In The Eye Of The Beholder: Keyhole

by Francesca

Author's disclaimer: Nothing's mine but the words; everything else belongs to Pet Fly. No infringement is intended, and I'm not makin' a dime. (Who needs money when you've got love?) (Well, *okay*, but I'm still not making any money!) Please go away if you're under 18!

Author's notes: "Keyhole" is the third story in the "In The Eye of The Beholder" series. Feel free to suggest others! There's also a bunch of folk to thank, here. First of all: Miriam (to whom you should all be grateful since she insisted that this thing have sex at the end, instead of just at the beginning and in most of the middle. She wrenched the computer out of my hands to do it — you do *not* want to mess with Miriam in beta mode, y'all, *trust* me.) I also thank Miriam for loyally skiing up to rescue me from the icy cold mountain of purple prose I was on. Damn those sudden avalanches! Warmest thanks to Duranee for suggesting the title "Keyhole". (This girl don't need to hear a good title twice.) Thanks too to Carla and Nancy for trying to make me less of a hack; apologies to Carla and Nancy for my failure to completely transcend hack-dom. Oh yeah, and this story is for Em. I tried to write Jim-angst for Em. I didn't quite succeed. But hey, it's the thought that counts, right Em?

"I'm going to the gym, Chief," said Jim Ellison, heading for the door, coat on, dufflebag in hand, and Blair Sandburg bit back a retort and just waved a casual hand at him.

"Yeah, okay," Blair called after him. "Have a good one," and the door banged shut.

Gym, my ass, Sandburg thought bitterly, staring at the closed door. They had just concluded a case, and Jim had chased the fleeing perp for about a mile and a half along the waterfront before finally catching up to him and tackling him to the ground. And now he needed exercise?

Not bloody likely.

And something snapped in Sandburg, and on impulse he jumped up and grabbed his jacket off the hook and followed his partner out.

Jim had a head start, but Blair had parked closer to their front door, so that he could see the truck warming up down the block even as he sat in the Volvo's front seat, rubbing his cold hands together and blowing on them.

Gym, Blair mused, watching the truck's brake lights flash red in the dark as Jim put the vehicle into drive. He waited for Jim to pull away before pulling out himself. No way was Jim going out for exercise. He knew this, but somehow he just wanted to prove it to himself — prove that the gym was an excuse, a polite social fiction.

Obscuring the fact that Jim really wanted to get away from him.

It had taken a while, but he had come to recognize the look. That twitchy, irritable look that Jim gave him, just before suddenly deciding he needed a workout. It didn't happen often, so it took him a while to detect a pattern to these sudden excursions. But Blair Sandburg was pretty good at detecting patterns, though this one had hurt when he had finally recognized it.

Jim tended to go out to the 'gym' whenever Blair had fucked up on the job.

He realized this the third time it had happened, the third time he had slipped up on a case — been shot at or held at knifepoint or knocked unconscious or something like that. And then the twitchiness would start, and Jim would get strangely quiet and distant and cold, and disappear at the earliest possible opportunity.

And Blair knew that Jim was trying to be nice, that he was probably absenting himself so he wouldn't say something he would later regret. But it made him feel angry and defensive because hell! he was trying, he was trying so hard, and he wasn't a cop but he was doing his best to keep up.

And it hurt him to know that he had disappointed Jim. And it hurt him to know that even after three years he was a mixed blessing to Jim — an asset as a Guide and a liability as a partner. But he was trying, wasn't he? and Jim must know that — of course he knew that, that was why he walked away rather than yelling. Though Blair would have preferred to be yelled at — that would at least mean that Jim thought he was capable of doing better. Much worse to have his incompetence simply accepted, wasn't it?

Ah hah hah HAH! thought Blair as the truck turned right at a light, away from the station and the station's gymnasium. He slammed his hand hard on the dashboard, feeling an odd sort of triumph. So much for the goddamned gym. The bastard was probably going to go out for a beer, to some damn cop bar, where he could tell the other cops what a bitch it was to have this little fucking anthropologist getting in his way all the time.

Except that the truck wasn't going toward any of the main drags where there would have been bars or restaurants or movie theatres. Jim was going... going... to the suburbs? And Blair dropped the Volvo further behind the truck, because the traffic was thinning out here, and it was getting darker as the streetlights became more sporadic and the trees became thicker, and he didn't want to be spotted. And it was easy to follow Jim, even from a distance, through these quiet, residential streets.

Where the fuck was he going?

And then, up ahead, the truck pulled over to the right and disappeared, and Blair slowed up, watching, but the truck didn't pull out into traffic again. The vehicle's lights flashed and flickered and then went dark, and Blair quickly pulled the Volvo over and parked in the first available spot.

He switched off the engine and jumped out of the car and bolted up the dark block, because the truck was at least a block away and if he weren't quick Jim would have disappeared by time he got there.

>From the corner he could see the dim but recognizable figure of Jim coming around the truck and striding up the street, gym bag in hand. Blair crossed the street slowly, keeping his distance, hoping that Jim wouldn't turn around and see him.

But Jim didn't seem to be paying attention to anything but his most immediate surroundings as he walked. And Blair wondered, as he ambled along behind, why Jim hadn't parked closer to wherever he was going, as there didn't appear to be any shortage of parking.

And then, in the middle of the next block, Jim turned into the gate of a large, white, Victorian house. A hundred feet away, Blair blinked, and turned to look at the small streetside mailbox of "The Frasiers: 45 Cedar Street," pulling the door open and peering inside casually as if he were, say, Buddy Frasier, and trying to gather his suddenly scattered thoughts.

Okay, so maybe he hadn't expected that Jim was simply going to visit someone. Though whatever he was doing didn't much matter, did it? Jim hadn't gone to the gym, that was the important thing. He had proved his original hypothesis, so this mission was a success. But he was still damned curious about where Jim was going, who he was seeing. He searched his mind quickly, trying to remember if Jim had ever mentioned anyone who lived in this area: friend, family, girlfriend? But he drew a blank, and then suddenly he looked at the Frasiers' mailbox and thought that maybe he would just stroll by the place and see if there were a name by the door.

But there wasn't: the white, Victorian house was still and quiet, curtains drawn. A muted light burned by the door, indicating occupancy, but there was nothing particularly to indicate the character of the occupant or occupants — no car in the drive, no furniture on the porch, nothing but the neat, manicured path to the door. The house was obviously used but not lived in, and Blair frowned.

And shit, he should just go home, but he was just so damned damned curious, and before he could tell himself what a stupid idea it was he was darting through the gate and across the yard and up the driveway which separated the houses, circling around to the back.

And damned if all the windows weren't curtained shut, even if they were too high for him to see through. He quietly crept around to the back, and there was a small back porch too, as anonymous as the rest of the property: no gardening tools, or children's toys, or barbecue grill, or anything at all.

But there was a back door, and the back door was open.

