by Francesca and Emily
Author's disclaimer: Nothings ours, it's all theirs, blah blah.
Author's notes: Feedback welcome!
"Five hundred bucks?!" asked Blair Sandburg, his face stricken with disbelief.
"Five hundred bucks." Dr. Timothy Markson sat back in his chair, grinning broadly. The expression seemed to light him from within, transforming plain, pale features into something almost startlingly attractive.
"I kid you not. Five hundred. Plus the certificate. Don't forget the certificate."
Blair reached forward and picked up the heavy piece of paper. Rainier University. Outstanding Teaching Award. Blair Sandburg.
In fancy calligraphy, no less.
"Yeah, but five hundred bucks," Blair added, face splitting into a grin.
Dr. Markson nodded, his own strangely beautiful smile still in place. "Come on," he said, abruptly getting up and pulling his blazer off the back of his chair. "Time to celebrate. I'll take you for a drink."
"Five hundred bucks," Blair repeated softly. "Man, do you have any idea how much I could use five hundred bucks?"
Markson's smile slipped a little, leaving him looking sober and almost uncomfortably understanding. "Yes." He put an arm around Blair's shoulder, and Blair leaned into his side for a very brief moment, before stepping away.
"Come on, let's get that drink." Markson reached over to switch off the light to his office. "I'm buying. We'll go to my club."
Markson's club turned out to be on the second floor above a small, rather expensive French restaurant. A quick look around had Blair automatically smoothing down his rumpled shirt, unrolling the sleeves and buttoning them around his wrists.
The place was nice — not his style, but nice. The room was dimly lit, with a big oak bar, and a roaring fireplace on one side. Red velvet armchairs grouped invitingly around small wooden coffee tables. Like a real English pub — like the best of English pubs.
A man came over and greeted Dr. Markson — with a kiss on each cheek. Blair took a deep breath and tried not to fidget, putting on a friendly smile as the man's eyes quickly swept up and down his body.
"My guest," said Markson pre-emptively, and the man smiled and nodded.
"Of course." The now somewhat less-friendly man seated the two of them in a comfortable corner.
"God, I am so not dressed for this," Blair whispered when the man had taken their drink orders and left the table.
"You're fine. They're just a little suspicious of strangers here." Markson lit a cigarette and grinned. "Besides, you're pretty. Pretty boys can go wherever they want."
Blair smiled back, rolling his eyes a little bit at the compliment.
"So." Markson blew a cloud of smoke at the ceiling. "Let's talk strategy. The award is good for your CV — universities like evidence of good teaching, though they never hire on the basis of it. Still, it's a plus. Are you submitting a proposal to the AAS this year?"
They discussed Blair's career for a while, Markson suggesting anthropological journals and conferences for Blair to submit papers to. But then Markson's answers became sporadic and distracted, and Blair noticed that his professor was alternating looking at him and looking past him, over his shoulder. Blair turned to glance behind him, wondering what had caught Markson's attention.
"Sorry," Markson murmured, and Blair looked at him inquisitively, eyebrows raised. "It's just that..." he began, and then stopped and leaned over the table, dropping his voice. "There's an absolute convention of Mister Wonderfuls over there by the fireplace," he said softly. "Don't look!" he hissed, when Blair turned his head slightly, wanting to see for himself. "Wait a few minutes, and then look slowly, okay?"
Blair grinned at him. "You're hopeless, Tim. You do know that."
"You can't blame me for trying," Markson replied with an amused flash of his eyes. "I'm old, but I'm not dead. Okay, okay — they're not looking. Look now, quick, over by the fireplace."
Blair obligingly turned his head and sneaked a quick peek — indeed, there were five men grouped around a low table by the fireplace. Tall, thirty-something guys in expensive casual clothes, looking like a bunch of gracefully aging ski bums. He turned back to Markson with a grin. "Well, good luck. Anything I can do?"
"Actually, I think you're doing wonders just sitting there." Markson darted another quick glance toward the fireplace. "Hopefully they'll see you and think you're with me. Dammit, they're not looking. Oh, well."
"You want me to move my chair closer?" Blair teased. "You want to hold my hand or something?"
"I appreciate the offer, but I don't think they're on the make. Dammit," he added, smiling warmly. Markson raised his hand and ordered another round from the waiter.
>From time to time Blair tuned into a burst of laughter coming from the direction of the fireplace, noting with amusement that Markson couldn't help but stare every time he became aware of the group. And that Markson looked momentarily miserable every time he failed to catch their attention.
"They don't know what they're missing," Blair said quietly.
"It's okay," Markson replied, immediately cheerful again. "As Scarlett O'Hara says, 'Tomorrow is another day!'"
Just then there was another whoop of laughter from the table behind them, and Blair heard a voice say, "No, no! — I'm serious!"
"And I suppose I should go home and grade papers like a good little boy," Markson said, waving for the check.
Blair nodded and heard the voice behind him say, "I mean, maybe that's how they dress in Australia, but I swear to you, she looks like Elton John threw up on her — "
Blair felt his face going slack, tingling as the blood drained out of it. He swiveled violently in his chair, gripping the wooden back with fingers cold as ice, and hissed, "Holy shit!"
"What?" Markson frowned at him. "What is it?"
Blair turned around slowly. "Tim, that's my fucking roommate!"
"What?" Markson stared, and then suddenly laughed out loud. "Blair, you're kidding!"
"No! I'm not kidding!" said Blair, feeling suddenly, irrationally, distressed. "I'm not kidding," he repeated, and suddenly Markson tuned into his distress, and reached out to squeeze Blair's hand.
"Blair, it's okay," he said quietly. Blair blinked and snatched his hand back.
"No, it's not okay," Blair mumbled, staring down at the tabletop. "It's just not."
Markson looked at him sympathetically. "Maybe we should just go," he suggested softly.
"No." Blair chewed at the inside of his lip, staring at the tabletop, rubbing the wood with his finger, and then finally looked up. "Sorry. But I think I need to go over there."
