by Francesca and Miriam

Author's disclaimer: Not ours, all theirs, yawn.

Author's notes: Feedback requested as always — we takes all kinds of feedback, here!

Amid the clutter of sounds in the bullpen, the ping of the elevator was distinctive. Jim didn't bother to look up; rather, he began to speed his pen across the page. Sandburg was here to pick him up, to drive him home. Yes, he'd done all the routine followups; yes, copies of the witnesses' statements were attached. He ran his eye over the page again, looking for mistakes, then nodded to himself and signed his name at the bottom. Done.

Jim slid the page into his out box. He needed a beer. But there was someone here, now, standing by his desk, wanting his attention. Sighing, but with as much politeness as he could muster, he asked, "Can I help you?" The guy didn't answer, so he looked up and repeated it. "Detective Ellison. Can I help you with something?"

"No," Sandburg replied. "No, I don't think so."

Jim jumped, and then stood up quickly, sending his desk chair skittering behind him. "Chief!"

"Yes," Sandburg agreed. "Exactly."

"Chief," Jim repeated, staring.

"Yep. Chief," Sandburg said, perching on the desk and regarding him curiously. "You Jim."

Jim opened his mouth, shut it, shook his head in bewilderment. "You cut your hair."

"Yes," Sandburg agreed, nodding.

"You cut your hair," Jim said again. God, he could hardly believe it. Sandburg — god, he wouldn't have recognized him. Hell, he hadn't recognized him. Short, Sandburg's hair was curlier still, and darker, and it made his glasses seem bigger and —

Wait. The glasses were bigger. The frames were thicker, darker, and —

— and what the fuck was he wearing? A navy blue button-down shirt, neatly tucked into dark blue jeans. Jim stared; Sandburg had a silver pen tucked into his shirt pocket.

Jesus H. Christ. Sandburg looked like his fucking accountant.

Jim found himself uncomfortably speechless. "Chief," he managed finally, "you said you'd never do it."

Sandburg-the-accountant nodded at him. "Yeah, I know. I changed my mind."

"Well — why?" Jim asked.

Sandburg raised his eyebrows. "Didn't know I had to ask your permission."

Jim was trying to formulate a response to this when he saw Simon approaching his desk; and then Simon slowed and raised his hand, telling Jim that it was okay, it could wait.

Jim sighed and waved Simon over. Simon approached, his bearing full of authority and professional courtesy — and then he took a hard look at Jim's client.

"Jesus!" Simon exploded, stepping back.

"Yeah," Jim seconded.

"Jesus!" Simon said in a more normal tone of voice, leaning forward for a better look. Sandburg turned towards Simon, crossing his arms, and bore his scrutiny patiently.

Finally, Simon nodded with satisfaction. "Sandburg, you finally look like a human being."

One corner of Sandburg's mouth turned up. "Thanks, Simon."

"Sandburg?" Brown said, stopping short by Jim's desk. "Holy shit!" Brown waved Rafe and Megan over, and they gaped at Sandburg in turn.

Jim himself was flinching from all the sudden attention, but Sandburg didn't seem to mind. "Wow," Brown was saying, and then suddenly he was wearing a real shit-eating grin. "So that's what you look like under there! I see why you kept it long!"

The detectives clustered around the desk all burst out laughing; Jim looked at Sandburg, expecting him to shoot back a witty comeback, or to roll his eyes, or to punch Brown's arm or something. But Sandburg only smiled and nodded. "Yep," he agreed. "That would be why."

And that seemed to end the conversation. Brown, Rafe, and Connor drifted back to work; Simon inquired after and received the report Jim had just finished preparing; Jim asked Sandburg if he wanted to go out for a beer.

"Yeah, " Sandburg said. "I could use one." The new glasses were thicker, and they blurred Jim's view of Sandburg's eyes.

He didn't think he liked that.

Blair was checking out the menu and it was hard not to stare. Jim didn't want to stare, so he looked down at Blair's shirt, but that was strange too. The silver pen was just...odd. He didn't even know Sandburg had a silver pen. But hell, he could have a box of pocket protectors hidden away in that room of his.

The shirt was odd, the pen was odd, but the glasses were the oddest because they weren't odd. After that first moment, they'd started to look like part of Sandburg's face. He didn't wear them like someone who didn't wear glasses all the time. He didn't touch them or adjust them, and suddenly Jim had the urge to ask Sandburg to take them off, because he suddenly couldn't remember what his partner had looked like without them.

"So, what happened with the hair?" Jim asked, tossing the menu down onto the rough wooden table.

Sandburg raised his eyebrow. "What, literally?"

"No, not literally," Jim snorted. "I know what happened literally."

"Literally," Sandburg continued, ignoring this declaration, "it's in a box." He sat back in his chair and waited expectantly.

Jim blinked; okay, so maybe he didn't know what happened literally. "In a box?"

Sandburg nodded and there was something missing. His hair. His hair used to nod right along with him and now it just... didn't. Wasn't. "Yep. At the post office," Blair clarified, breaking into a smile.

"The post office?"

"Yep," and Sandburg's smile widened.

"Who are you mailing your hair to?" Jim asked.

"Michelle," Sandburg said, and there was a new sharpness in his voice.

"Okay, I'll bite," Jim said. "Why are you mailing your hair to Michelle?"

"Well, I figured they could continue their relationship perfectly well without me."

Jim flinched. "Ouch," he muttered.

