Pain defined his existence. It was all he knew, drowning his memories, consuming his senses, robbing him of sense. Deep within the core of it, he floundered, yearning for release; seeking but finding no respite, no way out, despite his desperation.
A voice intruded: “Breathe, Jim.” The tide of agony drifted with the soothing words; in, out, in again, out a little more - waves on the shore of relief. “Come on, man, you can do it. There you go, that’s it. Stay with me…”
“Blair,” Jim managed to croak out, homing in on the sound; finding a sudden pocket of air above the surface of the maelstrom, along with his own voice. Gasping helplessly, he grabbed at the lifeline, and fought for control.
“Hey,” Blair’s voice came again, a beacon in the scorching blackness amid the ebb and flow of his suffering. Blair sounded tense and scared to Jim’s sensitive ears, but Jim could hear that he was trying hard to hide it. “That’s great, Jim! You did it. Just keep breathing, huh? Slow and steady. Get your breath back, man.”
The all-consuming torment was receding steadily now, as Jim surfaced toward the blessed relief implicit within Blair’s tone, following his partner’s instructions without question. As his control stabilized, the wash of pain pulled back and localized within two intense rock-pools of agony – his right temple and left thigh. Visualizing the dial for pain that Blair had once taught him to use so successfully, he ruthlessly wrenched it down as far as he could, which to some extent also mitigated the searing hotness of the air rasping in and out of his lungs.
The first thing he noticed, now that he was fully conscious, was that he couldn’t see a thing. “Sandburg,” he demanded. “What’s going on?”
He heard Blair take a deep breath himself, an eternity of relief in the sound. “You were shot, man, in the leg. You hit your head going down. You’ve been out a while – I think you were partially zoned on the pain.”
Jim couldn’t recall what had brought them to this place. The air was rank and stifling, searing his raw throat. “Chief,” he pleaded hoarsely. “Tell me what the hell happened.”
“What do you remember?”
What, indeed? Jim’s head felt stuffed with cotton, and it was an effort to think. He’d had information, he vaguely remembered. Something about a drug runner who had been on the Most Wanted list for what seemed like forever. “I got a call,” he said, as the memory took shape. “From Tonks. He said he had information about a deal going down that would give us Roberto Vasquez’s head on a platter.” He winced as the memory dribbled back. “Tonks didn’t show. But I heard a noise, turned around...” He tailed off. “That’s it, Chief.”
Sandburg filled in the blanks. “We were on the docks,” he reminded, in a voice reeking of forced calm. “They shot you before you had a chance to turn, man…” Blair faltered, then rallied. “In the leg. You hit your head when you went down. Then they threw us in here. We’re in a shipping container.”
That explained the pitch blackness in this place. And beneath Blair’s words, Jim heard a whole other story which was as yet untold. Concentrating furiously, despite the fact that it made his head throb with pain, Jim looked around, seeking a slither or a crack – even the minutest of light sources - to help him discern their surroundings. But to his dismay, there was nothing. Not even a pinpoint of light which he could utilize to enable his hyperactive vision to kick in – because even sentinels could not see in the total absence of light.
The effort had, at least, cleared his head a little more, and he realized he was lying down with his head resting on Sandburg’s thigh. Using his sense of touch, he could feel a constriction high up around the thigh of his wounded leg - a makeshift tourniquet of some kind.
A very real danger over and above his own injuries had begun to niggle at Jim, now he understood their predicament. “How long,” he asked, “have we been in here?”
He could feel the movement in Blair’s body as his partner shrugged. “It’s hard to tell. Maybe about an hour, I guess.”
It had been midday when they had arrived at the docks, Jim remembered. Bright sunlight; not a cloud in the sky. “Sandburg,” he queried. “Is this container out on the docks, or in some kind of a warehouse?”
“Out on the docks, man. Why?”
“Doesn’t matter, Chief,” Jim hedged. But what Blair told him led to one inescapable conclusion. Not even a slither of light, despite this container being out under the midday, midsummer sun. No gaps in its structure, not even a crack – and that meant no air getting in, hence the stuffiness of the air. Unless they got out of here in time, they were going to suffocate - and that was only if the heat didn’t kill them first.
Sandburg, it seemed, either hadn’t registered their greatest danger, or was, for the moment, ignoring it. “I did what I could, Jim, for your leg. I’m pretty sure the bullet went right through – there’s an exit wound. I managed to stop the bleeding, I think. I tried to do the same thing you did for me in the mine that time, when I got shot. But I’m no medic, man. I’d feel a whole lot better if you could check it out yourself. Do you feel up to it?”
“Sure.” Blair’s voice told of his underlying lack of confidence, but extending his senses, Jim could feel that the bleeding had, indeed, stopped. He moved experimentally, meaning to sit up. A strong arm helped him maneuver his torso upright, and Blair held him there, a solid buttress, while Jim’s head spun.
“Easy, man. Give yourself a minute,” Blair instructed, as Jim swallowed his sudden nausea. A steadying hand flattened itself on Jim’s forehead. “Deep breaths, Jim. Easy.” Blair’s voice was calm now, suddenly confident, just as he usually was when he was focused on taking care of Jim.
After a moment, Jim’s head stopped spinning, and he reached experimental fingers out to the constriction around his thigh. A belt; tight, but not too tight. Just enough pressure to stop the bleeding, but not enough to inflict lasting damage to the soft tissues underneath it. Good.
His hands crept further down, to a makeshift pressure bandage, secured tightly around his leg over both the entrance and exit wounds. Feeling the fabric with his sensitive fingers, Jim recognized the texture of some kind of cotton fabric, which he guessed to be the tee-shirt Blair had been wearing. There had been a little seepage, but it seemed to have stopped.
Jim slumped back again, and insistent hands helped him lie back down against Blair’s thigh. “You did a good job, Chief,” Jim praised, his voice breathy from the brief exertion.
“Thanks.” Blair’s relief was unmistakable.
As he reclined once more against Blair’s jean-clad leg, Jim could feel the heat of his partner’s body, and smell the sweat pouring out of him. Even though Jim’s face was not in contact with Blair’s stomach, he was close enough to sense that Sandburg was bare from the waist up, confirming that his partner had used his tee-shirt to bind Jim’s leg.
It was so damned hot in here, and Jim’s mouth was as dry as a desert, but he didn’t bother to ask if there was any water - he knew Sandburg would have offered it if there had been any. Instead, he asked, “Did you check this place out?”
Jim felt the slight vibration through his own body as the other man nodded. “Yeah, I checked. There’s only one exit, and it’s locked. The locking mechanism is on the outside. There’s no way out, unless someone lets us out.”
“Okay.” That was good enough for Jim – if Blair said they were trapped, they were trapped. And it wasn’t as if he was in any shape to double check – the truth was, he felt like shit. Even the brief effort it had taken him to sit up and check out Blair’s makeshift first-aid had robbed him of strength. He’d undoubtedly suffered some considerable blood loss, and had been unconscious for at least an hour. Neither injury was a trifling matter.
