"Love you, Jim. I'm so damned glad you're still with me."
"Me, too, Chief. Me, too."
Blair woke up in Jim's bed. He knew it was Jim's bed even before opening his eyes, because it was the last friggin' place in the world he'd ever expected to find himself.
Also, he knew because he'd recognize the warm body lying alongside him anywhere, under any conditions. He had Jim Radar. Sometimes he'd thought about mentioning it to Jim, had wanted to ask Jim if he had this same spider-sense when it came to Blair.
But, of course, Jim had all his other wonderful senses, so he probably didn't need this new one, this sense that was like a reaching out and tasting in the back of his throat, both at once. Whenever they were in the same vicinity, Blair just always felt where Jim was in relation to him.
It had come in handy a bunch of times since they became partners, but it had failed him, not surprisingly, the previous few days. Those unendurably long, panic-filled days when Jim was gone, taken far away.
But now he was back. Worse for wear, but back even closer than before, because of last night. Because of a kiss, and a new understanding.
And because Blair had told Jim he loved him, and Jim had said, "Me, too."
Not the stuff a romance novel is made of, really, but then they were guys, and Jim was more of a guy than most. He wasn't anything like the anthro nerds and dry professors that comprised most of Blair's social sphere. He wasn't even like most of the cops down at the station; not a lot of them had ever had reason to even draw their guns, or had spent any time at all clinging to the bottom of a helicopter.
Jim had done that twice since Blair met him. Jim was in a league of his own.
Out of my league, maybe.
Hearing the story of what Jim had gone through as a P.O.W. had really brought home their differences in a way that had frightened Blair. Except Jim had then gone on to compare his experience with Blair's abduction by Lash.
Jesus, that had felt good—knowing that Jim had been listening, had admired him for taking the risk, taking control.
Blair turned his head the pillow to look at his partner and immediately regretted it. His mental image hadn't been updated to reflect the battered body and swollen face of his best friend.
Jim was sleeping on his back, his gauze-covered hands resting on his bruised chest. Steeling himself, Blair turned on his side to look more closely at Jim's blackened eyes and stubble-covered jaw.
It'll heal. He'll get better. And then we can see where this thing'll take us.
Unhindered by Jim's usual too-aware gaze, Blair continued the examination. He was chilled to note a bite-mark on Jim's shoulder. What the hell? It was as if Jim had been attacked by beasts. The purple, red and green bruises covered so much of his chest and arms that the patterns had blended together like a grotesque Impressionist painting.
His examination stopped at the light blue silk boxers that covered the damage Jim had suffered below the waist. 'They gave me a good kick in the balls,' Jim had said laconically when requesting an ice pack. Blair had handed him a bag of frozen peas and suppressed a crude, hysteria-inspired joke.
The boxers had inched down on Jim's hips in his sleep, and on the side facing him Blair saw something that brought him up short—a pale patch of shiny skin, too even to be a scar, yet what else could it be? And suddenly Blair knew, just knew, what it was. Dazedly, he reached out and pushed the material a little lower to see it more clearly, heedless of whether or not he would wake Jim.
It was. A scar, thick and shiny—an almost perfect rectangular patch.
Blair sensed a change in Jim's breathing and looked up. The clear blue eyes were slitted, staring at him.
"Uh." Blair held his breath, feeling ghoulish and embarrassed at getting caught prying.
"'Mornin'," was all Jim said. His eyes widened a little, but not much. They were too swollen to open further.
"You're gonna need an ice pack to get your eyes open," Blair said hurriedly. "I'll just run—"
Jim's hand slid off his chest to capture Blair's in a weak grip.
"Not just yet."
Blair was afraid to squeeze back, knowing the shape Jim's hands were in under the gauze, since he'd watched the intern wrap them after stitching up the torn skin. But he lifted their hands and rested them against his chest. He thought it was too fucking bad he wasn't a true shaman, with healing powers. He thought in a better world his heart could beat hard enough to travel through the bandages and ease the pain.
He thought I'm a sap, and from the way Jim was looking at him, a little shocked, a little concerned, Blair thought Jim had seen it on his face—how bad it hurt him that Jim was hurt.
Maybe that wasn't such a bad thing, because Jim's face relaxed into an almost-smile. "Now, this is a weird situation we got here."
"Yeah?" Blair's breath was short, but he tried to sound nonchalant. "How so?"
"Well, for one thing, you're holding my hand, Sandburg."
Blair nodded, swallowing.
"And for another, I like it. Who'd-a thunk it?"
Blair snorted. "Ape."
"Throwback to a pre-civilized—mmph!" Blair waited until Jim had lifted his hand from his mouth to say, "See, now you're only proving my point, you dig? Brute force is not the only option, Ellison."
"Yeah, but it's usually the fastest," Jim said, that strange almost-smile on his face. After a moment, Blair realized it was because Jim's lips were too damaged for a real one. The thought made him pissed and sad all over again.
Jim made an exasperated sound. "Okay, that's enough. No wallowing." He took a deep breath then rolled to the edge of the bed and swung his legs down.