"Yeah," Sandburg replied. "So good riddance," he added, raising his beer mug. "To both of them."

Jim nodded slowly and raised his mug, knocked it gently against his partner's. "Well, I suppose I should be grateful that you didn't mail her your ear or something." He glanced at Sandburg's ear, which was much easier to see now that the cloud of hair was gone, and noticed that Sandburg's earrings were gone too.

"Never liked Van Gogh much," Sandburg confessed.

"Well, thank God for that," Jim said, rolling his eyes.

"Well, actually that's not true," Sandburg mused. "I like the creepy stuff; you can keep the sunflowers — "

"Did she like the earrings, too?" Jim interrupted.

Sandburg's hand immediately went to his left ear; he fingered the lobe meditatively as he answered. "I dunno, really. Probably." He sighed, dragging his beer mug back and forth through a wet spot on the table. "It wasn't really her, to be honest. Michelle. More like — just the last straw, man."

"What do you mean, the last straw?" Jim asked, frowning.

Sandburg groaned. "Just, you know — date after date after date. And after a while, you look for the pattern, you know? So I figured it out — I'm the pattern."

Jim glowered at him. "Sandburg? English?"

Sandburg raised a hand in supplication. "Okay, okay. Look, I didn't always have the hair, you know?"

"Oh no?" Jim retorted. "I thought you were born with it."

"Yeah, right," Sandburg said, grinning. "Do you see Naomi brushing that shit out every day?"

Jim hadn't really thought about it. "Figured you had dreads," he shot back, grinning.

Sandburg burst out laughing. "Yeah, right. Dreads, weed, and tons of Bob Marley. Megan was right, man — you are psychic. That was my childhood in a nutshell."

Jim took a swig of his beer. "Don't tell me you had a buzzcut."

"Nah," Sandburg said. "Mainly, I looked like a demented Little Orphan Annie," and Jim nearly spit out his beer. Sick as that was, he could see it: it was possible: Sandburg's hair was even curlier now that it was short.

Sandburg was nodding ruefully. "Yeah, yeah — you can see it, can't you? Stupid curly hair, stupid glasses — dude, I was a serious and total dork."

"Was?" Jim teased, and Blair wadded up his napkin and threw it at him.

"Was. Is. Am," Blair agreed, reaching for the beer. "Except, see, I managed to fool a couple of girls. For, like, a minute . Smoke and mirrors, man. Smoke and mirrors."

Jim frowned at him. "Whaddaya mean, 'smoke and mirrors'?"

"I mean the hair, the earrings, the clothes — dude, face it. I'm five foot seven — no. No, I'm not. I'm five foot six — this is my new, honest period. I'm five foot six, okay?" Blair declared.

"Five foot six?" That really did seem awfully short.

"Yep. I'm just that short. And I'm an anthropologist — a science nerd. So I had to try harder, you know? I had to make an effort. And I'm not a bad looking guy, really," Sandburg added wryly. "Underneath. I shine up real nice — I get dates and all."

Jim spread his hands in confusion. "Chief, I'm not arguing with you. Okay, you're short. I noticed already. But yeah, you had your look — whatever. And you get dates, like you said. So what's the problem, again?"

"The problem, Jim," Sandburg explained wearily, "is the dates. I get 'em. I meet these women and I take them out somewhere and — they're bored, man. They're bored with the place, they're bored with the conversation — they're bored with me. You see it in their faces." Sandburg reached again for his beer. "They're disappointed. The reality doesn't live up to the package."

Jim frowned. "So what — you think they're jonesing for the hair?"

Sandburg swallowed his beer and then nodded. "The hair, the earrings, the clothes — be careful what you wish for, man. Michelle — she was just the last straw. I asked her to come with me to see these Nigerian musicians. She did not dig it, put it that way. " He snorted.

"So now — what?" Jim asked. "Nerdish is as nerdish does?"

"You're not getting it," Sandburg insisted. "That wasn't me, okay? This is me." Sandburg said gesturing down at himself and Jim noticed that Blair's fourth button was hanging by a thread. "This is me the way I was before 1995, okay? These are my clothes, my glasses, my hair — this is me not trying so damn hard for a change." Sandburg stopped and grinned quirkishly. "I'm getting back in touch with my inner nebbish."

"Okay," Jim relented, wondering if nebbishes had to be missing buttons. "Look, do what you want: I don't care what you look like."

Sandburg rolled his eyes. "Glad to have your blessing." He scraped his chair back and stood up. "Next round's on me — the same?"

"Yeah," Jim said. "The same."

God knows there'd been enough changes for one day.

The haircut was the big news for Monday.

Tuesday, they got back from lunch just in time for the Fernandes case to finally break open and they didn't get that cleaned up until one in the morning, by which time Sandburg could have grown a second head and he wouldn't have given a shit.

Wednesday was deposition day at the courthouse — eight full fucking hours of clarifying testimony before a team of smarmy lawyers in tan summer suits. Sandburg spent the day at Rainier, doing whatever the hell he normally did over there.

Thursday, they both got off early and watched the Jags on TV and ate dinner in the living room. And Friday, they spent the evening in the truck watching the foundation settle at the Cooper house for four hours — during which time nothing at all happened, giving him a stronger incentive to nail Cooper to the wall when he finally slipped up. Which he would.

Which is why he didn't notice until Saturday, when his dinner date fell through, that Sandburg didn't have a date for Saturday night either, and that nobody else had called all week long.

