shrug. "Thanks for the beer." He got to the door and then turned. "One more thing."

"Yes?"

Simon gestured sharply at the map and the newspaper on the table. "Get rid of those. He wants you here, with him, not halfway across the city."

"You came here to scare me off," Blair pointed out, to give himself time to think. Stay here? Live here? With Jim?

Simon grinned. "That was before I saw how pretty you were."

Not that again… "Bite me."

"Jim really wouldn't like that," Simon said. "Trust me. Put them in the trash and move in."

"I'll -- I'll think about it." Blair nodded his head jerkily. "If it's what Jim wants. I'm just not sure -- I'll think about it, okay?"

"You do that," Simon said. "But they're the last thing he's going to want to see tonight." His mouth twisted in a smile. "And you, naked, is the first thing, and I think I hear the elevator, so…"

He raised his hand in a casual farewell and the door closed behind him.


*****



Jim cursed as the brake lights on the car in front of him flared red and dimmed, three times in quick succession. The message from the driver was clear enough: back off, asshole, and stop tailgating me, but Jim couldn't help crowding him.

He needed to get home. He needed to get home now.

Simon wouldn't. Not a chance. And Blair wouldn't let him if Simon tried. Which he wouldn't.

So there was no real need to be driving as fast as he could, going through lights that had turned red for the car ahead, let alone his, and generally being the selfish, reckless son of a bitch he usually shook his head over, wondering why people drove like that; what was their goddamned rush?

Well, he knew now. They were breaking their necks trying to get home before their fucking best friends tied their fucking boyfriends to the fucking -- no. No.

Simon wouldn't. Not a chance. And Blair wouldn't let him if Simon tried. Which he wouldn't

That mantra was starting to lose its calming effect.

It wasn't as if, deep down, he didn't know that it wasn't happening. Blair had been pissed and it had been his way of challenging Jim -- oh, bring it on, Chief, he said silently, his fingers tight on the steering wheel. You want me to take you in hand? Teach you what I'll put up with and what I won't? Show you what happens when you push me this far?

He closed his eyes against a pleasant vision of Blair, ass spanked red, kneeling in the corner watching Jim jerk off, Blair's hands tied behind him, his dick aching, hungry for a touch it wouldn't get for hours, not until Blair had -- well, maybe not hours… no sense in Jim suffering as well as Blair…

A horn blared and Jim jerked out of the fantasy to see the light on green and a space in front of him.

Fuck.

His foot stabbed at the gas pedal and the car shot forward.

He'd laugh about this later, he was sure he would, but right now he was wondering just how much he'd annoyed Simon earlier. Enough for Simon to do it if Blair asked him to?

No. Simon wouldn't. Not a chance. And Blair wouldn't let him if Simon tried. Which he wouldn't.

But Simon had been close to losing his temper --


*****



"Got a minute, Jim?"

Jim glanced up. "Sure, Simon."

"Your office."

"What, again?" Jim led the way and then turned to give Simon an exasperated look. "This had better be about what that new girl did on her trial run."

"Laura?" Simon grimaced and sat on the edge of Jim's desk. "Yeah… it's good she didn't go along with what they wanted, but --"

"Throwing a drink in their faces isn't the way to say no," Jim finished. "If they'd been real customers, we'd have been stuck with their dry cleaning bills, not to mention the fact that one of our people making a scene in a hotel we use a lot doesn't make us look good. Diana was impressed with her up to that point, but I don't know… someone with a fuse that short isn't going to be much use to us."

Simon shrugged. "Your call."

"She walks," Jim said flatly. "We start to compromise and we lose our reputation for quality service. We've worked too hard to get it."

"Fine." Simon cleared his throat as Jim walked toward the door, which Jim had expected. No way Simon was going to let him off this particular hook. "That wasn't all."

"No," Jim said, turning back. "That wasn't any of it. You want to talk about Blair. I don't. Take the hint, why don't you?"

"You're still seeing him?"

Jim smiled. His day had started with Blair's mouth on his dick, sucking him with a fervor that compensated for lack of technique. Not the worst blow job he'd had, though, not by a long way. Blair remembered what Jim had liked before and did it, and if that wasn't what Jim felt like just then, he got the message and tried something else. Jim approved of initiative like that, even if Blair's ambitious attempts to deep throat him -- at least he thought that was what Blair had been trying -- had ended in Jim waiting out a coughing spasm that had left Blair's eyes wet and his face red.

He realized that he was wearing a fondly indulgent smile and Simon was smirking. Shit.

"I'll take that as a yes," Simon said. "Especially as I already knew you were." He gave Jim a reproachful look. "Why do I have to hear from Rhonda that he's moved in with you?"

"Rhonda talks too much," Jim said. He gauged the amount of hurt in Simon's expression and relented. "He hasn't moved in, not really; just staying with me while he finds a place of his own. Easier than driving in from his mom's place all the time."

"Bullshit," Simon said, drawing the word out.

"Simon…"

"Open secret. You want him close."

"I want him safe," Jim snapped. "I want him where I can keep an eye on him and not spend the day worried that he's -- that he's --"

He paused. He really didn't want to tell Simon what Blair had done as his inexperience had given way to enthusiasm, or what he thought Blair might do next (please God, let it not be braving Club Z on his own). It was between them.

"Look, why not come over tonight and meet him?" he offered. "After your shift. Stop by for a nightcap."

"Sure," Simon said, his voice neutral. "Love to."

"Great." Jim gave him a happy smile, relieved that it'd been that easy. Simon and Blair… no reason why they wouldn't get along… he liked them both, didn't he? More than liked, loved -- no, too soon, too soon for Blair -- but he did, even so. Fuck. Where had that come from?

"Just so I don't put my foot in it, though," Simon went on, casually enough that Jim tensed, his body singing out a warning, "how much have you told him?"

"About what?"

"Us." Simon gestured vaguely. "This place. You."

"Well…" Jim began. He stopped. Tried again. "He, uh, knows we served together and that we're partners now. Knows we're good friends."

"Sure we are," Simon murmured blandly. "Best buddies."

"He knows I was married and it didn't work out," Jim went on, hurrying now, panic licking like tiny flames at his heels. "And that's about it."

"Mmm-hmm." Simon's smile was all teeth, like a crocodile. "So you're doing it again. You don't learn from your mistakes, do you, Jim?"

"I've only just met him."

"And in a few months, you'll lose him; that what you want?"

The thought of Blair gone, walking away as Carolyn had done, had the power to hurt. "No."

"Then you'd better get both of you good and drunk and spill some tears and truth."

Even as Simon said it, Jim knew he couldn't. Memories, years-old as these were, never lost their edge. He relived them in nightmares, not dreams, and he just --

"You can't do it, can you?" Simon sounded weary, not disgusted, but Jim still screwed his eyes closed for a moment in shame at his cowardice.

"I will. Soon."

Was it still a lie when neither of them was fooled?


*****



Jim took a steadying breath. Simon had gone over to the loft early -- hours early, dammit, to help out. Because he'd known Jim would never tell Blair what Blair needed to know.

Except, maybe he would have. Maybe there wasn't much he couldn't tell Blair, when it came down to it, because there wasn't anything Blair couldn't tell him. He tried to feel some indignation that Simon had taken away his chance to be brave and honest and a lot of other excellent, character-building things, and couldn't.

Simon would have hit the high spots; there was still plenty he could share with Blair if he felt the urge.

Gratitude. Yeah. To Simon for telling; to Blair for listening.

Oh, God, what if Blair was as freaked and disapproving as Carolyn? What if Blair had packed and gone; wouldn't take long; most of his belongings were still at Naomi's --

He was going to kill Simon.

He drove faster and found himself inches away from the bumper of the car he'd been tailgating earlier.

The driver gave him the finger and Jim snarled and dropped back a foot, no more.

Had to get home. Had to see Blair, kick Simon's interfering ass, if he was still there, and then tie Blair up so he couldn't run away, and the hell with that being wrong on every level.

Unless Simon had already seen to the tying up -- no, he wouldn't -- oh, fuck, not again.

Okay, this was what going insane felt like, had to be.


*****



Jim leaned against the wall and watched Simon close the loft door behind him. He'd left the elevator and heard the rumble of Simon's voice and decided against pushing his way into a volatile situation.

One on one was better and he didn't want Blair to see this if it got nasty.

After that commute from hell, he felt that it might.

With a jerk of his head, he got Simon to follow him down the corridor until they were at a safe distance from the loft door. Knowing that Simon wouldn't have left if Blair was in any kind of restraints even allowed him to give the sneaky son of a bitch a tight smile.

"Early for a nightcap, Simon."

"Don't bother trying to make me feel guilty." Simon sighed and massaged the back of his neck. "God, I feel like crap."

"Twist a muscle stabbing me in the back?"

"Cheap shot." Simon eyed him sourly. "How old did you say he was? Is he even legal?"

"Nice, Simon, real nice. Thirty. And I've seen his driver's license."

"Huh. He's a babe in the woods. If he was older than you on paper, he still would be."

"I know." Jim smiled, taking a small amount of satisfaction in Simon's reaction to Blair. Told you so… "See why I want him close?"

"Oh, yeah." Simon chuckled. "Oh, yeah. And I see why you don't want him at Club Z unless he's wearing a hood the whole night."

"Wouldn't matter if he was," Jim said. Sam had a dress code for subs and the hood would be about all Blair was wearing. He'd be scared and aroused and the combination would draw way more attention than Jim would be happy with. "You haven't seen him naked." Jim fixed Simon with a stare. "At least, you'd better not have."

"Relax. The kid was blowing off steam because you pissed him off, and you know it." Yeah. He did. Now. "I pushed him at the end, just to see if he'd let me do it --"

Suspicion flared again. "Oh, you did, did you? And if he'd said yes?"

Simon raised his eyebrows. "You have to ask?"

Jim sighed, chastened by the indignation in Simon's eyes. "No. I'm sorry, Simon. I just -- he's got me -- oh, fuck."

Simon patted his shoulder, the familiar gesture momentarily comforting. "Yeah, I can see that. It's kind of amusing, really."

"What?" Jim jerked away from Simon's hand. "Fuck you, Simon. Amusing? Where the hell do you get off saying that?"

Simon blew out an aggrieved breath. "And we're back to hostile. I'm cutting you some slack here, but telling a complete stranger about a time I don't like thinking about any more than you do, well, it wasn't my idea of a good way to spend the day, you hear me? I did it because it needed doing, and it let you off the hook, but it doesn't mean I wanted to. And don't even think about trying that intimidating look because it won't work on me; never has."

Simon's gaze raked over Jim dispassionately. "You need to get in there now. Do whatever you have to do to get back where you think he needs you to be. And don't worry about pushing him; he can take more than you think. Sam was right; he's a natural. Wasted on you, because you don't need him on his knees, do you?" Simon shook his head slowly. "And he doesn't want to be anywhere else."

"That's your expert advice, is it?" Jim couldn't keep the sneer out of his voice. Better that than to have it shake. He knew Simon's judgment was rock-solid; he had a knack Sam envied of watching a crowd and spotting the true subs from any number of subtle clues lost on Jim. Simon wasn't telling him anything he didn't know, though; he just wasn't saying anything Jim wanted to hear. "Thanks. Send me your fucking bill."

He pushed past Simon and walked away, not looking back. Simon wouldn't follow him. They were done here.


*****



If he'd found Blair waiting upstairs, his eyes warm with welcome, it might have taken the edge off his mood, but he didn't. Blair was sitting at the kitchen table, dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt, his feet bare. He stood as Jim came in, and walked over to him, stopping a few feet away. "Jim. Hey."

Blair knew. All the way home, that had been the thought Jim had refused to let surface. Blair knew about some -- not all, still not all -- of his failures, knew how he'd allowed himself to be broken and reshaped. Knew he was weak.

He'd spent his life letting people down and Blair had to be wondering if he was next to be disappointed. If the man had any sense, he'd run; go looking for someone strong like Simon.

A sick feeling of inevitability filled him and, as he had with Simon, he hid it under anger. "I thought I said I wanted you upstairs and naked."

Blair blinked, his only reaction to the snap in Jim's voice. "In a way, I am." He gave an uneasy chuckle. "In a way…"

Jim kicked off his shoes and left them in the middle of the room and then rolled his sleeves up with deliberate care. His head was aching, tension and pressure building. He'd felt like this before a mission, his rifle butt smooth against his sweating palms, his vision alternately preternaturally sharp or graying out. People usually ended up dead and bleeding soon after; it wasn't a comforting thought, even though he couldn't see himself hurting Blair. Not physically. Not deliberately.

"I know what naked looks like, Blair. This isn't it." He loosened his tie and dragged it off, tossing it over the back of the couch, and then gave Blair his most charming professional smile. "Hey, don't worry about it. You don't want to play, that's fine."

Blair frowned. "What? No, I do -- at least, well, we can if you want to -- I mean, you only just got in, but sure --"

"Stop fucking talking," Jim ground out, losing the smile. "Or talk sense."

Blair took a deep breath. "I was naked," he began. "Simon thought it was probably you in the elevator, so I…" Blair's gaze went back to the kitchen table for some reason. The table was empty of everything but a salt shaker, and Jim spared it an uncomprehending glance before turning his attention back to Blair. "I, uh, went upstairs, got undressed and lay down. But you didn't come in, so I figured it hadn't been you, and I felt, well, it felt weird just lying there waiting, you know? So I put some of it back on." Blair plucked at his T-shirt. "Just this," he said softly. "And my jeans. That's it."

Jim had to look. Had to. And for a dizzying moment, he got what Blair had meant when he'd said he was naked, because denim and cotton were clinging to skin and showcasing, not hiding, Blair's body. And a pulse was beating at Blair's throat, visible, tattle-tale proof of his nervousness.

"I can get undressed again in, like, ten seconds," Blair offered. "Just tell me."

"I told you what I wanted on the phone and you didn't do it." Blair opened his mouth and then closed it. "You know, Blair, this isn't how it works. It really isn't." Don't say it, don't do it… "If we were doing this for real --"

"We're not?"

Jim curled his lip. "Oh, you have to be fucking kidding me."

Blair didn't flinch; if anything his stance became combative; his chin lifting, his eyes wary. "No. And if you want more, try me. I'm over being scared." He spoiled it all by adding, "I think," but Jim refused to allow himself to be captivated by Blair's ability to be disarming.

"Then why the hell aren't you where you should be?"

He'd raised his voice and he heard his father's voice echo dryly: First one to do that loses the argument every time, Jimmy. Every time.

"I know why," he said, his voice back where it should be, under his control, amusement and insinuation glossing it slickly so that the words came out easily, slipping past his lips before he had a chance to hear them in his head, censor them.

He closed the gap between them and circled around Blair, who held his ground, the rapid rise and fall of his chest the only sign of his emotions, his face blank. "Oh, yeah. I get it. Sorry; I'm a little slow today, aren't I?"

"Get what?" Blair said, his voice unforgivably calmer than Jim's.

Jim paused behind Blair and leaned in, touching Blair only with his words and each exhaled breath, hot and bitter. "You want me to punish you, don't you? A real spanking, not one given because you want it and I'm kind, but one you've earned by being disobedient."

"I don't think so," Blair said steadily. "No, I'm pretty sure that's not why I --"

"Oh, yeah, yeah, that's it." His mouth was so close to Blair's skin now. He could smell him, clean cotton, clean skin. You missed that when you were fighting. Missed being clean, the feel of it, the smell of it. Dirty skin itched almost as much as dried blood, and the stink of your body could keep you awake worse than being hungry or scared… "'S'okay, sweetheart, don't blush, don't lie. You want to be my bad boy, you only had to ask -- no, beg, you'd like that better, huh? Only had to beg me to spank you."

"Jim, this really isn't doing anything for me." That chuckle again, defensive, placating.

"But you're not stopping me. You're not walking away." Jim licked the side of Blair's neck just to see if it tasted clean, too, remembering the time he'd done that to a bar of fancy soap their housekeeper had put in the bathroom, black cherry soap, expecting it to taste of fruit. He'd been, what, five? Six? He could still recall the shock of disappointment. Blair's skin just tasted of skin, but it left Jim's tongue tingling. "And I bet you're hard, right? Let me see --"

"Fuck you," Blair said, warding off Jim's groping hand.

"Never going to happen," Jim said lightly. "I don't bend over for spank-hungry little subs like you."

"Unless we pay you to."

"Ooh, I'm hurt." He was; not the words, but the discovery that Blair could be petty enough to say them.

Blair finally moved, stepping forward, but Jim had been expecting that, and he stopped him. One of his hands clamped down on the back of Blair's neck, surprising a gasp out of him, and the other took advantage of Blair's reaction and slipped around to cup the half-hard swell of Blair's cock. He'd picked this hold up from Simon, and he knew Blair's body well enough even in this short a time to know that it would work on him.

He just wished he knew if Blair had been hard to start with and was softening, or if this was turning him on more than his attitude suggested. Simon would know -- and that thought wasn't helping him at all.

Blair whined, deep in his throat, and arched back against the hand at his neck, rubbing his groin restlessly against Jim's palm as if he thought they'd stopped arguing and this was foreplay now. Good luck there, kid, Jim thought. He was numb, cold with anticipation of loss, as far from arousal as he'd ever been in his life, closed off from it, no matter how much he wanted to respond to the promise of pleasure Blair offered. "Jim…"

"Slut," Jim whispered in Blair's ear and bit down on the sweet, tender skin of the lobe. "If you were mine, do you know what I'd do to you?"

Blair gave an exasperated snarl and twisted around, the movement unexpected and strong enough that it caught Jim off guard. Blair's hands cupped his face, his fingers digging in behind Jim's ears. "I am, okay? I am yours. God, you're so fucking stupid…"

Jim opened his mouth to answer and Blair tugged him down into a kiss that should have been clumsy, all spit and teeth, but wasn't. For the first time, Blair kissed him as an equal, without diffidence or hesitation, his grip not gentling until Jim kissed him back, helplessly lost in the feel of Blair's warm mouth on his. The insecurity that had marked everything that had happened between them was gone, maybe only temporarily, but Jim didn't care, because if this confidence was in Blair, he could get it to surface again. If there had been one thing holding him back, a nagging presence in the back of his mind, it had been Blair's lack of self-esteem. For a sub, that had to rank high on the list of things you just didn't want to see. Jim had been around Simon and Sam long enough to know that the best subs -- and the agency didn't employ anything but the best -- walked with a bone-deep confidence in themselves, unshakeable, profound.

Of course, that only mattered if he hadn't gotten Blair pissed off to the point of walking by being even more of an asshole than normal. The kiss was reassuring, but, hell, Blair was hard; nothing counted when you were aroused in Jim's experience; no reassurance, no words of love, nothing.

As if Blair could feel Jim's doubts, he eased up on the kiss, his mouth a bare, scant inch away from Jim's. "Tell me to get naked. Tell me you still want me.Tell me."

The sheer desperation that had crawled back into Blair's voice did what the kiss hadn't; Jim shook off his foul mood and left his guilt for later.

"Blair, you have no idea how much I want you." His body warmed, making the words true.

"Show me." Blair was back to demanding again, his eyes a blue glitter, sun on sea, his mouth delivering kisses like bullets, hard, fast hits on Jim's face and neck. "Fuck me."

"Oh, God…" He had to get control back, but he was losing it, losing everything just thinking about Blair spread out beneath him, open, eager.

"Please," Blair said, saying the word as if it was new to him and he was trying it out to see if it worked. "You want me to beg? I will. I'll beg. On my knees? I can do that --" You'd have to stop kissing me then, Jim thought. No. "Jim, will you please --"

"Blair, God," Jim said faintly. "Just -- stop talking, okay?" No. He had to do it better than that. Never make it a choice; never make it a question.

He stepped back, away from Blair's petting, distracting hands, away from the kisses and the anxiously questioning eyes. He had to do this right.

"Go upstairs. Strip and kneel by the side of the bed for a full minute. Count it off in your head. Then get on the bed and lie there, face down, and wait for me, for as long as it takes, in silence."

Blair started to speak and he held up his hand, palm out. "You'd better be about to say 'Yes, Jim'."

He would have bet everything he owned that Blair hadn't been, but when Blair spoke those were the words that came out of his kiss-flushed, tempting fucking mouth and Jim supposed that was progress.

He didn't watch Blair walk upstairs and he didn't join him for a long time, not until the loft was filled with shadows and his head was aching with the silence surrounding him.

When he did, Blair had fallen asleep and lay curled in the center of the bed, his hair dark against the pillow, his forehead creased, his hands clutching tightly at the sheets below him.

Jim sighed, and joined him, just for a little while, his unfed stomach giving a protesting grumble, his hand reaching out unwillingly to stroke Blair's hair.

He'd rest. Wake Blair up. Feed them both. And then -- no, it was blank after that.

He didn't have a fucking clue where they could go from here.


*****



Blair woke up when someone knocked at the door, feeling the world blur and shimmer around him as he tried to remember where he was. Naps always did that to him, which was why he avoided them when possible, but emotional scenes tended to make him retreat to the oblivion of sleep no matter what the downside. It didn't help that he still wasn't used to waking up in Jim's bed.