And Blair told himself that this was it, that he really had reached the end of reasonable curiosity, that it was time to go home. Except here he was, standing in the dark, in the cold, in some stranger's back yard, staring at the warm lit inside of the house, a mere ten feet away. And it did seem stupid to have come this far without finally knowing what was going on and why Jim was there, and, let's face it, he had already passed the limits of reasonable curiosity, hadn't he? or he wouldn't be standing stock still here in the dark.

And he had never thought that he was the kind of person to look through keyholes — but maybe, after all, he was. After all, that's sort of what anthropologists do, he rationalized: peer through keyholes at other cultures. And this thought carried him quickly and silently up the three wooden steps to the porch, and then he had his hand on the screen door, and there was no one to be seen and then (shit!) he was in, in a clean white kitchen that looked to him like it had never been used — no dishes in the drainer, no cute magnets on the fridge, no nothing, like it was a model kitchen in a show house.

" — a beer, Jim?" a man's voice asked, and Blair jumped, and there were three ways out of the kitchen, left and right and backwards out the door, and as Jim said, "Sure, fine," Blair made his choice and darted left, into darkness, and found himself in a dining room, and pressed himself flat against the wall, trying to blend into the shadows.

Blair heard soft footsteps in the kitchen, heard the man open the fridge and open the cabinet and then heard the soft hiss and glug as beer was opened and poured. Blair squinted and looked around the dining room, which he found to be as antiseptic as the rest of the house — completely correct, with a sideboard and a table that was set for six, and art on the walls, but if anyone used this room regularly he would eat one of his many hats.

The kitchen was bright behind him and there was light ahead of him, an arched doorway that opened out into some other space, and so he crept toward it, careful to keep out of sight.

The dining room was, rather logically, connected to the living room, and Jim was in the living room, pacing nervously around. And then Blair jumped as he heard the man in the kitchen bang the back door shut and lock it.


Then the man came into the living room, carrying two beers in glasses on a silver tray, and Blair blinked because the man was wearing only a bathrobe, which startled him but didn't seem to faze Jim in the least.

Though, truly, Jim looked terrible: angry and anxious and unhappy.

"Here," the man said, and he was young and blond and Blair was sure he had never seen him before.

Jim looked up at him and gestured vaguely at a nearby table, and the man nodded and put the tray down upon it. He picked up one of the glasses and moved away from the table, across the room. Jim then drifted toward the table and picked up the other beer.

"You look terrible," the man said to Jim, echoing Blair's thoughts.

"Thanks," said Jim wryly, taking a long drink of his beer. "I appreciate your concern."

"Bad day?" the man asked, sipping his own.

"Not a good one: no," said Jim tersely, and the man nodded, as if he were waiting for an elaboration.

"I guess you don't want to talk about it?" the man asked finally.

"No," said Jim.

"Okay," said the man.

Jim sighed. "Mark, look, thanks, but I'm not in the mood for small talk, okay?"

"Okay," said Mark softly, and then he smiled, and his smile was friendly and open. "So maybe we should just get started."

"You had enough time to get ready?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, plenty," the man confirmed, and he stripped off his bathrobe and Blair gasped. Mark was naked, his erection encircled by a cock ring; both nipples were pierced with silver rings. Blair felt heat creeping up his face, circling his neck, making his collar tight, but Jim seemed perfectly cool and collected as he looked Mark up and down with a critical eye.

"You think that's tight enough this time?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, I think so, I think it'll be okay," answered Mark, looking down at himself.

Jim nodded. "Okay. Take out the right one," he added, gesturing to Mark's broad chest.

Mark nodded and winced as he took one of his nipple rings out. "Sorry, I can never remember which," he added.

Blair found that his legs seemed strangely weak, and he sank into a sitting position on the floor, unable to believe what he was seeing and hearing, glad that the wall was there for support.

Jim picked his gym bag off the sofa and tossed it hard at Mark, who caught it. "I brought something else that I want you to use," Jim said.

"Oh yeah?" asked Mark, unzipping the bag and rummaging through it.

"It's better than the one you've got," said Jim as Mark pulled a complicated looking piece of black leather out of the bag. "It should eliminate almost all sound."

Mark looked up at him, cocking an amused eyebrow. "You know, Jim, in my experience, all grunts sound pretty much the same."

"Not to me," said Jim firmly, and Mark sighed.

"Well, okay, whatever you want. You don't pay me for advice," Mark added, wryly.

"No, I don't," Jim concurred.

"Here or upstairs?" Mark asked.

"Here," replied Jim. "I don't like it upstairs."

"Okay," said Mark. He moved back over to the small side table and opened a drawer and gently pulled out a large silver box, and set it atop the table, and lifted the lid.

Jim looked at the box and nodded, taking another drink of beer.

"The sofa?" Mark asked, picking up Jim's gym bag again.

"Yes, please," said Jim quietly.

"Okay," replied Mark, and then he picked up the leather gag and fitted it carefully across his mouth, buckling it behind his head with nimble fingers. And then he reached back into the bag and pulled out a bundle of red cloth. A tablecloth? No. A shirt.

And then Blair stifled a gasp, realizing that it was his shirt.

And as he watched Mark slide his broad arms into it, and begin to button it up to the neck, his first reaction was anger — anger that Jim should have taken his shirt for this, taken yesterday's shirt out of the hamper where he had been so careful to put it, wanting to please, and it just seemed dammed rude of him, and why the fuck didn't he use one of his own goddamn shirts?!

Mark finished buttoning it up and flipped the collar up around his neck and then began working on the sleeves, fastening the cuffs to that they held tightly to his wrists. The red flannel shirt fit his body well: Mark was stocky and muscular like a soccer player, and the shirt fit nicely, stretching across his body, tails hanging over his erection.

And then Mark moved and turned off one of the table lamps, dimming the light in the room just a bit. And then he moved toward the back of one of the sofas, and gripped it, and bent over, letting his head hang down and spreading his legs, so that the red fabric stretched taut across his broad back. And he waited.

Blair closed his eyes, and even that didn't seem enough so he covered his closed eyes with his hands, and he felt sick, and he told himself that he had no one to blame but himself, that it was his own damn fault for being such an awful fucking snoop. He had gone where he didn't belong, had stumbled into a highly personal situation where he had no business being, and oh god! he had heard of such things but it was different to know something and to see it, to see something like this so up close.

And it was quiet, and it didn't sound like Jim had moved at all, and Blair dropped his hands and opened his eyes and Jim hadn't moved at all. Jim was just standing there, drinking the rest of his beer, and Mark was still bent over, patiently waiting. And when Jim had finished drinking he crossed the room and set the glass neatly back upon the tray, and then he walked over to Mark and ran a slow, affectionate hand down over his back from neck to waist.

Blair watched as Jim took a deep, shuddering breath, and then raised his hand again, and stroked Mark's back again. Mark didn't move, didn't react — didn't so much as raise his head so that Jim could see him. And then Jim reached down and unbuttoned the waistband of his own pleated pants, and then unzipped himself, and —

— and he wasn't even hard at all.