"Hey, take it easy!" Blair scrambled around the side to face Jim, who was now sitting upright and looking more than a little pale. "Why the hell did you take the bandage off your ribs? And don't you think you could wallow at least for another day or so? I mean, Jesus, Jim."
"Couldn't sleep with that rubbery texture against my skin. And I need to go in. I still owe Simon an official debrief."
"You mean a victim's statement, Jim," Blair said quietly.
Jim looked surprised. "Right. A statement. Do you mind making some coffee while I get cleaned up?"
Blair didn't comment on Jim's slip into military-speak, understanding the source of it, as well as Jim's desire to get back to normal activities in spite of his injuries. Jim seemed to think all problems, including physical ones, would go away if he just ignored them.
And while Blair could understand where he was coming from, he'd also do his damnedest to make sure Jim didn't hurt himself worse in the process.
"Let me just give you a hand down the stairs first, okay?"
Jim might've protested, but Blair could see the effort it took just for him to get to his feet. Jim shuffled to the top of the stairs and lifted his arm, refusing to look into Blair's face.
Someone needed to teach the guy he could ask for help without shame.
He got Jim downstairs into the bathroom, and then rushed right back up to grab a fresh pair of boxers and Jim's favorite pair of old sweats. They were favorites of Blair's, too, what with the way they hugged so softly to Jim's perfect ass.
Breakfast was pancakes again, since they were such a success the day before—easy to chew, and easy for Jim to hold in his now-bare hands. When he asked for coffee, Blair gave him the special tea he'd prepared. When Jim demanded coffee after that, Blair gave him more of the tea.
On the third request, Jim was obviously losing his patience, so Blair gave him coffee. And a tube of arnica ointment.
"Believe me, man, this stuff works. You have to rub it on real thick and then leave it there."
Jim opened the tube, sniffed it, and made a face.
"C'mon, it's not that bad."
"To you, maybe," Jim grumbled, but he did squirt some out and rub it over his arms, chest and torso.
Blair had to shake himself, realizing that in spite of the bruising he was having a hard time tearing his eyeballs away from all that glistening skin.
"What about your back, big guy? You want me to handle that?" he asked diffidently, pushing the envelope a little. The two of them had always been a little touchy-feely, but never skin-on-skin.
Never Blair's hands on Jim's skin.
"Yeah, okay," Jim said. He sat up and presented his back.
Blair took the tube and laid a thick row of ointment along Jim's shoulder blades, then started smoothing it on, sending an urgent message to his dick to calm the fuck down.
When he reached Jim's lower back, where the damage was the greatest, Jim said, a little tensely, "Watch it. I'm still pissing pink."
Oh, fuck. His kidneys. Blair's hands were shaking a little as he skated them over the worst of the swelling.
"They got you good," he said, his voice hoarse.
Jim shrugged, his shoulder muscles rippling.
"I suppose Simon's going to make you see the department shrink," Blair said hesitantly.
"Yeah, it's mandatory. Probably be Peters. I always get Peters." He sounded glum.
"That's because you drove the other guys to drink."
Jim's satisfied chuckle was a low rumble beneath his hands.
"You're taking a long time there, Chief." Jim didn't sound like he objected. Blair realized his strokes had gone from practical to sensual when he'd reached the area just above the rise of Jim's ass.
He wanted to apologize, but then it came to him with a shock: this was his, now. Jim was his.
They hadn't talked about how far they were going to take it, but he knew he at least had license to touch. License to let his fingers creep around Jim's waist to settle on his hips. In the process, his thumb brushed the top edge of the scar on Jim's right hip. He fingered it softly.
"This is where...?"
"Yeah." Jim didn't elucidate. "We done, here? We should really go into the station." His voice was a little regretful.
"Yeah, okay. Let's just get your ribs and hands bandaged up again. And get some antibiotic cream on those rope burns. And it's time for another painkiller."
Blair told himself the answering growl was one of gratitude.
Getting to Major Crime took a while, and not just because Jim was moving slow. It seemed like everyone wanted to stop him on the way in to let him know they were glad he was okay. Blair got a real kick out of the growing surprise on Jim's face, as if he couldn't quite believe anyone had cared.
Maybe in the old days, when Jim had been more of an angry bear around the station, he wouldn't have gotten the same reception. Then again, maybe he would have—it was one of the more interesting phenomena Blair had noted when he first got involved with the department—that in spite of personality conflicts, when it came down to it, blue stuck with blue.
Simon and Jim may have given him shit about his 'thin blue line' shtick, but it was the truth.
Jim's reception was even warmer in Major Crime. Megan came up to him with a broad grin, saying, "Hey there, sporto. Glad to see your ugly mug. " She took a mock swipe at his arm, and Jim shied back, raising his hand.
Her face crinkled in an apologetic grimace. "Sorry, mate. You ready to give your statement? Simon wants me to take it."
"Okay, I'm with you." Jim followed her off to the interview room, leaving Blair to sit at his desk and review Simon's report.