He heard Jim talking to someone and then the front door closed. A moment later, he breathed in the rich, spicy smell of an Indian takeout and hunger snapped the world back into focus. He started to get up and then hesitated. Jim had told him to stay on the bed and wait, but he recalled Jim curled up beside him for part of the time he'd been asleep at least; a certainty pieced together from fragments woven through his dreams. Someone had stroked his hair and pushed it back off his face with gentle, careful hands, and Jim was the only one of his lovers who'd ever played with his hair like that. Most of the women he'd dated had wanted him to cut it.

If Jim had come up here and not done more than touch his hair, when he'd been sprawled out naked and ready -- Indignation and insecurity clashed, but hunger easily won the war.

He moved to the head of the bed -- not technically disobeying Jim's orders; still naked, still on the bed, still face down -- and called down to him through the railings. "Jim? Is any of that for me?"

Okay, he'd been told to stay silent, but he couldn't stop his stomach from growling audibly, so totally quiet just wasn't an option.

"I'm hungry enough to eat it all, but I'll share if you get dressed and down here in the next thirty seconds or so." Jim sounded normal, which was both reassuring and not. Blair couldn't move that quickly between the emotional tempest of earlier to calmer seas and he found himself hoping that Jim couldn't either and the normality was fake.

He put his shorts on under his jeans this time, with the vague idea of not tempting fate, even if it did add another ten seconds to the time it took to get dressed, and hurried down the stairs.

Jim glanced up and gave him a faint smile, his hands busy with unpacking a brown paper bag, grease-stained on one corner, leaking sauce. "I hope you like Indian food. I ordered from the mild end of the menu, so it should be safe."

"Hey, I've eaten it in India," Blair assured him. "Love it. Naomi always says the hottest curries are in England, though, and I've had those, too."

Jim grinned, this smile looking less forced. "Okay. Next time we go for the vindaloo or the phal."

Next time. Blair let himself relax at the reassurance implicit in those two words. "Works for me."

He helped Jim set the table and they ate with a greed hunger made forgivable, sharing the three dishes Jim had chosen and the rice. They dipped torn-off pieces of naan bread in the aromatic sauces surrounding chunks of chicken and vegetables, and kept the conversation firmly, if surreally, given the events of earlier, on food.

Finally, Jim pushed his plate away and took a last drink from his bottle of beer, an imported Danish lager Blair found stronger than he was used to. "Okay, I'm done. I can't walk farther than the couch, but I'm happy."

Blair scooped up one last mouthful of basmati rice and then sighed in agreement. "I might explode but it's a good way to go."

"A wafer-thin mint?" Jim suggested, with a wiggle of his eyebrows.

Blair snickered. "Hey, you like Python; that's so cool, man. Have you ever seen…?" His words faded and he swallowed, having reached saturation point on more than food. "Jim --"

"Yeah, I know." Jim stood and walked over to the couch. "We have to talk, right?"

"I guess we do," Blair agreed sadly. He liked talking and he was good at listening, but he wasn't looking forward to this conversation, necessary though it was. He made a point of sitting beside Jim on the couch, keeping the distance between them an emotional one, not a physical one. If Jim needed him, he wanted to be close.

"I can't tell you how sorry I am," Jim began.

"Yeah, you can. You just say, 'Blair, I'm really sorry.'"

"It'd be nice if it was that easy." Something in the bitterness of Jim's voice made Blair wince. He was used to Naomi's easy to earn forgiveness, bought with an hour or so of earnest discussion and a hug.

"It is," he insisted. "Jim, I'm not going to pretend you weren't a total fucking asshole, because you were, but if it helps, when you apologize, I'm going to accept it."

"Maybe you shouldn't," Jim said bleakly.

"Maybe I'm the one who gets to decide that," Blair said with some asperity. "Just say it, okay?"

"You're feeling sorry for me, is that it?" Jim demanded. Anger was better than apathy, but Blair really wasn't in the mood for another fight.

"No. If you mean sorry because of what Simon told me, well, yeah, you had a rough deal, but it was a long time ago and it seems to me you've dealt with it pretty well. I'm looking at you now and I'm not seeing someone I need to pity."

"So why the quick forgiveness?"

"Don't you want it?" Blair asked, sincerely puzzled by Jim's reluctance to be absolved. "Shit, Jim, I thought I was the one who enjoyed being spanked, not you. If you want me to bawl you out, I will, but --"

"I think I'd feel better if you did," Jim admitted. "Partly because it's more what I'm used to when I screw up big time -- and this was huge, I know it -- and partly because, well, I think you're fooling yourself when you say you're over it. It's too soon for that, and I'd rather deal with it now, not have you bring it up a week from now, out of nowhere."

Blair pushed his hair back off his face and gave a gusty sigh. "Okay. Okay, yes, that makes sense. I can internalize my hostility sometimes -- are you laughing?"

"A little bit," Jim said, his mouth twitching. "Go on."

"Fine," Blair said, goaded. "If you want to know what I'm thinking, it's that you should listen to yourself sometimes."

Jim leaned back against the couch, one arm resting across the back of it, urbane and relaxed now, on the surface at least. Blair noted the way Jim's knuckles were pale points of bone under skin and didn't make the mistake of accepting the façade at face value. "Not following you, Chief."

"You told me that a relationship, especially one like ours, is based on respect and trust."

Blair could hear Jim saying it, feel his own impatience as he'd tried to urge Jim to tie him up… it seemed like a long time ago, not less than a week.

"True," Jim said cautiously.

"How much of either did you show me after you walked through the door tonight?"

He watched Jim process that question and then spoke without giving him time to answer. "None. Zero. And that's just not like you, which is why it -- why I -- fuck." He wanted to crawl closer and get Jim's arms around him, but he held himself in place. "Respect. Those things you said to me -- the names you called me -- God, Jim. Way to go, you know?"

Jim flinched, his pose cracking. "Yeah… Blair, you know I didn't mean --"

"Naomi always says it isn't alcohol but anger that brings the truth out." And he had to stop quoting her, but for all her flaws, she knew a lot about emotions and relationships. Not many people ever left her; she had the power to captivate and charm. It was just a shame it wasn't anchored to anything remotely like the ability to commit.

"Does she?" Jim shrugged. "Can't say I agree in this case."

"No? I do."

"Blair," Jim protested. "Come on; you've got this way of looking at yourself -- judging yourself -- and it's just wrong. I don't see you that way."

"No?" Blair felt his face heat with an echo of the humiliation he'd felt, but he didn't back down. "You called me a -- a spank-happy little slut."

Jim sank his head in his hands and groaned. "Fuck."

Blair waved his hand dismissively. "Hey, don't beat yourself up over it. It's all true. Getting spanked does make me happy, and little… well, yeah. Compared to you and Simon, I am. Slut, well, maybe not that. Except when it comes to you, maybe I am. I don't think there's much I wouldn't do when it came to sex if you told me to, and when I'm with you, I want you pretty much all the time. If you can be a slut with just one person, then, yes, I am with you."

Jim was watching him now, a question flickering in his eyes.

"What?" Blair asked.

"Just me?"

"Well, yeah." Blair frowned. "Come on, Jim!"

"So what did you think of Simon?"

The question was simple and direct in about the same way as a brick thrown at him would be. Blair sucked in a surprised breath. "Uh, big? Intimidating? Loves the hell out of you?"

"All of those." Jim nodded. "I met him as he was leaving."

"Ah." That explained both the delay in Jim arriving and his mood.

"He seemed taken with you."

"Ooh, I don't know about that," Blair said uneasily. Was Jim jealous? No; how could he be? "He wasn't all that happy to find me staying here. Called me worse names than you did, although he took them back."

"Guess you changed his mind fast, Chief." Jim gave him the seraphic smile Blair was starting to view as a warning flag. "Must have been the way the thought of him tying you up turned you on. Simon always did like being appreciated."

"It so did not." Blair cleared his throat, realizing that he wasn't fooling Jim, and coated his reply with some truth. "Okay, maybe as a fantasy it could work for me, but for real? No way. And when I thought about it, just thought, Jim, you were there, front and center, and Simon was just… watching. If I got off on anything, it was us putting on a show for him."

Jim considered that in silence and then nodded. "Maybe for his birthday," he said, which left Blair floundering until he remembered just what they'd been discussing. Another of Jim's distractions; it had to be. He was starting to see that Jim would cheerfully use Simon as both weapon and threat if he thought it would help him, and guessed that Simon wouldn't do more than smile indulgently if he knew.

"This isn't about Simon," he told Jim. "It's about what happened between us. Even though what you called me wasn't that far off base, it was still said to hurt me, and you were laughing at me and what gets me off, and you said you'd never do that, so, yeah, full disclosure time, that pissed me off."

"Laughing? No." Jim studied his hands, locked together now in his lap "I envy you and Simon. You're both so sure of what you want, and it's achievable; there're plenty of people out there who'd love to give you just what you want, Blair; Simon's not ideal, because you like sex with whoever's topping you, too, and he doesn't really go for men, but someone like him."

"Yeah," Blair said flatly. "You gave me a list. I know. I don't want them. Any of them. I just want you."

"Chief…" Jim's smile was warm, inviting, and Blair again fought back the need to touch him. Jim made a good security blanket; too good.

"Trust," he said. "You lashed out because, what? You assumed what Simon had told me would freak me out, have me packing and you were angry?"

"Something like that," Jim admitted, his tone guarded now, his smile tucked away.

Some of the truth, not all of it then? Blair continued pushing, determined not to let this go until he knew.

"You didn't trust me to stay. Well, tell me, Jim, just tell me; what the hell did Simon reveal that I didn't already know? He told me you were a soldier; knew that. A hero; would have put money on it. Bisexual and with poor taste in men; really not news --"

"Hey." Jim reached out and grabbed Blair's arm and shook him to silence. "Stop it. I know who you must mean, and if you ever compare yourself to him again, I'll gag you for the whole fucking day, you hear me? And he was a mistake, sure, because I didn't realize he was using me, not that way, anyhow, but Simon's got this way of acting like I was in love with the twisted little bastard and I wasn't. Simon might not have known his reputation, but I did. I just didn't care. I wanted what he was offering and I took it because hell, I'd earned it. After what had happened on that mission, I needed it. Okay?"

Blair nodded mutely and Jim's hand fell away. He licked his lips uncertainly and continued, his voice subdued. "Married, divorced, a hooker. Knew it already, all of it." His voice gathered strength. "Jim, you know that! Why would you think I'd leave now?"

Jim frowned. "I don't -- I didn't think it through. Carolyn left and I just assumed --"

"She didn't already know about you," Blair interrupted. "I do. And you can fucking trust me next time, okay?"

"I wasn't all that angry, well, not with you," Jim said abruptly. He met Blair's gaze directly, the tips of his ears going pink. "I was scared."

"What of?" Blair knew the answer as soon as he asked the question and his mouth split in a wide, delighted smile. "Oh, my God, you were scared of losing me."

Jim gave him a look which could only be interpreted as exasperated, the embarrassed flush fading. "That can't be news to you, Blair."

"It is; well, no, I suppose it isn't, but, yeah, yeah, it is."

He'd had enough. He moved before Jim could stop him and straddled Jim's lap. "If I tell you I'm going to kiss you when you accept that I accept your apology, will you accept it?"

Jim's eyes lit with amusement. "Depends on how good a kiss it is. Are we talking tongue here or a peck on the cheek?"

"What do you think?"

"I think you can go ahead and kiss me."

Blair allowed himself a small, smug smile. See; he could do it. Relationships weren't as tricky as people made out. He'd just got through an argument and a reconciliation in a matter of hours and Jim was smiling at him and kissing him back and --

"We haven't finished talking yet."

Fuck.

Blair pulled back, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and sighed. "We haven’t?"

"No." Jim leaned in and gave Blair one last kiss, his hands running slowly up and down Blair's arms. "And you're going to need to get off me, sport, because between you and the curry…"

For once, Blair didn't feel flustered or rejected; maybe because when he slid off Jim's lap, Jim hauled him in close, his arm around Blair's shoulders, his other hand petting Blair; slow, light touches that left Blair wanting more.

"We need to start over, Blair. We've been responding to everything that's come up in this off the cuff, instinctive way, starting with me knocking on your hotel door and not walking away, and it's left us in a place I don't want to be."

"Oh, God, I knew he was wrong," Blair said, blurting out the words, his elation at the thought of being wanted that much -- enough for Jim to be cruel -- fading. "You don't want me here, do you?"

Jim rested his forehead against Blair's shoulder and sighed. "He. Simon, right? Okay, what the fuck did he say? God, I'm going to kick his ass, I swear it. I'm younger; I work out; I can take him."

"He said you didn't want me to find a place to live in the city," Blair said without any qualms about sharing. Simon had told him to tell Jim the truth, after all. "That you wanted me to move in with you."

"Oh, that." Jim shrugged. "Yeah, I do. You mind?"

"I mind that you didn't just ask me." Why did everyone assume he was a mind reader, for God's sake?

"I thought I wouldn't need to," Jim said slowly. "That you'd get it without being told."

"No. And that was dumb."

"I often am." Jim's hand stroked the side of Blair's face, finding places to touch that Blair wasn't sure had ever been caressed before. How much of his body had only ever been kissed, touched, learned and conquered by Jim? Virgin territory, except that pun was too obvious to be worth more than a groan and an eye roll. "Move in?" Jim suggested. "Try it? All your stuff, not just a box or two? I give you a key; you learn how to work the coffee maker?"

Blair's reaction to the idea when Simon had broached it had been pure shock, but that had worn off during his nap. He wasn't sure how it would work out, or what Jim would be like to live with; tidier than he was, that was for sure. The appeal of an apartment hadn't been based around a yearning for solitude and independence; he'd had that most of the time at his mother's house. No, it'd been the need to have somewhere of his own, where he could see Jim, uninterrupted, unobserved.

Living with Jim would accomplish that, and it'd give them the chance to get to know each other really well.

There was also the fact that a few nights of sleeping next to Jim had left Blair contemplating a bed with no Jim in it with something close to despondency. Jim might take up more of the mattress than he was entitled to, and have a tendency to drape a heavy arm across Blair at three a.m., which was no time for a hug, but he was a solid, sexy, infinitely comforting person to share a bed with.

 Blair only kept Jim waiting for the space of a few breaths before saying casually, "Sure. And thank you." His confidence deserted him and he added, "But you know, if it doesn't work out, just say, and I'll be out of your hair before you can finish telling me to get lost."

"I expected you to argue more," Jim said, ignoring the last part of Blair's words, which, Blair supposed, was as a good an answer as they deserved.

"I want to move in with you," Blair said simply. "What would be the point of trying to argue you out of inviting me?"

Jim smiled a slow, wide, and happy smile. "Well, all right then."

"So…" Blair wriggled closer and tried to look like someone who needed kissing.

"No." Jim pushed gently at Blair's chin. "You look at me like that and we'll never get this mess sorted out."

"What mess?" Blair said. "It all looks good from here." He was staring at Jim when he said it, so he was certain of his facts.

"I don't know what I want to be to you," Jim said abruptly. "I don't know how far you want to go or if I'm ready to go there with you."

"Oh." Blair swallowed. "Jim, you know we don't have to -- all the, the bondage and the spanking and -- if it's not working for you, we can skip it."

"Sure we can," Jim agreed, his expression somber. "And I know I can keep you happy enough in bed that you won't even miss it for, oh, a month, maybe two. Then you'll get an itch and you'll want it scratched, and I'll do it, because it's you, and we're back here, fighting." His voice was gentle, inflexible. "I want better than that for you. And for me."

"Help me out here," Blair begged. "And I've said from the start that I didn’t like this being all about me."

"I know." Jim moved away from him, putting a foot of space between them but not going far enough away that Blair couldn't have stretched out his hand and touched him. He'd noticed that Jim rarely did go out of reach. "And I've never kept it a secret that the whole Dom/sub scene isn't something I've ever done for fun; it's always been part of my job. I'm good at it, good enough for the clients, anyway, but I'm not into it heart and soul."

"It feels like you are," Blair said. "When you're doing it to me. I can tell."

"So maybe I'm your slut," Jim said, tangling his hand in Blair's hair and winding a few strands around his fingers. "I have to say, that first time I spanked you… that worked for me. Blew me away."

"Oh, God, yes," Blair said fervently. Just the thought of that night had the power to arouse him. He poked Jim in the ribs. "I still can't believe you didn't let me watch."

"I will next time, babe," Jim promised, his voice husky enough to be felt across every nerve ending Blair had.

"You're into it with me," Blair repeated. "You are, Jim. And you wouldn't be as good at it as you are if you hated it."

"Now, there, you're wrong," Jim told him. "I'm good at a lot of things I don't enjoy doing."

"Name one," Blair challenged.

"Killing people," Jim said succinctly. "Drop it, okay?"

"Dropping," Blair said. "God, Jim --"

"It doesn't matter, anyway," Jim said. "And I don't hate it; you know I don't. Just not… I don't need it. You do, and I can't think about you getting it from someone else without wanting to practice some of those skills we're not going to talk about on them."

Blair stripped the hyperbole from that threat and was still left with the conviction that Jim was on a possessive, protective trip. Surprisingly, it didn't make him feel stifled, but sheltered. For now, anyway. Just while he found his feet. And if Jim didn't back off a few weeks down the line -- and the guy could give lessons to mama hens -- Blair would point out that submissive didn't mean helpless. Which Jim already knew, so it wouldn't be a problem, he was sure of it.

"I can't even see myself sharing you with Simon, and he's the closest friend I've got," Jim continued, "which means I guess you're stuck with me as long as we’re together."

"I'll be brave," Blair said dryly. "It's a hardship, but I'll bear -- ow!"

Jim grinned, kissed his thumb, and rubbed it over Blair's pinched nipple, throbbing beneath his T-shirt from that sharp twist of Jim's fingers. "All better," Jim said. "So, we need to find out how far you want to take this."

"We do?"

"Yes," Jim said. "We do. You've already gone beyond what most people do for kicks once in a while. Not much beyond, but still… And you liked it." He gave Blair a thoughtful look. "Loved it," he amended. "But it's still just something you're playing with. Two people whose judgment I trust say you're a natural sub; you're going to want more than this; the question is, how much more?"

"I don't have a freaking clue," Blair said frankly. "I don't see me doing it 24/7, Jim. I know people do --"

"Not as many as you'd think, but, yes, some do. They wear their collars all the time; they're owned; their choice. And some save it for pre-determined times and places, and most of the time they just get on with their life and you'd never know from looking at them what they were." Jim shrugged. "Well, someone like Sam would, I guess. There isn't a right or wrong way to do it, Blair; just what's right for you. And me."

"And I don't have to decide right away," Blair said. "Right?"

"I'd like to say you didn't, but…" Jim looked at him. "I need to know soon, Blair. I'm worried about fucking this up for you by not being enough, or by coming on too strong. See, I'm -- I've done --" He paused, his mouth tight, and then said, "I'll go as far as you want to, short of anything that leaves you permanently scarred. That's my limit; my red light. Which still leaves a lot you haven't tried, and that's an understatement."

"What? Scarring? Man, that is so not a problem." Blair felt his mouth go dry, not with the fascination he'd felt looking around the sex shop, but with shock. "I don't want that. I -- God."

"No?" Jim flicked at Blair's nipple, sending a not unpleasant twinge of pain radiating through it. "How about if I said I wanted you to get your nipple pierced? Both of them?"

Blair thought about that. He liked the idea, if the echoing throb of approval from his dick counted as a vote in favor. Maybe he could get his ear pierced, too; he loved the way the earring in Jim's ear looked. "I could go for that."

"It's a hole through your skin," Jim said bluntly. "I'd like it, but it's not something I'd ever order you to do, because it's still damage, still permanent. It would have to be your choice, not mine."

"It's not the same thing!" Blair protested. "You're talking, I don't know, whip marks or something, right?"

"I'm talking you chasing an edge, a release, and getting to the point where you only achieve it when you're bleeding. Whip or knife… I've seen people beg for both and get it."

"Oh, man, that's just sick," Blair muttered, and shuddered with revulsion.

Jim eyed him with more disfavor than he ever had. "I could say the same about you getting off on a red ass and kneeling for me. The average person would lump you in with them as a freak. You're in no position to judge, so don't."

Shame washed over him. "Sorry."

"Yeah. You should be." Jim's expression softened. "But it's a difficult lesson to learn. It took me months before I realized I was never going to get good at giving my clients what they wanted unless I stopped pitying and despising them for wanting it." Jim grimaced. "Up to a point. Under age, unwilling -- never. And once, when it was kids, young kids, someone wanted -- well, I worked with the cops and got him put away. It's one reason the agency's not hassled; we're clean in the ways that count, and the cops know that. But as long as it's something the clients are doing to themselves, I'm not going to claim a moral high ground, no matter what it is. I just won't be the one who gives it to them past a certain point."

