Gentle Into That Good Night

He was staring out the windows at the ocean-- a vista his friend often found yielded comfort and peace. Or so he said, and often as not he turned away from the window with a half-smile, looking and acting more content with the world than he had been before he stopped to stare. If it worked, it worked, and Blair didn't say a word.

Although he found it amusing that for all Jim's protestations against each new meditation technique Blair tried to teach him, and each attempt to take him away for solitude and rest that he would have this almost weekly ritual. Or perhaps it was not so strange. Blair considered his friend and the window beyond him. Perhaps he had been going about his efforts the wrong way.

He left Jim to his contemplations and headed for his room and the volumes of journals he had stacked there waiting. Wade Davis' was next; he landed back first on the bed, one arm reaching out as he felt for the volume.


The soft whisper echoed through the quiet apartment. He sat up, book forgotten. "Jim?" He stopped himself from saying 'is something wrong' for obviously there was. He returned to the living room cautiously. Jim was still staring out at the ocean, and Blair knew that meant he didn't want to talk. They both knew Blair had heard the short curse. But Jim hadn't said anything since the burial, and Blair believed it was time for that to change. He walked up to stand behind his friend, leaving him his personal space -- two feet more than other people's. "You want to talk?"

For a moment Jim said nothing, and Blair wondered if that was his cue to go away. He didn't, and finally Jim spoke. "Not really much to talk about."

"Not much..? Jim, come on! With everything that's happened, I'd think that you had a lot to talk about!" Then he waited, again, for Jim to decide to answer. "Do you feel guilty? Relieved? Do you miss him?"

For a long moment there was no reply. Then, "You think talking cures everything, do you?"

His tone was quiet, lacking the note of accusation which might have been present. Blair considered his words carefully. "Not always. But it rarely makes things worse."

"Doesn't it."

When no move was made to clarify, Blair took a step closer. "Jim... I just want to help."

Finally Jim turned, as if reluctant to leave the serenity outside, and faced him. "I know. But there's nothing you can do. Ok?"

Blair studied his face for a minute before answering, trying to discover if Jim was sincere, or merely trying to get rid of him. He nodded. "Ok. I'll be... around, if you need me, all right?"

A ghost of a smile. "All right." Jim turned back towards the windows as Blair left the room.

He laid down on his bed, taking up Davis' journal again. A record of time lived in northern South America, not kept to chronicle anything Blair was studying but that was often better -- the things Blair was looking for would be more likely recorded with objectivity, as background and sidetracks. It was one such journal that made him realise that his friend's personal space was larger than that of others, for it is the sensory information that overloads a person and creates the need for space.

The first chapter was barely begun when he heard the click of the phone. Glancing towards his door he listened, curious. Jim's voice was soft but he heard Simon's name, and then after a bit of silence he heard--

"I just can't get it out of my head, you know? I keep seeing him, alive, the night before.. hearing his voice. I keep thinking there was something I should have done." A pause, then, "Yeah. Or something I shouldn't have."

Blair stared at the ceiling, hearing the words clearly now that he was listening. He sat up, grabbed his headphones, then turned the stereo on. Drums loud in his ears, he returned to the journal and read.

Two chapters later he set the book down and removed the headphones. The CD had played twice over, almost entirely unheard. The journal he set down unbookmarked -- the two chapters mostly unread. Glancing at the clock, he listened. Silence.

Quietly he put the headphones away, and placed the journal on the top of his 'to read' stack. The kitchen light was still on but that didn't tell him if Jim were awake or not. He usually left the light on when Blair settled in to read so he could find his way to the coffee pot in the wee hours of the morning.

Blair stood at his doorway, listening for any signs of his roommate. He heard nothing, so he stepped past the curtain and went into the kitchen for a mug of tea. As he went through the motions he neither saw nor heard anyone moving and judged that Jim had in fact gone to bed. (He knew Jim was home, for the ring of keys sitting by the front door). When he had a mug full of hot water he returned to his room, switching off the lights as he went.

He wondered what Jim had said to Simon. Quickly, he set the mug on the desk and fell onto his bed, digging himself into the pillows. He didn't understand. It wasn't *fair*. He breathed deeply, as deeply as he could through the cotton pillowcase, and squeezed his eyes shut. What was he doing wrong? How could he ever make it right?

What could he ever be, but a scientific observer, someone to offer an opinion in a field of expertise and ignored all other times. Someone to be tolerated, like the native peoples often did when the white westerner showed up with pills, free glasses, and the academic ideas of _How To Improve Your Barbaric Life_. Endure him until he goes away, ask him how to treat the diseases and accept his food but never ask him his name, never invite him to the feasts.

For the dozeneth time Blair wished he were back on campus, spending his days in the library or his office, or the lab downstairs, talking with people who knew his language and understood how it felt. Not here, anywhere but here, living in the world with the man he wanted most to understand -- with the man he wanted most to....

A month ago he'd realised how he felt. It was perfectly natural, under the circumstances, to react this way. Lust could be subliminated -- not unexpected for a man who looked and moved the way Jim did. Respect was easy, and it didn't matter who knew. Friendship had surprised him -- this cop who had no reason to give two inches to a nosy graduate student, actually enjoying his company. But somewhere in that fuzzy line it stopped. Much farther in for him than for Jim, as evidenced tonight. Who did Jim turn to, for understanding and support? Not him. A line he didn't cross, and yet Blair himself had gone way beyond.

Granted, he had little to offer but the scholarship of his field; when that was exhausted, no doubt he too would be gone. When Jim had his abilities fully under control he would no longer need his junior partner; Blair would be sent back to his dusty halls with reports of his paper, written for people who would not understand its origins, or care that the man behind the numbers was real.

With a muffled scream, Blair shook himself. Too melancholy, for such a little thing. Naturally Jim would prefer to talk it over with Simon-- the man had known Jack, and was also a cop. He understood what it meant, losing a partner, facing an inquiry, solving the years' old case and laying old ghosts to rest. Of course Jim would prefer to talk to someone who knew. Getting jealous wouldn't help.

It doesn't help.

Blair closed his eyes and started to roll over.

"What doesn't help?"

He sat up, startled, and found Jim standing just past his doorway. "Jim? I thought... you'd gone to bed." It sounded inane as he said it.

"I got up for some of this tea you've been after me to taste. I smelled yours," he nodded towards the mug slowly cooling on the desk. "Decided it smelled pretty good." He leaned against the doorframe and asked again. "What doesn't help?"

"Oh, uh...." Blair sat up, running a hand through his hair and trying to think. "I was reading a journal about a guy who went to Colombia to catalogue plants. I was hoping --" His cheek itched; in scratching it he discovered moisture. His hand froze, then he wiped his cheek dry and looked up at Jim.

Jim stepped through the doorway. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not really." He looked away.

With a faint smile, Jim teased, "How are you going to convince me it's a good idea, if you won't do it?"

"This is different."

"Why? Because it's you, now?"

"Because it's--" Blair cut himself off.

"Because it's what?"

Taking a deep breath, Blair looked up. "Because it's you. If I thought... it would change anything I'd tell you. But... remember I said it usually doesn't make things worse to talk? This is one of those times it does."

Jim just looked confused. "I don't get it. What will I do, kick you out? Arrest you? Send you to Argentina?"

Blair couldn't say anything. He shook his head and stared at his tea mug. What brand had he made, that Jim had finally tried? He couldn't now remember.

"Sandburg, if it's something to do with me," Jim had stepped closer. "I think I have a right to know."

Closing his eyes briefly, Blair knew he had a point. He thought of ways he could weasel out -- tell him it's about the Sentinel studies. Tell him it's about... anything. "I just... asked if you wanted to talk to me about what was going on, and you said you didn't want to talk. Then you called Simon."


Blair paused, trying to decide how to tell him. "I didn't understand at first why it wasn't me you wanted to talk to. I guess I kinda get the impression sometimes that we're... closer than we really are. Spending so much time together, working, I forget where our friendship ends."

"Where our friendship ends? Sandburg, what are you talking about?"

It didn't have to hurt. Something all cops did, military too. He should have been pleased Jim accepted him that much, to treat him the way he treated.. his co-workers. It didn't have to hurt. He looked at Jim, eyes clear, will resolved. "It really doesn't matter. It's no big deal." Don't call them by their names. Don't invite them in....

For a moment it seemed as if Jim believed him. One second more and he'd have turned and walked away and all would have been forgotten. But then Jim started to nod, and Blair couldn't face it. He rolled over, lying down and wrapping his arms around the pillow. The casual acceptence told him what he didn't want to hear -- nothing more than friends, and that, not so much as he might have believed. He held himself tight, waiting for Jim to leave.

He felt a hand touch his shoulder, then the bed dipped as Jim sat down on the edge. "Simon's been through this kind of thing before -- cops being investigated.. partners being killed. He's had the same conversation he just had with me, with half a dozen other cops over the years. Just because you wouldn't understand, doesn't mean we aren't friends."

"That's not the point." Blair whispered it.

"Then what is the point?" Jim sounded exasperated.

That, on top of everything else, infuriated him. As if this were all *his* fault. Blair pushed himself away, standing, hurling the pillow towards Jim all in one motion. It was deflected easily, but Blair barely noticed.

"The *point* is that you didn't even want to talk to me. You didn't try -- who knows, maybe I would understand something about watching a friend be accused of something he didn't do, wondering if you'd be able to prove his innocence or if he'd end up taking the blame. Maybe I would understand what it's like not being able to help because you can't go back in time and change things, or even find out what really happened and you end up standing in the background watching and you can't do a thing to help except what everyone else is already doing, trying to figure out who commited the crime. Maybe I *would* know what that's like, just a little! Seeing your bes-- seeing a friend get accused of something you know he didn't do! Spending a week wondering if you'd be able to clear him. Feeling.. helpless and stupid and forgotten when it's all over."

