This version was written on December 4, 1997.
Jim stared at the ceiling, and resisted. Then resisted some more. He was tough. He was strong. He could do this. He could lie here, and just look up, and that would be fine. He didn't have to think about anything. Certainly not about why he was lying on this particular bed, staring at this particular ceiling. All he had to do was resist thinking, and just look at said ceiling.
This was not working. Time to try harder. Count cracks in the ceiling, that should do it.
Oh yeah. Freshly painted ceiling. And unless he wanted to explain to Blair why he'd zoned out staring at a white ceiling trying to count cracks in the paint... whoops. Wasn't supposed to think of Blair. Damn, damn, damn.
Be nice if he did have to explain to Blair. But he couldn't. And he didn't dare zone out, because there was no one to snap him out of it.
Pillow. When did the pillow show up? Oh. Okay, time to uncurl from the fetal position. He was tough. He was strong. He could do this. He could look at the ceiling some more, he didn't have to be all curled up into a ball of misery. Not him. He was strong.
That's it. Take a deep breath, and stretch out. God, such a small bed. How had he been able to stand such a small bed?? No, no, don't go there. Ceiling. Just... look at the ceiling. With the fresh white paint.
A smile appeared from somewhere down deep, somewhere he'd almost forgotten. God, that had been a good day. How on earth the kid had managed to get ink on the ceiling...
"I told you, Jim, the pen exploded!"
"It exploded straight up?? Sandburg..."
"Honest! It did! Splat, all over the place - but mostly up."
"Chief, you would have to have been standing on the bed to get that much ink on the ceiling."
My god, the kid was actually blushing!
"So what were you doing standing on the bed, Chief?" Jim asked calmly, chuckling inwardly at the embarrassed look on the younger man's face.
"...bouncing..." Blair mumbled.
Jim blinked. "What?"
"I was bouncing, okay? You know, up-down, up-down?" Blair asked, demonstrating.
Jim patted the air in front of him. "Yeah, yeah, Chief, I know - would you mind stopping now? You're making me seasick." Okay, so seasick wasn't the right word - but he didn't think he could get away with saying 'you're making me want to rip all your clothes off you and show you what "up and down" is really all about.' Oh, thank god, the kid stopped, now he could think again. "Thank you. So why were you bouncing on the bed? Most people give that up when they're around, oh, six or so." He was reasonably sure he wasn't smirking... too obviously.
"It's just a thing of mine, okay?" Blair said, a bit defensively. "I always bounce on my beds, always have."
"Ooooh-kay. Are you done bouncing on it now? Because I don't know how sturdy that bed really is, and --"
"Yes, I'm done! I only need to do it once. It's like... like a road test, or something. I don't know. I just need to get it out of my system once, every place I live for any length of time. Can we drop this now, please?"
"Yeah, sure. So... when you gonna paint the ceiling?"
"Well, you're not leaving it like that."
"Oh, man! It's only a little ink, for cripes sake."
"Uh-huh. So when you painting it?"
"All right, all right - it's only a little spot, after all, how long could it..." Blair trailed off, staring as Jim shook his head slowly.
"The whole ceiling, Chief. You can't just paint one spot, it'll be uneven."
"You're kidding. Tell me you're kidding. ... You're not kidding."
Blair glowered, Blair muttered, Blair grumbled, Blair tried puppy-eyes, Blair pointed to mountains of work that he had to do... Blair agreed to paint the next weekend.
Of course, the idea had been for Jim to sit on the couch watching a game and drinking a beer, shouting helpful advice every now and then while Blair painted. "You missed a spot, Chief!"-type helpful advice. But somehow that hadn't quite happened. Oh, the game was on the tube, all right, and he had a beer - but he was drinking it in between pulling all of Blair's furniture out into the living room, and grabbing an extra paintbrush, and climbing up on the shakier ladder because, "after all, Jim, you're taller, so you don't have to climb up as far." Well, it had made sense at the time.
Worth it, though, to be able stand on the floor on some pretext or other and watch Blair climb up the other ladder - god, what a tight ass. And when he turned around and looked down, laughing, with that little white painter's cap on his head and his curls tumbling out underneath! Jim had had to mumble something about getting more beers and run into the kitchen to keep from grabbing Blair around the hips, pulling him down, and kissing him senseless. A few moments to regain his self-control, though, and everything was fine - he went back with the beers and the score and a quick, couldn't-quite-resist friendly slap to Blair's backside as he handed up the brew, and didn't even let his hand linger. So what if he'd had his sensitivity turned up so high that he could feel every tiny muscle clench as Blair kept his balance? And Blair had just laughed, and flicked the tiniest drop of paint at him, and gone back to the ceiling after taking a long drink of beer. Jim, after catching his breath - what a fucking beautiful throat - had climbed back up his own ladder, and they had joked and laughed the afternoon away, and even done a creditable painting job.
Then pizza and beer for supper, just the two of them, in front of the tv flipping from one post-game wrap-up show to another so they could see all the great plays they'd missed the first time around. Blair had been bouncily sprawled on his side of the couch (and who else in the world could sprawl bouncily??), animated and excited, and Jim had just watched him as much as possible, soaking up the moment.
