The Thought That Counts, (Conclusion)

by Francesca

     Disclaimers: 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!

     Warnings: 1) Language.  You know me.  2) Cliffhanger:  there's no happy ending yet, though there will be.  Eventually for them.  Soon for us.

     Notes: The conclusion of the story The Thought That Counts. Sorry it took so long, real life intervenes, alas. Bless you all for your patience. Feedback, as always, requested and very welcome.  

    Neither of them referred to what had just happened. There didn't seem to be that much to say, really.

    For a moment they just stared at Brackett's unconscious body, lying on the floor of the truck's cargo area. Then Jim kneeled next to him and handcuffed Brackett's wrists behind his back. When he looked up he saw that Blair was extending him a length of rope, and obligingly he tied Brackett's ankles together tightly.

    Standing, Jim reached for his cell phone to call for backup. He kept his eye on his partner, who wandered dazedly around the makeshift cell Brackett had designed for them. As he gave directions to their location, Jim noticed Blair investigating the small side table upon which lay Brackett's hypodermic. Blair slid open the table's rough wooden drawers, examined the contents, frowned.

    Jim turned away from his partner and lowered his voice as he narrated the last hour's events to Simon Banks.

    When he had finished speaking, he clicked the telephone shut and turned back to Blair.

    Blair was holding the hypodermic needle, still oddly calm.

    "Whattya say, Jim?" said Blair. "Just in case?"

    Jim looked at the tranquilizer in Blair's hands, then looked back at Blair's face. He wanted to assure Blair that Brackett wouldn't wake up any time soon, but he bit back the words. What on earth could his assurances possibly be worth after this?

    "Whatever you want," he replied sincerely, and Blair nodded, dropping to his knees beside the rogue CIA agent and roughly injecting him with the drug. Jim watched, thinking that if it hadn't been for Blair's inspired obfuscation about zone outs, they would still be prisoners, and Blair would have been drugging him right now.

    Blair stood and tossed the empty hypodermic back onto the table, then sat on the floor, leaning back against the wall of the truck. Jim came over and sat down next to him, and they just stared off into space together, waiting; there was no point to going outside, no need to see the sedan, no need to examine the body sprawled across the back seat with a hole through its forehead.

    And, really, there didn't seem to be that much to say. So they waited together quietly, both listening intently for the sound of sirens.

    The crime scene soon devolved into a mob scene, the death of Christopher Chase, 30, youngest son of Albert and Martha Chase, of the Cascade Chases, being big local news. A line of uniforms bearing nightsticks defended the area from the crush of reporters, trying to give the police and the forensic personnel and the coroner some space within which to work.

    Ellison and Sandburg gave their statements from Brackett's cargo bay prison, staying as far out of the public eye as possible. But the growing crowd outside was clearly audible, and Jim saw Blair jerking at the sound of every flashbulb, desperately trying to ignore the inane patter of the live television broadcasts: "We're here at the scene where Christopher Chase, youngest son of Albert and Martha Chase, of the Cascade Chases, was killed less than an hour ago..."

    Jim tried to lose himself in the familiarity of being at a crime scene, the routines of the work. He focused intently on the calm, orderly recitation of details — anything to keep him from considering the implications of his partner's strangely closed expression.

    So he was surprised to feel Blair's hand on his arm, drawing him aside, and his heart surged; Blair's touch, so familiar and normal, seemed to make everything snap back into perspective.

    "Do me a favor?" asked Blair, and Jim looked down at the pale, strained face and nodded.

    "Anything," he answered.

    "Stay with him?" Blair asked tightly. "I can't, I have to go. I have to do things."

    Jim considered this for a moment, and then nodded gently. "Okay," he said.

    Blair squeezed his arm once in thanks, and then moved away to arrange his exit. Jim watched as Blair was escorted to an unmarked police car. He watched the car start off slowly, forcing the crowd to part around it on either side, and then pull away and speed off, back toward Cascade.

    He assumed that Blair wanted to contact and comfort Chris's family. Chris's friends. To help arrange the funeral.

    To grieve himself, finally, privately.

    He assumed wrong.

    Jim kept his word to Blair, staying with Christopher Chase as his body was loaded into the coroner's van, staying with him during the ride back to the station, staying with him, standing guard, as the body was wheeled into the morgue, staying to fill out the paperwork, staying to hear the small, metal door click softly, finally, shut.

    And there wasn't anything else he could do then.

    On his way out he ran into Simon Banks and Henri Brown, who were conversing intently, standing over another sheet-covered body. They looked up at him as he approached.