When he realised he'd run out of things to say, Blair glanced up at Jim. With a sigh, he tried apologising for saying more than he'd intended. "I didn't mean most of that...."

Jim stood up. "No, it's all right. I hadn't thought about it from your angle. I guess... you do understand. I'm sorry."

Blair waved it off. "Don't worry about it. It's a stupid thing to get upset about."

"It's not *stupid*. Why didn't you say something? For all you go on about talking things over, why didn't you say anything?"

"You had enough to worry about. I didn't think this was something I needed to bother you with."

"Oh." Jim waited, and when Blair added nothing to it, he nodded. "Well, next time bother me, ok? I don't mind."

Blair managed a "Yeah."

Jim made a move towards the door, then turned back. "Is there anything else?"

"Nah, that covers it. You can go back to bed, now." He tried smiling, and found it didn't quite hurt.

Jim grinned. "OK, then." He stopped outside the door and looked at him. "You're right, you know. It helps." He left then, and Blair stared at the empty doorway.

Quietly he whispered, "It doesn't help." He swallowed and, knowing Jim was behind a closed bedroom door, added, "because I love you." He picked up his mug of tea and sipped it, not minding so much that it was cold. When it was gone, he picked up Davis' journal and began to read.

"What did you say?"

The quiet, angry voice startled him; Blair looked up involuntarily towards the man who'd spoken, wishing after the fact that he hadn't. 'I don't know what you're talking about' would have been difficult to pull off regardless, but now that he'd met Jim's gaze it would be impossible. He sat up and tried to face him squarely. "I didn't think you'd hear me."

"Coming from you that's funny."

"Sorry," Blair broke the gaze, wondering how much he'd get to say before finding out the result. Thrown out? Forget, pretend it had never been said? Fall into each other's arms? Broken jaw or live happily ever after?

"It's a hell of a thing not to tell someone."

Blair felt the accusation fall on him, like the lash of a whip across his shoulders. "I didn't mean...." He didn't know how to say it -- or even what he needed to say.

"Didn't mean what? To say it? Or to do it?"

Blair couldn't figure out the anger in Jim's voice and didn't know which tactic would be better for confronting it. Was he outraged because he'd suddenly found himself living with a queer? Because Blair had been lying? Because... but like always, Blair found refuge in the truth. "To say it."

Jim didn't answer. Blair felt himself tensing, wondering where he'd go if he found himself homeless in the next ten minutes. Probably to Jerry's, in repayment for the time his friend had been thrown out, for much the same reasons. Although Jerry and Michael had at least been sleeping together.

It occured to him that he might use the 'didn't mean it that way' excuse to get himself out of this. He looked up at Jim's face and couldn't say a word.

"Were you ever going to tell me?" He didn't sound angry.


That brought a small, brief smile. "Really."

Blair found himself relaxing. Perhaps the middle of the road, then? It seemed Jim didn't mind -- perhaps he could handle knowing Blair felt that way about him. Too bad he had no idea where to go from here.

"Why not?" Jim gave him a 'isn't this obvious' look. Of course that'd be the next question.

Blair sighed. "I didn't think it'd help."

"Help what?" Now it was just surprise. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad, after all. A short grilling and baring of souls and they'd be able to go their seperate ways.

"How I felt." Blair heard the echo of 'isn't this obvious' in his own voice.

"I don't follow."

He didn't answer, at first. Jim was standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame. Relaxed, perplexed, as if it were any of a thousand conversations they'd had. Blair found himself shifting ever so slightly into the academic discussion mode as he decided how to explain. "I didn't... want it to change anything. I didn't think telling you would do that."

It didn't sound terribly informative, but Jim smiled. "That actually makes sense."

Blair smiled sardonically. "Thanks."

"Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I agree with you. I'm just saying it makes sense. Coming from you, anyway."

"I don't get it." Blair looked at him, confused, and wondering just when he'd seemed to forget what it was they were discussing. "What don't you agree with?" The thousand dollar question.

"Telling me doesn't change anything."

"Oh." It was like chains falling away. He noticed that he was actually breathing, and was infinitely grateful. "You're sure?" He stopped himself from babbling inanities like 'I won't do a thing' and 'It really won't matter'.

"I'm sure, Sandburg." He pushed away from the doorframe, then stopped. "Is there anything else I should know? Dresses in the closet? Spyhole in the shower?"

Blair felt himself blush -- one of the very few times in his life he ever did. "No, nothing like that."

"All right, then." Jim started to move away and again he stopped. "Are you ok?" The question was the first awkward thing Blair had heard from him tonight. Blair nodded. "You're sure?"

"If you're ok, then I'm ok."

That seemed to answer it all. "I'll see you in the morning, then. Five a.m. sharp."

Blair started to turn back to his journal for more sightless staring at the pages. Then he was standing, heading after Jim. "What?! Five a.m.?"

Turning back, Jim gave him an innocent grin. "Five. Don't you remember? Out on the bay, detecting changes in temperature of the air as the sun rises?"

Groaning, Blair shut his eyes. "Was that tomorrow?"

"Hey, you tell me, Chief. It's your project."

"It's your *life*. Yeah, ok, tomorrow, five a.m. I guess I'm going to bed early...." Jim just laughed and went back to his room. Blair watched him go, realising only later that he'd have to be careful about doing that sort of thing -- no reason to make Jim nervous, not if he wanted him to remain calm and accepting. As he climbed back onto his bed he realised something else. Jim's use of his nickname had reappeared after nearly a week. Maybe things *would* be all right.

He thought about the next morning, checked the clock, and picked up the journal again. Chapter three.

Was the sun up? He couldn't really tell. He cracked one eye open and looked around. All he could see was a dim version of the cab of Jim's truck. Groaning, he let his eye close again.

"Not a morning person, are you, Chief?"

After a deep yawn, he answered. "I can do mornings. When I stay up all night I can do mornings. But waking up before 9 a.m. is criminal." Had they at least brought a thermos of hot tea or coffee? Finding out would require opening his eyes again.

Luckily he'd fallen asleep in his clothes last night, so getting out of the apartment this morning had been simple -- stand up and let Jim nudge him towards the front door. If Jim had made any sarcastic comments he didn't remember hearing them. Shifting a bit against the truck's door, he asked, "Did we bring any coffee?"


He felt something hit the back of his hand and he opened an eye. Silver, cylindrical, and warm. "Thank god." Jim just laughed, as Blair poured himself a lidfull of steaming coffee.

By the time they reached the pier, Blair felt alive. He climbed out of the truck and stretched, taking in a deep breath of cold morning air. "Ah... beautiful, isn't it?"

He saw Jim glance at him. "I thought you were still asleep."

"Me? Who would sleep when they could be out here, looking at this?" Blair gestured towards the ocean. It was still and dark in the pre-dawn moonlight. He couldn't tell for certain if there was anything moving out on the water -- the shadows moved gracefully, they could be anything from boats, to fish, to his imagination. He watched it for awhile, forgetting that his companion might have told him exactly what was out on the water.

Then he stirred himself and looked at Jim. "You ready to start?"

"Yeah, let's try this." He actually sounded interested. Blair nodded to himself. This was defintely the way to go -- whatever influence the ocean had on Jim, it was definitely useful for inducing a calm, reflective state.

Blair walked around to stand behind Jim, both of them with the ocean to their left. He waited a moment, then began speaking quietly and slowly. "Close your eyes. Notice each of your senses, and what they're telling you. The smell of the water, the sound of the wind and the waves, the chill of the air. Slowly tune them out until all you can feel is the air around you. Feel it, against your skin. Notice everything about it, how cold it is against your face, how the breeze changes pressure as it comes in from the ocean. Feel it, until you can feel the difference in the temperature of each new breeze."

Blair stared at his back, barely registering the words as he spoke them. He could see the rise and fall of Jim's shoulders as he breathed slowly, deeply. Standing so still, as he cut off the world around him save the touch of the air. Blair felt the expected pang of loss -- to never touch him, caress his skin like the morning air was doing now, to feel the warmth of his face. As his voice described the meditation, he found himself wishing. That he could be made of air, and move towards that body so stealthily, until he knew -- the man before him would feel his approach from so far away.

He could spread himself out, touching here and there the bared skin; brush open the flaps of his jacket, reaching in to float down between his clothing. Wrap himself inside, rubbing against the shirt until he was warmed through. Or dance between his ankles, his legs, playing with the fabric of his slacks, daring to touch him just there....

He let go a single breath, and remained quiet. His dreams, like air, invisible and insubstantial... something he could not live without. He stood quietly now, letting Jim perform the exercise alone. He turned his own attention to the pier, listening to the distant motors of fishing trawlers, the early city traffic, the waking seagulls and oystercatchers. This pier would remain deserted until well past daylight; they would be gone by then, and in no danger of answering embarrassing questions. Blair noticed the hint of dawn tinting the world and wondered if Jim could--

"I feel it." The whisper was loud in his ears; Blair wasn't sure how long he'd stood there silently. Jim continued to explain his sensations. "I can feel the warmer air on the right side of my face. The sun's coming up."

Blair didn't bother saying that it was incredible. They both knew it was. Instead he smiled. "That's good." Then he fell silent, to let Jim concentrate on the temperature again, to gain experience.