"Do you have people who will?" Blair asked, wondering if he really wanted to know the answer.

"Not directly," Jim said, the evasion a warning that Blair was crossing a line. "I know where to send them. My clients -- most of the time, it's just sex, no frills, though Simon and Sam have gotten us a good reputation for the kind of sex you like --" Blair felt the rebuke in that and sighed. Jim really hadn't liked the "sick" comment, had he? "But I guess you know, or you wouldn't have chosen us." Jim frowned, his expression going from stern to quizzical. "I never asked how you came to call Rhonda that night. It's not like we advertise that side of it; word of mouth and repeat business keep us busy, but you're not in that particular loop yet."

He'd always known that Jim would ask that question; in some ways, he was surprised it'd taken that long. He didn't have an answer ready that made him look good, any more than he'd had one when Naomi had asked him what Jim did.

He went with the truth and pared it down to a sliver because even now he could remember the way he'd been shaking, palms damp, face scarlet. "I hung around a hotel bar and watched someone get picked up by a hooker. And, yes, you could tell that's what she was. When she came back downstairs alone, I followed her out and asked her --" He swallowed. "She, uh, didn't do what I wanted, but I guess she felt sorry for me, because she told me to call you. Well, not you, but the agency."

"How much did it cost for her to feel that sorry?" Jim asked, not unsympathetically.

Blair took a deep breath, steadied by a burst of irritation at Jim's perceptiveness; short-lived, but intense. "You really can be a cynical son of a bitch, Jim, do you know that?"

"How much?" Jim repeated mercilessly

"A hundred," Blair admitted. He glared at Jim who was trying to hold back a grin. "Hey, it was worth it, wasn't it?"

Jim's expression softened. "It was, but let me tell you, she still owes you. A hundred bucks for a phone number? God."

"If I ever see her again, do you want me to tell her that?" Blair asked. "Demand a quick hand job, maybe to balance the books?"

"I'm not the only son of a bitch in the room," Jim said wryly. "You'd better not, Chief." He didn't sound too concerned, but it'd been a threat as empty as outer space and they both knew it. "Where were we? Oh, yeah… I know my limits; we need to find yours. And it isn't a limit as such, but I've got to tell you, I can't see me having the patience to make this work as a lifestyle. Now and then, for the day, yeah, might be fun, but not every day. It starts being a chore, not a pleasure."

"Huh?" Sometimes, Jim verged on cryptic.

"It's okay," Jim said. "You told me you didn't want 24/7 anyway, so it shouldn't be an issue."

"Sure," Blair said tentatively, feeling his way through what felt like a lot of hidden layers and reluctant to admit that he didn't really know what Jim meant. "I like sex, but it's not the only thing I like doing. And you can have too much of a good thing, though it's a theory I'd like to test."

"I'm not talking about actual sex," Jim said patiently. "I'm talking about you relating to me as my sub, with that influencing every word you say, where you stand, how you behave -- you under my control, obeying previously agreed rules we'd worked out. I'm talking you being trained and putting that training into practice from anything to bringing me a drink to, oh, I don't know, washing the dishes."

"Oh." Blair tried again, because that had emerged as a startled squeak. "That -- Jim, that's -- I don't think I'm ready for that."

"Every Dom I know would agree," Jim said dryly. "But I'm a little more forgiving of your limitations. Is it something you'd want to try?"

Blair held up his hand. "Give me a minute." Jim nodded and without moving, gave the impression of retreating into his own thoughts, leaving Blair free to do some thinking of his own without feeling pressured.

He knew now what Jim wanted from him, but he wasn't sure he could give him an answer that was complete or final, because how the hell could he, mired in what he was beginning to see was abysmal ignorance, for all the research he'd done? And he could ask Jim to give him a day like that, but he suspected that if he knew it was temporary and if he went into it cold, it wouldn't give him an idea of what it was like for real, and he'd spend most of the day asking Jim questions until Jim finally got out that gag and used it.

Part of him had lit up like a pinball machine at Jim's matter-of-fact description, though, and he knew he was going to have to try it, and the hell with the inherent problems. And another part of him, the coolly objective part, knew that it was never going to be something he could sustain indefinitely.

"I want to at least try it," he said finally. "If it's as big a turn on as it sounds, then it could be something we did from time to time, maybe, but you know, Jim, what we have here is good, really it is. Sex without frills and throw in the occasional spanking -- I'm down with that, really I am."

Jim grinned at him. "I think for you, I'd throw in a few frills, Blair. Okay. Good enough for now."

"It is?" Blair blew out a relieved sigh. "Can we -- uh, can we --?"

"If you can't ask for it without a stammer or a blush, you don't get it," Jim said, with a lazy stretch that put his long, powerful body on display. "New rule. Make a note."

"Can we go to bed?" Blair said, giving Jim a glare. "And I'm feeling too full for anything energetic, but I wouldn't mind getting naked and taking it from there, and no, I'm not blushing. I just don't like the idea of planning in advance."

"We can," Jim said with a nod, "but you're not going to get to come until tomorrow night, if then, just so you know before you start something I won't finish -- or let you finish solo."

"Is this some kind of test?" Blair said suspiciously.

"No. It's the start of me driving you out of your mind with lust." Jim was grinning but Blair wasn't. He knew just how easily Jim could do that, for one thing. "Tomorrow night, I want you hungry. I want your body screaming "fuck me" and everyone listening lining up to be the one to do it, except they'd have to go through me first." Jim's smile was pure predator now and arrogant as hell. "And when they see who you're with, they won't even try, but they'll still enjoy watching you."

"Excuse me?" Blair demanded. "Are we talking theoretical people, or are you planning on throwing a party in the bedroom?"

Jim's eyes narrowed, though they were too amused for Blair to think he was genuinely annoyed. "Lose that attitude or you're going to get us both kicked out."

"Of where?"

"Club Z." Jim slid his hand under Blair's T-shirt, and his fingers homed in on the other nipple this time and teased it to hardness. "I'm going to take my sweet little slut out for a walk on the wild side."

Blair rallied from that revelation to say, "Call me that again and I'll --"

"What?" Jim mouthed at the nipple he'd been tormenting through Blair's T-shirt, and bit down. "What will you do to me, sweetheart?"

"Anything you want," Blair said, lying under Jim now on the couch, breathless and anticipating what was going to happen next, even if Jim wasn't going to let him come. "Just call me that again."

"I don't like repeating myself," Jim said. He shoved Blair's T-shirt up high. "Yeah, a ring, maybe two… one in each…"

"Jim… say it," Blair begged, squirming against the wet tickle of Jim's mouth. "Please."

"I'll say what I think you liked best about it," Jim said. "How about that?"

Intrigued, Blair nodded.

"'My'," Jim said. "All mine. My slut."

Blair fitted his hands to the shape of Jim's jaw and nodded and felt Jim's widening smile warm his palms.


*****



Jim brought the crop down on Blair's ass for the last of three crisp, medium-weighted strokes. The mark it made was a shade or two darker than the well-spanked skin surrounding it. Blair was making sounds that would embarrass him later, if he replayed them in his head.

Jim wondered what he'd been thinking when he decided to keep Blair hard, teased, hungry. Not one of his best ideas, in hindsight, because Blair just didn't have the control to play games like this, not yet, and he'd already come once, sucking Jim off, the night before. Blair had climaxed with an aggrieved, astonished wail when Jim had brushed the back of his hand lightly over the glossed-wet head of Blair's cock, intending only to get Blair to shiver with arousal, his expression rapt.

So they'd started over, with Blair apologizing with an earnestness tinged with satisfaction that he'd gotten what he'd been begging for, and Jim had been forced to be careful after that, which meant he hadn't done half the things he'd planned to. Stupid to be sulking over that when he had all the time in the world after tonight to make Blair do that thing where he whimpered and moaned and it all sounded like "Jim" and "please" no matter what the actual words, or lack of them, were.

This -- a short, swift spanking followed by three carefully judged strokes -- had pushed Blair's limits as it was, following on from hours of being kissed and touched, interspersed with tutorials on kneeling, and how Blair would be expected to behave at the club. Both Jim's hand and the crop had been needed, though; the spanking as a very literal warm up; the strokes to leave marks that would last the night. Jim had been amused to discover that the etiquette lessons had aroused Blair as much as his deliberate caresses. He didn't mind; not when a more unstudied kiss had left Blair pliant and purring. That one had been given when Blair had beamed up at him, happy with his success at finally kneeling with something approaching grace and not the noisy thud of his first attempts. Blair had just looked so damn pleased with himself…

"We're done," he told Blair, and put the crop down in front of Blair's face, which was pillowed on his folded arms, placing it where Blair could see it when he opened his eyes again. "Stay like that for a while."

"Yes, sir."

It had the flavor of rote the way Blair said it, with a hint of amusement still present behind the hoarse, tear-thickened voice. He wasn't sure Blair and he would keep it as a ritual response for the future, but for tonight… well, the club had plenty of traditionalists who'd expect just that sort of quiet, respectful, brief acknowledgement of an order.

Unless… "Make it 'Yes, Jim'," he ordered on impulse.

There was the shortest of pauses and then Blair said it, perfect intonation, total sincerity, and Jim bit back a groan of pleasure because that worked for him, oh, yeah, it did. He was starting to see why Simon's face would get a deeply satisfied look when one of his subs murmured to him in just exactly that way.

"That's nice, Blair," he said approvingly and patted Blair's ass; he needed to feel the heat he'd placed there and he wanted to see how much of a flinch it got him.

Not too bad. Blair murmured a protest, but it was a half-hearted one. Jim flexed his still tingling hand and smiled, then dropped a Kleenex next to the crop. "Blow your nose and then drink some water."

"Yes, Jim."

Jim's smile became a grin. That time, there had been a suggestion of gritted teeth. Blair didn't like being babied or fussed over. He'd soon discover that letting Jim know that was a mistake; it was always handy to have some inventive ways of dealing with minor transgressions, based on a sub's dislikes. And he'd get one hell of a kick out of killing Blair with kindness. He patted Blair's ass again. "I'm going to take a shower. Finish drinking the water and then join me."

He didn't wait for the third version of "Yes, Jim"; they were going to be late. Club Z didn't ever really close, but there were good times to arrive and then there were perfect times.

Jim wanted perfect. He always had.


*****



"Wow." Blair stared at Jim and shook his head in admiration. "You look good."

Jim adjusted his bow tie. "Thanks." He studied himself in the mirror on the wall. Yeah, he did. Black tie had always been something he felt as comfortable in as his combat fatigues, or a pair of old sweats. Most men moved stiffly in formal wear, treating it like a costume; to him, it was just another suit. And it had been something of a trademark outfit for him in the past.

Blair looked good, too. Blair was naked.

"Though I was expecting, I don't know, leather or something." There was just a tinge of disappointment in Blair's voice.

"You'll see plenty of leather tonight," Jim assured him. "Leather and metal and skin… on Doms and subs." He tweaked his tie one last time and then turned away. "Jack tried that look on me, at first, before we went with this."

It felt strange to mention Jack's name, but good, too. He'd been censoring himself around Blair, but there was no need now.

"I don't suppose you've got any photographs?"

"Very funny."

"Hey, I wasn't joking," Blair protested. "I'd love to see them."

"There might be some in the agency files," Jim said without thinking.

Blair's eyes brightened. "Really?"

"No." He met Blair's skeptical expression and sighed. "Maybe. Look, if you want to see me in tight leather and a see-through T-shirt, fine, but --"

"'If'?" Blair said, his voice incredulous. "Hell, yes."

Jim raised his eyebrows and hid his misgivings as best he could. Flattering to have Blair so transparently eager, but from what he remembered of those photographs -- cold eyes, a trained smile, his body posed, muscles displayed; a handsome piece of meat, no more than that -- he wasn't sure Blair would like them that much. "Feel like getting dressed yourself? The car's going to be here soon."

Blair reached back, touched his bare ass gingerly, and then nodded. "Yeah. That cream helped. Took the sting out."

"Good."

"So do I get to wear a suit, too?"

Jim had left Blair in the loft that morning, just for a few hours. He'd told Blair not to jerk off, an order that had gotten Jim a filthy look, and gone shopping. He'd returned with a few bags containing just what he'd wanted, but he hadn't shown Blair what was in them yet. The idea of Blair in black tie was appealing, but it wasn't going to happen tonight.

"I told you the club had a strict dress code for subs."

"Yes, and I assumed you meant -- oh." Blair's cheeks pinked up. "You didn't mean shirt and tie."

"Well, you could," Jim said. "It just wouldn't be a good idea."

"Just spit it out, man," Blair said.

"You're going to have to tone that attitude down," Jim warned him. "It's simple enough; three items of clothing or less."

"What?" He watched Blair work that out and saw the moment when Blair got a mental picture of himself in just three pieces of clothing. "What?"

That had verged on a squeak. Jim smiled. "Shoes and socks both count as one item each, not two -- four -- oh, you know what I mean -- although I've never seen any sub bother with them. Oh, except once, there was this redhead with spike-heeled boots that came so high up her legs -- God, those, and a collar, and this leather thong, nothing else, pure adolescent wet dream and her hair was long enough that it touched the top of the boots. Just stunning --" Blair's eyes narrowed and Jim interrupted himself. "Did you want to say something?"

"Nothing."

"Right," Jim drawled. Blair jealous was oddly endearing. Jim allowed himself a moment to enjoy the warmth of being wanted and then continued. "There's a changing room where you can strip down before you enter the club proper so you don't have to travel there barefoot, don't worry. The car I've ordered will drive us into the underground car park and drop us off right outside the elevator, so you could change on the way, but I don't want you to." Jim crossed to where Blair stood, leaning now on the back of the couch, and tapped his fingers against Blair's mouth. "Don't ask why."

"Three items or less…" Blair looked uneasy. "Jim, I don't think I'm ready to -- I'm not going to be --?"

"Naked? No." Jim bent his head and gave Blair a kiss as swift as the strokes from the crop had been, moving back before Blair could do more than begin to respond. "That's for my eyes only."

Blair pulled a solemn face and intoned, "The name's Ellison. James Ellison."

"You do remember where we're going tonight, don't you?" Jim inquired mildly. "To a place where no one would care if I put you over my knee, though I can guarantee they'd look more than twice."

"You wouldn't."

"I really would." He probably wouldn't. Not in public, that was. He'd never been all that good at sharing and those sounds Blair made when he was being spanked; uninhibited, raw, honest -- God, they'd have an audience three-deep and he just wasn't happy with that idea at all.

"Jim… shouldn't we agree on limits before we go in?"

Jim shook his head. "No. I already know yours and you're going to have to trust me to remember them. Once we walk into the club, you're mine. My sub. Simon and Sam have probably mentioned that I'm going to be there, and people know that you're new, but they're still used to a level of commitment and experience that you just don't have. Show me up and you could blow a good part of my reputation, which won't do the agency much good and will close doors for you before they've even opened."

"Jim -- I don't want to do that, you know I don't, it's just --" Blair was blushing now. "Spanking me in public? With an audience? I can't --"

"Behave, and it won't be an issue." Jim flicked Blair's cheek with the back of his fingers. "You look good with some color. But the club's dimly lit; it won't show there. Pity."

Blair took a deep breath and visibly regained control. "Trust you. Yeah, that's what this is all about, right?"

"It's part of it," Jim agreed. "I need to know I've got that from you. So do I? Do you trust me?"

"I -- yes, I do." Blair nodded. "Oh, you know I do. Since I first saw you at the hotel and you talked me into letting you stay."

"I don't seem to recall you needing much persuading," Jim said dryly.

Blair gave him a quick, mischievous grin. "You're remembering it differently than me, then, but I like your version better."

"Come here," Jim said, and pulled Blair in close for a kiss, his hands dropping to palm Blair's bare ass. The skin was roughened, but yeah, cooling off now he'd applied a liberal dollop of antiseptic cream, laced with a mild numbing agent. He'd considered putting some makeup on Blair; a little eyeliner, a touch of red for that sinfully lush mouth, but there were other ways to make Blair's lips red and he didn't like the taste of lipstick or gloss much.

When he ended the kiss, Blair was hard again, flushed and panting, his mouth damp and hot.

"It feels weird kissing you when I'm naked and you're not," Blair said. He rested his forehead against Jim's shoulder and then turned his head to nuzzle into Jim's neck. That felt good enough that Jim was seriously tempted to put off the visit to the club for an hour or two. Jerk off with Blair watching, his hands wrapped loosely around his own cock and balls, forbidden to move or let his fingers clutch tighter… oh, God, just the thought of that was enough to make him want it like air to breathe.

"You don't seem to mind it too much." Jim pursed his lips, striving to keep his voice steady. "I'm going to keep you naked for a day some time."

Blair's breath caught and he lifted his head to meet Jim's gaze. "Oh, yeah?"

"Definitely. And you'd be able to do anything you wanted to get me to play with you," Jim promised recklessly.

"What kind of anything?" From the gleam in his eyes, Blair already had a few ideas.

"Kneeling and begging is a classic," Jim said. "Simple and direct. Not as direct as just bending over the couch or the table and waiting for me to take the hint, I suppose…"

Blair laughed. "I think I could be more subtle than that."

"I look forward to it." Jim swatted Blair's ass. "Let me get you dressed."

"Hey; newsflash, buddy; I mastered buttons and zippers a long time ago." There was genuine affront in Blair's voice and Jim frowned.

"Blair, think about what you just said."

"I know, I know; not respectful. But that goes both ways, and you --"

"No. I said 'think' not 'react'. You're a grown man and I've watched you dress and undress a number of times; why in hell would you think I was implying that you couldn’t?"

"I don't know." Blair stumbled over the words. "I just thought it sounded --"

"Patronizing?"

"Kind of."

"It wasn't meant to be." He'd have to be careful; Blair seemed to love being taken care of, but within tightly drawn parameters and Jim wasn't sure he knew where all the lines were yet. "I can think of at least two reasons why I'd be the one dressing you."

He waited and Blair screwed up his face in thought. "Maybe if it was something complicated?" he hazarded. "Straps and buckles at the back that I'm not supposed to be able to reach."

"Yes, I guess that would be one of them, but that's not the case tonight. You're going to be in fairly standard clothes; I just want to be the one to put them on you."

"Kinky." Blair sounded thoughtful rather than shocked or amused.

"I guess. Everyone has a few kinks; it's just hard to recognize them within yourself." He shrugged. "Unless it's your job to look. I know a lot of mine but some are probably too vague to pin down with words, or too bundled together to separate out. If I get turned on spanking you -- and I do -- which sense is the trigger for my arousal? The sound of my hand hitting your skin? The color your ass turns? Or is it the fact that I'm hurting you?" Blair made a small, protesting murmur, and Jim smiled. "Yeah, I don't think it's that one, but if it was, and you were enjoying it, too, then who's to say it's wrong?"

"I never really figured out why I want it," Blair said. "I tried, but whatever I came up with didn't feel like the complete answer, you know? Maybe I was too busy figuring out how to get it." He raised his eyebrows. "Tell me another one of your kinks?"

"Make it easy for you? Forget it, Chief. You're the author; the observer of human nature, right? So observe me and maybe you'll discover some I don't know I have." And wouldn't that be fun. Before Blair could respond, Jim pointed up at his -- their -- bedroom. "Now get that hot little ass of yours upstairs so I can cover it up."

For now.


*****



The drive from his loft to the club was a silent one. Blair sat beside him, his hand locked in Jim's, his gaze flickering from the busy streets they were driving through to the back of the driver's head.

Jim knew the man -- Rob Peters, one of Sam's employees for the past six years -- but hadn't done more than greet him with a smile; Blair had been glancing around, his agitation palpable, and Jim had wanted to get him into the car as quickly as possible.

He wasn't sure why Blair was so worked up; they hadn't met anyone as they'd made their way downstairs, and no one on the sidewalk had given them more than an incurious glance. Jim's tux had stood out more than what Blair was wearing, anyway.

As they neared the club, he turned his head and spoke quietly. "Leave the coat here. Rob will be the one driving us home and he'll take care of it."

"And you're going to take care of me?" Blair's teeth chattered audibly, enamel striking enamel, and his eyes were wide and dark.

"That's right." Jim fitted his palm to the angularity of Blair's jaw and kissed him, ignoring the way Blair's body was trembling. He soon coaxed a response out of Blair, an attempt to respond, anyway, and he continued the kiss until Blair relaxed abruptly, his hands coming up to pull Jim closer.

"Easy," Jim said under his breath, the words spoken against Blair's mouth. "Remember what I told you."

Blair sounded resigned but calmer as he whispered back. "I don't speak unless you ask me a direct question or give me permission, I stay close, and I kneel if you sit."

"And one last one."

Blair's agitation flared up again. "I don't remember another rule! Shit, Jim, forget it, look, just take me home, okay? I'm going to fuck this up and embarrass you --"

"Blair… the last one is to have fun." Jim nodded at the front entrance to the club as they drove past it, a discreet door that was rarely used. The club looked small from the outside for what it was, but it was meant to. The buildings on either side, blank-faced, windowless, belonged to it, too, their facades markedly different to give the impression that they were unconnected. And the basement level was, well, extensive. "People don't pay Sam a small fortune in membership fees for nothing. They love it in there and so will you."

