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It Happened One Night by Penelope Whistle

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Disclaimers: No money being made by me. On anything, actually.

Notes: Written as an exercise in the omniscient pov. If you don't know what that is, you aren't going to care anyway.

Warnings: Don't eat potato salad that's been sitting out in the sun 6 hours. Don't walk in dark alleys in the middle of the night. Stay away from guys named Paul.

It Happened One Night

by
Penelope Whistle

Blair looked up from his computer at the dining room table and eyed his roommate speculatively. Jim was tossing peanuts up in the air and catching them in his mouth as he half-watched a game on TV.

"Hey, Jim?" The tone was cautious.

"Yelp." He was 18 for 18 and on his way to the loft championship. "Watch this, Sandburg. I can even make it if I throw it up behind my back." He hummed a couple of bars of "Roll Me Over in the Clover" as he deftly demonstrated, finishing the part of the tune that went "roll me over lay me down and do it aGAIN" with a victorious gulp of number 19. Number 20 was shelled and in the air when--

"Do you have hemorrhoids by any chance?"

Missed.

"WHAT?" Do I have WHAT?"

"Hemorrhoids, Jim. Swollen blood vessels that--"

"I know what the fuck hemorrhoids are, you ditz. What I want to know is why you're asking me and--never mind that--why you think it might be any of your business."

"So you do have hemorrhoids."

"SANDBURG!" Jim stood up, and 20 peanut shells clattered onto the floor. "Jesus. I have no-- What are--? I mean, why the hell should you care?" He brushed shell dust off his jeans and glowered. "I'm not going to want to know the answer to this, am I?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "It's a simple question, Jim, and it should be a simple answer." He was using the Patient Voice.

Jim sat down again, his back to Blair, and began changing channels rapidly. "The simple answer is no. Would you mind telling me why you asked?"

"Well--" Blair snagged a note pad and bustled over to the couch. "Yuck. There's shells on the floor."

"So?" Jim kept clicking the remote.

Blair plopped on the couch and tapped his pad with his pen. "I've been developing a profile." He tapped some more.

Jim kept clicking.

"Uh, Jim, are you listening, man?"

"I sure am, Sandburg, but you aren't saying anything." Jim kept clicking.

"Well, okay. You know how anal retentive you are?"

Jim clicked off the TV and tossed the remote onto the coffee table. He turned his head to Blair, his eyes hooded and frosty. "I feel sure you're going to tell me."

"Oh, c'mon, Jim. You know how you are with the house rules, color-coded food containers, bitching about my leaving towels on the floor, stuff like that."

"Go on." The eyes became impossibly colder.

"Well--" Blair's pencil was beating a frantic tattoo on his notepad by now. "I wondered if there was a correlation between anal retentive behavior and--uh--anal retention-uh--in actuality. So to speak. And if I could show that this-uh-- bowel function--or dysfunction--had a purpose in sentinel--"

"Stop." Jim shook his head. "I used to joke about how the next thing you were going to do was crawl up my ass with a microscope, but I never expected it literally to-- I don't know what to say to this. I think the less said the better." He got up. "I'm going to bed. In the morning I hope this is all gone."

"Jim." Blair got up and moved in front of his partner. He was being what Jim called Winsome Blair. "Ah, Jim. C'mon, man. Don't be that way. It's only 10:30, and we have the day off tomorrow. We're cool. We're friends. What's the big deal here?" He put a hand on Jim's arm. "Talk to me."

Jim removed Blair's hand and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the chill was gone, replaced by something that could have been simple tiredness. "You know, lately I've been very aware that I'm not getting any younger."

Blair looked puzzled, then murmured, "Yeah, I know what you mean."

"Actually, Sandburg, I doubt that you do." Jim walked around Blair and headed for the stairs, then stopped and held up his hand. "Sorry." He turned. "You really want to talk?"

"Well, sure." Blair shrugged, still frowning.

"Fine." Jim started up the stairs. "I think. I hope. Hoo boy." He laughed to himself as a man on the gallows might who marvels that a series of ordinary choices could lead to an extraordinary step into midair. Then under his breath: "Oh well, what the hell."