And that wasn’t even taking account of the effect that oxygen depletion, heatstroke and dehydration had in store for them both, if their captors didn’t come back soon.
His rumination on their plight exhibited critical gaps in Jim’s knowledge. “Sandburg,” he demanded. “Tell me what happened after I was knocked out. Do you know who attacked us? And why did they lock us in here?”
“There were four guys.” He felt Blair shake his head in disgust. “They shot you before you even had a chance to turn round and see them, man.”
“What happened next?” Jim prompted.
“You fell and I… I thought you were dead at first. You weren’t moving. Then the one guy – a Hispanic guy, the one in charge – he told two of his goons to pick you up. The other one kept a gun on me. It was then I noticed you bleeding from your leg, and realized what had happened – that you’d been knocked out accidentally. The guy – the boss man – was pissed, because he’d wanted you hurt but conscious.”
“Go on,” Jim encouraged, hearing reluctance behind Blair’s words.
“They, uh, got a little rough with you, trying to bring you round. I objected, and so they kinda got a little rough with me too.”
Concern flared. “Are you okay? Chief, did they hurt you?”
“No!” Blair was emphatic. “No, I’m fine. Just a few bruises, that’s all. But…” he tailed off, as if embarrassed. “I did something you need to know about.”
Blair sounded so abject, Jim was immediately worried. “Chief?” he queried.
“Once they realized I wasn’t going to tell them what they wanted to hear, they stopped beating up on me. They held a gun to your head, said they were going to kill you, man…”
“Blair?” Jim kept his tone neutral. “What did you tell them?”
“They wanted the address of a safe house, where someone called Rick Wright was being kept.”
The name was familiar. Jim searched his memory, trying to make the connection. “Rick Wright,” he thought out loud. “He’s a bookie. He agreed to roll over on his boss, a mobster called Renaldo.” Jim frowned. “That wasn’t my case, Chief. Why would they think I’d know where Wright is?”
“They, uh, seemed to think you were Rafe, man. It was his case, right?”
They thought he was Rafe? “Didn’t they look at my I.D.?” The weight of his badge was still attached to Jim’s belt - he could feel it. Surely those dumb asses had examined it?
“No, man. They seemed sure they had the right guy. They didn’t even bother to check it.”
This was getting weirder by the minute. “So what did you tell them?”
Blair sighed. “I thought that if they realized they had the wrong cop, they’d just kill us outright, and go after Rafe as well. I, uh, didn’t try to put them right, you know? I just said I working with you, and convinced them that I knew where the safe house was too. I gave them an address. Obviously not the one they wanted, but they shouldn’t know that yet – it’s a cabin a friend of mine owns, way out in the boonies. He’s away on an expedition right now, so it’s empty. Should take them about four hours to get there.”
And four hours to get back, Jim deduced. By which time the two of them would likely be dead, unless they managed to get out of this death trap in the meantime. “Why didn’t they just shoot us both, once they got the information?”
He sensed Blair’s shrug. “They said they hadn’t finished with us. I don’t know why.”
Jim had his suspicions. It was ‘him’ they’d wanted to question, and they might still intend to do so, believing that he had other information they wanted; not realizing that the conditions in which they had confined them would be likely to kill them both. On the other hand, they might have decided that a merciful death was too good for a cop and his ride-along, and had purposefully put them in here to die slowly and painfully.
His thoughts were interrupted by Blair’s pensive exclamation. “Jeez, man, it’s hot in here.”
“Yeah.” It was, Jim knew, likely to get hotter, and the air in here was already stale and getting staler. It was time to get busy, and try and figure out a way out of this predicament, before both of them succumbed. “Chief?” he said, “Is there anything in here with us? Anything we can use, either as a weapon if they come back, or to help get us out of here?”
“I, uh, didn’t check it out completely, man – I just tried the doors. It took me a while to see to your leg and get the bleeding stopped. I was about to start feeling my way around when you started to wake up.”
There was no time to lose, but Jim wasn’t feeling too great. “I don’t think I can be much help right now, okay? So I need you to do this. Start with the perimeter. Move around the sides of this thing, and see if there are any crates, boxes, whatever.”
“Okay.” Blair shifted, although before he moved his leg out completely from under Jim’s head, the rustle of fabric spoke of him balling up his jacket. The makeshift pillow was slid under Jim’s head, and a sweaty palm rested for a moment on the side of Jim’s neck reassuringly. “Just take it easy, all right?” There was some indefinable emotion in Blair’s voice, and Jim realized his partner was probably not as unaware of their danger as he’d hoped.
Jim reached up, and covered Blair’s hand with his own. “Hey,” he said gently. “I’m not going anywhere, buddy.”
He heard Blair swallow, and the sound of his jaw clenching around words he evidently decided to suppress. Then, “Okay. I’m gonna get this show on the road.”
The next few minutes were taken up with Blair fumbling blindly around the container, traversing the rectangular space in a sweeper pattern, searching for anything that might be of use to them. It didn’t take long, as it very quickly became clear that the container was empty of anything at all other than the two captives.
Despite the briefness of his foray, Blair was panting with exertion by the time he moved back to Jim’s side. “Sorry, man,” he gasped. “Looks like we’re stuck here for now.”
Jim could hear Blair’s heart pounding rapidly, and reaching out with one hand, he connected with his partner’s bare arm. “Chief,” he urged. “Come over here. Lie down for a minute.”
“Okay.” It was perhaps a measure of how exhausted Blair was by the heat that he complied without protest. Jim winced in sympathy as Blair lay back, imagining his bare torso contacting the hot metal underneath them, but realized in the same moment that actually they were both lying on a square of carpet. A somewhat incongruous item in here, but unlikely, he suspected - despite the slight relief from burning metal it accorded them - to have been put here for their comfort.
Blair’s feverish body heat burned into Jim’s side from an inch away as his partner lay down. Jim heard skin rubbing on skin as the man beside him flung an arm over his face, wiping the sweat from his brow with his forearm. His heart, Jim could hear, was still racing. “I guess,” Blair said, with little optimism in his voice, “we just wait to be let out of here, huh?”
“Yeah,” Jim breathed, the words hot on his tongue. “I guess so.”
There was a pause, gravid with shared understanding. But like Jim, Blair didn’t seem willing to make it real with words just yet. Instead, his voice was filled with sudden hope. “Oh, hey,” he said. “How about you listen outside, see if anyone’s around? If we make enough noise, shout and bang on the sides of this thing, if someone’s out there, they’ll hear us, right?”
Jim wondered why he hadn’t thought of trying it before – but he supposed head injuries, combined with blood loss, excessive heat and oxygen depletion, didn’t tend to facilitate rational thought. “I’ll give it a shot,” he agreed, and extended his senses outwards.