God, what a perfect day that had been. Just a few weeks ago, and the whole world had been bright and happy. Jim was still smiling at the memory, on his feet now and damn near laughing up at the ceiling. Then his eyes came back down, and the laughter disappeared. Empty. So damn empty in here. The furniture was back, but that's all it was - furniture. Dead, lifeless hunks of wood and plastic and metal.
He resolutely walked out of Blair's - no, the spare - room, and into the living room, and stopped again. It looked the same as it had when he'd walked in a couple of hours ago. God, it was empty everywhere. No artifacts anywhere, no papers anywhere, no laptop lying around, no shirt tossed into the corner where he could pretend not to see it for a while. Weird. The loft had never felt empty before Blair had moved in; how come it felt like it was echoing now that he was gone? Even the scents that should have been still strong seemed faint; like lingering traces of a presence that had been gone a very long time. How could everything change so damn fast?
Kitchen. Go to the kitchen. The kitchen will be... empty. Jim's hand clenched on the refrigerator door as he looked inside and saw food. Plain, normal, everyday, Jim-type food. No ostrich-meat chili. No leftover twig soup. Nothing. He knew what he'd find if he looked in the cabinet - cornflakes, rice-a-roni, peanut butter, sugar, coffee, Lipton tea - no weird herbal teas for health or energy or calm or whatever the hell they were supposed to be for, no sage for cleansing, no granola. Nothing. May as well be empty.
How could Blair just empty everything out like that? Jim had only been gone for two and a half days! Yeah, nothing quite like coming back from a two-day assignment - an assignment that Blair had been too busy with schoolwork to help him out on, supposedly - looking forward to a quiet evening at home with his roommate, only to find an empty apartment. Not ransacked, not burgled, just - empty. 'Home' had moved out, lock, stock, and barrel.
And why? God, why? He'd been so careful never to give the kid any idea about how he felt, about what he wanted - had he driven him away anyway, given himself away somehow?
He knew where the answer was - or at least where it probably was. There on the coffee table.
He'd been avoiding it. The box, with the envelope sitting on top of it. Blair had left them behind, addressed to him. But once he opened them, Blair would be well and truly gone.
Jim looked around the loft again - no tribal music bouncing off the walls, no weird knick-knacks on the shelves, no incense burning, no Blair anywhere - and gave in. Blair was already well and truly gone. May as well see what he'd left behind.
He sat down carefully on the couch and reached for the envelope, opening it up with almost steady hands and taking a deep breath before daring to look at the writing.
Well, I guess you've noticed by now that I've moved out. Kinda obvious, huh? I don't really know how to explain it to you - guess that's why I didn't stick around long enough to say this to your face. I knew you'd talk me out of it, and this is something I think I have to do. Don't be mad - please.
Did you ever read "The Hobbit" by Tolkien? (yes, this is relevant - stay with me here, Jim) Well, Bilbo says something in there towards the end that sort of strikes a chord with me, always has. He says:
'Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where sun has never shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.'
I need that, Jim. I need to go wandering, to see what's over the next hill, around the next bend. I've been getting too comfortable here in Cascade, and the wanderlust has set in.
You gotta believe me, Jim, I wouldn't trade the past couple years for anything. You're probably - no, you are - the best friend I've ever had, and I really care about you, more than I can say, and I hope to God I'm not screwing up the most important friendship of my life by leaving like this - but I'd screw it up even more if I stayed, because the truth is, if I stayed you'd wind up hating me, because I'd start going crazy and probably taking it out on you, because you're the closest person in my life and you always flip out on the people who are closest to you, right? I mean, I'd really start weirding you out, I know I would, and I really don't want to do that, so I figured that this was the time to do it, to just go, you know? And I know how much you hate clutter, so I was real careful and cleared out all my stuff so there won't be anything in your way, 'cause I know how much you hate getting annoyed and not being able to yell about it, and I cleaned everything I could find and left the windows open a bit so the smell wouldn't bug you when you got home - should be nice and fresh in here by then. Man, listen to me, I'm rambling. Sorry. But this is the best way, trust me.
You've got your senses under control now - you haven't zoned in ages, and you know how to pull yourself out of one if you do. So you don't really need me around any more, and I don't want to start just getting underfoot. I mean, I know you've never said I was underfoot, but there's nothing worse than someone who doesn't know when they've worn out their welcome, right? I don't want to do that. I don't think I could stand it if you ever actually kicked me out, so I want to be sure you don't ever get that sick of me. Maybe this way, you won't mind seeing me, maybe grabbing a cup of coffee or something, if we run into each other again.
So. I guess this is goodbye. Just as well I'm doing it like this - if I was there I'd probably do something stupid like hug you and just make you mad or something.
The box is a present for you. I know, I know, it's a weird present to get for another guy, but I saw him and just couldn't resist. And I wanted to give you something that would sort of keep you company - but be quiet and neat and not break any house rules. (that was a joke, Jim) Promise me you'll name him something (and that you won't name him "it", or something stupid like that).
