by Francesca

Author's disclaimer: Not mi...(snore)

Author's notes: All right, look: most of you who know my work know that I mostly write these snappy little first times. Plus that whole Nature thingy. But see, when you're constantly writing snappy dialogue, all this angst just starts to well up and rot your brain. And then one day you wake up and put on black clothes and Depeche Mode and think — "Must — Write — Shameless — Angst!!" And then afterwords you feel sort of sweaty and ashamed, and you think, "What have I done? Should I even post this?" And then you think, "Oh, hell, it's written, I'm gonna post it — maybe someone else is in a black clothes wearing, Depeche-mode-listening, shameless angsty kind of mood."

So here. For all the angst sluts out there — from that other part of my brain, where one-liners fear to tread...


Btw, I'm gonna be getting a new email addy soon, so the next thing I post might come from a different address. Just to warn y'all.

Somewhere, deep down, he'd been waiting for those words. He had expected them, feared them, dreaded them, even — but somewhere, deep down, he'd always known they would come.

Thing was, he'd expected them in a certain context. He'd figured that they'd be fighting, he and Jim. They'd be fighting about something — his mess, his mistakes, his dissertation. They'd be yelling at each other, and then Jim would open his mouth and out they would fly.

Sometimes, when he couldn't sleep, he'd make up great come-back lines and file them away. He wanted to be ready; he wanted to be prepared for it when it happened.

But he didn't expect it to be a beautiful summer morning. He didn't expect that the sun would be streaming in through the loft windows. He didn't expect that Jim would be in his bathrobe, grinning lazily at him as he poured them each a glass of orange juice. He didn't expect that Jim would affectionately grab a handful of his hair before sitting down opposite him at the kitchen table.

So despite three years of dread, he was completely unprepared. It had all been a colossal waste of time and effort.

"Chief, I think it's time for you to move out."

His face must have reflected the shock he felt; Jim frowned, and grabbed at his hand. "Chief," Jim explained quickly, "it's nothing personal, okay?"

Wait, where was the argument? Where was the yelling? What the fuck had he done with the file of snappy comebacks?

"Chief, come on, now." Jim was looking seriously worried. "Don't be like this. It isn't anything personal, it's just time, you know?"

He blinked back his shock. "Time?" Great, Blair — wow him with your wit. Good one, there.

"Yeah. Time. Chief, you're my best friend," Jim said in a sudden, uncharacteristic burst of earnestness. "I like you. Hell, I love you, okay? I just don't want to live with you anymore. I'm forty years old — I want to live by myself."

Blair tried to recover. "Right. Okay. Yeah. I get that."

"It doesn't have to happen right away, okay?" Jim was still looking concerned. "There's no rush or anything. Just — I think you should start looking. Whenever. I mean, I want you to move somewhere you like. Somewhere nicer than here. Not just any old shithole. Some place you'll be happy."

Blair frowned at that, and stared at Jim's face. There was something...weird...about what Jim was saying. Something weird in Jim's expression. But he didn't know what it was. Maybe it was just the general weirdness of the situation. "Right," he said again, nodding slowly. "I hear you. No rush. Just — if I see something I like, I should take it."

Jim looked relieved. "Right," he confirmed. "Exactly. Whenever," he repeated for emphasis. "Okay?"

Blair forced a smile. "Okay."

"Okay," Jim said, and squeezed his hand. He got up and wandered into the kitchen. "What do you want for breakfast? We got eggs, we got cereal, we got fruit..."

I want this conversation never to have happened, Blair thought dully. I want to wake-up again; I want a do-over.

I want to stay.

But he couldn't stay, not now that Jim had asked him to start looking, and had asked him so nicely. Everything seemed normal enough on the surface, but Blair knew Jim better than that. He could tell that Jim was waiting — just waiting for him to move out. And so Blair put out the word that he was looking for a new place to live; he hung up signs around the university; he bought the paper daily; he checked the listings.

And soon enough, too soon, he found something.

The apartment was actually pretty neat — it was tiny, but it was a duplex like the loft. Two rooms, one on top of the other, connected by a wrought iron spiral staircase. Living room downstairs, bedroom upstairs. The kitchen was small, an alcove really, but hell, he was just one person. And he could afford it on his stipend, which was key.

So he put down a deposit and told Jim he'd be moving out at the end of the month.

Jim seemed relieved, and sad, both. But — weirdly enough — Jim still seemed to be waiting for something. Blair sighed and supposed that things wouldn't be entirely normal between them until he was actually moved out.

When the time finally came, Jim offered to help him move. Blair accepted gratefully, and together they lugged his stuff down into the flatbed of the truck, box by box. The only big piece was Blair's futon, and they moved that together, which made it easy.

It didn't take long to get the stuff into Blair's new place, either. When they were finished, and all the boxes were neatly stacked up in the living room, Blair went into the fridge, which was empty save for a single six-pack. He pulled out a couple of cold beers and popped them with the opener on his keyring. Jim was walking around the apartment, inspecting it; he smiled as Blair handed him a bottle.