He only noticed it because Sandburg didn't notice it. Sandburg didn't seem to notice much of anything outside of work and, well, work. Not that he was going to argue with the inbox being empty and all the paperwork getting signed, sealed, and delivered to Simon before Simon could complain, but it was weird.

Sandburg was quiet, too. That was another weird thing that he couldn't complain about. He liked quiet. Didn't he? Maybe not quite this much quiet.

And then the next week was just the same.

He had never actually realized how many different conversations revolved around the hair. In the shower drain. All over the back of the sofa. In the food. Little rubber bands all over the place. Long strands of it were no longer getting filed with the paperwork. Hell, it was like having one less roommate.

But the pleasure of that was definitely mitigated by the fact that no one was calling for Sandburg. I mean — no one was calling for Sandburg. Not that Sandburg seemed to mind.

Hell — Sandburg who? There was no Sandburg. Sandburg was gone. Who knew — underneath Sandburg there was — well — this Blair guy. This guy with the short hair and the neat button down shirts who worked all the goddammed time. And who didn't seem to mind that nobody was calling him. In fact Sandburg — Blair — was having a particularly productive work phase, and seemed to be enjoying it.

Jim knew that because he'd asked him.

"Hey, Blair," Jim'd said tentatively in the middle of that second week. "You've been working pretty hard. Maybe you should call someone. Go out. Blow off some steam."

Blair had stopped typing and run a hand through — well, over — his hair and glanced up from his computer. "Nah. Thanks but no thanks. I'm having a particularly productive work phase. And I'm sort of enjoying it."

So that was that.

So Jim found himself in the slightly incongruous position of being the one going out on dates while Blair stayed home. Okay, it was more than slightly incongruous. Based on their previous patterns, it was downright weird. But Blair didn't seem to think it was weird; Blair, in fact, seemed to be almost radiating a new contentment. His dissertation was coming along nicely, all was well with the world. Jim had, in fact, come home from a dinner date with Laura Sanders one night only to find Blair happily typing away, eating cashews out of a bowl and bouncing around in his chair to a CD of Nigerian music.

Which really wasn't all that bad, actually, once you got used to it.

A week or two later, he'd gotten home and Blair had the laptop open and on his lap but he wasn't typing. Instead he was just staring into space with a vague look on his face.

"What's up?" Jim asked, hanging up his coat. "You get a chapter approved or something?"

"What?" Blair turned to look at him and blinked. "Oh. Nah, nothing like that."

"So what's up?" Jim asked, heading into the kitchen for a beer.

"This woman asked me out," Blair answered, grinning suddenly.

"Hey, great," Jim said, leaning against the counter. "Lemme guess. Redhead — legs up to here — " he stopped, noticing Blair was shaking his head. "Blond?" Blair was shaking his head again. "Brunette? Bald? Two heads? What?"

"Nothing. She's a chemist," Blair said, grinning.

"A blond chemist or a redheaded chemist?" Jim asked.

"No, man. You're missing the point, here." Blair put his laptop to sleep and slid it onto the coffee table, then got up to get a beer for himself.

"So what is the point? You like chemistry?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "No. The point is that she's discriminating, man! The point is that she's got a brain and scientific prizes out the wazoo — and yeah, legs up to here now that you mention it — but the point is that this incredibly discriminating model of womanhood asked me out."

"And thus her hair color is unimportant," Jim deadpanned.

"Exactly," Blair said, popping his beer open. "Because she asked me out looking like this. Wearing my glasses. And wearing this shirt." The shirt du jour was a pale yellow short-sleeve button-down, and Blair had it buttoned all the way up to the collar. It had that Monsanto poly-cotton sheen that indicated that not only would you not need to iron it, but to do so would start a fire.


"And — dig this — I met her at a lecture on bone analysis." Blair leaned back against the fridge and grinned at Jim, looking smug.

"Which was fascinating, I presume?" Jim asked.

"Totally so, actually," Blair admitted. "Later, I'll bore you with that — but honest, it's got real application in the field."

"I'm sure," Jim said. "Well, congratulations! Chalk up one for your inner nebbish."

Blair nodded. "One small step for me, one great leap for nebbishkind."

"You've totally triumphed over superficiality." Jim took a swig of his beer. "So when's the big date with the chemist with legs-up-to-here and no hair color worth mentioning?"

"There isn't one. I'm not going."

Jim nearly spit up his beer. "You're kidding."

"Not kidding, no."

"Why the hell not?"

"She's not really my type," Blair confessed.

"Oh brother," Jim said. "You're really something, you know that?"

"I dunno, I actually haven't really felt much like dating," Blair said, shrugging. "Still, it's nice to be asked, though, you know?"

Jim raised his eyebrow and leaned against the counter. "I wouldn't know anything about that," he deadpanned. "Myself, I have to beat the women off with a stick."

Blair grinned. "I can offer you my can of Babe-B-Gone. I'm not needing it much lately."

"Thanks," Jim said. "I'm fresh out."

"And hey — I've got an idea," Blair added.

"Don't you always," Jim grumbled good-naturedly.

"You can grow your hair out," Blair suggested brightly. "Chicks dig it, I'm told. And I'm having a fire sale on funky vests and silver earrings." He gestured toward his room with his beer.

"Bring 'em on, man," Jim replied. "I might just be that desperate."

"For you — half price," Blair added. "Going cheap." They stared at each other for a moment and then started laughing.