Blair took off his coat and put it beside him, the dark leather a splash of shadow against the paler gray leather of the seat. "You're a member? I guess you must be, right?"

Jim nodded. "Simon and I have lifetime memberships, but I don't come here much. It's not somewhere I'd ever bring a client. Any guests I've invited there have been people I know well and trust, though from time to time a new member will be someone I, uh, know professionally."

"Isn't that awkward?"

"Not for me."

The car turned the corner and slowed. Rob pressed a garage door opener attached to the dashboard and drove down a ramp big enough to allow two-way traffic.

Jim put his hand on the nape of Blair's neck, and felt the heavy, thick fall of tied-back hair tickle it. Blair bowed his head and somehow managed to press back against the controlling, caressing hand at the same time.

Nice. Jim had to admit that he got as much of an atavistic kick out of that silent assurance that Blair was his as Blair clearly did.

"When we get to the changing room, I'm going to get you ready to go in. Just go with it, whatever I do. I won't hurt you."

"I know that," Blair said.

"Sure you do." Jim drew his thumbnail down the short strip of skin that began behind Blair's earlobe and ended at the point of his jaw and could swear he heard the goose bumps pop out down that side of Blair's body. "But I want you to believe it." He pushed Blair's captured, confined hair back with one hand, and as the car came to a smooth halt in front of the elevator doors, he found a good place on Blair's neck and marked it with his mouth. The low moan that spilled from Blair's mouth, uncontrolled, involuntary, had Jim's other hand clenching into a fist to keep it from reaching out. If he touched Blair's dick now, Blair would come; he was that close, Jim could tell.

He sucked until the captured skin was slippery and hot against his tongue and then studied the blurred shape on Blair's neck with satisfaction. "That's for you. There are mirrors all over the place in there; you'll be able to see it and I know you'll be able to feel it."

Blair reached up and brushed the rapidly bruising skin with his fingertips. "Just for me? Not even a little bit for you?"

"I might look at it from time to time myself," Jim said. "Brat."

Rob was waiting patiently for the tap on the glass divider, ready to jump out and open the door for them. Jim rapped on the partition with his knuckles, feeling a sudden exuberance, and when Blair hesitated, he murmured, "Showtime, Chief," which got Blair out of the car, at least.

Rob closed the car door and stepped back so that Jim and Blair could walk the few feet to the elevator, his face impassive. An inch taller than Simon, his shoulders wide and his body heavy with muscles, he looked more like a bouncer than a chauffeur, not that Sam really needed one in the club; good behavior was a requirement, not an option, for many of the people there.

"Sir?" Rob said, his voice quietly respectful.

"Yes, Rob?" Wait for it…

"Mistress Samantha said that I should tell you to tighten my collar."

Okay, Sam was just enjoying this way too much. Beside him, Blair stiffened with surprise, his mouth opening with a question that Jim glared into silence.

He stared at Rob, not caring in the least that he had to tilt his head back slightly to do so. What the hell was Sam playing at? She didn't share her people any more than Jim did. Unless… hmm. She could be doing this to give Jim a chance to find his feet, or possibly to jolt Blair. Both had happened, though Blair's shock had already turned to curiosity, and Jim didn't really think he needed the ease-in, thank you very fucking much.

But there was another possibility and, given that Jim was certain he had Sam's respect -- more or less -- and knowing her the way he did --

"She did, did she?" Jim schooled his face to match Rob's expression and gestured with one hand. Rob dropped to his knees in a smooth, controlled movement, and Jim added in a conversational tone, "So tell me, Rob; what are you being punished for?"

Rob's hand dropped away from the shirt button he'd been about to unfasten. He swallowed dryly and his gaze flickered away from Jim's face to Blair, who was watching with the fascination he'd shown when Jim had opened the closet door at the agency house and revealed the tools of his trade, in a manner of speaking.

Oh, I don't think so…

It was a judgment call Jim had a split-second to make, but some skills never leave once learned. Thinking fast had saved his life too many times to be a habit he wanted to break. Ordinarily, no one would ever discipline someone else's sub, and Jim really didn't want to give Sam the idea that if he took care of Rob's lapse, she was entitled to deal with any transgression Blair made. Having said that, by giving Jim the right to tighten the collar Rob was wearing deliberately loose, so that it was hidden under his shirt, Sam had ceded him a very temporary control. If Rob misbehaved, then Jim was well within his rights to punish him. Sam would expect him to.

There was, perhaps, a lag of a second between Rob's sidelong glance and the crack of Jim's hand across his face, a backhanded slap, all show and sound, but enough of both to get a stifled yelp from Blair who was well on his way to earning that spanking he'd said he didn't want.

Rob held still for it, breathing a little faster. "I'm sorry, sir."

"If I'd wanted an apology, you'd have been giving it with your face against my shoes, not still kneeling," Jim said. "I believe I asked a question."

"I was clumsy," Rob blurted out. "I dropped a tray."

That would do it, Jim supposed. Sam loathed petty mistakes; she never made any, so she had no mercy on those who did. Ruthlessly strict, her style didn't appeal to everyone, but it obviously suited Rob.

"It splashed her dress, her shoes…" Rob closed his eyes momentarily, as if to block out the memory of such an epic tragedy, and Jim tried not to roll his eyes. He just couldn't handle this kind of slavish worship, even when it wasn't being directed at him. God, if Blair ever tried -- He looked Blair's way and was reassured by the indignation and pity in Blair's eyes. No, Blair wouldn't be likely to go the route Rob had.

"Collar," he snapped.

Rob gave a guilty start and undid the first three buttons of his shirt, exposing a thin leather collar. He bowed his head and waited. Jim walked around him and raked his fingers through Rob's blond hair, then hooked them in the collar and tugged it gently. One-handed, he undid the narrow buckle and refastened it in the hole that showed signs of being used the most. He ran a finger between leather and skin, checking the fit automatically, and then tapped Rob's shoulder. "Up."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Rob stood and placed his finger over the button for the elevator and when Jim nodded, he pressed it.

"See you later, Rob. We won't be staying too late."

"Yes, sir. I'll be waiting."

"I know you will," Jim told him, and ushered Blair into the elevator as the door opened.

The door had barely closed when Blair started speaking, the words fizzing out of his mouth, shaken-soda style. "He's a sub? Like me? God, you could have told me! And you -- he was wearing a collar, Jim, out where anyone could see him, and fuck, when you hit him --"

"Shut up," Jim said, and kept his voice low, if forceful, with an effort. "Or I'll borrow a gag off Sam and it won't come off until you're home and I will make you wear it until the loft door closes and the hell with anyone who sees you."

He saw the protest rise to Blair's lips, almost heard the words, but Blair stopped them just in time.

"Better." He slammed his hand against the emergency stop button and when the elevator came to a smooth halt, he rounded on Blair. "He deserved that tap -- and that was all it was. It's not something I'd do to you to discipline you, not without discussing it, but it's something Rob would expect. Plus, Sam would have thought I'd lost my edge if I'd missed his hesitation, and she would've been right." He turned his face up to the winking eye of the security camera and gave it a sardonic grin. "Well?"

From a speaker high on the wall came the sound of applause, a slow clap followed by Sam saying, "I would. And listening to you explain yourself to a sub, I'm still not convinced that you haven't." Her voice became silky. "Hello, Blair. What do you think of my club so far?"

Blair earned a brownie point by turning very deliberately to Jim, a questioning look on his face.

"Answer the lady, Blair."

"It's very nice," Blair said politely.

Jim bit back laughter. "There you are, Sam. He likes it."

"He's wearing too much." There was a petulant snap to Sam's voice now that made her sound younger. "The rules apply to you as much as anyone."

"I know." Jim didn't bother placating her; she didn't respond well to it from him. He hit the button again and the elevator began to rise. "I'll take care of it before we come in."

"You'd better -- or you won't get in."

Simon's voice cut in. "Sam. Play nice."

The slight crackle of the intercom cut off suddenly -- Jim pictured Simon's large hand holding the switch down -- and Jim turned his back on the camera and gave Blair's cheek an approving pat. "That was perfect."

Blair gave him a mischievous smile and Jim felt a little of his concern fade away. If Blair could smile like that, then his nervousness must have diminished to manageable levels.

The elevator came to a halt and Jim, who'd opened his mouth to deliver another reminder, closed it again. Blair knew what to do -- and what not to do -- and he'd just proved it. Without looking back once, he stepped out into the lobby and led the way across it toward the changing room door.

The lobby, with its rarely used street access, was a small room, designed more as a buffer than a reception room. It held a few people, idly chatting, but most arrivals did just what Jim was doing; they chose a doorway, entered their personal code in a keypad by the door, and went through. A member could let another member pass through with him, but it wasn't encouraged. Sam liked to know who was where.

Blair didn't count; not because he was a sub, but because he wasn't a member. As a guest, most of the club was closed to him; if Jim had tried to take him through certain doors, he would have been stopped, politely but firmly. If Blair had turned up alone, and Sam was in the mood to vouch for him, he would have gotten through the door into the main room, sure, but that would have been about it.

Jim keyed in his code, paused until the light flashed green, and then pressed two more keys; '+' and '1'. Simple enough, but it meant that he'd assumed responsibility for Blair and anything he did. Blair fucked up badly, and Jim's membership could be revoked for a time as punishment.

Not likely, though. If it even looked like Blair was headed that way, Jim would get him out, fast. Barefoot -- hell, naked and hard -- if he had to.

The changing room was larger than the lobby, and the lights were a shade dimmer, allowing the eyes to adjust gradually before entering into the club itself. Spotlights, controlled from a central observation point, picked out anything interesting in the main room of the club, but the overall lighting in there was discreetly subdued.

And some of the corners got very dark.

The changing room was as busy as Jim had known it would be; quiet enough, because any orders being given were being given in low undertones and acknowledged in the same way, but there was still a buzz of conversation.

It didn't stop when he walked in, but it died down, just for a flattering fraction of a second. Jim was surprised by how much it would have mattered to him if he hadn't gotten that moment of recognition and acknowledgement.

It had been a long time since he'd been in this room; he usually came alone and entered the club directly from the lobby. He'd forgotten the way the air in here was heavy with anticipation.

Playtime was waiting. A chance to be exactly who they wanted to be, all of them, in a safe place. He realized that like them, he'd altered his stance and his expression, dropped into a persona he'd thought he'd created for his job, as artificial as the murmured assurances he gave his clients.

Too easy to do it. Too welcome a shift.

God, he belonged here as much as Blair did, in some ways. For some reason, that realization didn't surprise him as much as it would have a month before, but it still left him shaken. Giving Blair what he'd needed had been as much a learning experience for him as it had for Blair, and Jim was too self-aware not to have realized that. Even if admitting it had been something he'd put off doing until now, here. His gaze traveled around the room, and he returned nods from acquaintances, most of them casual friends he hadn't seen for a while.

He shouldn't have had much status with these people; he was a hooker and he faked what they wanted for a price. He played both sides of the D/s equation, although, as he'd told Blair when they'd met, he didn't really give good value as a sub. That he had built up a reputation as someone to be trusted, that once Simon had brought him here, introduced him to Sam, he'd been accepted -- why had he never wondered about that? Why had he never realized that he'd been summed up, judged, and found acceptable because like called to like and they knew --

He was losing it. The room was filled with a seashell roar and the ripe, fresh musk of arousal, peppered with perfume, slicked with lube. He was going to end up on his knees any moment now, and wouldn't that ruin his entrance and maybe make Sam's night when she heard about it --

A hand slid into his and clutched hard enough to jolt him out of his fugue. Blair didn't speak, but that tight, scared grip spoke for him.

Before the faces around him had time to register curiosity or concern, Jim turned his back on them and stared down at Blair. Blue eyes, blinking rapidly; bitten lip, teeth-dented; a lost look in Blair's blue eyes that matched the way Jim felt --

He pulled his hand free and slid it through Blair's hair, from the temple back, and watched certainty and trust replace the apprehension.

Blair thought Jim knew what he was doing, and he didn't, not really, but he'd planned this out, culling a few ideas from standing in this room over the years and from watching Simon work with his subs.

He used his hold on Blair's hair to pull him closer and kissed him, slow and sweet and dirty, his own body held still, his free hand hanging by his side. Blair's mouth was stiff at first; he was clearly not used to being kissed in public, but Jim had spent all day getting Blair turned on and denying him, using every ounce of skill and intuition he had. Blair was simmering, and tonight, oh, he was going to boil over and spill, hot and messy, and the clean up would be hell, but it would be worth it.

And right now, Blair was going to kiss him back, because Jim wasn't giving him any other choice. His fingers twisted the strands of hair threaded between them and the mouth crushed against his became the responsive, restlessly hungry mouth he'd been kissing all day.

Jim allowed himself a few seconds of what was becoming a pleasurable habit he had no intention of breaking, and then turned his face away leaving Blair swaying, eyes closed, lips parted, wet and red. He deliberately caught the eye of a man in the room who'd been giving them sidelong glances since they'd walked in. What was his name? One of Sam's people...Rafe, that was it. He winked at him and saw a reluctant smile cross the man's face before the woman holding his leash jerked it sharply, her pretty face annoyed, and Rafe went back to licking his way slowly up her leg, ankle to thigh.

Blair moaned and pressed up against Jim's side, his breath warm against Jim's neck.

"Stop that," Jim said, making sure his voice carried and finding a false strength in pretending, just for a little while, that this was a job, a client, a normal night of his life. The pretence wouldn't work for long; Blair didn't fit in that niche anymore; hadn't from that first night, and this was the club, not an anonymous hotel room, but if he could just get started, find a rhythm. "Three steps away and face me. Let's get you presentable."

"Naked would work nicely."

Jim grinned, letting his smile hide his relief, and didn't bother looking over his shoulder. He knew who had his six. "He gets to keep something on, Simon, and since when did you get hot over naked men?"

Simon's hand came down on his shoulder, heavy and friendly. "I don't. But I just love seeing you when you get stuck between a rock and a hard place."

"Meaning?" Jim was watching Blair's face as he stood, just out of reach, his back to the room. Blair looked desperately uncomfortable, and at the same time a heartbeat away from begging for a touch. Jim intended to take the first condition away, but Blair probably wasn't going to like the process, no matter how much he enjoyed the end result.

Simon pitched his voice low enough that most of the people in the room couldn't hear it. "The club rules are intended to get the subs stripped down, and you know it. And I'm guessing part of you wants to show him off, get some interest going just so that you can snarl and growl a bit."

"Simon…" Jim protested.

"Hush up," Simon said with a chuckle. "You know I'm right… But you don't like sharing, never have, and you know you can have him naked anytime, so you're going to tease us by covering him up, I guess?"

Jim studied Blair. Covered? True enough. He was wearing more than any other sub in the room, and a lot of the Doms. The club was kept warm enough for bare skin and most people took advantage of that. Total nudity wasn't common; it wasn't as sexy for one thing, and it was a little… unimaginative, but flirting with it was a different matter.

Blair was going to get hot tonight if he stayed dressed like this; his skin would become dappled with sweat, his hair would be damp, his mouth dry. Given the rules, Blair couldn't stay this way, but it was an interesting thought. Jim played with the idea of holding a water bottle to Blair's mouth as he knelt, hands tied, a slow trickle of water running over his chin and dripping down his neck. He'd lick it off Blair's skin, cool water, warmed by contact, and keep on licking...

"He's mine," he said to Simon matter-of-factly. "Whatever he's wearing. But he needs to lose some of it, you're right."

Blair swallowed, his eyes wide.

"Shoes. Socks," Jim said. "Take them off, Blair."

"Yes, Jim."

The room went quiet, just for an instant, just long enough for people to appreciate, from Jim's lack of reaction, that Blair hadn't crossed a line. Simon exhaled as Blair dropped smoothly to one knee and began to undo the laces on his scuffed-up sneakers; a slow hiss of approval. "Nice," he murmured. "I didn't think you'd had time to do much with him, but…"

Jim watched Blair and absently noted every deviation from the way he'd been told to do it in the bedroom of the agency's house. Not bad; a little clumsy getting his second sock off, but, still, yeah…

Blair glanced at him, a question in his eyes, and Jim turned his hand palm up and gestured for Blair to stand with a flick of his fingers. "Put them in my locker and then come back here."

Blair bent, picked up his discarded socks and shoes, and then glanced around the room uncertainly.

"Far corner, Blair," Simon said, nodding toward the back of the room. "The one with all the dust on it."

Blair gave Simon a quick, grateful smile, and set off. By the time he'd crossed the room his head was down and Jim could swear he could feel the heat of Blair's blush. The attention he was getting wasn't unfriendly -- far from it -- but it seemed to be more than Blair was able to deal with.

He was a new face, and a pretty one, and people were staring. They would have stared no matter who Blair was with, but it wasn't hurting that he was with two men who were -- a concept some of her subs had trouble wrapping their heads around -- Sam's bosses. When she wasn't in the club, that was.

Tonight, a relatively quiet night, although it wouldn't seem that way to Blair, people were going to be doing a lot of looking and speculating. Especially once word got around about this scene playing out right now. It was tame enough; if he'd been doing this to someone experienced, it wouldn't have merited a glance, but the arousal and apprehension -- the heat pouring off Blair, well, it was catnip to this crowd.

And to Jim. He was going to fuck Blair tonight and they both knew it and just like Blair undressing, that was routine, that was mundane -- and yet with Blair involved it became something that Jim was anticipating like a child told that ice cream was coming.

The lockers that ran around the room, capacious enough to hold a lot more than a gym bag and a bottle of shampoo, were available for all the members. Jim's stood empty, and hadn't been used for months, but he was sure it wasn't dusty. Sam didn't like dust. He watched Blair locate it and run a finger over an oval metal plate engraved with 'J. Ellison', inset into the door.

Because Blair could count past three, and knew he'd be making the trip again, he left the door ajar and then turned, searching for Jim's face and finding it, because no one was stupid enough to block Blair's way. Blair fixed his gaze on Jim, and Jim reeled him in with a smile.

When Blair was back on the precise spot of carpet he'd been told to stand on, Jim looked him over.

"What next?" Simon inquired.

Jim gave Simon an exasperated glance. "Do you mind?"

He got an unrepentant chuckle back. "I want to get back to Amy." Jim nodded. He liked Amy, a nurse whose job left her sometimes strung-out and exhausted, but whose innate playfulness surfaced fast once she relaxed. She wasn't a member, not on her salary, but as Simon's guest, she'd been coming to the club for about six months. She'd given Jim the best neck massage he'd ever had when he'd complained about aching muscles following hours of paperwork. Her fingers had eased the tension away, leaving him grateful and able to turn his head without wincing for the first time in a week. "I've got a private room reserved for later, but I thought we could all have a drink first?"

"Sure." Jim tapped his finger against his mouth thoughtfully -- more for the benefit of the audience they'd gathered than because he wasn't sure what he wanted to do. He knew. "Both shirts off, Blair."

Blair unbuttoned his top shirt and slid it off his shoulders, then dropped it, his hand extended far enough away from his body that it fell, unimpeded, and formed a neat puddle of white silk. Under the shirt he was wearing a long-sleeved, dark-blue T-shirt, tight enough that Jim could see the sharp nudge of Blair's nipples through the thin cotton. The T-shirt followed the other shirt to the floor, water on snow, and Blair stood, his chest bare, the hair on it a dark swirl and cloud against his pale skin.

"I'm thinking about a few piercings," Jim told Simon conversationally. "His ear, definitely; maybe a nipple."

"Why not both?"

Jim pretended to give that some thought, but he'd already decided what he was going to ask Blair to do. "No. Just one. I want the other free to play with. He likes that." He glanced at Blair. "Don't you, Blair?"

Blair looked torn between his promise to behave and a clear desire to glare. "Yes, Jim," he said finally, with a suggestion of gritted teeth.

"Yeah…" Jim drawled, and stared meaningfully at Blair's chest. An hour before they'd left, both Blair's nipples had been decorated with clamps, biting tight, and for far longer than a minute this time. Blair had begged Jim to tie his hands after the first thirty seconds, to stop himself from taking them off. "I want them," he'd said, the words separated by panted grunts. "I do. Just hurts at first -- Jim --"

Jim hadn't cuffed Blair; he hadn't planned to leave them on long enough to make it worthwhile to get out the cuffs, but he'd knelt on the bed behind Blair and held Blair's crossed wrists in the small of his back, held them there with a grip he hadn't let Blair break, his mouth murmuring reassurances into Blair's ear between kisses. Blair's skin had been hot, shivers running through it, and he'd leaned back against Jim at the end, sobbing and cursing, his fingers holding onto Jim's even when Jim had told him that it had been long enough, and they could come off now. Blair had kept Jim's hands where they were until Jim had made it an order and Blair had let him take the clamps off.