Markson frowned, looking confused. "Okay. Sure. Whatever you want, okay?"
Blair nodded and stood up shakily, then turned and headed for the group by the fireplace.
Now that Blair was looking straight at them he could see that one of the men was, in fact, Jim Ellison. Jim, wearing jeans and a thick, unfamiliar white sweater, was slumped relaxedly in one of the club chairs, his long legs stretched out in front of him, crossed loosely at the ankles. He was engrossed in conversation, and didn't seem to notice Blair's approach.
" — trying to put me out of business," one of the other men was saying, with a stricken, self-righteous look on his face, and Blair saw Jim roll his eyes.
"You're so full of shit, Sam," someone else replied with a grin.
"Sammie's just doing her damsel in distress number," Jim declared with a wicked smirk, and the man called Sam flung out a hand and punched Jim in the arm.
Jim grabbed at his wounded arm and leaned away, putting on a shocked face. "You touch me again and I'll scream the place down," he said primly. The group burst out laughing.
"Jim," Blair said hoarsely.
Jim turned at the sound of his name, looked at him, and froze. Blair could see the quick flicker of surprise in the wide, familiar blue eyes — and then that was gone, and Jim was strangely unreadable, staring back up at him. Conversation stilled as the other men looked up at Blair, then back at Jim, waiting for their cue from him.
And then it seemed to Blair as if Jim relaxed even further into his chair. "Blair, hi," Jim said easily. "What are you doing here?"
"I had a drink with one of my profs." Blair made a vague gesture behind him. Even though the conversation seemed normal — normal enough, anyway — everything felt different, everything felt wrong. He couldn't take his eyes off Jim; he felt as if he had never seen him before. Jim was, somehow, unrecognizable to him, slumped there, in that chair, in that un-Jim-like posture. And Jim was staring at him like he was a stranger — hell, he felt like a stranger.
"Oh," said Jim, and then Jim forced his gaze away from Blair, looked around at the men surrounding him. "Guys, this is Blair Sandburg, my roommate." The men nodded at Blair with friendly expressions. "Blair, this is Sam, Larry, Eric, and Todd," said Jim, going around the circle and gesturing to each of the men as he introduced them.
"Hi," Blair managed, and received various murmured "Hellos" in return.
Jim stared at him again, considering him intently. "Pull up a chair. Sit down — have a drink."
"I — uh," Blair began, and then turned as Professor Markson gently touched his back.
"I paid the check," Markson said to him quietly.
Blair nodded. "Meet my roommate." He pointed Jim out. "Jim Ellison, this is Dr. Markson."
"Hi." Jim stood up and extended his hand.
"Nice to meet you," said Markson, stretching across the table to shake it. "Blair, I should go," he added quietly. "Do you want me to take you back to your car?"
"I'll take him home," Jim said, and Blair turned to stare at him. "If you want," Jim added softly, looking intently at Blair, and before he was even conscious of having made a decision, Blair felt himself nodding.
"Okay," Blair heard himself saying. "I could use another drink," and that much, at least, was true. He turned to Markson and said, "I'll see you tomorrow, right?"
Markson nodded, and patted Blair's arm gently. And then he leaned forward and murmured in Blair's ear, "Be careful, pretty boy," and Blair flushed, knowing that Jim could hear that. He nodded at Markson, and watched the older man cross the club to the exit before looking around and pulling a chair into the circle.
Jim had slumped back into his chair, and was sipping from his pint of beer, eyeing Blair curiously over the rim of the glass.
"So Ellie," drawled Larry, glancing from Blair to Jim, "is this sweet young thing one of your many conquests?" Larry was the oldest man at the table, and Blair could see deep smile lines around his warm eyes.
"No," Jim replied slowly, putting his pint down among the others on the table. And then he grinned and added, "I've been completely ladylike — I haven't laid a hand on him." The other men laughed at this, and the circle of friends relaxed again.
"Well, maybe just a hand," Jim amended after a considering moment. "But a hand only — I swear."
Blair looked up and saw Jim smiling at him warmly. He smiled back.
"Ladylike my ass," Sam snorted. "You're losing your touch and you know it. Face it, Ellie, you've been off your game since you became a civilian."
"Speaking of which, you all heard that Miss Patsy got promoted again, right?" Blair vaguely recalled the speaker as Eric, a sweet-faced blond who looked young until Blair saw the faint sadness in the clear blue eyes.
The others turned to look at him. "No," Sam said. "Really?"
"Really. She got her wings — Lieutenant Colonel, I think."
Jim whistled his approval.
"Holy shit," Sam exclaimed. "Well, God save that queen," and everyone laughed again.
"I never thought she had it in her," Larry said.
Eric laughed. "Honey, Patsy's had it in her twice a week since she turned eighteen."
"You know," Jim mused, "if she keeps her Judy Garland albums in brown paper wrappers and her hands off the Privates' privates, Patsy's really going to go places."
"Look who's talking," Sam snorted. "You always had an eye for a pretty Private."
"I'll see that bet and I'll raise you one," Larry said to Sam, cocking an eyebrow at him. "I remember when Ellie was a pretty Private. That's how fucking old I am."
"Thanks a lot, Larry." Jim made a face at him. "You don't have to make it sound like the Stone Age."
"Hey, at least you have a marvelous past." Sam grinned at him.
"A great ass from the past," Eric chimed in.
"Remembrance of Asses Past," topped Sam.
"Fuck you all," Jim pronounced with great dignity.
"Don't listen to them, Jim." Todd had been sitting quietly, just like Blair, listening. He was smoking a cigarette, and leaned forward to tap the ash into a tray. "You've still got everything you ever had."
"Thank you," said Jim, and Blair looked at Todd only to find Todd glancing over at him. They exchanged oddly forced smiles.
"I just love an unbiased opinion." Sam rolled his eyes.
