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Clearly, For the First Time

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Clearly, For the First Time

by Valentin

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Jim Ellison strode through the doors of Cascade General's Emergency unit, barely acknowledging the three fingers held aloft by the admitting nurse and missing altogether her smile at his sotto voce fulminations.

He glanced through the window before entering treatment room three, but he didn't need to see the resident's reactions to know that Blair Sandburg, unofficial holder of the Cascade record for serial head injuries, was beginning to regain consciousness.

"Goddammit, Sandburg," he began, halting at the resident's gesture.

"Welcome back, Mr. Sandburg," the resident said -- unnecessarily loudly, Jim thought -- as his charge's eyes fluttered open and swept the room confusedly before focusing on the doctor's quick and efficient movements. "I'm Dr. Gore," he continued as he worked. "How are you feeling?"

"Like somebody clocked me with a crowbar. What happened?"

"That's what I'd like to know, Chief." Blair turned his head with an effort and focused on the room's other occupant for the first time. "What's the last thing you remember?"

Blair's eyebrows drew together. "Studying for my Biology final. God, what time is it?"

He struggled upright, and paled. Dr. Gore swept the kidney bowl under his chin in the nick of time, and Jim moved automatically to hold Blair's hair out of his face while he retched weakly, finally slumping back against the pillows with a moan.

"This really bites. I hate throwing up." He rolled his eyes at Dr. Gore's dry advice not to make any fast moves. "Now you tell me. Look, I really can't miss this exam; it's 30 per cent of my final grade. Is it 3:00 yet? Oh, shit, it's still Tuesday, isn't it?"

Jim frowned. It was 10 a.m. Friday, and what Biology final, anyway? He opened his mouth to quiz his Guide, but Dr. Gore was speaking again.

"Let's just do a little orientation, okay? What's your name?"

"Blair Sandburg," came the impatient answer.

"What day is it?"

"If it's not Tuesday, I'm screwed, man."

"Who's the President?"

"What, of the United States? George Bush. I hope Bio's this easy."

Gore caught Jim's eye briefly. "What year is it, Blair?"

"1991. How long will I have to stay here? Because if I'm gonna miss my final, I'm gonna need a serious note." Blair looked from Gore to Jim and back again. "What? What?"

Jim turned to Gore. "Who brought him in?"

"A couple of undergrads; they should be in the waiting room."

"I'm going to find out what the hell happened." Turning to Blair, he continued, "I'll be back in a couple of minutes, Chief."

Blair squinted at him. "Whatever, Dr....?"

"McCay." Low, Ellison, really low. "He'll get it when he gets his memory back," he said in answer to Dr. Gore's bewildered look.

He went in search of Sandburg's saviours, accompanied by the sound of a drowsy voice asking, "Why does Dr. McCay keep calling me Chief?"

His brief interview completed, Jim had been displaced from Sandburg's room again by a self-important neurologist, paced the corridor until the admitting nurse threatened to have him tossed out and was once again in the waiting room, looking with distaste into a paper cup holding the oily, grey remains of vending machine coffee. According to the two young men who'd brought Sandburg in, he'd been running across the common to his office and had intercepted a tossed football. With his forehead. He'd dropped like a rock, and hadn't regained consciousness on the drive to the hospital.

If Jim hadn't already seen for himself that Sandburg was nowhere near death, they wouldn't have been able to pry him from the examining room. As it was, he was going to give Gore five more minutes before he started getting assertive. In the absence of any other goal-oriented activity, he set about the methodical destruction of his hapless coffee cup.

Gore showed up at four minutes, 38 seconds; Jim leaped up to follow him back to room three, and was gestured toward a seat. Jim shoved his hands into his pockets, trying not to show how badly he wanted to upend the harried-looking resident and shake the information out of him.

"Mr. Sandburg took a significant blow to the left temple, and he's definitely concussed. He has some blurriness of vision, but his pupils are equal and reactive, there's no weakness or loss of sensation in his extremities and the skull x-rays showed no fractures. I want to keep an eye on him overnight and do another skull series in the morning, but we've pretty much ruled out a profound head injury. Chances are he'll recover his memory in a few hours. You can see him in his room in ten minutes or so."