    "You are one lucky bastard, Ellison," said Simon Banks, and Jim thought that was the most ironic thing that he had ever heard.

    "What, another homicide?" Jim asked, nodding at the corpse.

    Banks shook his head and pulled the sheet back. It was Brackett. Jim started.

    "That wasn't a tranquilizer," said Banks. "He was going to kill you."

    "Kidnapping, my ass," added Brown grimly.

    And Jim knew that was wrong. He knew Brackett. He knew that Brackett was, for all his faults, relatively plain-dealing. If he said it was a kidnapping, it was a kidnapping; if he said it was a tranquilizer, then it was a tranquilizer. Jim felt he was on pretty sure ground here, and opened his mouth to say so —

    — and then snapped it shut again. Because if he knew Brackett, which he thought he did, then that could only mean...

    Well, that could only mean that he didn't know Sandburg.

    And that was wrong too.

    Wasn't it?

    Jim thought back, frantically trying to recall the scene. He had seen Sandburg approach the table. He had seen Sandburg fumbling through the table drawers.

    He had turned away then.

    Was it possible? Would he have — could he have?

    Brackett had raised his gun and fired a bullet into Christopher Chase's brain.

    Wasn't that provocation enough, even for Sandburg?

    "Jim?" Simon asked concernedly, and Jim instantly came back to himself, and knew what he was going to say even as he was saying it.

    "That lying sonofabitch," said Jim Ellison.

    Leaving Brackett's body under Brown's watchful eye, Simon and Jim took the elevator back to Major Crimes.

    "Sandburg handled himself quite well, don't you think?" said Simon.

    Jim grunted noncommittally, mind still turning over Brackett's sudden death.

    Simon rubbed his face with his hands. "I mean, it's a hell of a thing," he said. "Losing a friend like that. But he kept it together, didn't he? Stayed professional the whole time. Kept his head."

    "Yes," Jim agreed, and then the elevator doors opened and they crossed the hallway into the bullpen.

    "He'll still have to see the shrink, of course," Simon added. "Which couldn't hurt — what's this?" he asked Rafe, who had extended a file folder to him.

    "Late breaking news," said Rafe, glancing anxiously at Jim.

    "Not more news," groaned Banks, flipping the file open as he strode into his office. "I don't think I can take any more news..."

    When Jim looked at Rafe he could see the gleam of sympathy in Rafe's eye, and he took a deep breath and waited for Banks to look up from the report and wave him into the office, which he did a moment later.

    Banks shut the door before he spoke, which Jim thought was a very bad sign indeed.

    "It's definitely a revenge plot, Jim. Not a kidnapping. Brackett wanted to destroy you and Sandburg."

    He has, Jim thought bleakly. "What do you mean?" he asked.

    Banks handed him the folder. "Brackett had an accomplice," said Banks —

    — and that was wrong too. Brackett worked alone, trusted no one; Jim thought that an accomplice was exceedingly unlikely, though he decided not to say so.

    "You think so?" asked Jim cautiously, steeling himself to open the report.

    "You'll have to tell him," said Simon wearily. "Soon, before he hears on the news. You have to break it to him gently, Jim — there's only so much anyone can take in a single day, and this could break the kid."

    Jim started reading and saw that it was a report of a fire at Rainier University, and he closed the file after the first paragraph, being quite a good enough detective to know what the rest of it would say, and moreover, the horror of exactly what it meant.

    He sat down slowly in a chair at the conference table. "Sandburg's office?" he asked, knowing the answer.

    "Yeah. Yeah. They caught it pretty early, but his desk and file cabinets have been completely destroyed. It was definitely arson — there was nothing inflammable which could have — "

    "No," Jim agreed. "It must have been arson. Brackett's accomplice."

    "You have to tell Sandburg."

    "Yes," said Jim, carefully keeping his voice and his words calm. "Can I go now?"

    "Yeah. You'd better," said Simon. "Carry your cell — I'll call you if anything else, god help us, comes up." Jim nodded and got up, moved for the door. "And Jim?" said Simon, and Jim turned to look back at him. "Tell the kid how sorry I am. How sorry we all are."

    Jim nodded and fled the station.