Jim gave him a wounded look. "You know, you're supposed to be my fucking friend."
"Friends don't lie," Sam replied, grinning. "Sorry, honey."
"No, seriously, Ellie," Larry said. "You were a hell of a pretty Private." The older man stopped short and laughed. "I can still remember Hoffman's face when you got off that damn truck the first day."
Sam frowned. "Hoffman? I thought he hated you," Sam said, turning to Jim.
"Hated?" Larry snorted. "Hoffman was obsessed with him."
"No, no," Sam continued, frown deepening. "Because I remember, early on, he was always giving Ellie shit, making him — " and then he stopped and laughed. "Do pushups," he added, finally, and the table exploded with laughter. "One armed push-ups," Sam said ruefully, a smile splitting his face. "Oh, fuck."
"Now you're getting the picture, Sammie." Jim grinned at him.
"He liked to watch those muscles working," added Larry, waggling his eyebrows. "'Seventy-eight. Seventy-nine,'" he mimicked.
Jim shook his head. "Actually, he was okay, really. A sweet guy, underneath. I was some sort of fantasy for him, and I was happy to play along — until it just got to be too much."
Sam looked at him inquisitively, and Jim sighed. "See, Hoffman was really tight with that other captain, what was his name, Larry? C Company?"
"Bushman? Brunswick? Chuck Brunswick?"
"Brunswick, right, but I think his name was Ed. Ed Brunswick. So Hoffman was friends with Brunswick, but they were really competitive, and Brunswick had just gotten this — " Jim stopped and coughed theatrically into his fist — "attache, if you follow me," and again the table howled with laughter, and Ellison grinned, "who was this black Adonis. A real piece of work that guy was — outrageous, right? And everyone knew that Brunswick was fucking his attache — "
"I didn't know," Sam complained.
"Yeah, well, Virginia, you didn't know much of much, back then. You weren't clued into the scene yet." Jim stopped and looked over at Blair, who was sitting, quietly, just outside the circle, sipping his beer. "It wasn't like — this was very underground, Blair, the kind of thing that you knew if you knew it, otherwise you didn't know, you follow?" Blair just nodded.
Jim turned his attention back to the group. "But even people who weren't supposed to know knew that Brunswick was doing this guy, which impressed certain people in certain circles, and so Hoffman got it into his head that he wanted people to know that he was doing me — and I was like, no way, because I wasn't some fucking attache. I was a fucking Ranger, I had a career, right? So I balked, and started pulling away, and then he got, I mean, crazy fucking jealous, grilling me after every furlough I got — where was I? who was I doing? what kind of fucking slut was I? — really abusive shit: Larry, you remember, don't you?" He waited for Larry to nod. "And anyway that was the really bad part of it, Sammie. That's when Hoffman really started to give me hell, and that was just it, I had to get out of there." He drew a deep breath. "So I transferred. Sayonara."
"But you gotta admit, Ellie, the guy did wonders for your upper body development," teased Larry. "'One hundred and thirty four, one hundred and thirty-five...'"
"Yeah, I owe him some muscles."
"Throat muscles," muttered Eric softly, and Jim raised his eyebrows and glared at him.
"Bitch," Ellison deadpanned.
"Takes one," said Eric, blowing Jim a kiss.
"All right, I hate to break this up, but I've gotta go home," said Larry. "I'm exhausted."
"Old bones," said Sam, grinning at him.
"It's not that, he just doesn't sleep enough," explained Eric, and Blair realized with a start that Larry and Eric were a couple. "He still does these fucking long hours at the clinic."
"Can't you get them to give you a break?" asked Jim. "You must have seniority there by now."
Larry shook his head. "It's just overcrowding — everyone's schedule is overloaded, and then there are always last minute emergencies..." He sighed, and then got to his feet. "You know the drill, Ellie: you're a cop. They need you, you turn up."
"Still, you've got to take care of yourself. Eric, take care of him," Jim added quietly.
"I'm trying, honest," said Eric, "except he's such a fucking pain in the ass."
Then everyone was standing, and hugging, and exchanging pecks on the cheek, saying goodbye. Blair found himself mumbling, "Nice to meet you," over and over again. He tensed up, watching Todd approach Jim, drawing him aside a step or two to chat quietly with him. Todd hadn't been the only one to kiss Jim, but he was the only one to kiss Jim, and even at a distance Blair could see the promise in that kiss. The invitation to something more.
But Jim only smiled and turned to pull Sam into a tight hug, and he still had his arm slung around Sam as they ambled, as a group, to the door, the stairs, the street.
The night had gotten colder, and they quickly split up into groups and waved, shouting promises to call each other, to do this again soon. Blair shivered and wrapped his arms tightly around himself as he followed Jim into the parking lot, to the truck.
"Brrr," said Jim, turning the heat on in the truck as soon as he started the engine. "Jesus," he said, turning to Blair, "I'm cold — you must be freezing."
"I'm all right," Blair replied, pulling his hands up into the sleeves of his shirt.
"Yeah?" The question seemed somehow loaded.
"Yeah." Blair looked out the window on his side.
They drove in silence for a while. His thoughts felt as if they were spinning out of control — there was so much he wanted to ask, so much he wanted to say, but words seemed impossible. The questions seemed rude — or rather, they seemed rude to ask Jim. Or rather, they seemed rude to ask the man sitting across from him, who was Jim, who wasn't Jim, who was his friend, who was, suddenly, a stranger.
Finally there was only one question that kept rising to the surface of Blair's thoughts. It was a short question, and he thought he could actually ask it without dropping dead on the spot, and he had to ask something, had to say something, because if he couldn't — well, then, they really were going to be strangers again, strangers forever.
So he turned to Jim and blurted, "What about Carolyn?"
Jim glanced sharply at him, looking somewhat shocked, then turned his eyes back to the road — saying nothing, only tightening his fingers on the wheel. Blair could feel his heart beating quickly in his chest, and he felt like he was on the verge of a panic attack, because he had asked his question and Jim was refusing to answer. The conversation was over before it began, and the consequences of that were simply too devastating to contemplate.
