Blair could imagine exactly how it would sound: his name metamorphosing into a growl, the way his partner's voice would turn husky, the way hearing his name from Jim's lips would make him melt.
He'd planned the whole thing out: how they would kiss, and touch, and tumble over the sofa, and wind up in his bed (because it was closer) or Jim's bed (because it was bigger) - either one fit into his fantasy just fine - and from there it was like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. 'If you want to give your partner a blowjob, turn to page forty-two. To be on the receiving end, turn to page fifty-one.' For assorted caresses, for light bondage, for anything else his fertile imagination could come up with, there was a mental page to turn to, a full-fleshed fantasy to bring to life.
There was only one problem: the entire string of fantasies was impossible. Jim didn't go for men.
'And even if he did,' Blair told himself almost daily, 'he wouldn't go for me.'
Saturday, 9pm. Blair was about to get lucky. His modus operandi was simple: take woman to dinner, move on to bar, buy a few drinks, slink back to her apartment, have a little fun. Tonight was someone new, a history TA named Amelia. She was cute.
Amelia nudged him with an elbow, motor coordination starting to slip, and her tipsy smile was contagious; Blair smiled back. "Glass's empty," she said, primly. He looked down at the bar; yes, her glass was certainly empty.
"You want another rum and coke?" he asked, ever the gentleman, as if his intentions weren't ultimately to get her hammered and pounce into her bed.
"Sure," she said, and he waved for the bartender. Amelia shivered. "I can feel the air from your hand when you do that," she said.
Blair paused, startled. The drink came down the bar. Amelia took a long pull on her straw.
"I think drinking makes me more sensitive," she said, enunciating carefully. "Like I feel everything more." She smiled at Blair, and some receding part of his brain reminded him that this was flirtation, that she had just lobbed the ball into his side of the court, that it was now his job to send it back: touch her arm, stroke her face, make some innuendo-laden comment, something.
He couldn't do it.
Sensitive: the word threw Amelia out of his head and replaced her with Jim. Blair blinked once or twice and then stood, placing a gentle hand on her arm, his posture apologetic. "I'm sorry, I have to go," he said. She looked at him, forehead creased, uncomprehending. He peeled a twenty-dollar bill out of his wallet and pressed it into her hand, lamely. "Sorry," he offered, on his way out.
When he got back to the loft, Jim was sprawled on the sofa watching TV.
"Thought you had a date, Chief," he said without turning his head.
Blair sighed. "I did," he said, hanging his coat carefully. "Want a beer?" Jim nodded, Blair took two from the fridge, Blair walked toward the sofa. Jim moved, hitched himself up, brought his legs closer together to make room for his partner. (His partner who, unbeknownst to him, was wishing he'd left those long legs open - 'but wait,' Blair cautioned himself, 'don't think like that around him-')
Blair sat on the arm of the sofa, both men swigged at their beer, there was a pause. "So what happened?" Jim asked finally.
"Dunno," Blair lied. "Guess I just wasn't interested."
"That's a shock," Jim teased, and Blair made a face.
"Hey, man, I'm offended!" Funny thing, he actually was, kind of. "It's not like I sleep with everything that moves, here."
Jim turned his head and raised an eyebrow. "Everything female that moves, maybe," he joked.
Blair fought the impulse to panic, and the impulse to take deep cleansing breaths, because he knew Jim would notice either one. He took a long swallow of beer instead, and it was calming. (Well, better than nothing.) Hoping his voice would sound normal, he said, "Ellison, you're so full of shit." Jim laughed, Blair was relieved (thank God, he didn't notice), they watched some M*A*S*H reruns, Blair went to bed.
Not being the one with Sentinel senses, he couldn't have known that Jim sat awake in the living room for an extra hour. He had no way of knowing Jim was silently extending his hearing to monitor Blair's breathing, to check on his heartbeat. He couldn't hear Jim's quiet exhalation, or the small sound of Jim closing his eyes and resting his head in his hands, a mute movement that showed emotion Jim refused to admit.
Sunday, 4pm. "Hey, Jim, you got plans tonight?"
"Wanna see a movie?"
"It's still the weekend and you don't have a date? What's wrong with this picture, Chief?"
"Would you lay off about that shit?"
"Sorry. Still burned from last night, huh?"
"I told you, I walked out on *her*, she didn't walk out on *me*! Fine, if you're gonna be like that, I won't ask you to the movies. So there."
"Hey, hold on. Don't act like such a teenager. What movie is it?"
"You'll like it, man, I promise. Trust me."