After a few minutes Jim spoke again, voice tinged with wonder. "It's so strong... one side of my body is warm, the other is much colder. I can feel it, like a line's been drawn down the middle of my body." With that he stopped then turned. He looked at Blair, obviously pleased. "It works."

Blair returned the smile. "Of course it works. You gotta have faith in your abilities. Anything that involves your senses you should be able to detect to this degree."

"Thank you, Dr. Kildare."

"Uh... I think you've got the wrong guy, Jim."

Jim shrugged. "Who cares? Come on, let's go get some breakfast."

"You buying?" Blair was already headed for the truck.

"Yes, I'm buying. But only because I'm employed."

"I'm employed! I have a grant, anyway. That's better than being employed." They climbed into the cab, and as Jim turned on the motor Blair stared out at the water for one last bit of silence. He could see the ocean beginning to awaken, the waves pushing themselves towards the pier. He could feel the cold morning air still inside him, swirling around, touching him.

"What *is* this?" Blair lifted the edge of the conglomeration on his plate.

"It's an omelet," Jim answered, speaking around the edges of his own mouthful.

Blair made a face. "Aren't omelets usually made with eggs and cheese? Maybe a few peppers, onions, mushrooms, garlic...?"

"What's your point?" Jim ignored the obvious meaning of Blair's litany.

"What is *this*?"

"It's an omelet." He continued eating.

Sighing, Blair looked around the diner, trying to keep his opinion from showing too clearly on his face. Down at the docks, it wouldn't do to insult the propetier and his loyal customers. Especially since Jim had left his gun at home. Shaking his head, he whispered, "I can't believe you're eating that."

"I've eaten worse." He gave Blair an evil grin.

Blair felt himself shiver. Not just for the reply he could have made, but for the predator's gleam that lit Jim's eyes. He tried not to stare, but for a few seconds....

Jim glanced up. "What?"

Giving himself a shake, Blair looked away. "Nothing."

Apparently Jim was going to let him get away with that, for he said nothing more. Blair stared out the window while his friend finished both their omelets. He'd never thought himself a snob when it came to meals, but everyone had their limits. Mashed grains and grubs would be better than this -- at least you could identify the grubs.

Jim let him leave the tip, smiling innocently when Blair tried to object. "I didn't even eat, why should I tip them?" He did wait until they were outside, though.

"The waitress wasn't the one who cooked the food, Sandburg."

"I know that. D'you think we could stop on the way home?"

"For what?" Jim gave him another innocent glance as he climbed into the truck.

"For what," Blair muttered. "For some food! Real food, this time. Whatever made you pick that place, anyway?"

"Used to eat here all the time, when I was on night shift. You get used to it."

"Thanks, but no thanks." Jim laughed, and Blair felt himself shiver again.

"I guess you just aren't cut out to be a cop."

"I'll stick with anthropology. At least we have vending machines down the hall. Oh! Damn. Jim, can you drop me off at campus?"

"Sure. What's up?"

"I promised Jerry I'd cover his lecture today. I gotta read his notes and find out what they're up to, before class."

"When's class?"


"We've got plenty of time. We can go home and you can get some breakfast first."

"Are you kidding? You've never seen Jerry's notes. It'll take me all morning just to decipher them, much less find last Monday's and today's notes." One of these days they'd have to hire a professional notes-taker for Jerry. His students were forever complaining when they were forced to borrow his notes for a missed class, and at least once a month one of the other grad students had to cover for him and try wading through. For awhile there had been a collection box outside the office, but they'd kept raiding it for the coffee machine, and someone had finally re-labeled it.

They talked about intro anthropology on the way to the school; Blair was grateful, afterwards, because as he watched Jim drive away he found himself staring again. Nothing to see, of course. But he couldn't stop staring.

Jim hung his jacket up as he gave the front door a gentle kick closed. He'd been hoping to spend some time before work going over this morning's experiences with Blair. He knew he wasn't the only thing going on in Sandburg's life, but admittedly it was easy to forget. Wasn't entirely his fault; Sandburg had a way of relating everything to the Sentinel project. He'd just gotten used to having the kid around when he needed him.

He'd never tried using his sense of touch in quite this way before, and it had been rather shocking. In a good way, of course, but still... he'd have liked the chance to put it into perspective and find out what Sandburg thought about it. How much could he refine this sense -- would he be able to find people in the dark by their body heat?

Then again, perhaps it was just as well he wasn't here. Jim sat down on the couch and closed his eyes, remembering.

The air had not been uniformly cold, he'd discovered. Long before the sun had begun to warm the air, the air had been stirred by the ocean breezes. The touch on his face had grown distinct as he concentrated -- cooler here, not so cold there. A brush of warm air from somewhere had gained his attention -- for a moment thinking it was the sun. When he'd realised what -- who -- it was he had tensed, losing his focus, then had cautiously reached out, feeling the swirls of warm air generated by the person behind him.

The warmth had been accompanied by a voice, barely heard but it had registered anyway. He had concentrated on deciphering that warmth, and felt it all along his back. He had been about to say something when the heat flared. Sun, this time? No, it was still Blair. Then what.... How he'd kept from blushing he didn't know. He had opened his eyes slightly, allowing himself a respite. The awareness of air temperature had faded slightly, and he'd heard the seagulls overhead. He had considered saying something, but what could he say which wouldn't just embarrass them both?

He'd closed his eyes and reached out, trying to dismiss the heat behind him in favour of discovering the warmth from the sun. After a few moments, he had felt it. Three differences in heat- cold, warm, and somewhere in between. A good thing for a Sentinel to know. Some things, better than others.

"I feel it."

Jim opened his eyes. Blair hadn't said anything, and in fact had acted quite naturally after. Perhaps it hadn't bothered him, perhaps he was used to it.

Used to it? Lusting after someone who wouldn't return your attentions? After someone you lived with and couldn't touch? There was no way it wasn't driving Sandburg nuts, Jim knew that. Hell, it would have driven *him* nuts. He'd have broken down within hours of first... what? feeling it? Realising it? Anyway he'd have broken down and made a pass and probably have gotten himself kicked in the teeth and thrown out.

Had to be better than just living with it. Although... that wasn't what Sandburg had said, was it? He hadn't said anything about lust.

What was he going to do about *that*? How could he ignore something like that? How could either of them ignore something like that? No matter what Sandburg said about not wanting things to change, they were bound to. Eventually he'd grow tired and frustrated and then... leave? Or would he stay here but find someone else?

He didn't have a chance to explore his reaction to that thought before the phone rang.


"Is... is this Blair Sandburg's place?"

He didn't recognise the man's voice. "Yes it is. Blair's not here though."

"Is this his... roommate?"

"Yeah, this is Jim. Do you want to leave him a message?"

"No, thank you. I... good-bye." The caller hung up.

Jim replaced the receiver, wondering if he'd tell Sandburg he'd had a call. No message, no names. No point. Glancing at the clock, he discovered he had just enough time to run a couple errands before going to work. He put on his holster, then grabbed his jacket and keys.

One stop at Capi's Deli, and then one stop at Sandburg's office. He found his partner buried in looseleaf notes, barely acknowledging that anyone had come into his office until Jim dropped a sack on his desk.

"What... Jim! What's this?"

"Call it brunch. You find the notes you need?"

"I hope so." He leaned forward to look in the bag. "You didn't have to do this. Oh man, I love their egg salad." He pulled out a sandwich, brushing aside the granola bar wrappers to unwrap it.

Jim couldn't help but feel the body heat, nor help but notice as it suddenly rose. "I gotta get to work. I'll see you later, okay?" He watched as Sandburg simply nodded, giving half a wave as he ate, already turning back to the notes. He wondered if the kid had noticed the rise in temperature.... He turned and left the office, thinking about the cases he had.

Blair watched the students file out of the classroom. Not for the first time was he grateful he'd received a research assistantship instead of a teaching assistantship. Keeping the attention of a hundred bored students, here only because of university requirements, was not what he'd gone to grad school for. Fascinating as the subject was, even in general terms for Anth 1000, he couldn't force them to stay awake long enough to discover if they liked it, too.

But it was over now, and Jerry probably wouldn't ask him to cover it again until next semester. Gathering up Jerry's notes and his own books, he wondered if he should head back to his office for the day or head home. He wanted to find out what Jim thought about this morning's exercise, but he wouldn't be home until late. Blair was wary of going to the station too often -- no matter his standing as Jim's partner, he wasn't a cop and usually had no business being there. Few of the other cops understood why Jim put up with him anyway, and he decided he wasn't up to dealing with tagalong jokes.

Dropping Jerry's stuff off at his office, he headed downstairs to the lounge. Maria and Dom were there, and he soon found himself engrossed in conversation about the effect of wars on geological records. That lead to a late lunch, joined by two more anthropology grads and a couple linguistics students. They teased the philosophy grads gathered at another table, who had already started on happy hour three hours early.

When it was time for the seminar, Blair found himself heading back to Jacobs Hall. Although he'd finished his coursework a year ago, Dom had convinced him to attend by regaling him with tales of Dr. Morris' inability to complete a single lecture on the indigenous peoples of Baffin Bay. Questions, stories, and cigarette breaks had taken their toll two weeks before. While the northern tundra wasn't exactly Blair's specialty, he found himself eager to attend. Maybe all he needed was a day spent as a regular grad student, instead of whatever it was he usually was. Maybe he'd even offer to take notes for Jerry.

It was late when he finally got home -- post-seminar beer and pizza lasted until nearly ten, at which point he'd remembered he had no car. Steven offered a ride, if he agreed to wait until his exam grades were recorded. All in all it was after midnight when Blair finally arrived home.