It was like a kind of torture. He could hear the breeze off the sea as it whistled around the docks, and the sound of the water lapping against the harbor wall. Above and around them, the cry of gulls and other seabirds. If he were to piggyback his senses of smell and taste onto his hearing, he almost believed he’d be able to tap into the fresh summer air, just feet away from where they lay slowly asphyxiating.
Wrenching his thoughts away from that tempting prospect, he focused instead on the task at hand - searching their surroundings for a potential rescuer. But his search was in vain. The nearest living human being was at least a half mile away, way over the other side of the docks where what sounded like a fishing boat was being unloaded.
Coming back into his parched body was a jolt to the system. Jim pulled in a torturous breath, the air reeking of hot metal, sweat and blood. “I’m sorry, Chief,” he croaked. “There’s no one around.”
“Okay.” Blair sounded equally hoarse. “Thanks for trying, man.”
His partner’s heart, Jim could hear now that he had refocused on the interior of their prison, was still racing. “Hey,” Jim murmured, reaching out so that his arm brushed Sandburg’s. “Relax, okay? Someone’s got to come soon. We’re gonna get out of here, okay?”
In answer, Blair spoke in a voice that cracked. “I uh, don’t feel so good, Jim,”
Jim turned his head towards Blair’s voice, and rubbed Blair’s arm reassuringly. “Settle down,” he murmured. “Shallow breaths. It’s hot in here – you just moved too quickly, that’s all. You’ll be okay.”
“Okay.” As Blair fought for control, Jim’s hand crept downwards to grasp his partners sweaty hand in his own.
After an eternity, Blair said apologetically, “I need to check your leg again, man. I… I’ll do it in a minute, okay? I just feel, sorta weird right now.”
“Chief.” Jim squeezed the lax fingers he held in his own. “My leg is fine – I’ll tell you if there’s a problem. Conserve your strength, all right? This heat would get to anyone.”
As Sandburg complied, lying tense and sweating beside him, Jim pondered the position they were in. If the simple exertion of traversing the container had affected his partner this much, then their situation was already extremely grave. The lack of oxygen, the extreme heat and dehydration were going to kill them just as effectively as any bullet – and far less humanely - if they didn’t get out of here very soon.
As he held Sandburg’s hand in his own, Jim monitored the other man’s temperature and pulse, both of which confirmed that Blair was having a hard time in these conditions. Not for the first time, he wished Sandburg could manage his discomfort as easily as Jim could. Any other guy who’d been shot in the leg and thrown in this virtual oven would be much worse off than he, given that he was able to regulate his own pain so effectively.
For a moment, he considered letting go of his control, out of some kind of warped solidarity for Sandburg. But just as quickly, he dismissed the idea. It was better that one of them, at least, maintained a relatively clear head, in case their captors returned to finish them off, or an opportunity for escape presented itself.
Blair spoke again, his voice a raspy whisper. “How long, man, do you think we have? How much air? I mean, I know we’re sealed in here. These things are built to withstand seawater. They’re airtight.”
“If we lie still, conserve oxygen, we’ll be okay for a while longer.” No point in sugar coating it, or protesting Sandburg’s deduction. He was an intelligent guy; Jim wasn’t surprised that he’d worked it out. “The heat is our main problem.”
“Yeah,” Blair sighed. “I assumed that.” He paused. “Man, I’m thirsty.”
Jim sighed. “Me too.”
They lapsed into silence for a little while. Then Blair laughed, the sound a miserable attempt at humor. “I wish I hadn’t said that. That I’m thirsty. Now I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“Yeah, Sandburg,” Jim mock growled. “You’re not the only one. Thanks a lot.”
“Sorry.” The humor was gone, quicker than Jim expected. Sandburg was usually pretty good at giving as good as he got in terms of witty banter when in dire straits – god knew, he’d had enough practice. Instead, he sounded miserable and guilty. “I’m sorry, Jim. I shouldn’t have-”
“Hey,” Jim interrupted. “It’s okay, Blair. We’re in this together, all right?”
Sandburg didn’t answer, but his hand stirred in Jim’s, the fingers tightening their slippery hold. Jim squeezed back, hoping to instill some optimism, but it was difficult when he didn’t really feel any himself.
Time passed. Apart from the occasional word of murmured enquiry after each other’s well-being, they lay still and quiet, both of them trying to keep calm, taking shallow breaths to conserve oxygen. Mostly, they communicated by touch, lying hand-in-hand, their joined body heat adding to the torture, but both of them oddly reluctant to let go.
As their confinement continued, the atmosphere was beginning to get more and more unbearable, even for Jim, who had managed to keep his senses on an even keel so far; thanks to Sandburg’s lessons in control. He dreaded to think what it must be like for Blair, although he guessed from his partner’s regular panting breaths that he was falling back on some of the meditation techniques he favored. Jim fervently hoped that it gave him some relief.
Periodically, Jim extended his senses outwards, listening for friend or foe; rescuer or executioner. At this point in time, in this stifling, agonizing hell, either would be welcome. But he listened in vain. This part of the docks was deserted and empty, the only living beings the birds which thronged the sound.
His reverie was interrupted when Blair spoke. “Jim,” he rasped. “I have to tell you something. Just in case… well, you know.”
Blair’s pulse was racing again, and his breathing was labored. Hoping that getting whatever it was off his chest would calm him down once more, Jim prompted, “Yeah? What is it, Chief?”
“I don’t want to make you mad, all right? But I need to say this. I don’t want to… to die, not ever having said it.”
Jim squeezed Blair’s hand again, the fingers on both their hands feeling wet and swollen and bulbous in the heat. “Whatever it is, Chief,” Jim promised, “I won’t get mad. Okay?”
There was silence again, and Jim could almost hear the wheels turning as Blair tried to decide how to drop his bombshell in the most tactful way. Jim decided to throw his partner a bone, under the circumstances. He really didn’t think they were going to last much longer, given the sweltering thickness of what little air was left. “Sandburg?” he said. “I think I know what it is, all right? And I want you to know, I’m not shocked, or disgusted, or upset. In fact,” he added wryly, “I’m actually pretty flattered.”
Blair’s heart audibly skipped a beat. “How do you know?” he asked in a small voice.
“How could I not?” Jim smiled, and tried to convey the fact in his voice, his fingers once again tightening on Blair’s. “You taught me well, Chief. I can tell when a man is lying, when he’s scared, when he’s aroused. What made you think I couldn’t tell any of those things about you?”
“Pheromones.” Blair’s embarrassment was tinged with awe.
“Yeah, “ Jim agreed. “Pheromones. We’d be in the truck, or I’d be standing in line ahead of you, or getting out of the shower. And you’d start leaking them all over the place. It was you, remember, who taught me to recognize them for what they are, and control my response to them.”
“Oh, man.” Blair’s… embarrassment? Shame? Seemed to have come to the fore. “I’m sorry, man. That has to have been, uh, distracting, to say the least.”
“It’s okay,” Jim soothed. “Not a problem.”