And this pissed Blair off — because, hell! he was hard, he was hard just from watching this, and he was nervous and embarrassed and straight for god's sake! and this wasn't even his party, and he was beginning to feel, irrationally, like this whole situation was more about his humiliation than Jim's pleasure.

But then Jim raised both his palms again and began to caress Mark's back, and Blair saw, embarrassed to be seeing, that Jim was growing hard as he touched the man in front of him, as Jim's large, gentle hands caressed the muscular back, slid up and down the outstretched arms. And then Jim stood behind Mark and bent down over him, stretching over Mark's body with his own, touching his face lightly to the expanse of back, turning and brushing the area between Mark's shoulder blades with his cheek, and Jim was very hard now, as his hands slid up Mark's arms and then disappeared around him to clutch and caress his chest, hands moving and gliding over his torso, over the hard planes of his body —


No, that wasn't it.

Over the shirt.

And Blair blinked as he suddenly saw what he was seeing, saw that Jim's gentle roving hands had never once strayed beyond the shirt's hem in any direction, and he suddenly realized that Jim had never touched Mark, the man, anywhere at all, hadn't touched his body anywhere, hadn't even touched anything that Mark had touched, which seemed a bit over-meticulous, even for Jim, and then wham! Blair was a guide again, and he knew that this had something to do with Jim's senses. This, to his relief, was at least a more reasonable area for rampant curiosity, and he could almost bring himself to ignore the fact that he was watching Jim make love to another man as he worked on this new problem.

Jim's senses, he thought, focusing, and then he catalogued them quickly — Sight Hearing Smell Touch Taste — and then applied them to what he was seeing. Hearing — well, that was easy: Jim had the man in front of him wearing a gag, an apparently "better" gag, and so obviously Jim couldn't tolerate any sound. Sight: Jim was bent low over Mark, face buried in his back, rubbing, nuzzling against it, and Blair doubted that Jim could see anything of Mark besides his back. Especially since Mark was letting his blond head hang down over the back of the sofa, a position that seemed agreed upon and familiar to both of them. *Taste?* Not applicable — not yet, anyway; Jim hadn't kissed Mark's lips or skin or anywhere. Though, as Blair watched distractedly, Jim did in fact appear to stretch his head up and kiss Mark's neck tenderly — except he didn't, because Mark had the shirt collar turned up. *Touch.* Jim had never touched the man stretched out before him at all, keeping his hands firmly within the borders of the soft flannel fabric. *Smell?* Well, who knew what Jim smelled? Certainly he was close enough to Mark to smell him, though one suspected that —

that —


that the smell of Mark





the shirt.

His shirt.

Yesterday's shirt.

Which undoubtedly.



Oh shit, this can't be happening, this can't be true, thought Blair,

(nipple ring)

it's impossible, it's wrong, it's

(leather gag)

just not — I just can't be interpreting this right.

(can't hear him, won't touch him)

I've made a wrong

(wearing my shirt)

assumption here somewhere, there's a weak link

(making love to my shirt)

in the chain of logic. Logic...

(making love to me)

And Blair was so dazed that he didn't even think to turn away as Jim, now fully erect, stood upright and pulled a condom from the silver box on the table next to him, and tore it open, and sheathed himself and lubed himself and then grabbed Mark by the waist with both hands

(through the flannel, never touching)

and slid home into him with a soft groan — and then Blair did think to close his eyes, and he turned his face away and covered it with his hands, and tears were sliding down his cheeks, tears he couldn't explain even to himself, and he felt more then punished for his aberrant curiosity, felt more punished than he had ever felt in his life, because Naomi hadn't been one for punishment, and so he was completely unprepared for how bad punishment could be.

And he could hear Jim's soft moans as he fucked Mark, and of course, he couldn't hear Mark, because it was truly a better gag, and he had to get out, he had to get away (and of course Jim couldn't smell him in the dining room ten feet away, because he was expecting to smell him, was smelling him in yesterday's shirt) and Blair had to exert control that he hadn't even known he possessed in order to stay silent, to not sob aloud.

He crawled back across the dining room to the kitchen, and then got his feet under him and slipped back to the door, and it took a few long seconds for him to figure out how to unlock it — and then it was unlocked and open and he was outside, pulling the door closed softly behind him, and then he was back in the cold darkness of the backyard and he was running, running back down the driveway and onto the sidewalk and down the block to his car, and his panic was quite at odds with the quiet peace of the streets, and the warm, lit windows he ran past behind which people were watching television or eating dinner.

And then he was back at his car, and he opened the door and slid in and inserted the key into the ignition with shaky hands — and then he stopped, and folded his arms across the steering wheel, and lay his head down across them, and let the shock of it all wash over him.

* * *

And after a while he pulled himself together enough to start the car, but he didn't want to go home, couldn't face home yet, couldn't face Jim. So he drove back to central Cascade and pulled over on one of the larger commercial strips to use the payphone on the corner.

He stood, shivering from the cold, and fished a quarter out of his jeans pocket, hesitating for just a moment before dialing Kelly Peterson.

Kelly was curvaceous and blonde and knew more about the history of Imperial Spain than anyone else in Washington State.

"Hello?" she answered.

"Kelly, hi!" he said, grateful that she was home and awake.

"Blair, hi!" she returned, mirroring back his enthusiastic tone sarcastically.

"I'm glad you're home," he explained, shifting the cold phone to his other ear. "What are you doing?"

"What, now?" she asked. "Grading papers, what are you doing?"

"I'm thinking about coming over to see you," he answered honestly, and he heard her sigh and heard the soft rustle of papers.

"Blair, I shouldn't," she said. "I really need to get these done — "

"Oh come on: you can take a break. Everyone needs a break now and then," he pleaded. And when she didn't answer that he added, ashamed of the desperation in his voice, "Kelly, please?"

"Please?" echoed Kelly softly. "Blair, are you okay?"

"I'm okay," said Blair, knowing he wasn't.

"All right, come on over," Kelly relented.

"Twenty minutes, okay?" asked Blair.

"Okay," said Kelly and hung up.

* * *

Kelly Peterson was partially subsidizing her PhD in History by being the RA in an undergraduate dorm at Rainier, and Blair had to show his University I.D. to the security guard at the door before being allowed to shove his way into the confusion of the lobby, with students chatting and wheeling their bikes in and out and screaming things at each other down the long hallways.

He took the stairs up a flight, and walked past the brightly colored, poster-covered doors to one at the very end of the hall, which read, simply: Peterson. Resident Advisor.

He knocked and after a moment Kelly opened the door, and Blair smiled, because she definitely had that "I've been grading too long" look about her, which Blair knew was caused by eyestrain in conjunction with a deep and profound despair about the future of America.

But she seemed pleased to see him, and he held up a paper grocery bag and said, "Blair Sandburg to the rescue," and she smiled and bobbed a curtsey and let him in.