Simon had been the one to take lead on Jim's abduction. At the time Jim was taken, Blair had been attending a conference in Seattle. By the time he'd gotten back, Jim had already been missing for approximately eight hours.
Blair had dived right into the thick of it, caffeine and pure adrenaline making his mind work at lightning speeds. He'd quickly managed to narrow the related cases to three possibles, one of which involved the protected witness, Jake Farot, whose location at the safe house was known only to Jim, Blair and the two federal agents guarding him. Even Simon didn't know where they were keeping Farot, which had pissed the captain off at the time.
But after seeing Jim's condition when they found him at the old cannery building, Blair imagined Simon no longer regretted not knowing.
It was one of Rafe's snitches that told them a certain mechanic by the name of Hillman had been brought into town unexpectedly. Everyone was terrified of the guy. The fact the Geordieu family had strong ties with Hillman made it improbable it was a coincidence, since Geordieu, Sr. was the man about to go down with Farot's testimony.
Tracking Hillman brought them to Jim. A Jim who was barely conscious and beaten bloody. He'd gone down fighting, that much was obvious from the state of his hands. But they'd had him for almost two full days.
Two fucking days. Jim hadn't gone into detail during his informal report to Simon at the ER. He complained his jaw was too sore to talk when Blair pressed him on it at home. But Jim had fucking bite marks on him. He had shoeprints and rope burns and had acted so goddamned casual about it, pure tough-guy blasé, making lame jokes from the gurney as they'd wheeled him to the ambulance.
Too bad Blair wasn't still working on his closed societies diss, because the whole scene was begging to be analyzed. The way the other guys laughed in relief at Jim's stupid jokes, grateful he hadn't been an emotional wreck upon being rescued. The way Rafe said nervously to Simon, "He's gonna be just fine. Just fine."
And the way Simon had responded. "He sure is. He's a tough son of a bitch," as if it hurt him to say it, but it needed to be said.
But the thing Blair would never forget was that first moment when it was all over and Jim had raised his head and looked at him with such profound gratitude and assurance, as if he were saying, "There you are," and "I need you," at the same time.
That was the thing to hold onto, because this other shit, this suppressing, repressing, distancing crap came at a cost. Blair wondered if Jim knew it.
He didn't think so. Jim knew about the practical side. That was what they had taught him in the Army, and he'd carried it right through to his police career. Emotional detachment was useful for getting the case solved, for getting through things.
But Jim was still a rookie when it came to dealing with the emotional repercussions.
Blair aimed to teach him.
Jim was pale and looking a little shaky when he came back up with Megan, but Blair noticed she was keeping a respectful distance. More of the thin blue line crap.
"Sit the fuck down, tough guy," Blair said under his breath. Jim flicked him a glance and went into Simon's office. When Blair went to follow, Jim closed the door gently in his face.
So Blair went back to his own desk and cleared a few things, one ear cocked to the bass rumble of voices in Simon's office. He heard Jim say something, a little loud, a little impatient, but Blair couldn't make out the words. Then came Simon's deep reply.
Blair looked up at the jangle of the shade against the door as Jim yanked it open.
"We're both outta here," Jim said abruptly, sounding unhappy.
"What's the deal?" Blair asked, super-quiet.
"Mandatory counseling for both of us," Jim replied, sounding furious. "We're both off until we've talked to Peters. Simon set us some appointments for tomorrow."
That set the pattern for the next couple of days. Blair didn't understand the department's reasoning for sending them both in to see the department shrink, but he had no real issue in talking to a professional. He'd had more shrinks than he'd had library cards.
Peters was an okay guy, older, with this world-weary attitude. He seemed to have an endless well of patience, which explained why he was the only shrink that had survived working with Jim, the world's worst psychiatric patient.
"Jim mentioned you two live together," Peters said. "You seem to have an unusually close partnership."
"Jim's why I'm a cop," Blair told him. "I started working with him when I was gathering data for my dissertation, and we just kind of clicked."
There was a lot he couldn't tell Peters, obviously, but the guy seemed to take his careful responses in stride.
"You must've been pretty worried when he disappeared."
"I didn't know, at first," Blair confessed, and suddenly he realized he might have a few issues of his own, because a huge wave of guilt crashed over him as soon as he said it. "I was in Seattle at an anthropology conference. I'd taken a couple of days."
His old life. He'd gone off in search of his old life, and left Jim behind to get taken and beaten.
Peters made a 'please continue' noise, his eyes bright and expectant.
"I feel guilty. I wasn't there. It's stupid, I know, but it took Simon a while to track me down—I forgot to bring my cell-phone charger. By the time I got back, Jim had already been missing eight hours or so."
"It doesn't sound like the circumstances were under your control."
"But that doesn't matter, does it? I wonder how many hits did he take because I wasn't around to help find him? How many punches an hour? I can't do the math."
"You seem like a smart fellow," Peters said, and his hands made a little drum pattern on his desk, pit-pit-pat. "So I don't think I need to explain to you that this isn't your fault in any way, shape or form. Not one scratch on him is your fault."