    As Jim pushed through the door to the loft he saw Sandburg coming out through the door of his room, dufflebag slung over his shoulder, and Sandburg was clearly startled, and Jim knew that Sandburg was going now, and knew also from his guilty expression that Sandburg knew that Jim knew that he was going, and Jim was just opening his mouth to say, "Don't go," when Sandburg seized control of the conversation and said, quickly, "Let me go, Jim," and it was over right then that instant, because Blair wasn't angry or argumentative or resentful or sullen (any of which he could have handled) but only pleading, and Jim was helpless in the face of that earnest plea for freedom, and would have been even if Sandburg hadn't rushed forward and rushed on desperately, "I've fixed everything, Jim, haven't I? No one knows except Simon and there's no proof anymore, anyway — and so you're safe, now. There's only Simon but that's okay, isn't it? — "

(and Jim thought bleakly that it was quite lucky for Simon that it was)

" — and you need someone on the inside to help you anyway and he can do practically everything for you that I can do, can't he? I mean, you'll be all right, won't you? You've learned so much, you haven't had problems in ages, you're handling it brilliantly, and so there isn't really any danger, anymore, is there? You'll be fine without me — and I've fixed everything now so I'm not leaving you worse off than when I found — than when we — than before, you know, am I? I think I've left everything, I'm leaving everything, in a good place, like it was before, and so you can carry on without me, can't you? I mean, it's time. I think it's time. People don't — well, people don't live with other people if they have other options. Not if — I mean, I'm nearly thirty, Jim. Nearly thirty and — Jim, I'd die for you, honest I would, but I just can't live for you anymore, and so you will let me go, won't you?"

    And Jim looked at him and nodded and then he closed his eyes and dialed his hearing down and stepped away from the door deliberately, and so he never knew the exact moment when Blair Sandburg left him.

    Jim couldn't quite bring himself to go to the station the next day, but he did go in the day after that, bringing Sandburg's observer's badge, abandoned with other bits and pieces, with him, and explaining, quite calmly, that Sandburg had quit. There was general dismay at this news, but Jim explained that Christopher Chase had been a great friend of Sandburg's and that Sandburg had been very upset at seeing his friend killed like that, and it had really robbed him, understandably, of his enthusiasm for police work, and this elicited many knowing sighs and sympathetic clucks and a grudging acceptance of the reasonableness of it.

    All except for Simon Banks, who ordered Jim into his office at the first possible opportunity and shut the door and asked, without preamble, "What about the Sentinel business?"

    Jim nearly replied, "What Sentinel business?" but he couldn't say that to Simon, and so he simply said, "He's gone off it. It's over."

    Simon seemed to have trouble processing this. "But what about all your problems and — and Sandburg's dissertation and — "

    And Jim felt that he owed Simon Banks something more of an explanation and so he said, quietly, "Sandburg and Christopher Chase were lovers."

    Simon blinked and said, "Oh. Oh. Oh, fuck," a sentiment with which Jim agreed heartily. "Fucking hell," said Simon, sitting down in his chair.

    "Yeah," agreed Jim.

    "Fucking hell," said Simon again, taking this in, and then he looked at Jim and his face clouded with concern. "But Jim, will you be able to — ?"

    "Yeah, I will," said Jim reassuringly, and that was perfectly true. He was better with Sandburg but he thought he could manage quite well on his own.

    And now there was no Brackett to blackmail him and no documentation of his abilities hanging over his head. Because Blair had fixed everything. Because Blair's final act as his partner had been to protect him from all that.

    "You're sure?" asked Simon warily, and of course Jim wasn't sure, how could one be sure — but he thought so, though of course it didn't matter, because he didn't want, couldn't have, Blair staying with him out of obligation. He could have, he supposed, guilted Blair into staying, except he just couldn't have, because it simply wasn't true, because he thought he could manage all right without him, practically speaking, and even now he really didn't give a flying fuck whether or not Blair ever came into the station again, because what he really wanted was — was — well, to watch Sandburg eating Chinese food straight from the carton — naked, if possible — but he couldn't explain that to Simon, and so he simply said, "Yes, I'm sure."

    "Okay," relented Simon. "If you say so. I suppose I can always call him if something really strange happens."

    Jim wasn't at all sure of that either, but it seemed better not to say so, and so he just agreed and went back to work.

    But there was simply no not inquiring as to his whereabouts, and so Jim very quickly found that Sandburg was staying in Room 504 of the Hotel Buenavista, which, despite its pretentious name really wasn't very nice at all. However, it had a very reasonable weekly rate, and en suite bathrooms.

    And Jim was determined not to call, and he remembered the phone number only because he was a detective and thus trained to remember things like that, and there wasn't anything to be said, anyhow.