Blair swallowed and closed his eyes.
"I got tapped for covert ops in 1985."
Blair opened his eyes and looked at his partner expectantly, but Jim had his eyes fixed firmly ahead. His brow was furrowed. After a long pause he kept going.
"It was the second term of the Reagan era. Big defense budget, lots of special projects. They kept me pretty busy for a couple of years. And then I was in Peru, but you know all about that."
Blair nodded, although he wasn't sure Jim saw it, although he was suddenly far from sure that he knew anything about anything. He wrapped his arms around his chest and settled into his seat, watching Jim drive, watching Jim not looking at him.
"Thing is," Jim said, "with one thing and another I was pretty out of it for five years. Cut off from what was going on in the world. The first major magazine I saw after all that had my picture on it."
Another long pause, and finally Jim took a deep breath. "So when that was over, I came back to Cascade, and bought the loft, and tried to get back to something like a normal life. I started calling my friends, you know, just wanting to catch up.
"And half of them were dead." Jim's voice was so tight now that he had to stop and clear his throat. "More than half."
This was hell. A hell of confusion, listening to this man talk-this stranger, sitting opposite him — this man whom he didn't know at all. At that moment Blair suddenly wished for his Jim back, wished so hard it almost hurt. Wanted this pained stranger to go away and give him back the Jim Ellison he knew.
When Jim spoke again, his voice had an edge of anger to it. "See, it didn't hit me gradually," he ground out. "It wasn't like with everybody else, creeping up on the edge of your consciousness, headlines getting larger and larger. It was like WHAM!" and Blair jumped slightly at the vehemence in Jim's voice, " — a different world, and everybody's dead. You go away, you come back, and everything's gone, everyone's gone, everything's different. It was a different world, 1990."
Blair stared at him across the cab of the truck, willing Jim to turn around, willing Jim to look at him, to see the confusion in his eyes, to explain himself, to make everything okay the way Jim always did, eventually, make everything okay. But Jim didn't look at him. Jim just kept staring out the front window, staring down the dark road ahead.
"It took me a year to work up the nerve to get myself tested," Jim said softly. "I was sure I had it. Sure of it. And I just couldn't handle that I had just survived all of that shit just to come back and..." He trailed off, gritting his teeth, and a muscle in his smooth cheek twitched violently.
"I was so fucking sure. Because I had been — there seemed no reason not to. It was a different world — you can't have any idea," Jim said, and there was an appeal for understanding in his voice. A tiny, helpless smile played at the corners of his mouth. "If you scheduled your time right, you could fuck twelve people on a weekend pass. It was like, 'Hi, how are you, wanna fuck?' 'Yeah, sure.' Condoms were a fucking birthcontrol device — and barring an act of God, that wasn't gonna happen. So nobody used them. Different world," Jim repeated softly, and then he sighed.
"And so finally I worked myself up to get the test. Larry was my doctor; he did it for me. I was so shit scared, Blair — I had to have Sam with me when I went for the results. I was shit scared out of my mind — and then when they were negative I just couldn't... I just felt..." Jim shook his head quickly, looking helpless and lost.
"It was like a telegram from God, you know?" Jim whispered finally. "I just thought, 'It's over, the party's over, everything's over.' I thought, 'Ellison, this a good time to be exploring other options.'"
Jim turned the truck onto Prospect, sailed down the street and pulled up in front of a parking spot, put the truck into reverse.
"So I started dating women," Jim said, finally, turning to look back over his shoulder as he backed the truck into the spot. "I bought condoms. I changed my look. I married Carolyn." He shifted the car into park, turned the engine off, and sighed again.
"Except..." Jim mused thoughtfully, shrugging. "Well, I learned that relationships based on desperation don't last." He turned his head to look at Blair, the first time he had looked at Blair since this surreal conversation had started. "Because desperation doesn't last, you know? Which is a good thing, really, all in all," Jim added, smiling wryly. "You just can't stay desperate for that long." He pulled the keys out of the ignition and reached for the door handle. "It wears off."
Jim was outside the truck and had locked and slammed the door before Blair realized that he, too, should be moving. He looked up to see Jim frowning, peering back in through the driver's side door; he tapped the glass, and Blair instinctively reached for his own door, opening it and stepping out.
And those seemed to be Jim's final words on the subject. They walked into their building, up to the loft, in silence. They entered the apartment, and Jim locked the door behind them. For a moment they stood there, awkwardly, in the dim living room, and then Jim said, "So, anyway. It's pretty late."
"Yeah. It is."
"Very late. It's an early morning tomorrow."
"I'll be ready."
"Oh, I'm sure you will be," Jim amended immediately. "I didn't mean... Well, you know."
"I know," Blair said, and Jim nodded again.
"Right. Well. Good night." Jim turned toward the steps to his bedroom.
"Good night," Blair responded instantly, grateful to be back on social autopilot. "It was a — " He stopped short, cursing mentally, realizing that he had been about to say, "It was a nice evening." Except that it hadn't been; it hadn't been at all. That was totally the wrong response, and didn't have a thing to do with how he felt, how he was feeling — but dammit, he'd already committed to the sentence, and now there was no word to finish it.
Jim turned to look at him, and waited.
An interesting evening? An instructive evening? What the fuck was the word for what it was like to suddenly have reality split apart on you, so that suddenly you found yourself standing in a dark room, living in close quarters, with a stranger? What was the right adjective for that? Where the fuck was a thesaurus when you needed one?
"It was a trip," Blair said, finally, and Jim nodded slowly at this, and then turned back toward the steps to the loft as Blair crossed the room toward his own door.
Blair was already in bed, staring sleeplessly up at the ceiling, when it occurred to him that he hadn't remembered to tell Jim about winning the five hundred bucks.