Sunday, 8pm. Jim was tense about going to the movies, Blair could tell. What gave it away? Maybe the jaw popping like a percussion instrument, which started as soon as they were inside the university theater—not Jim's favorite place to see a movie anyway. He said it looked more like an opium den than a movie theater, thanks to the red velvet seats and the marquee that didn't actually list movie titles. (Tonight it said "Movies" with a backwards "S," followed by a Monty Python quote.) Blair said it was quirky. Jim said it was weird. They'd had the conversation before.
Jim had a right to be tense, though. The last movie Blair had chosen was a major mistake. It had looked interesting: a young mathematician, obsessed with numbers, some Jewish mysticism thrown in, shot in black and white, real film noir. How was he supposed to know that the soundtrack was going to be grating - or that the glint from the drill onscreen, when the kid tried to poke a hole in his skull, would send Jim into a zone?
"Hey, I'm still sorry about that 'Pi' thing," Blair offered, feeling weird that they seemed to be the only ones there who weren't talking.
Jim took a breath and relaxed a little. "It's okay, Sandburg. You didn't mean to kill me." He grinned. "But I'm still going to come after you in your sleep with a drill one of these nights."
'Come after me in my sleep,' Blair thought. And then, ruefully, 'DOWN, boy.' He shifted in his seat, hoping Jim didn't notice.
"So what have you dragged me to this time?" Jim asked, sounding aggravated but somehow affectionate.
"Something appropriate to your advanced age," Blair said, and then "Ow!" as Jim socked him in the arm.
"You deserved that," Jim said as Blair rubbed the sore spot and put on his most wounded expression.
Then the lights dimmed, the crowd's chatter ceased, and "Casablanca" started rolling. Blair could feel Jim's smile of surprise through the dark.
Sunday, 11pm. "Thanks for picking a decent movie for once, Sandburg."
"I *always* pick good movies. You just can't appreciate cinematic greatness."
"'Big Meat Eater' was cinematic greatness?"
"That movie's a cult classic, man!"
"Right. Like I said. Thanks for picking a decent movie, *for once*."
"Yeah, whatever, you're welcome."
. . .
"You, ah, want a beer or a cup of tea or something?"
"No thanks, man, tomorrow's a busy day, you know, class and station both, I ought to hit the sack."
"Oh. Okay. Night, Chief."
Monday, 2pm. It was, Blair reflected later, perhaps the worst of all possible times to be caught fantasizing. Worse than at the loft, worse than playing basketball, even worse than on a stakeout. He got caught daydreaming in a meeting with Simon.
Blair had come by the station after class, expecting to find Jim there, but Jim wasn't at his desk; and before Blair had a chance to dial Jim's cell number the heavy glass door to Simon's office swung open and the familiar bark came. "Sandburg! Get in here." Obeying that voice was like reflex, Blair thought as he walked inside, and wondered idly if that was at all how Jim thought about the Guide voice, the "Come back to your body" voice. That was the thought that got him in trouble.
Because while Simon was going on, Blair didn't hear a word. His brain went straight from "Come back to your body" to "oh! That body!" and his libido was off and running. Alternate ways of calling Jim back from a zone-out. Involving touching. Lots of touching. Preferably lots of naked touching. And then Simon's voice half-penetrated his reverie.
"Sandburg? I said, what are your thoughts about Jim?"
Without thinking, Blair opened his mouth and said, "Delicious."
Simon bit his cigar so hard it almost split in two. "What?!" he yelled, and the sound of his annoyance broke into Blair's head and Blair realized he'd just said something stupid. Something really stupid, by the look on Simon's face. "Sandburg, have you been listening to a single goddamn word I've said?"
Blair had to admit that no, he hadn't. Simon glared and said, "Out."
"Hey, Simon - I mean, Captain, look, I'm sorry, I had to teach this class at eight," Blair began, ready to spin a story, but Simon shook his head.
"Out, Sandburg. Don't make me say it again."
So he went out. And found Jim at his desk, where he should have been in the first place. Aware that he was probably eight different shades of red, he mumbled a greeting and went straight to the men's room to splash water on his face. When he came back out Jim was on the phone. By the time they were actually facing each other, Jim seemed to be ignoring Blair's hasty exit, and didn't ask why he'd flown out of Simon's office like an airborne beet.