Then he'd pushed Blair to his back and fastened his mouth onto the reddened, bruising skin, lapping fiercely at it and feeling the heat soak into his tongue as Blair rubbed his body against Jim in search of a climax he knew he wasn't going to be allowed, the damp head of his cock nudging Jim's hand when he reached down to hold Blair still.

"So he's down to two?" Simon asked. "Or is he bare under those jeans?"

Jim raised his eyebrows. "Oh, he's not staying like this, Simon. Blair. Put your shirt back on. Button it."

"Liked him better with it off," Simon grumbled.

"That's because you're an idiot," Jim told him as Blair obeyed. Without the dark T-shirt under it, the white silk was translucent, the fabric thin as a soap bubble. A history teacher had told Jim's class once about silk dresses and shawls fine enough to be drawn through a wedding ring; he wondered idly if Blair's shirt would pass through a nipple ring. Maybe not; the collar was stiff, framing Blair's throat. The severity of the tailoring made the lush lines of Blair's mouth seem doubly provocative and the shirt was warmed by the color of the skin underneath it.

Even with the shirt buttoned, Jim could see the crisp curl of hair on Blair's chest and belly and the blurred shape of his swollen nipples. Nice.

"No collar?" Simon asked.

Blair's head jerked up slightly, his hands dropping to his side. Jim stared at him and tried to judge Blair's response. He'd mentioned the possibility of wearing one -- a temporary one -- to him earlier. Blair had started to babble, tangling his tongue in words until Jim had taken pity on him and pushed two fingers into Blair's mouth to suck wet, because he loved the way Blair's tongue curled and lapped at them, the definition of 'a lick and a promise', and because Blair had been brought up not to talk with his mouth full so it shut him up.

"It's my collar," he'd told Blair, easing his fingers in and out slowly and watching Blair swallow convulsively. "The one I used to wear when I was working. Didn't use it much, but I had one. It's upstairs. Want to wear it tonight? You'll need something to show you're taken."

Blair wouldn't. Jim didn't plan to leave him alone, not for a second. The collar might help Blair feel as if he belonged, though.

He hadn't really gotten a coherent answer out of Blair, but he'd slipped the strip of leather into his jacket pocket, anyway.

"Yes, of course he gets a collar," he said lightly.

Fastening it around Blair's neck was an ordeal. Blair's hair was tied back so it was easy to push aside, but as Jim had discovered early on, it had a tendency to cling to Jim's hands when he touched it, bright with static. Not to mention the fact that this close to Blair, Jim wanted to do things to him that really wouldn't be a good idea in public. He wasn't easy to embarrass and no one watching would care, but Blair didn't really know that, not yet. So far, Blair hadn't seen much going on; the changing room wasn't meant to be anything but that, and although there was plenty of skin on display, some of it already marked up and bruised, and a few subs kneeling, waiting while their Doms chatted, it was all relatively low key.

After Blair had seen what went on in the main rooms, well, maybe Jim would push him a little further, but not here, so he fastened the collar without giving way to the urge to taste the skin it would cover.

When his hands fell away from Blair's neck, after smoothing over Blair's shoulders just to feel the tremor under the skin, Blair gave a low whimper that almost undid Jim's resolve not to kiss him. Leaning in closer, he murmured, "Go ahead. Say it."

Without turning his head, so that only Simon, watching curiously, could see him, Blair whispered back, "Tell me you're going to fuck me soon, Jim. Even if you're not, just tell me you are."

Jim gave in and dropped a kiss on Blair's shoulder. "Yeah, sweetheart, you know I am." He bit down, not caring if he shredded the fragile, antique silk. "I'd do it here, if there was something to bend you over."

Blair shuddered; with arousal, not fear, a luxuriant shiver of anticipation. "Good."

The door swung open. Jim slid his arms around Blair protectively and gave Sam a lazy, provocative grin. Dressed in red leather, dark enough to be black in the creases, and spike-heeled boots, she looked good. Jim appreciated the view without taking it personally.

Rob lagged a pace behind her, his expression disconsolate, his hair mussed as if a hand had used it as a convenient way to drag him. There hadn't been time for Sam to do much to him, but it didn't take her long to convey displeasure. Jim winced inwardly and then reflected that Rob had probably known what he was doing and the risks of being anything less than perfect.

"Jim."

"Sam," Jim replied.

Simon snorted. "You two," he muttered.

"Is he ready?" Sam asked, her gaze raking down Blair's body.

Jim stepped aside and studied Blair. He undid the top button on Blair's shirt so that the leather around his neck was clearly visible, and bent in to kiss Blair's mouth a shade darker. "I think so," he said without looking at her. "What do you think?"

"I think he's the sort to wear something under his jeans," Sam said, with an edge of spite. "Prove he isn't, or make him lose the shirt."

"I like the shirt," Jim said. "And he's bare under the jeans."

"Show me," Sam said, with a purr husking her voice. When Jim didn't respond, she arched an eyebrow. "Oh, come on. It's not like I haven't seen him naked before."

Bitch. But a predictable one, which was her weakness.

Jim swept a smiling look around the room, inviting anyone not already watching the show to do so, and moved back to Blair's side, behind him.

The jeans weren't as old as the shirt, but they were vintage, worn tissue-thin at the knees, the zipper replaced by a leather thong lacing the jeans closed. The criss-crossed leather, five Xs marking one spot, were going to take a while to undo. Jim didn't mind waiting, but Blair probably would.

They were worn plenty in other places, too. Jim hooked his fingers in the threadbare seat of Blair's jeans on one side and yanked up, hard. The denim tore easily, frayed fabric yielding, exposing pale skin, crossed with scarlet welts.

Blair made a startled sound, but held his position, even when a low, appreciative hum went up behind him from the audience. Jim walked to Blair's other side and repeated his action. The flaps of denim, once released, covered Blair's ass, but only when he stood still; walking, tight as the jeans, were, he'd be showing flashes of an ass Jim frankly couldn't keep his hands off.

He gripped Blair's shoulders and turned him so that Sam could see for herself, reaching down to flip up the ripped cloth for a moment.

Simon was clearly holding back a delighted grin; Sam looked reluctantly admiring.

"He's still wearing too much," she said. "That hair tie counts."

"That was never staying on," Jim told her, and released it, so that the crinkled, silky mass of Blair's hair swung free. "You said something about a drink, Simon?"

"Waiting at the table," Simon assured him.

"Good." He tapped Blair's ass, his fingers finding skin. "Put your T-shirt in my locker, Blair."

The look Blair gave him as he knelt down to pick the T-shirt up, his other hand going to the collar around his neck, was, finally, serene.

"Yes, Jim."

Perfect.

Jim watched Blair walk across the room and saw heads turn with the predictability of a sunset. Let them look.

As long as no one but him tried to touch.


*****



The club was bigger than he'd thought it would be and Blair knew he was only seeing a small part of it. He felt exhilaration mounting, tempered by a feeling of peace.

No need to hide. Not here.

And Jim was always in sight, never turning to check that Blair was where he was supposed to be, which Blair appreciated, but always close enough that Blair could have halted him with a word or a touch.

He didn't want Jim to stop, though. He wanted to go deeper into this place, right to the heart of it.

For now, he'd settle for this; the main room, large enough that the people in it -- fifty, sixty? -- had space to move and see. A bar curved across one corner of the room, with the expected display of bottles and glasses against a mirrored wall -- but like the room in the house Jim had taken him to, a second look was needed to appreciate the true picture.

Blair noted the metal rings attached at varying heights in the wooden façade of the bar and felt a stab of excitement as a sub went to kneel beside one of the rings. A leash was attached to his collar, the dangling end of it held in his cupped hands. The woman he was with took the leash and clipped it casually to the ring, most of her attention on the man standing beside her, her pretty face animated as she talked to him. Blair watched, feeling a pang of sympathy for the ignored, kneeling man, wondering how he'd deal with it if Jim did that to him. He was getting used to being the focus of Jim's attention. Then he realized that the woman had placed herself so that every time she moved, the hem of her skirt brushed the sub's arm.

And every time it did, the sub shivered.

Blair dragged his gaze away, and quickened his step to catch up to Jim, who was talking to Simon, his grin visible as he turned his head to reply to something Simon had said. Jim was leading Blair across a tiled area in the middle of the carpeted room; the black tiles cool against Blair's bare feet but not slippery. At the center of the tiles was a circular dais, about twenty feet in diameter, raised enough off the ground that a set of three steps was set into one side of it. A wooden pole was set in the center of the dais, an emphatic statement of intent in a splash of light. Blair didn't have to ask, or wonder, what it was for -- he knew -- but his skin flushed hot as if he was up there, stripped and bound and waiting to be -- to be --

Jim's head turned and Blair met Jim's gaze, knowing that his face was showing everything he was feeling. The room around him, with its comfortable chairs and sturdy tables surrounding the tiled area, and deep, secluded booths around the walls, faded to background.

Nothing left but Jim, who was smiling now, the corners of his mouth tilted just enough to give it away.

Jim beckoned Blair closer -- one step, two; three would get him bumping into Jim and Jim couldn't want that, so Blair stopped. He was maybe supposed to lower his eyes, the way the guy kneeling was, but he couldn't look away from Jim's face, not without a direct order.

Jim shook his head and crooked his finger again. "No. Here," he said and Blair took the third step and stopped, an inch away from Jim, no more, breathing in the smell of an expensive suit and the clean body wearing it.

"That's better." Jim took a casual, easy, half-step back and tapped his finger under the point of Blair's chin. "Keep looking at me."

Easiest order to obey ever. Blair watched the shapes Jim's mouth made and then translated them into words, deafened by the rush of blood in his ears and the thrum-thud of his heartbeat.

"Ask me in a year and I might put you up there."

"I don't want --" Belatedly, he remembered that he wasn't supposed to speak, and that hadn't been a question.

Jim drew a 'one' in the air and widened his eyes in mock-sympathy. "You just think you don't." Jim slanted his eyes at the whipping post and frowned. "Though, I'll be honest, I'm not sure I'll say yes even in a year's time." He looked back at Blair. "And to save you another punishment stroke, because I just know you want to ask why, I'll tell you."

"Why?" Blair said with a desperate honesty because he'd said the word so loudly in his head that it felt as if he had said it and besides, he wanted to be --

"For that, I should cancel the first stroke," Jim told him, which made Blair feel transparent, and it was wrong to feel disappointed at the idea of not getting punished, and worse to get a kick out of Jim giving him a disapproving frown, but Blair couldn't help it. Off to the side, a waiting Simon muttered something, shook his head, and wandered away. Around them, people passed, ignoring them for the most part, playing out their own fantasies, their own games.

And Blair stood, the air tickling his butt through his ripped jeans, the collar snug around his neck. Jim's collar. On him. How he hadn't come right then, right there, when Jim had fastened it on him, was a mystery, because Blair really didn't think his self-control was his strongest point.

"I'll say no because I don't like the idea of anyone but me seeing you that way -- most of the subs who end up there are a matched pair; they like being shown off and their Doms like doing the showing -- and because, that aside…" Jim grinned. "I've never done it in public and I'll need to practice. I'm not sure a year's long enough."

"Who on?" Blair said. He tried to keep his voice low but was unable to prevent it from rising with indignation. "It'd better be me!"

Jim mouthed 'three' at him and turned and walked away. Blair would have bet money on Jim's face still being decorated with a grin.

"Are you enjoying yourself setting a bad example for Amy here?" Simon inquired when they arrived at the booth he was sitting in. Blair exchanged a cautious smile with the woman kneeling at Simon's feet, a lot of her dark skin on show above the waist, small, high breasts pushed up by a tight black leather waistcoat, worn over nothing but skin. It was fastened with a zipper, drawn up to a point level with her nipples and her long legs were encased in more black leather, and knee-high boots. She looked both demure and sexy; in that outfit, the second was easy enough, but Blair gave her points for managing the first.

"Blair's misbehaving, not me," Jim replied. He sat opposite Simon on the semi-circular bench and pointed at the floor without looking at Blair. The booth was separated from the ones on either side of it by high wooden partitions, inset with clouded glass panels. The table and bench seat didn't fill the booth; there was a space about two feet wide running across the front of it where a sub could kneel without being in the way of anyone passing by. Jim glanced at the kneeling woman with way too much approval in his eyes to suit Blair. "Maybe Amy will be a good influence on him."

Going down on his knees had never been easier. He tried to keep his descent controlled but it felt as if his legs were snow, melting in the sun, leaving him unbalanced. Blair mirrored Amy's position and found himself staring at nothing more exciting than the central pillar supporting the tabletop.

"Well, if he is, that would be your fault," Simon pointed out. "Or did you forget who's in charge?"

Blair squirmed, feeling uneasy. He didn't know Simon well enough to be able to judge how serious he was; all he had to go on was voice tone, and Simon sure as hell sounded as if he meant it.

Jim reached for the bottle of white wine in a cooler on the table and poured himself and Simon a glass. "No, and I won't. Now stop nagging and tell me what happened with that plumber you hired. Rhonda said he left your apartment an inch deep in water? She was kidding, right?"

Blair relaxed, reassured both by the affection coloring the words and the brief, gentle press of Jim's shoe against his knee. He tuned out the conversation overhead and managed, in a series of small shifts, to enlarge his view until it encompassed some of the room, as well as Amy.

She was worth looking at it, he decided, admiring the heavy fall of her dark hair and the delicate prettiness of her features. She knelt without fidgeting, her breathing slow and deep, and her attention on Simon.

And she was aroused. Inexperienced he might be, but it was pouring off her, unmistakable. Her lips were parted, her pupils dilated, her nipples hard, but it was more than that. If Simon peeled off those tight pants she was wearing, and spread her legs, Blair knew that she'd be open and wet, waiting for the thrust of Simon's tongue, his fingers, his cock.

He choked back a sound that she should have been making and wasn't; a hungry, imploring murmur, and felt his cock harden. He didn't want Amy -- or Simon -- but he wanted to be like her, filled with a controlled, patient need.

Right now, he just felt confused, directionless. The collar around his neck, the bite mark Jim had put on his skin -- he knew they were there, he could feel them, but his hands were behind his back and he couldn't touch the collar as he wanted to, and Jim wasn't doing anything.

Just talking. To Simon. About remodeling Simon's ancient bathroom.

It had to be a test, right? To see how good he was at waiting. Well, he could wait. In fact, kneeling like this, in the warm, dimly lit room, wasn't much different from meditating, legs crossed, with the candle flames painting patterns of light and heat on his face. He closed his eyes, blocking out Amy, and -- oh, my God, what was that?

The flat, crisp sound of a hand on flesh cut through the hum of conversations and Blair's head jerked around as he tracked the sound to its source. A man, young, early twenties, maybe, ash-blond hair falling forward to hide his face, was over an older man's knee and getting his ass well and truly spanked. Three hard slaps with a bare hand and then the man, his short hair white, a startling contrast to his tanned face, switched to using a wooden paddle. Blair held his breath as the paddle swept through the air and felt his own body react when it landed, feeling a surge of heat and a sympathetic wince.

"Blair?" His name, spoken from an inch away, had Blair's attention returning to his immediate surroundings. He turned his head and met Jim's mildly exasperated eyes. "You can look, but don't stare."

He blinked. "Huh?"

"Four," Jim said, with a sigh for punctuation from him, and a deep chuckle from Simon. The sub being spanked cried out and Blair couldn't help glancing over at him until the disapproval radiating off Jim brought his head around again.

Oops.

"I'm going to leave you two alone," Simon told Jim. "If you want my advice, gag him soon, or he's going to reach double figures before you get him in a room." He gestured to Amy, who rose, giving Blair a look that blended sympathy with a hint of an eye roll.

So he'd fucked this up already and he couldn't even apologize, not without deepening the resigned expression on Jim's face. Blair scrambled frantically for some way to make the snowball rolling downhill stop and settled for locking himself into a complete, tense stillness, his eyes lowered, his breath hitching with misery.

Jim's hand smoothed Blair's hair back and then tugged a lock of it sharply. "Okay, time-out. Come up here and sit beside me. And you can talk."

"Is that allowed?" Blair asked and then saw Jim's frown. "Umm, you know what, let's pretend I just did what you told me, huh?"

"It would make a nice change," Jim said dryly.

Blair sat with his back to the room and gave Jim an apologetic look. "I'm not doing it on purpose. It's just --"

"Everything's distracting and you're curious and wound-up," Jim interrupted. "I know. It's a lot to take in." He ran his fingers over Blair's collar. "Seeing you with this on isn't all that easy for me to deal with."

"You want to take it off?" Blair couldn't stop the disappointment he felt from showing in his voice.

"No. But I'd like to take off everything else you're wearing." Unexpectedly, Jim leaned in and kissed him, his hand firm on the back of Blair's head, holding him in place. Released from the need to stay still and silent, Blair wrapped his arms around Jim and kissed him back enthusiastically, losing himself in the hot, slick slide of Jim's mouth over his. "I could do that," Jim said a moment later. He hooked a finger in Blair's collar and played with it for a moment, moving the collar from side to side slowly. Blair shivered, the hairs rising on the back of his neck. "Strip you, bend you over this table and take you. We'd get a few disapproving looks -- and some interested ones -- but no one would interfere."

"So why don't you?" Blair asked, safe in the knowledge that Jim wouldn't, and getting a tingle low down because, hey, he just might. He kept his hands on Jim as he waited for an answer, because who knew how long this time-out would last. The sharp, clear line of Jim's jaw was smooth under his fingers and Blair licked along the path his fingers had taken, tasting nothing but skin. He reached Jim's ear and licked that, too, then grinned when Jim jerked away and released his hold on Blair's collar.

"Blair. Behave."

"I'd sooner misbehave," Blair muttered. "I get your attention then."

An enlightened look passed over Jim's face. "So that's it."

"No. I just --"

"Blair, you were kneeling at my feet, wearing my collar, and dressed -- oh, just come here." Jim grabbed Blair and hauled him onto his lap, maneuvering a protesting Blair until Blair was kneeling facing him, straddling Jim's thighs, his arms around Jim's neck for balance.

Okay, he could get used to this. The table was far enough away that it wasn't digging into his back, but close enough to lean back against if he wanted.

He didn't. What Blair wanted was to move as close to Jim as he could get and grind down on the hard thrust of Jim's erection until Jim relented and rescinded the 'Blair doesn't get to come because Jim's a sadist' rule. Jim's hands were clamped onto his hips, though, holding him in place, so that wasn't really an option. Blair licked his dry lips and waited.

One of Jim's hands moved, finding the bare skin of Bair's ass under the torn flap of denim and caressing it. "Dressed like this," Jim finished. "And you were hard and flushed and aching. I could tell. Simon could tell. Hell, anyone looking at you could --"

"I get it," Blair said tightly. He groaned and tried to ignore the way Jim was drawing the back of his fingers over sensitized skin and then scratching at it lightly enough to tease.

"No, you don't." Jim sounded certain of that. "I was talking to Simon, sure, but it doesn't mean I wasn't aware of every breath you took, every sound you made that you thought I couldn't hear, every time you moved when you should have been staying where I'd fucking put you." The pinch Blair's ass got was a sharply welcome bite of pain. "That's going to bruise," Jim said conversationally.

"You're fucking killing me here."

"Because you're turned on and I'm not doing anything but make you hotter?" Jim shook his head slowly, a familiar glint of amusement present in his eyes. "You think that's suffering? Oh, Blair. This is nothing."

"Then show me what is."

"I was," Jim said. "You just got impatient." He tapped at the side of Blair's chin with a fingertip until Blair was looking out at the room. The sub who'd been paddled was now on his knees, his hands tied behind his back with a thin strip of leather. He was being very industrious in demonstrating his contrition from what Blair could tell.

"See?" Jim said close to Blair's ear. "I could tell you to do that to me. Slide down to your knees and suck me. I can have your mouth on me any time I want in here and don't think I don't want it right the hell now, because I do."

Blair turned his head back. "Then tell me. I'll do it."

"You wouldn't get to come."

"I'll still do it."

"Why?"

Blair paused, derailing the rhythm of the conversation to give himself time to consider. "Why? Because I like doing it."

"Why?" Jim pushed him with the word, and forced Blair to think deeper.

"I get a kick out of it. Being on my knees for you. I -- sucking you -- yeah, it's always good, but when I do it that way, it's just --" He shook his head, impatient with his inarticulateness.

"What about when I'm kneeling over you, fucking your face?" Jim asked, his eyes bright with interest. "Not as hot? Better? Turn off?"

Blair felt his body remember Jim doing that once, the feeling of being used, taken, the way he'd had to trust Jim not to choke him.

The way he'd choked himself, straining every muscle to lift his head and get more of Jim's cock in his mouth, his tongue busy, avid, his own cock jerking --

"Oh, God. That's hot, too. Jim, there's nothing, nothing you do that I don't like. You know what, I don't care what we do or how we do it, just don't --"

"Don't what, Blair?" Jim drew his hands down the sides of Blair's face, capturing it between his palms.

"Don't stop," Blair whispered, not caring that he was begging.