It may have been obvious, but it was good to hear. "But I didn't bring my charger—"
"I'm such a dumb-ass."
"You were off-duty. Jim was off-duty when he was abducted."
"I know," Blair said miserably. "It's just that...shit happens to us a lot, so maybe I need to be more careful."
"You can't live that way, on-guard twenty-four seven, Blair—sorry, is it all right if I call you that? Or do you prefer 'Detective Sandburg'?"
Blair snorted. "'Blair' is fine. I'm not from the same tradition as these other guys. I grew up on a commune."
"Really? Tell me more about that."
So Blair told him about Naomi, and the Farm, and about their travels. Peters was interested, and made a few comments about the life-style that showed he understood more than Blair expected a police psychologist to.
Blair liked him, actually. So he was surprised, when his partner came out of his own session a couple of hours later, to see the cold fury on Jim's face as he stalked over to his desk.
"I'm gone, Sandburg."
"Yeah, okay. I'll see you at the loft later?"
"Yeah." He stalked out again.
It wasn't until Blair was climbing into his car at the end of the day that he realized Jim hadn't had a way to get home. And riding in a cab, with its stink of humanity and cigarettes and hidden wads of chewing gum, was not a sentinel's favorite means of transportation.
Resigned to facing Jim in a pissy mood, Blair was surprised to find the loft dark and quiet. He listened carefully at the door, but could hear no sound coming from upstairs. Jim was apparently out.
Blair suppressed the sudden flash of fear that piece of information inspired. Jim was a grown man. He could take care of himself—
—hanging from the ropes, his eyes swollen shut, chest bare and covered with purpled bruises punctuated by splashes of red and black, with tracks of blood trailing from his mouth and nose—
—and, anyway, Jim had been stuck in the house for days while recovering, so it wasn't surprising the guy needed a little break from the same four walls.
Jim was fine. Just fine.
Four hours later, close to midnight, when the loft door creaked open, Blair shot up from the couch and growled at Jim, "Where the fuck have you been?"
Jim pulled back and frowned. "Out with a friend. What's it to you?"
Oh, he is so not saying that shit to me.
"Gee, Jim, I dunno. What's it to me, your partner, your..." Exactly what, they hadn't established yet, so Blair hurried on, "Why should I possibly be worried if, five days after your last little adventure, you aren't at home where you're supposed to be and can't answer your cell phone because, guess what? You left it behind." Blair waved his arm behind him.
Jim winced apologetically. "Yeah, okay. Sorry about that. Pretty dumb, I guess."
"I guess." Out of steam, and a little sick with relief, Blair dumped himself on the couch. He wasn't expecting the hand that settled on his shoulder, giving him a little squeeze before Jim, in clear violation of the household rules, sat down on the coffee table facing him.
"I am sorry, Sandburg. I was feeling a little stir-crazy. I called up an old Army bud and we went out for some beers."
"Not supposed to be drinking," Blair muttered, still mildly furious. "Painkillers."
"I didn't take any today," Jim said. "I'm feeling a lot better. Mostly just the ribs now."
"Yeah?" It was true Jim seemed to be moving a little easier.
"Yeah." Jim ducked his head with a small smile. "Guess that mysterious goop of yours is doing the trick."
Blair was glad he had insisted on reapplying a layer of the arnica ointment the night before and again that morning.
"I'm even getting to like the smell." Jim said sheepishly.
Shit. Even with two black eyes and a bruised mouth, Jim looked pretty damned near irresistible when he smiled like that. Blair sat up to face him and put his hands on Jim's knees.
After a moment's pause, Jim leaned over a subtle amount in an implicit invitation. Blair straightened up and kissed him lightly. Jim's tongue came out to play in the cautious way they'd established since Jim's mouth still wasn't up to any heavy action. But the soft tease of his tongue was enough to make all the blood in Blair's body rush south to his groin.
Blair pulled back in a hurry. He was still a little pissed, and didn't want to be distracted.
"So, who's this Army buddy of yours?"
Jim straightened and rubbed the back of his neck. "His name's Rik. He and Jim Fahey and I used to hang out together for a while before I got reassigned." Jim gave a brief, humorless laugh. "I knew Rik was living out here; I guess I felt a little guilty that I hadn't looked him up. But then the other night..."
"Guess you got reminded of some stuff."
"Yeah. It was good to see him, talk about old times."
"What about Jim Fahey? You still in touch with him, too?"
"No." Jim's face closed up. "He died around the time I was in Peru."
"I'm sorry, Jim."
Jim looked down, hiding his expression. "Yeah, well."
"So, what happened with Peters today? You seemed pretty pissed off when you got out."
Easing to his feet, Jim shook his head dismissively. "Aw, the usual crap. You know those guys. They want to turn everything into a big deal."
"It is a big deal, Jim."