"Sandburg. Sandburg!" barked Simon Banks, and Blair jumped, and turned his head quickly toward the Captain, eyes wide. "Are you with us?" Simon asked with faux sweetness.
"Yeah. Yes. Here," Blair said as fast as he could, but he hadn't been.
"Well, good to have you, Sandburg." Banks gave him a forced, sarcastic smile.
They were gathered around the conference table in Simon's office, and Simon was briefing them on some damn thing or other — Blair couldn't really remember, because he hadn't really been there.
He had been looking at Jim.
Jim would know what the hell Simon was talking about, Blair reflected, turning back to look at his partner. Because Jim was paying attention. Jim was intent. Jim was concentrating. Jim was Jim in all his coplike glory. Jim was in "Yeah, Ellison here," mode, thumbing through the evidence photos, taking notes, brain in high gear.
And Blair couldn't take his eyes off him.
Because this Jim might vanish at any second.
This Jim used to come home with him, and grumble through his Sentinel tests, and watch basketball on Sunday afternoons.
But not anymore.
Now he only saw this Jim at the station, or at sudden, weird times like when the cell phone rang, and then this Jim snapped to attention and flipped open the phone and growled, "Yeah, Ellison here."
Other than that, he had been sharing space and time with someone else, with a stranger in Jim Ellison's body.
His Jim used to tease him, and even abuse him a little. Crack jokes at his expense. Yell at him about keeping the loft clean.
The other Jim was quieter, more polite. Withdrawn, even. The stranger seemed to read a lot, and seemed to dislike sharing space with him. The stranger spent a lot of time up in his room, or out on the balcony, reading with eyes that had no trouble seeing in the dark — in spaces that were clearly marked, "Mine. Keep Out."
For the first time in his life, Blair was grateful for the long hours they put in at the station. Because Jim was Jim at the station, and for those long hours things were normal, things were like they used to be, like they were supposed to be.
"Sandburg! — oh, for God's sake." Simon pulled off his glasses irritably, and threw them down on the desk.
"Simon?" Blair asked, fearfully, wondering what exactly he had missed this time. He glanced back at Jim, and Jim shook his head at him, his lip curling up into a wry smile.
"Oh, just forget it," Banks said wearily. "It's late. Just get him out of here, Jim."
"I'm sorry, Simon," Blair said in a weak voice.
"Yeah, yeah, Sandburg. Drink some coffee tomorrow before you come in, okay? Get some sleep. Get that brain of yours back on line."
"Okay. I will. I'm really sorry."
"Go, go, go," Simon muttered. Blair nodded mutely, and followed his partner back out into the bullpen.
"All right, let's call this a day, shall we?" Jim straightened the papers on his desk tidily before reaching for his jacket.
"Okay," Blair said, though he didn't really want to, because he didn't have plans that night, and calling it a day meant going home and having to negotiate another evening with the stranger.
He didn't think he could handle it.
Back at the loft he thought he was going to strangle when Jim made himself a sandwich and grabbed a book and made to head out onto the balcony.
And then suddenly, he really couldn't take it any more.
"Jim?" he said, and Jim stopped, a few steps from the balcony doors, and turned to him expectantly.
"Jim, are you mad at me?" Blair asked abruptly.
He'd been expecting an instant, pro-forma denial, but instead Jim frowned, and seemed to be genuinely thinking over the question.
"Yeah," Jim admitted finally. "Yeah, I think I am, a little."
"Why?" Blair whispered, stricken. "Why?"
Jim sighed. "I guess I'm tired of playing caveman for you," he said. "I think I'd like to play something else. Just, you know, for the change."
Blair blinked. "Playing caveman?" he repeated incredulously.
"Yeah. You know, this thing we do. 'Caveman Sentinel and Brainy Anthropologist.' It's kind of getting old, isn't it?"
"'Cave — ' I never asked you to play anything."
"No, that's true," Jim said softly, putting his sandwich and his book down carefully on the endtable. "It's my fault. I was thinking with my dick," he added ruefully, not quite looking at Blair. "Not like it was the first time."
Blair found himself getting angrier still. "What the fuck are you talking about?" he demanded.
"It's just — you made perfectly clear what you wanted. From me. What you needed to make your dissertation work. You remember — 'Throwback to a pre-civilized form of man', or whatever the hell it was? You told me who I was before I ever had a chance to tell you who I was. So I thought, 'Right, I can do that.' I thought it would make you happy. Except now I'm trapped in it, and it's making me miserable."
Blair felt like his brain was leaking out of his ears. "Wait, wait, wait!" he demanded. "You're telling me — what? — you've been playing caveman because you thought it would make me happy? Because you thought that's what I needed for my dissertation?"
"Yeah," Jim admitted miserably, throwing himself down on the sofa and sprawling across it. He took a deep breath and then looked up at Blair, challengingly. "And don't tell me that that wasn't what you wanted. I know it was. I mean, frankly Sandburg..." He stopped and shook his head. "I've never met anybody so invested in ideas of the natural, the primitive, the tribal — it's your thing, Sandburg, you're practically orgasmic over it..."
"Holy God." Blair sank into a chair and covered his face with his hands.
"And I'm not saying," Jim continued, "that there isn't some truth to that. Especially with the Sentinel thing. I mean, I admit it — sometimes I feel like beating my chest, you know? Sometimes there are instincts...imperatives..." He stopped, and made a face. "But you know — sometimes I just feel like buying shoes. This box you've put me in — it's too tight, Blair. I'm stifling in here," Jim said softly.
"So why did you do it?" Blair whispered, dropping his hands from his face.
"I told you, I wanted to make you happy," Jim said with a tiny shrug. "Because, well — " He let his head fall back into the couch cushions so he could stare up at the ceiling, " — you were very pretty, and I've always been a bit of a sucker for that. I'd have done pretty much anything you wanted. If you thought Sentinels were like Eleanor Roosevelt, I would have done it for you. I do a mean Eleanor Roosevelt," he added, smiling.