So you take care of yourself, okay? Don't let Simon work you too hard. And don't eat so many doughnuts. And don't let yourself get all stressed out the way you do - it's not good for you. And for god's sake, if someone's shooting at you, DUCK! Okay? And wear a vest. Please.
God, I can't stop writing. I hate saying goodbye.
Consider yourself hugged.
Jim stared blindly at the paper for a timeless moment, grief choking him. 'Wanderlust?? He had to leave because of wanderlust?? He couldn't just go on vacation? And god, god, why couldn't he have stayed long enough for a real hug? I could've wrapped him up so tight that he'd never have gotten away, never been able to leave me. And how could he leave me if he cared about me?...' The thoughts kept circling through his head, until finally his gaze dropped and he noticed the box, still sitting there unopened. Taking a deep breath, he put down the note and opened the box, pulling away the tissue covering the contents.
"A teddy bear?!" he exclaimed out loud, taking the plush toy out of its nest. "Jeez, Sandburg - you got me a teddy bear??" It was kinda cute, in a pudgy, fuzzy sort of way, but... a teddy bear?
Jim sniffed once, blinked back the tears he refused to let fall, and held the toy out at arm's length, staring at it. "Well," he told it, "Blair gave you to me, so I'm keeping you. And he said I have to name you. Jeez. What the hell name are you supposed to give a teddy bear? I suppose "Teddy" counts as stupid, so that's out. Waitaminute..." Jim dropped the toy onto the couch and scrambled for the note, carefully not reading as he skimmed to the line he wanted. "Bilbo," he announced, looking back over at the bear. "That's your name - Bilbo. He can't think that that's a stupid name, right? Since he's the one who said it first."
He smiled at the dumb little bear - it hurt, but he smiled.
Bilbo spent that night on the couch - at least he started to. Halfway through the night, Jim came downstairs to get him, and to hold him close and breathe in the scent of his fur; there was still a trace of Blair lingering from when he'd put the bear in the box. With a slightly guilty look around the empty apartment, he tucked the bear under one arm and went back upstairs, to sleep with it by his side the rest of the night.
The next morning, Jim started to wake up in his usual way - reaching out with his hearing to check Blair's breathing and heartbeat. He snapped wide awake at the echoing silence, and was halfway down the stairs before he remembered. No more Blair. He sat down with a thud on the step, raising his hands to his face, only then noticing the bear he was still clutching.
"Well, Bilbo, guess it's just you and me," he said to the toy, trying for nonchalance and missing by a very wide margin. He steeled himself, then stood up and started getting ready for work. Crime wouldn't stop just because his life had turned to shit.
Just before he left for the precinct, he gave the loft one last look, and noticed Bilbo sitting abandoned on the counter, on top of the carefully refolded note. A sudden image of Simon, or one of the other guys, coming over and finding the bear, and Jim trying to explain it, was enough to make him go get the bear - carefully not thinking as he pocketed the note - and carry him upstairs, where he was propped up against the pillow. Jim stroked one hand over the soft fur briefly, then clenched his fist, turned around, and walked downstairs and out into the day.
He could do this.
"Hey, Jim! Welcome back... Where's Sandburg? Wasn't he supposed to be with you this morning?"
Well, that hadn't taken long. "Can I talk to you for a minute, Simon?" Jim asked tightly.
Giving his best detective a concerned look, Simon nodded slowly. "Sure, Jim. Come on into my office."
Jim shut the door behind him, and studied Simon's carpet for a moment.
"Jim? Something you wanted to say to me?" Simon prompted gently.
"Yeah. Yeah, there is, Simon," Jim said, raising his eyes at last. "It's about Sandburg. Looks like you can stop thinking up excuses to make the higher-ups about him being here; while I was away he packed up and left. He was gone by the time I got home. Said something about wanderlust hitting him, and needing to get out." His voice shook a little bit on the last part, but overall Jim was pretty proud of himself - he hadn't given a thing away, had stayed cool, just explained the facts.
Simon stared blankly at him for a minute. "Sandburg what? Are you sure he left on his own? That really doesn't --"
"I'm sure, Simon. The way the loft had been cleaned out - that was someone taking his time, who knew where everything was. Even the kitchen cabinets were cleaned out, except for my own stuff." Jim's hand moved of its own volition to touch his pocket, then dropped again. "And he left me a note - he definitely wrote it, and no one was standing over him. It was pure Blair. There were one or two other things, too. He left on his own. He got tired of being here, and just... left."
Simon had never heard Jim sound so bleak before, or look so empty-eyed. "He wrote a note, huh? Do you mind if I see it?"
"It just says what I told you, Simon."
"I'd still like to see it." Simon held his hand out with an encouraging smile.
Jim shrugged, handed him the note, and moved restlessly to lean against the doorjamb while Simon read it.
After skimming through it once, Simon re-read it more carefully, frowning. Wanderlust was definitely there, but this sounded a hell of a lot more like someone who didn't want to get hurt, and was getting out before that could happen. And to be hurt, you had to be vulnerable. 'Cared more than he could say,' huh? And the kid didn't want to start 'weirding Jim out', or wearing out his welcome.