    There must have been a moment, Jim mused, a moment that was the right moment, where it all would have been all right, but he had missed it. And there had been no way to get Blair back when Christie Chase was alive, and it was worse now that he was dead, and Blair's moving out had rendered the entire thing absolutely impossible, because how could he ever get Blair to believe that he loved him and wanted him back, and not the services of the Guide, because Blair was quite capable of analyzing the situation and concluding that any declaration of love was simply Jim indulging him sexually to get him back on the project, or just to make him happy, because, after all, Jim had done it before, hadn't he, with his two kisses a year —

    Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck.

    The next day was Christopher Chase's funeral, and Jim and Simon dutifully went out of respect for Chase and out of respect for Sandburg, and Jim kept having black fantasies of making it up with Blair over Christie's coffin (and then berating himself for his stupidity) — but the whole thing was moot, anyhow, because despite a fondness both for rituals in general and for Christie Chase in particular Blair Sandburg was not among those in attendance at St. Paul's Episcopalian Church.

    And he was determined not to call (hanging up his suit that evening), absolutely fucking determined (eating his dinner), but even then he knew that he was fooling himself, and that his determination was worth less than nothing, and he finally cracked at about half past one in the morning, because it was dark then and the building was quiet and he was in bed and it all felt calm and a bit surreal and maybe — well, maybe reality could be suspended briefly in all that stillness.

    So he picked up the phone and dialed the number of the Hotel Buenavista and asked for Room 504.

    "Hullo?" said Blair Sandburg sleepily, and it seemed like forever before Jim could bring himself to say, "It's me."

    And then Blair didn't say anything for a long time. And when he did it was just, "Hi."

    "I was thinking about you today," said Jim softly, trying to sound as if he hadn't been thinking about Sandburg every fucking second the past three fucking days.

    "Oh," replied Blair in the same hushed tones, and Jim realized that Blair instinctively understood the wisdom of only speaking in the middle of the night, in the dark, in whispers, when it wouldn't be quite real. "Was it nice?" asked Blair after a moment, and Jim knew that he meant Christie's funeral.

    "Mmmm," Jim answered quietly. "Very high church. Catholic without the vulgarity," he added wryly, and was rewarded by hearing Blair laugh softly.

    "He would have hated it," Blair whispered. "He was an atheist, himself. I kept trying to convince him that the world was full of — well, you know, marvels, really, but he wasn't... he didn't..." Blair faltered here, and Jim thought this might be his only opening, and so he grabbed it.

    "Blair, I miss you," he said softly.

    Blair inhaled violently and said quickly, "I'm sorry, I can't talk anymore now," and he hung up before Jim could say anything else.

    This was devastating enough that it was well over a week before Jim could bring himself to call Blair again — a week before the desire to hear Blair's voice, to make contact, finally overwhelmed his fear of being rebuffed.

    And so Jim gave up on sleeping and picked up the phone, and it was even later at night than before, but Sandburg picked up almost instantly and said, "Jim?" — but then who else would have been calling at a quarter to three on a weeknight?

    "Hi," Jim said quietly, and they both said nothing for a while, listening to each other breathe across the city.

    "I never said I was sorry," Jim said finally, realizing that he hadn't. "I am sorry," he said, and Sandburg's response to this absolutely floored him.

    "Why would you be sorry?" asked Sandburg, and Jim was staggered by the sincerely perplexed tone of the question. He didn't know how to even begin to answer.

    Not that Sandburg gave him the chance. "Brackett only knew about you because of me," Blair murmured. "If I hadn't — then he wouldn't have — It was my fault, all of it."

    "It wasn't," said Jim fervently.

    "It was," insisted Blair tightly. "And worse yet I'm such a fucking liar — such a fucking, fucking liar — "

    "No," said Jim faintly.

    " — and he knew it. He knew it. I didn't love him half enough," Blair whispered, and he sounded as if he were strangling. "I have to go now," he said abruptly, and hung up.

    The phone was beeping insistently in Jim's hand before he remembered, absently, to hang up — he was turning this new information over in his mind, information which should have made things easier, but somehow didn't seem to. Didn't seem to at all.

    Blair didn't blame him, which was good, but Blair blamed himself, which was worse. He had misjudged the situation, Jim realized grimly. He should have realized that Blair was ten times likelier to forgive him than to forgive himself. And the other problem still remained — he hadn't been able to compete with the younger, prettier, richer, Sandburg-adoring Chase when Chase was alive — how could he ever compete with him now that he was dead? martyred? and therefore perfect?

    It seemed more and more hopeless the more he considered it, and so Jim tried to be realistic, tried to get on with his life. He worked long hours at the station, fending off inquiries about Sandburg with a terse, "He's hanging in there." He tried to avoid the loft, which was now neat, quiet, and tauntingly Sandburg-free.

