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Fruit of the Vine

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Fruit of the Vine

by Aristide

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Disclaimers: Not mi--... zzz....

Rating: NC-17 for language, m/m sex, and general lack of censorship; thank goodness.

Summary: Events transpire, followed by smut. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Acknowledgements: Huge thanks go out to Karen for courageously hurling herself into the wild world of beta, and to Bone for being both my Rock and my Hard Place. This story is dedicated with love and knowing nudges to the Powerhouse Women of the RSM.

be considered angst-frosted. Also, this is not my usual sort of thing-- this story was kind of an experiment for me, to see if I could do a few things I haven't tried before. Sentinel is just such a... flexible place, ya know? Anyway, if you don't like it, please blame my delusions, and not my betas.

Feedback: is welcome at Special thanks to all of you who have written-- your encouragement and support have been phenomenal!

Fruit of the Vine
By Aristide
July, 1999

Blair didn't really blame himself for not recognizing her right off the bat.

After all, every time he'd seen 'that CPA divorcee from the second floor', she'd always been impeccably groomed and attired-- from her upswept blonde hair to the wickedly reflective sheen of her patent leather pumps; every inch the stylish, professional woman. Glorious in a distant kind of way; polished. Gorgeous.

The woman who met him at the door, however, the woman who almost knocked him over before he managed to smack into the wall and save himself, had nothing polished about her. She was a total mess-- disheveled and weeping, her silk blouse on inside-out and tied at the midriff rather than buttoned, her skirt barely hanging on with the side zipper gaping open. Clothes and shoes, pantyhose and a purse dangled from her hand like a sad and useless shield.

But then he recognized the elegant slant of her bright blue eyes, familiar despite the fact that they were red-rimmed and widely shocked. His hands were on her shoulders before he even thought about it.

"Hey-- uh... Elaine Butler, isn't it? Whoa-- are you okay? What... what happened?" His mind went automatically into worst-case-scenario mode, but given the fact that this woman he barely knew was stumbling out of his door, the door of the loft he'd shared with Jim for almost a year now, there wasn't a whole lot he could come up with.

She leaned into him, clutching tight to him for support with her head ducked down into the hollow of his shoulder even though she was at least five inches taller than he was. He held her, and drew in one shocked breath to repeat his question--

And stopped, because she absolutely reeked of sex. Sweat and lust-wet woman smell, unmistakable.

His stomach spun dizzily. Her panic and her state of disarray should maybe have clued him in before this, yes; but somehow it hadn't really hit him until right now that this woman, this occasional-hi-in-the-hallways-and-maybe-check-out-her-legs neighbor, was in the grip of some serious trauma resulting from a sexual experience in the loft.

And presumably (since he was just arriving home, hours early since his TA meeting and his date had both fallen through), a sexual experience with Jim.

Words, high-pitched and shivery, were being mumbled into his hair. He bent his head back without letting go of her, needing to hear, needing something to steer by.

"I... oh God I didn't... I didn't mean to hurt him... I think I hurt him-- he... I... "

That was pretty much the gist of what he could make out between her gasps, but just those few words lit up a quick connection in his brain and then he knew, knew just what had happened without anything more being said. His own agitation vanished at once, and he patted her back softly.

"Hey-- easy now, it's okay... I'm sure he's fine. Uh... Jim. Does that. Epilepsy-- not very often, but sometimes..." he was getting through, he could hear her breath slowing down from panicked rabbit levels, feel her hands tighten on his arms for a moment as his words sank in.

"Ep-- Epilepsy-- Jim's an... epileptic?" She pulled away from him without letting go, and he saw cautious relief and tentative hope-- a little strange, perhaps, under the circumstances; but definitely understandable-- and for the first time he actually might have laughed, if it hadn't been such a horribly inappropriate thing to do.

"A rare kind," he offered, trying to cover the bases. "He doesn't... jerk around or anything, he just... sometimes he just freezes up. Like he's gone or... or something."

Her sigh of relief was gusty enough to blow his hair back off his shoulder. "Yes, that's it; that's exactly what happened, and I thought... I thought..."

All at once he could see her become aware of decorum-- a smooth and sudden slide to propriety, now that the real danger was over. She pulled back from him entirely and made a weak attempt to brush her hair out of her reddening face. "Oh. Well isn't this... I mean..."

"Blair Sandburg," he said quickly into the silence she left hanging, "since we've never really been properly introduced."

"Elaine Butler; but of course you know that." She smiled briefly, but it looked like it hurt her to do it.

"You must be the reason Jim's been out and about so much lately." It was a gamble-- about a fifty percent chance that the comment might embarrass her further, but the other fifty percent suggested that she might feel better about the whole thing if she knew that he knew that Jim didn't just screw women indiscriminately.

His luck was in. Her face remained brightly pink, but her smile changed to something at once more intimate and more distant-- exactly the kind of smile you save for your lover's roommate when you can't possibly avoid them any longer. "Yes, I... he's told me about you. It's... a pleasure. To meet you."

He nodded, in that particular moment hoping only that he could manage to get safely inside and close the door before the chuckles that were threatening broke through. The anguished suffering of the middle class when caught in a moment of being a human animal-- it had amused him since he was a child, and it amused him now. "Yeah. Nice to finally meet you, Elaine." He cleared his throat. "Look, I should-- I really should go shake Jim out of it--"

"Yes, of course," she began readily enough, as polite as if she were standing in the middle of a boardroom somewhere; but then a tight spasm passed over her face, and she stepped towards him, one hand out but not --quite-- touching his arm. "Oh, but perhaps I should-- I mean we were-- I mean he's--"

"It's okay," he assured her as he backed into the apartment. The urge to poke a little at her unraveling composure was just too tempting to resist, and he kept his voice lightly casual. "I've lived with the guy for a year now-- I've pretty much seen it all. I'll take care of him, Elaine; and I'm sure he'll be good as new tomorrow."

Her mouth remained in a tight, embarrassed twist, but she only nodded at him and turned to go; her back straight and her head held high. He closed the door, relieved to be able to smile.

Wry dismay at his own sad inability to transcend classism kept him occupied as he made his way towards the stairs-- that, and a certain subtle anticipatory glee at the thought that Jim was going to be totally embarrassed by this whole thing. Zoning in mid-rendezvous with a high-toned blonde goddess-- of course there was a chance that Jim wouldn't be at all able to see the humor in it; but Blair would do his level best to point it out to him. Besides-- the possibility of this sort of situation had already occurred to him, and he'd had the epilepsy excuse prepared and ready to go for some time now. As long as Jim refrained from dating medical professionals, it should hold.

However, the pattern of his thoughts and the warmth of anticipation all vanished in an instant when he hit the top of the stairs. His breath caught as suddenly as if it had been knocked out of him, and his heart gave a skittery thump deep in his chest.

He'd seen it all, he'd told her with an excess of sangfroid; and indeed, over the course of a year of living with Jim he really had seen it all at one time or another, but he'd never seen all of it quite... like... this.

Jim was flat on his back in the middle of his bed, splayed out on rucked and twisted sheets while all the auxiliary bedding and pillows had been flung here and there on the floor. He looked like ground-zero in the aftermath of some kind of carnal detonation; he looked like a freeze-frame in an upscale porno film; he looked... weirdly alluring.

His eyes were wide open. His muscular body was glazed with sweat, glistening chest barely rising and falling with the tide of his respiration. But despite the fineness of form and feature, Blair's eyes were drawn to the inescapable centerpiece of this bizarre tableau-- Jim's penis; which he knew to be fairly impressive when soft but proved to be absolutely motherfucking huge when erect-- huge, and flushed deep rosy red; slick and proud and arching, rooted in an aggressive thicket of dark hair above tight balls that seemed somehow very neat, tidily identical despite their largeness.

You have very tidy, smooth balls, Jim; I'm really impressed... His own face grew hot, and he bit the inside of his cheek. Yeah, like he was ever going to share that little revelation. Not.

Blair finally found the ability to take a breath. No, he might not share it, but he didn't really think he'd forget about it either. He'd expected to find Jim in a somewhat compromising position, yes; but... somehow he hadn't expected this. Not at all. Uneasiness stirred in him, discomfiting and strange; tickling in his lower stomach like a flock of trapped birds.

His first impulse was to go down to the second floor and talk Elaine into coming back up here-- he could instruct her easily enough, after all; give her a few pointers about how to bring Jim out of his 'fit'. He had actually turned and taken three steps down before it occurred to him that he was being cowardly (and, therefore, not very scientific). Without any prior coaching about the epilepsy angle it might be pretty damn weird for Jim to find himself being dragged out of a zone by a (relative) stranger-- and besides, Blair himself had no data, no set precedent regarding whether handing off his duties like that would actually work; and if it didn't, well, it could be a little more than just plain embarrassing for all three of them.

He shrugged, resigned; and walked up the stairs again. Jim looked just the same, of course. Blair cleared his throat.

"Hey buddy; come on back now," he began casually, "time to rise and shine-- I mean... damn..." He bit his lip again. That was either terribly funny or just plain terrible; but for the life of him he couldn't tell which. "Jim-- hey, man, you're right here, okay? Let's get it together now..."

No response. Not a twitch or an eyelid flutter or so much as a skip in that steady, shallow breathing. Blair took a small step forward. "Jim? Earth to Jim Ellison-- come on, man; come on back-- whatever it is that you zoned on, I can pretty much guarantee you it's not here now. C'mon."

Nothing. He took another step. "Jim?"

The oddly enticing quality of Jim's passive emptiness didn't dissipate at close proximity, he noticed. It drew him without thought, and before he knew it he was actually sitting on the edge of the bed, leaning over Jim, trying to determine what was different.

Because it was different, somehow-- Jim lost in a zone was always kind of horrifying; either acutely, because they were in a dangerous situation and Blair needed him whole and functioning; or mildly, because there was no danger around to distract from the eerie blankness on what was usually such an aware face. But this was different-- not horrifying at all. Just kind of... curious. Interesting, in a weird kind of way.

Blair shivered. He watched Jim. The regular, even breath, the wide eyes, the cheekbones gilded by a sheen of sweat--

He shook himself, and pulled back sharply. He should have gotten Elaine. He and Jim were intimate with each other, yes; but not this kind of intimate. He felt almost hypnotized, and yet there was an undercurrent of mortified guilt, as if he'd trespassed over some boundary.

And perhaps, even taking his academic interest into consideration, he had. The sense of transgression didn't stop him from being fascinated, however. Jim like this was... something else.

Enough. He cleared his throat. "Jim," he said softly, and put his hand on Jim's shoulder; "come back now-- listen to me, man; listen to my voice--"

And that was all it took. Jim blinked, eyes filling with warm awareness and vague confusion, suddenly locked onto his own. Blair tried to breathe. Couldn't.

The first thing that really registered was that Jim had reached out to him, that right now Jim's warm hand was cupping his jaw. Except for that simple and pleasant touch everything else seemed way too overwhelming-- because Jim didn't have a time-lag, of course, and so Jim was still lost in a sensual experience; right where the world had been when he left it.

"Blair," Jim drawled softly, rubbing one broad, strong thumb over his cheek with a touch that left behind a blazing trail of sensation. "Blair..."

His heart was pounding, and still he couldn't breathe. He'd meant to bring Jim up to the surface, but instead somehow everything had gotten mixed up and lost and now here he was, stuck in this strange in-between place with his roommate staring at him like at any moment he was going to drag him down to the bed and finish whatever he'd started earlier.

"Uh..." even that faint sound was enough to jump-start his lungs, and he pulled in a deep breath. It felt like every hair on his body stood up at once-- Jim's hand was still on his face, and the blended scents of sweat and Jim and female seashell arousal were heady; a mixed signal his body didn't quite know what to do with.