"Hey, Jim? You okay, man? I thought we were going to talk."

"We are. We are. But first I'm going to get comfortable. You might want to do the same. I don't know how long this will take. Meanwhile, take a look in the refrigerator and tell me what you see."

Blair went into the kitchen. "What's this about? You're starting to worry me here, Jim. Okay. Fridge. I see a six-pack of Molson's, leftovers, a block of bleu cheese.... Eew. Scratch that--" Something hit the trash can with a thunk. "Hey, is this about my not--? Oh my god, look at the different colors on--hmm." Another thunk. "Okay, Jim, I get the point--OH!" He turned to find Jim standing behind him in sweatpants and black tee-shirt. Jim took his shoulders and turned him back to the refrigerator.

"Do you see any color-coded containers in there, Chief?"

"No."

"When was the last time you saw any?"

"I don't know. A couple of months?"

"Try two years. That's something I'd like to talk about."

Blair slammed the refrigerator door. "So I underestimated. Is our talking gonna feature you busting my balls? Because I can get that from my advisor and any number of other places, thank you very much. I don't--"

"I'm not interested in busting anything." Jim went over to sit on the couch and patted the cushion next to him.

Blair came over and sat down stiffly.

Jim looked hard at him. "What's wrong with you? You've been sort of hunched up this evening."

"I slept at the dining room table last night." Blair flexed one shoulder. "Not that I meant to. While you were on that stake-out, I graded three sections of exams and woke up with the side of my face stuck to a blue book." He flexed the other shoulder "Ow."

"Turn around and let me work on you."

Blair turned his back. "Don't be going medieval on that left shoulder there, Jim. It is really tender."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Jim grinned. "Nothing a good workout on the rack wouldn't cure--Whew!" He pulled his hands away and smelled them. "Where have you been?"

"What?"

"Your shirt. It smells like stale cigarette smoke. A lot of cigarette smoke."

"No kidding." Blair turned around. "You can smell that? That's great, Jim. I mean, I just popped into the faculty lounge for a second this morning. That's almost 12 hours ago. And--oh. I was late, so I didn't shower before I went to school. Now don't tell me you can smell--"

"I can tell what you had for lunch. I can tell about how long it's been since you washed. I can tell if you've been anxious during the day. I can tell--"

"Stop." Blair got up and backed away. "This is a little too up close and personal for me. I mean, if I'm in bed with someone, then I expect--"

"Speaking of which, you might want to tell Cindy--wasn't that the girl before last?--you might want to tell her that someone sold her fake Chanel. But maybe she--"

"Oh shit!" Blair tore off his flannel overshirt and held it against him as if to cover his nakedness, although he still wore two tee-shirts. "Jesus, Ellison. That's invasion of privacy or something. How could you? How long have you--? GOD!" He turned right, then left, seeking escape, when--

"Hey, hey, hey. Settle down." Jim reached out and grabbed an end of the offending shirt as it whipped by. "Hey, it's all right."

Blair just looked at him with wide, unbelieving eyes. "I'm going to take a shower now."

Jim sighed and, kicking off his shoes, stretched out on the couch.

Fifteen minutes later, a moist blur banged out of the bathroom and through the French doors. Five minutes after that, Blair padded out in socks and sweats. Jim pulled up his knees to make room, and Blair climbed over the back of the couch to plop down in a mirror image of his partner.

"Blair, I'm-"

"No. You're right. It's all right. It just took me by surprise is all." He smiled ruefully. "Mr. Open Minded didn't like the idea of someone observing him as much as he observes others."

"Do you think Mr. Open Minded could get us a couple of cold ones?"

Blair slid over the back of the couch and slid back with two beers. He flashed a quick look at Jim before sitting back. "It's sorta different if you give someone information about yourself." He squirmed to get comfortable.

"Yes it is. I'm sorry. I can't help it. It just happens."

"So what do you do with the information?" Blair studied his bottle.

"Do?"

"Yeah." A short laugh. "I mean, if you notice my heart rate is elevated, then do you say to yourself, 'Jeez, the little wimp is terrified again,' or--what?"