"Not you, too," he said, giving Blair a mild glare. "Look, I told him it's not like it's the first time this has happened to me. I've had worse. So that gets him on a kick he wants me to dig into old stuff. Like I would talk about that with him." Jim turned and his eyes met Blair's. "I only go into it with people I trust. And that's a damned short list."
I'm on that list. The thought made a warm spot at the center of Blair's chest.
"So, then he tells me a doctor-patient relationship won't work without trust, and I tell him he's gonna have spend a few days in a foxhole with me if that's what he's after. But he keeps digging, he wants to know details, as if it matters who did what when, or how the fuck I felt about not being able to stop any of it." Jim took a breath and made a strange brushing motion with his hands. His skin made a dry sound.
"I tell him his poking at me felt as bad as anything they'd been up to in that fucking basement. I didn't get a choice either way." Jim crossed his arms around his chest, as if holding something in. "And that made him a little cranky, I think, because he told me our time was up, even though we hadn't hit an hour, yet." He gave a dry laugh.
"Look," Jim said abruptly, checking his watch. "It's getting late. Wanna hit the sack?"
He sounded unconcerned, but Blair didn't miss the hopeful flicker of his eyes. Blair had crashed out on the couch the night before, too tired to move after dinner. It had been too many days of too much worry. So tonight would be the first night since that first night. And it seemed like Jim was asking him to join him on the big bed.
"Sounds great," Blair said. "I'll meet you upstairs?" He couldn't keep the question from his voice, but Jim's quick smile answered him.
"Dibs on the bathroom," Jim said slyly, pushing himself slowly to his feet.
Blair waited, and then took his turn in the bathroom. The loft was already dark by the time he got out, but Jim had left the light on upstairs. Blair walked up into the glow feeling like he was entering the Promised Land. Even if they couldn't do anything, he was going where he was wanted. Jim wanted him.
The soft light of the lamp laid long shadows along the floor by the bureau. Jim had left him the side furthest from the stairs, and Blair skirted the bed, his eyes on Jim's half-open ones. Jim had removed the bandage around his chest again, and the tight strips had left deep marks in the bruised skin of his abdomen.
"You getting a rash from that Ace bandage?"
Jim shook his head. "'S just irritating." He yawned, turning it into a grimace halfway through.
"Guess you're still hurting pretty good, huh?"
Jim didn't answer, but he patted the bed beside him. Blair turned off the light and crawled under the sheet, shifting as close as he dared, until the heat of Jim's body touched his. He turned on his side and gingerly laid one arm across Jim's waist.
Jim made a sound. "That's...your arm's a little heavy, Chief."
Disappointed, Blair took his arm back and shifted his upper body closer until he could rest his forehead against the ball of Jim's shoulder. His lips were an inch away from Jim's arm, so he tilted his head and put his lips there just for a moment. Not really a kiss.
He fell asleep wondering why it felt like they were still miles apart.
The passing weeks didn't change the feeling. If anything, the more Jim healed the less he needed help—no more arnica rub-downs—and the more they seemed to withdraw into their individual spheres. The only time they intersected was sharing kisses after breakfast and sleeping together in Jim's big bed at night.
In between was work—Jim chafing at his desk doing paperwork, and Blair getting paired in the field with Rafe and sometimes Megan.
The bruises faded, and Jim started to look more like himself, but he still moved carefully and claimed he couldn't sleep well because he had to stay on his back. It was obvious his ribs would take longer to heal. And though Blair moved around a lot in his sleep, he was conscious of a keep-away zone around Jim that he shouldn't penetrate. The one time he did, carelessly shifting into Jim's space, he woke up to find Jim had inched to the edge of the bed during the night.
Blair tried to apologize the next morning over breakfast, but Jim took it the wrong way.
"Guess I'm not much of a sleeping partner right now," Jim said.
There was something strange in his voice. Blair thought Jim might be uncomfortable about his weakness. And Blair could get that Jim would want to be a hundred percent before engaging in anything serious, but he was afraid the delay was going to put their relationship in a permanent stasis.
Plus, it was killing his balls. Now that he was healed, Jim looked good enough to eat, and Blair had license to look, really look at his partner for the first time. No more quick peeks disguised with yawns when Jim exited the bathroom in a towel. No more slide-over glances in the kitchen when Jim was preparing the morning coffee in nothing but a silky pair of boxers. Blair spent the mornings in a stage of perpetual wood, and he still had to hide it because Jim wasn't well enough to play.
And then something happened to change it all.
Blair had just come off a case with Megan—a series of jewelry store robberies that had gone bad. Two people had died in the previous one, and Major Crime got pulled in while Robbery and Homicide were still duking out who the case belonged to.
Blair found it more than a little exciting to work with detectives from the other departments. The flow there was so different. Megan took lead on the case and for once was the picture of diplomacy. The joint effort led to busting the robbery ring in record time, and everyone was riding high coming back to the station.
"Three huzzahs for Sandy here," Megan said as she explained the outcome to Rafe and Henri with Jim looking on. Then she turned and dipped Blair, giving him a big smooch on the cheek before letting him up. "It was his idea to re-interview Cabot himself with sonny-boy in attendance. Turned out to be mighty revealing... The kid was in business for himself doing the black market thing using the old man's contacts."