Jim blinked again, and his brows drew down a little, as if it had just occurred to him that something was not quite right here. It brought Blair far enough out of his own shock that he was able to reach up, take Jim's hand, and give it a friendly (and nothing more than friendly, he insisted) squeeze.

"Hey," he said as calmly as he could, "about time. Are you okay?"

"Um." Jim blinked again, and then with liquid speed the lazy, sensual man who had been staring at him was replaced by the familiarity of post-zone Jim: frowning, a little confused but trying like hell not to be, generally pissed at himself, and probably at the rest of the world just for good measure. "Oh fuck. Elaine-- I was with Elaine--"

"I caught up with her, downstairs," Blair cut in quickly. "She was pretty freaked out, but I told her you sometimes had these weird fits of epilepsy..."

Jim groaned, and rubbed his eyes. Blair had no idea if this was a complaint about his solution, or the whole predicament-- and he didn't care, really, as long as it gave them something to talk about besides how weird everything had been just a few moments ago.

His own relief made way for renewed embarrassment-- his toes were actually curling in his sneakers, and those wild birds were fluttering again in his stomach. He stood up quickly. "Anyway, I guess everything's fine now, so I'll just... I think I'd better... I'll see you downstairs, okay?"

"Yeah, Chief. Fine. Whatever."

Blair didn't look at Jim as he made his way over to the stairs. He was about to start down when Jim's quiet voice stopped him.


He turned. Jim had made no move to cover his erection, and it was an effort to look at Jim's eyes, only Jim's eyes, and nothing but Jim's eyes. "Uh huh?"

"That... that could have been bad. Thanks."

Jim didn't look embarrassed at all. Just relieved, and still vaguely pissed. Blair decided right then and there that it might be necessary to re-assess his conclusions about Jim Ellison.

But he'd have plenty of chances for that. Later. "Welcome, man. No big deal."

He took the stairs two at a time on the way down.

And with that pause, that bit of distance that made up the next hour before Jim came downstairs, whipped into the shower, and then came wandering out again; it seemed that somehow they managed to swap positions. By the time Jim surfaced, Blair's natural curiosity had re-asserted itself; while Jim appeared to be quite firmly set back into his usual mold of... well, of being a taciturn sonofabitch, really.

Blair waited until it was completely evident that Jim had no intention of talking about it (changed into comfortable sweats and a T-shirt, beer in one hand and TV remote in the other, cruising back and forth between local and national late-night news) before he jumped in.

"So Jim," he began casually, and sat down on the arm of the couch. It seemed easy enough to talk about it now, now that Jim was clothed and not out in the ether somewhere, zoning on some divorcee.


That could mean anything from 'piss off, Sandburg' to 'let's make popcorn'. There was no further enlightenment to be gained by studying Jim's face-- he was just frowning at the weathergirl.

"Can we talk?"

That got a response. Jim glanced at him sidewise for a moment, his mouth pressed to a thin line. "If you're going to start channeling Joan Rivers, you can forget it. You're barely tolerable as it is."

"Yeah, real funny, Jim; I bet you keep your cop buddies in stitches with gems like that-- but seriously, I mean... this is... this is something we need to talk about, you know? Like, maybe we should do something, get you some kind of control so that this doesn't happen again--"

"No need." Jim cut him off without even looking at him, the picture of calm certainty.

Someday he'd have to devote some time to figuring out how Jim had figured out that that bugged the crap out of him. Seriously. "What do you mean, 'no need'? If I hadn't come back when I did, man-- or hey, what if one of your future girlfriends is, like, harboring some secret resentment of you, and all of a sudden you turn into Coma Guy--"

"You know, Chief; it's a bad career move to waste this stuff on me, when you could make a bundle writing for soap operas. I said 'no need' as in 'I don't need your help'. That translates to 'I don't need your help, Sandburg'. I told you I appreciate you being there for me today, but it's not going to happen again, so--"

"But you can't know that." Blair knew they must have hit the point of 'real argument', because he sounded completely reasonable, even to himself. "I mean, we know that your control's gotten better since we started working on it, but still--"

"It won't happen again, Sandburg." Jim insisted. His face, his posture added 'case closed', but Blair would have picked up on that anyway, because Jim switched the TV off with a pointedly annoyed gesture, and headed up to his room without even saying good night.

Blair sighed. He closed his eyes, cruising on familiar waves of frustration. Case closed. It won't happen again. Ellison has spoken. Good-fucking-night.

He gave himself points for trying. That was all he could do. He yawned. Well, that, and get himself to bed-- anything else would be wasted activity.

And, as far as he could tell, it didn't happen again. That was the last he heard of it for almost two years.

Summertime, and the livin' is easy...

Oh, but that wasn't really true now, was it? Not very easy when Cascade was suffocating under the hazy blanket of a freak heatwave-- over ninety degrees for the tenth day in a row with ninety- percent humidity, as he'd heard on his car radio. Of course Cascade wasn't properly equipped to deal with such temperatures-- Blair hadn't found a single air-conditioned building in the entire city, and consequently had been wilting like a lettuce in a steam bath.

His usual frenetic rounds of activity-- tagging along with Jim, teaching summer session classes, banging away at his dissertation, maintaining some semblance of a social life-- everything seemed to take far more energy than usual, and a couple times he'd found himself nodding off to sleep at inconvenient moments. While his students were taking the mid-session exam, for example. That was bad enough; but then he did it again when he was supposed to be contributing some unknown commentary on cross-jurisdictional politics in a meeting with Jim, Simon, and some guy named Tanninger from the DEA. While he could have cared less about Tanninger's look of contempt when Simon elbowed him awake, Jim's tight, grim smile of sympathy was something he really could have lived without.

And of course, to keep things as stimulating as possible, Jim didn't own a fan.

Jim hadn't really needed to own a fan-- even in the middle of summer Cascade very rarely got above sultry, after all; and opening the doors to the bay was usually enough to dispel any lingering excess warmth. Blair remembered Jim sleeping on the couch a few nights running the summer before last when nighttime temperatures stayed up in the eighties, but that was about it.

But this summer, this heatwave wasn't at all sultry; it was scorching-- and there was absolutely no breeze and the sky was eternally the color of dull sheet metal and Jim didn't own a fan. That wouldn't have been a huge problem if it weren't for the fact that for the first week of the heatwave they were both insanely busy, and by the time things slowed down there wasn't a single fan, air conditioner, or other cooling device to be had anywhere in Cascade. The stores were full of angry, sweaty people demanding to know when the next shipments would be in; and the first time they went out to try to buy a fan Jim wound up pulling his badge to prevent an actual fistfight between two irate customers and one overworked stockboy.

After that, Blair had pretty much resigned himself to cooking to death. Three days ago he'd tried sleeping on the roof for a night, but the fact that the heat rising up off the tarpaper surface canceled out all the benefits of cooler air, in conjunction with the fact that every time he closed his eyes he was immediately swamped with the ridiculous but disturbing notion that somehow he was going to roll off; made him give that up as a bad idea.

He adapted as best he could, but the heat did tell on him, eventually-- not just that he was constantly exhausted and miserable; but it seemed to be taking a toll on his cognitive abilities as well. The day that he found himself chatting up a Business Econ. TA named Cammie Carlsbad (an attractive but incredibly annoying person who had absolutely nothing to recommend her besides the fact that she was a yuppie girl with a yuppie family home that had a nice, spacious, yuppie swimming pool); it was the last straw. He pleaded a headache and abandoned Cammie at a table in the Student Arbor before she'd even had time to down half her frappucino; and headed for the loft.

After all-- while the loft was sticky and hot and awful and full of Jim; and while these days Jim only sniped and snarled and snapped like an overheated grizzly with a snout full of bee stings; at least Jim never giggled like a chipmunk on crack, or used the word 'super' to heinous excess. And even though when Blair got home he found that the elevator was (of course) broken again, and even though every riser on the stairs brought him into denser, soupier, muggier air until he thought he might drown before he got all the way up to the third floor, it was quite clear to him that he'd rather simmer and suffer with grumpy Jim than risk the dangers of spending any further time with Cammie-- he'd actually felt his IQ points dropping by the second.

He opened the door determined to head for the shower first thing-- as cold as he could possibly get it, which would be just below tepid given that even the reservoir had heated up significantly. He stopped right in the doorway, however; all thoughts of tepid water momentarily forgotten while he surveyed the altered landscape of the living room-- something rare enough to appear almost surreal to his overheated senses.

The couch had been moved. Every windowshade in the place had been drawn, except for the two in front of the balcony. Jim was home, and was wearing nothing but a pair of white boxers. All these elements registered separately and minutely; strange in and of themselves but entirely irrelevant when compared to the really big change, the really important change-- the fact that Jim had opened both balcony doors to accommodate a shiningly new, ultra-enormous-king-sized, cool-ice-blue colored fan.

"Excelsior," was the first thing it occurred to him to say. Didn't make much sense, but Jim was grinning like he got it anyway.

"No kidding, huh? I thought we'd sacrifice TV for the night and just watch the air move. Whaddya think, Sandburg?"

Blair dropped his backpack to the floor and stripped off his shirt all in one continuous sweep of movement. "I think I love you."

Jim grinned. "Tough luck, my friend-- I just made a new rule today that whoever quotes Partridge Family songs has to fetch the beer. Too bad we're out. Hurry back."

He was so fucking happy about the fan, he didn't even argue.

By the time he got back, the loft was at least five degrees cooler. Jim was sitting on the couch directly in front of the fan, his eyes closed in what looked like transcendent bliss, his boxers flapping in the breeze. Blair would have laughed if he hadn't been so utterly parched, and so totally desperate to get out of his clothes and into the cool.

He stripped down to his own boxers in record time, cracked open two bottles and then climbed directly over the back of the couch, resolved that if Jim said word one about bare sweaty feet on his couch cushions he was going to get both bottles 'accidentally' dumped on him.

Jim said nothing. He accepted one of the bottles with only a mild grunt that must have been some kind of thanks, drank thirstily, then leaned into the cushions with his eyes closed and his head tilted back. Setting a good example, Blair supposed as he followed suit. The sudden coolness inside and out was like a miracle, a moment of clarity that cut clean through a haze of confusion, an answered prayer.

He sighed satisfactorily.

Jim belched mellowly.

And then they both chuckled.

"First time in over a week that I've actually felt sane, man."

"Whoa, Chief-- must be a real shock."

"Your face and my ass."

"It's a date."

And then silence; silence and blessed, amazing coolness that just stretched out from moment to moment in the most wonderful way, and Blair might have actually dropped off to sleep if Jim hadn't heaved a reluctant but fatalistic sigh.

"Well, that's about it for me--"

By the time Blair pried his eyes open, Jim was on his feet. "What? Jim? Where are you going? Is there, like, some hot stakeout you didn't mention to me?"

Jim grimaced. "Don't say 'hot', Sandburg. And no, I don't have to work. But I can't just sit here and wallow on the couch for hours on end."

Coolness or not, the haze of confusion had descended again. "You can't what? Excuse me, but isn't that exactly what you do when we're home at night-- like every night during basketball season, football season, hockey season, baseball--"

"Yeah yeah yeah," Jim cut him off impatiently, "we've had the 'watching professional sports as vicarious fulfillment of hostile conflict impulses' discussion before, you know-- usually during the playoffs, and don't think I don't notice."

Jim took his empty bottle to the kitchen, put it with the other recyclables on the counter, and got himself another. Blair turned around on the couch, kneeling on it while he leaned over the back-- not only did that let him keep an eye on Jim, but it gave him a chance to catch the breeze on his flip side. The sudden stirring breath against his sweaty skin was so shockingly delicious that he almost shivered.