"I don't plan on doing that." Jim lifted his chin, an arrogant tilt to it, and Blair stared down at him. "Kiss me. Make it good. Show me you're sorry for being so disobedient."

He wasn't. It had got him from being ignored on his knees, to being kissed and close to Jim; he really couldn't regret it. But he leaned in and kissed Jim anyway, feathering kisses across the thin, well-shaped lips, coaxing them open and being so perfectly well-behaved that he really deserved a reward.

An orgasm would be nice.

"Good boy," Jim told him. "Now we've got that cleared up, get back on your knees. I'm going to help you with your disobedience problem."

"What?" Blair blinked at him, puzzled and on the hurt side. "I don't get it."

"Time-out's over, Blair," Jim said. "And I've really got to train you better than this if we're going to come here often. Let's try that again, and this time you're going to acknowledge a direct order with 'Yes, Jim' and then obey it without hesitation or further comment."

"Why can't we just keep doing this?" Blair knew he was close to whining but he really wanted to know.

"Because you just told me what gets you hot, and necking like a normal isn't it." Jim snapped his fingers and then pointed at the floor. "Knees. Now."

Blair felt the words speak themselves, drawn out of him by Jim's uncompromising stare. "Yes, Jim."

He made sure he was kneeling properly, his back to the room, his eyes lowered, and his hands, still warm from Jim's skin, locked behind his back.

"You can look at me," Jim said. "For now, anyway."

Blair glanced up just as Jim turned away and pressed a button on the back wall. Jim smiled at him without answering Blair's unspoken question and within a few moments a young woman came to their table, a serving tray tucked under one arm. "Yes, sir?"

"Jenny." Jim's face softened into a welcoming smile. "I thought you'd gone to Boston?"

"I went. I'm back." She grinned, and tossed a long tail of auburn hair over one shoulder. "So, did you miss me?"

"Sweetheart." Jim pulled a face. "Are you kidding me? I cried into my pillow every night for --"

"A week?"

"At least."

Blair snorted and then wished he hadn't. Jim didn't look at him, but Jenny did, a curious, then dismissive stare.

"Someone's new," she remarked.

"You have no idea," Jim said. It sounded heartfelt. "I'll need a gag, standard fitting, medium, a pair of cuffs -- Velcro fasteners, not a key -- and a blindfold."

"Coming right up," Jenny said lightly. "And Sam's installed some new cages since you were here last."

Cages? Blair contemplated that idea and decided he didn't like it. He didn't like Jenny, either, but that was for different reasons. She left, moving with entirely too much alacrity and efficiency, and Blair met Jim's gaze.

"You need to stop treating this like a game," Jim said, the warning clear in his voice. "You're starting to piss me off."

Blair retained enough presence of mind not to answer, but really, what could he have said? He wasn't playing; he was just --

"You're not ready for this, are you?" Jim said a little more gently. "We should go. Just wait and try this again in a few months --"

No.

Blair took advantage of Jim's shift in position as he began to stand and bent over, keeping his hands behind his back. His lips brushed Jim's shoe, tasting polished, expensive leather, and Jim froze. Blair stropped the side of his face against Jim's calf, and mouthed a wordless plea through the layer of material separating him from Jim's skin.

"God, Blair --"

Desperate to change the indecision in Jim's words to something that would keep them both here, Blair knelt up again and put all of his unspoken thoughts into a single beseeching look.

Jim sighed and sat back down. "You know you're going to pay for all this, right? You have to know there are consequences coming your way." The corner of his eyes creased as he grinned. "Oh, I get it. You think it's going to be fun. Little bit of spanking, one hell of a lot of sex…" He shook his head. "I don't think you're going to enjoy being punished as much as you think you are, but guess what? I am."

Blair narrowed his eyes, feeling a quiver of unease at the threat, and Jim's grin widened. It only faded when Jenny returned, her tray laden with everything Jim had requested, with a black leather paddle perched on top.

"I didn't ask for that," Jim said mildly. He flicked at it with one finger. "Not that I don't applaud your initiative, but…"

"Simon sent it," Jenny said. "And he told me to tell you that he'd be happy to watch you use it and maybe give you a few tips."

"Right," Jim drawled skeptically, his eyebrows high. "I'm sure he did."

"Well, maybe I'm giving you the gist of it." Jenny tapped her fingers on the paddle. "Want me to take it back?"

Jim smiled at her, his earlier friendliness muted. "Yes. If I'd wanted it, I'd have asked for it. And make sure the room I reserved is ready, please. I'll need it soon."

"It's ready," Jenny assured him. "And it's yours indefinitely, Mistress Sam said. I know you only wanted two hours, but there's no time limit."

"Thank you," Jim said. Blair watched Jim's fist clench in his lap, hidden from Jenny by the tabletop. "That's all, Jenny."

She nodded, her ebullience subdued, and left, the paddle dangling from her hand.

Blair bit back his questions, all of which could wait, and eyed the neatly arranged items on the tray.

Jim drew the tray toward him and began to sort through the contents without commenting. When each item had been examined with a casual thoroughness, he fingered the blindfold and glanced down at Blair, his expression serious again.

"You can't control yourself the way you need to," Jim said. "I'm going to take away your choices for a while and let you get a feel for this place on a different level. You'll be able to hear and smell. That might not sound like much when you can't see or touch, but trust me, it's enough. And your hands might be bound, but your skin's got its own way of communicating." Jim pursed his lips. "The shirt can come off now, I think." Blair, his mouth dry, reached up to unbutton it, but Jim stopped him. "No -- I'll do it. Stand up."

Blair stood and let Jim undress him, his heart hammering and his skin already tingling. Jim smiled to himself when Blair moaned at the pinch his nipple got when Jim had finished, but left it at that.

"You're going to need a way to tell me if there's a problem," Jim said. "Gagged, you can still make noise if you have to, but just in case I don't hear you -- which isn't going to happen -- if you want the gag off to tell me something, or you feel faint or disorientated -- that can happen -- I'll always be here, watching, so just shake your head, okay? I'll know if there's something wrong."

Blair nodded. He couldn't see himself needing to do any of that, but he appreciated Jim giving him more than one option to end what was about to happen.

"I won't leave you. I won't ever be farther away than I am now," Jim went on, "and when I think you've got to where you need to be, I'm going to take you to a room, still blindfolded, gagged and cuffed." Blair thought about the trust he'd have to have in Jim to make that walk and felt his breathing quicken. "Then the gag will come off and you're going to tell me what you've wanted all these years, and then…" He dragged the side of his thumbnail across Blair's nipple; a stinging slash of pain that left an afterimage burned into Blair's flesh.

"Then I'm going to give it to you, Blair. All of it." Jim smiled into Blair's silence. "All of me."

He pointed at the floor and Blair went to his knees again and let Jim take away his sight, his voice, and his hands, in return for everything he'd ever wanted.

It seemed like a fair exchange.


*****



Jim kept touching him for the first few minutes. They didn't feel like reassuring touches to Blair, breathing fast and shallow around the gag, his cock throbbing every time he tugged at the cuffs. They felt possessive and proprietary and were distracting as hell.

Jim must've realized that because he stopped, making an amused sound at the back of his throat that Blair hoped wasn't directed at him.

"I can't keep my hands off you," Jim confided easily. "You have no idea what you do to me when you're like this."

Blair moaned past the gag in a futile attempt to convey a message he wasn't sure a thousand words would be enough for. The shorthand seemed to work, though; Jim's final touch was a slow drag of his fingertips over the denim covering Blair's erection. He traced the shape of it, which, like any overt act by an observer, altered what was being observed, and then, from the creak of leather, Blair guessed he'd settled back on the bench seat.

"Or maybe you do," Jim finished.

Yeah. Maybe he did.

Blair wondered what he looked like and who was staring at him besides Jim. Logic told him that not many people had been watching them. The table was tucked away and people were busy. He'd been kneeling, sure, but fully dressed and untouched, anything Jim said to him spoken too quietly to be overheard; as attractions went he was one step above the bar snacks.

But that wasn't the case now. Bare to the waist, wearing some basic, classic accessories… people might be looking now. Looking at him. Seeing him.

Was he aroused or terrified? He couldn't be sure. Like pleasure and pain, they could produce the same physical response in him.

He heard Jim shift position and realized how quickly his body had focused on the remaining senses left open for him to use. He could hear Jim breathing, and the whisper of fabric as he crossed his legs; the tip and spill of wine as Jim drank from his glass.

The glass was set back down (a double clink as if Jim had been clumsy, a scrape as if he'd pushed it farther away) and then Jim started to talk to him, his voice casual, as if he was discussing nothing more important than the weather.

"You're kneeling better now, do you know that? Before… it's hard to explain, but you didn't look right. Your hands were placed correctly; your back was straight -- you've got that whole thing you do when you look down and your hair falls forward and then you lift your head slowly -- I love that."

"But you were being so fucking careful and anxious…" Jim sighed and Blair could swear that he felt the air stir as if Jim's hand was brushing through it, an inch away from Blair's chest. "Now you're doing it without thinking. Your hands can't be anywhere but where they are, and the cuffs keep your back arched for me. You have no choice. No options. I'm not sure you like that, not entirely, but it still turns you on."

Jim pinched Blair's left nipple. "This one. This is the one I want pierced."

Blair tilted his head back and stared blindly up, as if he could see through the thick muffle of fabric to Jim's face, which he pictured as smiling and intent because he knew how Jim looked like that and he liked it. He was making a keening noise and he could hear in his head how he meant it to sound, even as his ears relayed a strangled, muted wail emerging past the gag. God, the gag… his tongue kept exploring it with tentative pushes and licks. There was something about being silenced that was exhilarating, because for him it was really the ultimate surrender. He'd let Jim take away his voice. He'd never let anyone do that before; it had cost him bruises in the playground, girlfriends when he'd been older, but he'd always spoken up when he'd felt the need to.

And now… now he couldn't.

"Ssh," Jim murmured. "You'll love it, you know you will. And it won't hurt much."

That wasn't why he was wailing, and something told Blair that Jim knew that.

"We can get it done right here in the club," Jim went on. "Lisa would do it; she's very good. Quick, gentle. Not tonight, of course. I don't want any part of you off-limits tonight. Later in the week, maybe. Would you like that, Blair?"

He nodded, already feeling the weight there, the constant reminder that the piercing would be, and Jim pinched him again, leaving a sweet throb of pain as a reward.

Jim's hand cupped Blair's chin. "Kneel up. I want your mouth."

Blair swayed forward, his captured hands making the simple move more problematic, and rose.

"Oh, yes," Jim said approvingly. "Much better."

Being kissed through a gag was weirdly arousing and very frustrating. Jim didn't seem to care that Blair couldn't kiss him back, but Blair minded it a lot more than he would have expected to. He missed the taste of Jim in his mouth and the thrust of Jim's tongue against his. Jim's finger traced around the damp gag, his breath warm against Blair's face.

"I don't think I'll do this to you often. Silence and you just don't go together well, but you need to learn --" Jim sighed. "God, you need to learn so much."

He sounded regretful enough to have Blair's heart lurch wildly. He made a guess as to where Jim's face was and leaned forward, trying to get Jim to kiss him again, because he needed the contact right then.

"You're supposed to stay still," Jim reminded him.

Blair closed his eyes behind the blindfold and tried not to hate himself for failing Jim again.

"Kneel back. I won't touch you again; I'm distracting you, aren't I?" There was a hint of remorse in Jim's voice now. "Sorry."

Blair settled back, his ass snug against his heels and ankles.

"I'll want you to tell me what this felt like later, so think about that, but mostly just get to know the place."

Blair nodded an acknowledgment, took a deep breath, and did as he was told.

This wasn't all that difficult. He began with his own body, cataloging its current state. Bite mark, cock, pinched nipple; all throbbing gently, persistently, an endless feedback loop that was keeping his arousal alive.

Not that it was in any danger of dying.

Jim had taken pains to ensure that none of Blair's hair was caught or pulled uncomfortably tight by the blindfold and that the gag and cuffs weren't more than he could deal with -- which they weren't; they were making him feel all kinds of things, but they weren't hurting him.

The carpet was soft enough that kneeling on it wearing jeans wasn't a problem, although he was sure that he was getting pins and needles again.

Fine. He wasn't panicking, which was good, and he trusted Jim not to abandon him.

He took a series of slow, careful breaths and tried to identify anything in particular. The club smelled pleasantly neutral; the air wasn't perfumed or smoky or reeking of cleaner. It was spiced faintly with a generalized food smell; Jim had told him that the food served here was excellent but that subs weren't permitted to use the chairs so it wasn't somewhere he'd be eating with Blair.

"I can't say that the idea of hand-feeding you doesn't have its appeal, but to be honest, if we're eating together, I'd prefer that you were across the table from me, not underneath it," Jim had told him earlier and then grinned. "Though that's definitely got possibilities."

"If you want a blow job for dessert, you just have to say," Blair had countered, feeling reckless, even if the idea of doing that in public dried his mouth with nerves.

"Is that so?" Jim's grin had turned sultry as he slowly pushed a single finger past Blair's lips. "How about a demonstration of today's special right now?"

Jim hadn't come; just sprawled out on the couch and let Blair lap and mouth him until he was hard, and then pushed Blair away just as he was getting into a rhythm.

"Huh? Don't you want to --?" Blair wiped his mouth and gestured down. "You look like you do."

Jim palmed his spit-wet dick casually and gave it a couple of hard, fast jerks before taking his hand away. "I would, but you're enjoying it too much and I don't want you to come, remember?"

"What? I'm not!" Blair protested and then realized that he'd been close and he'd been rubbing against the side of the couch, in search of just enough friction. "Oh, fuck."

Jim sighed and stared up at the loft roof. "Why don't you just get us both a beer, hmm?"

Blair took his thoughts away from that memory. Focus. Here and now. What could he hear? People talking, sure; scraps of conversation imperfectly understood from the tables nearby; fragments from people walking past.

And then the background noise faltered before it swelled to a pleasantly excited murmur. Blair turned his head instinctively toward the stage behind him as a rattle of chains was followed by the crack of a whip, not against skin, but air, as if someone was experimenting with an unfamiliar tool.

Blair shuddered with need and fear, and felt his skin prickle with goose bumps. His nipples were pebble-hard and his cock -- God, if he arched up just a bit and rubbed against the taut denim covering it, he'd come, he knew he would.

Holding still took all he had and he was panting around the gag, his chest heaving and his fists clenched. The cuffs rubbed against his inner wrists, where the blood beat fast under the thin, soft skin, and he flexed his fingers and then doubled them into fists again, needing the focus.

He wasn't sure he could last through the whipping without crawling all over Jim and begging to be touched. Bound and gagged as he was, he thought he could still get his message across.

He tensed, waiting for that first stroke and wondering if the sub would cry out, the way he had done so often himself under the punishing beat of Jim's hand.

"Time to go," Jim said abruptly.

Blair shook his head violently. No. Jim's hand was at the fastening for the gag an instant later and Blair realized what he'd done just in time to move his head away before Jim could free his mouth.

"Blair?" Jim asked, his voice tightly controlled. "Help me out here, buddy. Are you calling a time-out?"

Blair shook his head and made the movement as brief and calm as he could.

"Just being disobedient?"

He had the sense not to answer that one, even if it meant he was ignoring a question.

"You," Jim said, exasperation harshening his voice, "are coming with me. Now. Get up."

Mortified and disappointed, both in himself and at the way Jim was acting, Blair struggled, unaided, to his feet. Jim put his hands on Blair's shoulders and turned him. The hands stayed in place and pushed Blair forward.

"Walk," Jim said into Blair's ear. "I won't let you fall or bump into anyone."

Even with that assurance and his own recollection of the layout of the room, Blair hesitated. Blindfolded, with the blood roaring in his ears, a tumult of emotions overloading his mind, it wasn't easy to trust Jim and step out confidently. He took a couple of small, shuffling paces and then froze as someone walked past him close enough that Blair's next breath was saturated with the man's cologne.

"Walk," Jim said, with a suspicion of a growl. "Or I’ll get a leash and make you crawl there."

Blair wished he had a voice so that he could tell Jim how much a suggestion like that wasn't helping. He leaned back against Jim, seeking something, he wasn't sure what, in the way of support, and Jim let go of him, moved back, and cracked his hand down hard on Blair's ass.

The shock of the slap was enough to propel Blair forward in a stumbling parody of walking; the resultant tingle and heat almost sent him to his knees.

With his teeth as gritted as Jim's probably were, and his cheeks scarlet, from the feel of it, he pulled himself together and began to walk in as straight a line as he could manage. If he knocked someone down, he just hoped it was Jenny and that she was carrying a full tray of drinks.

After ten steps, a hand came to rest on his shoulder and Jim, in silence, maneuvered him to what proved to be the edge of the room, as Blair heard a door being opened in front of him and felt a whisper of air on his face. Blair was hopelessly turned around by that point, so he wasn't sure which door Jim had led him to, but when it had closed behind him, the sub on the stage had taken two stripes from the whip and if he'd made a sound, it had been too faint to carry to Blair's ears over the continual, wind-rustled leaves murmur of comment from the audience.

What lay beyond the door was quiet and felt empty. Jim's hand tightened for a moment and then slipped away. "We're in a corridor," he said. "It's not far now. Show me you trust me to keep you safe."

Put like that… Blair swallowed and then began to walk at a normal pace, picturing the corridor in his mind's eye and himself walking down the center of it.

"You're headed toward a wall. More to your right.".

So much for his visualization technique. Blair adjusted his direction and kept going, making it around a corner and, with a quiet commentary from Jim about their surroundings, into an elevator. After a short trip down one, maybe two floors, with Jim standing in silence, close to him, they stepped out into what Blair assumed was another corridor. It didn't matter. He had accepted now that Jim wouldn't let him get hurt.

"Straight ahead of you, there's a door to the room we'll be using. Ten paces away, maybe" Jim said.

Easy. The ninth pace brought his nose into contact with the door, but Jim's hands were already on Blair's upper arms, holding him in place so that the bump wouldn't have popped a bubble.

He heard the tap of buttons -- another of the coded entry locks, he guessed -- and then the door opened and Jim's hand on the small of his back pushed him inside.

The door closed with a snick that sounded both promising and ominous. He stood a few feet away from it, trying to get an idea of where Jim was, and then found out when Jim's hands closed around his arms and slammed him back against the door, hard enough to hurt.

Fingers fumbled through his hair and the blindfold came off, followed a moment later by the spit-soaked gag. Blair blinked up into Jim's face, his eyes dazzled even by the subdued lighting in the room, his heart pounding.

"Do you know why I didn't let you stay and listen to that whipping?" Jim said. His eyes were dark, the pupils enlarged, the pale blue around them a shade deeper than usual, and his face was flushed. "Do you know why I wanted you out of there right then, and the hell with how scared you were?"

Blair shook his head, the focused fury of Jim's expression keeping him silent as effectively as the gag had done.

Jim put his hand on Blair's throat and pinned him against the door. Blair sucked in air and wished his hands were free, then glanced down and saw Jim work his belt open and his zipper down, freeing his cock.

Jim touched himself, his breath coming in short, harsh pants. The head of his cock was slicked and glossy and Blair wanted to taste it, wanted Jim to use it to bruise his lips, paint them wet. "Getting a clue yet?"

Blair whimpered, forcing the sound past the constriction in his throat; internal, not external; Jim's grip on his throat wasn't that tight.

"Yeah," Jim said, sounding satisfied. "I guess you are."

He turned Blair so that he was facing the door, pressed up against it, and freed his wrists, if only momentarily. The cuffs hit the floor and Jim grabbed Blair's wrists and forced his hands over his head until his palms were kissing the wood of the door.

"Don't move."

Blair didn't know if shaking his head would still work as a red light but he wasn't going to risk it. He spread his fingers apart and bent his head forward submissively, as much as he could in this position.

Jim moaned and surged up against Blair's back, covering him, containing him. Blair felt Jim's erection nudge his ass, finding skin through the split, torn denim. The material of Jim's suit and the crisp cotton of his shirt scratched at his bare back, maddening, teasing. Jim's teeth worried at his earlobe and then nipped at it hard.

Blair cried out; not a protest, but a plea, and Jim made an exultant sound as if he'd been waiting to hear it. He moved back a little, and began to enlarge the tears in Blair's jeans with impatient tugs so that he could slip his hands inside them and cup Blair's bare ass.

"Wish I could fuck you with them on, but I want you naked too much for that," Jim said. "I'd do you up against this door if it wasn't your first time."

"Don't care," Blair ground out. Jim's nails were digging into his ass and he felt weighed down with desire, running syrup-thick through his body. "Fuck me here, God, do it, just do it, do me --"

"No." The single word cut through the litany of Blair's babble. "Some time, but not this time." Jim's mouth found a place on Blair's neck that made him shiver and kissed it, his tongue making patterns on the captured skin. "But we can stay here a while."

"And do what?" Blair asked.