Blair did the shuffle and grin, casting a look over at Jim. Jim smiled, a proud smile, but the corners of his eyes were turned down, and he quickly spun back to his computer.
Megan wanted to take everyone out for drinks. Jim begged off, saying he was tired.
When Blair cabbed himself home later he found Jim lying in wait. He'd barely hung up his jacket when Jim grabbed him and pulled him over to the couch, shoving him against the back. Jim planted a kiss on him—demanding, hot, all tongue and teeth—and sent Blair into a helpless state of arousal within moments.
Then Jim dropped to his knees and reached for the fly of Blair's jeans.
"Jim, what the—"
Jim reached up and put a palm over his mouth. "Yes or no, Chief. You up for this?"
Blair nodded automatically and dipped his tongue out to taste Jim's fingers. Jim hissed and pulled his hand away, then tugged the fly on Blair's jeans. He pushed down on the waist and Blair lifted himself.
Suddenly exposed in every sense, his cock hardening even further under Jim's hot eyes, Blair made an embarrassing sound of need. He saw Jim's lips curve in a predatory smile and then, before Blair had a chance to take one breath, his cock was being sucked into Jim's mouth.
Holy fucking shit. Blair clenched his hands into the back of the couch by his thighs. It was that or grab onto Jim's head and shove him deeper onto his cock, and Blair didn't think Jim could go any deeper. He was sucking, throating, tonguing every inch of Blair's cock as if he could pull the come out of Blair through sheer force.
And he could. Oh, man, he could, if he just kept doing that for about thirty more seconds. Blair held his breath on a moan but it escaped anyway through gritted teeth. He looked down just as Jim thumbed his cock at the base, his lips meeting it and making a slick, tight ring. Jim swallowed once, again, and Blair closed his eyes and shot hard and long, his hips shifting involuntarily as he tried to pump the contents of his balls down Jim's throat.
"Jesus. Jesus," Blair moaned as Jim continued milking him efficiently with mouth and hand. Finally, he released him, and Blair fought not to sag down the side of the couch onto his knees.
Jim pulled away, and Blair watched him swallow before he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He was breathing heavily.
"Man, Jim, when you make up your mind, you make up your mind."
Jim bent his head.
"Come on up here."
Rising to his feet, Jim leaned over, offering his lips. Blair kissed him, licking the corner of his mouth to capture the come trapped in the crease before plunging in full bore. He tasted good in Jim's mouth. He let his hand wander down Jim's chest en route to the heavy cock he'd never gotten more than a glimpse of.
But Jim caught his hand. "Not now, Chief." His voice was hoarse.
"I'm not...I'm still getting over that kick in the nuts." Jim was staring over Blair's shoulder, a hint of a flush on his neck.
Oh. Shit. Blair processed for a second. "So? We could still go upstairs, mess around..." he said coaxingly.
Jim froze and then gave him a look of total incomprehension. "What? Why?"
"Jeez, because I want to, Jim. It'd be fun. I mean, I know you're still not all better, but man, there's nothing wrong with some good, old-fashioned making out."
The flush deepened on Jim's neck. "I don't know if...I mean, if I can't perform—" He cut himself off and walked toward the kitchen, tension in his shoulders.
Blair trailed behind and accepted the chilled bottle of water Jim passed him from the fridge. "Again: so? Is that the only reason?"
Jim gave him a narrow glance over the lip of his bottle.
"I mean, haven't you ever just messed around without doing anything?"
"Well, sure, but not with—"
Jim made a frustrated noise. "I mean, guys expect—"
"I'm not a guy. Well, wait, retract that—" Blair tried not to smile when Jim widened his eyes mockingly. "I'm not just any guy, okay? Am I?"
Jim shook his head slowly. He made an aborted move to run his hand over his face.
"Ribs still hurt, huh?"
"I just can't move around so well," Jim admitted.
"So, okay, nothing strenuous, just two guys necking on the bed. Think you can handle it?"
In a way, Blair was looking forward to it. He'd never admit it to Jim, but the idea of just snuggling with him was a huge turn-on. Jim seemed like he'd be good at it. And there was just so much of him to snuggle with.
"Come on, let's get to it."
For once Blair got the bathroom first, and was already upstairs and on what he considered to be his side of the bed when Jim made the rounds of the loft. The familiar perimeter check was followed by Jim's slow tread up the stairs.
He was in his bathrobe, and shrugged it off to drape it over the chair. His boxers were navy blue, almost indecently short, definitely silk.
Blair wondered what it felt like to have sentinel senses and always have silk sliding against your balls and cock. Suddenly he was jealous of Jim's underwear.
"Hey," he said before Jim could get into bed, "lose the shorts."
Jim flicked him a look and turned his back, slipping off the shorts as he sat down on the bed. Blair got only a split-second look at the muscular ass before Jim was sliding under the sheet. He balled up his underwear and tossed them onto the chair.