Only the kitchen light was on, and a quick glance around the living room told him Jim was home. Walking quietly, he headed for the hallway and listened. Silence. Jim was asleep, then. Blair went to his own room and began stripping down for a shower.

He tried very hard not to think about the man sleeping in the next room, about how his chest would look sculptured in the dim moonlight, or how the thin white fabric of his shorts would seem to almost disappear. Taking a deep breath, he did not think about it at all.

Until he got under the spray of the shower.

Then the hands gliding down his body were no longer his; the heat on his face was breath, not steam. The gentle rocking was from the weight of another body, the tongue on his lower lip from outside. He touched and pressed, turning slowly in the water to let his back warm up. He thought of fingers digging into his hips, a mouth on his shoulder, thighs pressed against his own... a cock pressing inside. He came all over the shower wall with only a muffled gasp for air. When he opened his eyes the water was already washing the streams away. He moved sideways, letting the water clean him.

And the water on his face was from the shower, not his eyes.

Jim lay still, sheets pulled across his body in token protest against the fall's cool night. The headlights from the traffic below flashed against the ceiling, making his vision flare with sensitivity. He could have ignored it, tuned that sense out but that would have meant focusing on another. Sound, perhaps, or smell. Senses he'd come to fervently yearn turning off.

Two weeks since Blair had said those words out loud, and every day one more puzzle piece he'd never even seen grew sharp and fell into place. Things he'd never noticed became obvious, deciphering minutae until the picture was something he could not avoid. The smell of musk, the sigh of completion -- the gasp of air as he came. All things that had lain covered by other noises, other scents, now were clear to heightened senses which apparently had minds of their own, searching out unbidden.

Try as he would, he could not escape. Even now, shower over and Blair returned to his room, he could not wrench himself away. This one had lasted longer than previous times -- Sandburg's choking gasps louder, harder, and if Jim closed his eyes and reached, he could almost recapture that fleeting scent of ejaculation, before it was washed away into nothingness.

His own erection urged his senses on. He lay silent, trying to ignore it, trying so hard not to listen. It wasn't his reaction that stilled him. He'd spent too many years inside his own head not to know his own needs, his own desires. Usually they didn't arrive attached to skinny, long-haired, male anthropologists, but right now that didn't matter. It wasn't the male part of the equation that kept him waiting in the darkness, afraid of moving closer. Rather it was the sound that reached him now -- the one he now heard every night -- the one he'd missed hearing who knew how many times. One that made him wish he'd never begun listening so that maybe he could have begun this another way.

It was the sound of tears, muffled by pillows.

Simple unrequited lust he could have dealt with. Either it would have subsided, or he might have indulged in a single -- maybe occasional -- weekend fling. It had happened before with no ill effects, both with friends and strangers. But Sandburg had never said lust, only love. Sex would not be the answer.

Jim lay in the darkness, listening, trying to hear the roar of the cars below.

It wasn't helping. Sometimes he wished he were back in his warehouse, surrounded by vast emptiness and silence. No one had ever quite understood his preference for that place -- Jim had called it cold and unappealing. But it was the sort of place that grew on you until you had adjusted so much to living in an industrial wasteland that the choice of freedom over ammenities was easy.

Thinking about going home wasn't helping. Silly to think of a warehouse as home, but there it was. He found himself desperately wishing to go back and, for a moment, he considered finding the paper and searching the rent ads.

But it wasn't home he wanted to run back to. It was away from, and he couldn't make himself forget that. Slamming his fist into the mattress, he rolled over onto his side. If he could go back, he wouldn't be here, faced with feeling any of this. Out of sight out of mind. He was an idiot, though, if he thought it would help. Jim would only follow him -- whether in reality or in his mind, Jim would always be right there, mucking up his life and twisting everything around so that anything that happened was tainted with how it might relate to Jim.

Finding a new bagelry was a place to take him for breakfast. Seeing a cool car on the highway was something to point out. Hearing a song, seeing a preview for a movie, even watching the sunset was all something to give to Jim. At first it had been in terms of which of the Sentinel's abilities could be tested and explored by the experience. Then it had been ok to bring them to his friend's attention, offering them up as field experiments. But now they were offerings of another kind, and if not unwelcome certainly, woefully, out of place. So bad now that he could barely bring himself to continue the actual studies they had set up for themselves.

Yesterday had been the worst so far and he had a feeling it would not improve. He'd thought it would be nothing, offering samples of sawdust for examination. A simple test, feeling each sample to detect differences in wood source and contamination. He hadn't expected to be caught staring at those hands as they sifted gently through the dust, wondering just how sensitive the sense of touch was. Wondering just how soft, how strong, how anything those fingers were. He'd managed to grin it away, seeing Jim's knowing smirk meant to tease him for his distractions. But now he didn't know if there was *anything* they could safely study.

If he could get turned on by watching Jim paw through sawdust, what could possibly be safe? Choking back a growl of frustration, he threw back the blanket and got out of bed. Padding through his room with lights off, he picked up a pair of jeans from the floor and put them on. He found a shirt, socks and shoes in the dark -- dark so he wouldn't wake Jim, not thinking that the noise might be enough to disturb him. Once dressed he grabbed his backpack and headed for the door.

It wasn't until he got to the street that he wondered where it was he was going. Fortunately he had places to hide -- his office, or if he didn't want to be found he could head for Randall's Cafe on 29th. Grimly settling the pack on his shoulder, he began walking, not even thinking of returning upstairs for a coat.

From his bedroom window, Jim watched him leave.

He hadn't expected to sleep -- although familiar with Sandburg's penchant to stay awake all night, he'd intended to wait up for him. But the phone ringing startled him awake; he was picking it up even as he opened his eyes. "Ellison." The clipped response was habit, for who but the job called at this hour?

"Is this Jim Ellison?"

"Yes. Who is this?" He sat up, casting about for his clothes.

"This is St. Michaels Hospital. You're listed as a roommate to Blair Sandburg?"

The only thing that saved him from screaming was its being a phone call. Deaths brought police -- men to your door, not phone calls. That didn't stop the fist gripping his insides, squeezing until he could barely breathe. "Yes, I am. What's happened?" Someone else was in control of his voice -- the cop long used to disasters and trauma remaining calm.

"There was a rather massive traffic accident involving several cars and a few pedestrians. I don't have the details available, but Mr. Sandburg was one of those brought in. He's in Receiving right now; I'm afraid I can't tell you his condition."

"I'll be right there." At another time he'd be grateful for the note of sincere regret in her voice that she could not reassure him. For now he was moving, getting dressed and locating his cellphone; as he headed for the truck he dialed the station closest to St. Michael's.

"47th Precinct, this is Sargeant Paterson."

"Sargeant, this is Detective Ellison. I need to speak to someone regarding a large vehicular and pedestrian accident that just occured."

Soon he was finding out that no one knew anything about a Blair Sandburg. Four cars, five drivers and passengers, four pedestrians were injured when two of the cars collided at high speed. Some critical injuries, some minor, but no one to tell him which had been which. The hospital was twenty minutes away; he pulled out the siren and reduced that time to twelve.

When he entered the emergency room the cold layer of numb shock which had brought him there left with a blast. Blood, panic, sweat and confusion assaulted him and for a moment he stood utterly still, unable to take any of it in. Then one scent captured him and he followed it. One of the examining areas, beds cordorned off by white curtains, contained someone whose scent he knew better than anything. He stepped around the pulled curtain and saw Blair.

"Jim! Hey, man, are you all right?"

Sandburg was sitting on the bed, one arm in a sling, face sporting bandages. But sitting. Looking at him, talking, asking stupid questions.... "Am *I* all right?" He slowly shook his head in confusion.

"Yeah, you look like you've seen a ghost... or is that a cliche?" Blair gave a half-grin.

Jim took a step forward, dimly realising that he might still be in shock from his earlier fear. "Are you all right?" Of course he had to be, but that didn't erase the need to hear it out loud.

"Yeah, I'm ok. Banged up a bit... I just got knocked into a wall." He suddenly looked hurt and scared. "I was pretty lucky."

Jim took another step forward, the admission finally registering. He grabbed Sandburg's face. "Don't you *ever* do that to me again, do you hear?"

"Wha..? Jim, what are you talking about?"

"Don't you ever make me think you might be dead." If he'd thought about it, he would have realised how strange it sounded. But the demand was made and needed to be met.

Blair simply looked at him, eyes fixed on his own, neither of them saying a word. Jim heard a heartbeat pounding furiously, and could not tell if it was his own or Blair's. With a sudden breath he moved, wrapping his arms around Blair and pulling him close. One hand was splayed against Blair's back, right behind the heart -- the beating he heard was his own.

"It's ok, Jim. I'm all right."

The words meant less than the body he was holding. He didn't want to let go, didn't want to think about what might have been. He realised Blair had tensed, and belatedly thought of bruises that hadn't been mentioned. He was about to apologise when Blair spoke quietly.

"Jim, please let go."

The strained voice worried him, and he let go quickly. "Did I hurt you?" Thrown into a wall, he'd said. He probably had a ton of bruises....

Blair didn't look at him. "No."

Frowning, he started to ask then he realised. "I'm sorry." A close, tight hug was just what Sandburg *didn't* need, considering their.. situation. As soon as he'd let go, however, he understood the feeling which had overcoated the shocked fear. Not needing to make a decision, he shook his head. "No, I'm not."