"See?" a controlled voice broke into Simon's thoughts. "Just like I told you. He got restless, and left me. End of story."
'Left me?' Simon thought. 'Looks like maybe Sandburg left too soon.' "He does say that wanderlust hit," he admitted carefully. "But he says a lot more, too, Jim."
"Yeah, well, it doesn't matter in the end, does it? He's gone."
"Mmmm. What was the present he left for you?"
Jim blinked. He'd somehow forgotten the note mentioned Bilbo. He couldn't let anyone, not even Simon, know how important it had been for him to have that dumb toy last night. "A teddy bear, can you believe that? Kid's got a weird sense of humor."
Simon laughed briefly, watching Jim's face give away far more than the detective realized. "Yeah, he does at that. Here, you probably want this back," he said, handing back the note and watching as Jim carefully folded it and put it away. "Listen, are you okay? I mean, do you want some time --"
"No, no, I'm fine, Simon. Why shouldn't I be? Sandburg was only supposed to be working with me for a little while, anyway. Been putting up with him for a lot longer than I ever planned. Just caught me by surprise to find him gone, that's all. I'm fine. I'll just get back to work now. Thanks, Simon." Jim wasn't quite sure what he was thanking Simon for, or even what he was saying, but the last thing he wanted was for Simon to give him time off and have to go back to that incredibly empty apartment. Or wander around the city, looking at all the places he'd been to with Blair and noticing how empty they were now, too. Work was what he needed, not time alone.
"Hey, Sandburg's like a puppy, right? He just needs to run around for a while, but he'll be back home, you'll see," Simon said encouragingly, not liking Jim's tone.
Jim shook his head. "He's not a puppy. And he's gone for good. Can I get back to work now?"
Simon sighed. "Okay, Jim, if you're sure." He raised an enquiring eyebrow at Jim, who nodded. "Okay. How're you doing on the Pilleri case?"
"We... I have a couple of good leads to check out."
"So? Get to it!"
Jim walked back out into the bullpen and toward his desk, thinking the worst was over. Until he got stopped for the third time by someone wanting to know where Blair was, if he was okay. After that, the grapevine seemed to have taken care of spreading the word, and Jim didn't have to field any more questions about Blair. Instead, he had to accept the murmurs of "Sorry, Jim - the kid was good to have around, I'm going to miss him," from what seemed like everyone in the precinct. It was driving him crazy, making him think about Blair constantly, and it was a relief to get out onto the streets.
He wore himself out, chasing down more leads than he should have been able to handle in one day, and finishing off with a brutal workout in the gym, hoping that he'd be exhausted enough to just fall asleep when he got home. Please God, he'd be too tired to think.
It almost worked. Jim got home around 8, fixed a quick dinner, watched something mindless on the tube, and went upstairs to bed. Everything on autopilot, brain disengaged. He stripped down to boxers, got under the covers, relaxed his muscles - and the walls came crashing down. He squeezed his eyes shut and rolled over, bumping into Bilbo-bear. Reflexively, he hugged the toy to himself, finding some comfort in the faint Blair-scent and the feel of the fake fur. God, this was ridiculous; a grown man clutching a teddy-bear for dear life. But he didn't let go. The bear had become his only connection to Blair, and that was a hell of a lot more important than his image. He finally fell asleep with the bear wrapped firmly in one arm.
That set the pattern for the next few weeks: Jim threw himself into his work every day, getting a new rep for single-minded devotion to duty, then worked out hard every evening. Afterward, he'd go home, eat, and fall asleep holding on to Bilbo. His dreams were full of Blair, sometimes laughing and happy, sometimes cold and distant, but always there. His nightmares were full of Blair, sometimes laughing and happy, sometimes cold and distant, but always leaving him. The times he dreamed of Blair in his arms, kissing him and holding him and loving him, were the worst; he wanted to believe them so desperately, and when he woke up and heard silence where Blair should be the memory of them hurt so badly that he could barely breathe. Daydream and nightmare rolled into one soul-destroying package, courtesy James Ellison's damned subconscious. Soon enough, though, even the dreams and nightmares became routine.
He knew Simon was still worried about him, but he maintained his "I'm fine, really" front, and Simon let him get away with it. Things were settling down. He was even starting to get used to it. He'd stopped glancing back over his shoulder to tell Blair to hurry up, stopped automatically pouring out two cups of coffee, stopped flinging an arm out when he had to brake suddenly.
He'd even stopped panicking when he reached out to hear silence instead of a heartbeat in the morning before he was completely awake. He still listened, but it was more like poking at a sore tooth - just to make sure it was still sore. He expected the ache now, it no longer surprised him. He would just hold Bilbo close and stare at the ceiling for a minute, then get up and start the day.
A month after Blair had left, Jim was wandering aimlessly around the loft. Simon had insisted he take two days off. Two days. What the hell was he supposed to do with himself for two whole days? This didn't fit into the nice neat pattern his life had become post-Blair. This left him with time to think.