"How do some of Milo's buffalo wings sound about now?" Jim asked.

"Just great, man," Blair agreed, and they clinked bottles and then chugged the rest of the beer.

"Can I get extra blue cheese?" Jim asked, grabbing his coat.

"Don't push it," Blair said.

So that took care of Monday night — and Blair was nice enough to let him get the extra blue cheese, anyway.

Tuesday, the goddammed Cooper case finally broke — and Jim took great satisfaction in using all the justifiable force that the law allowed him.

Wednesday, Blair went off to do whatever the hell it was he did at Rainier on Wednesdays.

Thursday's Jags game was sadly interrupted by the discovery of three skeletons out in the woods fifteen feet from one of the marked nature trails. Jim looked closely at the skeletons while Blair kept the head of forensics from looking too closely at him. And he was kneeling in the dirt next to the largest of the thankfully clean skeletons, listening idly to Blair's distracting chatter about bone density and post-mortem fractures, when he realized what was bugging him.

There was no buzz about the "guy with the long hair" underneath the other crime scene conversation. Jim looked up at Blair — hell, he looked just like the forensics people. Jim hadn't had to explain, over and over, "This is my partner." Nobody even questioned it.

And all that shit Blair had picked up about bone analysis turned out to be pretty goddammed useful after all.

Friday, they were supposed to be given extra time off for Thursday — except there was a bomb threat. Some lunatic proposing to blow up the Cascade Public Library. Go figure — probably the book he wanted was checked out. Cascade got all the goddamn weirdos. But then nothing the fuck happened, no bombs, no explosions, not so much as a firecracker. Except that the head circulation librarian (young and blonde and with legs up to there, not that he noticed or anything), totally disregarded his five foot six partner and asked him out for the next weekend.

He politely declined.

"Oh, come on, man — I can't believe you turned her down," Blair teased in the truck on the way home. "She probably wanted to show you her first editions!" He nudged Jim in the ribs. "Her rare book collection — you dig?

Jim smirked. "Yeah, well, thanks but no thanks, Chief. I don't think she was as discriminating as your lady chemist. I think she was just interested in some dumb macho cop fantasy."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Which you're not?"

"No. I'm not," Jim said sanctimoniously. "You're not the only one with hitherto unperceived depths."

"Oh brother," Blair said.

"Well, you're not," Jim argued.

"I never said I was."

"I mean, I have depths."

"Sure you do," Blair said agreeably. "Deep ones."

"Really deep depths," Jim confirmed, cracking a smile.

"And height," Blair added. "Which I don't have."

"Yes," Jim agreed. "Heights and depths."

"Breadth, even," Blair suggested.

Jim nodded. "I'm broad. And broad-minded."

"And just broad," Blair confirmed. "As in width."

"But not a broad."

"No, not a broad," Blair agreed. "Though she was."

"Yeah, she was," Jim agreed.

"A broad with legs up to here." Blair demonstrated. "But you weren't interested."

"No," Jim said, and grinned. "She just wasn't my type."

"I thought you weren't her type. Tall, muscle-bound, macho, hangs from helicopters, man of steel type biceps..."

Jim glanced across the cab at Blair. "Is that supposed to be me?"

"Isn't that you?"

"Is it?"

Blair turned to look out the side window. "Isn't it?"

He knew he waited a beat too long to answer this time, because the joke got strange on him suddenly. "Chief, I'm hurt," Jim said, finally, forcing his eyes back to the road. "At your gross underestimation of my hidden deep depths."

"All apologies," Blair mumbled. "I of all people should know better."

"You should," Jim replied, trying to sound casual about it. He reached forward and switched on the radio, but he'd forgotten that he'd popped in a tape of Blair's goddammed Nigerian music. He flinched, thought about switching it off , but decided to leave it.

"So," Jim said, "I'm still waiting for you to bore me."

"What?" Blair turned and looked at him.

"With that bone thing. You were going to tell me all about it."

Blair shrugged. "You heard most of my spiel yesterday."

"Fine, then," Jim said, and coughed. "Bore me with something else."

"What makes you think I've got something else?" Blair asked.

Jim took his eyes from the road long enough to roll them at Blair.

"Okay," Blair relented. "So you got your choice, here. Dork specials of the day: bones or Nigerian tribal rhythms."

"Both sound equally fascinating," Jim deadpanned.

"Nigerian tribal rhythms it is then." Blair started in on the intricacies of Nigerian tribal rhythms, and Jim found himself interested, even though he'd prodded Blair into talking mainly to distract his partner from the fact that he'd liked the music enough to tape the CD. By the time they pulled into the loft parking lot, Blair had finished the lecture part of the program and had started in on the multiple choice part, quizzing Jim about what he could hear on the tape.

Jim's answer was that the tape made it all sound like shit anyway — and that was sort of the wrong answer, because of course Blair had the CD upstairs.

Or maybe it was the right answer, because he didn't mind hearing it all again, really.

Saturday he got up late and smelled breakfast cooking before he'd even opened his eyes. Downstairs, the Nigerian music was playing low and he had a moment of not wanting to get up. But he got up anyway and they went to the Natural History Museum for a lecture on "Plant life (including the edible) in the Cascade National Forests and Urban Environs."

Sunday Blair went to the Rainier library to do whatever the hell he usually did there. And Jim got out the photo album his father had sent over last year. Before the 1990s, he didn't recognize anybody he knew, including himself. Blair got home at six and for dinner, they shared a pizza and watched "Shane" on the tube.