Jim wished all that positive-sounding information was making him feel better. "Is memory loss normal for this level of trauma?"

Dr. Gore hesitated, then said, "I'm not going to waste your time giving you the speech on how little is known about the brain. But the short answer to your question is that, in spite of what the soap operas would like you to believe, we just don't see significant memory loss unaccompanied by serious, and probably permanent, brain damage."

Jim was finding it very hard to breathe. Evidently Gore saw his distress, because he added quickly, "Detective, you saw Mr. Sandburg. The point is, he clearly isn't suffering from brain damage. What I'm saying is that there's no organic reason for his amnesia. Maybe his subconscious just wants an unencumbered night's sleep."

Jim thanked Gore mechanically and took a load off his suddenly inadequate knees. What the hell was it about Sandburg? Had he always been like this, or was there something in Jim's karma that was spilling over onto his partner? Jim shuddered. No way was he ever going to tell Sandburg he'd actually used the word 'karma'. Outside of its customary 'mock Sandburg' context, of course.

He poked his head into Blair's room; Sandburg was in bed, face pretty much the same colour as the sheets except for the lump at his temple, which was beginning to purple up nicely. "It's me, Chief," he said quietly, in case the kid was asleep, and nodded to the room's other occupant.

Blue eyes opened and fixed on him foggily. "Jim," he said slowly. "Your name... is Jim."

Well, that was music to the ears. "Hey, Sandburg. Your memory back?"

"Nah, the doctor told me your real name. But how often does life give you the chance to reenact a scene from a Star Trek movie? Come on in, man, quit hovering at the door."

Sandburg was even more annoying as a -- Jim did the math -- 22-year-old than he was as a 28-year-old. "How's the head, Sandburg?"

"I handled the wheelchair ride without hurling, which I suppose is some sort of progress, but it aches like a muthafuck and they can't give me anything for it because of the concussion. Gore says we live together. How did we meet? Shit, man, I wish I could see you. C'mere closer, will you?"

He should be used to Sandburg violating his personal space by now; they'd been in each other's faces, literally and figuratively, since two minutes after they'd met. He sat on the bed and leaned over awkwardly, stiffening when his face was captured and pulled to within three inches of his partner's retrousse nose. Familiar or not, it was disconcerting as hell when they were both horizontal.

"Do I pass the audition, Sandburg?" The words came out a little more harshly than he'd meant them, and his head was abruptly released.

"Sorr-ree." The slightly out-of-focus eyes closed. "Why don't you come back tomorrow when I have my memory back and I know how to act around you?"

Argh. He sat up. "I'm sorry, Chief. You usually just ignore me when I act like an asshole."

The eyes opened again, studied him. "Did I know you were an asshole when we moved in together?"

That sounded more like his Sandburg. "You'd had a few pretty good indications by then, yeah."

Blair's mouth twitched, then he grunted and closed his eyes. "Oh, fuck, my head hurts."

Jim began to trace soothing circles on the uninjured temple. After a minute the creases on Blair's brow eased, and he sighed. "Okay, I'm starting to get it now."

"Get what?" Jim was becoming hypnotized by the motion of his fingers, the feel of Blair's skin contrasting with that of the wispy curls at his hairline.

"We obviously have a very finely balanced...." Blair yawned hugely. "Symbiotic relationship. Didn't know I had it in me." He turned his face into Jim's hand so it cupped his cheek. His eyelids fluttered, then drifted down again. "S'nice."

Jim felt ridiculously pleased, then embarrassed by his pleasure. When your big thrill of the month was a compliment from a man with a head injury, it was way past time to look into getting a life.

He really couldn't justify spending any longer at the hospital, so he left Sandburg a note with his cell number and a promise to be back that evening. Back at the station Simon poked his head out of his office for the medical update, grunted, and told Jim not to forget to use the spell checker on his eight overdue case reports. Jim thanked him for his compassion and told him he'd pass his best wishes on to Sandburg, which elicited another grunt, this time accompanied by a rolling of the Banks eyes. He dissuaded Rhonda and Taggart from a hospital visit by pointing out that Blair wouldn't know who they were anyway, assured everyone that he would let them know when Blair got his memory back and wondered aloud if he was the only one in the room with work to do, ignoring mutters of how Hairboy was due to get his head read for choosing to live with that twenty-four/seven.