Jim sat up, brow creasing. "I don't say anything to myself. What would I say? I might look around to see if there's some threat or--" He tapped Sandburg's toe. "Why would you think I'd be in the business of judging you?"

Blair didn't say anything, just picked at the label on his beer with a thumbnail.

"Sandburg? I said why-"

"Because that's what I'd do, all right?

Jim's frown deepened, and he lay back again. He opened his mouth several times, and apparently thought better of it.

"So what did you want to talk about?" Blair stuffed a pillow behind his back.

"This may not be such a good idea, but I need to ask you something. Or, maybe I just need to tell you something, and then you can say what you want to say, or--"

"Yeah, Jim. I believe it's called conversation."

Jim just looked at him.

"I'm kidding, I'm kidding." Blair rubbed his hands at the air. "I'm sorry."

"It was something that happened on stake-out--"

Blair sat up. "You said the perp didn't show. You didn't zo--?"

"Sandburg, just let me tell it, okay?"

Blair mimed zipping his lip, then before Jim could open his mouth: "But can I say one more thing?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "Go ahead."

"We both can stretch out if you take the inside, and I go for the outside."

Jim stretched his legs out against the back cushions and absently gathered Blair's feet close to his outside hip to keep them from sliding off the couch. He sighed. "Can I begin now?"

"Just one more thing. How about if we agree that for one night, we tell each other the absolute, total truth. Sort of like Truth or Dare."

"What the hell's that?"

"Something like tell the truth or you have to take a dare. I think. I forget. But doesn't it sound sort of--you know-- dangerous? Whaddya say?"

"Sandburg, you can't even remember the damn rules. No! I'm not agreeing to any fool thing where you're going to make up the rules as you go along. I'm not that stupid."

"Okay, okay. Then how about if we simply agree to tell the absolute truth?"

Jim looked skeptical. "And I suppose you know the absolute truth, right? But all right. I get the point--the truth so far as we can in our limited knowledge--whatever. Fine. I suspect this is going to be a bigger problem for you than me. Now can I tell you about the stake-out?"

Blair sat back looking eminently satisfied and waved his beer bottle.

"I sent you home at 9 because I knew the perp wasn't going to show. I don't know how, but--anyway, he didn't, as I told you later. What I didn't tell you was I had this strange--experience. It was like thinking, but not." He rubbed his forehead. "I haven't even started, and I'm already in trouble here."

"Just tell me what happened."

"I was having thoughts, but you know how you usually pick one out and worry it to death, or you reject others the minute they come up--which only makes them come up more--"

"Like don't think of pink elephants." Blair put a hand over his mouth. "Sorry."

"Exactly. Except the strange thing this time was that I wasn't doing any of that. I mean, thoughts would go by, and I'd just let them. It was like home movies--or radio talk shows, because sometimes there weren't any pictures--but without the broadcast censor. One of the thoughts, as a matter of fact, was that I was finally doing that meditation stuff you've been trying to teach me."

Blair grinned. "Awriiight. Cool. Ellison the Zen master. I like this."

Jim raised an eyebrow at him. "Maybe. Maybe not."

"Uh oh. Don't tell me. You saw my death in slow mo as Dr. Gainer buries me under 40,000 blue books, and I go down for the third time gasping for--"

"NO! Don't talk like that. No, I was just sitting there in the dark with these thoughts drifting by--"

"Like what?"

"Like the view off the balcony here, like watching you try to keep the filling inside a broken taco on the way to your mouth, like wondering if Marsha put the evidence back in lock-up, like--"

Jim finished his beer. "Like--I thought of you saying that thing you say a lot--you said it tonight--about color-coded leftovers and house rules and all the rest of it, and I realized that none of that has been true for years--well, two years at least. And the next thought I had was--I really wished I didn't live alone."

Blair sat up with a jerk, pulling his legs back. One foot hit the floor and the forgotten peanut shells. He picked one up and looked at it, then threw it back down. "I don't follow." He frowned. "What about me?"

Jim sat up too. "Well, that was exactly my next thought. Any other day, I'd have gone with that thought as obvious and logical, maybe even thought it several times to override the other one. But I was still in--what do you call it?--Sit Back and Watch the Show Mode. Damn, I'm really not explaining this very well."