"Hey, you've already got beer." Jim sighed gratefully and took a swig. "That makes it home." Blair laughed at this. "It's a real nice place, Chief," Jim added, sincerely. "I like it: really. It's got...you know...style."

"You think?" Blair asked, looking around the small room.

"Oh, yeah," Jim said, confidently. "It's a real bachelor pad," he added, grinning. "What with the staircase and all. Very Parisian — the chicks will dig it."

"Well, we'll see about that," Blair said.

Jim wandered toward the window. "Nice view, too."

Blair smiled at him. "Jim, with your eyes, every window's got a view."

Jim shot him a glance. "Well, yeah. I guess that's true," Jim mumbled awkwardly, and returned to staring out the window while he drank his beer.

And he got that weird feeling again, watching Jim. He had done what Jim asked him to do — he had found a place, a nice place, he had moved. And still Jim seemed strange. Anxious. Waiting for something. He took a step towards Jim. "Jim, are you okay?"

Jim turned and blinked and there was nothing there, nothing strange, in his expression. "Yeah," Jim said, and then he grinned. "Just thinking — my swinging bachelor days are pretty much behind me, now." He reached out and grabbed Blair, swung him around into a headlock. "Whereas you — you old horndog — you are gonna have a great time, here."

Blair laughed and struggled within Jim's grip. "Hey, lemme go!"

"Think about it," Jim teased, wrestling with him. "Babes in the morning. Babes in the evening. Sandburg, you'd better get an appointment book — and a cleaning service." Blair laughed helplessly — Jim had found the ticklish spot under his ribs. "And for god's sake, Chief, no writing down the details, okay?"

"Okay!" Blair howled. His lungs hurt from laughing so hard.

"What's the rule?" Jim demanded.

"No evidence!" Blair sputtered.

"Okay." Jim grinned and let him go suddenly. Blair sucked in a deep breath, trying to get his equilibrium back. "You need help unpacking?" Jim asked suddenly.

"Nah," Blair said. "I can manage. Mostly books anyway."

"Okay," Jim said. And then suddenly that look was back, that weird look, and Blair swallowed. "Well," Jim said, quietly.

"Yeah," he answered, apropos of nothing.

"Guess I'd better head out."

Blair nodded. "Okay."

Jim picked up his empty beer bottle, took it over to the sink, rinsed it out, turned it upside down to drain. He seemed to want to leave; he seemed to be stalling.

"You're gonna be really happy," Jim said again.

"Yeah." Blair confirmed, thinking that Jim clearly needed to hear it. Maybe it was guilt, that weird look. Maybe Jim felt bad about asking him to go. "It's gonna be great," he elaborated, smiling. "I can come and go as I please, be as messy as I want — "

"Plus the babes." Jim was smiling now, too.

"Plus the babes, yeah," Blair agreed.

"Right. Right, okay," Jim said, and he seemed happier now, like a weight had lifted off his mind. "I'm history," he said, and headed for the door.

Blair followed him. "See you Monday?"

Jim stopped and turned to look at him. "Yeah. Monday." Suddenly things were awkward again, and Blair wasn't quite sure how that had happened. Jim reached out and squeezed Blair's shoulder. "Chief. Thanks."

Blair's eyebrows flew up. "Thank you, man! For, you know, helping me move and everything."

Jim waved that away. "That's nothing. Forget it." Jim moved his hand off Blair's shoulder, and gently patted his face before pulling it back.

"Monday," Blair said quietly; his chest hurt.

"Yeah. Monday," Jim said. He was staring at Blair, and Blair had the strangest desire to grab hold of him and tell him not to go. But he couldn't very well do that, and so he just tried to look casual while Jim opened the door.

"Goodbye, Chief," Jim said abruptly, and then he turned, and left, pulling the door shut behind him.

Blair stood there for a moment, just staring at the closed door. Hell. He needed another beer, and he wandered over to his fridge and pulled out another bottle. He popped the top off and chugged the cold liquid down. Better, he thought, leaning against the counter. He had to chill out: he had work to do.

The weekend passed in a blur — he set up some shelves, he unpacked his books, he set up a makeshift desk. He concluded that he needed more furniture, and called up his friend Sylvie, who liked to go antiquing; they spent Sunday going from thrift store to thrift store, and he returned with a funky old coffeetable, and a couple of neat-looking lamps. And then, inspired by Jim's talk about "babes", he asked her to spend the night with him, and was delighted when she agreed.

Hell, he could get used to this living alone thing. Jim was right: it had definite perks.

And Monday morning he stopped in at the University, and spent a couple of hours working in the library. In the afternoon, he reported for work at the station.

Except Jim wasn't there.

The bullpen was bustling; he grabbed Rafe by the arm, and asked after Jim.

"Sorry, Blair — haven't seen him," Rafe replied.

"Did Simon send him out without me?" Blair asked, frowning.

"I don't know — you need to ask him."