"Come on, Jim; what's up? I mean, I know you just lounged here like a total pig while I went back out into the furnace and got the beer, but you can't be cold already-- this heat's been killing you, man--"

"I'm fine," Jim snapped brusquely, thereby informing Blair that he was not. "Look-- it's late, I'm hungry; I'm gonna make dinner, okay? I'd like to eat and maybe try to get some sleep while I still feel like I can."

He could have pushed it, he supposed; but honestly, now that his temperature was down a little he realized that he was hungry too, for the first time in what felt like forever. "Yeah, okay-- so what's for dinner?"

Jim mumbled something into the depths of the refrigerator that Blair didn't catch. "Uh, Jim-- could you maybe repeat that for the benefit of those people in the room who aren't Sentinels?"

"Fruit!" Jim disclaimed loudly and defensively, turning towards the counter with his arms full.

For a moment, Blair couldn't say anything at all. Then the fact seemed to sink in, and he found his voice. "Jim? You bought fruit? Are you okay?"

A dark scowl. "I buy fruit, Sandburg."

Blair grinned, delighted. "Yeah. You buy bananas and apples from the supermarket. Sometimes you get really daring and pick up an orange. That's it. But it looks like you've got a pretty amazing collection, there; and if I'm not mistaken those bags are courtesy of Hendry's Organic Fruit Stand--"

"Hey-- give me a break, okay? I just happened to be driving by, and it smelled good, and I don't want to turn on the microwave let alone the stove, so I got some fruit. No big deal. No need for you to have a fruit-induced embolism, here--"

As he spoke Jim had been dragging a large, ceramic bowl out of the cupboard. Blair interrupted him. "Whoa, hey don't--"

Jim favored him with a look that suggested that he was maybe five seconds from getting a kiwi mashed into his hair. "What? You have some kind of problem with fruit?"

Blair frowned. "I know you, Jim. You're thinking fruit salad, aren't you?"

Jim blinked at him. "If that was a crime in this state, I think I'd know about it, Sandburg--"

"I'll make a deal with you. You put the fruit down, and nobody gets hurt. I'll make dinner. All you have to do is sit back down here, and wrap your head around the fact that we're eating on the couch tonight, so you don't give me a hard time when the big moment comes."

Jim scowled into one of the bags. "There's cherries in here."

"Then we better not spit the pits at each other. No problem. Come and sit down, Jim. Live a little. Have another beer. Contemplate fruit."

Jim smiled faintly, and Blair felt a brief flash of hope that caving was imminent. "That how you figure out the mysteries of the universe, Chief?"

Blair smiled back. "I won't tell if you won't. Hey-- did you get peaches?"

"If I told you, I'd have to kill you."

Despite the lightness of their earlier banter, Jim really did seem to be uncomfortable. He'd taken the initiative to move the couch back from the fan far enough so that he could wedge the coffee table in front of it, and he accepted his two bowls (one empty, to serve as a repository of peels and pits, the other heaped full of vanilla bean ice cream) with good enough grace. He dug into the enormous tray of washed whole fruit without a single complaint or threat, but nevertheless he seemed on edge, tense. Blair figured it must be sincere worry over the risk to his upholstery, and was careful to provide plenty of napkins.

He stood it for about five minutes; long enough to sample everything on the tray at least once and to make a big dent in his own cargo of ice cream. Although he'd been liberal with his napkin usage, he still felt flamboyantly sticky-- but at least he felt cool and sticky.

Jim just went on looking uncomfortable.

Blair put his ice cream bowl down on the coffee table and sighed. "Perhaps Monsieur would be happier if we put down a tarp?"

Jim stared at him, methodically chewing a grape. "In your case? More like a kiddie pool. You're coated, Sandburg."

Blair licked peach juice from the back of one hand. His tongue tingled. "Yeah, but I feel fucking fantastic-- if I slide to the floor I'm gonna stick there, so you may need to hose me off."

Jim smiled a little, but it looked strained.

Blair sighed again. "Okay-- what is it? What's up? Are you already in mourning for your couch, or what?"

Jim shook his head. "No-- you don't have that kind of deathwish. I just... I dunno, it's kind of weird-- two full grown men sitting on the couch in their boxers, having fruit and ice cream and beer for dinner. It's just... not really what springs to mind when I think of male bonding, you know?"

Blair squinted. "Would you feel more manly if we took the boxers off? Or you maybe want some A-1 sauce on your ice cream?"

Jim wrinkled his nose dutifully. "No, but why don't we pull that on Simon the next time he comes over?"

"No way, man-- I don't have that kind of deathwish either." There was a pause, and he didn't really know what to say, but then Jim took a bite out of a strawberry, a very careful, almost hesitant bite; and then he did, he did know. "So... why'd you do this, then? Why do this if you think it's... weird?"

This time Jim's smile was much more authentic. "So you could feel fucking fantastic. So I could hose you off."

And God bless his brain, that reliable and trusty organ; because a suspicion formed immediately within him and his brain was right there, backing him up, adding evidence upon evidence until the weight of conviction was so stunning that he almost felt it sitting on his chest. "Oh wait a minute, man... just wait one minute, here." He took a breath and let it out, knowing that there were many, many questions, and very few of them that wouldn't induce Jim to shut up like a clam. "You did this so that I could enjoy it? Is that what you're saying?"

Jim appeared to be vaguely puzzled. "Uh, yeah? Problem?"

The leftover taste of peaches and cherries seemed suddenly too sour. "Well, let's see... what you're basically telling me here is that it's okay for me to enjoy stuff, but it's not okay for you, but that you like it when I enjoy stuff even when you can't-- yeah, I'd say there's a problem there. Wouldn't you?"

Jim sighed. "It's not like that, Chief; it's not like that at all--"

"Then what? What is it like? Explain it to me, please; because I'm just not getting it."

He saw annoyance crease its way into the lines around Jim's mouth. "It's... it's like, when you... um... well. It is like that, I guess. But I don't have a problem with it."

Exasperating bastard. "Oh no? You don't, huh? Well guess what, my friend-- you should."

"Look, Sandburg; I'm sorry I said anything--"

"Not as sorry as you're gonna be--"

"What the fuck is your problem?" And Blair wondered stupidly where all the coolness had gone, why his cheeks were now on fire and that weird vein was doing its vein-thing in Jim's forehead, and how they'd gotten to yelling so damn fast.

"I'll tell you what my problem is, Jim." He very intentionally didn't yell, because he didn't need to-- Jim was wrong, and that was all there was to it. "You haven't given me a lot of information here; but I can extrapolate, okay? So I'm going to tell you my theory, and then you get to tell me that I'm right, and then we can fucking do something about it."

Jim said nothing, just sat there doing his forehead thing, so Blair plunged in. "It's your senses," he began quietly. "We've dealt with the dialing up and down thing, right? But for things that affect you, that touch you, we've only dealt with things that are dangerous, or things that hurt. So now you don't want to zone, and you don't... you don't... you don't have the faintest idea how to let yourself feel good, do you, Jim?"

Blair had watched the anger leach slowly out of Jim's face as he spoke, and what was left by the time he was done was something that looked like reluctant awe. Blair fought hard not to grin smugly.

But evidently Jim wasn't done being intractable. "That's it, but it's not. You don't know... you just don't know."

Blair sighed. "Well, this would be a good time to enlighten me, don't you think? I mean-- don't take this the wrong way or anything, but I'm going to spit cherry pits at you if you try to get off this couch before you come clean with me."

Jim's eyes narrowed dangerously and his mouth looked fierce and unforgiving, but Blair just stared back at him. He'd survived being scowled at by Simon, after all. After a few tense moments, Jim rolled his eyes. "Fine!"

Blair expected some kind of speech, but all Jim did was lean forward to the tray of fruit and begin pawing through it.

"Uh... Jim?"

"Just hang on one damn-- here." Jim handed him a strawberry. "Take a bite of that."

He wondered where the hell Jim was going with this, but decided to play along. For now. He took a bite. "'S great," he managed through a mouthful of juice, in answer to Jim's raised eyebrows.

"Yeah, it is great, isn't it?"

Blair nodded, trying to swallow.

"Really wonderful. 'Heavenly', and shit like that."

He nodded again, smiling.

Jim leaned towards him, intent. "Enjoyable. Intense. Almost... sensual."

A thread of unease twisted through him. All of a sudden he felt pretty sure that he knew where Jim was going with this, and he had a moment of fervent hope that he was wrong. "Yeah, it was."

"So first of all," Jim's eyes seemed to be catching some reflection from the last of the lingering light outside-- he'd never seen them look so deep; "do you have any idea how hard it is to dial down something as wonderful as that? I mean I can do it, I can make myself do it, but it just feels wrong, Sandburg-- I have to go against some weird kind of instinct thing in order to do it, and... it's just too fucking weird."

"Weird," Blair echoed reflexively, just making sounds while his mind skipped around, playing with the pieces and putting them together, and coming up with something that made him feel hot and cold all at once, and pissed as hell at himself for not seeing it sooner. "Is it zoning-- you're afraid of zoning? If you don't turn it down?"

"That's part of it." Jim looked angry again, but not at him-- somehow Blair knew it wasn't at him. "Let me put it to you this way, Chief," he picked up another strawberry and twirled it slowly by the stem, holding it in the middle distance between them. "I could take this strawberry-- just one, just this one; and I could take about... oh, about eight hours to really experience it properly. Little bites. Eight hours of the most intense kind of pleasure you could imagine. All I'd have to do is enjoy it, dial it up, feel it."

And then Blair seemed to really tap into the situation in an empathic kind of way-- they were talking about tactile experience, after all, and all of a sudden his body had gone absolutely, utterly numb. There was a huge, heavy sense of something in his thoughts, some disaster only barely averted. "Fuck," he said through anesthetized lips. "Addiction? Are you talking about getting addicted... Jesus, you are, aren't you? That's why you don't... really... indulge yourself. Much." His head spun, dizzy with thoughts of rats and experiments and behavioral conditioning, and the very, very little that was known about the pleasure centers of the human brain.

"Give the man a kiwi," Jim said dryly, and put one in his hand.

As far as what happened next, well, Blair was at a loss to determine exactly how or why it started. He remembered talking to Jim for a long time, keeping his voice quiet and mellow while he explained that Jim had altered his life to fit his senses rather than controlling his senses to handle the contingencies of his life, and that that was wrong. He remembered arguing with Jim about it, mildly, still quiet, both of them quiet. He remembered telling Jim over and over that it would be okay, that he was right there, that everything would be fine.

He didn't remember picking up the peach, but he remembered the gleam and flash of the knife in his hand; the brilliant yellow and orange of the bisected flesh, the juice that ran down his wrist and made him shiver.

When he told Jim to close his eyes, Jim obeyed him immediately.

"Don't let me go." Jim's voice was no more than a whisper; a soft last-ditch plea as Blair raised the dripping slice of peach.

"I won't," he answered gently. "I'm right here." And he was.

He fed the peach-slice to Jim one slow bite at a time. He waited, and talked a little every once in awhile so that Jim would know where he was; and he watched with utter fascination while sweat sprang out on Jim's body, despite the fact that the air was very cool, now.

He watched the breeze raise thousands of miniscule goosebumps on every inch of Jim's skin that he could see, and Jim's nipples tightened to fierce little points and after the next bite of peach Jim moaned softly, and his eyes stayed closed but he looked terribly embarrassed anyway; and Blair just told him it was fine, all fine, and to go with it, just feel it, and go with it, and let it in.

He saw Jim's struggle. He talked through it. He talked more and more, but very very quietly because Jim was fighting his body, fighting against feeling, but Blair knew he was doing the right thing here, and there was no need for Jim to fight it because pleasure was pleasure and it was all okay; and he fed Jim some kiwi and knew that Jim was probably worried about him freaking out on the fact that he had an erection but he wasn't, he wasn't freaked out at all.