"There had better be ice cream in there," she said, shutting the door.

"Oh, mais oui," replied Blair, "bien sur, absolutement!" The twin bed was covered in papers and books, and so he sat down on the floor and leaned back against it.

"Chocolate?" she asked, squinting at him.

"Blow-your-head-off chocolate," confirmed Blair.

"Well thank god," said Kelly, moving to sit on the floor beside him. "Hand over said chocolate ice cream forthwith," she added, and Blair reached into the bag and handed her the tub and a plastic spoon.

"Sorry about the state of Chez Peterson," she said, waving the spoon around. "It's just too damn small to keep all my stuff in and keep it organized."

"Hey, it's free. Free is good. Free is the magic word," replied Blair, rooting around in the paper bag and pulling out a bottle of beer and a bag of sourdough pretzels. He gestured at Kelly with the beer, and when she nodded, handed the one in his hand over to her and pulled out another for himself.

"All right," said Kelly, wiping chocolate off her lips with her sleeve, "so what's up with you?"

"Nothing. I've had a shitty day, is all," replied Blair, taking a swig from his beer.

Kelly grinned. "You kill me, Blair, honest — you're like this weird cat who turns up out of the blue and plays for a while and then disappears again. Off into the underbrush!" she added dramatically, charting the cat's path with her arms.

"Well, at least I never overstay my welcome," objected Blair.

"Nah," said Kelly. "You're perfect that way. Perfect for me, anyway — I'm too irresponsible to be a real pet owner. For god's sake, look at my plants," and truth be told, the Peterson plants were looking pretty unhappy.

"So, you want to play with me for a while?" asked Blair forthrightly, and Kelly smiled and took his face in her hands and pulled it slowly toward her, murmuring gently, "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty."

And afterwards she seemed genuinely surprised (and not a little concerned) that he seemed to want to stay, but he did want to stay (or rather he didn't want to leave) and so she let him. And the twin bed was a little small for two, but they snuggled tightly and it was all right. Kelly joked that it was a real throwback to college, and made her feel twenty instead of thirty, and Blair laughed and objected that they hadn't had nearly enough beer to make it a true undergrad experience.

And while it was cramped, it was warm, and Blair thought that Kelly smelled nice, and he pressed his face into her mane of blonde hair, hoping that tomorrow would be different, that tomorrow would be normal again.

* * *

And it was, pretty much.

He and Kelly had a friendly parting of the ways in the morning, and the sun was shining brightly over the campus even though it was cold, and things did seem really normal — normal route home, normal parking lot, normal elevator, normal hallway, normal loft.

And in the daytime, Jim was just Jim again, just a guy in sweats reading the newspaper and drinking coffee.

"Hey, how are you?" Jim said absently, looking up from the paper. "Coffee's up," he added, gesturing to the pot.

"Great, cool, I could use some," Blair replied, and his voice was normal sounding too. "Just lemme change my clothes," he added, and Jim laughed and shot him an amused look and waved him toward his room.

And once in his room with the door shut Blair had to take a deep breath, because that simple exchange produced a surprising level of anxiety. He had regretted telling Jim about his change of clothes almost instantly, feeling a sexual tension where none had ever before existed (because he was fucking, because he was fucking me). And yet Jim seemed perfectly normal and unupset about his having been out all night (like some weird cat) and Blair wondered if he had misread what he had seen or if he had even seen it at all or if Jim was (covert ops?) that good a liar. But as he stripped off his clothes he instinctively tossed them into a corner. The clothes hamper in the bathroom was, for the moment, a fraught space.

When he had finished changing he took another deep breath and returned to the living room, and Jim politely put his paper down and looked up at him expectantly.

And frowned.

"You okay?" Jim asked, and Blair tried to look innocent and surprised by the question. He walked over to the coffee machine and grabbed a mug off the shelf.

"Yeah, sure. Why?" he replied, hoping that his voice conveyed nonchalance.

"Nothing," said Jim, getting up and coming over with his own mug. "You just seem a little twitchy," he added, and he was standing behind Blair and god he was a big man, hardness draped in soft gray sweats and Blair was about to deny that he was twitchy but then Jim brushed a friendly hand across his shoulder blades and he nearly jumped out of his skin, sending the empty mug skittering across the counter.

"Jesus Lord," Ellison muttered, snatching up the mug and fixing Blair with a look. "No caffeine for you, buddy," he said firmly, moving toward the sink and taking Blair's mug with him. Jim put the mug down and picked up the kettle, filled it with water. "Sheesh, have some tea — something to calm you the fuck down," he added, turning to put the kettle onto the stove.

"I'm okay, really," said Blair.

"Bad date or something?" Jim asked him, leaning against the counter.

"No, that was fine — it was Kelly Peterson, I've known her for forever," said Blair.

Jim grinned at him. "Oh really," he said, looking amused. "I didn't think you went for repeat business," and he poked Blair in the ribs affectionately as he went to get Blair a teabag.

"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" said Blair in mock-outrage, because he was supposed to, because this was a running argument with them. But the words felt strange, the joke had changed for him, though it apparently hadn't lost any of its charm for Jim.

"It means that you're an old tomcat," said Jim, cuffing him gently against the side of his head, and Blair jumped again, because this was familiar, this was different — was this how it was? Jim touching him, touching him, teasing him about all the women he dated (fucked) (Jim was fucking him) was this the way it was between them?

"Kelly said that too," said Blair, frowning, pulling away from Jim's hands, watching as Jim poured the hot water into the mug for him. He drifted out of the kitchen, hit the far wall, whirled around, came back. "You're the second person to say that to me in twelve hours."

"Well, maybe if you'd stop jumping all over the place," said Jim reasonably, sliding him his mug of tea, "the analogy would seem less apt."

Blair made a face at him, picked up the mug, sipped at it. "Seriously," Jim added, "go, sit down, drink your tea — try to relax for a while. You're always going full blast — sometimes you need to just stop and recharge your batteries."

"Is that what you're doing today?" asked Blair.

"Yeah," replied Jim. "Exactly that. Sleeping, eating, watching TV, couple of errands, and that's it." He stretched his arms over his head briefly, then returned to leaning against the kitchen island. "Yesterday was tough," he added ruefully. "I'm happy to see the back of that case."

Blair tensed at this. "Yeah, I meant to say, I'm sorry about yesterday."

Jim raised his eyebrows. "What are you sorry for?"

"I don't know, I don't think I handled things as well as I could have," admitted Blair guiltily.

Jim thought about this for a moment, then shrugged. "I don't see what you were supposed to do different," he replied. "Plus that thing with the fire axe was totally inspired," he added, flashing a grin, and Blair grinned back at him reflexively. "I was just afraid — you know, that he'd hurt you," said Jim, and Blair felt his chest tighten as Jim's hand took off through the air again, came to rest on his forearm, squeezed it briefly, and pulled away.

"Nah, just a bruise," said Blair faintly, and he had to blink suddenly because he was sweating, even his eyelids were sweating, and it was Jim, it was the waves of heat radiating from Jim's body, so close to his.