    Jim Ellison was a realist and he told himself over and over to just forget it, that he had missed his chance and he would just have to deal with it, and, besides, plenty of other people had love affairs that they regretted not having and they survived, didn't they? After all, time healed all wounds.

    Except, somehow, it just fucking didn't, and two weeks later Jim gave in again and rang up Blair in the middle of the night.

    "Won't you ever, ever consider coming back?" he said as soon as Blair had picked up the phone.

    Blair sighed. "I can't."

    "Why not?" demanded Jim, venting two weeks of frustration.

    "Because, all right?" shot back Blair Sandburg. "Because it's too painful, okay?"

    "What is?" pressed Jim.

    "It'd just remind me," whispered Sandburg furiously. "You remind me. I just can't stand it."

    "Christie's death," said Jim, wanting finally to say the words out loud.

    "Well, yeah, and after," choked Sandburg.

    Jim frowned. "After?" he asked.

    "Yeah," said Sandburg softly. "I just can't handle it. I can hardly live with myself," he added brokenly, and Jim thought hard about what had happened after Christie had died. Did Blair mean — well, did he mean what had happened to Brackett? It wasn't a thing one could really ask: Are you feeling bad about murdering your lover's killer? Jim cleared his throat nervously.

    "I'm not sure I know what you're talking about," he hedged.

    "That's cause there isn't anything to remember," answered Blair quietly, and he sounded tired, deadly tired. "No tears. No hysterics. No grief. Nothing to notice. I mean he'd just been — he was lying there — and I should have — but all I could think about was — shit. He was terrific, Jim, and he really loved me, and all I could think about was what might happen to you. Even as he killed him, even as he was lying there, I couldn't see it in itself, I couldn't feel it in itself, I was just thinking, 'God, he's changed, he's really serious and he's going to kill Jim when he tries something, because of course Jim's going to try something, and I have to do something, I have to think of something, I have to think of something fast — '"

    "You did," said Jim gratefully.

    "THAT'S NOT THE POINT!!" yelled Sandburg, and Jim jumped and held the phone away from his ear. "The point is not whether I did or not or should've or not! There shouldn't have been a should! I shouldn't have been able to! I should have been utterly fucking utterly disabled, and I wasn't, and that's because I'm a liar and I lied and I convinced myself that there is such a thing as a double allegiance but, you know, there just isn't. And he knew it, Christie knew it, I'm the moron, here — he knew it all the time. YOU. WANT. TOO. MUCH — you take too much, and I thought I could balance a lover and a Sentinel but that was something of a fatal mistake, wasn't it, Jim? But I'm correcting it, I'm correcting it, Jim, and the REST OF MY LIFE STARTS NOW!" yelled Blair, slamming the phone down into its cradle.

    And the last coherent thought Jim had for while was: "Oh no it doesn't."

    An hour later Blair Sandburg had finally calmed down and was beginning to drift off to sleep, but his three years of police work had had an effect on him, and he heard the doorknob of his room turning and was instantly awake again, and as he heard the lock being picked he fumbled in the darkness in the bag at the side of his bed for his Swiss army knife, the only thing resembling a weapon that he had.

    He had heard that the Hotel Buenavista was not a particularly nice place, but he hadn't expected this; however, he was not going to be taken unawares, and hopefully he would give the burglar a lot more than he had bargained for.

    The knob turned and the door opened slowly and Blair clutched the opened knife in one hand and switched on the bedside lamp with the other — and he breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the familiar shape of Jim Ellison in the doorway.

    "Jesus, Jim, you scared me to death!" Blair said, and now that the fear of harm was fading it was fast being replaced by a different sort of fear, and so Blair tossed the knife onto the bedside table and said, "Look, I don't know what you want, but it's four in the morning, and I have to get some sleep and so whatever it is will have to wait until morning, okay?" and he lay down defiantly and turned over and buried his face in his pillow, wanting to suggest rather definitely that this conversation was over and that Jim should just leave.

    Defiantly feigning sleep, he didn't hear Jim approach the bed and his eyes shot open as he felt Jim seize his wrist and yank backwards, and then heard the soft clink of handcuffs. He tried to sit up but it was awkward with his hands locked behind his back and Jim was holding him down anyway. "Jim!" Blair said, shocked, and he turned his head and watched Jim rip the electrical cord out of his alarm clock and out of the wall. "Oh my god, you've lost it, haven't you?" said Blair as Jim whipped the covers off Blair's bed and rapidly and roughly bound his ankles together. "You've totally and completely lost it," said Blair fearfully as Jim flipped him over onto his back, crushing his arms beneath him. "Oh my god. Okay, Jim, look," he continued, struggling as Jim began meticulously packing his things back into his dufflebag, "you just have to calm down, okay? so just listen to me, listen to my voice, hear it, let it calm you, let it carry you to a more relaxed place," and Jim stopped and regarded Blair quite calmly for a second, before bending over and stuffing a pair of clean, rolled up socks into Blair's mouth, thus literally and effectively putting a sock in it.