Monday, was a bank holiday and they went fishing. The fish didn't bite because they got a late start. They debated eating some of the edible plant life in the Cascade National Forests and Urban Environs, (which they could now, in fact, identify), but decided to just stop at Wonderburger on the way home. Blair didn't protest when he ordered extra cheese on his burger, and went so far as to order the same for himself.

Tuesday, the perp wore red. She had, not surprisingly, legs up to here and bad taste in husbands — all four of whom she'd knocked off. Her lover came quietly. But her latest fiance cried foul all the way into the station until he got a look at Ms. Lockheart's file — which included color photographs of all the late husbands. Blair had the sense not to look too closely. It was pretty gruesome.

Wednesday was the arraignment docket from hell. Four and a half hours in a jacket and tie and then another two hours on related paperwork. The afternoon was free, though, and he picked Blair up from the university and they went to the movies to see the latest sci fi shoot-em-up.

Thursday Blair came in and they got their stories straight typing up several reports. They came home early and watched the Jags, who threw the game. Disgusted, they ordered Chinese and vowed to start following baseball instead.

Friday, Blair spent the day working on his dissertation and Jim got out the photo albums again. He could feel Blair glancing at him every few minutes. Finally, he got up and dropped the album in Blair's lap. Blair flipped back through it and stopped at the picture of the Christmas party his first year on the force. 1990. He looked over Blair's shoulder at the picture and when Blair glanced up with a grin on his face, and said, "Better without the mustache" he wondered if that was the only thing about him that looked different.

On Saturday, Blair slept in and he got up early and went to the gym. When he got home, he realized he hadn't shaved yet. For a few minutes, he actually considered starting up the mustache again. Shaking his head and shaving off the stubble, he listened again to Blair's CD and, beyond that, the click-click of early morning typing.

By mid-afternoon, he gave up on reading the latest John Clancy and decided to take a walk on the docks. Blair stayed home and worked on his dissertation.

On Saturday afternoon at four p.m., he came to the conclusion that repression was a funny thing.

He looked over at Blair, who was still typing. "All work and no play, you know..."

Blair looked over at him. " — makes Blair a dork. I know."

Jim grinned. "A big fat stinking dork."

Blair nodded, grinning back. "Fat and stinking," he agreed, pushing the computer away. "Why, you gonna make me an offer?"

"Well, what were you planning to do tonight?" Jim asked.

Blair thought about that for a moment, then shrugged. "Hadn't planned, really." He waved at his laptop. "I'm sorta on a roll here."

"Why don't you call someone?" Jim asked, waving over at the phone.

Blair frowned at him, then shook his head. "I told you: I'm not really interested at the minute."

"In dating?" Jim pressed.

Blair hesitated for a moment and then nodded. "In dating," he said, shifting uncomfortably on the kitchen chair.

Jim nodded thoughtfully and gnawed at his lip.

"What about you?" Blair said suddenly.

Jim glanced at him. "What about me?"

"You could call someone," Blair said.

"I could. Yeah," Jim said, not moving.

Blair sighed and pulled his laptop forward again. "I should probably go out and get a haircut," he said, tapping on the space bar to wake the computer up.

"Ooooh, that's exciting," Jim muttered.

Blair smiled helplessly at this, and raised one hand to finger his curls. "Well, hey — you know, in a weird way, this short shit is much harder to maintain. After a couple of weeks, it starts to look really stupid."

Jim grinned at him. "Little Orphan Annie becomes Little Lord Fontleroy."

"Exactly," Blair said, grinning back. "And 'little' whichever way you cut it." He looked at Jim, critically, for a moment. "You could use a haircut yourself, you know."

Jim nodded. "Yeah, I know."

"You wanna go stop at the barber, later?" Blair asked, turning his attention back to the computer screen.

"No," Jim said.

Blair glanced at him. "No?"

"No," Jim repeated. "I'm thinking — I might grow it out a little."

Blair tilted his head to one side and considered this. "Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah," Jim said, running an absent hand through his hair. "I mean — I'm out of the army now, right?"

Blair nodded. "Right."

"No reason to keep it so short."

"No," Blair said carefully. "No reason at all."

"It wasn't always so short," Jim explained, frowning slightly.

"Oh no?" Blair asked, sitting back in his chair and pushing the laptop away again.

"No," Jim said. 'I mean, hell — my Dad wasn't constantly ferrying us back and forth to the goddammed barber."

"Hmmm," Blair said, looking thoughtful. "I always pictured you and Stephen in buzzcuts. Uniforms. Your dad blowing a whistle, lining you both up."

Jim's lips twitched. "How very Sound of Music."

Blair laughed. "Well — theorizing your childhood — I'm pretty much out of my depth, actually."

"Out of your height, you mean," Jim corrected.

"Yeah," Blair agreed, grinning. "That too."

"I used to have an earring, you know," Jim said suddenly.

Blair took a deep breath. "Yeah. I know. I've seen the hole."

Jim fingered his left earlobe carefully. "I wonder if it's still open."

"Could be," Blair answered.

"I think it is," Jim mused, feeling the edges with his fingertips. "Have you got an earring I could use?"

Blair sat still for a moment, and then he nodded slowly and got up, headed into his room. He wandered back into the living room carrying a small, wooden box, peering into it, rummaging through it with his finger.

Jim looked up at him. "What have you got?"