Blair's head came up fast, upset surprise showing clearly in hurt eyes and tone. "What do you--"

Again he interupted, needing to say something much more important. Knowing the curtain shielded them, he moved forward, replacing his hands on Blair's face, and kissed him. The heart beating hardly mattered, and then sound faded until only the sense of taste remained.

A hand on his chest pushed him away gently. He blinked, and saw Blair's face come into focus. There was nothing to be learned from his expression -- neither pleasure nor pain could be seen in the stoic visage. Tears in his eyes could have meant anything. All of a sudden Jim's world coalesced, and, finding himself on stable ground once again, he relaxed.

"I'm sorry," apologising for everything except the kiss. "I only now realised...." he wondered how to say it right.

"What? That you really do want me?" The harsh sarcasm was very clear.

Not minding Blair's disbelief, he said calmly, "No. That I really do love you." His admission brought only stunned silence, so he glanced around for the doctor. "Do you know if I can take you home yet?"

"I... don't know... what do you mean you love me?" Blair was still staring, looking much like he'd been hit by another wall. Jim wanted to take him home and hold him, properly, and be thankful the pain wasn't serious.

"What I said. Which one is your doctor?" He was scanning the room, trying to find someone in authority who wasn't preoccupied with more urgent matters. There were a few seconds of silence before Blair spoke again.

"That's it? You love me and now everything's fine?"

This time Jim looked back at him. "Yeah, why? What's wrong?" He watched as Blair tried to figure out a way to spell out whatever was still bothering him. Sometimes he thought Blair forgot he had a college degree of his own.

"Is that supposed to fix everything?"

"I don't get it." He abandoned his search for a doctor, for now.

Blair gave him one of those 'I can't believe I have to explain this' looks. "You think I might be dead; when you find out I'm ok you suddenly realise you love me, and now everything's just fine? Like that's supposed to solve all my problems?"

He looked as though he might have gone on. Jim realised how upset Blair really was, that he couldn't even bring himself to explain it. That, and the fact that the emergency room of a public hospital was not the best place for this sort of discussion. "It probably won't solve everything. But it'll make it a hell of a lot better."

"How?" Blair suddenly looked beaten, tired and unsure -- at the end of his rope and unprepared to fight anymore.

"I would have thought that was obvious." He moved closer, wanting to hold him again but not willing to make things worse for Blair.

"Jim... I can't deal with this right now, ok? Can we just drop it?"

Jim smiled -- Blair had dropped his head, and couldn't see. One last puzzle piece formed then fell. He ought to wait until they were safely home to explain it, but then Blair would simply spend the time worrying. He leaned close and spoke very quietly in his friend's ear.

"I love you, and that makes everything ok. All of it."

Bleary eyes found his, confusion and exhaustion fighting for control. After a moment Blair asked, "Did you just say you'll sleep with me?"

Grinning, Jim nodded. "That too. I think that's all you're going to be up for, tonight."

"I'm going to wake up tomorrow and find this has all been a demerol-induced dream, aren't I?"

"I hope not. Unless.. you plan on showing me some other way that I love you? Effective as this was, I don't recommend doing it twice."

Now Blair leaned against him, accepting the one-armed hug Jim figured was appropriate for the surroundings. "Neither do I. Can we go home?"

"I'll find the doctor."

Blair woke up feeling warm, tired, and sore from head to toe. He stretched his shoulders, and re-discovered the brace on his arm. Groaning, he opened his eyes.

"Good morning." Jim leaned over and kissed him.

If it was a dream, it could go on forever.

The wind was bitterly cold. A phrase often uttered but one which he'd never thought he would understand -- he liked the cold, one reason he'd come so far north to live. But cold was also a state of mind, and tonight, standing here in the empty street he felt it. Bitterly cold.

He hugged himself, trying to rub something like feeling back into his hands. Across the street he could see the vehicles, all akimbo as if frozen in the midst of dance. Headlights gleamed in directions rarely seen, up walls and down sidewalks. He thought he could detect the difference in their colour from here but couldn't be sure. A witness, if he were to be a good one, would have to know these things. He thought perhaps he should go closer and get a better look. I saw the whole thing officer. I know exactly what happened.

But he didn't move. There was something distinctly odd about the picture before him. Not the twist of cars but something else, something beyond that. He looked again, carefully surveying the scene. Like one of those damned 3-D pictures, the images blurred and fuzzed and then suddenly coalesced. None of the people were moving.

That would have been understandable, had all the people been victims. Three here, one there, all lying around obviously hurt. They were still and that was ok. But over there, beside that wall, two people were standing, staring. Not moving at all. Maybe it was shock, and perhaps he'd better go over and see if he could help. But still he did not move. It was as if his mind and his feet were in different worlds. Perhaps only his brain was watching this episode, and his body was home in bed.

There was a girl standing near the corner, hands raised as if to scream. She shouldn't be frozen in place. He looked again at the ones lying hurt; not even a chest rising in breath. They couldn't all be dead, could they? That wouldn't explain the ones standing. Maybe he should go check one, to find out.

A safe one, one that was lying down and so if it turned out he was dead that would be ok. Understandable, explainable. There was one huddled against a wall, away from the people standing. He'd go check that one first. Maybe the ambulance would arrive soon, and then he wouldn't have to worry about them anymore.

He found himself standing over the man, not remembering exactly how he'd walked over to him. He reached out to nudge the man with a toe, but thought better. If the man were not dead, but hurt, then jarring him wouldn't be wise. Sighing heavily, he squatted down. His body ached. With one hand he touched a shoulder; the jacket looked familiar somehow. Maybe he'd seen one like it recently. On a friend, or in a window. He pushed the shoulder gently and the man rolled over.

He screamed.

"Blair! Blair!"

Hands were grabbing him, holding lightly but pushing him down. He opened his eyes as the bloody image of his own face faded and saw his friend looking down at him.

"Sandburg, wake up!"

He wanted to say he was awake, but first he had to find his voice. As his jaw moved he realised he could feel his body again -- the disembodiment of his dream fading as well.

"Jim?" He heard his voice weak and fragile, and felt the response. Hands on his chest, light, as if torn between fluttering and grabbing tight.

"It's all right, Chief. Just a bad dream."

The bedroom. He was in bed, in his bedroom. The loft, not the street. Not the hospital. He relaxed, muscles unclenching and dropping his head back into the pillow. "Oh god.. it was horrible. I was there, at the scene... but I was someone else, watching it all. I saw myself...."

"It's ok, now. You're home now."

Jim's hands touched him, skimming over bruises to rest on uninjured areas of his torso, trying to reassure without causing more pain. "Jim... it hurts...." He squeezed his eyes shut, knowing now what had stirred the dream, what had spun his mind back to that street. A hand touched his forehead, and then his cheek.

"Here, sit up a bit."

Hands again, helping him move to sit up enough to accept pills and water. He was leaning against Jim, feeling the warmth of the man's body soaking through the vestiges of the bitterness still throbbing faintly. He let his eyes close, imagining the pain fading even before they could dissolve into his bloodstream. He lay back, and felt the blanket being pulled around him, being settled and smoothed carefully. When the bed began to shift again, he made a grab and caught Jim's shirt.

"Don't... would you stay a bit?" He knew he'd be asleep in moments, but needed something to help ensure the dreams wouldn't immediately return.

"I wasn't going anywhere, Chief." Jim sat back down and Blair felt a hand on his arm give a soft squeeze. "Once those pills kick in you'll be dreaming about palm trees and beaches."

Blair grinned at the image, letting himself relax even more. With Jim there he knew it'd be ok. Even if the dream did return it wouldn't matter. Jim'd be there to help him fight it away. He turned his head, intending to tell him thank you, but then the intent was lost in a swirl of nothingness.

When he awoke the sun was filtering through the pulled curtains and Jim was fast asleep on the edge of his bed. He was lying on his side, facing Blair -- face pulled in a slight frown, one hand extended towards Blair. For a moment Blair watched him, feeling the soft pounding of the pain beginning to work its way past the drugs. There were a thousand things his mind wanted to suggest -- things to imagine and questions to ask. So many they pushed each other down, and he simply watched Jim sleeping almost one arm's length away. Maybe he'd fall asleep again.

He what?

Blair was sitting up, staring down at Jim who stirred in response to the motion of the bed. He thought about leaping out of the bed -- away from Jim, there was no way he could hold a rational conversation with the man if he were in *bed* with him. Clothed or not. But the twinges of bruises along his back made him pause, and by then Jim was pushing himself upright, blinking once before coming wide awake.

"You have another dream?" He reached out towards Blair. Blair shrunk back, scooting closer towards the other side of the bed which wasn't all that wide to begin with. "What's wrong?"

It looked like he really didn't know. Blair gaped. "What's wrong? Jim, what the hell..." He didn't know how to say it. Last night he'd capitulated because the demerol had kicked in; this morning he was awake and fully, well, confused. "What you said last night..."


He wasn't going to make this easy, then. Blair tried again. "You said you loved me."

"Yeah, I did." Jim half-smiled at him. Blair couldn't tell if it was a prelude to a laughing 'gotcha!' or a sign of self-satisfaction for achieving... whatever it was he'd hoped for, by saying it. Maybe he'd been trying to distract Blair from his injuries, or shock? Shock, that was it.

"I think you were in shock, man. You were probably just glad to see I was ok -- you were *pale* when you came into that emergency room. I thought you were gonna pass out."

"Yeah, I probably was. But that's not why I said it."

"Then why did you?"

"Because it's true."

Blair shook his head, and looked away. "Why are you *doing* this to me, Jim? Why can't you--"

"Doing what? Blair, why is it so hard for you to believe I love you?"