Which was, Blair told himself, just fine. He didn't want to explain that he'd just lost himself in sexual Sentinel fantasies, especially not in the middle of the bullpen. Fortunately for Blair, there was a diversion: a call came in reporting a bomb threat downtown, and he and Jim and Taggart were out the door in seconds. Even more fortunately, the threat turned out to be a false alarm - which meant everything was safe: Cascade wasn't blown up, and enough time had elapsed that Jim wasn't going to remember to ask what had made Blair so embarrassed. Blair chattered the whole way back to the station, just in case.
Tuesday, 8pm. CRASH!
"Damn it, Sandburg, that's my favorite coffee cup. *Was* my favorite coffee cup."
"I'm sorry, Jim, I don't know where my head is."
(muttered) "Obviously up your ass."
"I heard that!"
"Well, sign *you* up for Sentinel school."
"Fuck you. --Where are you going?"
"To get a broom and dustpan, Chief."
"Look, I'm sorry, okay? I'm just...distracted."
"Well, get un-distracted, Sandburg. Jesus. You'd think zone-outs were contagious or something."
"You've been zoning lately? Talk to me, man..."
Wednesday, 7:50am. The radio blared on, Blair reached blindly over and smacked the "snooze" button, silence reigned.
8am, the radio blared on again, Blair reached over again, silence again.
8:10am, radio, Blair, reach, silence.
8:20am, radio, Blair, reach, and the silence was interrupted by his door swinging open. He became aware of Jim standing over the threshold.
"Good morning, sunshine," Jim said. He was fully dressed, showered, shaved, with a cup of coffee in his hand. Blair swallowed, his mouth dry, and sat up in bed, pulling the blanket well past his waist.
"You're all dressed," he said, stupidly.
"Yes, well, I woke up half an hour ago," Jim said pointedly, "the *first* time your alarm clock went off. And even if you don't remember that you have a test to proctor in forty minutes, I do. So I figured I'd come get your sorry ass out of bed."
Blair yelped, leapt out of bed, threw himself through the door and was in the shower within twenty seconds.
All day he was distracted by the memory of Jim's voice waking him.
All day Jim was distracted by the memory of his partner's sleeping silhouette.
They both found excuses to spend the evening out, and both came home around ten. Jim unlocked the door, Blair went straight to his room and turned out the light, Jim sat on the couch and listened to his room-mate's heart finally slowing into sleep. It was becoming a ritual, guarding the bedroom door. 'Like a chance to be with Sandburg, without Sandburg knowing it,' Jim thought, and the thought both pleased and disturbed him.
Some part of Jim's mind kept worrying the question of why the kid's heart rate had tripled when he saw Jim in the hall. Sandburg's heart had spiked, he'd broken out sweating, he looked like a deer caught in somebody's headlights.
Was he angry? Was something wrong? Jim felt like there was an answer, like the explanation was hovering at the edge of his consciousness, but he couldn't quite get there.
For an instant he dared to wonder if Sandburg was distracted by the same thing he was - if Sandburg was dropping dishes and avoiding him because of...(admit it, Ellison, use the word) desire. He wondered if maybe, just maybe, there was justice in the world and this thing was mutual.
He closed the idea off firmly. No point in torturing himself. The kid brought home women like it was going out of style; he didn't bring home men. Jim forced himself to stop thinking about it, and thought about other things, and eventually went upstairs. He didn't notice that he soothed himself to sleep following a certain heartbeat, again.
Thursday, 6pm. "Can I trust you to dry dishes tonight?"
"Yeah, Jim, I think I'm up to it."
"You sure? Cause I'm not sure I can lose any more drinking glasses."
"Sure I'm sure."
. . .
"Okay, Sandburg, that's it: put the towel down."
"Shit, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Jim, I -"
"Put. The towel. Down. --And keep your hands where I can see 'em."
"Okay, okay. Towel down. Hands up. Look, I'll buy you another set of glasses, okay?"
"You're worse than that monkey."
"He wasn't a monkey!"
"Just go read a book or something, Sandburg. I'll finish the dishes."
Friday, 10am. The police station was busy as always: the sound of people striding purposefully, the squeak of someone's rubber-soled shoes, the phone ringing, the low resonance of Simon talking somewhere, the distant buzz of a radio transmitter. Even Blair could hear these things, and it made him wonder what Jim was hearing.
"Earth to Sandburg," he heard Jim say.
Blair shook his head, knocking his curls into his face. He brushed them back, unthinking. "Sorry, Jim," he said. "My mind was somewhere else."
"The same somewhere else it's been all week?" Jim asked, slightly sarcastic, but only slightly.
Blair had to laugh. "Actually, not this time," he said. "I was listening to the station and wondering what you could hear."