Jim gave the denim one final, strong yank and Blair felt the once-tough material yield, the strength washed out of it by time. Apart from the central seam and the waistband it was attached to, his ass and the top of his thighs were no longer covered by his jeans. Jim gave another satisfied, contented hum and began to kiss his way down Blair's spine while his hands stroked and pinched and played with the flesh he'd exposed. By the time he was on his knees behind Blair, Blair was gasping out incoherencies and writhing against the indifferent door.

Then Jim hooked his fingers in the strip of material running down the crease of Blair's ass and pulled it far enough away that he could lick a broad, wet stripe along the reddened, chafed skin. The third time he did it, his tongue slipped deeper, flicking over tender, aching flesh, and Blair lost any vestige of control and reserve and hammered his fists against the door and sobbed, "Please --" until Jim stopped.

In the moments that followed, all that Blair could hear were his own choked attempts to get his breathing regulated enough to speak, even if he didn't know what he wanted to say. Jim knelt silently behind him, his hands no longer on Blair.

"Look at me," Jim said eventually.

Blair turned in a slow roll, exhausted by emotion, and felt the cool wood meet his back.

Jim smiled up at him, a measure of calm back in his eyes. "Tell me what you want."

Right then, Blair's needs were simple, so that was easy enough to do.

"Just let me come really, really soon. Later, maybe you could spank me, but…" He glanced idly around the room, taking in what he'd overlooked up until then, and his eyes widened. "God."

Jim stood. "Lots of possibilities," he said noncommittally, which was one way to describe the way the room was decorated and furnished. "But why don't we start with the bed?"

Blair began to walk toward it but Jim stopped him, catching at his arm. "No. I want to see you crawl there." Jim walked to the bed, leaving Blair standing by the door, and got on it after kicking off his shoes. He lay sprawled across it, still fully dressed, his cock thrusting out blatantly from the opened zipper. He looked rakish, debauched, like that, framed by the elegance of ivory sheets and high, fluffed pillows. He stared at Blair, his expression unreadable. "I want to see your ass move and I want to see you blush at how hard it gets you to do that while I'm watching."

If he thought about it even for a second, he wouldn't do it --

Blair went to his knees, fixed his gaze on Jim, and then crawled across the soft, thick carpet to the edge of the bed. It helped to see Jim's face go blank, a deliberate lack of reaction more telling than a smile or a frown.

The significance of the act; that Jim would ask it of him; that he would do it willingly, and what it said about their relationship that he could do it without a shred of shame, wasn't lost on him. The part of him he wanted Jim to silence with his hands, his mouth, his body, because he'd never been able to do it himself, was analyzing, observing, taking notes, but for the most part he was happy to simply accept and enjoy whatever was going to happen in this locked, private room.

He looked up at Jim, who'd rolled, at ease in a way Blair envied, to the edge of the bed and was staring down at him, propped up on an elbow.

"What do you want?" Jim repeated.

Something told Blair that what Jim wanted was a different answer.

"Just you," he said.

Still not right; Jim's expression didn't alter.

"I want to be yours."

Jim smiled, the grave, sweet smile Blair loved. "Ask for something you don't have."

"Fuck me?" His voice shook when he said it, but not from nerves. "Please?"

Jim nodded and patted the bed. "Better get your ass up here then, hadn't you?"


*****



Blair got onto the bed with more grace than Jim would've expected and knelt on it, looking down at him with an expectancy Jim usually found tiresome in others. Being in charge all the time was hard work; he'd never understood why Simon got such a kick out of it.

And then he'd met Blair and realized that what had bored him was the false, fake control he'd exercised over a client, a paying, complaining, demanding customer. From the beginning, it had never been that way with Blair. It had been real.

That was an old kiss-off line, of course. 'Baby, what can I say? It's been real', as you walked out the door without looking back. The thought of doing that to Blair made Jim shiver as he pictured it vividly enough to make it hurt.

Jim had known subs who were hard work; ones who had issues, doubts, and needed months, even years of patient, careful handling to bring them to their full potential. Something told him all Blair needed was to make up his mind and once that had been done, he'd commit fully.

And when he did, Blair would look at Jim with clear, assessing eyes, and see no control, no dominance, no strength. Because when it came to Blair, all Jim had was a whole lot of good intentions that Blair seemed determined to fuck with.

It should have been so very goddamned simple; he was experienced to the point where he could've probably got Blair off those first times just by talking to him. And Blair was so green-grass-new, he'd have thanked Jim for doing it.

Blair wanted to be spanked; that wasn't news. The revelation for Jim was that when he spanked Blair that first time, he, as well as Blair, had gotten aroused to the point that he'd been shaking, his cock, as he'd remember until the day he fucking died, three strokes from coming after Blair had shot all over himself and Jim's skin-burned, oh so helpful hand.

Blair wanted to kneel, submit -- his own version of it, sure, but still -- and Jim had found that he wanted, with a fierce desperation, to be the one Blair submitted to.

Him. No one else. His.

So really, once Blair moved in, was there, in Jim's bed, naked, eager, both of them starting from scratch in some ways (don't tell, don't let Blair know that) it should have been so very fucking easy.

"What's wrong?" Blair asked. "What did I do?"

There. That. The uncertainty that lay at the heart of everything Blair did; that he wasn't good enough. Jim wanted to crush that doubt, obliterate it.

If he knew how to, he'd have been doing it from day one.

"Nothing," Jim told him. "I'm just admiring the view." Blair didn't blush, but his breath hitched, and as Jim watched, he put his shoulders back and turned his hands palm up where they rested on his thighs, offering himself silently.

Jim hummed an equally wordless approval and picked up one of Blair's hands, placing a kiss in the center of the palm and then over the beating pulse at the wrist. "The looks you were getting in these jeans…"

"I had a blindfold on, remember?" The retort was so very Blair, but Jim schooled his lips into a firm line before they could curve in a smile.

"I could see them," Jim told him. He kept Blair's hand in his, clasping it lightly. "I watched them stare at you and I watched them want you, and I think part of the reason I blindfolded you was so that you couldn't look back."

"All that the blindfold did was stop me looking at you."

Jim smiled then; had to, his possessiveness exposed, dismissed. "You can see me anytime."

Blair's gaze flicked meaningfully up and down. "Not as much as I'd like to."

"Oh, you want me naked?" Jim glanced down at his cock, sticking out, hopeful and hard. "I don't need to be any more naked than this to fuck you."

"Please?" Blair didn't make it flirtatious or a joke. "Jim? Please?"

So easy to give in, but instead he got his cock hidden behind a tugged up zipper -- it wasn't easy -- and said, "Earn it."

He watched wariness spark in Blair's eyes, the blue darkening. Wary, but intrigued. "Okay," Blair said cautiously. "How?"

"Every time I take something off, you put something on," Jim said.

Blair blinked. "You don't want me naked?"

"Oh, yeah, I most certainly do," Jim said. "In fact, you can lose the jeans now before you poke another hole in them with your dick." He was hard, but Blair had to be aching down there, his jeans a tight hand around all that needy flesh.

"I don't understa--" Blair caught himself. "I'm not supposed to ask questions, am I?"

"You are supposed to ask," Jim corrected him. "Anything you're not sure about, you ask, okay? But you're not supposed to argue and talk when you should be --"

"Obeying you." Blair nodded jerkily. "Right, got it. I get it. Okay. Jeans off."

"Wait," Jim said. He got up on his knees and pushed an unresisting -- mostly --Blair to his stomach. "Before you do, I've just got to… oh, God, yes. Your ass looks so fucking hot like this." He was going to tell Blair that whenever he thought it and keep telling him. Make him see himself as Jim saw him -- hell, as half the club saw him. "These bruises…" He traced one of the lines the crop had left, and then drew a fingernail over it. "Hurt?"

"Yes, but not there," Blair said, the words stifled. "Do it again and I might come just to relieve the pressure."

Jim spanked him, a light, crisp slap. "Don't."

"Not helping."

Jim watched the faint pink mark rise, dim and fleeting, and smiled. "No shit. But I want to do this, and you need to learn some control or I'm going to get frustrated and you're going to miss out." He slapped Blair's ass again, just to watch the need rip through Blair in a visible, yearning shudder. Nice. After one final caress, half his hand touching denim, half skin, he peeled the jeans off Blair and tossed them away.

Blair settled back onto his stomach after arching up to make the removal of his jeans easier. Naked, the marks on his ass stood out sharply, dark against the pale skin. Jim felt as if he could lose himself in staring at them, mapping the gradual deepening of color and the roughened skin.

He smoothed his hand over Blair's back, down to his ass, and did it again and again until Blair was trembling, anticipating a blow that wasn't going to come.

"Sit up," Jim said eventually. "Let's get you dressed and me stripped."

Blair visibly swallowed a question and Jim rewarded him with a kiss, Blair's avid response making it last longer than he'd intended. When he broke away, Blair made a small, desperate sound of loss and then bit down on his lip.

"I'm not going far," Jim told him, grinning at the way being teased wiped the lost look from Blair's face.

He knew exactly where everything was; the club was arranged that way. The décor differed, but the supplies were always in the same place. He got what he wanted, after a quick tally of what he was wearing, and tossed it all onto the bed. Blair's eyes widened and then, which Jim found interesting, he relaxed.

"So…" Jim shrugged out of his jacket. "One." He hung his jacket over a chair and went to stand by the bed. Blair shifted position so that he was facing the foot of the bed, his knee touching Jim's leg. "I'm going to count your collar as one."

"Don't," Blair said, the response too quick to be anything but involuntary. Jim raised his eyebrows in a silent question. "It's not -- I don't want it to be something I'm wearing. Something that can get put on and taken off. I want it to be part of me. And, yeah, I know it's got to come off when we leave, but can we just -- while we're here --?

Jim bent down and kissed Blair's throat, slow, hard kisses that made Blair moan and tip his head back into the waiting cup of Jim's hand. "Yeah," Jim said, letting the words soak into skin because he didn't want to take his mouth away. "You can. We can."

Blair put his hand on Jim's shoulder and pushed him away, just enough that he could stare into Jim's eyes. "Can we do something else?"

He'd thought Blair would like what he had planned, but he was too used to being flexible with indecisive clients to feel even a fleeting impatience at a change of plan. And this was Blair; if he wasn't happy, Jim wanted to know about it. "Such as?"

"This game --" Blair gestured at what Jim had put on the bed. Cuffs and chains, clamps and condoms... "It's going to take too long and I'm not going to make it. Look at me, Jim. Tell me you if you think I will and I'll try, but I'm naked, in a collar -- in your collar -- and God, the things you've been doing to me --"

"What are you saying?"

Blair gave a frustrated whimper and punched Jim in the shoulder, hard enough to hurt. "I'm saying fuck me. I'm saying I want this, all of it, yes, the games, the teasing, but not right now. Now, all I want is you, in me, God, please, please, Jim, please, fuck me, please, just --"

Jim put his hand over Blair's mouth but he could feel Blair shaping the words against his palm and it was too much, just as it had always been too much from the first night they'd met. Blair jerked his head free and wrapped his arms around Jim, pulling him down onto the bed on top of him. They kissed in messy, clumsy bumps of mouth on mouth, both of them working to get Jim out of his clothes. Blair was making the kind of sounds Jim usually only heard from someone he was fucking, guttural, disconnected, unbearably arousing. Jim was echoing them, something he didn't realize at first, and when he did, he didn't care.

They had their hands all over each other, like a pair of fucking teenagers, and Jim couldn't get enough, couldn't get close enough -- He was on top of Blair now, that strong solid body plastered against his, writhing against his, Blair's cock a hard, wet-tipped heat digging into his belly.

He bit Blair, rough, reckless love bites, all teeth and suck, and it wasn't enough, either, though the red marks the bites left helped. Blair's fingernails were leaving stinging scoremarks over Jim's back and ass, and that hurt, but it didn't hurt enough for him to want Blair to stop.

"In me," Blair panted. "Please. God, if it was me fucking you, I wouldn't make you wait." He froze, his gaze meeting Jim's. "I don't mean I want to -- I don't expect you to let me --"

Jim licked the hollow of Blair's throat until the skin glittered wet. "Don't you? Better start."

"You want that? Me fucking you?" Jim didn't think that surprise was putting that quiver into Blair's voice. Too many memories of women telling him in a dozen subtle ways that he hadn't made them happy when he fucked them.

Well, that was easy to deal with.

"I want everything from you, Blair, which shouldn't be news, and yes, that includes this --" he reached down and ran a single finger tip up the straining length of Blair's cock, "in me. But you can forget about being kind, because that won't be your call."

"Huh?" Was that relief? Probably. One day, he was going to track down each and every woman Blair had slept with and -- Blair moved under him and moaned and he realized the finger had become his hand, stroking, squeezing. He moved it to Blair's hip instead.

"I'm going to tie you to the bed and if that doesn’t get you hard, I'll use my mouth on you until you are. Then I'll kneel across you and put you in me, inch by inch, and you'll be begging me to hurry just as much as you're begging me now. And if your ass lifts up off that bed an inch, a single fucking inch, I'll stop." He watched Blair's eyes widen. Oh, yeah. Blair liked that idea. Good, because Jim felt dizzy at the thought of it. God, the things he was going to order Blair to do to him…the way Blair would look and sound lying under him, ordered not to move as Jim took him, used him, Blair's cock in him so deep Jim would feel the ache and burn for hours after. "But not tonight." He slid down the bed and sucked hard on the tip of Blair's cock just to hear that wail tear free of Blair's throat, just to taste him. "No more waiting," he promised and rolled Blair to his stomach. "Spread your legs," he said, the words a tightness in his throat. "I want you."

He would have felt vulnerable positioned like that, but there was only trust in the glance Blair gave him. Blair gathered a pillow up in his arms, and clutched it to him. With the wild tangle of hair falling to shield Blair's face, Jim had to read Blair's state of mind through the flex of muscles in his back and ass and the way his breathing became hurried. He put his hand on Blair's hip. "It hurts, you tell me. There's never going to be a moment when it's too late for me to stop."

He felt calmer now, the rush of lust receding, replaced by an all encompassing tenderness. He still wanted to make Blair scream, but the need to take this part slowly came first.

He caught himself just as he began to tear a condom open. "Blair… you're clean?"

"You know I am. Jim, didn't we talk about this?"

Blair sounded endearingly testy. Jim kept any amusement out of his voice and ran a lube-slick finger over Blair's asshole. "Here, I mean," he said gently. "I don't want it to get… messy."

Blair sighed. "You're never going to let me forget that, are you?"

"I'll forget it when I'm sure it's not an issue with you anymore."

Blair banged his head against the pillow three times and groaned in what sounded like mortification. "Yes, Jim, I found the supplies in the bathroom cabinet, just where you told me they were. Yes, I read the instructions before I used the kit. Yes, I'm now squeaky clean, inside and out." He buried his head in the pillow, his word muffled. "If my ass was a floor, you could eat your fucking dinner off it. Are we done here?"

Interesting choice of words. Jim stroked over the whorled skin without pressing inward and then split Blair's ass wide with a palm on each cheek and his thumbs deep inside the cleft. He had time for one kiss, tasting lube and skin, nothing else, and one lick, before Blair turned into a flail of arms and legs, kicking out and scrambling up the bed. He turned, the pillow still against his chest like a security blanket, his eyes wide and shocked. "What the hell was that?"

"Blair…" Jim shook his head. "I'm prepared to believe it's not something you've ever done or had done to you, but not that you've never heard of it."

"I have, yes, of course, I have, I just wasn't expecting --"

"You weren't?" Jim licked his lips very deliberately. "Good enough to eat off? That wasn't a hint?"

"No!" Jim waited. "Maybe." Blair's gaze dropped. "But I didn't think you would!"

"Why wouldn't I?" Jim let his gaze travel over Blair. "I get turned on by you. All of you. All of you." He moved up the bed, kneeling between Blair's legs, and then leaned over and snagged an unscented wipe from a box on the nightstand. "Hold still."

"Why? What are you going to do? Hey!"

Jim wrapped a piece of the wipe around his middle finger and used his knee to push Blair's left leg out to the side. Blair began to struggle but he'd already moved up the bed as far as he could go; Jim bore down on Blair, pinning him with his weight and an arm, and pushed his finger an inch into Blair's ass.

Then he knelt back, fended off an enraged swipe from Blair's fist, and caught Blair's wrist when he tried again. He held up the clean wipe. "See? No mess." He waited for Blair's sullen nod and then tossed the wipe aside. "There's nothing I wouldn't do to give you pleasure, which you should damn well know by now. Rimming you would feel good and I'd enjoy doing it. If you don't want me to, that's fine, but I wanted to make sure you were saying no for the right reasons." He released Blair's wrist. "I want you back on your hands and knees. I'm going to fuck you, fingers first, then my cock. If you want my tongue as well, I won't even make you ask for it properly, though I damn well should. Just say 'yes'."

Blair rolled over in silence, his body stiff and tense, but when Jim rubbed his thumb over one of the welts on his ass, the tension left Blair's body in a shudder and he whispered it, then said it aloud, then added a 'please'.

And when Jim's tongue curled and flicked, demanding entrance, Blair cried out and sobbed with pleasure, his fingers scrabbling at the sheets, and he spread his knees wider.

Jim took his time, and stopped more because his back was aching than for any other reason. Blair was making breathy, incredulous whimpers, interspersed with Jim's name and a lot of approval. Jim got his tongue in as deep as he could, just to get one final, ecstatic moan from Blair, and then sat up and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Wait here," he said, and patted Blair's ass. "Or, no… roll over. I'm going to give you something to think about while I'm in the bathroom."

Blair sank to his stomach. "Can't move."

Jim made his next touch sting, grinning heartlessly as Blair yelped at the hard smack. He sorted through the supplies on the bed and took out two clamps. They would pinch more than Blair was used to, but they wouldn't be on for long. "Roll over, or I'll put these clamps on your balls."

"You wouldn't."

"I really would."

Blair sat up. "I couldn't do that to you," he said, as Jim fastened the clamps.

"Clamp my balls? Did I ask you to?"

"Rim you." Blair licked his lips nervously. "It -- ow! God, that -- ow!"

Jim flicked one of the clamps and watched Blair's cock jerk in response. He was actually a little surprised Blair hadn’t come from being rimmed, but from the state of Blair's cock; rigid, reddened, it had been close. "You can take it for a few minutes. And it's okay. You don't have to."

"You don't mind?" Blair looked nervous. Jim didn't like that.

"Blair, I do a lot of stuff to you that I don't want you to do to me. If rimming's on the list of things you don't want to do, well, it's on the list. End of story."

"But do you like it? When you're on the receiving end, I mean?" Blair persisted.

Jim shrugged. "Sure. Didn't you?"

He watched Blair swallow. "Oh, yeah," Blair said softly.

"That's all I need to know." Jim waved his hand at the bathroom door. "Now, unless you want those clamps on much longer, I'm going to go and brush my teeth, and, no, it's not because I didn't like doing it. I just want to kiss you without you flinching and I think you would."

"Yeah, I would," Blair admitted. "Can you floss, too? Maybe use some mouthwash?"

It took Jim entirely too long to see the gleam of amusement in Blair's eyes. "Oh, you're going to regret that later. You have no fucking idea how much."

Blair snickered. "I can take it." He glanced down at his nipples. "Not sure these can, though. These clamps hurt, Jim." He poked at one and sucked his breath in sharply.

Jim sighed, and walked back to the bed. Blair looked hopeful. "Are you going to take them off?"

Jim picked up one of the Velcro cuffs he liked using on Blair and used it to fasten Blair's wrists behind his back. "No. And neither are you."

Once in the bathroom, he closed the door and stared at his reflection in the mirror. He looked flushed and now that he was alone, he could let his uncertainty show. Blair was confusing the hell out of him. Sex, kink, love… Jim was prepared to give or offer any or all of them, but Blair didn't seem to know what he wanted and Jim just wasn't used to that.

He couldn't blame Blair.

He'd brought Blair to the club so that Blair could see what it was like, his fantasies in the flesh. He'd brought him here intending to keep Blair at heel, controlled. One single night of submission.

And Blair had seen very little, because from the moment the collar had gone around Blair's neck, Jim had wanted Blair kneeling just for him, breathing just for him, seeing only him. It was a miracle they'd even made it to the main room. He really didn't like people staring at Blair and they'd been staring, oh, yes, they fucking had.

He supposed he owed Blair an apology. They should be out there; he should be introducing Blair to people, letting him soak in the atmosphere; letting him watch a whip kiss skin, letting him have some fucking fun for once in his life. And instead, they were here in this room and he wasn't giving Blair what he'd promised he would.

Because he didn't know what Blair wanted. No cheat sheet, no instructions, no careful plan designed to maximize the client's pleasure and Jim's tip. Just Blair, hopeful, trusting, new.

"He's not a client, he's my -- he's mine," he said under his breath, and kept repeating it as he scrubbed at his teeth, after flossing just in case Blair had been serious. He spat out a mouthful of Listerine and rinsed with water to clear the mint taste away.

Then he said it again, his hand dropping to squeeze his balls in a rough, ungentle grip. "You're such a fucking idiot," he told his reflection, keeping his voice low. "And you're going to lose him."