The hand on his chin pulled him back to face his friend. Very carefully, Balir said, "Then why didn't you say something when I told you that I loved you? Why'd you suddenly change your mind? You even said you'd make love to me, Jim. You still think you meant it?"

Jim moved until he was inches away from Blair's face, looking directly into his eyes, hand still cupping his chin. "I mean it. I was never put off by your being attracted to me that way, Blair. I honestly thought I wasn't in love with you. I figured it'd be better if I didn't say anything.. I didn't want to make it worse by saying 'hey, I'd sleep with you but I won't love you'. Last night I found out I was wrong."

Blair couldn't yet believe him. "Why? Because I was nearly killed? It's not the first time that's happened, you know. Why didn't you realise it when Lash had me?"

Jim moved away now, dropping his hand but still looking Blair square in the eye. "I don't know. Maybe because I was still in control, then. I still had a chance to save you. Last night, when the hospital called..." His voice broke, then returned, soft and wavering, "For all I knew I'd already lost you."

Blair didn't know what to say. Instead of a dozen voices telling him to do a dozen different things, there was only silence. Perhaps those voices which usually talked to him in his mind were still zonked on the painkillers. That thought made him realise his arm still hurt, and was getting worse. He rubbed at it, and winced.

"The painkillers are behind you, on the nightstand."

Absently, Blair shook his head. "That's ok."

"Don't tell me -- you have some strange mix of herbs and roots that you'd rather take?"

"At least it won't have any side effects," Blair countered.

"Like what? Taking the pain away?"

"Like being addictive, like affecting the heart rate, like drowsiness and making me light-headed and--"

"Ok, ok..." Jim held up his hands in surrender. He stood up, stepping away from the bed and Blair. "You want some breakfast to go with your witch doctor potions?"

Blair just glared at him, but then accepted the respite in the change of subject. "Yeah, that'd be great. Thanks." He waited until Jim had left his room, and headed for the chest he kept on the bookcase to get the bags he wanted for the 'witch doctor's potion'. Then it hit him. Had Jim actually just offered to make him breakfast?

Satchel in hand, he padded to the kitchen and stared. Jim glanced up and grinned. "Don't worry, Chief. It's just omelets, nothing weird - or should I say 'only weird'. You wanna chop these mushrooms?" He gestured to a plate.

Deciding that he really didn't want to ask too many questions, Blair picked up a knife. Only when he saw the plate did he stop. "Jim, you can't put these in an omelet."

"Why not?"

"They're oyster mushrooms, man."


"Don't you know anything about mushrooms, Jim? These go in soups, or sauces. Not omelets. Use shataki, or button.. or even better, portobello! Do we have any?" Blair began rummaging through the icebox one handed. "Have you ever had grilled portobellos with an omelet? They are *so* good...."

He looked up in time to see Jim's grin turn into laughing. "Tell you what, Chief, you direct, and I'll cook. Okay?"

He hesitated for only a moment. Then he smiled. "Okay. Here, slice these -- thick! And don't break the stem off."

Blair had been sitting on the couch, nursing his mug of tea. Jim had been in the kitchen, trying to figure out just what is was Blair had put *in* the tea. Various scents he recognised -- shepherd's purse, lemon -- but there were two others he didn't know. Playing with the herbs Blair had left on the counter gave him something to do, and a reason to stay away from Blair.

The other man had been off balance ever since he'd woken up that morning, finding respite only when the subject was firmly established on something decidedly not their relationship or when, like now, they were simply not in the same room. Jim had been hoping that time to adjust, to think things through, and simply relax would help Blair accept what he'd been told.

He had idly sniffed one of the herbs again. Catnip? What smelled like catnip? Curiousity strained, he had headed for the living room.

"What smells like catnip?"

Blair had looked up, outwardly calm -- of the inward, there was no sign. "Catnip."

"Funny. What'd you use in your tea?"

Blair had given him a strange smile. "Catnip."

Jim had stared for a moment, watching as Blair took another sip, and detecting the aroma of that same herb in the tea. "Catnip?"

"Yeah. It helps ease pain..." He'd shifted uncomfortably then continued. "And calms the nerves."

"Oh." Jim'd mulled it over for a bit. "The same stuff cats use to get stoned?"

Instead of answering, Blair had looked away. After a moment, he'd said quietly, "Jim, just because you've never heard of it, doesn't make it untrue... or weird. It works, ok?"

"Sorry." The apology had been immediate, and sincere. He had wanted to say something, continue the conversation or change the subject -- ask him about the other herb he hadn't identified. He had intended to keep the conversation safe, so Blair could relax, so he could take his time. He had had the best of intentions.

Instead he'd stared, watching Blair sitting quietly on the couch, head bent and eyes down, hands wrapped around the steaming mug, steam rising slowly to carress his cheeks.

His lips were warm -- from the tea, no doubt. The kiss was short, pressing briefly his mouth to Blair's, one touch for nothing and everything, lips staying closed and hands keeping away. Nothing to say what this was for, not even the memory of the decision to stand, to move forward, to sit down beside him and reach.

Only the kiss, brief and warm and tasting faintly of... "Agrimony."

Blair half-smiled, hesitantly said, "For the bruises." Then he leaned forward, and let Jim kiss him again. Jim put one hand behind Blair's head, weaving fingers through his hair and held him close. This time his mouth opened and he felt moisture, heat, pressure on his lips and tongue, tasted five different herbs and the slight tang of the city's water and something else, something more.... Then everything coalesced, disappeared.

He found himself gasping for air, untold seconds -- hours? -- later. He looked at Blair, saw him staring back, dark eyes wide and unblinking. Jim sat back and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. It occured to him that he might have to start apologising soon.

"Are you ok?"

The question startled him. "Shouldn't I be asking you that, Chief?"

"You're breathing hard. You look at little.. overwhelmed."

Jim realised that Blair was also breathing hard, heart pounding -- but he also looked calmer than he'd been all day. In weeks, Jim corrected. He wanted to ask, but answered instead. "Yeah. It was... overwhelmed is a good word."

"Sensory overload?"

Jim noticed the tone in his voice and realised his Guide was at work. Professional veneer chasing away whoever it was he'd coaxed into the kiss. Smirking, he asked, "You thinking of conducting an experiment?"

"Maybe we should. If you ever want to do that again, you should figure out how without having to stop after only two."

"I didn't *have* to.... what do you mean, 'do that again'?"

Blair continued, apparently ignoring him. "For that matter, if you want to do anything *else* you'd better learn how to control your reactions--"

"I thought the idea was to lose control." He reached out to pull Blair closer again.

"--because you don't want to zone out or worse, black out entir--" Blair's scientific monologue was interupted.

Jim let himself taste Blair's mouth again, noticing all the same tastes, noticing the differences -- the flavour of the tea had faded slightly. He felt the heat again, the pressures, and then let the sensations wash past him. Slowly his attention faded, until only Blair remained, kissing him, and the only sensation that Jim had left was holding onto him tightly, pulling him in. When he leaned back this time, he found himself grinning.

Breathlessly, Blair continued. "--because who knows what might happen if you zone out at the wrong time."

Jim laughed at Blair's persistence. Seeing Blair's grin in return, he asked, "And what might happen, Dr. Sandburg?"

"Don't call me that. At best you'll have to just start over. At worst you'll get kicked out of bed while I head for the shower."

"Kicked out of bed, huh? You think you can kick me out of bed?" He moved sideways, to sit closer to Blair, and wrapped one arm around his shoulders.

"Properly motivated, I can kick *anyone* out of bed." Blair leaned against him. "Zoning out at the wrong time is *definite* motivation."

"Then we'll just have to practise, won't we?" He placed a kiss on the top of Blair's head. He noticed the taste of hair oil and shampoo before he tuned that sense down. He didn't want to get *that* distracted.

Blair didn't answer, except for snuggling a little deeper into Jim's hold. After a minute, Jim realised something.

"I thought you didn't believe me."

"I didn't."

"What changed your mind?" Jim repeated Blair's words.

Blair was quiet for a moment, then, "You kissed me."

"And that told you I was serious?"

Jim heard the laugh in Blair's voice when he answered. "No. I just couldn't not kiss you... man, I have been wanting to kiss you for so long...."

"You have my permission to kiss me whenever you like."

Blair sat up, looked at him. "At the station?"

"I said whenever, *not* where-ever." Blair laughed again, and then they sat quietly together. This was a definite improvement, Jim told himself. Now that they'd both realised, both admitted, and both believed, perhaps they could get on with more interesting things. Something about that thought bothered him, though, and he started running his fingers through Blair hair while he considered it. Blair hadn't exactly acted bowled over by the kisses -- conducting his analysis after, during -- not the behaviour of someone overcome with passion. Not a normal someone, anyway. Maybe grad students were peculiar.

He nudged Blair, and when he looked up Jim tested his hypothesis. After the kiss ended, Jim waited. Blair simply watched him, and Jim noticed what he hadn't before -- elevated heartrate, flushed skin, and more importantly, a certain concentration of body heat. Still he waited.

"You going to invite me upstairs, Jim?"

"We going to conduct an experiment?" Innuendo was one thing, making jokes and teasing each other was ok when you knew what it meant. But if Blair were hiding behind it so he wouldn't have to face it....

Blair shook his head. "No." He grinned suddenly. "We can do that tomorrow." He pushed himself off the couch and took Jim's hand, giving it a tug.

"Then why should I take you upstairs?" Jim smiled, keeping it light.

"So I can finally make love to you."

Jim stood up, and took him in his arms. "Change that to 'with' and you've got a deal."