    "MMMMMMMMMPPPPH! Mmmmph mmm-mphy! Mmmm-mmmmm-mmmph! MMMMMPH!" said Blair, red-faced and struggling, and Jim ignored him and finished packing. Blair soon figured out that it was easier to breathe if he stopped screaming, and he fell backwards in frustration, communicating only with his angrily blazing eyes.

    Jim sighed as he zipped up Blair's bag, and he surveyed the room, trying to see if he'd missing anything important. Deciding he hadn't, he slung Blair's bag over one shoulder and then bent and hoisted Blair Sandburg over the other.

    "Mmmmmmmmph!" cried Blair, trying to raise his head as Jim strode out of the room toward the elevator, and he tried to articulate that Jim was out of his fucking mind, but found it difficult with neither consonants nor vowels at his disposal. Giving up, he just let his head hang and contemplated this new and interesting view of the hotel floor, Jim's legs, and Jim's ass.

    Now, while the Hotel Buenavista was by no means five star, the woman at the desk was not accustomed to seeing the clientele hauled around like sacks of potatoes at four in the morning. But Jim flashed her his most winning smile and his badge, as if he didn't have 160 pounds of trussed anthropologist hanging over his shoulder. The desk clerk returned the smile reflexively as Jim approached the desk.

    "Mr. Sandburg is checking out," said Jim.

    "Mmmmmph!" said Blair.

    "Could you please send his bill to..." and Jim waited patiently for the bemused girl to pick up a pen. "Eight. Fifty. Two. Prospect," he dictated, and then completed the address as she scribbled.

    "Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmph!" said Blair Sandburg, wriggling furiously. Jim squeezed his legs tightly with a strong arm, stilling the movement.

    "Thanks," said Jim, giving her another dazzling Ellison smile before turning for the door.

    The night was cool as Jim crossed the street to the truck. It took quite a bit of manipulating to get Blair reasonably comfortable in the passenger seat (eyes shooting daggers which Jim willfully ignored). However, by the time Jim pulled up on Prospect, Blair seemed to have become a lot more cooperative, not resisting as Jim carried him back up to the loft.

    Jim managed skillfully to juggle Blair, Blair's bag, and the keys to the loft, and maneuvered Blair inside, kicking the door shut behind him. He lay Blair down gently along the length of the couch and switched on the table lamp: Blair's eyes were bigger and bluer and angrier than he had ever seen them.

    Jim took a breath and anxiously looked away, glancing around the living room; his plan, such as it was, had really only extended this far. He had gone out and gotten Blair — and in fact, there he was! tied up on the sofa — but he wasn't entirely sure what to do with him now that he had him.

    He walked to the fridge and took out two beers, popping their tops before bringing them back to the sofa. He set Blair's on the coffee table near his head, quite resolutely ignoring the fact that Blair was in no condition to drink it, and perched on the edge of the sofa next to him. Jim took a deep draught of his beer and looked Blair up and down.

    "You never wear pajamas," he said finally, and Blair rolled his eyes. Had he not been bound and gagged he would have explained that, no, Jim was right, generally he didn't wear pajamas, not particularly understanding why one would spend good money on sleepwear when a t-shirt and boxers did just fine, but that these particular pajamas had been a gift from Christie, and as he, Jim, ought to know by now, Blair did in fact try very hard to appreciate other people's gifts, no matter how ill-conceived, and especially now that Christie was dead and all and he had been feeling so ragingly guilty. But of course he was bound and gagged and so he didn't say any of that.

    Jim seemed quite interested in the pajamas, and ran his fingertips lightly down the smooth tan silk, down Blair's chest, across his abdomen — and then surprisingly, surprisingly, down over his genitals, tracing the outline of Blair's penis through the thin material before moving to run his fingers across one thigh, and Blair shivered and immediately began getting erect.

    Blair flushed and hardened further still as Jim moved his hands again and began unbuttoning his pajama top, pushing the silky cloth aside to reveal the soft flesh of his chest and abdomen before moving to undo his pajama bottoms and pulling the fly open as wide as possible. Blair closed his eyes and tried to breathe calmly, blood burning as his body was exposed to Jim's view from neck to groin. He trembled as Jim slowly traced a line down his body, starting from his Adam's apple through the center of his chest, following the thinning line of hair down his belly to his cock, and then he felt Jim gently fingering his erection and he willed himself to remember how wrong this was.