Blair raised his eyebrows. "Well — I've got lots of stuff. The question is: what's right." He frowned, and then gently picked out a small diamond stud. "What about this?" he asked, showing it to Jim.

Jim shrugged. "It's a little — I dunno. Lemme look," and Blair sat down next to him on the sofa and offered him the box. "What about this?" Jim asked, pulling out a small, intricately carved piece of amber."

"Oh, that's nice — I like that," Blair said, nodding enthusiastically. "I got that in Mexico."

"I like this," Jim said, putting the box down on the coffee table.

"So take that," Blair said.

Jim nodded, and pulled the back off the post, and carefully fitted the earring into his ear.

"Is it open?" Blair asked, watching curiously.

"Yeah, it's open," Jim said, putting the post in.

"You need some alcohol or something?" Blair asked.

"Nah. No, it's cool," Jim said, letting his hand fall away. "How does it look?"

"It looks good," Blair replied. He got up off the sofa and took a step back, crossing his arms and considering. "Very good. Suits you to a T."

"Good," Jim said. "Good." He picked Blair's wooden box off the coffee table, and offered it back to him.

"Hang on to it," Blair said, waving it away. "I'm not going to be wearing any of that stuff for a while."

"Oh," Jim said. "Okay. Thanks." He put the box down again.

"You might — you know — want to switch now and then," Blair said.

Jim nodded. "Yeah. Maybe. I might."

"So use those. Help yourself."

"Okay. I will," Jim said.

Blair nodded and sat in front of his laptop again, waking it up. Jim occupied himself by rummaging through the box. "I can't wear hoops," he grumbled.

Blair looked over at him. "Why not?"

"I'd look like a pirate," Jim snorted.

"What's wrong with looking like a pirate?" Blair asked, lips twitching.

"Well, wrong side of the law, for one," Jim answered. "Plus, I'm too old. Plus, it's a tad too Adam Ant."

"Hey!" Blair objected.

"It worked for you," Jim replied. "Really." He reached in and pulled out a strand of black leather with an group of beads at the front.. "Hey — does this go with the earring I've got on?"

Blair peered over at the necklace, and then nodded. "Yeah, I don't see why not. They're not a set or anything, but they sort of match."

Jim stood up, fumbling with the necklace. "How does it open?"

"It's easy," Blair said, standing up.

"It looks like it should just unhook, but it doesn't," Jim objected, taking a step toward the table.

"No, wait — don't break it. Look — " Blair took the necklace from his hands. "It sort of unscrews, really. See?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah, I see."

"Here," Blair said, draping the necklace over the back of his neck so the fastening faced the front. Jim lifted his chin and then realized it wasn't necessary when Blair said "Fuck. Sit down a sec." He sat down in Blair's chair and lifted up his chin again, watching Blair's face as he worked on the fastening.

"There," Blair said, dropping the leather and metal clasp which fell coolly against his neck. Blair's fingers skimmed around his throat, caressing over his Adam's apple before tugging at the beads to turn the necklace around.

Jim reached up to touch the necklace and his fingers brushed against Blair's, sending a shock through them both. Blair dropped his hands to his sides suddenly and blinked at him and Jim didn't say anything — just looked down, trying to see the beads, wondering what Blair was seeing that made his eyes widen like that. Finally, he looked up at Blair again — and Blair was staring down at him and he could see himself reflected in the dilated darkness of Blair's eyes.

"You know, it's funny," Blair said, "but you really do look different."

Jim nodded slowly. "But, it's me, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Blair said. "Yeah, it's you."

Jim raised his hands and gently touched the fabric of Blair's oxford shirt. "And this is you."

"Yeah," Blair said. "It is."

Jim stood up, still holding Blair's shirt in clenched fingers. He stepped forward, and Blair stepped backward in response, backing up against the kitchen table. Jim stepped forward again, moving into Blair's personal space, pressing up against him — and then he let his hands slide around Blair's waist to his backside and lifted him up, onto the table.

And Blair sat on the table and stared up at him with wide blue eyes. Jim reached out and pulled the black-framed glasses from Blair's face; Blair's eyes got wider and bluer still.

"This is me," Jim said softly. "Trying a little harder, for a change."

He leaned in and watched as Blair closed his eyes, expecting a kiss. But he didn't, and when Blair opened his eyes, it was at the sound of his zipper coming down. Jim let his hand rest on Blair's soft cotton briefs, feeling the rough edge of the zipper against his hand.

"So this is you." Blair's voice was a little breathless, and Jim let his hand press down over Blair's cock, rubbing one fingertip over the dampening cotton and drawing out a sharper gasp from Blair.

"Yeah, Chief. This is me."

"What...what..." Blair blinked slowly and cleared his throat. "What a coincidence."

"Yeah?" he asked, continuing to mold the thin cotton over Blair's erection with his hand, stroking softly.

"Yeah. Because I've always had this — oh...."

"What did you have?" he prompted Blair when Blair trailed off and shut his eyes.

"Oh. This — tall, muscle-bound, macho, hangs from helicopters, man of steel type biceps... cop f-fantasy," Blair said, keeping his eyes closed the whole time.

Jim nodded, even though Blair couldn't see him, and leaned in then, touching Blair's mouth with his own, deepening the kiss as Blair's arms came up around his neck to draw him closer. And somehow, it didn't seem all that important to remind Blair that he had depths, too, because Blair's tongue was currently plumbing them.