But that was easier said than done; Simon had some big wigs in his office, and Sandburg paced nervously outside, waiting for an opening. In the meantime, he tried calling Jim at the loft, and then on his cell phone. But there was no answer. Finally Simon's meeting was over, and Blair popped his head in.

"Simon, where's Jim?"

Simon looked irritated; whatever the meeting was, it hadn't gone well. "Sandburg — what are you doing here?"

"I work here," Sandburg said, grinning at him.

"So they keep telling me," Simon grumbled.

"Listen, Simon: where's Jim?"

Simon fumbled among the papers on his desk, looking for something . "He's not here," he said distractedly.

"Yeah, Simon, I figured that much out. Been hanging with detectives," Blair added, tapping his forehead.

"He took the week," Simon said vaguely.

Blair blinked back his shock. "He took the week?"

"Yeah," Simon said, and then he stopped searching his desk and looked up at Blair. "You didn't know?"

"No," Blair said slowly. "I moved out this weekend."

"Oh — was that this weekend?"


"Well, that explains it," Simon said dismissively. "He's probably cleaning house, enjoying his privacy."

"Yeah," Blair said, feeling irrationally distressed. "Yeah. Still, he didn't mention it."

"He scheduled it last week," Simon said. "Probably anticipating your long-awaited absence." Simon grinned at him.

"He still could have mentioned it," Blair said, torn between irritation and anxiety. "And he's not answering his phone."

Simon rolled his eyes. "You're not getting it, Sandburg. Enjoying. His. Privacy. Leave the guy alone, will you?"

Blair raised his hands. "Okay, okay, okay." He began to back out of the office, and then stopped. "You don't think I should go over there?" Simon glared at him. "Okay, right. Enjoying his privacy. Whatever. I'm going home."

Simon Banks flashed him a tight smile and waved a sarcastic bye-bye, and Blair snorted and left, closing the door behind him.

Fine, Blair thought, grabbing his jacket and heading for the elevator. He would go home. Not like he didn't have stuff to do. Hell, he had a book to write, a whole apartment to set up; he could go food shopping; he could call Sylvie or someone else. Just that Jim might have fucking said something — spared him the trip down to the station.

Enjoying his privacy. Well, hell, he had privacy he could enjoy, too.

He got into the Volvo and turned it toward his apartment. Damn inconsiderate. Rude, even. Jim just might have said, is all.

He stopped the car at a light; his brain was racing. Jim might have said, except he'd been being so weird. Damn weird — weird for a month now. Hell, weird even before that, truth be told.

"Some place you'll be happy." "You're gonna have a great time, here." "You're gonna be really happy." He could hear Jim's voice in his head, and he gripped the wheel tightly. "My bachelor days are pretty much behind me," and Blair swerved the car around in a screeching U-turn, and floored it. "I'm history," Jim had said, and fuck it, it was weird, it was weird, and it wasn't because Jim had asked him to leave, it wasn't from the move —

It was goodbye.

Jim was saying goodbye. Fuck, he'd said it. "Goodbye, Chief," — not "See you later," not "Au revoir". Fucking goodbye — he'd heard but not heard — but still he'd known, he'd known, he'd known from the tone. Jim had set him up, moved him out, had pointed him toward bachelordom and babe-atude: toward a future without him.

"Goodbye, Chief."

Blair pulled recklessly into a spot in front of the loft; jumped out; fumbled for his keys. Thank god he still had his keys. He ran up the stairs, thinking how stupid he was going to feel if Jim were there, if Jim were just there, cleaning the loft, washing the windows — enjoying his privacy like Simon said.

God, he hoped Jim was there — god, he hoped he was wrong.

His hands were shaking as he opened the door to 307. The living room was dark, the blinds were drawn. Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck! — and he slammed the door behind him and slumped against it. Jim was gone. He was gone, goddammit! Jim had set him up and moved him out and given himself a week's getaway time. Jesus. What should he do now? Where should he even start? Or should he even start — hell, Jim was a grown man, he was forty, if he wanted to go AWOL, wasn't that his choice?

And then Blair blinked, and walked over to the kitchen table. In the dim light: an envelope. With his name on the front, in Jim's neat, precise script. Blair Sandburg.

He grabbed it and his heart was pounding and then he ran into his empty bedroom, into the empty bathroom, and then up the loft stairs. And his heart was pounding pounding and oh god, oh god, Jim was there on the floor, sprawled on the floor in the dim light. Still wearing his sweats from Saturday. Oh god, no, please....

Time slowed down and the world grew quiet, and he could hear his sneakers squeaking against the wooden floor as he crossed the room toward Jim. Jim was sprawled on the far side of the bed where he had fallen, and Blair dropped down beside him, refusing to believe, refusing to believe what he was seeing. And he gently turned Jim over, and Jim's eyes were open, he was staring up at the ceiling, and there was a dark brown stain on his temple. Oh god, and Blair reached out, and touched it, and it was dry, now. And he let his hand slide down Jim's unshaven face — god, he was warm, he was still warm...