He finished up three reports, having stopped himself twice in the act of reaching for the phone to consult with Sandburg on several specifics, and hit the deli. He'd fully intended to treat himself to a giant bratwurst with sauerkraut and melted Swiss, but somehow not having Sandburg there to gross out took the pleasure out of the experience. He returned to his desk with turkey, tomato and pea sprouts on seven-grain bread thinly spread with low-fat mayo. He opened his iced tea and unwrapped his sandwich, glowering, and (to the bemusement of a nearby Henri Brown) told it to shut up before biting into it.

Five files down, three to go. He needed a chocolate bar. The phone rang for the four thousandth time. He wanted to call the hospital, but was afraid he'd wake Sandburg up. He snapped out his name.


"Blair! Are you all right?" Did you eat my last Snickers? Have you seen my green v-neck sweater? What are you thinking?

"'M'okay. Am I interrupting you?" He sounded less groggy, but a lot more subdued. Jim could hear the drone of the television in the background.

"Nah, you're doing me a favour. You know how much I love filling out...."

Blair's chuckle ended Jim's discomfited silence. "Don't sweat it, man. If you start second-guessing every word, you're gonna end up with a worse headache than me. So... how's your day going?"

Jim decoded the question effortlessly. "I've got a bunch more paperwork to do, but I could probably duck out of here for an hour or so if you want some company. Or -- a couple of people from here wanted to visit; I didn't know how you'd feel about that."

"People from there? You mean people you work with?" Blair was quiet for a moment, then sighed. "No, I guess you're right. It'd be too weird trying to figure out what to say to total strangers who know all about me." He sighed again, more loudly. "And the mature thing to do would be to tell you to wait 'til you're finished work."

"Chief, I'm a total stranger who knows all about you."

"No, you're not." Blair sounded a little surprised at Jim's observation. "Yeah, okay, you are in theory, but...." Another short silence. Jim listened as Blair fidgeted with his covers and switched the phone to his other ear. "I was going to call a couple of different people before I realized... what if we'd had, like, a huge fight and stopped talking to each other? What if I called Sal's house and asked for him, and his mother thought I was playing some horrible joke on her 'cause Sal had been killed in a car accident five years ago? God, I get knots in my stomach just thinking about the possibilities."

"Jesus, Sandburg, this is over the top even for you," Jim said, but like the bratwurst, his heart just wasn't in it. He pictured Sandburg, bruised, pale, and woebegone, and wondered how pissed Simon would be if he took the rest of the day off.

"You think? See, you'd know that kind of thing about me now. And you have a nickname for me." Blair yawned. "Daytime TV, man. Now, there's some serious brain death. Hey, how are the Jags doing? Is Orvelle still playing for them? He's my hero. Oh, you prob'ly know that...." His words were beginning to slur; it didn't surprise Jim at all to learn that Blair's preference for conversation over sleep was not of recent origin.

"Sounds like you could use a few more zees, Chief. I'm going to hang here and finish up, and I'll see you later." If only all crises of conscience could be resolved so easily.

Blair's bed was empty when Jim arrived later than he'd anticipated, having polished off the last of his paperwork in return for some personal time the next day. He deduced Sandburg's whereabouts from the closed bathroom door and was straightening the bed when a low, respectful "wow" snapped him upright.

Blair was standing in the bathroom door, wearing a look of awe and nothing else. His vision had obviously cleared up considerably, because his eyes were riveted to Jim's chest in its snug tee-shirt. Irrationally glad the bed was between the two of them, Jim crossed his arms over his chest, which only served to redirect that intense regard up to his face, then down to the area between his arms and the bed.