Still, maybe that was a good thing, Jim admitted to himself. It was probably time he actually thought about this, got himself together, before his armor developed huge gaping chasms. With a sigh, he walked over to the door, and stared down at the basket. There it was - the note Blair had left for him. He'd put it in the basket with his keys when he got home from work that first night, and there it had sat ever since, untouched. He'd been leaving his keys next to the basket the whole time since, unthinkingly, not wanting to go near the note. Steeling himself, he picked it up, turning it over and over in his hands for a minute, then walked over to the couch and sat down.
He took a deep breath, unfolded the note, and started reading. Halfway through, he frowned, and went back up to the top to start over. It sounded... different than he remembered. It wasn't a bright, breezy "Hey, Jim, it's been great but I'm bored and restless so I'm outta here, see ya!" note. It was a scared, "Hey, Jim, I'm really involved here and I don't want you to get mad at me so I'm leaving but I wish I didn't have to" note. With some bright, breezy bravado stuck on for good measure. He read it through completely twice more, then lowered the paper, staring thoughtfully at the wall across from him.
All of a sudden Jim was remembering other stuff from the past month. Like those weird little comments Simon kept making - "You know, Jim, Blair was a heck of a good guy. And he really cared about you a lot. It's really a shame he had to leave." "You know, Jim, Blair really said a lot in that note of his when he left, don't you think?" - just out of the blue, and then he'd go back to talking about a case or coffee or something. Weird.
And that phone call from Naomi - of all people, Naomi! - a week ago. That had been even stranger than most conversations with her. She had known Blair was gone, although he wasn't with her, either. He knew she'd been asking him questions, and he knew he'd answered them, but damned if he could remember what she'd asked. All he could remember was agreeing that Blair was a terrific person. At least, he thought that's what he had agreed to. After a while she had started going on and on about how great it had been that Blair had found such a close, caring, special friend, and how important that was, and how wonderful it was when people cared about each other so much, and then all of a sudden she had just said "Well... bye!" and hung up.
Jim started pacing, and putting things together. Obviously, Simon, and maybe Naomi, thought he was being thick. Obviously he had been thick. So - what had he missed?
He had been so concerned about not letting Blair see how he felt, that he hadn't bothered trying to see what Blair was trying to hide. High time to start looking, then. He started running through his memories of Blair - every look, every touch, every smile, all the things he'd stored up in his memory because he knew he'd never get anything more. And slowly started cursing himself. Blind, he'd been blind!
All those times he'd watched Blair talking to other people, bouncing and using his hands for emphasis, and had laughed to himself in pure delight at the sheer vibrance of the man, and had smiled at Sandburg when the other man caught sight of him and brightened - and hadn't ever realized that Blair was brightening at the sight of him. Hadn't ever noticed that Blair used to walk as close to him as he did to Blair, when he was trying to keep Blair inside his personal space as much as possible. Hadn't ever noticed that Blair used to touch him whenever he could, that he would brush against him, that he would always move to stand next to him... that Blair wanted him as much as he wanted Blair. No, he'd been too busy pretending to feel nothing more than friendship to notice that Blair was pretending just as hard, while trying just as hard to store up as many "friendly" memories.
Jim groaned softly, and dropped back onto the couch, his head flopping back to rest against the back of it. He stared blindly into space, remembering how he had teased Sandburg about always being horny - because every time Jim got near him, Blair seemed to be in the first stages of arousal. And Jim had had to tease him about it, because he was trying to ignore his own body's demands at being so close to Blair.
Idiots. Idiots, the pair of them, to be so afraid of what they both wanted. And now the chance was lost. Blair was gone, and Jim had no way to contact him, to tell him to come home, that he was loved and wanted and needed. Too damn late for both of them.
God, this hurt worse than it had before. But at least Blair hadn't walked out because he didn't really care.
No, he'd walked out because he was afraid Jim would kick him out if he ever let slip how he felt. Damn, damn, damn. Because he'd been too much of a coward to give Blair a sign, the kid had run.
Jim stood up and walked in to the spare room. He hadn't been in here since that first day, when he'd stared at the ceiling trying to deal with Blair's leaving, and found himself remembering their painting afternoon. Slowly, he sat down on the bed and took his shoes off, then eased himself back to look up at the ceiling again. Carefully, he let himself remember that day again, wondering what it would have been like if he hadn't been such a coward, if he'd dared to do what he wanted to do. What if, when Blair turned around and laughed at him from the ladder, with that painter's cap on his head making him look damn near edible - what if Jim hadn't run? Or even if he had run, what if when he came back and reached up and cupped a hand on his buttcheek, he'd left it there instead of snatching it back away again? Would Blair have leaned into the touch, wanting it as much as Jim did?