"You're doing great. What happened then?"

"The next thought was the last thought I remember--and I've been trying to forget it ever since." Jim scooted forward within reach of Blair. "I thought--" He took a deep breath. "I realized you lived with someone else."

Blair looked like he'd been shot.

Jim persisted. "No, really. You lived with your idea of Jim Ellison, maybe your memory of Jim Ellison, the Jim Ellison who had house rules and used to complain about wet towels. But you didn't really live with me. I have to tell you, when that thought hit me, I broke out in a cold sweat. I felt fucking invisible--and terrified."

"Jim--" Blair put a hand on his knee.

"After the stake-out I buried myself in the office until I figured you'd left for school, then came home and slept like a dead man. Which was entirely appropriate since I'd been walking around like a ghost anyway, sort of looking at people and trying to see if they saw me or just their ideas of me.

"The terror went away, of course. I mean, that much adrenaline over time could kill you. But I couldn't stop thinking about it, about how I could die without ever being--known. I've never been so afraid of dying before."

He bounced a fist lightly on the hand that still rested on his knee. "So whaddya think, Sigmund? Is this a mid-life crisis sort of thing or what?"

He laid his hand over Blair's. "Are you shivering?"

"Yeah, a little." Blair tried to laugh. "I think your existential terror is contagious."

"I never fixed your shoulder. Turn around and let me see what I can do."

Blair turned his back to Jim, who started to knead the hard muscles. "Hey, Jim. What's with the peanut shells, man? I can't believe you left those on the floor. Were you--? Don't tell me you were just trying to prove me wrong about the anal retention stuff."

"Yeah, I was. Did it work?"

"No."

"Shit. It's been driving me crazy knowing they're down there."

Blair hooted. Then got very quiet. "I'm sorry, Jim, if I made you feel invisible. I am so, so sorry. I don't want to live alone either."

Jim stilled his hands on the biceps in front of him and inhaled raggedly.

Blair reached around to cover one of Jim's hands with his own. "Every time you say that about me and table legs," he whispered, "I feel the same way--like you're talking about someone else, like you don't know who I am."

Jim made a small noise and pressed his forehead into the tangle of hair at Blair's neck. "I'm sorry," he said.

They sat there, rocking imperceptibly, for long minutes. Finally, Jim pulled back and started to work on the shoulder muscles again. "You know, sometimes I say that thing about the table leg just because--well, I don't know why." He shifted uncomfortably. "I don't know why exactly. It's like a type of self defense."

"Self defense. Against me. Boy, that's a good one."

"Yeah. Maybe it's a sentinel thing. Because I'm so aware of you--your smell, your heartbeat, everything--I think I do it to keep from getting too close. Or something." He laughed a little. "I don't know."

"What do I smell like?" Blair asked. "To you."

"Hmmm." The hands continued to inquire into the spaces between muscle striations. "Sort of sweet actually. Like dried figs."

"Figs!"

"Uh huh. Like now. If you've been under stress, then you're sort of sweet and sour. But even that varies, depend--"

"Yuck. Sounds awful."

"It's not. I like it. It's a little like figs and dried apricots together."

Blair sat quietly for a while. "I like the way you smell too," he said.

It was Jim's turn to be silent. "You can smell me?"

"Sure. I'm sure not the same way you can smell me, like two city blocks away. But if, for instance, I go upstairs right after you've gotten out of bed, say, in the winter when the windows are closed, then, yeah, I smell something that I identify as Jim Ellison. I think of it as your signature scent."

"Do I dare ask what that smells like?"

"Well, mmm, it's sort of a cross between, I'd say, leather and toasted almonds. You smell--warm."

Jim laughed. "How're the muscles?"

Blair hunched his shoulders and rolled his head from side to side. "Man, if you ever decide to stop being a cop, you could make big bucks as a masseur. No kidding. That was the best."

He flopped back in his spot facing Jim. "Soooo--" He rolled his eyes. "Out of the top five things that you would never tell me, what's number five?"