Blair just kissed him, and when the blood pounding in Jim's ears threatened to block everything else out, Blair broke away and walked away. Jim followed him, up the stairs.

Blair had stopped by the bed and turned, waiting. Jim took advantage of the moment to stare -- he saw the brown curls highlighted by the sun, the soft curving smile, one hand brushing aginst a thigh, the other... "You sure you're up for this, Chief?"

"Oh, try me." Blair moved forward, laying his unbandaged hand on Jim's hip.

"I don't want to hurt you." It was becoming more difficult to think. The light heat on his hip, where Blair's fingers rested... his body was beginning to tingle.

"Don't worry -- call this off and you'll hurt me a lot worse."

Blair tugged at Jim's shirt, pulling him down into another kiss. Jim wrapped his arms around Blair's back, pushing the other man's body against his own. The heat was unmistakable, and it caused his own to flare. He pulled at the waist of Blair's jeans, pulling the tucked shirt tail loose. Blair let him remove it, easing it carefully around the injuries. Brushing his hands up Blair's chest, Jim concentrated for a moment on the heightened sense of feel. When he knew he could recognise the texture of Blair's skin for the rest of forever he pulled back his focus and moved his hands to the top of Sandburg's jeans.

He glanced up, intending to ask one more time. Blair impatiently pulled the top button open. Jim grinned. "All right, all right. Let me do it."

"Hurry up, then."

Jim quickly loosed the remaining buttons, and began pulling the jeans down. When they were around Blair's hips, he moved his hands up and tugged down the underwear as well. He heard Blair groan as his hands brushed hips, thighs; he leaned forward to remove the clothing and his cheek brushed against fiercely aroused genitals.

"Oh god..."

Jim helped Blair lie down on Jim's bed, holding the one arm gently until Blair leaned back against the pillows and looked up at him. Again, Jim stood and stared. Blair waited a moment, then smiled. "Are you just gonna watch?"

"Another time. Right now..." Jim swallowed. "Have I told you you're beautiful?"

"Oh...." the mischevious grin vanished, and his eyes grew huge. Jim was reminded of the puppy dog eyes he'd often accused Blair of utilising to get what he wanted. He crawled onto the bed and placed one hand on Blair's cheek, and leaned down for yet another kiss.


Jim pulled back. "What--?"

"It's ok, man. Just a bruise." Blair rubbed at his side.

"Sorry," Jim leaned back on his heels. "Are you--"

"Don't say it! Just... don't touch anything purple, ok?"

Jim grinned. "Does that include--"

Blair groaned. "Just get your clothes off and get down here."

"Yes, sir." Jim stood up and removed his clothes, enjoying the way Blair watched very closely. When he was naked, he carefully crawled onto the bed, avoiding any part of Blair's body that looked even slightly bruised or scraped.

"Will you stop that? Get over here," Blair pulled at one arm, throwing Jim partly off balance. Jim landed on top of Blair, who let out a pained moan. Jim scrambled off him.

"Sandburg! Will you..."

"I'm ok, really. I'm ok! .... can we try this again?"

Jim was about to tell him he'd changed his mind, that they'd wait until Blair was more healed up. A glance downwards told him it wouldn't be necessary -- or welcomed. Blair's erection hadn't apparently noticed any pain signals other parts of his body had been sending. Lying on his side next to Blair, he reached out and touched him.

"Doesn't look to be any bruises here." He moved his hand over Blair's stomach. "Or here." He traced a line down his left leg, to the knee. "This looks ok." He touched Blair's neck and one shoulder, next. "Does this hurt?" He leaned forward, and kissed an unbruised spot on Blair's chest.

Blair moaned, sounding much like he had when in pain, but pushed himself upwards against Jim's mouth. "Jiiiiim..."

"How 'bout right here?" He moved his mouth to the inside of the elbow, on Blair's uninjured arm. He tongued it until Blair squirmed. He looked up. "Ticklish?"

"No. That's just weird. You going to let me do something?"

"Nobody's stopping you." Jim went back to roaming Blair's arm with his tongue.

"Uhh.. you *are* man. Wrecking my con..cen..tra...oh....god..."

Jim continued sucking Blair's index finger. When he moved to the second finger, he placed one hand over Blair's erection; Blair reacted by pushing his hips upwards, trying to grind his pelvis against Jim's hand. Briefly, Jim thought about removing his hand, delaying things as long as possible. He wanted to take his time, learn everything he could about Blair's reactions, his scents, tastes, textures... but there was also virtue in *not* tormenting one's bed partner.

He curled his fingers around the cock and rubbed gently. Blair's moans were coming steadily now, quiet only long enough for an intake of air and then the long, strained moaning would begin again. Jim licked at the palm of the hand he held, while he stroked with his own hand. Alternating the rhythmn and force of his grip, he soon had Blair writhing beside him, pushing his body against his, wrapping one leg over Jim's as he tried to pull closer. Suddenly Blair let out a muffled shout, and Jim squeezed up and down the shaft he held, letting Blair wring himself dry.

Several moments later Blair was able to open his eyes. He turned his head slightly, and smiled. "Wow."

"Wow yourself." Jim returned the smile, but pressed his own straining cock against Blair's hip.

"What do you want?"

Jim checked over the arrangements of bruises, and decided. "Roll onto your side. No, this way," He pulled Blair over, helping him position himself on his unbruised side. He pressed himself up to Blair's back, carefuly avoiding the large bruised area beneath one shoulder and the bruised other side of his body.

"Are you gonna--"

"Not tonight." Jim was glad to hear Blair hadn't sounded upset at the notion of being penetrated. "Put your legs together."

Blair did so, and Jim placed himself between Blair's thighs. He gave a slight push forward, testing the feel. As he did so, Blair squeezed his legs together, eliciting a load groan.

"I thought so," Blair said -- a trifle too smugly for Jim's taste. Later would be soon enough, for he had much better things to think -- or not -- about. He pushed again, letting Blair adjust the pressure of his legs, as he thrust back and forth. He held onto Blair with one hand placed over his stomach, the other holding the upper arm Blair was resting on. He lowered his forehead to rest on Blair's head, breathing harshly against Blair's neck, thrusting harder and faster as his body took control. He didn't notice when he stopped hearing Blair's breath or feeling his heartbeat -- all his awareness centered on the urgency in his groin, the pressure surrounding him and he gave one last push.

He heard himself screaming, and he held tightly onto the body before him. His body shuddered, legs shaking and then his head was spinning slightly -- he tried to take a deep breath, and eventually succeeded. Hands pulled at his arms; he let Blair wrap his arms around Blair's chest as he collapsed. Burying his face in the coils of hair in front of him, he gave one last groan.

His eyes were closed. Inhaling, he discovered the intracacies of the aromas before him -- sweat, musk, soap and shampoo, oils and a still faint tinge of herbs. He gave the body in his arms a hug.


He didn't move -- the protest had been distinctly half-hearted. "Sorry."

"Mm... do that again."

"Do what?"


"What?" Jim raised his head, looking down at a drowsing Blair. Blair turned his head and opened his eyes.

"Lie back down," he protested.

"What am I doing?" Jim was confused, but he lay down. "What did I--"

"Oh, yeah...." Blair wriggled.

Suddenly Jim realised. His breath was brushing against Blair's ear as he talked. Taking a deep breath, he breathed out slowly. He saw the goosebumps rising, and felt the increased wriggling. "Oh, that."


Jim gave the tingling spot a kiss. "Have to remember that one." Blair didn't answer. After a moment Jim asked, "Your bruises ok?"

"I think so. Can't feel anything. 'Cept my ear." Laughing, Jim gave Blair a pinch on the leg. "Ow! What--"

"Just checking."

Blair rolled halfway over and gave him a glare. "Geez, can't you just cuddle?"

Trying to keep a straight face, Jim nodded. "Sure." Blair started to roll back over. Jim leaned forward and bit at the nearest piece of skin -- a shoulder.

"That's it, I'm going back to my own bed." Blair pushed away, and started to get out of bed.

Jim held onto him. "Oh, did you mean cuddle *now*?"

For a moment Blair didn't answer, only gave him a quiet look of exasperation. Then he looked up at the ceiling and asked, "Why did I let myself get into this?"

Jim reached forward and stroked his chest. "Because you love me."

"Besides that." Blair moved forward.

"Because you find me irresistable. Handsome, charming, amazing in bed...."

"Don't push it, Jim." Blair settled back down, facing Jim. He snuggled up, lying forward on his stomach to avoid bruises. Jim put his arms around him, holding him close but loosely. He closed his eyes, litening for a moment to the heartbeat entwined with his own. A soft whisper came loud in his ears. "I love you."

"I love you, too. Now hush so I can go to sleep."

Blair didn't answer, only scooted millimeters closer, deeper into Jim's embrace.

This time, opening his eyes was easier. The pain was only a dull throb in his arm, and the bruises were too unimportant to be ignored. Well, ignored until Jim was awake and then some artful wincing might get him breakfast in bed. It was daytime, but he had no classes until 3pm. Blair smiled, and reached out to pull the blanket higher.

"Careful. You don't want to break it."

Blair looked over. "Huh?"

"You really aren't a morning person, are you?"

"No. Break what?" Witty repartee would have to wait until he'd had some tea.

"That." Jim pointed, and touched his cheek with one finger. Blair found himself grinning.

"What are you talking about, Jim?" It occurred to him that he ought to be going through some sort of 'my god I've just woken up in Jim's bed' disbelief. Maybe he wasn't awake enough yet. He reached out for Jim's arm and pulled him in. He was about to kiss him when he stopped. "You want me to, uh, go use some mouthwash first?"