A sharp throb in his groin answered him, and he reached a hand down to press against the rising mound, then rubbed slowly through his jeans. He hadn't done this in a very long time. The throb intensified, promising to become painful if Jim didn't do something about it. Slowly, he unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans, pulling them back, then decided that wouldn't be enough. If he was going to do this, he was going to do it right. He sat up and stripped off his shirt, tossing it onto the floor, then eased pants and boxers over his hips and down his legs. Naked, he lay back on the bed again, one hand going down to curve around his cock and the other sliding up his torso to drift across his nipples. Now, he could remember. Remember the way it should have been, if he'd had the balls to do what he should have done and let Blair know how he felt.
Jim's eyes shut slowly as he pictured the scene, pictured himself moving forward, one hand lifting to that perfect ass. His hand remembered the feel of that muscled cheek from the one touch he had allowed himself, and he used that, mentally feeling the muscles tense and relax as Blair shifted his weight. Jim groaned softly, his hand tightening on his rapidly hardening cock.
He squeezed Blair's cheek, moving closer and wrapping his free arm around narrow hips, pressing slightly down into Blair's pelvis. Blair moaned and clutched at the ladder with one hand and at Jim with the other. Jim's phantom self loosed his hold and started tugging Blair's shirt up, dropping a kiss in the small of the younger man's back. He let go of the shirt long enough to tug gently down on trim hips, so Blair stepped down one rung, then another, until he was on the second rung of the ladder. Satisfied, Jim started pulling the shirt back up, bending down to trail lips and tongue up Blair's spine as he did so. As he moved up the spine his body straightened and pulled in tighter, until his belly was pressed against Blair's butt, his cock straining upward.
Jim took his hand off his cock long enough to lick it thoroughly, wanting the extra friction, then went back to slow steady stroking. His other hand was moving all over his chest and belly, searching out all his sensitive spots - delving into his own navel, tugging gently at soft down, tweaking his already hardened nipples. A moment later the tip of his cock began weeping, and he gathered the moisture in his fingers and spread it over the head and down the shaft, groaning.
The shirt came all the way off, and Jim turned his attention from Blair's spine to his neck, and his ears, and his jaw... Blair dropped his head backward onto Jim's shoulder, giving him as much access as he possibly could, and caught the hand tracing patterns on his chest. He squeezed it once, then deliberately drew it down his torso to his waistband. Jim took the hint, and unbuttoned and unzipped the jeans. He carefully leaned Blair into the ladder, wrapping wiry arms around it to hold him steady, and slowly pulled down jeans and boxers, letting his thumbs stroke the flesh they glided over. He put a shoulder against the back of Blair's thigh to support him, and carefully lifted each foot to remove the sneakers and pull the clothes completely off. When Blair was naked Jim just looked for a moment, then leaned forward to kiss each asscheek, raising his head and dotting kisses all over the well-muscled back. He stepped back, eliciting a soft whimper from Blair, who turned his head to look at him pleadingly. Jim smiled at him, and stripped off his own clothes. 'I want to touch you all over,' he murmured, and moved forward to pull Blair back securely into his arms, bare back against bare chest, Blair's butt just brushing the top of Jim's pubic hair.
Jim could taste blood from where he'd bitten through his lower lip at the imagined feel of Blair's skin against his, and he twisted and tugged the very top of his pubic hair desperately with his free hand as he sped up his strokes.
'Touch me, Jim, touch me, touch me,' Blair was chanting, and Jim was only too happy to oblige. He pulled Blair's hips down a bit until his erect cock was nestled between the hard thighs just below Blair's ass. He kissed a shoulder, then reached his right hand to grasp Blair's already-weeping cock, spreading the liquid and starting to stroke. Blair moaned, then gasped as Jim's other hand cupped his balls, rolling them gently. As he stroked Blair, Jim started thrusting between his thighs. His lips devoured Blair's neck and shoulder and ear, kissing and licking and biting, and then suddenly Blair twisted his head and reached frantically for a kiss. It was hot and wet and hungry and pure unadulterated heaven, full of promises.
Jim was stroking his cock hard and fast now, his other hand squeezing his balls lightly, both in perfect unison with his fantasy motions on Blair, his mouth open and head lifting in a fruitless search for the tongue that should be invading it. Harsh breathing echoed in the small room.
'Oh, God, Jim, I'm gonna come,' Blair panted. 'Yeah, that's it, come for me, I want you to,' Jim muttered, his hand tightening on Blair's shaft. With a wail, Blair came, muscles clenching around the cock thrusting into the channel his thighs had made. Jim cried out and thrust harder, still milking Blair's cock for the last drops. Spent, Blair relaxed, and Jim let go and grabbed his hips, holding him tight, head buried in the joint of Blair's neck and shoulder. He bit down as he felt the orgasm approach, shooting over Blair's thighs for what felt like forever.
Jim's cry echoed through the whole apartment as he came, only slightly muffled by the hand he'd thrust into his mouth. Slowly the fantasy faded, and he opened his eyes to see himself lying alone in an empty room, with semen spattered over his chest. He raised a hand to wipe at it, blinking in surprise at the bloody toothmarks in it - he'd bitten harder than he'd realized.