    Blair opened his eyes to try to communicate this to Jim — but was stopped by the look on Jim's face. Jim was looking at his body with a sort of desperate hunger — as if he were made of solid chocolate and Jim were a poor child who had never had any. Jim seemed mesmerized, and he braced himself on one arm and lowered his head to take the smooth, wet tip of Blair's erection into his mouth, exploring its contours slowly, reverently, with his tongue — and Blair let out a low, muffled moan of pleasure and fear.

    Jim raised his head at the sound and looked at Blair's face. He reached out to pull the heavy wool out of Blair's mouth, and then stopped his hand, as if suddenly considering whether ungagging Blair was a good idea. Instead he put both hands on Blair's chest and began to stroke it, fingers running through the soft chest hair, palms brushing and caressing Blair's hardened, erect nipples.

    Blair closed his eyes again and moaned at the stimulation, feeling his entire body throbbing in response — and he spasmed and nearly came when he felt Jim's lips brush against his cheek, and then Jim was gently pulling the socks from his mouth (which was a good thing too since breathing was becoming a real challenge) and Blair coughed and sucked in a great breath of air, and then he heard Jim beg softly, "Please kiss me," and Blair willingly traded air for the softness of Jim's lips, the warmth of his breath, the smooth, muscular thrust of Jim's tongue in his mouth, and it seemed so long, so very long, but it wasn't even Christmas yet, though as Jim gently explored his mouth and cock Blair felt it was Christmas and his birthday and Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July and fucking Groundhog's Day all rolled into one.

    When Jim pulled back to drop a series of slow, seductive kisses on the corner of his mouth, Blair whispered, "Untie me," which also happened to be the last, really fully-formed words that were said for several hours.

    Jim kept his mouth on Blair's as he fumbled in his pockets for the key to the handcuffs; finding them, he groped underneath Blair, feeling blindly for his wrists, and he somehow managed to unlock one of the metal bracelets while expertly tongue-fucking Sandburg's mouth at the same time.

    Blair threw his arms around Jim's neck the moment that the first cuff opened, sending the metal contraption, still attached to his other wrist, flying dangerously through the air like some very nasty medieval weapon, but thankfully nobody was hurt and neither of them particularly noticed anyway. Jim, for one, was actively re-considering what it meant to have someone 'throw themselves at you', a phrase which he had somehow previously assumed was metaphorical, but as Sandburg flew up and wrapped himself around Jim's body, kissing and stroking and licking and biting everywhere he could get to, Jim was forced to re-evaluate that idea, and he reflected that perhaps no one had ever really thrown themselves at him before, and that therein lay the key to his misconception — or if they had, he certainly hadn't ever caught them. Not like this.

    But he had definitely caught Sandburg and Sandburg was warm and substantial and alive in his arms, and Jim felt he just couldn't get enough of him, couldn't get close enough, and he tried to pull Blair nearer but Blair's legs were still tied together with the electrical cord, which they had both forgotten about, and they tumbled awkwardly to the floor, which, after the initial ooof was actually an improvement, the floor being wonderfully big once Jim had shoved the coffee table aside.

    This gave them plenty of room and they used it, making love urgently and inventively for hours, and Jim came no less than four times by the time he finally fell asleep — once, urgently, against Blair's smooth hip; once, wonderfully, in Blair's mouth, watching his cock slide between the beautiful lips; once while kneeling over him and gently rubbing his erection against Blair's soft chest hair; and once, finally, in Blair's ass — though this fourth time was very nearly the fifth as he had nearly come from watching Blair open himself for him, and it was good, Jim thought, that they had waited a while to get to this because he would never have lasted a second inside Blair if he hadn't already come three times, and he honestly didn't think he could come again at all, but he hadn't reckoned on how Blair would look, lost in passion, opening himself up, and he didn't count on how he would feel watching Blair turn over and spread his legs for him, and he had never dreamed that Blair would be so tight and smooth and hot and very very good to fuck, and he wrapped his arms tightly around Blair and pressed his chest against Blair's back and, because it was number four, fucked Blair for a good long time until Blair was entirely boneless and literally sobbing with pleasure, and Jim finally shot deep into him and promptly passed out.