"Jesus, Sandburg." Jim stretched out again and pulled Blair's feet to him. "Doesn't the category of 'never tell' pretty much work against that question? If there're things--"

"I'm not talking about military secrets, black ops no-no's, stuff like that. I mean personal things like--I don't know--your most embarrassing moment, or your worst nightmare, or whatever. I just thought that we could try to become known to each other, Jim. If that's something you want to do." He looked pointedly at his partner.

"Hmpf. Maybe there are worse things than dying anonymous." Jim squinted one eye. "This is going to hurt, isn't it?"

"Bitch, bitch, bitch. You're the one who brought it up, Ellison, and I happen to agree with you. It's not like I'm any great shakes at true confessions either. In fact, I'll make that my Number Five, which is--I am scared to death of real intimacy, but I do fake intimacy real well. Okay, now it's your turn."

"Whoa. Not so fast, pal. That didn't register as a true confession on the Sandburg Emoti-meter. No change in heart rate, no--"

"Well, shit, Jim, I don't have any way of measuring your--wait, wait, I do too. But I'm not telling what it is." Blair mugged a Cheshire Cat grin.

"I'm still waiting for a genuine Number Five--"

"I'm thinking. Okay, okay, I've got it." Blair cleared his throat and intoned, "Nummmmber Five of the top five things I don't want Jim Ellison to know-- You better be thinking, Ellison, because this is a good one. Ready?" Eyes twinkling. "Okay. I do not have a single feeble clue about what I'm doing with the sentinel business. And--" Mouth drooping. "I live in fear that I'm going to fail you in some way." He looked down, then up again. "That last was the real one."

"I know." Jim rubbed a foot against Blair's hip.

"What's your Number Five?" Blair asked.

"How do you know the difference between--say--Number Four and Number Five? How do you even know there is a Number Anything?"

"I hope you're not stalling, man, because that's the tactic of a weenie chicken-shit poltroon, okay?"

"Well, excuse me all to hell, Mighty Joe Young of the touchy- feely brigade. And what the fuck's a poltroon?"

"A poltroon's a thorough-going candy-ass coward, which you are about to be dubbed unless I hear a Number Five real fast." He took a good look at the man opposite and added, "You just say what's there, Jim. The mind's more like a computer than we'd like to think. I'm gonna cue you up, and you simply say what's there to say. Okay?" He cleared his throat. "And Number Five of the top five things Jim Ellison does not want to tell Blair Sandburg is--"

"I want you to admire me."

"Crimeny, Jim. If I didn't before, I do now." Blair laughed. "Damn. It takes some kind of major cojones to say something like that. You are gonna be one hard act to follow, man. Whoa, momma."

Jim was blushing furiously, looking ridiculously pleased, and he growled, "Can the BS, Sandburg, and give me your Number Four."

"All right. Number Four. Wow." Blair looked surprised. "Taking my own advice about saying what's there to say--weird. Like what's there is--I want you to rub my feet. How strange is that, huh?"

Jim pushed himself up to sit crosslegged and pulled Blair's feet into his lap. He whisked a sock off and began gently massaging the instep of one foot. Blair groaned with pleasure.

"Ellison, if you're only doing this to get out of coming up with a Number Four, I gotta tell you it's working. I'm not sure I could trade this--"

"My Number Four is something like I wish I had your openness." Jim frowned and concentrated on the ball of the foot in his care.

"But that's not it, is it?"

"No."

"So what is it? Just spit it out."

"I want--no, not exactly--" Jim started. "It's--I wish I could ask you to rub my feet too." He looked up quickly before going back to his work, gently pulling on each toe.

"Why can't you ask, Jim?" Blair said softly.

"Don't know. Just can't." He sighed. "Not only that. If I did ask and you said yes, I probably couldn't even let you do it. How repressed is that, huh?" He put the sock back on Blair's foot and took off the other sock. "I can hardly stand to say the words. Saying what you feel seems to come so easily to you."

Blair was silent for a while, although at one point he pretended to throw his voice with a falsetto rendition of "This little piggy" as he wiggled the appropriate toes. Jim only smiled a little, as if he weren't allowed to participate fully in the joke.

"You know, Jim, it's not really that easy for me either. Saying what I feel."

"It sure looks like it, baby."