Almost mechanically, he got up and headed for the shower. The ache inside was sharper now, bittersweet; what-might-have-beens were dangerous to think about. As he stood under the hot spray, he made a decision - he'd let himself do that once, but once was enough. No more fantasizing about Sandburg. He had to move on, to get past this - Blair was not coming back to him, and that was that. He'd managed to go this long without masturbating to images of Blair naked, of Blair touching him and kissing him and loving him and... No! He was not going to do this. Savagely, Jim turned off the water and toweled himself dry.
He was strong. He could get through this.
Well, his intentions had been good, anyway. But like they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. And James Ellison was in Hell, no doubt about it. They were right about something else, too: Hell burned. And burned, and burned, with fire that couldn't be put out with anything except frantic hands moving to tormenting thoughts of what might have been.
He'd managed to resist for almost a week, if you didn't count morning showers - and anything that happens before the first cup of coffee of the day doesn't count. But then he'd been flipping channels one night after a tough day (he made damn sure they were all tough days) and on some educational program they'd been showing the use of traditional Native American fishing spears, and all of a sudden all he could think of was Blair. Wet. And cold. And needing to be warmed up. And the next thing he knew, he was coming all over himself again.
A few days after that, he'd been going through an apartment on a case, and had come across the owner's stash of gay skinmags, flipping through them to see if the guy had hidden anything in them. Thank God there had been no one in the room with him when he'd seen the picture of the buff military-type going down on the smaller dark-haired man. He'd barely made it through the day, was sure everyone noticed the hard-on that just wouldn't go away. By the time he walked through his front door he already had his pants unzipped imagining himself doing that, tasting Blair, swallowing him whole. He wound up on his knees just inside the door, and as he swallowed his own saliva he pretended it was Blair, coming in his mouth.
He'd never come so hard in his life.
Hell, he'd even had to put poor Bilbo through the wash after waking up one morning to realize he'd been humping the toy in his sleep, with the ever-more-faint scent of Blair in his nostrils. Bad enough if anyone ever caught on to the fact that he now always slept with a teddy bear; the thought of someone finding a bear covered in dried semen was something he didn't even want to consider.
Thank God, after another week or so he'd started to get himself a bit more under control. He still dreamed, he still masturbated, but at least the least little thing wasn't setting him off any more. He was in charge of his own fantasies again. He was still in Hell, but maybe the tenth level instead of the fourteenth.
Now here it was, two months after Blair had left, and he was still alive and reasonably sane. Not too shabby.
He brought Bilbo down from upstairs and put him on the coffee table, sitting across from him on the couch with a beer. He looked soberly at the bear for a minute, then lifted the bottle in salute.
"We're having a combination memorial service/celebration, Bilbo old pal," he announced. "For the death of a relationship that never was but could have been, and for surviving that death. Cheers." He drained half the bottle in one swallow, then settled back into the cushions for some quiet drinking. He didn't want to get drunk, he just wanted to be able to think without it hurting quite so much. The edges of the pain hadn't softened down quite enough yet to do this completely sober. He shut his eyes and pulled out the memories again, watching Blair laugh and talk and bounce and win over people like Simon against their will. A soft smile curved his lips.
Absorbed, he never even heard the soft click of the door opening and closing.
"Uh, Jim? Jim, I'm, uh... I'm home," called a tentative, beloved voice.
Jim's head snapped up, and he stared in disbelief at the doorway. It couldn't be. It was just another dream, another memory - except... except this smelled like... oh, god. He reached out with his hearing, and instantly found the one heartbeat in the world he would recognize anywhere, anytime.
"Blair?" he whispered, not daring to say it aloud, afraid it wasn't real.
"Yeah. Umm, hi. I, umm, talked to Naomi a few days ago, and she sorta told me I'd been a total idiot and I should come back and talk to you, and since that was the conclusion I'd sorta come to on my own anyway, I figured, I probably should, so..."
"Blair?" Jim was on his feet, staring, not listening to a word.
"Jim? Jim, are you oka - ooof!"
"Blair, Blair, Blairblairblairblairblairblairblair," Jim chanted into dark curls. "God, Blair, you're home, you're really home."
"Jim - Jim, man, I love this, but you're crushing me, I can't breathe," Blair gasped.
Jim tightened his hold for a second, eliciting a grunt from the smaller body, then eased off a bit, giving Blair a chance to tilt his head back and look up. Blair settled his arms firmly around Jim's back and smiled. Jim stared back soberly, the joy in him too deep for smiles or laughter just yet. He very carefully, very slowly, leaned down until his lips were a bare millimeter above Blair's, then closed the gap briefly, praying. Warm lips returned the light pressure, full of promises and love. Jim drew back again, staring, daring to begin hoping.
"Please be home to stay, Blair. Please."
"Yeah. Yeah, Jim, I'm home. To stay. Forever, if that's what you want. But first, we have to talk --"
"I love you," Jim said simply.
"We - what?"
"I love you. I want you to stay. Forever. I was too scared to tell you before, afraid you'd freak and move out, and I wanted you around more than anything else in the world, on whatever terms I could get you. When you left, I... I'm so fucking glad you're back."