He was breathing.

And hell, it took a moment for him to really process that Jim was breathing, because he could hear his own frantic breaths, loud in the room, could hear himself panting like a terrified animal, but there was another sound that wasn't his breath, that was Jim's breath — god, Jim was still alive, and in a weird way it was the shock of that that brought on tears, suddenly, stupidly. And he looked up, and the room was blurry, but he could see the edge of the desk where Jim had hit his head on the way down — could see the dried blood crusted on the desk's corner, could see the puddle of dried blood staining the floor.

"Jim," he said, and his voice sounded strange to his own ears, strange and anguished and hoarse, and he'd have to do better than that, he had better get his Guide voice in gear, because it looked like Jim was in a hell of a zone. "Jim," he tried again, and god, maybe he should just call an ambulance, get Jim to a hospital — except that they'd just think he was in a coma, and god only knows what they'd do to him. Still, Jim could be concussed — hell, he probably was — and he'd lost a lot of blood, head wounds bleed so badly...

He raised his arm and wiped it across his eyes, across his nose. Ok, Sandburg, get it in gear, here. He reached down for Jim and only then saw that the letter was still in his hand. He took a wet, hitching breath and tore it open. Jim had covered almost three pages with writing; Jim, who rarely talked, had taken this as his opportunity to get vocal, to say everything. Blair's eyes quickly moved down over the pages, and phrases burned themselves into his brain:

"...don't blame yourself..." "...everything you could do... "...nothing I could say to make you understand..." "...can't live like this..." "...with the senses — can't live without them, either..." "...trapped..." "...so fucking young, you can do anything, still..." "The Sentinel thing is a dead end." "...can't face..." "...senses work best in isolation — I've had a bellyful of isolation, more than enough..." "...go on with your life..." "Fuck a lot of girls. Travel. Write your book" "...promise me..." "..I never told you..." "...want to zone-out, really zone-out..." ".. see what I can see, what I can hear. I want to know how far this thing goes..." "...afraid of getting lost. Now I don't care so much.." "...thank you for.." "...made life bearable..." "...special person..." "...love you..." "...don't think badly of me." " ...wish you every wonderful thing — Yours, Jim"

He crumpled the letter in his fist. He swiped at his face with his arm again and looked down at Jim. Jim was staring upwards into the dim light, staring at something only he could see. He tossed the letter aside and touched Jim's face gently, caressed his stubbled cheek, smoothed his forehead, carefully avoiding the wound at his temple.

Every window's got a view. He cleared his throat.

"Jim," he began and still his voice was hoarse. He coughed. "Jim," he said, more clearly, "now, look, whatever you're doing here, I want you to just stop it, okay? Just stop it right now. Hear my voice and follow me home. Now, I know you're probably pretty lost in there — " and his voice was cracking and he stopped and just let himself go for a moment, and he heard his own, loud, braying sobs, and then he gasped, sucking in great gulps of air, and tried again.

"Jim, you asshole!" he began this time, because grief wasn't going to help, and anger felt good, really good. "Jim , come on, man, I need you to come back here. We need to have a talk about you and your bullshit letter."

He put his hands on Jim's exposed forearms — shit, Jim was getting cold, getting colder, his body was slowly shutting down. He grabbed Jim and held him to his chest tightly, wanting to share his body heat, wanting to keep him close and warm.

"Jim, we have to have a talk about your pre-emptive decision making, here, okay? " he said, rocking Jim gently. "You just can't be pulling shit like this on me. I'm half the team, here, man — this is my life, too, you know? So stop looking at whatever you're looking at and get back here. It just can't be that fucking interesting, whatever it is. Come back here and tell me about it. You owe me that, all right?" he added, abruptly changing tacks. "You owe me that, Jim. Come here and tell me what you're seeing, okay?"

Jim was still gone, here but gone, and he started to panic. "Jim, I fucking order you, man! You hear me? Just CUT IT THE FUCK OUT." He shook Jim hard, as if he could shake him out of the zone. "Get back here, soldier — front and center! You report for duty, asshole! Right now! Just stop what you're doing and come up to the surface. You report to me right now! Follow my voice back — here! — feel me, touch me." He grabbed Jim's limp arm and pressed Jim's cold hand to his face. "Now use that, okay? Find your way back to me — you can do it!"

Except maybe Jim couldn't — maybe Jim was well and truly lost by now, by Monday... Fear was rising in his throat, choking him — he tried to fight it back. Maybe Jim really wouldn't come back — maybe Jim just didn't want to, this time.

"Jim, please," he murmured. "Please, please, please — do it if you can. I'm begging you. I'm begging you, here," and Jim was still limp, still cold, getting colder, and he bent down suddenly and kissed Jim's mouth. Cold smooth lips, shallow breath — too, too shallow — and Blair kissed him softly, hoping Jim could feel it, feel it somewhere, wherever he was. It was his last chance, anyway — there was still hope, still a chance that Jim could feel him.