    Jim woke up to the sound of someone pounding on the door to the loft — Simon, he thought blearily, recognizing the scent of his cigars — and then he sat up quickly, realizing that he was sleeping on the living room floor, naked, covered with semen and an afghan, both courtesy of Blair Sandburg. Jim looked around — and where the hell was he, anyway?

    "Hang on!" yelled Jim, getting up and struggling into his pants. "Sandburg!" he hissed, but no one answered — it took a moment to realize that he wasn't there, since the loft actually reeked of him.

    "Jim, open the door now!" yelled Simon, and Jim instantly recognized Simon's 'you're in very very deep shit' voice, but he wasn't sure why he was using it until he looked at the clock, and then it occurred to him that perhaps the fact that it was now four o'clock in the afternoon had something to do with it.

    Simon's pounding became more rhythmic and insistent and Jim stumbled to the door and opened it. "Simon, I — " he began.

    "May I come in, Mr. Ellison," said Banks angrily but formally.

    "Sure, Simon," said Jim, stepping away from the door. "I'm sorry, I overslept," he said, and then he saw Simon eyeing the living room, which was, Jim noticed, in a considerable state of disarray, having been the site of several hours worth of highly energetic sex, the very thought of which made Jim break out into a sudden grin.

    Which faded instantly under Simon's withering look. "Ellison, we've gotten a re-port saying that someone looking a lot like you abducted one Blair Sandburg from the Buenavista around four o'clock this morning. You want to explain that to me?"

    "Um," said Jim.

    "Go on. I'm waiting."

    "Well, it wasn't an abduction so much as a — um."

    "And where is he?" asked Simon, looking around.

    "Where is who?"


    "He's, uh, out doing Sandburg things — how the hell should I know what he's doing?" asked Jim, deciding that the best defense was a good offense.

    "Damn right you shouldn't," said Banks. "He's been staying at the Buenavista since Christopher Chase died — which you have very conspicuously failed to mention to anyone at the station."

    "Has he? I thought it was cleaner around here."

    "Jim, you haven't done anything rash, now have you?"

    Jim was shocked, until he looked around he room and realized that it looked like he could well have murdered Sandburg here, rather than just fucking him silly, the thought of which made him smile again, until he realized that his sudden grinning happy fits were in fact making him look like a homicidal maniac, especially without Sandburg there to contradict the growing suspicion in Simon's eyes that he'd chopped Sandburg into bits and put him into color-coded Tupperware.

    And where the hell was Sandburg, anyway?

    And Jim had a moment of panic in which it occurred to him that Blair might be gone again — but he pushed that thought away defiantly, thinking that it was impossible, because a man might fake it for ten minutes but not for four hours and no one could fuck someone for four hours and then just walk away — not if they were HUMAN!

    And while Simon fished for an excuse to check the fridge and Jim grimly questioned Sandburg's humanity, Blair Sandburg walked in through the open door. His hair was flying out of control and he was wearing the godawful sweater that Jim had given him for Christmas three years ago and his tan silk pajama bottoms and ankle high black leather boots with no socks, and he was carrying a large paper grocery bag with both hands. Jim's handcuffs still dangled from his right wrist — all in all he looked like an escapee from a prisoner of war camp run by, say, David Bowie.

    "I got breakfast," he announced, setting the bag down on the table and glancing uneasily from Jim to Simon. "Hi, Simon," he added, pulling two large coffees from the bag and extending one to Jim, who accepted it gratefully.

    "Sandburg, are you okay?" asked Banks.

    "Yeah, I'm fine. Great," replied Blair, and he smiled winningly in a way that made Jim grin reflexively in response.

    "You haven't been beaten, brutalized, kidnapped or otherwise held against your will?" asked Simon wearily.

    "Well, um, no. Not really," said Blair, pulling his handcuffed wrist behind his back. "Why?"

    "Why. Why. No reason. I'm getting out of here," said Simon, moving quickly to the door. "I assume I'll see you tomorrow, Jim, right on time."

    "Maybe," interjected Blair softly, and Jim looked at him sharply and then grinned as he accurately read Blair's expression: Blair wanted to do everything all over again, at least twice. And then have ice cream. That was his fucking expression, and Jim felt his grin grow wider still.

    Simon left quickly and pulled the door behind him with a bang, and Jim walked over to Blair and kissed him, once, quickly, before turning to unpack the bag of groceries. Muffins. Two egg sandwiches, with ham and cheese melted on top. Bagels and cream cheese and some pink fishy stuff that Jim didn't know what it was. And a pint of butter pecan ice cream — which Jim didn't like, particularly, but hell! it was surely the thought that counted, and he liked the way Blair was thinking.

The End