Blair rolled onto his side and shifted closer, putting his hand on Jim's shoulder. The muscles were tense under his fingers.
Have to do something about that. Blair leaned his weight on one elbow and as Jim turned his head, captured his mouth.
Jim tasted of Tom's spearmint toothpaste, which was strange because Blair had used the very same toothpaste just minutes before. But it was fresh in Jim's mouth, and so was the Jim-sweetness underneath that he'd come to love so much.
Blair nudged closer and rested his body along Jim's side. With a light hand, he stroked down Jim's chest and ribs.
Jim broke the kiss and pulled away. "Sorry, this isn't gonna work."
"I told you, no pressure, Jim."
Stiffly, Jim said, "It's not that. It's—I'm still tender, okay?"
Blair sat up in surprise. "Jim...I swear I barely touched you. Are your dials okay?"
The big muscle on Jim's jaw flexed as he gritted his teeth. "They're fine. Everything's five-by-five, Professor."
"Then what's the deal, man?" Blair's guilt made him a little impatient.
"Nothing. There's no deal," Jim said shortly. "Turn off the light so we can get some shut-eye."
Blair didn't move to comply, his brain busy chewing over the problem. He couldn't have possibly hurt Jim with such a light touch. "If you'd just tell me—"
"—what's going on, maybe I could help, Jim."
Jim turned over with a groan and planted his face in the pillow. "You're such a goddamn pit-bull," he muttered, muffled.
"Naw, I'm more of a mutt."
"Yeah, like White Fang." Jim turned his head and showed his teeth.
"Ah, a well-read man. I knew you were hiding some brain under that brawn."
"Yep, I'm highly edurcated."
"Shut up and tell me what's going on."
"Now if that's not a confusing set of instructions—"
"Stop it. Just stop."
Jim stopped and sighed into the pillow before turning slowly onto his back once again. His maneuvers were doing interesting things to the sheet, but before Blair could take advantage of the view, Jim pulled it back up to his waist.
"It didn't hurt, exactly. You didn't hurt me, Chief," Jim said, reassurance in his voice. "But it's like my skin expected it to. It's always about to hurt. And that hurts, because my muscles tighten up automatically. I can't control it."
"Wow. Weird." Blair's analytical mind was piqued. "Is it a senses thing? I mean, you said it wasn't your dials, but—"
"It's not the dials. It's a...it's a something else thing."
"Something else." Blair shifted down so he was lying on his side again, keeping some distance between them.
"But I guess it is a sense thing, in a way," Jim said reluctantly. "Because this didn't happen to me after any of the other times."
"Were there a lot of 'other times'?"
Jim waved his hand. "Doesn't matter." He turned his head and squinted at him. "The thing is, usually after a day or two I've forgotten the worst of it, but this time...it's like-it's like..."
After a few moments, Blair made an encouraging sound.
Jim sighed, and then the words seemed to flow out of him. "It's like my skin fucking remembers everything. Perfectly. Every single fucking thing that happened—it's all there. Like how we go through the exercise to recall a tone of voice or whatever? Except this time it's a physical recall. It's driving me crazy." His fists clenched. "My skin won't let me forget."
"Shit. That just sucks."
"Especially since I've been really dying to hold you."
Jim's eyes widened, then he said gruffly, "You're such a romantic, Sandburg."
"Yup," Blair said unashamedly.
For some reason, the plain admission seemed to shock Jim even more than the original statement.
Blair smiled. "So I guess we'd better figure this out quick."
Jim seemed to relax. "It's up to you, Professor. I'm just the poor, brain-dead lab monkey, remember?"
"Larry's gonna be so jealous." Blair thought for a moment. "Well, the obvious solution that comes to mind is replacing the memories. Give your skin something better to remember."
Jim shifted uncomfortably. "Oo-kay."
"Hey, no pain, no gain."
The glare Jim fired at him could've melted asbestos. Then his eyes narrowed. "Hmm," he said thoughtfully, "did I ever tell you about the time out on maneuvers when we caught a bunch of tarantulas to sneak into our drill sergeant's bunk?"
"Oh, those crazy army hijinks."
"Just keep it in mind, Sarge."
"I'll do that. Here goes nothing," Blair muttered under his breath. He started by just trailing his fingertips over Jim's chest, watching in fascination as the skin twitched, muscles flexing under his touch. Blair looked up and saw Jim had scrunched his face in a grimace, teeth bared. His fascination fled.
"Hang on a sec." Blair rolled off the bed and went over to Jim's bureau. He opened the top drawer and brought back a pair of Jim's silky boxers, the black ones.
"Those are my shorts, Chief." Jim's eyebrows were drawn together.
"Yup. They're clean, aren't they?"
Jim nodded slowly, his eyes widening when Blair carefully dragged the soft material across his chest.
"Oh." Jim's exclamation was soft.
Blair lifted the shorts and saw that Jim's nipples had tightened to hard points. That's more like it. He smiled and continued, drawing the silk over and down, around the rippled abs and along his sides.