"Ahh. So this time you were thinking about me," Jim said, conversationally, and Blair couldn't have heard the slight hoarseness that hit Jim's voice, but Jim cleared his throat anyway. "Where's your head been all week, then? Planning tonight's conquest?"
"Damn it, Jim, will you shut up about that, I haven't had a date all week!" Blair said, realizing too late that he was almost shouting. A few heads turned, someone smothered a chuckle, Blair blushed. Quieter, this time, he continued, "I don't have plans for tonight. And I don't want any."
"Good," Jim said. "I'm making dinner again; I don't trust you to cook. *You* are telling me what the fuck is going on." From his tone, it was clear that this was not open to negotiation.
Friday, 3pm. "Blair Sandburg here."
. . .
"Hi, Amelia. How's it - what? Oh, I'm fine."
. . .
"No, not sick, I just...remembered somewhere I had to be. Prior commitment. You know."
. . .
"Tonight?—Sorry, I can't. I have plans. Maybe some other time."
. . .
"Yeah, you too. Bye."
Friday night, 7pm. Among the remains of dinner, which Jim had devoured and Blair had merely picked at, Jim stood up. Walked over to Blair. Grabbed his arm and tugged him to the sofa. Deposited himself at one end and Blair at the other. And waited, expectant.
'Okay,' Blair thought, 'I can do this. Half the truth. Just not the whole truth.' He was repeating the words to himself like a mantra.
"Jim - what would you do if..." he began aloud. Jim looked attentive, and Blair had an instant to think, 'he's really trying, isn't he?' and to think, 'God, don't let me screw this up' before he continued. Fighting panic, Blair asked, "what would you do if you really liked someone?"
Blair could see Jim biting back his original response (probably, Blair figured, something surly). What Jim actually said was, "Sandburg...is that what this is about? You *like* somebody?" He sounded like he was torn between being angry and being confused. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't you liked people before? You'd better have a better explanation than that for breaking half the crockery in my kitchen." His eyes glinted. A tiny shoot of hope worked its way into his chest.
"No, I mean," Blair hastened, "what if you really, really like someone. And you desperately want things to work. But you're not sure you're their, ah, type."
"How do you know what her type is, Sandburg?" Jim asked reasonably, and then added, sotto voce, "what, you don't think she goes for lunatics?"
Blair snorted. "I heard that one too," he informed his partner, half-annoyed, before he noticed the curl of a smile that was, despite Jim's best efforts at a stone face, making itself known. "Oh, fuck you," he said, but he was laughing, and Jim grinned.
"Gotcha," he said. There was a pause.
Blair inhaled deeply. "What if it's bigger than type," he said, praying Jim was going to get it without him having to spell it out. His prayers didn't seem to be answered; Jim looked puzzled. "I think I'm the wrong gender," Blair explained.
"You don't think your sweetheart goes for men?" Jim asked.
"Well, how do you know?"
"I've known, ah, this person for a long time," Blair said. "There's no indication of an interest in men." He was proud of how he'd phrased that: no he's, no she's, no pronouns at all.
"How long?" asked Jim. There was a hint of sharpness to the question, but Blair couldn't tell why. Blair was half-adrenalized, half frozen with panic; Jim felt he was hovering at the edge of another cliff, only without the panther for guidance this time.
"About three years," Blair said, and he wasn't sure if he was fervently hoping Jim would notice that three years was how long they'd known each other, or if he was fervently hoping Jim wouldn't make the mental leap, but he didn't say anything else until he saw Jim smirking. "What?" he asked.
"I'm just picturing you with some big, butch, six-foot, short-haired Amazon, and wondering how you've known this woman for three years and I've never heard a word about her," Jim said, managing to sound like he was teasing, like he didn't really care.
"Well, you got half that right," Blair fired back, then stopped.
Jim's voice was quiet now. "Which half's wrong, Chief?"
Blair couldn't see any good way out of this one, and he was suddenly tired of the pretense.
"I think I'm in love with a man," Blair said, looking down, "and he's straight." Blair waited for an exclamation, for some comment about all the women he'd whistled at and flirted with and brought home, for Jim's anger. He was suddenly deeply interested in the hole in his right sock, which he could work his big toe out of, and back in, and out, and back in...
"Are you sure about that?" Jim asked. Sounding calm, which he figured was proof of greater acting skills than Sandburg would probably ever give him credit for.
Blair exploded. "Sure I'm sure! I'm obsessed! I think about him every fucking minute! I'm...I'm desperate, I've never wanted anything so bad in my entire life."