Now or never — now or never for both of them — because Jim was still breathing, and this was maybe Blair's last chance to kiss him. He slipped his tongue into Jim's mouth and tasted him — god, Jim's mouth was so sweet. Jim, come on! he thought passionately. Come on, already! Don't fucking do this to me!

Mouth pressed to Jim's, he slid his hands across Jim's chest, feeling the hard muscles underneath the soft fabric. Jim's nipples tightened underneath his sweatshirt, strained up toward Blair's fingertips. Blair's felt a surge of joy, and pulled back, breaking off the kiss.

But Jim was still gone; his body was responding, but his mind...his mind just wasn't there. Blair stroked Jim's body gently, eyes locked on the pale face. Physically, Jim was here — he was reacting, his muscles were tensing, he was hardening under Blair's hands. But his mind was somewhere else, his friend was somewhere else.

His friend. James Ellison. Everything that made Jim Jim was gone. Jim was well and truly MIA, and Blair suddenly felt lonelier than he'd ever felt before.

He gently lay Jim's body back on the hardwood, being particularly careful with Jim's bruised head, and stood up. He pulled the pillows and blankets off the bed and used them to make Jim a makeshift bunk on the floor, tucking the comforter tightly around Jim's shoulders, around the edges of his body, to keep him warm.

Okay, he had to think positively here. He had to believe that Jim wanted to come back, that he'd come back if he could. Despite the note — Blair swiped Jim's note off the floor and roughly stuffed it into the back pocket of his jeans. He couldn't think about that now — that was counterproductive. If Jim didn't want to come back, if he'd really decided that he'd had enough —

Couldn't think about that now.

Okay, the plan was to keep Jim alive until he could find his way home. He'd made Jim warm: warmth was good, warmth was the first step. Dead people weren't warm. Next thing: water. Jim had been lying here since when? Saturday. Water. Jim needed water.

First things first. One step at a time. Slow and steady. Be methodical.

Blair quickly descended the loft steps to the kitchen, flipped the light on. Water, not too cold — he pulled a warm bottle out of the cabinet and filled the portable plastic container Jim used when he jogged. He brought the bottle upstairs to Jim, sat on the floor behind him, and pulled Jim's torso into his lap. He then tilted Jim's head upwards and slid the thick plastic straw between his lips. But Jim was too far gone even to suck — even that most basic instinct had gone — so Blair gently upended the bottle, letting the water dribble into Jim's mouth. Just a little. Just a sip. Careful not to choke. He sighed with relief as he saw Jim's throat muscles suddenly contract, as he saw Jim swallow, and he let Jim have a little more and then put the bottle down on the floor. Good. Slow and steady. One sip at a time: one step at a time.

Warmth. Water. Oxygen — he didn't like the way Jim was breathing, didn't like it at all. Gotta get him to breathe deep. Blair dropped his mouth to Jim's and kissed him again as he moved a hand back to Jim's chest. Come on, Jim, Blair thought, sliding his hand up under Jim's sweatshirt and grasping an erect nipple between his fingertips. Gonna make you breathless, man — gonna make you breathe for me.

Blair felt Jim's faint gasp and pulled his mouth away. He smiled — okay, Jim's nipples were definitely sensitive, he'd go with that. You just keep gasping, there, Jim — you just suck that air in for me, okay? He moved his mouth to Jim's ear and gently bit at the lobe. "Come on, Jim," he whispered. "Breathe for me, now. Feel this — feels good, doesn't it?" He slid his hand down Jim's body, down his chest, his abdomen, until he felt the burgeoning hardness between Jim's legs. "It does, doesn't it," he murmured, fondling Jim's cock through his sweatpants. "Imagine how good it would feel if you were really here. So be here, man. Come on back. Hear my voice, feel my hands — you've been away long enough."

Jim hardened in his hand but he was still gone, still not there. But he was warm and he was breathing deeply, and that was something. Blair rubbed Jim's erection gently and then reached up to tug roughly on his nipple, delighted with the sharp inhalation that produced. "Good boy," he whispered into Jim's ear. "Breathe. Keep breathing. Breathe deep."

Jim did, and that's all Jim did; Blair held him tightly and kept up a constant stream of whispered encouragement, pausing only to give him a bit more water every fifteen minutes or so. He reminded himself that Jim was very far away; he reminded himself that it was going to take Jim time to work his way back.

In the meantime he stared out into space and thought about Jim's letter. How had he missed all of that? Some observer he had turned out to be. One phrase in particular kept spinning around through his mind: Can't live like this. Goddammit, why hadn't he seen — why hadn't he noticed that Jim was suffering? What the fuck was he waiting for — a telegram? He laughed suddenly, darkly. Well, hell, he had gotten one, hadn't he?

Blair Sandburg: this is your wake-up call.