Blair reddened. "I just thought of a Number Three. I really like it when you call me baby. You did that once before." He looked up from watching the foot massage. "You don't say it in a kid sense. You say it the way a trucker might talk to his semi."

"I don't know, Sandburg. That doesn't sound so good." Jim finished with the second foot and put its sock back on. "I hope you don't mean like the guy's possession."

"No, like something he loves and depends on through thick and thin. Sort of like that."

"Mmm." Jim absently rubbed the stocking feet in his lap. "Thick and thin. Damn. I think I have a Number Three too." He grinned ruefully at Blair. "Is this is supposed to get harder as we go along? Because right now it seems like we're driving down a steep mountain road on glare ice, with sides of beef starting to sway on their hooks in the back of that semi of yours, and we're just not going to get out of this one alive, you know?"

"At least, if we wreck, we wreck together."

Jim grimaced. "Aah. Now that I can't see. I see you rolling out of the cab at the last second while I crash and burn. No kidding, Sandburg, this feels like the Twilight Zone, and I don't even know how we got here, but I think I might want to go back."

"We can go back any time you say, Jim, but you think about it: We stop now and we start feeling safe again--you know, no glare ice--but we also start feeling sort of let down, like the exhilaration is gone and we missed something." Blair took his feet back and stood up. "I have to pee. You clean up those shells on the floor, maybe get us a couple more beers, then tell me what you've decided. Helen Keller said that life is a daring adventure or nothing."

"She tell you that? You know sign language, do you?"

"I know the important words and phrases, starting with Fuck You." Blair proceeded to demonstrate.

"Mmm. Graphic. How do you say 'You're a bossy little prick?'" Jim grumbled. Blair smiled, and Jim got the broom. He looked like the farthest thing from a dead man.

After they took care of personal business, restocked the beer and had a foot fight on the couch about who was taking up too much room, they settled down to eye each other warily.

"You owe me a Number Three," said Blair.

"I know, I know."

"You said you already had it in mind."

"All right. I'm thinking how to say it." Jim jutted his jar.

"Beware of shaving the truth."

"Keep that up, buddy, and Number Three isn't going to be true at all any more."

"Well, what is it?" Blair insisted.

"It's getting less and less true by the minute," Jim said evilly. He gave a little cackle.

"Now, come on, Jim. You are working on Poltroon First Class here. Don't fuck with me."

"Ho ho ho," said Jim. "Okay. I still don't know how to say it."

"SAY IT! I'LL FIGURE IT OUT!"

"Jesus, Sandburg, keep your hair on." Jim gritted his teeth. "Number Three--for me--is--at least it was until you started being such a pain in the ass--is that I pretty much--no, I do--dread the day. That. You. Go. Offanddoyourownthingandmoveoutmaybegetmarriedandstop working with me. Like that." When he took a drink of beer, the bottle rattled against his teeth.

"Oh," said Blair. Then: "I guess I'm not really looking forward to that myself. Actually."

They lay there and sipped beer for a while. Jim moved back to lean against the arm of the couch and pulled his knees up. When he let go of Blair's legs, Blair did the same. They each had half of the couch, as if a line had been drawn down the middle.

Blair spoke first. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Fine." Jim grimaced. "As fine as I'll ever be, anyway."

"You want to go for Number Two?"

Jim put his feet on the floor. "At the risk of setting you up for making a hemorrhoid joke, no. I think we've pretty much wrapped this up for the evening, don't you? I honestly don't think I have a Number Two."

"Well, what about a Number One--the big enchilada? Everybody has a Number One thing they really do not want to--"

"Then it's mine not to tell, isn't it?" The blood had drained from Jim's face. "I'm not up for doing this any more."

"Well, how about if I give you mine, and then you--" Blair sat up and reached out.

Jim banged into the coffee table as he bolted off the couch. "Hey," said Blair. "What about life as a daring--?"

"Fuck you--and fuck Helen Keller."

"What? What did we do?"

Jim cursed himself under his breath. He paused at the bottom of the stairs and half-turned to Blair. "Everything is so easy for you," he said. "Nothing seems to be a big deal. You're so secure, so--normal, aren't you?"

"Jim! Come on, man. What's this about? Let's talk."