"So hang on," said Blair, glaring at him. "You're telling me you've spent three years playing Sentinel-caveman because you wanted to make me happy because I was pretty?"
Jim pushed himself up on his elbows, considered this, and then started laughing. "Well, yeah, that's about the size of it. I mean, just at first, you know? After that — well, then I liked you, and you were really helpful and fun to be around, and so I couldn't drop it. But when you came to the club the other night — well, at first I was frankly terrified, but then I thought, 'Hell, this is the exit door. This is my way out.' So I had to take it.
"I figured..." He broke off, and then shrugged. "I figured that it might be a way of, well, gently introducing you to the idea that I might have many sides, you know? Play many roles. Like we all do. I mean, fine, I'm a Sentinel, but it's not — that's not all, okay? And, yeah, I'm a damn good cop, but that's not all either. There's just...more of me. More to me. I thought maybe you were ready to see that. So, you know...." For a moment he looked strikingly vulnerable, and then his face closed down, and Blair found himself back with Jim-the-stranger. "But you haven't had two words to say to me since."
"I didn't know what to say," Blair said softly.
"Yeah," acknowledged Jim quietly. "Well. And maybe I'm a little mad about that, too. I mean, you've been studying me for all this time, and — you think you know so much. Except — " He stopped, and sighed. "Except that somehow you never managed to learn anything important."
"I'm sorry." Blair swallowed dryly.
"It's okay, I guess," Jim said, looking away.
Blair nodded silently. "So. Where exactly does this leave us?"
Jim shrugged, then looked at Blair intently. "I don't know. I guess that's up to you."
Blair nodded again at this, and stared at the floor for a few minutes, thinking hard. And then he lifted his head. "So, you thought I was pretty?"
Jim stared at him, and then nodded slowly. "Yeah," replied Jim softly. "You were pretty. You are pretty. Very. I was thinking with my dick that day. I just saw you and you were — hell, you know..." murmured Jim. "Beautiful face. Beautiful mouth — you were the cocksucker of my dreams."
Jim blinked suddenly, and Blair found himself perilously poised between shock and laugher. "I mean that," Jim said, face stricken, "in the, um, nicest possible way, of course."
Blair laughed, laughter beating out shock by a nose. "Of course," he replied gravely.
"Just so we're clear," Jim added, rolling over on his side to see Blair more easily.
"I think things are getting clearer." Blair scooted forward, sitting on the edge of his chair. "So," he said nervously, "just for curiosity's sake..."
"What would that first day have been like? If, say, I hadn't instantly categorized you, labeled you, and filed you under C for 'Caveman'?"
Jim laughed. "I don't know. I guess...well, I guess that lots of things could have happened," and there was a quiet confidence in Jim's voice that made Blair shiver.
"Oh yeah?" Blair countered, hearing the breathless mixture of anxiety and desire in his own voice.
"Yeah," Jim said roughly. His eyes were growing darker by the second.
Blair swallowed hard. "Like what?"
Jim's glance turned assessing; his eyes narrowed. "Do you really want to go there, Blair?" he asked softly.
Blair realized with a start that he was breathing hard. "Yeah," he whispered. "I want to go there. Take me there. "
Jim hesitated for only a moment, and then he sat up, rolled to his feet, and took the few steps over to Blair's chair. Standing in front of him like this, Jim seemed huge, and Blair craned his neck to look up at him — eyes traveling up from groin to abdomen to chest to face. He locked gazes with Jim, and he could hear the labored sound of his own breathing loud in his ears. He became aware that his mouth was open, became aware that he was breathing through his mouth.
For a moment, as Jim reached toward him, Blair thought that Jim was simply going to unzip his pants and slide his cock into Blair's open mouth, the mouth of his dreams, and that would have been okay, he could have gone with that, he wanted that too: Jim's cock in his mouth.
He could see in Jim's eyes that Jim was considering it, and he tried to show in his own eyes that it was okay, that that would be more than okay. And he had even begun to lean forward, toward Jim's groin, dizzy with the heat of it — when Jim suddenly grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet.
Jim was breathing hard, too, and Jim propelled him back a few steps with powerful arms, long fingers tightly gripping his shirt, holding him tightly, holding him at arm's length.
"I...uh...my name is Blair Sandburg — " Blair whispered, looking into Jim's eyes. And then those long fingers tensed, and pulled him nearer, and Jim was big and hot and hard and oh, so close —
" — and I'm working on my doctorate in anthropology. "
Jim bent his head slowly towards him, and Blair shuddered.
"And you just may be — "
Jim's breath was hot against his cheek, and then his lips were brushing Blair's face slowly, ghosting over a cheekbone, toward his mouth.
" — may be — " Blair stuttered, feeling the tip of Jim's tongue teasing the corner of his mouth before sweeping across his jawline, toward his ear. Then Jim was tonguing his earring lazily, taking his time, laving his earlobe, darting his tongue playfully through the ring before sliding up around his ear's rim.
" — the living embodiment of — "
And thank God Jim was holding him up, because his legs were weak.
" — my field of — "
And then Jim's lips were on his, and Blair reached out and clutched at Jim's shirt, feeling the soft fabric bunching up in his fingers and the hard, warm pectoral muscles underneath. Jim's hands were everywhere, on his shoulders, sliding down his back, groping his ass, and Jim's tongue was in his mouth, filling him; he opened his mouth to let Jim in, to feel that hot, expert tongue within him, stimulating every soft, wet, sweet spot.
Jim pushed forward, and Blair stumbled backward, driven by the relentless press of Jim's strong, hard body against his. He felt the wall against his back, and there was nowhere else to go, and still Jim pushed forward, driving forward, gently trapping Blair against the wall with his weight as they kissed, nearly crushing him with his warmth, his heat, his intensity.