"No, are you sure about him being straight," said Jim, patiently.
Blair could feel himself turning red. "Oh. Sorry, man. That was probably way more information than you wanted to know." He gave a slightly strained chuckle. "Um, yeah, I'm pretty sure. I've never seen him even look at a man. Besides, even if he were into men, he sure wouldn't be into me." Somehow it felt good to say that line aloud, given how often he'd thought it lately. Like digging at an aching tooth with your tongue and making it hurt worse, just so you know the pain is still there.
"You don't know that either," Jim replied.
"Oh, come on, Jim, look at me," Blair said, meeting his partner's eyes for the first time since Jim's "big, butch Amazon" crack. "I'm short, I'm out of shape, I don't own anything that's not flannel, I'm not handsome and I talk too fucking much." He was surprised how good it felt, in a terrible, self-slamming kind of way, to say this stuff. Which is part of why he was surprised when Jim winced.
"Don't say that, Sandburg," Jim said. His voice sounded clenched.
Blair realized his shoulders were up around his ears, and let them slump. "Why not, Jim," he said.
A pause. "I don't know who your man is," quiet, "but first of all, I think I want to rip his arms out for making you feel like this." ('Yep,' Blair thought, 'that's my Blessed Protector,' and he gave a little smile.) Jim went on, "And Blair - I think you might be wrong. If this guy knows you at all, he's probably head over heels for you. If he isn't, he's got to be crazy."
Suddenly they weren't kidding around anymore. To Blair the room seemed terribly silent. He could feel his heart going like a jackhammer, and he knew Jim could probably hear it, but he couldn't seem to make it stop. "Then why hasn't he let me know?" His voice sounded plaintive even to him.
"Maybe he doesn't think you want him to," Jim said. "Maybe he doesn't know you're interested." There was a moment's pause. "I think the first move's yours, Chief."
'Does he know what he's talking about?' Blair's mind was shouting. 'Does he know we're talking about him?!'
And - as much to quiet his frantic brain as anything - Blair took a deep breath and moved to Jim's end of the sofa, and it seemed to take forever to get there, and Blair half-expected to be punched or laughed-at, but he wasn't, and he placed a hand on the back of Jim's neck, and Jim was warm under his hand, and to his complete amazement Jim bent willingly and in the next instant they were kissing. Blair felt himself being drawn into Jim's lap, leaning on Jim's chest, and Jim's arms were around him, and they were kissing like they were the first discoverers of the kiss, like no one had ever kissed before and they needed to explore all of the possibilities.
When they broke the kiss Blair let his head fall onto Jim's shoulder. "Oh my God," he said, faintly. He was actually shaking.
From there Jim's voice rumbled beneath Blair's ear. "So this is why you spaced out in Simon's office on Monday," he said, chuckling.
Blair wrapped his arms around Jim, tighter. "Yeah," he admitted.
"'Delicious'?" Jim said, and Blair could hear the laughter in his voice, and Blair reddened.
Blair pulled back a little. "Wait a minute," he accused. "You knew? You knew about this all week?"
Jim grinned, and Blair took a breath like he was about to yell, and Jim forestalled it. "Nah," he said. "I didn't know. I heard your little chat with Simon," (and Blair had to smile, remembering) "but I didn't put the pieces together until about five minutes ago. And I still wasn't sure I was right." They kissed again.
Wheels were still turning in Blair's head. He pulled his mouth free.
"Jim?" he asked, softly, and Jim nibbled at Blair's earlobe, and Blair had to close his eyes for a minute, sighing.
"Yeah?" Jim said, breaking away, giving Blair a dizzying smile.
"You said, if he - I mean, if you - if he knows me at all, you said, he's probably, ah, head over..." Jim was kissing his neck, and Blair's coherence was slipping.
"Yes," Jim said, and went back to what he was doing.
Blair gasped. Jim had found the spot at the juncture of neck and shoulder, and oh, it felt good. "Yes?" Blair managed.
"Yes," Jim repeated, firmly. Drew Blair's skin beneath his teeth and sucked.
"Yes like 'yes, you said that,' or Yes like 'yes, you love me'?" Blair insisted.
Jim pulled away. "Yes, I love you," he said, and Blair could feel his insides melting. "And I do go for men. At least this one. And you are stunning. And I want you." Blair felt like a pile of charcoal that had just met its match. "But you were right about one thing," Jim said, running his thumb over Blair's lips.
"What's that?" Blair asked.
"You talk too much," said Jim, and his mouth sought Blair's.
And after that they didn't talk for a long, long time.