"Yeah, well, you should rest up," said Jim, and he was moving away, going back to the table and his paper and his coffee. "It's exhausting being roughed up — believe me, I know," he added, smiling wryly, and suddenly Blair wanted to go to him, wanted to move toward him and curl around him and drown in his warmth, and Blair was wet and he was sweating and he heard a voice speaking and was surprised to discover that it was his own.

"Yeah, I think I might take a nap," the voice was saying, and Jim nodded approvingly at him and then his feet were carrying him away toward his bedroom (away from Jim, but he wanted to go to Jim) and his sweaty hand slipped on the knob and then he was inside, and the door was shut behind him, and it had to be ten degrees cooler in here and he threw himself onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling.

Blair closed his eyes and tried to take the nap that the voice had said he should be taking, but there were images flashing through his brain (hands encircling a narrow waist) flashing (hands groping for a flannel-covered nipple ring) flashing (pulling, pulling, pushing into him) — and Blair rolled over and pulled his comforter tightly around him, hoping that by stilling his body he could somehow still his mind, because just a few hours ago he'd been in Kelly Peterson, had been thrusting into Kelly Peterson, and she had been wet for him, and his hands had been full of her breasts and her ass and he had gently fingered her clitoris while he fucked her until she had shuddered and come for him, and then he had grabbed her hips and fucked her harder until she gasped and came again, and then she had tightened her legs around him brutally, and pulled at his nipple ring, bringing him off with a shout. And that had been good, hadn't it? that had been about as good as he had ever had it, and now he was home and full of tea and tucked up in his warm bed, and there was absolutely no reason why his mind should be obsessively returning to white-knuckled hands grabbing narrow hips and pulling, pulling — and Jim's hard, ridged flesh disappeared like a conjuring trick, sliding into the man's ass, and Jim had moaned softly, and gently pumped his hips and damn!

Damn and damn! it was no use and Blair scrabbled at his pants and undid his zipper almost angrily, and closed his fist around his cock, and hell! it was only a fantasy and denying it would only make it worse, was already making it worse. Blair closed his eyes and let Jim grab him and bend him over the sofa and fuck him — and he pulled roughly at his own cock as he let his mind remember Jim's — long and veined and leaking at the tip — and in his fantasy it was sliding up his ass and Jim had one hand around his cock and two fingers deep in his mouth, sliding over his tongue, caressing it, triggering his gag reflex briefly when Jim stretched back toward his throat, and he could only breathe when Jim let him, he was powerless in Jim's hands and Jim was inside him, in his ass and in his mouth, fingers nearly down his throat and Blair was gagging, sucking air in desperately through his nose as Jim roughly circled the head of his cock with a thumb — teasing, stimulating — and Blair was leaking helplessly and then Jim was jerking him off, jerking him off, Blair was jerking off frantically, mouth and ass full of Jim and —




He was frightened, he was dying, he had broken something, hurt something, help! He was having a heart attack, he needed a doctor, tears were running down his cheeks and he had never come like that before, and he wasn't sure he ever wanted to come like that again, because that was frightening, that wasn't normal, that wasn't him, that was someone else, someone who wanted to be fucked, who wanted to suck Jim's fingers, Jim's cock, any part of Jim that Jim would give him — and it was only a fantasy but he had never come like that before.

There was no denying that, and Blair lay there, thinking, splattered wet around the groin, and he curled into himself for comfort, and he curled into the bed for warmth, and he was home —

— and maybe he was a bit of a cat, he thought suddenly, but every sensible cat picked a home after a while

(or ended up dead on the streets, dead on the side of the road)

and this was his, he'd already picked it, and he hadn't really ever thought about it before now, but he knew it anyway, knew it deep in his bones. He knew that this was home, that Jim was home, that he might do one thing or another, do one person or another, but he would always come home to Jim.

Because he loved Jim.

And in the afterglow of his orgasm everything suddenly seemed all right, everything suddenly seemed reasonable. Jim wanted to fuck him. And he loved Jim. And maybe he wanted Jim to fuck him — his body certainly seemed to think so. And so maybe there was no real problem after all.

He was tired, and that nap that what's his name had suggested was starting to sound good.

He would always come home to Jim, Blair thought dimly, slipping into sleep, and if Jim wanted to feed him, touch him, fuck him, he would let him.

So what was the problem again?

* * *

The problem, Blair realized, staring at the ceiling of his room when he woke up hours later, was the difference between fantasy and reality. It was all well and good to think that you wanted Jim Ellison balls deep in your ass when he was out there somewhere and nowhere near you — it was something else entirely to go outside to said man and make him a concrete offer. And this was nothing to tease about — if you were going to approach six feet of Jim Ellison and blithely suggest to him that you broaden the scope of your relationship to include not only friendly fraternization and camping on the weekends but also hard-core fucking, you had better, Blair thought, be prepared to make good.

Which he wasn't at all sure he could do.

He could kiss Jim: he was sure of that. He could touch him, he could suck him — he could probably even fuck him — but could he be fucked by him? That, Blair thought, grimacing, was the million dollar question.

It wouldn't have mattered so much if it hadn't been the only thing that Jim had done to Mark, and so at the moment it was the only thing that Blair knew for sure that Jim wanted.

So he had better be sure.

Blair took a deep breath and slid a hand down between his legs, slid a finger across the puckered flesh of his opening — and cringed, because he didn't feel very erotic, because it didn't feel very erotic. But he persevered, and pushed the tip of his finger into his body, and it was smooth and cold and this wasn't going to work. This was awful, this was clinical, this was not the way it was in his fantasies, that was for sure.

He sighed and got up to take a shower.

Twenty minutes later he was clean and dry and dressed, and he re-emerged from his bedroom to see Jim just coming in the front door carrying two shopping bags. Jim put them down on the table and blinked at Blair and said, "Don't tell me you're just getting up now," and Blair watched Jim take off his coat and hang it up on the hook and damn if Jim, at least, wasn't exactly as he was in his fantasies.

"Shit, Chief," Jim was saying, "when you rest up you really go for it," and before Blair really knew what he was doing he was moving forward across the room, walking straight into Jim Ellison's arms.

Blair took a deep breath and hugged Jim tightly, and shit, Jim was warm and hard and big and everything he wanted, and damn if Jim wasn't suddenly hugging him back.

"Blair," Jim said suddenly, and Blair started at the fear in Jim's voice and pulled back, pulled out of his arms. "Blair, are you okay? Did something happen?" and Blair saw suddenly that Jim was worried beyond belief.

"Everything's fine, Jim," he replied breezily, wanting to reassure.

But Jim wasn't reassured, and took Blair's upper arms in his hands. "You're not sick or anything?" he demanded.

"No," replied Blair, dizzy again, dizzy with heat.

"Did somebody call?" asked Jim.

"No," replied Blair.