Not wanting to break the kiss, but also not wanting to try to balance on the table, he pulled back, easing Blair into following him, sliding off the table to stand against him.

For a moment, they just swayed there, and then he broke away and Blair opened his eyes again.

"Come upstairs."

"Yeah, okay," Blair answered softly.

Blair went up the stairs first. Jim was stopped at the top by the sight of Blair sitting on the edge of his bed, his GAP chinos still unbuttoned and unzipped. He looked... debauched. But not debauched enough. Jim grinned, the irony hitting him hard and turning him on. The old Sandburg had always looked debauched; there would hardly have been any challenge to it. But now, Blair had been tidied up and buttoned down — now, it was really going to be worth the effort...

And for now, this was just right, Blair's ragged breathing just perfect as he kicked off his shoes and slid back onto the bed, leaning back and propping himself up on his hands. He knew that Blair was watching him as he skimmed off his own t-shirt, pulling it up and over his head. He toed off his own shoes and reached down to undo his jeans, unzipping them and keeping his eyes on Blair the whole time as he drew them down and stepped out of them.

Blair's moved to sit up, bringing his hands to his shirt buttons, but Jim shook his head and quickly moved over toward the bed. "Let me."

Blair leaned back again and Jim started at the top, leaning in to kiss Blair again. Holding himself up on his arms, Blair couldn't reach for him, and so Jim controlled this kiss. Breaking it off, he started to unbutton Blair's shirt, drawing it over his shoulders and leaving it there to start in on the pants. Blair didn't move to pull the shirt the rest of the way off, and he was glad. Lifting Blair's hips up, he slid the khakis down his legs and tossed them off the bed. He pulled Blair's socks off, and then looked up to stare at Blair's body, at the blue oxford shirt draped over his arms, the tails of it falling over the white briefs.

Blair could be a Wall Street type on his lunch break in for a quick fuck of his secretary, but this would not be quick. This had taken years to happen, so it couldn't be quick.

The room was getting darker as the clouds moved outside, so he leaned over and turned on the bedside lamp, wanting Blair to be able to see him if he wanted to. He drew Blair to sit up straight and then roughly tugged the shirt down his arms, so that it stopped at the buttoned cuffs, trapping Blair's arms behind him.

Blair pulled at the shirt, testing the bonds, and then moaned softly.

Kissing Blair again, straddling his legs and feeling the soft-curling hair on his legs brush across his own skin was nearly too much. He dialed down some of the sensation, not wanting to come yet, guessing he might just get one chance, although given Blair's body, and his own interest, he might get lucky. Right now he felt hard enough for ten orgasms, and Blair hadn't yet touched him.

And Blair wasn't going to, either. Not just yet. Blair's arms were pinned behind him, and Jim lowered his mouth to Blair's bare throat.

Where the necklace used to be, and wasn't; the necklace was around his own neck, now.

He moved lower, and tongued Blair's right nipple, where the nipple ring used to be, and wasn't. But that was out of the question; his senses simply would not allow for that level of stimulation. Blair alternately arched toward him and away from his mouth, clearly wanting to touch him, but his arms were still trapped behind him. Jim slid his hands along Blair's rib cage, steadying him as he teased Blair's nipples tight. He waited until he could hear Blair gasping irregularly — and then he moved lower.

Blair's white briefs were frankly wet now; his cock was straining against the cotton fabric and leaking copiously. A groan escaped him at the same moment that Blair groaned — god, Blair was excited, Blair was close to hyperventilating. He bent his head to Blair's groin and began to mouth Blair gently through the damp cotton; Blair gasped and jerked underneath him, and then breathed, "Oh god... god...god..."

Jim gripped Blair's hips tightly, stilling his writhing body, and began to suck more intensely. "Jim! Jim, I — Jim, oh god — " and god, Blair was hard, Blair was so hard for him, and he slid his hands down under the elastic of Blair's briefs and gently tugged them over his erection, freeing it.

"Jim — "

The urgency in Blair's voice made Jim stop and look up. The short curls were sweat drenched, dark and tightly curled, and streaks of sweat ran down Blair's face and neck.

Jim waited a few seconds for Blair to say something more, and when he didn't, Jim decided that Blair's silence would be temporary. He leaned forward and took Blair into his mouth and began to suck.

Blair tensed under him and swore again. Jim brought one hand around Blair to his cloth-bound hands and teased Blair with the possibility of release, but he didn't remove the shirt. Instead, he stroked Blair's arms, feeling the muscles tense and warm under his hand. And then Blair caught and squeezed his hand gently through the soft blue fabric. Blair's fingers were strong and warm and Jim squeezed back, and it was like there was a whole other level of communication here between them, a tactile conversation quite different from low moans and gasped curses.

Blair's normally controlled voice, the voice that led him from zone outs and seduced him into strange conversations was now broken, low and breathy. Jim guessed that it would be impossible now for Blair to put two words together, to even ask for the release he was so close to — trembling at the edge of.

But Blair's hands were sure: Blair's fingers closed around his firmly and said, "Jim. Please." And so he squeezed back his answer: "Yes" and then swirled his tongue to the underside of Blair's cock, just under the head, and pressed it there, applying gentle pressure, stimulating, flicking the tip of his tongue against the lip. And Blair's breath caught wetly in his throat and for a moment all was still, silent, and suspended — and then with a rush of air Blair was exhaling, coming, trembling, and shudders ran down his body and his cock was pulsing into Jim's mouth and his fingers seized and clenched Jim's hard — holding on to him, holding on for dear life.