He resisted the urge to put his hands over his crotch. This just went to prove Sandburg had rattled a few brain cells loose. He was looking at Jim like they'd forgotten to bring dinner and Ellison was his favourite food group. Jim considered telling Sandburg he wasn't that kind of boy, except that might have embarrassed the kid. Yeah, that was the reason, all right. Instead he said with remarkable calm, "Isn't that outfit a little drafty, there, Chief?"

"What? Oh. I was just looking myself over. I got old, man." Blair shuddered, then pointed downward. "Hey! Do you know what this is?"

Jim's gaze followed the direction of the finger. "You mean you don't? I thought the doc said you didn't have brain damage."

One of the unwritten 'guy laws' stated that while a brief and casual glance at another guy's equipment was, if not specifically encouraged, then certainly not frowned upon, a more lingering look was definitely an invitation. Unless, of course, the look itself was invited for any number of reasons safely within the non-courtship subcategories of mutual guy behaviour. Using the opportunity to make fun of the inviter while in fact taking him up on his invitation was, in Jim's view, definitely the best of all possible worlds.

While not precisely standing at attention, Sandburg's cock had definitely liked what its owner had seen when he'd given Jim that once-over. It was, Jim had observed more than once in the past, an excellent representation of the genre: well-shaped, nothing pretentious, nice substantial scrotum beneath it, the whole framed in a generous tangle of chestnut curls. He was roused from his scrutiny by Sandburg's derisive snort.

"Ha-ha, funny. I'm talking about the scar. It looks pretty recent." He sat on the bed, drawing up his leg to examine the scar more closely. Jim weighed how much he could say without sparking off a full evening of questions that would all be irrelevant in the morning anyway, and finally told him he'd gotten it in an accident. Blair wondered rhetorically if he was incredibly clumsy or just unlucky, and Jim told him he'd been wondering the same thing for almost three years. Which started a renewed spate of questions on how they'd met, until Blair remembered another reason why he'd been in the bathroom naked.

"I was just about to give myself a sink bath but I'd way rather have a shower and I'm still kinda dizzy so the nurse said you could spot me when you got here, okay? C'mon." He collected towel and soap and wrapped his hospital gown around himself without tying it. Jim wished he'd thought to stop by the loft and bring Sandburg his dressing gown. He followed Sandburg down the corridor to the communal shower; it proved to be a small room with just enough space between the cubicle and the door to hold Jim, who was himself soon holding Blair's towel and gown and watching his partner's rear end disappear behind the plastic curtain.

"Hey, Jim? Maybe you should get undressed and come in here with me, because, you know, just in case."

Jim yanked open the shower curtain expecting to be rescuing a pale and swaying Sandburg from abrupt confrontation with yet another unforgiving surface, but his partner seemed remarkably steady on his feet. The eyes he turned on Jim were bright with curiosity and desire, and something else Jim refused to identify.

Damn, the kid was a horndog at any age. Jim was very grateful this state of affairs would end tomorrow when he got his memory back, because he was finding Sandburg's efforts at seduction frighteningly effective. He really needed to go home and think about what the hell that meant. And why he wasn't disabusing this Sandburg-in-training of the notion that they were lovers.

And what he was going to say when Sandburg got his memory back and asked him the same question.

"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to flirt with strangers?" he growled, and pulled the shower curtain closed.

Blair was ready to get back into bed when they reached his room; he grumbled dozily at the injustice of it when all he'd done all day was sleep, and his roommate had been released so they had the room to themselves and everything. He tossed his wet towel and dirty gown haphazardly toward a chair, then drooped at the side of the bed until Jim scared him up a clean gown from a linen cart in the corridor and tied him into it.

"Gotta go, Chief." He checked to make sure the kid had an extra blanket or three at the foot of the bed. "Nurses are going to come and turf me out any minute now."

Blair's snicker was muffled by the covers Jim was adjusting around him. "Yeah, like that's going to happen. You're a legend in here, man. They're all either hot for you or scared of you. Come up here and rub my head a while, will you? I'd like to get some sleep before they start shining their flashlights in my eyes."