"Everyone's all right?" asked Jim. "Simon, my father, your mother?"

"Yes," replied Blair.

"So you're just hugging me for no reason?" asked Jim.

"Yes," said Blair.

"You're just being weird?"

"Yes," said Blair.

"Okay," relented Jim, nodding, and he released Blair's arms and patted him lightly on the cheeks with his palms before turning toward the kitchen. "You really know how to scare the shit out of me, you know that?"

"Sorry," said Blair, and his eyes followed Jim as he unpacked the groceries and his heart was pounding. And then he had an idea.

"Jim, I'm going out for a while," he said suddenly, moving toward the coatrack and grabbing his jacket.

"Are you sure that you should?" asked Jim, frowning again. "Maybe you should rest up a while longer."

"No, no," said Blair. He pulled the door open and looked back at Jim. "I'll be home soon," he added sincerely, and then he fled down the hallway.

* * *

And the funny thing was that he couldn't even remember where it was — but then he suddenly remembered that the Frasiers were at 45 Cedar Street, and from there it was easy.

It was late afternoon and getting dark as Blair passed through the gates toward the house, and he knew he should go up the front steps, but he felt compelled to go around the back again, to retrace his steps, to return to the scene of the crime, and so be went back up the driveway and across the yard and up the wood steps to the back door, and it was open again. But this time he stayed outside and raised his knuckles to the glass door and rapped hard.

It took a few moments, but eventually Mark wandered into the white, white kitchen, wearing jeans and a polo shirt and an unhappy expression as he looked at Blair.

"Yeah?" he asked brusquely through the door.

"Can I talk to you?" Blair called back.

"About what?" asked Mark, and Blair sighed, because that was a tough one. So Blair reached for the handle and opened the door and stepped inside, uninvited, a second time.

"Hey," Mark protested, "you can't — "

"I want to talk to you about Jim Ellison," said Blair softly, and Mark closed his mouth, and his eyes narrowed.

"I don't know any Jim Ellison," Mark replied.

"He's my friend," said Blair.

"I'm sure he is," said Mark, crossing his arms, "but I still don't know him."

"Mark, listen — " began Blair but Mark stepped back, nervously.

"What are you, vice?" he asked.

"No," said Blair. "No. Listen, screw it, we don't need to talk, I just want to hire you. Can I?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," said Mark, stiffening, and Blair turned and pushed the back door closed, locked it. He reached into his jacket, pulled out his wallet, pulled out a wad of bills; he grabbed Mark's hand and stuffed them into his fist.

"Please?" said Blair, and there must have been something in his voice, because Mark sighed and nodded, stuffing the uncounted bills into his pocket.

"Okay. Okay," he said, turning, and Blair followed him out of the kitchen and through a hallway. "Give me your coat," said Mark, and Blair slid out of his jacket and handed it to the stocky blond, who hung it up. Mark mimed raising his arms and Blair obliged and did so, allowing Mark to pat him down in a brief search. And then Mark sighed, and straightened, and said, "Okay, what's your pleasure?"

— and then he stopped, and his face changed, and he extended a hand and ran it across Blair's chest slowly, and Blair was rather taken aback because suddenly things already seemed to be starting — and then he realized that Mark was merely looking at his shirt.

When Mark looked up and met his eyes there was a new knowledge and understanding in his expression.

"You said you were Jim Ellison's friend?" Mark asked softly.

"Yes," replied Blair.

"I see, " murmured Mark, and he raised his hand suddenly and slid his knuckles against Blair's cheek, ran a thumb across Blair's lips. "I see," he repeated.

"He doesn't know I'm here," said Blair.

"Oh?" said Mark noncommittally.

"No. He doesn't. I know he fucks you," blurted Blair. "He fucks you wearing my clothes, doesn't he? He's fucked you wearing this, hasn't he?"

"I can't discuss that," said Mark firmly. "Forget about him — you tell me what you want."

"I want him to fuck me," said Blair. "Except I never have — and I don't know if I can."

"Why don't you ask him?" asked Mark.

"I don't want to disappoint him," Blair said in a whisper. "If I can't. And so I thought that maybe you could, that I know," and Mark sighed and nodded.

"All right," Mark said. "Come with me," and Blair followed him up a flight of stairs to a plainly furnished bedroom. Mark shut the door and turned to Blair; reaching out, he hooked his fingers in Blair's belt loops and pulled him close, pulled their groins flush.

"Do you have any male-male experience at all?" asked Mark.

"Some," admitted Blair. "Mostly drunken college stuff — groping, making out, that sort of thing."

"Okay," said Mark. He let go of Blair and kicked off his shoes, slid onto the bed. "Let's start from what you know, where you're comfortable. Come here," he said, extending his arms to Blair, and Blair took a deep breath and scrambled onto the bed next to him.

"Don't be nervous," said Mark, caressing his back.

"I know, I know, it's just weird," muttered Blair, and then Mark suddenly had a warm hand on Blair's neck and was pulling him forward and then they were kissing.

And a kiss was a kiss and a grope was a grope, Blair decided, and next thing they had fallen sideways onto the bed and their mouths were glued together, and Blair decided that he liked the feel of Mark's body, liked the way Mark was touching him. Mark was sliding his hands up Blair's chest under his shirt and Mark gasped when his fingers brushed Blair's nipple ring. Blair remembered that Mark was pierced as well and he reached out with both hands and took the two rings gently between his fingers. And they lay there for a while, moaning and kissing and gently tugging on the rings that pierced them.

Then Mark was in his pants, and Blair was gasping and thrusting into his hand, and fumbling blindly in Mark's pants for his cock, and he began to jerk Mark off in counterrhythm, and he was dreaming of Jim's cock as he fondled Mark, and he suddenly knew that Mark was turned on by playing Jim in this scenario, because Mark was groping his cock and sucking his earlobe and murmuring, "Blair, Blair, Blair" in his ear and Blair knew that he hadn't told Mark his name.

And it was this above everything else that made things real, and Blair shuddered and arched at the sound of his name just as Mark slipped a finger into him.

And maybe because it was in the heat of the moment, or because he was already turned on and jumping like a live wire, but now it was different, so very different, and he moaned as Mark began to work his finger in and out while stroking his cock in counterpoint. Blair was lost in sensation and he gripped Mark's cock frantically and they were humping and sweating and when Mark slipped a second finger into him he arched and came hard, clutching Mark's cock, and he could hear Mark moaning and feel semen spurting against his hand.

They lay there for a few minutes, chests heaving, breathing deeply, and then Mark pushed himself up into a sitting position and rolled Blair onto his stomach, and Blair was helpless, sated, boneless under his hands.

"Just relax," murmured Mark. gently caressing Blair's buttocks with his hands, and then Blair felt slick fingers pushing back into him and he moaned and spread his legs apart.

"You're beautiful," muttered Mark, sliding his fingers in and out gently. "Totally beautiful, and I'd love to fuck you, I'd love to be the first to fuck you."