"I'll let you know." Jim kissed him. Blair found himself being laid back down into the pillows, as Jim leaned forward, laying partway on top of him. It felt... magnificent was the only way Blair could describe it. Something he wanted to do long and often as possible.

He noticed that Jim had already been up and about long enough to brush his teeth. He hoped it had only been long enough for that -- the thought of Jim casually wandering around the apartment doing whatever on a morning like... morning? It had been nearly eleven when he'd sat down on the couch with his tea. Which meant--

"Chief? You want to stick with me on this?"

"What? Oh, sorry, what time is it?" Blair looked over at his friend -- lover, oh god he could say it now. That thought derailed his wondering about the time and what it being afternoon meant. He stared at Jim, and found himself grinning again.

"I told you you're gonna break it."

Blair figured out what he was talking about -- face cracking into a smile wider than nature intended. Shaking his head, he tried to retrace his thoughts. Breakfast, wincing, mouthwash, time... "What time is it?!" He sat up, scooting out from under Jim.

"About 2.30, why?"

"What?" Blair whirled, shocked. "Are you kidding me? I have to be--"

"Relax, Sandburg." Jim sat up, and placd a hand over Blair's mouth. "You don't have to be anywhere. Someone named Greg called, and said your 3 o'clock class was being covered."

"Oh." With that taken care of, that left only... a dozen or so things. Blair rubbed his head and wondered if it was supposed to be like this. With a half-grimace, he asked "Is it just me, or do you feel completely out of sync with the universe?"

Jim laughed. "Must be just you. I feel great." When Blair opened his mouth, he added, "Don't say it."

"Fine. So what's the verdict on the mouthwash?"

"You want to add it to your paper? The sensitivity of the sense of taste on the morning--"



"I'm just trying to be considerate, man. If you don't want--"

Jim was fast developing a habit of shutting him up by kissing him. Blair figured he'd better ask if he'd ever been diagnosed with a oral-fixation. Finally Jim let him go. "It's fine, Chief. Just fine."

"Turned it down, didn't you?"

Glaring, Jim growled, "Sandburg, if--"

"Relax, Jim." He found himself grinning again. Out of sync but happy as hell. Stretching, he felt a couple of minor twinges. "Oww." He winced as if trying to hide the twinge.

"You all right?" Jim was suddenly into his Blessed Protector mode. Blair hid a satisfied grin.

"Yeah, I'm all right." He made as if to move, climb out of bed, and stopped, wincing again.

"Why don't you stay here," Jim put a hand on his chest, pushing back gently. Blair let himself be coaxed down. "You want me to bring you something?"

"A mug of tea?"

"Sure. That catnip stuff?"

"There's a red bag in the tea crock. Would you make some of it?"

"Sure." Jim was now standing by the bed, apparently unaware of his naked-as-a-babe state. Blair tried very hard not to stare. "Anything else?" Blair shook his head. "Be right back." Jim headed for the stairs.

"Thanks, Jim."

When Jim was safely down in the kitchen, Blair relaxed, and stretched again. He waited a moment, then said in a soft voice, "Wow. What a *great* ass." He heard a distinct clatter, as if someone had dropped a ceramic lid. Blair was still laughing, when Jim came back into the room.

"Very funny."

"It's your own fault, man, for listening in on me." He took to proffered mug of tea and held it close. "It's worse than living with my mother."

"And how's that?" Jim had a cup of his own, it looked like the same tea he'd given Blair. He settled in beside Blair.

"Always hearing every word I say, knowing what I'm doing even when she's in another room."

"You're telling me you didn't know I was listening?"

Blair started to deny it, but Jim had moved closer and was setting his mug on the nighttable. With a reluctant smile, he admited, "Yeah, I knew you were listening." He wriggled a bit as Jim started to lie on top of him again. "That's why I said it." He was rapidly losing interest in the converstion.

"You're saying you *don't* think I have a great ass?"

"Umm.. I plead the fifth, Jim. Could you move this blanket out of the way?"

The ocean vista was relaxing. Quiet, peaceful, soothing; he watched the seagulls circling the water and imagined the sound of the wind over the waves. Three days since he'd woken up screaming from a nightmare, three days since Jim had kissed him. Three days in which everything had changed -- nothing had changed, really, except the foundation. Jim loved him.

"Hey," a quick kiss on the side of his head. "What are you thinking about?"

"Hmm." Blair leaned back, letting Jim catch his weight. "Nothing. Everything. It's... it's like it's all come together, you know? I feel like there's not a single piece of my life out of place. Like it all finally fits where it's supposed to." Jim didn't respond. After a moment Blair realised that his words might have unsettled him, and continued. "I don't think it's perfect, don't get me wrong. The next time we haev a fight I'll probably wonder what I ever saw in you. But right now, it's like.. I don't care. Everything could go wrong and that'd be ok." He looked over. "Is this making any sense?"

Jim smiled at him, and Blair realised that he hadn't unsettled him after all. "Yeah, Chief, it makes sense." He wrapped one arm around Blair's middle, and squeezed.

When the phone rang, Jim moved to answer it. Blair stayed by the window watching the seagulls. He could understand why his friend found the view so tranquilising.

"Hey, Sandburg, it's for you."

He turned, and saw Jim holding the phone out. "Who is it?"

"Somebody named Teresa." The expression on Jim's face was relaxed -- no 'is this a girlfriend' suspicions. Blair took the phone.


Jim stepped away as Blair took the phone, and tuned down his hearing to give him some privacy. He could still hear Blair's side of the conversation, but anyone would be able to hear that. He tried not to capitalise on his sensory abilities unless on the job, or in one of Sandburg's laboratory experiments. He felt it made it easier for his friends to trust him, by not taking unfair advantage.

The incident two days' previous nonwithstanding. He'd only listened in because he'd been worried Blair was hurting more than he was letting on. He'd quickly discovered Blair had been hurting in fact much *less* but by that point he didn't care. Sometimes he was confused by what seemed like an instinctual need to take care of the younger man -- perhaps he'd been falling in love for a long time, and it had only been manifesting itself through his protectiveness.

"He what?"

The tone grabbed Jim's attention, and he turned. Blair was staring out, apparently at nothing, face gone blank from shock. He headed over, and stood beside him.

Blair continued. "No, I don't... are you sure?" Jim watched as he swallowed nervously, and put a hand on his elbow. Blair was shaking. He listened in.

A woman's apologetic voice said, "I'm sorry, Blair. I tried to talk to him but you know.... Rabbi Harcowitz says it's wrong, and I think everyone will keep quiet about it. But your uncle insists. I'm so sorry, Blair."

"Did... did he say when...?"

"This week. I tried calling your mom, but she's someplace where there's no phones again."

"Yeah... Teresa.. thanks for calling."

"Sure. Look, I gotta go. I... I think you better not call him for awhile, you know? I'll give you a call if anything...."

"Yeah, I understand. Thanks, Teresa." Blair hung up the phone.

Jim gave his elbow a slight shake. "What was that all about?"

Blair looked up at him, for a minute unable to speak. Then he said, "My uncle.. he's sitting shiva for me."

"I'm sorry.. what's sitting shiva?"

"Jewish tradition. It's what you do when someone dies."

"Didn't anyone tell him you weren't hurt that badly? Why--"

"Not for that, Jim. He said... Teresa said that he says I'm not living my life the way God meant. That he can no longer stand by and watch me...."

Jim herded him over to the couch, and sat him down. "Start at the beginning, Chief. What happened? What does he think you're doing so wrong?" Jim ignored the obvious -- no one but them even knew about it.

Blair took a deep breath, and stared out at something miles away. "My uncle was the closest thing I ever had to a real father. He was always there for me, always stuck around when Naomi's boyfriends always took off. He raised me like I was his own son, when she couldn't take me traveling with her -- sometimes weeks, sometimes a few months.

"He found out almost as soon as I did, that I'm bisexual. He disapproved, oh man! Did he disapprove. The only time he ever really punished me. He said that some things we weren't meant to do. That God didn't intend for us to be sinners -- we're supposed to overcome our sinful urges and be good people. I let him think I believed him, until I moved away to go to college. Then I figured it didn't matter.

"He never said a word about it, not until this...."

Jim was astounded. "How in the world did he find out?"

Slowly Blair looked up. "Teresa said he called a few weeks ago. Found out I was living with another man. He assumed... well, he assumed right. Just beat us by a few days."

"But that's..." Jim trailed off. That phone call, the man who hadn't left a name or message. It might have been him. "He assumed that we were sleeping together, just because you live here?" He shook his head. It didn't make sense.

"I don't know." Blair sounded totally defeated. "Maybe my mom said something, that he took the wrong... right, way. It doesn't matter. It's not like I can deny it, now."

Carefully, Jim asked, "Do you want to?"

Blair turned his head and looked Jim in the eye. "No."

"But if he's acting like you've died... he's your family, Blair. You can't just--"

"I'm not. He is." Blair's voice had regained something like control. His eyes were tearing, though, and Jim could feel the tremors still shaking his body. "I decided a long time ago I wasn't going to live my life according to his wishes. I can't change my mind now, not when I've got something important to lose."

"Some-- ? Oh." Jim swallowed. "Blair..." He had no idea what to say. Blair didn't seem to need words, though, as he suddenly moved forward into Jim's arms. He held the other man silently, tightening his hold as the shaking grew, not loosening when they began to subside. He pressed his lips against Blair's skin and whispered the only thing he could say.

"I'm sorry." He stared at the window, not quite seeing the ocean beyond.