He went back out and his steps slowed to a stop within three paces. He'd left Blair in an untidy sprawl on the bed, his face crumpled in as close as Blair got to a pout. In the time that he'd been away, Blair had gotten over his brief rebellion and was kneeling on the bed, head down, not facing the foot or the head, but sideways, his back to the bathroom door. His cuffed hands were curved, quiet, and his hair had fallen forward around his face just enough for the leather of his collar to be visible. Jim closed his eyes against a wave of longing so intense it robbed him of breath and thought.

Then he walked around the bed until he was facing Blair and brought Blair's chin up with a touch. Blair met Jim's eyes, his own gaze untroubled, clear, but didn't speak.

"What happened to you?" Jim asked in something close to a whisper. "When I was in there, what made you do this?"

Blair shook his head, his expression changing to one of pleading. It wasn't hard to translate: Don't make me talk.

Jim nodded. "Later, I'll want to know, but now…" He pressed the ball of his thumb against the hot skin around Blair's right nipple. "These are coming off." Blair made a movement that could have meant anything but looked like a protest. Jim didn't care. "No. They're distracting. I don't want you thinking about anything but me fucking you." He took one of the clamps off and knelt down on the floor so that his mouth was level with the pinched, punished flesh, licking the heat and hurt away. When both nipples were bare, red, and wet, he made Blair lean down and offer his lips for a kiss, running his tongue over Blair's. Mint overpowered the remembered taste of Blair's mouth. Okay. Not a kiss, or not there, anyway. He rested his folded arms across Blair's spread thighs and took as much of Blair's cock in his mouth as he could.

It broke Blair's silence, which was a pity, but inevitable. "Jim -- no! I'll come -- ah, God. God."

"I can't taste anything but fucking toothpaste," Jim told him, taking his mouth away for a moment. "So I want you to come."

"I wanted to come when you were in me."

"You will," Jim promised with just a shade of arrogance. If he couldn't get Blair up again within ten minutes or less, he'd sub for Sam for a week. Besides, it would leave Blair just that little bit more relaxed. Without bothering to discuss it anymore, he went back to what he'd been doing, not allowing Blair to fuck his mouth, because no matter how much Blair wanted to -- and he kept on trying, every muscle straining -- being held down by Jim was turning Blair on even more.

It didn't take long to make Blair come. Jim swallowed once, twice, as Blair panted out some predictable, but heartfelt exhortations, and closed his eyes for a moment. His cock was beating out an SOS in close to painful throbs and he couldn't remember being this eager to come in years. He released Blair's wrists from the cuffs and slanted his eyes down at the bed. Blair went from kneeling to hands and knees with an alacrity Jim found reassuring. It probably helped that Blair's cock was still mostly hard. Jim had been there; frustrated and kept hanging for hours, so that one climax just wasn't enough to scratch the itch, quench the flames. The second one would be slower to build, but leave Blair wiped out, barely able to twitch a finger.

In theory, anyway.

Jim spared the room a glance. Filled with toys and equipment, and after one curious, wide-eyed stare, all Blair had wanted was this bed and Jim's cock.

And you've kept him waiting for that, haven't you? Just as well he isn't a client, or he'd be complaining by now and you'd be kissing that twenty slipped into your hand on the way out goodbye (the women always met his eyes and smiled; the men, never).

But he's not a client.


He knelt behind Blair on the bed and methodically, quickly, he put lube, the opened condom, and some wipes within reach. Then he drizzled lube onto his fingers, weightless, cool, and pushed a finger, his middle one, deep into Blair's ass with a slow, strong push. Blair gave a startled, choked sound and Jim paused. "Okay?"

"Mmm." Blair gave him a fleeting glance over his shoulder. "Talk to me? You're being the strong, silent type and it's freaking me out. I feel like I'm at the doctor's office or something."

Jim had played that scene from both ends, doctor and patient, in the past, but they weren't memories he wanted to relive right now. He let his finger slip out, and cleaned it off on a wipe without paying attention to what he was doing. "I'm counting the ways I've fucked up tonight."

Honesty. Big mistake. Blair looked back at him with something close to disappointment and Jim sighed to himself. Never admit you don't know what the hell you're doing. Bluff, lie, keep quiet…do anything but confess a mistake.

"Jim, I love you, but when I said talk, I meant tell me I'm hot and you want to nail my ass. Sweet talk me into believing it." Blair rolled to his back, and fixed his gaze on the ceiling. "I'm supposed to be the nervous one, not you, and I need you to tell me you want me."

Jim heard Blair in a seashell roar, some words coming through distinctly, some a vague buzz. Love. Okay, that was Blair being flippant. No problem. He didn't mean it. Nervous? Oh, God, was it showing? What the fuck was wrong with him that he was so off his game?

He hesitated too long.

"I will walk out of here naked and bend over for the first Dom who wants me if you don't fuck me right the hell now." Pure bravado, and Jim knew it, but it didn't mean he liked hearing it. The only thing saving Blair was that he looked as if he was regretting it already.

"You move off this bed without my permission and I'll --" He broke off the threat and gave Blair the most irritating smirk he could. "You came here with me. You're wearing my collar. Wiggle your ass all you want, babe; no one's going to touch it, or you."

"I didn't come in here chained to you," Blair said, each word distinct. "And the collar, well, that's easy to take care of."

He had Blair's wrists in a tight squeezing grip a moment before Blair's fingers touched leather, every protective instinct he had kicking in, because that was something Blair would regret doing even more once he calmed down. "Don't."

Blair fought for a freedom Jim wasn't going to give him, struggling hard. "Let me go if you don't want me!"

Jim gaped at him, too incredulous to be annoyed. Blair's logic defeated him sometimes. "What the hell have I done to make you think that?"

"You're not fucking me and I don't know why!" Blair was yelling at him from a distance of a few inches and it hurt his ears. "I keep asking -- begging -- and you keep stopping and each time you do I feel so fucking frustrated, so unwanted." He took a deep breath to fuel the next part of his tirade. "And thanks for pointing out that no one else wants me, unless I pay them, because, yeah, I need that reminder right now. Asshole."

"Oh, they want you," Jim said. "They're just not getting you. You're mine and yes, I'm nervous and no, I don't know why, but you fucking terrify me, Blair, and I can't get past that the way I should."

More honesty. Shit. It was getting to be a bad habit.
 
Blair stopped struggling. "I do what?" He shook his head. "Newsflash, Jim; you're the cool one; I'm the geeky writer. You're the one walking around making jaws drop and I'm the one getting raised eyebrows in restaurants. You're the --"

"Enough," Jim said. There were too many thoughts jostling around in his head but most of them centered on the way he'd felt when Blair had tried to take off his collar. "Just… go back to where you were. No more talking, and I promise I won't stop unless you tell me to." Blair looked undecided and Jim gave it everything he'd got with one softly voiced, "Please?"

"You suck at being a Dom," Blair told him. "You're not supposed to be the one begging me."

"And you're failing Sub 101," Jim replied with a shrug. "Big time. I don't care. I know what you are and I'm starting to see what I am."

Blair moved forward, close enough that his breath was warm on Jim's face. "What are you?"

"Try taking your collar off again and you'll find out," Jim said calmly.

Blair breathed in sharply and then nodded. "I won't. I'm sorry."

Jim leaned in and spoke directly into Blair's ear, making sure no part of his body came into contact with Blair. "On your knees, Blair."

He swore he could hear Blair's heartbeat speed up. "Yes, Jim," Blair said with a perfect intonation, respectful, serious.

Jim waited for Blair to get into position and then stroked his hand approvingly over Blair's ass. They were both no more than half-hard now, but it wouldn't take long for that to change. He could feel the tension drain from both of them, to be replaced with an anticipatory awareness. Mindful of what had derailed them a few minutes earlier, he began to talk, not the rote dirty talk a client would have received, but his thoughts as they came into his head.

"It's going to be easier for you this way, but I wish I could see your face. Next time, I will." He slid a dripping finger into Blair's ass, ignoring the way the lube was running down his hand. He wanted Blair slippery. Blair keened softly and rocked into the slow glide and retreat of Jim's finger. "You want more, don't you? More than one finger. My greedy Blair. Next time, maybe I'll do that, just open you up with my cock, slow, so fucking slow. You'll be whimpering and I'll love that, love the sounds you make. My Blair."

More lube, but he kept it at one finger. It was enough. He didn't want to risk jabbing Blair anywhere tender with a fingernail. When he was satisfied that lube was spread up and in as far as it could go, with Blair's back sheened with sweat, his hands fisted in the sheets, he wiped his hands and rolled a condom over his cock. Jim was hard again, achingly so, from that first slide of his finger into the tight, clutching heat of Blair's body. So fucking intimate, to do that, more than what he was about to do now, because his cock wasn't what he used to explore the world the way his fingers were. He almost hated to lose that connection between them, fingers on flesh, possessing, claiming.

He wrapped his hand around Blair's cock, and then bent over him, his mouth tasting Blair's skin, salted with sweat and heat. "God, you're hot. The way you make me feel… I walked into that hotel room the first time we met, and I wanted you right then, wanted to strip you, spread you out, get my hands on you, all of you." He jacked Blair, slow and loose, smoothing the slickness at the head around in a circle with his thumb. "Thought about you when I went to sleep that night. Jerked off again, and then woke hard. I was hell to work with that day."

Blair rolled his shoulders, obeying the order to be quiet but managing to convey volumes even so. Jim chuckled, and used more lube on himself. "Spread a little wider. That's it, oh, that’s good, Blair. You're good, so fucking good for me, so fucking hot."

He eased in, one step forward, two steps back, finding his control easily because this was Blair and he didn't want to hurt him. Blair was breathing in short, harsh pants, but he didn't pull away or tense up enough for Jim to worry. In fact, if anything, he was trying to help, pushing back eagerly to get more of what Jim was giving him in small, measured doses.

"Stay…still," Jim said, his jaw clenched against the need to just take, grab greedily at what was being offered.

"Can't --"

Jim shook his head to clear it, and slapped the side of Blair's leg. "Yes, you can. Stay still for me for --" He thought about it, unable to obey his own dictum, still making those gentle inroads into Blair's slowly opening body. "Three, no, four, of these, and then you can move for me as much as you want."

He rested one hand on the bed, and curved the other under, cupping Blair's balls and then sliding his hand up over the straining hardness. Blair gave a frustrated, desperate whimper and slammed his fist against the pillow. "Fuck!"

"Want to know what I'll do to you if you come before I give you permission?" Jim said into Blair's ear in a silky purr. When Blair didn't answer -- Jim didn't count the whispered repetition of 'fuck' -- he slapped Blair's ass, most of the punishment lying in the fact that he had to let go of Blair's cock to do it. "Tell me."

"Yes, I want to know." Blair sounded close to snarling. It really wasn't very respectful of him, but Jim was filled with a fizz of happiness, lightheaded with it.

He ran his hand over the sweat-dappled skin of Blair's back and up, locking it around the nape of Blair's neck, a twin to the collar circling it. Blair liked that tight, possessive squeeze; deep in him as he was, Jim could tell by the reflexive shift of muscles.

"Nothing." He smiled and licked Blair's shoulder and then bit down. "Because it's not going to happen. No more waiting, don't hold back -- but no touching yourself. Just my hands on you, my cock in you. You come from that."

"That's not going to be a problem." The words were stifled but Jim heard them and he grinned again.

"Then stay still for me, sweetheart."

He didn't expect an acknowledgement but Blair murmured a dutiful, "Yes, Jim," and his body stilled, tense now as it hadn't been before, the stillness bought with an effort of will.

Jim moved his hand from the bed to Blair's hip and after one last caress of Blair's neck, brought his other hand down to Blair's ass, stroking it. He pulled out most of the way and used more lube, drizzling it down with a lavish hand and ignoring the mess. Then he dipped his finger into the pooled wetness and ran it around the stretched wide tautness of Blair's hole, brushing over his cock as he did it and feeling his arousal shiver higher from the contact and the visual. Blair jerked, a startled leap.

"I'm not letting that one go," Jim warned him, knowing he was being unfair and knowing Blair didn't care. "I'll deal with it later. Stay still."

He made the four slow, deep thrusts last as long as he could, which, by the fourth one, was a battle of control he was happy to lose. He could feel his awareness of the room narrow to the bed, his senses focused only on the gathering clamor of his body as it fought to sate itself and the man beneath him. Only they mattered. Just the two of them and what they were doing.

"Move," he choked out as the fourth stroke ended, and he slapped Blair's ass sharply in a signal Blair needed, because from what Jim could see, Blair was lost, gone, drowning in a flood of sensation.

But it was Jim who moved first, trembling with the need to get deeper inside Blair, own him, fill him, join with him. Each time he pulled out he felt bereft; each time he slid home, hard, fast, choppy strokes, clumsy, uncoordinated, he felt Blair's body welcome him. Blair had found a rhythm, but Jim wasn't sure how, given the way he was all over the fucking place. Shit. He tried to slow down and give Blair something better than this; frantic, flurried, uncontrolled -- fuck, he'd done better than this his first time and that had been a disaster -- but he couldn't.

It was, he thought, a sharp, clear thought among the chaos, Blair's fault. Blair was overwhelming him, the way he was moving, writhing, bucking, the sounds he was making; breathy, guttural, so fucking sweet and dirty, God, the words spilling out of Blair's mouth were so fucking sweet --

He got his hand around Blair's cock, and felt it pulse and quiver and spit; spunk spurting warm and wet into air and onto skin, and then he was coming, too, his climax torn out of him, as he fucked into Blair harder, harder, more, needing to just stop thinking, just stop --

Thought ended and he rode out his release, his body one silent scream of satisfaction. Maybe not so silent; when he'd recovered enough to slide free of Blair, his throat felt rasped and raw and his ears were ringing.

He dealt with the disposal of the condom by not thinking about it and letting his body remember what to do, and then tossed the resulting damp wad of tissues at the floor. He made a mental note to move it later. The room would get very thoroughly cleaned when they left, and the people doing it had seen far worse, but Jim liked to deal with his own mess.

Blair was sprawled out on his belly, his face lost behind sweat-dark hair. Jim curled up beside him, fitting his body to Blair's, and waited, touching Blair because he couldn't keep his hands off him, but trying not to crowd him too much. When the silence was aching in his ears, he kissed Blair's hair and let his hand move lightly over Blair's ass in a barely there brush of palm.

"Blair?"

Blair turned, the movement sudden, fast, and Jim gathered him close instinctively, as he would have done a hurt child. "Shit, Blair, I'm sorry --"

"Huh?" Blair raised his head and blinked puzzled blue eyes. "What for?"

"Oh." Jim readjusted his conclusion and returning Blair's beaming, smug smile with a tentative one. "Nothing, I guess. You're okay?"

Blair's expression became inward and he frowned. "I think so. Little tender, maybe, but it doesn't hurt." He didn't sound too sure about that but Jim accepted his words at face value. It would hurt more later, but he'd deal with that when it happened and Blair didn't need to be told that piece of news yet.

Right now, Jim wanted to lie here and just… yeah. Just this. He leaned over and picked up a remote from the table by the bed and dimmed the lights. Better. He kissed Blair's mouth, and tasted blood, because at some point Blair had bitten into his lip. Jim wished he could have seen that and the look on Blair's face when he did it. Wanted to know what had made Blair do it, too.

Desire and arousal were both beyond his exhausted body and yet as constant as the air he was breathing, but kissing Blair was just… nice. Blair made an encouraging, contented murmur and kissed him back. Something had changed between them, something that made Jim think dimly that if he'd ever held any power in this relationship, he could kiss it goodbye, but that didn't matter, either.

"What happens now?" Blair asked.

"Short term or long?"

"Short."

"Want to go home?"

"Are you kidding?" Blair got up on his elbow and gestured around the room. "I want to play."

Jim shook his head. "Like a kid in a toy store," he mocked, the indulgence bright and warm in his voice. "Well, considering what you've got coming to you…"

"Are you really going to punish me for moving?" Blair demanded. "Jim, if you'd warned me…."

"I didn't have to warn you when I'd already told you to stay still," Jim said, which wasn't entirely true but wasn't entirely wrong, either. "And you know damn well you've earned plenty of punishment tonight." He tapped his fingers against Blair's ass and smirked. "Going to make this sting, babe. Going to make you beg for mercy."

Blair's breath caught and his eyes darkened. "Yeah? So tell me before we start; are you going to give me any?"

Jim licked along Blair's jaw and set his teeth in the soft flesh of Blair's earlobe. "No. But I'm going to make you beg anyway."



*****


"What about your book?" Jim asked idly. He cupped reddened, hot skin and then smoothed more lotion into it. Blair's face was tear-stained, but there was nothing in his eyes but a contentment Jim shared. He'd done so little to Blair, really, so very little. Fucked him, tied him, bent him over; whipped him. Hurt him to the edge of comfort and then eased Blair past his limit, just a little, and guided him back. Come in Blair's willing mouth, his fingers hooked inside the loosened collar Blair wore still; whispered to him that he loved him and seen Blair's face soften with bewilderment and then brighten before he said it back.

Nothing. Everything.

"My book?" Blair scrubbed at his nose irritably and sniffed wetly. Jim silently handed him some Kleenex and waited for Blair to blow. "Yeah, well, I've got to get back to it, but I've been distracted." He bumped his hip against Jim's leg and then reached back and danced his fingers lightly over his ass. "Ow."

"You'll live."

"Gee, thanks, Jim."

"You love it," Jim said. "And your ass looks good that color. Want me to take you out into the main room and show you off?"

"You wouldn’t!"

"I might." Jim considered it. "Your jeans are wrecked, but that wouldn't matter…" He studied the blotchy, bruised skin, flushed scarlet and hot and sighed. "No, you're right. I wouldn't."

"Why not?"

And now Blair sounded disappointed. For the love of -- Jim gave the lotion-slick skin an admonitory smack and put a hint of a growl in his voice. "Because I don't share."

"Mmm." Blair wriggled his ass. Provocative, perverse, maddening -- "Good."

"About your book," Jim said, and watched his hand go back to stroking Blair's ass, needle to a magnet, helpless to stop. "I was thinking about it and I want to help."

"Read it, you mean?" Blair's voice went high with shock before the babble started. "Thanks, Jim, but it's just notes, really, handwritten, some of them, really messy, can't read them myself most of the time. I do this thing, this rough outline thing, well, I mean, it's really disorganized and I'm not sure --"

"No, not read it." Jim realized how that sounded and tried again. "I want to read it, but not until you want me to -- fuck. Forget it. Shut up and listen."

"Yes, Jim," Blair said, demure enough for it to be a raised finger rather than obedience. Brat.

"You wanted to know more about it. Prostitution, I mean. So why not come and work for me for a month?"

Blair turned his head, his eyes round, his lips parted. "You want me to do what? Become a hooker? Shit, Jim, I don't think I could --"

"What? No!" Jim rolled Blair to his back, ignoring his yelp of pain, and lay on top of him, skin to skin, holding Blair in place. "No fucking way do you see clients. Ever. No. How could you even think that?" He kissed Blair hard, filled with a dark, hot possessiveness that needed expression before it left him a hollow shell, burned out and empty. "Work with me. In the office. See how the agency's run. How it all fits together. Get to know my people."

Get to know me.

Blair lay under him, quiet now. The leather of his collar was a dark curve against his kiss-marked throat. Jim watched and waited, already regretting it. Shit, what was he thinking? And what the hell would Simon say?

"I'd like that," Blair said finally. "Thank you." He lifted his eyebrows. "So, boss…"

Jim grinned down at him, his doubts already fading. With Blair all day… knowing he was around… "I think you can still call me 'Jim' even at work."

"Is there a dress code?"

Jim fingered the collar around Blair's neck; all he wore apart from bruises and a whole lot of dried sweat, come, and tears they were going to have to clean off soon. "Not really." He pursed his lips. "I might make you wear this under your shirt, though. Or give you something else that's less visible. Something else you'd need my permission to remove."

Blair swallowed hard, a pulse hammering in his throat. "I thought -- I thought you weren't into doing this all the time."

Jim traced the line of Blair's cheekbone and down to the rougher skin of his jaw, stubble showing faintly. It had left his lips smarting and he hadn't cared. "I think I've changed my mind. I think you've changed my mind about a lot." He kissed Blair's mouth and coaxed it open with his tongue. "But if you don't want to wear something that says you're mine this early, I can wait for as long as it takes, and if you never want to take it that far, I'll understand."

"If you think I wouldn't want that, then you don't understand," Blair said flatly. "Do it. Give it to me, whatever it is. Pierce my nipple, bite me where it shows, send me out there naked, as long as everyone who sees me knows I'm yours. I don't care. I want it all. Everything. I want you."

Jim looked at him and didn't hide any of the emotions filling him. Love, fear, adoration. Blair stared back and began to smile, sunrise bright. "You want me, too."

"Yes," Jim said and for the first time felt that Blair believed him. "I do."

Always had.

End of Book One

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