And he'd learned so many new things about Jim in such a short time, but one of the most important ones at this moment seemed to be that Jim really liked strawberries. He knew Jim really liked strawberries because when he picked out a gorgeous, brilliantly-red one and brought it to Jim's lips and put his other hand on Jim's shoulder, Jim stopped fighting altogether.

Blair watched him take a bite, and he rubbed the smooth skin on Jim's shoulder very gently, and he kept his eyes firmly fixed on Jim's pleasure-flushed face while awareness spooled out that somewhere down lower the rest of Jim's body was just working things out, just the way it was supposed to happen. Jim was loud when he cried out but that meant he was there, not wandering off somewhere else, and that was good.

Blair watched intently, mesmerized, alive to each passing moment, and if some kind of unnamed hunger sprang up in him, some frisson of tension that coiled a little tighter when Jim arched up off the couch and gasped at the end of it, he shut it resolutely away in favor of watching. He watched, only. Only that. But afterwards, after Jim swallowed and shivered and watching was done, Blair thought nothing of reaching out softly and pulling Jim close to him for a hug, neverminding the fairly spectacular wet patch on the front of Jim's boxers.

And between the stickiness of his own body and the sweat-slickness of Jim's, it was pretty intense, in a tactile sort of way. He wondered what Jim thought of it, but he didn't ask.

He just held on for a little while.

He did wonder, from time to time, how the hell that had happened; and what it meant, what it should, or could, have meant.

For himself, he didn't know. And of course, Jim wasn't saying anything. That night Jim's face had been bright red when Blair finally let go of him, and it stayed red while he stood up and mumbled good-night and went up to bed. The next morning, however, Jim had been back to normal, and since Blair had cleaned up everything in a reflective and shivery sort of daze before turning in himself, there wasn't much to remind either of them of what had happened, except for the new fan.

And the next day they had a huge thunderstorm which finally broke the heatwave, and so Jim had taken the fan down to the basement, and then there was nothing.

He knew, of course, that he could have persuaded, cajoled, or demanded that Jim talk to him about it, but that probably would have entailed saying certain things himself, so he didn't. He just let things go back to normal.

And things stayed normal for quite a while, right up until the day before the Cascade PD Labor Day picnic and baseball playoffs. Blair took the morning off from writing and made the same cake he made every year-- a chocolate-raspberry truffle cake, not too sweet but very rich; a perennial favorite with everybody but especially with Simon, who always threatened to revoke his observer status if he didn't bring the damn cake.

The cake was shaping up beautifully, but things weren't looking too hot for the PD baseball team this year because Jim walked into the loft about an hour after Blair pulled the pans out of the oven, his eyes wide from pain medication and his wrist held tightly in a brand-new cast.

Blair refused to laugh at him, even though it was utterly ridiculous that Jim had broken his wrist by slipping on an actual honest-to-God banana peel while chasing a purse-snatcher. On the sidewalk right in front of the Police station. He would have liked to laugh, sure; but that would have only made Jim feel worse, and he didn't want to make Jim feel worse.

It suddenly seemed very important, even vital, that he make Jim feel better, if he could.

So he took Jim's uninjured hand and drew him into the kitchen, and then he leaned him up against the refrigerator and held him there while he fed him chunks of warm chocolate cake and cold raspberries.

It took some time before Jim was able to find his way past the medication and the pain, but Blair knew a lot of words and there was a lot of cake, so eventually they got there. And then they were there, finally, and Jim wasn't pliant this time but shaking, panting heavily and straining in a seriously muscular way that might have been a little scary if it hadn't been so wonderful. He sucked on Blair's fingers when he finished, shuddering like a racehorse, and then he slid down the refrigerator a little bit until Blair caught him. Blair was lucky to catch him because he himself had been so resolutely focused on watching that he felt awfully dizzy and kind of out of it at that point, and he thought about doing something about it, but in the end he didn't; he just held on tight.

Jim's face was buried in his neck, and Jim's rapid breath across his skin was doing some seriously wild things to his equilibrium. When he felt Jim's soft lips touch him there he gasped, and he would have arched into it but his startled noise had in turn startled Jim, who mumbled something about a shower and slipped away from him, walking towards the bathroom with his head hanging down.

Blair leaned on the refrigerator for a while, soaking up the lingering traces of warmth Jim had left behind, still tangible even through the soft cotton of his undershirt. He took deep breaths until his knees stopped shaking, until his heart and his body were no longer zooming along at a terrifying rate, and then he went to find his keys-- because there were only so many hours in a day, after all, and he still had a cake to make, and he was completely out of raspberries.

Surprise, surprise. Surprisingly, the biggest surprise wasn't that Jim turned him on something fierce; it was that he could live with that, and go on, and not talk about it.

Not talk about it. That was such a shock, such a stunning little revelation, that he actually considered getting a therapist. The only thing that stopped him from going ahead and doing it was the knowledge that if he did, if he took that step, there would be nothing left for him to do except... well, except talk about it. A catch-22, a moebius strip of fear and reluctance and excitement that astonished him and amused him as much as it shamed him.

He wasn't ashamed of what he did with Jim, but he was ashamed every time he saw Jim's face the next morning (always placid and calm, always business-as-usual), and felt a vague, squirming sense of relief. It would have been easy, very easy, to move past 'just watching'; or to walk up to Jim on one of those mornings after and lay one on him, swab his tonsils soundly and kick that placidity out on its treacherous ass.

It would have been easy, if only he actually did it. But he didn't.

Closeness precludes objectivity. He knew it. He'd known it for a long time. He'd gotten used to it as a factor in his assessments of Jim, but now there was something new, a whole new challenge when he had to apply the same consideration to himself.

Was he 'helping Jim with his senses', or was he 'getting off on making Jim come'? Maybe both. Maybe something else entirely, something that he hadn't even considered yet.

He didn't know, and he wasn't used to not knowing. But there were so many other things to be amazed at, that perhaps he didn't feel the impact of that frustration quite properly. This thing, for example: after the 'cake incident', the whole existence, the whole actuality of this thing between them seemed to drop completely below the sightline of everyday life. He thought about it while it was happening, and occasionally when it wasn't, but for the most part it was just life as usual, with no stilted silences or wary glances to hint at things unspoken.

So he just went on, and every so often he helped Jim with his senses and got off on making him come. There could have been more to it, but he didn't do anything to make it more. He limited his provocations to slightly more subtle things, like trying to find baklava good enough to make Jim hump his leg.

When Jim rejected his partnership, in the wake of the world's discovery of all things Sentinel, Jim rejected everything. Everything stopped.

Everything stopped, and then everything went to hell, and then he did what he did and then it seemed to be over but apparently it wasn't, because everything was different.

An integral lesson, and one he couldn't believe he'd forgotten: any sacrifice to prevent change causes change. That was pretty much Humanity 101. Simple.

So simple, it hadn't even occurred to him.

In retrospect, Blair supposed he should have known that it couldn't go on forever. It was too out-of-scope, too much tainted with the mystical rightness of a very good dream-- waking up seemed inevitable. In retrospect.

But in the moment, at least at first, it only seemed sad. That he didn't help Jim 'that way' anymore, that he didn't touch Jim much at all, that he missed it. He missed it terribly.

He didn't know if Jim missed it, or if he was just relieved. There were no signs either way.

He didn't have a lot of time to think about it, however, because then he was in the Academy, and the Academy didn't take up that much of his life but adjusting to the Academy, to his new path, to his new choice took up every bit that was left. And he didn't want to lean on Jim so he avoided him instead, and much of the time he just marveled that this step, which should have brought them closer together, seemed to have completely alienated them from each other.

And even when he finished up at the Academy and went to work with Jim full-time it was still different; he was different; and maybe Jim was different and maybe he wasn't-- there was no way to know.

Without asking.

Which he wouldn't do.

The face he saw in the bathroom mirror every morning just wasn't the face of a man who would ask such things-- and he'd never noticed, before, that when he didn't smile much and when things were stressful his face had a sharp look to it; as if there had been this stranger living inside him all this time, waiting only for the frivolous parts of life to be stripped away to emerge, keen and serious and unfamiliar.

Things were stressful, there was no question about that-- they had a heavy caseload and they did well, but in order to do well they had to work hard, and work long hours. The hours, the job, the work itself didn't stress him out as much as his own altered position did. He'd seen some horrible, awful things during his years of standing next to Jim, yes. But now when he saw horrible things he felt responsible, acutely aware of his own (usually maddening) role in the system of justice.

Blair didn't have any blind faith in the essential rightness of his own actions. He had to make faith, had to carry his manufactured faith with him like a talisman, a periapt that allowed him to move through the world and do his job without being throttled by his own uncertainty.

So things continued on in a different way, and he and Jim lived together and worked together, and were actually equals in a way they'd never been before. And he never, ever would have guessed that being Jim's equal, Jim's partner, would be the grey, desolate wasteland that it was.

Jim now used his senses so adroitly and so independently that there were times that Blair almost forgot he had them. Jim, to his credit, wasted no time in according Blair full active status as a partner-- none of that 'stay behind me' bullshit, but he counted on Blair every day, in every situation, to know how to handle it, to take care of himself.

They counted on each other. They trusted each other. They were together. Not much conflict between them at all. It was... okay.

It was, maybe, the single biggest disappointment of his life.

And he didn't want to waste his own time by wondering just who he should blame for it, but he did wonder-- he wondered if all that had drawn them towards each other with such intensity had been that deeper kind of mutual need they'd had before, that symbiosis.

He didn't want to believe that. It seemed wrong and somehow like an insult, a blight on what they had been to each other to imagine that the only thing that had made it possible was a sad, misplaced need they both suffered from to take care of somebody. He didn't want to believe it.

However, as a conclusion it was pretty damn hard to resist now that they didn't really take care of each other anymore (except in the comparatively minor way of being partnered Detectives in Major Crimes-- and it really was kind of funny, how that could seem aloof and distant after what they'd been before).

It was hard not to believe it now that they didn't take care of each other like they used to, and now that whatever it had been that forged their connection seemed to have evaporated like a dream interrupted by an unwelcome waking. The kind of dream where you wish you'd never woken up, because you just know somehow that even if you chased it, even if you ignored everything else and burrowed back under the covers and called the dream back to you, you'd end up somewhere else anyway, and it wouldn't be what you wanted.

And the really sad thing was that it only seemed clear to him now, when it was too late, that yes, he'd been pissed at Jim for limiting himself to oblique pleasure, for making Blair into his sensual surrogate and experiencing everything good vicariously through him; but that then he himself had followed up that anger by doing the same thing, focusing on Jim's experience in order to help sublimate his own. Those few, precious times when he'd been there with Jim, it had taken every drop of his resources not to get lost in it-- not to let himself feel it fully, to keep himself safely in the arena of observation.

Amazing, really, that he'd gone to so much trouble, trying not to feel. He had done battle with Jim's fear, never even knowing that he was being swallowed up by his own.

And how incredibly fucked up was that?

It was fucked up enough for him to feel a strangely powerful, furtive sense of guilt during those rare times that he was home alone without the odd construct of 'Detective Ellison' to distract him; the times when the memories would rise up to overwhelm his better judgement and he had to literally take himself in hand and try to find a way to encompass the past, put it to rest. He didn't know if he was using Jim, or being used by his own denied needs, but either way the whole experience was both furiously erotic and deeply sad, a betrayal of something that might, or might not, have been real in the first place.

For the first time ever, he actively resented Jim's abilities. The urge to climb onto, to slip into Jim's bed at those moments was nearly irresistible; held at bay only by his own sure knowledge that if he gave in to it, if he rolled around on Jim's sheets while fucking his own hand and shivering with half-formed thoughts of what might have been, he'd have an awful lot of explaining to do afterwards.