Jim made another sound, a pleasure-filled sigh, and Blair's grin widened. He gloved his hand with the silk and stroked Jim's arm, his sternum, then rubbed his silk-covered fingertips over Jim's hard nipples. Jim moaned a little and his back arched.
Blair took it as an invitation, and he reached down with his other hand and dragged the sheet from Jim's waist, getting an eyeful at last of Jim's cock, half-erect and heavy against his thigh. Blair snuck a peek at Jim's face and saw something gleaming there in the ice blue eyes that made his breathing go short.
"Can I?" Blair said, almost too soft.
Jim nodded and looked down at Blair's hand as he trailed the soft material lower until it brushed Jim's cock. Jim shivered and made a small sound.
Jim shook his head. "Wait." He reached down and covered his balls protectively with his hand.
"Jim, I'm not going to hurt you—"
"I know, Sandburg." Jim made a frustrated noise. "Just...tell that to my balls, okay?"
"Okay." Blair leaned over a little. "Dear Jim's balls—"
"Hmm. I don't think they can hear me, Jim, you've got 'em covered up."
Jim slowly moved his hand away.
"Okay." Blair leaned lower so the sensitive skin would pick up the heat of his breath. "Hi, Jim's balls. I want to make friends."
The textured skin wrinkled, seemed to crawl.
"I won't hurt you," Blair said reassuringly. "I want to make you feel good."
"I'm sure they would be happy about that," Jim said, his voice husky. "Hang on a second."
He moved his hand again, taking hold of the sac and rolling the testicles within almost roughly.
"Hey, be careful with my new pals, there," Blair said.
"I want to make sure there's no real damage left," Jim said. "Prove it to myself."
Watching Jim handle himself was doing things to Blair's own cock, and he shifted his legs, making room. He saw Jim give a glance over.
"You want me to take care of that?"
"Nuh-uh. Nice try, but no dice." Blair brushed the boxers against Jim's thigh. "You ready?"
"Okay." Jim's hands dropped to his sides.
"'S gonna feel good, Jim. Nothing but good."
Still, Jim's stomach moved in a silent gasp when Blair swept the boxers over his cock and balls.
Blair started talking. "Drives me crazy thinking about you all day with that silk next to you, touching you. Wanna put my hand down your pants in the bull pen and feel for myself."
Jim groaned, and his cock lifted the silk slightly. Blair laid his hand over the material and closed his fingers around Jim's hard-on, but lightly, like a cage, tucking the silk around the sturdy shaft.
"Jesus," Jim said breathlessly.
Blair pulled the silk down until just the head peeked from the black. He bent over and stroked the pre-come from Jim's cock with his tongue, delighting in Jim's fervid gasp. Then Blair bunched the silk in his hand and cradled Jim's balls in the softness, applying no real pressure. He bent lower and sucked just the head of Jim's cock into his mouth.
Jim's arms flexed, and Blair could hear the sheet twisting beneath his fingers.
Keeping up the light cradling action below, Blair took more Jim's cock in his mouth, reveling in the salty musk and the thickness bulging his lips. He was finally loving Jim with his mouth, and Jim was squirming, his panting like begging.
Blair bobbed his head patiently, swirling under the head then pressing against the shaft with the flat of his tongue until Jim barked a warning.
Warm, bitter seed spilled into Blair's mouth. There was a lot of it, and Blair paused to swallow quickly. Jim's groan sounded almost painful, but he kept coming, his thick spunk coating Blair's tongue.
"Mmm," Blair said approvingly. He transferred the boxers to his other hand and wrapped them around his own cock. The silk was warm from Jim's body heat, and it felt heavenly against his shaft. He pumped a few times then pulled his mouth away and moaned out loud as he came hard, soaking the silk.
Jim gave a final, weary moan, and Blair scrambled up carefully to kiss him.
"All okay?" Blair had to ask.
"Oh, yeah. Long time...coming." Jim laughed a little at his own joke, and Blair had to resist punching him in the arm. Instead, he pressed the damp, wadded-up boxers there.
Jim craned his head down, his nostrils flaring.
"Did you just cream my boxers, Sandburg?"
"Yeah." Blair was grinning.
"Hmph." Jim took them from him and made a face, tossing them next to the stairs. "I think we'd better go shopping."
"Uh-huh." Possibilities clouded Blair's brain, making his dick twitch. His shopping plans did not involve Macy's. So many things to try on a sentinel...
He roused himself to get the light, and then moved close and gingerly put his arm over Jim's waist. "This okay?"
"Sure thing," Jim said, but his stomach muscles were tense under Blair's arm.
Blair reluctantly started to pull away, but Jim said, "It's okay, Blair."
"Maybe we should try some more therapy soon," Blair said.
Jim put his hand on Blair's forearm. "Sounds like a plan. I gotta say I prefer your kind of therapy to Peters'."
Blair laughed. "You'd better, Ellison. You'd just better."
"No doubt about it, Chief."
And Jim's hand pressed him close.