"Do it," hissed Blair, rocking his hips backwards, driving Mark's fingers in deeper.

"I don't think Jim would appreciate that," said Mark regretfully, and at the mention of Jim's name Blair's cock began to harden again, and he fantasized that it was Jim behind him, claiming him this way, and he pushed back harder, crying out as Mark's fingers brushed his prostate.

"God, what was that? what was that?" Blair blurted breathlessly and he thrust backward again and god! that was good: it was like being jacked off from the inside out, and he couldn't control it, he began to hump the mattress and drive himself backwards on Mark's fingers, and god, it was good, so good, it was the best thing ever.

Behind him, Mark was breathing hard and growling, "TIght. So tight. Beautiful," and Blair gasped and came again.

"Oh man," Mark muttered, "I can see where you'd drive that poor man nuts. That poor guy," and Blair opened his mouth to protest but he was too tired to speak.

Mark fumbled in the nightstand and then he said quietly, to Blair, "Just relax," and Blair felt something warm and slick pushing into him, and he turned his head and looked at Mark with questioning eyes.

"I'm putting a plug into you," Mark answered softly, concentrating on guiding the plug home gently. "It'll keep you open and ready for him."

"Okay," murmured Blair, and then he closed his eyes and at some point Mark slid next to him and threw an arm over him and slept too.

And about forty minutes later Blair got up, and showered, and dressed, and slipped back into the bedroom and dropped a quick kiss on Mark's forehead, stepping back quickly when Mark reached for him, and backing out of the room with a smile and a wave. And then he was down the stairs and through the kitchen and out the back door and running down the driveway with a light heart and a stuffed ass and a pounding refrain in his head that cheered, "Jim, Jim, Jim."

* * *

Jim was sitting at the table eating when Blair burst back into the loft, and he looked up at Blair and said, "I didn't think you'd make it."

"Well I did," said Blair happily, taking off his coat and hanging it up. He went into the kitchen and fixed himself a plate of food before joining Jim at the table. "I'm starving," he said, tearing into the steak. "I forgot to eat today," and Jim shot him a look.

"You can't forget to eat," Jim admonished. "Jesus, Blair, you're a grown man, you have to take care of yourself."

"I know, I know," Blair agreed, "but I had a lot on my mind, today." He stopped and laughed, and the look of confusion on Jim's face only made him laugh harder.

"What's funny?" Jim asked, and Blair grinned at him and thought about how he had totally reorganized his life, his priorities, and his sexuality in a mere twenty-four hours. Hell, he was good!

"Nothing," Blair replied. "Everything," he amended, and Jim's frown deepened and Blair waved his fork at him and said, "Lighten up."

Jim sighed and got up with his empty plate, depositing it in the sink before heading for the sofa and the television. Blair watched him intently as he ate, fantasies flashing through his brain; Jim looked up at him warily but held his tongue, resolutely turning his attention back to the evening news.

Finally Blair pushed his plate away. He got up and crossed the room to Jim, then sat down on the sofa next to him and said, softly, "Can we talk?"

Jim hesitated a moment before switching off the television and turning to Blair, arms crossed expectantly. "Yeah, I figured there was something like this in the works. Okay. Talk."

Blair blinked. "Well, I mean — it's nothing like — it's nothing, you know, adversarial..." Jim raised an eyebrow inquiringly and Blair closed his eyes. "You're not making this easy."

"Not making what easy?" asked Jim, and Blair grimaced and said, "You're doing it again."

"Blair, say what you want to say already," said Jim.

"Yeah, but — I mean — " and Jim looked at him hard and Blair raised his palms in surrender and said, "Okay. Okay. Jim." He stopped, took a deep breath. "Jim, would you like to sleep with me?" And Jim didn't move, didn't react, and Blair scooted closer to him across the sofa until he could feel the heat burning between them and added, quickly, "I mean, that is to say, that I — I think I want to sleep with you. I mean, I do. I want to sleep with you. Do you want to sleep with me?" and at this point he felt that he had expressed the point as clearly as he was going to, and so he reached out and lay his hand on Jim's arm, and squeezed gently.

And Jim uncrossed his arms, and Blair felt his heart pounding and his cock pounding and he threw his arms around Jim and clutched him tightly. He felt Jim's arms closing around his back and he was hot, he was hard, and he felt Jim's hands pressing against his back, pulling him close against the broad chest, close, so close, against those hard muscles before letting go and pushing him back. A cool palm glided across his cheek and then Jim said, softly, "Blair, I don't think that's a very good idea."

Blair felt suddenly cold, and he looked up at Jim and said, "What?"

"I don't think that's a very good idea," Jim said again, patting Blair's cheek with an affectionate hand.

"But — but — " sputtered Blair, because it was as if the world had suddenly turned upside down, because Jim — Jim had been — Jim wanted — Jim was even! now! touching! him! forgodssake! "But don't you want to?" asked Blair incredulously.

Jim's face closed down, and he drew his hand back from Blair's face.

"Want has nothing to do with it," Jim replied quietly.

"The hell it doesn't!" said Blair vehemently, and he didn't know what else to say, so he said it again: "The hell it doesn't!"

"It doesn't," insisted Jim, standing up. "I'm very flattered, honest," he added, "but it's not a good idea. Do you want a beer?"

"It's not a good idea, do you want a beer?" repeated Blair, boggling. "Is that it? End of discussion?"

"Don't you think we should just end this discussion?" asked Jim softly. "I think we should just, you know, carry on as usual," he added in a more normal tone. He moved toward the kitchen, toward the fridge, He pulled out two beers, crossed the room, extended one to Blair. "We're still friends, right?"

Blair ignored the beer, and stared up at him helplessly, distress written broadly across his face. "But why?" he asked pleadingly.

"Because," said Jim, putting Blair's beer down on the coffee table in front of him and stepping away.

"Because isn't good enough," said Blair, and a flash of anger crossed Jim's face.

"It'll have to be good enough," Jim replied.

"But — " began Blair.

"Just let it go, okay?" interrupted Jim, irritably.

"I *can't*," said Blair desperately. "I just *can't*."

"Well, you'll have to," answered Jim. "Jesus, Sandburg, is this your seduction technique? Nag 'em to death?"

"But Jim — "

"What part of 'no' don't you understand?" asked Jim exasperatedly.

"But you don't want to?" pressed Blair, and Jim sighed and threw up his hands.

"That isn't relevant," Jim replied.

"Tell me you don't want to," said Blair, staring at him. "Just say you don't want to."

Jim opened his mouth, closed it, and then said, firmly, "I don't want to."

"But I want to," said Blair softly.

Jim clenched his jaw. "Right," he muttered. "You want to. And everything's about what you want, isn't it?"

And then suddenly Blair was on his feet, and blazingly angry. "Tell me you don't want me," he said, moving toward Jim slowly. "Tell me that and make me believe you."

"Blair, cut it out," said Jim tensely, taking a step back.