And, in the bleak, bitter haze of aftermath (surely a more appropriate term than 'afterglow', since there was no glow about it except for the blush of shame); he realized that the big risk wasn't so much that Jim might approach him and demand an explanation-- it was that Jim might not; that Jim might take what he'd done in stride, change his sheets without a murmur, and go on living with the wrinkles and residue of what they'd brought to bear between them without ever saying a single, solitary word.

He couldn't take that, he knew it. So he kept his self-abuse activities limited to the shower, and spooled out some beautiful falsehoods of fantasy behind closed eyes.

Funny, how something could seem like perfect synchronicity; could ring out with the bell-clear, brilliant chime of inevitability, and yet still feel like some sort of minor miracle. A clever paradox-- and one that might have engaged him; except that for once he resisted the lure of mystery and the fascination of root causes, because he actually had learned that some things were too fine, too precious, to waste time thinking about.

So, when it happened that the very same day his drive home after interviewing a possible suspect led him past Hendry's and he surrendered to the summer temptation of a whole flat of wild strawberries, turned out to be the very same day that he came through the door to find Jim streaked with smutches of cobweb and dust, wrestling with the fan; Blair worked very hard not to think about it too much. He simply observed it without judgement, resigned to feeling the rush and prickle of reaction without trying to figure out what it all meant.

And actually, that was easier than he thought it would be. It was fairly easy not to get cerebrally sidetracked, since he was pretty busy marveling over the way his heart sped up the moment he saw that fan-- he'd never really expected to have that kind of reaction to a household appliance. His spine tingled, streaking a path of buried fire as it occurred to him that perhaps there was still some wavelength between them, some level of connection and communication beyond the job. Wouldn't that be...

...Jim's got a brand-new pair of rollerskates, I've got a brand-new key...

...just amazing?


Jim glanced over his shoulder and made a weird face-- half smile and half grimace; the kind of face he made when he collared a fleeing perp who had run into a landfill, or something like that. His skin was sweat-shiny where it wasn't smeared with grit-- a lot of skin, as it happened, since Jim was wearing a pair of running shorts, socks, and Nikes, and nothing else. "Hey, Chief. Hope you didn't want the shower right away."

As a matter of fact, he had planned on jumping into the shower first thing-- his clothes were stuck to him in all sorts of unpleasant ways, and he smelled pretty damn rank, if he did say so himself-- but no, he wasn't about to waste this kind of wonderful serendipity just because he'd been simmering in his own perspiration for the past eleven hours. "Nah. I'm going to drink something first, and cool off a little. I'll see you when you get out."

"Okay. I'll be--" Jim cut off sharply, and turned from where he knelt next to the plug socket, sniffing. He looked at the covered box in Blair's hands. "Hey-- you got... Ah."

The moment hung between them, just the briefest second of silence while things fell into place. Blair almost felt like he was watching the scene from above, suspended and floating out of his body somehow, a moment of strange tension that bubbled in the background with a dry kind of ridiculousness-- he had strawberries. Jim had a fan. That that should seem like such a big deal was just really funny, in an absurd way.

It was impossible not to smile, and then the feeling of disconnection passed. He was back in his body, warm and restless and trying not to shift from foot to foot. "Yeah. I drove past Hendry's on the way home from interviewing Joe Franklin. Hey-- don't sniff too closely, Jim-- there's a whole lot of me right next to the strawberries, and I'm not exactly enchantingly fragrant, you know?"

Jim stared at him, and his face looked suddenly naked, somehow-- Detective Ellison seemed very far away, and there was just... Jim. Jim sniffed again, so subtly and yet so deliberately that Blair shivered. "I think... I mean, I like the way you smell."

Blair's heart pounded. It seemed like too much, too sudden and too all at once; a dizzyingly straight shot after such a long dry spell. "Uh... thanks." He swallowed. "Thanks."

He'd meant it to be light, humorous, amused. It didn't come out that way. His cheeks burned. So much for absurdity.

Then there was another silence, heavy with the warp of possibility. Possibilities. Blair bit his lip. He could shrug it off-- hadn't he been doing that, after all? Hadn't they both been? But here he was, with a box full of temptation warm in his hands, and there was Jim, with everything in his eyes and expression somehow laid miraculously bare.

And he wondered what it was that had stripped Jim down like that, what had brought them back to this place after months and months of... well, of being somewhere else. He might have said something about it, but before he could speak Jim rose to his feet, finally breaking away from his eyes as he headed towards the bathroom.

"I'll be out soon," was all he said. The bathroom door clicking shut seemed unnaturally loud.

And goddamit, he was going to be so cool about this. He was going to be low-key, laid-back, very much the kind of guy who could handle this kind of thing without getting all freaked about it, but the moment he heard the shower turn off his heart rose up somewhere right around his throat, and by the time Jim emerged wearing nothing but a towel he was still trying hard and fast to swallow it down.

But Jim passed him by without a word, without even so much as a glance before he headed upstairs, and Blair found himself leaning against the counter with an unwanted beer in his hand, weirdly at sea, buzzing from the adrenaline rush of anticipation for a... for something that had never materialized.

He didn't quite have time to shift into complete disappointment before Jim was back, barefoot but dressed in an old pair of khaki shorts that always made Blair want to slap a Pith helmet on him.

Jim stopped at the bottom of the stairs, crossed his arms with an air of casual stubbornness that Blair thought he usually reserved for Simon; leaned back against the wall and looked at him. Blair tried another swallow. No dice.

"Gee, Sandburg; I thought for sure by the time I got out you'd be planted on that couch, getting the cushions sweaty and contemplating fruit."

Blair pressed his lips together for a moment, which felt strange because despite the beer they seemed to be astoundingly dry. "Yeah. Well, I'm not really the fruit-contemplator that I used to be."

Jim snorted mildly. "You're telling me." He uncrossed his arms and pushed off from the wall with lazy agility. Blair knew he was coming closer, but he couldn't actually see Jim walking-- all he saw was Jim's serious, determined, still-naked-looking face, moving towards him until Jim was right there, pulling the bottle from his nerveless fingers. He watched as Jim chugged back the beer he'd been unable to drink, looking first at Jim's throat, swallowing, and then he couldn't look there anymore so he dropped his eyes, but Jim's chest was still wet and there were water droplets on it, clinging to smooth planes of muscle. Jim's nipples were hard. And then his own nipples were hard.

Jim put the bottle on the counter next to his wrist, then leaned forward and grabbed the counter with his other hand, all casual, as apparently indifferent as if he'd just decided that it might be nice to take a break and just kind of lean on the counter for a while, without the slightest regard to the fact that Blair was trapped there, between his arms. "We need to talk, Chief."

And it seemed appropriate at that very moment that something inside of him seemed to be shrieking out that the sky was falling, because those were 'sky is falling' words if ever he heard any.

He never thought he'd see the day when Jim would say that they had to talk and he would create a convenient distraction. Of course, he'd also never really thought he'd see the day when he would make a sincere attempt to climb Jim like a tree or rub against him like a total horndog, either. He figured he could blame the millenium-- all kinds of strange omens and portents, tides reversing themselves, virgin births and fatal comets and weird shit like that, right? What was a little frottage between friends when the whole sky was falling, after all?

The end is at hand. It suddenly made sense to him. He was doomed to do this.

Which was a good thing, really, because for once in his life he found that reality outstripped fantasy. For once, the actuality of having somehow brought more to him than all the delirious anticipation of wanting-- and he had been wanting, he'd been wanting for quite a while; he'd been whacking off with great frequency and enthusiasm over this, over this very thing. When he whispered the secret truth of it into the curved sculpture of Jim's ear, Jim shivered.

He hadn't really meant to start anything major-- Jim had said that they needed to talk and of course Blair was willing; but with Jim that close, disturbingly close and looming over him in a way that could have been interpreted as a teensy bit intimidating, he felt like he had to just... push a little. They were equals now, after all, and regardless of what had gone on between them before, well, this was a whole new ballgame; an old challenge renewed, only now with a level playing field. It gave him the courage to reach up, to lock his fingers tight behind Jim's neck-- just to let the guy know that while he might be trapped, he certainly wasn't helpless.

But that did it, really. Jim's neck was warm and hard and tender-skinned-- abruptly too much, and nowhere near enough. As soon as he saw a look of wary surprise flash over Jim's features, understanding descended upon him-- there was challenge here, and power, and things to be given and taken and struggled for. And there was such a thing as the strategic importance of getting in the first shot.

So he took a deep breath, remembering for one priceless moment all the times he'd anticipated this, and then he pulled Jim's head forward and tasted his slow way towards Jim's tongue; which never had much of a fighting chance once he made a serious play for it. At first he was jolted, stunned almost into immobility by the awareness that this was Jim's mouth he was feeding on, here; but then Jim tilted a little and he tilted the other way and something clicked in him, and then there was only the soft, liquid, cock-tormenting burn of his tongue and Jim's tongue and wild exploration.

In all of his fantasies, in the heated rush and grind of taking care of some guilty business, it had never occurred to him to wonder how Jim would kiss. He'd pictured Jim kissing him, sure, but without much detail except for maybe a general impression of 'deep'. And yes, it was that, but it was more than that because it turned out that Jim wasn't a 'performer' so much as he was an 'experiencer'; and Blair sensed himself being experienced and that called to him, so he nuzzled lasciviously against Jim's wet lips and it just fucking lit him up from one end to the other.

"You don't wanna talk?"

This question from Jim, spoken so close to his mouth that he felt the breath of it tingling on his moist skin, at first seemed like such a non sequitur as to be incomprehensible. Then it sank in, along with the awareness that Jim was smiling, apparently having just a little too much fun being on the other side of the communication fence.

"You wanna regret teaching me how to shoot straight?"

And for right now, that seemed to be all that needed to be said. Jim brought his smile within striking distance and Blair dove in, and he was hard pressed to say whether they were fighting or making out-- there was definitely some serious muscle strain involved, even though they seemed to be fighting for the same thing. Jim bent and Blair climbed, and a hot streak of electricity unzipped him from mouth to groin as Jim pressed hard against him.

It was a strange and painfully powerful kind of emancipation-- the sudden freedom of an old, deeply buried desire that, despite his fantasies, he'd somehow managed to keep hidden, even from himself. Unsafe, definitely unsafe, to feel this kind of pull, to feel his own body shake with unsuspected treachery. He became aware of Jim's hands on him-- an innocent touch, really, set firmly on his ribs-- but just the erotic buzz of it, of knowing that those were Jim's hands, Jim pulling him close and holding him, caused a rush of pleasure so intense it made him gasp, arching back helplessly.

"Hold it, Jim-- you have to... stop... for a minute."

"Oh Jesus, make up your frigging mind, Sandburg..." hot kisses on his throat, Jim's head bent to him, that proud strong neck bent, such an eloquent statement of need, clearer than any words could have been; "why? Why stop?"

The rigid press of Jim's khaki-covered erection slid over him again, and without thinking he sank his short fingernails into Jim's shoulders. "I'm... I'm losing it, here. Seriously, Jim. If you don't--"

"Well, I won't." Jim's arms came around him-- such long arms, and powerful; they wrapped him up completely and then everything somehow managed to take another leap upwards. He wondered vaguely if he was actually vibrating, or if it only felt that way. "Go ahead. I want... I want you to." Jim's lips slid up to his ear, and the rest of the words were simply a warm rush of quiet thunder. "Right now. Loud. Go for it--"

Something in his mind clicked exquisitely into place, a realization that floored him. Apparently, Jim wants me to come now. How very extraordinary-- but that was all the speculation he got to indulge in, because his body caught on to the general enthusiasm of the plan before his mind had time to catch up; his body didn't have to be told twice. His legs opened wide and Jim was right where he needed him to be, hard against his own hardness, insistent and solid and blissfully real. Blair knew suddenly that his muscles were going to complain about this tomorrow, and that there was a pretty good chance that the fierceness of his grip was giving Jim a few bruises, but for the moment all of that seemed to be less than trivial because God he needed this, for both Jim and himself, something necessary and desired that it was in his power to give. His turn.