Jim's body was getting comfortable in the bed space Sandburg cleared for him even as his mouth was opening to say he didn't think it was such a good idea. Blair shuffled around until he found the optimum head-rub position on Jim's shoulder, sighing happily as the tension eased beneath Jim's fingers. Jim stroked his forehead and reflected on the incremental dampening of his shirt with each gently expelled breath against his chest, and concluded that this touchy-feely stuff was even more terrifying than the whole seduction thing.

He waved the nurse away and roused Sandburg himself the first time, telling him not to hit on the entire nursing staff while he was gone and that he'd be back for him in the morning, promising to bring fresh clothing, and tucking another blanket around him when he grouched about the cold spot Jim was creating by leaving. He was almost out the door when Blair said, almost inaudibly, "I think I did good this time, Ma."

The soft, private words nearly deafened him.

His remarkable talent for repression, bolstered by his utter terror of confronting the rapid evolution of his feelings toward his friend, allowed him to put the whole thing out of his mind for the night, and the next morning Jim was able to face the continuing AWOL status of Sandburg's memory with equanimity.

Since the newest skull pictures were clear, however, there was no real reason to keep Blair in the hospital, and he was practically dancing with impatience to see where and how he lived. He was delighted with their proximity to the beach and university, gleeful to learn that he owned a car, and wide-eyed at his first sight of the loft. He dropped his backpack by the door and walked around the living room, finally stopping in front of a small carving he'd told Jim he'd acquired in his teens.

"Wow. It's home, isn't it?"

Ladies and gentlemen, that ugly grinding noise you hear is Jim Ellison's conscience kicking in. "Blair, we need to get some things straight."

"I know, Jim, just not right this minute, okay? There's so much to process -- I really need to take it a piece at a time. Okay?"

"Fair enough. But tonight we talk, right?" Now that he'd decided he couldn't continue to allow Sandburg to labour under his misapprehension, he really wanted to get it over with. Blair's request had thrown him off-guard; what was he supposed to do if the kid started coming on to him again?

"You want something to drink?" Maybe keeping the kitchen counter between them would help. He rinsed and filled the kettle, then splashed much of its contents over himself when he turned to find Blair a foot away, staring at him with the same look he'd worn in the shower.

Blair smiled guilelessly and removed the kettle from his nerveless hands, setting it down on the stove with barely a glance. "Why don't we get you out of that wet shirt?" He leaned against Jim's thigh and popped the buttons out of their holes with the skill and speed of long practice.

Oh, this wasn't good.

"Oh, man, this is gonna be good." Jim wasn't sure whether Blair was talking to himself or to Jim as he gazed with shining eyes at the curves revealed by the shirt, which was somehow on its way to the floor. Jim wondered a little wildly how he, a Ranger with covert ops training, had allowed the opposing force to get between himself and the only escape route. He decided that vaulting over the counter was beneath his dignity, and finally settled on a 'we're all guys here' saunter toward the relative safety of his bedroom.

He was pulling on a long-sleeved tee-shirt when the call came in. "Chief, I gotta go. Hanks and Siskell are moving early -- look, I'll explain when I get back. I don't know how long I'll be. Are you going to be all right alone?" He couldn't decide whether to bless Hanks and Siskell or curse them. He guessed he'd settle for arresting them.

"S'okay, Jim. One of the nurses told me you're a cop." Which explained why Blair hadn't asked Jim that question. "Kinda freaked me out when I heard, but I'm cool with it now. Do you need me to come along?"

"No, this should be fairly... why would you ask me that?" Jim looked into Blair's eyes, wondering as he did if he expected to see evidence of Sandburg's brain downloading. All he got was a frown and an averted glance.

"It just felt like something I should say. I wish you didn't have to leave. I was hoping we could...." He held his arms wide to illustrate the abundance of things he was hoping they could have done. Jim felt as though he'd just stepped back from the edge of a precipice.

"Well, you're starting to look a little wiped again, anyway, so rest, okay? Try not to nap too much, though, or you won't sleep tonight. I stocked the fridge before I picked you up, so there's lots to eat. Lay off the beer for a couple of days, just to be on the safe side. The doc said you could go ahead and take some aspirin if you needed it." He spoke a little absently, already gearing up for the coming confrontation.