"You have to go on with your life," Jim had written. "Promise me you will — " and you know what, he would promise no such fucking thing. So there. Jim was hard and warm in his arms, under his hands, and Blair stared down at Jim's face, which seemed deadly pale underneath the two days' worth of blondish-brown stubble. He touched Jim's beard gently with his fingertips; it was softer than it looked. "I'm not going to go on with my life," Blair said suddenly, clearly. "I'm just not, so fuck you. You hear that, Ellison? You want me to go on with my life? — you're just gonna have to come back here and make me, okay?" He swallowed hard, torn again between anger and tears. "You're just gonna have to make me, you stupid bastard. You hear that? Are you hearing me?"

To his surprise, Jim answered the question. "I hear you, Sandburg," Jim muttered; and suddenly he was blinking furiously, trying to focus his dry, irritated eyes.

"Jim?" Blair breathed.

"Yep," Jim said and then he coughed and tried to sit up. Blair steadied Jim with his hands, and then scrambled for the water bottle and handed it to him. "Thanks," Jim croaked weakly, taking it; he raised the straw to his lips and sucked thirstily at the tepid water.

"Slow — slow!" Blair protested. "You'll make yourself sick!"

Jim ignored him and drank the water down, then tossed the bottle aside. "Sandburg," Jim said wearily, raising a shaky hand to the cut on his head, "did anyone ever tell you that you're a pain in the ass?"

Blair felt himself grinning, felt his grin widening — wider and wider till he was surprised his face didn't break. "Yeah," he replied happily. "You told me. Just now. God, I missed you, man," and he grabbed Jim's sweatshirt and yanked him forward and kissed him hard on the mouth.

Jim blinked and jerked his head away, looking surprised and confused. "Uh...Sandburg..."

"Jim, I love you," Blair blurted. "I love you, I really love you, and if you ever pull shit like this again, I'm gonna — I'm going to — I'm — " He abandoned the sentence and pressed forward again, seeking Jim's mouth —

"Wait, wait, wait," Jim protested, but he was weak, and Blair clutched him tightly, kissing his face, his neck, anywhere he could reach. "Sand — Blair," Jim sputtered. "Hold on a sec, I — "

Blair ignored him and took his mouth again hungrily. Smooth lips still, sweet still, but wetter and warmer now — and Jim was moving, blood pumping, muscles straining under his hands — god, beautiful — so fucking beautiful —

Jim broke the kiss, and stared at him with a strange mixture of incredulity and wonder. "Sandburg..."

Blair leaned forward and kissed his stubbled cheek. "What?"

Jim flushed pink in apparent embarrassment. "Nothing. Nothing." And then he abruptly yanked on Blair's arms and pulled him in for another kiss.

This time it was Blair who pulled back. "What — what is it?" he asked, curiously.

"Nothing," Jim said again. "It's just that I — I'm — " Jim stopped short and squeezed his eyes shut.

"Jim, you're what?" Jim answered by taking Blair's hand in his and moving it to his erection. Blair blinked. "Hard?" Jim nodded, eyes still closed, and Blair began to fondle the hard flesh through the soft material.

"So good," Jim murmured vaguely. "Oh god, so good." And to Blair's surprise, Jim leaned forward with his hips, pushing against Blair's hand. "So good..." and then Jim reached out and blindly took Blair's head in his hands, long fingers tangling in his hair, and pulled Blair's mouth back to his.

Blair moaned his approval and suddenly Jim's hands were on his shoulders, sliding down his arms; suddenly he felt Jim's tongue in his mouth and he sucked on it excitedly.

Jim's hands had reached his wrists and he encircled them, lifted them, pushing Blair down onto his back. And then Jim's hands were on him, sliding down his hips, clutching his denim-clad legs, grabbing them roughly and pulling them apart — and suddenly, Jim was lying between his legs and squeezing his thighs.

And this was all moving a lot faster than Blair would ever have expected, not that he minded, really, because Jim was warm — warm and breathing — warm and panting in his ear like an animal, actually.

"Holy shit," Jim was muttering. "Holy shit. Sandburg!" and Blair arched upwards in response and brought their erections together, delighted with the helpless moan that was torn from Jim's throat.

And Jim was rubbing against him almost desperately, hips pistoning rhythmically. "So good," Jim hissed against his neck. "Oh god, so good — so, fucking ,fucking good, Sandburg." And Blair found himself gasping for air, because Jim was humping him frantically, and suddenly he pictured Jim fucking him, pictured Jim fucking him hard like this, and it was a powerful image, Jim on top of him, fucking him hard, using him hard like this, and he squeezed his eyes shut and felt his cock spurt in his pants.

And Jim inhaled raggedly, and Blair knew Jim could smell his semen, and he opened his eyes just into time to see Jim's face contort in silent ecstasy, to watch the ecstasy wash over Jim's body as he came.

And then Blair pulled Jim down against his shoulder, and Jim collapsed against him, burying his face in Blair's sweater. Blair held him tightly and whispered, "I love you. I love you, Jim. Everything's gonna be okay."

Jim nodded once, face still pressed into Blair's shoulder. And after a while Jim turned his head to the side and said, softly, "Sandburg?"