"Jesus-- Jim! Oh fuck you feel... you feel so good--" he wanted to say more but there were no other words, just groans that turned into cries as he squeezed up against Jim's hard body hard cock hard brutal fucking grip that crushed them tight together so that he had to shove in order to move, had to grab on to whatever part of Jim would give him the best leverage while he drove himself roughly over and over Jim's erection. His spine had turned liquid and the hinges of his hips had somehow gotten oiled, but it turned out that he needed every bit of that shimmying flexibility to do justice to the fierce explosion that started somewhere deep inside and then just had its way with him, pulling him taut on a rack of cresting, heaving pleasure as he got both arms and both legs into it and locked Jim tight to his body and came and came and came and...

"Oh yeah," Jim growled in his ear, and he couldn't agree more; but right now he couldn't agree at all because he was still moaning, sharp and loud and utterly lost in it while he made a complete mess of his clothes, coming so much that he could feel it dripping down the inside of his thigh. And even that felt great.

Then there was a new challenge, a new struggle to be had-- to not slide to the floor, to get sufficient air into his lungs so that he didn't just pass out. Jim held him through it-- it was Jim's turn to do that now, after all; to stand guard and keep it together while Blair went out on that wicked and uncontrolled edge of everything. And Jim did a fine job; Jim kept him upright and unharmed while the last twinges and shocks worked through his system, but, even as untethered as Blair was, it didn't escape his notice that Jim was shaking. And still hard.

"Mmm." He kissed Jim's throat, feeling dazed and sated and damn near invulnerable for the moment. Jim's skin was slick with salt sweat, fresh and new after his shower, and Blair rubbed his face there, obeying some oblique but insistent animal instinct. Jim shook harder.

"Jim?" his own voice sounded strange to him-- hoarse, thick and low with surfeit.

"Uh-huh." Even lower.

He licked a sensual, lazy trail of wet hot indulgence over the tendon at the side of Jim's neck. It fluttered under his tongue.

"We can talk now, if you want."

And, to add yet another shock to the mix in this already shocking day, Jim took him up on it. Blair was dismayed, at first-- he hadn't made the offer seriously, but he didn't quite know how to say that without coming right out with 'no, just kidding, Jim; now how's about you take your shorts down and let me blow that monster cock of yours'. That particular statement sounded just fine in his head, but seemed a little too forward to actually say out loud.

He settled for reaching for the bulge in Jim's shorts, but he didn't have time to register more than the comforting fact that Jim was still as hard as a rock and the embarrassing fact that he'd somehow managed to get Jim wet as well as make a mess of himself before Jim took his wrist, guiding him gently but firmly away.

"Oh no you don't, Sandburg--"

He sighed. "Jim, I was just kidding, I want to--"

"You said you were willing to talk, and we're gonna talk."

Blair stared at him; searching Jim's flushed, but resolute face for clues to this incomprehensible behavior. "Either you're trying to tell me that you're dying of some obscure disease and this is your last hurrah, or your masochistic streak goes far deeper than I've ever suspected."

Jim chuckled, and kissed his cheek. "You got me, Professor. Quick-- go put your cleats on--"

"Jim!" An unsuspected revelation coupled with a mystery, how Jim could manage to be sexy and annoying at the same time. "Seriously--"

He lost his words in a sharp gasp as Jim pulled him close again, a fast rumple in which he got sniffed, licked, kissed and bitten, and probably would have strained his own neck with boneless head lolling if Jim's hand hadn't been clenched tight in his hair.

"Chief, I want..." it was barely a whisper.

"What?" His mouth felt slow, and forming the words was difficult. "You want what? I'll... anything, anything you want..."

Jim licked his ear, causing a sharp zing of sensation through all the parts of him he'd thought had just been stunned into submission. "I want you to go take a shower. I'll be here when you get back."

Control. Hadn't he been the one teaching Jim all about control? It was at that moment that he decided that he would go take a shower-- it would be a fine and private place for him to kick himself in.

And due to his post-shower lassitude, while his body sank into the couch cushions as if he'd somehow doubled his mass, laden with a stretched, drowsy heaviness; it took some time for the impact of Jim's words to sink in.

"At first I thought you were pissed about the whole dissertation thing. Then I thought that maybe you were mad about being a cop; punishing me, or something. Then, after that, I didn't know what to think. Then I caught on that you were... that everything was different, and that, besides the job, we didn't really need each other anymore."

These calm sentences, plain, unadorned, delivered in the straightforward Ellison style of reporting, were as keen and biting as if each one had been some sort of blade, thrown unerringly to the center of a vital target. The dim haze he'd been drifting in dissipated all at once, carved away with a single stroke that left him feeling raw. Blair heard his teeth click together, and could only be grateful that his tongue hadn't been between them at that moment.

And the trouble was, he couldn't really tell which contributed more to his sense of dismayed shock-- the fact that Jim had noticed these things at all, or the fact that he'd actually had the balls to say them out loud. He had a ridiculous but nevertheless terrifying moment of feeling utterly trapped-- Jim had said they needed to talk and by God he had meant it; had meant to just sit down here and spill it all...

"When that whole dissertation thing happened and you stopped touching me," Jim continued in the same mild tone, as if this were a topic of conversation that they brought up every day instead of now for the first time ever, "I wanted... I realized that I needed to make it on my own, to be able to be on my own instead of counting on you to pull my ass out of the fire. I did what I had to do. I did okay. I needed to be in control of my senses completely, you know?"

"You didn't want to need me anymore." Blair felt a strong need to be sure about this, to confirm this truth. Not that he doubted Jim, but the entire conversation seemed so tinged with unreality that he just... had to be sure. He supposed he could have pinched himself and it would have had the same effect.

"Right. Pretty much." Still mild. Still straightforward. Still Jim.

Blair's stomach curled in on itself-- confusion, but of an intense variety he wasn't quite used to. He didn't know how to feel about that. Part of him felt sorry, terribly, bitterly sorry that he had withdrawn something from Jim that Jim apparently needed. Part of him exonerated himself with the thought that at any time Jim could have asked for help-- his research was on Sentinels, after all, not ESP. Part of him was proud of Jim for 'doing what he had to do', for 'doing okay'-- still frustratingly stoic behavior, but at least Jim had seen the need and done something about it.

And part of him, a small, slinking, shameful, but very obstinate part, resented the hell out of Jim for taking care of his own goddamn problems.

They didn't need each other anymore, and that was all Jim's fault. It made what had just happened between them in the kitchen into something totally incomprehensible, and he had to struggle to resist the urge to demand that Jim tell him that yes, it actually happened.

"Were you happy with that?" He had to ask, had to know. The words felt weighted, falling with ominous heaviness from his reluctant lips.

Jim shrugged, and Blair wondered if they were once again on entirely different wavelengths-- a puzzling place where he couldn't really tell what his question meant, to either Jim or himself. He felt a gulf between them, dismaying and unbreachable. Something cramped painfully deep in his chest.

"Well, it was kind of a mixed bag, Chief." Jim was staring out the window, whether to gather his thoughts or just avoid looking at him, Blair couldn't tell. "I was glad to have the independence, glad to have solved the problem. You told me once a long time ago that I'd changed my life to fit my senses instead of the other way around, and you were right. It's better this way."

"And you did it without me. Without my help." He pressed his lips together hard. Those words had come straight from that slinking part of him, and his face burned fiercely as he regretted saying them out loud.

But Jim only nodded, still staring off into space. "Ultimately, yeah. Of course, I'm not even going to remind you of the kind of mess I'd be in right now if I hadn't had your help in the first place, but finally I guess I really needed... I needed to do it on my own."

The air was still warm but he felt cold, chilled to his very bones-- horrible, because until this moment he hadn't realized how far he'd strayed from his own independent path, how for the first time ever he had found a set of circumstances, a way of being, a life that could cost him, would cost him, would cause him to actually feel the pain of being alone. Betrayed by himself in this way, and now it turned out that Jim had been the one with the requisite sanity to do what was necessary to sever the dependence between them-- he would have never guessed it of himself, of Jim, never.

"It doesn't sound like a mixed bag to me, Jim," he murmured quietly, wishing for the briefest of moments that he had the courage to acknowledge aloud his own craven need to be needed-- a terrible place to find himself in, being more fucked up than he knew, and yet not fucked up enough to get any serious mileage out of it. "Sounds like you did the right thing, like you took, like you handled... like you did it right."

Jim looked at him then, just a flash, a warm glance; and it was good and bad because, while it warmed him up significantly, it also put him in the awful situation of regretting missed opportunities-- whatever chance he'd had to support Jim, to foster independence without giving up the right to love him, it had passed long ago.

"Yeah, it was a hell of a good deal, Sandburg. A real victory for me. Until I looked around one day and wondered why we didn't need each other anymore. What if I'd gained a full partner and lost everything else? What if I hadn't figured you into the equation? That doesn't sound very fair."

And Jim was such a fair guy, so eternally driven towards courtesy, integrity, balance; that suddenly it occurred to him exactly why Jim had done what he'd done in the kitchen-- Jim owed him one. Jim 'owed' him, actually, quite a few. Blair swallowed, and wondered vaguely if he was going to throw up.

His heart was pounding, and his mind was flashing lightning-quick over the times he'd touched Jim-- how many? How many times? Exactly how many orgasms did Jim owe him before the balance sheet would be back in the black, before Jim could walk away from him free and clear?

"Why... why'd you do it?" He didn't really want to ask, but he needed to. He sincerely believed that Jim couldn't lie to him about this-- he might try to, in an attempt to spare his feelings or to soften the blow, but he knew, he just knew that, whatever Jim might say, the truth would be apparent.

Jim looked at him again, affectionate and perhaps a little nervous. Blair's muscles tensed, as if anticipating an attack. "I didn't want to need you for my senses anymore, Chief-- it was something between us that... that never would have gone away, would have always been there."

Always been there... Yes, that was true. It would have always been there. It would have... wedded them to each other, somehow. His eyes stung and he blinked, hating the heat and flush and cringe of hearing the words when, after all, he'd asked for them.

Jim reached for him, and Blair almost pulled away. He wanted to pull away, knew perfectly well that he couldn't accept this kind of pitying solace; the problem was that he couldn't turn away from it either.

Jim pulled him close, tucked his head into an easy fit against the smooth plain of his chest. When Jim spoke again the words rumbled under his ear. "So I had to think for a while, because I knew I needed something, but I just didn't know what it was. And for a long time I wished I hadn't done it, because you were-- and don't get me wrong on this, Sandburg, you're a great partner-- but you were just another partner to me, you know? A cop and a roommate, and I thought that I'd screwed things up for good, but then I figured out what I needed, and once I figured that out I was glad that I did what I did, because now I don't need a single, goddamn thing from you, except for you to love me."

It was hard, terribly hard, not to jerk back at those words, not to react. In his mind things were whirling, buzzing, zooming along at lightspeed while some doors slammed shut forever and other ones creaked open for the first time. But first there was this burn of curiosity to deal with, which he'd have to handle delicately so that he didn't scare the piss out of Jim by getting in his face and wrenching the information out of him... "You want. You want me to love you?"

Jim's warm hand stroked his hair. "Well, what did you think, Sandburg? That I was going for some sort of fuck-your-partner merit badge? Yeah, I want you to love me. Is there a problem?"