"Have you always taken care of me like this?" Jim looked around, expecting that Sandburg was angry or making fun of him, but he was looking back like he'd never seen Jim before. Which was almost true, after all.

"We pretty much take care of each other in our own ways. You kept me from being flattened by a garbage truck the day we met. Usually you're just telling me to quit acting like an evil stepfather."

"Huh. Maybe getting beaned changed my perspective." Blair drew close again, and Jim felt the ground begin to give way. He groped behind him for the reassuring solidity of the doorknob. "I'm sure I'll be feeling a lot better by the time you get home, Jim."

As usual, the paperwork took longer than the actual bust. Jim knew it was more hazardous to his well-being. He couldn't wait for Sandburg to get back online, even if... no, he wasn't going to go there. This Sandburg was only 22, which made him even more of a kid than Jim's Sandburg was. Jailbait, practically. So what if he'd suddenly turned into sex on a stick? Jim was old enough to be his father. Well, if he'd been half as precocious as a teenager as Sandburg apparently had.

And it wasn't that Sandburg had really changed, anyway; it was just that he'd started treating Jim like sex on a stick. Not only was Jim the next thing to a chickenhawk, he was a grotesquely needy chickenhawk-wannabe who obviously wouldn't hesitate to take advantage of a kid who wasn't even in his right mind.

How had he travelled from being terrorized to acting like he might have viable options here? He sighed heavily, quit stalling and went home.

He couldn't imagine why it hadn't occurred to him that Sandburg would be upstairs in his bed, asleep over one of his textbooks. He'd showered and washed his hair; it was still a little damp, cool where it touched his bare skin. Jim knew this because his fingers had somehow found their way first to a curl, then to the shoulder it rested on. He rescued the glasses from their precarious perch on the tip of Blair's nose, and was trying to ease the heavy book away when Blair stirred and slid his fingers through Jim's.

"Good, you're home." He yawned and pushed his free hand through his hair. "What was I thinking when I grew this? Do you know how long it takes to comb the knots out?"

Jim pulled a ringlet straight, let it bob free. "You're complaining to the wrong guy here, Chief. From where I'm sitting, too much hair doesn't read like a problem."

"This isn't a problem, it's a three-ring circus. You like my hair like this?" The answer to this question seemed important to him, and Jim allowed himself a brief moment of gratification.

"Well, sure I do. I've been yanking it out of drains for more than two years, and I haven't shaved your head in the middle of the night yet, have I?"

Blair narrowed his eyes at him, then released his hand, allowing him to remove the book, and wriggled down in the bed. "What time is it? You get anything to eat? I fixed some spaghetti I can nuke for you." He threw back the covers, frowning when Jim hastily averted his eyes. "Yesterday at the hospital I got the idea that you liked the way I look naked. I like it when you look at me. I like being naked around you. I'd like it even better if you were naked, too. Naked and touching me. That would be the best of all. You can start with my head again, and work your way down. Hey!"

The last was called to Jim's retreating back as he sped down the stairs, trying not to hyperventilate.

"Jim, please don't run away." The low voice stopped him in his tracks, hand reaching for his keys. "I won't come down there, I promise. Just don't leave, okay? Take off your coat and sit down and just listen to me for a minute. Then you can take all the time you need to think or whatever, okay?"

Jim hung up his coat and moved numbly to the chair. Had he seriously thought he was ready to deal with this? Chickenhawk. Chickenshit was more like it.

He stared down at his fingernails. If he looked up, he would see Sandburg's hair spiralling over his pillows. If he pulled out his fingernails and set fire to the stumps, it would be a whole lot less painful way to spend the next ten minutes. Sandburg seemed to divine that he was as ready as he'd ever be, because he sat up, carefully keeping his back to Jim, and started talking.