Then Jim's mouth was skittering across his face, kissing him gently, and Jim's hand was on his cock, caressing it with the flat of his palm through the denim of Blair's jeans, fondling him roughly, rubbing harder and harder as Blair got harder and harder beneath him. Blair could hear himself breathing like a freight train, and feel himself starting to sweat, but god! Jim knew just how to touch him, knew exactly how to touch him.
Suddenly Jim's hand slowed for a sensitive, thorough exploration of Blair's dick. "You mess with me, man," Blair whispered, feeling strong fingers tracing his shape, gauging his length, and thickness, "and you are never gonna figure out what's up with you..."
Jim's fingers began unbuttoning Blair's jeans, slowly tugging his zipper down.
"I know about your time spent in Peru." Blair let his head fall back against the wall. He was panting hard now. "And it has got to be connected with what's happening now."
Jim took the opportunity to lay a series of slow, hot kisses on his neck. "What's this got to do with me?" Jim murmured huskily into Blair's throat.
"I've got hundreds — -" Jim was unbuttoning his shirt with gentle fingers, " — and hundreds — " Jim ran his hand down the narrow strip of exposed chest, touching, teasing, stimulating, " — of documented cases of one or two hyperactive senses, but — ohhh," and now Jim bent forward, trailing his tongue down that strip of exposed flesh, mouthing his chest hair, kissing his belly wetly.
Then Jim was on his knees before him, and he looked up to stare at Blair as his fingers grasped the two open flaps of Blair's fly. Blair looked down at Jim's upturned face, transfixed by the beauty of his features, and the naked desire in his expression.
"But I could be the real thing," Jim said softly.
Blair nodded, face twisted with longing. "And you," Blair choked between gasping breaths, "need someone — who — understands — your condition."
He watched dizzily as Jim tugged his jeans and underwear down over his hips, and then leaned forward to kiss his erection — kissing top and head and sides thoroughly and repeatedly, before sliding his lips down one side of the shaft and burying his face at the base, pressing his face into Blair's curly pubic hair, breathing him in, one arm wrapped tightly around his waist, the other around his legs.
Blair became aware of a soft, keening sound before realizing it was coming from him. He felt Jim's hot breath at his groin, felt Jim's cheek caressing the side of his cock, felt him clutching him with muscular arms — and it was too much, the intimacy of it all was overwhelming. He was grateful for the wall behind him, for its strength and support.
Jim turned his head slightly and began to lave the root of Blair's cock. Even through the fog of pleasure Blair felt a sharp shiver of surprise: no one had ever worshipped his body like this, and some part of him couldn't believe that Jim Ellison, of all people, would be such an open and uninhibited lover. Would turn out to be, in fact, the cocksucker of his dreams. But Jim was utterly focused on his dick, seriously working it, learning it, loving it with his lips and his tongue. It was, Blair thought dimly, almost surreal to watch him do it, although the effects were making him weak-kneed, and he was close to hyperventilating.
Finally, Jim pulled his arm from Blair's waist and took the base of Blair's cock into his fist, never looking up as he took the top three inches into his mouth.
"Bang!" Blair whispered breathlessly, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back against the wall. "Holy Grail time..."
Jim's mouth was warm and wet and wonderful, and Jim was sucking him skillfully, stimulating his cockhead with the flat of his tongue in counterpoint, stroking down the length of him as he slid forward into Jim's mouth. Blair flailed backward with his hands, groping frantically against the smooth wall, sliding over it with his palms, trying desperately to hang on.
Blair realized in a sudden flash of clarity that at the very top of the list of important things he somehow hadn't managed to learn about Jim Ellison was the fact that he gave head like a fucking expert. Christ almighty — talk about your goddamn methodological limitations!
In a few minutes Blair was sobbing aloud, his loud cries echoing through the living room. He couldn't even be bothered to be embarrassed — that was pointless, because he was completely incapable of stopping. Age, experience, heightened senses — whatever the fuck Jim had, hell he had it! Christ! And he needed to come, he couldn't stand it anymore, simply couldn't stand the ecstasy of it, couldn't fucking survive another trip to the edge and back — he was going to die right here, with his cock in his partner's mouth. He'd be found face down on the floor, pants shoved down around his thighs. He couldn't let go of the wall, Jim wouldn't let go of him — Jim was holding his legs tightly, sucking him off furiously, and it was heaven, it was hell, it was wonderful, unbearable, and he could hear himself begging incoherently, not knowing what he was begging for, but feeling wide-open, split apart, empty — desperate for something.
And then Jim gently removed his hand from Blair's cock and returned his arm to its former position around Blair's waist. He tightened his arms and pulled Blair closer to him, pulled Blair into him, pulled Blair's cock deep into his mouth, into his throat, and that was it, Blair jerked and seized and immediately began spurting come into Jim's mouth, coming so hard it was almost painful, completely out of control. He felt horribly, terribly young, and sort of distantly embarrassed, because he thought he knew about this, thought he knew about sex, but suddenly he felt like a tourist, like the tourists who saw Big Ben and Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey and thought they knew London, but didn't know shit.
Because maybe he had sucked and been sucked, and fucked and been fucked, but he had never felt like this — like screaming and banging his head rhythmically against the wall with the sheer fucking joy of it. He had never felt anything like this — held tightly by strong arms, given the support, the safety net, to just go fucking out of his mind — to give it all up, give everything over, lose it completely — to come completely, empty himself completely, without inhibitions or shame or fear, because he would be caught if he fell. He knew that Jim would catch him.
He gave himself over to it, let himself relax, let his muscles fall slack, let Jim hold him up as he came, as his cock twitched and spurted jet after jet of semen into Jim's mouth, down Jim's throat, and Jim's arms never faltered or weakened around him. Jim was taking it all, taking everything he had, and Blair closed his eyes and felt Jim swallowing, caressing his cock with his throat muscles, (thank you Hoffman, you asshole), keeping him on the knife's edge of pleasure, triggering wave after wave of orgasm.