“Are you sure? I mean, didn’t it annoy you? You’re not upset?”
Jim smiled sadly. “It’s a shame you’re not a sentinel, Chief. Because then you’d know the answer to that. You’re not the only one who speaks fluent hormonal.” As he spoke, he inched his body closer, and leaned up on one arm, ignoring the increased heat and sluggish air even this close above their heads. He put out his hand, and palmed Sandburg’s face, finding it unerringly in the dark. “Maybe this will help you understand how I feel about it,” Jim murmured, as his lips descended.
As first kisses went, it was probably the most imperfect one Jim had ever experienced. Blair stiffened in surprise as they made contact, his mouth dry and cracked on Jim’s. Then his lips opened, the exhalation a rush of desiccated heat in Jim’s mouth, as his hands closed around Jim’s back, pulling him close. Their need drove them on, their mouths dueling in desperation. And just out of sight of the frantic, clumsy clacking of teeth, and abrading of arid skin rubbing arid skin, Jim’s grief was profound - they’d both waited a long time for this, and this was as good as it was ever going to get.
After a while, Jim pulled back, and placed a dry, chaste kiss at the corner of Blair’s mouth, his hand moving to stroke Blair’s sopping, stringy hair from his brow. “Just in case you don’t get it,” he whispered, “I love you.”
Blair was gasping, unable to speak. Partly, Jim guessed, due to his strong emotion at what had just occurred, but also due to discomfort, dread of the death that awaited them and the effects of the rapidly depleting air. Things were only going to get worse from here on in, and Jim desperately wanted to spare his friend – his lover, even though this was all the chance they’d ever get to consummate their relationship – as much of the worst of it as he could.
“Close your eyes,” Jim whispered, still stroking back the hair he’d secretly longed to touch for what felt like forever, imagining it glistening with health, highlights glinting in the sunlight, instead of soaked with sweat and stinking of fear. “Trust me.” Jim’s hand moved downwards to Blair’s neck. As his mouth descended again onto Blair’s, he said it again, his sandpaper-dry lips abrading his partner’s: “I love you.” And as Jim pressed down with his mouth, kissing Blair once more with all the passion he could muster, his hand found the pressure point he was searching for – just there - and he pressed.
Blair didn’t fight him – whether because of his exhaustion or his unconditional trust, Jim didn’t know. It took twenty, maybe thirty seconds, before Blair’s lips stopped moving under his and went slack. Jim pulled back, and slumped down beside him, the exertion having brought him to the end of his own endurance.
Reaching out, Jim once more took Blair’s hand in his, feeling the sluggish pulse underneath his fingers. It was far, far better, he knew, that Blair face the end unconscious instead of awake and terrified, fighting helplessly for every breath, knowing every time he inhaled that this one might be his last.
And as for Jim – well, he had his own means of escape.
Smiling sadly, resigned to his fate, Jim extended his senses outward, seeking the sound of the waves and the gulls, and the wind off the sea.
The wind sounded strange. It should be wild, untamed; not regular like this.
Even as the thought occurred to him, the sound faltered; hitching like breath. In fact, rather surreally, Jim found that he could influence the pattern with his breath.
It was his breath.
With that epiphany, awareness returned with a jolt. Something constricted his face, pressed upon it, and as he soared upwards from the depths of darkness, he panicked, scrabbling furiously to pull it away.
“Jim!” Strong hands restrained him, and he knew a moment more of panic until he recognized the voice - Simon. “Stop it! Settle down.” His captain sounded pissed or worried – it was often hard to tell the difference with him. “Take it easy, detective!” The stern command, however, with its reminder of rank, reinstalled the simple order of things and, responding to the authority in Simon’s voice instinctively, Jim relaxed.
After a few deep breaths – during which he determined that the thing over his face was an oxygen mask - Jim opened his eyes. He had to admit, as a vague memory of recent enforced blindness trickled in, that Simon’s face was the most welcome sight he had ever seen.
“Welcome back, Jim,” Simon said. He was leaning over the bed, watching Jim’s face intently. “You with me?”
“Yeah.” Jim’s voice came out muffled, underneath the mask covering his nose and mouth. “What happened?” Even as he uttered the words, memory flooded back. The docks. A container. Unendurable heat and suffocation. A farewell kiss. He surged upright. “Sandburg!”
“Easy, lie back!” Simon was holding him again, pressing him down. “Relax, Jim,” he ordered and, as Jim complied, said the words he most needed to hear. “The kid’s one floor down. They’re treating him for heatstroke, dehydration, oxygen deprivation and contusions from a beating. Just like you, except,” he scowled unconvincingly, “you just had to get shot too.”
As Simon moved away to sit in the chair Jim guessed he had only recently vacated, Jim reached up and pulled away the corner of the oxygen mask. “I am the senior partner, sir,” he pointed out. “It’s only fair.”
“Hmph.” Simon rolled his eyes, and reached over to pour some water into a paper cup on the nightstand, and put in a straw. “Well you needed surgery,” he said. “Which is why you’re only now waking up. You had me worried there for a while, detective. You were in pretty bad shape when we pulled you out of that container. You both were.” He handed over the glass. “Here you go.”
“Thanks,” Jim said, as he took it gratefully and, moving the mask completely out of the way, sipped at it. His lips felt cracked, but the cold liquid was like nectar despite the discomfort. “How’s Blair doing?” Jim asked, once the worst of his thirst had been slaked; wishing fervently that he could go and see for himself, or that they’d both been put in the same room.
Simon grinned, doing much to dispel the formless fear which gripped him. “Your junior partner is as bad as you are,” he complained. “The minute he came round, the first thing he said was your name.”
Jim sighed, his relief immense at the news that Blair was conscious and talking – he’d been worried about the danger of brain damage, given the conditions in which they’d been confined. “That’s my boy,” he quipped.
“Yeah,” Simon agreed with a grin. “But I bet you’d never dare say that to his face.” Then he sobered. “He’s doing better now,” he said. “It was touch and go when he was first brought in – for some reason, he seemed to react worse than you to the heat and lack of air in that thing.”
“Shit.” That could have been for any number of mundane medical reasons, but Jim suspected it was more likely something to do with the fact that he was a sentinel and Blair was not. Jim had proved himself to be resilient in the event of injury time and time again, as well as quick to heal. And despite having lost copious amounts of blood from his bullet wound, Jim had quite evidently weathered the excruciating conditions in the container with far more ease than Blair.
Simon carried on, oblivious to Jim’s ruminations. “Once they got him on oxygen, and brought his temperature down, he recovered quickly enough. He woke up about four hours after being admitted, and started bullying the nurses about being allowed to see you. So I guess you could say he’s pretty much back to normal. For him,” he added. “They’re keeping him in for observation for one more night – but they’ve said he can most likely go home tomorrow.”
Jim’s relief was all consuming. Blair had made it. They’d both made it. Curious and grateful beyond words, he asked, “How did you find us?”