Blair squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, just one second for him to try to pull it together here because, hey-- neither laughing nor crying nor throwing up was going to do real justice to this situation. He took a breath. And another. And another. And then he pressed his face a little harder into Jim's chest, just to make sure that it felt as good as he thought it did. It did.

"No problem," he murmured to Jim's sternum. "No problem there at all."

Jim's arms came around him, and he managed to get his arms around and underneath Jim in this weird half-sprawled, half-reclined position they were in-- a really great and wonderful position, actually, because Jim couldn't see his face this way.

"Well good," Jim said, all gentleness now, a warm solid expanse that was just so perfect, so perfect for resting on. "No problem here either. Just so you know."

And this was miles, light-years away from where they'd been before-- different now, yes; both of them different from what they'd been before-- different expectations, of themselves and each other, different approaches to what turned out to be a shared truth, different needs...

Needs. Blair realized his between the space of one breath and the next, and under Jim's back his hands curled into sudden fists. "Jim?"


Blair moved his leg just a little, tracing the relief of one of Jim's anklebones with his foot. "Not to be hypercritical or anything, but you're kind of slacking off on that badge thing."

Jim sniffed. A sleepy-sounding sniff. "Mm?"

Blair cleared his throat. "If you want that merit badge, you're going to have to fuck me."

He felt Jim wake up beneath him, a subtle communication of a catch in the breath, a sudden acceleration of the heartbeat drumming away under his ear. It occurred to him that he was moving too fast, that his own head hadn't at all stopped spinning from the bewildering twists and turns of this conversation; but even so, he couldn't, wouldn't take the words back-- fast or not, he'd been waiting for a long, long time.

Apparently, Jim was running along similar lines. "Just like that, huh?" The arms around him tightened a little.

And God, he wasn't used to feeling embarrassed like this, to feeling shy-- he almost wished he could go back to that place he'd been before, when there was just Jim and Jim's needs, and lots of food around to serve as pretext and alibi and catalyst, as well as lots of sexual frustration. He didn't know himself like this.

But he knew what he wanted. He took another deep breath. "Yeah, unless you have an objection. Is there a problem?"

Jim shifted, and Blair's hip came into contact with one part of Jim's body that definitely didn't have a problem. "You... uh, you've done that before?"

Jim's voice still sounded mild and straightforward, but Blair wasn't entirely incognizant of nuances-- he sensed that Jim was as anxious as he was himself, maybe even more so. It soothed him immeasurably, allowed him to speak the truth without a qualm. "Nope. Thought about it a lot."

Jim sighed. "Me neither. And me too." Blair could feel tension gathering in the body beneath him, almost imperceptible but definitely there. His own body responded with a thrum of daring excitement and a wonderfully warm glow centered in his groin-- he and Jim; seekers of balance after all, and if Jim was edging deeper into nervousness then it probably behooved him to... well, to move things along.

He crept up by slow inches, determined to sacrifice no measure of touch on the way. He reached Jim's ear, which had turned quite pink since he'd seen it last, and leaned in. "I want you to, you know. I want it." He kept his whisper so low he couldn't even hear it himself, but Jim heard it, he could tell, because Jim shivered hard, and for a moment Blair thought that Jim might just roll into him and push against his leg and it would all be over, but Jim didn't.

Apparently they were beyond such things, now.

Jim Ellison-- lord of space and matter.

He must be, because Jim's room wasn't that big and his bed fit in it neatly, but when you were actually in the bed it seemed like it had to be at least an acre across. The third time that Blair rolled over on top of Jim and they still didn't go off the edge, it occurred to him that perhaps he'd done himself a serious disservice by sleeping on that stingy allowance of futon downstairs for four years. Jim's bed was a huge and comforting expanse of softness, and Jim himself was a huge and delicious expanse of hardness, and between the two Blair thought all was right with the world, at least in this particular corner of it.

It was very nice to see that, even with all the changes and the shifts and the revelations and the 'different'-ness, some things were just the same. Jim, for example, for all his straightforward talk on the couch and his proclamation of independence, seemed to be shifting wildly between intense reserve and the possibility of an incipient panic attack. In addition to these charming qualities was the fact that Jim still seemed to be pretty damn vulnerable to being manipulated. Or, in this case, seduced.

As for Blair, now that he'd adjusted to the idea that this reality was going to be far beyond his fantasies, now that his body and mind and heart had finally all gotten with the program; well, there was nothing easier in the world than to go ahead and do the seducing. He was free, and they were both naked, and that was all very good.

He was also running on instinct. And instinct surprised the hell out of him by suggesting that Jim really liked to be ordered around, in certain ways. Liked to be talked dirty to, even though it made him blush an alarming shade of crimson. Liked pretty much everything that Blair came up with on the spur of each moment, which gave him a fairly staggering sense of latitude and possibility.

"I could do anything to you." Spoken while he cupped Jim's face softly, the words fully loaded with the sense of wonder that was at the core.

"I wish you would." Jim's voice was soft, husky even, but nevertheless he sounded like he was strangling on his own desire, which was pretty hot in and of itself.

And it turned out that they both really liked kissing, so they did a lot of that and Blair could feel Jim going crazy for him, but he was on top at that point and it was easy from there to keep things under control, to deepen the tease and rush of touching lightly, slowly; and part of him wondered if Jim just might go nuts from this, or if he might himself, but then he decided what the hell. Nuts would be just fine.

It made him fearless. So the next time Jim rolled him over he wasted no time but pulled Jim's head right down to his nipples; made sure that Jim knew exactly how good that felt and how hot it made him. After that he pushed Jim lower, risking everything, but it turned out to be not much of a risk at all because even though Jim was lacking in the experience department, he more than made up for it with enthusiasm and general devotion to duty.

That brought something new to light, strange but true-- Jim apparently got seriously turned on by sucking him, and Blair got more turned on by Jim's arousal than he was by sliding in and out of Jim's silky, determined mouth. They were fighting again: Jim struggling to push him over the edge, Blair keeping up the tease by not letting him. His own frustrated desires seemed inconsequential, irrelevant in light of the fact that it was just so damn good to taunt Jim like this, to hold that hot mouth just millimeters away from his wet, throbbing erection and watch Jim want it.

"Please..." Jim asked him breathlessly, just in case he'd somehow missed out on the fact that Jim was desperate, Blair supposed. "Please-- let me..."

"Nuh-uh," he panted, hanging on to the sides of Jim's head, to his own determination, to everything that mattered. "I'm gonna come if you so much as touch me right now." He was fairly sure that Jim knew this. He was equally sure that it would really flip Jim's switches to hear him say it out loud.

And yeah, apparently it did-- Jim's flushed, damp face nuzzled into his hip, muffling most of his words. "--want you to... want that... want you..."

"I just bet you do." His whole body was buzzing, high on lust and resistance and the full sensual impact of Jim wanting him, touching him, loving him. "Get up here."

Jim licked his way up, exquisitely slow, and balances shifted as Blair's desire flared sharp through his body and he shivered, thinking that maybe he should just wrap his legs around Jim and finish it-- but no. There was more, so much more that he wanted, now. He took Jim's head in his hands, kissed him until he could feel Jim trembling, then rolled them over again so that he was on top. When he pulled back Jim blinked up at him intently, as if he were trying to memorize the moment. Perhaps he was.

"You know," Blair remarked, "I'm not, like, really an expert on the subject, but I do believe that you've got the biggest, most gorgeous cock I've ever seen."

Surprisingly, Jim winced. "Uh... look, Blair; when I said earlier that--"

"Oh no," Blair interrupted. His hands were on Jim's biceps and he squeezed hard for emphasis. "I don't want to hear any excuses. I've been thinking lustful thoughts about your dick for the last three years and now I'm finally going to do something about it, and you're just going to have to suffer and shut up and fuck me-- are we clear?"

Jim looked like he was stuck between wanting to laugh and wanting to be pissed. A fascinating combination. "Who died and put you in charge, Sandburg? Don't you think that--"

"Don't you think," Blair cut in, leaning close, dizzyingly close to Jim's mouth, "that fucking me would be pretty goddamn spectacular? You want my ass, Jim; don't even try to tell me that you don't..." and indeed, the hot brand of Jim's length along his thigh pressed harder as he spoke the words, pushed insistently against him while he watched Jim struggle.

"I don't want to hurt you," Jim whispered, his brow furrowed. Blair kissed the lines until they smoothed out.

"Hey, if you're killing me, I'll stop, okay? Until then, just do whatever you usually do-- just sit back and enjoy it--"

"I told you-- I haven't done this before. I don't know--"

Blair took one of Jim's hands, rubbed his stubbled cheek across it. "Right. But it can't be all that different..." he trailed off, drawn away momentarily from the urgency of his own needs by an unexpected possibility. "You mean you haven't done this... this ass thing... ever? With anybody?"

Jim somehow managed to scowl without losing anything of his general impression of anxiety. "'This ass thing'-- real smooth talker you are, Sandburg. And no, for your information, I haven't-- I mean, can you imagine a woman, or anybody really, wanting something that size shoved up their--"

Blair got a hand over Jim's mouth before he could finish. "That's enough-- thanks. I think I got it." He took his hand away so that he could kiss Jim, could nibble on that worry-firmed lower lip until it relaxed, until Jim opened up and let him in. Even Jim's tongue felt anxious, somehow, and that touched him, stirred him to the very center of his being. It told him that this really was some kind of big deal for Jim; and that either Jim was being too serious about it or he himself was taking it too lightly-- but there was only one way to find out, after all.

He pulled back and rose to his knees, leaning low and close over Jim so that he could rummage in the bedside table drawer. He paused a moment, then turned back. "Hey-- have you been with anyone in the last two weeks?"

Jim frowned a little. "Whatever memento you've come across in there, I can assure you it's mine. And no, I haven't. Why?"

Blair smiled, pulled out a small vial of Astroglide and a packet of condoms and tossed both on the bed. "Me neither." He closed the drawer and sank back on his heels, picked up the condoms and waved them over Jim's face. "Because, if you remember, you and I both had our Department physicals two weeks ago. Wanna live semi-dangerously?"

Jim didn't smile. He only looked concerned, and a little grave. "I... I guess pregnancy wouldn't exactly be an issue here, huh?"

Blair just kept smiling at him. "Not unless you're even more of a stud than I think you are. Sorry, Jim; we'll just have to adopt." He tossed the condoms onto the table, and leaned down for another kiss.

And it was as if Jim knew that he was serious, or at least, that his intentions were, because Jim kissed him as if this were the last chance he'd ever have at it. Blair could taste, feel his desire and his fear-- a turbulent, high-voltage mixture that seemed to slip itself directly into his bloodstream, making him tingle everywhere. When he pulled back, Jim's eyes were closed tight, and there was a moist glitter at the edge of his lashes that made something deep in Blair's chest cramp up.

"I want you," he whispered as he kissed Jim's damp eyelids. "Don't doubt me on that."

Jim's eyes stayed closed, and Blair didn't try to talk him out of it. The time for games was over. He was gentle now; touching Jim's body with reverence, with silent longing and what he hoped was reassurance. Jim's closed eyes and still form were reminiscent of that first time he'd seen Jim naked and aroused, years ago when he'd been lost in a zone; and Blair couldn't help but wonder how much different his life would have been if he'd had the strength, the perspicacity, the confidence to touch Jim like this, back then.

A pointless question, really. The remarkable fact of having found Jim at all suggested to him that there was a certain amount of destiny involved, and that perhaps things happened when they were supposed to. It was a path of thought and reflection that he could have happily spent several hours wandering down, but right now he had much better things to do. He put his wondering to rest with the thought that the time, the circumstances, the connection hadn't been right back then, but it was most certainly right, right now.