Then Blair stilled again, and all was quiet except for the sound of Blair's ragged breathing. Jim kissed Blair until he was soft, then rested his face against Blair's warm thigh. He felt quite comfortable really, comfortable and content and he thought that he might sleep — but suddenly Blair was moving, working his way out of the buttoned-up, inside-out cuffs. And then there were warm hands on his shoulders, pushing him off, pushing him onto his back.

Blair lowered himself on top of him and for a moment, Jim thought Blair might fall asleep there. He thought he could get used to the heavy unfamiliar warmth of him, get used to the arms loosely draped around him, the soft, regular breathing against his neck.

But then Blair kissed his neck, and kissed his face — and there were soft kisses to the corner of his mouth, his eyelids, his forehead, his ear — soft, lazy kisses that quickly turned to something more as Blair recovered, the kisses becoming harder, pressing him into the mattress, kisses so hard and fast he wondered if he might come from them alone.

Blair was kissing him with affection and lust and gratitude — emotions that he could detect and identify, just as he could detect and identify the separate tastes of Blair's mouth and Blair's semen and Blair's sweat. Blair's hands carded through his hair, caressing him, and hell, he had enough hair for that now, and hell, he was gonna have more if it felt like this, if it felt this good.

Blair clutched at his hair and kept kissing him, and Jim felt the blood rushing through his body and god, he was hard again, so hard, hard enough for ten orgasms, though right now one would be enough, would be plenty, would be everything.

He arched upward and dragged his erection hard against Blair's body, and Blair responded by sliding a hand down between them. Warm, strong fingers closed around his erection and he moaned into Blair's mouth.

Blair was stroking him, stroking him and kissing him, and he had never felt so good, he had never felt so good in his whole goddammed life, had never felt so much himself. Blair's weight, Blair's hands, Blair's wet mouth on his, kissing the semen away — it was all so good, better than he ever thought it could get.

Blair's wet mouth slid across his, and then it was on his cheek, on his jaw, covering his ear — and then Blair was tonguing the small amber earring that pierced him and he gasped and thrust hard into Blair's hand and came with a strangled groan.

"Shh — shh, I've got you," Blair murmured.

"You've got me," Jim whispered back to him. "You sure you want me?"

"Oh yeah," Blair breathed. "Oh yeah. You sure you want me?"

"I want you," Jim answered sincerely.

Blair hesitated. "Even though...?"

"Yeah," Jim said. "Even though. Maybe because." He closed his eyes and drew his cheek against Blair's.

"Because I'm a boring dork?" Blair asked.

"Absolutely," Jim said.

"Well," Blair said, and Jim could hear the smile in his voice. "Well. That's good." He felt Blair's hand move to touch his hair again; god, he would certainly grow it out a little more: it was totally worth it. "You want a boring bedtime story?"

"Yes," Jim said. "Please."

"Dork specials of the day," Blair whispered, stroking Jim's hair, and then letting his fingers slide down Jim's cheek to gently trace his jawline. "Bones...or courtship rituals."

Jim opened his eyes. "I told you, I heard the bone thing already."

"Not all of it," Blair objected.

"Enough of it," Jim answered. "Does it keep coming up on the menu until I hear all of it?"

Blair considered this. "Yeah," he answered, finally, and Jim sighed.

"Okay. Well: courtship rituals then."

"Okay," Blair said. He propped himself up on one elbow and began to trace the leather necklace around Jim's throat. "See, it so happens that not all cultures use rings as a sign of commitment."

"Oh really?" Jim asked, staring up at him. Blair was hovering over him, and Blair's eyes, without his heavy, thick glasses, were so big and so blue.

"Yeah. Really. It's pretty rare, in fact," Blair said. "I mean, jewelry exchange is fairly common as a larger category — not just the Western finger rings, but earrings, and nose rings and such. And then there's your other piercings, and your tattoos, and your ritual scarification —

"Maybe I should have gone with the bones," Jim muttered.

" — which is pretty common down your way, actually," Blair was continuing. "South American tribes do it a lot. In fact, there was one tribe I read about — they did this really neat thing where they carved these elaborate symbols into their beloved's chests, right over their beating hearts — "

Okay, he definitely should have gone with the bones, Jim thought. But beyond the soft, reassuring sound of Blair's voice he could hear his own beating heart, and Blair's, and he could feel Blair's fingers gently touching the necklace, skimming softly against his throat.

Jim reached up and removed the earring from his ear, then leaned forward to put it back in Blair's ear — the ear that he could see so clearly now that the cloud of hair was gone. Blair stopped in mid-sentence and snapped his mouth shut, heart pounding; Jim carefully slid the amber stud in and firmly fixed the crown on the back.

Jim studied Blair intently, taking in the short brown curls still clinging damply, his face still slightly flushed, his eyes dark, dilated in the fading light. Blair looked strangely young — no, not young but open, vulnerable, the way he himself felt but knew would never show on his own face. No matter what else had changed, he considered, that probably never would.

Blair reached up and touched the earring, back again in his ear, and for a brief second Jim worried that Blair might have misinterpreted the gesture, might think that he was saying that Blair had gone too far.

But Blair hadn't gone too far, Blair had simply pushed them where they needed to go, had pushed him right where he belonged. Here. Beside Blair.

"They're not a set or anything," Jim said, quietly, "but they sort of match."  

The End