“It’s complicated.” Simon shook his head. “You were contacted by a ‘snitch’, right? Guy called Tonks?”
“Yeah,” Jim confirmed. “I heard about him through some of my other contacts - they swore he was on the level. When he called, he said he had information about Vasquez, and asked me to meet him at the docks.”
“Yeah,” Simon acknowledged. “Well, it turns out that Tonks isn’t what he seems. He’s a Fed; been in deep cover for the past eighteen months, trying to flush out Vasquez. The whole thing was a ruse, only it didn’t go down quite like it was intended.”
“You can say that again,” Jim muttered. “The guys who attacked us assumed I was Rafe. What the hell was that about?”
Simon sighed. “It was supposed to be Rafe that Tonks called; not you – because Rafe was in on the sting. And our friendly neighborhood Fed was supposed to be there at the meet – but something came up, and he didn’t make it, so he didn’t get to see that he’d called in the wrong cop, or where they put you two for cold storage. By the time he realized what had happened, it was too late. We ended up going through every goddamned container on the dock, looking for you. Just our luck that yours was in the last area we searched.”
“Cold storage.” Jim shook his head. “That a joke, sir?”
Simon fished out a cigar. “You better believe it, detective.” He clamped the noxious thing between his teeth, looking smug. “The old ones are the good ones.”
“Well, Simon,” Jim remarked, relaxing back against his pillows, secure in the belief that his captain had no doubt ripped ‘Tonks’ and his handlers a new one. “You would know.”
Jim must have slept, because the next thing he knew, the oxygen mask had been removed, and his room was lit by a dim nightlight. A silent, shadowy figure sat by his bed, and it took no effort on his part to work out who it was. “Sandburg,” he rasped. “What the hell are you doing out of bed?”
Sandburg jumped, startled by Jim’s voice, his eyes wide, dark pools in the half-light. “Oh, hey man!” Blair’s heart was racing again, evident with only a very cursory extension of Jim’s hearing. “Did I wake you?”
“No. No, you didn’t.” Feeling a little contrite at having caused his partner’s startlement, Jim added, in a more conciliatory tone, “Actually, Chief, I’m pleased to see you. It’s good to see that you’re all right. But shouldn’t you be resting? Simon told me you’ve been pretty sick.”
“I’m fine,” Blair said firmly. “I’m going home tomorrow, But what about you, man? How’s the pain? Because I’ve been wondering about how the drugs they’ve got you on are affecting you. Like that time you hurt your shoulder, then got kidnapped by that guy Oliver, your reactions were fairly atypical-”
“Whoa, slow down, Chief!” Jim interjected. “I don’t think you took a breath there. I’m fine, okay? The leg’s fine. Everything’s fine. I’m feeling no pain. Between whatever they’re giving me and my senses, I’ve got it pretty much under control.”
“Oh.” Blair blinked. “Right. Good. That’s good.”
Blair - vital, alive, breathing - was a sight for sore eyes, after all they’d been through, and Jim tucked into the visual feast. Sandburg’s hair was tied back off his face, revealing lips as cracked as his own. Apart from that, he looked pretty good, except maybe a little tired, with a few cuts and bruises and dark circles under his eyes. Eyes, Jim realized, which were looking anywhere but at him.
“Hey,” Jim said gently, and as he could have predicted, the soft tone drew Blair’s gaze toward him at last, like a siren call.
But instead of accepting Jim’s barely articulated invitation to intimacy, Blair looked away again quickly. “I’ll leave you be. Let you get some sleep.” He stood, his eyes fixed on the wall above Jim’s head. “Night, man.” he said, as he turned away.
“Chief?” Jim queried, puzzled by Blair’s behavior. The kid tended to glue himself to Jim’s side at times like this – but suddenly it looked like he couldn’t get far enough away. Blair just kept going, not once looking at Jim; finally heading out of the door and closing it softly behind him.
Leaving Jim to wonder what the hell had just happened.
Two days later, Jim was discharged from the hospital. And he hadn’t had occasion to speak to his partner at all since the night the other man had sneaked in to sit beside his bed.
Sandburg hadn’t once been back to visit, nor had he answered Jim’s increasingly frantic phone calls, despite Simon apparently being in touch with him daily and giving no indication that he’d noticed anything to be concerned about. So Jim was both surprised and relieved when, upon arriving back at the loft, he found Sandburg’s belongings still in the places where they actually belonged; since he’d increasingly feared that his roommate might move out.
While holed up in Cascade General, Jim had tried to work out what was bugging Blair the most about their recent experience. Something had obviously pissed him off so much that he was keeping his distance even while Jim was injured – which was most certainly not his usual modus operandi.
Being trapped inside a metal box for the second time in his life, Jim guessed, couldn’t have been an easy thing for Blair to come to terms with. That was something that Jim fully understood, especially since he had his own issues surrounding that topic - ever since he’d believed for a few terrible moments that Blair had been caught in a certain elevator car explosion. But avoiding Jim because of it? That didn’t make any sense, unless Blair had finally had his fill of being constantly dragged into danger.
It could, Jim supposed, be something to do with the fact that he had used skills learned during his time in the military to knock Blair out. But surely Sandburg had to know that Jim would never do anything to purposefully hurt him, and that he had, in actual fact been trying to make a terrible situation easier for him? At the time, he hadn’t noticed Blair trying to struggle or resist. But maybe he’d simply been too weak at that point to put up a fight, and the whole thing had destroyed any trust he’d formerly had in Jim.
Then there was the third potential reason – the one that Jim kept shying away from in his thoughts. Sandburg’s oxygen-deprived confession of his feelings for Jim, and Jim’s enthusiastically positive response. Did his friend regret it, now that his secret was out? Or, more worryingly, had Jim somehow misunderstood what he’d meant, and Blair’s withdrawal from him now was based on disgust?
Simon, who had picked Jim up from the hospital and brought him home, seemed finally to have realized that things were amiss. “Kid doesn’t seem to be here,” he remarked pointedly, after steering a crutch-supported Jim to the couch and heading into the kitchen to get them both a drink. “Does he usually go into Rainier on Saturdays?”
Jim sighed, shifting his elevated leg into a more comfortable position. “Sometimes.” Until he got this thing between them sorted out, he didn’t particularly want to discuss it, even with Simon. “He’s a busy guy.”
Simon snorted. “Too busy to hover over you when you’re injured, like he usually does? I don’t think so.” He came over, handed Jim a soda. “What the hell happened in that container, Jim?”
Jim took a swig. “You’ve read my statement, sir,” he said.
“Uh huh, yours and Sandburg’s. Neither of them told me a goddamned thing, other than the bare bones.”
“Look, Simon,” Jim pleaded, “butt out, okay? And I mean that in the nicest possible way.”
Simon gave him a measuring look as he went to sit down, but thankfully didn’t push further, and to Jim’s relief their conversation turned to other matters.