"I want to tell you something, okay?"

"Jim, you can tell me anything. Anything." This seemed particularly important to say, now — particularly important after the regretful "I never told you"s of Jim's letter.

"Okay," Jim said, and coughed nervously. "I — uh — " he began and then stopped. "I — uh... Oh, hell, Sandburg," Jim cursed, "just don't take this the wrong way, okay?"

"Okay," Blair said, but he felt suddenly nervous. Jesus, here we go again — if Jim said, "Sandburg, that was great but I still don't want to live with you," he was going to start yelling and he wasn't sure he'd be able to stop.

But that didn't seem to be where Jim was going with this. "You know — what just happened, here — you know, between us," Jim began, and Blair found himself smiling at Jim's evasive syntax.

"What, you mean this 'humping on the floor till we come' thing?" Blair clarified.

Jim laughed, though his laughter was hoarse and weak. "Yeah. That. Well. It's the latter part I sort of wanted to tell you about."

Blair thought about that for a moment. "You mean the 'coming' part?"

"Yeah," Jim said, seeming genuinely grateful for Blair's clarification. "The 'coming' part."

"What about it?" Blair asked, and then he frowned, wondering if Jim was going to have some kind of heterosexual freak-out. And that possibility was so daunting that he felt compelled to ask the question: "Jim, are you having some sort of kind of heterosexual freak out?"

Jim seemed taken aback by that. "No. No, nothing like that."

Blair sighed with relief. "Okay, sorry, forget it. Go back to where you were — the 'coming' part," he prompted.

But Jim wasn't quite ready to forget it. "Why, are you having some sort of heterosexual freak out?" He lifted his head and looked inquiringly at Blair.

"Me?" Blair thought about it for a moment and then shook his head. "No, I don't think so."

"Just that you mainly fuck women, don't you?" Jim asked.

"Well, yeah, but — I mean," Blair stopped, shook his head. "I'm cool with this — very cool, actually. More than cool."

"Okay," Jim said, letting his head fall back on to Blair's shoulder. "So, as I was saying — "

Blair interrupted him. "You also mainly fuck women, don't you?"

Jim sighed. "Well, see, that's part of what I wanted to tell you — "

"You don't?" Blair's eyebrows shot into his hairline. "Man, I am such a shitty observer!"

"Blair, shut up and listen, okay? You're a great observer, you're just a shitty listener sometimes, all right?" Blair swallowed hard and shut his mouth. "What I wanted to say was — well, about this 'coming' business..."

Blair waited, trying to be a good listener, but Jim had stopped talking. He heard Jim exhale loudly and figured that maybe a little prompt wouldn't hurt. "About this 'coming' business...?"

"Yeah," Jim said immediately. "Yeah. It's just that — oh, Christ," Jim muttered. "It's just that I haven't, okay?"

Blair frowned. "Haven't what? Haven't come? I thought you justdid."

"Yeah, I did — and it was a fucking miracle, too," Jim snorted. "That's the thing, Sandburg — that's it exactly. I just did — but lately I haven't, you know? I mean, I'm not — I don't — I just can't..."

It was like playing charades, Blair thought, feeling frustrated. Can I buy a fucking vowel? "Just can't what, Jim? Can't come? can't get it up? what?"

"Yes and yes," Jim said quietly.

Blair blinked. "Yes and yes?"

"Yes and yes, okay?" Jim said; suddenly, he was irritated.

"Well...uh...how lately is lately?" Blair asked confusedly. "I mean, since when exactly?"

Jim groaned. "Since when do you think? Since the goddamned senses came back!"

"Since the goddamned senses?" Blair repeated incredulously.

Jim sighed. "Are you going to repeat everything I say?"

"But Jim!" Blair squealed. "Since the goddammed senses — that's three fucking years!"

"Well, tell me about it!" Jim muttered.

"But Jim!" Blair was horrified. "Jesus H. Christ, Jim! — why the fuck didn't you say anything?"

Jim sat up and crossed his arms. "Because it's just part of the fucking package, Sandburg! Just a fucking part of it! Don't you get it yet? Welcome to my fucking world, okay? Overstimulation! Understimulation! Things that smell bad, feel bad, taste bad — headaches, dizziness, nausea — the daily fucking thrills of being a Sentinel!" Jim snapped his mouth shut and glared at Blair for a moment, then continued angrily, "You have no idea what this is like for me, do you? You have no fucking idea what this thing's really like!"

And that reminded Blair of Jim's letter, and he felt the blood suddenly drain from his face. "Jim — "

Jim shook his head and turned away. "You just don't understand — this thing is no fucking fun, okay?"

"Jim," Blair pleaded, reaching out for him, clutching his arm tightly.

"In fact it sucks." Jim clenched his unshaven jaw, and Blair could see a tiny muscle jumping there, under the bristle of blond beard. "It sucks like you wouldn't believe."

"I hear you," Blair said with quiet intensity. "I'm really listening, okay?"