"When you came into my room yesterday, I knew you. I don't mean you looked familiar to me, even from three inches away, but I just knew you were essential to me. When I saw you clearly for the first time, making my bed for God's sake, my heart actually did that leaping thing they write about in romance novels. Then when you looked at me, and you wanted me... I'd spent the whole day worrying about whether I'd get my memory back, how much time I'd lost, whether I knew any of the people who were in my life now, what the hell my life could be like now. When I saw how important I was to you none of that mattered any more, because if I'd been able to make you love me, I must have done something right, you know? and I knew it would all work out." There was a long silence. "Before I say anything else, you have to promise me you're not going to leave, Jim." His voice was anxious, and he rocked nervously in the bed.

This was not in the Ellison game plan. He was supposed to be telling Sandburg that he'd imagined it, that all he'd seen in Jim's eyes was ordinary, everyday concern for a friend and that they'd have a good laugh over it together when he got his memory back.

But he should have said it yesterday; he'd missed his chance to do it and get away clean. Turned out that his ordinary, everyday Sandburg was a special deluxe Sandburg in disguise. He had x-ray eyes that looked at the ordinary, everyday Jim and saw right down to the special deluxe secret he'd buried so deep he'd even hidden it from himself: the whole idiotic thing had never been about sex at all.

Jim was a dead man.

Dead men don't argue, so he promised.

"I just didn't know, Jim. I mean, I knew I loved you, but I didn't know I... there was always all this other stuff in the way, your senses and the diss and the Blessed Protector and the garbage truck and Incacha passing on the way of the shaman, and I couldn't see past it when I looked at either of us until that football took all the other stuff out of the way, and then there it was, so obvious that I just can't figure out how I could have missed it all this time.

"And even though all that stuff was back when I woke up this morning it was still there, Jim, just as clear as it was when the only two things I knew for sure about the world were that I love you, and you love me. So I couldn't tell you I'd gotten my memory back yet because you would have pretended that everything was the same as before, and it's not, and it can't ever be again now, because I can't not see that you love me. So okay, I didn't tell the truth about my memory, but every other word I said to you today is true, I swear. This is home, and I want us to take care of each other, and I want to be naked with you and make love with you and lie up here with you watching you sleep."

He expelled what breath he had left in a brief sigh. "Okay. I'm finished."

Wait a minute. Jim had been flagellating himself for being a step above a child molester, and Blair had been fucking with him? Well, fuck. That little prick didn't know the meaning of 'head injury'. He took a few deep breaths.

"What am I supposed to say here, Blair? You've been jerkin' my chain all day --"

"Whoa, I've spent less than two hours with you, man, and I would have told you earlier if you hadn't --"

"So somehow this is my fault because I had to work?"

Blair had turned around and was scowling down at him through the balcony railings. "Don't be such a dickhead, Ellison! I lied to you for two hours. How long have you been lying to yourself?"

Jim took the stairs two at a time and stared down at Blair from the foot of the bed. He was kneeling, oblivious to the way the tumbled covers revealed the massing of curls below his belly.

"Did it ever occur to you at any point during your little trip through the Magic Kingdom that you might have been wrong about what you thought you saw?"

"Not for a second. Give it up, man. I've been around, you know. I'm pushing thirty. I'm a trained observer. I know what I saw. I know what I'm seeing right now. You love me and I love you, and I have big plans for your ass, man, so take off your clothes and let's get busy."

His salacious grin disappeared, and he grew serious. "Jim, how much more complicated could our lives possibly get? We already know the worst of each other. There are no more surprises left. There's nothing to be afraid of. When we say good night to each other from now on, we'll just be saying it from the same bed." The grin returned. "When you snore, I won't have to come all the way upstairs to make you turn over."

Jim sat heavily on the bed. "Blair, it's not that easy for me. I'm still trying to figure out how the hell you got this far into my life and under my skin. I can't just say, 'well, I'm already in this up to my neck, why not stick my head under?' I can't stick my head under, because I need to be able to breathe."

Blair abandoned the covers and straddled Jim's lap. Tugging gently on Jim's chin until his lips parted, Blair tilted his head, and, barely touching Jim's lips with his own, blew a soft puff of air into his mouth. He pulled away and said, "See, Jim? It's called buddy breathing. Is there anything else I can help you with before you get undressed?"