It was after ten o’clock that night, as Jim was hobbling across the loft on his crutches trying to work out how he was going to make it up the stairs to go to bed, when he finally heard Sandburg’s key in the lock. Relieved, worried and pissed off in equal measure, he fixed a cold stare on his partner as he came in through the door.
Blair closed and locked it behind him, and shrugged off his coat, placing it deliberately on the hanger, before he turned round to look at Jim. “Hey,” he said.
“Busy day?” The sarcasm in Jim’s question was abundantly clear.
Blair shrugged. “I had some stuff to work through.” He still seemed to be having trouble meeting Jim’s eyes.
For some reason, that pissed Jim off more than anything else. “What’s the matter, Sandburg? Is the sight of me so fucking repulsive now that you can’t even stand to look at me?” He snorted humorlessly. “This from the guy who springs a boner every time I so much as move in his direction.”
The look of hurt that flashed across Sandburg’s face made him regret the words as soon as they were out. “That’s not it, man. That’s not it at all. I just… I just needed to process a few things, all right?”
Jim didn’t answer. He had no idea what was going through Sandburg’s head – not an unusual state of affairs, he had to admit, but the personal element made this particular situation a little harder to deal with.
After a few seconds of silence, Blair looked up. “How’s your leg?” he asked.
Jim shrugged. “Fine. As if you could care less.” A perverse part of him wanted to push Blair some more, despite the tiny inner voice urging him to cut his partner some slack. “Simon brought me home,” he put in pointedly. “He’s been in to see me every day.”
Blair closed his eyes a moment, as if ashamed. Then he opened them again, and finally, finally, made eye contact. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“Sorry for what?” Something in Sandburg’s demeanor indicated that Blair wasn’t just talking about his absence for the past few days.
“I’m sorry for making an idiot of myself in that container,” Blair clarified, his voice decisive and clipped as though he had rehearsed the words from a script. “I… I thought we were going to die, and it was a stupid, selfish thing to say. I know that, okay?”
“Sandburg…” Jim was thoroughly confused now, and utterly exasperated. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Come on, man.” Blair looked thoroughly miserable. “I remember, okay? I told you that I… that I had feelings for you, over and above the partner thing. And… man, I’m really relieved that you took it so well. What you did was an incredible gesture, Jim, generous way beyond what I could ever have expected, and I’ll always be grateful that you were prepared to do that…”
A light bulb went on. “Hang on,” Jim interrupted. “Are you saying you thought I was humoring you? That I kissed you because we were dying, out of some kind of pity thing?”
“No! No, I’m not suggesting it was pity!” Blair raised his hands, smoothing his hair back from his high forehead in a familiar, nervous gesture, his eyes wide. “I’m… look, it’s incredible, man, that you were prepared to do that for me, when we both thought it was the end. To, uh, kiss me, to let me have that be the last thing I experienced in my life. It’s… the most incredible act of friendship, all right? I appreciate that, man. But god, I’m just really sorry that I put you in that position-”
“Chief,” Jim interrupted. “Are you insane? Are you blind?”
But Jim was on a roll. “Are you, in fact, also deaf? Because I seem to remember that conversation, about what we felt for each other, going both ways. And anyway,” He shook his head in exasperation. “You’re supposed to be so fucking smart, Sandburg. What part of ‘I love you’ do you not understand? I mean, you remember me saying that, right? Twice, at least?”
“You meant the, uh, brotherly kind of love, right?” Blair seemed still intent on arguing, but he definitely looked and sounded less certain, to Jim’s satisfaction. “Comrades in arms, and all that?”
Jim just shook his head. “You’re an idiot, Sandburg. A total, utter, monumental, super-sized idiot.”
Blair looked away. After a second, he looked back. “You meant it,” he said, with only a hint of uncertainty.
Jim nodded. “Finally he gets it.”
Blair swallowed. “You uh, love me.”
“In, uh, that way. The same way. Not the brotherly deal.”
Jim looked up to the heavens in gratitude. “Give the guy a cigar.”
Sandburg seemed lost for words, now that his bubble had burst, so after a few moments of quiet, during which his partner stood looking lost at the other end of the room, Jim took charge. “Come here,” he said, making sure to instill the command with everything he felt for the stupid little klutz.
It worked like a dream. Blair moved, irresistibly drawn by Jim’s desire, and as he got nearer, Jim let one crutch drop to the floor to beckon him in. Gripping Blair by the back of the neck and drawing him close, he whispered into his hair, “You got it now?” And just to make sure that the answer - once he allowed Blair the opportunity to give it - would be affirmative, Jim used the grip he had on the other man’s hair to tip Sandburg’s face up towards his, and forcefully reiterated the points he had made with his lips.
This was good, Jim decided, as Blair’s mouth hungrily sucked on his own, and their tongues fought for supremacy in a sensuous, slippery duel. This was fucking great. It might not be their first kiss, but as third kisses went, this was way up there with the best of them. Hell, it was the best – because the man whose arms were now clamped hard around him was Blair. And he had wanted to do this to Blair in what felt like forever.
It could, in fact, have gone on forever, but for the fact that Jim somehow forgot, immersed as he was in the sensuous smorgasbord of passion that Sandburg represented, that he had an injured leg. But the moment his weight unthinkingly came to bear on it, a cramping, agonizing reminder rudely put a stop to their oral communion. “Shit!” he exclaimed breathlessly, pulling away from Sandburg as his leg buckled beneath him.
“Jim!” Sandburg buoyed him up, his deceptively strong frame bearing Jim’s weight readily. “Oh, man, come on. Let’s get you lying down.” Jim didn’t resist as Sandburg moved into place as a human crutch, and steered him toward his bedroom under the stairs.
The fact that Blair’s room was their destination distracted Jim sufficiently from his rapidly diminishing pain to make him smile smugly; although he hid it from his partner. “Ow,” he exclaimed. Comfort sex. In Blair’s bed. Yeah, he could go for that. “Jesus!”
“Easy, man,” Blair soothed. “Just a few feet more, okay?”
Blair sounded so worried, so contrite, that Jim couldn’t keep up the exaggeration of his pain for too long. And the minute Blair helped him to sit on the bed, Jim couldn’t help himself – he started to laugh helplessly.
Blair looked at him, uncertainty once again on his face. “Jim?” he queried, sounding tentative and embarrassed.
The hurt in his voice sobered Jim immediately. Blair thought Jim had been ragging on him; that this whole thing was a big joke at his expense. Christ, why was this guy so fucking insecure about his place in Jim’s life?
He needed to dispel that misconception right away.
Reaching up, Jim took hold of Sandburg’s arm, and yanked hard. As the other man’s weight landed on top of him, Jim fell backwards, and used both arms to pull Sandburg close. “I love you,” he said, his eyes boring into Blair’s, whose startled face was just inches from his own, “and I’ll keep saying it until you get it.” Jim smiled warmly, as Blair’s uncertain expression was gradually replaced by shy pleasure. “Where were we, Chief,” he asked gently, rubbing Blair’s back reassuringly, “before we were so rudely interrupted?”