Blair watched Jim squeeze his eyes shut, and he could see, now, that Jim was fighting to hold it together. "It's not your fault," Jim muttered roughly. "It's not your fucking fault, Sandburg — I'm sorry, I swear I'm sorry."

"No, Jim, don't — it is my fault."

Jim's glared at him. "How can it be your fault?"

"I'm the Guide," Blair said simply. "And I mean — well, it's not all my fault, but yeah, it's partly my fault. I'm supposed to help — I can help — but you — you pushed me away, you're still pushing me away, here — and that's your fault."

Jim looked at him with sadness in his eyes. "Blair...you can't...you shouldn't be — fuck, it just isn't right — "

"Of course it's right," Blair interrupted.

"It's not," Jim insisted, and his voice was anguished. "Blair, you're a student, you're writing a paper — you can't — "

"Jim, I'm the Guide."

" — devote your life to — "

"I can, Jim."

" — my itches and scratches and irritations. My allergies — my fucking dysfunctions — my — "

"I can, Jim."

"No, you fucking can't!" and it was awful to see Jim like this, so angry and yet so weak, almost too weak to really be angry. "You can't — I won't let you, Sandburg, that's not — "

"Jim. Jim," Blair said, grabbing his arm. "You've got nothing to say about it."

"I — "

"You've got. Nothing. To say about it," Blair said firmly. "I'm a grown man, I can make my own — "

"Blair, no..." Jim moaned softly. "Please. You just can't — you just can't say that, you can't — "

"Will you stop being such a martyr for a minute?" Blair pleaded. "Please, Jim!"

"it isn't right," Jim insisted stubbornly, and his voice was scratchy and cracking. Blair splayed an assuring palm against Jim's back and Jim took a deep, rasping breath. God, Jim looked tired, but he forced himself to go on. "I just can't square that as right, Blair. I'm stuck with this — you don't have to be."

"But I do. I do, Jim. I choose to — ."

"You don't even know what you're choosing," Jim muttered derisively. "You can't choose when you don't even know — "

"I know," Blair said, rubbing Jim's back. "I know, okay?" He bent his head so that his forehead rested against Jim's cheek. "I'm choosing you — with your allergies and dysfunctions and — "

Jim raised a shaky hand to cup the back of Blair's head. "God, Blair..."

" — the whole fucking lot of it. Hell, I should have seen that coming — I mean, you're in a city, not the jungle — there are chemicals, pollutants — "


" — stuff that's gonna accumulate, fuck up your system. I'm a scientist, fergodsake, or I'm supposed to be — I should have predicted it. But I'm going to help you, Jim, I swear — I'm gonna be a better Guide than I've been — "

"Blair, it's not — "

" — my fault, I know, I know. But I'm still gonna help you."

"I — " Jim looked lost. "How?"

Blair kissed his cheek impulsively and grinned at him. "Hey, I already helped. I just gave you your first hard-on in three years — that's gotta be worth something," and Jim stared at him for a second and then burst out laughing.

"Yeah...yeah, you did," Jim said, and this time the smile reached his eyes.

"See, you're wrong — you were wrong — to push me away. There's something special about me being close. Don't you know that?" and Jim gritted his teeth and then nodded painfully, as if the admission cost him, as if the admission almost hurt. "And I'm gonna get closer, Jim," Blair whispered. "You hear me? I'm coming back, moving back — moving up here. And I'm gonna get closer, and I'm going to know everything, now. Every itch, every pain — we are going to work this shit out. Okay?"

Jim hesitated, and Blair repeated: "Okay?"

"God, Blair — are you sure?"

"I'm sure. Totally sure. Okay?"

Jim sighed. "Okay," he said finally, and Blair smiled and dropped a brief kiss on his lips. And then he stood up, and helped Jim to stand, one arm braced around Jim's back.

"Now bed," Blair said. "Food — plain soup, I think, to start." Jim was wobbly on his feet, and he sank down on the bed gratefully.

"Blair, I don't know what to say," Jim said quietly, as Blair grabbed the pillows and blankets off the floor and brought them back to the bed.

"Good — you should shut up now anyway," Blair replied. He sat on the edge of the bed and coaxed Jim to lie down, tugging the blanket up over his shoulders. "Myself," he added, finally seeing Jim settle in comfortably, "I've got three things to say."

Jim looked up at him curiously; there were dark circles under his eyes. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. One," Blair said, ticking the point off, "If you ever. Ever. Pull. Shit. Like this again. I will see to it that you never ever have another hard-on. If you follow me. And you'd better be following me, Ellison. "

"I'm following you," Jim murmured, lips twitching.

"Two: I love you, asshole — and I may be a shitty observer, but you've been one crummy detective." He reached out and smoothed Jim's forehead.

Jim smiled at this, really smiled. "Okay," he said. "So what's three?"

Blair let his hand slide down to Jim's cheek, and stroked it once, gently. "Three is — you know, I kind of like the beard, man," and then he grinned, and got up, and went downstairs to heat up soup.

The End