Hadn't Blair said something once about stepping off a merry-go-round and on to a roller coaster? "I love you, Sandburg," Jim said, incapable of stopping himself, and watched while the ground dropped away under his feet..

"Well, duh, Jim," the object of his affections responded gently.

"Think I could get another demonstration of that buddy breathing?"

"It's most effective when both parties are naked, Jim." He pushed his filling erection against Jim's belt buckle, and yelped.

"I see what you mean," Jim said solemnly, and surrendered to his aggrieved Guide's demands that it be kissed better. He'd spread Sandburg out on the bed and was occupied with this mutually agreeable first aid when a sudden thought sat him up again. "You've done this before, right?"

Blowing his hair out of his face, Blair struggled up onto his elbows. "Jim, I'm an anthropologist. Alternative lifestyles are the norm where I come from."

"So you keep telling me. You've done this before, right?"

"Sure, well. You know. Most of it."

Jim loved it when Sandburg turned red like that. "So when you say 'most of it', you're talking about...?"

"Jim! Do we have to talk about this now?"

"When else? Look, I just don't want to hurt you or something. You got a problem with that?"

"Geeze, Jim, this is so not the time for you to get all Blessed Protector on me! Can we try and get a little romantic here? I've never been fucked! I've never fucked a guy! I want you to stop talking, take your clothes off before I die of old age or frustration and fuck me!"

"Why, Sandburg, you romantic little devil," Jim said, grinning. Blair launched his naked self at Jim with a howl and stripped him with ruthless efficiency and many highly complimentary moans of awestruck delight.

Jesus wept. Nobody had ever licked Jim's abs before. It was either torture or ecstasy. His dick cast the deciding vote and ordered a replay. However, it was past time he had his tongue in Sandburg's mouth and his hands on that fine butt.

If Jim had been harbouring any illusions that his superior experience made him the natural leader on this expedition, Blair wasted no time in dispelling them. He would later remember the next three or so hours as a haze of fragrantly steamy flesh, gasped orders and somewhat dazed efforts on his part just to keep up.

One image, though, would be emblazoned on his memory until they laid him in his grave: Blair on his stomach, face partly obscured by his hair and knees drawn up under him, eager to take Jim inside himself, and the sound of his voice saying Jim's name as Jim's cock pierced him for the first time. Wanting to feel it for himself, he'd laced his fingers with Jim's and together they'd explored the joining of Jim's body with his. Jim had pressed gently, gently into him under their linked hands, and when he could press in no further Jim was the one whose eyes were suspiciously bright.

But Blair had clearly been waiting too long for this to waste any time on sentiment, because when he said get busy he meant it, and when Jim protested they didn't have to try every illustration in the gay Kama Sutra the first time out Blair told him to shut up and get on his knees, and Jim did.

Even when Blair finally acceded to his weak plea for mercy and they subsided on to the wreck of their bed, the Sandburg fingers didn't lose contact with him, scratching lightly across his belly, threading through the thatch below to cradle his pleasantly sensitive genitals, nudging his thighs open to play tenderly with the softened furl of muscle that had pleasured him moments earlier.

Jim groaned loudly even as his hips tilted toward Blair's hand. "Sandburg, I'll never make it to 40 without some down time!"

"I can't help it, Jim," he responded earnestly. "Your butt's just calling me home."

"Not only is nobody home here, the porch light's not even on. What you're getting is the automatic motion sensor."

"Maybe it's the answering machine." Blair studied the area in question. "I'd better leave a message." His finger crept inside and wriggled, and Jim's cock stirred. This time his groan was positively blood-curdling.

"If you're going to turn me into a shadow of my former self, you could at least feed me," he grumbled. He wondered if Blair had a clue how ridiculously happy Jim was, sore ass and raw dick notwithstanding.

"Cool. I'll nuke you that spaghetti. Do not think about getting dressed while I'm gone." He slid off the bed and whistled down the stairs, and Jim turned on to his stomach to watch his bare-assed short-order cook at work. Look at the size of the hickey he'd laid on that fuzzy butt. Blair glanced up just then as though he'd felt his lover's regard, and blazed a grin at him.

God, please don't let me fuck this up.