It seemed that Blair had no problem getting the answer to that question correct. In fact, his enthusiasm took Jim’s breath away. And as Blair’s delicious taste once more filled Jim’s mouth, the almost unendurable ache in Jim's groin intensified, as his sweatpants-covered crotch pressed hard against Blair’s jeans-clad erection.
Jim desperately wanted to thrust up into that iron heat, but the angle was wrong, and with his injured leg, he couldn’t get enough leverage. Thankfully, though, Blair seemed aware of the problem. Pulling back a little from Jim’s mouth, he murmured, “Let’s get comfortable, man.” The huskiness of his rich, deep voice, and the sight of his heavy lidded eyes, almost all pupil with arousal, robbed Jim of any desire but that of doing his bidding.
The loss of Blair’s weight and heat on top of him was replaced by insistent hands which urged him to turn, helping him move by supporting his bad leg, so that he was lying properly on the bed with his head on the pillows. Once he was positioned, Blair gazed down at him as though he was a puzzle to be deciphered; a mystery to be solved. Or, maybe, prey to be devoured. And something about the calculating look in Blair’s eye made Jim’s heart beat faster with excitement.
He’d always secretly liked it when Blair got pushy.
Suddenly, decisively, Blair swooped. Beginning at Jim’s throat, deft fingers opened the buttons of his shirt, moving inexorably downwards until they were all undone. The two flaps were pushed open, and a warm, confident hand ran over the fabric of Jim’s white undershirt, grazing his cotton covered nipples and making Jim shiver with delight.
Blair’s eyes - hungry, assertive – lifted to Jim’s, and whatever the younger man saw there made him smile. “Lift up a little,” he ordered, and as he looked back intently at Jim’s chest, both his hands tugged at the hem of Jim’s undershirt, rolling it up. Jim obediently arched his back, enabling Blair to push it up as far as it would go, baring most of his torso to Blair’s rapt gaze.
Jesus. Jim felt more naked like this than if Blair had completely stripped him; his shirt open and his undershirt pushed up to just above his nipples. He felt so vulnerable, and so incredibly turned on, that when Blair’s hand finally flattened on the bare skin of his stomach, it sent a jolt straight to his cock, and made him cry out helplessly.
Jim was panting now, as Blair traced the peaks and valleys of his chest with both hands, an intent look of predatory hunger on his face. Blair’s lips were parted, as though in wonder, and Jim couldn’t take his eyes off that mouth; wishing that Blair would use it soon in places he hadn’t yet touched.
As his lover’s hands continued their relentless path, the first touch of Blair’s thumbs on Jim’s hyper-sensitive nipples made him buck and twist with unbearable sensation. In the next moment, Blair was pinching them between the thumb and forefinger of each hand, pulling and twisting in varying degrees of severity; all the time watching Jim’s face intently. “You like that, huh?”
Such a rhetorical question didn’t deserve an answer; not that Jim felt in any way capable of actual speech. Instead, he lost himself in the sensations, the pleasure/pain of the insistent tugging drawing animalistic cries from him, and causing his hips to thrust desperately and involuntarily into unsatisfyingly empty air.
Very shortly afterwards, Jim discovered that if he’d thought that that sensation on his nipples had been almost more than he could bear, the trailing silk of Blair’s hair across his chest heralded something sweeter and more terrible still. On one side, the relentless twisting and pulling continued, but on the other – oh god! - the roughness of bristles and the softness of a tongue gentling the peaked nub, then the suction… Jim felt as though he was losing his mind, every bit as helpless beneath Blair’s hands and mouth as if he’d been tied to the bed.
Jim was scarcely aware of the moment Blair swapped sides, moving across to tongue his other nipple, and resuming his digital assault on the wet and now hyper-sensitive one that his mouth had just vacated.
As the merciless torture continued, the intensity of the sensations almost robbed Jim of sense. His toes curled, and his balls pulled up, and he knew that if Blair didn’t stop right now, he would come without Blair ever having touched his cock.
It was as if Blair had read his mind. The stimulation abruptly ceased, leaving Jim dangling on the brink. Through an erotic haze, Jim saw Blair looking down at him, smiling widely. “Wow,” his tormentor breathed. “You are so fucking hot, man!”
All Jim could do in reply was pant, as the imminence of orgasm receded. Briefly, he considered begging, but it turned out to be unnecessary, as Blair wasted no time in moving further down the bed and fixing his eyes on the impressive bulge of Jim’s erection, concealed only by the thin material of his pants.
The expression on Blair’s face – which suggested that his lover was planning to devour what he saw there - finally loosed Jim’s tongue. “Please,” he croaked - it turning out that begging was going to take place anyway, despite Blair’s obvious enthusiasm for the task at hand. Blair glanced up at him, his eyes heavy with intent. The tip of a tongue emerged, moistening full lips, and Jim groaned at the sight.
“Lift up your hips,” Blair commanded, and trembling with anticipation, Jim obeyed. Blair grasped the waist of Jim’s pants with both hands, and maneuvering them carefully over the head of Jim’s weeping cock, he pulled them down. But instead of pulling them off completely, he bunched them around Jim’s knees, and pushed Jim’s hips pointedly back down onto the bed.
“Jim.” Blair’s voice contained a note of authority which churned up Jim’s insides with excitement. “Don’t move. I don’t want to hurt you.”
Jim’s cock twitched at the tone, as he nodded his agreement. Blair didn’t want to hurt his leg, he understood. But a tacit promise in the words I don’t want to hurt you suggested this time - a prospect which unexpectedly excited him beyond his wildest imaginings.
Then he lost all capacity for rational thought, as Blair’s hands pushed down on his hips, holding him firmly in place, his hair trickling like liquid fire over Jim’s thighs and groin. And the lips Jim had fantasized about for goddamn years finally, finally closed over the head of his cock.
It was too much. The hot suction became the focus of Jim’s entire world, and his whole body convulsed as he came, and came, and came.
Some indefinable time later, when Jim finally resurfaced to consciousness, he was a little disappointed to find himself alone in the bed.
His senses automatically reached out, seeking the other half of his soul, and he found him, there. In the shower, happily singing off-key.
Jim smiled. It was reassuring how some things didn’t change, despite the fucking world being turned on its head.
Lying still, so sated and relaxed he didn’t think he’d be able to move even if he wanted to, Jim listened as the water eventually shut off, and he visualized Blair stepping out and toweling off, as he tracked the sounds of those very actions.
Finally, the bathroom door opened, and Blair’s footsteps padded across the floor of the loft as he approached the bedroom where Jim lay. The French doors opened, and at last Blair entered, the aromas of seaweed and rosemary from the natural bathing products he favored wafting with him into the room.