"Tell me," Blair insisted. "Say you don't want me. Tell me you don't want to fuck me," and Blair could see Jim's slight shudder, and he moved closer still. "You can't cause you do. You want to fuck me like nobody's business," and Jim's hands suddenly curled into fists.

"Sandburg, cut it out or I'm going to pop you one, I swear," said Jim, and his voice was low and dangerous.

Blair could hear the danger in Jim's voice, but the world was swimming white before his eyes, and he was close enough to Jim that the heat was burning him up, and he couldn't stop, he couldn't stop, so he flexed his muscles and took another step forward. "Tell me you don't want me. Tell me you don't love me — "

"I love you," Jim admitted tightly. "I love you. But I also hate you. I hate you so much, Sandburg, you really have no idea."

Blair paled, and took a shaky step backwards.

"You have my life in your hands, my whole fucking life, and you are Such. A. Fucking. Flake, " said Jim, turning away from him, turning towards the loft windows, "I can't even believe it.

"I'm teetering on this knife's edge, and you don't even notice — you're running here and there and — I mean, do you ever stop to think? Does it ever occur to you that you're — you're — the only thing between me and a rubber room? The only thing between me and a military funeral?

"And now you want — what? — a sexual relationship?" asked Jim, and there was agony in his voice. "You don't have enough power? You want more, is that it?"

"You're fucking Mark," blurted Blair, saying what he had promised himself he'd never say. But he would say anything, now — anything — to make Jim stop talking. He had always wanted Jim to talk; now he wanted Jim to stop. "You're fucking Mark, and pretending he's me. You're paying to fuck him, to fuck me. You'd rather do that?"

And this did stop Jim, but only for a moment. "Yes," he said heavily. "Yes. I've paid. I'll pay. I'll keep paying. Because you're off limits. And he's not. And I can't — I can't risk — "

He stopped again, and turned back to Blair, crossing his arms to stop himself from shaking. "But now you want to, and the world stops. Because you want what you want when you want it: you always have. And 'no' isn't in your vocabulary, you don't take 'no' for an answer. Only I have to take no for an answer," he added softly.

"And now you want it, and you want it now, but maybe you don't want it tomorrow — maybe you're on to the next thing, tomorrow — tomorrow it's three-ways, or S & M, or sheep, or some nice Jewish girl who'll give you beautiful children, and maybe you need to walk away, and where exactly does that leave me?

"Dead, or zoned, or in some purgatory of spikes driving through my brain — dammit, Sandburg!" yelled Jim. "I don't have the luxury of desire, you stupid bastard! All I wanted was... I just needed you to... I just needed for us to stay friends," he finished, and now he was shaking. "I would have done anything, would have offered you anything...for that."

Blair stared at Jim, his face white and strained. "And exactly what would you have offered me?" he asked softly. "What price my friendship? What am I worth in this economy? Room and board?" He stopped and looked hard at Jim. "How does it compare to what you give Mark?"

"What?" asked Jim tightly.

"Well, clearly I've been selling myself short," replied Blair slowly. "This situation's a gold mine. Lucky me — lucky bastard that I am — I've got you by the balls. It seems I've got a highly exploitable situation on my hands here. You need me, and so you're keeping me and feeding me: your self-interest is keeping me alive. But I think that's just the base line." He looked at Jim assessingly. "Tell me what you gave Mark, Jim. I need to know what the competition's getting before I can enter appropriate negotiations. He just wore my shirt — I wear all my clothes, all the time. Two or three shirts, even. Pants. Shoes. It's extra if you want me to wear shoes."

Jim looked livid, and he grabbed Blair's shoulders and shook him furiously, but now Blair wouldn't stop.

"Maybe with all that cash I can get Mark to take me on as a regular client," Blair continued mercilessly. "It's the perfect solution — you could fuck him as me, and he could fuck me as you. And Mark'll make a mint — it's a win-win-win."

"Stop," hissed Jim.

"No, I like the way you've conceptualized this," said Blair, desperately hoping that he wasn't miscalculating. "You've made things very clear. Quid pro quo — you use me, I use you, and we can both use Mark for sex. You're quite right to want to keep emotions out of it, to keep it transactional — "

"Stop," repeated Jim.

" — so that we're all whores. That's how you see this, isn't it? That's the basis for our supposed friendship, isn't it?"

Blair gasped as Jim suddenly raised a hand, and the hand turned into a fist, but he steeled himself and held his ground, held Jim's eye, and didn't blink. "Go ahead," he whispered. "Go ahead. But you'll pay for it. I swear you'll pay."

Jim's fist blurred toward him but the blow landed softly as Jim pulled his punch, and gently pressed his knuckles into Blair's cheek in a gesture that was half threat, half caress.

"I can't afford it," murmured Jim, sliding his knuckles gently across Blair's cheek, brushing his sideburns, opening his hand and twining his fingers deeply into Blair's hair. "I can't afford you."

"I'm cheap," whispered Blair. "Cheaper than you think."

"An installment plan?" asked Jim. Blair felt a twinge of cold as Jim's other hand lifted up his shirttails and slid beneath the soft flannel fabric to press at the small of his back, drawing him closer until they were pressed together and Jim was hard against him.

Blair brought his hand to Jim's waist and shifted slightly against him, returning hardness for hardness. "Sure," murmured Blair. "Take me on time. Take your time with me. We have time."

But Jim's hands were suddenly frantic on him, skimming over his shoulders, over his chest, over his shirt and Blair closed his eyes and arched up into his touch as Jim roughly grasped his nipple ring through the cloth. Blair gasped and lifted his hands to help but they were batted aside, and then Jim's wet mouth was on his bare skin and the shirt hung from his arms and he tried to shrug it off as best he could, wanting more of that mouth, wanting that mouth to move lower still. And Jim reacted to his struggles and ripped the shirt wholly off him, and tossed it onto the floor.

Then his fly was opened and Blair felt warm breath on his skin and heard the soft inhalation of air as Jim breathed in his scent and he shuddered, the small part of his mind still able to think thinking of touch and sight and taste and smell and he moaned and called out Jim's name to him, then said it again and again as Jim's hot mouth closed on his cock.

Blair's hands found Jim's head and caressed his hair, and suddenly Blair was coming, letting himself come, and the sensation was strange, intense, heightened by the thick press of the plug still inside him. And afterwards, still breathing hard, he felt boneless and open and Jim's strong hands were holding him up, tugging him down, down to the floor, laying him on his back, drawing his legs up.

And Jim's fingers were gentle on him, and then in him and then Jim's movements stopped and Blair nodded and whispered, "Yes" to the unasked question, yes to anything, yielding himself up easily to Jim for the first time, and then Jim was inside him, and it was easy and it was exactly the way he thought it would be, exactly the way he needed it to be, and he opened his eyes to see Jim staring down at him, watching him with dilated eyes. And he said Jim's name again and was answered with his own. "Blair." And he said yes, again, wanting Jim to hear his voice — he said yes and yes and yes.

The End