Then it was as if a great weight had been lifted off him, and he felt suddenly light and suddenly dizzy, but Jim was holding him up, holding him up with strong arms wrapped around his lower body. He sighed and looked down, and Jim was still sucking him gently, sucking him through the aftershocks. Finally Jim let his semi-soft cock slide out of his mouth and leaned forward to kiss it.
"Your cock is beautiful," Jim murmured into the tender flesh, and then he kissed it softly again and again, like it was a baby, like it was a lover.
Blair closed his eyes gratefully as Jim changed the position of his arms, changed his grip on Blair's body, letting him slide down the wall, letting him sink down to the floor.
They sat together against the wall. Blair leaned forward and let his head fall onto Jim's shoulder while he regrouped. Jim's arms loosely encircled his shoulders; he reached forward and slid his arms around Jim's torso.
Jim dropped his face gently into Blair's hair. "Was it good, baby?" he murmured. "Was it good for you?"
Blair lifted his head to look at Jim, unable to speak, hoping that Jim would see everything in his face, in his eyes.
Jim stared at him for a moment, and then whispered, "Kiss me. Kiss me, please."
Blair lifted his hands to touch Jim's face, and then pulled it towards him and kissed him, trying to put everything into it, everything he had: love and lust and gratitude.
Jim opened his mouth and accepted him, accepted it all, and Blair slid his tongue into Jim's mouth as they fell, almost in slow motion, to their sides on the floor, still holding on to each other.
They kissed slowly, wetly, at first, until Blair found himself kissing Jim more aggressively, more eagerly, feeling that Jim had given him so much, that he still had so much he wanted to give Jim.
Jim moaned softly and seemed to soak up his affection, his passion, twisting his head so that Blair could suck his neck, unbuttoning his shirt so that Blair could touch his chest.
Suddenly Jim took Blair's hand in his, and pulled it to his erection, and pressed Blair's open palm against it.
"Touch me," Jim said quietly. Blair closed his eyes as he felt Jim reaching down to unbutton his pants and unzip his zipper. And then his hand was on the hard, smooth heat of Jim's cock, and Jim's hand was covering his own.
Jim turned his head and captured Blair's lips, and then started to move Blair's hand against his erection, masturbating himself with Blair's touch, Blair's fingers.
Blair began to breathe hard again, feeling Jim's velvet hard penis sliding in his hand, feeling Jim's lips on his, and he could hear Jim breathing harder, harder and harder as he used Blair's hand to touch himself.
He tried to concentrate, tried to remember how Jim was touching himself, what he wanted, what he needed, how he liked it. Then Jim's lips pulled off his, and Jim let his head fall back against the floor, and he closed his eyes, face contorted with pleasure, as he sped Blair's hand on his cock, faster and faster.
Jim rolled onto his back, and Blair leaned toward him, feeling Jim's leaking cock sliding into and out of his fist. Blair leaned over and touched Jim's face gently with his free hand, tracing the fine features gently, caressing the soft lips.
Jim opened his mouth, and Blair sucked in a breath before sliding two fingers into his mouth. Jim moaned his pleasure and began to suck on them, simultaneously tightening his grip on Blair's other hand, and thrusting up hard into it with his hips.
Blair pulled his fingers slowly from Jim's mouth, and then slid his arm under Jim's neck, anchoring himself to Jim's warm body. Jim squeezed Blair's hand, closing it tightly around his dick, and Blair could see spasms of pleasure cross Jim's face. And then Jim moved Blair's hand again, teasing himself, speeding and slowing, speeding and slowing.
"Grab harder," Jim whispered, and Blair tightened his fist, feeling the hot, hard flesh throbbing against his palm. Jim let out a soft cry as he thrust up into their joined hands. "Oh yeah," he hissed. "Oh yeah," and he was breathing harder now.
"Is it good?" Blair whispered back, leaning forward to brush his lips against Jim's sweaty forehead. "Is it good, lover?"
"Oh yeah," Jim answered, groaning. "Oh yeah — it's fucking good." His free hand moved to his own chest, and he fingered a furiously erect nipple, then tugged at it in time with the movements of their joined hands on his cock.
"Oh god," Blair cried softly, reacting to the sight, and Jim froze for a second, tensing at the sound of his voice. And then he clutched Blair's hand in his and stroked himself furiously, bucking upwards with his hips, staring up at Blair's face with unseeing blue eyes.
"Kiss me," Jim hissed again. "Kiss me hard," and Blair immediately bent down and pressed his lips to Jim's, tightening his arm around Jim's neck and gluing their mouths together, and then he felt Jim shuddering beneath him, spilling over onto his hand, and he held on tightly, kissing him, kissing him for all he was worth.
Jim was moaning underneath him, but Blair held on, and slid his tongue into Jim's mouth and let him suck on it as he rode out his orgasm.
Gradually the kiss gentled, as Jim's body slowly stopped quaking; their lips slowed, caressing rather than devouring. And finally Blair lifted his head, and they looked at each other.
Jim's expression turned rueful. One hand slid over to touch the bare wood floor at his side. "I think I just got a splinter."
Blair grinned inanely. "I think I just got religion."
"Oh yeah?" Jim cocked a lazy eyebrow at him.
"Oh yeah." Blair propped himself up on his elbow and stared down at Jim's face. "Yeah oh yeah oh yeah."
Jim reached up with a hand and caressed Blair's cheek tenderly.
"I mean," Blair went on, leaning into Jim's hand, "I don't know what you call this, but it's a hell of a lot more fun than 'Caveman Sentinel and Brainy Anthropologist.'"
"What, this? — this lying on the living room floor thing?" Blair nodded. "I guess I'd call this us — I'd call this you and me."
"Hi," Blair whispered, laying his palm on Jim's chest. "My name is Blair Sandburg."
"Jim Ellison," Jim breathed softly. His lips curved in a radiant, easy smile. "I'm very, very pleased to finally meet you."