Blair was toweling his wet hair with one hand, another towel wrapped around his waist. His eyes sought Jim’s, and the sudden smile which suffused his features was so full of love, it took Jim’s breath away.
“Hey,” Jim said gently.
“Hey, man.” Blair looked a little shy, which given what he’d just done to Jim, made no sense at all. “How do you feel?”
Jim couldn’t think of any words sufficient to actually answer that question. Instead, hoping that gestures would speak louder than words, he lifted up the edge of the comforter invitingly.
Blair didn’t hesitate. He dropped the towel that was in his hand, as well as the one around his waist, gifting Jim with a brief glimpse of dense, dark hair and a half-hard uncut cock, before he climbed in.
The unexpected sight made Jim grin and, as Blair snuggled up to his side, wrapping arms around Jim’s waist, Jim reached out and ran a finger up Blair’s stiffening length. “I thought you were Jewish, Sandburg,” he remarked, humor in his voice.
Blair chuckled, the musk of his burgeoning arousal wafting deliciously into Jim’s nostrils. “I, uh, got off on a technicality, man,” he quipped. “Actually, Naomi doesn’t believe in unnecessary body mutilation.”
“Is that right?” Jim’s hand began to happily acquaint itself with Blair’s unmodified equipment.
“Yeah.” The breathiness in Blair’s voice was a delight. “It’s uh, never been a problem for me… ahhhh!”
“I can see that.” Jim looked down at Blair fondly, as his partner writhed under his manipulations, mouth open and eyes closed in ecstasy. Monitoring Blair’s reactions closely, Jim experimented a little, varying the pressure and speed until he found the pattern that seemed to get the most favorable reaction.
After a little while, he guessed that Blair was getting close. “Hey, Chief?”
“Uh…” Startled out of his almost trance-like pre-orgasmic state, Blair seemed uncharacteristically inarticulate.
“Open your eyes,” Jim ordered, not pausing in his ministrations. “Look at me.”
Blair’s eyelids snapped open, and with some apparent difficulty, he focused on Jim’s face. “Uh,” he grunted, his breath coming faster. “Wha… Why?”
“Because,” Jim informed him, “I want to look in your eyes when I make you come.”
Blair’s eyes widened in surprise, the matter-of-fact statement apparently hitting a hot button, and he cried out convulsively, spilling all over Jim’s hand.
“There you go. Yeah,” Jim murmured softly, milking Blair through the aftershocks, drinking in the sight as the other man’s eyes misted over and finally closed once more. “That’s it, Blair.” He smiled in satisfaction. “That’s my boy.”
Lying awake in the morning light, Blair’s sleeping weight heavy in his arms, Jim decided not to brag to Simon that he’d actually said ‘that’s my boy’ to Blair last night and gotten away with it.
He looked down as his partner stirred, and sleepy blue eyes opened. Blair smiled, looking, to Jim’s besotted eyes, achingly beautiful, despite the worst case of bed-head he had ever seen. Going to bed with long, wet hair, then coming all over your partner before falling asleep was not, Jim supposed, the best way to ensure perfectly groomed tresses.
Feeling tender and protective, Jim reached out to gently smooth down the worst of it, and whispered, “Good morning.”
Blair blinked at him – a languorous, seductive blink. “Hi.”
Moving together as though synchronized, they kissed; a gentle, loving kiss, with a promise of passion to come. Jim was just leaning in to deepen it, since his dick had begun to take a keen interest in the proceedings, when his stomach growled loudly.
Blair pulled away, laughing. “Way to go with the non-verbal communication, man. How about we go get some breakfast?”
“I want to eat you.” Jim nuzzled Blair’s earlobe, enjoying the gasp that ensued when he latched onto Blair’s earrings and sucked.
But Blair, sadly, pushed him away. “I’m starving, man. Come on, get up. You use the bathroom first; I’ll start the coffee.” And, to Jim’s disappointment, he rolled out of bed, evidently far more able to ignore his morning hard-on than Jim was. And as for his ability to go from asleep to awake in five seconds flat - it was one of the things that had always pissed him off about Blair. In comparison to Jim, he was such a fucking morning person.
Still, Jim mused. It wasn’t all bad. He at least got to watch Blair’s bare ass as he bent over to retrieve his clothes. Now there was territory he was looking forward to exploring.
A little while later, they were deep into their regular morning ritual, as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened; dancing their patent choreographed routine - slightly more clumsily than usual, given the fact that Jim was using a crutch - and exchanging lighthearted banter in the kitchen as eggs, toast and coffee were made and devoured. If a little footsie was played under the table from time to time as they ate, it didn’t really disturb the status quo, leading Jim to the certain knowledge that they’d been pretty much a married couple before declarations of love had been made. The only real difference now was that they were sleeping together as well.
As Jim finished his breakfast and pushed back from the table, reaching for his crutch to lever himself up, Blair reached over and stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Jim,” he said. “I, uh, think we need to talk.”
Jim sank back into his chair. “Why am I not surprised?” he asked with a hint of amusement.
“Hey,” Blair said. “This is serious, all right? I mean, we’ve taken a pretty big step. We need to talk about it, thrash it out. Make sure we’re both on the same page.”
“Okay, Chief,” Jim nodded. “I understand that. It’s just… I’m still in the afterglow here. I don’t really feel like analyzing this thing to death just yet. Okay?”
Blair looked amused. “The afterglow,” he repeated.
“Yeah.” Jim shrugged. “I’d rather just… go with the flow. Treat it kinda… like a honeymoon. Enjoy it. See where it takes us.” As long as it’s back to bed, his inner voice added.
Blair was shaking his head. “Jim,” he said, “yesterday, I figured you probably despised me, because I lost my shit and told you I wanted to get in your pants. I thought you were straight, man. Then, last night, we virtually fucked like bunnies. All I need to know is whether this thing we’ve got going on is some, uh, momentary aberration in the sexuality of the sentinel, a kind of elemental bonding response with the guy who guides you, because we shared a near-death experience, or,” he paused, obviously hoping for the latter, “something more personal. And, um, permanent.”
Jim smiled indulgently. “What did I say a minute ago?”
“The afterglow,” Blair said, a puzzled expression on his face.
“No, Chief. After that.”
Blair thought for a minute. Then Jim saw comprehension dawn at last. “You said ‘honeymoon’.”
Jim cocked his head hopefully. “You on my page yet, Junior?”
“That depends,” Blair said, and Jim alternately shivered and rejoiced at the calculating look that came over his features. “Would that be the page where one of us gets tied up and fucked to within an inch of his life?”
Jim’s heart skipped a beat. “Uh, yeah. That’d be the one.”
Blair nodded. “Race you to the bedroom,” he said. “Last one there is on the bottom.” And before Jim could draw a breath, he moved.
“Sandburg!” Jim yelled furiously, scrabbling for his crutch as his partner disappeared rapidly into the bedroom.
But, in actual fact, this was one race he really didn’t mind losing.