"This is where I came in, Sandburg."

"Did I say something?" Blair was almost pleading.

Jim's dry laugh was more like a wheeze. "No, you certainly did not." He finally met Blair's eyes and said gently, "I'm sorry. I must be more tired than I thought. I really appreciate--" His voice gave out, and he gestured helplessly. "'Night."

Blair watched him walk upstairs.


Jim lay in bed and watched fingers of light from passing vehicles play across the ceiling. Fleeting caresses. Without form or substance. Flickering, teasing, gone. Lost. It was 4 in the morning. His head was hot, his heart was pounding, and he couldn't feel the rest of his body. Breathing had become a conscious act of will. This was not unfamiliar territory. He called it The Night Sweats and knew if he could make it until dawn, everything would be all right. Maybe.

Blair lay in bed in that twilight between waking and dreaming and slowly froze to death. Several times he imagined that he was getting up to make some hot tea. Something warm to fill the empty space. Hollow objects freeze faster than solid objects, his mind screamed, and you aren't going to make it until morning. You will be a wraith before dawn--and he imagined it happening already--doomed to wander the earth and seek warmth from those blind to your suffering. Blind to you.

Jim! He jumped out of bed and stumbled up the stairs in a panic, only stopping when his knees hit Jim's bed.

"Jim, are you awake?"

"Yeah." The voice from the pillows was hoarse but quite awake.

"I'm freezing." Blair couldn't quite keep the quaver out of his voice.

There was a brief hesitation, then Jim held open the covers, and Blair slid in next to him.

"Jesus, Sandburg, your feet are blocks of ice!" Jim moved over and pulled Blair into the warm space he had vacated. "How did you get so cold?"

"I was dying. I didn't have any insides, Jim, and I was dying." He didn't even try to control the quaver.

"Damn. C'mere." Jim gathered him into the circle of his arms. "It's a bitch, isn't it?"

"But the worst thing was that you didn't even know I was gone--" Jim stroked his arm. "--and I hadn't told you my Number One. I hadn't told you I loved you." The stroking stopped.

Jim seemed not to breathe. "I love you too, Chief," he said.

"No. Not--" Blair rolled over and felt for the lamp switch. "Close your eyes. Not like a beer commercial, Jim." He squinted against the unaccustomed light, soft as it was, and rolled back. "I mean like really."

Jim opened one eye a slit and propped his head up on a hand. "Like really--how?"

Blair propped himself up to face Jim and tucked the comforter snugly behind his back. He frowned as if these preparations were still insufficient, then gripped Jim's hand that rested on the bed between them.

"If I tell you this, I'll have nothing left. I'll be completely empty--a dust mote on the wind. Please don't let go of me until I'm done."

"Sure. Sure." Jim put his hand on top of Blair's and held tight. "Take it easy. Whatever it is is all right."

Blair looked like a man stepping off the high board with no certainty there was water in the pool. "I love you like I don't want to leave you ever. Like it would break my heart."

Jim squeezed his hand. "Ah, Sandburg-"

"There's more." Blair took a breath and closed his eyes, then opened them. "Truth or dare. I love you like my Number Two is that I pop a boner every time you walk around with just a towel on, and I pray to gravity to call that towel home."

Jim laughed, and something Blair heard in the laugh made him drop his head against Jim's forehead. "Thank god," he said.

Jim brought his hand up to rub the back of the curly head. "You are one of the bravest men I know, Sandburg. The Number One thing I really do want you to know is that I love you to death."

Blair pulled back. "Well, I hope it doesn't come to that. God, life is so amazing. You breach my defenses by walking in without armor. I spill my guts and suddenly feel whole and--"

"Hey, Chief?" Jim said softly. "Maybe we could save the analysis for another time?" He drew a finger down the side of Blair's face.

Innocent look. "Do you want me to rub your feet?"

"Not right now."

"Oh. Maybe you'd like to do something else."

"You have something in mind?"

"Maybe. But I don't see how we can proceed until I find out what your Number Two is."

"You are such a dick."

"Yes." Blair smiled and licked his lips.