He stroked Jim, almost a massage; long, smooth touches from the crown of his head all the way down to his toes, making sure to catch all the sensitive parts in between. Jim moaned softly and arched under his hands, but he didn't relax noticeably, that Blair could tell. The quiet noises were almost his undoing-- Jim was just so damn responsive; even with his eyes closed he was so very present, feeling this, feeling what Blair did to him. It made him want... everything, to somehow consume Jim, take him over, take him places he'd never dreamed he'd go-- and that, after all, was what this was about.

Moving as quietly as he could he straddled Jim's shoulders-- the stretch burned through his thigh-muscles but even that felt good right now, another note in the rising complex hum of his body's needs. He fumbled for the lube and for Jim's hand simultaneously, and managed to squirt a bunch of it on Jim's fingers without making too much of a mess; kind of amazing given that he was shaky and not at all coordinated. He tugged Jim's slippery hand around to his ass, and when Jim groaned he took advantage of the open mouth in front of him to point the tip of his cock there-- just the lightest brush over Jim's bottom lip but that was all it took, because Jim sucked him in eagerly, hungrily; and it was just the most fucking gorgeous thing he'd ever seen, to watch Jim take him in like that. He told Jim so, softly.

And apparently the distraction was sufficient, because Jim didn't need any further prompting but slid his hand inward and upward to where Blair was ready for him, where Blair craved him, where Blair opened himself just like Jim had opened to him. Blair managed to say 'yes' but that was really the only word he could come up with, the only word in the world that could take in all and everything of how incredible it was to be with Jim this way-- penetrated and penetrating, rocking back and forth slowly, gently; on fire with lust and tenderness and the delirious rhythm of give and take between them. Yes. He said it over and over. He moaned it, whispered it, cried out with it when Jim stretched him further, took him deeper; he kept on saying it because it was so true, so perfectly, irrevocably true.

All too soon he felt himself giving way, losing everything except what he needed and then he couldn't stand another moment of sweet hot double-edged perfection so he pulled back, pulled away shaking, moving back and putting his mouth on Jim's mouth quick so that Jim couldn't stop him, couldn't stop, he couldn't stop this. Jim's tongue was salty, earthy; something very close to what he imagined Jim's tears might taste like. A solemn kiss, a sacrament, deep and soft and wet and sure-- he held Jim to it while he found the lube blindly, and when he took the satin length of Jim's erection in his slick grip Jim said something, murmured something unintelligible into the hollow of his open mouth; the only word that Blair caught was 'please'.

But that was all he needed to hear. He cupped Jim's face with one hand, gentling him, holding him, and with the other he steadied Jim's cock while he sank back. Jim was hard, so hard against him, brought right snug up against him with one easy move, and there was a pause-- a heartbeat, a breath-- and then he let it go and moved back and groaned and Jim groaned with him, and Jim was with him, in him, inside him, just a little but God it felt like a lot.

"Ohh... fuck!" The words broke from his throat before he could stop them. Jim's eyes flew open and speared him, transfixed him as surely and bluntly as his cock did.

"Blair-- don't--" A harsh edge of panic there and Blair shifted his hand, covered Jim's mouth again, fast.

"No, Jim-- it's good, I'm good, we're good--" He knew he wasn't making sense and that this rush of words wasn't exactly telling the truth about the tight, vicious pain that sent ripples of shock through his system, but they were the words he had faith in anyway. "It's okay, just relax, we're okay..." he didn't know if he was telling Jim or himself. It didn't really matter.

When the intense pangs dulled to an ache he moved again, just the smallest bit up and back, finding his way a centimeter at a time. Jim's eyes shone bright, painful, overwhelmed blue above his muffling hand, and Blair couldn't stand to look at it anymore so he closed his own eyes, brought all his focus to bear on willing his body to take this, to take Jim, to bring them together. It felt very much like the tenderest, most vulnerable part of him was being slowly lacerated, but beyond that surface-level pain he could feel something much different. He sensed it only vaguely, like a shadow cast on a cloudy day but becoming clearer all the time-- a kind of raw eroticism that satisfied the man that he was in a way he'd never experienced before.

Getting fucked. By Jim. Oh yeah. It was enough to keep him moving.

At some point it got easier, but he barely noticed. His senses were full, swamped and brimming with the lush, dizzy reality of what he was doing-- making love to Jim, riding gently up and down on Jim's cock, with Jim's sweat sliding beneath his thighs, Jim's groans and gasps under his hand making his palm alternately hot and cool. If it weren't for the pain, he would have come explosively.

Then he was down-- all the way down, with his ass pressed to Jim's trembling thighs, nowhere else to go.

"All of it," he whispered. He opened his eyes and finally released Jim's mouth, touching just his cheek, very gently. "Jesus fucking Christ that's all of it, Jim; I've got you in me. I've got you."

Jim was staring at him as if he'd suddenly sprouted a pair of wings from his shoulders. It formed a circuit-- Jim came in through his eyes and up through his ass and it all met up somewhere deep in the middle where he was melting, burning, opening up. "Blair--"

He found Jim's shaking hands and pulled them, dragged them up his thighs to his hips. He had to struggle to find enough breath to speak. "Come on, Jim-- show me. Show me what you can do here; come on come on come on-- come on and fuck me-- oh God-- Jim--"

The muscles under his thighs tensed and then Jim was sitting up, Jim had him, Jim had him wrapped up safe in his arms. As soon as he felt himself being held Blair let go and slumped heavily against the firm breadth of Jim's chest, half-sighing and half-moaning, more glad of Jim's strength, Jim's power than he could ever remember being before. Jim had him. It was as if he'd exhausted all his resources, as if the sweat and heat and effort had just caught up with him all at once and now there was nothing left of him but feeling, nothing he could possibly do except abandon himself to the shift and pulse of the connection, the place where Jim had breached his body so profoundly. He had surrendered to something, but he didn't know what it was.

"Blair." No panic now, Jim's voice in his ear was simply awed, soft and stunned and very gentle. "I've got you, it's okay, so good, Blair; I... I've got you." Jim's hands were almost terrifyingly strong, the way they took him and took everything, took the full weight of his body and lifted him-- sliding, throbbing-- and lowered him down slowly, so that he moaned again and Jim gasped, and he was so... fucking... full.

Jim rocked him, moved him slowly back and forth, and lifted under him, pushed into him. Just when Blair believed he was hanging on the edge of unbearable pain, something inside him burst into electric life, and for a moment he thought he was in pain, because it was too explosive, too wrenching to be pleasure-- pleasure didn't come in that intensity, he'd thought.

But he was wrong, dead wrong about that, and Jim seemed to know it even if he didn't, because when he cried out sharply and went rigid Jim didn't pull away. Jim pulled him down, instead; pulled him down and pushed up, thrust up into him again, and Blair thought for sure that it would split him but by God he wanted to be split, driven open, pierced and annihilated and destroyed just so long as he could feel that, feel that, again.

"Again..." he couldn't manage more than that. It was enough. Jim lifted him and brought him down, thrusting, moving-- fucking his open body with desperate and primal grace. Jim had him, Jim moved in him, Jesus Jim was... so... goddamn... good... at this. Blair had nothing to do but accept, take pleasure, and feel; but that in and of itself seemed to be more than a full-time job, because he felt like he was drowning in it.

"Can't get enough of you--" he heard this only vaguely as the world spun sideways, and then there was the smooth coolness of soft bedding against his back, a cradling support and a fierce contrast to the slippery heat of Jim's chest against his own. His thigh muscles ached again as Jim hiked his legs up, clutched hard and oh fuck that was deep, that was all the way, that was Jim hard as iron inside him and pounding right exactly into that place that just sent him flying.

From far away he heard himself, helpless low cries and half-formed assertions that Jim was good, so very good right there, rightfuckingthereyeah; and then awareness floated down like a veil that he was, that Jim was, that they were going to come soon; that this was Jim taking them there, thrusting both of them towards that inevitable end. The intimacy of it seemed suddenly scorching, nevermind that he'd seen Jim come before or that Jim had seen him-- this was different, this was connected, united and mingled and socked into each other with wounding sensuality. There would be no escape, no avoidance of this, now or ever.

Okay. No escape. He could deal with that. He had Jim and Jim had him and Jim was groaning like he was dying, breath hot against his neck and Blair stretched back and offered that too and Jim bit down and then he went hard over the edge, spurting, pumping against Jim's slick stomach while Jim went rigid over him, one hand tangled in his hair while the other pulled his ass up and up and up, coming inside him with perceptible throbs and pulses that echoed through his whole body.

"Oh... my... God--" three separate moans brushing over the damp skin of his neck, harsh and final. He could only tremble and nod, holding to whatever part of Jim came closest to hand, holding on, pulling Jim tight against him, holding him close.

For the moment, he flatly refused to believe that there might ever come a time when he would have to let go.

Two lovers, finally together after some unimaginable series of misunderstandings, misfortunes and reversals, speaking affection with smiles and indulgences and gifts. Two lovers learning to come to terms with the past in light of the idea that, when the right words aren't there, there's really no such thing as a shared history.

Blair had seen it before, sure, but only in movies or sometimes on television. Therefore, in his personal experience, the very idea of it had taken on the flavor of hyperbole, of myth; something you were supposed to interpret as a trademark happy ending, right before the fade to black.

But then he woke up to a reality of Jim, loaded down with a mellow smile and a colander full of washed strawberries. Jim's hair (what there was of it, anyway) was a disorderly, porcupiney mess, and he looked a bit like someone had given him a good whack with the goofy stick.

Struck. He looked struck. Stricken. But in a good way. Blair had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from snickering.

The urge to laugh departed abruptly when he moved to sit up. His ass hurt, dammit, and pretty much every major muscle group in his body seemed to be complaining in one way or another. Jim, on the other hand, didn't appear to be the least bit sore-- he just kept smiling away, rumpled and fully at ease in his open robe and boxers. Blair suddenly wanted to grab the colander out of his hand and start pelting him with wet fruit.

"Good morning, Sandburg." Jim sounded like he really meant it.

"You're way too cheerful, Jim." That was as much of a warning as Blair was willing to give.

But apparently Jim hadn't switched on his danger alert system, because his only response was raised eyebrows and a bigger grin. "Yeah. What's not to be cheerful about?"

Blair groaned softly, scratching his chest. He was covered everywhere with a layer of dried sweat, and it itched like a bastard. "Starvation. The destruction of the rainforest. Republicans. Domestic violence. Saddam Hussein. The Jags' last season. The fact that my ass feels like I sat on a Titan missile."

Jim sat down on the bed with enough force to jostle Blair into another groan. As Blair glumly watched he picked out a jumbo-sized strawberry and took an enormous bite, unmindful of the pink trickle that dripped down his chin. "You know," Jim mumbled, barely intelligible, "you're pretty fucking hot when you're pissing and moaning."

Blair sniffed. "Jim, I just told you I loved you and let you get lucky. At this point you'd think I was pretty fucking hot if I dressed up like Sid Vicious and started doing a thrash version of 'Viva Las Vegas'."

Jim looked off into the distance for a moment, his brows drawn low, then back at Blair. He ate the rest of the strawberry, slurping around the stem. "Yup."

Blair sighed, heavy with muscle strain and the pointless fatuity of trying to provoke someone who was determined to be happy about everything. He rubbed his eyes, struggling with a brain that was still one part asleep, one part amused, and the rest busy thinking very deep thoughts about what you sow and what you reap, and how good things can be when you wait for them to ripen.

He opened his eyes and sniffed again. Strawberries, tart and summery. His stomach growled. "Give me some of those, man. I get half." He reached for the colander.

Jim held it out to him willingly enough, still smiling, apparently perfectly satisfied to share.