"Jim. Jeez, Jim," Blair choked. "I'm sorry I left. But I was scared to tell you, too, scared you'd kick me out and leave me all alone. I guess I was kinda stupid, huh?"
"Not stupid," Jim said instantly. "Just chicken. Like me." His hands were roaming over Blair's back, cataloging every muscle he could find. He frowned. "You've lost weight," he accused. "You haven't been eating."
"Neither have you," Blair pointed out, his own hands busy. He stopped suddenly and looked up, almost beseeching. "Can it really be this easy, Jim?" he whispered. "I come back, we fall into each other's arms, and we live happily ever after?"
"No," Jim said, kissing him. "No, it won't be that easy. But at least we both want the same thing, and that's a hell of a good start. We just have to start talking to each other about the important stuff."
"Absolutely," Blair agreed fervently. "But... do you think we could start talking tomorrow?"
A slow grin spread across Jim's face. "I think that could be arranged," he admitted. "Why? Did you have something else you wanted to do? I suppose we could play Scrabble..."
Blair gaped, and pounced, tickling. "Scrabble? Scrabble?? You tell me you love me and then you throw me over for a board game???"
Jim was breathless with laughter in under a minute. "Uncle, uncle!" he gasped out. "Okay, you win. You decide what game we play."
Blair sobered. "I just realized - I haven't said it yet." He reached up to frame Jim's face with his hands. "I love you," he said softly, "and I want to prove it to you. Let's go to bed, Jim."
"Yeah. Oh, yeah," Jim murmured back, and took Blair by the hand to lead him upstairs.
Bilbo, forgotten on the coffee table, was the only witness to the murmurs and laughter and cries that drifted down, and he wasn't telling. Blind eyes stared up at the white ceiling, and a stitched mouth smiled.
Epilogue, later that night
"You remember when we had to paint the ceiling in your old room, because you got ink all over it?"
"You said you were bouncing on the bed."
"Why were you bouncing on the bed with an open pen in your hand? ... Blair? Chief, you gonna answer me or - ah! Blair!"
"You like that, huh?" Blair asked smugly, before returning his attention to the nipple straining so eagerly toward his mouth. A strong hand tangled in his curls stopped him, and his face was turned to Jim's.
"You're trying to distract me, Chief," Jim pointed out sweetly. "So why did you have a pen in your hand?"
Blair sighed, and looked up at Jim through his lashes. "No chance I can get you to let this go, huh?" he asked softly.
Jim hardened his heart. That look always melted him down to a puddle, and there was no point letting Blair know so this early. "Nope. We agreed, remember? Communication. So - tell."
A deeper sigh, and Blair snuggled in tighter. "Okay. I was trying to mark the ceiling."
"Okay," Jim said calmly. "Why?"
"I do it any place I stay long enough for it to really feel like home, you know? Any place where it felt like it was really my ceiling, so I could put a mark there if I wanted to, so I could look up there any time I wanted and know it was mine. I realized that day that I'd never done that here, even though this place had been home for a long time, and just decided what the hell, I may as well. Like a tradition, you know? But just as I bounced up to mark it, the pen exploded."
"And then I made you paint the ceiling," Jim said, slightly horrified.
"No, no!" Blair said earnestly, rolling on top of Jim so he could look straight down into his eyes. Jim's legs parted to make room for him, and they fit together like they'd belonged together forever. Blair settled himself comfortably, then slid his hands along Jim's arms until their palms met, twining their fingers together tightly. "Painting that ceiling was a great day, and I'm glad we did it. I didn't need to mark the ceiling here, Jim. It was just... tradition. This was - is - home. I don't need a mark to prove it, I never have. That's one reason I panicked and ran, I guess. I was sure I'd start giving myself away - and I just couldn't stand the thought of you being repulsed or angry or anything." He dropped his head onto Jim's chest, listening to the steady heartbeat.
Jim tightened his fingers on Blair's, then let go and wrapped his arms around the younger man.
"I love you, Blair Sandburg. You don't ever have to run again. I can't promise never to be angry with you," Jim could feel the smile against his skin at that, "but I can tell that I could never, ever be repulsed by you."
Blair sniffed, and lifted his head. "Thanks, Jim. I am sorry I ran like that, but I didn't know what else to do."
"I know, Chief," Jim said with a sigh, playing with long, dark curls. "I didn't know what to do, either. Hell, if I'd had the option, I might have run, too, so I can't exactly throw stones here. And hell, maybe in the long run it was a good thing; it got us both to admit things to ourselves and each other, right? I really think I wouldn't ever have told you, otherwise."
Blair shuddered. "I know, me either," he agreed.
Silence reigned for several minutes, and Blair was on the verge of dropping off to sleep, nestled in Jim's arms.
Blair groaned. "Do you ever intend to sleep tonight, Jim? What?"
"What was that poem about, then? 'The road goes ever ever on' - I thought that you needed to go wandering?"
"Ah. Well, there's another verse to the poem:
'Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.'
That's what I wanted. To be able to go and come back home again. And I'm home, Jim. Really, truly home."
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