Jim rolled his eyes and lay back on the pillow, hands up in surrender. "All right. The Number Two thing I never wanted to tell Blair Sandburg was--wait for it--I run around in a towel just to watch him get a hard-on!" Jim started laughing even before Blair jumped on top of him and started pretending to pummel him.

"BIFF! BAM! YOU SONOFABITCH! You do NOT! POW! POW!"

"I do. I DO. I swear." Jim was laughing so hard, tears were leaking out of the corners of his eyes. "You always pretend you aren't looking." He laughed harder. "But I see you peeking." He weakly rolled from side to side to try to dislodge his tormentor, who had knees clamped firmly astride his pelvis. "You're a strong little thing, aren't you?"

"Who are you calling 'little,' Meat Boy?" Blair continued his assault.

"Wha--? Mea--?" By now Jim was helpless with laughter. "Nobod-- I'm not call-- Hoo hoo hoo. Ooooh." His wet eyes got wide.

"Oooh, yeah," said Blair, easing up on his vice grip and moving his lower body back and forth across Jim's. "Seems like the subject is coming up again."

Jim laughed a bit nervously. "We're really going to do this, aren't we?"

"Do what?" Blair was pressing his hardness against Jim's.

"You know. Something."

Blair stopped moving and gently stroked Jim's chest and arms. "Maybe. It's up to you--" He grimaced. "Damn. Everything I say sounds like a double entendre."

"Well, you're a punny guy," said Jim. "You still cold? What've you got under all these clothes?" Jim reached up under Blair's tee-shirt shirt to run his hands gently up and down the warm body. Blair pulled off the shirt and flung it over his head. It landed over the bedside lamp, giving the room an exotic glow and the very faint aroma of figs.

Blair leaned forward and rubbed his hairy chest against Jim's smooth one. He whispered against Jim's mouth, "You have a great and tender heart, Jim Ellison, and I love you more than I can say. I promise I'll take care of you."

Jim rolled them onto their sides and smoothed Blair's hair away from his face. "Are you going to be my Blessed Protector?" he whispered back.

Blair smiled. "Yeah. Don't you think you need one?"

"Yeah, I do." And Jim kissed him softly, as if no one had ever kissed anyone before.

"Your pulse rate is up," said Jim finally. "I guess I lied when I said I didn't have any thoughts about that."

"And what would those thoughts be?" Looking steadily in Jim's eyes, holding him visually, Blair wriggled out of his shorts. He put a hand on Jim's hip.

Jim licked his lips. "I guess those thoughts would be that I sure as hell hope I'm the cause of it." He closed his eyes. "My own pulse is so loud I'm surprised I can hear yours." Then he reached out and ran a hand over the roundness of Blair's bottom, the tips of his fingers touching a soft scrotum.

Blair moaned involuntarily and moved closer, his cock against Jim's stomach.

"Oh god, Blair." Jim kissed him hard, as if it were the last kiss in the universe, moaning into his mouth, "Please, please please please please."

And Blair, heart pounding in fear and excitement, decided it was past time for questions and time to just make up the answers.

"Yes," he said. And he pulled Jim's shorts down, letting the other man kick them the rest of the way off. "Yes yes yes yes yes. Oh god yes," as Jim threw a leg over his hip and started to move against him.

Before long, both men were jerking frantically against each other, holding on for dear life, whimpering, grunting, crying, laughing at their own desperation, then, trembling, moving apart enough to touch each other and find just the right rhythm, eyes locked, and watching with astonishment as each found release.

After their breathing returned to normal and they had whispered newly discovered hearts' secrets to each other, Blair turned off the lamp and captured his tee-shirt, now warm and toasty, to mop up the mess they'd made. Jim watched with lazy eyes, liquid with love. "Just throw it on the floor," he said. "It's not going to hurt anything." He tucked Blair into the curve of his body and covered them both with the comforter. The shadows in the corner were barely beginning to gray.

"It's almost dawn," Jim said. "We made it."

Blair yawned. "We should maybe institute our boogey-man deterrents earlier next time so we can get to sleep earlier. Whaddya say?"

Jim kissed his ear. "How do you feel about noon tomorrow?"

Blair nestled closer. "Works for me."

The End ~~